She felt a little silly. As 12 year old Rose Reid made her way through the State Park, bundled against the chilly November breeze, she was more than half convinced that her classmates were pulling another joke at her expense. Just because she had a slight learning disorder when it came to language, and a related speech disorder, too many of her peers (and too many adults - even teachers) thought she was slow. But her high test scores in other subjects (when spelling didn't count) proved them wrong.
It didn't matter. Some said things like "idiot savant" (which she had to have her mother explain to her). Others decided that either - or both - of those aspects of her school performance made her fair game for taunts and cruel pranks.
But then there were the conversations she overheard. Even among some adults. Discussions about some hill becoming active again. About miraculously powerful morfs having made a wish there, and then gotten those powers.
And the stories about the other side seemed to make it more real. Like the girl who was always mean to hybrids. She went to the hill to get powers, so she could be even meaner to the hybrids. She didn't get the powers. Instead, the hill turned her into a hybrid, complete with a short, furry, black tipped tail.
It took her a while to find out which hill they were talking about. She had heard the historical stuff about Pope Hill, but had never been there. By all accounts, it was not all that interesting. There was a small marker of some sort, and some picnic areas not too far away, but that was about it. It was not even one of the better places in the park to see the wildflowers when they were in bloom.
When school got out early for some meetings, Rose decided to check it out. Her parents wouldn't be home from work for hours, and her sister would be at the high school at least until the end of her classes. And it wasn't all that bad a walk to get home from the park. Besides, her mother was always getting after her to get more exercise.
Her parents knew about the early day, and said she could play in the afternoon. Play ... she hated the juvenile sound of the word. Here she was, in middle school. Almost a teenager. And they expected her to go play like a little girl.
They made sure her cell phone was charged, and that she had it with her. She knew that they could use it to find out where she was. And they probably would. But there was no reason for her not to be there. If they asked, she would truthfully say that she was curious about the marker.
When the hill came in sight, she got a little bit of a funny feeling. Almost a sense of anticipation. Kind of like when her mother, a lapsed Catholic, had taken her to High Mass just so she could experience it for herself.
As she got closer, the feeling got stronger. She remembered some of the images from the church - especially the statue and paintings of Mary. When she was there, she thought she looked like a nice lady. Now, even though she was older, she still found the image pleasant.
She had the feeling of being judged, but lovingly so. Like when her mother was making sure her hair and dress were just right for something special they were going to. The stories said that this was the time to start thinking about her wish.
Her wish was simple enough.
When she got close to the marker, something made her stop. It seemed appropriate to say something. She didn't know the proper way to address a Saint, or even the proper Catholic way to pray. But something told her that the form wasn't important. Besides, she wasn't sure whatever was granting the wishes was the Saint, anyway.
"Please, whoever you are. I know I'm nobody special. I don't want to be some super powerful elemental or anything. I just want to be whole, and understand what people are saying. And make them understand what I'm trying to say."
She got a feeling like she had said the right thing. Then she noticed something coming up out of the ground. It was all glowy and see throughy, and it seemed wonderful. As it took form, it started to look a lot like she remembered the images of Mary. She was smiling, and that made Rose happy.
"Oh, please. I'll do anything you want. I'll go to church a lot and everything, if you can help me."
The face smiled and shook her head. Rose understood that she was being told that she didn't have to do any of that. She should just live a happy and productive life. An arm appeared, and the hand came and touched Rose on her chest. She was sure that she actually felt the touch.
The image faded away. She somehow knew that her wish would be granted. Sometime soon, she would get sick for a little while, and then her learning and talking problems would be done. Somehow, it seemed right to leave then.
Once she was gone, two older girls appeared. "I think I may have overdone it again." the one with elven features said, ruefully. They vanished as quickly as they had appeared.
When she was about halfway out of the park, Rose realized that she hadn't read the marker. Her parents might think that was suspicious. She was about to turn and walk back when she realized that she had a very clear memory of what it looked like. And even though she had no memory of reading it, she knew exactly what it said.
What the heck. With all the other strangeness, that wasn't worth worrying about.
When she got home, she got a drink and then flopped down in front of the tube. She was still there an hour later, when the front door opened.
"Hey, Tit. Whatcha been up to?"
Rose hated that name. It was her sister's abbreviation for Turtle In Training, a reminder that her boobs were still small enough to fit in a training bra.
Generally speaking, Rose and her sister, Tara, got along fairly well. But they were sisters, and sometimes the button pushing was an automatic thing. And Rose had quickly gotten her chance to counter her sister's little digs.
"Not much, Prune. Just spent a little time at the park on my way home."
