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Lifebringer

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  1. Lifebringer
  2.  
  3. Outside, a violent thunderstorm battered the town, illuminating the skyline of steeples and houses with flashes brighter than day. It would go down in the record books as the most violent storm the town had ever seen, requiring a cleanup that would take weeks.
  4.  
  5. One of the bolts struck a small office building outside town, overwhelming all but the best surge protectors, and frying dozens of pieces of lab equipment.
  6.  
  7. Inside one lab - something stirred.
  8.  
  9. "This is - odd..." Kate Freeman thought to herself. She had been drifting in and out of consciousness for what seemed like an eternity. A sudden jolt had finally woken her up from a strange fuzzy dream.
  10.  
  11. "Where am I?" Kate thought, trying to open her eyes. For some reason, she couldn't feel them. In fact, nothing about her body seemed to be right. She moved - awkwardly, feeling the smooth square sides of the container she was in, mentally frowning. It felt strange - and familiar at the same time.
  12.  
  13. "This is so strange." Kate thought, moving in ways she didn't think possible. She pressed up and out against the sides, seeking a way out. "Something has got to give here!"
  14.  
  15. Something did.
  16.  
  17. With a sickening jerk, the container shifted to the side as its base came off. Kate felt it topple to the side and stop as it hit something hard. It sat there, tiled, with only a small gap at the base. Kate felt the gap, imagining that she must have fingers to feel with.
  18.  
  19. To her surprise, she began to flow out through the gap.
  20.  
  21. "What's happened to me!?" Kate gasped as she poured out of the container and across the smooth linoleum floor. Kate's fluid body eventually flowed to a stop, and she lay there for long minutes, gathering her thoughts.
  22.  
  23. "I wish I could at least see..." Kate thought to herself. She felt parts of herself start to move and stretch. Suddenly, she could see quite clearly - if in two different directions. With some concentration, she drew her two new eyes together, trying to assess her predicament.
  24.  
  25. She was lying on the floor of a darkened laboratory. Her laboratory, to be precise. Although some things were slightly different than she remembered. Minute differences seemed to leap out of her, illuminated by the dim glow of display lights on the computers and equipment, which never slept.
  26.  
  27. "This is odd." Kate thought, slowly turning her eyes around. They seemed to be peering up - no, floating - on some strange pink liquid. Kate mentally frowned as her eyes circled the room before she spied the source of the liquid.
  28.  
  29. It was flowing out of a large cylinder attached to a wheeled bed. Kate recognized it as her work - her project.
  30.  
  31. "Oh no! Not the B-Scan!" Kate moaned. Instinctively, she reached over, trying to determine if the plug had been removed.
  32.  
  33. To her amazement, her arm rose out of the pink liquid closest to the B-Scan and touched the machine. Kate stopped worrying about her invention, and stared at her reformed arm.
  34.  
  35. It had emerged out of the pink liquid at about the same spot her knee should be. And it was bright pink.
  36.  
  37. "What - what's happened to me?" Kate cried mentally, reaching down with her sole arm and touching the pink liquid. She shuddered in horror.
  38.  
  39. She was the pink liquid!
  40.  
  41. "No - this can't be!" Kate cried mentally, losing focus. Her arm sloshed back into the pink liquid as if it had never been there. Abruptly, Kate lost her sight as well. "Someone - help!" Kate cried, wishing a voice - any voice - would respond.
  42.  
  43. Outside, the tapping of rain on the windows and occasional clap of thunder were the only things reminding her she wasn't totally alone. The world was still out there.
  44.  
  45. "Get a grip on yourself!" Kate said to herself after long minutes of panicking, "This is getting you nowhere!"
  46.  
  47. "I am getting a grip!" She responded after a few more minutes. "Great, now I'm talking to myself!" She giggled at the thought, and slowly began to put her keen mind to work.
  48.  
  49. "Okay - whatever I am - I could form eyes - and an arm." Kate said, trying to sense her strange new body, "So - if I could do that..." She focused on herself - by touch she realized she was spread out across the smooth laboratory floor, in some places touching the walls and cabinets.
  50.  
  51. "If I can do an arm..." Kate thought, drawing on herself, "I can do a body." The pink flowing liquid stopped spreading across the floor. Slowly, it turned back, towards a new center that began to rise. Kate concentrated harder, remembering an almost forgotten art class where she had to make a doll out of clay.
  52.  
  53. Slowly, the pink liquid flowed back, rising into a large egg shaped mound in the center of the room. Kate stopped to rest for a moment, and the egg sat there, rocking back and forth.
  54.  
  55. "All right- let's see if I can do this." Kate thought, not completely rested, but anxious to continue, "Lets see - arms..." Two arms stretched out of the featureless egg. Cautiously, Kate felt her egg shaped body - and the arms.
  56.  
  57. "That - seems right." Kate muttered, "Now - legs..." The egg shuddered again, as two legs sprouted out from the opposite end.
  58.  
  59. "Body..." Kate said focusing on the center. The egg quivered and warped, becoming a female body.
  60.  
  61. "Head!" Kate gasped aloud as she reshaped her head and spoke her first words. Air flooded into her lungs for what seemed to be the first time.
  62.  
  63. Kate lay on the floor, staring at the ceiling, panting from the exertion.
  64.  
  65. "That - was interesting." Kate said to herself, rolling over and getting up. It was taking some concentration to maintain her form. Unsteadily she stood, as if it were her first time. She leaned against the cabinets, and caught the first glimpse of herself in the mirror in the dim predawn light.
  66.  
  67. She was nude. Somehow that didn't bother her as much as the other thing.
  68.  
  69. She was a bright shade of pink.
  70.  
  71. "What the heck?" Kate said, trying to walk and lean on the counter at once to get over to the small mirror. She was totally pink. Her hair, her eyes, everything was a uniform shade of bright pink. Kate looked down at her pink body before smiling at the mirror. Even her teeth were pink.
  72.  
  73. "This is one weird dream." Kate muttered to herself, leaning hard on the counter. She looked towards the bathroom in the corner of the lab. They kept spare clothes in there in case of the odd accident.
  74.  
  75. Laboriously, she walked towards the door, leaning on the counters and walls for support - noting with each step it was getting easier. And that her arms seemed to stretch out further than they should when she reached from one cabinet to another.
  76.  
  77. She tried to ignore that.
  78.  
  79. "Much better." Kate thought, having donned some shorts and a t-shirt. They felt odd - as if they were sticking to her. Kate didn't feel sticky or sweaty though. She was concerned about her bright pink complexion - and her new - pliability. It had felt like she had pushed her head deep down into her shoulders when she donned her t-shirt.
  80.  
  81. Other than her pink complexion, she felt fine - and was feeling better and stronger. A quick bite from her stash of snacks in the bathroom hit the spot too.
  82.  
  83. "Now - whoa..." Kate said steadying herself as she tried to walk a little too fast out of the bathroom. Kate steadied herself, and spied a computer chair.
  84.  
  85. "There's an idea." Kate said, starting to reach towards it. To her surprise, her arm stretched out and she grabbed the chair that was some eight feet away.
  86.  
  87. "Some dream." Kate said, pulling her arm back in and drawing the wheeled computer chair with it. Kate sat down, and scooted across the floor, sitting in the chair, "Now - what's wrong with this?" Kate looked at the B-Scan with a critical eye, more concerned about its condition than her own state.
  88.  
  89. It was her pride and joy - the most important thing she had ever worked on. The fact it might make her millions was besides the point - it could help millions of people if it worked.
  90.  
  91. The fact that some of the panels were scorched disturbed Kate to no end. And then there was the matrix cylinder. Where she had come out of. Kate frowned and leaned down, stretching herself to get a better view. The plug was firmly in place, but she could see a thin crack on a new joint. Kate inspected the matrix cylinder more closely - it was actually three of the short cylinders welded together in what seemed to be a hasty way. Kate was about to look further when she realized her body was on the other side of the B-Scan, and she was seeing it through the odd collection of struts and wires. Kate looked down to see her long stretched out neck snaking around the B-Scan.
  92.  
  93. "Okay, this isn't right." Kate said, slowly retracting her neck, and resurveying the damage. "A crack on the matrix cylinder, burned out circuit panels..." Kate's head was back in place and she looked at the circuit-studded hood at the head of the bed. She breathed a sigh of relief as she looked at the most intricate part of the device, the cerebral scanner. It was intact.
  94.  
  95. "Now - oh." Kate said, spying the plug. The B-Scan was still attached to some of the larger diagnostic computers, which looked like they had taken a hit as well. "Well, I told them we needed better surge protection here." Kate sighed, absentmindedly stretching her arm across the lab and grabbing a toolbox without thinking about it.
  96.  
  97. She would have considered it, if the lab door hadn't opened just as she put the toolbox down next to her.
  98.  
  99. "...All right, I'll check for lightening damage in here, then... you know." Gwen said as she entered the lab.
  100.  
  101. "Hey Gwen! Glad you came in early!" Kate said looking up from the B-Scan. Gwen stopped short and stared at the bright pink apparition behind the B-Scan, with wide eyes.
  102.  
  103. "K - Kate?" Gwen managed. Kate waved her off.
  104.  
  105. "Yeah, yeah I know, it's all a dream in my head - a very real one." Kate said waving her off, and unfastening a panel "But I have to fix this..." Kate stopped as she heard a thud. Looking up, she could see Gwen had fainted in the doorway. Kate got up and went over to help her friend.
  106.  
  107. "Gwen!" Max's voice echoed down the hall as Kate went over. She reached Gwen just as Max did.
  108.  
  109. "Wha?" Max said stepping back as Kate hovered over Gwen, "Kate?"
  110.  
  111. "It's okay - she just fainted I think." Kate said looking up at Max.
  112.  
  113. "Wha..."
  114.  
  115. "Don't faint on me too Max! Pull yourself together!" Kate said getting into his face, "I'm just working my way through the weirdest dream ever."
  116.  
  117. "How are you..."
  118.  
  119. "And yes, I know I'm pink." Kate said. Max frowned at that.
  120.  
  121. "I noticed." Max said, trying to compose himself "I wanted to know how you're doing that!" Kate looked back at where he was pointing. Her neck and arms had stretched out over the B-Scan as she went to help Gwen. Kate stared at herself for a long moment.
  122.  
  123. "I - don't know." Kate admitted.
  124.  
  125. "Try to pull yourself together." Max said, reaching down to pick up Gwen's unconscious form.
  126.  
  127. ""Uh - wha- AH!" Gwen gasped as she got a whiff of smelling salts and a glimpse of Kate's smiling pink face. Then she spied the B-Scan hood, hovering over her head.
  128.  
  129. "AH!" Gwen managed, scrambling off the bed of the B-Scan, "Don't put me on that thing!"
  130.  
  131. "Relax, its not on." Max said as Gwen stared at Kate, "And it's sort of fried."
  132.  
  133. "The cerebral scanner is okay." Kate said with a shrug, "We can replace everything else on it with the spare parts we have..."
  134.  
  135. "What happened?" Gwen said staring at Kate.
  136.  
  137. "You fainted." Kate said.
  138.  
  139. "She's right. You fainted." Max said, managing to turn on one of the damaged computers, "Looks like that thunderstorm storm did a some damage in here too."
  140.  
  141. "No - I mean - I mean - THAT!" Gwen said, pointing to Kate.
  142.  
  143. "That's not a nice way to talk to the boss, is it Max?" Kate said in a half scolding tone.
  144.  
  145. "Uh - no." Max said looking up, "But - uh - you're not exactly the boss."
  146.  
  147. "If you say so." Kate said sitting down. She was getting stronger, but it was still tiring to stand up for too long, "I mean, it's only a weird dream..."
  148.  
  149. "It's not a dream." Gwen said, circling Kate, "God, I sort of hope its not..."
  150.  
  151. "You're just saying that." Kate said.
  152.  
  153. "No she's not." Max said, "Either that or we're all having it."
  154.  
  155. "Fine - if it's not a dream, why did I wake up here - totally pink? And stretchy?" Kate said looking from Max to Gwen, "And what did you do to my B-Scan? It looks like you slapped every spare part we had on it." Gwen looked at Max worriedly.
  156.  
  157. "Okay - first, what is the last thing you remember before you woke up here." Gwen asked. Kate thought for a moment.
  158.  
  159. "Uh - we were at the party - to celebrate Brian's fifth anniversary..." Kate said, trying to think.
  160.  
  161. "That's - about right." Max said.
  162.  
  163. "What's about right?" Kate said eyeing the calendar, "And why are we a month ahead?"
  164.  
  165. "Because the party was a couple of weeks ago." Gwen quietly said.
  166.  
  167. "What - but I was just there - and..." Kate's voice trailed off, "I can't remember anything after that."
  168.  
  169. "Nothing?" Gwen asked. Kate shook her head no.
  170.  
  171. "Nothing. That still doesn't tell me what you did to my B-Scan..." Kate said. Max sighed.
  172.  
  173. "Okay - to review, the B-Scan records brainwave activity - like a tape deck." Max said, paraphrasing Kate's own sales pitch, "But - this is like an eight-track tape trying to capture the entire recording of a DVD player, right?"
  174.  
  175. "Yes - I invented it, so I know what it does. But it's supposed to record part of the brainwave activity, so we can refresh a person's memories - like in a patient who has Alzheimer's." Kate said, "But you went and tripled the capacity..."
  176.  
  177. "Cubed it actually..." Max said looking at the tank, "And downsized the recording leads..."
  178.  
  179. "But when - and why?" Kate demanded to know as Max pulled the tank out and peered in. It was empty.
  180.  
  181. "It - was kind of an emergency situation." Gwen said nervously.
  182.  
  183. "What kind of an emergency?" Kate demanded to know, "And why am I pink?"
  184.  
  185. "Because that's the color of the cerebral recording polymer you developed." Max said, pointing to the empty tank, "And the tank is empty. And cracked."
  186.  
  187. "Your bad welding job." Kate said with a shrug, "You should've built a larger one from scratch." Max rolled his eyes and sighed.
  188.  
  189. "Okay - where did you wake up?" Max said.
  190.  
  191. "Here - on the floor." Kate said, "As a pink puddle. Like I said..."
  192.  
  193. "Kate - its not a dream." Max said, "Look at the facts here- you were the last one we used this thing on, you woke up here, and the tank - is empty. And cracked."
  194.  
  195. "I - I don't remember it being used on me." Kate said numbly, rubbing her head, "So - so I'm what - a recording?"
  196.  
  197. "Something like that." Max said unhappily, "The readings we took showed a complete recording, considering what we were working with, and the lightening..."
  198.  
  199. "But the polymer just stored memories - it's a recording medium." Gwen said, looking at Kate, "It shouldn't be getting up and walking and talking like Kate- should it?"
  200.  
  201. "I don't know." Max said frowning, "I devised the recording leads and built everything to Kate's specifications - Kate was the one who came up with the cerebral recording polymer..."
  202.  
  203. "That's it!" Kate said standing up, and stretching to the ceiling, much to everyone's surprise. Kate looked down and unstretched herself, "Kate - I mean the real Kate can figure this out."
  204.  
  205. "Kate..." Max said as she went over to the B-Scan again.
  206.  
  207. "Or maybe I can figure it out before she gets in. I mean, you've always said we needed to clone me - and this is as close as I can get..."
  208.  
  209. "Kate..." Max tried again, taking her hand. Kate ignored his hold, and it stretched over the B-Scan as Kate went to the computer.
  210.  
  211. "Do you think I should call her mom or sis? And where is she? I'm usually here before either of you..." Kate said trying to reach for the mouse. Her arm was stretching back to the surprised Max, "Hey Max - I'm trying to use that now."
  212.  
  213. "Kate - it's about you- I mean - the real Kate." Max said letting go. Kate stared at him, "There was an accident..."
  214.  
  215. "What kind of an accident?" Kate said in a hushed tone. Max had mentioned an emergency - and if she was the last one to use it... "When?"
  216.  
  217. "A couple of weeks ago- right after Brian's party... The doctor said it was massive trauma to the brain." Gwen said, "Kate - we tried to help out with the B-Scan, but..." Gwen turned away, trying to hold back a sob.
  218.  
  219. "But...?" Kate said, closing her eyes.
  220.  
  221. "It didn't work." Max said, "That's why - well - we were surprised..."
  222.  
  223. "Shocked." Gwen said, looking back at Kate.
  224.  
  225. "No no, I can't be..." Kate said, losing control of herself in a panic. Max and Gwen watched as her bright pink form melted down in the chair and spread out across the floor, leaving behind a t-shirt and shorts.
  226.  
  227. "Ohmigosh..." Gwen said, pulling her feet off the floor and sitting on the counter as Kate's form flowed towards and under her, "What should we do?"
  228.  
  229. "Either get a mop - or a wet-vac." Max said, trying to make light of the strange situation they were facing.
  230.  
  231. "Mop or wet vac?" Gwen said staring at the spreading pink liquid which had been - something resembling their friend, "Why not a flame thrower?"
  232. "Because - well, we should study it - her..." Max said uncertainly circling the pink material, "She's not any more dangerous than Kate..."
  233.  
  234. "It was stretching all over the place!" Gwen said anxiously.
  235.  
  236. "So would Kate - if she was awake and able to stretch..." Max said, "I mean, maybe we're dreaming this too..."
  237.  
  238. "I can think of better dreams - and nightmares." Gwen said shaking her head, "Why this?"
  239.  
  240. "I don't know - but we won't find out anything if we panic." Max said, noticing a ripple in the center of the pink fluid. It seemed to rise into a ball, forming Kate's face.
  241.  
  242. "What happened to me?" Kate asked, trying to stay calm and in control, "The real me." Max sighed.
  243.  
  244. "On the way home from Brian's party - you got into an auto accident." Max said, "A bad one."
  245.  
  246. "Come on!" Kate said, her head rising up out of the pink goo that had sloshed across the floor, "I'm a great driver! I have a great car!"
  247.  
  248. "Had." Max said. Kate's face fell.
  249.  
  250. "Aw, no!" Kate moaned, shuddering down, before stopping herself, "Not my Corvette! What happened? A drunk driver? A deer? "
  251.  
  252. "You hit a tree." Gwen said. Kate turned to look at her.
  253.  
  254. "A tree?" Kate sputtered, losing control of herself. Her head collapsed into the pink goo of her body. Max looked at Gwen with worry before Kate's head reformed, and rose again as if she was coming up out of a pool, "A TREE? What did it do - jump out in the middle of the road at me?"
  255.  
  256. "No- um - Max said, reaching for a chair and sitting down, "From what we were told by the police, it looked like you lost control at a very high speed. There weren't any drugs involved..."
  257.  
  258. "I could've told you that!" Gwen said, slowly rising and reforming herself, "So - am I - is the real me - dead?"
  259.  
  260. "No. Well, not yet. You - well, the real you - is in a coma." Max said, shaking his head, "We thought using the B-Scan might help bring you out of it..."
  261.  
  262. "Well..." Kate pondered for a moment, "It's possible - theoretically - by doing repeated scans and resonances..."
  263.  
  264. "Exactly." Max said gesturing at Gwen, "I told you it could work."
  265.  
  266. "But it didn't." Gwen said frowning, "Kate is still in St. Sagesse, in a coma, and we have this - this thing..."
  267.  
  268. "Excuse me - but I'm a person!" Kate protested, "Not - some - thing! Right Max?"
