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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Jade 1 – Coming Out

By Babs Yerunkle

 

1: Pop goes the weasel

Topeka, Kansas   May 18, Thursday

“I’ve had it with you!”

The shove practically threw Jared across the room, slamming him against the wall.  Snapshots and cheap posters rained down.  Jared looked for somewhere to run, but he was already backed into the far corner of his room.

He was used to running from his father.  “Trouble prevention,” as he preferred to think of it; giving father time to cool off.  He was often the target of his father’s anger, but this time was worse than any he could remember.  Well, worse than anything since the crash that had killed his mother, three years ago.  That had resulted in a DUI conviction for his father, and a beating for him sufficient to keep him out of school for a week.

And if Jared couldn’t think of some way to escape, there’d be another fatality tonight.

“You got any idea how much it’s gonna cost me to get the grill and radiator fixed?”

With a quick backhand the man slapped him into the wall.  It wasn’t a hard hit – a few more cracks, some of the yellowing paint chipped off to expose the bare drywall underneath, Jared’s bookcase fell over.  Not that his father cared about books.  Jared himself rolled from the blow, softening the impact.  After bouncing off the wall, he tried to scramble away, out of the man’s way.  His fingers clutched at the debris of books and magazines, as if they might provide some sort of shield.

“I wasn’t even there!  I didn’t do anything!”  His protests sounded feeble even to his own ears.

“Gawd, you probably don’t even understand why I got to get out of this place!  Surrounded all day long by my stupid pussy of a son.  At least Mike’s has some real men!  When are you gonna grow into something a man can be proud of?  Not some runty little weakling!”

Jared had years of aikido training.  All the same, he knew he’d never have the confidence to strike back at his father.  He could train all he wanted, but when he faced his father, body and mind both seemed to freeze.  Even if, somehow, he had miraculously managed to defend himself, he father would only beat him worse for “cheating” and using “pajama-fighting tricks.”

His hands scrabbled in the debris, searching for something, anything.  He felt the boxing gloves his father had given him four years ago, for his tenth birthday (“So you can learn to fight like a real man”).  He knew they still fit.  That seemed to be the only thing the old man respected.  The stupidest form of fighting on the planet.  Oddly enough, that’s what he really wanted to do sometimes – to punch his father’s smelly face in!

“You make me sick,” the man said, unleashing a swift kick to his gut.  “How dare you hold those gloves?  Look at you!  Stupid little runt, with your skinny girl arms!  You never even tried that weight set, did you?”

He used it, at least once a day.  Sometimes twice.  But he never seemed to add any bulk.

“Look at you!  You’re no son of mine!”  His father reached down to grab the padded training headgear and threw it into his face, hard enough to bruise.  Then the old man straightened, as if in sudden realization.  “That’s it.  That’s the only answer.  She musta cheated on me.  You aren’t half Irish.  You’re a full-nip bastard!  You never even WERE my son!”

And he suddenly knew for a fact that his father was going to kill him.  Clutching the gloves and boxing headgear, if felt like his head exploded – before the first punch was even thrown.

hr1

He shook his head, disoriented.  He felt different.  Fundamentally different, but there was no chance to think about it.

What had he been thinking?  Lying there, curled in on himself, waiting for his father to beat him to death?  After all that practice in the dojo, why did he always freeze when confronted by him father?  This time, he resolved, he would finally face this conflict.  He would master the fear that had dominated him.

Despite the clear need, he hadn’t been taking Aikido to defend himself.  He’d started if for the grace, for the harmony.  A school of fighting that believed in non-violence first and foremost, with movement that sometimes seemed more like a graceful dance.  Sometimes, when he was practicing, that’s what it felt like – like he was dancing.  It was the complete opposite of the boxing gloves that he’d been laced into.  How had he gotten here?  Had he taken a blow to the head already?  Is that why he was so confused?

He must have taken a hit.  His vision was swimming.  He wasn’t even seeing in color.  Everything was gray, but he could see edges, transitions, surfaces.  There were no shadows anywhere, and he couldn’t even see the patch of sunlight that had been coming through the window a moment ago.  He’d been hoping to blind his father for a moment, so he could make a run for it.  And now his eyes weren’t even working right.  He didn’t remember being hit, but there was no time for distraction, not in the middle of a fight.  He reached for his ki and sought his center.

The discovery was devastating.

He didn’t have any ki!  He didn’t even have any breath!  In fact, he had no sense of his body or energy in any way.  It was like there was nothing but the gloves in front of him.

Even more impossibly, he had no center, no hara!  No matter how he moved his feet, his footing was sound and solid.  No matter how he leaned over, he was still in balance.  Except that there was no balance!  It was almost as if gravity and inertia had vanished.  The only components to his balance were, again, the gloves in front of him.  Oh yes, and the headgear he wore for protection.

The discovery of perpetually good footing and perfect balance might have seemed a gift to others, but not to him.  Him training was devoted to issues of balance and movement.  It was devoted to proper breathing and awareness of him body.  How could he use that awareness when he had no breathing, and so far as he could tell, had no body?

Utterly confused, he glanced down for a second.  His body was there, but it was a mist of silvery sparkles.  And he could see right through himself.

And then he understood.  His father had finally hit him too hard, and he’d died.  He was his own ghost, somehow haunting these idiotic boxing gloves – the last thing he’d held in life.

Him father seemed to come to a decision.  He threw a punch at Jared’s chest.  Reacting instantly, Jared moved to perform a simple oji waza – even with the gloves on, he should be able to block the blow, and then lock his father’s arms.

Of course, his father’s arms went though his without slowing.  Fortunately, the punch also passed harmlessly through him.  It was hard to forget his old reflexes, but it seemed it was impossible to hurt a ghost by punching it.

Jared chanced another quick look.  Now that he thought of it, he didn’t have to turn his head to look – he seemed to be able to see in every direction.  But his thinking was still trying to catch up.  He might be able to see in every direction, but so far, he was only noticing in the direction he concentrated on.  He quickly glanced down at his body.  It was still a mist, but his skin seemed to be firming up and forming a surface, rather than the wispy cloud of a moment ago.  More important was the fact that Jared was standing in the middle of his bed.  That is, his legs passed through the bed to reach the floor.

He saw his first flash of color then, in his father’s face.  For a moment, as Jared watched, his father’s face had glowed with an amber color.  Not golden, more of a banana tint.  Now his anger was rising again, turning his eyes crimson and filling his mouth with the glow of a blast furnace.  Jared could see it filling his father’s head and chest, and to a lesser extent lighting the rest of his body.

Jared wondered again.  Were ghosts made up of ki?  But, whatever he was, it didn’t feel like ki.  Just twice in class, he’d felt some glimmering of something.  His ki had been a feeling that united the swirling air in his lungs and the heat that filled his muscles.  Now, he had neither air nor muscles, and absolutely none of that ki feeling.

“You’re doing this, aren’t you?” his father bellowed.  “This is one of them achy-dough tricks, isn’t it?  It’s not going to save you, bastard!”  With that, the man struck for Jared’s face.  He shifted him head and moved to enter inside his father’s arms followed by a quick hip throw.  Again, his lack of a body thwarted him.  And without the block his arm would have provided, his father managed to hit him square in the nose.

Except that the fist went through his nose without pain or resistance.  When it struck the back of his headpiece, though, it pulled uncomfortably.  The man grabbed onto the headgear, trying to rip it from Jared’s ghostly head.  Jared screamed in pain before somehow, instinctually, “releasing” the headgear.  It slipped away, removing the pain and leaving his head feeling lighter.

What kind of move could he use when all he had were boxing gloves?  He hated atemi – the striking blows.  He’d always avoided those except for the minimum needed for competency in the art.  It was part of the reason he fit so well with Aikido.

He stepped back to consider, only belatedly realizing that he’d stepped back into the wall.  His face and hands were still in the room, but his body was in the wall.

His father turned from him and looked down at the object at him feet.  Jared glanced down and saw a boy’s body, curled around its belly.  He was only slightly disconcerted to recognize his own body.  Then he saw the small boy move, and he was astonished.  That was him!  That was his body!  It was not only alive, it was glowing in a mixture of colors – the banana yellow he’d seen in his father, a sparkling blue in the eyes and the top of his head, and an almost ultra-violet from deep within the skull.

But if he was a ghost – if he was here – how was his body moving?

Further speculation was halted by the need to take action.  His father lashed out with a kick at the cringing boy.  Jared instinctively stepped forward to block, sweeping his leg aside and around, but his legs were so much vapor.  Instead, his father’s steel-toed boot connected with the boy’s stomach in a sickening thud, and Jared watched as his body was slammed up against the wall and slumped down unconscious.  As his father prepared to unleash more kicks, Jared found his dislike of atemi suddenly vanishing.  He erupted in a fury.

A chudan-zuki connected in his father’s stomach, surprising the man but doing relatively little damage.  But the wild return strike did absolutely nothing to Jared.  Another strike, an oi-zuki hit, but without a physical body he was unable to add any momentum.

His father, unable to land a blow, seized his left glove and twisted.  To Jared’s surprise, it was as if he weighed nothing.  He spun upside down.  Even here, he still had perfect footing and no trouble with his balance.  It was disturbing.  It seemed less like he had flipped, and more like the entire world had flipped over while he remained still.  And with his father upside-down with legs spread wide for balance, Jared had a perfect target.

Normally a low blow like this would have been even more distasteful than a strike for the express purposes of harming someone.  But he’d seen those steel-toed boots at work.  He’d seen his father kick his body.  Another kick and there might be two ghosts in the room (although Jared couldn’t understand who was in his body).  So he struck.  A perfect gedan-zuki, right to his most vital spot.  With a moist cry, him father folded forward, slumping against the shelves that held Jared’s free weights.

Jared watched, not quite understanding, still trying to spin himself right side up, as one of the weights rolled off the shelf and then toppled (upward, from him perspective) to strike his father on the back of his head.

It only took a thought and he revolved in place, spinning about his center like a pinwheel.  Except that he had no hara.

His father and … his own body… both had muted grayish colors compared to a moment ago.  The red glow had vanished from his father.  Instead, there was a blackish tinge radiating out from the back of his head, where the weight had struck.

He was definitely unconscious.  Maybe worse.

He turned to his own body next.  That was also a grayish glow, with a blackish-purple blossoming from the stomach.  The bright colors in the face and head were gone.  He debated about trying to move his body, but decided against it.

It made a little more sense for his spirit – his soul? – to be here if his body was unconscious, but for a while they’d both been awake.  He was sure of that.  And when the body finally woke up again, would he go back?  He wasn’t sure he wanted to.  In his spirit form like this, he felt better than he ever had in the flesh.  His body had never “fit” quite right.  He wasn’t sure how to describe it.  But now, in this spirit form, he felt the difference.  For the first time ever, he felt right.  He had no ki, no breath, no center, no body.  And despite that, everything was correct in a way that had never been true before.  Perhaps he’d achieved a state of grace, being one step closer to the afterlife.

But there was no time for philosophizing.  He needed to call an ambulance, and fast!  He tried to strip off his right glove, but couldn’t figure out how.  His teeth didn’t seem to affect the laces.  Now that he looked, the gloves weren’t actually tied.  Somehow, the act of wanting it allowed him to slip out of the right glove and drop it on the floor.  He reached for himself – his body – trying to feel a pulse or anything.  He could feel plenty.  He could feel the fading panic in his body, the life-filled flutter of its weak and irregular pulse, but he couldn’t seem to move anything.

Panicking now, he raced into the kitchen.  He reached for the phone, but no matter how he tried to grab it, or kick it, or move it, he couldn’t.  Him body had as much effect on the physical world as so much fog.  The only thing that moved real objects was the stupid boxing glove, still on him left hand.  Desperately, he raced back to him room and tried to re-don the right glove, but for some reason, that failed too.

He knew he was running out of time.  He moved back to the kitchen and searched quickly for a tool – and spotted the butter knife.  Carefully using the clumsy glove, he scooted it partway over the edge of the counter.  Finally, he could grab it, clutching it with him “thumb.”  Using that, he flipped the phone receiver off the hook and used the knife to punch 9-1-1.

“Hello?  This is Jared Reilley!”  At least, he’d intended to say that.  No sound came out.

The operator spoke on the other end, demanding an answer.  Finally they threatened to send a patrol car if no one answered.

Jared’s last action was to use the butter knife to unlatch the chain on the door.  He placed the knife back on the edge of the counter, then used the glove to carefully twist the knob of the front door, pulling it open.  That would be a sure invitation to the police to come in.  Then he “let go” of the glove.  He might not be able to touch anything for a while, but at least he’d be able to silently watch.  But as he released it, consciousness abruptly winked out.

hr1

He knew his father was going to kill him.  Clutching the gloves and boxing headgear, if felt like his head exploded – before the first punch was even thrown.

A moment later, the boxing equipment was pulled out of his hands.  But then, no punches landed.  He looked up, expecting to see his father ready to unleash kicks or punches.  Instead, his father was facing... the boxing gloves and headgear, which floated mysteriously in the air.  It was almost like the gloves and headgear were being worn by an invisible boxer.

As he watched, his father made a jab for the boxer’s chest.  That did nothing.  It would have hit a real person, but it struck only air.  At the same time, the gloves spun through circular arcs.  It almost looked like some type of oji waza move.  If so, the gloves may have had physical substance, but the invisible boxer didn’t.

He felt a stab of terror as his father snapped a quick glance at him.  “You’re doing this, aren’t you?  This is one of them achy-dough tricks, isn’t it?  It’s not going to save you, bastard!”  With that, his father snapped a quick jab straight into the face of the invisible boxer.  It passed through the non-existent head, but got caught in the back of the head guard.  The padded headpiece seemed to resist, slowly stretching away.  Jared could almost imagine sparks or something going off, as the headpiece was suddenly ripped free.

That must have disturbed the boxer, because it backed right up to the wall, so that the gloves almost seemed to have been glued onto the wall like an ornament.  The wall over his head!

His father shifted his targeting gaze from the mysterious gloves down to the lump on the floor.  The big man gave a nasty grin.

Jared felt a moment of sheer terror as the foot flashed forward, then he felt it rip through his gut and slam him against the wall.  Then it went black.

hr1

When he woke, he was in a recovery ward in the hospital.  The bed was an old enamel-coated metal frame, and the room looked like it had once been white, before the paint had yellowed.  Perhaps it had been yellow, and faded over time.  The room held nine other beds, but only his was occupied.

As he came awake, he remembered both.  He had been lying on the floor as his father kicked him.  But he’d also been an invisible boxer.  The same scene, the same moments, but he remembered them from two very different perspectives.

He didn’t doubt it.  He didn’t think it was a dream or hallucination.  It was some sort of miracle, and it had saved his life, he was sure of that.  But it had really only postponed the inevitable.  Hospital bills on top of everything else would make his father more furious than ever.  When Jared finally went home, he knew what would happen.  Broken bones, hits that didn’t break the skin but left him bleeding on the inside, and then he’d die.

He knew it, as surely as he knew anything.  When he went home, he would die.

The thought terrified him more and more, as he lay in the bed clutching the sheet.

And then the miracle happened again.  Something flashed in his head, and suddenly, the sheet was moving as if it was alive.  It suddenly slipped free of the bed, bumping the blanket off and then sliding off like some sort of magic carpet.

“Are you me in there?” he asked in wonder.

The blanket paused, then turned and seemed to nod to him.  It flew up and wrapped a corner of itself around his hand.

Jared smiled.  Despite the massive danger that awaited, he couldn’t help marveling at the antics of this strange, animated piece of fabric.

Eventually, the sheet came back and settled on top of him.  There was a sort-of a “pop” feeling, and he suddenly had two sets of memories in his head.  There was him-in-bed, which he had definitely been a moment ago, and there was him-in-sheet, which was just as real, and just as immediate.  Somehow, for a time, there had been two of him – both as real, as honestly him as the other.  Well, that wasn’t quite true.  The him-in-sheet had somehow felt more true, more correct, and more real that the version of him left behind in the body.  It wasn’t like his soul had been removed – it felt more real than he felt now.  It was like the spirit-form, or whatever he should call it, was higher, or better, or improved in some way.

Another thing was becoming clear.  Somehow, the spirit-form was connected to material objects – the boxing glove, the sheet.  When it “dropped” the last object, it vanished like a popping soap bubble.  And that’s when the memories re-appeared in his head.

Could he do it again?

He clutched the sheet and tried to duplicate the feeling he’d had.  It wasn’t exactly a push, but it was hard to do –

hr1

And he was free again.  There was a difference.  He wasn’t sure whether it was just as he’d been pushed out, or whether it was him doing it, as he flowed into a form.  It was hard to tell, since the intention and direction had been his, and just at the beginning it was hard to tell the difference between the thoughts of him-in-body and him-in-spirit.

Last time, he had flowed into the sheet.  He had taken its form and shape, although he provided the life and movement.  This time, he’d had more of a sense of himself, and he’d formed a body and pulled the sheet to him.  This was the way it had been that first time, with the boxing gloves.

hr1

Jared watched as the sheet swirled up.  It seemed to be forming a wrap.  A toga?  No, more of a skin-tight wrap, winding around the body of the invisible spirit-self.  He could see the outlines of the body.  A corner of the sheet slid up the back of the neck and sat almost like hair on the top of the head.

He suddenly realized something.  “Wait a minute – you can’t be me.  You’re too tall!”

This had been a sore point for years.  He’d always been one of the shorter kids in class, but the last couple of years it seemed like he hadn’t grown at all.  Meanwhile, all his classmates were suddenly hitting growth spurts.  One of the girls had started the year at his height and was now the third-tallest kid in class.

But not Jared.  He didn’t seem to grow a bit.  He’d been four-foot-nine for years it seemed.

Yes, the ghost was definitely taller than him.  The spirit, or whatever it was, was as tall as most of his classmates.  About middling height, he thought.  The height I would have been, if I’d kept growing.

The thought took him by surprise.  “Hey, come back!  I just thought of something.”

Obligingly, the sheet unwrapped.  It was like invisible hands were holding one edge.  The invisible hands could be almost be seen by the effect they left, as they moved on the far side of the sheet.  Wrapping the sheet around his hands, the invisible spirit used the sheet like gloves, grabbing the blanket and pulling it off.  Next, it flipped the sheet out neatly, covering him.

“Yeah?  So how are you going to get the blanket back up here, smart guy?”

The fingers trailed along one edge of the sheet, then down to a lower corner.  This served as a glove again, grabbing the blanket and flipping it up and over.  It took a couple more straightening efforts, but soon the bed was back to normal.  Then, there was a rush like wind, and the memories of his other self were back with him.

No, not his other self.  His inner self.  That was what he’d realized that he had to share.  It was the height difference.  The spirit was him as he was supposed to be.  The height he’d be now, if he’d kept growing.  That’s why it felt so right when he was pure spirit.  The spirit was him as he was meant to be, not him as he was, in his stunted body.  Everyone kept thinking he was eleven or twelve, but he’d just turned fourteen.

Now he had to know for real.  How tall was he?  Or actually, how tall was he supposed to be?

The first step to finding out was to get a tape measure.  He looked at the box of disposable rubber gloves left on the tray beside him.  He had a plan for that…

hr1

In spirit form, he flowed through the space in the ceiling.  Beyond the hanging tiles, there was a fascinating world of pipes and wires.  There wasn’t enough space for a person to fit in here, despite what he read in Spiderman comics.  But there was plenty of space for a pair of latex gloves and an intangible spirit.

He discovered that he couldn’t poke his ghost-head down through a tile and see into that room.  A little of the material that was him had to go into the room before his perception followed.  Either that, or a tile had to be moved out of the way so he could see into the room.

He carefully lifted another tile and spotted it:  he’d finally found the supply room.  And sure enough, here’s where he found several measuring tapes.  It was a moment’s work for the gloves to float down and grab the tape.  They were as dexterous as human hands, and more sensitive than hands wearing the gloves.  It seemed that his sense of touch was on the outer surface of whatever material he inhabited.  Not on the inside, as with a normal person just wearing the gloves.

After that, it was a quick trip back above the ceiling tiles.

hr1

The next step was getting dressed better.  As gloves, he floated over to where they’d laid out his clothes for him.  A long-sleeve T-shirt, briefs, socks.  He could keep the gloves for hands.  What about his head?  He finally settled for a small towel.  He could cover his head and let the rest drape down the back.  And with a pencil, he could make a subtle mark against the wall and measure himself.  He carried the pile back to the bed, so that he could return, then get re-cast back into the full set of clothes.

It was odd that he couldn’t pick up an object and “add” it to the collection he was inhabiting, but it was one of the strange limitations of his form.

It was also interesting that, in his physical body, it took effort to pull out his “inner self” – it was like something was suddenly missing.  But as soon as spirit-form rejoined physical-form, everything was fine again.  He could be cast back out again immediately.

So he dropped the clothes on his body’s chest, then dropped the gloves on top and vanished.

hr1

Jared watched as the clothes seemed to inflate.  It was definitely like watching an Invisible Man movie – one with great special effects.  The towel on the head gave a good indication of height, and his inner self was definitely taller than he was.  He was a bit surprised to see that, despite the height growth, his arms hadn’t really gotten much larger.  And then he noticed.

At first, it was such an impossibility that he couldn’t believe it.  He stared at the invisible figure in underwear and T-shirt, watching the way it walked, bent over, used the pencil.

Now that he could see it, he couldn’t understand how he missed it before.  Everything about the figure made it obvious.

The figure picked up the tape measure and used it against the wall, and held one spot to demonstrate the answer:  five-foot-three, a good six inches taller than him.

“Uh huh,” he answered, from his daze.  “But I can’t believe you missed the most important part:  You’re a girl.

hr1

He’d returned and then been re-cast, over and over.  It was coming up on fifteen times now.  Every result had been the same.  He could be the object, or he could be a girl.  Not a boy, not a man, always a girl.  He hadn’t believed it.  But looking down (or turning his attention downward), the slight mounds of his breasts could be seen.  They were small, barely swelling in the front of his T-shirt, but they were undeniable.  His gigantic nipples were the most obvious part.  Well, maybe not gigantic, but compared to his boy-body…

This time, he was wearing briefs, T-shirt, and gloves only, so he could crawl into bed for a closer check.  Jared-physical wanted to examine the outside, and he was extremely curious about what that would feel like on the inside.

So while Jared-physical held the sheets up, he climbed into bed.  The sheets came down, covering them both.

He was almost trembling with a mix of anticipation and fear.  After all – the other person was just him.  He was touching himself, really.  There was certainly nothing wrong with that.  But still… somehow the idea of a boy touching him there, anyone touching him there…

Jared-physical’s hands slid over his shirt, feeling his narrower waist, wider hips.  He could tell, from the inside.  The way his hips flared out a bit.  Was his butt larger than it was as a boy?  It seemed like it.  Then the hands moved up to his chest.  The fingers traced over him.  He could definitely feel the difference.  Above and below, there was little skin covering his ribs.  It was odd to feel that, since he was an empty shirt.  But he could feel the structure of his invisible body, and he knew that to his physical counterpart it felt exactly as if there were a girl in bed, wearing nothing more than a thin T-shirt and boy’s briefs.

The fingers traced again, confirming the presence of his ribs, then moving up to those twin swells of padding, confirming their softness and shape, hands gently cupping his young mounds.  He felt his large nipples pressing into the palms.  Compared to the boy-body, his girl-nipples consistently stunned him.  They were so large!

And oddly, throughout it all, he felt no thrill.  No special tingles.  Neither pleasure nor pain, as the physical hands grew more bold, poking, tweaking, pinching.  He’d been planning to use the gloves to restrain his other self whenever it went too far.  But there was nothing.  He felt pressure, definitely.  He felt his physical body, as it was squeezed and massaged.  At least, it seemed like he was feeling a physical body.  And he felt texture.  Good lord, did he feel texture!  It was like his nerve endings were wired straight to the surface of the T-shirt.  When boy-Jared rubbed fingers over his nipples, he practically shot out of the bed.  It still wasn’t pleasure or pain or interest or irritation.  But he could feel so much texture, it was amazing.

He was starting to figure out that he seemed to have more nerve endings in some parts of his “body” than others.  For example, the skin of his legs had enough nerves to detect touch, but didn’t seem to have much detailed feeling.  On the other hand, the skin of his fingertips was so sensitive that he could gauge fine textures and identify objects by touch.  The skin of his nipples seemed to have almost as many nerves as his fingertips, which was a total surprise.  His boy-body didn’t have so many nerves there.

Another thing that took him by surprise was how good this made him feel.  It wasn’t a stimulation from the touching, it was a psychological thing.  With every stroke or squeeze, it was confirmed anew that he had breasts.  Every time one of boy-Jared’s hands passed up his waist or over his rear, it was clear that he was a girl.  And that made him extremely happy.  It was a sort of shy pride.  It made him want to quietly nuzzle his partner.  Which was impossible at the moment, since he had no face.

Why should he feel such happiness and satisfaction in being female?  It didn’t make any sense.  He was a boy, wasn’t he?  But right now, he wasn’t physical-Jared at all, he was his inner self – the way he was meant to be.  And that seemed to be a girl.  There were implications there, but he wasn’t ready to look too closely at them just yet.

In fact, he wasn’t able to think about much of anything.  Boy-Jared was finally moving the target of his explorations.  The hands were straying down to his belly, noting the subtle differences from his boy-stomach.  Now the hands were touching his briefs.

He knew that he’s scream (or want to, at least) if there was any hint of the ugly boy parts down there.  But he wasn’t really sure of what girls were like.  What did a girl have?

The fingers teased through the thick cotton, stroking, patting, feeling.  No boy parts, thank goodness.  Instead, he seemed to have an elegant smooth contour, that just wrapped smoothly under and came up on his butt.  The hand stroked between his legs, feeling, passing from the flat front, smoothly under, and coming out with five fingers spread wide over his butt cheeks.

But… there was a little more detail he could see.  As his hand passed down the smooth front, he could feel a bony ridge inside.  Then the fingers turned, and passed under him.  The hands made another pass.  There was a flattish hump on his front side, a small raised area.  Just enough to provide a sort of squishy mound.  It felt like fat, or extra flesh.  And just where the fingers went under, there was more structure there, too.  There was a slit that he could feel.  He pulled his legs open wider, to give boy-Jared more room to explore.

He knew that girls had some sort of slit there.  Everyone knew that!  But he hadn’t quite understood the details.  Now it seemed like just above his thighs, there were two ridges of flesh.  Except that “ridges” made them sound hard.  These were soft.  Soft, cushiony, fleshy lips that nestled together under his hips, between his legs.  When his legs were closed, the lips closed, and all he could feel was a slit running between the closed lips.  Like closing your mouth and feeling where the mouth would open.  Again, the cushiony sponginess was surprising.  Girls had padding in the oddest places.  And when he pulled his knees apart, the lips opened, exposing all of him that was hidden inside that innocuous slit.

He couldn’t tell what all of it was.  Not with the cotton underpants.  But there was a line of flesh down his very middle, and that seemed to split open, too.  And there were all sorts of complicated bits down there.  The nerve endings were just as dense as on his fingertips or his nipples.  He was fascinated by it, and he loved the exploration.  Once again, all he could feel was pressure and texture, but he could feel his body.  His illusionary, invisible body, but it felt real to him.

And he realized something that he’d been avoiding for a long time.  He was a girl.  This latest test proved it.  He shouldn’t be thinking of himself as a boy in a girl’s body.  He was a girl, in a girl’s body.

And he liked it.  He – she – he wasn’t sure how to think of himself.  He wanted to snuggle in with his partner and keep touching and stroking forever.  And another thing – he didn’t want to go back!  Boy-Jared was trapped in that stupid boy body.  He’d always felt a bit uncomfortable there, a bit off.  He’d never known why until now.  The answer was here.  He felt completely right as a girl.  Happy, joyful, quietly proud of herself, delighting in what she was and the shape she wore.  He felt good as a girl.  Why should he go back to being a boy?

hr1

After a half-hour, Jared was startled when the clothes suddenly collapsed.  The memories were back.  And while he’d been fascinated with the chance to explore a girl’s body, that was nothing compared to the feelings, memories, and emotions that she had felt.  It was impossible to think of her in any other way.  His inner self – the version of him that was everything he was supposed to be – was a girl.  And for no reason he could understand, she’d suddenly evaporated.

Terrified, he tried casting her back into the clothes.  He breathed a sigh of relief when the clothes inflated, but he also felt a tinge of jealousy now, too.  She got to be the girl, while he was stuck in this dumb boy-body.  He hadn’t thought of it like that before, but now the idea wouldn’t leave his mind.

hr1

He pretended to be sleeping whenever they looked in on him.  He was definitely in no hurry to be released.  The last thing he wanted was to go home with his father.  So he “slept” and experimented.

He discovered that he couldn’t cast her without “charging up” a physical object.  He couldn’t understand why.  Perhaps the physical object anchored her spirit form.  And she was connected to the anchors – she could move them around.  But as soon as she dropped the last anchor, she snapped back into his head.  The “charge” lasted about a half-hour, although he could touch her and re-charge, to give more time.  Using that trick she stayed out for four hours once, without coming back into his head.

He was also figuring out about his nerves.  They got pulled through the entire structure of an “anchor”.  When Jared first “charged up”, he could push his self into the anchor (or anchors).  If Jared charged himself into a pen, then picked up the pen, his girl-self felt the touch against the barrel of the pen as if someone was stroking her skin and squeezing her, as they wrote with her ball-point.  But it wasn’t like his hand nerves were spread over one part of the pen, while his intimate bits were in another part.  Instead, he was the pen.  It was hard to describe, but a part of him was the outside barrel, a part was the spring.  Several parts of him were the clicker.  He could feel all his parts, and feel how they all fit together.  He could hold the ball still, so it didn’t roll and no ink came out.  Or he could squeeze the ink, so that it out shot out in a blot.  He could use himself to write, although his handwriting wasn’t as good as when he was in girl-form.  As a pen he could fly around the room as a missile, or unscrew and take himself apart.

As a piece of tubing, he could coil and twist like a snake.  As a sheet, he could flap around as a living sheet, unconstrained by human shape and limitations.  He could turn into a flying carpet, becoming solid enough for his physical body to sit on, while he flew around the room.  He discovered that as a spirit, he was a little stronger than he was in his physical body.  And as a spirit, he never got tired.

If he didn’t actively push himself into the object, he tended to form in girl-shape.  In that case, he had a body of silvery sparkles (or so it looked to his spirit-vision), all his nerves were in the normal location, and the anchor objects were pulled to his body and wrapped around him like clothes.  His nerves seemed to get pulled through the object, so that it felt like the surface of his skin was along the surface of the object.  His dexterity was very good in this form – he could thread a needle, write legibly, and do anything that he could as a normal person.  And from the outside, it felt like there were a real girl inside the clothes.  She was invisible, but you could feel the structure of her body – bony elbows, soft breasts, muscular belly – everything felt normal.

No matter what he did, he couldn’t pick up, or transfer to, or slip into a new anchor-object.  It had to be there when was being “charged up.”  He could “drop” anything, at any time, but dropping the last anchor always sent him back to his body.  He could use gloves to handle normal objects, but he was merely holding them.  He had no special connection to them.

He broadened his experiments.  If he charged into a pillow, he could be the pillow.  If there was a hole in the pillow, he could control every feather (although it became progressively more difficult to keep track of them all).

But he had limitations, too.

First was the fact that the different “parts” of him all had to be within about six feet of each other.  His spirit-body wasn’t able to stretch farther than that.  And if some piece was pulled out of the six-foot zone, it hurt worse and worse until it broke free from him, or he dropped it.  This was the only way he’d found of causing pain for his spirit-form.

Second was his half-hour time limit.  It didn’t matter if his physical body fell asleep in the meantime, and he didn’t seem to have a distance limitation (he’d animated a dead fly, and by hopping from doctor to visitor to car to train, he’d managed to get over twenty miles away before the half-hour had passed).

One thing Jared never did, though, was to allow anyone else to know about his “inner self.”  Soon enough, he’d have to leave the hospital.  When that happened, he intended to use his miraculous secret to help him escape.  He was going to run away from home, and never come back.  His father wouldn’t be able to find him, and he’d finally be safe.

