Hanford Nuclear Facility near the Tri Cities region, Washington State
Doctor Malcom Jenkins turned and smiled as a pint sized brunette flew into his arms, hugging him tightly. He was of middling size and build, with fading black hair and glasses atop his long lab coat. "Bea! How was the gymnastics meet?"
"Pretty good, I got silver in the all around. Liz Peters edged me out by a tenth. Had a few interviews, I know at least three recruiters were there." Beatrice Jenkins was small, very small. Just a hair over five feet tall with slight traces of her father's Chinese ancestry, Bea's build was of natural benefit in the world of gymnastics.
"That's good news though. That's why you stayed in High School and are taking courses at the community college instead of just graduating early. Have any problems with your car on the way over?" Malcom pushed his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose as he spoke. His daughter had just turned seventeen that year and hadn't been driving very long, but with her academic course load in both the high school and community college, plus athletic events, it was a necessity that had to happen.
"The passes were pretty clear. We got out early enough that it wasn't too bad. So, you ready to show me what you and mom have been working on?" Bea looked about at the lab she had been shown to, noting the various beakers, expensive computers and microscopes, as well as tanks of small animals. The lab was fairly empty, what with it being Christmas Eve, but there were still enough scientists that lived with their work to make having it open worthwhile. Technically it was one of the labs that didn't exist, however Malcom and Clarissa Jenkins used a few favors getting her in from time to time. Moonlight streamed in from the massive overhead skylight. The night was clear and stars shone down from the cloudless sky, twinkling merrily away like a seasonal postcard.
"I can show you some of it. Let's go over and say hi to your mother and take a look at what she's doing." Malcom put an arm around his daughter and led her across the lab to his wife, Clarissa. Clarissa Jenkins was about 5 and a half feet tall and was a red haired Irish-woman to her core. Clarissa smiled at their approach, giving her daughter a hug. "Seeing the lab, are we? Wondering what's about with all the bees and frogs?"
Beatrice nodded as she peered around. "I remember the two of you were talking about that new PCR technique and how it could help your research, but that's not something that's come up in classes before."
Clarissa smiled at her daughter. "It's pretty ground breaking actually. It wouldn't surprise me if someone wins the Nobel Prize for it one of these years. The short version of what we're doing is testing the effects of prolonged radiation exposure on animals sensitive to ecosystem changes. We're working with bees since they're natural pollinators and interact directly with flowering plants, and frogs since they're amphibians who are sensitive to pollution in water systems. We thought they would be relatively good indicators of what kinds of effects and mutations we can see in the natural environment from radioactive materials."
She paused to ensure her daughter was following her, then continued. "The longer version is that polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, is a remarkably easy method of replicating DNA in large batches from relatively small sample sizes. This lets us take DNA of successive generations of creatures in order to track the effects of radiation mutation over time within a sample pool. It's not quite exact yet, we haven't cloned the frogs or bees in order to test the differences between exposure and non-exposure upon the same exact creature, but the ease of getting large DNA samples for analysis from small doses of say, blood, means we can run more tests than we would otherwise."
Beatrice looked over at her parents. "So you're tracking mutations along gene pairs then? Seeing what sort of effects and changes are cropping up that might be caused by mutation from the radioactive materials? I mean you can't say conclusively it isn't just a random mutation from breeding, but it'll let you identify areas of possibility for future research."
Malcom smiled at his daughter. "Exactly. Between my nuclear physics and your mother's work with cellular biology we've been able to find several interesting finds already. We also hope that this research might one day pinpoint what's going on with the mutants as well. Why do only some change, is it genetic? Random? Triggered by something else? So many possibilities that science has yet to answer."
"We've already noticed some signs of changes, particularly with the bees. This latest round seems even more hive oriented than normal. It's almost like the Queen is utilizing some sort of mass control. I'm not sure if it's pheromones or some sort of instinctive telepathy." Clarissa looked over some of her sample hives and the attached notes before continuing. "It also hasn't triggered among all the samples either, only one queen seems to be able to do this. I'm working on isolating her DNA and comparing it to DNA samples from the other 'mutated' queens to see if there's a difference genetically between them, as well as comparing them to the DNA from my control groups."
"I wonder what could..." Bea broke off what she had been saying with a scream as the skylight above suddenly shattered, a glassy cloud falling downwards followed quickly by two very large, metallic humanoid figures which landed with a booming echo. Bea's hands flew to her ears and head, ducking instinctively as the sounds of gatling weapon fire began to fill the void of silence. Malcom shielded her as he hurried her behind some lead sheeting walls used with some of the radiation equipment.
"Wait here, I'm going to get your mother!" he told her before heading back into the firestorm, moving in a crouch behind desks and tables.
Bea remained on her knees, crouched down while covering her ears and looking down. She could hear the shattered sounds of breaking glass, sparks and equipment being destroyed, the cries and screams of scientists and researchers being hit. Somewhere she smelled smoke, and shortly there after the automatic sprinklers were tripped. A symphony of chaos destroying everything around her. She hoped her father would return, that there would be a way out of this disaster for her family. In the distance she could hear warning sirens echoing their refrain of alarm. Perhaps help would come, someone would save them somehow.
It was short lived hope.
"Ah, Doctor Jenkins, and Doctor Jenkins. So nice to finally meet the two of you in person." A human voice spoke as the gunshots silenced. "I see you've met my two associates. My father's work was impressive before time caught up with him. He would have loved your research, it has so much potential."
