Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Meta Corps: Dream of the Youth (Part 10)

  Chapter 12

             “I know that for a fact that I’m fired for sure. The process is taking too long. They probably already sent out a search warrant for Anne. Those release documents won’t work; they’ll see right through them. This is bad. This is bad.” Garner muttered to himself and paced the floor. Although he was worried, the promise of realizing Anne’s abilities kept him from acting out against the research.
 Morgan had no such thoughts. She had been hammering away at Anne, scanning her psychic powers, checking the strength of her ability from various readouts, and running off on odd tangents. Since the tests had begun, Morgan had learned that Anne was far more intriguing than Garner had originally made her out to be.
Garner stared at his computer. Anne’s anxiety levels had dropped since she was first placed in Morgan’s tank. Garner looked up at the child and she stared back. Anne floated in a tube of highly oxygenized liquid, giving her and the world around her an orange hue. Morgan had put a spell on it that would keep Anne from phasing out. Garner waved while a knot of grief cooked in his stomach. Anne harrumphed and his heart flittered.
Garner was responsible for Anne; he wondered why he let Morgan talk him into going the whole hog and kidnap her, even with forged papers. He felt his cooking knot long to relieve a burst of sudden pressure. He balled his fists and stepped up to Morgan. She was engrossed in her console covered with graphs and readouts of Anne’s power.
 “Look, I’m already fired, I can just feel it, but do we still need to keep Anne here?”
 Morgan looked up at him from an incline, her eyes half-closed and unreadable. Garner pointed at Anne.
 “I was responsible for making sure that one of the most powerful metas in recorded modern history was content. What if she suffers irreversible trauma from this experience?”
 Garners face paled.
 “Oh, great Gaia with an apple pie, what if she is traumatized by this experience? How will we cope with her if she becomes a criminal?”
 Morgan sneered and tried to ignore her ranting partner.
 “Anne would tunnel through buildings for goods while harnessing her ability to project her thoughts, rendering her presence a non-issue; people’s eyes will just slide off of her.”
 Morgan shut her eyes and sighed. Her anger was bubbling up.
 “Pretty soon, our economy would falter because she has all the worlds’ goods and we would have nothing. She could vibrate her atoms too quickly and leave fires in her wake as well.”
 Morgan smacked the console and stood up. Garner yelped; his full attention was on her.
 “Was this not your idea?” She asked. Morgan took a step toward him.
 Garner sputtered more than he gave an answer. Morgan spoke over his retort as she strode toward him.
 “Was this not your request of me?”
 More sputtering. More advancing. A fit of retreating. Anne and Clive watched them from across the room.
 “Am I doing exactly what you asked of me?”
 More sputtering. More advancing. A fit of retreating.
“Are we getting the results that you wanted?”
 Garner nodded.
 “Well, yes, but, you see…
 “Are we hurting her?”
 “No, but there are psychological—”
 “Then there is no problem here.”
 Morgan turned on her heel and went back to her workstation.
 Garner felt like crying.
 “To ensure that there is no problem, Doctor,” she spat the word, “I would suggest that you adjust your ghastly disproportionate sputtering to coherency ratio and continue with your research.”
 Garner stole a glance to his left to see Clive staring down at him. Garner sighed and went back to his station with a dark cloud looming over him.
 Morgan looked at her display and at Anne. Her readings seemed to have peaked, her telekinesis, projection and tunneling appeared to have reached a cap. Morgan thought back to the catalyst for her own independent testing with Anne. Her original idea of expiration was proven wrong when she had to transfer one meta human power set to another just over fifteen years prior. This gave her plenty of ideas to mull over. Anne’s potential had not been reached, and Morgan knew from experience that more power would be needed for ample results. She was too far on her own tangent to turn back and leave the young Anne alone.
 Morgan sneered and adjusted some settings to her liking.
 “At least there… was no problem, Doctor…”
 Morgan pressed a button and Anne jerked at attention. Garner watched as Anne’s head shuddered. She started to scream. Morgan smiled, her data exploding. She read it quickly, stumbling over some of it.
 “Yes… yes…”
 Garner watched Anne, feeling her pain. His knot burst.
 “Morgan, you have pushed this too far, you’re amplifying her powers to her wits end. You need to let her go!”
 Morgan glanced at Garners approach and waved her hand.
 “Clive, dispose of him.”
Garner latched onto a console as Clive shot up and picked him up.
 “Morgan, no! I won’t let you break—”
 The test chamber exploded.
Clive swore as he dropped Garner, letting the fluid and glass projectiles slide through his body. Morgan ducked behind the console. Anne was screaming. Morgan checked the console; the dials were rising steadily and Anne was generating a gale force of wind.
 “Good. As long as she’s in the area, she’ll produce ample readings.” Morgan said.
 Clive shook his head. Anne was growling, trying to suppress her power.
 “She seems too preoccupied to try and escape. What did you do to her?”
 Garner gapped at Anne. He pulled on what little hair he had left.
 “What are you doing? Prematurely boosting her power was not part of my plan Morgan. There may be unexpected side effects and consequences that could befall Anne and the entire country, the world even. You don’t know what you’re doing!”
 “Everything… is under control. William. Clive, get him out of here.”
 “No! I need to—” Clive slapped him and then dropped him. Vertigo swam in Garner’s head and stars floated in front of him.
