Chapter 226: The Clone Wars.
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Dr. Daniels ran through the labyrinthine halls in the shape of a fox, thinking furiously.

Dr. D’s proprioception was telling him he was thousands of miles outside the planet’s atmosphere, which was silly… unless he was in space.

Why the hell am I out in space?

I thought The Fertility was a regular ship or a secret sex club, or both, but no, apparently my clone has created a…

Dr. Daniel’s foxy jaw gaped as he came out into the simulated daylight, viewing the distant painted-on wisps of clouds above his head.

I’m inside a dome. In all likelihood it’s a sphere. Why waste a flat surface? Hmm..

Suddenly Garth’s voice came over some kind of magical P.A. system.

“This is your captain speaking…”

Dr. D. listened with an ear cocked as Garth played it off as a drill.

I suppose it is a drill.

Dr. D. was clearly the better recipient of this deal, seeing as Garth already had a pretty good idea of his abilities, but Dr. D. had no idea how much Garth had improved in the last millennia. That and he would gain some valuable experience fighting knock-off death stars, which would spread to every one of his thousands of bodies.

If I were Garth, and I were going to try to stop me from assimilating people, what would I do? Gather the crew and immolate them? No, that’s not right.

It would be something area wide, stiffer than a warning. Perhaps a spell that jettisoned him off the ship or burned everything without an I.D. of some sort.

Wonder if he’s got a magical IFF Transponder.

In any case, Dr. D. Needed to ‘Assimilate’ someone as soon as possible. He’d of course considered doing it the old-fashioned way, but had decided not to. A friendship with your only doppleganger was a terrible thing to waste, even if he was a bit of a pansy about you eating people.

But where the hell do I find a grease pen? Do I have to make one out of my own body, cuz that’s rough. Might be able to do it, though.

Indistinct conversation made Dr. D’s ear twitch. He crept out of the tunnel and into the subtropical underbrush, toward the sound.

“But why?” a purple short-stack that achingly reminded him of Betty, albeit shorter and plumper asked.

“Because, our guest didn’t bring a grease pen with him, and Garth doesn’t want him resorting to doing anything dangerous in order to ‘mark’ his victims.” A woman made entirely out of fine polished wood said, wearing a box of grease pens strapped to her chest. She was tossing the pens out into the jungle haphazardly, causing one to land at Dr. D’s feet.

Interesting. He’s rather cautious that I’ll go full The Thing. These pens and the announcement were designed to make it easier for me to do things the non-lethal way. I suppose I’d be cautious too.

Dr. D. picked up the pen and tugged the cap off with his foxy-feet, creating a tiny pop in the woods.

“Did you hear that?” The Garthspawn asked.

“Yeah,” the wood woman said with a frown, trying to locate the sound. “You should get out of here, Lora. Grass says there’s something hungry in the woods.”

Grass? Oh, It’s Ms. Banyan. I almost didn’t recognize her.

Ms. Banyan had achieved an air of sophistication and a sweet pantsuit that made her nothing like the child-rearing wild-woman she’d been before. She looked more like a career-woman than the lady in charge of hands-on sex-ed.

“What about-“

“I’ll be fine.” Ms. Banyan said as another of her stepped out of the nearest Banyan tree that seemed to litter the…entire valley.

Wow. She big. Dr. Daniels marveled as he restructured his vocal chords. Animal voices were incredibly creepy and uncomfortable to speak in.

Dr. Daniels crept over to the nearest Banyan trunk, desperately trying to maintain silence. With a flick of his head, he dragged the marker across the trunk.

Point, Dr. D.

“Hey Banyan, long time, no see.” He called in an eerily childish voice. Not that he could help it, given how tiny he was, currently.

The two Banyan’s heads snapped over to look at him, standing next to one of her trees with a marker beside him.

“According to the rules of the game, you’re on my side now, correct? What with this being your main body and all.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“Who are you?”

“What?” Dr. D. asked, aghast. “You don’t recognize me?”

“I do not, little creature,” she said, dipping down to look him in the eye. “But I’d like you to know that I’d rather burn my own grove down than let you harm any of the children aboard the Fertility.”

“God, who said anything about hurting children? Is Momma Bear your default setting or something?”

Ms. Banyan cocked her head to the side.

“Your speech sounds familiar.”

“Its’a mea-a. Dr. D-a.” he said with a phony Italian accent.

“Ah, I understand why Garth made that announcement.”

She reached out and smacked his furry cheek, discombobulating him and forcing the shapeshifter to spend a moment getting his bearings.

“That’s for stealing the triplets.”

“Away from certain death? You’re welcome.”

“They would have lived a better life with me and Grass.”

“That’s debatable. At the time, you two were the equivilant of a six year old and a Mac from the eighties, whereas I had all the life experience of their father.”

“Not all of it.” she said with a sour look.

“Are you on my team now Ms. Banyan, or what?” Dr. D. said, nodding to the pen mark on her tree. “It would be a shame if you didn’t follow the rules of the game. Might make me think about not following them either.”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine, but I hope you know I’d have plenty of time to excise you from my network if this were real. And it’s Mrs. Banyan now.”

“Oh, ‘grats.” Dr. D said. “I need you to do two things now that you’re on my team.”

Mrs. Banyan heaved a long-suffering sigh.

“What?”

“I need you to mark everybody within reach of your marker-carrying clones, and I need you to make me some food.”

“How much?” she asked, crossing her arms with a scowl. Surprised yelps began to travel through the subtropical valley as Mrs. Banyans turned on their charges, pinning them down and swiping them with the black pens, adding them to the Marked collective.

“Ehh…” Dr. D said, glancing up at the canopy. “fifty tons?”

She opened her mouth to protest.

“I know you can do it. You must have enough bodies to fill this entire valley with fruit.”

“Fine, but it’ll be nothing but eggplant. Fifty tons of eggplant.”

“Noooo!” Dr. Daniels’ cry morphed into a fox’s chattering cry.

“I’m not doing human flesh flavored fruit. Ever.” She said, glaring at him.

“At least guacamole, it’s almost as good as human flesh.”

“Ugh, Fine.”

Several dozen Mrs. Banyan stepped out of the surrounding trunks and raised their hands up, weaving a tremendous amount of mana between them, conjuring giants avacados and onions.

“Now we’re talking…” Dr. Daniels said, rubbing his paws together as the delicious goo began to manifest.

Garth was surely going to manifest some way to push back against his pseudo assmimilation, like using spores to put everyone to sleep or something, and that meant that Dr. D needed more mass. His body’s value was substantially increased by the terms of the game.

In a matter of minutes, Mrs. Banyan had a small mountain of guac in front of him, and dr. D dived in.

At least, he tried to.

His foxy body bounced off the food like a rubber ball.

“Ah, what the…did you do this?” he asked, rubbing his nose…which didn’t hurt.

Odd.

“No,” Mrs. Banyan said, rapping her knuckles on the massive pile of food. “I have no idea what this is.”

Dr. Daniels opened his jaws and tried to gnaw on the soft-looking pile of delicious nutrition he needed to make more stunt doubles, but it was hard as a rock. Harder, even.

The strangest part was that he wasn’t getting hurt, either, he was simply incapable of damaging anything.

“The grease pens stopped working.” Mrs. Banyan said with a vacant expression, “at around three thousand members assimilated.”

“Spy,” Dr. D. said imperiously. “I need you to stealthily approach Garth and find out what the hell is going on. Also, arrange for some of the assimilated to scatter and become a drain on Garth’s resources, while the others hide in a centralized location. I need you to hide them.”

“Yessir,” she said reluctantly, snapping a lazy salute. “Although I feel I should warn you, in the spirit of the rules of the game, that Garth already knows you got me. I do have bodies everywhere, and they gave the alarm while you were talking to us.”

“Damn, fair enough. The hell is going on with this guac?” he tried to bite a nearby fern and found it just as impenetrable as the demon guac.

Oh, he’s got some kind of invulnerability field that prevents anything from taking damage. Eating things damages them, as does assimilating them. Smart. That means I’m not going to get any more recruits in the meantime…and the Elder is still alive.

His worms were too small to provide him with a good sense of where the elder was, and they weren’t getting any bigger or more numerous, meaning they’d been stalled out.

Good thing to know. Dr. Daniels noted dispassionately. That was something he’d have to look out for.

“Bugger. We’re going to have to get creative.” He tugged on the mana in the surroundings, but his Core was nowhere near powerful enough to do much with it. If he wanted to do strong magic he needed a few days to grow his new core…or…

He glanced at Mrs. Banyan. “I’m going to teach you a spell to directly feed me and increase my mass. It’s pretty fuel inefficient, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“Alright.” Mrs. Banyan said.

“It goes like this…”

 

***Alicia***

Alicia blinked her eyes open, smacking her lips and grimacing at the awful aftertaste of last night’s horrible, horrible mistake.

People are power. Alicia ruminated on the epiphany she’d used to open the door into the library inside of her soul. It was a point that her aunt had tried to hammer home so many times when she was younger, that she’d wound up trying to run away from it, even when she’d understood its meaning.

But it’s no less true.

The library inside her soul had been a quaint thing, modeled after her favorite bookstore as a child, with a rich velvet chair that swallowed her up. Each of the titles on the shelves had hinted at some facet of her personality, from a thick tome of Shameful Dreams to a thin pamphlet labeled Desire To Pick Nose. Each one had a…gravitas to it that felt like it would resist any effort to move, but somehow she knew she could, if she wanted to.

Instinctively, she felt that there was probably a way to rearrange the bookshelves in a better way, possibly even rewrite some of them entirely.

“All right, where are you, Perverse Attraction to Irritating Men? You’re getting rewritten.” Alicia said, closing her eyes, and diving back down into her soul.

Wish this thing was alphabetical, or maybe had some guiding theme.

Alicia was cruising through the shelves when her fingers landed on a black, leather bound book, thick as her wrist.

Trauma Vol. 1

Her hair stood on end, and she hesitantly reached out to the book, her fingers stopping just shy of the cover.

She was just about to touch the book when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Ack!” Alicia shouted, flailing her limbs at her mysterious attacker, her eyes flying open.

Caitlyn gave a strangled scream as she was knocked backward with all the force of a charging Dire Boar, tumbling once before her shoulders hit the wood of the wall, burying herself three inches deep.

“Umm…Sorry.”

“You seem kinda jumpy.” Caitlyn said, dabbing her split lip with a glowing finger. In seconds, the mark went away like it had never been. “Was your Epiphany Don’t Take Candy From Strangers?”

“Bite me,” Alicia grumbled, climbing to her feet and stretching, looking around the wooden cabin. It was exactly as they left it. “What was yours?”

“Concentrated Effort Is Unstoppable.” Caitlyn said. “You?”

“People Are Power.” Alicia said, brushing the floor-dirt off her nice clothes.

“That’s odd. I didn’t take you for the manipulative type. I mean, for a Denton, anyway.”

Alicia gave her a glare, hoping the chatty redhead would shut up, but it didn’t seem to work.

“See, your sister would lean into it, smile and say something charming, while you…you just glare at people, hoping they’ll shut up.”

“Gah,” Alicia looked at the ceiling and begged Munasei for patience. Wait, no! Not Munasei, Gorn!...Actually, he doesn’t seem that patient either.

“Whatever, I’ll handle it myself.” Alicia muttered.

“Where’s my transporter?” Caitlyn asked, patting through her bag. “Matter of fact, where’s your transporter?”

“What?” Alicia asked, really looking at her fellow apprentice, widening her eyes to improve her vision in the gloom of the cabin.

“Is that ink on your face?” She asked, pointing at the thick black smiley face drawn on Caitlyn’s forehead. Caitlyn’s head came up, studying Alicia for a moment. She frowned, staring at her for a second before reaching up to her forehead and bringing her fingers back with a thick smudge of blackened grease.

Alicia copied her and came back a black smudge of her own.

“What the hell?”

“Greetings,” a voice came from the doorway as it was dramatically thrown open, flooding the room with light. In the doorway was the silhouette of a kidnapper.

He probably thought we were two defenseless girls in the middle of nowhere. This’ll show him.

“Get him!” Alicia shouted, channeling enough lightning to create a glass trough a hundred feet long, straight into the creep’s chest.

The walls of the cabin flexed, and all the mana in the room was siphoned away in a fraction of a second, unravelling her spell before it even hit the target.

“Now, before you do anything drastic, I’d like to explain the rules of the game that you two have been volunteered for.” The man said.

“What game?”

As Alicia’s eyes adjusted, she made out…Garth? A bit more homely, much shorter, and with normal skin, but all his essential features were there.

“My brother from an identical mother has included you in our little game, a dry run of conflict as it were. I’ve already marked you as an addition to my team since he ditched you in the swamp, so get ready to act against your master until this game is over.”

“Before I get down to the nitty gritty of the rules of the game and the plan, does anyone have to use the bathroom?”

Caitlyn raised her hand.

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