- Descendants: LA #25 – Merchandise Driven Part 1
- Descendants: LA #26 – Merchandise Driven Part 2
- Descendants: LA #27 – Merchandise Driven Part 3
- Descendants: LA #28 – Troubled Production Part 1
- Descendants: LA #29 – Troubled Production Part 2
- Descendants: LA #30 – Troubled Production Part 3
- Descendants: LA #31 – Troubled Production Part 4
- Descendants: LA #32 – Troubled Production Part 5
- Descendants: LA #33 – The Sixth Ranger Part 1
- Descendants: LA #34 – The Sixth Ranger Part 2
- Descendants: LA #35 – The Sixth Ranger Part 3
- Descendants: LA #37 – The Sixth Ranger Part 5
Ramona’s only reaction to Felix’s latest creation was to stare at it.
Ever since she’d went through her… change… it seemed like her life ad become some sort of horror story. Not the blood and guts kind (though there had been that, she recalled with a shudder), but the classic Gothic Horror kind: loss of self, loss of humanity; the subtle elements of monstrousness.
Thanks to Felix, she was looking at the business end of a sharp turn into sci-fi.
“It’s a lot more complicated than that, but a more accurate name would be less awesome,” the dusky-skinned young man said through a bright grin. “Also, it’s not just a watch. To run all the real-time motion capture and response, image processing and rendering, piezoelectric call and response and about a hundred other operations that make this little miracle possible.”
Ramona fixed him with a pupil-less stare until he started fidgeting uncomfortably. “But yeah, it’s pretty much a holo-watch. I called in a favor from a friend who cracked the programming the ConquesTech whole-room generator uses and the feedback methods to trick people into believing that they can actually feel what’s being projected. Then I called in my buddy who works for AI Solutions Unlimited—James Henson’s company? They gave me the mo-cap tech that makes the holographic image basically wearable.”
For the first time, she really looked at the thing in her hand. It looked superficially like a nicely made but not too expensive watch. Around the face, where there might have been buttons, there were tiny lenses. Closer inspection showed that there were lenses in the metal band as well, and that the analog face was actually an extremely well-executed image on a digital screen.
“Go ahead,” Felix encourage with childlike exuberance, “Try it on.”
She gave him a suspicious look. “What will it make me look like?”
“You.,” he said without thinking, then remembered himself and the circumstances, “I mean the old you. I cribbed the image off the medical scans we did during your trials. That’s the default at least.” He had the decency to rub the back of his head in at least a little shame. “I kind of took the liberty to load in a few superhero modes too.”
By now, Ramona’s attention was laser-focused on the bauble in her hand. A chance to look like herself. Like her real self. And if what little she’d heard about piezoelectrics, it would even be able to make her feel like herself. Was it really that simple? All she had to do was put on a watch and…
“What?!” for the first time since she’d transformed, Ramona raised her voice. Only in passing did she notice it sounded a bit more like her old one.
Felix let out a nervous laugh and took a step back from her. He was wearing his ‘at home’ prosthetics and the gentle sound of the parts sliding over one another sounded too loud in the room. “Well, it’s like this. I mean you have active powers now and they could be totally kickass if you want them to be. And we’re… I mean the rest of us are… us. You’ve lived here long enough, you know what it is we do. I figured you might want in.”
She tore her gaze away from the watch long enough to look up at him. “Is that the deal then?”
“Is that the?” Felix blinked, “Seriously? You think I won’t give you the watch if you decide not to do the hero thing with us? Okay, I guess you haven’t lived her long enough them.”
Ramona shied away from the hurt in his voice. “Sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Look,” Felix waved away her apology. “Josh and ‘Ani are brother and sister. Me and Ray? Legally brothers and just as tight as blood. Lyds is the sister neither of us ever had and were happy to find.” He stepped forward, regaining the ground he’d ceded earlier. “Then you came along. I don’t even pretend to know what things are like with you and Ray—we stopped meddling in each other’s love lives since the Louise Johnson incident. Don’t ask; I didn’t speak to Ray for a month, which was just long enough to clean all the raspberry jam out of my leg joints.”
Not knowing if he was joking or not, Ramona remained quiet as he continued.
“But whatever’s going on with you two, I want you to know you… well you fit. Hero or not, super or not, you fit with us. One of the family.” He moved forward again and took the watch out of her hands moving to fasten it to her wrist herself. “And family does things for one another.”
