Please Note: Chapters have been posted in their unedited form and do not fully reflect the final work.
The fact that someone was yelling my name slowly broke through the haze of music in my earbuds while I walked from my last class of the day. As I turned to find the source of the greeting I was met with the sight of Christina who is one of my best friends barreling straight toward me. The look on her face usually meant there was a question coming and an answer was expected. She could be tenacious like that.
“Dani! Is it true?”, Christina demanded as she almost literally skidded to stop in front of me causing other students to hurriedly dodge around her in the hallway of the LSA building.
“Is what true, and why are you trying to drill a hole through my face with that glare?”, I said with a laugh as Christina looked at me with her hip cocked and her hands on her hips clearly ready for battle for some reason as I put my earbuds in my pocket.
“That you're dropping out!”, Christina practically shouted at me as I started to realize she really was upset. Christina could be very emotional and wear her emotions on her sleeve but that was only with friends and family and rarely in public. The fact she was yelling at me in the hallway was a good indicator of how upset she was and close we are.
“Ah. Who told you?”, I very helpfully stuttered. Which I realized as it left my mouth was the absolute wrong way to respond as I watched Christina’s face move from anger to devastation.
“So it’s true”, she whispered as tears started to well up in her eyes. “You're leaving and you didn’t even tell me.” she choked through a sob and god did I feel like trash at that moment. I’d been putting this off because she still didn’t know about my side job and I didn’t know how to tell her. I was waiting for the right moment but the universe cares so little for me and my plans.
As I looked at her crestfallen face “It’s true, I’m leaving but it’s not quite like that. I’m going to do a gap year. I have some things to work out.”, I said guiltily.
“Some…things…to work out? I’m your best friend Dani! What could you possibly have to work out that I wouldn’t know about? Things that would cause you to bounce on college and our plans? We had our senior year all planned out! Was all of that a lie? Were you just humoring me?”, she shouted at me.
“Christina, it’s not like that. Really, it’s not. I was just waiting for the right time to tell you. Let’s go somewhere we can talk. How about that coffee shop on 5th? I’ll explain everything, I promise.”, I pleaded with her as my emotions started to kick in.
Christina really was one of my best friends and the absolute last thing I wanted to do was hurt her. We met as freshmen when we were assigned as roommates in West Hall. We hit it off right away and did everything together even making plans to become RA’s together our Sophomore year before my condition made it clear that living with others that closely wouldn’t be a good idea. I moved out and into my own place after our Freshman year but Christina though, she followed through and became an RA just like we planned saying she’d get enough experience for the both of us.
“The right time to tell me? And when exactly was that! After we left for summer break? Were you planning to just ghost me? I had to hear it from counselor Simmons! My god Dani I can’t even with this. I thought we would always be there for each other but I guess I was wrong.”, she growled and then turned and ran crying down the hall and away from me.
I was dumbstruck. I’d seen her that angry before but it was usually at her Mom. I’d never seen it directed toward me and I gotta admit, she could be pretty intimidating. Not as intimidating as Jasmine or my instructor but close. Dammit, this was not how I wanted this to go. I knew she’d take it poorly, but I'd really found new and exciting ways to screw this up. Also, note to self that I owe counselor Simmons a conversation about confidentiality.
“Christina wait!”, I yelled at her back after picking my jaw up off the floor, but it was too late. I could see her blonde hair zip around a corner and she was gone. I knew I’d have to let her cool down before I’d be able to make anything up to her. I just had to hope that her anger ran its course in a couple of days and not weeks or months as I’d seen with her mom.
No longer wishing to be the sad little sideshow spectacle in the hallway I decided to move my little pity party outside to the diag. Not having any more classes for the day despite it being early afternoon I found a nice little bench under the shade of an old oak tree and fished my phone out of my pocket.
Checking the home screen I noted a message from Mom asking if I was coming home for dinner. Tapping out a reply letting her know that I won’t make it but that I’d call her soon I moved on to the next message which was from my Instructor reminding me of my training session at 3 pm. Sigh…I had been looking forward to this but now it had lost some of its shine after Christina went off on me. Still, I couldn’t miss a chance to annoy my instructor a little so I replied ‘See you soon.’ with a bunch of heart emojis. My instructor was amazing but he was always so calm and collected and it was infuriating, so I’ve taken it upon myself to make him laugh whenever possible. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m an abject failure but every now and then I get him to smile or chuckle. Let me tell you it’s like winning the lottery and one day, dog as my witness, I will get a full guffaw out of him.
