The Academy

The Academy

I always felt like I had something within me, something strong and powerful that yearned to escape its confinement. I’d been intrigued by it and frightened by it at the same time. At times I wondered if everyone felt the same thing, but no one ever hinted that they had something lurking inside them. I would have liked to talk to my mom about it, but she was a thousand miles away and never spent any time with me. My father was long gone, supposedly leaving my mom before I was born. She never mentioned him so I suspect he’s dead or abandoned us. I was born at and have lived my entire life at a full-time educational institution nestled into the Colorado Rocky Mountains called the Academy. The staff here tells me the Academy is for the select few people in the world that have magic, which is odd, as I don’t have any magic whatsoever.

For the first years of my life I remember my mom visiting me, but after that I only received vague letters from her once a year, but she’s the only family I have. It’s been eleven years since I saw her last. That was when she told me she loved me but had to go away for a while. I was six at the time. I remember that she was beautiful with bright blue eyes and long brown hair.

I’ve been told about life outside of the Academy; that there are lots of people and cities, wide open spaces, oceans, airplanes, and cars. My classes explain to me about the outside world but unless you actually live in it and see it, it’s nothing but stories. Of course I have the Academy approved television stations, but my reality is within the twenty-foot tall walls of this thirty-acre facility.

My classmates are, to say it nicely, odd. I’m not like any of them, so perhaps it’s me that’s odd. They all can do things that I simply can’t do. The girls heal animals, create shields of light, cast magical locks, create illusions and glamour, encourage growth, and do protective sorts of things. The boys create balls of fire, bolts of lightning, freeze things, move objects, and generally cause mayhem and destruction. In a way they are all like me in that their parents left them here, but they shy away from me; the nerdy kid that wears thick glasses, has an asymmetrical face, is uncoordinated, short, big kneed, and thin legged. Now, at the age of seventeen I often wonder if I was mistakenly placed here. Everyone but me gets to attend special classes for learning about magic, but I’m not allowed to attend until I ‘manifest’. The only thing I ever manifest is an insatiable appetite for knowledge and technology. Instead of afternoon magic classes I get cafeteria duty cleaning up the other kid’s messes after lunch. If I complete my cleaning tasks in a timely manner I get to spend any extra time in the library working on computers.

I don’t usually spend a lot of time pondering my life. It is what it is and I don’t really know what life would be like had my circumstances been different. However this morning everything felt off and instead of getting up from bed in my usual way, I lay here trying to ignore my gurgling stomach and headache by reminiscing. Finally I built the courage to I roll myself out of bed, cringing with the aches and pains I was feeling. Maybe I have the flu or perhaps I’m feeling the aches and pains of aging like Old Man Harris, our history teacher. It could easily be that one of the boys froze my bed or heated up my toes while I was sleeping as they were always picking on me, the queer, ungainly kid that wasn’t special like them. Of course, it could also be the girls that grew some bad bacteria in my food or were merely giving me the illusion of being sick. The truth is I’d never been sick before, so I doubt it was the flu.

I looked at myself in the small mirror on the back of my door of my tiny room and winced. I recognized ugly when I saw it and that was me. I lived with it knowing there was no hope, but secretly I never felt right in my own skin. I finally got changed and headed towards the nurse’s office. The hallways were pretty empty this time of morning but they’d be filled soon. I was grateful to not have ice patches form under my feet or someone starting my books on fire. I stepped into the tranquil medical area that smelled vaguely of antiseptic. A pretty girl, really a very beautiful auburn-haired young woman with startling green eyes about nineteen years old checked me in. “You’re Percy Jackson.”

I hated having the same name as the fictional son of a god with special abilities. It made it even more apparent that I was different. With my looks and lack of magical ability, I’ve been ignored and cast aside in this strange society I live in. This made it so strange that someone, especially a pretty young woman would know me at all. I blinked and looked at her strangely. “How do you know my name?”

A hint of pink rose in her cheeks. “I had to pick someone in the school to diagnose as part of my internship. I chose you.”

“What do you mean, diagnose? I’m not diseased and I’ve never come in here before except that time when my hot mashed potatoes suddenly flew into my face.”

“I’m sorry, Percy. Everyone knows you’re different. I wanted to find out why you were different.”

“Nice to know I’m recognized for something, even if it is for being different. Did you discover anything?”

“No. Everywhere I turned I was blocked. Your records are sealed and the administrators wouldn’t talk to me. I was too embarrassed to directly ask you your history. I wound up having to choose someone else in the end. Why did you come in today?”

“I’m not feeling well. I ache all over.”

She raised an eyebrow at me. “Really?”

“Yes.” I was beginning to get a little frustrated.

“Let me check a few of your vitals before the real nurse comes in.” She sat me down and checked my temperature and blood pressure, then looked in my mouth. “Everything appears normal. Hmmmm.” She reached for a really strange looking device with an LCD screen and some probes. “Has anyone ever used a magnetoelectrophysioscope on you before?”

“Not that I can ever recall. What does it do?”

“Oh… You wouldn’t know because you’re not in the magic classes… Let me hook it up to you.” She placed some leads on me, some wires went to a glass of water with some kind of plant in it, then back to the handheld device. “Okay, all set. I just touch this button here and…”

The glass of water shattered, the plant burst into blooms then into flames, and I was thrown back ten feet.

“Ouch! If I wasn’t feeling bad enough before, I most certainly am now.”

“I’m so sorry, Percy! I’ve never seen anything like that happen before.” She helped me to my feet and ran her hands over my head. It was such a genuine touch of concern that it caught me completely off guard.

The PA system let out an annoying feedback squawk. “Percy Jackson, please report to the board room immediately.”

I turned to leave. “Percy? Please come back to see me. I have some theories about you.”

I shrugged and stepped out into a now busy hallway. At least she’d spoken to me like I was a real human. But theories as to why I wasn’t special? I sighed and tried to make myself inconspicuous as I headed towards the board room. That was a scary place. People that entered there often never came back. Usually they were released or expelled the same day. As I walked, my books suddenly went flying ahead of me and I heard snickers behind me. I looked back to see Brad Montgomery, school bigshot. I couldn’t believe the girls all fawned over him like he was some god. I scrambled to collect my books and opened the door to the administrative offices.

“Ah, Percy. Everyone’s waiting for you. Please go in.” The administrative assistant with a shiny nameplate that read “Joan Hollister” peered out at me form behind her computer screen.

“What’s this about?”

“I’ve no idea. Go on, you don’t want to keep them waiting.”

I stepped into the large board room and saw a dozen people there. The door closed ominously behind me.

“Oh my! You’ve grown so much!” A lady with long dark brown hair and blue eyes was staring at me.

“Mom?”

“Yes!” She ran over and hugged me tight. It felt like she put her hand in my back pocket, but I must of imagined it as she pulled away quickly. She had tears in her eyes.

“What’s going on?”

“Percy, please take a seat.” A grizzled old man with a white beard pointed to a chair in the center of the room. It sort of reminded me of a firing squad or perhaps a seat for the defendant on trial. I hesitantly complied and looked over at my mom who remained standing and still wiping tears.

“Do you know what tomorrow is?”

What kind of remedial question is that? “Today is Monday, that would make tomorrow Tuesday.”

He looked angrily at me as if he was about to turn me into a bowl of cherry Jell-O, which, in all likelihood, he could. “Tomorrow is your eighteenth birthday.”

“Really? How come you know when my birthday is but I don’t? Is that why my mom is here? Do I get cake and ice cream?” I know I was being a bit of a jerk, but I never appreciated being left out of crucial information, especially when it related to me.

“None of that’s important. What’s important is that we fully believe your magic will manifest tomorrow.”

“Magic? Like making balls of fire? Cool.”

“Percy, listen to me. You’re different than the other students here.”

“No kidding. For my entire life I’ve been bullied and picked on because I can’t move a lettuce leaf without touching it and you finally realize I’m different?” I was getting a little pissed and I was feeling worse and worse physically as the minutes rolled by.

The old man sighed and glared at me.

“You’ve done nothing to prepare him? Are you insane?” My mom was yelling at them.

“Get her out of here! You should have never come, Elizabeth. It’s just making matters worse.” I watched as two men dragged her out of the board room. I thought for a second she mouthed the words ‘I love you’ to me.

“Hey, old man! Leave her alone!”

The old man scowled at me. I had enough. I turned and started walking out when I froze in place. I couldn’t move a muscle. “You will sit down and listen to me!” I frowned but could move again so I sat back down. There’s no defense against magic with the exception of magic. I knew that much at least. “Your father was a Xenomorph and your mother is a magic user just like the others in the Academy. Do you know what a Xenomorph is?”

“Never heard of it. It sounds like some kind of experimental drug.”

“A Xenomorph is like a changeling. They’re very rare and when they partner with a magic user… Let’s just say we’re not entirely sure what the result will be and that’s why you’ve been here your entire life. You see, Xenomorphs and regular humans can’t produce offspring together, which makes you a bit of an anomoly. Xenomorphs have a unique set of magic, not like regular magic users that tend to specialize. They’re not as powerful, but their constitution is more robust, they tend to be stronger, faster, and have keener senses than the rest of us. How that works with someone like yourself is yet to be determined. A Xenomorph will physically change and inherit their magical abilities on their eighteenth birthday. Up until that point nothing manifests. We’ve kept you here to keep you and others safe until this day. Had you lived outside of the Academy and you obtained your powers, you could possibly be a danger to yourself or all of those around you. Here, we have a controlled environment and can protect you and others. After tomorrow, assuming your magic manifests, you’ll need training and will start attending the special classes.”

Someone came in and spoke into the ear of the old man. He turned back to me. “Go back to your room now. You’re free from school for the next few days.”

I got up and walked back into the hallway. I was angry. This was ridiculous. I sighed and a sudden wave of nausea swept over me. I went back to the nurse’s office.

“Percy! I’m glad you’re back. What happened?”

“Nothing. Some old fart told me my birthday is tomorrow and something about me gaining my magical powers.”

The young woman looked over her shoulder as if making sure no one was around. “That ‘old fart’ is probably Alexander Ripken, Chancellor of the Academy. Let me guess. Your parents were Xenomorphs?”

“My father apparently was but not my mother. How did you know?”

“Really? I’ve never heard that happening before. Did they tell you what you’re in for?”

I looked at her questioningly. “Thirty years to life apparently. I have no idea what all of this means. They said they kept me here all these years to protect me. Why is everyone acting so strange?”

“Percy… I think I know what’s going on but I can’t say anything. You’re a nice guy, far better than the other guys around here. You’re also witty and smart and it’s a real shame you’re not recognized for who you are. You know you’re kind to others and not all snobby like other people. I like that about you.”

“Why can’t you tell me anything?”

“Because I may be wrong and I’d probably get into trouble. If what I suspect is correct, you’re going to need to rest. I suggest you go to your room and try to sleep.” She reached out and grabbed my hand and squeezed it gently. I blushed furiously. “My name’s Jen. Consider me your friend and come see me first thing tomorrow morning.”

I stood and turned, unable to shake the queasiness and the fact that everyone was completely bonkers. I walked slowly back to my room and stripped out of my clothes with the exception of my underwear. It was then I noticed some paper in my back pocket. I pulled it out and opened it.

‘My beloved son, Percy;

I’m sure you’re confused right now and maybe you want nothing to do with me, but I need you to know I never wanted any of this for you. Your life is about to change in a radical way. It may seem like the end of the world to you, but it isn’t… it’s just the beginning of something wonderful. Incredibly wonderful.

I never sent you here, I was forced to give birth and have you raised here. Your father is a powerful Xenomorph. IS, meaning he’s still alive. The Academy is a group that controls magic users. I escaped many years ago from the Academy and in the time I was free I met your father. Eventually the Academy found us and took your father away. When they realized I was pregnant with you they brought me here so you could be born in a controlled environment. They would have killed your father had I not left you here.

Know that every day of my life I have loved you and lived with the regret of not choosing to keep you with me and fight the Academy. Your father loves you too. The last time I saw him was when you were six years old. They had just let him know that he was a father and showed him pictures of you and made me confirm this before they sent me away. There are horrible people running the Academy and they’ll do anything to inflict pain and suffering on our family.

You’re in danger. You are very unique and special and the Academy knows it. They fully expect you to manifest your powers on your eighteenth birthday. Once you gain your powers the Academy will work to limit your abilities and restrict your training in an effort to control you and ultimately exploit you. I urge you to play along and limit your magic use. If they see the potential in you and fear their ability to control you, they’ll kill or imprison you. I pray you’ll know when the right time is and you’ll leave this place forever.

This may be hard to believe, but Xenomorphs change genders on their eighteenth birthday. Your father was a girl for his first seventeen years of his life. I’ll let you figure out what that means for you.

I love you always have!

Mom.

PS: Destroy this letter. If they find out I’ve contacted you this way, they’ll kill your father and me.’

I re-read the letter a dozen times. So much of it was disturbing to me and yet I always got stuck on the changing genders line. I went to the little dorm room kitchen and put the letter into the garbage disposal, chopped it up, and let it go down the drain. Another wave of nausea poured over me and I rushed back to bed. A girl. I was going to be a girl. What did I ever do to deserve this?

***

At some point I fell into an exhausted sleep. When I woke I was dazed, confused, and famished. I opened my eyes and didn’t move a muscle. The nausea was gone, that was a good thing. I felt perfectly fine and healthy. If I just stayed here like this I might never know if I even changed except for several things. My vision was perfect even without my glasses and I could smell the musky odor of the communal boy’s bathroom in the dorm room area.

With all the strangeness of events yesterday I halfway expected my room to be full of people staring down at my mostly naked body. I was enormously grateful for the privacy. I wiggled a finger first, then my toes. That didn’t feel much different than yesterday. I moved my arm so I could look at my hand. Oh God! It was definitely a feminine hand. Perhaps it was something of the Xenomorph DNA or that my brain was altered to help me deal with the changes, but I gritted my teeth and pushed myself upright. Enough was enough. If I was a girl then I was a girl. The really scary part was what did I look like?

I immediately felt a weight on my chest shift when I sat up and long slightly curly dark brown hair drifted in front of my eyes. I looked down upon the first female breasts I’d ever seen. At least seen uncovered. They looked huge. My hands couldn’t hold them. I stood, expecting myself to feel awkward and off balance, but I wasn’t at all. Maybe this was another Xenomorph bonus? My underwear was now stretched over my wider hips. I pulled them down much to my relief as they were pinching and tight. I peered past my breasts, beyond my flat stomach, and to the gap between my legs. At least I wasn’t fat.

I glanced at a mirror on the back of the door to my room. Did I dare? I crept slowly up to it and looked. “Wow!” was all I could say as my soft sensual feminine voice caught in my throat. I vaguely looked like my mother, albeit much younger and I dare say far more beautiful. Stunning. I couldn’t see my entire body, but what I did see was amazing. Breathtaking. I’d been a wiry, nerdy kid with glasses, crazy poor teeth, lopsided features, big ears, and short. Now I was taller, my teeth were perfect, my blue eyes radiated vibrant life, and from what I could see of my body, I was model material.

And I was naked. And I had no clothes. And I was starving. And I needed to go to the bathroom really badly.

I looked down to see that a note had been slid under my door. I opened it.

