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INTRODUCTION 

Superpowers are based on the topography of where someone is born.

Chapter 1 

It was an accident, of course.

My birth, my being in space, and well, I suppose I was an accident as well. An accident from the director of engineering screwing the fat janitor after hours when the rest of the shuttle team had retired; the odds that my mother had been able to hide her baby bump for nine months, the chances that she had been a nurse before being selected from the program and knew how to give birth herself, in a maintenance closet, mere days before the mission was to return to earth. Keeping me hidden was difficult in the small confines of the ship, but the other hundred and fifty crew members had been too busy to pay a mere maid much attention. After all, many insisted that it had not been worthwhile to bring her along, that a maid had been a waste of tax dollars. I suppose that makes me a waste of tax dollars as well.

But there were those that spoke to her unique abilities as a maid. For she had been born deep in the snow of the north, during the first blizzard of winter, that like the first snowfall, she could smooth over any differences in her environment and make it appear uniform. As a maid, it meant that she had an extraordinary sense of cleanliness. As a mother, it meant she could ensure I was overlooked, that my crying was muffled, and later in life, that I appeared no different from anyone else.

Star Child, she had called me as she smuggled me back into the atmosphere, tucked deep in her suit like a kangaroo would carry her young. Star Child, she whispered to me when the project disbanded, and she took me to the inner city apartment where I spent my early life. Star Child, she reprimanded whenever I started pushing and pulling at the equilibrium of our apartment, when she would arrive home from work and all the furniture would be clustered at the center of the room, pulled together by a force point 

“When will I go to school?” I asked her when I was eight, watching the uniformed children marching up the street through the wrought-iron gates of the academy, one of them flicking flames across his fingers like a coin while another left footprints of frost in the grass.

“You already go to school, Star Child,” she said. “And your teachers say you've been learning your numbers well, and your reading has been progressing.”

“Not that school,” I had said, pulling a face. “I want to go to the academy. The special school, for the others like me!” I held up a fist, and items on the desk in front of me flew towards it, pens and papers and pencils that stuck out like quivering quills out of my skin.

“Star Child, listen and stop that at once,” she said, her eyes level with mine. “There are no others like you. Those children; they are all classified, they are all known. You are not like them, you never will be. And they can't know, do you understand me?”

“I guess,” I answered with a huff, watching as one of the children cracked a joke and the others laughed. “But I don't like my school. Everyone there knows we can't be like them, that we can't be special.” 

“Star Child, you are special. One day, they'll know that too. But not now – if they knew, they wouldn't take you to the academy. They'd take you somewhere else, somewhere terrible.”

And as I grew older, I realized that she was right. That when our neighbor started developing powers, a police squad showed up at her front door and classified her on the spot. That they left her with a tattoo on her shoulder, a tattoo of a lightning bolt, symbolizing the storm during which she had been born. Just like the tattoo of a snowflake on my mother's shoulder, colored dull grey, to indicate a low threat potential.

So instead of going to the academy, I created an academy of my own, in my room. Mother made me turn the lights out at ten, so during the day, I collected light outside, keeping it in one of the dark holes I could create when I closed my fist hard enough, and letting it loose at night to read books I had stolen from the library. From the section for the special children, that I could only access if the librarians were distracted.

But distractions came easy to me.

As I grew older, the city streets became more populated with the blue uniforms of police. The academy became increasingly harder to attend, and the gifted girl next door disappeared one night without a note. Mother stopped letting me outside after dark, and the lines for the soup kitchens grew longer. The skies grew darker, the voices accustomed to speaking in whispers, and the television news seemingly had less and less to report. It was as if there was a blanket thrown upon us, but no one dared look to see who had thrown it.

 But I would. And when I did, I realized the earth needed a Star Child.

Chapter 2

“Why can’t anyone else know?” I asked my mother after school when I was ten. “Is something wrong with me?”

“Quite the opposite, Star Child. Let me tell you a story, the story of my early career in medicine,” she responded as she set dinner down on the table. My stomach grumbled – I had skipped school lunch that day, preferring to deposit it in the waste bin rather than my mouth. Though he tried his hardest, our school chef had little control of his own powers, weak as they were. He claimed he was from Rome, one of the cities that produced the greatest chef power types, and that our meal was Chicken Parmesan, but neither of those statements held much merit. As I started shoveling food into my mouth, my mother continued to speak, her chair squeaking as she shifted.

“Before you were born, I was a nurse, specializing in the delivery of children. This was back in the north, near my home. But unless your power has a direct medical property, hospitals fear the effect it can have on children, so I was eventually removed from service. But by that time, I’d seen enough to make me want to leave.

“Not everyone is lucky enough to have powers, Star Child. But those who are, their power is altered, depending upon where they are born. Think of it like the seasoning in the meal you are eating – the food holds energy, but with the right spices, it can become enhanced. Similarly, a location can make a power pop. And people are willing to pay dearly for the locations.

“The fee my hospital charged was three times my personal salary per child. If there were twins, the couple was stuck with double the bill. And if there were no powers, the bill was still due. This particular hospital was high in the northern mountains, in an area statistically proven to produce the best powers of snow, ice, and weather. If your child had a power, here they would be the strongest. And if they didn’t, well, I’ve heard too many stories of children entering orphanages after the parents wasted a fortune.

“The name of every child born in our hospital was placed on a list submitted to the police, who tracked them for the next two decades. Should a child commit a petty crime and have their name on the list, it was the same as committing a felony since these children were considered high risk. Unless you were still wealthy, of course. And it was strange, those names identified as having strong powers but belonging to a lower class, it seemed like they always committed a crime, without fail. That the police just happened to be waiting, watching them for when it happened. Ready to take them in and to send them to rehabilitation camps, where they would enter the military or the guard, after several years of conditioning, to sacrifice their lives on the front lines. And the more powerful you were, the more likely you were to be classified as a delinquent.

“So listen to me, Star Child. The hospital I worked at was a level three facility out of five. Level twos are even more dangerous, and level ones require a massive fortune to even step in the door. And as you know, having a baby in an unauthorized location is a crime punishable by death. Where you were born, that would be off the scales, a level zero location. Fortunately, you’ve been overlooked, but my power can only do so much. They’d use you or kill you, as a weapon or as a precaution. And you are destined for neither fate. You were fortunate enough that the space program that employed me ended early, due to solar flare activity, otherwise you would already be in the hands of the government. So you listen to me, and you tell no one, do you understand?”

“Yes,” I answered, sighing as I finished my plate, and her hand rested heavily upon my shoulder. And that night, when I retired for sleep, I pulled out the first book I had ever stolen from underneath my bed. Opening my palm, I called forth the small black orb from where I had kept it hidden, in a small pocket just above my wrist. Not an actual pocket, but almost like the void under my tongue, or behind my ear. A place where it almost felt as if I had turned the space inside out, and could reach inside with my pinky.

