One week later
I ended up signing my contract after my family and lawyers reviewed it a few days after the review meeting. The military ended up throwing me a curveball by demanding a duration of two years minimum on the contract, so any plans I had for a gap year from college were pretty much toast but at least the salary was higher than I had expected. That was the start of what turned out to be a crazy few weeks where a bunch of things happened all at once. I had to start moving from my apartment to the base quarters I had been assigned, which honestly weren’t too bad, but of course, my idea of ‘good' might be skewed considering I was living in a one bedroom student housing apartment of dubious upkeep.
A new schedule was assigned to me for tactical and combat training with added classes in relation to my security clearance and PR duties. Lieutenant Colonel Amin usually handled the stuff related to clearance and PR, but my tactical and combat training was still being overseen by Fox and Captain Williams. In the end, Captain Williams decided to stay even though I could tell she still wasn’t happy about her situation and things were still a little strained between her and Fox, but at least she was professional about it and wasn’t taking it out on everyone.
After deciding to stay she threw herself into forming the tactical team and I had seen her in more than a few serious looking conversations with Lieutenant Colonel Amin. She wouldn’t tell me much when I asked her but Fox said that was because some of the members hadn’t arrived yet due to having to wrap up their current assignments. What I did know was that Chief Warrant Officer Brunner was assigned as her second in command and I honestly for the life of me couldn’t understand why. One day I really hoped someone would explain to me the history they have together, but regardless I knew I was going to have to work to keep my dislike of the man in check.
When I wasn’t moving or training Doctor Rokker’s team ran me through a whole new battery of tests to get new baseline readings which included taking a million measurements for my uniform. After that Lieutenant Amin put what felt like a million designs in front of me for feedback. It was determined I would have a flashy uniform that would be as functional as the research team could make it, but unlike the tactical team uniforms it would be designed to stand out. As the PR focal point Lieutenant Colonel Amin felt it was important that I have a say in my public identity and that I wear something I would be comfortable in, and honestly, she was great about working with me and helping guide my choices rather than dictating what she or the program thought was best. Still, I knew there were a couple of things that I had insisted on that she wasn’t happy about but she still let me put forward my design which I appreciated. In fact, the final uniform should be ready any day now.
One thing that hadn’t gotten better unfortunately was my relationship with my best friend. Christina was still refusing to answer my calls and texts so I still hadn’t been able to patch things up with her which sucked, and according to the Lieutenant Colonel local agencies had started to be notified that the STAR team was going online and would operating within their jurisdictions which meant I was out of time. We could be deployed any day now pending the arrival of the rest of the team and I wanted to clear the air with Christina before that happened and she saw me on the news, or worse yet through social media or an acquaintance. I owed her the truth, even if she didn’t particularly want to talk to me, and I really hoped we would get the chance to reconcile.I hoped she could forgive me for keeping everything from her.
“Dani! Dinner’s ready!” came the voice of my Mom from the kitchen of my childhood house snapping me out of my introspection. My parent's house was an old farmhouse that had a neighborhood spring up around it as the farmland gave way to the suburbs of Michigan City as urban sprawl slowly pushed into the rual areas. Their neighborhood was made up of other old farmhouses that used to go with the other long gone farms mixed with older single family constructions that had grown up around them. It was a bit old school compared to the newer neighborhoods with their mini-mansions with their tiny landscaped yards in perfectly laid out streets. But for us, it was perfect because we knew the neighbors on our tree lined street but we didn’t live on top of each other either. It was a nice mix of space and community and one that I honestly didn’t fully appreciate until I moved out for college.
The house had seemed huge when I was a kid but now that was an adult I realized it was on the smaller size by today’s standards. Three bedrooms, one and a half baths with a modernized cellar, situated in the center of an acre of property that was full of old growth trees that I used to play in and it was absolutely perfect to me.
Uh oh, better get moving judging by the tone in Mom’s voice I thought as I swung my feet off the old porch swing that hung on the back porch. I had retreated to the porch for a bit of solitude after a long day of moving the last of my things to the base. I couldn’t take everything so I had split coordinating the military movers and moving the stuff that was going to a storage unit. That’s probably why I was feeling so nostalgic and why it was so nice to be home in a familiar place for a bit. As I had gotten older this little porch swing had become one of my favorite places to be with my thoughts when the seasons allowed it a. In fact I had spent a lot of time just swinging and sorting through the happiness and heartache that came along with high school out here and I would still end up here from time to time even after college started.
‘Hey Dork, you better get moving. Mom’s getting annoyed and I don’t want to deal with your fall out” said my brother Evan who had popped his head out of the doorway that led inside the house.
I rolled my eyes at my brother before retorting, “Good, you deserve some heat for all the crap I’ve had to put up with from you all these years. Maybe I’ll stay out here another half hour and really rile her up.”
He glared at me through the doorway for a few seconds before saying, “You suck, you know that?”’
“Evan, why would you say such a hurtful thing to your big sister? I loooove you,” I shot back to him in a sing-song tone which him to scowl and retreate back into the house.
A receding, “Bite me, Dork,” faintly followed him as he left.
