Copyright© 2015 by Lumpy
With all the excitement from the previous few weeks, I was happy that the week following our mini-vacation was fairly calm. Coach was really pushing me in practice, to get me up to speed with the rest of the team. Honestly, I was looking forward to playing in my first real game, that weekend. It did help to keep my mind off the fact that Mrs. Bell and Doctor Chang would be sitting down with me and the girls, to go over what they had learned over the weekend.
That isn't to say nothing happened. It seemed to be a rule of thumb with my life, this year. It was impossible for a few days to go by without something notable taking place. The first thing came on Monday night, while I was finishing up my homework and Zoe was working on her homework on her computer ... or, at least, I thought that was what she was doing.
"YES! I'm in."
"What are you in?"
She looked back at me with a strangely guilty expression on her face.
"Umm, nothing. Sorry, go back to your book."
She has a terrible poker face and I was instantly intrigued, so I set my school books down.
"Nuh-uh. I don't buy that. What are you doing over there?"
"Well, I was talking to some guys over in an IRC chat room, mostly about networks and websites and vulnerabilities. And they mentioned some places where they were testing, umm, some of those vulnerabilities. I was curious so I, uhh, tried it out myself."
"Testing vulnerabilities? That sounds like a euphemism for breaking into something. So, which place were you testing out vulnerabilities?"
She looked away from me, and didn't say anything for a minute.
Finally she sighed and said as she looked at me, "NASA"
"You broke into NASA?"
"Well, just their computers."
"You hacked into NASA's computers?"
"I just wanted to see if I could."
"You know that's against the law, right? Like, go to jail against the law."
"Yeah, but I covered my tracks well. I did test runs against a bunch of people I know from online first to make sure I was safe."
"And what do you plan on doing now that you're in?"
"Nothing, just look around. I don't want to actually cause anyone any problems; I just wanted to see if I could do it."
"I am surprised you were able to get into NASA. With all the big brains there, you would think it would be pretty darn secure."
"Yeah, but the big brains work in the lab. They still have all the normal bureaucratic office people. Red tape makes for terrible security."
"I guess. Well, just be careful and don't go poking the bear. Try and stay away from government systems from now on, because that could really come back to haunt us."
"Yeah, I know. I just really wanted to know I could do it."
"Okay, good job, I guess."
Even though she looked appropriately apologetic, she was having a lot of trouble hiding her excitement and pride. I wasn't that worried she would keep doing this, or take things to a level where we could really be in trouble; that just wasn't her. It's hard to be annoyed at her when she was so happy. She just looked too damn cute. I picked my school books back up, and left her to her computer.
Besides the upcoming meeting, and the game on the weekend, there was one more thing that had been bugging me that I needed to take care of. I hadn't seen Tina since she dropped off my stuff, after Margret kicked me out.
I left a little early, and told Zoe I would meet her back at home and walk her to school. I then ran off to Tina's bus stop. I managed to get there just as she was arriving, and was able to stop her and talk before she joined the rest of the kids.
"Hey, Tina, wait up."
She turned and looked at me, and I noticed she didn't smile. "What's up?"
"I hadn't talked to you in a while and I wanted to make sure everything is okay."
"Yeah, it's fine."
"So, do you think you might have some time to come hang out with us one day soon?"
"I don't know, maybe."
This was not going how I expected it to go. Before Tina had been starting to get really close. "Okay. Well, if you can, let me know. Zoe also mentioned she missed spending time with you. I don't know if you heard, but I am back on the football team. I'll be playing in my first game this weekend. Do you think you could come watch?"
"Maybe. Look, I have to go catch the bus. I'll talk to you later."
With that she turned around and walked away. I moped my way back to Zoe's house, where she was standing by the front door waiting for me.
"I am going to guess that didn't go well."
"No. She blew me off."
"What's going on? Do you think she is siding with her mom, and is mad at you also?"
"I don't know. She didn't seem mad, just like she didn't care."
She leaned in and gave me a tight hug.
"I'm sorry. I know you were working hard to make your relationship with her work."
"Thanks. It will be okay. I am sure this has all been confusing to her. We just need to give her time."
I put on a brave face after that, but Tina's attitude shook me. I had just discovered her as my sister, and now we were back to how it was before. It made me more than a little sad.
Saturday rolled around, and it was time for the game. I was pretty pumped, and had busted my butt all week in practice to get ready. I was nervous and jittery on the bus ride to the stadium, but once we were on the field and started warming up, I calmed down a bit.
The team we were up against was from Huntsville, a town about thirty minutes to the west of us. It was known mostly for being the home of the state prison, but also serviced a lot of rural communities around the city. They were actually pretty competitive, and our school had problems with them the previous year.
We had the coin flip, and received the ball. We got stopped just shy of the fifty yard line, putting me in the game for the first time. Tony, our QB, called the play. It had me running out fifteen yards. It seemed most of our plays were either short passes or running the ball. Coach had a philosophy about marching the ball up the field, rather than trying to go for the spectacular plays.
The ball was snapped and I rushed out with my defender right on my heels. I was able to put a little distance when I cut left and looked up to see the ball sailing towards me. I actually hadn't expected that, because the defender was still pretty tight in on me. I added a little speed once I grabbed the ball out of the air. Not wanting to overplay my abilities, when I saw a guy coming in from my right for the tackle I held back from kicking into high gear, and let him get a piece of me, taking me down. I still managed to pick up fifteen yards. I know a lot of people in my position would rather have the glory, but I still believed laying low was my best bet.
