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Chang Zha-Yang stirred. Sleep had come for her late in the night, with her body close to empty of its quantum reserves. She had spent it all on one last transformation to take her through her rest.

Her body had swollen and reshaped, morphing from a plush black leather couch into a large four poster bed with rich red blankets and diaphonous veils. Chang's torso occupied it, back and hair and limbs flowing away into the bed.

This choice did little to help her body absorb quantum. Her need for 'sleep' was not what it appeared. Chang could stay awake for weeks if she wanted to. The urge to sleep had been subsumed by her body's need to regenerate quantum, and perhaps a treacherous act on its behalf, knowing full well that if it did not somehow take her mind out of the game.

She had countered by molding herself into a bed each night. If she would be forced to sleep, to spend time just reabsorbing quantum, she would do it celebrating her changed nature. She had been doing this for over a year now, needing to sleep at least once every couple of days due to wearing her quantum out, So far her body had not adapted, but she believed it would given time.

Chang sat up, flesh stretching like rubber so she could. The sound of that pleased her ears, offering as pleasant a return to the world as she could have asked for. With a drawn out sigh, Chang began to suck herself back in. Covers, veils, posts, springs and mattress and sheets, all drew in, flowing back into delicate asian flesh, and in just a few moments she stood where her bed had been.

She upraised her arms and stretched out in all directions, lengthening her arms, legs, neck and torso at once, pushing to her simple physical limits. Once at those - eight meters in total, most of it torso - Chang coiled and writhed, winding and knotting her body with her arms, neck and one of her legs.

Gasping with a mix of joy and pleasure, Chang intensified, turned a simple waking up exercise into something far more serious. She tightened in some places, retracted in others to stretch elsewhere. She raised from one leg to her tiptoes, then to one toe, challenging her ability to balance, for her center of balance kept shifting due to her lengthening, knotting, and coiling body.

After ten minutes Chang lowered herself to the ground, wrapped her final leg into her mass, and settled.

Where once a woman had stood, there was now a near-sphere of flesh. She could have swelled into a perfect sphere if she liked, by redegining the overall shape of her body. For her waking exercises, though, Chang preferred to put herself through her paces. Forming a sphere out of her tangled limbs, using knots to forcibly squeeze and tighten herself where necessary, took effort. To turn her beautiful but uneven mass of breasts, limbs, hands, feet and especially her cock into anything approaching a sphere took effort.

She spent some time in this position, analyzing, trying to feel her shape just by the brush of air on her skin, by raw perception of the world around her.

Much to her annoyance, she could not quite determine it. This too, she felt, might be overcome in time.

Teras demanded challenge. She needed to find her limits and ram against them until they buckled and gave way. At times - the greatest times - she could feel those limits, as palpably as she could feel music in her ears or passion in her blood. As she rested in this crafted form, Chang felt a dim awareness of them dawning on her.

She controlled her breathing, hoping to see better, to get a feel for how close she might be to breaking free. Awareness of what was faded out, the faintest impression of what might be flowed in. A literal sight of herself, watching herself from somewhere else. As if another of her were crouched on the spiral stairs leading to her music floor, looking down.

But that lasted only a moment or two. Possibilities burst like fireworks, future maybes came and went too fast for her to identify any of them.

Then out of nowhere there came a solid image. A nova - female and beautiful but unspecific beyond that - sleeping in the bed-Chang. Her blanket tight on their body, her mattress supporting their weight...

A heavy rubbery groan filled the air as Chang pulled herself out of her shape, dragging feet, hands and head out of the tight knots that had compressed and squeezed them down. She unfolded, planted her hands and smoothly rose into a handstand, from there planted both feet and stood.

Chang let out a quick breath, and posed as a gymnast might at the end of a punishing routine. "So much for a restful night's sleep," she said with her perfect voice, and smiled.

She walked to the bathroom, winding her hair into a single braid that hovered an inch off the carpet, bouncing back and forth as she moved.

Her hair was not alone in that. Her cock had stiffened, now over two feet long and as thick as her thigh.

A third leg indeed.

Chang stroked her fingers down the length of her shaft, then rapped them on its surface, thinking. What had brought that on?

It took a minute or two for the stiffness to fade. Her wondering went unanswered. That bothered her. She set part of her mind to work on the issue.

