The kitchen fell silent. The only sounds were those of Freddy drinking his hot chocolate, oblivious to what my words meant.
I looked away from them, down at my chocolate cup. Waiting.
Someone swallowed dryly. Mom, I thought. I didn’t ask.
“You… are going to register…” Dad said, his voice shaken. “Terry, you… did you ma-“
“No,” Mom whispered. “No, nononono, God, please…” She started to sob.
“Mommy? Whatsa wrong?” Freddy asked, putting his cup down.
I used my power to look at them without raising my head. Mom was sobbing into her arms, whispering one small ‘no’ after the other. Dad looked pale and shocked, Freddy was confused and scared, watching his mother break down.
I shouldn’t have told them.
But I had.
Linda didn’t tell us, and look where it got us.
I wasn’t going to repeat her mistakes. I might make new ones, but I certainly wouldn’t do the same.
“It happened at the cemetery. I’d been… I hit rock bottom, I guess. And then… it happened.” I smiled, feeling a gentle warmth pulse in my belly. I wasn’t sure if it was really there, or just the memory of the way the shards felt like when I swallowed them. “I manifested.”
Mom sobbed harder.
“What’s going on?” Freddy asked, more desperate. “Why’s Mommy crying? Is Terry sick?” He looked straight at me, his eyes wide.
I looked up, shaking my head. “No, Freddy. I manifested. Means I got superpowers.”
“They’re not ‘super’!” Mom shouted all of a sudden. I flinched, looking at her blotchy, wet face. “These… these abnormities already killed one of my children! And now y-y-you… you have them… oh Gooooood…”
If my heart wasn’t already broken, it’d break now, as I watched my mother break down herself, crumbling on her seat.
Every moment that passed, I felt less certain of my decision to tell them about my powers.
Dad stepped forward, putting his hand onto Mom’s shoulder, gently squeezing it to no avail. She just kept sobbing, her face hidden behind her hands.
I wanted so much to walk around the table and hug her, but if she flinched away from me… or screamed, or if Dad tried to stop me… I doubted that I could take that.
Suddenly, I felt a tug on my shirt and turned to see Freddy standing next to my chair. He was looking up at me, his face strangely somber.
“You have superpowers? Like the glowy boy?”
One of his imaginary friends… though I guess they might not be as imaginary as I thought. I just nodded, not sure if I could form a coherent sentence.
“Can you make Linda come back home?” he asked, his voice serious, his eyes hopeful.
I felt a sharp pain in my chest, and then the tears burst out before I could even process it all. “Oh Freddy…” I slid off the chair, down onto my knees and hugged him hard against me. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I’m not nearly that powerful.”
“Oh,” he said. That was all, and then he started crying himself, hugging me back.
After God knew how long, I heard Mom’s chair move, then steps, and I braced myself for having her pull Freddy away from me, letting up on my deathgrip on him… but she only fell onto her knees next to us and hugged us both to her chest.
Then Dad joined in, and suddenly we were all crying.
* * *
A minus 2 hours
Again, we changed rooms, moving to the expansive living room. Mom sat down first, looking pale and drawn, her hair and face a mess as she craddled Freddy on her lap, who didn’t look any better.
Dad sat down on an armchair, and I sait down in one opposite of him, with Mom and Freddy to my right.
“So. Powers,” he said, his eyes haunted.
This has to be one of his worst nightmares come true.
I just nodded, not sure what – if anything – I could say right now to make it better. Looking to the side, I caught a look from Mom, and I had no idea what she was feeling right now, except that she seemed incredibly tired.
“What… what are your powers?” Dad finally asked, almost gagging on the words. “Are they like… anything like Linda’s?”
Blinking, I shook my head. “No, not… it’s a Perception power, which her power fell under, too, but different. And really, really weak.”
“Can you explain it to us?” he continued, while Mom remained silent and Freddy looked interested.
“It’s like… I can ask questions. In my head. I can get anything I ever sensed or learned, and I can know anything I could learn at that moment – like, I can ask for what is behind me, and I’ll know as if I turned my head and looked.”
“I’m not sure I completely understood that… but that means it’s something you can keep hidden?”
“Um, sure, I guess. I mean, even if I use it, it doesn’t show,” I replied. Where is he going with th- I cut myself off before I finished that question. That would most likely hurt like hell.