‘Percy,

If I guessed right, you’ll need some clothes about now. I left a dress and underwear outside your door. Sorry it’s a dress, but at least it should fit. Come see me as soon as you can!

Jen’

Jen. That was very thoughtful of her. I wrapped a blanket around me and slowly opened the door. A brown paper bag sat there which I snatched and pulled into my room with fervor. The whole scene reminded me of some sort of clandestine spy thriller. What was in the secret brown bag? I dumped the contents on my bed. There were flip flops, panties, a red dress, and what appeared to be a frilly white t-shirt type thing. I guessed that was to hold my breasts in absence of a bra. I was trying hard to focus on the tasks at hand. My body felt so lithe and graceful as it moved and I wanted to explore myself, but the urgency of my bladder forced me to get dressed so I could ultimately go to the bathroom. Food could wait until after I saw Jen.

I slipped on the panties and smiled at the smoothness of my legs. I squeezed into the t-shirt then pulled the dress on over top. I was pleased with the feel of the light airy dress. I snuck out of my room checking all directions to make sure the way was clear, finally realizing that school had already started and the rest of the students were in class. I was very happy as it allowed me to run to the bathrooms down the hall. It just didn’t seem right to use the communal boy’s bathroom in the dorm room area. I stared at the two doors for a moment realizing I’d always wondered what the girl’s bathroom looked like.

I pictured televisions and flowers, sweet smelling perfumes, gold plated hardware, and couches. I slowly pushed the door open and was sad to see it rather plain. Just another bathroom with no urinals. The one thing I lost… being able to pee standing up. I quickly sat down and relieved myself, a little shocked at the lack of control. I wiped myself dry and noticed how pleasant that action felt. When I left the stall I stood transfixed as I looked at myself in the large mirror over the sinks. Even with wild hair I was a knockout. I took a moment to peek under my dress once again at my breasts and pressed my hands to them. They were so sensitive and large. At least they seemed large to me but when I looked at myself in the mirror I could tell they looked to be the perfect size. The dress, although ill fitting, did nothing to hide my trim waist and wider hips. My legs looked long and toned. I washed and felt rather happy as I headed to the nurse’s station.

When I stepped inside Jen looked at me with wide eyes. “Had I not known, I would have never believed it. Percy, you’re gorgeous!” She hugged me close. “My research was right. Xenomorphs not only change genders, but they also change from handsome to ugly, or in your case, I hate to say it, ugly to beautiful. How are you feeling?”

“I feel incredible, but I’m starving.”

“Of course you are! The Xenomorph transformations take a lot out of your body. Come with me!”

She took my hand in hers and led me down to the cafeteria, which was rather full of people and very frightening. I felt extremely self-conscious. Everyone turned to look at me. The pretty girl section stood open mouthed, the jock section was drooling with lust, the Goth section grimaced but they seemed to give me a look of ‘she’d be pretty cute with dark clothes on’.

“Ignore them,” Jen pushed me along and soon I was loading up my plate. We went to a quiet corner and I started eating. “How was it?”

“The transformation? Nauseating. But I feel great now. I wish I could speak with another Xenomorph as I just don’t understand how my brain is handling this change.”

‘Have you felt your magic?”

“Hmm?”

“Your magic. The test I did yesterday shows magical potential. It was off the charts. Have you felt it?”

Come to think of it, I did feel it. A huge well of energy bubbling within me. I remembered my mom’s letter. “Maybe… there’s a little something there.”

One of the pretty girls walked over and snickered as she saw my plateful of food. “Who’s the new girl? I bet you’re glamouring yourself. Let me fix that for you.”

I felt a wave of magic come my way. I’d never felt magic before even when I was the target. I could see the magic in my mind. She was trying to remove a glamour spell. I let the magic simply dissipate. The girl looked frustrated. “That’s not possible! No one can be that pretty.”

I smiled. “Sorry to disappoint you. You’ll have to blame my parents.”

“This is Amanda Jackson.”

The girl humphed and left.

“Amanda?”

“Do you like it?”

I let the name roll around in my mind a bit. “I do, actually.”

“You’re taking this very well. Is that a Xenomorph thing?”

“I’ve no idea. I didn’t even know Xenomorphs existed until yesterday. Let alone that I was one.”

“That’s right. Until your magic manifests you’re not allowed to be in the special classes and thus you wouldn’t know yet. I admit our classes on magical races didn’t say much about Xenomorphs though.”

The PA squawked. “Percy Jackson to the board room.”

I groaned and stuffed another few bites into my mouth. Jen walked with me as Brad Montgomery stepped in front of us. “Hey Babe.” He held a little ball of fire in his hand obviously trying to show off. I tried to ignore him and walk around. “I’m talking to you, girl. You and me should go out together.” He was looking me in the eyes. I highly disliked Brad and his poor grammar.

Even though I was very self-conscious I felt a sudden surge of confidence. “Jen, you know what they say about boys and their fireballs?”

She looked at me questioningly. “No…”

“The size of their fireball is a direct representation of their penis size.” I turned to Brad. “Not interested.” I looked at his fireball and it fizzled into a little spark.

“What the hell?” I could see him concentrating on his fireball and frowning as the people around him were laughing.

When we got to the hall Jen stared at me. “Did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Make his fireball disappear.”

“I don’t think so. I know nothing about magic. Besides, girls don’t do fire magic, do they?”

“No. God, that was priceless!”

Jen waited outside of the board room for me. Knowing she was there made me feel safer somehow. The grizzled old guy, Alexander, and all of them looked me over. They appeared pretty astonished. I was astonished so I didn’t blame them in the least.

“I’m not one for encouraging words, but, your new look, Percy, is nothing short of beautiful.” The others nodded. “How are you feeling and where did you find the clothing?”

I thought about my mom’s letter and perhaps it was the new female hormones or Xenomorph DNA, but I adopted a much more compliant and tactful approach today. I’d seen how pretty girls could bat their eyes and get extra desert in the cafeteria. I could be demure, sweet, gentle, then when I’m ready, unleash the tiger, I mean tigress within me. “I’m feeling very well, thank you.” I said it softly and with a gentle kindness to my words. “I was feeling very nauseous when we met yesterday and I went to the nurse’s station. Jen, the intern there, suspected what I was going through and left me the clothes. It was very thoughtful of her. She’s very kind. I… I’m sorry for how I responded yesterday.” I thought adding a little humility might be a nice touch.

“And what of your magic? Are you feeling it, sensing it? How are you adjusting?”

“Yes, it’s there, almost like a wall has been removed. It has a soothing touch to it. Of course, I have no idea what to do with it. Should it feel like there’s a lot or a little? It feels like there’s not much there at all. Logically I think I should be freaking out, but somehow I feel very much at peace with the new me.”

He smiled, even if his smile had a slightly sinister look to it. “You’ve been assigned a new room in the girl’s quarters. Check with Joan when you leave for some boxes and your new room number. With your pleasant and cooperative demeanor I’m authorizing you to leave the Academy tomorrow for a day of shopping. You need new clothes and other things.”

My eyes lit up and I smiled brightly. “Really?”

“We so rarely get a Xenomorph at the Academy. To be honest, we were unprepared for the extent of your change and your sudden appearance at the Academy will need to be explained. Ms. Baxter will chaperone your shopping experience so you can get some new clothes which will help you with settling into your new life. It would, perhaps, be in your best interest to also bring another girl your age to get the right perspective on clothes. We all feel badly about the bullying you experienced in the past and we’d hate to see that continue due to you only having hand-me-down clothes. Ms. Baxter, bless her, is old enough to not know the styles of our youth.” I watched the slightly overweight gray-haired lady snort.

I was thinking the softness of their attitudes was a way of making me feel comfortable, even pliable to their wants. To get out of the Academy I’d be very pliable. “Perhaps Jen could accompany us? What about my mom? Could she also come with me?”

I watched as his eyes narrowed slightly and grew darker. “Jen going is fine. We’ll consider allowing your mother to go. Be ready at seven in the morning tomorrow. Now, on to other matters. Have you considered a new name?”

“I sort of stumbled into a new one at the cafeteria earlier. Amanda.”

“That’s fine. Tell Joan your new name and she’ll register it everywhere for you. As of now, Percy has been removed from the school. Amanda Jackson is his cousin and you were attending our other Academy in New England. Make sure you eat and get plenty of rest today as your body has gone through a tremendous change.” He elaborated on some additional background details for me in case I was questioned.

“I will. Thank you again!”

I left the board room and Joan gave me two flattened boxes and a new room number in the girl’s area. She took my new name and immediately started typing on her computer. I saw the record for Percy Jackson be deleted and she started a new one for Amanda Jackson. It was a little disconcerting that in seconds, Percy was gone forever.

Jen took my arm in hers. “So what did they say?”

“They’re letting me go on a shopping trip off campus tomorrow.”

“That’s amazing! I’ve been at the Academy since I was three. I’d kill to see outside of this place.”

“You’re coming with me.” I added shyly. “That’s if you want to go. They said I could take someone with me.”

“You’re joking.”

“We need to be at the board room at seven in the morning tomorrow.”

“You’re not joking?”

The hug she gave me made me very aware of my new body. To heck with the Xenomorph DNA or brain structure helping normalize my change. To feel her breasts against mine, the fruity scent of her hair, and the warmth of her body pressing against me caused me to tingle all over. When she pulled back I was breathing heavily and more than a little embarrassed.

She looked at me strangely. “When you changed… do you uhm… like guys now?”

“What? No! Eww!”

She beamed a brilliant smile at me and took my arm again. “Good, because I’m not into guys either. This is going to be so much fun!”

Jen stopped in at the nurse’s office and was allowed to spend the rest of the day with me and tomorrow as well. Jen told me that the nurse thought it was good someone was keeping an eye on me. I wanted to hurry as I didn’t want the boys to come back to the rooms to find me still there. I’d rather not have anyone know who I was before. This could give me a new start on life and I was more than anxious to leave Percy behind.

Jen and I went to my room and I took my books and little trinkets that made my room my own. None of the clothes or shoes would fit. They’d get cleaned and repurposed as the Academy recycled everything. I found it still strange that I wasn’t forced into wearing hand-me-downs of girl’s clothing. They wanted to portray me as someone new, or maybe this was their way of making me compliant. Either way I was fine with it.

Jen carried one of the boxes for me and I had the other one. I actually felt stronger than before. I watched how Jen kept her box lower than her breasts and I adjusted mine feeling it much more comfortable.

“What’s your new room number?”

“Twenty-four.”

“You’re just a few doors down from me then!”

We found my new room and I felt a little awkward wandering through the girl’s area. It took no time at all to unload the boxes and organize everything. “Jen?”

“Yes?”

“Shouldn’t you be leaving the Academy soon? You’re older than some of the others.”

“I’m almost twenty, but the Academy treats everyone uniquely when it comes to the special classes. My healing skill is high which is why they have me interning with the nurse. I’ve graduated to mentoring sessions to fine tune my magic and next week I start my two hours per week in preparation to integrate into society. They even suggested maybe I could take over the nurse’s area and stay here long-term.”

I glanced furtively at her. “I’ve never really had a friend before. I’d hate to see you leave.”

Jen’s eyes sparkled. “You’re sweet. I suspect you’ll be here another five years catching up before they consider letting you integrate into society. Maybe if you do well on your training we could leave together? There’s not much to see here, but let me show you around.” I started to pick up on the way Jen had shifted her conversation around me. She’d called me gorgeous and sweet. The people in the board room called me beautiful. Was this what life was like for a pretty girl?

Jen showed me her room, which had a nice feminine look to it and it smelled heavenly. I noticed a picture of her parents. “How did you get a picture like that?”

She looked at me strangely. “My parents visit every month. Yours don’t visit?”

“I saw my mom for the first time in ages yesterday. The last time I saw her was eleven years ago.”

“I know a few others like that, but most have regular visits. My parents are benefactors of the Academy.” She said it rather proudly.

Perhaps my mom was wrong about the Academy but still, it made me a little wary that Jen’s parents gave money to it. Jen led me into the girl’s common area and bathrooms which both were like the Holy Grail for boys. No boys were ever allowed near those areas. The common area was much like the boy’s, just a different color scheme. They had the same Academy run television. The bathroom seemed a little larger and had private stalls for the showers. I liked that as in the boy’s it was a free for all and everyone’s junk was on display. I received more than my fair share of bullying in those showers. I glanced at myself in the mirror and paused. Jen stood behind me and slightly to my left.

“What’s it like, Amanda?”

“It’s like looking into a television at someone else and yet knowing it’s a reflection. I’m sure being a Xenomorph helps with the adjustment, but my brain simply hasn’t registered that who I’m looking at is really me yet. I feel normal, almost too normal. I wonder if that’s the way I’m supposed to feel?”

“From what I read about Xenomorphs, your changed state is actually your steady state. When you’re born you carry the essence of being a girl with you. If you’re feeling more normal now, perhaps you weren’t feeling quite normal as a boy before?”

“I never felt comfortable as me before, but you said it quite plainly, I was ugly before. Maybe that’s why.”

Jen winced. “I’m sorry, Amanda. I didn’t mean you were ugly before.”

“We both know I was.”

“But you had a great personality and you’re very intelligent.”

“Isn’t that what you say when trying to set up someone on a blind date?”

Jen giggled and I stared at us both. Jen was taller than me by a few inches. She must have been five foot ten. She was tall and lean with a beautiful figure. Her lips looked so kissable, but then again so did mine. Where she was girl next door sort of pretty with innocent looks, I was the Ferrari on the show room floor. I grabbed my hair and noticed it was looking a little stringy. I frowned at it.

Jen caught on right away. “Would you like to borrow some of my shampoo and conditioner? It’s another hour yet until the end of classes and you’ll have the entire bathroom to yourself if you wanted to shower.”

“I’d love that. Thank you.”

Jen turned to find her shampoo. She returned a few moments later with two towels and a hair brush as well. “One towel for your hair. You can have this brush, it’s new and I’ve not used it yet.”

“Thank you!”

I found a shower stall and stripped out of my clothes. My clothes didn’t really fit that well, but they were better than nothing at this point. I started the shower and took time to fully examine myself inch by inch. The ugly duckling story came to mind. I was flawless. My skin was smooth and even toned. My toes were perfect, if one could think toes could be perfect. I didn’t see a single mole and what I could see of my backside was that it was perfectly toned and shaped. I grabbed the soap and began washing myself and really got caught up in the moment focusing on my breasts and between my legs. They sure felt good. Amazingly good when I ran my hands over them.

I washed my hair and used conditioner for the first time. I had very long hair and it would take some time getting used to how to care for it. I loved it though and wouldn’t even consider the possibility of cutting it. Finally I felt clean and I shut the shower off and dried myself up. I changed back into my clothes and stepped in front of the mirrors to brush out my hair. I spotted a hair drier and used that to help my hair dry faster. Soon I had glossy hair that shone in the light. I loved the light natural curl to it.

I took the shampoo and conditioner back to Jen’s room. She was waiting there for me. “How was your shower? You took your time in there.”

I felt the heat rise to my face. “I’ve never seen a girl’s body before today. At least without clothes.”

She smiled and walked over to me and stroked my hair. “You’ve got such beautiful hair. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of you.” Her fingers trailed down my arm.

