Transfiguration: Part One

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When the side door of the house opened, a small gust of wind escaped into the warm enclosure of the room and sent unexpected movement along its path. A log croaked and snapped in the fireplace, a dustbunny was whisked across the hardwood floor, and several pages of the book Alesha held open in her hands fluttered backwards, sending her deeper within the story.

She didn't look up; she could hear the sound of the footsteps and the heavy breathing of the entrant. Alesha didn't need to see to know who it was.

Without act of surprise, she lifted a hand and flattened out the turned pages of her book. "It's about time you came back," Alesha spoke with an edge of bitterness in her voice. "I was beginning to think you forgot you even had a family up here."

She waited for a response, but it was some time before one finally came. "Alesha." Bradley's voice was hoarse, and almost sounded like it was not his own. "I know you're angry, but right now, you need to help me."

Alesha finally lifted her eyes from the pages of her book, but what she saw she could have never been prepared for.

"BRAD!" Alesha sprung backwards in fear the moment her brain registered what she was seeing. She had called his name, but what she saw did not look like her husband.

Over the years, Alesha had seen all manner of strange things walk through her door: the first artificially intelligent being, a kidnapper with her daughter in their arms, a grown man dressed as a neandrethal, but this... it was impossible. It had to be impossible.

As if in mocking echo, Brad's response began, "Alesha."

It took a moment for him to catch his breath. His lungs, he imagined, were turning just as green as his skin was. His hair. His eyes... They all felt as if they were burning, but none so much as his eyes, which made him wince in pain every time he had to blink. He did not know that they were aglow, but if he did, he would not have been surprised; everything he saw was tinged with emerald. With tiberium.

"Alesha, please," he said again, sourly, as if losing his patience. "I need you to stay calm. This is not the time for panic."

Alesha slowly nodded, but she couldn't help feeling as if that was some kind of joke. This seemed like the perfect time to panic.

"What... what happened to you?" She managed to ask after swallowing the frog in her throat.

"That's not important, right now," Brad said with a weak shake of his head. "What's important is that you do exactly as I tell you. Can you do that for me?"

As she nodded, Bradley continued. "There is a syringe in the bathroom, looks like an Epi-Pen but with a... a big..." He wheezed. "Big yellow sticker on it. Use it."

"... On myself?" Alesha stuttered.

"Yes. On yourself. Then I need you to call..." He swallowed, heaved his lungs again, but every breath felt empty to his chest. "To call..."

His sentence left unfinished, Brad's body slowly began to descend, tumbling forward like a defeated tree leaning towards the ground.

"BRAD!" Alesha screamed again, this time flinging herself forwards rather than back; her book was tossed to the unknown as she dived to him, barely able to support her husband's body before his knees thudded heavily onto the floor.

"Stay with me," she murmured softly as she embraced her arms around her husband. "I-it's going to be okay," she voiced from some deep desire for it to be true.

With what strength he had left, Brad's arms lifted and held her tighter, squeezing the warmth of her body to him as he could feel his own warmth leaving him. His fingers found her hair. He gently smoothed through it.

Brad weakly placed his lips behind her ear, and uttered a small whisper towards the nape of her neck. She felt a shiver down her spine as he said, softly, "I'm sorry."

She had to let the weight of him slip through her palms and onto the floor. There was no energy left between them to keep him from falling, now.

"Brad... B-brad..."





Alesha could hear the sound of Bradley's heartbeat through the glass windowpane of his room, but she feared that at any moment, it would cease.

It had taken them til dawn, but Brad's complexion was finally restored--if still a bit pale for Alesha's tastes. The rest of him still showed no change, though. Aside from being able to draw breath on his own again, he laid as motionless as stone in his bed.

And still no word if he would ever move from it, again.

"You really should go home and get some rest."

Alesha felt Moe's hand on her shoulder, but it brought her no comfort--only a heavy push back into reality. "I'm not leaving until he wakes up," she finally responded with a shudder. "He needs me here."

Moe frowned. "The girls need you too, Alesha."

