Chapter 7

(in which our hero meets some more compatriots and is infected by headspam)

<– Chapter 6.

“If you’re after power training there are alternatives to the government-funded courses,” he says.

Are you following me? I ask.

“Only for the last two weeks. Anson Jensen,” he says, extending a hand & flashing a smile that annoys & charms at the same time.

Aramis Fox. Harry, I say, taking his hand & regretting it immediately. I hate alpha dogs, but I still can’t resist them.

“We should talk,” he says. “Do you have plans tonight?”

Not really, I say. I’m meeting my girlfriend for dinner…

“Jenny, yeah?”

I stare at him. Getting kinda creeped out here. He smiles the smile. Fuck you, mate, I think.

“My car is around the corner,” he says.

I follow him out of the car park.

“It’s telekinesis, yeah? How’s that working out?”

Okay, I guess…

“Good power. Lots of ways to use it.”

Yeah.

We continue to the car in silence. I look around for something suitably dickish on the kerb. He surprises me by walking up to a blue AhemHem with a stick figure family on the back window & a bunch of half-peeled-off bumper stickers.

So are you in one of the big teams? I ask, climbing into the passenger seat and shuffling burger wrappers aside with my feet.

He winks at me & his head catches on fire. Blue flames float around his head. Holy shit – I’m siting in a stationwagon with Blauergeistfeuer!

I look up at the car’s ceiling. The cloth isn’t burning, or even smouldering. I can feel heat though. Is there such a thing as psychic fire?

“We’re big enough,” he says. “I’m with The Body Corporate.” He pauses meaningfully.

I’m sorry, I say. I don’t know that team. Are you new?

“Not really,” he says.

Sorry, I sort of stopped paying attention to powers and stuff after primary school. I mean, I read the news, but all the superstuff blends into itself, you know? Like celebrity gossip and peace talks. It’s all a bit samey.

He doesn’t say anything as he pulls out into traffic.  I used to love it though, I burble on. Supers were my favourite. Them and dinosaurs. Especially the dinosaur-themed heroes. My favourite was PteranoDiva and Terry Dactyl. Did you ever meet them? Or work with them?

“Fought ’em once,” he says, merging into the far left lane. “They’d retired by the time I started out, but there was this mind control guy.”

Does that happen much?

“Not much,” he says. “There’s techniques.”

Like yoga breathing & that?

His headflames gutter as he takes a right. “Earworms,” he says. “We’re here.”

I look out the smeared window & see a shortish office block, about 8 storeys, set back from the kerb. Small talk turns to ash in my mouth as I realise I have no idea where I am & I’m in a car with a man whose head is on fire.

Jensen steps out onto the road and I yoink my phone. I open a map and click My Location, then send a quick text to Jenny.

W. a guy in Cloisterville. 62 whatever st. If i don’t txt u in 1hr im in trbl. Dont wrry not in trbl yet.

Send. Deep breath. Open door. I step out. Jensen has doused the flames.

You mean like singing ABBA songs to yourself? I ask.

“What?”

Earworms.

“I wish,” he says. “Worst part is the sound they make crawling in. C’mon,” he says.

I follow him, feeling the power warm my arm as I charge it up just in case.

He presses his finger onto a sensor beside the entrance and the glass doors part. The lobby is empty. Nobody at the desk. Lights are off. We walk to a set of steel doors. He does the finger-sensor thing again. The lift opens. We step in. I keep my powered up hand in my pocket. The lift door closes & we both adopt the elevator stance. Count of 15 & the door pings. He steps out & I follow him, my hand thrumming.

A huge leather-topped desk sits right at the lift doors, a standalone glass wall behind it with BODY CORPORATE etched in a sans serif font. The desk is unattended. It’s bare except for a tablet, the blank standby screen reflecting the flickering light from Anson’s flaming head.

Beyond the glass wall stretches a massive open space, polished floors stretching out all the way to the windows. Right by the windows, at the edge of the floor, there’s a woman sitting, legs crossed, on a red leather couch under a single downlight. Jensen crosses the floor without indicating I should follow.

I wait a moment, then walk in the wake of headfire-warm air toward couch woman. I arrive. She & Jensen stop murmuring. She sets her phone on the tabletop Pacman in front of the couch & stands, smiling & extending a hand.

“Jazz Dan,” she says, taking my hand in a firm, cool grip. “You must be Aramis.”

If you insist, I say.

She smiles. “That’s funny,” she says.

Not very, I say.

“You can power down,” she says. “You’re safe here.” I pretend not to catch her drift, but pull the power back a smidge. She motions & I grab a seat on the green couch on the other side of Pacman. Jensen sits beside her. His head fire gutters & goes out.

Should I have brought my resume? I ask. Or my lawyer?

Jazz smiles and leans backwards. “We just wanted to welcome you to the community.”

There’s a community?

“Of sorts,” Jensen says.

What – all Christmas parties & Ramadan dinners & secret Facebook groups?

“You’re among friends. We want to help,” Jazz says.

My friends aren’t in the habit of stalking me, I say. At least I don’t think they are. I half expect Rashid to pop out from behind the couch as the words leave my mouth. I tell myself they’ve got 5 minutes to convince me.

“We know how hard it can be for a powered person to find a place among unpowered people,” says Jensen. It’s odd to hear it put that way.

Some of my best friends are unpowered people, I say.

“Of course,” says Jazz. “But what can they teach you about telekinesis?”

As she speaks a tray carrying 3 glasses & a bottle of wine floats out from the dimness behind her, settling on the tabletop in front of me. They sit there on the couch in front of me, neither of them moving to crack the lid on the bottle, neither of them surprised by its arrival.

I thought I saw Jazz (short for Jasmine? Jazzercise?) tilt her head slightly as the tray landed, but she’s not giving anything away. I’m torn. It’d be great to know more about my power or whatever you call it, but on the other hand this mysterioso crap is pretty annoying.

Still, free wine is pretty convincing. I reach for the bottle, since neither of these guys seems to want to, and crack the screwtop lid. Jazzercise tries not to look miffed & Jensen hides a smirk as I pour for the three of us, my arm outstretched & the bottle held in my hand.

I pick up the glass – manually – and settle back to take a sip. So how many of you guys are there? I ask. It’s not just you two is it?

“We have a core of four founding members & a rotating roster of auxiliaries,” says Jensen. And I’m here as an aspirational auxiliary? I ask.

“You’re here so YOU know WE know who you are & what you can do & how to find you whenever we want,” he says, his head bursting into flame.

I freeze, glass halfway to my mouth. I should have thought twice before provoking the fiery antihero vigilante. I look to Jazz for some good cop sympathy, but there’s none to be found. Her face is dour and totally “you fucked up, son”.

“You can go now,” she says. “We’ve got all we need. If you change your mind you know where to find us.”

Jensen stands up and looks down at me. I carefully place the glass back on the tabletop. The sound seems louder than it should be.

“Orchen interestny.”

I’m sorry, I say to Jensen. My Russian’s a little rusty. Haven’t used it since Oma passed.

“I didn’t say anything,” says Jensen.

“Orchen interestny.”

Now that I hear it again I realise it isn’t his voice.

“Orchen interesny.”

I make to stand and have to steady myself a little on the back of the couch. “The dizziness will pass,” says Jazz.

Jensen extends his hand. I take it without thinking, pulling myself upright.

“Orchen interesny.”

You guys don’t hear that, do you? I ask.

“The aural hallucinations will also pass,” says Jazz. “It’s nothing to be worried about.”

The what?

“Orchen interesny.”

She reaches out with a card held between thumb & forefinger. BODY CORPORATE embossed in the same ultrahip patronising font as the lobby.

“If there are any lasting issues give us a call,” Jazz says.

From what? I ask, staring at the card. There’s no number on it.

“Orchen interesny.”

“The enhancer we put in your wine,” says Jazz. “It temporarily amplifies your psychic resonance. Helps us scan you.”

“Orchen interesny.”

“You might find yourself overhearing some ambient subliminal messaging for a little bit,” she says.

“Headspam,” says Jensen in response to my raised eyebrow, before grabbing my elbow and pulling me towards him. “C’mon champ. Let’s go.”

“Coulda played that one better don’t ya think?” Jensen turns to face me in the lift.

“Orchen interesny.” God damnit that’s getting annoying.

Scan?

“We just like to know who we’re dealing with,” says Jensen. “Thanks for coming in.” The doors ping.

“Orchen interesny.”

I notice that both our voices have a completely different resonance to the headspam they’ve infected me with. More bass, less boom. I don’t respond to his taunt. I just want to get out of this building and away from these creepy hipster mysterioso superdicks.

Jensen stands in the door of the lift and watches me leave. I guess he’s not going to offer me a lift back.

“Orchen interesny.”

I walk to the nearest corner. I consider keying Jensen’s car, but decide not pissing off surly flame-headed supers is the best way to go.

 Continued in Chapter 8.

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