I was clueless. “I’d like that. It’ll be nice shopping with you tomorrow.”

“That’s not what I meant, but yes, it will be nice.” Suddenly the girl’s dorm area was filled with noise as the girls all returned from classes. Jen pulled her hand away. “Come on, let’s meet the girls. I mean you already probably know most of them, but they certainly have never met Amanda before.”

Jen led me out and back into the common area where girls were all talking excitedly. This was a far cry from the boy’s area where there was usually pushing, shoving, and testosterone dripping from the ceiling in green gooey gobs. The conversation stopped when we entered the room.

“Everyone, this is Amanda Jackson. She’s staying in room twenty-four.”

“You’re old for being new to the Academy.”

“I was attending another Academy in New England and was transferred here.”

The girls were all gathering around. New blood was always interesting. “What’s your specialty?”

“I’m a late bloomer and I only just received my powers, so I’m not sure yet.”

“Are you related to Percy? He has the same last name. Is that why you were sent here?”

I didn’t even know these girls knew about the old me. “Percy has been released from the Academy. He was my cousin.”

“You sure got the good genes!” I heard some laughter at my old self’s expense.

Jen stood up for the old me. “I knew Percy a little and he was brilliant and had a great personality.”

The snarky ‘pretty’ girl from lunch walked around me trailing her finger lightly across my shoulders. “I’m Samantha, by the way. That’s Kelli. And over there is Patricia. You should join us at our table. No need to sit with Jen, she’s so plain and boring.”

“Thanks for the offer, but Jen’s my friend and, in my opinion, prettier than all three of you put together.”

“Fine! But you’ll regret your decision.”

“I doubt it.”

I saw her concentrate and felt a wave of magic push my way. It was so strange that I could pick apart her magic in my mind. She was trying to cast an ugly glamour over me. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I let the magic just fizzle away. She narrowed her eyes at me. “Just got your powers, huh? Glamour blocking is a high level skill. You’re lying to us.”

Jen stepped between us. “Enough, Samantha. You know you’re not supposed to cast glamours on other people. Do I need to remind you what the consequences are if you’re found out?”

Someone from the back laughed and offered some toast to Samantha.

“Get that away from me! Bread makes me nauseous and fat!”

Samantha turned and left the room with Kelli and Patricia following close on her heels. The other girls laughed as they left and gathered around. They seemed to enjoy asking me questions and were very friendly. Even the Goth girls had smiled at the fact I turned Samantha down. Jen took me back to my room and closed the door behind us.

“Thanks for defending me. You really think I’m pretty?”

I stammered a little and blushed. “You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever met, and you defended me first. It just goes to show you how fickle those girls can be. They never even acknowledged me before now they want me to be part of their little clique.”

“How did you block her glamour?”

“I didn’t do anything. I thought you might have blocked it for me.”

“I’m not strong in glamour magic. I wonder if your mixed heritage of Xenomorph and your mother might give you a unique blend of powers. An automatic magic dispersion skill perhaps.”

“I can’t imagine what she intended to do. Have you ever used magic on me?”

“No. I would never unless it was to protect or heal you. Why?”

I blushed. “Never mind.” Before I was attracted to just about any girl that was breathing. Now, I’d be lucky to find a girl that’s into girls. To think that a pretty girl like Jen was into girls and she paid attention to me before my change drew me to her like a magnet. I was wondering if it was a magic thing, like a love potion. I’d never had a girlfriend before, but something inside me strongly desired to be with Jen. The feelings were so powerful. I chalked it up to female hormones.

“Come on, Amanda. Let’s go get dinner.”

“That’s what I need. I’m still starved.”

I was pleased Jen took my arm in hers. I’d seen other girls do that so I tried not to read much into it. I loved the way my new body felt while walking. The bounce of my hair and breasts and the sway of my hips.

The cafeteria was boisterous as usual and I got extra attention from everyone. New kids always did, but I think my looks were playing into it as well. Still starved, I loaded up my plate and sat down with Jen. A few other girls came to sit with us. I was always a loner so this was new to me to have so many people around.

“We heard you both get to go off campus tomorrow.”

“Word travels fast. My luggage never made it and they’re letting me go shopping.” I felt bad I had to tell the Academy lies.

“Have you ever been outside?”

“Never, with the exception of what I saw when I was transferred.” Yet another lie.

“That’s so exciting! I’m Becky by the way.”

“Good evening, ladies.”

I looked up to see Brad again. I groaned slightly and Jen reached under the table and squeezed my hand.

“I think I came on a little too strong earlier. I heard your name’s Amanda and you’re a transfer from out of state?”

“That’s right. You’ve been checking up on me?”

“I make it my business to know all of the students here, especially the girls.” He gave a sly grin. “So I was thinking maybe we could share desert tonight.”

Becky had her back to Brad and was mouthing “No!” to me.

“Actually, I was invited to go skinny dipping with the girls down by the old mill creek pool tonight. Thanks anyways. Who are you?”

“Brad Montgomery. But you can call me Flame. That’s what my friends call me.”

“Well, Brad…” I emphasized his name. “Thanks for coming by and for the offer. Samantha told me she’s a huge fan of bread pudding. If you’re still looking for companionship for the evening that might be a great opportunity for you.”

“Really? Thanks for the tip, Amanda. See you around.”

Jen looked at me and smiled. “You little devil. Skinny dipping at the old mill pool? Bread pudding for Samantha?”

“Have you seen the amount of poison ivy growing out there this year? I think Brad and Samantha would make a hot couple, if she doesn’t castrate him for bringing her bread pudding.”

“Be still me fluttering heart. Looks and intelligence.” Jen made a point of fanning herself with her hand.

I was looking into Jen’s eyes and having a personal moment when a commotion across the cafeteria started. Samantha was yelling at Brad who was sheepishly holding a bowl of bread pudding. I ducked my head and started laughing. Brad would be pissed at me but it was worth it and I doubted he’d retaliate if he was interested in winning my heart. Of course, I should be careful. I was a girl now and vulnerable in many ways. Brad probably weighed eighty pounds more than me. We watched as Brad stormed out of the cafeteria. He was having a bad day. Poor guy.

That evening, when I got back to my new room, I stood for almost an hour looking at myself in the mirror and running my fingers over my face. I felt such freedom and joy. My smile was plastered on my face and it was certainly a gorgeous smile. I carefully put my dress on a clothes hanger in my small closet and climbed into bed. I didn’t want to sleep. I wanted to explore my new body and I was afraid I might wake up to be my old self again.

Every movement made me realize I was now a woman. Gone was the uncomfortable feeling of my dangly bits between my legs. Instead I was very aware of the absence and how good that felt. Of course, the weight from my breasts would take some getting used to as they moved from side to side as I rolled in bed. Several times I had to lift my head to shift my hair to keep it from getting caught around my throat or pull it away from my mouth. Try as I might to stay awake, I quickly fell asleep. My body knew it needed more rest.

***

The next morning Jen and I arrived at the board room just before seven. My mom was there. She looked at me and smiled widely and ran to hug me. How she knew who I was I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s mother’s intuition. “Look at you! You’re so beautiful!”

“They’re letting you come with us?”

“Yes.”

“Mom, this is Jen. She’s coming too.”

“Jen.” I watched my mom look her over. “You’re Bill and Amy’s daughter?”

“Yes. You know my parents?”

“We went to school here together.”

“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Jackson.”

“Please, call me Elizabeth.”

Ms. Baxter arrived with some huge burly dude. “Let’s get moving.” They led us out to a black Mercedes SUV. I sat in the back middle with my mom to my left and Jen to my right. The burly dude drove and Ms. Baxter rode in the other front seat. This was my first ride in a car and I was fascinated by everything.

For the longest time I didn’t speak at all as I simply stared out the windows. After a while we came to roads with more and more traffic and finally in the distance was a huge city. I hadn’t even noticed for all the excitement, but my mom had been holding my hand the entire time. She leaned over as Ms. Baxter was busy giving our driver directions. “You got my note?”

I nodded. I squeezed her hand and leaned over to her. “I understand. I forgive you and dad. I love you.”

It was all that needed to be said as my mom started to cry. She pulled me into a hug when Ms. Baxter shouted back to us. “None of that. Elizabeth, I’m reminding you of your position here today.”

“I’m very well aware of my position, thank you. Hugging my daughter after not seeing her in almost twelve years is not harming anyone.”

Ms. Baxter glared back at my mom then turned to continue guiding the driver. Jen was all excited and pointed out sights all around us. The city was absolutely amazing. It was bustling with people.

“Ms. Baxter? How will I buy things?”

“I have a credit card. Here’s a list you’re authorized to buy from.” She handed me a list and Jen and I looked it over. One casual and one formal dress. Two skirts and three blouses. One nightgown. Five pairs of panties. Three bras, one of which was strapless. Gym shorts and a top. A sports bra. One pair of jeans. A robe. One pair of runners, one pair of low heeled shoes, one pair of high heeled shoes, and one pair of flip flops. Toiletries and creams. Mascara, lipstick, and eyeshadow. Feminine hygiene items. A brush. A bathing suit (one piece). A rain jacket and a winter jacket. One pair of boots. In addition, the note mentioned to get my hair styled and my nails manicured.

“Wow. That’s a lot of stuff.”

“It’s just enough to start you off. The rest you’ll have to get from the Academy hand-me-downs.”

We stopped at the largest building I’d ever seen. “What is this place?”

“It’s called a mall. There are dozens of stores here.”

We all got out and I just stood and stared. There were so many people and everything was so shiny and modern. “This is amazing!” Jen took my arm in hers which mom noticed with a touch of a smile on her lips. When we walked into the mall I was almost overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, and smells. My mom mostly took control under the watchful eyes of Ms. Baxter and the dude. Underwear and bras were first up on the list as apparently the t-shirt thing I wore was not acceptable for trying on clothes.

“What’s the limit?” My mom asked Ms. Baxter.

“Not really a limit as long as we stick to the list.”

My mom smiled and pulled us down hallways until we stood in front of Victoria’s Secret. “An entire store for underwear?”

“Not underwear, Percy, lingerie.”

“Didn’t they tell you? Amanda’s my new name.”

My mom smiled. “It’s a beautiful name… Amanda...” She let it sit on her tongue contemplatively and reached out to touch my hair. “It suits you.”

Mom found a store clerk to help us out. Once I was measured Jen and mom went through the store looking for panties and bra sets. I was a little lost to tell the truth. An entire store for ladies underwear. Lingerie, I reminded myself. Soon I was inundated with dozens of things to try on and shuffled into a change room. For some reason mom wasn’t allowed alone with me.

The first panties and bra set I tried on were sheer red lacey things. I stripped out of my clothes and put them on, struggling some with figuring out the bra. When I glanced at myself in the mirror I almost passed out. This lingerie made me look even more beautiful. The bra pushed up my breasts making them look even larger and the panties helped to highlight my trim and thin waist, but drew my eyes to the gap between my legs. I carefully poked my head out of the change room. “Can someone make sure these fit correct?”

Jen rapidly volunteered and my mom smiled and pushed her forward. Jen came giggling into the change room. “Incredible, Amanda.” She ran her hands over my hips supposedly checking the fit. She was very flushed and red, her breathing was rapid. “I’ve got to go… perfect fit. Get those!” She snuck back out. I was hoping she would have stayed, but now I knew that the fit was good. I tried on the other items and made my choices. A red set, a black set, and a white set plus a few additional panties.

Before we left Victoria’s Secret my mom gave me some nightgowns to try on. I picked one that looked sexy but covered up my intimate areas. I adored the feeling of the silk against my skin. Oddly enough, I wasn’t the slightest bit concerned wearing beautiful and very girlie clothing. If anything, I found it comforting. We then left that store and headed to another where I got to try on dresses, skirts, blouses and shoes. We left there with bags of items and I was wearing a casual dress and low-heeled shoes. Jen and mom kept remarking how gorgeous I looked and I loved the attention I was receiving from everyone, especially Jen. I’d never had any attention before. I was somewhat frightened by how much attention I was getting from guys in the mall, but one look from our burly body guard and they steered way clear of us. Several times I spotted an older and a younger man standing together and watching us but I chalked it up to simply being paranoid and overly self-conscious.

Our next stop was a sports store. In our fitness classes at school, the boys and girls were always separated, but we did have summer events outside and I noticed that the shorts the girls wore were horrible looking. We did have tightly controlled television and I recalled watching some women’s volleyball. Those shorts were what I wanted. When I came out wearing some tight fitting spandex shorts Jen blushed brightly and I knew I found my pair. I also tried on several swim suits and managed to find a red one piece that looked good on me. Actually, whatever I tried on seemed to look good on me. With these items, some t-shirts, and runners, I was good to go with all the clothes.

We then headed to the food court to get some lunch. I was so enthralled by all the sights and sounds I hardly even thought about myself or being too self-conscious. Now that we paused for a few moments I took the time to assess my situation. I looked down at my long smooth legs as they left the hem of my dress and felt the movement of my breasts as I adjusted my weight on the chair. My Xenomorph transition did much to facilitate my gender change and make things feel normal for me, but I was still learning about posture and how to sit, especially when I found I had two noticeable bumps on my chest and how they could get in the way of things.

The food court was a dream for anyone being raised on the Academy cafeteria food. My mom told us that food here wouldn’t be good, but it was delicious. Far better than anything I’d ever had before. We had pizza.

Ms. Baxter finally left our sides for a few minutes to go to the bathroom and the burly guy was getting his food. Mom was immediately at my side and whispering to me. “I’ve got a lot to tell you and not much time. Be very careful in regards to your magic use. The Academy is afraid of you because their magic might not control you like others. Xenomorphs can change their appearance. Not your gender, but depending on your magical strength, your face, skin, eye color, hair length, hair style, and color. It’s a real change and not just a glamour. You’ll always default to your current look. I’m assuming you’ll have a full range of magic, both girl’s magic and boy’s plus much that no one but Xenomorphs have access to, like unlocking physical locks. I tell you this because if you combine transformation magic with glamours and lock picking, you could look like any woman and have access virtually anywhere. That might be handy if you try to escape one day.”

“Why tell me all of this?”

“The Academy watches those gifted for their magical specialties then work at placing people into society based upon their specialty. Their goal is to have people in high places within the workplaces and government that they can control. This feeds money and power to the Academy directors. Jen’s parents are good people and by being benefactors they can act as spies. Some of us want to see an end of the Academy and the power that they concentrate. That’s why they don’t like me and why your father is a threat to them. He’s in a prison cell on campus. With him and you there they have control over me. They don’t like me here at all. Remember to only show minor amounts of female magic in your training. Practice everything else on your own. I can’t speak any longer. I love you, Amanda!”

With that she stepped away just as the burly guy and Ms. Baxter came back. I noticed Ms. Baxter glance at my mom but did nothing. Over the next few hours we purchased jackets, boots, some scary feminine hygiene items, toiletries, and my mom bought Jen and I some snacks to bring back to the other girls. Finally we went to a spa and I was treated to a hair trim, style, manicure, pedicure, and some makeup. Mom paid separately for Jen and herself to have a manicure. I saw mom talking at length with Jen. I wondered what they might be talking about.

