Princess Holy Aura: Chapter 15


Holly had had a bit of a jolt at the end of her first day of school...




Chapter 15.

"Holly, calm down and tell me what is wrong!" Trayne Owen struggled to keep from losing control and reverting to Silvertail. "You walked in the door and started talking so fast I can't make heads or tails of—"

"Dex is at my school!" she said, voice unsteady. "He was right there, getting on the bus, my God I was so lucky he didn't look at me, but he could have and someday he will and—"

"Holly!" he shouted. She jumped and fell silent.

"Thank you, Holly. Let's look at this slowly, please. You said that 'Dex' is at your school. You refer to your—to Steve's—friend Dexter Armitage, yes?"

"Yes. I—" At his glance, she managed to stop with great effort.

"I see. An interesting coincidence, if it is indeed coincidence. Though it is, in honesty, not that surprising a chance; there are after all only five high schools in reasonable distance of your old residence, and your friend Dexter walked from your house."

"Yeah. Yeah, I should've thought of that. Never asked him exactly where he was going to school, or if I did it was a couple years back and it never sank in. But—"

"But? Try to focus on your thoughts, Holly, not your feelings. Why were you so panicked, so 'freaked out,' by this discovery?"

"It's a secret! I don't want him to see me like this, it's not . . ." She trailed off, and flushed a deep rose. "Oh, God, I'm being an idiot, aren't I?"

"I wouldn't say idiot, but you—"

"He couldn't recognize me unless I came up and introduced myself—and then I'd have to give him some real evidence before even Dex would start to believe it. As far as he's concerned I'm just one more freshman in the sea of students. I could've done a 'crash-into hello' with him and he'd never have a clue." She smacked herself on her forehead. "Idiot, moron, clueless—"

"Holly, stop it!" He put a hand on her shoulder, feeling how small it was—especially in comparison to the massive shoulders Steve had once had. "You have two . . . personas, I suppose we could say, and it is inevitable that the responses of both will cause you problems at times. Dex is a very important friend to you-as-Steve, and it is thus only natural that you might find the idea of him unexpectedly discovering this secret upsetting, and not recognize the other aspects of the situation.

"Add to that your new body and mind's hormonal changes and your lack of experience in controlling a set of responses that are very different than those of Stephen Russ, and this reaction is entirely natural. This doesn't make you stupid, it makes you human, despite whatever superhuman capabilities Holy Aura may have."

He watched as Holly closed her eyes, hands balled into fists at her side, and stood there, breathing, not moving, for long moments.

Finally she opened her eyes and looked up sheepishly. "You . . . you're right, Dad. Silvertail. As usual, I guess. I remember being a teenage guy and my impulses getting all mixed up and out of my control. This is like that. But it's not the same."

"Of course not. Each body reacts differently, and as the proportion of hormones is different, it will cause different general responses. But I suspect you would find it nearly as difficult to deal with even if you were a teenage male. At your age you have memory but a long, long interval in which there has been little experience of the process of puberty."

Holly grimaced. "This part of being suddenly younger I could really do without. Along with the whole 'go back to high school' thing."

"I suppose that includes homework?"

"Yeah, there'll be a lot of that," she said with a sigh. "I can probably whip through a lot of it faster than most people, but still, it's gonna take time. Don't have much today, but I can see it coming." She sniffed the air. "Wow, what's for dinner?"

"Pot roast," he answered. "Something warm and filling after the first day, and I think you'll need it."

"I love pot roast. Hardly ever got a chance to make it myself, though."

"So anything relevant to our mission today?"

Her smile wasn't reassuring. "Oh, yeah." She told him about the security cameras.

"I saw them at the open house," Trayne Owen said.

"I'll bet you didn't quite get how extensive the system is. Every single hall has a two-way view, and the long halls have cameras spaced close enough together that they'll be able to identify anyone in the images. All the big spaces—gym, auditorium, and the outside areas of the grounds—have 'em too. The only places they don't have cameras are the bathrooms and the regular classrooms. If I have to change anywhere in the school, they'll either see me transform, or they'll know what classroom I came out of."

Trayne nodded. "You are correct; I was busy trying to understand the operation of the facility and the people I was meeting. This does pose a considerable threat to your anonymity."

"So can you do anything about it?"