"Lil can watch them just fine," she muttered between the heavy nail-biting on her teeth. "Besides... I don't even know what to tell them. What's going on, Moe?"

Before he responded, Moe gently guided Alesha where she could no longer fixate her gaze on Brad's heart monitor.

"Alesha--" He sighed. "Brad was infected with incredibly high levels of Tiberium. We've managed to purge a great deal of it from his system, but we won't know for certain if we got all of it for at least a week." When Alesha bit her lip and looked away, he continued, "The good news is, your blood tests came back negative--you weren't exposed long enough to Brad to get infected."

Alesha shook her head. "No, I think I was. Before he collapsed, he made me take some sort of... vaccine, I guess."

Moe's face was riddled with shock, but then, understanding. "Well, that explains a lot."

"What do you mean?" Alesha asked, still completely confused.

"The syringe--it's a blocker of sorts. A bit of a safeguard against tiberium, we all got one at the start of the project, so that we could handle the material safely--I guess he never took his."

"But all those tests you ran when he first started getting sick--how did you miss he was infected?"

"Knowing Brad?" Moe scoffed, rolling his eyes. "He probably faked his results somehow."

"But... but why would he do that?!" Alesha's fear was slowly turning to anger, again. "Why would he intentionally let himself get sick like this?!"

Moe slowly shook his head. "We don't fully understand the properties of Tiberium, yet, but the way it interacts with the body is... incredible. Over time, it reproduces and consumes all organic matter, but early on it enhances both mental and physical faculties by... unmeasurably large degrees."

"So you're saying... he let himself get sick so he could get smarter?" Alesha's brows furrowed together tightly. "That's it?"

"Not just a little smarter, Alesha. You have to understand--" Moe took a deep breath. "The further we got towards developing Amelia's cure, the more we realized it would take the better part of our careers to finish it. That's part of why most of us didn't go back to help him, after he blew up at us--it seemed like a fool's errand, and none of us wanted to risk our careers on it. But... What would have taken us 20 years, Brad did in one year. One, Alesha."

They stood quietly before each other as Alesha digested this information. It slowly began to make sense--why Brad would let no one near him, why he exiled himself to his laboratory for months. It was logical, for Brad. Why, then, did she still feel so angry?

"But what about him?" she finally asked, feeling her eyes begin to sting and blur. "Does -he- get a cure, too?"


"I have the right to know."

"You have to understand, Tiberium isn't a disease or a virus--it can't be killed or 'cured'. We can filter his blood, we can remove any build-up, we can prevent it from reproducing... But the damage is already done. His immune system is... damaged, beyond repair. That's something that no one can fix."

Alesha breathed deeply, staying strong and reserved despite the walls around her crashing down. "Are you saying he's going to die?"

"Everyone dies, someday," he offered, little hope in his voice. "Whether in a few days, a few weeks, months, years--I don't know. We'll do the best we can... that's all I can guarantee."

Alesha's eyes slowly closed. Even she had too much pride to let Moe see her collapse into sobs, but it took every ounce of courage she had to stay on her feet. She was already dying, inside.

"Can I go in and see him?" she asked weakly.

Moe slowly nodded. "Make sure you sterilize your hands and such before contact, but--yes. He should be strong enough, now."

She had to prepare herself--both physically and emotionally. The strange, clean tingle of her hands was nothing compared to heavy beating in her chest. The silent, cold weeping of her heart.

Alesha settled onto the edge of the bed; he stirred a little, but not enough to wake. 'Good,' she thought to herself. She wasn't sure what she would do if he opened his eyes and faced her, right now.

"How is it fair, to give up your health, your life, so your sister can have hers back a little sooner?" The words felt good to say aloud, though no one could hear them. "How does that make sense, Brad?!"

Beep. Beep. Beep. His only response. She wanted desperately for him to give her some reason that didn't hurt--one that didn't distort what he'd done into some sort of noble sacrifice, because he didn't deserve that. She wanted a reason she could unashamedly give to her children to explain why their father would never be well again. A reason that wouldn't leave her a widow before she deserved.

She had never felt more selfish in her entire life--and for the first time, she didn't care.

It was the one thing she had ever wanted this much. The one thing she would never get.

"Fine time for you to take a nap," came a voice heavy with disapproval from the corner of the room.

Bradley snapped upwards--as quickly as he could, anyways. His gaze looked to the corner, then looked away. "What are you doing here," he growled, turning away to hide the sudden shame in his face.

"Doing what I do best, of course--making you uncomfortable."

Bradley stole another quick glance at the corner, but the more he looked at the placid, emotionless face of his father, the more he was tempted to hurl himself out the window and avoid the inevitable conversation that was coming.

"Where's Alesha?" he finally asked, dragging his legs to the edge of the bed and letting them dangle down. Escape probably wouldn't happen, he could barely move his feet.

"I made the doctor slip her something to sleep. She's done nothing but sit here for days--I do fear she'll be quite angry with me for not letting her be here when you woke up, but it was necessary. We need to talk."

Brad's face soured even further. "I have nothing to say to you."

"You've made that apparent." Jebidiah carefully closed his book, setting it on the endtable as he made his way to the empty spot on the bed next to his son. Brad cringed, but there was nothing he could do to stop him. "You know--I can't help but feel that I am partially responsible for this."

Brad let out a subtle laugh. "Oh? How?"

"I knew this would happen, sooner or later. Your pride... Your work. It always meant more to you than anything else--and I knew this, because it is a mistake I have made countless, countless times." Jeb frowned deeper as Brad continued to look away. "Your mother always said, you were more like me than you'd want to admit."


"So--I should not have let that stand in my way. The same reason we've never been able to stand each other, is the same reason I have always found more pride in you than anyone else--I wanted you to be like me, to succeed. But instead... I should have told you that there were things that were more important. And for that--Bradley, I am truly sorry."

Finally, Brad twisted his head around to look his father in the eye.

"You were doing what you thought was right," Jeb finished. "But it was not worth this."

"I... I--I know."

Bradley stood--or rather, stumbled--up from the bed. He did not want Jebidiah to see his face, but that was impossible. Jeb knew exactly what was in his son's eyes. "It made so much sense, in the beginning--but it went too far," Brad said with a stiff shake of his head. "I thought I had control, but I didn't... and now, I--"

"You don't have to finish. I understand." It wasn't in Jeb's nature to be comforting, but seeing his son in the position he himself had been in so many times--although, admittedly, not quite this bad--he reached out a hand to steady him.

"I'm not sure you do," Brad responded slowly, looking up at his father wearily. "No offense to Mom, but you were her life, she couldn't live without you, no matter what kinds of things you'd done. Alesha... I don't think she'll ever forgive me for this."

"You don't give your wife enough credit--she has forgiven a great deal of things in her life."

"Endangering my life without even telling her? I--I'll be surprised if she ever speaks to me again," Brad choked, shielding his face as he again turned away, limping feebly towards the other side of the room. "I may as well lock the door so she can't come back."

"Don't you dare, Bradley. Don't you dare run away from this. She is your wife--she deserves better than that. You've already done enough, don't make this worse."

"What else am I supposed to do? How do I face her... how do I face my kids?"

"The same way I faced your mother, the same way I faced you, and Travis, and Amelia--with the truth. You feel miserable? You should! Let them see it! What else do you have to lose? Your pride? Trust me--it's only a matter of time before you realize that's already gone, as well."


"Say nothing else." Jebidiah reached his hand out to place on his son's shoulder.

It was frail, but that touch was more than he'd recieved from any of his children in so long that even the Mighty Kane could feel a twinge in the corner of his eye. "Be strong. Your family needs you, now. -All- of us."

Bradley fell fast into his father's arms. He could not recall the last time he had hugged his father--if ever, to be honest--but he had never wanted, or needed, comfort from him until now.

He began to cry, but in their sadness was still some sweetness. Between them, they had finally found, at the very least, a seed of forgiveness.

