"Amelia Powers. On record as the world's first superpowered being. Or, should be more apt, the first known superpowered being. Possesses the powers of flight, walking through walls, controlling water, and, supposedly, shapeshifting. With enough eye witnesses from the museum, the water rescue in Galveston, and from the news studio, we can confirm that she and her powers are definitely real.
"What we don't know is her intent. She saves a man from drowning in her first appearance, but ultimately does not perform the CPR needed to actually save him. In her second appearance, she confronts a thief and fails to stop him. Granted, this thief is the world's second known superpowered being, having teleportation powers, but still her first time confronting a criminal has her failing to apprehend him. Lastly, she has publicly admitted to not wanting to do active hero work, meaning she isn't patrolling the streets to stop criminals.
"And adding to this is she refuses to compromise her identity. If she's endorsed by the FBI, that makes her, for all intents and purposes, US law enforcement. If she really is a shapeshifter, which we have no proof of, she could very well be a serial killer in disguise for all we know. Frankly I don't think we should entrust the safety of our city in the hands of someone without knowing with 100% certainty that she has our best interests at heart. And since she's admitted she's not patrolling the streets, she admitted she isn't protecting everyone from crime. That doesn't sound like something any superhero would do.
"Her actions have been to help us without question, and yet she fails at every task and then comes out and says she's not going to help! Frankly I can't help but be suspicious at this complete one-eighty. With all this, I ask you: Is she really on our side here?"
The man sat down. A hush fell over the room as the men and women of the council took in his statement.
A woman stood up, adjusted her glasses, and spoke. "While Mr. Tumnas rais-"
"Thompson," said the man.
She glanced at him for a second before starting over. "While Mr. Tomato raised some valid points, he also made some incorrect statements as well. Amelia admitted that she doesn't know much about her own powers. Taking the time to figure them out is as valid a reason for not patrolling the streets as anything. You wouldn't ask a brand new police officer, just hired yesterday, to patrol the streets without any training. Why would you expect the same from a teenage girl?
"Which brings me to my next counterpoint. Being a teenage girl, she does have her education to consider. Flying through the streets to look for a crime that might happen is one thing, but ultimately, she needs something to pay bills with. And in order to get a job that pays bills, she'll need an education. Which, of course, means there are times when she cannot help. Besides, would it look good on her to have her not know basic high school knowledge we take for granted? I would imagine that simple physics would help immensely."
"She can levitate," said another councilman. "Why do physics apply here?"
"We don't know how her powers work, so physics still could apply," said a third councilman. "And even then, everything she's not carrying would still operate under the normal laws of physics anyway."
"Thank you," said the standing councilwoman. "My point, ultimately, is that Amelia Powers is young and untrained. When she graduates high school, she can start taking a more active role in law enforcement, and by then, she'll be far better at it than now. But at the moment, she is better off not being as active as we would like."
"Superheroes," said a different councilwoman, "are ingrained in the public mindset as being active law enforcement. If Amelia consistently does not prevent crimes, people will believe she isn't trying to stop crimes at all."
"Her reasons for not being law enforcement have already been made," said the second councilman. "She is too young to be a member of law enforcement; the minimum age to be a police officer is 20. At the moment, she is only a good samaritan. Which is not a bad thing; people can be helpful without being police officers."
"Then there's the issue of her identity," said the first councilwoman. "She has confirmed she can change her appearance at will. While this means she could be anybody on the streets, the odds that she's a serial killer are low, compared to the odds that she's anybody else. Frankly, I'm surprised you jumped right to that assumption, Tomo."
"Thompson," insisted Councilman Thompson.
The woman waved her hand in dismissal. "She might not be forthcoming to her real identity, but this is par for the course when it comes to superheroes. And it's also the reason why undercover cops use fake names. That in of itself means we're not left in the dark about how to handle things."
"Yes, but generally when our cops go patrolling the streets," said the second councilwoman, "they're not in disguise while doing it."
"Well what about an off-duty cop? Unless you know them personally, you don't know they're an officer unless a crime happens and they spring into action."
