Angel's Tale: A MORFS Universe Story
Cassie was on the eCom. And she was in full Prophet of Doom mode.
"Hi, Penny. Or is it Cassandra?"
"Cassandra. Hey, you got an eCom! Congrats!"
"Yeah. It came with the promotion at the theater. But if I quit or get fired, I have to give it back. So, what's the crisis?"
"Right to the point? Ok. It's David. You and Radar need to be there when he wakes up. He will wake up hard, and need help."
"Mind out of the gutter, girl. His new senses will panic him, and there's a good chance he will lash out with his other powers. There are a lot of possibilities that way, all bad. Radar can get through to him, before things get too far out of control."
"So what do I have to do with it? Other than the obvious?"
"You need to go with them to the clinic. Another person, someone you don't know, will be there in a bad situation that your perceptions can help with."
"David will wake up about 11:00 tomorrow morning."
"Have you called Radar?"
"She knows. You two can work out the details. She's busy right now, but she'll call soon."
"Just a ray of sunshine, aren't you?"
"Hey, at least half of Apollo's curse doesn't work."
"You know the story of my namesake?"
"Just part of it."
"Apollo was into this girl, Cassandra. And she didn't exactly object to spending some time with him. He was considered a hunk, and a god to boot. Since prophecy was one of his things, he gave her the gift. But when she wouldn't put out for him, he added a curse. She would see the truth, but just about bad things. And nobody would believe her."
"Yeah. I see the bad stuff, but at least some people believe me. Of course, the anti morfs crowd don't want to know, because of what I am. And lots of adults ignore me because I'm a teen. What could I know?"
"Been there. So, what's your plan next time you see Apollo?"
"Can you whip up an STD that works on gods but not me?"
"Not enough information. I'd have to spend a lot more time with gods."
"Well, I can't spend less. That sort of thing doesn't come in negative numbers."
They continued the banter for a few more minutes, then ended the call. Before she had a chance to put down the eCom, her mother walked in.
"What's the envelope?" she asked. "And where's the rest of the mail?"
"The mail wasn't here yet when I got home. The envelope is a thank you card for what I did today, and a check. Take a look."
She did, and whistled. She put it back, then turned her head and sniffed theatrically. "I don't smell dinner."
"Sorry. After I got back from the hospital, I just collapsed. A call from Cassie woke me up, just before you got here."
"Cassandra? Not Penny?" She understood what that indicated.
"Oh, yeah. In spades. On my day off tomorrow, Lena and I have to be at David's when he wakes up. Lena needs to help him, and I need to help someone else at the clinic they take him to."
"Sounds fun." Her tone implied anything but.
"Oh, yeah. Should be a ton of laughs." Angel rolled her eyes. "So what do we do about dinner?"
"What about dinner?"
Angel jumped. Either she was much more tired than she thought, or someone did something to the door. He was the second person to come in without her noticing. She gave him a quick hug, then sat down again.
"Angel had a long day, and didn't get a chance to cook anything."
"Want to go out?"
"Any other day. I'm still wiped. Frozen?"
"Just the single serving things your father stocked up on when we weren't here to keep an eye on him, and some sides and desserts. Take out?"
Now he was in his element. In his temporary bachelor days, he found the good, the bad, and the overpriced around there. "What's everyone in the mood for? There's a good barbecue place, pizza chains, squid kabobs, chicken, and the usual fly throughs. If you want fancier, there's Indian, Thai, Chinese, EastBlock..."
"Ugh, no borscht. Barbecue sounds good to me. Mom?"
"Why not? It's been a while."
They finalized plans, and he called in the order. Then, with an air of martyrdom, he went out to pick it up.
After he left, Angel relaxed. Before she knew it, she was asleep again.
The smell of food woke her. And a wonderful smell it was. Over dinner, they discussed their days. Other than Angel, they had been remarkably routine. They were just starting to think about dessert, when Lena "called".
*Angel! Would you guys like a fresh baked peach pie?*
"Lena is offering us a fresh baked peach pie. What do you think?" Her mother got the "thinking to Lena" look for a moment, then said "She'll be right over."
"Hey! She was talking to me!"
"I had to find out some things. You can talk to her now."
Knowing a cue when she heard one, Angel went to the front door. There was Lena, coming up the walk with a steaming pie in her hands. After closing the door behind her, Angel followed her into the kitchen.
"What's the occasion?"
