Price In Triplicate, Chapter 24- Amanda

Stay calm, everything will work out. I walked away from Chloe and Damascus with what observers would see as a confident march, but in truth I was unnerved. I hoped the boy didn’t realize it, but he frightened me.

I took up the cape in the late 80s, when heroes decided their costumes needed to be darker and edgier than the villains. The hollow, soulless voice and bladed death-knight armor design would have made Damascus a fashion icon back then. Well, once he added about ten pounds of hairspray. I don’t know why any of us thought that looked good, but at least it was better than the pouch fad of the 90s.

All that aside, I couldn’t use my power on him. The boy who’d found his way into Chloe’s life was immune to my abilities, and that terrified me. In fact, I was no longer certain Damascus was alive.

I kept many aspects of my powers secret, entrusting only Mike with some of them. In truth, I had no way of controlling or knowing how my powers would benefit me. It was never so convenient as knowing how and why, or even if, a given action would work. In fact, without Mike’s power amplifying my own, an especially ardent skeptic could convince themselves I only had darkness manipulation.

Still, Mike’s aid or no, I had some feel for my ebbs and flows. Where odds could easily twist in my favor, such as a chaotic brawl in a cluttered warehouse. Where they would struggle, such as a training spar in the gym. It was rare that I was completely clueless, but Damascus was one such rarity.

The simplest answer was that he had some power that made him invisible to mine. I had encountered such powers before, so it wasn’t impossible. The second was that my power required living interaction to work, a detail I would take to the grave. If Damascus was some sort of independent Summon or a Gadget, that would explain the blank spot.

Or, perhaps most worrisome, Damascus had a power that I could not defeat through any method at my disposal. I’d known a few like that over the years, and indeed Eldritch was one of them as she had no body to target. If there was a way for one to fight a glowing cloud, my power had no method to access it.

By the time I got back to the vehicle, my colleagues were already inside. No surprise, Relativistic was old enough that he couldn’t stand around for long periods of time without pain. I climbed in to the passenger’s seat.

“So, what were your impressions of Daybreak?”

Right, right. I looked at my commanding officer. “She seems to be a good kid. I believe her when she says she didn’t mean to hurt the suspect. Her powers seem to respond to her emotions, and this is likely the first time she’s been in a situation like this one. I’d like to have another shot at her when she’s had a chance to calm down, I think she can be convinced to accept PREP’s training to control her abilities.”

Relativistic held his own counsel while taking the squad car away from the scene. Contrary to the civilian opinion, the most popular or powerful Imbued was not always best suited for leadership. Relativistic was a veteran officer, who’d cut his teeth in the ugly upheavals of the sixties and sevenies, and I had nothing but respect for the man. Today, I worried that his experience would work against me.

“Do you have any insights on why she’s refused help thus far?”

Case in point. “I can offer speculation, on the grounds that it is still only speculation.” Relativistic didn’t have any registered lie detection, but most of us hid some aspects of our abilities, so I defaulted to speaking with care. “It seems obvious she’s a minor, one with the typical resentment of authority figures. I’m not prepared to offer a more in depth answer.”

“Her partner registered the eighth of May. Daybreak was seen in association with him the night after. I wonder why one’s willing to work with the system, and the other’s not?”

The day before Chloe got her powers. As a probability manipulator, I did not believe in coincidence, especially when it came to powers. Two Imbued manifesting and finding one another within days was the sort of thing that had kept me awake more than one night these last few weeks. It didn’t help, knowing it was that boy, of every possible person in the city.

“I’m not certain about that, either.” Having answered Relativistic, I turned my head to Eldritch in the back. “I would like to hear your impression of Damascus.”

As I spoke, I drew on my power, trying to nudge the conversation toward my daughter’s partner. With any luck, and I had a lot of luck on my side, I could inconvenience or remove him through legitimate means that didn’t threaten my family.