Sigh, this was supposed to be a good day. I finished my final exam for the semester and I was going to have one last tune-up session with my instructor before taking my final test to get my special government First Responder certification at the weekend. If I pass that, then all the training I’ve been doing gets put to practical use and the reason I’m taking a gap year becomes real. I’ll have a chance to help people rather than just doing a job. Don’t get me wrong I love graphic design but I can do that any time. I don’t want to miss this chance to do something more meaningful.
Getting up from my slice of shade I figured stretching my legs might help burn off some of the restless energy I had built up so I started West across the diag toward the parking garage. On my way there I passed students rushing to exams or lazily wandering the campus after finishing exams and realized how much I was going to miss this. As I approached the Student Union I could see the seniors lined up to take pictures in their caps and gowns at the Union sign with its immaculate flower beds. I was giving up this experience and all the promise of a senior year with friends brought with it, and at that moment I could really understand why Christina was so mad at me. Sadly as much as all the pomp and tradition pulled at my heartstrings I just knew in my heart I had to follow this through. I just hoped that Christina could understand when I could finally tell her why.
Just as I was about to pass the Union I noticed a blur out of the corner of my eye. A student dressed in his cap and gown sporting what looked to be a pair of spiffy Nike Air Max 95’s in Comet Red was blurring around a very pretty young lady dressed in a lovely white swing dress by the Union fountain. Judging from his smile and her blush they were a couple and he was doing his level best to get some photos with his phone’s camera. What really surprised me was that he had an enhancement and that he was openly using it. It was so rare for anyone to have them let alone use them openly. From the looks of it, he had some sort of short range translocation or speed burst ability. I watched wondering how long he could use it and after about a minute he stopped flitting about and put his hands on his knees looking like he might toss his cookies as his girlfriend jumped up to both scold and take care of him. It was pretty cute actually.
Smiling I left them behind as I continued on to the parking garage. I hope he had a good job lined up with the government or private sector. Something that would protect him as his enhancement looked useful and that meant he’d need to be careful. Considering only one percent of all humans have an enhancement and the percentage of those that have a “Supernormal” enhancement aka “superpowers” is even lower than that. Having an enhancement like that would be quite sought after, and sadly it’s not uncommon for Supernormals to disappear or be killed for their abilities. Governments and corporate factions are constantly jockeying to have these Supernormals on their side and would gladly murder a Supernormal to keep a rival faction from gaining an advantage.
As I reached the parking garage and started up the stairs to the top floor my thoughts couldn’t help but drift back to Christina and what she’d think if she knew what I was doing. Would she be supportive or would she think I’m crazy? I wanted to help the Supernormals and help keep regular people safe from the fallout that often came with Supernormal activity. So many innocent Supernormals never asked for any of this. Being forced into Indentured servitude to shady governments and corporations or worse being killed for just existing. It always made my stomach turn when I thought about it but worse was the Supernormals that perpetuated these acts willingly on their own kind. At least the ones that did it for money or because of blackmail you could sort of understand, but every now and then you’d hear of one that did it just for the kicks. Those were the ones I truly couldn’t wrap my head around.
Reaching the ninth floor and stepping out onto the top deck I got a good look at the campus and the surrounding skyline of Michigan City. It was one of my favorite spots to come and think sometimes because you managed to be just a bit higher than the surrounding buildings so you got a good view and the top deck was usually deserted. Walking up to the blue sedan parked in the last spot in the southwest corner of the deck I took my bag off my shoulder and fished around inside for the hoodie I always kept inside. Being late April the midafternoon sun made the day quite pleasant but I put it on anyway. A dark navy blue with a single white star on the front, it wouldn’t stand out too much which was perfect. Taking a second to tie my hair back into a sloppy ponytail I noticed how sunbleached it was getting. My normal honey blonde color was now streaked with yellow-white. I’d have to remember to be diligent about conditioning I thought as I pulled up the hood and tucked in my hair.
Making sure my bag was all zipped up, I put my arms through the straps and made sure it was snug on my back I looked up to find the blindspot on the camera watching over my corner of the parking deck. Stepping up on the ledge and taking a deep breath I concentrated on centering myself for a second before exhaling and jumping off the ledge.
Shooting up into the sky I felt the wind on my face and couldn’t help but smile. These moments where it was just me and the sky with no pressure were some of my favorites. Taking a second to make sure I was high enough up to be hard to spot but not approaching any jetways I took a moment to just feel the wind. To be able to fly free is a privilege not afforded to many and I always tried to not take it for granted. Realizing that while I would still be early it was probably best to head to STAR headquarters and get ready to train. Looking out to the northwest I spotted the river and started following the landmark that would take me to STAR.