"Mom baked two. One for us, one for a meeting. The meeting was just cancelled, and she knows what will happen if she leaves two pies in the house." Lena grinned.
Over pie, Lena politely asked "So, how did it go with the little girl and the fairy?"
"One exhausted fairy later, she's mostly a pretty little girl again."
Angel told her (and the rest of her audience) about the hair. While she was at it, she vented her frustration about being unable to go deep enough for some things. And about her other limitations.
"You gave her back her face and body. That's no small thing. Only a handful of people in the world could do that, and you did. Quit feeling sorry for yourself!" Lena snapped.
This was a side of Lena that Angel hadn't seen before.
*What's going on?*
*I'm worried about David. I have an idea what he'll be going through, and it isn't pretty. I can probably help calm and stabilize him in the beginning, but he's going to need more help than I can give him.*
Angel's parents exchanged looks, then went back to their pieces of pie. They could see from the girls' faces that their discussion was serious.
*What have I done?*
*Given him his dream. But he'll have to get through a nightmare, first.*
*Do his parents know?*
*I was talking with them when Cassie called you. They will expect us. And they'll expect his likely reaction.*
They concentrated on their dessert for a few moments. Angel was aware of the pie. It tasted wonderful. Almost as good as her mother's.
*I heard that!* Lena grinned. *Almost?*
*Well, I might be prejudiced.* Angel grinned back.
After Lena left, Angel spent some time setting things up on her eCom and tablet. She would be able to take pictures and holos with the eCom, send them to the tablet, and modify them there. That way, she could take pictures of the affected areas, highlight them, and show them to the managers (and, if appropriate, the office). It would be better than having the manager tag along behind her when she was inspecting.
When she woke up the next morning, Angel was annoyed. She could finally sleep in, but she woke up at about the same time as she had been. And she couldn't get back to sleep. Giving up, she got ready to face the day. At least she could dress for comfort, rather than professional image.
The one advantage of waking up early was that she got down to the kitchen in time to wish her parents goodbye for the day. She wasn't sure why, but that was more important to her than it used to be.
After days of going to work and other responsibilities, it was strange to have a morning to herself. Especially a weekday morning. The pool wouldn't be available until after she had to be at David's, so swimming was out. Still, with email to answer, summer reading to do, and so on, she had plenty to do.
When it started getting near time to go, she realized she hadn't heard from Lena all morning. That was unusual, as well.
*I was just resting and centering. I suspect this is not going to be fun.*
Angel agreed. However, they decided to leave a little early and enjoy the day while they walked over to David's house.
About two thirds of the way there, Lena got agitated. "He's starting to come around. It will take a while for him to really wake up, but we'd betted hurry."
They trotted the rest of the way, not wanting to arrive too winded to do any good. They got there with minutes to spare.
"Come on in. He's starting to stir." They could see the worry on his mother's face.
Angel started wondering what she was doing there. She was all for providing moral support and all that, but Penny had been very clear. Or as clear as her Cassandra ever seemed to get, anyway.
"Ok, everyone." Lena started briefing the three of them. "When he wakes up he'll probably be disoriented. Chances are really good that he'll be frightened. I'll be talking to his mind to calm him and help him focus. I may ask you to do something, or stand somewhere, or something like that. It won't be without reason. He needs to know that he's here, and he's safe. After that, I'll help him get a handle on his new perceptions and align them with his eyesight. He may get severe vertigo, so have a barf bucket ready. Once he's got it together enough, you can shower him, dress him, and get us all to the clinic."
"Will you need to be with him the whole way?"
"I think you can manage his shower without me. But I'll be in touch with his mind. Angel can... Get ready! Hello, David. Welcome back."
David started thrashing around on the bed. "What's happening? Where am I? It looks all crazy! Mom! Dad! Help! Where are you?"
Angel watched helplessly as he got more and more upset, and as panic tinged his voice. Lena took his left hand with hers, and used her other to turn his face toward her. She held their hands up near the center of his field of vision.
"But I can't! I can't see them!" He thrashed around, hitting Lena a couple of times. Angel could see that there would be bruises, but dared not help yet.
A large, white, feathery wing shot out from behind him, knocking his mother off her feet. She seemed unhurt, but kept clear of the wildly flailing appendage and its mate.
Lena clearly continued talking silently to his mind. Sometimes his protests were similarly silent, sometimes out loud. After a while, he calmed down somewhat. His wings folded in against his back, and he stopped thrashing. He brought his free hand up in front of his face, and wiggled his fingers. Then he started getting upset again.
