Angel's Tale: A MORFS Universe Story
That evening, the news had another report on The New Plague: AMORFS. Apparently, the Powers That Be had a new working assumption. The three components had been spreading separately, harmlessly, in their own ways. But when the carriers came together at the rally, the components combined and started to have an effect.
While one of the components was clearly a MORF variant, the other two weren't quite as clear. They were already spreading separately again. And none of them were mutating the way the original two had done. That was considered good news, since it made the possibility of some kind of prevention or cure more practical.
Another mystery was the effects. The effect on adults was remarkably superficial and consistent. Body hair and facial hair became fur, except for two small patches high on the forehead. Those fused to become small horns. Their vocal cords thickened to the point of becoming useless. By the standards of regular MORFS, that was nothing. One out of three didn't even suffer any significant fever or discomfort.
The effects on adolescents were indirectly more pronounced, but not directly. Directly, they seemed to defeat the genetic resistance some people have to MORFS. Beyond that, the usual range of changes seemed to be involved, with a few exceptions. None of the victims seemed to develop any powers, and all seemed to undergo a more thorough transformation than average. Also, they were about 10% more likely to change sexes under the new combination than the average MORFS sufferer.
Angel's father couldn't help but notice her reactions to the news. He strongly suspected that she had more to do with it than she let on. But she clearly didn't want to say anything, and he didn't really blame her. It hurt to know that his own daughter felt she had to keep things from her parents, but he understood that it was only going to get worse as she finished growing up.
He didn't have to like it.
They weren't as close as he would have liked. Especially after the long separation during the move. And it didn't help that the transformation happened during that separation. Or that other important events happened then. He loved his daughter every bit as much as he had loved his son. But he didn't have the easy closeness they had once shared.
If the news report got Angel thinking, the movie they watched got her positively churning. It was one of those "close buddies put together and pull off an elaborate scheme" movies. What did she have? Her talents. Radar, Cassandra, Otter, and Star Dawn. And maybe Lena knew of some other trustworthy people.
She started getting excited. For the whole summer, she had been reacting. Learning to be a girl. Learning to use her new abilities. Learning her way around her new home. Changing her self concept. Even the thing with Jerry was reactive.
Now, she was going to start something. She wasn't sure what, but it would be something they could have fun with, and something they would keep people from knowing they were involved with. Something people would talk and speculate about for years.
Something. She had no idea what.
*Hey Lena! You busy?*
*Just soaking in the tub. Why, you got some emergency?*
*No emergency. Just something to think and talk about.*
*Well, I'm not going anywhere at the moment. Shoot.*
*You know that movie, where the friends team together to scam the guy who hurt a friend of theirs?*
*Yeah, I know it. Oh, God! Don't tell me you're going all fan girl over Leo Cesene!* There was laughter behind that thought.
*God, no. I was into that movie before this summer. I like the action stuff.*
*Ok, sure. So?*
*I want to do something like that.* She went through a jumble of images and ideas, not really finding the words.
*Ok, stop. STOP! I get the idea. You want to build yourself an adventure, like in the movie. Some sort of scam, that will leave people talking, but not about us.*
*What's the payoff?*
*In that movie, it was revenge. And a lot of money. In others, it's been the freedom of a loved one, some sort of valuable treasure, or just lots of money. What's the payoff?*
*For me, the adventure. I need your help getting past that. We need a goal. And people we can trust, with useful skills and contacts. Can you give it some thought?*
*Sure. We'll talk tomorrow. Now leave me alone, so I can jill off in peace!*
Angel was stunned by that image. She knew it turned her on, but wasn't sure how or why. From the videos, she knew that her old habitual responses would take a long time to fade. And that thinking about someone else doing something sexual was usually a turn on, even if you're not attracted to them.
Mostly, it made her want to explore a sadly neglected part of her new self.
She said her goodnights, then went upstairs. Two different sets of images were fighting for her attention. She was still excited from the movie, and the beginnings of her plan. But she also got excited by visions of fingers and things those fingers could be doing.
After letting the images, and her actions, carry her over the edge a couple of times, she thought she heard some gentle laughter in the back of her mind.
After breakfast the next morning, she got two phone calls. One was from Jerry, saying that he was feeling fine, and wanted to take her up on the tan and reading. The other was Andy, asking whether she would come to the theater that afternoon, to "talk about something." While he was being somewhat mysterious, he was not being melodramatic about it.
Her father had already left for work, but she managed to catch her mother on her way out the door, and let her know the plans for the day.
"If you're going to have that boy over here, make sure you have someone like Lena here with you."
"Why?" Angel was genuinely puzzled.
"You haven't been a girl all that long, but by now even you should know better. Think back, before the change. If a girl had invited you over to her house, while her parents were gone for the day, what would you have thought? Especially if you ended up with most of your clothes off?"
"Oh." Angel really hadn't thought about that. Despite thinking of herself as a girl, or sometimes a young woman, she was still thinking of him in terms of "another boy". She never even thought about the fact that he knew her as a girl, and would react to her as a girl.
She still had some things to learn.
Lena laughed when Angel contacted her. She agreed with her mother, that Angel still had a lot to learn.
While they were waiting for Jerry to show up, Lena went over some things that Angel had ignored or forgotten.
"Don't treat the guys like you did when you were one. Some of the common gestures and comments will be interpreted very differently. If you're lucky, you'll be written off as a tomboy. More likely, they'll either call you a bull dyke or think you're coming on to them. Think about it. Remember when you were at school last year. What was your first reaction if some strange girl, or one you barely knew, came up to you the way another guy would?"
Angel was beginning to really hate it when someone started one of these lectures with a reminder of when she was a boy. From her new perspective, that boy was not always the way he had thought of himself. That boy thought he was polite, respectful, and perhaps a bit enlightened in his interactions with girls. Now, she saw that he was lecherous, dismissive, judgmental, and more than a little voyeuristic. Remembering things he thought, things he did, things he would have done if he had the chance - the thought of some boy acting that way toward her, thinking that way about her, was disturbing.
Jerry got there, and Angel knew that her timing was bad. He was within hours of showing the telltale symptoms.
"Did you tell your mom about the MORFS?"
"Uh... no. I kept trying to bring it up, but I couldn't."
"Well, you'll have to tell her now. It's happening today. Soon. You need to get to the doctors as soon as you can."
"What will I become?"
"You'll have some of the characteristics of a lizard, a gila monster, but you'll mostly look human. You'll stay male. You'll get a little stronger and taller, and have some sort of zap. That's about all I can tell you."
"Will I have a tail?"
"Probably not. Now call."
They ended up driving him to the clinic, where his mom would meet him. On the way, they suggested symptoms to tell the doctor. Lena agreed to follow him in mentally, and help if he needed it.
He needed it.
She helped him answer first the nurse, then his mom, then the doctor, in ways that created the appropriate impression. by the time he actually saw the doctor, he didn't have to fake much. He was starting to feel really lousy. The descriptions and answers were enough to get him the test, and that confirmed it. MORFS.
His mom took it well. She had gotten a ride to the clinic from a coworker, and used her car (which Jerry had borrowed, and the girls had used to drive him there) to drive home. Lena "called" another friend, who owed her a favor, and he drove them home.
While they were eating lunch, Jerry's mom called to thank them for getting him to the clinic, and to apologize for leaving them stranded. They assured her it was no problem, and wished Jerry well.
Sometimes, even in a world with MORFS and powers, a coincidence will happen.
*Hey, Radar! Answer your door!* David laughingly thought.
*I'm next door. Come to Angel's house.* Then out loud, "David's on his way over. You won't believe why."
"I'll let him tell you himself."
At the sound of footsteps outside Angel looked at Lena, who nodded. "Door's open! Come on in."
"Geez! Don't tell me you got even more powers. That would be too depressing."
"No, just some good friends." Angel replied, indicating Lena
"Oh. Yeah. I even knew she was here." He theatrically slapped the side of his head.
"Whazzup?" When he looked a question back, Angel continued, "She wouldn't tell me."
"They're having some sort of competition over at the pool, so I thought you might like to come to the movies with me. I can't buy you tickets, but at least I have my dad's clunker to get us there."
*Family joke,* Lena explained. *The car is practically new, and very nice. Not enough room in the back seat for traditional sports, though.*
Angel laughed before she could stop herself. The tone of that last thought left no question about what kind of "sports" Lena was thinking about.
"As a matter of fact," she replied, after recovering her breath, "we were just about to go looking for a ride to the old Chinese. The assistant manager wants to talk to me. I'll spring for the popcorn."
"Deal. Talk about what?"
"He didn't say. Probably something about my little demonstration, though."
They filled him in on the events at the theater, skipping over the reason for ambushing Jerry. Once he knew it had something to do with Penny's premonitions, he accepted the limited information.
"Is he going to be all right?" David didn't know Jerry, since they were different at different schools, but he did know the nature of Penny. "Cassandra doesn't waste predictions on trivial stuff. Damn it."
Lena noted with amusement that David was thinking about the time he had tried to get Penny to predict the Lottery numbers. He never quite believed her claim that she couldn't. Angel looked back and forth for a second, then gave up.
"He should be ok. We took him to the clinic this morning, in the first stages of MORFS."
"That's good. The ok, not the MORFS, What will he be like?" He remembered their earlier conversation about her powers.
"Mostly normal. A little bit reptilian, and some interesting abilities, but mostly normal."
"Oh." Then he switched gears. "When do you need to be there?"
"In about an hour."
"Mind getting there a little early? There's a matinee in about 45 minutes I'd like to see."
"Sure. Just give me a minute to get ready."
"Us a minute." Lena corrected, and followed Angel to her room.
They fixed their hair and makeup (although Angel still didn't like wearing the stuff), and Angel grabbed her purse. Then they were off.
On the way to the theater, he started talking about an old interest of his: things from the popular culture of a century ago which could be useful now.
"For instance, in the comic books of the 1960s the people with powers had logos, icons which identified them. The heroes and the villains, and even some of the groups. I even thought of some for some of you." He fished in his pocket, pulling out some folded up papers.
Most of them were ancient images - a parabolic antenna on some triangular frame for Radar, a sphere on a small stand for Cassandra, some small mammal curled halfway into a ball for Otter, And a frame with an animal hide for someone called Tanner.
"Who's Tanner?" Angel asked.
"You," he replied, pointing to Lena's arm. Lena laughed. "There's another one for you, though."
She looked through and found some more abstract images. Part of a five pointed star above a line for Star Dawn, a triangle topped with a circle with a small oval above it for Angel. "I'm not sure I like the name Tanner, but I can see where an alias could be useful."
She thought a moment. "What about you?"
"I don't have any powers."
"Neither did some of those ancient heroes and villains." She knew she was goading him a little with the "ancient" part, but it kept him going.
"They had special skills and gimmicks. And almost all of them were, like, heads of major corporations and had lots of money. I can barely afford the movie."
"Ok, so what kind of powers would you want? What would be your ideal morfs result?" Angel prompted.
Lena continued with "If we found a magic wishing spot for MORFS, what would you wish for?" Privately, to Angel, she thought *I have an idea for your scam.*
David thought a moment. "I always wanted to fly. But that is kinda common. I know! I saw this 'ancient' program," he looked at Angel as he emphasized ancient, "on ESP research in the old Soviet Union."
"What in the where?" Angel had heard the old terms, but wasn't sure what they were.
"ESP is another word for psychic stuff, and the Soviet Union used to be where the EastBlock Confederation is. Or parts of it, anyway."
"Oh, Ok. So?" Angel noticed the beginnings of an oddly familiar tingling.
"Well, there were a couple of things they were looking at that seemed pretty cool. One was remote viewing, which is pretty much what we now call telesense. People could supposedly see, and sometimes hear, what was happening in other places. Like a holocast without the cameras."
Angel thought about every boy he had ever known, including her previous self, and what they would use that ability for first. She smirked and asked "And the other thing?"
"Some of them could use their minds to create a picture on photo paper. I'd want more, to be able to do it on any paper of cloth."
Angel couldn't stand it any more. Laughing, she said "So you want to be able to peek in the girls' locker room, and make your own porn out of what you see?"
Davis turned red. "That's not..."
"You know," Angel interrupted, mischief in her eyes. "There is an easier way. A change that would actually let you be in there."
Despite himself, David was interested. "Yeah?"
Lena joined in the fun. "And even let you see and touch those wonderfully naughty girl parts all you want."
"Like invisibility or something?" He started getting caught up in the image.
Lena turned to Angel. "But it would kinda mess with the balance of the group. We don't have all that many guys."
David nearly ran off the road as he realized what they were getting at. "But... but I like being a guy!"
"Maybe we could meet him half way?" Lena cracked.
Angel took a second to catch on. "But then we'd have to start using all those funny pronouns. And it would still mess up the body count."
David barely squeaked "But.."
"That's true," Angel continued, as though seriously considering the matter. "We'd have to decide whether he should have a nice tight little male butt or a rounder, softer female one." Both girls dissolved in laughter.
"I don't wanna be a girl. Not even halfway." The wail was exaggerated for comic effect. The girls stopped laughing.
"And what, exactly, is wrong with being a girl?" Lena asked, in an arctic voice. After she saw a number of images flash through his mind, from periods to bras to being on the receiving end of sex, he found his voice.
"Nothing. If you're born that way. But I've been a boy my whole life!"
The car got very quiet. And David struggled frantically to understand why.
*You ok?* Lena asked Angel.
*Mostly. But I may as well tell him. Isn't he figuring it out about now?*
"I'm sorry, Angel. I didn't know. When did it happen?" It never paid to underestimate David's intelligence.
"Beginning of the summer. And yes, it was a helluva shock and a lot to get used to. But now it's just a part of life."
"How do you figure?"
"You changed just about the time you moved. No awkward problems with the people who knew you as a boy."
"Actually, I changed en route. I don't recommend it. And most of the people I saw before I got here were relatives. They knew. In fact, they took turns training me in the finer points of being a girl."
"They did a good job. I never would have known. Except for that awkward silence, that is."
"They concentrated on the usual giveaways and the practical stuff. For a lot of the rest, we had an all purpose excuse: a history as a tomboy."
"You just seem like an ordinary girl."
"Ordinary?" the temperature in the car dropped.
"You know what I mean. You're pretty, and smart, and all that stuff. You don't need to go fishing for a compliment with a harpoon! You don't seem any more different than the other girls than the rest of the other girls do."
"Girls... people are all different. Like Chaos Theory, the differences are bounded for certain groups. You fall within the normal boundaries of differences for girls around here. Well, for everything but your powers. And even then..."
"I get the idea. You can stop chewing the leather now. I think it's soft enough."
Now it was his turn. "Huh?"
Lena explained. "Time to leave the foot in mouth disease behind, and move on," she grinned.
"Just as well. We're here anyway." He was obviously relieved.
As he parked, he commented. "By the way, that was only number 3 on my list of things to do with the powers."
Angel looked at Lena, who nodded.
"At least you admit it was there. What were the top two?"
"Spying and cheating." Lena chuckled.
"Well, I wouldn't have put it that way. Finding and catching the bad guys, and seeing what the teachers and politicians don't want us to see."
"Yep," Angel agreed with a grin. "Spying and cheating."
Wisely, David gave up. When they got inside, Andy was in the lobby. He was talking with a girl in one of the ticket stands, but when he saw them he broke off and walked over to them.
"You made it! Thanks for coming. I don't think you'll need backup, though." He said with a smile. "Radar, I know. Who's your other friend?"
Angel handled the introductions. "Andy, this is David. Among other things, he was our ride here. David, Andy." The boys shook hands. "They were going to watch a movie while we talk."
"Great!" he enthused. He walked them over to the person he had been talking with. "Karen, please comp these two on my authority. Code 17."
