Angel's Tale: A MORFS Universe Story

By Joreymay

 

Part 12

 

Sometimes, you can't win. Angel got home at an unreasonably early hour (for a summer Friday night party), got right to bed, and still woke up feeling like she had spent the night in the business end of a street sweeper.

 

She dragged herself out of bed and went through her morning routine. 87 hours later, give or take a lifetime, she was clean, dressed, groomed, and on her way to breakfast. She started pulling things out of the fridge and cupboards, until she saw her mother standing in the doorway, looking at her funny. Following the shift of her eyes, Angel looked at the table.

 

It wasn't just the pickles and butter brickle ice cream that caught her attention. It was the whole mismatched cornucopia that filled the table.

 

Angel shook her head to clear it, then turned sheepishly to face her mother again.

 

"Is there something I should know?" her mother asked wryly, picking up the pickle jar.

 

"Um... My ride should be picking me up in about 20 minutes?" Angel tried. When her mother just kept looking at her, she caught on. And blushed.

 

"Nothing like that! I just overextended myself or something yesterday." She did a quick scan of herself, verifying that there was nothing there that didn't belong.

 

Her mother chuckled. "Why don't you take a moment to figure out what you really want for breakfast. It would take a lot more than 20 minutes to eat all of that."

 

Angel went inside herself, and got an impression of what she really needed. Then, she went to another part of herself, and looked for foods that would give her combinations of those needs, rather than trying for one per food. She quickly settled on a smoothie, a spinach and ham omelet, and some toast.

 

Her mother made the omelet while she put things away and made the drink. She was just about finished eating, when her eCom announced a call. Her ride would be there in five minutes. She bolted down the rest of her food, then went to get the boxes of "his" clothes.

 

She was just putting the last one on the porch, when the company van pulled up. Mandy helped her load the boxes, said hello and goodbye to Angel's mother, and got them on the road.

 

Angel noticed that Mandy seemed to have come to terms with her secret. Or at least, she was acting much the way she had before Angel told her. She told Angel that she wanted to get back relatively early, since her older daughter, Chris, had a dance recital that evening.

 

Angel smiled, and acknowledged that. With luck, she should be done with her inspection in a couple of hours. Mandy's audit would take longer, even with Angel's probable need to write up a report. Her business with the swap shop should not delay them.

 

The theater was literally across the street from the university. Mandy told her that it was almost entirely staffed by university students. Even the manager was a grad student. During the summer, they picked up a few local high school students, but not many.

 

The manager seemed a little nervous to have them there, but not hostile. And for a change, he was mostly concerned with Mandy. It sort of made sense to Angel. Mandy was more like a senior professor, there to grade him on the paperwork. Angel was more like someone there to check on the work of the other employees. He was nice, and not at all condescending, but he was not all that concerned with her.

 

Angel got busy. She checked the restrooms first, for the usual reasons. After noting a few problem spots, she moved on to the concessions stand. While there was nothing disastrous, she saw what seemed to be a pattern. It was as though the employees were doing just enough to get by. Not so much laziness as a lack of urgency. They got the important stuff, and left the rest until it started getting bad enough to become important.

 

She documented the problem spots, and noted that none of them posed an immediate threat to customers or workers. By then, the doors were opening and families were streaming in for the early matinees. Angel checked the theaters, working around the active children and harried adults, and noted the same pattern as before.

 

Finally, she checked the service areas and storage. She was surprised to find that the things in storage were arranged a little differently. She made a note to ask about that. It looked to her like that arrangement would be more efficient in the long run.

 

She also made a note to mention the smell and residue of two distinct kinds of smoke in one of the supply closets. She had nothing against smoking either tobacco or pot, but the chain had policies about such things.

 

She finished her inspection, and quickly wrote up most of her report. Then she went looking for the manager. She found him in his office, sweating bullets as Mandy went through the books. He seemed to welcome the distraction when she asked him about the arrangement of stored supplies.

 

She didn't quite follow his description of the analyses that went into it, but the bottom line was that it was a lot more efficient. She also quietly suggested that he get his people to find somewhere else to smoke, and do a thorough wipe down of that closet. She assured him that those observations wouldn't make it into her report, but the efficiency would.

 

She finished her report and sent it. Then she went to find Mandy. Mandy estimated that she had another one and a half to two hours worth of work left to do. Angel borrowed the keys from Mandy, and went to deal with her old clothes. In theory, it should be a simple process.

 

After it became obvious that some cases of MORFS resulted in gender swaps and major body modifications, an enterprising young MORF got an idea. People were spending fortunes on new wardrobes, and thrift stores and consignment shops were getting flooded with clothes. At the time, the government imposed dress codes were still in effect, so families had little choice. It was a significant need, just waiting to be met.

 

She had spent a lot of time in used book stores, and decided to try applying that business model to the clothing situation. Recent morfs would bring in their old wardrobes, which would be evaluated for currency, condition, and cost. The evaluators would allocate credits, which could then be used to buy clothes more appropriate to the customer's new condition. The clothes would then be carefully inspected and cleaned, then tagged and racked for sale. Those garments which did not meet their standards for salability were donated to a thrift store or the like.

