I pulled away from Domenic as Jaz did her best to corral her brother. ConcernEmbarrassmentConcern. They were right, it was a mistake for me to show too much affection in costume, in case some tabloid jerk gets a photo.
Better to save it for out of costume. RealizationFlusteredDismissal.
Domenic cleared his throat. “I appreciate the thought, but I think we’ll have to pass.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Davin said. “They require you give out your civilian ID for that, anyway.”
I’d become desensitized to Wiki’s knowledge of all things I never knew I didn’t want to know around an hour ago, when I learned that deer liked to eat baby birds out of the nest. As fascinating as I’m sure Imbued pornography laws were, they joined the pool of useless information I would soon forget.
“I- I’m sorry, but who’s your friend?” Having got our attention, Jaz nodded toward Cecelia. The emphasis in her question, however, was on the ‘friend’, as if she was afraid the obvious Imbued wasn’t friendly.
HesitationConfidence. Despite it being part of the plan, I worried about introducing Cecelia to others. She’d played well enough with Beatrice, but thus far we’d managed to keep her away from anyone else.
Cecelia herself took the initiative, walking forward until she was just behind me and Domenic. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.” To my surprise, Cecelia sounded like an woman with a somewhat deeper than average voice. Coupled with her costume and height, she appeared like a woman in her thirties. “Meeting new people is… difficult for me.” Cecelia’s moment of hesitation, the way she turned her head away just enough to suggest a failed attempt to hide a sense of shame, would have made my acting teachers applaud.
Instead of applause, Jaz smiled as the tension in her shoulders seemed to blow away with the oceanside breeze. She stepped around Davin, keeping her left arm around him as she faced Cecelia. “Oh, you weren’t rude at all.” She extended her hand. “I’m Jasmine, but everyone calls me Jaz.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Jaz.” Cecelia shook Jaz’s hand long enough to seem friendly, but not creepy. “I’m afraid I don’t have a name to give. I haven’t thought of one for when I’m in costume. The superhero thing is new to me, and rather strange.”
Jaz laughed, soft but genuine. “It does take some getting used to.”
I tried not to be envious; I’d spent hours failing to connect with Jaz during our ride, and Cecelia did it within seconds of them meeting, much as she had with Beatrice. Davin, on the other hand, seemed not to understand the concept of stranger danger.
“Ooh! I can help!” The skinny boy in the body of a man broke free of his sister’s one-armed hold. “You’re obviously a Gadgeteer, what’s your Gimmick?”
SurpriseConcern. “Gimmick?” Cecelia took a step back from Davin. I tried not to feel too vindicated that she couldn’t always be a perfect social creature. “I… I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”
“Your Gimmick.” Davin looked at Cecelia like she was an idiot. “How your power works. What kind of Superscience do you use to make your Tech? All Gadgeteers have something they rely on. Even the oldschool Artificers always had some logic behind their creations, even if it was using arcane symbols and human life force to animate suits of armor.”
Oh, that’s what he means. CuriosityConcern OpportunitySolution.
Jaz tensed at the mention of life force. I couldn’t blame her, the mention of vampires was only a happy topic for creepy teen girls and their even creepier mothers. “Sorry, Davin doesn’t have a filter. You can ignore him he’s bothering you.”
“It’s no bother. How’s anyone supposed to learn if the ignore people different than themselves?” Put that on the list of things I wish I could have said to my mother when she was alive. “I’ve never heard of Gimmicks before.”
There’s my cue. I took a step forward. “The official term is Methodology. All powers, not just Gadgeteers, seem to operate with their own internal logic. The theory is that we all alter the laws of physics around us, each in different but consistent ways, and that’s what allow our powers to function. In my case, it revolves around my forcefield, Damascus does something to metal which turns it liquid.” RealizationSimilarityOpportunity. They’re right, we all seem built around electromagnetism in some fashion. “Gadgeteers are just more obvious about it than the rest of us, because they know what it is they’re changing.”
“Oh.” Having had her moment to recover, Cecelia was back on her game. “I’m afraid I don’t know a lot about other Imbued.”
Because I didn’t think someone would ask. “It’s the sort of thing they teach in college.” I’m an idiot. NegationSupport ForgivenessConfidence. “But I’d like to know what Methodology you use, too.”
ConfidenceSuccess. Cecelia held up a hand so we could see the triangle on the back of it glow orange. “Magnetic fields.” RealizationSupport. Yeah, that is a good idea. “I use it to boost my armor a bit, and it lets me scan for some energy or metals. I can’t fly with it, but maybe with some time I’ll find a way. Please keep it a secret, I wouldn’t want someone to find a way to beat my gear.”
“Cool!” Davin was all smiles. “But you should know that nobody can steal anyone else’s Gadgets.”
The armor prevented us from seeing Cecelia’s face, but I could tell she was smiling. “Doesn’t mean I want to make it any easier than I have to. Besides, this way you know something that none of your friends do. Won’t that be fun?”
“But it’s more fun when I can brag about it!” Someone needed to transform Davin into a six year old, so his mannerisms fit his apparent age. ConcernAnnoyancePity.
“Now, Davin, you know you have to be careful about what you tell people.” Jaz had turned to face her brother, and placed a hand on either shoulder. “Heroes have to be able to trust each other, right?”
ContemptFrustrationDisgust. I couldn’t begin to sort which of us contributed how much to that emotion. None of us had any love for the supposed heroes, if for differing reasons. In any case, the lie had been sewn to the one person we knew could and would spread it all over the internet in ten minutes or less.
