The building door opened when sunlight breached the sky, the aged librarian struggling to climb each of the steps, her cane tapping against the hard stone. By then I was awake and rested- not well rested, but recharged enough to venture out from under my bench, thankful that blue sky showed overhead and that the wind was still. And when I saw her climbing the steps, I realized my chance.
The library itself was closed for another half hour as she performed the duties necessary prior to allowing the public inside. For that hour, her hawk like surveillance of the shelves from behind the central desk would be disrupted- instead she would be sorting files as I had seen her finishing on those days I had arrived just on open. Which meant that any activity from me, so long as it was quiet enough, would go unnoticed.
So as she let the door fall shut behind her, I raced up the steps on tiptoe, careful not to alert her ears which were far less acute than her eyes. And just before the door shut, I caught it with my index finger, preventing the lock from clicking back into place. I counted to ten, my finger pinched in the door, casting a wary glance towards the street which was still asleep at this time of the morning. Then I slipped inside, careful to shut the door softly as I treaded through the familiar hall, and spotted the librarian with her head down, the enormous bags underneath her eyes visible even from my distance.
I’d heard she was a Narcolept, though I’d never confirmed it- and either way, she certainly bore the look. For though they never slept, Narcolepts were plagued with the perpetual symptoms of a restless night, a source of near constant yawns and long blinks. Typically they flocked to universities and academia, especially since many trade professions wouldn’t even consider hiring one due to the risk of a inattentive worker, though they also peppered the top positions of business and law firms alike. From what I could recall, they were born in locations with near constant sources of noise, near airports and train hubs that ran through the night, and city centers that, like them, never slept.
I crept along the side wall as she faced the other direction, making my way to the shelves towards the end of the library typically monitored by the second librarian who arrived later in the day. Back there it was still dark, the stacks of books in slumber, many of the volumes covered in dust and unused even during the peak hours. Considering only members of the academies had access, traffic flow was always low, the Specials paying a premium to keep the descriptions of their powers behind the barrier except for those like themselves.
The Directory still under my bed was merely an overview of the knowledge held in these shelves, each of the tomes diving into specific types of Specials and theories behind powers. Some were filled with pages upon pages of raw data, geographic locations, chronological dates, and groupings of powers. Others were far more speculative and outdated, though often there was still a glimmer of truth in the chapters. And today, I walked to the section marked “H”, tags underneath each collection of books labelled.
Hawthorn’s Distinctions Among Power Classes
Then, there was what I was looking for. Five books under the tag Hunters that I pulled down from the shelf, and checked skimmed in the darkness. Only ten pages long was A Complete List of Hunter Birth Locations, and I placed that back on the shelf. Next was Hunter’s in History, and I took it to a small table, casting a look at the clock. Fifteen minutes until opening now, and I skimmed the pages, searching for clues. Most the information concerned figures throughout the centuries, often kept by kings and queens to track unfaithful subjects, and in the turn of the twentieth century employed by debt collectors seeking to exact money from wealthy clients. Casinos kept them in their employ, and the vast majority had trouble sensing any sort of powers more than a hundred yards away.
And there, underneath, was a description written by one of the more successful collectors, describing his abilities in tracking down his client’s targets.
Imagine you are in a crowded room, one filled with hundreds of guests. You are holding your own conversation, but there are dozens of others in your immediate vicinity. With concentration, you can focus on one of them, and discern what they are saying. Or, you can listen for a particular word, a keyword in all the conversations in the room. And when you hear it, you pinpoint where that word came from. That word is the target, and when it is spoken is the usage of powers. First, you have to know what the word sounds like, you have to be looking for it, that’s the seed. Then you have to wait for it to be spoken, where it lingers for some time. And you strike.
I frowned, and turned the page, continuing to read as it mentioned some of the major criminals that Hunters had eventually tracked down and placed behind bars. There were names I recognized, particularly those who were given life long sentences, and those that were from far before my own birth. And then there was an account from the criminal Demasti, who had lead a squad of three Hunters across the entire country in a string of robberies over ten years before they finally caught him emptying a vault. After four years he was released in return for his crucial information on how he kept out the Hunter’s at bay, only to return to jail six years after that for a murder case.
To escape, it read, You have to know your enemy. The Hunters, they find prey by singling them out from among the many. Typically, the many are quiet. So I made sure no matter where I went, the many were loud. So loud, they drowned out my own scent. And there, the Hunter’s couldn’t single me out, their senses were overloaded. And that, that’s how I got away. Is that what you wanted to hear? Can I go now?
I closed the book, and turned to the clock. The library would be opening in just a minute, so I tucked the book under my elbow and returned the way I had come, passing the bewildered library assistant as she passed me on the stairs. I had found what I needed.
And I knew where I had to go.
Before I acted, I had to test Arial’s father’s powers, to see if he could sense me as he claimed.
I decided on a large park, near the edge of the city, approximately a mile away from Arial’s house. There were dozens of entry and exit points, so I could escape even if the situation became out of control. And more importantly, there was a parking garage at the edge, five stories tall, with the top exposed to open air. From that vantage point, I’d be able to watch the entire park below, but it would be near impossible to be spotted. And to prevent The Hunter from attaining a stronger sense of my powers, I chose a large pond for my location, with no boats or watercraft nearby.
If he wanted a better scent, he would have to swim for it.
I stood on the shoreline, my shoes sinking a half inch into mud, the field behind me deserted save for a few walkers on the far end, a collection of trees separating me from them and ensuring privacy. There was a light breeze coming from their direction, just enough for me to catch snippets of conversations, but not enough to understand any of them.
Taking a deep breath, I flicked a dark sphere into existence in my right hand, feeding it sunlight as it grew. It was the first I hadI created since the one that crashed through the apartment building, and stared at it curiously, focusing on how I kept the sphere alive. Realizing that I was actively pushing the space at its center down, and the reason the last one had exploded was that it had been too far away for me to maintain. That I kept the spheres alive, and without me they couldn’t survive.
In my hand, the sphere grew heavier, and I aimed towards the center of the pond, knowing that was about as far as I could throw accurately. Then I launched it, watching as the water reached upwards to meet it as if fell, a hole in the pond left static where it fell through. And I started to run, tucking a second sphere away above my wrist, and making a beeline through the forest to the parking garage, turning back halfway to see the pond.
