Rosetta: A MORFS Universe Story

By Joreymay

Part 14

*We need to talk.*

Lena knew she had to lead up to the grand revelation carefully. And Rose's confusion about Missy gave her an opening. They decided to meet at Rose's house, and soon they were sitting in her room - drinks and snacks in hand - talking.

"First, the question you were trying to figure out how to ask. It falls into one of those gray areas you are finding increasingly annoying. Yes, there are people that narrow and shallow. But a lot of it has to do with the limits on the way they perceive the world. To a toddler in daycare, a three foot high barrier is an insurmountable wall, and the play yard is gigantic. To you, the barrier is low and the play yard is little bigger than a suburban backyard."

"If you're saying she's like a toddler, I won't argue." Rose cracked.

Lena grinned. "Yes and no. Her walls are more social. She sees the world in terms of local middle school society, and somewhat the same for high school. And in terms of the social class she perceives her family as being a part of. You've been places she'll never go, and interacted with people she can barely conceive of knowing. But within her limits, her world is almost as rich and varied as yours."

"Look at Angel. She is the weakest bio elemental I have ever met. But she does things with that little bit of power that bio elementals orders of magnitude more powerful wouldn't have dreamed of doing. She comes from a family that worked their way up from lower middle class to a neighborhood like this, but she has casual access to social elites and the rich and powerful - access that Missy and her family would kill for, but are never likely to get. And she's one of the nicest, and least pushy, people you know."

Rose was about to ask how Lena could know that, but the answer was pretty obvious.

"But you have your own limits. With the breadth of your own world, you can't really see the depth and subtlety of Missy's world. And it's important that you do."

"Why?" Rose was genuinely puzzled.

"Because you're limiting yourself. You can understand what they say, but be completely clueless about why they would say it. Or worse, would misjudge it. With your abilities, it is pretty much inevitable that you will find yourself in between two people or two groups of people with completely different world views. And most likely, neither will match yours. If you can get into each world, and accept it for what it is despite the differences in values and perspectives from your own, you can do world class things. And you can control the situation to a remarkable degree."

Understanding dawned on Rose's face. "You've done that. I don't know when or how, but you have."

"Yes, but I faced limits you don't. Without help, I can only do so with people or groups who speak some variety of English. You can't read minds directly, but if they don't speak English all I can read seems like gibberish. Their emotions are clear, but the other information is just not there for me. Or any other telepath, without the help of someone like you."

Then she dropped the first of an afternoon of bombshells. "And I have never met or heard of anyone like you. As far as I know, your combination of abilities is unique."

While Rose found the idea hard to believe, her abilities made it clear to her that Lena believed it. And Lena seemed pretty well informed about such things.

Lena shifted gears. "But accepting the internal validity of their world views does not mean you have to agree with them. You can understand and accept the internal validity of, say, the people who tried to capture or kill you, or Angel, or the Queen, or even David's parents, while still rejecting their actions as utterly immoral and unacceptable. This is about understanding them, not about becoming one of them."

She gave Rose a moment to absorb that, while she took a drink.

"Not used to talking out loud so much any more." she grinned.

"Sometimes, it's not so clearly right and wrong. Most of the time, in fact. When we are dealing with people your age, or even my age, it's more often a matter of 'Why on Earth would they do that?' or the like. And all too often the best you can find is 'It seemed like a good idea at the time.'"

Rose noticed an odd hint of stress in her voice, but did not notice the extent to which Lena focused on her.

"For instance, why would a group of powered morfs imitate an old legend? A few hybrids could easily pass for Bigfoot or even Nessie or related lake monsters. Lots of different kinds of powered morfs could effectively 'haunt' a house or some other place. If you asked them why they did something like that, the most honest answers would likely range from 'to see if we could' to 'seemed like a good idea at the time.'"

"But sometimes, just sometimes, there's more. Sometimes they might want to do something specific, and hide it behind the legend. It might be something bad, but most often it is something good with a chance of backfiring. About a century ago, the politicians called it plausible deniability or some crud like that."

"Huh?" Rose was having a hard time with the last bit.

"Ok, the politician part was like in the movies, when someone has other people do something so he can later pretend he had nothing to do with it. Like in the cop shows, where the bad guy doesn't want to get his hands dirty."