With the watch firmly in place, he tapped the face three times and a grid of green lines sketched itself over the surface of her glass flesh and the clothes she wore over it. The lines grew more fine and numerous until Ramona all but disappeared under a verdant wave.
Surprised, it was now Ramona’s turn to step back, staring at her glowing green cocoon. “I thought it was supposed to make me look like me? Is something wrong?”
“Not at all.” Felix turned and jogged over to his lab table, from which he took a too-thick palmtop computer. On his way back over to her, he thumbed through a few screens. “”This is the boot-up sequence: it’s using the same piezoelectric systems that simulate tactile sensation to map out the surface of your body and your involuntary movements. That should be done in three, two…”
He waited for at least a silent five count before, “One.”
The green disappeared and the colors of Ramona’s clothes returned. Her translucent skin, however, was mapped over with a matte tan color that might have been in the range of human skin tones, but lacked the texture or variation. That soon changed as the system started adding layers: the slight natural translucence of human skin, the microscopic texturing of pores, the fine hairs, the inconsistencies, blemishes and moles.
Over the course of thirty seconds, Ramona Getty became her old self; olive skin, brown eyes, black hair and all.
She gasped and raised her hands up before her eyes for inspection. Her eyes widened in awe.
Felix’s voice cut through her reverie. “It’s not for continual use though.”
The spell was broken. It was as if someone had thrown a freezing bucket of water over her. “What? Why?”
“Batteries.” Felix cringed after saying that. “Look, there are two hundred and fifty-six microlasers packed into something the size of a watch. Combine that with the receiver and the screen and the chip that controls that… not a lot of room for a battery. As it is, the one you’ve got is a crazy-expensive prototype. It’s got six hours of active charge in it, and to give you an idea of how much juice we’re talking here, it could run the whole living area here for thirty.”
There was nothing for it. Ramona nodded in acknowledgment of her defeat.
Ever the most empathic of the group, Felix frowned to match the one Ramona was concealing. “S-sorry, but it’s the best I could do. Sure you can’t run it all the time, but with this, you can hang out in public without showing off your new powers.”
“You still manage to make this…” Ramona brandished her hands even though they looked normal and human at the moment, “…this sound like something good and exciting.” She shoulders slumped and in doing so, dropped several inches lower than anyone else’s could. “Sometimes you make me wish I could believe it.”
Felix moved away, busying himself with tidying up a work bench. “Like I said back when this first happened: I’ve been there.” To illustrate, he held out his arm. “This happened when I was still pretty young. You can imagine how the other kids I knew were. Made me think everyone thought like that; that my life would be nothing thanks to my replacements.”
He looked up with his bright, childlike smile. “But you know what? I started tinkering, finding out what I can do. I’m not super-strong out of my armor because I’ve still got a human spine, but I can run faster, get a better grip, punch harder, and I can bake without oven mitts because unlike all the other dudes out there, I can turn off the heat detection on my hands.” He did a little jazz hands motion as a finisher.
“It can be like that for you too. I can help. The others can too. If we all work together, we can figure out exactly what it is you can do.”
His eyes met hers, searching for some reaction. Thanks to the watch, she wasn’t translucent anymore and her expressions were more easily readable. Except the expression itself as neutral if anything. “Um… or not. I was just spit-balling here. You know how I do: I tinker.”
Finally, Ramona found the words to speak. “I don’t think I can say yes or no right now. I never expected you to come up with something like this, and… I really want to enjoy my six hours a day of being me right now.”
“Hey, no pressure.” Felix put up his hands as if to suggest he was being hands-off with whatever she chose. “But if you want to enjoy your six hours today, I know for a fact that Ray is up in his room working on homework. Somehow, I suspect he’ll be up for a break if you ask.”
Ramona looked down at her hands. They looked like they used to. Like the hands of the woman Ray had been attracted to months ago. But they would only be like that for a quarter of every day. Would that be enough?
“Seriously, you should go ask him,” Felix deadpanned, “When I told him what I was working on, he was super-excited about the idea that you would be willing to go out in public again.”
“We weren’t really ‘going out’ before,” said Ramona. Their relationship was strange to say the least. They met, flirted a little and then she was suddenly shading a house with him while his best friend worked on treating her medical condition.
