Weave of Life: Part 7

Weave of Life

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Seven

The meeting was a long one. The bad guys had been busy, and were involved in several elaborate and not a few simple schemes. The variety of their activities was bewildering; apparently, the various groups had little in common besides wanting to "do something" to change the situation of the United States, and perhaps elsewhere in the world. Their plots ranged from stealing secure material for use in their efforts, to selling weapons to people who would presumably use them against the enemies they perceived. The common factor which united these efforts was a nexus, an information clearinghouse which coordinated the various projects and people. A nexus centered around one man.

Thanks to the work of Michael Fairfax, not only were all these disparate groups working towards a common goal - though it was one they didn't necessarily agreed with or even know of - they were doing so with far more chance of success than they would have otherwise. Even some of those who were caught were subsequently been freed through various machinations. Including having fake law enforcement officers or military police take them away.

Two hours along Sir Roger called a break, and had an extensive array of snacks brought in. There was soon actually a small buffet set up on tables along one wall.

"Okay, I thought this was supposed to be need to know," said Theo. "That we'd break into groups and be briefed on our specific missions."

"We will be," said Sandra. "Because all these projects are interconnected, we all need to know the overall view. So that if we find something connected to one of the other branches of the conspiracy we'll recognize it."

"Oh..."

"Can you believe those guys?" said Happy Jack. "They call themselves 'Freedom's Ring'! How stupid is that?!"

"Fanatics and scoundrels often cloak themselves in noble rhetoric," said Kathy. "Fanatics are also notoriously lacking in objectivity. This group doesn't realize how silly their name is, for the same reason they don't realize that their actions betray the ideals which they claim motivate them."

"I notice that Edna - Spidersilk - isn't here," said Theo.

"She's in security, not investigation," said Sandra. "If you see her while on a mission, it probably means things have gone south in a big way, and she's there to save your ass."

"I think I love that woman," said Happy Jack, wistfully.

"You and half the other field operatives," said Sandra.

Sir Roger approached, looking serious. He spoke to several people in passing, then stopped in front of Theo.

"Have you reached a decision, yet?" he said, puzzling those with Theo.

"Yeah," said Theo, nodding slowly. "I'm in. I've always liked helping people - you can ask Sandra about that - and this is a chance to help a lot of people. I'm in."

"Good." He spoke more loudly, looking around. "We'll be resuming soon, so eat, drink and be merry."

Bellies comfortably full and blood sufficiently caffeinated, they returned to their seats as Sir Roger again took the stage.

Half an hour later he concluded the group portion of the briefing. He shifted to another page in his notes.

"Now you will be divided into teams for each of the areas of interest I mentioned. One exception to usual policy is that Sandra and our new member Theo will both be working together. Putting two shapeshifters on one team may seem strange, but he is still new to this business and will need supervision from someone with similar abilities."

Theo realized that Sir Roger hadn't told them he wasn't exactly a shapeshifter. He wondered how many others in this group weren't quite what they seemed to be, and would be doing things not quite what those going to other assignments thought.

They were broken into teams without being told where they were going or when. Each group was assigned a coordinator, who gathered his or her charges and led them to a meeting room in another part of the building. Once they were so ensconced, the coordinator of Theo's group - a non-augmented, middle-aged woman named Lucille Thurber - handed them folders.

"You're going to Miami, in three weeks," she said. "There's a business convention being held there which is a cover for the illicit international arms trade."

Theo now realized that he was in this group - and Sandra with him - because the event they would investigate was still three weeks off. That allowed time for him to receive at least bare-bones training. He suddenly felt uncertain, and more than a little afraid. He would be going in harm's way. For a good reason, yes, but the last time he encountered any of these people he wound up crippled and nearly dead.

Fortunately, the others were too involved in the briefing to notice Theo's momentary faltering. He took a deep breath, and steeled himself. This was a chance not only for revenge, and not only for justice, but to keep the people they were after from doing to others what they had done to him and nearly done to Sandra. He put his mind back on the business at hand.

