The QT Diaries -- Episode IV -- A New Hope

The QT Diaries

Episode IV: A New Hope

by Denise Miles

Detective Grant Stone is forced to take vacation after years on the Space Patrol. On the way home his cruise ship is attacked by pirates and he's forced to escape in a faulty rescue pod. As his life support fails, he prepares for death. Little does he expect what happens next.

The QT Diaries

Episode IV: A New Hope

Copyright © 2011 Denise E Miles. All rights reserved. May not be copied in any form without written permission of author. Permission granted for exclusive posting on the Big Closet web site.

Well, I’m finally getting that dream vacation. The fake simulated sun reflecting off the perfect ocean hologram. Yep, I know it's not real. Reality really sucks. I know I wont get sunburned, attacked by flying rats (sea gulls) or nibbled by fish. There are no slimy anythings in the water. Once a day some bikini babe slaps tanning lotion on my white hide. Drinks featuring fruit and umbrellas are served as requested. I smell like cocoa butter. The artificial life support floods my room with ocean smells, minus the real salt taste. My eyes close as my mind jumps back to last month.

I am Detective Grant Stone, Granite to my friends and Stone to everyone else. Most parents given half a chance will inadvertently give their kids an embarrassing name. Why should I be any different? I am a long standing force of the Space Patrol. I never saw any reason to take a vacation. My job is more fun and excitement then a roller coaster. The brass in charge of life decided that I needed to pursue happiness since love had already eluded me. New rules this year force you to use your vacation time or else. So, I have about a couple month's time to use.

So here I am on a space cruiser going to some exotic location to drink too much and make an ass of myself. The cruiser beats the hell out of that hole in the wall called home. I never thought to update the programs in my unit. Why? All I do there is sleep. I live at work. This vacation is really sweet.

I glance at the mirror; a lined face that I call experienced, gray hair that I call distinguished, and a body that is still more muscular then paunchy. What I love are my steely gray eyes. Criminals have crumpled at my stare. I look at my hands weathered with age, calloused from years of weapons training. A hard life leaves a bitter spirit.

We spent two weeks at the imitation beach until we reach the real vacation spot, as the cruise ship cuts through space on the well traveled path with its current load of tourists. Time's up and we are on final approach to the pleasure world. Time flows way to fast between entertainment, sex and booze.

The next thing I remember is waking up on that stupid pleasure cruiser heading home. Smooth sailing home from several months of much needed indulgence.

Blaring horns. Flashing lights. ”What the hell is going on?” I yell at the computer assistance program.

A droning voice replies, “We are being boarded by person or persons unknown”. Here I am trapped in a holographic room with out my badge, laser or space suit. The voice continues in a firm, but pleasant voice, “Please step over to the control panel. Press the green button.” I know what the green button does. I have been in space for longer than this ship's been sailing. The green button opens the door to the life pod designated for this room. Each person has a life pod or, as we call them, flying coffins. The chance of being found alive is slim to none.

I also know what the person or persons unknown will do to anyone still on board. I pity the poor captain who can't leave the ship. What's left of him or her will be scraped up and sent back to the family. On the box will be, “Sorry your (Fill blank with appropriate noun) died in the line of duty. Here is a check to make us look good. Our funerals will be covered by the company's insurance core.” My next of kin will get a fat feel good check. I will still be dead.

I step to the control panel and press the green button. Today is not a good day for heroes. Yeah, I could use my hand to hand combat training and subdue a person or persons unknown. The fact is the main air seal is broken, open to space. Each room is an encapsulated environment. If I open the door without a space suit, I'm dead. If I get into the life pod, I may die. If I stay in my room, when they open the door there will be no more air to breathe. Dead! I'll take my chances with the flying coffin.

I take the last swig of my scotch on the rocks, ease into the life pod, seal the door and relax. The computer registers my bio pattern as programed into the pod at the beginning of the trip. This saves time identifying the victims. There is a slight pressure as the pod is jettisoned into space. The count down begins. I now have three days of life support or a new coffin. Time starts now.

The pod is simply a thick shell with a comfortable seat. Nutrients are delivered through a tube dangling next to the mouth area. Time passes slowly in this small confined space. I wish I could see outside. I love looking at the stars. There is a retractable shield on the pod so I could see the stars, but the shield does not protect from the harmful rays that permeate deep space. So I wait in the pod, counting down the minutes of my life.