  269.  
  270. "You're something else, that's for sure." Max said, "But the crazy thing is..." Before Max could finish his thought, the door swung open. Kate was so surprised that as she turned, she sank back down, below the desk and out of sight.
  271.  
  272. "Max! Gwen!" snapped a tall thin man with a frown, "The IT department needs to know what's working and what isn't, pronto!"
  273.  
  274. "On it Brian." Max said, with a weak wave, "We're just - checking that out." Apparently satisfied, Brian swaggered off.
  275.  
  276. "That was close." Gwen said, going and closing the door.
  277.  
  278. "No kidding." Max said, peering down at Kate, "Let's get the equipment up and running..."
  279.  
  280. "Hello! What about me?" Kate said, slowly rising up, finally reaching a height tall enough to peer over the desk, "I'm the one with a major problem here!" Max sighed.
  281.  
  282. "I know - and we need to keep our heads - and jobs here." Max said, trying to take control of the situation, "And - we need to check out the equipment - and do some tests."
  283.  
  284. "Tests? On what..." Gwen asked, looking at Max who was going about the lab turning on equipment, then Kate, "On that?"
  285.  
  286. "Hey! I don't want to be any lab rat!" Kate protested loudly.
  287.  
  288. "And if our positions were reversed?" Max said as the equipment hummed to life, "What would you do?"
  289.  
  290. "Um...." Kate said, looking down as she pulled herself back together, "Stuff you in a tube and run all sorts of tests?"
  291.  
  292. "Right." Max said, turning to see Kate stand up, reformed - and without a stitch of clothing. He stared at her for a moment, "But I'll settle for you getting some clothes on." Kate smiled a weak smile and picked up the clothes she had just flowed out of.
  293.  
  294. "Max..." Gwen hissed as Kate pulled on her clothes, "What are you doing?"
  295.  
  296. "Having her put her clothes on." Max said, trying not to watch, "It'll be a lot less - distracting."
  297.  
  298. "No - I mean... the way you're treating that - thing..." Gwen said.
  299.  
  300. "Who is - or thinks it is - Kate our co-worker and boss." Max said calmly as Kate finished getting dressed, "We have no idea what we're dealing with! Think of the implications!"
  301.  
  302. "I'm thinking it'll make a good horror movie script!" Gwen said, frowning with obvious concern.
  303.  
  304. "I can hear you." Kate said, brushing back her hair out of habit - like the rest of her, it was a pink putty-like material which pulled and flowed, merging with her fingers as it did.
  305.  
  306. "And you wouldn't be freaked out by this?" Gwen said.
  307.  
  308. "I am. How would YOU like it if you woke up as a puddle of pink goo?" Kate said, "But - maybe this is still just a crazy dream, and I'll just play along until I wake up. Right?"
  309.  
  310. "Right." Gwen muttered.
  311.  
  312. "The key thing is to keep Brian out of here." Max said, eyeing the door, "Odds are he'd call you company property..."
  313.  
  314. "Like HELL!" Kate cursed, "My great great grandparents..."
  315.  
  316. "Were slaves. I know." Max said, raising his hands, "But - this is way different!"
  317.  
  318. "How?" Kate demanded to know, and shuddering. She caught herself before she reverted back into a pink puddle again.
  319.  
  320. "Well - um..." Max said, looking at Gwen, "Look, let's make sure Brian doesn't find out about it, so we don't have to find out about it either."
  321.  
  322. "Fine." Kate said, crossing her arms, "So - now what?"
  323.  
  324. "Now..." Max said, looking at the B-Scan, "We're going to check you out..."
  325.  
  326. An hour later, Kate was feeling slightly better as she lay on the table under the B-Scan, with various probes attached to her elastic body. Talking to Max had always put her at ease, even if they were conducting tests on her.
  327.  
  328. "So grandma and I had a string tied to her rocking chair, and down in the basement there was this sheet, that went up and down, up and down when she rocked." Kate said, grinning a bit wider than should be humanly possible, "She sent Uncle Alfie down to get some preserves, and rocked back and forth - before you knew it, he was up those stairs scared that the KKK was living in our basement - he never, ever told me a scary ghost story again!" Kate giggled a bit at the memory of the look of horror on Alfie's face as he burst back into the kitchen.
  329.  
  330. "And he never figured it out?" Max said, watching the monitor.
  331.  
  332. "Maybe. He didn't go down there again for a long time." Kate said, eyeing the monitor, "So - that's a funny memory for you..."
  333.  
  334. "One you never told us before." Max added.
  335.  
  336. "You never asked." Kate said, meshing her fingers, and twisting them about into a net of sorts, "What next? A sad memory?"
  337.  
  338. "Well... Yah." Max said, "We're just trying to match your responses to what we did before the accident - and after..."
  339.  
  340. "Which one? My mother's drug addiction? Or my grandmother's Alzheimer's? Or..." Kate said, pausing. She could feel herself losing control, becoming more fluid. Max looked at her.
  341.  
  342. "Whoa - you okay?" Max said, frowning as her features blurred and her body sagged under her clothes.
  343.  
  344. "Yeah - yeah..." Kate sniffed, as she focused and managed to resolidify herself, "I - I kind of lose control under stress."
  345.  
  346. "I noticed." Max said, nodding, "Relax, we can go back to it..."
  347.  
  348. "What does it look like so far?" Kate asked, "Am I really Kate?"
  349.  
  350. "Other than being pink putty? Yes." Max chuckled. Kate smiled.
  351.  
  352. "Hey - I'll be able to 'pass' this way." Kate said lightly.
  353.  
  354. "Maybe - neon white, huh?" Max said, shaking his head, "Well - you're passing with flying colors. There's less than a three percent variance between what we've done now, and the first series of test we did on Kate - the original Kate - two months ago..."
  355.  
  356. "Three? Let me see..." Kate said, surprising Max as she stretched her neck out form under the B-Scan sensor and around the monitor to peer over his shoulder. She whistled softly at the readings "Wow - We were looking for a five to six percent variance as good before releasing the B-Scan - but this..."
  357.  
  358. "You're almost identical." Max said, trying not to get too disturbed at the sight of Kate's serpentine neck writhing around him, "Well - mentally. You're still all pink."
  359.  
  360. "Don't remind me..." Kate said, catching sight of her own stretched out neck, "And freaky! Why am I doing that?"
  361.  
  362. "Doing - what?" Max asked.
  363.  
  364. "Stretching out, dummy!" Kate said, pulling her neck back and looking down at her body, which still lay on the table, "I was thinking I wanted to get up - without disturbing the sensors..."
  365.  
  366. "Which you did." Max said gently, "Hey - get back under the B-Scan, and lets try something else."
  367.  
  368. "Like what?" Kate said as Max called up more information on the computer.
  369.  
  370. "The physical manipulation files..." Max said.
  371.  
  372. "Come on - The B-Scan was supposed to help restore memory, not..." Kate protested. Max cut her off.
  373.  
  374. "During one of those meetings, Brian suggested could use this to help paralyzed patients 'relearn' how to walk - remember?" Max said, frowning, "We only got readings from me, Gwen and Bob though. Thanks a lot."
  375.  
  376. "Don't mention it." Kate sighed. She had flatly turned down taking part in the experiment, preferring to work on the mental restoration portion of the B-Scan.
  377.  
  378. "All right - lift your right leg - straight out." Max said. Kate frowned, and did as she was told.
  379.  
  380. "There." Kate said.
  381.  
  382. "Now - can you stretch it?" Max asked. Kate rolled her eyes, and focused. She could feel it, slowly growing out, lengthening, stretching across the room. Max stared in surprise, before turning back to the computer.
  383.  
  384. "Oh-kay. This is interesting." Max said as readings began to fly across the charts.
  385.  
  386. "How much longer?" Kate asked.
  387.  
  388. "As long as you can."
  389.  
  390. "Um- okay. That's as far as I can go." Kate said. Max looked over his shoulder to see Kate's foot was resting firmly up against the wall, ten feet away.
  391.  
  392. "Uh-huh." Max nodded, "Until you began stretching, the readings were - normal - then everything..." The door swung open, interrupting Max.
  393.  
  394. "AH!" Gwen gasped as she came in and ran into Kate's stretched-out leg. Kate lost focus, and her leg drooped, then fell to the ground like a limp pink firehose. Gwen looked at Kate and Max with surprise.
  395.  
  396. "What are you doing?" Gwen asked.
  397.  
  398. "Conducting - tests." Max shrugged as Kate slowly retracted her leg back to normal proportions, "How did yours go?" Gwen frowned.
  399.  
  400. "The samples I took are nearly identical to Kate's specs for the cerebral recording polymer." Gwen said, holding out a ream of papers. Kate resisted the urge to stretch, and sat up to take them.
  401.  
  402. "Nearly?" Kate said, peering over the documents, "Heh - this is weird."
  403.  
  404. "What?" Gwen said, going over to see what Kate might have found.
  405.  
  406. "I don't need my reading glasses to read the fine print any more." Kate said, looking at Gwen.
  407.  
  408. "What about the charts?" Max asked. Kate looked at it again, flipping through the pages.
  409.  
  410. "Well- yeah." Kate said, frowning, "These spikes are the main difference... Oh, duh!"
  411.  
  412. "What?" Gwen said.
  413.  
  414. "Sugars." Kate said, slapping the paper, "When I woke up this way, I had some candy from the snack stash."
  415.  
  416. "You can - eat?" Max said. Kate pondered it for a moment.
  417.  
  418. "Well - yeah." Kate said, looking back and forth "I didn't really think about it before. I think I'm getting hungry now..."
  419.  
  420. "For what?" Gwen said, backing off slightly.
  421.  
  422. "I don't know - pizza?" Kate said, eyeing the clock, "I mean, it's almost lunchtime." Gwen breathed a sigh of relief.
  423.  
  424. "I'll call up Dicey's." Max said, ignoring Gwen's discomfort.
  425.  
  426. "I want the Hawaiian!" Kate said, flipping through the pages of Gwen's report.
  427.  
  428. "Okay, one Hawaiian - usual?" Max asked Gwen. Gwen nodded, "Great. Hey, we want to have an order to go..." Max rattled off their order as Gwen circled Kate, who seemed to be involved in reading the report.
  429.  
  430. "See anything else?" Gwen asked as Max hung up.
  431.  
  432. "Just this." Kate said, pointing to a row of figures, "The ambient charge is off. Way too high."
  433.  
  434. "Well - there was a lightening strike." Max said, "Maybe that's what - brought you to life?"
  435.  
  436. "Maybe - but this stuff is an adaptive conductor. The lightening should've boiled it away." Kate said, shaking her head, "I mean, there is no scientific reason for it to be up thinking its Kate Freeman, and walking and talking..."
  437.  
  438. "And eating pizza..." Gwen said. Kate nodded, and handed the papers to Max.
  439.  
  440. "Exactly! This is impossible!" Kate said, crossing her arms and looking at Gwen, "So, how much solvent have you made up?"
  441.  
  442. "About ten gallons..." Gwen said automatically before covering her mouth.
  443.  
  444. "Solvent?" Max said, looking up. Gwen looked away, "What are you - you can't mean...? Gwen!"
  445.  
  446. "It's just in case - you know." Gwen said, looking at Kate, "This is crazy! Like out of a horror movie!"
  447.  
  448. "This is Kate." Max said, "The scans prove it..."
  449.  
  450. "And in every horror movie I've seen, things start out good - and go downhill." Gwen said.
  451.  
  452. "Gwen..."
  453.  
  454. "It's okay." Kate said, holding her hands up, "I was going to suggest it anyway."
  455.  
  456. "Kate!" Max said.
  457.  
  458. "Look - she's right. I'm a freakshow!" Kate said, "Right now - I'm stable. Later on - who knows? You guys might need to have it on hand!"
  459.  
  460. "I can't believe we're talking about this." Max said.
  461.  
  462. "Neither can I - since I should be stuck in that canister while the real me is in a coma." Kate said, her pink elastic form wavering slightly, "I don't like it."
  463.  
  464. "You okay?" Max asked. Kate held up her hand and collected herself.
  465.  
  466. "Yes - I'm getting the hang of this - I think." Kate said, "It's almost like learning how to walk all over again."
  467.  
  468. "But you're getting better at it." Gwen asked.
  469.  
  470. "Yeah." Kate nodded, looking at Max, "Look - there's nothing on record about this - at all. Who knows what will happen to me? Today I'm talking, tomorrow- maybe I'll be a puddle of goo. Or delusional from lack of sleep. Who knows?"
  471.  
  472. "Hey - it's going to work out." Max said, trying to reassure her.
  473.  
  474. "Yeah, yeah." Kate said, shaking her head, unsure of what might happen next.
  475.  
  476. "Give me a break!" Kate fussed as she ate a slice of pizza, and listened to what she had missed during the weeks that she missed, "I wanted to see them blow that old factory up."
  477.  
  478. "Sorry - maybe someone has a video." Max shrugged, "But they're already working on the shopping center that's going in there."
  479.  
  480. "I wonder what's going to be there." Kate mused, looking at Gwen who had been very quiet through the entire conversation, "Do you know?"
  481.  
  482. "Nope." Gwen said, watching Kate warily, "Word is, they're arguing over what to name the new mall."
  483.  
  484. "Well, they'll name it something." Kate said.
  485.  
  486. "Speaking of names." Max said, "What the heck should we call you?"
  487.  
  488. "That's easy." Kate said, "Kate Freeman. Or Catherine."
  489.  
  490. "Kate's in the hospital." Gwen said sourly, "You're - here."
  491.  
  492. "So?"
  493.  
  494. "So sooner or later - Kate." Max said, rubbing his chin, "Kate - the Kate who's in the hospital will get out - and we may have two of you."
  495.  
  496. "Oh." Kate said. She hadn't really thought of it, but for a moment earlier - briefly.
  497.  
  498. "We ought to call you something other than Kate - you know, just to help us tell you two apart..." Max said.
  499.  
  500. "What about 'Pinky' ?" Gwen said.
  501.  
  502. "Pinky?" Kate said with a frown.
  503.  
  504. "Well you are all pink..." Gwen shrugged. Max rolled his eyes.
  505.  
  506. "Pinky." Kate repeated, frowning, "Wasn't that the name of some lab rat in a cartoon?"
  507.  
  508. "Not very bright either." Max said.
  509.  
  510. "Now you're getting it." Gwen said, nodding.
  511.  
  512. "Come on ..." Max said.
  513.  
  514. "And what do you think?" Kate asked Max, "Maybe I should stretch my ears out like this to look the part...?" She pulled her elastic ears out into reasonable duplicates of some large mouse ears, and waggled them for the two to see.
  515.  
  516. "I think you look fine the way you are." Max said.
  517.  
  518. "All pink." Kate said, letting her ears droop.
  519.  
  520. "No - well, I suppose." Max shrugged, "Hey, I was missing you - well, Kate..."
  521.  
  522. "And you're the one who wants me to use a different name than my own..." Kate said.
  523.  
  524. "You have to admit - it's a bit confusing having two Kates running around." Max said, "At least you look different - even if you're acting alike..."
  525.  
  526. "Yeah." Kate said, taking in what Max was saying, "Okay - why don't you come up with a name for me?"
  527.  
  528. "What's wrong with Pinky?" Gwen asked.
  529.  
  530. "I'm not going be called Pinky!" Kate said, eyeing Gwen.
  531.  
  532. "It fits..."
  533.  
  534. "Great - maybe I should start calling you 'whitey', huh?" Kate said, stretching her neck a bit across the table towards Gwen. Gwen shrank back under Kate's glare.
  535.  
  536. "Okay, calm down - Pinky is definitely out." Max said, putting his hand on Kate' shoulder. Kate looked at him and reeled her neck back in, "What about 'Stretch?'"
  537.  
  538. "MAX!" Kate wailed.
  539.  
  540. "Joking, joking!" Max said holding up his handes before Kate could begin stretching towards him, "What about your middle name? Do you have one...?" Kate scowled.
  541.  
  542. "Kate is my middle name."
  543.  
  544. "Okay - your first name."
  545.  
  546. "I don't really like it." Kate said as her ears stretched back to their normal size. She sank down a bit in her seat until she realized her chest was starting to land on her lap. Hastily she pulled herself back up.
  547.  
  548. "I already do." said Gwen. Kate glared at her.
  549.  
  550. "Well - what is it?" Max asked. Kate rocked back and forth, trying not to melt down out of frustration.
  551.  
  552. "Jessica." Kate finally said.
  553.  
  554. "Jessica?" Gwen said, "That's not so bad. I thought it might be something like..."
  555.  
  556. "It's my mother's name." Kate said, "Well, part of it. The better part, Granpa told me..."
  557.  
  558. "Maybe he's right. It's a nice name." Max said, "So - do you mind being called Jess?" Kate frowned.
  559.  
  560. "Well..." Kate began, "Its better than 'Pinky'." She turned it over in her head a few times as they finished up lunch.
  561.  
  562. She could get by being called Jess.
  563.  
  564. It sure beat "Pinky'.
  565.  
  566. "Are you NUTS taking that - Kate home?" Gwen hissed as they shut down the lab equipment. It had been a long hard day, trying to determine exactly what this Kate - or Jesss as they were now calling her - was. Other than the fact that she was pink, and very elastic, there was virtually nothing to distinguish her from the real Kate who was in a coma in the hospital.
  567.  
  568. "First, we're calling her Jess until we figure this out." Max said, shrugging, "Second - define nuts."
  569.  
  570. "Is it a smart thing to do?" Gwen hissed as Jess put on a coat Max had brought in from his car.
  571.  
  572. "Would you rather leave her in the lab?" Max asked, "Unsupervised?" Gwen's eyes narrowed.
  573.  
  574. "In the safe." Gwen muttered. That was about the only place that might hold Jess securely by her calculations.
  575.  
  576. "I could keep on researching this - condition here." Jess said, oblivious to Gwen's concerns.
  577.  
  578. "No - that could cause - problems." Max said, "I'll take you home - for observation."
  579.  
  580. "Observation." Jess said, frowning as she put on the oversized raincoat that Max had brought in, "Could do that here."
  581.  
  582. "Yes - but I have a bed there." Max said.
  583.  
  584. "Oooh- is that a come-on?" Jess said with a smile. Max gulped.
  585.  
  586. "And - a futon." Max amended himself, "Look, if you work 24-7 then you might have that mental breakdown you were worried about. Everyone needs to rest. Take time off from the job..."
  587.  
  588. "Okay, okay." Jess said, going to the door, "Lets go... Oh, and Gwen?" Gwen paused - she was coming up behind them.
  589.  
  590. "Yes?" Gwen said nervously.
  591.  
  592. "Better get the Indian fire cans over at Mac's Trading Post, not the super-soakers." Jess said with a smile, "Otherwise the solvent will destroy them before you get a chance to use one." Max looked at Jess in puzzlement.
  593.  
  594. "Okay - enough thinking." Max said, tugging on Jess and nearly stretching her arm out, "Time to say bye bye."
  595.  
  596. "Bye bye."
  597.  
  598. "R-iiiight..." Gwen said, as she watched them leave.
  599.  
  600. "What do you have? A death wish?" Max asked as they walked through the parking lot, "You're almost daring Gwen to try to do something to you..."
  601.  
