Angel's Tale: A MORFS Universe Story
While all that confrontation was going on, Angel and Robin moved to the kids. They comforted them, and asked what happened. While they were telling their story, Angel figured what was bothering her about them. They weren't MORFS survivors.
They were genetically identical twins, but one showed no direct signs of the secondary MORFS infection. As far as Angel knew, that could only mean one thing: their looks were inherited. One of them would be coming down with MORFS in a few days. So far, the other wasn't infected.
Angel wished Lena was there with them. She could have used her mind reading and projective empathy. She realized she had become more than a little dependant on Lena, and wasn't sure that was a good thing. One thing she had been working toward since the change was standing on her own two feet.
For the time being, she concentrated on soothing the little girls. Their names were Kerry and Terry, and they were both nine years old. They had been shopping for a present for their mother, and had gone into one of the little specialty shops. When they went inside, the others were there and started making comments about animals. The twins had gone through similar things long enough to know that their only chance was to pretend they didn't notice. Then one of them made the mistake of reaching for a pretty scarf just ahead of one of the older girls. She had only been thinking about how pretty it would look on their mother, but the teen accused her of trying to steal it from her. She tried to make things better by giving it to her attacker, but that didn't work. Complaining about it being "contaminated", the teen bought the scarf then very deliberately destroyed it.
The twins ran from the shop, crying. The teens followed, and cornered the girls at the bench. Then they started yelling at them about being animals, and needing to learn their places. The scarf girl berated them for what they "made" her do, destroying the scarf. That was what was going on when Angel and her friends spotted the confrontation.
When one of the security people approached the twins to get their statements, Angel and Robin reassured them and held their free hands. The twins were also holding hands with each other. Angel asked them who they were there with, and they said it was their mother. She offered to let them use her eCom to call her. They accepted, and as they did so, she explained to the mall cop that it would be better for the mall if they could have their mother there while they answered his questions. It would just avoid later complications.
He agreed, and asked Angel and Robin about their observations and involvement. Partway through that, Kerry handed her back the eCom and said their mother would be right there. Angel thanked her, then went back to answering questions.
After making sure that the attackers were well out of earshot, he confided that they had been called by the saleslady in the shop. Those teens, and a few others, had been trouble for some time, but she had been afraid enough of the preacher's power not to do anything about it. They had led the attackers to believe that they had been spotted on the security cameras, to avoid issues of revenge.
A couple of minutes later, the twins' mother came running up. One sight of her and Angel knew what the twins reminded her of: lemurs. Their features were not as pronounced as hers, but the resemblance was unmistakable. Deferentially, the cop asked her to identify herself, and had the twins verify that she was their mother. He apologized, saying that it was necessary for the protection of the youngsters. Though distraught, she indicated she understood.
When the twins gave their statements, Angel thought they were exaggerating the supposed heroism of Sherry's actions and those of Angel and Robin. Otherwise, it was pretty much the same as before. They did give their mother a miserable look when they talked about the surrender and destruction of the scarf. They also added the fact that they had earned the money they were going to use for the present themselves, doing odd jobs.
Their mother hugged them, and thanked them for the thought. After they were done giving their statements, their mother made it a point to thank the trio for helping her girls. The girls had been so excited about shopping with their hard earned money, and the independence of shopping by themselves. She thought they were going to look at toys, books, and maybe some clothes for themselves. They admitted that they deliberately let her think so, and that they did mean to actually look at those things. But they really wanted to surprise her.
Angel maneuvered things so that the twins were talking to Sherry and Robin, and quietly maneuvered their mother aside.
"There's something else you should know," She began quietly.
The mother looked worried. "What is it?" She managed to keep her voice down.
Not able to think of any other way of saying it, Angel just came out with it. "In a few days, Kerry will be coming down with MORFS."
"How can you know that?"
"I'm a low level bio elemental. While I can't do all that much, I can see things like this. I thought you would like the heads up."
"I don't know..."
"You don't have to believe me. I probably wouldn't, in your position. But if she starts getting feverish and the rest in a few days, have her checked."
"What about Terry?"
"She doesn't seem to be infected yet."
"What will happen?"
"I wish I could tell you. Most of the time, I can look at someone in this stage and get some idea. This time, I can't. My guess would be that it has something to do with their inherited stuff. I could try again on Saturday, if you like. The closer it is, the clearer it gets."
"I'll think about it." She still didn't sound convinced, and Angel understood. Angel gave her the number of her eCom, then they rejoined the others. After the girls and their mother thanked the three friends, they left.
The girls decided that they didn't really want to spend any more time shopping that day. The confrontation had dampened the fun too much. Robin called her mother, and found out it would be about half an hour before she would be ready to pick them up.
They decided to check out the scene of the crime. It turned out to be a small, high end shop specializing in accessories. They found the display of scarves, and found out they were silk. And very beautiful.
"Are the girls ok?" asked a voice from behind the counter. A moment later, an elegant lady of about middle age stood up from there. "Please pardon my late appearance. I was arranging some special orders back here. How are the girls?"
"They're fine, ma'am." Angel answered. "Their mother came and got them. They were scared and upset, but not hurt physically."
"I saw what you girls did to help. That was very brave. Those four have been trouble for years."
"So we were told. What you did was also brave." Sherry answered.
"Nothing I shouldn't have done long ago. But I just couldn't let them hurt those little darlings."
"Well, thank you." Robin joined in. "You have a lovely shop here."
"Thank you. Weren't you in here last year, around Christmas? With a tall, well dressed lady who carried herself well?"