Chang's bathroom was atypical. It had no toilet. She had removed that last night, shut off the plumbing that would have gone into it, and used that corner of the room instead for her security cameras. Long ago she had recognized that her evolution needed an outside perspective. With nobody she could call a close friend to share her thoughts with, and unable to see herself from outside for obvious reasons, she had resorted to base technology for the meantime.

A folding screen separated the cameras and screens from the bathtub and shower, as well as her wash basin and the all-important cabinet above it with a mirror on the front. She had painted the screen with a vivid depiction of a night sky over a burning wasteland, a top-down perspective so real that an observer could imagine themselves looking on a true apocalypse from between the stars. The detail was such that individual devices and vehicles could be picked out of the mountains of twisted metal that dotted this imagined landscape, and the morbid or informed could see the signs of heat-warping and massive destructive force on the ruins.

Chang had not been in the best of moods when she painted it.

She looked into her mirror, into her own strange eyes. Right now, the left eye had adopted a shade of red like fresh red blood, clean of impurities, while the right had a brilliant purple colour, as if stolen from the clearest rainbow the mind could fathom. A white raindrop hung under her crimson eye, the reminder of her self-made oath, tattooed into her flesh just months after her eruption. Even back then she had sworn that her eruption meant two things: an end, and a beginning. She had sworn to die in spirit to be reborn anew, to wipe away the ruin of a person she had become in order to grow into something wondrous.

Not a huge surprise she ended up on the path of Teras, all considered. Really, even if she had never heard the word, never talked to Orzais or Scrambler or Narcosis or any of the other members of today's Teragen, she would have been working on something like Teras herself. She wished she could have met Caroline Fong and asked her how she came up with the philosophy, but Fong had been first underground, and then gone from the movement by the time Chang had made her first firm step on the path to chrysalis.

Perhaps that had contributed to her current status. Even in the first days with Scrambler, Chang had felt Caroline was the one she needed to speak to the most. She had played a huge part in Teras' creation, everybody admitted it. So who could give Chang better advice? But it had seemed too arrogant, too presumptuous to even suggest it back then.

It probably would have been even now, but Chang would have made the effort anyway. She had learned the lesson Scrambler had never wanted to teach: in theory at least, Teras made them all equals. The divisions came only in wisdom and power, and the whole principle was that those with it helped pass it down to those who lacked it.

Chang liked to believe she would not have been rebuffed. On the other hand, maybe it was better that she had never had the chance. It had forced her to do it all herself since leaving her mentor behind. If she succeeded, would the success not mean so much more?

She put a finger to her raindrop tattoo. Like a prayer, she reiterated the laws of her path, the laws of her life. Then she opened up the cabinet behind the mirror and took out the little box of pills.

The chinese characters that made up the word 'moxinoquantamine' were scrawled on the side. She turned it over in her hands, considering all the many ways she could ease her journey. Drugs to give her pleasure - enough to forget thoughts of sex or love or even friendship - drugs to reduce quantum intake and thus decrease the chance of taint accumulation, drugs to control and ease quantum use to make it easier to explore her powers.

Her second daily reminder. This time, of all the things that could make her life easier, so that she could refuse them every day. She put the pills back in the cabinet and closed it.

Next she pushed the folding screen aside and brought up last night's security footage. She put it on accelerated speed and watched her own actions, tried to recall her thoughts at the time. Seeing herself set up the apartment at accelerated speed dragged a chuckle out of her. Even on normal speed she moved at a blur, with it 'accelerated', she found it necessary to enhance her perceptions to even see herself at times. It looked like a camera trick she knew they often used in the movies when depicting the insane or the confused, or the reverse of the XWF camera techniques used to let baselines see what happened in the silver circle matches.

Eventually it came to the night, her long watching of the television blending into her sleeping time, then waking into her stretching exercise. Here she watched at normal speed, and soon frowned in disappointment.

What she felt had been close to a sphere was more a bulbous oval with bits sticking out. A decent metaphor for Divis Mal's famous chicken and egg metaphor in the Null Manifesto, but not what she had been going for. Still, enough for her to work with.

Chang spread a cloth on the bare tiles of the floor and sat upon it, then settled to meditate. The part of her mind that had been considering her unexpected erection came back to the fore, with its considerations, and they blended into her thoughts on yesterday's events.

The next two hours passed in a blaze of perception, thought, and imagination. Her node opened to the world like a flower roaring at the sun, drinking in the quantum Chang cruelly denied it during most of her waking hours. Her thoughts surged like a river around it, as she considered her own emotional state, her choices, her actions. Nothing went unconsidered or undoubted. Everything was recast from the point of multiple motivations, from basest hate and venom to noblest self sacrifice, seeking justifications from those points of view in order to better determine where she stood.

Her behaviour towards the captain of the plane and the maintenance crew became a focal point of her meditations, linking to her attitude towards the small media splash her arrival had created and this morning's unexpected erection. That in turn linked into her strange thought of having someone sleep in her, that to sex, and sex to her last real relationship, and how it had felt to suck the woman into her body and hold her there. Of course, that in turn dragged her mind over the coals of the tears and horror that followed, the lawsuit, the end of what she had thought might be love.

Chang rose out of meditation feeling refreshed, flooded anew with quantum, her mind ablaze with new perspectives and considerations.

The biggest discovery she had, now, was that her soul ran from sex. Oh, she thought about it. She had considered it in great detail, wondered even why she threatened rape on the plane's captain when she had other, simpler weapons. Her soul ran, but her body seemed eager, possibly desperate, to embrace it.

Still, no conclusions had been drawn. Never to be stymied, though, Chang had drawn conclusions from her lack of conclusions. Nothing else slowed her so, nothing else made her slide around and avoid the issue.

Since she had sucked Olga into her body and experienced pleasure unlike anything she could have thought of before, Chang had not once had sex. She had resisted seduction from a few more than appealing men in Ibiza. She had not even tried to masturbate in earnest. The only pleasure in her life - of that sort at least - had come from stretching and changing herself, and even then it was not the same sort, just part of a comparable scale.

Somehow, somewhere, she had begun to repress something. A separation had begun, her mind and body were not united. That had to stop. How could she ever come to terms with her future evolution if she could not even come to terms with herself?

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A few minutes later, Chang molded her lower torso into a swivel chair at her OpNet terminal and logged onto the local network. She had left her breakfast cooking on the stove, a simple but dense mix of rice and spiced chicken. While technically she would be serving it into a bowl, the bowl had the dimensions of a bucket.

Changed or not, her appetite had not yet diminished.

She observed the exchanges between the other local novas. Sunshine. Ghostwriter. Einherjar. Bombshell of course, others besides and newcomers like herself, as well. Cecilia Rey and Iron Rose, Mainframe and others. Most of them were names she had never heard before, and many recent eruptees.

It felt a little strange. Chang rarely felt old, but she had been a nova for nine years, and at thirty years all told she looked rather long in the tooth compared to some of these amazing newcomers.

She spent some time bringing up additional information, familiarizing herself with known details, abilities and actions. Sunshine stuck out immediately. The so-called 'child of the Crush', born amidst the devastation. He seemed to be an amnesiac, one of the 'reborn' as Scrambler had once referred to them, and innocently oblivious to the world around him. He would learn, of course.

Reading the files reminded her of how little age meant to novas. Growth and power came from different scales. Some of these - undoubtedly her juniors - made her seem a mental midget. Others would turn her into paste with nary a moment's thought.

The news of this upcoming charity event stuck out as most relevant. It seemed like everybody would be attending. Perhaps she ought to appear as well.

Perhaps not.

Nothing in her beliefs cut her off from contact with baselines. The idea that novas could somehow cut themselves off from baseline attentions while remaining on earth stood as singularly the stupidest idea she had ever heard - no matter who had initially put it forward. So long as baselines were even mildly interested in nova affairs, some sort of contact would be unavoidable. Indeed, Narcosis' Pandaimonion built itself on that assumption, and on turning baseline opinion and desires toward the benefit of novas.

Besides, even in the ideal world of a peaceful nova nation alongside this fully developed baseline world, could baselines ever feel safe without seeing evidence of that peace in action? That idea she needed to discuss at some point, and find out if some enterprising Terat had made it sound workable. None of the various essays or conversations she had been involved in with Scrambler had left her feeling convinced. In fact, she had described it as 'utopian twaddle'.

Chang had lost a few friends over that comment.

So. She could attend without fear of irreperable damage to her future. But would it serve a useful purpose? The event's obvious intention was to ease the suffering of the baselines who had survived and been affected by the Victoria Crush. Before coming to Vancouver, Chang had already donated all the excess money she possessed to the primary Crush relief fund, and what would the baselines gain from her physical presence other than disquiet?

Chang paused for a few moments, and as before with her sexual instincts, set a piece of herself to work analyzing her thoughts on the subject. The actual action she took would not matter, only purity of intent. To work out one, she needed to work out the other.