Rose understood what Lena was saying, but couldn't really tie the idea to morfs, unless they were criminals or something.

"Alright, here's an example. I know a telepath out on the west coast, who did something like that when he was younger. He used to hang around a local wishing well, and mentally listen to the wishes being made there. A surprising number of the wishes were simple things. Or at least, simple for him. Things like 'I wish Johnny would notice me' or something. So he would prod Johnny to notice her and say something."

"What did he get out of it?" Rose wondered out loud.

"Mostly, a feeling of doing something good for someone. That, and it was more interesting than sitting around watching the tube. The problem is, the wishes didn't always work out well. Johnny might have been a jerk, and when he noticed her he might have ended up hurting her emotionally. Or the wish itself had consequences he just hadn't thought through. After a while, it seemed to him that the bad things had piled up so deep he couldn't see the good ones any more."

"Does he still do it?"

"Sometimes. He's a lot more careful about it, though. Especially after the times he nearly got caught. He wasn't doing anything illegal per se, but he still could have gotten in a lot of trouble for some of the things that went wrong. But what do you think about that whole thing?"

"Well..." Rose could tell that the question was a lot more important than it seemed. Lena was leading up to something bigger than that, something hidden. What would happen if she gave the wrong answer?

"Nothing." Lena answered her unspoken question. "There is no wrong answer. And yes, there is more. But I want to know that you are ready to hear it."

Lena was telling the truth as she knew it. Rose was certain about that. But there was more to it... a lot more. And she wasn't sure she was going to like it. But there was no trick question. "As long as he was careful, and did good things, I suppose it's ok. And when he did step in it, as long as he did what he could to fix it that would be ok too." Lena would understand the subtleties in what she was saying, even if nobody else would.

Time for another bombshell.

"Good." Lena said. "I know a group of people who are doing much the same thing here. Bigger and more complex, but more alike than different."

"The closest thing to a working wishing well around here is Pope Hill," Rose mused, "and Ohmygod! it's you!" She had put most of it together. "The whole thing. You read their minds and give them those feelings. David makes the glowey thingy. But what about the MORFS itself? The only bio elemental I know around here is Angel. Is she that much more powerful than she's telling people?"

"No, she really is that weak. She's just learned to do a lot with what little she has."

"Can all bio elementals do that?"

"No. There are only two that I know of in the entire world. It has something to do with extra brain power or something."

"So... my wish, my special powers... that was all you, David, and Angel?"

"Yes and no. First, Robin and Penny - Cassandra - had a hand in it as well. And second, Angel wasn't the one who triggered your special bout with MORFS. The other one was."

"But who IS the other one?"

"That falls into the 'Not my secret to tell' category. I can tell you that she doesn't live anywhere near here, and you haven't met."

Rose shifted gears a little. "So why tell me now? Let me guess... you need my help and you're going to make me a part of the group?"

While she didn't "read" as entirely happy about it, she wasn't angry or resentful. Lena forged ahead.

"Yes and no. We made you a part of the group a long time ago. We do need your help for something big, that someone has asked us to do."

Memories of the basement flashed briefly through Rose's head. Lena hurried to reassure her. "Nothing like that. We would be doing a one time Pope Hill type thing somewhere else. Somewhere they don't speak English. We'll understand if you feel you can't, or don't want to, be involved after we explain it more."

"But first, your other question. I'm telling you now because you deserve to know, and you seemed ready to know."

"And because I needed to know about the scam to help with it?"

"It would make it easier. We could have worked around that in some way, but you deserve better."

Rose was still wrapping her head around the idea that Pope Hill was a fake, and that her new friends had made those changes in her. Her new friends?

"When I met you... that wasn't a coincidence, was it?"

"No. But we do take that path a lot. After you changed, I kept a little bit of an eye on you to make sure you were ok. And after the trouble you had that day, you just seemed to need some new friends. We didn't want to push it, but we knew we could make you feel a little better."

"But why me in the first place?"

"Part of that was pure coincidence. Or maybe fate. The other bio elemental was visiting, and it was important to show her how the whole thing worked. We might have done it anyway, if I had heard your approach to Pope Hill. Then again, we might not have been able to get together at the right time. The big thing was that your request was very moving. And you were clearly a very worthy person."

