Against ill chances,
men are ever merry,
but a heaviness foreruns a good event
(Shakespeare, Henry IV)
Saturday, October 21st, 2006. Morning.
Morning arrived like it had in the past: finding me in a strange bed in a strange place. The Langley Campus guest quarters are fairly nice I suppose, if a not a bit generic. Take your standard expensive hotel room, sans windows and add a bar that was stocked with sodas and juice rather than alcohol. In a small nook was adequate computer with a large desk and executives chair, not to mention a decent bathroom. To my annoyance several of the channels of the television were blocked.
“Never mind that I am doomed to being cute, but someone is trying to protect me from inappropriate television as well.” I groused at the room in general.
I drug myself out of bed and grimaced at my reflection in the mirror. My hair was a mess and a bit longer, peachy. At this rate I am going to have to either go Sinead O’ Conner bald or get a pair of scissors to hack it off when it got to be a pain. I gave the mirror a raspberry and took a moment to stretch. Admittedly I had never been a fitness nut, though I was learning that being prepared to run like hell was a good thing.
The shower was draining, if not pleasantly hot and really short lived. As much as I work on this bubble thing it doesn’t hold up well under a draining influence. Feeling part of yourself seep down the drain is disconcerting to say the least. I was briefly reminded of my kid sister for a moment; I had teased her about washing herself down the drain a few times. Ah Joni, wherever you are I hope its always fun there. I told myself the water in my eyes was only from shampoo residue, yeah sure.
I got a bit of a surprise when I stepped back into the room proper; someone had been in and tidied up. “Hello?” I called out, though there was no response in return. I edged around the corner and peeked towards the entryway. No one was present. I took a few steps over to where my knives were resting and slid the long one out of its sheath. Dumb Merry, really dumb. I had relaxed entirely too much, fortunately no one was there to hurt me. The nagging voice in my head added, ‘This time.’
I drug the chair from the table and wedged it under the doorknob, I felt marginally more at ease after having done that. I then checked the rest of the room, looking under the bed, through a closet full of clothing and the dressers. As no bogymen were present, I tossed the long knife to the bed and finished drying off. Part of me wanted to use a hair dryer. Though the last hairdryer I had used had voided its warranty via electrical seppuku in my hands.
John had left a note for me to wear comfortable clothing for the tests. So I picked through the closet and drawers for a bit, eventually I selected a gray sports bra, a pair of panties and a matching pale blue t-shirt and shorts set. To that I added a gray tracksuit with a pair of short white sox and of all things a pair of Keds with bright pink laces.
Which left me with the every annoying problem of; where does one hide her weapons? I toyed with the ring and spike, I was not going to be able to hide either it or the long knife on me. Or at least hide them in any manner that was comfortable. The folding knife I was able to tuck into my sports bra, no it’s not comfortable to have it there either, nor would it be easy to get at in a hurry.
I frowned at my two remaining weapons; eventually I was going to have to find a way to carry them. Just not this moment, as my stomach chose that moment to announce it was empty. I attached my security badge to the tracksuit top, and swept my wallet and other IDs into my pockets. I spent some time trying to get my slightly damp hair into some semblance of neatness, failing that I twisted it so that it formed a damp and untamed ponytail. My stomach gave a few more complaints and I abandoned project neatness with abruptness.
I paused long enough to grab my shades, rosary and removed the chair from in front of the door. Then I went in search of the cafeteria; fortunately I didn’t get too lost. Though I did ask for directions one or twice, as the place is a bit maze like.
Upon entering the cafeteria I had one of those moments where everyone is looking at the ‘new kid’ in school. I gave them my best, ‘you must worship the ground I walk upon’ face. Inside I was less than happy, I –so- didn’t need a bunch of stuffy people in suits and ties judging me. Ok, give them some credit; it is not every day where the sanctum sanatorium of spookdom central is invaded by a fifteen-year-old girl.
For a moment I regarded them, the silence dragging on for a long slice of time. Then I did a slow pirouette and asked, “Ok did everyone get a good look?”
It is amazing that people will opt for a loud resumption of conversation when they have figured out that they were being rude. As if being suddenly loud would cover for their bad manners. Yes manners were a large part of my social education at home. You can’t be the son of a deacon at semi-formal dinner and be rude. Well not if you liked having your meal to eat or much worse the switching you got if you were really uncouth.
Barring a few sidelong glances and some odd half mummers as I passed, getting my food was a bit anticlimactic. At least the first plateful was, that is. After the second plate I was attracting several odd looks and a few comments of: “Where does she put it” and “I’d blow up like a balloon if I ate as much as she did.” Ok, this was my second meal here and the future of my enjoying the meals was slowly slipping away.
Part of me was tempted to just let all my annoyance loose, blow the circuits and eat in the dark. Though if the flickering of the lights was any indication I needed to get out of there before something pushed me over whatever little bit of control I had. I finished up rapidly and took my tray to the conveyor belt to be washed.
I nearly made it out of the cafeteria when the words, “Looks like the human food disposal is done for the moment.” Floated out of someone’s mouth. Abruptly the only light was that of the sun through the windows. Naturally, I kept going. Act casual, say nothing, and pretend everything was all right.
Act and pretend; acting was getting to be a habit. All the world is a stage and I was stuck with the lead in a comic tragedy. I was going to have to have words with the scriptwriter of my life, if I ever encountered him or her in the next life. Alas poor Yorick and all that rot.
I found my room and managed to use my keycard without the lock going ‘pop.’ I stepped into the room to the sound of rustling papers. Looking down I could see a few scraps of paper had been pushed under my door. My first thought was now what? The next thought was obliterated by the words on the first piece of paper that I picked up.
“Do yourself and the world a favor, bite a bullet.” It went on from there to get as much shock factor as it could. “God forgives the mutant that kills herself.” Herself was underlined. My room went dark, so did the hallway. Fortunately I have a built in flashlight, I guess the whole teenaged mutant bit has an occasional side benefit.
For a moment I stood there in the darkness, mostly numb to the silence letting the door shut of its own accord. Slowly I became aware of a faint ticking, I froze for an ugly moment thinking ‘bomb’. Then a wave of relief poured though me, I was clenching the rosary tightly in my other hand. I suppose subconsciously, my mind was trying to help me stay calm, though my heart was still going thud-thud.
Prayer as meditation, calming and good for the soul, if not slightly repetitious, so I went with it. Practice makes perfect as they say; with luck I could ease back from wanting to blow all the circuits in the building. I sat down in the darkness and folded my legs into a semblance of the martial arts Zen thing, a lotus? What the hey, if you are going to meditate or pray you may as well look good while doing it. If anything it will confuse people.
Eventually I became aware of the return of the lights and later, a few hesitant knocks on the door. I opened my eyes fully and got up, “If you are not friendly, you better go away.” I said to my side of the closed door.
“Yep, someone ticked her off,” was the muffled voice through the closed door. Then louder, “It’s Bill and John, can we come in?”
I opened the door and looked up and down the hallway, it was empty save the two of them. I handed the piece of paper to Bill and scooped up the others and handed them to John. “Ok, come on in, I’ll try and not put us back in the dark.”
John looked at the ones I handed him, “Hey this one is sort of funny.” He held up a piece of Xeroxed art; it was a picture of someone flying through the air and dropping rocks the size of cars, under it were the words, “Evolution Rocks: Drop boulders on the humans.” Bill gave him a frown and handed him the piece of paper suggesting I kill myself.
“Somehow I don’t think it’s much funnier than that one,” he tapped it while John read the few lines.
“So I have what, an anti-fan club and a comedy team trying to lighten my day?” I did my best not to fume, then I went into the bathroom and closed the door. I grabbed the spout of the tub and took a few moments to try and push as much of my charge into the plumbing as I could. I stopped when I was slightly woozy, then I sat on the toilet and worked on my bubble for a bit to recover a semblance of calm.
Tap-tap went the door, “Just a minute.” I called out then flushed the toilet for dramatic effect. I took a moment, inhaled, exhaled, and then opened the door and went back into the main room.
John looked as if someone had given him a coffee enema and it wasn’t a chilled one. “Of all the places…” he started.
I held up a hand to stall him out, “Yeah, I figured here was safe too.” I waved to the chairs surrounding a round card table. “Take a load off, words on paper can’t kill me. Though if we should ever discover who it is, I have a punch with his or her name on it.”
Bill sighed, “We do not need this.”
I was happy it was a ‘we’ rather than a ‘you’ he spoke of. “Yeah, well it’s here. Any ideas on how to stop it?”
For a moment Bill was quiet, then he spoke. “Well aside from pissing in everyone’s pot over it, there isn’t much we can do.” He wasn’t happy.
“It’s like high school all over again. You could yell and let everyone know you are upset by it. Or you let it slide off. Either they give up or they find a new way to cause you grief.” John frowned. “I don’t know, we could always go someplace else. It’s not like the CIA is the only agency out there.”
“I am tempted, though as long as it stays at the level of notes under the door. I can get good at selective reading.” I offered.
“What was with breakfast today?” asked Bill.
“Well, my diet is not exactly inconspicuous. Take an acre of stares, add a jerk with a big mouth and some irritation on my part and you get?” I left off there and shrugged.