"Why can't I hear anything?" he wailed.
"Because I asked them to be quiet." As she said it, it looked like she was speaking it into his mind as well. "I'm going to count. Focus everything on my voice. One. Two. Three..." for each count, she squeezed his hand. After about fifty, he seemed calmer. But she kept counting. After one hundred, she dropped his hand. At one hundred eighty, he sat up and looked around.
At first, Angel was a little puzzled by the pattern of the way he looked. When he looked toward the door, he smiled a little. Angel turned to follow his gaze, and saw that his father had changed into a swim suit. She watched as he carefully looked at his parents' faces. But when he turned to her, he looked at all of her. At first, that didn't make any sense. Seeing his covers start to tent helped her make the connection. His new vision, his telesense, was the same as Lena's in some ways. He was seeing right through her clothes.
"Hey! Watch where you aim those X ray peepers, you perv!" She chided, in a joking tone.
"Sorry. I can't really control it yet."
"Sure." with friendly skepticism. She looked a question at Lena, who nodded. "How are you feeling, David?"
"Cruddy. And I lost control. I need a shower, bad."
For a moment, Angel didn't understand the control comment. Then she noticed the smells. The bed would definitely need to be changed. She felt sorry for David. On top of everything else, that had to be embarrassing.
"Let's get you cleaned up." his father said. He lifted David out of bed, and carried him to the bathroom. Lena followed them, but stopped outside and closed the bathroom door. Angel helped his mother strip the bed, including the badly stained mattress pad. She noticed a shiny layer that had been under the pad.
Then she moved to Lena.
"Will it interfere too much if I heal those bruises?" she asked.
Lena shook her head, and lifted her arm to allow access to a spot on her side that had taken a couple of good thumps. Angel made them right, then moved to Lena's face. It was already starting to swell in places, and if she had waited much longer she would have had to do it in steps to get around her depth limits.
"Thanks, Can you get the bathrobe out of David's room? It's inside the closet door."
Angel nodded, and went on her errand. When she returned with it, Lena took it and hung it inside the bathroom door. Angel heard the father's "Thanks" before the door closed.
Angel went downstairs to help his mother. She had apparently done the worst part, and was stuffing the now thoroughly wet bedclothes in the large capacity washer.
"I haven't had to deal with that in thirteen years. It hasn't gotten any better." David's mother grinned. "It's a good thing we were prepared. Without that layer under the pad, the mattress would have been ruined.
When they heard the shower stop, she started the washer then motioned Angel back up to the living room.
"Thank you again. Without you and Radar, I don't know what we would have done."
"I didn't do all that much here."
"You gave us the warning. We knew what to expect, and it gave us a chance to prepare."
"Ok. You're more than welcome. I'm sure he will be just fine."
"I second that." Lena grinned, walking down the stairs from the bedrooms. "They should be ready to go as soon as the fashion crisis is resolved."
"There was a last minute growth spurt. The new clothes are too small. Including the underwear."
A few minutes later, the men came down. David was wearing a t-shirt that was only a little large on him, and jeans with very rolled up cuffs. And a grin, when he looked at Angel and Lena.
"Ok, c'mon letch. Let's get you to the clinic." Lena didn't seem too disturbed about what she knew he was seeing.
*For me, it's no worse than all those boys undressing me with their eyes. At least his image is more realistic.*
Angel conceded the point.
When they got in the car, Angel rode shotgun, and Lena and David's mother propped him up between them.
After they were underway, Angel commented over her shoulder "Hey, David. I told you that you'd keep the family jewels."
"Until I tried squeezing them into those clothes. I think maybe I bruised something. Could you fix it like Radar's bruises?"
"Only if you want to be 'fixed' like the vet does. Besides, there's no bruising there. Nice try, though."
David flinched at the threat to his fertility, and gave a rueful grin at having his bluff called.
When they got to the clinic, David's father handed in some pre filled out paperwork at the desk. David was ushered right in, and Lena followed. They apparently recognized her, and allowed it. Angel stayed in the waiting room, with his parents. She occupied herself by playing games on her eCom, while his mother read a book she brought along. His father alternated between trying to read and pacing. From the wear on the carpet, he wasn't the first.
After what seemed like hours, a nurse called them in. She ushered the parents into an office, but asked Angel to follow her into another. She recognized the room as an evaluation room, the kind they had used to "read" her when she changed. The young man behind the desk seemed a little apologetic when he spoke to her.
