Chapter 15

Please Note: Chapters have been posted in their unedited form and do not fully reflect the final work.

I jumped into the air yelling at Fox, “I’m going to try and chase it!”

“Negative,” he replied while reholstering his weapons. “The chopper is cloaked and we can’t endanger the boy. Are you confident that you can fight off that woman and the teleporter without bringing the chopper down? Assuming you could even catch it?”

“I…no,” I replied and floated back down to the ground to stand next to Fox. I couldn’t help but feel dejected at our failure to save the boy even though there wasn’t any way for us to know that he was a target.

“I’ve sent a message to base to try and pick up tracking or at least start doing the math to get an idea of where they were headed.” 

Fox walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder before saying, "Listen, we got caught up in something today that we had no way to prepare for, but we saved lives..." He paused seeing the anger flash across my face. "Let me finish. I know you carry the girl's death on your shoulders and that's something you're going to have to work through, but unfortunately, that is also part of doing this work. You cannot save everyone as hard as you might try, nor plan for every eventuality. I think you already know this, but you don't have to like it. It's our job to stand in front of the engines of chaos and become the shield for the innocent and the powerless. It's our honor and solemn duty and yet it steals bits of our soul when we fail.  However, we can't let that make us forget that we saved people today, including your friends. I choose to believe that remembering those we save is just as important as honoring those that we couldn't. I'll be there for you if you want to talk, but please don't let perceived failures overshadow the good. You're not a soldier and I don't want to see you become one. Understand?"

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled while staring at the ground and absently rubbing a hand over the wound on my side instead of looking into the visor of his helmet while his words bounced around in my head. Rationally I knew that I couldn’t save everyone but being faced with it in reality hit a lot harder than the abstracts of training. 

“Good. I’m going to call this in and give them a sitrep and then wrap up things with Lieutenant Bidwell and the MCPD before heading back. I’m ordering you to return to base and to report to Doctor Robinson,” he said while turning and walking toward his bike at the edge of the police cordon. I opened my mouth to yell after him. “Yes, you can say goodbye to your friends,” he said before I could get the words out. Creepy how he does that.

I turned and looked into the crowd of people hoping to see the aforementioned friends but that was wishful thinking with the chaos that was the triage area, so I started walking around hoping I could spot them. There were multiple ambulances behind the police line now and the EMTs were busy rushing around checking over everyone for injuries while some of the police had been allocated to help direct traffic and take statements. In fact, I spotted Deputy Garcia doing just that and walked over to her while doing my best to ignore all the stares I was getting. 

“Hey Garcia,” I said as I walked up to her. 

“One Sec Star,” Garcia said while she finished directing the man she was talking with to a free EMT before turning to me. “What do you need?” she said and I noticed how tired she looked which was a good reminder to not forget all the other professionals that showed up today to try and save lives.

“I’m looking for my friends. You haven’t seen a couple of girls my age, have you? One about my height with blonde hair a little lighter than mine, with a shorter redhead have you? They were in the mall so they should be around her somewhere. Fox ordered me back to base so I wanted to check in on them before I leave.”

“Hmm, I think I remember seeing a couple of girls that fit that description. Try over by the blue ambulance from the University Hospital over toward the back,” she said while pointing in the direction of the ambulance in question. ”

“Thanks Garcia, I appreciate all the help you’ve been today and can you tell Davis it was nice meeting him for me? I don’t think I’m going to get the chance as I’m running on fumes and I don’t want him to think I just bounced.”

The shorter woman quirked her eyebrow before responding, “Yeah, I can do that. I think he’ll be over the moon to be honest,” and then she winked.

My eyes went wide and I felt a blush on my cheeks before stammering “I didn’t mean…that’s not what…I just didn’t want to be rude.” 

Garcia dissolved into a giggle that reminded me that she was actually my age before grabbing my hand and saying, “I’m just messing with you Star. I know you didn’t mean it that way, but don’t be shocked if Davis’ imagination gets the better of him. It’s not every day a pretty Supernormal shows up and talks drones with him. Anyway, I just wanted to try and lighten up the mood a little for you. You look like you’ve been drug through a mouse hole backward.  Remember my offer of someone to talk to still stands.” 