The timer for her food buzzed, loud and dischordant, and Chang bent her arms backward then stretched them out across her studio floor. She clenched her teeth, pushed herself as hard as she possibly could, and slammed quantum through her body hard enough that it burned. She stretched farther, easier, lengthening her torso now, twisting herself like rope.

In a blur, she took the rice and the meat pan from the stove, mixed them together in a large bowl and molded two of her fingers into chopsticks. She moved her mouth over there to eat, spouted a fleshy tendril from the part of her at the terminal and split it into fingery fronds to continue browsing.

Now her body consisted of the swivel chair, her legs and belly with a hand-tendril stretching out from her navel to flicker over the keyboard, while her torso, neck and arms were stretched thin across the length of the studio to the kitchen, where her elongated neck and two fingers of one hand fed rice and meat into her mouth.

With a sudden surge, however, Chang stretched her maw gaping wide around the bucket-like bowl of rice, engulfing it all in a single glorious gulp.

She snapped back across the room, her belly a little bloated by the bowl's presence inside her. Internally she began to 'taste' individual bits of rice, sorting it out from the meat, 'swallowing' it in sequence.

Chang had begun to find this a far more enjoyable method of feeding. It tasted better. The process lasted longer. It was simply better. She had not decided to force herself into it yet, though. With eating being such a primal need she felt it right to follow her instincts, and felt confident that given a year or less she would no longer even consider eating with hands or knives or chopsticks.

Another thirty minutes passed, with Chang browsing more and more OpNet threads, working through her meal. When she had finished the rice she moved onto the bowl, beginning to take it apart and absorb it. Her body found it no more difficult to draw nutrition from than the rice, and it tasted no worse. She had the sudden strange idea of spicing the bowl next time, in preparation for this stage.

That one thought seemed so singularly odd - yet also correct and valid - that Chang paused everything else and made a mental note of it.

The day, she thought, had started on the right note.

Finally she logged off the local OpNet network and switched feed to her own, private server. Only a select few could message her or get access here without hacking into it, not that her security was especially tight.

It had been a few days since she visited the server, and there were a few messages waiting her attention. Surprising ones.

Noah Antwiler - her primary art dealer in the US area and the only one she maintained regular contact with - had contributed six separate messages. She flicked through them at speed and deleted them.

They were all in the same vein. 'Heard you left Greece. Make anything good?' 'Lot of people want to see some more White Rain brilliance. What have you got for me, queen?' 'What's this about your donations to the Crush? If you're in a mood to splash money, why not on some PR? Nobody knows what you're up to, Rain. It'd help us both.' And the last: 'You're in Vancouver now? Are you working on that new album you mentioned last time? You should do some photography in the Crush. I bet it'd be worth a ton.'

Though it seemed a touch racist to say it, Noah's behaviour very much followed the pattern of a stereotypical Jew. Money occupied much of Noah's interest, and he knew how to generate large amounts of it both for her and him. It made him useful.

After him, there were the tougher ones.

Olga, after several years, had sent her a message. So had Scrambler.

Chang's cursor hovered over the message title: 'I'm ready to talk if you are'.

She did not press. The title brought forth a storm of feelings. Mostly indignation and anger. Old Teragen vernacular raced to the forefront of her mind. How dare she? Some damn monkey addressing her like that, after taking her to court, after accusing her of rape. She should of treated her like the bowl digesting inside her. Like food to be eaten.

The rage passed. Her hands clenched on the terminal. Chang's edges had grown... sharp. Her skin, all over, had gained edges, a little like the skin of a shark.

With directed thought she smoothed herself out once more, and folded her hands beneath her chin. She clicked on the message.

"Those thoughts were unworthy of me," she muttered. To speak it made it so. It would be on the cameras now. She would be able to see what she said, and remember this storm of uncontrolled emotion. Olga had earned a response.

'Hello, Chang. It's Olga.

I know we didn't part on good terms. It was a mistake to take you to court. You didn't mean it like that. After what we shared, maybe we should meet up? Maybe talk?

I'll be coming into Vancouver for a fashion shoot on the twentieth. Let's meet up.'

Chang read it over and over. She brought up the attachment, a picture of Olga in a swimsuit from a recent russian fashion magazine. A beautiful, sharp-featured woman, airbrushed perfect in the picture, her toned body squeezed into a silvery bikini and her long blond hair spread artfully on the poolside tiles.

Well, the photographer probably thought it was artful, at least. They had come together because Chang liked her general look but found the photographer's work disgusting and insisted on putting her own hand at it.

She had raised Olga from a minor model to one of Russia's hottest in just six months.

The same feelings that had brought them together back then did not stir. Rather, she felt a sense of faint sadness. Did Olga hope to take advantage of her abilities?

Chang did a quick OpNet search, cycling through into the Russian networks and checking for hits on Olga's name. By the looks of things her fame had diminished.

Nonetheless, she went back to the message and replied:

'Talking is my speciality

I'll put some time aside. It'll be interesting to catch up and see how you are. I'm sure we've both changed somewhat since we last met.'

She sent it.

The other message she studied for the longest time, and considered deleting, but in the end just put to one side to read properly in the evening. She imagined she would need to meditate on the correct response.

Scrambler had sent her a message. The first since their split five years ago.

'Figure I owe you one last chance.'

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Chang Zha finished with her OpNet for the day and stretched her body out toward the roof, easily reaching the upper area reserved for her music. Her face and chest molded into her legs, her legs into her chest and head, and she walked to the various stands she had set up along the back wall. The red lacquer box which held her pen and pad lay directly behind her, awaiting her attention.

She had her decision for the charity event. She would await an invitation.

Baselines no longer mattered to her, novas did. They were her peers, potentially her friends and perhaps one day even countrymen if a nova nation did come about. If they invited her, she would go.

She stretched out one of her arms and ran her hands over the various instruments, trying to fit one to the song she could feel bubbling out from that deep well inside her that never ran out of things to do or say. Sometimes, thought alone did not suffice. She needed to touch.

Her fingers tripped over them all in sequence, her arm stretching longer and longer, then it snapped back, and brought her hand to the bamboo flute that had begun her musical life.

Chang picked it up. Her eyes were fixed straight ahead, staring at the wall. She almost never moved her head these days, save when it made movement a touch more convenient. She kept her head equally still when she put the flute in her mouth and stretched both of her arms down behind her. She opened the red lacquer box, removed the old-fashioned tape recorder, pen and pad, and considered.

Betrayal flooded her mind right now. Thoughts of Olga and Scrambler attached themselves to that word, for opposite reasons. Olga had betrayed her, Chang had betrayed Scrambler though the act of loyalty to herself.

The song would encapsulate those opposed betrayals.

Her long, long arms poised, awaiting her will.

Chang Zha's eyes began to twitch and move. She felt a tension in the surface of them, and knew her eyes were changing colour, as they did periodically. Times of inspiration made it happen faster and more often. Her thoughts rolled over the concept, the emotional core of the thing, and the music which had to bring it out.

She crafted a ballad of sorts, a sentiment that began low in the belly but surged up high in the heart, as one betrayal crushed and the other exalted, one denied and the other affirmed. The flute would begin low and slow, like a soft wail on the wind, but surge to a brilliant climax.

Quantum flowed, her hand became a blur, and a complete song snapped into being on the page, words and music score combined. She hit play on the recorder.

Chang snapped her arms back up and gripped the flute with flawless, natural poise. She closed her eyes, a symbolic movement, and gave herself over to the music.

She blew air into the flute, listened close to the sound of the air scraping off the interior of the flute before it reached the air holes, adjusted the air flow until the sound inside and out reached the perfect pitch. She opened her throat, shaping the air flowing out of her into words, so that she sang and played at once.

The next four and a half minutes were composed of instinct, inspiration and raw emotion. One voice became two, two became three, mixing harmony and dischordance, joy and rage, weaving a raw and bleeding emotional tale until the conclusion, where harmony returned for a glorious, self-affirming climax.

'Anew', the first track of what would eventually be White Rain's next album, ended with a long, sweet held note, which finally raised a few octaves, wavered, then went to silence.

A smile played on Chang's lips. With one finger she set her flute to spinning, and balanced it on one finger for a full thirty seconds, then tossed it back at its pedastal. It landed perfectly, safely, undamaged.

She had begun to think of the monk who had given the flute to her, and to wonder if perhaps she ought to seek him out, when there came a most unsubtle interruption to her day.

A great crack of air rang out, and a glowing, man-high oval of light formed in the middle of the studio on the ground floor.

Chang watched, standing on the edge of the raised floor near the spiral stairs, her prehensile hair now ankle length and curling around her feet.

