I eyed the red hot glowing sword. Nervous did not begin to express how I felt about Chloe holding such a thing. “Are you sure you’re safe?” If her power failed for a heartbeat, no conventional medicine could save her hands.
“Don’t worry, my power’s still at eighty percent.” Chloe turned the blade over. “I’m not sure what the mechanism is, but my power recharges faster out here in nature. The only theory I have is I’m drawing on life energy from plants to generate power.”
“You’re sure it doesn’t hurt at all?” All understanding I had of physics said there was no such thing as ‘life energy’, and even if there was it shouldn’t be able to do what Chloe was doing without killing half the forest.
“It feels warm, but only about as much as a hot bath.” She paused for a second. “Ooh! I bet I could use cold water for my bath and heat it myself!”
There’s a mental image. I looked down at the compass needle pointed straight at her without so much as a wobble. An uncomfortable parallel to my feelings. “Your power is some kind of magnetic forcefield, and magnetism pretty much is electricity. You generate light when you use it, which is also electromagnetic. I can hear crackling and smell ozone when you use a lot of power. Yet all you get when you try to make electricity is heat.”
Chloe tossed the sword on top of the metal table I’d created earlier in the day. “My father controls gravity and my mother controls darkness and luck. According to the laws of physics, none of those things even exist.”
The glow of her power faded. “Face it, Dom, people have been studying powers since before science existed. You aren’t going to crack a mystery from before written language on a hiking trip.”
“I know, but I’m a left brain thinker; it’s my nature to analyze everything.” I knelt down and picked up the Geiger counter. “On the plus side, you don’t seem to be radioactive.” That was a relief; I didn’t want kids, but I did want to be able to choose.
Chloe looked relieved as well. Powers had a nasty habit of horrible side effects. “You’re sure your neighbor won’t get suspicious that you needed to borrow a Geiger counter?”
“Nah, I just told him I was doing a paper on radiation in the household for a college scholarship.” And then I listened to an hour long rant about fluorine and government conspiracies. “You’d be amazed at how quick people will help you, then forget you’re there, if you say ‘for college’.”
“If you’re sure.” Chloe’s mood went dark. I was starting to get a read on her moods; she tried so hard to stay cheerful, but then something would happen that reminded her of her new reality.
I stepped up, willing my metal away from my hand before resting it on her shoulder. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah, I’m just thinking.” She took a slow breath. “You have these plans for college, and I don’t. Ever since I was six, everyone just assumed I would take over the family legacy for my parents. College was going to be less like looking for a career, and more like a finishing school. Now what am I supposed to do?”
If we’re lucky, your parents will do us both a favor and die. I almost felt bad about how not bad I felt for thinking that. I did know better than to say it out loud. “Well, you can always get a job as a police hero. I’m sure there’s plenty of places that would love to have you and aren’t unforgivably corrupt. Just, not here. Or Chicago.”
“You think so.” She started to force her smile back into place. Part of the cycle, she’d either find something to be hopeful for, or she’d go for pure determination. It was that part of her that I couldn’t help but admire; for all she’d been through, she didn’t allow herself to give in or give up.
“You’re a beautiful young woman who can shrug off bullet fire and suplex a tank.” I couldn’t help but notice her light blush. “They’ll trip over themselves trying to get to the paperwork.”
I almost went on to say something about how she had a shot at becoming a national idol. I stopped myself when I remembered her mother essentially was. Although Starfall was only famous in the region, while Chloe had a more fashionable power type that could make the national stage.
“I guess I do got the perfect power for it, huh.” She didn’t sound too enthused by the idea. I guess she had the same thought about her mother as I did.
“Hey, when I go for college, maybe you can come with me? Get your career started in a college town?” Dominic, what are you doing? You know this is such a bad idea. You know how stupid you’re being. It risks your identities, and she’s not going-
“That sounds like fun.” What. “Maybe we can go into rescue. Not a lot of us are any better at dealing with fire than normal people. Your power could be good for rescue, too, like car wrecks and stuff.” Her smile could only be described as hopeful.
She wants me to be on a team with her so much. I should put my foot down and spell out how I’ll never be a hero. In the end, it’ll be for the best, even if it hurts her in the short term. “Maybe. Who knows?” God damn it, Domenic!
Still, seeing her smile, I couldn’t be too angry at myself. She had so little in her life to be happy about. For now, this dream of being a hero appeared to be the only thing she was enthusiastic about. We could save the conversation on how not interested I was in playing hero later.
I decided to change the topic back to why we were out here. “I think it’s time for the final test.”
I put my hand on the table where the sword rested. The metal had cooled down enough that it no longer glowed red, but I still wasn’t about to touch it with my hands. My power fused through the weapon, allowing me to meld it into the table. After, I slid my hand along the liquefied steel until the heat started to get painful. I withdrew my hand from the mass. “Looks like metal under my control can still burn me.”
“Too bad, you would have looked so badass with a sword of glowing metal.” She didn’t lose her smile, at least. “I guess it’s better we find out now, huh?”
“Ultimately not a useful technique anyway. It doesn’t make either of us more effective than we already were. You can still rip metal apart with your bare hands, and if I need to do any spot welding, my power’s better than a torch.”
“I know, but can you imagine the look on the villains’ faces when a knight with a giant red hot glowing sword comes after them?”
