Thursday 20th May
Jason was looking over the figures. He floated the idea of a strong secret basement dug into the heavy bedrock to Tyler, who took the idea and said, “No problem. I have just the thing.” When he actually produced a list of things he needed to do it, the price was about three times greater than actually hiring contractors to do it. Was it worth it? Jason buried his head in the numbers. Would it even work? Would he accidentally bore into the molten core of the Earth? On the other hands, having done without a paper trail, at least not a paper trail anyone could make sense of, and having the know-how to do it again if they needed to. It was a tough call. He put the tablet down for a moment and sipped his espresso. Looking up from his work, he saw Denny lugging a heavy load to the door. He hopped up, and helped her with the door, and asked.
“So you are really doing it?”
“Yup,” Denny said, huffing a breath through her bangs. She shifted the box to her hip and got herself through the door. “Thanks. I snagged the studio apartment upstairs and I think I can ask Miriam to let me work some hours down here now that school’s going to be out for the summer. Mom and Dad aren’t too thrilled with the idea,” Denny said as she started up the stairs. “Well, okay. Mom isn’t too thrilled with the idea of slacking off over the summer but I think my Dad’s secretly pleased. I want to use that time to practice.”
Denny didn’t mention the P-word. They weren’t alone and for hells sure they still needed to figure out how they were going to go about protecting their identities.
Jason helped Denny to the back and upstairs to the small apartment. For a first place, it probably seemed huge, and you couldn’t beat the location. If Jason where 20 he’d jump at the chance. And as a landlord, Miriam would probably be more forgiving if a giant cat was found wandering the halls than most.
“If you need another job, I could probably use an administrative assistant at my new firm. Just to answer phones, and do background checks and such. Not too exciting, but you might get to learn about other Powers, and make a few bucks too.”
“I could do that, yeah.” Denny gratefully put her box on the breakfast bar and started pulling out books. “I answer a mean phone.” She mimed tapping her ear and said in a slightly deeper voice, “Thank you for calling Powers Are Us. This is Margery speaking. How may I help you today?” She winked at Jason. “Fund raisers. I did a few. If you’re thirsty, help yourself. I’ve got water and ice and water.”
The books got shifted to the bookcase under the bar and Denny’s voice was muffled as she organized the titles.
“Mom’s kinda upset. She’d rather keep an eye on me at home but since she also doesn’t want me using my powers under her roof, we’re kinda at an impasse. This,” she said and gestured to the all-in-one room, “is my hack-around. Gonna need a table and chairs. Eventually. De nada. The floor’s got more room to work on anyway.” She popped up and grabbed another handful of books and started shelving them. “How about you? How’s your place shaping up?”
Jason looked for a place to sit, then decided to stand, leaning against the wall near the one large window. “I haven’t had a roommate in a longtime, so that is new, and Tyler is not exactly a test case. But the added funds have meant we got some furniture, stocked the fridge and pantries, and a real computer hook up, though we may need to boost the throughput on that, given his computer use.”
Jason smiled a bit ruefully. Ironically the best part of their association was not the conversation, but the silence as they meditated together, for as long as Tyler could bear it. “We carved out a little sand garden, we could probably use your mother’s help best arranging those areas for their purposes. Think she’d give us a discount?”
Denny popped up for the last of the books and ducked down again before answering.
“I dunno. She’s my mom but she’s got a real sharp business sense. She’s from Hong Kong and she grew up with the cutthroat version of competition. Then again,” she added, making a face at the books as she spoke. “She is my mom and you might get that sympathy discount.”
She rose and crossed her arms on the counter and looked at this thirties-something dude who wasn’t embarrassed to be seen helping a teenager move in. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was kinda creepy. Ew, girl. Don’t go there.
“From the sound of it,” Denny continued, nodding at the man leaning against her windowsill. “It seems to me you’ve got big plans for the Bat Cave. Not just a place to hole up and hide but something more. I mean, c’mon. You’re talking about having me answer the phones and do background checks. What are you gonna be running outa there, anyway? A halfway house for orphaned Powers or something? I mean … I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. I’m just trying to get the bigger picture, sketch out the boundaries. If I knew what you were doing, I’d be able to figure out where my niche is, where I can be of best use. You know?”
Jason had been trying to develop a so called ‘elevator pitch’ for some time, and it seemed to elude him constantly. But that didn’t stop him from trying.
“It might be a lot of things. A refuge and meeting place for us. A contact point, in name at least, for the world. Maybe a halfway house, if we can manage it, for those who need it. Maybe a stop on an underground railroad, if it comes to that. I don’t fully know. I am going on instinct. Until the money started to roll in and suddenly I needed to occupy the brain of a man capable of a hundred things at once, the idea of anything more than a roof was beyond me. I see it as place to do together what we can’t do alone. Practice, prepare, protect things and people, like Tyler. I’ve been trying to think of a way to do that without tearing down the whole thing. I like the idea of the surface being a kind of facade. Enough that if people had some suspicions, they’d see enough to satisfy them, but not enough to warrant an in-depth look. Been thinking about digging into the bedrock, build a ‘secret lair’ underneath, like the bat cave. Unfortunately, here, it is bed rock all the way down. So the costs or time are pretty prohibitive.”
