Saturday, 15 May 2027
0800hrs, local time
Denny slept in as was her usual practice on Saturday morning. She woke when her body nudged her awake at eight and she rolled over to gather her thoughts before going down to join her family.
You gotta tell them sometime, Den. Better now when you still have a choice, instead of later when the media circus surrounds the house. Or worse, that Angel shows up. She’d known it would eventually come to this, ever since she’d first woken to find the cat on her bed after that nightmare. The business on Franklin U’s campus, the Porellos and Tyler, the quarry practice, everything … Sooner or later, she’d let something slip and when that happened there’d be hell to pay. The media was already wise to the fact that powers existed. Having already documented the flying superhero and the Angel, they’d be on the lookout for more. And then there was the matter of her parents—no slouches in the noticing-things department. You can’t hide it forever. For Pete’s sake, Den, you think Mom hasn’t seen the cat hair on you already? Geez, c’mon. Get a clue.
With that last thought ringing through her head, Denny decided to dress for battle in her favorite colors—deep blue and black—and made sure the origami cat was in her breast pocket. She brushed her hair and nodded to herself in the mirror.
“Tough girl,” she said and went downstairs.
Phillip McCloud was already sitting at the breakfast table when she came down. “Missed a hell of a sunrise this morning, Denny,” he commented, as he had commented nearly every Saturday morning since Denny had become a teenager. Denny’s father habitually rose before the dawn on the weekend and watched the beginning of the new day. And just as habitually, he would inform Denny that either the sunrise was amazing, or on a cloudy or rainy day that it had been a wonderfully tranquil morning. “I asked your mother to make omelets, so I hope you’re hungry.”
Helene McCloud, was in fact, in the process of making omelets, although to Denny’s eye it looked like she was almost already done, as two plates sat beside the stove, adorned with bright yellow omelets flecked with bits of red and green. “Your father wanted a Denver omelet. But for ours, I made them with green onions instead of the ham and added chives. Meat this early in the morning will weigh you down.” She looked with a raised eyebrow at Denny’s dad. “Your father, I believe, wants to be weighed down and lay around all day.”
Her dad nodded vigorously in agreement. “That’s how a good weekend ought to work,” he said, patting his slight paunch. “Good food and good rest to make up for a hard working week. Exams are all done for you, right ? What’s my little artist got planned for her free day?”
“Lots.” Denny grinned a tight grin at her Dad. She and he used to watch the sunrise together and she would describe the colors they saw, how she would paint or draw it. The game was too painful to play after her artwork went up in flames and Denny started sleeping in. “But let’s give Mom’s omelets the appreciation they deserve before I tell you, okay? It would be a shame to let them get cold.”
Lame! yelled her inner critic. La-la-la-LAME! Denny kept a firm grip on her expression and told her inner voice to shut the hell up. Since her mom had already set the table, Denny helped her get the food out instead.
Her mother finished the last omelet as Denny wandered over and she handed Denny the two already full plates with brisk motions. “Yours is the one on the left, dear. Your left, of course.” She then grabbed the third plate by the stove and smoothly moved the final omelet to the plate. She took it and followed Denny back to the table, sitting gracefully down in her seat.
There were a few moments of mostly silence at the table while they dug into their breakfast, the only sounds that of clattering silverware and cups being put down on the table. Then Helene spoke up. “Your exam grades were excellent, Denise. These are the kind of grades I expect you to get when you apply yourself. I hope that you are proud of what you have accomplished so far.”
“Funny you should mention accomplishments,” Denny said with a tight humorless smile, her omelet going to lead in her stomach now that she could no longer put it off. “I think we should clear the table. I have something I need to show you.”
“We will clear the table when everyone is through eating, Denise.” Her eyes motioned over to Denny’s dad, who still had a few bites left. “Unless what you need to show us is a life threatening emergency, in which case we could ignore table clearing.”
Standing up, Denny’s dad shook his head as he took his plate over to the compost pile and cleaned it off. “I was basically full. You were right, it weighed me down quite a bit.” And he smiled at both of them as he came back to help clear the table, circumventing his wife’s objections, something he was practiced in doing. After it was clear, he sat back down and said, “Okay, so what is this that you need to show us? We’re eyes open and heads up.” They both turned their eyes to Denny, with her dad looking substantially more enthusiastic than her mother, who still looked slightly perturbed at the morning routine being disturbed.
Showtime. Without a word Denny took her origami cat from her pocket and put it in the middle of the table. She’d practiced every night since the quarry, more convinced than ever that she would have to get it right every single time out of the gate and get it right quickly. Deep breath. Close the eyes … and twist.