The name Prune was a reminder of a time when Tara was learning to drive. During Spring Break, she was practicing in the school parking lot, with their mother riding shotgun. She had it on full manual, and hit the accelerator rather than the brake. She ended up jumping a curb, and running over a large bush. Their mother described the effect as "terminally pruning the bush." She got a ticket for "destruction of property", and the family had to pay for a replacement bush.
The mutual jibes over with, the sisters went on with their afternoon. Tara got to work on her homework, and Rose watched "her shows." There was always a sort of race to see whether Tara would get her homework done before the one afternoon show they both enjoyed. If she did, she claimed the right (as the "eldest") to choose the next show. If not, Rose got to.
The system didn't always work smoothly, but it usually worked. And if either girl failed to turn in homework on time, she stood to lose the choice. And in particularly bad cases, she'd lose watching privileges entirely for some time.
The next morning, Rose was disappointed to notice that she felt fine. She knew it could be a couple of days, but still...
The day went by with the usual battles with language, the usual social slights, and the usual mix of classroom successes and failures. All that build up, and nothing had changed.
By the time she got home, Rose had all but forgotten about the business at the hill.
The next morning was Friday, and she didn't feel quite right. On the other hand, Fridays and Mondays tended to be that way. She didn't really think anything about it. But by lunch time, it was clear that something more than the usual longest day blahs was involved. She felt a little feverish, and the smell of the cafeteria food was enough to make her sprint for the girls room.
After rinsing out her mouth, she stumbled to the nurse's office. A quick scan confirmed her fever, and there was no question about the reality of the nausea. After a phone call to her parents, and a quick debate between them, Rose was collected by her father. She was not really keeping track of time very well by that time.
On the way home, she told him she was sure it was MORFS. Between the fever and her normal speech problems, she couldn't really explain why she was so sure. But she was so insistent, and so agitated, that he called their doctor and got her an appointment for that afternoon.
Her father was surprised when the doctor confirmed her suspicions, but she wasn't. It had to be from the hill. The doctor fitted her with an arm unit, and made sure she and her father knew how to work it.
When they got home, it was suddenly urgently important to her that she wait until her mother and sister got home before she pushed the button. Her father didn't understand her insistence - heck, she didn't really understand it - but he let her have her way. After getting her good nights from them, she pushed the button. She drifted off to sleep, wondering how much the MORFS would change the way she looked.
Sunday night, she stood in the bathroom and examined herself critically in the mirror. She was a little disappointed that it hadn't at least made her boobs bigger. Her few scars were gone, which she expected from what they had said in class, but otherwise there was nothing to indicate that she had even gone through it.
By the end of her shower, even the needle mark from her arm pack was gone. But they had said that she would heal quickly for a while after her change. But other than that, she didn't feel any different.
She had missed dinner, but she wasn't all that hungry. That was a little different than the usual pattern she had learned about, but not too much so. She joined her family for her mother's jack o lantern pie, made from the Halloween pumpkin, and learned that nothing exciting had happened over the weekend. Other than her MORFS, that is. Some of her friends had called, and wished her a speedy recovery.
After all the stories she had heard, Rose was disappointed. She didn't look any different, didn't seem to have any powers, and hadn't even slept through some Grave Family Drama.
She was so busy being disappointed that she didn't notice a difference in her conversation with her family. But they did. She no longer slurred or stumbled over certain words. Her voice wasn't different, but her clear speech made it seem so. And she seemed to pick up certain things more quickly and easily than before.
None of them wanted to say anything about it, for fear of making her self consciously return to her old patterns.
She got to stay up a little later than usual, since she had slept most of the day and she didn't have school in the morning. Her post MORFS checkup was scheduled for the afternoon, and her sister would be driving her to the clinic.
She decided that the night time newscasters must be better than the afternoon ones, since she could understand what they said a lot easier. She also decided that her family's late night viewing habits were terminally boring.
The next morning, everyone else left for their usual Monday destinations. Her mother, to the Marketing Research firm she managed, her father to the insurance company where he was a mid level executive, and Tara to school. Rose spent the morning alternating between playing on her computer, and trying anything she could think of that would activate any power she had. She would point her hand one way or another, mentally push or pull, and try to feel any new internal controls.
She tried some exercises from the net, with the same lack of results. By the time Tara got home to take her for her evaluation, Rose was a bit frustrated with her lack of results.
On the other hand, she did establish a few things. Listening to her music, she found that her tastes hadn't changed. For some reason, she could understand the words to one of the songs a little better, and those words were enough for her to like it a whole lot less. But the tune was still good, and she still liked the rest of her "old" favorites.