“That should shut you right up.”
 Clive sneered at the girl. Anne’s fingers were curling and images of blood and sharp lines surrounded her like an aura.
 “Say, mum, do you think that he might have a point about…”
“Out!” She yelled, and pointed outside.
 Clive made a face.
 “Fine, I’ll see him out and do whatever else blows your skirt up…”
 Morgan was lost on the statement. She had chosen to wear her sleeveless black catsuit with flat boots to prevent herself from catching on stray debris. Morgan dismissed the remark and got back to work.
 Clive plucked Garner from off the floor. He swore wordless threats as the world spun around him. He noticed that the light had intensified after a moment and that his hip struck concrete and demanded all of his attention. He moaned and Clive locked the door.
 Garner shook his head to relieve himself of his lightheadedness, and pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He ignored the cracked screen and called up the single most important number in his speed dial.
 Three rings.
 “Hello, Meta Corps dispatch, this is Rachel, what is the nature of the call?”
 Before Garner could answer, all of the windows burst outward and shattered. Garner yelled.
“Sir? Sir, I heard an explosion, where are you?”
 Garner tried to stand, but his hip protested too much. A red glow exuded from the windows accompanied by the sound of Anne’s sobbing. Garner licked his lips, feeling her pain and wondering how Morgan could stand to put her in that situation.
 Garner drew strength from within.
 “Ma’am, I’m at a warehouse in Dogpatch, just off 20th street near pier 70, and I’m dealing with a crazy woman! The address is…”
 A large shadow swallowed the sunlight below him. Garner looked up to see a dark vortex swirling in the sky and growing bigger by the second.
 “Oh my…”
 Garner’s eyes rolled up into his head and his vertigo returned in spades to help displace his consciousness. He fell to his back as Rachel tried to coax more information from him.

                               Chapter 13

             “Clark…. Country wide interest in metas is going down the drain, again.” Florence said. She twirled her finger above her computer screen showing a line graph.
 Clark Sanders never wanted to leave the forties, as outwardly indicated by his beige work shirt and suspenders. People had class back then and, to him, the modern world was nothing but bad music and sensationalism. He slicked his burgundy hair back and walked over to Florence.
 “Are they complaining about how EnWol are too powerful again, Dilly.”
 The graph illustrated overall interest in meta humans and how it has been declining since the second world war. There was a sharp rise in 1977 when Meta Corps subsidiaries, Aviator Films released the first modern and well-made EnWol movie, with Cave Comix releasing tie-in comic books. Since the start of the millennium, interest and sales have declined, with the lowest point being in autumn of 1992. The company had extremely high insurance issues from citywide crime fighting coupled with general utilities and other fees. There were predictions that said that Meta Corps would collapse in 2012 unless they either came out with a killer franchise or forced a global takeover.
Florence shook her head.
“We can’t have any more slopes or else we’ll have to close some branches.” She said. She fingered the line from the war and traced it up and down into the present. Clark shrugged.
 “Well, at least the mutations are prevalent enough so that there’s a steady trickle coming in for medical study and power harnessing. Hey, I still think that hiring on writers that paint EnWol as overpowered is part of the problem. Barely anyone knows how to write us and it comes off badly. It’s a danger to the innocents that drives good stories, not EnWol.”
Florence nodded.
 “Our greatest gift is our greatest curse, although, I’m not sure if that trickle that you mentioned will be enough.” Florence said. She started to think aloud.
“Our students and heroes pay for their own tuition, but there isn’t an insurance firm that will touch us; that’s what’s been killing us for the longest time now…”
Clark walked around the desk.
 “We could look at a merger with someone, or license some of our lesson plans out to drum up interest. Give up the monopoly.”
 Florence leaned back in her seat.
 “I don’t know. I had thought of that a while ago, but I’m worried that our own tactics will be used against us. Aviator is too overblown to be practical, but actually exporting our services to others…” Florence trailed off.
 Clark cracked his knuckles out of habit; his EnWol hands bent in random directions.
 “I know that in this job you can afford to be paranoid, what with every single person signing non-disclosure agreements, but it might help us out.”
 Clark stretched his neck out to study the monitor again.
 “At least the entertainment district isn’t making us look like fools anymore.”
 Florence laughed at his remark, remembering her cartoon from the eighties that gave eco-friendly advice without any entertainment value. She leaned back to reminisce.
Clark retracted his neck and made his way to the window. He frowned and focused his attention to a point in the sky behind the trees.
 “You know what the worst part about The Little Squirts is?” Florence asked.
 “What’s that?” He asked with an odd quality.
 “The distributer is capitalizing on the nostalgia niche with shirts and videos. I told them that…” Florence stopped. She frowned.
Clarks question was right, but the tone was wrong. She stretched her neck out to his side and joined him without leaving her seat. Clark glanced at her and pointed at a dark, pulsating cloud peaking up over the tree line.
 “I haven’t the foggiest idea what that is,” Florence said, “but it looks bad. Call for a dispatch, I’ll see who’s available”
 Clark nodded, fingering an imaginary pole sticking out of his mouth.
 “I wish I had a cigarette… being EnWol has made it hard to use… or, hey, even really want one.”
 Florence resumed her normal shape.
 “What would the Little Squirts think of that?” She said with a playful smile. Clark chuckled as the dark cloud in the distance raged. 

If you would like the whole book, a souvenir of the experience, check it out at Smashwords here: 

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Meta Corps: Dream of the Youth (Part 9)

Chapter 11

                             September 2nd, 2010

             From the air, the region looked to Lora like a large park with a thin dotting of trees and buildings here and there. The land was about a mile square with the Golden Gate Bridge directly to the north. She was told that most of Meta Corps was under the Presidio district for security reasons. Looking down at the park, Lora realized how well hidden it was.
Lora followed the two people beside her down to the edge of a loose hourglass shaped complex, landing on the crossroads at Lincoln Boulevard and Storey Avenue. Lora chose to hover and Sarra did the same before plopping down.
 “Here we are; this is it. It was an experience escorting the newest EnWol.” Greta, The Purple Fortune said. Her German accent ran thick.
 Lora smiled.
 “Hey, no trouble.”
 A single building with a strong Mexican influence sat in front of them. A steel fence with barbed wire on top flanked it and an infestation of ivy was consuming both the fence and building. A large stone sign that said “Meta Corps. Hero, Earth and Psy Divisions & Historical Fort Winfield Scott. Ex Metas, Scientia pro par” sat off to the side.
 Greta’s blue suited and pink haired sister, Trippi, stood by the entrance. Greta and Trippi spoke for a moment, and then they both invited Lora and Sarra inside.
 “Sarra, who’s that?” Lora whispered. Sarra tilted her head.
 “Didn’t you pay attention in history class at all? Trippi was a Nazi experiment that went rogue. She, with Florence and Clark, helped to take out the Third Reich and win the war. She’s part of a monumental reason why metas aren’t viewed as freaks today. In this country anyway.”
 The two entered the small lobby; the wordless sounds of an argument echoed across the high ceiling from nearby.
“I didn’t study the war.”
 Sarra just scoffed.
Trippi and Greta listened to the muffled shouts.
 “They’re at it again?” Greta asked her sister.
 Greta moaned and turned to Lora and Sarra.
 “Ladies?” Greta walked in and the other three followed to enter a room twice as large as the last.
 The room wanted to look both nice and important, but with a major blemish. The Mexican influence seen outside was just as prevalent with paintings of old world San Francisco alongside those of influential heroes on beige walls. What made the room lose its lustier was that there was electronic equipment pouring from off of the receptionist’s desk with a rat’s nest of cords to boot. Each machine beeped, hissed static, or had disembodied voices come from out of them.
 “Oh, it’s my guitar equipment.” Sarra muttered, getting a laugh from her sister.
 The argument stemmed from two metas. One was the yellow clad receptionist, Rachel Schuyler - or Twist when she gets the rare opportunity to fight crime. Like Cindy, Rachel is able to stretch herself, but she appears to mimic rubber more accurately, like with her skin having a shine, and that it also squeaks when she moves.
 The other meta was Levan, who is reported for not being that bright outside of being a competent hero. He’s able to mimic other powers for a short time by touching the owner. His only other natural power is to fly, and thus he is usually paired with other heroes that don’t mind the team up, as long as he does his job.
 “I don’t know why you need more proof! I am adorable!” Levan shouted as Rachel caught her breath.
 Sarra held her head and moaned.
“1992 called… they want this guy dead…”
Levan had short blonde curls of hair and green spandex under an open denim jacket and jeans.
 Rachel glared at him.
“You aren’t after you give me chocolate after I told you that I was allergic. Do you think that we would both enjoy my acting drunk and getting so puffed up that I can’t move?” Rachel yelled.
 Sarra’s moan was louder.
 Levan blinked.
 “Yes. I thought that’s why you told me that.”
 Lora expressed her disgust and Sarra’s moan turned to a growl.
 Rachel glanced up at her new party. She pointed to the exit and her arm lengthened with a soft squeak as it rose.
 “Whatever dill weed, know what, I’m done, scram!”
 Levan looked at the exit and started toward it.
 “Well you just know that I, Levan the Copier, swear my heart to Rachel, my Miss Twist.”
 Rachel scoffed and searched for some papers.
 “Miss Twist, whatever.”
 Levan felt his frustration leave him when he looked back at Rachel. He bit his lip. He inched closer and started to put his hand on her shoulder.
 “Rachel, you know that I didn’t mean—”
 “Don’t touch me sicko; I’ve watched you. You’re not getting off on me this time.”
Levan recoiled and shouted. He stomped away as Rachel got back to work. Trippi muttered something and the two walked forward.
“What was that?” Lora asked.
Sarra smirked.
“I like her.”
 Rachel looked up at them and smiled, her lips squeaking as they stretched.
 “Okay, newest EnWol on the block, sign…” She stretched her arm out to a file cabinet while drawing the word out. She checked a few papers and brought two sheets back for Lora and Sarra.
 “Sign here. It’s just a first time check in, the legal requirements come later.”
 They did what was requested, and were led by Trippi and Greta to the inner grounds. A large field sat before them with a wide branching pathway to each building and a baseball diamond off to the side. There appeared to be a statue of two heroes standing on a pedestal in the middle of a fountain. They stood in a proud stance with their hands on their hips.
 A baseball game was in full swing in the diamond, and an uproar broke out when a meta decided to fly because he was not fast enough to make it home.
 “Sports…” Trippi muttered. She looked at her sister for an agreement, and recoiled slightly when Greta pulled a jersey from her backpack.
 “Sports that I am taking over for, sis.”
 The four walked over to the diamond and Greta ran ahead into the bleachers. She spoke to a slender woman with a chestnut ponytail that was jeering at the opposing team. Her jersey read ‘Sanders 82.’
 Sarra looked at Trippi.
 “So, how’s your father then? Has he been let out of prison yet?” She asked.
 Trippi gave Sarra a sharp look that terrified Lora. Sarra raised her eyebrows, insinuating an innocent question. Trippis eyes narrowed and Lora came in between them.
 “Sarra, leave her alone.”
 Trippi sneered and looked ahead. The chestnut haired woman’s neck elongated upward about two feet and she switched with Greta. She bickered with someone for a moment before abandoning the team.
 “Being a know it all is not becoming of you, EnWol.” Trippi said. Sarra just scoffed.
 The woman approached, and Sarra spoke before any of them were introduced.
 “Florence Sanders. Wouldn’t you be the first one to cheat in a game of baseball?”
 Florence answered promptly.
“I’ll have you know,” she said, her words clipped and voice quick, “that the liars and cheaters in this world never gain satisfaction from their dishonesty. Sadly, most are too uneducated to realize this and continue with their practices thinking that they’ll get more satisfaction from it. That is a trait that I hope to have eliminated.”
 Sarra made a face and stole a habitual glance at her sister, nodding and smiling in agreement. Sarra scoffed.
 “Bunch of girl scouts…”
 Lora stepped up to shake her hand and they introduced themselves properly. Trippi was dismissed, and they all headed for the main facility. Florence’s baseball uniform melted into EnWol silver and then into a navy business suit with a skirt.
“Helena told me about you two, how Crimson Cherry,” she pointed at Sarra, “is a proper EnWol, and how Lora… is not.”
Florence opened a door for the sisters, presenting a light marble stairwell with planters on the wall. Lora and Sarra walked in and Florence led the way down.
 “It’s Crimzon Cherry, with a Z.” Sarra said.
 Florence stopped mid-step, brows furrowed and looking around in thought. Her knees disappeared into her curved legs.
 Lora gripped Sarra’s shoulder.
 “Sarra, don’t do that.”
 Florence shrugged.
 “Okay, whatever you like. Why though?” She walked off again, legs properly defined.
 Sarra smiled.
 “It’s pretentious.”
 “Ahh, good.” Florence said. She shook her head as if to roll her eyes.
 “Anyway, I was going to ask how that happened and why Lora had not gone through with the elasticity, but… I’m not sure if either of you know yourselves…”
 Florence pointed at Lora.
 “You don’t want the elasticity, I heard, so we may have to train you like a normal ice bearer. We won’t make you transform if you think it unpleasant, Lora, but we’ll need to make sure that you know what it means for your safety if you’re not elastic. As far as the gauntlets, there is most likely a problem, so we’re going to get Bronson to look at them.”
 Lora let out an internal sigh.
 “Quick thing, don’t you normally have pink hair?” Sarra asked.
 Florence nodded.
 “Normally. Good PR means having a good hair color.”
 The three arrived in a gigantic room made of the same light marble as the stairs. On both sides were sub-buildings with large, floor to ceiling windows. There was no roof above, aside from the main surface with several high-powered lights simulating sunlight. A narrow planter-bench combination sat in the center of the corridor, and a quiet roar echoed across the facility.
 Florence’s arm stretched up and out several times her own height.
 “This is the main branch for Meta Corps, supported by Clark and me. The three divisions are Psy, for teaching meta of all ages to adjust to their powers; Earth, where metas who don’t chose to be heroes can use their powers for a good cause; and the Hero division, the one in which you two will become the most acquainted with.
 Usually, new EnWol are exceptions to starting out in Psy, since the gauntlets seek their next owners. This means that they train in Hero with someone that matches their own power while an actual EnWol will instruct them on elasticity.”
 “Like Cindy and Helena.” Lora said.
 Florence licked her teeth and looked away in thought.
 “Cindy is C-Girl, the stretcher from Lake Forest?” She asked.
 Lora nodded.
 “Yep. She helped me become accustomed to being a Pink Lemon, Mrs. Florence.”
 Florence nodded.
 “Good, I like to hear that heroic metas are helping EnWol out. Now, the Psy, Hero and Earth divisions are adjacent to each other, with each of the three branches separated by a hub. We are technically in the earth division.”
 Inside the windows, Lora and Sarra saw various metas using their powers. Some were generating their own force fields and controlling their trajectory, while others were trying to fly against a wind tunnel. One room caught Sarra’s eye where a lone man was acting as his own resonant transformer circuit, and zapping targets to keep an electric meter above a certain level.
 Florence glanced back at Lora and Sarra and saw them studying the metas. She and stretched her arm out to direct.
 “The people here act as enhancers to our own electrical grid, making sure that there is just enough power to get by. The other meta uses their force fields to blanket the planet with them, intersecting with others across the globe to protect us from the foreign objects that Jupiter failed to eject from the Solar System.”
 “Huh?” Lora asked.
 “Physics, Lora. Jupiter’s gravity flings all kinds of crap out of here.” Sarra said.
 Florence nodded.
“That’s right; good job. So, every week, the metas come in to get a check up on their powers to see if they are working properly. Without them, our planet would barely be able to slip by.”
 Sarra scoffed.
“What, there’s no ‘we can’t live without them; our planet would be doomed otherwise?’ Just barely?”
 Florence nodded.
 “Somewhat, yes. The metas that don’t choose to be heroes make a living off their powers, and, although yes we would be able to function without them, it would make our lives exceedingly difficult.”
 “I’m grateful for them, Mrs. Florence.” Lora said. Sarra rolled her eyes. “I was around when that fiasco with Sergei Slade happened a few weeks ago. That’s pretty much where I got the gauntlets.”
 Florence turned around, her presence suddenly daunting.
“Are you implying that Slade had your gauntlets?” She asked.
Lora stopped and frowned. She hesitated.
“Boy, I hadn’t thought of that. It was a crazy time and I wasn’t paying that much attention. I guess that could be true. Why do you ask?”
Florence turned back around with her hand on her chin.
“Fascinating… Slade is a reclusive collector and he has noted that he would not go after the gauntlets. I wonder why he had them then…”
Lora and Sarra exchanged glances.
“You trust a bad guy’s word?” Sarra asked. Florence waved her hand.
“It’s not important right now. That’s good to hear that you are grateful, Lora. We don’t need to take the blue collar metas for granted so much that we lose respect for them.”
 As they started to walk off, Sarra stretched her hand a little, a question coming to mind.
 “Where’s Clark, shouldn’t he be here too? The tabloids call you the meta hero pair.” Sarra asked.
 Florence chuckled and gave Sarra a thumbs up.
 “Ninth inning with the San Francisco Stretchers upstairs. I knew you were coming, so I was able to step out.”
Sarra scoffed.
 “Yeah, because baseball is very important in this line of duty.”
Florence turned her head partway.
“So is keeping sane by remembering that you are still human in spite of your drastic changes. This can be helped by taking part in human defining activities.” She said as dryly as Sarra had.
Sarra shrugged her shoulders, hiding her embarrassment.
 Florence smiled.
“By the way, Clark and I aren’t metas, we’re EnWol. We were bestowed the power, metas were born with it.”
 “I knew that…” Sarra muttered under her breath.
 Lora shrugged.
 “Well I didn’t. Thank you. Umm, Mrs. Florence, I’m curious though, why is it important that the EnWol be stretchy? Cindy told me something about being defensive back in Lake Forest, but I think that it’s just, well, a little silly.”
 Florence shrugged. The corridor ended and they reached a large courtyard with a waterfall in the center. Lora expressed her awe and they continued to their left.
 “I’ve spent several years keeping the elasticity from being seen as so cartoonish that it’s no longer respectful; it’s been an exceedingly difficult run. I don’t mind the comparison, wartime cartoons had that effect, but I do mind when it is called silly.”
 Florence looked at Lora with a sad smile to show that there were no hurt feelings.
“The malleability is there so that you can annoy bad guys that are trying to kill you. They give up after a while, and then you eat them alive.”
 Lora stepped back, a little aghast.
 Florence chuckled.
 “You’ve got a wit about you.”
 “My levels of attitude would soar higher than the birds, but the behavioral scientists thought that was counterintuitive, so they reevaluated my title and came up with me being a jerk.”
 “Hmm, just an assumption, but maybe you could use this opportunity to help fix this world that you find so shallow.”
 “I said that same thing to Daddy about her.” Lora said.
 Florence looked at Lora with a smile.
 “Anyway, the EnWol are technically a viscous, self-aware liquid that used to be human. This is because of our own personal safety. Humans by nature are a very fragile race and they would not last puncture wounds, gunshots, or even a bazooka.”
“Duh…” Sarra said.
“The gauntlets creators, a group of Wol scientists called The Heroes of the Cosmos, figured that they would transform the gauntlet bearers to avoid death. What if you were fired at by that bazooka? Instead of getting blown up on contact, an EnWol would find that they have just gotten a hole in their torso if they had kept a low viscosity. This would mean that the EnWol could focus on stopping the rocket instead of worrying about a loss of a stomach. All separated droplets automatically swing back to the largest portion of the body. That is, unless you wish otherwise for a makeshift homing beacon anyway.”
 Lora was frowning, unsure of how to take to the example. Sarra looked at her sister with her neck stretching out.
 “Doesn’t that sound like fun?”
 “Sarra, stop it!” Lora said.
 Sarra laughed at her sister’s nearly exasperated expression.
 Florence rounded a corner to the left and hovered over to a door with a keypad. She entered the code and the door rolled open to the side. She poured back a step, and offered Lora and Sarra to go first, which they accepted.
The room was illuminated by dim computer displays. Florence moaned and her arm snaked over to the light switches. She flicked them a few times, but nothing happened.
“Bronson, lights.” Florence called.
There was a clang a few rooms over, followed by an approaching voice that lacked footsteps.
“Oh wow, Florence, I’m sorry! These lights have been tormenting me for two days now. I need to check the wiring.”
 A small figure about four feet high hovered in from out of the hallway. Both Lora and Sarra noticed that all they could see of this Bronson was that he had glowing red eyes and no pupils. Both were alarmed at the contrast between his unnerving look and deep compunction.
 Bronson floated up to the switch and flicked it a few times. Nothing.
“Oh, intercourse the waterfowl!” He banged on the wall above the switch and growled. Both Lora and Sarra laughed at his expletive.
 “You don’t have to be jumpy about it.” Florence said. The flickering lights came on with a solitary bang. Everyone looked at the celling, waiting for the lights to die.
“I’m not jumpy, I aim to please.” Bronson said sternly.
Lora gasped and covered her mouth, and Sarra felt like doing the same thing.
Bronson did not look human.
He possessed the symmetry and all major limbs of a human, but that’s where the parallels ended. His skin was a shiny teal, textured like a reptiles, and he had glowing, blood red eyes on a disproportionate head that was one and a half times larger than a human’s was. He wore a shiny jumpsuit that opened at the chest with a t-shirt on underneath. The shirt had a prominent capital U and M on it as part of a larger word.
 Bronson pointed at Florence with a very human expression of jest.
 “Huh, no pink hair today. What was the matter; did you get stuck in the cotton candy machine and it took it all off?”
Florence sighed and both her hair and suit turned hot pink, the same shade on Lora’s outfit. She smiled at Bronson’s ribbing and held out her hand, her arm stretched out and traced behind the new heroes.
 “Bronson, these two are Lora and Sarra Summers, they are next in line for your EnWol heritage.” Florence put both of her hands on the woman’s shoulders as she said their names. Lora waved and Sarra studied Bronson, both unsure of how to deal with the strange beast.
 Bronson floated up and smiled as Florence recalled her arms.
 “Pink Lemon and Crimson Cherry then, huh? A classic look.” He flashed an okay sign.
 Lora cleared her throat.
 “Excuse me, Mr. Bronson. I’m new to the intricate details regarding metas and um… Well, are you… human?”
 Bronson laughed.
 “Voluptuous Voids, no! I’m neither an EnWol nor a human. No, I’m just a regular Wol, I can only do regular things that regular Wol can do, like juggle, walk your dog and sing tenor.”
“Speaking of regular versus enhanced,” Florence started, “While Sarra is complete, Lora went through every stage of the transformation process, yet her body composition is still human. She is EnWol in every way except elasticity.”
 Lora made a thin smile and nodded. Bronson’s eyes widened.
 “Oh snap, for real? Take them off; I need to check it out.”
 Lora yelped and did what she was told. She hastily gave him the gauntlets, but her costume remained. Bronson sped away and Sarra was amused by Lora’s urgency.
 “Yeah, cough up your bag and pearl necklace too, doll.” Sarra muttered.
Florence sneered and followed Bronson. He was studying the gauntlets on a pillar as they sparked up in a traveling arc. Data spit forth from several computer monitors.
 “Lora, can you use any of your powers without the gauntlets?” Florence asked.
 Lora probed her chin in thought. She twinkled her fingers, trying to pull some moisture from the air to create some frost, but nothing happened.
 “I don’t think so, Mrs. Florence.” Lora jumped a few times. Her boots absorbed her shock on landing but she did not float.
Florence nodded.
“Current EnWol heroes usually keep them on at all times to avoid theft, but in the case of still having a human body, I’m not sure what you should do.”
 Sarra held her arm out, stretching it a little.
 “So that means that it’s my responsibility to keep these on until I quit?”
 Florence nodded.
“Well, you don’t want criminal EnWol running around; although, we are trying to make everyone that wears them an altruist.”
Lora held her chin.
“That sounds like you’re forcing conformity.” She said.
Florence nodded.
“I know. The setting can be flipped with a switch, theoretically, but the issue of free will hangs heavily above it. So far, we hope that we can train and persuade an evil EnWol to become a good person. Our only success is that Clive Ogden went into hiding after his lawsuits.” Florence said.
Bronson shouted a very bad word. He pounded the console and read some data.
 “I thought that that was a permanent fix. Gaia’s Rose, I thought that that was a permanent fix.” Bronson glided back up to the gauntlets and pressed a button. Both the protective glass and the electricity vanished. He grabbed the gauntlets and threw them back at Lora. She yelped again, let them roll into her arms, and held them close to her chest with a strong sense of déjà vu over her.
 Bronson continued to curse and swear pain upon someone. Florence threw her arms out and wrapped him up in her coils. Bronson struggled as Florence pulled him close and shooshed him while caressing his head. Both Lora and Sarra were amused by the action. Bronson’s rage subsided and he merely looked steamed after a moment.
 “Please let me go now, I’m fine.”
 Florence did so and he hovered in place.
 “What was the matter?” Florence asked. Bronson made an exaggerated shrug.
 “Oh, the spare tire went flat out here in the sticks when the nearest service station is a buh-zillion miles away!” Bronson flung his arms out. “The Heroes HQ is too far and we don’t have access to the Gans jump gates, so getting more silver for the power chamber is next to impossible. I’m sorry, Lora, but I’m afraid that you and those that get that pair down the line will have to stay human.”
Lora frowned and increased her grip on the gauntlets.
“Oh no. I feel terrible for all those heroes in the future.”
Sarra made a sharp laugh.
 “I told you that I would be better.” She said while crossing her arms. Lora, oblivious to the sibling rivalry, tilted her head.
 “Sarra, this isn’t a contest.”