There, directly underneath where I had thrown it, water was swirling in a whirlpool the size of my old apartment, pulling in Lilly pads and floating twigs from the outer edges. And just before I turned back to focus on my escape, the sphere destabilized and exploded.
A column of water and mist shot upwards, creating the equivalent of a tsunami for an ecosystem that small, raining down water, dirt, and bewildered frogs into the field beyond. The walkers at the far end shrieked as they were soaked, their clothes dripping as they scrambled away, pointing towards the pond where bubbles still gave the surface the appearance of boiling.
By now, I had reached the garage, and took the steps two at a time to the top, panting once I reached five stories. And I crouched behind a trash can at the edge to watch the scene below.
Flashing blue lights converged on the scene in minutes, eight cars coming from all corners of the city, and the figure of Arial’s father stepped out of the first one to run the short distance from parking lot to pond, stopping at the edge just where I had stood. He walked the circumference, eyes at the center, and turned to shout at a cop that had just arrived, her chest rising and falling quickly from the exertion of the run. She stepped forwards, holding her hands in front of her, and pushing them apart as the water of the pond reacted, splitting down the center at her command. The Hunter stepped in the gap between the two walls of water, walking forwards towards the center where a crater had formed in the bottom on the pond, scooping out a portion of mud and holding it up to his face. Then he nodded, leaving the pond as the woman let the walls collapse and the water rushed together at the middle.
As he had inspected the pond, a dozen policemen combed the park, and now brought five children before him, all male and roughly my size. After a quick glance he shook his head then they returned to their parents just a few feet away, their faces crossed with concern. Then he pointed towards the several areas of thick forest, one of them where I had ran, and the police dispatched to comb through vegetation.
I sighed in relief when they returned with nothing, and cursed as I realized that my plan with the pond had failed- that he now had a stronger scent of me to target. But there was another part of my plan that had been successful- in the pocket of space above my wrist, there still was a black sphere that I had tucked away. And that even in eyeshot, Arial’s father was unable to sense it. The power required to keep it alive must be too minimal for his notice. Creating one and exploding one took far more effort.
I watched as they departed, and climbed down after a half hour, making my way to a location far more familiar to me. The tree by the academy, where I climbed once more in its branches, and overlooked the empty recess field. I called a new sphere to life, feeding it light and leaves, watching at grow larger and feeling it grow heavier, but keeping it smaller than the last. And I tossed it into the school yard, the place where I had watched dozens of students exercising their powers in high concentration, relinquishing my hold on it before it hit the ground, the flash nearly blinding me as the sound shook the school door. This one was nowhere near as loud as the one that had exploded outside my apartment, and the enclosure around the recess field contained the sound well instead of letting it reverberate in the alleys in the surrounding area.
The door opened, and a teacher stuck her head out, her eyes squinting against the sun, looking left and right. Then I heard her voice as she walked back inside, and a student protesting.
“Samuel, I don’t know what you did this time, or how you disrupted class, but you march down to the principle’s now!”
I smiled, knowing Samuel as a student with a knack for pyrotechnics, and an even bigger knack for trouble.
Then the door shut and I waited, my ears pricked for sirens that never came even after a half hour, and climbed down from the tree. I walked in front of the academy as I departed, watching as two workers painted over the name on the front sign in broad strokes, and started adding new letters where the old ones had been.
I took the bus twelve miles north of the city center, spending near all the money I had left on a ticket. Considering I had started with nothing as valuable as paper money, exhausting it had not been difficult, especially considering the cost of the meager late lunch I had bought from a vending machine at the station.
I frowned as we bumped along the road, the occasional pothole nearly throwing me from my seat, a wide berth from the other passengers formed around me from what I assumed was the smell I had accumulated over the past day. As I stared out the window the buildings became more and more sparse, greater section of forests and fields filling the gaps between them, and my memory recognizing less of the landmarks that flashed by. Part of me wondered if it might be wiser just to stay outside the city, to learn the extent of my powers away from The Hunter, and to return when I was stronger. But I shook my head- though I would be stronger, I still would not know how to fight, and I would miss any clues about my mother’s disappearance that may surface. Then there was the matter of food and water, plus shelter. And if events did not go according to plan, I reasoned, I could always scrounge up enough coins from the cracks in the sidewalk to return here.
Near the end of the route I stepped off, waving at the driver as he scrunched his nose, choosing the stop for a long abandoned superstore with a parking lot that extended around the back. Taking a shopping cart with three wheels and rust that flaked away like red snow, I pushed it around the back, checking for signs of human life and finding none. Chains circled the doors of the entrances and exits, and a modest collection of hubcaps were piled under an overhang, long abandoned by their owner, that I placed into the cart. Above, the sun had started to set behind me, still high enough in the sky for a few hours of light but dragging the temperature with it in its descent.
When I reached behind the superstore, it too was deserted save for the tread marks of cars that come to spin doughnuts in the abandoned lot. Leaving the cart at the center, I placed the hub caps around it, and retreated twenty feet away, closing my eyes as I envisioned what I would have to do. That I would have to place the force point directly above the cart like a magnet, to focus it as close as I could so it gripped it tight, and move it quickly enough to prevent disturbing the hub caps.
Concentrating, I pushed the space above the cart with my power, forcing it downwards as the three wheels left the ground. But before I had the chance to swing the force point upwards, the hubcaps spun on their axis and leapt upwards, sailing past the point to scatter across the lot as released it. I sighed, and reached out to place a point in front of the nearest hubcap, scraping it along the concrete back to where it had started, careful to keep the force weak enough that the cart wouldn’t tip. Then I repeated it for the second cap, and the third, sweat beading down my forehead as I focused, keeping the actions delicate unlike the punch of generating dark spheres. And when all the caps were in place, I tried to lift the cart again, swearing as the hub caps scattered once more, and resetting them back in the center through several minutes of effort.
