Stella awoke in a hospital bed in a small windowless room with clearly reinforced walls, and much sturdier than normal fixtures and fittings. Something about the room was maddeningly familiar. She heard Miriam’s voice in what was, for her, an angry rant.
“…. send me someone with a damaged brain. I don’t care what you say, you did something wrong with the wipe, and I need you to fix it!”
“I have been doing this since before you even thought of being a hero Miriam. Though I admit that the boy left a bit of an impression on her. I can only assume it’s… Ah, she’s awake. Let’s go check on our patient shall we?”
Miriam entered the room with a stooped old woman who, despite her obvious advanced years, vibrated with power and vitality. She gave Stella a stern look. “Stella Hawkins, I’d rather hoped I’d never be clapping eyes on you again. I’ll have you know I disagreed with the decision to recommend you for the VCS department at the DVA, but the dean overruled me.”
“You’re…” Stella gasped as a headache split her skull. In response to the pain she shifted into steel, and the headache receded slightly. “I’ve seen you… At Lander… You’re a professor. Stone.”
“Damn,” said the older woman. “Well that tears it. I’d guess that the longer she stays that way the more the mind wipe will lapse. I suppose it’s a good thing she ended up as an authorized DVA agent after all.”
“So she’s immune to telepathy?”
“It’s not unusual for shifters to be immune to telepathy when changed, so we all assumed Miss Hawkins was a shifter, if a rather novel one. Shifters are no more immune to advanced minds as anyone when they’re not changed. Now I’d say her power has more in common with someone who adapts or changes their own body than turn into something else. Her brain must function differently when she changes.”
Stella felt a pressure start to release in her head, and suddenly realized where she was, and what was happening. “This is one of the recovery rooms at Lander. How did I get to California? How long was I unconscious!?”
“You’ve only been out for a few hours,” Miriam reassured. “When you collapsed, and we realized something was haywire with your mind wipe, we grabbed Tiffany and teleported here. The staff here raised a bit of a stink when we just popped in, but you’ll find that once you’ve been on the job a while, VCS agents start to acquire quite high security clearances.
“Gerald tagged along, though it’s just our team here; all the others stayed back in Virginia. We needed them to cover our case load. I’d have preferred to have Monique along for this visit. She’d already told us you weren’t a shifter, but didn’t get a close look. She needs to make physical contact for at least several minutes of someone using their abilities to get a really good read.”
“I don’t care about any of that,” Stella said. “I just want these headaches to go away!”
“Well that’s what we’re here to talk about Stella,” Miriam said. “Actually, there’s a bit of an emergency meeting among the staff and senior and junior year students here. This sort of thing has come up before. There have been students who’ve left HCP campuses, but have powers that make mind wiping ineffective, but it is exceptionally rare. An ability that makes someone resistant to such tampering is usually an instant disqualification for admittance to the program. In those cases where someone like you slips through we have only a few different options.”
Miriam ticked the options off on her fingers. “Security clearance and binding contracts of secrecy, imprisonment until your knowledge is no longer relevant, or more aggressive attempts to remove the memories. They usually involve elective brain surgery by a specialized kind of healer.”
“I am not letting anyone mess with my brain! You can put me in prison first!”
“I understand, but each option has different downsides. The only downside to having a healer operate on your brain is that you’d lose ALL of your memories from after your senior year of high school. You’d wake up as if the entire Lander experience had never happened. You’d be starting over as an eighteen year old.”
“You’d have to go through college again, and you’d probably apply for HCP training, but all of the campuses would refuse you. If you follow the same educational path, we’d assess you again for VCS work in four years, and there’s a decent chance you’d end up with us anyway, but probably as an analyst or case worker, rather than on an intervention team.
“We’d also manufacture a story involving traumatic head injury to explain away the loss of memories that didn’t have anything to do with the fact that your mind wipe failed.
“Imprisonment wouldn’t be actual prison, but you’d be under a limited sort of house arrest with a new identity, and not allowed to talk about your experiences with anyone. If you break the rules, then you end up in real prison. You’d be a ward of the witness protection program, and it’s not too unpleasant. We keep those cases in nice tourist towns with a supplement to their income, so they never become tempted by bribes.
“If you elect to keep your memories and stay in my team you will be under an incredible amount of scrutiny by the DVA. You’d have a much higher clearance than people who’ve proven themselves with years of service, and that alone can be unpleasant.
“The most important question is; do you want to continue working for Variant Child Services?”
“I think it’s what I’m meant to do.”
“So do I. Esme, please help Stella recover the rest of her memories, so she doesn’t have to endure months of headaches and confusion.”
Professor Stone sighed. “Somehow I just knew you were going to be a problem Miss Hawkins. Fine, I’ll discuss it with the Dean, and your classmates will have to be informed that you’ve regained your memories. You’d better be prepared for a negative reaction to that news young lady.”