Angel's Tale: A MORFS Universe Story
*Angel!* Lena thought, not wanting to upset their driver or lose the threads of the thoughts. *You're being set up. Two of the old manager's toadies have set some sort of a trap. They think it will discredit you and Andy, and maybe, somehow, bring back the way things were. Especially the old policies about morfs.*
*Not much, yet. I'll keep trying.*
*Do they think you're coming?* Angel wondered whether their thoughts could be a deliberate ruse.
*No. They know my part's finished, and are insultingly glad that I won't be there.*
Angel understood, and let Lena get on with her "listening."
Angel had her father drop them off toward the back of the parking lot. She explained that she didn't want to block the parents who were dropping off carloads of customers in front of the box office. He didn't really buy it, but did as she asked. After reminding her to call when she wanted him to come get her, he drove away.
Angel called Andy. "Hey, Andy. Have you been keeping an eye on Pete and Repeat?" While the second guy was actually named Reinhardt, Angel, Lena, and Andy had taken to calling them that due to their similarity of unpleasant views and their tendency to stick together.
"As much as I can. Why?"
"They're up to something. Lena caught a stray thought about some sort of a trap, designed to discredit you and me. Any ideas what it might be?"
"A few. Is Radar coming in with you?"
"She's here. Why?"
"It might work out better if she monitors from outside for a little. If they see you come in alone, they might get careless. Especially when you start to approach whatever they've set up."
"You're devious. I like that in a man...ager." Angel grinned. "I'll be right in."
Lena had caught the conversation, and remained out of sight for the moment.
Angel went in as usual, and thumbed in. On the way, she started thinking about what she hadn't checked and wouldn't be likely to check. They knew that she would see any contamination in the concessions area, storage areas, and theaters. And anything she found would be cleaned and disinfected right away.
Cleaned and disinfected. The cleaning supplies.
*Bingo!* Lena confirmed. *The spray bottle Sally is about to use. Stop her - she doesn't know!*
*On his way, up to speed.*
"Sally! Put that down, and come over here, please." Sally seemed to hesitate, and Angel tapped her gold badge. That reminder that Angel was a full manager in her own right, outranking even Andy, was enough to make up her mind.
Angel looked at Sally's hands. There were areas of contamination there, from handling the bottle. The contamination was an unnatural combination of e coli and salmonella.
She pretended to be dissatisfied with some part of the confused girl's uniform, and sent her off to the break room. She turned to the conspirators. Their hands and clothes showed signs of the same contamination. She approached them, timing her steps so that she would arrive at the same time that Andy came up behind them. En route, she called Lena in.
"Your hands and clothes are unsanitary," she said without preamble. "Not at all up to company standards." They started to turn, when hands fell on their shoulders.
"Gentlemen. We need to talk. In my office. Now!" Andy was quiet but forceful.
Pete tried to brazen it out. "What did we do?" He was about to say more, when he turned his head to follow Angel's gaze. He recognized Lena as the telepath from the earlier interviews. He got a calculating look in his eyes, but said nothing more.
As they allowed Andy to lead them off to his office, followed by Lena, Angel quickly checked the hands of the other two girls in concessions. Thankfully, they were "clean", although one could use a good session with a nail brush. With an apologetic tone, she instructed them to "hold the fort", then dashed off to the break room.
"No time to explain right now." she told the frightened girl, "You are not in trouble, but you are in a little danger. That spray cleaner was contaminated." Angel gestured toward the sink, indicating that the girl should wash her hands.
In the meantime, she was using her other hand to speed dial Mandy with her eCom. When she got an answer, she quickly said that there was another situation, and Andy could use some backup. Yesterday.
Angel turned back to Sally. Her hands were red from scrubbing under hot water, but were not completely free of contamination. Angel took her hands reassuringly, then ran a hand over each, eliminating the remaining taint. With an apology, she sent the still distraught girl out to help with concessions.
She called Mandy again, to fill her in. Mandy told her that Andy was on another line to the office, getting witnesses to - and a recording of - his interview with the two conspirators. Mandy herself was en route to the theater. And a police car would be arriving shortly.
From what Mandy told her, Angel almost wished she had gone up with Andy and Lena. But the next comment from Mandy made her glad she hadn't.
"Have you secured all the contaminated cleaning supplies?"
"Damn it!" escaped before Angel could stop herself. "No. I'll do that now." She was angry with herself. How could she have forgotten something that important?
She grabbed a couple of fresh trash bags and went to work. Carefully using the bag as both glove and container, she removed the contaminated products and cloths from under the counter. She went to the supply closet, and found one other. She slipped that into another bag. Then she went to the locker room and checked the lockers. The lockers were clean, but there was a patch of contamination on a nearby bench.