And she was somewhat relieved to find that something else apparently hadn't changed. Looking at her posters, and thumbing through her magazines, she still got the pleasantly strange feelings when she looked at the boys. And even more so when she imagined being with them. And looking at the girls did nothing for her. She still envied their boobs, and clothes, and boyfriends, and all the rest. Imagining herself with them, the closest she could get was a sort of sisterly closeness, or shared interests, or double dates.
The waiting room at the clinic was a little more interesting. Most of the apparent patients were older than her, but at least they showed some variety. The one person who seemed younger than her was a normal looking girl who seemed to be about eight years old. She seemed very sad, as she sat there staring at what looked like a driver's license.
Thinking she might be able to cheer her up, she went over and sat beside her. She was about to introduce herself, when she got a look at the card. It showed a young man, about twenty years old, who resembled the girl in some ways.
Suddenly, she thought she understood. The man on the license had morfed into the little girl. Rose thought the idea was gross. She had heard about such things in class, but never thought about the fact that she might encounter someone like that.
She had nothing against morfs. She was one, some of her friends and family were ones, too. Some of them were even hybrids. But the idea of a grown man running around as a little girl was just ... just too icky.
The girl looked up, and looked Rose in the eyes. "Yes, that was me," she said, sadly but quietly.
Rose jumped, guiltily. Could she read her mind?
"No, I can't read your mind," the girl responded, as though she had done so. "At least, I don't think I can. It's just that I've seen that look a lot." She shook her head, and looked about ready to cry. "I see it in the mirror all the time."
Now Rose was confused. Was he one of those jerks that thought girls were subhuman or something? Like little boys, scared of kooties? Was he so sad because he turned into one of those mysterious creatures - a girl?
He read her face again. It wasn't hard. "There's nothing wrong with girls. There's nothing wrong with being a girl, if you're born a girl like you were." He looked at her face. "No, no mind reading. you would not be so indignant if you were born a boy and morfed into a girl. Think how you would feel if you woke up as a little boy."
"But that's not all. Think how you would feel if that little boy was a toddler. All that time you spent learning, the differences in the way you are treated, everything ... gone. That's where I am. I was an adult. I already went through being a kid, then a teenager, once. All the way through. Nobody will take me seriously now - not for years. Or maybe never - some people who turn young this way are stuck. They don't age."
"But even if I do age, I will have to go through all that again, but differently this time. Think about what you've gone through the last four or five years. Think about what you will be going through from now to the end of high school. Even though I will legally be an adult, everyone will treat me like I am the age I look. Just like you were."
"You were trying to be nice. But you were trying to be nice to a little girl, not to a peer ... not to some adult. And not everyone will be nice."
"I know." She defended herself. "I know people can be not nice. Until I got MORFS, I had a bad speech problem. People treated me like I was stupid. And those were the good ones. A lot of them were just mean because I was different. I was a target. And you won't go through that. You turned into someone who looks and sounds like a normal, pretty little girl. The people who treat you like a little kid will at least treat you like that kind of kid. Not like they treated me."
"You're supposed to be a grownup. You're supposed to have that perspective thing, so the things that might hurt if you were a real little girl won't. You'll see them for being ignorant and narrow, and understand that the kids who do it will grow out of it. And the adults will face their mistakes sooner or later."
"I don't have that. I haven't been an adult, and those people saying things have been doing so my whole life. And I still spend my whole day with them at school. So go ahead and feel sorry for yourself. Cry for all you lost, and for what strangers will say, if you want to. Prove to the world that you are the little girl you look like, not the man you claim to be."
With that, she got up and flounced back to her dumbstruck sister. She was just about to sit down when they were called in for her evaluation.
On the way in, Tara commented that it was the longest speech she had ever heard Rose give.
The physical was uncomfortable and embarrassing. Especially one part. She knew she would have to go through such things sooner or later, but she expected it to be much, much later.
After she got dressed, she went through the creepiest part. She could almost feel the guy rummaging around in her head. He didn't say much to her, other than to have her look at a couple of dumb pictures. But he did write down a whole bunch of things.
They sat down with their doctor, and she explained the results. Her physical changes were almost nothing. Some old scars and things were gone, that sort of thing. There was no sign of hybrid qualities, and no signs of significant powers.
Her brain, on the other hand, had changed. Her general intelligence and memory had improved somewhat. So had her hearing. She was somewhat resistant to probing, as well. But the biggest change was in the language centers of her brain. They had improved significantly.
The doctor went on to explain that the closest thing to a power she seemed to have was the improved hearing, which would probably give her headaches for a little while until she got used to it, and the language thing. She would probably have a much easier time than some people with learning, speaking, and understanding new words.
