Angel's Tale: A MORFS Universe Story

By Joreymay

 

Part 9

 

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". One case of HealthyBites chips struck her as wrong. When she opened the case and checked a bag, she understood why. It was contaminated. She used her eCom to call Mr. Moore in and started checking other cases more carefully. She found one more bad box of the chips, just as the manager arrived.

 

She told him about her findings. She said that it was unlikely anyone would actually die from the food poisoning, but they could get pretty sick. He checked the cases and found they were from the same lot number. He used his own eCom to take a picture of the label on the case, and called the corporate office. Normally, he would call the regional chain office that he reported to, but this was urgent.

 

He was glad it was a weekday, and the full staff would be there. He told them about the problem, and sent them the label picture. He also made it a point to credit Angel for the discovery. That wouldn't exactly hurt his own career, since he was known to be the one who brought her onboard for that purpose.

 

Word quickly went out to all the company's theaters, throughout the State. And to the offices of other parts of the company. With luck, the cases would be pulled before any were opened or, worse, sold. The good news was that it was part of a shipment that arrived the previous evening, so most would have been safely stored away.

 

While he knew that the central office would contact the company that made the tainted treats, he decided to call the local distribution company to let them know directly. He was frustrated to have to leave voice mail messages at both of his contact numbers.

 

While he was doing that, Angel finished her inspection of the supplies and moved on to the theaters themselves. She noticed the traces of mold blowing in through the vents. She also found some problem areas at the front, by the floor. She guessed that the active areas were fed by spilled drinks, etc. flowing downhill over time. She found similar problems in the places where the stadium seating ended, and the flat seating began. Finally, she found several problems around the trash cans just outside the theater doors. The problems were mostly on the walls, making her suspect that the floors were cleaned regularly and relatively well.

 

She took pictures of everything, transferred them to her tablet, and used the graphics package to enhance and otherwise highlight the problem areas. By the time she was about halfway through the process, the theater had opened and she was working around a stream of early moviegoers. She retreated to the office to finish the graphics and notes, then went looking for the manager.

 

She waited as he explained some procedure to a ticket seller, involving drink boxes and the kiddy matinee. When he was free, she showed him her findings. He asked her about the danger level from the blowing mold and spores, and she said it probably wasn't too serious. Sensitive people might become uncomfortable, and allergic people might have a reaction. Unlike the tainted chips, it was not an emergency.

 

He acknowledged the rest, and told her to write up her report and send it to the office. Then he rushed off to investigate an apparently angry young mother.

 

While she was working on her report, Angel reflected that her job was reminding her more and more of school. And that set off a train of thought, running from school, to the exploitation party, to Robin and the others.

 

She decided to take a break and call Robin. She was, as usual, at the pool. Angel asked whether she'd like to catch a movie with her at the Chinese in a little bit, after she was done with her work there. Robin happily accepted and, in response to a gentle hint, offered Angel a ride home after the show.

 

Robin was happy for the free movie and refreshments, but was happier for the invitation. She was afraid that Angel blamed her for the visit from the angry elemental, for getting her in trouble. But the more they talked, the clearer it was that she didn't.

 

Robin was especially glad that Angel didn't act superior to unchanged people, the way some morfs did. With David changed, she was the only one in their little group who hadn't changed. Yet.

 

She knew she would. It was inevitable. Her mother had. All her closest friends had. Most of her cousins had. But how would she change? Would she become powerful? An exotic beauty? A boy? She shuddered at that last thought. Even a halfie would be better. Her cousin Lynn had become a halfie. Other than the frequency with which people suggested she do something that was impossible for most people, and the problems with the lines of some clothes, she had adapted well.

 

But there was Angel, asking what she would want to become if she did change. When she did change. And the only thing she could think to say was "a friend." She was not really a lonely person. She had a lot of school friends, and her little circle of close friends. And unlike some of those friends, she still had both parents. She just... needed people. Friends, especially.

 

Angel was a little puzzled by Robin. She was well liked, well to do, and well provided for with looks and brains. But she seemed to have what Angel's mother called "self esteem issues." She just wasn't as sure of herself as she sometimes seemed, or as she deserved.

 

But Angel knew there were limits to what she could do for people. A point her recent visitor drove home with some force. If anyone could help her, it was Lena. And if Lena hadn't done so, there must be a reason. So the only thing left was to be a good friend. Accepting her, appreciating her, for who and what she was.

 

When she was dropped off at home, Angel went up to take a shower and get ready for dinner. She really wanted to get out of her work clothes, and into something more comfortable. And a shower sounded wonderful.

 

While she was finishing her shower, the water pressure dropped. She figured that her mother had gotten home with the same idea. She quickly finished and shut off the shower.