“Ah.” said John then he smiled lightly. “You’ll get a grip on it.”
“Speaking of getting a grip on it.” Bill shrugged slightly, “Don’t you two have an appointment somewhere?”
“I called down to put it on hold a bit. I figured if Merry was calmer things might go smoother,” offered John with a waggle of a finger at me.
“Yeah who knows what I’ll blow up if I am not relaxed,” I commented with some bitterness.
“Hey now, the building isn’t on fire and we’re still alive and kicking. One moment at a time Merry, you can’t go from crawling to running in a single day.” Bill tapped the table. “On the note of days; the feds have an odd quirk for you to work around. Your being a minor, forces them to make sure you ‘only’ work for four hours a day at the most, no more than twenty hours in the week.”
“Well that is just plain stupid, who do we talk to in order to get that changed?” I shook my head, I used to put eight hours or more online after school per night and all day on the weekends.
Bill was looking at his hands that were flat on the table before him. I don’t know how we can get around it, here. The Child Labor Laws are pretty stiffly worded when it comes to what a minor can and cannot do. Look at it this way; you are not a sidekick.”
John chuckled, “No I probably fall under that category.”
“Nope we are a team, you watch my back I watch yours. Speaking of watching our backs, did either of you get a maid or something like one to walk in and tidy things up for you too?” I asked.
“Yes, it is part of the regular housekeeping they do here. Why?” asked Bill with a hint of puzzlement in his voice.
“Mine came in while I was showering, sorta surprised me to find my stuff neatened up.” Ok, so I was down playing the bit of terror.
“Wonderful.” John frowned, “Did you scare them?”
“No, but if they can wander in, anyone else could as well. Just be cause you are paranoid…” I waggled a hand to point at my head.
“Doesn’t mean they are not out to get you,” finished Bill. “I’ll put in a word or two about the time they can come in and what not.”
I pointed to my other two weapons. “I need something I can hide easier and get to when things go screwy.”
“When, not if?” asked John.
“Hey its me…” I countered. “So far the only things constant in my life is; you folks, being a weirdo mutant something and trouble.”
“Something being?” Bill looked at me for a moment and I pointed to my groin. “Ah. You’ll sort that out sooner or later.”
“As in I got enough stuff to worry about as it is?” I offered sarcastically.
“Bingo. As to which, if you can be sarcastic you probably are fit to deal with a batch of odd tests.” John pointed out.
Part of me was looking forwards to figuring out what I was. The other half of me was screaming run and hide. “OK. So where are we going?”
“You’ll see.” Great, now John is playing games.
“I’ll deal with housekeeping and see what sort of toys and such I can round up for you Merry. You freaked the suits the other day with your act in the subway.” Bill looked amused. “You were acting weren’t you?”
“Hey so I don’t react well to idiots, its not like I shot the guy,” I countered.
“Acting?” he prompted again.
I sighed “More or less, you how it goes, you just do whatever seems right at the moment. If it involves waving a gun and being tough as nails; well I’ll try.” Yes I was tap dancing around the subject somewhat: Part of me ‘had’ enjoyed frightening the security guard.
“From what I hear you succeeded in being scary,” laughed John as he stood up and pushed his chair back.
“People don’t react well to having a cute lady pointing a gun at them and offering to castrate them.” Bill snorted with some bemusement.
I wanted to roll my eyes but I settled for a slight frown. “Cute, in all that body armor?” I sighed.
Bill shrugged and kept his mouth shut, but I could tell he was struggling to keep from laughing. I stood and looked at the mirror, cute, me… Maybe. “Is there a place to buy stuff in this warren?”
“Yep, and a gift shop too,” commented Bill, “Why?”
I toyed with my unruly hair, “I need some ‘stuff’.”
“Ah, yeah you didn’t get to go shopping the other day,” Bill noted absently.
“Yep, everything in that was my pack has to be replaced as well. Not too mention the unmentionables.” I lifted one shoulder and dropped it by way of declaring what the unmentionables where.
“But there you go, you mentioned them,” kidded John with a grin.
I stalked to where my bed was and picked up a pillow, Bill was laughing when I walked back and ‘bopped’ John with it. I dropped the pillow into my chair while John struggled to keep a solemn face. “Come on bro, we got a date with the weirdoes.”
The ride to the testing center was via a beefed up golf cart. Along the way we picked up a four-man security squad, inwardly I sighed. Bill’s prediction about being better guarded than the President wasn’t that far off. The driver was playing tour guide as we went along. Langley does have some cool stuff around it not to mention memorial art. I did was going to make a point to check out the Cryptos Memorial later on, as it seemed interesting, all those coded letters and stuff.
The testing center was a wide heavily reinforced building, one story tall and it was in the process of a remodel; or seemed like it as one wall was being reworked where a ten-foot tall hole gaped. The driver commented that we had missed the fire works a few days earlier, as testing went ‘bump,’ as he put it.
The check in process was fairly smooth, slide the card, put stuff in the tray, and then walk through the metal detector. Beep. Step aside, get the wand treatment, inwardly I was cursing my knife I had hidden in my bra. Fortunately for me the wand died, so did the next one and the next one after it. Yes I was on edge, part of me was not happy at the prospect playing lab rat for a bunch of people I didn’t know.
John was giving me a thoughtful expression; I shrugged at him. Seriously, after my hate mail this morning I wasn’t giving up an edge if I didn’t have to. After a time they decided that testing was more important that figuring out what made the metal detector go beep. I wasn’t going to say anything, let them assume it was a glitch on the side of my powers. Well it wouldn’t exactly be too far off the target on their part.
The Security detachment peeled off on the other side of the detector and vanished into a door where the odor of fresh coffee lured them in. A faintly nervous looking lady was waiting for the security checkpoint to let us pass.
Barbara Townsend was her name; according to her nametag. She was wearing a set of medical whites with a heavy gray jacket over the top of it. She had deep brown eyes and short cropped brown hair that was faintly frizzy. If it were not for the slightly wild-eyed looks she was giving everyone and the bags under her eyes she would be pretty if not stunning.
“H-hi, I’m Barbara, your guide, first let me welcome you on behalf of the testing team here. Next I want to reassure you that no one here is going to try and hurt you, though I will say we have a fairly solid safety track record.” She wilted slightly with the sound of falling masonry. “Do try and remember we are your friends.”
I gave John a bemused look, then I stuck my hand out. “Hi Barbara, I’m Merry.”
She looked at my gloved hand and timidly shook it, and then released it abruptly. “Right, if you’ll walk this way I’ll take you to medical for the first part of testing.” She led us down a long corridor to a room aptly named Medical Testing, though every few seconds she would stop and peer over her shoulder at me.
Some how I managed not to run into her on those ‘stops’, though I was seriously tempted to imitate her stuttering walk. I sighed once she checked us in to the front desk and virtually ran out of the room. In my best Bugs Bunny voice I whispered to John, “Walk dis way.”
He shook his head with a smile that was part grimace. “Shell Shock. Try not to upset the poor lady, she needs a vacation in the worst of ways.”
I thought about that for a bit, “I think she’s in need of more than a vacation. I’ll try an keep it low key when she is around, no promises though.”
He shrugged, “Could be worse, she could be like Monica.”
“Yeah, no kidding.” Monica, I hoped would be stuck with a distasteful job someplace where she couldn’t tick people off.
Medical testing consisted of fill these vials with blood, this cup with urine and lots and lots of x-rays. Which later turned into a lot of MRIs and CAT Scans. The MRI is annoying as you have to hold absolutely still while on a motorized bed that makes a lot of noise. This is compounded by the annoying fact that you can’t have any metal on you, much less the fact that the room is kept chilled.
The ‘hands on’ part of the physical was disgusting. Bad enough you get groped every which way. They had to use very thick gloves to do it, which means they had to pinch harder to ‘feel’ anything. I let this go on until the pelvic exam, where as John would describe it as, ‘Sparks flew’.
“Ok, put your feet in the stirrups and lets take a look shall we?” said the doctor pointing to the two offending metal bits.
“Why?” I asked.
He didn’t answer but picked up an odd instrument, and motioned for me to hurry it up.
“You are not putting that –anywhere-.” I looked at he doctor who had an impassive expression on his face.
“Young lady I…” He trailed off when I slid over to my pile of clothes and pulled out my folding knife.
I flicked the knife open, “Let me be very clear, I all ready had my ‘examination’ of those parts once already this month.” Ok I was unconscious during it, but hey. “If you get to stick that in me,” I pointed to the gadget, “I get to stick this in you.” I waved my knife in the direction of his groin.
“Uh.” He reached over and pushed a button set into the wall, then took a few steps back away from me, “Now stay calm miss.”
“Calm he says.” I waggled the knife in his direction, “It’s not you that is getting mauled.”
He looked a bit indignant at the mauled part. “Young lady I am a doct…”
About this time the security team waded in and pulled him out of the room. A few minutes later John walked in looking amused, fortunately I was mostly dressed. “Give it over.”
“What over?” Ok innocent wasn’t going to cover it, so I went with amnesia.
He chuckled and held out his hand. “You know what.”
Drat. I slid the knife out of my sports bra, “This old thing?”