Taking the orb, I unwrapped it slowly, letting the light trapped within escape in a small beam. Over time, it would grow smaller, until eventually with a flash, it would collapse, and I would have to make a new one during the day.

A Directory of Known Powers, the book was titled. Capabilities and Locations.

Introduction:

Little is known about what, precisely, determines the chance that a child will develop any abilities. Conversely, the factors playing into the type of power innate in a child are well studied and well documented within the pages of this directory.

There are many dimensions in which a child’s power can be analyzed, but for simplicity, the following shall be mentioned due to their high correlation with observable outcomes: locations, power strength, and power type. Other minor effects include genetics, location and passion of conception, and diet during pregnancy. Environmental factors at the time of birth are also known to play a role in power development, though less documentation exists to confirm claims.

Yawning, I flipped through the pages to the pictures section, where a compilation of artists had depicted powers in use. Some were copies of pictures over a hundred years old, documenting powers that had not been seen in so long they were rumored to be myth. Others had so many occurrences that I skipped them, having seen them so often in real life, they now bored me.

Entry 348, Speaking in Tongues, read the title, while the picture showed a girl surrounded by people of all ethnicities, their ears tilted towards her.

Description: A condition in which languages no longer bond speech. Those born with this power have the ability to converse in multiple languages at the same time to multiple audiences.

Strength: Typically a lower level, measured by number and variety of languages that can be spoken, and whether the power can be extended to the written word. Owners of this power are also susceptible to side effects of Silver Tongue (see entry 427) and Pied Piper (see entry 201), which can increase the power by an order of magnitude.

Location: Documented cases occur in hospitals near border regions or in countries with multiple spoken languages.

I flipped backwards to an earlier entry and read another, yawning again as I felt sleep coming soon.

Entry 56, Diamond Exterior. This picture was of a glinting man, half his skin sparkling, the other half normal flesh.

Description: The ability to change portions of the body to rock or diamond, often razor sharp.

Strength: Typically a medium to high power level. Power is measured by mobility after transformation, as well as ability to change objects outside of their own body. Nearly indestructible and difficult to contain, those with strong abilities of this power are weighted extremely high.

Location: Documented cases occur in volcanic regions, with high frequencies at Magmar hospitals (LVL 1), located just above active Hawaiian volcanos. Prior to civilization, it is documented that entire islands once held this ability.

With a small pop, my reading orb exploded, illuminating my room like a camera flash for a split second before immersing me in darkness. I frowned – I was just getting to the section where hospitals of all levels were listed, but I’d only stored one orb today, as I had used most of mine reading the night before.

I lay back on my pillow as I drifted to sleep, dreaming about the academy despite my mother’s words. Where I could maybe even see some of the rarer powers, where I’d be able to share my secret. Just like the other special children.

But before I had the chance to apply, when they accepted new admissions entering higher education at age sixteen, the academy moved.

Chapter 3

“You know, you would have to be an idiot to be caught here,” Said the voice behind me, and I nearly fell out of the tree branch where I perched.

I’d been skipping school, again, a regular occurrence now that I was fifteen - this time, during a career fair where parents of the children arrived to show us opportunities for our futures. Jim, the short kid with glasses held together by tape so old it had started to dry rot, had turned a bright red when his father pulled the garbage truck into the school lot like a massive show-and-tell.

“You see here,” said his father, his new school provided name tag reading Jim already tarnished with a fleck of grease, “Ev’ry day, we cart the trash away. That trash goes to the Calorie Exchanger teams, typically born near peat swamp regions, who convert what they can to petrol. Which keeps the lights on, kiddos. So next time you think of garbage, remember what you throw away always has value.”

The class nodded, several staring towards the next location we would be herded to by Mrs. Whisp, a low level Distractraction Attenuator. Of course, she had never received any training for a power so minimal, but she was a Saturant, so she didn’t have to- for Saturants, powers were involuntary. They simply flowed from the wielder like a type of charisma that could only be slightly enhanced with focus.

Turning right, I saw the Secretary Career location was next, and as we walked over, one of the parent's heads snapped up as his face twitched.

“Kids! Oh kids, futures! You have futures, ” he said, and his eyes jumped rapidly between each of us, yet never seemed to focus properly on any of our faces. This was Jessica’s father, and she forced an encouraging smile as he entered a silence too many seconds long to be acceptable, his face strained as he fought for his next words. “Oh yes, futures! As a secretary, you are one of the most well, most well, most well paid out of all…”

He stopped, entering another silence, and Jessica spoke up, biting her lip.

“Go on, daddy, out of all the Regulars,” she prompted, and his face lit up having found another train of thought as he continued, blinking several times in rapid succession.

“Like anyone would take that job,” whispered Stephen from next to me, one of the children Mrs. Whip’s effect seemed have no effect on, and who lived in an apartment several doors down from my own, “Working for the Specials, writing down every word at their important meetings, then having appointments with a Memory Drain at the end of each month to make sure you don’t retain any information. By the looks of this one, he must work for someone really important, I bet they memory drain him every day.”

I shook my head as Jessica prompted her father again, and found myself losing interest, my eyes wandering to the fence at the edge of school property. Behind us, Mrs. Whip was quietly laughing as she spoke to Mr. Lynch, the muscular gym teacher who sometimes drove her home after school, and his eyes were practically glued to her own.

“I’m heading to use the restroom,” I said to Stephen, as I felt my focus falter again, Mrs. Whip’s tinkling laugh sounding behind us as other members of the class shuffled their feet, “I’ll probably just join the class behind us so I don’t miss anything. If anyone asks, let them know that.”

“Hey, you can fool them, but you can’t fool me,” he answered with a wink, “I’d join ya, but mum said I won’t get dinner if she catches me skipping again.”

So I made my way to the restrooms, and from the restrooms out the shattered window in one of the back classrooms that had been on the school repair list since last September. And I walked to something more interesting, something I could only see when I skipped my own lessons around this time.

The academy, at recess. Where I had found the perfect spot, high up in a heavily leaved Rhododendron tree, where I could just barely see through the vegetation to the children playing over the fence. Placing a few well aimed force points toward the outer edges of the tree, I pulled the branches apart just enough to make a small window, just enough for to have a clear look.

Powers, as I could tell from my position, were not to be used at recess under threat of punishment. But it was similar to the busy intersection outside my apartment, viewable from my window - if you watched long enough, something would happen. And I’d spent hours in that tree, waiting, nearly always to be rewarded.

Just last week a skirmish had broken out over a hotly contested game of whiffle ball, the two teams shouting about whether or not the ball had landed across the foul ball line. From my position, I could hear Anthony, the right fielder, being accused.

“He used his powers again, and that’s cheating!” shouted a girl my age with the bat still in her hand, who made the ground tremor just noticeably when she stomped, “We should use a heavier ball, so he can’t just blow it out of bounds.”

