Weave of Life: Part 5

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Weave of Life


Rodford Edmiston

Part Five

"Here you go," said Sandra, handing a small suitcase to Thea. "Panties, several bras - yes, I'll help you figure out which ones fit best and how to put them on - a couple of pairs of slacks, three pairs of shorts, a couple of blouses, sandals, a one-piece swimsuit, a t-shirt and a skirt. Also, a CARE package of feminine hygiene products."

"No skirt," said Thea, with a delicate shudder. "Not ready for that, yet."

"Be glad I didn't bring makeup," said Sandra, with a laugh, as she put the suitcase on the dining room table and opened it. "Though I did bring sunscreen and a few skin care products. Blinds still drawn? Good. Let's get started."

* * *

"This is hideously uncomfortable," said Thea, eventually, as she considered herself in the bathroom mirror. She tugged absently at a bra strap through her shirt. "The panties are fine, but... this bra... It's not so much painful as just... unaccustomed."

"Remind me to tell you some time about my first experience wearing an athletic supporter."

"Ow?" said Thea.

"Definitely ow. Okay, you're about as ready as you're likely to get at this stage of your training. Let's finish getting you dressed. Then, lunch, then I have a mission briefing and you're on your own."

Slacks, a blouse and a pair of sandals, plus a sun hat, completed Thea's ensemble.

The walk to the cafeteria gave Thea a chance to practice, and get used to the unfamiliar apparel. She had to admit, while the bra was uncomfortable, having her breasts unrestrained as she moved had been very distracting.

"I can already tell there are several Augments in here," said Thea, in a low voice.

"That ability, alone, should be very useful."

They slid their trays down the line, filled their plates - Thea taking considerably more than Sandra, with a substantial emphasis on meat, due to still being in recovery mode - and were turning towards the tables when someone called out to Sandra.

"Oh, good," she said, waving back. "There's most of the members of the covert team."

"Those are the people I'll be working with?"

"About two-thirds of 'em," said Sandra. "Some are probably on assignment, some just not at lunch right now."

There was an exchange of greetings as Sandra and Thea joined those already at the table, about an even mix of men and women. They appeared to have just begun eating. Thea could feel their powers. She very deliberately did not copy them. Plenty of time for that later.

"Okay, folks, this is Theo - currently Thea - our new recruit," said Sandra, in a low voice, after they were seated. "I've got her - usually him, for those of you who missed it - practicing her first standard alternate right now so go easy on the poor dear."

"I heard we were getting another shapeshifter," said a younger man, nodding. "Welcome to the menagerie."

"That's Thad Barstowe, aka Nightpool."

"Wait, what?" said Thea.

"Didn't they already tell you about this?" said Sandra. "All field agents have distinctive nicknames, for security purposes. They should be gender neutral and only vaguely descriptive, though puns are allowed. There's few enough of us - not just the covert team but _all_ field operatives together - that there's little trouble keeping us straight. Mine is Protein, pronounced and spelled like the nutrient but meaning protean."

"I can move from shadow to shadow at will," said Thad, looking smug.

"Teleportation?!" said Thea, astounded.

Thad nodded, with a smug smile.

"There's only three of us working here, and I've got the best range. Almost three thousand klicks."

Sandra pointed her fork at a Caucasian, middle-aged woman.

"That's Brainy, or Catherine Wein. She can read minds, alter people's perceptions, and a few other tricks. Which don't include being super-smart. Fortunately, she's pretty bright all on her own."

Another woman was next indicated, this one very Native-American looking, perhaps in her thirties, and a bit above average height.

"Alice Tolliver, aka Mouse. She can change her size from one-eighth normal to five times normal."

A man, mid-thirties, average height and build, Caucasian, red-headed and rather pale.

"Sideways, Malcolm Stewart. Can phase through things, almost become invisible."

She pointed, finally, to Thea.

"Theosophilus Guild, no nickname yet. Copies the powers of others. Currently aping mine."

"That's a good name," said "Nightpool." "Ape, I mean."

"No, thank you," said Thea, rolling her eyes.

There was some chuckling at this.

"So... what is it we do? I mean, what do you do that I presumably will be doing?"

"That depends on your current skill set and what they decide to teach you," said Sandra. "What were you before you rescued me?"

"A dental hygienist," said Thea, flushing and ducking her head a bit.

To her surprise, there were no smirks or jokes. Most of them actually looked thoughtful.

"That could be useful," said Sideways. "There's lots you can do with teeth."

"Just what is it you folks _do_?"

"We go in places, find things, and get out," said Brainy, with a shrug. "Hopefully with no-one noticing. Sometimes we take things in; sometimes out. We include people in the 'things' category. As well as information."