"My mother." Robin acknowledged. "I had forgotten. We went so many places, it was all a blur after a while. Wait... you brought out that brocade chair for me, while my mom looked around. She got that embroidered clutch for Aunt Jane."
"That's right. I trust your aunt is happy with the bag."
"Oh, yes. She loves it." Robin smiled.
"I'm glad. It was a lovely piece." She turned and looked at Angel. "Did you get the girls' names? I would like to give them something."
"Only their first names. Kerry and Terry. But I'm sure the security office would have their names and address."
"I hadn't thought of that. I expect you're right. Well, please look around. You three are welcome here any time."
They looked around, admiring the things on display. It seemed like seconds later when Robin's phone beeped with a message. Her mother was at the food court door, ready to pick them up. They said goodbye to the woman, and she thanked them again.
At the door, they saw two of the four attackers standing aside, sullenly. The other two, the preacher's daughter and the one Otter had stopped, were being loaded into the back of a police cruiser. Real police, rather than just mall cops.
When they got in the car, Robin's mom asked whether they knew anything about the thing with the police. On the way home, they described the events. Robin reminded her about the shop, and told her the lady there sent her regards.
"She's the owner of the shop." Robin's mom told them. "And very well known in society. It sounds like you've impressed her. That is not easy to do."
While the others talked, Angel was quiet, lost in thought. She wasn't sure what she was going to infect those attackers with, but she was sure it was nasty. It would have been so easy.
And so wrong.
They would face consequences for what they did. Measured consequences. But what she nearly did might have spread. She might even have infected the girls. Or her friends. She did not like those thoughts.
When Angel got home, she checked the time. David wouldn't be home until after dinner. Well, he would be released earlier, but then his folks would be taking him out for a celebration. She would count on Lena, who would be going with them, to let her know when she could call or visit.
Angel made herself a snack, then used her tablet to check her emails, and to answer some. Then she made, printed out, and attached a new label for the action figure's box. That didn't kill as much time as she might have liked. She started playing some games on the tablet, letting her mind roam. She remembered an experiment she had wanted to try, but only with at least one parent there. Something told her that she could eliminate the effects of various drugs and toxins from her body, using her elemental abilities. She wanted to test that idea with alcohol.
First, she would try to drink it without letting it affect her. Basically, without letting it get into her bloodstream. If she succeeded at that, she would try letting some start to affect her, then clear it all out of her system. In theory, it sounded ok. In practice... who knew?
That's why she wanted backup.
Besides, if it did affect her she would be in no condition to judge that fact. She giggled at the thought.
She spent some time practicing her body art patterns. She could do letters and numbers well, and some kinds of pictures. She could do a nice interlace band, and a couple of flower and stem (with or without thorns) bands. Also the usual hearts, birds, and even a credible mermaid. After practicing for a while, she started getting hungry again.
She looked at the time, and decided she could get a snack while getting dinner ready to go into the oven.
She was munching on an apple when Lena "called". *David's been sprung,* she cheerfully sent. *As soon as the paperwork's done, we're outta here!* There was no denying the cheer in her voice.
*That's great. Let me know when he's ready for a visit.*
When her mother got home, Angel told her about David. Then she told her about the events at the mall.
She waited until they were all eating dinner before she brought up the experiment. Their first reactions were predictable, for parents of any teenager. But as she explained her reasoning, they admitted that it was worth exploring. Carefully.
Shortly after dinner, Lena let her know that David was ready to "receive visitors" for a while. Angel got the present, still in its bag. She did remove the receipt and the price markings, though. Since he could see through any coverings, there didn't seem to be any point in wrapping it.
*Is David's vision like yours?"
*It depends. He can use his eyes normally, even when his other vision is elsewhere. And when they're together, it's like they sort of overlap. Why?*
*I want to try something that he can see, but other people can't.* She sent an image, which made Lena laugh.
*Just use a QuikOff marker on your skin, where it will be covered with clothes. Any that doesn't wash off easily, your powers can probably get rid of. I want to be there when you walk in.*
Angel grabbed a marker, then headed for the bathroom. A couple of minutes later, she was ready to go. Her mother drove her over, and stayed to visit a moment with his folks. Lena came down, took Angel's hand, and led her up to Davidís room. *Come in behind me. Act naturally.* She smiled.
They filed through his door and, as soon as Lena stepped out of the way, he burst out laughing. On Angel's chest, just below her breasts, were the words "Quit peeping, you perv!" And on her lower abdomen, just above her pubic mound, were the words "Keep out!".
She tried to give him a dirty look. "I thought so. And I even brought a present." She couldn't quite carry off the disdainful sniff. When he pulled the box out of the bag, there were two startled laughs. The hero's name and graphics had been modified somewhat. His name was now "Captain Peeper", and it showed him looking through a wall at the back of a girl dressed in her bra and panties, holding some undefined garment.
"So, other than spying on locker rooms and the like, what can you do now?" Angel joked.
"Watch!" he said, excitedly. He put his hand over the box, and concentrated a moment. When he pulled his hand away, the girl was bare on top, and was clearly holding her bra.
"The Hill really came through on my requests." he beamed. "The flying, the seeing, the pictures... everything!"
At Angel's puzzled look, Lena explained. *I conditioned him to think about the events on the hill, regarding the origin of his abilities.* She hastened to add *At his request! If he stops and thinks about it, he can remember your part. That way...*
*Anyone reading his stray thoughts will just catch the references to Pope Hill. Clever!*
"Ok, what are you two plotting?" he asked, in mock suspicion.
"Your downfall, of course! Silly boy." Lena gave an evil laugh worthy of a movie supervillain. Then she smiled and kissed him. Deeply.