She went on to tell them that of the three characteristics that make up most MORFS derived powers - power, control, and processing - She had only gotten an improvement in processing.
Rose was cleared to go back to school.
The mood at dinner that night was mostly one of relief. Her family thought that she was just being brave, trying to hide her disappointment that she didn't get any cool powers or stuff. But she was just realizing that she had gotten exactly what she had asked for at the hill. While she figured that she could have asked for more, what she got was what she really wanted.
The next morning, she was vaguely disappointed that she had to miss her classes. She spent the whole morning being tested, broke for lunch, then got tested some more. Because of her status as a "special needs" student before the change, she had to go through all sorts of educational evaluations on top of the usual morf tests.
The morf tests were a waste of time, as far as she could tell. She didn't have any of those kinds of changes. She wasn't any faster, stronger, or anything. By lunch time, she was tired and discouraged.
At lunch, her few friends came up and asked about her MORFS. They seemed disappointed and somewhat sympathetic that she didn't get anything interesting. They also seemed relieved that she hadn't gotten anything really bad. At first, she mentioned that she lost the speech thing. After a while, she just started saying that she got a third ovary instead. At least that sounded more interesting to them.
After lunch, things went a little better. At first, she was a little insulted by the easy reading and math things they gave her. But they moved on to more and more complex challenges. Finally, they got to things she either didn't know or had to struggle with. Things like elements of geometry and trig, which she hadn't learned yet. But the reading remained almost insultingly easy.
In the end, she was shifted out of her original English class and into an advanced placement class, and the "special accommodation" notations for her other classes were dropped. Now, when she wrote a paper for History the spelling and grammar would count. She wasn't sure she was all that happy about that part.
She also wasn't entirely happy that she was losing the last class she had with some of her friends.
And she wouldn't even get a shopping trip out of it. A lot of the morfs she knew had gotten bigger or smaller, or grown a tail, or had some other reason they needed a lot of new clothes. Everything she had fit the same as before.
And while she was on the subject of being unhappy, she was given two days of missed classwork and homework to make up. It didn't seem fair. She was ready to come back to school on Monday, but they had to make her go through all those tests and things before they would let her.
It wasn't that the work was hard. There was just a lot of it. And there was no way she would be done with it before their show. Tara was going to get to choose her dumb show again. On the other hand, Rose would be too busy to watch it anyway.
The reading went faster than she expected. She should have known that without her mild dyslexia, that would be the case. The writing was also easier, but still time consuming. She didn't notice any difference in the math, other than the book seeming a little clearer.
And she wasn't nearly finished in time for the show. After it was over, she pretended to ignore Tara's smug look as she selected her show. Rose just let it go as she went back to her room to get back to work on her backlog.
That night, she dreamed of being back in school. Everywhere she went she felt safe and accepted. While she wasn't part of some of the little in groups, they were nice in their own way. Even the teachers were nice. And the deans. She could clearly understand what everyone was saying, and had no problems with the classwork.
She woke up feeling cheerful and optimistic. She couldn't wait to get to school.
Sometimes, dreams are prophetic.
Once she got to school, her good mood lasted all of thirty seconds. She was walking toward the door, smiling at everyone, when she walked past a small knot of girls.
"I hear the little dummy is a freak now, too." one of them was saying. Then she turned to Rose to make it clear who and what she was talking about. She needn't have bothered - Rose understood exactly what she was saying.
She also knew exactly what to say to hurt her tormentor just as much. But she didn't say it. It was just not in her to say such a thing, even to someone like that.
The verbal abuse continued, growing more intense as the others joined in, until it was interrupted by a dean putting his hand on the shoulder of the girl who had started the harangue. He escorted the girls to his office, telling Rose to come along as well.
After seating her tormentors in one office, he had Rose go to another office and discuss the event with another dean.
When she got in, the dean was looking intently at a vid screen and listening to an ear bud. When she was done, she asked Rose to describe the event. She did, repeating as much of the screed as she could remember. She wasn't aware that she mimicked the patterns of their voices almost exactly.
When the dean had listened to the whole account, she looked at the screen again. After a moment, she dismissed Rose and told her to hurry to class.
Sometimes, dreams are prophetic.
Most of the time, they are not.
The rest of the day had its ups and downs. On the up side, she could understand what the teachers were saying without the effort it used to cost her. On the down side, more people seemed to be going out of their way to be nasty to her. Even some of the teachers.
If she had any illusions of omniscience, she quickly lost them. Her new english teacher, a notorious anti-morf, had not been thorough when sending the assignments home. And when she called on Rose to answer a question in the unmentioned work, Rose flubbed the answer. Some of the other students laughed at her for the answer, but the obvious morfs in the class just looked grim.