* * *

Three weeks was entirely insufficient for training a spy. Theo received breakneck classes in procedures, acting, etiquette and clothing - both male and female for those - first aid, self defense and several other topics. Many of these were things he wouldn't have thought related to espionage, security or investigation. The fact that he could see the connection after receiving the training was a testament to the ability of the trainers. Most importantly, he received training with his mimicry. This last actually went very smoothly and quickly.

The lessons Theo had received in shapeshifting helped a great deal when coupled with the more general education in his powers. By the middle of the second week he was able to mimic the form and mind of any human he tried, except for a few augmented who had powers which granted defenses against this. The process was easiest if he were actually touching the target. Being very close but not quite touching made things much harder, and each increment of distance increased the difficulty. Interestingly, if he were in a form not his own due to channelling Sandra, he would change back into himself after mimicking someone else. That was a good thing in some respects, but could cause trouble on a mission.

He learned he could copy someone's memories and store them for better than a day, tapping into them at will. He was still dealing with the bizarre mental side effects of both having someone else's thoughts and then losing them. He would not do this on the job unless he thought that absolutely necessary. The thought processes of some people could easily ruin the mission.

The last three days before heading out, Theo and Sandra took on the forms they would wear to the conference. These were fictional identities with well-developed fake histories. They practiced staying in character constantly, except when they actually needed to do some mission preparation which required them to be their real selves or one of the alternate identities they also practiced.

Theo's new identity was a handsome Hispanic man with just a touch of grey at the temples, the owner of a citrus importing company who also dealt with drugs and weapons. Theo discovered that his suave new appearance was very popular with the women on the island, but was a bit too nervous - and short on time and energy - to take advantage of this. Sandra was an Italian woman with contacts among the traditional crime families. This was apparently not a new role for her, from what Theo gathered. He also learned that she spoke fluent Italian, with a cosmopolitan accent. His main worry in regard to his new identity was that his Spanish wouldn't hold up. He'd had two years each in high school and college and had used the language some since, but it was definitely a second tongue for him. Fortunately, it was as well for the man he was supposed to be.

Finally, there was no more time. Theo and Sandra took on their "travel" forms and made ready.

The first stage of the trip for Theo - or Leo Hudec, as his ID now stated - was for him to enter the US in this short-term form before he became the man who would attend the conference. Theo flew out of the island airstrip on a DC-3 owned by Special Resources. This took him to an airport in the Caribbean, and from there to the mainland via a route which let him enter the country without actually having to go through customs. Once in a private location he changed into Andrés Gomez, the main identity he was to use for this mission. The records would show that he had been in Georgia for over two months before heading to Florida on a regularly scheduled airline. Theo actually slept almost the entire flight to Miami, and napped during the cab ride to his hotel. He was that tired.

He and the other members of the team had arrived separately or in small "family" groups. None of them knew how the others were traveling or where they were staying. What each of them did know were the forms Theo and Sandra would be wearing at the conference, how to contact some of the others and call for extraction from outside the city, and where the safe house was.

* * *

Theo had a couple of days to play tourist, and he dutifully did so. He wasn't really interested in seeing the sights, but this fit the profile of Andrés Gomez so that's what he did. He was actually glad when the business conference began. Dressed in an outfit just barely not tacky - in a style which Theo thought of as Hawaiian informal - he mingled with the other attendees. He spotted Sandra but gave no sign he recognized her, nor she him. On the other hand, neither did they avoid each other. Not only might that have appeared unusual, he also needed to renew copying her power. Theo found the whole role-playing situation exciting and even vaguely erotic, and repeatedly had to remind himself this was not a game.

As he had been trained he didn't force the situation. He let others contact him, and played things cool. There were disgusting amounts of drugs and illegal weapons for sale, as well as those looking to buy such goods. Theo demurely insisted that he was a citrus shipper who was merely there on a combined business trip and vacation. Which, as his handlers had predicted, led to even more contacts.