On the general theory that safety was more important than evidence, she sterilized the patch.
Angel took the bags out with her and stored them under a counter for the moment. Then she stepped out on the floor to become a visible managerial presence. She silently prayed that nothing would come up.
Of course, life is rarely that obliging. Luckily, everything that did come up was fairly routine. She had little training or guidance from the company for such things, but she had been going to theaters most of her life, and seen a lot of things. Mostly, it was situations which called for approval of standard actions. Even if she got it wrong, it was nothing earthshaking. She placated angry or upset customers, authorized refunds and replacements, and generally played manager.
Mandy arrived, with two men from headquarters. The men went upstairs, and Mandy went to Angel. She quietly watched Angel handle a couple of minor crises, before pulling her away for a quiet talk in the break room.
Angel learned what had been going on upstairs. When Andy took the conspirators upstairs, Lena used his phone to call the corporate office and establish a video link. That done, Andy asked them if they knew why he brought them upstairs. They tried to brazen it out, claiming it was an unjustified accusation of dirty hands.
When he brought up their connection with the contaminated cleaning supplies, they didn't blink. Pete, clearly the ringleader, arrogantly reminded Andy that he couldn't use anything he got from a telepath - especially from a telepath "reading" an unknowing or unwilling subject.
Andy reminded them there was a major exception. They didn't seem to get it, so he spelled it out.
Their attempted use of biological weapons fell under the legal definition of terrorism. He could use Lena's testimony to establish Probable Cause, allowing the Federal authorities to search their homes, cars, etc. In fact, Angel's observations alone would be enough to do so.
After that, the two lost a lot of their arrogance. They denied any terrorist intentions, but finally understood that their denials carried no legal weight.
They were offered a similar deal to that of their former mentor. They would dictate and affirm a complete confession, which the theater chain would keep. They would immediately resign, and renounce any and all claims against the chain. They would never work for a theater again. For a period of five years, they would not say or do anything against the chain, its theaters, or anyone past, present, or future employed by the chain. They would also keep out of legal trouble.
If they violated any of those terms, the confessions and all of the evidence would be turned over to the authorities. If they kept to the terms, the theater chain would take no further action against them.
They knew they were beaten. They accepted the terms, and did what they had to. After dealing with the confessions and turning in their theater IDs, they were escorted off the premises.
Once Andy was done with them and came downstairs, Angel went back to her inspection. She found and neutralized the places that the girl had "cleaned" before the discovery. The rest of her inspection was routine, much to her relief.
Angel, Lena, and Andy wrote their reports. When Angel and Lena finished with theirs, they demonstrated their confidence by getting snacks from Concessions and then taking in a movie.
By the time Angel called her father, the police car and company van were gone. On the way home, they talked about the movie. When he asked about the inspection, she sadly realized that she could honestly say "same-same" and describe the lack of disasters.
She hated even the hint of deceiving him like that, but his look of relief made it worthwhile.
Soon she was relaxing by the pool, enjoying the company of her friends. For once, there were no plans, no dangers, nothing she had to deal with. She was just a teen, enjoying the pool with her friends.
Well, most of her friends. Robin was down with MORFS, but there was nothing any of them could do for her but wait it out. Then they could welcome her to the world in her new form.
But for now, she could just enjoy swimming, watching Sherry show off her dives and aquabatics, watching Star Dawn show off her light effects, and everyone having a good time. At one point, Lena was complaining about David's family trip. Apparently, she had him willing to use his wings to fan and shade her as she lounged poolside.
"Oh, my dear," Lena said, in a mock Eastern Old Money accent, "you just haven't lived until you've lounged poolside with those beautiful wings wafting a gentle zephyr over your body."
"Oh, my," Angel replied, with an equally bad Southern Belle accent, as she fanned herself with her hand. "You do paint a vivid image."
The four of them cracked up.
After a while, Penny joined them. She verified that Pat was diagnosed and dosed, and happily changing sex. Then she declared Cassandra off duty for the afternoon, and dove in the pool.
Miles away, someone was not enjoying the Saturday sun. The sign on the door said "S. Miller, Elementologist.", but just then Dr. Miller was not seeing a patient. She was in charge of the Elementals database, a filtered subset of the International MORFS Registry. And there had been a security breach of that database.
It was apparent that records had not been altered, but had merely been subject to unauthorized access.
Dr. Miller was not a happy camper.
She patched the security hole, and copied the affected records to another place for later examination.
Meanwhile, back at the pool, Angel decided it was time to get home. It would soon be dinner time, and she decided she should help. It wasn't really a girl thing. More like a family thing.
With all day to cook, her mother had outdone herself. By the time Angel was rinsed, changed, and in the kitchen, all that remained was chopping a few of the things for the salad.
