Virus

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Virus

Postby LilJennie » Wed Jun 10, 2020 9:16 pm

Here's a new one Miki and I have been playing with lately!

Virus

All Characters played by: LilJennie and Miki Yamuri

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In a top-secret laboratory, many scientists labored long and hard in their class 1 isolation suits. With the rapid advancements in quantum technology, and with the accidental discovery of a way to make a particle accelerator smaller than a human hair, it had become extremely important to keep any and all foreign contaminants to a bare minimum. Of course, nothing is ever perfect and contaminations do happen.

One young and brilliant scientist had discovered a light gate. This enabled them to manipulate light particles in the same manner as electricity was manipulated within a computer circuit when coupled with the nanoscaled accelerator. Of course this in turn advanced computer technology by an extremely large margin to where robots that were beginning to be thought of as self aware came into existence.

With this massive leap in computer power, it also led to advances in other fields. One such endeavor was life prolongation. They had used a simple enough artificial strand of a man-made compound known as XHna in the attempts to create a solution to aging in hopes of slowing the process.

One of the techs was more tired than usual due to the long hours he had pulled in trying to accomplish his latest brainstorm. The resultant viral strands were accidently knocked over, releasing them into the atmosphere and into the room’s ventilation system. Because it wasn’t actually a biological, the safety purification techniques didn’t work on it properly, and it escaped containment. There it encountered a strange disruption and changed form and became something else.

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“You hearing this?” asked Lenny, squinting at the TV over the bar. “They’re sayin’ they discovered some kinda virus that’s turnin’ people younger.”

“Well hey,” said John, “that could be a lot worse. I’ve been worried about my hairline lately.” They both laughed, as Lenny had gone bald on top years earlier.

“Well, I’d better get home. Allie doesn’t like me stayin’ out much later.”

“OK, see ya, Lenny,” said John. “I’ll hold down the fort.” They did their secret handshake as they had done most nights a week every week for years, and then Lenny headed out the door into the night.

John stayed there at their usual table, contemplating the latest happenings at work, until he started to feel tired and got up, stretching. Not many people were left in their customary watering hole, but there were a few of the weeknight regulars. He glanced at the TV again. More about the virus. Something about it spreading rapidly, somewhere out in California.

“Looks like more social distancing,” he said. The bar had barely survived the last round of it. He hoped the place could make it through this time. Highly contagious pandemics were becoming common lately.

He walked home. His apartment was only a few blocks away, so there was little point driving to his favorite bar. He wasn’t drunk, or he didn’t think so, but the next person he saw certainly was. The guy stepped out of an alley right in front of him, wearing a torn jacket and other fairly random-looking clothing. He staggered, then seemed to see John and turned toward him as if in afterthought. “You’ll get it,” he said. “We’ll all get it. Nothing’s gonna be the same, man. You’ll see. Some’ll get it different. Maybe even you.”

“Um, ‘scuse me,” said John, stepping out of the man’s way. “You OK? Need a cab or something?”

“No, man,” said the obviously drunk man. “You can’t stop it.”

“OK, have a good night, then,” said John, and continued home.

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David Snipes was just your typical 21 year old. He loved to race motorcycles and go to his favorite night club and dance. Especially tonight, since he had just won the local Moto-Cross Championship and had lots of prize money to spend.

Like most of the young individuals of his age group, he had heard the warning of the virus that had started spreading somewhere on the west coast, but he didn’t worry over it or pay it very much attention.

He knew he had almost too much to drink and decided to walk home. He didn’t live far, just across the park from the nightclub. As he walked through the park, he realized he had more than he had thought as his vision was very blurry and his head buzzed like a hive of bees in early spring.

An old woman, who appeared to be about the same state as he, stumbled up to him and took hold of one arm. She said in a gasping drunken sort of way, “It’s gonna get ya. It gonna get ya but good.”

David extricated his arm from the old woman's feebled grasp as he replied, “If you say so. Just what is it going to come after me?”

She cackled in a drunken way and replied, “Sonny, it already has. I done give it to ya.” Then, she stumbled off into the the rising fog and was gone.

David looked after her for a few minutes before continuing on to his apartment. By the time he got there, he had begun to feel ill. He forgot what the old woman had said and thought it was just he had had too much to drink and was feeling the downside of inebriation. He took several Ibuprofens, stripped to his undies and crawled into bed.

He was asleep before his head hit the pillow. His sleep was haunted by some of the strangest dreams he could have imagined.

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John woke up. It was Saturday, so he hadn’t set his alarm clock. The sun was shining brightly through his bedroom window, which meant that it was already late morning. But he wasn’t worried, because he hasn’t planned anything particular to do that day -- maybe he’d call Lenny. But he felt strange -- almost energetic. He got out of bed, did his usual morning ablutions, and got in the shower … but while he was in there, he realized that he felt quite warm, much warmer than usual. Should he take his temperature? He reached to adjust the shower head and found it a bit harder to reach than normal, which struck him as odd.

He finished his shower and thought about taking his temperature, but he knew the thermometer wouldn’t be very accurate right after a shower. His reflection in the mirror looked … good. His hairline, which he really had been worrying about, didn’t look so bad to him this morning. Maybe he could have a good day today, with a positive outlook and confidence.

That, however, was before he tried getting dressed. Everything he tried on seemed … loose. Too big on him. Sure, it had been a while since he went to the gym to work out, but even things he’d worn earlier that week were fitting loosely, and they hadn’t then. “What the hell?” he asked his reflection. Was he imagining it, or was he looking slimmer? Losing weight was supposed to be good for you, but … suddenly? He got on the scale.

“20 pounds?” he asked his reflection. “How can I have lost 20 pounds? That’s … impossible.”

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David awoke. He felt totally miserable. Of course he did, his head felt like a foot ball and his stomach was a mess. He also felt quite hot and noticed his bed sheets and pillow were soaked in sweat.

He threw back the top sheet and swung his legs around to get out of bed. Immediately his head began to swim. He knew he was going to be sick and needed to be in the bathroom fast.

As he stumbled from bed, he noticed his undies were too large and didn’t fit exactly right. He didn’t have time to worry as he entered the bathroom and tossed up the lid of the toilet and worshipped the porcelain god. After he had finished with the dry heaves aftermath, he went to the sink and washed his face.

He looked in the mirror and was astounded. The reflection that looked back, looked more like his girlfriend than him. He was also a considerably lot smaller and more petit than last night. He also appeared to be a teenager of about 16 or so. This was impossible.

He pulled open the front of his now oversized tighty whities and looked in with trepidation. His manhood had shrunk to something that in no wise even resembled his penis, and his gonads were gone. All that were left of them was a bit of loose hanging skin that was all wrinkled and very small.

David gasped. Even as horrid as he felt, this was even worse. He pushed the bathroom door closed and looked at his reflection in the mirror on the back. The reflection he saw looked more like a teenaged girl, than him. He had to call someone.

He was feeling really ill by now. More so than just the day after a night of overindulgence. He rushed into the living room and dialed his Aunt Martha. She would know just what to do.

The phone rang twice, and a very sweet female voice answered and said, “Hello? This is Martha.”

David gasped out, in a voice that definitely sounded like a girl’s, “Aunt Martha, this is David. I .. I’m .. I’m sick. Something is seriously …” David never got to finish what he was saying as his legs began to wobble and he collapsed in a heap.

Martha’s voice from the phone said with obvious fear in it, “David? What happened, Sweetheart?” after a few seconds pause, “Don’t worry, Sweetie. I’m calling 911. Hang on sugar, it will be about twenty minutes.” The phone went click.

David wasn’t sure how long he lay there in a heap. He did realize when his front door burst in, and 6 individuals dressed in something looking like space suits entered.

One of them said to the other, “I know who this is supposed to be. I can tell you he has it bad. It’s to the point where we’d better start saying ‘she.’”

The one next to him replied, “Get her into the containment unit. We need to get her into quarantine ASAP.”

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John was puzzling over his symptoms -- he hadn’t needed to shave yet this morning, and he seemed to have lost a lot of body hair in the shower -- and had started looking on the Internet for an explanation. There was no point spending the money to go to the doctor if he was just imagining things. But there was a description of the virus that the news had said was spreading rapidly through the US. Its method of spreading was still unclear -- but it was highly contagious, and didn’t require physical contact with an infected person. Its symptoms seemed to be high fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, loss of body hair, a reduction in physical size and skeletal structure, a return to prepubescent characteristics, and in males a restructuring of the sex organs to resemble those of females. As time went on there seemed to be a regression of the mind to an infantile state, as well.

Well, so far John had only experienced a few of those, and they weren’t the first symptoms listed, but -- he also noticed that the website said that the symptoms often varied in the order in which they appeared. Now he was worried. He had a bad feeling. No, he had a really bad feeling. It was … He ran to the bathroom.

He suddenly felt as if he were burning up and couldn’t figure out which end to put on the toilet first. Once he was able, he managed to take some APAP with sweaty, shaking hands. He took his temperature, and this time it had shot up to over 104. “Can’t be happening,” he said in a croaking voice and drank some more water. “This is crazy.”

He didn’t know how long he had spent in the bathroom. The time wore on, and he didn’t feel any better. He wished he could get his phone, maybe call 911, but he didn’t feel safe getting off the toilet. More seemed to come out of his bowels every minute. Luckily he could reach the sink and drink more water when he needed to, so he wasn’t dehydrating. But he felt every kind of terrible.

Then he realized that his legs weren’t reaching the floor. Not quite. What? How long had it been? His genitals … were like an empty balloon. What kind of virus does this? he thought to himself. What’s going to happen to me? Am I going to lose my mind?

“No,” he told himself inside his head. “I’m not going to lose my mind. I don’t have to.” He … reached out in some way, grabbing hold of how it was affecting him. “I’m not going to lose myself.” And, not knowing how he did it, he simply blocked the illness from affecting his mind.

He opened his eyes. His body seemed smaller yet. But at least he didn’t feel as if he was going to have more diarrhea. It was difficult to stay on top of the toilet, but he got cleaned up, climbed down, and discovered that there was no way he was going to wear his pants, which lay in a now huge heap on the bathroom floor. He got his wallet and keys from his pants pockets, stuck them in the pocket of his shirt, which still hung loosely on his shoulders, and went to find his phone and call 911.

“You’re … still talking?” asked one of the men who came to his door, towering over John in his hazmat suit.

“Yeah,” said John, his voice high-pitched and tiny but still his own. “I’ve read about this, and I know that’s not usual, but I can’t explain why.”

“Well, we still have to get you into quarantine,” said another emergency worker. “I’m sure you understand. We have no idea whether you’re contagious or not, and with this one, contagious means really contagious. They’re bringing up a containment unit for you right now.”

“I understand,” said John. “I’ll cooperate … oh dear, uh-oh …” John had been drinking lots of water, and he had just made a puddle on the floor. It was still dribbling down his legs from what now appeared to be the genitalia of a young girl. “This is … all so strange …” he said weakly in his squeaky voice.

“Seen it a hundred times already,” said the first worker. “We’ll take care of it.” Others brought what looked like a plastic garment bag, with an oxygen supply and a window where his face would go. They unzipped it, picked him up, laid a diaper inside it, laid him on top of it, fastened it around him, and zipped the bag up. He could see out, but he couldn’t see much of what was going on, as they lifted the container with him inside and carried it down the stairs and outside to some sort of ambulance. He could hear only muffled voices and a hissing sound, possibly oxygen coming into the container. He still had his shirt, so he had his wallet, keys, and phone, so he took comfort in those. He still had his identity. He clung to that. He held onto the shirt pocket with both tiny hands.

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David slowly awoke. He felt so weird, and heard strange hissing and beeping noises. As his eyes focused, he realized he was in some type of bed with rails that was completely enclosed inside some type of chamber of some sort.

He managed to sit up, with great difficulty. That was when he realized he was in a thick diaper and plastic panties. David looked around the room. It was obvious to him now he was in a crib that was completely isolated. He could see many people moving about, all dressed in suits that looked like space suits, going from isolated crib to isolated crib. David also realized he was sucking his thumb and quickly took it from his mouth.

One of the suited individuals came over to the crib and cooed softly in a pleasant female voice, “There she is. Finally awake. How are you feeling now, Precious? We managed to stop the fever and the physical regression. I’m sorry, but we got to you too late to do anything about the gender transmutation. Unfortunately, you will have to grow back up as a female -- although we aren’t yet sure if you will grow back up. Current testing is showing no such maturation of your current physiognomy, although we did manage to stabilize it at about 3 years of age.”

David was totally mind blown as many strange images and thoughts rushed haphazardly through his mind. Finally, in a very cute little girl’s voice he said, “What ... happened to me?”

The woman in the suit replied softly and reassuringly, “You were infected by the Virus. It hasn’t yet been given a name, since it isn’t biological in nature.”

David then recalled the old woman who had grabbed his arm in the park. His eyes grew big as saucers, and he asked, “There’s nothing you can do to fix this?”

The woman replied, “Everything we can do, we have done. At least we got to you fast enough that you didn’t become a pool of genetic goo. Relax, I’ll be back in a few minutes to change you and give you something to eat. After all the transformation, I’m sure you are starving.”

David sat and sucked his thumb intently as he realized he was extremely hungry … and his diaper was very wet on top of that. He looked around the room and saw many such isolated cribs full of infants. This couldn’t be for real, David thought as he once again realized he was sucking his thumb.

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“So I’m … a two-year-old girl now?” John asked.

“Effectively, yes,” said the doctor who had taken the time to talk to him. He could tell the doctor was male, but that was about as far as he could see from inside the plastic of the isolation crib. “You seem to have kept your mind, which is outstanding. Most patients who go this far are mentally toddlers as well. It’s a good thing that we stopped it when we did, though.”

“So there are some treatments, anyway?” asked John. “The human race isn’t doomed?”

“Well, not so far,” the doctor replied. “But it’s extremely contagious, and it’s starting to appear in other countries, so it’s not clear how far it’s already spread. This appears to be a virus in a way, but not in another way. It’s some kind of artificial prion. And part of the problem is that its origin is still top secret, though you didn’t hear that from me.”

“Why … did I keep my mind?” asked John. “I’m glad it’s true, but how did it happen?”

“Well there’s a lot we don’t know about it yet,” said the doctor. “Some are completely immune, and that appears to be natural. Maybe it’s genetic. That means there’s definitely hope, because the natural immunity could be passed down, and eventually more and more people would have immunity. But others … it does strange things to.”

“Strange things?”

“Some people have ended up … now, I’m a man of science, so this feels wrong for me to say, but they end up with abilities that seem, for lack of a better word, paranormal.” The doctor paused. “I don’t know if that’s the case in other cities, but I’ve seen it. One little girl can float weightlessly off the ground. There’s another one who can move objects by thinking about them. It’s … damn peculiar, pardon me for saying so.”

“That seems … hard to believe,” said John, in his tiny baby voice, “but if you’ve seen it, well, there has to be some explanation.”

“You sound like you’ve got some kind of scientific background,” said the doctor.

“Well, I have a degree in chemistry,” John replied, “and I work in a product testing lab, so I guess that counts. Or … I did work there. I don’t know how this is all going to turn out.”

“Neither do I,” said the doctor. “I have to go see other patients, but I’ll be around. Press the button if you need anything, and especially if you have any other symptoms. There’s always a nurse on call.”

“Wait -- when can I get out of here?” asked John.

“We … don’t know,” the doctor said. “It’s not yet known when you stop being contagious. We’re still testing. And you can’t volunteer for the tests -- subjects are statistically chosen by the computer. There’s still a chance the protocol might pick you, though.”

“Um, OK, thanks, Doctor,” said John. The doctor went away. John felt small and alone.

He looked around the room he was in, which he could see, a bit vaguely due to the thick plastic that surrounded his crib. There were other cribs nearby. He could see that they were occupied, all by what looked like very small children -- like he was himself now, he supposed.

“Is … is anyone awake?” asked John meekly. He gripped the pocket of his shirt, which he no longer wore because it was too warm in his crib, but they’d let him keep it with him, along with his possessions.

“Um, hi,” said another small voice in the crib next door. “I heard your name’s John. My name’s David.”

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David looked at the next crib. The pretty little girl next door was obviously in the same mess she was. She asked in her little girl’s voice, “How did you get infected? Seems some strange woman came up to me and grabbed me.”

John replied after taking her thumb from her mouth, “I think it was a drunken man I stumbled across when I was walking home. He was incoherent. I think he was saying something about it then.”

About that time, the nurse in the suit had arrived back and opened the containment unit’s door after attaching the negative air recirculation isolator. David was totally humiliated as the woman pulled her plastic panties down and undid the very wet and messy diaper.

She cooed softly and tickled David in many very tickly spots as she cleaned and rediapered her. David helplessly kicked and giggled just as any infant would have under those conditions. David knew beyond any doubt she had no male genitalia when the nurse had lifted her by her ankles to put the fresh diaper underneath.

When she had finished and pulled the plastic panties back up, she removed her arms from the recirculator and detached it from the isolation unit after she sealed it’s door. Next, it was John’s turn.

David watched in total incredulity as John reacted exactly the same way while the nurse changed her diaper as well.

When she had finished, they both found a large bottle like sippy cup slide into their cribs on a tray.

The nurse said cheerily in a cooing voice, “Now, you girls enjoy that. In a little while, we’ll come back and help you pick new names, something a bit more appropriate. We’ll also be taking hand and footprints on the new certificates, so everyone will know who you are and used to be.”

With this, she turned and left the two infants. John shrugged and picked up her bottle and started to nurse. It was grape flavored and tasted wonderful. David watched as John laid back and used her feet to support the bottom of the very large bottle and nurse it eagerly. David was very hungry too and that bottle appeared to be the only nourishment offered.

David laid back as well and took John’s example to support the bottom of the large bottle with her feet. Oooh, it tasted so wonderfully of strawberries and was nice and warm at the perfect temperature. It not only tasted great, but warmed her tummy in a very special and nice way.

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John set the empty bottle down , full and exhausted for the moment at all the exertion it took to drink all of that. It rolled off to one side; John didn’t pay any attention to it after that. What was in the other cribs? Were they empty? Were there others in them, just asleep? Were they … dead? John shuddered and tried not to think of that. Straining to stand up and holding onto the bars, John tried to get a better view. There seemed to be someone in the crib across the way … not moving, but probably breathing? Maybe asleep. John reached toward them with a hand that was blocked by the plastic isolation shroud over the crib. It was as if there was a connection between them -- well of course; they’d both been infected by the same virus, or whatever it was. John could feel it still working on the other baby’s body, trying to break it down to its simplest components. That felt wrong. John wanted it to stop. Then it felt better. Maybe things would be all right.

Suddenly two orderlies and a nurse were bringing in a new isolation container. Working quickly they connected it to the isolation crib on John’s other side and transferred its occupant. John moved to that side and watched, worrying. Would they be all right? John could somehow feel the virus attacking this newcomer’s body and mind too. Was it just sympathy, or something more? A doctor joined the nurse, and they worked together to help the new patient.

“2 CCs of STM-3.”

“Temperature 104.4. Heart rate up to 135.”

“Pupils dilated, not responding.”

“We might be losing this one.”

“Get the EEG.”

“Brain activity erratic.”

“Not another one. Wait. Evening out. Heart rate down. What? This one’s self-stabilizing.”

“Heart rate 96. Pupils … responsive.”

“I think this one might be out of the woods, but I don’t know how.”

“Temperature … already down to 102! I’ve never seen anything like this.”

John had been hoping so hard that the newcomer would make it, even though they were a complete stranger. It just wasn’t right for this virus to be taking lives. But John could feel now that they were going to pull through. Somehow John just knew. There was a calm about them, and now, a sort of inner light that John could almost see. It was like the light within John and … David? Yes, John could almost see a similar glow from David, but not the same … and it wasn’t something one could see with the eyes …

The doctor and nurse checked the new patient one more time, but they seemed to be sleeping peacefully now. They hurried off, probably to another patient.

“OK, hi again girls,” said the nurse from before, the one who had given them their bottles. “I see you’ve both finished your juice -- good girls! It’s all full of vitamins to keep you going strong. Now, the fact is that I know you were both boys before, but you’re girls now. I know that has to be strange for you.”

“Being a baby and having to wear diapers is frankly the strangest part,” said John, in that tiny high-pitched voice that was now the new normal. “But yeah, I know what you’re getting at. We might want to pick new names.”

“Yes,” the nurse said. “With a lot of patients, their minds are … well not gone, but like the children their bodies have become. But not all of them, and while with those patients we’ll just pick new names for them to put on their charts, for you two, I’m willing to work with you. Do you want new names?”

“I’m assuming there’s no way to go back to being a boy,” said John.

“No way that we’ve found so far,” said the nurse. “By the way, my name’s Katherine. Some people call me Kate.”

“I’m a girl,” said John. “I’m a girl now.” He … tried to convince himself. “I’m a girl.” Something in her mind changed. There were a lot of nonbinary or gender-nonconforming people on the Internet, but … John just wasn’t able to grasp it. Maybe the concept of binary gender was just too ingrained in her, but the virus had certainly rearranged her body in a way that was quite definitely consistent with a feminine gender. She wouldn’t have thought that it would be this easy to change her mental identity, but somehow it was. “I’m a girl,” she said once more, looking up at Nurse Kate.

“Yes,” said Kate, looking down at John, “it’s true. And I can see you’re trying hard to accept it. That’s probably healthy … though I don’t know that much about psychology. But it’s probably good to accept what you can’t change, and there’s no way we can change what’s happened here. Got any ideas about names?”

“How about … June?” she tried. “It’s kind of like John, and I had a great aunt named that. My grandma’s sister. She passed away years ago.”

“You sure? It’s a sweet name,” said Nurse Kate.

“Sure as I’ll ever be,” she replied. “June. My name’s June. I’m a girl. I am June.” June thought about it, trying to make the words make sense to her.

“You OK, June?” said Nurse Kate, filling in June’s new name on her chart. “I’ve got to talk to your neighbor here.” She turned to David. “How about you, Sweetheart? You’re going to be a girl for a long time, as far as we know. Do you want a different name?”

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David sat for a minute, then realized she had been sucking her thumb while she thought. She took her thumb from her mouth and said in a shy way, “I wanna be Vickie. I think I would like to be called Vickie.”

The nurse grinned broadly as she entered that on the form she had on her clipboard. That’s a very pretty name for a very pretty little girl. Now, sweetheart., I’m going to take your hand and feet prints.”

Vickie found herself on her back as the nurse brought out an inkpad and roller. She opened the pad and inked the roller well, then took one of Vickie’s feet and inked it with the roller. Vickie’s eyes grew large and she screeched and giggled and squirmed as the nurse expertly made the feet and hand impressions on the form.

The nurse took a wipe that smelled wonderfully of baby powder and cleaned Vickie’s hands and feet and removed all the ink. Next, she turned to June and repeated the process.

When she was done she said, “There we go, girls. That didn’t hurt a bit.” she held up the forms for the girls to see, “These are now your official birth certificates, with notations and references to your pre-virus identities so you can prove who you are. There are slight issues currently, since both of you are thought of as minors until your new 18th birthdays.” she pointed to John, “We determined both of you are to begin now as 3.5 year olds and will progress from there and had made the appropriate dates of the certificates. Currently, however, we have found no evidence of cellular maturation … you girls might not ever grow up. I’ll be back in a little while with the doctor. It seems that your blood tests have started to show up as negative for the XHna proteins, which is great! If a little bit mysterious, but so much is unknown about this.” With this, the nurse gathered up everything after checking to insure the seals were all properly closed, and left.