 Bronson floated over to Lora and held his hand out. His attitude was smoothed over.
 “Fork over the gauntlets, both of you; I’m going to stick a small bit of code in that will help you out, Lora.”
 The sisters took them off and Bronson hovered away. Sarra’s outfit melted into EnWol silver and then into a sleeveless black top and jeans.
“The kicker is that I’m still naked. Earths mightiest heroes are full time exhibitionists...” Sarra muttered to herself. She whipped her arm up and down and it bent fluidly.
 “Tench!” Bronson shouted as he flew over to a worktable.
 From out of another room, came a male meta. He had dark hair and goggles perched on his head. He wore black spandex that covered his entire body, with a blue pair of shorts and a short-sleeved shirt on top. An ‘FF’ decorated his shirt. He looked like he was ready to go out jogging in cold weather.
 “What happened? Is Bronson bickering about some boisterous bangles back-ups again?”
 Lora giggled and that caught Tench’s ear. He looked at her and waved. Lora twinkled her fingers.
Bronson drummed his fingers on the table.
“Beyond a doubt, Tench. We’ve got two new EnWol and one of them didn’t go silver.”
 Tench made a face.
 “Uh oh, which one?”
 Bronson pointed at Lora, and then he fiddled with her gauntlets.
 “Lora, the Pink Lemon; she’s human, not silver. The other one, Sarra, is silver.” He said.
 Tench looked at Lora with a lopsided smile.
 “Oh, it’s a Perplexing Pink Plastic Problem then.”
 Lora snorted and doubled over with laughter. Sarra shook her head, unimpressed.
“I’m glad you liked that. I’m Andy Tench. The public knows me as Frost. Frost Forward to be frank actually.”
Lora giggled.
 Florence walked over to Bronson and lazily stretched her neck out to peek over his shoulder.
 “What are you doing?” She asked.
 Bronson pointed to the back room.
 “I wanted Tench to grab me my self-regeneration code. We need to compensate for her lack of silver.”
 Tench frowned.
 “Bronson, it isn’t tested with the gauntlets. Do you want to do that?”
 Bronson looked at him with a hopeful smile.
“It’ll work.”
Florence’s neck returned to normal. She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes.
 “What regeneration code?”
Both technicians nonchalantly waved their hands at the same time; Bronson’s human like passion left with Tench to retrieve the code.
 “I had informed you of that when you bought this land, I was going to do whatever I wished to improve the EnWol gauntlets, as long as no one was physically or psychologically hurt.”
 Florence nodded.
 “I understand that; but this is the first that I’ve heard of this code.”
 Bronson shrugged, a chunk of his humanity was slipping back.
 “Oh, it was an experiment that I’ve been tinkering with for a long time now, it’ll work. The gauntlets scan the body whenever they are slipped on to check for the proper powers. This code will make a restore point and heal any injury that Lora will get whenever she removes the gauntlets, bar decapitation, severed limbs, and digits and the like. The other ones regeneration powers will lie dormant just in case.”
 “I really think that the bugs need to be worked out.” Tench said. He plopped a single terabyte flash drive on the counter along with an odd jar of sand that swayed like water.
 “Hey, I coded the thing up, down, left, right, port, and starboard on its plane of orbit while peering down at the four dimensions it lives in. It had better work!”
 Lora walked up, her chin resting on her closed hands.
“What’s going to happen to me, Bronson?”
“For your sake, I hope that you’re fine, and that we don’t find out when you’re not.”
Lora frowned and chewed her lip.
Bronson took a few grains of the sand in a measuring cup, and took it and both pairs of gauntlets back to their electrifying chamber.
 “So, what unique powers do you two have?” Tench asked as he plugged the flash drive in.
“We can find the best deals at the mall and look cute while doing it.” Sarra said.
 Tench laughed. Lora joined him and waved her hand.
 “No, she’s just teasing.”
 “I noticed.”
 “Helena Christophers called us, umm…”
 Lora snapped her fingers, a muffled click coming from her glove. Sarra almost interjected, but Lora unwittingly cut her off.
 Tench smiled again.
 “Oh really? That’s my power.”
 Sarra sneered.
 “No it isn’t.”
 “No it’s true. Why else would I look like the dorkiest triathlon runner?”
 Sarra turned away, trying not to laugh.
 Tench twiddled his own fingers and Lora noticed that some frost formed on his black glove. She made a slow gasp with a large grin.
 “Neato! Hey, maybe you could help us both out with the cryokinetics? I would appreciate the help, and I’m sure that Sarra would too.” Lora put her hand on Sarra’s shoulder. Sarra grunted.
“I think that might work.” Florence said. “You’re a capable ice bearer, and you two seem to get along, so why not? How long have you been able to manipulate ice, Tench?”
 Tench shrugged.
 “Umm, I lived in a freezer when I was six because the world was way too warm.”
Sarra blew a raspberry.
“What can I say if it’s true?” Tench asked. “I came out to try and tolerate it two years ago. I even remember hurling snow inside the house when I was four too. It really made my parents mad. I’m a certified master at it, if that’s what you’re asking.”
 “No, we wanted your life story, thanks.” Sarra croaked. Florence shot her a look. Lora caught it and rested her palm on Sarra’s back.
 “She’s not usually this, umm… talkative.”
 Sarra snorted again.
 “My snark is off the charts, someone help me.”
