The bus ride home was no less awkward than the last class. This time, the usual rumble of noise that was the swarm of children packed in a metal tube instead got replaced by hushed murmurs and nervous glances in my direction.
Public superhumans were rare, especially amongst kids. Sure, every so often you’d have a specific hero or even villain go public to make a political point. But those were adults, and usually ones with ‘fuck you’ amounts of money. All in all, that made me big news with little protection.
Oh fuck, the news. How long will it be until I have to deal with the god damn tabloids? No point in thinking about that right now; I could do that later instead of sleeping. Now I had to focus on the immediate.
I found a seat, and my senses expanded as far as the metal legs, but didn’t attempt to look into the bus itself. For whatever reason, I knew about bits of gum stuck to the bottom of the seat, but I was blind to the bus itself. I still didn’t know why my power did that, but I’d need to experiment later. The seat itself was some kind of weird rubber padding, near as I could tell. At least it wasn’t asbestos, which given this school I couldn’t rule out.
One of the kids from behind leaned over. “So, dude, I heard you have superpowers. What can you do?”
Oh god damn it. “My farts make women fall in love with me. Also they smell like lilacs. Wanna try?” I paused for a second. “Nah, actually, I have the power to make smartass remarks. I’d call myself Sarcastro, but I don’t have enough beard to pull that off.”
“Yeah, didn’t think so. Poser.” He dropped back into his seat, mumbling and presumably spreading the word that it was a stupid rumor. Ah, if only there wasn’t video evidence and dozens of witnesses, then he would be my new best friend.
Home sweet home wasn’t any more exciting. While waiting for Mom to get home, I hopped online and my power gave me a full view of my computer along the keyboard wire plugged into it. I could sense them as if they were my own fingers despite having no idea how any of it worked. Then again, I had no clue what fingernails were meant for, either.
Looked like the fan had a ball of lint or something in it. Huh, there’s a possible job as one of those screeners in the airport. No. Just no. I would rather spend my time finding a way to kill myself than do that for a living.
Instead I logged on and tried to find the lay of the land, as far as supers in DC and Arlington were concerned. There were the obvious, famous ones of course. The heroes that were one part celebrity, one part police officer. Various foreign dignitaries and their superpowered bodyguards always coming and going, and all the superpowered Secret Service or whatever to keep that powder keg from going off. None of which helped me much.
Kitten was going to want to know I was still thinking about her. I didn’t plan to disappoint, not when she could find me out of costume. I was looking for the villains I might be able to go after and the vigilante heroes or indies I might be able to team with. Getting on the news would remind her I was working my way up.
Turns out, there were a lot of targets. Even not counting the big groups like Los Fieles that boasted twenty seven villains. Their leader was called Vertigo, which apparently meant the same thing in Spanish as it does in English. A woman who kept her position by virtue of some kind of Sniper power that left her victims curled up in pools of their own vomit and other bodily wastes. She went after all the other Hispanic gangs and forced their leaders to kneel before her and beg for mercy. Thus ‘Los Fieles’, which meant ‘The Faithful’, or something of that nature.
She wasn’t that powerful, not against Guardian or Sapphire, who had invulnerability on their power lists. But she was a savvy leader, and violent crime in the areas she controlled was much lower than it used to be. This made her a low priority target for almost the exact opposite reason that Kitten was low priority.
Eighteen more Imbued were in Lightbringer, the big White Power group around here. I’d have thought they’d pick something a little less obviously satanic as a name, but that was the least of my issues with them. Their leader was a pyrokinetic called Crucible who could set entire buildings on fire just by looking at them. Yay.
Various other gangs, each with maybe a single Imbued trying to hold territories of little more than a few square blocks. Flux was on that list, as a b-list Gadgeteer that nobody considered worth their time. Some villain groups that didn’t have territories at all. These were groups I could go after and get a reputation.
Then the indies, like Anima. Most were nowhere near as powerful as she was. All told, there were over two hundred known supers in the area who weren’t working for some world government. Way too many for me to start trying to memorize right now. I did notice one unpleasant detail: of those small-timers, I was the only one with a public identity.
I heard Mom fumbling with the lock at about a quarter before seven, so I got up from my chair and went out into the halway. I’d still only put together a tiny chunk of the iceburg that was the supers culture in this area. I’d managed to piece together that DC itself was patchwork, fought over by small gangs instead of held by anyone large and organized. Arlington was split in half between the two big gangs, and that resulted in a lot of violence. We didn’t have it half as bad as Alexandria, however; that city was one good fight away from an Imbued civil war.
“Hey, Mom,” I spoke up the moment she got the door open. She backed in, carrying a large brown grocery bag and a small box that proclaimed itself as coming from KFC.
“Hey, sweetie, I picked you up something on my way home.” She set everything down on the counter and gave me a quick one arm hug before heading toward her room. Unlike my sister, she didn’t have any odd piercings or implants for me to try to ignore.