While they got their tickets, he took her across the lobby and through a small door. Then up some stairs to an office. "My boss would like to talk to you about an offer."
Angel smiled, but inside he called out *Lena! I may need some backup.*
*I don't think so. But could you monitor things while I'm in here? I may be in over my head*
*Ok. There's just you two and an older man. He's the manager of the theater. They seem upbeat.*
There was mostly good news. The manager was impressed, but a little skeptical, when Andy told him about her warning and help. He wanted to verify her abilities, just to be able to say he had.
He presented her with a tray with a half dozen slides on it. She saw right away that there was a trick. In addition to the samples in the usual place at the center of the slide, one end of most of the slides was also contaminated. After another quick look, she changed her mind. It wasn't necessarily a trick.
"Um, the person who prepared these... did he or she take a break partway through the batch?"
"Yes, he did." the manager answered in an odd voice.
*He's the one who prepared them.* Lena verified.
*Ouch. This won't be fun.*
"Well," she continued, hesitantly, "He didn't wash his hands very well after going to the bathroom. These four," she pointed, "Were handled at this end with unwashed hands. And he might want to see his doctor soon. He's developing a bladder infection."
She then went on to identify the formal samples, and sterilize the slides. And the contaminated parts of the tray.
Impressed, the manager went on to make the offer. He explained that they had five theaters in the Denver area. Her job would be to inspect each one at least once a month, and document and, if possible, neutralize danger spots. He knew that labor laws limited how much she would be able to work, especially after school started. He couldn't offer her much money, or much in the way of a title, but he could offer some benefits. In additional to health insurance and the like, she would get free movie passes and concessions.
*He's willing to go salary, and a title of assistant manager. And he thinks he might be able to get manager, if he has to. But he really hopes you won't push that.*
"I'd have to be at least a lead, or an assistant manager, to get them to take me seriously enough. And they'd know if I had anything less than the salary that went with the title."
He started to look worried, but she went on. "How about if we start me as a lead, with the salary and the perks we discussed, for the first month. Then, when they all see the value of this, you can justify the promotion."
*He's thinking about it. But worried about whether it will work out.*
"And if I don't prove the value of the whole thing, you can fire me. No hard feelings."
That seemed to settle it. They shook hands, and he gave her some forms to fill out.
She still had one reservation. "I'll have to clear it with my folks, first. But I don't think it will be any kind of a problem."
"I understand. Talk to them, and call me here tonight. If you can't reach me, let Andy know."
"Ok. And if it's yes, I'll get this stuff filled out and back to you."
"Great. Andy will show you out."
*He thinks he did well in the negotiations, and he's happy with your suggestion. Now let me watch the movie!*
"Your friends are in theater three, if you want to join them. The movie just started." At her nod, Andy walked her past the ticket taker and pointed the way. "You know, you could have gotten more for this."
"Yeah, but he wouldn't have been happy about it. A little compromise goes a long way."
"Ah, yes. She is wise beyond her years." He grinned. "Enjoy the movie."
She had no trouble finding her friends in the half empty theater. They were sharing a tub of popcorn, and they had saved her a seat beside Lena. They all enjoyed the movie (and the popcorn), and then it was time to go.
Lena knew what had happened, but Angel explained it to David. He thought it was a great idea. And he liked the idea of free movies. Angel apologized for not buying the popcorn, but he said that he came out ahead - the popcorn cost less than the movie ticket would have.
They got back on the subject of his fantasy morf, and Angel felt something click inside her. Somehow, she knew that she had just created a MORFS cocktail that would give him what he wanted.
"Too bad there isn't such a wishing place." He was saying.
Lena gave him an odd look. "Well, actually... can you keep a really big secret?"
"Aw, come on Radar. You know I can."
"You remember Pope Hill?"
"Pope Hill?" Angel asked.
David explained. "Back at the end of the twentieth century, there was this huge gathering for Catholic youth here. The Pope came, and addressed them in a place set aside in the State Park that's by the reservoir."
"Saint John Paul."
"No relation to George or Ringo," Lena snickered. The joke was ancient, and often fell flat when people didn't recognize the names.
"Anyhow, sometime later some of the people around here started calling one of the little hills in the park Pope Hill. Supposedly, that's where he did something." He turned to Lena. "So what about the hill?"
"There's something there." She said, with a tone of mystery.
"Yeah. A hill."
"No. Something more. Something I can sense and communicate with, a little."
"I don't think so. But something."
*What's going on?* Angel asked Lena.
*A trial run for your scam. A biggie.* she grinned. Then, out loud, "If you go there with me, you might just get your wish."
"What have you got to lose?" Lena responded, just as Angel thought at her.
*What's the plan?*
*We create the illusion that the place, rather than you, is responsible for the custom morfs. We use him as a dry run, then let him in on it after he recovers. He's smart, and those powers he wants could be useful.*
Angel shrugged acknowledgement.
They went to Angel's house for some water bottles, then walked to the State Park. Lena and David knew where they were going. Angel just enjoyed the scenery. The hiking and bicycle trails were well marked and easy to follow.
They came to a small rise, with a historical marker. The marker was dated 2043, and was placed by a Catholic youth group to commemorate the 50th anniversary of an address by the sainted Pope. Angel took his arm and asked him "Are you sure you're ready for that change?"