“Huh,” Denny said thoughtfully. “To say nothing of the shakes from the demolition charges. Although …,” she trailed off and ducked under the counter and came up with a book. It was fairly old, though in good condition, and had the look of something well used and loved. “Ever play D&D? I wonder if I could origami up a rock digger or something. The fact that I can do a dragon makes me think I could probably do any fantasy critter I wanted, right?”
She started flipping through the pages rapidly, muttering to herself as she paused over the likely candidates. “No … no … no … Yes!” She spun the book on the counter and shoved it right-way up toward Jason. “I’m thinking one of these. Take a look.”
Jason tried to remember the fantasy game from his youth. “Yeah I did, until I was eaten by an elf.” Then he took a look at the cartoonish three legged monster on the page. “You think something like this could dig out a giant basement? I mean I’ve seen your dragon, so what do I know? Could you even do this? I really don’t understand how your powers work.” He shrugged and read the text, quickly.
“Eaten by an elf? Musta been a Drow. As for the rest, I don’t exactly know my limits either. But isn’t that part of the mission statement? Figuring out what we can do?”
Denny got two glasses of ice water as she spoke, moving around the galley style kitchen easily. Thank God I have a fridge with an icemaker. Gotta keep the caffeine coming and cold. She put one of the glasses near Jason in case he needed it and took a long pull on hers.
“So … what sort of doctor are you, anyway? I mean, I know you’re a psychiatrist but what kind of psychiatry do you do?”
“Well, I am the sort of psychiatrist that hasn’t done a lot of therapy. I mostly profile and do diagnostic work now, leaving the therapy to more capable hands. However, I feel as though I might have some insight into a certain set of problems likely to show up. Hence the new Power Analysis. I think for now I will most be using the old-fashioned psycho-analytic model.” He makes a somewhat sheepish look. “I am not all that confident that it can successfully treat serious mental conditions, but I think it might prove insightful for circumstantial issues. You know the sorts that might develop from unusual events in one’s life. Modern chemistry has a proven track record for clinical illness, but I’d be afraid to dose anyone who could, say, blow a building with her mind, if I got the dosage wrong. Not when talking, and listening, could do the trick.”
“You betcha.” Denny grinned and tapped her nose before pointing at Jason. “So … profiling. You mean, like the FBI profilers and stuff like that? And hey, what if you’re called in to profile a serial killer who has Powers? Actually, if your company is going to do what I understand it’s going to do, you’re putting yourself in place to potentially screen people with Powers and maybe even catch them before they go bad, or at least catch the ones that have gone bad and hopefully before they hurt anybody, right? And as for the records you’ll collect on them, what are you going to do with them? Share with the LEOs in the area? Or keep them to yourself? And what if the government comes knocking and wants to confiscate your files? What are you going to do then? Do you even want people to know you have files?”
Denny frowned, running the worst case scenarios through her head as she continued. “I know that the President said she isn’t going to require us to register like sex offenders or anything but what if a grass roots campaign starts up that says we should? Isn’t our government founded on the principle that the people decide on the laws that get made? What if someone in that movement steals your data and uses it to … I dunno, justify putting us all in ghettos and …” She stopped short and facepalmed.
“Yeah, right. They’re going to cram people who can walk through walls or bust them down with their pinkies into concentration camps. Uh huh. I don’t think there’s a camp made that can contain Powered people. But the very idea that they can be that powerful is gonna scare a lot of folks and scared people are dangerous people. What are we going to do about that?”
Jason listened. He had already had many of the same fears and thoughts. He had spent years profiling and to a one, nearly everyone he met assumed that if someone had a psychological diagnosis they were a danger. He had learned over the years to be more circumspect about such things, and to self censor on occasion.
“I don’t intend to help anyone with a guilty until proven innocent mindset. I hope to do a couple of things. One that with my help, people who are struggling with this new burden don’t get targeted, locked away or worse for it. And that means getting there to offer alternatives. I do think some people have and will continue to use their powers for… for want of a better term… evil. And, I’d rather stop them, than let them keep doing it and by association making it bad for the rest of us. But again, I’d hope there was reason other than just he or she has powers, for that approach. If there is a real threat, a serial killer with these powers, I’d rather I know about, so we… err, the team could do something about it, rather than let such a person kill more.” Jason was hesitant to include Denny in “the team”. She was still a kid. Training yes, practice yes… but chasing down a killer? He didn’t think so. “Lastly,” he added. “If Law Enforcement and others are going to be collecting information on Powers, I’d like to know what they are collecting. And if that means I have to be part of it… Well, for now, that is the plan. I can be the man on the inside. At least, that is my hope. But I am not planning on keeping a list of Powers in any form that can be copied and abused. I’ve got a pretty good memory, from years of working where I can’t take notes. And if I do need a database… well, we’ve got one the worlds craziest scientists working with us. Maybe he can whip up an algorithm not even the Feds can crack.”