"What do you want with us? Do you have any idea what you've done?" Her mother's voice. She was still alive.
"Want with you? Nothing, nothing at all. No, it's your findings that are so intriguing. So much potential to further the family business." The strange voice again. Bea knelt down and peered under the lead sheet, seeing her parents kneeling next to each other. A pair of boots, well made and black leather. Then two pairs of massive, huge, metallic feet. Robotic feet?
"And what business would that be, villainy?" Her father's quick retort probably didn't help what would come.
"Why yes, what other kind is there? I should be sporting I suppose and offer you a chance to join me.."
"Go to Hell!" Her father again, Bea could almost see his glare in her mind's eye as well as her mother's cold, icy fury.
"A pity. Well since you will not cooperate willingly..." A single shot echoed throughout the room followed shortly by a thump.
"MALCOM!" Clarissa's scream filled the room as Bea's world began to crumble.
"Clarissa.. don't let him.. I.. don't let him.. I love.. you.."
"Perhaps now, Doctor Jenkins, you'll be more cooperative. If you'd kindly.."
Her mother spat, presumably into his face before the sound of breaking glass, accompanied by a large amount of buzzing. A scream of rage, a second shot, a second body hitting the ground.
"Now all my little bee's have flown away.. flown away to safety.." Clarissa said softly.
The tears ran freely down Beatrice's face. She barely noticed the cuts on her knees and legs, the shards of glass and debris around her. The water spraying from the ruined ceiling, sparks of electricity here and there from destroyed equipment. She could smell fire and smoke even now, now when everything she cared about in the world was dust.
"Ignorant fools! At least their notes could prove useful. Is there anyone else here?" Sounds of movement, rustling of papers and folders. Sounds of machinery and whirring.
"No other life signs detected." A hollow metallic voice. Presumably one of the robots. Later Beatrice would wonder if the lead sheet had somehow shielded her from whatever equipment the robots had. At the time she could only crouch on the ground, silently sobbing in wracking heartache and grief.
"Well, then there's nothing else for us here. It is time to depart." Footsteps echoed onward, leaving a life in shambles.
Minutes seemed like hours while she waited. Eventually she peered from behind the curtain, too destroyed to worry if the villain had left or not. Suddenly she winced in pain and swatted at her arm. The bees... the bees her mother had freed rather than let be taken. The lab was destroyed; fire, water and electricity arced in a deadly mix. She had to leave before the last remaining reactor had a fault. She staggered somehow to her parents, kneeling and crying over them.
Eventually even that came to an end. The fires were spreading, the warning klaxons growing louder as more alarms were tripped. She kissed her parents on their foreheads, closing their eyes and arranging them together. A celtic cross necklace that had belonged to her mother, a pocket watch from her father, and their dying love was all she could take with her now.
Beatrice grabbed as much cash as she could find from various wallets and lockers. She felt empty, but, somehow sick and as if her insides were on fire. She began to pant as she stumbled about, winded. She had to make it outside, outside to her car. The money would last her a while, long enough to figure out something. She was so hot. Not even the blast of the winter chill would cool her as she stepped outside. Outside, away from everything she had ever known...
December 26th, 1987.
"Dude, Conner, check it out!"
Conner wiped a lock of hair from his eyes as he looked over at Sam and Frank. The three boys were a trio, even now a year and a half after high school. Winter break had them all out of classes from college and wandering amuck down by the piers and Pike Place Market. Frank was pointing at the headlines of one of the Seattle Times.
"Isn't that where you did your Senior Paper on a few years back? Hanford?"
"Yeah, it is." Conner dug a few coins from his pocket and purchased the paper from the vending machine, reading further. Sam and Frank crowded around him as they all looked over the cover story.
"Woah.. dude, this is tense. Fire, over twenty dead. Some missing, dude, they're closing down the reactor over this!"
Conner peered closely at the picture of the story. It was a long range shot, taken in the early morning gloom by helicopter. It almost looked as if... "Hey, guys. Do you see a person there?"
"What, that? Nah, that's just a blur. Next you'll be telling me you've seen Sasquatch in the Cascades. Come on, lets go get something to eat. I could go for a fish and chips."
"You and your stomach, Sam. Might as well though, it is noon. Come on, Conner. You coming?"
Conner shook his head as he peered at the paper while the other two walked away. He could swear that there was a person moving away from the plant in the shot. Small and blurred, in the corner. Just a few specks of a grainy photo. He folded the paper under his arm and ran after his friends. "Yeah, I'm coming." He'd look into it later. He'd taken a large interest in Washington's Nuclear history and had done a great deal of research on the Hanford facility. It was almost as if a part of his life was dying with it being closed down...
souffle_girl Messages: 152 Registered: February 2014 Location: Italy
Due su due
A Whateley Academy Tale
by Souffle Girl
Quando si girava in coppia
la stilosi li radoppia
e un'armatura dava forza
per affrontare ogni sventura
con la stessa frase in bocca
"questo è mio fratello
bello, sarà dura per chi me lo tocca"
abbiamo il codice dei cavalieri
non vedi? piuttosto scleri
ma ci trovi sempre sinceri Milady
per la città sfidando il proprio futuro
uno lo cantava sicuro
l'altro scriveva su ogni muro
e la mia rivoluzione partiva da là
cane e gatto ma lo stesso sguardo
di chi non ci sta
Non so cosa pensavi
quelle notti con papà
ma grazie mamma
ne hai fatti due su due
che comunque vada
mio fratello ci sarà
grazie mamma grazie pà.
