(in which our hero enrols in superschool and experiences a case of mistaken identity)
After a mostly powerfree weekend (the odd light switch flicked & door opened), Monday night sees me at Central Institute. I’m dressed in a brand new mask (same jacket) wondering if I should use my normal voice when I get up to the counter.
I don’t feel as self-conscious as I thought I would with the mask on. There are 2 other people in the line in uniform. Getting here was another story. I had the mask on when I got on the train, then took it off before we pulled up at Central.
I pulled it on again heading up the escalators, but by the time I hit the street it was stuffed deep in my jacket pocket.
I found myself searching the crowd on the street for any indication of other people wearing their super uniforms. I didn’t see anything to make me think I’d conclusively located a fellow empowered individual, but how can you tell?
What do you look for? Bright Colours? Masks? Maybe I was doing it wrong. Maybe supers don’t walk the streets like that. Maybe I should’ve levitated myself from the train station to the Central campus. How far would that be? Five blocks? Six? I’ve only ever levitated from my couch to my bedroom. To be fair I levitated 2 people – that should count as twice as far.
None of the other supers in line are making eye contact, but I definitely saw the metal gloves guy sneak a look at me. I look over my enrolment form once more. I wasn’t sure what to put for Code Name. Apparently that IS what they call them.
There’s a big wodge of liquid paper right above the line where I’ve whited out at least half a dozen terrible names.
I thought of calling Jenny to ask her for some suggestions for what to call myself, but I backed out at the last minute. No self-respecting super lets their girlfriend pick their Code Name. She’d’ve picked a great name, but I need to own this.
Might as well ask Ma. “What’s wrong with the name I gave you, Aramis? But you already have a code name, don’t you? Harry Was the Dirty Dog What’s Wrong With Aramis It’s A Distinguished Name You Never Appreciate Anything I Give You &c…”
Is Dirty Dog a good codename? At this point I’ll just about write anything on that line. Only one person in front of me now.
The other two super types are sitting on the couch in the foyer chatting. I bet they’ve got their code names all worked out. What’s my name backwards? Xofsimara? X of Simara? X? Can you call yourself X? Lifty Lad? Vertical Guy? Up Dude? Fuck me.
I step up to the window. The guy behind the desk doesn’t take his eyes off his computer screen. Yeah hi. I want to enrol for the powers course?
“Certificate IV in Use & Application of Enhanced & Augmented Abilities?”
I check the form. Yep.
“Do you have your enrolment form?”
I pass it over. Ah – I didn’t know what to put for Code Name. My mask feels itchy, but I resist the urge to scratch. He looks up at me.
“I’m sorry, we need a code name for our database.”
He passes the form back & hands me a pen. I stare at the top of the page, gripping the pen like I’m trying to snap it. He stares for a moment.
“If you need more time to complete the form could you sit over there? There are people behind you.”
Sorry, I’m having a hard time thinking of a name. I smile in a self-deprecating way that I hope he can see through my mask.
He sighs. “What do you do?”
Um- I can make things- I can pick things up with my mind sort of. I think that’s what I’m doing. I’m not sure, actually. That’s part of why I’m doing the course.
“TK, then. Do you want your name to relate to your power?”
I guess? I mean – is that what other people do?
“Some do, some don’t. It’s up to you.”
Then yes, I guess. Sure. Related to my power. Sure.
“Have you got a dictionary?”
“On your phone. Do you have a dictonary app?”
I think so. I reach into my jacket pocket for my phone and pull it out. I flip through the screens for a moment. Yeah, here’s one.
“Does it have a thesaurus setting?”
Lightbulb moment. Hey that’s a really good idea. Thanks for that.
“If you could just step out of line, you can just bring it straight back when you’re done. You don’t have to line up again.”
I clock his nametag. Thanks, Brad, I say.
“Next,” says Brad. He might be good with ideas, but Brad ain’t great with people.
I sit on a padded bench under a wall of posters featuring happy & fulfilled young people. OK Apptionary 2.0, let’s do this. Let’s pick a supername. I spell out “levitate” and hit the synonyms button. Suspend. Float. Fly. Rise. Hover. Hover’s cool. H to the izzo, V to the izzer. Is that trying too hard? I check synonyms for hover. Flit. Hang About. Drift. Not so much.
I check float. Glide. Skim. Slide. Be buoyant. Hover again. Bob. Halt, evildoers, or face the wrath of Bob? Yeah, nah.
I carve H-O-V-E-R into the veneer of encrusted white, pocket the pen & hit the head of the line before I can change my mind.
Brad finishes enrolling a woman wearing glasses & dreadlocks in the Arts Access Weekend short course & takes the form. He doesn’t say anything as he types my brand new fancy official code name into his computer. H-O-V-E-R. That’s me. I guess?
He asks how I’ll be paying. I hand over the wad I’ve been collecting, $1K a day, from different ATMs over the last 3 days.
“Do you need a receipt?”
What the hell, sure.