By the time we were done for the day I looked and felt amazing. The lessons from school could never fully explain what life outside the Academy was like. Jen took my arm in hers as we headed back to the car. We put all our purchases into the back and we just opened the passenger doors when two black vans pulled up and a dozen men and women jumped out. Mom, Jen, and I were grabbed and pushed into our SUV. Ms. Baxter and the burly dude were dragged out and dumped unceremoniously on the pavement. I could feel Ms. Baxter hurling magic at our attackers and watched several of the attackers simply turn and walk away. I watched as the burly guy got into a fight with a much smaller young woman and the woman was beating him easily. The men I spotted earlier in the mall jumped into the SUV and drove us off rapidly with the vans following closely behind.

“It’s about time!” My mom said to the driver.

“Relax, Elizabeth. We had to wait until the time was right. This went very smooth.” I watched as the men’s faces morphed and their hair color changed. They were Xenomorphs!

“What’s going on?”

The younger man looked back at me and smiled. I watched his eyes travel up and down my body lustfully. “We’re taking you to safety, princess.”

“Mom?”

“It’s alright sweetheart. These are friends. They’re here to protect you.”

“What about all that stuff you shared with me back at the mall? Are you even my mother? I’ve been watched and protected all of my life!”

“I’m sorry, Amanda. In case this rescue didn’t work out you needed to know those things. Of course I’m your mother. You haven’t been protected, you’ve been analyzed and in prison your whole life.”

“Just let Jen and me go.”

The older gentleman spoke up. “I guarantee you, princess, that no one will be harmed and after you hear us out, if you still want to leave, you can.”

Jen was confused and looked scared. “Why are you calling Amanda princess?”

My mom answered her. “Because Amanda’s father is not just any Xenomorph, he’s their king.”

“Is there anything about my life that I know is the truth?”

“Just hang in there a little longer, sweetheart. Everything will be shared with you soon.”

Jen was looking at me wide-eyed and she hung onto my hand like her life depended on it. I focused on her hand touching mine and I leaned over and put my head on her shoulder and started to cry. It was all too much. Being a boy, then being told I was some rare and unique blend of mythical creatures akin to a unicorn, becoming a girl, finding out I was a prisoner and a princess. My mom reached out to hold my hand. Everyone went very quiet. Jen held me protectively and stroked my hair.

It was two hours later that we pulled into the driveway of an enormous complex with a giant wood-framed house. The grounds were immaculate and my eyes were immediately drawn to the flashy sports cars sitting outside. The young man turned towards me. “Welcome home, princess.”

We got out of the SUV and people immediately surrounded us. Some were ordered to take the clothes and items we purchased up to my room while others were told to dispose of the SUV. Still others communicated that we weren’t followed and there was no police activity on the scanners. Some people looked at me and tipped their heads. They greeted mom warmly.

“Come on, Jen and Amanda.” Jen’s hand was still in mine when she let out a little squeal. She let go and ran forward into the arms of her parents. I recognized them from her photo in her room.

“Mom? Dad? What are you doing here?”

“It’s a long story, Jen. Come inside.” They put their arm around Jen casually and she paused, turned and ran back to me. She took my hand in hers and I watched her parents look me over. I got the feeling like they might be a little annoyed at me even though I’d never met them before.

We moved inside the main building and I was enraptured by the beauty of the place. Tall vaulted ceilings with skylights were supported by varnished tree trunks. The entire place looked like a giant log cabin with a huge stone fireplace in the middle, a waterfall ran down one wall into a pool. Large leather couches sat in a circular fashion next to the floor to ceiling windows that opened to incredible mountain views. We were directed to sit on the couches.

I sat down with Jen and mom was next to me as well. Across from me were the two men from the mall, Jen’s parents, and the young woman that fought the big guy. I couldn’t believe she bested a man nearly three times her weight. She was pretty and had lots of curves, wore skintight black leather pants and top and had her blond hair in a ponytail. She eyed me with skepticism. There were more people as well that took seats all around us.

The older gentleman spoke and everyone went silent. “First and foremost, I want to congratulate those that participated in the rescue and to welcome our princess to her home.” There was cheering and I was feeling very out of place. Did he just say this was my home? “Let me start with a little background. My name is Harold Matthews. Amanda, it was twenty years ago that your mother escaped the Academy and met your father, our King, Mathias Jackson. Mathias was quite smitten with your mother as she was of him. Our community of Xenomorphs is quite small, no more than a few thousand in all of the United States and ten thousand around the world. This is a very small number in comparison to the magic user community of nearly one million worldwide. The chances of a Xenomorph and a magic user mating are exceptionally small and we’ve never heard of offspring resulting.”

“While we live our lives in peace with society and with the magic users, I can’t say the same for the Academy. They’ve been trying to map the physiology of Xenomorphs for more than a hundred years. Their purpose is rather nefarious. The Academy controls all the magic users and I’m sure Jen’s parents and Elizabeth can attest that their classes for re-integration into society are rather unique. It’s a form a brainwashing. Magic users are controlled through mental manipulation and sent into the workforce only to be called upon by the Academy to be used to move their agenda forward.”

I turned to Jen. “You knew about this?”

“No. I was to start the re-integration classes next week. I’ve heard that they’re very strange, using headsets, lights, and magic.”

“So why are they interested in Xenomorphs?”

Harold continued. “Because of our transformational ability to change our looks. We can do so for short periods of time. What they want to do is find the key to our magic, merge it with theirs, and have long lasting transformations. That’s why they want you so badly. You have something they’re very interested in. You’re a Xenomorph from your father, but your mother is a strong magic user. The merged characteristics of you make you a perfect specimen to study.”

“So they wanted to dissect me? I find that hard to believe. Why send me to get clothes if all they wanted to do was put me under a microscope?”

“Dissection is the correct term, but not in a physical sense. They wanted your cooperation, to appear as your provider. Your special classes would analyze your magic and Xenomorph abilities.”

Oddly at a time I was listening to this I looked down at my legs and I was sitting like any woman would normally sit. My legs were crossed protecting my vanity with my short dress. I looked back at Harold. “Why? What’s their purpose to all of this?”

“To take over the world. If they could merge the magic types to create lasting transformation, they could take over the presidency and ultimately every high office in the world. Amanda, you’re key to their plans.”

“Why are my parents here?”

Jen’s mom came over and sat next to Jen and hugged her. “We went to the Academy with Elizabeth. We were all in our re-integration classes together when we realized what was happening. We used wax to make earplugs so we wouldn’t listen to the sounds and we watched our classmates slowly become submissive to the Academy’s will. We covered for Elizabeth when she escaped. Eventually we left the Academy and we reconnected with her. We’ve stayed on, even playing a role on the board so we can have visibility into the Academy’s goals. What they’re saying is all true, sweetheart.”

I frowned. “My father? They have him?”

My mom squeezed my hand. “They’ve tried breaking him for the past eighteen years. He’s primarily collateral to hold you there.”

“And what will they do to him if they no longer have me?”

My mom looked really worried. “I don’t know, Amanda.”

“Is he somewhere at the Academy?”

“Yes. I think he’s in rooms under the administration building.”

“Then I’m going back.”

“No!” I glared at Harold. “You’re unprepared, untrained. You wouldn’t survive if you were caught and you’ll play right into their hands.”

I thought for a minute as the room stayed silent. “What if we make it sound like I escaped all of you and you were hunting me? We could leak that an eighteen year old girl matching my description was spotted in the city. Let the Academy find me and take me back. If we did it right, we could have a few days here for some basic training and preparations. I’m not stupid and somehow I can see magic and respond to it. With me back at the Academy, they wouldn’t harm my dad and I could find a way to free him.”

“There’s no way, Amanda. People train all their lives to become masters with magic.”

I wasn’t going to give up. “Mom, try to glamour me.”

“What?”

“Try to glamour me.” I felt my mom’s push of magic from her. I dissembled the magic and could see how she did it. She was trying to give me blond hair. I concentrated and pushed back. My mom’s hair went blond.

Jen looked at me. “What did you do?”

“I felt my mom’s magic and I sent something similar back to her.”

The young woman across from me stood and crossed her arms. “You don’t know how to fight.”

“What if I don’t have to? Perhaps I can avoid fighting and just sneak out with my dad.”

“You don’t even know the limits of your body or magic. You can’t assume you’ll never be physically attacked. You’re still dealing with the Academy. What’s to say they won’t mistrust you and lock you up right away?”

I started to cry, not even sure why. The young woman glared at me. “She’s just a fragile girl. We seriously can’t be thinking of this.” She threw her arms up in the air.

Courage built up within me. I stood and wiped the tears from my face. “You said that once I heard you out that I was free to leave. If you won’t help me and train me, then I’ll leave now. I’ll not stand aside and watch them kill the father I’ve never known.”

Jen stood and took my hand in hers. “And I’m going with Amanda.”

Harold stood and looked me over and sighed resignedly. “You’re free to go and we’ll offer whatever help we can give. You think you can repeat magic that you feel?”

“I can see into the magic and repeat that process. Yes, I think I can be taught quickly this way.”

“Then I recommend you spend time with you mom, with Jen’s father, with Malcom here, and with Zoe.” He indicated Malcom was the younger Xenomorph and Zoe was the blond fighter. “We’ll leave reports with the police immediately and bring you back to the city late tomorrow. Do you want to freshen up or change?”

“No. I should wear what I’m wearing now until the Academy finds us. It will be more realistic if I’m in some disarray.”

“Start with Jen and your mother now and meet us for dinner in two hours.”

They all left and Zoe had a slight smile on her face. “Looking forward to our time together, princess.” She walked off leaving my mom and Jen.

“Why has no one tried to rescue dad or me before?”

“We have. Xenomorphs are not immune to magical attacks. You saw how several members of the team walked away from Ms. Baxter? She used compulsion magic on them. In essence, she willed them away from her. You really are our daughter.”

“How so?”

“You’re stubborn like your dad and me. The Xenomorphs have so few people that trying to attack a facility like the Academy is very risky. Offensive magic can be powerful. There are over three hundred magic users there. We could bring several dozen at the most for an attack and rescue. Unfortunately we’re outnumbered.”

“I’ve never heard of compulsion magic before.”

“It’s not well discussed and those that have it hide it. It’s my specialty and why I was allowed back on the Academy and on the shopping trip. I used it.”

Jen was leaning forward and very interested. I noticed she still held my hand. “How does it work?”

“It doesn’t work well when you’re trying to change someone’s viewpoint in the opposite direction, but rather you play off of their fears or wants. Let me correct that. If you are far more powerful than the person you’re trying to use compulsion on, then you can get them to do something they would never intend on doing. Amanda, I know you can block my magic, which is an incredible feat. Let me show you how this works. Jen, why don’t you go and come back in a minute as I need Amanda’s complete focus.”

“Sure. I’ll be right back.”

As soon as Jen was out of sight my mom started. “You like Jen don’t you Amanda?” I felt her subtle push of magic. I immediately started unpacking it and seeing it for what it was. “Don’t analyze it, let it happen to you. When Jen returns you’ll want to kiss her.” I let the magic wash over me and I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

Jen came back into the room and when she grabbed my hand I reached up and cupped her face and kissed her. Her eyes went very wide and my compulsion dissolved away. I was embarrassed by what I’d just done, but Jen smiled and kissed me back. “Mmmm.” Then she looked at my mom. “Wait! You made her kiss me?” Her eyes flashed angrily at my mom.

“I did, and I’m sorry. But Amanda’s very strong and there’s no way a compulsion would work on her unless she already had the desire.”

“So you’re saying Amanda wanted to kiss me?”

I blushed. “Ever since I first met you. You were so nice to me.”

“I guess I can’t be upset over that, Elizabeth. I just wish our first kiss was more spontaneous. Did you learn how to do compulsion?”

“I think so.”

“Try it on me.”

“No! Never!”

“Why?”

“I never want you to worry that I used this magic on you. Ever. If one day you want to be more than friends, then I want you to trust magic was never involved.”

“I was kind of hoping we were already more than friends.”

“Me too.”

“Try it on me, Amanda.”

I looked at my mom and Jen whispered in my ear. I told my mom that a plant needed water and pushed my magic towards her. She immediately got up and found some water and poured it into the plant. She looked a little dazed and turned back towards us. “You’re so strong. That was less compulsion than directive. You don’t need to push so hard, but it worked. Also try to find that which the person already has a proclivity towards.”

For the next few hours I learned healing, shields, growth and the protective magic that girls had. I was amazed how quickly I could learn things. Of course It wasn’t second nature like their magic was, but I could do what I needed to do.

We had a few minutes before dinner and Jen took me out onto the deck overlooking the mountains. “Things felt a little awkward in there with your mom. She seems to accept me which is a good thing.”

“Who wouldn’t accept you, Jen? You’re amazing, beautiful, compassionate, and loving. Are you sure you’re interested in me? I’m not just a strange anomaly to figure out? It doesn’t bother you that I was a boy? An ugly one at that.”

“You want to know what I think?” I nodded and Jen gently pushed me up against a wall and kissed me long and passionately. My heart was pounding in my chest, my lips were on fire. She pulled away and stared into my eyes. “That’s what I think.”

“I love how you think.” I kissed her back with equal fervor. “So does this mean you’re my girlfriend?”

“Absolutely. Let’s go get some dinner.” Once again she took my arm in hers but it felt different this time. Her body bumped up against mine more frequently and every touch elicited a spark of excitement.

During dinner discussion ranged wide and varied. Anonymous calls had been made that two girls matching our description were spotted. Police scanners had relayed the messages. Xenomorph scouts had spotted activity within the Academy suggesting they were trying to find us. After dinner Jen and my mom disappeared and Jen’s parents got their turn with me.

Bill and Amy are very devoted and loving parents and before I could learn any magic from them I was being grilled about my intentions toward their daughter. Bill looked at me rather sternly and I practically folded under his gaze. “We love our daughter very much and only want the best for her. We know she’s always had a fondness for other young women and that doesn’t bother us.”

Amy continued for them both. “The thing is, Amanda, we don’t want to see her hurt. You’re a girl for a few days now. How do you know your preferences won’t change? We don’t even know anything about you.”

I looked at them and blinked back my tears. “My preferences won’t change and as for hurting Jen, why would I ever hurt the one person that’s shown any kindness to me?”

“We’ve never seen Jen cling to anyone so closely as you before. It’s concerning and the fact that she intends to go with you back to the Academy. She’s putting herself at risk for you.”

“I don’t want to risk her life any more than you do. Wouldn’t it hurt her to tell her to stay behind? I wish there was a way you could see inside me, to know how I feel about her. I’ve only known her for three days but I know I’d risk my own life to save hers.”

“Mom! Dad!”

Bill and Amy looked to see Jen standing in the doorway. “How long have you been there?”

“Long enough. I know that you love me and only want the best for me, but you also need to trust me. If I choose Amanda, then that’s my choice. Only I can risk my own heart. As for not going or going back to the Academy, that’s not up for debate. I’m going, and I’m going with my girlfriend, Amanda.”

Her parents did something I found a little shocking. They apologized to Jen and to me and wished us well. “If Amanda’s your choice, then we’ll support you both.”

Jen hugged them both and I was surprised to have Bill and Amy hug me. Jen sat down next to me and took my hand in hers. “Have you started learning the male magic yet?”