When we hung out together,
Twice as cool as ever,
Our leisurely pace
Giving us the strength, giving us the armor,
To take on any bad thing,
The same words on our lips,
"Dude, this is my brother,
Don't you dare touch him,"
We have a code of chivalry,
You see? You can get mad,
But we'll always be true, Milady,
Challenging our futures around the town,
One singing proudly,
The other writing on every wall.
Our revolution started there,
Like dogs and cats,
but with the same defiant eyes.
I don't know what you had in mind,
Those nights with Dad,
But thank you, Mom.
You made two out of two,
And whatever happens,
My brother will be there.
So thank you, Mom. Thank you, Dad
Due su due - Articolo 31
April, Genoa, northwestern Italy.
Fabrizio hastily parked his battered red Vespa in a corner hoping nobody noticed it was a no parking area. He was too late for school to be picky. The veichle had been his brother Filippo's before he left for his PhD in America and was already old when he was a teenager, in the '90s, but its sturdy engine stubbornly refused to let go.
He hurried over to the school, a yellow building in that faux neoclassical style typical of the Fascist era. The Italian, European and regional flags hung over an archway and a marble plaque reading: Liceo Classico Alessandro Manzoni. He ran up a stairwell to the second floor, ominously empty, and burst into the classroom.
"Persico, you're late." said the History teacher, a thin and tall balding man in his fifties.
"I'm sorry, Prof. Sacco, but I found a traffic jam along the way."
"Well, take your seat. I'll go over this one."
Fabrizio's seat was in the second row. The boy he shared the table with, Stefano, gave him a nod as he sat down and drew a notebook from his backpack.
After half an hour Fabrizio was already bored to death, and was absently doodling on the notebook.
"Persico!" said the professor, snapping him out of his reverie, "I asked, what was the main political assets Caesar could count on when returning to Rome?"
His head quickly jumped to full gear. "The leverage he gained with his campaigning in Gallia?"
Prof. Sacco studied his face, fully aware of having caught him flat-footed. Still, he smiled. "Yes, that was part of it."
Out of immediate danger, he relaxed a moment only to realize the professor was about to call somebody for interviewing. He could see terror painted on some of the kids' faces as the teacher's gaze surveyed the room, but Fabrizio was prepared so he was only marginally bothered by it. Then his eyes set on a girl in the first row.
"Michela D'Andrea. Come to my desk."
Michela stood up to her impressive, for a fourteen years old girl, 5'' 5' and walked over to the teacher's desk. Her height and the promise of developing killer curves would easily make her one of the most beautiful girls in the school, if she only bothered to dress and act the right way. However, she was terribly shy and always dressed in plain clothes. Today, she was wearing a sweater and jeans, with her dark hair tied up in her usual ponytail.
Fabrizio's eyes locked on her, drinking from a grace she didn't even know she possessed. To him, she was a goddess. Other girls might be easier or have more experience in pulling the boys' strings, but Michela blended beauty with a measure of innocence "pretty girls" had usually lost by then. He could easily picture her as the damsel in distress, the virginal princess waiting for her knight. If only he could be close to her... He sighed as he lost himself in the girl of his dreams.
Next two terms were Latin Grammar. As the teacher handed out last week's papers many students took on a dark look. This was not Fabrizio's case, though.
"Persico, a good job as always." Prof. Ternio commended him. He looked at the bright red mark on his paper: eight and a half out of ten. He was confident he'd done good, but this was more than he expected. Stefano, on the other hand, sighed at his four. "Another bad mark. When mom knows, I'll be so screwed!" he commented.
"You'll get the grip on it eventually." Fabrizio replied, without really meaning it.
A liceo classico was a tough school to go through. While focusing on literature, it was an all-around school with its share of scientific subjects, and their curriculum included two foreign languages: French, plus the usual English. A lot of kids usually dropped out during the first year to go to another kind of school, often a less menacing technical or professional school. Some of them didn't like studying enough, others couldn't get into a good studying routine, and a few others just weren't cut for it. Fabrizio had the feeling Stefano was one of the latter. Unless he changed school, he'd be held back this year. Not a good beginning for a five years long school.
When the bell rang signaling the start of the break, Fabrizio left the room along the other kids. He stopped to buy a snack at a vending machine before heading for the school garden. It was unkempt and usually crowded during breaks, but it was the only place where smoking was allowed, therefore it was the place where he'd find his friend Giorgio having his mid morning cigarette. Technically, he was too young to smoke as he wouldn't be sixteen until October, but nobody ever bothered checking the IDs when selling tobacco.
The tall, athletic boy was already halfway through his cig. Long brown hair, Mediterranean complexion, he wore a Led Zeppelin t-shirt under a sleeveless denim jacket, skin tight leather pants and combat boots. He was deep into rock and metal music and loved to show it.
"Hi there, Fabri. How's your day?"
"Good thanks. Just got an eight and a half in Latin." he replied smiling.
"Still up for the soccer game this afternoon?"
His two best friends and his brother, together with a friend of theirs, had set up a five men team for an unofficial tournament, and even if he wasn't a fan of the game they needed a fifth element. He played as an attacker, but he wasn't very good at it. His teammates just put him where they thought he'd do the least damage. He was slowly getting better and, at this rate, there was a chance he'd start scoring before completely losing interest in playing.