He just shook his head and took the closed knife out of my outstretched hand. “I figured you had something on you at the check point.” He laughed, “What is it with you, where if you have a weapon of some type handy, you have to use it, if only for emphasis?”
I shrugged. “Well he didn’t seem to think I had a say in what he could do with my body.” I gave him a dirty look, “How would you feel if someone was going to give you an involuntary prostate exam?”
“Bad enough I was getting mauled thanks to those gloves he was wearing.” I sighed; “It gives a whole new meaning to the term Titty Twister.”
“No kidding, I kept my cool and I didn’t try to fry his ass.” I looked at the knife in his hand. “I just wanted to be sure he got my point.”
He shook his head, “I think the security team is explaining that to him right now.” He looked around, “They do need the exam for their records.”
“Fine have what’s her name from the apartment send a copy of her exam notes to them. I am so not letting some overly gloved pervert grope me down there. That so-called breast exam was bad enough.” I stood there and fumed while the lights flickered.
“Ok, just take a few deep breaths and calm down.”
Grrr. “I –am- calm.” At that point the lights died. Ok fine, so I lied.
“You’re glowing again,” was his only comment, John is for one thing, not dumb or slow on the uptake.
I made my way to the sink and grabbed the faucet, pushing the power into it did not seem to have any effect on my glowing; other than to make me woozy. “Well damn.” I pushed my shades up and looked in the mirror at the brighter bluish white orbs that glowed back at me. I dropped the shades back down, “It didn’t fade much did it?”
“No, what did you do?”
“I tried to get rid of some juice.” I sighed. “Can we get some lunch here?”
“Probably, its past One Thirty anyways.” He motioned me to the door as the lights kicked back on.
Barbara looked a bit calmer if not amused, “So I take it the exams went well?” Her voice bespoke her amusement. She gave me an appraising look, “A knife eh… I will have to try that at my next exam.”
I started to comment when John gave me a soft elbow to the ribs. “She’s a bad influence,” he indicated me.
She laughed, “Doc Clammy Hands had that coming for a bit I think.” There was a hint of laughter from the receptionists.
“Can we get something to eat?” I asked
“Sure come on, the cafeteria will be mostly dead now anyhow.” She motioned for us to follow, though she was doing her stuttering look and walk routine, still.
The cafeteria was devoid of the usual stares of late, though I did get a few double takes. I guess I am going to have to get used to it, it wasn’t that much different from being the ‘social outcast’ in school. You have to give the cooks at Langley a tip of the hat; they sure can cook. John and Barbara spent most of my feeding frenzy talking shop and comparing places they ‘worked’ at. So, for the most part the meal was a semi-restful one.
Once the meal was over it was back to medical, and no I did not have to face up to another attempt at a pelvic exam. Which made me much calmer, mostly. They subjected me to the Moh test, to see if my skin was harder than normal. Basically it involved scratching me with pointed objects, mostly annoying than anything else. The also administered a battery of allergy tests, which felt like a repetition of the Moh test, though the results were a bit off.
Normally, you have a reaction to the Histamine ‘control’ scratch. Not me, though I did have a few points where they thought I may be allergic to things like milk and molds. They couldn’t be one hundred percent sure, so it looks like my diet is going to be altered somewhat. Those points did itch so I was happy when they put some lotion on them to make them go away faster.
The eye exam was slightly amusing; I have perfect vision, though the eye doctor was at a loss for words to explain how I could see ‘normally.’ The only down side of that examination was the color deferential test. They had me look at a bunch of circles with different colored dots that hid words or numbers. That test was ok, though I seemed to have trouble making out the ones with blue dots being hidden. It got worse when they handed me a color sheet; it was almost like picking out paints for a room, though I had the dubious joy of trying to name the colors.
The long and short of that test was disturbing to me, I could ‘see’ blue if I looked at power outlets and the phones and such. But ‘Blue’ as the color as itself, was really pale or just not there at all. A whole section of the color spectrum sheet was white or off white. Red was more than a bit darker if not purplish and green was more yellowish. For all intents and purposes medically wise, I was color-blind. From what the doctor was able to figure out, the visual ‘blue’ color wavelength of the visual spectrum was co-opted to give me an electro-optical connection in my brain. Whatever that meant.
They stuck me in a what they said was a pitch black room and had me read from a card that had some medical jargon on it. To me the room was filled with the blue and white light of my own glow. I managed to read enough of the card to where they stopped the test and made notes. Personally I could not see what the big deal was.
The next bit of the test they cranked the light up as slowly as they could and gave me a switch where I could turn it off if it was uncomfortable. That test was long and time consuming. Eventually they got to a light level where the light was washing everything out and giving me a slight headache. Boring, in its own right, though the people giving the test were excited by it.
The hearing test came and went without much in the way of oddities. Junior High Band was apparently of some use as they ran the range of piano notes and had me use musical notation to tell them what note was which. My band teachers used to play this game so it was nothing new or a big deal to me.
My old band teachers had been a bit annoyed with my family; they considered my half season of band each year as a personal affront to the gift of music. Choir on the other hand, well I was allowed to sing, not much else. I used to get a lot of ribbing from being First Chair, among the Flutes. No, I wasn’t a musical wunderkind; I just had lots and lots of time to practice. Practice enough and anyone could be first chair in a school band of slackers. Not having a real life I had to do ‘something’ to kill time.
Band on the whole allowed me some freedom and some acceptance, well mostly. We had some elitist musical snobs and jerks; that and a few that thought they were gods gift to rock and roll. Not to mention all the ugly jokes of playing the skin flute and so on. I was able to play the piano, not well mind you but I could hit the notes at the right time and tempo. Which was more than I could say for the tech that was jangling the keys.
After the tenth wrong note in a row I pegged the pencil up to the acoustic tiles where it stuck point first. I had recognized his butchering of Bach’s Piano & Flute Concerto Number One. It didn’t take much effort in that department. If you get stuck practicing a piece of music you don’t enjoy, over and over for a few months, it sticks with you.
Finally I just looked at the people monitoring the test and told them the name of the piece and that the tech sucked at it. The tech just laughed at me and played the piece perfectly at double speed. Cute, it was another test. I apologized to the tech, he shrugged and went on into a jazz riff before stopping. He gave me smile and commented that most of the folks who took this part of the test were musical morons. I winced; band had more than a few of those as well.
On the way to the next battery of tests John explained that that portion of the test was more to see if a person could recognize complex patterns. Not to mention to judge how well a person could decipher those sounds. “Pattern Recognition,” you could hear the capitals, “is key in problem solving, though you may have invalidated their test.”
Barbara laughed, “Not really, she did get the name of the piece right. Besides you made Robert’s day, he hates to give that test with a passion. He prefers Jazz to the Classicals.” She winked, “You got him out of several hours of what he calls musical torture.” She continued her stuttered walk and look backwards bit. “That test can go for a long bit, or as short as ten notes. You’re good, most people can’t even figure out what note is what.”
“Thank my band teachers.” I shrugged; with luck I would never see that particular sheet of music again.
The first part of physical testing was boring, lift this, carry that, and up the rope. Ok, so I glossed over it some; I could do so much better than I ever did as Chad. Its pretty messed up, in order to excel at sports I had to become partly a girl, ok mostly a girl. Never mind that the idea of chasing a ball, of any sort, still makes me want to barf.
The next stage was what they called it: Advanced Reflex Testing, I called it Dodge Ball From Hell. The rules are easy enough; you can catch the balls, or dodge them, just don’t get hit, the last rule is don’t trip as the balls stay ‘in play’ until they stop moving. The court was not much larger than a racket ball court, plenty of room to trip over your own feet and have lots of ricochets. Needless to say I was not thrilled as I sucked at sports all around.
The Variable Speed Thrower System, was a large machine with a huge set of pipes that fed the various hoppers with balls. Of all types sizes and weights, including bowling balls. It had the vague semblance of one of those baseball machines that they use in batting cages and a tennis ball lobber. I had some serious misgivings when they gave me a boxing head guard, a disposable mouthpiece and said; “Better you than me.”
The room had a slight incline so the techs didn’t have to stop the ‘game’ and round up the balls for reuse. Part of me was wishing that they had omitted that design fix. A few minutes into the test I was starting to think I was in trouble, as some of those ‘throws’ stung my hands when I caught them. A moment later when they announced stage two I had a nasty suspicion that the person who had designed this ‘test’ was the victim of a great many bullies and was making up for it in his mechanical nightmare.
I gave up trying to catch the balls when a medicine ball I caught nearly knocked me to the floor. Ok so part of the test was fun, in a sick sort of way. I finally had some thing to fight back against, I decided to change the rules of the game slightly and I started to throw balls back at the machine. Big mistake, apparently the sadist figured out that ‘twist’. After I had hit it once or twice the machine went into sudden death match mode.
Ok so it was not my most eloquent statement; when you are faced with your worst nightmare from gym class I dare you to find something witty to say. The few seconds that I recall from that part of the game were slightly vague. I remember using a basketball to deflect some of the balls away, but the three medicine balls in a row were a bit much. I went down hard.
Then there was the sound of rolling thunder; the bowling ball was in play. Part of me was proud of the fact that I managed to get the basketball between me and the bowling ball. That, and the fact that that my ever so screwy power went nuts and sent the thrower to electrical hell. Then there was the rebound and darkness.