Without thinking I pulled Garcia in and gave her a hug which caused her to squeak in surprise. “Thanks, again Garcia. You’re still a real one,” I said releasing the surprised Deputy. 

The poor Garcia just kind of stood frozen for a second with a blush on her cheeks before blurting out, “It’s Gabriela. My name, you don’t have to keep calling me Garcia.”

“Gotcha, thanks Gabriela. Talk to you soon…and it’s Dani,” I said while holding my finger to my lips to indicate that she should keep that a secret. With a wave, I turned and left Garcia to get back to helping the EMTs. I wasn’t sure what to make of Garcia’s reaction but I didn’t have the mental energy to think about it at the moment. As I made my way toward the blue ambulance she had pointed me to I was still getting strange looks, but I did my best to make eye contact or nod to people in the ways that Astraea had coached me to do. Just when I was starting to think I would never find Christina and Ember a voice caught my ear from around the side of the ambulance at the edge of the triage area.

“I’ve told you twice now that we didn’t see anything out of the ordinary before the guys with guns appeared. They ordered us to the food court and then took our devices and shoved us into groups. Next time I have a gun in my face I’ll be sure to pay better attention!”

“He’s just trying to do his job, Christina. Take a breath,” I could hear Ember say to Christina who was evidently not in the mood to be calmed down as I approached the corner of the ambulance. I’d seen her like this before and about the only thing you can do is let her burn out. She’ll calm down and feel bad about it later, still, I’m not going to lie, it sucks when you’re in the crosshairs. Truthfully part of me wanted to just fly away rather than jump into the middle of it but that would be selfish. Taking a deep breath I turned the corner to face my friends. Christina was standing with her arms crossed glaring between an officer and Ember

“Excuse me officer, I need to speak with with these two. Can I have I minute?” I said to the officer whose expression went from barely contained frustration to almost joy in seeing their freedom from the conversation arrive in front of them. 

The officer closed his notebook with a snap saying, “Absolutely,” before remembering who I worked for and replying with a more professional, “Of course ma’am, take your time.” 

With a nod he strode past me and around the corner, probably to find a less prickly witness. I waited a beat to make sure he had left before turning to my friends and asking, “Are you guys okay? I mean I know okay is relative, and that you don’t go through something like today and come out okay, but you’re not physically hurt are you?”

Christina somehow crossed her arms harder and glared at me but it was Ember who responded. “We’re fine physically. They shoved us a few times and weren’t exactly gentle, but the only person they really abused was the guy they were holding at the front. They roughed him up pretty good and threatened his girlfriend a few times before they released her right before you showed up.”

I felt my expression tighten at the mention of the girl and made sure to keep my wound covered. “I’m glad they didn’t hurt you. I don’t have all the details but the guy they were holding is actually a student at our…”

“Dani, why are you here?” Christina suddenly asked. 

A frown crawled its way across my face at the aggression. “I wanted to make sure you’re okay,” I respond a bit defensively.

“Cool, but why are you HERE,” she said raising her voice and gesturing to indicate the mall. “You have no reason to be here. Talking to police, wearing that outfit, fighting criminals or terrorists, or whatever hell they’re calling those assholes!”

“I’m here because I saw on your Insta account that you were at the mall with Ember at when the news broke that there was a hostage situation at the mall, so I responded without orders,” I replied, and then immediately winced.


 “Without…orders? Who the hell even are you Dani!” Christina yelled at me, her blue eyes blazing with anger. “Is this what you couldn’t tell me?”

Dammit. This was not where I wanted to have this conversation. “I…I can’t tell you everything right now, especially out in the open like this, but yes, this is what I wanted to tell you. As I’m sure you figured out by now, I’m a Supernormal and my medical condition is related to my abilities. I’ve been part of a government program since I was a kid that helped me learn to control my abilities, and they offered me a chance to use those abilities as Supernormal First Responder and I accepted is the short version.”

