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Generated: Aug 17, 2019 11:32 PM
Post last updated: Jun 08, 2019 9:40 PM
clouds of grey
Jaime in Fabulous
Permalink Eye

Jaime is in school.

This is a waste of her time.

She used to make a habit of writing down ‘this is a waste of my time’ on the bottom of all of her tests and quizzes and homework, in plain English, just to make that fact abundantly clear, but then there was a parent teacher conference and her counselor growled at her and everyone made a great deal of fuss, and now she writes it down in a personal conlang. 

The personal conlang is spare, minimalistic, and has a writing system consisting entirely of curclicues; she’s acquired the habit of doodling extensively, to make the fact that she’s writing down a specific set of glyphs on every paper less obvious. Sometimes she just writes ‘fuck you’, still in the conlang, as a change of pace, and sometimes she doesn’t do it all, but she’s pretty consistent about it.

This is very personally satisfying.

It doesn’t make school any less of a waste of her time. 

She could be dancing, she has more natural talent than anyone she’s met but she’s still falling behind people with more time, having to squeeze in practice elsewhere - it doesn’t help that she can’t manage to concentrate on just one dance style - and she doesn’t have the social grace to persuade her uncle to homeschool her - 

She’s finishing the word ‘time’, concealed in the scales of a cute little drawing of a fish, at the bottom of her latest statistics test.

Starscape hits her.

 

She grows glossy black bat wings, seven seconds later.

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"Whoa!" says the girl who sits behind her. "Watch it, you almost hit me in the face."

"No talking," says the teacher. "Fold those up, Jaime, this isn't a good time."

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Jaime has become very good at sighing without actually producing any sound or moving her face. She sighs, exits starscape, and folds up her wings.

It takes her another moment to finish up the word ‘time’, deliver her test to its designated bin, and return to her seat.

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The chair isn't very comfortable for wings.

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The teacher would probably be annoyed with her if she switched over to having extra arms. She’ll deal, for now.

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Eventually most tests are turned in; the last ones are collected before the students are ready and the bell rings.

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At which point she heads over to her next class, switching over to having an extra pair of arms on her way.

She’s really tempted to lock herself in a bathroom stall and fiddle for the next forty minutes, but she refrains. She might be able to squeeze in some fashion sketching in the guise of notetaking.

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Her next class actually contains one of the narrow-cushion-backed chairs with a curved attachment between back and seat to accommodate a tail, but since she's currently doing extra arms the other magical girl in the class takes it as usual, gold jewelry clinking as she sits down and shwushes golden wings into place. She looks Jaime up and down while people file in. "You just starscaped, didn't you."

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“Yes.”

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"Well, now you can fix... all that," chirps the girl, smiling with pointy white teeth. "If you need tips the club meets today!"

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What a charming person.

”Isn’t that nice. I don’t think I can make it today but I might try it some other time, when’s the next time it meets?”

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"In a week. It's every Wednesday. Thalia handles membership stuff."

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“I’ll see. What’s your name? I don’t think I remember it.”

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"Serena."

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Repress the urge to be snippy, repress the urge to be snippy, plenty of teenage girls in exclusive ingroups are horrible people and this one isn’t especially deserving of her derision just because she was brought to her attention -

“Nice name. See you around.”

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"Uh-huh."

Class ensues uneventfully. Her remaining classes do not have magical girls in them.

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Thank god.

She walks home - she doesn’t want to try navigating from the air, just yet - and enters her room, and consults her assorted fashion sketches and doodles. Her uncle isn’t going to be back from work for a few hours, so she has time to kill, if she’s willing to skip today’s bit of self-directed dance practice, which she is.

Step one: petting her little miniature pinscher (with all four arms) and refilling her water bowl.

Step two: looking up assorted point values for various traits - flowers growing out of her scalp, feathers fluffing out from her shoulders, elf ears, maybe a skin color shift with pretty detailing? She’d ideally like to have enough leeway by default that she can wing and de-wing without having to replace her wings with anything.

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Plants are a little more expensive than flesh additions provided the flesh additions don't have any bones in them, and plants alone will cover a de-limbing pointwise. Extra feathers are cheap per square inch, though it'll be a fair amount of her allotment if she gets much total coverage. Elf ears are cheap. Skin color's cheap, detailing doesn't add much point value.

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Okay then.

She goes into starscape, removes her existing clothing, and wraps her braids around her head in her favorite kind of updo. That done, she adds flowers to her scalp - metallic-looking rhododendron-esque ones, with gold freckling on shimmery silver petals, absent leaves or substantial stalks. She decides to skip the elf ears.

A three inch patch on each of her shoulders acquires a dramatic poof of feathers, each feather fading from gold at the base to silver at the tip. Her skin loses saturation, and her cheeks acquire gold freckles, to match the flowers, and her wings go away.

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This gets her a little glimmer of magic, if she's paying attention.

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She is!

She waves around her hand and tries magicking in the general direction of her laundry hamper.

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A blot of darkness blobs toward the laundry hamper. Around the laundry hamper, it is like the lights are off.

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Jaime smiles.

She fiddles with her distribution of body fat and muscle tone, fixes up minor imperfections in her complexion and an old scar on her elbow, and - after some indecision - gets rid of her body hair.

That done, she implements step three: clothing. A glossy black mermaid dress, flaring out dramatically at the base, with a lettuce trim on the bottom, and a similarly trimmed slit up the side, complemented by plain black shoes. The dress stops below her shoulders, allowing for a reasonable amount of cleavage; her arms acquire thin, black, fingerless gloves of a similar fabric, going up to her elbows.

She has a quote from hamlet, in her little journal, translated into her conlang - “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” - and she appears it, nicely calligraphed in all of her alphabet’s little curlicues and dots, in gradients of metallic gold and silver, wrapping around the bottom flare of her dress. 

The upper half of her dress gains thin vertical streaks of similarly metallic gold and silver; her gloves do the same.

She tracks how much each change influences her current amount of magic.

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Cosmetic fixes are an improvement - more than doubles the "amount" of magic she gets, if her sense of the thing is reliable in terms like amounts.

The magic approves of the dress, but not all that much. The curlicues add as much to the dress as the dress added to nudity. The streaks are almost indistinguishable from neutral.

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She wasn’t expecting her first attempt to be all that successful... she supposes that she isn’t clinging that tightly to a theme, here, it might help if she gets more motif-y...

She spends a few minutes sketching, and then re-starscapes.

She gets rid of the streaks, first thing - no real point in them, if they aren’t going to do anything. She then goes on to replace the curlicues with diamond - still in the same gradients and in the same pattern, but with, you know, diamond, divided into prettily faceted little sections. The dots get replaced by little diamonds too, still colored gold and silver, formed into the shape of five-petaled flowers - in the same shape as the flowers growing from her scalp. She also adds large silver earrings resembling stylized feathers - dotted with nicely faceted gold diamonds - and paints her nails with pretty little swirls of gold and silver.

The edge and slit of her dress - and the edges of her gloves - lose their current form and become feathery, as an afterthought.

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This is much better! The magic likes all of these changes and its favorite is the nail polish.

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Good! - she takes a moment to thicken and lengthen her eyelashes, recolor the skin around her eyes in an imitation of understated gold eyeliner, and experiment with how her magic responds to changes in her skin tone, on a range from sleek white to metallic silver to her ordinary hue.

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The eyeliner is a small positive. Changing her skin color doesn't do much, but of the three its favorite is silver.

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She keeps it silver, then.

After a few more minutes of contemplation and sketching, she adds a brooch, on the left side of her chest - a flower, in the style of the ones in her hair, perhaps two inches in diameter, with each petal made from a continuous, faceted diamond and backed by a thin layer of gold, and with a feather in the style of her earrings poking out from the gap between each petal.

After an additional ‘oh, duh’ moment, she removes its associated pin and has it attach directly to the dress.

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The changed attachment doesn't affect the magic's opinion, but it likes the brooch.

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Having her aesthetic opinions immediately validated by an otherworldly intelligence, and immediately implemented, is really viscerally satisfying.

She adds a smaller, similar brooch to the back of her right wrist, attaching to its corresponding glove, and implements a choker around her neck. The base of the choker is black, with swirls of silver and gold matching her nail polish; in lieu of anything so traditional as a pendant, she adds a burst of fake feathers on the front side of it, golden feather-bases fading to silver feather-tips, matching the style of the feathers on her shoulders. They splay out on her neck and upper chest, looking almost like a miniature peacock’s tail feathers in terms of arrangement, and stop just short of her cleavage.

That done... mmm. She turns the black shoes into black boots, and gives those boots glossy gold-fading-to-silver-fading-to-gold laces, and decorates them with little silver and gold diamond-flowers, and gives her gloves little dots of gold - and faint swirls of silver - to match the freckling of the flowers in her hair.

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The brooch is good, the choker is great. The boots are all right. The freckles on the gloves are okay. Each change she makes after getting all the aesthetic low-hanging fruit seems to have a smaller effect; this must be why to eke out any more performance advantages Paladins have to pay top dollar for experts to come up with ideas and trial hundreds of subtly different options.

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Yep, that seems likely.

She gets rid of the freckles on her gloves - and the ones on her face, while she’s thinking of it, she doesn’t like them as much as she thought she would - and de-starscapes to look up which wing models work best for aerial dance and fit within her current point budget.

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She has room for wings, though not for those and extra arms at this point. There are thousand-page forum arguments about the details, but only a few specific competitive models under all the chatter, each favored by different sorts of specialists and the subject of different controversy about the correct way to lay feathers over them and their ability to perform in the rain.

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Oh, thousand page forum arguments. Joy.

She looks at the four top models favored by aerial ballerinas, discards the one which seems primarily useful for flying while wet - she lives in Arizona, it isn’t going to come up that often - and picks a set from the remaining three which she thinks will work well with her existing look. 

Sketch sketch sketch, a thoughtful pause, sketch sketch sketch, more thoughtful pausing, minor tweaks to her existing feathers so they’ll jive better with her new ones -

Wings. 

They stretch out from her back such that the existing feathers on her shoulders can remain; the feathers at the each wing’s tip are identical to the features on her choker and her shoulders, but they acquire metallic black flecks just a bit further in, and those flecks become denser and denser moving inwards, until - near the base of each wing - they become almost completely black, with only small hints of silver and gold, serving as a dark background for the feathers fluffing away from her shoulders.

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The magic approves!

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She’d otherwise be rather unimpressed with its taste.

She tries throwing darkness at her laundry hamper, again.

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The previous darkness dissipated quickly. This is a bigger blob - it covers about a third of her room - and much, much darker; she can't make out the contents at all except for anything which is actively shedding its own light, dimly visible.

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Damn.

She tries nudging the blob a little to the left, first with her mind and then by gesturing vaguely at it. 

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Thinking at it doesn't work but gesturing does, pretty intuitively.

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She approves.

Now, onward to additional tweaking, now with a blob of darkness filling up a third of the room - fiddling with the flowers growing from her scalp so that each petal has a base gradient from rose gold to silver, instead of just being silver, and adding similar rose gold gradients to her brooches, and adding shimmery rose gold flecks to her feathers, and fiddling with the gradient on her curlicues so they go ‘rose gold-silver-regular gold-silver’ instead of just ‘regular gold-silver-regular gold-silver’? Adjusting her dress length and amount of exposed cleavage upwards and downwards? Tinkering with the length of her earrings and her feathers? 

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The rose gold doesn't help at first, but does once she's added more of it. More skirt and more cleavage seems weakly helpful. Earrings should be... yea long, feathers work best if there's a slope of how long they are depending on where they sprout.

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Figuring out how to get the feather-slope right takes a little while, but she manages it; her dress lengthens, her earrings dangle, her color scheme becomes less monochromatic.

She checks on the blob of darkness, and on whether she can gesture it away into nonexistence.

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She can cancel it easily. The room brightens.

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Good, that’s much less inconvenient than the alternative. 

She turns a smattering of the little flower gems dotting her shoes and dress rose pink, and starts taking pictures of herself; she hears the door open. She promptly gets rid of her wings - the shift between states is a little strange, but she can deal - and goes to greet her uncle.

He blinks at her from behind full moon glasses; the lines on his face crinkle a little.

”I starscaped,” says Jaime.

”... damn, good for you. I feel like I should be frowning and talking about how you shoulda talked to me first, but, actually, dudette, more power to you. You look bada bing bada boom, I like the feathers - you’re a lesbian now?”

”I think that there’s another technical term, I’m only attracted to magical women - and I was already attracted to women, I just hadn’t felt the need to tell you about my sex life.”

Blink, blink. He takes off his glasses, polishes them on his shirt, puts them back on, and peers at her.

”Works with me, kiddo, I voted blue for the last four elections and I’m gonna keep on doing it - you’re not gonna get religious or anything, right -“

”No.”

“Cool, cool. You doing dinner tonight?”

”I thought that we might go out.”

”- yeah, dudette, fair. You want Italian?”

”Yes.”

 

They go out for Italian. Jaime is passively attentive to whether people treat her much differently.

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She gets more people looking at her and one asking if he can get a picture.

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The person asking for a picture does not get to have a picture. Shoo, amateur photographer.

She eats; she and her uncle make minor chatter. She goes home; she adjusts her shoes until she feels comfortable dancing in them, and she dances, tight little practice routines that she can manage within the confines of her house. 

She sleeps; she wakes up, fixes her hair and her outfit, and goes to school. 

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There's a note on her desk at homeroom that she's qualified for membership in the magical girl club, which lists its meeting time, and a couple of pamphlets on (1) how not to turn into a cryptid and (2) lists of useful books and websites for new magical girls with various magical girl interests.

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She skims the pamphlets, and writes down a little chart in her notebook - one column for resources with fashion advice, one column for resources on swarm hunting, and one column for resources on money-making opportunities.

Class periods pass. She looks generally apathetic, refrains from suggesting that occasional gawkers go fuck themselves, doodles, and sits in a corner reading about the history of Mauritania during lunch.

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A magical girl a grade behind her who has a long luxuriously furred tail and cat ears comes to sit with her. "Hi! I'm Nina! What's your name? If we've met you look too different now for me to place you now!"

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“Hello. Jaime. I recognize you, vaguely. I’ve kept my face, but people never pay attention to that once you bring out the feathers and the diamonds - I could bedazzle ‘god is dead’ across my forehead and go on a date with a religious fundamentalist, and they would never notice.”

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"I think they'd notice," says Nina. "Who's that, Richard Dawkins?"

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“God has had more obituaries written about him than most pop stars, I hear it’s the latest fad. Are you religious?”

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"I'm a Thaumatologist."

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“I might attend a service some time, know, see if they have hor d'oeuvres. I’m an atheist.”

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"They usually don't have hors d'oeuvres. Why are you an atheist?"

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“Extensive reading about the evolution of myth and ceremony as means of ensuring social cohesion and cooperation in primitive cultures, and how similar forces can be seen shaping modern religions. Why are you a Thaumotologist?”

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"I used to be Christian like my parents but when I starscaped and I started interacting with the magic I realized there wasn't any explanation for that that wasn't intelligent, and Christianity doesn't really explain why God would do this miracle and not others, but the Thaumatologists know."

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“I can see how that might’ve appealed.”

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"What do atheists believe is judging our beauty?"

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“Scientific phenomenon beyond our current understanding. Microbes. Sufficiently advanced aliens. Our future civilization. Subliminal psionic powers. Swarms, though that just pushes the question one step back. Pseudoscience with the word ‘quantum’ stapled on front. A superintelligent AI with deeply questionable priorities. Genetics, in some complicated way. The people in charge of the simulation we’re in. It varies.”

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"Those don't sound like very good guesses."

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“Most arguments sound stupid when they’re simplified down, and persuasive when you know all of their little details and intricacies; you’re really familiar with how ‘God’ works as a guess, and you know all of the evidence in favor of God existing, and you’ve heard all the best arguments in favor of God existing, and you’ve only heard a simplified account of every other explanation, so of course God seems like a better guess. But then an atheist who’s read a lot about really powerful aliens knows all of the best arguments in favor of really powerful aliens existing, whole books of them, and all of the evidence in favor, and then they probably only know a simplified account of religion, so of course they think it’s aliens.”

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"I think we'd be able to tell if it was aliens."

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This conversation isn’t going to be productive.

“I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise unless I spend this entire lunch period on it, and several more, because the reasons in favor of it being aliens are really complicated. Do you want to talk about something else.”

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"Sure, I didn't bring up God, you did."

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This is not an unusually low quality teenage girl, she does not deserve to be snipped at, magical contacts might be valuable -

“Great. What do you do, magically?”

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"I do illusion sound!" Tinkly bells sound from nowhere.

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“Oh, how charming. I think that my thing is illusory too, although I haven’t tested whether it can be picked up by cameras, I only starscaped yesterday -“

She makes a little blob of darkness above her hand, and gestures it into wiggling around.

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"Oh, cute. Is it combat capable? Mine's not."

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“I have no idea if it would do anything to a swarm. It might be useful if I could get it to be selectively visible and it blinded them, or if I could make it corrosive, but I doubt it. It’s gesturally responsive enough that I’m planning on incorporating it into dance.”

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"You dance? That's cool. Do the wings make it very different?"

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“I can wing and de-wing without replacing them with anything -“ she de-wings, demonstratively “- and I only starscaped yesterday, so I don’t know, yet. Aerial ballets exist.”

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"Yeah, they do, are you gonna do flying dance?"

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“I dance, I have wings, it seems like a natural next step. What are you planning on doing, professionally?”

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"I don't know yet!"

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“That works! Freshmen in college don’t know what they’re going to do, often as not, much less freshmen in high school.”

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"Yeah. My mom thinks I might be good at sales, I don't know."

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Jaime can’t immediately think of a response to that. She resumes reading about coastal Mauritania’s social shifts and adaptions in response to the threat of kaiju. 

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"Whatcha reading?"

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“Does the word ‘Mauritania’ ring any bells?”

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"C.S. Lewis?" guesses Nina.

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“No. It’s a country in Africa - it was mostly Arabic, when swarms first started being a thing, and its initial response mostly involved organized religious response teams, and it has a large enough coastline that they were barely struggling by. And that continued for a century or so, but Mauritania has a lot of gum arabic, and other countries really wanted it, and getting it within an unstable country was difficult, so they eventually worked out this complicated treaty where other countries would extract gum arabic and those countries would help protect their coastline. The religious magical girl groups didn’t have as much to do, and they were really well regarded, so they seized a lot of formal religious and political power - I’m simplifying - and that continued on for a few centuries. Then the whole place was conquered by France.”

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"Huh. Napoleon?"

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“After him. It happened at about the same time as World War One.”

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"What even is gum arabic?"

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“It’s a kind of sap made from a kind of tree, dried out. You can dissolve it and use it to make chewing gum, glue, paint, ink - anything where you need something thicker and differently textured.”

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"People signed treaties over this?"

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“Weird things can become really valuable - magical girls can make it, I think, but the process is tedious or painful or hard to scale or something similar, the book doesn’t specify.”

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"I think all the stuff we can make is hard to scale."

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“It’s more striking when you’re directly trading magical girl labor in a complicated way to get something that you could get via magical girl labor in a less complicated way, implies different things. Are you reading anything right now?”

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"Just stuff for English."

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Jaime nods, holds back a tirade about the fundamental inadequacy of the American educational system, and resumes reading.

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"Are you going to come to the club?"

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Nina isn’t very good at taking hints, is she. 

”I’ll try it out. Once. If it doesn’t appeal I’ll then cease to try it out.”

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"It's fun. We give each other outfit tips and do target practice and flying practice. Everybody in the club has wings at least sometimes."

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“We’ll see.”

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"I like your outfit, did you have help?"

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“Thanks. I put it together without external input yesterday afternoon, and I’ll refine it more tonight, after the dance class I go to on Thursdays.”

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"It's really good for a first pass."

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“I have a decent aesthetic sense. I like your outfit, too, although I assume you’ve had much more time to refine it.”

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"I get help at church. I can't afford a pro, though."

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“Unfortunately.”

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"Yeah. Well, it's not like I'm gonna be a paladin."

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“Mm-hm. It was -“ less tedious than it could’ve been “- nice talking to you.”

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"See you at the club!"

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“Have a nice day.”

And then she can read, hopefully uninterrupted by anything less inevitable than the eventual end of lunch.

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Nina goes and sits with a different cluster of mostly magical girls on the far end of the cafeteria. Lunch ends a few minutes later. She is not bothered apart from people looking her over for the rest of the day.

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It isn’t like she objects to being looked at, but having people pay attention to her for something that happened to her, instead of something that she did - itches.

She flies over to her dance class; her attempts at fancy maneuvering are enough to keep her occupied for the trip, although she finds the actual experience of liftoff a bit underwhelming.

She de-wings, and enters the building.

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"You still have to pay costume fees as applicable," says the receptionist, glancing up.

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“Have to deal with this sort of thing often?”

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"There's a written policy on it. You can magic your costumes if your director says you may but you still have to pay the fee."

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Good afternoon to you too, random receptionist who she can’t remember the name of.

“I have no objections.”

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"Okay. Have a nice class."

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“I’d say ‘you too’, but it wouldn’t really be applicable. See you around.”

She heads down the appropriate hallway, and into the relevant room.

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Her mods sans wings don't substantially interfere with her range of motion and dance students are not unusual in their range of reactions to her magicality.

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Great.

She goes home, practices for another hour or two, and peers at what the Internet has to say about swarm hunting, and the process of getting started at it.

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It is not advisable to go swarm hunting as an inexperienced new magical girl with a pair of stardarters. This can and does get people killed even if it seems like a good idea at the time. If you are interested in this activity you are advised to ride along with an emergency response squad.

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She considers whether she wants to acquire stardarters and go swarm hunting anyways.

... how does one go about riding with an emergency response squad?

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There's a signup form she can turn in at the city's swarm response station.

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Does it or the rest of the involved website have details on hours, potential wages, what riding along in an emergency vehicle is like in practice, whether you can have a trial period first...

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Ride-alongs can come and go at will while the squad they sign up with is patrolling; no long term commitment is anticipated. This town does not pay ride-alongs. There is a photo of some magical girls sitting in the back of a pickup posing with their stardarters.

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She’ll try it out.

Next on the to-do list: opportunities to make money! Her uncle isn’t poor, and her parents send him money, but that doesn’t really translate into an actual allowance or into a savings account that she’s capable of accessing.

She trawls through generic websites, first, and then for specific advertisements and opportunities nearby.

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There is a consultant service that will try to find a private sector application for magic and take a commission or flat fee, whichever is higher, out of what is earned from a job found through them. She could make and sell ivory and the like. She could get into modeling. There's apparently a market for magical girl escorts (of the carefully legal not-specifying-whether-the-price-includes-sex kind) and camgirls, but you have to be 18 and it is recommended that you be good at pretending not to be thaumosexual if you want to make any money that way.

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She’s summarily uninterested in sex work; modeling might be interesting, making ivory would be tedious. She looks into the process of using the consultant service.

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She'd pay an initial fee of $45 for up to fifty minutes of powers testing (it's recommended to have a stable outfit first) and then wait one to two weeks for work options to come back.

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The right order of operations for her purposes is probably ‘do modeling for a little while, use the money to buy the time of a stylist, and then go to the consultant service with a stable outfit’.

She perfunctorily contacts a company advertising their need for magical girl models, through the email listed on their website, and finishes up her book on Mauritania. It takes her about thirty minutes; she checks her inbox for a reply, afterwards.

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She gets an email with a questionnaire about how much she's willing to shapeshift to order, any previous modeling or relevant experience, age, and any limits on what kinds of things she is willing to model for.

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She’d prefer to keep her basic bone structure about as it is, although extra limbs and scales and such are fine; she does not really have relevant experience. If they need a model who’s really good at dancing for some reason, here she is. Fifteen, going on sixteen (baby it’s time to think, better beware, be canny and careful, baby you’re on the brink). She would prefer not to be photographed murdering kittens or anything, but she’s otherwise up for anything legal.

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They book her for a shoot for an amusement park's ad campaign; they have a few concepts mostly based on the premise that roller coasters are kind of like flying.

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That works.

She leaves a note for her uncle, flies over to the library - god, being able to casually do that is convenient - and returns her books, and collects new ones, and uses their printer to print the emergency vehicle ride-along form. She fills it out, and swoops over to the swarm response station.

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It's a small building, two blocks down a sidestreet from the main drag. The guy manning the place isn't a magical girl but nods at her like he sees a lot of them. "Hello there, how can I help you?"

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“I’ve filled out the signup form for riding with an emergency swarm response team, and I’d like to turn it in.”

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"Sure, I can take that." He holds out his hand.

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She gives him the form.

”Have a nice day.”

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"You too!" He skims it for completeness.

Permalink Eye

She didn’t skip over anything. They’ll presumably contact her once the form is processed.

She leaves, flies back home, makes dinner, and settles down to do more outfit experimentation.

Step one: look through assorted galleries of famous magical girls, as a source of loose inspiration!

Permalink Eye

There are many! Formal Paladin shoots, modeling and acting shots, fansites, fashion blogs.

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[A note to the reader: those averse to seven hundred word tags, fashion, or combinations of the two may feel free to skip this.]

Hmm.

If she looks at her general ensemble, as compared to these people and just in general...

... her dress is sort of unremarkably shaped and it needs to be made of a prettier material, her hair is mediocre, her shoes need to go, her gloves are bleh and that area needs more elaboration, her back is pretty under-decorated aside from the curlicues, and she needs more rose gold?

Sketch, sketch, sketch, almost an hour total of sketching and thinking and biting her lip -

She layers her dress, and fiddles with the fabric. The first layer resembles her current ensemble, but with the hemline higher up, and with a more dramatic flare and more dramatic feathering, and without the slit up the side. She divides it into two fabrics - fabric A is a mix of black threads - vantablack, even, as dark as she can get without compromising on flexibility - and a low density assortment of shimmery rose gold, gold, and silver threads, while fabric B is an impossibly well woven net of silver, gold, and rose gold threads, thin enough to be almost transparent.

A solid line of fabric A stretches across the top edge of the dress, and everything below her waist; the section between has fabric A layered on top of fabric B in approximately this pattern, with a great deal more feathering (and, in particular, enough feathering to obscure her areolas, in that region). She keeps her existing diamond curlicues and diamond flower-dots - and her brooch - on this dress layer, and adds on a great number of much tinier little diamond flower dots all over fabric A, glinting and sparkling.

On the second layer of the dress, she adds something almost like a short train, or a cape - no fabric in the front, enough fabric in the back to flow a foot behind her, with a heavily feathered hemline and the fabric itself being similar in character to fabric A, with a higher density of gold and rose gold and silver threads. It has curlicues identical in form, essential character, and meaning to the ones on the first layer, arranged differently - they stop just where the feathering on the hemline begins, and begin just where the second layer joins up - in an impossibly seamless sort of way - with the underside of the first layer. They also curl around another diamond brooch, smaller still than either of its cousins, in the middle of the fabric. 

She keeps the third layer simple - several dozen heavily feather-like strips of fabric B, overlapping with each other, dangling down from her waistline and whirling about whenever she moves.

That done, she switches up her updo so that it looks approximately like so, rearranging her flowers appropriately and trying several small variations on the general theme, and gets rid of her current boots. In their place, she tries boots in a base color of silver, without laces of any kind, made with the same vantablack-rose gold-gold-silver mix as her dress. It acquires delicate diamond curlicues of its own, in the same gradient as all of her other curlicues, joining together at the toe and curling around everywhere else, and - in lieu of a more conventional edge - she adds feathering; tall, dark feathers make it about halfway up her knee, and a slope of progressively shorter feathers do a moderate amount of poofing out.

She does something similar with her gloves - she switches their fabric over to fabric A, draws them back from her hands so they only reach her wrist (at which point they cease to be reasonably called ‘gloves’), and turns most of their mass seamlessly feathery, with the tallest feathers reaching her elbow. Those feathers, in their own turn, acquire diamond curlicues with pretty gradients.

And with that done, she scoots her cleavage down a touch, and scoots the feathers splaying down from her choker a little up, and adds a delicate, crystalline flower, poking its way up from between her breasts; it’s of about the same style as all three of her brooches, but it has a touch more elaboration; each diamond petal has intricate internal swirls of gold and pink, and the silver edging is instead strikingly black. The ‘stem’ of it, dark, loops its way around her torso, once, holding it contentedly in place.

Permalink Eye

This is, overall, a solid improvement; little flickers downward might be actual deficiencies of design or delays in the coherence of her motif, it's impossible to tell for sure.

Permalink Eye

She'll settle for 'solid improvement'; on a final note, she colors her lips in subtle, blended little swirls of rose gold and regular gold, and then resolves to have that be her last bit of tinkering for the night.

She looks up local stylists who she'll be able to afford - even briefly - after the photo shoot on Sunday. 

Permalink Eye

She can get a selection of cheap amateurs who charge thirty or forty dollars an hour, work out of their houses alongside a massage business or multilevel marketing hobby, and have mixed reviews.

Permalink Eye

Damn you, basic economics!

Jaime is getting a better sense of why the magical girl club at her school exists, and why people might be incentivized to aggressively advertise it. She goes downstairs to pester her uncle.

”I need money in order to book a style consultant who isn’t also a con artist or a hooker,” she begins, bluntly. “I have a photo shoot scheduled for Sunday, but it turns out that they don’t pay unqualified teenage girls that much money, even when they’re teenage girls with perks. I want to use a service that introduces magical girls to compatible businesses; I need to see a professional style consultant first in order to use that service.”

”... dudette, could you repeat that? Outfit is lookin’ killer, by the way.”

She does.

”... you do a lot around here and if I tried buying food like you make every night I’d, like, go broke. I don’t mind lending you some cash,” he says. “I give you four times what you’ll make at the photo shoot, you pay me back with your first couple paychecks? - good on you for jumping on that the day after you ‘scaped, lots of people would’ve rested on their roses.”

”Make it five and I’ll be the one to tell my parents about all this, I don’t think they’ll be overjoyed.”

”Cool. Have fun.”

He winks at her, from behind his glasses. She goes back to her room, and repeats her search, this time with a sextupled budget.

Permalink Eye

There are fewer genuine professionals, but the review sites look to be pretty thorough about making sure that they can only get away with charging the big bucks if they earn it in magical output. It's pretty much up to Jaime and her budget how much she wants to sink into this, and whether she wants more time with a cheaper stylist or less with a pricier one.

Permalink Eye

 

She sets some of her budget aside to pay for the 45$ power testing fee at the consultancy place. Following that, she finds the best reviewed stylist who’ll do two or three hours for the rest of her money, and sets about the process of arranging an appointment.

Permalink Eye

Most of them only book by phone. The first one she tries, she gets an answering machine.

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... it’s admittedly kind of late in the day for this kind of thing,

She’ll do it over the weekend.

For now, she can read ‘So You’re a Magical Girl: Now What?’, which is deeply insipid but might contain any insight, and then she can go to bed.

She wakes up the next morning, and - in a predictable move - flies over to her local institution of education.

Permalink Eye

School is as ever! Nina does not bother her at lunch.

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Then she can continue reading this incredibly boring book aimed at uninteresting sixteen year old girls! Everybody wins!

She spends two hours doing dance practice, when she gets home, and makes (delicious) hamburgers, and searches the Internet for nearby locales where she can practice elaborate flight tricks, and for any nearby magical girl clubs unaffiliated with schools.

Permalink Eye

There are skate-park-like places with flying events and apparatus, and there's the Arizona Association of Magic, a sort of sororal association which admits to being funded by the Church of Thaumatology but asserts that it's secular in itself, plus there are various athletic leagues.

Permalink Eye

She notes down a particularly promising skate-park lookalike in her journal...

And she should stop stalling on calling her parents.

She dials their number; they answer immediately.

”Hi, sweetie!” chirps her father, in a merry tenor. “Whatcha calling about? We miss you! Your aunt’s birthday dinner was just last week, we went out to -“

”I starscaped two days ago.”

The other end of the phone goes silent.

”... sweetheart, I’m sure you did the right thing and -“

”I took it. It wasn’t going to make me more attracted to women than I already was - less so, actually, now my dating pool is winnowed down.”

”... sweetie, you know that we’ve always wanted something more - honest, than that kind of lifestyle, for you -“

”Have a nice day.”

”- we’re not done with this convers -“

She hangs up.

 

Fuck it. You know what’ll cheer her up, magic experimentation, she’s going to start figuring out how her darkness works.

She scribbles down a list of experiments, re-wings, and starts out with the first one on the list - she throws darkness at her laundry hamper, for the third time this week (the poor laundry hamper must be mournfully unaware of why it’s the target of all this abuse) to see how large and anti-bright the resulting blob is.

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It is larger! It is darker! She can't even see the little LEDs and such in its area any more.

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She approves!

Experiment two: trying to produce a second blob of darkness while the first one still exists.

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She can do that too, though controlling them by gestures gets a bit harder.

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She shoos away the second blob and writes down this result.

Can she draw a little tendril of darkness out of the main blob, and then proceed to move it separately?

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With a few false starts, yes she can!

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What a good power.

She tries taking a picture of the resulting darkness tendril.

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It photographs just fine. Looks like it does in real life.

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Okay, so it isn’t illusory, or if it is illusory it’s in some complicated and unlikely way...

She wonders if it covers less visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

She shoos away all of her current darkness, strides downstairs, pours a touch of cold water into a microwave-safe mug, puts the cup in the microwave, fills the microwave with darkness, and puts the microwave on for a minute; when it starts beeping at her, she dismisses the darkness, and peers at the water.

Permalink Eye

It is hot and bubbly.

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She wasn’t really expecting that to work, but it was worth a shot. Oh well.

... hmm.

She’s suddenly really curious about which darkness-properties she can intuitively affect.

She sketches down a list of possibilities, and tries them out, in order: can she make a hollow blob of darkness, darkness in the shape of a cube, darkness in the shape of a bird, darkness produced in a steady ribbon from her hand instead of all at once, darkness that fades a few seconds after she makes it instead of lingering, darkness blobs with unusually wispy borders, darkness which is substantially less dark than her darkness ordinarily is - the word ‘darkness’ no longer looks like an actual word and she should probably start noting it down as ‘umbra’ or something for variety...

Permalink Eye

She can make a hollow blob. She can make a soft-edged cube and a blobby bird. She can do a steady stream, though "ribbon" is a generous description. She can make it fade early. She can make it wispier and less dark.

Permalink Eye

These results are promising.

She informs her uncle that she’s going to the park - an ordinary one one, not anything fancy. He continues absentmindedly munching on chips and watching some manner of sitcom, and mumbles something about seeing her later.

She finds a relatively secluded and flat spot - she might just do her dance practice here, now that she can fly, the walk was previously prohibitive - and she practices doing a relatively simple routine with her wings out.

Permalink Eye

They create some drag and change her balance a lot, but aren't hard to get used to on a proprioceptive level.

Somebody has a video camera on him and starts filming her.

Permalink Eye

... you know what, fine, she’ll tolerate being filmed. This isn’t really the level of performance she prefers to have on tape, but whatever. Perhaps she should try busking.

Once she feels like she has a pretty good grip on this whole ‘dancing while winged’ thing, she starts trailing a stream of darkness from her left hand, letting it trace out her movements and setting it so that it’ll dissipates about ten seconds after being made. She continues running through relatively basic routines.

Permalink Eye

She's attracted a slowly rotating audience of about eight people now.

Permalink Eye

 

This really isn’t what she had in mind, although in retrospect it isn’t surprising. Busking seems increasingly less far fetched.

She moves on to more advanced routines.

Permalink Eye

The audience doesn't get much bigger than eight, but the guy who's recording is a fixture.

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She eventually decides to stop - it’s getting kind of late, and this isn’t exactly an easy stroll, even if she’s in excellent shape.

She bows, wings flaring out to each side.

Permalink Eye

Applause! One audience member whistles.

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- she has no idea what you’re supposed to say after this sort of thing - she’s tempted to disappear into a dramatic cloud of darkness and fly away, but she wants to talk to the guy with the camera -

She de-bows and... stands there. 

Permalink Eye

People start peeling off. Guy with the camera packs up his camera.

Permalink Eye

She approaches camera-guy after enough people have peeled off.

”Do you often take videos of strange women in the park?”

Permalink Eye

"Sometimes it's birds," he says cheerfully. "But if I come across other things I film those too. Better to ask forgiveness and all."

Permalink Eye

What a moderately charming answer.

“I’m closer to a bird than to many other things. Do you have a name?”

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"George." His accent's faintly British.

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“Jaime. It’s a pity it isn’t Sunday, you’re an artist and we’re in a park and everything - I’m sure you’ve heard that joke a thousand times. Did you like the performance - I was just practicing, at first, but then people started gathering and I ended up getting carried away.”

Permalink Eye

"Oh, yes, it's gorgeous. Classical training?"

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“Mostly. I also do contemporary styles.”

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"You're very good. I'm not a professional critic or anything, of course, but still."

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“Thanks. Have a nice day?”

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"You too!" He salutes ironically and strolls away.

Permalink Eye

Charming fellow.

She flies home, munches on a granola bar, and checks her email, in case whoever reviews swarm-response-team-forms has already gone over her own and contacted her with confirmation. A girl can dream.

Permalink Eye

If she doesn't check the answering machine she will never know.

Permalink Eye

It eventually occurs to her to try that!

(Her parents have also left a message. She deletes it, unceremoniously, after the first three seconds.)

Permalink Eye

The message from the swarm response people says, "Hi, Jaime! Sorry we couldn't catch you at home. Squad Malachite has availability for a ride-along outside of school hours on weekends; our primary squad on most weekday afternoons already has a ride-along but our pinch squad, Squad Chatoyance, takes some weekday afternoon shifts if you don't mind being called up last minute to know they're on. Call back and let us know which of those works better for you!"

Permalink Eye

Oh, god, they have theme naming.

- she can call them back tomorrow, when she sets up an appointment with a stylist.

It's been a long and unusually interesting week. She reads up a bit about busking, asks her uncle whether she can indefinitely borrow that large plastic vase they procured at a garage sale - "Sure thing, dudette" - and goes to bed. 

Permalink Eye

Nothing interesting happens in the middle of the night at all.

Permalink Eye

She's shocked. Shocked! 

She makes breakfast, moves on to the second book she borrowed - fiction, this time, it's been a while since she read anything with a genre - and kills an hour sketching out fashion designs that never quite lead anywhere concrete. 

... it occurs to her that she hasn't tried getting her darkness to adhere to an object, yet - by default it seems to anchor in space, not to the air or to physical objects, but it isn't necessarily always like that, and - come to think of it - if her darkness actually anchored on space it would immediately fly away from her into the upper atmosphere. She tries coating a wooden spoon with shadow, such that the shadow clings to it without active intervention on her part.

Permalink Eye

She can do this. Now she has a dark spoon.

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And now her spoon is back to being pale beige.

... she can't immediately think of any way to incorporate darkness into her outfit, but the idea has potential.

She calls up the emergency-swarm-response number.

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"Swarm response, please begin with your current address."

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"I don't have an emergency. I'm Jaime Berlanga, I submitted a ride-along form and I'm calling to confirm a time slot, you might have to redirect me."

Permalink Eye

"Please call the number that appears on the form for non-emergencies." Click.

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There's a number on the form for - yes, apparently, there is.

She looks at the online copy of the form, and calls the non-emergency line listed there.

Permalink Eye

"Yellow," says the fellow on the line, "if you have an emergency, please hang up and dial nine one one."

Permalink Eye

What a colorful response.

"Hue to you too. This is Jaime Berlanga, I filled out the paperwork associated with riding along for emergency swarm response, they left a message asking me to call back."

Permalink Eye

He laughs. "Lemme dig that up - yeah okay, which squad did you want, pinch or weekend?"

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"Weekend works."

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"Okay! Malachite can take you along. Meet them at the HQ during shift handoff at eight in the morning Saturday or Sunday, it's nice to call ahead but it's okay if you drop in as long as you get around to it at least once in the next few weeks, after that they're gonna assume you changed your mind and aren't going to call you about shift changes. You can leave any time during the shift but it goes till three on a typical weekend day. Once you've shown up a couple times you'll be able to get their work phone number and meet up with them mid-shift."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks. Do they have spare stardarters on site or do you need to bring your own, I don't think the website mentioned."

Permalink Eye

"If you want to use them you need to bring them. We have emergency backups but they're not for new ride-alongs."

Permalink Eye

"Understood. Have a nice day."

Permalink Eye

"You too!"

Permalink Eye

Click.

She looks up how much she'll have to pay to order a stardarter online, given that gaudy color schemes are a nonissue and she's willing to tolerate a used one with severe cosmetic blemishes.

Permalink Eye

The cosmetic blemishes tank the price. She can get a pair of banged up ones in red and silver for twenty bucks plus shipping.

Permalink Eye

She loves her power - and its ability to turn 'banged up' into 'wreathed with darkness' - very much.

She purchases the twenty dollar pair - it should ship by next week - and calls the same stylist's number that she tried on Thursday night.

Permalink Eye

"Tanya McCord's office," says the receptionist.

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"Hello. I'd be glad to schedule an appointment."

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"Wonderful. When works for you?"

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"Do you have any open slots on Thursday or Friday, after four."

Permalink Eye

"I can get you four sharp on Friday if you only want two hours."

Permalink Eye

"That works."

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"What name shall I put down?"

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"Jaime Berlanga."

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"And there is a fee for arriving late, and a no-show fee, I'll need your billing address in case of the latter."

Permalink Eye

Jaime supplies her address, obligingly. They go through further polite rigmarole, and the phone call ends.

Lunch! Warm-ups! And then: busking. 

She flies over to a much more heavily trafficked spot - though still one where she'll have room to dance - and set down the plastic vase in front of her, with a single dollar bill already in it.

She dances. 

Permalink Eye

She gets a few tips but more people watch without tipping; she winds up with $14.57.

Permalink Eye

She's deeply unimpressed by the people who tip with pennies, but she wasn't really expecting to make much more. The bills go into a little plastic bag, the coins into a little bowl.

She flies home. She superglues a pair of large googly eyes onto the plastic vase, and makes a little sign saying 'Please support the artist' in nice calligraphy out of thin piece of rectangular wood - her uncle does carpentry, sometimes. She double checks the time frame of her photo shoot, tomorrow. 

Permalink Eye

It starts a bit after lunch and is scheduled to run four hours.

Permalink Eye

- so she’ll be able to tag along with the emergency response team beforehand, that works.

She proceeds to experiment with her outfit.

What if each feather splaying out from her choker had little diamond flowers - edged by deep black, with the core crystal being smoothly faceted and some mix of rose gold and gold and silver - running down its shaft? What if the same were true of the feathers fluffing from her shoulders, only with the diamond flowers attached by discreet little rings instead of being directly conjoined? Hell, what if she tries doing the same with the feathers on her wings, with some subsection of the feathers on her wings, with the feathers extending from her not-gloves and from her boots?

Permalink Eye

Adding the ornaments to the necklace feathers is an improvement; the rings, on her shoulders, are less good than direct attachment. On her wings a subset of feathers works best. Glove and boot feathers are improved by ornamenting.

Permalink Eye

She doubts that she make crystal flowers grow directly out of her shoulder feathers, unless she wants to encrypt, but she can apply dabs of magically produced superglue where applicable and hope for the best.

The rest of her day passes uneventfully. She shows up at the swarm response HQ at 7:50, the next morning.

Permalink Eye

She can wait on an uncomfortable chair! The women on her squad, Malachite, and their driver show up closer to on time; the pickup truck pulls up at 8:01 with only one magical girl still in it, and she hops out to get in her car. Squad Malachite talks over each other on their way out. "You must be Jaime -" "I'm Betty, this is Pam, that's Lauren - " "You got darters, newbie?"

Permalink Eye

She hadn’t really thought about the fact that, whilst riding along in an emergency vehicle, she would have to interact with the people inside it. 

This is going to be a barrel of laughs, she can already tell. Or a wine cask of sighs. Either way.

“Hello. I ordered a pair online, they should arrive by next week.”

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"Cool cool," says Lauren. "They match, right?"

"What's your magic?" asks Pam.

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“Something that makes matching irrelevant - I can make darkness, and cloak things in darkness, and perform elaborate dance routines in the park involving darkness, it’s handy.”

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"Huh. And you think that'll cover nonmatchy stardarters?" Lauren says.

"Dunno if it'll be any use in the field," muses Betty.

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“I don’t think that the magic cares about what a stardarter identifies as when it writes in its stardarter diary, I think it cares about whether it looks black. If I’m wrong I lose a week and twenty seven bucks, I’ll recover.”

Permalink Eye

"Twenty-seven?" says Lauren.

Permalink Eye

“Yes.”

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"That's a steal, do they work?"

(The truck has pulled out of the lot and is trundling along on its search pattern through the city.)

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“The website I bought them from has a decent reputation and they supposedly vet everything they resell, I think they’ll be okay. They aren’t going to be in peak condition, obviously.”

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"No kidding. I'm gonna want to strip them down and make sure they aren't going to jam on you before we get anywhere near counting on you to shoot at bugs," says Lauren.

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“I have no objections.”

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"How much do you know about how this all works, do you watch Dart Squad or anything?"

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“I don’t watch television. Or movies. I read a summary in a book?”

Permalink Eye

"Okay, and what'd it say?"

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“We ride around in here and do various personal tasks: when we detect a swarm, we get out of the car and shoot at it. If we get a call about a swarm, we drive over, and then get out of the car and shoot at it. I stay in the back and shoot at it less assertively, and use darkness strategically if I can figure out how to and you approve. We have to be careful around artwork, pets, major property damage, and people; we can be less concerned about the first three if we encounter an older swarm.”

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"Good enough for government work," says Betty. "Which this is! Do you have any questions for us?"

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Jaime approves of Betty’s sense of humor.

“I’m curious about your respective magics. And names. I lost track of your names during the introduction, there was a Lauren involved.”

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"I'm Betty," says Betty. She's got hummingbird wings and feathers in her hair and a green-gold-pink color scheme. "That's Lauren -" Lauren has purple bat wings, purple hair, and four arms; she has four stardarters to match. "And that's Pam." Pam, conventional white angel wings and white robey clothes with a ton of malachite on top of everything. "For whose outfit our squad takes its name. I'm energy bolts, Lauren can make darts phase through walls and there's probably other applications -"

"There are," says Lauren.

"- and Pam's a hydrokinetic!"

Permalink Eye

Jaime takes out a pen and scribbles down inscrutable curlicues on the bookmark of her latest book.

”Thanks. Do you have any questions you’d like me to answer? On a formal or social scale.”

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"Is that a code?" asks Pam. "You writing about us in code?"

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“It’s more of an invented language. It says ‘hummingbird:Betty’, ‘dragonfly:Lauren’, and ‘seraph:Pam’.”

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"...dragonfly?" says Lauren.

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“Six limbs, wings, bright color scheme, pretty? ‘Bat’ would’ve also been distinguishing.”

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"I have eight limbs," says Lauren.

Permalink Eye

“- six human limbs, then. I didn’t deliberate at great length before deciding on the reference.”

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"Why do you write in code?" asks Pam.

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Jaime does not really want to deal with this at eight in the morning. 

“If you could write notes in curlicues, wouldn’t you? My dress has a quote from Hamlet written on it, twice, and most of the other curlicues are significant.”

Permalink Eye

"That's cute," says Betty.

"I wouldn't write in code. I wouldn't learn a code," says Pam.

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“I’m sure that’s working out for you,” she says, to Pam.

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"So why do you?"

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“It’s less of a code and more of an invented language, like you could find in a fantasy novel. I write in it for the same reason someone might write their notes in a dead language - it keeps you in practice, and even if the language isn’t useful it’s interesting and you don’t want to lose the skill. Sometimes I write notes in Spanish for the same reason.”

Permalink Eye

Pam doesn't follow up on that. Betty asks Lauren how her girlfriend's doing and Lauren provides an elaborate status report on her Rockies Paladin girlfriend.

Permalink Eye

Good for Lauren. 

Jaime reads! She picked out a fashion dictionary, this time, so she’s doing less reading qua reading and more ‘looking at pretty handflowers’, but it’s enough to kill time. 

Permalink Eye

They get a call, but on their way to check it out they get a report that it was somebody's baby chicks escaping and tripping an automated swarm detector.

"Those things are useless," grouses Lauren.

"I think they're more useful at night, when nobody would notice for hours otherwise," says Betty.

Permalink Eye

“Has anyone ever gathered data on their false positive rate?”

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"I'm sure somebody has, but we're day squad," says Betty. "Night squad would have a different story."

"I used to do nights," says Lauren. "They're not much better then. Maybe better than nothing. In the day I think they're worse."

Permalink Eye

“It’s a pity. On an unrelated note, would anyone mind if I fidgeted with a ball of darkness.”

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"Just don't throw it in anybody's face," says Betty.

"Or anybody's phone," says Pam, who has her phone out.

Permalink Eye

“Can do.”

She starts fidgeting with a ball of darkness, and moves on to the chapter on earrings. The darkness wiggles obligingly. 

(She has her phone on her, and periodically peers at it to keep track of the time.)

Permalink Eye

Time proceeds at its normal pace. At eleven forty-eight they get another call and the driver turns on the siren and speeds toward the address.

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Jaime puts away her book, and shoos her blob of darkness.

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"You just watch for now," Lauren tells her, readying a stardarter in each arm.

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“I will. Good luck.”

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"Thanks," says Betty.

When they arrive at the address, there is definitively a swarm inside; they can all sense it. Lauren tries the knob on the front door; it turns out to be locked, and she sticks an arm through it to unlock it from the far side. Her arm comes back with swarm bites on it but the door swings free; she skedaddles back to replace her arm while Betty and Pam start shooting with bolts and darts respectively. "Birdbath!" Lauren yells, and Pam looks where she's pointing with her newly healed arm and grabs the water out of it. Lauren puts her bracelets back on her arm and starts shooting through the wall of the house to cover angles that for Pam and Betty are obscured by the walls around the door.

Permalink Eye

Jaime hasn’t actually ever sensed a swarm before: the sensation is novel and unnerving. She watches.

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The water - crushes the swarm bugs, maybe, or at least whenever Pam catches some bugs in the water they're dead afterwards even though bugs can swim.

Presently there is no live swarm left to sense and they pile back into the truck.

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Jaime claps, politely.

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Lauren snorts. The driver gets them back on their patrol route.

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And then she can kill another thirty minutes or so, and then -

“I have to go to a photo shoot. See you next week?”

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"See you!" says Betty

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She flaps off.

After some time in flight, she reaches the location of the photo shoot.

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The studio is busy; there are a bunch of people all ready for her. Apparently they've booked another magical girl at the same time in case one of them doesn't work out due to being a novice model; she doesn't introduce herself. Jaime is handed a spec sheet with the mods and outfit they want described on it.

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Jaime takes out her journal - she’s carrying a satchel which she absentmindedly wreathed in darkness during the ride along, otherwise she’d have to keep her book in her hand and her phone in a pocket - and spends a minute sketching out what she’ll need to change, and how everything should fit together, and how she should implement the outfit and each mod in a maximally pretty way.

And then she looks completely different!

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So does the other girl! They are walked through the poses they want to try while lighting changes around them; they are coached through mod and outfit tweaks.

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Jaime continues to be graceful and efficient and visually intelligent. 

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They take a ton of pictures and hand both girls checks and send them along with a free company logo phone case each.

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Jaime reinstantiates her previous outfit and set of mods, minus some details, and inquires about whether this is a ‘we might contact you again if we liked your performance today’ kind of deal or if being potentially re-booked would require some more elaborate process.

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"We'll get in touch if we have more work for you!" says the representative for the magical girl modeling agency. "This double booking isn't typical, the company just wanted to hedge."

Permalink Eye

“Understandably.”

She flutters back home, devours a deeply belated lunch which is really more a dinner - just storebought pasta and unelaborate meatballs and leftover charred broccoli, she’s starving - and fixes up the details of her outfit based on her assorted photos.

It occurs to her to try producing two streams of darkness at the same time.

Permalink Eye

She can do this, once she's fixed up her details.

Permalink Eye

She cannot physically pat her power on its head and tell it that she loves it; she can, however, create a blob of darkness, pat it, and tell it that she loves it. She makes the blob of darkness grow a short little tail; the tail wags, the blob wiggles.

The fashion dictionary gave her a few ideas; she sketches them out, and implements them.

She removes her current earrings, and replaces them with a different set - still stylized silver feathers, but five of them per earring, not just one, in a longer version of this arrangement, and with all the previous diamond studs replaced by little diamond flowers, rimmed with vantablack, fading from gold at the base of each petal to rose gold at the tip. She adds on a larger diamond flower, of the same kind, at the circular base where each earring connects with her ear; after a moment of contemplation, she makes the base metal form a gradient, fading from deep black at each earring’s circular base to bright silver at the tip of each feather.

Her hands tentatively acquire handflowers, almost identical in form and color to her snazzy new earrings - the silver feathers connect loosely and directly to her dark not-gloves, lacking a circular base, and the second-to-last outer and inner feathers of each handflower connect to sleek, thin silver rings on her pointer and ring fingers. She fiddles with each feather’s range of motion until she doesn’t feel substantially impeded.

The color-scheme of her nails seems a little off, with the handflowers - she adds in swirls of rose gold, to complement already extant silver and gold swirls, and she adds a thin line of deep black to the edge of each nail.

Permalink Eye

The earrings are a slight negative to begin with but it all adds up to roughly neutral (hard to tell, with a gap between the states) when she's added the handflowers. The nail polish update is an improvement.

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Well, she spent a while refining her previous earrings and the new ones are a first pass, she’s not that surprised.

She tries various different configurations, making each change simultaneously with the earrings and the handflowers insofar as she can - what if the central feather made a sort of S-shaped curve and then sharply pointed downwards and the rest of the feathers had more curviness to them, what if she tries less extreme ways of adding wave, what if she makes them less symmetrical, what if each feather’s thinner or thicker or longer or shorter, what if she does various slopes of thinness and shortness?

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More curve is worse. Asymmetry works better in some iterations. Sloping their thickness and shortness just so is good.

Permalink Eye

She’ll take it.

Next on the agenda: messing around with the fundamental structure of her face!

She’s not really enthusiastic about messing around with the fundamental structure of her face, but needs must.

She takes a dozen ‘before’ pictures, and then her jaw and her cheeks and her nose and her lips and her eyes become - slowly, carefully, steadily - more symmetrical.

Permalink Eye

This is a much more substantial jump than she's gotten out any jewelry adjustments.

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Being judged on her face feels much more personal than being judged on her outfit and she doesn’t really like it, but she can cope.

She looks up whether she can still squeeze elf ears into her modification budget.

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She has enough room for that on top of cosmetic touchups, wings, hair foliage, and shoulder feathers.

Permalink Eye

And so she acquires elf ears! Relatively tame ones: she has no desire to look like she has antennae.

Sketch, sketch, sketch -

Her fancy new ears acquire several additional earrings apiece - five helix earrings and three forward helix earrings, each. The lower four helix earrings are small, and resemble the flower on the base of her feather earrings; the top helix earring resembles a much larger version of the same model, and the forward helix earrings resemble smaller and more individually monochromatic versions of the same model.

And then she thinks she’s done for the evening.

She wakes up the next morning, goes to school...

... you know what, fuck it.

She unceremoniously sits next to a pseudo-randomly selected gaggle of magical girls during lunch.

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There aren't enough in the school for more than one principally magical gaggle to have formed. It includes Serena and Nina, who she's met, two other magical girls, a boy, and a nonmagical girl.

"Hi Jaime," says Nina.

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“Hello, Nina. And Serena. And people who I haven’t met.”

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"Khadija," says one magical girl.

"Ludmilla," says the other.

"Benny," says the boy.

"Rachel," says the nonmagical girl.

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Jaime -

Doesn’t need to write down this sort of information visibly or lament her inability to write down this information visibly, come to think of it. The inside of the not-glove on her left arm acquires curlicues.

She doesn’t immediately say anything else.

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"You look nice," chirps Nina.

Permalink Eye

She still can't believe she's actually doing this.

Magical girl contacts are potentially valuable and she has nothing better to do, magical girl contacts are potentially valuable and she has nothing better to do, magical girl contacts are - 

"Thanks. I've switched over some of my reading from history to fashion. Has anything interesting happened to you over the past three days?"

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"We had to take our dog to the vet but he was okay," says Nina. "You?"

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"I attended a dance class, danced in the park and attracted a crowd, rode with a swarm response team for four hours, ordered stardarters, danced in a different part of town with an added tip jar, had a photo shoot, spent excessive amounts of time on the phone, worked on my outfit, and did many other things. It's been interesting."

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"I used to do ride-along," says Khadija. "I stopped to put more time into orchestra practice."

Permalink Eye

Quick, Jaime, think of something suitably generic to say!

"What is it that you play?"

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"Viola. I like it but my parents are on my case about it all the time."

"I took piano lessons," says Ludmilla, "but stopped when I starscaped, I told my parents it was too hard to redo my nails every time."

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"I live with my uncle; my parents and I didn't get along."

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"Didn't get along?" says Nina.

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"Yes."

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"You're the one who brought it up," said Ludmilla, "what's the story?"

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"I used to be a bookish, misanthropic, homosexual dancer. Now I'm a bookish, misanthropic, thaumosexual dancer. They don't approve of any of those adjectives or nouns."

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"It must be nice to have been already gay," says Nina.

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“If I’d been straight I might’ve waited five minutes to take it, instead of seven seconds, just think of the opportunity cost. There were advantages and disadvantages.”

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"Opportunity cost?" says Nina.

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“It’s a concept in economics. Choices to do things always trade off against other potential choices. If you take one opportunity, and it prevents you from taking another opportunity, then the opportunity it prevents you from taking is an opportunity cost. If you use your time on one thing, you can’t use it on another thing, and the thing that you could’ve done instead is an opportunity cost; if you spend your money on one thing, you aren’t spending it on another thing, and that’s an opportunity cost. If you’re torn between buying a cucumber and a tomato, and you can only buy one, and you choose the cucumber, then the opportunity cost of buying the cucumber is not having a tomato.

If I had spent five minutes in indecision, there would’ve been an opportunity cost, because I could’ve spent my time in other productive way. But I was mostly making a joke, because those minutes would’ve been spent unproductively anyways.”

Permalink Eye

The rest of the table blinks at her.

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“... if you’d like to wear bright red, you can’t also wear bright blue, most of the time, so if you really like wearing blue, then the cost of choosing to wear red is not getting to wear bright blue, and you should think about that before buying a red - nevermind.”

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"That's a bad example for a magical girl," says Serena.

Permalink Eye

What a charming person.

“If that’s how you’d like to frame it.”

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"You can wear whatever you want minute to minute," says Serena. "It's not going to be magically effective to change outfits constantly but you can."

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“Magical girls can sometimes avoid costs. Do you understand what I was getting at.”

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"Is this something you made up?" Nina asks.

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“It’s a formal term used by economists, economics textbooks, investment bankers, and other people. There are articles on it.”

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"Do you take college courses or something?" Nina asks.

Permalink Eye

“No. I barely do anything in ordinary classes. I read.”

Permalink Eye

"About economics?"

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Jaime is, as she has been for this entire conversation, reminded of why she ordinarily avoids average people at all costs.

“On Thursday, you noticed me reading about the history of an obscure African state. For fun. This shouldn’t be a surprise.”

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"I don't think it's very appropriate to refer to any entire country as 'obscure'. That's relative," says Khadija.

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“Do you have a more elaborate explanation of why I should follow that arbitrary restriction.”

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"It's not arbitrary, I just explained it," says Khadija.

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“Good for you.”

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"That's racist," says Ludmilla. "She's not just being black because it's fashion, you know."

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“Three of my grandparents were born in Mexico, and I don’t know what you’re implying.”

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"I'm not implying anything, I'm saying you're being racist. Being part Mexican doesn't mean you can't be racist," says Ludmilla. "Neither does reading books about countries in Africa and then getting snippy about it when somebody says very politely not to call them obscure."

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“I mostly worded it as ‘an obscure African state’ because I’ve previously talked about Mauritania and had it confused with Narnia. Can you phrase that in terms of a concrete harm that I’m perpetuating and should avoid.”

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"You're racist and demanding and bitchy," concludes Ludmilla.

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”Meh. I’ve heard worse. Three out of five stars, would be bad mouthed again.”

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"Go away," says Serena.

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“Sure.”

She goes away, and she finds an isolated little spot, and she reads.

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The magical girl contingent mutters to each other and shoots her dirty looks.

Permalink Eye

Everyone needs a hobby.

Her lunch period hopefully ends without further incident.

Permalink Eye

No further incidents transpire.

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Then she can doodle her way through the rest of her day in peace! Hallelujah.

She stops by, briefly, at her house - her uncle receives a perfunctory greeting - and then she can go and busk in yet another location. Her tip vase is now googly eyed and attention drawing, she has a little sign, darkness is streaming from both her left hand and her right wingtip, she’s getting better at dealing with interference from her wings; she dances for two hours.

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She makes $11.

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This is more money than she makes when she practices dance at home, and that one toddler being coached by his mother into giving her a dollar bill was exceptionally cute. She’ll count it as a victory.

She goes home. She reads about a proposed city ordinance prohibiting the feeding of wild birds.

... she buys a bag of bird seed at a local pet store, with some of her newly acquired cash, and spends a while in the most heavily bird-populated park she can find, throwing bird seed with one hand and reading a newspaper with the other.

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Birds appreciate her!

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She appreciates the birds, and the newspaper.

She goes home, saves the rest of her bird seed, makes dinner, and checks whether anyone of interest has contacted her by email or phone.

(Her parents have messaged her through both mediums. Their messages are summarily deleted.)

Permalink Eye

No messages of import.

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She wasn’t really expecting the modeling company to get back to her within a day, but it was worth a shot.

The rest of her evening is spent unremarkably. 

She goes to school - and, in due time, lunch - the next day. 

Permalink Eye

No magical girls sit with her. A girl who was absent yesterday is with them now.

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Praise be.

She flies over to a nearby magical-girl-equivalent-of-a-skate-park, after school. 

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It has various flight obstacles and an elevator to a jumping-off platform and a catapult you have to sign a waiver to use.

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She declines to use the catapult, spends a while dodging various obstacles, and leaves.

She goes and busks, again - she isn’t hopeful that this will result in her earning a significant amount of money, but she might as well. Birds receive their appropriate tithes of bird seed, afterwards.

She doesn’t attend the magical girl club on Wednesday. Given that, she can probably pass the time until her stylist appointment on Friday in about the same fashion, with some deviation - education, flying, busking, bird-feeding, cooking, reading, and bed - if nothing remarkable happens in the meanwhile.

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Nothing remarkable happens. She gets a courtesy reminder call from the stylist's office.

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And she enters that office at an appropriate time!

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Tanya shoos out a prior client, who emerges looking like a peacock gijinka with an addiction to platinum, and waves Jaime in. "Tell me about your current look," she says, eyeing Jaime up and down. "How'd you choose it?"

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“I have an alternative alphabet that uses curlicues; the curlicues on my outfit are all quotes from Hamlet or words. I strongly prefer metallic colors over non-metallic colors, and I make darkness, so this color scheme seemed appropriate. I liked the elegance of a ‘flowers and feathers’ motif, and I considered going with something that invoked arachnids or cephalopods but it seemed more difficult to make that work with wings. I dance: whatever I’m wearing needs a range of motion, and it needs to look good while I’m doing a pirouette.”

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"Good. Thoughtful," says Tanya, adjusting her lighting setup. "Let's see the darkness. And a pirouette."

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Jaime does a triple pirouette. Darkness trails from her wingtips; she produces a modestly sized blob of it once she’s finishes pirouetting.

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Tanya peers at it, sticks her hand in it. "Nice," she says. "Can it stick to things?"

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“It can.”

She waves a hand through her darkness blob and makes a thin film of shadow stick to her hand, demonstratively,

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"How many of those can you do, yea glammed up?"

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“I know that I can do at least two, at their maximum size; they get much larger. I’m not sure how many independent smaller darknesses I could manage.”

Permalink Eye

"Find out, that's gonna matter cosmetically."

Permalink Eye

 

Jaime starts spamming mini-blobs as quick as she can get ‘em, scooting them off towards the side of the room.

“Any initial thoughts, while I do that?”

Permalink Eye

"You can keep your color scheme. I think you're overusing feathers in your accessories - they're fine on your wings and shoulders, your earrings will probably go farther if they do the flower motif than the feather one. I want to experiment a lot with your hair, is that your natural color -?"

Permalink Eye

“It is.”

(Darkness blob, darkness blob, darkness blob, darkness blob, darkness -)

Permalink Eye

"Okay, looks like you have enough of those to play with them. It's good you have natural dark hair, keeping your natural hair color is a good idea under most circumstances. Let's get some reference photos and start tweaking, shall we?" She starts taking pictures from every angle.

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Jaime does not object to this process! She stops producing darkness.

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"Can you get the darkness to form a gradient?" Tanya asks while taking photos.

Permalink Eye

She tries creating a blob of darkness which is mildly dim on top and gradually darkens down to a more customary inky black at its base.

Permalink Eye

This works. "Perfect. I want to give you a dark halo that fuzzes out, and a few more dark accessories, and otherwise play up more of the metallics than the black in the rest of the outfit. Shiny tats, maybe, though some people find them high-maintenance, do you think you can do touchups on them two-three times a day?"

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“Twice a day is manageable, thrice a day isn’t.”

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"Right after dancing and after sleeping would probably do it, plus any special occasion you want your magic souped up for."

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“That would be fine.”

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Tanya pulls references from a giant binder on a shelf of giant binders. "Some people do inlays but I don't recommend them, they cost points. You can't do conventional ink in metallics but temporary tats work. Here's an infosheet about how to make them so they stick longer." She hands over a pamphlet from a rack of pamphlets while flipping through her references. "Right, see this style of flower? Obviously don't copy it exactly, you have your own flower going on, but try two-dimensionalizing your flower in this kind of style with your metallic gradient. Stick one on your arm here -" Tanya taps her. "See if the magic bites."

Permalink Eye

Jaime follows these instructions! Her arm acquires a stylized rhododendron blossom - the petals start rose gold in the center, then silver, then gold, then silver again at the edges, and the stylized stamens in the center of the flower are also gold.

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The magic, in Tanya's choice of words, bites.

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“It approves.”

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"Good. I wanna tweak the gradient on this one as long as by itself it's still noticeable - you're doing silver twice, what if you go rose gold to gold to silver?"

Permalink Eye

She tries that.

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That's almost exactly the same.

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She reverts it.

”Nope.”

Permalink Eye

"More detail than that please."

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“There might have been a small shift, but it was insignificant enough that I couldn’t tell which way it went.”

Permalink Eye

"Okay. That means it's better. The rest of your gradients are the old way, so matching them gets motif bonus. If this wasn't lots worse that means it's a better gradient. Fix everything else to match to check."

Permalink Eye

... oh, that’s obvious in retrospect.

Well, there’s a reason she hired a professional.

She tweaks everything else to match.

Permalink Eye

This is substantially better. Tanya looks smug. She has Jaime place slight organic-looking variants on the shiny tattoo, variously sized, in strategic locations. She prunes away some excess feathers. She makes Jaime try 48 hairstyles with a darkness halo and without and then festoons the chosen one with ornaments. She wants to incorporate onyx into some of the jewelry. She tweaks the shape of Jaime's dress and her shoes, and then they are out of time.

Permalink Eye

Jaime is cooperative and appreciative and absolutely gorgeous.

“Have a nice day.”

Permalink Eye

"You too!"

Permalink Eye

And so Jaime leaves.

She tests out what her new and improved maximum-blob-size and default-blob-darkness are like.

Permalink Eye

She can blob a noticeably larger area than she previously could! The middles get cloudy-night-no-light-pollution dark.

Permalink Eye

She loves her power so much.

A dozen different potential experiments pop into her mind - 

But first, since an idea occurred to her during that session, she tries giving herself a second pair of wings - not the substantial kind, that’d make her encrypt, but rather the kind that she can shape out of darkness and attach to her back and her present pair. Wispy around the edges, going on a gradient from ‘dim’ at the base to ‘cloudy night without light pollution’ at the tips, below her existing set and serving as an upside down mirror of them.

Permalink Eye

This is slightly worse.

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Oh, huh - she plays around with a few dozen different shadow-wing positions and angles and such and sees if any of them click.

Permalink Eye

She can get a little improvement by having them right over the backs of her real wings like wing casings, moving them together.

Permalink Eye

She’ll take it.

She tries to...

... repeat the microwave experiment - with her regular darkness, and by trying to directly produce darkness in the microwave spectrum, and by gesturing very empathatically at regular darkness that it ought to cover the microwave spectrum...

... see if she can make her darkness selectively visible, enlisting her bemused (and moderately drunk) uncle in the process...

... create blobs of darkness which twitch or wiggle or move a foot to the left, without her active intervention, about five seconds after being made...

... make darkness blobs capable of snuffing out candles, or darkness blobs that are cold to the touch, or blobs that corrode paper, or blobs which only block out particular wavelengths of light and are accordingly tinted in various colors...

... form blobs of darkness which react differently to her gestures than blobs of darkness ought to by default - going the opposite direction of wherever she flicks, or being more responsive than they should be, or being less responsive than they should be...

... produce darkness that also blocks off sound (in the form of the television), or scent (from the chopped up garlic she’s using for dinner tonight).

Permalink Eye

She cannot make microwave shadows, selectively visible darkness, ones that affect candles or temperature or paper, or ones that interfere with sound or scent.

She can do ones that move after five seconds, ones that are colors, and ones that do things like move after five seconds even if she's contradicting this intention with gestures, but if she hasn't preplanned a blob's behavior it will respond to gesture.

Permalink Eye

 

Jaime looks up research on swarm eyesight, and the extent to which swarms tend to rely on it.

Permalink Eye

Swarms seem to have lots of senses and fluidly switch between operating with any of them - sight, hearing/vibration sense, scent, and possibly something that's reciprocal to the magical girl ability to sense them. They are not noticeably impaired in operation at night.

Permalink Eye

Oh well. The possibility was worth the time it took to google.

She spends a few moments indulging the urge to smile, takes several photographs of her new ensemble, and moves on.

She tries creating an inky, wispy blob, shaped like a ballerina, preset so that it pirouettes precisely five times and then disappears without any gesturing on her part.

Permalink Eye

She can make it pirouette for sure; the shape is still sort of soft and blurred.

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If it has more definition than a stick figure, she’ll call it good enough to incorporate into her routines. 

She double checks whether she can make her blobs of is-it-really-darkness-if-she’s-making-it-be-a-color cycle between hues on a preprogrammed schedule.

Permalink Eye

She can do that too.

Permalink Eye

 

Jaime has an idea.

She applies a layer of tinted darkness over everything she has that currently has possesses a gradient. She sets the tint of each layer so that it matches the underlying color of whatever it’s covering; it should initially be almost unnoticeable, although she might get some fuzz.

She reverts all of the gradients - the curlicues, the feathers, the flowers, the shiny tattoos - that are underneath her tinted darkness.

And then, after five seconds, the layers of darkness don’t actually move, but the gradients on them start shifting - as smoothly as she can make them - so that each gradient seems like it’s flowing across the surface of whatever it happens to be covering. She preprograms them so that they ought to go on doing this indefinitely, unless interrupted.

She doesn’t expect to get this quite right on her first try, and she might have to do it piecemeal and bootstrap her way up into doing it precisely, but she has time.

Permalink Eye

Her magic levels fluctuate pretty wildly while the first attempt is in progress, and at a low ebb some of the blobs wink out of existence and then that makes it worse and some of the gradient motions stop working and then another blob disappears.

Permalink Eye

She’s willing to persevere in spite of this complication! This seems like a really promising avenue of exploration.

She reinstates her original non-tinted-darkness-derived gradients, and tries the original process again in a different order; if that order also doesn’t work she’s willing to stay up for another six hours or so trying different approaches.

What if she does it in this order or that order or that order, what if she makes the gradient-movement faster or slower, what if she refrains from removing each base gradient and just adds moving tinted darkness on top, what if she only partially removes each base gradient, what if she progressively adds on layers of really faint tinted darkness instead of applying it all at once, what if she tries dancing prettily and adding on gradients simultaneously even though doing that is astonishingly difficult...

Permalink Eye

Most of her clever ideas just don't work. One thing that does work, while she's trying things, is to have gradients be either silver-gold or rosegold-gold with both applied on a gold background - silver rendered as darkness that blocks the golden color from shining through, and the rose-gold as a pink-orange filter over the gold. Once she has that programmed nicely and moving very languidly it's a net improvement.

Permalink Eye

A stylist could presumably figure out how to implement something more elaborate, but she’s already in debt for today’s appointment. She’ll spit on the figurative face of feedback loops in due time.

And then stab the figurative kidney of feedback loops until it dies a slow and painful death, mewling in agony until the last drop of figurative blood flees from its figurative corpse.

And then dance on the figurative grave of feedback loops and - you get the picture.

She goes to bed. She wakes up, the next day, and arrives at swarm response headquarters at an appropriate time, stardarters wreathed in darkness and in tow - she got them in the mail on Thursday, and tentative tests while shooting at trees haven’t shown any issues.

Permalink Eye

"Hiya," says Betty. "How was your week?"

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“I had a neat idea yesterday and it mostly didn’t work out, it was frustrating. My week was otherwise decent; I went to a stylist, busked, listened to public school teachers drone on, fed pigeons, that sort of thing.”

Permalink Eye

"You do look a little dressier," Betty says. "Who was your stylist?"

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“Tanya McCord.”

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"Don't know her," says Betty.

"You could stand to have more respect for your teachers," says Lauren.

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“I have some issues with how public education is structured, but you’re right that saying that was unfair and unproductive. Teachers are stuck in very difficult positions and they often handle those positions badly, but that isn’t their fault, and criticizing them as a group doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Permalink Eye

The truck trundles along. Pam gives Betty baking tips for how to jazz up box mix cake.

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Jaime has opinions on jazzing up box mix cake! She shares them once Pam seems finished and there’s a decent moment, avoiding any points of overlap - here’s how you incoporate fruit purée without a ton of hassle, here’s why sour cream works well, here’s why you should almost always avoid using plain water...

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Betty thinks this is all real interesting and wants to know how she'd do an almond flavored one.

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Betty continues to be the most likable person in this squad, although that isn’t saying that much,

Jaime informs her about the existence of almond extract! And about frosting topped with crushed almonds. And about almonds turned into crumbs via food processor and added directly to the batter just so.

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"Is that like almond flour? My grandma said almond flour."

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“They’re mostly interchanagble, but the kind you make at home is going to be more coarse, and more fresh. I wouldn’t rely on it to make an entire cake almond flavored; almond extract is still your best best. It might just be a good finishing touch.”

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"Grandma said just add a quarter cup to the batter."

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“Some of it depends on how strongly flavored you want your cake to be.”

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"I want it pretty almondy."

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“Then I recommend using almond extract, like I described.”

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"Yeah but how much of the flour?"

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Jaime only has herself to blame for her involvement in this tedious conversation. 

“A quarter cup should still work.”

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Lauren has been on her phone and repeats a joke her friend sent her and the conversation riffs from there.

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Jaime doesn’t further involve herself. She reads; gradients drift along her outfit.

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Pam squints at one.

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It moves!

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"How'd you do this?" Pam asks.

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She looks up from her book.

“... do what?” 

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"The animation thing."

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“I discovered that I could make my darkness colorful, and make it move on its own, after my appointment with a stylist. This was workable.”

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"It's interesting."

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“Thanks.”

Reading reading fidgeting reading reading fidgeting reading reading -

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They don't get any calls all day.

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Jaime sticks around for about five hours and then skedaddles. 

She spends a little while at home, practicing the process of creating backup ballerinas made out of darkness while herself dancing, and getting her tempo more consistent so she can reasonably program those backup ballerinas in advance of creating them.

She busks.

Her ‘stage’ is bordered by fancily moving swirls of darkness, some plain and some tinted silver or gold or rose gold; her basic set of routines is pretty similar to previous occasions, but she almost always has at least one winged silhouette dancing alongside her and complementing or mirroring her movements, and she sometimes has as many as three.

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She makes $22.75.

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That’s at least above minimum wage! Hallelujah!

She goes home. She spends time with her dog - she hasn’t been neglecting her outright, but she hasn’t really been setting aside much dedicated time to play with her, either. Her dog is in turns fascinated and befuddled by squirrels and cats and rabbits made out of shadow.

And then she looks up that one consultant service which is reportedly capable of matching her up with a suitable private sector application of her magic, and starts going through the process of setting up an appointment.

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She can have a four o'clock on Wednesday.

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That works. She schedules the power testing appointment for that time.

She looks up thaumotologist churches within about fifteen minutes flying distance.

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There are two.

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And when does the slightly larger church hold services?

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Saturday evening, Sunday morning, and Wednesday afternoons.

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Eh, what the hell. She doesn’t have anything better to do.

She shows up for today’s evening service.

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The thaumaturge greeting everyone at the door is a lovely-faced woman in black and red with cardinal wings and ebony accessories in fanciful shapes draped like a wooden suggestion of chainmail over her red dress. "New face! Welcome!" she says when she sees Jaime.

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“Hello. I’m not very religious -“ understatement of the year “- but I starscaped a week ago and I thought I’d look this place over.”

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"Well, you are certainly welcome here. If you'd like to take a copy of the Wisdom with you when you go, those are free to anyone who wants one." She points at a stack of pretty-dustjacketed books by the door.

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“Thanks.”

She finds a place to sit.

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The church is really pretty. It's covered in probably-magically-made abalone shell all over the walls and floor, and the pews look like ceramic, glazed in pieces and assembled puzzle-style after firing. Its lights have different color filters over them, casting different sections in various cool colors. A statue of Abigail Lydia Claremont dominates the area the pews face, towering over the pulpit. The windows have a pearly sheen to them.

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Jaime quietly appreciates this.

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When everybody's in and it's time to start the Thaumaturge closes the doors with a dramatic thud and the choir files out of their hiding place behind the statue and starts singing.

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Jaime isn’t particularly impressed.

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The choir sings anyway. When they've finished their song, the thaumaturge sweeps up to the pulpit and begins her sermon. This week's is about swarms and how they are bad. There's another song and then group prayer mostly focused on someone known to some of the congregation who died to a monster while hiking.

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Jaime resists the urge to go out in the middle of the service and return with popcorn. Look at how restrained she is.

She spends the duration of the group prayer quietly deciding how much of her eventual stable income she wants to donate to deworming efforts, and determines that 16.666 is a nice round number.

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The choir sings again, and then there's a Quakerish period where people can stand up to say things they want to say. The first to stand is a woman who's just found out she's pregnant and would like to talk about that.

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Jaime has opinions about declining birth rates in developed countries! She does not really have opinions on individual pregnancies. Good for you, random pregnant woman, nice job on the procreative sex, here’s hoping you aren’t emotionally abusive or otherwise an unfit parent?

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If she is it doesn't come up while she's talking! Everyone says "amen" after she's done and then there's a forty-second pause and then a five year old stands up and says that he's worried about his friend who missed school on Friday because he was sick.

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This is moderately cute.

Jaime mostly tunes out everyone else in favor of contemplating various miscellanea; she makes a vague effort to look attentive.

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Sometimes the silence stretches on for as long as five minutes, but more people stand up and comment on things - some of them have political opinions, or amateur philosophy, in addition to or instead of life problems.

Eventually time runs out and the thaumaturge signals the choir for one last song.

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And then Jaime can leave! She’s glad that she tried that out at least once, but she doesn’t feel any particular need to do it again.

She tries getting darkness to appear with a built in delay, so that it appears three seconds after she takes the associated mental action, during her flight home.

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She can do that.

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She flies back home.

She stares at a stopwatch, goes temporarily back to her non-darkness-based gradient scheme (after taking video of what she has presently), does a few dry runs, and tries installing rose gold-gold-silver gradients in about the same fashion she tried yesterday - except this time she times it as precisely as possible, with a delay on the actual appearance of each section of tinted darkness, so that they all appear very-close-to-simultaneously, with as little time between their mass appearance and the dismissal of her base gradients as she can manage. 

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That works pretty well.

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Jaime is annoyed at herself for failing to think of this strategy yesterday, and glad that it actually works. 

She tries out a few dozen different tweaks on the exact nature of her animated gradients - different speeds, different color balances, different colors or shades underlying them, different directions of perceived color-flow - since she now has the luxury of testing things out without worrying about catastrophic cascades.

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Slow is good. More silver seems good, maybe just because the darkness-based gradient works a little bit better in grayscale. Flow outward from flower petals is better than inward or across the whole flower.

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She takes some video of how her current outfit works, writes down the time interval that worked best, and decides that she’s had enough fashion redesign for the night.

 

... you know, come to think of it, there are probably magical girl internet forums - ones which contain anything of value, even. She searches around for them.

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There are some! There's elementsofstyle.com and swarmwatch.com and pairwise.com and inskirts.com, which are respectively "costuming tips" and "a community for swarm-hunting magical girls" and "magical girl dating site" and "magical girl fan and networking forum".

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Giving other people fashion advice and getting it in return sounds like it could be both mildly entertaining and productive.

She reads around on elementsofstyle.com, and makes an account and an introductory post.

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She gets some hi messages and one "remember you need to post a pic to get tips!" reply from a moderator called BohoRojo.

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What a charming name.

She posts a few different pictures, from different angles, alongside a short video that demonstrates how her animated gradients work and a concise written explanation of her outfit.

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She gets a lot of compliments on the gradients, and some ideas, some of which she hasn't tried before and some she has. The most helpful idea to appear quickly is that she could do extreme contouring with shadows over her face; it's accompanied by a link to the poster's own critique thread with a demand for return tips.

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She doesn’t approve of this forum’s culture - there has to be some more elegant way to align incentives, here - but she’ll tolerate it.

For now.

The compliments are... surprisingly nice. She tries various implementations of extreme contouring over her face, and peers at that poster’s critique thread and outfit.

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The poster's going with a stormcloud theme. The thread is marked "look in progress" and "gentle critique only".

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Jaime adds in a link to her outfit’s associated forum post to her signature, and writes up a post.

She divides it into three sections - ‘minor changes’, ‘major changes’, and ‘overhauls’ - and fills it up with about five hundred words worth of thoughtful suggestions. She can’t manage ‘gentle’; she settles for framing everything in concise ‘you may want to’ statements.

She also fiddles with her snazzy new shadow contouring until the magic seems as pleased as it’s going to get, and double-checks how much of a total difference it makes.

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It's a small total difference, but at this point most differences are small. It's unambiguously positive once she's fiddled with it, assuming fiddling with it involves watching at least one (1) video tutorial on contouring.

Her comments on the other girl's look get "wow wall of text" and "mods is this gentle?" from bystanders.

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She approves of her shadow contour (and the video she watched on how to do it correctly), and doesn’t really care about those comments. If she’s immediately banned that’ll be a mildly entertaining anecdote. 

She spends a few hours practicing extremely simple aerial ballet in the wispy dark of early night - she’s very good at it for someone who’s just starting out, but that’s an important qualifier - and looks again at the forum to see if anything interesting happened in her absence.

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Somebody has a checklist of things people often forget to optimize that she appears to paste on everybody's posts (soles of shoes! magic looks up your skirt! don't have hairy ears or nostrils! make sure you don't have tongue fissures, lunulae, or asymmetrical veins visible through your skin!)

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Jaime hadn’t previously thought to do much optimization of her tongue, the soles of her shoes, or the inside of her skirt; she spends a little while fixing them up, and then she goes to bed.

She wakes up the next day, and arrives at swarm emergency response headquarters, fully expecting nothing interesting to happen for the duration of her ride.

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They get a call. It's an older swarm than the last one and appears in eighty clumps instead of brand-new-size bugs but is still pretty readily dispatched.

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And is she still just watching from the truck?

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Lauren gives her permission to take shots from the truck if she gets a clear aim at a bug.

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She doesn’t. Alas.

She dances in the park. She entertains her dog. She cooks, and does a brief spree of organization. Her dog barks enthusiastically at her; she entertains her dog for a while more, accordingly. She checks the forum to see if anything of interest has happened.

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Someone has a really dumb suggestion about her accessories.

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She doesn’t implement it.

The next few days until her power testing appointment pass by. She arrives early.

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Then she gets to sit in the waiting room for a while.

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How exciting.

She didn’t bring a book, but she did bring a sketchpad; it becomes steadily more filled with sketches and doodles.

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Eventually she is called in for her test. "Welcome!" says a dude in a labcoat with a huge nose. "Jaime Berlanga?"

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“Yes.”

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"I have borrowed some swag for you from our chums at the metrology lab. Let's see what you've already learned about your power first, though - lights camera action -" He flips on a video camera. "Show me what you got."

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She forms a blob of darkness in her hand; it turns into a loose swan, and - as it was preset to do - starts rhythmically flapping its wings and cycling between tints. She gestures it down to the floor. She forms another swan and gestures it down to the floor; it doesn’t flap its wings or change color, but it does switch between being shaped like a gliding swan and being shaped like a strutting chicken every three seconds.

A third blob - much more translucent than the other two - forms in the shape of a swan attached to a pogo stick; the pogo stick bounces. The swan seems alarmed by this situation, and becomes dramatically darker whenever the pogo stick hits the ground, lightening up gradually during the following jump and then darkening again and so on.

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"Are you controlling that in the moment, or...?"

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“I can program how my darkness is going to behave when I create it, and alter it manually by gesturing at it afterwards.”

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"Innnnteresting. Okay, ballpark how much do you want to make an hour doing magic?"

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“... the amount paid by the market? Why is that relevant.”

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"Ha, that's not an answer I usually get. If you want to make a ton of cash per hour right now, that can probably be arranged - it'll depend some on your range, do you know your range? If there's something else you want - interesting work, steady work, creative control, experience in some particular industry, an easy commute, chance to meet girls - then that might trade off, see?"

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“I haven’t experimented much with my range; it isn’t so short that I’ve run into it on accident. I’d ideally like to make a ton of cash per hour right now; you can write down whichever large number signals that.”

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"Yeah-huh okay. I can't guarantee anything off the top of my head but stuff I'm gonna follow up in is things with our buddies in the metrology lab, they might have lotsa fun measuring your thing or things you're darkening or whatever, and with movie and stage effects people - probably movie more than stage, they can't call the show off if you're sick for a theatrical, see?"

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“Makes sense. Do you have more tests you want to perform here and now?”

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"Yeah, gotta know your range. Let's go out back."

They have sticks in the ground at ten meter intervals in the backyard; he has her plop a blob of darkness at one and then start walking away from it.

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“Can I dance away from it instead, it’s been a day.”

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"Follow your bliss. And the stick line."

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She thinks that she’s mildly fond of this person.

“Can do.”

She dances - brisk, allegro little steps, punctuated by grand arabesques and light jumps and graceful pirouettes and entrechats and entrelaces. And follows the stick line. 

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She tops out between the 40 stick and the 50 stick. "Okay, so you won't have to be in the room - we'll double check that in case you do line of effect - but do have to be onsite, which is a pity, the programmatic thing could make great passive income if you had a longer leash."

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“I’m already really happy with my power, not having a range limit would’ve been nice but it isn’t necessary. I can read in an empty office, or something.”

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"On a big movie set you might have to move around some to stay in range of everything, but yeah, for small stuff you could just be out of the way in the same building."

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“Yep. Should I just aim to leave these here while going inside, for the line of sight test, or did you want something more elaborate.”

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"Try that, yeah."

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She does; she twirls grandly on over to the door, shuts it with a flourish, and opens it.

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The dark is still there. "Got windows, so let's see if you can make one in a box and have it stick if it's closed," he says. He fetches a box.

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And she puts darkness in it.

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It's still there when he opens the box again. "All right! Good stuff. Now, is there anything you're curious to test that you haven't had the resources to figure out on your own that we can help you with?"

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“I know that I don’t cover the microwave spectrum, but it’d be - I can actually do that test on my own, nevermind. And that other one that I abruptly thought of. Nothing else immediately comes to mind.”

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"Any last-minute considerations about your job hunt you want us to keep in mind?"

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“No.”

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"Do you want us to give your contact info to interested parties or make them go through us till you say different?"

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“You can go ahead and give my email away, I expect that address to get spam. I’d prefer you avoid giving my phone number away.”

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"Can do. We'll follow up with you as soon as we have leads on work suited to you."

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“Thanks.”

Jaime leaves.

She checks the point cost of eyes that can see in ultraviolet. 

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This requires copying an animal that can do it. Options include reindeer and some birds.

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And can she fit that in on top of the wings, or would she have to remove something first? - and could she do the same with some animal that can do infrared, while she’s on it.

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She can fit it if she ditches the flowers on her head. They won't look that different if she has them as accessories instead of a scalp garden.

The only animal that can do both ultraviolet and infrared appears to be the noble goldfish. For just infrared her options are various other cold-blooded creatures.

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Goldfish have enough variance in eye-structure that she can probably get away with something that looks roughly like ‘her existing eyes and eyelids and eyelashes, except the eye itself is, in goldfish-y style, shiny and completely black’. She replaces her scalp garden with identical looking accessories, and tries implementing cosmetically-improved goldfish eyes.

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She is super nearsighted like that but the magic is neutral.

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There are probably other magical girls who’ve tried out what she’s doing right now, going for the animal with a maximally broad color range seems intuitive and fixing up the cosmetics of that animal also seems intuitive. She switches back to her regular set of eyes - the sudden loss of color is unnerving - and checks whether the internet has advice on correcting goldfish-eye nearsightedness.

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You can do it with contacts (or glasses), apparently, but they have to be real, you can't get correct lenses in starscape not least because your vision of yourself in starscape is not mediated by your eyeballs. (If you have lenses that make things look right, it might still be fucked up in a way that gives you headaches or something, quoth the internet).

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Is she really that attached to having goldfish eyes.

... yes.

She can’t quite crisply picture what ultraviolet looked like, and even if she tries some other set of eyes she won’t be able to see what ultraviolet and infrared mixed together looked like, it was - there’s some temptation to just switch back immediately, damn the nearsightedness -

She should’ve expected to get attached, in retrospect, she still isn’t attached to her wings but wings don’t - broaden the world.

She trawls through search results for optometrists who advertise their ability to work with unusually-eyed magical girls.

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Most places don't expressly advertise that but there's one that doesn't take insurance and has an office in a pricey neighborhood that mentions it on their site.

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It isn’t like she has insurance anyways.

... she isn’t getting that much out of her dance class anyways, she’s working with completely different constraints and she’s getting in plenty of practice elsewhere. If she wants to learn something new she can use YouTube. 

She pays on a per-month plan, and it’s near the end of the month: she calls the dance place, and cancels indefinitely. She hands her uncle all the money she’s earned busking so far - it’s enough to cover the loan he gave her for her stylist appointment, if barely - and asks if he could just hand over the money that would otherwise go to her dance lessons every month.

”... uh, sure, dudette, I guess, you’re getting more independent now and stuff - gonna blow it on takin’ some hot chick out to dinner?”

”I tried out eyes that can see in ultraviolet and infrared; they’re very nearsighted. I need to pay for an optometrist appointment.”

”... dudette, let me tell you, you need to come up with less boring cover stories about what you’re using your moolah for. Say ‘I’m using it to buy cocaine’, or ‘I wanna buy a stripper’, or some story with glitz and gas, c’mon.”

”... I’m using it to buy cocaine,” deadpans Jaime.

”See, that’s totally radical, your wowsa went up like bing bang boom! Cash, kiddo?”

”Cash.”

He takes out his wallet, hands her a stack of bills, and winks. “Have fun with the ‘cocaine’!”

”... thanks.”

She checks whether - she counts the cash - she’ll be able to afford an appointment there on about a hundred and fifty bucks. 

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Yup, that'll cover the appointment. It won't cover the contacts on top of that though.

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She can probably earn the difference with further busking.

She schedules an appointment there for next week, and briefly resumes having goldfish eyes so she can proceed with the experiment she was sidetracked from - she checks whether a blob of her darkness blocks infrared and/or ultraviolet.

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It does UV but not infrared.

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... she wasn’t expecting that result, but it’s promising.

She hasn’t looked at that one forum since Saturday; she checks in on it.

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No useful suggestions; some ideas she's already tried.

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Oh well.

Jaime gets goldfish-eye contacts.

She encounters social drama, deals with it with appropriate disdain - and occasional untraceable boxes of glitter, dye, and bizarre goldfish - and drops out of school when she turns sixteen. Her uncle complains, but he gives her a basket of condoms as a not-graduation gift anyways.

They’re not very useful to her, but she appreciates the thought.

She meets a woman - Alexandra. Their time together isn’t pleasant, but it’s interesting, at least, and the sex is fantastic.

She finds relief from tedium. She shoots at swarms. Her outfit improves. She continues doing art, here and there, and she starts doing on and off corporate work with a company that does temporary interior decorating for major events. Several Halloween parties are rendered much spookier than they have any right to be.

She starts putting videos on the internet; all of them are impressive. Some of them are even widely watched.

She dances.