"But in that situation, they're not actively concealing their identities."
"Are you serious?" said the woman at the head of the table. "The situation isn't exactly like any we've ever encountered. We can make analogies with what we do know, but it won't be exact. Picking apart every flaw in the comparison won't solve anything."
"Thank you, Mayor Parker," said the first councilwoman. After a slight hesitation, during which nobody spoke, she continued. "Amelia Powers is more likely to be an ally than an enemy. No matter what her real identity is, her identity as Amelia Powers is benevolent. We just need to give her some time; the interview was yesterday."
"How much time is 'some time'?" said Thompson. "For all we know, she could be plotting something."
"Even if she were plotting," said a fourth councilman, "we still have our own law enforcement. Just because there's one superhero in the city does not mean our entire police force suddenly doesn't exist. We're talking about adding one girl to the law enforcement as if she's replacing it, when in reality she's taking the time to get ready for when she can join what already exists. And if she tries anything, we can help her answer her question about being bulletproof. But if she tries nothing, then I don't see how there is any problem.
"At the moment, the public is aware that there is a good samaritan who can fly and maybe do other things. I myself haven't ruled out the possibility that she was lying about shapeshifting to protect some of her friends."
"On national television? Next to an FBI officer?" said a fifth man.
"It felt like that interview wasn't entirely well thought out," said the second councilwoman. "Especially on the interviewer's part; there were more questions she could've asked."
"Anyway," resumed the fourth man, "the point is Amelia is, at the moment, nothing we need to worry about. If she's under the FBI's supervision, they'll try and direct her towards upholding the law, not breaking it. And in four years, when she's old enough to join the police force, we'll have a good gauge by then on whether she's on our side."
“You expect us to just sit back and let her help, or not help as the case may be?” said Mr. Thompson.
“I expect you,” said the fourth man, “to understand that just because she can’t help, doesn’t mean she won’t. If I expected people to do jobs they didn’t have enough training for, I would have voted for Obama.”
Fortunately, this brought more laughter to the room than anything.
“Political jokes aside,” said the mayor, “I agree with Gerald and Roxanne. Amelia has proven her unconditional intent to help to the best of her ability, but she needs time, training, and education in order to use that ability properly. Until then, she is just another talented teenager.”
Nobody spoke as they absorbed her words.
“Then I raise my second point,” said Mr. Thompson. “Amelia isn’t the only one with superpowers. That jumper is definitely not on our side. However, how do we know he and Amelia are the only two? Gerald, you yourself speculated Amelia was protecting friends of hers. If we take that as truth, then there are no less than four superpowered people in the general area. How long before we get reports of superpowers in New York? Or LA? Or Chicago?”
“Or London, Hong Kong, or Rio de Janeiro, for that matter,” said Roxanne. “Superpowers could indeed crop up anywhere in the world. But we can’t act on something that hasn’t happened yet, and even if it does happen, we can only deal with it if it happens here."
"And what if something does happen?" said Mr. Thompson. "What if someone ends up with something powerful and goes on a major crime spree?"
"Police have guns of their own," said the mayor. "I think conventional weaponry can handle most anything. This situation is unusual, yes. But all things considered, it's nothing we as a whole can't handle."
Derek stood in front of the bathroom mirror, his reflection staring back. Or her reflection. The white-haired nightgown-clad form with invisibility powers. For the first time, he noticed her admittedly cute face, her gray eyes, her very pale skin, the almost lacy patterns on the top of her nightgown, the fact that the nightgown was completely solid color. His hunch was right; she really did look kinda ghostly.
He'd never really looked at any of his forms, save Amelia. Or was all of them Amelia? He didn't want to give them all different names; it would be too easy for him to mix them up. Either way, he had only glanced at his forms just to sketch them out. Perhaps if he had looked at all his forms better, he would've figured out some of their powers sooner.
Right now, he had to try something. Some peculiarities of his powers he needed to find out about. He picked up a brush off the counter and willed himself to become intangible. Immediately, the brush fell through his hand onto the counter.
