Yeah, it wasn’t exactly going to solve… well, any of my problems. But hey, I was really tired by that point. And I figured there really wasn’t anything I could do about it right then. I’d sent an anonymous call to the cops about the bodies. Short of actually confronting my mother right then and there, I couldn’t actually do anything in the middle of the night.
So, I crashed. At first, I’d thought it would be impossible for me to sleep, that I’d toss and turn all night. But as it was, I didn’t even have a chance to take more than my hoody off and fall face-down across the width of my bed before I was out like a light. There were no dreams, which felt weird. I would have thought that I would have nightmares. But I didn’t. I just slept through.
I slept so long, in fact, that it was the sound of the vacuum turning on that woke me up. The high pitched hum of the motor jerked me awake, sending me up and over the side of my bed to crash onto the floor with a loud yelp.
Slowly poking my head up over the bed, I stared at the self-satisfied smile of Jania Estrada, one of our maids. She was from Panama, before her mother brought her over the States in ‘68, when Jania had been fourteen. Now she was in her mid-sixties, but you’d never know it. She was basically one of the most energetic, cheerful, playful people I’d ever met. She was always playing pranks on the other, often younger staff members. Olivia, our head housekeeper, had tried to fire her a few times, but the butler, Dexter, had final say and never let it stick.
“Oh, good morning, Miss Evans,” Jania called over the sound of the vacuum in a sing-song voice that completely failed to convey any actual surprise that she had startled me. “I did not see you there. I thought you would be downstairs by now.” She gave me a significant look while methodically cleaning my carpet. Translation: I was late.
Groaning a little, I picked myself up and glanced to one of the clocks on my wall. I had seven of them, six showing the time from some other country. It was a product of Dad traveling so much, I’d wanted to know what time it was in the countries he was in the most so I’d know if it was okay to call him. By now I could basically figure it out myself, but when I was a little kid, it was useful. And they’d basically been there for so long that I didn’t want to take them down.
According to the Detroit clock, it was already quarter after seven. Which meant I only had an hour before school started.
School. How the hell was I supposed to think about school when my family was… when… when we were…
I shook it off. But Jania must have seen something in my face, because she stopped the vacuum, her voice turning serious. “Miss Evans?” she started, clearly concerned. “Are you alright?”
“I…” My voice faltered, and I very nearly went to hug her like I had so much when I was little. Or at least littler. I glanced to her, biting my lip before nodding. “Just waking up. I–thanks, Jania.”
Turning to my closet, I moved to open it and walked inside. The thing was big enough to be a small room of its own, and I basically had every single outfit I’d ever owned in there that hadn’t already been given to charity. There was even the cheerleading uniform from when I’d done that for a semester in junior high under the mistaken assumption that people would finally stop calling me a boy. Instead they just made jokes about how the school was so inclusive now because they finally had a male cheerleader. Hilarious.
Once I’d finally had enough up top to be considered breasts, people had switched to either asking if I was ‘mid-transition’ or if I was using padding. I deflected by making a comment about how if I was using padding, I’d use more of it. That was usually the best way to deal with that kind of thing.
I’d gone out with a guy for about a week during my freshman year, before people teased him about ‘being gay’, or complimented him for landing ‘the school’s pretty boy’, so he broke it off. My relationship last year, as a sophomore, had fared better. That had gone on for almost four months before Tomas ended up moving back to Britain with his diplomat dad.
That was my reputation. I had been called the prettiest boy in school since I was twelve, and it just wouldn’t go away. For awhile, I’d thought about only wearing things that emphasized what little breasts I had, but that just wasn’t me. I wasn’t comfortable like that. So I decided screw it, and kind of… leaned into the whole thing. I decided to out-boy most of the boys and kind of developed a reputation for throwing myself enthusiastically at any dare or bet they could come up with. I’d put myself in the emergency room a couple times just because I wouldn’t say no when someone dared me to do something stupid and dangerous. I mean, I had a limit, of course. But if I thought I could do it, I’d throw myself at it even if I was afraid.