Angel felt a stab of jealousy at that, but let it pass. These were her friends, and she was happy that they found someone. Happy that they were happy. And she was also happy that they were both still her friends.
All too soon, it was time to leave. They gave Lena a lift home, after David's parents rebuffed her hints about spending the night.
"You're shameless, you know that?" Angel laughed, when they were in the car.
"We already established that." Lena laughed back. "Completely and utterly."
"Is everything ready for tomorrow?"
"According to Sherry. David's folks will give us a ride there. And back, unless you make other arrangements."
"I may have to. I have to go to Boulder on Saturday. Work."
"That's no fun."
"I'll also be taking my old stuff to the swap shop there. You think that's far enough away to avoid local attention?"
They got home, and Lena walked next door to her house.
Angel decided to make an early night of it. Before going to bed, she picked out an outfit for the party itself, and some work clothes for the setup. She laid out the work clothes, and carefully put the party clothes, makeup, etc. in a tote.
She slept well, and slept in. The way she saw it, she was making up for some of the short, disturbed nights of the last week.
When she got down to the kitchen, there was a note wishing her a good time at the party, and reminding her that she had work the next day. Then the dreaded phrase: "We trust you."
*What's the... oh.* Lena's reaction seemed to combine amusement and sympathy. *For what it's worth, they really do. They just worry about what others might do.*
After fortifying herself for a hard day's work, Angel was ready to go. Half an hour later, when David and family showed up, she was still ready.
In the bright morning sunlight, the place looked worse than she remembered. As the others were arriving, Sherry gave each a list of jobs. Some had few but lengthy jobs. Others had a lot of smaller stuff. Everyone there had some sort of skills, powers, and/or resources, and they were being shamelessly leveraged.
Angel's list included inspecting the food areas (kitchen and poolside) and the bathrooms, pointing the cleaners to the parts that weren't obvious. Where needed, she would also sterilize areas.
Then she would check the rest of the house, looking for things like mildew, dry rot, and insect and rodent damage.
She asked about some holes she saw on the outside of the top floor, near the roof.
"Woodpeckers." Robin snarled. "Not only do they make holes like that, but they go pecking on the walls at odd hours for a sort of mating call. Nice, interesting birds in theory, destructive pests in practice."
Shaking her head in wonder, Angel went inside. The light wasn't as bright in there, so she waited a moment for her eyes to adjust, then read the rest of the list. After reinspecting the areas others had cleaned and repaired, she would be available for first aid, tans, and her special tattoos.
Her inspection of the kitchen was largely pointless. She found a lot of places that needed cleaning and disinfecting, but they were all pretty much obvious to the naked eye anyway. She pointed out the priorities, then left the cleaning crew to their work. Their first target would be the refrigerator, so that it could be used for food and drink.
The story was pretty much the same for the outside facilities. At least as far as her task was concerned. The pool was another matter. A younger looking girl, maybe a freshman or sophomore, was treading water. Her skimpy swim suit didn't cover much, but she wasn't drawing much attention. The water was churning, and an area at the shallow end of the pool was accumulating a growing pile of sludge. Biologically active sludge, in part.
Angel learned that the girl was called Flo, and she was a water elemental. Like Angel and Star Dawn, her name was an appropriate accident. She was using her abilities to clean the pool and purify the water. After that, she would handle the pipes and filter. And then the fun part (not) - the house plumbing. Since she was busy, Angel made a mental note to introduce herself later.
When she got to the bathrooms, Angel was relieved to find people already hard at work. The toilets had been cleaned first, as another measure of enlightened self interest. She found some areas that needed to be redone, but it wasn't as bad as she had feared. The sinks, bathtubs/showers, and vents still needed a lot of work. She found some areas behind the tiles which were active, indicating some kind of leakage. That wouldn't affect their use of the facilities, but they would document them for the owner. She also found some spots which weren't obvious, and pointed them out.
She took a break, getting herself a drink and sitting down, before moving on to the larger job. The house was a beehive of activity, with a few people directing crews and most people doing fairly routine kinds of work. She saw some rooms being stripped, tarped, and taped, apparently for painting. Some people were washing walls, also in preparation.
Sherry came up to her and asked how she was doing. After exchanging pleasantries, Sherry gave her some priorities for the inspections. Those rooms would be fixed (as needed) and then painted first. They were using quick drying cleaning products and paints, so there shouldn't be much trouble with wet walls or fumes. They had some large fans in place, and all the screened doors and windows were open.
Sherry joked that they really needed two more elementals, wood and air. But they would make do.
One of the first things Angel discovered was a little too familiar. The air ducts needed cleaning. Luckily, that was something that the owner would have to take care of after the party.
With her trusty EZrace marker in hand, Angel went through the rooms and marked areas that needed attention. Most just needed a better cleaning. She lost any sense of time by the time she finished the first floor and moved to the second.
When she was checking the master bedroom suite, she was startled by movement outside the window. Getting a better look, she saw it was David, wings extended, working on the woodpecker damage on the outside wall of the room. The window was open for ventilation, so she went over and said hi.
She was hit with a strong gust of wind, as the startled David used his wings to regain his balance. After he saw who it was, he smiled. They talked for a little while about his plans for his powers. He still wasn't too sure what parts he would announce. The flying and telesense would be a little too obvious to conceal, although he was considering understating the range of the telesense. He would probably do the same with his illusion ability, giving him an alibi if one of his illusions showed up outside of his supposed range.