"Sure. Heaven forbid me from letting you and Luca down." He said, taking a look around.
Someone caught his attention. Michela was sitting on a bench, alone, reading a book. The way her hair fell past her chin while she was looking down at the pages, the hint of a frown while reading through who knows what, her glasses resting gently on the tip of her nose...
"Go talk to her." Giorgio said.
"Michela. Come on, you're drooling all over her." he insisted.
"I... I can't!" Fabrizio blurted out.
"Why? She's alone. It's the perfect chance. Man up and go!" he said.
Fabrizio stared at her in utter confusion. He felt overwhelmed by her. What should he do?
But the moment was gone. The bell rang and everyone scrambled back to their classrooms. He looked back at Giorgio who gave him a look of disappointment, before leaving.
When Fabrizio arrived home he was still in a bad mood. He dropped his backpack and went over to the kitchen, following the smell of lunch.
His twin brother Francesco was busy cooking pasta, and gave him a quizzical look.
"Nothing, Fra. Just..." he sighed. "Girls problems."
Fabrizio nodded. "I can't bring myself to talk to her. Don't know what's wrong. Must be my shyness."
Fabrizio has always been the shy, quiet and nerdy brother. Francesco, on the other hand, was well built, loved sports and was outgoing and quite popular with the girls. So he had taken it as his duty to instruct his brother in the ways of dating. Without much success, unfortunately.
"Fabrizio, you can't expect a girl to just come and talk to you. It doesn't work that way. You must be the one reaching for her. For all you know, she might like you too and be waiting for you to make your move."
Fabrizio snorted, as he helped his brother pour their lunch in their plates. "As if someone as beautiful as her would notice a wimp like me. She must be drooling all over some hot guy."
After lunch, Fabrizio washed the dishes then retreated to his room.
He plugged his guitar, a Fender Stratocaster replica, in its amp and started playing. Music had been his safe retreat for some time now, knowing how to play an electric guitar made him feel like he was actually cool in some way. Today's practice was Fall to Pieces by Velvet Revolver, something he never managed to get right. Maybe it still was out of his reach?
"Fabri stop it, we're going to be late for the game," came his brother's voice.
He looked at the clock and noticed he had lost track of time, lost as he was in playing.
"Oh! Right. I'm coming!"
He didn't even bother changing clothes, grabbed his sports bag and ran out.
Francesco had his own two-wheels too, although he had been more than happy to get a newer model and leave the fanciful but old Vespa to his brother. They parked both in the gravel next to the soccer field and met the others in the changing rooms. There were one for each team. Walking in, they found Giorgio, Fabrizio's other best bud Luca and their friend Simone.
"There you are, right in time. How are you?" Luca cheerfully greeted them.
"We're OK," Francesco replied. "Now, about the upcoming game..."
Francesco started giving direction to everyone. Of all of them, he was the only one with real soccer experience, having played in a team until last year, when he had left to join a martial arts dojo. That made him the unofficial team captain. A couple of the others had the right athletic skills, but he was the only one whose knowledge of field tactics reached a little further than commenting on last Sunday's game. Fabrizio, on his part, had lost his bearings right after the first few sentences, so he just pretended to listen.
"Good, now let's hit the field," Francesco finished.
They knew nobody from the opposite team, as they were from a completely different part of the city, but they knew they were quite a strong team. Definitely better placed than them, not that they really shone.
Luca took position as the gatekeeper, Giorgio and Simone as defenders, and the Persico twins as attackers.
The game was tough. Really tough. Fabrizio focused hard to keep up with the opposite defender, but at least managed to keep him busy. On the other side of the gaming field, however, Francesco completely dominated the game. Lately his reflex and dexterity had improved, it seemed. Anyway, he managed to score a couple of spectacular shots right in their opponents' gate. At the end of the hour, they were exhausted but had won!
They walked back to the changing rooms, cheering. Francesco stepped in the showers like he owned the place, grinning widely and reveling in the others' appreciation. Fabrizio slowly dragged himself behind, too worn out to speak.
As they had their shower, Fabrizio noticed in bitterness how all his friends had been developing lately. They all had put up muscle mass and body hair. Francesco himself was going through a growth spurt, actually, and together with his training in the dojo this gave him a well built, manly figure.
Nothing of the sort happened to him, who had only gained a little height, and not a hint of a beard! Granted, he was still good looking enough, but in a strangely androgynous way, with a softer face and curly brown hair.
At least part of his lack of beef was due to Fabrizio's preferences for reading old classics and poetry, surfing the net or gaming, rather than practicing sports. However, they were twins. Why did they only look the same when it was an inconvenience, such as when a few years before their father's new wife couldn't tell one from the other?
He sighed. Maybe Francesco was right. Maybe he was wrong, and he'd never get a girl. If only it wasn't so hard to be like them! Sometimes he wondered what it was like for the girls. They didn't have to worry about this crap at all. They just had to look pretty, and boys would flock around them and they'd get to pick their date. Oh, some people get all the luck.
They came home just in time. Simonetta Ghersi, 56, Professor in Greek Literature at the University of Genoa, aka Mom, was waiting for them in the kitchen. Dinner was already served and starting to cool down.
"You're late!" she said, giving them a bad look.
"Uhm..." Francesco started.
"We're sorry Mom," Fabrizio continued.