Ammonia stinks, if you were not aware of that fact. I was looking up at John who was waving something under my nose. “Ok Merry, time to wake up.”
I took the mouth guard out, my face stung more than a bit. “Oh gods that sucked.” I looked at the techs who were frantically trying to stop the machine from burning. My only thought on that matter was ‘Burn, Baby Burn’.
“I take it I didn’t pass.” I gave John a frown.
“Lets get you out of the chaos.” He gave me a hand up and I only slightly wavered on my feet.
We passed some poor soul who was muttering something about “My poor baby”. If I were more alert at that moment I probably would have decked him. I suppose God was watching out for ‘that’ mad scientist. As it was John interposed himself between the two of us and led me to a couch. I shed the boxing helmet and tossed it to the far side of the room. I announced, “I don’t care what the hell the results are, I am not doing that again.”
He laughed once and plopped into a chair, “Don’t worry sis, I don’t think they want you to.”
I shook my head as I could feel a headache starting to work its way into the forefront of my head. “How much more is there for today?”
“One more physical test, then you can rest until tomorrow,” he was looking at me intently. “Then we get to do the ‘fun’ stuff.”
“Fun stuff, so far I am not having much fun.” I looked at him, “Not to mention I am getting the headache from hell.”
“No doubt, even deflecting that bowling ball you took a hard jolt to the head.” He was frowning, “Well the next test should not be too bad.”
“I hope you are right. So far I am beginning to think I would have been better off just muddling around in the dark.”
“Its their playground, their rules.” He sighed, “Just do the best you can, from what I gather a lot of these tests are very subjective.”
“Wonderful.” I rubbed my head where the ball smacked into it. “Any chance on getting something for my headache before the next test?”
“We’ll see.” He stood up when Barbara entered and motioned for me to stay sitting. They chatted a few moments and she gave me a slight wave before almost running out of the room.
When he came back I had to ask, “What did you say to her?”
“Just that you had a headache and your powers get more even erratic when you can’t focus.” He pointed to the remains of the ball thrower in the next room.
I sat back and closed my eyes, ah well he was right. Barbara returned with a horse pill and glass of water, of which I was ever so happy to take. John and Barbara left me to my misery for about fifteen minutes while the pill kicked in. I wasn’t complaining, I just wanted the pain to stop.
Part of me was really happy when the pain was comfortably pushed under that warm blanket fuzzy feeling. The other part of me was screaming ‘Danger! Run around scream and shout!’ I was humming a bit of the song ‘Current’ from the Blue Man Group when John and Barbara collected me for what she only described as the Xavier Test.
I was in my own private world while John tried to explain that the Xavier test wasn’t ‘exactly’ named after a paraplegic head case. I gave him an amused grin, “What he doesn’t run a school for oddballs and weirdoes like me? Not to mention a girl who has been dead more times than is recommended for any one person?”
John stopped and looked at Barbara, “What was that pill?”
“Hydrocodine with an Tylenol base, why?” she looked puzzled.
“Lovely, well we can cancel the Xavier test.” He looked at me, “So Merry, do you know what the Xavier test is?”
“Pop psychology quiz with an emphasis on surprise and variable conditions?” I answered in a soft voice, “It doesn’t seem that hard.”
“And you know this how?” he was shaking his head as if he knew the answer all ready.
“We passed a computer.” I grinned, “Did you know you can play the Xavier Test on a flute? A-B-D-E-F-C.”
He looked at me and sighed, “Right.” He looked at Barbara with an odd smile, “Care to bet she memorized the answers to the whole test, completely invalidating the whole process?”
Barbara looked at me, she was frowning, such a pretty lady too bad they were considering replacing her. I walked back to the spot where the computer was bleeding through the wall of the hallway. “Ok, she’s underpaid too; have to fix ‘that’.” There, we’ll just edit her file, and give her a bonus on performance.
“MERRY!” John sounded stressed.
“I’m right here John, don’t have ta shout.” I giggled. “Tomorrow we are having steak for dinner and lasagna at lunchtime. Menu’s by Merry no extra charge.”
“What are you doing?” he asked in a try and pay attention to me sort of voice.
“Well Barbara needed more vacation time, and a raise, not to mention they were gonna have lousy stuff for lunch tomorrow.”
“You can’t go around and just change files to what you want, you know?”
“Sure I can, I can even book her an all-expense-paid-trip to Mouse World if ‘I’ want to.” I wave a gloved hand at him, “Just cuz she’s nice. Not many people like me. Mean people shoving bad notes under my door an rude people in the ca-fi-etria. Gotta treat nice people good.”
He laughed, “Ok you win.” He looked at Barbara, too bad she’s not his type, ah well I can’t fix ‘that’.
“I never lose with ‘puter stuff. I can’t play dodge ball fer crap still, but I can make a ‘uter roll over and play yank-ee-doodle-doo.”
“Is she always like this when she is on medication?” Barbara asked.
“Not all medicines. Just enough of them, though it does have some benefits occasionally. Trust me you don’t want her upset at you, not like the Senator she slapped.” He was watching me.
“Oh, thanks John; I had forgotten Mr. Blasphemy. Let’s see, what should I do?”
“Me and my big mouth.” John slapped himself, “Merry don’t do anything rash…” His eyes were twinkling though.
“Me, do anything rash? Nope, never, no how, no w-a-a-y-s, you know he has eighty unpaid traffic violations and all his credit cards and credit reports are crap? Not to mention all his pay has been adjusted incorrectly for; let’s see, the past six years. Yep he owes Unca Sammy bunches.” I looked at John, “What’s so funny?”
Monday, October 23rd, 2006.
Time for yesterday.
It was morning, at least according to the digital alarm clock that was going beep-beep. I reached over and slapped it off, taking a moment to snuggle back into the blankets. Yesterday had gone mostly, well aside from getting knocked out briefly. After that; things went blurry, I guess the rest of the day went ok, as I wasn’t in a padded room.
I forced myself up and out of bed; I was still dressed in the shorts and t-shirt from the prior day. Oh well, a quick shower would cure me of the stickies. I waded through the paper flood near my door and shoved a chair under the doorknob. Part of me debated picking the papers up, the other part of said let housekeeping sort it out. After a moment of indecision I just left the papers there. I didn’t make the mess; I wasn’t about to clean it up.
On the table were several plates, dirty but clean of food. There was also some sort of brightly colored package, though I could not bear to look at it closely for some reason. I wasn’t hungry though everything seemed out of place, and fuzzy yet. Something was definitely off; yet I could not put my finger on what ‘it’ was. I flipped the television on via the remote and found a music channel I could tolerate. I didn’t quite have to peal my clothes off, though I could have sworn I had worn them for more than a day.
My time in the shower felt good, though ‘everything’ was much more sensitive. Not to mention I found a sore spot on my thigh that with a small red dot. I mused over that, I didn’t recall getting a shot yesterday at testing. Testing sucked, I wasn’t really looking forwards to the powers part of testing at all. I reluctantly cut the shower off, no sense in wearing myself out in trying to keep my bubble up.
I dried off and did a few stretches, my stomach muscles and legs felt like I had really over-done things. All that climbing and the dodge ball game from hell must have worked me harder than I remembered. Heck even my eyes felt odd, I made my way to the mirror and looked at them. Yep, still all blue and they flickered somewhat.
I reached up to my neck and felt for my Saint Joan of Arc medallion, it was missing, very odd. I didn’t remember the chain breaking or taking it off. Though there was a slight scratch on the back of my neck. For a moment I could feel like I was putting it in something soft and warm, a hand? I was slightly dizzy for a moment and braced myself against the wall by the mirror.
I was about to walk away from the mirror when I noticed something had changed. Well a pair of things. Breasts, two each to a customer, definitely larger. I tried to remember what size they were before, and then I snagged a bra from the drawer and tried it on for comparison. Ok that bra was not going to fit much less be supportive. The sports bra was not much better, while really tight; it at least held things in place. I pulled on a gray pair of panties and managed to barely get them up as well. Things fit yesterday: what the blazes was going on?
A look in the mirror provided the answer. Curves, I had curves. Wonderful. Just peachy. I could handle being Chad with breasts, but now my body was defiantly not “Chad’s” any more. Aside from that extra bulge in my panties I was definitely a girl. I don’t know what was more depressing, the fact that I wasn’t a complete girl or a complete guy; or the fact that I didn’t look anything like ‘I’ used to look like.
It took a while to find something that fit my new frame, after a half hour of frustration of trying this and that on. I eventually went with a dark gray jumpsuit. It was almost skin-tight and while it did cover everything, there was no denying I was a girl in it, though I did have to roll the legs up a few inches. Fortunately, the boots fit with a few extra pair of sox. Though I ended up having to pare down my wallets so I could fit one into a pocket. I did find a comb; which made me feel somewhat better in the hair department.
I found my shades and my name badge on the computer desk. Which was odd, I hadn’t gave the computer in the room any though before. Admittedly; I had given it the once over, but I had decided to leave it alone for the time being. Besides it probably had some sort of net nanny software on it that I’d have to find and turn off if I wanted to do any thing fun. Not to mention whatever spy-ware was on it. Frankly I wouldn’t put it past the spookies to not monitor my room.