Poor Ember just kind of ended up watching on the sideline as Christina and I argued. She’d been a good friend to Christina since they met in RA training, and filled the gap I’d left when I moved out of the dorms to live on my own. We’d hung out quite a few times since she was pulled into Christina’s orbit and she was absolute sweetheart. Smart as a whip, but with a great sarcastic sense of humor that hid an ocean of empathy and enough fire to stand up to Christina when she needed it. Unfortunately, she was getting a face full our issues right now and could only watch the back and forth. As sad as the thought made me, at least I knew that Christina had a good friend like Ember if we couldn’t make up.

Christina looked a little shook at the revelation and took a step back before regaining her fire. “So what were all those nights that we talked about our futures and the things we wanted to do after college? I opened up to you about things like my relationships and the struggles I’ve had with my parents and expectations. Christ, Dani, I told you stuff that I never told anyone else and now I find out that it was evidently a one-way street. You of all people know how important trust is to me and to find out you never trusted me…it hurts.”

“Christina, I couldn’t tell you. It’s not that I didn’t want to share, or even that I didn’t share. I shared what I could, but my family and I are under a Non-Disclosure Agreement as part of our agreement with the Government. A lot of information about my abilities and the program is quite literally classified!” I replied with growing agitation. 

“Convenient excuse. Sorry, It’s classified” she bit back bitterly. 

“Christina! That’s unfair. All you’ve wanted is for Dani to open up so you can understand her decisions. Yet here she is trying to tell you her side of things, and you’re not letting her. Stop being petty and listen,” Ember said sharply from where she was standing wearing a disapproving frown. 

Christina shot a look of pure annoyance at Ember who was completely nonplussed but didn’t say anything else. Ember just raised an eyebrow back at her in response.

I appreciated the assist, but I look on her face told me that she would brook no nonsense and call me out if she felt the need to as well. I started to pace, making sure to keep my side covered, before I decided to just lay it all out, “Look, when my abilities manifested they weren’t under control and I was a danger to the people around me, including my parents and brother. The government stepped in when I was a kid and provided my family with a team of researchers and scientists who helped me train and learn about my abilities, but what came with that was the implicit threat that if I ever lost control the government would take custody of me.

 It took a lot of time and effort from a lot of people for me to get to the point where I could control myself enough to not worry about hurting someone and that I wasn’t a bad day from being taken from my parent's custody. It wasn’t until high school that I had solid enough control over my abilities that I didn’t need to think about it constantly. When I finally did go back, I made friends, but they were never best friends. The damage was done, it was easier to just keep people at arm's reach so that I didn’t have to worry about them. I had lost that sense of community you get from being with your peers. I couldn’t even play sports because there was too much risk involved, so without those shared experiences, I became a spectator when I wasn’t with the research team,” I said hoping that there weren’t any eavesdroppers. We were a little bit out of the way with the ambulance shielding us but it was still an open parking lot.

Christina didn’t say anything so I continued with my explanation. “My family was great but they couldn’t replicate the social stuff, so I dove into art, read comic books, or played video games to fill the gap when I wasn’t being a guinea pig for the government. That’s where my love for pop culture comes from, and why I love art so much even if I never specifically shared with you why I loved those things. I swear I always tried to be honest about the things I cared about even if I couldn’t always share the specifics. It was never a one-way street to me.”

I stopped pacing to look her in the eyes before I said the next part, “There’s a lot more but I don’t want this to be a trauma dump. I’m not the only person in the world who’s gone through some stuff and I don’t want to live in that space and I sure as hell don’t want for it to define me. That’s why I always try to be happy and fun. My abilities are a blessing even if they mean I‘ve had to take a harder path.” 

“Dani…” Christina said tentatively and she wasn’t glaring daggers at me anymore so that was maybe progress. 

 “Let me finish please, before I lose my nerve. I just want you to know that I never had a best friend before I met you,” I said looking into the sky which was just starting its transition from afternoon into evening. “Wanting to experience being normal was why I came to college, to get lost in the crowd and start fresh. Meeting you and spending time with you and just being my age was amazing for a while, but I can’t escape the reality that I have all these abilities,” I said looking back at her while floating up off the payment a little bit and holding my hands out away from body palms up and creating a ball of energy in each hand before letting them fizzle out. “And while it was nice that I could pretend for a little while the truth is I couldn’t just ignore they were there.”

