Categories > Anime/Manga > Bubblegum Crisis > Bubblegum Boy

Chapter Four

by Skysaber 4 Reviews

Once more, the plot creeps forward, sneaking up behind you to... oh. Uhm, stuff happens, and it's, like, cool and stuff.

Category: Bubblegum Crisis - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Crossover - Characters:  - Warnings: [?] - Published: 2006/12/21 - Updated: 2006/12/22 - 7669 words

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Bubblegum Boy
Chapter Four

by Jared Ornstead
aka Skysaber


Author's Forward:
If you are reading this, then be aware that chapters two and three have both been updated with some new material. But it's been so long you've probably reread them all anyway to refresh yourself before reading this one.
Anyway, I feel those changes are to the good, as I was suffering quite badly when I posted them and consequently, they weren't my best work. I believe the changes improve them substantially, and the story makes more sense now.

As to myself, I've been doing original work in the years I took off, but there comes a time when you've just got to say to yourself: I need more Skysaber!


***

Jared had an epiphany.
Next morning he had gotten permission from Caroline to go out to take command of a Green Corp automated submersible, one converted from an old ballistic missile sub and that still had a nuclear reactor for power. Diverting this from its course, he took it over to their proto-base and hooked the extra power feed lines in to their nanofactory. With that surge of energy over and beyond minimum requirements, the tools could be run and the fusion plant parts churned out in near-optimum time.
Processing went from crawl to sprint, and the already-prepared areas for the fusion plant and submersible drydocks were outfitted with their gear in days instead of months.
After that was done, and the underwater headquarters had its own power running, he released the automated sub back to its harvesting course, mapping into its memory that this diversion had been to follow a particular school of fish (and further covering the cover by calling that an error, the sub's auto-harvesting programs having located and tracked this fish farm, necessitating a programmer - him - being sent out to idle the sub and fix the error).
Most people will believe a good lie skillfully told. Very few actually want to know the truth. It is, quite often, too scary to know about and sometimes fatal. Once murder to assist in a cover-up was SOP, many people actively avoided knowing the truth.
Bubblegum timelines being based on a cyberpunk theme, people were there already, even this early in the series. But then again, that was a part of what he was there to correct.
Jared had checked and apparently his mission advantage in this universe was genius, the sheer, unstoppable, future-changing kind as attributed to Katsuhito Stingray, Sylia's father. Thoughts came easier and concepts form more completely, though science was the obvious core of this new ability.
But this ability required fuel to work with. The more data he had, the better he could use this new talent, and the sooner he could destroy this evil corporation.
With the undersea base's main power online, more tools became available and that started a chain reaction where more areas got finished quickly, creating operational spaces, and among the first things he ordered off loaded from the hidden shuttles in their completed docks was the machinery and support structure needed to get some computers up and running - and he'd chosen this for a reason. He wasn't about to tip off Genom that he had their data banks by using any public access terminal to read them, or even any computer system they knew about and might therefore spy on. So, nothing connected to the net. No computer they even knew existed must touch this data if it were to remain a secret.
That meant the ones stored on the shuttles in the underground seamount, and it was on reaching that conclusion that he'd had the inspiration to use borrowed power from an automated sub to help speed the nanofactory to get the finishing process moving along.
But the process was now self-sufficient. Their boomer labor force could use spare cycles on the nanofactory to replace worn out parts, both on themselves and on their tools. That meant, so long as power was available, they could work harder and longer.
Good, because there remained alot of base yet to build. The sexaroids and he had planned for something truly colossal on the assumption they'd be cooped up there most of their lives, and wanting a bit of space to live and operate, plan and manufacture in.
It was still a good plan to have a production facility no one else knew anything about. No record of this place existed, and they aimed to keep it that way. That made it the perfect plant for producing ultra-secret hardsuits and similar stuff to annoy Genom with.
No sooner had their stolen supercomputers been installed, the very computers that their megacorporate enemy had meant to operate in conjunction with the ultra-high clearance primary data modules intended for those super secret testing labs on Genaros 5, and that somehow neither had ever reached.