Looking about on the floor I found my rosary. It was crumpled up against the wall. I vaguely remember a wash of rage and throwing it, but I could not remember being all that angry yesterday. I picked it up to discover it was slightly tacky feeling, so I took it to the sink and ran some water over it. The water turned a slight pink as the stickiness washed off. “I hope that the rose beads are not melting.” I commented as I dried them in a towel, faint reddish stains remaining on the towel. I draped the rosary over my neck; it seemed so very odd that my medallion was missing.
I grabbed a piece of junk paper from the floor and flipped it over to the blank backside. I penned a quick note to the housekeeping folks apologizing for the wardrobe being all over the floor and the other trash. I told them to just put the clothes on a chair until they could be disposed of. I left it in an obvious place and moved the chair back to the table.
Opening the door I was greeted by a slightly bland and bored looking gentleman in a suit. His eyes widened slightly, though he didn’t seem to be alarmed. He was wearing a brownish gray suit and maroon tie; it was a nice break from the usual pseudo-presidential clone clothing that most of the security folks seemed to favor. His hair was short and a tidy black, though one strand seemed to drop towards his brown eyes. His security badge was partially hidden by the tie “…ty Director” was all that I could make out.
“Don’t forget your gloves miss.” He pointed at my bare hands.
“Ah, yes, thanks.” I wandered back into the room and went about finding them. It took a bit to find them too. One was on top of the television; the other one was under the bed. Very strange, usually I put them near my shades. Inwardly I shrugged, I had been throwing my clothes madly around before while trying to find something that fit; so I must have not been paying that close of attention when I launched them.
I stepped back out into the hallway and let the door shut, I took a few steps in the direction of the cafeteria, I didn’t notice the security guard following me until he spoke.
“Where to today miss?” He asked.
“Breakfast, testing and shopping, nothing fits right for some reason.”
“The CAT Team has their own cafeteria now, and the introduction and overview seminar is in an hour.” He pointed to the elevator, and led the way to it. “Ah, I think they are done with testing you, though the results should be ready later this afternoon.”
“Funny I thought I was doing powers testing today?”
He shrugged and pushed the down button, “I can’t say miss.”
“You can call me Merry.” I offered.
He smiled, “It never hurts to be polite, I am Paul, your official liaison while you are here at Langley.” He chuckled softly, “You sure shook things up a bit yesterday evening.”
“Oh, in what way?”
“I’m not allowed to discuss that, Merry.” His eyes were crinkled up in amusement.
“The first rule of Project Mayhem is that you don’t discuss Project Mayhem?”
The elevator doors open and we stepped inside. He laughed, “Something like that, yes.” He pushed a button a few times then another button. “We’re going to be using one of the basement levels, the task force will be using an entire sub level for the duration, however long that is.”
“Nothing like job security.” I commented.
At that he laughed for a few moments. “What’s so funny?” I asked.
“I can’t say.” Though I could tell he wanted to say something by the overly amused looks he was giving me.
“First rule again?”
Wonderful, could my day get any weirder?
The CAT cafeteria was a scaled down version of the one from upstairs, though I had to say the food smelled better. I glanced around the room, it was full, though the atmosphere seemed subdued for some reason. I made my way through the buffet line and overloaded a plate with a combination of eggs, biscuits and gravy.
I found a mostly empty table and had a seat, I said a quick prayer and crossed myself. Today just I ignored the people at the table and set to eating. Something was nagging me and I could not put my finger on it, though it felt like something was missing. Paul sat down with his own tray, a modest meal in comparison to my own. “So where are Bill and John?”
Paul looked slightly uncomfortable, “Bill should be at the briefing.”
I nodded, “And John?”
“I can’t say miss.” He was looking intently at his plate when he said it.
“Ah.” For a time we ate in relative quiet before he spoke again.
“So are you really that good with computers?” he inquired.
“Far as I know,” I paused. “There may be one person better, I don’t know for sure though.”
“That would be the name, though I have not met her.”
“That will change.”
“Rule number one, miss.” He had a lopsided smile on his face.
“You are enjoying this entirely too much.”
He shrugged and worked on his meal, I managed to get through another plateful of my own before I felt full. I didn’t think I was overloading my plates that much.
“I’m full, usually it takes about four plates.” I eyed the empty plate with some confusion.
“I think you had a few meals in the middle of the night.”
“Ah, that would explain the dirty dishes.” I felt somewhat better though how I could miss-remember eating is beyond me.
“Yes,” he commented, I just looked at him, hinting I thought, for more information, though he was eating and seemed to ignore me.
I toyed with a cinnamon roll, peeling a strip off then eating it. Occasionally I would study the people in the room. It was a mixed bag, ranging from slightly overweight to almost anorexic, male and female all stamped into the semi-federal mold. Though the colors seemed more muted today, even my orange juice looked a bit off color. Fortunately it tasted ok.
It almost seemed on cue when the room started to empty, everyone was slightly grim, very odd. I shook my head and I chalked it up to more Federal weirdness. I picked up my tray and was about to take it to the conveyer belt to the dishwashers when Paul stopped me.
“Don’t worry about it, folks will take care of that for you.”
I shrugged, “It’s no big deal.”
“Ok, we don’t want to be late.” He stood up and followed me to the line with his own tray.
The auditorium could have easily held more than three times the number of people currently in it. I guessed that there were at least one hundred and fifty people milling about and working their way into the seats. All of them were in some sort of casual attire, most leaning to subdued colors and a few were in ‘tactical attire’, dark shoes, dark trousers and the alphabet soup jackets with ties.
Paul led me down to the front row and to a seat next to Bill. Bill had one arm in a white sling though he was wearing a black suit that was lumpy on the same side the sling was on. I looked at the various seat assignments; I was listed, as were Alex and A. Hartford. I frowned, trying to remember something that was bothering me.
“Hi Bill, where’s John?”
He patted the seat besides him that with my name on it. “I’ll tell you later, have a seat Merry,” he was looking tired and more than a bit down, if not outright depressed.
The seat next to mine had the tag of CIA Oversight Operations on it. Paul slid into it and regarded the rest of the room with a bemused smile. I watched as Alex and some lady took up seats besides each other, the pair looked oddly uncomfortable.
She was wearing an outfit that vaguely looked like a school uniform, though the skirt was slightly shorter than the modest schoolgirls skirt I had worn. She wore a tie with the jacket with a small pin neatly displayed. From what I could tell she had blond hair that would look better if she wore it loose. The tight bun and her glasses made her look like a, well, a total bitch.
Alex was watching me watch her, so I gave him a wave. He waved back and the lights dimmed. A man walked to the podium and a screen behind him was illuminated with the words; Counter AI Taskforce (CAT).
“Greetings one and all, foremost I want to thank your various agencies and groups for your allowing your participation.” He looked around the room, giving folks a chance to get settled. “As you may have guessed by the title from the screen this task force has been organized to combat the re-arising AI threat.”
He did something on the podium and the screen changed to a picture of a nondescript male wearing glasses. I recognized him as did a few other people from the sudden exhalations in the room. “Doctor Able Palm, deceased, we think.” He held up a hand to still the various murmurs. “Yes as far as we can be certain his body was recovered, and through DNA matching it was confirmed that it was him.”
A map of the world replaced Dr. Palm’s picture. “We have solid and reliable information that Dr. Palm’s AIs have been resurrected, we are not sure by whom or if they were merely dormant: in some server on the Internet.” He paused for a drink of water from a glass. “We have reports of PALM AI attacks across the world. Additionally we are seeing signs of something much more troubling.”
He paused. “The following images may be disconcerting, they were not chosen for shock effect, but more on the basis of technical and medical merit.” He paused then rapidly displayed a few images in quick succession. I recognized them from the Lab under Philly, though the color was off.
“A detailed autopsy of one of the, ah, specimens from the complex located under Philadelphia; revealed an extensive rewiring of the human hosts cerebral cortex. From what evidence we have gathered, we are looking at some sort of host for a modified form of Artificial Intelligence, most assuredly it is a PALM AI in all respects.”
There were several gasps among his audience and the sounds of some poor soul retching into something hollow and empty. I didn’t look for the unfortunate one. I had seen some thing far more worse that that recently…
“We have not decided on an exact designator for this cybernetic implant, though we are tentatively tagging each case as Human AI Transports, with an numerical designation for each cadaver.”
Several movie frames from the Terminator Movies and “I, Robot” flashed upon the screen. “Despite aggressive media blanketing efforts and several movies designed to illustrate the hazards of an world populated with and by AI; we are looking at one of the more un-likely of scenarios. Ladies and gentlemen, this is H-A-I-T 106.” A picture flashed up on the screen.
“For all intents and purposes, this person is to be considered extremely dangerous and a terminate with aggressive prejudice order has been issued.” He paused. “Regrettably, if there are civilians in possible harms way, they must be considered as expendable. Though all possible avenues must be taken to prevent collateral damage if at all possible.” He held up a hand to still the various mumbles.
“I know it not an easy order to accept or to give for that matter. The President has signed off on the order of execution for this being, not man. Do not consider it as a man, for even if it may look human, whatever that is controlling him is certainly not human.” He looked about the silent auditorium.
He changed slide to a map of Philadelphia, “There have been reports of a man who matches the description of HAIT 106, in and around the Philadelphia Metroplex. There have also been reports of a serial killer who matches the same description in the same region as well. Whether or not they are the same person, is anyone’s guess. Needless to say, if the serial killer is killed, no one will miss him.” There was some rough laughter at that bit.
“On that note, each and everyone of you are here because you are the best of the best at what you do. All possible jokes from the MIB aside; you are the tops in your field, age is not an issue, though ability is.”
“As such, the identity of the personnel in this Taskforce is to remain confidential and is classified. No electronic media is to be considered safe if it is attached to a network. All matters needing to recorded and filed will be either be done via the old fashion way via paper and pen, or on secured systems.”
“Yesterdays events have shown a need for this security measure.” He clicked on another slide; there were two pictures on it the lady sitting next to Alex and mine. I sat puzzled buy that, what had happened yesterday? Did I miss something?
“Meet Amelia Hartford and Kitten.” He chuckled, “With all you CAT’s it seemed appropriate.” This got a laugh from the audience. “Kitten does not exist, you never saw her. Officially she is never there, even if she is there. Any feats of computer bedazzlement will be attributed to Ms. Hartford. Ms. Hartford is also undoubtedly ‘the’ expert on Dr. Palm and his AI’s.”
“Kitten, while untrained by our standards, possesses a unique and if I may be frank, an unnerving skill with computers.” He paused and took a sip of water. “If either of those two say anything concerning AI or computers, take it as gospel and act accordingly.”
I looked over to see Ms. Hartford looking at me, for the heck of it I raised my shades and winked. She blinked once slowly and turned to whisper something to Alex. Score one on her side for utter lack of shock, Alex must have been told her about me. Ah well I am sure I can shock her another way if I have to. ‘Real charitable of you,’ said the voice in my head.
The rest of the session was boring to say the least. Seriously it seems as if the federal types have to talk a subject to death before they do anything. I shook my head; I still had that nagging sensation that I was missing something important. I rubbed the muscles in my neck trying to loosen up some; the rosary chaffed the scratch on my neck, it was nagging at me, telling me that some thing was way off. Not to mention I was stiff and sore, I don’t usually feel this bad unless I am catching a cold or I have been up way-to-late.
After what seemed like a god awfully long time the meeting broke up. I was going to go visit with Alex and scope out Ms. Hartford, but they left before I could catch up to them. Though neither seemed happy, they did sorta lean against each other in the dark. I dunno, I could tell there was something going on there, but they seemed a tad blind to it themselves.
Bill had what looked like a small laptop in his free hand. I am not sure why Bill was so tired, then again I had no idea why everything seemed off today either. We were heading outside when I realized I was missing my knives, then again as tight as the bra was today I seriously doubted I could hide one in it anyways. Hmm, I don’t remember seeing any of my knives today either. I chewed on my lip and that thought for a moment, trying to get a better grip on the day.
Once outside a security team joined us, though they seemed better armed today. Not to mention they were angry and tense. I looked from face to face, then back at Bill. “What’s up?”
“Wait for a bit, Merry.” he was looking at the door to the building. Paul came out and gave him a nod, and then he climbed in the golf cart as well.
We traveled in relative quiet, just the hum of the electric motor and the occasional subdued chatter of the guards on the radio. We went passed the testing center there was a lot of people roaming around the outside and lots of police tape. We didn’t stop but went past it and further on, I looked over at Bill.
“Just wait,” was all he said, he then put on a pair of sunglasses himself.
Eventually we came to pagoda out in the middle of a field, it was a pale maroon with a sunken Japanese garden where large pools of water reflected the white sky above. Koi of all shapes and sizes played in the pools some slapping the water as if to say hurry up and feed us already.
Bill ignored the fish and pretty much every thing as he walked into the shade of the pagoda, there was a picnic table where he sat the laptop down. For a moment he stood there then he turned around. “Come here Merry.”
I left the fish and their desire for food and went up to where he was standing. Even behind his shades I could tell he was crying, “What’s wrong Bill?”
“Listen carefully Merry.” He paused. “Merry had a little lamb, its fleece as black as coal, where ever Merry went Chad was sure to go.”
I blinked a few times and the day felt much colder. Everything seemed to push back from the world with a disinterested flavor, things were a bit clearer though I felt very odd.
“Chad buddy, you in there?” Bill was looking at me with a frown.
“Yeah. “ I stretched and looked around. “What the fuck just happened Bill?”
“We were attacked yesterday. You were deep in shock from it and I had to use a post hypnotic key phrase to bring you out of it.” He looked angry and very upset.
“It worked then?”
“Yes and no Chad, you’re slightly more fragmented than before. Though it saved you and us somewhat.” He kicked the table with a foot. “I am not sure this is the best way to fix you.”
“Well we tried the medicines, those didn’t go over very well.” I gave a small shrug, I am not sure how I managed to get into the jumpsuit, as it was almost painted on. “If anything they seemed to compound the problem.”
He gave a small bark of frustration, “You got that right. The hypnosis or something did give you enough time to kill that Esper that was messing with everyone though.”
“Well playing video games is good for something after all.” Area Fifty-one was my favorite. “Glad to see some good came of all those wasted quarters.” I frowned, “I thought the idea was to get all my various sub-personalities to merge into a cohesive whole.”
“We didn’t count on getting you almost killed in one of the most secure places around either. I still don’t think this was a very good idea.” He sat down on the bench of the table and leaned back against the top.
“Not a lot of options, I could have been stuck in a drug induced haze forever. Not much of a life there.” I looked around the campus; there were a great number of armed guards walking about. “I wish I would have been faster.”
I watched the pool of fish for a moment. “John would have been proud of you,” said Bill as he laid a hand on my shoulder.
“I hope so. If only…” I started then stopped.
“If only, never got anything done.” Bill snorted then threw his sunglasses in the pool.
“Yeah.” I watched the glasses sink from sight amidst a swirl of colors. “Still, aside from some funky medicines that don’t work, is there any real way other than this to get my separate selves to integrate?”
“I don’t know Chad, I’m just a middle aged bit of muscle for hire. Not a shrink.”
“Ah you are not that old.”
“Yeah right, so how are ‘you’ holding up?”
“It’s not so bad, though a bit nerve racking. Merry is a bit more wild that I ever thought I could be.” I laughed, “She ah, we, us.” I sighed, so many selves and not enough adjectives. “Well let’s say it is not entirely dull.”
“You got that right. So do you think Merry going to be ok?” He looked at me for a minute.
“Is any of us going to be ok? Only time will tell. She-we-us needs to be jarred out of this funk. Though, this new change didn’t help much, I don’t look like anything that I used too.” I waved my hands to indicate my tight fitting attire.
“With luck we won’t be talking again anytime soon. Much as you seem to be holding up better, your becoming Merry may still be the safest route; if anything it will buy you some more time. Ready to go back in?”
“With luck Bill, I’ll be Merry forever. In some ways it is nice, some of the crap I had lived through as Chad was pretty bad. Being Merry is like a chance to do some things over. I smiled, “Besides ‘I’ would only get in the way.”
“Go to sleep Chad.”
“Merry was a little Chad, and other people too.” I said then drifted back to my safe warm corner.
“… that’s an odd nursery rhyme Bill.” I looked around, “Didn’t you have sunglasses on a second ago?”
“It’s not important Merry. Sit down, I want you to watch something.”
“What you have you got there, Bill?”
“A DVD player, I have something you need to watch.” He said quietly. “Its from testing.”
“Ah. I am so fuzzy in my head today, did I even do testing?”
He pushed the play button and started to walk away.
“You going to watch it too?”
“No, I’ve seen it a few times. Just watch it all the way through. Ok?”
“Ok.” I sat down and turned the screen to where I could see it clearly.
Bill walked away from the pagoda then turned to watch the girl inside. Paul walked up to him and they stood silently for a moment.
“I got medical standing by.” He sighed. “I didn’t sign up for this.”
“Neither did she or I for that matter. We just take the cards we are dealt.”
In the distance there was a shocked gasp. Followed by a mournful howl of rage and pain. The young girl was clawing at the back of her neck, moving in time with the images on the screen. Her hand jerked forwards abruptly, she was trying to press something into the screen; briefly the LCD screen blurred under her touch and the image stilled.
Bill took a step forwards, only to be stopped by Paul placing a hand on his shoulder. “Not yet, she needs to let it go.” He was wincing. “She’s not an easy one to read.”
“Thank god for small favors.”
“Yep, there she goes.” Paul was looking at the golf cart that was steaming slightly.
“Ah damn she’s running.” Bill frowned, “We could have cut the grenade bit out.”
“I don’t think so. She had to know he died to protect her, otherwise it would not have worked.” Paul shook his head then pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “Emotional piggy back riding is a real bitch.”
“So that’s your story,” commented Bill.
“Yeah and I am sticking to it.” He looked around and motioned the security team to follow. “She’s stopped over there by the edge of the woods.”
“Let me get the DVD.” Half a dozen steps and an eternity a way, he slowly crossed the short distance to the DVD player. For a moment he stood there looking at the frozen image of an outstretched hand with a medallion of Saint Joan of Arc resting in it, then he shut it off.