Angel was surprised to learn they were having furglox linguini. Not that she particularly objected, but that was the sort of dish she would have expected at one of the restaurants the Doctor took them to. Or at the spa. The meat was fairly expensive, outside of their usual budget.
"Getting a taste for the good life, Mom?" Angel smiled.
"I never knew how good it was, until that dinner with the Doctor. So when it went on sale, I decided to try my hand at it. Here... taste." She held a spoon out with a little of the meat laced cream sauce, for Angel to taste.
Angel had to admit that it was nice. But she always had liked her mother's sauces.
"Besides," her mother continued, dropping the spoon in the sink, "This way we don't use all that much of it. And it's good for you."
Angel was a little puzzled by the way her mother said that last part, but let it slide. She noticed that her parents had wine glasses by their plates, which was also a little unusual. Obviously, there was going to be some kind of celebration.
Her mother was tight lipped when Angel hinted that she'd like to know what it was all about. Instead, she had Angel call her father down for dinner.
Angel was relieved to see her father dressed in the same casual clothes he had worn to drive her to and from the theater. Now that she thought about it, her mother was dressed for a casual Saturday as well.
They sat, said grace, and filled their plates. Her father poured some wine for her mother and himself, then asked whether Angel wanted some. After the experiment, it was one less thing for them to be worried about. Angel declined, opting for a glass of milk.
"Oh, I nearly forgot." her mother said, getting up and then returning almost immediately. She handed an envelope to Angel. "This came for you, in today's mail." Angel recognized it as her paycheck from the theater.
"Your first full paycheck." Her mother gushed. "Congratulations, Angel."
"We're proud of you." Her smiling father said, simply. Then he went back to eating.
Angel was able to enjoy the food, even though she spent the rest of dinner waiting for the other shoe to drop. Bit it didn't. The rest of their dinner conversation was just the usual family chatter.
After dinner, Angel cleared the table then relaxed in front of the tube for a bit. She noticed her parents cuddling on the couch as they watched, then studiously ignored it. It was nice that they were still close, after all those years, but they were her parents. She was feeling too good to deal with such conflicts.
She went upstairs to get ready for bed, and to play on her computer a bit. As she undressed, she wondered what Lena was up to. At the pool, she had said something about getting together with David if he got back from his visit in time.
Angel felt a pleasant warmth spread through her body, especially between her legs. She found herself thinking about what Lena and David might be doing, wondering what it would be like to be naked and wrapped in those strong arms and those soft wings. She could almost feel his hands stroking her back, his lips gently pressed to hers.
She was barely aware of stretching out on her bed, or running her hands over her body in unconscious imitation of his imagined hands. At first, they just ran down her sides and up her belly. When they reached her breasts, they got a little more active, gently kneading them and teasing her nipples. After a bit, they moved downward again. Down past her navel, past her mound, and down between her legs.
She steered clear of her clit for a while, playing along her lips instead. As the scene played out in her head, she gently spread her lips, using part of her palm to lightly stimulate the neglected hotspot. She could almost swear she felt herself being entered, slowly and lovingly. It seemed so right, so special. Her excitement climbed, as the phantom intruder started moving within her and she moved her hips and her hand. Finally, her building tension reached a peak, then released.
She settled back into her bed, in a pleasantly drowsy state. She seemed to be wrapped in a soft, feathery warmth, smelling slightly of boy sweat and passion. She barely noticed the footsteps moving past her door and down the hall as she drifted softly to sleep.
Sometime later, she roused herself enough to pull on an oversized shirt, and consider wishing her parents goodnight. As she stepped out into the hall to do so, she heard some muffled sounds through her parents' door. She just smiled, and went back to her room. And her nice, soft, bed.
She woke up early Sunday morning, from an intensely pleasant dream that she couldn't remember. Responding to a familiar feeling, she reached down to adjust her morning wood. Then she realized it wasn't there. But the familiar feeling was there, along with a vaguely unpleasant stickiness. She gave her now familiar anatomy a brief, friendly rub, then got up to go take care of her morning.
After her shower, she looked at her bedside clock. She couldn't believe she was this awake, and well rested, that early. Since she didn't want to go back to sleep, she went for the next priority in any teenager's life - food.
She went down to the kitchen, in her bathrobe and slippers, and set to work. Since it had been a few weeks since she had made them, she decided to go for her quick snack pancakes. As busy as she was going to be over the next few days, they seemed like a good idea. After a few stacks were done and keeping warm, she started some bacon frying. She decided she would save the eggs until people were ready to eat.
A glance at the clock showed that it had gone from obscenely early to a little later than she would normally get up for school. She decided to take a chance.