They were finally father and son, again.

As you might have noticed, I sort of fell off the face of the planet for a few weeks. This post was written for quite a while, but I've been hesitant to post it for... obvious reasons, probably. Not only is the nature of what happened to Brad a bit complicated and likely a little confusing (I tried to adapt it from what the original Command & Conquer tiberium's effects are), it's probably not what many of you were expecting. This was fairly difficult for me to write, and very important to me, so putting it out there isn't easy.

Now, about my absence: I mentioned briefly that I was picking up SWTOR, and between my unnatural ability to become addicted to MMOs and some very rough patches, I haven't had much desire to be on the computer. I'm going to kick myself into gear and get caught up on the blogs I should have a long, long time ago, but don't expect to see me around much beyond that for a while. I'm not in a good place right now, and no one wants a cranky Kaleeko, lol.

Love you guys, hope this doesn't break too many hearts. <3


The Brave Change

Monday, January 2, 2012

The lab was silent--all but the sound of the wrench twisting against her neck, a noisy endeavor that felt strange to Lilobot. Strange, because she couldn't feel it at all. She had never known anything else, true, but the fact that her lack of sensation felt alien to her was the very reason she was here in the first place.

Although she couldn't see what Lamont was doing to her, Lilobot sat as still as she could, knowing one slight movement could interfere with his work; one mistake could leave her completely unable to move, or even brain dead. Although it was not what he was trying to do, recently, Lil had often wished for that very thing to happen. Hopefully, this would change all that.

"How much longer?" she asked, trying not to sound impatient.

She couldn't see, but Lamont scrunched his nose as he tried to calculate the answer. "Eerr... Probably 15 minutes? Brad got your neural net incredibly well protected, but I think I found a good access point--all I have to do is install the port, seal it up, and--"

"You do not have to go in detail, I understand what you are doing."


The next few minutes passed silently, but as her attention drifted away from Lamont, Lilobot began to see her surroundings... differently. "It is... odd."

"What is?"

"This place. I have recollection of it, though no real memory of being here. Why is that?"

"Really?" Lamont raised his eyebrow in query. "Huh! I'd wager, it's because Brad used to bring you here occasionally during your construction, to get some advice from the rest of us. All kinds of robotic prototypes make their way here eventually--you're just the only one who... you know."

"Achieved a state of self awareness."

"Yeah, that."

"Does that make me special, then?" Lilobot asked with a particularly soft, fragile lull in her voice.

Lamont smiled at the back of Lil's head. "Yeah, it does. All of us had  been trying to create AI for years, but... Brad's got a gift. Nothing stops him, when he wants something bad enough, and he wanted you--or, I guess, the idea of you--as part of his family. I think that's the difference, between the rest of us and him. We only look at the goal... He looks beyond it."

"I do not know--you must be quite intelligent, to be able to do this for me."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that, Lil," Lamont chuckled. "We haven't even found out if it will work, yet."

"But," Lamont said with a long yawn after setting his tools down on the floor. "I think that's about it. The connection port is all set up, just don't fiddle with it and it should be fine for next week."

Lil nodded as she carefully stood from the stool. "Of course."

"Also... make sure Brad doesn't see it, alright?" Lamont let out a nervous laugh as he turned back and looked at Lil over his shoulder. "I don't want him knowing I went behind his back, he'd never let me finish."

This time, Lil let out a small giggle. "Don't worry, I won't let him find out. I want this to be a surprise, for everyone."

Lamont's lips turned up in a surprised grin, but it quickly faded once he realized the mess he'd made in the lab. Grumbling, he began picking up his tools and putting them away, leaving Lilobot unattended and free to roam the room.

She didn't have to go far. Not six steps from where she'd been sitting, she saw it: the table, the ebony bag that looked large enough to fit a person inside. A body. A small gasp escaped her mouth.

"What's--oh," Lamont groaned as he peered over his shoulder again and saw where she was.