"Please don't take this the wrong way, but we have some questions about what we were told about you. Frankly, I've never encountered a bio elemental with your ability to read the direction MORFS will take, or has taken."
"It was just a matter of self training. I can't really do much with my powers, since my range is so limited. So I concentrated on what I could perceive. After I looked at a lot of morfs, I started to understand what I saw. Well, perceived. It's not really seeing, more of a sense we don't have words for."
"Would you mind terribly if we asked you to demonstrate that ability? We have someone you might be able to help us with, but we need to know what we're dealing with first."
"Cassandra warned me there would be days like this."
"Penny Johnson? She's involved here?"
Angel was only a little surprised that he knew who she was talking about. "She told me to come here today. In part, to help David and all. But the other part had something to do with one of your other patients."
"What did she tell you about him?"
"She didn't even tell me he was a him. Just that you would benefit from my help with that person, and bad things would happen otherwise."
"She's right. But still, we have a duty to be sure."
He had three people come in, one at a time. She told him what she noticed, then they left. In the end, he was impressed.
"You noticed a couple of things I missed, but were more general about some things than I was. I don't think there are any more questions, except the big one. Are you willing to help?"
"I don't want to tell you too much, but I can't read him properly in his current state. Anything you can tell us might help."
In the room he took her to, she saw a boy who looked to be about twelve or thirteen. He was curled up tightly in a fetal position, and shaking. He looked pale, and she could see that he was very low on energy. She mentioned that, then gave him a good look.
"He's a halfie, with shape shifting and some low grade telepathy or empathy. He is using the mind stuff to hold up a shield, and is trying to shapeshift. With where he's concentrating his efforts, I would guess that he is trying to go back to his old body. Or at least look like it. He's in the middle of the shift, but doesn't have the energy to finish it. I don't think he can stop it. And I think he's dying."
Without thinking, she put her hand on his shoulder and offered some of her own energy. She was caught by surprise when he sucked her energy like a giant drain. She couldn't even pull away. Time lost all meaning,
A second or a day later, she felt hands pulling her away from him. She was barely aware of seeing other hands on his body. The room started swimming, and she noticed she was being gently pushed down on something like a couch or a bed. Rest sounded wonderful.
She woke up in a different room, with her shoes off and covers over her. Lena was there, and David's mother.
She opened her mouth to ask a question, but realized she had more than one. Lena answered a few.
"You were out for about an hour. The boy you helped is much better, and they want to talk to you about it. David is fine. He needs some special training, but if he works hard he can probably be out of here before school starts. And yes, he'll have to register."
*Our locker room will never be the same.* Angel thought at her, with a tired grin.
*It never was.* Lena grinned back.
The evaluator came in. "What you did was brave, but foolish. We have people here who are trained to give energy safely. He could have drained you completely." He half scolded. "Still, you did help him until they got there. As fast as he was fading, he might not have made it. He finished his change and woke up a few minutes after you went to sleep. He still needs a lot of help, but thanks to you, he'll get it."
"That shield of his kept me from seeing much of anything. We owe you one, and he owes you a big one." He shook her hand, handed her his card, then left.
"Ready to go?" David's mother asked.
"I guess so."
They went to David's room, which looked more like a dorm room than a hospital room. They said their goodbyes, collected his father, and left.
On the ride home, Angel had a lot to think about. Despite losing her manhood, she had it pretty easy when she woke up from her transition. David was a friend, but she'd put him through hell.
*You gave him what he wanted, and more. Unlike you and me, he can't whine that he didn't ask for those powers. And once he's learned control, he'll be very happy with the gifts.*
"You girls are awfully quiet back there." David's mother commented.
"Just tired. And thinking." Angel answered, which was true enough. She just neglected to mention what kind of thinking.
*Ooh, devious. I like it.* Lena grinned.
Out loud, Angel asked "Got any plans this afternoon?"
"Just thought I'd hit the pool. I've been neglecting my tan, lately." They both laughed at that, and in the front of the car, David's parents smiled.
"Sounds good. I'll go with you." Then she mentally shifted gears. *I guess this proves what we thought. I can shape how and when people morf.*
*Scary. That's a lot of responsibility.*
*It's reassuring that you look at it that way. But it does prove the concept of the Pope Hill idea.*
*That's true. And I bet David will be able to help a lot, too. Once he gets control.*
*Oh, yeah. That adds a whole new dimension to the idea.* Lena grinned again, with new enthusiasm.