The next time, I thought about the way that I bent the space above the cart- earlier it had been like a salad bowl, the edges gradually flowing away from a depressed region in the center. And I focused on tightening the bowl into a cone, only letting the tip graze the handle of the cart, and laughing as the back two wheels of the cart rose into the air. My jaw tightened as I focused on continuing to pull it upwards, the exertion of keeping the force point bundled tight together far more draining than simply pushing the space inwards, the feeling similar to the first time I had gripped a pencil to form letters and felt the muscles in my hand cramp. I released the cart after it had risen ten feet, letting bounce back to the concrete as it lost another wheel that wobbled away in a long semi circle. Then I repeated the action until it grew more comfortable, dragging the cart left and right, and spinning it in a circle, the rusted joints breaking apart when I dropped it the last time.
Taking a breath, raised both my hands, constructing points above two adjacent hubcaps, raising them in the air and circling them around each other, my forehead wrinkling as the loops grew tighter and faster. Once, in one of the short time periods where we had more money, my mother had enrolled me in a week’s work of piano lessons- and now, commanding two force points felt the same as trying to command my fingers to play different notes at the same time, as if I were splitting my thoughts into two interacting parts. Possible, but far more difficult than controlling just one.
Then I turned, flinging the hubcaps over my shoulder towards the abandoned store, smashing them through a panel of windows high above the ground and losing control of the hubcaps as they became too distant, only to hear them ricochet around the insides of the store. I nodded, looking to the cart and the caps, knowing that I lacked the finesse to control them to the best of my ability. But for now, this was all I needed- and perhaps a lack of control would play out in my favor for the next stage of my plan.
The bus ride home was shorter than the one out of the city, since I stopped five miles north of the center, at a gas station that had bars over its windows and flickering lights on the inside. My stomach rumbled- it had been a full day since the meal at Arial’s, a day full of activity with little sustenance along the way. Now it would be time to fill up on the rows of snacks, hoping that if I consumed enough of them it would at least feel like I had eaten something nutritious.
I opened the door, navigating the grimy tiles that had once been white in a prior decade, approaching the rickety racks holding foods higher in calories than nature had even intended. Reaching forward, I grabbed a bag of chips, one with a particularly noisy wrapper. And I opened it.
“Hey, you!” shouted the owner from behind the counter, his eyes drifting away from the magazines as he pointed a chubby finger at me, “What the Hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Eating dinner,” I responded, spraying fragments of salt and vinegar his direction, and jamming an entire candy bar in my mouth.
“You gotta pay for that first!” he yelled as I tossed the bag on the ground and popped open another, letting a few stray puffs dance across the ground as his lip curled.
“Don’t feel like it,” I answered, throwing a pack of candy at him, “Screw off, what is it, like two bucks? I’m hungry.”
“Damn kids,” swore the man, hopping off a faded stool that creaked under his weight and ducking below the counter, a tuft of greasy hair stuck to the side of his reddening face, “Pay up, before I-“
I raised a hand, sweeping it in the direction of a display of beer that towered towards the ceiling, bringing it smashing down between myself and the man just as I had pulled the cart earlier, the bottles shattering as liquid spilled out in a bubbling river on the floor. His eyes widened as I raised my other hand, the hot dog cart screeching as it fell atop the bottles, popping any that had survived the fall.
“I said,” I repeated, my voice low and my eyes squinting towards him as he backed away to the counter, “I was hungry.”
“Shit, shit, eat what you want kid!” shouted the owner as he jammed his finger repeatedly into a button behind the counter and tequitos flew at him like arrows with a swipe of my hand. And I took his advice- taking care to rustle the occasional shelf with a force point as he fled outside, sliding across the spilled beer in his haste, and slamming the door shut behind him. For all I knew, this could be my last food for days, and I made sure to stock up.
When the blue lights flashed outside, I launched a stream of soda cans out the window for good measure, aiming just short of the cars to shower them with cola as each exploded like a miniature bomb, acting as if I was tossing them nonchalantly over my shoulder as I raided the refrigerators.
“He came out of nowhere!” the owner was yelling outside to the several police officers who had arrived at the scene. “I ain’t but only known one, but I know a Telekinetic when I see one! Nearly killed me, and my store is in ruins! Damn, do something!”
Just then I looked up, my face portraying surprise as three officers cautiously approached the door, reaching my hands out in front of me to drag an ATM in front of them, purposefully making it grind and screech more than necessary and forcing my arms to shake with effort.
“Son, just come on out-“ started on of the officers as I toppled the machine, slamming it into the ground, and turned to run out the back exit. But before I reached it, the door exploded open, the officer reaching inside to toss the ATM back into the store as if it was made of cardboard. I shrieked, reaching upwards to make it rain ceiling tiles, releasing dust that had accumulated for longer than I had been alive and creating a smokescreen. Then I reached the back door, ramming through the Emergency Exit bar, and toppling into the parking lot. There, just twenty feet in front of me, was the owner’s car- about twenty years ago, it would have been considered a luxury vehicle, but now sported rust to complement the racing stripes.
“Get back!” I shouted as the first of the officer’s emerged, the one who had bowling balled the ATM, “I’m warning you, you don't know what I'm capable of!”
“Evade arrest, and we’ll take you by force,” he panted, his cardiovascular athleticism far less exercised than his strength, “Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can escape. Already you’re in deep trouble, and it’s only going to get worse.“
Beside him, the two other officers appeared, one a slim woman with close cut hair, the other a beanpole of a man, his uniform seeming to stretch impossibly to cover his entire frame. I lifted my arms once more, focusing on the car, creating a force point just powerful enough to start to pull weight off i’s tires and help the frame creak upwards.
“Don’t you even think-“ he warned, but I roared, the veins in my neck popping as I flexed my arm muscles, all while coaxing the vehicle upwards, bringing the back two tires off the ground as I shook.
And before I had a chance to raise the other two wheels, the short haired woman next to him moved. Except moved wasn’t the proper way to describe it- rather she blurred.
The full force of her shoulder caught me across the chest so quickly my surprise was genuine, my breath lost before I hit the ground, spinning in midair as she maneuvered my arms behind my back. Cuffs latching around my wrists before I registered what was happening, cold metal tight against my skin. Then I was face down, my cheek biting into the gravel, her knee across my shoulder blades.
“Documentation,” she commanded, grinding her knee into me more than was necessary as I choked. “Telekinetic , mid grade, mandated by section A114 of city law.”