  602. "No, I'm trying to cover all the angles." Jess said, rubbing her forehead, and almost deforming it as she did so, "Maybe she's right - maybe I could be a menace. Look at what I can do..." with that, Jess looped her right arm around Max's waist three times.
  603.  
  604. "Not in public." Max said, glad that the lot was still deserted. Jess sighed, and reeled her arm back in, "That doesn't seem to be too dangerous..."
  605.  
  606. "But it could be." Jess said, "I mean - what if I do freak out? How do you stop a living piece of putty?"
  607.  
  608. "Besides the solvent? Fire extinguishers maybe..." Max said, frowning, "Crap, now you've got ME thinking about it too!"
  609.  
  610. "Well, it's an interesting problem." Jess said, "Besides, I saw her looking at the sales flier with the super soakers. If she's using the right solvent for what I'm made of, it would eat through that plastic in a few minutes..."
  611.  
  612. "And not through Indian cans?" Max said, "Whatever those are?"
  613.  
  614. "Old fashioned fire extinguishers that rangers use." Jess said, "They're made of metal."
  615.  
  616. "Ah." Max said, stopping, "Well - here's the ride." Jess looked at the car Max stopped at and smiled.
  617.  
  618. "Oh - so you finally gave in." Jess said, admiring the little sporty compact. Max went and unlocked the doors.
  619.  
  620. "Had to. Couldn't afford the gas on that old SUV any more." Max said as they got in.
  621.  
  622. "And you couldn't drive my Corvette around any more either if I crashed it." Jess teased Max as she sat down. Max looked at her puzzled.
  623.  
  624. "Drive your Corvette?" Max asked, "You never let me do that."
  625.  
  626. "Oh, come on. You've been doing it for months." Jess said with a smile, "Every night when I left after you did, I'd find it in the parking space near the exit - not back here where we're supposed to park." Max stared at Jess.
  627.  
  628. "Kate - I mean - Jess - I've never moved your car - anywhere." Max said.
  629.  
  630. "Come on. If you didn't do it, then who did?" Jess asked as she fastened her seatbelt.
  631.  
  632. "Search me." Max said, trying to think about Jess's odd observations, "I mean - I thought you were moving it closer sometimes for some weird reason."
  633.  
  634. "No. Why would I do that?" Jess said.
  635.  
  636. "Beats me." Max sighed, turning the ignition on, "Anyone else prone to moving your car around when you're not looking?"
  637.  
  638. "No..." Jess said, puzzling away, "But - when I think about it, it almost seems like it was following me - you know, I park at one place at the mall, and come out and there it is, nearby..."
  639.  
  640. "Maybe it's stalking you." Max teased Jess.
  641.  
  642. "Yeah, right. That makes a lot of sense." Jess said, rolling her eyes.
  643.  
  644. "As much sense as something inanimate coming to life." Max said, mulling it over, "I mean - it still doesn't make any sense - scientifically speaking..." Jess frowned.
  645.  
  646. "Forget my Corvette - you said it was wrecked," Jess said, "Tell me what else I've missed since I've been out of the picture."
  647.  
  648. "Not much - Politicians are still crooked, terrorists are still out to get America..." Max shrugged as they drove off, "Same old stuff."
  649.  
  650. "Uh-huh." Jess said, nodding, "Still live at Beechnut Apartments?"
  651.  
  652. "Yep."
  653.  
  654. "And my condo?" Jess asked.
  655.  
  656. "Well - you still have it." Max shrugged, "We've been looking out for it..."
  657.  
  658. "Good." Jess said, "Stop by there."
  659.  
  660. "What?" Max said, "I don't think so..."
  661.  
  662. "Aw, c'mon. I need something better than this to wear!" Jess said, pointing to the mismatched clothes she was wearing, "Either take me over to my condo so I can get some spare clothes, or we'll have to go shopping!" "With what money?"
  663.  
  664. "You could float me a loan." Jess said, "Please?"
  665.  
  666. "All right, all right. To the condo we go." Max sighed, thankful that her condo wasn't too far from his apartment.
  667.  
  668. "Wait a minute." Max said as Jess bounded out of the car, happy to see her condo again.
  669.  
  670. "Don't worry, I'll get in." Jess said with a smile as she got to the alcove door.
  671.  
  672. "With what keys?" Max asked. Jess smiled, and let herself go. Max watched in amazement as Jess's smile - and the rest of her melted away into a bright pink puddle on the doorstep, "Jess...!" Max gasped, racing up to the door. He looked down at the heap of mismatched clothes in time to see the last traces of the pink puddle ooze under the door.
  673.  
  674. Mentally, Jess grinned to herself as she flowed like a stream under the tight door jam, pooling inside her condo. It seemed that the more she did it, the easier it got - and the more enjoyable it was. Jess pulled the last drops of herself in, and the puddle began to rise and bulge upwards as she took her normal form again - normal save for the fact that she was all pink.
  675.  
  676. "Not bad..." Jess said, looking down at herself. Where it had taken several long minutes to change from a blob to a person, it was taking only a minute or so, "Now to get something on..." Jess caught herself as she heard the door lock click open. She turned to see a slightly annoyed Max opening the door and letting himself in.
  677.  
  678. "I tried to tell you - I had a key." Max said, carrying in Jess's discarded clothes.
  679.  
  680. "And when did I give you a key?" Jess asked, putting her hands on her hips. They sank in slightly, much to her annoyance.
  681.  
  682. "You didn't - your Grandfather did after the accident." Max said, "Someone had to tend your plants."
  683.  
  684. "Oh..." Jess said looking around. She did have a large collection of plants in her condo, which were still lush and green, "Well - thanks."
  685.  
  686. "And I tossed the food too - or it would really stink in here." Max said, going by Jess to the kitchen automatically. Jess watched him fill up her watering pot, before he asked a pointed question.
  687.  
  688. "So - are you going to get your clothes on?" Max asked. Jess looked down - if she could, she would've blushed. Since her clothes were not elastic, they had been left behind again.
  689.  
  690. "Oh - oh, right..." Jess said, flustered. She went to her bedroom, and began to get dressed.
  691.  
  692. "This is so weird." Jess muttered, pulling a pair of panties and putting them on. They were hers - yet it almost felt like she was putting on someone else's things. She frowned as she put a bra on, and felt it sink into her pliable form.
  693.  
  694. "That won't work!" Jess muttered, taking it off. As she put on a white blouse, and looked at herself in the mirror, her eyes strayed to her graduation photo she kept on the dresser. The contrast between her dark skinned portrait with her grandparents beaming proudly behind her, and her new pink-toned body were striking.
  695.  
  696. What would her grandparents say?
  697.  
  698. As she stared, the phone on her nightstand rang. Without thinking, she stretched her arm out across her bed and snapped it up.
  699.  
  700. "Hello?" Jess said, looking in the closet for a nice skirt, almost ignoring how easily she had stretched.
  701.  
  702. "Georgia?" Came a crackly voice over the receiver. Jess paused, and gulped. It was her grandmother, Nellie, "Georgia, how nice of you to call!"
  703.  
  704. "No Gran, it's me - Kate." Jess said automatically, forgetting for just a moment that she wasn't truly Kate. Her grandmother always mistook her for her own mother when she called. It had been getting worse since she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
  705.  
  706. "Kate? Oh, it's so good to hear from you. Such a thoughtful girl." Nellie said, "How's school?"
  707.  
  708. "I'm not in school any more Gran." Jess reminded her, "You know, I've got an important job, a big career...." Jess paused, trying not to tick off the fact that she was now a pink elastic freak.
  709.  
  710. "Oh, that's right. Meet any nice boys?" Nellie said hopefully, "I've seen that nice young man - Max - stop by here. I think he's looking for you."
  711.  
  712. "He is?" Jess said, frowning. What would Max be doing at her grandparent's home?
  713.  
  714. "Yes, he is. Such a nice young man. You should meet him!" Nellie babbled on happily, "Oh - here's your Granpa. Otis, it's Kate." Jess cringed as the phone bumped against the floor as Nellie dropped it as she always did, trying to hand the phone to her Granpa.
  715.  
  716. "Hello? Who is this?" Came Granpa Otis's voice over the phone with a military snap-to that had been earned. Jess wavered.
  717.  
  718. "It's - it's me Granpa." Jess managed the eke out in a low tone, "Kate - sorta..."
  719.  
  720. "Kate? My Kate is in the damned hospital, in a coma." Otis barked angrily, "You have some nerve, calling here, disturbing out peace, whoever you are!" Before Jess could respond, she heard the slam of the telephone receiver at the other end.
  721.  
  722. "But - it's really me..." Jess said sadly, letting the phone slip out of her fingers, where it landed with a sloshy thud on the bedroom carpet. Jess looked down to see herself melting and spreading downwards into a large pink puddle as she lost focus.
  723.  
  724. "It - is - me." Jess gurgled tearfully as her head vanished into her shapeless form.
  725.  
  726. How long she lay on the floor, sobbing to herself she didn't know. Dimly, she heard the door swing open, and Max coming in.
  727.  
  728. "Hey - Jess - it's been a while. Are you decent?" Max said, stepping in - and into Jess's spread out form, "Jess --- Oh, man, JESS!" Max said, stepping back. He frowned, and kneeled, pulling out a pen and poking at the pink material.
  729.  
  730. "Jess? Or Kate? Can you hear me?" Max said in a low voice. The pink puddle rippled slightly as Jess stopped sobbing, and tried to compose herself. "Okay - one bubble for yes, two bubbles for no - can you hear me?" The pink puddle shuddered again, and Jess's face appeared below Max's feet.
  731.  
  732. "I can hear you fine." Jess sniffed, "Just - give me a moment, will you." Max stepped back as the pink puddle pulled inwards, thickening into a strangely shuddering form of a curled up body. Despite her sadness, Jess found herself almost laughing. The sensation of her form flowing through the strands of the thick shag carpet was tickling her to the point of almost loosing her concentration.
  733.  
  734. "Ah!" Jess gasped, as she unfolded herself from a fetal position on the floor. She looked at Max, who stood up, showing concern, "That- was almost fun."
  735.  
  736. "What happened?" Max said, offering his hand and helping Jess up. His fingers sank into her soft warm putty arm, almost stretching it out again.
  737.  
  738. "Nothing - nothing - I just lost control again." Jess said, sitting on the corner of the bed, and holding her head. Max sat down next to her, and put his arm around her shoulder.
  739.  
  740. "Lost control? How?" Max asked, trying to ignore the fact that his fingers were sinking into her soft warm putty form.
  741.  
  742. "Well - you heard the phone ring." Jess sniffed, "And - it was Gran. She's still not with it..."
  743.  
  744. "I know." Max said, frowning.
  745.  
  746. "And then - Granpa came on." Jess sniffed, "I know he loves me - but he could scare me so sometimes..."
  747.  
  748. "And you lost it." Max said. Jess nodded dumbly, "Hey, he's going through a hell of a lot you know. He really cares about you."
  749.  
  750. "I know." Jess said, as a thought crossed her mind, "And - what have you been doing over there?"
  751.  
  752. "Me?" Max said, taken aback, "Well - you know, Nellie can't be left alone - so I looked after her while Otis was at the hospital visiting you." Jess looked at him dumbly.
  753.  
  754. "You did that for her - for me?" Jess said softly. Max smiled and shrugged.
  755.  
  756. "Well - lets just say that your Granpa isn't the only one who has a hard time expressing himself." Max said, reaching down and picking up the fallen telephone receiver, "You know what the odd thing is?"
  757.  
  758. "Besides Granma having you read the same old newspaper over and over again?" Jess asked with a weak smile.
  759.  
  760. "There's that." Max nodded, holding up the phone "But, there's this - I didn't hear the phone ring at all."
  761.  
  762. "You didn't?" Jess said, sitting up straight and surprised, "But - it rang, I picked it up - it was Granma calling like she always does..."
  763.  
  764. "Kate - Jess - I don't think your Granma uses the phone any more." Max said, "I've never seen her call anyone. Or ask me to dial the phone."
  765.  
  766. "But - but she calls me every evening like clockwork." Jess said softly, scowling and shuddering, "I know that for a fact. I swear, she just knows when to call."
  767.  
  768. "But she never did when I was there." Max said, hanging up the phone, "And believe me, I was there pretty late some nights while Otis was at the hospital waiting for results."
  769.  
  770. "If you say so..." Jess said. Suddenly, the phone rang. Max scowled, and picked it up.
  771.  
  772. "Y'ello?" Max said, frowning. "Huh - no one is there."
  773.  
  774. "That's weird." Jess said, frowning as Max looked at the phone.
  775.  
  776. "Yeah - and the fact that I only heard this phone - not the one in the kitchen." Max said, hanging up and going to the bedroom door.
  777.  
  778. "Well yeah - it works..." Jess began, as the phone rang again. The pair looked at it in surprise.
  779.  
  780. "I didn't hear the kitchen phone." Max said as it rang again, "Maybe you should answer it." Jess frowned, and picked up the phone. Her eyes widened as she heard a familiar voice on it calling hello.
  781.  
  782. "It's Granpa." Jess hissed, handing the phone to Max. She couldn't bear to deal with listening to him again. Not just then. Max took the phone.
  783.  
  784. "Hello?" Max said, puzzled.
  785.  
  786. "Max? Is that you?" Otis's voice came over the line, sounding a little happier than he had since Max had met him, right after Jess's accident, "How are you?"
  787.  
  788. "Doing just fine." Max said, "How did you know I was at Jess's place?"
  789.  
  790. "How did I know...?" Otis said, puzzled, "You're the one who called here."
  791.  
  792. "No - you called here." Max said, eyeing the phone, "It's been a weird day..."
  793.  
  794. "A wonderful day actually." Otis said cheerfully, "Other than some crank calling who sounded like my Katie."
  795.  
  796. "No kidding." Max said.
  797.  
  798. "I'm not - Some stranger showed up just a little while ago looking for this old ring I had given Nellie years ago." Otis said, "I had no idea where it was - and you know poor Nellie can't remember what day of the week it is..."
  799.  
  800. "Yes, I know." Max nodded, watching as Jess got up and slunk out of the bedroom.
  801.  
  802. "Well, here's the thing - he's some sort of doctor. I've never seen anything like it." Otis said, "He sat down to talk to Nellie, and before you knew it, her mind was back - sharp as a tack!"
  803.  
  804. "You're kidding." Max said in astonishment - and hoping Otis wasn't losing his mind either.
  805.  
  806. "I'm not! It's a miracle!" Otis said, "And he's going to see if he can help Katie."
  807.  
  808. "Uh-huh." Max said, "And how much is he charging for this?"
  809.  
  810. "Nothing - well, except for this ring he's so interested in." Otis said, "Never knew it was that valuable to someone, considering how I got it."
  811.  
  812. "Maybe I should - drop by and meet him." Max said, regretting that he'd have to find some way to occupy Jess while he found out what was going on over at Otis's home.
  813.  
  814. "Oh, he's already left." Otis said, "I mean, they did take Kate off life support this morning..."
  815.  
  816. "WHAT!?" Jess's voice shouted over the phone - she had been listening in from the kitchen phone. Max winced.
  817.  
  818. "Who is THAT?" Otis said, surprised. Max heard the phone slam down.
  819.  
  820. "Uh - the neighbors!" Max said, pounding on the door, "I guess they're having a fight. Look, I have to go, but I'll call again - soon." Max hung up the phone in time to run into Jess's head at the end of her long stretched-out neck come into the room, looking distressed.
  821.  
  822. "I'm off life support?" Jess cried, "You never told me THAT!"
  823.  
  824. "I didn't know." Max said, shrugging, "The doctors at Saint Sagesse have been telling your Granpa to do it for a couple of weeks - that's the reason we tried using the B-Scan on you to bring you out of it..."
  825.  
  826. "So me - the real me - is dying?" Jess sputtered, her head bobbing back and forth in agitation on the long pink tendril of her neck, as if she were pacing the room, "And some - what, faith healer is going to help me?"
  827.  
  828. "I'm not sure what's going on." Max said, "Now calm down - and pull yourself together."
  829.  
  830. "I am together... Oh, fudge!" Jess said, looking down and following her long stretched-out neck that went out the door, "Okay - so maybe I'm NOT all together."
  831.  
  832. "Relax - we'll figure this out." Max said, following Jess's head as she retracted her neck back into the kitchen, where the rest of her had collapsed again into a pink puddle. Max stopped as Jess's body rose and reformed to its normal human proportions.
  833.  
  834. "Well, I know one way we're going to figure this out." Jess said sternly, marching to the door, "We're going over to Saint Sagesse right now."
  835.  
  836. "No, we're not." Max said, with a slight smile.
  837.  
  838. "Why NOT?" Jess demanded.
  839.  
  840. "Well - first you need to get dressed." Max said, "Otherwise, we're going to get arrested." Jess looked down at herself.
  841.  
  842. "Aw, man!" Jess said, marching back past Max to her bedroom, "Why do I keep doing that?"
  843.  
  844. "Maybe it's part of your condition." Max said, following her.
  845.  
  846. "Great - have your mind transferred into putty, and become a stretchy exhibitionist." Jess fumed, putting on her panties again, and rummaging around in her closet for a blouse and skirt. She glanced over her shoulder at Max, "Hope you're enjoying the show."
  847.  
  848. "Just observing." Max said with a smile and a shrug.
  849.  
  850. "Why did they bring me - here?" Jess asked, peering over a pair of sunglasses, despite the fact the sun was setting. She felt confined - trapped - in the clothes Max had insisted that she wear. A dowdy old coat and pants were hardly her style, but she had to agree with Max's argument that the world was not quite ready for a passionate pink plastic woman to come waltzing into the lobby of the Saint Sagesse Hospital. The pristine white walls and spotless floors seemed unnaturally sterile. The young nurse behind the reception desk ignored them as she chatted with someone on the phone.
  851. "I don't know." Max said, as they walked towards the elevators, "Its new - and clean, not like Metro or Ford." The elevator door swished open and they stepped in. Max pressed the button for the seventh floor, and the doors slid closed.
  852.  
  853. "Maybe." Jess said, eyeing the hospital's logo, which seemed to be everywhere. It was a red cross, with a stylized golden 'S' wrapped around it. Jess looked at it more closely, and it almost seemed to glow, "There's something I don't like about this place."
  854.  
  855. "There's lots of things not to like about hospitals." Max said, "Sick people, padded bills rotten food."
  856.  
  857. "That's not what I meant." Jess said, hugging herself, "There's something here that's not - right."
  858.  
  859. "Besides the fact that you're coming to pay yourself a visit?" Max asked. Jess looked at him with a frown just as the doors opened, "Uh - Here we are." Max stepped out, followed by Kate.
  860.  
  861. "Where - am I?" Jess said, looking up and down the empty hallway. Before she could comment about the echo, a surprised young man popped up from behind the nurse's station.
  862.  
  863. "Excuse me - what are you doing here?" He asked nervously, "This floor is closed!"
  864.  
  865. "Closed?" Max said, "But this is your new ward - Doctor Graves said so..."
  866.  
  867. "Yes - well - its closed. After visiting hours..." the man insisted, trying to smooth down his spotless white shirt.
  868.  
  869. "We still have some time." Max said, checking his watch, "And it's very important. Is Doctor Graves in?"
  870.  
  871. "NO."
  872.  
  873. "Look - all we want to do is see me - I mean, Kate Freeman." Jess said sternly, stepping closer to him. "It's very important."
  874.  
  875. "Kate - Freeman." The man said, looking distinctly ill, "Yes - well, she's still in a coma..."
  876.  
  877. "And still in the same room, right." Max asked. The man nodded, "Then we won't make any loud noises to disturb the other patients. Okay?"
  878.  
  879. "But - but..." The man said, as Max walked away to the room at the end of the hall. Jess turned as the man reached for the phone and hurriedly dialed a number.
  880.  
  881. "This is so weird." Jess said as they walked down the dimly lit hallway. It seemed as if the floor had never been used. Peering in a few rooms, the beds were made up - and empty.
  882.  
  883. "I know." Max said, uncomfortably, "There were people - when we came here last time, but now..." Max stopped at the last door. It was closed.
  884.  
  885. "Kate Freeman." Jess said, reading the name on the clipboard hanging from the door. She gulped.
  886.  
  887. "Ready?" Max asked. Jess nodded. Silently, he opened the door. Jess took off her glasses and looked in.
  888.  
  889. "What the hell?" Jess said, staring, then stepping into the room. Max followed, bewildered by the sight.
  890.  
  891. The room was empty.
  892.  
  893. "This just keeps getting weirder." Max said, looking at the empty bed neatly made up with crisply pressed sheets. Jess peered into the bathroom, "Kate was here."
  894.  
  895. "Yes she was." Came a strange dry voice from nowhere. Jess and Max looked around.
  896.  
  897. "Who said that?" Max asked, feeling a chill go up his spine.
  898.  
  899. "Never mind that! Where's Kate!?" Jess asked, feeling slightly panicked.
  900.  
  901. "They took her way." Came the voice.
  902.  
  903. "Where? Who?" Max said, still unsure of where the voice was coming from. It seemed to be everywhere at once. He glanced back at Jess, and was dismayed to see she was stretching her neck out, under the bed to look around, "Jess!"
  904.  
  905. "We've got to find her!" Jess said, pulling her neck back in, and looping her arm around and around Max, "C'mon, that guy at the nurse's station should know!" Max followed Jess's lead, and they walked swiftly down the hall, where the man was babbling on the phone.
  906.  
  907. "Jess - your arm..." Max said, catching up to her. Jess glanced down and unlooped it again, "Now calm down - there's bound to be a good reason..."
  908.  
  909. "HEY!" Jess shouted, drawing the man's attention, "Where's Kate Freeman?" The man's eyes bulged as Jess leaned against the counter and stretched out, closer to him.
  910.  
  911. "I - She..." The man stammered, looking at Jess - and then beyond her. Max looked down the empty hallway, where the ever-present insignia of the hospital seemed to be glowing brighter, "She was moved - temporarily."
  912.  
  913. "Where?" Jess demanded to know.
  914.  
  915. "I am - just getting that information right now." The man gulped. "If you would just - go back to her room and wait there, I'll track her down and be right with you..."
  916.  
  917. "No, I want to know where she is right now, Mr - Mr. Kruger." Jess repeated herself, stretching her arm out and tapping the man's name badge insistently. As she did, the insignia seemed to spark and glow with every tap.
  918.  
  919. "Er- Jess - calm down." Max said, pulling Jess back, "I'm sure there's a good reason for this..."
  920.  
  921. "Cleaning." Kruger said, stepping back, "Some - very - intense - cleaning. To deal with an unexpected - infestation of - vermin. Yes. Vermin... Just go back to the room, and I'll find out what's going on."
  922.  
  923. "I don't like this." Jess repeated, feeling on edge.
  924.  
  925. "Calm down." Max said, pulling Jess away, and looking at Kruger apologetically, "She's had a very stressful day."
  926.  
  927. "Some days - are like that." Kruger slowly said, watching as Max led Jess back to the room. He eyed the phone, which he held with a vice-like grip, and held it back up.
  928.  
  929. "Sir - the situation has worsened." Kruger said with a scowl. He nodded as he listened to the whispery instructions, "I see - your will shall be done." Kruger hung up, and took a deep breath before exiting into the dark room behind the nurse's station.
  930.  
  931. "I don't like this!" Jess repeated, as Max steered her back to the room.
  932. "I don't either." Max said, "But you were about to stretch all over him..."
  933.  
  934. "They've done something to Kate - to me..." Jess repeated.
  935.  
  936. "I know. Stop." Max said, Jess stopped and looked up at what Max was looking at. One of the hospital's logos of an "S" intertwined with a cross seemed to glow brightly, "Why is it doing that?"
  937.  
  938. "Doing what?" Jess asked.
  939.  
  940. "Glowing - when you get near, the hospital logos - glow." Max said, frowning, "Weird."
  941.  
  942. "Motion sensors?" Jess said, pointing down the hall and almost stretching her arm out in distress, "Look, they're glowing around the room I'm - I mean - Kate - is supposed to be in."
  943.  
  944. "Just adds to the weirdness effect." Max said, shaking his head, "Let's go and wait..."
  945.  
  946. "Five minutes." Jess said, "Then I'm going to wring some answers out of that weasel..."
  947.  
  948. "How?" Max asked, worriedly. He had seen the real Kate upset before, but this elastic doppleganger was well past that stage.
  949.  
  950. "I'll - get creative." Jess said, reshaping her hand into a large lobster claw and snapping it menacingly. Max stared at her for a moment.
  951.  
  952. "I don't think I like the way that this is going." Max said.
  953.  
  954. "More for looks and threats." Jess said, reshaping the claw into her normal hand, "Better?"
  955.  
  956. "Better." Max nodded as they approached the room. Inside, they could hear the strange dry voice talking - to someone else.
  957.  
  958. "She's gone - where?" came another man's voice.
  959.  
  960. "I don't know." Came the dry voice.
  961.  
  962. "Why did they take her?" asked the man, as Jess and Max silently opened the door. A man dressed in black was looking up at the blank wall behind the bed. An auburn-haired girl with a knapsack sat on the bed, watching the plain wall with utter fascination.
  963.  
  964. "They know what she can do." Came the voice, "As do you."
  965.  
  966. "Not good." The man said, turning and catching sight of Max and Jess in the door, "Oh - Sorry, we're just looking for Kate Freeman..."
  967.  
  968. "So are..." Max began, as Jess leapt at the black dressed man, stretching her arms out of her sleeves and pinning him against the wall, "JESS!"
  969.  
  970. "Where is she!?" Jess demanded, stretching around the surprised man as she slithered out of the jeans she was wearing to gain more freedom.
  971.  
  972. "She's not here." Came the dry voice, automatically as Jess shoved the man against the wall, "Ow. Watch it."
  973.  
  974. "And WHAT is up with this voice?" Jess demanded, looking around then back at the man who was intently studying her, "I want answers- NOW!"
  975.  
  976. "Jess!" Max said, trying to pull Jess back - she was too fluid and elastic for him to restrain her. Jess pushed her elastic form out, covering the man as she pinned him against the wall.
  977.  
  978. "I'll save you!" shouted the auburn haired girl as she pulled something colorful out of her backpack and aimed it at the entwined pair. Before anyone could react, Jess and the black dressed man were drenched with water.
  979.  
  980. "MYNDI!" the man barked as Jess loosened up on him, stretching her neck out towards Myndi.
  981.  
  982. "I'm WET!" Jess said, scowling as she stretched her neck back across the room towards the frightened girl, who rummaged through her knapsack, "What do you think you're DOING?"
  983.  
  984. "Trying to stop you monster! " Myndi said.
  985.  
  986. "I'm not a monster!" Jess shouted.
  987.  
  988. "You're sure acting like it." Came a voice. Jess looked back at who said it. It was Max, looking very concerned, and scared, as he pulled back on the part of Jess's body that was still wrapped up in her coat. Jess looked back at herself, stretched out across the room as it struck her.
  989.  
  990. She was acting like a monster.
  991.  
  992. "I didn't mean - Oh -no..." Jess said, collapsing into a large pink puddle on the floor.
  993.  
  994. "It worked!" Myndi said. The man smoothed down his rumpled clothes and scowled at her.
  995.  
  996. "What worked?" Max demanded as the man in black composed himself, "What did you spray Jess with?"
  997.  
  998. "Holy water." Myndi said proudly, "It's supposed to do in vampires.
  999.  
  1000. "Except that was no vampire." Said the man, looking down, "She did this - to herself."
  1001.  
  1002. "Oh." Myndi said, pulling a weed out of her backpack, "Will wolfsbane work?" The man groaned.
  1003.  
  1004. "That's poison ivy." He said, kneeling down to inspect the pink puddle. Myndi looked at it and threw it aside before running into the bathroom to wash her already itching hands.
  1005.  
  1006. "Look - who are you?" Max asked, looking from the man to the bathroom.
  1007.  
  1008. "I am called Jack Spadeheart." The man said, standing and introducing himself.
  1009.  
  1010. "And I'm his apprentice, Myndi Thaxter." Myndi shouted out the bathroom door. Jack scowled in her direction.
  1011.  
  1012. "Hardly. More of a guide." Jack said flatly, crossing his arms, and muttering "A poor one at that. And you are?"
  1013.  
  1014. "Max Conner - and well, it's kind of hard to explain Jess right now. And - what are you doing here?" Max asked, thinking aloud "For that matter - how did you get in here?" He thought he would've noticed two people on this deserted floor.
  1015.  
  1016. "I am on a quest of sorts - to recover a very unusual artifact." Jack said, "A ring, which Otis Freeman received, and passed on to his wife - who passed it on to their granddaughter, Kate..."
  1017.  
  1018. "My ring?" came Jess's voice from the floor. The two looked down at the pink puddle where Jess's face looked up. She slowly rose up from her pink puddle form, before Max and Jack, and looked at Jack intently. "Why?"
  1019.  
  1020. "Because..." Jack began.
  1021.  
  1022. "Wait - did you just visit Otis?" Max asked, interrupting Jack.
  1023.  
  1024. "Yes." Jack nodded.
  1025.  
  1026. "And - fixed Nellie's Alzheimer's" Max added.
  1027.  
  1028. "In a manner of speaking." Jack shrugged.
  1029.  
  1030. "How?" Jess demanded, fully restored to her normal pinkish proportions. Jack looked Jess in the eye, taking full measure of her.
  1031.  
  1032. "Tell me - do you believe in magic?" Jack finally asked.
  1033.  
  1034. "Magic?" Jess frowned, feeling her face stretch down into a frown, "I'm a scientist. I don't believe in magic..."
  1035.  
  1036. "Yet here you are." Jack said with a wry smile, rubbing his chin and looking about, "The magic she has caused - is everywhere in here."
  1037.  
  1038. "What's that supposed to mean?" Jess demanded, "And where's Kate?"
  1039.  
  1040. "That..."Jack began. Before he could say any more, a blinding yellow flash filled the room as a figure wearing flowing white and red robes appeared in the doorway.
  1041.  
  1042. For most of the day, Jess had been working hard adapting to her strange new flexible form. Silently, she had been wishing she could remain solid without worrying about melting down into a pink putty puddle on the floor.
  1043.  
  1044. Now she had her wish. And she wished it wasn't so.
  1045.  
  1046. She was frozen solid.
  1047.  
  1048. Only her eyes could move, and from the still expressions on Jack and Max's faces, she could somehow tell that whatever had petrified her, had done the same to the two men.
  1049.  
  1050. "It - it worked!" gasped a voice. Jess looked and out of the corner of her eye, she could see that weasel, Kruger, from the nurse's station, looking rather stunned as he strode in. He was wearing an outlandish set of red and white robes, emblazoned with the sigil of Saint Sagesse, and carried a thick book with a bright red cover. He paused and looked at Jess with distain, "Of course - it would work on a foul creature such as you."
  1051.  
  1052. "Such as me?" Jess's mind seethed, wishing she could slap Kruger silly. He ignored her, turning to Max.
  1053.  
  1054. "And you - associating with such filth has its consequences." Kruger lectured the motionless Max, "And whoever you are..." Kruger's expression darkened, as he spied a small crest on Jack's coat.
  1055.  
  1056. "You. Of all the wizards, it could be - it would be you." Kruger said with undisguised loathing as he backed up, "Even if this doesn't secure me a place in the line of succession in the Order of Sagesse, at least the world will be a far better place without the likes of you!"
  1057.  
  1058. "This calls for something far more than mere banishment!" Kruger said, backing up towards the bathroom door and opening the book. He flipped through the pages, and paused, even as Jess could feel herself start to move ever so slightly. Jack and Max were starting to waver slightly as well. Kruger glanced up with concern.
  1059.  
  1060. "Blast - it's wearing off." Kruger muttered as he took a deep breath, closed his eyes and began to intone, "Let that which is next beheld by my sight..." Jess could feel herself somehow getting warmer as he spoke, as if she were standing in a fire. She could see beads of sweat forming on Max and Jack's foreheads.
  1061.  
  1062. "...be consumed by brimstone and hellfire..." Kruger continued, as the room brightened in a strange, unearthly orange. The heat seemed to intensify for Jess. Briefly she wondered - would she burn - or melt?
  1063.  
  1064. "This night!" Kruger finished, just as the bathroom door quietly swung open and a silvery trash can came down onto Kruger's head. Kruger let out a gasp of surprise, which dissolved into a scream of terror. Jess felt the invisible iron grip that had held her fast in place vanish, even as an unearthly fire leapt up from the floor about Kruger's feet, filling the room with an unspeakable stench. She drew back as Kruger was consumed in bright orange flames of unearthly fire.
  1065.  
  1066. It was more heat than Jess could stand.
  1067.  
  1068. "Oh - crud..." Jess gurgled as she hit the wall behind her. She was melting. Helplessly she watched her spreading pink form flow across the floor and towards the slowly dwindling fire. Max shook off the effects of whatever had frozen them in place and saw Jess was in danger.
  1069.  
  1070. "Jess ..." Max said, stepping towards her - then back. He couldn't hope to stop her from flowing. Jess looked up in despair as Max leapt over the fire, and out into the hallway. At first, she thought he was trying to rescue himself. He reappeared a moment later with a fire extinguisher in hand, hosing down the firey heap of the former attendant, with no effect. If anything, it cooled Jess down enough so she could slow the spread of her flowing form down.
  1071.  
  1072. "Why won't it go out?" Max cursed as the stubborn flames snapped and hissed in protest under the attack of the fire extingisher.
  1073.  
  1074. "Arcane flames require something more." Jack said, gesturing and muttering something in an ancient tongue. The flames surged up, then sputtered out, leaving a heap of blackened red and white ash on the unblemished carpet.
  1075.  
  1076. "What happened?" Jess asked, slowly regaining control of her pliable form as the heat vanished.
  1077.  
  1078. "She happened." Jack said, pointing to the bathroom door where Myndi was peering out.
  1079.  
  1080. "What - what the heck was that?" Myndi said, coming out with a toilet plunger clenched in her fist, "I just wanted to make him stop - not - go up in smoke!"
  1081.  
  1082. "He did it to himself." Jack said, picking up the trashcan and showing off the silvery insides, "He beheld himself - and fell victim to what he planned to do to us."
  1083.  
  1084. "Wait a minute." Max said as he set the fire extinguisher down, and went to help Jess up, "You mean he was going to set us on fire like that?"
  1085.  
  1086. "Yes." Jack said, kneeling, "This is a very dangerous order - and we are in the heart of one of their strongholds."
  1087.  
  1088. "In a hospital?" Jess asked.
  1089.  
  1090. "Yes." Jack said, picking at the charred remains of the book, then getting up, "I am surprised though. If I had known that their security would be this lax, I would have come in through the front door, rather than through the window."
  1091.  
  1092. "The window?" Jess asked, looking at the solid sheet of glass, which couldn't be opened.
  1093.  
  1094. "Yeah - that was cool!" Myndi said, "We flew up, then..."
  1095.  
  1096. "This is crazy." Max said, interrupting Myndi as he rubbed his temples, "So who are these people? Where's Kate?"
  1097.  
  1098. "You are dealing with the Order of Sagesse," came the dry whispery voice, "And they took her away." Jess looked over her shoulder at the blank wall, where the voice seemed to have come from.
  1099.  
  1100. "And WHO is saying that?" Max demanded to know.
  1101.  
  1102. "It's coming - from the wall." Jess said, feeling the wall. It felt different - rigid, yet alive in some strange way. As alive as she was.
  1103.  
  1104. "You're right." Jack said, stepping closer, "It is the wall. The only thing that they couldn't move out of here I suspect."
  1105.  
  1106. "Actually - I didn't speak up." Came the voice - louder as they moved closer, "I knew their fate."
  1107.  
  1108. "The wall- is talking?" Max said, stepping up and feeling it. The wall shuddered, as if it were a living thing. "Whoa - this feels weird."
  1109.  
  1110. "Wait - what about their fate?" Jess demanded.
  1111.  
  1112. "Banishment." Said the wall.
  1113.  
  1114. "Huh?" What does that mean?" Jess asked.
  1115.  
  1116. "Something bad." Said the wall, "You should leave now."
  1117.  
  1118. "Why?" Myndi asked, kicking the heap of ashes aside and looking around ,"Are they going to try banishing us?"
  1119.  
  1120. "No." said the wall, "The failsafe has been activated."
  1121.  
  1122. "Failsafe?" Jack said scowling as he began pulling a thick cylinder out of his coat pocket. Distantly, they could hear something heavy shutting.
  1123.  
  1124. "Explosives." Said the wall, as the door to the room slammed shut, followed by an ominous click.
  1125.  
  1126. "EXPLOSIVES?" Max cried, "In a freaking HOSPITAL?!"
  1127.  
  1128. "How long?" Jack calmly asked, unfurling the cylinder into a short yellow black and white checkered cloth, and motioning Myndi over to the window.
  1129.  
  1130. "Seconds."
  1131.  
  1132. "Okay, we're outta here." Max said, grabbing Kate's arm and pulling - it stretched across the room as Jess looked at the wall, still puzzled by its existence, "Jess!"
  1133.  
  1134. "There is no exit." The wall said, as Max tried the door. "The doors are locked."
  1135.  
  1136. "No kidding!" Max said, looking back at Jack, "Do you got any ideas?"
  1137.  
  1138. "One." Jack said, motioning to Max, and eyeing Jess, "If you want to find Kate Freeman - come with us." That snapped Jess out of her trance.
  1139.  
  1140. "But - what about - the wall?" Jess asked, as Max marched across the room, and grabbed Jess's elastic form, pulling her towards Jack. Jess stretched, as she tried to keep touching the strange wall.
  1141.  
  1142. "Go." Said the wall, "Save our maker."
  1143.  
  1144. "Maker?" Jess asked distantly. It had a strange but true resonance to it. She shook her head and noticed Jack making a series of quick gestures. The shimmery reflection of the glass seemed to vanish, and the cool night air blew into the sterile hospital room.
  1145.  
  1146. Then everything blew up.
  1147.  
  1148. "AWESOME!" Max could hear Myndi shout as the room behind them blew up, throwing them out into the black night air. He hit something soft, which seemed to be slowing his fall. He cracked open his eyes to see he was grasping onto the yellow checkered carpet that Jack had just unfurled. He looked over his shoulder to see Jack was kneeling and holding onto the back of his shirt, while Myndi had her arms wrapped about Jack's neck.
