The first thing I decided about flying was that it sucked. It felt like I was falling head first away from the ground. With a thought I came to a standstill in midair. Light pulsed out from my skin, highlighting every vein and artery. For some reason, the glow had gone from yellow to teal. I willed myself forward before I lost track of Dad’s car.
Another burst of stomach wrenching nausea hit me. Four seconds of slow flight had me ready to hurl all over the ground below. If I throw up, is that going to glow, too? I almost giggled at the thought.
On the third try, I just allowed myself to drift forward as slow as my power would allow. It didn’t take long to decide the ‘Superman’ pose did not work for me. I couldn’t see where I was going without straining my neck, and the whole thing made me feel sick to my stomach.
The ‘upright’ stance didn’t work well, either. It was better, but made me feel like I was falling face first into oblivion. I looked down at the city below me and remembered a phrase from an old book: the enemy gate is down. It sounded stupid, but it was worth a shot. I let myself drift onto my back and ‘fell’ feet first.
It was still unpleasant on so many levels, but by far the least bad thing I tried. I twisted around, now facing the ground as I flew feet first after the vehicle. From this perspective, it felt more like I was standing there watching the scenery rushed past me. Reminded me of playing a top-down management game of some sort. I could almost picture myself scrolling across the landscape on a computer screen.
Now that I could fly without hurling all over everything, it didn’t take long to catch up to the car. Right up until I dropped out of the sky like a rock. The warm teal light from my veins was replaced by cold blue light. For some stupid reason, I was more terrified by that than the ground rushing up to meet me.
No! I can’t die right after getting my powers! Help me! While my limbs flailed to find something to grab onto, my mind cried for whatever force gave me my powers in the first place. Neither strategy had any luck. A heartbeat from hitting the earth, my power kicked back on; dim, but active. Not enough to halt my fall, but I could shield my body in the moment before I hit the ground.
I wish I could say I hit the ground like a comet, then got up and brushed myself off before climbing out of the crater, but that’s not what happened. No, instead I lay in the grass sobbing against the earth like a frightened baby clinging to its mother.
“Are you okay?” My eyes shot open. I had her voice memorized. Starfall saw everything.
I reached for my diminished power, using it to pull my arms out of the earth. My arms hurt, there were flecks of teal light proving that my blood did indeed glow after it left my body. “Yeah, I’m good.” I put my effort into maintaining my glow; I could hold that much strength together without running out of power. I forced myself to stand and face my childhood idol.
In the eerie blue-green light my power was casting, I could see Starfall’s look of fear. She’s actually scared of me.
I brushed myself off as best I could while ignoring the stinging sensation of my many scrapes. The shield barely soaked the impact with the ground, leaving me looking like I just rolled down a cliff. “This flying thing is trickier than it looks.”
I would have smiled, but the taste of blood in my mouth made me think that would be more creepy than reassuring. “It’s really cool to meet you.” I almost said I was a fan, but that might have clued her in on my identity.
Starfall took a breath. “Okay, let’s get the legal crap out of the way first. I’m not Starfall.”
What. “C-come again.”
“My name is Allen Ochoa. I’m a personal double,” she- he, apparently- said. “I have Infiltrator powers, low level shapeshifting to be specific. My job, all legal and above board, is to attend social events while impersonating a client.”
The. Actual. Fuck. “That’s legal?”
“There are some pretty strict regulations,” he said. It was really weird trying to think of him as a guy when he had a cover model figure. “But, yes, as long as you keep everything above board it is legal. I can give you a website that covers everything.”
“And Starfall knows you’re doing this?”
“She’d better, I can only shapeshift into people I’m looking at. Also comes with a copy of personality quirks and other stuff that helps sell the illusion.”
“Why would she fake an appearance?” My stomach clenched. It was stupid, I know, but I felt like she betrayed me somehow.
“Can’t tell you. If I did, then I would be committing a crime.” Light pulsed up around me, reacting to my emotions. His eyes widened. “But I can give you the reasons I list on my business site, if you want. I offer a chance to make a good impression, or stand in for people who just don’t like parties. A lot of heroes tend to use me so they can be seen in their public identity, throw off suspicion or the like.”
Wait. “So Starfall could have been at that party?”
Allen smiled and shook his head. “Probably not. She could just as easily be vacationing in Florida right now. Like it says on the business card: I’m there so you don’t have to be. You’ll have to ask Starfall if you want to know more.”