*Oh, Lena! You awake?*
*No. I'm asleep and dreaming of my boyfriend. And a nosy neighbor.*
*Oh. Too bad. I made my special pancakes, and some bacon, and I'm about to make some eggs. But I guess you're too deeply asleep to enjoy them. Such a pity. Whatever will I do with all these tasty leftovers.*
*Evil temptress! You're worse than my mother. Ok, I give. I'll be over shortly. Uh... don't call your folks just yet.*
*Again? What's gotten into them?*
*Well, in your mother's case...* Angel caught the overtones of a dirty joke.
*Don't finish that thought! Eeew! They're my parents, for crying out loud!*
*They're people. People who love each other and still lust after each other after all that time. I think it's romantic. And I wish I could follow their example!*
Lena's last comment triggered some memories, and a sneaking suspicion. *Like you were yesterday? With David?*
*What?! How did you know about that?*
*I thought so! You leaked!*
*You leaked. Telepathically. At first, I thought it was some fantasy or something. But it wasn't like any I'd had before. I felt his kisses, his caresses...*
*You've had those feelings before.*
*But then I felt him enter me. Then pause. Then start stroking. It wasn't like being there, and having it really happen. It was more like the ghost of the feelings, like a vivid, recent tactile memory. And the emotional content was so unlike my normal responses to such images. And then, after the release, drifting down into the bed, wrapped in a warm, feathery embrace. Are you going to tell me that didn't happen?*
*Oh, it happened. And it was wonderful. But I didn't know it was possible to share it that way. At least, not without conscious effort.*
They chatted some more, while Angel finished the bacon and the current batch of pancakes, then set the meat to drain and started another batch of pancakes.
*Now come answer your door.*
Angel's parents were drifting down the stairs, hand in hand, and smiling at each other as Angel opened the front door for Lena. Lena took in the sight of the happy couple, and of her good friend, and smiled as well.
Angel rushed back to the kitchen, asking people what kinds of eggs they wanted. Her parents chose fried, and Lena asked for scrambled, with a little of the bacon mixed in. Angel got to work as they drifted in. Lena helped Angel's parents set the table while Angel finished making breakfast.
Angel was amused that her parents had so little reaction to Lena showing up for breakfast. All in all, she hadn't done it very often. But she was simply accepted as a part of the extended family. Sort of an honorary sister to Angel.
And she acted the part, helping set and clear the table, fetching things when she was closest, etc...generally acting like family rather than a guest. Angel liked that.
Angel invited Lena to come to the theater with her for another movie, but she declined the invitation. She had mysterious plans, which, Angel suspected, included David. She did offer to meet Angel at the pool in the afternoon, though.
Once again, Angel's father volunteered to drive. And Angel accepted. She offered to treat him to a movie, and this time he accepted. Angel suspected he was curious about her inspections, as well.
With all that settled, and the table cleared, Lena went home and the others went upstairs to take care of getting dressed. Angel would be inspecting a theater with a woman manager this time, so she wore the newer suit and was particularly careful with her hair and makeup.
At the theater, Angel noticed an early showing of a cybercrime thriller that her dad had expressed an interest in. She got him a ticket to a showing which would start in about half an hour - just long enough for him to see how boring her inspections generally were.
And for once, that was how it turned out. No hidden menaces, no fiendish plots, just looking at a lot of things and places that were pretty much the way they were supposed to be. The closest thing to interesting that day was the manager's request that Angel check the projection booths.
Angel had never really seen one before. She had some romantic notions about them from some old films she had seen, but they had virtually nothing to do with the modern reality. It was all meticulously clean, gleaming electronics and optics. Everything was automated, and efficient. There was still a technician on duty, to fix unexpected problems and handle the odd change of schedule, but one person could handle twelve shows easily.
For all the novelty of unexplored territory, her inspection turned up nothing worth reporting. One waste basket could stand to be cleaned a little better - some food residue had become active, producing a very slight smell - but that was it.
The worst part was writing the report. A part of her just wanted to say "I got here, it was all good, and I left." Somehow, she didn't think the office would find it amusing. Hour for hour, they were paying her a lot for those inspections. Most of it was like the projection technician - spotting and fixing things before they go badly wrong. But the reports themselves were apparently important, as well.
She was done with the report well before the end of her dad's movie. She knew where he was sitting, since she had spotted him when she checked that theater as part of her rounds. After talking with the manager and thumbing out, she went in and joined him. The theater was not very full, and there was nobody sitting between him and the aisle, so she had no qualms about scooting right in to sit beside him.
They enjoyed the rest of the movie, then left.
Later that day, she was sitting at the pool with her friends, talking about school and the like. She noticed something she wasn't too thrilled about. When talking about school, or about people in the context of school, she felt and seemed younger, somehow. So did the others. When she was working - at the theater or the spa - or dealing with a variety of her summer experiences, she had been treated like an adult. A young adult, to be sure, but an adult. And she had felt like one.
She noticed similar things about Lena and the others. But now that they were back in school, it was like they shrank and got younger. Herself included. When they talked about school, teachers, other students, etc., they sounded little older than Flo. And it seemed to her that her thoughts and actions were as bad as her words.
*Relax.* Lena counseled her. *It's natural. People our age are on that unstable edge between being kids and adults, and we tend to jump back and forth anyway. Enjoy it. All too soon, the last of your childhood will be gone.*
Angel stuck her tongue out at Lena, grinned, and dove into the pool. For the next few minutes, at least, she reveled in the freedom to be a kid.
When she got out, she saw her other friends gathered around a familiar figure. A familiar figure who should not have been there.
The new and improved Robin, finished with her changes and seeming fully recovered. When a startled Angel took a closer look, she got even more confused. Her perception was telling her that Robin had finished the changes more than a week before. Something was very odd.
"What are you doing here?" Angel asked, smiling.
"I wanted to go swimming before the pool closed. But I was in bed, so I couldn't then. Now I can." She smiled.
When Robin excused herself and dove into the pool, Lena explained. "She traveled back a week or so, testing her new power. That was as far as she could go, so she decided to take advantage of it. In her mind, she's already proven she can safely be in two places at the same time, within reason. On Tuesday, she'll come back to school like nothing's happened, with a clearance form that seems postdated a few hours. At the same time, she'll be waiting for that checkup and then spending half a day in training. That evening, she'll pop back and come to school that morning. At the end of the school day, she'll pop back to just after she left."
"Well. That's confusing." Angel replied.
"It works better with a drawing. Anyhow, she'll do kind of the same thing the next day. She'll sleep in, because the training and the double length day will wear her down a bit. Then she'll get ready for school, make sure all her homework is done, then pop back to school at the beginning of the day."
"Damn. That sounds handy." Angel grinned.
"It comes at a price. Subjective time keeps flowing for her, so she'll age three days after only two have elapsed. And it does take energy to do."
"Is she happy with it?"
"So far. The future is Cassandra's thing." Lena grinned.
After a little more than an hour in the pool, Robin came out and dried herself off. She told her friends that she had to go home, with a little extra emphasis on the last word. Angel assumed she meant it was time to return to the future, such as it was.
Angel and Lena escorted her into the ladies room, and they looked around for others. One girl was washing her hands, and nobody else was there. Robin quietly thanked them for being there when she woke up, and grinned as she told them the exact time. Then she turned and went into a stall, as though she was going to make the usual use of it, and... wasn't there.
Angel was a little disappointed. There were no special effects; no flash of light, no distinctive sound, no puff of smoke, nothing. Lena just nodded, and pushed the door open to show an empty stall.
After they rejoined their friends, they enjoyed the pool a little longer and headed for home. They joked about Robin's future study habits, among other things.
It was early yet, so Angel grabbed a couple of leftover pancakes for a snack. Then she went up to her room and tackled her homework.
As she was getting ready for bed that night, she glanced at her calendar and winced. She made it a point to take some extra precautions, then finished getting ready. Some parts of being a girl were definitely getting old.
The next morning was a chance to sleep in, and she took full advantage of it.
The day was mostly filled with typical Labor Day celebration, such as plentiful grilled meats, barbecued corn on the cob, potato salad, swimming (joined, for the first time that summer, by her parents), and general relaxing.
The only unseasonable activity was a visit to Robin's house to attend her Grand Awakening. It was a little odd seeing her there in bed, when she had been at the pool only minutes before. Of course, that was a future Robin again.
Time travel issues gave Angel a headache.
After visiting for a while, and welcoming her to the butterflies, Angel and Lena headed back to the pool.
Angel had thought of a question during the visit, and decided to ask the future Robin.
"When you teleport, how can you make sure you don't appear in a wall, or in front of a bunch of people or something?"
"I can't appear inside something solid. At least, not without trying. It feels like something is pushing back, really hard, if I try."
"The rest is a trick they taught me, using my, ahem, special combination of abilities. At the end of a 'port, I come in invisible and intangible. Then I look around, make sure it's safe, and appear. Ta daa! Magic." she grinned.
Angel laughed, then agreed that it was a great approach.
Penny joined the group, telling them that Pat had finished his change as well. He was adjusting better than his parents were, but it was clear that they would accept it in time. He hadn't manifested the zap yet, but that commonly didn't happen until the person felt threatened. And it was hard to tell whether he had manifested the pheromone. Penny had to admit he was an absolute hunk.
After having Lena make sure nobody inappropriate was listening, she told Angel "My God. You do good work, girl!"
Angel and the others laughed. But then they looked thoughtful. Then Lena looked at David and smiled.
They all stayed until the last minute that the pool was open, then went their separate ways. Lena and her parents walked with Angel and her parents, bemoaning the fact that David had to fly off home for some family thing... without her.
Everyone was sure that David's parents liked Lena, and approved of her relationship with their son. In fact, Lena had read as much from their minds - repeatedly. But she still hated it when they took him away for something she couldn't be a part of.
*Oooh, you got it bad, girl!* Angel teased, silently. Lena punched her on the arm, but nodded. The two families stayed together, going to Lena's back yard for a little more Grilled Meats and Celebration, before walking the terribly long distance to their own house, next door.
Before going to bed, Angel picked out an outfit for school. Her old self used to laugh about such things, wondering what the big deal was when his mother tried to get him to do so.
She wasn't laughing any more.
After a long weekend, it was always an adjustment going back to school. According to her parents, the same was true with work. But she had only been to school for four days, and this was her first year at the school. And her first year as a girl.
Another unwelcome novelty intruded on her consciousness. It was her first time dealing with that in school, too. She made sure to have spare supplies in her lockers (book and gym) and her bag.
Even though she was prepared, Angel found it a bit startling to see Robin there. Robin just gave her a wink and went on as though nothing had happened. Angel tried to get it straight in her mind - this was the Robin of that night, who was not yet the Robin of yesterday and the day before at the pool. She would remember waking up, but not swimming or talking. Yeah, that was it.
Angel hated starting Spanish with a headache. And she made it worse by trying to figure out how all that time stuff would be expressed in Spanish. She quickly gave it up as a bad idea.
She noticed that a few of her AP classes were a little emptier that day. There were no announcements or anything, so she wasn't really sure whether the missing students were gone for good, or just recovering from too much weekend.
After school, Angel realized that she again faced a rare, uncommitted evening. She finished her homework, checked and answered her email, and then did some time on the web.
Aside from a brief conversation with Lena, suggesting another meeting of the Pope Hill Project, it was an uneventful evening.
On the other hand, Dr. Miller was not having a routine day. The attempts to trace back the security breach to its source had failed. Whoever it was, they were good at covering their tracks. Almost as disturbing was the nature of the compromised records. Someone, some group, had taken copies of the records of every bio elemental who had lived in the US for any part of the last year.
In a way, it was to be expected that the intruders would be interested in one or two specific kinds of elementals. But she had been getting other reports about bio elementals. Three had gone missing, including the head of a major organization.
And then there was the kid. She had been getting reports and inquiries about a young, recently changed girl who was doing unprecedented things, despite being one of the weaker bio elementals on record. Things like accurately predicting the timing and nature of an impending MORFS case, and reading a morf better than the usual screeners.
Something told her that the stolen records, the missing elementals, and the kid were all connected. She had received a copy of a report that the kid had been visited by the missing organization head shortly before she disappeared, and had been questioned about the disappearance by police.
Dr. Miller also wondered whether all those events were tied in to the other repeated inquiries, asking her whether a bio elemental could have caused AMORFS. And if so, how? And how powerful would the elemental have to be to spread the outbreak so quickly, among such a targeted group.
She shook her head. Too many questions, too few answers. She reached for the phone, and called some people who specialized in answers.
At breakfast the next morning, Angel asked permission to host a meeting after school. It would just be a few people, and the only boy would be David. After some negotiation, her parents agreed. Angel made it a point to arrange snacks other than her stash of pancakes.
At lunch that day, they went off campus again. As they sat around chomping their pan ethnic fast food, Angel became aware of an annoying buzzing sound. Looking around for the source, she saw them.
A number of them were swarming some leftovers abandoned by earlier diners. One of them flew past her face, and she nearly jumped up and ran. When she was a young boy, she had been stung by a bee and a yellowjacket within a week of each other. That pain still haunted her.
She went inside to analyze the insects, then shifted her body to produce a natural repellant.
As they finished their meals, she talked to Lena about stings and shots. Thinking about the alcohol experiments, she wondered whether she could learn to automatically invoke that process any time her skin was punctured.
Lena was reasonably sure she could help her out, and offered to do so after their meeting.
The rest of the day dragged by, but finally it was time to go home. Since they were all going to Angel's house, the Creek contingent of the Pope Hill Project all walked together. Well, almost all.
"Oh, man... I've just gotta let loose!" David extended his wings and took to the sky. The girls just shook their heads and kept walking. After a number of loops and dives, he rejoined them.
"Got that out of your system, now?" Lena grinned.
"For now. God! I hate being cooped up in classrooms all day. At least I get to do some stuff in morf gym... sometimes."
"Morf gym?" Angel asked.
"Special PE class for us super human physical types." He tried to look superior, but the effect was spoiled when he tripped over a rock he hadn't noticed.
He waited for their laughter to die down, then went on in a more normal voice. "Actually, that's not far from the truth. It's a special class to challenge those of us with morfs enhanced strength, speed, agility, and/or physical powers. Like flying." He grinned and flexed his wings.
He looked around, then looked pointedly at Lena. Lena paused a moment, then nodded. He went on. "You gave me a significant boost in strength, just to handle my wings. That would have been enough even without the flight." he looked disgusted. "But the coach has us doing things without our primary enhancements. For me, that means no flying. At least I can still use my extra strength." He shook his head.
When they got to Angel's house, her guests settled in the living room. She went into the kitchen to put together the "gringo nachos" she planned for the snacks. Robin wandered in and offered to help. Angel set her to dealing with drinks while she put together the ingredients she had set up that morning and slid them in the cooker to zap them.
All there was to heat were tortilla chips, some seasoned, precooked meat, refried beans, and a whole lot of cheese. While that was heating, she uncovered the condiments and put them on a tray. Which promptly vanished.
Robin grinned. "I need the practice." she said, with nothing resembling a straight face. Angel noticed that the large bottle of soda and the glasses were gone, but the open pitcher of ice tea was still there.
The bell rang, and Robin asked "Ready to go out?" when Angel nodded, Robin walked out into the living room. A moment later, the nachos vanished from the cooker. Angel shrugged and carried the pitcher back into the living room.
"Penny's here" Lena announced. Angel set the pitcher down and went to the door. Penny was halfway up the walkway.
"Have I missed anything?" She asked, as she reached the door.
"Not unless David has scarfed all the nachos." Angel answered, with a grin.
Soon they were all settled and ready to talk. As hostess, Angel sort of fell into the role of leading the meeting.
"What's the situation with Pat?" Angel asked Penny.
"She... he is thrilled. He got everything he wanted, although the only sign of his zap was an observation by the prober at the center. He doesn't seem to need the pheromone boost. Most of the girls consider him a hunk and a half as it is. The only ground he's lost in that way is among the militant lesbians." She laughed.
"His parents are still trying to cope. His father is afraid he'll turn out to be gay, and already misses Daddy's Little Girl. Pat's mother is glad that he is healthy again, but is mourning the loss of her daughter. They're both afraid of the backlash. Not only what could happen to him, but what could happen to their standing in the community."
"That's messed up! And that comes from an expert." Robin growled.
Angel arched her eyebrow, but didn't press.
Penny went on. "Yes, it is. But it could have been a lot worse. I'm pretty sure things will settle. He faces some hostility from a couple of more distant relatives, but he was already on their bad side."
"So," Angel asked, "do you see anything else we need to do in his case?"
"Not really. I'll keep an ear to the ground for any problems, but he seems able to cope with the existing ones. And he is really happy with what he got."
"Anyone else have questions? Comments?" Angel asked, looking around. After the others shook their heads, she addressed Penny again. "So, would you call him a success?"
"Absolutely." Penny replied, with confidence.
"Does that mean that the Pope Hill Project is now operational?" Angel looked around again, at the thoughtful faces of her friends.
"I guess so." Lena finally said, nodding. The others nodded their agreement.
Angel grinned. "Any candidates for our next victim?" She said in her worst imitation of a movie villain.
"We should probably let it stew for a while." Robin suggested. "Give the rumor time to spread a little." She looked at Penny. "What is Pat saying about it?"
"He's quietly telling a few friends, cautioning them to treat is as Need To Know." Penny grinned. "Which means it should be all over school by the weekend. Mostly, he's saying he got what he wanted, it only works sometimes, and I know more about it than he does."
They talked over the plans and ideas for finding good candidates. Mostly it came down to spreading the rumor and keeping their eyes open.
After finishing the food and drinks, Penny, Robin, and a reluctant David left. Lena turned to Angel, looking serious.
"You still want to work on stings and shots?" Lena asked.
When Angel nodded, Lena's hand whipped out and stuck Angel on the arm with a pin.
"OW! What was that for?"
"Focus on it. Isolate and expel anything that came in with it." Lena demanded.
Angel did so, then healed the tiny wound. After that, Lena took her through a series of visualizations and exercises, making that reaction faster and more automatic. She did not need to stick her with the pin again.
When she was satisfied, she asked Angel something that had started bothering her.
"What can you do with nerves?"
"What do you mean?"
"We know you can take away pain, but what else can you do? Can you make a patch of skin numb? Can you make them feel something specific, like heat or pressure? Can you make someone hurt, and keep hurting, just by messing with the nerves in their skin?"