“Shall I make it out to ‘Hover’?”
Um- yeah. That’s cool. Thanks. Funny to hear someone say my supername out loud before I’ve even had a chance to. Hover. Hover. HoverHoverHover. Whatever. Brad hands me the receipt & a USB stamped with the Central logo.
“Your orientation guide, course outline & timetable. Your 1st class will be Wednesday the 29th of this month.”
I pocket the receipt & USB & look around for my fellow students. I pass Arts Access lady making a call on the steps & see metal gloves with a short woman in a grey wetsuit & army boots. They’re heading off together toward Rhubarb Street. I skip down the stairs & trot after them.
Excuse me! Hi – sorry. Hello? Excuse me?
They turn at the same time.
Hi. Sorry. I just saw you in there. I think we might be classmates.
“You’re doing the UAEAA?” asks wetsuit woman.
Well- yeah. The mask?
“Cool,” says metal glove, extending a metal-gloved hand. “Nice to meet you. I’m Aiden. Gauntlet.”
I take his hand. It’s warm. Hover, I say, catching myself in time. I’m Hover.
“Loren,” says wetsuit woman, who I now realise is actually wearing an actual wetsuit, offering her hand. “Or 2D Woman if you want to stick to code names.”
Hover. Hello, I say, thinking it doesn’t sound as dumb as I thought.
We stand there, checking each other out for a moment. Aiden is in normal clothes, just jeans & sneakers & a checkered shirt. The only thing that sets him apart is the metal gloves that reach just below his elbow. Neither of them are wearing masks.
Is that OK? Just my code name? They said we could enrol anonymously.
“It’s fine,” says Loren. “I don’t mind.”
Aiden nods. “Cool with us, bro.” I smile nervously at their polite, expectant stance.
I don’t want to crash anything, I say. It’s just I haven’t met many other-
“We’re going to get beer,” Aiden says. “Wanna come?”
That’d be great, actually. Thanks.
I follow them down the stairs at the entrance to the Disbarred Solicitor.
“My round first, hey?” Aiden says. He wanders over to the bar before I can respond. There are a few other punters in here, in groups of three or four. The room is full of murmured conversation, the quiet clunk of glass on tabletop & something submliminal with a dance beat.
Loren heads to the back room. I follow her past a row of booths, stepping around a woman coming out of the toilets. Someone screams & I trip forward, smacking into the back wall when there’s no more hipster faux dive bar to stumble through.
“Holy crap dude,” says the big guy pinning me up against the wall. “I would of NEVER expected to see you in here dude!”
This guy is really big. He stinks like beer and cigarettes. He’s got me in some kind of headlock.
“I was there, dude, when you took down del Sol! Springboard 450, man, that was totally sweet, dude! Signature move, dude!”
He seems to think that it’s perfectly acceptable to put me in a fucking headlock and talk to me like he knows me.
“Hey Danno! Check it out! It’s Rudy Motherfucking Richochet! Get the fuck over here and say hello you fucking wankstain!”
This is an egregious case of mistaken identity, but he’s a little caught up in the moment for me to politely point that out. Plus also: headlock. So it’s on him if I decide to ramp up the power and slam him up at the ceiling. Which I do.
Get the fuck OFF me!
I hold him against the ceiling for a minute, then consider whether to drop him or let him down gently. I err on the side of consideration & slowly float Headlock Boy to the floor, spinning him upright so he lands on his feet.
He wobbles, but stays upright, breathing heavily & eyes-wide staring at me.
I think you’ve got the wrong guy, I say. I rub the back of my neck where his weight was pressing the hardest. Another big guy comes up from the bar, beer in hand.
“You okay, Johnno?”
Pretty much everyone in the bar is watching us. I notice Johnno’s mate is wearing a security ID tag.
“Yeah I’m cool,” says Johnno, not taking his eyes off me. “Sorry dude,” he says. “I thought you were someone else.”
I got that, I say. No hard feelings. I’m sorry about… I gesture vaguely upwards.
“No harm, no foul,” says Johnno, extending a hand. I take it & let him grip my hand a little harder than I grip his. The rest of the bar goes back to their own conversations.
I look over at Danno as I release Johnno’s hand. He nods, then puts a hand on Johnno’s shoulder and leads him to the bar. I watch them go, then sit down in the booth opposite Loren.
“You okay?” she asks. I take a deep breath & let it out slowly.
I think so, I say, adjusting my mask. I really have no idea what that was all about.
“Yeah,” she says.
We sit in silence until Aiden arrives with three beers. He plonks them down. I open my hand and pull mine towards me.
“Cool,” Aiden says, sitting next to me. “You guys OK? Someone at the bar said there was a bit of a barney back here.”
We’re good, I say. It wasn’t anything serious.
So how did you guys meet? I ask, keen to change the subject.
“We actually went to school together,” says Loren. “We got back in touch on Facebook through that Newly Empowered group?”