"But why the powers? Not that they aren't useful and all."

Lena blushed. "She... the other bio-elemental... was new to the whole thing and she kinda... overshot."

Rose was stunned for a moment. Then she burst out laughing. All of it - the good and the bad - that had happened because of her powers, and it was all a screw up? It was too absurd to be anything but true. After her laughter died down, she got down to business.

"Ok, when and where is this going to happen?"

"The when is easy enough. On the Winter Solstice. I don't even know where, except that they don't speak much English there. We'll be teleported there, by someone other than Robin." She then went on to detail the plan.

Some of the more important parts were also the more disturbing. They would be going somewhere, but they wouldn't know where. They wouldn't officially be there - there would be no records of their time there. If things went as planned, nobody - not even the person they were helping - would see or hear them. And after they were done, they would never know where they had been, or who the person had been. Neither would their parents.

And if things didn't go quite as planned, they could face two or even more hostile armed groups. They would have some help available, but nothing official. And if the authorities got hold of them, things could get sticky.

Yeah, sure... nothing to worry about there.

At least in Tokyo she was officially there. On the other hand, there wouldn't be highly organized groups of heavily armed people who knew who she was and were trying to kidnap or kill her. And her family. And her friends, old and new.

For better or worse, there was one thing Rose was sure of.

"We need a test run."

Her arguments and ideas tumbled through her head in a jumbled mass, making it hard for her to express them. Then again, she didn't have to. Lena "saw" it all, and agreed it would be a good idea. The problem was time - they basically had the weekend to prepare for the real thing, which would start late Monday or early Tuesday.

Lena decided they needed to get the rest of the group together for the discussion. After a bit of negotiation, they settled on Lena's house. Since it was likely to go beyond supper time, they all decided to chip in on some takeout and relieve her parents of the burden of feeding a room full of teenagers. Since Rose didn't have any real source of income, and her parents weren't home yet, they decided to cover her share as well. Rose left messages for her parents to let them know where she was, and they were off.

They didn't flit there or fly there. They walked. After taking Robin and David for granted, it almost seemed novel. On the way there, Lena told her about David and Robin. Hearing about their going through the same pattern of being fooled then later told somehow made Rose feel better about it happening to her.

When they got there, the others were already inside and settled in the living room with drinks provided by Lena's mother. After offering Rose a drink, which Lena went to fetch, she excused herself and went to the room that served as her office. Rose could hear her muttering something about lanterns.

*Lanterns? I didn't mean to eavesdrop.*

*Used to happen to me a lot. Still does, sometimes. She runs a company that sells camping stuff online. Well, together with some of her old friends.*

The exchange was so brief that none of the others noticed it. Somewhat to Rose's surprise, Angel took the lead in the meeting. After the obligatory "I suppose you're wondering" joke, she turned to Lena. "So why did I call everyone together here?"

"First, to let everyone know that Rose has agreed to help with the Project." It was clear to Rose that the others already knew the details, or at least as much as she did. Lena went on. "She brought up a good point. Our integration will need to be as clean as possible. For that, we will need a test run."

Robin glanced at Lena, and after apparently getting a satisfactory response, spoke up. "One of the things we will need to do is run the test we did with Angel."

Since the others seemed to know what she meant, Lena turned to Rose. *We'll be handling the sensitive stuff this way.* she thought to Rose. Rose thought that was just a little bit obvious, but didn't say anything or think it too loudly. Lena went on to describe the tests with Robin rendering Angel invisible and/or intangible, and determining how that affected what she could perceive and do.

"Since my powers can't do squat," Rose commented to the group, "some of those tests would be pointless. The rest sounds interesting."

David spoke up. "Now all we need are some victims." He had a grin as he looked at his girlfriend. Lena rolled her eyes, then looked at Rose.

"What do we need?"

"Some people who speak languages I don't already know. They can be their primary language, or not. It doesn't matter whether they speak English or some other language I know in addition to the unknown." Rose briefly felt a little wistful, as she thought about her now distant relative and their exchanges in Gaelic.

