Rosetta: A MORFS Universe Story
Rose woke with a feeling of empty loss. Some of it was a normal reaction to the day, but there seemed to be something else - something from her dreams.
She experienced the normal part every year. There had been so much build up to the events of the last few days, what with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and her birthday, and now it was suddenly all over. On top of that, the visit by her Gram was ending. When Rose went to school, she would say goodbye and then not see her again for months.
Another part made sense, as well. The surprise party had effectively put a big, red period to the end of her childhood. For better or worse, her life would be more complicated from then on. She could hold on to parts of it for a little while longer, but the ultimate loss of that part of her life was inevitable.
That thought seemed to go to the heart of some of the largely forgotten dreams, as well. As little as a few weeks earlier, she could never have imagined the things she had seen and done lately. Some of them were good, like her friendship with the little sick girl and her new, older friends. Some was terrible, like the horrific events in the basement. And a lot were just ucky, like all the things she had heard and understood since her change, and the hostility of some of her classmates and teachers.
Parts of her had changed, as well. She was more restrained in her reactions to some taunts and the like, in part due to the influences of Lena and her other new friends. But at the same time, she caught herself imagining doing horrible things - things she would have found unthinkable a few weeks ago - to her tormentors. She was more mature and confident in some ways, but it had cost a large chunk of the cheerful, naive ignorance that had been a hallmark of childhood.
Enough of that. The sooner she got up and dressed, the more time she could spend with her Gram before saying goodbye.
She had no idea that events would soon change her world even more.
When she got down to breakfast, she had recovered a little of her cheer. She had been reminded of all her presents during her shower, when she used the new body wash one of her friends had given her. While she dressed, she imagined wearing her new jewelry to school, or taking the egg with her. Somehow, it struck her as funny, like the times she and Tara had played dress up with their parents' clothes when they were little. Such things were just not a part of her school "career".
Her family were used to her post birthday letdown, and were relieved that she was not as deeply into it as she had been on some years. Still, they added their traditional touches, like playing Christmas music in the background as a "subtle" hint that there were still things to look forward to. And adding festive holiday touches to the meal.
Truth be known, Rose was not the only one going through the letdown. They all had been preparing and participating, with the events of the long weekend acting as a powerful focus. And they didn't even have all those presents to console them. Well, except for Tara, who figured she could borrow some of her sister's haul from time to time.
Rose's father surprised her toward the end of breakfast, by giving her a note to take to school. It said that she would be missing school the next day, due to some MORFS related testing. At her puzzled look, he said he would explain it all that evening.
She tried very hard not to cry when she got to school. Her mother had driven her, along with her sister and her Gram. She would be dropping Tara off next, then would drive Gram to the airport, so this was her time to say goodbye. Despite her newfound maturity, her attempt was not entirely successful - little streams of salty moisture leaked from the corners of her eyes.
She barely noticed the other students as she made her way to the office, to deliver her father's note. Even when her tormentors of the previous week blocked her way. She tried to go around them, and they shifted to stop her. Then it happened.
Missy, their leader, said something particularly vile, which Rose barely noticed. She did notice the malevolent intention behind it, however, as well as the attempt to establish dominance. Without thinking, Rose delivered a counter - perfectly crafted to shatter the other girl, without per se violating any school rules.
The stunned girl, and her companions, stood like statues as Rose made her way around them and toward the office. She wasn't even conscious of what she'd done, until she heard the heart rending sob. A quick glance behind her showed Missy collapsing against her two friends. Rose suddenly understood what she had done, and it made her feel bad. She had sunk to their level and beyond, and had really hurt the other girl. And she had done so without a thought.
Rose gulped down her guilt, and continued to the office to complete her errand. On her way out, she saw the sobbing girl being escorted to the counseling office. She also saw the body language of the nearby dean, who was preparing to gesture at her. She turned to hurry toward her locker, and anything he said was drowned out by the bell. Changing directions, she went directly to her class.
It was only a temporary reprieve.
The class had barely started, and one of the other morfs had already gotten the sharp side of the teacher's tongue. She was just winding up when she was interrupted by a beep from her desk screen. Rose didn't need her powers to see that the gleam in the teacher's eye foreshadowed trouble for some poor student - probably a morf.
