Eli sighed as he opened the door to his dorm. He still didn’t know what was going on with his sister or Rob. It was nearly dinnertime, but dinner was a long way off. It seemed wrong, but the Hush Corps was already planning on how to move Rob out.
Eli knew it made sense; this was a men’s dorm, and if Rob wasn’t male anymore, it would attract attention. Attention would garner questions that could prove troublesome to keeping the Spirit Guards’ identities secret or maybe cause complications with keeping Rob in school. It still felt wrong. Shouldn’t Rob get one more night with the guys or something?
That was stupid, too. After all that Rob had gone through, there was no way he would want “one more night with the guys.” She. Damn it. Pronouns were going to get complicated. He could already feel Cory getting ready to correct him.
Cory shut the door behind him as he entered. “So… where do we start?”
Eli shrugged. “I don’t know, man. I guess his clothes, maybe?”
“Does he have, like, luggage or something we can even put his stuff in?”
Eli sighed again and trudged into Rob’s room, feeling like a trespasser as he did so. “I guess we should look.”
Rob hadn’t left yet, and his room somehow already felt empty. Eli opened the closet and found some luggage with other assorted boxes that were obviously meant to house Rob’s computer and monitors. “Well, I guess we can start here.”
Cory sat on the floor and started carefully pulling cables out from the back of Rob’s gaming rig. “On the bright side, at least our fourth roommate never showed up. Imagine how complicated this all would have been to explain.”
Eli nodded. “That would be a nightmare.”
A knock came at the front door. Eli glanced over at Cory who had a worried expression. Eli rolled his eyes. “It’s not our other roommate showing up right now just to make things complicated.”
“You sure about that? I mean, I remember you saying something about Fate liking to prove me wrong just a few days ago.”
Eli put Rob’s luggage down and left his room. “If it was our other roommate, he’d just walk in with his key. He’d check in first.” Eli checked the peephole and saw a very attractive and very concerned blonde girl that he instantly recognized as his sister’s roommate. He noticed she was holding something under her arms, though he couldn’t quite make out what it was through the peephole’s limited view.
Eli opened up the door, relieved it wasn’t their other roommate; if it had been, he’d never be able to convince Cory he wasn’t living some sort of sitcom where everything was timed for maximum laughs. “Hey, didn’t expect that you would be coming ov…”
Mallory’s roommate rushed into the dorm room with a stack of folded up cardboard boxes under her arms. She shut the door with her foot and gave a sigh of relief. “That was close.”
Eli racked his brain, trying to remember this girl’s name. Why was he always forgetting it? “What was close? And, sorry, did I miss something? Why are you here?”
The girl pushed her hair back and dropped the folded boxes on the table. She began assembling one. “I think an RA saw me in the hallway one floor down. He looked like he wanted to ask me what all the boxes were for, but I was too far along the hallway to ask. I’m hoping he just gives up. I don’t know if we have a cover story for Rob’s departure yet.”
“Eli, who’s here?” Cory shouted from Rob’s room. Eli swallowed hard; this was where his memory’s betrayal would be exposed.
“Angela Warrant,” the blonde, to Eli’s relief, shouted back.
Eli affected his most judgemental voice. “Mallory’s roommate. You know, the one who picked us up and jumped to the second floor earlier today? You already forgot her name?” No one could know he forgot her name. Again.
“Oh! Spirit Guard Valor.”
Angela froze. “Don’t say that!”
Cory walked out of the room as he wrapped up Rob’s ethernet cable in his hands. “Don’t say what?”
“Don’t talk about our other lives. What if someone was listening in on the door?”
Cory rolled his eyes. “Relax. You’re among friends here. We’re not going to blow your secret.”
Angela bit her lip in obvious frustration at Cory’s cavalier attitude. Eli tried to deflect the attention away from Cory. “You still didn’t explain what you’re doing here. No one told us you were coming over.”
Angela turned away from Cory and went back to assembling boxes. “Once Vivian and I finished debriefing with Kunapipi, there wasn’t much for us to do. But I knew Rob would have to be moved, and it was unlikely he’d have adequate moving supplies, so I got a bunch of boxes and thought I’d come over to help.” She paused her assembly for a moment, but kept her eyes on the boxes. “Figured you could use some help.”
Eli could hear something else in her voice; this wasn’t just because she wanted to help. Something else was on her mind. Eli decided to cut to the chase. “Any word on my sister?”
“I…” Angela looked up into Eli’s eyes. “No. Not as of yet. She’ll be okay though. Spirit Guard Charity is working on her, and Serenity is keeping them concealed from the police while she works.”
Charity was working on Mallory? Charity was Kara. But Kara was a Nutrition major, not a doctor. “What do you mean Kara is ‘working on’ my sister?”
“And Rob is concealing them? He can make stuff invisible now? Wish we had that at our disposal a few nights ago,” Cory added.
Angela ignored Cory and returned her attention back to the boxes. “Spirit Guard Charity has the ability to heal injuries, though it takes a lot out of her.” Angela groaned and put her hands on the table. “Mallory is receiving the best care she could get.”
“You sure about that?” Eli questioned. “You absolutely sure a real doctor might not be–”
“You honestly think I’d have left her if I didn’t think that?” Angela snapped. “You think I could have abandoned my best friend if I wasn’t absolutely certain the people I was leaving her with weren’t capable? That’s what you think of me?”
Eli took a step back; he hadn’t expected this outburst at all. “I… I just thought…”
Angela looked back down to her boxes. “The first time Kara joined us in a fight, I got my elbow pulled out of its socket. She was too terrified to fight. But seeing my injury and seeing Tenacity and Felicity fight back while I tried to pop my own elbow back into place… it motivated her, and she transformed.”
Angela scratched at her right elbow as if talking about the experience brought back the pain. “We were fighting in a hospital of all places. Kara was volunteering that day. When she transformed, Charity shot an arrow into the monster’s eye. Thankfully, it only had one, and that provided the opening Tenacity and Felicity needed to finish it.”
“Charity then knelt down and treated my injury. It’s difficult to explain but she pours herself into you when she’s healing you. Her kindness and warmth, it flowed into my elbow, dulling the pain. She popped my elbow back into place and gave even more of herself, and I felt my damaged ligaments and nerves mend themselves.”
“The experience drained her, and she slept pretty heavily that night and needed to eat a lot the next day to regain her strength, but, other than some minor soreness, my elbow was completely healed. As if nothing had happened. But I’ll never forget that feeling of her giving herself over to heal me… not only healing my wound but making me feel like everything would be better.”
Angela looked back up into Eli’s eyes. “I wouldn’t have left Mallory’s side if I didn’t know that was the kind of treatment she was getting.” Eli felt bad for questioning her. It was stupid. She and Mallory had been fighting together over a year now. They lived together. Of course they would be close. Of course she’d want Mallory to be as safe as she could be. “I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t think she wasn’t getting the best treatment there was.”
Angela sighed then added, “I’m not that terrible of a leader.”
Eli heard something in that last sentence. Angela felt like she had let the team down somehow. Cory cleared his throat and made sure the tone of his sentence sounded more like a question than an accusation as he asked, “But you think you are a terrible leader?” Eli was glad he wasn’t the only one who picked up on the self-loathing in that last comment.