"I dunno. Never tried it. Why?"
"The pain would make a hell of a defensive weapon. The numbness could help with first aid. That kind of thing."
Angel decided she was right. There was no point trying any of it on herself. What she could do within her own body far exceeded anything she could do outside. She took Lena's arm, and had her give her telepathic feedback. First, she made the skin feel warm, then hot, then painfully hot. She damped it down after that, but convinced the nerves to keep "feeling" hot. When she pulled her hand away, the feeling remained.
They waited a few minutes, but it didn't fade. Angel took the arm again and released the effect. The feeling went away. She tried it again with pressure, with the same results. She numbed the spot on the arm while she quietly stole the pin from Lena.
She sterilized the pin with a thought, then stabbed the spot on Lena's arm. The pressure of the impact spread beyond the numb area, so Lena felt it.
"What did you do?" Lena demanded. She didn't need to wait for an answer - it came right to the front of Angel's mind. "Oh. It worked. I felt the impact, but no pain or anything."
Angel healed the wound and released the numbing effect. "Just one more thing to try." She said, hesitantly.
Lena gulped, then nodded. "Be gentle," she asked, quietly.
"Been a long time since a girl said that to me." Angel cracked, lightening the tension. Then when Lena relaxed a little, Angel struck. She just used a small patch around one finger tip, and made it mild but enough to notice.
Lena noticed. She compared the pain to a stone bruise, a few minutes after the injury. Again, the pain lingered until Angel released it.
By then, Angel's parents were home, and had been for a while. Her mother invited Lena to stay for dinner, but she declined. She had homework to do, and planned some phone time with her boyfriend. Angel's mother just smiled and asked her to say hello to David for her.
Angel wasn't sure, but she thought she saw her mother "say" something mentally to Lena.
She was right.
Her mother had silently thanked Lena for her help with staging an experience for Angel. She was still concerned with her daughter coming to accept her sex and sexuality, and had come up with the idea. Angel wasn't the only one in the family with an eye for unusual uses of people's talents.
After the silent thanks, she turned to Angel and told her to get ready for dinner.
Over dinner, Angel's mother mentioned a problem she had at work. Someone, someone very good, had gotten unauthorized access to some of the student records at the district office, and at one or more of the schools. Whoever it was had covered their tracks very well, and they were unable to track the source of the access. They did fix the vulnerability that the intruder had exploited. And they were pleased to note that the software that monitored all access to the data had worked well, alerting them to the intrusion before any more harm could be done. No records had been altered - they verified them against the backups.
What she didn't say was the part that disturbed her the most. One of the compromised records was Angel's. And some of the others were her friends.
Angel's father commiserated with his wife about the intrusion, since that was the sort of thing he was constantly working to guard against at his own job.
After dinner, Angel spent her evening on homework, email, and entertainment - the usual.
The next morning, before class, Lena pointed a couple of flyers out to Angel. One said that the Spectrum Club would be meeting after school that day. Lena reminded Angel that she had committed to checking the club out. She added that it might be a good source of Pope Hill candidates.
Angel agreed to go.
The other flyer announced auditions for, and a mini concert of, The Cherry Creek Changelings. It was a choir of sorts, made up primarily of morfs. It had started as a joke, with music students who were morfs poking fun at the whole social dynamic surrounding morfs. It gained momentum when an anti-morf choir director eliminated most of the obvious morfs from the Concert Choir. That director was gone the next year, and his replacement became the faculty sponsor of the Changelings. He also signed them up for several competitions.
In the years since, they had won a number of those competitions. With their combination of technical excellence and irreverent humor, they also got a number of invitations to perform at everything from company parties to inaugural galas.
None of that particularly surprised Angel. Neither did Lena encouraging her to try out. What did surprise her was that Lena and David were long time members (even though David hadn't been a morf). It was just something that hadn't come up in conversation.
When they talked about the time commitments, Angel realized that she probably couldn't join. As fun as it sounded - and it did - she couldn't commit to the rehearsals and performances without coordinating them with her employers.
They left it at that as they headed off to class.
In Morf Awareness class, there was a new student. Angel recognized her as the aptly named Barb Harriman, the preacher's daughter from the mall. And it was clear, from her poisonous look, that Barb recognized Angel, as well. Angel took her usual seat, thankfully well away from the angry girl, and got ready for class.
Aside from a couple of hostile comments, for which she was rebuked, Barb didn't seem interested in participating in class. Angel was relieved when the bell rang, letting her escape the tension of the room.
On her way to History, Angel noticed a hand lettered sign on the door to the girls restroom, declaring it out of order. She didn't think anything of it until she started walking by and found herself being pushed through that door, and grabbed.
End Part 15
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