 

She dried off and dressed. Then she went downstairs and played a game on her tablet. When her mother got there a few minutes later, she had a large envelope in her hands.

 

She gave it to Angel, saying "Here is your class schedule and some things you'll need for your orientation on Monday. If you have any questions, Lena and your other friends can probably answer them. You will have a chance to change your schedule after the orientation, but the classes are pretty full."

 

Before Angel could reply, her father walked in. She was happy that he would make it to the dinner, and even happier that she noticed him coming in. That made it more likely that the other day was a fluke.

 

He had more good news. He had the entire weekend off. He finally had things running well enough that the weekend staff could handle almost anything that would come up, and the on call staff could handle virtually anything else.

 

Virtually.

 

The way things had been going the last couple of weeks, that one little word made Angel nervous.

 

*Paranoid much?* Lena teased.

 

*Just realistic. Whacha up to?*

 

*Frantic last minute cleaning. We have some important guests coming to dinner tonight, and Mom wants to make a good impression.*

 

*Need any help?*

 

*That would kinda defeat the purpose, y'know?*

 

*Good point. See ya soon.*

 

"Darn it!" Angel's mother seemed only mildly upset, but she decided to investigate anyway.

 

"What's the problem?"

 

"It's these new wrinkles. I still haven't gotten the hang of compensating for them when I do my makeup."

 

"You know," Angel began. "I could get rid of them for you."

 

"What?"

 

"I can get rid of your wrinkles. I can fix any part of your skin that you want. You want the skin of a teenager, I can give it to you."

 

"Uh, no thanks! At my age, the last thing I need is to battle acne again."

 

"Ok, early twenties. And no acne. What do you think?"

 

"Can you get everything?"

 

"No. You have some stuff going on with your facial muscles, and I can't reach those. But I can do your skin. Just take a minute or two. Want me to do it?"

 

She was tempted. She hated the things age did to her skin, and couldn't afford the high end treatments to do something about it. "Ok. If it won't be too much strain."

 

Angel snorted. "Hardly. I've done a lot more and barely noticed it. You might want to take your makeup off first, so you can see what it looks like."

 

Taking a wipe sheet in hand, her mother cleaned her face with practiced ease. Without her makeup, the face in the mirror looked middle aged and worn. And a little plain. Angel had her close her eyes and lean her head back a little. As she ran her hands slowly over her face and down her neck, she felt a warm tingling, and a sort of flutter. Before she really had a handle on the feeling, Angel was asking her to open her eyes.

 

The change was dramatic. It was clearly her face, but different. The lines were gone, her skin was tighter in a good way, and her face seemed to glow. There were still some signs of the aging, in the slight sag of some muscles, but the effect was still remarkable.

 

When she put her hand up to her face, the contrast was remarkable. She started to frown, then quickly caught herself. Just a fraction too late.

 

"You know, I could do your hands and arms, too. No extra charge." Angel grinned.

 

"In for a penny, I guess. Are you sure?"

 

Angel took that hand and ran her own over it, front and back. Then she moved up her arm, cupping her hands into a sort of cuff to get all sides at once. Soon she was at her shoulder. She let her compare hands and arms. Again, the difference was striking. Without comment, she smiled and held out her other hand.

 

While she was working on it, Angel got a mischievous gleam in her eye. "You know, mom, I could do your whole body. Give Daddy a thrill."

 

Her mother gulped. "I... I think we'd best take this a little at a time." She never quite got rid of the stretch marks from carrying Angel, and from nursing him. She was always a little self conscious about that. And a few unsightly scars she picked up through the years. But did she really want to get rid of them? They told the story of her motherhood, and of exciting events in her younger days. She would have to think about that.

 

"Thank you, Angel. That was a wonderful thing to do. How are you doing?"

 

"That was nothing. Once I got the right feel, it took almost no effort. I really could do your entire body and hardly notice it. When I gave Lena her full body tan, it mostly took a little effort because I was fixing a sunburn and a lot of longer term skin damage. And even then, it didn't take much. I only overextended myself when I was healing Robin's scar, and that was because I tried to go too deep."

 

"What about the little girl?"

 

"Different problem. Normally, when I'm healing, I draw partly from my own energy and partly from the other person's. With her, I had to be careful not to do that. I was more exhausted from the effort of keeping myself away from her energy than from the healing itself."

 

"That's good to know. Thank you again, but now I need to get ready to go."

 

Angel went back downstairs, to join her father in front of the tube.

 

"Everything all right up there?" he asked.

 

"Fine. Just arranging a little surprise." she grinned.