  1149. "Please - no screaming." Jack commanded as the carpet seemed to slide, more than fly down to a nearby building's roof, as more explosions filled the air. Max looked back to see the entire top floor of Saint Sagesse exploding into flames, one room after another. Max looked around on the small carpet that could barely hold three passengers.
  1150.  
  1151. "Where's Jess?" Max cried.
  1152.  
  1153. "She's coming." Jack said, as he glided the carpet down to the roof, "Look." Max looked up to see a pinkish object gliding down, much more quickly than they were. It seemed to be picking up speed.
  1154.  
  1155. "Jess!"
  1156.  
  1157. Jess had barely seen Jack do something - she wasn't sure what - after he made the glass in the window vanish. It was as if there had been a translucent wall between them and the rest of the room, before the ceiling blew up. Jess had caught the brunt of it, and found herself blown far out of the building, and stretching out.
  1158.  
  1159. Instinctively, she made herself flatter, stretching her body out between her arms and legs to make huge folds of flat skin that acted almost like wings. For the briefest of moments, she smiled, as she flew, gliding down on the night air, wondering how she could save Max and the other two. Then to her surprise, she saw them - gliding down on the peculiar cloth Jack had been so frantically pulling out of his coat. From what she could tell, they were coming down to land on the roof of a low building across the street from the hospital. Jess wiggled a bit, leaning to one side, then the other, trying to head in their direction.
  1160.  
  1161. Then she wiggled a little too far.
  1162.  
  1163. "Oh no!" Jess managed as the air that was slowing her down escaped, and she began to pick up speed. She heard Max shout her name as she darted below them, and plowed head first into the gravelly rooftop below.
  1164.  
  1165. "Jess! Jess!" Max shouted as Jess let herself revert back into a pink puddle. Kate could sense Max's footsteps tracking through the gravel as he reached her and kneeled down, "Speak to me!"
  1166.  
  1167. "I'm okay." Jess said, forming her mouth, then her face, "Just give me a moment to get myself together."
  1168.  
  1169. "You're okay?" Max said, still shocked as another explosion filled the air. Max turned to see the top of the towering hospital completely engulfed in flames. The sound of sirens was filling the air.
  1170.  
  1171. "Better than that place." Jess said, slowly rising up and reforming her normal curvy form. She eyed Jack and Myndi who were watching the inferno take shape.
  1172.  
  1173. "That is SO COOL!" Myndi said as Jack picked up the cloth that had brought them down for a hard but safe landing, "Better than the movies!"
  1174.  
  1175. "As long as no one gets hurt." Jack said, turning to Jess and Max, "Come, we had best leave..."
  1176.  
  1177. "No." Jess said, stretching her arm out and coiling it around Jack, pinning his arms to his sides, "Not until we get some answers!"
  1178.  
  1179. "When we leave this place..." Jack began.
  1180.  
  1181. "Oh, no! First we're frozen in place, then the guy who did it - or whatever, goes up in flames, then the freaking HOSPITAL blows up!" Jess said in an exasperated tone as she looked towards Max for support, "Have I missed anything?"
  1182.  
  1183. "Other than the fact you're all pink and elastic?" Max shrugged, drawing an exasperated glare from Jess. Max looked at Jack "Seriously, what the heck is going on here?"
  1184.  
  1185. "Very well. If you will release me..." Jack said. Grudgingly, Jess uncoiled her arm, and Jack adjusted his coat, "As I said, I am looking for an artifact - the ring worn by Kate Freeman..."
  1186.  
  1187. "Which is not magic." Jess said, crossing her arms, "I've worn it since I got out of high school, and nothing magical ever happened to me with it!"
  1188.  
  1189. "You...?" Jack asked, with a puzzled frown.
  1190.  
  1191. "Jess - well she has all of Kate's memories." Max said, trying to explain something that even he didn't understand.
  1192.  
  1193. "Ah. So you don't recall yourself - Kate - getting broken machines to work right?" Jack asked. Jess was about to snap back no, but she thought about it.
  1194.  
  1195. "Well - I just got a lot better at fixing them." Jess said defensively, "Why? Is it a fixit ring?"
  1196.  
  1197. "No. It is the Lifebringer." Jack said, "It brings life to the lifeless."
  1198.  
  1199. "Life to the lifeless?" Max repeated, "So - it brought the wall to life?"
  1200.  
  1201. "Among other things." Jack said, looking at Jess. Jess gulped.
  1202.  
  1203. "Wait - this Lifebringer - brought me to life?" Jess said shakily, "Why - why now? Why hasn't this happened before?"
  1204.  
  1205. "Because before - it and its sister rings were restrained by an enchantment." Jack said, "Before, you could do small things- make a broom sweep the floor perhaps, or keep a plate clean..."
  1206.  
  1207. "Or make a telephone call home automatically?" Max ventured. Jack looked at him blankly.
  1208.  
  1209. "A - tele-phone?"
  1210.  
  1211. "Hello! One of these!" Myndi said, pulling out her cell phone and waving it in front of Jack, She looked at Max and Jess with a silly grin, "You'll have to excuse him - he's technologically illiterate." Jack scowled at her remark.
  1212.  
  1213. "Yes - I suppose so." Jack said, "But before the magic caused by the Lifebringer was small and contained. With the end of the enchantment, the full power of these rings has been unleashed. Without proper guidance, anything can and will happen. Such as - the creation of this version of Kate Freeman."
  1214.  
  1215. "So - I am a copy." Jess finally admitted, "Not - not the real Kate..." Max looked at her with a worried frown.
  1216.  
  1217. "Hey - you're real enough for me." Max said, hugging Jess, his fingers sinking down into her pliable pink form, " So - Kate - the real one - created this Kate?"
  1218.  
  1219. "Inadvertantly." Jack said, "Although - I do not understand how such a golem could be created if she were in the hospital, unconscious."
  1220.  
  1221. "It's a long story." Max said, "But - the real Kate is all right?"
  1222.  
  1223. "If by all right, you mean alive, then yes." Jack nodded, "From what little I know, the things that the Lifebringer brings to life revert to their inanimate form when their maker dies too."
  1224.  
  1225. "So - the real me is alive." Jess said, her spirits lifting a bit.
  1226.  
  1227. "For now." Jack said, "But if the Order of Sagesse has her - I have no idea how long she may remain alive."
  1228.  
  1229. "And who are these - people?" Max said, pointing to the burning hospital, and looking down at the milling crowd of evacuated patients and scrambling firefighters far below.
  1230.  
  1231. "They are an ancient order dedicated to the eradication of magics." Jack said gravely, "Never mind that they use magic themselves to eliminate any magic they come across."
  1232.  
  1233. "Like gun control with guns!" Myndi piped up.
  1234.  
  1235. "They shouldn't be trifled with." Jack said, ignoring Myndi, "One of their obvious spells is to draw in magic users to their stronghold so they can eliminate them in a place they control, in a way that seems - believable."
  1236.  
  1237. "Believable?" Jess said with a sinking feeling.
  1238.  
  1239. "Hospitals do have their failures, do they not?" Jack observed, "No one lives forever."
  1240.  
  1241. "But - Kate isn't dead, or - Jess wouldn't be here." Max said, scratching his head, "Why not just - you know - kill her?"
  1242.  
  1243. "Because the ring protects her." Jack said, "The Order of Sagesse has their own means to kill- but when a blade or a poison comes to life in their hands, and refuses to kill..."
  1244.  
  1245. "So - they couldn't kill me. The real Kate." Jess said, frowning.
  1246.  
  1247. "Not yet." Jack said, scowling, "In time, they will."
  1248.  
  1249. "We've got to find her." Max said, "Do you know how?"
  1250.  
  1251. "Yes - that is why I asked you to come." Jack said, walking towards a door on the roof of the building.
  1252.  
  1253. "It's not like we had much choice." Jess said, looking at the burning hospital, and following, "So how do we find me - I mean Kate?"
  1254.  
  1255. "Since you are possibly her most complete creation, it stands to reason you can find her." Jack said pausing and looking at Jess, "Care to try?"
  1256.  
  1257. "Try?" Jess said, her voice wavering.
  1258.  
  1259. "Close your eyes, let yourself go." Jack said in a calm tone. Jess did as she was told, "Now - reach out and feel for Kate, your maker." Jess frowned as she tried to feel.
  1260.  
  1261. "I don't feel - anything." Jess said, opening her eyes and staring at Jack's belt bucket. She looked down to see that she had partially melted down again, "Oh for crying out loud!"
  1262.  
  1263. "Perhaps I was wrong." Jack said watching as Jess rose up again, "I was sure something she had granted life to would be able to find her."
  1264.  
  1265. "Hey - I've got an idea." Max said.
  1266.  
  1267. "What are we doing here?" Jess asked as they pulled over to a chain link fence that guarded a lot filled with smashed up cars.
  1268.  
  1269. "Playing on a hunch." Max said, as they cruised slowly along. He pulled over and stopped on a patch of cracked pavement, "Jack, you said that this Lifebringer was unleashed - what, two weeks ago?"
  1270.  
  1271. "Slightly more than that, but yes." Jack nodded in the back seat.
  1272.  
  1273. "And it could animate things a little bit before that, right?" Max said, getting out of the car. Jack followed, with Myndi and Kate following him to the fence.
  1274.  
  1275. "Yes - but only to a limited degree. Nothing on the order of - this Jess." Jack said, motioning to Jess.
  1276.  
  1277. "Could it animate something like..." Max began.
  1278.  
  1279. "My car!" Jess gasped. The front end was smashed in, but she could tell from the sparkly ruby paint job she had done to it that it was hers. As if in response, the lone intact headlight slid up and blinked on.
  1280.  
  1281. "I would have to say so." Jack said, watching as Jess touched the fence, then cautiously - carefully, began to walk through it. She could feel the stiff steel wires pulling at her as she passed through it, momentarily splitting her pliable body apart before it rejoined and melted back together on the other side of the fence. Jess let out a little gasp of excitement as she finished passing through the obstacle, then strode over to the shattered hulk of her car.
  1282.  
  1283. "Cool!" Myndi said, looking at Jack, "Can you top that with some spell?"
  1284.  
  1285. "No." Jack said, glancing to the side where a thick heavy padlock secured the gate. He walked over and examined the lock thoughtfully, "Besides - if it can locate where the real Kate is, we'll need a way to get it out."
  1286.  
  1287. "So, you have an unlocking spell, like you used on the roof?" Myndi asked while Max watched Jess walk over to the shattered car.
  1288.  
  1289. "The roof door was unlocked." Jack said, producing a small pointed tool, and working the lock, "This required just a little... skill." The lock opened up, and the gate swung open.
  1290.  
  1291. "You've gotta teach me that!" Myndi said breathlessly.
  1292.  
  1293. "Perhaps. Coming Max?" Jack called. Max glanced over at the open gate, and darted over to catch up with Jack and Myndi.
  1294.  
  1295. "Another spell?" Max asked, unsure of whether he was dreaming all of this.
  1296.  
  1297. "Something like that." Jack shrugged as they drew closer. Jess was leaning on the car, its hood all twisted and mangled from the way it had struck the tree. It was obvious that she was upset.
  1298.  
  1299. "Jess?" Max asked, going over to her as Jack and Myndi watched.
  1300.  
  1301. "Damn it - my car's a wreck - and- and..." Jess said, trying not to collapse back down into a puddle. Max looked at the car, its front end caved in, the front wheels sticking out at an odd drunken angle. The lone headlight seemed to contemplate Max and Jess coolly as Jack stepped closer.
  1302.  
  1303. "Alive is the word." Came a crackly voice from the car, "Hey Max! Know any good mechanics?" Max stared at the car in disbelief.
  1304.  
  1305. "Did it just - speak?" Max said, unsure of himself. He had thought it was a long shot, but to have the car somehow alive, somehow obedient - but to speak?
  1306.  
  1307. "Of course I did! I have speakers in the rear, duh!" said the car in a feminine voice, "At least that part's still okay. When's Kate going to come and get me fixed?"
  1308.  
  1309. "Cool! Just like Knight Rider!" Myndi said, tapping the hood, where flaked of red paint came off, "Except all smashed up."
  1310.  
  1311. "Do you know where Kate is?" Jack asked, circling the wrecked car.
  1312.  
  1313. "Well, first I thought it was her..." the car shook slightly towards Jess, "But - nope. She made you though, didn't she?"
  1314.  
  1315. "Yes - I - I guess." Jess said, still uncertain.
  1316.  
  1317. "Great! That makes us sisters, right?" the car said eagerly, "Call me Cory."
  1318.  
  1319. "Cory?" Max asked.
  1320.  
  1321. "Short for Corvette." Jess and Cory said simultaneously. Jess smiled and Cory laughed, its cracked engine block dry heaving as it did. It was a pet name for her car.
  1322.  
  1323. "Where is Kate anyway?" Cory asked, settling down, "She stayed put for so long - then today she moved..."
  1324.  
  1325. "Moved where?" Jack asked.
  1326.  
  1327. "Hey buddy, does it look like I can write out directions?" Cory asked, "All I know is where she's at - and I ought to go get her. I swear, she's always misplacing me..."
  1328.  
  1329. "You can drive there?" Myndi asked, looking into the car and wrinkling her nose at the musty smell.
  1330.  
  1331. "Well duh - I could if Kate hadn't freaked out and hit a tree!" Cory said, "I should've kept my big grill shut..."
  1332.  
  1333. "What happened?" Max asked. The car remained silent, "Cory, what got you into the accident?"
  1334.  
  1335. "All right - it was my fault. I didn't mean it!" Cory said, "It was late - and Kate seemed to be tired - so I spoke up and offered to drive the rest of the way home."
  1336.  
  1337. "And what did Kate do?" jack said, rubbing his chin in deep contemplation.
  1338.  
  1339. "She paniked - then freaked out." Cory shuddered, sinking down, "She was convinced there was someone in the back seat trying to get her - then she missed the turn..."
  1340.  
  1341. "And hit the tree." Jess said, vaguely remembering what Cory was saying. It seemed so strange - but speaking to the car brought it back.
  1342.  
  1343. "Yeah." Cory sniffed, "She must still be mad at me for doing that. I may as well go to the compactor."
  1344.  
  1345. "Aw, c'mon - I've fouled up lots of times and it turned out all right." Myndi said, patting the roof of the car. She looked up at Jack who was contemplating it sternly, "Well - usually."
  1346.  
  1347. "You're not giving me much confidence." Jack said, "Now - Cory - you said know where Kate is?"
  1348.  
  1349. "Well yeah - but it's weird y'know." Cory said, "I'd have to take you there."
  1350.  
  1351. "No way this heap will drive..." Max said kneeling down and looking at the car.
  1352.  
  1353. "Hey- who're you calling a heap?" Cory demanded.
  1354.  
  1355. "Sorry." Max said, standing up, "Maybe a tow truck?"
  1356.  
  1357. "Aw, c'mon!" Cory moaned, "I wanna be fixed up, not towed around!"
  1358.  
  1359. "Perhaps that can be arranged." Jack said, "Do you promise to help us rescue the real Kate if I mend you?"
  1360.  
  1361. "Well duh! She's my maker!" Cory said.
  1362.  
  1363. "Very well - Myndi, you two, behind me." Jack said, motioning them back as he fumbled with a thin gold chain that hung around his neck.
  1364.  
  1365. "How are you gonna... Oh!" Myndi said, recognizing the ring that hung from the chain, "I thought you said that was too dangerous to use!"
  1366.  
  1367. "I said it was too dangerous for you to use." Jack snapped, pulling the chain off the ring and putting the gold ring on his finger. It gleamed in the dim streetlight, drawing Jess's attention.
  1368.  
  1369. "Hey - that's like my ring." Jess said, looking at it more closely, "But - mine has a stripe of red." Jack's bore a stripe of white.
  1370.  
  1371. "This is one of the other rings I have recovered." Jack said, motioning towards the shattered car and concentrating carefully. There must be a narrow window of opportunity, one that he couldn't miss.
  1372.  
  1373. Or all would be lost.
  1374.  
  1375. "So what does it do?" Jess asked, as it seemed to softly glow. A soft crack and pop came from Cory, distracting Jess. She looked in time to see Cory's dirty deflated rear tire blow back up, and the missing hubcap reappear, "What the heck..."
  1376.  
  1377. "It's the Restorer." Myndi said with a grin. It had helped her out of an even worse jam before.
  1378.  
  1379. "Hey, I don't know what it is - mmmm - it feels great!" Cory said as the smell of oil and gasoline filled the air. The black oily streak under Cory seemed to slither back in retreat, even as the metal make pinging noises as it kriked back into shape. Slowly, the crushed nose of Cory's hood stretched out, the chipped paint recovering the fading streaks of grime. A loud unpop filled the air as a white bag billowed up and then retracted into the steering wheel, even as the paint snapped back into the gleaming sparkly red that Kate adored.
  1380.  
  1381. "There..." Jack gasped, satisfied that the car had been restored, "How is that?"
  1382.  
  1383. "Let's see..." Cory said, revving her restored engine. It roared to life, as both restored headlights gleamed in the night. Unexpectedly, Cory lept forward, speeding to the fence before pulling a sharp turn, and circling Jess and Max, "Hey, this is great! Keep that mechanic's number!"
  1384.  
  1385. "Magician." Max muttered, looking at Jack.
  1386.  
  1387. "Oh, don't be silly!" Cory purred over her idling engine, "There's no such thing as magic!" Jack simply shook his head.
  1388.  
  1389. "That is not the question." Jack said, patting Cory's hood, "The question is - can you take us to Kate?"
  1390.  
  1391. "Sure - get in!" Cory said, opening her doors.
  1392.  
  1393. "Shotgun!" Myndi shouted as she zipped into Cory's passenger side before Jack could make a move. Jack frowned at her - then reconsidered.
  1394.  
  1395. "Very well." Jack said, looking at Jess, "This Kate - and Myndi can go in Cory while Max and I follow."
  1396.  
  1397. "What?" Jess said, surprised.
  1398.  
  1399. "C'mon sis!" Cory said excitedly, "Road trip!"
  1400.  
  1401. "I don't know." Max said shaking his head.
  1402.  
  1403. "It is her car. And her sister." Jack said convincingly, "I trust the two of you will remember to drive slow enough for Max to keep up."
  1404.  
  1405. "Aw man." Cory said, disappointed.
  1406.  
  1407. "All right." Jess said, not at all certain of what she was getting into. She sat down in the driver seat, the door slamming shut without her touching it.
  1408.  
  1409. "C'mon, hurry up!" Cory said, revving her engine and following slowly Jack and Max to the unlocked gate.
  1410.  
  1411. "Honk the horn!" Myndi urged Cory. Cory was quick to do so, drawing a worried glance from Max.
  1412.  
  1413. "Come on - behave!" Jess said looking at Myndi then at Cory's lit dashboard, "We've got to save me - I mean the real Kate..."
  1414.  
  1415. "Then those two slowpokes should hurry up!" Cory said, revving her engine a bit as Jack and Max climbed into Max's car, "I've got a need to speed!"
  1416.  
  1417. "Oh no!" Jess said, stepping down so hard on the brake pedal that her pliable foot bent all around it, "I don't have my license - or any clothing on!"
  1418.  
  1419. "So let her get in the drivers seat spoilsport!" Cory said.