Angela stopped all pretext of trying to work on the boxes, placed her elbows on the table, and buried her face in her hands. “I just… I just keep coming back to what a waste this was. Tenacity didn’t need to get injured. Had I just been a better leader, I could have gotten her to stick with us to fight together. If I just had said the right things, maybe I could have gotten Robert to be more willing to fight with us. Had I just…”
Eli couldn’t stand hearing Angela berate herself; he had been hating himself all day, and if he let her keep going, the room was going to flood itself in the pair’s self-loathing. “You couldn’t have stopped my sister from flying off to our defence anymore than you can stop a charging bull. Mallory’s always been overprotective of me. She once punched a tooth out of a kid’s mouth in my third grade class when he gave me a black eye. Mallory tends to go overboard when her little brother gets threatened.”
Angela looked up with misty eyes and a genuine look of surprise. “Really? Mallory never told me that story before.”
Eli scoffed. “Of course she didn’t. She’s ashamed of it. I mean, Mallory didn’t intend to knock a tooth out, obviously. And she got suspended for a month.”
Cory grinned at the memory. “Yeah, but it wasn’t like Ryan Quaid didn’t deserve it, though. He was a bully, and for whatever reason, they wouldn’t ever expel or suspend the kid. And, hey, he sure didn’t mess with anyone after that.”
“Huh…” Angela pursed her lips as she considered a side of Mallory she had never seen before.
Eli smiled encouragingly. “So yeah, her rushing off had nothing to do with you being a bad leader or anything. That’s just Mallory being Mallory, and there was no realistic way you were going to stop her coming to my rescue.”
“As for Rob,” Cory interjected, “Yeah, he wasn’t going to change short of seeing someone about to die.”
Angela let out a long sigh, “I don’t know. I mean, he was the Shrine Maiden and from what I know of her she–”
Eli rolled his eyes and cut her off, “That Shrine Maiden stuff was precisely the problem.”
“What do you mean?”
Eli grabbed one of Angela’s unfolded boxes and began to assemble it. “Rob doesn’t like feeling manipulated. Rob seems to be someone with a firm background of doing what is right and wrong but he has to feel like it was his choice. I know all this Fate stuff really bugs him.”
Cory nodded and began to assemble a box as well. “Well yeah. I mean, he came here to this University because he thought this was a good spot to get his degree of choice and because his parents went here. Now he’s being told that it was secretly because of some destiny decided for him from the gods above or some mumbo jumbo.”
Angela frowned. “Fate isn’t a god, she’s just…”
Eli held his hands up to slow her down. “You have to admit that it is a little creepy to believe that some force you can’t even comprehend has secretly been trying to lead you down a specific path.”
“I don’t know, I find it rather inspiring,” Angela protested.
Eli raised an eyebrow. “Inspiring? Inspiring how?”
Cory nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, it’s really creepy if you ask me.”
Angela looked utterly confused by their protests. “Creepy? No. Fate is a great and powerful being and she looks down on the whole of humanity and says, ‘You. You are special. You are destined for great things. You can be trusted with that responsibility. I have foreseen it.’ How can that be anything but inspiring?”
Eli shook his head. “And what if you don’t want that? I’m with Rob and would just want to not have alien entities meddling with my life.”
Cory shrugged. “I don’t know. When you put it like that I could see why maybe you’d think of it as inspiring.”
A knock sounded at the front door. Before Cory or Eli could turn to answer it, the door burst open and a short girl with long black hair down to her knees popped in. “Hey boys. I brought you some dinner since you have to do so much…” Vivian trailed off upon seeing Angela in the room. “Oh, Ang, when did you get here? I figured you were staying over at your place to wait for Mal.”
Angela completed another box. “Oh, yes, well… I couldn’t just sit there. I got really antsy so I came to help. Besides, probably would just get in the way of Mallory’s healing. I’m sure she’ll need a lot of rest.” Angela paused for a moment before adding, “And it wouldn’t be fair for me to expect Mallory’s brother to move all of Robert’s stuff while I sat next to Mallory.”
Vivian nodded. Eli noticed she was pointedly not making eye contact with Cory. “That’s a good idea. Help make it faster.”
“Exactly,” Angela nervously agreed.
Vivian lifted the two plastic bags she held into the air, their shapes and smells indicative of some form of Chinese food. She glanced at Eli, again not making eye contact with Cory. “So, what do you boys want? The orange chicken or the kung pao chicken? You don’t get both as the others are for the the Twins. They have an even longer night ahead of them what with all the records they’re going to have to doctor and forge for Rob.”
Cory cleared his throat, “Really nice of you to think of us, Viv. Thanks for the food.”
Vivian finally looked over at Cory before quickly looking away again. She was obviously nervous about being here. “Yeah, well, you guys have been through a lot. Which one you want?”
Cory’s shoulders sagged as she looked away from him. “Orange chicken will be fine.” Eli sighed for his friend. She was still mad at him for discovering her secret, it seemed. As far as Eli was concerned she needed to get over it, but he wasn’t about to interject himself into that mess. Getting involved with Cory’s lovelife beyond letting him vent never brought anything but trouble.
Vivian set one of the bags down on the table without a word. Angela broke the awkward silence, “So are you planning on helping us out here for moving Robert’s stuff?”
Vivian shook her head. “Nah, I have some, uh, other things I need to get for Rob. Plus deliver the rest of this food to the Twins.”
Vivian was just ditching out to evade Cory some more; Eli was sure of it. He wasn’t going to let her just get off scott free without giving a good reason for not helping out and avoiding her friend. “What kinds of things?”
Vivian scratched her nose a bit nervously as she turned around. “Uh, well… some… feminine care products I sort of doubt girl-Rob doesn’t currently own.”
That took the wind right out of Eli’s sails. “Oh. Yeah. Good point.”
Vivian headed for the door. “Good luck with getting everything packed. I’ll give you all a ring if I hear any updates on Mal.” The door shut behind her.
Cory sighed and dejectedly went back to assembling boxes. “So… free food. That’s nice of her.”
Angela nodded and smiled. “Vivian’s great like that.” She obviously didn’t get what had just happened. Did she even know Cory and Vivian had been interested before all this?
Eli shrugged and opened up the box of Chinese food. “I’m starving. The packing can wait. Let’s eat.”
Serenity was amazed how casual walking through a stone portal was. Other than the tight fit, it was no different than walking through any other doorway. It had simply been an ordinary, if not tall stone against a fence in the trainyard… or in this case a decorative stone Mallory and Angela’s living room. Spirit Guard Charity followed Serenity through, still looking tired and completely worn down. “Kunapipi’s office’s stone is that one there.” Charity pointed to the stone across the Standridge Circle.
Serenity nodded and walked in that direction. “How do you link them? The stones, I mean?”
Charity shrugged. “I’m not too sure actually. This was all set up before I joined the team. I do know it takes a similar stone on the receiving end to link them. Fortunately, with Valor having earth powers and all of us having super strength…”
Serenity nodded, “Makes the masonry aspect of this a lot easier for sure. You activate them with knocks though. I’ve noticed a different rhythm for each one.”
Charity smiled, “Yes, that’s the activation code… though it might be harder for you to remember the code than the rest of us.”
“Why is that?”
“Valor knew there would be other girls joining her so she decided to make the rhythm of each knock something we’d likely know.” Charity gave an apologetic shrug, “So she sort of made it knocks to the beats of Lyric Victory songs.”
Serenity raised an eyebrow. “Lyric Victory? Like the boy band that was big five years ago?”
Charity shrugged again. “Well, their ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’ album more specifically.”
Serenity rolled her eyes. “Kind of not the point of what I was asking. Why Lyric Victory?”
“I think it makes sense, you know, as long as you were under the assumption the other Spirit Guard would be in town and around the same age. I mean, I didn’t know a girl in middle school that didn’t have the ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’ album. It was everywhere.”
Serenity scrunched her face up, “I mean, yeah, it every girl around here had it. But…”
Charity raised a weary eyebrow, “But what made her think every Spirit Guard would be from here or a girl?”
Serenity snorted, “No. Assuming all five of you would be girls was a logical assumption. My current situation is just plain insane. But why would you assume everyone was from around here? I mean, what if Noriko or someone like her had been Spirit Guard? I doubt she knew that album.”
Charity rubbed her eyes again and gave a not so subtle groan. “I don’t know. Better to ask Valor. I don’t wish to be rude because I know your day hasn’t exactly been a peach but I’m literally on the verge of collapse. Like, the moment I detransform I’m going to be sleeping for a long time. Can we do a quick rundown on what you need to tell Kunapipi?”
“Sorry,” Serenity apologized, “I can bug Kunapipi with these questions.”
Kara patted Serenity on the arm. “It’s fine. I get it. Under normal circumstances I’d be perfectly willing to answer everything.”
“Yeah. These aren’t exactly normal circumstances.”
Charity chuckled, “That’s quite the understatement. So, what are you telling Kunapipi needs to happen?”
Serenity started numbering off the items on her fingers. “First, that Noriko needs to go by Mallory’s place with some medical bandages and tightly bind her chest to make sure she doesn’t aggravate that broken rib. Second, Vivian needs to buy food for Mallory’s and your recovery. Only healthy, nutritious stuff. Not junk food like last time… which I’m still interested to hear about.”
Charity smiled, “A story for another time. The last thing?”
“Coordinate with Angela and Noriko to make sure the volleyball team thinks that Mallory has got the stomach flu and will be out for about a week.”
“Perfect.” Charity sighed, steadying herself before continuing. Every waking moment she seemed more and more ready to just drop straight into a deep sleep. “Okay, hopefully Kunapipi can help you with the rest.”
“I’m sure she can,” Serenity lied. Regardless of whether Kunapipi could help her, Serenity knew Charity needed to rest.
Serenity watched, trying to figure out how these rocks worked. Just like she had seen Charity do the last two times, Charity placed her palm flat on the stone then knocked in a jerky rhythm. Now that she knew it was a Lyric Victory song, Serenity recognized the beat. “Was that ‘One Look At You’?”
Charity raised an impressed eyebrow. “How do you know that?” She pressed her palm flat to the rock again, and the pillar of stone glowed.
Serenity rolled her eyes. “I may be a guy, but that song was played nonstop for about a year. No matter your gender, you knew that one. Besides, it’s a boy band. They put the group together based on market research and and come up with songs that are scientifically proven to be catchy.”
Charity smiled and gave Serenity one more hug. “Wish I could do more for you today. When I wake up tomorrow I promise to help you any way I can.”
Serenity gave a nervous grin. This girl liked to hug a lot. “Thanks.”
Charity let go and trudged to a different stone. Serenity gave a deep breath and stared down the glowing rock. After a moment, she stepped through it.
Again, the pass through the rock was completely normal. It was the normalness of it that disoriented Serenity so much. She had been in the Standridge Circle. Now she was in an unusually spacious office with no windows. It was ornately decorated with various important looking documents, artwork, and, surprisingly, weapons on the left and back walls. A bookcase filled with books from a variety of languages occupied the right wall.
Strangest of all, Serenity did not see anyone in the room. This was supposed to be Ms. Kuhn’s office, so where was she. With a sigh Serenity turned around and admired the still glowing stone. It was just barely big enough for someone her now diminutive size to fit through. On a hunch she placed her hand flat on the glowing stone as she had seen Charity do. Instead of passing through, her hand pressed against the rock and the glowing stopped.
“Huh? Someone here?” Whose voice was that? Serenity spun around in the direction of the voice. A pair of fuzzy, long brown ears popped up from under the deck. Then a brown kangaroo rat jumped on top of the desk.
Serenity lowered her daggers. Odd. She didn’t even remembering summoning them. “Don’t do that.”
“Sorry,” apologized the animal-woman. “When I’m in this form it’s easier to work under my desk. I have a monitor and keyboard down there and everything.” Serenity shivered as Kunibobi or whatever-her-actual-name-was spoke. It was the opposite problem of Day LaMode: her face was too expressive. Too emotive. Too human. It was just unsettling. “Uh. Wow. Angela wasn’t exaggerating.”
Serenity scratched the back of her neck. “Exaggerating about what?”
“I know you’re probably not comfortable with this but, well, there is no other way to say this. You turned out to be quite an attractive young woman.”
Serenity dismissed her daggers with a groan. “Yeah. Let’s not talk about this. Look, Charity had several things she needed you to relay to others.”
“Oh? What kinds of things?”
Serenity ran down the list. The kangaroo rat chuckled when she mentioned Vivian had to get healthy food, but otherwise seemed unsurprised by the list. “One moment, I’ll just pass that info along.” She hopped below the desk and Serenity could hear the clicking of a keyboard.
She rolled her eyes and examined some of the items on the wall: a shield that looked to be from Medieval times, a scroll in some sort of script he didn’t recognize, a katana, a rather ancient looking spear… what were all these? She had said she was the mentor of several heroes for a long time. Were these from some of her past heroes and heroines?
“I’m glad to hear Charity was able to patch Tenacity back together,” said the muffled voice of Kunibobi under the deck. “With these kinds of powers, I often don’t know the full limit of what everyone is capable of.” She hopped back onto the desk unusually chipper. Serenity really wasn’t in the mood for chipper.
“Yeah. That seems irresponsible of…” No. He didn’t want to sit here and debate Fate’s tactics with her personal spokeswoman. He might as well talk to a wall. He just needed to get things sorted out. “Never mind. Look, what is it you need to talk to be about? Let’s just get started with that, Ms. Kuhn.”
Ms. Kuhn shook her head. “No, it’s Ms. Kuna in my human guise. Kunapipi in this form.”
Serenity raised her hand dismissively. “Sure, Ms. Kuna. Sorry.”
Kunapipi frowned. It still gave Serenity the willies. There was something just wrong about it. “You can just call me Kunapipi. It’s my real name.”
“I’m sorry, but can you switch to your human body?”
Kunapipi took a step back, “What for?”
“This,” Serenity waved her hand up and down in Kunapipi’s direction, “this talking kangaroo rat thing is kind of weirding me out.”
“I’m a wallaby. Not a kangaroo rat.” Kunapipi held her hands out plaintively, just like a human would. It wasn’t helping to ease Serenity’s discomfort. “You’ll get used to it. It’s no weirder than…”
Serenity was done adjusting for one day. She didn’t want to be polite anymore. She was willing to do it for Eli’s sister. She could tell Charity was trying to be helpful. For some reason though, Serenity just didn’t have the patience for this… thing’s insisting that Serenity needed to make yet another adjustment, “My entire body just changed on me. I had to save someone’s life and throw my own away. I’m terrified to look in a mirror because I don’t know who the person looking back will be.” She tried to hide it, but Serenity could feel all the pent up pain of the day just coming out. “Don’t you think I’ve got enough ‘to get used to’ on my plate right now?”
Kunapipi said nothing for a moment before giving a conciliatory nod. “Of course. I apologize.” She hopped onto the chair and in a flash a mid-thirties woman with burgundy hair was sitting in the chair. “I find being in a human body uncomfortable and unnatural. I should have been more more accommodating though. It’s not like your body situation is that comfortable either.”
Serenity gave a sigh of relief. It had felt good to vent some of that pent up anger. “Thank you.”
“Well, you’ve been through a lot today. If I may ask, why did you do it?” Kunapipi fussed with her hair. “Transform, I mean. You sounded rather reticent to do it before.”
Serenity shook her head. “I wasn’t going to let Eli’s sister die. Not when I could do something about it.”
Kunapipi gave a proud smile, “That’s rather noble of you.”
“Just how my Uncle raised me.” Serenity bit her bottom lip. How the honey was she going to break this to Uncle Taylor?
“Fate chose well then. You saved her life and maybe this entire war against Platicore. Who knows how the Spirit Guard would react to…”
“Let’s not talk about Fate,” Serenity interrupted. “She and I aren’t on the best terms right now. Can we just get to the task at hand? What needs to happen now?”
Serenity could tell Ms. Kuna wanted to say something about Serenity’s relationship with Fate. What was Fate to this woman? Her boss? Her god? Serenity decided she’d stop mentioning Fate in Ms. Kuna’s presence to avoid a fight.
Ms. Kuna though, pushed past what she wanted to say and addressed Serenity’s question. “Well, I suppose first you should consider powering down, Spirit Guard Serenity. Let us get a look at you when you don’t have your disconnection affect active.”
Serenity nodded. “Seems like a good place to start.” She paused, waiting for instincts to take hold to show her how to power down as her instincts had shown her how to power up. No such inspiration came. “Uh, well, how do I do that exactly?”
Ms. Kuna gave a delighted smile. “Let’s actually start by having you sit down?”
Serenity raised an eyebrow but plopped herself into one of the two chairs Ms. Kuna used for students when she was actually counseling. “Is sitting down part of powering down?”
“No, but it’s wise to do so for your first few transformations. Right now your body is supernaturally strong, is being guided by the instincts and training of the lithe Shrine Maiden, and boosted by heightened empathokinetic senses. When you power down you have none of these. It’s a bit of a crash coming down from that power. Throw in the fact that you will be in a completely foreign body… well, I recommend sitting for this.”
“I’m in a completely foreign body right now,” Serenity pointed out.
Ms. Kuna nodded, “But right now the instincts of your past life have been brought to the surface by the Spirit Stick. I think it will be very different.”
“‘I think?’ I’m sorry but did you say, ‘I think?'” Serenity really didn’t like those two words.
Ms. Kuna put up her hands apologetically. “I’ve been the mentor in a lot of very interesting situations. Never before have I had body metamorphosis, super powers, and past lives rolled all into one. And I’ve certainly never had a situation where gender flipped itself on a person. I have a lot of experience with this, but at the moment you’re getting my highly educated guess. However that is a subject for another time. Would you like to proceed with powering down?”
Serenity tapped on the chair. She hadn’t considered how she’d feel without out all this power. It made her slightly nervous. “Yeah. Sure. How do we do this?”
Ms. Kuna stood up and paced behind her desk. “If you’re anything like the other girls, the art of powering down involves you letting your unconscious mind know you are no longer in danger. It seems to be a defence the Scholar put into these Spirit Sticks so that you didn’t accidently power down the moment you thought you were out of danger. The unconscious mind is much better at sensing these kinds of things.”
Serenity closed her eyes and focused, telling herself that the danger had passed. Day LaMode was as dead as a doornail. She had made sure of it. “Did the other girls have trouble with this?”
A wistful tinge overtook Ms. Kuna’s voice. “It took Angela a fair bit but that is to be expected as she and I had to figure this out with no previous experience. Mallory took over an hour; her mind just didn’t want to let go of that power. She is Tenacity after all. Vivian had no problem; I wonder if her being the Scholar’s reincarnation has something to do with it. Charity took a few minutes to not be overwhelmed by anything before…”
Serenity felt the power rush out of her and into her other place; if she remembered correctly, they referred to that place as her Investiture. She gasped as if she had been punched in the gut. Rob felt as weak as a child; her muscles didn’t reverberate with untold power, her movements felt slow and clumsy, and in that moment the world felt so much bigger than it had in years.
“Oh wow, you powered down even quicker than Vivian. Then again I guess you are Spirit Guard Serenity.”
Rob became aware of new sensations that he had only been tangentially paying attention to before; the Shrine Maiden’s instincts had helped make her new body feel normal. Now, without those instincts, Rob was keenly aware of an uncomfortable weight on her chest. Her hips felt too big. All along her back was the odd sensation of hair between her and the cushion of the chair. That sensation was on the seat of the chair too; she was sitting on her hair. “Ugh! All this hair is so annoying!”
“If it helps at all, it at least looks great. Being a scarlette really suits you.”
Scarlette. Great. Another made up haircolor. And now she had it. “Well it’s annoying. I don’t want hair this long.” It was no longer covering her eye like it had when she was Spirit Guard Serenity, but it was still infiltrating the edges of her vision. Rob pushed the strands of crimson out of her face and wrestled the locks that she was sitting on out from under her. That just seemed to bunch them unevenly around her waist. She was getting a haircut as soon as possible, that was for sure.
Her jeans felt horribly uncomfortable as well; they were far too tight and the denim material felt much rougher than usual. It took her a moment to realize this was because her legs were hairless now; the denim material was the same texture it always always had been but now she didn’t have a layer of hair between them and her skin. So then why were they so tight?
Rob looked down and forgot about the jeans. “Ms. Kuna?” Rob took a deep breath, her chest heaving a bit with it. “Do my… breasts… look as big to me as they do to you?”
Ms. Kuna adjusted her glasses and blushed. “Uh, well… I certainly don’t envy you.”
Rob scowled. “How carefully worded. Let me be more specific: you don’t envy me because they look heavy or you don’t envy me because they aren’t that big and I’m blowing things out of proportions?”
“You uh… well… you are larger than most.” Ms. Kuna’s voice affected a positive tone that reminded Rob of a mother trying to calm a child down before taking them in to see the dentist. “But not to a ridiculous degree I should add. Just… quite large.”
Rob glared at her chest as if she was accusing it of betrayal. This had been one of her favorite shirts. It had a simple “p+” with a white circle on the chest, the symbol for a proton and just the short phrase “Stay positive” written underneath. The irony of that phrase being displayed across her too-plentiful torso wasn’t lost on her.
What was nearly just as bad though was how the shirt seemed to be cut in a babydoll style, hugging her curves more tightly with material that seemed to be thinner and more stretchy. As she examined her legs she realized her jeans were suffering the same problem. She was wearing skinny jeans. That wasn’t acceptable. “As if I needed any more bad news. And why are my clothes now fitted to me as if they were a second skin?”
Ms. Kuna again nervously adjusted her glasses. “Well, if I had to guess, I’d say your Spirit Stick simply was trying to help you blend in.”
“Blend in? You guess? You are not exactly inspiring a lot of confidence with your tone.” Rob was trying to cut down on her sarcasm. She really was. However it was just taking every ounce of control she had to not freak out.
“Maybe I should elaborate.” Ms. Kuna put her hands together and took a deep breath. “Have you wondered why the Spirit Guard are cheerleaders?”
Rob held his fingers close together. “Just a little.”
“Angela, when she fought her first monster, didn’t know what would happen. Frankly, neither did I. I had never dealt with artifacts of the Empathic Empire before. Angela described the feeling her Spirit Stick asking her questions on a subconscious level. The questions came too fast and too, for the lack of a better word, subliminally for her to process everything but one of the questions she distinctly had an impression of was it asking her for an image of something that inspired others, buoyed spirits, and lifted the emotions of large groups of people.”
Rob’s mouth hung open for a moment. “And her first thought was cheerleaders?”
“She had just been at a football game, in her defense.”
“As I said, it was doing all this scanning subconsciously. You can’t control the first thought that comes in your head.”
“Okay fine,” Rob conceded. “Haven’t you tried to fix this? And what does this have to do with me wearing skinny jeans right now?”
Ms. Kuna let out another sigh. “We tried to see if we could change the… template you Spirit Guard have but, as I have stated before, I don’t have any experience with this type of empathokinetic focus. I had hoped when Felicity came around we’d get somewhere but remembering how to modify these devices doesn’t seem to be on her list of things she can do.”
“As for why you’re wearing skinny jeans,” Ms. Kuna continued, “each girl, when they powered down for the first time, found their bodies not quite the same as when they powered up. Angela found her figure improve slightly and her hair went from a more dirty blonde color to her current golden blonde. Mallory gained an inch in height, a cup size, and got more muscle definition, especially in her arms. It certainly helped her volleyball career.”
Rob let a sarcastic, “Yippy,” escape from his brain out of his mouth. He chastised himself for being childish. She was trying to answer. He had to stop with the sarcastic jabs if he wanted this conversation to get anywhere helpful. “What happened with Vivian and Kara?”
Ms. Kuna paused for a moment. He could see the school councilor side of Ms. Kuna wanting to examine his sarcastic tone. Fortunately, she moved on. “Vivian’s hair lengthened to the height you now see; it had been merely to the small of her back. She wasn’t happy about it. But on the plus side her vision corrected itself so she no longer had to wear glasses and her skin completely cleared up. She used to have terrible acne.”
Rob tried to imagine the cute little Vivian with acne and glasses. Then again, with her personality, he couldn’t see those things really keeping her that down. She was a constant ball of energy. “And Kara?”
“Her body changed the least… or maybe the most depending on how you look at it. She gained an inch or so in height but the biggest change was her asthma went away.”
Rob folded her arms but nearly immediately unfolded them at the unfamiliar feeling of that slightly squeezing her breasts together. “Great. So everyone else go their situations improved by powering down while I just got screwed by this.”
Ms. Kuna seemed to pretend to not notice Rob’s brooding. “As to how this relates to your skinny jeans, well, each girl, when they powered down, their clothes shifted to fit their upgrad…updated bodies. It seems your Spirit Stick did the same to your clothes but maybe did something akin to a scan of the surrounding mall to figure out how best to cut the clothes you had on to make you fit in.”
Rob stared at the floor. She held her right leg straight, examining her foot. It was still a the same, normal, white and black tennis shoe Rob had walked into the mall wearing. The only difference was that it was so much smaller than she remembered. Her feet were tiny now. “Spectacular. Has it changed my entire wardrobe?”
Ms. Kuna straightened with surprise. “No. How could it do that?”
Rob shrugged. “I don’t know. How could it change the clothes I was wearing? I have no idea where the boundaries on this Stick’s powers are.”
“I…” Ms. Kuna stopped her sentence and seemed to consider Rob’s point. “Fair enough, Ms. Dreese.”
Rob shivered at hearing a Ms. put before her last name. “Don’t call me that.”
Ms. Kuna raised an eyebrow. “Why not.”
“Just… doesn’t feel right.” Rob folded her arms again. She didn’t like the feeling of slightly squeezing her breasts together but she’d just deal with it. She couldn’t go through this ordeal without needing to convey her displeasure. She’d just get used to the awkward feel of boobs getting in the way.
Ms. Kuna nodded. “Maybe we should start there then..”
“Your name. You can’t very well stay Robert Dreese. The Hush Corps. has to make Robert Dreese disappear from school in such a way that no one asks questions. If a mysterious girl with the same name appears at the same time, questions will get asked.”
Rob nodded. It made sense. He wasn’t going to let himself reject ideas that made sense. “Yeah, okay, so what are you thinking?”
Ms. Kuna reached under her desk and pulled up a keyboard. Rob guessed that’s where she normally kept it when she was in wallaby form; she wondered though how she typed without fingers though. “I’m thinking we likely have to change your entire name. Dreese is uncommon enough that even that could raise some flags in admissions. We need to make them think these were two clerical errors that happen to coincide but aren’t related.”
Rob frowned at that thought. It was his family name after all. “I’m not just dropping my family name.”
Ms. Kuna nodded. “I understand your hesitation but… well, sorry, just one second, I’m reading some stuff I just got from the Twins.”
“Yes, of course the… right, sorry. I forget you haven’t met them yet. The Hush Corps. consist of Yukimura Noirko, whom you have met…”
Rob scowled at the mention of that ninja girl. She didn’t like people threatening her friends. “Yeah, we met.”
Ms. Kuna seemed oblivious to Rob’s snarling tone. “The other two are a pair of identical twins named Nicholas and William Siekert. They handle a lot of the technical aspects of keeping your identities a secret and your lives private. Right now Nicholas is looking into your family history to see what all we need to get changed.”
“Ah,” Rob was frankly a little surprised to hear that anyone involved with the Hush Corps. was male. She had been getting the impression the entire group was an Amazon squad.
“So I know you want to honor your family legacy, so why not just take your mother’s maiden name I see here.”
“Darling?” Rob asked with a chuckle. “I have this body and you want me to be a Darling? That’s just setting myself up, don’t you think?”
“You said you didn’t want to drop your family name. Staying Dreese raises too many flags with paperwork. I thought this a good compromise.”
Rob leaned back in the chair, her too-long hair tugging on her head a bit as she stared at the ceiling. It probably was a fair compromise.