“Not yet. I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try.”

Bill stood and had me stand as well. “I’m going to send magic at you, so be prepared. I’ll start with a magical push which is the framework for moving objects and fireballs.”

“I’m ready.” I felt a gentle magical push, deconstructed it in my mind and just let it dissipate.

“What happened? It didn’t affect you.”

“I seem to be able to allow magic used against me to be accepted or to dissolve away. I chose to dissolve it. I’ll try to push this chair.” I looked at the chair and tried to push it magically and I sent it skittering rapidly across the room.

“Don’t use a lot of magic, just a soft push.”

“I thought I did.”

Bill placed a tennis ball on a coffee table. “Gently, try to nudge the ball.”

I scaled my effort way back and watched the ball bounce off the table. “I can do male magic.”

“It must be because you were male before your transition. It’s my only theory. I’ll try sending a small fireball at you. This could hurt you if you’re not prepared.” I nodded I was ready and a very small fireball was sent towards me. When it was very close I could feel the magic in my mind and simply dissolve it away. “Did you shield it?”

“No, I just dissolved it.” I held out my hand and constructed a fireball. By concentrating I could increase the size and decrease it. I let it disappear and looked over at a candle and caused it to light.

“You’re showing excellent control, Amanda. I’ve seen apprentices studying for years not accomplish that level of control. I’m very impressed by you.”

I smiled and over the next hour I learned all the various male magic he knew. Next on the agenda was Zoe. I wasn’t looking forward to this. Jen and I arrived into a large gym with white padded floors. I was still wearing my dress but I did kick off my shoes. Zoe licked her lips and smiled. “Nice to see you, princess. You ready to get your pretty butt whipped?”

“I’m not much of a fighter.”

“The question is not whether or not you’ll fight, but when. You must learn to defend yourself first and foremost. Try to hit me.”

I didn’t need a lot of encouragement. She was a pain. I swung wildly and in a similar fashion to when I was being bullied in the shower one day. By pure chance I connected with the guy making fun of me, but this time Zoe was well away from my swing and she swept my feet hard causing me to crash to the ground.

“Pathetic. You need control. If a guy was to attack you, you can mash his foot here, kick him in the groin, a palm to the nose, and elbow to the temple, or a hand to the Adams apple. Don’t waste your effort on anywhere else. I’m going to grab you from behind.” She grabbed me and squeezed me with her arms around my stomach. “Come on! Get my arms off of you!”

After struggling for a few minutes Zoe growled, fell backwards, catapulting me over her head. She spun me over with my back on the ground and pinned my wrists. Her intense eyes bored into mine. “You’re stronger than this! You think you’re a regular human girl. You’re not! Fight me! Push me off!” I pushed more than I thought possible and she struggled, but perhaps it was that I was a half breed, I just didn’t have the strength.

“I can’t.” I said resignedly.

“And when a man has you pinned and going to take advantage of you? Will you be weak then? I think you like it here with me on top of you.” I felt her knee slide up between my legs. Her hand pushed my dress up exposing my red panties. I struggled and fought Zoe but she was too strong. Zoe leaned down and kissed me. “Is this what you like? Is this what you want?”

Jen yelled at Zoe to leave me alone. In a flash Zoe was grabbing Jen and pushing her against the wall. Jen couldn’t even fight back against Zoe. “You want some too?” Zoe kissed Jen. Jen screamed at Zoe but Zoe ignored her. “You don’t like me much. Maybe you’d prefer this?” Zoe’s face and hair morphed into mine and she leaned in to kiss Jen again. I lost it and tackled Zoe, throwing her to the floor and me landing on top of her. She got one hand free and hit me across my face. I growled and focused. I wasn’t a match for Zoe with my strength, but if I combined my magic with my strength I might have a chance. I focused my force magic into my hands and pushed her back down to the ground.

“Don’t. Ever. Touch. Jen. Again!”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, princess. You finally get it. You improvised to accommodate for your handicap that I’m stronger than you. That’s what I was trying to get you to do all along. I apologize to you both, but sometimes it’s necessary to bring people to a point of true desperation to show them what they’re capable of.” I let her up and I sat on the gym floor. I looked up at Zoe unable to be grateful for what she’d done. “I’ll leave you two be. Good night, princess.” She bowed respectfully and left.

Jen was at my side in a flash. I could feel her healing magic touch my cheek. The swelling eased. “Leave a little of it as a reminder for me and for the Academy to know we didn’t simply walk away unscathed.” She nodded and kissed me.

“I couldn’t help you, Amanda. I’m sorry.”

“But you did help me, Jen. Although I’m not sure I can forgive Zoe’s methods, she helped me see what I must be able to do. Seeing you helpless unleashed something inside me. I’ll do anything to protect you.”

“And one thing I recognized, is that it’s not your pretty face I’m attracted to, it’s who you are inside. The pretty face helps, but there’s no way I wanted to kiss Zoe, even if she looked like you. It’s late. We need to get some sleep.”

I looked into her eyes and smiled. “Who can sleep with you nearby?”

“Separately, and in our own rooms. Don’t think that just because we kissed we’ll start sleeping together. At least not right away.” She winked.

“You know, Jen, I’m perfectly fine with that.”

Mom found us wandering the halls looking for our rooms. She showed Jen to her room and let her know breakfast would be served at seven in the morning. I kissed Jen goodnight and mom took me to my room. It was indeed a room fit for a princess. It was huge with its own bathroom. My clothes had been put away and my nightgown and robe laid out on the bed for me. Mom watched me as I sighed and put them carefully on a hanger.

“You’re not going to use them tonight?”

“As much as I want to, if I sleep in the clothes I have on it will give a more realistic impression. No changing or baths or showers until the Academy.”

I sat on the edge of the enormous bed and mom sat next to me. She touched my bruised cheek and I winced a little at the pain. “I heard about Zoe’s training. I’m sorry. I understand why she did it. With so little time we don’t have the luxury of helping you ease into your abilities.”

“I know. One day I might forgive her. I know in my head that what she did might just save my life but…” I shook my head and touched my cheek.

“I’m proud of you, Amanda. You’re everything any mother could ever want in a daughter. About your dad… He may not know who you are. He may even think you’re part of the Academy. If you see him, tell him about the time he and I jumped off the cart on the haunted house ride at Santa Cruz’s boardwalk.” I looked at her strangely. “He’ll understand. It’s very late and I want to spend time with you and talk to make up for my years of absence, but it’ll have to wait until all of this is done. By the way, I spoke to Jen. She’s a lovely girl. I approve. Not that you need my approval.”

“Thanks, mom.”

“Love you.” She hugged me tightly.

“Love you too.”

I watched her leave and close the door behind her. My life was such a mystery to me. If what everyone was saying was true, then I’d been a prisoner for eighteen years of my life. I’ve never experienced freedom. I was a boy, and now I’m a girl. My parents didn’t abandon me and my home, the Academy turns out to be a nefarious conspiratorial organization that needs me to take over the world. Oh, my father, whom I never met and thought was dead, is alive, imprisoned, and a king, making me a princess. I thumb my nose at you Anne Hathaway with your super easy transition to pincessdom in the movie Princess Diaries.

I stood and ran my hands along my body. I felt so good. If I never wore pants again I’d be gloriously happy. People treated me differently. With the exception of Zoe, they were kinder and gentler. My fingers traced my full lips as I recalled my kisses with Jen. It was exciting to feel I had someone in my life I wanted to spend every second with.

I walked around the room having never seen such opulence before. This room was almost the same size of the cafeteria back at the Academy. I was used to living out of a small closet-sized room. I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth and spent thirty minutes staring at myself in the mirror. Eventually I just sat in front of the mirror trying to absorb who I was.

I thought about the magic that I learned and knew I had other magic as well. I imagined my hair done up like Bell in the Beauty and the Beast movie and my hair transformed. I reached for my hair and it was indeed hair, my hair. It wasn’t an illusion. I thought of Jen’s pretty face and willed myself to change. My face morphed, my hair color changed as well as my eye color. I smiled knowing all I ever needed to do to see Jen was this. I released the transformation magic and my brunette hair fell across my shoulders again.

I was tired and I know I needed sleep, but I couldn’t. A part of me wanted to explore all the buttons and gadgets I saw all around me, but deep down I realized that would have to wait. I slipped my shoes back on my feet and left my room. I wandered the halls of the great wooden mansion. I went outside where a giant fire pit was surrounded by a flagstone deck and benches. It was cold outside and the night sky was brilliant with billions of stars. I formed a fireball and cast it towards the fire pit. The wood burst into flames warming me. I sat on a bench and trained myself, manipulating the fire by magic.

“You should be resting, princess.” I looked up to see Zoe standing there. “May I?” I nodded and she took a seat near me. “I’m sorry for how I treated you and Jen today. I’ve never been known for my tactfulness. I was frustrated and angry we put ourselves at risk for you. I didn’t realize just how special you are or that your life hasn’t been your own.”

“It’s all right.”

“No, it’s not. I couldn’t sleep thinking about what your life’s been like. Your parents were taken away from you. You were unprotected in a harsh environment. I can empathize to some extent. I was an ugly boy and was picked on, but I knew I had something to look forward to. My parents were there every step of the way for me. You’re so beautiful it almost hurts to look at you and yet I know what you must have been like before.”

“I wasn’t much to look at.”

“I was wrong about you, princess. I expected you to be self-centered and needing coddling. Yet for your fragility, you’re resolute. It made me confused when you wanted, rather demanded, to go back to the Academy for someone you don’t even know. You have more courage and heart than anyone I’ve ever met before. Use that inner strength and resolve to make a difference. I believe in a week’s time, you’ll be back here enjoying life with your entire family, because I believe in you.”

“You didn’t believe in me earlier when you beat me.”

“No one has ever pinned me like you did. You’re stronger than you think you are, even without your magic.”

“All this praise. You’re not going to try to kiss me again are you?”

Zoe laughed. “If I was into girls, I’d fall for you in a second. I can see why Jen can’t keep her eyes off of you. You make a good couple.”

“So earlier today… that was all an act to make me angry?”

“It was. I’m sorry. I’m not the person I personify.”

“I forgive you, Zoe.”

“You don’t know how much that means to me, princess.”

“Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Of course.”

“What was your change like? Did your preferences change after your transformation?”

“I’ve seen humans get the flu. For me my symptoms were similar. Nausea and stomach pains. My parents gave me some stuff to help me sleep. I woke like this and was thrilled from the moment I opened my eyes. I felt right for the first time in my life. My preferences didn’t change at all. It was a huge embarrassment to grow up liking other boys. My mom was just like me though and she helped me deal with it and kept me focused on my life to follow my transformation. I spent seventeen years of my life yearning for my transformation. You’re actually quite rare. Most Xenomorphs gravitate to their own gender before their transformation so that they can perpetuate our species post transformation. Maybe it had to do with mixing Xenomorph and a magic user that made you this way. I think it’s special.”

“It limits perpetuation of the species…”

“You should try to rest, princess. But I doubt you will. There’s a place here I like to go when I want to think. Your dad would go there a lot. Walk up the right side of the house and you’ll see an iron gate. It’s locked all the time, but Xenomorphs can get past that easily enough. You should go there.”

Zoe stood and extended her hand towards me. I stood and pulled her into a hug. “Thank you, Zoe.”

“Anytime, princess.”

I stood there a few minutes more and used my magic to stop the fire. I then walked up until I spotted the iron gate. I pulled on the gate and indeed it was locked. I imagined the lock opening and nothing happened. I placed my hand over the lock and imagined I could see the lock mechanism inside. I shifted things in my mind and with a click the gate unlocked. “Cool.”

I stepped inside to find a courtyard with a waterfall and a garden. A bench sat to one side. I wondered why they kept it locked. It was a pretty place and a great place to sit and think for sure. It was then I realized that I’ve never seen what my father looks like. Not even a photo. Certainly there must be a picture of him in the house somewhere.

I went back to the house after locking the gate behind me I wandered the rooms and halls. When I failed to find anything I sat on one of the couches in the great room and slowly drifted off to sleep.

***

When I woke, people were scurrying around all over the place. “She wasn’t in her room. Where is she?” That was Jen. She sounded frantic.

“Jen?” I poked my head up from the couch.

“She’s here! What are you doing here?” She ran over and hugged me.

“I couldn’t sleep. The huge room and bed, all the things that have happened. It was late, or early and I just sat down here and must have fallen asleep.”

She sniffed. “You smell a little like smoke.”

“I practiced fire magic last night at the fire pit. And transformation magic. And unlocking magic.”

“You haven’t been trained in those yet, have you?”

“No. I missed you last night so I tried to see if I could see you in my mirror. It worked.”

“You transformed your face and hair to look like me so you could see me?” I nodded. “That’s so sweet!” She kissed me. “But how did you know how to do it?”

“I just did it.”

“Good morning, princess.” Zoe stood nearby, smiled and tipped her head. Jen looked at Zoe angrily.

“Good morning, Zoe. Thanks for our chat last night.”

“Breakfast is ready. I didn’t tell you this, but watch out for Malcom. He might try to take advantage of you.” She turned and left.

Jen looked at me and pointed after Zoe. “It’s all right, Jen. I had a long talk with Zoe at the fire last night. We came to an understanding and I forgave her. She also helped me through some concerns I’ve had in regards to my transformation.”

“But she kissed you and hit you!”

“She’s not into girls.”

“You could have fooled me!”

“You don’t have to worry about me, Jen. I only have eyes for you. You’re the only person I want to be with. I’d encourage you to talk with Zoe before we leave.”

“I guess I’m a little upset about last night still and I admit I’m a little jealous. I wish you came and got me last night. I had a hard time adjusting to the room and bed and all I could think about was you.”

I pulled her down on top of me onto the couch and I kissed her. “Do you think they’d miss us at breakfast?”

***

Breakfast was filled with discussions about where and when they’d leave us, how they’d monitor us, and how we’d communicate. Once we got into the Academy, they’d have scouts nearby in the woods watching for activity from us, but they fully expected it to take a week or more for me to find my dad and figure a strategy to get him out. Malcom was constantly smiling at me every time I glanced his way. It made me uncomfortable, but I needed to get used to men looking at me that way.

Jen did find some time to speak with Zoe after breakfast and came back pleased. I was glad they worked things out. I didn’t want Jen to feel she couldn’t trust me or Zoe. Our next step was to meet with Malcom, but I wasn’t sure what good it would do me.

Jen stayed close as Malcom eyed me over with a look of skepticism and lust. “Let’s start with the basics, princess.”

“I can transform and unlock doors already.”

“Let’s see it. Make your hair blond and shorter.”

I imagined what I wanted it to look like and I felt my hair lift off my shoulders into a shorter straight hair style with bangs. Jen smiled and ran her fingers through my hair. “That’s cute!”

Malcom looked somewhat impressed but handed me a padlock. “Unlock this.”

I held the lock in my hand and noticed something subtle about it. It was both magically locked and physically locked. “You didn’t lock this did you?” I concentrated and watched the lock pop open in my hand. “Were you trying to trick me?”

Now Malcom looked impressed. “I admit it was a trick. I got Jen’s mom to lock it with magic as well. You did very well. There’s one other magic specialty you can learn. By touching an object, you can use your transformative magic to partially alter the mass of the object. Let’s go to the gym.”