“Did not!” retorted Anthony, a reed of a boy, who stood six inches taller than anyone else on the team, “You just can’t hit straight, what with the earth never being flat underneath you. Wendy Waddles, everyone calls you, because you can’t keep your feet straight!”

Wendy’s jaw tightened as she approached Anthony, and I saw Anthony was indeed correct- slight depressions or footprints were left in the dirt where she stomped, dirt that should be hard packed over years of use.

“You take that back!” she hissed, “Or I’ll, or I’ll-”

“Or you’ll what?” he teased, sticking out his tongue.

“Or I’ll do this!” she shouted, and stomped as hard as she could where his foot had been an instant before he moved it, fluttering backwards like a piece of paper caught in the wind. Wendy shrieked as her foot crashed through the dirt until her right leg was submerged up to her knee, her eye flashing with anger.

“Get back here!” she shouted, trying to yank her foot out as teachers rushed to subdue the fight, “Before I come after you!”

“Doesn’t look like you can waddle anywhere, Wendy!” he taunted back.

From my position, I saw both students were reprimanded with detention slips. It took the teachers forty five minutes to dig Wendy out, the time significantly lengthened when she stomped her other foot in frustration and now had both jammed deep in dirt.

And today, I watched closely, trying to determine what would happen next. Too closely, as the voice behind me nearly made me jump out of the tree to the ground thirty feet below.

“I’m no Telepath, so I don't know,” said the voice again, as I searched the branches, trying to find the source, “But I’d say you probably are an idiot. You should be in school, I wonder what the punishment is for skipping? For us it’s three detentions. What's your name?”

Then I found her, floating just outside the branches, a mass of brunette hair with two brown eyes that squinted towards me. With nothing holding her up, except for her nose looking down on me, and her voice thick with mockery.

"Essie," I choked, attempting to recover.

And I swallowed, realizing that she wore the same uniform as those playing at recess.

Chapter 4

“Essie?” she sniffed, hovering, “That’s a girl’s name, you don’t look like a girl to me.”

“That’s because it’s S-C,” I said, slowly reaching out to remove each of the force points, letting the tree branches collapse back in around me, “Like JD, or EJ.”

“Well, Essie or SC, it certainly doesn’t explain what you are doing in this tree,” she retorted, and saw the branches moving, “Hey?! Are you doing that? Are you a Special?”

“No, I’m absolutely not,” I said hurriedly, “Just a nosy Regular, and now, I’ll be on my way, thank you. Just, erm, got lost.”

“You absolutely are!” she said, trailing me from the outside of the tree as I started to climb down, realizing I knew her as one of the girls that frequented hop-skotch and jump rope on the other end of the playground. With her abilities, I bet she cheated too. “And this isn’t the first time I’ve seen you up here, I tend to keep my eyes on the sky. This is just the first time my teacher turned her back long enough for me to look!"

“Nope, definitely first time I’ve been here, Arial!” I repeated, now practically falling from the tree in my haste, cursing as I realized my slip up.

“You know my name! You’ve been spying on me, on us, listening to us? Who do you think you are? Stop, stop right there or I’ll report you in before you make it down the block. I’m sure the police would want to know why you aren’t in school!”

I froze, clinging to the branch halfway down, considering my options.

I could set a force point above her, one that would drag her upwards and away while I escaped. But it would likely do more harm than good- creating a force point was kind of like kneading dough, or playing with putty. It was as if I was pushing into that area of space, contorting it, stretching it downwards, and letting objects fall in. The problem, however, is that anything nearby would be attracted to it, not just her. It would draw far more attention to myself that she ever could by calling the police, and she may be able to fly away before she could be sucked in.

I frowned, thinking quickly, as she questioned me again, her voice hard.

“I said, what are you doing here?” She repeated, whizzing in closer, sticking her head inside the leaves, a branch tearing her sleeve, “Now look what you’ve made me do, mother is going to be irate.”

“I’m, well, I’ve only just arrived a few days ago,” I said, an idea taking root in my brain, “But I’m trying to determine if the academy is worthy for someone like me. My parents sent me here, you see, to live with my aunt, since schools aren’t the best where I’m from. Since, well, they don’t exist where I’m from.”

“Don’t exist?” she asked, craning her neck forward, “What do you mean, don’t exist? Schools are everywhere.”

“Not when your parents are researchers in the Arctic!” I said, thrusting out my chest, “But I suppose you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, city girl?”

“I wouldn’t, and you wouldn’t too. Because it’s obviously a lie.” she snorted, inspecting the tear in her sleeve, trying to press the fabric near her elbow back together.

“Hmm, a lie? You’re right, I did lie. I am a Special, from farther north than you’ve ever seen, where it’s light outside for entire days at a time.”

“Oh yeah? What type are you then?”

“A Boreal,” I stated, brushing a piece of bark off my shirt, “But I doubt someone from around here would be familiar with those.”

“A Boreal!”” she exclaimed, eyes wide, “Of course I know what those are, I saw one when I was young! The city booked him out for an entire night, I’ve never seen a show like it! It was as if the sky came alive with colors!”

“I suppose if you aren’t used to it, it might seem pretty amazing,” I responded, and started climbing down the tree again, giving her a sideways glance, “Guess I’m just used to it by now.”

“Hold it, I’m not done with you,” she said, “Prove it, Boreals are incredibly rare, and I’d know if one entered the city. We'd all know.”

“Rare, but not powerful. I don’t need any sort of permits, I couldn’t hurt a fly. There's no reason for me to enter announced.”

“Either way, prove it, or I’m still calling the police.”

“If you wanted a private show, you should have just asked.” I drawled, and held up a hand palm up towards her, “I’ll need to keep it small though, and you’ll have to keep it a secret. No one is supposed to know I’m here yet, since I don’t start school until next week.”

Slowly, I coaxed one of the black orbs out from above my wrist, peeling away several strands of light from it while keeping the sphere hidden behind my hand. Light played around the inside of the enclosure, sparkling against the leaves, and Arial’s mouth fell open as strands of it danced in vibrating streams, like tiny arcs of fire.

“Do more colors,” she breathed, transfixed, practically perched in the tree now instead of floating, “It’s beautiful.”

“Can’t, not yet at least. That’s why my parents sent me to school, to train me. And I wanted to see if this school was capable. I’m not so sure, if they can't keep track of all their students.”

“Oh, they are, they are! My father knows, he can tell your parents all about it. He would love to meet you too, he loves seeing the rarer types. You should come over for dinner and show him! Here, take this,” she said, fetching a pen and paper from her side, “This is my address. I’d love to introduce him to you.”

“We’ll see, I still have a few other schools to inspect,” I answered, "Can't make my decision until I've considered all my options."

“A Boreal, here,” she said to herself, “He would be so pleased, he'd be happy with me for bringing you. No, don’t even look at the other schools. Enroll here.”

“We’ll see,” I repeated, and jumped the rest of the way to the ground, “I don’t want to promise anything yet.”