When they got to Lena's house, everyone exchanged thanks again, and the two girls went inside their houses to change.
At the pool, they found a few of their friends and went over to say hello.
After the usual round of greetings, Star eagerly spoke up.
"Watch!" she invited. She held her hands as though holding a bowling ball (without the finger holes). A small ball of light formed in the middle of that space, then grew to the size of that imaginary ball. She held it steady for several seconds, then made it shrink away and vanish.
Everyone congratulated her. She could do beams and radiance from day one, but this took more effort and skill. She was very pleased with her accomplishment.
Angel asked her whether she could control the color and spectrum of the light. She could, with a fair degree of control. Certain colors she could even get completely monochromatic, like a laser red. But she couldn't get it coherent like a laser.
"Yet!" she declared.
Robin asked Angel if she could touch up her tan. Angel talked, in general terms, about what had happened at the clinic, and promised to help her the next day. The talk about the clinic led to talk about David, and from there to the child and then the theaters. They already knew some of it, especially Robin.
They were all disappointed that they probably wouldn't see David until school, give or take a little. They were anxious to see his wings and find out whether he could fly, though. Angel had been vague about his other abilities, thinking that it would be better if they heard it from him. When, and to the extent, he was ready.
Sherry had gotten some good news. She was on the diving team, and had gotten a determination that her "extras" would not affect her competition status. In track, swim team, etc. her morfs given abilities put her in the Special Teams categories.
They generally had fun talking, swimming, listening to music, and just being teenagers on summer vacation.
Eventually, she noticed the time and headed home to fix dinner.
By morning, she was fully recovered.
She got up later than she had the day before, so she hurried downstairs in her bathrobe to wish her parents a good day. When they left, she went back up and, in a leisurely way, got ready for the day.
She fixed and ate some breakfast, cleaned up, then started some reading.
*Angel! You've got company coming, and she's trouble.*
*Some bigshot bio elemental. She's representing a sort of union. And she's pissed at you.*
*Like I could help it. She's louder than you!*
Angel didn't need Lena to tell her when her guest arrived. She could feel her as she pulled up, and could see her field come through the door before she got there. Angel was jealous.
She set her eCom to record, and answered the door before the bell rang. "Can I help you?"
"Angel O'Connor? We need to talk." the woman began, briskly.
"I can see you're a much more powerful bio elemental than I am, but I'll need more than that before I let you into my parent's home." Angel challenged.
The woman handed Angel a business card, which identified her as Betty Wilson, representing AMBE - the Association of Medical Bio Elementals.
Knowing she was wrong, Angel asked "Here to recruit me, Ms. Wilson?"
"Hardly," came the haughty reply. "You don't qualify."
Angel recognized a put down when she heard one. "Why, then?"
"To keep you from getting in a lot of trouble."
Angel had to admit, if only to herself, that she had her attention. Reluctantly, she invited her in. After offering her a seat and a drink, Angel sat on the sofa and prepared to listen.
She got right to the point. "I would be very surprised if you did not know how much we charge for our services. Do you know how many of us there are in this country?"
Angel shook her head.
"Eighteen. Eighteen active medical bio elementals in the whole country. And each of us only takes a limited number of cases. Do you know why we charge so much and take so few cases?"
"Greed is too easy an answer. So why don't you tell me?"
"There are only eighteen of us because the rest of us burned out. Imagine spending all day. every day, faced with ugliness and horror. Children far more disfigured than that little girl you saw. And always being pressured to do things for the rich and powerful. And for the deserving needy. Every day of your life. No days off, no personal time." Angel shuddered.
"And the politics. Even with all of us working full time, at an inhuman pace, there would still be a need for doctors and surgeons. We wouldn't have wanted to destroy that market, even if we could."
"But many didn't see it that way. The AMA is still a powerful group, and they know how to work the system. They started a bill going through Congress to require us to get medical degrees before we did any healing, and to operate under the same rules as the regular doctors."
"We weren't without our own resources, so soon we were at the negotiating table. The high prices and limited patient loads were part of the negotiated compromise. We can, and do, perform a certain amount of pro bono work. But we have to limit it to prevent burnout."
*She's not telling you the whole story. But it's enough for her purposes.*
"Most of us started out the same way you did, doing favors for friends and family. Then getting talked into helping some poor, deserving case. Being exploited from every direction."
Angel hadn't thought of it quite that way.
"And now that we have some little bit of control over our lives, the last thing we need is some underpowered little brat breaking the agreements and giving us a bad name. Before we would let that happen, we will take steps."