 Florence went back to Tench.
 “How would you like to show them around, and maybe practice at Air Station Alameda?”
 Tench stood up straight and grinned.
 “Aw, really? Yeah, sure! A couple of cool characters crossing the city.”
 “That sounds fun.” Lora said.
 Sarra moaned.
 “Golly ma’am, it sure would be swell to escort these wonderful ladies out. Boy oh boy…” She started with an enthusiastic tone that degenerated into her normal croaky voice.
 Florence glared at Sarra and sighed.
 “I’m sorry, I need to know. Lora, how did you live with her?”
 Lora smiled.
 “I just don’t let her get to me.”
There was a loud pop behind them. Lora and Sarra jumped while Florence and Tench moved into position to fight back. Lora ran up a second later and posed.
“Oh no, no, no, no, no!” Bronson grabbed his bulbous head.
A loud whir came from the machinery. The snaps increased and the gauntlets glowed. Tench ran over; both he and Bronson made some adjustments on the computer and the machine’s power resumed normal levels.
 Bronson swore in his native tongue. The gauntlets container opened and spit the four pieces onto the floor.
 “What happened?” Tench yelled with a cracked voice. He was breathing heavily. Florence slowly stepped up behind them and crossed her arms.
 “Yes, tell us, what happened, Bronson?”
 Bronson picked up the gauntlets. He shoved them at Florence and they dug into her a little bit. She grabbed them before they could fall.
Bronson floated over to the jar of sand.
 “I don’t know. I don’t think I checked the code while it was inverted.” He said.
 Tench made a squeaky laugh.
 “Ya think? Gomez and Rodgers, that was scary!”
 “Are the gauntlets alright?” Florence asked, her words cutting through the air with great precision.
 Bronson grabbed at the sand and let it run through his fingers.
 “They’re as operational as before, there’s no question, but the code was not implemented properly and the gauntlets themselves rolled back to their previous operational setting. This means that my idea for a regenerative feature did not work. I’ll call you back when I have the code good and ready…” Bronson looked Florence in the eye. “…and sure of it.”
 Florence’s eyes narrowed. Bronson turned to Tench.
 “Andy, you can go with them, I can hold down the shop.” He said. Tench nodded and walked back to the twins. Florence gave him the gauntlets as he approached and Tench handed them out.
 “Are you sure that there won’t be any problems when you get this fixed?” Florence asked.
 Bronson examined the code on the flash drive.
 “Florence, it was my fault that that happened, and I can fix this. Besides, how many mistakes have I made on my own? Really? I’m only inhuman.”
 Bronson looked at Florence with a smirk, and was pleased when she cracked her own little smile.
Florence pointed at him and enunciated her words clearly.
 “Do a thorough job this time.”
Bronson shrugged.
 “It’s a useful feature to have and I care about my converted and superior brethren. I’ll fix it up, trust me.”
 Lora looked at her gauntlets.
 “Is there a differentiation between these?” Lora asked.
 Tench smiled with worry shaking his voice.
 “Not really. When they are looking for new heroes, then the two closest pieces will form a pair and fly away. The other pair goes to the partner. There’s elastic sand in all four, but they are using different measures in each chamber to prevent unpredictable super elasticity. We can’t really configure them any other way.”
 Lora and Sarra put their gauntlets on; Sarra’s outfit changed back to purple and red and Lora hovered a little bit.
“Super elasticity?” Sarra asked.
Tench shrugged.
“It’s a theory that Bronson and I have that says an EnWol will have problems keeping their form and turn to self-aware silver as a default shape. The current configuration says that the EnWols shape before the conversion is default, so…” He shrugged again. Sarra nodded.
Tench politely grabbed Lora’s shoulder and they started to leave. He cleared his throat.
“Later Bronson.”
Bronson said his farewells, and everyone but Sarra left the shop. Bronson caught a glance at her.
Sarra crossed her arms.
“You know, I hate to say, but the warm uncle thing you’ve got going next to the alien lizard thing is unsettling.”
Bronson laughed.
“You kidding? I can see that’s your favorite thing to do.”
Sarra shook her head.
 “No, not this time. I’ve just had… different expectations from extraterrestrials.”
Bronson smiled.
“Hey, don’t look now, kid, but there’s one staring right back at you whenever you look in a mirror.”
Sarra felt her heart sink at the realization. She hid it away with a sneer.
Bronson shrugged.
“Well, if it makes you feel better, than I’m the short overly warm uncle with a skin problem and blown blood vessels in both my eyes. Hey, it helped me get out of Roswell when I landed in forty seven.”
 Sarra did not enjoy being reminded of her physical humanity being stripped away.
 “Okay, whatever.” She turned to the exit.
 Bronson watched her and acted on a hunch.
 “Hey!” He called.
 Sarra looked back at him and his radiating concern made her look away.
 “I don’t know how you feel about your new change, but it isn’t a bad thing. You still have a human shape by default, a human thought process, all of your memories, and the lack of an organic brain makes you impervious to most psychic attacks. By the Void, you still have your DNA so that you can have a child if you can find a surrogate.”
Bronson smiled.
Sarra scoffed again.
“Get used to this because I’m never going back.”
 Bronson nodded.
“That’s the general idea.”
Sarra said her good byes by way of a lazy raspberry and left.

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