It was, not surprisingly, a better computer setup than could be bought, using tech not yet available on the open marketplace, and that could remain a secret advantage forever it Genom had anything to say about it.
They liked holding on to secret technology like that. It was their thing.
Of course, they loved secrets so much you don't just boot one of their top of the line ultra secret computers to full power with all of the data modules plugged in and expect to just be able to use it by typing in a password.
He had such a password, Erica had given him access codes available to her as the Genom security chief on station, and one of the rare few actually privy to the secret of the lab's existence, tasked with helping them get established and doing so while keeping them secret from everyone else.
But trusting Genom to trust her would have been an error. They trust nobody, perhaps especially not the ones helping them further their schemes.
All of the Sexaroids had Anri's network security programming. That was fine as a base to start with, but would have been insufficient except for one thing - he had physical access to the machines he was trying to hack. They weren't already turned on with defense programs already calibrated, he was taking them out of crates. Plus he had the space and the time to scan each part individually and fiddle around.
You didn't have to be much of a martial artist to punch a guy who was already out for the count. The same way, you didn't have to be that much of a hacker to take advantage of a machine when you had the power and the thing was helpless to resist.
Genom didn't build their mainframes with the idea of their being helpless in mind. A supercomputer was supposed to stay secure behind walls and armed guards, with enough security conscious employees on hand to see that it was protected both inside and out. The kind of protection you find in a bank vault - steel walls can only stop certain things, there are supposed to be guards on hand to handle the rest.
Without those guards, Jared was able to make the computer sit up and beg, singing to his tune, in spite of not being among the best hackers in the world. He'd love to have one of the best hackers in the world check over his work, but had to settle for using the Cell Slicer to do that same thing, and once he was done, he owned Genom's mainframe. Well, this one anyway.
Then it came time to install the data modules.
There were, several traps, naturally. Fortunately, he'd been expecting those.
Codes given to the security chief had failsafes to lock out the most interesting parts of the database. The superspy had to hack for hours to get access to the entire technology tree without it wiping itself. Some of that stuff was restricted to Mason and Quincy's level, included under heavy safeguards just in case either leader of that heavy hitting corporation needed to hide on Genaros and still access their most useful information.
As near as he could tell once he'd achieved access, the data was complete up to a few months ago, updated minutes before it had been loaded onto the shuttle for transport. And Boy, oh, Boy! Was Genom working on some secret stuff or what?!
Mind boggling stuff was everywhere in that database.
This went beyond was Genom's labs were doing. They'd stolen secret technology, research and developments from every other corporation on the globe! There was the recipe for Coca Cola in there, and that was a formula guarded better than most state secrets on which lives were depending.
Hmm, the stuff still had carefully modulated amounts of cocaine. So that explained why it was so addictive. Probably explained why they kept the recipe so heavily shrouded in mystery, too. Made him glad he'd never drunk the stuff... Ick! They put THAT in there, too?! That chemical broke down to formaldehyde at body temperature! What was it doing in there... as a sweetener?!?
Scary.
Getting back on track, he stopped chasing the intriguing tangents (of which there were several) and did some overall content indexing so he knew what was available in here. Sadly, it was only a technology database. No secret plans for world domination in this one, which was a big disappointment, because he knew they had them. The superspy guessed the monsters didn't want their operations files out under even as much security as this data module had. Or if they did, they put them elsewhere.
Keeping their operations files out of the hands of the gear heads who'd have been working on new toys for them did make sense, he supposed. But it was still a big letdown not to get his hands on the "Please Hit Me Here" data those files would have.
He didn't doubt they had backups of those files. They just weren't here, even after the Cell Slicer sorted out all of their security codes and deadlocks, stripping off the various layers of security inherent and granting Jared full privileges. So, too bad. He wasn't going to be able to prove Genom's evil practices and kill their corporate image out of their own memory banks. This would have to be done the normal way, by fighting.