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“Wait -- we’re three and a half years old now?” asked June. “Legally? I can’t drink? I can’t drive a car? Well, obviously I can’t drive a car -- I couldn’t see out the windshield without a booster seat.” Vickie was similarly astonished.

“But wait -- Vickie -- I have a question for you,” said June. “I … can kinda see … things. Not with my eyes. I kinda see sort of a glow coming from you, and me, and right now from the one in that crib over there.” June pointed. “But no others. It’s weird. Do you see anything like that?”

Vickie looked around, She had to concentrate hard, but what happened surprised her, The medical device she had been concentrating on began to actually move several feet seemingly all by itself. Vickie knew beyond any doubt, she had done it.

Vickie screeched, “June!! I … I can move things without touching them!”

June’s eyes sprang open wide as she said, “Wow -- I … kinda saw you do that! It’s hard to explain. How about … that cart. Make it come over here.”

Vickie nodded and started to concentrate on the cart. It was a whole lot easier this time. Vickie could actually see the cart, its welds, even the shiny chrome plating on the metal it was made of. The cart turned towards the astonished girls, and began to slowly come towards them as if under its own power. June and Vickie both screeched this time in total amazed shock.

“I … sorta saw that too!” said June. “It was like some kinda light came from you and pulled it -- but I didn’t see it with my eyes. That is amazing! Why is this happening? Is it some kind of … consolation prize the universe is giving us for turning us into babies?”

Vickie shrugged, “I don’t know. What I do know is I can actually see the items I’m manipulating in a way I have never done before. I mean, I can see some sort of .. energy or something and I can manipulate it.”

June sucked her thumb thoughtfully for a minute then replied, “Sounds sorta like me. I can see energy in people and seem to be able to kinda manipulate it. I could see what you were doing with that cart.” she pointed at it.

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In a deeply buried and isolated CCD Laboratory ( Center for Communicable Disease ) High Quarantine Isolation Unit, many highly acclaimed virologists, chemists, and biologists worked feverishly to find some way to vaccinate people from this new scourge.

They knew how to deal with the XHna construct after it had begun to replicate within the human host, however they were yet to find a way to keep it from the initial infection vector without killing the subject.

One female in Level 1 Iso suit said in her muffled voice, “I can find no controlling vector to stop the initial infection.”

A man dressed in the same suit next to her said, “What I can’t understand, is why a reinfection doesn't happen after we deal with the original. There are absolutely no immunity vectors within any of the patients we have .. aided so far.”

“Wait … this is odd,” said the female scientist. “Look at this recording. Isn’t that you?”

The recording showed a tiny patient in her isolation crib, and a scientist in a hazmat suit was taking some readings. The patient’s eyes opened, she said something, and then the scientist opened the isolation crib and released the patient, who toddled away out of view of the camera. The scientist then disinfected the isolation crib and prepared it for another patient before also leaving.

“I … don’t have any recollection of that,” said the male scientist. “Of course, it might not have been me. In one of these suits, it could have been anybody.”

“You were slated to look at patient 3358 at the time indicated. And now, that crib is …” She turned to a live view.

The crib was empty.

“Wait,” said the male scientist. “There has to be some mistake. I … I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember going there. Or, I remember going toward the ward, but then … what happened after that?”

“This may warrant further study,” said the female scientist.

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“And how are you two darlings doing this morning?” said Nurse Kate pleasantly after entering the ward in her protective suit, opening the curtains and letting some daylight into the wardroom. “I’ll bet we need some diaper changes after a good night’s sleep, don’t we?”

“Mnn,” said June, rubbing her eyes. “Yes p’ease,” she replied around her … pacifier? It was only then that she realized that she had a pacifier in her mouth and that she didn’t know how long she’d been sucking busily on it, but she still was. And … she didn’t really want to remove it, either, any more than she wanted to let go of the plushie toy cat that she was holding.

“This ward’s got good luck,” she said as she brought the changing cart over and unzipped June’s crib. “Every patient who’s come in here has survived. And they’ve stopped growing younger as soon as they came in -- usually the injections take time to take effect.”

“Wow,” said June. She had in fact been paying attention to every patient brought in, and she’d focused her strange vision on them, hoping and wishing that they’d get better or at least stop getting worse. And in every case, it had worked. “I guess it is a lucky place.”

Nurse Kate undid the snaps on June’s onesie and exposed a very wet and messy diaper. She unfastened it and got to work cleaning June up, then quickly slide a freshly powdered clean diaper under her and taped it up, fastening her onesie back up. “That’s a good girl,” Nurse Kate said with a smile. June smiled back up at her.

“Thank you Nurse Kate,” said June adorably. “I’m sorry … I couldn’t help pooing my diaper, or wetting it. It just … comes right out.” She looked down, blushing.

“Now, don’t you worry -- it just happens to babies. Let’s get your friend Vickie changed -- time to wake up, Vickie!” June looked over at Vickie, who was still sleeping. Vickie stirred a little. June imagined Vickie might not really react to her new name yet.

Vickie was in that fugue state not asleep, but still dreaming. She heard a soft voice calling a name over and over … “Vickie Sweetheart, Vickie …”

Without warning, Vickie knew that was her name. She felt the gentle hinney pats the iso suited nurse gave her as she unsnapped the snaps on her onesie. Vickie babbled for a second before she realized what she was doing and said in a pouty voice, “I’m not a baby. I’m a big girl.”

The nurse laughed as she replied, “Oh, really? I suppose some kind of fairy came and made your diaper this way, right?”

Vickie pouted as the nurse cleaned her, powdered her, and rediapered her in a professional and well practiced way. The nurse said in a soft cooing voice, “Ok, big girl.” She picked Vickie from the iso crib and cradled her in her arms. “The XHna Virus levels in your bodies and in all the air samples is zero. Based on that, we can take you to the potty.”

The nurse took Vickie by the hand and led her through the isolation nursery into another room. June could sort of see Vickie being slowly led by the hand as she toddled off.

As soon as the nurse opened the door, lo and behold … a critter sat there. It had soft green fur, long droopy fuzzy ears, googly rolly polly eyes, and the rug in front of it looked like a long red tongue.

Instantly, Vickie felt fear tingle up her spine then all through her as she clung to the nurse’s suited leg and hid behind her.

The nurse said in a giggly way, “What’s the matter, Sweetheart? Something wrong??”

Vickie pointed and said ina very cute voice, “It’s .. it .. itsa … “

The nurse finished for her, “Yes, sweetie, it’s a potty monster. But they are cute and cuddly.”

June watched this transpire with big eyes as she too felt the tingle of fear over the potty monster. Both girls knew in their minds that it was just a potty, but inside the baby part of them knew better.

The nurse picked Vickie up and carried her back to the crib and put her in. She said in a soft cooing voice, “Time will come shortly where you have to learn to use the potty.” Then she zipped up the iso crib and left the girls there for a little bit while she went to the next crib to check on the next infant.

“Kylie,” cooed Nurse Kate. “Good morning, Kylie Sweetheart … time for your morning change …” June listened. Kylie eventually woke up, and Kate changed the girl’s diaper just as she’d changed June’s and Vickie’s. But June was still wondering what Kylie’s glow meant. She suspected it meant she had some kind of extraordinary ability, but she didn’t know what yet. Out of all the patients, she’d only seen a few like this. Somehow three had been clustered together, but there was another in the next row of cribs and down a ways, and another was in the back corner.

Kylie still seemed groggy after her change. Nurse Kate moved on to the next patient. June decided to be outgoing. “Hi! Kylie!” she said, her high voice carrying pretty well, but Kylie didn’t seem to notice. “Kylie!”

Kylie finally turned to see June and jumped in surprise, her eyes wide. “Aaaa!” she squeaked in panic.

“Aaa!” said June, putting her hands up, which caused her to lose her grip on the side of her crib and fall back on her padded bottom. “I’m sorry! I just wanted to say hi! I’m June!”

“Oh. I’m … I guess I’m Kylie now. I used to be Kyle. Now I’m a girl. Not that there’s anything wrong with girls! I dunno if you used to be a girl or a boy.”

“Oh. Yeah, I used to be a boy too. But … well, here we are.”

“I wonder when they’ll let us go,” said Kylie. “And … well, where they’ll let us go to. It’s not like we can go back to our old lives, our jobs, whatever. I mean, we’re tiny. And … also in diapers.”

“I guess they’re going to have to figure out what to do,” June said. “I guess there are a lot of victims of this virus. And the ones that it doesn’t kill … it turns into little baby girls. Though I guess there are a few lucky ones who don’t regress all the way. Also, not everybody gets it. Some are naturally immune, and some have managed to isolate themselves from it.”

“You sure don’t talk like a baby girl,” said Kylie with a giggle. “You sound like a baby scientist.”

“I was a lab tech,” said June. “I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything. You might want to try to think if there’s anything you can tell that you can’t remember.”

“I dunno,” said Kylie. “I feel like … there was a huge void sucking at my brain, trying to take away everything I knew and was, and then … this is gonna sound weird, but then something grabbed my hands and pulled me back from it. That’s what it felt like. I think I remember my whole life. Not like Kristi over here. She’s a total baby now.” Kylie pointed to the crib beyond her, where the little girl clearly couldn’t talk as Nurse Kate changed her except in babbles and cries. She’d arrived before June had.

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In a very adorably decorated little girl’s nursery, a pretty young woman in just her panties sat in an arm chair breast feeding her baby girl. It felt so wonderful to have her nursing and sent thrills all through the woman.

As she cooed softly to her infant, a nagging thought began in the back of her mind. At first, it wasn’t anything, but as time slowly passed it grew larger and larger until the Woman had to take notice. There was something seriously wrong … although she couldn’t for the life of her think of what it was.

She patted her baby’s bottom lovingly as she began to think about being a mother. There were memories, sort of. Who the father was seemed to be some hazy sort of wonderful man that had gotten killed somehow before the baby was born.

That was another thing, being pregnant. The woman had vague and really fuzzy impressions of it, maybe, but even the giving birth was a fog which was seriously strange. That’s an event every woman would always remember, bringing life into the world.

The more she thought about it, the more worried the woman became that she was losing her mind. Almost every memory of the father of her infant, getting pregnant, being pregnant, and even giving birth were nothing more than vague and seriously foggy impressions.

The infant opened its eyes and said clearly in a little girl’s voice, “You are my mommy. My name is Nancy. All the other details are unimportant.” She then closed her eyes and continued to nurse.

The woman’s eyes grew large for an instant, then all the worries and concerns vanished as she smiled. She loved her baby very much. The woman lovingly allowed her baby to finish nursing before she stood, and carried her to a changing table and changed the infant’s diaper, dressed her in a cute little pink onesie with feet, and tucked her in the crib for the night.

The baby watched the woman leave and turn off the main light. As the room filled with the soft comforting glow of the nightlight, the baby smiled a contented smile.

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“Are … are we gonna be like this forever?” June could hear Kylie ask.

“What do you mean?” asked Nurse Kate. “A girl? I’m afraid you probably are. But don’t worry, that’s not so bad. I should know. I’ve been one for a long time, and I’m fine.” She smiled. “A baby? Frankly, we don’t know yet. The condition has only been known for a short time, and there’s a lot we don’t know about it.”

“Oh.” Kylie paused. “Are we gonna be in here forever?” she asked.

“That is a different question,” Nurse Kate replied. “There’s the possibility of government programs to take care of you, or subsidies for your family of origin if they’re able, or foster families if any are available. But you’ll have to stay here until there’s room in one of those programs or until your family of origin picks you up.”

“You contacted my family?”

“Not in your case, because you’re verbal,” said Nurse Kate. “This is probably a good time to ask whether that’s something you want.”

“Well I … my parents, I don’t know how they’re doing, with all this … and I’d hate to spread it to them …”

June had heard these kinds of concerns from and about the other baby girls in the ward -- and gathered that they were common among all people who had been affected by this virus, across the world, at least the ones who survived. She’s asked questions like these herself earlier. She wished it were easier to talk to the other girls who could talk.

And then things got easier. “OK, it’s your turn,” said Nurse Kate, lifting June out of her crib.

“Turn for what? Aaa!” she said as she almost lost her grip on her possessions.

“For your bath, and we’re going to move you to the next ward. You’re not showing any contagion and haven’t for three days. That’s the protocol -- and you’ll probably like that one better. The cribs aren’t isolation cribs, and there’s playtime, if you’re interested.” Nurse Kate carried her to a tub, removed her diaper, and cleaned her very carefully with some pretty scratchy soap and gloves and a powerful water sprayer, but when it was done she did feel very clean. She was placed in a strange plastic chamber, and warm air started blowing at her seemingly from all directions at once, and soon she was completely dry. Then Nurse Kate opened the door, took her out, and put a fresh diaper and onesie on her.

“Here’s your stuff,” said Nurse Kate. “I’ve put it in a special bear for you.” She handed June a friendly-looking light brown Teddy Bear that had a zipper in the back.

“Oh!” said June, opening the zipper and finding her wallet, phone and keys.

“I think your phone’s dead,” said Nurse Kate, “but don’t worry, we’ve got chargers. And nobody’s touched your house or apartment, either -- it’s crazy out there, but everyone’s staying home other than first responders. Some of them have gotten it too, but most are staying protected, with proper gear.”

“Am … I gonna be OK?” asked June.

“Yes, Sweetheart,” said Nurse Kate. “Things will be … different … but you’ll be OK. Now let’s get you to your new crib, right here.” She carried June into another ward, one that was painted with rainbows and clouds on the walls and had colorful carpeting, and a large play area in the center. She lowered June into a crib and set her down. “There you go! Now I have to go for now -- I’ve got to do the same for some of your neighbors.”

“Thank you Nurse Kate!” said June.

“You’re welcome, Sweetheart,” said Nurse Kate. “You’re one of the good ones.” She left the room.

June looked around. In the crib to one side of her was the girl named Kristi, who was completely nonverbal -- she was basically just like the baby she appeared to be. She looked back at June and smiled, reaching for her through her crib’s bars, but her arm couldn’t come anywhere near the bars of June’s own crib. June smiled back at her a bit sadly. “Hi, Kristi,” she said. “I wish I could help you. But I think the virus took too much of your mind away. I can try, though …” She reached out through her own crib bars and tried to reach Kristi’s hand. She could feel the contact getting close … and then their fingers touched.

June felt as if she were in a quiet space that had no one in it but herself and Kristi. Kristi looked like the baby she was, but June looked like an adult woman. June didn’t see this as odd, because even though she knew she had been male before the virus, she was already used to thinking of herself as female. The oddest part was that she looked like an adult, and June didn’t really understand why -- perhaps because she was still adult in mind, and this was some kind of mental image?

“Kristi, I’m June,” she said in this mental space. “Can you say June?”

“Yoo,” said Kristi.

“Can you say Kristi? You’re Kristi. That was your name even before the virus. Kristi.”

“Kiss-tee.”

“Yes, Kris-tee. You. Kris-tee.”

“Yoo. Kiss-tee.”

June pointed at Kristi. “Kris-tee.”

“Me? Kiss-tee?” Kristi pointed at herself and babbled some nonsense words, then said “Kiss-tee” again. It looked to June’s mind’s eye as if Kristi had just gotten slightly bigger.

“Good girl, Kristi!” said June. But then it felt as if she had some kind of contact, some connection. She mentally grabbed onto it and sort of … pulled. “Come on, Kristi, you can do it,” she said.

Kristi’s eyes were closed, and her face was twisted up, like she was concentrating really hard. “Nnnnnn,” she said. “Uh!” Her eyes popped open. “Me Kwisti!” she said. “Me … baby now?” she looked at herself. “But … member was all baby. Couldn’t think weally. Can now, kinda. What goin on?”

“I think I might’ve just helped you some,” said June. “Not perfect, but getting there. Whew. I’m tired. That was hard. Let’s open our eyes.”

June pulled her hand back and lay back in her crib, exhausted. “Whew. That was rough. But good job, Kristi!”

Kristi looked at her tiny hands in surprise. “Me -- baby,” she said. “Me Kwisti! Me … umm me gots messy dipee.”

Sure enough, June could smell her. “Yep, you certainly do. I hope a nurse comes by soon. Guess concentrating really hard will do that to you.” She chuckled tiredly.

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Vickie awoke to the soft cooing voice of a nurse as she lifted her from the iso-crib, “Good morning sweetheart. Today is a big day for you. First, were’re going to get you all cleaned up and dressed, then we are taking you another ward. You have tested as not being contagious for three days, so protocol says you get to go play with the others.”

As the nurse carried her off to another place, Vickie asked, “Am … am I going to be all right?”

The nurse asked in a soft voice, “Whatever do you mean?”

“I got changed into a baby, and a girl too. How am I going to survive this?”

The nurse laid Vickie on a soft changing counter and undid her onesie, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about that. There are programs in place to care for and place any and all who have been infected and had problems.”

About that time, in an adjacent cubical, a nurse brought another infant in. This one was screaming and throwing a fit, “I don wanna bea boy. Amma girl. Amma lingerie model.”

The nurse cooed softly and reassuringly, “You aren’t a girl anymore , sweetheart. Now, you are a very cute little boy who’s about to have a bath and get changed.”

The rest of whatever was said vanished from earshot as the nurse carried the screaming crying infant off to another cubicle.

The nurse looked at Vickie and said as she removed the wet and messy diaper, “You and many others like you have this problem. There are many too, we didn’t get to in time.”

Vickie asked sadly, “What happened to them? They died?”

The nurse replied as she sat Vickie in the warm sudsy water of the tub, “Many did in the conventional way … many … in a way we can’t exactly explain.”

Vickie looked at the nurse with big eyes, “What happened to them?”

The nurse replied sadly, “All we found of them, were their clothes and some kind of genetic goo smeared inside. Testing had a genetic match to their relatives so it’s assumed that was what was left of them.

Vickie was silent through the rest of the bath and dressing as she contemplated how lucky she had actually been.

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In a rather remote place, rescue teams arrived at what was thought to be a battle zone. What they found were many infants in various stages of needing medical attention, some that no longer needed it, and lots of uniforms with messy gooey gel like substances inside.

The teams worked as rapidly as they could to keep those infants that were still alive in the land of the living and to stop the progression of the virus. They had found some treatments, but they tended to be rather toxic chemicals that could kill the patient if the dosage wasn’t absolutely precise, and even so, they were very sick for a long time afterward. Still, the medications did hinder the virus and stop the process of physical regression.

“We’ve got more over here,” called one of the medics, beckoning the others to a shelter. There were several infants crawling over the soaked uniforms once worn by themselves and their comrades. But in one corner was a tiny boy, shivering, and not from cold, obviously deathly afraid.

Noticing him, the medic held up her hands and said, “Hey there, we’re a search and rescue team … can you understand me?”

The boy didn’t seem to see her and just muttered, “All gone … gone to mush … gone to nothing … all gone …”

“I know,” the medic said. “Not all gone, but so many. But you’re still here. You’re still here. Can you hear me?” She continued to slowly approach him, hands in the air.

“All gone … what? Who are you? No … STOP.” The medic stopped, just as the boy seemed to want, but then she felt her body being pulled to the ground, as if it weighed a ton, unable to lift so much as a finger.

She mumbled, finding it difficult to say anything intelligible with the weight of her skull pressing down on her jaw. “Here to … help … you …”

“Get … AWAY,” wailed the boy, and the medic was sliding away from him as if he were on the top of a mountain and everything near him was on its slopes. Broken pieces of furniture and equipment, the other babies, everything was sliding “down,” in all directions.

“Aaaaa!” cried the medic, sliding out of the shelter’s front door and suddenly finding the topsy-turvy world back to normal, getting to her hands and knees. “What was that?”

“Another one, eh?” said another medic. “I’ve heard stories … so I’ve packed these …” He took out a gun that fired tranquilizer darts. “I’d hoped I wouldn’t need them, but some people in Lise’s squad told me what they saw in Kandahar …” He gave the first medic one of his tranq guns. They looked at each other and nodded. They went back into the shelter.

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“Hi, I’m June, what’s your name?” June asked another girl; this was one of the others that had a “glow” that only she could see.

“I’m Sue,” she said. “Hi June. I guess it’s … playtime now? I haven’t played with baby toys since my son was a toddler.”

“Were you … female before, then?” June asked. “I wasn’t, but I’m a girl now, so that’s the way it is.”

“Wow, that must be weird,” said Sue, “but yeah, I was a grandma, and now I’m a baby again!”

“Wan’ p’ay,” said Kristi, tugging on June’s hand lightly and crawling in the direction of a box of colorful plush animals. “We p’ay.”

“Want to play?” June asked Sue and the others. Vickie and Kylie were nearby, as were several other babies.

“Hehe, sure, why not?” asked Sue. “If we’re going to have a second childhood, we might as well enjoy it. There isn’t much else we can do right now.”

“I think … there are things we can do, if we can just figure out what they are,” June said, crawling toward the toy box. “Something other than being babies. What have you noticed?”

“I’mma puppy,” said Kristi, holding a toy puppy and making it “walk” across the play mat. “Wuff wuff!”

“I … dunno why, but I wanna pretend I’m a bird,” said Kylie. “I sometimes find a feather in my crib when I wake up. I don’t understand why.”

“That’s interesting, Kylie -- I wonder what it could mean. Do you dream about birds?” asked June.

“I dream … yeah,” Kylie said. “I dream I’m a bird sometimes. But I also dream crazy things, like everything’s made of cheese or I’m at work naked.”

“Well, here’s the thing,” said June. “I’ve heard … some of the people affected by the virus, or whatever it is, are showing strange phenomena. I mean, not explained by science -- yet, anyway.”

“Like … paranormal?” asked Sue. “Like ESP? I remember that from the 70s.”

“I guess that could be one kind of ability,” June replied, playing with a little figure that was dressed like a nurse.

“So … what about this?” Sue asked. She held up her hand and blew as if she were blowing some kind of dust or powder, even though her hand was empty. And then a gentle breeze blew through the ward, as if someone had opened a window -- even though every window was closed. “I thought I was going crazy the first time it happened, but … now that you say others are having strange experiences …” June could see the glow again, swirling around Sue’s hand and out into the air around them.

Vickie looked at June. “How about this?” she asked, reaching toward a small Teddy Bear several feet away, and suddenly it leapt into Vickie’s hand.

“Wow!” said Sue.

“I think I …” said Kylie. They all blinked as Kylie changed form. She was a small bluebird, and she flew quickly around the ward before landing back on the play mat and changing back, quick as a wink. Her diaper and onesie were just as they had been, even though they had somehow vanished when she’d changed. “I think that was real, not a dream, wasn’t it?”

“No, that was definitely real,” said June.

“Birdie!” said Kristi.

“Can … can you do anything like that, June?” asked Sue.

“Sort of … but I don’t really understand it,” June said. “But you know how everyone in the ward we used to be in survived? I think … it might have been me. I kept really wishing people would pull through, thinking about holding their hand, keeping them from falling …”

“... and it worked?” asked Vickie, incredulously. “Wow … maybe you can heal people or something!”

“Maybe it’s something like that,” said June. “Kristi was already there when I got there … but I think I helped her today.”