He glanced down and wondered why he wasn't falling through the floor either. He remembered he didn't go through the vault floor in the museum either. He tried to push through the ground, and succeeded, but it was like he was standing on a balance beam on one foot and dipping the other foot lower. I guess I can't go through the ground unless I want to, he thought. That's good to know.
But that gave him an idea. If he could be selectively intangible... He picked up the brush again, and willed his arm to become intangible except the inside of his hand. He then stuck his arm into the counter, elbow first, and bent down. It was like the counter wasn't there. Until his palm reached the countertop, and he couldn't pull it further.
Derek set the brush down, then made his forearm intangible but everything from the elbow up remained solid. He pushed his hand into the counter and came to a stop at the elbow, like he'd started to push against something solid. It was a weird feeling, the sensation of something pushing the inside of his arm, but it felt no different than something pushing the skin immediately outside.
Trying one more thing, he tried to push his hand into his stomach. He couldn't even get it through the robe, though. He couldn't phase his hands into each other either. Curious, he started the sink and tried to phase through the water. That didn't work either.
Derek wondered if he could be selectively invisible too. He tried, and sure enough, his arm was invisible but not the rest of him. He pulled it in front of his body, and it looked like there was an arm-shaped cutout in front of him. He smirked in near-laughter. But then he had an idea to make himself slightly invisible. Transparent. And it worked; he could see himself and the wall behind him.
No mistaking it; this form was definitely meant to be like a ghost.
Derek almost changed back to go off to his room, but stopped. He put his palm into the wall first, then tried to transform. It worked, but his hand was pushed out of the wall the instant the transformation started. He transformed again, then stuck his entire arm in the wall and changed back. His arm was pushed out of the wall rapidly, shoving the rest of him along with it, causing him to fall onto the floor from the sudden imbalance. "Okay, don't try that again."
Monday, Derek avoided Lucas by going through a different entrance. When he saw the cafeteria, Lauren wasn't there. He waited until the bell rang, then headed off to class. She was at Lunch, at least.
And so was Mike, taking Derek's seat at the table. Nobody looked happy about this.
"No, really. I just wanna know," said Mike.
"I told you, I don't know anything!" said Lauren. "Now go away. You're not welcome at this table."
"Yeah, not after you tried to crush Derek," said Arthur.
"Speaking of," said John, noticing Derek approach.
"Mike, you're in my seat," said Derek.
"I didn't see your name on it," said Mike. "And I got here first."
"Don't you have friends to sit with? Or, teammates at least?"
"Nope. I have D-lunch. I just needed to-"
"This isn't even your lunch?" said Trevor. "Then what the hell are you doing here?"
"I'm trying to ask her about Amelia!"
"And I'm telling you I don't know anything!" said Lauren.
"Then who was that girl who walked out of the locker room with you?"
"I don't know! We were both going the same direction. I don't even know who she is."
Trevor spoke up. "So just one of those 'Hey it's that person I bumped into that one time, only now they're famous' type things."
"Then why was she in the school?" said Mike.
"How should I know?"
"Hey, seriously," said Derek, "if it's not even your lunch, can you leave so I can sit?"
Mike looked at Derek, then tipped Derek's lunch tray over so the food spilled on Derek's shirt.
Everyone was looking on in shock.
"There," said Mike. "Now you don't have to eat."
Lauren took her drink and poured it on Mike's head. "I think we're done here," said Lauren.
Mike blindly grabbed Arthur's lunch tray and tossed it at Lauren. It was so sudden, she couldn't dodge.
So when Lauren got a face full of burning hot soup, Mike got sent to detention while Lauren and Derek waited in the nurse's office for clean clothes from home to arrive (and to wash burning hot soup out of Lauren's eyes).
And much to Derek's displeasure, his mother arrived with a change of clothes before Lauren was done rinsing her eyes. He went off to the locker rooms to shower and change, and by then it was homeroom. He didn't get to actually talk to Lauren until the ride home.
"Your eyes okay?" asked Derek.
"Yeah, they're fine." Lauren waited for a bit. "So... Now that Amelia's been on TV, everyone who's seen her wants to know who she is."