“I didn’t expect I’d know anyone,” says Aiden, “& Loren had changed her name.”
“Stepdad stuff,” says Loren. “Boring story.”
So what can you guys do?
“I can get flat,” she says. “Like paper flat.”
Huh, I say, unsure whether I’m impressed or baffled.
She lifts up a hand, fingers splayed, palm toward me. In the pub light it’s hard to tell, but something happens to her hand. She turns it to the side & it kind of disappears. She keeps turning it & it reappears again.
That’s truly weird, I say.
“It’s not pinning people to the ceiling…” she says.
No – it’s interesting, I say. I can see the potential in getting flat.
She wiggles her fingers. Her hand looks normal again.
Can you do it to your whole body?
“Mm-hm,” she says, sipping her beer.
How about you, Aiden? I ask. What do your gloves do?
“They’re not gloves,” he says, tapping a finger against his beer. The bottle rings like he’s about to start a speech. I look closer at the striations that flow from his fingertips. They curve along the contours of his hand almost like fingerprints. He turns his palm upward and a spot in the middle glows.
The spot blossoms into a blue flame that fills his cupped hand. He straightens his fingers and the fire rises higher. I lean back in surprise.
Wow, I say.
He makes a fist. When he opens his hand again the fire is gone.
“So, Hover,” asks Aiden. “How much can you lift?” I think I’m struggling to know how to react to my code name.
I’ve lifted people a couple of times, I say, looking over at Loren, but mostly it’s been small things so far. A couple of bookcases once. But I only really dragged them. How about you guys? Have you done much field testing?
“I’ve been practising sliding under doors,” says Loren. “Don’t laugh.”
I’m not, I say.
“It’s hard to think of things to do.”
“Yeah I’m struggling to think of the difference between what I do & having a cigarette lighter in your pocket,” says Aiden.
“I haven’t done anything impressive like you with that guy just then,” says Loren.
That wasn’t exactly impressive, I say.
“What did you do?” asks Aiden.
“This guy came & grabbed Hover,” says Loren.
I should just tell them my name. This is silly.
“So he floated the guy up to the roof and held him there.”
I did, yeah. It wasn’t a very nice thing to do. I should probably buy that guy a drink, now I think of it.
“A week ago I went and checked out a housefire,” says Aiden. “I used one of those emergency notification apps to find one near me and I snuck into the back yard and watched it burn. Then I started making flames to see how far I could send them out from my hands. I figured the place was already burning. Then one of the firefighters came around the back. I had to get out of dodge.”
“Did you seriously do that?” Loren asks.
“That’s crazy,” she says. “They probably think you started it.”
“I don’t think they saw my face, though,” he says. “It’s just kind of hard to find somewhere to practise what you can do with flames that shoot out of your hands,” Aiden says.
Fair enough, I say.
“That’s what I want from the course,” he says. “Somewhere to practise. Someone to practise with. It’s not like I can just wander around looking for a fight so I can use my powers,” he says.
“What?” asks Loren.
I tell them about getting knocked out by 1000-Watt Warlock & getting sucked into the smackdown at the Apex Baron book launch.
“You were at that?” asks Loren. “I read about that! It sounded crazy!”
It was. I had no idea what was going on. Still don’t.
“You didn’t see the coverage on the Whatchacallit Report?” Loren frowns at my mixture of ambivalence and ignorance.
“Was it really Major Sinister?”
All I saw was a guy in a floating wheelchair & two sort of robot armadillos, I say.
“That’s him,” says Aiden. “Classic oldschool badguy. The robot armadillos are new, though.”
So you guys follow super stuff?
“A little,” says Loren. “Not obsessively, like some people. You can’t help picking up things from Facebook here and there.”
I should get going & leave you guys to your night, I say. Thanks for inviting me. It’s been fun.
“No problem,” says Loren. “Good to meet you, Hover,” she says.
“Yeah,” says Aiden. “See you in class in two weeks.”
They say my name so sincerely. Maybe Hover does work as a code name. Aiden’s last comment sticks in my mind as I leave, but I can’t work out why.
See you in two weeks. Shit. I’m supposed to be in Mumbai in two weeks. That’s going to be a problem.
Away from the pub the city is school-night quiet. I check my phone. It’s just gone 9. My head itches under the mask. I visit the toilets at the station & jump into a cubicle. I yank off the mask & run my fingers through my hair. It’s nice to feel the air on my face, even if it’s tempered by the smell of ozone & other people & train station junk food.
I sit on the platform and stare at my phone, thinking over my encounter with Mister Headlock. I forgot to buy him a beer.
I never really got into fights as a kid. Don’t know why. I just didn’t. Maybe I was good at sensing trouble & avoiding it. My train arrives. I take a seat in an empty carriage. Maybe I should try to rediscover the trouble radar I used to have.
I can see how easy it could be to throw a punch at a distance in the heat of the moment and really hurt someone.
Continued in chapter 10 (coming soon) – for up-to-date instalments visit twitter.com/arfox