We headed down to the gym and Jen and I watched as Malcom grabbed a bench press bar with several hundred pounds of weight on it. “I’m just using my one hand and directing this transformative magic into the bar and everything it touches. Depending on your magical ability, your magic can go a few feet, or hundreds of feet.” I watched as he lifted the barbell easily with one hand. “Now you try it.”

I couldn’t budge it. “I need to feel the magic. Can you hold my wrist and do the same thing?”

It appeared that he liked the idea overly much. I extended my arm and he wrapped his hand around my wrist. He was smiling and enjoying this altogether too much. I felt the magic push and it took me no time at all to figure out how I could do the same. Malcom started stroking my arm so I tried something new.

With a yelp of pain Malcom leapt back holding his hand as an electric shock zapped him. “Why’d you do that?”

“Because you were taking advantage of the situation, and don’t try to deny it.” I reached for the barbell with one hand and replicated his magic and lifted. The barbell felt no more than a few pounds. I smiled.

Malcom was still holding his hand. “You’re dangerous!” He stormed off.

Jen snuggled up next to me and slid her hand up and down my arm. “I really don’t have to worry about you, do I?”

“Not in the least. I need to find my mom.” Jen grabbed my hand in hers. I loved that she was so physical that way. It wasn’t clingy, but more like a strong desire to be close. Possibly even protective of me or even an outward demonstration that I belonged to her. Whatever the reason, I was happy for it.

We found my mom upstairs on the couches. “It’s almost time for you two to leave. I wish you didn’t have to go.”

“I wish that too.”

“How did your training go?”

“It went well. I also learned a little on how to protect myself.”

“How so?”

“Malcom got a little frisky and I politely encouraged him not to touch me.”

“She shocked him. It was so awesome!” Jen smiled.

“There’s not many young women around his age. We need to find him a hobby.”

“Do you have a picture of dad, mom?”

“I do.” She fished in her purse and held up a photo. He was a handsome man and tall. The picture was of the two of them standing by an ocean.

I started to cry as I realized my loss. “Why? Why couldn’t they just leave us alone? We would have been so happy together.” My mom and Jen hugged me simultaneously.

Harold and Zoe entered the room. “We’re ready to take you both back to the city now.”

I sniffed and hugged my mom one more time. I looked at Jen who nodded. “We’re ready.”

***

The drive back into the city was a little somber. Zoe tried to lighten things up but it didn’t help much. I was feeling much more confident in my ability to protect myself, but I was still nervous. After all, I was heading back to a place that wanted to disassemble me.

The plan was to drop us off about five miles from the mall. The area was not too savory we were told, but it would make sense this was the area we might be close to. The idea was to drop us off, make some anonymous calls, and have Harold and Zoe nearby to swoop in right after the Academy picked us up. This would leave an impression that the Xenomorph Contingency, as I’ve come to call them, were also trying to find us.

Jen and I were dropped off in an industrial area and told to start walking west towards the mountains. With the calls, it wasn’t long before we started seeing activity in the area. Police cruisers were driving the neighborhood we were in and we kept to the shadows as much as possible. After thirty minutes we finally saw an Academy SUV. We purposely made ourselves visible, but then backed into a dead-end alley giving them easy access to catch us.

Four Academy staff jumped out of the SUV and grabbed us. The burly guy, Ms. Baxter, and two other men that I assumed were more potent offensive magic users. “Ms. Baxter! How did you find us?”

It was clear she was a little untrusting of us by the way she looked us over. “Get in the car!” We were hustled into the SUV just as Harold and Zoe peeled around the corner in their van. “Get us out of here!” The SUV jumped forward and Harold and Zoe gave a halfhearted attempt at chasing us before giving up. “Tell me how you escaped them.”

“We were in the SUV and it was clear to us we were in danger. They stopped at a light and Jen and I jumped out of the SUV and ran. We found a small restaurant and hid in the bathroom with Jen glamouring us so we would be hidden. After that, we started moving towards the mountains, but we were so afraid. We didn’t know how to contact you. We found an underpass and slept there last night. Who are those people and what do they want with us? They have my mom!”

“And how did you get that bruise on your cheek?”

“Jen was at the door of the SUV and I was in the middle. It took me longer to get out and I was grabbed. I slipped out of his grasp, but my face hit the door frame on the way out. Jen healed it a little, but we were afraid to use much magic in case we needed it to hide again.” I pushed a gentle compulsion magic towards Ms. Baxter. “Did we do something wrong?”

Her countenance softened, clear that my compulsion worked. “We’re just glad you’re both okay. You’ve had a frightening ordeal and it’s clear we didn’t prepare you well enough in case of emergencies.”

“We’re so glad you found us. Do you have any food?”

“Unfortunately no, but we can stop for some on the way back to the Academy. Try to rest. We have a few hours driving to do.”

I snuggled into Jen who wrapped her arms around me. I loved the feeling of being in her arms. Surprisingly I did drift off to sleep for a brief time but woke when we stopped for some food. We didn’t actually get out of the car as it was a hamburger drive-through place. This was very exciting to me to think you could get food inside of the car. They ordered a cheeseburger, Coke, and fries for me and Jen, then sped off again as I became addicted to fast food French fries.

It was about three in the afternoon when we arrived back at the Academy. Jen and I were not allowed to shower or clean up, but rather hustled straight into the board room. We were independently grilled for the next hour before they finally let us head to our rooms. Jen was directed to help me find additional hand-me-down clothes since everything we bought was now lost. We found a few skirts, blouses, a dress, and some jeans I could wear. I then jumped into the shower to get cleaned up.

An hour later I was dressed in a skirt and blouse and Jen was cleaned up as well. We headed to the cafeteria for the traditional Thursday night spaghetti meal. Many of the girls came to sit with Jen and me, anxious to hear about why we weren’t at the Academy last night.

“We heard you were kidnapped!”

We had to continue to play our part in case any of the students reported back to the administration. “It was frightening! We were leaving from the shopping mall when two vans of people pulled up and attacked us. Ms. Baxter and our driver were thrown from the vehicle and we were taken. We managed to escape but spent the night on the streets.”

“Your cheek is bruised Amanda.”

“Oh, Amanda, I’m so sorry!” Jen touched my cheek and healed it fully. “In all the rush I forgot.” She let her hand linger on my cheek.

“You should have taken me with you. I would have protected you.” Brad stood behind Becky at the table and had an ‘I could’ve killed off the world’ look. “You owe me for that stunt you played with Samantha, Amanda.”

“I do?” Knowing I had so much power I was tempted to use compulsion on him but I refrained. I needed to hide my magic as much as possible.

“Dinner tomorrow night.”

“What about dinner?”

“You, I and dinner.”

I sighed. “You weren’t told?”

“Told about what?”

“That I’m already spoken for.” Jen squeezed my hand under the table.

“But you aren’t wearing a ring, so that means you’re still fair game.”

“I’ll be honest with you, Brad. This experience with the men that just kidnapped Jen and me… I can’t be alone with you or any guy right now.” I started to cry. A crying girl always shook up guys.

“I’m not giving up.” He turned and left.

I wiped my fake tears away and grinned at the girls. Becky looked warily back over her shoulder towards Brad. “Be careful, Amanda. I’ve heard stories about Brad getting his way.”

“I’ll be careful.”

By the time we got back to our rooms I had a new class schedule taped to my door. Jen looked at it and frowned. “They’ve added re-integration classes for you.”

I took Jen’s hand and we moved quickly into one of the shower stalls in the bathroom. I turned on the water and whispered to her. “I’d not put it past them to bug our rooms. I’ll be fine as I’ll not let the magic be used on me. Tonight, after everyone’s asleep, I’ll do a little sneaking around.”

“What if someone checks on you?”

“I’ll put my pillows under my sheets and attach a glamour to them to look like me. I’ll also make myself look like Samantha.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I’ll be fine, Jen. I need to find my dad so we can get out of here. The faster we leave, the sooner you and I can spend quality time with each other.”

Jen smiled softly and pushed me up against the shower wall and kissed me.

***

Later that evening after lights-out I stepped into the hallway and transformed myself to look like Samantha. My first stop was the library which I found locked, but within a few seconds I had the door open and I was inside. Moving to the far back of the library I found a computer terminal. I lowered the brightness on the screen so the glare wouldn’t be as noticeable. I was suddenly grateful for being a bit of a nerd as I maneuvered around the various protection mechanisms that were put on the computer to keep students away from the administrative data. Unfortunately my search only revealed I needed further credentials. I sighed but I wasn’t finished yet. I sent several phishing emails to administrators telling them it was time to reset their account password. This I would capture using a fake website that would relay the account and password information back to me. Hopefully by tomorrow I’d have a chance to get more information.

I shut down the computer and snuck back out of the library. I turned towards the board room and the administrative offices. I knew they had guards patrolling so I stayed to the shadows as much as I could. When I got to the board room I could hear voices beyond the closed doors.

“…starts her re-integration classes tomorrow but I need you to oversee her testing. We need blood samples to compare her blood before and after.”

I didn’t recognize the first voice. But I froze when I heard the next voice of Ms. Baxter.

“Why don’t we simply move her to our holding area? I don’t trust her. I can’t be sure, but I swear she might have used compulsion on me earlier today. She’s dangerous.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Yes, her mother might have some ability with compulsion but there’s no indication Amanda has that ability and she’s had no time to master any of her powers. For that matter we have no idea what magical abilities she has. Putting her in a holding cell will do nothing to persuade her to cooperate. I’ll remind you of how we failed so miserably with her father.”

“Fine, but don’t blame me when things go south with Amanda. I think it’s important to separate her from Jen.”

“Again, you’re not thinking this through. If what you’re saying about Amanda and Jen is true, then we need to foster their relationship. The closer they are, the easier it will be to force Amanda to do what we want. Jen’s expendable in the long run and…”

I pulled myself away from the door as I heard footsteps coming my direction. I snuck back into the hall and headed back towards my room when a hand grabbed me from behind. “Samantha Urkley! I hope you have a good excuse for being out here tonight.”

“I… I’m sorry.” I looked up into the guard’s face. “I was heading to the cafeteria to get a snack.”

“You know the rules. Ms. Baxter will not be happy when I tell her I caught you. Of course I don’t have to tell her if you take care of me.” He gave a grin and looked down toward his crotch. I shuddered with revulsion. “Come on, I know you like it, Samantha.”

I reacted by using my compulsion on him. “You will let me go, turn around, and walk the other way. You didn’t see me tonight.” I must have pushed too hard as his eyes glazed over and he turned and walked away. I tried to quiet my racing heart as I turned and rushed back to my room.

***

The next morning I ran over to see Jen and dragged her into a shower stall. I was frantic and hadn’t slept all night thinking about what I heard. I was crying as I clung to her. “You have to leave, Jen. It was wrong bringing you back here. If I don’t cooperate, they’ll use you against me. They’ll hurt you.”

“Calm down, Amanda. I chose to be here with you knowing the risks. Your mom told me how she escaped the Academy the first time. If it looks like things are getting worse then we’ll leave together.”

“I can’t let them hurt you. Promise me you’ll leave tonight.” I was talking quickly and babbling. I was frantic.

Jen put her hand on my face. “Shhhh. I promise if things get bad I’ll leave, but I’m not going anywhere without you.”

“But…” She shut my mouth with a kiss.

“But nothing. What else did you find out?” I told her what I’d heard and did. “When I get to the nurse’s station I’ll find your old blood sample and destroy it. Then I’ll take a sample of my own blood so that we can make sure they don’t get a copy of yours. I’m sure I’ll be able to swap the samples when no one is looking. You look a gorgeous fright. Go get yourself cleaned up and meet me in the cafeteria for breakfast.”

I found solitude in her warm embrace and realized this was not a fight I would win. I glanced at myself in a mirror and saw my hair was disheveled. It was at this point that I realized I was still me. My body had changed but my mind was the same. Of course having female hormones coursing through my system was probably having some impact on my emotional state. All in all, I was still the needy nerdy kid I was before. I ruefully let go of Jen surprising myself at how attached I’d become.

I went back to my bedroom and brushed out my hair. I doubted I’d ever tire of the face that stared back at me in the mirror. I looked down at my body and realized I’d put on a skirt and blouse and although they were hand-me-downs, they accentuated my figure. The fact that I had deliberately chosen them without thinking almost made me giddy. Before a few days ago I’d never have thought of wearing dresses or skirts, but now I simply loved the feel of them.

As I walked towards the cafeteria I noticed how differently I was now being treated. People smiled and waved at me, called my name, and some even suggested I sit with them in class. It was such a shame that people were so callous towards others. It seemed now everyone wanted to be my friend. I had to mentally remind myself what a terrible situation Jen and I were really in.

I sat down with Jen and Becky and made a mental note to ask Jen to help me learn how to put on makeup as her eyes were nicely highlighted. I still couldn’t get over the fact that I was a girl and loving every second of it. I wanted to be all in, full on girl with the frilly dresses, makeup, and the works. I was even looking forward to my first period.

I’d just started to eat when Samantha and her two minions stopped by the table. “Amanda, we heard that you and Jen were kidnapped but they threw you both away because you weren’t pretty enough for ransom.”

I looked up into Samantha’s eyes and felt her loathing of me. “Why do you hate me so much? What did I ever do to you?”

“You shouldn’t be wasting your time with the likes of these.” She pointed to Jen and Becky.

“Have you ever considered why you’re so disliked? You’re smart and pretty. Certainly if you showed a little kindness towards others you could have real friends.”

“Why would I want to hang out with a bunch of losers? None of you are going anywhere. I’m being groomed for television stardom in my re-integration classes.”

Jen was seething beside me so I gently squeezed her hand. “Well, Samantha… While you’re becoming the next great actress, I’ll enjoy having real friends and real relationships. I only hope that when you’re rich, famous, and insanely lonely you won’t regret your lost opportunities. After all, looks fade but friendships last forever. Is that a wrinkle under your eye?”

Samantha growled, spun, and left. I suspect she ran to the bathroom to check her wrinkle. I sighed and leaned over to Jen and whispered into her ear. “I just want to curl up in your arms and be away from all of this.”

Jen pulled my hair away from my neck and whispered back. “And I want to take you away from all of this, put you on a bed and kiss you from head to toe.”

I blushed furiously. “Amanda Jackson to the board room…”

I grabbed a piece of bacon and stuffed it into my mouth, grateful for the higher metabolism of Xenomorphs. “See you all later.”

***

I hesitantly pushed the door to the board room open. Being a place people tried hard to avoid, I’ve now found myself called here more times than I ever wanted to be. Inside was the old fart, Alexander Ripken, Jen had called him. Ms. Baxter was also there as well as a handful of others.

“Amanda, please take a seat.” The old guy nodded to a chair in the middle of the room. “I trust you’re well?”

Patience I thought to myself. Patience and gentle cooperation. “I’m a little frightened if I were to be honest. Who were those people and why did they take my mom?”

“We here at the Academy try to provide a safe place for magic users to learn and grow. There are others outside of the Academy that wish to do harm to us and to ultimately control others. We believe that’s who tried to kidnap you.”

“But what would they want with me?”

“Most likely it was not you they wanted but rather they recognized your mother. You and Jen were merely collateral captures.”