2: Refuge

Topeka, Kansas   May 22, Monday

“…so everything looks good,” the doctor reassured him.  “We’re always concerned when there’s internal hemorrhaging, and you were bleeding inside, in your tummy.”  For some reason, adults always spoke to him as if he was some sort of half-witted child.  “But that seems to be healing on its own.  Fortunately there’s no sign of infection or secondary effects.  We’d like to keep you overnight tonight for observation, but tomorrow you’ll finally be able to get out of here.”

He nodded quietly, not showing any emotion.  Inside, he was already planning to eat the biggest meal he could.  He’d sneak out around midnight, right after the nurse checked up on him.

“How’s my father?”

“Well, Miss Baker is here to talk to you about that.  She’s a social worker with CPS.  Have you heard of that?”

Jared bit his lip.  This would complicate things.  “Uh, you’re the government group that … takes,” his father had said steals, “children from their families.”

The woman smiled.  “Not exactly.”  She was a cheerfully plump brunette, not much taller than his girl-form.  “CPS is the Child Protective Service, and you and I both know how you got hurt, don’t we?”

Jared didn’t say a word, he just stared at her, waiting for her to continue.

“We step in when parents are hurting their children.  We’re here to protect children.  Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?”

Again, he was non-committal.

“If you’re in a place where you’re being hurt, we move you for a while to a new house, where people can watch over you and protect you, and where you won’t be hurt any more.  Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?”  No reaction.  “It would help a lot if you could talk to us.  Especially if you talked to a judge.”

He knew exactly how well that would go over.  His father had beaten him several times about what would happen to him if he ever talked.  On the other hand, he was already planning to run away.  And since his father seemed to have decided that Jared wasn’t his biological son, any restraint he had once had would be gone.  Going home was a death sentence whether he talked or not.

“I think you’d like it.”

“Look,” he finally said.  “I’m fourteen, not ten or eleven, or whatever you’re thinking.  And I’ll agree to talk to the judge, but only if you can guarantee that I never, and I mean NEVER, go back to live with that man.  I don’t even want to see him again.”

She seemed taken aback by that.  “I’ll have to talk to the judge, first.”

He reached out, offering to shake her hand.  “Let me know.”

As she shook his hand, he make contact with the sleeve of her silk blouse.  Should he…?  He did.

hr1

She came alive.  Jared was only touching the cuff of the blouse, but somehow she flowed into all the clothes connecting to that.  It seemed to be most of the non-living material touching Miss Baker.  Not the hair or surface skin cells, but she flowed smoothly through the garments and purse – blouse, bra, skirt, panties, pantyhose, and onward.

She reeled back, metaphorically.  This was way more than she’d wanted!  As quickly as she could, she dropped everything, skipping back down until all she still clung to was a single broach on Miss Baker’s chest.

That, she could handle.  She smiled grimly to herself.  Talk about ‘too much information’!

Miss Baker was just speaking to the doctor.

“How serious was it really?”

“Not too bad.  We were lucky.  There was no intestinal rupture, the organs appear to be fine.  Blows like that are tricky.  A weightlifter or boxer has the musculature to take something like that without even blinking.  A child is a very different thing.  And from the way he was talking, not only is this not the first time, but I think he’s terrified of what might happen next time.”

The woman spoke in a quiet fury.  “I just can’t understand the kind of monster that would do that to a – a child!”  Finally, she asked, “How’s the father?”

“Still unconscious.  We’ve stabilized his head, but there was internal bleeding.  It’s too early to tell whether there will be noticeable brain damage.  I wouldn’t expect him to wake for another day or two.  Even when he does, it may be weeks before he remembers the day of the accident, and he’ll probably never get back the incident itself.  Head wounds are like that.  You can expect to permanently lose anything from minutes to hours immediately preceding the wound.”

“That will give us time to arrange foster care then.”

“I should think so.”

“Can you keep him here for an extra night, if we need to?”

“One night.  As you saw, that ward was empty.  I’ll have problems with more than that, though.”

Jared had heard what she needed.  No escape tonight.  And if things worked out, she might not have to run at all.

3: Facing fears

Topeka, Kansas   June 28, Wednesday

Upon hearing the alarm, he moved through the usual motions.  Still half asleep, he slapped the alarm off, then slapped the gloves, “charging” Jinn, as they now called the process.  It was hard to compare to a physical exhaustion, since it wasn’t exactly, but it felt about as tiring as running up and down the stairs a couple of times.  Not bad, but more than a few times in quick succession would wear him out for a bit.

That done, he swung his feet to the ground and rubbed his eyes.

hr1

Jinn flexed her fingers in the gloves, ensuring a good fit, then rose up toward the closet.  They had quickly realized that gravity had no meaning to her.  She didn’t have a body, really, only silvery mist.  She could stand upside-down on the ceiling, stand sideways on the wall, stand through the bed and his body, or stand happily in mid-air.  She was only constrained by her own imagination.  And now that her mind was opening to the possibilities, she was learning to fly.  Well, to glide.

It was a heady experience.  Admittedly, it didn’t feel any different.  There was no wind (not at the modest gliding speed she’d been able to attain).  But to be able to glide up high in the sky and look down on the world, to hover at cloud height, or see a bird’s nest from just above, these experiences were fascinating.

Right now she was after a more material form of treasure.  Pulling open the closet, she rose up to the ceiling, at the front left corner.  A piece of plaster lifted away, revealing a nine-inch hole.  The material of her gloves slipped through into the attic proper.  No one had been up here since the house had been built.  It was here that she kept the small footlocker, filled with her girl clothes, her body stocking, wigs, and all the other vital items she’d been able to collect.  This time she’d be bringing down extra clothes.

hr1

Jared watched, half eager, half afraid, as she came back down with today’s supplies.  One brown plastic grocery bag filled with items from the footlocker.  The gloves dumped the collection on the bed and the invisible girl began sorting through it.  He hesitated, shivering as the floating gloves picked a set of panties with triple frills on the front, handing it to him.

It was the logical extension of what had been happening.

His inner self – they’d named her “Jinn” – was definitely a girl.  She was glad to be a girl; it made her feel whole and complete and right in a way that Jared had never felt.  She hated going back to his “boy body.”  One of the things she liked was dressing up.  Skirts, blouses, bras, panties, anything feminine at all seemed to make her happy.

And she’d finally gotten the idea that if she was a girl, and if she was Jared’s inner self and perfect form, then he must also be a girl.  Inside.  It’s just that his body had gotten things wrong, somehow.  And although the ideas made plenty of sense when he was Jinn, once he was back in his body again, he kept hearing objections.  Well, mostly he heard the imaginary voice of his father, and the kids in his class mocking him.  His father would be so humiliated that he would take the belt and –

But the truth was, he wanted to try on the panties.  They were very pretty.  He could wear them, and imagine that he was a girl for real.  It was getting harder and harder to cope, each time he came back to his physical body.  He could wear the panties and they’d never know at the club.  If he was honest, he’d admit that he wanted to wear a bra, too, but they’d spot that at the club.

Carefully, he slipped on the panties.  They were snug, and fit just right.  He had to tuck his boy parts back between his legs.  He’d be just as happy if those parts just withered up and fell off.

He’d been letting his hair grow.  It wasn’t much yet, but there were other Japanese girls around.  Most of them had pretty short hair.  Unable to hold back, he grabbed Jinn’s bra and put it on.  It was too big for him, of course, since it was an A-cup.  But he tried to comb his hair forward a little, hiding some of the more boyish features in his face.  He looked at himself in the mirror and tried to imagine he was a girl.

There was a knock on the door that nearly caused him to drop dead from heart failure.

“Jared?  Are you about ready?  You don’t have much time for breakfast, if you still plan to leave early.”  It was Mrs. Lasater.

He dove toward the bed, grabbing the gloves and charging them.  As Jinn was flying to hold the door closed, he yelled, “I’m getting dressed!  I’ll be right there.”

“Alright.  Your breakfast is already on the table.”

Pulling off the bra, he practically jumped into his ugly boy clothes.  Checkered polyester pants – no combination could possibly be more hideous.  Loafers.  A tan polo shirt.  Ugg.  It wasn’t just that they were such boy clothes.  He suspected that even if he liked boy clothes, he would have been made ill by this selection.

With his adrenaline still granting extra speed, he was dressed in a few moments.  The gloves floated back, moving around him and synchronized with him, pulling up his socks, zipping his pants, and running a quick comb through his hair.  He and she weren’t perfectly coordinated, but they were working on it.

Abruptly, his mind filled with Jinn’s memories as she fell back into him.  From the corner of his eye he saw the gloves drop to the bed.

He stepped back to the bed, gathered the clothes and items in his hands, then charged her again.  Before she formed up, he tossed the package out his window, to the ground of the first floor below.  Then he walked downstairs to eat with his ‘parents.’

He still wore the panties, and he was very aware of them.

The Lasaters weren’t bad.  Certainly better than his own father.  But they kept the relationship cool and professional.  There was no chance of a real bond forming; they made very sure that he knew they were only foster parents, paid to do a job, and purely temporary.

“Afraid you’ll miss the bus?” Jerry asked, sipping his coffee.  “It’s a bit early.”

“Um, I’m going to meet Jinn at the bus stop.”  It was true enough.  “Don’t want to be late.”

“Are you ever going to introduce us to this girlfriend of yours?” Anna asked.  “You’ve been seeing her, what, almost since you moved in with us.”

“Just about,” Jerry agreed.  “Over a month now.”

“Uh… it’s kind of up to her.  She’s kind of weird.”  Like, for example, she had no body, and spent half her time living in his head.

“We’d still like to meet her,” Anna insisted.

“I’ll try to convince her,” Jared promised, stuffing the last of his toast into his mouth.

“You’re probably catching lunch at the club.  Back for dinner, as usual?”

“Uh huh.  Maybe a little late.  I’m going to hit the mall.”

“How late?”  He’d heard this tone from Jerry before.  Despite the sound of it, it wasn’t so much that Jerry was concerned for him, as that Jerry wanted to scrupulously obey the proper behavior of a foster parent.  He did an excellent job.  Jared sometimes wished the man had a little more warmth, but he was usually distracted by his own problems.

“Uh, nine thirty.  That’s the last bus.  That okay?”

“No later than that.”

“Okay.”  And he hurried out the door.

hr1

He stepped to the bed, gathered the clothes and items in his hands, then charged her again.  There was a moment of disorientation, then he realized he was standing through the bed, connected to all the items in the bag.

As always, when he came alive as Jinn there was the thrill of realizing the he was a she – that he wasn’t Jared (for the moment), she was Jinn.  She might not have a physical body, but she was definitely a girl in this form.  Somehow, there was never any doubt of that.

She held her pieces together, but remained passive as she fell to the ground.  Once there, she lifted the bag en mass, and quickly glided into the ring of trees at the back of the public playground across the street.  Slightly screened, she allowed herself to flow fully into the black, full-body leotard.  It immediately inflated, filling out with her form.  She ran a quick hand check over the manikin head, blonde wig, oversized straw hat, gloves, socks, shoes.  She “released” her grip on the turtleneck sweater and skirt, letting them settle and drape over her leotard-clad form.  It looked more natural that way.  She cleared her throat (that’s the way she thought of it) to make sure the speaker was in place below her neck.  There was a five-inch speaker today – although with the practice she’d devoted, she could sound almost as good using far cheaper materials. Then she took her seat on the swing and slowly swung back and forth, while she waited for Jared to come out.

She’d managed to scavenge a good collection from the trash bins in the mall.  The expired clothes were slated for destruction.  The mall rent-a-cops kept people away from the trash rooms, but they never seemed to notice a pair of gloves floating through, sorting, collecting.  Slipping through the spaces in the ceiling worked as well as it had back in the hospital.  She liked to think she’d remained on the proper side of the moral line, even if she wasn’t strictly inside the law.  Everything she’d taken was intended for either the dump or the incinerator.  The chipped manikin head, the three wigs, the skirts, sweaters, and blouses.  Even the underwear that Jared was wearing.

She swung again, admiring the swish of her skirt as she thought about her problems.

Everything had seemed so wonderful until that first leotard.  Jared’s exploration of her body in the leotard had been pleasant for her, and bittersweet for him.  More and more, he was thinking of how he didn’t want to touch her, he wanted to be her.  And from her perspective, she was beginning to wonder how all of this would feel to a real flesh-and-blood girl.  Which left them with the same problem and the same solution.  Somehow, Jared had to become a girl for real.

It was so obvious when she was in spirit form.  As Jared, she kept remembering words like “impossible.”  That was one of the reasons it had taken this long to get him out in public with a simple pair of panties on.  But she and Jared were the same person.  And they were coming to realize that they liked being a girl, and they didn’t much like being a guy.  The feeling was only growing stronger over time.  In fact, she sometimes worried that the pressure was getting too strong.  She had an outlet, but Jared didn’t.  She thought that dressing might help relieve that psychological pressure.

And maybe if she could do more as a real girl – but she wasn’t ready for public scrutiny yet.  Her voice was pretty normal sounding now.  But once people got closer than about ten feet, they noticed the manikin head and kind of freaked out.  She could see it in the precise moment when their auras suddenly flashed into banana yellow or pea green.  The large hat wasn’t exactly proper fashion, but it kept her face in the shade.  That helped a little, getting her as close as ten feet to normal people.  She’d tried both a veil and a surgical mask.  The mask might have worked in Japan, but not here in America.  The best she could manage was dark sunglasses, Audrey Hepburn style, combined with a black veil and the hat over her head.  That worked up to about four feet, unless she really had to interact with someone.  Then they always freaked.  And she’d have to duck around a corner, drop everything but her gloves, and stuff her ‘body’ away in her purse to hide the evidence before someone could catch her in the act.

Well, if today worked out, she’d solve that problem, too.

She spotted Jared hurrying out with a tinge of orange for his embarrassment at wearing his caddy clothes in public.  There weren’t many jobs available for a fourteen-year-old (who looked twelve) and was living in foster care.  Being a caddy paid best of all the choices she’d seen.

hr1

He immediately saw Jinn swinging on the swings while she waited, like usual.  He passed an admiring eye over her.  Why couldn’t he look like that?  Okay, the veil was weird, but the black bodysuit under her clothes maybe implied some sort of Goth thing.  Most people seemed to accept it.  He noticed that she still couldn’t swing and make it look natural.  The chain hung loosely, as if the swing was holding a weight of only a few pounds – such as some clothes and a pair of shoes.  She was going to have to figure out how to be “heavy” when she needed to be.

He ran up to her, and gave her a new “charge” as they touched.  Immediately, they both adjusted the bezel on their diver’s watches.  Constant practice had increased Jinn’s time to 43 minutes on a single charge.  But he’d been keeping her going almost constantly, ever since discovering the power.  It had become an obsession with him.  She was his innermost self, his better half.  So long as she was active, he was walking the world as a real girl somewhere.  Perhaps a disembodied ghost-girl, but he needed to get in as much girl time as he could.  That was one reason they rode the bus together despite the added expense.  The empty bus was a chance for her to “get out in the real world” and feel like she was actually taking part in it.  Those experiences were still rare enough to be treasured, and were well worth the cost of bus fare.

Reaching out, he took her hand and rudely yanked her out of the swing.

“Hey!  What was that for?”

Despite her tone, he knew she had a tough time staying angry at himself.  All he had to do was wait for the end of the bus ride, when they’d merge again.

“Heavy, remember?  Real girls don’t float to the ground when they’re yanked out of their seat.”

“Yeah, yeah.  You sure I can’t just fly, instead?”  She drifted up horizontal, as if lying on an invisible bed.

“NO!  Normal weight.  Remember that.”

“Slave driver.”

hr1

The caddy room was empty, so he ushered her in.  She’d gotten the change ‘n’ stash routine down to ten seconds.  It was actually kind of disturbing to watch, since the gloves were the last thing to go.  She pulled off her shoes (and feet, it looked like), socks, hat, hair, head.  As she went, the pile of neatly folded clothes quickly grew, but it looked as if she were dismembering herself.  Finally, her bodysuit deflated and the gloves folded the leotard, then dropped to the top of the stack and he felt her memories falling into him again.

He quickly hurried outside to set up Mr. Cavendale.  Once he knew which ball the man was using, he charged Jinn into it.

hr1

Being a golf ball was good training.  She’d tried it a couple of different ways.  Being in her ghost body, while she ‘held’ the ball in her hand.  She’d decided that she preferred just being bonded to the golf ball, so that it became her body.  Even without her ethereal body, she was still completely female.

She still wasn’t sure how a ghostly spirit could have a gender, but she definitely had one.  Whether in her ethereal spirit-form, or just bound entirely into an object – she still felt distinctly female.  She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she did.

And that was exactly what Jared was beginning to fear.  When they were in his physical body, he had learned enough to sense that same feminine spirit – only encased in male flesh.

If she’d only ever been Jared, it might have taken her much longer to figure it out.  Instead, she had felt her spirit in dozens, hundred of different situations.  On the inside, she now recognized that she was the same everywhere.  The same girl.  But the outside…

She gave herself different names, for convenience.  ‘Jared’ for when she was stuck in her physical body, and ‘Jinn’ for when she was out, when she could be a complete girl.

Jared was scared of the idea.  He knew that doctors could do something, but that was a pretty big thing to be facing.  So as Jared he did his best to deny it, and as Jinn she fumed at her own indecisiveness.

But for now, she stopped her perennial grumbling and concentrated on her training.  In this case it required her to be perfectly passive.  The first time she’d tried this had been Miss Baker’s clothes.  But she’d made some goofs with the golf balls.  People tended to stare if your golf ball was whacked into the sky, only to suddenly pause and hang there, before belatedly dropping straight to the ground.

Now she had so much experience with being passive that she could do it in her sleep (if she could sleep in this state, which didn’t seem to be possible).  The her-plus-golf-ball always went exactly where it was whacked, and nowhere else.  Okay, maybe she’d nudged an occasional putt or pushed a ball to the edge of the rough, but that didn’t really count.

And despite the startling surprise of being suddenly whacked from the tee (it didn’t really hurt), the view as she sailed over the golf course was just killer!

hr1

“You ready?” he asked, as he changed out of the atrocious golf pants into cutoffs and a t-shirt.

“Believe it,” squeaked the stuffed kitten that clung to his hair.  People looked strangely at a boy with such a toy on his shoulder, but he didn’t care.

hr1

“Absolutely the best, most lifelike Madonna mask you can buy.”  The man laid it on the counter with care.  “If you really want to use it, you’re going to need the spirit gum to apply it.  And it should be properly applied, too, blending in the lips and eyelids.  I don’t guarantee quality, if a buncha you school kids want to use it for some prank.”

“I’ll take it just like this, thanks.”  He carefully counted out the precious cash from his tips.

The mask was magnificent.  It looked just like real skin.  It moved and shifted, but was nice and thick.  It seemed sturdy.

He wasn’t really worried about the eyelids.  So what if she was slightly wide-eyed and never blinked?  The lips were more of a problem, but the mask had enough to cover the outside of the mouth.  For the inside, he had a fake tongue from a gag shop, and dentures liberated from a dentist’s trash bin.

Reverently, he took his new possession with him, going only as far as the nearest handicap restroom.  He locked the door to the private room.  Whereupon the stuffed animal leapt off his shoulder and glided into his backpack.  A flash of memories later, and he took the bag holding Jinn’s clothes, added the mask on top, then charged her into it.

There was the swirl of activity that he’d grown used to, as all the pieces floated up and into place.  Teeth, speaker behind the mouth, fake tongue, face in place, black hood outlining the rest of the head, the long blonde wig above that.  The masterpiece was the pair of novelty plastic eyeballs.  They were oversized, with huge irises that gave her a touch of animé character appearance.  It didn’t hurt that the irises were more-than-mutant exotic in color, alternating purple and gold streaks.

She gave the appropriate tugs, as her sweater and skirt dropped into place, falling from her ‘grasp’ as she released her TK hold on them.

Jared stared at her.  She was wide-eyed perfection.  Not a hint of his own Asiatic eye shape.  Impossibly long blonde hair, perfectly managed but loose and wind-blown.  Those impossible eyes.  She was missing eyelashes on top, but he didn’t care.  She opened her mouth to speak.  He could see her teeth, her tongue moving in her mouth.  It all looked normal and correct.

“You’re beautiful!” he said, in a voice barely above a whisper.  She was a fourteen-year-old bombshell.  Wide-eyed innocence with her first curves just beginning to show.  She was much taller than him – 5’ 3”, and unlike him, she sure didn’t look twelve.  She looked fifteen.  That was due to the face, which looked so much older than the rest of the body.

“Beautiful?”  Her voice was half joyful, and half disbelieving.  “Really?  Ready for the street?”  She bent over to retrieve her hat.

“You won’t even need the hat.  But I think you will want the sunglasses.  Unless you want everyone to stare at you.”

She smiled at him, and her lips actually moved.  They stretched – naturally – into the proper shape.  The rest of her face responded correctly, looking perfectly natural.  This is much better than the manikin head, he thought.

“Yeah,” he repeated.  “You’re ready.”

hr1

They walked the mall together.  She was a real girl, an attractive blonde (that thought still blew her mind).  With her was a twelve-year-old boy in cutoffs and a Pokémon T-shirt.  They didn’t look quite like boyfriend and girlfriend.  At fifteen and twelve, it didn’t quite work.  It would have been sister and brother, but her blonde self had no resemblance to Jared.

Still, they managed.

Guys kept coming up to her, saying she looked familiar and asking what her name was.  She kept telling them she was new in town, and didn’t know them.

They stopped for a snack in the food court.  Jinn didn’t need anything, of course, but Jared had a hot dog.

He looked at her with a wistful look of longing on his face.  Under that, she could see the shiny green of envy.  She knew that everyone who saw them probably thought he was in love with her, but his want and envy had a very different source.

They looked at a few more shops, then she spotted something odd.  There was a man following them.  He was a fair distance back, and she wouldn’t have seen him if she hadn’t been able to see out of the back of her head.  This all-around vision took some getting used to, but with the month of practice she’d had, she was now regularly watching in every direction.  This fellow has the rosy tint of interest to his aura, but he also had a disturbing silvery sheen to the aura.  He had a baseball cap that he kept pulled down, so she hadn’t been able to spot his face.

She leaned over and told Jared what she’d seen.

“Should we look for a security guard?”

“What would we tell him?”

So they decided to get a little more clever.  The first trick was to get Jinn packed away back in the backpack.  With someone suspicious following, that left out any plans where Jared doubled-back to pick things up.  He might run straight into his follower.  His next thought was to use the bathrooms, but he might get cornered there.  Finally the spotted a garden store.  It seemed likely to be less concerned with shoplifters and less suspicious of teenagers.  It also had a number of tall displays that Jinn could hide behind.

They walked in together.  Jared casually dropped his backpack on the floor behind a tall rack of fertilizer products.  He’d already unzipped it.  Jinn stayed with the pack while Jared continued at his same pace.

Jinn didn’t bother folding herself, she virtually stuffed herself into the backpack, keeping the gloves until the last second, when Jared walked back around.  A bodiless glove picked up the pack and handed it to him, so that he didn’t even pause in his walk.  Then the gloves tucked themselves into his pocket, and she vanished.

hr1

Now that Jinn was back, he had a lot more options.  It was sometimes handy to have two people, but Jinn’s powers helped her, not him.  Now that she was back and he could cast her when he needed her, he had a lot more flexibility.

First he wanted to get a good look at his follower.  Was it someone he recognized?  Were there more of them, maybe a team?  Was the follower being followed?  He picked a penny out of his pocket and charged it, then tucked it into the waistband of his pants.  The penny slid down his leg inconspicuously, out of sight of the crowd.  It lay on the floor, ignored by everyone that passed.

Jared continued on straight, allowing his pursuer to follow in his footsteps.

Jinn returned barely a minute later, quicker than he’d expected.  The news was bad: It was his father!

That told him everything he needed to know.  He father would either be dragging him home (by force) or just looking to unload some frustration.  Probably the first so that he could do the second in private.  Either way, it was bad news.

He could probably get help if he went to a mall guard – but all sorts of details might come out.  Like his current address.  If that happened, he knew his old man would find out somehow and tracking him down.  It was better just to avoid any problem in the first place.

He could run for it.  That would be his last-ditch plan, because even if he stayed ahead of his father, it wouldn’t do much good to beat the man to the bus stop by 50 feet.  But he might get away clean if he used Jinn.  He thought as he walked.  Jinn could slow his father down somehow – tangle him up or trip him or cause some kind of trouble.  Maybe push a heavy box on his head – he certainly deserved it!

Or… Jinn could help him fly!  He could cast her into his clothes and shoes, and she could lift him right off the ground.  He could jump up someplace impossibly high, or jump down – maybe from the second level to the first level, bypassing the stairs and elevators.

He formed a quick plan.  First, he walked halfway down the mall, looking for likely hiding spots.  The exit nearest the bus stop had a joke and novelty store.  He’d purchased eyeballs, a rubber tongue, and other useful items here.  This time, he bought three dozen realistic plastic flies.  They were bigger than he really wanted, but it was the best he could do.  He put the bag in his backpack, but took a handful for his pocket.  Then he headed back in the opposite direction, directly away from the bus-stop exit.

A quick check in the reflective glass of a store front showed the follower still behind him, five stores back.  He could have used Jinn to check, but the whole charge-look-pop-back thing was a little inconvenient.  In fact, his plan relied on Jinn keeping tabs on his father.  The biggest problem was that if he and Jinn were separated, she wouldn’t know when she needed to come back to him.  What if he needed her, but she was off in a different part of the mall?

He thought through his plan again, trying to figure the timing and coordination.  Finally, he thought he had it.

The store ahead of him sold fine furniture.  Expensive sofas and chairs, dining room tables, beds, and bookcases.  It also had the advantage of being a “pass through” store – it was in the middle section of the mall, and its near and far walls opened onto different hallways.

For once, Jared blessed his small stature.  He walked up to a table, set with decorative candleholders in the middle.  He touched one and charged – putting Jinn into the candleholder, his clothes, shoes, and backpack.  She could straddle it all, provided that he stayed close to the candlestick holder.

The salesman looked into the hallway, and Jared ducked under the table.  Instantly, Jinn lifted him up.  His feet turned out to the sides, to remain flatter.  One hand tucked into his backpack.  Belatedly, he stuck the other into his pocket.  Now Jinn held up everything but his head.  He turned that to the side, pressing his ear to the flat underside of the table.  His head was flatter that way.

It was up to Jinn, now.  That’s why he’d touched the candlestick holder.  With part of her “self” up above the table, she’d be able to keep watch.

Quicker than he expected, he spotted the shoes and pants of his pursuer.  They walked forward briskly, then paused by his table!  Jared tried to breath as shallowly as he could.

“Looking for anything in particular?”  It was the salesman.  He touched something on the table, and Jared could hear him readjusting the candlestick holder.  If the man pulled it more than a few feet away, it would break free of Jinn and she’d have no way to watch, above.  Worse, her concentration might falter for a second, dropping him.

He pressed tighter, trying to hide behind the wood framing that edged the underside of the table.  It provided a four-inch lip that further sheltered him.

Both sets of feet moved on.  A moment later, Jared floated to the ground.  He quickly scrambled to his feet.  Doubling back, he headed out the original door.  At the same time, he withdrew a black plastic fly, charged it, and flicked it toward the far exit – the exit his father had taken.  He set the bezel on his watch – to count seconds, this time.  Jinn was to follow for 30 seconds.  If she couldn’t find him, she’d pop back.

“You!  Kid!  Where’d you come from?”

Jared gave a start.  He hadn’t expected the salesman to care about a young kid.  “What are you talking about?  I’ve just been looking.”

He made his way out of the store and past the salesman.  He was careful to walk in the wrong direction initially.  After a moment, the salesman shrugged and went back to work.

Jinn reported back a minute later.  She’d been a “fly on the wall,” sticking close to the ceiling while she followed her father.  He was headed in the wrong direction, moving slowly as he tried to inconspicuously looked into near-by stores.

Jared charged another fly, and sent it after the first.  This time, she had three minutes to find her father.  If she couldn’t, she’d come back.  He figured he could do without her powers for that long – they were still in public.

For his part, he made his way along he pre-planned route, moving as quickly as he could without attracting notice.  Two minutes later, he was outside and heading for the bus stop.  Ten minutes later, Jinn still hadn’t returned, which was good news.  After thirty minutes, he was on the bus and headed home.  That’s when he felt the flush, as Jinn’s memories washed into him.  It was hard not to smile.

She’d found her father fairly quickly.  He’d still been moving from store to store.  She’d flown down, doing her best to emulate the unpredictable flight path of a fly, and lighted atop of her father’s baseball cap.  From this vantage, she’d ridden along, perfectly tracking her quarry as he moved from store to store, slowly increasing in frustration.  After ten minutes, he’d gone back to prowling the main walkways, hoping to get lucky again.  He’d never even thought to look outside.

It was good news that they’d been able to get away so easily.  The bad news was that next time his father found him, he probably wouldn’t wait.  Given this failure of the subtle approach, if his father spotted him again he’d probably move in immediately to grab his “property.”

But that was a problem for another day.

4: Dressing up

Topeka, Kansas   July 25, Tuesday

It had taken nearly than a month.  A month of urging Jared to try the bra, see how this blouse felt, try the skirt, let’s do your hair.  A month of her being a girl, him wanting it desperately, and going into denial.  A month of pointing out how useful the disguise would be, for avoiding his father.  And despite their very different opinions on the matter, they were the same person.

The entire difference seemed to be that there were major biological components to emotion and thought.  A perfect example was facing up to their father.  Jared froze, she didn’t.  But they were the same person.  Nearly any emotion was richer for him than it was for her.

When it came down to it, he was scared and she wasn’t.

They both knew how much he wanted to do this.  She’d had the clothes ready for weeks.  But when push came to shove, he chickened out.  Well, not today.  After waking, the plan had come to her.  She’d packed the extra clothes.  Of course, he knew that as soon as they merged, but he hadn’t unpacked them.

So she worked on him.

“Look, ever since the bit with your father, we’ve hit random malls, right?  And this one is, what, twenty-three miles?  There’s no way anyone we know will be there.  It’s Tuesday, so the crowd’s light.  I’m a brunette now, so your father shouldn’t recognize me.  If you’re a girl, he won’t be able to recognize you, either.

He’d finally uttered the fateful words.  “I’ll try.”

hr1

Jinn studied the new girl with a critical eye.  Girl-Jared was wearing her favorite panties with the triple frill.  Despite her fears, you could see how happy “she’d” been to slide on the half-slip, to fasten on the small training bra.  Each and every step moved her a little closer to being the girl she needed to be.  Now Jinn stepped back to examine the entire effect.

The girl wore a light green sleeveless blouse that didn’t quite reach her waist.  A glimpse of belly button showed through.  Her tube skirt came to mid thigh, and she wore open-toed sandals.  There was no way she’d ever pass as a more grown-up girl, not at 4’ 9”, but she looked fine as a precocious pre-adolescent girl – perhaps eleven or twelve.  A twelve that looked definitely eager for sixteen.  But it was nice to know that the hair worked.  They’d been letting Jared’s hair grow out for a couple of months now.  It was just long enough for the boy to keep it in a pony tail, low on his neck.  The girl wore it loose, brushed out, reaching to almost her shoulders.  It hung almost straight, except that it tended to curl in slightly at the bottom.  Overall, it tended to emphasize the oval shape of ‘her’ face.  It also seemed to hide her, slightly.  When ‘he’ had it pulled back, his face was completely exposed.  But ‘she’ was almost surrounded by her hair.  When she tipped her head forward or looked at her feet, the oval of hair fell in around her face, hiding her.

Like much of his looks, Jared had inherited the hair from his now-departed mother.  A complexion that looked slightly tan, a modest Asian cast to the eyes, and that beautiful straight, sable-black hair.  Jinn cocked her head, studying the new girl.  To be honest, the slightly flatter face made it look like she still had a bit of baby fat (even more emphasized by the shape of her face).  The small nose looked good, especially on a young girl.

“You pass,” Jinn decided.  “How do you feel?”

They’d carefully picked a name for the new girl.  She was “Jade.”  It had implications of China more than Japan, but they both like it a lot.  “Jade” came out of the stall and looked in the mirror.  Suddenly her eyes were glistening with unshed tears.  “It feels really good,” she said quietly.

“Ready to admit it?  That this is what you want for real and forever?”

“Ji-inn!  I haven’t even been out in public yet.”