The air smelled of dead leaves and walnuts, not exactly the most comforting scent. Comforting would have been roses, a hint of vanilla and cookies. Part of me was screaming loudly, another part was beating on walls and promising certain death to the people responsible. The rest of me was crying.
John was dead.
John was dead.
John was dead and I killed the person who did it. No I wasn’t happy about it.
Sunday, October 22nd, 2006. Yesterday afternoon.
The wounded sky.
The three Tesla towers were burning brightly with St. Elmo’s fire, and I was doing my best not to throw up. My stomach and everything was on fire, and wave after wave of cramps washed through me. Abruptly the towers switched off.
“Ok Merry, time to use the grounding point.” That was from the overhead speaker. No one wanted to be in the same room with all that electricity dancing around me. We were on phase three of the testing; they were trying to see how fast I could charge up to full capacity.
I reached over to the grounding point, a silver bar that stuck up from the floor. I grabbed it tight and let the floodgates open and the cramps started to ease off as I pushed the power out of me and down. It was getting somewhat easier to get rid of the excess power, though I definitely did not like the ‘fast charge up’ routine.
At the lower rate of charge, it was not even uncomfortable, almost pleasant, but when they decided to ramp up the pace. It hurt. I felt like something inside of me was trying to grow and stretch and that there was not a lot of room for it to do so.
I let go of the bar and took a deep breath, even breathing hurt, “I don’t think I want to do too much more of this.” I looked over through the glass where people were taking notes. I had an audience. Great.
“Just one more round Merry, then we’ll stop, are you ready?”
I tried to think of several socially unacceptable answers then I sighed. “Fine, this is the last one, then no more today.”
“Three, two, one… Starting the towers.”
There was a ripping sound and the room filled with stuttering light from outside of the test chamber. I started towards the door and then the towers lit up and filled the room with a sharp ozone smell. Electric fire danced from them to me and I was caught up in the blue electric ocean. I was filling up way too fast and everything cramped up; I was locked into a fetal position on the floor unable to move.
Time ceased to have a meaning; the only constant in my little corner of hell was a wall of pain and fire. It felt like I was being inflated with a thick gelatin that tasted of copper and smelled like hot wires. There was a buzzing sound, I forced open an eye and looked up to see a blast door slide down over the window. “Oh shit.”
Somehow I rolled over to the grounding point and grabbed it, electricity was washing down from the three towers and flooding over and through me. I did my best to push the power through me as fast as it flooded into me. Something was very wrong, the test should have stopped, part of me was jabbering at me to do something. Finally I just gave up and screamed out against the wash of electricity, something in me rose up and pushed outward.
There was a loud snapping sound, and the air was still. I dimly made out the sounds of the door being jostled aggressively. An alarm was still blaring loudly, I didn’t care, I just held the grounding point pole as if it would bring me some sort of relief. It did partially, I was so tired and the strobbing of the warning lights was making my head swim. For a time I lay there with my eyes closed, until I heard the door open.
“Merry you have got to get up.” John was looking at me with a hint of panic in his eyes. He had a gun out, “We’re under attack.”
I looked up from the floor at him, “Wha?”
He cursed with a few choice words. I filed them away, as it never hurt to have a few new ways to express myself.
“Merry can you hear me?” He was crouching down near me.
“I can hear you. Make it stop…”
“Merry, pay attention to my voice.” Then he sang a few words from a nursery rhyme and finished with the words, “Broken Lamb.”
I closed my eyes and something clicked deep in the core of my being, darkness rose up and pulled me under.
The air felt thick, I hurt, but I didn’t have time to feel it. I sat up just in time to see a hand toss a round object into the room from the doorway. In slow motion it bounced to a few feet away from me. Dumbly I stared at it for a few moments before John knocked me down and threw himself on top of it. There was a loud thump and John was lifted up with a puff of smoke and wash of light, sound and heat.
Something wet and thick was all over me, I wiped at my face and my hand came away wet with blood. My ears were ringing and the stink of burned flesh filled my nose. I tried to look at John, but nothing was registering. The only thing I could clearly focus on was his outstretched hand. I reached up and grabbed my medallion, I gave the chain a hard tug and it came free.
I placed the medallion in his hand and closed the fingers around it. ‘Grieve for your adopted brother later’, was the angry advice from the back of my head, it pushed everything away and my world narrowed down to the gun at my knees. I picked it up, it was a Beretta nine millimeter, it holds fifteen rounds in the magazine. It was time for the bullet counting game.
I tried to look at John one last time, but my eyes would not focus on that spot of the room. Everything seemed to move slowly, as if there was something pushing down on me telling me to do nothing. I growled in anger, and the alarms quit. Somewhere in the distance was the sound of gunfire; it called my name.
I peeked into the hallway the lights were out and I was glowing brightly. Part of me was saying things really, really hurt, but I was not listening to that voice or the crying voice either. Find, seek, kill, and take revenge. I had a new litany in my head and it was not user friendly.
In the hallway there were several people, most unmoving or moving very slowly. I didn’t understand what they were trying to tell me as their voices were oddly muted, either that or I was uncaring. I slowly made my way down the hall occasionally stepping over or passing people lying on the floor. At the end of the hallway someone was standing there; a woman, her face was locked in total concentration she was staring at me with shock.
“Stop!” She said then the word echoed in my head, ~STOP~. I thought about it, part of me wanted to, though the angry part of me was in charge. She yelled at me, “Didn’t you hear me? I said stop.” ~STOP~ there was that pressure again.
Raising the gun took a bit of effort, I looked over the top of it at her chest, then I pulled the trigger…
For a moment she looked down at the red spot on her black and gray striped camouflage top. Then she sagged down to the floor. The pressure was still there but I could move easier. I walked down to the end of the hallway where she was sprawled and whimpering. I absently noted that she had a few grenades attached to her harness.
I sighted over the gun at her face; inside of my mind there were whimpering, upset noises. I was not listening to them either.
“How many people are you?” she asked. Can you hear me I said ‘stop.’” ~S-T-O-P!~
For a moment I wavered under the pressure of her voice. “Can you hear me now?” I asked, and then I pulled the trigger. The pressure I was feeling in my head faded away abruptly. Dimly I was aware of the copper shell casing dancing next to her head, it’s copper jingle sending a twisted shiver down my spine. “Good.” I looked at the hallway; people were beginning to stir. I turned towards the sound of gunfire. I took a step and stopped, I had to do something for John.
A soft voice was calmly whispering something in my head: John went away, John has left, you can only help John by not thinking of him and going someplace safe. I listened to the voice; part of me was screaming in denial, part of me didn’t want to feel anything. Not feeling anything sounded so good right about now.
Not feeling. Some place safe. I retreated to that safe quiet place while the rest of me was alive, out there and oh so angry.
Monday, October 23rd, 2006.
In the company of mind.
The sound of feet walking on leaves pulled my attention back to the moment. I was hurting inside and outside. I took a breath and tried to hold back the sob that followed. My hands were full of shattered leaves and my mind was full of blood and anger.
The human body holds so much blood; we never notice how much of it there is unless it is all poured out. Part of me felt like I would never ever truly be clean of John’s blood. I felt it deep in my heart, and my head. I didn’t feel any thing for the lady I had killed, her death was too quick and too painless. ‘Not quick enough’ was a comment from the angry part of my mind, it wanted out, again.
There was a taste of vomit in my mouth, I looked down, so much for breakfast. I moved a bit away from the bilge, I so didn’t want to throw up again, everything was still all knotted up from yesterday. My throat was sore and my eyes were still pouring out rivers of blue water. I captured a few drops, they glowed and gave off a small tingle.
Bill was just standing there quietly, I held up my tear washed hand; “I cry electric tears.” I looked up to the all white sky a gray cloud drifting softly along painting the white with a smudge of darkness.
He crouched down, “Are you ok?”
I pulled my legs up to my chest and held them tightly. “No I am definitely not alright, everyone is pushing me to do this or that. I don’t even have a voice of my own any more, or a free will.”
He frowned, “Chad?”
I sighed, “He’s here and everyone else. This mix mash of minds is making me crazy.”
“Catch twenty-two.” Bill looked down and watched me for a moment.
“Catch twenty-two?” He didn’t make any sense.
He let out a long sigh. “Its an old movie, basically it boiled down to where if you thought you were crazy, you were not.” He laughed softly, “It’s only when you are not worried about being crazy you have to worry about.” He held out a handkerchief, “Then its too late and you may as well go with it.”
“Yeah it sounds like me, one too many screws loose a nd no screwdriver in sight.” I took the handkerchief and blew my nose.
“What was with the guy on stage, how did I unnerve him?”
Bill smiled and motioned for me to get up. “You turned the CIA and other Federal databases inside out.” Paul was not too far away and he nodded.
“Yeah, from what we could figure out, you went though all the criminal data bases, where you found the lady you shot. “ He paused. “Then you tracked every step she made electronically in the past five years. Which made more than a few folks sit up and take notice.” He looked over to Paul.
“Er yes, we have a flood of agents going around and making arrests. From what we can tell, you were not the target of the attack from yesterday.” He paused. “John was.”
I looked at Bill and he nodded. “But why?”