"Miss Reid." the mistress of the classroom pronounced, "you are to gather your things and report to the dean's office. Immediately."
Rose made it a point to drop her homework in the designated basket on her way out - turning it in. She didn't trust the teacher to allow her to do so later without penalty, if at all.
On the way, she tried to call for help. *Lena?*
*Sorry, Rose. You're on your own this time.*
*How bad is it?*
*That depends on you. Be honest, and it shouldn't be too bad.*
*Why didn't you stop me?*
*You need to get used to doing it yourself.* Then she relented. *You really didn't give me much of a chance. You barely reacted to the other girls, and you didn't think about it much before you spoke. By the time I was aware of the whole thing, you were regretting that you made her sob like that.*
When she got to the deans' office, she was sent right in to see her dean. He looked serious as he waved her to a chair, then went back to viewing something on his screen. From her earlier visit, she assumed he was reviewing recordings of the confrontation.
It seemed she was right.
"Now, Miss Reid. Why don't you tell me what happened this morning."
She started with the sad goodbye in the car, and her distracted trip toward the office. As before, she repeated the conversation word for word, including all the original inflections. The dean nodded from time to time, acknowledging the accuracy of her description.
"Why did you say that to her?"
"I just wanted to get away from them, and get to the office. It was the first thing that came to mind, that wouldn't violate school rules."
"You just happened to come up with something that reduced her to tears - upset her so badly that she had to be sent home?"
"Not deliberately. They wouldn't let me go, and I needed to get to the office and then to class. It was the only way to do that, other than something against the rules."
"Did you intend to hurt her that badly?"
"No. I just wanted to get to the office."
"Did you use any MORFS created powers against her?"
"I don't have any powers like that. I just learn languages easily, and can understand people with speech problems."
"So you are saying that you did not use any such powers against her."
"Yes. I'm saying that."
"What about your friends? You have been keeping company with some very powerful, older students lately. Did any of them do anything to her?"
Rose hadn't thought of that. It seemed out of character, though. "Not that I know of. I'll ask." *Lena?*
*No, none of us did anything to her. It was nothing more than your words.*
"None of them did anything to her, either."
"They have no reason to lie to me. I trust them." It was true. In spite of everything she had gone through, she trusted them completely.
"Very well. We will notify you - and your parents, if appropriate - of the outcome of this investigation. You may return to class." He handed her a hall pass, then turned to his screen and started typing. The dismissal was clear.
As a practical matter, there was not enough time to get back to her English class. She went to her locker, swapped things around, and headed toward Changes.
While she was eating lunch, Rose got a note that she was to report to the dean's office after school. The fact that she was not being hauled in immediately seemed promising.
She started becoming aware of others around her. Her friends, other students, even faculty and staff members. A lot of them seemed to be noticing her. Her sensitive hearing picked up bits and pieces about the encounter, most exaggerated almost beyond recognition. Some were expressing disapproval. Others, who had been attacked by her "victim" in the past, approved. Others were just cheerfully spreading the scandalous rumor, as something interesting in its own right.
The speculations about what had happened, or would happen, to her as a result made her somewhat less confident. And Lena's continued silence wasn't helping.
When she got to the dean's office that afternoon, she was surprised and a little upset to see her mother there. And it was clear that her mother was not exactly overjoyed to be there, either.
The meeting turned out to be somewhat of a draw. The school wanted her parents to be aware that Missy, and some of her friends, had been harassing Rose of late - more so than their previous pattern. That had become a safety issue for Rose, as far as the school was concerned. Also, he wanted it to be very clear that the school frowned on her actions that morning. Yes, the other girl attacked her first, and no, her actions did not explicitly violate any specific rules. But the effects, on the girl and her friends, and on the school, were disruptive.
While the school would not take any action against Rose for the exchange, she was on notice to watch her behavior. He also advised them that Rose's planned absence the next day would be seen by many as resulting from the confrontation. There was nothing that he could, or at least, would do about that. Her teachers were already aware of the nature of the absence, and that she was not being subjected to any disciplinary measures. This time.
Rose took her cue from her mother, who formally acknowledged the statements. Then she, and Rose, formally thanked the dean for his time and attention and left. On the way home, Rose was treated to a lecture on appearances vs technicalities, and the importance of the former. There was also a short side trip into the importance of maintaining her awareness of her surroundings at school and elsewhere. Throughout both parts, her mother regarded everything she was saying as unquestionably true.
Though Rose had seen this side of her mother before - what she called the Executive Mom person - she hadn't really realized how thoroughly that person was her mom. Up to then, she had just been... well... Mom. Or Mommy, when Rose was younger. But now Rose began to see that the Mom part was the more limited role. The other woman was who her mother was in the rest of the world. Even among some of the family.
Now that she thought about it, Rose could even remember a number of times when she had been dealing with that other woman. It wasn't some split personality thing or anything. Just her way of facing the world and getting things done.
It made Rose start to wonder about the faces her father wore, when he wasn't with her. She didn't know it yet, but she would soon have the chance to find out.
At dinner that night, he told her what they would be doing tomorrow. "Your experiments gave me an idea. At work, we have some special conference rooms equipped to suppress psionic powers and the like. They are used for certain kinds of sensitive discussions and negotiations, to prevent anyone from gaining an unfair advantage."
"I thought it would be interesting to see how you would do in one of those rooms. Will you still be able to use the new languages? Will you still understand what people mean to say? That sort of thing.
Rose noticed the glaring omission, and the fact that it was intentional. For some reason, it was important to him to know whether she could tell true from false in such a room. The thought made her a little uncomfortable. But this was her father, who loved her as she loved him. He was family, and had never deliberately caused her any harm. Whatever was going on, she would have to go along with it for the time being.
She also found out that she had another appointment with Kiki, to talk about what had happened. Her father would take her there from his office, and make use of some of the services there while he waited. She had heard him talk about the fact that appearance was important in his line of work, so that part didn't particularly surprise her.
She still had one bit of unfinished business to attend to. *Lena?*
*Are you mad at me or something?*
*No, not mad. I'm a little tired, and a little busy just now. And a little sad for you.*
*You're losing bits and pieces of your childhood, just like you were thinking this morning. And there is more to come. It just reminds me of when I went through that, and it makes me a little sad. All I can really advise is to hang on to who you are, and find fun and happiness where you can. If you let yourself get bogged down in the whole maturity thing, it's too easy to lose the joy that makes life worth living.*
*Sorry for the gloom and doom. As I said, I'm kinda tired. And so are you, you know. Make an early night of it. Tomorrow will be a long day. Call me if you really need me, though. I'm here for you, even now.*
*Good night, Lena. Thanks*
*You're welcome. Good night.*
Lena contemplated her young friend's situation. She was only starting to become aware of her parents as people, rather than as her parents. And Lena, for one, did not find them particularly likable. They loved their daughters unconditionally, and did their best for them. But outside of their somewhat artificial roles as nurturers, they struck Lena as somewhat cold and calculating. Their careers and plans were important to them, and they chased those plans with a single minded determination that seemed to leech the humanity out of them.
And their approach to their daughters future was similarly Machiavellian. Lena had been seriously surprised when Rose's mother asked for her help in weaning Rose from her SE friends, and (eventually) making new, more useful friends. It wasn't until she played the trump card - "I know what is best for my daughter, and I must ask you to respect that." - that Lena agreed to hold her nose and do as she asked.
Even with his love for Rose, her father was planning on making shameless use of her if she was able to function in the suppression fields. And her mother was watching the results, for similar opportunities of her own.
But Rose herself was a whole different matter. She had some of the quirks and self focus typical of her age, but overall she was very nice - a likable girl. And a strong one; the things Rose had gone through recently could have devastated a lesser person. Unfortunately, she would need that strength, and all the help she could get, to make it through the accelerated growing up she would do over the next few months.
Rose took particular care getting ready that morning. She knew how important appearances were to her father, especially at his office. She had been there once before, when she and her mother had stopped by to pick something up. It was a very formal place, with everyone in suits and the like. She almost expected a library-like quiet, but instead there was the hum and buzz of intense activity. No voices were raised, but there did not seem to be any whispers or the like, either.
She hoped she would never work somewhere like that. It seemed the complete opposite of fun.
When they arrived, she found that things were much as she remembered them. Except... the body language and intentions behind some conversations added a new and troubling dimension.
They didn't like her father.
Most of them respected him. Some feared him. Some even hated him. But nobody seemed to genuinely like him. Worse, he seemed to be a different man - a stern, disapproving, rigid authoritarian who seemed to live only for the company and his career.
It was hard to see the loving man she had shared breakfast with.
That wasn't to say that he didn't smile. But his smiles were professional - expected gestures, nothing more. Even she got only the briefest of smiles.
Her father took her into a conference room, and explained what would happen. She would start alone, but he would be watching from outside the room. At some point, the suppression field would be turned on. If it was too much for her, she could raise her hand and he would get her out of there.
If she could deal with it, there would be other tests. In one, he would bring someone else in and have a conversation. She would note truth levels and intentions, and then they would review the results.
"Is that something that can get him in trouble?" she asked, worried. The whole environment had thrown her, and she wasn't sure what to think.
"No, it will just be an information exchange, and he knows exactly what is happening."
She could tell that he believed what he was saying. That was a relief.
Next, someone who speaks one of the languages she had learned would join her in the room, and she would carry on a conversation (if she could). After that, she would meet a speaker of a new language in the room, and see whether she could learn it.
There would be other tests, based on the results of those.
The first test was the worst. She had no idea what to expect, and that made her very nervous. But in the end, she trusted her father. Despite his transformation in the office, he was still her father and she was confident that he would not let her be hurt... significantly.
On the other hand, he didn't know what would happen, either. Thus the safety precautions.
She sat in the room for a few moments, wondering when the test would start. Suddenly, she felt an oppressive heaviness surrounding her. It was like a super high humidity day, without the wet. Her mind seemed to be wrapped in cotton, but there was no pain. As an unconscious reaction, her breathing had gotten fast and shallow. She slowed it down, and got it under control. The feeling was unpleasant, but it was nothing she couldn't handle for a while.
After a few minutes, the feeling went away. She slumped with relief, which caused her father to come in with a look of concern.
"How are you feeling?" He asked, with genuine concern.
"Relieved." She admitted. "It was ucky... unpleasant, but not painful or anything."
After a brief break, during which she got a drink and found the ladies' room, they started again. She sat in the room, and the field came on. Her father came in, followed by another man. He seemed a little bit younger than her father, but still old. Mid thirties, at least.
They sat down and began to talk. It was a lot like the test with Lena's vids, with the added discomfort of the field. She caught truth, lies, and shades in between, and a variety of intentions. She seemed to read her father more easily than the other man, which she noted. The conversation itself was one of those things her powers would probably not have helped her understand, even at full capacity. It was full of concepts she didn't have a clue about, technical terms, and shorthand jargon.
After the field went away, she went over her notes with them. She was spot on. It seemed that those abilities were not directly tied to the psi part of her "powers".
After another break, they started the next test. After the field came on, a young man came in and sat down. He introduced himself, but lied about his name for some reason. They talked for a while before she realized that they were speaking Sergei's language: Russian. With that, she understood the lie about his name. It turned out that his name was Vlad, and that he took a lot of kidding about it.
During the next break, her father promised to take her out for a nice lunch after the next test.
Even though she half expected it, that test was disappointing. Back in the room, with the field on, she didn't get any hint of the now-familiar sense of having scanned in a new language. And when he spoke, it just sounded like gibberish.
Unlike Rose, her father was quite happy with all of the results. Even the last test had told him some valuable things about her limits.
Lunch was at a restraunt that clearly catered to executives and the like. Fancy, but subdued - a feeling of wealth and commerce. Conversations were equally muted, but her sensitive ears still caught bits and pieces of conversations. And none of them were the least bit interesting.
Rose was mildly horrified when she saw the prices, but her father didn't blink. She ordered a cheeseburger, which turned out to be much larger, juicier, and better than any of the fast food versions she was used to. So much so that she ended up getting half of it packaged to go for later. She did finish the fries, however.
After lunch, she rested a bit while her father took care of some work. After what seemed like an hour or so, he turned to her.
"This next test is going to be a little more complicated." he told her. "We will be simulating a real world situation."
Rose could tell that there was more to it, but it was true as far as it went. She also understood that this was going to be very important to her father. He continued.
"The scenario is an international negotiation. I will be going in with two other people from 'our side', and the 'other side' will be three people from another country - people who normally speak another language, but are fairly good at English. You will apparently be acting as an interpreter, as needed. The negotiations will be primarily in English, but the other people will sometimes talk among themselves in their language."
"Your real job will be to quietly advise us of their intentions, truthfulness, and the substance of their conversations, as well as to translate anything that either side needs translating. And to do so without letting the others know about anything but the translating." She nodded her understanding, and he continued.
She would have a few minutes at most to get what she could from the men as they were introduced before the meeting. The meeting itself would take place with the field active. They would go through the meeting, then get back together (without the field) to discuss what happened.
"Wouldn't this be cheating?"
"This is not a game." Rose winced at the sharpness of his tone. He noticed, and went on in a gentler tone. "This is the real world of business. Each side in these negotiations will do just about anything they can get away with to gain an advantage. That's why we have the field - it got common for negotiation teams to include or hire a telepath or a telesensor... or both. Do you understand?"
Rose wasn't sure about all that. It still seemed kinda shady to her. But her father was saying it was appropriate, so she would give him the benefit of the doubt. "I guess so. But why are you doing this whole fake meeting?"
"That's a fair question. Soon, we will be in a real negotiation with a similar group of people. There will literally be millions of dollars at stake. We know some of the tricks they use to gain advantage, such as playing the language card. So we hold these practice negotiations, with our people doing the same things, to work out our own strategies for dealing with them."
"Do they know you are doing this?"
"Almost certainly. Any prudent company would do so."
"So, won't they just change their own tricks?"
"Certainly. But they will employ a mix of the old and the new, so it is best to prepare for what we can."
"Won't they be doing the same thing?"
"Yes and no. In this case, we are putting together a new negotiating team with members of two other teams. Our own tricks and tactics differ from team to team, so this should make their preparations less effective against us. This is a very important negotiation."
"I... see." The whole thing made Rose uncomfortable. "So I'm to be a new trick."
He looked startled, and nearly laughed. "I wouldn't have used that term. It has other connotations. But yes, we will be seeing how much of a tactical advantage you can provide."
Rose realized that he was referring to prostitution, and the connotations he was talking about. Even as she blushed at the thought, she noticed how well the metaphor fit the situation.
"Will I get paid for any of this?"
"Your friends were right about that. We can't pay you for what you do here. But if it works out well, I will be given a large bonus, and some of that will make its way to you."
*Just like a pimp. I do the work, he gets the money, and gives me a small cut.*
*Welcome to the real world, kid.* Lena's tone was sympathetic, and somewhat rueful.
*Lena!* Rose was ecstatic to hear from her. *Have you been listening?*
*Some of it.* Lena admitted. *But remember, some of us are in school today. The teachers get kinda testy if I don't listen at least some of the time.*
Rose laughed at that, getting a puzzled look from her father. Her abilities came to her rescue.
"I just realized how well what you said fit with those connotations you were talking about."
He accepted the explanation, then went on with the briefing. "Things will get intense in there. That is part of the process. People will be trying to establish dominance, throw the other side off balance, and generally get the advantage. They may seem to be getting angry or upset. They may even seem like they are about to get violent. But don't worry. You will be safe."
Somehow, even the fact that he was telling the truth (as he knew it) didn't reassure her. The image of grown men (for some reason, she didn't picture any women involved in the process) doing the things her father described was downright frightening.
"And it won't be all one sided. You might see us doing things that don't seem very nice. Even me. Just remember, it's all part of the process."
Rose gulped, and nodded her understanding. They stepped into the room and sat down.
*Wait! Stop! Don't do it!* There was no response, and Lena had no sense of Rose. *Damn!*
Cassandra had just told her about a potential problem. If Rose successfully completed the run through of the negotiation, she would be in danger. Her most dangerous secret - her ability to discern truthfulness, and to do so within a suppression field - would reach the wrong ears. More than one set. That, in turn, would lead to attempts to either control or eliminate her.
And Lena couldn't warn her in time.
Rose had been betrayed by her own father - despite their warnings - and he and his company, in turn, would be betrayed by some of the people at the company who learned of it. While at least one of them was someone from the negotiation exercise itself, There was no indication who, or which others, would leak the information. And little indication why.
Nor could Cassandra tell when the direct dangers would come. The sources were too divergent.
Robin couldn't help with her time hopping. She was still busy with the bombs at the dam and other aspects of that situation. And it was already clear that she would be too wiped out later to come back in enough time to do any good. Besides, her powers would probably be needed when the real danger started.
Just as the suppression field was activated, Rose thought she recognized the feeling of a telepathic contact from Lena. Unfortunately, the field cut it off before she could get any of the message. Even her "reading" of intentions needed more than that to go on. She resolved to contact Lena as soon as she was done with the exercise.
Her father's warning fell far short of the reality.
The men looked oriental, and their language sort of sounded that way. She again regretted the fact that she learned the language without really learning the name of the language. While things were underway, the men on the "other side" had quiet conferences in their language, which Rose dutifully (and quietly) relayed to her father, with evaluations of truth and intent.
Similarly, she discussed their more overt statements and tactics with him.
It quickly became clear that they knew something about her abilities. They started to sprinkle false or misleading statements into their quiet conferences, with the intention of having her feed her father the translations. She gave him that information as well, and he suggested that they pretend to be fooled.
The negotiations themselves ranged from sweetness and light declarations of mutual understanding and benefit to table pounding, shrieking, and a couple of abortive attempts to round the table (apparently bent on mayhem). At the best of times, it was unpleasantly tense. Much of the time, Rose was scared half out of her wits. Only the comforting presence of her father made it at all bearable.
By the end, she was starving and exhausted. When she all but collapsed on the table, her father declared an end to the simulation.
When the field was turned off, Rose noticed the familiar contact. *Lena?*
*Rose! Are you ok?*
*Tired and frazzled is all. Why?*
*Cassandra says you're in danger. Did you demonstrate all your abilities in there?*
*Um...* Rose considered for a moment. *Yeah, pretty much. I learned the language out here, though.*
*Damn! I was afraid of that. Someone from there isn't trustworthy. At least two people from your father's company will pass on information about your gifts, and you will be in danger because of it. We just don't know who will do the talking, and to whom.*
*Uh, oh. What can I do?*
Rose's father was looking at her in a funny way. She sort of shrugged. "Sorry. I kinda zoned out there. I'm really frazzled. Is there anywhere I can rest a little?" She didn't like to mislead her father. On the other hand, what she said was true. The test had taken a lot out of her.
As her father took her to a small lounge area, with a sofa and a closable door, she listened to Lena.
*Not much we can do now. Most of the people there are shielded to some extent, and nobody else is thinking about saying anything. We'll just have to keep an eye out.*
Rose noticed that her father was starting to speak again. "This door is locked, so be careful. You can come out, but you'll need to find me to get back in. There's a small restroom through that other door, and some cups for water. You can use the phone to call me if you need to."
Behind all the apparent concern, Rose noticed an undertone of "stay out of the way, and out of trouble." She was too tired to care, though.
Once she was alone, she picked up her conversation with Lena.
*So what happened?* Rose asked.
*Your father told a trusted superior about you. All about you. He also told one of his coworkers some of it. And everyone in the room got at least some of it.*
*Why is it so dangerous?*
*You can do something I can't. Something no telepath can. You can gather all of that information while you are in the middle of a suppression field. You can readily tell whether - and how thoroughly - people believe what they are saying. You can understand what people mean to say, even through severe speech impediments. You can function in virtually any language on Earth. In certain circles, you are either tremendously valuable or, in the hands of an opponent, equally dangerous.*
*Oh.* Somehow, Rose had never thought about it that way before.
She was sorry she did, now.
*whe... when will something happen?* Rose hadn't known she could stutter in her thoughts.
*We don't know. Cassie couldn't tell, exactly. It's not immediate, but it is not distant future. All we really know is that things have been set in motion.*
*It's not fair!*
*No, it's not. But it is life. And it beats the hell out of the alternative.*
Rose conceded the point, and settled in for a nap.
End part 5
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/