It was sort of a draw in Changes. They were still on the Sex Ed unit, so her status as a recent morf was not relevant. On the other hand, what they were covering was more than embarrassing enough to make up for it.
On the up side, she did very well in her spanish class. Her teacher complimented her on her pronunciation, something he rarely did. And she aced the vocabulary quiz.
Lunch was uncomfortable. She learned that the girls who had tormented her that morning had gotten detention. And it was clear that their friends blamed Rose. When she sat with her friends to eat, something seemed a little off. They talked around it without saying anything directly, but she understood what they were saying.
Now that she was no longer saddled with her language problems, she wasn't really one of them any more. Without that element in common, she was virtually an outsider. They didn't know what to say to her, and they didn't have the shared class to discuss any more.
They wished she would find somewhere else to eat.
They weren't rejecting her entirely. Not all of them. It was just that they really didn't share a school any more. She was a part of the "others" now.
Rose spent the rest of the school day holding back tears.
After school, she couldn't face the bus ride home. She headed across the shortcut through the State Park, letting the tears flow.
She was so caught up in her crying that she didn't notice the group of high schoolers until she almost literally ran into them. The three high school women were as tall as her sister, if not taller, and old enough to be juniors or seniors. The man was taller, with large white wings.
After getting a better look at them, she recognized one. The blank white eyes were hard to miss. She was that telepath, the one Tara called Radar or something like that. The other two women were a slightly shorter blonde, and a slightly taller woman with black hair.
At first, she was afraid. They were older, stronger, and at least one was very powerful. But then something told her to trust them.
They asked what the matter was, and soon she was telling them everything about her change and her day. She even let slip that she had been to Pope Hill before the change. As they calmed and reassured her, they introduced themselves. Radar introduced herself as Lena, and the others were Angel, Robin, and David. They walked with her, down the path.
Angel explained that she was a bio elemental, and could tell things about people by looking at them. Especially morfs. She offered to do so for Rose. Rose somehow trusted her, and was curious what she would say. But she was in a hurry to get home.
She asked if they could do it another time. To her surprise, they agreed. When they reached the street, they went one way and she went another. She felt better than she had when she started her walk.
"Well ... she has a little bit of telepathy, but it's all tied up in her language centers. She has a pretty good shield, if she learns how to use it. As far as I can tell, she should learn languages almost instantly from native speakers, and pick up written and recorded forms very quickly."
"And ... she can apparently understand what people mean to say, even when they don't say it directly or well. And she can tell whether someone is telling the truth."
"That can be dangerous for her," Lena agreed. "We'll need to keep an eye on her."
When Rose got home, she grabbed a snack and went right to work on her homework. She wouldn't have the evening available, since it was museum night.
For almost as long as she could remember, her family had been volunteers at the Museum of Nature and Science. When she was too young, one of her parents would stay home with her, while the other (and sometimes Tara) would go. They got to work a lot of the traveling exhibits, which were special exhibits which moved from museum to museum.
With all their other activities, their volunteer time was somewhat limited during the school year. One Wednesday night and two weekend shifts (Saturday or Sunday - not both) a month. During the summer, they volunteered more often. And Tara was involved with the Teen program as well. Rose was looking forward to being able to join that, after she turned 14.
Rose enjoyed volunteering. It gave her a sense of accomplishment, something her life had all too often lacked. Sometimes she would do special demonstrations just for the children, but a lot of the times her audience was either adults or a mix of adults and children.
She had only had problems there twice, and both times involved students from her school. The offenders quickly found out that the museum was very protective of its volunteers - especially the younger ones.
The current exhibit was called "Prehistoric Luxembourg", and her assignment that evening was a "cart" about cave paintings. When she went through the training for the exhibit, she had reworked the scripts to work around her speech problems. It was a relief to realize that she didn't have to worry about that any more.
She didn't think there was anything unusual about the group that approached her cart. There certainly didn't seem to be anything different about the way she did her presentation for them. It was only when another volunteer came up and complimented her on it that she realized that she had done the whole thing in Spanish.
A short time later, a little girl came up to her and did a familiar dance. By the time she looked around for the girl's parents, and saw that nobody there resembled the girl, the dance had gotten more frantic. She told the girl where the nearest restroom was, and watched from the doorway to make sure she got there ok. The girl, who looked oriental, was followed by a very occidental woman Rose had noticed.