A brief shimmer, a flash of black and perhaps just for the tiniest of milliseconds, a bit of gold and suddenly the origami creation was gone and the little gray kitten was in its place, mewling softly and already starting to rub against Denny’s nearby hand. Both her parents gasped in shock and her mother pushed herself a notch from the table, startled by what her daughter had just done.
“Oh, Denny,” her dad whispered softly, his eyes fixated on the animal in front of them that had not been there seconds ago. Her mother’s eyes, on the other hand were focused solely on Denny, her face completely unreadable.
As a child, Denny had always run to show her parents her latest drawing or painting, eager to see their delight and admiration and later, to hear her father’s gentle critique of her execution. Until three years ago, she’d never hidden anything from them and until a month ago, she’d never hidden anything quite so … big.
Big? Yeah. Right. Can’t call this small.
Denny held the cat to her shoulder and stroked it, grateful for the moral support of its headbutt and purr. She looked at her parents and took in their expressions and sighed. Her Dad’s, she’d anticipated. Her mother’s, however …
“I didn’t know how to tell you and until a few days ago, I didn’t even have the control to pull this off,” Denny said, contrition in every line of her. “I’m … I’m sorry.”
The silence stretched out for what seemed like an eternity, even though it was assuredly only a few seconds at most. Then her mother’s voice cut through the silence, leaving it in ribbons on the floor. “I will not have this interfering with your grades.” Her tone was sharp, but with something else around the edges of it, something Denny couldn’t quite identify because she had never heard it in her mother’s voice before.
“Helene!” Her father’s shocked exclamation filled the kitchen. “Don’t you think this might be a bit more important than her grades? She has a power and a truly amazing one at that.” He turned back to Denny. “Can you make anything come alive?”
I love you, Dad.
Denny rubbed her cheek against grey kitty’s and kissed its nose before putting it back on the table and turning it back into paper. She put it away in her pocket and sat down before answering her father.
“Dragon. Wings. Fire. The whole nine yards.” She kept her eyes on her father’s face, unable to bear the look on her mother’s, even though she couldn’t quite identify all the nuances. Her father’s acceptance gave her the courage to continue. “I’ve made a hole, sorta, that burrowed into rock and … well, I haven’t really worked with anything else. Not deliberately. I don’t … I don’t know how big or powerful I can make things. I’ve only been doing this for … a week, maybe? All told?”
Maybe longer, her inner voice whispered. What about your dreams? Your nightmares? How much of those actually became real? It wasn’t something she felt she could mention right this moment. She’d already hit her parents with a bombshell. She’d have to pace herself to avoid hitting them with another.
“Of course you don’t know what you can do with it.” Her mother’s tone was angry and yet somehow fragile sounding. She didn’t give Denny a chance to respond before turning to Phillip and taking an ominous step forward. “And you, Phillip. I’m only talking about our child’s future here. Her real future. Something she will be able to rely on.”
Denny’s dad had the startled look of someone who had stepped into an unknown minefield and had just heard the click of a triggered mine. “What is your problem, Helene? Our daughter came to us to show us something amazing she could do. And this is the response you give?”
At her mother’s words, Denny blinked. It never occurred to her that her powers might be temporary. But did she really have any reason to assume they would be permanent? They inexplicably showed up one day when she wasn’t looking. Would they disappear the same way? Did it even matter? Either way, Den, you’ve got them and right now, you’ve got a mess on your hands. Clean it up.
“Mom, Dad. Please. Don’t fight.” Denny touched her mother’s arm. “Mom, would you rather I kept it a secret? Didn’t use it? What if …,” Denny paused, debating whether she should mention her dreams. Better get it out in the open. Bombshell or not, they need to know what and who they’re living with. “Look, if I can turn anything I create into something real, how far a stretch can it be to have my dreams become real? When I’m dreaming? I’m not saying that anything I’ve dreamt came to life,” she added quickly, hoping to God it was true. “But I can’t sit on this, Mom. I have to practice on control. I have to get good at it, before anything I nightmare up burns the house down. Or something I draw leaps off the page and starts stomping through town. It’s a power and it’s mine and I have to be responsible about it.”
Denny’s mom seemed somewhat mollified by the words on responsibility. “Not have to, Denise. You are responsible for it. And with everything that means.” She stared past Denny as if looking at something beyond her, something invisible to everyone but her. “Magic has a price.” Her voice grew very quiet, but she seemed uninterested whether either her daughter or her husband could hear her. “Power has a price and you’re not ready to pay it yet.”