"We won and were a bit too excited," Francesco finished.
Their mother chuckled. "Well, you grow up but it seems you're still able to finish each others sentences! Now wash your hands and come right back, dinner's getting cold."
Dinner consisted in a mixed beans soup and steak with salad. Not nearly as good as Grandma's, but then she didn't work until late afternoon.
"Your father called. You're supposed to stay at his place for the weekend." Mom began.
"I know, tomorrow is Marzia's second birthday." Francesco replied.
Mom managed to keep a scowl at bay at the name of her former husband's fourth child, and Fabrizio felt a bit sad. Marzia was a difficult topic at home, but she still was his step-sister and he felt a deep connection to her. And Dad's new wife, Sabrina, was not that bad after all.
Unfortunately, neither Mom nor their older brother Claudio seemed to share his idea. Once, when he thought Fabrizio couldn't hear him, Claudio called Sabrina a "home-wrecking airhead slut". Actually she was a mutant, an Exemplar, and Fabrizio was pretty sure Exemplars were supposed to be smart, so the "airhead" part might have been too much. He wasn't sure about the "slut" part, although he hoped she was faithful to Dad.
Mentioning Dad brought an uneasy mood in the room, so the three of them finished their meal in awkward silence. They were happy to leave Mom taking care of loading the dish washing machine and scuttle in their rooms.
There, Fabrizio booted up his small laptop. A few minutes later, he was looking at an e-mail from Claudio.
I hope you are all well. I'm sorry I couldn't call yesterday but I've been really busy lately. They gave me a new project and there's so much to do!
I know you're not really into my field of work, so I'll keep it simple. As you know, most of the work here at ARC involves studying mutants.
Mutants are people who develop powers during their teens seemingly at random. The powers are little understood and hard to describe under the current laws of physics, so they look like they're supernatural.
What we know is that almost all mutants possess a set of genes called the Meta-Gene Complex. However, current studies suggest most of the population has the MGC.
What we don't know yet is what triggers the mutation itself, and what determines the kind of powers someone gets. We don't know why some areas, such as New York, have lots of mutants while others, such as home, have very few. We don't know why there's more female mutants than male ones. Basically, we still are in the dark.
And that's exciting, because it means there's something to dig up.
My new project is a big one: it involves analyzing genomes from people, both mutants and baselines, from different places around the world, trying to figure out a pattern in frequency of manifestations and kind of powers, and hopefully locating genes responsible for determining the kind of powers developed.
This is huge, brother. The amount of raw data will take years to collect and maybe decades to process. But we'll crack the nut eventually. I'm so happy to be a part of this all.
Tell Mom I'm fine, and that we have good weather here. I also found a place where they sell quality food, so tell Grandma she can stop sending me her preserves. Oh, and tell Fra he can call or write or something, too. You know, just to check I'm alive.
PS: I didn't forget about Marzia, don't fret. I've sent her something.
Fabrizio closed the window and smiled. Claudio was always like that, ask a little thing and he's going to burst and shower you in information. He was like an overexcited child when it came to work. He guessed it was just like Mom and himself when they got their hands on a new book.
They had last met at Easter, and he already missed his big brother so much.
He shut the computer down, then got started with the homework he should have done in the afternoon, instead of playing guitar.
Saturday morning, the last day of school before the long awaited Sunday. As usual Fabrizio got up yawning, then stepped out of his room.
He was on his way to the bathroom when, with a loud crack that shook the house, the door on his left was quite literally torn away from the wall.
He found himself face to face with an extremely surprised Francesco, holding the whole door in his right hand by the handle. They stared at each other in utter confusion.
"Fra, what the fuck?" Fabrizio began,
"I... I... just..."
"Language, Fabrizio!" came their mother's voice, then she froze as she saw the scene. "What... How...?"
"I don't know, Mom! I just pulled at the door!" Francesco whined.
Only then Fabrizio noticed something. "Uhm... Fra... your eyes. They're... golden!"
Their mother rushed to them and took a look at Francesco, mouth agape.
"Oh, no, no! I'm an idiot, I had all the signs right under my nose and still! And drop that door, Fra! Stay right here you two!" she nervously and rapidly ran to the next room.
"Fabri, what the fuck?" was Francesco's time to ask.
"Are you dense or what, Fra? You're a mutant!" Fabrizio replied, and Francesco's brows raised in shock.
"Good, this is what we're going to do. Francesco, you stay home today, I'll call the school. Claudio said he's booked a plane ticket and will be back tomorrow around noon to check on you," said Mom.
The brothers were currently sitting in the living room. In the last ten minutes, Francesco had broken a table and a chair too, so he was trying to stay as still as possible. Both times, his new golden eyes glowed bright.
"Oh and Fabrizio," Mom continued, looking at the clock, "get ready and go or you'll be late for school."
Well, looks like a mutant brother wasn't enough to skip in Mom's eyes. Fabrizio hastily picked up his stuff and left.
While driving to school, his mind was trying to get around what had just happened. Fra was a mutant. He apparently possessed super strength. What did this mean? Was it the reason Francesco was looking this much better than him? Fabrizio sucked at biology, but from what little he had learned from Claudio Fra might have been an Exemplar. And since they were twins, did this mean he was a mutant too? And if that was the case, of which kind?
Puzzled by this million questions, he didn't notice the boy in the corridor until he bumped right into him.
"Hey! Watch your steps!"