He sighed, relieved. “So there’s no need to reg-“
“No. She’ll register,” Mom suddenly said, cutting Dad off. We both whipped our heads around, looking at her as she gave Dad one of her looks. “We’ve been campaigning in favor of registration for years now. It would be pure hypocrisy to keep it a secret, not to mention illegal,” she continued – when had she pulled herself back together like that?
“Honey, considering where we live and who we work with…”
“What?” she asked. “We don’t have to tell them, only the government.”
Dad sighed. He knew he wasn’t going to convince her otherwise, but I guess he felt that he had to try.
Me, I was just going to be quiet and unassuming and let this play out…
“There’s no way we’ll be allowed to stay here if it becomes known that both of our daughters manifested,” he said, sagging a little in his armchair.
Dad loved the community here.
“Then we won’t tell them. Registration doesn’t mean we have to make it public,” Mom continued. “But we’re not going to break the law or move away from our home.”
Freddy hugged her harder, sniffing. Mom hugged him closer, whispering to sooth him.
“What if she spreads it?” Dad asked, his face going pale. “My God, I didn’t even think about it, but the whole point of this community is to keep the inf-“
“Dad, I’m pretty sure it’s not an infection,” I interrupted him. Mom and Dad both turned to look at me.
I hadn’t even thought before saying that, but… no, I was pretty damn sure. There was no way she was part of some kind of virus or anything.
Still, can’t hurt to check. Is there some kind of virus, bacteria or any other infectious inside me that causes or enables manifestation?
“Pretty sure it’s not. What I saw when I manifested… there’s no way that was done by a sickness.”
Not to mention there’s never been any proof whatsoever that metahumanity was in any way a biological phenomenon.
“I don’t know… I find it hard to believe, that it’s something completely supernatural,” he replied. “After all, Whitaker and Goldschmidt caused Point Zero with mundane technology.”
I shrugged at that. “I don’t know Dad. All I know is that what happened to me… I don’t think it can be explained by way of conventional science, at all. Not to mention all the people out there who utterly and completely break every single law of physics.”
“We’re getting sidetracked,” Mom said in her business voice. “Let’s get back on topic. How do we proceed?”
I think it helps that she can actually do something now.
“I’m going to get registered, and sign up for expanded registration,” I declared, deciding to make my stance as clear as I could. “I want the training. And if I can help somewhere, even with a power this weak, then I want to.”
Mom gave me one of her looks, but I just stared back at her calmly. As much as they’d used to make me freeze up, they just couldn’t hold a candle to the Hellhound’s casual gaze.
“Expanded registration means you might be called upon for combat,” she said. “I will not allow that. Not while I still have any say in it.”
“I need the training, Mom. If only to be able to defend myself,” I tried to convince her. “And they’re not going to deploy a minor into a combat situation, anyway. Not unless I sign up for the junior heroes, and I’m not going to do that.”
Not like my power seems to be any good in combat, anyway.
“Look, Mom, I want it, alright? I want to learn as much as I can about my power, and about how powers work in general. Expanded Registration is the easiest way to get that, apart from simply signing up with the United Heroes as a member.”
“I’d much rather you just let your power rest, dear,” she said in response, and Dad nodded in agreement.
I shook my head. “No way am I gonna be able to do that, and you know it. This power is a part of me now. And I want to use it. I certainly suffered enough to get it, you know?”
“We shouldn’t rush this,” Dad threw in, seeing Mom’s temper flare (she had this vein on the left side of her forehead that pulsed visibly when she was about to get really angry). “Look, you’re not going anywhere today. You need to rest, and you’re excused from school for the rest of the week, anyway. So how about we postpone this?”
“This isn’t exactly something we can delay, Phillip,” she admonished him, but Dad didn’t back down.
“No. We need to think this over. Let it sink in.” He looked straight at me. “And I want you to think this over carefully, too. I don’t think you have, yet.”
I nodded, lowering my eyes. He’s right, I guess. We need a break, and I need some time to think.
“Alright, you’re right. We need a break, and,” I looked at Mom and Freddy, “Freddy has fallen asleep.”
She looked down and saw that Freddy had gone slack, breathing evenly.
We completely forgot how stressful this has to be for him.
Mom rose up, holding Freddy in her arms. “We’ll talk about this again after dinner,” she said, then walked over to me, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
I shivered a little, instantly feeling better. I’d needed that.