When she asked, he told her that the range on the illusions could be tied to his telesense. Angel heard something behind her, and turned to see herself standing in the middle of the room. The "other Angel" explained that Lena had helped him learn the trick of creating an illusory avatar, seeing, hearing, and talking through it. "Angel" turned into David, and pointed out that he could make it look like anyone he chose. "David" then turned into Lena, sort of. Some of her features were a little off, as though he was projecting a more idealized version of her. Angel smirked at that, and warned him to watch out for that if he wanted anyone to believe it was her.
"Lena" smiled, and turned back into David. He acknowledged the point. He was hampered by his lack of TK, which meant that his avatar could not pick anything up or open doors or the like.
"Ouch! Dammit!" With the shout from outside, "David" vanished. There was another gust of wind from outside, and Angel turned to see David steadying himself again. "I was trying to work while talking that way, and I cut myself with the putty knife. Can you take a look at it?"
"Sure. You want to come in through the window, or the door?"
David thought for a second. "Door. I don't want to mess with the screen." With that, he turned and jumped from the roof. It was the first time she'd seen him fly, and she was impressed. He didn't even seem to wobble as he looped in for a landing.
A moment later he was up the stairs and in the room with her. She noticed something different about him than his avatar. She could sense his biological essence in person, but the avatars lacked that dimension.
The cut was about two inches long and jagged. Almost as much a tear as a cut. Luckily, it wasn't too deep for her to cure. She quickly disinfected and healed the cut. When she was done, she kept hold of his hand longer than strictly necessary.
She was confused about her feelings. Holding his hand like that, once she was done with the healing, made her feel connected in a way she seemed to desperately want. But he was a boy. Worse, he was Lena's boyfriend. Even after all the talk about it being normal and acceptable to feel things, it was confusing. And upsetting.
She made herself release his hand naturally. She knew it would say something if she suddenly dropped it, something even a typically oblivious boy would not miss.
She wondered where that thought came from. She knew that she had come to realize just how naive and wrongheaded her former self had been, but when had she generalized that to most boys? And when did she start thinking of boys as so completely separate from her?
David was thanking her, and saying he had to get back to work. She responded automatically, not really noticing until he was on his way out the door. A part of her wanted to stop him, to keep him there longer. But she knew it was not the time or place.
By the time she finished with the top floor, she had treated half a dozen more cuts and scrapes, and one second degree burn. She was more than ready for a break before she took on the basement. She moved down to the living room, which had been cleaned, repainted, and partly refurnished.
After making sure she had somewhere to sit, she moved to the patio and snagged a couple of pieces of pizza and a drink. When she got back to the living room and collapsed on the sofa, she saw that she wasn't alone. A tired looking Flo was draped over the other end.
"Overworked elementals of the world, unite." Angel joked, tiredly.
"You must be Angel." an equally tired Flo replied.
"If I must, I must." It was an ancient joke, but Angel couldn't resist. "And you're Flo?"
"Guilty as charged. What have they got you doing?"
"Inspecting for biologically active contamination, and healing their boo boos." Angel replied, around a bite of pizza. "You?"
"The pool and the pipes. Yech! You would not believe how clogged all the drains were. Or what was clogging them."
"Please, I'm eating!" Angel smiled. "Want some?" she offered the other piece of pizza.
Flo accepted. They swapped bits and pieces of their life stories. Flo admitted her real name was Florence, which she didn't like. She was an incoming freshman at Smokey Hills. She had gone through MORFS when she was twelve "As though I wasn't changing enough!" she concluded with distaste.
She sympathized with Angel's recent change, and especially with having gone through it on the road. Angel hadn't mentioned the sex change, or the related training, but she did mention the training with her grandmother. Flo thought that was great.
Angel learned that Flo was a little boy crazy, and had a thing for an older boy on the swim team. Unfortunately, her affection wasn't returned. Angel sympathized.
As they sat there, resting and talking, they started quietly rating the boys there on a scale of zero to five. They would watch a boy go by, and raise the appropriate number of fingers. They also added a few gestures for nuances, ranging from puckered lips as a speculation (or observation) that he was a good kisser, to a brief flash of a one fingered salute indicating a desire for a more physical intimacy.
Despite Flo's age, and the comments from her own "trainers", Angel was surprised to find their quiet conversation turn explicitly and frankly sexual. They both admitted they were virgins, although in Flo's case it was mostly a technicality. They both had jacked a boy off, but Angel didn't mention it was her previous, male, self. They had both done a few things with girls, but again Angel didn't mention she was a boy at the time. Beyond that, the younger girl was the significantly more experienced of the two.
They also shared stories of "you could make a fortune at..." comments. The big difference there was that Angel was old enough to act on some. Flo loved the idea of Angel's theater job. Especially the perks. Angel promised to treat her to a movie some time.
Feeling somewhat rested and restored, they went back to their assigned tasks.
*Congratulations!* The tone of Lena's thought was clearly amused. *You not only made a powerful friend, you passed a major test.*
*In her own right, she's a fairly powerful water elemental. But her parents are, shall we say, well connected. Her mother was a US senator. Her father was the famous Mixed League quarterback.*
*So that's where I heard that name before. I used to have a bobble head of him.*
*Well, now he owns several businesses, and acts as a lobbyist at the Statehouse. As I said, well connected.*
*What about the test?*
*She's had a couple of unexpected and... unpleasant... experiences with relatively recent sex morfs. Nothing disastrous, but unpleasant enough that she has learned to test people before getting close to them.*
*She is completely convinced that you were born a girl. A little repressed for her tastes, but all girl. And if anyone asks her, she'll tell them so.*
*Great! They keeping you busy?*
*Sometimes. Mostly, I'm coordinating the crews and stuff. What do you think of David's avatar?*
*Useful. Startling, but useful.*
*Uh, oh. Gotta go.* There was a loud whump from outside. *Come out back!* Angel went to investigate. So did about half the people in the house.
The scene outside was confusing at first. Then she found out what had happened. Two of the boys were checking out the gas grill. When one of them tried lighting it, he touched off a small but strong explosion. His face and hands were burned. Not deeply, but enough that his eyebrows and lashes were gone, and he was in more than a little pain. The other one was hit from the side and went down, knocking over a loaded table. His burns weren't as bad, and he didn't seem to be otherwise injured. Others looked after him while Angel went to work on the first.
She didn't bother regrowing the burned off hairs. That would take care of itself with time. Luckily, the burns were not too deep for her, and she was able to heal them without too much trouble. When his vision was clearing, he was staring at her pendant, and then at her face. She wasn't sure what to make of that, but at least he wasn't staring at her boobs.
When she was sure he was recovering, she moved to the other. His burns weren't as bad, but they covered more of his body. Distressingly, part of his shirt had melted and stuck to his arm. Someone had cooled it off, so it wasn't doing any more damage, but it was still stuck.
She wasn't sure how to handle that, so she started with his face. He only lost one eyebrow, she noticed. She healed the skin, and tanned it to match the rest of his face. She then got to the rest of his body. As she worked his torso, she noticed his muscles. She found herself appreciating their definition.
Then she got to his arm. She started by healing the burn, to keep it from spreading the damage. Then she moved to one of the stuck parts. After a couple of tries, she found the way to get his cells to push out the foreign material and slough off the cells it was directly stuck to. Finally, she restored the arm cosmetically, filling the pits and fixing the color. By the time she was done, she was a little wobbly.
She declared herself off shift for anything but emergencies, grabbed a piece of giant sub and a drink, and went off to find somewhere to stretch out. The next thing she clearly remembered was waking up next to a half eaten sandwich piece and a miraculously unspilled drink can. She was a little groggy from her extended nap, but otherwise seemed well restored. From the angle of the sun, it was late afternoon.
She decided she was still hungry, and finished the sandwich and drink. She noticed a lot of progress in the rooms around her. A few minutes later, she was very happy to find the nearest bathroom was completely cleaned, repainted, and open for business.
When she wandered out to the living room, she noticed that some of the posters had been mounted and hung, giving the place more of a festive air.
She went to the basement, and was pleased to see that most of it was done as well. David's father was already down there, rehabilitating a somewhat rusty water heater. With one exception, the only bio problems she saw were minor, and easily handled.
That exception was the environmental system. the integrated heater, cooler, humidifier, and dehumidifier was the source of the problems she had seen with the vents. It was not really a threat to anyone at the party, but she wrote a note on it anyway.
When she went and reported her completion to Sherry, She was put on call for any more injuries. Sherry asked her how well she was recovered from dealing with the two burn victims, and she said she was just fine.
"I seem to remember something about you being able to grow hair. Is that right?"
"Yeah, I can do it. But it takes a lot of work and resources from both of us. Why?"
"I was hoping you could grow the eyebrows and lashes back."
"Whose back are you going to be lashing?" Robin grinned, stepping into the conversation. "Can I watch? Or better yet, help?"
"That's a little kinky even for my tastes." added Flo, who had come in with Robin, searching for Sherry.
"Not those kind of lashes!" Sherry insisted, her careful grammar slipping. "Eyelashes."
"That's gotta hurt." Flo said, covering her eyes with her hands.
"When did I lose control of this conversation?" Sherry moaned.
The other three girls looked briefly at each other, and replied in near unison. "Yesterday!"
Muttering something about having walked into that one, she asked the girls what they needed. They told her they were making a supply run, and asked whether she needed anything.
Angel spoke up. "Unflavored gelatin. At least two boxes."
"Why? Making some special dessert?" Sherry seemed genuinely puzzled.
"You asked me to grow their hair. The gelatin is close to the same stuff, so after they eat it I can use it for raw materials. It will take a lot less out of us."
Sherry nodded, and went silent for a moment. Robin jumped, then said "I hate it when Radar does that!" After collecting herself, she asked Sherry for forty dollars out of the party fund, to cover the purchases. Sherry reminded them to give her the receipt when they got back.
And any change.
When they left, Angel was at loose ends. The only reason she didn't go with them was that she might be needed in case of another accident.
For a change, she wasn't. So she rested, snacked, and stayed out of the way. When they returned, she grabbed the gelatin and went looking. First, she grabbed a couple of clean cups. Then she hunted down the browless wonders. She mixed each a drink of the gelatin and water, then told them to come back in half an hour.
When it was time, she decided to try an experiment. When she had worked with the little girl, she had worked hard to avoid pulling any of the energy from her. This time, she was going to try to pull most of the energy from the boys.
And it worked. Sort of. She wasn't sure whether she spent more energy controlling the borrowed energy than she would have used to do it herself. But toward the end, it seemed to be more automatic. In fact, she had to make it a point to slow the process back to natural levels on the third try.
Again, she rested and snacked for a while. A couple of people looked at her like she was being lazy, then stiffened when they apparently got Radar Grams. Looking a little sheepish, they moved on.
Some people went to cook, while others set up the music and such. The posters and other party decorations went up, and the furniture was arranged. All with no more than minimal injury to anyone involved.
When she noticed that several of the people had changed from their working clothes to their party clothes, Angel followed suit. There were lines for the showers, but her own labors had not really been physical in that way. She went up to the bedroom designated the girls' changing room, and dressed. Someone had planned ahead, and provided a long mirror and table, suitable for several people using at once. She adjusted her makeup, then headed back down.