Well, moving on past the substantial blocks of human behavioral material (fashion research from ladies magazines didn't interest him much) Jared went straight for the core: the computer and boomer research data, along with whatever the massive, over-bloated super monopoly had on powersuits and their highly advanced construction.
Paydirt.
Immediately the redhaired superspy delved into the mine of information.
It turned out to be more information than could be read in a lifetime. So many people had done so much theorizing and experimenting as to be almost impenetrable. That came close to stopping him until it dawned that he could download all of this directly into his gray matter as Sylia had done. Jared Saotome made the appropriate commands and his Cell Slicer began to convert this data into a form that his Synoptic Teacher could pour into his head. But while waiting for that, admittedly massive, conversion the interdimensional agent decided to peruse the subject index to get something of a summary on what hardsuit tech Genom had available.
While most of the files crammed in there were hardly sorted or organized at all, the core work about boomers was surprisingly concise for a project with such a vast scope, at merely a few dozen encyclopedia sets worth, or so. Not so bad for such a broad scientific advance.
The trouble was, it seemed too well written. He knew bad guys well, and there was a fingerprint, a signature if you will, to their work - and this didn't have it. The average bad guy wrote like he was composing tax forms or other impenetrable governmental gibberish. They liked that kind of stuff, so that's what they wrote, their thoughts so bent toward deceit that anything they wrote came out sounding either like a used car salesman or dessicating legalese.
However, this data came through surprisingly clear, better than most innocent folks could compose, and certainly more accessible than the bulk of scientific research. This led him to the very simple conclusion that no one at Genom had written it.
Thus began a search to discover who had.
With all of Genom's security stripped out it didn't take him long to discover the core of all of this research, the base off of which it was all founded. To his mingled shock and disgust, these (he couldn't think of a word bad enough) cretins had stolen one of Dr. Katsuhito Stingray's data units! One like Sylia had, only hers had been pristine and the one Genom got their slimy tentacles on was not. Judging by the files they'd recovered from it, their data unit was corrupt and obviously fragmentary, apparently the module they'd gotten ahold of had been badly damaged in some way, very possibly by an almost-prevented attempt to self destruct. It was quite apparent they'd done all they could in restoring the lost information, but it was still maddeningly incomplete.
Thankfully so, because the idea of what Genom would have done with full records of that pioneer's findings was so terrible as to not merit any kind of thought. Sheer, gut reaction was enough to condemn the idea to be taken out and shot.
Dang! They even had a still shot of Sylia Stingray's eventual hardsuit in this thing! It came without parts, labels or essential diagrams, much less operating principle descriptions or core details, so there was no way Genom was building one, or even coming close, but if you knew what it was you were looking at it was impossible not to recognize that hardsuit.
Hopefully they'd thought it was just an unrealized boomer design.
Still, that wasn't data Genom just tossed anywhere. Anyone who got ahold of this could easily prove where it came from, and as Dr. Katsuhito Stingray's discoveries had been stolen, not paid for, Genom's exclusive right to boomer technology could be yanked right out from under them, destroying their entire business empire. Unfortunately, he couldn't do that, as he'd stolen these files himself and wouldn't be able to use them as any kind of legitimate evidence.
He could just see the court case now, "Yes, while I was just going about my ordinary business of stealing multi-billion dollar shuttlecraft, I happened to find this after cutting apart all of the security boomers..."
The defense would have a field day.
Nevertheless, if these files were so complete, to have even that (despite how well it had been hidden), then it was evident that once he'd assimilated this he'd have everything Genom knew on their chief technologies, current up to a few months ago. If they'd included original copies of what they had of Dr. Stingray's research, no other technology secret would be left out.
Of course, that still shot explained one mystery of the OVA series. Anybody who got a hold of complete files, perhaps through an intact data unit or just lab notes, could have built Sylia's hardsuit.
So no wonder Genom never threw too much attention Sylia's way.
Any spy in the world could theoretically have gotten ahold of it for any industrial rival or government interest. Thing was, they didn't. Only Genom had tried to steal Dr. Stingray's work, if the series was to be believed. Genius in obscurity, and all that. Only Quincy and Mason had any idea how valuable his research would be, and they'd tried to steal it to only partially succeed.
