The rest of lunch was pretty uneventful, simply me recounting the same story I told Ben. David spent his time analyzing every part of it to death, and speculating on all kinds of things. Bear and Amy joined in, and pretty much dominated the conversation.
When David started talking about White Lady’s ranks, something struck me. She was currently marked as a Summoner 2.1, since she wasn’t strong enough to hold up against Shadow Boxer’s attacks for more than a few hits.
Knowing her rankings as Anima, I was left to wonder why. Anima was one of the strongest Imbued around. The matchup was comically unfair. Like putting a chihuahua in a dog fight against a pack of wolves levels of unfair.
Maybe Anima was pretending to be weaker than she really was to keep people from learning her identity. Or maybe she was testing me, or trying to keep me from relying on her too much. She clearly had her reasons. And some day, I’d have ask her about them.
But right now I was worried about how my mother just kicked all of my plans in the teeth. It seemed like every step I took forward, I took two back. Worse, the cycle started with the two back. I had to lose Erica first, and if Sympathy was to be believed my powers were hers first.
So I got my powers, and Kitten proved they were nothing. I got new powers, and my identity was revealed. Which wouldn’t have been fine, but Kitten was still stronger than me. Get Muwth to help me make a name for myself and maybe find Kitten for a rematch, provoke the gangs into targetting me. Fight supervillains to scare the gangs off and maybe build a team, Mom ruins all that work. Now what was I supposed to do?
I was still lost in thought when the bell rang. The usual chaos ensued as we made our way to our lockers. Cassie and I walked together. At least that much good came of this mess. I was popular and dating one of the hottest girls in the school. Even if I no longer got to bring her home for an hour or two after school. I thought about inviting her over anyway, but decided against it. Knowing Mom, she probaby put up hidden cameras to catch me breaking the rules.
“Hey, mind if I borrow your boyfriend for a minute?” It took me a moment to realize it was Alex talking.
“Sure, if you can get his head out of la-la land, you can have him.” Cassie gave me a peck on the cheek. “I’m just going to head to class, see you in history.”
“See you.” I watched her walk off as I started talking to Alex. “So, what’s up?”
“You seemed worried about something, that’s all.” Alex kept his voice down enough to make him hard to overhear over the noise in the locker hall. “I’m guessing it has something to do with your Mom being at school, but didn’t want to say anything in front of everyone.”
I weaved my way to my locker while talking, keeping my voice low. “Long story short: I’m grounded for life.” Which means there’s nothing you do to help, but thanks for offering. “She thinks I’m too irresponsible to dress up in a silly costume and punch people.”
“Well, that sucks.” Alex offered a lopsided grin. “Think you can get the cops to let you borrow Nano for a minute?”
I shrugged, working the combinaton on my locker. “I tried that. They said something about no takebacks.”
“You go to all that trouble to get him, and they won’t even lend him back? That’s gratitude for ya.” He put on a very good act of a disappointed head shake. “Don’t suppose you know any other supers with a helpful power? Like making clones or shapeshifting or something.”
“Not unless my Mom can be convinced I’m a glowing red hologram of a fat middle aged asshole.”
“Then the only solution is to gain the power of talking to women. Either that or the power to kick time in the nuts. I’d go with talking to women, myself.”
I wasn’t sure if Alex was joking or not, but I wasn’t laughing. Supers gaining new powers was common knowledge. It happened way too often to keep a secret. What wasn’t mentioned was the circumstances that cause a Surge.
The movies usually portrayed it as some kind of ‘special training’ or ‘spiritual enlightenment’ sort of thing. Depended on how the show wanted to portray heroes. The pattern always implied that new powers were earned through hard work. The hero being granted new power thanks to a pure heart or iron will. The villains did things like hunting down other Imbued and eating their brains. Either way, more fun than ‘a combination of desperation and stupidity’.
“I tried that, too.” That didn’t happen, of course. I wasn’t sure that it was possible for me to get that kind of power. What I did know was that I surged one too many times already. “They told me they grant powers, not miracles. And thinking about time travel makes my head hurt.”
I think Alex realized his mis-step, even if he didn’t know exactly what he said to upset me. “I’d better get to class. And don’t worry about it too much. I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
Yeah, thinking, that’s a power I could use.
I grabbed my stuff and made my way to to class. I decided to run up the stairs, causing me to respawn twice during the climb to the third floor. So now I wasn’t hungry anymore and I got to remind the gangs that I can be dangerous. Unfortunately, it meant I got to Home Ec early.