 

Everything from tuxedoes and formals to shorts and t-shirts were available. In addition, the stores offered some new items, from underwear (which they did not resell) to shirts and such. They even offered tailoring services. People who suddenly gained or lost size, appendages (such as tails or wings), or gender could start their new wardrobes while getting some advantage from their old ones.

 

Angel was surprised to notice that there were a lot more racks of female clothes than male clothes. But after a little thought, it made sense. For starters, girls tended to have larger wardrobes than guys. And then there was the simple fact that people with changes similar to hers could use more of their old wardrobes - especially t-shirts and sometimes shorts - than the female to male transformees, and the more fitted female garments were less likely to fit after significant body changes than their male equivalents.

 

This worked to her advantage. She got more credits for her relatively uncommon boy clothes, and had more choices when using those credits. And since people were morfing every day, new and current stuff was coming in all the time.

 

Savvy shoppers knew about that, and regularly checked the stock. Even though many of them were paying with money rather than store credits, girls and women could get designer dresses and the like for discount off the rack prices. This also gave closet morfs, like Angel, cover when they went in to use their credits. She just had to be careful when she took things in to get the credits.

 

The popular shops were widespread. Some rivals had started up, but they couldn't compete with the widely usable - and transferable - credits. The founder retired a wealthy woman, but still acted as a spokeswoman for the chain.

 

While Angel was waiting for her credits to be tallied, she looked around. She found a business suit in her size, which was appropriate for her in her manager role. She also found a couple of skirts that she had almost bought during earlier shopping trips, but had decided were too expensive. She tried everything on, and all but one skirt fit well.

 

While she was looking, she found a few nice things with wing slits in the back. Unfortunately, they were all distinctly feminine.

 

That done, she went to check on her credits. They were not as much as she had secretly hoped, but they covered her choices with as much again left over. Plenty for the promised mother daughter shopping.

 

Angel carefully hung her new things in the van, then went back to the theater to check on Mandy's progress.

 

Mandy was giving the manager a large dose of bad news/good news. The good news was that things largely added up, and there was no evidence of wrongdoing. The bad news was that the paperwork was sloppy, and that certain government types could come down on his head like a ton of bricks for some of it. She put it in terms he would be sure to understand, likening it to professors with their own particular ways of doing things, and their ability to lower the grades of students who tried doing things differently.

 

She gave him a reasonable time to get it all in order, after which someone would be there to check it out.

 

On the way home, Mandy expressed the opinion that he would be leaving the chain as soon as he graduated. "His heart is just not in it. It's just a job to him, not a career."

 

That got Angel thinking about her own career plans. Or rather, her lack of any. She was still no closer to knowing what to do with her life than she had been the last few times the issue came up. In fact, the visit from the mysteriously absent Ms. Wilson had closed off some of her possible directions.

 

She was pretty sure that she did not want to spend her life working for the movie chain. It was a good job, with very nice perks, but it just didn't feel like a career. In that way, she was probably a lot like that manager.

 

They passed the time on the way back with small talk. Mandy told her about the company gossip and about her family, and Angel told her about the party.

 

When Mandy dropped her off at home, Angel was met at the door by her mother. After a brief hello, Angel showed her the clothes and the credit voucher.

 

Her mother told her that she was on her way out to do some shopping at the mall, and invited her along. When Angel declined, pleading tiredness, she saw her mother's face drop. She knew that shopping was a big thing for her mother, and something that she hoped to share with her new daughter. It still wasn't high on Angel's list of recreational activities, though.

 

On the other hand, her mother had been so supportive through the whole thing. She hated to disappoint her. So she offered a compromise. If she could wait a bit, giving Angel time for a snack and a brief nap, she would go along. Her mother smiled and agreed.

 

So Angel found herself at the mall. With her mother. Shopping.

 

She understood the need for some of what she used to think of as excessive shopping. It was dumb the way the same size clothes, from different makers, would fit so differently. And it was even worse with bras and such.

 

She could even understand it as a social activity. She had enjoyed some of her previous expeditions with new friends and longtime relatives. But it wasn't really the shopping for her. The shopping was just something to do as part of the main activity of hanging out together. There was a little of that in the trip with her mom, but not all that much.

 

She liked being with her mother. There was no question about that. She liked doing things with her. But the shopping was a whole other thing. And it reminded her too much of the lessons. Especially of the time with the shoe salesman.

 

This time, when they were looking at shoes, she made it a point to push her skirt down between her legs when she sat for a fitting. Her mother knew what she was doing and why, and was amused.

 

As had been the case with the girls, Angel found herself enjoying her mother's company. She wasn't really there to buy anything, and she didn't have any real plans for the evening, so she didn't feel as stressed as she often had. Her mother had her try some things on, commenting on how they would - or did - look on her. More often, she would hold her mother's purse while watching her try on things. It was not exciting, but it was companionable.