“Yeah.” Denny nodded as she let the words sink in. Fuckin’ A. “He’s pretty genius. Not everyone can make a real live sun and stick it in his back pocket. As for the rest, yeah, it’s good to have a man on the inside.” She narrowed her eyes as she thought. “If you’ve worked with LEOs before, does this mean you have an in with them now? Can we use that?”
“Already on it.” Jason smiled. “Did a consult on a guy dubbed Phosphor, by the AFPD. Guy seems to sweat white phosphorus, soon as it hits the air it bursts into flame. He is a meth addict and dealer. I got a little scorched in the incident, but I think he may have gained some incentive to change his ways, who knows? Of course, it is likely the Feds swept him up shortly thereafter. He did kill an officer and injure several others. But to answer your question. Yes. I’ve been working special jobs for the AFPD for several years, and you can’t get much more ‘special’ than this.”
“Good to know. Hopefully your in will extend to the rest of us. Not that I’m going to do something stupid and then try to talk myself out of a ticket or anything,” Denny quickly added. “It’s just … good to know that we have the LEOs on our side, you know?”
Denny pulled a small wallet from her rear pocket as she spoke, flipping it open to reveal 4 by 4 inch squares of paper and a pencil tucked inside. She slid out a sheet and started folding.
“And it’s good to know that they know about you. And through you, they might know about us when they need to. Right?” She looked up and down again, constantly folding and continued, "If we’re going to be a power team, are we going to run ourselves like a specialist ops group or something, work hand in hand with law enforcement and government? Or are we going to be private contractors like a security company? Or a little of both? And where do I fit in? I can answer the phones, yeah, do some online searches of open source material and all that but…. " She frowned and shook her head. “I dunno, Jason. I keep feeling like I’m the baby at the grown-ups party, playing the wet blanket or something. And I know it’s selfish but if I go out on missions, I don’t wanna be stuck in the van.”
The paper under Denny’s hands quickly gained dimension as she folded and crimped and talked. She set aside what was obviously a torso and pulled out another sheet of paper, folding it this way and that.
“I want to be useful. I want to do something that will … prove to everyone that I’m not a loser because I can draw better than I can do math, you know? That there’s something worthwhile to it. Mom’s always going on and on about financial security and having a good job and never having to worry about making enough money to eat and live indoors. But what’s the point of all that if you’re just dying inside cuz you can’t do what your soul needs to stay together, you know?”
The second piece of paper got stacked on top of the first and the figure became recognizable as one of the monsters in the book. Multi-legged and armed, it had a gaping multi-part mouth at the top. Denny pulled her pen from her pocket and drew in pointy teeth.
“I suppose I could origami up geodesic domes or MIT-genius bridges or hell, space platforms or something. But that’s not what I want to do. Or … rather,” she paused and carefully inked in an eye. “It’s not ALL I want to do. And the idea of spending the rest of my life in an office with all the water cooler gossip and cubicle warfare just makes me wanna cry.”
Jason watched her work at the complex creation, with a little fear that the thing might suddenly grow to fill or exceed the room. When it didn’t he relaxed.
“I don’t know Denny. I think we all need to get together and discuss. I think we are best keeping ourselves independent and… amateur or maybe volunteer, when it comes to using our powers. I mean, not to disparage the police or firefighters, but there is something distasteful about using our powers for profit, you know?” He stretched for a moment. “Listen, if you are going to play around with your… power, maybe you should do it at my place. Less there to break if it gets away from you.”
Denny blinked at him, looked down at what she was working on, and then at her studio apartment. How big did the Monster Manual say this thing was? Eight feet? Nine?
“Yeah. I think you might be right on that one.” Denny unfolded the head and the body of the creature and smoothed the paper flat before tucking it back in the wallet. “Come on. I could use your help with a couple of more boxes, if you’re willing. We weren’t up here for very long but I don’t want to leave the rest of my stuff on Miriam’s doorstep. It makes her business look bad, you know?”
As they both went downstairs, Denny couldn’t help wondering if maybe she’d be better off not doing origami at all unless she were at Jason’s place. She liked Miriam and was painfully aware that if it weren’t for her help, she wouldn’t have even attempted to move out at all. It behooved her not to tear the building down in her determination to master her Power skills or work herself up with paranoid fantasies into having nightmares that might do the same. So she concentrated on the task in front of her instead and over the next two trips up and down, she kept the conversation in the getting-to-know you mode and avoided addressing anything weightier than what she’d cook for her first dinner in her new place.