“Realistically,” Ms. Kuna added, “it’s not like you’re going to go around with a jersey on your back that says ‘Darling.’ No one outside of those who need to know will be using your last name.”
“Fair enough. Yeah, okay. Let’s go with that.”
“And if you want to honor your father, we could make his first name your middle name.”
“Sure,” Rob casually agreed. “Ellis seems fine as a middle name.” She doubted the middle name would matter much.
“Now onto the big question. Your first name.”
“I somehow doubt you want to be Roberta.”
“No,” Rob snorted. “I don’t exactly look Hispanic.”
“Didn’t think so.” Ms. Kuna leaned forward, scanning her screen more intently. “You know, looking over this information, your paternal grandmother was named Robynne. By chance is there a connection between her name and yours?”
Rob sat up. “Grammy was named Robin?”
Ms. Kuna nodded her head towards her monitor. “If ‘Grammy’ is your paternal grandmother then that’s what I’m reading here.”
Rob paused and thought about it. “Wow. No, that is her name. I just, well, she was always Grammy to me.” The more he thought about it the more he remembered. “In fact, I think I was named after her. My Uncle and I don’t ever really talk about Grammy. She died when I was about seven or eight.” Rob sighed, remembering why they never talked about her anymore. “She was the last family Uncle and I had left.”
Ms. Kuna bit her bottom lip, looking unsure what to say. “So, maybe this is a good way to honor her?”
Rob nodded. “Yeah. Sure. Robin. Seems good enough. Plus, Eli and Cory can just keep calling me Rob without it getting weird for anyone.”
“Robynne it is,” Ms. Kuna said definitively as she typed into her computer. “So, Robynne…” the woman said Rob’s new name with a tinge of excitement that slightly annoyed her. “Maybe we should move onto the topic of lodgings.”
Rob winced. “I take it this is where you tell me I don’t live with Eli and Cory anymore?”
Ms. Kuna gave an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, Robert… I mean Robynne.”
Rob rolled her eyes. “You can just call me Rob.”
Ms. Kuna shrugged. “I figure I should try to get you used to the name.”
“Whatever.” Rob slunk deeper into the chair.
“It’s a boys only dorm you’re currently living in. And even if it were co-ed, I wouldn’t recommend staying.”
“Why is that?”
“Being a girl, especially one who has your curves, attracts certain attention. If you were in a co-ed dorm a lot of that attention you wouldn’t be able to escape. At least in a girls only apartment, you have some privacy you wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Rob rolled her shoulders and examined the wall. “Do I have any options?”
“Two options. The first would you move into the dorm currently occupied Vivian, Kara, and Noriko. We’ve manipulated some things to keep Noriko’s roommate position open in case the fifth Spirit Guard showed up.”
Rob scowled. “Live in the same room as the ninja-girl who threatened my friends at swordpoint? Probably not.”
Ms. Kuna put her hands together and pleaded, “Robynne, please don’t dismiss these ideas outright. I think Noriko and you would make excellent roommates. You have a lot in common.”
“A lot in common?” Rob scoffed. “With a murderous ninja?”
It was Ms. Kuna’s turn to scowl. “First of all, she is not murderous. Whatever her clan’s policy’s back home she is operating under our rules here. She hasn’t murdered anyone. She said what she thought she had to in order to get Mr. Drake and Mr. Frost to come along without a fight. She didn’t want to hurt them. Second of all, she saved their butts today as they were about to escape into the questioning arms of the police. Without her they would have been questioned, the cops would have figured out they have been at two straight attacks, they would have been cross-examined, and at that point it would mean they get caught in a lie and put in jail, tricked into giving up secrets, or we have to break them out and they can’t go on with their normal lives. So in light of those facts, please stop treating her like she’s the enemy.”
Rob pouted. She hadn’t known all that had gone on. It made sense. Of course the cops would have been there. Why didn’t she think of that when she sent Eli and Cory away. She had to quit missing obvious stuff. “So why do you think we’d get along as roommates?” Rob asked with a tinge of skepticism.
“For one,” Ms. Kuna said with a sigh of relief, “you both seem to be people who want their privacy. I can guarantee she’d not be one to poke into your business. Also, you both are outsiders in the world you’re about to join. Her because her clan raised her… different and you because…”
Rob rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. What’s option number two?”
“Angela and Mallory. Their apartment, though small, has two bedrooms. One is for a single person and that’s Mallory’s so you’d be rooming with Angela. It’s off-campus housing so, you know, less rules but because it’s smaller it’s quite cozy. Angela and Mallory really like their neighbors.”
Rob bit her bottom lip. “So I’d have to sleep in the same room as Angela?”
“Correct.” Rob considered this. Angela was nice. Yet, he had gotten the distinct impression in their conversations that they just didn’t “click.” She seemed to let the Spirit Guard side of her life rule her thoughts.
On the other hand, she had never threatened her friends’ lives. Rob decided he needed a tiebreaker or two. “How’s the desk space?”
“I’m sorry. What?” Ms. Kuna obviously didn’t expect that question.
“I do a lot of homework and spend a lot of my free time on the computer. So I’m asking how much desk space there is? Like are there two separate desks or something like that?”
Ms. Kuna squinted her eyes. She didn’t seem to think this was the most important line of questioning. “Well, I mean, no. The room is small enough that they just have a shared desk space in between the closets.”
Rob shook her head. That wasn’t good. She had two monitors. If they had to share desk space that would mean she wouldn’t have enough space for herself when she was doing homework. “And how about the internet? Do you know what speeds they get there?”
If Ms. Kuna thought the desk question was unimportant, her face told Rob she thought that this question was downright pointless. “No. I don’t know what speeds they get. Why does it even matter? Don’t you think how you get along with your roommates is the more important question?”
Rob shrugged. Murderous ninja or not, she knew she’d get her own desk and good internet speeds in the girls’ dorm. It was in the same complex of dorms she was leaving after all. Plus she’d get to stay close to Eli and Cory. In fact, the more she thought about it, she realized living with Kara and Vivian would give Eli and Cory more excuses to come by. “I do think it’s important, but I’d also like to know that my hobbies are still doable. I can’t do my hobbies without high-speed internet.”
Ms. Kuna leaned one arm on the table and massaged her temple, “What hobbies are you talking about?”
“I play Aspect Realms. I’m a part of one of the best PvP guilds on our server.”
“Aspect Realms?” Ms. Kuna clearly had no idea what he was talking about. “PvP? Guilds? I’m sorry Robynne but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“It’s a computer game.”
“Oh,” Ms. Kuna’s tone seemed to indicate a lack of approval, not that Rob cared. “I see. Well, I guess you wish to be Noriko’s roommate then?”
Rob didn’t want the situation to be misread as a desire to live with the ninja-girl. “The way I see it, those dorms are more familiar to me. I’ll be closer to Eli and Cory so I can interact with them more often. And, as an added benefit, I don’t lose any of the private space I had before.”
Ms. Kuna nodded, seemingly happy the conversation was away from Aspect Realms. She picked up her phone and began texting something. “Very well. I’ll message Angela and have her move your stuff there.”
Rob sat straight up. “Angela is moving my stuff?”