*Is that the threat it sounded like?*
*Not really. No violence or anything, just legal and economic steps*
Somewhat relieved, Angel assured her that she would not be taking their high priced cases or violating the compromise. She wouldn't depress the market for their services, or take on anything she couldn't handle. And that she wouldn't give them a bad name.
Ms. Wilson wasn't entirely convinced, but let it go with a warning that they would be watching her. With that, she left.
Once Angel was sure she was really gone, she stopped the eCom recording. Then she downloaded a copy to her old computer and another to her tablet. Just to be on the safe side. Then she used the eCom to call Lena.
"Any plans for today?"
"I was going to visit David for a while, then do the pool. Sound good?"
"Great. How are we getting to the clinic?"
"His folks. They're going, too." Then she suddenly shifted gears. "You all right?" Her tone said that she knew Angel wasn't ok.
"N... no." She barely got the eCom disconnected and down on the table before she was curled up on the sofa, crying.
*I'll be right there.* Lena told her.
A moment later, wrapped in Lena's arms, Angel wailed "Why am I crying like this? Why do I feel this way? I never used to do that."
"Shhh. It's all right. It's just an adrenalin crash. And you're still new to being a girl. Our emotions are different. The hormones and all. You'll be ok." She held her and rocked her until the storm died down.
"I feel so weak." Angel complained.
"Of course you do. I'll go get you some pie. Just the thing for a little energy." She smiled. Making herself at home in Angel's kitchen, she served out a piece of the pie and poured a glass of milk. She took it in to Angel, and made sure she ate and drank as they talked.
"I could feel how much of a strain that conversation put on you. I was a little surprised you lasted as long as you did, after she left."
"I feel better now. Stupid, but better."
"You're not stupid. You handled her well, in a situation designed to put stress on you. And you kept it together until she was well and truly gone."
"Yeah, but nothing. Any girl would have collapsed that way, if she could keep it together that long in the first place. You've got nothing to feel stupid about."
"Do you think I need to redo my makeup before we go see David?" Angel joked.
"Just a little touch up or two." The irony in her voice was inescapable.
"That bad, huh?"
Despite the preparations, they were ready in plenty of time. David's parents were in the front seat, and the girls were in the back.
When they got to the clinic, David was in his room. He was using something that looked like a soft bristled hairbrush on his wings. "Aargh! Now I know why birds turn their heads all the way around. How can you do anything at that part of your back?"
The girls laughed, and his mother smiled. His father looked almost as puzzled as he did.
"What's so funny?"
"It's a girl thing, dear. Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it."
That set the girls off again. His mother paused a second, then blushed.
Moving on to change the subject, she asked "How are you doing, here?"
"Ok, I guess. I'm just beginning to realize how much I have to learn. Not just stuff like how to take care of my wings, but how to control my other powers and how they think the powers work. Stuff like they don't think I'll be able to make antimatter out of matter, or make or destroy subatomic particles."
"That's good, I think." His father said. "I'd rather you didn't blow up the place that way." That got a chuckle.
"It seems like I'm spending more time learning how not to use my powers than learning how to use them." David complained.
"And you will." Lena told him, firmly. "I went through that too, you know. Until you have a good handle on it, it can drive you nuts. How often do you want to walk into walls and things because your telesense is looking somewhere else?"
"And don't forget the story of King Midas." His mother reminded him. "I shudder to think what you could accidentally turn your food into."
"Urgh. I hadn't thought of that. Fun. That should help motivate me to work on not using it."
"Are you learning any fun things?" Angel asked.
"A little. One pretty cool thing seems to be a side effect of the transmutation thingy. I can look at something and get a sort of mental image of what it is like all the way down to the atomic level. It's not conscious, but I can pull out some information. Like when there is something hidden inside the thing I'm looking at. The down side is that I don't really know what I'm looking at in real world terms. I mean, I know if it's a box, or a fork, or whatever. But I can't tell whether This atom is lead or gold, or That is a molecule of water or carbon dioxide. I can understand that All These are the same as That Other, but I can't put real world names on any of it."
"I know what you mean." Angel said. "I went through the same thing with the bio stuff. I just had to spend a lot of time looking at a lot of stuff, with people telling me what it was, before I started to get the hang of it. Then I started to be able to build on it on my own, and recognize patterns. You'll get the hang of it." She took a breath. "All of it."