 

She surreptitiously studied his face. Now that she was looking, she could easily see the effects of age on his face. It would be trivial for her to fix it. But for men, such aging is not so much of a bad thing. In his position at work, he was an authority figure. He directed and coordinated the efforts of a number of other people, who sometimes didn't get along very well. His age helped give him that air of authority. She would have to be careful.

 

*It's safe to come over now.* came the amused thought.

 

*We'll be there in a few.* Angel replied. "Mom! It's about time to go!"

 

"You two ready to go?" came the answer.

 

Angel looked at her father. He shrugged. He was just as happy going over there in his work clothes. He had already washed his face and hands. And he had been there before, without changing.

 

"Looks like it." he called up to her. Then he noticed she was coming downstairs. She saw him, and shook her head in one of her "what am I going to do with you?" gestures, then shrugged and smiled.

 

He saw the look she gave him, then did a double take. There was something different about her. About her face and hands, and even her arms. His confusion must have shown, because his wife and daughter broke into a brief spate of laughter. Then they turned to leave.

 

On the way to the door, Angel grabbed the envelope with her schedule in it. She wanted to go over it with Lena before Monday.

 

They were exuberantly greeted at the door by Lena's mom. Once they were inside, they were introduced to her father. He was a pleasant man, a little younger than Angel's father, with thinning brown and gray hair and just the beginnings of a beer belly. Like Angel's father, he was dressed in a working suit. Unlike Angel's father, he had the jacket unbuttoned and was without a tie. In fact, the top button of his shirt was undone.

 

"I see I'm overdressed," Angel's father joked. He took off his tie, and put it in a pocket of his coat. From the others' reactions, the scene was not uncommon. And they were quite comfortable with it.

 

While the adults talked over appetizers and drinks, Angel pulled out her schedule to show Lena.

 

"Any advice?"

 

"Actually, it looks pretty good. Were you really in all that AP stuff back at your other school?"

 

Angel just nodded and shrugged.

 

"Mrs. Veng is one of those teachers you really like or really don't. She is a tough grader, but scrupulously fair. And she generally allows some extra credit. The rest are ok, from what I've seen. None of them have a thing for or against morfs, except for things like the extra work they have to do when I'm in their class."

 

Angel put away her papers, then took up the conversation mentally. *How's David doing?*

 

"David's doing well," Lena replied out loud. "He needs to work on control, and he was getting frustrated with his attempts to micromanage his powers. I told him about your dream."

 

They were called in to dinner. As they walked in to the dining room, Angel asked "Which one?"

 

"The centipede," she replied, pulling out a chair for Angel.

 

Dinner was nice. Angel's parents had brought a bottle of wine as a traditional house gift, and the adults were all having some with dinner. The girls were not. Angel wasn't all that upset about that. She had tried a little again after her transformation. She didn't like it any more than she had before the change. If anything, she liked it a little less.

 

The wine inspired talk among the adults about drunken antics. That set Angel to wondering: with her power, could she neutralize the effects of alcohol in her system? It would probably take concentration, which would be impaired unless she could keep it from affecting her in the first place.

 

*That would be pretty cool, though.* Lena thought at her. *No worries about some guy trying to get you drunk to get into your pants.*

 

Angel couldn't help herself. *Too late. A guy already got into my pants.*

 

Lena looked startled, then caught on. *Your former self doesn't count!*

 

"Lena! You know it's rude to have mental conversations at the table. Especially with company." her father gently scolded.

 

"Sorry, dad." Lena turned back to Angel. "So, did the Midol help?" she asked, with mock concern.

 

"Not as much as I would have liked. But I'm going to see if I can use my powers to make it shorter or something." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lena's father shake his head, smiling.

 

Angel's mother didn't bat an eye. "If you succeed, dear, don't mention it to the other girls. It could make you very unpopular. Especially among the girls who are on when you say it."

 

The other adults laughed in agreement.

 

*Oh, well. It was worth a try.* Lena grinned.

 

"So, seen any good movies lately?" Angel asked, changing the subject pointedly. She wondered if she was the only one actually embarrassed by the unsuccessful attempt to throw their parents.

 

Over dessert, the subject of age and youth in the workplace came up. Lena's mother laughed that she didn't have to worry about it. She "and a couple of other wrinkled old bats" ran an online business, selling camping accessories. Her husband, who was in marketing at the company Angel's father worked for, complained that the men in his department were more youth oriented - and vain - than the women. And that he had already seen younger looking men get promoted over older looking ones, independent of their actual ages. It was supposed to be illegal and against company policy, but it happened anyway.

 

His wife commented that maybe Angel's mother could share her secret. She had dropped years in a couple of days.

 

"Er... that would be me." Angel volunteered. She described using her elemental powers to restore her mother's skin, and the way she'd fixed Lena's skin. She saw a conflicted look grow on Lena's father's face.

 

*He really wants it, but it's not that simple for him. It would be a violation of hospitality to ask, and he's afraid of looking vain.*

 

"Here, let me show you what I mean." Angel offered. She got up and moved behind him. "May I?" she asked him. He looked at his wife, who smiled encouragingly, then he nodded.

 

She went over his face and neck, describing what she was doing. First, she just did the skin. Then she went through and rejuvenated the hair follicles of his beard. Finally, she went over his scalp, rejuvenating his hair there, as well. Then she moved to his hands and arms. She made sure to ask about his scars, but he didn't want to keep them. When she was done, he looked like he was in his late twenties or early thirties.

 

She thanked him for his help, and he thanked her. He commented that a lot of people in marketing and entertainment would pay a small fortune for such treatments. That got Angel wondering.

 

"Lena, when you morfed, did a lot of people suggest ways you could make a lot of money or build a career?"

 

"They still do. Legitimate ones, like law enforcement and private security or psychotherapy, and less legal ones like insider trading and blackmail. I think a lot of us get that."

 

"You have to decide what you want to do with your life." Lena's mother put in. "You have a lot of options. But so do most reasonably healthy and intelligent people your age. In your case, you can choose to use your powers to make a living. Or you can use them on the side and do something unrelated. A lot of morfs do things completely unrelated to their powers."

 

"One option you both have," Angel's father added. "Is to use your powers to help pay your way through college. A good education will go a long way toward helping you get where you want to go. Even if you want to follow a career based on your powers."

 

That conversation hit Angel where she lived. When she was a boy, she had just started thinking about what she wanted to do. She took it for granted that she would go to college, but had no idea about a major. Much less a career. Over the summer, her goals were just to learn to be a girl, and to build her control of her elemental abilities. She hadn't really thought past the beginning of school.

 

*They're talking to you.*

 

Angel shook herself. "Sorry," she blushed. "I just got lost in some thoughts."

 

Her mother smiled. "We were just saying that you didn't really have to make up your mind right away. It's just something to think about. But you should choose some shorter term goals. They can help you choose among the opportunities you have."

 

The girls cleared the table while the adults moved to the living room for more talk. At first, Lena's mother didn't want Angel to help - she was a guest, after all. But she gave in when Angel pointed out it would give them a chance to talk in relative privacy.

 

The two girls agreed that they had no idea what they wanted to do with their lives. But that didn't stop them from throwing around outrageous ideas. They debated which of them would make the best prostitute. They decided it was Lena, but Angel would be a close second. They agreed that neither of them wanted to run the country, much less the world.

 

It was silly, fun, and relaxing. Angel was almost sorry to go home. But she had work in the morning, so she needed her sleep. Especially given the fact that she would be facing the manager she thought of as the martinet. And would be doing so without Lena.

 

 Wanting to do some shopping, Angel's mother drove her to the theater. She asked Angel to call her on her "plain, ordinary cell" when she was ready to be picked up. Angel had a good chuckle over her mother's overacting, but promised to call using her using her "fancy, high tech eCom."

 

When Angel arrived at the theater, she struck a balance. She was polite, but not deferential. She treated him as a peer, but one worthy of human respect. And one with whom she was not personally close. She had done it as a boy, but she found it more difficult as a girl.

 

Mostly, she concentrated on what she was there for.

 

While he didn't try to dominate her for more than a few moments, he did hover over her shoulder. It made her uncomfortable, and she suspected that was deliberate.

 

"Since the office wants more details, I work a little differently now. I'll take pictures of the problem areas, enhance them to indicate the affected areas, then send you the results. That frees you up for your other duties while I work."

 

When he didn't take the hint, she decided that, too, was deliberate. If he wanted head games, she would give him head games.

 

The problem areas she had found before were well scrubbed and disinfected. He might be a pain in the ass, she thought, but he does take such things seriously.

 

She decided to return the mind game favor, and started taking a lot of pictures. She also muttered things like "oh, my," and "Hmmm." When he tried asking what she saw, she just said it would be in the report.

 

Eventually, the stress seemed to get to him and he wandered away. She finished her reinspection, finding nothing more than the routine stuff. Aside from a few shots she decided she liked for artistic reasons, she deleted most of the pictures she had taken.

 

She moved on to the store rooms. She noted that none of the suspect lot of cases were there, and again found little to concern her. There was a bloom in one corner that could indicate some sort of leak above the room or behind the wall, so she got a good picture of it. Looking in the other areas, she was impressed. Even the employee refrigerator was clean.

 

In the theaters themselves, she found some of the same problems as at the Chinese. She suspected he hadn't had time to read or react to those reports. She documented the problems, and got on with her work.