"Can... can I see it?" Lilobot asked, her optical lenses spinning wildly as she looked up and down the bag, scouting for any exposed parts of its contents.

"Well--I wanted to keep that as a surprise, too," he remarked back with wicked shake of his head. "But... trust me. You'll like it."

"How do you know?" Lil asked cheekily, spinning her head in Lamont's direction.

He grinned back at her, sending her a bit of a sly wink. "I just do."

"You know..." Lil sighed as she walked back towards Lamont, wringing her hands nervously as she drew nearer and nearer. "These past few days... I have really--felt really close to you."

"Yeah?" Lamont asked, his face falling. "Why's that?"

"I am not sure--I think it has just been so long since anyone paid this much attention to me. It is... nice."

"Well, you deserve it, Lil. You're a sweet gal--I think a lot of people take you for granted."

"And... you really think I am special?"

"Yeah." Lamont briefly looked away. "I do."

"WHOA WHOA WHOA--Lil, what are you doing?!"

Lilobot froze, mid-attempted embrace. Her arms still outstretched, her lips still tilted slightly towards him, she stopped, opening her eyes to find Lamont struggling to back away from her.

"But--but I thought--you said that--"

"Yeah, yeah, but Lil--I didn't mean it like that!"

"I... I..." Lilobot's face quickly began to fall, and her arms dropped back down to her sides. She took a careful step back, clear shame written on her face. "But Lamont, I thought you didn't care that I'm...?"

"Look, Lil. It's not because of what you are--under different circumstances... I don't know, Lil. I like you, and it's been great spending time with you, but... I'm married. And I love my wife, and my son. I never expected--"

"Oh." Lil's head drooped on her neck. "Right."

"Lil, it's okay, you don't--"

"No! How could I be so stupid! I am so selfish, I could not even see past the end of my nose! You are just so perfect, and wonderful, and--"

"Whoa there, don't get carried away," Lamont said, his smile coming back. "I'm far from perfect."

"But you are, to me! You all are... With your lips and your hair and your beating hearts and your--"

"Lil, Lil--just stop there," Lamont spoke abruptly, grabbing Lil's shoulder to try and stop her animated speech. "Pretty soon, you're going to have all of those things, too."

"Yes... But I will never be human," Lilobot sighed in soft lament. "Not really."

Lamont paused, but after a moment of careful consideration, he knew just what he had to say. "Lil, you're more human than you'll ever know. Part of being human is being imperfect--realizing that you aren't... that's the first step towards becoming more like us. Soon enough, people will see you for who you really are underneath this exterior... and then you'll have boys falling all over you. Ones you'll like far more than me, or Tanner--ones that actually deserve your affection." He gave her a bit of a shake. "You got that?"

Reluctantly, Lilobot lifted her eyes and looked back into Lamont's. "You really think so?"

He smiled, pulling her closer. "Really."

"Now," he finished, looking straight into her eyes. "Let's get you home."

"Roonnniiieee--could you come here for a second?"

Veronica grumbled, eyeing the door to her room as venomously as if her mother were standing right in front of it. "Yeah Mum, be right there," she hollered back, sending a remorseful glance to both Margo and Kenzie before shoving herself up off the floor and heading out back down the stairs.

Once Veronica had vanished, Kenzie let out a lungful of air with so much relief, Margo could've sworn she'd held it in since they first walked through the front doors of Ronnie's house.

"Man--Vee has all the best toys," Kenzie piped as she eyed the detail on the little heads of the dollhouse's newest residents. "Her parents must've made a buttload of simolies back in Egypt. She's got so much stuff, even with three other siblings. Don't you wish you were this lucky?" Kenzie didn't sound resentful, but there definitely was longing in the way she ended that question.

"Mmm," was Margo's only vocal response, paired with a slight shrug as she pulled her teddy bear, Pixie, closer to her.

"Really? You're not jealous, like, at all?"

"Not really," Margo said as she let Pixie fall away from her chest and back into her lap. She began fiddling with the bear's plastic eyeball, before adding, "I don' care about stuff that much, I guess. There's a lotta fings I'd rather have."