He was evidently older, and was finely dressed for a school boy, with an expensive polo shirt and trousers. His brown hair was short and he sported a long face with a sharp chin. He looked at Fabrizio just for a moment before moving past him.
After just a period, Fabrizio was already looking forward to be back home. He wanted to know what was going on, if Fra was well. He also felt quite moody, and more concerned about handing his math homework over for evaluation than usual. He blamed it on having done it at midnight and the morning's events.
He felt very relieved, however, when the professor handed it back without any correction, and complimented on his performance. Again, Stefano gained a bad remark.
Once more, during the next hour, Fabrizio found himself staring at Michela. If only he had the guts to talk to her...
He found himself humming Creep, by Radiohead.
When you were here before
Couldn't look you in the eye
You're just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful whirl
I wish I was special
You're so fucking special
But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here
Michela briefly turned towards him, and their gaze locked. Fabrizio felt a surge of... desire? Shame? It all mixed together, then he lowered his eyes. But it didn't stop.
Suddenly, it was as if a bottle full of emotions had blown open, and everything was pouring out. He felt overwhelmed by a wave: happiness, sadness, shame, anxiety, desire, rage... all at the same time. It was as if something was pulling at his heart from all directions at once, threatening to tear it apart.
He needed out of this. He stood up, and used what little self control he still had to excuse himself to the bathroom.
Alone in the stall, he finally had a moment of relief from the emotional whirlwind he was experiencing. He breathed deeply, trying to calm his mind and regain a measure of rationality. When he felt better again, he went over to the sinks to wash his face. Raising his gaze to the mirror, he felt a blow as he caught a glimpse of his image.
His eyes were golden.
Breathing deeply not to panic again, he reached for his cell phone and called home.
"Mom, it's me, Fabri... Whatever happened to Fra... I'm going through it, too!"
His mother was there to pick him up so quickly, she had to be driving at breakneck speed. In the meantime, Fabrizio had regained enough composure to brave the halls again, but as soon as he walked closer to the classrooms he felt his emotions surge again and had to turn back. His mother found him sitting on a lone bench near the stairwell.
She ran over to him and hugged him. "What's wrong, dear?" she asked, breaking the embrace and examining her son's face.
"I... I don't know," Fabrizio replied, his golden eyes glistening with tears, feeling extremely worried, "I feel like I'm on an emotional rollercoaster. I suddenly feel happy, then sad, then worried, everything together! And it gets worse when I'm near the classrooms..."
"The classrooms? You mean other people?" his mother asked,
"I... dunno. Maybe."
"Don't worry, we're going home now, OK?"
"I'm already worried, Mom."
Fabrizio's mother had a quick talk with his teacher, then was back to pick him up. As soon as they left the building, though, he was assaulted by a million emotions again. His mother must have noticed too, as she drew her son closer. He held on to her like a baby, but he felt worse and worse.
As they sat into the car, he felt he couldn't take no more, and collapsed against his mother in unconsciousness, his brain shutting down like an overheated computer.
Fabrizio began to feel something again. Stirring from his slumber, he started to feel anxiety, and hope. And a head splitting migraine. Had he been in full control of his lips, he'd have cursed. As it was, it came out as a whisper.
He opened his eyes and tried to concentrate on the outside world. He was greeted by a white featureless ceiling, but soon Francesco's face showed up.
"Hey there, bro! You got us all really worried."
"Ungh... Where are we?"
"The hospital, Fabri. You burned out. How do you feel?"
"As if a truck had hit me in the head."
"I'll call the doctor, Fabri. Hang on."
Francesco left him alone, and he managed to raise himself to sit. The room he was in was a typical hospital room, but the window was bolted in place and the glass laced with tiny metallic strings. He could see the sea outside.
He felt weak, but much better. His emotions were under control again.
A moment later the door slowly opened and a woman in a white coat walked in. She was young, not older than thirty, and were it not for the coat he would have suspected she was even younger. She wore her short curly hair in a ponytail. The moment she walked in, Fabrizio felt a pang of... envy? Why would he envy her?
"So how's our boy?" she asked, in a voice deeper than he expected.
"Uhm... better, I think. Are you a doctor? What's going on?"
"Yes, I'm Giorgia Pugliese and I'm a doctor here. You burned out yesterday morning, Fabrizio."
"Yesterday? Burned out?" he asked puzzled, as the wheels in his head tried to start up again.
"Fabrizio, you're a mutant. You realized it, don't you?"
"Yes. The golden eyes... the feelings..." he muttered. "What time is it?"
"Sunday, past noon. You've been out for around 28 hours," she replied, then resumed her speech, "As I said, you burned out. It means that you strained your powers past their limits, and this caused them to backfire on you. When your mother brought you here you had a fever and was completely unconscious. Nothing as bad as some of the cases we had but still... well, I'm glad to see you up."
"So... was that huge amount of emotions I felt part of the burnout?" Fabrizio asked.
The doctor smiled. "Oh, not at all. Those were your powers. We believe you are an Empath, and a fairly powerful one."
Fabrizio took a moment to process the information. "You mean... the emotions... were not mine?"
"Bingo," she replied, grinning, "you might have read emotions from most of your schoolmates. No wonder you burned out. And that's why we're keeping you in a psychically insulated room."
He sighed, then stretched his limbs. "Can I get up?"
"If you feel like it. Just let me take away your catheter." she said.