After a moment, Borealis stepped out of the warp. He had what might be called a 'heroic' jawline, square and hard, suggesting strength and pride. He wore a tight-fitted eufiber bodysuit in the white and red colours of Northern Lights, Canada's national superteam. His movements were fluid, graceful, betraying his athlete's background, enhanced a thousandfold by the eruption to make him a vision of masculine achievement. He had shaved his head recently, but grown a neatly clipped goatee that darkened his chin.

He looked around, then up, and gasped then turned away. "Don't you wear clothes, woman?"

Chang put her left hand on her hip. "An interesting question. I'll answer yours if you answer mine. Do you routinely intrude in the homes of young eligible women or are you making an exception for me?"

"Definitely making an exception. Please put some clothes on. And put that away."

Chang flowed quantum into every cell of her being, and liquified. Her flesh ran like wax and she poured in a mass down to the ground floor, splashed and pulled herself back together, then reformed standing. As she hardened herself she wrapped her hair tight around her body, weaving it into a black dressing gown patterned with fyreflies that shimmered with her every step or movement. Underneath it, she wrapped her hair around her cock and dragged down to make it less noticeable.

"I am now decent, Borealis."

He hesitantly turned to look, then faced her. "Thank you. I promise, I wouldn't do this normally. But nothing about you's normal, is it?"

Chang's face was turned toward the front door, so that she looked past him. She did not answer, nor even make a sound.

Borealis stroked his bald head. "This is awkward." He looked around him. "Can we sit down?"

Chang approached him, and with a great rubbery twisting sound reshaped her body into a reclining chair. She formed her head out of the top of the chair, and a hand from the right side, then beckoned him to sit.

He looked like she had offered him a bag full of roadkill. "What is that?"

She recognized the sentiment behind the question, though it could have been better worded. Chang sent another quantum surge through her body, and this time swelled her full torso out of the chair, stretched her legs out and flowed them into a smooth wooden table, shining with apparent varnish, and a second chair for Borealis. She gestured to the other chair, and leaned back into herself. She focused her eyes on the other chair, hoping he might follow the hint. Her eyes meant nothing to her, but she knew they mattered to him.

Borealis took a deep breath and folded his hands across his chest. "Miss Yang, I'm trying to meet you halfway here. I'm trying to do this discreetly, without any sort of fuss. So given I'm going out of my way on your behalf, can you please stop fucking with me?"

Chang turned her head to look at him. She had assumed Borealis knew she had no need to look at him. Maybe he did, and did not understand. "You have a strange perspective, Mr. Jericho, since it seems we are on first name terms."

That took him aback, as though he had heard the single strangest collection of words imaginable. "Me?" He looked over the chairs and table of Chang's body. "I have a strange perspective?"

Chang nodded. "You seem to believe I am being rude. Am I correct in that?"

He gave a simple, but graceful shrug, full of masculine force. "That'll do."

"Had I offered you a chair and table manufactured in some province of my home country, bought by base money, you would have taken that as quite the opposite. Yet I twist my body to your comfort, quite literally give of myself, and you take that as an insult. I find that strange, personally."

Borealis frowned, then. He made to speak, then stopped. "Hmm." He said, and then looked at the chair she had made for him.

She could see it in his face: the confusion, the disgust. They were undirected, stabs of feeling that took him by surprise, especially now that she had faced him with such a calm, rational response. "You feel that you are being unfair, don't you?" She made no effort to be 'normal' now. Rather she spoke in four, repeating the phrase just a moment later to create a harmonious, unnatural echo. Used in her songs, nobody thought twice. Used in speech, it had a rather different effect. "You want to give me a chance, but something inside you is in the way. You don't know what it is, and you can't refuse it either. Does it make you feel like a bigot, Mr. Jericho?"

Borealis' brows drew together, like beetles mating. "God. What the fuck is wrong with you? I didn't come here for a fight, you know! Look at me when I'm speaking to you!"

So he did not know. Or had forgotten. Chang did not turn her head quite yet, though. She would have preferred to keep the conversation on a basis of mutual respect. "I am looking at you, Mr. Jericho. Would it be more comfortable for you if I pretended to be blind? Must you barge into my home and continue to insult me?"

He had the look now of someone who saw a situation spiralling out of control, and had no wish to let it do so. Borealis raised both of his hands, as if to hold off any further words. "Okay. Let's back up and redo this. I guess I didn't prepare enough, I've been a bit rude. Sorry." He moved toward the free seat, shifting uncomfortably, though never in such a way that he looked less than perfectly in control. He gestured at Chang. "I don't get greeted quite like this very often."