Ferne was already in class, texting away on her cell. I glanced at a few of the other girls, just to see how they were behaving. Other than a few hostile looks from the gang members in class, not a lot of attention. People had gotten used to me.
I sat down and pulled out the homework. I didn’t even need to rush to finish it before class started. More time to think about how fucked I am. Huzzah! And then it dawned on me. I looked over at Ferne, who was still busy typing.
She didn’t bother looking up from the screen. “I can only promise to try.”
“Did you just…” I stopped myself from finishing the sentence. Her identity was still secret, and I wasn’t going to be the one to blow it.
“You needed help with something, right?” Her eyes left her cell phone to focus on me. She had the same not-quite-amused look as always. “You did pay me for a tutoring session. Or half of one, at any rate. Or did I mistake that look for something else?”
“Uh, yeah.” I let myself relax a little. She wouldn’t have to read minds to guess I needed her help. She had some sort of emotion sense, and however many brains worth of skills. “I mean, maybe. I’m still thinking about it.
“That’s funny, I always took you for the impulsive sort.”
Holy shit, she is actually smiling a little. “Well, normally I am, but that’s bit me on the ass enough times that Pavlovian conditioning kicked in.”
“Learning not to do something through negative reinforcement is called Operant Conditioning. Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning is…” Ferne stopped talking for a second. “Sorry, didn’t mean to start lecturing. I did mention I’m studying psychology, right?”
“Yeah, I remember.” That was a scary fucking thought, now that I knew about her power. She could get a lot of mileage out of a job like that, if her goal was to pick up more ‘partners’, or however it worked for her.
At this point, Mrs. Schmidt decided to speak up. “Okay, class. Pass forward your homework and then turn to chapter twelve, where we’ll begin the project of managing a household budget involving a working spouse and a newborn.”
Oh, right, babies. Won’t that be wonderful? Especially since I don’t sleep, so I’d be eternally assigned to baby duty at night. And from there, I had to wonder if my power had any options for biohazard disposal.
“You can always tell me what you’re considering.” Ferne offered. “It would be pretty anticlimactic for you to spend all this time debating and then it turns out I’m not able to help.” She had a point. “Besides, I hate being left in suspense. If you don’t tell me, I’m going to spend all day going crazy wondering what this was about.”
“Not going to pay attention in class? That’s even more shocking than me being careful.”
“Mrs. Schmidt won’t mind.”
I glanced at the teacher. Is she one of the people Ferne had a partnership with? I hadn’t considered that possibility before.
“I have to miss a few days of school next week for health reasons.” She clearly didn’t expect, or want, me to believe that excuse. “So I asked the teachers to give me my assignments ahead of time. I’m caught up until Wednesday.”
“That’s a really good idea, I might have to try it.” It was true, the whole ‘hero’ thing came with the weirdest hours. Not that my grades were anything to write home about to begin with, but I’d rather not have to choose between being a hero and getting a passing grade.
“So, back on topic, what do you need help with?” Ferne’s voice dropped to a whisper, which was the norm for talking in class.
I looked around, but no one was really paying attention to us. “Uh, well, the problem is I can’t find time for, uh, tutoring.” I watched her face, hoping she was reading between the lines. “Mom’s kinda peeved at the moment, so no guests or anything until I find a way to talk her into being reasonable.”
Ferne’s eyes narrowed at me. “So you need advice on how to deal with your mother?” Her normally robotically calm voice had an edge to it. “I’m not sure if I can help with something like that. I refuse to try.”
“I don’t mean like that!” I hissed out. “I was just thinking about, well, a new way of thinking about it I guess. Like, if I was smarter. I dunno.” That’s what Ferne’s powers are good for, right?
In the back of my mind, however, I had to admit that if Ferne didn’t react so negatively… maybe I’d have considered it. An even weaker and more subtle version of Nano’s power would have been amazing. And I felt like an ass for ever thinking it.
“I guess I misunderstood.” I wasn’t sure if she believed me. I wasn’t sure if I believed me, either. “But if all you’re looking for is a bit of extra insight, that’s fine. I can free up Saturday, if you want.”
I did want. Or at least to get all the information first. There were so many questions about her abilities that I needed answers to. “I can get away any time from tomorrow night to Sunday. It might take more than one session. I mean, this isn’t some little thing.”
She nodded slightly. “That’s fine. I tend to expect that of my customers.”
Our conversation died off at that point, and I returned to my traditional activity of failing to pay attention in class.