The man who Rose had seen with the woman came up and thanked her for helping his daughter. Then he asked her how much time she had spent in Southeast Asia. Rose politely responded that she had never been there. He looked very surprised about that. He was about to say something else, when a group of visitors arrived at her cart. She excused herself and started her presentation for them.
By the time she was done, the couple were in another part of the exhibit. The girl was with them, holding the woman's hand in a way that clearly said Mommy.
Soon it was time to go home. Per longstanding family tradition, they had gotten some fast food on the way to the museum. On the way back, it was dessert. Even though it was Tara's turn to choose, Rose approved of her choice. The rest of the way home, while she enjoyed her NitroDots, they all discussed their shift. Her parents had heard about the Spanish presentation, and the little girl. Apparently, both groups had made it a point to compliment the shift lead (who happened to be her mother) on Rose's fluency in their respective foreign languages.
Rose was beginning to wonder what was going on. She could sort of understand the whole thing with Spanish; she was taking it in school, and the people at the clinic said she should learn languages well. But she had no idea what language she spoke with the little girl, or how she knew to speak it.
Since it was a school night, she went right to bed when they got home.
She woke up the next morning with vague memories of some very strange dreams. Something to do with children, animals, and strange adults jabbering away. She could understand them, but they couldn't understand each other.
Breakfast was the usual weekday hit and run. Her parents took turns leaving "late" so that at least one could be home for last minute note signings, money grubbings, and the like. The window was short - almost long enough to grab the box of cereal before saying something - but it was a lot better than coming down to find both parents already gone. Some of her friends had that happen regularly.
Some of her friends. Well, they weren't Best Friends or Forever Friends to begin with. And they hadn't really rejected her completely. They just ... weren't comfortable with the new, improved Rose. She guessed that a lot of recent morfs went through something like that.
It still sucked.
At school, Rose was standing at her locker, getting ready for her first class, when she overheard a conversation nearby. She vaguely knew the girls, a couple of eighth graders from India or Pakistan, or somewhere like that. They were in her Algebra class, but they didn't socialize with younger students like her. Usually, when they had their heads together like that, they were speaking their "old" language. This time they seemed to be speaking English.
When one asked the other about their class assignment, and the other admitted she didn't know, Rose opened her mouth to respond.
DON'T DO IT! filled her mind, startling her to momentary silence. As the girls moved off, she looked around and asked "Who said that?"
I did. Don't answer out loud. People will think you are nuts or talking on the phone, and either will get you in trouble.
Rose saw the sense in that. She wanted to make the voice understand her, though. Ok. Who are you?
Would you believe I'm your conscience?
Because, she cracked, We haven't been on speaking terms for years.
She got the impression of a mental laugh, then the response she was half expecting. I'm Lena. We met on the shortcut through the park yesterday.
Radar, or Lena, was hard to forget. But... Why are you in my head?
You have to be careful. You don't know the full extent of your abilities, and if other people found out about some of them you could be in trouble. And in danger.
Rose shivered, and Lena went on. We need to talk later. I can help you understand your new self, and teach you to be safe.
Why do you care?
Because someone did the same for me when I was about your age.
Rose got the impression that the statement was true as far as it went, but there was more to it than that. But considering who was on the other end of the conversation, she didn't "say" anything. Before she could continue the conversation, the bell rang and she had to hurry off to class.
English class was not much better than the day before. One of the few good things - relatively good, anyway - was that the teacher spread her toxic attention around among the obvious morfs rather than concentrating on her.
One time got to her more than most. She was absolutely certain that the teacher was lying to the boy. She was so upset that she opened her mouth to protest, when it happened again.
Don't do it!
Why the hell not? she shot back, her anger momentarily overcoming her awe of the telepath.
It would only give her an excuse to cause you more trouble.
But she lied! I know she did!
Yes, but it would be your word against hers. And she's a teacher. And an adult. Who are they going to believe?
And even if you could prove it, if you had a recording of what she said and could prove it was wrong, you would still be in trouble for disrupting the class.
Fair? No, it's not. But life isn't always fair. You are about to get a crash course in some of the ugly side of humanity. And you are going to go on as though none of it was happening. Just be glad you're not a full telepath.
You only get what they say, what they mean. The unspoken things, the memories and dark fantasies, are much more disturbing. You don't have to see what I saw at your age.
Rose shuddered. What do I do?
Ignore the lies, for now. Learn to choose your battles. Let us help you, like we were helped. And remember, you have a family that loves you and new friends who can look out for you. Look out. She's about to call on you. The answer is a past participle.
Rose made it through to lunch time without any more major incidents. She did find it disturbing that so many people around her were lying, and that it was about stupid stuff so often. Friends groundless brags to each other. Excuses about homework. Stupid, pointless lies.