When she got to the living room, some people were already dancing. Star Dawn was providing some lighting effects to go with the mood of the music. When Angel saw Sherry and asked why that part was indoors, she was told there were three very good reasons. First, afternoon thunderstorms were all too common that time of year, and they didn't want to risk the equipment. Second, there were neighbors. True, they were more than a block away, but they might get unhappy with loud music coming through the outside speakers. And finally, because that way the dancers and the swimmers wouldn't be getting in each others' way.
She conceded that it made sense.
After the party had been going for about an hour, it started to rain. Those outside quickly moved their supplies inside, and prepared to wait it out. Some people commented that Flo might have been able to keep the patio area dry, but she had extended herself a little much with doing the pool and the pipes.
With everyone inside, Sherry and Robin declared it time for the Program. First, they handed out small envelopes to everyone, asking them not to open them yet. Sherry thanked them for allowing the party committee, and the house owner, to exploit them so thoroughly. She said the party was, in large part, just a last bash before the start of school. Some of the Smokey Hills students smirked at that, having an extra week before the start of school.
She went on to say that it was also to raise their awareness about exploitation. As teens, with or without powers, they were frequently exploited by marketers, employers, schools, families, and others. It was a one sided arrangement, where the exploiters got significantly more out of the deal than the teens did. She went on to say that it wasn't always a bad thing. The kids often got something out of it, even if that was less than the value of their actions.
And sometimes, they got something unexpected out of it. She had them open the envelopes. Each had a gold pin, with the number 2060 and a stylized pair of slave manacles. She told them that they were solid gold, other than the stainless steel pin assembly. She acknowledged the boy who designed and cast them, and thanked an "anonymous donor" who provided the gold.
Angel had her suspicions about that. Especially given the way that David refused to meet her eyes. She didn't quite understand why - he knew that she knew about his power, had given him that power, and that she didn't seem to see anything wrong with his using it. She just smiled and shrugged it off.
David's father took his cue to give his talk about exploitation. He gave them some of the legal background, including the fact that until they were 18, their options were somewhat limited. But he stressed that they still had the power to make choices.
He finished the speech with a rousing "Let's party!" And they did.
Angel wandered around the party, talking, listening, munching... generally operating in party mode. She even let the earlier burn victim pull her into a dance or two. She was having too good a time to worry overly much about the feelings she got when dancing with him. Especially the slow dance. Some friends pulled him away after one of the dances, so she started wandering again.
Off to one side, there were some people having some sort of disagreement involving colors and letters. Curious, Angel moved in closer. After a couple of rounds, she was none the wiser. One of the girls in the group moved away to get something to eat, and Angel followed her.
At the food table, she introduced herself. "Hi. I'm Angel."
"I know. People have been pointing you out. I'm Shirley." She held out her hand, to shake.
They shook hands, then Angel asked about the conversation.
"Oh, that. We were just having some fun with Spectrum club."
"It's one of the clubs at school. Been around forever, and is at a lot of other schools. It's really about promoting understanding and appreciation of sexual diversity."
Seeing Angel's confused look, she went on. "It started with LGB. That's lesbian, gay, bi. Soon it went to LGBQ."
"Questioning. A lot of people our age are really not sure of their sexuality. Anyhow, with MORFS and some other things, we eventually added transsexual and intersexed. So now we use LGBTIQ to characterize it. And, of course, anyone is welcome. We have a lot of Hets in the group, for philosophical or personal reasons."
"Ok, so what's with the colors?"
"John was pointing out that some sources only give the rainbow six colors. And since Spectrum Club has those six letters, we got to playing around with which letter should correspond with which color."
Angel nodded her understanding, and they walked over to a couple of chairs to sit, eat, and talk. Shirley described herself as bisexual, or at least, Bi curious. Angel, in turn, described herself as confused. Shirley smiled at that, and invited Angel to come to come of the club meetings.
"We talk about a lot of things, and maybe we can help you clear up some of your confusion."
*You really should think about it. They're a good bunch of people.*
Looking a little startled, Angel replied *I'll think about it. Keeping an eye on me?*
*Actually, we have a couple of quick requests for your services. An accident slicing onions, and another cooking burn.*
*Superficial, but painful. Also, David will be opening his presents in a few minutes.*
*Ooh, can't miss that. I'll be right there to work my healing magic.*
"Radar gram?" Shirley asked, looking amused.
"Yep. Got to go heal the klutz squad again. Nice talking with you." They gestured their goodbyes, and she took off for the kitchen.
She went for the burn first, since it could easily get too deep for her otherwise. A brief pass of the hand, and a little convincing at the cellular level, and it was done. The cut was a little bit more of a problem. There was onion juice in it, which was mildly destructive as well as being painful. There was also some bleeding to deal with.
The bleeding actually worked in her favor. She was able to use the skin cells and the blood cells to help the plasma rinse away the onion juice. Then she closed the wound from the inside out, pushing out unwanted materials in the process. Once the skin was closed and matched, she had him wash his hand thoroughly.
Then it was off to the celebration. About two thirds of the people there gathered to welcome the "new and improved" David. While he had been working on the roof and the outside of the second floor, the den had been decorated. There were pictures of birds and winged men, from classical images of Icarus to the poster Angel had collected from the Winged Avenger movie. A large banner welcomed him back, and a large pile of presents was on the table.
When he opened the presents, he seemed to like all of them. His eyes lit up when he saw Robin's wing brush, and enjoyed the thoughtfulness of Sherry's wrist mounted GPS com unit. While they weren't all that expensive, they were still useful. This one, with a Winged Avenger theme, even included scramblers on the comm part and two handheld radios with matching scramblers for his "team".
His others ranged from the practical to the absurd. Clearly, the rubber beak fell into the last category. Everyone got a laugh from the silly ones.
Then someone declared it was time for a speech.
"Thank you all," David began. "This is just great. And I have to say, I owe a big debt to some of you. Angel, and especially the love of my life, Lena, who together with my parents helped me get through those first hours. And the rest of you, who helped motivate me to get through the training."
After watching the reactions from the others, ranging from pleased to embarrassed, he continued. "I knew, without any doubt in my mind, that you guys would never let me live it down if I came back anything less than fully trained." He smirked. There was a brief silence, then everyone laughed.
"Now let's go finish getting exploited!"
With that, a few people started gathering the wrappings, while David collected his loot and the cards. David cut his finger opening the wrist unit's package, and two of the others got paper cuts from the wrappings and ribbons. Angel promptly handled the anguishing injuries, amid suggestions from their friends that they were over reacting.
"I should have given you Captain Peeper tonight, with the rest of the presents." Angel said. Inadvertently, she said it loud enough to be overheard. After they rejoined the party, people started saluting him and calling him "Captain" or "CP".
Lena came up to them, grinning. "That's how these names get started, for the most part. Unless you come up with something catchier, it will be The Captain and Radar."
Robin stepped in. "Wasn't that the name of a singing group, a century or so ago?"
David wisely remained silent.
Lena stiffened a moment, then David turned and looked toward a wall.
"What is it?" Angel asked.
"Crashers. We've got it." Lena replied, abruptly.
Angel saw Sherry and Bear moving quickly toward the back door. A moment later, she heard a yelp from outside, then saw Lena and David relax a little. Lena gave her a quick rundown about what happened.
When the two boys stepped through the gate, they found themselves pinned in a bright light. To either side of them was a large person, wearing sun glasses. They turned to find their way blocked by a tall, muscular, winged figure. That was when one of them let out a loud yelp. They quickly put their hands up in a gesture of surrender.
Bear and Sherry each took one of them by the shoulder, then Star Dawn stopped the light. Sherry closed the gate, and the winged figure disappeared. While they were being marched into the living room, Lena gestured for Angel, Robin, and David to follow her there. She looked amused.
*Stand with us and look serious.* Lena "told" Angel. *We have a plan for this contingency.* She was clearly enjoying herself.
When the boys were marched in, they found themselves facing a very serious looking group of five teens, flanked by the four adults. The central figure, Lena, stepped forward.
"You know who I am." It was not a question. "Because of my abilities, I am in charge of security for this gathering. What do you have to say for yourselves?"
One started bravely. "We were..." he paused a moment, then continued weakly. "Just trying to crash the party. We didn't mean any harm."
"You don't know the nature of this gathering." Again, not a question.
"We just thought it was a party."
"It is more." She turned to Angel. "Mark them."
Silently, she added *Put the word 'Crasher' on their foreheads.*
Angel moved to comply. As she reached toward the face of the first one, he tried to flinch away. Sherry held him firmly in place. Angel put her hand over his forehead, and tanned his skin in the pattern of the word. When she pulled her hand away, his companion gasped. Since the other boy was a relatively dark Afam, she paled his skin into the letters.
That done, she stepped back into line. Robin produced a hand mirror, and used it to show each of them the markings. Then she stepped back into line.
Lena spoke up again. "Each person here has agreed to be subjected to the theme of this gathering, as a condition of participating. Are you willing to do so as well?"
"What is the theme?" the first boy asked, nervously.
"If you agree to be subjected to it, we will tell you. Behave, and we will remove your badges of shame." She indicated their foreheads. "If you try to leave without permission, you will bear those marks for the rest of your life. Choose!"
"It's not anything illegal, is it?"
Lena smirked. "No, under most circumstances it is entirely legal."
The boys looked at each other, then nodded.
"The theme is exploitation. Each of us has been exploited to make this gathering happen. Those of us with special resources or abilities had those exploited. The rest provided labor. Even the adults. You will now do as you are told. Behave, and you can enjoy the party and leave unmarked. Do you understand?"
Looking miserable, they agreed. Sherry and Bear took them to the kitchen, to explain their duties, and the music resumed.
"Well, that was fun." Lena grinned. "They're not really bad guys. They just don't always think things through."
"Don't forget I have work tomorrow." Angel reminded her.
"Give them an hour. If they behave, and they will, you can remove the marks. Nice job with those, by the way."
"Thanks. Who came up with the tribunal thing?"
"David. That boy has quite a sense of the dramatic, doesn't he?" Lena patted him on his cheek in a proprietary way.
"Oh, get a room you two!" Robin carped, half seriously.
"His folks would notice. Unfortunately." Lena made an exaggerated motion like snapping her fingers.
Angel just smiled and went to find some more food.
While she was relaxing on the sofa, Flo came and joined her. Their talk wandered through a lot of topics, not least of which was boys. But finally, Flo came to something she had been apparently working herself up to asking.
"What's high school really like?"
Angel thought for a moment. "A lot like middle school. You have more freedom, but also more responsibility. The school is bigger, and there are a lot more students. It's easy to get lost or overwhelmed. But if you get involved with clubs and stuff, you can find people to make it a lot more comfortable and fun. Most of the kids are pretty good, but there are still some assholes from time to time. You learn to avoid them or deal with them."
Angel was surprised at her choice of language. There was something about the young water sprite that just brought it out.
Their conversation was cut short when John wandered up and asked Angel to dance. Flo just grinned and asked if he had a friend. He smiled, and looked around the room. Seeing the other explosion victim across the room, he waved him over.
"Go ahead and ask," he told him with a grin. "You know you've been wanting to dance with her all day."
"I didn't say dance."
John just shook his head and gently shoved him toward Flo. After that, Angel lost track of them while John led her to the dance floor. After they finished the dance that was already going, A slow dance started playing. Angel found herself naturally moving into his arms, as they started swaying to the music. There was something comforting about feeling his body heat bathing her.
Not just his body heat. His bio field. Relaxing into him, she let herself trace his fields. She allowed herself to be aware of the processes, his heart beating, his lungs infusing his blood with oxygen, parts of his brain more active than others... hormones spreading, some diffusing out through sweat and into his breath, blood rerouting, tissues engorging, fluids mixing...
The music ended, and she pulled herself up short. There she was, pressed against a boy - a boy! - and one she barely knew. And she was feeling the unmistakable evidence of his reaction to her pressing against him. His hand had moved from the small of her back, pressing gently on her butt to pull her closer. His face was coming closer to hers, gently washing her face with his passion scented breath, its scent making promises her body ached to redeem.
But he was a boy! It was just wrong. She turned her face away and allowed herself to sag a little. Then she pulled away, pleading fatigue from all the elemental work she had done that day. He gave a small, understanding smile and walked her back to the couch. Then he went to get her another drink.
She turned her head to see Flo staring at her, openmouthed. "You big tease!" the younger girl accused.
"I... I wasn't! I didn't..." Angel stopped to take a couple of deep, steadying breaths. "I didn't mean for anything to happen. Things were just going so fast, and I wasn't ready!" Another breath. "I mean, I wouldn't do anything like that. I'm not the kind of girl who would tease someone. Especially someone like him. He's nice, and strong, and good looking and..." She looked at Flo's eyes. "...he's standing right behind me, isn't he?" She turned to look.
With a puzzled look, John handed her the drink. Angel tried to explain herself. "She was accusing me of teasing you. Out there, when we were dancing. But I wasn't. I mean, I didn't mean to. I'm not a tease. I mean..." She dropped her head into her hands. "There's never a medical emergency when you need one!"
John chuckled, and shook his head. "I admit that you really got to me, and I may need some serious consultation with my right hand, but I never thought there was anything malicious about it. I can understand if you feel like you aren't ready for some things yet. But I would like to be around when you do feel ready." He paused, then looked annoyed. "That didn't come out right."
"It's... complicated." Angel replied. "I've changed, with the MORFS and all. It's only been a couple of months, and I still don't have control over some parts of my elemental nature. I'm still relearning who... what... I am."
"And here I thought puberty was a pain in the butt." he grinned, wryly. "No pressure. But if Radar goes peeking through my dreams, I take no responsibility for whatever you and I end up doing there. Or how many times."
She could imagine what he might dream. Back when she was a boy, she had those same kinds of dreams. She was both a little creeped out and, somehow, pleased at the notion of him dreaming about her in that way.
*That was interesting.* Lena sent. *But it's time to clear the foreheads of the crashers.*
*Kitchen. Then we'll put them back to work.*
Angel excused herself, explaining what she had to do. She thanked John for being so understanding, and left.
Once in the kitchen, she quickly restored their foreheads. While she was there, she took care of another burn and two more cuts. Feeling a little tired, she grabbed another snack and headed back to the sofa.
"I don't get it." Flo greeted her. "What are you so afraid of? You're a girl. He's a boy. A nice, handsome, strong boy. I'd take him in a minute, but he's interested in you. So what's the problem?"
"How long have you been an elemental?" Angel countered.
"Two years. Why?"
"You remember what it was like for the first couple of months? The struggle to learn control? The insane sense of power? The questions you had to answer for yourself, because they're different for each of us?"
"I guess. So?"
"I'm still dealing with that. And I'm a bio elemental. I could hurt someone, even kill them, if I got careless or carried away when I am close to them. And when I start getting all caught up in the whole boy girl thing, I'm way too distracted."
Flo looked skeptical.
Angel went on. "Ok. When did you realize that you could kill someone with your powers?"
"By messing with their blood - all that water moving around inside of them - you can disable someone or kill them. Don't try to tell me you hadn't realized that."
"No, I caught on pretty quickly. I just never talk about it." She got a very serious look. "How did you find out?"
"I didn't. It just seemed obvious. After you figured that out, how long was it until you were able to really cut loose with someone again?"
"Well... I guess it was a while."
"I only morfed this summer. On top of that, I was moving across the country, and visiting relatives. All while trying to understand and control these frightening new abilities. Now I'm starting to settle in, and get the hang of things. And next week, school starts. A new school. I've never been to school as a morf. I've never dated as a morf. I'm still learning my way around."
"I guess I understand. It's a little like me, starting a new part of my life at a new school. Only more so, since some of my friends are doing the same thing."
"And the only friends I'll have at school are the ones I've made in the last few weeks. So, I'm not super prude or anything. But I do have a lot on my plate at the moment."
Flo seemed to accept that, much to Angel's relief. When she had rested a little, she offered to give Flo one of her "special" tattoos. She accepted, choosing a porpoise leaping above choppy waters.
All too soon, it was time to leave. Angel called home for a ride, then went around saying her goodbyes. Lena alerted her when her mother arrived, and she headed for home.
Being all partied out, it didn't take her long to take care of a few necessities and fall into bed. She carefully set the alarm for her trip to Boulder, then was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow.
End Part 11
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/