“Near as we can tell it had to do something with the bombings in Philadelphia a few weeks ago.” Paul was frowning. “Its odd, though from what Bill was has been so kind to confirm.” He paused to give Bill what could only be called a dirty look. “That your ‘Mentor’ used to live there.” He looked around, “Did you know he was married and had kids?”
Outwardly I gave a small shrug. I didn’t recall being married, probably some of Bill’s spin doctoring… Whoah, Paul is not NEXT. “He didn’t talk about his family much.”
“Well his son was a bit of a hero, though we are not sure why left the hospital, much less how or why he burned up and died, the autopsy was baffling to say the least.” He shook his head.
I was partially lost in my own thoughts, when I nearly missed the next bit of what he said. “…ter was away at a friend of the families house.”
I held up my hand, “Back up a second I wasn’t paying attention.”
“The daughter of your mentor was visiting a friend when the bomb at her house went off.” He was looking at the woods seemingly lost in thought.
Wait a second, they think ‘Dad’ was my mentor; hell he couldn’t program a VCR if his life depended on it… ‘They think he trained you, go with it.”
I turned away from where Paul could see my face, part of me was bouncing up and down yelling with joy and the other part of me was in a severe panic. I choked back on my emotions and spoke calmly.
I turned to look at Paul, “The last thing we need is for someone to try and kill her and in the process kill a bunch of other people.”
Bill was watching me closely and I made a point of keeping my face an impassive mask.
Paul nodded, “We have people on it. She’s had a rough time with her families death, they had to sedate her but the medicines didn’t work very well.”
I was inwardly amused, it seems she got the odd medicinal quirk that I had.
“The police report commented that she wouldn’t say much: Other than she believes her brother is still alive somehow. That and from cursing like a sailor when they won’t listen to or believe her.”
I turned away to look deep into the woods, “So who is she staying with now?”
“Her uncle and aunt have custody, though it seems they are more interested in having custody of her money.” Paul was kicking a few leaves in disgust.
“Money?” I turned to look back at Paul.
“Yes, evidently her father was using the boy’s account to cover some of his activates.”
”Far as we can tell the money is clean,” he shrugged. ”The bank established a trust fund for the girl when they found out that her brother was dead.”
“Let’s hear it for the bankers,” I forced a laugh. “They get to keep the money longer that way.” I rubbed my neck, “So she’ll be safe?”
“We’ll have folk watching her, for a few days just in case.” Paul
“Well, it would seem everyone does owe my mentor, something. It would be a pretty piss poor tribute to his memory if we got his only surviving kid killed.” I looked at Bill and frowned, he didn’t seem too impressed with Paul’s statement.
Inwardly I really wanted to see my sister, but given how freaking dangerous it was around me lately. Not to mention you are –dead- spoke a voice quietly. For a time I looked at the gray clouds. The last thing I wanted was for her to end up dead simply because I was not ‘exactly’ dead. A cold part of me growled: You cannot let her know you are alive, or let folks know that she is your sister; they could use her to control you.
I turned away from them and hugged myself, a faint smile was tugging at my lips. If John had not been dead, I probably would have been doing cartwheels. ‘Yeah as if you know how to do cartwheels,’ the sarcastic part of me chipped in. I frowned; Uncle Mark was as nearly a rabid anti-mutant freak-o as there ever was. Joni had enough problems with Mom and Dad being dead, and everyone telling her I was dead.
“So her Uncle is mostly after the money?”
Paul chuckled and it was not friendly, “Yeah, they are hammering pretty hard at the son’s bank to release her trust fund to them as she’s underage. That isn’t going to happen, other than they seem to be spending her monthly allowance on themselves .”
I growled inside at that bit of news I turned to look at Bill, “That bites.” I looked back at Paul “I doubt you can do anything directly.” I sighed, “Still, I expect she should be safe enough with some watchers, just don’t get her killed.”
Part of me was growling that I was being very Machiavellian and callus with my sister’s life. The other part of me was at war with the depressed side, its hard to laugh and feel like shit at the same time, but crying covered a multitude of emotions, so I let the tears fall.
After a time Paul went off and left Bill alone with me as I cried, I sat down next to a large tree and let things flow for a while. While in truth, I had barely known John, he felt like family, it didn’t feel right to just push his memory under a carpet. Internally I had registered Bill sitting down next to me, part of me was happy he was there, though part of me felt angry at his presence, I squelched that part of me.
“We should get someone else watching over Joni, the Feds are good at being obvious, they don’t do subtle very well.” I looked over to Bill to see him nod in agreement.
“How are you doing? You sure fooled Paul with that act,” Bill was looking slightly bemused.
“I am getting very good at acting Bill. I dunno, at least someone will be there to watch over her, if only from a distance.” I let out a sigh and blew my nose. “One of us has to have a shot at a semi-normal life. Heaven knows my life is far from normal.”
I looked at my hands, were they daintier? “One thing for certain I don’t look a bit like Chad anymore. What is happening to me Bill?
He fidgeted, then pulled an acorn out from under his pants and threw it with some anger. “They shot up the control room during the test, one of the technicians was killed when he dropped the blast wall down to protect you. His blood got into the control circuits and the machines went into overload.”
I shook my head trying to clear the memories that swelled up, out of the mental view. “I remember that it hurt like a son- of-a-bitch, I am still sore too.”
“From what the surviving techs said, you should have died with that much power going into your body.” He looked upset, “The safeguards failed in a big way. From what the earlier MRI’s shown, you have a very large gland or organ buried among your intestines. They ‘think’, that is your battery or capacitor where you store all that energy you absorb.”
He took a breath and let it out slowly, “They took some liberties once you had driven the computers into overdrive for a long time. They tranked you out and did some more testing.” He rubbed his arm, “I was in the infirmary at the time, or I would have kicked their collective ass’.”
I really looked at him, “Crap. I am sorry Bill, I didn’t really notice…”
“It’s a flesh wound, mostly annoying more than anything else, the bullet missed the bone.” He frowned, “That dam Esper made things hard for the security team to do anything.” He laughed bitterly, “If it’s any consolation Merry, the sum of your whole ‘selves’ is very hard to force to do anything.”
“I never would have guessed that being abso-freakin-crazy was a good thing.”
“Anyways, that gland is now about three times larger than your body was or is able to handle. They are guessing that what ever was changing your body back to what it was at birth went into overdrive and pushed your BIT to adjust.
“BIT, as in binary ones or zeros?” Well that was the only ‘bit’ I was familiar with.
He smiled, “No, its short for Body Image Template. Supposedly everyone carries an ‘image’ that defines what your body looks like. For most people it’s a DNA thing that is locked in at birth. In your case and many others, its determined by your mutation or at odd times by magick.”
“In your case this BIT went into overdrive, possibly it was fueled by all that power you were carrying.” He snickered. “You toasted the security station on your way to your room.” He took a breath, “The long and short of it, it accelerated your change and some of your growth.”
He frowned, “That has t he doctors worried a great deal. They are looking at a way to block out or limit your electrical intake.” He shook his head, “You may end up wearing an insulated bodysuit of some type.” He rubbed his shoulder absently, “At least until you get some solid conscious control established. Which means Whateley or something like it.”
“What about Dr. Palm’s toys and the HAITs?”
“Well, I expect that you’ll be here or in Philly looking for that damned thing. In the mean time they are going to cram as much spy stuff as they can into that cute little head of yours while they can.” He smiled and laughed a few minutes.
“What’s so funny?”
“Oh they are trying to figure out who taught you how to shoot as well as you did.” He was very amused.
I shrugged. “So what is the schedule for the next few days?”
“Well aside from four hours a day of dissecting the data from the lab, and a lot of class work, plan to spend some time on a firing range.”
“What happened to my knives, John’s gun and the spike?”
“They put them someplace where you could not get at them.”
“They were worried that you would kill yourself or someone else. From what I heard you were not exactly rational or calm yesterday.”
“Calm! Rational! Someone killed John and they expected me to not be upset?”
He looked over to the medical team that was out of earshot. “Look at it from their perspective: You were drenched in the blood of a close friend, had coldly and efficiently gunned down a murder, then promised certain death to anyone and everyone who pissed you off.”
“I don’t remember that part.”
“Trust me, the security guard at the check point will never forget you.”
He stood up, “You hungry?”
My stomach gave a growl, “It sounds like it. Though I didn’t keep breakfast down.”
“Yeah, post combat stress will do that,” he started walking to where a new golf cart was waiting. “Don’t feel bad, I lost my cookies when I saw John.” He turned and looked back at me, “Did you want the Medallion back?”
“No, it’s his now, I suppose I won’t be allowed to see him before he is buried?”
Bill frowned. “Merry,” he stopped and gave me a hug. “You don’t want to see him, just remember him as he was.”
“So where are they going to bury him?”
“With his family, some place north of Connecticut.” He sighed. “Not many people are going to be there. Much as I could wish that we could go, they don’t want to even –hint- that he is connected with ‘you’ Merry.”
I cursed silently for a moment, “So his sister will likely be alone at the grave.” I thought of Joni standing there alone at my grave and crying, did I even have a tombstone? “That sucks.”
“Willard will ensure that she is taken care of. We do look after our own.”
“I hope so, so far our own is looking fairly beat up.”