Davin sniffed. “Fine, I won’t tell anyone.”
DoubtIrrelevant DistrustSuccess. “Than you,” Cecelia ignored the outbursts and obvious lie like a master.
What was it Mom said about being the most dangerous person in the room without anyone knowing? ConcernLoveRegret. Even Cecelia wasn’t good enough to hide ignore the flash of emotion my thoughts evoked. We all froze for several seconds, caught up in the emotional storm.
“We should get going before our boat leaves without us,” Domenic said while Cecelia and I were struggling to break free of the loop. For whatever reason, he was the most capable of recovering from these moments. “We loaded our stuff before you got here. I can help you with yours if you want.”
Jaz shook her head. “That’s okay, you’re already paying for the trip, the least we can do is carry our own bags.” She nudged Davin toward the vehicle too fast to come across as natural. “Come on, Davin, let’s get our things.”
I took a slow, calming breath as the siblings made their retreat. “S-sorry, it was my fault.” As was so often the case. SupportCalm GuiltAcceptance.
Cecelia reached out toward me, then brought her arm back down to her side. “I’m a prisoner.” RegretDefend. “It’s fine. All considered, it’s a better outcome than I hoped for. You’re the ones who could and should have thrown me to the wolves and washed your hands of me. Instead…” Her words stopped, but the the emotional impressions of the time, effort and constant reminder of what she did to my mother and others danced through our collective emotions.
FocusDetermination. Domenic forced through the feelings. “The Pairbond’s flaring up again.” We all knew it, but he was the only one who seemed able to call us on it. “I thought we’d gotten past that point.”
I sighed, back on the spot as the closest thing we had to an expert. Two years of college courses did not prepare me to be an expert on something which shouldn’t exist. “From what I understand, Pairbonds whose members are different enough take a while to form an equilibrium.” Equilibrium. That’s what scientists picked to describe a blending of minds and souls. “But there are three of us, which the experts all agree is impossible when I ask.”
“Makes sense,” Domenic said. GuiltConcern. “Things were a lot clearer when it was it was just two of us.” RegretGuilt.
Ouch, that does sting a little. It’s not Domenic’s fault, or anyone else’s, and I bet it would be the same with just me and Cecelia.
FrustrationAcceptance. “Trying to find answers to how powers work is impossible.” To emphasize her point, some electricity danced over Cecelia’s fingers in a way that defied all we understood of physics. “I think whatever gives us powers doesn’t want to be understood.”
DoubtRejection. Domenic scoffed. “Do you think It has the ability to want anything? What I felt was… I don’t know, but I don’t think it thinks. At least, not in any manner that a human brain can understand.”
I kept my mouth shut; both Cecelia and Domenic had stronger memories of getting their powers than myself. Perhaps to do with both of them having more than one taste of the proverbial poisoned fruit.
After a minute of thought, Cecelia answered. “I get the feeling my Fate sense knows more than it tells me, sometimes. Like, if it wanted to, it could show me everything, but it doesn’t.”
IncredulityRejection. “Even if you’re right, that just means the difference between a universe with no God, or a universe with a God who wants us to think there is no God. From our position inside, there is no difference between the two. Unless you’ve got some way for us to get more information?”
FailureFrustration. Cecelia offered a slow shake of her head “Nothing, sorry.”
“I’d have to give up our anonymity to ask any more specific questions,” I said. “Which isn’t an option.” AgreementFearRejection.
If the supposed experts learned we were something which was believed impossible, there was no telling how they’d respond. In many ways, Imbued were still second class citizens in the world, and even the United States was had a bad habit of forgetting individual liberty when convenient.
Part of me wanted to suggest we return to the Greenwitch for more answers, but I didn’t need a window into Domenic’s emotions to see how that conversation would go. Then, Dom is the pragmatist here, if it gets bad enough we might have no choice.
“Maybe we should take more time to learn how everything works? Try la-” he stumbled over his words. “Okay, no turning back. Wouldn’t work, anyway.”
The conversation had come up before, and it always defaulted back to resources we didn’t have and a story we needed to establish. Delaying much longer would make things far harder in the long run, to say nothing of the fact that Cecelia and I didn’t want to wait any longer. As much as I wanted to listen to Domenic’s caution, he was only one part of this blend of emotions. Besides, in the end he knew we were approaching a more or less literal deadline where we ran out of money, assuming his grandmother didn’t find Cecelia first. If we didn’t do something soon, we might have to go with Cecelia’s plan to move to Mexico and hunt cartels for a living.
My battery began to dim as Cecelia looked out toward the ocean. UnsureFocusAcceptance. By now, we’d learned to recognize when she accessed her fate-sense power, though she must have been pushing it to its absolute limits to go through her power reserve and still need a chunk of mine. “We have nowhere to go but forward. It’s the safest path.” TiredUnsure.
DoubtResignation. Domenic sighed, also looking out toward the ocean. “We don’t have much choice in the matter, do we?”
For my part, I tried not to think about how Cecelia all but stole this ability from Mom before killing her. RegretGuilt. I failed about as much as one would expect under the circumstances. “Sorry.”
SupportComfortLove. “It can’t be helped.” Domenic put an arm around my shoulder. I leaned against him, as his metal shifted into fluid form to mold against my skin like something you’d see on a commercial for expensive beds. “We’ll just have to tolerate it for now.”