A minus 3 hours
I lay somewhere warm, and soft.
That, those two sensations, woke me up faster than the cacophony of a tornado alarm ever could have. My eyes flew open, then closed again as a violent glare assaulted them, blinding me.
Where am I?
Home; my bedroom, my bed.
It wasn’t a voice that answered me – no, the information simply appeared within my mind, both the words and images of my room from the perspective of lying on my bed and looking around.
A sharp, bell-like pain rang through my head the moment I finished forming the question, almost making me cry out. It wasn’t the worst pain I’d ever felt, but it was extremely uncomfortable.
Are you my power?
Again, the pain shot through my head.
I stopped asking questions, thinking for a moment – my earlier questions had been answered immediately, the moment I’d finished forming the question in my mind. But the last two had only hurt me. Did I perhaps have only a limited number of questions I could ask over a certain timespan?
Maybe I should just simplify it.
Did my power provide me with the earlier answers to my questions?
Is my power a distinct being I can address?
Well, that put a lid on that. I’d almost been hoping it could talk to me, much like… well my ‘friend’ had.
Massive headache. I almost screamed out as an ice pick made of raw pain stabbed my brain.
Too big. Too broad a question. I had to keep them simpler, more focused.
She’d said my power would be stunted. Small. That probably meant I was in the Exemplar tier. Perhaps even at its bottom. My power seemed to belong to the Perception class – at least as far as I understood it. So where did that leave me?
Headache again. Damn it, but I had to be careful about asking questions in my mind. I had to consciously keep them away from my power if they were too complex for it.
But… it should at least be able to analyze itself.
What kind of questions can I ask?
I can ask for any memory I have ever made. I can ask for any aspect of my current physical state. I can ask for any sensory information I could have at the moment I ask the question. I can ask for any information to be processed by any means I have ever aquired. I can only ask a single, distinct question at a time.
That was the longest answer it had given me yet. I should count myself lucky, I guess, that my power at least understood itself.
I’d heard way too many stories about metahumans who had no idea how to use their powers. They were some of Humanity First’s favourite propaganda tools.
What am I wearing?
This time, I got a multi-layered answer. My power connected the sensation of the nightgown I was wearing with sensations in my memory, connecting it to the right item. I also got an image of me looking down my body by lifting my blanket, and saw it that way, too. It also did the same for my panties.
It was my favourite nightgown, a semi-sheer amber-coloured silk piece that fell to my knees. I’d bought it because I’d thought I’d look hot in it, but it was so revealing my mother had forbidden me from wearing it outside my own room, even when there was only family in the house. Linda had a matching gown. We’d fantasized, some times, how our boyfriends would react if they saw us in them (though that could only work if we’d ever get ourselves some boyfriends, which hadn’t happened yet).
The memories of us two sitting together in those nightgowns and talking of our fantasies hit me like a train, and I heard myself sob as tears welled out of my eyes… but it was only grief. None of the all-consuming rage, or the depression, that had been driving me over the last two weeks.
Blinking, I finally opened my eyes and looked around. The light that had blinded me had been the noon sun, shining brightly through our room’s one big window. Once my eyes adjusted, I found our room as it had always been. Someone, probably Mom, had picked up the pieces of the torn dress I’d left on the floor, too.
A dull pain shot through my shoulder as I turned my head, and I winced. I’d mostly been ignoring my left shoulder since I’d run away from the hospital, and I’d felt miserable enough that it’d been easy to ignore the ongoing pain – and when I felt it, I’d thought myself deserving of it.
By carefully unbuttoning the top of gown and pulling it off my left shoulder, I saw that the bandages were clean and fresh.
How does it look beneath the bandages?
I saw an image of the bandages untied, the closing wound revealed. It had an angry, purple colour, but was healing far faster than I’d have expected. I’d probably still get one hell of a scar, though.
Good. I don’t ever want to forget how stupid I was.
There also was a strange, flat pad made of some soft material and covered in blue, slime-like stuff that also covered the wound. My left arm felt numb all over. An anaesthetic? Headache. Ow.
Got to practice not asking every question with my power.
I groaned, pulling the gown back up and buttoning it closed before I stacked some pillows against the headrest of the bed and sat up straighter, leaning against them. Now that I’d woken up properly, I noticed that was really thirsty. Fortunately, they’d thought to give me a glass and a bottle of water, both standing on the small table next to my bed.
Opening the bottle with only one properly functioning hand was a small chore, but the cool, clear water was totally worth it. I put the empty glass back on the table, filled it up for later and set the bottle aside.
Feeling quite better now, I finally turned my thoughts to my current situation.
I was back home. How? Who’d found me? Why wasn’t I at the hospital? How long had I been unconscious?