The taller, older-seeming brunette took the hand of the shorter, Asian girl.  “Then come on, girlfriend.  We’re finally going to get those ears pierced.”

hr1

He walked through the mall as if he were walking the streets of heaven itself.  He kept thinking to himself, I am JADE.  A girl.  I’m not a boy any more.  And it worked!  People looked, but they gave him normal looks.

His feelings were hardly a surprise, more confirmation.  Was this was who he wanted to be?  Could he become “Jade” for real?  Could he leave “Jared” behind forever?

But it all came down to small steps.  Dressing, walking in public like this was something he’d worked up to for weeks.  Getting ‘her’ ears pierced made for a pretty big second step.

When the jewelry counter had an unexpected line, ‘Jade’ took a seat and picked up a copy of Seventeen to read.  Someday... she thought to herself, daring to dream about being a real girl, and growing up female.

“Shall I hang with you?” Jinn asked her.

Jade shook her head, more than content to be out in public, dressed as she was.  “I’d like you back here to hold my hand… when it happens.  But my appointment doesn’t come up for thirty minutes.  You want to wander, don’t you?”

“And how!”

“Okay, let me -”  but Jinn was already extending a hand for a quick charge.  Both girls twisted the dials on their watches to mark off 50 minutes from now.

hr1

She prowled.  She walked the mall, like any normal person.  People still gave her occasional odd looks.  Many of them would recognize something familiar in her Madonna-mask face.  It was a lot easier now that she’d abandoned the blonde wig.  So the people would shrug and move on.  They usually attributed it to her eclectic clothing selection.  Who could follow teen fashions these days?  And there was no shortage of oddly-dressed fifteen-year-old girls in the mall.  So she had a thing for electric blue, or Hello Kitty, or leggings and sandals.  Partly it was a mix she was experimenting with, partly it was because she was colorblind, and partly because she was limited in what she could acquire from the incinerator bins.

She came to the makeup counter, but quickly moved on.  It was interesting, but she couldn’t let them examine her face too closely.  What would they do if they realized it wasn’t skin?  So she moved on, perpetually trying to copy the walk and mannerisms of the other girls her age.

The next shop was a bank outlet, where there appeared to be a robbery in progress.  After that was the figurines and collectables store.

She stopped and looked back into the bank.  Yep.  Every single person with a glassy-eyed stare, except for the man in the tailored pinstripe suite, who seemed to be directing them.

Unsure quite what to do, she stepped in.  There was an alarm panic button on the far wall.  She began to stride forward.

“Oh Miss!”  It was Mr. Pinstripe, calling out to her.  His voice was silky and rich.  “Miss, don’t you care at all what I say?  I’d really like just a moment of your time.  I’m sure we’d both be happier if you helped me out here.”

“Yeah, right,” she muttered, heading faster for the switch.

“Stop her!” Pinstripe shouted, and immediately a wall of men and women stepped forward.  Before she knew what to do, they had grabbed her by the upper arms and spun her around to face Mr. Pinstripe.

She struggled for a moment.  She figured she now had her father beat for strength – but four adults holding her was too much.  She still might have gotten clear if she’d dropped everything but her gloves, but there was no way she was going to abandon her face mask.

“Odd.  Perhaps it’s the glasses.”  He reached forward to remove her glasses, then stopped when he got a look at her over-sized eyes, with the impossibly colorful irises.

She was forced to stare back into his eyes.  To her unusual vision his irises glowed ultra-violet.  But his pupils – those were harsh, bright points of ultra-violet flame.

“Wow, nice eyes, mister.”

“I should say the same for you, young lady.  Well, I suppose that explains it.  What kind of mutant are you?”

“Why?  You planning to shoot me now?  What did you do, hypnotize them all?”

He waved a hand negligently.  “They apparently found themselves entranced by the sound of my voice.  I admit, it’s a gift I have.  As for shooting people – please!  I may be a bit lax about ideas of property and ownership, but I like to think I have some style.”  He looked at the wooden populace in the bank office and then shrugged sheepishly.  “Well, I was running short, you know.  Needed a little withdrawal.”  Then he looked back at her.  “So young.  You aren’t even sixteen, are you?”

That stopped her.  “Uh… beg pardon?”

But he was already lost in reminiscence.  “Ah, high school.  You wouldn’t believe some of the stunts we pulled back then.  They wanted me to go pro, of course.  Too much trouble, really.  I’m happy enough with a nice standard of living.  But kids these days?  They’ve got no style, no understanding.  They get a couple of new powers and they think they can suddenly smash everything in their way.”

He wasn’t making a bit of sense.  “Uh, right.  Gosh, it’s been really great catching up, but I have to be going…”

He turned back to stare into her face.  “Nothing at all.  You have a nice resistance, if nothing else.  Could you at least blink?”

She shrugged.  “Sorry, I can’t.  It’s sort of… part of my condition.”

He stared at her again, blinking his own eyes several times.  “How very disconcerting.”  Then, collecting himself, “well, I must say, you’ve been quite polite – for one of the younger generation, that is.”  He leaned close to peer at her again.  “Say, you aren’t getting some sort of mentoring, are you?  No, ah, older mutants near-by, showing you the ropes?”

“…older mutants?”  The thought collided with his earlier comment about her being a mutant.  She’d passed it off before, thinking that her fake eyes had fooled him.  But it gradually dawned on her that she was a mutant.  That is, in her Jared body.  “There are other mutants out there, aren’t there?”

The man in pinstripe was scribbling on the back of a card.  “Indeed there are, although it’s nice to know that Topeka remains delightfully free of the scourge.  Ourselves excepted, of course.”  He quietly added, “And this might get rid of you, too.”  Then, reaching over, he pressed the card into her hand.  “You might give these people a call.  It’s worth checking into, at least.  Eyes like that.”

Then, collecting a set of money sacks from a pair of helpful tellers and an eager-to-please branch manager, the man in pinstripes sauntered away.

“Ta ta!  Let me know how it works out.  Leave a note for me at the alumni association!”

hr1

Jared – rather, ‘Jade’ – was still waiting when a breathless Jinn returned.

She doesn’t even breathe.  How can she be breathless? he wondered.  He didn’t say anything, just raised one eyebrow.  They knew each other’s body language.

She sat next to him and leaned close to whisper.

“Mutant!  Robbed the bank!  I tried to stop him.  Somehow, people heard his voice and just did whatever he said.  Didn’t work on me, though.”

“Did he hurt you?”  Could she even be hurt?  He reached over and gave her a quick charge-up, then re-adjusted his watch.

“No.  He had them hold me.  Said we were the only two mutants in Topeka.”  It dawned on Jared that he was a mutant.  It was the only explanation for his strange ability to summon Jinn.  And he knew there were plenty of other mutants out there -

“That’s not all,” Jinn whispered.  “He gave me this!”

She held up the card so Jared could see it:

Whateley Academy
Dunwich, New Hampshire
(505) 666-7777

On the back was scrawled, “Melodious Silvertongue, class of ‘87.”

They looked at it in puzzlement.

“Jade?  You’re next, honey.”

Jinn held her hand as she walked gleefully forward.  This was now her second step on the road toward becoming a woman.

hr1

“Whateley Academy.  How may I help you?”  The woman on the other end sounded like a typical bored clerk.

“I – I’m not sure.  I met this man in a mall, and he said something about mentoring and other people” his voice dropped “like me.”

The voice on the other end almost drawled her boredom.  “Ah, let me guess.  A teenager new to her powers, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”  He was calling with the Lasaters’ phone.  He’d asked permission a week ago, then waited until they were both out of the house for the evening.  He was just sure he was going to have to mention words like “powers” and “mutant”, and he didn’t want them to overhear.

“Well, honey, we get applicants from all over.  I can send you the forms, no charge.  You’re advised to be discreet with the material.  If that checks out, and I’m not saying it will ‘cause we get lots more asking than actually get in, you hear what I’m saying?  But if it does check out they’ll want to give you testing in person for both your academics and so-called powers.  And if they find out you’re cheating on any of that, well, more than a few people have been plenty sorry.

“So, you still interested?”

“Uh, yes.  Please.”

“Alright.  Give me your name and address.  The packet should arrive in two to three business days.”

hr1

It actually took a full week before it arrived.  When the thick package did finally show up, he was so excited that he wanted to read everything at once.

“Here you go, Jared.”  Jerry was polite to him, as always.  Distant, but polite.  “It looks like it’s from that private school you were talking about.”

“Thanks!”  He grabbed it out of the older man’s hands and tore up the stairs.

“I don’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud, but you do realize that you’re currently a ward of the state, don’t you?  You’d need your case worker’s approval.  And the state isn’t going to be providing tuition for any expensive private schools, much less out-of-state -”

The door slamming cut off the annoying voice.  Jared instantly slapped the gloves-and-speaker, charging Jinn into them.  That way, he could look through things twice as fast.  He ripped open the package while the gloves floated anxiously beside him.

“I’m taking the brochure,” he told her.  “You couldn’t see the pictures in color anyway.  Why don’t you look over the admission form?”

At first, he was scared.  The brochure looked completely ordinary.  The front was dominated by a picture of ivy-covered brick buildings, set against a backdrop of stately oak and maple with the riotous reds and yellows of a New England fall.  In the foreground a collection of well-to-do students were walking, and seemed to be discussing some academic subject.  Three students wore what appeared to be a school uniform, while a fourth wore casual prep-style clothing.  One of the students was female, one black.  It looked as ‘ivy league’ as you could imagine.  He opened the brochure, expecting a discourse on how attendance would improve his chances of entering Harvard.

The interior immediately dispelled his doubts.  On the left, a caped figure floated in mid-air, holding a helpless young woman and using his own body to shield her from the incoming rain of gunfire.  On the opposite page, a man in a tailored suit held a crown and scepter, while draped negligently over a royal throne.  At his feet, supplicants kneeled in homage, amidst a wealth of loosely scattered coins.

Jared’s eyes bugged out and he began to read.

hr1

“Okay, listen to this,” Jinn said.  “ ‘I can regularly and reliably use the following powers.’  It’s got a check off list.  And listen to some of these:  ‘Disintegration, Domination, Elemental affinity, Flight, Invisibility, Resurrection (with entries for self or other), Superhuman strength, Time control, Transmutation…’ “

“Anything that applies to us?”

“Hmmm, maybe.  Telekinesis?”

“Well, yeah, sort of.”

“Okay.  How about astral projection?”

He scrunched his face up.  “I don’t think so.  Not really.  Can’t people like that fly to the other side of the world, just by thinking of it?  And they pass through walls and stuff.”

“Okay, no check.  How about clairvoyance?”

“Yeah, I guess.  That’s probably as close as anything.”

hr1

“Here’s something,” he said.

“Who’s the guy in the picture?” she asked, floating in over his shoulder.  “I can’t quite make it out.”

The picture was of a gigantic man – probably seven feet tall – hovering angrily above an enraged mob.

“Heinrich Harnhold.”

“The Übermensch of Berlin?”

“Yeah.  The caption says the shot is from 1943, when Germany’s ‘Theme Operatives’ reached their peak.”

“Whoa.”

“It fits.  Listen: ‘The Academy exists to prepare new mutants and other students of power to exist successfully in a world of normal men.  A world that outnumbers us a million to one.  A world that we may choose to protect or exploit depending on our own calling, but a world that we must always respect.  For history teaches that when the powerful war against the normal, both sides are devastated.’ “

hr1

“We’re going,” she said abruptly.  “I don’t care how.  We’re going.”

“What?  Why?”  He tried to look at the admission form she was working on, but it seemed to be about a hundred pages thick.

“Okay, I was filling this out.  Listen to this.  ‘Sex:  Male  Female  Complicated’ “

“Complicated?  What the hell does that mean?”

He got the sense she was staring at him, as in perfect synchronization they said, “Think alike.”

“Okay,” she continued.  “So the ‘complicated’ entry cross-references sexual preference on page fourteen, but that sent me on to fill out the following on page sixty-two.  ‘Please fill in as closely as possible:’

‘My powers or incidents associated with them, are/have transformed me:

‘to have no gender’

‘to become more masculine’

‘to become more feminine’

‘to exhibit characteristics of multiple genders’ “

They both focused on the second to the last line.  It took a moment for Jared to realize what this meant.  It was so common that they had a check box on the entry form!

“You’re right,” he agreed.  “We’re going.”

hr1

Once the reply had come through, it had taken him a week and a half to earn round-trip bus fare to Kansas City.  Now he was sitting in a Kansas City police station in a sealed, soundproof interrogation room across from “Sergeant Everest.”  This was his “powers” interview.  The sergeant was seven feet tall, four feet wide, and looked tough enough to enjoy a diet of nails and bricks.  It didn’t help that the interrogation room had a low-level stench of fear, from the thousands of interrogations performed here.

“Okay, this is first of all to make sure you really got the juice,” the sergeant rumbled in a nearly subsonic bass, “and to give a first stab at classifying you.  I’m no expert on that, but I can give a starting point.  Also, something to keep in mind is that a lot of the stuff on the entry packet is deliberately made up.  It weeds out the loonies, and helps in case that info is released to the public.  I mean, like anyone’s going to be talking to me, after they’re practiced ‘creating anti-matter.’  Yeah, right.  So, don’t rely on any of that junk, but use your own words to tell me what you do.”

Jared had been too scared to dress as a girl for this, and now he was almost regretting it.  Dressing as a girl always made him a little more comfortable and confident.  Of course, being Jinn made him downright cocky.  Still, he gathered his courage.  He wanted to be completely honest, since this was so important.

“Well, I can sort of ‘charge’ things up.  Like gloves.  Or a whole outfit even.  Or just objects like a paint brush and paint can.  And while things are ‘charged’ it’s like I’m two people.  The charge lasts for almost 55 minutes these days.  Anyway, when I’m her – I call myself ‘Jinn’ when I’m charged into something, it’s like I’m a regular person, but the only way I can touch the real world is through the things I was charged into – if that makes sense.  So, if I like charged a pair of gloves, then it’s like my hands are in the gloves.  But no matter how I try, I can’t shift the charge into some other object.  But I can pick things up with my gloves.  Do you understand?”

The sergeant made some rapid notes on his pad.  He picked up a thick leather reference book, but Jared couldn’t spot the title.  After quickly flipping to an appropriate section, the sergeant asked several more questions.

“Okay, how far away can you be while this is going on?”

Jared shrugged.  “Which me?  In the physical body you mean?  I haven’t really found a limit yet.  We got up to twenty miles once, before the time limit ran out.”

“Oh, so you’re awake while all this is happening?  Eh, strange.  Okay, what happens when the TK construct fades?”

Jared shrugged and smiled.  “Then I suddenly remember both of my experiences.  Physical and non-physical.”  He’d almost said, ‘in this flesh and as her.’

“Okay.  Well, let’s get a strength test.”  The sergeant gestured at a rack of weights.  “Do your thing and let’s see how much you can lift.”

Jared pulled out the pair of gloves that he always carried with him.  He decided to add the speaker as well.  He charged them, and watched the speaker float into position about where Jinn’s mouth should be.

“Okay,” she said.  “I’m ready.”

The huge policeman motioned to the rack of free weights.  “Start at the bottom and work your way up.  Let me know when you reach your limit.”

Jared already knew reasonably well, but he was pleased that Jinn followed the instructions.  He wondered if she was bending down or just sinking into the floor to get the lower weights.  Finally, she began to collect combinations.

“It’s getting kind of awkward to hold in one hand,” she admitted.  “But it looks like about 180 pounds.”

“Hmm,” the sergeant made a note.  “And if you use both hands?”

“You know, it’s odd.  I’ve noticed that too, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether I use one hand or both hands.”

“Right.  How about reps?  Can you lift and lower them several times?”

The gloves holding the weights began to bob up and down.  “All day long.  Or at least, until I run out of charge.  I don’t get tired.  Of course, ‘exercise’ doesn’t seem to make me any stronger, either.”

“Right.  Now a couple of fine tests.”  He handed the gloves a pen and piece of paper.  “Write ‘Peter Piper.’  You know, the whole thing.”

Jared watched as Jinn put the page on the desk and neatly wrote out the requested sentence.  He’d always been proud of his handwriting.

“Okay, same pen, do this maze.”  She did.  “Good.  Now, look through this microscope.  You’ll see some tiny beads on that slide.  Sort the red ones to the left and the yellow ones to the right.”

The gloves spread in apology.  “Do you have a needle or something I can use?  And the microscope is just in the way.  I don’t see with light.”

“Here.”  The sergeant handed her a toothpick.

Jinn fumbled with it for a minute, but was no better than Jared would have been in her place.  In other words, not too successful.  It wasn’t until much later that he realized that he could have charged up the slide and beads.

The sergeant flipped back and forth in the book, before finally copying some results over to a complex form.  “Right.  I’ve got your telekinesis down.  You’re classed as a TK-2d.  Good dexterity, approximately human strength.  Let’s look at the esper side, now.”  He peered at Jared.  “You can be in the other room, right?”

“Yeah.  I mean, she can do whatever she wants, even if I go into the other room.”

“Okay.  Step outside.  I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

Jared nodded and stepped outside.  It wasn’t very comfortable sitting on a bench, watching sleazy suspects come and go as they were herded around for interrogation.  At least they were all escorted.  After about five minutes, the door opened and Sergeant Everest called him back in.

“Okay,” the big man rumbled, “what did you see?”

“Uh, sir, I can’t tell you that until Jinn over there lets go and comes back to me.”

“Do it.”

And he remembered.  “Oh, yeah.  Well, you had us read from that book – Power Classification, Testing, and Limitations.  Is Whateley Press connected with the Academy?”

“Uh huh.  Keep going.”

“You had me look at the nine of clubs inside that dark box, proving I could see in the dark.  I described your aura colors as you tried to make yourself happy and sad.  You suddenly lashed out and hit me,” Jared rubbed his left hand, “not that it hurt or anything, and you had me look at some super-tiny etching, but I couldn’t see it.”

“Right.  I make that,” again he consulted the book, “An Esper-3 (clairvoyant/aura reader) unlimited range.  And for the weird part,” he scribbled on the complex form again, “I’m tentatively putting you down as a manifestor, with a second astral body.”  He flipped through the book once more.  “Or should that be as a wizard with one spell, or an avatar: disconnected?  Damn this new system!”

While the sergeant wrote, Jared collected the gloves and speaker from where they’d fallen.

He finally finished writing.  “Well, that’s that.  I’ve already seen your academics.  Above average, but nothing to write home about.  Still, they’ll probably offer you a hardship scholarship.”

Jared couldn’t believe his ears.  “What, you mean I’m in?  I was able to lift enough?”

“Naw.  Your TK’s no great shakes, but who knows, you might develop.  The esper-3 is a bit more unusual, particularly with your mobility.  Man, we could use you in the department starting today.  The perfect spy, undetectable except to specific types of other mutants.  It’s the reliability that’s always the hard part, and you’ve got that cold.”

“I’m in…?”

The sergeant slid a sealed packet across the desk to him.  “Here’s the final entry forms.  I’ll be sending off my evaluation separately.  You’ll want to get those in the mail pretty quickly.  The new year starts in just over four weeks.  If you want to arrange for a scholarship and forms, that’s cutting it pretty close – especially since I see you’re a ward of the state.  That means an extra round of paperwork.”

The huge man nodded to himself, then added more quietly, “They told me you were a Category Three.  I don’t care about why, although I’m guessing it has something to do with the ward of the state business.  You’ll have to give the admissions office your real and assumed names, but for all public activity, you’ll use the new name.  Details are inside.  Don’t feel bad about it, lots of folks use it.  Protecting their families, some types of body change.”  He gestured at himself.  “It means that you can make up your own handle and identity when you finish the application.  Don’t worry.  You can choose an official tag later, in your senior year.  But this lets you pick one for use with the other students.”

hr1

And so it was that Jared found himself on a train speeding toward New Hampshire.  He’d gotten a lot more experience dressing.  He’d been a girl for almost a day at the time as he wandered malls and meandered though the city with his “big sister.”

It was excruciating and delightful, all at the same time.  Delightful as he let himself believe that this was real, that he really was a girl, that he would be this way forevermore.  Delightful in being able to act and behave in ways that were finally allowing the real person inside to emerge.  He wasn’t sure exactly who she was yet, but he desperately wanted to find out.

He’d read the information through, fifteen different times.  The rules seemed to allow it, his unique circumstances qualified him.  He was allowed entry under the name, race, culture, gender, and species of his choice, with the rights and responsibilities to dress, act, and in all ways behave appropriate to his assumed identity.

He shrank at the danger and the audacity, but Jinn’s confidence pushed him forward.  His entry into Whateley would be his only big opportunity for years to come.  Could he pull of the disguise, the lie, in a full-time boarding school?  And what if he finally entered puberty?  He had a wild idea that the reason he still looked twelve was that his body simply refused to go through puberty as a boy.  And while he didn’t want to be twelve forever, that was a ton better than turning into a boy.  But… living as a girl, full time?  That meant rooming with other girls, sleepovers, maybe they could teach her fashion and makeup.  It meant sharing secrets, trying new clothes, learning how to be pretty.  His mind was filled with the wonder that seemed almost within reach.  But it also probably meant eternal hatred and being completely ostracized from his school, his friends, and everyone that he’d grown close to if his lie was discovered.  It might well mean that he’d be beaten to a pulp or killed, as anger turned to rage.  He knew things like that happened.

Oddly enough, the danger didn’t seem to matter as much as betraying the friends.  That would be the hardest part.

But the opportunity!

So, with Jinn pushing on one side, and his experience and happiness with dressing pushing on the other side, he ignored his fears.  He listed his circumstances (as best he could in the spaces they had on their forms).  In his registration, he deliberately gave a new name and gender.  “She” was now registered as “Jade Sinclair.”  There was a delicious shiver as Jared contemplated that “she” would have to think of herself as a girl, full-time now.  She would never more be “Jared.”

Which brought her back to the train she was now on.  She had a small suitcase filled with feminine clothing – there wasn’t a stitch of ugly boys clothes.  This would be all or nothing.  Her pierced ears proudly displayed a pair of small Jade balls, to match her new name.

She was about to enter high school, not as the abused son of a drunken widower father, but as the orphaned daughter with a hidden and mysterious past, who had gained an inexplicable ability.

Beside her on the seat, a toy stuffed lion danced and cavorted, as if it were feeling as gleeful as she was.  She glanced around, ensuring that it was out of sight of the other passengers, then smiled indulgently.

She couldn’t wait to begin her freshman year!

The end

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Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

A Whateley Academy Story

Enter The Chaka!

By Bek D Corbin

August 31st, Thursday

I woke up, and the first thing that went through my mind was, ‘Finally! Today’s the day!’ I literally flipped out of bed, landing on the balls of my feet in a near perfect gymnast’s dismount, and made for the bathroom.

HR

Vince watched his younger brother zip out the door. ‘Wonderful,’ he thought to himself, ‘the goddam freak is finally leaving.’ Vince pulled himself out of his bed. Vince was in a lousy mood, and for all the world, he didn’t know why. He was finally getting rid of his little brother. No more watching as Tony preened in front of the mirror, checking the progress as his body got more and more feminine. No more worrying whether the kids at school were noticing that his little brother was turning into a freak. No more having to listen as Tony went on and on about his Aikido lessons, and how if he did this, his Ki would do that. No more watching Tony do impossible things like jumping up to a second story window. Nope, no more of that. They’d found a school for freaks like him, and Tony was going there, hopefully to stay. So, why didn’t he feel better?

HR

The thing that really pissed Vince off was that Tony was so fucking happy about it all. He was actually happy that he was turning into a girl! He was actually glad that he was some kind of mutant freak, who’d probably wind up growing claws and fangs and things! Why couldn’t he just stay his little brother and be a normal boy? His life had been perfect until Tony started taking those idiot Aikido lessons and all this fell out of the closet...

HR

I came bounding back into the room, and noticed Vince giving me the cold fish eye. “Well, look at the bright side, Bro! One less person in line for the bathroom!”

“How did you do all that so quickly?”

“Believe me, you don’t wanna know.” I went into my warming up Tai Chi Chu’an routine as Vince climbed into his clothes. With the last bit of the routine done, I stripped out of the pee-jays that I’d slept in, and pulled on a pair of lacy pink panties.

Vince almost tied himself up into a knot doing a wince of revulsion. “Do you HAVE to do that here?”

“Hey, it’s my room, too- for the next hour or so. If you don’t want to see this, why don’t you just go downstairs and wait for someone to cook you breakfast?”

“Why should _I_ leave? It’s MY bedroom!”

“Yeah, and YOU’RE the one getting all weirded out!” I struggled for a bit with a lacy bra that matched the panties, and then tucked my B cup breasts into the cups. That done, I looked into the mirror and bounced a bit. My breasts bounced securely in the cups, and the pink contrasted nicely with the bittersweet chocolate brown of my complexion. I smiled at the effect and saw a lovely picture in the mirror. Y’know someday, I’m going to get used to this; in the mean time, I’m just gonna enjoy!

“Jeezus KRIST, don’t _DO_ that!” Vince spat out.

“Vince, what is your problem? All summer long, you’ve been bitching at me to wear those stupid baggy clothes, even though you know that I HATE those ratty ‘Hip-hop’ things that you’ve been handing down to me for the last five years.” I cannot stand Gangsta Rap, largely because big brother Vince, a.k.a. ‘.44 Mag Vin’ was so heavy (and in a totally whack way) into it. I pulled on a baby blue demi-T with a glittery butterfly decal on the front, and a pair of low-riding blue jeans.

HR

Vince curled a lip at Tony. Dressed up like that, Tony made a very pretty young African American girl. Tony was thin, but he wasn’t the scrawny thin that he’d been last year. Now he was a sort of sleek, pantherish thin, with just enough curves to suggest the beginnings of a killer female figure. Tony’s face was heart-shaped with a pointed chin, very high cheekbones, a leonine nose, a large pair of amber colored almond-shaped eyes, and a wide mouth with full lips. The features, set on Tony’s long graceful neck, all joined together to create a rather feline impression. The fact that Tony’s hair was trimmed close to his head didn’t make him seem more masculine- too many girls wore exactly the same style. Even without any jewelry or makeup, Tony made a Stone Cold Babe. Three years ago, Vince would have made a total fool of himself to get next to a girl who looked like that. Vince made a disgusted sound. “Y’know, dressin’ like that still ain’t gonna make you White!”

HR

I shot a hard look at Vince in his jeans that buckled nearly at the knee, ‘muscle T’, flannel over-shirt, big belt buckle, and do-rag. Man, I have been taking this shit for too long. There is no way that I’m gonna leave without letting ‘.44 Mag Vin’ know what I really think. “Yeah, and dressing like that ain’t gonna make you Tough. Vince, we do NOT live in a rat-infested tenement in Bed-Sty! We live in Pleasant Oaks, our parents are married and well employed, nobody in this family does drugs- and if you’ve even SEEN crack cocaine, I’m telling Dad!- and the closest that you’ve ever come to being ‘Put down by The Man’ is getting pulled over for Driving While Black! You don’t have to go out and pull crimes to support this family, ‘cause Mom and Dad both pull down six-figure a year salaries, plus bennies. You wouldn’t know what to do with a gun even if you found one, and if you ever even suggested to your girlfriend Muriel that she turn tricks, she’d pound the crap out of you! The only _Posse_ that you got are those six shit-head Gangsta-wannabe friends of yours, and two of THEM are whiteboy wussoids who are even bigger losers than YOU are! We are well-off! Get used to it.” Even at fourteen, my voice is still smooth and clear, without a hint of cracking, and I can use it like a whip. Of course, it helps that I have all the real ammunition.

“F’ the luvvakrist, why don’t you at least try to be a Man, y’fucking sissy?”

“ ‘Be a Man’? ‘Sissy’? Hey, _I_ ain’t the one who just stood by while his six loser friends jumped his brother and tried to beat the crap out of him. And then shit in his drawers when that brother wiped up the floor with the aforementioned losers!”

Vince got up in Tony’s face. “Yer a goddamn disgrace to this entire family!”

“Disgrace? Me? Hey, I’M the one who has an all-expenses paid scholarship to an exclusive New England Private School! You? You’re a second string athlete on three mediocre teams! And with your grades, you’ll be lucky if Dad can grease you into a college that’s even in the same Zip Code as an Ivy League school.” I glared up at him, square in the eyes. “What’s really got you pissed off, Vince? That I’m turning into a girl, or that I’m a mutant, or that now I’m stronger, faster, tougher and smarter than you are? Don’t worry, Bro- maybe some day, you’ll evolve into a higher life form, too!”

Vince went red in the eye, stepped back, cocked his fist and let fly. Not bothering to move, I calmly caught Vince’s fist in the palm of my hand, and didn’t budge an inch. Vince looked into my eyes, and saw rage there. I have taken so much shit from this chucklehead that I am not about to take any more, especially on this, of all days! He tried to wrestle his fist free from my grip, but couldn’t. I could tell that he could feel something building up in me, something invisible and silent, but still ominously strong. HR

But before Tony could unleash whatever it was, Valerie Chandler opened up the door to her sons’ room and walked in. “Are you two decent? OH!” She saw Vince and Tony. “And exactly what is THIS?”

Tony let go of Vince’s hand. “Oh, nothing, Mom. Just getting in a little ‘male bonding’ while we still can.”

Valerie looked at her two elder sons, decided that it wasn’t worth the aggravation, and gave that sigh that only a mother can give. “Okay, but come down to the kitchen- I want us all to have a breakfast together as a family. After that, well you know that there’s always something the pops up at the last minute, and we have to be at the train station at Eleven. Tony, honey, are you going to be wearing that on the train?”

“Sure!”

“But why are you wearing one of Cindy’s hand-me-downs? We spent most of the weekend buying you girl clothes to wear at Whateley.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to waste any of my new stuff on the train. You know, sitting next to the guy who gets motion sickness, the idiot who’s carrying coffee past me just as we hit a rough spot, not to mention the joys of eating on a train.” Besides, it would probably drive Cindy crazy to see Tony wearing her old clothes.

HR

Big Sister Cindy didn’t disappoint. When she came down for breakfast, she took one look at me and shrieked, “Those are MY jeans! And MY baby-Tee! What are you doing in MY clothes?”

I just kept chewing peacefully. Cindy is SO EASY. “Eating.”

“You go upstairs and change out of them right now!”

“Cindy, you haven’t worn these things in over a year. And you know the Rule: If you haven’t worn it in a year, it’s handed down. B’sides, they don’t fit you anymore. Though they might if you laid off the Rocky Road.” Y’know, I really shouldn’t enjoy razzing Cindy so much, but I really can’t help it. Even more than Vince, Cindy has me pigeon-holed: I’m the brother than she can get away with ordering around. I’m the one who doesn’t get the grades that she does. I’m the one who isn’t in all the committees and clubs and teams that she is. I’m the one who doesn’t get picked to be the lead in the school play. I’m the one who makes her look even more like the perfect child that she needs to be.

Or, at least I wasn’t. Things have changed.

Twelve-year old Lucy glared at me. <Hmmph!> “I wanted to wear that! By the time that you’re through with it, it’ll be all worn out!”

“Luce, by the time that you’re big enough to fit these, they’ll be way out of date.” I leaned over and whispered, “Besides, if _I_ wear them all out, Mom’ll have to break down and buy you something NEW. And aren’t you sick and tired of wearing Cindy’s hand-me-downs?” Despite their big-time careers, Mom and Dad have FIVE children to pay for in a bad economy. So, they use old-fashioned money-saving tricks like handing clothes down and jumping at the opportunity to send one of their children to a private school for _free_. Indeed, the only reason that Mom had sprung for the new clothes, was that she wanted me to make a good impression up at Whateley.

A calculating look crossed Lucy’s face, and she started complimenting me on how good I looked.

HR

Joel Chandler came down to breakfast, and did a double take when he realized that the lovely young girl sitting at the kitchen table was his son, Tony. “Ahhh... Looking Good, Tony!”

“Thanks, Daddy!”

Joel almost managed to not flinch when Tony called him ‘Daddy’. “So, are you excited about going to Whateley today?”

“You betcherass!”

“Tony!”

“Sorry.”

Nine year old Matt, or ‘Mutt’ as Vince sometimes called him, looked hard at his next-to-eldest brother and tried to figure out why Tony was dressed like that. “Why does Tony have to go to school t’day? School don’t start ‘til next week!”