David understood what she meant. She could do similar things, but only to living stuff like cells and virii and the like. At least he didn't have to learn about being the opposite sex while he was learning to control and use his abilities. And like her, he could choose where to put the effort and what applications to practice when.
He had a long way to go, even after he got out of the clinic. But he would be able to do fantastic things.
They visited for a while longer, but David had to get back to his lessons in what he called the Xavier Institute.
When the girls were back home, they got ready for the pool.
When they got there, Angel grinned. "Do you guys live here, or what? Every time I come to the pool, there you are."
"Pretty much." Sherry laughed. "It's my nature. I want to be near, or in, water as much as I can. And we can't really afford our own pool."
Star was playing with the shape of her light ball, and generally enjoying the day. Robin was networking and working on her tan. Only David was missing.
Angel and Lena filled the others in on David, without going into specifics about his powers. They all got a good laugh about the middle of the upper back comment. In between bouts of swimming and diving, Angel gave Robin the promised help with her tan. Unlike Lena, she wanted some fairly specific tan lines. Angel made sure to heal any skin damage along the way, especially sun damage.
To Angel, the best part was the conversation and the bonding. A few months ago, she would never have understood that. But now she did.
A car drove past, with a superficial resemblance to the one Ms. Wilson drove. It clearly wasn't her car, but it was enough to remind her. She shuddered.
The others asked her about her reaction, and she told them about the visit. They offered support and sympathy. Robin seemed to alternate between annoyance and guilt. Angel guessed that was because of the part she played in getting her together with the doctor. Angel was careful to reassure her about that. But it did bring something to mind.
"She did bring up one point, though. She was talking about the bio elementals being exploited, sometimes by well meaning people, sometimes by others. And she was right."
Robin looked very unhappy.
"Don't look like that, Robin. Yes, the doctor exploited me to get something for his patient for less than the usual cost, and yes, you helped get us together. But so what? The point is that we're not the only ones. I have shamelessly exploited Lena, ever since we met. And to a lesser extent, she has exploited me. The school has exploited Sherry for her athletic ability. Most of us have been exploited, at some time, for our eye candy quotient."
"Yes, most of the time we've gotten something for it. I've probably saved the theater chain thousands of dollars, and gotten some toys, free food and movie passes, and a nice little paycheck that I haven't gotten yet. Lena got to benefit from my theater goodies and got a tan. Sherry gets some sort of recognition."
She stopped for a breath, and to put her next thoughts to words. "I'm not saying any of this is wrong. But it's something we should think about. Star," she turned toward Star. "How would you feel about being invited to a great party?"
"I like it. When and where?"
"Now, how would you feel if, when you got there, they just wanted you to light the place up and throw in some colored lights and such?"
"Pretty lousy. And from what you were saying, what do I get out of it?"
"You get to eat the food, listen to the music, and even talk to some of the people there. But beyond that, you're a living light fixture."
"It seems kinda one sided."
"Exactly. And that's what I'm talking about. For the rest of out lives, people are going to try to exploit us. Not an even exchange, but a one sided benefit." Robin started looking down again, and Angel continued. "Not just for out powers. Robin, you're a good looking girl. How many people want to exploit that? How many have tried? Do you have any idea how much someone could make with a porno vid of you? Or how much your looks, energy, and smarts could benefit the theater if they put you behind the counter at little more than minimum wage? This isn't about our powers. It's about us."
Sherry broke the awkward silence, with a grin. "You know, that's not a bad idea for a theme party. An Exploitation Bash. Everyone there is exploited for some aspect of the party. Star does that lighting. You do tans and stuff. Bear and I do the heavy lifting and act as bouncers. Radar does communications and the other part of security."
"That's great for you powered types. But what about the rest of us?" Robin muttered.
"Oh, don't worry hun. You've got plenty to exploit. With your money and contacts, you can get us the place for this."
"But... I..." Robin began.
"No real choice. This is Exploitation!" Sherry declared.
"What do you say, everyone? An end of the summer Exploitation Party, the Friday before School starts?"
"Party... party... party... party!" they chanted. Then cracked up.
They started putting together a list of people to invite, and what they could exploit about them. Some of the exploits were more silly than useful, like the boy known for his endowments being used for a coat rack. When they got their laughter back under control, they found another way to use him.
That evening, at dinner, she told her folks about the party. They weren't sure how they felt about the theme, but they liked the idea of her meeting more of her potential classmates before school started.