 

When she finished her rounds, she took a seat in the break room. She downloaded the pictures to her tablet, then enhanced them. Putting the pictures together in a report, she made it a point to praise his effectiveness in dealing with the earlier problems. Then she added her notes about the new problems, saved the report, and sent it to his computer.

 

She went to find him, and let him off the hook. She said the reinspection went fine, and the problems she found were small but long term. She also told him that her report was on his system, and asked whether there was anything else he wanted her to look at. He asked her to check out his office.

 

She went up to the office, and was unsurprised to find two cartons of the suspect chips there. She checked the labels against her tablet, and verified they were the same lot. Both had the "wrong" feeling when she checked them.

 

There were some problems with the wall behind his desk. There was a vent there, but it wasn't just that. The scattered growths indicated some sort of moisture in the wall from time to time. While she was looking over the problem, she realized that the store room with the bloom was right downstairs from the office. She took more pictures, enhanced them, and sent him the secondary report. At a guess, there might be some leaks in the roof or something.

 

After another brief conversation with him, she thumbed out, called her mother, and headed out the door into a beautiful day.

 

They decided that a nice day like that called for a picnic. On the way home, Angel called her dad and told him the plan. He agreed that it sounded good, and said he would start getting things ready. On the way home, mother and daughter discussed where to have it. Angel knew of some nice places in the State Park, near Pope Hill, and suggested them. They were an easy walk from home, and the setting was nice.

 

After a pleasant walk, they found themselves at some shaded tables. Technically, it was a group site, but nobody was using it just then, and the screen didn't indicate any reservations for the day.

 

Angel was puzzled by a sort of half ball under the stand barbeque, until her father explained it was a solar assist cooker. During the day, the large round reflector loosely focused the sunlight on some rocks under the grill, heating them up. The heat from the rocks was then used to cook the food. There was a sort of shutter arrangement that allowed some control of the heat. Angel had heard of them, but never really seen one. She had even seen stuff in the store that you could sprinkle on the rocks to help flavor the stuff being cooked.

 

He went on to tell her that people had used such things as a novelty since the middle of the Twentieth Century, but they started getting popular in State and Federal parks because they reduced fire dangers and pollution.

 

After briefly using the supplied wire brush to clean off the grill, Angel disinfected it in her own way before they started cooking. It being "outdoor cooking", Chef Dad was in charge of heating the meat. Angel didn't quite know what it was, but hot dogs and brats cooked outside just tasted better than those cooked inside. Even if the cooking seemed identical.

 

While they were generally enjoying themselves, Angel pointed out Pope Hill and mentioned the reason for the name. Then, for the heck of it, she told them about the supposed "something" there - something that both Lena and David said they had encountered. She mentioned the idea of morfed prairie dogs, and that of some kind of supernatural presence. Then she said that, if nothing else, it was a good local story and fun to speculate about.

 

When they got home, they decided that a swim would be nice. They changed, and walked over to the pool. After Angel introduced her parents to Sherry, Robin and Star, they went to sun and swim while she talked.

 

Star showed he the new trick she worked on. Not only could she move both hands under the light ball and keep it stable, but she could change the color of the light . And she could make the ball float up and down a few inches.

 

Angel was suitably impressed, particularly at the effort Star was putting into her practice and learning. To Angel, that was important.

 

About half an hour after Angel arrived, Lena showed up. She looked tired, but satisfied.

 

*David's learned a new trick.* she grinned.

 

*And that is...?*

 

*He can do the transformation thing from where he has his telesense, rather than from where his body is. For the moment, they seem tied together, but it feels to me like he can move them separately. If he can, that would be pretty powerful.*

 

*He is SO going to be a useful part of the Pope Hill Project. Any idea when he gets sprung?*

 

As though catching their conversation, Sherry came up to them. "Hey, Radar! Any word about when David joins the land of the livid?"

 

"He should be home in time for the party." Lena answered. "How's the guest list coming?"

 

"Fifteen and counting. We need some adults to exploit, too. In theory, as chaperones. In practice...?" She shrugged.

 

They rejoined the group. Robin reported that she was working on a place for the party. But she said it would be easier if she had some idea how big a group they were looking at.

 

Sherry replied that it would be easier for her if they knew how much room they'd have. They could easily get thirty to forty guests, including adults.

 

That evening, they went to a nearby international buffet her father had found. They had everything from cheeseburgers to sushi, and a few things Angel didn't recognize at all. Angel allowed her appetite full rein, much to her mother's dismay and her father's amusement.

 

She was also happy to see that the desserts were as varied as the entrees and sides. All told, it was a wonderful meal.