Valerie put a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in front of the baby of the family and said, “Well, honey, Tony isn’t going to the same school as Vince this year-”

“Thank You, Jesus!’ Vince intoned with rare sincerity and piety.

Valerie resumed, “Tony’s going to a boarding school that’s up in New Hampshire, and they want all new students to go up there and get used to the place before school starts.”

“Why does he have to go to New Ham’shire? Why can’t he go to school here?”

Lucy smiled widely. “I heard Mom and Dad talking- it’s ‘cause Tony’s got Super Powers!” She pointed her hands at Tony and made noises like energy discharging. <Sha-Kow!>

“Howcum Tony gets super powers, an’ I don’t?”

“ ‘Cause you aren’t old enough.” Tony replied with the calm certainty of an expert.

“What’s that got t’do with anything?”

“Mutt, I’m what’s called a Mutant. I’m born with certain kinds of things that most people aren’t born with.” Tony made a point of ignoring the disgusted noise that Vince made by way of comment. “But they don’t become active, until you hit puberty. Mine kicked in about five months ago, while I was at my Aikido dojo. It took a while for Mom and Dad a while to find the Whateley Academy, and by then, it was summer, and the Academy didn’t want to start me until the beginning of the regular school year.”

“What’s all that got t’do with me not getting super powers?” By the irrefutable logic of a 9-year-old, if one family member got super powers, then so should everyone.

“Matt, it’s not like Mom and Dad got a super power in the mail and decided to give it to ME. You’re either born a Mutant, or you’re not. I was born a Mutant, and it’s too soon to be sure about you two munchkins.”

Matt perked up. “Y’mean I might still be a Mutant?”

Valerie jumped in. “It’s not that simple, Matt. There are a lot of drawbacks to being a Mutant, and one of the reasons that Tony’s going to that school is to learn to deal with them. You should be glad if you don’t turn out to be a Mutant.” Naturally, this levelheaded maternal advice went in one 9-year-old ear and out the other. Matt was too hyped on the possibility that he might have super powers.

Further discussion was cut short by the sound of a knocking at the kitchen door. Joel held up a hand and went to the door. “Oh, good. He’s right here.” He opened the door and let in two fourteen-year-old boys.

“Thanks, Mister Chandler.”

HR

It was Scott and Greg, my two best buds. What were they doing here? Dad turned to me. “Tony, you haven’t told Scott or Greg why you’re leaving. I think that you owe them an explanation as to what’s going down.”

Scott and Greg goggled at me in stereo. “Tony? Man, is that YOU?”

I let out a gusty sigh. “Yeah it’s me.” Then I looked around the kitchen at all the focused family attention. “Can we take this into the living room?” Scott and Greg nodded and moved through the kitchen. I glared at those who started to get up from the table, and then joined my friends.

Once we were (reasonably) alone, Scott said, “Tony? What IS this? You goin’ fag on us, or somethin’? And what’s this about you goin’ to some outta state school?”

I held up a hand for silence. “Okay, it’s like this. You guys know that things have been kinda weird for me lately.”

Greg folded his arms across his chest and glared at me. “No shit!”

“Guys, you remember a few weeks back, when I jumped over that ten-foot high fence in a single leap?”

“Yeah- you said that it was something that you learned at that Aikido school that you go to. I been buggin’ my Dad to let me take classes.”

“Well, that wasn’t completely true. I did learn how to do that at the Dojo, but it isn’t anything that Mister Colliard can teach you. Guys, I’m a mutant.”

“A Mutant? Y’mean like all those superheroes an’ stuff?”

“Not quite- just ‘cause you’re a mutant doesn’t automatically mean that you put on a cape and tights.”

“What’s being a mutant got t’do with you going away to some school, and looking like a girl?” Scott’s eyes drifted down towards my chest. “Are those real?” He stretched a hand out.

“YES!” I slapped Scott’s hand away. “It matters, ‘cause being a mutant is the reason that I’m wearing these clothes. Guys, I’m turning into a girl.”

“Hunh?” “Say What?” “Yer kiddin’! What kind of mutant power turns a guy into a girl?”

<sigh> ‘Sit down, this is gonna take a lot of explaining. Guys, you ever noticed when you read one of those superhero fan magazines that superheroes and super villains- at least the mutant ones- seem to come in one of three basic types? Either they look like Joe Six-Pack in a leotard, or their bodies are all weird an’ twisted lookin’, or they look like they could pose for ads for health clubs.”

“Yeah? So?”

“Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this. The last kind are called ‘Exemplars’. These are mutants whose power, or some aspect of their power shapes their body, making it stronger, faster and tougher. Somewhere in their mind, everyone has an idea of what the perfect body looks like. Somehow, their power uses that idea- they call it a ‘template’- and molds their body into something that looks like that idea.”

“Yeah? So, howcum you ain’t all buff and stuff, instead of looking like a chick?”

“Well, y’see, you can’t choose what your template looks like, it just sort of happens in your brain. And my template is a girl’s. So, every time that I use my power, it makes my body a little more girlish.”

“So, why don’t you just NOT use your power?”

‘It ain’t that simple, Greg. There’s all sorts of other stuff going on, too. Y’see, my power is that I can manipulate Ki.”

“Ki? Isn’t that that stuff that you were always talkin’ about, that you learned at your Dojo?”

“Yeah. Ki is this bioelectric force that runs through your body. It’s what all those martial arts masters use to do all that weird stuff like you see in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The thing is, most people have to study for years, decades even, in order to control their Ki enough to the slightest thing. Me? I can, just by snapping my fingers, do Ki stuff that Mister Colliard would have to meditate for hours and work up a gallon of sweat to do. I am to Ki what Mozart was to music. Also, I can tap into the Earth’s magnetic field to power my Ki stuff. Thing is, my power is working, even when I’m not thinking about it. My Ki is constantly flowing through my body, making my power change my body. Even if I made a point of not doing any Ki stuff, the doctor says that it’s already affected my body so that it’s producing female hormones, not male hormones.”

“Couldn’t you use your Ki to make your body more, y’know, manly?”

“I don’t know how, nobody I know knows how, and it’d probably be dangerous as hell.”

“How do you know all of this?”

“Well, do you remember about four months ago, when my eyes suddenly changed color?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

<aggravated sigh> “Have you ever noticed that mutants always seem to have these really weird eye colors?”

“Yeah. So?”

“The doctor told me that there’s this gland in your eye, all it does is kick in ONCE, when you’re a baby, and it turns your eye from that kinda dark blue that all babies have, to whatever eye color you get for the rest of your life. BUT, in mutants, when your mutation goes on-line, it kicks in that gland again, and it turns your eyes a new color, and a lot of the times it’s a pretty rare color. It’s one of the classic signs of a person being a mutant. ANYWAY, when my eyes changed color, Mom and Dad took me in to see a doctor ‘cause they thought that something might be going wrong with me, and he referred us to another doctor. He told us that I showed all the signs of being a mutant, and then I started doing all that weird stuff in Aikido class. And I’ve been going to that doctor once a week ever since. And that’s how I know all of this stuff.”

An awkward silence fell over the room. Then Scott looked up uncomfortably. “So, what are you gonna do now?”

“So, now I’m gonna go to this school out of state. The doctor knew someone who knew somebody, and they arranged for me to go to this school, where they teach mutants like me to take control of their powers. I mean, I’ve only lost control of my Ki once or twice, but believe me, you DID NOT want to be there when I did.”

“And, when you come back, you’re gonna be a real girl?”

“Well, eventually, Yeah.”

“Man, you are taking this real well.”

I shrugged. “Well, like my cousin Herb said, back when he was doin’ the Black Muslim thing, ‘When Fate throws a dagger at you, there are two ways to catch it: by the handle or by the blade’.”

“Hunh?”

“That means, you make the best of a situation when it happens to you. The way I see it, if I gotta be a girl, I might well be a Babe!”

Greg looked me up and down. “Well, at least you got THAT part down!”

I flashed my best Stone Cold Babe smile at him. “Why thank you!”

Scott looked uncomfortable. “Tony- why are you telling us all this? I mean, what are you gonna do if we start spreading around that you’re turning in to a girl, or that you’re a mutant? Won’t that put your family in danger or sum’thin’?”

“I think that my Dad asked you over ‘cause he thought that you deserved an explanation why I’m suddenly gonna up and split. And, besides, I’m gonna be coming home for Summer and the Holidays.” <amused snort!> “Besides, what are you gonna do? If you go spreading around that I go around wearing dresses, you guys ain’t gonna look too good y’selves. Guilt By Association, and all that.”

Greg shifted his feet nervously. “Uhm- Tony- Exactly how do you feel- y’know- about Guys and Girls? I mean, you had it real bad for Gail Enderby. How do you feel--- now, that you’re a girl and all, I mean.”

“Hey, I DON’T KNOW! I’ve only been like this for a couple of months! I mean, I’m still getting used to all this! Right now, I’ve got enough to worry about, not freaking out when I go into the Ladies’ Room!”

That pretty much put the capper on the conversation. They made the usual ‘we’ll still be buds’ and ‘well get together and hang out on Summer vacation’ noises, but nobody was fooled. The fact of my mutant powers was like a wall between them and me. And, to be honest, our friendship was largely a matter American Grade School Social Dynamics. In American schools, cliques form along lines of a kind of specific gravity. Out-going, gregarious types only have ‘wacky best friends’ on TV. In real life, A-List types hang out with other A-List types, thugs hang out with thugs, weirdoes hang out with weirdoes, and wimps hang out with wimps. Through Grade School and most of Middle School, Scott, Greg and me were almost depressingly average kids, and our averageness was the bond that held us together. Now, I was extraordinary, beyond even the A-List types. They might have held onto our friendship, even with me being a mutant, but my becoming a girl made that unlikely. And my becoming a Stone Cold Fox made it impossible. Looking like I do, I’d almost certainly be expected to hang out with the A-List types.

But the thing that put the last nail in our friendship’s coffin was the fact that I was leaving school. Grade school friendships often fall apart in High School, and best friends in High School usually go their own ways when they go to different colleges or they get jobs. And I was going to High School out of state. There was no way that I could stay ‘in the loop’ of Greg and Scott’s lives. There’d be embarrassed, awkward attempts to stay in touch during the Summer vacation, but they all knew that I was already pretty much out of their lives.

There was an embarrassing silence for a long minute. Then there was a yelp from the landing at the top of the stairs, “Hey Tony! Watch me fly!” Little brother Matt hopped onto the top of the banister. Mom gave a panicked shriek from the kitchen doorway. I did a lightning back roll onto the back of the couch and was coiled to spring even as Matt jumped off the railing.

It took a split second for Matt to realize that he wasn’t going to fly, and was beginning to scream as I caught him in mid-air. I tucked Matt into my midsection and rolled to brace against the wall. I rebounded and tried to diminish my speed by caroming off a couple of walls, but didn’t hit one right, and went tumbling down to the ground. I managed to wrap myself around Matt so that I took the brunt of the landing, rather than little brother.

Mom skittered over in a near panic and pulled Matt away from me. She fussed over Matt, who was striving mightily to keep from crying with fear. I pulled myself up and muttered, “S’okay, I’m fine, thanks for askin’.”

Mom glared at me and snapped, “This is ALL YOUR FAULT! If you hadn’t been doing all that freak crap, jumping all over the place, none of this would have happened! You almost killed your little brother!” Then she let loose with what I’ve heard called ‘a blistering stream of the old rancid’ on PBS.

‘Freak’. She said it. For all his homophobic crap, Vince had never said ‘Freak’.

I put up with this for several minutes. When Mom finally ran out of steam, I trudged past a smugly smirking Vince up the stairs. Several minutes later, I came back down wearing a blue denim jacket, a large carrying tote slung over each shoulder and a trunk that must have weighed at least sixty pounds up on my shoulder. But these days I might have been carrying a bag of groceries for all the effort that I had to put into it. At the foot of the stair, I turned to Dad. “Dad, would you drive me to the train station? I might as well wait for the train there.”

Looking at Mom, Dad nodded, and went to get his keys.

I went to the door, but stopped in front of Scott and Greg. “Ah, guys- I don’t think that you’ll have to worry about avoiding me, come Summer vacation. I don’t think that it’s gonna be an issue.”

I went out to the garage and loaded my luggage into the family SUV. I climbed in the shotgun seat, fighting tears, and tried to pull myself together. Just breathe, let it in, let it out, and breathe from the bottom of your stomach. Dammit, this was supposed to be where it gets GOOD! This is supposed to be one of the best days of my fucking life, and everybody shits all over me, even my own mother! Damn!

I sat and stewed for several minutes. Then Mom came out, wearing her overcoat, and climbed into the driver’s seat of the car.

I looked at her warily. “I thought that Dad was going to drive me to the station.”

“He was.” She started the engine and pulled out of the drive. “We changed our plans.”

We drove for several minutes in complete silence. Then, at a stoplight, Mom said, “Honey, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have cut loose on you like that. I know that it isn’t your fault that Matt took some damnfool idea into his head. It’s just...” She grimaced, and you didn’t need super powers to tell that all her feelings and tensions all balled up in her throat, all wanting to be voiced at the same time.

I looked at her. “Mom? What am I supposed to do? I mean, I know what Vince wants. He wants me to pretend that nothing happened, and go around wearing baggy clothing that hide my body, and maybe go through some Sit Com shtick about getting me out of Gym class. All so that he can go on living his bullshit suburban Gangsta fantasy. I know what Cindy wants- she wants me to shut up and dumb down, so that she can still be little Miss Perfect. They want me to crawl back into that neat little pigeonhole that they built for me, and nail myself in. Is that what you want me to do? Maybe you want me to go around wearing weights on my wrists and ankles, so I’ll only be able to run as fast and jump as high as ‘normal people’. Is THAT was you want?”

She grated out a “No” through gritting teeth.

“Mom, I’m one of the lucky ones! I got super powers, and I didn’t even have to get bit by a radioactive gerbil or anything! My super power is, mostly, a safe and useful one! There are mutants out there who are growing bug exo-skeletons and bleeding radioactivity! Mom, I already told you that I always felt that I shoulda been born a girl, and now, not only am I turning into a girl but I’m turning into a FOX!

“Mom, you always said that it isn’t the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them. For the past fourteen years, I’ve been playing the game with a pair of fours- now I got a dealt a new hand, and it’s a freaking ROYAL FLUSH! I am supposed to be ashamed of this? Mom, not only can I do things with Ki that revered Chinese Kung Fu masters can only dream of doing, not only am I as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger, not only do I have the reflexes of freaking Jet Li, but I’m actually smarter now! I can remember things right off the bat, now. I can do Algebra in my head. When I put my mind to it, I can read an entire 400-page book in an hour. Why shouldn’t I be able enjoy all of that?”

Mom conceded the point with a sigh. “You’re right, you’re right. I know, you’re right. I just got so scared when I saw Matt jump off that stupid railing. And I feel that I’m losing my little boy...” She stopped the car and looked at me pleadingly.

Oh Crap- how can you be mad at your own mother for being a Mom? “Mom- there’s nothing that anybody can do about it. I’m not going to be male- let alone a boy- for very much longer. But you’ll always be my Mom.”

She did a classic ‘Mom Melt’ and gave me a big hug. Y’know, at fourteen, you’re supposed to think that getting a big hug from your Mom was all smothering. But this was good. Real Good. Good like I really needed. As she started up the car again, she said wryly. “I notice that you didn’t tell your friends that, along with all the other stuff, your IQ went up 40 points.”

I preened a little, and said in my best ‘flighty girl’ voice, “Yeah, well, you know how boys are- they’re always scared off by girls with brains.”

Mom looked over amazed, and started to snicker. She was barely able to restrain it long enough to pull over and then give way to an all-out laughing jag. The laughter was catching, I found myself laughing along with her. Mom laughed herself out, and all the fear, worry and tension that had been bottled up washed out of her. Letting the last giggles play themselves out, she wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at me. She could see that I’d needed that as much as she had. The air between us was much clearer now. She gave her daughter another big hug.

As we drove along, our conversation shifted from strained confession to all-out girl talk. We agreed that I would spell my name with an ‘I’ from then on, and that Matt would move in with Vince, so that I could have my own room when I came back for vacations.

Mom was telling me what she really thought of her mother-in-law when we pulled up in front of the train station. “Oh dear.”

“What’s the matter, Mom?”

“I just realized- it’s only a little past Nine! The train leaves at Eleven! We went storming out the door so fast, we’re two hours early. I don’t want to hang around a train station for two hours!”

I barely managed to restrain a grin. “Weeellll... You did say that the only reason that you wouldn’t let me get my ears pierced is that it would freak out the menfolk...”

Mom grinned back at her daughter. “We have just enough time- let’s do it!”

Two hours later, the train pulled out as Valerie sadly waved Toni off. Oh well, she’d have a chance to get to know Toni better when she came home for Christmas vacation. And she seemed so much happier now. Tony had always been such a quiet and withdrawn boy. Maybe Toni would genuinely be happier.

Train travel is hardly the most interesting way to travel, and the stretch between Baltimore and Boston is a particularly bleak stretch of urban and suburban blight. But I’m headed somewhere where they don’t know me as Vince’s little brother or Cindy’s dimbulb tagalong. After I switched trains in Boston, the scenery grew more interesting, especially as the train rolled out of Massachusetts and into the wilds of New Hampshire. The local from Concord rolled up into the Mountains region, stopping at more rinky-dink little burgs than I thought a little place like New Hampshire could possibly have. My stop was a place called Dunwich.

The Dunwich train depot (you couldn’t really call it a station) looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the Great Depression, and the only sign of that upgrade was a WPA mural. Two other people got off the train at Dunwich, both of them kids about my age. We all looked at each other warily. One was a foxy-faced white girl with big violet eyes and flaming red hair that barely reached her jawline. The other was a fine-featured white boy with dark hair and strange gray eyes.

Well, they were just standing there, so I decided to take the initiative. “So, are you guys, like, going to Whateley Academy?”

The redheaded girl just nodded shyly. The boy gave a tentative smile. “Yeah. It’s my first year here.”

“Me Too! Kewl! My name’s Toni Chandler! And you are?”

“Hank. Hank Declan.”

The wispy redhead managed to get out. “Fey. Call me Fey.”

“So... any idea of what we’re supposed to do? Do we wait for someone to come get us, or do we call the school?”

“I’m not sure. How about this- you go ask at the counter, while I watch our stuff.”

“A man with a plan. I like that! C’mon, Fay!” I marched into the depot building, walked up to the ticket window and gave the desk bell a whack.

A rather sour looking middle-aged man came from out of the back and glowered at me. “Let me guess- you’re here for the Whateley Academy, right?”

“Right!” I chirped back at him, refusing to be intimidated in the least.

“The school should be sending a van for you pretty soon. There are a couple of kids already here, waitin’ on ‘em. You can wait in there.” He pointed at a wooden door with a pane of frosted glass in it. “They got a special waitin’ room, just for you Whateley kids, with refreshments an’ everything. You can leave your bags and stuff on the hand-truck out on the landing.”

“Thank You!” I sang back at him. As I turned, I almost ran into Fey, who was tagging along after all. We hurried back to Hank with the news.

As we loaded the bags and trunks on the hand truck together, I noticed that Hank barely struggled with the heavy trunks. Well, I guess that I have a good idea of what his mutant power is.

The ‘special waiting room’ consisted of three ratty plastic covered couches, and couple of even rattier looking plastic covered chairs, a coffee table with magazines that the local dentist had probably thrown out, a pay phone, and some vending machines for hot drinks, soft drinks, candy and snacks. The sole provision for keeping school age kids from dying of boredom was a very old pinball machine, which two boys were busy hogging. They were dressed for traveling, so I guessed that they were going to Whateley too.

Sitting on one of the couches, flipping through a hardback book was a Hispanic girl whose classic ‘Aztec princess’ looks were set off by a strip of scarlet hair down the center of her head. She looked up with large ice blue eyes. She gave a hasty smile. “Hi. You’re for the Whateley School?” She had a California accent, with a hint of something else.

“Yeah. Any idea of when the bus for the school is due?”

“Well, when I got my travel arrangements, they said that they were expecting me at 4, so I don’t think that they’ll be here much sooner than that.”

The clock on the wall said 3:15. I sighed, “Okay crew, grab a seat and settle in, we’re gonna be here for a while.”

I plopped down on the sofa. “Hi! I’m Toni Chandler. That’s Hank Delancy.”

“Declan.” He corrected.

“Ooops! My bad! Hank Declan. And that’s Fay.” I smiled expectantly at the young Latina, hoping that she’d take the opening.

“My name is Elena Neva Natividad Amicella Lucita Obregon.”

“You got extra luggage, just for that name?”

“You can call me Rip.”

“Rip?”

“Short for Riptide!” With a wide grin on her face, ‘Rip’ cupped her hands in front of her, and a mist formed. The mist quickly condensed into water, formed a tiny wave in Rip’s hands, and then dispersed into mist again.

“Hiisst!” Hank hissed at Rip. “I don’t think that it’s a good idea for us to go flaunting our powers, at least not until we’re sure of what the score is around here.”

“Aaahhh... what’s the use of having special powers, if you can’t have any fun with ‘em?” Rip looked at the three of us. “What can you guys do?”

Once again, it was up to me to take the initiative. “Well... let’s see what I can do without upsetting the locals...” I noticed a row of shabby hardback books on the table with the magazines. There was a gap in the row. “Did you get this book from that table?”

“Yeah. Why?”

I took the book and hefted it to get an idea of its weight and balance. “Let me shelve it for you.” With a brisk snap of the wrist, I threw the book at the table. The book flew right to the gap and fit in perfectly. Okay the spine stuck out a bit, but what do you want? I plopped down on the couch, kicked my feet up, folded my hands behind my head and grinned in a ‘That’s right, I’m BAD!’ pose. Gawd, I love this!

“COOL! How did you DO that?”

I gave Rip a thumbnail sketch of my Ki abilities. “Y’mean you can do all that ‘Matrix’ stuff, with running along walls, dodging bullets and hanging in mid-air when you’re about to kick the shit out of someone?”

“Uhm, run along walls- Yes; dodge bullets- I dunno; hang in mid-air- Get Real. I can’t stop bullets in mid-air, neither.”

“Oh well, y’can’t have everything.” Rip turned to the other two. “How about you two?”

Hank looked around. “I don’t see anything that I can do without blowing our cover.”

Rip and I looked at Fey, who blushed under the scrutiny. “Me neither”, she mumbled.

Since that fascinating topic seemed to have tanked, I settled in to talk with Rip. Or at least Rip settled in to talk. Period. Rip was from Redondo Beach, which was just outside Los Angeles, she wasn’t exactly sure where Baltimore was, she was the fourth of six children, her older sister Angela was a pain, her parents ran a beachside shop back in Redondo, she was an avid surfer, and her powers over water had almost gotten her lynched. Rip passed along that information in almost exactly the same way as the previous run-on sentence. And people say that _I_ have a motor mouth!

We rambled on, talking about everything and nothing, and I could tell that she didn’t have the slightest idea that I wasn’t a girl. I felt a knot in my stomach that I didn’t even know was there start to untie itself.

Another train stopped at 3:30, and dropped off five more students. Long-distances buses also stopped, dropping off a few students. As 4 o’clock rolled around, there were about twenty or so Freshman age kids milling about the waiting room. Most of them looked normal enough; well except for the chubby kid who wouldn’t take that weird looking knit cap off, or the gangly boy who was at least 6’6” tall and all of ninety pounds, or the girl with weird blue-gray hair that grew up in spiky clumps that sort of crested back along her head. Most of them had obviously never been away from home for very long, and they were either very subdued, or they were enjoying being loose for the first time. Somebody had a boom box, and Rip, a curvy black girl named Vanessa, and I were dancing along with the bubble gum pop. I tried to get Fey to join in, but the she was having a shy-fit and refused to be pulled out of her shell.

At 4:00 on the dot, a tall Asian woman came in. She walked over to the boom box and shut off the music. “Okay, listen up! I am Mrs. Shugendo; I’m the Dean of Students at Whateley Academy. There are two shuttles here to take you to the school. I’m going to call off your names alphabetically. When I call out your name, let me know who you are, and then go out to the vans. Now, I know that you have a lot of questions- but, unless it’s an _Emergency_, save it for when we get to the school.”

Mrs. Shugendo called off the names and I found myself crammed in between one of the boys who’d hogged the pinball machine and a very tanned white girl with pale blonde hair piled up on her head. My nose is sharper now than it was before, and I noticed a smell around the girl. It wasn’t a bad smell, just an odd one- the scent sort of reminded me of just after a rainstorm for some reason. I tried to start up a conversation, but the girl was really wrapped up in her personal stereo and pinball boy had an attitude.

I tried to get interested in the scenery. The Mountain section of New Hampshire depends heavily on tourism, and you could really tell it. The little town of Dunwich laid on the ‘New England Rustic Charm’ with a trowel, with red brick and fieldstone buildings, high gabled roofs and all that touristy crap. The town was small, maybe three or five long streets crossed by seven or so short ones, and the blocks weren’t exactly densely packed.

But, give ‘em their due, the natural scenery was worth the trip. Dunwich was situated on a good-sized mountain lake, and the woods were really thick. According to the wooden signs that they passed as they left town, there were a couple of summer camps set along the lake, as well as the School itself.

The road wound itself through the hills, following the angles of the Presidential Mountains. After about a half-hour, the vans pulled off the road and went down a private road and through the gate of a high fieldstone wall. On either side of the gate, the posts were ‘guarded’ by a pair of weird lookin’ gargoyles that had baglike wings, but no faces, carved in a slick black stone.

The vans passed by the large red brick buildings that I’d seen in the brochures, and then went past several smaller buildings, and pulled up in front of one of them. Like the other buildings that we’d just passed, it was four stories tall, four if you counted the attic with the dormer windows, and made of dark red brick with white trim in a blend of the Colonial and Federal styles. As the students piled out, I noticed a discrete plaque by the door, saying ‘Poe Cottage’, and, yes indeed, inside the entry there was a bronze bust of Edgar Allen Poe set in a niche.

After getting all the luggage inside the entryway, Mrs. Shugendo called us into a large common room. When we kids had arranged ourselves on the sofa and chairs, Shugendo called three seventeen-year-old kids wearing school uniforms and a middle-aged woman over to her. Then she addressed us all.

“Well! Welcome to Whateley Academy! Now, you’ll get the formal Welcoming speech from the Headmistress along with all the other Freshmen, but this little talk is just for YOU. Now, the reason that you were all told to come here a day ahead of the other Freshmen, and the reason that you’re being put up in this dormitory is that you all have something in common that sets you apart from the other students, even beyond your individual mutations. You are what is currently called ‘Alternative Sexuality’ types. You are Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, or so aggressively Bisexual that it is an issue for you. We don’t condemn you for this; you didn’t really have a choice in it, any more than you chose to be mutants. We realize that it’s hard going through adolescence. We realize that it’s even harder when you’re a mutant. You have enough to put up with; you don’t need the extra aggravation of being branded a -quote- sexual deviant –unquote-.

“Unfortunately, homophobic bias is so deeply ingrained in the American, Canadian and British school systems, and to a lesser extent in the European schools, that letting you go around openly declaring that you’re Gay or Lesbian or Bi or Transgendered is just asking for trouble. So, we have Poe Cottage, a place where you don’t have to worry about the kids down the hall finding out, because they already know about you, and you already know about them.

“Now, while we are very proud of the fact that you were brave and honest enough to admit your... persuasion during on your admittance forms, I’m afraid that we’re going to have to ask you to curb that honesty. I’m afraid that it’s a matter of your continued safety. There are students here who have been victimized quite cruelly. And, unfortunately those who have been hurt that way tend to be the cruelest of all, when they find someone that they can pass that pain onto. And in our society, homosexuals and ‘fellow travelers’ are still considered fair game for that sort of thing. Given the abilities that students at Whateley have, a ‘Gay Bashing’ could turn deadly, even Apocalyptic. It is, simply said, easier for all involved, if it simply doesn’t become an issue. If your sense of pride demands that you come out of the closet, then you have a right to. But please, have consideration for the other people here at Poe, and don’t reveal the overall status here.

“The reason that you were brought here a day before the more.. mainstream Freshmen, is twofold- to give you a day to get used to the campus before the others get here, and so that you will sort of be part of the background when they get here. This will give you a certain... credibility that should allow you to make connections more easily. Yes? You have a question?” She pointed at the tanned blonde girl who sat next to me on the van.

“Ma’am, you’ve just pointed out that everyone here is queer or something like that. So, how is that gonna affect how we’re paired up when it comes time to choose roomies? I mean, the brochure kept mentioning roommates like it was a given. So, like, are you gonna put us in Boy/Girl- which would make my mother, like, shit, fart and die!- or are is it gonna be Boy/Boy- Girl/Girl, which would be, really, like the same thing, but for real?”

Mrs. Shugendo cleared her throat nervously. “It will be Boy/Boy- Girl/Girl. To have it otherwise would advertise that there was something unusual going on at Poe Cottage to everyone who looked at the roster. However, I must remind you that Carnal Relations involving students, whether between opposite sexes or the same sex, is Strictly Forbidden at Whateley, and any homosexual student caught breaking that rule will be punished as severely as any heterosexual student doing so!” In other words, she knew that they didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of really stopping anybody, but she had to say the words, for form’s sake, and don’t embarrass us, kids.

Hank raised a hand. “What are the rules about using your powers openly, like flying for instance?”

“That question, along with many others, will be handled by the Headmistress at her Freshman’s Orientation speech in two days. In the mean time, just try to keep a low profile. If nothing else, it will keep you from tripping into some of the more senior students.”

Shugendo then introduced the middle-aged woman as Mrs. Horton, the ‘house mother’ for Poe. Mrs. Horton said the expected pleasantries, and then explained the layout of the cottage: there were three floors, the bedrooms were built for two, there was a bathroom for each sex at each end of the hallway, there was a community room and a library for studying. There was also kitchen, but meals were to be served at the campus dining room. Food left in the kitchen was more or less open game, but there were ‘studio coolers’ in each room. There was an exercise room down in the basement, which was open to everyone. There was a laundry room, and the students were responsible for their own laundry. “In other words, it’s your own fault if you stink”, she finished up. Mrs. Horton looked like any other suburban matron that I’ve ever met. And yet, there was something about her impeccably maintained person that suggested that she was completely unfazed by the prospect of keeping an eye on a group of super-powered teenagers.

Mrs. Shugendo took over again. “So, if your heads are quite ready to explode from information overload, let’s get you broken down into groups that we can actually work with. These three-” she indicated the three uniformed teenagers, “are Steve Rossiter, Belle Forbes, and Rosalyn Dekkard. They’ll be your Student Guides for today. You can also go to them for help after today, but you do so at your own risk. They’ll show you around, answer your questions, and get you sorted out as to your sleeping arrangements. And so, I’ll leave you with these words- Don’t destroy anything.”

Steve Rossiter was a buff looking 17-year-old blonde guy who looked like he could audition for the lead in a Captain America movie. Belle Forbes was a svelte 17-year-old girl with sapphire blue eyes and ravenswing black hair pulled back in a high ponytail. Her face was long and angular, with a long straight nose. She might have been harsh looking, if not for a touch of wry humor about the eyes and mouth. Rosalyn Dekkard was also 17, and had the lush curves of a homecoming queen. Her eyes were emerald green, and her hair was also ravenswing black, but it hung loose in waves past her shoulders down to her waist. Her triangular face also had humor, but it was more of the amusement of a pantheress regarding a flock of tender young lambs.

In turn, they started reading off names from clipboards. Belle Forbes called my name, along with Hank’s, Fay’s, and names of the girl with odd spiky gray hair, and a girl with short spiky black hair and dark green eyes, who dressed like a punker. She also called a girl I hadn't seen waiting at the depot. The last girl didn’t look like a teenager; she looked to be about 12 or so. She looked Asian, with long straight dark hair, large dark eyes, and a cute upturned nose. The girl with the odd gray hair called herself Billie, the girl with the punker look was called Ayla, and the kid was called Jade. And, for some reason, Fay answered to Nikki.

When Fay joined us, I shot a glare at her. “I thot that you said that your name was ‘Fay’.”

“That’s my superhero name. And its ‘Fey’, with an ‘E’, not an ‘A’.”