If they wanted to call me a boy, I was going to do things that boys were too scared to do, damn it.
Standing there in the closet, staring at the old cheerleading stuff, I finally shook off the memories and grabbed my school uniform. It consisted of black shoes, black pants, a black blazer, a blue shirt, and a white tie. The name of the school was Cadillac Preparatory School, named for Antoin de la Mothe Cadillac, the French explorer who founded the place that eventually became Detroit (the car company was named after him too), and that name was written across the front of the blazer.
Taking the uniform, I ran into my bathroom to shower and dress in record time. I took one quick detour back to my room to shove a few things into a backpack and made it downstairs just as Jefferson, our driver, was looking at his watch.
“Two minutes late, Miss Evans,” he pointed out while tapping his watch. “You know how that affects the schedule.”
Yeah, I knew. Jefferson was obsessed with punctuality. He timed everything, to the point of knowing exactly what speed he needed to travel at to hit every green light on each of his daily routes. Me being late threw that off. And I didn’t even have a chance to grab breakfast. Not that I would have wanted to risk seeing–
“Aww,” Simon spoke up from behind me, making me jump. “Don’t be too hard on the kid. After all, maybe it was lady problems. I mean, she’s probably started puberty by now, right?”
It was light-hearted teasing. At least, that’s how I’d seen it before. But now, it gave me the creeps in a way it hadn’t before. Especially when he squeezed both of my shoulders from behind. I jumped, spinning around to face him as my hands went up defensively. At the last instant, I stopped myself from making any paint appear.
“Whoa, hey there, slugger,” my brother relented while holding up both hands in surrender. “Sorry, maybe that was too far.” He blinked at my expression. “You okay, Booster?”
He didn’t know. He didn’t know what I’d heard the night before, what I’d… I’d seen. Getting my breath under control, I quickly nodded. “Y-yeah, I just… I’m waking up. You should wear a bell around your neck or something. Maybe those clown shoes that squeak when you walk.”
God damn it, don’t mention shoes, for the love of fuck! Out of everything you could mention right now, why shoes?! And stop shaking, I told myself. Stop staring at him, stop trembling. Just stand still.
Simon was clearly distracted, because he didn’t notice my behavior. He just glanced at his own phone, mumbled something about meeting someone, and started off.
Jefferson wasn’t in the mood to wait any longer, and I didn’t mind, since I had no desire to run into any other member of my family just then. So I followed the man out to the garage, making a point of not looking at Royal Thunder. Instead, I headed straight for the black BMW that Jefferson called Henlein (after Peter Henlein, the inventor of the watch) and stepped into the back.
Despite my being late getting downstairs, we still made it to the school in record time. Jefferson let me out right at the front. I thanked him, walking inside past a dozen people who called out or waved. I had already plastered a smile onto my face, waving back as I made my way into the school.
From there, I went all the way through to the back, bypassing my locker without a second glance. I was still walking, trying to keep to myself without looking like I was keeping to myself, when a voice stopped me.
“Hah, fancy seeing you here.”
Blinking, I turned to look over to where one of the janitors was mopping up a spill. My eyes rose to his face before I made a sound of surprise despite myself. It was that Latino guy from last night, my Uber driver. He was wearing the uniform of the school custodian instead of that Hawaiian shirt, but he still had his black driving cap. The nametag on his uniform read Adrian.
“You’re–you… I… you…” I pointed at him a bit dumbly.
“Driving doesn’t pay all the bills,” the guy replied, gesturing to the mop and bucket. “Gotta do something else while I wait to hear back from Spielberg about that script.” He winked then. “Hey, you ever find your shoe?”
“Shoe,” I echoed flatly before suddenly shaking myself. “Err, yeah. Yeah, it’s fine. I… you weren’t here before.”
