Robynne bit down on her thumbnail as she examined the components. She had forgotten how annoying it was to unbox all this and keep the assorted straight. With Mallory having headed back to her place and Kara busy with laundry, it was finally quiet enough to get her head wrapped around the project. She’d start with the power supply and motherboard of course. Then she could figure out where…
A knock sounded from the hallway. Robynne grimaced, shut her eyes, and took a long deep breath through her nose. It was as if Fate herself didn’t want her to assemble this computer. She wouldn’t put it past Fate. It would have seemed par for the course given recent events. Robynne put her hands on the table to push her chair back and answer the door.
“I got it,” Noriko said as she dropped her book, leapt off and over the couch, and darted to the door. Robynne marveled at the ninja as, despite her speed, Robynne didn’t feel Noriko’s movements looked rushed in any way. She flowed like a cat, effortless and graceful, not a single shift of her body wasting an ounce of energy.
Though, as Noriko unlatched the lock, Robynne couldn’t help but get a sneaking suspicion something was up. Noriko never answered the door. Or, well, Robynne couldn’t think of a time Noriko had answered before if others were here. What was going on?
With a slight bow, Noriko greeted whoever was on the other side of the door. Robynne thought she detected a hint of excitement in Noriko’s voice. “Nick. William. Thank you for coming so quickly.”
With that, a boy with a green fauxhawk strode into the dorm carrying a satchel. “No trouble at all, Noriko. Heya Robynne… wow… that’s a very… um… colorful case.” Nick Siekert, one half of the Twins who were part of the Hush Corps, was his usual chatty and annoyingly observant self.
Robynne sighed. “Yeah. Not exactly what I ordered. But it seems Cammy wanted to extend me a bit of the middle finger for annoying her.”
Another green-haired boy followed Nick in; though the exact same shade as Nick’s, his hair was long, coming to his mid-back and tied into a greasy-looking ponytail. At first, Robynne thought he was shorter but she quickly realized it was because he hunched over. As she stared at the new guy she realized Noriirko had welcomed a William at the door as well as Nick. This had to be the other half of the Twins, Nick’s brother, Will.
The master-hacker wore thick glasses and stared at the ground as he walked in, hiding his eyes from Robynne. His face was covered in mess of stubble that looked untended to, rather than intentionally rugged. His jaw was clenched tight as she shut the door, as if chewing on a stubborn idea. Finally he glanced up and looked first to Robynne, then quickly darted his pretty brown eyes to the case in question. He cleared his throat and spoke in a quiet, but gruff voice that sounded more like a zombie than Nick’s usual, chipper tone. “Wow… that is girly.”
“I’m aware,” Robynne snorted. “So, anyone care to tell me why the whole of the Hush Corps is here?”
Will rolled his left shoulder, obviously sore from carrying the load of an overstuffed backpack. He seemed to be making it a point to not look at her as he talked. “Noriko wanted me to do a sweep over your, uh, rig for any bugs Cammy might have had one of her goons put on it.”
Robynne blinked. “I’m sorry… bugs? She’s an evil cheerleader, not a spy from some… spy… book.”
Nick smirked. “Eloquent.”
Robynne pointed at him and smirked back. “First of all, shut up.” Out of the corner of her eye, Robynne could see Will let out an annoyed sigh. Robynne considered trying to figure out what that was all about, but figured Will was likely just annoyed at being delayed while holding his heavy backpack. Robynne decided to get to the heart of the matter instead of delaying further and making Will hold that heavy backpack longer than he had to. She turned her attention to Noriko. “How would she even bug my stuff? The stuff was delivered here. Most of the components were in boxes. Boxes with shrink wrap around them.”
Noriko closed her eyes as she talked. “Cammy could have, conceivably, had the items shipped to one of her lackey’s places first to have the bug planted. It would not be too hard to repackage the tapped component and send a fake delivery man to deliver it.”
This seemed a little too paranoid, even for Noriko. “Rather far-fetched theory, don’t you think?”
Will shrugged, still looking anywhere but at Robynne. “Unlikely, yeah, but she used the technology available on Angela’s phone to erase all evidence of her, um, well, whatever she did there. It’s not insane to think she’d use some other technological means to keep tabs on you.” Robynne nodded at that point, though was admittedly more distracted by how different the Twins were. They were identical twins, she could see that, but their postures, tones, and appearance couldn’t have been starker.
“So yeah,” Will continued, “I’d rather take a look to be sure. Can’t risk her accidentally stumbling onto you all talking about Spirit Guard duties. We need to be sure because, even if it’s a one-in-a-thousand chance we got to… um… be sure.”
Noriko nodded quickly and her eyes darted to Nick for a brief moment. “Yes. Well stated, William.”
Robynne’s own eyes narrowed. Noriko seemed a bit too eager to move on. Normally she would over-explain her logic. Will’s hurry could be easily explained by his large backpack, though that didn’t explain why he wouldn’t look at her. With Noriko however… something was going on.
Nick chuckled. “More to the point, you have a total ace hacker at your disposal. Why not take advantage of that?”
Will seemed to take Nick’s comment as approval to move ahead. He walked past Robynne and plopped his backpack on the already crowded table. Robynne frowned. “If she really did bug my equipment, wouldn’t our cover already have been blown by us talking about it right here?”
“I do not believe so,” Noriko said with uncharacteristic hurry.
Will pushed his glasses up, unzipped his backpack, and fished out a laptop and a strange device with a magnifying glass attached to one of the many arms. And was that a soldering iron stand attached to one of the other ends? With his eyes on the equipment, he stopped mumbling and spoke with more confidence. “Very unlikely. If this thing is bugged, they would have, most likely anyway, attached it directly to one of the components.” He still didn’t look at Robynne. “I mean, the problem with most bugs is power. So the best bug would be one tied directly to a power source. The motherboard is probably the best bet.”
Robynne glanced away from Will to Noriko who gave Robynne an expectant look. Robynne squinted then looked Nick in the eye. “What are you doing here then, Nick? You going to art the highly unlikely bug out of existence?”
Nick laughed and shook his head. “No, I just wanted to see your happy smiling face once more. I mean, I haven’t seen you since Thursday after all.”
Robynne rolled her eyes. “So you had nothing better to do then than annoy me? I have Vivian for that.”
Nick laughed again. “Actually I lent Noriko a book. She finished it and I figured, hey, might as well come over with Will and pick it up.”
Will snorted and Robynne could hear skepticism in his voice. “It’s a big backpack. I could have easily brought it over.”
Nick shrugged. “Eh, I needed to get out of the apartment.”
Noriko nodded her head and walked to the couch she had been lounging on before. “Yes, about the book, it was an engaging read, though I took some issue with the actions of Andolyr towards the end. I feel it was a bit contrived that he just so happened to be in the catacombs when the ritual started.”
Andolyr? That sounded like a fantasy name if Robynne had ever heard one. Since when was Noriko into reading fantasy? She hadn’t noticed any fantasy books laying about their bedroom. Unless…
Nick laughed. “Yeah, Andolyr being there was kind of convenient. Though I think you can sort of write that off as perhaps he was moved by an impression from the moon goddess.”
Noriko shook her head as she sat down on the couch and picked up the book. “If that is the case, then it wasn’t very well communicated.”
Kara walked out her room, a curious expression on her face. Upon seeing Nick with Noriko, a grin came over her face. Robynne knew that grin. That was the exact same grin Uncle Taylor would make when Robert would bring Brook over. Wait, were Nick and Noriko a thing? “Oh, Nick. Will. I didn’t know you were coming over.”
Noriko glanced up, Robynne could see the frustration on her face. Her mask was cracking. “They are just here to help make sure none of Robynne’s components are bugged.”
Nick shrugged. “Well, Will is. I’m just picking up the book I lent to Noriko.”
Kara nodded, the grin still on her face. “I see. Well, sorry to be rude, but I’m just doing some laundry and can’t join you all.”
Noriko nodded, clearly relieved. “It is not rude at all, Kara. We understand.” Holy sugar, it all made sense! Noriko hadn’t invited the Twins over to scan Robynne’s machine but to get some time with Nick! Will’s technical expertise and Robynne’s rig was just an excuse! Robynne wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or impressed. She hadn’t thought Noriko was capable of having a crush on someone. She just seemed too… well, robotic.
“Don’t work too hard,” Kara said with an amused chuckle as she returned to her room.
Robynne smirked but was brought out of her stunned amusement by Will muttering under his breath, “Only one here working is me. And once again Nick just has some girl wanting his attention.”
Will clearly either didn’t think Robynne could hear that or he had forgotten Robynne was there at all. Was this a common issue between the Twins? Robynne had grown up an only child so sibling dynamics, let alone twin dynamics, were something of a foreign concept to her. How long had girls favored Nick over Will? Robynne thought back to Stacy immediately saying she’d be up for a date after one look at Nick. Was that a common occurrence? Robynne hated to admit it, but she too thought Nick was an attractive guy. She didn’t have to be female to notice that.
Then again, Nick and Will were genetically identical. Will could, in theory anyway, have just as many girls thinking he was cute. But where Nick stood up straight, Will slouched. Where Nick looked everyone in the eyes and smiled, Will looked down and mumbled. Nick was clean shaven; Will was scruffy. Nick’s hair was done up; Will’s hair was a lazy ponytail that looked like it hadn’t seen shampoo in a day or two. And Robynne was now definitely smelling the malodorous scent of someone who didn’t have a shower this morning.
Despite the smell, Robynne leaned in, keeping her voice low so she didn’t disturb Noriko’s and Nick’s conversation about whatever the book was that he lent to her. A little stench couldn’t be avoided if she was going to keep this conversation between herself and Will. “So has Noriko always had a crush on Nick or is that new?”
Will stiffened and stared at Robynne like a deer who had just been spotted by a predator. Score a point for him forgetting Robynne was there. “I… um… well, I mean… I don’t know. Really. Sorry.”
Fumbling through his backpack, Will hurriedly put what looked to be an anti-static wristband on. Robynne raised an eyebrow, “Dude, calm down. I’m not going to tell him you said anything.”
Will shook his head and grabbed the box to the motherboard. Robynne was grateful to see he opened it with care. “It’s not that. It’s just… well, um, I uh… I normally work in our place or the HushMobile.”
Robynne blinked. She was a shut-in herself, and one who hated to be forced out of her comfort zone, but that seemed a bit extreme. She leaned back and regarded Will. Something else was going on. She could feel it. He kept nervously stealing glances at her, like she was a monster in some video game you had to keep your eyes on lest it attack you. “I mean, yeah, I get that. I hate being knocked out of my routine too.”
“O… oh.” He ran the motherboard under the magnifying glass of his strange tool, as if desperately trying to look busy and get Robynne to stop talking to him. Did he have some sort of social anxiety? Cory or Eli hadn’t said anything about him acting strange in the HushMobile on the day of her transformation. Then again, they had said he was engrossed in his work.
Robynne suddenly thought back to a high school dance she had been at her freshman year of high school. Uncle Taylor had insisted Robert go because he needed to at least go to one before he could say he hated dances. Robert had stayed against the wall the entire time, desperately praying no girl would ask him to dance. The odds were in his favor after all; boys were supposed to ask girls to dance not the other way around. Still, he had been a nervous wreck the entire time despite the unlikelihood of being asked to dance. The thought of having to touch a girl had made him shake from an unwanted rush of adrenaline. As she thought back on that miserable forced-social activity, Robynne thought she knew what was happening.
Robynne leaned back in her chair, increasing the distance from her and Will to give him his some space. “So, you remember that I’m not actually a girl, right?”
Will blinked but didn’t look up from running the motherboard underneath the microscope of his odd tool. With a slight shake of his head he sighed, “Sorry. Yes. I know that. I just… I kind of have issues… talking with girls. And… um…”
Robynne nodded and sighed herself. “It’s kind of easy to forget. It’s not exactly a thought that jumps to the front of the mind. It’s a bit out there.”
Will gave a quiet, awkward, but relieved laugh. “Uh. Yeah. Just a bit.” He still refused to look up from the motherboard before putting it down. “How did, um, how did you know I have issues talking with girls?”
“You mean other than the fact you stuttered constantly while speaking to me and looking, in general, everywhere I wasn’t?” Robynne scoffed.
“Um… I… well… hell. I didn’t realize how much I was stuttering.”
Robynne nodded and stood up and moved to the fridge. “Yeah, well, to be fair I may just be more observant of it right now.” She pulled a can of Pep MD and cracked it open. “I have kind of seen a fair bit of it around me, sadly.”
Will nodded and glanced back down at the table and frowned. “Yeah. I can see that. I mean, well, I can see why I mean.”
Robynne nodded and took another sip. “Well, just remember,” Robynne said gesturing down her body with an open palm, “despite this, actually a dude. This is a lie.” She could see by Will’s fidgeting that she wasn’t being very successful at making him more comfortable. “Anyway, you want a can of Pep MD or something?”
Will glanced up and gave a small smile. “No thanks.” He reached into his backpack and pulled out an aluminum can lined in silver and neon green. “I’m a Diet Thundercrest man myself.”
Robynne stuck her tongue out in disgust. “Diet Thundercrest? The only Thundercrest flavor I ever even remotely liked was Citrus Shock and even that tasted like radioactive piss. But Diet Thundercrest? Are you crazy?”
Will smiled and shook his head as he pushed the can to the side of the table. Robynne was glad to, again, see he was being considerate of her components. “I gained ten pounds over the last year. I haven’t exactly been the most active. I have to change something. I don’t have superpowers to keep me thin.”
Robynne winced. “Really? Ten pounds?”
Will nodded and went back to examining the motherboard. “This isn’t exactly the most active job. I mean, you know, my parents always warned me that my metabolism would change but, well, anyway, I’ve been thinking of getting one of those treadmill desks to help with the problem.”
“Never tried one myself.” Robynne sat down but kept herself leaned back in her chair so the soda was nowhere near the components. “Would take some getting used to I’d think.”
Will furrowed his brow as he focused on the motherboard. “I’d only use it while coding, obviously. Soldering and such takes far too much, um… stillness to make that work while walking.”
“Yeah,” Robynne nodded as she changed the subject, “so you don’t think there is really any chance my stuff has been tampered with and this whole thing was an excuse by our resident ninja to see your brother?”
Will released a quiet, but guttural sigh. “There is a chance. But, yeah, she’s done this a few times now. I don’t think my brother even realizes it… he never has and it annoys the hell out of me.”
Robynne quirked an eyebrow. “What annoys you? Her not considering your time or him not noticing?”
Will frowned then shrugged. “Both? I don’t know, I mean, the problem is, when you’re twins, you do most everything together. It just… we’ve literally been with each other from the womb. We’ve shared the same bedroom our entire lives up until now. So it was sort of annoying growing up when he just… he’d get dates so easily and I…” Will shook his head, “I don’t know. It’s just so easy for him. Girls love him. He dates casually. Women who he’s not even aware of are interested in him. Meanwhile, here I am, just in the background, not getting noticed.”
Robynne opened her mouth to say something but Will kept going. She must have really hit a nerve. “I don’t know. I mean, at least Noriko doesn’t find me annoying the way some of his girlfriends obviously did. Though the worst was when he’d have some date, feel bad that I didn’t have anything to do that night, and would find a date for me. I could just feel the disinterest in my dates. I could practically taste it. Which didn’t help me and my… issues talking to girls at all.”
Robynne cocked her head to the side. She had been to class a couple of times with Nick. She could definitely see Nick had an easy time with new people and weird situations. He had struck her as a very observant person. This didn’t sound like the Nick she knew. “Does he still do that? Try to take you on double dates, I mean.”
Will shook his head. “Thankfully no. I sort of made it clear I didn’t want that once we got into college.”
Robynne nodded and took another sip. She thought back to her second encounter with Nick, when Stacy had inquired after his availability for a date or two. Will was right; Nick did garner girls’ affection without even trying. Robynne examined Nick as he spoke easily with Noriko. She had to admit, despite her desire to deny it, she did find him attractive. Strange that two guys could be genetically identical yet look so different. “But it still annoys you that girls are showering him with attention?”
“It wouldn’t bug me so much if he tried at all. But, you know, he just seems to be able to talk to them without trouble. If we’re so damn identical why does it feel like he’s not trying when it’s so hard for me?” Will grumbled and put the motherboard down. “Well, I couldn’t find anything on this one. If it’s not there let’s see if maybe they attached anything to the power supply directly.” Will whipped out a hobby knife and removed the plastic around the box to Robynne’s power supply.
“Well, I wouldn’t say he’s putting forth no effort.” Robynne normally didn’t discuss stuff like this but Nick was her friend and felt there was some need to defend his honor or something. Still, this was a family situation and a twin situation beyond that. Robynne tread over her words carefully, as if each one was a mine waiting to explode. “I mean, he dresses nicely. He’s always cleanly shaved and showered. He clearly puts effort into presenting himself. That definitely helps catch the eye of ladies.”
Will scratched at his scruff. “While I’m wearing the same shirt from yesterday and haven’t shaved.”
“Hey. I’m not here to judge. I sure have had my fair share of weekends where I didn’t bother dressing myself or showering. And it’s clear you didn’t…”
Will winced. “You can tell I didn’t shower?”
“Um, not to be rude but, yeah. Your body odor isn’t exactly being masked by your deodorant if that’s what you thought was going to work.”
Will groaned and ran his hand down the back of his head and along his ponytail. He pulled his hand away and examined the greasy sheen it now had, as if he was aware for the first time, just how messy it looked. “I suppose I have, well, maybe let my appearance go some… I haven’t exactly been the most social in the past year and a half.”
“A little more effort couldn’t hurt.”
Will nodded, sighed once more, and put down the power supply he had examined. “Yeah, nothing on the motherboard, nothing on the power supply. I’d say your computer is clean.”
“Glad to hear it.”
Will placed both the motherboard and the power supply to the center of the table and cracked open his Diet Thundercrest. He took a long sip before gesturing to the pink and white case. “So, you sticking with that case? I mean… that’s pretty girly.”
“I do.” Will took another sip. He still wouldn’t make eye contact with Robynne but she could see his body language relax. On a lark she reached in with her extra sense to see if she could gain any insight as to how he felt. However, even with her extra sense, she couldn’t feel anything, emotion or Investiture, radiate from him. She had similar issues with Noriko and a few others. Some people just seemed to be empathokinetically silent. “You know, thanks to what I do, I sort of have a lot of connections to hardware dealers. I might be able to find you something less… pink if you gave me a week or so for less than twenty bucks.”
Robynne sat down. “Less than twenty? For a case as good as this? I mean, I hate the colors but outside of that, it is a really good case.”
Will nodded. “It is a good case. And, no, for that cheap I likely couldn’t get you something that good. I just figured… you know.”
“I appreciate it. If you find something that’s this nice let me know. But, for now, I’m sticking with this. Partially because I just want to get this thing assembled; partially just because I know Cammy is expecting this to piss me off and I just sort of want to use it and pretend to like it just to spite her.”
Will nodded. “I suppose that would be it’s own reward… that said if I can find something, what colors you like?”
“Black, blue, green, heck, maybe even plain black and white would be cool. I just… I don’t know if I’ll want to tear down this one right after putting it together. So, you know, don’t be in too big of a hurry to find a deal.”
Will nodded. “I get that. I’ve put together computer components a million times I still get slightly nervous when touching my personal computer.”
Robynne chuckled. “So… what did you name your rig?”
Will’s entire face brightened. “You name your rigs too?”
“Wouldn’t be a proper nerd if I didn’t,” Robynne said with a smirk.
Will grinned and looked down at the table. “Bit Bucket four-point-one-point-three.”
Robynne blinked. “I.. Bit Bucket? And what’s with the numbers? Those are oddly specific.”
Despite his best efforts, Will couldn’t hide the excitement on his face. He fished his phone from his backpack and started swiping furiously. Finally he smiled and slid it across the table. What Robynne saw was astonishing. It looked like an oversized, aluminum mesh trash can, but it was a network of cables, computer components, and glowing blue lights on the inside. “Well… it’s literally a bucket. Wow.”
“Yeah, so, like, I built the first version when I was fourteen. I didn’t want to do just the normal case so I put my soldering and machining skills to use. I wanted something unique.”
“Well you sure as honey got unique going! Dude, I’ve seen stuff like this on the internet but… wow. Plus, you must get killer airflow with the entire case being that mesh. ”
Will sat up taller. He even dared to look in her direction. Robynne was glad to see the change of topic had boosted his confidence. Or maybe…
Robynne considered a different thought. Maybe having an attractive female compliment him boosted his confidence. They had just gotten done talking about how girls always showered Nick with attention, but never him. Even if Robynne wasn’t really a girl, it was hard to get the subconscious mind to ignore her new body. Heavens knew Robynne had become horribly aware of that fact. She was tempted to remind Will of who it was he was speaking with, but Robynne decided against it. What was the harm in letting him boost his confidence some?
“Oh yeah. I mean, well, you can see it’s pretty packed in there so I have some powerful fans in there just to be sure the air keeps moving. But the exposed surface area really helps keep the core at room temperature, though it’s a bitch to keep my room cool when this thing is running anything intensive… which is pretty much all the time given the amount of programming I have to do.”
Robynne started to open up her case and get started on assembling CandyStrike. It was a silly name for a silly case, but, maybe if Will could find her a deal, she wouldn’t be calling it that for long. Even if she didn’t want to reassemble her computer so soon after initial assembly, it’d likely be worth it to have something that didn’t actively eviscerate what few shreds of masculinity she could cling to. “I can imagine.” Regardless, Robynne was glad to see help improve Will’s mood. Being the third wheel was never fun, and being the third wheel to your twin brother was probably worse. She needed to keep him going. “So what was with the numbers at the end of your bucket-computer’s name?”
“Huh? Oh, well, the first is for whenever I upgrade the case itself. I’ve actually upgraded to better buckets over the years. Ones that absorb heat better, are bigger, easier to work with, you know the drill. The second is…” Robynne nodded making sure to look interested… which, she had to admit, she kind of was. It was the coolest looking computer she had ever seen. Who turned a trash can into a supercomputer? The idea that simply being female and carrying on conversation could boost a guy’s confidence was just a bonus. At least someone was benefiting from this new body.
And we have finally gotten to the last character involved in the main “team” of people. Will and Nick Siekert were characters I had a concept for loooooong ago based upon a pair of twins I knew. they aren’t as polar opposites as this pair but they definitely lead to the thought experiment that lead to these two characters. I wanted to show that Will, while always has had issues, has let himself get lost in his work in the Hush Corps as a coping mechanism to avoid social contact. I also sort of wanted (and I hope I succeeded) to show that he’s not resentful at his brother, but rather frustrated that he can’t seem to be as socially comfortable as him.
It’s also important to note here that Noriko is being selfish. Those of you who read MGP Alpha know Noriko’s crush on my artist though I think I’ve been less blatant about that here. She didn’t consider how she was inconveniencing Will by arranging this meeting just to get some time with Nick. Noriko has her own social hang-ups given her background. She doesn’t really know how to just ask Nick if he wants to hang out. She feels like she needs an excuse. It is something she’ll have to learn about later on. But, for now, she doesn’t know how to be casual.
I think it’s important for Robynne to start to figure out what saying things does now that she’s… well… Robynne. We can discuss at length equality and other topics but, in the end, a compliment from an attractive member of the opposite sex tends to just carry more weight than someone in your own gender. I also love how Robynne can more easily get people to open up in this form. She looks much less threatening as a cheerleader than as a runningback. I think it would definitely invite more openness.
In a small spoiler, the next chapter will involve some level of time skip. I think we have reached the first real breaking point of the story where we need to jump ahead to let some things “bake” as it were. Now that we’ve gottent his far, I’d like to ask those of you who are inclined to answer four questions: 1) Have Robynne’s motivations up until now made sense? 2) what non-Spirit Guard character did you enjoy the most 3) What lessons do you see Robynne having to learn as a magical girl going forward 4) What plots do you think Cammy has for Robynne? How do you think she intends to try and use her?
Before I head off, I just want to say I’m sorry for how little magical girling there has been. For a story that is called Magical Girl Policy most of the story, so far, has just dealt with Robynne post-transformation. I just really felt strongly that these set-ups needed to happen. I anticipate we will get to magical girling before the turn of the calendar but dont’ hold me to that. I just wanted to let you all know if you’ve been itching for some action, it’s coming.
have a happy Halloween!