Masks 13: Part 9

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Chapter Seventeen

by

Rodford Edmiston

"What's all that?" said Alex, a couple of days later, as Vic entered their shared room with a couple of large boxes. She was long past marveling at how Vic's strength and dexterity allowed her to carry multiple large, heavy items at the same time.

"Care package from home," said Vic, happily. "Two of them, actually. I assume this big one is my guitar. The other should be some clothes."

Vic carefully placed the larger box on the bed, then dropped the smaller on her desk. It landed with a clunk.

"Since when do clothes go 'clunk'?" said Alex.

"Maybe Mom put something else in there..."

Vic found a knife and cut the tape, then opened the flaps. Inside was...

"Those don't look like very good clothes," said Alex, doubtfully.

"There's something wrapped in them."

"It's the bottom half of a blender, wrapped in some rags," said Alex, once Vic uncovered the core of the package.

"So where's my clothes?" said Vic, digging around in the box. "This is just a bunch of rags."

"Looks like they used them as padding. At least they're clean."

"Where's my clothes?!"

A quick call home revealed that this wasn't even the right size package.

"No, dear," said Vic's Mother. "The one I sent you was nearly twice that size. I guess the label came off this and another box and someone at the Post Office just put them back on the wrong boxes. I remember one time, your Aunt Minnie..."

Vic sighed and suffered through the long, boring story of Aunt Minnie's scissors yet again. Alissa finally wound down and Vic was able to say good-bye.

All this time, Alex was examining both the box and its contents. Giving up on trying to get it to run, she unplugged the blender base from the power strip on the right side of Vic's desk.

"That's a reasonable hypothesis," she said, on hearing what Vic's Mother thought had happened. "The blender base doesn't work. I'm guessing it was being sent for repairs. So, somewhere, some repair place got your clothes. I'm just confused that whoever packed this didn't include the paperwork. That at least would let us identify them and arrange a trade."

"Why does this weird stuff keep happening to me?" said Vic, tiredly.

Alex started to say something, then froze, her mouth and eyes round with astonishment.

"That's it!"

"What's what?"

"Your power! Your original one! You were a probability manipulator! It's a classic symptom! Before they learn to control their powers weird things - good, bad and neutral, but always unlikely - keep happening to them."

"So you're saying I have the power of coincidence?" said Vic, doubtfully.

"Yes! Wow, this opens up a whole range of possibilities!"

"Fine. You figure them out. I'm going to check that the other box really has my guitar and not a nuclear warhead."

Fortunately for the everyone, the other box did, indeed, contain Vic's guitar. She smiled as she dusted it off and tuned it. Since getting her powers Vic had trained her hearing to perfect pitch. Sitting on her bed, Vic strummed the guitar a few times, then started picking out "El Manisero."

To her surprise, Alex began singing, in Spanish, in a high, clear soprano. Only, Vic noticed something wrong. She knew enough of both the song and the language to realize the words were... off. Suddenly, she recognized a particular word, and stumbled in her playing.

"What the Hell are you singing?" said Vic, stopping to stare at her roommate.

"An X-Rated parody," said Alex, with a nasty grin. "About a woman who wants the peanut vendor to put something warm and salty in her private place."

"You creep me out, sometimes," said Vic, in a stage mutter.

"Only sometimes?" said Alex, smiling sweetly. "I'll have to work harder."

* * *

"Interesting," said Rokuro, when he read the transcript of that conversation the next day.

"Do you really think she's a probability manipulator?" said Sam, seeming doubtful.

"It's unlikely. They are incredibly rare. Some people think that the universe, itself, rejects those who have the power, because they disrupt causality. Personally, I just believe it is a very rare power, most likely due to the risk of unconsciously altering events against the favor of the possessor."

He frowned in thought for several seconds.

"How reliable is the surveillance we have on her?"

"She can't fart without us hearing it."

"Yes, but we currently have an AI monitoring her and all the other low-priority subjects," said Banpresto. "It can only flag things it knows to look for. We were just lucky they actually used several of our keywords."

Their boss again spent a short period deep in thought.

"Move her up one step in priority. Just in case. Add words and phrases associated with unlikely events and low probabilities and extreme luck to the AI monitoring."

He looked off into the distance, well beyond the expensive paneling of his office walls.

"Interesting. A probability manipulator could be very useful. As well as very dangerous. We must take this slowly and carefully."

* * *

Boyd saw his target approaching the line in the cafeteria and moved to intercept. He "accidentally" started to cut in front of her, then smiled and "let" her go ahead. She nodded and smiled, barely noticing but reflexively following the social niceties.

He made small talk as they went down the row of dishes. Not pushing it, just being casual.

"Well, so much for you getting in her pants," said Furtive, with a derisive smirk, when Boyd joined him and Objective.