Ms. Kuna smiled. “We didn’t want to bother you with moving again given that you just moved in and, no doubt, still need time to adjust to your new body. More accurately though, Angela volunteered to help Mr. Drake and Mr. Frost. They obviously have gone through a lot today as well.”
Rob didn’t like the sound of this. She felt like her private space was being violated. She didn’t like people touching her stuff without her permission.
No. It wasn’t right to feel that way. These were friends and teammates; they were trying to help her and give her one less thing to deal with. They were trying to help each other get through the trauma of seeing their friend and sister get beaten and being unable to stop it. Rob needed to recognize that she both needed the help and that her friends needed a distraction like this to help them through their own pain.
“Yeah. That’s… awesome of them.” Rob really hoped they were careful with her computer. If they dropped her gaming rig the situation of today would become even more awkward. “So what are we doing about classes?”
Ms. Kuna nodded and began typing on her keyboard. “Well, I don’t think it wise for us to just place you in the same classes you were. It could…”
Rob waved her hand dismissively, “raise eyebrows. Yeah, yeah. I get it.”
“Plus,” Ms. Kuna added, “it looked to me like you were taking a rather heavy workload.”
Rob shrugged and shifted in the chair, trying to get comfortable. No matter how much she shifted though, her body just didn’t feel right. And all this hair tickling the back of her neck and ears and bunching up between her and the seat was still pissing her off. “Yeah, well, I wanted to graduate in four years without summer classes. You gotta load up in engineering majors if that’s your goal.”
“True,” Ms. Kuna agreed, “but Platicore doesn’t take summers off. You’re likely stuck here during the summers anyway. Why not lighten your load now, when you’re having to do a lot of adjusting anyway, and just take a class or two every summer?”
“Yeah, but if I do that I won’t get to go home during the summer to see my…” Rob paused, suddenly remembering the topic she had purposefully avoided, “Uncle Taylor.”
Ms. Kuna cleared her throat. “Yes. Your Uncle. Perhaps we should address that subject.”
Rob nodded grimly. “Yeah. What are we going to do?”
Ms. Kuna stood up and paced behind her desk. “Well, Robynne…” she turned and faced the wall, eyeing a few of her items on the wall, “I’ve been in this hero business for a while. Experience has taught me nothing can throw a wrench in a plan quite like a parent concerned for their child’s safety.”
Rob sat up straight, “Wait, you’re not seriously suggesting I don’t tell him, are you?”
“No,” Ms. Kuna assured her, “I’m merely just framing my reluctance to involve any parent in this business. I have seen parents move heaven and earth for their child. Sadly, I have seen a great many lives lost because a parent has decided to get involved to ‘protect’ their kid. They can cease to behave rationally once all they can think of is their child’s peril.”
Rob nodded in agreement. She had seen parents do all sorts of crazy things. Given how long Ms. Kuna had supposedly lived, she would have seen even more. “So what are you suggesting?”
“Your Uncle, unlike all the other parents, cannot be convinced everything is normal because, as you well have guessed, your metamorphosis has been too extreme. We can’t hide your changed gender.” Ms. Kuna sat back down in her chair. “There are is one easy to do this and a multitude of hard ways.”
“What’s the easy way?”
“I can concoct, for the lack of a better word, a potion that will make your Uncle, if he drinks it, go into an extremely suggestible state where we could convince him your gender change is normal or just a phase or some other such nonsense.”
Rob glared. Potions? She suddenly had a very different idea of what it was Ms. Kuna’s job was. “I’m not drugging my Uncle.”
Ms. Kuna nodded with a sigh. “I figured you’d say that. Besides, the concoction might not even work. If a lie is too big, even my skills can’t smooth that over.”
“Do you drug people often?” Rob asked with an edge to her voice.
“What? Oh, heavens no. My concoctions are meant to be very last resort, extreme measures types of deals. I haven’t used this option for a couple of centuries. It’s too heavy handed for my tastes. I just consider your situation extreme enough that it warranted at least asking you if you wanted to consider it yourself.”
Rob eased back into her chair. She’d have to watch what she drank around this lady. Who knows what else she could do. “Good. So now what?”
“That leaves us with the hard choices. One option, not one I would recommend but it is an option, is faking your death and just separating.”
“No.” Uncle Taylor was the only family he had left and vice-versa. Rob would not separate herself from him. “That’s not an option.”
Ms. Kuna nodded with an expression that made Rob think she approved of that decision, “So that leaves you explaining all this to him.”
Rob bit her bottom lip. “Yeah. I don’t suppose we could do this over the phone?”
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Ms. Kuna advised. “I mean, other than your slight accent you really have no proof anything you said would be true. Plus he’d be having this conversation far away from the Standridge Circle.”
Rob raised an eyebrow. “What does the Circle have to do with it?”
Ms. Kuna sighed, “I guess I shouldn’t say that. It’s just a theory of mine.”
“I’m all ears,” Rob insisted.
“Well,” Ms. Kuna said with a smile, “I guess you might get this. You are, like myself, an outsider to the Kessia City area. I think the Empathic Empire’s stone-magic alters perception somewhat.”
Rob leaned forward, ignoring how strange it felt to have her shirt stretch across her new assets as she did so. “Go on.”
“Everyone here seems to accept monsters and a special team of combat cheerleaders as normal. Even their hair colors, far more vibrant in shades than elsewhere, are seen as normal. In my human form, my burgandy hair normally draws raised eyebrows but here, it just blends in. I find it odd that everyone’s inquistiveness seems to be so tempered here on subjects that, I think, directly relate to the Circle.”
“Even the Circle itself,” Ms. Kuna continued, “draws relatively little academic scholarship. It’s every bit as curious as something as ancient as, say, Stonehenge. Yet, very few professors, either inside or outside of Kessia City, seem interested in studying it too closely. It’s as if the stones themselves manipulate people into just ignoring what happens here.”
“Equaly as curious, people here seem to have much higher empathokinetic potential. And not just the people born here, but the people who move here. You yourself said you felt drawn to this university, correct?”
Rob nodded. “Yeah. It just, well, I mean, my parents went here but, yeah. I felt drawn here.”
Ms. Kuna nodded. “I cannot sense empathokinetic potential but you girls can. Mallory travels with the volleyball team and, though her sense isn’t as keen, she has said she feels no magical connections when she’s further away.”
Rob thought it made sense the Empathic Empire would have a device constructed that encouraged others to not examine it too closely. If they were as big into conquering other civilizations as the story of the Princess made it seem, you’d definitely not want your subjects examining your tech that allows you to do so. Yet one thing didn’t make sense to Rob, “So how does that cause the hair color stuff?”
Ms. Kuna threw her hands into the air. “That I haven’t got a clue on. I think they are connected though. It’d make sense.”
Rob nodded in agreement. It did seem related somehow, though she wasn’t sure how altering perception would change hair color. “Regardless, you’re suggesting getting my uncle here would somehow make him accept this more?” Rob wasn’t exactly ready for a face-to-face meeting. What would she say?
“That’s my theory.” Ms. Kuna snapped her fingers, “I know how we could get him here!”
“Glad to hear it. I had no ideas.”