"Yeah. At least we have good cover. Amelia has her own legal identity and isn't a student at our school. And you're pretty good at hiding things."
Lauren reluctantly agreed. "Not just me, though. You're pretty good at secrets too."
"I mean, you never blow your cover. Not once have I ever heard you slip up unless you were pressured by other people who already knew something. You have a natural talent for lying."
"I wouldn't say that."
"When I first met you, you switched instantly from being Derek Parker, teenage boy afraid of getting pounded by the school bully, to Amelia Stevens, teenage girl annoyed at a guy trying to barge into the girls' locker room. You stayed perfectly in character." She paused. "So maybe not lying so much as acting."
"What? I can't act."
Fortunately, it was a red light, so Lauren could stop and somewhat glare at him.
"You saw the videos. I panic when I get in front of a crowd."
"You only panic when you notice the crowd. And even then you stick to your story. "
"Yeah, but acting? Come on."
"Maybe you're not one for the theater scene, but still."
Lauren let the idea hang in the air for a moment.
"No, this times all that equals this times this plus this times this."
"Oh, that makes sense." Derek was getting math lessons again.
Just about then, Derek's dad came home. He spotted the two in the living room. "Hello, Lauren."
"Hi, Mr. Parker," said Lauren.
"Anything interesting happen at school today?"
"Mike poured my lunch all over my shirt," said Derek, "then tossed soup at Lauren's face."
Mr. Parker winced. "Did you do anything about that?"
"We told the staff, and they put him in detention."
An uncertain hesitation passed before Lauren said hesitantly, "I...poured milk on his head? But that's why he through soup at me."
"And what about you, Derek?"
"I...I went to get the staff?"
Mr. Parker sighed. "Derek, I keep saying you need to solve problems like this on your own."
"Gee, Dad," said Derek sarcastically. "Thanks for the advice. I'll be sure to hit back and get my ass handed to me for it next time."
"Derek, you shouldn't think like that. If you stand up to them, they'll back down."
"Yeah, because that worked out perfectly the last ten times I did it."
"Derek," he scolded. "Persistence is key. If they see you're-"
"If they see what? That I'm stronger than I look? They've seen that. That only meant to them that I can take more beatings. I tell the staff on them, they beat me up. I run away, they find me and beat me up. I fight back, they beat me up. Hell, when Lucas got suspended a couple weeks ago, the first thing he did when he got back was track me down to beat me up. I've tried everything, and it's only gotten me hurt. The staff is too spineless to send them to prison, so they're just gonna stick around and beat the crap out of me! I..." Derek grunted in annoyance. "I just...wish I could do something. Something that actually worked."
"Have you tried self-defense classes?"
Derek's eyebrows narrowed. Was his dad even listening? That would only get him hit again! How would-
"I think we'd run into the same problem," said Lauren.
Thank you , thought Derek.
"Hear me out. If you take a class that teaches you how to end fights quickly without you getting hurt-"
"Dad, nothing works on these guys. Nothing! I can guarantee trying anything would just get me hit more."
"If you show you can end enough fights without getting hit-"
"Then I'd be the only one landing blows, and I'd get all the rap for the fight since I did the most damage." There was an uncomfortable silence. "Face it, Dad. This is a lost cause. Best I can do is focus on things that don't get me beat up." Derek stood up and walked out of the room.
"Where are you going?"
"Upstairs," said Derek.
"Derek, wait," said Lauren, following him out of the room.
Mr. Parker caught her arm, though. "Give him some time," he said. "He'll think about it at least."
"Let go," said Lauren, yanking her arm out of Mr. Parker's grip and heading upstairs.
Mr. Parker tried to follow, but his arm was grabbed to stop him. He turned to see his wife, her expression alone telling him to let this one go.
Upstairs, Lauren knocked on the only door that was closed. "Derek?" she said.
"It's not locked," came Derek's voice after a second.