“What kind of superhero name is ‘Fey’?”

“ ‘Fey’ means ‘touched by magic’.”

“OH-kaayyy...”

Our guide cleared her throat for attention. <Ahem!> “Very well, welcome to Whateley, pleased to meet you and all that jazz- hope you don’t mutate into giant slugs.” Her voice had a merry British accent, the cultured ‘Public School’ kind, with a trace of a lilt that suggested touch of the Irish, delivered with a John Cleese deadpan. “Don’t laugh- it’s happened. I’m Belle Forbes, as those of you with short term memories that exceed 15 seconds should well recall. Just between us,” she added conspiratorially, “My name isn’t Belle, it’s Kendall. But, my ‘code name’ is ‘Beltane’, so everyone’s taken to calling me ‘Belle’. Don’t worry, I won’t eviscerate you if you call me Belle- well, not unless I’m having a really bad day. Don’t want to commit to anything I can’t make good on.”

The two other groups finished pairing off. I noticed that all the boys had gone with Steve Rossiter (and were looking up at him like he was a centerfold), and all the girls were clustered worshipfully around Roslyn Dekkard. The division complete, the guides started to shoo their charges off in different directions. Rip caught my eye and gave me the ‘call me later’ hand jive.

Rosalyn took the girls upstairs, and the other two guides took their charges out of the cottage. Steve took the boys off in one direction, and Belle took us off towards the main building. “Very well, Fresh-things,” Belle sang, “Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to have to discuss some rather personal things, and we don’t want the others listening in, and vice-vicious. So, Rosalyn will show the Dykes in training around the cottage, Steve will show his little nancy-boys around the grounds, and _I_ will show you changelings the school buildings. And then we rotate.”

Changelings? If the gay boys went with Steve, and the lesbian girls went with Rosalyn, then that must mean... They’re like --- Me? I looked at the others, and the others were looking at me and each other. The little one, Jade, had her jaw almost scraping the sidewalk.

Belle smiled acidly. “Ah, the light dawns! Yes, m’lovelies, you are all in this group because you are, one way or another, defecting to the enemy in the War between the Sexes.”

The punker gritted her teeth and grated, “OR, were drafted by the wrong side!” I don’t know what her problem was-- _I_ was dancing on air!

Belle just waved us in the direction of the Administration building. “Yes, yes, I’m sure that it was all very traumatic. Now keep up, keep up! We ARE on a schedule!”

As we walked, I looked over at Hank. “You are getting more feminine?”

<Heh> “Wrong Way.” Hank blushed.

“Y’mean- you’re really a girl?”

Hank reddened even more. “Well... I was born a girl, but right now, I’m what the doctor called a ‘bilateral hermaphrodite’. I sort of have both sets of equipment. But the doctor also says that my female equipment is shutting down.”

“Hey, Dewwwd! Not to worry! You got the recipe for Studmuffin, and all the makin’s!”

It was only a short walk to main campus. Poe was at about middle distance, as cottages went. Belle pointed out three cottages farther out from the center and identified them as Hawthorne, Twain, and Whitman. As we passed the others in succession she called out Dickinson, Emerson, and Melville. Around us, the trees were still green, although one or two were showing the first signs of yellow. There were occasional leaves on the ground, but the brick walkway was kept scrupulously clean.

We crested a small hill and saw the campus spread out below them. Near the center was our destination - Schuster Hall. It was a really weird mix of styles, your basic Federal style building, with a huge sparkling glass geodesic dome at the end.

Belle gestured to the large building and the nearly incongruous dome at one end. “That, Fresh Ones, is Schuster Hall, administration, classrooms, and that dome is called The Crystal Hall. It’s where the dining room is and tends to be where most students with free time hang out. We’ll be having dinner in The Dome, then I’ll give you a thumbnail tour of the classroom areas, and show you where to find the offices and important stuff like the restrooms and gaming areas.”

We continued along the pathway until reaching a wider, flagstone-paved square in front of the imposing, if strange looking building. There were stone and metal benches scattered all around the square, and a small fountain occupied the center. Fey looked at the benches as if they were hot griddles.

Belle stopped the group in front of a statue of an old man with longish hair, a beard and deep penetrating eyes. “This is the statue of Noah Whateley, the man who founded this school back in 1878. They only put this thing up because a school is supposed to have a statue of its revered founder. Actually, the school that he founded was mediocre at best- the highest that any graduate of the original school ever reached was a Congressman for Vermont. Anyway, after about eighty years of producing complete non-entities, the original Whateley Academy shut down and was foreclosed on by the bank. Then it was bought by a group of mutant superheroes in 1966, because they wanted a remote place to train emergent mutants in how to use their powers. They kept the name, mostly so that the school would appear to have a long and presumably illustrious history.”

Belle took a long breath and gave us a long measuring look. “Very well, now that we have that tiresome bit of trivia out of the way, let’s get down to it, shall we? First, we’ll tour the Administration and School buildings, so that it won’t be a complete shock to you. Also, this will give the girls a chance to get their luggage upstairs and choose their rooms, without tripping over us. After a decent interval of viewing the torture chambers, we will return to Poe, and you will lug all of your stuff up the stairs and pick your cells. When all of that’s settled, we’ll thrust out again, this time to tour the grounds, athletic fields, and the Combat Training Areas.”

Combat Training Areas? We all stiffened as one

Belle grinned as she savored a direct hit. “Yes, Combat Training Areas. No, you haven’t been kidnapped a Mutant Terrorist Cell, or drafted into the military. Whateley’s policy is that the students are left completely to their own devices to make up their minds as to things like politics and philosophy. HOWEVER, given the nature of many mutants powers, the bellicose nature of humanity in general and the viciousness of Anti-Mutant militants in particular, it is quite likely that (whether you want to or not) you will be faced with situations where you will have to fight. And it would be a criminal waste of all this expensive education if we let you graduate, just to let you die a week later because you couldn’t defend yourself.

“And here we come to one of the reasons that we split up as we did. Young ladies, Gentleman, we are a group apart. Even more than being a mutant or being *ahem!* of ‘Alternate Sexuality’, we are a group apart. Whether as a matter of deep-felt conviction or as a matter of our mutation forcing it on us, we are all changing into members of the sex opposite from that which we were born in. Others, even the Gays and Lesbians, may sympthatize, but they don’t really understand. So, while we’re here, we’re going to have to rely on each other much more heavily than the other students do. Now, having Six transgendered students is a trifle unusual, especially at the beginning of the year. Normally, we only have one or two TGs at the beginning of the year, maybe with one or two showing up later in the year. Still, the rule is that the TGs room together and help each other out. With Six, we have the makings of a nice little team. At least, that’s what we’re going to try for.

“So, while we’re here, out of earshot, I’d like each of you to introduce yourself, tell the others about your background, how you feel about your change, what you want to make of that change, and- Whateley’s version of ‘what’s your major?’- what your mutant power is. Let me start off.

“My name is Kendall Forbes, and I was born in the outskirts of Bristol, Yew Kay. My family was a perfectly respectable Professional class one. And in keeping with sacred tradition, my parents packed me off to a ‘decent Boys’ School’ the first chance they got. What they didn’t realize was that I wanted to be packed off to a decent Girls’ School. At any rate, when I was in my Second Form, I started seeing wispy things floating around. I started having nightmares about a ghoul that I called ‘Gnashitty Rippit’, a foul thing with a wide befanged mouth and grasping betaloned hands. Then one night, I woke up in my bed, and Lo And Behold!, there was Gnashitty Rippit, floating over my bed, licking his chops. The demmed thing chased me all over the school before it cornered me. Then I screamed at it to go away. And strike me down, if it didn’t! It turned out that not only did I have complete control over Gnashitty, but I had actually created him, out of that wispy stuff floating around. That ‘stuff’ is called ‘Ectoplasm’, and I have the power to gather it up, mold it into whatever form that I want, and set it to doing things.

“I, being a sane, stable, responsible young man of Twelve Summers, immediately started one of the most horrific hauntings in the history of England. Severed heads floating down the halls, blood dripping down the walls, gawd-awful screams in the dead of night, horrible things turning up in the Masters’ beds-” A misty look of nostalgia went over her-“Lord it was wonderful! They wound up sending the Gray Wizard, one of Britain’s foremost superheroes (AND a bit of All Right, if I must say so!) in to investigate. It took him a solid week to figure out that it was me! I’ll give him this, he is a sharp one- the only reason that it took him that long was that his scryings indicated that a Girl was behind it all. Y’see, I’d discovered that I could also use the old Ecto to disguise myself-” Belle swept a hand down in front of her, and suddenly turned into Marilyn Monroe, dressed as she was in that scene in ‘The Seven Year Itch’ where the gust from the grating blows her skirt up. ‘Marilyn’ cooed at us, and swept that hand back up, and Belle was back, grinning evilly.

“At any rate, the Wizard took me aside, explained that I was going about it all the wrong way, and set me up with an interview with an agent from Whateley. He even explained it all to the Mum and Dad, which went a LONG way towards me not getting my backside shellacked. When they sent me to the doctor, to see if anything else unexpected was growing in me- you know, forked tail, cloven hooves, unspeakable writhing mass, that sort of thing- the doctor discovered that I was showing the first signs of puberty. A Girl’s puberty. It seems that by disguising myself as a girl, I was affecting my body so that it was conforming to the image that I was projecting. The doctor told me that if I kept disguising myself as a girl, that it could affect the progress of my puberty. So, naturally, I started disguising myself Twenty-four/Seven. They had no choice but to enroll me here at Hogwar- I mean, Whateley as a girl at Poe.” Belle finished with a grin.

“Now, just to wrap up, as I said before, I can gather up or generate Ectoplasm- though just gathering the stuff up is a lot easier- and I can mold it into various things and animate them.” To demonstrate, she cupped her hands in front of her. A pale gray mist gathered in her hands and congealed into a white dove. The dove cooed and then spread its wings to take flight. It flew for a few moments, then dispersed back into a gray mist, which faded.

“Now, it’s your turn.” She looked at Hank. “Well, you’re the odd man out- and in this group, that’s saying something!- why don’t we start with you?”

We all turned to look at Hank, who blushed at bit. He seems to do that a lot. Then he stood up straight and squared his shoulders. “Okay, my name is Hank Declan. It used to be Hannah Declan, but that doesn’t really fit anymore. I’m an Army Brat, I was born at the Military Hospital at Fort Dix, and I’ve lived at four different postings. That I can remember. I’m the oldest child-”

“Oh, don’t tell me it’s the old ‘my father always wanted a son’ gag!” The punk girl- Ayla, I think her name was- interrupted.

“Ah, No, Dad was always happy with a daughter. Besides, I have a younger brother. Dad never saw anything wrong with a girl going out and rough-housing with the boys- especially not with some of the female Non-Coms that he’s served with! As a matter of fact, I didn’t have any real problems with being a girl! It’s just, when my body started changing, and my testicles dropped, it just seemed so... right! Y’know, it was like, of course! That’s the way that it’s supposed to be!”

“How did your parents take it?” Belle prompted.

“Well, they were weirded out, all right. All their ideas of what the rest of my life was gonna be like kind of went out the window. The one that was really weirded out was my little brother. And he really went nuts when it turned out that I could lift five tons without even straining, let alone when I found out that I could fly!”

Billie, the chick with the weird gray hair asked, “You can fly?”

“Yeah. It came in real handy when my little brother went to one of the Sergeants at Bragg who had a hate on for mutants a foot wide and a mile long, and told him that a mutant was holding his parents hostage.”

“Your own little brother did that to you?” I asked. Jeezus, I’d trust even Vince not to rat me out to the local Mutant Haters!

“Well, it was a lot more involved than that. A lot of melodrama went down before that happened. Anyway, Sergeant Lennox came at me with an entire squad armed with assault rifles and LAWS rockets. I managed to get away, and there was a lot of noise, with Lennox screaming that there was a dangerous mutant terrorist at large, and my Dad screaming back at him that that ‘mutant terrorist’ was his daughter, and Lennox screaming back at my Dad that he was under some kind of weird mutant mind control, and Jay -that’s my brother- backing him up.”

“Dear, that’s two ‘Ands’ too many.” Belle gently corrected.

“Anyway, after a week of dodging Army helicopters, a Ranger team caught up with me and convinced me that Dad had convinced the Colonel that Lennox had his head up his ass, and they brought me in. While they weren’t going to press any charges- I sort of had to wreck a couple of patrol jeeps and a tank getting out of the Camp- it wasn’t a very good idea for me to stay at Bragg. Y’see, while Lennox didn’t exactly follow procedure, he was using proper initiative in a High-Risk situation, so he was still on base and he still has his stripes. Then some people from the Academy showed up, and did some weird tests and stuff, and they talked my Dad into signing the papers so’s I could come here.”

“Still too many ‘Ands’, Hank. Remember, Grammar always. You said that you could lift five tonnes and fly. What exactly are your powers?”

“Well, they said that I was a ‘High Level Functioning Non-Ranged Psychokinetic’ or something like that. I sort of generate this telekinetic field. I can lift stuff with it, includin’ myself, and I can stop bullets and things with it. Oh, and they said that I was a ‘Level 3 Exemplar’, whatever that means.”

“Well, you see, Hank,” Belle explained, “There are some terms like ‘Energizer’, ‘Warper’, ‘Shifter’, ‘Deviser’, ‘Wizard’ and of course, ‘Exemplar’ that describe the basic function of what a mutant does. The more powerful or extreme the traits are, the higher the level. This is not necessarily a good thing. You see, the further you stray from the baseline human mean, the higher the likelihood that you will develop gross physical deformities is, and the higher the chance that your mutation will turn lethal.”

“Gross physical deformities?” “Lethal?”

Belle nodded and said, “Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you children, but being a mutant isn’t all fun and games. The more powerful the mutant ability that you have is, the greater chance that something’s going to go wrong with your body. Last year, five students died during training. Some of them burned out, some of them had seizures during practice. One chap just upped and died in class. Nobody noticed anything until everyone got up at the end of class and he didn’t. The girl who sat next to him had a panic attack that laid her up for a week.”

Belle waved that rather morbid topic aside. “Now, where were we? Oh yes- Exemplars. An Exemplar is a mutant who has the power to slowly shape their body according to an ideal that they’ve formed somewhere in their subconscious. They make their bodies stronger, faster, tougher and usually cuter. Hank, when they say that you’re a Level 3 Exemplar, that means that your power pushes your strength, agility and so on to a level that is just above the maximum that a normal, unaugmented human can achieve. Anything more, Hank?”

Hank shook his head. “Very well. Next--- let’s see--- YOU.” She pointed at me.

Well, it’s time to make that all-important first impression! I turned to face the group and bounced on the balls of my feet a bit. “Hi! I’m Toni - that’s Toni with an ‘I’- Chandler. I’m fourteen- I’ll be fifteen in February- and I’m from Pleasant Oaks. That’s a suburb of Baltimore. I come from a big family, and I don’t have any really traumatic ‘trigger’ stories or anything. I was practicing at my Aikido dojo, and I was facing off against Danny Mancell, who’s a 14 karat jerk, and he was giving me shit about being a wimp and stuff. Anyway, I was trying to focus my Ki-” I gave them all a thumbnail description of Ki and what it does. “Anyway, I was trying to focus my Ki like Mister Colliard- he’s my Aikido sensei- told me to, and suddenly *Bam!* I feel this force flowing through my body, and I hit Danny with it, and he goes flying across the Dojo and smacks into the wall on the far side.”

“Too many ‘Ands’, Dear.”

“Sorry. Anyway, at first, I just thought that I was really hot shit with Aikido. But then my eyes changed from plain old Brown to this-” I pointed at my Amber colored eyes, “and they got the clue that something might be up. So, they took me to a doctor, who referred us to another doctor, who referred us to the Academy, and well...”

“So, basically, your shtick is Super-Martial Arts.”

“Well, sorta, but there’s a lot more to it than that. I can see how Ki flows in other people and how it flows through the Earth and the stuff around it-”

“Wait a minute! The Earth doesn’t have Ki!”

“Of course it does. Or at least it has a sort of magnetic field that’s somehow related to Ki. And beside marital arts moves, I can use it to increase my strength and speed and toughness even beyond what being an Exemplar makes me- oh, Yeah, I’m an Exemplar, too-, I can use it to increase my running speed and how far I can jump, and--- well, let’s just say that if you saw it in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I can probably do it.” Belle nodded then turned to Fey. “Your turn, hon.”

From here, the other ‘girls’ each told their tale. If you are interested, you can read their stories in their own introductions.

“Well, that’s everyone. At least until some Ten O’clock Scholar comes straggling in, in a few months. There’s always at least ONE. Now for the Grand Tour!” She waved them towards the wide white marble steps and large oaken double doors of the Administration Building.

The entry hall was floored in gleaming hardwood, probably oak from the feel of it to her, and stretched into what almost seemed to be infinity. A grand staircase dominated the center of the huge room, made of gleaming and lovingly cared for mahogany and led to a landing branching off into what looked like more spacious hallways.

There were comfortable looking chairs, couches, desks, tables, tasteful lamps and potted plants scattered apparently at random through the hall, and huge fireplaces dominated each end. This isn’t a school, it’s a set for a movie about an English Men’s Club.

“This is the main hall, children.” Belle explained as she led us through it. “Study and quiet gathering area for students and staff. It’s kind of chilly in the wintertime, but the fireplaces are nice. Get a spot close to one if you have the chance during the cold months. It’s a lot warmer and kind of cool sitting by the fire. Especially with the right guy or girl.”

She gave an evil little grin at the expressions on her charge’s faces at the mention of boy or girl friends, then relented a bit. “Not to worry, if you guys aren’t ready for something like that you can just say ‘thanks but no thanks’ and no one will get bent out of shape over it.”

Belle walked over to a wooden door and peeked her head in. “Hiegh-Ho, Mrs. Linford! I’m leading the first wave of Poe Cottage Frosh Orientation Tours. Would you please open up the Homer Gallery?”

“Of course, Belle.” A warm alto voice responded. A moment later, a trim 50ish African-American woman in a green dress came out, flipping through the keys on a ring. She clipped over to a set of double doors with a bust of Homer set into a niche beside the doorway. Mrs. Linford gripped the dome of Homer’s head and pushed back. The bust swung back revealing a lock set into the base of the bust. She inserted the key, and a panel in the doorjamb swung open, revealing a card-slot and a keypad. Linford swiped a card and punched in a combination. There was a sound of bolts being withdrawn, and Mrs. Linford pulled one of the doors open.

“Thenk Yew!”, Belle sang as she shepherded the Freshmen into the gallery. “This is the Homer Gallery, which is where we keep mementos of prominent Alumni. Note, I said ‘prominent’- not ‘famous’ or ‘glorious’, just ‘prominent’. Of course, the very nature of this place requires that we keep it locked off most of the time, just in case anyone not ‘In The Loop’ drops by.”

The Gallery was a long room lined with glass cases, with paintings on the wall and statues and freestanding exhibits on the floor. Belle walked up to a wax figure of a heroically built man wearing an odd suit consisting of a royal blue metallic looking armless and legless body sheath with shoulder plates, a wide golden belt with a thunder-bolt design on it, white gauntlet gloves, high white boots, a long white cape and a large red triangular ‘C’ on the chest. The tabs holding the cape, and the greaves and bracers over the boots and gauntlets were gold metal matching the belt. “I don’t think that I have to tell anyone that this is a uniform belonging to Champion, the greatest superhero that Chicago has ever seen. This is the outfit worn by Champion during most of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. This really is one of his costumes, one that he wore during several of his battles of that period. This statue was on display at Madame Tassaud’s in Paris; when Champion changed his outfit in 1983, Tassaud’s made a whole new statue, and Champion asked them to deliver this one here.”

Hank raised a hand. “Champion was a student here? I thought that he was around way back before World War II!”

“Okay, this is one that almost everyone gets wrong. It’s a ‘sort of Yes, sort of No’ thing. You see, the original Champion, who was operating in Chicago as early as 1934, was what we now call an ‘Avatar’. An Avatar is a sort of mutant who has a psychic gift of bonding with spirits. Now, most spirits can, and will, try to possess human beings, but it isn’t a very good ‘fit’. The host tries to fight the possession, and if the spirit does manage to completely take over the host, the host is usually so utterly wrecked by the struggle that they’re a physical and psychological ruin. You see them sometimes, hanging out with the winos and schizos on various ‘Skid Rows’. But an ‘Avatar’ can successfully fight the spirit, take control of it, and use its magical powers. As I said, the original Champion was an ‘Avatar’, even though he didn’t know it. In the course of his career, he managed to capture and ‘bind’ several spirits within himself. In so doing, he sort of fused all these spirits together into a single, greater spirit that we now call ‘the Champion Force’. But unfortunately for him, he didn’t know what he was really doing, and he came up with some rather bizarre ideas to explain to himself how he was able to do all the things that he did. Some of those ideas wound up costing him his life in 1953.

“But one of the things that the original Champion-” Belle pointed at a LIFE magazine color cover picture of a man in blue tights with a white cape, hood that showed the lower half of his face, trunks, gloves and boots, with a large red ‘C’ on the chest, standing holding an American flag. “- did right, was to train two Avatars like himself.” She pointed at two figures standing on either side of the original Champion in the picture. To the left was a young blonde girl of maybe 15, wearing a short dress of a blue that matched Champion’s. She also wore a domino face mask, cape, belt, boots, gloves and large hair bow that matched the white of Champion’s trim. To the right was a young man of maybe 17, wearing a costume that was almost exactly like Champion’s except that the blue and white were reversed, and he only wore a blue domino mask, instead of a hood. “They were called Miss Champion and Junior Champion. When the original Champion died, he managed to pass the Champion Force onto Junior Champion, who became the second Champion. Since the original Champion trained him, the second Champion also inherited the original’s rather odd notions of how his powers worked. This caused him no end of troubles during his career.

“It was a very good thing that Champion did train Junior Champion and Miss Champion back in the 1940’s, because in the 1950’s there was a wave of legislation making ‘Kid Sidekicks’ illegal, under the ‘Endangering Minors’ laws. Now, the second Champion wasn’t just an Avatar, he was also a very versatile Kinetic. That’s where his ‘lightning vision,’ ‘polar breath’ and ‘thunder shout’ came from- pyrokinesis, cryokinesis, and psychokinetically created vibration. Mind you, his base kinetic powers probably weren’t that great, but the Champion Force most likely amplified them. As the 1960’s rolled around, the term ‘Mutant’ entered the popular lexicon, mostly as a synonym for ‘dangerous freak’. As Champion II interacted with mutants of both the superheroic and supervillainous persuasion, he began to suspect that he too might be a mutant, not the rather bogus ‘Olympian’ origin that his mentor had taught him. As the nature of mutant abilities was researched by various fronts for various reasons, Champion II found another Avatar, someone who he could pass the Champion Force onto, if he should fall in combat. But he couldn’t train the boy personally- those ‘Anti-Kid Sidekick’ laws. So, in 1966, Champion II was part of the cabal of mutant superheroes and sympathizers who bought up the bankrupt Whateley Academy and turned it into a refuge for emergent mutants, who needed to be taught how to control their powers. Among the first class was the young Avatar that Champion had chosen for his successor.

“In 1969, Champion II died, killed by a knife formed of ‘Tartareum’. It was just a piece of volcanic glass that someone had chipped into a knife-” Belle walked over to a glass case, where a crude knife of black glass lay on two brackets. “-but in Champion II’s mind, it was Tartareum, the one substance that could penetrate his defenses. So, it did, and he died. Champion II managed to hold on long enough to pass on the Champion Force to his successor, who was still taking classes at Whateley. The boy waited a year to graduate, and then took up the mantle of the Champion. The first thing that Champion III did was hunt down the vicious bastard who killed Champion II. The idiot had another glass knife- he wanted to go down in history as the ‘Man Who Killed Champion Twice’. Champion III didn’t have the psychological crutches that Champions I & II did, though. The knife broke on Champion III’s skin, and he dragged the scumbag to jail by his heels.

“Ever since then, it’s been understood that Whateley Academy will always be training at least one Avatar at all times- the best, the smartest, the strongest, the bravest Avatar enrolled- who is ready at all times to accept the Champion Force, in case the worst happens. We even have a jet on call at Berlin Airport, just in case.”

Belle walked them across the room. “On the flip side, here we have Lord Paramount, the mutant Prince of Wallachia.” Belle gestured at a large oil portrait. It showed a long view of a trim, athletic man, dressed in a deep purple coat cut in the manner of a Napoleonic Era officer, with a high collar, tails down the back, large cuffs, embroidered silver trim everywhere, and a white lace jabot down the front. He was wearing tight white trousers tucked into black riding boots, bound up with a silver lame sash, and had a white cape thrown over his shoulders. The man was aiming his classic patrician features up at the mantle of a rough-hewn fieldstone fireplace, contemplating a bust of a hawk-faced man with a large mustache. The painting projected an air of ‘the melancholy Byronic noble man, enduring the majestic loneliness of splendor, meditating on the lessons of a bygone hero’.

I took a long look at the painting. “I get the impression that I’m supposed to recognize the bust, but I don’t. Who is it?”

“It’s Vlad Tepes Bessarab, Prince of Wallachia and Moldavia. You may know him better by his nickname- ‘Dracula’. And no, he wasn’t a Vampire. He was a 15th Century nobleman who ruled over much of a region called Transylvania, the border between Hungary and Rumania. While he had a reputation for being harsh, even brutal, he was also known for being even handed, and expecting Nobles to obey the same laws as the Commoners. He’s remembered as something of a romantic hero in Rumania. I rather expect that Lord Paramount is trying to cash in on that perception to help bolster his regime in Wallachia.”

“Why do you keep such a big picture of him here? I mean, if he’s an alumnus, I can understand you having something- but this?”

“We have to- Lord Parry is a big contributor to the school, and a condition of his donations is that we keep this picture here, and show it to all the incoming Freshmen.”

Hank took a long look at the painting. “How the heck did a loon like Lord Paramount wind up being a head of state, even in a backwater like Wallachia?”

“Well, give his Lordship his due, he’s not as daft as he sometimes comes across. While he makes no bones about doing the whole ‘supervillain’ thing, he’s sharp enough to know exactly where the line is, and to play his game right up to that line and no further. Or at least not where anyone will ever catch him at it. Anyway, back in the 1980’s, when the Soviet ‘empire’ crumbled in the space of about three months, some parts of Transylvania, which is traditionally Hungarian, wanted to secede from Rumanian and rejoin with Mother Hungary. Others wanted to become their own Nation. And others wanted to avoid trouble by staying with Rumania. Lord Parry here stepped into this, stirred things up, got a good-sized militant group behind him. He used his powers to strategically steal fuel, ammunition, supplies and other essentials, and manipulate the tides of war. Remember, just because Lord Paramount comes across as a posturing git, doesn’t mean that he isn’t a clever dick under it all. For instance, Wallachia has about a dozen different political, ethnic, and religious rivalries going. Lord Parry doesn’t waste time and effort trying to stop them- he uses them, and has set himself up as an impartial arbiter of their squabbles, giving each faction just enough to keep them thinking that they can get more from him. He keeps the squabbles down to shouting matches and the odd street fight, and everyone else in the region thanks him for being a peace-bringer. While he has his bullyboys handle most of the ‘peace-keeping’, every so often, he takes off the kid gloves and shows them that he’s equal to an armored column all by himself, just to remind everyone that he can.”

Billie cocked an eyebrow at the brooding figure on the canvas. “What are his powers, again?”

“Well, if memory serves correctly, he’s a level 5 Exemplar- just look at that chin, what else could he be?-, but he’s also a level 4 Kinetic- sort of along the lines of what you do, Hank, but more versatile-, a level 3 Telepath and a level 3 Esper. He’s supposed to be able to lift a good-sized car without straining, and can tip over tanks with some effort. Plays a mean game of Chess too, I hear.”

Belle walked away from the painting, to neat pile of what appeared to be large gold ingots, protected only by a red velvet rope. “Is That.?”

“Quite. Exactly one metric Tonne of 16-karat Gold. It’s a donation from Gabriella Guzman, the Mexican tycoon. She’s an alumna. Her ‘gift’ is some sort of Esper thing, that she uses to manipulate various markets. She started out dirt poor, from peon stock, and attended Whateley on a scholarship, but now she flat out owns Delicias, a major Mexican city in the Chihuahua province, most of the rest of Chihuahua, and good-sized holdings in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and El Paso. She donated this on the condition that it’s not be sold, but displayed here. She said that it’s supposed to be a statement. Apparently, either you get it or you don’t. If you get it, no explanation is necessary; if you don’t, you wouldn’t understand the explanation.”

Belle swept her hand around the rest of the large room. The cases were full of odd statuettes, bizarre looking pieces of technology from differing times, bits and pieces of clothing, stuffed animals that couldn’t be real and skulls from impossible beasts, one of which was almost the size of a VW Bug. And there were weapons! Ancient weapons, odd weapons, weapons that looked like they belonged in a Sci-Fi movie. “All these things are mementos and oddments from events in various Alums’ careers. If you really want to, you can ask Missuz Linford, and she’ll let you into to look at them more. That’s why it’s here. Also, there a printed guide to each and every one of these doo-hickeys, to explain exactly what they’re about.”

With dinner out of the way, Belle led us back to Poe. “And so ends the first part of our tour. Now, you get your bags from where they’ve been cluttering, and figure out which cell will be yours.”

Hank effortlessly hoisted one traveling trunk onto his shoulder for the trip up the flight of stairs. But before anyone could get up the stairs, there was a loud *thud!* against the front of the building. “I’d know that thud anywhere,” Belle said dryly.

She walked to the front door and looked outside. Curious, everyone else followed close behind. We followed Belle’s gaze to a blue and white heap on the ground right at the base of the wall. “It wouldn’t have done you any good, anyway, Megs,” Belle drawled. “They’re reassigning rooms, remember? You’re on the Third Floor this year. That is unless you WANT to stay on the Second Floor with the newbies.”

“Oh, go boil your cauldron!” The heap snapped back. With a groan, the heap pulled itself up and resolved itself into a rather nicely put together blonde girl of about 16 wearing a legless blue leotard, with a white belt, gauntlet gloves, buccaneer boots, and cape, and a stylized red ‘M’ on her chest. “Everyone, this is Marty Penn, a.k.a. ‘Mega Girl’, or invariably ‘Megs’. Marty is one year ahead of you, one of Our Crowd, and a card-carrying member of the Cape Squad. Megs, this is the Freshmen crew of the Gender Baffled.”

‘Megs’ smiled sweetly, stuck her hand out for Hank to shake, and bubbled out a stream of welcomes and disconnected bits of Sophomore wisdom to us Froshes. A bit of recognition clicked, and I thought to myself ‘Dear Ghod, somebody went and gave Lizzie McGwuire super powers!’

As Marty’s babbling brook paused for a second, Belle asked innocently, “You flew in from the train station?”

“Sure? Why Not? It was getting late, and nobody saw me, and they’ll bring in my luggage with the others-”

“And you’re going to hide the fact that you’re here well ahead of the others with only your super-suit to wear from Mrs. Horton, exactly How?” Belle arched an eyebrow.

Marty’s bellflower blue eyes popped wide open, and she worried her lower lip. “You could.... use your Ectoplasm to disguise me?”

Belle smiled acidly. “No-no-no-no-no- I’ve ‘bibbledy-bobbledy-booed’ you out of trouble for the last time. You can get yourself out of this little mess. I’m going to have my hands full with this lot, thank you very much!” With that, Belle shooed us Froshes back in, and pointedly shut the door behind her.

“Isn’t that a little harsh?” Jade asked worriedly.

“Not to worry- it will take her a bit, but eventually it will occur to her that all she has to do is fly up to the roof and hang out there until the rest of the incoming students come in. She just wanted to get first call on rooms.”

Ayla raised an eyebrow. “When you said that Marty’s ‘one of Our Crowd’, did you mean that she’s here in Poe Cottage, or that she’s---?”

“Transgendered? Most definitely. You see, under that PK shell, Marty is a rather weedy looking young man.”

“You mean, Marty can make himself look like a girl by creating a ‘PK shell’, but under it all, he isn’t changing into a girl?” Jade asked.