The three months on the pleasure world passed like a wave. These three days are passing like a snail. Never has time moved this slowly. I don't know why I am still taking nourishment. I want a real drink, a nice cold beer with droplets of condensation running down the side accompanied by a rare steak covered in mushrooms and surrounded by onion rings. Yep, my last meal is sludge in a straw. Just my luck!

The distress call radiates into deep space. Time is running out. The pod's gauge reads one hour of life support. The needle is in the red zone. OK, time to drop the protective shield. I will be dead in sixty minutes, so I might as well enjoy the sights. The shield retracts into the pod. “Indoor lights, off,” I said with a voice rough with emotions I didn’t know I even had anymore. The darkness of space exploding with lights of far away stars, galaxies and man-made debris. The pod is irradiated with cosmic dust from the beginning of time. My eyes slowly close on the world of Grant Stone. The soft alarm indicates life support gone in nine... eight... seven... six...

This is the end of Grant Stone, officer, detective, hero, drunk, and a royal pain in the ass.

It's common knowledge that when you die several different things can occur. First, come the flash backs of your life. Second, comes the old train tunnel joke followed by a meet n' greet with friends and family.

As my eyes closed for the last good night, I saw my younger self playing cops and robbers. I was always the cop. My granddad was a cop, dad was a cop and I am a cop. I saw my mom put up with the fact that work was dad's first and only love. Reflections change to loves and lovers of my past. I never committed because my first and only love is the Space Patrol. Why should I subject my loves to a bitter existence living in the shadow of a heartless job? No wife to turn to a bottle when faced with another cold bed, her youthful beauty ravaged by worry, her loving spirit squashed by neglect bordering on abuse.

No children to ignore in the line of duty, little ones idolizing their absent parent, knowing they are in the shadow of an all consuming job, watching their mother fall from grace head first into a bottle.

No hope to change the past now. No hope for the future. No hope.

Do I regret? Yes. Would I change? I don't know. Besides, it's too late. I'm as good as dead. I feel so old. I wish there was a reset button for life. I thought when you die, things just stopped. The life of a space cop never leaves room for the hereafter. Never did the tunnel thing. Never saw lost friends or family. I just closed my eyes to the surrounding cosmic beauty. The cosmic dust settled on the pod, gently bathed in cosmic rays.

* * * * *

Space Patrol quickly received the distress call from the stranded pleasure cruiser suspended in space. Quickly arriving on the scene, they pick up distress signals from a dozen life pods. Stone is the not the only survivor of the pleasure craft. He is the only survivor to open his craft to the cosmic storm that engulfed his life pod. Stone is removed from the coffin and rushed to the primary Space Patrol hospital in Delta City. The other passengers are revived without incident and processed by Space Patrol. A medic checks their health status. Space Patrol arranges for the passengers' passage home. Stone is the only exception.

The gurney is pushed into emergency. The nurse looked up from her station, “What can I do for you, officer?”

We found a life pod with this survivor. Unconscious female, around twelve years old. The computer identifies the passenger as Detective Grant Stone of Space Patrol, male, fifty-six years old. Don't ask me, I just fished this thing out of deep space. She's all yours.”

Nurse Flo looked down at the strange girl on the gurney. She notified the doctor on staff, then started the admission process of Jane Doe. The blood draw required for identity was followed by a finger print scan. Results of both tests confirmed the identity of Jane Doe as Detective Grant Stone.

Doctor, we have a problem here with this child's identity. According to finger print scan and blood markers except for gender, this girl is Detective Grant Stone, a fifty-six year old male.”

Flo, I'll give our results to the authorities. This will be their headache. I need you to get Ms. Stone into room 3467. Get her stabilized first and keep her unconscious for now. I will contact the appropriate people. Get to work.”

What started out as a long day for Flo was just getting longer. Flo's temples started to pound in time with her heart beat. She went to the first aid station to ingest some analgesics, maybe an antacid might help. Fortunately, this problem was now out of her hands. Flo grabbed a couple aides to help her transfer Ms. Stone into a hospital bed. Once settled, Flo started the equipment to stabilize her odd patient.

Doctor Yoto sat down in front of his communication screen. An AI face appeared on the screen, ”Space Patrol central communications, How may I direct your call?”

This is Dr. Yoto of Delta City Hospital on Retulos. I have an officer Grant Stone as one of our patients. I need to speak to his supervisor.”

Just one moment please,” the screen flickered to a strand of some vegetation with music dating back to elevators. Doctor Yoto completed his reams of reports just as a man appeared on the screen.

Whatever Granite told you, the answer is NO. I need him to report for duty ASAP.”

Sir, I am Dr. Yoto from Delta City Hospital. There has been an accident. Do you have the contact information for Mr. Stone's family. I was unable to locate the information in the computer database.”

A disgusted snort emerged from the officer, ”Look, Doc, we are his family. He never did have a steady anything except work.”

Dr. Yoto closed his eyes in frustration, ”I need someone here to authorize the identity and rehabilitation of Officer Stone. He is in a drug induced coma until family can be located. I do not want him to be facing this problem he has alone. I have seen his condition before and it is rare.

He is going to need all of the support he can get. Unfortunately, I require the legal documentation chip of relationship.

So, who can you send and how soon can they get here?”

Chief Patrick closed his eyes, 'this is not good,' he thought. “I'll send Bob Prentiss and his wife Carol. They have Grant's legal chip. I'll contact you with their arrival time. Chief Patrick signing off.”

Chief Patrick shook his head and flipped a switch on the council. “Bob, get your ass down here now! Granite's being a pain at Delta City Hospital. This will involve Carol.”

A few minutes later, Bob charged into Patrick's office. “What is going on?”

Pat looked up, ”I don't know much. I think Granite is creating payback for the brass making him take a vacation. He's convinced some doc that he has some stupid condition. Grab Carol, his legal chip, and pack some bags. Here are your flight passes and transport rental. Call me when you have Granite in your sight.”

OK, see ya soon.”

Bob tapped his communicator. “Sweetheart, how about a little trip to Delta City Hospital? Pack bags for couple days and grab Granite's legal chip. He is giving the docs a hard time. Be there in a minute.”

Later that day, Carol and Bob walked through the door of the hospital. The android at the reception desk directed them to Dr. Yoto's office.

Dr. Yoto heaved a deep sigh, ”May I see Officer Grant's legal chip, please.” Carol held open her hand to have the chip scanned.

Dr. Yoto closed his eyes, “A pleasure cruiser was attacked by pirates. Everyone opted to use the space pods, including Detective Stone. Detective Stone is the only person on this trip to open his protective shield. Why he chose to do this is something we will have to ask him when he wakes.

The investigators on this case noted that the internal clock in his pod was defective. At some point Detective Stone opened his shield exposing himself to the cosmic storm. This created a disorder called quantum transmutation syndrome or QT.”

Carol gave Bob a worried glance and asked, ”So, what happened?”

Detective Stone has been transformed into a twelve year old girl. Would you like to see her?”

Of course!”

Dr. Yoto guided them to room 3467. There curled up in the bed was a petite young lady with a crew cut and space patrol tattoo on her arm.

That's Granite?” Bob looked closer, “Yep, that’s Granite. I'd recognize that haircut anywhere. She looks like her mother. So, when do we wake him up?”

Carol blinked, “Don't you mean her?”

Let's return to my office while the nurse starts the awakening procedure.” Dr. Yoto lead the couple down the hall to his office.

Dr. Yoto took a deep breath, ”Let me explain our procedure for her absorption into society. She will be here for two weeks after she is revived. You will be here for a couple days with our support team to help you with this change in your lives. Then, you can return home. This will give you time to create a living space in your house for her. As her legal guardians you will have a young lady to raise. Our department will give you as much support as we can to get her adjusted to her new life. Then she will be sent to your home.

We will arrange for therapy and visitation from a QT that works out of our office. We average one living QT every four to five years. Failure occurs when the person affected is under the age of forty-two. Failure is fatal. There is always some DNA material left behind to identify the victim.

The strange thing about the syndrome is no matter how old the person is, she or he ends up as a twelve year old. Adult women end up becoming twelve year old boys. Adult men end up becoming twelve year old girls.

The first QT was Major Kiev Sven-son, a deep space pilot over a thousand years ago. The government locked her up in a secure location. She committed suicide after being denied relocation or adoption.

Stress from improper environment could cause a QT to be unhappy enough to turn to drastic measures like substance abuse, emotional spiral, or suicide. We have a formula that helps prevent stress. She will be awake soon. Let's go to her bedside.”

The com on the Doctor's desk chirped, ”Doctor, your patient is reviving.” Three people left the doctor's office and proceeded to Grant's room. The door opened to a hospital room with one patient laying in the room.

* * * * *

Granite thought to himself, 'If this is death, it's not so bad. The air doesn't have that metallic taste of a space ship. I can feel warmth surrounding me like a cocoon. So, this is what it feels like to be encased in cotton candy? I love cotton candy. Death reflects all of your positive feelings and memories. This is cool. I see a dim light through my eyelids. A soft murmur of voices in the distance. Wait, oxygen, warmth, light, voices. Oh, I'm alive. Yes, I survived! You the man, Stone!'

Four people waited patiently around former Detective Stone's bed. Her breathing deepened as she progressed from forced sleep to real sleep. Color flushed her cheeks making them look rosy. Her eyes making rapid movement under her lids. A moan escaped her lips. Suddenly, her eyes opened and she tried to quickly sit up.

Nurse Flo placed a hand on Grant's shoulder, ”Detective, you are at Delta Hospital. Please relax. You'll be fine.” Grant looked around to see a nurse, a doctor, and his close friend Bob with his wife, Carol.

Bob, what are you doing here?” a quiet soft voice emanated from the Detective. For just a second panic was reflected in her eyes. 'This is not my voice. I just need to be processed like any other pod survivor. Why are my best friends playing vulture over my bed?'

Granite, you had an accident in the escape capsule. This is Doctor Yoto, He contacted the boss as soon as he confirmed your identity. Grant, can you hear me?”

* * * * *

I bobbed my head afraid to talk with my damaged vocal cords. Carol picked up my hand to comfort me. 'My hand is smaller then Carol's? What on earth is going on here? '

I closed my eyes ready to hear what really happened to me. The three of them related the facts in order of occurrence. Carols calm voice asked the only question I could answer. “Granite, why did you open the shields to the life pod?”

My mind traveled back to when I was a young, idealistic space patrol officer. The space cruiser had had technical difficulties and everyone jumped ship into life pods. One life pod had faulty shielding and the 60 year old pilot was transformed into a twelve year old little girl. We dropped her off at Delta City Hospital. I remember the doctor calling her another QT. I almost forgot that day. For several years I continued to visit Sarah. I should get a hold of Sarah, she'll have a great laugh. She is around 40 now. I still get holiday cards from her every year with family pictures. She is married with 2 children. I forgot that she started out as a 60 year old man. Now I know that I'm a normal twelve year old girl.

I now knew that my voice is fine for a twelve year old girl. “Well, according to the clock I only had an hour to live. I wanted the last minutes of my life to reflect on the great cosmos. I could have kept the shields up and die in the coffin. I just wanted to see space one last time. I had no idea the pod's clock was messed up. I would never had exposed myself to this if I knew I'd survive.”

Grant closed his eyes then took a deep breath. “Can I see myself? Please?” Carol handed me a mirror. I remembered back on the ship really looking at the man I had become. Now I look at the girl I've become. My hands are soft, supple and delicate. Nothing like the callous hands of Detective Stone. I finally look at my face. My hair is still in a stylish crew cut, though it's grown out just a bit. My hair stayed the same color during transformation, but the roots are now a soft reddish brown. My eyes, once a hard steel, are now a soft dark blue. I can see Grant in this child. I see my mother in this child. I am this child. “OK, what do we do next? I want to get outta here, like yesterday!”

Doctor Yoto smiled, “Well, the first thing we need to do is start your therapy so you don't keep acting like a fifty year old cop.

We'll set you up with a new identity. Grant is a good name, but not a name one usually associates as female. We have a list of names that might work for you to go through at your leisure. Here is some literature about the QT syndrome.

In a day or two our transition team will meet with you and your guardians. I hope you like the food and remember you are twelve years old, no alcoholic beverages,” the doctor quipped over his shoulder as he left the room.

No alcohol? Just kill me now. What can I drink? Plain fruit drinks with an umbrella? Ice without the scotch is just a cup of ice. I was hoping for a nice cold bottle of beer. Now what happens?”

Carol smiled for the first time and whispered something to Flo. The nurse left. Twenty minutes later comes a rare steak with sautéed mushroom, onion, and garlic; surrounded by a mound of onion rings and a dark bottle of cold root beer with a drop of condensation running down the side. This can't be all bad. I ate everything on the plate. The root beer tasted fine. Beer is definitely better, but beggars cant be choosers.

The nurse gave me the remote control panel for the room computer. “If you need anything, press the button. Before I leave, let's try to use the restroom.”

The nurse had me dangle my legs off the side of the bed for a few minutes. My legs are so thin. I'd lost the muscle structure developed during years of gym work. All that work wasted in minutes. Oh well, at least I'm alive to go back to work soon.

I stood up with out a problem and walked to the bathroom. The nurse directed me to always sit on the toilet. No reason to stand anymore. It suddenly dawned on me. “I don't have little Grant between my legs. The boys are gone. I am nothing more than a hole. What did you do to me?”

Flo expected this outburst, ”Remember, the accident turned you into a twelve year old girl. You will mature into a woman.” Flo held my hands and looked into my eyes. Tears reflected in their depth. “You are very lucky to have your life reset. You have an opportunity that some people would kill for. The chance to do it all over again.

With the knowledge of your past life and the money you've saved, including the money from any legal settlements, Detective Grant Stone is going to have the time of her life. You are a lucky girl.

Let me get a mirror so you can see yourself.” Flo came back with the hand mirror. She placed the mirror between my legs. For the first time I saw my new private area. The pink skin showing a small mound, slit with two folds of skin. My boys are gone for good. “Where is my hair?”

Flo smiled, “You have to go through puberty. Your breasts are not developed and your body hair has not started growing yet. Extreme changes are coming in the next year or two. Now let's get you back to bed. You've had a hard day.”

I didn't want to close my eyes. The next thing I remember is Flo opening up the drapes to let in the morning sun.

* * * * *

Bob opened the door of the rental room and sat down hard in a chair. He put his head in his hands as if fighting a headache. Carol brought both of them a beer and pain relievers. Bob looked up, tears streaming down his face. Carol placed her arms around Bob to let him cry himself out for the first time sense they got word that Granite was hurt.

The next morning, Bob called the Chief. “Bob, what joke was Granite playing this time?” Then the chief noticed Bob's ruddy cheeks and bloodshot eyes. “What happened?” the Chief asked, taking a serious tone.

Bob took a deep breath, ”Grant is going to live. The complication is called Quantum Transformation Syndrome or QT for short. Detective Grant Stone is now a twelve year old girl. There is nothing the medical team can do but provide support. She will be moving in with us in about two weeks. We are now her legal guardians. I never thought this would happen. Lucky I have a laser, she is going to be a knock out when she grows up.

I am taking a month off for family medical reasons. I want to get her settled before I go back to work. Sorry, Chief, this is out of our control.

Today, I get to meet another QT victim. I will keep you updated. Later, Chief.”

The Chief called his assistant, ”Matt, pack up Stone's desk and give me any case files left. He is on extended sick leave. Then, give me all of the case files on Bob's desk. He is on emergency family leave. Announce a group meeting at 1 o'clock. Now scoot.”

The Chief swiveled his chair to face the realistic holographic window. Tears ran down the creases in his cheeks as he started grieving for the loss of his good friend. Chief Patrick took a deep breath then gave thanks to an uncaring world that at least he... no, correction: she... is still alive. 'Back to work, now. I have to contact the main office to arrange a replacement for Stone. Nothing left to do until the new transfer arrives. I'll wait until Granite gets settled to visit her. In the mean time...'

* * * * *

I woke up at my normal time of five am. Some things never change. Time to put this new body through some light calisthenics to see how she can perform for duty. This body is definitely more limber. Stamina needs improvement, though. Strength will always be a problem. When I get access to the Patrol's training grounds, I can put this babe through her paces. This might not be so bad after all.

I made my way to the bathroom, took a quick shower, and hit the call button to attract a nurse. I heard someone step into the room. “Can I get a new gown, please?” my strong soft voice echoed from the bathroom.

Of course, Darling. Do you want breakfast now?”

Yes, please”

I was finished with breakfast when Carol stepped into the room. “Morning, Granite. The doctor gave me your new measurements, so I stopped by the store to pick up some clothes.”

Carol handed me several bags. Carol had picked out several pairs of plain underpants, three training bras, several shirts with faint swirl patterns, plain pants, shoes and socks. The last bag held the standard dress uniform of a female junior space patrol student.

She helped me quickly change into a nice outfit.

A tall ebony beauty walked into her room. “My name is Monica and I am your therapist. I am also a QT. Just like you I was an older man when hit with cosmic rays.”

Monica sat down, “I am happily married to a wonderful woman who always wanted a daughter. Our relationship changed drastically after the cosmic joke. I ended up being raised as my wife's child instead of staying her husband. It's hard watching her grow old. I know that you've been physically transformed to female, including your brain. You have a female brain with male past life memories. Don't be afraid when you start acting more emotionally. You'll find as time goes on that you'll accept female concepts faster because you are a hundred percent female.

Just relax, you'll feel overwhelmed once in awhile. Just remember to relax.”

I'm lucky. I'm a confirmed bachelor. In my field it doesn't make sense to have long term relationships. Bob is the exception to the rule. Carol is a strong woman who can handle the stress of his job.”

For the next eight hours Monica tried to prepare me for the long road ahead. I knew in my heart that I was not into becoming a girl. You can't teach an old dog new tricks and this is a really old dog. At least mentally I'm the old dog on the block. Physically, I'm the new bitch on the streets. I have a problem respecting ladies. I'm gonna have a problem respecting myself. Personally, I don't see any see any reason to change.

Carol spent a long day with the transition team, learning everything from interior design to incorporating Grant's personal items into the house to increase her comfort.

Two weeks of intense therapy just confirmed my thoughts that it just wasn't gonna work. The therapist wanted me to dress as a girly girl, but that is just not me.

Carol looked at the dresses and skirts the therapist wanted me to wear. “Granite, you need to get used to skirts.”

Why? I won't be caught dead in a skirt!”

I'm sorry, but the female dress uniform for space patrol officers includes 2 inch pumps and a skirt. I brought you your new uniform with your first clothing selection.”

Okay, Carol, I'll try to dress like a girl.”

When we get settled, you and I will go shopping.”

* * * * *

Today I get to go to my new home. I put on dress slacks, training bra, top, socks and shoes. The entire treatment team gathered in my room for farewells.

Goodbye, Flo, Dr. Yoto, Monica. I will keep in mind everything we talked about this week.

Monica, I'll call you to update you on how I'm feeling. Carol set up a therapist for me near their house. Thank you for everything.”

As Carol and I walked out of the main door, Bob was there with his private ship to take me to my new home.

Bob and Carol's house looks just like it did during the last holiday. Holiday meals always tasted better when Carol cooked. Clutched in my hand is a list of names. I can't stay Granite as a girl. This is the hardest choice to make. During dinner the conversation turned to picking out a new name.

I have decided on the name Amber. My hair has red tones like the crystal. Besides I am keeping my last name. I love the joke that both names are really stone. At least I wont be taken for Granite anymore.” A silly grin spread over my face followed by the first laughter in forever. Grant could never be silly, but Amber is a natural. This is different, I wonder what else changed? The other QT told me that the changes weren't just physical. Well, I have time to explore my new world.

The next morning I woke up in my own room. The motif is flowers and butterflies. The colors are soft pastels. Not too girly girl, as much green as pink. Still, the room screams girl lives here. Well, I am a girl.

My old apartment screamed bachelor lives here. I never decorated the place. The furniture was all purchased second hand. Nothing really matched because I didn't care.

Now my drapes match my comforter. Decorative accents on the walls form a cohesive flow. I just might like being a girl. Bob and I went to my old apartment to gather the few things that I wanted. The rest was given to charity. We contacted the landlord to terminate the lease due to medical emergency. Most of my family heirlooms had never left their boxes. I am the only child of an only child. All I saved were the heirlooms.

Later that day I opened each box and started to decorate my room with little objects from my past. A past I'd largely ignored. I filled my jewelery case with pieces from both my mother and grandmother. I'd saved them for the daughter I would never sire. Carol smiled as she opened a box with old china.

Finally, we have an an heirloom set for holidays! All we had before were my everyday set of dishes and the good dishes I got for my wedding. Carol took Grandma's china to replace the dishes stored in her china cabinet. Bob took all of my awards and trophies and those of my dad and grandad into the study for display. Amber is becoming a member of this household.

Quietly, I returned to my room and tossed myself onto bed, the pillows muffling my sobs. Suddenly, I have a family, something I'd lost such a long time ago. Carol came in and sat on the edge of my bed. Instinctively, I wrapped my arms around her and sobbed on her shoulder.

Anguish resonated through my bones as I cried myself to sleep.

* * * * *

Carol left her side and went back into the living room. ”Bob, I've never seen Grant cry before. It's a little unnerving.”

I think seeing her parents treasures properly displayed took it's toll on her delicate mental status. Amber is going to be very emotional. The therapist was hoping she would breakdown during one of their sessions, but she was just too stubborn. I told her I didn't think it would ever happen, because she's not family. Sorry, I should have warned you of the needed meltdown. We'll let her sleep and wake her up for dinner.”

The first week turned out to be a smooth transition from hospital to home. One morning, the video com signaled an incoming transmission. The Chief smiled through the screen as Bob answered the com.

Bob, can I invite myself for lunch about eleven? I would like to talk to the three of you.”

Certainly, Chief, see ya at eleven.”

Carol, Amber, the Chief is coming around eleven for lunch and a chit chat.”

Carol led Amber into the kitchen to set up a quick lunch. At eleven the Chief showed up at the door. “Thanks for letting me barge in on your lunch. Who is this lovely young lady?”

Chief, don't patronize me! I know that Granite is gone and replaced by Amber Stone, but I'm still your biggest pain in the ass. Glad to see you, Chief. What brings you to this part of the world?”

The Chief got up, hugged Amber, and started to quietly cry. “You scared the crap out of me, Stone. Good to see ya alive.”

After a quick lunch, Amber and Carol cleaned off the table.

Carol, the training grounds are open for you and Amber. We need her to be retrained for her body structure. We have also set you up for lessons three times a week on how to act like a young lady. I need you to act like a twelve year old. Space patrol has enrolled you in the junior space program for next term.

There is something wrong going on at the training center and I need you to investigate. You have eight months before the start of next term. Amber, we need to get you up to speed. I always have case files that require an experienced, young adult. You have your orders. I will update you on your assignment when you get closer to your enrollment date. See ya at the training center.” The Chief left after giving Carol a copy of her orders and the training schedule.

The next months left me exhausted. Carol, renamed the slave driver, has been relentless in her training schedule. I now know why Bob fell in love with her. She is even more deadly than beautiful. I have grown to respect her for her skills. I want to be just like her when I grow up. After a grueling work out, we have lunch then go to acting lessons or therapy. When we get home, the real work starts. I set the table and help Carol in the kitchen cook dinner for Bob. Tonight is boys' night so we made tacos, nachos, popcorn to go with a cold case of brew.

I like cooking. This surprised me more than actually liking skirts. Yep, I am a girly girl and I'm loving it. Next month my hair will be long enough to do a short pixie style. I wish my hair would grow faster.

After dinner I retreat to my bedroom. I have homework from everyone. I have to write an essay about how to act at the mall, yoga exercises from Carol...

The therapist wants to find out how I am really feeling. Actually, I am happy and feeling like I am part of a family. Today I called Carol 'mom'. I think I made her day. Tomorrow I will call Bob 'dad' to see how it feels. The therapist thinks this is the next step for personal identity and boundaries. My background story is that I am the illegitimate daughter of Grant Stone. My mother died in a transport accident. The authorities performed a DNA search for my biological family. My mother's family did not want me. They located my father after his death in a space pod. His pleasure ship was attacked by pirates. I was then legally adopted by Bob and Carol Prentiss, the legal chip holders for my father, detective Grant Stone.

* * * * *

Whew, Mom just put me through the ringer. I have improved so much in the past four months. I have four month's left to go before my assignment starts and Mom has just stepped up the training level, again. Still, I am having the time of my life.

Grant was never that good at self defense and Dad has started to assist with my training. Today after training, the shower shows bruises beginning to darken and others in various stages of healing. I sure could use a nap. We are having lunch at the mall, then shopping as mother and daughter. The acting coach is grading me today on social behaviors. This will target areas that need improvement in acting like a young girl.

Mom, do you realize that the label on my uniform will say A. Stone? I think I want Grant back as my first name.”

Carol had a distant look in her eyes. “That's it!” she snapped her fingers. “You'll collect stones and study their metaphysical uses. The therapist thought you needed a religious base. Let's study the cosmic healing of stones. We can even get you a pet stone that seconds as a recorder, camera and communicator. Let's go to a crystal shop and start your training. I'll call Bob to meet us at the restaurant at seven.”

At the crystal store Carol purchased Chakra stones, incense, a sage bundle and an amber stone necklace with a trapped moth. The moth, like the butterfly. is a universal symbol of transformation.

Over the next week every night after six, I worked with a healer to train in Tarot and other mystic arts. It helped me develop my cover and redefine my religious beliefs. By the end of the month, I became a fledgling Priestess of the Cosmic Storm. The same force that changed me from Grant to Amber. Time was getting tight. Next month I start my undercover job at the junior space program.

* * * * *

AMBER, we need to go now! You have an appointment with the doctor.”

I sulked into the room. ”Do I really need to remove my tattoo?”

Yes. A young lady would not have that tattoo, especially a sensitive girl like you're supposed to be. Remember, you were not raised by Grant. Sorry, it has to go today.”

I sat on the cold plastic cushion in a paper gown later that day as the doctor removed my tattoo.

What a beautiful birthmark you have on your back,” the doctor observed.

What birthmark?”

It looks like a small galaxy created from freckles.” He took out his portable camera, snapped a quick picture and showed it to me. I'd never seen anything like it before.

Well,” he said, “you're in perfect health. Here is your health chip for school.”

Thank you, doctor.”