“Ew, no,” I said to the air while laughing to myself and heading inside to have dinner. My brother and I are four years apart and so while we were old enough to do things together growing up there was also enough distance so that we never overlapped in school or friend groups. When he started high school I was starting college so while I love the idiot we pretty much only communicate in insults these days as we really haven’t spent much time together in the last few years. On the odd occasion I’ve taken him to college with me or brought my friends around his seventeen year old brain can’t seem to handle the presence of college girls. In fact, I suspected that he has a crush on Christina which, eww.
Since our house is an old farmhouse that was two stories it doesn’t really have a dining room but rather a large country kitchen so we always ate at my grandmother's antique table that sat at the center of the room. As I passed down the short hallway toward the kitchen I couldn’t help but think of all the amazing memories that the house held. The pictures of family that hung on the walls, the baseboard that was still scratched from one of my childhood cats, the vase on the end table by my Dad’s recliner that was glued together because Evan and I broke it fighting when he was seven and I was eleven. It was after my abilities had manifested and our roughhousing caused me to ‘flare’ and I knocked the table and vase over.
It was one of many memories that came with mixed feelings due to my abilities pretty much changing everything after I manifested. My family never asked for all the extra that came with my abilities and certainly not Evan, and here I was about to change their lives again by going public. I couldn’t help but try to do something positive with the abilities I had but that didn’t change the guilt that I held for how it affected my family. I knew they’d worry but be supportive but it was my responsibility to make this impact them as little as possible.
“Hi Mom, sorry I”m late,” I said as I came into the kitchen to the glorious smell of lasagna. Evan was already there and Mom was busy putting the finishing touches on the dish but my Dad was nowhere to be found.
“Need any help?” I asked before sitting down.
“I got it, sweetheart. Get yourself something to drink if you’d like and lasagne will be ready soon. Just a couple more minutes of resting to get the cheese perfectly melted and we’ll be ready to eat,” she said not looking up from what she was doing.
I went to the fridge and grabbed a carbonated beverage and sat down in my usual seat across from Evan who was busy on his phone and then asked, “Where’s dad?”
“Oh, he ran out of hot sauce and ran out to get some. You know how he has to put that stuff on everything, but he should be back anytime now,” she said with a smile.
“That tracks,” I said with a laugh. For as long as I could remember my father Daniel Walker had put hot sauce or pepper on everything. I wasn’t even sure if his taste buds functioned correctly anymore.
Since I had nothing better to do I decided to poke at my brother a bit and asked him, “So hot rod, got a girlfriend or are you too busy lusting after V-Tubers?”
“No I don’t have a girlfriend and if I did it’s none of your business. Same for who I like or don’t like,” he snarked back at me.
“Holy hell Evan, unclench a bit,” I said to him trying not to lose my temper, “I was just messing with you a bit, and this may come as a surprise but as your sister I do actually care about what’s going on in your life.”
Just then my dad came home and walked into the kitchen with his hot sauce. “Oh, I see you two are getting along,” he said glibly.
“Well, Dani’s being an ass,” Evan said as he started to plead his case while I just glared at him while projecting the word ‘weasel’ in the hopes that I would spontaneously develop telepathy so that he could hear me.
“Evan, Dani that’s enough. Can we just have a nice meal while we’re all together?” my Mom said with a bit of edge to her voice while putting the lasagne on the table. My brother just rolled his eyes and looked annoyed but didn’t continue.
After a couple of minutes of passing dishes around and eating, I broke the silence “I really wanted to thank you for helping me move the stuff that couldn’t go to the base. With everything at warp speed it was really nice to have some normalcy.”
“It was no problem Dani,” said my Mom.
“Speak for yourself. My sore back thinks otherwise,” retorted my dad in mock indignation.
“Oh, shush Daniel. It really was no problem and your father should probably think about taking a couple of ibuprofens then, because that flowerbed he promised to work on is still waiting for his attention,” Mom shot back eliciting a groan from my Dad.
If anyone ever wondered where I got my love for banter and sarcasm from they just need to come to dinner with my parents. My parents both have a fantastic sense of humor and I’m always grateful that I inherited it from them. Shame it seemed to have skipped my brother though, I thought maliciously at him.
“I was hoping we’d get to see Christina. It’s been a while since you’ve brought her around” Mom said with a loaded look and I noticed Evan suddenly became interested in the conversation, “I figured she’d be helping you.”
“Yeah about that…we kind of had a fight and she’s not speaking to me right now. I’ve been calling and texting her but she’s ignoring me. You know how she is when she’s mad”
“What did you do to piss her off or did she finally realize that she’s doing you a favor being your friend and decided to stop doing charity work?” my ever empathetic brother lobbed in from the other side of the table.
“Oh, are you still here? You’ve been so busy providing nothing of value to the conversation I thought maybe you’d left. Anyway, why do you care? Tired of getting shot down by high school girls and want to kick it up a notch to getting shot down by college girls?” I said letting all my frustration over my fight with Christina bleed into my retort.
“Screw you Dani. I’m out of here,” Evan said heatedly while standing up and storming out of the room.
