Part I: Radiation Chamber
Just when things were getting nice and boring and somewhat normal – well as normal as being taught the ethics of the parahuman world can be anyway – Jaeger disturbed the class. I was still trying to work out what that dude’s problem was, he had always had a dislike towards me but I’d noticed he was standoffish with everyone. Hell, I interacted with Caroline more than he did. I shook my head and focussed back onto the work.
As we walked to the next class Sanjay regarded Jaeger, obviously worrying about him. I was walking beside Caroline, Charlie on her other side. I think she mostly tolerated my presence.
“I sense cute queerness,” Charlie whispered making Caroline laugh.
“Seriously? Those two?” I asked.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Charlie replied, shutting me out of the conversation. I shrugged and walked into homeroom, taking a seat next to Tyler.
“Interesting work,” I muttered, noticing he was looking at some kind of online strategy guide, probably to do with the tabletop games he played with Annabelle, Yougen and Ahti.
“It’s this or history,” he muttered back.
“I’m caught up on that, want some help?” I offered.
“Sure,” he said, sounding half defeated. Wow, he had to really hate the subject. Despite my initial hesitancy around the world of parahumans I had found the history fascinating. With the help of Caroline I had gained a deeper understanding of the world I was now part of.
When class ended I went up to my room. Sage wasn’t there; probably spending time with Allison again. I glanced at my phone, knowing I hadn’t called home in a week now and it was probably overdue. The screen lit as I picked it up and I found my mum’s mobile in my contacts. It rang for a few seconds and I expected voicemail. Instead there was a shuffle as it was picked up and my mum’s voice on the other side.
“Allen, honey, how have you been?” she said, sounding genuinely happy to hear from me.
“I’ve been good. I’ve made some friends and they’ve been helping me settle in. How are things at home?” I asked.
“Same old. Your stepfather’s been busy with the company’s newest project. He’s barely here,” she laughed awkwardly. That explained it, she was lonely. “Zoe said she missed you when I ran into her at church. She’s a nice girl.”
“Yeah, we’ve kept in touch with texts,” I replied, laughing. It was easier to talk about this stuff with Zoe. She had already said she wanted to visit me at school when she could.
“It’s nice that she’s keeping in touch despite you being a mutant,” she added. I felt my jaw clench before I shut my eyes for a moment.
“Are you still there Allen?” she asked.
“Yeah. I just realised I need to go help Caroline make dinner,” I replied.
“Oh, who’s Caroline?” her voice peaked with obvious curiosity.
“One of my friends, she’s been helping me settle in,” I explained.
“Oh, Okay. Well I would rather you settled with a non-mutant girl but we’ll see,” she said.
“…right… bye Mum,” I murmured, trying not to sound exasperated.
“Oh, wait honey, did you get Daniel’s e-mails about Myrmidon?” That place again.
“Yeah but I’m fine here. I really have to go now.”
“Okay, take care honey, I love you,” she said.
“Love you too Mum,” I replied.
I hung up and sat down on my bed, dropping the phone on my pillow. I know she meant well but it was difficult the way she talked about me sometimes; like I was something other than human. I hadn’t dared ask her about the intersex thing, it was a bad argument waiting to happen I could sense it. I shoved the thoughts aside and went downstairs, where Caroline immediately appeared, a small bowl of ice cream in one hand.
“I need opinions!” she said, shoving it towards me. I hesitantly tried it and it took me a second to realise it was pomegranate flavoured.
“Nice,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, fist pumping the air. She turned to head to the living room and I followed.
“No Charlie?” I asked.
“She’s on a time out for poisoning my cookies,” she replied. I blinked but decided not to ask. Caroline took her food seriously, Charlie messing with it was basically sacrilege.
“You two though, you’re like, dating, right? So you’re gay, right?” I asked. She shot me a side-glance. “That sounded a lot less awkward in my head,” I muttered.
“I… don’t know,” she sighed. “I’m still trying to figure myself out. I’ve never felt like I do with Charlie before, not toward any other girl or boy. And while I know I love Charlie, I don’t think of her in a sexual kind of way.”
“Right,” I murmured. I glanced around to be sure no one else was in the room before continuing. “You have really good control of your powers, how do you manage that?” Caroline considered the question for a moment before stopping what she was doing.
“Follow me,” she said. I obliged. We left the house and came to the gym.
“You wear yourself out to the point your powers are barely there?” I joked. She shook her head laughing.
“C’mon, it’s quite a bit underground.” It really was. Too many steps and aching thighs later we were in front of three chambers. One was occupied and the other two were empty. She led me into one.
“You know despite being black I’m not an athlete, right?” I asked. I’d spent most of my life dealing with the misconception.
“Oh, we probably should’ve taken the elevator… I tend to take stairs, kind of as a f-you to my disability since I got chromed up.”
“Oh, I didn’t realise, sorry,” I said.
“The power of hidden disabilities,” she shrugged. She turned to face me, both hands on her hips.
“I come here often to practice my powers,” she explained. “They built three chambers like this for people to practice more dangerous powers in safety. The walls are ten inch of solid steel, another ten inch of lead and then a good meter of armored concrete between you and everyone else. It has a fire prevention system, it’s own isolated ventilation and an emergency power damper you can activate by saying black and out in one word together.”
“Wow, serious business,” I murmured. “How did you know I’d need a place like this?”
“It wasn’t that hard to figure out. We’ve been here for a few weeks now but you’ve not once used your powers, which means it must be something powerful and difficult to control – am I warm?” she asked.
“Boiling,” I replied and she smiled.
“Alright, you wait for me here, I’ll be right back,” she promised.