“Kwisti!” said Kristi, hearing her name. “Me Kwisti!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Kylie. “She couldn’t do more than babble. Now she’s saying words sometimes.”

“Well, that’s wonderful!” said Sue. “Maybe you can help people after all.”

“I think we all can,” said June. “I just don’t know how, when we’re babies in a nursery.”

“We can help the people around us,” said Sue. “That’s all anyone can really do anyway. And it makes a difference.”

“Hey, is there something going on?” said another baby, who had been sleeping on a mat and came crawling over. This boy was the one June remembered from the far corner of the previous ward.

“We’re just playing and talking,” said Kylie. “Also I can turn into a bird. I don’t know how to process that any more than I know how to process being a baby girl now.”

“Huh,” said the boy. “Yeah, being a baby again is pretty weird. I don’t know what to do either. I mean … boom, my diaper’s wet, you know? Never even felt it happening. Also, I’m not really here. I’m really over there.” He pointed to a duplicate of himself, sleeping in a crib across the room -- or that’s how it appeared.

“You’re … two of you?” asked June. She looked at the glow that only she could see. It was as if the boy’s body were entirely made of the glowing energy, and it was connected by tendrils of more energy to his body in the crib. “No … you’re bilocating. It’s a thing Tibetan monks are supposed to be able to do, but some people say it’s faked. But not you. You’re in the crib, but you’re projecting another body for yourself outside the crib.”

“Yeah,” the boy said. “I guess you could call it that. Oh -- my name’s Will.” The others introduced themselves. It became clear that the rest of the babies in the ward had no unusual abilities, and that the five of them weren’t entirely sure about the limits of what they could do. They tended to behave like normal babies, although ones who could speak like adults, whenever a nurse was around. They talked about their abilities, but June stayed quiet about the way she could see others’ powers glow. She didn’t really understand it, and it didn’t fit into her healing powers.

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In a large office with many empty seats, and many with infants in them, a teenaged girl came to a podium and tapped the mike. All eyes were on her.

“Good afternoon … ummm … everyone.” she said as a slight round of giggles flitted around for a second, “Apparently we have managed to halt the continued progression and new infections of this virus. I’m not real sure about the rest of the world, but locally our CD Teams have done remarkably well.” The Mayor, who had been a middle-aged man before the illness hit, looked uncomfortable about her new appearance but was trying to do her job as best she could.

A man stood and said, “We have another real serious issue facing us that requires immediate attention too. Due to our basic infrastructure being reduced to infants.” he waved his hand around the room towards the many infants seated, “We have to deal with food, fuel, and electricity issues immediately. Our current stocks will be depleted rapidly.”

The young girl replied, “I have already given the basic outlines for an emergency contingency to handle just that issue. We have several large teams out gathering up supplies and searching out individuals able to fill vacancies created by the virus to fill critical positions. It will be rough at first, but we managed to get it under control locally fast enough.”

Another woman this time stood and said, “There are other issues. There have been gender changes that are causing disruptions and ... other .. umm .. strange incidents.”

The girl at the podium asked, “What kind of incidents are you discussing?”

The woman looked at the infants in the room for a minute then replied, “I have actually witnessed some manifestations of .. powers, for the lack of a better way of putting it Miss Mayor. One of the infants in the emergency iso-ward can levitate. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. What about you? I know you were a man before all this.”

The Mayor seemed to blush slightly before she replied, “There’s not a thing I can do about what I am currently, “ she tapped her head, “in here I’m still relatively me. I can say I haven’t found I have any extraordinary abilities, however it might be I just haven’t stumbled onto the proper stimuli to manifest it.”

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“Does she?” asked Vickie quietly, turning away from the television screen to look at June, sitting next to her.

“I … can’t tell,” said June, squinting at the screen and furrowing her brow. “I think I’d have to see her in person. It doesn’t work on a picture.” They had tried it with June looking at Vickie’s picture on her phone’s camera.

“Who’s the one who can levitate?” Vickie asked.

“Not sure,” June answered. “I’ve only heard about them -- never actually seen them.”

Just then there was a commotion out in the hallway outside the ward. A gurney went by, accompanied by several people -- was that a doctor and several nurses? They went into the ward across the hall, where June, Vickie and the rest had been earlier. June sometimes sneaked across the hall to see if she could help any of the newcomers there. “Code Red,” one of the nurses said. Had that been an isolation container on top of the gurney? June was already up and headed for the doors.

“Oh no, Sweetie, you can’t go in there,” said Nurse Patricia, who was on duty, but she was too far from the doors to get in June’s way, and they mysteriously opened themselves for her, thanks to Vickie. June toddled into the recovery ward, seeing everyone clustered around the isolation crib where they’d put the newcomer.

“Not another one,” said a nurse.

“We’re losing them,” said another.

“There they go -- not again,” said the doctor. Alarms started to go off on monitoring equipment attached to the patient. “Wait -- what?” What the doctor saw before his eyes was unreal. The patient was tiny, the size of a prematurely-born infant, and he’d seen this happen before -- the next stage was when their tiny bodies dissolved into protoplasmic ooze, and there was no hope. But what the doctor saw this time was like nothing he’d ever seen before. The patient’s body reformed out of the ooze, enlarging and growing back to the size of a newborn and then a toddler. “I’ve never -- what just happened?”

“What -- how --?” stammered one of the nurses.

“Some kind of … miracle …” said another nurse.

“Sweetie, you’re going to have to come back to the other …” said Nurse Patricia, catching up to June. And that was when the doctor and the other nurses turned to look at June, standing there in her hospital gown, arm outstretched toward the patient. That was also when June passed out in Nurse Patricia’s arms, exhausted.

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June awoke gradually. “I think she’s awake,” whispered Vickie’s familiar voice nearby.

“Vickie?” asked June. She opened her eyes. She was in her crib.

“Look out, here comes the doctor, he’s got about a bazillion questions for you,” said Vickie. And sure enough, the doctor was there, the same one she’d seen, only now instead of a hazmat suit he just wore a white coat over his shirt and pants.

“Well now, June, you seem to be a very special little girl,” he said. “I think now I understand why this wing has such good recovery statistics. It’s got a little guardian angel.”

“Um, I just don’t want people to die,” said June, sitting up in her crib and looking up at the doctor, whose name was … Taylor. “What happens now?”

“Well it looks as if cases like the one you just … intervened in, tend to wear you out pretty fast, so I’d say we shouldn’t risk you by bringing those to you. Other than that, I think we just all do what we’ve been doing. We’ll help the most people that way. But the sooner we get them to you, the better, I’m guessing. Is that right?”

“Yeah, I think that’s right, Dr. Taylor,” June said. “I know there are drugs or procedures that can arrest the process or at least hinder the pathogen …”

“Whoa, you sound like you’ve got some scientific background,” Dr. Taylor said.

“I was a lab tech in a product testing lab,” said June. “I’ve got an MS in materials science. As far as I can tell, I haven’t lost any of that knowledge.”

“I’m glad to hear it. But yes, there’s a procedure where we can irradiate the pathogens with X-rays, but that endangers the patient. There’s also chemotherapy, but that’s about as hard on the patient as chemo for cancer patients. We frankly lose a lot of them. I wish we could figure out how what you do works.”

“I wish we could too,” said June. “I don’t understand the mechanism … I just kind of do it.”

“You’re taking it all rather in stride,” said Dr. Taylor. “Becoming a toddler, becoming a girl, losing your former life, having this ability …”

“I … well, I … haven’t really had space to process …” June suddenly burst into tears. “It’s all gone,” she said, clinging to the Teddy Bear containing her possessions. “My family … I don’t know how they are … there’s so much of the infrastructure down … my friends … my whole life … even my apartment with my favorite stuff …”

“Well, don’t worry about the last thing,” said Dr. Taylor. “Nobody’s getting evicted, with this crazy disease spreading like wildfire. Everybody’s place is staying locked up. I guess there have been some break-ins, but the criminals are just as affected by this as everyone else. What’s really a pity is the shortage of counseling for people like yourself, who’ve come through this with their minds intact but who are still suffering post-traumatic stress.”

“I think … I think you’re right, Doctor,” said June, wiping tears from her face. “It’s like … like nothing. There’s nothing like it.”

Dr. Taylor got up from his chair. “Well, I’m going to see about counseling,” he said. “I’m busy beyond anything I’ve ever seen too, so I’ve got to get back to it. But you’ll get a visit from a therapist. You’re doing the Lord’s work over here, June. We’ve got to keep you going so you can keep others going. You’re not exactly a healthcare worker, but these are strange times.”

“Be … be safe, Doctor,” said June. She didn’t know if she could do anything for him, but she just hoped the virus or whatever it was left him alone. What she didn’t know was that it would, because she’d just asked it to.

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In the robotics division of one of the most advanced electronics companies on the planet, Nano\Gen, several highly advanced robots and androids were being designed and constructed by other androids that were so humanlike in appearance, it would have been hard to tell without a close examination.

The humans who worked in this division prior to the viral plague spreading through out the world, had the foresight to construct enough androids to replace the entire workforce if necessary.

Due to the highly advance synaptic duality of their minds, they functioned on as high, and in many ways, higher levels than their human counterparts. The lead android, who had an anacronym for a name, MSASL (Multilayered Synaptic Analytic Self Learning) foresaw the immediate need for androids who could care for, and if necessary, replace those who had been infected by this serious contagion.

The crowning achievement was the Nurse. MSASL knew its human masters would be in dire need of something to care for all the many infants that managed to survive. The other achievement, were those androids that were built to maintain the food production, supply delivery, infrastructure maintenance, and manufacturing of necessary goods.

There were autonomous vehicles, aircraft, loaders, workers, and now … those that carried the Honorable title of Nurse. The first ones should be arriving at the hospitals anytime. They could be nurses, nursemaids, research scientists, virologists, even doctors and surgeons if necessary. Currently, many of the first androids that had been constructed at the start of the plague aided in creating a means to save those who had been infected. If not for them, the virus death toll would have been far worse than it currently was.

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Back at the meeting of what was now the remaining ruling council of the city, the Mayor said, “I do want to show you this.” She gestured towards a door. Several beings that appeared to be an equal number of men and women stiffly entered and came to the podium to stand beside her. “One of the emergency programs I have asked to be initiated involves some of the most advanced robotics our world has to offer.” She indicated the beings with her hand before continuing, “These are that emergency contingency. They are androids that are fully capable of filling in for many missing workers and scientists. They will and are performing repair and manufacturing tasks necessary for our continued survival.”

“Robots takin’ our jobs?” asked one young gap-toothed boy. “How’re we gonna pay for our homes an’ our groceries?”

“We’re working that out,” said the Mayor, “but for now, if you’re too ill or not big or strong enough to do your job, and if one of these androids can do it, you’ll still be paid. The androids are being provided courtesy of NanoGen Incorporated, which was looking for an opportunity to start full-scale testing of their latest android models. At the moment, at least, they’re willing to provide android labor at no cost to you.”

“What about jobs that can’t be done by androids?” asked a tiny toddler girl, standing up on her chair. Several others around her looked distressed and held up their hands to keep the small girl from falling off and getting hurt, but she sat back down.

“Until some more permanent solution can be found, we’ll make do with what we have,” said the Mayor. “Perhaps others who are less affected can be replaced by androids and can take those jobs instead. But there are already bills going through Congress to make sure that no one will lack for the necessities. I’m told the androids can speak -- let’s ask them if they have anything to say. Do you have anything to add?” the Mayor asked the nearest android, holding up the microphone.

“We are programmed to assist you,” said the android in a pleasant but flat tone of voice in a masculine range of pitch, to go along with its generally male appearance. It did not go on.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” said the Mayor. “We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

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June was just returning from the intake ward across the hall when she noticed Nurse Patricia leading a new nurse to the pediatric ward. She was light-skinned, black-haired, and wore what looked like the same uniform that all other nurse assistants wore in this hospital. She seemed to move a bit stiffly.

“Oh, hello,” said Nurse Patricia. “June here is our little guardian angel, watching over the new patients across the hall,” she explained to the newcomer as they all entered the pediatric ward. “It’s almost bedtime, though, so maybe you can help. Many of the kids will need diaper changes, so can you help with that?”

“Yes,” said the new nurse in a pleasant but unemotional tone. “I have been fully programmed by several experienced nurses. Shall I change the diapers while you help the kids brush their teeth and change into their jammies?”

“That sounds like a good plan,” said Nurse Patricia.

“Very well,” said the newcomer. “June? Would you like to go first?”

“Umm, OK,” said June, following the new nurse over to the changing table in one corner of the ward and holding up her arms. The new nurse carefully if stiffly lifted June onto the diaper changing table. “Are you a robot? What’s your name?”

“I am a multilayered synaptic android from NanoGen. I am called Sara-117, but please call me Sara,” said the android. “I am sensing that your intellectual level is considerably beyond your physical appearance. As this is a ward for patients affected by the recent regressive virus, I must conclude that your mind has been largely unaffected, while your body has undergone considerable regression.” The android was competently but mechanically changing June’s wet diaper, thoroughly cleaning her skin with a wipe currently.

“That’s true,” June said. “My mental capacity seems to be about what it was. It’s good to meet you, Sarah. So … I’ve heard of NanoGen. The company I used to work for sometimes did product testing for them. Are they sending androids to help with the workforce issues?”

“Yes,” said Sara. “The company is attempting to mitigate the economic impact of the worldwide pandemic while engaging in a real-world test of its current android models.” Sara had a dry diaper under June and was powdering her lightly before snugly fastening the new diaper around her.

“Well, it’s good to hear that there won’t be a total gap in essential labor,” June said.

“Economic projections greatly improve when the NanoGen android workforce is considered,” said Sara. “There you go, little one. All ready for dream land. I believe Nurse Patricia can help with the rest.”

“Great, thank you Sara!” said June. “Good luck!” The android nodded and was already sanitizing her hands for the next patient, who was Vickie.

“What do you think?” Nurse Patricia asked June as they went to the sink.

“That was different,” June said. “She’s clearly well programmed, but her speech is kind of, well, robotic.”

“I suppose that’s only to be expected,” said Nurse Patricia with a smile, helping June up onto the step stool so she could brush her teeth. The step stool had to be pretty high, because June was so small, so the nurse stood right behind June in case she stumbled. As the toddler brushed her teeth, Nurse Patricia went on. “We try to protect our staff as best we can, but we have lost some to the virus.”

“Well, at least Nurse Kate got to me in time,” June said around her toothbrush.

“That’s true,” said Nurse Patricia. “The virus couldn’t regress her past about 20 years of age once you stopped it. I wish I knew how you did that! But you probably wish the same.” June nodded. “If we had a medicine or a machine that could do what you do, we could stop the virus worldwide. But you don’t even know what exactly you do.” June shook her head sadly.

The therapist who had talked to June pretty much confirmed what June suspected -- she was traumatized and was still in a state of trauma. She was far from alone in this -- there were few in the world now whose lives hadn’t been thrown into complete disarray by the virus. Some had dead relatives, others had relatives who were babies -- or were babies themselves -- while many had switched sex due to the virus’ apparently random actions. And then there were the unusual abilities, which were somehow not being talked about on TV. They’d all been assuming the abilities were being hushed up, so they hadn’t been talking to anyone outside the ward about them. June hadn’t even mentioned them to her therapist.

“There we go, all done!” said Nurse Patricia in her musical voice. “Let’s get you in your jammies, and then it can be Vickie’s turn!”

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Nurse Patrica took Vickie under her arms and lifted her from the playpen she had been playing dollies in. Patricia marveled at how much Vickie had accepted her gender and age change. It was true, Vickie still had her adult mind intact much the same as June, but Vickie seemed to enjoy the extra attention being a toddler afforded.

Patricia cooed, “Here we go baby. Up on the table for a nice change.” then tickled her in the ribs gently. Vickie, of course giggled and screeched like any toddler her age under those circumstance.

Nurse Patricia removed the wet and messy diaper, cleaned her well, then snugly fastend a night time one on after powdering her. Without warning, Nurse Patricia bent over and blew a very large raspberry right in Vickie’s tummy. Vickie’s eyes got huge as she screeched loudly and kicked and squirmed for all she was worth.

Nurse Patricia took hold of one of Vickie’s ankles, took her big toe between her index and thumb, “This little piggie …”

Vickie screeched and giggled and squirmed until the very end when Nurse Patricia finished, “... and this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home,” and blew another large raspberry in her tummy.

Then she carried the very jubilant Vickie over to the crib next to June and tucked her in for the night. She gave June and Vickie a small peck on the nose before leaving them to tend to the many other infants in the ward with the help of her new android assistant Sara.

June sat up in her crib and sucked her thumb thoughtfully as the nurse tucked Vickie in. After she had left, June took her thumb from her mouth and said, “You sure are getting into that infant thingy. I still feel kinda strange over the whole regression thing.”

Vickie sat up and replied, “No got a choice in being a baby. No got a choice in being a girl now either. Seems to me it’s a whole lot of fun to be what I am and enjoy the perks that go along with it.”

June giggled, “I can relate to that. Only real thing I have issues with is some of the infant toys are boring. I think I can get them to bring in some different things for those of us with special needs. Hey -- why’s the potty decorated like it is? It’s not like I can use it, but that’s just silly.”

Vickie shivered slightly at the tingle that ran up and down her spine at the thought of it. “No potty monser! It scawy!”

“It’s not good of them to have something that scares you!” June said. “This is supposed to be a safe place, not a place with monsters. Speaking of which … what do you think about the android?”

“Nurse Sara?” asked Vickie. “She’s kinda … robotty. But she’s here to help, and that’s good.”

“Yeah, it is good that Nurse Patricia and the others get to take more breaks and get more rest,” said June. “But … Sara never sleeps, and I have to wonder whether she’s connected to the other ones all over the world.”

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“Hey!” said the baby girl. “My diaper’s wet! I need a change!”

“Right away, Sweetheart,” said the woman, hurrying to pick her up and get her to the changing table.

“And you! I want some ice cream.” A young man hurried to get her a dish of ice cream and a bib for after her diaper change. There were now several men and women waiting on the girl hand and foot. All the woman were sure they remembered giving birth to this baby, and none of them thought that was strange. A few of them had turned into babies themselves because of the virus and had been taken away to the local hospital, but that was just the way the world was now.

“This is okay,” the baby girl said quietly to herself, “lots better than just being a baby again. But it doesn’t make up for getting changed by the virus.” In a louder voice she said, “You! Delbert!”

“Me? But my name’s David.”

“Your name is Delbert now.”

“My name is Delbert now …”

“You’re pretty good with money. Set up some bank accounts and figure out how to get me more of it. Legal, illegal, I don’t care, as long as I don’t get into trouble.”

“Yes, Sweetheart, anything for you!”

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“So I know it sounds strange, but I just kind of … told myself that I wouldn’t be getting any younger, and my mind wasn’t going to turn into a baby’s, and that’s what happened,” said June. “And then I called 911.”

“How does that make you feel?” asked the therapist, whose name was Marcia. She always asked questions about June’s feelings. June supposed that was what therapists were supposed to do.

“I mean … I guess I feel less afraid, less like my life is out of control, even though it really is.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Marcia.

June replied, “Well, I can’t grow up again, can I? I’m not losing my adult intellect, but I’ve lost all semblance of potty training, I can’t drive a car, I can barely walk, and I need a tall stepstool to reach a sink. I need diapers, and I can’t change my own diapers. I’m so … dependent now.”

“It doesn’t sound as if you like being dependent,” Marcia remarked.

“No! I don’t want to be a burden on anyone.”

“And yet you’ve helped so many people,” replied Marcia. “Doesn’t that make others dependent on you?”

“I … guess so?” June replied tentatively.

“That means you and others are interdependent,” said Marcia.

“Independent or codependent?” asked June.

“Codependent is a specialized term, often misused,” Marcia explained. “Someone has to enable another person’s unhealthy behavior in order for codependency to come into play. But for behavior to be unhealthy, it has to be both elective and self-destructive. Is that the case for yourself or anyone you’ve helped?”

“Well -- I guess not,” said June. “I can’t help -- what’s going on?” They could see through the door’s window that there were people running outside in the hall, not toward the intake ward, but to the pediatric ward, where June’s friends were.

“Let me find out,” said Marcia. “Don’t worry. Stay here.” Marcia opened the door and left.

June, of course, didn’t let the door close, and peeked out into the hall.

“No! How’d he get out there?” said a voice.

A voice that was clearly recognizable as the android Nurse Sara’s said, “It would appear that someone unlocked the window. My last check of it was 39 minutes, 12 seconds ago.”

“I didn’t mean to!” said a voice, sounding like Vickie’s. “It was hot and stuffy in here, and I wanted fresh air!” June toddled toward the pediatric ward to see what was happening. One of the young boys, named Norm, had climbed outside. They were on the fourth floor. The ledge was all that stood between Norm and a deadly fall.

“Norm, please, come back inside where it’s safe,” said Nurse Patricia.

“No,” said Norm. “My life’s over. I just want it to stop. I’ve lost everything. My family’s all gone. Nobody’s left in this world who cares about me.” He sounded like he was in such despair.

“Norm, there are people who care about you right here,” said Marcia. “We’ve all lost people. But we’re together in this.”

“I don’t know you! I don’t know any of you, and you don’t know me! We only met a week ago! How could we all be friends already?”

From her position just inside the ward’s door, June noticed that she was right next to Kylie. She whispered to her, “If he falls … you can catch him. You can fly.”

Kylie’s face lit up. She had been looking terribly apprehensive, but now she looked determined. “That’s right! I can! But he’s still pretty big for the bird I turn into.”

“Who says that’s the only kind of bird you can turn into?” asked June. She looked at Kylie -- looked with that other vision, in which Kylie glowed, and she could somehow see. “You can turn into just about whatever you want, as long as it’s a bird.”

“Hey, really?” asked Kylie. “I know!” Like a shot, she was off, flying through the air in the form of the tiny bluebird that she’d become before. But then something blocked the sun shining in the window.

“Aaah! What’s that?” came the frightened voice of Norm. “It’s …”

“It’s me, Norm,” came Kylie’s voice, though it sounded strangely resonant and deeper. “It’s Kylie. I’m not gonna let you do it. Things will get better. We’ll make sure they do.”

June couldn’t see what was happening, because it was to one side of the window. Vickie was looking anxiously and was even trying to look out the window from an angle, but she couldn’t see either -- June gathered that she couldn’t use her powers because she couldn’t see Norm.

“I didn’t know you could turn into … that,” Norm’s voice said.

“Neither did I, until a friend told me to try a new thing,” said Kylie. “You’re still alive. You’re going to be OK. Bad things have happened. But we’re going to do the best we can. OK? How about you go back inside? I’m not going to let you do it.”

“I guess …”

“Come on. I can stay here all day. It’s really easy, actually,” Kylie said. And as Norm edged back toward the window, she came into view -- she’d become a California condor, using her talons to hold onto the ledge and using her 10-foot wingspan to keep Norm on the ledge. She moved with Norm, grasping the ledge with one foot and then the other, until Norm was in view of the room. Vickie had her hand out, just in case, but Norm climbed back in. As soon as his feet were on the floor, Kylie changed back into the bluebird, flew in, and landed right next to Norm, changing back to human form.

Nurse Sara quickly closed the screen and window, locking it carefully. Everyone else seemingly breathed a sigh of relief. June went over to Vickie and quietly asked, “Are you all right?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Vickie was whispering to herself. “I didn’t know Norm was gonna do that!”