“Only been around a couple days,” he agreed. “Mostly in the boy’s locker room. You know, new guy’s gotta spitshine that armpit of hell. Joke’s on them, I take care of four younger brothers, two still in diapers and the other two old enough to need deodorant but too young to care.” Gesturing to his face, Adrian added, “My sense of smell threw itself off a cliff years ago.”
My mouth opened and shut before I managed to cough, smiling despite myself. “I, um, yeah. I’ve been by the locker room with the door open. Trust me, your nose made the right move.”
Realizing that I needed to get moving then, I awkwardly excused myself and hurried on while feeling him watching me leave for a few seconds before the crowd swallowed me up.
Heading through one of the other doors, I greeted more people, heading across the football field. Halfway there, I heard the buzzer announcing that school was starting.
I ignored it. Picking up speed, I jogged the rest of the way across the field to reach the street beyond.
Yeah, after everything that had happened, I was in no mood to just sit in classes and fidget for seven hours.
I could have called another Uber (one that wouldn’t be Adrian), but my destination was only about nine blocks away, so I skated. I needed time to think, time to clear my head. Taking a moment by the back fence of the school, I took my pace-skates from my bag.
Pace-skates were an invention of one of the Touched whose powers lent themselves toward creating or building things. In this case, they were basically shoes or boots that could shift into rollerblades by clicking the heels together or speaking a codeword that was programmed with your own voice. They had been a huge fad a couple years earlier, but had faded a bit over time. I still liked them though.
On the way, while leisurely skating down the sidewalk, I took my phone out to check what had been reported the night before about the murders at the motel.
Nothing. Literally. There wasn’t a single story about the motel or any crime reported within a few blocks of there. No mysterious deaths, no signs of violence, not even a random jaywalking. There was nothing. Clearly the cops had gotten there, found nothing, and written it off as a prank or whatever. Great. Not that unexpected, but still.
With a sigh, I moved faster. A few people gave me second looks, but mostly everyone minded their own business. I made it all the way to where I was going without any interruptions.
As for where I was going, it was a building that was set back away from the street a little ways, past a chainlink fence and a parking lot. From the outside, it looked like a warehouse. It had been one at one point. But the place had closed down years earlier. A few months ago, one of Dad’s companies had bought it and started renovating the place for some kind of youth activities area, for the local kids. Unfortunately, work on that had stalled only a few weeks into the project. Something about permits. So the whole place had sat basically empty for all this time.
Empty, that was, aside from when I wanted to use it. I’d found the code for the door written down on a pad of paper on the kitchen counter one day, along with the address. Apparently Dad or Simon had come down to check the place out for one reason or another. I walked down during lunch that day, and had found a place that I could mess around in.
Slipping through the gap between the gate and the fence where the chain wasn’t tied tightly enough (yay for being small and thin), I made my way over the lot to the door. Looking around briefly, I input the code in the security pad nearby. It beeped, and I opened the door to step inside.
The place was dark, but the electricity still worked, so I flipped on the lights. It was… a warehouse. Mostly it was a huge empty room, with random junk everywhere. Taking up about a quarter of the enormous space, opposite the door where I had come in, was where the contractors had done most of the work while they were active. It was an indoor skate park. Or part of one. They had a couple concrete ramps set up, a half pipe, a couple quarter pipes, and a large bowl right in the middle. The whole place had been intended to get kids (read: teenagers) off the streets. Apparently there was supposed to be an arcade, a separate area for younger children to play in like… ballpits and stuff, and even tutoring.
But right now, there was this: an enormous empty room with a partially-finished skate park. Worked for me. I’d spent hours in here over the past couple of months, messing around. Whenever this place finally opened, if it did, it was going to be pretty amazing.