Thank Heaven for small favors.
Or... actually, that was a rather big one, really. Huge, in fact.
One, almost certainly unintended, side-benefit to Quincy having stolen most of his corporation's technology was that he could hardly admit to having some of it, and much of the actual research material was so obviously obtained illegally that the mega-corp couldn't even show it to their own engineers for fear of an honest soul exposing their fraud.
That practice had been hurting them for some time, though they probably didn't know it, or acknowledge that if they did. Even Sylia didn't have the large body of work done by all of her father's friends since his death, he was sure. Genom came close to as they'd been killing them and stealing their work for years. But they couldn't use all of it.
Genom so often killed researchers, their own and others (one to preserve secrets and the other to steal them), that no one scientist knew any sizable fraction of Genom's tech. No, not even their own people (sometimes especially not their own people). However, all of their high security and paranoia, backstabbing and killing to further ambitions, to conceal data, or just because they felt like it that day really shot them all in the foot as they became like a dragon hoarding gold - They didn't USE any substantial portion of it! They just sat on it, accumulating more and more as they murdered any potential competitors, grabbing their discoveries in the bargain to inflate their own sense of importance, while advancing their core techno monopoly only a little at a time in very tiny, measured doses (because improving the product cost money and down time as they re-tooled factories, and there wasn't any need to hurry because theirs was the only horse in that race - Also, if they truly turned out the best boomer that could be made there would be no room for future upgrades, and having each model sold replaced by a newer one every few years was sweet to the bank account of the giant megacorp).
These guys were just heaping research data up in piles, hardly even cataloging it in the broadest sense and barely examined - Stolen and buried, unless it was obviously of immediate use, and then internal politics demanded that it be locked away in even deeper secrecy. At least those got cataloged first, though.
There was an island at the center of this vast sea of information that had been gone over and organized fairly thoroughly, and that was, unsurprisingly, the science that Genom used on a daily basis to operate their business. Surrounding that were black projects info databases that, once the security got stripped to make them accessible, were almost as well organized, if not nearly so well cataloged.
The rest, the bulk of their scientific data, sat unexamined and unused, stolen and then forgotten. It was doubtful that most of this stuff had ever been read by anyone since they'd acquired it. Entire technologies languished, completely forgotten, in here. They'd killed the creators to silence any ghost of competition to themselves, and then thrown their research onto this pile, to be lost forever, most likely.
Actually, Genom did use some small fraction of what they knew. But the people with real access to the secrets of this database were all at dizzying heights, occupying the loftiest upper reaches of their command structure, and even if they had the training and real knack to use the science they didn't have the time. They had a mega-monopoly to run. Those who could've made the best use of this technology were not, by and large, the people with lofty enough positions to ever see even a tiny fraction of it. And between Quincy's paranoia and Mason's dirty dealing, it was going to stay that way. They stood too great a risk that such a talented person would skip away to start their own company. With this data it would be all too profitable and easy for one brainy underling to break away and form a successful rival of the great and evil megacorporation. Then Genom would face real competition, something Quincy could never tolerate, and defecting scientists would find funding among those that hated the bloated and evil giant, then possibly even break their monopoly on boomer labor by using secrets Genom didn't dare admit to having to produce superior designs.
Hmm, that was a thought to file away for later. It sounded like a plan.
But from Genom's point of view they couldn't trust anybody with this info before that person was so tied up in Genom itself that it was more profitable to stay than to leave, and because of the potential payoff to skipping off and going it on their own that only occurred at the very peak of the corporate ladder and thus led back to that very conundrum where the people who could see the data couldn't use the data. They didn't have time, even in the rare cases where they might have the ability otherwise. The best they could do was to take a tiny sliver of this, one discovery or two, and form a secret project with it by getting teams of underlings to try and develop that small nugget of information further.