Going back into "sensitive" mode, they came up with a plan. Lena would sweep the area, much like her code namesake technology, until she encountered thoughts in a language she didn't know - anything but English, Spanish, or French. She would run the thought past "our own Rosetta Stone" to see whether she recognized the language. If it was a new language, she would have David identify the thinker and add him or her to the list. They were reasonably sure they could find subjects for the first part of the test that way.

They were less sure about finding an appropriate subject for the full run through. They would need someone reasonably close, who was in the right age range for MORFS but didn't have and hadn't had an active case, and who was interested in getting something from going through such changes. And who wouldn't be likely to be rejected by family, community, government, etc. because of it. Simple, right?

After a year or two (ok, about an hour and a half. It sure felt longer), they took a break. So far, they had found a half dozen candidates for the first part - all adults - and eliminated two of them after warnings from Cassandra. Rose had learned that she was still capable of being surprised and embarrassed by random thoughts in languages she did recognize. And they had agreed that Rosetta was a good code name for Rose.

As they rested, Penny had a head palming moment. As Cassandra, she would need some amount of time to "settle into" anywhere new before she became effective. She had experienced the effect before, whenever she traveled too far from home. And she had never done so with a single point of reference for language issues. Especially one she was "time sharing" with a telepath like Radar. When she "mentioned" the problem, everyone groaned. And then agreed that another individual test was in order.

Before they could work out the details, Lena's father came home. Used to his daughter's adventures, he was startled but not really surprised to find the group huddled in his living room in serious, mostly silent, conference. It had all the hallmarks of a situation he would never know the details of, and one that he was probably happier not knowing the details of. He also knew that he couldn't sneak up on that group if his life depended on it. "Anything I can do?"

The smiles they turned on him ranged from guilty to calculating. Not surprisingly, one of the calculating looks came from his loving daughter. Teenagers.

After a moment of silent consultation, they told him that they would be busy that evening, that they would be coming and going at odd times (by way of Flit Express), and that they had pooled their money for take out so he wouldn't have to feed a room full of teenagers. After he smiled at that last part, he agreed to fetch the food for them. As they discussed dinner choices, he went off to see his wife.

He made sure he was not interrupting any electronic conversation, then kissed her on the cheek. "They're up to something again, I see." he commented with a wry grin.

"You don't suppose it involves finding me a new lantern wholesaler, do you?" She asked with a sigh.

"Somehow, I doubt it. More shipping problems?"

After brief recaps of their days, he got down to a more serious issue. "What do you want to do about dinner? The kids are ordering some take out, which I volunteered to pick up for them. I get the impression this is going to be home base for more scanning the area and popping in and out for a while. Maybe just tonight, maybe longer."

After giving her screen another scowl, she turned back to him and her face softened. "Let's go out. Maybe even take in a movie. Been a while."

They decided to leave after he got back with the takeout. She would be getting ready while he was gone.

When he got back to the living room, they had called in their order and had their money ready for him. He wouldn't have minded paying for their food, but he knew how important such hallmarks of independence were to teenagers. Besides, some of them made more than he did. He let them know his plans for the evening, in the unlikely event they would need him (or his wife). Just before he opened the door, he turned to face them again.

"Humor an old man," he said, with a small touch of concern in his voice. "Tell me you won't be doing anything too dangerous tonight."

They grinned at each other, then said in unison "We won't be doing anything too dangerous... tonight."

While the pause before the final word was less than comforting, he took what he could get. When other parents went out for the night, leaving their teenagers and their friends unsupervised, all they had to worry about was sex, drugs, or an out of control party. Lucky bastards.

After he left, they decided to try the first test while they were waiting for the food. One of their potential subjects was sitting in the airport, apparently waiting for someone. Robin would take Rose there, arrive invisible and intangible, and see whether Rose could learn his language in that state. Lena would be "listening" to them, and if they seemed successful would try using her link with Rose to translate his thoughts. If any part did not work, they would try with Rose merely invisible. If that didn't work, Robin would flit them back for more brainstorming. And food.

As it turned out, they had over-planned. Like Angel, her perceptive abilities worked fine when she was invisible and intangible. Unlike Angel, she didn't have any power to "do" anything, so it was a moot point whether she shared her other limitation.

There wasn't even any drama in his thoughts. He was from Norway, and in addition to the fjords he was pining for his wife and three children. He was an inventor and businessman, and was there to meet some other businessmen to discuss licensing some clothing related invention. Nothing revolutionary, but useful.

Since their test was completed successfully, they flitted back. They even had time to rest and talk a bit before Mr. Morgan got back with the food.


That promising start turned into a frustrating weekend. Try as they might, they couldn't come up with a practical way to do the other test. One problem was that Rose knew too many languages, and didn't know what some of them were. And too many people in the hemisphere knew English or Spanish (even if it was only a second or third language). The real killer was transportation - the person who would be getting them there was not available yet. For the first time Rose could remember, the group gave up on an idea after the Friday gathering and several Saturday conferences.

On top of all that, there were the mysterious packages from other countries, all of which arrived on Saturday with clear instructions that they were not to be opened until Christmas. In a fit of group paranoia, David and Lena both checked the packages. But then they refused to tell Rose anything about the contents, just grinned at her when she asked.

And then there was the studying. Lena had Rose going through the books she had given her every chance she got. After learning to spot and catalog a person's unconscious physical reactions, she learned "patterns" for making subtle changes in that person's thought and behavior patterns. And once she got a pattern down pat in one language, she had her practice it in others as well.

"Eventually you will get to the point that these patterns are second nature, and will be automatically available to you in any language you learn." she explained. While they would never really amount to the mind control Rose had joked about, they could be powerful tools for changing the way a person - or a group of people - thought about something. A small change in the right place could create a surprisingly large effect in the person's life. That would be useful in everything from therapy to business. Or even politics. Rose wrinkled her nose at that last thought. Politics was not her thing.

Even the weather was frustrating. The Sunday afternoon snow didn't add all that much to what was still on the ground. It just added the chores of clearing the driveway and sidewalks. Rose briefly enjoyed a pleasant fantasy about what a certain Japanese girl could do about that snow. And with school already out, it didn't even bring the promise of a snow day.

At least it let up early enough for another family tradition. With a jug of hot chocolate and other necessary supplies, the family piled into the car and drove around some of the nearby neighborhoods known for their elaborate displays. As long as anyone could remember, certain streets had shown the results of informal, personal competitions among the neighbors to outdo each other. And a little farther out, the enclaves of the mansions (you could hardly call them neighborhoods) boasted decor that put most of the municipal and commercial displays to shame. As holiday traditions go, the drive was relaxing, fun, and inexpensive.

And for a change, the only danger they were in was from drivers paying more attention to the displays than to the road.


The next morning, she got a couple of clues about their destination. Not that they helped much.

Lena relayed a suggestion that she dress for roughing it in hot weather. Rose knew enough geography to realize that they were either going to somewhere near the equator or somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere... or both. Unfortunately, that combined with the middle of nowhere implication narrowed it down to about two and a half continents. English, or at least their version of it, was pretty universal throughout Australia and vicinity as far as she knew. That narrowed it down to somewhere in either Africa or South/Central America. And that was about as narrow as she could get it. Both had plenty of middle of nowhere places with local languages. Both would be starting Summer about then.

And the details of the "mission" she got didn't really narrow it down any. Lena was (and would be) in contact with an older and more powerful telepath, who was in contact with the person they were doing the favor for and the person who would be transporting them to and from the location. The mysterious person they were doing the favor for was both personally powerful and politically well connected, and the group owed her big time. And her identity fell under "not my secret to tell".

They would be arriving near a small shrine of some sort, and David would hide them with an illusion. Someone would approach the shrine somewhat reverently, with something between a hope and a belief that the shrine would have the power to grant what he needed. And an expectation that he would have to sacrifice something in the process. What he would ask would be a delicate balance of ability, cultural tradition, and local politics. After that, it would go pretty much like it had with her - except for the "over did it" part.

Unfortunately for Rose's curiosity, both continents had plenty of remote locations which could host such shrines.