"We don't go into details," said Sideways, who appeared more serious than the others. He also spoke less. "Even among ourselves."

"True," said Sandra. "What we don't know we can't tell, deliberately, accidentally or under torture."

"Torture?!" said Thea, a bit alarmed.

"It's rare," said Brainy, though not in a reassuring tone. "In large part because we keep very close tab on our operatives. Nightpool has pulled many of us out of tight places."

"There are enhanced people at this institution who aren't field agents," said Sandra, nodding. "A large segment of them are dedicated to watching over the field agents and helping them."

"That's reassuring," said Thea.

"Don't worry," said Mouse, grinning. "We're a valuable commodity. Even the bad guys - well, the ones aware of augments - know we're worth more alive and in good health than dead. They also know what happens when one of them hurts or kills one of us. Even most terrorists will trade us for money or a getaway."

They chatted for over half an hour, talking about their work, their powers, other augmented people and their powers, and Special Resources. The company was involved in many endeavors; espionage was actually only a small portion of that. At a quarter to one, however, the members of that specialist clique began excusing themselves. Some had mission briefings, some debriefings, and Nightpool was going on leave.

"Gotta see my folks," he said, as he rose and picked up his tray. "See ya' 'round."

Thea realized she had been so enthralled with the talk that she had fallen far behind in eating. She sighed a bit at being left alone, but actually was feeling more comfortable, now. She finished and took her tray to the dump bin. As she turned to leave, she bumped into someone.

"Oh!" she said, flushing, "excuse me."

She backed up enough to see his face, and was startled to recognize one of her former guides.

"Well, hello, there," said Phil, smiling at her. He leaned a bit to his left, putting his arm on the wall, as if to keep her from leaving. "You're new here."

"Uh, no, I've been here almost a month," said Thea, her voice going high and nervous.

One part of her mind was going _just tell him_ but another part was too embarrassed, while the dominant part was too busy not panicking to have a say.

"Well, I'll have to have a talk with whoever has been hiding you," said Phil, moving even closer.

Thea backed away instinctively, but not far before bumping into the bin. She opened her mouth to say something - _anything_ - but nothing came out. Thea was actually afraid, about ready to bolt.

"Phil!" came a deep female voice. "You already have two complaints about this type of behavior. One more and you're off the island. So back off."

Thea looked towards the speaker, and saw, first and foremost, a halo of silver hair. Edna Kistiakowsky. She seemed much larger close up. Or maybe she just seemed large because Thea was currently smaller than she was used to. Or perhaps she just seemed larger than life because she was rescuing Thea.

"Hey, I'm just being friendly," he said, a touch of anger in his voice.

Edna looked over at Thea.

"You interested in this guy?"

"Not really," said Thea, managing to sound almost calm. "I have someplace I need to be."

"Well, since you're new here, why don't I escort you?" said Edna, with a friendly smile.

"I'd like that," said Thea, returning the smile.

She sidled around the still-unmoving Phil and walked away with Edna.

"Thank you for the rescue," said Thea, in a low voice,
as the exited the cafeteria. "I wasn't really sure what to do. Uhm, you see, I'm..."

"The new augment, copying Sandra's powers," said Edna. She glanced at the startled Thea and smiled. "I saw her introducing you to the other spooks and figured things out."

"Well, I'm still grateful."

"What are you doing out, unescorted and in that form?"

"Sandra wants me to get used to doing things like this," said Thea, sourly. "I believe it's called throwing me in the deep end."

"Do you actually have someplace to go?"

"Uhm, no. Though right now I'm thinking about going back to my bungalow and locking my doors."

Edna laughed.

"Well, if you don't mind, I'd like to get to know you. I'm the senior field operative, and I tend to mother all the others. Let's walk, and I'll show you the island."

She didn't look much like a mother in her short skirt and bandeau top - more like a beach volleyball champion on vacation - but Thea was definitely not protesting.

* * *

"...and that's about it," said Thea, with a sigh, as she tossed another pebble into the ocean.

They were sitting on a bench at a scenic overlook, the breeze blowing their hair around, just talking. Thea realized something and looked at Edna.

"Okay you know my life story. Because I've been doing all the talking. What's your story?"

"I was a hippie chick," Edna said, manner changing as she recalled who she had been. She smiled, and this time it was a very different expression from what Thea had seen before. More wistful. "Not one of the passive ones, either. One of those the establishment was right to be worried about. I was part of a group which protested and demonstrated and recruited. We were going to change the world. We did, too. For a little while."

She gave Theo a sad smile.