"Sure, why not?" He answered flippantly. His body language and expression betrayed more emotion.
Lena gave her the details. *He's torn between disbelief and hopeful excitement. Let's do it.*
Pretending to stumble a little as a distraction, Angel used the hand on his arm to transfer the package her body had made for him. As she recovered from the "stumble", Lena got David's attention.
"Ok. I seem to work as a catalyst, here. I'm in contact with whatever it is here, but you need to do your part. Relax a little, and let your mind form an image of the new you. It has its standards and, as far as I can tell, some limits. If your request is too dangerous, it may be toned down or turned down. It can accept childish motives, like your peeking, but not malicious ones. Malicious requests can cause a nasty rebound." She started feeding him a very faint reaction which, if full blown, could become a sort of religious awe. She slowly ramped it up as she continued. "You may get all that you want or only part of it. The more you picture it, the clearer it becomes. You might get some sort of a feeling about it's response, as you continue to shape your vision. It says it is getting some of it, and it feels you will like what you get. It won't be exactly what you want, because of its limits. But you will find a few unexpected bonuses will more than make up for that." He was barely listening. Angel thought that his look was what they meant by beatific.
While all that was going on, Angel's little present was spreading through his body, preshaping the DNA changes and preparing him for the transformation. She estimated two days before he showed the usual fever and so on.
Lena said "Done!" sharply, and let the feeling drain away. Some remained, without any input from her.
"That was... interesting." he commented, shaking his head. "Now what?"
"Now we go back to the house for a snack." Lena grinned. "All this walking has given me an appetite. Angel, do you have any more of those pancakes?"
"Sure. And some other stuff. Now I know I'll need that job. I'll need the money just to feed the gang." They all laughed, but Lena noticed an odd resonance with the word "gang". She left it alone for the time being.
On the way back, David asked Angel "So how about it? Can you see anything?" He indicated himself.
"You are about to go through MORFS."
"When?" There was more than casual curiosity in his voice.
"Looks like about two days."
"How long will it take?"
"I can't tell. I'm not really any good at estimating that part. Yet."
"So what do you see?"
"Too early to tell much. I see feathered wings. Big ones. And some kind of powers. But I can't really tell what they are."
He kept trying to think of ways to bring it up again, to get more information, but failed.
After making a serious dent in her snack supply, they watched some tv and talked. Angel was startled when the door opened and she heard her mother's voice.
"Well, at least this one's got his clothes on!"
David looked alarmed, but Lena barely kept herself from laughing. Angel shot her a dirty look, then turned to her mother.
"Well, you know what they say about variety." She wiggled her eyebrows up and down.
"Are you going to wear this one out, too?"
"I don't know. How long until dinner?"
David wasn't sure what was going on, and Lena wasn't helping.
"As long as it takes you to make it. Now that both of us are working again, you're going to be doing your share of the cooking."
"I need to talk to you about that. The job thing, not the cooking." Angel turned to her friends. "Normally, I'd invite you guys to stay for dinner. But this may be an interesting evening. See you tomorrow."
"C'mon strange boy. That's our cue."
"Oops!" Angel turned toward her mom. "Mom, this is David. He's one of the people I met at the pool a couple of days ago. David, my Mom."
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. O'Connor."
"Nice to meet you too, David. Thank you for helping Angel feel welcome."
"No problem." He turned to Angel. "See you later."
After they left, Angel followed her mother upstairs. While her mother changed out of her work clothes, Angel told her about the theater and the job offer. She got the predictable response that they would need to talk it over with her father.
Back in the kitchen, her mom supervised and helped where needed, but there wasn't much need. Even before the summer, Angel had been competent in the kitchen. So mostly, they talked. Angel told her about Jerry's visit and trip to the clinic. Her mom told her about learning the new procedures, and how many were similar or different.
For a change, her dad was able to come home on time. He would have to take care of some things he brought home with him, but he could handle them from his computer. He found the rest of his family in the kitchen, getting dinner out of the oven. The sight of his daughter still caught him by surprise, but he was getting used to it. Son or daughter, that was his child.
He helped set the table, and soon they were enjoying the fruits of Angel's labors. Angel asked him about his day, and he gave a brief account of the highlights. The best part was that he was still on track for being able to start keeping human hours soon.
He asked his wife about her day, and she just glossed over it with a few generalities. He had an idea what that meant. Something important about Angel. Good or bad, he couldn't tell. He gave in to the inevitable and asked her about her day.
"Oh, just the usual life and death struggles in the morning." Angel deadpanned. Then, with a little more animation, "Oh, and I got an interesting job offer from the Chinese Theater this afternoon." She smiled.
He still wasn't sure whether this was a good or bad thing. His wife had a bad habit of "including" him in decisions this way, but he rarely had any real say unless he had a very strong feeling about it and was willing to face the potential unpleasantness. As he listened to Angel describing the interview and offer, he watched his wife as covertly as he was able. Unfortunately, she seemed ambivalent about it.
Instead of the expected pro forma ratification of her mom's undisclosed decision, Angel found herself in a genuine discussion of the issues. It was agreed all around that it should not be allowed to interfere with schoolwork or other responsibilities. Transportation was an issue to be resolved. Three of the theaters were close to bus or light rail stops, and she would have to make arrangements about the others. Issues were raised, discussed, and resolved.