“Screw you, and screw paperwork!” I retorted, trying to squirm away, “I’m not from here, I don’t have to listen to your rules! Just like dad said before you carted him off from the farm, and just you wait, he’ll teach you!”
“Didn’t get none, don’t need it!”
“Damn this one’s an idiot. Get the car Jim, should be prime to keep rehab's hands full.” she said as the other officers arrived, then started reciting my rights.
“Don’t you get any funny ideas,” said the officer as he slammed the back door shut. “This car is lead lined and built with reinforced steel, but I’ll crush it around you like a can if you get suspicious.”
“You think you scare me?” I retorted, trying to spin in the seat but receiving a face full of window glass, “Just you wait!”
Ahead of me, he crammed himself into the driver’s seat while the short haired woman slipped into the passenger, shaking her head at my comment. We pulled out of the gas station lot, leaving the lanky officer to speak with the owner, the lights on his car still flashing in the mirror.
“Urlich, Larissa,” crackled the radio from the front seat, and I recognized Officer Roland’s voice from when he had spoke to Arial's father outside of the apartment, and I tensed. “Where are you? You’re not in position, why didn’t you radio in?”
“Had a call north of the city,” responded Larissa, reaching down into a cup holder and removing a handheld radio. I frowned, looking up at the separate police radio on the dashboard that had been buzzing with occasional traffic since I had been shoved into the back seat. “Mid level telekinetic from farm country, near wrecked an entire gas station over a few candy bars and daddy issues. Figured he’d be a good way to get rehab off our backs what with the new vacancies. On our way back now.”
“Hurry up and drop him off then. We’re doing sweeps in the next hour, Art wants the entire city combed. Sure he’s nothing worthwhile?”
“Couldn’t even lift a car, not worth our time.” she answered. “We’ll touch base in a few.”
Then she leaned forward and played with the knob on the police radio, static flaring from the speakers.
“Siri, you there? This is car 48, Larissa. We’ve got a mid level telekinetic prime for some reformation, is your new facility outfitted with an appropriate holding cell? He’s rowdy.”
“Just finished this morning, this will make for a good first run. We’ll have to keep him there over the weekend until we officially open,” Came the response, the light tone of a young woman floating atop the crackling, “We’ll receive him out front. Documentation?”
“All the better!” the voice exclaimed, “We’ll be ready in five.”
We drove into the city, hitting traffic that delayed Larissa’s original promise of five minutes, Urlich’s fingers gripping so hard around the steering wheel that it cracked when a car cut in front of him.
“Stop telling people I’m mid level, I’m high level!” I demanded from the back seat, kicking Larissa’s chair while Urlich snorted and spoke.
“Son, you’d be best to keep your mouth shut. You can talk all you want when they load you into the cell. High level my ass.”
“Let’s see, closest region for telekinetics is a hundred miles to the north, near the hot geyser springs,” said Larissa, “With no documentation, your mother has no way to prove that you actually were born in a hospital, even if that is true. More likely she traveled out to there on her own and had you in the dark, as I doubt you could afford it. And while that still may be practiced among the lesser civilized rural population, it still does bear the potential death penalty. So as Ulrich says, you’d best keep quiet. Or else your mother will be far more quiet than you’ll ever be.”
I shivered in the back seat as her steel eyes met mine in the rear view mirror, knowing that she had no idea the implications of what she had said. That for all I knew, that might be my mother’s situation.
We pulled into the academy fifteen minutes later, two identical guards unbolting fresh locks on the front gate I had never seen closed, the fresh paint on the sign outside reading Rehabilitation 1E. Together they seized me from the car, their oversized hands gripping where my neck connected to my shoulder to guide me forward to the front door as the police car departed. Each of them wore white coats, their stature far larger than ordinary men, and their faces more blocky.
“Cut it out,” I said, and tried to twist away as their grip drew tighter, “No way am I going in there!”
With a carefully placed force point, I slammed the door shut five feet ahead of us, jerking my head as if the direct it. The guard on my right cuffed me across the temple, and for a moment I stood dazed, my vision filled with stars.
“Try that again,” he whispered into my ear, his voice low, “And you’ll see we're capable of much more than a simple beating.”
They ushered me inside, my sneakers squeaking on patterned tile floor as we passed a half dozen classrooms still in session. Dazed, I stared through the windows as we passed, only to be met with the shocked expression of a girl with brunette hair, her mouth open and brown eyes that widened as her gaze locked with mine.
But in a half second we passed her by, heading towards a door set in the back of the school, two thick metal bars placed across its frame. The guard hefted them upwards, grunting as they came free, and maneuvered the heavy door open to reveal a flight of stairs. I tumbled more than walked down them, the lighting poor, their hands practically shoving me forwards. And at the bottom, four doors jutted out from a central hallway, each made of varying materials with different locks.
With a creak they pulled open the second on the left, throwing me inside so I fell upon the concrete floor.
“This room,” announced one of the guards behind me, “Has been engineered precisely for a range of classifications such as yourself. Trying to escape will only bring punishment, and you will find the reward of freedom beyond you. Only through hard work and good citizenship can you find true freedom.”
Then the locks in the door clicked into place, and I looked upwards to see two other forms in the dimly lit room. And one of the faces I recognized, clear as the first time I had ever seen it, the features unmistakable. The same golden hair that curled over his ears, the same sharp eyebrows, and same stocky torso. Except this time, all the parts of him were still connected.
“Lucio, how- how can this be?" I choked on the floor, the memories washing over me, my throat swelling to barely let words pass, "It’s been five years since I saw you die.”
“Lucio,” I choked again as I drowned in my thoughts, the memories flashing before my eyes.
How five years ago, we’d been on the eastern end of the city, at a crowded intersection clustered with cars ripping past far over the speed limit. We were playing marbles on a patch of dirt at the corner- hell, I hadn’t played marbles in years now, and the rules were fuzzy in my mind. Lucio had been winning- Lucio who had been my friend for my entire life, who I had met every day after school, who had been my top companion.
I still remember how he had claimed my prized marble just a few days before- we had nicknamed it The Black Galaxy for the spotted white stars that coated its glossy surface, and now he had it cocked behind his thumb and ready to shoot. Behind us, our parents were talking, since they had been good family friends since before I was born. And they hadn’t been paying attention.