When I got home I called Monica, the QT from Delta City hospital, “Monica this is Amber Stone, formally Grant. Do you have a birthmark on your back that looks like a galaxy made of freckles?”

I don't know. Let me ask my wife to look. Having dark skin makes freckles difficult to see. I'll be right back.” She came back on the line after a few moments. “Yes, I do. How did you know?”

I had my tattoo removed today and the doctor noticed the birthmark. I have a hunch. Are there any other QTs that you know to see if this is a universal QT birthmark?”

Let me make some calls and I'll call you back this time tomorrow.”

The next evening Monica called back. “Amber, you're right! Every one I was able to contact has the same birthmark as we have on our backs.”

Well, that's one mystery solved. Thanks, Monica.”

The Chief stopped by the next night for dinner. “Carol, your roast smells wonderful.”

Thank you, Chief, I hope you like it,” I said, smiling sweetly.

Now wait a minute, Amber, I know for a fact that Grant couldn't boil water.”

Carol is a wonderful teacher. She says all girls need to know how to cook for their hubbies. I hope you enjoy my cooking.”

* * * * *

Amber, that was wonderful. You are a great cook. Thank you,” the Chief paused.

I have your orders for your first undercover assignment as Agent Amber Stone. Here is the problem. There are an unusual number of dropouts in the Junior Space program. The major complaint is harassment from other students.

The facility just say that the students leave because of their inability to handle the stress of Space Patrol. The result is that we are only getting poster child space patrol officers with mild to severe aggressive streaks. A few years ago we were getting all physical types of cadets. Now, we are only getting the cream of the crop.

To be truly effective, we really need a cross section of society on our roster. You were not the picture perfect cadet. But, you were the most dedicated officer I have ever known. It's been a pleasure and an honor working with you.

The poster child officers with mean streaks never last more then a year or two in the real world. In a few years we will be short handed due to a lack of reliable officers. Your job is to find out how far the rot has traveled. The next phase is to document any patterns of abuse, who's doing it and who's promoting the abuse.

Pack your bags. You'll be leaving next Monday for the junior space program. Remember, anyone who washes out of the junior program can't enter the actual program.

Your next time home will be in six months for winter break. If you need to be rescued before that then mail your parents a drawing of a stone. That should pass through security. Send them drawings on a weekly basis. This will be a good cover for your communication.

Good luck, Officer Stone.”

Thank you, Chief. I won't let you down.”

That night Amber, Carol and Bob sat down to create a system of drawings they could use for secure communication. The stone image was for immediate rescue, a bent tree if she were being picked on. A house with four windows indicated she was safe. A house with more or fewer windows meant she was not safe. A dog would represent she was being hounded. A person drawn in the house meant that an adult faculty member was safe for us to question. One shown outside the front of house was suspicious. One outside the back of the house was actively dangerous. A lake meant danger. Swimmers or boaters in the lake indicated the number of students or faculty in danger.

Carol admonished me, “Now, write to us every week. Just every day stuff. If you start getting picked on, write to us. We'll talk to the head master to see what he says. We'll be supportive and agree with whatever he says.

I'll see if I can get on the parents' board to see if they support the hazing. Unless we get a picture of the stone, we will support the school's best interest.”

The next day, we showed up at the Space Patrol offices. Carol lead me to a larger cubical deep in the bowels of the office complex. “Hank, are you busy?”

Not right now, Carol, how can I help you?”

My daughter, Amber, needs some drawing lessons before her next term. I was hoping you could help her. Then, I thought I'd take her shopping for art supplies.”

I would love to take her to the art store. It is my favorite place to go shopping.”

After twelve hours of lessons with the criminal sketch artist, I was able to develop my drawing skills, concentrating on the art we needed for our covert communications. After five days I felt I was pretty skilled as an artist.

After another day of shopping, Carol and I packed my new suitcases. A vanity case was filled with personal items, make up, and hair clips. I carefully packed my crystals, incense, tarot cards and art supplies. In the second suit case we packed my clothes, including my school uniforms.

The next morning I boarded the ship to the space program school. I decided to sit in the middle of the ship next to the window. As soon as I boarded, Carol and Bob turned to walk away without waiting to see me off. We did this is according to plan to indicate that I was an unwanted child.

A girl with blond hair sat in the seat next to me. “My name is Susie. My dad is on the SWAT team.”

My name is Amber and my dad was a detective. He died in the line of duty eight months ago. I live with his chip holder.”

The doors on the ship sealed and it lifted off. I was on my way to a different life.

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