 

Angel made sure her body did what she wanted with the (considerable) excess calories and such... mostly, dumping them unabsorbed.

 

When they got home, they watched the tube a little before getting ready for bed. Angel enjoyed the unhindered family time.

 

 Just for variety, Angel's father took her to work on Sunday morning. When she was done, she would call home and one of her parents would pick her up.

 

As they arrived, Angel was amused to see a truck from a commercial vent cleaning company pull away. Apparently, Andy had taken her report to heart.

 

Inside, he welcomed her with a smile. She went and thumbed in, then they talked a few minutes before she went to work. She didn't envy him his task. He'd had to borrow some staff to make up for the defections, and hire in some longer term replacements. He had to put a good public face on the quiet investigation. There was a lot of deferred maintenance to be taken care of, and substandard supplies to be replaced.

 

It turned out that there was another secret room, with looted supplies and the like. Both rooms had been cleaned out, and the false walls removed. While she was there, Andy especially wanted her to give them a look.

 

Her runs through the restrooms and concessions area turned up remarkably few problems, and those were the minor, unavoidable ones. When she started on the theaters, she noticed some accumulation around the vent outlets. She suspected something similar was at the previous theaters, but had been masked by the plowing biota.

 

There were signs of intensive cleaning in the areas she had targeted at the other two theaters, and little to no sign of contamination. The location of the secret room she had discovered had been well cleaned, but still needed some work. She took pictures and notes.

 

The main store room was a disaster. Several boxes of snacks were at least partially contaminated. It didn't take her long to find the reason: holes chewed in the boxes. Parts of the floor had mouse droppings, and there were some paths of contamination across the floor. There were at least two holes in the wall, and she suspected one or two more behind some stacks which were too heavy for her to move.

 

She took a lot of pictures, made a lot of notes, and then went to find Andy.

 

He didn't like the look on her face. He hadn't known Angel all that long, but he considered her a friend. And had reason to think she reciprocated. So when she came to him with that combination of anger, disgust, and regret, he knew she had found something bad. They adjourned to his office, and she spelled it out.

 

They could probably salvage most of the supplies, but he would have to empty the room, clean and disinfect it thoroughly, and carefully inspect each snack from every compromised box. He would have to dispose of any that showed even a hint of damage.

 

It would cost his theater a fortune in pay and spoilage. On his watch. That couldn't be good for his career.

 

He had another option. He took a somewhat higher loss on the snacks, and just chucked the compromised cases entirely. He would fall short until he got some replacements, and it would add to the temporary sea of red in the accounts, but it was safer.

 

He also scored some points with his employees. He took them to his office, in ones and twos, and told them what he was going to do. Then he told them that the cases would be made available for scavenging after closing time, and warned them to carefully avoid any individual servings that had even a hint of damage. He hinted that Angel had found some sort of nasty disease around some of the mouse nibbles. He also warned them not to spread stories around about it.

 

He called the ones who weren't on shift that day, and told them the same thing.

 

At Angel's suggestion, he called Little Bear (who he knew) and Otter to see if they would help shift the load in exchange for passes and snacks. And salvage rights. Bear happily accepted. Otter couldn't come in the morning, because of some church and family stuff. But she was free in the afternoon.

 

Angel knew just enough about the real world to assure Andy that she had no idea that he might be breaking labor laws or company policy with that quick and dirty temporary recruitment. And that it was none of her business, anyway. She could see the light bulb go on, and figured Andy was in for some interesting fiddling of the already hopelessly compromised books.

 

He asked her to hang around until he and Bear could get some things moved, so she could find the other mouse holes. He suggested she take in a movie while she waited. So, popcorn in hand, she sat in one of the theaters "carefully inspecting" the animated feature she had been wanting to see (but had been afraid to be seen doing so).

 

 Relaxed and entertained, she went back to work. She had access to all four walls, and much of the floor, by then. She found and photographed the other unauthorized entrances.

 

She had thought of an idea. She thought about the mice, and strained to perceive any of them. When she found some, she let her mind take in the information, then asked her mind to find a way to repel the pests from the room.

 

She found herself taking a bag of veggie chips from one of the compromised cases. One by one, she took chips out of the bag, did "something" to them with her hand, then placed them in the openings. She added notes to the report about what she had done, then sent it to Andy and headquarters.

 

She went and found him, and let him know about the chips and the report.

 

When she was finished there, she called home. Her father was still in the area, and would pick her up shortly.

 

When he got there, she offered to treat him to a movie, but he had other plans. He had put off a number of routine repairs since he moved in, and he intended to get some of them done. He also had an ulterior motive.