In the end, they let her make her own choice. She could start it, and keep it as long as there weren't significant problems. And if she chose to quit, they would support that as well.
"So, what plans do you have for your magnificent salary?" Her father teased.
"A microburger. Once a week. Luckily, I will have free concessions while I'm at work."
After the laughter died down a little, she got marginally more serious. "If it does pan out, I would like to use some of that to upgrade to an eCom. I know it would be a significant drain on the family budget to ask you to get me one, so I haven't asked. But it would be something to be able to afford that luxury on my own."
She didn't expect the look of pain in her parents' eyes. But she should have. They were not poor, and her parents had always been able to provide for her needs and more. And they were always quite clear in their determination to continue to do so. They had looked into the possibility of an eCom more than once, but could not justify the costs. Her younger self knew about that, and he was even a part of the decision making process some of those times.
"With my new salary, maybe we could..."
"No, Daddy." Daddy? Where did that come from? "It wouldn't mean anything if you got it for me." She might not be a boy anymore, but she still had a lot of the old pride. "I want it to be something I earned, something I did."
"I don't have any real objection, if that's what you really want. And I know you are responsible enough to take care of it. We can discuss it again when you are confident about continuing your job."
She hugged him. "Thanks, Daddy!" There it was again. "And you too, mom," as she moved around the table and hugged her.
Buoyed by the mood around the table, the small talk resumed.
Angel's dad turned to her mother and asked "So, any more naked boys on the sofa today?"
"No, this one had his clothes on when I got home. They must be losing their touch."
"Or getting faster, with practice." he laughed.
"Aargh! I'm never going to live that one down, am I?"
"Nope!" her parents chorused.
After helping with the dishes, she set to work on the forms the manager had given her. Every now and then she had to get some of the information from her parents, but it was mostly just routine stuff. "School hasn't even started, and I'm already doing homework." she grumbled.
"That reminds me," her mom responded. "I got the summer reading list for you. It's not the same as the one from your old school. There are only two books, but they recommend reading them as early as possible, and then skimming them again just before school starts."
Angel groaned, but accepted the sheet. Neither sounded all that interesting, but she could read them on the bus and stuff.
Before it got too late, she made a "call". *Hey, Lena!*
*I have a phone, you know!*
*Yeah, but does it reach you in the tub?*
*I'm not there, now.*
Angel dialed Lena's number. It barely rang before she picked it up.
"So whacha want this time?"
"Something happened, and I wonder if you had anything to do with it." She thought a second, then blurted "I didn't mean it like that! I just mean..."
"I know what you mean. And yes, what you were just thinking about probably is a result of what we did. My guess would be that when you made that image of yourself as a girl, she was the kind of girl that would call her father 'daddy' like that. You'll probably trip over a few more stereotypes like that, for the same reason. Hey, it was your image!"
"I guess so. Am I stuck with them?"
"No more so than any other habits. They're not fixed in plascrete or anything."
"Ok. Thanks. By the way, I'll be taking the job. So I guess movies and popcorn are on me for a while."
"Great. I knew there was something about you that I liked."
"You just love me for my passes!" Angel gave a fake sniff.
"And the popcorn. Don't forget that! And the drinks, and the candy, and..."
"How are Jerry and David doing?"
"Jerry is down for the count, but apparently without any complications. David told his folks, but he also told them he wasn't sure when it would start. He still has his doubts that it will come at all."
"Oh he of little faith!"
"Isn't that...? Never mind." Then, mentally, *We shouldn't talk about today's experiment on the phone. You never know who might be listening or taping.*
"Well," Angel continued out loud. "All I did was tell him what I saw. I don't know whether he got it from the hill or somewhere else."
*Interesting. Baiting the hook?*
*If anyone's listening.*
"My show's coming on. Gotta go. See ya tomorrow!" Lena hung up as soon as Angel said goodbye.
After watching a little tv with her parents, Angel went up to her room to catch up on her email. Some notes from her old friends. Those were going to take some thought.
One caught her eye, however. It was from her cousin Janey, and it was in Family Code.
Family Code was a way to communicate privately within the family. It was not unbreakable by a determined snoop, but it was good enough to keep from catching the attention of most automated scanners. The general theory was that they wouldn't decode it if they didn't notice it.
The message was disturbing enough to warrant the precautions. Miranda, the telepath friend of her cousins, had "overheard" something ominous. Some strange people were in town, looking for the cause of the AMORFS outbreak. They believed it must be a powerful, experienced bio elemental, powerful enough to affect most of the stadium, and experienced enough to be subtle. The prevailing theory of their Organization was that he or she first went to the other identified source locations to infect some of the people there with one of the components. Then he, she, or they went to the rally, and combined and spread the infection.
Angel reflected on how close they were to the truth. Her only comfort was how far off base they were in terms of power and experience, and the fact that there were no records of her having been there during the rally. .
Apparently, some in the Organization thought there was a team at work, with some bio elementals doing the active work and some others covering them and providing useful support.
Either way, Miranda was convinced that anyone falling into the hands of that Organization would not be offered a hearty handshake and a pat on the back. In fact, there were hints of some very unpleasant experiences for such prisoners.
It was time for a serious parent/daughter talk. She went downstairs to look for them. She found her mom in the family room, looking through some cookbooks while listening to the tv. Asking her mom, she found out that her dad was in "the office", doing the work he brought home.