"What are you talking about?" said Boyd, puzzled.

"You barely talked to her."

"That's just the first step. Let her get used to me. Work out a way to introduce myself, insert myself into her sphere of friends."

"Sounds like a lot of work, to me," said Furtive, shrugging.

"He's a patient man," said Objective. "He's right, too. This girl has every reason to be man shy."

"She'll be here at least the rest of the semester," said Boyd. "I'm betting I'll get in her pants at the post-finals parties, the very latest."

* * *

"Hey!" Alex called to Vic, from down the hall, as she started to enter their room. The smaller girl hurried towards her. "We're throwing a birthday party for Melanie this evening and we need some supplies. Can you give Harriet and me a ride to town?"

"Sure," said Vic. "Just had my last class. Let me put my books away and we can go now."

"Great!"

Vic exited the room seconds later, locked the door, and turned to find Alex and Harriet waiting. Both were wearing rather casual clothes, especially the older one.

"You're not going to change?" said Harriet, looking puzzled.

She was wearing very short shorts and a skimpy bandeau top, with bangle earrings, sandals, and stylish sunglasses, currently positioned above her forehead.

"Into what?" said Vic, straight faced. "You're the shapeshifter."

"Wonder Twin powers, activate!" said Harriet, oomphing back her shoulders and threatening the structural integrity of her top. She cackled at Vic's reaction.

"Glah!" said Vic, shying away. "Warn a gal before you do that!"

"I didn't even make 'em any bigger," she said, smirking. "Don't need to."

"Try not to get us arrested," said Vic, sighing.

Minutes later they were in Monstro and on their way.

"Wow, this thing has some performance," said Alex, as Vic merged onto the freeway not far from their school.

"Yeah. Granddad is a bit of a motorhead."

"Try not to get us arrested," said Harriet, from the back, in a perfect imitation of Vic.

"Whoah!" said Alex, turning around in the seat to stare at the super. "Since when are you a mimic?"

"Oh, thought I'd shown you two already. After talking with Miss Dawkins - one of my instructors - we worked out that I should be able to shape my throat to change my voice. So far I can do..."

Her voice plummeted.

"A really nice bass and..."

Now it soared, higher than Alex's.

"A high, high soprano."

"Be careful about breaking glass and attracting dogs," said Alex, enchanted with this new development of Harriet's powers. "What about the mimicry?"

"Well, I worked with a recorder to train my voice. It's more than just a matter of pitch, and I had a lot of trouble figuring what I needed to change for particular sounds, and the differences between genders. So far I can do maybe six other voices pretty well."

"You picked mine as one of them?" said Vic.

"Yeah. I mean, I hear you a lot. I've also practiced Alex..."

Her voice briefly became identical to that of the young genius. As she proceeded to say each subject's name her voice turned into that person's.

"...and Melanie ...and Mel ...and Candy ...and Don."

"I love this school," said Alex, actually chortling.

"Okay, shopping center next exit," said Vic, getting into the proper lane. "Hope we're finished and back in time for me to do my homework."

"You'll have to work fast if you want to attend the party," said Harriet.

"Oy..." said Vic. "Hadn't thought of that. Let's not take too long, then."

Chapter Eighteen

The party was a success, and didn't run much past Midnight. Vic was definitely glad to get to bed, though. However, she did not sleep as well as she hoped.

Vic woke from a dream of thunder. To find the whole building... thumping. She rolled over to check if Alex knew what was going on, only to see in the dim light in the room that her bed was empty. According to Vic's clock, the time was just after three in the morning.

Still a bit foggy, Vic exited the dorm room and walked towards the center area. Fine dust was trickling down between the ceiling tiles; just barely, at the moment, but getting worse. She tracked the disturbance to the janitor's closet in the central area. There she found Alex, slamming both faucet valves open and closed together in a quick rhythm. Since no-one else seemed to be up yet to check on the disturbance, Vic figured she had only been at it for a few seconds when the noise and vibration woke Vic.

"Water hammer time!" said Alex, gleefully. "I found the resonant frequency!"

"Why?!" said Vic.

She didn't answer. Vic moved closer and noticed her gaze seemed unfocused. Vic pulled her hands away from the faucets, and turned them off.

"Come on," she said, guiding Alex out of the room. "Back to bed."

* * *

"Sleepwalking?!" said Alex the next morning. She seemed stunned. "Wow. I haven't done that in years."

"Did you do it when you were stressed? Being at a new school, hard classes, the late party..."

"We never figured out what triggered the episodes," said Alex, looking worried, now. She gave Vic a haunted gaze.

"I know what you're thinking," said Vic, who had a similar expression. "Maybe my powers did it."

"It's... unlikely. I have had sleepwalking episodes before and they probably were caused by stress and..."

"I think... I need to have another talk with Dr. Feldman."

* * *

"Interesting," said the older man, thoughtfully. "Very interesting. Yes, that would explain many things. Including some of the episodes of unwanted attention from bigots. However, it doesn't explain everything. Also, there are other super abilities which could explain the same effects. As could simple coincidence."

"Naturally, there's no way to tell," said Vic, feeling depressed.

"Eh? Of course there is."

"There is?"

"Developed back in the early Forties, by Dr. Fenrisa Freysdottir. Come on; it takes a couple of hours but you're obviously so upset over this that I think we're justified performing the test right now. I'll even write a note for your teachers."

"That would be great," said Vic, with relief. "Either way, I need to know."

The test was not just strange, it was very bizarre. Over the next couple of hours Vic was asked a raft of questions, many apparently trivial. She performed certain tasks, played weird word games and at one point sat in a completely dark, completely silent room for what felt like half an hour while wearing an EEG cap. After Dr. Feldman let her out and heard her complaints about the length of the test, he smiled and told her it was exactly nine minutes, twelve seconds.

"Well, we can definitely say you don't have probability manipulation now," said Dr. Feldman. "Only a handful of top experts know exactly how that test works, but since it was accepted it has proven extraordinarily definitive."

"That's a relief."

"Maybe not as big a one as you think. Probability alteration is a very rare and very broad power. Fewer than a score of true cases of the full power have been positively identified. However, milder forms of it - powers which result in such things as frequently right hunches or outrageous runs of luck - good or bad - are much more common. Also, there are powers which can produce similar effects through other means. Even simple heightened senses can provide subtle clues the subconscious mind pieces together and thrusts into the person's awareness full-blown, to produce a super version of a solid hunch."

"So this was useless," said Vic, feeling an unexpected surge of depression crashing down on her.

"No! Listen, you need to understand that you definitely do not have the power which would most likely cause - as an example - a rash of bizarre accidents and your roommate to have a recurrence of sleepwalking."

"I wonder..." said Vic, suddenly thinking of something. "You said before that my original power activated in the wreck and changed me in a way that removed itself."

"That was just a guess. There are many ways things could have developed. Power expression is my no means a well-understood science."

"Well, what if... what if my original power was probability manipulation? What if it adjusted the probabilities to change my genes in a way which let me survive the fire?"

"That's quite possible. The other effects would be incidental to that. However, if that were the case you would more likely have powers more suitable to surviving fire without injury."

"Never mind that, for now," said Vic, looking thoughtful. "How far - I'm talking time, here - how far ahead does probability manipulation work?"

"That's not known for certain," said Dr. Feldman, looking thoughtful in turn as he realized what Vic was suggesting. "Most often, it is immediate. That is, only affecting a particular instant or brief period. However, there is hard data that some exercises of the power have affected events up to several days later. There is some data for even longer extents."

"Echoes," said Vic, thinking hard. "Assume that's what happened. My power was probability manipulation. It activated to save me, but for some reason it did a lot more..."

"Many powers respond to emotional stimuli in both nature and extent," said Feldman, nodding. "Especially the mental powers, such as probability alteration."

"So, the odds-defying events I've experienced since could be echoes. Set in motion by that original, single pulse."

"You definitely do not currently have active probability alteration," said Dr. Feldman, flatly. "However, we did see signs of something else. It might be a dormant versions of the power, or some other power. However, we'd need more testing for that."

He grinned.

"Which we can make an appointment for later. It's lunchtime and I'm hungry."

"You know what?" said Vic, actually feeling better. "So am I!"

* * *

Boyd had just about given up on Vic when she came walking in. As soon as he saw her, he skipped his plans for conversation. She seemed... distracted. Her mood was also obviously quite mixed. He decided to bide his time and wait for another day. Something told him now was not a good time.

"So, what did the doctor say?" said Alex, as Vic put her tray on the table.

"It's not what we thought, but it could be connected."

Vic related what she and the doctor had learned and discussed.

"Here I thought my powers were weird," said Angel, putting a sympathetic hand on Vic's shoulder.

"Well, I'm going to be positive about this," said Vic, pausing to spoon some corn pudding into her mouth, before talking around it. "Even if we're right, I'm not likely the cause of all these weird events - except for my own powers - and even if I am the effect should fade."

"That's the spirit!" said Don, a bit too cheerfully. He leaned in confidentially. "Say, I'm familiar with some of the tests used to check for luck powers. I know of a high stakes poker game..."

"No," said Vic, flatly, rolling her eyes.

"It's just a suggestion."

"Which is noted and rejected."

"Well, you better stop talking and eat fast," said Alex. "You've got just over ten minutes before the next class and we're all finished."

* * *

Sundays were usually pretty relaxed on campus. On Vic's floor, one of the occasional pastimes was a jam session. The first Sunday after her guitar arrived, while lying on her bed reading a magazine, Vic heard singing and instruments being tuned from up the hall. Grinning, she grabbed the case and hurried towards the common area.

