Part II: Finding the Core
I gazed around the chamber while waiting for Caroline. I reached out running a hand over the wall. This was a radiation proof room then? I brushed aside a terrifying thought – that one day they would just throw me in a room like this and leave me there. It would be safer for everyone. The metal wall was actually cool so I rested my forehead on it. Ever since my power my body had stayed naturally warm. I had a feeling I’d still be wearing quarter length khakis and vest tops when snow was falling. I’d remembered to grab spare clothes which were outside the room, in case I managed to burn them up somehow. I heard footsteps nearing and knew Caroline was on her way back. She walked in and I blinked at the large orange suit she was wearing.
“Alright. I’m ready,” she said, grinning. I recognised the suit from when emergency services had appeared at the school.
“I guess that’s for the best,” I sighed.
“Hey, I trust you. I know you wouldn’t hurt me.” Caroline said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “This suit is so you can concentrate and not worry about me, I could waltz into a nuclear reactor and be fine.” I nodded.
“Where did you even get that?” I asked.
“Stanko’s lab’s storage. I just asked to borrow it,” she shrugged. I cocked an eyebrow but decided not to further question it. Stanko was something else so I wasn’t too surprised he would have a radiation suit lying around, or that he would let students borrow it randomly.
“Are you sure about this? What if I hurt you or if I—” I began, chewing my lower lip.
“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…” she explained. I hesitated again, looking at my open palms. The memories of what I did to that girl rushing back to me. Looking back the fight had been so ridiculous too.
“How do you know all that?” I asked, looking back up at Caroline. It was near impossible for me to believe I could ever control this force within me.
“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,” Caroline said, her expression continuing to tell me she believed in me. I nodded, gulping a lump in my throat. I backed away and looked around the room. There were various metal dummies which I assume were there for practice.
I closed my eyes and tried doing the one thing I’d been avoiding for weeks now. I squeezed my eyes as I searched for it, the thing that was my power but every time I thought I found it I felt my own recoil and it was gone. I opened my eyes and gritted my teeth, remembering what Caroline just told me. I couldn’t let this thing control me, or I’d be forever scared to step outside. Or coming here, learning how to use my power for the good of others, would be a waste of time.
I closed my eyes and tensed all my muscles. I held it for a minute then let out a deep slow breath, relaxing all the muscles bit by bit as I did. It was an relaxation technique my old therapist had taught me when my parents were divorcing, even now it seemed to work. I had to believe that everything that had happened to me had been for a reason. He wanted me to have these powers, and He wanted me to help people. It was the only explanation that made sense. I reached again, ignoring the instinct to run when I found the burning core. I gripped it and channelled it, slowly. It was difficult, it came to the surface in waves I couldn’t quite control. I’d need to do this more to be able to get a steady flow. I opened my eyes and they immediately widened as I looked down at my skin. It was glowing a dark orange hue. I looked over at Caroline who was doing a little cheer.
I gave myself a moment to adjust to my new appearance and calm my heartrate. I then looked up at the metal dummy and mentally shaped the energy. I intended it to leave in a spear-like fashion from my hand but it backfired, leaving in a random pattern rather than what I wanted. I bit my lip and tried again but it continued to be random. It was coming off my whole body as well. I glanced down at my glowing skin and imagined it was back to normal, that only my hands were glowing.
Slow seconds ticked by and slowly my power obeyed, my skin returning to it’s normal black hue, the glow running like thick treacle to my hands which now burned bright red. I took a moment to get used to way my power felt like this, condensed in my palms like it was. Hopefully it would make it easier to summon again. He wanted this. It was the mantra in my head as I created an arc with my hands. It flew a mostly straight course and collided with the centre of the metal dummy.
“Yes!” I yelled, jumping into the air and fist pumping. Power immediately exploded from my palm again and hit the ceiling, making sparks fly down.
“Oops,” I murmured, lowering my hands. Okay, so I had to watch my hand movements when they were this bright. I gave the dummy a few more blasts, practically able to sense and breath in the ionizing radiation in the air. The feeling of it around and in me felt as natural as the oxygen I breathed now. I was also aware my body was sweating, it was maybe the first time I felt hot in ages. My breathing was intense too. Maybe it was time to stop.
I didn’t even need to pull the powers back, it reacted to my thoughts all on their own, withdrawing back inside me. I stared at my hands, shocked. After all the effort it took to bring my ability to the surface, it glowed to life and went away with a thought. I did a few more time to be sure and it obeyed me. I laughed and swiped sweat from my brow, turning to face Caroline who was clapping.
“I knew you could do it,” she said. I laughed again, nodding and looked around. I could feel the radiation in the air around me and frowned – could I get rid of it somehow? I tried calling it to me like I had with my own power and felt a response. It was much slower and I could feel a strain within myself as I did it.
“Allen, what are you doing?” Caroline asked, a look of concern crossing her features.
“Clean up,” I replied, surprised by how hoarse my voice sounded.
“Stop! You’re doing too much, I’ve already organised clean up,” Caroline said, stepping closer to me. I hesitated, wanting to see exactly how much I could do.
“Allen, your nose is bleeding, please stop,” Caroline said. I blinked, stopping what I was doing and reaching up a finger. I hadn’t even noticed. I nodded, feeling a little dizzy. I realised my clothes were completely soaked in sweat – I definitely needed a shower.
“I did it,” I sighed.
“You did it,” Caroline repeated, grinning.
“I fucking did it!” I yelled, jumping on the balls of my feet. “It was so much easier than I expected and-” I cut off my gushing and let out a relieved breath. “Thank you so much,” I said to Caroline.
“Hey, that was all you. I just gave a little extra encouragement,” she replied. She opened the door and an asian guy I hadn’t met before walked in wearing a hazmat suit of his own and carrying a metal case, waving.
“Alright, I’m going to get changed and see the mechanic for my weekly maintenance,” Caroline said, waving goodbye to both us.
“Thank you,” I said again.
“You’re welcome,” Caroline replied, pulling me into an unexpected hug. “You did a good job,” she said as she pulled away. She waved goodbye to both me and the new guy as she left.
“I’m Tom,” the new guy introduced himself.
“Allen,” I replied. “Thanks for doing this,” I added. “I started but er,” I motioned to my nose, which was still bleeding.
“Still new to your powers?” Tom asked, reaching into the case and handing me a packet of tissues.
“Yeah,” I said, taking the tissues. “Thanks.”
“You’ll get there, the more you practice the easier it’ll get,” he explained walking past me. I expected him to use power but instead he pulled a device from the case and put it on the floor. A few clicks later and I could feel the radiation disappearing from the air.
“Take it you’re not a first year?” I asked.
“No, third year. Been here a while,” he laughed. He looked up from his device and gave me what I thought was an appraising look. Oh god, another one. I shifted uncomfortably for a second.
“I better go, thanks for your help,” I said, failing to keep my tone light-hearted as I’d intended. He blinked but nodded.
“No problem, good luck,” he said. I gave him a wave bye and left, feeling my skin crawl a little until I showered and pulled on new clothes.