Instead of making the shot, The Black Galaxy ricocheted off of a rock when Lucio launched it, bouncing into the street where it made a kamakazi mission towards the storm drain. I’d jumped up to fetch it but Lucio had beat me to it, leaping into the street to save our precious marble, his eyes never straying from the rolling sphere.
But Lucio hadn’t seen the bus. None of us had.
The impact ripped the limbs from his body, his head soaring clean over the traffic light in the center of the intersection, his eyes meeting mine one last time. I screamed as my parents rushed forward, my father grabbing me by the shoulder, his hand wrenching my gaze away.
“Don’t look!” he shouted, his dark eyes staring into mine. “Don’t-“
Back in the holding cell I blinked, pushing the memories away. And I spoke to the two faces in the darkness, keeping my voice level as it threatened to crack, shaking my head.
“I don’t have a father.”
The words hung in air for a moment, then the second figure shoved Lucio, cursing at him as Lucio laughed.
“Damn it, Lucio, do you have to do this every time we meet someone?” then he turned to me, extending a hand. “The name is Darian. And his power is the reason he’s in here, he gets a kick out of meddling with other people’s minds.”
“Hey, he snapped out of it faster than most!” exclaimed Lucio from where he had fallen on the floor, his face still tugging at my memory, “What’d you think, was it real? A quality production? Too bad about your father, I could have kept it going much longer if you hadn’t noticed that and I had known. But hey, I can’t access memories- I can only plant them, and your mind fills in the rest.”
“Was the part with the head really necessary?” I said, rubbing my temple, and thinking back on the memory. Realizing I had never played marbles in my life. That the intersection had been at the corner of 8th and Memorial street, which did not actually intersect anywhere in the city. And that besides this one memory with fuzzed edges, I could recollect nothing about Lucio, just attributes my mind had assigned to him, “And I don’t actually know you, do I?”
“Now you do!” he exclaimed as Darian rolled his eyes. “Unless you want more of a back story? I can implant that as well! What do you think- maybe we met for the first time on a road trip, or an adventure.”
“No, I’d prefer you didn’t.” I answered, scowling. “Not that I would know, would I?”
“You get used to it,” said Darian as he helped me to my feet. “Lucio has a very peculiar sense of style, a feeling to his memories. After a few times realizing that they are fake they’re easy to spot. The emotions come too easy. The colors too bright. The tone foreign.”
“Hey,” responded Lucio, standing back up and brushing dust off of his shirt from the floor. “If I wanted a critique, I would have asked for it! Besides, I’ll get plenty of that when I make it back to Hollywood. It’s where I was born, you see. The land of stories and motion pictures! And I’m going to be the best director you’ve ever seen, that’s why I practice so much.”
“And because you’re a mischievous knucklehead.” added Darian. “Anyways, we never caught your name. Looks like you’re locked in here with us, so we might as well get introductions over with.”
“SC, I’m a telekinetic,” I answered, and cast a look around the solid concrete room, a single light strip dangling from the ceiling, a series of bulbs rigged with low voltage, the walls polished to a fine finish. “How long have they kept you here?”
“Two days now after they pulled us off the streets,” said Darian. “They caught Lucio here planting memories of having already paid for his lunch at a fancy restaurant we shouldn’t have been at either.”
“And neither should they!” Lucio exclaimed. “Two police officers, undercover, sitting one table over. We were being followed Darian! They were trying to catch us doing something. And besides, I told you, that waitress was acting. I wasn’t using my power.”
“Sure you weren’t,” answered Darian, and rolled his eyes again. “Either way, since I was there too, I was an accomplice. Anyways, SC, think you can get us out of here? Pull some telekinetic tricks?”
“I need something to throw, or to move around,” I answered, shrugging. “The walls here are bare, so I have no handholds. My best bet would be the lights but they are too massless to cause any damage.” Then I thought back to what the officer had said when I entered the back of his police car. “Besides, this room feels lead lined. I can’t reach through it.”
“Just like me,” said Lucio. “Same here. All the minds on the other side are blurred, I can’t focus on any of them.”
“Then I suppose we wait,” huffed Darian, sitting on the ground with his back against the wall, sighing as he threw back his head.
“Don’t worry,” said Lucio, his eyes glinting. “We have movies for entertainment.”
“Hey, what about lunch?” demanded Lucio as one of the guards opened the door to our cell and tossed in a stack of uniforms. “You forgot it today!”
“You would be best advised,” answered the guard through his teeth. “Not to attempt such an action again.” He brandished a notebook, flipped open to a page showing a daily timetable. “I already fed you today, your power can't change what is written on paper.”
Then he checked his front pocket, then his back two, and finally his shirt pocket before finding the key as Lucio grinned, and locked the door behind him after slamming it.
“Damn, worked yesterday,” Lucio said. “They’re starting to get smarter.”
I’d spent that night in the cell, shivering against the concrete and using my arm for a pillow. Lucio had snored for the majority of it while Darian had been silent, so quiet I couldn’t tell if he slept at all. And I realized that for all I knew about him, he might actually be a Narcolept.
“What is your power, anyways?” I asked him when I awoke.
“Well, you and Lucio certainly share a disregard for manners,” he answered, yawning.
“Oh, come on Darian, why do you always have to be such a stickler?” needled Lucio. “It’s not like you can use it effectively down here anyways.”
“I’m a stickler because I like to avoid situations such as these, and I’d like to get out of them as soon as possible,” said Darian in his deep voice, then turned his gaze back towards me, the whites of his eyes showing as he rolled them. “But to answer your question, I’m a Mimic. Born near a parrot sanctuary, because that’s likely your next question. An illegal one, mind you, next to my hospital- the minor influx of Mimic children clued in the police. Typically we’re only from the tropics, but there were thousands of birds being smuggled in. Enough to bring a piece of their location with them, and influence children nearby.”
“Interesting,” I said, feigning curiosity, the hairs on my neck standing up as a chill rushed over me and I remembered the description of Mimic from the Directory, “What exactly can you do?”
“For a limited time, I can replay the powers of others as if they were my own. With far less strength, but still capably.” said Darian. “But there are those that are more difficult to reproduce.”
“Like mine!” spoke up Lucio. “Because mine requires a certain frame of mind, and tons of practice. Because it’s art. Not simply something that can be replicated.”
