Weave of Life
Sandra arrived at Thea's bungalow shortly after breakfast the next morning, while the occupant was still washing her dishes. She allowed Thea to resume being Theo, then began debriefing him.
"Looks like I better give you a crash course in girl defense techniques," said Sandra, not quite laughing, when told about being cornered and rescued. "So, did you make use of any of the 'hygiene' items I gave you?"
"I practiced with both the pads and the tampons, even though I didn't need them," said Theo, with a sour expression. She blushed. "Yes, I also tried the vibrator."
"Good!" said Sandra, laughing.
"I... well, I couldn't... cum."
"Not unusual, even for those of us born female," said Sandra, sympathetically. "Did you enjoy it, though?"
"Well, yeah. I just couldn't climax."
"I'll include some hints about that after I teach you how to get away from unwanted male attention gracefully."
Theo looked away, obviously uncomfortable, and from more than the idea of having masturbation lessons.
"What's the matter?" Sandra said, having noted his odd expression after Theo related the encounter with Phil.
"It wasn't just... that he scared me," said Theo, uneasily. "I mean, yeah, I felt very vulnerable, but... It's like... he smelled good! I was so confused by that, I couldn't think of anything! Not just what to say, but... Anything!"
"Yeah. Typically, women have a keener sense of smell, and are more affected by pheromones," said Sandra, nodding. "Remember, I've been through this in the opposite direction. First time I was a man for any length of time I was amazed at how my eyes kept drifting to womens' chests."
"Yeah, it's not natural to change gender," muttered Theo.
"Tell that to those fish," said Sandra, with a smirk. "Anyway, you need to finish catching me up so we can get on with things. We have a busy day planned for you. Testing your mimicking ability this morning, basic self-defense training after lunch, then a special meeting with the brass this evening."
"Special meeting?" said Theo. "That could be good or bad."
"Trust me; around here it's probably bad."
* * *
Theo spent two hours copying the powers of various Triggered and being tested as to how well he could use them. He was, at different times, able to lift enormous weights, clumsily - and slowly - fly just above the floor, move with blinding speed and start a fire in a wastebasket just by thinking hard. That last was an accident; he was supposed to ignite a cotton ball soaked in alcohol set on a steel sheet for safety. At the end he was exhausted. Sandra took him to lunch, then dropped him off with the beginner's self-defense class. After which he was even more exhausted.
Still, he looked forward to the meeting. Maybe there would be news about the people who were hunting him.
* * *
Theo arrived in the small auditorium only a little early, due to still learning his way around the island. He was surprised to see that Sir Roger was waiting for him alone in the small meeting hall. The youthful old man waved his cane as Theo entered, motioning for the younger man to join him near the stage.
"Please, sit down," the doctor said, pointing to a chair facing his. "I wanted to see you alone before the others arrive. For a mixture of reasons. I suggest, to speed things along, that you mimic my heightened intelligence."
"Okay," said Theo, puzzled and a bit worried. He sat slowly in the indicated chair.
"I wanted to tell you something alone, partly because it's personal and partly because of the nature of the information. I have studied two previous augments with mimicking abilities. Both could copy any characteristic of any person, and not just the powers of other augments."
"Oh," said Theo, startled. He frowned, thinking. Better than usual, thanks to copying Sir Roger's ability. "So, you think I can do this, as well?"
"Yes. However, it is always better to train individual aspects of powers, to focus on one thing at a time. Now that you have shown that you can both handle copying the powers of others and taking different forms, we want to start training you to adapt others' forms on your own, and also to copy memories and abilities, both physical and mental."
"I can do that?!"
"The previous two mimics could, and we have seen evidence that you have already done this unconsciously."
"Oh," said Theo, frowning in thought. "Oh! When I turned into Sandra, that day in the hospital, I wasn't using her power, I was copying her form! Wait... Okay. Yeah. That's what I was doing, but it's because of an interaction with her power."
"Most of the evidence was seen in the days immediately after you awoke from your dose of Crescendin. After you became aware of your power, you were preoccupied with copying powers rather than people. A deliberate manipulation on our parts, I confess."
"All that medical stuff I read!" said Theo, in sudden realization. "I wondered why what I remembered later made no sense, even though it seemed to at the time."
"Yes. The mimicry is not permanent. You currently can hold a power for a few hours, and probably other abilities for a similar span. With training you should be able to extend that."
"Wow..." said Theo, grinning.
"Be warned. This power can be very dangerous to you, and very intrusive to others."
"Okay... I can see how copying someone's memories could be intrusive. Why is it dangerous to me? Could I become... lost?"
"One of the other mimics went feral," said Sir Roger, sadly. "She copied a bobcat in a forest and lost her human mind."
"Wow..." said Theo, with a completely different meaning than before. He swallowed, nervously.
"We managed to recover her, and immediately retired her. To this day she is unable to use her powers. She also has other... problems, despite extensive therapy. At least she is able to lead a mostly normal life. The other mimic eventually had to be committed. He grew so distressed over the memories and skills he copied fading with time he became delusional, convinced he was losing himself, dissolving away. So he retreated into himself, and faded away to catatonia."