Ms. Kuna typed on her computer some more. “Every year, for the homecoming football game, there is a contest run by one of the local sponsors of the team where people can win tickets to show up for the game. Not just game tickets but plane tickets too.”
“Wouldn’t that normally be for alums? And how can we guarantee my Uncle wins?”
“Well, how you win is we simply have Noriko rig it somehow. Or maybe the Twins? Not sure. But between the three of them I’m sure they could figure out a way. We get him to come into town and you will have had some time to figure out how you want to approach him.”
“The homecomeing game,” Rob mused to herself. “When is that again?”
Ms. Kuna hurridly started typing on her keyboard again. “I don’t remember exactly. Though I think they start this year with a lot of road games so we might be in, ah, yes here we are. Wow. Really late this year. Week five. So they are playing in the opening game right now…”
Rob knew she should be worried about other things but the fact that she wasn’t watching the opening game on the TV really bugged her. “So I have 28 days.”
Ms. Kuna nodded, “Yup. 28 days.”
Rob bit her bottom lip. “He calls me, you know. Like two or three times a week. What should I do in the meantime?”
Ms. Kuna shrugged. “Say your phone is broken?”
“That excuse will only last so long.”
“It just has to last a month.”
Rob had her doubts Uncle Taylor would buy it that long. “My uncle is too smart for that. Honey, I think he…” Rob scowled. “Gummi donut! Why the honey can I not swear anymore?”
Ms. Kuna grimaced and steepled her fingers. “Ah. So you’ve noticed that quirk.”
“Quirk? I sound like a fudging moron and you call it a quirk?”
Ms. Kuna sighed, “Honestly, we… don’t know what is causing that.”
“So this is happening to all the other girls?”
Ms. Kuna nervously tapped her desk. “Yes. Well, I mean, we did not discover this until Mallory. Angela never swears so… yeah.”
“What is causing it?” Rob demanded.
“I’m not sure, Robynne. But it does affect all five of you. We don’t know if this is some sort of cross-up that happened when Angela’s brain got scanned by her Spirit Stick or if maybe this is something instituted by the Scholar. It is something I’ve been working to try to find a way to remedy.”
Rob made sure to give his most incredulous look he could. “Why would the Scholar replace profanity with sweet foods?”
Ms. Kuna took her glasses off and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “A lot of cultures have strange taboos. Some cultures think taking a picture is the work of the devil. Others find burial of the dead to be a punishment meant only for murderers. Others have thought stealing a loaf of bread is deserving of dismemberment. We don’t know much about the Empathic Empire’s taboos at this point. Maybe swearing in their culture was akin to peeing on someone’s grave.”
“My gut tells me this is more likely involved with Angela’s brain scan,” Rob grumbled.
Ms. Kuna groaned. “Even if it was Robynne, there is no way she did this on purpose. Censorship? I could see a way that happens. Confections in their place? Why on earth would she do that on purpose?”
Rob had to agree with her on that point. Even the most stalwart censor wouldn’t replace swear words with candy words. It was just goofy. “You said you were working on a solution? You’ve been at this over a year?”
Ms. Kuna tried to keep a straight face but Rob could tell she hated this question. Whether that was because Ms. Kuna wasn’t interested in solving the problem or had put forth considerable effort before and gotten nowhere, Rob wasn’t sure. “Yes Robynne. It has proven to be a perplexing issue.”
Rob couldn’t decide whether he should let this go or not. On one hand, this task really should be low on this woman’s priorities list as it had little to do with assisting them in defeating Platicore. On the other hand, it was as annoying as honey to be censored like this. “When was the last time you worked on it?”
Ms. Kuna frowned; Rob figured she wouldn’t like one of her wards asking so many questions. “Admittedly a few months. It’s not exactly on the top of my to-do list given all that needs to be done. But, for you Robynne, I’ll give it another look.”
Rob smiled. “Thanks.”
“Can we now get to the more pressing topic of what classes you’ll be taking?”
Rob pulled some strands of scarlet out from behind her back. Her hair glistened as if it were a river of wine. In the back of her mind, she knew there were girls who would kill for hair like this. Instead this hair and these curves were wasted on someone who had been born a man. Uncle was right; life really wasn’t fair. “Yeah. Classes. Lighter load. Let’s get started.”
Again, sorry for the week long delay but, boom, feel a lot better about this chapter now. I hope you were able to enjoy it.
I don’t know what I could say about this chapter without giving away future spoilers really. Well, let’s just start with Angela at the boys’ place. I feel there was some exposition here that both allowed me to give a peak into the world of the Spirit Guard pre-Rob. I feel Angela comes across as much more likeable in this version. In MGP Alpha I was far too heavy handed with her and over my long hiatus I figured out one of the biggest issues I had was I made her far too detached from the situation at large. Mallory is her best friend. She would be nearly as shaken up by Tenacity almost dying as Eli would be. So her showing up to help move Rob would no longer be an issue of “duty” but as a way to mentally distract herself from the worry she’s going through.
I had a really hard time trying to decide how I wanted to characterize Rob getting used to her new body. It makes sense to me that Rob wouldn’t truly understand how she looks until powering down. She’s too deft and adroit to feel truly “awkward” as Serenity. Weirdness sets in once you are no longer hopped up on super-powers.
Yes, Rob is curvy as all get out. I mean, as if that’s a shock. It’s a TG story. If we are honest with ourselves, the humor just isn’t quite as sharp unless they are having to deal with being an attractive female. I don’t want people to think Rob has comically oversized boobs though. She’s not PowerGirl. She’s… I don’t know. Whatever is just below Power Girl. Zatanna? Black Canary? The point is, yes, Rob is gorgeous.
This is something I don’t see enough in stories where someone gets transformed though. The body shouldn’t merely feel “off” but it should feel almost alien. Ever chipped a tooth and your mouth just FEELS wrong. You’ve had a lifetime to feel how your lips connect to those teeth, the way food feels when you chew it, the way your tongue rolls when you talk. Suddenly it’s all thrown off. Imagine an entire body shifting like that! Weight is distributed in all the wrong places. The world is suddenly bigger. Every twitch your body makes, it makes with muscles that are the wrong size and with skin that is just a SLIGHT different texture. Everything would feel so very wrong!
I toyed with the idea of having Rob have trouble speaking. After all, her tongue is now much smaller than when she was a guy in a mouth that is shaped slightly different. I think logically it makes sense but after working through it mentally I just think from a literary standpoint it unnecessarily slows down the story. It just didn’t feel “fun” in my opinion. Especially given with how dialogue heavy my stories tend to be. I also have toyed with Rob having to relearn how to walk but that too doesn’t sound very fun from a literary perspective. Don’t get me wrong, Rob WILL be wobbly but it just felt like too much. Her handwriting WILL be atrocious though. Lucky for Rob she does practically everything over a computer.
I’m not sure how Kunapipi comes off in this chapter. She never felt quite “there” to me. I don’t know. Just can’t quite place it. What are your thoughts?
Lastly, this chapter WILL have a lot of errors in it, especially in the second half. My rush job hasn’t given my editor the usual time he needs to look stuff over. I’ll get to it eventually though.