Felix grinned toothily. “Never said you were. That doesn’t mean he didn’t wish you had.”
“I thought you said you didn’t interfere with each other’s love life.”
“Technically, I’m interfering in yours. I figured that’d be safe because we’re nowhere near any ponds.”
Ray had grown to appreciate the irony of studying Business Ethics on D3I’s dime. Knowing what he did about them now, he had the urge to send them one of this textbooks. Then again, Zales was in charge there now and he didn’t know if the daoine mesmer could even read English. With a power like his, he wouldn’t have to.
The past week had been dedicated to the history of business ethics, which left him wondering if anyone who took the class ever went on to be in charge of a large business. His assignment for the next day’s class was a paper on the End User License Agreement. It was a miracle the computing age even survived that kind of crap.
A knock on the door snapped him out of a fit of retroactive anger over the long-outlawed practice. “Come in,” he called, tapping the save key.
If he said the last person he expected opened the door, that wouldn’t be true: there was still a lower chance that Icthiani would do so than Ramona.
Especially this Ramona. He’d only just started picturing her glass appearance when he thought of her. How, there she was, standing there looking exactly as she had the first day he’d met her—except for the stylish new watch on her arm.
Good old Felix strikes again.
“Ramona.” He did his best to make it seem less of a big deal. He didn’t know for sure how she was taking it.
“Ray,” she replied with the exact same inflection. “Felix said you were due for a break.”
In spite of himself, Ray felt his eyebrows raise. Felix said what now? He waned to ask some questions, but Ramona was still standing there, the very image of vulnerability, subconsciously rubbing her shoulder and looking everywhere in the room but him. It was a more alien appearance for her than being made of glass. If there was anything Ramona Getty should never look in his opinion, it was vulnerable.
When he didn’t say anything, she filled the silence herself.
“I thought that if you did want a break, I thought maybe we could take a walk. You know, down to the cafe at the end of the block?”
Absolutely. Ray did not say because this was a sudden change from how things had been both before and after her ‘accident’. Early on, before she moved into the apartment, they ran into each other, sometimes because he went out of his way to make sure that happened. Thereafter, he’d always been the initiator and was always careful to couch it in terms that kept things friendly instead of romantic.
It made him concerned about why she was asking and made him hesitate.
Once again, Ramona took that as an invitation to fill the silence. “I’ve… only got six hours of battery life so…”
Ray blinked and shook his head. “No… I mean yes. Of course. I’d love to take a break… With you I mean.” Putting his tablet aside, he climbed off the bed and grabbed his shoes from under his desk. By the time he had them on, he also had his head on straight again.
“Sorry about that, I—it’s just that usually I’m the one asking.”
Ramona looked away. “I never noticed until I talked to Felix just now.” She tried her hand at a weak chuckled, but it sounded strange with her new physiology, so she gave that up immediately. “Things have been strange between us even before this, huh?”
“My life is strangeness.” Ray shrugged. “And except for the mind-controlling fairy man that secretly runs the company that writes my checks, I haven’t been disappointed yet.” He strode over to her and offered his arm in a gentlemanly fashion.
After just a moment of hesitation, Ramona put her arm through his. “I never asked but… you sound like you’re okay with… this—us.”
We have kind of been flirting since last semester,” Ray pointed out as they headed down the hall to the living room.
She gave him a sidelong glance, not sure if he was being serious. “That was before. I meant you seem okay with me being the way I am now. A lot of things have changed: I’m pretty sure kids are going to be out of the picture, I’m not even sure I can have sex like this or if it would be comfortable or wise on your part. I’m basically not human.”
Ray just shrugged. “You’re a descendant. Like me if you’ve forgotten. There’s a lot of folks out there that would say I’m not human either. Hell, there’s some dudes with a fondness for sheets and burning crosses that would call me subhuman without even knowing that much. Human is who you are, not what you are if you ask me.”
“You’re taking a Philosophy class this semester?”
“History of Social Inequality, actually.” He gave her a sly smile. “As for the other things, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Not saying I’m not interested, but if you want to get technical, we’re going out on out first date right now.”
Emboldened by his reactions, Ramona offered a matching smile. “And who says some of that won’t come up later tonight if you play your cards right, hero?”
“Then we’ll find out together, now won’t we?”
To Be Continued…