“Lunch is in the oven, sweetheart,” she said. “You need to eat a lot. And don’t worry,” she continued, kissing my other cheek. “No matter what happens – we’ll be there for you.”
I sniffed, feeling the tears rise up, and just nodded.
* * *
A minus 1 hour and 30 minutes
Some time later, I ended up back in my room, my belly full, sitting on my bed.
I’d been determined to think things through again, but really, I always came to the same conclusion.
I wasn’t out for revenge anymore. What the Hellhound had done, it was wrong. Evil. But… I couldn’t waste my time hating him for it. Or pursuing vengeance.
Neither was I going to try something like going out and ‘saving’ the StreetBadgers. They’d chosen their way themselves, and even if they’d wanted to be saved, there was no way I could go up against the Dark Five anyway. Not to mention their boss.
But I wanted to train, to get to know my power better.
Maybe, somehow, I felt like I could keep Linda close as long as I did.
Combat’s not the way though. Way too scary. And my power’s not gonna protect me from gunshots or anything.
“So I guess I’ll just train, and live my life as I would have without my power, otherwise,” I said.
“You sure?” asked a chorus of voices.
I jumped off my bed, almost shrieking as I whirled around.
There he was. The man Freddy had described seeing; the ‘Mirrorman’.
Guy was tall. Not freakishly so, but way taller than average. He was wearing this kind of robe that you sometimes saw with metahumans – it was open in the front, allowing for free movement, but heavy, with wide sleeves and a deep cowl. His was of a dark blue colour.
Beneath, he wore… some kind of skintight black jumpsuit, though his was thicker than most – or at least I thought so, it wasn’t like I was any kind of expert on it.
The weird part, though, was his mask. Freddy hadn’t been lying – it was a mirror, and a freaky one at that. Molded to suggest the lines of a face, it flickered from one image to the next, reflecting… God knows what. I could barely keep up with the images, as they changed with every heartbeat.
“Wh-wh-who are you?” I asked, going into a defensive stance. “How did you get in here?”
He chuckled. “You can call me… Journeyman,” he introduced himself, speaking in a chorus of countless, overapping voices. It was eerie as all fuck. “Don’t be afraid, I mean you no harm.”
“Breaking into my house isn’t exactly helping me believe that. Why should I trust you?” I was trying to think of an escape, but I didn’t know if my family was in danger if I left.
“Ah, true. I tend to forget that problem. I’m sure you understand,” he replied, tapping his ‘chin’. His suit extended to cover his hands, too.
No, I totally don’t. But contradicting the possibly-mad metahuman in my room wasn’t a good idea, so I kept my mouth shut.
“Well, how about this – I’m here because a mutual friend of ours brought you to my attention,” he said in a casual manner, moving both hands behind his back.
My mouth dropped open. “Y-you know her, too?”
He tilted his head to the side. “Her?” he asked, sounding a little confused. Then he straightened up again, raising a hand with the index finger pointing up in a ‘Got it!’ gesture, “Ah! You saw him as a woman!”
“So she isn’t one?” I asked, confused. She’d said something in that direction, but…
“Eh, he isn’t really anything like humanoid. But calling him ‘it’ only makes it sound awkward,” he replied with a shrug, taking a few steps to get closer. “He has no voice or form of his own, only what those he converses with provide him.”
I dropped my stance, relaxing. “So… what is she?”
He shook his head. “I’m not going to tell you, my dear. Sorry, but that’s need-to-know only.”
“So you know what she is?” I asked, hoping to get something out of him.
“I do. I won’t tell you… but I’ll say this much: He might be your friend, but he is not human in any way you’d consider human. Be very careful as to how you interpret whatever it is he told you.”
I opened my mouth, but he cut me off, “No, don’t tell me. Whatever you saw during your manifestation, it’s yours and yours alone. Don’t share it with anyone you don’t trust completely.”
I closed my mouth, nodding. “Alright… next subject. Why are you here? And why did you let Freddy see you?” He’d obviously been able to hide himself from both me and my parents.
“I didn’t let your brother see me. But his… condition makes him uniquelly able to see past many a barrier,” he answered. “As to wh-“
“Wait!” I shouted, my eyes wide. My arm was trembling, and my mouth was so dry, I felt like my tongue was going to turn to dust. “Y-you… you know what’s wrong with Freddy?”