"Got room for one more?" she asked, as she approached those sitting on the couches around the central table.

"Is that a guitar or a bass?" said one guy she knew but couldn't remember the name of. He was holding a mandolin like he knew how to use it.

"Guitar. Six string."

"Then you are welcome, sister."

Vic took Smokey out of his case and joined the tuning. Once finished she played a short section of some very fast flamenco music.

"Not bad," said the guy (she remembered now that his name was Al something, and that he was a music major), nodding. "However, we're doing something a bit more northern."

He grinned, and played a few of bars of something energetic and folksy. Two of the women joined in, trailing off after he quit.

"Is that the new song from Apocalypse Jaguar?" said Vic.

"Yeah," said Al, nodding again. "'I Don't Purr For Anyone.' I'd hardly call it new, though. Been out three months, already."

"I've been kind'a busy the past few months," said Vic, ironically. "Okay, give me some hints, and I'll follow along the best I can."

They played for hours, mostly Canadian folk and folk rock, but also bits and pieces from several other regions. An audience formed, most staying for only a few songs, but even some of those who left came back later and a few stayed for the whole session. When they finally broke for supper Vic was in a very good mood, indeed.

* * *

Vic was actually enjoying several of her classes these days, as well as campus life in general. Especially with the recent load off her mind. She enjoyed the super martial arts training. Vic didn't know Trujillo's background and he didn't talk about his past, but he'd obviously worked with supers before. From some of the things he said and did he might even be a super himself, though a low-level one.

He trained his students in a tailored fashion, helping each develop techniques appropriate to their powers and levels of skills. He also was careful about paring them for training in the two-man forms. Given that some of what he taught was for people with more than human abilities - and even powers completely unavailable to humans, such as energy blasts - Vic found herself repeatedly patching her gi. She finally gave up and bought an extra heavy duty judo gi. The greater weight and stiffness wouldn't hinder her, and it should last much longer.

"A real judo gi, when new, will stand at least partly on its own," said Vic, smirking, as she unpacked the heavy garment. She demonstrated by posing the top, leaning it partially against the wall. It sagged, but remained mostly upright. "You break them in by running a car over them several times. Or washing in sulphuric acid. The real top quality ones you do both."

"Buh?!" said Alex.

"She's exaggerating," said Harriet. "A little."

"Anyway, I'm going to wash this a couple of times and dry it with two fabric softener sheets. That actually should be enough."

"You've been in a really good mood the past few days," said Harriet, suspiciously. "I'm wondering if there's more at work than just being relieved about your powers."

"That's most of it," said Vic, carefully keeping her expression neutral.

"She's been talking to a boy!" said Alex, in the manner of a pre-teen telling a dirty secret about one friend to another.

"Hey! I talk to lots of boys!" said Vic, defensively.

"From your attitude, I'm suspecting this boy is something different," said Harriet, eyeing Vic.

"I'm... not really sure what's going on," said Vic. "Boyd is... nice. We talk about things, sometimes even personal things."

"Don't leave me, sister!" cried Alex, melodramatically, as she threw herself on the floor and clung to Vic's legs. "Stay on the dyke side! Thinking a boy is nice is the first step on the long slide towards heterosexuality!"

"Oh, stop," said Vic, trying to keep the banter light but obviously feeling uneasy.

"Are you talking about Boyd Carpenter?" said Harriet, concerned. "He's got a super fetish. Bugged the Hell out of Angel before she convinced him to leave her alone."

"He's been nothing but mannerly to me," said Vic, sternly.

"Now you're defending him," said Harriet, nodding. "Well, maybe he's learned his lesson."

"Wait... have you had lesbian sex?" said Alex, suspiciously.

"Well, yeah," said Vic, blushing. "Three times with one gal, once with another. That's just since starting here."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"Well... yeah. That's why I went back to that first girl twice. The other girl... she..."

Vic laughed nervously.

"You want to talk about a fetish. Or maybe she's actually a transexual. She really took a dominant role. Even used a strap-on."

"Tooooo much information!" said Harriet, holding up her hands in a warding gesture and backing away.

"Okay, that's really more than I wanted to say, anyway," said Vic. "It's just that anything less would have left Alex bothering me all day."

"As well as the next!" said Alex, smirking. "Ooh! Just had a thought! What's sex like for someone with heightened senses?"

"Since I was male before I got the powers, I don't know what differences came from the sex change and what from the boost to senses," said Vic, in a tone she hoped would tell her roommate to drop the subject.

"Oh, bother," said Alex, scowling. She grinned, looking determined. "We need more data! All we have to do is change more people's gender to get it."

"This is one of those times when you scare me," said Vic, rolling her eyes.



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