I started putting away the rest of the groceries. Seemed fair, since I got to eat half of them. Which was a question, now that I thought about it.
Do I need to eat, anymore? With my old power, I did. Or, at least, I still got hungry. Since I wasn’t anorexic, I had no idea if I needed food to survive. With the new one, well, it seemed to take a few hours to get hungry after I disintegrated. So if I just did that a few times a day, I might be able to skip out on ever needing to eat.
Mom came out wearing a purple evening dress. She had plans for the night, I wasn’t going to speculate beyond that. She was a gymnast when younger, and still had a slender figure, so she had no real problem getting dates, which I did my best to ignore. But that was a weekend thing, when I was at Dad’s. Laura and I inherited our height from Dad, and our build from Mom. Plus a little extra from a surgeon, in Laura’s case. Being super skinny worked out better for the women than for me.
I stopped speculating and just bit the bullet. “I’ve got something important to tell you.” I took a deep breath. Why didn’t I just let the school tell her? “I’m gay.”
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, what did you actually do?”
“What? Why don’t you believe I could be gay?”
She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Because I am the one who cleans your room. Besides, your sister already pulled that stunt.”
I had no comeback for that. “Okay, fine. The truth is, I have powers now, and I accidentally used them in the middle of class.”
She just sighed. “Zach, please. I have a work meeting tonight, then I have to get up early to get in some overtime tomorrow because your father is late on child support. Again.”
Hey, don’t look at me. All I did was get shot out of a sack. You’re the one who married him. “I’m being serious.” I picked up the box containing the food, letting it become part of my weird sensory power. Good, it includes the chicken as well. I gave it a toss across the living room.
“Zach!” My mother stopped her otherwise inevitable bitching when the box broke down into colored light, rushing back to the copy in my hand. She hesitated for a moment, and then slumped down on the arm of the couch.
“Like I said, powers.”
“And everyone knows? What did you do? Why couldn’t you be more careful? You should know better than this.” Her voice got faster and higher pitched, the way it always did when blaming me for things going wrong.
“It was an accident. My power goes off automatically if I ever get hurt. Perfect healing, but it’s pretty obvious.”
“You were hurt in school?” Her expression a combination of skepticism, concern, and fear.
“Just an asthma attack, Mom.” I didn’t like talking about that, even to her. “In Home Ec. By the time I even knew anything was happening, my healing kicked in. I didn’t have time to get my inhaler.”
She buried her face in her hands. “Dammit, Zach, I knew that class was a bad idea, why didn’t you listen?”
No, that isn’t even close to what happened. Dad said it was a bad idea and I should take shop instead. You said it would be nice to have a man around that knew how to cook for once in your life. Then the two of you argued for an hour while I stayed in my room and played video games. “I didn’t have powers when I started the class, Mom. That’s not really something you can plan for.”
“No, no. You’re right. So what are we supposed to do about it?” She looked at me like I had actual answers to that question.
I shrugged, not sure how to make her feel better about this. If it was Dad- correction, when it was Dad, because there’s no way I could avoid telling him forever- he’d shove answers at me. Most of which could be summed up as ‘join the army and get laid’. I hoped not in that order. “There’s really nothing to do.”
“So… there won’t be any special meetings or having to transfer you to a new school?” I tried to ignore how relieved she sounded at that part.
“The school will call you sometime tomorrow morning, just to make sure you know I have powers now. There’s some law about that, I dunno.” I reflected on what Principal Jenson told me when I was in his office. Wait a second… he said he wouldn’t ordinarily do something like this, but there’s no way he’s ever had to do anything like this at all. What a bullshitting asshole. “Really, nothing’s changed except now I can’t be hurt.”
She looked at me, thinking. “What do you mean, can’t be hurt?”
“Just what it says. I have an attack: instant heal. Some gang asshole punches me: instant heal. I stub my toe on my way to the bathroom: instant heal. Like, last night I got too cold.” Kitten turning portions of me to ice counts as too cold. “I healed from that, too. That’s when I discovered I had this power.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Does your sister know?”
Oh, fuck, I totally forgot to call Laura. My shrug was, hopefully, convincing. “She didn’t see it happen, and didn’t say anything about it this morning when taking me to school. But you know Laura doesn’t like to stick her nose in other people’s business.”
I wasn’t sure if Mom bought that or not, but I’d be calling Laura as soon as she left.
We sat there in awkward silence for a couple minutes. “So. Nothing has to change?”
“That’s what I said. Plus I can’t be hurt. How lucky is that?” Speaking of bullshitting assholes, exhibit ‘Ass’ right here. “So, yeah, you can go ahead and finish getting ready. There’s no need to worry about me at all. In fact, you’ll never have to worry about me again. I just didn’t want you to be caught off guard at work.”
She nodded, almost automatically. “You’re right. Thanks, sweetheart.” And then she was up and flitting about with getting herself ready.
I ate lukewarm chicken and potatoes, and wondered what tomorrow would be like.