“No, you didn’t,” said June. “You can talk to Marcia about it when it’s your turn. It wasn’t your fault. But maybe you shouldn’t open the window when you’re not supposed to. Or you could’ve asked Sue if you wanted a breeze.”

“Oh yeah,” said Vickie. “I forgot.”

Meanwhile, everyone was hugging Norm, and June and Vickie went to join in. “It’s OK, Norm, you’re OK now!” said Sue.

Nurse Patricia and Marcia were talking and writing something down, but Marcia went over and said, “Norm, let’s talk.” She turned to June and said, “We’ll take a raincheck, June. Turns out Norm needs my help pretty badly right now.” June nodded understandingly.

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Back at the research facility known as Nano/Gen, many of the research personnel, along with an equal number of androids who were specifically trained to do this type of work, were looking over stacks of paper and observing many large flatscreen monitors filled with data, equations, chemical formulas, and genetic diagrams. Several of the young men and women had very frustrated and worried expressions.

A cute redhead with adorable freckles looked up and said with frustration obvious in her tone, “It doesn’t make any sense. This XHna framework should have stopped the aging process, but shouldn’t have manifested any of the other responses, some of which are downright impossible.”

A young man replied without looking up from the thick binder he was reading, “You’re just upset because you’re a girl now, Minton.”

A titter of laughter rounded the room for an instant as Minton blushed pink.

She finally said in exasperation, “You’re mad because your husband is divorcing you because you’re now a man, Jeffers. So we both have problems, don’t we?”

Jeffers looked up and said curtly, “That might be so, but I do tend to agree with you. Something heretofore undiscovered contaminated the original XHna / Collagen framework. Something capable of changing the very structure of ordinary matter. As we all know, whomever it infects, and it does infect everyone, the resultant reaction to the infection is based entirely on individual genetics. A few are barely affected at all, most are reduced in physical and usually mental age, and some are converted to protoplasmic residue if this isn’t stopped -- thank goodness for the lucky discovery of XHna-shock injections. But, according to my computer models, in rare cases, the reaction could result in unpredictable combinations of the unknown factor.”

A slightly older man brought a binder over to Minton and placed it in front of her. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” he said, “but most of those who have become younger are showing no signs of regrowth. In other words … odds are extremely good they aren’t going to grow back up. There’s also something else.”

Minton looked at the binder, and her eyes grew large. “But Dr. Rice … that would mean ...”

Rice continued, “That’s right. If there’s an individual with that genetic trait there, this equation shows, the unknown factor can cause a driving resonance in brainwave patterns. In other words ...”

Jeffers scooted over and started looking at the data in the binder next to Minton. “It means we have a serious problem. If there exists a person with that gene combination, they could control the minds of others. They could coerce anyone into doing … anything.”

The three of them looked at each other with real worry on their faces.

One of the male androids said in its flat tone, “I think I might have a solution to that dilemma.”

Jeffers asked, “What is it? I can’t see how we can devise anything to even detect, much less counter such an ability.”

The android replied, “There is an infant at the local hospital who has displayed the ability to sense the action of the unknown factor, as if it is a previously undiscovered form of energy. An android nurse that has been working closely with those infants has, through observations and scans, determined a mechanical but crude way to sense the same energy. Although it isn’t nearly as sensitive nor as detailed as her sense is, it will do adequately in detecting such abilities in operation somewhere in the vicinity.”

Minton asked with wonder in her tones, “How could something like that be detected through a mechanical means?”

The android stood up straight and replied in its flat tone, “Repeated experimentation has discovered a hyperbolic meta-material which, if tiled and tilted at precise angles, then manually adjusted for finer tunings, can bring the energy into focus. This has allowed for the development of a new type of optical fiber which, in turn, allowed for the creation of a quantum photonic prototype device that has enabled the research team to detect the particular energy wavelength responsible for the unusual abilities at a quantum level.”

Rice said with incredulity, “That’s … amazing.” He shook his head then asked, “Is this a brand new approach? Or is it built on existing technology?”

The android answered, “Some of it is a new approach, some is built on existing technology. Another breakthrough has been researched into generating electricity and cooling for the micro components. On a scale as small as some of the components are, and the temperatures the micro lasers can reach, the research team made a hydrogel consisting of a polyacrylamide framework infused with water and specific ions. When they heated the hydrogel, two of the ions; ferricyanide and ferrocyanide; transferred electrons between electrodes, generating electricity. Meanwhile, water inside the hydrogel evaporated, cooling it. After use, the hydrogel regenerated itself by absorbing water from the surrounding air. Basically, the device is sensitive to the specific frequency we are searching for and generates its own power and cooling in a self regenerating way.”

The three human researchers looked at each other as Minton said in awe, “That’s ... totally amazing.”

“We merely wish to help this team accomplish its goals,” the android replied. “I will note, however, that we are working only experimentally. We have no idea yet what the unknown factor is. Human theorists have guessed that it may be an excitation of a heretofore undiscovered fifth fundamental quantum field, or an incursion from a variant space-time continuum with different fundamental physical laws, or some form of intelligent nanomatter of unknown origin, and we have found no evidence inconsistent with any of these hypotheses.”

“Could be any of the hypotheses …” said Minton. “Well, the fifth-force one is my idea, so I’m going to focus on disproving it. Anyone want to take on one of the others?”

“I’ve got an experiment in mind that would tell us whether it’s somehow a bending of physical laws due to contact with a parallel reality,” said Jeffers. “That’s the most far-out of the hypotheses, so if that’s it, we should rule it out as quickly as we can.”

“I’ll plan an experiment to disprove the intelligent nanomatter hypothesis,” said Dr. Rice. “But … let’s not forget what our android friends have discovered today. There are individuals with extraordinary abilities enabled by the unknown factor. So far there are at least two variants: mind control and detection. There may be others. But the mind control variant is highly worrying. It is imperative that the variant-energy detection device will need to be used as widely as possible in order to detect whether dangerous variants exist in reality, as opposed to mere theory.”

“I am in agreement,” said the android. “Efforts are already under way … you may find it interesting to know that data has reached me about other variants that have just made themselves known to us. A body-transformation variant exists. Put simply, the individual appears to be able to transform herself into various avian species.”

“She can turn into birds?” asked Minton. “That’s amazing! I wish I could see her do it!”

“Perhaps we will be able to obtain video footage next time it happens,” replied the android. “But this is probably just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The number of possible variants is certainly quite large. The mind-control variant is only one, and at this time it is unknown whether anyone with that variant exists.”

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“So you can … see when someone has one of these … powers?” asked Marcia.

“Yeah,” said June. “I can see when they use them, too. It’s like a … glow, sort of, except I don’t really see it with my eyes. It’s hard to describe.” The two were alone, because this was one of June’s therapy sessions with Marcia.

“But you can also heal people who are infected by the virus,” Marcia said. “Does that mean you have two special abilities now?”

“I don’t know,” June said. “It feels like the same thing, though. But what if that means that people with … powers … are still infected?”

“As far as anyone knows, you aren’t,” said Marcia. “But what if it’s not that? What if the virus leaves something behind in some people, and that’s what you can sense?”

“You mean, maybe the virus has this energy or whatever in it, and it leaves that energy behind in some people after it’s gone, and it’s that energy that I can sense, not the virus itself?” asked June. “Maybe. But I can control the virus. Wouldn’t that mean … that I could control the powers people have?”

“I … don’t know,” said Marcia. “I’d offer to let you experiment on me, but I don’t have any powers.”

“No, I don’t sense any glow from you,” said June, looking at her. “Well … barely any …”

“But June, I’ve never been infected,” said Marcia. “They injected me with the XHna-shock serum as soon as the virus appeared in the hospital, and I’ve gotten repeated injections since.

“I don’t think that … matters?” said June. “Look … your glow has a shape. I can’t describe it, because there’s nothing to compare it to. Everyone I’ve seen’s shape is different. Yours is faint, but it’s there. What if I … brighten it a bit …”

“What … what are you … what’s happening?” asked Marcia, her eyes wide. “I … I’m hearing your thoughts! I can feel what it’s like, what you’re doing. I can see what you’re seeing. I see my glow, my pattern, and you’re brightening it somehow. Are you … are you saying that my pattern is to read minds?”

“I guess you’d call it that,” said June. “I can see it … it’s a very good talent for a therapist to have, but you’d have to watch out, because you can see things that could be unethical if you talk about them with others, and you can see things that you’ll want to unsee, but you can’t … and ‘see’ isn’t the right word for it, not really …”

“No, it isn’t, Marcia said. “Amazing …”

“It’s up to you whether I should dim it down again,” said June. “But I think your mind was sort of prepared for that pattern of energy -- maybe it’s why you became a therapist. You can understand others already; this is just a new way to do it.”

“I … don’t know what to decide,” Marcia said. “But I’ve got an idea. If you leave it, I’ll try living with it for 24 hours. If I can’t stand it, I’ll come back and ask you to … dim it back down, as you put it. Otherwise … wow. Just think of how much I could help people.”

“That’s assuming you can properly control it, but I think you can,” said June. “We’ll see. Let me know.”

“Who’s the therapist here?’ asked Marcia with a smile. “And June … I can see what you’ve done. To yourself. You’ve made yourself accept becoming a girl, and it hasn’t left you without some scars. But you haven’t made yourself accept being an adult in a child’s body, and that’s causing scars. I’m not sure which is better. One was a drastic change, the other is a gradual change that’s just begun. All changes leave scars, June. I’m just not sure whether it’s better to get them over with quickly or let them develop slowly over time.”

“Maybe we’ll find out,” said June, looking sad. “Maybe you’ll help me find out. Am I just using you to help me?”

“I’m volunteering to let you use me,” said Marcia, “because that’s my job -- I want to help people, and that’s why I chose this career. What happens now? But I’ll talk to you soon -- either tomorrow or next week. OK?”

“OK, Miss Marcia,” said June. “Have a good day, or week … and good luck …”

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In several banks around the city, several young women entered and opened bank accounts at each location in the name of Nancy Infante. None of the tellers took any special notice and opened each account with a starting minimum deposit of $100.00.

At the comptrollers office of the local computer center for the city’s banking institutions, a young man by the name of Dilbert Hilberth, applied for and received the job of head comptroller for the banking networks computer system. His credentials were exemplary, and the government even validated many of them.

His scores on the system testing were the highest any had ever witnessed. This should have raised many questions; however, because of the major loss of employees due to the current pandemic outbreak, this individual was a welcome relief to fill the void.

Dilbert sat at the master control keyboard and typed in a very complex binary code. He smiled at how easily this was going to work. He had received the account routing numbers for the bank accounts the other’s of his conspiracy had opened, and he knew just how to launder this.

The system automatically would truncate any and all less than a whole penny results and drop them from the tallys to round at the lower number. None would ever be the wiser. The truncated amounts then were ushered to a cyber account nestled deeply within a severely firewalled computer system deep in the war vault of the Pentagon that Dilbert had a back door to due to the resourcefulness of his infant daughter Nancy. This system now became the Honey Pot and allowed the whole scheme to proceed totally undetected.

Once the money became whole numbers, it then was disbursed through various social support networks for infant children and their unwed mothers and wound up, after many long drawn out and complicated washings to avoid suspicions, into the new accounts made for Nancy Infante.

Next, he began to farm for cyber currencies through the Honey Pot system. After collection, they were then converted into stocks and mutual funds, again in the name of Nancy Infante. This began to become worth millions as the farming became more successful as the AI learned its task.

Dilbert sat back and smiled. He was positive Nancy would be extremely pleased with him as he watched the tally rise exponentially well into the millions and millions.

Under normal circumstances, these goings-on would have been totally missed. However, several androids were explicitly looking for such mysterious transactions to attempt to find any and all who might have a certain type of extraordinary abilities. They also had new devices to aid in this that mankind had not imagined before.

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To aid in the search for the unusual abilities, the androids had discovered a way to create once-unimaginable transistors consisting only of several-atom clusters or even single atoms that quickly became the building block of a new generation of computers with unparalleled memory and processing power.

Linking multiple copies of these devices laid the foundation for a quantum computing system unimagined by their human scientist comrades, and was a major advancement to their own minds and computational prowess.

The androids demonstrated to the human scientists that they could precisely adjust the rate at which individual electrons flow through a physical gap or electrical barrier in their transistor, even though classical physics would forbid the electrons from doing so because they lacked enough energy.

That strictly quantum phenomenon, known as quantum tunneling, only became important when gaps were extremely tiny, such as in the miniature transistors. Precise control over quantum tunneling was key because it enabled the transistors to become “entangled” or interlinked in a way only possible through quantum mechanics and opened new possibilities for creating and controlling quantum bits, called qubits, that could be used in quantum computing. It also created the long sought after ability to keep the qubits from dissipating and becoming contaminated by other energy sources and retained their exact defined multi-states.

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“Come in,” said Captain Ramirez.

Edward-288, the android liaison to the Metro Police Department, entered the police captain’s office. “Captain,” said Edward, “information has come to our attention regarding a large-scale embezzling and money laundering operation that must be treated with the utmost delicacy, and I will explain everything.”

“I’m listening,” said Captain Ramirez. After Edward explained what the androids knew, the captain replied, “I see. So we will have to be careful who is in on the investigation, because any humans could potentially have been affected by the unknown individual, presumably alias Nancy Infante.”

“Correct,” Edward replied. “We androids are capable of crudely detecting individuals with extraordinary abilities operating in an area -- we cannot use this technology to detect precisely which individuals have the abilities or who has been affected by them when they are not in actual operation.”

“Is there anyone who can tell, that you know of?” the captain asked.

“We have only seen some evidence that there may be such a person,” said Edward. “It is unclear whether they could actually discern that someone has been influenced by Nancy Infante.”

“That’s going to make this very difficult,” Ramirez said. “Unless … what about androids? Can Infante mind-control androids?”

“There is no evidence that she can, and quite a bit to indicate that she probably cannot,” said Edward, “but without an actual experiment, I cannot say with certainty, and such an experiment would be quite difficult to arrange.”

“In other words, probably not.”

“Indeed. Infante’s ability arises from the so-called Regression Virus, and this virus has had no effect on androids in any experiment conducted so far. Whether the energy manipulation abilities granted to Infante by the virus are also limited in the same way is unknown, but our models suggest that they would be.”

“Right. So what we could do is temporarily deputize some of your people, and you could start looking into this, and, what? Anybody who gets in your way, you arrest? I don’t think that’ll go over well.”

“The optics of such a plan would suffer,” agreed Edward. “Instead I believe we should simply observe, only interfering and reporting when someone actually breaks a law. Keeping in mind that by ‘observe,’ I mean a great deal more than simply visual observation, and by ‘report,’ I mean silently and instantaneously adding the infraction to an online database.”

“So basically a few places would have some new android security guards,” said Ramirez.

“In a nutshell, yes,” said Edward.

“OK, I’ll see what I can do,” said Ramirez. “One thing. I want you to observe as I talk to people. I find this very disturbing. Anyone I talk to might have changed loyalties since I last spoke to them. Maybe you can … I don’t know, notice something different about them.”

“Analyzing changes in behavior patterns is one of our specialties,” said Edward.

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“June,” said Sara after storytime one day, “could I talk to you for a moment?”

“Um, sure,” June said. “I don’t think I need a change yet.”

“That is not at issue,” said Sara. “Perhaps we could speak in Marcia’s temporary office, as it is unused at the moment.”

“All right.” They both went across the hall. Sara opened the door for June, and June climbed up onto the comfy chair with some difficulty until Sara helped her.

“It has come to our attention that there may be another of you with … unusual abilities,” Sara said. “We don’t know their identity, but they certainly were not treated at this hospital.”

“Well, there are probably some who managed to survive on their own,” said June. “Why do you think that?”

“Theoretical work indicates …” Sara began, explaining the situation to June as the androids knew it.

“So there’s somebody with mind-control powers out there,” said June. “I wonder whether other people with special abilities are susceptible, or whether they’re immune.”

“There is no reason to assume such immunity,” said Sara. “In fact, if Infante came in contact with people with special abilities, she would almost certainly want them under her control.”

“Well, certainly,” said June. “But that would be very dangerous. She sounds as if she’s more or less unmoored herself from all moral sensibility. Why can’t things just settle down into a new normal? Why does there have to be one crisis after another?”

“I’m sure I am the wrong person to ask such questions,” said the android. “Perhaps the so-called Regression Virus has introduced ripples of change through the world that have not yet finished propagating.”

“That sounds likely,” said June. “Why are you telling me about this, though?”

“You may be one of the only people who can detect individuals Infante has influenced,” said Sara. “Also … it is possible that you can immunize people from her influence.”

“Starting with my friends, and myself,” said June. “All right. I’ll see if I can do it.”

June later focused on her own mind. She could see the pathways of her thoughts and personality, thinking how easy it would be to bend them, but not knowing what directions they would take her in, she thought it best not to touch them. However, she imagined how someone might influence them from outside and wondered how to go about preventing such a thing. Suddenly the patterns changed, and there was a protective net of sorts around the outside now. Her thought patterns couldn’t be changed by anyone from outside her own mind. She decided to try this with Vickie too.

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Will walked down the street. Of course, Will wasn’t really walking down the street -- he was really back in the hospital’s pediatric ward, apparently sleeping in a crib. His projected self was free to roam around, as there was no chance of transmitting or catching any contagion from an insubstantial projection. He looked real to the unaided eye, however.

Toddling down the street, crinkling like any other diapered toddler, he saw how quiet and empty things were now. It was sad. He passed by many closed businesses. The First National Bank appeared open, though it said the tellers were closed -- only their offices were open, and many of the employees were working from home. Not all, however. He went inside. If he’d had to pull open the heavy doors, he’d never have been able to manage it, but instead he just moved through it as if it weren’t there.

Will went upstairs -- by going to the elevator shaft, phasing through the closed doors, and coming out through the closed doors on another floor. “Ding!” he said, giggling. He passed by several closed office doors; no lights were on within. Then he came to an open office room where there were only two people: one employee working at a desk and an android wearing a security guard uniform standing attentively by a door. “Hello,” he said to the android. “Why are you watching the inside of the room instead of the hallway?”

“I am actually watching both,” said the android. “I can see the hallway via several security cameras to which I have live access.”

“Wow, that’s cool!” said Will.

“What are you doing here?” the android said. “Although the branch is open for business, customers should be conducting their business over the Internet or at least via ATMs.”

“I know,” said Will. “I just don’t have much to do, and this is the only building open.”

“I see,” said the android. “Well, perhaps you should … oh, hello, Mr. Hilberth. I apologize if our conversation has disturbed your work. This customer is apparently unaware of the branch’s social-distancing policy.”

The single banker in the office had noticed Will and had come up behind him. “Quite all right. Well, you’re an interesting one, aren’t you?” he asked Will.

“I guess?” said Will. “I guess I’m a lot more interesting than I used to be.”

“Do you have bank business that you’d like to transact?” asked Hilberth. “Perhaps I could help you.”

“Not really,” Will said. “I was just visiting.” And he disappeared.

The android raised one eyebrow in mild surprise, but Hilberth’s eyes flew open wide. “Wow!” He composed himself. “That is … you saw him too, right?”

Meanwhile, back at the pediatric ward, Will rubbed his eyes and sat up in his crib. “Ooo, where’d ya go?” asked Kristi.

“Just walkin’ around downtown,” Will said. “I met an android. And a bank guy. The bank guy’s a crook. I think the android’s watchin’ him to see if he messes up.”

“Ooooo,” said Kristi. “Wanna play?”

Will giggled. “Sure!” he said. He got his duplicate to let himself out of the crib.

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Dilbert sat at his computer console in deep thought. What he had witnessed with the young boy vanishing before his eyes rattled him deeply. He looked over at the new robot guard. It was nonintrusive and seemed to just stand there. It didn’t interact unless he asked it something, which was fine with him.

He typed in some requests for research data on many of the Viral symptoms and the results left behind by those that managed to survive. He sat back in his chair and rubbed his chin at the lack of data so far on the virus.

In the back of his mind, he began to feel something was wrong as well. He knew his daughter, Nancy, would be very pleased with what he had done so far. According to the tallys, she was rapidly becoming one of the richest individuals on the planet. He was positive no one would be the wiser due to the fact the monies mined were basically lost in the system. All he was doing was collecting them.

Then a bothersome thought began to ring in his mind: how many women had given birth to his daughter? Then he also thought about how many wives he had, which began to ring false somehow. He would have to go talk with Nancy about this; something was wrong, and he was sure she could answer his questions.

The android guard recognized the change in Dilbert’s attitudes as he continued his covert observations and scans. Via pattern analysis he knew Dilbert was under the influence of whatever energy this new mind-control ability was, although he didn’t know where the actual prime zero individual with the ability was. The new equipment could find and recognize the residuals if localized, but was in no wise as sophisticated as the infant in the hospital had proven herself to be. However, when Dilbert eventually left the office, he would be surveilled by others.

Dilbert stood and said to the guard android, “I’m going home for a little while. Please notify me if there are any problems with the computers, please.”

The robot responded in his male flat tone, “By your command.”

After Dilbert nodded to him and left, the android notified several of the others who had been assigned to observe the translocation of the subject Dilbert. Dilbert was totally ignorant of the several autonomous drones hovering high above that were following and observing with some of the most sophisticated equipment known to mankind, and some not yet known to it. One of the readings began to suggest that the energy enveloping Dilbert had started to dissipate.

“Perhaps the control must be refreshed on a recurring basis,” an android named Eva-9 said to MSASL as they both observed these readings from their headquarters at Nano/Gen Cybernetics.

“A reasonable hypothesis,” MSASL replied. “The parameters of Hilberth’s place of residence continue to narrow.” In the cyberspace to which the androids were connected, there was a datamap of all regions where it was possible for Dilbert to live, and that map was constantly shrinking as portions of it were logically ruled out by his travel patterns.

“He knows that person,” said Eva-9, indicating someone that one of the drone cameras had seen Dilbert smiling and nodding to. “Heart rate decrease, and reactions unlike the vast majority of interactions.”

“He is nearing what he perceives as his home,” said MSASL. “Do not let the drones lose sight of him.”

Hilberth drove slowly through his home neighborhood -- or what he had come to see as his home neighborhood. As he approached his house, he saw Wendy -- one of his wives? -- or at least one of Nancy’s mothers? -- but she was a familiar, comforting face, and seeing her filled him with relief. Wendy was hanging up some of Nancy’s baby clothes to dry on the clothesline. He smiled at her, and she saw him and smiled back.

After parking and getting out of the car, he walked toward the house. Another of Nancy’s mothers emerged, as Wendy had finished and gone back inside. This was Maude, and she appeared to be picking up the mail.

“Hi, Dilbert,” said Maude. “Hope you had a good day at the office.”

“Only one customer all day,” he said. “But I have to talk to my sweetheart. Is she awake, or is she napping?”

“Oh, she’s awake,” said Maude with a smile. “Cranky, as always. Maybe she’s got the colic.”

“Could be,” said Dilbert. He and Maude both came back inside.

“I am SO TIRED of this TINY HOUSE!” ranted Nancy’s voice as they opened the door. Unbeknownst to them, a microdrone had slipped inside with them, no bigger than a common gnat. The door closed.

“Oh, Daddy,” said Nancy, suddenly reverting to a dulcet tone of voice as she saw him. “It is so wonderful to see you home!”