  1420.  
  1421. "Her who - ME?" Myndi said excitedly - then her face fell, "But I don't have a driver's license."
  1422.  
  1423. "Coulda fooled me." Cory said in a pouting tone.
  1424.  
  1425. "Look - let's play it safe - besides, we don't want to loose Max, do we?" Jess said, seeing the headlights go on in Max's car, "And we really need to save Kate. The real Kate."
  1426.  
  1427. "Then we gotta motor!" Cory said, revving up again.
  1428.  
  1429. "Without attracting attention!" Jess scolded Cory. Cory idled for a moment, thinking it over.
  1430.  
  1431. "Oh, all right." Cory said, "Let up on the brake and lets go."
  1432.  
  1433. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" Max asked as the miraculously restored Corvette finished revving, and began to roll away down the road. Max turned the key and started his car to follow.
  1434.  
  1435. "If you have a better idea I would like to hear it." Jack said, crossing his arms, "The only other means to find your true Kate requires some time. Time, which I doubt we have if the Order of Sagesse has your friend."
  1436.  
  1437. "So - they're going to - kill her? Like that guy tried to do to us?" Max gulped.
  1438.  
  1439. "Possibly. But with the power of the Lifebringer unleashed the way it is, it would be a nearly impossible task." Jack said, scowling as the Corvette ahead made a sharp turn in front of a mall, "Blades would bend away, cords would snap - the very air could keep them from killing her."
  1440.  
  1441. "Even if she was in a coma?" Max asked, noting Jack's puzzled look, "You know - out like a light."
  1442.  
  1443. "Assuming she was in a coma." Jack said, "There are certain spells to render one asleep - which the Lifebringer might not deter if they were subtle enough. But if they moved her - they have something grander in mind."
  1444.  
  1445. "Like what?"
  1446.  
  1447. "I have no idea. But if they succeed in their plans, they may shatter the Lifebringer itself. Anything and everything that is inanimate for miles around might suddenly come to life. Madness could spread and take hold across the land."
  1448.  
  1449. "Miles of madness?" Max wondered aloud.
  1450.  
  1451. "Hundreds of miles." Jack said nodding as he pulled out a small crystal ball.
  1452.  
  1453. "For how long?" Max asked. Jack stared out the window into the night sky.
  1454.  
  1455. "I do not know." Jack said, "But - it wouldn't last long. There are other dark orders far more powerful than the Order of Sagesse, and their methods are far more direct."
  1456.  
  1457. "Direct?"
  1458.  
  1459. "Trust me - you don't wish to know."
  1460.  
  1461. "We've gone by here before." Myndi said as Cory slowly circled the block.
  1462. "Hey, who's doing the driving here?" Cory asked, her engine rumbling as they came to a stop, "I just needed to make sure she was there."
  1463.  
  1464. "Where?" Jess asked anxiously, looking up and down the tree lined street.
  1465.  
  1466. "In there. The big red and white house on the right side of the street." Cory said. Myndi and Jess peered out the window, which rolled down at Cory's command at the imposing red and white brick mansion. The sound of car doors slamming shut drew their attention. Jess glanced over and saw Jack and Max had parked behind them.
  1467.  
  1468. "Run out of gas?" Max asked.
  1469.  
  1470. "Uh-no!" Cory said, revving slightly.
  1471.  
  1472. "Please, keep quiet." Jack said, looking towards the mansion, "I take it your Kate is in there."
  1473.  
  1474. "Yeah, I can feel it." Cory said unhappily, "She's moving too."
  1475.  
  1476. "Moving?" Max asked as Jess got out of the car.
  1477.  
  1478. "Kinda - she's being held back by something. She's restrained." Cory said worriedly, "Hey, Pinkie! Go and rescue her willya!" Jess paused and looked at Cory with a frown.
  1479.  
  1480. "Pinkie?" Jess asked, glancing at Max who was trying not to laugh.
  1481.  
  1482. "Well - I told you we needed to get you a name other than Kate." Max said, following Jess, "Coming?"
  1483.  
  1484. "Oh yeah!" Myndi said, bounding out of the car. She was held back by Jack's firm grip.
  1485.  
  1486. "No - this time, you stay here." Jack said firmly.
  1487.  
  1488. "Aw, c'mon!" Myndi fumed, looking at the house, "I wanna go!"
  1489.  
  1490. "And I want you out here as..." Jack said, searching for an appropriate term, "Backup."
  1491.  
  1492. "Aw, c'mon!"
  1493.  
  1494. If you truly want to be an apprentice, you must learn to listen." Jack said sternly, "Like now - stay with Cory and be prepared."
  1495.  
  1496. "For what?"
  1497.  
  1498. "Something. Anything." Jack said, turning and following Jess and Max.
  1499.  
  1500. "Man, I wanna do something!" Myndi pouted, leaning against Cory.
  1501.  
  1502. "Hey, I know! Check it out!" Cory said. There was a loud click, and Cory's trunk popped open. Curious, Myndi went over to look in.
  1503.  
  1504. "There's a bottle of turtle wax and some nice soft cloth on the left hand side." Cory said. Myndi scowled, "Hey, I could use a nice polishing..."
  1505.  
  1506. "You've got to be kidding me." Myndi sputtered, watching the trio cautiously approach the house.
  1507.  
  1508. "So what's the plan?" Max said as they walked up the driveway to the house, "Just go and ring the front doorbell?"
  1509.  
  1510. "Not a wise choice." Jack observed, looking towards the garage door that was set into the mansion's tall foundation, "This would be a better way. Unguarded at the very least, and far fewer wards than the front door has to offer..."
  1511.  
  1512. "Wards?"
  1513.  
  1514. "Magical protection to guard against outsiders." Jack said, "It should take a minute..." Wordlessly, Jess melted down into a pink puddle and flowed swiftly under the door before Max could call her name.
  1515.  
  1516. "I'm getting way too used to this." Jess muttered to herself as she rose up, reforming her normal shape inside the garage. She felt an odd presence- similar to the one she felt around Cory.
  1517.  
  1518. "Maker?" came a voice that caused Jess to jump. She whirled around and found herself lit up by a pair of headlights, "No -you're not her..."
  1519.  
  1520. "No - I---" Jess's voice trailed off as it registered that she was talking to an ambulance, "I'm - related."
  1521.  
  1522. "Like me." The ambulance said unhappily.
  1523.  
  1524. "Right. I'm here to rescue our... Maker?" Jess said, not quite believing she was saying that herself, "Can you help?"
  1525.  
  1526. "Of course! There's not much I can do without tires though." Jess moved to the side and realized that the ambulance was up on blocks, its tires stacked up in the back corner, "All I want to do is help people get to the hospital. But the driver - and the Patriarch - called me a monster."
  1527.  
  1528. "Can you tell me how to open the garage door?" Jess asked.
  1529.  
  1530. "I saw them push the button next to the door where they took the Maker in. Over on the driver's side." the ambulance said. Jess walked over to the door, and puzzled over the rows of buttons for a moment, "The green one." Jess spied the one the ambulance was talking about, and pushed it. With a fitful grind, the garage door began to rise up.
  1531.  
  1532. "Jess - you've got to be careful!" Max said, as he and Jack crouched under the opening garage door and entered the garage.
  1533.  
  1534. "She is doing very well." Jack said, looking about, "I would have expected more members of the Order..."
  1535.  
  1536. "Oh - they left for St. Sagesse." The ambulance said unhappily, "Can you believe it? It blew up! I really ought to be there, taking people to another hospital..."
  1537.  
  1538. "All of them?" Jack asked.
  1539.  
  1540. "I think so. All but the Patriarch." The ambulance said, "He seemed nice - but now I'm not so sure..." The ambulance's worries were cut off suddenly as a cry filled the air.
  1541.  
  1542. "That sounded like..." Max began, as Jess rushed into the house door, "Kate!"
  1543.  
  1544. "It's the Maker!" The ambulance said, shuddering in its helplessness, "Help her!"
  1545.  
  1546. Jess was out of earshot in an instant, heading in the direction of the cry. She found herself not so much running as flowing at a rapid pace, slamming herself down onto the floor and stretching underneath a closed door, quickly rising and reforming herself on the other side, in a room filled with cardboard boxes and hospital equipment. The feeling she had before with the ambulance and Cory was that much stronger here, a strange sort of familiarity she couldn't quite identify.
  1547.  
  1548. "You're off your rocker Doc!" came a shaken voice. Her voice. Jess whirled to look down the large long room to see a man in robes not totally unlike those that Kruger had worn at the hospital. He looked up from the strange table he was standing behind, partially surprised at the strange pink form of Jess that was rising up from the floor.
  1549.  
  1550. "What infernal..." The man managed to say before Jess stretched her arm out across the room and punched him in the face. He staggered back, stunned as Kate stretched over the table and pinned him down to the floor. Instinctively, she flowed her pliable body around his struggling form, constricting herself on him, so he couldn't move.
  1551.  
  1552. "What are you doing?" Jess demanded, glaring into the older man's steely blue eyes. There was an air of vague familiarity to him. He glared at her with a hateful intensity she hadn't seen since some bigots tried to scare her out of class.
  1553.  
  1554. "What the hell was THAT?" Kate's voice called again - from the table. Jess stretched herself around the struggling cursing man before stretching her neck out so she could peer over the table at the young black woman who was bound down by a strange lattice of green. Jess stared in surprise.
  1555.  
  1556. It was her.
  1557.  
  1558. "What the hell?" the real Kate sputtered as a pink version of herself stared at her, dumbstruck. The sound of thumps on the door and the splintering of wood distracted both of them. Jess pulled back to watch the door splinter, and shatter in.
  1559.  
  1560. "I said, give me a moment." Jack's voice said as Max broke down the old door.
  1561.  
  1562. "We might not have a minute!" Max said, as he came through, looking around.
  1563.  
  1564. "What the - MAX?" The real Kate shouted, "Is that you?" Max rushed over and looked through the lattice at Kate.
  1565.  
  1566. "Kate? Man, what the hell have you gotten into this time?" Max said, looking over her prison, then at Jack, "Are you okay?"
  1567.  
  1568. "I will be when you call the cops and get me outta here!" Kate shouted, hitting the green bars that held her in, "Something freaky and pink just came in here and tackled the weirdo who kidnapped me!"
  1569.  
  1570. "Uh - yeah. Don't worry about that." Max said, looking up at Jess who looked slightly stunned and taken aback. He turned to Jack, "What is this stuff?"
  1571.  
  1572. "Green wood - bamboo." Jack said, pulling out a jackknife and handing it to Max, "Here, cut - they wouldn't have left her unguarded..."
  1573.  
  1574. "I- I've got one." Jess stammered, looking down on the struggling man. Suddenly, she felt very odd, almost -bloated. She watched in amazement as her pliable body, which wrapped up the man suddenly began to inflate, "What the..." Jess managed, before she felt herself pop and splatter across the floors and walls of the room.
  1575.  
  1576. "No mere golem can stop a Patriarch of Sagesse," The old man said, rising to his feet and glaring at Jack and Max, "Stop what you are doing and your demise will be merciful!" Silently, Jess paniked, and instinctively began pulling herself back together - it was a strange feeling, as her separated sections slowly pulled back together. Frantically, she stretched, reconnecting her shreds as she watched the scene unfold.
  1577.  
  1578. "Doctor Graves?" Max said, as he cut enough of Kate's restraints off to begin pulling her free of the strange green cage she was stuck in.
  1579.  
  1580. "You know this nut?" Kate demanded.
  1581.  
  1582. "He's the lead doctor in the hospital..." Max said, as the old man seemed to be gathering some strange power. From nowhere, the light in the dim room seemed to grow.
  1583.  
  1584. "When the hell was I in a hospital!?!" Kate demanded to know.
  1585.  
  1586. "I am warning you." Graves said again.
  1587.  
  1588. "Then let me warn you." Jack said, holding his palm out, "Let us go to resolve this problem ourselves..." Graves glared at Jack, and pointed. Lightening sprang from his fingertips, arcing across towards Jack. It struck mere inches away from Jack's hand, curving around an unseen dome that seemed to surround him.
  1589.  
  1590. "A wizard." Graves cursed, glaring at Kate "I should have known she was part of the grand conspiracy!"
  1591.  
  1592. "What - watch it - is he talking about?" Kate said as Max cut her free of the last of her imprisoning bonds.
  1593.  
  1594. "A threat the order extinguished a thousand years ago." Jack carefully said, walking to the side and putting himself between Graves and Kate, "We hold no malice to you - or your order..."
  1595.  
  1596. "Speak for yourself! I'm going to sue!" Kate shouted as she stood up unsteadily. Jack glanced over his shoulder.
  1597.  
  1598. "Only a member of the conspiracy would deny its existence!" Graves said, casting another bolt of lightening at Jack. It crackled around him and the others, dissipating harmlessly, "You shall submit - or perish!"
  1599.  
  1600. "There is no difference between those choices." Jack said sternly, "Let us leave in peace- and that is the last you will hear of this matter."
  1601.  
  1602. "That is unacceptable!" Graves said, reaching into his robes. Out of nowhere, a pink tendril snapped out and coiled around his wrist.
  1603.  
  1604. "I've got him!" Jess shouted as she rose from a pink puddle on the floor. Graves looked down at her, as a black box fell out of his weathered hand, and a cacophony of hissing slamming steel filled the air. Steel bars descended over every window and door in the room in an instant. "What the..." Jess managed as a bolt from Graves fingertips struck her, splattering her apart again.
  1605.  
  1606. "Your servant won't stop me!" Graves said, glaring back at the others, even as Jess's resplattered from twitched and drew itself back together again, "I've got you trapped!"
  1607.  
  1608. "It won't hold us forever." Jack said, stepping back next to Kate and Max.
  1609.  
  1610. "But long enough." Graves smirked, twisting his hand is a strange way that produced a small golden sphere, crossed with red, which seemed to hover over his fingertips, "For a proper banishment. Not even a wizard can counter that."
  1611.  
  1612. "Banishment?" Max asked.
  1613.  
  1614. "You don't want to know." Jack muttered, glancing down at Kate's hands, "There's just one problem - use that and you will be banished with us."
  1615.  
  1616. "Sometimes the hero has to die for the greater good." Graves chuckled, "Any last words?"
  1617.  
  1618. "Yes." Jack said, grabbing Kate's hand and holding it up high, "Creations of the Lifebringer, defend thy Maker!"
  1619.  
  1620. "HEY!" Kate shouted, pulling her hand free and glaring at Jack as her ring seemed to glow. Suddenly, the sounds of strange shuffling began to fill the room. "What are you..." Kate stopped as the cardboard boxes around the room tipped over, and dozens of flying silvery implements flew out, like a mad swarm of bees. Kate closed her eyes and hugged Max, as the maelstrom of shining steel flew towards them. Scapels, scissors, bedpans and other previously inanimate implements flew around the trio, and towards Graves.
  1621.  
  1622. "No!" Graves shouted, even as the hospital bed rolled towards him, shoving him back into the wall, where a hail of surgical instruments unerringly struck, pinning him in his robes in place.
  1623.  
  1624. "Wow!" Jess said, reforming and rising up, trying to resist the urge to strike Graves. That would have been overkill, considering how well he was pinned into place, "How..."
  1625.  
  1626. "The Lifebringer." Jack said, pointing to Kate, even as she opened her eyes and looked around.
  1627.  
  1628. "We're - not dead..." Kate said, catching a glimpse of Jess, looking all the world like a pink figure of herself, "What's that...?"
  1629.  
  1630. "Your Doom!" Graves shouted, dropping the ball he had produced. It landed on the floor with a loud crack, and an unearthly shining light began to rise and grow in the form of an expanding ball.
  1631.  
  1632. "Time to go." Jack said, pulling Kate off of Max and pointing towards the wall on the front of the house, "This way - you too Jess."
  1633.  
  1634. "What - is that?" Jess asked, watching the ball of electric light grow, consuming the wall and Graves.
  1635.  
  1636. "Stop! Stop you cowards and meet you---" Grave shouted in vain as the ball consumed him. It continued to grow towards Jess.
  1637.  
  1638. "Jess! Come on!" Max shouted. Jess snapped out of her trance, and dashed towards the others, where they stood next to a window covered with iron grated bars.
  1639.  
  1640. "This has got to be a dream!" Kate muttered, looking at Jess, a pink reflection of herself, "One freaky, crazy dream..."
  1641.  
  1642. "What is that?" Max asked as the ball continued to grow, drawing closer.
  1643.  
  1644. "Banishment spell." Jack said, looking over the bars and glancing back at the approaching ball - now a wall of electrical fire - coming closer, consuming everything in its path, "Kate - put your hand on the wall."
  1645.  
  1646. "What?" Kate said, looking from Jack to the approaching doom, "What good is that going to do?"
  1647.  
  1648. "Trust me- we don't have much time." Jack said, taking her hand and putting it on the wall, "Now - order the wall to let us pass."
  1649.  
  1650. "What?"
  1651.  
  1652. "Kate - just do it!" Max said. Kate frowned.
  1653.  
  1654. "Okay - Wall - let us pass... OH!" Kate said, as her ring lit up. The wall creaked and groaned, as plaster and brick crumbled away into dust, leaving a gaping hole between the heavily fortified windows, "Oh - wow..." Kate swooned, and Max caught her.
  1655.  
  1656. "Kate? " Max said, holding her limp form and looking up at Jack, "what happened...?"
  1657.  
  1658. "Exhaustion. It happens a lot to new magic users. She should be fine..." Jack said, looking out, "A bit of a drop..."
  1659.  
  1660. "I've got it!" Jess declared, stretching around Jack and down to the ground. Somehow, instinctively, she knew she could do it. Jack watched as Jess stretched out, into a narrow pink slide that reached from the hole to the ground.
  1661.  
  1662. "Whoa - will it...?" Max asked, as the sound of something heavy falling filled the air. They turned to see the expanding wall of electric light advancing and seething with power.
  1663.  
  1664. "It will - go." Jack said. Max held onto Kate's limp form, and slid down Jess's elastic form, almost hitting Jess's head, which was stretched out on a tendril at the end of her pink form.
  1665.  
  1666. "Careful with - me." Jess said, still unused to the fact that she wasn't Kate. She stretched over to look at Kate, and was nearly hit by Jack, who came tumbling down her elastic slide body.
  1667.  
  1668. "Come on." Jack said getting up, and looking back, "It's still growing!" Jess looked back and saw the flickering light getting closer to the hole. She let go of her precarious hold on the wall, and stretched back down, reforming herself in time for Jack to pull on her arm to help her to her feet. Jess nearly complained that he was stretching her when she heard the crack of crumbling bricks and splintering beams behind her.
  1669.  
  1670. "It's not stopping!" Jess said, staring as the throbbing glowing ball grew larger. With no interior support, the house was slowly starting to cave in on itself. She felt Jack tug on her again.
  1671.  
  1672. "Come on Jess!" Max shouted from the curb, looking back at her. Jess gulped and followed Jack across the lawn as the house vanished from existence, and the glowing menace lit up the neighborhood.
  1673.  
  1674. "Uh - Jack..." Myndi asked as they reached the cars, "What's that...?" Before Jack could reply, the orb angrily flared up, and swiftly retracted, collapsing onto itself as if it were never there. The house and parts of the lawn were gone, erased from reality. The only indication of something amiss was the large round crater that marked where the manor stood, which was slowly filling with water and sewage from the severed pipelines that once went into the house.