She got them together, and started to talk. Soon, it was pouring out; the conversation, the rally, the Organization... everything. And the whole issue of what to tell her old friends in response to their emails.
Then came the discussion. The inevitable disapproval of some of her actions - such as sneaking into the rally - and of keeping the whole thing a secret from them. Their disappointment that she had felt the need to hide all of that from them. The concern over what she had been through, and what she faced.
And the support that only a family can give.
By the time she dragged herself up to bed, she had some answers. She could answer her friends with the news about her MORFS and limited description of her powers. She could point out that she no longer looked latino, and deal with that issue on a person by person basis. Then she could drop a broad hint and hope it would take hold, by "assuring" them that after the MORFS she was "still" a girl. And that it was important for them to keep that in mind if someone asked about her.
Her sleep that night was more than usually restless.
In the morning, she dragged herself out of bed, and went in to take care of the necessities. She noticed that she was still experiencing the reminder of her newfound womanhood, so she was very thorough in the shower. She also noticed that she felt lousy - physically and emotionally. After all the talks and training, it didn't surprise her all that much. But it didn't exactly thrill her, either.
When she got back in her room, she checked the time. It was a lot later than she thought. She dressed quickly, and got to the kitchen in time to say goodbye to her parents. She knew that both of them went in an entirely different direction than the theater, so she didn't bother to ask for a ride.
Since her pancakes were gone, breakfast was cereal. Not that she minded, but she had been hoping to spend just a few more days being spoiled with good breakfasts and the like. At least there would still be weekends.
She dialed all but the last digit of Lena's number, then called *I'm phoning you!* and added the final digit.
Lena answered before the first ring was more than a chirp. "What's up, funny girl?"
"Besides me?" she came back. "I need to talk about some stuff while I eat my lonely bowl of cereal. But some of it is sensitive. And I don't want to talk with my mouth full."
They hung up, and Lena asked *Ok, what's so important?*
Angel told her about the warning from her cousins, and the discussion with her parents.
*It's about time. You really need your folks in the loop. Especially if that mysterious group starts coming around.*
*I was thinking that we should let Penny know, in case something comes up.*
*Probably a good idea. I'll let her know.*
*And on a related note...*
*I don't think I'll ever be flat again, thank you very much. However, do you think David would be willing to give me a ride to the theater this morning? We can talk to him about what really happened yesterday on the way.*
*I'll check and get back to you.*
*He's awake. Why don't you call him and ask about that ride?*
Angel shrugged, and made the call. David agreed to give her a lift, commenting that he wanted to talk to her anyway.
Angel met him at the door. "We're just about ready to...Holy Crap!"
After a moment of puzzled looks from her friends, she recovered. "Ah, David? We really have to talk."
Now that the changes she started the day before had a chance to work their way through his system a little more, she had a clearer picture of how he would turn out. And it wasn't quite what she had anticipated.
"Ok, what was all that about?" David asked, as they headed down the road.
"What do you want first, the interesting news or the annoying news?"
"Hmmm... tough choice. How about the Holy Crap news?"
"I got a better look at you today. It looks like you're going to be more powerful than I thought. A lot more powerful."
"And that's the annoying news?" he quipped. "Powerful in what ways?"
"First, the physical. You'll be somewhat taller, and a lot more muscular. Especially through the chest, because of the wings."
"A nice manly chest, right?" He couldn't keep a touch of worry out of his voice.
"Yes, you get to keep your masculinity. At least until some of the girls catch you remote viewing where you shouldn't." Lena laughed at that comment, and David blushed.
Angel continued, "The other powers were the surprise. You'll be a fairly strong illusionist, as well as having the telesense sight and hearing you wanted. But if I'm reading this right, you'll have the ability to analyze and transmute most things. Sort of like what I do with living things, only without that limitation. There will be some limit to how much you can do at a time, also like me."
"You transmute living things?"
"Mostly micro stuff. Cells and the like, down to viruses and prions. And that brings us to the annoying part. Lena?"
*It was your idea.*
*I just elaborated on your idea.*
"If you two are going to argue, please do it out loud. This silence is hard on the nerves, and this traffic is bad enough without that."
"Sorry." they chorused.
Lena started in. "What are your thoughts and impressions about the thing at Pope Hill?"
"Right now, I'm beginning to think it wasn't what it seemed. At the time, there was a feel of the supernatural about it, and then a sense that something had happened. I spent the evening thinking of everything from divine intervention to morfed prairie dogs."
"Morfed prairie dogs?" Angel commented. "I hadn't thought of that one."
"Yeah, but now that I think about it, their powers would have added up to the same thing as the two of you."
"I'm waiting." he said quietly, through compressed lips.
"Ok. We had to test an idea. We couldn't tell you ahead of time, because we needed your reactions. And because we'll need you to be able to honestly remember that experience as you, well, experienced it."
"But it was all you."
"Yes," Angel admitted, noticing that Lena seemed to be monitoring his thoughts and emotions. "My powers are a little more extensive than we told people. Among other things, I can create a sort of custom MORFS."
"She wouldn't do that!" Lena said sharply.
"Dammit, Radar, get out of my head!"
"What wouldn't I do?"
"Unleash a deadly plague. And I didn't think you would. Only that you could."
"Yeah, well... as to that..."
"Ok, what did you do?"
"I kinda caused the whole AMORFS thing." Angel admitted, sheepishly. "I didn't even know I could do something like that, much less that I was doing so. It was right after my change."