Kenzie thought about this for a second, and then nodded. "Yeah, you're right," she sighed, but not without casting a glower in Mr. Dollhouse Occupant's direction, first.

Margo was relieved that Kenzie let the subject fall, because not five seconds after, Veronica re-entered the room looking remarkably more cheerful than she had when she'd exited.

"My mum says dinner's ready! We got everything set up at the table, but we better hurry before my brothers steal all the food," she quipped--which was an obviously untruthful remark, unless her brothers had the appetites of a dozen hungry lions.

Kenzie was the first to get up; clearly, all it took to draw her away from the enviable $500 dollhouse was a plate of food with her name on it.

"Ugh, about time," she moaned as she rubbed her belly animatedly. "I'm starving!"

"Coming, Margo?" Veronica asked quietly, peeking around Kenzie's lively hair with her lips puckered.

Margo looked up with large eyes, blinking a few times before finally saying, "Oh, yeah, just lemme put Pixie in my sleeping bag."

"What'd your parents make today?" Kenzie asked excitedly, as if the worries and cares of not being inordinately rich had suddenly vanished. "Roast duck? Lamb chops? Lobster herfidor?"

Veronica softly giggled, shaking her head. "No, you goof--just pizza."

Kenzie wasn't disappointed by this fact in the least, but before she could express that, a surprisingly loud Margo interrupted her. "Hey guys--before we go downstairs... Can I ask you somefing?"

"Are you crazy?" Kenzie asserted, hands on her hip. "Of course you can!"

Veronica, on the other hand, looked a bit more wary; Margo didn't ask for things very often, so the likelihood of this being a trap of some kind was fairly high. "What do you need?"

"Well, it's just..." Margo scratched her head, suddenly finding it very difficult to say what she wanted to say. Courage was not something she held onto very well. "I dun like asking you guys, since you've already helped me so much wiff my reading, but... There's someone I really wanna write a note to, and I wanna make sure it's nice 'n stuff--do you fink you guys could, y'know... help me?

At the exact same moment, Ronnie and Kenzie looked at each other with maniacal smiles. "A looooooove note?" Kenzie asked, giggling.

"Well, kinda," Margo responded, her face suddenly flushing over.

Veronica gasped. "I know who it's toooooooo!"

Unable to contain themselves, at the same moment, both Kenzie and Veronica broke out into a jubilant, "Josh and Margo, sittin' in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"

"Stooooooppp!" Margo pleaded, but only half-heartedly. It was true; she couldn't deny that the thought of her and Josh kissing was fantasmic, but that wasn't who she was thinking about, tonight. "I like him, but... There's somebody else, too."

Instantly, both girls stopped their singing and looked at Margo, confused. This was the first they'd heard of any other boy lurking in Margo's wild, hopelessly romantic imagination, so naturally they were surprised. "Who?" Kenzie finally asked, unable to wait for Margo to finish.

"Well..." Margo took a deep breath, and turned away to avoid them seeing her embarrassment. "Ian."

She was right to avoid seeing their reactions--as expected, neither was what Margo would have hoped. "WHAT?!" Kenzie exclaimed. "HIM?! You are talking about Bucket of Scum Ian, right?"

"Yah," Margo answered, almost ashamed.

"I knew this would happen," Veronica gasped through closed fingers, folded over her mouth to disguise her shock. "She's got Bad Boy Syndrome--the uncontrollable crushing on the absolute least lovable guy in school."

"But--but he's not!" Margo exclaimed, so animatedly that both Kenzie and Veronica froze with their eyes as wide as pool balls. "Everybody is wrong about him! I know he's been a jerk, especially to us, but... Underneaff all that... jerk-i-ness, he's... he's..."

"Slightly less of a jerk?"

"No--he's... nice."

Although 'nice' was not really the description Margo was going for, it was enough. 'Nice' was the polar opposite of everything they'd ever imagined about Ian; and though Margo was a bit of a dreamer at times, both Kenzie and Ronnie knew that she wouldn't have forgiven Ian so quickly without some sort of good reasoning.