 

In the end, Angel got out with a blouse, a pair of shoes that she didn't expect to wear much, and a couple of books she had been wanting. It took three large bags for her mother's purchases. Toward the end, she commented about the fact that she was the one carrying those bags.

 

"Of course, dear. That's the way it works." Her mother grinned. "If you don't have a man with you to act as porter, you bring a teenager for the job."

 

Angel rolled her eyes, and schlepped the bags out to the car.

 

When they got home, her father told them that Dr. Baker had called. He wanted to apologize for putting Angel through what Ms. Wilson had done, so he invited her family out to dinner again.

 

After a brief family conference, she decided to accept. She called him back and told him, and they made arrangements.

 

She called David's house, to satisfy her curiosity. First, she asked his father whether he had finished researching the AMA agreement. He said that it would take a few more days. She thanked him, then spoke to David.

 

She asked what she had missed at the party. While it had continued for a few hours after she left, nothing particularly special had happened. Flo left shortly after she had, all but dragged away by her parents. Her objection had raised a minor tsunami in the pool. After that, people drifted away in ones and twos. The cleanup had been relatively easy.

 

He verified that he had been the one who provided the gold for the party pins. He also told her that he was working on doing engraving in addition to the images, as well as expanding the kinds of materials he could put images on. From one of her functions at the party, she suggested he consider working on tattoos as well. He liked the idea.

 

They ended the call, and she put down her eCom. She took her tablet, and used it to check her emails and then play a few games.

 

She got a call on her eCom, from a name she didn't recognize. Once she accepted it, she quickly saw that the mysterious Mrs. Berman was the mother of Kerry and Terry, from the incident at the mall. They exchanged greetings, and then her caller seemed to get a little nervous.

 

"I thought about what you said, and talked it over with my husband. Would you still be willing to come over and look at the girls in your special way?" She seemed to second guess the way she had said that, and blushed. She tried to sputter an apology, but Angel waved it away.

 

"Of course. How are they doing?"

 

"They seem to have recovered from what happened. They consider the three of you heroes, the way you rescued them from those... people." She all but spat that last word. "In fact, they would like a chance to thank the three of you. Do you think you and the others could come over this evening?"

 

"I don't see why not." Angel smiled. She gave her the numbers for Sherry and Robin, and got the address from her.

 

When she told her parents about the call, her mother volunteered to drive her. She admitted to a certain curiosity about the twins and their mother, after Angel's earlier descriptions. Angel got ready, and soon they were off.

 

It took about twenty minutes to get to their house, during which they talked about the trivia of their lives. On their way back, they would be picking up some take out for dinner.

 

For the last block, they found themselves followed by a familiar car. Both cars parked, and Sherry and Robin joined Angel and her mother. They got halfway up the walk before the door slammed open and they were swarmed by two enthusiastic bundles of energy.

 

"Thankyouthankyouthankyou!" they burbled, alternating enthusiastic hugs among their three rescuers.

 

"Girls!" warned a familiar voice. The girls quieted - a little - and became a little more formal and a lot more comprehensible.

 

"Thank you for coming." Kerry said, with a huge smile spoiling her attempt at formality.

 

"And thank you very much for rescuing us!" Terry added, enthusiastically.

 

A laughing Sherry replied "You're welcome. It was our pleasure."

 

During that exchange, Angel was taking in information about the girls. Terry was infected, seemingly by the same virus that Kerry carried. She was running about a day behind her sister, and Angel would have to work a little harder to understand her likely outcome.

 

Kerry was easier to read now. Angel got the feeling that her subconscious had digested the original information about their genetic structure, and had started on the new information. It was apparently going to be a bit of a mixed bag for her - nothing too bad, but nothing much in the way of powers.

 

The girls all but dragged the trio inside, trailed by an amused mother. Mrs. Berman met them at the door, introducing herself to Angel's mother and introducing the four of them to her husband.

 

Mr. Berman was a large man, with obvious muscles, and purple hair, eyebrows, and moustache. Angel could see that parts of his build, along with the colorful hair, were the results of MORFS. By most measures, he was completely human.

 

He was also very friendly, and very grateful for their rescue of his daughters.

 

While Sherry and Robin kept the girls busy - and vice versa - Angel and Mrs. Berman found an excuse to go into the kitchen by themselves for a moment.

 

"I'll need to look more carefully, but I can tell you some things. Terry is infected now, and is running about a day behind Kerry." she shrugged apologetically. "I will need a better look to see much more about Terry, but I can give you a pretty good idea about Kerry's outcome."

 

"Go on," their mother urged, sinking into a chair and gesturing an invitation toward another chair.

 

Angel sat, and continued, in a low voice. "She will apparently only have one major change. She will grow wings and be able to fly. Beyond that, she will be a little larger and stronger, particularly her chest and tail, and her hair and fur will change color. That's about it. I don't see her developing any special powers or problems. I suspect that she'll have to endure some lame Wizard of Oz jokes from some of the other kids, but other than that..." she shrugged.

 

"Are you sure...?"

 

"I've only had this ability a few months, so it's entirely possible that I have missed some details. But the bottom line is that they both should be ok. A little different physically, but ok."

 

Their mother slumped with relief. "When?"

 

"Kerry should start getting symptoms tomorrow, probably in the afternoon. Terry should follow on Monday. If you can get them both clinic appointments for Monday, it should work out fine. Kerry will have an extra half day of feeling lousy, but it's not an emergency."

 

They went back out into the living room, carrying trays with drinks for everyone. When Angel had gotten a good read on Terry, she started noticing the two of them together. And noticed something she had missed. She helped take the empty glasses out to the kitchen, as an excuse for another conference.

 

"They have twin telepathy!" Angel was quiet, but insistent. "It's not very strong now, but the change will reinforce it. Have you noticed?"

 

"All twins seem to have something like that." their mother replied. "But in most cases it is just from being close and in synch. Not really telepathy. I got suspicious enough a few years ago that I looked it up. I was never really sure about it, though."

 

"Well, now you know. Terry looks like she is going to be pretty much the same as her sister. Her hair and fur may be a different color, I'm not sure. But she will have something extra. It seems to have something to do with the telepathy, but I just can't see it well enough to bring it into focus. It will be fairly weak, but she may learn to use it well anyway."

 

When they returned, Mr. Berman gave them a concerned look. His wife took him aside and quietly reassured him. When they returned, Angel's mother started making noises about having taken enough of their time, and how nice it was to meet them. As the older girls got ready to leave, the Bermans offered to reward them. The only reward they would accept were hugs from the girls, which were freely and enthusiastically given.

 

Back in the car, Angel's mother had a little bit of a smug expression playing about her lips.

 

"Ok," Angel demanded. "what's with the expression?"

 

"Expression?"

 

"Oh, pleeease, Mother." Angel had learned more than public mannerisms during her training.

 

Her mother was a little startled by how thoroughly that response projected a teenaged girl.

 

"Oh, all right." She conceded. "While you two were in the kitchen, their father brought up the issue of rewards. Not just for the rescue, but for the readings. I assured him that you wouldn't accept anything more than something like those hugs. All of you."

 

"Aha!" Angel used her mock-sinister voice. "You've fallen into our trap, thinking you can predict our every move."

 

They laughed and talked all the way to the restaurant, and then all the way home.

 

That night, Angel went to bed with a smile on her face. Something that had been altogether too rare over the last few months.

 

When she went down to breakfast the next morning, her folks were discussing some plans for the day. Apparently, they had heard about a restaurant that had an excellent Sunday Brunch for a relatively reasonable price, not too far from the theater Angel would be inspecting. They offered to pick her up when she was done with the theater, then take her out from there.

 

She accepted, and after a quick bite to stave off starvation, went to get ready. When Mandy got there, Angel filled her in on their plans. She thought it was a great idea. So good, in fact, that she called her husband and suggested something similar. They knew a place somewhat closer to home, and somewhat better suited to their young children. She would call when she was done, then meet them there.

 

They hit the theater like a tornado, anxious to get their jobs done well, but quickly. Angel found signs of the theater's age, and human limitations, but no incipient disasters. The restrooms, concessions, and vents showed clear signs of having gotten the benefits of her earlier reports. She did find a quarter case of expired snacks in one of the store rooms, but learned that a couple of the younger employees had claimed them for an upcoming party. There was no danger from them, other than a slightly stale taste or texture, and the case was well away from the others.

 

After that reassurance, and a quick look through the stock in concessions itself, she decided that there was no need to include it in her report. When the manager learned of her decision, he looked relieved.

 

When she started writing her report, she eCom'd her parents and let them know she was nearly done. They told her they were on their way. Her report was as thorough as ever, but relatively short and quickly done. There just wasn't all that much to say.

 

After she sent the copies, she let Mandy and the manager know she was done and thumbed out. When she got outside, her parents were pulling up in front of the theater. She commented on the timing, and they admitted that they had arrived a little earlier and parked the car where they could see inside the theater. When they saw her get ready to leave, they pulled out of the spot and drove to where she met them. They assured her that they had not waited long.

 

The Sunday brunch was buffet style, with certain dishes prepared to order and most simply available at will. They were shown to a table, and their waitress briefly explained procedures. Moments later, they were standing at the buffet, loading their plates.

 

Fresh from work, Angel was still half in inspection mode. She absently noted the levels of biological activity in various foods there, most well within safe levels.

 

Most.

 

She spotted something alarming, just in time to stop her father from reaching for it. One of the sauces - she didn't notice the name - was seething with activity. And not just some common food contamination. It hadn't grown there, or in any of the ingredients. It had been added. And recently.

 

Perhaps more alarmingly, it was not anything she recognized. She just knew that it was dangerously virulent.

 

Angel's father fetched the manager, and explained the situation. She immediately removed the sauce and started quietly questioning the serving staff. One of them brought out a new pot of the sauce, and it was uncontaminated. The manager invited Angel and her family to visit the kitchen, as though she was giving a VIP tour.