Starfall might have been at the party. I ran the guests through my mind, but I couldn’t imagine any of those people being superheroes. Plus, in my expert opinion, none of them had anything resembling Starfall’s figure. “Who else knows you’re a fake?”
“There are confidentiality laws, so I can’t give names,” Allen answered. “But law requires the host of an event must be made aware of, and give written permission to allow, a personal double. You have no idea how strict the laws are on my job. So, does that answer your questions? We’re starting to draw a crowd, and I’m not sure which of us is the bigger gossip source right now.”
So, that means Mom and Dad knew the whole time. And they let me make a fool of myself earlier. “Aren’t you afraid of assassins or something?” He was right, people were starting to gather. None close enough to overhear us. We’d have to end this conversation soon. On the plus side, I recharged most of my energy while we were standing here.
“I’m safer in costume than going around in my own skin. Just shooting a hero on the street is poor form. Yeah, every so often some villain comes after me for a fight, but they leave when they find out I’m not the real deal.”
That sounds almost civilized in a bizarre way. “Why don’t you use your power to be a hero?”
“I don’t know.” Allen held his left hand palm up, as if weighing something in it. “I can take a job for a hundred grand or so a year where I risk torture and execution, gangland style.” He brought up his right palm. “Or I can get paid twice that to drink expensive alcohol at fancy parties. This isn’t rocket science.”
Well, when you put it that way. “And pretend to be a girl while creepy guys hit on you?”
He just shook his head. “Listen, kid. I have a pretty good idea who you are under that glow. Don’t worry, not gonna blab, my whole livelihood is built on discretion. Anyways, here’s a free pearl of wisdom: Havin’ money’s not everything, not havin’ it is.”
I’m not familiar with that quote. Sounds like something Twain or Hemingway might say. I crossed my arms and almost hissed as my skin protested. “Fancy quote.” No sense in admitting ignorance of the source.
“You’re the idealistic type, I get it.” Allen looked back at the vehicle waiting for him. “Grew up on those fairy tales of adventure and glory, of saving the world with your power and strength of character. Take my decades of experience for what it’s worth: that’s all bullshit. If you’re smart, you’ll go home and live the rest of your life without using your powers even once. Make your difference in the world by writing large checks to worthy causes. I promise it will do more good, and you’ll be happier for it.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“Well, at least you think highly enough of my opinion to lie to me.” His words, still in Starfall’s melodious voice, were cynical and cold. “Don’t bother denying it; I make my living on the back of lies. Besides, you got one of the flashy powers, which means that love of glory is an inborn part of your nature. There’s a part of you that will always hate people who choose the best thing over the right thing.”
Sounds like something a supervillain would say. I decided to change tracks on the conversation. “And you’re not going to tell anyone about me?”
“Little late for that.” He looked around at the crowd that was gathering. “I won’t blab about your identity, if that’s what you mean. If I did, I’d never be trusted again. That good enough for you?”
He had a point, I’d be all over the papers tomorrow. “Okay, good enough.”
“Oh, and I’ll tell the real Starfall that I gave you the ‘you don’t want this’ speech. I’m sure one of you will find a way to get in contact with the other at some point in the future, even if it’s better for you if you don’t.”
“I guess that’s fine.” My energy levels seemed to be at their maximum charge again. With a though I pushed off the ground.
“There are laws about flying pedestrians you should research!” Allen shouted at me while I retreated.
I knew that much already, the benefits of private tutors. This time, I thought of flight like jumping. It still felt like I needed to throw up, but proved a little less disorienting. I twisted in the air to maintain my whole ‘falling to the destination’ trick.
Now that I was paying attention, I could feel the power draining away from my body. I was too distracted by everything else to notice it, before.
I now knew I had duration limits built into my power. Flight seemed to eat the internal battery faster than any other ability, to the point that I could only use it for minutes at a time. If I wanted to fight villains, I could not afford to fly if I had any other option.
The parts of me that liked standing on the ground, my stomach for example, cried out in joy. I let gravity take hold, bringing me toward the ground. I swore I’d land if I dipped below half power.
Turns out, I needn’t have worried; the mile or so I flew to get home only took a minute and less than a quarter of my battery. I wasted so much power learning to control my flight the first time. Or maybe it’s because I didn’t start at full power the first time. Either way, I decided I needed a lot more practice learning how my powers worked before starting my superhero career.
I dropped down to my window, changed my orientation and drifted feet first into my room.
My door opened. “Okay, Chloe, I think you’ve take-” Mom’s eyes met mine. “Oh. Fuck.”
I could not agree more.