In the distance, over the fence, I heard a whistle and saw Arial turn back towards the school.

“I must be going, recess is over, but keep this address!” she insisted, and pushed the paper into my palm, “Anytime, you are welcome for dinner. Anytime, SC?”

“Anytime,” I answered casually, starting to walk away as she flew back over the fence. I kept a slow wandering pace weaving up the street, letting my feet shuffle along as I peered into shop windows with my hands in my pockets.

Then I turned a corner at the end of the block, lost a direct line of sight with the academy, and ran.

Chapter 5

“What are you doing home so early,” demanded my mother as I entered the apartment, my breath still coming in quick gasps.

“It was career day at school, so there was early dismissal,” I lied, as she raised an eyebrow.

“Star Child,” she reprimanded, “There is only so much I can do to keep you hidden. The more you act up, the more attention you draw to yourself, and the more difficult it will be for both of us. Go on, fetch your homework- it’s too late for you to return to school now, but I won’t see that mind of yours go to waste.”

Then she turned to the sink and continued the dishes, shaking her head. After cleaning the sweat off I returned to the kitchen, opening my books on the table, positioning myself near a window where sunlight streamed inside. Placing my index finger in the webbing under my thumb, I flicked my nail against the skin, concentrating as I imagined pulling the space in that region together, tying it into a swift knot with my mind. Then in my palm a black orb formed and started to absorb the sunlight, growing slightly larger with each passing minute.

In that time our apartment was quiet save for the tinkling of dishware as I fell into the book, practicing the mathematical equations on the pages for a quiz the next day. The air was near still, the air conditioning turned off either from being broken or to save money, as each week it seemed to alternate between the two. And occasionally I caught the sound of my mother humming an old tune softly, one that I recognized but could not quite identify, fading in and out of my perception as she moved.

But then, the three knocks on the door nearly started me out of my seat.

These were not neighborly knocks, like those when Stephen’s mother visited to borrow the salt, or even strained knocks like when our landlord came to collect the rent, and my mother sent me to raid the couch cushions for spare change while she rummaged together the last dollar. No, these were sharp, quick raps, staccato bursts that didn’t wait for my mother to reach the door before opening it.

“Police,” state the square faced man at the front of the trio as he stepped into our kitchen uninvited, a younger man to his left and a middle aged woman to his right, “We’re looking for a Ms. Alcmene, do you know her?”

“Speaking,” said my mother and forced a smile, “May I ask why you have entered my kitchen, and whether I can offer you any refreshments?”

Cold washed over me as my breath caught in my throat, and the trio squinted at my mother. Somehow they knew, somehow they had found me from spying on the academy. But how? That Arial must have told them, or trailed me back. I thought I had been careful, but it must not have been careful enough.

I stared as the head policeman looked about the kitchen, his eyes gliding over me as my mother’s wrinkles deepened and a vein throbbed her temple, but still managed to smile.

“Yes, you live alone then? Good.” he said, and pulled out a stack of papers, consulting them, “You are the Ms. Alcmene that served as a delivery nurse, and exhibit Snuffer powers, correct?”

“Yes, yes,” my mother responded, wiping dishwater off her hands, “A weak form of powers, nothing to be noticed.”

“Nothing to be noticed indeed,” came the reply, “If I recall, that’s the exact purpose of a Snuffer. It's written here that you are measured to be one of the stronger Snuffers, not that that means much. Regardless, your unique services to the state are requested, Ms. Alcmene. You’ll be coming with us at once. We’ve seen to it that your rent has been paid, that your crucial belongings will be transported. Come along.”

“And if I choose not to come?” she inquired, leaning back against the counter, “I already served the state once, quite some time ago.”

“Ms,” he said, as the woman behind him reached to the handcuffs on her belt, “Don’t make me change this request into an order.”

“What?” I shouted, pounding my fist on the table, “You can’t do that!”

A bead of sweat trickled down my mother’s neck and the muscles around her smile tightened. For a second, the lead officer’s brow creased, and he looked her over once more in annoyance, tilting his head in slight confusion.

“Ms, there is no time to mumble, and I suggest you show us the respect of enunciating your words. Are you coming of your own volition?”

“The hell she’s not!” I shouted springing up from the table as my mother’s vein looked like it was about to burst, and she shouted, her voice filled with strain, her face directed at the policeman but her voice at me.

“Shut up and leave! You owe me that!”

I froze, watching as the slap from the officer caught my mother square across the jaw with the back of a gloved hand, knocking her hard against the cabinet.

“The state owes you nothing,” he hissed as the woman turned my mother around to fasten the handcuffs behind her back, forcing my mother’s face to meet mine as it was flattened against the cabinet.

Leave, she mouthed, her eyes pleading, her lip bleeding as I felt myself preparing to cast a force point stronger than I had ever done before, to crush the officers together while we escaped. But her eyes began to water, and she whispered once more as they started to pull her away, and I found myself paralyzed by her command.

“No, leave.”

The police left the door open, and I watched them enter the squad car from the window. I heard the officer’s final words as I memorized his face, just before the car pulled away.

“We’ve found a far better use for you than a maid, Ms. Alcmene. And I suggest you cooperate. You’re still far enough from Special to be considered a Regular, and I do have witnesses of you putting up a fight. In these circumstances, an accidental fatality would hold up well in the court of law.”

Chapter 6

For thirty minutes I sat at the kitchen table, staring at where the police car had been moments before. It had started raining before they peeled away, so that a shadow of dry ground was left where the car had been, but now steadily faded away with each passing drop.

In my hand, I flicked the black orb back and forth across my palm, letting it roll in rings around the center. The light for it to absorb was now minimal, but rain danced in through the open window, often changing course to disappear into the shadowy mass. I shuddered as I remembered the policeman’s slap, as I cursed under my breath for listening to my mother.

The sphere was growing heavier now as it absorbed more water, and as my thoughts turned as dark as its surface.

I should have done something, I should have stopped them. I know I could have stopped them. I could have saved her. And with her powers, they would never have seen me coming.

It would have been over in an instant.

With a roar I threw the sphere against the kitchen wall, shaking as the dark mass crashed into the cabinet, then through the cabinet and the concrete wall behind with a sound like rushing water. Forks and knives jumped upwards to meet it from the counter top like bugs to a light, disintegrating as they meshed with the darkness, some of them falling back to the ground stretched and distorted like hot plastic. And where the orb passed through the wall, it left a hole the size of a bowling ball unlike any I had ever seen- the wood of the cabinet flowing forwards to meet it instead of snapping off in chunks, expanding inwards to follow the orb’s trajectory as it continued into the next apartment, and the next, and then next. I stared through the hole, open mouthed as I saw rain pouring through the other side just as the orb broke through the outer brick layer, and sparks falling from electrical wires.