 

Angel had to give her credit, she thought quickly on her feet. Once they were in the kitchen, she asked to see Angel's ID. She nodded thoughtfully when she saw the theater card. She went on to explain that her brother in law worked for the chain, and had heard of Angel. And had discussed her, and a lot of other theater gossip, with the family.

 

Having ascertained Angel's identity, she asked if she would do a quick check of the kitchen, to see if there was any more contamination. Angel agreed, and while she was doing so the manager took pains to secure the tainted sauce. Angel's parents returned to their meal, for appearances sake.

 

As she expected, Angel found no signs of the contamination in any of the food preparation or storage areas. It was clear that the stuff was added at the buffet itself. Angel found two dirty plates with signs of the contaminant, but one of them seemed to have picked it up from the other. They were also secured as potential evidence.

 

At that point the police arrived. Showing, in Angel's opinion, more than usual tact, they arrived through the kitchen door rather than through the dining room.

 

The only other sign of the contamination she found was on the wrist of the manager, where a little of the sauce had landed when she handled it. Angel decontaminated that, before it would have a chance to enter the woman's body.

 

Angel learned that a nondescript man had been the last to serve himself from that sauce. About the time the sauce was being removed, he paid his bill and left. He paid in cash, leaving a small tip.

 

While clearly considering him a suspect, the cops decided to treat him as a possible victim. That gave them more room to act. They took Angel's statement, confirmed her ID, and thanked her.

 

The manager's thanks were more emphatic, and more concrete. Not only was brunch on the house for her family, but she gave Angel a business card with a note on the back. It essentially allowed her family to dine there free for the rest of her life.

 

While they were still a little shaken by the event, Angel and her family did their best to enjoy their food. And when they left, her father made it a point to leave a generous tip.

 

Between the early morning start, and the energy she had expended at the restaurant, Angel was asleep for most of the ride home.

 

Once they were home, she took off her work clothes and settled on her bed to resume her nap. As she drifted off to sleep, she realized that her old self would have just flopped on the bed in his good clothes. And wouldn't have cared.

 

She missed those days.

 

After waking up, she experienced something that had been surprisingly rare, lately.

 

Her parents told her no. And made it stick.

 

She had decided that it would be a great time for a swim. There was still time before she needed to get dressed for dinner, and summer was disappearing fast.

 

As far as her mother was concerned, Angel was thinking like a boy again. As a boy, she could have showered and dressed formally in less than half an hour. As a girl, or more to the point, a young woman, she would need much longer. In fact, her mother considered her to be behind schedule already.

 

Angel responded with all the dignity and grace of her sixteen years. "But Mooom! Daaaddy! Why? It isn't fair!"

 

The look her parents exchanged didn't help. It was their "we know something you don't know" look.

 

Angel was feeling put upon. This dinner was supposed to be an apology to her for causing an uncomfortable situation, not an occasion to raise discomfort to new heights. She could understand dressing fairly nicely, making sure her hair was combed and brushed, and maybe a tiny bit of makeup.

 

But this dinner was being more elaborately stage managed than the last show she was in. Her hair was not just clean and neat, it was styled. Her makeup, which her mother described as evening formal makeup, rivaled that first department store makeover. A special bra. She was a little surprised that her mother wasn't having her wear the formal dress. Or failing that, one of her work outfits.

 

Instead, she ended up in the more formal of her party dresses. Simple, but fairly formal.

 

After all that, there was the jewelry. Coordinating her earrings, necklace, bracelet, and ring to her mother's satisfaction took a lot more effort than she thought it was worth.

 

Finally, she was ready. She was annoyed to notice that she was more dressed up than her mother, and significantly more so than her father. Her mother pointed out that Angel was the central person, the reason for the meal. Angel didn't buy it. She figured it was another of her "lessons" in womanhood. At least it was probably the sort of lesson that a born girl her age might be as likely to go through.

 

She sighed, and was determined that she wouldn't let it spoil her evening.

 

The dinner was at a different restaurant this time. If anything, it seemed even fancier than the other one. Something told Angel this was going to be an occasion to act every inch the proper young lady, a role she seriously disliked. She took comfort in the knowledge that most of her friends had the same opinion of that role. She enjoyed a brief smile at the thought of the gregarious water sprite Flo having to do the same thing. And realized that she probably had to do just that, given her parents' careers.

 

Even though they were a little early, Doctor Baker and his companion were already there and seated. They rose as the family approached.

 

The woman was elegant. There was no other word for it. She carried herself with the unselfconscious grace of someone who had spent a lifetime in formal surroundings. She seemed perfectly comfortable in her own finery, and in the setting of that restaurant.

 

And she was looking at Angel. Not just looking... somehow, Angel was certain she was evaluating her, judging her. She felt like a mouse, pinned in the gaze of a hawk. The woman's smile deepened briefly after Angel had that thought.

 

*You're a telepath! Like Radar!* Angel kept her posture and her features in her best Formal Meeting With Important Adults style, even as she thought it.

