Thursday, 06 May 2027
Denny got the table set and for a while was able to feel as if everything was normal, caught up in the domestic rhythms of sitting down to dinner. She and her parents ate in the kitchen, preferring the casual hominess of it to the more formal dining room. Besides, Denny thought as she rose for a refill on her soda, it made for a shorter trip to the fridge.
“Denny,” her mother said from her seat behind her. “You really should drink your soup. You’ll get more out of the food that way.”
“Mom, it’s hot.” Denny dug some ice out of the bin and added it to her drink before returning. “And everything on the table is hot.”
“You need to warm your insides before you can absorb the benefits of your dinner.” Helene Chiang McCloud was a traditionalist when it came to certain things. “Soup is good for you and will pave the way for the rest of your meal. Chilling your insides negates that.”
Sighing, Denny put her cold drink aside and finished her soup. When the last drop of it was gone, she took a long sip of her soda. Helene said nothing about her daughter’s defiance—the argument was an old one and since the teen had finished off her soup, the rest was if not irrelevant then a battle best fought another day. Although Denny could stand to gain a few pounds, her yearly checkups showed her to be strong and healthy, well within the norms and Helene wasn’t interested in saddling her only child with eating disorders by making food an ordeal. She merely wanted to ensure the healing and nourishing properties of the food were absorbed via their heat. Helene picked up her rice bowl and used it to transfer some more of the garlic and bok choy to her mouth, quietly delighting in the crunch. The Farmer’s Market had a good crop in that morning and she’d pounced on it. In addition to the Chinese melon soup and the bok choy, the table also held spicy chicken with mushrooms, baby corn, carrots, red bell peppers, sugar snap peas, and broccoli. Steamed rice both brown and white rounded out the meal. Bowls and chopsticks sufficed for the womenfolk and the man of the house followed gamely along with his Western fork and knife. Helene caught her husband’s eye and sent a silent smile his way before reaching over to refill his plate.
To her credit, Denny loved her mother’s cooking, even the weird stuff like chicken feet and fish with the heads on. And it was a rare vegetable that Denny didn’t like. Tonight’s table held her favorites. She just disliked sweating through a meal and already she could feel the soup raising her internal temperature and moisture was beading on her upper lip. She licked it off and tasted the salt in it and sucked down another hit of soda. It painted a cool path all the way down to her stomach and had a few words with the soup waiting for it there. Nothing grumbly, just two adversaries giving each other the nod.
Huh. Maybe there’s something to what she says about hot and cold not mixing.
Conversation was going to be a problem, however, and Denny had spent nearly every minute since waking up figuring out what to say in response to that perennial dinner topic, What did you do today?
Oh, guy. Lemme think.
It’s not like I can say, ‘Nothing much, I got in a rumble with the Riverside Rattlers, walked into a strange guy’s house uninvited, trashed a building at Franklin U, had two of my contraband artworks come to life and oh yeah, nearly kick the bucket in a knock-down drag-out with a monster who just happens to be a nice guy I’ve only just met.’
But it would seem odd if she didn’t mention what was on the news. In fact, it was odd that neither of her parents had mentioned it first.
“So, um… Nice lot of weather we’ve been having, yeah? I hear it’s raining men?”
“Mom.” Denny sighed. “I saw the news. And that was one creepy angel dude, you know? He cut a guy in half. With a sword. On TV. And here we are, just sitting around the table like it didn’t happen? How whacked is that?”
Her parents traded a silent look.
“What?” Denny asked, her eyes going from one to the other. “Oh, come on! I’m eighteen. I’ve already seen R-rated movies for ages and ages. You can discuss it in front of me. In fact, I’d rather you did. If I’m gonna be riding my bike around without a protective force field, I’d like to hear your thoughts on how we’re going to go on with our normal lives when that thing is flying around out there killing people.”
“Do you feel you’re in danger, Denny?” Philip McCloud spoke up. “From the reports, the angel is targeting people with ‘powers’. Nobody here at this table has them.”
Leave it to Dad to cut to the chase. Thanks, Dad.
“How would we know if we did or didn’t?” Denny countered, her stomach starting to roil from her worry, as the ramification of the day’s events set in. Thoughts bubbled through her brain and went right out her mouth, discretion filter pretty much blown. “That superhero guy was all tricked out in spandex tights and a cape—totally bogus, by the way, cuz everyone knows a cape is a liability—but if you don’t give the game away by what you wear, how could you tell? What if the guy sitting next to you on the bus has them? How about the lady at the cash register at the book store? I mean, the man the angel killed on TV didn’t look deformed or anything. He looked normal. Only just … badly dressed. His heart was in the right place though. And … geez, guys!” Denny threw her hands wide, appalled at how calmly her parents were just sitting there. “Don’t just sit there. Say something. Do something. Give me a plan.”