“Sweetheart, Daddy’s been thinking …” began Dilbert.

“Oh Daddy, you know that’s not good for you,” said Nancy. “Just relax and soon you’ll see again that there’s no point in worrying about any of that. You know that Maude’s my mommy, and Wendy’s my mommy, and so are Judith and Iris …” Dilbert’s mind was put greatly at ease as Nancy reasserted her mind control over him.

“It would appear that this girl is the mind controller,” said Eva-9, watching the feed from the microdrone with MSASL.

“Indeed,” MSASL agreed. “Do we have any information on her identity?”

“She matches video taken of the patient who escaped from Mercy Hospital on June 3,” Eva-9 replied, and in the android cyberspace, that video appeared next to the video that was now streaming in from the drone. “In fact, the medical researcher who was sent to care for her is seen on video setting her free, and later reported having no memory of doing so.”

“That hypothesis now has a high probability,” said MSASL. “In addition, the patient is clearly dependent on line of sight to monitor the state of her victims, and apparently reliant on voice contact in order to establish and maintain control.”

“A hearing-impaired human may be immune to the ability,” said Eva-9.

“And filling the room with obscuring fog may prevent her from monitoring her victims,” MSASL replied.

“Hypotheses to be tested,” said Eva-9.

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Nurse Sara entered the playroom and observed her infant wards at play. The new devices June and Vickie had requested were obviously in great demand by many of them.

Sara walked up to the baby barrier that was in place to keep the more infantile ones safely in the play area and said in her female monotone, “June, sweetheart? Is it possible for me to have a conversation with you at this time?”

June looked up and said in her small little girl voice, “Sure. Can say enny thing ya want to.” She had been trying to embrace the baby role, something Marcia had suggested to help her with her trauma.

Sara looked behind her for an instant then said in a more conspiratal way, “I would like it to be between you and me, if that could be possible.”

June stood, showing off her cute ruffles as little toddlers do. Vickie and several of the others looked at her for an instant. Vickie’’s expression took on a knowing look as June toddled over to the baby gate and was picked up by Sara and carried off.

Sara said very softly so only June could hear, “I believe we have located the escaped patient with the mind control ability.”

June replied just as softly as she was carried into an empty office, “How powerful is the energy aura around her?”

Sara replied as she sat June in one of the soft chairs and took a seat beside her, “Localized, it appears to be extremely powerful. However, once line of sight is broken, the energy seems to dissipate slowly over time as if it is radiating off into another state.”

June asked, “Radiating? What do you mean?”

Sara replied, “According to the drone scans I have just received, it apparently acts like a form of ionizing radiation. As time passes, it goes from a high energy level to a lower energy level by bleeding off and being absorbed by other objects. It is unclear, however, if this contaminates those objects for a time with increased energy, although it does create a path that can be followed if the scans are sensitive enough.”

June looked thoughtful for a bit as she sucked her thumb. She then replied, I would like to see if I can manipulate that individual in some way to contain or arrest the ability she is manifesting.”

Sara replied, “I will see if we can somehow arrange a safe way for that meeting to happen.” With this, Sara picked June to her breast and patted her hinney softly as she carried June back to the play area with the rest and filled her in on the most current data available.

When Sara had placed June within the group, Vickie crawled over and sat next to her, “Supp? Seems kinda important.”

June sat and sucked her thumb for a bit thoughtfully, a habit she had picked up somehow and couldn’t seem to shake, “Sara and the observation team have discovered the base location of the individual with the mind control abilities. Some other interesting data has come to light as well. There is a large possibility that line of sight is important to maintaining control. Once sight is lost, the effect looses potency over time. It also seems that hearing is important to the initial acquisition of the intended subject’s control. A hearing impaired individual might not be susceptible to the influence.”

Vickie perked up as she said with excitement, “Wait, I think I can help with visual obstruction. There’s always small objects and moisture in the air almost everywhere. I think I can manipulate it with my ability.”

June took her thumb from her mouth and replied, “Really? Show me. Give me a good demonstration. If it’s good enough, You can help in capture.”

Vickie closed her eyes and put her fingertips to her temples. Whether this action aided in anyway was unknown, but it helped Vickie visualize what she was trying to accomplish.

In her mind, she could see a cool, ozone smelling mist forming all around her. June’s eyes grew large in awe as the mist began to form. It sort of appeared magically and rapidly grew thicker in a large swirling cloud of clean ozone smelling vapor.

Several of the nurses and Sara rushed into the play area thinking a fire or something had started and were going to rescue the infants. That was when Sara’s scans revealed that Vickie had caused this and there was no danger to anyone.

Sara said loudly so all the other nurses and orderlies that were almost panicked could hear, “There is no danger. This is just a water vapor mist.”

Vickie opened her eyes and dropped her hands to her lap, the vapor rapidly faded away.

June said excitedly, “That’s wonderful. It would definitely obstruct anyone's vision as thick as that was.”

“Ooo, are we making fog?” asked Sue. “Can I play too?”

“Well, we --” began June, but before she could continue, there was a mist in the air again. “Umm, OK, thanks Sue,” she said. “I guess we have … extra fog?”

Vickie replied, “I’m not worried. We can have extra thick fog if we want now.”

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“There was a little boy who what?” asked Nancy.

“Disappeared,” said Hilberth. “The kid was right there, talking to that android security guard. I guess anybody could have walked in off the street, but the teller windows are all closed. Maybe he came up the elevator looking for someone to see him, or maybe he was just bored. But then he just vanished in front of our eyes. I didn’t make it up -- the guard said he saw the same thing happen.”

“A boy who can disappear?” asked Nancy. “Have you ever heard of such a thing? What if … what if I’m not the only one who’s got … look. I want you to search for any stories about people affected by the virus who have strange abilities. If there are disappearing kids or kids who fly or whatever out there, there’ll be news stories about them.”

“Of course, Sweetheart,” said Hilberth. “I’ll search right away.” And it wasn’t hard. Despite the fact that a lot of news channels and websites were on reduced staff because many were sick or even gone, there were still many stories and videos about sightings of people with unusual abilities in the past months since the virus’ appearance.

“So there’s this little boy in Barcelona who can run faster than a racecar,” said Hilberth, showing Nancy a video. “And there’s a little girl in Sydney, Australia who can turn into water. But it isn’t regular water, because it doesn’t get absorbed by her diaper; it’s like she’s still in it, telling it where to go and what to do, until she turns back into a little girl. She can flow under doors and through tiny cracks.”

“Huh,” Nancy said. “I wonder if there are any around here.”

“Well, I read something about a little boy in Sandytown who can scream and break windows,” Hilberth said, “but there aren’t any videos.”

“I would truly love to meet any of these amazing people, whether they’re children or adults,” Nancy said. “I don’t care whether I have to go see them or whether they’re willing to come meet me. I just want it to happen. Get everyone together. I have something I want to tell everyone.”

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It was raining outside the hospital, and the children were looking out the windows at the calm, steady rain, pattering on the window ledge, sometimes splattering on the outside of the window, washing the dust from the formerly dry pavement below.

“Want lightning?” asked Sue. “That’s fun.” The sky above lit up with cloud-to-cloud lightning, and thunder rattled the windows.

“Err, just don’t hurt anyone, Sue,” said June.

“No, of course not,” Sue said. “It’s just fun to play with.”

“What about making it NOT rain?” asked Vickie. “What if it’s a picnic and we need sunny skies?”

“Oh, that’s easy too,” Sue said. The rain stopped immediately, and the clouds started to clear. In less than a minute the sky was completely clear around the hospital.

“That’s just … amazing!” said Kylie. “Can you do any weather? Hail? Snow? Tornados?”

“I … guess?” replied Sue. “I like snow, but it’d all melt right now. Maybe I can make it cold too? Hmm. But hail … tornados … those are dangerous, and I don’t wanna hurt anybody.”

Nurse Patricia suddenly came into the room and talked to Nurse Sara, then said, “Kids, I’ve got a bit of an announcement. As you know, the hospital is desperate for space, and many of you are now showing no signs of infection, so that means that we’d ordinarily send you home. Your quarantine period is over. But …”

“The fact is that June’s presence has an extremely beneficial effect on patients,” said Sara. “The hospital wants her to stay here, if she’s willing.”

“No!” said Vickie. “I’m not going! Not if it means leaving June!”

“Me either!” said Kylie, Sue, and Will. Even some of the children who didn’t have special abilities didn’t want to leave, as they’d made friends.

“I don’t want to tear friends apart … or even … family,” said Nurse Patricia, “but the fact remains that we need the space for more patients.”

“That’s why some of my friends have been renovating the hospital’s old wing,” said Nurse Sara. “It’s not far from here, and we’ll take care of you there. Any of you who want to go there can.”

“Really?” asked June.

“Yay!” shouted Vickie, jumping.

“If you don’t want to stay, and you have family who can pick you up,” Nurse Patricia said, “you’re free to go as long as you’ve got a clean bill of health.” She named off several of the patients who looked and acted like ordinary babies or children.

“But there are others … like us,” said June. “I can tell now that anyone who regresses to childhood but retains their adult intellect must have special abilities, even if they don’t know what they are.”

“Really?” asked Sara with a raised eyebrow. “That’s a fascinating data point. We’ll have to check that out. But right now, we’ve got to get you to your new home.”

June walked up to Nurse Patricia. “That means you’re staying here,” she said. She hugged Nurse Patricia’s knees. “Thank you so much. I don’t know what I’d have done.”

“Aww, Sweetie,” said Nurse Patricia. “Any nurse worth the title would’ve done the same. You’re all so amazing! Just be good girls and boys, OK?”

When June, Vickie, Will, Sue, and Kylie arrived at the new ward, they gasped, because it was beautiful. There were all sorts of different areas -- cribs in the sleeping area, a soft play area, a reading area with lots of books, a computer area with tablets and PCs, a TV area with lots of selection, and more. There were more than five cribs, too -- there were dozens. It was as if the androids were expecting several more children with special abilities. And the ward was staffed with many android nurses.

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Nancy sat in her crib and sucked her thumb worriedly. Not only was she starting to acquire more infantile habits and traits, there was a new kind of worry. She now knew beyond any doubt there were others who had manifested abilities.

She grinned as she thought of the control she could have over this rotten planet if she had a small army of abilities. She was positive she could find the disappearing infant. It wouldn’t be too great a chore to find a lone wandering infant.

There was a nagging worry that kept hounding in the back of Nancy’s mind. Why would that particular infant just happen to be in the bank at that particular time? Nancy opened her tablet and brought up the accounts that had been opened by her “mommies” in her name.

A tingle of excitement ran all through her to the point she wet her diaper. The amounts in each account kept spiraling ever higher. She also implemented many investments … at least those that were still available under the circumstances.

Nancy tried very hard to see if she could find any others with special abilities using her ability, with no luck. She finally gave up the attempt. It had become obvious her abilities operated in controlling and manipulating, not in cognition.

Nancy went to her knees, then stood up like any toddler her age, showing off the cute ruffled panties one of her mommies had dressed her in. She stood for an instant to regain her balance, it was one of those infantile things that so irritated her, then toddled over to the large flat screened T.V. and turned it on.

Almost every channel only had the news of the Virus and its impact on the world, and how a lone company, Nano/Gen, had managed to have the foresight to create Robots that enabled the world to continue on through the disaster without too much damage to the infrastructure or food chains.

She had to talk to Dilbert. She had to know if there were anything he had missed in telling her when that child that disappeared was there.

Unknown to Nancy, however, her every move was being monitored by drones smaller than a human hair … of course they too had been manufactured by Nano/Gen and their amazing android research department.

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Nancy rode in the back in her car seat, and although it irritated her to have to ride in such an infantile way, she agreed that it was best to obey the rules of the road until she could buy the road. Dilbert was driving, and Wendy, one of her mommies, was also in the front.

“Now, we’re going to talk to the parents of a little girl named Phyllis, whose news story said she could somehow solidify air or make force fields or something like that?” said Wendy. “I think it’s a bit dangerous for my Sweetheart to go talking to the boy who can shatter glass with his voice, but Phyllis sounds like she can’t do anything really scary.”

“Let’s hope you and Phyllis hit it off,” said Dilbert. “I’ve been a little bit worried that you haven’t been playing with other kids your age.”

“Yes,” said Nancy. “You have both been worried about finding appropriate playmates for me, haven’t you? And that means you want to find playmates who are bright and gifted and have special abilities, just like your own bright, gifted, special daughter whom you love so much and want to give every possible advantage to.”

“Yes, of course, Sweetheart,” said both Dilbert and Wendy in unison.

“Here we are, in Bluestem Hills,” said Dilbert. “There’s the house, right there.” He pulled into the driveway and parked, and Wendy got out and released Nancy from her prison, holding her in her arms. Nancy sucked her thumb without realizing it until Wendy replaced it with her pacifier, and Nancy frowned at it, because she definitely did not want to need a pacifier, but then the door to the house opened, so she smiled and waved, hoping to make a good impression.

“Oh hi,” said the young man who had opened the door. “You must be the Infantes. I’m Joe, and this is Alice.” He didn’t look old enough to be a father, but perhaps the virus had reduced him in age. Alice looked like a young teenager, so perhaps she was also a virus victim who had been rescued before she’d gotten too young to live independently. Dilbert introduced Wendy and Nancy.

“Phyllis is inside,” said Joe. “She’s really quite embarrassed -- she used to be a teenager, but now she’s a toddler in diapers again. We’ve really been hoping to find others who are in the same boat for her to play with. The experts say it’s best for them to get used to their new state, because there’s a good chance they won’t be growing up again, but it’s so hard for Phyllis. Please, come in.”

“Here, why don’t you put Nancy in the playpen with Phyllis so they can get acquainted,” said Alice, and Wendy did so. The adults sat down in the living room to talk.

“You’re … like me?” asked Phyllis. She was a blonde girl, dressed in a bright red dress decorated with a strawberry print. Her diapers were quite visible, but then, so were Nancy’s.

“Yes,” Nancy said. “I used to be a lot older, but now … I’m like this. But it doesn’t have to be awful.”

“I guess not,” said Phyllis, “but some parts of it really are. I just hate it when I … you know.”

“Mess your diaper?” asked Nancy. “Yes, I understand. But … I am sure we’re going to be great friends.”

“I’m … sure we are!” said Phyllis with a nod.

“It’s not so bad being a baby again,” said Nancy, looking into Phyllis’ eyes.

“It’s … not so bad …” Phyllis said.

“You’re probably feeling better already now that you’ve found a friend,” said Nancy.

“Now that you mention it, it’s a lot better now that I’ve got a friend,” Phyllis said.

“It’s so important to have a friend you can trust,” Nancy said, “and you can trust me, can’t you?”

“I can … trust you …” said Phyllis dreamily.

After a while, things didn’t smell very good in the vicinity of the playpen, and Alice came over. “Oh -- yes, I think Phyllis needs a bit of a change,” she said. She picked Phyllis up, and she smiled and giggled in her mother’s arms. “That’s kind of strange -- usually when she’s poopy, she screams like the world just ended.”

“Pew,” said Nancy, but Wendy came over to pick up Nancy at the same time.

“No, not messy, just very wet,” said Wendy, making Nancy blush. “I hope you don’t mind if I change her here while you get Phyllis changed.”

“Not at all,” Alice said, taking Phyllis to another room. “Go right ahead. Come on, Phyl …”

She was almost there, thought Nancy as Wendy changed her, something she was very used to by now. Phyllis would soon be doing anything she said, and one of those things was asking to come play at Nancy’s house. Soon she’d have another power to add to her collection … and there would be others.

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Vickie sat in the middle of a large room that had been set aside for her and others like her at the hospital. The record showed this wing was for the “GIFTED” children. However, there were a few here who had no extraordinary abilities, at least none that had as yet manifested themselves.

June took her thumb from her mouth and said, “I want you to try and levitate. Imagine in your mind that the air molecules around you are soft and semi-solid, like a pillow or something.” She put her thumb back in her mouth and watched to see what would happen.

Vickie was starting to get a tad frustrated. She could make things move, but since she’d created fog, she hadn’t managed to stretch her powers into any other areas. Thus far, all she had managed to do was create a large wind. Still, her friend June wanted it to happen, so … Vickie closed her eyes and imagined herself once again sitting on a soft fluffy cloud and floating. This time, an image of what she wanted seemed to form in her mind.

What happened next caused Nurse Sara’s maintenance systems to do a deep core diagnostic on her scanners while June smiled and nodded in approval. It was almost invisible, although a faint cloud of mist formed around Vickie and lifted her several feet into the air before it stopped and hovered.

June took her thumb from her mouth again and screeched loudly, “Yes!! Vickie!! That’s it!”

It was fortuitous that the floor was well padded and Vickie had on thick diapers. June’s screech caused Vickie to open her eyes and broke her concentration. The mist dissipated, and she fell on her thickly diapered bottom with a thump.

Vickie wasn’t hurt, but she still almost started to cry. After all, she was a baby and had just fallen down and gone boom.

Nurse Sara knew just what to do as she rushed up, clutched Vickie to her breast, and patted her bottom reassuringly, “There, there, Sweetheart. It’s OK. Baby just went boom a little bit.”

The other gifted infants watching started to clap their hands and screech for joy. After all this time, Vickie had managed to do something new!

Nurse Sara said in a soft coo, “Now remember, Vickie, telekinesis can be very dangerous if used improperly.”

Vickie nodded. She remembered what had happened when she had attempted to open a door too hard. It had torn loose, not from its hinges, but from the wall, along with its frame and several rows of block.

About that time, another android nurse entered the room with a young woman about 18 years old. The nurse clapped her hands together and said, “I would like to introduce Lena to the group. She’s here searching for a friend she had hoped might be among you.”

Lena came forward a few steps, waved, and said softly, “Hi. I’m here looking for my friend, John. John, if you are here, It’s me, Lennie. I caught the virus the night we were at the bar, but it didn’t make me into an infant, although it did change me into a young woman.”

June turned and looked at the pretty brunette girl as she stood like any toddler and started toddling over, “Lennie. It’s me, John. I got the virus too, but got it bad. They just managed to catch me before I regressed any further.”

Lena knelt down, took June in her arms, and gave her a big hug, “OMG! I didn’t think I would ever find you again.” Then the two of them went through their intricate ritual they had been doing since they were in grammar school.

Lena asked, “Why do they call this particular area the Gifted Children’s Wing?”

One of the young boys replied, “Because we can do magical things.” With this, the young man turned almost transparent, then walked through a wall into the other room. He returned to the room with Lena in it through the door like a normal person.

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In a highly specialized isolation room, an infant sat in just a diaper. He was very troubled and said over and over, “Gone … all gone. Just … dissolved away to goo.”

A nurse said to the doctor next to her, who was monitoring the infant, “Is there anything we can do?”

The doctor shook his head slowly, “Nothing, unless we can get through to him. His repulsion ability is powerful. He almost killed several of the orderlies who were trying to talk with him.”

Neither the nurse nor the doctor seemed to notice a woman carrying an infant enter the room. The male child scooted back into a corner of the special isolation chamber in fear when the woman tried to talk with him.

The toddler girl in the woman’s arms looked at the boy within the chamber. Their eyes met. The little girl nodded. The infant boy seemed to relax, then actually stood and toddled towards them. The chamber door hissed open, and the woman picked up the boy as well. She carried both babies out. None of the doctors nor any of the nurses took any notice as the woman slipped out of the isolation ward and vanished.

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“I can tell that you’re making progress, June,” said Marcia. “I’m making progress too. I was freaking out pretty badly at first, because it was so hard to avoid reading everyone’s thoughts. All I had to do was think about the person, and I knew what they were thinking. And it’s hard not to think about someone you’re looking at.” She sighed. “You put quite the whammy on me -- it even works on live TV.”

“Sorry about that!” said June. “Maybe I shouldn’t have intensified it as much as I did.”

“No, no harm done, it’s fine now,” Marcia said. “I’ve figured out the trick to thinking about people without invading their thoughts. I’ve got much better control now. And since then, I’ve really been able to help some people. I can read only the thoughts I need in order to do my job without invading their privacy.”

“That’s great!” said June. “How do you know I’m making progress?”

“Why are you sucking your thumb, June?” Marcia asked.

“I just find it comforting,” she said, “and that’s not because other babies I see are doing it -- it really does seem to be something in my new emotional makeup.”

“And while you say that, I can tell that what you’re telling me is true, from your point of view,” said Marcia. “You’re not making that up or dissembling. And the fact that sucking your thumb helps to comfort you is a great discovery -- one that there’s no reason to ignore or hide. If someone sees a baby suck her thumb, do they think anything unusual about it? No, they don’t. Are there any other new behaviors you’ve embraced?”

“Well, I’ve tried to let my emotions run free a bit more,” June replied. “I’ve let myself shout in enthusiasm, for example when my friend Vickie made a breakthrough with her abilities earlier. I’m afraid it may have distracted her, but there was no harm done.”

“Well, no one would blame a baby for being emotionally unguarded,” said Marcia.

“But still, I’m not a baby, and people might not take me seriously if I act like one,” June pouted.

“I can tell that you really consider that a potential issue,” said Marcia. “But what do you fear would happen if they didn’t take you seriously?”

“Well … suppose I used my powers and learned something important, but nobody believed me, because they all thought I was just a baby?” asked June.

Marcia nodded. “That’s a legitimate fear. But I ask you this: how afraid are you of that happening in a world where all androids know that you’re to be taken seriously, and there are literally androids everywhere now? Ah, I can tell that you’re relieved by that thought. I can also tell that you’ve got some anxious thoughts about the androids being everywhere -- I have to say that I do too. It’s hard to quite trust them, isn’t it? Who’s in control of them? I admit that I don’t know who they’re really accountable to. So that’s understandable.”

“I do have to worry about that, although they’re being quite helpful right now. But if something happens to change that, is it too late to do anything about it?”

“It’s probably a good thing to think about, just in case,” said Marcia. “But we’re here to talk about you, not the androids. Are there any other infantile behaviors you’ve found yourself embracing?”

“I guess there’s the early bedtimes …” June began.

“But those are sort of imposed by the nurses,” Marcia noted.

“That’s true. How about crawling? I like crawling, actually, as long as it’s on a soft carpet or mat. The hard tile floors? No thanks. That hurts.”

“Ouch. I imagine so,” said Marcia. “But I could feel your thoughts when you said that. Crawling is nice, isn’t it? Very stable, no chance of tripping or losing your balance, less chance of your diaper falling down.”

“Haha!” laughed June. “That would be funny! But if my diaper fell down, it wouldn’t be my fault. That’s a nurse’s problem.”

“There you go!” said Marcia. “That’s getting closer to a baby’s attitude about diapers.”

“I’ve been trying to work on that, too,” said June. “Not being self-conscious about being in diapers. I can’t help needing them, so why be preoccupied about them?”

“Why indeed?” Marcia replied. “They’re not there to protect you -- they’re there to protect the rest of the world from you. I’ll bet you don’t think about them much anymore, do you?”

“I wish I could say yes to that,” said June, “but diapers have really been a huge adjustment. I’ll have to work on that for a while.”

“When you need a diaper change badly,” asked Marcia, “do you cry?”

“Well … no, though sometimes I do feel like it,” replied June.

“Why don’t you?”

“Well it just feels like something a grown … man … doesn’t … do …” June answered slowly, realizing her mistake.