Chang smiled. "I believe you mean that, so I accept your apology. And I'll make a small concession for you." She made sure to keep her eyes focused on him, to improve his comfort.

Borealis sat, frowning, almost stood back up, then sighed and lay right back. "Let me ask this. Do you have to do this? This way, I mean. Do you have to be," he broke off, licked his lips, for a moment looked away from her, and then said, "weird?"

"Yes. Let's move on, Mr. Jericho. You came here for a reason. What is it?"

Borealis cracked his knuckles, and all of a sudden seemed more comfortable. "I want to have a little chat about your coming to Vancouver. Don't say anything. I know you're a Teragen sympathizer. I also know about that money you donated to the Crush fund. Papers helped a bit with that. Now from what I know, those two things have a bit of an argument going on. Teragen are terrorists, hell, it's all in the name. 'Terror'-gen." He even made little 'air quote' marks with his fingers, and smiled, but Chang did not laugh. He shrugged.

"Well I find it funny," he said, and rubbed his goatee. "What I want to know is whether you're going to be a problem for Canada. Whether you're going to bring more of that poison into my land. We got people hurting now, they don't need any more trouble, not from anybody." A look of iron came into his eyes now, a palpable threat. "Are you going to be trouble?"

"It was rather low on my agenda for the day. I doubt I'll get round to it."

"Cute." His eyes had, during their conversation, tracked downward by inches until now he stared directly at her triple breasts. "Well," he said, and pulled the line of his vision up to Chang's face, though in truth he seemed no more comfortable looking into her eyes, "I'd also like to know why you're here. Maybe for curiousity."

That seemed a fair question. "I have a new album itching at my mind. When I heard about the Crush, it seemed like perfect inspiration."

Borealis leaned forward and slammed his hands on the table. Pain lanced through Chang's body, but she neither gasped nor started. She did not allow herself to. He had forgotten, it seemed, and in his anger did not seem likely to remember. "Are you fucking kidding me? People have died down there, Chang! People are in mourning, and you're coming here to sing songs about it?"

Chang looked up at him, and felt fear stirring in her heart. Borealis' face, twisted with wrath, brought up thoughts of pain, destruction and violence. She kept it off her face with an effort of will. "Did you shout at Bombshell when she sang amid the ruins?"

He drew up to his full height for a moment, staring down his nose at her as if on the most contemptible thing in the world. Then it broke, and he sat, seeming to forget the strangeness of his seating. Borealis stroked his hand over his bald pate. "You weren't there. It was different. She sang because she wanted people to hear something other than their own sobs. And maybe so the dying heard something nice before they went. The point is, you weren't there. You don't have the right."

"Your opinion is noted. And ignored."

Borealis glared at her. "You're pushing my limits, lady."

"You're trespassing in my home. I think I have the moral advantage. Why are you objecting so strongly, I wonder? Do you hate my music so much?"

That brought about a rapid, and total chance in his posture. He leaned back in the chair, with a wry smile on his face. "Nope. Actually I bought all your albums. Might be your biggest fan in the quote unquote 'superhero' game. It's just... don't you think that's disrespectful? I heard on the grapevine that you'd become tainted." His eyes roamed over her body now, staring hard into her eyes, then down at her breasts and back up again. "I mean, you look weird as hell. You feel weird. I don't deal with people like you often. Guess that shows, right? What I'm getting at, is I didn't figure you'd lost touch."

"You assume I ever had touch."

"You changed after you joined them. I'm sure of that."

"You're correct to assume that much. You might not be correct to assume I'm still a member of the Teragen. To be honest, I don't really know. It's not something I'm worried about. I'm sure one of them will be in touch one day to let me know," she said, aware intently in that moment of the unread message from Scrambler. 'One more chance' he said. In the title, at least.

Borealis studied her in the brief quiet that followed. "Something tells me they've already been in contact. Not sure you're fond of that idea. That's good enough for me. You probably think I'm made of shit right now, but I'm really not. I don't mean to intrude. And I don't get you!" He rose and began to pace. "The way you talk you'd think you were from Mars! Yet you donated... what was it, two million US dollars? Three?"

Chang considered stony silence. But she believed him when he said he did not want to intrude, or to bother her. It seemed that something worried him terribly, and he wished she would put his fear to bed. "Will you promise to tell nobody if I answer?"