“You will need to calm down, Denise,” her mother said from across the table. “You are inventing trouble for yourself and wasting energy on useless panic.”
“Yeah, right, Mom. Bad chi, disharmony in the home, I get it.” Denny rose from her chair. “Tell that to the Angel out there.”
“Your mother is right on this one,” came the reply from Denny’s father. “I think if you’re cataloging risk factors, this one’s not high. He wouldn’t be targeting you directly, so you’d have to get hurt via collateral damage. And I trust in your abilities to stay out of the way if that happens.”
“Which brings me back to square one, Dad. How do I avoid being next to the Angel’s next target, if the targets look me? You know, normal. It’s not like they’re all wearing stars on their coat sleeves or something.” Although Denny privately wondered if the world would take that route and require all those with powers to be openly marked in some way as a warning … or a stigma.
“Honestly, Denise, I am more worried about you getting hurt in a car accident than I am worried about you being hurt by some random person trying to play superhero.” Her mother seemed fairly dismissive. “I am certain there are many more careless people behind the wheel than there are people with powers, if this is not all a hoax.”
She started clearing the table. “And I am much more concerned that you are entering reading period and should be focused on passing classes rather than something you have no control over.”
“Okay, fine.” Denny was steamed but she recognized the brick wall of parental solidarity when she slammed into it. “And as to that, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that I met someone who could tutor me in Calc. I don’t even think he’ll ask to charge me for it, either.”
“He?” Her mother’s voice raised slightly, a world of questions implied in a single word.
“Yeah. I met him at the coffee shop near campus. His name is Alex and he’s a year or two ahead of me so he’s got Calc down cold. He’s smart, Mom, you’ll like him and ew, please don’t go there. Really. Just … don’t.” Denny snorted and helped with the dinner dishes, getting the water running in the sink. “As if I’d have time to have a social life with anybody, much less with him.”
“Always in a such a rush. There will be plenty of time for that after college.”
“Hello,” Denny yelped, sliding the first of the rinsed dishes into the dishwasher. “Did I say I wanted to suck face with him? C’mon, Mom. Gimme some credit here. What’s the point in getting all schmoopy with a guy you’re not going to see after he graduates? Or after I graduate? I’m gonna be off chasing my career and he’s gonna be off chasing his and I don’t think people hire college grads on the buddy system. Assuming the two of us are even gonna be in the same field, much less going for the same position. It’s stupid. That kinda romance would never last more than 4 years max anyway. Why waste your heart on something that’s totally made to fail?” Denny racked another dish and straightened up. “I’m not going to college to snag an MRS degree. Seriously, Mom. You raised me to be smarter than that.”
Her mom continued putting away all the little pieces that make up a dinner table, placemats, salt and pepper shakers, and so on. “We did indeed raise you smarter than that, but you have strong emotions, which you often let guide you to your detriment.”
From behind Helene’s back, Phillip McCloud winked at Denny just a little, as if to say that in his opinion, it was ok to let emotions rule the roost every now and again.
I love you, Dad.
“All right, fine. So I do. But really, all I want right now is to pass that Calc exam and I’m gonna need help to do it. That’s not emotion talking, that’s cold hard fact. I didn’t think you’d have a problem with my getting a tutor.” Denny got the dishwasher running and turned to face her parents, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “I suppose I should just shelve my worry about the Angel and concentrate on passing, huh?”
Not that she was going to ignore it for a minute—she was kinda stuck keeping an eye on things, given what she could do—but if she could deflect her parents from looking to closely by appearing to do all the normal things a gal in her academic position would do … Okay, there’s a flaw in your logic there. She nearly missed what her mother said as she pondered where that flawed logic was going.
“A tutor is a good idea, Denise. I’m happy to see you take initiative in that regard.”
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll see what I can set up and I’ll have it here at the kitchen table. So you can scope him out, okay? Cuz I know you’re gonna wanna.” And Denny hugged her mom.
“I am just doing my job as your mother.”
“Job? Try calling. I know I’m not the easiest to get along with sometimes.”
“You think for yourself, dear. And that’s as it should be. Certainly it’s worth a little friction now and then.” Helene smoothed her hand across Denny’s shoulders and finished with a pat. “You should go upstairs and get ready for bed.”
“Thanks, Mom. Dinner was great.” Denny gave her mother a parting hug and stepped away. She high fived her father on her way out and got another wink from him. As she took the stairs up, she heard her father’s voice in a query and her mother’s lower tone in reply, but the words themselves didn’t make it past the kitchen. Denny shrugged, not really interested in eavesdropping, and took herself off to her room. When she got there, the cat was gone, replaced by its paper counterpart on the windowsill. Denny stowed it out of sight against prying eyes and readied for bed.
Denny’s phone beeped out an alarm and she woke in seconds, slapping the alarm off before it could wake anyone else. She checked the time: 0300 hrs. She listened to the house. All quiet.