Thirteen hours, thirty-two minutes, fifteen seconds.
Huh. That had been oddly specific, and how did my power know that anyway?
So, sometime after… swallowing the shards (somehow, that just sounded wrong)… I’d been found at the graveyard by someone, someone who’d called my parents… though they might also just have gone there to visit Linda’s grave. They’d taken me home, and I’d also obviously been treated by a professional, as well as washed and clothed, all without waking up.
God, I must have been completely out of it.
Just then, I heard light steps outside and the door opened a bit.
For just a moment, I saw large, brown-gold eyes peek in, then a cheer and Freddy charged into the room, jumping into my chest.
“Uff! Careful!” I gasped, catching him as his thin arms closed around my midsection like a weak vise, his face buried in my nightgown. I hugged him back as gently as I could. The motion brought a fresh jolt of pain to my shoulder, but I’d missed Freddy. It’d been almost two weeks since the last time I’d hugged him, and that was not good. “Hello Freddy,” I whispered, kissing the top of his head. His hair was rough, wiry and had superpowers of its own – there was no sense in trying to comb it, ever, so Mom just cut it really short and hoped for the best.
“I missed you, Terry,” he whispered, without letting go. “I thought you’d gone away, like Linda,” he added miserably.
I felt like the Hellhound shot me all over again. What had I been thinking, doing that to Freddy?
My arms tightened around him. “I wouldn’t just leave you, Freddy. Promise.”
“Linda did. She went away, I don’t know where to find her I’ve looked everywhere!” he replied, half angry and half sad.
He doesn’t get it. I didn’t know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
But there were more important things to say. “Linda didn’t want to go, munchkin,” I said pulling him up so his face rested on my shoulder, his arms wrapped around my neck. “Don’t think for a moment that she didn’t want to be with you.”
Freddy sobbed, his grip tightening, just as I heard someone coming up the stairs.
“Freddy! Where are you? I hope you’re not trying to wake Terry up again!” Mom. She sounded way better than the last time I’d seen her.
When Freddy didn’t answer, she sped up, almost running to come inside – and stopped dead when she saw us.
She’d obviously been crying a lot. Mom’s eyes were puffy and red, her hair was not quite perfectly arranged in her usual bun and she’d definitely not coordinated her outfit – wearing a tear-stained blue shirt that belonged to Dad and looked like a tent on her. I couldn’t even tell if she was wearing anything underneath it, because it fell down to her knees.
“Terry!” she shouted and pretty much ran over to all but jump onto my bed and hug Freddy and me both. I didn’t even get a chance to reply before she showered me with so many kisses, my face felt like it’d been drenched in water.
“Mom! It’s alright, calm down!” I protested, weakly. I didn’t really mind.
Being touched again, like that, feeling safe, loved… I’d had no idea how much I’d been taking for granted. It felt good in such a simple way, I’d never even noticed it before.
She didn’t stop kissing me for almost… how long, actually?
Then she leaned back, never taking her left hand off my right shoulder, nor the right one off my cheek. “Oh Terry, how could you just… you scared me so!” she said. Tears were rolling down her cheeks, and I belatedly realized that I’d been crying for quite a while now, too.
I threw my arms around her, making Freddy protest when I crushed him between us, burying my face in Mom’s shoulder.
We spent three minutes and twenty-three seconds (I liked my power more and more with every question I asked) like that, until we I heard Dad’s heavy steps, and he entered the room, fully dressed up in his usual sharp three-piece.
Mom’s breath caught, and she tensed up. As did I, and Dad too. Only Freddy didn’t notice the charged atmosphere in the room.
“Hey Dad,” I said by way of greeting. Weak.
“Hello, Terry,” he replied. Not much better.
We looked awkwardly at each other. Mom slid out of our embrace and sat at the end of the bed, kind of in the middle between him and me. Freddy still wouldn’t let go.
I just looked at Dad. What should I say?
Just talk, dummy.
I couldn’t tell if that was my power or just my own thoughts.
We just looked at each other for a while.
He looked away first, whispering something.
What did he say?
He said ‘I’m sorry’.
Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever heard dad apologize to me over… anything.
My mouth opened, a little, and I looked at him some more.
“Why’s everyone so quiet!?” Freddy spoke up, making us all flinch as he broke the uncomfortable silence.
I looked down at him, trying to pull him off. “We just need to… talk a little. Will you let go of me?”
“No! No no no!” he shouted, hugging me even harder. “You’ll just go away again!” he cried out.
“Freddy, I promised I’d stay, remember? You don’t have to be afraid,” I tried to calm him down, already feeling a tremble in his limbs. I rubbed his back, kissing his head as Mom slid closer and hugged him, too.