Then there was a flash of light so bright it left stars in my vision, and I felt the explosion before I heard it as the orb collapsed in upon itself. The wave hit me in the chest, knocking me backwards as I felt what I could only describe as ripples flowing in the space around me, waves that I sensed in the same way I could sense the orbs themselves.

“Lance, what the shit did you do this time?” I heard a our neighbor scream at her husband through the wall, while car alarms started to screech in the street and a child wailed in chorus with them. Through the hole, I could see that the orb had passed clean through an oven, absorbing the metal and the half cooked dinner alike along its path, and a face now filled the space where the meatloaf had been.

Stephen’s wide eyes met mine as he stared, face white, holding a book with a semicircular hole melted into its outer edge, the pages morphed into solid pulp form where they had touched the orb.

“What the-” He started, as Lance’s wife launched into a tirade about how her mother had warned her that he was nothing but trouble, and that they never should have left the trailer park. But then I broke eye contact with Stephen, and left through the still open door, taking the steps two at a time to the street where a small crowd had already gathered and stared up at the sky, where no trace was left of the sphere except for the hole leaving the building through brick, the clay puckered outwards as if it had been fired that way long ago.

"Never seen anything like it," An old man was mumbling to his wife, both holding hands on the other end of the street, while their grand daughter pulled at his shirt.

"What do you think it was, papa? What type of Special could do that?" She asked, thrusting a fist in the air and mimicking the explosion, "Ka-Powww! Where were they born in a thunderstorm?"

"How many years ago was that hurricane, Matilda?" The old man said to his wife, putting a quieting hand on his grand daughter's head, "The category five, was that ten years ago? Maybe it was something from that, the one that made them reconstruct the entire block. Ain't no way a normal storm did this."

With my head down, I wove through them, the rain wetting my shoulders and my hair sticking to my temples. And I thought about what to do next, what I had to do next.

I had to find my mother, and I had to save her. To do that, I would have to know where to look, to find someone who might know where the police had taken her. A Special who might know.

And once I had found them, I would have to be able to control my power well enough to be sure I wouldn’t hurt my mother as we escaped, and to be able to fight them. I’d have to learn, and for that, I’d have to attend the academy while keeping my true intentions secret.

Biting my lip, I shivered in the cold, my thoughts racing far ahead of my footsteps. Wishing that there was an entry in the Directory about myself, one I could consult, and understand my limitations.

By now, I’d been traveling down twelfth street for a mile straight from my apartment, and turned a left onto a new block, one with three story houses instead of hulking buildings, the yards increasing in size with each side street, several maintained to hold exotic floral arrangements by teams of dedicated Climate Controllers and Green Thumbs. None of the cars here had rust or dents, and the driveway to my apartment had more potholes than the entire mile of street.

I watched the addresses on the mailboxes as they ticked upwards, then turned into a drive with a fountain in the lawn, the water following intricate webbed patterns that would be impossible by physics alone to form a family crest suspended in midair, and crossed the grass to the front door. I raised the knocker and rapped on the door, wincing as I remembered the last time I had heard knocking.

In moments, the heavy oak slab swung inwards, and a face peered out at me in the rain, the expression filled with excitement.

“Daddy, daddy,” Shouted Arial, jumping into the air with excitement and forgetting to come down, “The Boreal, he’s here! I told you that I didn't make him up!”

Chapter 7

Arial ushered me inside to the foyer, where her mother spotted me and rushed to the master bathroom, returning with a stack of colored towels.

“You poor thing,” She tuttered, wrapping me once before I had a chance to move, then sponging me off with the end of another towel, the fabric so soft that I doubted its very substance, “You must not have been expecting the rain. Why on earth did you not call a taxi?”

“In the north, we do not experience rain except once a year, and that as cold as ice,” I lied, feigning ignorance and knowing that my lack of pocket money would arouse suspicion, “Why would you not take the rain?”

“I have heard they are strange up there,” Said Arial, and her mother glared.

“Arial, it’s called culture, and you should learn to respect it,” She scolded, “Now, you’ve arrived just in time for dinner, first course is coming out as soon as Emma, or chef, finishes. She’s French, darling, with a certificate to prove it. Lorraine, to be precise, born in ‘76. A fantastic year.”

Already, I could smell the aromas testifying to Emma’s powers, scents of spices that I had not known existed, yet my watering mouth knew would burst into explosions of flavor. Beaming, Arial led me into the dining room, the table already set with more utensils than I knew how to handle, and with more decoration food than typically filled my entire pantry. Arial seated me in the guest chair, then claimed the spot next to me, leaning forward in expectation for not the food, but for the coming conversation.

“So,” Said the man already across the table, his fingers steepled in front of him as he studied me, not a single strand out of alignment in his dark parted hair, “Arial has told me you’re a Boreal. How intriguing, I do take an interest to the rarer powers such as those you possess.”

“Why, why thank you,” I answered, offering a quick smile, “I am fortunate- both for my abilities, and for your hospitality.”

“Fortunate indeed, for your ability,” He responded, as Emma waltzed behind us, bearing cups of soup garnished with blooming flowers that she placed before us, her movements so graceful I thought she had skipped me until I looked down, “Born in the northern hospitals- your parents must be quite wealthy, for a chance at a Boreal son.”

“Yes, erm, indeed,” I mimicked, wondering why the letters were missing in my soup, and whether Emma had forgotten them, “Most wealthy, of course. Just like you, wealthy. Which is why they sent me here, to board at the academy, since the schools up there are open to anyone.”

“An interesting choice, here of all places,” Said Arial’s father, staring at my shirt, which had a patch over one elbow and a stretched collar, “And yet your clothing choice is quite… unique.”

“I’ve only just arrived, and these are my traveling clothes,” I said, “My belongings were misplaced, they should arrive soon.”

“Yet your aunt did not see it fit to-”

Artie,” Interrupted Arial’s mother, “Let the boy eat without being berated. Had he been wearing his proper attire, it would only have been ruined in the rain.”

“Yes, I’m sure they would have been soiled,” He remarked after a minute of silence, as we finished our soup, and Emma carted away the bowls, “Tell me, boy- SC, is it? What a curious name, unlike any I have known. Tell me, did your parents phone ahead to the academy, or perform any research? I’m afraid you shan’t be allowed in.”

“Father, a Boreal would definitely be allowed in!” Protested Arial, her fingertips pinching the edge of the table.

“I have the ability, and the strength of it!” I added, but he raised a hand.

“Power is not the issue here, nor rarity. Take Arial, with the power of flight, a common power, yet she was admitted with no qualms. A power from an accidental airplane birth on the way to the hospital, a level one in the Amazon rainforest, with a down payment more than this house.”

Beside me, Arial was quiet and still, as her father continued, and Emma placed his entree before him.