Denny pulled the grey origami cat from her bedside table drawer and put it in her lap, closed her eyes, and concentrated on bringing the cat to life. A warmth glowed briefly through the covers and suddenly took on weight.
“Hello, you,” she whispered. Triumph flooded her, quickly followed by tenderness as Denny gathered the cat in her arms. “Gotta keep it down. Don’t wanna let anyone overhear.”
Purrs and an imperious head butt for affection was the cat’s response. Denny spent a few minutes petting the animal and whispering sweet nonsense to it before leaning back to regard it. Sensing her change of mood, the cat gracefully sat in her lap, its forepaws front and center, curling its tail primly around all. Yes? it seemed to say, squeezing its green-gold eyes in contentment.
“I’ve talked it over with the team,” Denny said quietly, not even pausing to wonder if the cat understood her. “We need to practice. I need to be able to call on you when I need you and … well, I hate to say it, but also to send you back when I don’t. Especially for your safety, you know? I don’t want you squashed or cut in half. So, if you don’t mind, that’s what I’ll be doing right this minute, okay?” Denny dared stroke the cat’s ears before settling against the headboard and closing her eyes. Trying hard to bring back the feeling of summoning her cat, but in reverse, Denny concentrated again. The weight remained in her lap. Cracking open an eye, she saw the cat sitting primly in her lap, eyes alert on her face.
Huh. If not in reverse, then … differently?
“Sorry, Kitty.” She gave the cat another caress and tried again, this time imagining the cat folding upon itself, losing dimensionality with each fold until it was not a living furred creature but a paper cat again. The weight and the warmth disappeared and opening her eyes, Denny saw the origami cat on the covers.
“Okay…,” she breathed. She didn’t touch it but tried summoning the cat to life again, this time paying careful attention to how she felt inside. Was she sending out anything to the paper? Was she just wishing really really hard? Was she imagining the paper expanding and taking on features and fur? Was that her imagination or was the warmth and the weight back in her lap?
“Welcome back.” Denny let loose a pent breath. “You okay?” A quick examination showed the cat none the worse for wear. She pet the cat for a moment before whispering, “Let’s do that again.”
The cat’s purring was loud in her ears, disappearing only with the warmth and the weight as it transformed back to paper. The first few tries, Denny did it with her eyes closed, allowing her to focus on any possible internal cues that could clue her in on the process. It was rather like how she taught herself to raise a single brow, Spock-wise. Ten minutes in the mirror and ten more without it to prompt her was all it took back then. Once she’d isolated the muscle used and learned to recognize it by feel, she could do it at will. Both sides.
Tonight the process was similar, yet was both easier and harder. It wasn’t a muscle being used, exactly, though it was something that could be felt. It wasn’t something she could observe in the mirror, though it produced visible results. After a half dozen tries, Denny attempted it with eyes wide open and that was when she got a really good look at how it worked.
Space around the origami cat shimmered, like a desert mirage hard to look at and hard to pin down, expanding to encompass the cat as it grew to life size, yet without a concrete sense of the moment of transformation. In the space of a blink, it was there. Changing the cat back produced a similar effect. Each time she transformed the cat from paper to flesh and blood, Denny examined it for harm. Nothing of the sort occurred and the cat seemed perfectly healthy. On the other hand, Denny noticed herself flagging after a few transformations and toward the end of the twenty minutes could barely keep her eyes open.
Huh. Is that cuz it’s three in the morning or is it because this stuff takes it out of me? She had experienced fatigue before upon completing a labor-intensive art project. This felt something like it, only stronger. Waves swamped her, ebbing and flowing to an as-yet unmapped rhythm. Good thing I’m already in bed. This could get problematic if I have to crash out… She gathered herself for one last push and willed the cat back to life.
“Hey, you,” she whispered, incredibly tired but fiercely glad to have her cat with her. “You’re so soft and beautiful. Yes you are. So soft and smart and strong and beautiful …beautiful cat. Yes, you are … yes, you are ….”
The cat curled up with Denny. Denny curled up with her cat. Unable to stave off the inevitable, Denny let the fatigue take her down, her hands stroking the purring cat’s fur. A thought occurred to her that perhaps she should stay awake and time how long the cat remained with her before turning back into paper. The next thing she knew, her phone was beeping her regular wake-up alarm, sunrise was painting the world outside her window, and the cat lay in its origami state on her pillow.
Denny slapped off the alarm and rose, refreshed. Gone was her fatigue from practice and in its place was a certainty of what she had to do: Control her power. Protect her creations. Keep her parents safe. The Angel was still out there. The world had irreversibly changed. Best she met it head on. The person she was last night seemed incredibly immature to the person she was today. Denny nodded at herself in the mirror, put her origami cat in her pocket, and went downstairs to face the day.