“That’s why you moved out isn't it?” she asked, this time without any heat behind it.

“Yeah, as easy as it had become to pretend since I wasn’t randomly exploding anymore or shooting energy blasts when I sneezed like when I was kid, it wasn’t perfect. I’m way stronger than a non-supernormal and every day I have to moderate what I do to make sure I don’t break things or hurt people. I started to have anxiety about losing control, and since I couldn’t tell you what was really wrong, I fell back into the medical condition excuse from my childhood. You weren’t getting my best by the time I moved out, and I didn’t feel it was fair to you. I wanted you to have your best college experience and to be able to do all the things we had talked about. I just want you to be happy.”

“Oh my god Dani,” Christina gasped tears in her eyes. Slowly she closed the gap between us before she ran the last few yards between us and threw herself at me. Surprised, I managed to catch her without crushing her as she wrapped me up in a big hug burying her head into my neck. After a minute she let me go and stepped back with tear tracks running down her cheeks and wiped at her eyes. I couldn’t help but notice that her eye makeup was beyond saving at this point. “I’m sorry Dani, for being so over the top, but I wish you’d have told me some of this before now. The way we clicked and how you fit into my life...I just took for granted that you would be a part of it going forward, and when I found out you were leaving and you hadn’t told me…” pausing before seeming to change her mind about what she was going to say she finished with, “I think we have a lot to talk about.”

Nodding I said, “I’ll take the promise of having a conversation over where we were when the day started,” I said with a weak grin. “For what it’s worth I’m sorry too. I should have trusted you.”

“You two are infuriating, yet somehow adorable,” Ember said with an exaggerated eye-roll for punctuation. “Can I get in on the hug action?”

“Absolutely,” I said before looking down and seeing how I was still covered in blood and grime. “On second thought, maybe we share a meaningful fist bump until I’m more presentable?”

“Um yeah, let's do that,” Ember said while grimacing at my current state but coming over and giving me a fist bump complete with fa la la la at the end. 

Christina had been standing there lost in thought but Ember’s mention of my current less-than-savory appearance must have kicked her brain into gear because she seemed to notice the wound in my side that I forgot I had been hiding. Pointing at the scabbed-over hole she stammered, “Dani…have…have you been…shot?”

“Yeah, Hurt like hell for a while. Especially when I dug the bullet out with my finger, but it’s more of a dull ache right now. That might change later when all the adrenaline fully wears off though,” I said calmly, like it was just another day at the office. Disassociation was fun. 

She stared at me in sheer disbelief for a full five seconds before narrowing her eyes and half yelling at me, “Why are you talking to us? You need to see a doctor or a least an EMT.” She stepped forward to grab my hand and start pulling me back toward the main triage area. I let her take my hand and move my arm but I didn’t budge when she tried to move me. It was a little funny seeing the little frown form on her face as she tried pulling again to no effect. “Ember, give me a hand making sure this idiot gets looked at,” she said looking at the other woman for help. 

“I don’t think she’s going to do anything she doesn’t want to do. Although it’s kind of fun watching to see if your stubbornness can actually defeat a supernormal ability. I’ve had my suspicions about you for a while now,” Ember said crossing her arms and squinting at Christina. 

“Ember!” Christina exclaimed at her friend for the seeming betrayal. “She’s hurt,” she punctuated by letting go of my hand and gesticulating toward my stomach.

I burst out laughing at their antics. It was so nice to see Christina was in good hands with Ember. I felt a knot of tension release as my laughter died out. Christina for her part looked hurt at my outburst. 

“I’m glad this is amusing,” Christina said to both Ember and me while glaring daggers. 

“Oh God, I needed that,” I said wiping tears from the corner of my eyes. “It’s been a long day, Christina, I appreciate that you’re worried, but while the wound looks bad and it does hurt I’m not in any danger. It can wait until I get back to base and the doctor there can look at it. If it helps any, she’s going to yell at me about it, and then my Captain is going to get her say for getting shot, and then after that, the PR officer is going to remind me that she was against leaving my midriff exposed and that I was just asking for trouble by designing my uniform this way.”  