“No, SC, I’m afraid you can’t attend because the school is closing. Had your parents done their research, as any parents should before mailing their son halfway around the globe, I’m sure they would have learned that as well. They would know that due to a gerrymandered district, it is being converted into a rehabilitation facility. I doubt you would have interest in attending there, whether or not you qualify. I’ve started the process of pulling Arial out, but many of the other children on scholarship will finish their schooling at the facilities there, or they’d have to repay their debt to the city.”

He raised his knife, and sliced into his braised chicken, expertly removing the meat from the bone, though his eyes never moved off of me.

“But enough talk about the academy, SC. I’m sure we can find accommodations for you elsewhere, with a power as special yours. In all my years studying the rarities, I’ve only come across five or six Boreals. Come, treat us to a show and I’ll inform you how you compare.”

He smiled, baring his teeth as he took the first bite, chewing slowly as I felt the blood start to drain from my face. Arial had been simple to trick, she’d only seen one Boreal, and from a distance. But her father- her father would not be so easy to fool.

I imagined creating the force point on the table, pushing space downwards to pull her family in with all the food, wrapped in the the tablecloth like the filling of one of Emma’s pastries. It wouldn’t hurt them, I was sure, at least not bad. And it would give me time to escape.

“Go on,” Arial’s father whispered, eyes glinting, and I felt the other inhabitants of the table lean in as the air stilled, "Or would you care to admit you are something far more common, if anything at all?"

I exhaled and chose my target, a tray of softened butter at the center. And just as I collected my will, the shrill ringing of a telephone interrupted from the kitchen.

Their three heads snapped towards the kitchen as the butter on the tray morphed into a symmetrical ball, pulled together by the point as I released it an instant later before it could cause more damage, the water in the tall glasses around the table sloshing back and forth just enough to be noticed.

“For you!” Cried Emma, rushing forward with the phone, and handing it to Arial’s father, who listened to a voice on the other end. Then his expression tightened and he sprang up from the table, wiping his mouth with an embroidered napkin, and shouldering a coat from the rack.

“An emergency has been reported on twelfth street,” He said to his wife, “There has been an unregistered power sighting, word is already getting to me an hour late. Something unlike anything I have heard of, that requires my immediate attention. Something rare.”

With long strides he reached the doorway, thrusting it open, and turned back, letting the wind and rain billow past him into the house. Turning back, he spoke one last sentence, letting the sarcasm drip from his voice.

“SC, the next time we meet, I’m sure we would all be delighted to see your true abilities."

Then the door slammed, and he raced into the night.

Chapter 8

Arial sniffed, poking at her plate with a fork, ignoring Emma as she placed a miniature dessert at her elbow. The last course consisted of a crepe shaped like a butterfly, the wings streaked with patterns of strawberry, blueberry, chocolate, and balsamic that melded so well with batter that the dish appeared alive. And it nearly was- as a perfectly timed scoop of ice cream melted in the rigid center, the wings drooped down from their upright position as if it was ready to take flight, and two cherry stem antenna perked upwards.

“Oh Emma, you’ve outdone yourself,” Complemented Arial’s mother, her speech as forced as wading into cold water, “The desert, and the butter as well! It fits the flow of the table so much better in that shape- I found the rectangular edges otherwise to be quite jarring. The little wave patterns on the surface are so intricate!”

Emma raised an eyebrow as she looked at the butter, tilting her head in confusion as she set down the plate, the back of her hand brushing against Arial's father’s drinking glass that had been left on edge of the table. It toppled, the stem cracking in two as it smashed into the floor, and Emma immediately bent over to fetch the pieces.

“Pardon, my apologies,” She exclaimed with a quick bow, wiping the water from the table with a fresh cloth, “Fortunately there is little mess, but I will sweep for any stray shards.”

“No need, Emma, no need,” Hushed Arial’s mother, plucking the two pieces from the chef’s hands. Then she placed them back on top of each other, stroking an index finger down the glass, the material flowing back together until it was seamless once more. A streak of gray flashed through her hair as she set it back on the table as if brand new, “Just give it a thorough wash.”

My breath caught in my throat as Emma took back the unblemished glass, and Ariel’s mother smiled at me.

“Please excuse my powers at the table,” She said with a nod, “Uncouth as it is, they do serve their purpose. It will be our secret.”

“You’re a Mender,” I breathed, and she released a tinkling laugh, throwing a lock of her curled hair behind her shoulder.

“Oh me? Yes, I am, dear. Not the most powerful of types-”

“But exceptionally rare.” I finished, as mild annoyance crossed her face from me interrupting her performance. And rare she was despite the simplicity of the power, and though Menders were one of the few power types that could be born anywhere in the world, their conditions at birth were what made them unique.

For Menders, it was a requirement that the child be born on the brink of death, often mistaken for a stillborn. Brought into the world broken so that child had to be restored to life, its cold body coaxed warm once more, its first breath occurring just at the inflection point of mortality. Those cases were common enough in hospitals, children saved by particularly adept medical staff, placed crying into their sobbing mother’s arms. But what was not common was the last requirement for a Mender to develop- that the doctor that delivered them perish within the same day.

“He was old,” Said Arial’s mother, guessing my thoughts, “And went peacefully in his sleep later that night. And not a day goes by that I don’t thank him for his gift.”

Then she stood, the grey streak in her hair slowly fading to match the brown of the other strands, and addressed her daughter.

“Arial, it’s time for your schoolwork and your friend to depart. Walk him out, but don’t leave the yard- though the rain appears to have let up, it’s getting dark.”

“Yes, mother,” Mumbled Arial, leaving her dishes for Emma, and treading towards the door. For someone who could leap into the air with the slightest twitch of her toes, her posture slumped as if gravity had laid an extra hand upon her, and she kept her face pointed ahead as she led me outside.

And when the door shut behind us, it wasn’t raindrops that splashed against the front porch.

“Nothing’s ever good enough for him!” She whispered, her lip trembling and she turned her eyes away from mine, two more tears streaming down her face, “That’s why I brought you here, SC, I thought he might be proud of me.”

“Arial,” I started, unsure what to say as she shook, “It’s going to be ok. Your mother seems nice.”

“No, no it’s not,” She sobbed, “Mother won’t stop him when he gets like that. And now, my school is shutting down, and he’s taking me from my friends. He didn’t even believe you were a Boreal! If only you had a chance to show him before he left.”

“If only,” I answered, as she steadied her breathing and wiped away her tears, her sleeve still ripped from earlier that day, “Arial, why didn’t your mother fix your sleeve like she fixed the glass?”

“It’s not good for her,” She answered, blinking to dry her eyes, “So father won’t permit it. You saw how her hair turned grey? Each time she fixes something, she has to recover. But she can’t stand seeing anything broken, so it always makes her angry until it’s fixed.”

“I’m sorry,” I answered, looking to the patch on my sleeve that my own mother had mended physically, Arial’s tears nearly contagious as I wondered where she might be now.

“It’s not your fault. And I don’t care what he says, wherever I go to school next you are more than welcome to come. I’ve seen your powers, I know you’ll get in.  Or better yet, I’ll refuse to leave!”

"Where do you think you’ll be going? I’d like to go to one of the ones better known for fighting.”

Fighting,” She laughed through sniffles, her face starting to return to its normal complexion, “We don’t fight, that’s what the rehabilitation facilities are for, training the soldiers and policemen. The north really must be so different, or maybe that’s why your schools are as terrible as you say.”

“Wait, what do you do then?” I said, “What else do they teach you to do with your powers?”

“Our powers? We only use those an hour each day, and just theory even then. It’s more reading and math and history. What exactly did you think we did? It’s a school, not a bootcamp.”

“Well, erm, come to think of it I wasn’t sure, I just assumed if it was a Special school you would do Special lessons.”

Arial tilted her head, squinting her eyes at me, barely visible in the darkness.

“The north really is odd,” she said, just as her mother shouted from inside, and she turned to leave, “But really, come to school with me, I promise you’ll like it!”

“Of course!” I lied as she opened the door back inside, “And Arial, one more question. Your father, what’s his power? What’s he do?”

“He works with the city in their Special registration department, helping identify Special’s that are here without proper documentation,” She said, her expression darkening as I mentioned him once more, “He’s a Hunter. Once he’s felt a Special’s power, he can track the individual down from it, almost like a scent it leaves behind. And bye, SC, see you soon! At school!”

Then she left, and I swallowed, looking back towards Twelfth street. Where a hole was still fresh in my apartment wall, and Ariel’s father would be investigating.

Seeking the scent of a Special that definitely had no documentation.

Chapter 9

I’d grown up poor, but never so poor to live without a home.

My mother’s track record made finding work difficult- she’d been fired as a nurse, and blacklisted from any additional opportunities at the space program by the engineering director trying to cover the potential scandal. Whenever she found work, employers were pleased with her efforts, but the career ladder for maids is short and being a single mother meant she had little time to pursue other opportunities. But no matter how small that week’s paycheck, dinner always found a way onto the table. And though there may have been holes in the plaster, a roof was always over my head.

Tonight, my first night without her, was also the first on the street.

Her voice echoed in my head as I walked away from Arial’s home, considering trying to return to my own apartment and sneak a night in my own bed, the night growing cold and rain threatening to soak me once more.

They can't know, do you understand me? My mother’s voice echoed in my mind.

But by now anyone inspecting the area were likely gone- crimes occurred often in my portion of the city, and police rarely stayed longer than a few minutes if there was no one present to handcuff. I’d at least check to see if the crowd was still there, or if see if there was someone who might lend me their couch for the night. And I promised myself I would be careful.

I frowned and walked quickly, my hands in my pockets, remembering the Directory’s description of Hunters, and reviewing it as I came closer to my door, only able to bring the synopsis to mind.

Those with the ability to track the powers of others, their own power level determined by the distance of their senses, ranging from several feet to several miles. After study, it has been determined that hunters cannot sense individuals themselves, but rather levels of power activity.

Since Arial’s father had not been present when I used my power, the danger should be minimal- and just to be sure, I would refrain from using it unless I was certain I was safe. Yet part of me wandered what exactly would happen if he did find me. Stern as he was, he held a admiration of the rarer powers, and mine was more rare than anyone I had ever known. Maybe he’d help me, or at least provide me with food, shelter, and education while I searched for my mother. Once he realized the true nature of my power, maybe he would be eager to help.

As I thought, I cut through a park that had degenerated to wildlife from years of neglect and ran alongside my apartment building, my shoes sloshing through puddles and scraggly trees reaching high into the sky from both sides of the gravel path. The benches I passed were occupied with homeless men and women claiming them like personal territory, glaring as I passed, the wind carrying the sound of their chattering teeth. From the underbrush I heard rustling and I took care to stick as close as possible to the center of the path, jumping as a chipmunk streaked under my feet. An owl hooted at my back, and I felt the hair on my neck stand up as I neared the exit, and saw the blue lights reflected off the mist.

Crouching so the hedges ahead concealed me, I crept forward, thankful that park maintenance budget had been slashed for so long that the last time the lights had been replaced was before I had been born. And wedging myself between two particularly large bushes, with my breath stilled and careful to be as quiet as possible, I suppressed a gasp as I glimpsed my apartment.

Three police cars were parked at the entrance of the building, forming a trapezoidal barrier on the sidewalk with a gap on the right side, two officers manually admitting the other occupants of the apartment after checking identification. Three more officers were posted at each corner of the building, and four surrounded a small group of people with Arial’s father at the head, his jaw clenched as he surveyed them. There was Lance and his wife, her expression accusatory while he wore his best bathrobe for the occasion, plus two other sets of neighbors that had occasionally stopped by to ask my mother for aid in mending a garment or removing stains. And at the front of the crowd was Stephen and his mother, Stephen’s face white from more than the cold.

“I’m going to ask again,” Said The Hunter, the edge in his voice carrying into the park from thirty feet away, the crowd bristling as he spoke, “There was a woman and a child in room 662 where the event occurred, most of you have confirmed that much. Although some of you,” He glared at Lance, who seemed to be missing the whiskey and soda that was a natural extension of his hand, “Can’t even recall that much. We need a description of the child, even a simple one will suffice. This is for your own safety, as this could potentially be a situation that could put all of your lives in danger. You there at the front, you stated that he was in your class, what was his hair color?”

Stephen shuffled his feet, his forehead creased in thought, shaking his head as he answered.

“I, I don’t know,” He said on the verge of tears, “He was my best friend, but when I think about it, I can’t remember. I mean, I remember him, and I always recognized him, but the details just seem blurry, like I just never really paid attention to them. I know he had hair, at least I think. Maybe brown?”

“Am I to presume he was balding at fifteen?” Sneered Arial’s father, his voice incredulous, and Stephen flinched back, “Are there no details, nothing from any of you? The boy - that much you have agreed on, that it was a boy - lived there for several years. How is a physical description is beyond you?”

“Investigator,” Said one of the officers to Arial’s father, his badge flashing as he turned, his uniform stretched to cover bulging muscles, “You’ve been at it over a half an hour. We’ll dispatch some of our own to question tomorrow, but it’s getting late, and we’re getting nowhere. We’ll check internally to see if we have anything on activity at the apartment as well.”

“Fine,” Hissed Arial’s father, his eyes flashing, “You’re all dismissed, and each of you will have a follow up. If you are acting to protect him, know that you are standing in the way of the law and will be punished. Roland,” He said, confronting the officer that had spoken up, “How close are they?”

“Nearly here.” The officer responded, “They received a call on the other end of the city before you arrived, false alarm.”

“Wonderful, just wonderful- your team is yet again showing their adeptness for situations such as these. Have they at least found anything inside?”

“Nothing, no pictures, no description. We know his size from his clothes and shoes, we have samples of his handwriting, and his fingerprints, but that’s it. Have you," Started the officer, and shifted as he asked the question, rolling his shoulders in discomfort, "Have you sensed anything?”

“Nothing,” Arial’s father answered, “The entire apartment's muddled, I can’t pick up anything distinct. Nothing tangible to lock onto, no clear scent. It’s as if no one with powers has occupied it in years. Roland, I want this block monitored every minute of the night and day. I cannot stress to you how important it is that we catch this one alive. We don’t have time for another repeat of last time, understood?”

In the distance, a siren wailed, growing louder as Arial’s father walked to the side of the building and waved the new vehicle over, a fire truck staffed with a tired crew near the end of their shift. Too far away for me to hear, he gestured, Officer Roland nodding beside him as one of the firemen lowered the bucket for The Hunter to step inside. Then they raised it up the side of the building, elevating him to the hole in wall high above where my dark sphere had tore through the brick. The Hunter raised his hands to the hole, his fingers brushing the morphed edge, his eyes shut, the artery in his neck visible from even where I stood. Then they lowered the bucket and he walked with Officer Roland back to his car, passing only a dozen feet in front of me.

“It’s faint, just enough to sense, but I’ve got the bastard. Be ready to go at a moment’s notice- the next time I sense him using his power, we’ll ambush him before he has a chance to escape. With this little to go on, he'll be close. Remember, alive. By how much doesn’t matter.”

"I'm not going to kill a child, Art."

"That's what you said last time, too." Came the retort.

They departed, each moving in separate directions, Arial’s father towards his home and Roland deeper into the city. And waiting until several minutes after they left, I backed into the park once more, knowing I would sleep in the cold.

If I slept at all.

Chapter 10

“Are you hiding too?” The voice rasped from behind my ear, so close I could feel hot breath on the back of my neck. I jumped and yelped, whipping around as I fell into brambles alongside the hedge, threadlike scratches running up my forearm. Above me, the figure of one of the park’s homeless smiled with a nearly full collection of teeth, his gaunt face leaning forward as he studied me.

“Hell, you scared me!” I exclaimed, still trying to back away, thorns digging into my back.

He cocked his head, his straggling hair drifting over his shoulder, and spoke in an excited voice.

“True, that’s true! But are you hiding like me?”

“No I’m not hiding,” I said, my feet finding purchase on the ground as I stood up, thankful he had not approached closer but was content to watch me, “I was just going home.”

“False!” He exclaimed, wagging a finger, “I know, oh yes I do! True, false, true, false! I always know which!” Then he leaned in, looking left and right before whispering in his hand to ensure none of the others could hear him, “That’s why they don’t like me, that’s why they tried to get rid of me. That’s why I hide. Because I always know, and I always tell.”

“Who tried to get rid of you?” I asked, inching to the right for a path around him, but he sidestepped in front of me, giggling.

Them! But it didn’t work, I escaped! Hah, they didn’t get me!” He exclaimed, hopping from foot to foot in excitement, then raised an eyebrow as he pointed to his head, “False. Except here. They got me a little bit here, didn’t they? I still think of them every night, oh their voices, their beautiful voices. Singing beautiful lies, lies I can still hear bouncing around. Is that why you are hiding? Because they’re trying to get you, too? You can hide with me, I know all the good places.”

“No, thank you,” I said, noticing we had attracted the attention of several other figures that were approaching, keeping watch from the darker shadows, as the hair pricked up on my neck, “It’s fine, I really don’t need to hide.”

“False! Oh so false.” He shouted to the sky, practically howling the words like a wolf to the moon, “That’s what I thought ten years ago, too. I was excited- first graduating class, see? The trial batch, I even kept the ring!” He extended his arm towards me, bruises and dirt covering nearly every inch of skin, and showing off a silver band on his finger, and concern crossed his face, “I didn’t earn the ring though, I never graduated. But promise you won’t tell, will you?”

“I promise I won't,” I answered as he exhaled a breath of relief and I thought of potential areas to place force points should the dark shapes move forward to attack, cursing as I realized that would be a dead giveaway of my position to Ariel’s father who was only minutes away.

“True, I think. That you won't.”

“Yes, true. But I need to leave now, ok?” I said, and started walking along the inside of the hedge as he trotted next to me.

“True.”

“It’s been nice talking to you, really.” I was nearing the edge of the park, where it opened into street lights, and quickened my pace.

“False. False, false, that's false!” He said, matching my steps, his breathing ragged. Then he came to a dead halt as I stepped onto pavement, and he waited at the border of the park.

“They’ll take you if they find you, if you’re worth it.” He said, keeping his face in the dark, his voice strained, “They’ll take you where they took me. To rehabilitation. But don’t leave the park, they never found me in the park for all ten years. True. They gave up long ago, looking for me, looking for Mikey.”

“A rehabilitation facility!” I realized, turning back to face him as he flinched, “That’s where they took you? You escaped there? Did they teach you to fight?”

“True, all true,” He whispered, stepping backwards, his eyes wide and hands starting to shake, “Oh, I hear them now, the voices. The singing. Back to the park for Mikey, back before the outside pulls me away, back to the bottom. Back to hide, true, no more fighting. No matter how beautiful the voices, I’ll never go back. Beautiful lies. False lies.”

Then he meshed with the darkness until only the whites of his eyes were visible, staring out in the street. And he placed his fingers into his ears, shaking his head as if trying dislodge something, screaming so loud his voice echoed back from the alleyways, stirring dogs to bark as he drew out the word as long as he could.

“False!”

I rushed away, my feet beating against the pavement as he retreated into the park, angry voices sounding in retaliation as inhabitants were awakened in their homes. I was too close to my apartment to risk the attention in streetlight, and I only slowed several blocks later, thinking of where to go next. And knowing that I had stumbled upon an enormous problem.

Had I been attacked in the park, I would have been defenseless without revealing myself. And without full knowledge of a Hunter’s skill, risking the use of any amount of my powers meant I could be tracked then found. That meant I couldn’t train to fight without being discovered. And without knowing how to fight, without knowing how to use my powers, saving my mother would be impossible.

To learn about myself, I had to know more about Arial’s father first. I had to know his limitations, the ways I could evade his power, if any existed at all. And for that, I had to return to the same place that I had stolen the Directory.

The special section of the library.

I missed the light from my orbs as I navigated the dark streets, hiding behind trash cans and within alleyways whenever cars passed, waiting until a count of thirty to move once more if they were police. By the time I reached the library’s stone steps my feet were dragging rather than walking and my eyelids sinking under the weight of the day. So I walked around to the back, rain starting to fall once more from above, thunder sounding far in the distance. And I found a reading bench, one meant for sitting upon on sunny days, but served as an umbrella as I fell asleep underneath, the frigid stone biting into my shoulder blades. Knowing that if I cast a force point to my right and my left, I could pull the cold water away from puddling at my side. And choosing to shiver instead.

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