I had to be careful here. Showing too much interest in my mother who I’d not seen for years could raise a flag. “I don’t really know my mom. My whole life has been turned upside down these past few days. I used to be a boy and now look at me. Is the whole world like that out there? I hardly know what to think anymore.”

“Amanda, know that there are forces for good and for evil in this world. You are who you are, which is a remarkably unique person. People could try to exploit you for who you are, but not here. We want to help you become all that you can be and to give you resources with which to protect yourself when you go into the world. I want to introduce you to someone.” He waved at a guard who in turn opened a door and a man came through.

I bit my lip to not cry out. I recognized my father from the photo my mom had shown me. His eyes were glassed over and while he was seeing, I could tell he was being tightly controlled. Perhaps it was some kind of super strong compulsion. There was no recognition in his countenance, but then again, he’d never seen me before. I wanted to scream, to yell, to set the place on fire, but I held still.

“Amanda, meet Mathias Jackson, your father.”

I stood up so quickly the chair I was sitting on fell over backwards with a loud crash. “My father? How?”

“Please, Amanda, sit down and try to relax. This is indeed your father. For many years we thought him dead. We searched for him, hoping to be able to reunite you both. When you were kidnapped, we looked all over for you and we stumbled upon an anti-magic user establishment hold-out in the city. We had known about the location for some time, a place where those that kidnapped your mother would sometimes hide themselves. We found the place empty with the exception of your father. It was clear they held him for many years, and you can tell by the look in his eyes they used dark magic on him to make him compliant. We’ve tried to help him, but we can’t reach him. This’s why it’s so very important that you learn your abilities. As a Xenomorph, you may be the only one that can set his mind free, but you’ll need to help us help him by giving us your full cooperation.”

I sensed I needed to touch my father to feel the magic that had caused this. I stood and walked to face my father for the first time in my life. I went to touch his hand when the guard pulled my hand away. I looked at the old man angrily at the offense.

“It’s all right. Let her touch him.” There was anxiousness in his eyes yet he tried to cover it with a look of genuine concern.

I reached again and touched my father’s hand. I could feel it, see it. The magic that held him bound was sophisticated and not the work of any one person, but multiple. I was right about the compulsion, but there was something else, something frightening. It was as if his mind was shoved aside and a wall was built around it. I dropped his hand and turned to the old man. “I’ll do anything to help him.”

The glint in his eyes told me everything. This is what he was planning all along to get me to be cooperative. “That’s wonderful to hear, Amanda. We’ll start by sending you to the nurse’s station to get a sample of your blood. Then you’ll concentrate on re-integration classes and your magic classes. We’re all hoping that with your unique ancestry you’ll be able to unlock the mystery around your father’s magically created illness.”

“I’d like to be able to see him from time to time if that would be possible. I assume you have him near the nurse’s area to keep an eye on him?”

I saw the flicker of annoyance on his face. “We have him under surveillance in a protected wing of the Academy. We’re not positive that he’s not some form of a magical Trojan horse so we need to keep him separated from the students and why we have a guard for him at all times. Given some notice, I’m sure we can grant you access to see him in a controlled environment.” He waved at the guard who turned and escorted my father out of the board room. “Now, I believe you have an appointment with our nurse then it’s off with you to re-integration.”

“Are you looking for my mom?”

“Most certainly.” He didn’t say any more about that and gave me a dismissive look.

I turned to leave and noticed another gentleman sitting off in the corner of the board room. There was something sinister about him. His eyes seemed soulless and there was a darkness around him. I shuddered and left the board room and took a deep breath. My hands were shaking. I’d seen what they’d done to my father and believed I could undo the magic that bound him. It reminded me of the lock Malcom had given me. It was locked using multiple methods and I could sense the layers of magic that wrapped around him. Inwardly I seethed and caressed the magic within me. I felt like I could level this place but I had so little training and needed to be smart about how I handled myself.

As I walked to the nurse’s station I was completely lost in my thoughts when Brad stepped into my path. I ran right into him, which pleased him no end. “Amanda. So good to see you. Dinner tonight. You and I. I’m not taking no for an answer.”

“It’s you and me, not you and I.” I was in no mood for playing this game. I glanced around and the hallways were empty. There was no one around I could get assistance from. He waited for my acceptance. “The answer is no. I have no desire to have dinner with you Brad.”

He grabbed my arm and dragged me into the boy’s bathroom then pushed me up against the wall. His hand sprouted tendrils of fire that singed my skin. “I said I won’t take no for an answer.”

I gritted my teeth against the heat. I knew I could use magic and I could possibly even be as strong as he was, but I pushed him softly and yelled at him. “I wouldn’t eat dinner with you if you were the last person on earth! Now let me go!”

He leaned in and whispered into my ear. “You just made a huge mistake. I tried to be nice. I’ll have you with or without your consent.”

I slapped him. Hard. Probably harder than a regular girl would have, but certainly not as hard as I could. That stunned him enough that he moved his hands from me to his face allowing me to slip out from him and bolt for the door. Just as I got to the door two of Brad’s buddies walked in.

“Grab her!” I was roughly seized by the oversized thugs and dragged back to Brad who was sporting a bleeding lip. The look in his eyes was a combination of hatred and lust. “Hold her down!”

He started to unbuckle his pants and I was panicking. I’m helpless. This was going to happen to me. They pushed me roughly to the floor. Something about the cold floor made me remember my time with Zoe. I’m not helpless. I can defend myself! I altered the mass of the two boys holding me down, closed my eyes and threw them forward. I guess my adrenaline got the better of me as when I opened my eyes I saw them fly towards Brad and crash into him. Once I had let them go their mass returned and Brad collapsed under their weight with a decent sounding crunch.

I quickly got to my feet just as Brad extricated himself from the pile. It was clear his nose was now broken. I felt his magic build as he sent a fireball at me. I took a step towards him and let the fireball dissipate. I was seething.

“What are you?” He shouted.

“I’m a unicorn. If you ever touch me or I hear you attacking any other girl in the Academy again, I’ll destroy you. Do you understand me?” To emphasize the point I caused electricity to dance along my fingers.

“You’re a freak!”

I grabbed his shirt and changed his mass so I could lift him off the ground. His eyes went wide. I forced a strong compulsion on him and the two people still lying on the floor. “After I leave you won’t remember what transpired here. You’ll never again have the desire to harm women. In fact, you’re rather fond of your male friends.” I dropped him and walked out of the bathroom, grateful the hallways were still empty. I turned and ran to the nurse’s area.

I was visibly shaking when I saw Jen. I started crying uncontrollably. She pulled me aside into a private alcove and hugged me tight. “What happened, Amanda?”

I told her about my dad and then Brad. “I feel like I’m losing control, Jen. I just want to destroy something.”

“Thank God you’re all right. You said you used compulsion on Brad and his friends, if it doesn’t fully take you’ll be exposed. How long do you think it would take to set your father free of the magic?”

“I don’t know. I can see the intertwined spells, but it’s like a puzzle. Each piece I’d have to untangle, decipher, and reverse. Maybe thirty minutes or even a few hours. I’m not really sure.”

“If you could get to your father perhaps you could set him free.”

“I think I should do it all at once if I can. I get the feeling that anything less than the full release will be visible by the Academy. With my run-in with Brad, I’ve got to try to find my father tonight. If I can get to him I can perhaps free him and we can get out of here.”

“If you can get him out of where they’re keeping him, I think with your mom’s directions I can get us out of the Academy compound. I think I can even create a distraction giving us more time to get away. So tonight then?”

“It will have to be.”

Jen gave me another hug and a kiss. “Let me get your blood sample before they get suspicious.”

***

The afternoon went by slowly as I was anxious for evening to come. My re-integration class was frightening. Had I not been able to block the magic I would have completely fallen under the Academy’s spell after several weeks of sessions. The magic was designed to make people warmly receptive to the leaders of the Academy and to blindly accept their teaching and direction. I recognized the magical spell patterns as something that my father had been cast with. In a way I was happy to get a chance to feel the spell so I could understand it further.

My magic class was more of a one-on-one training session. I was told this was because I needed to catch up, but I could tell they were using this opportunity to test my powers. I didn’t know how long it took for people to start manifesting or even what new magic users could do so I spent the entire afternoon looking troubled and feigning I wasn’t getting any of it. I needed to be careful to exhibit only the right amount of magic at the right time and I had no idea what that might look like. Hopefully if all went well I’d not have to worry about any of that.

Evening finally came and after dinner I went straight to bed. I set my alarm for two in the morning and surprisingly fell asleep right away. A few nights without much sleep had really done me in. When my alarm sounded I quickly got up, got dressed, and snuck back into the dark hallways. As I did the night before I transformed myself to look like Samantha in case I got caught. The library was easy to access and soon I found myself reviewing several account passwords that I caught with my phishing scheme. I used these credentials to unlock access to the Academy files. It took a while but I eventually found what I was looking for, blueprints of the Academy.

I wasn’t happy with what I saw. The access to the underground section was through a single doorway inside the board room. From that door a stairwell would lead down to a larger set of rooms and hallways. My only hint as to where they might keep my father was that there were several large rooms with reinforced structures and plumbing. Certainly they wouldn’t be able to keep someone locked up for any length of time without plumbing of some kind. I locked and turned off the computer and retraced my steps to the hallway.

The board room appeared all quiet as I pressed my ear to the door. I unlocked the door and snuck inside. The moonlight streaming in from the windows cast the room with a spooky feeling. Ignoring the feeling I moved to the far door. It was locked with a pair of physical locks and a magical lock which I smiled at as I quickly managed to get the door open. I thought about all the old movies we were allowed to watch. One of my favorite was the Pink Panther. How easy it would be to have my skills to steal something of value. I frowned as I realized the Academy thought I was the item of value and here I was moving further and further into their prison. Oh the irony of it all.

Small lights lit the stairs as I descended. At the bottom I took a second to get my bearings. I needed to go straight to the first hallway intersection and then turn right. I was as stealthy as I could be but my steps sounded like fire alarms to my ears. I headed down the right hallway and approached the first of four doors. Each door could be the one where my dad was imprisoned. The first two were unlocked so I ignored those and moved to the third when the hallway lights turned on and I heard voices coming from another hallway. I quickly grabbed for the next door and found it doubly locked with magic. This was a more difficult lock as there were two intertwined spells. Both needed to be released at the same time to unlock the door. The voices in the hallway were getting closer as I probed at the magic. Finally I closed my eyes focused on unravelling both spells at once. I had no idea it worked until the door clicked open and I stepped inside the dark room. I reset the lock which was far easier to do now that I had figured out how to unlock the door.

The room was pitch dark as I leaned against the door and listened to the voices. I could hear them approach and finally recede. I breathed a sigh of relief and stretched out my hands to feel for a light switch. I groped blindly for some time before kicking myself with the realization I could create light. I opened my hand and created a small fireball. Looking around I spotted the light switch a few feet away. Light flooded the room as I threw the switch. It looked a little like a much larger Academy dorm room with the exception of a private bath. As my eyes adjusted I first thought I made a mistake but then I saw him lying on a bed in the corner. His ankle was chained with enough slack to allow him access to most of the room, but not near the doorway. He was just lying there still as death. I took a few steps towards him and jumped when I saw something move near the bathroom.

Silly me, it was only my reflection in a mirror. I frowned at my Samantha look and decided I could drop my transformation now. If I was found there’s no way they’d believe Samantha ever got down here anyway. Now looking like myself and feeling much better I stepped quietly over to the bed. I stretched out my trembling hand and touched my father’s wrist. His eyes flew open at my touch but he didn’t move. I sat on the bed and concentrated on the magic layers that enveloped him. There were at least ten layers. The first layers took a lot of time for me to figure out. I could see them but had to guess what each one did and how it could be undone.

I was sweating by the time I was on my last layer and I could only guess that several hours had passed. Several times my father tried to communicate and move, but I spoke to him softly and I think he understood I was trying to help him. The last layer took no time at all to undo and I finally saw his glazed eyes clear. He smiled at me then with a suddenness that defied logic his hand grabbed my throat and began squeezing. He was so strong. I couldn’t think. My mind was going cloudy when I thought of Malcom and I send a wave of electricity through me. He let go and I collapsed onto the floor by the bed gasping for air. I felt his presence close by and heard the chains clinking. My head pulled back and as the chain was wrapped around my neck. I looked up pleadingly into his eyes. “Father!” I croaked out.

“Who are you?” he demanded as the chains remained around my neck but loosened.

“I’m your daughter, Amanda Jackson. I was named Percy Jackson when I was born to Elizabeth and you, Mathias.”

“You lie.” The chains began to tighten again.

“Mom told me to remind you of the time you both snuck off the haunted house ride in Santa Cruz.”

The chains loosened again then tightened some more. I looked into his eyes. “How could you release me and get in here if you’re not part of the Academy?”

“Because of what I inherited from both you and mom. I’m unique. I’m Xenomorph and a magic user. I have the abilities of both, and perhaps more. I’m here to rescue you.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“And yet I love you. You’re the father that was taken from me. You’re my father that was imprisoned here. You’re my father that I was told didn’t exist for eighteen years of my life. You’re my father that the Academy dragged in front of me today to assure my cooperation so that they could dissect me and find a way to take over the world.” I pushed myself up to my feet. “Don’t you see your own flesh and blood standing before you? Have you been so beaten and lost to no longer know the love of your daughter?” Tears fell from my eyes.

The chains were lifted from around my neck and I was enveloped in my father’s arms. “My daughter…”

“How touching. Dramatic even.” We turned to see the sinister looking man standing in the doorway clapping his hands slowly together. “Well done young lady. You’re incredibly gifted. Do you know it took ten magic users to bind your father? And I understand you only got your powers less than a week ago. My my… You’re worth every ounce of effort we put into securing our future for.”

“Conrad DeMarche. I should have known you were behind all of this.” My father stepped between me and Conrad protectively. It almost surprised me. “You have me. Let my daughter go.”

“By no means. She’s who we want. You’re the expendable one.”

As they glared at each other I touched my hand against the chains and unlocked the cuff holding onto my father’s ankle. It clicked and fell away and before it hit the floor my father had spanned the distance between them and grabbed Conrad.

Conrad was stunned, but he was a master magic user and my father fell backwards onto his knees holding up his blistered hands. I rushed to his side and healed him. I stood and stepped towards Conrad.

“Stop right there young lady.” I took another step forward. “You will cooperate. Stop where you are.” He then turned his head towards the door. “Bring her out.”

The burly dude and Ms. Baxter came into the room with Jen struggling between them. Ms. Baxter held a gun to Jen’s head. “No! Let Jen go!”

“As I said, you will cooperate.” Jen looked panicked and I had to admit I was panicking as well. “We’ve been monitoring you your entire life. We even trailed you when you left the board room today. Were you aware that Brad Montgomery was one of our own? He was wearing a camera when we sent him to speak with you.”

“You mean when you sent him to rape me?”

“That was his own doing. He was rather fond of you, but his innovation allowed us to see something of your abilities. It’s unfortunate your compulsion is so strong as I’m not sure we can undo what you compelled him to. We found him kissing one of his male friends and he hasn’t responded to our treatments.”

I smiled ruefully. “He got what he deserved.”