“Male, raised in a household that values politeness.” Eldritch’s voice was quiet and haunting. She and Damascus had a few things in common, enough that I wondered if they had related powers. “I estimate he’s between nineteen to twenty-five years old. He is well educated, with significant first aid training. This makes it likely that he has had experience with his powers well before registry.”

I kept my face neutral; Eldritch got almost every detail wrong in exactly the ways that best served my needs. I couldn’t blame her, one of those details we kept from the public was how often Imbued heroes and villains sought out basic medical training. The odds of someone gaining powers after first aid training was significantly more rare.

Whether this turn of fortune was natural or prompted by my power, I couldn’t know, but I was more than willing to exploit it. I pushed my powers just a little bit further, nudging reality to suit my needs. I tried to be mindful of the backlash, there were always consequences when if I pushed to far, too fast. Like discovering Mend’s power nullified birth control.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Jason every bit as much as Chloe and Adam, but he did serve as an object lesson about throwing out too much power. Part of me wondered if Chloe’s powers and this subsequent drama was also a result of meddling too much with fate. And how she wound up staying with that family.

I’d have to do as much of the work myself as possible, rather than trusting my powers to handle everything. “I got a hunch when we passed each other. I think there’s a lot more to him than he’s letting on.” The advantage of being a known luck manipulator; people took my hunches seriously.

Relativistic added to my speculation. “Some of the people at the party said he claimed he had psychic abilities as well as the obvious metal manipulation. He demonstrated knowledge of names and relationships that he shouldn’t have known.”

Because he lives less than a mile from here. “I think he might be moonnighting.” That pun came from the word moonlighting and the trend with Imbued who had multiple identities using the word ‘night’ in at least one of them. “Perhaps an experienced Imbued who Surged and has a new set of abilities.”

“The reports from PREP suggest he wasn’t familiar with the process, and needed money fast,” Relativistic added. “He could have been acting to throw off suspicion, or maybe he’s from somewhere that doesn’t have the program.”

“Canada, perhaps?” Eldritch seemed to bought into the theory. “I think he had a northern accent, though it was hard to tell through his vocal distortion.”

“We have nothing to lose for being cautious.” With Eldritch agreeing, so Relativistic followed. “I’ll flag the theory for Esper confirmation.”

“And I suggest we bump his suspected threat rating to at least a two, and his Tank rating to a four.” I gave my gun holster a pat. “I’m convinced no ordinary firearm can do any damage to him, and if his blades are as sharp as they are durable, he’ll be a deadly Brawler.”

“I’ll note it in the tentative files as Tank four, Brawler two. Shy of his power being illusions, I imagine those are reasonable numbers.”

I turned my attention to the window and my own thoughts. Is this the critical moment that brings Chloe back to me? I’d long since given up asking ‘how’ or ‘why’ with my power. It could be that the scrutiny pushed Domenic to make some mistake that revealed him to be as degenerate as the rest of his kind. Or, perhaps Damascus really was a separate entity from the boy. The only thing I could know is some pivotal event was happening tonight.

I watched the station approach, which would be followed by a couple hours of paperwork and a trip home. No, it’s not enough, not yet. I need to be certain. I pulled out my while still in the parking lot to dial my husband.

“Hey, sweetheart, how’s your night on the town? Coming home soon, or do you plan to run off with another pool boy?” Translation: did you find anything important? 

My husband and I were well aware of our reputation as the overly affectionate couple that still acted like they were newlyweds. It was a great way to talk code in plain sight.

I couldn’t help but smile. “If you’re hoping to get rid of me without alimony, tough luck.” I’m going to need your help. “But I think I’ll go south a bit” the way-point on Jefferson “and see if I have better luck down there. Maybe I’ll even find a pool girl.” I think we’re close to the breakthrough we need. “Love you.”

“Alright dear, I’ll bark this time,” I’ll be there “but one of these days this ol’ dog’s gonna wonder if there are ‘coons in that tree.” Five letters, and plural to double, ten minutes ETA. “See you later, beautiful.”

I put the phone away, smiling like a teenager. We may have hammed it up for the cameras, so to speak, but we absolutely loved each other as much now as ever. With the two of us together, there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish. I started jogging to catch up to Eldritch and Relativistic. “Hold up!”

Relativistic turned to face me. “Is something the matter?”

“I just got another hunch, I think.” The truth was, I never had any ‘hunches’, but my success rate was close to ninety percent when I claimed I had one. I knew I’d get my way before finishing the sentence. “Are you up for another patrol, Eldritch?”

“If it gets me out of paperwork, I’m up for anything.”

Relativistic looked at me for a hard moment. He was oldschool and no-nonsense, preferring regulation to innovation and evidence to Imbued guesswork. If there was anyone that might reject my hunch, it was him, but he was still pragmatic enough to take anything he could get. “I guess I can do the initial reports and debrief, but this had better pan out.”

I hope so. “Understood.” With that out of the way, there was nothing to do but the drive. Ten minutes was more than enough time to reach the lot, too much time in fact. I drove slow, an act Eldritch accepted without question. She was my usual partner on the street, I’d trained her to accept that sometimes I did weird things that paid off for no apparent reason.

I pulled into the lot with less than thirty seconds to spare. “I think we may be here for a minute.”

I felt the slow tug of Mike’s power flood over me. My own power bled out into the mix, creating the sensory deprivation I needed to fully unlock my power. Again, Eldritch accepted this without protest. The real reason I kept her as my partner was that she was entirely immune to gravity. Mike could hit the whole vehicle, and she’d never notice.

I dipped further into the void of possibility, shapeless metaphorical threads, some leading to the events that brought Chloe home to us of her own volition. The strings of the possible future where she worked alongside her family rather than against us were closer together now than ever before, for reasons I would only be able to guess at in retrospect. I tied them to the ‘now’, locking that fate in place.

I let my darkness evaporate, and Mike’s comforting but harsh power faded with it.

“Are you going to be alright?” Eldritch’s voice was indistinct, hard to hear over the thudding of my heart.

“Y- yeah, that was just an intense one.” I’d been using Mike’s gravity far too much lately, and the strain was getting to my heart. I’d have to avoid our Interaction for at least a few weeks to give myself time to heal and recover, but now that I’d put together the chain, I had no need of it. I wouldn’t know how or why until it happened, but within a week Chloe would be home again.

“If you’re sure you’re okay. The job’s not worth risking your health over.”

Chloe is worth everything. “Guess I’m just feeling my age.”

True enough, I was no longer the twenty year old I’d been when Mike and I discovered our powers were so good together. It had been a whirlwind ‘romance’ as we fought while discussing our respective philosophies until we came to a consensus that our beliefs aligned. I knew now it was our Pairbond evolving, subtly manipulating us into a position that let us be together forever. The first truly happy thing to come of my powers.

Using that bond in its entirety was becoming just a little more difficult every year, but with age came wisdom to rely more or myself and less on my power. “I’ll look into a checkup, maybe work in a vacation. You know there’s a guy in India that’s supposedly able to restore youth?”

“I’m sure it’s a scam.” Without a body, Eldritch had a hard time conveying emotions and nonverbal cues, but she had biting cynicism down pat. “At best just a basic healer with cosmetic boosts, at worst a con artist. If he was that powerful he’d be locked in a government facility, not free to roam the streets where he might get hit by a car or kidnapped by one of the thousands who’d kill for eternal youth.”

I smiled, shifting the vehicle into gear. “Yeah, I know, but I can still hope. At the rate my kids are going, it may be the only chance I have to see grandchildren.” I took the vehicle east, following the tiny snippets of this future I’d forced into being.

Just a little longer and my family will be whole again.

NEXT

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21 thoughts on “Price In Triplicate, Chapter 24- Amanda

  1. And the goal is met! Much faster than I’d dared to hope as well. I actually really like the tone of this chapter, and think that the last chapter’s wham moment at the end *really* adds to the experience. But that’s just me, what do you folks think?

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SecondSuperIdentity

    Someone better add Price to this Trope. Right now! But seriously, the pun just wrote itself. Actually, this chapter gave a LOT of setting data that hadn’t been seen before (some of which hopefully makes the older readers smile)… the benefits of an older, experienced Imbued rather than the kids I’m generally using.

    Maybe I’ll make an effort to go with a main character in their 30s or 40s next book, just to mix things up. Too many super-kids in these stories… I could go for an adult worried about adult things for a change.

    Usual plug for votes and requests for typos here.

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=price

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            1. Its less metal control, and more iron generation. Hector has no control of it after he creates it, other than to unsummon it. Also Servants are the antithesis of unhealing enemies. Its hard to find a zombie in that story that is actually injured for more than a week.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Good to know.

              Either way, aside the eyes- which does convey the advantage that Chloe’s yet to burn out his retinas- Domenic is entirely human in terms of biology.

              There are OTHER reasons he nulled Amanda.

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  2. And here is the downfall of precogs and fate manipulators. Asking for events that lead to “Chloe coming back to her family” does not necessarily mean her entire family. You can lose a member of your family without the entire thing as a concept going away. People really need to treat these powers like they are a malicious genie, and get super specific when using them.

    I also really like that Amanda’s power comes with a whole heaping serving of uncertainty. Not just in what the events it will set in motion are, but also as to whether she even has probability manipulation. That is an incredibly interesting side effect to a power. We know that they all have some kind of price, but it sounds like the price for that power could be an inherent part of it. “You can manipulate fate, but you can never be sure how or even if you really can.”

    I also like getting some more information on power interactions. We can see that Amanda’s power gets a boost from Mike’s (who I really just want to call Gomez), but it is not just a general one. There is a system to it.

    “I felt the slow tug of Mike’s power flood over me. My own power bled out into the mix, creating the sensory deprivation I needed to fully unlock my power. ”

    Somehow gravity + fate = sensory deprivation, and that in turn allows her power to operate at maximum potential. So there is a chance that if Amanda ran into another Imbued who’s power would interact with hers to cause sensory deprivation, then she would get the same effect. The question then is how these interactions differ from a straight power bond. I feel like Tananari has mentioned on the site somewhere that interactions are uncommon, but more prevalent than bonds. Can’t seem to find it though.

    I chuckled at the comments about costumes. Especially the bit about the 90s being filled with pouches. That really was a terrible look in comics.

    Domenic no-selling Amanda is pretty interesting. My initial thought is that he is just too steady of a person, and that there is no event she could manipulate that would lead to him behaving in an exploitable manner. That or his power is just in the right category that she couldn’t beat him in a fight. Conspiracy theory is that the above is correct, but only because her power knows that she is going to die later that day, and so there is nothing she could do *before she dies* that would let her affect him. Whereas she can still affect Chloe before she dies, because her dying is the actual act that triggers her desired outcome.

    It sounds a little far fetched, except that between the time shenanigans in DoaH and the first chapter of this story, we know that powers don’t necessarily have to make sense from a purely linear timeline.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If it makes you feel better, I did name their firstborn “Adam”. :p

    “Somehow gravity + fate = sensory deprivation, and that in turn allows her power to operate at maximum potential.” Not quite.

    Remember… both time and gravity are functions of the same forces. The sensory deprivation is a side effect, not the source.

    Mike’s power would interact with other time-manipulators- take Muwth, as an example. Though she’s Jewish, so that’d get awkward. Also, not a pairbond interaction- but this story is hardly done showing the nature of those, so I’ll withhold spoilers.

    Oh, and Amanda actually could have had a pairbond with Guardian- it would have been a different sort of bond with different sorts of powers (namely, it would have extended Amanda’s standard “luck”, both good and bad, to others), but it had pairbond grade potential.

    Both Amanda and Mike have interactions with Relativity- though minor ones in both cases.

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