Caroline arc II: Into the Unknown
Part I: A Request for Help
Three Weeks Later
September passed by at record speed, every moment we weren’t training was spent with my new friends and my new girlfriend who had thrown me the biggest party ever; Allen showing his skill on the barbecue grill and Annabelle revealing her secret baking knowledge with a succulent cake.
Despite all that time, I still didn’t know what I was regarding my relationship with Charlie and what that made me… But if there was one thing I knew was that I loved her and she loved me back. And that was all that mattered really. Even if I hadn’t had the courage to tell me mom about it yet…
One Wednesday afternoon I was making some ice cream, trying my hand at a pomegranate one, in my brand new machine — my mom’s super secret gift — when Allen came toward me. I popped the ice cream into a bowl and gave him a spoonful.
“I need an opinion!” I declared.
He sheepishly took it and tasted it, maybe a little more scared than was right.
“Nice.” He said.
“Yes!” I couldn’t stop myself from doing a little fist pump. I put the extra ice cream in the fridge and went for the living room, opting to make dinner later. Allen followed me.
“No Charlie?” He looked around but Charlie obviously wasn’t there.
“She’s on a time out for poisoning my cookies.” She’d had the smart idea to destroy some of the homemade cookie I’d labored over during the weekend in a dumb attempt to get back at Jaeger. I’d ditched her and she’d taken the message.
“You two though, you’re like, dating, right? So you’re gay, right?” Allen asked after a moment and I practically choked on my own saliva at the lack of tact. “That sounded a lot less awkward in my head.” He then muttered.
“I… don’t know,” I let out a sigh. “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.” There was an awkward silence and he looked around. “You have really good control of your powers, how do you manage that?”
I paused. How exactly could I explain it and make sense? It was one of those things you just sort of had to go with the feel and flow of it. Since I couldn’t find a straight answer, I had another idea.
“Follow me.” I declared getting up after quickly slurping down the last of my ice cream.
I quickly guided Allen out of the house and into the training center, or rather deep below it, taking down a long flight of stairs. The special training vault was located about three to four stories underground.
“You wear yourself out to the point your powers are barely there?” He joked and I left out a chuckle.
“C’mon, it’s quite a bit underground.”
“You know despite being black I’m not an athlete, right?” He declared, a little out of breath as we reached the bottom.
“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.” I said with a shrug. People tended to forget that even with cybernetics I was still disabled. They helped you compensate but they didn’t make you abled, especially since being disabled wasn’t just about physical reality but our way of thinking and experiencing the world.
“I come here often to practice my powers,” I 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, that’s not even counting the natural dirt and rock too. 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. How did you know I’d need a place like this?” He asked.
“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?”
I hadn’t actually figured much out, I’d had my suspicions about Allen’s powers being out of control or dangerous since he wouldn’t use them but Charlie had confirmed them after she’d stolen our classmates’ personal file off the school computer so she could read Jaeger’s, which much to her disappointment had been heavily redacted.
“Alright, you wait for me here, I’ll be right back.”
He nodded and I left the training center, walking to the classroom building and into Stanko’s science lab. As I did, I went on the school message board, asking if anyone could do something about removing radiation. It only took a few minutes before I got put into contact with a guy named Tom whom I quickly negotiated a service in exchange for a bribe of pastries. When I came into the Science lab, Stank was just sitting at his desk going over essays.
“Hello Caroline. Here to practice your powers again?” He asked, calmly, his manic phase having come to an end.
In the past few weeks, Charlie had taken me to the science lab’s storeroom to practice my powers on the different chemicals. As I’d learned, I didn’t control water but any liquids. I could manipulate liquid nitrogen, various acids, mercury and so much more.
“No, I need to borrow your radiation suit.” I said before going into the storage.
“Just hose-wash it when you’re done.” He said, not even questioning my request or looking up from his computer. “Hang it to dry, no machine.”
I took the suit off the rack it was hanging on and made my way back to the training center, going to change before joining Allen.
“Alright. I’m ready.”
He looked me up and down.
“I guess that’s for the best.” He sighed.
“Hey, I trust you. I know you wouldn’t hurt me.” I said putting a hand on his shoulder. “This suit is so you can concentrate and not worry about me, I could waltz into a nuclear reactor and be fine.”
“Where did you even get that?”
“Stanko’s lab’s storage. I just asked to borrow it.”
“Are you sure about this? What if I hurt you or if I—”
“Allen, stop. You’re not a bad person Allen, woefully uneducated about some things and insecure around things you don’t understand, but deep down I do believe you’re a good guy. And that’s important, while we don’t get to choose what powers we’ll have, the way they manifest depends on who we are deep down. You being scared of your powers only serve to make them more unpredictable…”
He looked down pensively at his hands for a moment. “How do you know all that?”
“Charlie taught me, she helped me when I struggled with my own powers. For a baseline, she’s crazy wise about parahumans. Oh and don’t worry about lingering radiation, I traded two dozen macaron in exchange for a cleanup with another student.”
Allen looked a little determined he stepped into the middle of the chamber and stood there eyes closed for a moment, taking slow deep breaths. After a few quiet minutes, his skin changed, glowing with a dark orange hue. He looked at his hand, slightly shocked and took a minute to cool down before raising his hand aimed at one of the metal dummies set up in the chamber.
He let go of his power and it went everywhere in a hundred degree arc in front of him, making me flinch. Thankfully I’d been standing behind him.
“You can do this.” I encouraged him. “I didn’t get it right the first twenty times.”
He did it again and again and with every shot the beam became just a little more focused and precise.
“Yes!” He screamed, as one beam went straight for a dummy’s center of mass, causing its metal casing to turn red hot. He threw his hand up and accidentally shot a beam right at the ceiling. “Oops.” I did my best not to laugh at his accidental discharge.
He shot a few more beams at the dummy and they all found their mark. His glow slowly faded away, concentrating in his hand before dismissing it altogether. And then he let out a laugh, wiping away the sweat on his brow. I just had to clap at his rapid progress. It had taken me a few days to get the hang of it, but I’d been quite a few years younger than him too.
“I knew you could do it.” I said with a grin.
He turned back to face the dummy and I saw a concentration frown on his face. He raised his hand to the dummy but didn’t shoot it. His breathing became a little ragged.
“Allen, what are you doing?”
“Clean up.” He declared, his voice a little rougher.
“Stop! You’re doing too much, I’ve already organised clean up.” I came closer and say a drop of blood leak out of his nostril. “Allen, your nose is bleeding, please stop.
“I did it.” He muttered with a breathless sigh.
“You did it.” I confirmed with a smile.
“I fucking did it!” He screamed, jumping up and with excitement “It was so much easier than I expected and-” He stopped. “Thank you so much,”
“Hey, that was all you. I just gave a little extra encouragement.”
I looked out of the door and found a guy waiting there, wearing a hazmat suit, whom I safely assumed was the Tom guy I’d hired. I let him in and he took out some gadget with he waved at me first.
“Alright, I’m going to get changed and see the mechanic for my weekly maintenance.”
“You’re welcome.” I gave him a hug, which with the bulky hazmat suit was a tad awkward. “You did a good job.”
I waved them both goodbye and left them to their thing. When I got off the suit, I found my phone and saw a message asking about dinner. It was running a bit late and I still had things to do so I sent a text informing everyone I’d be at the mechanic.