“Perhaps. However, we need to focus on what really matters. Right now, that’s your full cooperation.”

“Let Jen and my father go. When I have proof they are free and away from here then you can do what you want to me.”

Jen screamed. “No!”

“Don’t do this, my daughter. I’m not worth it.”

“Sorry young lady. This isn’t a negotiation. We keep Jen and your father and you willingly accept and absorb our supplication magic or Jen’s brains will be wiped from the floor and your father will be turned into a living zombie, with full awareness of what he sees, but no ability to control his body.”

“You’re all monsters!”

Conrad shrugged. “I do what must be done for the sake of the cause.”

I remembered I was able to use compulsion on Ms. Baxter before and I doubted I could use it effectively against Conrad. I looked into Ms. Baxter’s eyes and used all my magical strength to push a compulsion on her. “You will point the gun at Conrad’s head and shoot him at my command.” Her eyes glazed over and she put the gun to Conrad’s head. “Now let Jen and my father go or I’ll order her to pull the trigger.”

I felt the wave of magic hit me and just let is dissipate. Conrad’s face faltered. Suddenly an explosion shook the building and the lights flickered. I swung my fist at Conrad’s face and channeled force magic into the blow. My fist connected just as the lights flickered back on in time for me to feel the crunch of bone and his head snap back. My father leapt forward and tackled the burly dude. Jen grabbed the gun from Ms. Baxter who simply stood stunned. Conrad was down and out for the count and my father had taken out the big guy easily. I grabbed Jen’s hand and pulled her out into the hallway with my father right behind. I turned and pulled the door closed and magically locked the door, then added the physical lock as well.

“Let’s get out of here!”

Jen explained the escape route as we ran down the hallway and up the stairs. “We need to get outside and to the creek. There’s a spot where the creek goes under the Academy wall. We can swim under the wall and reach the forest beyond.”

At the top of the stairs we paused and listened. There was activity in the board room but there was no other way out. Another explosion sounded. “Was this your distraction, Jen?”

“No! I don’t know what’s happening.”

I cracked the door open and looked into the board room. The old guy was in there along with twenty high-level faculty and students. It looked like they were preparing an all-out assault. This was not the way out. I looked at the cinderblock wall to my left. It looked like an exterior wall. “Dad? Can we alter the mass of the wall and break through it?”

“I’ve seen that done with some success before. I’m guessing you’re much stronger magically than me after seeing what you can already do. You alter it and I’ll run at it.”

I nodded and placed my hand on the wall. I focused on altering the mass. I had no idea how much of it I was actually altering. My father slammed into the wall with his shoulder. Perhaps it was his Xenomorph strength and speed, or my ability, but the wall shattered and he fell through to the outside. Luckily the drop to the ground was only a few feet. Jen and I jumped through the opening and we all ran towards the outside fence.

When we got closer to the fence there were pockets of trees we could pause at. We stopped briefly and Jen threw her arms around me, kissing me, and holding me tightly. “I was so frightened, Amanda.”

I was oddly feeling confident when I knew I should be shaking like a leaf. “We’re not out of here yet. The perimeter fence looks too thick for us to break through. The creek is to the west but we have to cross the main entryway to get there and going around the campus will take too long.” A fireball exploded a tree next to us, lighting up the pre-dawn darkness. “Jen, take my father towards the main gate. I’ll distract these people coming after us.” Jen hesitated as another fireball hit nearby. “Go!”

I turned away and ran along the fence back to the opening we made in the Academy wall. The people from the board room were streaming out and the old man was leading them. Not to be deterred, I hurled a fireball at him causing the group to scatter and refocus their attack on me. I had no idea what I could withstand so I hastily created a shield as I ran the opposite direction away from my father and Jen. Fireballs burst all around me as I ran. Satisfied that the group had turned away from Jen and my father, I turned to face my enemies.

Fully twenty of them slowly began circling me as I backed up against the perimeter fence. Almost all of them were male meaning they had no real defensive magic. I hurled several fireballs at some of the closest ones and smiled as they had to retreat and beat off the flames that ignited on their clothing. This caused the others to hesitate. It was a bit of a standoff. Their fireballs couldn’t damage me and they knew I could hurt them, but they had me vastly outnumbered.

The old man stepped forward. His confidence seemed slightly eroded but I knew he was powerful. “Amanda. Give up and we’ll let Jen and your father leave safely.”

Another teacher had tried to get closer to me as the old man spoke. I sent a bolt of lightning at him causing him to collapse on the ground convulsing. “You expect me to believe you when you lied to me all my life?” I felt his magic wash over me. He was trying to lock me in place as he had the first time I met him in the board room. It was an interesting variant of the spell used to move objects. I glared at him and took steps towards him. “Your magic can’t control me anymore.” Another teacher started to move towards me and I sent a similar wave of magic towards him and smiled as he froze in place.

“You can’t expect to beat us all, Amanda. While your abilities are remarkable, you’re not indestructible and eventually your magic will be depleted.”

His words caused me to pause. Starting with Brad I’d been using my magic almost constantly over the past day. Transforming myself to move through the Academy, unlocking doors, freeing my father, and everything to this point had been eating up my magic reserves. I suddenly realized that without rest to restore what I’d used I’d quickly be exhausted. The smile on his face indicated he knew he was right. “Perhaps, but not before I take you and many others down. Your plot to take over the world will have to happen without me and my family.”

Another fireball was thrown at me and I simply let it dissipate without blocking it with a shield. Then a thought occurred to me. Could I absorb the magical energy instead of letting it dissipate? Could I use other’s magical reserves to restore my own? I took another step towards the old man and another fireball was launched towards me. This time I felt the magical energy touch me and I pulled it in and felt my reserves grow. I started to formulate a plan to get myself out of this mess.

I ran forward towards the old man. His eyes widened as he yelled “Stop her!” As I’d hoped they all unleashed their magic towards me. I stopped in my tracks and simply absorbed it all. I feigned exhaustion and slumped a little, and took another step towards him. “It’s draining her. Keep attacking!” Several more waves of magic were sent my way and each time I slumped a little further and finally fell to my knees. My magical reserves were now more than overflowing.

The old man stepped closer to me. I looked up wearily towards him as he smiled ruefully. “Let me tell you what’s going to happen. We’re going to retrieve your father and that little girlfriend of yours and we’ll burn them alive in front of you. Then, we’ll start by letting you help us unlock the secrets to your abilities. Every time you choose not to cooperate, we’ll cut off a finger or toe. When we run out of those we’ll start with removing your eyes one by one.”

The amount of magic I’d recovered was significant. “You people really are sick.” I pushed out a powerful wave of electricity that knocked everyone around me to the ground and left most unconscious. Those that weren’t unconscious were not in control as they shook violently as if being hit by a Taser. The old man was unconscious as he had been closest he probably received more of the shock. I was tempted to kill him but I realized I’m not a killer. For all they’d done to me and my family, I didn’t want to lower myself to their level. I left them all and ran along the fence towards the entrance.

More explosions could be heard, but things overall seemed to be getting quieter. Suddenly two large Academy guards tackled me. I was face down in the dirt with one guy on top of me keeping me pinned down as the other stood close by. I growled and threw my elbow back with a blast of force magic into the guard’s ear. The force knocked him out and rolled him conveniently off my body. I stood to face the next guard who drew his gun and pointed it at me.

“Don’t move.” I watched as he warily kept an eye on me and pulled his radio from his belt when his eyes rolled up into the back of his head. He fell face first to the ground. Zoe stood there grinning with a heavy branch in her hand.

“Miss me, princess?”

“More than you’ll ever know.” I ran over and hugged her.

“Nice job on the other brute by the way.”

“I’ve had some recent practice. Why are you here?”

“When you and Jen headed back to try to rescue your father, people were so moved by your courage we couldn’t stop anyone from trying to assist in breaking you all out of here. Your actions galvanized a small army of Xenomorphs. Those explosions were us.”

“I’m glad you’re here. My father and Jen were last heading towards the entrance. We need to reach them.”

“They’re already safe. Everyone’s been looking for you. I’ll send out a communication and get everyone pulling back, but we need to get to the entrance so we can get you out of here.”

We ran towards the entrance and when we got there it was a scene unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before. Fireballs and electricity were shooting everywhere. The Academy had the Xenomorph Contingency pinned inside the entrance and were pummeling them with everything they had.

“We need to get you to cover, princess.” Zoe grabbed my arm and started pulling me to a gap behind our team and the entrance.

I stopped.

“What are you doing?”

“We need to get our people out of harm’s way. I can handle the Academy. Tell them to cease fire and be ready for immediate departure.”

“What? No! We need to get you out of here!”

“Zoe, I can handle this. I can’t fully explain it right now, but I’m going to create a large diversion in front of the Academy people. It should easily be enough to allow our team to retreat. As soon as everyone is safe, I’ll meet you beyond the gate.”

“If you do something stupid I’ll kick your ass.”

“Just get them ready.” Zoe started communicating as I started to walk forward. Our team stopped firing as I walked well out in front of them and between them and the Academy. As expected the Academy people were directed to focus on me. Lightning and fireballs were hurled at me and I simply stood there and absorbed it all. It was so much magic I felt my skin start to craw with energy.

“Enough!” I yelled to the Academy people. I pushed a wave of compulsion towards them all. “Go back to your rooms and back into the building.” Dozens turned and left but that left dozens more. Those remaining shook off the compulsion and sent their magic at me again. I looked back and could see my team leaving through the entrance. I let loose with a massive fireball but I targeted it well in front of the Academy people to not harm them. The resulting explosion of flames spread out one hundred feet in each direction and fifty feet into the sky. It was blindingly bright. When the fire dissipated and my eyes adjusted all of the Academy people had been blown backwards, but they were slowly getting up and running away.

Satisfied that no one was badly injured I turned and ran back towards my people. Just as I got to the open gate I felt intense pain in my left leg. I fell forward even as the sound of the gunshot could be heard. My father and Zoe ran out to me and dragged me to safety and straight into an awaiting van. The pain was intense as I lay on the van floor. I could feel Jen’s hands on my face and her healing magic flowing into me. I added to her magic and felt the bullet exit my wound and my leg knit itself back together. It still throbbed but I knew it would be all right.

The van started moving and I focused on everyone inside. My mom and dad were together looking very worried about me. Jen was cradling me in her arms and covering me with kisses. Zoe was looking conflicted. “Is everyone all right? Dad? Jen?”

“We’re all fine, sweetheart.” My mom reached down and stroked my face.

My father looked into my mom’s eyes and smiled. “It’s finally over and we have a daughter.”

She smiled and kissed him. “I doubt that it’s truly over, but after what Amanda just did, I’ll bet they’ll hesitate to come near us for some time. She’s very special.”

“When the dust settles, Amanda, you and I are going to have a serious talk. What did you think you were doing walking out there without a shield or a bullet proof jacket?”

I looked down, embarrassed by the rookie mistake I made. “Can I blame it on female hormones?” Everyone laughed. I wrapped my arms around Jen, happy to be close to her and knowing my parents needed time together.

***

Our return to my new home was uneventful. Dozens of Xenomorphs were there that had participated in the rescue. They looked at me with awestruck eyes but were kind and generous. I thanked them one by one for being willing to put themselves in harm’s way for me. Mom and dad disappeared for the morning and Jen reunited with her parents. I headed to my room and was pleased to see my new clothes still there. I stripped out of my Academy hand-me-downs and stared at myself in the mirror. I no longer felt confused as I saw my reflection. My movements and ‘male’ habits had quickly disappeared over the last week and I felt perfect.

My face was muddy and my hair had sticks in it, but I couldn’t be happier. I stepped into the enormous shower and let the hot water soak through me. I felt rejuvenated and found my hands lingering on my new female parts. I closed my eyes and imagined Jen with me in the shower and became completely absorbed in how my body was responding. I was very excited and flushed, but I realized I didn’t want my first experience to be without Jen. Reluctantly I turned off the water, dried myself, blow dried my hair and brushed it out, then put on my formal dress and shoes.

When I stepped back into the main hall all eyes were glued to me. Jen had showered and changed and ran to my side. She kissed me much to the delight of those around us. Her parents came over and hugged me close. “Jen told us how you risked your life for hers several times and that you even willingly would have given yourself up for her freedom. It’s an honor to know you, princess.”

“Thank you for having faith in me.”

Several hours later after a wonderful lunch I sat outside with Jen looking out over the mountains. My mom came out and sat with us. “I’m looking forward to seeing you every day and finally having the chance to be your mother.”

“I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I look forward to hearing your story and how you met dad. Dad… I have a father now. So much has happened that it’s hard to absorb.”

“You’ve got an entire lifetime to adjust and learn what it’s like to be a part of a family.”

“Where is dad?”

“He’s in his special place. His time at the Academy took a real toll on him. You should go see him. I think he’s upset with himself for missing out on your childhood.”

I nodded, kissed Jen, and hugged my mom. “What do I say to him?”

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything. Just be with him.”

I turned and walked towards the secret garden. I looked back to see Jen and my mom hugging. I placed my hand on the gate and unlocked it and stepped inside, locking it again behind me. My father was sitting on the bench but turned when he heard me.

He smiled and had tears in his eyes but when he fully looked upon me he put his head in his hands and wept. His crying racked his body and to see the depth of his sorrow brought fresh tears to my eyes. I sat down next to him and draped an arm over his shoulders as we cried together.

After what seemed a long time, our tears subsided. “Forgive me.” He looked up and into my eyes.

“Why on earth would I need to forgive you?”

“Because I failed you as a father. Look at you. You’re breathtaking and to know that you’re my daughter, to realize I wasn’t there for you, to prepare you, to train you, to protect you… I’m ashamed.”

“It wasn’t your fault that you weren’t there for me. We need to put the blame on the Academy and on them alone. I’m sad about what I missed, but I’m eternally grateful for having both you and mom in my life now. If you feel you need my forgiveness then of course I give it to you, but know that I don’t blame you for anything.” He pulled me into his arms then kissed my forehead. “What happens now?”

“We take every opportunity to be a family. We have people around the world that need to see me and meet you. We are royalty after all and have some duties to fulfill. What do you say about taking a few years to travel, see the world, and allow ourselves to be a family?”

“I’d like that very much. Can Jen come along? I’m not sure I could be without her.”

“Did you know that Xenomorphs are monogamous? Once they give their hearts there’s no turning back. I see how you respond when Jen is around and how you tried to protect her. You’re already committed to her so I know that the two of you need to stay together. Of course she can come with us. She’s family now.”

“I’ve got a lot to learn, don’t I?”

“You do, but you’re also very smart. You’ll learn fast.”

“What happens after we see the world? What happens before we see the world?”

“After? I suspect we need to take down the Academy for good. Before? I bet you need a whole new wardrobe, you’ll need to learn to drive, and we need to keep training. I never want to be captured by the Academy again. I hope you like training.”

I smiled and rubbed my cheek. “I’m getting the hang of it. Can I learn to drive in one of those fancy red cars?”

“I’ll think about it. Driving requires a lot of training and comes with a huge responsibility and those cars are expensive.”

“You mean more responsibility and training than being the only Xenomorph magic user princess in the world?”

He laughed and it was so good to hear him laugh. “Come on… Our ladies are waiting for us.”



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