At lunch, she realized she didn't have anywhere else to sit. She joined her friends, despite the scene the day before.
She found that she could join in some parts of the conversation. Mostly the parts outside of school, like vids and games. She just had to be careful about discussions of school stuff.
One conversation, about a show they all watched as kids, gave her an idea. She focused her attention on Knut, like the characters in the show, and informed him that he really wanted to give her his pudding.
"No, I really don't" He grinned.
"You don't understand..." She began.
"I do understand. You want me to give you my pudding. I want to eat it. Since it's mine anyhow, I win." With that, he lifted a large spoonful to his still grinning mouth.
Oh, well. So much for Qwert' yui Mind Control. Rose thought she heard a chuckle at the back of her mind.
Guilty. Nice try, though. I can help you learn some ways to get closer than that, but even I can't really control someone's mind like those fuzzballs in the show.
Rose smiled and finished her lunch.
After school, Rose met Lena at some benches where the middle school and the high school overlapped a little. After getting a promise that she could get home quickly when they were done - a promise she knew to be true - she started her education in the dark side of Powers. And humanity.
"If people suspect that you might learn their secrets and expose them, you would be lucky to remain free and alive for a week." Lena told her, in a way that spoke volumes to Rose. Lena was quite insistent that she keep her lie detector a secret outside trusted family members and a few powerful friends. Rose understood that some, if not all, of the group from the path knew her secret.
"Don't worry." Lena assured her. "We're very good at keeping secrets."
"I need an assistant for my next lesson." Lena smiled.
Rose was startled when the woman introduced as Robin suddenly appeared, with a deck of cards in her hand.
"One of my abilities," Lena explained, "Lets me see through things. Like these cards. Robin," she turned to the other woman. "The top card is the two of clubs, then the seven of spades, then the five of diamonds."
On the second one, Rose could tell that Lena was not telling the truth. She wondered why, but didn't say anything.
"Now, Robin, tell Rose what those cards are." Robin named the cards in order, lifting each as she named them. When she repeated Lena's description of the second card, which was really the queen of diamonds, Rose noticed that she was apparently telling the truth.
"It is very important," Lena told Rose, "that you realize something. You can only tell whether the speaker believes a statement. Not whether it is really true. People can be tricked, like Robin was, or they can just be wrong in their beliefs. All you will know is that they believe it to be true. Or somewhere between true and false."
Before sending Rose home, Lena told her that she and the others needed to meet with her and her parents after dinner that night. They would explain some things then. Rose started to ask how they'd know when she was done with dinner, but realized the answer was obvious.
She wasn't sure she liked the idea of Lena being in her head all the time. In fact, she was pretty sure she didn't like it.
"I'm not. Not really. I will be aware of certain things, just like you will become aware of certain music when it plays somewhere near you. But I will give you your well deserved privacy, otherwise."
Again, she was clearly telling the truth. At least, the truth as she understood it.
"You're learning." Lena smiled at her.
"Ready for some magic?" Robin grinned at her. Rose nodded and...
She was standing by her front door. She shook her head at the thought of how powerful those women were, then went inside.
When Tara got home, Rose told her about talking with Radar, and about the after dinner meeting. Tara was curious, but didn't seem upset.
Tara was less happy when she failed to get her homework finished before their show - and Rose did. She accepted defeat, commenting that her show was probably a rerun anyway. She clearly didn't believe it.
Rose told her parents about the impending visit when they got home. Then she started getting nervous. All through dinner, she wondered about the meeting. After they finished dessert, it was almost a relief to hear the doorbell ring.
Rose answered the door, and Angel and Lena were there. After they were invited in and the social niceties were observed, they got down to business.
Lena started the discussion. "We actually had a couple of reasons for coming here tonight. When we ran into Rose yesterday..."
"Or vice versa." Rose added, ruefully.
"Yes, well ... when we met her, we noticed certain things about her."
Angel took up the thread. "I'm a bio elemental. As some people around here are aware, I have some small ability to perceive what MORFS has done or is doing to someone. What I noticed with that ability..."
"And what I noticed on the surface of her mind..." Lena added.
" ... made us think that we should talk with you all. She has more abilities than you know - more than she knows. And those abilities have the potential for getting her in a lot of trouble if she isn't careful. You are already aware that she can learn new languages almost instantly from someone who speaks them. Not so obviously, she can learn the written forms of those languages far more quickly than the rest of us as well."
Lena jumped in. "She has other abilities, too. Abilities which are almost as dangerous to her as mine were to me at her age. She can clearly understand what someone is trying to say, no matter how poorly they actually say it. She can make someone else clearly understand what she means to say, as well. Possibly the most dangerous part is that she can tell when someone tells a lie, tells the truth, or does anything in between."