Helene’s sudden change of tone unnerved Denny’s dad for a minute. Then he looked back at Denny and said, “How do you propose testing this sort of thing? How does one test summoning a drag…” And he stopped, his eyes growing wider. “Denny, was that you in those photos…in that video with all the gunplay and the sun and the dragon?”
Denny bit her lip and narrowed her gaze on her mother. All her life, Denny had felt her mother had more on the ball than the woman let on. Her mother’s skill as a geomancer had always seemed magical and tinged with the otherworldly, not merely a matter of compass direction and auspicious colors and placement. And her comment about the price power exacted?
I’m getting it, Mom. I get it. I’m paying it now. Because without having it said, Denny knew that her footing with her mother had irrevocably changed. She didn’t know exactly what to expect, she only knew it would be different. Denny was no longer her mother’s malleable, biddable child and Helene was no longer the near-God all parents were to their children. Instead, Helene looked more like a fellow user of … Of what? Power? Magic? A little of both? The possibilities, the potential of learning more about this ‘til-now unknown side to her mother threatened to overwhelm her and Denny had to turn away from it. She wasn’t done explaining yet. Denny’s father, however, had always been his daughter’s ally and right now, she felt it like she’d never felt it before. She turned to him and addressed his question, glad of the redirect.
“Yes. That was me. I was hiding under the furniture but threw my dragon out there to help my friends.” And there, she’d basically let the entire cat out of the bag. She sent up a silent prayer for their forgiveness at outing them, but in all honesty, Denny couldn’t explain how she’d been involved any other way.
“Are you planning on doing more of putting your life at risk, Denise McCloud?” Her father clearly was not comfortable with this idea.
Helene put her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Yes, she will be. This is part of the price she must pay. The responsibility to learn to control it, to put it to use for the proper causes.” Her mother looked sadder than Denny could ever remember seeing her. “If you will excuse me for a minute,” she said quietly and exited the kitchen via the hallway.
“I’m sorry, Mom, I …,” Denny faltered and looked at her father. “Daddy, I didn’t want to upset either of you but I can’t hide this anymore. It wasn’t fair or right to keep you in the dark. Not if I’m going to be part of a team. And it’s going to be a team. If I’m going into danger, I’m not going alone and I’m not going without help. And it’s not just a bunch of kids. There are grown-ups on our team. Really old. Like… you know, thirty-something. One of them’s a doctor, another’s a banker, and … well, you know. Responsible.”
Denny trailed off, really unsure what else she could say. So shut up.
Her father looked at her, trying to think of what to say. Finally, he reached forward and grabbed her hands. “I still love you, Denny bear and your mother does too. I’m just scared senseless at the idea of you going out and becoming one of these…Powers.” Denny could hear the capitalization in the word. “These friends, do they have training? Are they going to teach you how to stay safe?”
Denny didn’t get a chance to respond because her mother came back into the room, with an armful of Denny’s art. Art that Denny thought her mother had burned. But here it all was, every single piece. Her mother set it down in front of Denny. “I won’t have you practicing in the house. That kitten is the last thing that you will ever summon in this house. Take those,” and she pointed to the artwork she had just brought in, “and any of your other work and find a place for it. But not in this house.”
Her face was stern but softened briefly as she saw Denny’s reaction to the art. “I know it is not fair, Denise. You need to learn to control it and I am telling you cannot do it in our home. But I have worked too hard to keep my home and this family free of power’s influence. I will not … cannot allow you to use it here.”
Denny’s father squeezed her hand a couple times quickly in solidarity, a brief acknowledgment that they would figure something out.
“Omigod, Mom ….” It was a good thing Denny was sitting down. Had she been standing, her artwork would have cut her off at the knees. She touched the topmost piece with a trembling hand, remembering how she’d slaved over it to get it just right. A comic page, one of the first serious attempts at the graphic novel she carried in her head. “You didn’t …? Wait. If these … then what did you burn? You lied to m—.” She stopped short and stood and hugged her mother tight. “Doesn’t matter now. Thank you for saving them. I understand.” Denny pulled away and searched her mother’s face for forgiveness. “At least I think I do.”
Stepping back to the table, Denny gathered the art into a stack and tapped the edges even. She looked at her mother again.
“As for the rest, I agree. In fact, I don’t … I don’t think I can live here, because I won’t know when I’m going to need to use my power. Someone asked me why I hadn’t moved out yet and maybe this is a good time to do it. I have a line on a place,” she added. It wasn’t quite the truth but she was reasonably sure there was a good chance that an apartment over the Cozy Coffee was available. “I’ve got some of my artwork already selling. It wouldn’t take much to get more of it out there, earn a living that way, and still make my classes. I know I can get a job after hours, make more money. I …,” she sighed. Everything was finally coming clear. “If for no other reason than because that Angel is out there, I can’t stay. I won’t lead that monster here. It’s one of the reasons I had to tell you. So I can figure out a way to keep you safe. I love you, both of you, and if I could get rid of my power, I would. But since I can’t, this is the best I could come up with. So, Mom, I get it. I do. You say I can’t use my powers here? That’s fine by me. I was already thinking along those lines. Dad, please don’t be mad at her. She’s not wrong.”
And that reminded Denny of something …
“And speaking of which,” she turned to her mother again. “What did you mean back there, about keeping the powers away from your family? Did you know this was going to happen? How? And how long have you known? I don’t … I don’t understand.” Actually, Denny had a fairly good idea that the current powers weren’t the ones her mother meant, but maybe by offering her mother a chance to correct her, Denny would learn something her mother would otherwise keep a secret.
At Denny’s announcement that she planned to leave the house, both parents simultaneously said, “No.”
Her father followed up by explaining,"I’m not ready for you to leave yet, Denny. I mean, I know you’re in college and an adult…but I figured I would have a couple more years. Besides, it’s our job to protect you, not the other way around. "
“Grades and college will not suddenly disappear, Denise. You need me to help you stay focused,” her mother interjected. Denny also got the impression that maybe her mother was also interested in keeping an eye on her.
With both parents speaking pretty much at once, Denny felt as if she were trapped in a verbal tennis match against doubles players to her single. Just tackle it one statement at a time, in order.
“Dad, I know you want to protect me, but if that Angel comes for me, what can you throw at it that could beat my dragon? Or Godzilla? Or a pteranodon? Or all three at once? Although, I suppose I could origami up an RPG for you …,” Denny added, but shook her head and looked at her mother. “That’s irrelevant anyway if I can’t use my powers while I’m here. Do you think the Angel would give me a chance to step beyond our yard before I threw what I had at it, just so I wouldn’t break the house rules? Should I just let the Angel kill me, Mom? And another thing—that Angel can teleport anywhere it wants to. Inside. Outside. Through the freakin’ walls. It doesn’t matter. If it wants me, it’ll port right to me and it won’t give a damn about the house rules. And Dad, if I lived somewhere else, I’d at least have a fighting chance without worrying about you and Mom getting caught in the crossfire. As for my grades …,” Denny sighed and looked at her mother again. “I know that college isn’t going to disappear and at the moment, nothing’s gunning for me. So I’ll keep it up. But if you think I’m going to blow off helping you or Dad or anyone else for the sake of a class that I can make up, don’t go there. Okay? Just don’t.”
Denny’s dad looked at Denny and then laughing, shook his head. “You’ve really thought about this, haven’t you? And once you’ve made up your mind like this, there’s no changing it. You get that from your mother.”
Said mother was looking at her child with new eyes. “Yes, she does. You realize that I still love you, Denise?” Half statement, half hopeful question, her mother looked at Denny expectantly.
“I do.” Denny had always known, deep down, that she would have her father’s support. He’d been her ally from the first, her art buddy, her partner in crime. But looking at her mother, Denny realized something for the first time: no matter how much her mother loved her, for every instance where her father had been soft and had bent the rules, her mother had steeled herself to be hard and unyielding. No matter how much it hurt to take on the role of the strict parent, a child needed the hard to offset the soft in order to grow up strong and self-sufficient. Watching her mother’s expression, Denny could see her mother feared that she’d lost the one thing that had made it worth the pain: the love of her only child. “I love you, Mom, and I understand. And that’s why I have to do this.”
“We’ll have to help you out with rent,” her dad conceded. Her mother, on the other hand, said nothing and just clutched Denny tight to her. “I love you more than I can say. The time will come when you need me. I will be there when it arrives.”
Her mother had never felt so fragile as she did at that moment and Denny hugged her as hard as she dared, trying to reassure her that everything was okay. Understanding flickered between them, a subtle shift in stance and grip, and when Denny stepped back, she felt she faced her mother as an adult instead of a child. “I promise to call you when I need you, Mom. I won’t go trying to prove something stupid.”
She gripped her mother’s slender hands and gave them a squeeze before looking over at her father. “As for help with the rent, I won’t say no.”
“We have many things to get ready, if you are going to move out.” Her dad nodded and the two of them quickly began making plans, leaving Denny alone among her family.