“I just want to be sure you’re okay,” she said with a pout. 

“Look, I’m okay. At least okay enough. Today was my first deployment and it was not what I expected. I…I do have some things I’m going to have to work through but I’ll be ok. I promise. The bigger problem is that I didn’t have orders to come here so I might be doing that senior year anyway,” I finished with a wince. 

“Do you think they’ll punish you after all this?”, Ember asked.

“Honestly I don’t know. The other officer that was on site with me seemed very concerned with what we found and that outcome might supersede intent. I’m about to find out when I get back to base. Which I need to do now that I know you guys are okay.”

 “I do have a question though Dani,” Ember asked.

“Sure, go for it.”

“Something you said kind of stuck with me. You said that you wanted to experience normal but what made you decide to do…this?” Ember asked with a general wave in my direction indicating my uniform.

   “When I realized that whatever the definition of normal I had set for myself wasn’t reality I started asking questions. Trying to understand what someone with my abilities could do, and as I gained more and more control of my abilities and the stronger they got, the more it sank in that I could do things others couldn’t. Even other Supernormals, so at some point in the back of my head it took root that if I didn’t use my abilities to help others,  what kind of person would I be? 

“Well…damn, that’s pretty admirable. No wonder Christina talks about you all the time,” Ember said with a sly grin and a side-eye at Christina. 

“Ember! Why do you have to say it like that?” Christina protested. 

“Sorry, Ember. I’ve always been happy that you’re such a good friend to Christina and try to give you room,” I said to the redhead. 

She just shrugged before saying, “No worries, I’m not that insecure. I like hanging out with you too and friendships are multilayered. Seriously though, she talks about you a lot. I was really surprised you only met in college,” she said hooking her thumb toward Christina. 

“Sthaaap, you're making me sound sus,” Christina whined at her friend. Which made Ember’s smile get even bigger. 

“Well this turned out better than I thought it would and as much I enjoy watching you pick on Christina, if there aren’t any more questions I’d better get going. If you need anything give me a call, and text me later to let me know you got home safe. I’d really love to hang out sometime soon so that we can talk some more,” I said to both of them making sure Ember knew she was included if she wanted to be.

“Actually, I do have one more question,” Christina said. “What’s with the flag motif? Don’t get me wrong, it looks good on you, but it doesn’t look like any police or military uniform I’ve ever seen.”

“I actually got to design it and based off of…you know what, never mind,” I started to say before realizing that I would just be giving Christina ammunition. 

“What? Go ahead,” she said seeing my hesitation. 

“It’s embarrassing to admit out loud.”

Christina looked over at Ember before attempting to reassure me, “We won’t laugh, I’m just really curious. It’s not like you based it off that Captain Flag comic book you were always talking about or anything.” 

I felt the color rush to my cheeks at her comment. “You ladies have a good night,” I said launching myself into the air to start my flight back to base.

“Oh my God, you did,” Christina exclaimed with a huge grin. Ember at least tried to hide her smile behind her hand. 

Crossing my arms in front of me with a frown, I glared at her from where I floated.

“You said you wouldn’t laugh.” 

“Oh don’t pout. I just didn’t expect that to be the actual answer. I still forget that you’re actually a huge dork,” she said putting her hands up in a not-my-fault gesture like that somehow made her answer better. 

“Have a good night you two. I think I’m starting to crash, so I’d better get back to base.” 

All the aches and pains had started to make themselves known, especially, in all the places I’d been shot. I hadn’t even realized that my hand had drifted back to the wound in my side.  

“Dani, stay safe. I…we’ll talk soon, and thank you for coming to save us,” Christina said realizing that I actually was leaving this time. 

Bye Ember, bye Christina,” I said with a wave and shot off into the evening sky. As always the feeling of escaping gravity and the wind ripping through my hair did a lot to soothe my mental state. That went better than expected I reflected as I began heading toward the STAR base to the north.

 “Now I just have to hope I’m not fired,” I said into the wind as I flew.