Rosetta: A MORFS Universe Story
Her nap was not as refreshing as she would have liked. She almost attributed the things she heard to dreams, but they were not said "in the language of" her dreams. It was clear that the speakers had no idea they were being overheard - much less by a thirteen year old girl.
The general consensus was that the ogre - her father - had scored a major coup of some sort and was in a position to parlay that into an even bigger score. There were speculations that it involved her and her powers, but few seemed to have any idea what those powers were.
There were even jokes about trying to get a piece of the action - or useful information - by dating her, marrying her, or having one of their sons (or daughters) date her. That talk made her very uncomfortable.
Finally, she gave up and got up. A couple of startled junior executive types hurried out the door, surprising the knot of people talking outside.
In a way, she was sorry to see them all go. A part of her hoped she would hear something that would give a clue about the dangers. No such luck.
There were still a couple of hours before her father would be taking her home, so she decided to get something done. Her classmates would be home... well, out of school, anyway. After looking up the number, she called Linda to get her English notes.
"Did they really suspend you for just saying something to that nasty cow Missy?" Linda asked.
Rose assured her that she hadn't been suspended at all.
"That's not what a certain teacher said. Or what Missy was saying."
"They're not worth it. The truth is, I came down to my father's office for some more tests of my morf abilities."
Without going into specifics or mentioning the whole negotiation thing, they talked about what a pain in the butt the tests were, and how little she actually learned. Then she got the class information and they said their goodbyes.
A quick check with Lena told her that her friends didn't know anything more about the threats. They would keep an eye out, and let her know when they learned anything.
On the ride home, she watched her father go through a transformation almost as startling as MORFS. She would have sworn she saw him change - right before her eyes - from the Insurance Company Executive back into her father. He even joked with her.
It was unnerving.
As soon as they got home, Rose went up to her room and went online to get her other assignments. For the most part, they were the usual lame busywork. She noticed that, as usual, the English assignment as posted did not match what was given in class. But the assignment for Changes got her attention.
Apparently, someone was mouthing off in class. The teacher was known for tolerance, but there were limits. The outline of the class discussion did not contain the specifics, but she could guess the general direction from the assignment.
They had to write a paper on the challenges facing those with MORFS induced sex changes. And they had to address those who ended up asexual, intersexed, or hermaphroditic, as well. And include a section describing how they, personally, would adapt to becoming each of the four "options" - the opposite sex, no sex at all, part way between the sexes, and fully functionally both sexes.
This was no two page essay. They were to take the issues seriously, and had to get an outline and partial draft in the next day.
She saved that for last, hoping that she could get some leeway because of the official nature of her absence. She did not fool herself that she would be able to get out of it entirely, however.
With the exceptions of English and Changes, she got her homework done before dinner.
After dinner, she got back to work, and was careful to finish her English homework the best she could. Not that it mattered - she was sure she would barely pass, no matter how well she did. It was just a point of personal pride.
Her first thought about the Changes paper was to consult the only such sex-changed morf she knew. But that went against the agreement at her period party, and she really wanted to keep Angel as a friend. So she was back to doing it the old fashioned way: research.
She was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of the available information. She narrowed her focus, and it became more manageable. Still a lot, but manageable. She would never be able to read it all, but sampling bits and pieces gave her enough of a picture to do her outline and start the draft.
Between the stresses at her father's office and the effort she put into her homework, she was too tired to stay up very late. In fact, she was in bed and asleep more than half an hour before she usually started getting ready.
Rose was lost, and frightened. They were after her, and she didn't - couldn't - know who might be one of them, or working with them. People were all around... strangers, with a different body language than she was used to. And almost all of them were ignoring her. The few who weren't were giving her the creeps - their interest seemed to be sexual, and not in a nice way. People were talking to each other and to their eComs, and she could understand the words but not the conversations. There were signs everywhere, but she couldn't understand the funny squiggles they were written in. They were almost like something out of a cartoon.
She couldn't remember how they had taken her there, or how she had gotten away. She needed help, but there was nowhere to turn. She couldn't even trust the police - some of them might be in on it. Her angels were too far away... even their powers couldn't help her. She had to keep moving, but she was so tired. After stumbling on a few more steps, she tripped and fell...
Into her own bed. She sat there, shaking, almost afraid to call out in case they were nearby.
*It's ok. You're safe now. It was only a dream.* Lena's soothing words came into her head, and she started feeling better. *I'm here for you. The only people there are your family, and nobody is paying attention to your house.* A sense of calm certainty and safety filled her.
*Do you want to talk about it?* Lena invited.
Unthinkingly, Rose nodded, and thought about the bits and pieces she could remember from the dream. Before she could really "say" anything, Lena was starting to reply.
*It seems pretty normal, for a nightmare. The people in the test were oriental, and you knew about the threat that was coming from the test. Your mind put that together with some parts of shows you like to watch, and came up with the dream.*
*Is it true that you might not be able to reach me somewhere like that?* Rose asked, not sure she really wanted the answer.
*Most of us. David,* Rose felt a trace of an alien emotion, or rather a combination of emotions that she hadn't experienced. There were elements of lust, of love, and of things outside her experience. She knew Lena and David were a couple, so she assumed that was where it was coming from.
*Oops... sorry.* Lena apologized. *It sort of slipped out when I was thinking about him. Us.* Her mental tone became more businesslike. *David can probably reach you anywhere in the world, or even in orbit. If he can find you. He doesn't think I know,* they both chuckled at the absurdity of keeping a major secret from a telepathic girlfriend. *But he has even reached the Moon with it. He couldn't do much that far away, but he looked around with his telesense and created a small illusion before he came back.*
*What about you, and Robin, and Angel?*
*Angel, you already know. Her range is almost limited to touch. My own range is around fifty or sixty miles, give or take. Robin can go somewhere between five hundred and a thousand miles, but only under certain circumstances. And you know about your own range.*
Rose hadn't thought about her own abilities in terms of distance. Now that she thought about it, she realized that she had to be relatively close to learn a language. Not really close - she had done it from twenty yards or so away - but relatively close. The rest was just limited by her ability to see and/or hear the speakers. But all that raised another question.
*Will it always be that way?* The mental overtones carried the meaning of the question more than the words themselves.
*Probably not. From now until we become adults, our range and strength will probably grow. Especially if we exercise it and work on it. Angel will never be very far - probably no more than a couple of inches. But I should be able to reach a good deal of the world, and some parts of near Earth orbit. Robin's range will probably be greater than mine, even then. I sort of doubt that David will be able to reach beyond the Moon, but he will be able to do more where he can reach. I have no idea what your abilities will do.*
The prospect should have excited Rose. It did, in an intellectual way. But mostly she was becoming acutely aware of how tired she was, and found herself gently drifting back to sleep.
*'Night, Lena.* she barely got out.
*Pretty dreams, Rose.*
At school, Rose's day did not start out well. After she turned in both sets of English homework, she saw the teacher going through the stack. She recognized her earlier assignment, the one that had been due the day before.
"This was due yesterday." The teacher sniffed, haughtily, then dropped the assignment in the trash. She looked Rose in the eyes, as though she was daring her to react. It took all of Rose's strength to deny her that reaction.
"At this rate," she thought, "I'll be lucky if I even pass the class."
*Don't worry.* Came the familiar mental voice, with overtones of humor. *You'll pass. You won't like the grade, but you'll pass.*
*Won't that screw me up for the rest of school?*
*That's the deep, dark secret. Your grades there don't mean all that much. When you get here, it's another story. But there... as long as you pass, you're all good.*
*Thanks. I needed that.* Rose saw the suspicion on the teacher's face, as though she was aware of the conversation. Or was guessing the truth. She dropped her eyes to her book and notes, and prepared to pay attention.
After surviving English, she expected to relax somewhat in Changes.
No such luck.
She learned that the paper she (like the rest of the class) was working on could account for as much as 30% of her final grade in the class. And they would be expected to keep up with the rest of their assignments in the meantime. The final paper would be due the day before Winter Break, which didn't give her much time.
In the hallway between classes, she had another run-in with Missy and her crew. Rose just fixed her with her eyes, and gave her a smile. A confident, but not entirely pleasant smile, which spoke volumes about their new relative social positions. Missy sort of shrank at the implied challenge, and walked by without overtly acknowledging her.
That was fine with Rose.
*Don't get too confident.* Lena warned. *Sooner or later, she will challenge you at a time and place of her choosing. She wants her status back, and you really don't want it yourself.*
*I don't?* Rose was genuinely puzzled.
*No, you don't. Status is not that important to you to begin with, and the stresses of maintaining the position would tear you apart. Besides...* Lena went in for the kill. *you really don't want to be that lonely.*
*Lonely?* Rose was even more confused. *She has people around her all the time.*
*As far as she knows, they are there for the status, not the person. Without the status, she fears that they might drop her. Or worse, actively turn against her.* Lena seemed to sigh. *Sadly, she is not too far off in some cases. So, no - you don't want the status. Or at least, you don't want what comes with it.*
With a shrug, both physical and mental, Rose hurried to Spanish.
The rest of the school day was largely uneventful. She understood why her homework load was building so much: the semester would end soon, and it was time to prepare for the finals and finish projects and the like.
She understood it, but she didn't have to like it.
Her only consolation was that Tara was going through the same thing. And that the longer term projects were not a part of the battle for the vid remote.
At dinner, her father surprised her by giving her another note to take in to school. He explained that she would be missing school the first part of the week, and helping him at the office again. And again, it was being justified as a test and exercise of her morf abilities.
She asked how long it would last, and he couldn't really say. And in that, he was telling the truth. He doubted it would be more than a few days, but there was no real way to tell.
After dinner, it was back to the homework. If she was going to miss even more school, she needed to get as much stuff done and turned in as she could. Especially if her English teacher was going to refuse late work for excused absences.
It just wasn't fair! How could she get away with that kind of thing?
*Get used to it. You'll face it for the rest of your life.*
"Yaaa!" Rose jumped. She'd been so wrapped up in her self pity that Lena's response startled her. But that didn't stop her.
*It's not fair!* Rose complained. *She shouldn't be able to screw us over like that.*
*Of course it's not fair.* Lena came back. *Life isn't fair. And the sooner you find a way to live with that unfairness, the happier you'll be.*
*I'm serious, Rose. In a way, she is doing you a very big favor.*
*A favor? I can do without favors like that!*
*Think about it. Yes, your grade will be the pits. But you are not really in any danger from her. She won't physically attack any of you, or anything like that. She will insult you, maybe even try to humiliate you, and torpedo your grade... but that's about it. And you can survive all of that. There are others who, if given the chance, would do things that you might not survive.*
*...* Rose was stunned at the unvarnished, almost brutal truth of the statements.
*You have resources. You have family, friends, and faculty and staff at the school who will protect you in limited ways. You have your powers. You have your brain... you're not exactly stupid.*
*Gee, thanks... I think*
Lena ignored the reply. *You need training, and you need strategies. And you need them now. How can you use what you have to get what you need?*
It was clear that Lena expected an answer. It would have been clear even without her abilities with language.
*Ummm...* Rose was getting tired of learning new limitations on her abilities. If there was nothing in the other person's language (past or present), bearing, or situation that would give her any good clues, she could be as stuck as the next girl.
Besides, the question was too broad.
*Ok, let's narrow it down.* Rose had forgotten - again - that Lena could understand her thoughts at least as well as she could.
*One problem at a time. Your English assignments for the next week or so.* Rose could almost see Lena ticking off points on her fingers. *First, how do you get them turned in in a way that she can't ignore or reject them? Next, how can you get those assignments in a way that would keep her from claiming they were something else?*
*Don't even think it. If any of us get in the middle of all that, it will just get worse for you and for us. We can't give you that kind of help.*
A passing fantasy of things that the angels - and some of the other morfs she knew - could do to the teacher flitted through her mind. But she knew she could never be a party to such a thing. Even after the things that happened in that basement. Especially after the things that happened there.
Lena had mentioned some of her resources, then specifically asked Rose how she could use those resources to solve the problem. Her friends couldn't help - not for something this limited. Her family could stand by her, and could maybe apply a little useful pressure where it would do the most good. And her father was an experienced negotiator.
The adults at school were less absolute. If they could be convinced to help her in some direct manner, it could go a long way toward limiting the teacher's available responses.
Put them together, and she had a possibility. If her parents could convince the dean to get her assignments while she was gone, and to accept and turn them in for her, the teacher's options would be limited.
That could work.
*It might. It's gotta be better than just butting heads with The English Teacher From Hell, Dun Dun Duuun.*
Rose could feel the forced sense of melodrama and the humor behind it. She had to admit it took some of the sting out of thinking about She Who Will Never Be Named.
Lena was relieved to see that Rose was relaxing again. Things were likely to get worse before they got better, and the more perspective and humor Rose could summon up, the more likely she would be to get through it relatively unscathed.
In some ways, the dangers from her "outing" were the least of her problems. She would have to learn a delicate balancing act in order to make and keep friends - even casual ones. She would see unbelievable flaws - even ugliness - just under the surface of people she was close to, people she looked up to, and people she wanted to get close to. She would find things everywhere that would frighten her, disappoint her, and even disgust her.
If she didn't learn to deal with it - as well as the dangers and rejection - soon, she would lead a very lonely and unhappy life. And Lena was all too aware of how close she had come to the same fate. If it hadn't been for her parents, and her mentor... well, she didn't want to think where she would have ended up. Anything she could do to help Rose get past the more painful parts of the learning process intact, she would do.
Rose went down to speak with her father. It was easier than she expected, and in a matter of minutes she was on her way back up to her room. And her homework.
Somewhat refreshed, Rose dove into her homework. By the time she needed to get ready for bed, she had it as good as it was going to get.
Sleep was not long in coming.
The next morning, she didn't remember any dreams. All told, she decided it was probably just as well. After getting washed and ready for school, she went down to breakfast.
She was surprised to see her father at the kitchen table.
He was dressed for the office, so she decided to go for the obviously wrong guess. "Taking the day off?"
"In a manner of speaking. I will be picking you up after school to take care of some formalities. Meet me in front as soon after class as you can." That said, he took a last gulp of his coffee, wished the three ladies of his life a good day, and left for work.
Her first class was interesting. Not for the usual lesson and tension, but for what happened at the end. While not having gotten an excuse to cause Rose more suffering, the teacher had caused unnecessary problems for two other morfs.
As Rose was getting ready to go, she found herself near the woman. Not sure why she was doing so, she pitched her voice so that her teacher was the only one who could hear her. "Do you really hate MORFS survivors?"
"No." The teacher looked horrified for a moment, then conspicuously ignored Rose.
Rose was aware of two things. Two puzzling, important things. The teacher hadn't intended to say that - it just slipped out.
And it was true.
As Rose hurried to Changes, she had two things to think about. The surprising, but truthful answer, she filed away mentally for later consideration. The voice thing - that could be useful.
She wondered whether she had somehow forced - or finessed - the answer out of the teacher.
*No. You just caught her by surprise.*
*Lena!* Rose was happy to hear from her friend. *You "heard" what happened?*
*Yes. And no, you haven't found that "command voice" you wanted. it's just a refinement of your ability to make yourself understood.*
*What about her answer?*
*It's... complicated. For now, it's better that you don't know* The infuriating thing was that Lena clearly believed that was true.
Rose blew her a mental raspberry, on general principle, then stepped into Changes.
She managed to get through the rest of the day without any run ins with Missy or her crowd. And without being sent to the office.
When she stepped outside to meet her father, she had no trouble finding him. Once in the car, she found out that they were going to update her passport. When she asked why, all he would say was that it was a surprise for after the negotiations.
"Um... you know I can't turn the whole Truth meter thing on and off... right?" she began.
Her father was annoyed, but quickly gave in. "It is a counter move to a possible strategy in the negotiations. The less I tell you, the less some telepath can read in your mind."
Rose decided to ask Lena to help her with her shields.
*Sure. It will have to be this weekend, though. David and I have a date tonight!*
Rose could clearly "hear" the gushing in the name and the word "date". *Will I ever be that bad?*
*If you're lucky.* Lena "laughed". *And if some boy is even luckier. Or would you prefer a girl?*
Rose was quite aware that Lena knew she was just attracted to boys, so she decided to play with her. *Oh, no. My secret is out. Do you think the two of us will make your poor boyfriend jealous?*
*More likely turn him on.* Lena laughed.
*Boys are weird.*
*You have no idea. But you'll have lots of fun learning.*
Rose had to cut off the conversation, as they arrived at the passport office.
Somewhere, at the back of her mind, Rose had probably been aware of the complications her new status as a morf would add to international travel. But she hadn't really remembered. Now, she would not forget. Not only did they take a whole new set of biometrics (which was never her favorite process to begin with), but she had to go through another set of screening to make sure she still was not a dangerous morf.
Finally, they were done. One of their favorite Chinese take out places was nearby, so (after consulting her mom) they picked up some for dinner. Despite a lack of consultation, they made sure to get one of Tara's favorites while they were at it.
They needn't have bothered. As soon as they got home, Tara announced that she had plans for the evening... unless her parents vetoed them. Sometime, while everyone was concentrating on Rose and her issues, Tara had acquired a boyfriend.
Actually, they had been friends for years. During their freshman year, Tom had gone through MORFS with no apparent changes (although there were rumors of a certain amount of Male Enhancement, from which he had gained an unfortunate nickname). Since he had neither (apparently) gained or lost anything significant, he had gone right back to hanging around with the same loosely knit group of friends as before.
While Rose had gone through her own bout with MORFS, and her later adventures, he had provided a soggy shoulder and a sympathetic ear for Tara. Sometime during all that - Tara wasn't even sure when - they had become something more.
With all the activities of the last few weeks, there had been no time to do anything together outside of school. Until that evening.
When Tara mentioned that she would be going to dinner and a movie with another couple and with Tom, Rose couldn't help herself.
"You're dating TDH?" she grinned.
"You know he hates that name. And yes, Tom will be my escort." Tara replied archly.
"is it true?" Rose teased.
"I wouldn't know." Tara sniffed.
Rose heard the partial truth in that. This was getting interesting.
"TDH?" their father asked, distractedly.
Suddenly, both girls lapsed into an embarrassed silence. After a moment, Tara explained "When he went through MORFS, there was a rumor that... parts of him had gotten particularly... uh, hairy."
Even if Rose hadn't known the truth, the lie would have been obvious to her powers. However, their father didn't have her powers.
He did have contacts. And a good memory. "Wait a minute. Is that the Johansen boy? Tom Johansen?"
"Ah." he said, not meeting anyone's eyes. Including his wife's. "I... see."
*Lena?* Rose "called". *Does he know?*
*You know, it's really not a good idea to go poking around in your parent's minds. You wouldn't believe what I learned about Mom before I got it under control.*
*Ok, fine. Does he know?*
*He has heard the rumors, but doesn't know if they're true.* Lena sighed. *Now, shoo! You're cutting into my David time.* Rose heard the humor and the deliberate sexual overtones in the comment - and blushed.
"Rose?" Her mother asked.
"Huh?" Rose replied, intelligently. "Oh, sorry. Later this weekend, Lena will be helping me learn to shield my thoughts from other telepaths. I was just talking to her for a moment." It was misleading to imply a connection between the two, but not really a lie. Not really.
"That would be a very good idea." her father said approvingly. "Maybe I should ask for her help as well."
"I wouldn't, right now. She was leaving on a date with David." Rose fluttered her eyelashes and sighed out the name. She "heard" a giggle at the edge of her awareness.
"Ah... yes, well... ah." her father stuttered. "Maybe I should wait and ask her during the weekend."
He was saved by the bell, when Tara's friends arrived to pick her up. After the usual last minute exchange of instructions and assurances, she was gone.
Dinner went quickly, with the usual exchanges about their days and their weekend plans. After she was done eating, Rose went up to work on her homework. With the planned shield lessons and whatnot, she wasn't sure she would have time later.
Working on her paper for Changes was starting to make her feel funny. Maybe it was the hints from Lena just before dinner, or the talk about TDH, or maybe it was something else, but paying that much attention to sex without any possibility of doing much of anything about it was frustrating. She didn't even dare to do things with herself, for fear of her parents hearing.
It was frustrating and... something else. Something not really familiar.
She tried getting back to work, and the distraction worked. A little. By the time she got to bed, she was all worked up with nowhere to go.
Her dreams had a feverish quality to them, with combinations of danger, nakedness, and certain athletic contortions that would have been impossible in her real body. When she woke up, her sheets were soaked with sweat... and maybe something else. She didn't think she would be able to fall back asleep under those conditions, but her body soon proved her wrong.
"We gotta get that girl a boyfriend." Lena thought, after catching the raw edges of Rose's dreams. Of course, just the word "boyfriend" was enough to conjure up visions of David, and some of the times they had shared.
"Maybe not." she conceded, grinning.
She was concerned for other reasons. Cassandra's pronouncements had her on edge, and she and David had taken time out from their earlier fun to scan the area around Rose's house. They had found four people watching the house and one more watching Tara.
And all of them were heavily shielded. From her experience, it felt like high-end industrial shields, which were expensive. Not the sort of thing your garden variety thug or investigator would wear. And not the sorts of shields the government types had worn. If the two of them hadn't "seen" them with their telesense, she wouldn't have known they were there at all.
Their appearance was generally oriental - not exactly uncommon in the neighborhood. In fact, if they hadn't been so heavily shielded she might not have noticed them.
At first, she couldn't tell much about them that was useful. But after a while, a few things were apparent. There were two groups, and they didn't seem aware of each other. And both groups seemed to be settled in for watching, rather than doing anything.
It was disturbing, but not immediately threatening. Lena and David went back to what they were more interested in doing, and just "glanced" at the others from time to time.
After David went home (darn it!) and things settled down in Rose's house, the men left as well. Lena stayed up for a while, to keep an eye out (and see if Rose's loud dreams were going to need an intervention.
After making the boyfriend joke, Lena settled down and let herself drift off to sleep.
After spending time monitoring her weekly communications - ok, watching her Saturday morning cartoons - Rose got ready to go to Lena's house for her lessons. Despite the chilly weather (it was threatening to snow), she was going to walk the terribly long distance of a block and a half. It was tempting to ask Robin for a lift, but she didn't want to abuse their friendship. Besides, Robin was supposed to be working somewhere.
On her way there, Rose was unaware of three sets of "eyes" on her. Lena was "watching" her approach, and looking around for dangers. Two of the watchers were back, one from each group. Lena saw the others, but they seemed unaware of her or of each other.
Lena started out with a sort of lecture, before getting to the practical lesson. "This is Telepathy 101." she intoned, in a passable imitation of Rose's Changes teacher.
Lena's tone returned to normal "There's passive telepathy and active telepathy. Passive telepathy is like hearing. There is sound all around you all the time, and you basically hear all of it. With practice, you learn how to pay selective attention to the parts that interest you and largely ignore the rest. You can listen to a conversation behind you or across the room, while ignoring the prattle of people right in front of you." Her voice seemed to hold a slight edge as she said the last. which she lost again as she went on.
"We could beat the analogy to death, but it really is a good way to think about it."
She went on "Active telepathy is more like vision. You see what you are looking at, and usually a little more, but the view is much narrower than your hearing is. And you need light to see. In fact, to see in the dark places where all the interesting stuff is you need to shine your light in the right direction. How bright your light is, and how wide the beam is. With me so far?" Lena could tell that she was, but that she needed a moment to process it.
"When people 'feel' a telepath, it is in active mode. Your own limited form of telepathy is active, as well. But you are shining your light down in the basement, where nobody really looks or goes and looking at the enviro unit, where nobody really looks. They don't notice the light, and none of the locked doors and barred windows upstairs interfere with you."
Again, she paused to let Rose digest things.
"People - strong telepaths - will be able to get through your shields. The next things you will need are layers and hiding places."
The lesson started with Lena pushing against Rose's existing shield, and helping her to notice the "feel" of that. She gave her exercises to control the intensity of the shield, and managed to get it to a semi decent strength. She reassured Rose that it would probably get stronger as she got older.
She went on to show Rose how to create things for them to find, and how to hide things in a way that only the most powerful and experienced telepaths would have any chance of finding them.
The "top" layer behind the shields would be the sort of mental chatter someone would expect from a somewhat empty headed thirteen year old girl. Below that would be some really intense worry and imagery of particularly bad experiences with periods.
"But I've only had one, and it wasn't all that bad."
"You've barely had one, and you have much worse in your life." Lena said, sagely. "The reality doesn't matter. I can feed you the imagery and stuff, and help you put it together."
"It still freaks out a lot of men and boys, so it will be more likely to distract a male searcher from anything more important. Women will take it more in stride, but will sympathize and find nothing unusual about such thoughts. Either way, it is a major distraction."
Rose giggled at the idea of her father trying to use that technique.
She understood that she would suddenly find herself thinking about the practiced things any time someone tried to probe her mind. Lena demonstrated unexpectedly from time to time, so Rose could get a "feel" for it.
Finally, Lena taught her a way to lock certain thoughts, ideas, and information away, in a way that would make it unlikely that even a strong, probing telepath would be unlikely to find.
By the time they were done, the day was pretty much gone. Lena invited Rose to stay for dinner and, after checking with her parents, she accepted.
Lena's mother was a revelation. Her sense of humor was a lot like Lena's, but more extreme. But throughout the jokes, teasing, and deliberate discomfort, Rose could "read" the benevolent intent and the love for her family. It was impossible to maintain proper company manners around her, and Rose soon gave up the effort.
Lena's father was equally welcoming, in a quieter, almost serene manner. Rose sensed his acceptance of her, as a person and as a friend of Lena, in his words and his silences. His quiet warmth set off his wife's boisterousness perfectly.
Rose enjoyed herself thoroughly. But all too soon, it was time to go home. She had homework to finish, and other things to get ready.
On her way home, Rose noticed that the "For Rent" sign in front of one of the houses was down. She wondered whether they had kids - whether they would need a babysitter. It was one of the few ways she could think of to make some money, and maybe use her gift to do some personal good at the same time.
Watching her on her way home, Lena was struck by the difference a few years could make. Despite what she had already been through, Rose's world was still the narrow, relatively simple world of a 13 year old. With a skill that could make her - and those who had her help - millions of dollars in a few years, her idea of making money was the pocket change she could get for babysitting and the like.
Not that Lena was all that concerned with money, herself. She knew her own abilities could bring in more than she could ever use, with very little effort. But her own focus was more on quality of life. All too often she had "seen" the effects that an intense focus on wealth had on people - and she wanted no part of it. She would never be hurting for money, but it would never be all that important to her.
She wasn't sure why, but it surprised her a little bit that Rose hadn't somehow known or guessed that the house had been rented by one of the groups watching her. Over time, she would have to work with Rose on increasing her awareness of her surroundings.
Though she still couldn't read them, or even sense their minds, she could "see" that the watchers were back in place. As before, they seemed to be doing nothing more than watching.
Once Rose had safely arrived home, Lena turned her attention to her own homework.
Rose was greeted with questions about the visit. She moved her hands like she was building an invisible wall, which had no effect on the conversation.
"Rats! It doesn't work on family questions!" Rose grumped theatrically. With a shrug, she answered their questions. Soon, they had all settled in front of the tube to enjoy some of their favorite shows.
After a little relaxing family time, it was back to work. She had homework to finish and preparations to make. She would still have some of Sunday, but putting things off seemed to cause more trouble than it was worth.
All too soon, it was bedtime.
The next morning was pretty much routine. It was going to be a Museum day, so Rose and Tara had to get as much as possible of their homework done before they left. Their mother pointed out that they wouldn't be scrambling that way if they had gotten it done Friday night or Saturday, and they pointed out that they had been working on it then, but there was just too much.
Pretty much routine.
It got less routine on the way to the Museum.
*Rose, we need to talk.* Lena started out, trying to gently lead into things.
*Lena? What's wrong?* Rose started getting concerned. *Is it about Cassandra's visions?*
*Probably. Try not to get too worried, but two groups of men have been watching you and your house.*
*Who are they? What do they want?*
*I don't know. They are wearing high quality shields, and I can't get through them.*
*Shit! How many men? Where are they now?*
*There are five of them total. Three in one group, and two in the other. They are in two cars a little bit behind you.*
*What can I do? Should I tell my parents?*
*Don't tell them yet. The men are not making any suspicious moves yet - just following you. Just be aware of what's going on around you, and stay safe.*
*What do they look like?*
*They look Japanese. They are dressed like businessmen, but carrying cameras like tourists. They are driving mid range rental cars, one white and one blue. They are about a block or so behind you, with some cars between... WHAT THE HELL WAS...*
End part 6
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