"And when Radar ... uh, Lena ... says truth, or lie," Rose explained, "She means I can tell whether he or she believes it to be all or partly true. I don't know whether they are right or wrong, as she proved to me today."
Lena went on. "That can have a big impact on your family. Big and little lies and half truths are part of the oil that keeps social and family interaction going. For her own sake, she needs to learn when to ignore such things."
Lena took a breath, then continued. "She also needs to learn how to pick her battles. She will encounter kids and adults, even teachers and administrators, who will lie maliciously some times. If she challenges those lies, she can get a lot of unwanted attention. She can end up in a lot of trouble."
"I had to go through a lot of that when I got my powers, and it wasn't pretty. At least she won't be bombarded with the thoughts and images I had to deal with at her age. But she will have to grow up in a hurry, and face some very unpleasant truths about human nature."
She looked around and continued. "I ... we ... would like to help her, if it's all right with her. And with you."
Her mother looked at the visitors shrewdly. "What's in it for you?"
"Good question. We had people help us through some similar problems, and we feel a sort of a moral obligation to help when we can." Lena explained. "On a more personal note, the kinds of agony she would go through without some kind of help can be very painful to me. Like the way a speaker squeal can hurt your ears - especially if it's loud."
Rose's dad cut in. "What do you want from us?"
"Your permission. And your understanding of what she will be going through. There is no issue of payment, or favors owed, or anything."
"Which brings up another danger." Angel added. "When some of her abilities become known, there will be a lot of people anxious to exploit them ... exploit her. And others who are afraid of ways they can be used against them. She will need to become more aware of her personal safety. She will also need to learn to carefully evaluate any offers or requests she gets."
Angel looked a little embarrassed. "And speaking of that, I have such a request." At the looks from Rose and her family, she hurriedly added "It's not a condition for our help or anything. Just something that would be really useful."
"As a bio elemental, I sometimes do volunteer work with the Children's Hospital. This afternoon, I found out about a very frightened little girl who is on her way there for some major surgery. The problem is, nobody around here speaks her language and she only speaks a little english. If you would be willing, it would be really nice if you could go in and talk to her. Her parents won't be with her, and she will be in a strange place with a lot of strange adults."
Angel paused to let it sink in, then continued. "Because of your age, we can't really pay you or anything like that. There are laws designed to keep you from being exploited that way. But as a friend, and I would like to be your friend, I might be able to get you some good things. I work for a theater chain, and could probable get you some movie passes and snacks. I also work for a kind of exclusive spa downtown. Maybe I could get you or your family some services there some time."
Rose's mother looked thoughtful. "You're Mrs. Tabor's bio elemental?" she asked.
"Guilty as charged." Angel grinned. "I guess my reputation precedes me."
"We want to be clear." Lena cut in. "Angel is not offering those things as a bribe, to get you to do anything. Those things, like the help we offered, are just part of our offer of friendship. We will understand if you don't feel you can help the girl at the hospital. That won't make us like you any less, or make us any less likely to give you things. We have to be clear about that, for legal reasons. And we want to be clear about it for personal reasons."
"Rose, honey," her mother commented. "you've heard me talk about networking. Sometimes it is very useful to have powerful friends. These two certainly qualify."
"We have other friends, as well." Angel added. "Not just morfs with useful abilities, but their parents with money, position, and social connections. They would be just as happy to welcome you as a friend as we are."
Tara cut in. "I've seen you guys around school." She turned to Rose. "They don't hang out with the Supers, and certainly not with the Pures. While they hang out together as a group, I've never seen them be mean to anyone, or try to exclude anyone. Two of them were part of the group before they even morfed. I would not have been afraid to walk up to any of them and talk, but I never had any real reason to."
There was more discussion, during which the family practice of volunteering at places like the museum came up. The visitors were duly impressed. In the end, the only potential problem was transportation.
"No problem." Angel assured them. "One of our friends is a teleporter."
Rose smiled, remembering her "trip" home earlier that day.
That settled, it was decided that Rose would get a 'port home after school, change clothes, then 'port to the hospital. Angel and Lena would meet her there and they would go from there.
As Rose settled into bed, she thought about the changes she was going through. She was losing some of her friends, but gaining new, older, powerful friends. She lost her speech problems, but now she had to be a lot more careful about what she said. She lost the comfortable routines and protections her special status had given her at school, but gained more challenging classes.
Well, maybe that last one was a lose lose situation.
Her life was changing quickly since her visit to the hill, and not in ways she expected.