Setting my bag down, I opened it up and dug inside for the regular clothes I’d put in it. Quickly changing into the cargo pants and tee-shirt (doing so in a wide open room like this, even if I knew it was empty, still felt weird), I left the rest of the stuff in the bag for the moment. Instead, I walked over to the raised ramp nearby, muttering, “Okay, superpowers. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Taking a breath, I extended one hand and focused. That small spinning orb appeared in front of my palm once again. It was blue, and, at a thought, a matching spray shot from it to hit the side of the ramp. Immediately, I gasped and stumbled back, staring that way. My voice was hushed, yet still echoed a bit in the mostly empty space. “Oh my God, it still works.”
Blue. Blue. That was the repelling or bouncy stuff. But I hadn’t, like… powered it or whatever that I was doing last night. To test that, I reached down to pick up a small rock from the floor, underhand tossing it toward the blue spot. Sure enough, it struck and just fell. Right.
Taking out my phone, I strolled back and forth for a couple minutes, answering texts. Some of my friends back at school wanted to know where I was, so I said I needed a ‘mental health day’. Then I checked for any news stories about that motel once more, or even anything in a local blog. There were still none, but it helped pass the time.
Finally, I looked over at the ramp. The spot was still there. It had been about five minutes. So the paint didn’t disappear unless I actually powered it. And each color had a different result from being powered. Okay. Okay, I could follow that.
To test it, I thought about the blue paint. I focused on it being powered up. It was hard to explain, but I felt a brief connection to it, like a spark. Then I tried throwing that little rock at it once more, winding up first before hurling the thing like a baseball.
That time, when the rock hit the blue spot, it rocketed off. The thing rebounded violently, shooting past my face as I ducked before it shattered loudly off one of the other ramps.
Slowly, I raised my head to stare at the blue paint. It vanished a second later, leaving the ramp blank once more. Then I turned to stare at the remains of the rock. “Holy shit.”
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t throw the next rock so hard. Apparently the blue stuff magnified the force applied to it when sending it away again. Right.
Next, I put a line of green paint on the ground. Once again, I tested it to make sure the stuff stayed as long as it wasn’t powered. Satisfied, I focused on powering it. Then I ran through it.
God damn. I’d been in track, but I’d never been that fast. It wasn’t like… super or anything, but it was definitely faster than I’d ever run before. I made a longer line after that one disappeared and tested it, nearly running into the wall before stopping myself.
Then I took my phone out and downloaded a speedometer app. Setting it up and making sure it seemed to work, I shoved the phone back in my pocket before drawing another green line, once again wide enough to run on.
Cracking my neck to either side, I hopped up and down in a circle, psyching myself up. Standing near the line, I powered it while crouching into the ready position. At a mental starting gun, I took off, running as fast as I could. As I hit the paint, my speed suddenly boosted once more. That time, I really did run into the wall, though I slowed down enough that I was basically just hugging it at the end, laughing despite myself. What a rush.
Then I checked my phone. Apparently I’d been running about thirty miles an hour. Which might not sound like much for a car, but it was really fast for me. Holy shit.
I tried to do it again, but I was only able to spray down about a quarter of the line before the paint just wouldn’t come. It took about sixty seconds for me to be able to make more. So there was a cooldown on it. Last night, I had sprayed so much paint everywhere that first time that I’d hit the limit right off.
But wait a minute… what if…
Blinking down at my shoes, I raised one leg curiously. Pointing my hand at the bottom of the shoe, I sprayed green paint onto it. Then I did the same with the other shoe. As a test, I took a couple steps. The paint didn’t leave any marks. So apparently even the non-powered stuff dried instantly.
Once more, I powered the green paint, this time on my shoes. Then I tried running. It worked. I was fast. Damn, was I fast. Even if it only lasted for a short time. Curious about that, I timed it on my phone. Ten seconds. The paint lasted for ten seconds once it was powered.
Of course, it didn’t have to be on my shoes. I realized that belatedly, and tried spraying a bit of paint on my pants, my shirt, or even my arm. It all worked, making me move faster.
For a few minutes, I just kept doing that. I would spray more paint on my shoes, then run as fast as I could until it ran out. It was fun, and it let me forget about all the really serious, horrible stuff I should have been focusing on.