 

When they got home and Angel changed, he started assigning her tasks in the same way that he had before she changed. When her mother asked him about it, within earshot of Angel, he claimed that he just wanted to be sure she could still handle tools.

 

Later, when he was sure he was alone with his wife, he admitted to a deeper motive. He wanted to remind Angel, at a deep level, that her new powers were not the only way she could accomplish things. That she was still a fully functional human being, rather than some kind of transcendent elemental. And that her sex change had not robbed her of any of the knowledge and skills she had as a boy.

 

"Boy or girl, man or woman, she's going to have to be able to look after herself. Our son was well on his way, competent on everything from cooking to simple repairs. I don't want our daughter to lose ground on any of that."

 

While Angel didn't know any of that, she did know a certain satisfaction from working with her hands, and getting things done. She heard what her father had said about handling tools, and it was satisfying to find out that she still had those skills. After weeks of concentrating on learning to be a girl and working on her elemental side, it was surprisingly relaxing to work with her hands in the old, familiar ways.

 

While they were working, her mother prepared a dinner of good old fashioned comfort foods. She knew they would be tired and hungry when they finished. And she was right.

 

Conversation at dinner was light. They asked Angel whether she was ready for the orientation the next day, and talked about what they expected for the upcoming week. And about a whole lot of nothing in particular.

 

That night, before she went to bed, she looked through her orientation materials. In addition to the regular rules, there was an entire booklet of rules for morfs. Everything from grooming standards for fur and feathers to the use of projected power. Pretty much the same idea as the regular rules - look reasonably neat and decent, do what you're told (within reason), don't cheat, don't disrupt classes or activities, and don't damage school property or people. All said with a lot of words and specifics. Some particularly applied to Lena and other telepaths, expanding on issues of cheating and personal privacy. Likewise for telesensors like David.

 

She laughed when she saw that flying in the halls was treated the same as running in the halls.

 

Pretty much the only thing that she had to be aware of for herself is that if she got caught deliberately giving someone a disease or the like, she would be in trouble. That wasn't really spelled out, but it was clear enough.

 

Physically enhanced morfs would undergo testing at orientation or at the beginning of school. Another thing for David to look forward to. Luckily, she didn't qualify.

 

Trying to think ahead, she suddenly realized that how she dressed would make a big difference. And that she would essentially have two first days at school to make good or bad impressions. For better or worse, the teachers, administration, and her fellow students would all judge her on how she was dressed and groomed on those two days. Dressing too well would be as bad as dressing too casually.

 

She gave silent vent to her frustration.

 

*Hey! Keep it down!*

 

*Sorry.*

 

*What's the crisis, anyway?*

 

*Trying to figure out what to wear to orientation tomorrow.*

 

*And?*

 

*Trying to get a handle on how I want the teachers and students to see me.*

 

*What'd you do at your old school?*

 

*Wore slacks and a polo shirt to orientation, then my good jeans and a button shirt my first day."

 

*Oh, yeah. I forgot. If you want, you can do pretty much the same. A nice skirt and a polo shirt for orientation, and your denim skirt and a nice blouse for first day. That would be suitably ambiguous.*

 

*And what would that say?*

 

*It's more what it wouldn't say. It would shout that you're not a fashionista or a neogoth, and would more quietly add that you are not a super, a slob, or someone making any kind of obvious statement.*

 

*I guess that'll do. Thanks*

 

*Sure. Now hush. I'm just getting to the good part!*

 

Now all she had to do was match up a suitable skirt and polo combination. She remembered laughing about the idea of girls going through all that thought and agony over what to wear, back in the old days. Now that it was her, it didn't seem quite so funny.

 

She settled on her navy skirt and cream polo, then had to go through the whole thing again with her shoes. She decided on sandals on bare feet. It was still summer, after all.

 

In the morning, she got up extra early and took special care getting ready. Washing, hair, makeup (still far from her favorite thing), clothes - everything seemed especially important. A part of her was puzzled. It was just a student orientation. What was the big deal? The rest of her seemed to say "It just is. Live with it."

 

Her parents insisted she have a good breakfast that morning, reminding her that it would be a long time until lunch. They had the radio on, so her father could hear the traffic reports before he left. Angel was surprised to hear a news report about some people getting sick the day before and blaming a movie theater for it. It was not one of the theaters in her chain, she noted with relief. The report went on to say that there had been other such reports in the region that weekend, and that the snack maker she had reported to her office had issued a region wide recall for that lot of chips. For a company that relied on an image of healthy foods, it was a severe blow.

 

Her mother drove her to school on her way to work. After wishing her well, she drove away.

 

The orientation would start in the theater, and her mother had dropped her off at the backstage doors. Those were closed and locked, but it didn't take her long to walk around to the open doors into the building. In the lobby of the theater, there were tables for signing in, arranged by last name. She signed in, and got a packet of information with her name on it. She had some time to kill, so she looked through the packet. There was an updated schedule for the morning, some duplicates of sheets she had in her earlier information packet, a copy of her class schedule, and a sheet describing the mentor program.

 

During the orientation, they would each have a student in their own class paired up with them. That student would help find places, talk about opportunities and activities, and generally answer questions about the school from the student point of view.

 

Angel's mentor was Robin. She suspected her mother's hand in that.

 

She went into the theater, and found where Robin was sitting, waiting for her. They still had some time before it would start, so they talked. It turned out that the volunteer mentors could request a specific newbie. Angel silently offered up an apology to her mother for her earlier suspicions.

 

Angel hadn't been aware that Robin was an honor student, and active in several clubs. She was exactly the kind of "good influence" they tried to recruit for mentors and the like. Angel liked her before, but now she was impressed with her. Robin shrugged it off as a combination of good genes and good habits.

 

Angel also appreciated the balance in Robin's life. She put a lot of time and effort into school, but made sure to take time for things she liked doing. She didn't really fit in any of the usual stereotypes.

 

The festivities started with introductions of some key faculty and staff members, and a welcoming speech from the principal. When she was done talking, there was a video about the school, and student life there. Angel was surprised to see some familiar faces in the film, like Sherry doing a bit at the indoor pool and talking about being a morf at the school. She was less surprised to see the end credits, which listed both David and Robin as having worked on the script and filming.

 

Robin told her it was a class project for their Media Production class, and that they had a lot of fun doing it. She promised to show her some of the outtakes sometime.

 

After the video, there was some more talking. Angel was not surprised to hear that the school took a dim view of harassment, especially that between morfs and the unchanged, and between different religious groups. There were some general references to incidents which should not be repeated.

 

Finally, they were sent off to find their classrooms and have a brief talk from each teacher. On the way, Robin pointed out the sights and answered Angel's questions. In one answer, she told Angel about some clashes a few years earlier, between some abusive "pures" and some obnoxious "supers". The pures had apparently been fired up by a guest speaker at their local church, and were set on "driving the evil ones" from the school. A few of the more powerful, and less patient, morfs counterattacked. The results were messy. Nobody was killed, but several people - mostly innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire - were hospitalized.

 

After that, and similar incidents at other schools, the harassment policies were tightened up.

 

Most of the classes were in four major buildings. It was not unusual for new students to be scheduled in such a way that they would have a class at one end of the campus followed by one at the opposite end, followed by one near the first one, and so on. Robin called it "hidden PE", and pointed out that it was a real pain in bad weather. Especially when there was significant snow on the ground.

 

In an open area near the middle of the school stood what looked like an ancient one room schoolhouse. Largely because it WAS an ancient one room schoolhouse. Robin told her that it was the first school in the district, and was more than a hundred and fifty years old.

 

There were some recruiting tables from various clubs in some hallways. Robin commented that there were a lot more of them during freshman orientation, but many of the clubs thought there weren't enough people in the transfer orientation to bother with.

 

Everywhere they went, Robin was greeted in a friendly way, usually by name. She commented that in a school with more than four thousand students, it was easy to be lost or unnoticed. She wasn't quite sure why so many people seemed to know her and like her, but she accepted it.

 

Angel was surprised to see that several of the teachers were obvious morfs. She didn't quite know why she was surprised, but she was. When she thought about it, she could remember a number of morf teachers at her old school, but had never paid much attention to it.

 

By the end of the morning, Angel thought she had a pretty good handle on the situation. She knew the first few real days would still be confusing, but that was par for the course.

 

After the orientation, Robin took Angel around to the fast food places near the school, describing their varying attitudes toward students and the groups that tended to go there. Some of the places were pretty much take out only, but you could comm your order in ahead of time, pick it up at a prearranged time, and be back on campus in plenty of time for a leisurely meal. Robin demonstrated by ordering them a couple of personal pizzas, then winding their tour over to the pizza parlor just in time for the food to be ready. They walked back over to the school, and sat on a bench there to enjoy their feast.

 

After that, they started walking home together. It was not too far, and they lived in the same neighborhood.

 

As they took a well worn shortcut through a corner of the State Park, Angel stopped so suddenly that Robin ran into her, and they nearly fell down. When Robin started to ask what was up, Angel just held up her hand.

 

*Angel! Don't go home yet!* Lena sent her.

 

*Why?*

 

*The police are on their way to talk with you. They think you are involved with something very bad. A kidnapping, I think.*

 

 End Part 9

 

 

 

The entire MORFS  Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/

 


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