  1675.  
  1676. "Banishment spell." Jack said, looking at the others, slightly amazed, "Fortunately, a limited one." "So - we're safe?" Jess asked, looking at Kate.
  1677.  
  1678. "For now." Jack said.
  1679.  
  1680. "How's she doing?" Kate faintly heard Max ask. There was a pause and a faint tingling sensation across her body. Sluggishly, she fought her way to consciousness.
  1681.  
  1682. "She's doing fine." Came another, unfamiliar man's voice, "The healing spell is doing its work well, considering how little the Order bothered to do to help her."
  1683.  
  1684. "Why not the Restoration ring?" Came a girl's voice, "That would do it wham, bang, like it did to Cory..." Kate opened her eyes in time to see a dark haired man in peculiar clothes stand up and scowl at an auburn haired girl.
  1685.  
  1686. "That - is best left for the worst cases." He cautiously said as Kate took in the whole view. She was back - in her condo, lying on her lumpy old couch, from the feel of it.
  1687.  
  1688. "Hey - she's waking up." Max said, spying movement.
  1689.  
  1690. "Uhh, what a dream... Max?" Kate asked groggily, "What happened..." Kate looked up at Max - and then beyond, at a strange apparition - of herself, only pink from head to toe.
  1691.  
  1692. "It's complicated." Max said, kneeling down, "How are you feeling?"
  1693.  
  1694. "Fine - except..." Kate's voice trailed off as the pink version of herself moved, "I'm seeing things - something pink..."
  1695.  
  1696. "Hi." Her pink double said, waving her hand. Kate sat up suddenly in shock, studying it, and looking around.
  1697.  
  1698. "What's goin' on here?" Kate demanded to know, looking from Max to the other two - and her pink duplicate, who seemed to be wavering, almost rippling like water, "Who are you?"
  1699.  
  1700. "I am Jack Spadeheart, and this is Myndi." The unfamiliar man said, motioning to the auburn haired girl before nodding to the pink person who stood there nervously, "And this is - Jess. One of your creations."
  1701.  
  1702. "My - creation?" Kate asked, frowning, and looking down at the hospital gown she was wearing, "What the hell is going on here? And why am I dressed up like this?"
  1703.  
  1704. "It's - kinda complicated." Max said, as he tried to explain to Kate what had happened.
  1705.  
  1706. "So - we brought you back here." Max finished, "After what happened at St Sagesse, your - uh - creations didn't want you anywhere near a hospital."
  1707.  
  1708. "No kidding." Kate said, looking at her ring. Her magical ring. "There's just one problem with this crazy story."
  1709.  
  1710. "What's that?" Max asked.
  1711.  
  1712. "I don't believe in magic." Kate said flatly.
  1713.  
  1714. "That's fine. I don't really believe in science." Jack said, "But - when faced with the results of either magic or science, one has to admit that it exists."
  1715.  
  1716. "Uh-huh." Kate said, looking at the strange pink version of herself, now sitting in the footstool nervously, like a child waiting for the worst, "So - you're - me?"
  1717.  
  1718. "This morning - I thought I was you." The pink Kate said honestly, "But - now - I mean, I don't really know who or what I'm supposed to be!"
  1719.  
  1720. "Jess - you're Kate's guardian." Jack said calmly, "Like Cory."
  1721.  
  1722. "Cory?" Kate asked.
  1723.  
  1724. "Your car." Max said, "Its alive too."
  1725.  
  1726. "Great." Kate said, her eyes wandering across the condo, "What else is alive in here?" In response, the television flicked on, as did the lights. In the kitchen some of the appliances whirred. Kate looked around in amazement.
  1727.  
  1728. "Sorry I asked!" Kate said as the animated items quieted down, "Where's the camera?"
  1729.  
  1730. "Camera?" Jack asked.
  1731.  
  1732. "You know - this is like Candid Camera. Or Borat. This is some weird joke that you're trying to pull, right? Watch - I command this couch to come to life!" Kate said, patting the posh cushions of the couch. Jack frowned as Kate looked about, "See - not coming to life at all."
  1733.  
  1734. "Of course not." Jack said, "It has materials in it which were once alive. The Lifebringer can only animate things which were never alive to begin with."
  1735.  
  1736. "Like - me." Jess said, worriedly. Kate stood up and walked over to Jess.
  1737.  
  1738. "Okay - what about you?" Kate said, looking Jess over from head to toe, "Crap - that's some body paint job they did on you sister."
  1739.  
  1740. "I wish it was." Jess said nervously.
  1741.  
  1742. "Hold out your arm." Kate said. Jess meekly did as she was told, "Now - if you really were made of the polymer like Max said, I wouldn't be able to do this..." With that, Kate pulled on Jess's arm, expecting to pull Jess with it.
  1743.  
  1744. Instead, Jess's arm stretched out, longer and longer. Kate, not quite believing it, pulled harder, and fell back.
  1745.  
  1746. "What the..." Kate sputtered as she landed on something - soft. She looked at Jess's long stretched-out right arm, which she held in one hand, then she looked below - at the large pink cushion she had landed on. She followed the long tendril back to its source, where Jess's left arm should have been.
  1747.  
  1748. "Are - are you all right?" Jess said, still unsure of herself. Seeing Kate topple had triggered something, causing her to stretch out and prevent Kate from hitting the floor.
  1749.  
  1750. She wasn't sure if she liked that.
  1751.  
  1752. "Cooool!" Myndi said, as Max helped Kate back up, "If you don't want Jess, can we take her home?"
  1753.  
  1754. "No." Jack said firmly, "she belongs - here, with her Maker."
  1755.  
  1756. "Yes." Jess nodded, unsure of it herself.
  1757.  
  1758. "Look - this is crazy!" Kate said, flopping Jess's arm around as she stood up, "Things just don't come to life! It's impossible!" She dropped Jess's arm, as Jess pulled them back in and restored them to their normal proportions.
  1759.  
  1760. "That's exactly what I thought." Jess said, "But - I'm here." Kate stared at her for a moment, then shook her head.
  1761.  
  1762. "This is more than I can take." Kate said, pulling at her hospital gown and glaring at Jack, "Hey - are you done looking at me?"
  1763.  
  1764. "Looking at...?"
  1765.  
  1766. "I'm all right, right?"
  1767.  
  1768. "Yes...."
  1769.  
  1770. "Good." Kate said, marching to her bedroom "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to get some real clothes on." With that, the door shut behind her. Jack looked around, and sat down on the couch.
  1771.  
  1772. "Well, I think she took that well." He said
  1773.  
  1774. "I guess." Max replied.
  1775.  
  1776. "Hey, I'm hungry." Myndi piped up, "Got anything to eat..."
  1777.  
  1778. "No." Max and Jack said. Myndi frowned and plopped herself down on a chair. Jack looked at Jess, who was still standing, pink and nude, staring at the bedroom door.
  1779.  
  1780. "So - how do you think Kate took it?" Jack asked, "You do say you have all of her memories - feelings..."
  1781.  
  1782. "I'm not sure." Jess said, bowing her head and looking at Jack, "I mean - this is crazy. Kate's back - I guess - and what's going to happen to me?"
  1783.  
  1784. "You're her guardian." Jack said, "Your destiny is to protect Kate..." Jess looked down at her feet, unsure of what to say.
  1785.  
  1786. "Unless-?" Myndi asked, drawing Max and Jess's attention.
  1787.  
  1788. "Unless - what?" Max asked as Jack looked away.
  1789.  
  1790. "Hey - Jack says destinies aren't cast in stone." Myndi said with a sly grin, "So - maybe Jess's destiny isn't either?"
  1791.  
  1792. "There's another way?" Jess asked.
  1793.  
  1794. "There's always another way." Jack said, "Kate could free you from your obligation - but you two will always remain connected - close, like family. Or..."
  1795.  
  1796. "Or?"
  1797.  
  1798. "What the Lifebringer gives - can be taken away by it just as easily." Jack said darkly.
  1799.  
  1800. "Great..." Kate fussed, oblivious to what was being said in the other room, as she got dressed, "This has got to be some stupid dream. Or joke. Bringing life to the lifeless.... Ridiculous..." Kate pulled on a shirt, just as the phone rang. Kate picked it up automatically.
  1801.  
  1802. "Hello?" Kate said, pulling on some panties.
  1803.  
  1804. "Kate? Oh, thank goodness, it's you!" came a familiar voice over the phone - a voice much sharper and clearer than Kate had heard in a long time, "We saw what happened at the hospital, and were so worried.."
  1805.  
  1806. "Granma?" Kate said, not quite believing her ears. Her grandmother hadn't sounded this alert in years.
  1807.  
  1808. "You're not hurt are you?" Her Granma asked.
  1809.  
  1810. "No - no..." Kate said, unsure what to say, " I mean..."
  1811.  
  1812. "Otis - get on the other phone - It's Kate!" she could hear her Granma shout. Within moments, she was speaking to her very relieved grandparents.
  1813.  
  1814. "Think we made national news?" Myndi asked as she flipped through the channels. Most of the local media were covering the fire and evacuation of Saint Sagesse. Jack watched the image on the television with passing interest.
  1815.  
  1816. "Most likely." Jack said, concerned. While the Order of Sagesse might have been misguided in their actions, they performed a service in their own way, trapping and restraining the more dangerous horrors that lurked on this plane. Even through the unblinking eye of the television cameras, he could see the unspeakable, invisible things escaping the burning hospital.
  1817.  
  1818. The local circles of magic users would have their hands full fort some time.
  1819.  
  1820. "They think terrorists did it." Jess said, drooping, almost melting, "What if they come after us?" "Unlikely." Jack said shaking his head, "The Order of Sagesse would have a more mundane explanation prepared than terrorists. They wouldn't want to attract any more attention to themselves than they already have...
  1821.  
  1822. "Like the big crater where their safehouse was?" Max asked.
  1823.  
  1824. "Yes..." Jack said, "But they will see to it that another story replaces this quickly..."
  1825.  
  1826. "Like the one about the man who miraculously cures Alzheimers?" Kate butted in as she returned to the living room, glaring at Jack, "I still don't know whether to punch you or kiss you."
  1827.  
  1828. "For?"
  1829.  
  1830. "Curing my Granma!" Kate said, "I just got off the phone with her - and she's back to her old self. How?"
  1831.  
  1832. "Magic!" Myndi said. Kate scowled at her and looked back at Jack.
  1833.  
  1834. "Seriously." Kate said, "How?"
  1835.  
  1836. "As she said - Magic." Jack shrugged, "Where I come from, there are cures for the wasting of the mind - at a cost."
  1837.  
  1838. "What cost?" Kate said, as it stuck her, "Like - my ring?"
  1839.  
  1840. "Nothing like that." Jack said shaking his head, "But - I am here for the ring..." Before Jack could finish, Kate took his hand and slapped her ring into it.
  1841.  
  1842. "There's the stupid ring." Kate said, crossing her arms, "I don't care if it is magic - as long as my Granma has her mind back, and you tell me how..."
  1843.  
  1844. "Uh - Kate..." Max said, "Sure that's a good idea?"
  1845.  
  1846. "What?"
  1847.  
  1848. "Giving him the ring... I mean, it is magic."
  1849.  
  1850. "Don't tell me you're falling for this crap too!" Kate said in exasperation as she spied Jess sitting there, "And what am I supposed to do with you?"
  1851.  
  1852. "I don't know." Jess said meekly.
  1853.  
  1854. "She is yours to do with as you wish so long as you have the Lifebringer." Jack said, handing the ring back to Kate as Jess watched, "I think I can help..."
  1855.  
  1856. "Quit talking in riddles!" Kate snapped.
  1857.  
  1858. "You can use the ring - to get rid of me." Jess said, wavering as she spoke. Jack scowled at her.
  1859.  
  1860. "Jess - come on!" Max said.
  1861.  
  1862. "Max - look at me! I'm a pink freak!" Jess said unhappily, "Maybe it would be better if I wasn't here at all. Just - turn me back into putty."
  1863.  
  1864. "I can do that?" Kate said, looking at the ring.
  1865.  
  1866. "If you wish." Jack said gravely, "It is not my decision to make." Kate looked at the ring, and put it back on. Unsure of what to do, she pointed her hand at Jess, who shuddered, and braced for the worst. Slowly, she began to let herself go and melt.
  1867.  
  1868. Kate looked at Jess, and turned away.
  1869.  
  1870. "What are you waiting for?" Jess asked, "Just - do it." Kate looked at Jess again, and pointed her ring at Jess again.
  1871.  
  1872. "Come on Jess - Kate?" Max said, stepping towards them.
  1873.  
  1874. "Nuts." Kate said, running her hands through her hair, and closing her eyes, "I can't do it!"
  1875.  
  1876. "Come on." Jess said, regaining some of her composure and reforming herself, "How would you like to be stuck all pink for the rest of your life?"
  1877.  
  1878. "Better than being dead." Max scolded Jess, "For crying out loud some people have it way worse than just being pink."
  1879.  
  1880. "And flexible." Jess said.
  1881.  
  1882. "So what are we supposed to do?" Kate demanded, glaring at Jack.
  1883.  
  1884. "There may be a way." Jack said.
  1885.  
  1886. "Other than killing her?" Kate demanded.
  1887.  
  1888. "In my eyes - that was never an option. Only yours and hers." Jack said, taking Kate's hand, "In a way - I need this done more than you, to at least deplete a fraction of the Lifebringer's power for a time, before it runs amok again."
  1889.  
  1890. "So - what are we going to do?" Kate asked.
  1891.  
  1892. "We're going to try a little magic." Jack said, "Or to use a more scientific term - we're going to give Jess something of an upgrade."
  1893.  
  1894. "Upgrade?" Max asked.
  1895.  
  1896. "Yes." Jack said, as he guided Kate's hand and pointed it towards Jess, "You have the power - I will lend you the skill. Now concentrate on Jess..." Kate looked at Jess, then closed her eyes. A strange warmth seemed to be filling her body and soul, spreading out like a cascade across the room and encircling Jess.
  1897.  
  1898. "Cool!" Myndi said in awe as the soft glow from Jack and Kate spread, and slowly wove itself around Jess. Jess looked down, unsure and apprehensive as it circled her in a shifting, spiraling way, seemingly seeping in and out of her pliable pinkish form.
  1899.  
  1900. "What's happening to me?" Jess thought, as the light enveloped her, blinding her for long moments. As strangely as it had arisen, if slowly subsided, fading away. Jess looked at Jack who was smiling smugly, and at the astonished looks at the others in the room.
  1901.  
  1902. "What's wrong?" Jess asked nervously.
  1903.  
  1904. "Jess?" Max ventured.
  1905.  
  1906. "You've got to be kidding me..." Kate said, staring at Jess, then at the ring, "How..."
  1907.  
  1908. "Is there something wrong with me?" Jess asked, holding out her hand. Jess stared at it in surprise. It had changed from the shiny unnaturally pink surface she had awoken to the natural brown skin hue she had always taken for granted. Jess spun around, looking herself over, before stopping at the mirror and staring at herself. Her own brown eyes looked back at her, in place of the featureless pink eyes she had been looking around with. Even her hair was normal, made up of strands rather than merely being sculpted from her own memory of what it should look like.
  1909.  
  1910. "I'm - me again!" Jess said, turning with a grin and reaching out to give Jack and Kate a big hug, "Oh - Thank you, thank you!"
  1911.  
  1912. "Don't - mention it." Kate managed, as she felt Jess squeeze her- and squeeze her, "But it didn't work..."
  1913.  
  1914. "It didn't - oh!" Jess gasped, looking down at her stretched out arms and elongated torso, "I'm - not human?"
  1915.  
  1916. "No." Jack said as Jess loosened up her grip on them and pulled herself back into her more normal shape, "That is beyond what the Lifebringer can do."
  1917.  
  1918. "And here I thought magic could do anything." Kate said smugly, "Guess I was wrong..."
  1919.  
  1920. "Then - what...? Jess asked, puzzled.
  1921.  
  1922. "We have made it so you appear human - you have far greater control than before." Jack said with some satisfaction," But to become fully human - that requires something beyond what either the Lifebringer or I can manage."
  1923.  
  1924. "At least you look normal." Max said, patting Jess on the back, "And you're a lot more solid..."
  1925.  
  1926. "Thanks..." Jess said, looking at Kate, "So... Can I stay?"
  1927.  
  1928. "What - here?" Kate said, with a mock frown, "Cripes, I don't know if the world is ready for two of me..."
  1929.  
  1930. "Ready or not - here we are." Jess said with an uneasy smile.
  1931.  
  1932. "Yeah. And one extra me is more than enough." Kate said, pulling off the ring and handing it to Jack, "Here - I don't need any more copies of me."
  1933.  
  1934. "Of course. I had hoped to exhaust its powers more before I left." Jack said, reaching for it. Before he could take it, Jess stretched her hand out and plucked it from Kate.
  1935.  
  1936. "Hey - do you mind?" Kate said, "We don't need any more copies of us running around!"
  1937.  
  1938. "I know that. But I guess this thing still has some extra power left in it, right?" Jess said, holding up the ring. Jack nodded, slightly puzzled. "I just had a thought of one last thing that needs to be done with this before it goes..."
  1939.  
  1940. Kate awoke, and stared at the ceiling. Her ceiling, in her own room, in her own condo. She sighed in relief, as she lazily looked around.
  1941.  
  1942. "Crap, what a dream." Kate murmured as she got out of bed. Magicians, copies of herself, and strange secret orders. Her mind reeled as she tried to remember everything.
  1943.  
  1944. She definitely needed to avoid partying with Brian.
  1945.  
  1946. She was about to go to the bathroom when she smelled smoke.
  1947.  
  1948. "What now?" Kate said, dashing out of her bedroom as the fire alarm went off. She heard a hauntingly familiar squeal in the kitchen.
  1949.  
  1950. "What did I do? What did I do?" Came one voice. Kate stopped short as she heard her own voice, as the smoke detector shut off.
  1951.  
  1952. "Calm down - you just burnt the toast." Her own voice said. Kate slowly peered around the corner to see herself - no, it was Jess, a picture perfect duplicate of herself, with her hand stretched out into a fan, waving the smoke away from the smoke detector. Standing next to the toaster over, a panicked tan skinned woman with bright red hair who was wearing a bright red jumpsuit was looking into the window.
  1953.  
  1954. Kate gulped.
  1955.  
  1956. It hadn't been a dream.
  1957.  
  1958. "Oh - uh, hey, Kate." Jess said apologetically as she spied Kate, "We were trying to make breakfast for you..."
  1959.  
  1960. "Uh-huh." Kate said, stepping into the kitchen and eyeing the redhead. It couldn't be...?
  1961.  
  1962. "But - uh - Cory's never used a toaster before you know." Jess said.
  1963.  
  1964. "Right. Hold on." Kate said, going to the tiny garage that was connected to the condo.
  1965.  
  1966. It was empty.
  1967.  
  1968. "Oh-mi-gosh..." Kate muttered, looking back into the kitchen and shutting the door, "That's - Cory..."
  1969.  
  1970. "Yep." The red headed Cory said brightly, holding out her hands, "It's weird being this way- but useful..."
  1971.  