Theo made copious mental notes about various people and deals, but the first day of the convention ended with no signs of what he was actually there for.

That evening he went out to a bar near his hotel and "accidentally" encountered Kathy, who looked very fine indeed in the outfit she was wearing. Soon Theo was in her room, reporting. Kathy's augmentation was primarily mental, and included mnemonic memory.

"That's about it," he said, finally. He heaved a great sigh and fell back on the bed. "How are the others doing?"

"You know I can't tell you that," said Kathy, in a gently chiding tone.

"Oh. Right. Ah, well. Do you think we've taken long enough to convince anyone who might be watching?"

"I know one way to make sure," she said.

To his surprise she lay down beside him, put a hand on his chest and began nuzzling his ear.

"Are you serious?" said Theo, startled.

"Yes. Oh, don't worry. I'm not going to insist if you don't want to. Though if you're as interested in me as I am in you - and from they way you looked at me in training I think you are - then I won't need to."

"I admit, I think you're very attractive," said Theo, rapidly getting turned on. "Isn't this fraternization, though?"

"Listen, it's only a problem if we're on duty. We just finished. So, if you're willing..."

He was. Oh, definitely, he was...

* * *

The next day Theo approached his task with renewed enthusiasm. Which may have been how he noticed five men - two of them obviously muscle - discreetly exiting the main hall to head for the private meeting rooms in back. It was probably nothing - deals both legal and illegal were being made in such meetings throughout the convention - but as they passed near where he was Theo casually moved closer to their path. He was startled - and barely concealed this - when he felt that one of the men was Triggered. He watched them walk down the corridor to a room before he - with apparent calmness - turned and walked to a parallel corridor.

Theo had been briefed on the layout of the convention center. He knew the meeting rooms were adjustable through moveable partitions. He also knew there were several entrances to each. Casually, he left the hall by the far right corridor, then moved to the rear of the building. There he turned left, and began walking towards the middle corridor, which the party of interest had used. As he crossed that hallway he saw the two guards standing outside the door of one of the partitioned off rooms. They glanced his way, but Theo was moving casually, and while there were few people back here he was far from the only person in the area. There were several small meetings and panels being held here, as well as private deals going on.

Theo moved on down the back corridor, then turned left along the third corridor, moving back towards the hall. He counted along the entrance doors until he found the room behind the one where the guards were stationed. The room inside was half-lit, unused. Carefully, he crept to the partition between this room and the one he was interested in.

Theo pressed his ear to the crack and listened. Most of the words were muffled and indistinct. However, one of the men was clearer than the others. He only spoke about a third of the time, but one thing he said told Theo he'd hit the jackpot. One of the first words he heard the man say was "Crescendin." Something about a stash of Variant Eight. Theo froze. The discussion was both brief and vague. He gathered that this was a preliminary meeting, held merely to set up a bigger one elsewhere. Unfortunately he couldn't hear where. He was wondering if he should try to tap one of the men, but decided none of them were close enough. Besides, it sounded like they were leaving.

Theo should have waited until they were gone, but he was still new at this. He instead turned and started to move away. Only something grabbed at his pants. Startled, and already hyped up, he lunged, feeling and hearing something tear. He looked back, and saw to his horror that his pocket had hooked the door handle and pulled it down, unlatching the door. He froze. For just a moment he thought his gaffe had gone unnoticed. Then he heard a startled exclamation from the other room.

Theo bolted. He ran across the room and into the corridor, slamming the door behind him. There, though, he had an idea which cut through his panic. He was much closer to the back of the building than the main hall. There were restrooms there. If he could get in one before anyone came through the door or around the corner...