“More because I don’t have the obsession with it that you do,” Darian retorted, and kicked the door, the knock echoing in the room.
I stared at him as he sat back down against the wall, wondering the true extent of his capability. Knowing that if he chose to replay my power, Darian would be far less skilled than I would be.
And that it would look nothing like telekinesis.
Over the next day, we heard the other doors outside opening and closing, sometimes accompanied by voices. Once, there had been a crash followed by a roar, and each of us pressed our ears against the door until the concrete started to heat up and we backed away, another roar quickly being stifled a few moments later as it was accompanied by shouts.
Another time, the entire room shook, dust falling from the ceiling as Darian paced and Lucio giggled.
We spent the next night in the holding cell, and the next, occupying the time with conversation and guessing games. For a few hours, Lucio broadcasted his movie ideas into our minds- one of which I found myself actively awaiting the sequel. And like Darian said, I started to pick up on the ticks and tendencies of each of his memories, finding myself able to sort through what was real and fake at a moment’s notice. But as grateful as I was for the entertainment, his interference always made me uneasy.
It was Monday morning when the cell door opened wide, and the guard shouted inside, waking the three of us from slumber.
“Let’s go, uniforms on! Five minutes until you’re going upstairs. Cause trouble now, and you can be sure your name will be on a list for the rest of the year, and that it shall not be forgotten easily.”
We dressed, ready when the guard arrived once more, the other doors in the hallway still shut tight. And he brought us upstairs to an auditorium, seating us at the far left side, an array of teachers watching us from below. Then more groups were brought up one by one from downstairs to join us- children all our age within a few years, each of their expressions varying – some with concern, others sleepiness, and several with anger.
Heat radiated from a small boy that stood next to me, holes already singed in several places in his uniform as he scowled, and three teachers from below kept their eyes warily directed at him. In front of me, a heavyset boy yawned, causing the entire section of students to waver as a wave of intense drowsiness passed over us and before departing in the span of a few seconds.
Then at the opposite end of the auditorium, students filed in a line to fill seats while staring down at us, their noses and chins high in the air. Students with freshly combed hair and ironed clothes, that looked like they had showered that morning, and that I recognized from my time watching recess in the Rhododendron. Plus one that I particularly recognized, whose brown eyes never left me, and I avoided her gaze.
From below, a woman walked forward from the center of the line of teachers, dressed in a blue suit perfectly tailored to her shape. She tapped the microphone once then smiled, as if oblivious to the glares directed at her from both sides.
“Welcome!” she said, beaming. “To Rehabilitation Facility 1E, and congratulations on becoming members of its first class. I am principal Siri, brought here from facility 1A to help establish this institution. Before we begin, rules shall be established, starting with-“
“Why the Hell did you take me here!” shouted the small boy next to me, his shoes smoking, and I backed away as my arm started to heat up. “Who do you-“
But his voice was cut off as the woman leaned into the microphone, her eyes glinting, and the hard expressions faded from those around me when she started to speak in a sing song fashion:
"We gather here to bring out the best,
That you should ever be!
Forget your troubles, now you’re blessed-
Be calm, listen to me! "
The heat died down next to me as Siri finished her singing, her eyes directly focused on the boy who had spoken up. His mouth ajar and his eyes glazed, he nodded slowly, blinking as if trying to push away sleep. It was quite rude of him to have spoken up, I thought. On our first day, interrupting the principle could only set a bad precedent.
“As I was saying,” Siri continued, her voice returned to its normal quality, her smile wider than ever. “Now is the time to establish ground rules. Rule one- the usage of powers for any purpose outside of those dictated by your instructors in strictly prohibited, and will be punished swiftly. We have been lenient on this matter as you have just arrived, but now you have been warned.
“Rule two, that classes will start at a prompt seven in the morning, and end at five. Those who shall be boarding here,” she inclined her head towards us on my side of the assembly. “Shall continue with any other required activities, and shall not be permitted to leave. The skipping of any required activities is forbidden.
“Rule three is that every one of you is now equal. Those who were brought in as part of the rehabilitation program, you are committers of crimes, and this is your second chance. And those of you went to the academy before- your parents owe the government for your education since you were on scholarship, and unless they can now pay it off, your participation in making the program a success will level the books. Unpaid debts are just as bad as stealing, so until you have completed this task, you are no better than your peers across the aisle.”
There were several snorts from the other side of the auditorium as she finished rule three, and Siri raised her eyebrows, staring at each of the interrupters until the sound subsided. Again, I was struck by how rude they were- everyone knew we were supposed to be calm, and quiet, and to listen.
“Now,” continued Siri, as the other teachers stepped forwards from behind her, each standing in front of a section of students. “Today will be an evaluation of skills, meant to discern your potential path in education. Remember, we will instruct you on how to be your best for society. We will mold you, and shape you, until you are perfect. Now, follow the instructors below, who will be conducting testing and determining where to send you for your first class. And remember,” She said, turning her stare back towards the boy next to me, whose shoes had slowly started to smolder again but were quickly extinguished, “You don’t want to set a bad impression.”
From below, the instructors waved us into neat lines, keeping a ration of half and half from both sides of the auditorium. Ahead of me, Lucio and Darian were corralled together behind a woman with unnaturally bright teeth. Remembering Darian’s power, and how we were about to be tested, I slipped out of that line and into another, falling into place between two previous members of the academy.
Blake and Peter, who had typically did not engaged while the others played, but rather watched for the stragglers that they would throw stones at when the teacher’s back was turned, or manipulate with their powers. When fights broke out they were the first to arrive, jeering and spurring the parties on until the first punch was thrown, then laughing at the loser.
“Did you track some shit in?” came Blake’s voice behind me, speaking over my head from behind. “Smells like a busted sewer pipe. Just under my nose, too.”
Blake swiped his foot forward, catching my back heel and making me stumble as my face turned red.
“Can’t say I did,” came the reply from in front of me from Peter. “Guess we’ll just have to live among the filth, until we clean them out, eh?”
He stopped suddenly, and I rammed into his back as Blake guffawed, reeling backwards only to be shoved forwards again. I whipped around, my fists clenched just as an instructor walked by, casting a warning expression as Blake smiled.