Then she told them about the visit, making sure to tell them about Lena monitoring the whole thing. Then she showed them the recording. Then they had a family discussion about it. She would have to be careful what she did in the medical arena. It was clear that their political power was as much beyond hers as their power level was.
They were not happy, especially about the implied threats. But they agreed that she handled herself well under the circumstances. But in the future, she was to contact at least one of her parents - by phone or by Lena - if something like that comes up.
"I didn't want to bother you at work."
"Go ahead and bother us for something like that. It's part of being a parent, and both of us have bosses who understand that."
Later, Angel had some time on her hands and was curious about what Ms. Wilson hadn't told her. She went online and started searching. Before too long, she had several references. They disagreed on a number of details, but agreed on one thing. When the AMA pulled their power play, the insurance industry counter punched. Basically, they said they were all for the AMA idea, but with one change. They would no longer issue malpractice insurance to any doctor who was not practicing under the supervision of a bio elemental MD.
And if any group had more lobbying muscle than the AMA, it was the insurance industry.
Recognizing that the AMA couldn't back down, most (but not all) sources claimed, the medical bio elementals offered the face saving "compromise" to the negotiators. The rest was history.
The next morning, she woke up early again. As she got ready for her work day, she realized she would need a ride to work. She also wanted to know about Lena's plans.
*Lena? You up?* she tried to be gentle.
*Barely. Had to make a bathroom run.*
*Are you coming today?*
*Do you really need me?*
*No, I don't think so. I need to find a ride, though. Any ideas?*
*Try your mom. She's still a little paranoid, and getting you there safely would make her feel better.*
*Ok. Movie today?*
*Nope, gotta pass. I need to help David some.*
*Ok. Give him my best.*
Angel went downstairs and spoke with her parents about getting a ride to work. Lena was right - her mother was still spooked about Ms. Wilson's visit and the incident with Andy's predecessor.
Angel made a note on her eCom to talk with the theater people about transportation.
After a quick breakfast, her mother took her to work. As soon as she saw the door into the theater open, she was on her way to her own job. Angel went and thumbed in, then headed up to the office. She found Mr. Moore figuratively up to his elbows in paperwork. The main real paper was a pile of envelopes.
He smiled and greeted her, then handed her an envelope. Her first paycheck. Aside from the reimbursements, it wasn't all that much. She hadn't worked many hours to begin with, and the various withholdings took a good chunk of what was there. Still, it was her pay. That was a nice feeling. It was less than she made for helping the girl, but more than the cost of a microburger or two.
The plan for the day was that she would reinspect concessions and the restrooms briefly, then go through the theaters themselves. And after that, the store rooms and other non public areas. In addition to health threats, she would look for threats to the building, such as dry rot. While it was a lot of territory to cover, it was not as detailed and most of it could be done while the theater was open.
She reminded him about needing Monday off, and he verified it was scheduled. Then she asked what she would be doing after reinspecting the first five theaters.
He told her that the other local regional offices had asked for her help with their own theaters. Over the next two weeks, she would be inspecting selected theaters in other parts of the Greater Denver Area and beyond.
She asked about transportation. He told her it would be provided. In fact, she would be going with someone from the office. Her partner would be conducting the periodic inspections of the theater paperwork that the central office insisted on.
After school started, she would be conducting brief reinspections once or twice a week, so she could spot any developing problem areas. She would also be on call, within reason, for suspected problems.
He pointed out that since the status change, she was on salary rather than on hourly pay. That would pay for the on call time and incidentals, as well as her active work time. And she would be expected to let management - at the theater or the office - know any time she noticed something untoward at one of the theaters. Even if she was only there to watch a movie. That function was not limited to her bio elemental functions. Anything that affected the patrons' experience was appropriate.
Finally, she would be expected to attend the monthly dinner meeting of managers, the first Tuesday of each month. Dress was business casual, and the company paid for the food and non alcoholic beverages. Since she was underage, that last limitation didn't really affect her.
She started with the bathrooms, since she really wanted to get them done before too many employees - much less the public - got there. One of the urinals apparently had a small leak, since there was a slowly spreading mildew patch on the wall by the bottom. She took a couple of pictures and moved on. Everything else was in reasonably good shape.
She was relieved to see that the ladies' rooms were in good shape as well. A couple were a little short on paper supplies, but that was something they regularly watched for.
The concessions area was in good shape. Just the usual low level stuff that the morning wipe down should handle. The storage areas were mostly good.
The key word was "mostly".
End Part 8
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