The rest of the game progressed like that, and I did manage to put up some good numbers. While I was still holding back. Being able to drop into what I had started calling 'slow motion, ' I had time to work out all the variables on a catch. Coupled with my reaction time and speed, it made getting and holding the ball a lot easier. So I did manage to avoid fumbles or interceptions. I also managed a nice snag in their end zone, from a twenty yard pass. There were two guys all over me, and I told Tony to throw it a little high, that I could get it. He looked at me weird, but did as I asked. The pass was just over the defenders' finger tips. I managed to get up enough to get one hand on the ball, and pull it in.
Our running back, a guy named Charles Hall, also put up some pretty respectable numbers and we pulled out the win: 27 to 13. He actually got the game ball from the coach, since most of the touchdowns were his.
Josh was staring at me the whole time we were getting our stuff packed away in the locker room. He pulled me aside on the way out.
"Cas, I have seen you run and workout a lot. What was with you, tonight?"
"I thought I did good. I put up some respectable numbers, and got the one touchdown."
"Yeah, you did fine, I guess. It just felt like you weren't running as fast as I have seen you run. Once or twice it seemed like you slowed down right as they got to you."
Well, damn. It's easy to forget when looking at Josh, that he is a pretty bright guy. It was pretty obvious now that I would have to start pulling back more in our workout sessions and in practice so people didn't notice the difference.
"Yeah, I was a little off. I don't know if it is still the injury, or if it's cause I normally don't run in all this equipment, but I think you're right. I wasn't at my best."
He just looked at me for a moment, considering.
"I don't know about the injury. You seemed fine working out with your girls, this weekend."
"Yeah, but that was without the equipment."
"Hey, I will try and do better next game. And you did good, out there. Looks like you are here to stay on Varsity."
"Yeah, the guys we are playing against are bigger, but it is fun."
Properly derailed, we talked about his view of the game, and how the defensive team was going with all the changes. I did make a note to remember and talk to the girls about this, later. We needed to keep a lid on what we did around other people, if we didn't want them to start watching us closely.
I also hadn't noticed Tina in the stands, even though I was able to pick out Vicki. I hoped I just had overlooked her, but I figured she would have come over with Vicki to meet up with us, and she didn't. I had a sinking feeling she had skipped out on the game.
Although Tami and Vicki both stayed over, between the stuff with Tina and the impending visit from Doctor Chang in the morning, I just wasn't in the mood. Luckily my girls were incredibly understanding, and settled for some making out and petting before we all cuddled up and went to bed.
The girls were as nervous as I was, and we were all up early the next morning. Even though our workout group didn't meet on weekends, all four of us still had a lot of pent-up energy to burn off. I was in my own world, and ended up at my normal pace. I did notice that both Vicki and Tami managed to keep up, and weren't as winded as they were during our workouts the previous weekend. As we walked the last block back to cool down, I mentioned that to them.
"Yeah, both Vicki and I have seen major improvements. Hell, I finally started getting abs like Zoe, now," Tami answered back patting her stomach.
Vicki was nodding in agreement as she added, "We also noticed our school work is getting easier. We talked through with Zoe about what she went through, and I am pretty sure the same stuff is happening to us."
"Well, we'll know more in a little while. The full tests they did on you were before anything changed, but Zoe was tested afterward. I would bet once the doc rechecks everything on you two; you will end up with similar results to Zoe."
Zoe knew I had a tendency to drop into a funk on this topic, and took the opportunity to latch onto my arm.
"Well I, for one, am glad. I am buff as hell and able to hack into government networks. I love the new super me."
To their credit, the other girls agreed. When we got home, I was made to stay in the shower as each cycled through with me, all three wanting to fool around a little bit to make up for what we missed the night before. I went down to the kitchen to wait, while the girls took their time getting ready ... as usual. I found Mrs. Bell sitting at the table holding her head in her hands.
"Are you okay Mrs. B?"
She looked up and smiled weakly at me, "Yeah, just a bit of a headache."
"Do you want me to go get you some Tylenol or something?"
"No, I took something already. Thanks though."
I bent and gave her a hug before going to the fridge to get a drink. I needed to think up something nice to do for her. I hadn't told her as much as I should how much I appreciated everything she did for me.
Before I could get to the fridge, the doorbell sounded. I waved Mrs. Bell back to her seat, and went to answer it, letting Doctor Chang in. The girls all trooped downstairs at the sound of the bell as well, gathering around the table.
"Okay, Doc, it's your show."
That got me a brief smile as she started pulling papers out of her briefcase.
"There is a lot we have learned, so I am going to jump right in. From our last conversation, you know that we found your blood had some kind of morphing capability, although that isn't the right word for it, so I will start with that. Have you ever heard of stem cells?"
"I have seen them mentioned in some of the stuff I have read, but other than having heard the name before, not really."
"Okay. So, a quick primer. Stem cells are unique in that they have the potential to develop into different cell types, and are usually found in the body during the early stages of life. Honestly, what we know about them is still limited, but there are a lot of studies currently underway. I am betting in the next few years we will have some big breakthroughs. We do know that in some tissues, these cells serve as a kind of internal repair system, essentially dividing without limit to replenish other cells. The important thing to know is that they can assume the identity of other cells.
"As I said, these are types of cells that are really important in the embryo stage of human development, but they don't act quickly. There are a lot of different kinds of stem cells, including hematopoietic stem cells. The ones we encounter the most, are used during bone marrow transplants. We rely on them when we treat blood diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma.