Chapter 8

(in which our hero tries a different use for his power & debriefs about his failed recruitment)

<— Chapter 7

I text Jenny from the back of the taxi.

im ok interview over dont thnk i got the job

“Orchen interesny.”

My hand aches from keeping the power charged for so long without releasing it. Just up here on the right, I say. The taxi pulls over at the 7/11. I hop out and pay, then walk around the back to the car park. I float my keys out of my pocket.

I wonder if I could have keyed Jensen’s car without keys? I no-hands squeeze the unlock button. Chp-chip.

“Orchen interesny.”

I resist the urge to hop up and down and smack the side of my head to make the headspam run out of my ears like bathwater. I call Jenny, sitting at the wheel & staring through the windscreen at the back of the 7/11.

Bring bring.

“Orchen interesny.”

Bring bring.

“You okay?”

Yeah I’m fine. They didn’t hurt me or anything. They put a Russian catchphrase into my head but they say it’ll pass.

“They did what?”

Can I come over? It’s not too late is it?

“Too late for what?”

I don’t know – stuff?

“It’s never too late for stuff.”

Outside Jenny’s flat I pause to compose myself. It takes a few minutes. In the silence I realise the headspam hasn’t spoken for a while. I’m more relieved about my spam-free head than I thought I would be. I step onto the kerb. An idea comes back to me. I turn to face my car.

I’ve been thinking of this power as a kind of hand-shaped energy I can extend beyond my body. Something I can push and hold and lift with.

The idea of gouging a little fuck you into Jensen’s car from a safe distance so he couldn’t go vigilante on me has made me wonder, though. I wonder if I could make a different shape.

I call the energy up from where it sits within my shoulder & feel it flow down to my fingers. I imagine it extending past my fingers and narrowing to a point. I extend the point toward my car and push it hard against the side.

I feel the resistance of the metal. I push harder. It feels like the power is kind of flattening out against the passenger door.

I concentrate & push again. The car lifts up off its wheels a few centimetres, tilting to one side a little. I let go & it drops. I try again, concentrating on tapering the power to a point, but it smushes up against the car and again I’m only pushing.

I picture Jensen’s smug face watching as I fail. I hear Jazz’s arrogant voice telling me I can leave now. God-damn those fucking arsehole Body Corporate elitist wanker kidnapper alphadickheroes. I grit my teeth and give it one more go.

There’s a kind of popping sound & I stumble forward a little as the car’s resistance to the power disappears. I drop the power.

I step over to examine what looks like a bullet hole in the middle of the passenger-side door. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t there before. I bend down & check out the hole. It goes right through. I open up so I can get a look at the opposite door. There’s a hole there too.

The second hole only goes through partway. I walk around & check out the driver’s door. There’s a tiny ding there, like a reversed dent.

I might find something else to practise on before I play more invisible psychic knife games. Something that doesn’t depreciate if punctured.

I unlock the front door & check to see if Jenny has any mail. I skip to her floor two steps at a time, slightly out of breath when I arrive. I knock & let myself in.

“In here,” Jenny calls from the bedroom. Her case is open on the bed, a row of business saris packed on the bottom.

“Are you okay?” she says, stepping around the bed & over a pile of summer dresses. She puts her hands on my shoulders & looks me in the eye. She wraps her arms around me in a protective hug.

I’m fine, I say, returning the hug as reassuringly as I can, trying to convince us both. Really, I am. I’m okay.

Jenny steps back and looks me up and down. She seems satisfied with my answer. “Want a drink?” she asks.

God, yes.

Jenny stays mum as she pours the Reisling. As she opens the fridge & puts the wine back I lift one hand & float the glasses off the bench. I imagine the power as a tray instead of a pair of hands. The glasses hold steady, wobbling only slightly in mid-air just above the bench.

Jenny watches me as she retrieves her glass. I take the other with my unpowered hand and let the power go. Jenny passes her hand through the air the glasses were standing on a moment ago. “It’s warm,” she says. “A little bit warmer than the room.”

That makes sense. My arm gets warm when I make it happen, I say.

“As much as any of this does,” Jenny says, sipping wine. I sip in response.

“So what happened?” she says.

I tell her about Jensen & Jazz & the interview, then I explain my theories concerning what it was all about.

I don’t know anything for sure, I say. They weren’t giving much away, but my guess is they do this a lot – find & track people with powers. I guess it helps them out if they know who’s out there & what they can do.

“D’you think they meant what they said about helping you?”

Maybe. But I’ve already got a plan about that, and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve worked out for myself.

“The superschool thing?”

Yeah. I was actually on the phone to the course provider when Jensen snuck up on me.

“What’d they say?”

I need to go in on Monday to enrol. I’d rather do a government-funded powers course than sign up with random supers who hang around parking lots.

“Can’t you do both?”

Maybe. Jensen was a real dick.

“Don’t burn your bridges though,” she says. “Or – I don’t know – make an arch enemy so early in your career.”

Career?

“If that’s what this is, you know. A career change. Know what I mean? Piss off HR and the rules protect you – to an extent, I mean. Piss off a super & it’s grudges & flying debris, yeah?”

I was thinking about that, I say. I don’t know if I’ll hang with these people much.

I don’t know if it’s that cut and dried, though: get powers, become a hero… I’m reserving my judgement for the time being, I reckon. No plans, just checking things out. Anyway, the people from this course might have some advice about what to do if you get stalk-recruited.

“Nice to be headhunted, though,” says Jenny.

Yeah, I say. If that’s what it was. I was always jealous of how you got your job at HumptyTum.

“What can I say? I’m just good at what I do. So what were they like?” She grabs her tablet & starts searching. “Let’s gossip about them.”

She seemed nice. Until she wasn’t. He was a dick.

“You said that already.”

He smelled like those fake flaming torches in Thai restaurants.

“What was their place like?”

Very cool. Kind of modern? Like a set out of one of those skinny pretty lawyers shows. Less furniture, though.

“Is this her?” Jenny flips her tablet around. There’s a picture of Jazz in a costume looking like she’s posing for a magazine fashion shoot. “A Day In the Life of Dr Denoument. A SomethingSomething Exclusive”. Bolero jacket, tank top, army pants & docs all sky blue & cherry red. Hair back in a ponytail and a little red domino mask.

How does it stay on?

“Double-sided tape? Telepathy? Superfashion secrets, sweetheart. You haven’t told me anything about your costume,” Jenny says. “Or your codename. Is that what they call them? Codenames?”

I had a mask, but that 100-Watt Warlock dude stole it when he took my wallet. I guess I’ll need to get another one for Monday.

“You’re going to enrol in costume? What colour was the mask?”

Yellow. With red around the eyes and mouth.

“Like a balaclava?”

It was a balaclava.

“You’re Super Skiier?”

Shut up. Yeah they said we could enrol anonymously in costume. Uniform. Whatever.

“Do you have more than a mask?”

I wore my leather jacket.

“That’s it?”

I looked badarse, thanks very much.

“Yes, darling.”

I scroll through photos & gifs of Jazz in and out of costume, punctuated by the occasional fanart or photoshop mashup. Miss Piggy as Dr. Denouement. Dr. D. arresting Walter White. Dr. D on Craig Ferguson with the rest of the Body Corporate. Craig asks about civil liberties & Geoff the Robot asks about Jazz’s favourite Downton Abbey episode. She’s funny.

Have you heard of her?

“Yes, darling. I should have twigged when you said her name was Jazz. She’s actually quite famous.”

I’d heard of him. A bit.

“They must have been put out you weren’t more impressed by them. You really do live in a bubble.”

I pay attention to real news, I say. Pop culture is the bubble.

“Don’t lecture, lovely. Supers aren’t just pop culture.”

For the rest of the night I build a potted history of the Body Corporate based on tumblrs, fanfic, gossip, AMAs & hashtags Their core group seems to be five:

1: Jensen
2: Jazz
3: A cyborg called Trina
4: An ex-Olympian apewoman called Ape Woman
5: : Extremity, a guy with green hair who can make his hands get big. He’s familiar.

They’ve been around for about ten years. They’ve had pretty much the same roster plus a rotating gang of satellite members depending on what they’re dealing with. They’ve tended to stick with the smaller-scale threats: city-level stuff rather than national or planetary emergencies.

They fought The Gimp when he put a dome over ShantyTown & stopped Arrivederci Roma turning the homeless into shark people. They stayed out of it when End Boss conquered Thailand & invaded Myanmar & when that black hole was heading for the moon. There’s questions about their funding. Nobody really knows who’s underwriting them. There are rumours, but nothing concrete.

“Have you started packing?” asks Jenny.

Yeah, I lie. All packed and ready to go. You?

“Just about. In fact…”

She hops up & heads to the bedroom. I fuck around online, segueing from corporate superteams to ebaying 1970s Hot Wheels. Midway through watching a porcupine eat a banana the bedroom light goes off. I drop the tablet & wander over to join Jenny.

Continued in Chapter 9.

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