Theo was obviously frightened, now. Sir Roger nodded.
"Good. I want you to be reluctant to use this power. I want you to think twice, three times, and more, before you copy someone. Each time, before you do it, I want you to be certain you must do it. That, plus the techniques we developed from studying Mary and Calvin, may help keep you sane and human."
Theo swallowed again, and nodded.
"Good. I want you to understand that if you wish to withdraw from your agreement to participate in field work I will support that decision. There are still things you can do, here, under supervision, which will be very useful while greatly reducing the risk to yourself. What I ask is that you wait until after the briefing I'm about to give to make that decision."
"All right," said Theo, quietly.
"These powers," said Sir Roger, folding his hands over the head of his cane, "are something new in human evolution. Oh, there may have been isolated incidents due to someone encountering a natural Trigger drug in the past. That may even explain some legends and myths. There are certainly enough tales of someone using some herb or plant-derived drug to gain power or immortality. If so, such events were very rare. Because of this our genome simply hasn't had time to adapt. Even our culture is only just starting to adjust to the discovery made by Dr. Naggy. That factor of a lack of time to adapt alone likely accounts for over half the deaths from taking Crescendin. There just aren't any safety valves in our genes to protect us. Unless that is why so many do not Trigger."
He put a hand on Theo's shoulder.
"You aren't alone. We know the risks. We can help you, and we will help you."
* * *
As people arrived for the briefing Sir Roger greeted each by name, sometimes adding a pat on the shoulder or a personal comment. Nearly all responded with similar familiarity. This was no performance, no managerial technique. Obviously, Sir Roger knew his people, cared about them and was respected by them.
Sandra arrived about halfway through the process, with three other people.
"Hey," she said, as she approached Theo, who had taken a seat down near the stage. "How are you doing?"
"Still digesting everything." Theo continued internally, Especially some things I just learned from our boss.
"Theo, this is Happy Jack, Kathy Jurado and Lucy Daheim. More members of the menagerie."
"So," said Kathy, a tall and very beautiful black woman, "you're another shapeshifter. That could be handy."
"I know what I'd be if I could change shape," said Happy Jack, wistfully. He was one of the most average people Theo had ever seen in form, only the contrast between his Caucasian features and dark tan appearing in the least unusual. "A pole at a strip club."
The Sandra and Kathy glared at him. Lucy - a pale redhead of average height - actually smacked him, but playfully. They chatted a bit as they took their seats and waited.
Finally, after the last few trickled in just before the half hour, Sir Roger nimbly hopped onto the stage at the front of the small auditorium and took the podium.
"Good evening. Most of you know about Protein's recent mission. There is a detailed description of that in your briefing folders. You'll notice there is also a great deal of additional material. Because we have recently learned - thanks partly to our efforts and partly to the NSA - much more about those responsible for her problems and their goals."
He waited a moment for people to finish leafing through their copies of the documents.
"The culprits were several intelligence operatives, military personnel and a few others from government and private industry who believe that the new US administration is too soft on their nation's enemies. Note that they have believed this through several years and several election cycles, no matter who came to power. Apparently, few candidates satisfy them and almost no-one actually elected. Some resigned their positions to get away from whatever disaster they feared was coming. Some remained at their posts, to work covertly against their own employers. Most of the latter have been arrested, though a few had enough warning they were able to escape. Perhaps a third of those who preemptively quit have also been arrested. The rest are now all in hiding, cursing the system which they honestly believe failed and betrayed them.
"The theft of the Basement Bomb plans was only one of their operations. Special Resources were involved in stopping a few of those other activities. However, we were made privy to all of them, once the intelligence and law enforcement communities realized these several events were connected. Because of this, we were able to notice a certain pattern behind the scenes. These people had all purchased services from - and were selling other services to - a specific person, who will be familiar to some of you. Michael Fairfax. A man so small of soul he desires to pull down everyone around him so they don't remind him of how little he is.
"For those who don't already know, he was one of our first test subjects, back in the Forties. A psychotic criminal who volunteered for our project in hopes of having his sentence reduced. Few guessed just how maniacal he truly was until after he was empowered and felt free to act on his impulses. I suppose today they'd call what he was back then a high-function sociopath; he had enough intelligence to know he needed to act in a normal manner to avoid trouble, and enough willpower to usually do so. Today... I don't believe there is a word for him. We don't know exactly what his abilities are because he concealed them, originally pretending his test was a failure. We do have clues, and they are worrying."
There was a sizable stir in the auditorium.
"Much is still unknown about these operations and Fairfax's involvement. We are working with the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and much of the rest of the US Federal alphabet to learn more... and put a stop to these people. This will be one of our largest jobs. Every single one of you will be working on this until further notice. Many others will be aiding the effort part time. All of you and perhaps more will be needed. This job will not be easy. Even without the involvement of Fairfax, we are dealing with professionals, many with extensive field experience. These are, for the most part, Cold War veterans, with contacts and resources we will not know about until they are used against us.
"Your individual tasks will, of course, be given privately, for security reasons. It should be obvious, though, that all of you will be doing something important. Something which could very well save thousands of lives."
End Part Six
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