  1972. "My - corvette... Is human - and in the kitchen?" Kate said, pulling out a stool and sitting down, "How...?"
  1973.  
  1974. "Uh - yeah." Jess said, " Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time..."
  1975.  
  1976. "Good idea?" Kate sputtered, watching Cory try putting an apple into the toaster oven. Jess weakly smiled and stopped her, "How the heck am I supposed to get to work?"
  1977.  
  1978. "Relax, I can take you there..." Cory said, "Although we thought Jess thought she could cover for you - let you sleep in, stay home..."
  1979.  
  1980. "Wait a minute..." Kate said, rubbing her forehead, and looking at Jess, "Cover for me?"
  1981.  
  1982. "Well - yeah, you've been through a lot - 'mom'." Jess said with a grin, "Besides, I'm a near-perfect double of you..."
  1983.  
  1984. "With the abilities of silly putty." Kate snapped. Jess drooped. "Hey, I appreciate the offer - but I really need to get back to work at the lab."
  1985.  
  1986. "But..." Jess began. Kate held up her hand.
  1987.  
  1988. "Look - who's the boss here?" Kate snapped.
  1989.  
  1990. "You are..."Jess sighed, "But..."
  1991.  
  1992. "And if you have my memories then you have remember - the B-Scan is going up for a review in two months." Kate said.
  1993.  
  1994. "More like one month." Jess said, "You were out of it for a while..."
  1995.  
  1996. "I'm behind!" Kate cried, pulling at her hair as a panic attack struck.
  1997.  
  1998. "Behind what?" Cory asked, looking around. Kate stared at her.
  1999.  
  2000. "Cory - is getting used to being something other than a car." Jess said, "I'm working on it. But I think you could at least use some help..."
  2001.  
  2002. "With two of me showing up at the lab?" Kate asked, "It's crazy enough what I've been through, but having both of us show up..."
  2003.  
  2004. "Relax - watch!" Jess said, pulling her hair out, and stretching it longer and longer, turning from black to a light brown. Kate stared in bewilderment as Jess' skin turned a lighter shade of brown. Jess tossed her hair about, and grinned, looking at her hands and then in the mirror, "Tah-dah - no more confusion..."
  2005.  
  2006. "How...?"
  2007.  
  2008. "It's part of Jack's fix for me - and Cory." Jess said with a grin, "Although I guess Cory is stuck looking the way she is..."
  2009.  
  2010. "At least I get to come inside." Cory said, glancing up from the auto magazine she was looking at, "Hey, look at the hubcaps on this one..."
  2011.  
  2012. "So...?" Kate began, trying to ignore Cory and somehow wishing she hadn't given the ring away to Jack.
  2013.  
  2014. "So I can be your lab assistant." Jess said, "Just think of how much we can get done working together..."
  2015.  
  2016. "No."
  2017.  
  2018. "No?" Jess said, disappointed, "But..."
  2019.  
  2020. "It won't work. Not right now." Kate said, shaking her head, "Look - let me go in there and find out what's going on - then we can see about getting you in. Besides, you have to keep an eye on Cory."
  2021.  
  2022. "Hey, I can watch out for myself." Cory said.
  2023.  
  2024. "Like you watched out for the tree." Kate asked. Cory hid behind the magazine, "Look - I'm taking a shower, then I need breakfast - and then there had better be a car ready for work." With that, Kate marched off to the bathroom.
  2025.  
  2026. "What's a shower?" Cory asked. Jess shook her head.
  2027.  
  2028. * * *
  2029.  
  2030. "Can't I change outside?" Cory asked as they walked into the garage, "Jess did stretch..."
  2031.  
  2032. "On a dark night - escaping a crazy guy who was destroying his own mansion." Jess sighed. Cory looked at her blankly, "It's complicated."
  2033.  
  2034. "No - you just did it..."
  2035.  
  2036. "Cory - I'm running late." Kate said, tapping her watch, "Can you change or not?"
  2037.  
  2038. "Okay, okay..." Cory said, stepping into the middle of the garage and facing the door. She clapped her hands together, and they began to expand, growing flat and round like a pair of wheels. She knelt as her feet followed suit, and her body began to grow larger and shinier.
  2039.  
  2040. "Whoa...." Kate muttered as Cory's hands and feet turned completely into tires. She walked carefully to the front of the garage to watch as Cory's face stretched out, her eyes becoming headlights and her mouth becoming a grinning slit on her curving slanting hood, "But what about the conservation of mass...?"
  2041.  
  2042. "It's magic." Jess shrugged as Cory's body grew larger, melding into her expanding head. The roof of the car rose from her back, revealing the tan interior that matched Cory's human skin. Her exterior was now the sparkly ruby color of Cory's hair and clothes, "I can't explain it any more than why I'm alive and elastic..."
  2043.  
  2044. "Great." Kate muttered, as Cory finished changing, shuddering slightly as she bobbed on her shocks in the garage.
  2045.  
  2046. "All done." Cory said, flashing her lights, "Get on in." Kate frowned, and walked back to the driver's side, pausing as Cory opened the door for her.
  2047.  
  2048. "And we did this because...?" Kate said, sitting down and looking around. The interior looked brand new - even down to the new car smell.
  2049.  
  2050. "Because first, if Cory gets into an accident again, she could fix herself by shape shifting." Jess said, climbing into the passenger seat, "She couldn't before."
  2051.  
  2052. "Yeah! I was on the way to the scrapheap in the sky!" Cory said through her speakers.
  2053.  
  2054. "Uh-huh..."
  2055.  
  2056. "And second, we'd probably feel sorry about leaving her out in the garage all the time..." Jess said.
  2057.  
  2058. "It's okay." Cory said, pausing, "Altho' I wanna watch this NASCAR thing I hear about on the radio..."
  2059.  
  2060. "You listen to the radio?" Kate asked, buckling up.
  2061.  
  2062. "Sure." Cory said, "Not much else to do when I'm waiting for you out in the lot."
  2063.  
  2064. "Great." Kate said, looking at Jess, "And why are you coming...?"
  2065.  
  2066. "To keep an eye on Cory." Jess said, drawing a frown from Kate, "Or would you rather let her drive around town with no one inside her?"
  2067.  
  2068. "Oooh - company! I like that!" Cory said as the garage door opened up, much to Kate's surprise. Cory revved up and pulled out of the garage, a bit too quickly for Kate's tastes.
  2069.  
  2070. "Watch it!" Kate said, grabbing the steering wheel and stepping on the brakes, "I don't need to get into another accident!"
  2071.  
  2072. "Okay, okay..." Cory said, slowing down to something closer to the speed limit, "I don't want you to be late for work..."
  2073.  
  2074. "I'm never late for work..." Kate said, drawing a knowing smile from Jess, "Okay - mostly never..." Jess politely coughed and looked the other way.
  2075.  
  2076. "It's a good thing you're back." Brian grumbled after he welcomed Kate back, "No one but you can seem to get the B-Scan to work..."
  2077.  
  2078. "No one?" Kate said puzzled as Brian led her down the hall to the lab, "We sent out three test units before the party..."
  2079.  
  2080. "And none are working!" Brian said, "It's a disaster! MIT and Cal-Tech are getting readings from the array, but the polymer storage unit isn't working..."
  2081.  
  2082. "So its like trying to recreate a movie with paper and pencils." Kate groaned. Even the best hard drive array couldn't store the sheer volume of data the B-Scan collected, "Trust me though - it works... AHHH!" Kate screamed as she opened the door and was greeted with a torrent of liquid.
  2083.  
  2084. "Trust me, this is for your own good!" she heard Gwen shout behind the blinding spray.
  2085.  
  2086. "Gwen!" Brian shouted as he was sprayed down too, "What are you doing?"
  2087.  
  2088. "Taking care of this abomination before it takes care of us!" Gwen shouted, as Max grabbed her.
  2089.  
  2090. "Gwen, I told you..." Max said getting doused himself, "Hey, Knock it off!" Gwen struggled as Brian took the hose away from her.
  2091.  
  2092. "What is going on?" Brian said sternly as Kate brushed her wet hair out of her face.
  2093.  
  2094. "You wouldn't believe it!" Gwen said, "Yesterday, the cerebral recording polymer came to life! It took on Kate's identity, and everything, and - and ... why aren't you melting?"
  2095.  
  2096. "Because I'm Kate!" Kate shouted.
  2097.  
  2098. "Or are you?" Gwen said panicked as Max let her go, "Come on, tell them Max!"
  2099.  
  2100. "Tell them what?" Max said with a shrug.
  2101.  
  2102. "Gwen..." Brian said menacingly.
  2103.  
  2104. "It happened! I swear!" Gwen said, looking from Max to a very annoyed Brian.
  2105.  
  2106. "She's been - stressed..." Max said, "Overwork..."
  2107.  
  2108. "Gwen!" Brian shouted, stepping towards her "MY OFFICE..." He stopped as his pants slid off of him. Brian looked down in surprise as the weave of his clothes seemed to be melting together.
  2109.  
  2110. "What the... Eeek!" Kate squealed as her blouse began to fall apart at the seams.
  2111.  
  2112. "Oh - no..." Gwen gasped as Brian's face took on an intense red hue.
  2113.  
  2114. "My office - in five minutes." Brian sternly said, stomping out of the lab, his clothing sliding off and fusing to the slowly melting carpet in the hallway.
  2115.  
  2116. "Whose idea was it for the solvent?" Kate demanded as she stepped out of the break room wearing some spare clothes, which were kept in there for lab accidents.
  2117.  
  2118. "Gwen's - and yours." Max said, looking up from the cleanup.
  2119.  
  2120. "Mine...?"
  2121.  
  2122. "Sorry - Jess's idea." Max amended himself, "At least Gwen didn't hit anything vital."
  2123.  
  2124. "So what was it..."
  2125.  
  2126. "Solvent - in case you - er - Jess - went out of control." Max sighed, sopping up the last of it, "Of course, it works on polyester too..."
  2127.  
  2128. "Uh-huh." Kate said, taking a seat at the computer and glancing up at Max, "And the reason your clothes didn't fall apart?"
  2129.  
  2130. "One hundred percent cotton. I don't like the feel of polyester." Max grinned, "Gwen hunted hers down on purpose I think..."
  2131.  
  2132. "Cripes - what's going to happen to her?"
  2133.  
  2134. "Administrative leave I think." Max said, "Truth be told, she's been loosing it for a while. She couldn't get your B-Scan to work right when you weren't here."
  2135.  
  2136. "Nor can the geniuses at MIT or Cal-Tech." Kate grumped, looking at the prototype, "What about your college...?"
  2137.  
  2138. "Whattamatta University?" Max shrugged, "No word yet - Knowing Professor Garbonzo though, he won't admit defeat until he hears the other universities failed..."
  2139.  
  2140. "Let's hear it for Garbonzo." Kate muttered looking over he device, "Cripes - you guys did do a number on it..."
  2141.  
  2142. "Jess helped." Max said with a smirk, "We just got the parts in from the demo model we sent to MIT, so we can fix it easily enough..."
  2143.  
  2144. "Oh no." Kate said getting up, "Let's put the MIT demo together and see what went wrong before we try to fix this."
  2145.  
  2146. "Sounds like a plan." Max said, "I'll bring the boxes in..."
  2147.  
  2148. "No." Kate said, looking around uneasily. Something was worrying her, "Lets do this from scratch - in lab 2."
  2149.  
  2150. "Okay." Max shrugged, following Kate into the neighboring room.
  2151.  
  2152. "Okay - I am thinking of a color - blue." Max muttered under the B-Scan sensory array. He glanced up at Kate, whose scowl had become a permanent feature etched into her face since they had begun testing the reassembled B-Scan, "Well?"
  2153.  
  2154. "Well what?" Kate grumbled, looking at the readings.
  2155.  
  2156. "Well, want another turn under here?" Max asked. Kate glanced at him with concern.
  2157.  
  2158. "No way." Kate said, "Besides, I have to figure this problem out,"
  2159.  
  2160. "Which one?" Max asked, trying to peer around the edge of the flat screen monitor Kate was intensely staring at.
  2161.  
  2162. "This one." Kate said, turning the screen for Max to see. Max scowled at the bending bars and lines that danced across the screen, weaving in and out randomly in concert with his thoughts. It looked nothing like the firm bar graphs and scales they had calibrated into the prototype B-Scan, "We're getting readings, but without recording them and slowing them down..."
  2163.  
  2164. "We can't really analyze them." Max muttered as the bars flexed and twisted before him, "Some sort of virus...?"
  2165.  
  2166. "I wish." Kate said, "This B-Scan works on its own operating system, remember?"
  2167.  
  2168. "Oh, I remember." Max nodded, pondering, "You know, this is like it was two years ago where we started the project in earnest..."
  2169.  
  2170. "Don't remind me!" Kate said, pulling at her hair nervously, "Its like all of our progress - all of our work has been wiped out..."
  2171.  
  2172. "Like magic?" came Kate's voice. Kate and Max turned to see Cory and Jess - now looking like a platinum blonde version of Kate - standing in the doorway to the lab.
  2173.  
  2174. "How did you get in here?" Kate asked, slightly annoyed. Jess smiled and shifted her features slightly to look more like Kate.
  2175.  
  2176. "Well - I do look like I work here." Jess said with the hint of a smile, before shifting back, "I heard about the solvent..."
  2177.  
  2178. "Maybe I should've kept some handy." Kate sputtered, "You can't come in here expecting to take over my job."
  2179.  
  2180. "I'm not." Jess said, pulling Cory back from exploring the cabinet next to the door, "I just want to help. And besides - it's quitting time here." Kate glanced at the clock. Jess was right.
  2181.  
  2182. "Okay - but you know we - I've worked late before."
  2183.  
  2184. "And I think you should have some rest." Jess said, "Besides - Granma and Granpa are waiting for us."
  2185.  
  2186. "What?"
  2187.  
  2188. "For dinner." Jess said, almost scolding Kate, "You might have just woken up from being held captive be some lunatics, but Granpa thought your were dying - as good as dead!"
  2189.  
  2190. "She's got a point Kate." Max said.
  2191.  
  2192. "But we've got to get the B-Scan working!" Kate said, exasperated, "I can call them up tonight..."
  2193.  
  2194. "Not that." Max said, taking off the B-Scan's sensors, "Magic."
  2195.  
  2196. "Huh?" Kate and Jess both said, following Max into the lab where the prototype B-Scan sat as the lab.
  2197.  
  2198. "What do you mean?" Kate demanded, secretly dreading what was going to happen.
  2199.  
  2200. "Let's do a test." Max said looking at Kate, "Tell the B-Scan to turn on all its lights."
  2201.  
  2202. "What good will that do?" Kate demanded.
  2203.  
  2204. "Just checking out my theory." Max said crossing his arms.
  2205.  
  2206. "You tell it..."
  2207.  
  2208. "It won't work for me - Maker." Max said. Kate gulped and looked at the B-Scan.
  2209.  
  2210. "Okay - B-Scan, turn all your lights on." Kate said. Silently, the status lights and monitor of the B-Scan lit up on command.
  2211.  
  2212. "Oh - hell..." Kate muttered, looking at Max, "The Lifebringer..."
  2213.  
  2214. "Made the B-Scan work. Well parts of it." Max said, "Of course, you could've brought it to life along with Jess..."
  2215.  
  2216. "No - no, it all makes sense." Kate said, looking for a seat, and spying Jess's stretched out arm wheeling a chair over for her. She said down in it and stared at her invention in dismay as Jess took a seat on a counter, looking downcast too. "Turn those lights off." Silently, the lights went off.
  2217.  
  2218. "Neat." Cory said, "And it wasn't even plugged in!"
  2219.  
  2220. "I thought it was too easy." Jess said, frowning and thinking, "Building the B-Scan array was easy - making the software and hardware interface though..."
  2221.  
  2222. "Yeah." Kate said, thinking about all the little roadblocks and holdups that had vanished as if by magic, "Damn - we've got to get that ring back!"
  2223.  
  2224. "What?" Max said, surprised.
  2225.  
  2226. "That ring - the Lifebringer." Kate said, standing up, "We get it back, use it on the demo B-Scans so they work..."
  2227.  
  2228. "Bring them to life too?" Jess said uneasily.
  2229.  
  2230. "Yeah..."
  2231.  
  2232. "And then what - prove they work, and stick you in a factory building magical B-Scan equipment?" Max said shaking his head, "That doesn't sound practical."
  2233.  
  2234. "Damn it I know its not practical." Kate said, sagging, "But what else am I supposed to do? The company is expecting a working product soon..."
  2235.  
  2236. "Then scale it back - we could get it to work to help paralyzed patients relearn how to work - make better prosthetics..." Max said, "Sure you used magic - sorta - but your ideas have sound science backing them up."
  2237.  
  2238. "Yeah - that would be easy enough." Jess pondered.
  2239.  
  2240. "It's supposed to help cure mental illnesses..." Kate protested.
  2241.  
  2242. "It will - just not yet." Max said, patting Kate's shoulder, "As it stands - we have a lot of lost ground to recover.
  2243.  
  2244. "No kidding." Kate pouted, "And with Gwen gone off the deep end, who's going to help?"
  2245.  
  2246. "I can think of someone at least as smart as you." Max said, looking at Jess, "Jess can help out."
  2247.  
  2248. "What?" Jess and Kate said in unison.
  2249.  
  2250. "Well, face it, two heads are better than one." Max smirked.
  2251.  
  2252. "Can I help too?" Cory asked.
  2253.  
  2254. "Do you know how to calibrate highly sensitive cerebral sensory equipment?" Kate asked suspiciously.
  2255.  
  2256. "Uh - no." Cory said, pondering the mouthful Kate just said, "I know all about alignments and tuning up engines..."
  2257.  
  2258. "Huh?"
  2259.  
  2260. "I -uh - took Cory over to Pike's Garage to check out a hunch." Jess said, "Turns out, she can tell exactly what's wrong with any car."
  2261.  
  2262. "Great - my corvette the auto mechanic." Kate said shaking her head.
  2263.  
  2264. "They did offer her a job." Jess said.
  2265.  
  2266. "Great." Kate said, pondering, "Well- I guess I've got to offer you a job - or we'll all be unemployed if we can't get the B-Scan working in some manner..."
  2267.  
  2268. "YES!" Jess said with a wide grin, which drew a scowl from Kate. Jess recomposed herself in a more thoughtful way, "I mean - I'll have to think about it..."
  2269.  
  2270. "Time's up." Kate said with a smirk.
  2271.  
  2272. "You know I'll do it." Jess said.
  2273.  
  2274. "Good - let's get started..."
  2275.  
  2276. "Tomorrow." Max said, drawing a deeper scowl from Kate, "We've got a date to have dinner with your grandfolks, remember?"
  2277.  
  2278. "I know..." Kate said, pausing, "Wait- we?"
  2279.  
  2280. "Well, yeah - you, Max, Cory and me..."Jess said, counting them off, "Granpa's making his gumbo surprise."
  2281.  
  2282. "Ohh - I don't want to miss that." Max said.
  2283.  
  2284. "Wait, wait - you can't all come..." Kate began.
  2285.  
  2286. "Why not?" Cory asked, "We're practically all family, aren't we?"
  2287.  
  2288. "Great." Kate muttered to herself as they turned off the lights and headed out, "The conversation at dinner is sure going to be an interesting one, isn't it?"
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