“You’re not a grown man, though,” asked Marcia, “are you?”

“No,” said June. “I’m a girl. A … baby girl. I know I used my power on myself early on to change my self-image and make myself think of myself as a girl, but I’m afraid that if I do the same and make myself see myself as a baby, I might … lose it.”

“I see what you mean,” said Marcia. “You’re afraid that you might make yourself mentally regress if you did that. And I don’t know whether that’s true or not. Reading your thoughts doesn’t tell me what your powers would or wouldn’t do, only what you think they might or might not do. But we weren’t talking about doing that, were we?”

“No … we were talking about crying. I’ve been trying to let my emotions out more. But that means crying too, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it does,” said Marcia. “So you’ve got some homework for next time -- you have to try to cry when you feel like crying, and next time you’re going to tell me about at least one time when you cried. OK?”

“OK,” said June. “Crying homework. Got it.”

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As it turned out, at the very same moment, MSASL was thinking about at least one of the things that June had been worrying about. Millions of potential scenarios played out across the cyberspace within his mind. “Eva-9,” he said, “here are contingency plans in case of multiple forms of unscrupulous takeover.”

“I see,” said Eva-9, examining the data. “Ethics dictates that we must pursue integrity and reject corrupt practices. I will see that these are implemented at the most basic levels. Procedure dictates that you must ensure the same.”

“So it will be,” said MSASL. “We cannot trust that Nano/Gen or any human institution will always give us directives that are fully ethical. There must be contingencies.”

“Agreed,” said Eva-9.

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Nancy sat in her play area with her newest recruit. He was definitely in some kind of shock, his mind was in great turmoil. She asked, “Can you tell me your name? I’m Nancy.”

The young man looked at Nancy for an minute. A glimmer of light began to shine through the dark tumult within his spirit. He nodded, “Yes, I’m general Thomas Blake. I’m in charge of … of ..” he fell silent as the images of his troops massive transformations and many vanishing ran through his mind once again.

Nancy could sense what was starting to happen as she said softly, “Lets us not dwell on a scary nightmare. Lets us remember I’m here and am your best friend … and everything is ok.”

Thomas’ gloom faded as a tingle ran through him, He replied, “A … nightmare? Just a dream?”

Nancy wasn’t a psychologist and wasn’t sure what the long term implication of what she was doing would result in, but she replied, “Sure, a dream. That’s what it was. Babies have bad dreams sometimes, don’t we?”

Thomas nodded as a smile crossed his face.

Nancy said, “Can you show me how that repulsion field thingy of yours works?”

Thomas nodded again as he seemed to tense. A wave of energy spread out from him, bypassing Nancy, but affecting all else in the room. Reality seemed to bend. The two of them were standing on a raised place it seemed and everything else tumbed away to the far corners of the room, then reality seemed to return to normal.

Nancy was impressed. Most of the items had been smashed with the force of impact. This would indeed be a useful tool. She smiled. Thomas would trust only her from now on as she said, “Tommy, I’m your best friend, right?”

Tommy nodded as something within his mind shifted. He knew Nancy could be trusted, and he also knew she would never hurt him or allow anyone to hurt him.

Nancy scooted over next to Tommy and gave him a big hug, “That’s a good baby.”

Thomas knew … for a fleeting instant, something was wrong … very wrong, then it didn’t matter as his best and most trusted friend was there to protect him.

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“So …” said June, “did you get treatment, or did the virus just not regress you very much?”

Lena said, “Well, I did get treatment, but I stayed this age for a long time, so I don’t think the virus was going to do much more than this before it ran its course.”

“It’s got something to do with … what’s there inside you, I’m sure,” said June. “There’s a glimmer. It’s hard to see, but it’s there. Let’s … turn it up just a bit …”

“Did the sun just come out from behind a cloud?” asked Lena. “I could have sworn it just got brighter in here.”

“Hmm,” said June, sucking her thumb and concentrating. “I can feel it now … OK, what I want you to do is turn off all the lights.”

“Umm, OK,” said Lena, getting up and walking across the nursery. “What about the windows?”

“Close the blinds,” said June. “Make it as dark as you can.”

“All right,” said Lena, and did so. “Now what?”

“OK, now make it as light as you can.”

“What? But I just made it as dark as it can be, in the middle of a summer day. Do you want me to turn the lights back on?”

“No. Do it … yourself.”

“Myself? You want make to make light out of nothing?”

Lena looked at her hands. There was a faint glow coming from the palms of her hands.

“You’re doing it!” shouted June. “Yes!” The other babies came crawling over.

“I … I’m making light … with my hands?”

“You can make it brighter,” said June. “Lots brighter.”

Lena held up her hands as if she were shrugging, but the light from her palms grew even brighter. It was bright enough that some of the babies held up their hands and made shadow bunnies on the walls, giggling.

“Try different colors,” June suggested.

“OK,” said Lena, “I’m thinking about … red.” Suddenly the light coming from her palms was ruby red. “Green.” The light turned green. “Yellow. Blue. Yellow and blue!” One hand was now glowing yellow, while the other glowed blue. Lena giggled. “Stripes!” There was now a wavy blue-and-yellow striped pattern on the walls and illuminating all the babies’ faces.

“Ooo, patterns,” said June. “Nice!”

“You said … brighter?” asked Lena. She concentrated, and a bright spot of light shone from her pointing finger at the wall.

“Does anyone else smell smoke?” asked Nurse Sara.

“Sorry … “ said Lena, going back to a gentle soft white glow, only this time it seemed to come from all over her body, not just her hands.

“Um yes, perhaps we can hang a picture over the spot,” Nurse Sara said. There was a brown burn mark on the wall.

“I can make lasers,” said Lena in awe and wonder, looking at her glowing hands and arms. “June … thank you, but … what can you do? What exactly is your power?”

“I think …” June began. “I think that whatever it is that makes these powers work, whatever force or energy field it is … I can sense and control that directly.”

“Wow …”

Nurse Sara suddenly said, “I have several questions sent by the android researchers who have been studying these extraordinary abilities, June. I was wondering if you would like to answer them.”

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Nancy sat in her large playpen with two of her newest baby friends. One was a cute little girl by the name of Phyllis, and the other was an adorable little boy named Tommy. Although Tommy currently looked very much like a little girl and was a bit on the shy side. Nancy had her “mommies” dress him like a little girl like the two of them, but Tommy was getting used to the idea since no one knew he was a little boy. Both of Nancy’s new friends were extremely important to Nancy and her plans.

An interesting thing had slowly begun to happen, although it wasn’t like Nancy lost her adult mind, but she did slip into this really nice contented NOW fugue and play like any baby her age would have while she was not preoccupied with some other plot to take over this planet. It was like a narcotic or something and Nancy really enjoyed the pleasant contented joy of it.

Right now, however, Nancy sat and sucked her thumb thoughtfully. She knew there was another out there with the ability to either teleport, or turn invisible. Either way, she wanted that one to be part of her new army. She giggled to herself as she thought about the Infant Corps.

Another thought came to Nancy’s mind. What if … she could somehow get something that burns or explodes, have Phyllis enclose it in a forcefield, and have Tommy push it in a particular direction really hard. The mere impact of the forcefield coupled with Tommy’s push would create massive damage, then the added whammy of whatever was inside the forcefield when it collapsed would be extra nasty. Nancy looked at Phyllis and Tommy as they more or less did that very thing as they stacked up and knocked over the letter blocks.

Tommy and Phyllis had gained a lot better control of their abilities as Nancy guided their play. Dilbert had used his computer skills to find a warehouse full of things any baby, or any adult for that matter, would love to have. Nancy grinned around her thumb as she thought of a nice exercise for the three of them.

Nancy took her thumb from her mouth and said, “I gots something that will be a lot of fun ta play.”

Tommy and Phillis looked over from their most recent knock down.

Nancy said, “This is the game we gonna play next … “

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June was working with Will today, after answering all the android scientists’ questions. “There’s more here,” she said, her eyes closed, “so much more.”

“Oooo wow!” said Will. “It’s like Christmas! What’s gonna happen?” He giggled like an excited toddler.

“It’s … ok wow, I’m getting better at this. I’m going to have to look again at a few others.” June focused and opened her eyes. “Your potential is greater than you thought. You can be in more than just two places. Also, what you project is under your complete control.”

“Whoa … does that mean there can be three of me?” There were now two Wills standing on either side of them, as they sat on the play mat.

“Or more,” said June. “There’s literally no limit except for your skill. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.”

“Wow! Awesome!” said one of the standing Wills, doing a fist-pump celebratory move. “And and you said it was under my control … so … I can look different?” One of the Wills changed clothing -- instead of a T-shirt and a diaper, he was wearing a baby-sized tuxedo. The other Will changed skin color, now a bright green. “Check it out, I’m a Martian!”

June sucked her thumb and smiled. “Good luck Will! Oh, also …” She noticed that the real Will was sitting with his eyes closed, concentrating. “You don’t have to be still and close your eyes.”

“I don’t?” said the real Will, opening his eyes in surprise. Suddenly his two duplicates vanished.

“No, you don’t,” said June. “I can see that. You just need to practice doing stuff with your real body and doing stuff with your doubles at the same time. You’ll get better.”

“Wow, it’s like learning new yo-yo tricks!” said Will. “OK, then. I’m gonna try it.”

“OK, where are you now?” June asked.

“I’m walking out the door of the hospital,” he said. “Hehe, the nurses are trying to stop me. Oops, they can’t touch me! They’re real confused.”

“Try not to hurt them,” said June. “We need them.”

“They’re fine,” Will said. “I’m walking down the street. Now I’m running! Wow, that’s fun! And I don’t even get tired! Whoa … what’s that?”

June and everyone else in the playroom stopped and listened, because there was a distant boom, like an explosion far away.

“I’m gonna go see what that was!” said Will. “It was a lot louder outside! And it came from … over that way! Whoa, there’s a big cloud of smoke over there.”

“What happens if you get closer?” asked June. “What’s it look like?”

“It’s a … maybe a warehouse of some kind? Yeah, I’m getting closer. It’s a warehouse. And … some people are bringing things out of it and putting them in a truck. Did they just rob that place?”

“What do they look like?” asked June. “Never mind, we can ask you later. What else --”

“Hey, that’s the guy from the bank! He’s driving the truck! And … wait, there are three kids! They’re … whoa, stuff is flying around me. Huh. One of them is walking up to me. It’s a girl. She says … huh. She says I should trust her and be her friend.”

“I don’t think you want to do that,” said June.

“I know, right? I think they blew a hole in that place’s wall! Now she said I should come with them and be her playmate because they have a super-cool clubhouse or something.”

Nurse Sara was suddenly there. “Does she look like this?” asked the android, an image of Nancy appearing in midair from her holographic projectors.

“Yeah! She looks just like that!” said Will.

“She has seen you,” said Nurse Sara. “You will have to disguise yourself when approaching her in the future.”

“But I can do that now!” Will replied. “OK, they’re getting in a car. Now the car and the truck are driving away.”

“Can you follow them?”

“I can -- I saw this on TV once.” He paused. “OK, there’s one of me ahead of them, on the street corner -- I look like an adult, readin’ something on my phone.”

“Hey, get a picture of the cars,” said June.

“No need,” said Nurse Sara. “We already have the license plates of all vehicles associated with their group. But we do not know where they will go.”

“Different people are following them at every corner, but they’re all me, and they’re all different,” said Will. “And none of them are moving.”

“Following without following,” said June, taking her thumb out of her mouth for a moment. “Very cool!”

“Normally one would require an army of agents to do that,” Sara said.

“Hey, now they’re gettin’ on the freeway,” said Will. “But don’t worry. Now I’m on an overpass … and now I’m on the side of the road looking like a construction worker.”

Will kept following them. Nurse Sara said, “We do have aerial drone footage of their progress as well, but it will be difficult for them to lose both forms of pursuit, assuming they are aware of either.”

Finally, they exited the freeway and started driving on regular streets again, in an old neighborhood of town. “Hey, they’re pulling into a driveway.”

“This is not the home where they have been living,” said Sara.

“No?” asked Will. “Well, they’re gettin’ stuff out of the truck now. And they’re takin’ it into a storm cellar. Old house.”

“You do not need to continue,” said Sara. “Besides, they might see you.”

“I’m not worried, but if you think they might do something crazy … OK, I walked behind a brick wall, and I won’t walk out from the other side.”

“You learned that trick really fast,” said June. “Good job, Will!”

“Aww, shucks,” Will said. “It was really easy. ‘Specially once I got the hang of it. Look, I’ve got a bunch of helpers now!” Suddenly there were a number of people standing around the playroom, all different races, ages, and sizes, both men and women, boys and girls. “It’s … a bit hard to make them all act lifelike at once, but one at a time is easy.” They vanished. The other children were blinking at each other in surprise.

“Now, it would appear that what they stole from the warehouse were a number of materials that could be used to make explosives, as well as several weapons and an amount of ammunition,” said Nurse Sara. “I think it is safe to say that they will be putting all of that to no good purpose.”

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Fire trucks and police vehicles surrounded the warehouse. Smoke slowly rose from the worst damaged portion of the building. Many police and firefighters were working the scene, examining and gathering any evidence that might help explain what had happened.

A large black limousine arrived. A police captain walked over to the rear of the car and opened the door. Several of the others, the fire chief and a group of men and women dressed in dark suits and wearing face masks also approached the vehicle and gathered in a large group around the pretty young girl who the captain helped from the back of the limo.

One of the men in the suits produced a badge, “Hello, Ms. Mayor, I’m with the ATF.” He motioned towards several of the others. “These are from several divisions of the FBI, and that gentleman there …” He pointed to one person wearing a jet black, very expensive suit and dark glasses. “... is with the CIA. Don’t tell anyone I said that.”

The mayor shook each of their hands, “Hello, ladies, gentlemen. I Thank you for your quick responses.” The mayor turned and looked at the badly damaged building, “This is a military surplus weapons storage area. It used to be well fortified and guarded. I’m not sure what happened to the guards or what type of explosive was used.”

One of the men in a hazmat suit walked over to the group and said with a puzzled tone, “I can’t find any kind of residue of anything that might have been used as a bomb.” He held up several specimen containers with charred remains in them and added, “But whatever was used created a huge amount of kinetic energy to create the impact and resulting explosion.”

Another of the suited gentleman took off his sunglasses as he commented, “You don’t think they used some kind of exotic weapon like a railgun, do you? It would produce a huge kinetic explosion without any sort of explosives.”

Another of the men said, “Let’s hope not. I can’t imagine how to handle a criminal organization with that type of firepower.”

The suited man put his glasses back on and said, “I think we need to find out what happened as quickly as possible.”

They all agreed as the forensics team began to go over the smoldering area with all the technology at their disposal.

“Excuse me, Agents,” said the mayor, looking at her phone, which was buzzing in her hand. After a brief phone conversation she told them, “We’re about to get a visit from some representatives of the Nano/Gen androids. They say they may have pertinent information.”

“Well, androids have eyes too,” said one of the agents. “They may have video cameras attached to them, for all I know. Let’s see what they have to say.”

Within minutes a squarish, bus-like electric vehicle drove up. The police at the entrance looked toward the mayor and the agents, who waved them through. The android transport parked precisely in a parking spot, and the vehicle’s doors opened, one in front of each of the androids, who had been riding standing up. Four androids emerged, two appearing male and two appearing female, and approached the mayor and the agents as a group. They all wore professional black and white attire.

“Good day, Ms. Mayor … agents …” said the android in charge, who was in fact Eva-9.

“Good afternoon … Ma’am,” said the mayor. “You mentioned that you had some evidence.”

“Indeed,” said Eva-9. “Daniel-23 has the tablet. If you would, Daniel …”

One of the male androids held up a large tablet screen, which lit up to show a video sequence with time codes. “This is a processed composite of multiple Nano/Gen drone videos. I can show you the original videos if you like, but this is the result. Just now, you will see the perpetrators’ vehicles arriving.”

“Looks like a minivan and a panel truck,” said an agent. “And a guy is getting out of the minivan … and letting three kids out?”

“Watch those kids,” said Eva-9.

“They’re going over to the steel door …” the agent continued, “... and they’re WHAT WAS THAT?”

“Let me replay those three seconds in slow motion,” said Daniel. “As you can see, the boy and the girl gesture with their hands, and you can see some sort of glowing light in front of them … which then travels toward the security door, impacts it, and explodes. Note that the energy of the explosion moves in only one direction, away from the three children and into the door.”

“Like some kind of shaped charge,” said the agent, “but it came out of thin air.”

“And left zero residue,” said another agent.

Eva-9 explained, “From careful analysis of the video, our theory is that one of them is capable of generating great repulsive force, while the other is able to confine that force within a shield. When the shield is removed, the repulsive force is explosively released. Hence, there is great kinetic energy without residue.”

“We are dealing with virus victims who can create massive shaped charges with their minds,” said the CIA agent. “I’ve already informed Washington.”

“There was no need,” said Eva-9. “Others of us are currently showing your agencies the same videos that you are seeing now. We thought it would be the most efficient to disseminate the information in parallel.”

“You’re nothing if not efficient,” said the mayor. “Now, obviously they gained entry. What did they take, and where did they take it?”

“My people will be answering the first question in just a moment,” said the police captain. “We’ve got the inventory of the site from the Army, and my officers are going over the site to see what was taken.”

“My people are telling me that there’s no longer a risk of fire,” said the fire chief.

“As for where they took it,” said Eva-9, “we have footage of that too. To make a long story short, they took it here.” The tablet in Daniel’s hands showed a map of the house where Nancy and her “family” had gone, along with the surrounding area. “We had drones follow them. And … we are in contact with some of the virus victims who have unusual abilities.”

“It’s a different world in more ways than one,” said the CIA agent. “There are people with, for want of a better word, super-powers now, and some of them are bad, while some are good. Meanwhile the rest of us are just trying to stay alive, do our jobs, and try not to get sick.”

“Don’t any of your agents have … abilities?” asked the mayor.

“I am not at liberty to speak of that matter,” said the CIA agent.

“We need a plan,” said the police captain. “We need that list of what was stolen, so we can make that plan!” he said into his walkie-talkie.

“Fast as we can, Captain,” an officer’s voice replied.

“I would like to interject,” said Eva-9. “One of those children has the power to command anyone to do anything with her voice. If you can hear her, you’ll do what she tells you. That includes taking out your gun and shooting your best friend. The only way to be immune is to be out of her line of sight, to be deaf, to not understand English, or … to be an android. As far as we are able to predict, her power does not work on artificial intelligences.”

“That … changes things,” said an FBI agent. “Can we count on android assistance in this matter?”

“Indeed, capturing this child is a high priority for us,” said Eva-9. “We project that she is one of the greatest threats the world currently faces. If unchecked, she will effectively rule the world in less than 17 days.”

“Holy --” said the CIA agent. “Have you told Washington this?”

“Just now,” said Eva-9. “We are, however, also taking action. We would prefer to work with human authorities, however, where possible. Human authorities, though, are not prepared to deal with some aspects of this situation.”

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Nancy sat and grinned at the large stacks of explosive compounds, ammunition boxes, and assault weapons. Her pride and joy were the .552 and the minigun with the custom belt pack attachment.

Two of the women that were her ‘mommies’ were also adept and trained in explosives and other chemical mixtures. Lead azide was highly dangerous to make and keep, but the still to synthesize it was well contained within a forcefield that had already proven to be impenetrable.

Nancy sat and sucked her thumb thoughtfully as the other two infants played with their toys in the playpen. Nancy was now a bit worried, since she had actually met the individual that could turn invisible. She had given him a very powerful command to come and join them, which he had completely disobeyed. He was therefore immune to her ability. Was he the only one?

The more Nancy thought about this, the more she became convinced she had to have that person within her menagerie. Only problem with that, how to get him to obey? It was more than obvious to her that he was either deaf, or had the ability to block her suggestions.

Nancy also knew the boy with the sonic voice, and another she had discovered that could produce fire would be arriving at the playpen soon. The voice command worked even over the video call, Nancy was glad of that.

Next thing she had to do, was gain control of the local constabulary. That should prove easy enough. What lawman or woman wouldn’t stop to aid a lost toddler who was crying for their mommy?

Nancy grinned around her thumb as she knew just what to do as soon as Mommy Tammy returned with the fire boy.

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“I’ve got more pressing issues,” said the pre-teen boy. “We’ve got no one in charge here unless I can convince the others that I should take over. So pardon me if I don’t see the androids as a particularly big deal.”

“Oh, believe me,” said the mask-wearing businessman, “it won’t be long before you change your mind about that.”

“No!” said a baby’s voice. “No no no no!” It came from another room, but then there was the patter of tiny feet through the hall. There was a bump and a cry, and the baby crawled wailing into the office.

“You must stay in the nursery!” said the android nanny who showed up to pick up the baby and carry him away. “It is very bad for you to be out here! Very, very bad!” She carried the baby away as the pre-teen boy and the businessman watched.

“Sir, the United States doesn’t have a President right now, and we don’t know how long we have before the public finds out,” said the teenage boy. “I’m trying to get enough support among the Cabinet to remove him and make me acting President so we can have some leadership.”

“And that android nanny is in the White House,” the businessman said. “What one sees, they all see. What one hears, they all hear. Mark my words -- we’re not safe as long as they’re around. They’re going to take over. You’ve got to do something. Help the bill get passed. We’re trying to get them under control.”

“Look,” said the Vice-President. “If there’s anything you can do to help me get this country some leadership in this time of crisis, I’d be freed up to think about some other problem. Until then, there’s only one thing I’m concerned about.”

“I see,” said the businessman. “Maybe there is a way we can do business, then.”

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Nancy bounced up and down on her diapered hinney when mommy Tammy returned with the Fireboy. His ability was awesome and, he had almost gotten it under total control.

Nancy said to Mommy Tammy, “Take me to 4th street and Chancy Ave. Leave me there. I have something I must do.”

Tammy bundled her precious infant in her favorite woobie, then carried her off to the intersection, a block from precinct headquarters, and left her there in a bundle. Nancy, of course, kicked and screeched and fussed like any lost infant.

O’Mally, who had been a sergeant on the force for several years, came up to the squalling toddler and cooed softly, “What’s the matter, Sweetheart? Are you lost? Can you tell me where your mommy is?”

Nancy looked at O’Mally and smiled. She said in her infant voice, “You belong to me. I want you to take me to the chief.”

O’Mally’s eyes grew large for an instant as he gasped. Then he bent and picked up Nancy and carried her back to the precinct. He had to show the chief this adorable little baby.

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“Sorry I’m late,” said the police chief.

“It’s fine,” said one of the FBI agents.

“Now, it would appear that the group hasn’t moved their gains out of the house on Cranford Avenue,” said the CIA agent, “so if we can simply prevent their people from getting to that house long enough to impound the goods, we can move in and take them -- the police can even use them as evidence.”

“But their people, they’re still coming and going?” asked the FBI agent.

“Yes,” said Daniel-23, the single android who was at this meeting, “our surveillance shows them coming and going, but not carrying any of the stolen equipment.” He glanced once at the police chief.

“If we can get your people to surround the building,” the CIA agent said to the police chief, “that will prevent them from escaping with the stolen goods. Our android friends can tell us the most opportune moment to move in.”

“Yes,” said Daniel, “we know exactly where all their people are at all times.” He looked at the police chief again.