Yellow paint worked the opposite way. It slowed me down. Or whatever it touched. Right. Blue was bouncy, green was fast, yellow was slow. What was next?
Red. The sticky/magnetic-type stuff that pulled things it was painted on together. To test that, I first picked up two discarded rocks, each about the size of a softball. Squirting a bit of red paint on both, I held them in front of me, then powered the paint.
They were yanked out of my hands, slamming together before falling to the floor. Right on my foot, actually. Ow.
Next I tested the distance. Making a red mark on one of the walls, I painted another mark on a rock and tried activating it starting from just a few feet away before making my way further and further back. In the end, I had no idea how far apart they could be, because even from one end of the warehouse to the other, it worked. The rock was pulled clear to the other end as soon as I activated the paint on it, though there was a slight delay of a second or two the further it had to go before the rock reacted.
During the testing, I also figured out that I could paint multiple rocks red, and then activate them one at a time. Powering up one bit of paint didn’t power all of it.
Okay, so what did I know? The paint would stay as long as I wanted it to if I didn’t activate its power. And it instantly dried. Green made things go fast. Yellow made things go slow. Blue repelled things. Red pulled them together.
What about orange? That had been on the wall last night, but I never saw what it did.
Curiously, I sprayed a bit of orange paint on the nearby wall and stared at it for a moment. Orange. What did it do? Shrugging, I focused on giving it power (whatever that power was), then reached out to touch it tentatively.
Nothing. I didn’t feel anything. It wasn’t sticky, it didn’t push me or pull me or… anything me. I sprayed some on the floor and moved over it, first walking, then running, then hopping. I even tried sliding on it. It was just… paint. The hell?
Maybe I could prompt it to do something. Throwing several separate spots of orange paint on myself, I tried running around while activating one after another. I didn’t feel any different during it. Moving to one of the discarded hunks of wall that had been left in the middle of the room, I tried to lift it. Nope, orange paint did not make me strong. Nor did it give me laser eyes, flight, or anything exotic like that. I tried jumping, doing cartwheels, even a handstand that made me feel ridiculous. Nothing.
Then I got a little overly ambitious, walking too far upside down on my hands. I hit the edge of the skating bowl and lost my balance. With a yelp, I tipped over, already cringing inwardly as I fell. Ouch.
Except… not ouch. I landed hard in the bowl, but… it didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt at all. It was like falling backward onto my bed. What…?
The orange paint. Curious again, I walked back up to the top of the bowl, looked around, and kicked the nearby ramp.
Ow. That was dumb. But worth checking.
More orange paint on my leg. I activated it once more, then kicked the ramp again.
Nothing. Like, really nothing. It didn’t hurt. That’s what the orange paint did. It made things tough, or invulnerable, or… something.
Okay, add ‘orange makes things tougher’ to the list. I wasn’t sure how tough yet, but that felt like something to be tested under better conditions.
Now I knew what all the colors I’d used last night did. But could I make any other colors? Moving back to the wall, I tried a bunch. Only four more actually did anything. Four more colors I didn’t know. Pink, purple, black, and white.
The white was easy to test. The second I tried powering it, the bit of paint lit up like a lightbulb. Okay, white paint glowed.
Black was fairly easy too. I painted a rock with it and threw it, then I didn’t hear anything. Even when it bounced off the wall, there was no sound. A little more testing confirmed, black silenced whatever it was on. I tried painting myself with it and screaming, only to hear no sound at all. It was creepy.
White made things glow and black silenced them. That left pink and purple. What could they do?
Purple, as it turned out, made me stronger. I wasn’t sure how strong, of course. Mostly because I had no idea what the random junk lying around the partially remodeled warehouse actually weighed. But I could basically use one hand to lift the heaviest bit there, which had to be a few hundred pounds. That was pretty freaking cool, actually. I’d always been small, so being able to pick up something that weighed as much as my entire bed and hurl it across the room was enough to make me laugh probably more than I should have.