Yes. That’s part of the problem. “Guess they’ll just have to settle for a hot, glowing green girl, instead. Maybe not as intimidating, but there’s something to be said for being underestimated.”
Chloe’s smile slipped away again. “I think we’ve tested everything we can.” What did I say wrong? Was it because I said she was hot? She didn’t seem to mind, earlier. “We should get back home before your grandma decides we’re up to something improper.”
Too late. “Yeah, you’re right.”
By some unspoken agreement, we rode home in silence. I did my best to avoid every pothole, which was impossible on a gravel road. My ribs penalized me for all failures.
Chloe, for her part, sketched in a notebook. By the time I’d worked up the courage to ask her what I said wrong, she’d put her smile back on and I couldn’t bring myself to ruin it again.
I spent the rest of the evening alone in my own thoughts. Chloe had schoolwork to take care of that had gone neglected in the excitement of the weekend. Bea had schoolwork that went neglected because that was her habit, and I had research to do on colleges. Being Imbued closed some doors and opened others, which I needed to educate myself on.
One rather dubious option I now had was a guy from England called The Chancellor. His power was to learn everything anyone else learned within a certain range of him.
He founded a private university back in the seventies, built in such a way that he could ‘listen in’ on every class. The Chancellor had a rather sizable fortune, as one might expect of a man who was an expert at everything. As such, the school was free, or with costs other than money.
A lot of online speculation had me concerned. Accusations of stealing ideas, or him having some hypnotic powers that let him manipulate former students abounded, or even simple blackmail with information lifted from their minds. Nothing substantiated, but still troublesome.
For my part, I did find it suspicious that his school still taught entry level courses instead of focusing on post-grad education.
It was a long night trying to get to sleep in the garage. Warm enough, but an unfamiliar setting, and with was so much on my mind. Chloe being the center figure of all of it. In the privacy of my own head, I could admit I was falling for her. I was smart enough to see it coming, but not smart enough to prevent it.
I didn’t have a chance to talk to Chloe before school in the morning, either. She rode to school with Beatrice.
School was a welcome chore, a return to normalcy after the roller coaster of the weekend. So close to summer break, the students focused on socializing rather than academics. Even the teachers had more or less clocked out, aware any new projects wouldn’t be completed. Many were just talking to the students and going over reviews of stuff we’d already learned.
I wondered if it was like that in normal schools, or limited to a school like ours where some of the students would one day be ruling the country. I kept quiet and read like I always did; an advantage to my somewhat self-imposed isolation.
It wasn’t until my second period that the math teacher caught a detail that had somehow gone unnoticed by everyone. “Mister Hinton, why are you wearing sun glasses in class?” Yes, the proverbial stick was so far up this school’s collective rectum that the teachers referred to everyone by surname.
Fortunately, that was one of the few questions I did have an answer for. “Flash blindness, Mister Walker. I was doing some work on my truck with a welding torch. The doctor said it’s temporary but I should avoid bright light.” The teachers around here did appear to care about students, but I doubted they’d go through too much effort.
“Do you have a doctor’s note?”
“No,” I admitted. All part of the plan. “Honestly, I wasn’t told I needed sun glasses. I just want to be extra cautious, rather than hurt myself so close to the end of the school year.”
He stood there for a few seconds. “I’ll let it slide this time, but other teachers might not be so lenient.”
“Thank you, sir.” I wasn’t concerned; my long cultivated persona of being harmless gave me some wiggle room. In the absolute worst case scenario, I’d have to go to the school nurse and show her why I was wearing the glasses. Then the school would demand I wear the glasses at all times.
I made it to lunch without so much as a single comment from the other students. That was how ‘bullying’ worked in a school like this one. There was no name calling, no pushing, no gangs past absurd claims of belonging to secret cabals that controlled the world.
The only weapon these kids wielded were those of inclusion and exclusion. If you were approved of, you got invited to parties and received pretty trinkets from across the globe. If you weren’t, then you were treated as if you did not exist at all. I guess, in their world, that was the thing to be feared.
I, however, lived in a neighborhood where people could get killed over a pair of sneakers. Ostracism didn’t frighten me, so I accepted it with traditional quiet disinterest. Such my routine continued as normal until I was going to lunch at the table with the other perpetual losers.
“Hey, Domenic.” I turned my head on reflex toward the voice; Jennifer, a girl from Chloe and Bea’s class. The redhead didn’t have Chloe’s sweet girl-next-door looks, nor Beatrice’s figure, but like most girls in this school she was good looking. As with the others, she knew it. “So, I heard you’re going out with Chloe.”
Dammit. I had hoped that particular deception wouldn’t be used at all, let alone on the first day. I kept my eyes on Jennifer, who wore the smile of a girl who wanted something she knew I had. You didn’t live with Bea for more than five minutes without learning that look.
Why did Chloe let it slip? Is something wrong? Maybe it wasn’t her? I needed to pick something with plausible deniability. “Is Beatrice spreading rumors again?” In retrospect, answering a question with a question was as good as confessing I had something to hide.
“No.” Jen let her eyes trail down my body and back up again. She was pretending to check me out. I say ‘pretending’ because there was nothing when it came to me worth checking out. “Chloe’s a lucky girl.”
She turned and walked away.
What. No, seriously, what just happened? The only things I could be sure of was Jennifer put a bit more sway in her step than necessary, and I needed to talk to Chloe as soon as possible.