Slowly, we coaxed him into switching from me to Mom, hugging her instead, sniffing.
He deserves better than this.
When I was finally free, I threw the blanket back and rose, while Dad looked aside. This gown really wasn’t appropriate for wearing around anyone but my sister.
Using my power, I easily picked out my favourite clothes for indoors – a pair of grey sweatpants and a yellow shirt with Silvester the Cat on the front – as well as some comfortable underwear and put them on. Then I turned around and walked up to Dad, until my bare toes were almost touching his polished shoes. Does he have a business meeting today?
Huh. How come I could know that?
I could just ask him and he’d tell me right now.
“I heard what you just whispered.” Not the strongest opening line, but there. He looked at me, uncomfortable. Neither of us was big on apologizing for things we’d done. “And I… I’m sorry, too.”
He gave a start, then looked straight at me, his eyes – which I’d inherited – sad. “No, Terry,” he said, his voice rough. “You made some pretty stupid mistakes, yes, but… it was me and your Mom who drove you to them.” He threw a glance at Mom, who was just watching us nervously while simultaneously trying to keep Freddy calm.
I nodded, not sure what to say. This all felt so… strange. I’d never talked with him like this.
“I don’t agree with your decisions, and I’d sure like to read the riot act to you, but… I blame myself, mostly. I’m sorry about how I acted at the hospital – I was way out of line, but I was just so… so… scared. That I’d lose you, too.” He raked his fingers over his meticulously shaved head.
“Ohhh, you… you idiot!” I shouted, throwing myself at him. He gasped in surprise as my arms wrapped around his neck and I buried my face in his broad, strong shoulder.
Before I knew it, I was bawling my eyes out against his shoulder, and he hugged me hard, all but crushing me as he lifted me off the floor.
Five minutes and seventeen seconds later, I finally eased up on my grip, and he put me down again.
I smiled up at him, he smiled back, and the world was a little more right again.
Mom joined us with Freddy, and we did one of those corny group hugs, and it got even more right.
* * *
We all ended up in the kitchen. Mom melted down some chocolate, and we were all nursing steaming hot cups of chocolaty goodness. Even Freddy (his latest fit had finally given him his taste for chocolate again).
I’d spent the last few minutes (twelve, and fifteen seconds) summarizing everything that had happened since I’d stormed out of the house, up to when I’d collapsed on the grave (I didn’t tell them about manifesting. That was a bomb I didn’t want to drop just yet).
“So, uh, how did you find me? And why am I here, and not at the hospital?” I finally asked.
“We got a phone call,” Dad replied. “Someone had found you, and he called us. Wasn’t there when we arrived, though.”
Freddy looked up, just as I said, “Huh, strange, I wo-“
“The funny man with the mirror!” Freddy shouted.
We all turned to look at him, while Dad sighed and Mom reached out to stroke his hair. “There was no man with a mirror there, honey. You just saw things again,” she said soothingly.
I looked closely at Freddy. I wasn’t so sure anymore. He sees stars… like I did, when I manifested. “What man with a mirror, Freddy?”
“He was tall! And he was wearing this big blue… that thing like a cape, only it had… these,” He pointed at his sleeves, “And it had a big hood! Like Red Riding Hood, only blue! And he had a mirror as a face, and I saw all these funny things inside!”
“What funny things?” I inquired further.
“Terry, you know it’s not good to reinforce him when he does this,” Mom admonished me, but I continued.
“What did the mirrorman do, Freddy?”
“He waved at me! And he made a ‘hush’ sign!” he said brightly, back to his usual happier self, now that the mood had lightened.
“And then he left?” I asked further.
He shook his head. “No no, he’s come along with us! He was in the car, showing me funny things in his face!”
I stood up, abruptly. “Freddy, where is the mirrorman now?”
Mom and Dad were on edge now, too. Freddy didn’t notice, pointing brightly at a corner of the kitchen. I walked over to it.
He nodded. “Yes, he’s right in front of you, looking at you!”
I reached out, but found nothing there.
Freddy’s face fell. “Awww, he just walked into the wall. I didn’t know he could do that!”
I shook my head, relaxing and going back to my seat. “Alright… we deal with the spooky mirrorface man later, provided he is real,” I said. “Why am I not in the hospital?”
Dad raised an eyebrow. “You think I was going to leave you there, after they just let you walk out last time? I told them to send a doctor here, and he took care of you. Said it was a miracle your wound didn’t get infected.”
“What… what’s next?” Mom asked. She’d barely said anything. “I mean, are you done? Or do you still want to…”
I sighed, looking down. “Revenge? I don’t… I don’t want revenge anymore. But… tomorrow I’ll go to the United Heroes’ headquarters and register myself.”