Purple made me strong. That left pink. I knew what all the rest did aside from that one. And no matter what I did, I could not figure it out. I tried for almost an hour, but it didn’t seem to do anything.
Okay, I’d go back to that one. Pink was a question mark still. But I knew what red, orange, yellow, blue, green, black, purple, and white did. Which wasn’t bad for a couple hours work.
Heh. Wasn’t bad. Wasn’t bad? I had superpowers! I had freaking superpowers! I could run fast, I could pick up really heavy things, I could pull things together, or repel them, or silence them, or… or…
This was so fucking cool!
For a little while, I forgot my whole family problem. I forgot everything else. I just played with the paint powers, spraying myself or the floor and running around. I sprayed blue paint in front of myself before jumping into the middle of it, sending myself flying over the ramp. Coming down, I sprayed a bit of orange paint on myself, before landing without any damage or pain.
Then I tried something that was probably dumb. I put green paint on myself, and purple. Then I sprayed a blue circle onto the floor and moved away from it. Taking a breath, I activated the green paint and ran as fast as it let me, straight toward the circle. At the last second, I activated the purple paint to make myself stronger and leapt as high as that allowed. As I came down on the circle, I activated the blue paint there.
Hoooooly shit. The next thing I knew, I was flying violently toward the far wall. And not just the wall, the top of it, near the ceiling, which was a good thirty feet up. Screaming despite myself as I hurtled straight toward the wall, I hurriedly sprayed a bit of orange onto my leg, activated it, and threw my hands in front of myself as the wall came rushing up.
My scream died in my throat as I hit that wall. It didn’t hurt. And… and I didn’t fall. Slowly, I opened my eyes, staring at my hands. Red. There was red paint on the wall. And… on my hands? I’d instinctively thrown red paint out just as I hit the wall. And now my hands were stuck there. My hands and my… legs? Looking down, I saw my knees pressed against the wall, with a bit of red there as well. I was basically crouched against the wall, stuck there by red paint. Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit.
Wait, it was only going to last–
It stopped. The paint disappeared, and I fell. A scream tore its way from my throat, even as I slapped a hand against my own stomach, spraying orange and desperately activating it.
It worked. I landed hard on my back, but it didn’t hurt. Even falling from thirty feet up and landing on my back didn’t hurt. I mean, I felt it, for sure. It felt a bit like being punched. But not that hard. And it sure didn’t break anything like it definitely should have.
For a couple minutes, I just laid there on my back, staring up at the spot on the wall where I had just been. I laid there, and my eyes slowly closed.
“My family are bad guys.” It came in a weak, trembling voice that I barely recognized as my own.
“What am I gonna do? What am I supposed to do?”
Why would the cops believe me? Why would anyone believe me? I didn’t have any proof, or… or…
That was it. Proof. That was what I needed.
I was going to get proof that my parents and brother were bad guys. I was going to get proof, and take that… not to the cops. To the Conservators or the Spartans, the federal or state-sponsored teams. I would get proof that they were doing bad things, that they… that they killed people, and take it to the superheroes. They’d know what to do with it. Maybe I could even meet Silversmith, the leader of the local Conservator group. He had basically been my favorite hero since I was a little kid. His power was an essentially unlimited supply of this liquid metal stuff that he turned into a suit, or weapons, or even vehicles. He conjured the stuff in liquid form, shaped it into what he needed, and then it solidified. When he was using it as a suit, it also made him incredibly strong, let him fly, and he could even go into space with it.
Silversmith. That’s what I needed to do. He’d know what to do about my family. I just had to get proof and find a way to take it to him.
Right, turning in my own family to the superheroes. That was the right thing to do. But… but could I actually do that? They were my family, my mom and dad, my brother. They were my family. Could I really just… betray them like that?
And did the fact that I was hesitating mean that I was just as bad as they were?