“Go on,” he whispered, just loud enough for me to hear. “First fight of the year, you won’t do it.”
I swallowed with the instructor’s eyes still on me and turned back around, remembering why I had come to the facility. Starting fights with another student, however insolent, would only move me farther from my goal.
We marched from the auditorium and down the main hallway, splitting off from the other lines as they departed to other areas of the building. Then we turned left into a classroom and entered, the instructor walking up to the board and turning to face us.
“Take a seat. Each of you will be called up in turn have your powers measured, and each of you will perform to the best of your ability to be adequately separated into study groups. The highest performers will have the first pick of the meals, while the weakest performers will have the last pick at chores. This arrangement is temporary- there shall be ways to advance, if you can improve your worth to the facility. Now, let’s see, who to pick first?”
I settled into a middle desk as he looked over us, and felt a sharp jab behind me. I ignored it, knowing Blake or Peter would only be trying to provoke me, but felt it again. Harder this time.
Angrily I turned, ready to snatch whatever they had been using to irritate me, but was met with Arial’s face instead as she readied a fourth poke with her pencil. She must have slipped into the back of my line unnoticed, trailing me here.
“Why,” she hissed. “Are you ignoring me?”
“You there, middle section, turn around. We’ll start with you, since you’re so eager to talk!” commanded the instructor, and I swallowed, standing up, realizing that Arial would be watching.
And that she still thought I was a Boreal.
“Not only will this be a classification, but this too shall be a lesson,” said the instructor as I walked up to the front. “During classes, much of what you learn will be about yourselves and your capabilities. But perhaps far more important is what you learn about each other. The ability to size up a Special and calculate your risks during a confrontation can provide an enormous advantage- by knowing their potential, you know how to stop it. The most dangerous foe, you will find, is the unknown enemy.”
He reached into a bag on his desk, pulling out a copy of a book twice as large as the Directory, and showing the title.
Painless Power Classifications.
“This is the textbook for my class, which many of you will be taking, depending upon your own classification. Right,” he said, and pointed to me. “You, what’s your power? But don’t tell me your power classification.”
“Erm, ah-“ I started, looking at Arial as the instructor drummed his fingers on the book, waiting, and watching. His dark eyes moving over my body as he were measuring me, or as if I were a piece of fruit at the supermarket among a thousand others, and he was searching for defect.
“Let’s go boy, we have twenty other students. If each takes as long as you, we might as well send a runner to pick up dinner.”
“I'm a Telekinetic,” I answered with as much assertion as I could muster, breaking off my gaze with Arial to look back at the instructor, shivers running up my spine as I heard her speak up, her voice matter of fact.
“No it isn’t. He’s a Boreal, I’ve seen it!”
Damnnit, I thought as the instructor cocked his head and spoke up, Come on, think.
“A Boreal or a Telekinetic? Two very different powers. Well, which is it?”
“Boreal” said Arial as I said “Telekinetic”, and we both glared at the other.
“Boreal,” she repeated again, insistent. “He showed me the dancing lights just a few days ago!”
“He did, did he?” said the instructor, and made a note on a slip of paper on his desk. “How, exactly, considering you were at the academy, and he is here for rehabilitation?”
“I, erm," I said, and forced my face to turn beet red, which took little effort as all the members of the class were staring at us. “I’m from the farmland a few miles out of the city. And, I, well I’d never seen a city girl before.” I shuffled my feet and looked down. “I just wanted to impress her. A Boreal is far more impressive than me.”
From the back, I heard Blake snicker, and my face turned a further shade of red of its own accord.
“By showing her lights?” inquired the instructor, and made another note, "Despite how much you wanted to impress her, that’s outside the possibility for a telekinetic."
“We, well, we had climbed a tree, and it was dark inside, you know.” the snickers in the back started to grow louder. “The leaves were blocking the sun, and I moved them around to let it shine through, like a light show. Only she couldn't see the leaves moving, since they were behind her."
“I bet that’s not all he showed her!” shouted Blake, and Arial’s face turned as red as mine as she whipped around.
“It wasn’t like that!” she snapped at him, as both Peter and he erupted into laughter. From the front of the class the instructor slammed his fist against the desk, the sharp sound cutting off the conversation.
“Enough!” he shouted. “Enough! There is a simple way to solve this, and I won’t have the first class dissolve into disorder. Go on, show us your power. I’m certain we will be able to tell the difference between the two.”
Arial raised her chin as she stared, knowing she had me corner, her expression triumphant. And I reached behind me, swiping my hand towards the board, scattering the erasers from a distance so they clattered across the floor. Her eyes widened, watering as she wiped them, and she whispered.
“Morally ambiguous, but power certain. Telekinetic it is,” dismissed the instructor slowly and flipped open his book, turning to a specific page. “Now, time for the power classification. Can anyone tell me how we could determine the strength of a telekinetic?”
“By how heavy of something he could lift!” spoke up a student on the far right.
“True,” Responded the instructor. “But there’s nothing heavy enough in this classroom to be of use. In addition, during a confrontation situation you wouldn’t know the strength of his power until he showed his cards, which is an extremely dangerous position. Maybe he has the strength to drop a trailer truck on you, or maybe he can barely lift up a desk. Knowing can be the difference between life and death. So how else can we tell?”
The class remained silent as he waited, and he continued, thumping the book again.
“Good, this means that you’ll have plenty to learn from my class. Powers do not just exhibit their classification when they are at full capacity- no, you can judge them far easier, assuming you know what to look for. In the case of a telekinetic, not only is it difficult for them to lift heavy objects, but also to lift tiny ones. Similar to how a grain of sand might slip between your fingers, those objects are difficult for them to grasp, and can be a quick tell in a fight. For instance, back when I was on active duty there was one who could control the very dust in the air, formed pictures with it as he approached, and to this day I have never seen someone with such control or strength.”
He tossed a paperclip on the ground in front of me, the metal tinging as it bounced on the tile, and coming to rest at my feet.
“We’ll start small. Go on, try to lift that without damaging it.”
I frowned and reached out with my power, creating the force point above the paperclip just as I had done with the grocery cart, concentrating it into a narrow cone. But similar to a true telekinetic, the field I produced as too strong for something so delicate, and the metal shriveled into a ball.