This was what I couldn’t tell Christina yet. Everybody knows about how some people possess abilities, but what almost nobody knows is that there is a level above “Supernormal” designated “Quantum” and that I’m the first recorded Quantum in the last 20 years. I mean how do you just casually drop that into conversation? Oh and also it’s classified so if you tell anyone you and your family could face prison on the light side.
Oh yeah, I’m also training to be a Supernormal First Responder, and I’m part of a newly formed government unit called the Supernormal Tactics and Response team. That I’ve been training for the last 3 years in how to use my abilities for crisis intervention and to essentially fight supernormals and other high level threats. I was so engrossed in thought that I almost overshot the building was looking for. It would have been nice to have gotten enhanced vision to go with my other abilities but honestly, that would just be greedy considering most people get just one ability.
The STAR base is a relatively unremarkable building of cookie cutter gray concrete and glass with some brick inlays that fit with the collegiate architecture of the area. As a government building, it has a guard booth and gate to go along with the standard issue fencing and security cameras every fifteen feet or so, and at first blush, it looks like a pretty standard Administration building but after learning more about tactics from my instructor and Captain Williams you realize pretty quickly the building has multiple choke points and kill boxes. Pretty intense stuff for someone who was studying the applications of advanced color theory not too long ago.
Don’t get me wrong it makes sense considering what’s underneath the building but still, I really hope it never gets put into action. Unfortunately considering the ever increasing aggression from various factions over Supernormals and Supernormal research it’s a very real possibility which means it has to be planned for no matter how bleak a thought that is.
Slowing my airspeed and losing altitude I decided to come in for a controlled landing in the parking lot away from the gatehouse. Once I’d received clearance to fly more regularly I made the mistake of landing inside the perimeter once and set off a security alert that Ian still won’t let me live down. It’s a fun story now, but at the time the conga line to yell at me was long and distinguished. Colonel Abreau, I was used to yelling but the tag team of quasi-parental disapproval I got from Lieutenant Colonel Amin and Captain Williams was something I’m not eager to repeat. Thankfully my instructor and the rest of the team just used it as a teaching moment. Well everyone except that asshat Chief Brunning. Who it seems has made it his life’s mission to make my life difficult.
Sighing and pushing the thought of that douchenozzle out of my mind I touched down in the parking lot next to Captain William's restored 1982 Ford Bronco and walked up to the guardhouse and announced to the security officer on duty “PMC Walker reporting for training.”, with my best smile.
“Security Badge please.” replied the security officer whose name was Travis.
“Crap! It’s in my bag I think. I’m going to dig around in my bag a bit, so don’t get fidgety and call in an alert or get shooty Travis.”, I said to the Officer with a smirk.
“I believe the last time that happened was due to a certain contractor who can’t find their security badge, not following protocol.” Travis deadpanned.
“Ouch Travis, I thought I told you not to shoot.”, I laughed as dug my badge out of my bag. “Here, you go. Now you can stop firing those zingers.”
Laughing as he scanned the badge, Travis handed it back with a hearty “Good Luck Miss. Walker.” as the gate opened. This was it I couldn’t help but think. The point of no return. Taking a breath and walking onto the STAR campus it was time to find my instructor.
The walk to the building was pretty straightforward although now that I knew that the hedgerows lining the approach were designed to slow down an approaching force I couldn’t find much fun in the landscaping anymore. Oh, well all part of being on the inside I keep telling myself as I pushed open the glass doors to the reception area. Seeing the Security Officer on duty I flashed my badge and walked up to the reception area where Julie was currently manning the desk.
“Is he in?”, I asked hoping that he was in early so we could start my practice run-through early.
Looking up from her computer with a warm smile Julie said, “Oh hi Dani. Let's check the board and see if he’s checked…in.”
Noting her odd pause l couldn’t help but ask “Um, is everything ok?”
Julie didn’t answer me and instead looked at something over my shoulder and before I could turn around to see what she was looking at a voice right next to my ear said, “Yes, I’m in and I thought I taught you to be more aware of your surroundings.”
“Eek!”, I eloquently squeaked as I turned and jumped from the voice behind me. I was so startled I floated for a second. Standing there in his casual uniform was my instructor. At about six foot even with a medium build, he wasn’t the most imposing figure but that was just part of what made him so effective. My primary instructor, callsign Fox.
With a nod, he turned to walk to the elevator and said, “It’s time for you to sink or swim.”