"When Nixon resigned, we thought we'd won. That soon the world would embrace our views and usher in a new era of peace and enlightenment. So we decided to celebrate. As we made our preparations, Terry Schuyler said he knew where he could get some new stuff, but it was expensive. We let him raid the petty cash box, and while he was gone set up a real feast. He came back with this little glass bottle of clear liquid. Said there was enough for two drops each. Toby Leigh told him that stuff better be good, and Terry promised miracles.

"After we ate our fill Suzie Nonukes brought out a bottle of her special passion wine she'd been saving. We each added two drops to our glasses, and there was some left - Terry was never good at math - so half of us, me included, added one more."

She sighed, smiled and stretched, manner entirely changed. Gone was the professional bodyguard, the manager, the mature protector. She seemed almost girlish.

"Man, that was a glorious high. I don't know when I came down, but I woke up the next morning sitting right where I had been. I _really_ needed to pee, too. I saw that my hair was silver, but figured that was just the last of the acid working.

"The others were still sleeping, so I got up, went to the john, cleaned up a bit and drank a lot of water, then went in to get the others up." Her expression was becoming increasingly sad. "Only they weren't sleeping."

Tears welled up in her eyes but did not fall because she did not blink. Instead, she looked steadily out at the ocean.

"I was the only one to survive."

Her expression hardened again.

"I called the cops. They confirmed the others were dead, and arrested me for killing them."

"Wait, what?!" said Theo, startled.

"You gotta remember the times. People like me had caused all kinds of trouble, and we weren't the only ones who thought we had won. There were plenty of people who would have just as soon rounded us all up and shot us. The fuzz needed little excuse to put another hippie in jail.

"They made me shower three times, then one of the matrons scrubbed my hair herself, trying to get the silver out. That's when I knew that I really had changed. Didn't mean anything right then; I was still too stunned.

"For the next few days I was just too numb to care about anything. Then one of the older gals - a real hard case - started bullying me. I just pushed her away. She didn't like that. She pulled a shiv and slashed my face. Only it didn't leave a mark.

"I was as stunned as the rest of them in that little prison rec room. I felt my face, while she just got madder and madder, too crazy to wonder why her knife hadn't worked. She stabbed me, over and over, but the knife wouldn't go in. Suddenly, all the bad things which had happened - my friends dying, me in jail, all of it - just came to a boil and I shoved her so hard she put a crack in the far wall.

"The guards ran in to break up the fight. Only there wasn't a fight; just the tough gal, lying on the floor, moaning, a shiv beside her. When they asked what had happened, the other girls all said I'd attacked the tough girl. The guards weren't sure they believed that, but hauled me off, anyway. The tough girl - I'm not sure I ever knew her name - went off to the infirmary.

"In solitary that night I kept going over and over what had happened. Finally, I just stood up and shoved the door, like I'd shoved her. It slammed open, pieces of lock hitting the far wall hard enough to chip the paint. Then I walked out."

"Just like that."

"What, you think they'd waste guards watching people locked up in solitary? Anyway, I managed to get all the way upstairs and into the guards' locker room before anyone saw me. I was pulling doors open, looking for clothes, when some of them entered, going off shift. They tried to stop me but I just ignored them, changed into some stuff and started walking out. That's when they opened fire.

"You have to understand, the whole thing had a dreamlike quality to it. I just assumed their bullets wouldn't hurt me. They didn't, of course."

"So where'd you go?"

"Back to our loft. It was a real mess. They'd tossed the place, just to mess our stuff up. Then others had looted. I still found some stuff I could use; my own clothes, keepsakes. I gathered what I wanted, and walked out. Went off to a retreat I knew about in the mountains and lived there for weeks. That's where Roger found me."

There were several long minutes of silence. Thea wanted to ask questions, but wasn't sure what. Then something beeped.

"Sorry, gotta go," said Edna, after looking at her pager. She stood, professional manner returning. "See you around."

"Wait. What's your code name?"

"Spidersilk. When they tested me, here, one of the techs said my tendons were as strong and elastic as spider silk."

She grinned.

"I liked it, so I took it as my name."

* * *

As she entered the meeting room Edna saw Sir John already there. Which was fine. She wanted to talk with him before the others arrived.

"Finally met our newbie," said Edna. "Sweet guy. Or, rather, that was the impression I got. Gave him my whole sob story as a test. Hard to tell for sure, though, since Protein currently has him being a woman for a day. New hormones, and all that."

"Throwing him in the deep end, is she?" said Sir Roger, nodding. "Probably a good idea. We may need him sooner than I hoped."

"When are you going to fill him in?"

"The psych team is still working on their evaluation. Despite what they think I think of them, I do respect their valuations."

End Part Five

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