Trust doesn't come easily for anyone as treacherous as a Genom Executive Officer, so most of the time those teams died horrible deaths around project completion dates.
That kept those secrets secret, which was what Quincy wanted
And yet a scientist who had access to the full extent of this knowledge would enjoy the advantage gained by combining solutions already developed in one project to another. Technology built on itself almost endlessly, and the more you knew the more you could do, almost to infinity.
In a way it was good that they were way too paranoid to use most of this stuff, as it kept Genom only the most powerful megacorp in the world, rather than catapulting Quincy straight to the throne of Global Dictator like he wanted.
Then again, it wasn't only access. Genom hardly had anyone of intellect comparable to the late Dr. Katsuhito Stingray, the one to make all the great discoveries in this branch of science to begin with. Also, in order to get what was now in this database they'd been killing those colleges of his who were developing more of the compatible technologies. That left not only them, but the whole world short on available geniuses.
And you needed a certain amount of genius to make this stuff work, a certain amount of patching holes among all of this stuff was required to get it all to work out properly, linking together handfuls of partial theories gathered from a dozen researchers before their untimely deaths, as well as connecting and integrating the real breakthroughs, was mandatory to get the best out of this database and wring it for all the value it was worth. And that required no less genius to do than to have come up with some of this stuff in the first place.
Jared smirked.
With the help of his interdimensional superspy tools he'd cracked the codes. He had the data. Was he going to use it? Of course he was! Only time would tell if his new gift of technological genius was fully up to the challenge of patching it all together, but he'd take it for all it was worth either way!
Hmm, what interested him most, looking over project summaries, was how much of this data was on cybernetics. Oh, sure, all of the boomer stuff was expected, and the twin sciences were very closely related, so experts you had of one could also make discoveries useful to the other. But he'd forgotten this was still the roaring two-thousand twenties, where personal augmentation was the latest style and doctors recommended cybernetic parts for replacement to solve even the most minor ailments.
It was the fad, and there was a whole lot of data on it. It wasn't until the boomeroid legislation to come out next year that anything put the brakes on this. After all, no one wants to have all of their human rights revoked by fiat so police can shoot them at will just because they've got some cyberware. The law originally said having 70% of your body replaced with mechanical parts made you legally a machine, but no one in their right mind wanted to think about what might happen if they skirted the edge of that limit and the law got revised to 50%, or even 10%.
So the boomeroid regulations had, or rather would, kill cybernetic replacement as a fashion and put an end to most of that industry. However, for right now it was going strong and the proof was in the wealth of available data.
Which was interesting, if morbid, reading. Full body conversions were available for those with the whim and the money to pay for it, replacing all of the body except the brain with mechanical parts and cybernetic support systems.
Of those, undersea aquatic variants plus models for orbital space made the most sense to him. Those environments had significant dangers and a company might get a few employees a year crippled for life; they could either pay those pensions forever or put the people back to work as full conversion cyborgs, and the cybernetic conversions were far cheaper. It made some sense, economically if nothing else. That same logic also applied to soldiers. People got hurt and an army could either pay disability benefits for a very long time or get a cyborg conversion and put him back on the active duty roster - probably doing a more hazardous job than before. It wasn't a particularly kind way to treat people, but it made some sense of a sort. Fighter pilots and firemen, a bit of the same. Full Borg conversions for industrial workers? Okay, maybe, but that was stretching credulity pretty far at that point.
Human-seeming Borg conversions? Alright, he could easily see some of those people stuck in borg bodies getting tired of being treated like robots all of the time. But it was getting real easy to see where Genom got some of its boomer ideas from. Sad to say, he could also see why they let that boomeroid legislation pass. Once a company got used to having far more durable full conversion borgs on hand to do certain nasty, rough and dangerous jobs the flesh employees didn't want to go back to doing them themselves. So when the law passed and suddenly no one wanted to be a Borg, instant expansion of market for boomer sales to fill those empty job slots.
Knowing Quincy, he might have drafted that boomeroid law himself.