"Well... what do you think, Kenz?" Ronnie asked, rubbing her head nervously.

Kenzie threw her hands up into the air. "I don't like-it," she blurted out quickly. "I'd rather eat worms than be nice to that twerp--"

"I... I'm sorry, I shouldn't asked," Margo sighed, her head hanging from her shoulders in defeat.

Margo, however, perked up when Kenzie suddenly continued where she'd left off. "--but it's not like I have to be nice to him, right? And maybe if Margo can get him to pull the stick outta his butt..."

"Unlikely, but I agree. Besides--it's not about what we want. If you really want to write him something... we'll help you, Margo."

Margo could almost feel the tears welling up in the corner of her eyes the instant that they both turned back to face her. "R-r-really? You'll help me?"

For some reason, she had always assumed they'd say no--that they'd call her crazy, that maybe even she'd lose her friends over it. It was one thing, to like a guy who was just out of their league, quite another to like a guy that had systematically tortured all of them since the day they'd met on the playground.

"Really, we will," Veronica said, turning her gaze back to Kenzie for absolute confirmation.

"Yup," Kenzie affirmed. "That's what friends are for... to help you, even if we think what you're doin' is absolutely nuts."

Nuts or not, Margo could not hold herself back--she ran into Kenzie's embrace at the speed of light, squeezing her best friend's tummy so tight that she could only hiccup at Margo's extreme enthusiasm. Only a moment later, Veronica latched on as well, effectively completing the Margo sandwich without even the slightest hesitation.

Perhaps, at times, she envied everything her friends had which she did not. Kenzie's boldness? Veronica's insight? Their talents, their intelligence? It was all in the realm of fantasy, for Margo, but at the end of the day, you can only envy what you do not have... And like it or not, she had them. The best friends in the whole. Wide. World.

Lilobot was so hopeful and fragile. Margo was so innocent and forgiving. They were each taking brave steps towards the unknown, towards a change.

If only they knew, on the other side of town, there was another kind of change about to happen... one quite different than anything even Margo could imagine in her dreams.

"C'mon, beauty... just give it a bit more oomph. That does it--aha!" The grip on the wrench in Bradley's hand became slack as, with little grandeur or display, he let the power channel into the machine. His machine.

Within moments, he could hear the hum it created resonating through the air. It was so strong he could feel it through the soles of his feet.

Bradley carefully took two steps back. Looked up. Smiled.


It was a feeling he had only experienced twice before: first, the moment he stood before his fully operational time machine; the second, when he watched the electric spark light up in Lilobot's eyes for the very first time. Both times, he had had little or no help. Both times, everyone believed he would fail.

They had all believed he would fail this time, too--even Lamont, bless his heart. They had all given up, but Brad. So, today, the glory was all his.

But suddenly, all the triumph in his heart faded as quickly as a pin drop. The hum was no longer simply a hum--there was something else. The floor beneath him shivered, but not in reality: in his mind.

"No... not yet--please, not yet," he groaned to the room around him, but it clearly could not help him. Instead, there was only pain. He could not see, could not hear, could not smell--all that he sensed was his head burning with pain beneath his fingertips.

As his legs crumpled underneath him, the reality of his choices--his mistakes--washed over him. "What have I done," he whispered.

He knew the answer, but it was too painful to comprehend--even more painful than what was happening to his body. But, all too quickly, all his thoughts vanished and succumbed to reality. He blinked violently, but though his vision returned, what he saw was not what he expected to see.

His skin was not his own.

The bridge of his glasses pressed hard into his face as he felt the skin of his cheeks, but what he felt was quite surreal as well. Even the way the frames of specs felt within his palm did not seem right. He knew what would happen--he knew this would happen--but knowing and experiencing was a distinction Bradley had quite miserably failed to comprehend.

The last thing he saw before his glasses slipped and shattered to on the floor was the world begin to glow.


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