“Not quite- you see, Marty IS changing himself in rather the same way that I did, but it’s very slow. She’s going to be switching back and forth for quite a while until she manages to redefine her biological patterns. So, if you see a strange boy walking down the hall in a lacy blue nightgown, and he says that he's Marty, there’s a good chance that he is. Just steer him up to the Third Floor and let them heckle him to death.”

“You said something about ‘the Cape Squad’. What’s a ‘Cape Squad’?” I asked.

Belle took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Ah, well, you see, here at Whateley, we have our cliques, the same as everywhere else. We have the usual roster of groups- there’s the Alphas, our resident self-appointed ‘elite’; there’s Venus Inc., the local Fashion Police and Beauty Nazis; there’s the Rat Patrol, the inevitable group of grungy losers, and so on. And we have some groups that could only exist here at Whateley- the Masterminds, the Ninjas, the Robo-Jox, and of course, the Cape Squad. The Cape Squad is basically a bunch of kids who are VERY up on the notion of being ‘future super-heroes of America’ and all that. If the superhero fan magazines are right, Marty spent a good part of the summer trying to be accepted by the Empire City Guard. Again. Ah well, at least Marty can come back here and try to get Iron Star to get to notice her.”

“_Iron Star_?” Ayla said in a pained tone.

“Well, Yes---” Belle said with an embarrassed grin, “Well, Marty likes him, anyway. He’s sort of the ‘main man’ in the Cape Squad.”

After getting my stuff into my room, I decided to check out the rest of the floor for myself. They had a shower room with four stalls of discretely clouded glass. Oh well, bathtubs were a bit much to hope for, anyway. But the stalls were nicely designed for modesty, at least. As I stepped out into the hall, I almost ran into- or over Rip. “Hey! I thought that your group was supposed to be out doing the Tour!”

“We’re running late. REAL girls do that.”

“And what is THAT supposed to mean?”

“Why didn’t you tell me that you’re really a boy?”

“Why didn’t you tell me that you’re a lesbian?”

“What business is that of yours, and what does it have to do with anything?”

“My point exactly!”

“Hunh?”

“What was I supposed to say, ‘Hi there, I’m Toni Chandler, and don’t let the figure fool you, I’m really a guy’? I mean, I didn’t even know about this ‘Alternative Sexuality’ cottage- after all they don’t exactly print it up in the brochure! And, besides, my body is changing into a girl’s, and I’m already halfway there, so who cares, and why is it any of your business! I mean, it’s not like you were looking for a girlfriend- or- any- omigod.” Rip had gone beet red. “Oh Jeez, I’m sorry, Rip! I didn’t know!”

Rip struggled with anger, embarrassment, heartbreak, and frustration, and sheer exasperation won out. “Arrrggg! WHY does this always happen to me? Every time I meet a great girl who’s fun and really cute, she’s Always into boys! And they ALWAYS get all weirded out, and it gets all sticky and we can’t be friends anymore, and-”

“Who says any of that?”

“You mean that you’re not into boys?”

<Heh> I gave my wide apologetic grin. “Well, t’be honest, I’m not really sure WHAT I’m into, just yet. Y’see, I’ve only been changing like this for a few months and I haven’t really had Time and there was this one girl back home, and I had some real powerful feelings, and like I said, I haven’t really sorted all of this out....”

Rip gave me a long look. Emotions flickered past her face too fast to keep track of. Finally Rip seemed to make up her mind. “So... you’re turning into a girl? The whole works, not just the gazongas?”

“Uhm... Yeah. The doctor said that in the past month or so, my uterus has grown so much that they can see it with normal sonograms and stuff. And the male stuff--- well, it’s still there, but only for the time being. The doctor said that in a few months that I’m gonna have to be laid up, ‘cause they’re gonna have to break my pelvic bone in order to widen it.”

“Why would they HAVE to do that?”

“ ‘Cause if they don’t do it under controlled conditions, there’s a good possibility that the stresses on my body would do it when I fell down or something, and that could lead to all kinds of complications.”

“Eeewww! And I thought that _I_ had it rough! And after that...?”

“Well, it will probably take a couple of years until the transition is complete. Though the doctor admitted that his evaluation was pure educated guesswork, so I’m not making any schedules or anything.”

“And--- you had a real crush on this girl back home?”

“Yeah. Gail Enderby. I made a complete idiot of myself a couple of times, but I don’t think that she ever caught on.”

“And you’re not really sure which way you’re gonna swing, preference-wise?”

“Is anybody, until it sneaks up on them and bites them in the ass?”

“Now I know that you used to be a boy. Well!” Rip slipped her arm through mine. “If you decide that beefcake is your meat, I can cope. BUT, if you’re walking on MY side of the street-” Rip raised her voice so that everyone in the hallway could hear, “I call dibs on the slammin’ black boy-chick!”

A voice wafted out from one of the rooms. “Dibs? You gotta call Dibs? Nobody told me anything about that!"

As Rip leaned her head into the room to play with her victim’s head a little more, I ducked down the stairs, and passed the ground floor down into the basement. The basement was tricked out as sort of an all-purpose mini-gym, including mats, a ballet bar, and an exercise machine that was to your average Nautilus machine what Arnold Schwarzenegger is to Woody Allen. It was Hyuge! The main leverage bar was at least five times as thick, and the whole thing was probably made out of some high strength titanium alloy. Looking at the little sign on the main strut, it said that the main leverage bar weighed fifty pounds all by itself, and the bars that you could add were in increments of 50 pounds, up to Ten Tons! Something like this could only exist at a place like Whateley. They probably had to put it down here in the basement because it would probably come crashing through the floor in they put it up any higher.

Now, you simply can NOT see a machine like this and not want to give it a test spin. I re-set the weights from 8 tons (!) and some odd pounds to 250 pounds, my absolute upper limit on the machine that I used back at my old dojo. That done, I wriggled in under the bar, and settled in for a set of 50 lifts, just enough to get a feel for this machine.

I was at push #34, when I heard a metallic clinking sound from behind me in the machine, and I felt the tension on the bar go weird. Then the leverage bar suddenly became like a thousand times heavier, and came crashing down on my chest, even though it’s supposed to be designed not to do that. I struggled to get the bar off of my chest, which was made harder by the fact that I couldn’t breathe. Then a snarling face came leering down at me, said something that I couldn’t follow- I was too busy trying to breathe- and pushed down even harder on the bar.

Suddenly, there was a blur of movement, the face was gone, and the bar jerked up. More out of pure survival reflex than real thought, I got out from under it before it could drop again.

When I could see straight, I saw Hank grappling with a tall- and I do mean TALL!- woman. The first thing that I noticed was her build, but then you would. Many female body builders sort of fall into a trap of trying for more and more bulk, and wind up looking like men with delicate faces and token bikinis. Mind you, she had bulk, but it had a sleek quality to it that emphasized her feminine curves, and added an element of raw physical power to her sensuality. Damn nice, if you’re into the Masters of the Universe. She had a cap of finger length golden (and I do mean Golden! Not Blonde, not yellow, it was like gold metal!) curls over a square face with a square chin. She was wearing a tank top and warm-up pants. As Hank and ‘Gigantor’ wrestled, they slammed into the wall of the basement, and made the house shook.

When they finally broke their clinch, I launched myself at Two-Ton Tina. Hey, I had enough of that being bullied crap back in my old school! I am NOT going to get myself get sucker-punched on my first day. With a fierce cry, I landed a Ki punch right in the middle of her breadbasket.

*tink!*

Nuthin!

This woman had abs that could stop a LAWS rocket!

She made a grab at me, and I decided that if Hard style wouldn’t do the job, maybe Soft style would. I intercepted her grab, reversed it into a throw and sent her flying. She tumbled into a perfect standing recovery and came roaring back. I sent her flying face first into the floor. I’ll give her this; she can really take it! Fast too; I barely managed to dodge a double fist hammer slam that set the entire foundation of the cottage rocking.

As she recovered from her missed hammer slam, Hank came up behind her, got her in a Full Nelson hold and lifted her up off the ground. Which was a pretty good move, one that denied her leverage to use her super-strength. Pity, someone must have used it before- she pumped her legs back over his head, kicking him backwards, got her feet on the ground and threw him in a backwards cartwheel move.

Then a pie hit her in the face. “Dammit, Hippolyta! If you’re going to pound on Freshmen, pick on ones that I’m not responsible for!”

I backtracked the voice to the stairs, where Beltane was standing, glaring at the amazon that I assume was 'Hippolyta’. Beltane cocked a hand back and darkness swirled into being in her hand. “You survived my Banana Cream Pie. Don’t make me use the Double Fudge Custard.”

Hippolyta glowered at Beltane. “Belle- these are yours?”

“Yes! Now, step away from the Newbies- you DON’T want me to break out the Éclairs, now do you?”

Hippolyta glowered at me and downright snarled at Hank (?). Then she fixed her snarl back on me. “Well, tell your little freak here to keep her hands off of MY Weight Machine!”

“YOUR Weight Machine?” I yelled back. “Hey, this is a COMMON exercise area!-” Well, if you’ve ever spent any time in a gym, you’ve heard this spat. We were nose to nose, and still screaming at each other at the top of our lungs, me furiously defending my right to get buffed and ripped, and her just as loudly defending what she obviously thought of as her private property.

Our shouting match was suddenly interrupted by a calm, quiet *ahem!* Hippolyta immediately shut up, so I did likewise and turned to see what had put a cork in her bottle.

Mrs. Horton was standing there, very calmly, with one eyebrow arched. “There seems to be a problem?”

I beat Gigantor to the punch. “I was using that Nautilus machine, and this BITCH-” Mrs. Horton fixed me with a reproving glare. <ahem!> “-This Person-” Mrs. Horton nodded approvingly,“- jimmied the weights and tried to KILL me! Then she got on top and tried to hurry things up! If Hank hadn’t-”

At this point, Hippolyta interrupted. “This little worm totally messed up my arrangement on the Weight Machine! I just got it set Just Right-”

“Well then, if you got it just right once, then it shouldn’t be a bother to restore, now should it?” Mrs. Horton interrupted serenely. “Hippolyta, this exercise area and all the equipment in it, is for everyone to use. When I gave my introductory talk, I specifically told everyone to come down here and feel free to use the equipment; that’s what it’s here for.” Then she looked at me. “And, as for you, while I admit that you had cause, it still isn’t a good start if you have a fight on your very first day. And you, young man?”

“Oh, Hank got her off of me and let me get out from under those weights.” I beat him to the punch. Hey, he was there for me, I’ll be there for him.

Mrs. Horton nodded approvingly. “Very good. Hippolyta, Miss Chandler, both of you go to your rooms and stay there until Lights Out. Scoot!”

Hippolyta trudged off without a word, and I followed her up the stairs. Somehow, challenging Mrs. Horton didn’t seem like a very good idea...

I was ‘helping’ Nikki unpack by shelving her books. From a reclining position on my bed by tossing them onto the bookcase across the room. “ ‘Archetypal Imagery In Folk lore’ by Dr. Tregwaithe Brown, Ph.D.” <Shelf!> “ ‘Universal Concepts In Metaphysical Systems’ by Sylvia Wiggins- I’ll bet that’s a real page-turner!” <Shelf!> “ ‘The Magic Mirror: Medieval Legend And Modern Psychology’ by Dr. Donald Ryecroft. Don’t tell me how it turns out, I want to read it on my own!” <Shelf!> “ ‘The Glory That Was Avalon: An Overview Of Faerie Lore in Europe’ by Jessica Godfrey. I think I’ll wait until the movie comes out.” <Shelf!> “ ‘The Tribe of Oberon: Analytic Comparison of Faerie Concepts in Global Folklore’ by Horace Brigham- jeez, Nikki, are you into this whole ‘Fairy Princess’ concept or what?” <Shelf!>

Nikki sniffed, “Well, unlike some mutant powers, _mine_ require a real understanding of how they work. I can’t just wing it, the way that you do. Besides, you have all those martial arts teachers just panting at the idea of working with you. Me? Real magicians are pretty rare, and they don’t exactly part with their secrets easily. I need every bit of lore that I can scare up!”

< Humph!> “Maybe, but I think that you’re more into this thing than you let on. I mean, what kind of superhero name is ‘Fey’, anyway? I can just see your Action Figure- ‘The new ‘Fey’ figure, now with Power Limp Wrist!’ ” I waggled a floppy hand at Nikki.

<Humph right back at you! >“And what kind of ‘superhero name’ have you decided for yourself? ‘Mega-Mouth’? ‘Thunder-Thighs’?”

That took me back a bit. “Y’know, I haven’t really given it any thought! From what I get, ‘Code Names’ do seem to be pretty de rigeur around here, don’t they?”

“Weeelll, as a matter of fact, I did read something about students being required to use a Code Name in their training exercises, for security reasons. Exactly what those security reasons ARE, I dunno.”

I dug out another book and was about to shelve it. When there was a knock on the door. Rip poked her head in. “Hey, are you guys decent?”

“Jeez, the straight lines they throw you here!” I muttered to the air. “Yeah, we’re cool!”

She stepped in. “Hey, I know that it’s asking a lot, but it’s our first day here- would one of you be willing to trade rooms with me?”

“Aahh-- Rip-- in case you forgot-- We’re TGs. There’s no WAY that they’re gonna let us share a room with a genetic girl.”

“Oh, C’Maaawwn! I _gotta_ get out of that room!”

“What’s so bad about it?”

“Oh, you have got to SEE this to believe it!” She grabbed my hand and pulled me off the bed.

“Hey, I’m sort of grounded for the rest of the evening.”

“Oh, who’s gonna know? And you just won’t understand until you see this!”

I looked at Nikki, who shrugged and got up. Rip almost dragged me down the hall to her bedroom. The bedroom was the same size and layout as the one that Nikki and I shared. It was the contents that sort of jumped out at you. Aside from one stripped bed with a couple of suitcases on it, the place was absolutely packed! There were – (one, two, three, five-) SEVEN trunks that were already open and the contents laid around the room. Rabbits! Dozens of stuffed rabbits! All over the place! And Eggs! Huge decorated, bejeweled eggs, some of them three feet tall. All over the place! “Look at this room!” Rip wailed. “It looks like Liberace exploded!”

Nikki peered at one of the overblown omelets curiously. “What in world?” She reached over and touched one of the ‘jewels’ on the egg. The ‘jewel’ lit.

“Don’t touch that!”

We turned to the door. A short blonde girl was standing there. She was wearing tight Capri pants that really showed off how well she was rounding out and a blue shirt with white polka dots that was tied off across her tummy. Her hair was done up and two ‘spaniel ears’ that sort of made her wide blue eyes seem all that bigger in her kewpie doll face. Standing next to her was a three-foot tall stuffed rabbit that was carrying yet another trunk. Yes, a three-foot tall stuffed rabbit was carrying what had to be a hundred pound trunk. Do you honestly think that I’d make something like that UP? She said, “I haven’t re-programmed that for unpacking yet!”

Before Blondie could get into the room, the ‘Egg’ sort of exploded as curving panels on the ‘egg’ opened up, making it look more like a really tacky artichoke than an egg. Long thin cables snaked out from behind the panel, started grabbing things, and stowing them away in the trunks. More cables snaked out and moved the egg around so that it could get to the trunks more easily.

“No!” Blondie yelled, “I was just getting settled in!” She rushed in and tried to grab the egg, I guess so that she could shut it off. “Dammit, Hubert, I don’t want to have to unpack all that again!”

‘Hubert’, as I guess she had named the Egg-bot ignored her- I guess that she spaced on giving it Voice-Recognition programming- and kept stashing things away. Hubert didn’t so much fight her as it pointedly ignored her and avoided her attempts to shut it off.

“Harvey, get in here and help me shut Hubert off!” The big rabbit- she would call it ‘Harvey’- put the trunk down and advanced. Hubert picked it up, detached the head, arms and legs, and stowed it away in a trunk.

The girl kept trying to wrestle with the stupid egg, but wasn’t getting anywhere. Nikki, Rip and I watched in baffled amazement. Nikki turned to me. “Couldn’t you, y’know, throw a pencil at the ‘Off’ switch and turn it off, or something?”

“Sure- IF I knew which dingus was the ‘Off’ switch.”

“Hey, don’t put yourself out on MY account,” Rip muttered, “It’s doing just what I want.”

Blondie was fighting tooth and nail against ‘Hubert’. When it was done with all the ‘eggs’ and plush, it suddenly wrapped its cables around its maker and hauled her off her feet. Blondie gave a shrill squeal of outrage as it tucked her inside one of the trunks and shut it. “Dammit, Hubert, let me OUT of here, so that I can DISMANTLE you!”

‘Hubert’ only retracted its cables, sealed its panels and shut off the light.

“LET ME OUT OF HERE!”, came muffled from the trunk.

I started towards the trunk. Rip grabbed my arm. “Do you have to right away? Couldn’t you just, y’know, sort of wait until I got all of my stuff unpacked?”

Nikki said, “We can’t just leave her in there.” She walked over to the trunk and tried to open it. “It’s locked. And I don’t have the key.” She thumped the trunk. “HEY! We need a key to open this thing! Where is it?”

“It’s in my pocket!”

Nikki shook her head disgustedly, and wiped the metaphorical egg off of her face. She muttered something, and twiddled her fingers as trails of energy traced out from her fingertips. Then she pointed at the lock, which sprung open.

The second the trunk lid was open, the girl fussed at us, until Nikki offered her a hand out. Blondie’s eyes went wide as she got a good look at Nikki. “Wow. You’re cute. I like you. What’s your name?”

Nikki blushed and stammered, “Oh, it’s Nikki, Nikki Reilly.”

“Hi, Nikki! My name’s Bunny Cormick. I’m from Las Vegas.”

“Well THAT explains a lot.” Rip muttered under her breath.

“Gee, I don’t know what happened with Hubert, I didn’t expect him to pack me away like that, I didn’t program him to, by the way how did you get the trunk open, the key was in my pocket, and I didn’t hear you picking the lock, so how did you get it open? You’re not an Energizer, are you, ‘cause I haven’t managed to surge protect my eggs yet. Please, you aren’t an energizer, are you?”

I flickered my eyes over to Rip and mouthed ‘My Condolences’ at her. She just nodded and rolled her eyes.

Nikki blushed and stammered again. “Uhm, well, I’m sort of a magician-”

“A magician? Cool! You do Escape Artist stuff? Don’t you just love Sigfried and Roy? Too bad about Roy and that tiger, I hope they don’t kill the tiger, Roy doesn’t want them to kill the tiger, he says that it was all a mistake. My daddy works special effects and he works with their support team sometime, and don’t they have the greatest tricks?”

“Oh, ah, not that kind of magician. I’m a Mage.”

Bunny’s eyes snapped open as if she’d just found out that Christmas hadn’t been cancelled after all. “A Mage? You mean that you can do REAL Magic? Oh that is so cool! Would you mind sitting for a spectroscopic examination while you do it?”

Nikki looked like she was going down for the third time, so I jumped in. “So, ah Bunny... what’s your real name?”

Bunny blinked and looked at me. “Bunny _is_ my real name.”

It would be. “What’s with all the heavy tech eggs?”

“Oh, my eggs? Don’t you just love them? They are SO CUTE! Oh, I build all of my projects inside egg-shaped carapaces- square boxes are just SO last century, don’t you think? The Egg is the perfect protective shape, and with a little ingenuity, you can fit almost anything inside an egg!”

There was a sort of whoosh-ing sound in the hallway outside, and I caught a glimpse of a whitish streak go by the door.

“So, Bunny, you’re some kind of inventor?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m what they call a ‘Level: 4 Esper/Gadgeteer’, and a ‘Level: 3 Deviser’. I mostly do robotics and electromagnetic field formation effects for hologram and Special Effects stuff, but I also do other stuff.”

“You said ‘Gadgeteer’ and ‘Deviser’- I thought that ‘Deviser’ and ‘Gadgeteer’ were pretty much the same thing, Mad Scientist stuff.”

“Well, they’re not. They’re similar, but they aren’t the same thing. But you can have both traits in one package. Like Me.” She laid a coy hand on her chest by way of demonstration.

“Well, what’s the difference?”

“A Gadgeteer can go to the Patent Office- a Deviser can go anywhere BUT the Patent Office.”

“Hunh?”

“Sorry- Tech-Head joke. Y’see a ‘Gadgeteer’ is an Esper thing. It’s a kind of Clairvoyance where you know instinctively how to use the tools, equipment and components at hand to do what it is that you want to get done. At the lower levels, it’s just sort of like the guy who is REALLY good at fixing cars or appliances. At the higher levels, you get Ground Breaking inventors, like me.”

“And a ‘Deviser’?”

“Well, ‘Devisers’ really Are the ‘Mad Scientist thing. Y’see there’s this thing called ‘the Schimmlehorn Effect’.”

“The Schimmlehorn Effect?”

“Yeah, they named it after this character in a series of Science Fiction stories called ‘Papa Schimmlehorn’ who could build almost any kind of machine, no matter how bizarre- Time Machines, Alchemy Machines that turn lead into gold, stuff like that, stuff that has no basis in Real World Physics, Chemistry or Biology. Some guy called Reginald Bretnor writes these stories. Anyway, they call it the ‘Schimmlehorn Effect’, after ‘Papa Schimmlehorn’, because the effect causes these ‘Mad Scientist’ devices to work in the face of the conventional Laws of Physics and so forth.”

“You mean like ‘Zergatronic Megadeath Rays’?”

“And Giant Robots that can tear buildings up off their foundations, when they should barely be able to move, and shrink rays that work and things like that. The basic principle is that the *ahem* ‘Mad Scientist’ first rejects the principles of accepted science, and somehow imposes her own set of rules on a small piece of reality. She sort of makes the principles that her inventions operate on work. Mind you, you can’t patent any of those things, ‘cause they just won’t work if the ‘Mad Scientist’ doesn’t built the device.”

Nikki looked rather worried. “That is uncomfortably close to a lot of theories of how Magic really works- that all the magical principles and procedures are just the Mage imposing their own theory of how magic is supposed to work on the universe. So, Bunny, when you’re working on something, how do you know if what you’re inventing isn’t a ‘Mad Scientist’ gizmo that won’t work for anyone else?”

“Those things are called ‘devises’- with a ‘S’ instead of a ‘C’. And I don’t. I have to finish every project, perfect it, and get someone else to try to build one too. Would you like to see some of my work?” Bunny opened a trunk and pulled out one of her eggs. “This is Eldon. He’s a-”

“Yeah, yeah, very nice!” Rip interrupted, but do you have to stash all of these things in MY room?”

“It’s MY room too!” Bunny squeaked.

There was another ‘Zip’ past the door. “What was that?” I asked.

“What was what?”

“I heard something go past the door.”

“I didn’t see anything.”

“I’m telling you, I heard something.”

“Maybe it was one of Bunny’s stupid rabbit robots.” Rip groused.

“My Rabbits are NOT stupid!” Bunny squeaked back.

“Maybe, maybe not, but you’re cramming them into MY space! Hey, _I_ have stuff too!”

“But I can’t just throw them out! They’re my BABIES!”

“I don’t care what you do with them! But either you find somewhere else to stash ‘em, or you can get a new roommate!”

There was that zipping noise again, and that tanned, blonde girl who had sit next to me on the bus was suddenly there. “You want a new roomie! Kewl! I’d be glad to move in!”

“Oh, No.” Riptide moaned. Bunny and Rip looked at each other.

“Uhm, that’s all right, Jay Jay- I think that Bunny and I can work this out.”

“Oh, it’s no problem!” The girl disappeared with a whoosh! and a heartbeat later, was back with a suitcase. “Which side is mine?”

Bunny smiled apologetically. “No, honestly, we’re just ironing out a minor misunderstanding-”

“Oh, come on! A promise is a promise!”

“I don’t remember making any promises.”

“Oh, I suppose that now you’re going to welsh on your promise to help me with my homework!”

“Jay Jay, I never said that I’d help you with any homework!”

“But you were bragging about being such a genius!”

“You asked me what my IQ was, I answered.”

“Bunny, how are we going to be roommates, if you keep breaking your promises?”

“J.J., I never asked you to be my roommate.”

“But you GOTTA! You wouldn’t believe the weirdo that they got stowed in my room! She-” But before J.J. could go any further, Bunny’s egg ‘Eldon’ erupted in a shower of sparks.

“Get OUT!” Bunny screamed, “You’re an energizer- you’re projecting some kind of electric field and my projects are overloading!” The other egg, ‘Hubert’, exploded its panels and the cables started waving around wildly, and one of the trunks burst open as Bunny’s other projects went haywire.

J.J. left with yet another ‘zip’.

Rip instinctively began forming a thick fog around herself. Seeing things going even worse if that much humidity hit Bunny’s electronics, I grabbed Rip and carried her out of the room. As I cleared the door into the hallway, I heard Bunny wail, “She scrambled my eggs!”

Cradling Rip in my arms, I said to her, “I think that we ought to let Nikki calm Bunny down a little before you go back in there. Who the HECK was That?”

“Oh, that was Jay Jay- Joanne Jackie- Jengle-somethingerother, I forget. Apparently, she’s the Gurlzone Freshman superspeedster- everywhere except between her ears.”

“What happened with Bunny’s eggs?”

“Well, if I remember our Walk and Talk correctly, Jay Jay’s superspeed actually comes from some kind of Energizer trait, and besides moving like the Flash, she also generates this powerful magnetic field.”

“Oh, right- and Bunny said that her eggs weren’t surge protected. So this Jay Jay comes in, generates her magnetic field, and *Kzzaatt!* Bunny’s eggs go kablooey.”

“That pretty much covers it. So, are you going to put me down, or are you going to carry me over the threshold into your room?”

Then I noticed that I was still carrying Rip cradled in my arms. “Opps.” I gave her an apologetic grin and put her down. “Sorry.”

“Hey, not to worry! You might get to like it!” She sashayed into my room. Amazing, a girl whose figure is only starting, and already she can sashay.

She plopped down onto Nikki’s bed and looked around. “So, you two are still unpacking, I see. Man, for guys who only turned into girls recently, you got a LOT of clothes!”

“Hey, my Mom and I tried the bonding thing while shopping.”

“Hmmm... did it take?”

“Yeah. Not over shopping, but I think that I’m gonna have a whole new kind of relationship with my Mom when I go back home.”

“Like, Whaow! Your roomie must be loaded! I don’t see anything here that isn’t 100% silk or 100% cotton or 100% wool! What, is she allergic to blends, or something?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, she is.”

“Hanh?”

“Well, apparently, she’s allergic to synthetics- rayon, dacron, spandex, like that.”

“Ooogg- that is gonna be MURDER when Summer rolls around, and she’s gotta find a bathing suit!”

“Oh, it gets worse- it seems that she gets a nasty rash whenever she touches wrought iron.”

“Yer kiddin’.”

“Well, I don’t know how much to take seriously and how much is just in her head. But I gotta empathize- I gotta watch what I eat, so her allergies don’t seem that off the wall to me.”

“Watch what you eat? Why? You got a great figure!”

“Well, it’s a start anyway. No, it’s not my weight.”

“You got allergies, too?”

“Nope- it’s like this- my metabolism is too finely tuned. For instance, I can’t drink soft drinks, ‘cause most of ‘em have caffeine, and almost all of ‘em have some kind of really concentrated sweetener. If I drink a Coke©, I get all wired and start bouncing off the walls.”

“Yeah, well, so does my brother Ernesto.”

“No, I mean, I start literally bouncing off the walls. Hyperactive Overdrive. I can eat fruits, and drink most fruit juices, but I gotta be careful of stuff from concentrates.”

“Let me guess- refined sugar sweeteners.”

“Bingo.”

“Not even Chocolate?” Rip asked mournfully.

“Not unless I wanna get incredibly horny.”

Rip started patting herself down. “Ah, Maann, what a time not t’have a Hershey© bar on me!” She gave me a speculative look. “So, what’s your roomie like?”

“Oh, Nikki? She’s a little on the quiet side, but after listening to _your_ roomie and that whacko with the twinkle toes, I’m beginning to think that’s a bonus!”

“Nikki? I thought that her name was Fay?”

“It is, sorta. That’s her superhero name.”

“Her superhero name is ‘Fay’? I knew a girl named Fay back in Redondo!”

“Not ‘Fay’- ‘Fey’ with an ‘E’. It means ‘touched by magic’, or sum’thin’.”

Rip gave me a hard look.

“Hey, don’t lookit me- _I_ didn’t come up with it.”

She leaned forward on the bed, folding her hands on her crossed knee and gave me a sly smile. “And so, what’s YOUR ‘superhero’ name gonna be? I think that ‘Vixen’ is taken.”

“Actually, Nikki and I were just talking about that. I haven’t really decided.”

Her eyes popped open wide and began to sparkle. “REALLY? Kewl! Lessee now, what would fit you? You’re this big Ki muck-a-muck- so how about ‘Black Dragon’?”

“Sorry, I’d look crappy in a chiamsong, smoking with a long cigarette holder.”

“Nngg... How about ‘Dragon Princess’?”

“What? And have to mix it up with the Powerpuff Girls?”

“How about ‘Doctor Ki’?”

“Sounds like a Hong Kong Dentist.”

“How about ‘Dragonfist’?”

“Naahh- it’d be too easy to twist into ‘Dragonbreath’.”

“Humpf! Okay, let’s dump the whole ‘Dragon’ thing.”

“Fine by me!”

“Okay, something ‘hunterish’- how about ‘Stalker’?”

“Great! And if that’s taken, I can try ‘Mugger’ or ‘Serial Killer’.”

“Hmm- good point. Okay, let’s face it, you got this whole ‘feline’ thing goin’ down.”

I curled up on my bed and ‘mewed’ at her.

“Panther?”

“Too ‘Huey Newton’.”

“Okay, how about ‘Tigress’?”

“NO WAY! Toni the ‘Tigress’? I get enough ‘The’re Gr-r-r-r-r-EAT!’ jokes as is!”

“Aahhh- how about ‘Simba’, as in ‘Lion’?”

“Already covered this with Jade- ‘Simba’ is a GUY lion. And I don’t wanna go back there!”

“Good for you, sweetie. Then how about ‘Nala’?”

“Nala? What’s a ‘Nala’?”

“It’s the name of Simba’s girlfriend in The Lion King.”

“WHAT? And take on Disney? Are you Crazy?”

“Oh god, you’re right! I never even said that!” She worried her lip a little and then inspiration seemed to strike her. “I got it! Chaka!”

“Chaka? Y’mean like Chaka Khan, the R&B singer?”

“No, I mean ‘Chaka’ as in the Masai name for the Leopard!”

“I thought that ‘Chaka’ meant ‘warrior’ or something.”

“No, that’s ‘Shaka’, which is Zulu, and a completely different language. And y’gotta admit, even if the words sorta blend t’gether, it still works for you!”

“How do you know all of this?”

“I used to sit next to a girl in Junior High who was REAL BIG on ‘African Heritage’. Y’hadda stuff a sock in her mouth to get her to shut up about it. She went on about it so much that some just sort of seeped in and stayed there.”

Chaka? Either a leopard or a warrior, depending on who you were talking to? “Y’know, I remember reading in a book called ‘Jungle Kitabu’ by some Belgian guy, that he believed that the Lion didn’t deserve to be called the ‘King of the Jungle’, because first of all, lions don’t live in the rain forest. Secondly, he claims that, pound for pound, the Leopard is the deadliest of the Great Cats, and is so has a better claim to the title. Also, if I remember my African Studies, while warriors can wear Lion’s manes as part of their war-stuff, only a Chief can wear a leopard’s skin.”

Rip spread her arms in a ‘Well, there you are!’ gesture.

Chaka? I like it! It sort of brought into focus that I wasn’t Tony Chandler, Vince and Cindy’s nebbishy little brother anymore! I was-

-well, for one thing, I was somebody who wasn’t dumb enough to let a golden opportunity slip through her fingers!

I turned to Rip and advanced on her with my most slinky feline walk. Giving her a catlike smile, I looked her over and leaned over her, gently pushing her down to mattress.

She looked up at me with dancing eyes, as if a dearly beloved fantasy was finally coming true.

With my best Eartha Kitt purr, I said, “I am CHAKA, hear me roar!”, and mashed my lips against hers.

FINI

 

User Rating: 4 / 5

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A Whateley Academy Tale

Fey: Mom, I Don't Feel So Good

By Maggie Finson

Kansas City September 15th, 2005

Nick Reilly got up from his bed and wished he hadn’t. Every part of his body at least ached, with sporadic jabs of pain from individual parts that informed him they weren’t at all happy with things as they were. As that was being imprinted on his fogged brain, his stomach gave a sudden lurch that had him running for the bathroom. “Ahhh, maaan!

“Nick?” His mother’s voice penetrated his misery, barely. “What’s the matter, honey?”

“I dunno, flu maybe.” The boy managed to answer between bouts of nausea and stabbing pains that made him feel worse than he ever remembered in his thirteen years of life. “All I know is that everything hurts and I feel like my stomach is trying to crawl up my throat and find somewhere else to live until it’s over with.”

“I haven’t heard of any flu going around.” His mother worriedly answered while resting a hand on his forehead. “But you’re burning up. Go back to bed and I’ll call the school to let them know you won’t be going today.”

User Rating: 4 / 5

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A Whateley Academy Tale

Unexpected Consequences

 By Starwolf

 

Disclaimer: Some of these stories will have references to and great similarities to the Manga and Anime revolving around Tenchi Muyo! This is part of the story and I apologize in advance if someone is upset by this. We are not making a profit on this and I hope that anyone seeing this will realize that this is a totally different story. Copyrights to Tenchi belong to A.I.C. and Pioneer LDC. I’m not sure how this fits in but VIZ is also making a comic about the further adventures of the crew done by Hitoshi Okuda. I can recommend all of these if you like Anime and don’t know about them yet.

 Also, this is a work of fiction and any resemblance to anyone is possibly a total coincidence. If not...we probably know who you are. Be afraid, be very afraid!

 Starwolf.^_^.

 


 

 

I

Colorado: March 2, 2006
INTO THE SUNSET

 The lowering, red, Fall sun slanted into the small bus station, making it difficult to focus on the bus that was the final leg of my trip to my new life. This bus was the shuttle that would take me to my new school, the Whateley Academy, and if my parents were right, I would also begin a new life free from the complications of my previous life. Not that I had anything to be guilty of. I think, maybe, it was more so I could start my new life free of everyone else and their outdated expectations. They’re right, I know that, but I still have a hard time not feeling a little uncomfortable about their method of solving the problem.

 Have you ever noticed how bus stations always smell and sound the same. It wasn’t helping my mood in the least. That combination of diesel, disinfectant, and a smell that means change and separations. Muted conversations and noises, occasionally interrupted by announcements and buses, and in this case, trains, coming and going. It can be exciting, but for me it was just depressing. This was an adventure waiting to happen, whether I wanted it to happen or not.

 I’d always expected to have adventures one day. But, they were always comfortably in the future and I would always be prepared for them. Reading about them could give me a sense of the excitement without the fear of loneliness and failure that comes with the real thing. If things got too intense I could always put it down and go get a cool drink or something to eat. I wouldn’t have to worry about the butterflies just throwing it all back up. All I wanted to do now was take any other bus away from here. Run away to some other less threatening place, maybe even home.

 Just walk away.

 Everyone said I lived too much in my books and comics, but I have more than enough common sense than to think I could get anywhere on my own. This wasn’t My Side of the Mountain and my parents would figure it out quickly enough. They had more than enough resources to track me down and bring me back or send me somewhere else.

I really don’t want to blow a good chance to show them how I can be trusted on my own either. This was my chance to prove to them and myself that I could do this and anything else I needed to do in the future. Dad had always said that we had to learn to make our own way in the world. And, that we would have to do it on our own with only a little, if any, help from anyone else.

But, I really would have preferred to put that decision off for a few more years. Finishing high school while living with my family was high on my list of wishes that simply weren’t going to come true. Happily looking forward to the adventure of heading out on my own under much more auspicious circumstances. But then, a small miscalculation, and my life came apart and could never be put back together the same way again. After what happened in the summer I don’t think that things could have worked out at all. There was too much of my past and too much of my new future to overcome at the same time.

If only things had worked out a little differently, I wouldn’t be here now. I’d have been looking forward to starting my junior year at my old school. Concerned with what I would be studying during the year, and even more importantly, when and how I could get the next issue of Ninja High School and the next book by the Eddings, Wrede, or Mckinley. It’s funny how things can change so quickly.

I was William Meredith Wilson. I am the second son of Larry Wilson and Cherry Lee Wilson-Clymer. Don’t ever call Mom by that name though, not if you want to leave with a whole skin. She goes by Mrs. Wilson or sometimes Cher if you are a close enough friend of the family. I am 16 years old and was not so eagerly looking forward to my junior year at Cascade High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an A student and an important member of our cross country and track teams. But it would have been another year of, “Oh! You’re Larry’s brother. Where is he going to college? Do you think he will continue to do as well in sports and school as he is now?” Larry is my older brother. An honor student, President of the senior class, All State Football and Basketball, yadda, yadda, etc. It’s disgusting. He is the all-American boy. Tall, smart, witty, handsome, and too good to be true. Except he is, and I had the dubious honor of standing squarely in his shadow.

That’s easy enough to do as he stands six feet two inches and I towered a grand five feet six inches with a lot of promise to one day reach as high as maybe five nine. He never looks down on anyone and was always encouraging me and TB to do even better. You can’t even hate him because you knew he really meant it and expected it of you.

TB is my younger brother, eleven years old, and a real Dexter, genius, pain in the butt. I could swear that he has a hidden lab somewhere but have never been able to find it. According to my parents, Thadeus Bartlett was an accident. I couldn’t agree more, especially as I was the designated watcher over all that he could destroy. I don’t know how I could be held responsible for all the havoc he could and did wreck in his day to day rampages. Just because everyone else was too busy I always seemed to be stuck with him.


 

II

 

A SURPRISE FOR DAD

Even with all of my experience with him I didn’t expect what happened that Fourth of July. I had actually gotten free of him by finally putting up enough of a fight with Mom to get a chance to watch the fireworks with my friends Gordon and Chris without him hanging on to me. For some reason he took it very personally and spent the next week making my life as miserable as he could.

Then things settled down and got quiet. Too quiet. I should have gotten a hint when this happened, but was so relieved after the last week that I ignored the warning signs. Besides, Mrs. Tanaka, my martial arts teacher was promising me a surprise in the near future, and I was certain she was going to allow me to try for my brown belt in Judo.

Mrs. Aimee Tanaka was the Sensei that my parents sent us to train with. She ran her own dojo not too far from where we lived. I could ride my bike to practices and Mom and Dad really respected her. She was over sixty years old but could take any of us down without any apparent effort if she wanted to. Even Larry respected her, which was saying a lot because he was very good himself.

I have to admit that while I had no real experience with girls, being incredibly shy and not knowing in the least about how to relate to them, I still had a bit of a crush on her. She was the only girl I knew besides my mother who I could relax around and not feel a complete fool. I could talk to her about anything and she would give me good advice without being too threatening. Something I couldn’t do so well with my parents as I was too intimidated by them most of the time.

I had just gotten back from Judo and was going to my room to watch my new Tenchi Forever DVD again. Since I had discovered Anime on the Cartoon Network I had found another addiction similar to my books and comics. They seemed to combine a lot of what I liked in both the other addictions of mine. One especially got my attention. Tenchi Muyo.

Oddly enough, while I liked all the characters in the show, the one that I seemed to identify with most closely was Ryoko. Something about her just seemed to be so easy to identify with. I could watch her for hours, and feel almost like I was watching someone like myself. I didn’t understand it but didn’t care anyway. I had even gotten some posters on E-Bay to hang in my room. Larry and TB were always making fun of me by saying I was in love with her.

Anyway, I was looking forward to spending a little more time trying to figure out if Tenchi was going to make up his mind and decide who he wanted to be with. Of course I had my own ideas about who he should pick, but not knowing for sure was at least half the fun. Then TB accosted me as I was passing his room.

“Bill! Could you please help me?”

With a resigned sigh I turned to him. I just wanted to get to my DVD, but he had used the magic word, and Mom would kill me if she found out I ignored it. “What can I do for you TB?” He frowned at me. “You know Mom doesn’t want you to call me that!”

“What?”

“TB!”

“So?”

“I know what it means and you better stop it. Mom won’t let you keep doing it if she finds out!”

“OK, TB. I’ll stop.”

“You better!”

“What did you need?”

“I need your opinion on something I made to surprise Dad.” Dads’ birthday was in four days and we were all trying to think of something to surprise him with. I admit to being somewhat intrigued by what Thad had come up with. He really was a genius and could be trusted to have some really good surprises up his sleeve.

“Sure, lead the way Dr. Frankenstein.”

“Mom better not catch you calling me that either.”

“Sure, sure. Just lead the way.”

“You just want to get back to your giirrrl friend.”

“I’m not that hard up Shrimp, and I’ll be taking off if you can’t get to the point soon.” I was a little embarrassed that he was so close to the truth, but didn’t want him to see it.

He grinned and lead the way to the kitchen. He reached into the fridge and pulled out some milk and then pulled a tray out of the microwave. The incredible smell of chocolate assailed my nose. I like chocolate a lot and consider myself something of an expert on it and something about this smell promised to be exceptional. “What do you have there Thad?”

“Something really special.” He said with a grin.

“And you want me to?”

“Give me an opinion on the taste and if you think Dad will like it.”

“Well, if the smell is anything close to the truth, you will have succeeded far beyond expectations.”

“I think I have managed to concentrate the essence of chocolate into a form that will be irresistible to anyone with a hint of a sweet tooth and a desire to use it.” He said with an evil grin and presented me with a small square of brown material that I recognized as fudge of a superior texture, and as I placed it in my mouth a wonderful taste assailed my tongue.

“Here, have some milk with that.” He handed a glass to me and the addition of cold milk only improved the sensations tenfold. Oddly enough, the sensations just kept getting better. I almost seemed to be drifting in a cloud of wonderful sensations.

I became slowly aware that I seemed to be lying on the floor and nothing seemed to be stable and kept moving around me. Slowly Thad’s face came into view. If I had been more aware, I might have been afraid of the look I could see in his eyes. I knew something wasn’t right, but couldn’t find the will power to do anything about it. “You shouldn’t have broken your promise you know. It really made me mad and I wasn’t able to do what I had been planning to do all year. “ Nothing he was saying seemed to make any sense to me and the more I listened the more he seemed to be fading in and out and making less and less sense. I was also starting to feel uncomfortable and somewhat sick to my stomach. Something that he said caught my attention. “The serum I just gave you will make sure you don’t do that to me again. It won’t harm a normal human but will make the suggestions I am going to make seem a lot more reasonable. Let’s see, how can I test it?” I was starting to feel really sick now and the room seemed to be spinning more and more. “Don’t worry Bill, This won’t hurt you at all. It’s totally safe for normal people. You won’t remember a thing after we are done and you won’t make a mistake like that again.”

He giggled. “You like Ryoko a lot don’t you? Think about her. I want to hear you talk like her. How much can you be like her if you try?”

Suddenly, I felt a pain so intense I couldn’t even scream. I wanted to so bad. Anything to release the horrible pain and instability. The world wouldn’t hold still and fire rushed through my soul and body. One of the last clear memories of this moment was a picture of Thad’s face. It was a queer mixture of horror, fascination, and surprise. He seemed to be trying to say something and was shaking his head. I couldn’t hear a thing though and the world was becoming a blinding flare of pain and fire.

I needed someone to help me. I was completely disoriented and in terrible fear. I wanted my mother and father to come and get me. I think I screamed for them but they never came and the pain got worse somehow.

Then I saw a face in the fire. It seemed impossibly far away but I reached for it and it seemed to be pulled closer. A form reached for me through the flames and I knew someone had come for me. As the form touched me I could feel a small relief from the pain and the world seemed to stabilize a little. I clung to the shape desperately and I knew she was protecting me and I pulled myself closer still.

With her came a sense of power and control over what was happening to me. She was security, protection, stability. Comfort, peace, and a friend that I could trust with anything. I suddenly realized that I had never felt so at peace with myself. It was as if something I had been looking for as long as I could remember in my books and comics and other mediums was suddenly there.

The more complete and comforted I felt, the more the pain seemed to fade and a terrible exhaustion set in. Try as I would I couldn’t hold on to consciousness. Everything grayed out and faded away. But I still could feel the comfort and peace that had enveloped me and I somehow knew that everything would be alright in the end.

I don’t remember much after that. Every now and then I would become aware that someone was talking near me, but I couldn’t seem to understand what was being said and it would quickly fade away. Sometimes I was aware of movement, but again it would fade away into nothingness.


 

III

 

The Hospital

Finally I could feel a drawing away from the nothingness. I didn’t want to go. The memories of the pain had me struggling to return to the darkness that was free from the horror I had felt. Slowly it dawned on me that I no longer felt any pain. In fact, I was not sure if I had ever felt this good. Somehow a great sense of well-being seemed to permeate me. Slowly I was becoming more aware of what was going on around me.

I was lying in a bed. There was the unmistakable smell of a hospital. That peculiar sterile smell that you only find in medical establishments. I became aware of a conversation near me. It was whispered but I could make it out.

A hushed female voice was saying, “We’ve got the wrong room. There has to have been a mistake. This isn’t him.”

She was answered by a voice that made my hair try to stand on end. Something about its guttural growl made me sure that I didn’t ever want to meet the one using it. “How could we be wrong? This is the only patient admitted in the last week. I was sure that we could get in, kill that Wilson brat, and collect our fee with plenty of time to make it to San Bernardino to meet Slicer before he gets impatient.”

She answered, “They must have pulled a switcheroo and left a false trail here to distract us. This has the feeling of a trap. Let’s get out of here.”

“What about her? Should we off the bitch to show them?

I could sense a cold dread in my gut as I heard movement and wondered if I could somehow alert someone before these goons killed the person they were talking about.

“No! Like I said, I think this is a trap. Let’s not draw attention to ourselves. If we don’t do anything now, they will not know we have been here, and they might get careless about where he is being kept. That won’t happen if they think we are hanging around here looking for him.”

I let out an inaudible sigh and nearly screamed when he said, “What was that?” I swear I could feel him coming towards me and I almost sprang up to run when she spoke again.

“Forget it Ripper! Let’s move out now before we’re compromised!

“But Warp...”

“Now! Move it or I’ll leave you behind!” I heard unintelligible muttering as he moved off and suddenly I felt a tug that faded away and I felt alone once more. After a few seconds my heart started to beat again and I got the courage to try to look around. I felt an odd tugging on my scalp as I moved my head. Maybe there was something attached to me. As I reached up to check my head I became aware of many more differences that were becoming more obvious the longer I was aware of them.

To make a long story short, I became quickly aware that I wasn’t myself anymore. What was going through my mind at that time is not easy to describe. I did manage to totally destroy everything in the room and if the room hadn’t been as strong as it was I probably would have made an even larger mess of the area.

Eventually, I tired out enough so that they could get my attention and make it clear to me that I was in a hospital room equipped to handle the more unusual cases that came in. Especially the dangerous ones who might hurt others. By this time I had gathered enough evidence to believe that I fell into that category.

Somehow, in my rage, I had been able to reach out and grab something around me that I could then release with explosive results. Fortunately, the room had screening that diverted the majority of the power safely away.

When they finally got me settled down enough to understand what they were telling me, they lead me to another area of the hospital and cleaned me up. I was in shock at this time and allowed them to lead me around without any protest.

Eventually they moved me to an ambulance. After a long trip they pulled into another hospital with many security points that we had to be passed through until we reached a room they locked me into. It was a small, plain, padded room with only a bed bolted to the floor. I immediately fell into the bed and became dead to the world for an uncertain time.

 


 

IV

THE NEXT HOSPITAL:

For the next two days, (if the meals I was fed and the pattern of the lights being on and off were a good indicator), I was able to get a better grip on what had happened to me and was now very interested in figuring out how it had come about. I was also desperately trying to find out what had happened to my family.

No one would talk to me and they wouldn’t let me talk to them. I had a nurse who would escort me to my meals and to the bathroom when I needed to go and clean up a little, but I wasn’t able to do more than sponge off as there was no shower or bathtub.

It was during this time that I noticed that I could see almost as well in the dark as when the lights were on. I was aware that I seemed to be somewhat smaller than I was accustomed to being. At least everyone I met seemed a lot bigger. I had no way to measure myself and mirrors were a no-no in someone’s twisted book of rules. I was dressed, if you could call it that, in a flimsy blue hospital gown that was open to the back. What little I could see and feel of myself left me in no doubt that I was female, and probably fairly good looking at that.

My skin was soft and fair and my hair appeared to be some improbable near-blue gray color that crested back from my forehead in angry spiky locks. Some of them extended all the way to the small of my back, except for one on each side that fell down in front of my ears. They seemed to stay that way even when I was wet. My ears were large and extended straight out from my head and I was sure must have looked somewhat comical. I could also tell that my teeth were definitely sharper and longer than I remembered them being. If I smiled widely enough I was sure I would show fangs.

I wasn’t about to give the voyeurs that I was sure were watching me a chance to see me doing much. So I kept my explorations pretty tame.

My voice was something else again. It was most definitely female, but not what you would call maidenly. If you wanted a female drill instructor’s voice this would be it. I found that I could easily put a very rough edge on it. It definitely reminded me of someone, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember who.

Things might have gone on like this indefinitely except another aspect of my new existence intruded in a very rude and uncomfortable way. Two things actually.

Most of the second day I had been growing more uncomfortable. My stomach ached and I began to feel somewhat out of sorts. A mixture of uncertainty, fear, and anxiousness seemed to dog me all the day. As the lights were turning down before going completely off, I suddenly experienced an extreme desire to go to the bathroom.

I managed to communicate this need to a less than helpful nurse who appeared to escorted me to the bathroom. As soon as I was there I immediately ran into a stall and sat down. It was amazing to me how quickly I had acclimated to this new form and its demands.

Then, to my horror, I proceeded to leak blood. I must have made some kind of noise, because my nurse immediately rushed in to see what was happening. I thought that she would call a doctor and an emergency team in. But, as soon as she could see what was happening, she started to laugh!

I’d had too much. I lost it and jumped up and screamed at her that it wasn’t funny.

“Life isn’t funny bitch, but I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that for long.” She said with a nasty grin.

This was the first time any of my keepers had talked to me and I suddenly recognized this voice as belonging to the person that Ripper had called Warp.

She reached for me with a sickly, green, glowing hand that I just knew I didn’t want to touch me. So I did what any well raised person would do when their life is threatened, and totally panicked. I sent a brilliant burst of red energy towards her that sent her flying to the other side of the room, and partially into the wall. Alarms began to go off and I heard the bolts in the door slam shut as I ran towards it. I couldn’t open it when I reached it and when I looked back I could see Warp starting to get up and she didn’t look in the least bit happy with me.

“You’re goin’ to die real slowly for that!” she snarled, and I thought I could see some of that sick green color in her eyes.

I knew it would take more than a blast to open the door. I needed something stronger. Suddenly I could feel power being drawn into my hand. It was different from the times I had gathered energy for blasts. It seemed more intense and harder to hold. A spot of red light formed in my palm. When I grabbed it, it became a red, glowing rod about two and a half feet long.

Looking back at Warp, who had stopped and was watching me warily, I then swung the rod at the door bolts. The rod sheared straight through them with very little trouble and the door swung open. “Ripper! Get her! She’s getting away!” As I ran out of the room, A large man dressed in white coveralls came at me from the right side. In his hand he held a blue blade that he struck at me with. Reflexively blocking it with my rod, I leaped to the left to get out of his way.

When the rod and the blade collided there was an intense and painful burst of light and both of us screamed. As my eyes cleared I could see that his hand had gotten the worst of the encounter. He collapsed to his knees, and wrapped himself around his mangled hand.

Just then Warp came rushing out and plowed into her partner and they both tumbled into the wall.

I did the smart thing and ran down the corridor. At the end was a door with an exit and stair sign.

I could hear cursing behind me. “Stop her you fool!” yelled Warp.

“Stop her yourself, Bitch! Where the hell did she get that sword? It’s almost taken my damn hand off!”

“You’ll heal! Come on and get her before she gets away again!”

I looked behind and saw her pulling him up off the ground and heading my way. I slammed through the door and paused to decide which way to go. There were stairs going up and down. Down bellow I could hear several someones yelling and coming up the stairs. I decided that I didn’t want to trust anyone just yet and started to run up the stairs.

I was moving fast and had gotten two flights up when I heard the door below slam open.

Someone from below that I didn’t recognize yelled, “FREEZE!”. There followed a sound like aluminum foil ripping, followed by a pained ,”SHIT!”, from the same person. Someone else yelled, “LOOK OUT!”, followed by a burst of gunfire. Bullets started to ricochet up the stairwell and I took off further up the stairs. I lost count of how many flights I went up. I was afraid to stop because I could hear someone behind me. I finally came to the end of the stairs and burst out onto a roof. A quick look around showed that there was a tall fence around the edge and that it was topped with barbed wire. I could see a gate to one side and I headed for that.

When I reached it, I realized that it was padlocked. My sword had disappeared when I hit the blue blade and I didn’t know how to get it back. I wasn’t sure I could blast it either. They couldn’t be far behind me and I was running out of options.

There was a fire escape on the other side of the gate, but I didn’t think I could get over the fence before they caught me. I was going to head back to the stairs when I saw the door start to open. I spun around and leapt towards the top of the gate. As I did this I felt as if some force grabbed me and I kept on going . Over the gate and into the night.

I looked back and could see two figures standing together looking around the roof. I was getting farther and farther away but could still see them as they dashed around to see the whole roof. They moved up to the gate but seemed unable to see me in the darkness.

I could hear them arguing and was pretty sure it was the two who had tried to kill me earlier. I couldn’t make out what they were saying at this distance and didn’t want to draw attention to myself by getting closer.

Just then, the door slammed open and armed men came out onto the roof. Warp grabbed Ripper and they seemed to ripple and fade away. As they did this I felt the drawing sensation that I felt before in my first hospital room. The armed men hurried towards the area where they had been moments before but I knew they weren’t there anymore. I continued to move away. I didn’t trust anyone at this time and wasn’t about to tempt fate by approaching nervous, armed men.

 


 

V

 

GOING HOME

Somehow, I not only had been turned into a girl, but a girl who could fire energy blasts and make swords that cut through doors like butter. I could also fly now. I wasn’t sure what was going on and I wanted answers and my family and my life.

As I looked around I suddenly realized that I knew where I was. The year before we had gone to a Halloween fun house at the State Hospital. There is something really creepy about real, insane people putting on something like that. We had been planning to go again this year because it was such a thrill and the entry fees went to help the hospital.

Now that I knew where I was I also knew that my home was only twenty miles away. This high up, even at night, it was easy to see where I had to go to get home. I just thought about which direction I wanted to go and I started to accelerate in that direction.

It was odd. I was moving fairly fast, I was dressed in a flimsy hospital gown, and I didn’t seem to be uncomfortable or even feel the breeze all that much. It didn’t take me long to reach where I lived with my family. I knew I was in the right area but wasn’t entirely sure where I needed to go.

As I looked around I saw several police cars on one street below me. I could see where my house was now, but could also see that there was a lot of police tape around it. There didn’t seem to be anyone there and the lights were out. Some officers were looking around with flashlights. I couldn’t hear what they were saying so I carefully moved closer. Soon, I could hear enough to get the impression that they had been told to look for someone in this area. I had a pretty good idea that it might be me they were looking for.

I was really worried now. I wasn’t sure how long I had been gone and couldn’t be certain that my family was OK. Something had obviously happened at my house and I couldn’t get close enough to see what it was. After a while, most of the police left. But, a squad car with two officers had been left behind to keep an eye on the house.

I rose higher into the sky to look around and try to get an idea of what I could do next. After the attempts on my life I wasn’t about to trust the police. They might mean well, but, I was certain that they would only give my position away and not be able to protect me from the strange couple who seemed to be after me.

They had figured out that I had become a girl and where I was after the first time they had come looking for me. Only the fact that they didn’t know I was a girl now had kept them from trying to kill me that first time. I had to find a safe place to stay and somehow find out what had happened to my family. I also had to find a place to clean up and get some clothes. I now knew I had started my period, and wasn’t worried about bleeding to death. Something about someone trying to kill me had rearranged my priorities a little, but I was still a bloody, uncomfortable mess and the thought of getting cleaned up was starting to take on greater importance. As I looked around, I could see the whole community. A small, green, neon sign caught my eye. It was the sign over the door to Mrs. Tanaka’s Dojo. Suddenly, I felt a bit of hope. If anyone outside my family could help me I was sure it would be her. I flew in that direction as I considered how I could get in.

 


 

VI

 

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Mrs. Tanaka’s Mountain Dojo was a series of buildings, taking up nearly a whole block. The dojo was several houses joined together in a square around the block. The interior was a large open garden area where I remembered spending much time learning to meditate. It had been made to copy a Japanese garden with a small fountain and pond. Several large open rooms opened off of the garden. These rooms were used as classrooms for the training of the various students that would come to learn the mysterious arts of combat and mental control that was taught in this school.

Mrs. Aimee Tanaka ruled over students and teachers with and iron fist. Nothing went on in the dojo that she didn’t seem to be aware of. It was almost like magic the way she could appear when she was needed to settle disputes and give advice and encouragement.

An energetic woman of over 60 years, she had helped found the school with her husband back in the sixties. The couple had a fair amount of money and never seemed to be in need of more. They had bought this block after a fire had damaged most of the houses and no one had wanted to try and do anything with them after that. They rebuilt it into a wonderful school that I had many wonderful memories of.

Mom and Dad apparently knew of the Tanakas and we kids had been welcomed into the school and allowed to participate in the classes that were appropriate for them.

Mr. Eric Tanaka did not participate often, though it was obvious that he was very skilled. His wife was the true leader of the school and decisions of how it was run were left to her. They loved each other greatly and no one could remember a time when they weren’t seen together, happily helping each other with a clear disregard to other people’s concerns about them.

I felt that they were much like my parents and had always wondered if I would ever become a part of couple like them in the future. At this time I was still too uncertain of how to deal with other people to feel comfortable with the idea. The closest I came was reading fantasy and science fiction and wondering if I would ever find someone in the adventures I was sure to have when I was older.

As I looked down I decided that my best bet was to fly down into the garden. From there I could try to figure out how to find the Tanakas and get their help. I was sure that they would know how to find my family and then I could find out what was going on. I settled into the center near the pond and became even more aware of how unpleasant my new crotch area had now become.

There were tears, rips, and stains on the gown and an odd pungent odor became apparent when I stopped moving. My feet were also bare and I moved gingerly towards the Tanakas residence area.

There was a light in the corridor that lead to the residential area and moved quietly towards it.

I stopped and my hair almost stood straight up when I heard Mrs. Tanaka address me in a voice I had never heard her use before. There was a VERY definite threat in the low voiced warning that had me convinced that if I tried anything I would regret it later, if there was a later.

“That’s far enough young lady. Who are you, and what are you doing trespassing on our property? And how did you get past the gates without setting off the alarms?”

“M-mrs, T-tanak-ka? It’s me!” My heart almost stopped as I realized that Mrs. Tanaka would have no idea who I was and would probably not be able to accept the fact that the grungy girl in front of her was really Billie, (she always called me Billie, long after everyone else stopped doing so), Wilson, who spent so much time over here. She wouldn’t know that she was probably one of the last people to see Bill Wilson, the sixteen year old boy, in my old form.

“Oh? And just WHO is me? And, what are you doing here, again?”

I couldn’t stop now. I had to try. It was my only chance, but a deep sense of helplessness settled on me as I realized how unlikely a favorable outcome would be.

“B-b-billie. Billie W-wilson. Please you’ve got to believe me! I don’t know how I got this way, but it IS me!”

“You don’t look in the least like the Billie I know and if you know anything about where he is you had better tell me now or you will regret ever being born!” Somehow the threat in her voice had become much more substantial and I was beginning to think that I had made a crucial error in approaching Mrs. Tanaka. It sounded like she meant business and was ready to put some serious hurt on the person she thought might have information on my where-a-bouts. It was nice to know she cared that much but it was starting to look as if I was going to have to fly out of here if I could. She might be only 5’ 4” and 130 pounds, but no one messed with Mrs. T when she was ticked off.

“Stop!” Another voice I had known most of my life came from the shadows to my right. Mr. Eric Tanaka appeared out of nowhere to and moved towards me. He was 5’ 5” and weighed 160 pounds. I realized that I had seen neither of them until they started talking and this was unusual considering my new eyesight.

“Dear? But why? She may have some idea where Billie is being held. We can’t let her go!”

“It’s OK Dear. He--SHE, is telling the truth. Her mind is hard to focus on, but the way she is projecting right now, I can't miss it.”

“WHAT!?!” I don’t think I had ever seen Mrs. Tanaka surprised and I probably never will again. But I was too surprised myself to really appreciate it at the time. Mr. Tanaka actually believed me! I didn’t know how, but the relief I felt at that time was so great I wanted to run up to him and hug and kiss him.

“I wouldn’t do that young lady if I were you.” He said with a smile. “My wife is the jealous type and I don’t think either of us want to face that right now.”

Then it hit me. He was reading my mind! As I stared at him, the object of his conversation got control of herself and started asking questions.

“How can that be? She doesn’t look at all like Billie!” “Dear, I have known Billie all his life and I am NOT mistaken in this. This person is him, uh, her.” He was approaching closer and inspecting me more closely as he came. Mrs. Tanaka was also beginning to come closer, although I don’t think she was relaxing just yet. If I made a wrong move now I’m sure she would do something about it. “What could have happened to change him so quickly? It’s only been nine days since he disappeared.” She asked.

I had disappeared nine days ago?

Just then they both got close enough to get a good look at me and a good whif. Mrs. T started in on the questions. “Is that blood? Billie are you all right!? Are you hurt?” I love this woman’s priorities, but I was uncertain how I could tell her what was happening to me. I stood there speechless as I tried to think of some way to express my feelings on that particular subject.

Mr. Tanaka came to my rescue. “Uhm Dear? I don’t think this is a life threatening problem at this time and it IS a very personal thing that the two of you need to discuss. Why don’t you take her in and help her get cleaned up while I check the grounds and make sure everything is under control.”

“Are you sure of this Eric?”

“Quite sure. Why don’t you take Billie in now and you can discuss it while she cleans up?”

She gave him an odd look and then turned to me. “Ohhh, I see! Come along then. I can imagine how uncomfortable this must be for you.” As she led me into the lighted area, I don’t think she was surprised again, but something about me seemed to get her attention. “Hmmm... Let’s get you cleaned up a bit and see what can be done for you.”

She then proceeded to lead me into the family area and through that into the back rooms where the bathrooms were. She directed me into the shower and headed off to find something for me to wear. I took a quick shower, even though it felt like heaven, and stood there in a towel waiting for her to come back. The mirrors were misted over and I made no move to wipe them off.

I think she was just waiting for the shower to stop because she came in soon after I had covered my self with the towel. “Didn’t you wash your hair? She asked when she came in.

“Yes Ma’am! I did but my hair seems to stay this way no matter what.”

“That could be a useful trick if you could patent it.” Grinning, she handed a soft pad to me and a pair of light blue panties. She showed me how to put the pad in the panties and then told me to put them on. While I was doing this she pulled out a bathrobe looking kind of garment that was also blue with a yellow sash. After I had put the panties on she helped me into the robe, which I realized must be some kind of kimono. “I couldn’t find anything else on short notice, but this should do nicely. My you do look lovely! Let’s get a better look at you.” And she led me into the other room where I could look at myself in a full-size three-part mirror.

I came as close to fainting as I ever have at that moment . All I could do was stare. I now knew exactly what I looked like and I even recognized WHO I looked like.

About the same height as Mrs. T, the spikey, blueish hair with the two spikes falling in front of my large ears that stood out away from my head, the very large eyes with vertical, oval, golden irises and cat-like slit pupils, the high cheek bones. the small nose, and the hint of canines behind the thin lips. My pale skin went well with the blue of the kimono. My voice, and, I certainly had the young but mature body of my favorite anime character, Ryoko!

My face was made to show emotions and the one on it right now was completely comical. If I hadn’t been the one wearing it I think I would have been rolling on the ground laughing my head off. As it was I have never understood how Mrs. T had enough self control to do no more than smile.

“Someone you recognize dear?” She asked. All I could do was nod my head.

After a few moments I managed to pull myself together and turn to her. “Ryoko. How did he turn me into Ryoko?”

“Who Dear?”

“Thad.”

“Your brother?”

“Yeah, he gave me something that made me sick and I can remember him talking about Ryoko. Somehow he did this to me!” I had become certain that somehow Thad was at the bottom of what had happened to me. This brought my mind back to one of my major concerns. “What happened to my family?”

“Well, we didn’t hear anything except that there had been a fire at your house and that you were missing and presumed to be kidnaped. Everyone was moved to a safe place while the police searched the house for clues and tried to discover where you were. I can probably get hold of them easily enough. Why are you worried?”

I started to tell her about the couple that tried to kill me and she told me to wait until her husband got back. When he did they sat me down and had me tell them everything. They then asked me several questions that brought many more details to mind than I thought possible for me to remember. I think Mr. Tanaka had something to do with that also.

He then asked me several questions about my family and past. He got very interested when I told him about my appendectomy when I was nine. Up until now, I had an eight inch scar to show for that. It was gone now of course. I wondered for a moment if I had an appendix again.

Mrs. Tanaka spoke up after he was done questioning me. “It is so similar. Do you think there is a connection? And if there is, how did he survive?

Mr. T shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m going to have to talk to them and get more details. It’s hard to imagine that they would keep him so in the dark about the whole thing. And there are some other details that I need to look into before I can be sure.” He shuddered and a haunted look similar to that on his wife’s face made me think he and she knew a lot more about this than I would have thought possible. He looked at me. “YOU need to go to bed and rest. We will talk more in the morning.” Suddenly I felt very sleepy.

“Come with me Dear.” Mrs. T led me to the back of the house and into a small bedroom. “I’m sure Colly won’t mind lending you her room for a little while.” I fell into the twin bed and didn’t become aware again until sometime later.

“Laid it on a little thick, didn’t you Dear?” That was Mrs. T. “No. I think that the stress she has been under has finally caught up with her and she is simply resting. She should be waking up any minute.”

“Well, you better get out of here for a few minutes then.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. There are a few things we are going to have to take care of before we can continue.”

“OH! Yes, I’d better get going. They said they would try to make it by 10 o’clock. I’d better get ready for them.”

“You do that Dear.” I could hear him move out of the room. “It’s OK Dear. He’s gone.”

I opened my eyes, squinting against the morning sun and asked the most important question first. “Where is the bathroom?”

“Over there.” Pointing towards a door to the left of the bed. “Everything you need will be there.”

I leapt from the bed and dashed to the toilet. I proceeded to do what was necessary and found everything that I needed there with me. I had to ask for help with the tampons but got into the new panties with no problem. Mrs. T proceeded to instruct me in the proper care and hygiene I was going to need to know for the time being.

We measured and weighed me. I was 5’ 3”, 32” bust, 22.5” waist, and 32.5” thighs. I weighed 120 lbs. And had what Mrs. T figured as B cup breasts. I would have to take her word for that as I didn’t have a clue. She then supplied me with a light blue sports bra that she felt would fit me well enough for now. I was then dressed in a brown plaid shirt and feminine jeans with white socks and tennis shoes. Mrs. T said that Colly wouldn’t mind my borrowing them for the time being as this was something of an emergency.

She explained when I asked that Colly, (Columbine), was her youngest grand daughter and had just headed off to collage at Arizona State. She apparently had been staying with her grand parents for a while and I had never been aware of it. She also appears to have been similar to me in my new build and size. At least her clothes seemed to fit me well.

“Now let’s go and meet your parents.”

“They’re here?”

“Yes Dear. Now don’t you worry. We have already explained what has happened and they know what to expect.”

She hesitated for a moment and then said. “You need to know a few things first though. I am going to tell you a little now so it won’t be a complete surprise as we go over it with them. We did a little follow up on the two assassins who tried to kill you. They are contract assassins out of California and considered top in their profession. You have been extremely lucky so far but we shouldn’t take any more chances. Word is that they were to target any of your family that got separated from the rest.

Apparently your parents are involved in trying to oust some dirty politicians in this area who have some connections to terrorists and the like. They are playing hard ball and it looks like they are trying to use a threat to you and your brothers as leverage. They seem to think that if they kill you they will have made a point to your parents and the others that they are working with. You need to know this because, well... The best answer to this problem may be for you and the assassins to disappear. We don’t think that the assassins have reported to anyone yet. So they are the only ones that know about your current condition. If we can take them out, you will have a much better chance of hiding until this can be resolved.”

“You mean like this?” I indicated my new body. She also seemed really confident that taking out some talented professional killers wasn’t going to be a problem. All I could do was stare at her and wonder what I had gotten into.

“Yes. You have to admit that they probably won’t recognize you now.” She hesitated again.

“We also think that it wouldn’t be a good idea to stay in this area either. There seems to be a lookout for you by the local authorities. It seems that a dangerous girl escaped from the local State Hospital.” Mrs. T grinned. “It also seems that she bears a startling resemblance to a cartoon character.” “There were heavily armed guards there. Not to mention two nasty killers. Anyone happen to mention looking for some dangerous, armed goons?”

“No. That seems to have slipped their minds.”

“This sounds suspiciously like some kind of cover-up. The kind you see on The X-Files.”

“Your parents can probably tell you more about that.” When I looked in surprise at her she shrugged. “That is something they will have to go over with you. It’s not my place to say.” She held up her hand when I started to protest. “This is really something they have to tell you.”

Looking me right in the eye she then asked, “How do you feel about what has happened to you?” Something in the way she was looking at me made me sure that she wanted the truth and wouldn’t stop until she got the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

“I don’t really know. I feel like I should be a lot more upset. Everyone else seems to think so anyway. But somehow I just don’t feel that I am. I feel perfectly normal, except I don’t know the first thing about being a girl. Other than that, I really don’t have a problem with it. It’s not like the family name is in jeopardy or anything like that. I’ve never had anything to do with girls, so there isn’t anyone to feel upset about there. I felt perfectly normal as a boy also. It’s not like I wanted to be a girl or anything. At least I don’t remember anything like that. I don’t know how to explain it.

The only other thing I am worried about right now is that I might blow off a power blast at any time. I know that I did at least once while I was in the State Hospital. It wasn’t much but it did blow my covers off the bed. It took a while to get a replacement for the shredded covers because they didn’t want to open the door to let me get more.”

“I’ve seen the little sparks popping around you. It’s one of the things that makes us think we know how it might have happened to you. Eric is the expert on that though, and I think he is still looking up some information. If it is what we think, then you will begin to get more control over time. But, I don’t think that anyone will be able to reverse the process.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “I thought you ought to know that. I didn’t want you to get any false hopes up.”

I just looked at her for a moment, not knowing how to act.

With a small smile, she said, “It is customary for girls to give each other a hug now, straighten up their clothes , and go out and meet their doom.”

I hesitated for a moment, giggled with her, and gave her a hug. “Let’s go out and face the music then. It can’t be much worse than it already has been.”

“Child, you don’t know what you speak of, but waiting for something else rarely works. Eventually the music searches you out anyway. Let’s go meet your parents.” And she escorted me out to their living room where my parents and brothers were waiting.

 


 

VII

 

MEET THE PARENTS

I’m not sure who was the more nervous of us. Me, my family, or the Tanaka’s. I wasn’t sure how I would be received, they probably weren’t sure about what I was like now, and the Tanaka’s were risking their living room. So, of course, I had to break the ice.

“YOU! You rat! You blight on the face of humanity! What have you done to me?” This was all directed at my younger brother, who seemed to be having some small success disappearing into the cushions of the sofa he was sitting in. I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently when I get upset like this, my eyes go crimson.

Along with the sparks that started to fly off me, I must have been pretty impressive. Mom has had a lot of experience averting mayhem and acted in the one way sure to put the kibosh on my intended homicide.

“WILLIAM MEREDITH WILSON!!! Sit down and behave civilly this instant!” She had popped up and I could swear that sparks were flying off her also. I did the only sane thing any child will do when faced with instant eradication by the most powerful being in his or her world.

I immediately sat down in a chair facing them, pointed at the offending sibling, and whined, “But Mom. He did this to me!”

“That will be quite enough! You will sit and be civil and when WE decide what is to be done you will continue to behave or I WILL know why! DO you understand me?”

“Yes Ma’am!”

“And YOU!” Swinging her deathly gaze over to my brother, while everyone else moved out of the line of fire. You will be quiet and answer the questions we ask. They will be short, correct, and totally truthful. Do you understand?” He could only nod helplessly. Pinned to the couch by the glare of her eyes.

“Now where do we start?”

Mr. Tanaka suggested that we start with my story and they all settled in to hear my version. After I had finished, with only one aborted attempt by Thad to interrupt, we heard his side of the story.

He was obviously miserable and I think he had been living in terror because he didn’t know what had happened to me and he knew it was his fault. Telling us probably did more good for his long term mental health than a ton of prescriptions and doctors.

The little rat believed that I had promised to help him with a huge Fourth of July fireworks project that probably would have spelled doom for a large part of the metropolitan area. My inconsiderate escape with my friends stopped him. He needed someone to drive him up into the mountains and didn’t understand that I couldn’t take him alone with just my learners permit.

I HAD promised to take him for a ride when I could, but that would have to wait until an adult with a license could go or I got my license in about two years. An adult or Larry, (who had his license), would have stopped him as well as my not driving. Anyway, in his sulk and attempts to make me pay, he came across a package that had been sent to my father. It had been partially opened in transit and he couldn’t resist the chance to check it out.

In it he had found a package of a chemical that initial investigations had shown could influence normal people like a hypnotic, making them susceptible to suggestions for a short while and disappearing without a trace soon afterwards. No ill affects could be found on normal people but, tests on mutant animals indicated that it would have fatal consequences if administered to someone with a mutant gift. This was the last of the chemical which had been found in an old laboratory in Canada and was being sent to a lab in San Francisco to see if it could somehow be reproduced.

Attempts to reproduce it so far had proved useless as the method of producing it seemed way in advance of current technology. Some kind of process that combined several types of amino acids into a compact molecule-like substance that had a mind of its own and would perform amazing feats of transformation in living cells. The purpose was unknown and retro-engineering hadn’t helped to find the purpose yet. Bill’s father was to help move this dangerous item safely to its destination. It was thought that no one would be looking for it if they used normal mail and got it to Bill’s father who was going to San Francisco on his normal rounds and would be able to deliver it more safely that way. There was some reason to fear that if they tried to move it in a more secure way that those seeking to use it as a weapon might be able to track it to where they were sending it.

A secure diversion was to be used to test this theory. All this had been explained in the message with the chemical. Thad had been unable to resist this opportunity to get back at me. He took the package with the intension of using a small amount to exact his revenge and returning the remaining amount secretly to his father. The damage to the package could be explained by the rough handling of the mail service.

Unfortunately, It took all the remaining substance to make the fudge he determined to use as bait for his trap. He reasoned that no one would get hurt as he was destroying the last and no evil person could get their hands on it. My snort of derision went unanswered as the rest of his story fit with mine up until I literally burst into flames on the floor and he panicked and ran. He had seen some men outside the house as he ran next door to get help. They had ignored him and run into the house. When he got a neighbor to call the fire department and returned he couldn’t see the men anywhere and the kitchen flames were already starting to smolder out. The fire department showed up and finished putting out the flames. The men and I were nowhere to be found. He made a story to cover his own part in it and now there was a search being carried out to find me and the men assumed to have taken me and starting the fire.

I held my peace as I knew that Thad was going to be in a world of hurt because of the theft and even more importantly, what he had done to me and, then LYING about it. He was soooo dead.

Mr. Tanaka then turned to my father. “And why would you be receiving such dangerous mail my friend?” Dad looked embarrassed and looked at Mom. She nodded and he turned back to us. “We might as well tell the children now. Larry already knows the truth, but we have been holding back telling the other two so as to let them lead more normal lives. We were hoping that this would all blow over and that we could get back to our retirement plans.”

“Both Cher and I are specially trained, talented operatives for the CIA. By talented, we mean mutants. Cher is code named Flashlight. She can use light powers and has limited telekinesis. She is very good at illusions and security systems. She is even better at locks than I am. I am code named Weasel. I am strong, fast, and able to shape and contort my body in all sorts of ways. I think I can safely say that I am one of the best second story men in the world.”

“We met years ago in Europe while assigned to tracking down a missing nuke. We make an incredible team if I do say so myself. It was love at first fight. I thought she needed my help and she thought I needed her help. Together we put a lot of hurt on those smugglers. I had never met someone like her. Beautiful, fast, smart. The list goes on and on. Anyway, we became an item and soon learned why it is not a good idea to mix work and relationships.”

“It was killing us trying to stay together and get our jobs done. I’m afraid that our work suffered during this time and I am not certain how it would have turned out , except we got a real break. Things had slowed down a bit and the Agency needed to place operatives stateside to track and counter terrorists operating out of the states.”

“It was perfect for us. We got married and settled down here and started a family. We ended up becoming a part of the community and have been able to monitor the activities of terrorists operating out of the US in this area. They usually don’t do anything that can be prosecuted here but if we are aware of what they are doing we can usually catch them before they can get very far elsewhere.”

“Recently, there has been an increase in activity in this area and we think some of the local manufacturers are trying to increase their slowing sales by selling biological weapons. We have some good leads now, but I think someone has released some of our more sensitive information and it is putting us in danger. I think that the men Thad saw were trying to obtain the chemical Thad stole. They found Bill instead and took him for a hostage.” “We have received some messages that have lead us to believe that this is what they were trying to do. Of course, since we didn’t have the package we had no idea what they were hinting at. I’m not sure they ever intended to return Bill even if we had complied with their demands. They never mentioned that he was now a girl. Their resources make me think we may be dealing with a rogue part of our government though. They know so much about us. It still doesn’t explain how Bill got changed into a girl.”

“Well. We might be able to help with that.” Said Mr. Tanaka. We all turned to look at him and he shrugged. “I will need a little more information before I can be sure. Can you get me this information safely?”

“It would depend on what you needed. But I am at a point where I might try anything to get to the bottom of this. What do you think Cher?”

“I’m just about at the end of my rope Dear. Lets find out what he needs and go from there.”

Dad turned to Mr. T. “What do you need?”

“I’ll need to know where the laboratory was and I will need to see the medical report on your sons appendectomy.”

Both Mom and Dad were surprised at this request. They looked at each other and then asked together. “Is that all?”

“Yes, that is all I will need to complete my research. Please understand that if this is what we think it is, we already have more information than you do.”

“If that is all you need I can probably get the information by this afternoon. How soon do you think we can get answers after that?”

“Within minutes if the information is what I think it will be.” The T’s didn’t seem too happy about the subject and I started to dread what they were going to find.

“What can we do with Bill now?” Larry asked. He had been staring at me the whole time and I was starting to get a little uncomfortable under his stare.

“I think she will have to stay with us for the moment. We can keep her out of sight for now. Soon we will have to find another solution. The men who are looking for her will eventually think to look here as well. We have some options available to us, but it will take a few weeks to get plans finalized. Billie, I’m afraid that it will not be possible to keep you near here. You will eventually have to go somewhere else. At least for a while.”

“What do you mean?"

 “We have connections with a school in New Hampshire.”

 “A school?”

 “Yes, a school designed to help talented people such as yourself.”

 “What about my family?”

 “This school is a boarding school. You would stay there and your family will stay here.”

 Mom and Dad were looking at each other. Then Dad turned back to us. “I think you are talking about Whateley aren’t you? Would he-uh-she be safe there?” “She will be safer there than anywhere else. There are defenses and a general agreement that no one is to interfere directly. They also have the facilities to help train her to use her abilities and control them. You do realize that she is coming into these powers much more quickly than normal? If these powers that are manifesting are this strong now, it is possible for her to burn out if she can’t control them.”

 They had my attention now. “What do you mean by burnout?”

Mr. T answered. “It is possible, if a talent develops too quickly, for it to draw on the energy of the person so fast that they can’t recover quickly enough and they can be killed or crippled as a result. The results can be much more unpleasant than that in some rare cases, as you already know.” When he said that he was looking right at me. For a brief moment, the memory came back to me of the time I had been on fire and I couldn’t help shuddering at the memory.

Dad asked, “Can this be prevented?”

“With proper training it is possible to channel the energies in such a way as to prevent the less desirable outcomes. Billie will have to train hard and I am afraid that it may take several years to reach a point where she could be certain of her safety.”

“It doesn’t sound like I have much of a choice does it? Why can’t I train here?”

“You are a wanted person here. It will be difficult keeping you safe from the searchers and trying to train you at the same time. At Whateley you will be able to pursue your training uninterrupted by the constant need to hide. To truly master your powers you will have to use them full out. You couldn’t possibly do so here without drawing too much attention and possibly destroying things you don’t want to.”

“I’m afraid that your options are very limited in this respect. I do want you to understand that burnout is not certain. I would want you to train as if it was though. You never can be certain in these things but if you can start now you will have a much better chance than if you don’t. I also want you to know that I feel moderately sure that you WILL have to face this problem. Your powers are developing so much faster than normal that I am certain you are courting disaster if you don’t do something about it.” “I don’t like the idea of separating you from your family at this point in your life but I think the consequences are too terrible to not take the risk.”

Dad spoke up again. “I must admit that we aren’t too happy about this either. You seem to be fairly certain about your information though. I’ve heard about burnout, but the last confirmed case that I am aware of was over forty years ago. How is it that you know so much about this?”

Mr. T got that haunted look in his eyes again. “I am Dr. Eric Tanaka, PhD, MD. I was the person who was treating the last case that you are speaking of.” Mrs. T reached over and touched his hand. “She was a very good friend of ours and I couldn’t do a thing for her. I don’t want that to happen, ever again.” They were both obviously remembering something unpleasant and were squeezing each others hands tightly.

Dad spoke again. “That last person was Sherry Henderson, also known as Cirque. She was a part of a group of talented vigilantes called The Mystic Six. They were well known in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. There were reports of them into the 60’s. They disappeared after the death of Cirque. You are telling me that you are a contemporary to Cirque and that you know something about a technology far in advance of what we have now. Would you mind explaining? It’s not that I don’t trust you but we are putting the life of our s-daughter in your hands.”

Mr. T sighed. “OK. But you will have to promise to be careful with this secret. And I mean with everyone, including your CIA.”

Dad and Mom looked at each other and then us. We all nodded our heads and turned back to the Tanaka’s.

“Very well. Our story starts in 1877. That was when a Dr. Cory Fielding began to gather children from all over the North Americas. I believe that, through his connections, he managed to take over a thousand children and move them to a compound in upstate New York. There he conducted experiments using some compounds that only he could manufacture. I believe he was a mutant whose abilities seemed to be the manipulation of organic molecules on a level undreamed of at the time. I also believe, that is why your scientists have been unable to decipher the problem of how that compound was made.” Mom gasped. “That’s horrible! How could he do that?”

Mr. T continued. “It was easy at that time. There was not the social structure at that time that exists today. Child exploitation was normal, and if the families involved had neither money or influence, nothing much could or would happen.”

“To make a long story short, Dr. Fielding had a particular goal in mind. He wanted to make an elixir of life. Something to make him immortal or at least longer lived. He believed he had found the answer. When tested on animals, he managed to produce a compound that increased the health and life span of the animals incredibly. Sure he was on the right track he increased the potency to its limits.”

“He called the compound Ultra-X-Amine. Then, to be sure, he administered it to the few adults that he could as well as all of the children. The majority of them, being normal suffered only the effects listed in the report you had. The rest, ones we can assume were mutants, self combusted.” The haunted look in their eyes was much worse now and I was sure that Mrs. T was trying to conceal tears.

“Please understand. Some of those that died that way were our families. Only six of us survived the process. Aimee, I, Sherry, Charlie, Nathan, and Lisa. We were all under five years of age. I believe that is why we survived. We did have mutant abilities, but they were still totally undeveloped. When the compound activated the more developed abilities of the others it simply burned them to death. Ours developed slowly enough so that it didn’t kill us.” He smiled at me. “It is not something I would look forward to experiencing again.”

“You’ve got that right!” I said. Somehow I was becoming even more convinced that this compound was the same and was linked to what had happened to me. If what I experienced was anything like what they had gone through then I had to agree that a repeat was not on my priority list. Avoiding it was.

He continued. “Dr. Fielding was somewhat upset by the results of his experiment. It had failed to produce the expected elixir. We didn’t know it at the time, but he was heavily in debt to some who were outside the law. They were also unhappy with the results. The doctor did not survive the reaction to his failure.

Several armed men showed up and proceeded to kill everyone and raze the place. We escaped, due to the fact that our powers allowed us to avoid the searchers sent after us. Aimee and I both had some family near San Francisco and we managed to go back to there. Fortunately, Lisa could teleport and could also see a target area in our minds. A trip that would have been impossible for such young people and would take weeks or months was accomplished in mere moments.

“Our relatives realized that our abilities would be useful and decided not to sell us off again.”

This brought another look of horror to Mom’s face.

Mrs. T spoke up for her benefit. “Things were not the same then. Life was much tougher and the old ways were still in force. People may not think so, but things are better now, at least to some degree.”

Continuing, Mr. T said. “When the inconsistency of our powers began to trouble them, our relatives arranged for us to be trained by various masters who taught us to use and control our powers. We then spent many more years working for them.”

“Eventually we found out that Dr. Fielding had succeeded without knowing it. We continued to be young and healthy while everyone around us grew old and died. About 1915, someone tried to do something about it. Many of our friends died but we survived. We used our abilities to disappear and establish a fortune to support us.”

“We then embarked on a life to make up for what had been done to us. We became The Mystic Six.” Mom and Dad both sat up straight at this statement. Obviously it meant something to them.

“After about two decades of that we began to go our separate ways. Aimee and I got married and started to look for a place to settle down. The others had paired up also. Charlie married Sherry and Nathan married Lisa. We went our separate ways and established our own families. That is when we discovered another aspect of our longevity that didn’t work well.”

“WE are long lived and healthy. Our children tended to be normal in that respect though. We have had to learn to, “pass on,” and allow them to live their lives unencumbered by us.

“You are getting older now though, aren’t you?”

The T’s looked at each other and smiled. Then Mr. T got rapidly older and Mrs. T got quickly younger. We were now looking at an old man of ninety or so and a young girl of about twelve. They then both returned to the age we were used to seeing them as.

“We are not sure. We seem to have the ability to be whatever age it is convenient to be at the time.”

Mom was looking at them and then at me and back. There was a look of extreme worry that I didn’t understand at the time. “Are you sure it is the same for her?”

Mr. T shook his head. “There are some differences that I don’t understand yet. There may not be any connection and we could be wrong. Only time will tell.”

Mom turned to us and said in a voice that I had only heard a few times in my life. The one that promises that there will be no escaping punishment in this life or the next if it is not heeded. “You, none of you, will ever say anything about this, EVER!” Dad was nodding also and I was sure that he was in complete agreement. I still was not sure why, but I wasn’t fool enough to go against them in this either. And, I didn’t want to get the T’s in trouble either.

“That makes you...”

“About 130 years old at this time. We have had the opportunity to do a great many things and study more than most. At one time I was a respected Doctor and researcher.” Larry asked. “What happened to the one that died?”

Mr. T sighed. “Sherry was trying to find a cure for the process that made us the way we are, or failing that, a way to allow people to live as we do.”

“You have to understand. It isn’t at all easy to watch people you care for deeply, grow old and or sick and die. It makes it harder to form attachments that you know will wither away in time or might even lead to jealousy and envy. Sherry wanted to fix it if she could. Her power was similar to Dr. Fielding’s in that she could manipulate living organisms into what she needed. She came closest to understanding what he had managed to do. If we’d had more to work with she might have succeeded.”

“We knew that Dr. Fielding made his compound somewhere other than where he tested it. We had never been able to find his lab though. Sherry went ahead anyway. She was sure she had found a solution. In a way she did. The compound she created had similar properties to the one tested on us. She then did something foolish. She tested it on herself. All it managed to do was destabilize her control of her power. Shortly after that she lost all control and burned up.” With tears in their eyes the T’s held each other.

“There was nothing we could do. Charlie went into seclusion and we have only recently heard from him. He is now a teacher at Whateley and we think he will be able to help train you. Stoney, that’s Nathan, can help supply the necessary paperwork and back ground to get you into school without too many questions.”

“Billie?”

“Yes?

“You must not tell Charlie how you came to be like this. I don’t think he has recovered enough from the loss of Sherry and I am afraid that a reminder like that couldn’t be good for him. Promise me that you won’t hurt him like that?

“I promise.”

“Thank you.”

The questions continued for a little longer but we didn’t make much more headway at that time. Dad arranged to get the information to Mr. T and then we had an uncomfortable few minutes while we worked out a few more details. I would stay hidden in the basement for the next month or so and then head out to the school where I would continue my high school training and my training to control my powers.

While I was here I would also begin meditation training and some attempts at learning how to use what I had. There would be limited opportunities to see and be with my family and I wasn’t to happy about that, but everyone was certain that if we changed our schedules it would become obvious where I was

We had a tearful farewell and they left to start up their own lives again and I began my new life by moving down into a small room in the basement that had a concealed door that I could hide in when people came looking for me. It was also soundproofed to help keep people from knowing that someone with occasional load accompaniments was hiding there.

Other than the occasional bed being blown apart I was doing OK. I was feeling pretty homesick at this time and was dreading the time when I would no longer get to see Mom or Dad even occasionally. I was fairly neutral about Larry. I could live with or without him and I wasn’t too upset about not seeing TB.


 

VIII

 

LIFE IN THE BASEMENT

The T’s saw to it that I was kept busy learning to control my new body by constant training in martial arts. We concentrated mostly on judo and similar small person techniques.

One thing to be said about the change, “That which doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”, held true for me. I was much stronger and faster than I had been before. The T’s still wanted me to concentrate on control though and I really didn’t get to see what I was truly capable of doing. I never seemed to get to sore either. I recovered a lot faster than I remembered from hard workouts.

Female training was at a minimum however. No one seemed to have the time to go over the basics with me and I was forced to get what I could out of some of the magazines they kept in their offices. Somehow I didn’t think I was going to get what I needed from them, but at least it was a start, and you never knew when, “Knowing When He Is Hot For You!”, will come in handy.

Mr. T took two weeks to figure out for sure that he was right about the compound that started this. The lab had been completely destroyed in a warehouse fire in Toronto. Only some of the compound which had been stored in especially heavy containers had survived. A little more research revealed that at one time the building had been rented by Dr. Fielding.

During this time my parents, the T’s, and some friends arranged an ambush for the assassins. No one on our side was hurt and Larry, who got to be there as part of the training he was getting from my parents, (the lucky dog), says that I don’t EVER want to see what Mom and Dad can do when they get really upset with someone.

He said that the T’s weren’t someone to mess with either, and that he thinks two of the other people were the two friends, Nathan and Lisa. They never gave the assassins a chance and he thinks that they got sent to somewhere in California where someone with a grudge was going to hold them for a while. At least until the current situation calmed down.

Then they would be turned over to the police. There was a bounty on them also, that the others were hoping to collect afterward.

Larry seemed to feel that vigilantes had some advantages over regular law enforcement and I think Mom and Dad are going to have a talk with him on that subject. By the way, did I tell you that Larry is a mutant also. It seems his abilities allow him to augment whatever he is doing at that time. That is one of the reasons he does so well in school, etc. It’s not as exciting as my abilities, but then, he doesn’t have to hide and go off to another school either.

Mr. T learned that I should be dead also. He thinks that he knows why I survived too. It seems that my talent may have been as a mimic. He thinks that if my talent, and he thinks it would have been a strong one, had ever become un-latent, under other circumstances, I would have had the ability to mimic other powers.

The Ultra-X-Amine compound when I received it, triggered my latent power and proceeded to burn me out. The fact that my power was latent slowed the process down enough to allow the other part of the drugs effect to take place first.

The way TB had worded his suggestion triggered the mimic ability and it tried to comply. There was no one there like that for it to mimic so it started to use the template I had in my brain from watching the show. The drug was giving me such a surge of power that my ability went into overdrive and proceeded to totally overwrite me completely.

All the power that, uncontrolled, would have consumed me, suddenly was diverted into making me over into the image in my mind. In the process the ability to mimic was burned out but enough of the power was used so that I didn’t die. I was left with the body of a girl who looked like Ryoko and had some of the abilities, or at least some analog of them put together from mutant abilities related to those possibly like my mother’s and father’s.

This shouldn’t have worked though. The template of Ryoko would have had to be built on a female template for this to work the way it did. How could this template exist if I wasn’t transgendered in the first place, and there was moderately good evidence that I was not. At least I had never shown any and couldn’t remember any either.

Thus we found ourselves in a predicament. Either this was the same substance and I shouldn’t be alive, much less a girl, or the substance was different in some way and may have contributed to the change. But why wasn’t I having more trouble with the change either? It didn’t add up.

Then Mr. T found an answer. It was the one he had suspected from the first. The appendectomy I had gotten when I was nine turned out to be, under closer scrutiny, somewhat different than one might think.

While some parts of the report were lost, Mr. T found a report in the insurance files stating that the company should not pay for such an operation on a young girl. Further research turned up the surgeons’ report. It seems that when they opened me up to remove my inflamed appendix, they found ovaries and a uterus with no opening to the outside. Following the accepted practices of the day and since I was already established as a boy they simply preformed a hysterectomy, cleaned me out, and sewed me up. They then told everyone that it took longer than normal because of unexplained difficulties, and promptly filed it all away.

Thus a template already existed and it would also explain why I was comfortable the way I was. This pretty much finished up what we needed to know about the situation as it existed now. The next step would be to start my new life and training at Whateley.

 


 

 

IX

 

AN UNEVENTFUL TRIP

I wasn’t able to take much with me. I had two sets of jeans and shirts, that I had inherited from Colly, and some sport bras and panties that Mom had been able to buy on the sly as gifts for a cousin. I had my toiletries and these in my carry on. I had a sleeping bag, some camping equipment, and other supplies in some luggage that would travel separately.

The T’s were supplying the admission fees and spending money for books, etc. My parents would pay them back when things settled down. Overall things were going pretty good. The only problem was that I was already missing my parents. They seemed to take the changes pretty well. Of course, Larry said that they were taking their frustrations out on the bad guys.

He said it was very unhealthy to be in the business of supplying terrorists in this area. Accidents seemed to keep happening all over the place. Of course that kind of business has its risks. Safety becomes secondary. It could simply be a run of bad luck for them. There was some indication that the white flags might be flying sometime in the future.

I had a conversation with TB before I left also. It seems that his experiences have taught him a little wisdom and he might survive into his teens at this rate. I made a point of letting him know that I would be watching out for him and if he ever tried a lame stunt like that again I would see to it that Hell would be more pleasant.

Hey, I’m the big sister now. I have some privileges where torturing my younger brother comes in. He even gave me a gift before I left. I’m taking it with me out of sentiment. I’m not sure why. I have a feeling that I may regret it, yet I can’t seem to cut my ties with my past that easily.

There has got to be somewhere I can put it where it won’t draw too much attention. I’m carrying it in my carry-on now. I don’t want someone to find it by accident. Of course, lots of teenage girls have stuffed animals. It just so happens that mine is a cabbit. Lots of young girls have those don’t they?

Anyway, after a painful farewell in the basement, where I tried miserably to be brave and confident, Mr. T took me to the airport. I shook hands with him and set out into the cruel world and onto a U.S. Air jet to Pittsburg and from there to Concord, NH. From there I got a chance to ride a train, of all things, into the Town of Dunwich. A picturesque place just made for postcards and little else from what I could see.

There seemed to be a few people there that I thought might be going to Whateley also. I might have tried to get to know them better but I was too busy arguing with the station master over where in creation my luggage had gotten to.

After having a difficult time getting it through his thick and uncooperative skull that I needed to find out where it was, he finally called down the line to find that my bags had been delayed at the airport in Concord. They would be following me in the morning.- So sorry about the delay but you know how it is and stop bothering us as we have more important things to do than to argue with a girl thank you very much and goodbye!-

They were saved by the bus, or more correctly, by the arrival of Mrs. Shugendo and the vans that were to take us to Whateley. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the people around me at the time. I was still steaming about the way I had been treated by the travel people and trying to use the meditation techniques that Mrs. T taught me to keep from setting off a serious breach of etiquette and wrecking the bus.

 

Continued