He did, entering the women's restroom at a dead run. Fortunately, it was not only empty, but the lights were out. He had the foresight to grab the door and ease it closed. Then he fumbled his way blindly into a stall, and closed and latched the door. He got his breathing under control and listened, waiting, pulse hammering in his ears. What felt like minutes went by, though a quick check of his watch showed it was only seconds. No-one came to the door. In fact, he heard nothing. Had he gotten lucky?

He forced himself to wait ten minutes. Then he pulled his smart phone out of his shirt pocket and called Kathy's number.

"I'm in trouble," he whispered, when she answered.

He almost blurted the details, but his limited training caught him.

"What do you need?"

"Local pickup, with change," he said, remember the code phrases he'd been taught.

"Where do you want it?"

He needed an anxious moment to remember the location of the restroom, but it suddenly came to him and he relayed it.

"On the way," said Kathy.

Theo left the stall and moved back to the door. He turned the lights on and focused on controlling his breathing. Almost ten more minutes went by before he heard a quick, quiet double knock, followed by a single one. He gave two quick knocks back. The door opened, and Sandra entered.

"What do you need?"

"New form. New clothes. They know I ripped my pocket. Shit, I just realized, my hotel key card was in there, with my change."

"Take my shape and wear my clothes," said Sandra, after a moment of thought. She reached back to unzip her dress.

"What will you wear?" said Theo, startled, but not so startled that he didn't pick up the cue and change shape when she paused, dress halfway off, to glare at him.

"Watch and learn," the shapeshifter replied with a smirk, handing the now Thea-being-Sandra her dress. "You'll be me. I'll be your rebellious but good at heart little teenage sister, here with bad family news you have to deal with."

She finished stripping, tossing items to Thea, who draped each piece of clothing over the top of the stall side in order. Thea turned back after dealing with the panties to see Sandra placing her shoes on the counter. Now completely naked, she looked in the mirror to help as she made herself appear younger and a bit shorter and less buxom. Then she frowned in concentration.

Thea gaped as the other woman's nipples and aureolas vanished.

"I call this the Barbie configuration. As long as I don't need to pee, take a dump or nurse, I'm good."

Thea reflexively looked down and stared.

"Okaaaaay. That's just weird."

"Oh, I'm not finished."

She concentrated again, and parts of her skin began changing color and texture. In seconds she appeared to be wearing a tube top and very tight shorts.

"Hurry and change clothes," said Sandra. "This is very uncomfortable. I'm basically stretching my skin and changing the color to look like fabric. I've also unnaturally firmed up my boobs, so they don't bounce too much."

"What's that octopus that disguises itself as plants or pieces of coral?" said Thea, astonished.

"Strip. Get. Dressed."

"Yes, ma'am," said Thea, jumping to it.

In under a minute she was wearing wearing Sandra's clothes. Theo's suit was unceremonially stuffed in the waste bin, wadded paper towels put on top. They didn't bother salvaging the wallet; its contents were fake, after all. Thea noticed that Sandra now appeared to have studs in her ear lobes and nose, but that something else was missing.

"Oh; I just realized," said Thea, as they walked out of the ladies' room, "you don't have shoes."

"What do you want?" said Sandra, testily. "Miracles?"

Fortunately, no-one noticed. Or maybe they just didn't feel like challenging the obviously moody Sandra-as-her-rebellious-niece. One of the body guards Theo had seen earlier passed them, obviously heading towards the restrooms. They had just made the change in time. Outside, the first cab which pulled to the curb was driven by Happy Jack.

"Where to, ladies?" he asked.

Sandra clearly gave the name of a hotel which none of them were staying at. They climbed in and Happy Jack took off.

"Doing the body paint routine again, eh?" he said, glancing in the mirror at Sandra.

"Just get us to the safe house," said Sandra, actually sounding in pain. "I'm really glad it's warm out."

"Sure," said Happy Jack, waiting until they were well on the way to Sandra's hotel before making several sudden turns. "Okay, I think we're clear. Should be there in three."

End Part Seven



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