*Just as well,* Lena told her as she dressed. *You really don't want to know. Neither do I. What we don't know, we can't accidentally reveal later.* Then, with a shift of tone, *How are you doing?*

*Nervous. Frustrated. Curious. And a bunch of other stuff mixed all together. And hungry.*

*In other words,* Lena quipped, *Monday morning.*

Rose laughed and finished dressing. *Any idea when we'll be doing it?*

She got a fleeting impression of an off color reply started and rejected, then *Not really. I get the impression that they're watching the situation, and will send us when he is on his way. I get the impression that the less time we're there, the happier they'll be. And the happier we'll be.*

*That I can believe.*

At breakfast, she reminded her family that she would be vanishing (literally) on a moment's notice. And they reminded her that they would be vanishing shortly in a more conventional way. Her parents would be going to their offices, and Tara would be going out shopping (and boy watching, Rose was sure) with her friends. They all assured her that they were a phone call away if she needed them.

Rose soon had the house to herself. She quickly found that she couldn't sit through any of her new vids. As soon as she settled in to watch, her mind started racing about the mission. She might have minutes left to wait or she might have hours. What she needed was something she could lose herself in, but drop on a moment's notice. After pacing around the living room and kitchen and back to her room, her eyes fell on the books Lena had loaned her.

She had been going through them in odd moments of spare time up to then, and they seemed like a good way to pass the time. A little too good.


*No, I didn't plant any of that in your mind.* Lena replied at once. *But that is a good idea. I can help walk you through some of the exercises while we wait. How do these thoughts feel?*

That last part caught Rose off guard, and left her puzzled for a moment. Then it hit her... She could "feel" when a telepath or empath was actively in her mind.

*Exactly. Right now, you can recognize the difference if you are thinking about it. With practice, we can get you to the point where you recognize it any time.*

*Won't that limit what you can do with me?* Rose half joked.

With her best sinister overtones, Lena replied *Remember, my dear, there is always someone out there with more skill and experience than you.*

Lena smiled at a vivid thought about her own mentor, which she firmly kept private. For all her reputation for power and competence, Lena knew she had years of hard work ahead of her if she ever wanted to come close to that elegant little old lady.

Over the next few hours, they went through exercises from one of the books, teaching Rose a mindset and a subtlety with language she never would have believed possible.

Unexpectedly, Lena stiffened briefly then said "It's time." The others appeared in her room, ready to go. Catching something odd at the corner of her eye, Rose saw that her bedroom door had been replaced by darkness. At a nod from Lena, they stepped through the door. And into what looked like a jungle right out of the vids. As Rose stepped through, she noticed her ears gently popping. That told her that they had gained or lost some altitude from their mile high starting point, but not too much. They were in what looked to Rose like some sort of jungle or rain forest. She didn't know enough about botany or geography to tell more from the trees and other plants.

Other than them, there were only two language using minds at all nearby. One was human, one not. Rose was surprised that she could tell that much. It made sense in a way - this was the first time she had been this far away from significant numbers of people since her transformation. She turned her attention to the human and had the familiar feeling of learning a new language.

When she was done, she noticed that the non human's language was similar to the one she had just learned. She supposed it only made sense that a talking hybrid would use something like the local language. She learned it quickly, as well.

While she was busy with that, the others had been busy as well. They found a hiding place not too far from the shrine, where they should be safe from discovery. CP readied an illusion to hide them more if needed. Flit took a practice jump to and from the shrine, since she was not familiar with the area. Radar was taking a look around the area and "listening" for nearby minds. Cassandra was clearing her mind, readying herself for a potential flood of new information.

*Ready.* Rosetta "told" Radar.

*Right.* came the reply. *Listen for things happening around us.*


Yamai was not happy. How could he be? His mother had been kidnapped by those crazy, heavily armed, strangers who had taken over and rebuilt the old drug cartel compound. The man who would have become his step father was killed trying to rescue her. As bad as that was for him personally, it was made worse by the fact that his mother had been the healer for his village and his would be stepfather was the water worker for another nearby village. Each was known as the heart of their village, a symbol as much as a person. Their marriage was supposed to cement peace between the two fractious populations, a peace that had been forged by the two of them sharing the benefits of their gifts with both groups.

The villages blamed each other for the losses, and many were ready and willing to tear each other apart over them. But, to be honest, there were all too many men in both villages who nursed other grudges and would like nothing better than to have the fighting resume.

