Roulette (Chapter 1)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Portland Oregon, July 21st, 2007
I smiled happily at the heavenly chocolate aroma that filed the air, courtesy of the cup of hot chocolate that sat before me. This wasn't the cheap hot chocolate where you dump a package of powder into a cup and then pour in hot water, or even the kind where you mix Hershey's syrup in with steamed milk. No, this was real hot chocolate, made with good quality chocolate shavings, milk, and a couple other things including a vanilla bean.
Normally, I wouldn't be interested in having hot chocolate in the middle of the summer, but this stuff was pretty good, and I didn't just think that because I'd made it myself. I took a long sip, savoring the rich creamy flavor and thinking it went great with my smoked gouda and prosciutto grilled cheese sandwich.
I absently wished that Mom was there to have lunch with me, but unfortunately, she still hadn't come back from the neighborhood association meeting. Personally, I thought that was a complete waste of a Saturday morning, but Mom didn't want to take the chance that they'd sneak in another change to the rules without her knowing.
I was just finishing up when Mom returned home, bursting into the house and exclaiming, "I'm gonna kill that bitch..."
After taking another sip of my hot chocolate, I finally looked at Mom and casually asked, "Alice Bonner again?"
"Of course," Mom responded with a somewhat manic look in her eyes. "She filed a complaint against me...said my hedges needed to be trimmed."
"So we'll trim the hedges," I responded, knowing that it wouldn't do any good. Being calm and reasonable never did any good with my mom when she was like this. Unfortunately, Alice Bonner, the nosey old woman who lived at the end of our cul-de-sac, had a knack of pushing Mom's buttons. "You shouldn't let her get to you."
"I'll get her for this," Mom continued her rant, going further and further into a full blown Diedricks episode.
"Or you could just trim the hedges," I reminded her again, taking a final sip from my cup and finishing off the hot chocolate. I looked at my empty cup, then told Mom, "I have your lunch on the counter..."
"I'll disintegrate her," Mom continued manically, once again lost in her own little world. "No...better yet...I'll make a shrink ray and shrink her to the size of a flea. I'll put her in a box, put that box inside another box, and then I'll mail it to myself. And when it arrives...I'll smash it with a hammer..."
"That's it," I commented as I began to clean the table. "No more Disney movies for you. They give you bad ideas."
Mom ignored me and let out a maniacal laugh, which made her sound like a mad scientist. Then again, that was pretty appropriate because she actually was a mad scientist. Mom was a devisor, a mutant with the ability to invent just about anything she could imagine, no matter how outrageous. Unfortunately, as sometimes happened with people who had that kind of power, she also had Diedricks Syndrome, a disease that put the 'mad' in mad scientist.
Mere seconds later, Mom rushed to the secret passage that led down to her hidden lab. I just shook my head, knowing full well that she was going to build a shrink ray so she could do exactly what she'd just threatened. But in spite of that, I wasn't the least bit concerned.
This wasn't the first time I'd seen Mom come up with some insane plan and then rush to the lab in order to make it happen, nor was it even the tenth. This kind of thing happened every couple weeks, but in spite of that, Mom had never followed through with any of those plans. I knew from experience that by the time Mom finished her shrink ray, she'll have calmed down and forgotten the whole thing.
I finished cleaning up, knowing that Mom would be too distracted to eat lunch now. Then once I was done, I poked my head into the door of her lab and called out, "I'm going to work." Of course, she probably hadn't heard me, but at least I'd told her.
A minute later, I left the house to go to work, which was right across the street. Since I was only fifteen years old, and that by less than a month, I was too young to get any kind of real job. However, I had come to an arrangement with my neighbor, Mrs. Lawrence.
After ringing Mrs. Lawrence's doorbell, I had to wait less than half a minute before the door opened and revealed my neighbor. Mrs. Lawrence was a middle-aged black woman who was a little on the stocky side. And as usual, she was wearing a brightly colored dress, this time in a flower pattern.
"Austin Maguire," she greeted me with a chuckle. "You're early...as usual."
"I try," I admitted with a grin, not wanting to do anything that would get me fired from this job.
Mrs. Lawrence owned her own catering business, which she operated out of her own home. Sometimes, she needed a little extra help getting all the food ready, and since she couldn't afford to hire a real assistant, she gave me the job instead. Most of the time, she paid me in cooking lessons and food, along with a little cash under the table.
"So, what are you making today?" I asked her curiously.
"Well, I made some panna cotta this morning," she told me with a grin, making me groan in disappointment at missing that. I'd helped her make flan before and had wanted to try panna cotta too since it was pretty similar. "I was just about to start the risotto..."
Mrs. Lawrence gave me a brief description of what we would be doing, and a minute later, I began gathering up ingredients. I got the bag of arborio rice from the pantry and some of her homemade stock from the fridge, along with a few other things, then we went to work.
Normally, rice is a pretty simple thing to cook, but doing it the Italian way was a little more complicated, and after tasting the results, I decided it was well worth the extra effort. However, we didn't stop there. We waited for the risotto to cool, then began making risotto balls that would be breaded and deep fried.
"I'll put the final touches on these right before serving them," Mrs. Lawrence told me, looking pleased with the results.
Of course, this wasn't the only thing that Mrs. Lawrence was making for her clients, and I helped her with the other dishes as well. While we worked, she told me a bit about what she was doing with the food and why, giving me advice that I tried hard to remember.
Mrs. Lawrence was the one who'd introduced me to good food and the idea that I could actually make it myself. Mom was a decent cook, when she bothered to cook. But more often than not, she got so caught up in whatever project she was working on that she completely forgot about meals, leaving me on my own. I'd gotten a bit tired of grilled cheese sandwiches and canned soup, so when I found out that Mrs. Lawrence ran a catering business, I asked her for a few recipes and she'd offered me both lessons and a job.
Once everything was prepared, we packed it up so Mrs. Lawrence could take it to her clients for their big dinner party. Sometimes, she joked that she'd have to start taking me with in order to help her set things up and then cleanup afterwards, but so far that hadn't happened.
Of course, we didn't pack all the food up. Mrs. Lawrence put enough aside for me to take home for dinner, much to my delight. It was always fun eating dinner when I'd helped to make it. It was just too bad that Mom would probably be too caught up in her latest invention to bother eating.
Before I went home, Mrs. Lawrence abruptly asked me, "Did I tell you that Herschel just found out he's getting promoted?"
"He's in the Air Force, isn't he?" I asked her, knowing full well that he was.
"He sure is," she told me proudly. "He's a crew chief on one of those big planes..."
I nodded at that, remembering the last time her son had been home for a visit. It had been just a month ago, and though I'd seen him before then, that had actually been the first time the two of us had officially met.
"So, Austin," she asked me with a chuckle. "Have you thought about what you're doing to do for a living once you're older?"
I hesitated a moment, feeling a little self-conscious as I admitted, "Well, this is pretty fun, so I was thinking of maybe being a chef."
Mrs. Lawrence grinned in approval. "Culinary school isn't cheap," she told me. "I'd start saving up now if you can. You might consider getting the military to pay for your schooling too."
I nodded at that, though I knew full well that there was no point making plans for the future quite yet. After all, I still had a long time before I had to make any real decisions about what I was going to do. And then there was the fact that my mom was a mutant, which meant that I had a pretty good chance of being one too. If I was, then I had no idea how that would influence my future.
We talked for just a little longer, then I returned home with several containers of food. Dinner was taken care of for tonight, which was a good thing because Mom would probably be too busy to even think about it.
After setting the food out on the counter, I went down to Mom's lab to check on her, hesitating just a moment at the door. Even at the best of times, going into Mom's lab could be a bit risky, but it was always worse when she was in the middle of working on something.
Mom never used me as a guinea pig...at least not intentionally, but she did tend to get a little overenthusiastic about showing off her new inventions. And then there was simply the fact that when you're dealing with reality bending devises, there were a lot of things that could go wrong.
When I was ten years old, one of Mom's devises had exploded and accidentally turned me into a girl, something Mom had taken full advantage of in order to do a little mother/daughter bonding. I'd spent an entire week as Amy, which is what I would have been named if I'd been born a girl, before Mom found a way to change me back to normal. Admittedly, now that it was long since done and over with, I actually had some fond memories of my time as a girl.
"I just hope I don't get hit with a shrink ray again," I mused as I stepped into the lab.
After spending a couple hours being only six inches tall, it had worn off without any permanent effects, except for leaving me with a faint phobia of cats. I shudder faintly, knowing that I'd never look at our neighbor's cat the same way again. When you're the size of a doll, cute little Muffin might as well have been a man-eating monster.
I glanced over the lab, immediately seeing Mom sitting at one of her three work stations. Her back was turned to me, so I saw her shoulder-length red hair and little else.
"I'm back," I called out as I approached.
Mom didn't look up from what she was doing, so I just stood there and watched as she assembled her latest shrink ray. I absently thought that it was a good thing she started from scratch each time, otherwise she could have grabbed one of her other two shrink rays from the armory and gone straight over to Mrs. Bonner's house.
"Dinner's ready whenever you feel like eating," I told her, setting a cup of coffee on the corner of her work table. I knew from long experience that coffee and energy drinks were about the only thing she'd consume while she was working. "Don't work too hard."
Mom paused, then glanced at me and asked, "Did you say something?" But before I could answer, she was back to work, already forgetting I was there.
Once I was finished making sure that Mom was doing all right, I went back upstairs and ate my dinner. I didn't particularly like eating alone, preferring the nights when Mom ate with me, but I was used to this.
"At least this time," I mused to myself, "she isn't building a killer robot."
Mom had started at least three killer robots during her Diedricks episodes, but so far, she'd yet to complete a single one. She always worked herself to exhaustion, then after collapsing and taking a nap, she'd wake up clear headed and would then abandon the project.
"Like we need any more half-finished robots in the basement," I said with a shake of my head. "Then again, maybe if she'd make one to vacuum the floors or clean up her lab..." And then remembering what triggered her latest episode, I added, "Or one to trim the hedges..."
In spite of eating alone, I enjoyed every bite of my dinner. The meatballs were delicious, and I especially enjoyed the panna cotta I had for dessert. It was just a little plain compared to creme brulee, which had a crunchy sugar shell, but I still ate every bite and would have happily gone back for seconds.
When I was finished eating, I cleaned up and then sat down to play a little GEO...Good and Evil Online, a popular game that my friend Kara had recently gotten me into. It was a fun game, though it would probably take a bit more time and dedication than I was willing to invest if I wanted to really get anywhere with it.
Kara had been willing to invest that time, and as such, she had a high level thief character. After talking me into trying it out, she'd started a new sorceress in order to level with me. Unfortunately, I knew that I wouldn't be seeing her online tonight. She was still off in Boston, visiting her grandma who didn't have internet access. I knew that because Kara had complained about the lack of internet access quite a bit before she'd gone.
I logged onto my warden, then grinned when I saw that someone had mailed me an quest offer. It was a basic quest, one to go to and kill a few critters, collect some things they'd drop, and then bring them to the person who'd offered me the question in exchange for a reward. What made me grin though wasn't the quest itself, but the fact that it had come from Kara's thief character.
"I guess she managed to get on after all," I mused, though I was still disappointed to see that she wasn't logged in right then.
With that, I paused to glance in the direction of Mom's lab, wondering if I should check on her again and make sure she was staying out of trouble. But after a few seconds of consideration, I shrugged and turned my attention back to the game.
Portland Oregon, July 22nd, 2007
I stood in front of the bathroom sink, splashing cold water on my face to help me wake up. Truthfully, I would have much rather just stayed in bed, but I doubted that would have done any good. For some reason, I'd had a hard time sleeping last night, and instead, I'd done a lot of tossing and turning.
When I was done washing my hands and splashing my face, I looked up into the mirror and frowned slightly. I wasn't bad looking, and in fact, I knew I looked pretty good. I had light brown hair and the kind of face that girls seemed to like. And according to my mom, I looked a great deal like my dad, though I didn't think of that as a compliment.
"The bastard," I muttered with a shake of my head.
My dad wasn't in the picture, nor had he been since before I was born. Mom always said he was a handsome devil, but I had to take her word for that since I'd never met the guy, nor did I have any intention of ever doing so. As far as I knew, he was still in prison, which was where he belonged.
Since my mom was a mutant, it would have been easy to assume my dad was as well and that he was some kind of dangerous super villain. But the truth was, my dad was just a normal run of the mill scumbag. He'd been a con-artist who'd come up with the bright idea of seducing a brilliant devisor, then stealing all her devises and selling them on the black market. That plan probably would have worked better if it wasn't for the fact that half of my mom's devises wouldn't work at all for anyone besides her.
During the scam, Mom ended up getting pregnant with me, which made my dad's betrayal and real motivations even worse once she found out. Ever since then, Mom had a hard time trusting most guys, and I couldn't remember her ever going on a single date. But fortunately for me, she never resented me for how I came into being, and she'd always made an effort of showing that she loved me, regardless of who my dad was.
"Poor Mom," I mused, knowing that even though she'd deny it, she was a little lonely. She'd never admit it to me, but I suspected she needed a little romance and adult companionship.
When I was done in the bathroom, I went to the kitchen for breakfast. In spite of drooling over the thought of French toast or a nice omelet, I was always too lazy to actually cook anything in the morning. So after thinking about the breakfast I wished I had, I settled down with a big bowl of Captain Crunch instead. Sure, a bowl full of sugar might not be a gourmet breakfast, but I thought it was still pretty tasty.
I continued thinking about Mom as I ate, or at least, I worried about her while I ate. Sure, she had me and her best friend Beth, but she needed more than just us. I wondered if maybe I should sign her up for one of those online dating sites.
As soon as I finished eating, I went to go check on Mom. I didn't bother going to her bedroom, knowing that after she'd started a new project, I'd find her in her lab instead. Whenever she really got caught up in something, she tended to work until she finished it or collapsed from exhaustion. That was the reason I'd put a cot down in her lab, so she'd have a place to sleep while she was working.
"Like going to her room is such a long trip," I muttered with a roll of my eyes. I was just thankful she'd built a bathroom down in the lab or I probably would have had to put a bucket down there too.
When I reached the basement, I found Mom curled up on the cot, snoring away like I'd expected. She'd even forgotten to take her glasses off when she'd gone to bed, which was nothing new. I smiled at the sight of her sleeping, then grabbed a blanket and gently spread it over her so she'd stay warm.
Now that I'd made sure Mom was all right, it was time to see how much of a mess she'd created this time. I rolled my eyes as I looked over her cluttered work station, thinking that sometimes she was like a little kid who couldn't be bothered cleaning up after themselves.
In the middle of the desk, there was a large weapon that looked like a death ray, at least at first glance. I knew from experience that Mom's death rays tended to have a somewhat different look to them. No, this was a shrink ray, or at least I assumed it was.
After looking the shrink ray over for several seconds, I went to a drawer and pulled out a baggage tag, the kind you used on your luggage before going through an airport. I quickly wrote 'shrink ray' on it as well as the date, then tied it to the new weapon. A minute later, I carried it to the section of the armory that was reserved for her untested weapons.
"I just wish she'd build a safety on these things," I muttered, being very careful not to touch the trigger. I definitely didn't want a repeat of the freeze ray incident from a couple months ago.
Once the shrink ray was safely put away, I walked around the lab, looking things over again. My eyes settled on a large machine in one corner, which reminded me a little of a Star Trek transporter. This was my favorite invention in the entire lab, the Universal Reset Devise, or the URD as we usually called it.
Mom invented the URD after I'd been turned into a girl, and it was what she'd used to change me back to normal. It was specifically designed to undo the effects of her devises, or at least to undo the ones that could change a human body. Not only had the URD turned me back into a boy, it had also changed me back to normal after that unfortunate incident last year with that age regression machine.
"At least she got that whole rejuvenation thing out of her system," I said with a sigh.
I shuddered at the memory of having been turned into a toddler, even if it had only been for a day. Mom had gotten so caught up in being a teenager again that she'd procrastinated about changing us back to normal until then. Even now, she looked ten years younger than when she'd started, something that I knew was no accidental side-effect.
I turned my attention away from the URD and began to clean up some of the mess she'd left during this latest invention binge. The last thing I wanted was for someone to trip over some of this clutter and cause yet another accident.
When I got to the work benches, I let out a sigh of exasperation. All three of her main stations were covered with clutter and spare parts. There was a half-assembled rail gun at one of them as well as something that looked like a robot arm on another.
"And to think," I mused, glancing to where Mom was still sleeping, "she used to get after me for not cleaning up my Legos."
As I began cleaning up the benches, or at least neatening them up a little since I didn't want to risk misplacing some of Mom's parts, my eyes settled on something. It was a small piece of the rail gun, a magnetic field generator if I remembered what Mom had said when she was talking about it.
I began to absently play with the magnetic field generator as I looked over the other desks and scattered leftover parts. Suddenly, I had an idea which made me pause to look everything over again. Some of these scattered parts looked like they might actually go together, and not just the ones from a single project.
I gathered up some of these parts and began playing around with them, not really having anything in mind other than to see if they'd snap together. In a way, it was like being a kid again and playing with my Legos, just putting pieces together to see what I'd get. At first, I was just goofing off, but before I realized it, I was completely engrossed in what I was doing.
Just as I'd finished soldering the final connection and was in the process of snapping the outer casing together, I finally noticed that Mom was standing a short distance behind me, watching without saying a word. I'd been so caught up in what I was doing that I hadn't even noticed her until that moment. I suddenly felt embarrassed to have been caught playing around in her lab and wondered just how long she'd been there.
"I'm sorry," I apologized self-consciously, knowing that I was never supposed to play around in Mom's lab. That was one of the lessons I'd learned the hard way when I was younger. "I was just cleaning up and..."
Mom didn't look upset by the fact that I'd been playing around with her tools and parts, and instead, she was staring at what I'd been working on with a look of curiosity. "What did you make?" she asked me.
Now that I was finished, the thing I'd been playing around with looked like a silver metal sphere about the size of a baseball. However, there was a clear plastic button on the side that was flat with the surface, which I pushed. A moment later, the button lit up and a humming sound came from inside the sphere. Then when I let go of it, the metal sphere remained where it was, floating in the air.
"I'm not really sure," I told Mom, watching the floating metal sphere with a faint sense of excitement. "I just put together some of your spare parts and got this."
"Part of the magnetic field generator from my rail gun," she mused thoughtfully as she continued staring at the sphere. "And you used the outer casing from one of my grenade launcher projectiles... When you put it all together, you get something that uses electromagnetic fields to float..."
I nodded at that, relieved that Mom wasn't mad at me for goofing off in her lab, though I probably shouldn't have been surprised. I was usually the one telling her to be more careful and then going and cleaning up after her while she ran to the next project. Sometimes, it almost felt like I was the adult in the house, though this was a clear reminder that I wasn't.
"Do you realize what you've done?" Mom asked, staring at me with an excited look on her face.
"I made a new toy?" I asked cautiously.
"You made a DEVISE," she exclaimed, nearly jumping with excitement.
I gave Mom a skeptical look, then pointed out, "If it's a devise, it's only because it's made with your devise parts..."
Mom just laughed at that, then she shook her head and grabbed me by the shoulders. "The only thing you used that might count as a devise was from the magnetic field generator, and that was only a part of a devise. It was never designed for something like this, but you made it work. YOU made this devise."
I stared at Mom for a moment, feeling a mixture of surprise, skepticism, and excitement run through me all at once. All I could say in response was, "Really?"
"You're a devisor," she blurted out proudly, then grabbed me in a surprise hug. When she let go a few seconds later, she laughed in delight and announced, "I've got to tell Beth..."
Mom rushed out of her lab to go tell her friend about this, leaving me there, feeling stunned and a little confused. I stared at the floating metal sphere, and in spite of what Mom said, I still had a hard time believing that I was really responsible for it. After all, Mom was the devisor in the family and I had used her parts.
After a minute of just staring at the floating sphere, I pushed the button and turned it off. It once again fell under the influence of gravity and dropped right onto the table. I was tempted to turn it on and play with it some more, but then I remembered what I'd been doing before I started playing with that thing. I looked over the mess, which had only grown worse due to my goofing around. Then with a groan, I went back to work cleaning things up, trying hard to ignore a faint voice in the back of my head which suggested another one of those leftover parts could be used to make something cool.
When I was finished cleaning up in the lab, I went back upstairs, only to realize that it was early afternoon and that I'd spent a lot longer working on that gizmo than I'd realized. That realization made me pause to reconsider my doubts about actually being a devisor. I'd gotten so caught up in what I was building that I'd completely lost track of time, just like Mom did when she was making one of her devises.
"Just great," I said with a sigh, rubbing my temples and hoping the headache I felt coming would go away.
I'd always known there was a very good chance that I'd be a mutant, but I'd never really expected to end up as a devisor like Mom, at least not since I was a kid. From what I understood, the children of mutants didn't usually have the same powers as their parents, but usually isn't the same thing as always. While growing up, I'd often fantasized about being able to build things the way my mom could, but now that I was older, I had mixed feelings about being a devisor.
While growing up, I'd seen Mom build a lot of incredible machines, most of which could have come right out of some kind of science fiction movie. Because of that, I had a very healthy respect for just how powerful and versatile a devisor could be, though I also understood all the problems and complications that seemed to come with that ability as well. For one thing, Mom tended to have the whole 'absent-minded professor' thing going, where she could be absolutely brilliant, but got so focused on what she was making that she tended to miss everything else. Unfortunately, this tended to be a fairly common problem among devisors and gadgeteers as the nature of their powers seemed to demand an almost obsessive focus and dedication in order to make the most of them. And then of course, there was Diedricks Syndrome.
Mom had suffered from Diedricks Syndrome since she was my age, and it had caused a lot of problems for her during her life. It caused her to go into wild and insane rants, which scared most people away from her and made it impossible for her to hold any kind of normal job. It also resulted in her going into building binges, which put a lot of stress on her body and wasn't good for her health. I worried that one day she'd push herself too far and would end up hospitalized because of it.
In spite of the problems her Diedricks caused, I knew full well that my mom was lucky it wasn't worse. If things had been just a little different... If she'd actually been able to carry through on any of her insane threats instead of getting distracted by new inventions... I shuddered at the thought of the damage she could do, but then began to chuckle as I imagined her being a villain. It was very hard to imagine, even when she was in one of her full out rants.
Being a devisor didn't mean that I was automatically going to get Diedricks as well, only that I had a higher risk for that particular illness. However, the fact that my mom had it probably increased my chance of having it even more, and that worried me. I REALLY hoped that I never had to deal with that particular issue.
I wanted to talk to Mom a little more about what I'd built in the lab, but as soon as she saw me, she broke into a broad grin. "I'm so happy you're a devisor," she exclaimed, looking only a little less excited than she'd been downstairs. "I can't wait to see what you make next."
"About that," I started carefully.
However, Mom said, "I'd love to talk to you about this more, but I'm afraid I have to go to work..."
When Mom said she was going to work, it meant one of two things. It meant that she was either going to go into the basement to work on one of her inventions, or she was going to go out and do maintenance on one of the devises that she leased to other people. Since Mom was a devisor rather than a gadgeteer, no one could duplicate any of her inventions, but she'd still found a way to make money off them. She sometimes leased or even sold devises to other people, though that meant she had to go and maintain them every couple weeks or they'd stop working. Not surprisingly, she actually made some good money this way.
"Let's see," I mused, trying to remember what she'd fixed up last week. If I remembered right, she'd done some work on the fire neutralizing ray that she'd made for the fire department as well as some personal security devises for a couple of her wealthier clients. "Are you going to the police station?"
"That's one of my stops," she agreed. "The captain called and said that the force field cage I made for them is starting to go wonky, so they're afraid it might not hold if they need to lock up any powered prisoners."
I nodded at that, then pointed out, "You said one of your stops."
"Well," she added before giving me a cheerful grin, "I need to pick up some more parts and supplies if I'm going to be sharing my lab with another devisor." Then before I could think of a good response to that, she was out the door.
"I still think you're getting a little ahead of yourself," I said, though it was already too late.
Then with a shrug, I looked around and tried to decide what I should do now. I thought about playing a little GEO, but I wasn't really in the mood for that at the moment. I briefly considered going over to see if Mrs. Lawrence needed a hand with anything, but then remembered that it was Sunday and she never took jobs on Sundays. As she'd once told me, the only cooking she'd do on Sunday was for her family or her church. I wasn't sure how she stayed in business with that rule, but she seemed to be doing fine so I'd never asked.
Since I couldn't think of anything else I was in the mood for to entertain myself, I went back to the lab and retrieved the devise I'd made. I figured, I'd spent several hours working on it so I might as well see what it could do. And as I played around with it, tossing it from one hand to another and even across the room, I got a better idea of how it worked, or at least how well it floated. It didn't do anything besides that, but that alone was pretty cool. It was enough to make me wonder what else I might be able to make.
Portland Oregon, July 23rd, 2007
I was in a pretty good mood as I left Mrs. Lawrence's house with twenty bucks in my pocket and an arm full of food. I'd spent most of the morning helping her prepare lunch for a big catering job, and as payment, she'd not only given me some of what we made, but a little spending cash as well. I just hoped that Mom liked gumbo and shrimp po' boys, because that was what we were having for lunch.
I went to the dining room and set the food on the table, only to let out an exasperated sigh at the sight of a ray gun that had been left out there. I picked the ray gun up and rolled my eyes, wishing that Mom would be a little more responsible with her toys. It just wasn't safe leaving things like this scattered around the house.
With a shake of my head, I wondered what would have happened if I'd had one of my friends over and they saw something like that sitting out. I could just imagine some of them thinking it was some kind of toy and playing with it, only to blow a hole through the wall...or even worse...through me. "It's no wonder I can't ever have any friends over."
A minute later, I went down to the lab where I found Mom busy at work. This time, she wasn't completely distracted because she looked up at me when I entered. Without saying a word, I just held up the ray gun and made a show of taking it to the armory, though I didn't actually say a word. Apparently, I didn't need to because Mom looked just a little embarrassed.
"I've got lunch," I told her just before going back upstairs.
Before I could sit down and eat, my phone began ringing. I would have just ignored it, but when I glanced at the display and saw that it was Kara, I grinned and picked up.
"Hey Austin," she greeted me in a cheerful voice. "Guess what?"
"You manifested as a mutant and now you have tentacles?" I responded with a smirk.
Kara laughed at that. "No, but I don't think I'd mind the tentacles if the power I got was cool enough."
"Cool powers can make up for a lot," I agreed. Then after several seconds, I added, "But it would have to be REALLY cool to make up for tentacles."
Kara let out a sigh, then said, "I hope that if I do turn out to be a mutant, that I get the same powers as Aunt Beth. I mean, being able to bench press a tank would be awesome..."
"Definitely," I responded with a grin, nodding my head in agreement even though she wouldn't be able to see it. I hesitated a moment, then admitted, "But I think I might already have manifested.... Maybe."
Kara was silent for several seconds, then she asked, "Maybe? Don't you know if you've manifested or not?"
I frowned as I considered how to answer that. "Well," I finally answered, "Mom thinks I've manifested as a devisor, but I'm still not certain..."
"This I've got to hear," Kara said.
I chuckled at that, then explained, "Yesterday, I was goofing around in my mom's lab and I made something. Mom got real excited about it, but the thing is, I used parts from some of her devises. So, maybe I really did make a devise, but maybe it just worked because I used those parts."
"Well, that's easy to fix," Kara told me with an exasperated voice. "Just go build another devise. If it works, you're a devisor. If it doesn't, then the last time was a fluke."
"I already thought of that," I told her with a sigh, glancing towards Mom's lab. She still hadn't come up, so I explained, "If it turns out I'm not really a devisor... Well, my mom was really excited and..."
"And you don't want to disappoint her," Kara finished for me. "Yeah, I can understand that. But the way I figure it, the sooner you know for sure the better."
"You've got a point," I agreed. Then I remembered the way this conversation had started and said, "But I believe you have something to share too...other than not having tentacles."
Kara laughed at that, then told me, "I'm in Chicago right now and I'll be getting on my connecting flight in just a bit. I'll be back in Portland tonight."
I grinned, looking forward to seeing Kara again. The last couple weeks had been boring without her, especially since she was the only friend I had who I could be honest with. I'd never had many friends, and Kara was the only one who'd ever actually been to my house. She knew all about my mom being a mutant, which was no surprise since her Aunt Beth was my mom's best friend. In fact, Beth was the one who'd introduced me and Kara back when we'd both been kids.
"So, Boston is getting a little too boring for you?" I teased, knowing quite well that she'd been bored out of her mind there. Her grandma was apparently a fairly strict woman, but even worse than that from Kara's point of view, she wasn't big on technology. According to Kara, her grandma didn't have either cable TV or internet access.
"You have no idea," Kara said with a clear note of exasperation. "I swear, my dad sends me there every summer just so I'll appreciate him more."
Though I couldn't see Kara through the phone, I could clearly picture the look on her face as she rolled her eyes. The two of us had known each other a long time, so I'd seen the expression often enough to have it imprinted on my mind.
"Anyway," Kara continued. "I was thinking we could go see a movie tomorrow. I've been wanting to check out that new Transformers one."
"Maybe," I responded half-heartedly, my reluctance having more to do with the movie than the company.
Science fiction had never really been my thing, probably because there wasn't enough fiction in it. It was hard to get excited about robots or ray guns when I could see that kind of stuff anytime I wanted. After all, there were about a dozen death rays of one sort or another downstairs, and that wasn't even including the shrink rays, anti-gravity gun, or the freeze ray. And as for robots, Mom had played around with those as well. She even had one that would have changed back and forth between a robot and some kind of flying drone form, though she'd never bothered to actually finish it.
"How about Harry Potter?" I suggested. I'd never seen real magic before, so that kind of thing still interested me. "The new one just came out."
Kara was more of a well-rounded geek than I was, enjoying science fiction and fantasy both, so she quickly agreed, "Sure. That's another one I've wanted to see. I just suggested Transformers because it's been in the theater longer."
We continued talking for another minute, until our conversation was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell ringing. I glanced out the window and then grinned. "Gotta go," I told Kara. "Your aunt is at the door."
"Tell her hi for me," Kara said before hanging up.
I hurried to answer the door, then momentarily stared up at the statuesque woman who stood on the other side. No matter how many times I saw Beth, she never failed to look impressive. She was six-foot-four, with the kind of sexy and athletic build that you might expect out of a comic book amazon. And on top of that, she was wearing a pair of stiletto heels that added even more height to her already imposing size.
"Hey Austin," Beth greeted me with a grin before giving me a hug that would have made any of my male friends jealous. However, I was used to her hugs and had grown up thinking of her as my aunt. "Is Liz in?"
"She's still in her lab," I answered with a grin. "I called Mom up for lunch about fifteen minutes ago, but..." I paused at that and shrugged.
Beth just chuckled at that, not at all surprised since she knew Mom so well. The two of them had been best friends for a long time, ever since they'd been roommates in high school. In fact, Mom had even moved to Oregon after that whole thing with my dad, just so she could be closer to Beth.
"We've got some lunch ready," I told her cheerfully, pretty sure we had enough gumbo, or at least hoping we did. Beth was an exemplar, but there were times when she ate almost like she was an energizer.
Once I went back and lured Mom out of her lab, the three of us sat in the dining room to eat lunch. Fortunately, Mrs. Lawrence had been pretty generous with the food today because Beth really liked the gumbo.
"And you helped make this?" Beth asked me, looking impressed.
I grinned at that, feeling rather proud of myself, even if Mrs. Lawrence had actually done most of the work. "I made the corn bread and put the po' boys together." I'd also helped in smaller ways with some of the other dishes she'd made, like making the remoulade sauce for the po' boys and slicing bananas for the banana foster pie. I just wished that she'd had enough of that to spare some for us, though at least she'd given me the recipe.
"Next Saturday," I stated proudly, "she's going to be catering for a wedding and she asked me to come along and help."
"That's great," Mom agreed, giving me a smile. "Any idea what leftovers I can expect?"
I laughed, having wondered the same thing when I first heard about this. "I don't know, but Mrs. Lawrence said it will be a French menu, so I'm really looking forward to it."
After we finished talking about the food, Mom gave Beth a curious look and said, "I heard you had a bit of excitement last night."
"That's one way of putting it," Beth responded with a chuckle.
"Why?" I asked curiously. "What happened?"
Beth chuckled again, then gave me a smug look. "A couple of low level villains decided that since there isn't a large super hero presence in the area, that they should move on in. Bad idea."
I nodded at that, knowing that as one of the few super heroes in the area, Beth must have taken great delight in showing these villains that they were greatly mistaken if they thought Portland easy pickings. Unlike New York or Chicago, Portland didn't have very many heroes or villains, and it was relatively quiet and peaceful as far as super powered activity went. Occasionally, some villain came into the area, thinking that they'd be able to operate without any real opposition, but Beth and the others always proved them wrong.
"Admittedly, they were fairly strong," Beth told us cheerfully. "For a few minutes, I almost thought I'd have to call one of the teams in Seattle for backup...just in case. But, I managed to take them down...even if that flyer was a real pain in the butt."
Mom and I both nodded in understanding, knowing that Beth always had a problem with flyers or anyone else who could keep out of her reach. Beth was an exemplar 3, which was what gave her that impressive body and made her even stronger than she looked. However, her exemplar strength was pretty low level as far as enhanced strength went. Her real power was that she was a PK brick. She could create psychokinetic shell around herself which made her extremely strong and tough. And when her shell was active, it altered her appearance and made her look like she was made of white marble. Because of her build and that living statue look, she used the quite accurate code name of Statuesque.
Mom had briefly tried being a super hero, just so she could be Beth's partner, though it hadn't worked out. Mom hadn't liked being in that kind of danger, nor had she dealt well with the stress it caused. After going into a Diedricks rant in the middle of trying to stop a bank robber, she'd hung up her tights for good. Now, the closest Mom got to the super hero game was getting stories from Beth and occasionally making weapons for the local heroes.
"Too bad you couldn't use one of Mom's shrink rays," I joked. "Imagine being able to shrink the bad guys and store them in a shoe box."
"That would be fun," Beth agreed with a chuckle.
A lot of my mom's weapons would have been pretty effective against the bad guys, and she probably could have made a fortune just selling them to the local police. However, there was one small problem with that. Most of my mom's most impressive devises only worked in her immediate presence, while the ones that did work for other people stopped doing so after just a couple weeks at most. My dad hadn't realized that when he'd stolen the weapons from her armory, and he'd learned this the hard way when they didn't work for people he sold them to.
"Speaking of devises," Mom started with a grin. "I told you about the one Austin made..."
"You mentioned it on the phone," Beth responded wryly. "About a dozen times."
"Well, go get it," Mom urged me.
With a shrug, I got up and then went to grab the metal sphere from where I'd left it in my room. I brought it back and activated it, then pulled my hand away and watched as it just floated above the kitchen table. It wasn't very impressive compared to anything my mom made, and though I was the one who put it together, I still wasn't certain that I was the one who actually made it work.
"Very nice," Beth told me, though I could tell she was saying that to be polite rather than because she was impressed.
"Now, I want to see what else you can make," Mom told me enthusiastically.
"I'm still not convinced that I'm a devisor," I admitted. "I mean, I used your parts..."
Mom rolled her eyes and said, "We've already been over this..."
"Why don't you try to make something else?" Beth asked me with an amused expression. "If you make another devise, you'll know for sure."
"Kara said the same thing," I responded with a sigh, knowing that they were right.
After a little more urging from Mom, I went down to her lab while she and Beth followed me. I wasn't sure what they were expecting since even if I was a devisor, I wouldn't be able to just snap my fingers and make something. That sphere had taken me a couple hours, and that was while using some parts Mom had already made. If they were going to watch me until I actually built something, they'd probably be waiting for quite awhile.
I looked over the work desks and the various bins of parts, trying to see if anything jumped out at me. Yesterday, while I'd been cleaning up after making the sphere, a few ideas had been coming to me, but now I didn't have anything. Mom just stood there with an expectant look on her face and I felt myself growing frustrated.
"This isn't working," I finally blurted out, glaring at a shelf full of parts in annoyance.
Suddenly, half the parts on the shelf flew off and onto the floor, even though I'd never touched them. I blinked in surprise, and when I stared at the newly created mess, my first though was that it was going to be a pain to clean up. My second though was the realization that I had somehow caused it.
"I don't think that's a devisor ability," I joked weakly, turning to look at Mom who was staring at me in surprise.
"Maybe some form of psychokinesis," Beth commented thoughtfully. "But there are a lot of abilities that can cause something like that..."
Mom nodded agreement, suggesting, "Concussion or force projecting, magic, an avatar spirit..."
"There's only one way to know for sure," Beth said, giving me a reassuring smile. "We're just going to have to do a little testing..."
"But," I started to protest, not sure that I liked that particular smile.
"You can't deny that you were responsible that time," Mom told me with a sigh. "So whatever your powers are, it's pretty obvious that you have manifested."
"I don't know," I responded with a faint smirk. "It wouldn't be the first time one of your devises has unexpected side effects." Mom snorted at that, which made Beth and I laugh in response. I noticed that Mom didn't argue on that point.
Then I looked over the mess again and frowned, knowing that they were both right. When all the parts went flying, I'd actually felt an odd pressure in my head, so there was no doubt that I'd done it. And of course, I was going to have to test my new abilities to figure out exactly what they were and how they worked. However, what annoyed me about it all was the certainty that Beth's idea of testing would result in an even larger mess, which I'd be stuck cleaning up.
Mom and Beth launched into a conversation with each other where they discussed how to test my new abilities, while I was left feeling like they'd almost forgotten I was even there. I listened carefully, thinking that some of their suggestions made sense, though some of them also sounded insane.
"No, you're not going to cut me to see if I heal," I insisted, and a minute later, I had to add, "And no, I'm not going to jump off the roof just to see if I can fly. Are you crazy?"
Mom set a few random items on one of the otherwise cleaned work benches, cheerfully announcing, "This reminds me of my own power testing..."
"Those were the days," Beth responded with a chuckle. "There was that ridiculous growth spurt that made me constantly outgrow all my clothes, being self-conscious about my changing body, and of course, having my PK shell turn on unexpectedly and accidentally breaking almost everything I touched because of it." She rolled her eyes. "You couldn't pay me enough to go back."
"And then there were your mood swings," Mom added with a smirk.
Beth rolled her eyes and responded, "You try dealing with exemplar level hormones. Trust me, they put normal hormones to shame."
Mom nodded at then, then pointed out, "And back then, you always had Steel Wing chasing after you. I was so jealous because he never even noticed me."
"Let me tell you," Beth told her in an almost conspiratorial tone. "He might have been called Steel Wing, but other parts were more like a wet noodle."
I rolled my eyes at that, deciding that I didn't need to hear that kind of talk, at least not from them. "About this testing..."
"Of course," Beth responded, looking down at me with an amused look. It was always annoying when she did that, especially when she was wearing high heels. She always towered over me and made me feel like I was still a little kid.
"I want you to do the same thing you did a minute ago," Mom told me as she gestured to the parts she'd set up. "Try to move these parts again." She paused for a moment, looking over her work station and adding, "And try not to break anything."
I gave her a wry look, knowing that if she really didn't want me to break anything, we should have been doing this somewhere else. However, it was obvious that both Mom and Beth were eager and impatient to find out more about my new power, so that hadn't even entered their minds.
"Just don't expect me to clean up the mess," I warned them, though I knew I'd probably be stuck with it anyway. Mom was so bad at cleaning up after herself that if it wasn't for me, she'd probably end up being a hoarder.
I focused on the things Mom had set out, thinking about how frustrated I'd felt when I'd send them flying previously. I gave a mental push, and I the parts were sent flying backwards. After repeating this several times, Mom and Beth had me to try to pull them towards me instead, and I was able to do this just as easily. Almost in spite of myself, I was actually started to get excited. I had a power...a real power.
"This is definitely looking like some kind of psychokinetic ability," Beth told me. "Now, try imagining an invisible hand picking something up."
"Telekinesis," I said in understanding while Beth nodded.
I did as Beth suggested, focusing on a single spare part and trying to lift it up into the air. It took me half a minute to figure it out, but when I did, the part lifted up into the air. I kept concentrating and moved it over to the other side of the table before letting go. It dropped back to the table, earning me a faint glare from Mom, who was probably afraid I'd broken the part. However, if it hadn't already been ruined after falling off the shelf, that much smaller drop wasn't likely to do much.
"So," I commented, trying to act as though it was no big deal. "I guess I'm a telekinetic."
"Which brings up the question of your devise," Beth said, looking almost apologetic. "It's possible that the only reason it floats is that you think it should float..."
"What do you mean?" I ask, though the answer came to me a moment later.
"You might be subconsciously using your powers to move it," Beth explained.
I nodded in understanding while Mom just looked disappointed. "Well," Mom said after a moment, giving me a weak smile. "We don't know that's what happened. You still might be a devisor."
"Maybe," I responded, though I wasn't sure I believed it.
Of course, when I had been making that thing yesterday, I'd gotten completely caught up in it, just like Mom did when she built her devises. And the fact was, whenever I'd turned it on, I hadn't noticed that feeling of pressure in my head that I felt when using my new telekinesis. After thinking about this for several minutes, I grew increasingly skeptical of Beth's explanation. I couldn't believe that I was subconsciously using a telekinetic power that I hadn't even known I had, at least not for that.
While I was lost in thought, Mom and Beth were busy talking about a bunch of other power testing again, but I'd had enough of it for the moment. While they were distracted, I took the opportunity to sneak out of the lab, before they could get back to the idea of testing whether or not I could fly or heal from injuries.
A few minutes later, I was in the kitchen, cleaning up from lunch and doing dishes. However, my thoughts kept going back to this new power I had, and I grinned at the thought. I was a mutant and I had powers. I'd always known there was a good chance I'd end up as a mutant, especially since the genes involved were supposed to be passed down through the mother, and the truth was, I'd always worried about it a bit. The idea of being a mutant was scary, not just because I'd be different than most other people, but because it often came with problems like burnout, GSD, and Diedricks Syndrome, none of which I wanted to deal with. But now, I KNEW I was a mutant, which meant no more having to wait and see. And of course, I even had a cool power.
"Just wait until Kara finds out," I thought aloud, knowing that she'd be jealous.
Kara had told me on numerous occasions that she wanted powers so she could become a hero like her aunt, but I knew the odds of being a mutant weren't in her favor. Sure, her aunt was a mutant so it did run in her family, but both of her parents were normal baselines. And even if both of her parents had been mutants, there still wouldn't have been any guarantee.
"I just hope she's not too jealous," I mused, suddenly worried about that.
I was so distracted by these thoughts that I wasn't paying enough attention and dropped a glass, which hit the edge of the sink and shattered. A shard of glass hit the side of my hand and I let out a yelp as it cut me.
"Just great," I complained, grabbing a paper towel to soak up the blood until I could get a band-aid on it. Fortunately, the cut didn't look too bad.
Just then, I could somehow feel Mom and Beth coming up from the lab. I turned around and watched them come into the kitchen to check on me, a little surprised by the fact that I'd known they were there. Was this just a good guess or a part of my new powers? I was definitely going to need some real power testing, not just the stuff Mom and Beth were throwing together on their own.
"What happened?" Mom gasped when she saw me holding the paper towel to my hand.
"I cut myself," I answered with a shrug. Then I joked, "I guess this proves I'm not invulnerable and don't have regeneration."
"Both good powers to have," Beth responded with a faint smile.
With that, Beth shimmered slightly and her entire body instantly turned into white marble, though her clothes remained unchanged. I knew that when she was on duty, her professional hero costume was made of a tight spandex type of material, which was close enough to her skin that it would get covered in her PK shell and appear to be made of marble as well. Without saying a word, Beth began picking up the pieces of glass with her bare hands, not worried in the least about getting cut.
"Thanks," I told her before heading to the bathroom take care of my cut.
Portland Oregon, July 24, 2007
I awoke to the most annoying sound in the world blaring from my alarm clock. I used to have a tendency to sleep in a little too late, so I found something that was guaranteed to get me up without hitting the snooze alarm once. When my alarm went off, it played a song from Brass Monkey, an absolutely horrible band that Kara couldn't get enough of for some reason. As soon as I heard that, I jumped out of bed and hurried to the other side of the room so I could turn off the noise.
"Beth must have turned the sound up," I complained, remembering the last time she'd done that to me just because she knew how much I hated that particular alarm. But when checked the volume, it was at the normal level. I was a little confused at that because the music...if it could be called that...was a lot louder than normal. Then to confuse me further, I caught the scent of bacon, just as clear as if I was standing in the kitchen. "At least I wake up to something that smells good."
I threw on a T-shirt and some shorts, then went to the bathroom to do my business. While I was doing that, I took the band-aid off my hand, figuring I probably didn't need it anymore. But once I removed the band-aid, I was startled to realize that there was no sign of my cut. I hesitantly ran a finger over that spot, only to confirm what my eyes already told me.
"I healed," I said, thinking back to the new powers I'd discovered yesterday. I hadn't healed immediately, and had seen no signs of healing faster than normal at the time I'd gone to bed. But now, my cut was completely gone, as though it had never even been there. "I definitely need to see about power testing."
When I was done, I washed my hands and then splashed cold water on my face. That obnoxious noise had already woken me up, but a little cold water could only help. However, as I looked up into the mirror above the sink, I noticed something else odd. However, I'd already had enough surprises this morning, so instead of gasping in disbelief as I might have done otherwise, I just calmly stared at my reflection instead.
My eyes had changed. I'd heard that changes in eye and hair color were some of the most common visible signs of going through a mutation, but I'd never seen it myself. Mom's mutation hadn't changed her body in any visible way, while Beth's had changed pretty much everything except her eye and hair color. My eyes had been green, about the only visible thing I'd inherited from Mom, but now, they were purple.
After staring at my eyes for about half a minute, I turned away and went to the kitchen for breakfast. Mom was there, with a plate full of bacon in front of her and a bowl full of pancake mix. I smiled at the sight since Mom always made pretty decent pancakes. Not as good as what I could make, but I wasn't about to tell her that.
"Good morning," I said, helping myself to a slice of bacon.
I sat down at the table, not saying a word about my new eye color. I wanted to see how long it would take her to notice on her own, though I doubted she would. Though I loved my mom, she tended to be pretty oblivious to anything that didn't involve one of her devises.
Once the pancakes and eggs were ready, Mom and I ate breakfast and talked about my new powers as well as how I'd have to get them tested. We'd already talked about this yesterday, though she did bring up one new subject...school.
"Now that you've manifested," Mom told me as she ate, "I don't think you should go back to your old school in the fall."
I merely nodded, having expected this topic to come up sooner or late. "Whateley," I stated, remembering the numerous times Mom and Beth had talked about this private school for mutants where they'd first met. Because of that, I'd always assumed that if I did manifest, I'd end up going there as well.
"Are you psychic?" Mom teased me, before chuckling. "Oh, that's right...you are."
I rolled my eyes at that, then said, "Speaking of which..."
I concentrated on the plate of bacon that was sitting on the other side of Mom and tried to use my powers to bring it to me. I'd practiced a few times last night and was able to move small objects pretty easily, but this time was different. The plate didn't move at all. I couldn't even feel that pressure in my head that I felt every time I'd used my telekinesis.
"It's not working," I said, feeling a little worried.
"That's why you need to practice," Mom pointed out.
I continued trying to move the plate and even my fork, but there was still nothing. Whatever power I had yesterday seemed to have vanished without a trace. It suddenly struck me as quite annoying that I appeared to have lost my telekinesis but gained purple eyes instead. That was hardly a fair exchange.
My telekinesis wasn't working anymore, but I did notice a few other oddities which caught my attention. At any other time, I probably would have overlooked these as being my imagination, but not when I'd just manifested mutant abilities and didn't understand what they were.
When I'd woken up, my alarm had sounded a lot louder than it should, and Mom was talking in a somewhat higher volume without seeming to realize it. I'd smelled the cooking bacon all the way from my bedroom, and while sitting in the kitchen, I'd smelled the eggs and pancakes much more than I should have been able to, not to mention the fact that I could even smell my mom. And then there was my sense of taste, which like my hearing and sense of smell, seemed to be stronger. Every bite of food just seemed much more potent and I was getting flavors that I normally would have missed. I had little doubt that my senses had become sharper.
Then there was the fact that my entire body felt a little off for some reason. There wasn't any one thing that I could point to as wrong, but overall, I just felt that something was different. As I thought about it, I realized that I felt a bit more energized and alive. That was the only way I could think to describe it.
"I need to get some real power testing," I told Mom as I ate. "And I guess I'll need an MID too..."
I frowned as I thought about getting an MID...a Mutant Identification card. What it meant was that I'd end up in some MCO database that kept track of my powers and what they'd need to watch out for if they ever decided I was a threat. As far as I was concerned, it was a massive invasion of privacy, but I could understand the reasoning for MIDs as well. Whether you liked the idea of MIDs or not, they were a fact of life for all mutants, whether they were heroes, villains, or fell somewhere in-between.
"You'll need a codename," Mom said thoughtfully, which I thought was pretty ironic, coming from her.
Every mutant had an official codename that was recorded on their MID, one that was supposedly used to protect their privacy. However, I had absolutely no idea what my mom's was. I'd asked her countless times, but she always refused to tell me. I'd tried sneaking a look at her MID, but she hid it and I hadn't been able to find where. And finally, I'd even asked Beth, who only burst out laughing and then told me that Mom would kill her if she said anything.
"Have you thought about a codename?" Mom asked me.
"Not yet," I lied.
The truth was, I'd been thinking about possible codenames ever since I was a kid and first learned I might one day get powers. However, as I'd eventually come to realize, it was completely pointless to try deciding on a codename until I understood what kind of power I had.
"We should probably take care of the testing as soon as possible," Mom said with a thoughtful look. "I think the closest decent facility is in Olympia, so I'll give them a call and see if I can make an appointment."
I nodded at that, then pointed out, "I had some plans for today, but now I'm not sure if they're a good idea..." At Mom's curious look, I explained, "Mrs. Lawrence is making desserts and I wanted to get over there early enough to help." Of course, Mrs. Lawrence had told me that she could manage that fine on her own, but helping her out was not only a good way to learn how she did it, it was also a great way to get samples. "And then Kara was coming over so we could go see Harry Potter."
"You're probably right," she agreed with a faint shake of her head. "Until you have a better grasp on your powers, you'll need to be pretty careful. And as much as I like Mrs. Lawrence and the food she sends home with you, I'm not sure how she'll react to your eyes."
I was a little startled at Mom's comment about my eyes since I hadn't thought she'd notice them. It was just a reminder that as scatterbrained as Mom often was, she could also be pretty observant at times.
"At least Kara can come over here and visit," Mom assured me with an amused smile. "It's been awhile since you've seen her..."
"A couple weeks," I agreed, thinking that they'd been a couple of boring weeks at that.
"Which reminds me," Mom continued, grinning even more. "When are you going to ask her out?"
"I'm not," I responded after several awkward seconds of silence. Kara and I had been best friends for a long time and neither of us wanted to mess that up by dating each other. And of course, there was the small matter of my not being her type, something she'd made clear to me about a year ago when I'd considered asking her out. "We're just friends."
Mom gave me a skeptical look but seemed willing to change the subject. We went back to talking about my powers, and about the fact that we still weren't even certain what they were.
"At first, it looked like I might be a devisor," I said thoughtfully. "Then we proved I was a telekinetic, which was pretty cool. But now, that doesn't work at all but my senses seem to be a LOT better." I paused for a moment as I remembered one other thing, then held up my hand to show the lack of an injury. "And my cut healed."
"It is...confusing," Mom agreed with a thoughtful look. I saw her eyes sort of glaze over with a familiar expression and she mused, "Perhaps a power testing devise that scans your biological processes and bioelectric aura to determine the nature of your powers..."
I rolled my eyes at that and took another piece of bacon, knowing that I'd have to stop Mom soon or she'd rush down to the lab in order to build this devise. Though it sounded pretty cool, I suspected it would take her weeks to make something like that, and that would be a little too late for me. Instead, I needed to get her focused on something of a little more immediate use.
"Maybe more of the power testing we did yesterday," I suggested, hoping I wasn't making a mistake. "It won't be the professional kind of testing, but at least it might help me narrow things down a bit more." Then before Mom could get overly excited, I quickly added, "And I'm not jumping off the roof to see if I can fly."
Once I had Mom's attention redirected in a somewhat more productive direction, we went back to her lab while she set up some more materials for testing, muttering the entire time about her own power testing from about twenty years earlier. I was pretty sure that testing methods had changed since then, but I wasn't about to complain. After all, I didn't need the latest technology to get a general idea of what my powers could do.
"We're going to start off with something I know the most about," she said, gesturing to the work stations where she'd set up a bunch of random parts and a few completed machines.
I immediately saw what Mom was trying to do with this test, and I didn't blame her. She wanted to check for devisor and gadgeteer abilities, in a way that was a little more controlled than just telling me to build something else. I went to the first table and stared at a small machine that was sitting on it, which was some kind of testing tool. She wanted me to figure out how to use it or disassemble it, so I fiddled around with it for a few minutes but didn't get any bursts of insight or understanding. Then I moved to some random parts to try figuring out something to do with them, but I didn't have a clue. The same thing happened with a second and third pile of random parts.
"Wait a minute," I blurted out after looking over the third pile of parts.
"You've got something?" Mom asked with a note of excitement.
I turned and gave her a flat look, then gestured at the parts. "These are the same parts I used to make that thing..." I pointed to the sphere I'd built, which Mom currently had floating right in front of her. She just smirked, proving that she'd done it intentionally. She'd provided the same parts just to see if I could build another one. However, when I looked them over, I didn't feel any inspiration. I could sort of remember how I'd put most of them together, but something was clearly missing, and I didn't mean in the parts.
In spite of the fact that I'd built a devise the other day, these tests didn't reveal any devisor or gadgeteer abilities. This definitely seemed to confirm my doubts about being the one to make the devise actually work, and I couldn't help but feeling disappointed at that. In spite of having a higher risk for Diedricks, I'd always thought devisors had awesome abilities. After all, I'd seen Mom build things that most people could only imagine. And though Mom was trying to hide it, I could see her disappointment as well.
After this, Mom and I went to her test chamber, a section of her lab that was separated from the rest. Physically, the test chamber was beneath the back yard, taking up about half the space while the armory took up the other half. The room itself was about fifteen yards wide and twenty yards deep, with the walls, ceiling, and floors all being covered with white ceramic plates that somehow channeled a force field effect to make them mostly indestructible. This was where Mom tested most of her inventions...when she was in her right mind. When she wasn't, she'd been known to test them in the living room.
As I looked over the test chamber, I thought that we probably should have tested my powers here yesterday. It would have made a lot more sense than testing unknown powers in a lab full of sensitive equipment, and apparently Mom thought the same thing since we were here now.
We started off doing the same exercises as yesterday, with me trying to push, pull, and generally move small objects without actually touching them. Yesterday, it had been pretty easy, but now I couldn't do it at all. There wasn't even the slightest indication that I actually had the power to do something like that anymore.
"I could do this just fine yesterday," I said with growing frustration.
"It's okay," Mom told me with a reassuring smile. "Just take a deep breath and relax. We'll figure this out."
I just stared at Mom, fully aware of the irony of her telling me to relax. I almost wished that she'd go off on one of her 'world domination' rants so I could go back to being the calm and reasonable one. As it was, my world was in serious jeopardy of no longer making sense.
The next stage of testing seemed to consist of me doing a lot of stuff that Mom seemed to be coming up with off the top of her head. I tried shooting energy blasts, willing things to catch on fire, willing myself to teleport across the room, and even jumping in the air and trying to fly...which was much better than jumping off the roof. None of it did any good. By the time we were done, I half expected Mom to ask me to do the chicken dance since that would have made about as much sense as some of the other things she had me do.
Once we gave up on these tests, Mom gave me a curious look and said, "You said that your senses are sharper and that your cut healed from yesterday..." She gave me an apologetic look and said, "I'm not sure how to test your senses, but..."
"I am NOT going to let you cut me just to see if I'll heal," I protested, shuddering at the idea.
I wasn't sure how, but ten minutes later, Mom had talked me into letting her give me a small cut on my finger, though the promise of gelato may have had something to do with it. After everything else that had been going on, I wasn't even surprised to see the cut heal right before my eyes, even though it hadn't done that yesterday.
"Okay," Mom said, looking a little confused. "You have regeneration."
"Nice," I responded. Most of the time, regeneration wasn't considered a very flashy power, but it was definitely a practical one. Being able to quickly heal from any injury was a power I could appreciate. "But I didn't have it yesterday."
Mom nodded at that, giving me a curious look. The way my powers seemed to keep changing was confusing her just as much as it was me. It would be nice to know for sure just what my powers were, but that was what this testing was for.
Fifteen minutes later, I discovered another oddity, that I was stronger than normal. We'd tested my strength by having me pick up various objects around the lab and moving to heavier and heavier ones. After I picked up a crate containing parts, which weighed about four hundred pounds, I decided to stop. I was obviously stronger than normal, but I also had to strain a bit with the crate, which indicated I was getting near my limit.
"You don't seem to be using any PK," Mom told me afterwards, "which means this looks like legitimate strength. Between that and your senses, that suggests you might be an exemplar."
I merely nodded at that, having guessed that much myself. Any exemplar above a level one was stronger than a normal person, and they tended to have other enhanced physical or mental abilities as well, which could include sharper senses. Just from the amount of weight I'd lifted, I guessed that if I really was an exemplar, it would probably be about a level three.
"If you're an exemplar," Mom continued with a smile, "you'll want to talk to Beth about it. She can give you a better idea of what to expect."
"What next?" I asked, wondering what else we could test.
"I can't think of anything else we can test here," Mom admitted. "Not without specialized equipment."
"I wonder," I mused aloud, thinking about my powers and how they seemed to keep changing. "By the time I actually get tested for my MID, will I still be an exemplar or will it be something else?"
"Who knows," Mom responded with a shrug. "When I first manifested, I spent a month thinking I was a gadgeteer."
"That's an easy mistake to make," I responded with a chuckle.
At first glance, devisors and gadgeteers appeared to be the same thing since both power sets were all about making things. However, the way those powers worked were completely different. Gadgeteers had a psychic ability that let them instinctively understand technology while devisors actually bent the laws of physics to make their inventions work.
Since we were done with the testing, I went back upstairs, still not satisfied with what I'd learned. Sure, I knew what powers I had at the moment, but that wouldn't do any good if they changed again.
"I wonder if I might be an avatar," I mused.
Avatars hosted spirits that could give them different powers, so they could be kind of unpredictable. I hadn't heard any voices in my head or seen anything that suggested I might be hosting a spirit, but that didn't mean I wasn't. That just meant I really needed better power testing.
Mom and I had killed the entire morning and it was getting time for lunch. Because of that, I went to the kitchen and began making something to eat, thinking that this would also be a good way to take my mind off this whole situation.
Lunch consisted of a chevre, prosciutto, and apple panini, which was absolutely delicious. Mom took several bites, then just stared at me and shook her head.
"Where in the world did you learn to cook like this?" she asked me. "You sure didn't learn from me."
"The Food Network," I responded with a broad grin.
We were still eating when the doorbell began ringing. I got up to answer it, only to find Kara standing there.
"About time," she teased me as she rushed into the house. "Do you know how long I was waiting out there?"
"Ten seconds?" I responded.
I just stared at Kara, glad to see her again. She was a very pretty girl, though she nearly always played it down, dressing in a combination of tomboy and geek fashion, with her brunette hair usually pulled back in a ponytail. At the moment, she was wearing a t-shirt with the GEO logo on the front.
"Hey, Austin," Kara said, giving me a quick hug and a smile.
"How was your trip back?" I asked her, walking back to the kitchen so I could finish eating.
Kara looked at my half-eaten lunch, then plopped herself down at the kitchen table and helped herself to one of the cookies that I'd set out for dessert. She took several bites before seeming to remember that I'd been talking to her.
"It was all right," she finally responded. "But I sat next to this fat guy for the flight to Chicago and he kept giving me these weird looks." She shuddered and added, "You know, the ones that say I'm a creepy old man and I'm checking you out."
"And how was Boston?" Mom asked her politely.
"Boring," Kara answered with a note of exasperation. However, she quickly grinned and added, "Well, I did get to see Lamplighter flying overhead, but that was about it. I mean, I heard Boston had several really big super hero fights last year, but if anything happened while I was there, I completely missed it."
"That's a good thing," I pointed out, thinking about how easy it would be to get hurt just by being near one of those fights. When people are shooting laser beams from their eyes or throwing cars around, it wasn't safe to be anywhere nearby.
Kara gave me a skeptical look, then asked, "So, how've you been doing on that quest I sent you?"
It took me a moment to realize she was talking about GEO. "I haven't had much time to play over the last couple days," I pointed out with a faint smile. "I've been a little...distracted."
Kara nodded and mused, "We'll have to set an event to get our lowbie toons leveled a little... Maybe we can set something up during the next AA meeting..."
"AA meeting?" Mom asked, giving Kara a curious look.
"Altaholics Anonymous," Kara answered proudly. "It's my guild in GEO."
"I've about that game," Mom said with a thoughtful look. "Rumor has it the game server may be a devise..."
"Well, it is pretty awesome," Kara exclaimed, her eyes gleaming with excitement.
Kara looked like she was about to launch into a detailed explanation of how the game worked, which I knew would be pretty boring for anyone who wasn't into online games. Because of that, I decided to take pity on Mom and cut Kara off with the statement, "You don't want to know."
Kara gave me a look that indicated that I'd just ruined her fun. "That reminds me," she said, giving me a curious look. "You said something on the phone about being a mutant..."
"Yeah," I responded with a sigh, gesturing to my eyes, which were the only visible indication of my mutation. They were subtle enough that it would be pretty easy to miss the odd color.
"What's your power?" she blurted out eagerly.
"That's the question," Mom muttered. Then she paused with a distant look on her face and continued, "A power testing devise could answer it a little better too..."
As Mom got up and wandered towards her lab entrance with a distracted look, Kara encouraged me. "Well?"
"Well," I answered, trying to decide how to explain. "Today, I seem to be an exemplar and a regenerator...with enhanced senses."
"Nice," Kara responded, only to pause and give me a curious look. "Today?"
"Yesterday I had psychic powers," I explained with a sigh. "I had telekinesis and I think I might have had some kind of esper thing too because I could sort of tell when Mom or Beth were nearby without having to look. But when I woke up this morning, it was all gone."
"Well, that sucks," Kara told me with a frown. "But being an exemplar isn't bad. I mean, you might end up turning into a real stud...if you're lucky."
"Maybe," I agreed, feeling a little happier at that reminder.
Not only did exemplars have the enhanced physical abilities, most of them also had enhanced looks too. Female exemplars could end up looking like super models, or like Beth, while guys could end up with the stereotypical musclebound super hero physique. Of course, it could also result in you looking like some kind of freak, but lots of mutants had that problem without being exemplars.
"I'm still not even sure I'm an exemplar," I told her with a shrug. "That just fits with my being stronger and having better senses." Then I frowned and added, "And as if this wasn't already confusing enough, the other day I seemed to be a devisor too."
Kara stared me for a moment with a thoughtful look on her face. Then her eyes widened in excitement and she blurted out, "Maybe you're a power mimic."
I nodded at that since it did make sense. Power mimics usually copied other people's powers, which could have explained why my abilities appeared to keep changing.
"Maybe you copied your Mom's devisor power," Kara suggested with a grin. "And maybe you copied Aunt Beth's exemplar power..."
"Except I didn't seem to have these exemplar type powers until today," I thought aloud, "And I don't think she even has the enhanced senses thing." I shrugged at that and added, "And I have no idea where I could have picked up the psychic power from...except for Mrs. Lawrence, and as far as I know, she isn't a mutant."
Kara just grinned at that. "Well, maybe she is a mutant but she's keeping it secret."
It was hard to argue with that one. Though there were a few problems with the idea of my being a power mimic, that was about the best explanation I had so far. I just might have to go back down to the lab and see if I could copy Mom's powers. That should prove whether or not I was a mimic.
Kara and I sat there and continued to talk, alternating between talking about her time in Boston, about her latest achievement in GEO, and of course, about my new powers. She wanted to know all about them and was clearly both jealous and excited.
Eventually, I got up and went down to Mom's lab so I could get the floating sphere I'd built. Kara wanted to see it for herself, and admittedly, I really wanted to show it off. Mom was already busy at work, looking completely oblivious to everything else.
"Hey Mom," I called out to get her attention. "Kara and I are going out to rob a bank."
"That's nice dear," Mom responded automatically, not even bothering to look in my direction.
"And we're going to take one of your disintegrators so we can get through the bank vault," I added.
"That's nice dear," she responded absently. "Have fun..."
I just stood there and watched my mom with a faint shake of my head. Then after several seconds, I tried to see if I could copy her powers and become a devisor again. I concentrated on taking her powers, trying to will it to happen. However, I didn't feel any different and nothing seemed to have changed.
"There goes that idea," I mused to myself as I went back upstairs. Of course, my little attempt didn't actually rule anything out just yet.
When I got back upstairs, I activated my devise and gave it a gentle push so it slowly floated across the room to Kara. She caught it with a grin and promptly began to play with it.
"This is kind of cool," she told me. "What else can it do besides float?"
"Well," I responded with a faint smirk. "If you push that button and turn it off...it can also fall."
Kara grinned back at me. "Wow, this thing is loaded with extra features."
"And just wait till the next patch," I joked. "It's so cool, I just might have to nerf it so it's not so OP."
We continued joking about my devise and my new powers for a little longer, with Kara making several suggestions that I should give her a demonstration of my new abilities. However, picking the couch up wasn't all that impressive and I wasn't about to cut myself again just so she could watch me heal.
"Powers are cool," Kara finally told me, "but I think we should turn our attention to something more important." She gave a dramatic pause before adding, "He who must not be named..."
That clear reminder that we were supposed to go see the new Harry Potter movie only made me let out a sigh. "I shouldn't go," I reluctantly told her. "It probably isn't safe for me to go out in public like that until I get a better idea of how my powers work."
"Don't be such a pansy," she said with a roll of her eyes.
I let out an exasperated sigh and asked, "What if my powers change again and I suddenly set things on fire?"
"That would be totally hot," she joked, though I could see I'd made my point. "I guess we wouldn't want someone calling the MCO on you."
"No," I agreed. "That wouldn't be a good thing."
"Or worse yet," Kara continued with a smirk. "Aunt Beth. Can you imagine, she gets called in to deal with a super villain and finds you there..."
"I'd never live it down," I agreed with a shake of my head.
Just then, I suddenly felt warm and dizzy. I staggered, grabbing Kara to keep from falling over as it quickly grew even worse. It was like having the flu hit me all at once with no build-up or warning.
"Are you okay?" Kara asked, giving me a worried look.
"I don't know," I responded, feeling weak and shaky. My muscles were starting to hurt and my mouth suddenly felt dry. "I'm thirsty..."
"Austin," Kara started, putting her hand on my forehead and then blurting out, "Holy shit... You're burning up..."
"Burning up," I started weakly, though a moment later, Kara and I simultaneously gasped, "Burnout..."
Burnout was a serious problem that a lot of mutants had to deal with, especially ones who were in the process of manifesting or had only recently done so. It often meant that their bodies were having a hard time adjusting to their powers, which could easily lead to hospitalization or even death.
I was hit with a surge of pain that shot through my entire body, making me scream and then drop to the floor. I hurt so much that I was only vaguely aware of Kara, calling my name and freaking out. Then everything turned dark.
When I regained my senses, I was still on the floor and I still hurt like hell. However, I didn't feel nearly as hot as I had before. In fact, I actually felt cold...really cold. Then I looked up and saw Mom standing there with a freeze ray in her hand. I absently noted that half the living room was covered with ice, which would be a real pain to clean up, when I slipped back into darkness.