"Well... it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people. But still, you're scary."
"You'll be scarier. I doubt you'll be able to do my tricks with microbiota, but you'll be plenty deadly if you choose to be."
They drove the rest of the way in silence.
"The shows won't start for a couple of hours," Angel offered, "but if you come back then, I can probably get you in to a matinee."
"In the meantime," Lena told him, "We can talk and stuff."
Angel found an open door and went inside. She found the manager in his office and gave him the papers. He looked over the signed papers briefly, then welcomed her to the company. After giving her an identification card and badge, he explained the nature of the work a little more. First, she would be giving the food prep area a thorough examination, showing him any existing or potential trouble spots. Then she would do the same in the restrooms.
She thought it was a little funny when he expressed concern over her level of comfort dealing with the men's restroom. She almost told him about her life before the summer, but instead just assured him that she was fine with it. She did suggest that they do the restrooms first, before anyone else arrived.
He agreed, commenting that the last thing he needed was the kind of rumor that could start if he was seen coming out of a restroom with a teenage girl. They shared a nervous laugh over the image, then got down to work.
As she did her looking, they talked. Over the long term, the job was larger than she had thought. Once she had inspected the critical spots for food handling and public hygiene, she would be going over the storage areas, and then the buildings and ventilation systems. Not all at once, or all in the same day, but over time. While he was most urgently concerned about concessions and the restrooms, he was also aware of the potential problems of molds and mildews in the less public areas. Especially in buildings which were more than half a century old.
He quite frankly told her that her work had the potential of saving the chain millions of dollars over time. And that once those higher up than him were aware of that, her value and rewards were likely to go up considerably.
"And getting me on board wouldn't exactly hurt your career, either?" she grinned.
"I hadn't thought of that," he deadpanned. Then he broke into a grin. "But you could be right."
By the time she had gone through the concessions area, she was more than a little grossed out. Now that she was paying attention, the idea of eating food handled there was less than appealing. She found a half dozen more hot spots like the one she had spotted before, but the whole area was somewhat less than sterile. She showed him the hot spots, then sterilized them. She commented on the lower level contamination in other areas, and he noted that as well.
By the time she was done, some of the regular workers had come in and were starting to get things ready. She noticed that they were cleaning some of the areas she had noticed, as well as turning on the machines and getting things ready to go. The manager pulled the assistant manager and lead aside and told them about the hotspots and marginal areas. Then he asked her back to his office.
She was surprised how tired she was. It wasn't the drain of using her powers - sterilizing those spots was trivial. Mostly, it was the effort to maintain her concentration that long. And the strain of doing the whole thing with the manager looking over her shoulder. Knowing she was going to have to do the same thing under the gaze of all those other managers, at those other theaters, didn't help.
Up in the office, he thanked her for her hard work, and asked whether she had any questions or issues. She asked how to use her ticket and concessions privileges. He smiled and explained the use of her ID card.
He didn't smile when she mentioned her lack of transportation. After a couple of moments thought, he said that he would work something else. In the meantime, the theater would reimburse her for buying a bus pass. Three of the theaters were close to bus and light rail stops, so that would help.
On a related note, she asked where and when she would be working next. He said he would call her with that information, as well as the transportation arrangements, later that day.
He showed her how to thumb out, and then she was done for the day. Lena and David were in the lobby, looking at the show times and trying to decide what to see. Once the three decided (with a quick reminder of "car keys trump chick flick"), Angel got to show off by using her pass to get their tickets and some snacks at concessions.
While they were waiting to go in, David told her "We talked about it while you were at work, and decided it was all your fault."
"Gee, thanks. Don't I get a vote?"
"Nope. You were absent for the voting."
She stuck her tongue out at him. Then got more serious and asked "So how are you feeling about it all?"
"Happy. Scared. Annoyed. I understand why you guys did it that way, and Radar helped me install some special stuff for later. But there is still a part of me that doesn't like the fact that you tricked me that way. But at least I get something good out of the whole thing. Scary, but good."
"Have you told your folks?"
"Not the details. Just your prediction it will happen soon, and your ability to see that."
"How did they take it?"
"I don't think they really believed me. But they took steps to get things rolling. In fact, they asked me to ask you to narrow down the time frame if you can. They want to make the appointment at the clinic."
Angel looked at him, and asked herself when he would start showing symptoms. "Tomorrow afternoon. Try for a late afternoon appointment."
"Any idea how long?"
"Nope. That seems to depend on other things."
She turned to Lena *Anyone noticing the conversation?*
*Yes and no. They see we're talking, but they don't know, or care, what about.* Then, out loud, "So, other than the perks, how's the new job?"
*Nice change of subject.* Angel grinned. "Not too bad. I need to work out a better way to show the affected places, though. Having a manager hanging over my shoulder the whole time gets old really quick."
"How about a dCam?" David asked. "It's cheap, and you can send the 'grams to the manager's tablet."
"That could work."
They settled in to watch the pre-movie "entertainment". Angel had been so caught up in the conversation that she had been barely aware of walking into the theater and finding seats.
After the movie, he took them home. They agreed to meet at the pool, after lunch. If he was going to spend a number of days in bed, he wanted to get his time in the sun, first. Besides, anything the sun did to his skin, either MORFS or Angel would take care of.
End Part 5
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/