"Sure," Borealis said, coming to a halt at the red line on the carpet which marked out where her painting area began.

"Six point eight million, actually."

His jaw dropped. "You fucking kidding me?"

"I had some money lying around, January turned out to be profitable."

"And you're coming here to make music off these people? You know they're hurting."

"That is not my concern. Nor is my business yours."

He frowned at her, as if she were some sort of odd puzzle he had not expected to see. "I don't get it. I used to listen to 'Four Crosses Bare' a lot. You seemed so... empathic. You know? I can't believe the same woman sung those songs, and is sitting here talking to me like this."

With a great rubbery twisting sound, Chang retracted returned herself to ordinary proportions, reabsorbing the chairs and table. He had forgotten, and were he a lesser man might have gasped. Instead all of his muscles tensed, as if in preparation to defend or attack. Chang realized that she had not formed clothes. Her cock stood out, thick and prominent. She clad herself in her gown a second time, and Borealis seemed to calm down a little more.

"Perhaps," Chang said, "I still am empathic. Or perhaps the woman you thought you knew, was never this one. You're well aware - I assume - of the circumstances around the report of my donation?"

Borealis nodded. "Your old record company hired a detective. He found out more than you wanted."

She shrugged. "Anything would have been too much. Given that I was not screaming to the heavens about my donation, perhaps you can draw some conclusions from that."

"I can't! It don't make no sense. Who does that? You don't give a shit about these people but you donate six and a half million dollars to them? Who does that?" He looked flabbergasted, incredulous.

"Me, obviously. I'm a different woman now, Borealis. What my music means for me may not be what it means for you. Neither of us knows the other, so let us not make assumptions, and we will both be wiser for it."

Borealis sighed. He seemed disappointed. "Okay. Fair enough. Look, I have things to do. There was one other thing that worried me. Canada's more or less its own territory. I'm a little worried that Project Utopia could come storming into Vancouver if your Teragen buddies turn up. Again, we've got too much trouble right now, and we don't need more."

Chang cracked a smile. "I can promise that there's no grand reunions planned in the near future. As for Project Utopia, should they knock on my door, I'm not stupid enough to put up a fight. Especially since I have nothing whatsoever to tell them that could be of interest."

"Alright. I guess that'll do. I'll go now."

He reached out, no doubt already calling forth his quantum to summon an exit warp.

"May I call you Kyle for a moment?"

Borealis paused. He chuckled. "Sure, why not?"

"Kyle. Your powers are beautiful. I've seen you light up the sky. That is... impressive. Would you create light for me? For a photograph, perhaps?"

He shook his head. "Once I would have liked to. You feel all wrong. I'd just rather go."

"Of course. I hope your fears are eased. Goodbye, Borealis. Thank you for the visit. It was an interesting break to my day."

"Just stay out of trouble there, you hear?" Borealis nodded, then punched at the empty air. A huge oval of light formed, he stepped through, and disappeared.

Chang stood in place for several long minutes. Then she made her way over to her OpNet terminal, rebooted, and opened up the message Scrambler had sent to her.

'Figure I Owe you One Last chance.

'Burned a favour to find out what my favourite student's been doing with her life. Six million to a zip kleenex fund? Fuck me with a broomstick, Chang, you've lost your way bad. I got worried about you towards the end, but I never figured you could slip so far. Remember when we used to talk about chrysalis and you'd get all big an' teary-eyed? What the hell happened to you? You aiming to be president of the zip-lover fan club or something? You think for one second that Utopia cares what you do?

'You remember when you saw Bombshell the first time and you got that stiffy? Remember how you stuck up for her? You said "maybe that's her nature".

'Look to your own backyard, Chang. There's something rotten in it. You got one last chance to fix this. Don't fuck it up. You spat in my face, but I'd rather not have to come paste your tainted ass all over the sidewalk.'

Chang's hand trembled as she shut the terminal off. She hugged herself, feeling hurt, and offended, and talked down to. The urge to find that detective and wring his neck flooded through her. So much trouble had been birthed by that one report, that one bit of information that nobody but her had any right to.

She retreated from the terminal, and from the world, going back to her bathroom, to her meditation blanket. She needed to think. But it took a very long time for her to find her center again, hours and hours.

For the first time in a long while, she feared her taint might be out of control, feared she might have lost her mind. For the first time in a long time, she did not know if her path was true, or if she had any idea what she talked about.

She felt, in a word, scrambled.

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