But there was alot of stuff in that cybernetic data that was potentially useful in hardsuit construction. Jared resolved to study it in detail. One could potentially build a powersuit out of this stuff alone. Already there were artificial muscle fibers, joints, armoring techniques for human-shaped forms, internal power, just about everything you'd need. Actually, he didn't see why you couldn't add options, either. Cyberware had all sorts of constraints identical to powersuit issues. There was only so much space in a human body and most of it was filled with important stuff. You couldn't have bulky, overhot, chemically toxic stuff in cyberware. It had to be slim and slender, good citizens not messing up the tissue around it.
On a sudden epiphany, Jared understood that this was exactly how Brian J. Mason had created the superboomer Largo. Everything he needed to do so was already in here, collected from slaughtered scientists. The really good tech had never gone out to the public, but the combined experience of the cybertech that did gave them a very good idea of what to do and what not to. The superboomer Largo had just been Brian J Mason's plan for his own full-conversion borg body, only doing away with all of the organic tissue, leaving not a scrap behind. Even the brain was supposed to be fully inorganic, as this was supposed to be his bid for immortality.
And to do it, all Mason had to do was combine the scattered fragments of research already here, but forgotten about by Quincy and unavailable to anyone else. There were a few vital bits and pieces missing, however the intervening years would almost certainly provide them. Mason would arrange for black project teams to connect those bits himself, if he had to. Jared was certain of it.
After all, he had in the original OVA series.
However, on the plus side, that same body of data was practically identical to what you'd want for hardsuit systems. It wouldn't take much to convert, and coming at it from this direction could well be more successful than the more popular path of saying "Okay, how can we make this tank so you can wear it?" That you got from sitting down a group of military scientists with instructions to build an armored battle suit. Different skills got you different results, but there was merit to both approaches (if you could combine them) as cyberware technicians didn't often sit down and say among themselves "How can we get this gun to shoot through four feet of armor?"
That was probably why nowadays most things this complicated got designed by mixed groups of specialists. But anyone who's read a book written in sections by different people knows there's drawbacks to that approach, too. Handing off a symphony so that one guy tries to write the string sections, another does the winds, four more handle drums and two people who hate each other do the vocals isn't going to get much in the way of music. It can be played, and you can tear off some rough edges to smooth it out a bit if you work hard enough. But harmony isn't ever going to be its strong point.
And Jared had been all too near design teams that didn't exactly get along. Strong minds made for quirky people, and they often rubbed each other wrong, so getting them to cooperate wasn't generally an easy task, and probably never as successful as it could have been. That was true through the whole tech industry. The exceptions were rare, and often short-lived as people changed jobs from a variety of good and not so good reasons.
One person able to do it all could shift parts to accommodate each other. Instead of a laser design team told "Here's your space, here's your available power and cooling, here are your goals, get going!" a person able to visualize the whole project can use flexible requirements to get much better results.
It just required a much more highly generalized person. In an age run by specialists, however, a good generalist wasn't easy to find. That was because specializations are more easily achieved, and generalization takes longer to reach anywhere near the same level of accomplishment. So no one looks for a generalist as the few good ones are so dang rare. Once he gets there, though, a generalist can blow any specialist to tiny pieces in how well he can implement ideas.
Jared's answer, of course, was to become a generalist himself. And he had more than a touch of help in that department from his trusty superspy tools.
His Cell Slicer pinged. The first of the data modules had been converted into a skill pack and was ready for implantation. Jared winced when he saw how many programs that it represented, and this was only the first out of many such modules. But he wasn't about to get anywhere sitting and staring at it in dismay, either.
Selecting the first out of many Jared was comforted that at least by the time he was done absorbing this his superspy gear should've finished taking all of the rest and putting them in appropriate format for downloading directly into his head, pulling all the tricks and traps out and making it safe and ready to use.
Once that conversion was done he could head home to Green Corp's arcology, implanting skills along the way, and hopefully soon begin work on this project.

---------

Jared got back in time to discover that The Sexaroids were finally going on tour. This would have been great, if he wasn't placed as a lead in so many acts, so instead of sitting back and enjoying the show, he got to work his tail off.
Caroline was ever so slightly frantic over everything going right, the girls were all at varying stages of 'will they like me/us?' and there was the frantic efforts of the crew to get all things in their proper order. At least Green Corp had managed to hire some experienced back stage types for this, it would have been a nightmare otherwise.
Poindexter was having his own brand of fun during this, distributing handouts for How To Find Your Own Ass, including detailed instructions, a map and a flashlight.
Having flashlights turned out to be useful, and people used them, just not for what the oddball sexaroid had intended them for.
Jared was, himself, somewhere near the core of this. People came asking questions of him most of the time. He was the calm, cool head and (once he'd taken a Stage Manager program through his Synoptic Teacher) did help to stabilize things for everyone. The girls all trusted him, Caroline believed in him, and others viewed him a the leader of those and so most of the problems that needed solutions came toward his dressing room eventually.
It was a strain, but one he rose to meet all the same.
The big surprise to him was Erica. The former security exec turned bunnygirl who'd revealed herself to be a teenaged hacker on the run was now hopping along with the rest of them and just naturally assuming they'd accept her as a part of their inner group. The former sex-boomer quintet of Meg, Lou, Sylvie, Nam and Anri had apparently had a conversation with the bunnygirl and took her in without a qualm. So Kate, who'd been her friend for the longest time, saw to it that Caroline included her, and it was left to Jared to either veto an arrangement that had already been accepted by everyone else, or to go along with it.
He went along with it. Erica was already making herself useful as a second calm head around the increasingly frantic tour preparations. He could use her assistance, and frankly she already knew enough of their secrets that it was either accept her or risk alienating her to face off against her at some point as a villain, and he didn't want that.
She was growing on him.
It was around then Jared began having the strangest dreams. The first was a simple corporate scene with Madigan coming in to report on something, that strangely switched to be a quick strip whereupon they began discussing, and he began investigating, the secret yet delightful contents of her underclothes.
That was weird.
Then it was Erica and they were both in a bedroom set from the American 1950s. The rules of the dream said they were man and wife, and the less said about what they did there the better.
Caroline starred in her own dream, same theme, same kind of thing as the others. He couldn't remember the trappings of that one as well because it began in a rather heated moment and ended in the conclusion of same.
Jared was very embarrassed about these and decided not to say anything about them, even though they worried him. He'd been hip-deep in female company before and never had such dreams before. So the fact that he was now concerned him, as it might indicate a loss of self-control that possessed him, and thereby put himself in danger. The dreams repeated, though, and soon it just became part of his routine to dream. It was all he could take not to blush some mornings seeing the ladies so prominent in his dreams, but he mastered his reactions and went on just being good friends.
It wasn't their fault his subconscious had the hots for them.
Still, they found his changes in attitude amusing, however minute they were or how he tried to hide them. Sometimes they teased him about it, which he took good-naturedly. So for a while it was all nervousness and smiles, but after some time he'd ceased to let it trouble him and went on with life.
That was lucky, because by the time he calmed down about it they were practically standing at the stage door, and he was about to lead The Sexaroids out in their first large performance concert.
Erica was already out before the lights opening for them. The bunnygirl was doing surprisingly well for a first timer, heh, she was doing well by any standards and he realized that while he was locked up in the tomb of their unfinished undersea base she and his girls must have been practicing together.
That was alright by him.
Although he didn't know it, the newest member of their act had already appeared on a few albums and had helped design the costumes they were all going to wear tonight. A heroic feat considering all of the different tastes that had to be met, and that she'd somehow managed to satisfy everybody while not offending any of their tender sensibilities.
Poindexter was curled up in a corner, dressed up as a troll and muttering about 'his precious', and it occurred to the lead star that the prankster of this piece needed a dose of his own medicine.
A very wonderful idea for payback occurred as they stepped out and the concert began and he saw their band name flashing all over the stadium. Poindexter really was a 42-S sexaroid, and that included a modulation for changing genders, based on the curse he'd acquired back in that Ranma timeline. His was computer controlled, not based on water temperature, but Jared just happened to have his superspy set of computing tools with him - it was never wise to go anywhere without them, really.
He set it up between numbers. He already had the access codes, because he'd kept copies of Anri's notes from when she'd pumped his previous core programming and activated him to be their special effects tech. So it was the work of a moment to send a highly encoded, short range signal to engage that protocol, and nanites got released from internal stores to begin working on the 42-S almost at once.
It wasn't the combat-capable limited fusion boomers that Genom, would later create for adapting foreign weapons into their body on a battlefield, and it certainly wasn't the very scary, Unlimited fusion boomer design they'd toy with briefly before it ate Aqua City and they determined that was too dangerous.
No, the specially tailored nanites in Poindexter's body could only do one thing, and that was to evoke a change of gender on the owner's command. So, it got done.
They were in the middle of a number when Poindexter began to act freaky, but he did that enough normally so the fans just ate it up as part of the act. They'd done the song enough times that despite its complexity Caroline was able to notice Poindexter screwing around (again) and evoke a standard protocol where they cut his microphone and put his instruments on automatic, running off recording.
This happened often enough that when Jared's twin in appearance but opposite in personality began beating his head against the drums the fans just took this in stride. He'd done that a few times on video, it was fun for them to see it live.
Apparently, as Jared was to learn later, undergoing a gender change was quite painful for a 42-S, and one of the reasons they didn't do it more often. Poindexter stood up and ripped off his troll costume, leaving him in a T-shirt and shorts as more and more of his costume got removed to satisfy the intense need for scratching the sexaroid felt.
Accustomed by now to the resident jokester pulling pranks to distract them during a performance, the rest of the band ignored Poindexter up until the gasps began as their audience saw the change.
Standing there, barely clothed, the 42-S went from male to female in a period of seconds as her internal nanites reached the peak of their cycle and adjusted gross bodily appearance before finishing up with her internal workings.
Now practically hanging out of her overlarge shirt, the 42-S picked up a drum as the song was ending and broke the membrane over Jared's head before stalking off stage in a distinct huff.
The roar of their audience voicing its approval was unspeakable.

---------

"I suppose you can call me Dex," the chirpy, girly voice of the 42-S announced once they met her backstage. "Or Shirley, or whatever. But we can't go on calling me Poindexter. That's too much a boy's name."
"Oh?" Jared was brightly amused by this. "What's to say that you won't change back, say, in the middle of our next performance?" he asked cheerily, amused to finally be getting that annoying droid back.
The sexy young lady in a T-shirt and shorts scowled. "Because I'm never going to go through that again. That HURT, and I've already got an appointment to get those nanite housings removed. So I won't have the capability to change by our next concert."
"You don't even want to turn back into a boy again?" Lou was confused.
The recently changed Poindexter shook her head, red mane flying. "No, it doesn't matter to me. Although I'll miss peeing standing up, I won't miss it enough to go through that again. I'm getting those nanites removed tonight."
"Well, that certainly caused a stir," Caroline interrupted, walking into the band's private changing rooms without knocking, as was her usual wont. Sitting down on a plush chair, she leaned back and fluffed up her hair, gazing at all of them.
"I don't know who triggered Poindexter's change, and I know better than to ask. For all I know it might have been a hacker among the fans. But regardless of who did it, that's caused the biggest stir I've heard of in music sales."
She fluffed back her hair again and sighed. "Apparently, there are those who've always wondered if this group was real sexaroids or not, and now many of them think they know the truth. From what they're saying, there are no other ways to just up and change gender on stage like that than to be a very advanced sexaroid, a 42-S specifically."
"So, are they..." Nam began tentatively to ask the question, of whether or not they were going to be apprehended as runaway property or not.
"No," Caroline answered the unspoken question. "Those are rumors, not proof, and no one has any records of you six as property, so there's nothing to challenge the records we made up to give you all identities, and between those and how very hard it is to prove whether someone exists or not in the aftermath of the Kanto Quake, no one is going to be able to do anything to hurt any of you."
"I helped make sure of that," Erica Leporidae raised a hand, twitching her whiskers. "Spacecorp had few enough records of you to start with, seeing as how you all were going to be a secret, but all those they did have I erased personally."
"So," Caroline continued. "In spite of how very unlikely it is for someone to step forward and claim they owned you, seeing as how very illegal actual sexaroids are, it is even less likely without any proof to back those claims."
"And even should anyone try," Kate Madigan also joined them, coming out from the rather limited attached bathroom where she'd been brushing her hair. "Our legal department will make hamburger out of them."
"You are far more valuable as you are than as someone's sex-slaves," Caroline reassured them all. "To take you out of the music industry would destroy most of your worth and you'd not be nearly valuable enough occupying a bed to repay what they'd have to spend to get you. And again, that's even assuming they could do so in the first place, which I sincerely doubt. Not to mention that actual sexaroids are still very highly illegal, and no court is going to rule in favor of someone trying to make you one. And if it even began to look like they might succeed, you could all go into hiding. No one would gain anything by trying to turn you back into property."
Kate spoke reassuringly, putting her hands on the shoulders of those other girls present. "If someone wanted your face under them, there are posers out there who could oblige them. I'm sorry. It's an unpleasant fact, but a fact all the same, and one that protects you. A great many people have gotten body-sculpts to look like you."
"So what this all ends up meaning," Erica concluded, bubbling cheerfully, "is that you have a huge fan base who thinks you are even cooler than they thought before, and wild rumors about you being something more are probably going in the dustbin with the thought that Elvis was an alien."
Meg double-blinked, then asked, "Who is Elvis?"


***

Author's Notes:
My usual enjoyment of my own work often allows me to read and reread all of my stories long before posting. Sometimes that doesn't happen, like if I am too low at the time to note or correct errors. Sometimes when I'm really bummed I can see awkward text but don't know how to fix it. Then there are times like this when I wrote it, and it felt good at the time, but in my desire to post I didn't go over it as thoroughly as I might've.
So, if there are mistakes, I'll blame Elvis. Why? Because he's not around to deny any culpability. So there.
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