They weren't completely isolated or ignorant. They knew that she was a bio elemental and he was a water elemental. That their powers owed more to MORFS than to anything supernatural. Still... they fit so seamlessly into their roles from the old traditions, and it was so much like the old prophesy. While Yamai wasn't sure about the man (it just seemed wrong to use his name, given all that happened), it sometimes seemed that his mother believed she was living the legend. All they had to do was "become one" with their marriage: a man-woman spirit of life and water to father and bear children of both villages.

Now that would never happen. The whole legendary image went through his mind, weighted with the impossibility.

His mother had taken him to the shrine of the Lady Of The Mountain in times of trouble. She said the Lady helped her find her answers, but he didn't really know whether it was just the peace of the shrine letting her find the answers within herself or her expectations of an answer that helped. Or if it really was the Lady doing the helping. All he really knew was that she had found her answers when they went up after that stupid accident had claimed his father's life all those years ago. And he seemed to cope with the loss of his father better as well.

Both villages recognized the shrine as sacred. The stories say that dated back to a time when the two had been one. And both villages had customs - stronger than most laws - that limited access to the shrine to certain people in certain positions, and those escorted there by such people. That access was a jealously guarded sign of prestige. Yamai's mother, as Heart Of The Village, had such access and had every right to bring him along. Without her, or some other "authorized" guide, he was stepping on some sensitive toes by going there.

He'd had to sneak out of the village and follow a somewhat indirect route to avoid detection. It wouldn't be enough to fool the more experienced trackers in the village - in both villages - but it might buy him enough time to get back before he was discovered.

As he approached the shrine, he turned his mind back to the issues that had brought him there and to the way he thought The Lady would look and sound if she was there. It remained there as he put the offering on the flat stone in front of her image and went through the ritual greeting.

His mind went blank, however, when she appeared in front of him.


*We're agreed, then?* Radar asked her companions. *Turning him into a living symbol and embodiment of legend is nothing small. Angel, you can do it?*

*Apparently. It "feels" ready, pending any changes. MORFS will give him both elemental abilities, and the ability to both father and bear children, like the legend specified. As bad as sex changes can be back home, I don't envy him his transition to hermaphrodite.*

Everyone was keeping the conversation silent, due to their proximity to the shrine and to the local wildlife.

Flit confirmed that there should be no problem delivering Angel in the usual way. CP, however, was not as sanguine. *I will need a lot of feedback about his reactions to and expectations of this Lady. And I won't be able to scan the area while I do this.*

*Got that covered.* Radar assured him. She grinned. *You should know by now that I'm a woman of many talents.*

CP smirked. *Get me thinking that way, and she'll appear to him naked. With your body.*

*Hmmm... Back to work, Captain!* She turned her focus to helping him build a good image.

Cassandra had adjusted to her new circumstances, and found no serious problems with the plan. She had a general feeling that his sex change was going to be uncomfortable, but not disastrously so.

CP and Radar "watched" as their target approached the shrine and set a piece of fruit on part of it. Then it was show time. CP created the image of The Lady, and Radar added feelings of moderate religious awe, belief, and warmth. Rosetta had suggested that they avoid spoken words from the image, to avoid problems with any expectations of old fashioned language. While the image gave Yamai a smile of motherly pride, he came to understand that his life was about to change. He would grow ill, which he correctly interpreted as MORFS, and would emerge with the ability to unite the villages. He would have the powers over life and water and, to fill the role assigned by legend, he would change so that he was both man and woman.

Yamai was not all that sure about that last part. But he remembered the legend, and in the end it was not too big a sacrifice. Even the most frightening part, the idea that he would some day lay with a man and come to bear a child, was not too much to endure for the good that could come of it. He acknowledged her gift and the responsibility that came with it, and she put her hand over his heart. For a brief moment, he would swear he could feel her touch and something more. When she seemed to encourage him to embrace his destiny, he thought about the way that destiny extended even to his name.

She seemed about to send him on his way, when she held up her hand in a gesture suggesting that he should wait.

*Company's coming!* Radar told the others. *And something is happening at the compound.*


End part 14

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