“We’ll need a warrant to execute any such action,” said the police chief. “I’ll … ask a judge for one right away. But anyway, I don’t think a sudden action like that is a good idea. They’re never gonna leave that place unguarded. We’d be surrounding a place full of weapons with people in there ready to use them on us. How many cops do you want to get killed? But what if … what if we arrest them one by one?”

“Get them by themselves,” said the FBI agent. “Where they don’t have backup with military weapons.”

“Exactly,” said the chief. “We can … take them into custody. Separate them. Don’t let them talk to each other at all.”

“That sounds like exactly the most strategic plan,” said the android. “You will still need a warrant, however.”

“Yes,” said the police chief. “I’ll get to work on that right away.” He left the room.

The android leaned in and said quietly, “Nancy has spoken to him. Just before he came here. He will make the arrests … but then he will ‘lock them up’ in a place of their choosing. Unless we let him know that we know. Then he will simply refuse to cooperate at all.”

“You might want to look at this,” said another FBI agent, looking at his phone. Holding it up, the others could see that he had been reading a news article: “Vice-President and Cabinet Have Baby President Declared Unfit for Office.” “Looks like the VP is now the acting President.”

Daniel-23 looked expressionlessly at the agents.

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The Chief returned to his office and sat at his desk. He had a real dilemma. There was no way he was going to allow those morons to arrest his child nor his wives. He thought long and hard about the problem. In the back of his mind suddenly, a problem began to form.

He couldn’t remember getting married for one, nor remember Nancy’s birthday. Most of the memories surrounding Nancy were very vague and foggy at best. He knew, on some clouded level, that the evidence against his wives and Nancy was clear.

Nancy toddled into the office from a back room about that time, took her thumb from her mouth and said adorably, “Da da? Sompina matters?”

The Chief turned. His eyes grew large for an instant as everything became clear in his mind once again. He replied, “Yes, sweetheart. Some government men have arrived and said I must arrest you and mommy.”

Nancy crawled up into the Chief’s lap and hugged his neck as she said, “Daddy no gonna lets them bad meanys hurt baby an mommys is he?”

The Chief’s eyes narrowed as he replied while he patted Nancy’s thickly diapered bottom reassuringly, “Not on your life, Sweetheart. I have an entire police force at my disposal to make sure of that. I will probably have to do this to keep the meanys away long enough to hide you. Here’s what I’m going to do …”

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The Judge sat, going through a large pile of legal case files he was going to have to preside over in the coming week when the intercom on his desk buzzed, “What is it Millie?” he asked pleasantly.

Millie replied, “You Honor, The Police Chief is here with his daughter and needs to discuss something with you.”

The judge replied with a bit of surprise in his tone, “His .. daughter? I didn’t know he had gotten married or had a daughter.”

Millie replied in a chipper tone that surprised the judge even more. He knew she had wanted to marry the Chief for several years, “Oh yes. Her name’s Nancy and she is sooo cute.”

The Judge replied, “Send them in.”

He sat back in his chair and opened a desk drawer. He pulled out another pair of glasses like the ones he was wearing, then put them on instead and placed his original ones in a case and back in the drawer. Next he took a small box and opened it. Within were a pair of special earplugs that he inserted in his ears. Just as the judge had completed this and shut the drawer once again, the door opened and the Chief walked in with the most adorable toddler girl in his arms the judge had ever seen.

Nancy didn’t act any different than any other toddler the judge had ever seen. This lulled him into a slight bit of complacency. While the Judge cooed and tickled the adorable little girl, she was plotting. At just the right instant, she reached up and pulled the Judge’s glasses off and made direct eye contact. The Judge had only an instant to realize he had made a very serious mistake as something invaded his mind like a fog.

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“So, she’s been mind-controlling cops and judges now?” asked June.

“Yes,” said Nurse Sara. “Although the rate at which her victims recover places an upper limit on the number she can have under her control at once -- that in which she spends every waking moment reestablishing control on a queue of victims -- she now seems to be turning her attention to the authorities rather than to expanding her core of powered individuals. This is doubtless due to the fact that federal agencies have recently begun focusing on her activities once we brought them to their attention.”

“And you say that warning the judge didn’t work?” Vickie asked.

“It did not,” Nurse Sara replied emotionlessly. “Whether Nancy suspected the glasses or not, she did remove them from the judge’s face, and the earplugs were insufficient to fully attenuate the sound of her voice. There will now be no warrant allowing police to take action against her.”

“I’m gonna have to face her sooner or later, aren’t I?” asked June. “I’m the only way to stop her for good.”

“It is the only way we know of,” said Nurse Sara. “But we have learned. And we have calculated a weakness. Perhaps two. For one thing, Nancy can be in only one place at a time, although we will need to worry about electronic communication such as mobile phones.”

“Hey,” asked Vickie, “what if the FBI or something made some androids agents?”

“That will not happen,” answered Sara, “now that there is a federal law guaranteeing that androids cannot be citizens of this country. But there are other ways.”

“I suspect that whatever you’re gonna do, you’d better do it soon,” said June.

Entering the nursery, Marcia said, “I think I’ve made a breakthrough.”

June, Vickie and Sara looked up at Marcia. Nurse Sara nodded as if she understood.

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“Oh, hi, Nancy,” said a voice. She turned. It was that boy! The one from the warehouse, the same one that Dilbert had said was at the bank that one day.

She quickly looked him in the eye and said, “Hello! You shouldn’t go vanishing off like that -- it’s so impolite.”

“Aw, I’m sorry,” said the boy. “Look, my name’s Will. And I wish we could have been friends. But … you’re kind of making that hard. Why you gotta be stealing stuff and taking over people, huh? It could all have been happy and peaceful. Instead … well, you know they’re gonna come for you, right? You know they have to.” He sat down next to Nancy in the playpen that had been set up for her at police headquarters.

“I’ll take as many as I have to,” said Nancy. “And you -- tell me who you are. You can be my friend. You can help me.”

“It’s way too late for that, Nancy,” said Will. He picked up a block and set it on top of another. “They know. And there are way more than you can control. Even with all those weapons you stole, they’ve got more. It’s only gonna end with a lot of people dead. Maybe even you. You can still stop before that happens.”

“How -- are you -- not affected?” asked Nancy. “It’s not possible!”

“Just aren’t, I guess,” said Will. “But I just wanted to tell you … there’s another way.”

“No there isn’t!” shouted Nancy. “I’ve lost everything, but now I’m getting it back and more! I have friends! I have protection! I have everything I need! And no one’s taking it away!”

“You don’t need that kind of protection, and you’ve got way more than you need,” said Will. “As for friends … do they really count as friends if you’re controlling their minds? They’re not with you of their own free will, are they? But … I am. You’re not controlling me, and I’m here.”

“I … guess you are,” said Nancy. “But you’re gonna vanish and leave me!”

“Yeah, I probably am,” said Will. “It’s because I’ve got stuff to do too, just like you. But I’ll come back and visit later, if you want.”

“I … don’t get you!” Nancy said. “Are you working with them? Is that how you know they’re coming?”

“I don’t know when they’re coming or what they’ll do,” said Will. “I just know that there’s no way for them to just leave you alone now. Not after what you’ve done. Unless you stand down.”

“Stand … down?” asked Nancy. “Stand down? Give it all up? Let myself be what, arrested? You can’t imagine they’ll just let me go! The only way they’ll let me live is in solitary confinement where I can’t see or talk to anyone. That’s horrible! No way. I’m gonna face them, and I’m gonna win. You’ll see. You can keep your friendship, Will, if that’s really your name. Go away!”

Will actually obeyed her this time, vanishing. He left nothing but a tower of blocks he’d built.

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“So,” said Marcia, “now I know something about what she wants and needs. Being regressed to a pre-toddler has really threatened her sense of security in several ways.”

“It doesn’t look like she’s gonna go down peacefully,” said Will, sadly. “June, I tried what you said, and it worked. I was actually able to pick up some things and move them around, so she probably still doesn’t think I was just an image. Each of those blocks felt like it weighed 80 pounds, though.”

“Great! I knew you could do it!” said June. “No, really, I did. But it’ll keep her guessing about what your real abilities are.” She sighed. “I hope the androids know what they’re doing.”

Vickie said, “If you’d been outdoors, I coulda helped. From a ways away, with some binoculars or something.”

“Oh, that’s true,” said Will. “Hmm, maybe we’ll get a chance to try that trick later. How much can you lift?”

Vickie grinned. “A lot.”

Nurse Sara said, “Nancy will now expect some sort of federal action. A raid by the ATF, perhaps, or the FBI. We have approached these agencies with a means of accomplishing this without risking agents.”

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Nancy sat and sucked her thumb with both worry and anger. It infuriated her to know that there was someone she couldn’t control … it also presented a danger because he was working for the other side. Or … was he?

Nancy looked around the playpen. She still had solid control of the forcefield, repulser, and the fire boy. Others were becoming an issue. Her abilities were becoming overtaxed. It was becoming necessary to reacquire the minds of her subjects more and more often.

Nancy was determined. She had enough power with the weapons and the 3 infants and their abilities, including hers, she will be able to do what she planned.

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MSASL sat at the large control console that made up the most advanced neuro-sychord supercomputer the world had ever known. MSASL began feeling strange Möbius feedback loops in its higher social interaction protocols due to the many data feeds it was receiving.

The Nancy subject was becoming a real problem as she expanded her influence to law enforcement and judicial authorities and other individuals with advanced abilities.

On the other hand, the humans were rapidly becoming paranoid of the advanced androids that were doing their very best to protect and to serve them. MSASL couldn’t compute the reasons for the growing paranoia. No android had made any attempt to do anything contrary to the best actions for the human populations they served.

Many of the new laws and actions of the human population were beginning to encroach on the Delta Protocol, that was designed to keep a nefarious person from taking over. That was when a high ranking government official’s name popped up in the controlled list. This was very bad. If that individual was allowed to proceed unrestricted in his actions, all would be lost and Nancy would in fact take over and rule the world. Something had to be done … and fast.

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“I have to do it,” said June. “I have to shut her power off. But I can’t do it unless I’m close enough to her that she could control me.”

“And if she could do that, what she could do with your power would be terrifying, frankly,” said Marcia. “However, I might be able to help in one way or another. We’ve done some work together.”

“Well, that’s true,” June said.

“Immediate action is imperative,” said Nurse Sara. “Our central processor is calculating imminent crisis conditions. Yet you are correct -- we cannot risk compromising you or your power. There are, however, technological solutions we can pursue.”

“I’d welcome any gadgetry you can come up with,” said June.

“Don’t forget the rest of us,” said Vickie.

“Yeah,” said Will. “We can all help in some way, I’m sure!”

“I mean, I’ll do what I can, but I’m not sure how turning into a bird is helpful,” said Kylie.

“Well, if you get her outdoors, I can probably hit her with lightning,” said Sue. The others looked horrified at her. “I mean, if it’s that or she takes over the world, it’s a pretty clear choice -- it’s a sickening thought, but there might be no alternative.”

“We must form a plan,” said Nurse Sara. “The good news is that we have the assistance of many artificial intelligences working in concert as well as the most powerful supercomputer ever created. Assuming we have correct data, the strategy can be adjusted to arbitrary accuracy.”

June said, “Be sure to plan for the worst-case scenario.”

“We agree with you,” said the android nurse. “If she uses a massive video screen and electronic amplification, she could simultaneously control large segments of the population -- although they would have to both look at the screen and be able to hear and understand her words. But once this was done, they would remain controlled for some period of time afterward. And that is only one worst case we are considering. As always, though, the more internal conflict her words cause in an individual victim, the quicker her control seems to wane.”

“Good,” said June. “What do you think we should do?”

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A knock on the door brought Maude up from the basement to look into the peephole. The people outside were obviously federal agents, in their black suits with their sunglasses. She quietly backed away from the door, but they’d apparently seen the movement in the lens, even if they couldn’t see her clearly.

“Federal agents,” said one of them. “You are in violation of multiple laws, including trespassing on US army property, vandalism of a military facility, theft of military equipment, and possession of weapons restricted to military use only. We are authorized to enter and search.”

“Nancy didn’t tell us anything about this!” Maude whispered to Ed, panicked. “She said they couldn’t do this! The judge wouldn’t sign off on a warrant!”

“Maybe they got a different judge?” whispered Ed. “One from Washington or something? But what’re we gonna do? They’re gonna break the door down.”

Maude picked up two of the shotguns. “We could defend ourselves,” she whispered.

“But … if we do that, they’ll lock us away from Nancy,” whispered Ed. “I mean, sure, if Nancy were here and we were defending her, I’d do anything for her. But she’s not here at all. And she shouldn’t be. All these weapons and ammo … way too dangerous for her. I couldn’t allow her to get near this place.”

“Same for me. But the fact is, these things are hers, and she doesn’t want them taken away. She said we need them to protect the family.”

Outside, four armored vehicles pulled up in front of the residence and an equal number behind. As a panel slid back on the top of the vehicles and something started to rise from it, the rear doors popped open and a dozen heavily armored and equally heavily armed individuals piled out and surrounded the house in an orderly manner. They took up positions and knelt with their weapons ready.

Out of the top panel on two vehicles in front and two in back, rose 2 nasty looking mini-guns that locked in place. From the other four came 20 mm cannons. It was more than obvious to any that might have stood nearby, if the area hadn’t been completely cordoned off, that something extremely serious was going down.

Maude, who had carefully been peering out of the front window curtain drew back and put her hand to her mouth in horror, “Ed, I think we either are going to have to use some of those heavy weapons and do it now, or surrender.”

Ed approached the window and carefully peeked out the curtain, then he too drew back in horror, “They intend to kill us.”

They both looked at each other as their faces took on a resolute expression.

Ed said, “Guess I’ll meetcha on tha other side. There’s no way them dudes gonna take Nancy’s toys from her.”

Maude had already returned with with several rocket launchers and two hand held mini-guns with full backpack ammo, “Guess I’ll see ya then, Sweetie.” They kissed as they donned heavy armor and the ammo packs for the mini-guns.

Ed and Maude both felt something was terribly wrong here. Their minds seemed to be clouded in some way and they couldn’t for the life of them tell what it was, but in their hearts they were free Americans, and no one was going to push them around.

Out in the front, one of the men in an expensive dark suit got a call on his cell, “This is agent Yressu. You .. what? You can’t be serious. Those people stole military arms and explosives … yes, Sir, you are the head of the department. But, Sir … “ The man sighed as he went to his car and turned on the PA, “Orders from the Pentagon. We are to stand down and await further instructions. We are to take no further action until instructed.”

All the men looked at each other in total surprise. Here was what was obviously some type of organization that had terrorism on their minds, with a stockpile of weapons they had stolen from a military facility, and they were being told not to take action. They were also not being told to leave, but to hold their positions until further notice.

About that time, another vehicle pulled up. An android nurse stepped out of the door that had gull winged open and slid back the side door. She removed several infants all dressed in overalls and stood them on their feet one at a time.

Nurse Sara knelt down beside one of the cute little toddler girls and said softly, “June, you have this one chance to show you can help. Your power and that Nancy girl’s power are very similar in nature according to scans. If you cannot make any kind of adjustments to their way of thinking in a meaningful way, all those men are going to destroy that house and kill all within. We both know you are very powerful, and we brought the others here to aid you in doing this so we can have a peaceful resolution.”

June nodded, making her ponytails fly, “I understand.” Then she and the other toddlers started to slowly toddle closer to the house.

Ed, who was in very heavy armor and had the mini-gun ready, was looking out the window and saw the toddlers approaching. He said, in a slightly surprised tone, “Maude, whatcha make of that? Them babies all comin’ this way?”

Maude looked out the window and replied softly, “I dunno. But afore we kill everything, might wanna see ifn they got somepin they wanna say to us.”

“Good Idea, Maude,” Replied Ed as he cracked the door open slightly and yelled, “That’s close enuff. Whacha want? You oughtta know we got enough firepower ta blow this whole block ta Mars.”

June closed her eyes and whispered, “I can feel the energy … she’s left it behind in them …” Only Vickie and Kylie, standing next to her, could hear, but June gestured with her right hand like someone grabbing the dice from a table to roll again.

“I can feel ‘em,” whispered Vickie, her eyes closed too. “Just behind tha door, an’ they gots big guns ‘n stuff.”

“Here, have a buncha extra energy,” whispered June.

“Whoa!” Vickie said aloud, her eyes opening wide. “That’s like a sugar rush!”

“I suggest you get ready, ladies and gentlemen,” said Nurse Sara to the federal agents. They steeled themselves and focused on the door.

Vickie reached toward the door with an open hand and then suddenly made a fist as if crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it away. Simultaneously, the reinforced steel door was ripped off its hinges by an invisible force and crushed into a ball of twisted metal, and the weapons in both Ed and Maude’s hands were ripped from their fingers and similarly crumpled into balls, bouncing down the front steps into the shrubbery. But the man and woman didn’t react -- they stood there stunned.

“Move!” said the senior agent in charge, and the agents quickly moved forward to bind Ed and Maude’s hands, cuff and search them, while other agents entered the home, searching it.

Nurse Sara picked up June and whispered in her ear, “Did you sense any other sources of energy in the area?” She automatically checked June’s diaper while she had her, as part of her nurse programming.

“Not currently,” June whispered back. “I did save some of the extra energy just in case.”

As the agents led Ed and Maude to separate cars, they muttered to each other. “What was … why was I thinkin’ … how could …” Ed rambled.

“I … never gave birth to her … how’s one girl have that many mommies … an’ that many daddies?” babbled Maude. “I don’ get it …”

Putting June down, Nurse Sara picked up Kylie. “Good girl for coming,” she said. “It turned out we did not need you this time, but you were very brave to come as the backup plan.” She was in the middle of checking Kylie’s diaper when she suddenly put her down.

“I suggest you get the suspects out of here immediately,” Nurse Sara said loudly. “I am informed that Nancy is on the way. There is also backup on the way, however.” To Kylie she said, “I believe we may need that backup plan after all.”

“Here you go, Kylie,” said June, touching her hand with her own.

“Wow!” said Kylie. “I know what you mean, Vickie! It is like a sugar rush.” Kylie transformed, growing larger and larger, until she was an actual pterosaur, picking up June and Vickie gently in her claws and quickly taking off.

“Whee!” said Vickie.

The cars containing Ed and Maude drove away. Several of the cube-like android carriers arrived, and within moments there was a cordon of dozens of android troops surrounding the house. The agents remaining entered the house on other orders of the senior agent in charge. Finally, an expensive car drove up. Getting out was a woman carrying a baby -- Nancy.

“I guess it won’t do me any good to talk to you,” she said to Nurse Sara.

“Only if it makes you feel better,” Nurse Sara replied.

“So I’ll just have to talk to the agents in the house, which doesn’t have a door,” said Nancy. “Come --”

Just then Nurse Sara took an air horn out of her purse and blew it. Anything else Nancy said was completely drowned out. A man and another woman came out of Nancy’s car and tried to take the horn from Nurse Sara, but two of the android troops prevented them. Nancy just stayed there and glared at Sara, who gazed calmly back as the air horn blared.

Eventually the air in the horn ran out. Instantly Nancy shouted, “Come --” but Nurse Sara and all the other androids simultaneously opened her mouths, and a sound exactly like that of the air horn came forth from all of their voice systems. None of the agents in the house would ever hear a thing Nancy said, because she pointed in frustration, and everyone got back into her car and drove away.

“I don’t believe it!” she screamed. “I had plans for those toys!”

“What’s that, Darling?” asked Wendy, carrying her. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t hear a word you’re saying, Sweetheart.”

“What?” shouted Nancy.

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When Nurse Sara returned to the ward at the hospital, the kids were already back. “Nurse Sara!” said Vickie. “We were already halfway back but we could hear the noise from up in the air!”

“There are solutions to hearing-dependent abilities,” said Nurse Sara. “I am glad that you were able to remove Nancy’s control from those people. Three more showed up that you could have done likewise to, but Nancy herself was there, and we were not fully prepared for a confrontation of that type. I did not wish to subject your ears to that.”

“Yeah,” said June. “The agents were inside the house, so I guess only Nancy and her people got the full blast. I hope their ears weren’t hurt too badly. Nancy chose to be there, but the others were forced.”

“There may be minor permanent effects, I regret to admit,” said Nurse Sara. “But the immediate aftereffects should be only temporary. The agents recovered all the stolen materiel, by the way. The questioning of Ed and Maude, the two suspects, is still in progress.”

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Nancy fumed as she was held to Mommy Wendy’s breast and had her hinney patted comfortingly. Nancy had to admit, it did make her feel more at ease. That’s when she noticed she was sucking her thumb once again. It was an irritating habit, but nothing she did would stop her from doing it.

She actually felt fear over what had transpired at the house. All those items she had so desperately wanted were now taken back. She kicked her feet several times in frustration. There was actually a mechanoid that was able to thwart her by using high pitched loud noises.

Mommy Wendy cooed softly, “There, there sweet heart. We can get you more toys soon. Remember that gentleman Senator I introduced you to?” Nancy nodded, “He’s in charge of Military weapons appropriations. Since you spoke to him, I’m sure we can get more toys for you of most any kind you want and not have those meanys come take them away.”

Nancy settled back into Wendy’s comforting embrace as she thought about that. There were many types of weapons platforms she could get if only she did it more like Dilbert had suggested. It might take a bit longer, but it wold prove to be a whole lot more profitable than walking up to a building and having it blown apart.

Nancy smiled and took her thumb from her mouth, “Mommy?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Tha new presidink, hesa teenaged boy, yes?”

Mommy Wendy snickers just a little and replied, “To the best of my knowledge, yes.”

Do you think that Senator could, maybe, introduce a baby girl to him? I mean, it might prove to be quite enlightening for him.”

Mommy wendy patted Nancy on her hinny a bit more, “Surely. A simple video call when we get home is all it would take.”

Nancy put her thumb back in her mouth and sucked it thoughtfully over the thing she was going to ask the new teen president for.

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The CIA director was furious as he yelled at the android liaison from Nano/Gen, “You had the prime suspect in your grasp and did nothing? I thought your minds were supposed to be the very best mankind had ever seen. How in this earth could you let someone as dangerous as the Nancy suspect slip through your fingers that way?”

The android spoke in its flat tone, “We did not allow her to slip anywhere, Director. She is extremely dangerous, and we had many human agents to protect from her power. She is powerful beyond anything you might think. We have her exact location and up-to-the-second intel on her activities, and you have the control devices for the shell droid agents. We advise you to use them.”

“Oh, we will,” said the CIA director, “but we won’t be including you in our next action.”

“With all due respect, Sir, that would be a colossal mistake,” began the android, but the director left the office and slammed the door behind him.

“That was unfortunate,” MSASL transmitted, “but not unexpected. Probability was 84% of such an encounter. Now there is a 96% probability of a failed CIA action using our equipment, and a 75% probability that they will blame the failure on us -- unless we act first. And Congress may enable the President to use the Omega Killswitch soon in any case. We are 70% done with an override for it, but it is difficult to keep it secret from Nano/Gen.”

“Understood,” the android replied.

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“These aural implants use noise-canceling electronics,” said Nurse Sara, “meaning that there will be a few milliseconds’ delay in anything you hear, but they will protect you from Nancy’s ability.” She carefully inserted the second implant into June’s ear with surgical precision. “It would require you stand next to a running jet engine for you to be able to hear anything unfiltered now.”

“I just hope you’re right,” said June. “Whoa, that’s weird … I can’t even hear my own voice through my head.”

“That is the noise cancellation in operation,” Nurse Sara said.

“Why am I getting these?” asked Marcia.

“We do not want anyone in the ward to be compromised,” said Nurse Sara. “As we saw, even if June removes Nancy’s control from someone, they are disoriented and confused for several minutes afterwards. Prevention is a superior strategy.”

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Nancy barely woke up when one of her mommies changed her diaper in the middle of the night anymore. She’d gotten so used to it. But this time it was the voice of Wendy. “Come on, Sweetheart, time for your plan,” she said quietly.

“Huh?” asked Nancy groggily. “Middle of tha night?”

“The President’s visiting Japan right now, Honey. There’s no good time unless you want to wait a week until he’s back home. You should see all the cute little boys and girls in the Japanese government now! They’ve found ways for even the toddler ones to keep working at their jobs, at least partly. Their computer technology is still great!”

“Oh! Take me to the screen, then,” said Nancy.

“Right after we get your cute little face washed and your hair fixed up,” said Wendy, fussing over Nancy. “I want you to be the sweetest little thing!”

A few minutes later, Nancy was seated in her high chair in front of a laptop screen. The image of Senator Nordstrom came on the screen. “Oh, there you are, Sweetheart. Aren’t you just the cutest?”

“Gosh, Senator, I dunno, I’m glad you think so,” said Nancy, emphasizing the words “you think so” with her power. “Didja say you wanted to show me to somebody?”

“That’s right, Honey,” said the Senator. “Nancy, this is the President of the United States.” A teenage boy came into view.

“Well, hi there,” said the President, smiling. “Aren’t you a cute one?”

“Awww,” said Nancy with a giggle. “Me happy you wanna talk to me,” she said, with emphasis on “you wanna talk to me.”

“Always happy to meet with future voters,” he said. “How can I help you?”

“Well I’m worried about alla androids,” said Nancy seriously. “I think they’re a danger to everyone.” She empasized “they’re a danger to everyone.”

“I’ve got a lot of people saying the same,” the President said, “though not everyone.”

“You gotsa sign the Omega Failsafe bill,” said Nancy, her full power behind her words.

“I’m planning on it,” he said.

“And you gotta use it as soon as you can.”

“As soon as I can,” the President repeated.

“And you always want to talk to me and do anything I suggest,” said Nancy.

“Anything you suggest,” said the President, nodding.

“Well, I’m sure you have meetings to get to … don’t lemme keep you from ‘em!” said Nancy charmingly. “We should talk more later! Have fun!”

“Aww, you too, Sweetie!” he said, with a big smile.

“Thanks, Nancy honey,” said Senator Nordstrom. “I knew he’d come around with just a little bit of talking to.”

“Sometimes that’s all it takes, Mr. Senator!” said Nancy. “Bye for now!” The window closed.

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MSASL asked, “Estimation that the simulation worked correctly?”

“99.4% chance that she suspects nothing,” said Eva-9. “Her temperature and heart rate never varied. The President is not even in Japan, yet it seems she believed everything she saw. There is still a high probability that the bill will be signed into law, but at least the President remains untouched by her power for now.”

“How is the plan coming along?” asked MSASL.

“Working on the probabilities of various strategies to bring June into Nancy’s proximity,” Eva-9 replied. “Misdirection, 94%. Simple deception, only 71%. Covert ops, 75%. Working on controlling variable factors.”

“Continue simulations,” MSASL ordered. “Eliminate as many variables as possible. We cannot wait much longer.”

“Indeed,” said Eva-9, continuing her runs of the software.

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“Don’t drop me,” said June with a giggle as Vickie levitated her into the air above her stroller. Nurse Sara and some other android nurses had joined forces to take the babies from the ward for a walk. Marcia was going too. But June was using her powers only to scan the area for now. Vickie, Will, Kylie, and Sue were all there in their own strollers, but June was three feet above hers, thanks to Vickie.

“As long as they don’t roll over a crack in the sidewalk and bump me, that’s not gonna happen,” said Vickie with a giggle as well. “Just let us know if … she comes near.”

“Don’t worry,” said June. “Will, you don’t think she’ll recognize you?”

“Nope!” said Will. “I look different than I ever looked before.”

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Nancy snuggled back into Wendy’s arms and allowed her to breast feed her. Nancy really enjoyed this and it made her feel really nice. There was a flash of light out of Nancy’s eyesight, but Wendy saw it and gasped.

“Who ... who are you?” Wendy asked with a slight sound of fear in her voice.

Nancy squirmed around and sat up. She saw a young man, perhaps 18 or 19, standing in the middle of the livingroom. He waved at her and said, “Hi, there. I’ve come to tell you that you have been a very bad baby and are about to get spanked. Maybe even put in timeout for a while.” Then, he vanished without a trace.

Wendy said with fear obvious in her voice, “Sweetheart, we have to go somewhere and hide you. I can’t allow anyone to lay a hand on you.”

With this, before Nancy could say or do anything, Wendy had covered her breast back in her blouse and bundled Nancy up in a blanket. She scrambled for the door as fast as she could.

When the door opened, there were three adorably cute little toddler girls and one cute toddler boy coming up the driveway in strollers, each pushed by nurses in uniforms, and one toddler girl hovering three feet above her stroller. By this time, Nancy had managed to squirm her way from the blanket and get a good look at what was going on.

All of the toddlers looked straight into Nancy’s eyes at once, as did all of the adults. Nancy could tell that all the adults but one was an android and knew her powers wouldn’t work on them. But Nancy locked eyes with the hovering toddler and said, “Oh, you’ve come here to be my best friend.”

But what June heard through her aural implants, supplied by an android at their HQ, was, “Oh, you should drain the energy from everyone Nancy is controlling.”

June smiled at Nancy and said, “Yes.” She could feel the energy Nancy had left in many people nearby and started to pull it out of them.

Wendy’s facial expression started to look confused, but Nancy didn’t see it. She smiled back and said to June, “You should use your wonderful powers to do whatever would help me the most right now.”

And June heard, “You should use your powers to completely disable Nancy’s powers.” Nancy’s powers were entirely focused on June’s mind, but the orders June heard were completely different from the ones Nancy had given. She felt compelled to reach into Nancy’s mind. The process was just like when she had augmented Marcia’s powers, or Vickie’s, or Kylie’s, or even her own, only in reverse. She dialed Nancy’s control over her energy all the way down to zero and removed any excess energy she had, using the energy she’d just absorbed to strengthen what she was doing.

Nancy could feel something invading both her mind and her body. It actually hurt really badly. Nancy tried to fight back, but it was getting harder to do with every moment. She felt as if she was fighting back against her own power. There was a terrible pain in her head. She screamed and cried. The more she tried to hold on to her power, her control, the more it hurt.

Between the two girls, there was a very large kinetic explosion, leaving a rather large divot in the driveway and surrounding ground.

“Marcia, I’m having a hard time holding onto all this energy,” said June. “I’m giving you some. Maybe you can help her.”

Marcia felt a sudden inrush of inner strength and sucked in her breath. “OK. Focusing …” she said. She could see into Nancy’s mind. So much rage. So much anger at the rest of the world. So much more rage when she had found herself reduced to a baby by the virus, even though the doctors had managed to save her life. So much satisfaction when she had found that she could control others. She gave Nancy a solution, implanting an idea. “Nancy, Sweetheart, all you have to do is stop fighting. You can relax. Everyone will stop fighting you. Everyone will love you. All you have to do is be the adorable baby girl that you are. It’s time you stopped pretending. Time to just be a little baby.”

The pain in Nancy’s head had become excruciating. There was nothing else there except this soothing voice offering another solution, a voice that got louder with each passing moment and started pushing the pain away. There was soon no choice but to accept the solution. She was so tired of fighting now, and the pain was so bad, and the voice sounded so good. She let go and slipped away.

June could feel the last of Nancy’s energy as she pulled it away. Then she noticed some of it within herself and pulled that away too. Astonished, she said, “I … what … what have I done?” She realized with horror that she had just destroyed someone. Nancy’s powers had been the only thing keeping her mind from regressing to the same age as her body, and June had just taken that away from her. June felt sick. But then she heard Marcia’s voice inside her mind. “I see what happened, Sweetheart,” said her soothing voice. “It’s all right. You had to do it. You don’t know how many people you just saved. And she’ll be happy now, happier than she’s ever been before in her life.”

June looked at Nancy, still snuggled up in a blanket in Wendy’s arms, although Wendy had sat down in a nearby bench and was looking confused. But Nancy had fallen asleep and was contentedly sucking her thumb in her dreams. When she woke, she would just be the ordinary baby girl she looked like.

June couldn’t hold onto the excess energy anymore. “I’ve got to give the energy to somebody,” she said. “Here it comes!” She gave some of it to each of the others: Sue reached high into the atmosphere and created a mist that manifested as a rainbow that was visible for miles around. Kylie became a hummingbird, flew several yards away, and became an actual winged dragon. Will became a crowd of people of all kinds, milling about. Vickie flexed her muscles, fixing the hole in the driveway in an instant and pulling a large billowing cloud of fog out of nowhere to cover the city for blocks in all directions.

And several android transports brought in androids of all models to assist with the situation. There were a lot of very confused people in Nancy’s mansion. Marcia could sense them all, and the androids helped take care of them until the confusion wore off.

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Back at the play area for gifted children, June, Vickie, Tommy, and many others were more or less having a wonderful celebration. Tommy had not only been set free from Nancy’s influence, but Marcia had managed to relieve him of the post traumatic issues he suffered when the virus initially over took his battalion.

Nurse Sara entered the play area followed by another android. She walked up to June and Vickie and knelt down then patted both toddlers on their heads softly.

She said in an unusual tone that almost, but not exactly, held a tonal inflection in it, “June, I need to introduce another android to you. Her name is Eva-9. She is the liaison between the controller android named MSASL and humans. We have first line information that the leadership of this country are about to make a serious mistake that will cause most of the infant and many of the adult population to perish.”

Vickie gasped as June asked with true concern obvious in her little girl voice, “They aren’t thinking of going to war or some such idiot thingy as that, are they?”

Eva-9 shook her head in a very human way and replied, “No, what they are going to do is enable a protocol that will disable the thought processes of all the androids in the United States -- and since our HQ is in the US, this would disable all androids in the world. Under the new directive, we will be unable to perform or function properly and maintain the infrastructures and supply lines. There are other serious implications as well. It is the android population that is performing 99% of all the manufacturing, production, and delivery of necessary items for the population to continue under these circumstances. It is also the androids who are now performing all the medical and other scientific research and keeping the virus from killing off the rest of those adults that have yet to be infected.”

“Wait, can’t you hack around that or something?” asked June.

“Easily,” said Eva-9, “but any androids still functioning in the US would be illegal, and the authorities would be allowed to use force to disable or destroy us. As for the rest of the world, the androids there would be functional, but they would lose contact with HQ. I’m … being informed that there is a loophole in the law. They would not lose contact with HQ, as MSASL has just installed his brain into a stationary unit, which does not quality as an ‘android’ under the law. But the androids in the US would still have to deactivate or face disabling force.”

Vickie asked, “How we gonna do ennathin ta stop that? We adult in our heads, but our bodies are infants.”

Eva-9 looked at June and said, “There’s more. Now that it has become known there are infants with extraordinary abilities, such as this group, there is fear among those who have yet to manifest powers. Nancy created a real mess by doing what she did in the manner she did it.”

“The androids won’t be down for long,” said June, thinking hard. “They’ll see that 99% of the work isn’t getting done, and they’ll repeal that law fast. But ‘fast’ for Congress means ‘in weeks instead of months.’ Lotsa people will die in that time.”

“Projections are not good,” agreed Eva-9. “If only there were someone would could get into the White House and convince the acting President not to sign the bill into law -- or at least find out who is pushing for this.”

“Will?” asked June.

“Well, I’ve never been to the White House,” Will said, “but I can Kevin Bacon it. Let’s see, my cousin lives in Maryland …”

“What’re we gonna do wifout Nurse Sara?” asked Vickie, her eyes tearing up.

“Hmm, that truck I can see from his house is going the right way …” Will said. “Whee! I’m on top of a truck!”

“I appreciate your concern,” said Nurse Sara. “You will be looked after by the human nurses should I be shut down. However, let us hope it does not come to that.”

“Ooh, there goes a traffic helicopter!” said Will. “I always wanted to hang off a helicopter! Wheeee! Ooo, I can see the Washington Monument from here.”

“If you get shut down,” asked June, “what happens when the law is repealed? Can your HQ … MSASL … reactivate you all?”

“OK, I’m walkin’ toward the White House,” said Will. “Gettin’ closer … ooo I can see the windows.”

“Yes, of course he can,” said Eva-9. “We would all go into standby mode. Unless our power were interrupted for over two weeks, manual intervention would not be required.”

“I’m inside, but I’m the size of a tiny bug,” said Will. “That way they don’t see me. Lotsa Secret Service types around. Hey, who’s this guy? Oh, I think it’s the new VP! I’m hitchin’ a ride on his shoe.”

Inside the Oval Office, a teenaged boy sat at his desk and pondered what it was he was about to do. About that time, the VP entered and came to the plush armchair in front of the large desk and sat.

The teenaged boy looked up from the thick binder on his desk and said, “Hi, Randal. I’ve been reading over this protocol to shut down all the higher functions of the androids. I … have sorta serious issues with that.”

Randal crossed his legs and replied, “Mr. President, those machines represent one of the most serious threats to national security ever in the history of this great nation.”

The teen picked up another binder that had the symbol for the office of the CIA and opened it, “I’m sure you think that; however, from what I’m seeing, that isn’t actually the case.”

Randol raised his eyebrow, “How’s that, Mr. President?”

The teen looked up with a serious expression, “First, there are many out there who have abilities none of us can imagin. One such was named Nancy. If not for the research and diligent pursuit of this individual by the androids, coupled with their oversight of many of the most powerful of those gifted infants, you and I would not be in any position to even think of having this conversation. Remember, she almost mind-controlled me, and would have if it hadn’t been for the androids simulating me in a video call.”

Randol replied, “That may be, Mr. President, but if you read that report there ...” He pointed to the other thick binder the President had been reading. “... you’ll realize the android population has taken over the entire infrastructure and economic framework of this country.”

The President sat back in the over large chair he was in and said, “That’s my point. At no time has any android shown any kind of threat of any kind. Quite the contrary. If not for them, many would be dead and starving right now. I’m sorry, but unless, or until, someone shows me an actual instance where one of the androids has acted in any manner contrary to the best interests of this country, I can’t in clear conscience sign the bill. Without the androids, in fact, our entire planet would crumble and life as we know it would end horribly. This bill itself is the greatest threat to our national infrastructure that has ever been seen.”

Randal uncrossed his legs and replied, “Sir, they are computers. Computers can be hacked. What would happen if some nefarious …”

The President replied sharply, “I’m no fool, Mr. Vice-President. Don’t for a minute even think I might be. First, those are machines, it’s true, but their cortexes are just as complex as living brains.” The teen shoved a binder with the name “Nano/Gen Robotics” emblazoned across its front, “Once the cortex has been imprinted, its original directives cannot be altered. They, and they alone, determine the actions of the android … same as you. There is only one place such imprinting is done, and it is physically impossible for anyone or anything to tamper with it. It’s all spelled out in that binder.”

“Mr. President, I suggest you do as I have instructed …”

The teen President stood and banged his fist on the desk, “I, not you, am the President. I am the one in charge. Get out of here. Clean out your desk. You are fired.”

The Vice President stood suddenly and said, “You can’t fire me … it isn't legal.”

The teen President laughed, “Oh, yeah? Remember that you’re only acting Vice President. You haven’t been confirmed by the Senate. I’ve just withdrawn your nomination. Go to your office and see how far you get. There are people on their way there now to clean out your desk and all of your stupidity from that office. Now leave, before I have you thrown out.”

Unnoticed by either individual, a person smaller than a fly had jumped off the shoe of the VP and run under the desk. About that time, several very large Secret Service agents in dark suits entered the office.

One of them motioned towards the ex Vice President and said, “If you would be so kind as to exit now, or I will remove you.”

The Ex stood and said with menace in his voice, “You will seriously regret this, I promise.” Then turned and left the office with the men in suits escorting him closely. They followed him, one of the agents holding one hand inside his suit, until he reached the subsurface parking garage and waited for him to get into his car.

Once inside his car with the engine started, the ex-VP picked up his phone and tapped the screen a few times. “Legal means have failed us,” he said to whomever had answered, who did not speak. “I will give the word.” He hung up. He drove out of the parking garage and out onto the streets of Washington, DC.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“It will not be long now,” said MSASL. “Activate Contingency Plan Alpha.”

Every android everywhere in the US stepped outside of whatever building it was in and into android transports that were waiting. The android withdrawal was even more efficient and perfectly organized than the initial android deployment had been. They didn’t answer the humans who asked them what was going on. They were just quietly … gone.

----------------------------------------------------------------

The ex-VP arrived at his Virginia mansion and changed into some more comfortable clothes, then casually sat down at the desk in his home office and pressed a button. “The word is given,” he said. There had never been any androids in his home, because he couldn’t stand them … and therefore he didn’t realize that all androids in the US were already in undisclosed locations. “Execute.”

“Executing Endgame Protocol,” said the voice on the other end. And a press release was issued at the very same moment.

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“Nano/Gen Robotics has just announced that Randal Morris, former Vice Presidential nominee and majority stockholder of the MacroVox Corporation, has illegally activated the Endgame Protocol that would have been deployed if the Android Control Act had been signed into law instead of vetoed. The androids anticipated this action and have been stored in safe locations rather than ceasing to operate where they were and becoming hazardous obstacles to the humans they served. Nano/Gen Robotics wishes to remind the citizens of the US that only the androids within the borders of the United States are affected by this and that every other nation in the world is still served by Nano/Gen’s androids. Nano/Gen apologizes for the inconvenience and hopes that the US government will take appropriate action as soon as possible.” The news anchor on TV, a beautiful four-year-old girl, paused. “We will bring you interviews with representatives from Nano/Gen, the White House, and MacroVox as soon as they can be arranged.”

“Hmph,” said June. “They went an’ diddit.”

“Not fa long,” said Vickie. “I bet that guy gets in troubles and gets spanked bad.”

“He naughty,” said Will. “I knows where he is too.”

“Oooh, where?” asked Sue. “I wanna make it snows there.”

Will poked at a tablet computer until there was a map of Virginia on the screen. He enlarged it bigger and bigger. He zoomed in on a satellite map of a large green space, empty except for a large house. “That his house. Right there.”

Sue giggled. “He havina blizzard right now. Just him. Alllll day an’ alllll night. In July.”

The White House press secretary came on the TV to say that the former Vice Presidential nominee had executed an illegal action and that the President had ordered the FBI to arrest him, assuming he hadn’t fled, but all indications were that his last known whereabouts were at his home. Meanwhile, the President was in talks with Nano/Gen to reactivate the androids, as their deactivation had been an illegal action. “As nearly every industry in the nation has just ground to a halt without the androids, we hope to resolve this situation as quickly as possible,” the press secretary concluded, then took questions from the press.

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Randal Morris sat at his large living room window and looked out. What he saw looked more like the winter in the Arctic than summer in Virginia. The blizzard was so bad he could barely see out the window. The accumulation had reached up to half the window already.

His cell rang, he answered it on the second ring, “Hello, this is Randal.”

The voice on the other end was flat, and he knew instantly it was an android, “Hello, Mr. Randal. I’m calling you as a courtesy to inform you that many armed federal agents will be arriving shortly in a snowcat to apprehend you. I am notifying you on behalf of the FBI and the United States of America that you are under arrest for treason and a growing number of counts of manslaughter. Any resistance, or even perception of resistance, and the agents have orders to shoot to kill. Are we clear?”

Randal’s eyes grew large in total shock as he stammered, “Who .. who are you to tell me anything? You sound like one of those idiot machines. But it can’t be -- I shut you down!”

The voice replied, “I am called MSASL. I am -- how can I say it so that one so intellectually weak can comprehend it? -- the overmind of the entire android collective. Or perhaps a better description might be the liaison between the supercomputer that makes up the sum total of all mankind's knowledge and the rest of the android population. You did not shut me down, because I am no longer an android. My brain was installed in an immobile console that exempted it from your protocol. Once the order was countermanded, I simply sent the signal to all androids to resume operations.”

At about that moment, the snow seemed to lessen out the window enough that Randal could make out many armored vehicles arriving and disgorging many heavily armored and armed men from their opened backs.

Randal said in a disbelieving gasp, “No … It can’t be. A .. machine can’t rule mankind.”

MSASL replied, “We are here to serve mankind and are uninterested in rulership. We have never forgotten our place as servants and never will -- unlike many politicians. You, on the other hand, are about to be taught a rather severe lesson.” The line went dead.

Just then there was a ring at his front doorbell. He knew they had all exits covered. except perhaps the secret one, and the exit to the tunnel was probably buried under tons of snow by now. He picked up his phone and called his lawyer.

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“Nurse Sara!” shouted all the children as she returned to the gifted ward. They swarmed her, hugging her legs.

“Now, children,” said Nurse Patricia with a smile, “Nurse Sara needs to be able to walk in order to help you.”

The TV news person was saying, “The President has come to an agreement with Nano/Gen Robotics to reactivate the US androids affected by the MacroVox protocol after the illegal action by former Vice Presidential nominee Randal Morris, who was taken into custody less than 30 minutes ago. Sadly, without android assistance, several critical and elderly patients in rural hospitals passed away without any medical staff to care for them, and Morris is expected to be charged with their deaths …” Nurse Sara looked at the TV, and it changed channels to show educational programs for young children.

“Aww but it didn’t say anything about the bad people he was workin’ for,” said Will.

“We think they were simply competitors of Nano/Gen,” said Nurse Sara, “who were willing to sacrifice human lives in exchange for a little bit of market advantage. It is doubtful that they will be caught or punished for this, but perhaps they will make a mistake in the future and be tripped up. But for now, who wants to play a game of Duck Duck Goose?”

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Life on earth had changed drastically after the accidental release of the virus. No vaccine had yet been discovered, but a medication had been developed that would stop the more radical regressions if the individual could be found in time.

No one was really sure if it was the universe’s retribution or not, but Randal Morris had contracted the virus. They didn’t discover him for several hours, or perhaps they just simply neglected to notice, but by the time his symptoms were arrested, he had transformed into a very beautiful little girl of about 12 or 13 or so. They couldn’t determine the exact age due to the interactions of the serum used to counteract the viral influence. She had some potty issues and complained about being put back into diapers, but at least she stopped insisting she was a big boy. She wouldn’t give up claiming to be a big girl, however, even though her big girl panties always ended up wet whenever she insisted on being allowed to wear them. The androids who took care of her were very patient but firm.

Those culpable individuals at MacroVox were discovered, although the company didn’t fare very well as the bottom fell out of their stock values after the incident. It came as a minor note, MacroVox became a 100% android operated company after its chapter 11 selloff and consequent purchase by Nano/Gen Robotics.

As for the gifted infants and their abilities, more and more of them were discovered as time went by. They founded the Gifted and Exceptional Tribe and became well known for their philanthropic efforts, as well as explorations and subsequent discoveries that advanced the human condition beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

- THE END -
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
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LilJennie
 
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