Lauren opened the door and stepped inside. A part of her registered the room, the handful of sketches on the wall, the bed sheets still messy, the disorganized bookshelf with more sketchbooks than regular books. Derek was sitting on the bed, looking at the floor.
"I don't understand," he said quietly. "I've tried exactly what he wants me to do, and it didn't work. Why doesn't he understand that?"
Lauren didn't know how to answer. This wasn't a situation she had experience with; her father never expected her to do the impossible, or to try a plan that had already failed with the hope that it would succeed. She didn't remember any of her old friends having the same issues. Maybe one of the comics she'd read could help her out, but she discarded that immediately; this wasn't an issue the comics dealt with either. She sighed; nothing she knew, real or fictional, could help.
So instead she tried a different tactic. Maybe cheering him up by distraction. She looked at the sketches on the wall and stepped over to them. Her eye was drawn to the one in crayon, depicting a younger Derek and his parents. It was considerably more crude than Derek's recent sketches, and limited to the basic eight colors found in any dollar-store crayon box, but she couldn't deny it was pretty impressive for crayon art.
"I guess art's always been your thing, huh?" she said.
Derek looked up at her and the picture she was looking at. "Yeah," he said.
"Why'd you get into history, then?"
"Mm?" hummed Derek curiously.
"I mean, you asked me why I got into comics. You like history a lot, and I'm just curious."
Derek was quiet, still looking at the floor. Lauren looked back at him; he had one hand on his chin. His face... It looked less depressed than before. It was his thoughtful face, the expression he had when he was thinking about something.
Then Lauren realized she was already familiar with his thoughtful face.
"Well," started Derek, "I... There wasn't any moment that got me to like it. I... I thought it was kinda cool what those people did in the past, standing up to the bad guys in the real world. Not just TV; real people who stand up for others." He looked at Lauren, right at her eyes. "For what's right. For what they believe in. For the people who can't." He turned back to the floor with a sigh. "And at the end of the day... I'd wish I was like them."
Lauren let the weight of Derek's words push down on her. The way he'd spoken... There was pain in them. Not just the recent pain from Lucas, or from his dad cutting at this exact issue; it felt deeper than that. His tone betrayed a sort of hidden pain that had been present for years, but unnoticed, ignored, bottled up.
Or, that's the impression Lauren got, at least.
Regardless, she took a cautious step forward. And another, and another, until she turned and sat down on his bed next to him. He glanced to the side at the sudden change of weight on his bed, then turned back down.
"Derek..." started Lauren. "I think your mom was right. Being a superhero... You can do great things. Help people. You can be exactly who you've wanted to be."
"That doesn't change anything," he said. "I'd still be Lucas's punching bag no matter what."
"Forget about Lucas. You need to think about what you can do, not what you can't."
For a short time, there was silence. Derek didn't try to say anything and just stared at the floor some more.
"Come on. I know how to get your mind off things." She stepped over to the window and opened it, letting in a faint breeze. "You said several times how much you like flying. Go take a spin around the sky for a bit. It'll help."
With a sigh, Derek said, "I can't."
"What do you mean you can't? You can fly, Derek." She stared out the window and spotted something in the distance. "You said they wouldn't let you touch the clouds when you did that test flight at the airport. Well, here's your chance." She gestured out the window to the white wisp in the sky.
"Sorry," he said indignantly. "They said I need to have a registered license for piloting or skydiving or something like that before I can fly around on my own. Mainly because they don't want me accidentally getting in front of another plane."
Lauren's reply sounded almost insulted. "Derek, how many superheroes have listened to a flightplan?"
"None of them have radios that let them talk to air traffic control."
"Iron Man does."
"But he's Iron Man. He's got a supercomputer and a flying suit of armor. And anyway, they're keeping an eye on me to keep me out of trouble. They said I have to get a license before I can fly freely."
Lauren hesitated for a second. "Then... Then why not try and learn something new about your powers? We could try and figure out what one of them does."
Derek had to admit the idea was tempting, but still, he wasn't quite in the mood. "Maybe we could get back to homework."
"You'd rather do homework than figure out how your superpowers work? There's gotta be at least one of these that you'd like to figure out how it works."