"With this advance knowledge?" He thought for a moment, recalling both long-ago studies of enchantment and far more recent investigations into the workings of technology. "Yes, I believe so. There are several possible ways of addressing this problem; I may go there in my less-obtrusive form and test a few ideas."

"If there's a chance of our enemies already being around there, is it going to be smart of you to go anywhere near the school like that?"

He laughed. "It should be perfectly safe, Holly. I am no match for them in combat, true, but I am very experienced in avoiding detection and escaping threats. And I do not expect them to be terribly active there yet."

"All right. Just . . . be careful. I'm sure not going to make it through this mess without you."

"I appreciate the concern."

Past her crisis, Holly picked up her backpack and headed to her room, while Trayne Owen went back to the kitchen to see to dinner.

An hour and a half later, they sat down together. Trayne hadn't finished two bites when Holly asked, "So what's your problem today, Silvertail?"

"My problem? What do you mean?"

"Your expression hasn't changed much since resolving my silly panic attack; you still look really worried. So I figure there's got to be something else bothering you."

She is perceptive—as she must be, I am afraid—and a human face is, alas, much easier to read than a rodent's. "I had hoped to leave the subject for later," Mr. Owen said slowly. "But . . . yes, there is no point in dissembling. There is another matter of concern. Your people's investigative forces will become an element of increasing challenge to us."

"Huh?" She looked honestly puzzled. "I mean, sure, I get that the cops will be looking at these things and there's a lot of buzz after the first two events. But they don't show up until way after."

"They have not yet done so, no, but they may respond more quickly than we have seen thus far. Your own description of the school tells me that you have at least two law enforcement officers present on-site."

Holly bit her lip. "Oh. Hadn't thought about that before. You're right. But if our opponents are going to be things like the shoggoth or that rock-worm—"

"They will not," Trayne said, with conviction born of too many ages of experience. "Our adversaries will manifest in a variety of forms. Ultimately there will be battle, yes, but that battle may be presaged by far more insidious and subtle attacks and manifestations."

"But," Holly said after a moment, "they're still mostly going to be things that the cops can't find easily, and when the fighting starts most of 'em won't be things they can fight, right? So basically the police aren't really any different than civilians in this."

"In one sense you are correct, but in another you are terribly wrong, Holly. Physically, in many cases, they will be no more capable of acting than the ordinary people, but this era is vastly different than most of those which have preceded it. The interconnection of communications, the ability to instantly transmit information from one point to another, and—most worrisome to me—the organized and powerful ability to collate and analyze in detail masses of information, all provide a tremendous power for not your police as such, but more pervasive organizations such as your intelligence agencies, to use in ferreting out our identity and location. I do not believe our adversaries have grasped this as much as I, and will have relatively little hold on such organizations at first."

"Crap," Holly said, in a voice that somehow echoed Steve's. "But once they do get a clue, they'll be actively trying to use those agents to find us."

"I am afraid so. It was unlikely, though imaginable, that such agencies would drop investigations into the first incident, as isolated oddities are extremely difficult to probe and the nature of the event is so far outside of normal experience that they have few even speculative scenarios to deal with such an investigation.

"Now, however, they have a second data point, and one showing significant commonality with the first—a close geographic correspondence, the appearance of a creature both hostile and utterly unrelated to anything known to your science, and the defeat of the creature by what is obviously the same individual or one of a group of very nearly identical individuals."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm getting the picture, and my gaming brain doesn't like it any more than the rest of me. Forget surveillance cameras, we have to worry about their ability to monitor the net—phones and stuff. Shit, shit, shit . . ." She repeated the word several times like a mantra. "Silvertail, we're going to have to figure out how to keep them from tracking us down that way. I have to use the net for all sorts of stuff, and I'm sure that for some of our missions I'll be doing research that way—or maybe one of our Apocalypse Maidens will be a hacker. It'd sure fit some of the memes. But that big whistle-blowing on the NSA showed they can sort through a lot of traffic to get what they're after, and now they know to start looking around here."

He nodded. "Yes. Which drastically reduces the amount of information they need to sort, and thus increases their chance to extract relevant information. Fortunately, of course, supernatural beings generally are not communicating via cellular networks or e-mail, but in this era . . ."—he smiled wryly—"in this era I would expect that the Apocalypse Maidens may well be texting each other about crucial information. Yes, Stephen . . . Holly, this is the problem that has concerned me."

"Well, like they say," she said with a grin, "at least now we know. And knowing is half the battle!"

He found himself laughing aloud, knowing precisely the reference of memes so relevant. "Precisely so. The simpler half, unfortunately."

"But," Holly said, waving her fork as though raising her finger for emphasis, "we haven't done much to draw attention to us yet. As long as your ID work will hang together—"

"It will. Oh, if they for some reason truly develop a suspicion of you and me personally, a physical background check will show a mysterious lack of people recalling our existence, but there should be no lack of researchable details . . . and such people are often very satisfied by paperwork that aligns properly." He thought for a moment. "However . . . hmmm . . . yes, that will be a problem. I may have to find a way to insert some sort of prior indicators of electronic communication into their databases, ones that show, at least, Trayne Owen as having been sampled as any other citizen by their data-collection systems."

"Jesus. That's . . ."

". . . ambitious, yes." Despite that thought, he felt his heart lighter than it had been in a few days, and smiled. "Yet while their reach is great, and I am but one man . . . I also am a man old as all of them put together, and with subtle and powerful magic they suspect not at all." He nodded decisively. "You are right, Holly. Now that I know, I can at least cover our presence well. It will be up to us, going forward, to hide ourselves from these agencies."

"What's the real problem if they did find us, though?"

He blinked in startlement, as she went on, "I mean, if we fail, the world's gone blooey, and if we succeed, all that stuff gets erased and set back. So even if they do get a file on me a foot thick, it's gone once we're done."

He felt a frown creasing his face. That is an interesting question. But I know that this is a problem.

After a moment's thought he had the answer. He also suspected that in his original form, Steve would have quickly come up with the answer, but as Holly, Steve's memories were somewhat separate, and the trains of thought different. "The concern is that if they do manage to figure out, for example, that Holly Owen is associated with Princess Holy Aura, they could try to take you in as a 'person of interest.' The excuse—or rather, in this case, the fact—that you may be a threat to national security would justify doing so, and they would have no requirement to do so publicly or with due process."

"Could they hold me? I mean, I am Princess Holy Aura, right, and they can't shut that off, can they?"

"Without help from our opposite numbers, no. But they may well get such assistance, and even without it . . . Think about it."

He could see her expression go from puzzled to grim. "Oh. Sorry, I wasn't thinking along the right lines. Sure. First, all that'd have to happen is bad timing—them grabbing me up and having me, say, flown to Washington, just when the bad guys decide to unleash their next monster in downtown Schenectady or something. You said people killed by these things are going to be really, really dead in both timelines."

She glanced at him, and he nodded gravely. "And . . . ?" he prompted.

"Aaaand . . . if I have to bust out of their custody, I'd probably have to hurt people, which is like the opposite of my job. And I'd become a criminal from their point of view."

"Worse, you would represent a power they cannot control."

"Bugger, as one of my friends used to say. Sure. And if they can't control me, even if they accept I mean well, they can't be sure how I'll act. What if Princess Holy Aura turns out to be a radical activist? What if she decides to take her superhuman powers out to intervene in some foreign country or whatever? She's one teenage girl; she could do something perfectly well meaning and still trigger a war."

"Indeed. And of course that assumes that such agencies are basically benign. Some try to be . . . but there are others, or organizations within such agencies, that are far from benign. Those, especially once contacted by our adversaries . . . those will be malevolently interested in either securing and containing you, or manipulating you for their own purposes."

"Whoa. Are you telling me that there are actually evil intelligence agencies? I mean, yeah, I don't trust ours and they do things I'd consider evil, but—"

"There are, in fact, very old organizations—some tied in sidewise means to our adversaries, others quite independent—whose nature is secretive and whose goals are very much what you would consider evil. While magic, as such, is very weak in this world when the cycle has not come, it cannot be banned from the world entirely."

"Great. So not only am I going to be looking out for the monster of the week, but I have to worry about the cosmic Illuminati?"

The comment brought a brief smile to his lips. "Something of that nature, yes. Though even they, for the most part, would not want the triumph of Azathoth of the Nine Arms. And there are other forces of lighter motivation."

The smile faded. "But all of them have the potential to interfere . . . and even a small interference, at the wrong moment, could spell disaster—not merely for us, but for humanity itself."



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