 

*Miss Morgan and I are similar in that regard,* came the reply. She nodded slightly, in approval. *Congratulations. You are very observant. Now pay attention.*

 

They had reached the table, and the doctor was introducing the woman as Mrs. Tabor. He introduced Angel, and Angel introduced her parents. It was clear from her mother's reaction that she recognized the name, and was impressed.

 

It was also clear that Mrs. Tabor's presence was not a surprise to anyone but Angel. She had been set up. Again. But for what?

 

The woman smiled at Angel. *Nothing sinister, I assure you.* She turned to the doctor. "You were right, Thomas. She is a very special girl."

 

Angel didn't know what to think, but she trusted her parents. If they set her up for this, they must have had a good reason. Or at least, they must have thought they did.

 

After they ordered, the doctor spoke up.

 

"Angel, I really must apologize for bringing you to the unwanted attention of those people."

 

"No real harm done. She came, said a few unpleasant things, and left."

 

"That's very nice of you to say. I honestly believed that you are not covered by that agreement of theirs. I still do."

 

"I understand. Mr. Streight, our lawyer, is looking into the question for us."

 

"He is a good man," Mrs. Tabor commented. "I'm sure any advice he gives you will be sound."

 

"Still," the doctor continued, "I said some things, and implied some things, that her organization could interfere with. I consider what I said a promise, and I am very particular about keeping my promises."

 

"That is very admirable of you, Thomas, but the appetizers are arriving. I'm sure this young lady would like to eat something while you tell her your proposal."

 

*Thank you.* Angel thought to her. *It has been a while since we ate.*

 

*You are most welcome, my dear.*

 

"You're right. I seem to be saying Iím sorry a lot tonight, but I'm sorry to keep you from the food."

 

With that, they started enjoying the tantalizing tidbits in front of them. After a few minutes, the doctor spoke up again.

 

"I discussed the situation with a number of people," he saw Angel and her mother looking a little alarmed. "I didn't use your name, of course. Just the situation." He looked at his other guest, then continued.

 

"Mrs. Tabor is one of our more prominent angels." At an amused look from Angel, he hurried to explain. "She is one of our most active fund raisers for childrenís' charities, and a major donor herself. And a prominent businesswoman in her own right. She owns and operates one of the most exclusive spas in the country."

 

*Is he always this nervous around you?* Angel wondered.

 

*Pretty much.* came the amused reply. *Poor dear. He has always had trouble with situations which are largely out of his hands.*

 

Oblivious to the exchange, the poor dear in question continued. "She came up with an idea that might accomplish what I had offered, if not quite in the way I described it. But before we could present the possibility, she had to meet you. Mrs. Tabor?" He looked a question at her.

 

She was about to respond when the ever observant wait staff saw that most of them were done with their appetizers and hurried in to collect the dishes. Angel speculated to herself that either the restaurant put a high priority on service, or she was in the presence of a known big tipper.

 

*Both, actually. You are bright.* Came the thought, in response. "Thomas and I are both well known here.*

 

Then, out loud, "Thomas' discussion of your situation presented an opportunity for me. For some time now, I have been trying to attract a bio elemental to become a part of my spa. I would be able to offer a range of exclusive services for my more demanding clients, and few, if any, other facilities would be able to match them."

 

"The most vexing problem turned out to be recruiting. The suitable prospects were firmly entrenched in careers of their choice, often at rates of pay that even I could not match. The others were simply unsuitable. Until now."

 

She paused as the salads arrived, letting her words sink in. She also used the time to unobtrusively monitor the reactions and concerns of Angel and her parents. She had not gotten where she was without making full use of the resources available to her. Their thoughts were largely as she had expected, and, for the most part, encouraging.

 

She liked Angel's sense of loyalty and honor. But her loyalty to her current employer could be a problem. Still, it wasn't unexpected. She had worked around much larger obstacles in her time. And once turned her way, that loyalty could be a formidable asset.

 

She was amused that Angel was enjoying her food while internally cursing the need to take "ladylike" bites. She had been taught the need for bites small enough to swallow on demand, enabling her to answer questions and conversation on demand. But it was obviously alien to her usual way of eating. The attempt spoke well of her self discipline.

 

The more she observed Angel, the more she liked the young woman. And the more she wanted to recruit her.

 

Over the entrees, she explained that she had researched the AMA agreement, or rather had paid experts to research it for her. It was clear that her plans would fall outside of that agreement and related laws and regulations. She had made sure of that before even trying to recruit anyone.

 

She had also determined that someone working for her in that capacity would be able to help the children, as Angel had done. The paperwork would simply describe it as a cosmetic process rather than a medical procedure.

 

By the time the plates were half empty, she had transitioned from informing to recruiting. The transition was so smooth that even the doctor missed it. Hardly surprising, from a woman who routinely dealt with heads of multinationals and other notables.

 

Angel envied the practiced ease with which the woman ate while keeping the conversation going. She hated the whole tiny bite at a time bit, even though she understood the reasons.

 

With her abilities, Mrs. Tabor was able to anticipate and address their reservations before they voiced them. Yes, she could work around school and theater commitments. She would be working by appointment only. She would still be able to do favors for friends and families, and for the doctor's children. And so on.

 

By the time they ordered dessert, she was wrapping up. "I won't lie to you. There are good aspects and bad aspects to this. On the good side, you can make a lot of money in good working conditions, and get to see and work with the rich, famous, and powerful. On the bad side, you work with the rich, famous, and powerful. Some of them are very nice people. But many of them are rude, demanding, high maintenance, snobs. Actually, most of them will be demanding, considering how much I will be charging them." She shared a laugh with the rest of the table.

 

She gave Angel a contract and a copy of the research, suggesting that she have their lawyer look them over. Angel gave them to her father.

 

Over dessert, Angel's mother remembered one of her projects. She described the alcohol tests to the doctor, and asked his advice. He suggested a home "drunk test" kit, which was inexpensive and could measure blood alcohol levels in near real time. It was not accurate enough for legal purposes, but it would be good enough for their tests.

 

He also recommended that they use very small doses, to begin with. In theory, giving her alcoholic beverages was illegal. In practice, they could probably convince a judge to drop any charges, even if they got overzealous police and prosecutors.

 

Dinner was soon over, and Angel was chagrined to realize that she had eaten all of it. Including the dessert. What would Lena think?

 

The doctor came to her rescue again, presenting her with one of Lena's favorite desserts, packaged to go. With final thank yous and farewells, they were soon on their ways.

 

On the way home, Angel suggested they try the test that night. There would be no school or work the next day, so she could sleep off any ill effects. Her parents vetoed the idea, citing the stresses and efforts of her day. For the second time in one day, they made it stick.

 

Angel was not sure she liked the trend.

 

When she got home, she "called" Lena.

 

*We'll be right over!* came the enthusiastic response.

 

*We?* angel asked. Lena didn't answer, though. She walked to the door, and quickly saw her answer. David had flown Lena door to door. She let them in, and gave Lena her goodies. They sat in the living room and talked for a while.

 

Angel described her day, including the events at brunch. Her friends were surprised and alarmed at the contamination - more so when they learned it was deliberate. They made plans to get together the next afternoon, and called Penny to invite her.

 

She accepted.

 

Angel's parents would be at work, but the friends were going to meet within walking distance anyway. Specifically, they chose the picnic location near Pope Hill. It seemed fitting, somehow.

 

After her friends left, Angel watched some shows with her folks. At what would all too soon be a necessary bedtime, she climbed the stairs and headed for bed.

 

Angel's sleep was troubled with dreams of assassins, hunters, police, doctors, teachers, giant microbiota, and others chasing her. As it reached a crescendo, her world was filled with the reverberating command of a goddess: "Wake up!"

 

She sat up in bed, looking around. Nobody was there, and the house was quiet. After her heartbeat settled a little, she understood the last part.

 

*That's better.* came Lena's familiar touch. *Your nightmares were getting loud enough to wake the brain blind.*

 

*Brain blind?*

 

*People who can't even receive telepathic stuff. Not necessarily shielded or anything, since we can often read them. Sorry... I get bitchy when someone else's bad dreams jolt me out of my good ones.*

 

*Good dreams?*

 

*You would not believe what David and I were doing in mid air* The undertones were unmistakable.

 

*Uh, o... k... I don't wanna know. Sorry to commit dreamus interruptus.*

 

With a short mental laugh, Lena wished her good night and apparently went back to sleep.

 

It took Angel somewhat longer, but she finally drifted off again.

 

Her alarm woke her up about the time she would have to be getting ready for school. If it was a school day. Muttering darkly about the hour, she threw on a robe and went down to the kitchen. After a bowl of breakfast, and wishing her parents a good day at work, she went back to her room and back to sleep.

 

When she woke up again, she wasn't sure whether she had dreamed about going downstairs. She shrugged, deciding it didn't really matter. She chose to enjoy the luxury of a day without work, school, appointments (other than meeting her friends), or dinner plans.

 

She took care of her morning routine, skipping the makeup, and dressed comfortably in jeans and one of her old shirts. Sneakers and socks, and she was ready to go.

 

Or not. She didn't really have anywhere to go. It was too early for the pool, which opened at noon. She realized that she had all but forgotten how to kick back and relax.

 

She made herself a snack, then turned on the tube. Nothing caught her interest, so she went up and used her computer to surf the web. Since she wasn't sure where she'd go or what she'd look at, she chose to use her old system rather than the tablet. No sense leaving a trail for the work auditors.

 

She read and answered some emails from her old friends and a few relatives, then wandered the net. She found herself attracted to morf sites, ranging from fantasy art to serious articles. She found references to some of the more prominent MORFS researchers. It didn't surprise her to see that most of them were obviously morfs, themselves.

 

Despite her ad hoc knowledge of microbiology and MORFS, she found she had a hard time following a lot of the papers. Obviously, they were aimed at people with a lot more formal education than she had.

 

After she finished reading a rather intense erotic story, in graphic novel form, she noticed that the pool would soon be open. After that reading, she decided she could use a cool down. She changed, and took off.

 

She was mildly surprised that Lena was not there. Sherry, Robin, Star Dawn, and a number of other familiar faces were there, though.

 

*Lena? You busy?*

 

*Kinda.* There was some amusement behind that reply. *What do you need?*

 

*Just wanted to see if you are up to some pool time. Most of the gang are here.*

 

*We want to... uh... get a few things done before going to the hill.* For some reason, Angel got a little embarrassed at that response. *Besides, David has problems with his wings when he swims.*

 

That answered who "we" were. And gave Angel far too many ideas about what Lena was doing.

 

She turned her attention to swimming and enjoying her other friends. Star Dawn had made progress on her "tricks", and had started testing her vision outside the visible spectrum. She especially liked the idea of seeing in the ultraviolet, which would be invisible to most night vision sets (and a lot of powers).

 

She was getting pretty sure that she could not see into the X ray or microwave bands, though. And she had a lot of work ahead as far as learning to interpret what she saw. But it was progress. And fun.

 

Sherry would have to leave the pool earlier than usual, to get to practice for the diving team. That didn't stop her from showing off on the board there, though.

 

The friends all agreed that they would miss the pool when it closed, after the upcoming holiday weekend. While Sherry complained about missing the swimming, the other girls laughingly mourned the loss of all those half naked guys.

 

It was an odd feeling for Angel, when she realized that she could no longer take it for granted that she would routinely see more naked boys than she cared to think about. And another, somewhat conflicted, feeling to realize how often she would be in among large numbers of naked girls.

 

Angel got Robin talking about what she would want from MORFS. After all the times it had come up, she had been giving the matter some thought. She knew some things she didn't want. She didn't want to be winged, like David. And she didn't want to be any visible sort of hybrid.

 

She wanted powers, but didn't want to go through the hell David woke up to. A corner of her mind called her petty and cowardly, but this was about what she wanted. She wanted to be able to become invisible and/or intangible at will. And if there were really no limits, she would want to be able to teleport herself and other people and things through space and time. She really liked stories about that.

 

When she told Angel and the others, she only mentioned a little of it. She mentioned that she'd rather not go through what Sherry and others had gone through, and continued to go through. She said she wouldn't mind getting a little bigger, stronger, and better built, but she would prefer to at least look fully human. It was a mark of their friendship that Sherry didn't even blink when she said that.

 

In fact, Sherry understood. She wasn't nearly as obvious as a lot of the hybrid morfs they knew, but she still caught shit from some of the more bigoted members of the community. She wouldn't wish a hybrid appearance on her worst enemy. Although she admitted to herself that she took a certain amount of enjoyment from the new plague sweeping through the Pures.

 

Angel privately concluded that Robin would make another good test subject, once they had the Pope Hill project going.

 

After stopping at home for a quick shower and change, Angel headed for the hill. On the way there, she ran into Penny. They talked about nothing in particular as they walked to the meeting place. When they got to the tables, Angel checked the screen, and saw that Lena had reserved the site.

 

Hearing a sound like a thousand quiet voices chanting, they turned and looked at the hill. As they approached, a vortex of golden light seemed to rise from the ground. They were filled with a sense of awe and wonder as it rose to form a glowing column. At the apex of the column they saw a brightly glowing winged figure. The figure circled the column, and it slowly sank back into the earth. When the column got low enough, it started to reveal another glowing figure. The glow was too bright to see many details, but they could make out long, flowing hair and an apparent lack of wings.

 

When the column disappeared entirely, the winged figure alighted next to the other. The glow increased, then suddenly went away. At the same time, the sounds were silenced, and the emotional overload lessened.

 

After a stunned moment, the two girls recognized the no longer glowing figures before them.

 

"You sure know how to make an entrance, David!" Penny laughed. Angel joined her as they walked toward their friends.

 

"I should have recognized your touch," Angel told Lena. "That awe and wonder bit came out of nowhere."

 

"Thought you'd like it." Lena laughed. "We had you two going for a moment, though."

 

"You two make a good team." Angel congratulated them, while silently adding "Damn it."

 

*I heard that. Still jealous?*

 

*Sometimes. It really stinks, but I can't help it.*

 

*I know. Remember, you haven't lost a friend. You've gained a virtual circus!*

 

That got a laugh from Angel. Lena picked up a cooler that had been sitting unnoticed, next to her, and they set off for the tables.

 

As they all relaxed and talked, David raised a point that had been bothering him. "Have you ever tried using your powers on yourself?"

 

"A little. I can change my skin tone, and somewhat change my features." She demonstrated, taking on her Afam persona. After giving them a good look, she changed back.

 

"Impressive." David acknowledged. "But what about something more substantial?"

 

"Substantial?"

 

"A fundamental change, like giving yourself more power or something."

 

"I don't know. Never tried it. Remember, it's all pretty new to me." Angel was intrigued. She agreed to give it a try, and see what happened. She went inside herself, asking her subconscious resources to put together the necessary patterns and make her aware of what she needed to know.

 

Then it all went wrong.

 

 End Part 12

 

 

 

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

 


Views: