A Gentle Fall of Cherry Blossoms

J.J. balked at changing out of her own clothes into the athletic halter top and shorts that Cassandra provided, which were nested with various biometric sensors and accelerometers. She relented when Cassandra pointed out the possibility of her own clothes being damaged in the testing.

“Can I get maybe like a receipt or something for this?” J.J. asked, when she came out of the changing alcove. Cassandra didn’t quite take it in at first, the sight of J.J. in the biometric rig was so strangely arresting.

So, I guess it was her arms in the pictures, she thought. She didn’t quite have a washboard stomach, but the slight pudge was almost cute in its own way. Her legs were very well-shaped, and almost as distinctly muscled as her arms.

Cassandra studied her build carefully… as the protocols she had developed called for her to do. She needed as many data points as possible.

Probably a good thing that she took so many pictures of her muscle development. It will make it easier to tell if there are any radical changes.

“Receipt?” J.J. said. “Or a locker key, or something?”

“Hmm, what?”

“Can I get a receipt?”

“Well, it’s all just going to be sitting here on the table where you can see it,” Cassandra said, gesturing to the folding table set up by the changing station.

“I mean, you’re taking custody of my things? There should be a receipt?”

“There’s no one here but us,” Cassandra said. “I’m not going to be any closer to it than you are, so it’s not like the clothes are more in my custody than yours. If I give you a receipt, that changes. They’re officially in my possession. Do we need to do that?”

“I have a thing about my things. What’s so hard about giving me a receipt?”

“I… don’t actually have any paper. At all. Do you?”

“No.”

“Then I can’t give you a receipt,” Cassandra said. “Sorry?”

“Fine, but let’s go over what I’m leaving here, just so there’s no arguments later.”

“I promise you, there’s not going to be an argument over your clothes, but whatever.”

“Okay,” J.J. said. “So that’s one denim jacket, one sweat shirt, one t-shirt, one spandex bodystocking, one polyblend convertible ski mask, one pair legwarmers, one sports bra, one pair cotton socks?”

“I have to ask…”

“I wore underwear, I just kept it on,” J.J. said. “Was I not supposed to? I don’t know how many people you’ve tested with this stuff.”

“You’re the first one to wear it,” Cassandra said. “I meant about the spandex. Did you just wear a suit and mask under your clothes everywhere you went, in case you happened to get superpowers?”

“What? No. Why does everyone think it’s a hero thing? It was a Halloween costume, but I just kept wearing it. It’s… practical.”

“How is it practical?”

“It just is,” she said. “Look, you can buy these things online for like, twenty bucks, okay? It was kind of a splurge for me but I’ve been getting a lot of use out of it?”

“Okay, okay,” Cassandra said. “Let’s just do the tests. I think you might actually enjoy this. I know you’ve been trying to figure out what you can do, speed-wise. It’s time we figured that out, and everything else.”

She wasn’t wrong; J.J. enjoyed most of the tests, which at first focused on her raw physical power using hydraulic presses modified into something like weight machines.

Cassandra’s glasses recorded it all, while showing her real-time data analysis. Augury could extract still shots that matched her flexing arms to the pictures on her blog, for a side-by-side comparison.

Something to look forward to, she thought, then scowled and brushed the thought aside.

J.J. kept asking Cassandra to translate from Newtons to pounds, even as Cassandra kept explaining that she should really be more concerned with force exerted, not weight lifted.

Eventually J.J. stopped asking, and Cassandra was inwardly relieved, and then inexplicably irritated when she realized J.J. had just worked out the ratio for herself.

She soothed the irritation by silently using her glasses to edit a more realistic haircut onto J.J. The hot pink was painful to look at, and the mismatched hemispheres were ridiculous. Honestly, she looked like a cartoon character. If there was any hope they could work together, something would have to be done.

Using realtime filters, she virtually removed the dye, then changed both sides first to be buzzed, then both sides long and spiky. She liked the latter better, but trimmed an inch off to keep things reasonable.

Much better.

J.J. was a lot less infuriating to look at with the filter in place, which somehow made looking at her more frustrating. Nothing about the woman made any sense. Even censoring her face with a blank smiley emoji just made Cassandra look at her arms more.

“So, I just leg-pressed two tons,” J.J. said, when they finished the last of the strength tests. “That’s got to be a record of some kind, right?”

“It would shatter the non-augmented record,” Cassandra said. “But overall? It’s not even close to the upper range of super strength.”

“Oh, yeah, right,” J.J. “You know, I keep thinking of myself as a regular person who’s really strong, not a super person who’s kinda super strong? Hey, just thinking about the numbers… do you think I could lift a car? I mean, not a big SUV like you drive, but maybe a compact?”

“I wouldn’t advise you try it with anybody else’s vehicle. The weight isn’t the main problem, but the awkward size and shape. Cars aren’t built to be lifted. You’d be likely to rip off a fender or door, or damage the undercarriage.”

“What if they put a handle on the car, like they do on airplanes?”

“Those are there for emergencies. If an airplane encounters trouble in the air near enough to a population center, there’s a decent chance someone with sufficient strength and lift can reach it in time to render aid. If a car spins out, the accident is likely to be over before anyone with the power to stop it even knows.”

“I wasn’t even thinking about practical uses. I just really want to lift a car?”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I’m sure you’d make a hell of a jack, in a pinch.”

“You know, it’s weird, but even before all this, you’re not the first woman who’s told me that?” J.J. said.

“I… what?” She blushed deeply when she realized the implication. J.J. just kept smirking with a blank, naïve look on her face, as though she hadn’t just said anything sexual. “J.J., let’s try to keep this professional.”

“Oh, is this supposed to be professional? I really can’t tell.”

“I don’t have much of a budget, okay?” God, Cassandra wanted to hit that smug asshole so badly. She was doing the best she could, and considering what she had to work with, that was pretty impressive. She tried adding a gentle fall of cherry blossoms to the world, but since she was looking at J.J., that just made the ridiculous buffoon look almost dashing, so she canceled it and added an adorable kitten capering around behind her. “Let’s move on.”

She tested J.J.’s reflexes, which were incredible, and her coordination, which was serviceable, but with a strangely high capacity for correcting a stumble or misstep as it was happening.

Her endurance appeared to be, in a sense, absolute: she could run at top speed on the treadmill or punch a padded steel beam at maximum force over and over again with no signs of fatigue and no reductions in force or speed.

“So, your top speed is 33.8 miles per hour, in your preferred units,” Cassandra said. “Computer modeling suggests that if you learned proper running form, you could get close to sixty. Maybe higher.”

“Yeah, I run like a dork. Not much distance running in volleyball.” Of course she played volleyball. The kitten was joined by two more. “I mean, we did laps, but.”

“But what?”

“…but nothing?”

“You can’t just end with a but.”

“Why not? People do,” J.J. said. Three more kittens. Four. “Listen, you’re talking about computer modeling, but you haven’t even glanced at your phone, and I don’t see a mainframe anywhere. Are you a robot, or do you have a computer in your glasses?”

“I am not a robot,” she said. Five more kittens, making twelve. “My glasses are an interface device.”

“Glasses-glasses would stick out less than sunglasses.”

“I have more priorities than simple discretion.”

“Okay,” J.J. said. “What’s next?”

“Now we move onto the physical durability tests, starting with the ballistic simulators.”

“Oh. So. You weren’t kidding about that, then?”

“I was most certainly not.”