The unpleasant business taken care of, she positioned herself next to him. He didn't need her help though, as he felt quite steady on his feet once he stood up.
"I think I'm OK."
"Good. Now, you went through some changes in looks. I believe you should check yourself in the bathroom's mirror."
"Changes?" he asked worried.
"Nothing major, don't worry."
Fabrizio walked over to the bathroom his room had, and took a look in the mirror.
"Oh... That's... weird!" he exclaimed.
His hair had changed. It was longer, and entire streaks had turned the same golden color as his eyes. Other subtle changes were there: his face was still his face, but it looked a little different in a way he couldn't place.
"Not nearly as weird as some of the things we see," the doctor replied from the other room.
He went back to the bed and sat down again. Now that he actually knew he was feeling other people's emotions, he tried sorting his own from the doctor's. Some of it, such as hope and concern, were likely shared. But that hint of envy, uneasiness, and maybe a little sadness, they struck him as odd. He had no reason to be feeling like that.
"You feel uneasy," he said, suddenly, "And nervous, and a little sad."
The doctor was shocked. "What... what..." her face was flushing, and her gaze lowered to her feet, "You're reading me!" for a moment, she shoot out fear, then calmed down.
Fabrizio felt bad, and immediately flushed. "Sorry, I didn't mean to..."
"No, it's OK. It's not something you can control... yet," she replied. But she still felt very uneasy. "Anyway, I have to go check on other patients now. I will be back later."
It took a long time for someone to come back, and he had neither a book nor a guitar. He killed time looking out of the window. It was a beautiful sunny day and he could see a number of boats sailing off the coast. Closer to the beach, a man was canoeing. Oh, how he wished he could be out there!
Some 45 minutes later the door opened again to let a man in, another doctor. This one, Fabrizio noticed, felt much more at ease with him. Maybe it was due to him being much older than the other one.
"Hello Fabrizio, I'm Dr. Gemelli. Looks like you spooked Dr. Pugliese!" he joked.
"Pleased to meet you," he replied. "When will I be able to leave?" he asked.
"We still have a few things to do. How are you? Do you feel tired? In pain?"
"I still have a headache. But I'm good." Fabrizio replied.
"I'll have a nurse bring you painkillers soon. Now, I'm here to teach you how to insulate yourself from incoming feelings," the doctor continued, "If you are to leave this room, you'll need to be able to tune down your powers, or you'll burn out again. Fortunately, it's easier than you'd think. Or so my patients tell me."
Fabrizio nodded, "OK, let's start. It's getting a little boring in here."
"Good. First, I want you to focus and tell me what I'm feeling."
The doctor closed his eyes and focused for a moment, then a feeling of happiness washed over Fabrizio.
The doctor nodded. "Now, try again."
This time he felt a deep sorrow.
Again, the doctor nodded. "OK, now I want you to close your eyes and imagine this. You're holding a chalk, and you draw a circle all around you. The circle protects you. You can reach for it and push it forward, expanding it.
"OK, I get it."
"The circle is safe, it's yours. Nothing gets in unless you let it," he continued, "Now tell me, how do I feel?"
Fabrizio realized it was a lot harder to tell.
"Yes, it is. Now open your eyes and try to keep this thought in mind."
Fabrizio did as asked, and found out that even if the doctor's emotions were a little "louder", he was still filtering them.
They practiced like this, creating and dropping the barrier in Fabrizio's mind, until someone knocked at the door.
"Dr. Gemelli," came Dr. Pugliese's voice, "He's here. Is it safe to come in?"
He looked at Fabrizio and he nodded. "Yes, come in."
The door opened to reveal... Claudio!
Fabrizio almost jumped at his brother.
"Whoa there! Calm down, OK? You just burned out!" he said, but he was happy, and it didn't take Fabri's powers to tell.
"I missed you Claudio!"
"I missed you too. Now really, calm down. We need to test you for a few thing. Sit back on the bed OK?"
Fabrizio nodded and sat down again, while Claudio and Dr Pugliese carefully hauled a cart through the door. On it was a complex and odd machine that looked like some kind of medical scanner put together with spare parts. Someone had painted it light green and white in a vain effort to make it look more like the real deal than a Wyle E Coyote contraption.
He looked at the curious object being pulled next to his bed and then turned on. "Did you raid a junkyard?" he asked Claudio.
"Hardly," he grinned back while putting on a white coat, "This jewel is worth several hundred thousand euros. It's a power scanner built by a devisor. It is literally hand-made, so it's really slow to build, and requires many rare materials. Anyway, this will allow us to test a theory of ours. Now stand still while I scan you."
Claudio took what looked like an ultrasound probe from the machine and ran it carefully over his brother's body a few times. Fabrizio felt expectant and nervous, though he couldn't say whether the feelings were his own.
"Let's see... Psychic potential, Empath capabilities... Both receptive and projective! This is new."
"What does that mean?" Fabri asked nervously.
"It means you can project your feelings the same way you can pick up other people's," Dr. Pugliese said.
"Now comes the interesting part. Confirmed Exemplar trait, guessing from signal strength I'd say roughly a Level 3. And now let's run a scan of your BIT."
"Is that a computer thing?" Fabrizio joked.
"Funny," Claudio replied, "That's the Body Image Template. It's the blueprint for your new body, how you're going to look in a few months."
There was a feeling of hope for a moment, then it was gone, replaced by a mix of sorrow, embarrassment, interest, lust and envy.