Oh God, please… please…
“Do you know how to… to heal him?” I asked the big question. Please… please…
“I do,” he said, and I felt my heart stop in anticipation. “He just has to manifest.”
Oh. I wiped my eyes with my hand, turning away to hide my tears from him. “I… I see.”
“I’m sorry, Terry. But there’s nothing that I, or you, can do for him.” His voice(s) sounded… sympathetic.
“W-why him? Why does he have to suffer so much?”
“Bad luck. Nothing else, my dear. It’s a random… let’s call it a ‘glitch’ in the system. It happens, sometimes, and there’s no way to predict, prevent or reverse it.”
I nodded, turning back to look at him. “So, why are you here?”
“To help you,” he said. “I’m usually quite content to just watch the story unfold but… sometimes, I meddle. Some times more directly than others.” He held out his right hand. “Specifically, I want to help you make an informed choice.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked, curious. He was offering me information. I was all game for that.
“Show you ’round the block, so to speak. Take my hand, I’ll show you a few truths.”
I didn’t hesitate. I grabbed his hand.
* * *
His strong, slender hand gripped mine firmly, and then he turned around, pulling me after him.
The world shifted, and suddenly we stood in the middle of an abandoned factory.
The abandoned factory. I recognized the old, dust-covered machines standing around, the hole in the ceiling, the big front door.
Linda had died here.
Looking around, I saw no trace of it, though. No blood.
“Why are we here?” I asked him, uncomfortable. This was possibly the last place on Earth I wanted to be at.
The door burst open and…
And Linda ran in.
My heart stopped.
She was wearing a skintight jumpsuit. It was black, mostly, save for dark blue patterns on it that were reminiscent of… of a person’s nervous system, really. It covered her body completely, including her hands and feet, leaving only her head free. And that was covered by a leather mask that wrapped around the top half of her face.
“What’s going on?” I asked in a whisper. I felt hot tears run down my cheeks.
“Hush. Just watch.”
Linda looked around, panicked, for a place to hide. Apparently, she found one, because she ran towards the old machines – but a quarter along the way, the doors behind her flew open completely, and the Hellhound came in.
He looked quite different from how I remembered him, decked out in urban camo and carrying a heavy assault rifle.
Linda froze when he levelled the weapon at her, and oh God, he’s going to ki-
Wait a minute, an assault rifle?
I looked closer. Yes, that was not a shotgun. In fact, he had nothing like a shotgun on him.
Using my power, I dredged up every memory I had of the report. It hurt, a lot, to get it all in detail again, but… no, she’d been shot at with a shotgun.
The Hellhound came closer, approaching her.
Linda opened her mouth to say something – and he slapped her so hard she fell onto her butt.
My mouth fell open, and I felt the heat rise to my face. How dare he…
Linda seemed similarly angered, but mostly stunned, looking up at him as she rubbed her tender jaw.
“Why do you waste your time like this?” he asked, his voice very rough. Like he didn’t use it all that often. And even now, he was more whispering than talking out loud. “Don’t waste your life, child. Others won’t be as merciful as I am.” He gave her one of his burning looks, then…
He turned around and left the factory.
Leaving Linda on the floor. Alive.
What the fuck?
“What the fuck?” she whispered, standing up.
She’d gotten halfway up when a shot rang out from behind her.
And everything froze.
I blinked. I could see the shotgun pellets in mid-air, flying towards her leg.
Whirling around, I saw a… a shotgun, floating in the air.
“What… what’s going on?” I asked Journeyman.
“You’ll see. Come, there’s no need for you to go through the rest.”
And before I could protest, he pulled again and the world shifted.
* * *
We stood in a large office room in a skyscraper, with windows on three sides looking down at Esperanza City.
Journeyman stood with me in front of one of the windows, then turned with me.
And I looked at Richard Svenson, behind his gigantic mahagoni desk, reading something on a tablet.
“Why are we here?” I asked.
“Hush,” he said again. “This happened two days ago. Watch. Listen.”
His phone rang – not the one on his desk, but his cellphone.
Sighing, he put his tablet aside and took his cellphone out. When he saw the number, he raised an eyebrow and put it down on his desk, on speakerphone.
“What a surprise,” he said in his usual, smooth tones. Though he sounded far less condescending than usual. “I didn’t expect to hear from you before our next meeting, Dancer,” he said.