Derek didn't reply to this one. He was thinking about the idea, though.
"You were talking about bullies," said Lauren. "Got anything with, I dunno... Super strength?"
"Well... There is this one. I could lift the bed with it, but I didn't try much out."
"Because there's not much to lift in here that's heavier than a bed?"
"You've got a dresser. That's gotta be heavier than your bed."
"Well I didn't try that one. And that form's kinda tall, too. It was weird. Felt like Godzilla or something."
"How tall, exactly?"
"I dunno. Taller than six feet, probably. I didn't really measure myself."
"Did you look at any of these forms?"
"...a little. Not enough to know anything, though."
"Boy with bully issues gets superpowers and doesn't even try to figure out how to use 'em."
"It's not like I can really test anything in here. Last time I tried, I got a major headache."
Lauren nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, I can imagine. After what you said happened, I looked it up online. Saw this video on YouTube about sensory overload. If just sight and sound was that bad, I can't imagine what adding smell and touch into the mix would've been like."
Derek winced. "Smell, touch, taste... I'm pretty sure there was something else weird in there too."
"Something else?" asked Lauren curiously. "You mean... like a new sense?"
"Or something. I'm not really sure. Senses aren't exactly my specialty."
"Well... Maybe we could try and figure out what those are."
"Are you kidding? I'm not getting anywhere near that form!"
"Derek, this is something you need to know! You need to know the limits of your powers. How far can you go before you overload again?"
"Alright. Alright. I'll... I'll see what I can do here."
Derek stood up and breathed. He thought for a moment about the forms he'd looked over. There wasn't one whose possible powers stood out, and there were plenty he didn't want to try for the sole reason that they looked too girly (that, and he didn't have a clue what their powers were).
There was one that didn't look too bad, so he picked that one. In a couple seconds at most (Derek really needed to time his transformations), he was a she once again. She had black hair that fell unrestrained to the middle of her back. Her tank top was white and had a swirl pattern on the right side, lines coming off it across to the left side. She had denim shorts and tennis shoes, the latter having similar black-swirls-and-lines-on-white patterns. The most notable part of this form was her headphones: gray, but with the same swirls, and already on her ears.
"How do I look?" said Derek. Almost immediately he noticed that his new voice was considerably different than the others'. Almost light and melodic, yet soft at the same time. And that was what he could hear through the headphones. Which he promptly removed.
After a moment's thought, Lauren said, "Musical. Less 'superhero', more 'normal teen'." She put her hand to her chin. "Not bad with the symbolism too; I'm no music expert, but I'm pretty sure that symbol is the treble clef, for the right hand notes."
"Huh. I wouldn't know," said Derek. He had just noticed something odd about his right hand, which was currently holding the headphone. "My... My fingernails are painted."
"What?" Lauren looked at Derek's hand and confirmed his observation. "Yeah, that's nail polish alright. I'm guessing music symbols. It's obvious what your theme is, at least."
"Something to do wi-"
There was a knock on the door. "Derek? We're going out for dinner," said Derek's mother.
Derek flinched at the knock, but at least his mother wasn't in the habit of barging in. He didn't really want to be caught in this new form. "Okay," he said.
He and Lauren blinked in surprise. Derek was still in the girl form, but had sounded exactly like he did as a boy. For Lauren this was especially weird, hearing Derek's normal voice come out of a girl's mouth.
"We're about to go," said his mother. "Come on."
Derek didn't quite like her tone. Not that she sounded angry; he just wasn't used to her sounding anxious in that way. And she almost never took anybody out to eat; that only happened when...
...when Dad needed space.
Transforming back, Derek went over to the door. "Alright. I'm coming." He opened it and turned to Lauren. "Sorry."
"No, that's okay," she said. "Things happen. I'll just-"
"Of course, Lauren can come too," said Derek's mom.
They both paused in surprise. "What?" said Lauren. "But this sounds like the kind of-"
"No, I insist. Come on."
Derek and Lauren glanced at each other. Derek shrugged and gestured for Lauren to follow, which she did. Both of them had a confused expression.