“Dani! That was over the line and uncalled for. He didn’t deserve that and you know he has a crush on her,” my Mom chastised me while Dad gave his best disapproving ‘Dad Glare’.
“Actually no, I didn’t know he had a crush on her. I mean, I suspected it, but it’s not like he ever said anything to me. I’ll apologize to him later when he’s done being emo.”
Evan’s mouth as usual found a way to somehow get me in trouble but I had to admit that I went a little hard at him.
“Dani I know it’s different between teenage boys and teenage girls but try and remember back to how crazy everything felt when you were his age. I know we’re guilty as parents of forgetting just how the gap between you two can be, and he’ll never admit this, but he looks up to his big sister. I’ll have a talk with him…sometimes he even listens,” my Dad said with a smile somehow making me feel both better and worse.
My Mom reached over a put her hand on my hand “What’s really wrong sweetheart? This can’t just be about Christina,” she asked gently.
Sigh, I had been hoping to talk about it but at the same time somehow didn’t. Talking about it meant I couldn’t hide from it anymore. I mean, I wanted it to happen but emotions don’t always make sense and my Mom looking at me with a face full of concern just served to remind me this was about them too.
“I’m going active any day now. We’re being deployed.” There, I said it. It was out in the universe now.
“But sweetie isn’t that what you wanted? What all this has been for? She said giving my hand a squeeze.
I rubbed the bridge of my nose and looked at the lasagne reminants on my plate for a second before replying, “Yes it is, but it also means I’m out of time. There is no more ‘One day’, it’s all real for everyone in my life too. I’ll be public as the face of the team, It will be public that I’m a Quantum level Supernormal and everyone who is close to me is going to be affected.”
“Are you expecting bad things to happen to us? To you?” my Dad asked gently.
“No…maybe…I don’t know. I just don’t think I was prepared for how much this scares me,” I said while trying and failing at not tearing up. “I’m scared for myself to some degree of course but I accept it’s dangerous. What I didn’t expect was how scared I’d be for you and my friends. That you could become a target and that my choices could put you in danger. I mean it’s obviously a possibility since the military is assigning you a security detail. That’s why I want to connect with Christina so badly. She deserves to know.”
“Honey our biggest fear isn’t us getting hurt although it’s a risk we accept to let you use your gifts to help others. Our biggest fear is you getting hurt or killed. That’s what scares your father and I. You’re stepping into a world we don’t understand but know that we love you and support you. When you get deployed do it knowing that you make us proud,” my Mom said with tears in her eyes.
That was enough to break the dam and the tears started to fall down my cheeks. I got up and hugged my Mom and just let myself cry on her shoulder like when I was a kid. I felt my dad’s strong embrace encircle us both a few seconds later and we just stayed like that for a couple of minutes before I whispered “Thank you. You’re the best.” and started snuffling myself into some kind of composure.
After breaking up our little hug fest I could see the worry on my parents' faces and felt guilty for causing that worry, but I also felt better. Knowing they supported me truly meant the world.
All that crying had caused me to lose my appetite for the lasagna but did make me crave comfort food so I quipped, “Man I could really go for some cake right now.”.
My Dad’s eyebrows shot up at that before surprising me by saying “Oh I almost forgot,” and walked out of the room for a minute before returning with a bakery box. “It just so happens I might be able to solve your cake problem.”
He placed the box on the now clear table and opened it and inside was a cake with white frosting that had ‘Congratulations Dani, You’re our Star!’ written in frosting on it. I groaned a bit inwardly seeing ‘Star’ and couldn’t help but wonder if I would learn to accept all the ways that word was now part of my life and identity.
I looked at my Dad and his goofy grin and asked, “Marble cake?”
He faked looking hurt by my question and replied, “Of course. Your father is a man of culture after all. Chocolate alone is for heathens. Only when paired with the subtle smoothness of vanilla can you appreciate the bittersweet of the chocolate properly.”
I burst out laughing at the unexpected comment and looked at my Mom who was laughing as well and said, “No more baking shows for him.”
In the end, I did go look for my brother so that he could have cake and to try and talk to him but I couldn’t find him. After giving up I headed back to the kitchen to say my goodbyes with a belly full lasagne and cake..
“Well, I can’t find Evan anywhere. He must have left,” I said coming back into the room slightly concerned.
My Mom picked up her phone and waved it at me, “He texted a few minutes ago that he went to a friend's house down the street for a bit. He’s definitely getting a conversation when he gets home for how he acted.”
“Oh well, it’s Emo-Boys’ loss. I’m just going to have to take my cake and eat it too,” I snarked.
“You wouldn’t,” my Dad said with a mock shocked expression.
“You monster,” he said in response before laughing.
“You’re right, I wouldn’t, but it’s time for me to get going,” I said I said while leaning in to give him a hug and then turning to give a big hug to my Mom.
With our goodbyes said a big piece of cake was shoved into my hands in a to-go container and I stepped out into the backyard so that I could fly back to the base. I turned and waved to my parents who were standing at the door and after a deep breath, I jumped into the night sky and toward my future.