Dancer? A codename?
“Richard,” a rich female voice replied, her voice pure pleasure for the ears. “I just wanted to ask if your little pet project turned out well. You were quite looking forward to it, after all.”
He sighed, his face darkening a little. “No. I’m afraid not. Even his sister’s death didn’t cause Frederick’s manifestation. Nor did his other sister running away.”
What, what, WHAT?
“Such a shame. Though I wonder, how did you get the girl to run away, anyway?” the woman asked the same way I’d ask a friend how she prepared such a good presentation for school.
“Oh, she was already on the verge herself. I just had to push a little with a few well-placed words. Whoever needs mind control powers, anyway?” he replied, laughing amicably at the end.
What the hell is going on here? He wanted me to run away? He wants Freddy to manifest?
“Well, that fits you. But it didn’t help? Maybe you should have the other girl killed, too, and his parents along with her – that might push him over the edge,” the woman suggested casually.
My entire body turned cold. Have the other girl killed ‘too’?
“No, her parents are too important to Humanity First. And to be honest, I was hoping she’d manifest. She certainly was in the right mindset, and she even spent days in it, spiraling out of control,” he said to her. “But no such luck – I visited when she was at the hospital, and she hadn’t manifested. Nor are there any signs that she did since.”
“Would her family not keep it a secret?” the woman he called ‘Dancer’ asked.
“Not from me,” he replied.
A sigh came over the line. “Ah well. Maybe next time. Do keep my suggestion in mind.”
“I will, I will. And how’s it going on your end? Any news from the Installation?” he asked, now sounding more curious himself.
“Oh, yes!” she replied happily. “The Geek thinks project Typhon might yield some usable results soon. No progress on projects Daimyo or Ziz, though. And according to Dusu, there has been no progress on Project Wake, either.” The last two sentences were considerably less happy.
“Ah well, you can’t have everything. Who knows, maybe Skyfall’s newest idea will pan out instead. How’s she doing, anyway?”
The woman on the other side laughed in that strange way they often portrayed noblewomen to laugh, only it was intimidating instead of ridiculous. “The same as ever. She’s in China right now, playing her usual game.”
Svenson sighed, looking disappointed. “Ah well, I guess it was futile to hope she’d actually focus on one thing for a while. Anyway, I have to go and talk to the Afolayans again. At the very least, this whole affair should cement their loyalty to Humanity First’s cause completely.”
“I’m sure you’ll exploit every advantage you can get out of this. Well, have a nice day. Heaven’s Dancer, out.”
“You too, my dear. Until the next council meeting. Cloudlander, out.”
He turned the cellphone off, put it away and walked out of the room.
* * *
A minus 1 hour
Journeyman took me back to my room, and I immediately sat down on my bed, feeling numb.
“Ups, I think I took us a few minutes too long,” he said as he let go of my hand.
“What… why?” I asked him, not sure what exactly I was asking.
He looked down at me, seeming even taller now that I was sitting. I saw myself in his mask, only it was flickering between different versions of myself.
Some of them were very scary.
“I will explain no more. Make of it what you will,” he said. “This is already quite a bit outside my comfort zone – and I’ll have to deal with one hell of a feedback here – so I won’t help you anymore. You have all you need, for now.”
He turned around, half fading out of sight. Then he turned, half his body still visible, blurry at the edges. “For what it’s worth, I wish you the best of luck, Terry.”
Then he was gone.
I put my elbows onto my knees and face into my hands, and stayed there like that.
Using my power, I went through the last few weeks again in detail. It took me almost an hour to do so, but by the end, I’d gone through every. Single. Important. Second.
Richard… Cloudlander had Linda murdered, to get Freddy to manifest. And he’s planning more, and worse.
And I had absolutely no proof to show, only the visions – if you could even call them visions – a complete stranger had shown me.
But our friend had sent him, or at least drawn his attention to me. And it felt right, somehow, what he’d shown me.
I need to fight that.
Whatever Cloudlander and his friends wanted… whatever they were doing, it was evil. Someone had to stop them.
I don’t stand a chance by myself.
I needed training. I needed allies.
Not for vengeance… though I’ll enjoy any chance to get that.
But I needed to put a stop to it. So…
What are my options?
The United Heroes. The Hellhound. The Dark Five.
I thought it through. Then I made my decision, and went down to talk to my parents.
It was time to move forward.