“Right there is about the borderline between high and mid power class, as documented in this book. If you ever come into a fight against a telekinetic, and you find paperclip sized objects coming at you with some accuracy, know that you are in for trouble. Now, try this.”
He tossed a pen cap on the ground, and this time it started to float upwards before slipping into the force point and cracking. With frustration, I dropped the two halves on the floor, letting them bounce away. Here, I needed to show that my powers were capable enough to get me into the better classes. Not so strong as to arouse suspicion, but enough to make my time at the facility effective.
“Now this,” He said, and tossed a rubber eraser the size of my thumb down.
This time, the object floated obediently at my command, and I lifted it gently, spinning it in a loop and placing it back upon his desk.
“Mid level, near dead center,” Announced the instructor, making a final note on his paper, “And that, class, is the advantage. I now know how dangerous he is, because I know exactly what he can do. He can’t surprise me! And because of that, I can win. Now, who’s next?”
One by one, the other students of the class were called forward, and the instructor demonstrated simple tests to determine their powers. Behind him he had written Mr. Linns on the board to match the nameplate on his desk, underscoring several times with a marker. And for each of them, he had a separate page in his book, which I could now see was classified by power groupings so that several powers had the same tests to determine their strength.
For instance, the same test he had used on me for telepathy was used for Anthony, the student with powers over controlling the wind, by seeing how small of an object he could steadily levitate under an air current from several feet away. Similar to me, the eraser was the point where he lost control of his power, but for his power that correlated with a higher than average strength, though not quite high powered.
Blake went next, flashing skin that turned to crystal under his command, making him a member of the Diamond Exterior power type. He flashed a smile as he walked to the front of the room, light sparkling off of a temporary diamond grille that replaced his front teeth, and flexed his arm, the muscles ripping into sections of glittering stone.
“Interesting, see here, class!” Said Mr. Linns, leaning forward, his finger tracing along Blake’s arm, “Power levels for Diamond Exteriors are determined through flexibility after the skin to stone conversion! See how he can still bend his arm, even though it is crystalline? As well as his knees! Truly marvelous. The rationale between this classification is that, in their hardened state, Diamond Exteriors are near indestructible and can produce razor sharp edges. And a indestructible foe with swords for limbs running at you is far more dangerous than one who can simply stay put and take a beating! Yes, this is high power here, due to the sheer defense.”
“Of course I'm high powered,” Scoffed Blake, taking the chance to flex again and make rainbows cascade out of the prisms on his bicep, “With the papers to prove it.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Responded Mr. Linns, then waved him away, “Next!”
Arial walked to the front of the room, still cross but with regained composure, and refusing to look at me.
“Ah yes, Fliers,” Observed Mr. Linns when he saw her feet were actually a few inches above the ground as she waited, “A more difficult power to determine in the confines of such a small room. Typically, Fliers are classified through acceleration values, which directly correlate to the amount of lift force they can produce. Later, I will describe how to evaluate these in a more open environment. However, there is another method, one we will employ here. For Fliers, power generation occurs vertically- it’s extremely difficult for them to hold a stationary angle. See how she is vertical now and at ease? But if she were to tilt backwards, even a few degrees, maintaining steady posture is far more difficult without forward motion. Observe.”
He walked behind Arial, whose eyebrows were scrunched together with curiosity, and held his arm vertical.
“Now, Miss, tilt at the same slope as my arm. I’m going to move it slowly backwards. Ready?”
“Sure,” Answered Arial, rising a foot off the floor, and watching his hand. He started to pivot at the elbow and she followed, careful to keep the motion slow and moving from perpendicular to more parallel to the floor.
At fifteen degrees, her teeth clenched.
At thirty, I could see her neck muscles straining.
Forty five degrees and she started shaking, her breath held as she kept pace with Mr. Linns.
And at sixty she collapsed to the floor, Mr. Linn’s arm shooting out to catch her before she met tile, bringing her back up to vertical where she started floating without effort again.
“Another medium high, quite impressive.” He said, and made a note on his paper, “Personally, I’ve never seen a Flier make it past seventy degrees, and seventy five is absolutely unheard of. Well done, well done. Now, next!”
The heavyset boy whose yawn had spread like wildfire in the auditorium made his way to the front, his chubby face disinterested as Mr. Linn’s looked him over.
“Groupthink,” He said, before Mr. Linns had the chance to ask.
“Look, boy, you will speak when you are spoken to in my class!” Reprimanded Mr. Linns, slamming a ruler against his desk with a snap, “Who do you think you are?”
“Connie,” He answered, still disinterested and voice slow, “But my friends call me Connor.”
“If I wanted to know who your friends were, I would have asked!” Mr. Linns practically shouted, and Connor flinched as the rest of the class pulled back in their seats.
“Hey, I don’t know what I did here-“ He started, but was cut off by another shout.
“Maybe you should think about it then! Walking up here like the class belongs to you, disrupting it, not paying attention in the back. I’ve half a mind to send you away right now!”
At his side, Connie’s hand formed a fist, and he retorted to Mr. Linns.
“I don’t know what burr lodged it’s way up your ass, but go ahead then! See if I care!”
“Yeah!” Shouted Blake at the back of the classroom, “What the Hell is your problem, teacher?”
“Leave him alone!” Two more voices called out, as a few students stood, shaking their heads in disgust as their chairs screeched backwards.
“Seriously, he did nothing wrong!” I joined in, my right arm tightening as I considered putting a force point behind Mr. Linn’s desk to scatter his belongings to the floor.
But Mr. Linn’s raised his hands, and flashed a smile, speaking quickly to the aroused class.
“Well done, Connor! Class, Groupthink is the ability to transmit your own emotions to others, often marked by a suppression of emotions in the individual that holds the power, unless provoked. And Connie here has shown he is particularly adept- ten seconds ago, the back row was practically asleep in their seats. Now they’re about to challenge me to a fight. I apologize, Connor, for yelling at you- but evoking emotions is the best way to test Groupthink.”
“So I did well?” Asked Connnor, his face confused as the rest of the class tilted their heads to the side, their own expressions perplexed.
“Marvelously!” Commended Mr. Linns as Connor’s face broke into a proud smile, beaming.
And the class rose to their feet, erupting into applause as he walked back to his seat.
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