Claudio rose his eyes from the machine's screen. "I'm sorry, Fabri."
Fabrizio bolted up from the bed and grabbed the cart. Before anybody could react, he turned it around and looked at the screen.
"Oh, dear God..." he muttered, staring at a stunningly beautiful woman.
Since the fan fiction forum seems to be quiet, I thought I'd post a teaser for the next Sted story. It's not all that well formatted.
"Hey, Andi, you ready yet?" Andromeda's aunt Dionysia called from the main room of Andromeda's family's house.
"Just a sec, Aunt," Andromeda called. The 14-year-old brunette took a last look in the mirror. Her outfit of a gaudy sleeveless blouse, short skirt and heeled sandals would just have to do. It might be a bit chilly, but for a day out mixing with all the foreign tourists that were sure to be there, she wanted to look her best. She picked up her purse and headed into the main room, where she buried herself in her aunt's waiting arms.
The two women walked out of the house to the waiting lemon-yellow Citroën. A moment later, Di had it barreling down the coastal highway bordering the Aegean Sea, the wine dark sea of Homer's epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, toward the target of their outing today: the Joyful Winds Hotel, a popular tourist destination. Dionysia turned on the radio to catch the news.
Hellenic Police Headquarters has confirmed that the sea monster has demanded its monthly tribute from another village. They also say they haven't been able to put together a superhero team that's certain it can take on the monster and win. The village is selecting the young woman who will be sacrificed to it.
The mayor of last month's village hung himself. His note said he did what he had to do to protect the village, but he simply couldn't go on.
Andromeda punched the button on the car's radio to get another station. She noticed a subtle movement out of the corner of her eye. "I *wish*," she muttered feelingly, "someone would do *something* to get rid of that monster."
Dionysia reached over to pat Andromeda comfortingly on the knee. "You'll be out of danger in a couple of years, and there are a *lot* of villages."
Andromeda took a deep breath. "I know, Aunt. WATCH OUT!"
Di jerked her attention back on the road and dodged around a donkey cart that had appeared out of nowhere.
A vast, at least by human standards if not by other standards, non-material being took note of a wish uttered in the hearing of one of her worshipers.
* * *
Mayor Hektor Borkantis looked at the two grim-faced men sitting in front of his desk. His face was equally grim.
"Hellenic Police headquarters verified the signature?" he asked Captain Plato Helikos, the town's chief of police.
"They haven't managed to put together a superhero team capable of taking the monster on and wining."
The mayor looked at Father Prikonita, the town's Greek Orthodox bishop, and suppressed what he was about to say. "I routed the demands to our treasurer. We can cover them. Barely. He says we might have to defer several improvement projects."
The police chief shrugged. "We live another year. Hopefully."
He was undoubtedly thinking of the past year. The first village to receive the monster's demands had thought it was a joke. The smoke from the burned-out husk of that village had quit rising a year ago. The second village had paid. So had the third. A superhero team had come out from Athens at the fourth demand, and had lost. That village was no more. As were the ten thousand people who had lived there.
"It's the last item on the list that concerns me," Father Prikonita said. "One maiden, between 13 and 15. Virginity optional."
The police chief drew in a long breath and let it out. "This may have a silver lining."
Father Prikonita looked at him. "A very tarnished sliver lining."
* * *
Sted "Ponygirl" Lancaster floated in front of her desk, one leg tucked under her and the other extended as if she was sitting, her scarlet tail poking out the back of her shorts and drooping to the floor. This was the most comfortable pose she'd found since her mutation had emerged two years ago; her tail simply didn't get along well with chairs while her very personal relationship with gravity let her do things that Isaac Newton would have regarded as impossible. At the same time, the horsehair that covered her legs from the knee down didn't go well with slacks, and her admantium-shod horse's hooves were better at stepping on shoes than wearing them.
The Whateley Academy freshman otherwise looked fairly normal -- if you ignored the fire-engine red mane that looked like a Mohawk, extended to the bottom of her shoulders and then fell another few inches past the deep V in the back of her blouse, the corn-flower blue eyes set just a bit too far apart and the horse's ears that extended a good inch above her head.
On the other side of the Whitman Cottage dorm room, her roommate, Derala, stared intently at the textbook she had open on a reading stand. A page turned, apparently by itself, as a number of keys pressed themselves on the open laptop sitting on a stand next to the book. The big black bird with the girl's head nodded as she read the next passage. Some more keys pressed themselves on the laptop.
Sted shook her head as she dismissed the lecture notes for her Devisor Biology course. Lady Flypaper, an Italian Wall Lizard who was perched on her shoulder looking at the laptop, gave a barely audible cheep as the screen changed suddenly.
She frowned thoughtfully. It was past time to figure out what had been bugging her for the last few days. She reached into her purse and retrieved her Tarot deck.This was the special deck she'd enchanted in her Principles of Magic class the first semester. It was supposed to be a beginner's spell to attune the deck to herself to improve her ability to use it for divination. The result wasn't quite what anyone expected: the cards had all changed, and had a habit of changing further. It was, as far as she knew, the only Ponygirl-Ryder-Waite deck in existence.
She swiftly laid out the Celtic Cross on her desk, starting with the Situation crossed with the Challenge. Then the Foundation, the context, the Past, the Future and finally the four cards in the Staff: the Desires, outside influences, a potential outcome, the likely outcome.