The three of them went to a nearby IHOP. The three of them talked about school events, delved a little into Lauren's interests (Lauren claimed to like superhero movies for the male leads), and eventually started talking about the recent field trip.
"So, you went to the museum too?" said Derek's mother.
Lauren finished swallowing her bite of pancakes before saying, "Yeah. I was just as surprised as everyone else. First I spot some guy teleporting to steal purses, then he starts getting chased by a flying girl. It was pretty surprising, but cool."
"I only saw the teleporting guy," added Derek, giving his cover story (even though he told his mom the real story the day it happened), "and even then, I only saw him move maybe a foot to the side. None of that showing off stuff Lauren said he did later. Of all the times to be in the bathroom."
"Speaking of bathrooms," said Derek's mother, "I'll be right back." And she stood up and walked off, leaving Derek and Lauren alone.
"I think your Mom's trying to hook us up," said Lauren.
"Obviously," said Derek, rolling his eyes. "She thought we were dating the moment she met you and hasn't let up since. And she got Dad to agree!"
"God, that must be annoying. Least my dad just wants me to have friends and not...yeah."
There was an awkward silence for a moment.
"Heh. Parents. Am I right?"
Things remained silent between them.
"So...any idea about how we're gonna talk to your dad?"
"Not really. I mean your idea was good, but I'm still not so sure."
"I thought you wanted to tell your dad. Since he already knows and stuff."
"Derek?" It was a guy's voice. Said guy being Jason, who stepped over to the table, wearing a restaurant apron. "Hey! What brings you here?"
"Dinner," said Derek.
"Ah, right. Cool. So who's your friend?"
"Jason, this is Lauren. Lauren, Jason."
"This is Lauren? She's flatter than I imagined."
Lauren's face turned red. "Wh- What's that supposed to mean!?"
"Still," said Jason, "you were right. She's definitely not ugly. Not really my type, though, but if that's what you're in to-"
Now Derek's face was equally as red as Lauren's. "Jason, shut up. Don't you have tables to wait?"
"I got time," he said. "Don't have any tables right now. So, you two gone to second base yet?"
Lauren planted her head on the table and buried it under her arms. Derek was sorely tempted to do the same thing. "Jason, shut up! It's not like that. We're just friends."
"Suuure you are. Anyway, you hear about that super girl at the museum last week?"
"Yeah, we were there," said Derek.
"Dude, get out," said Jason, shocked. "You met her?"
"Not me, no. Lauren saw her, though."
Lauren glared at him, then said to Jason, "I didn't really talk to her. She was flying around and then disappeared."
"Man, you are so lucky. Ever since she showed up at the beach, I've been dying to meet her. I think she actually looks hotter as Amelia Earhart than at the beach."
Derek groaned, trying his hardest to suppress his embarrassment. "Do you ever talk about-" And then he realized something. "Wait. Hot. Dangit." And he promptly gave into his urges and planted his face in his arms on the table.
"What?" said Jason.
"No, nothing. I just realized something involving a horrible pun. Can we change the subject please? Basketball. Go."
"You're no fun," said Jason. After a slight pause, he said, "Well, Joey sprained his ankle in practice on Friday."
"Ouch," said Derek. He had a sprained ankle once. Not from Lucas; it was before they'd met.
"Yeah. Still, gives me something to do."
"Isn't there a game coming up?" asked Lauren.
"Next week. Why, you interested in coming?"
"Not really. Basketball's never been my thing."
"I dunno. I was just never really a sports person."
"Then what about you going out with Lucas Graver last year?"
"What? Where'd you hear that?"
"In class. Some girl was talking about someone named Lauren who slept with th-"
"Ugh. I didn't sleep with him. I broke it off halfway through the first date. It was a dumb idea to even try."
"Then how come-"
"Well, this is an interesting conversation to walk in on."
Lauren and Jason turned to see Carol approaching, led by a glasses-wearing brunette employee in her early twenties. Derek narrowed his eyes at her. "What are you doing here?" he said.
"Getting dinner. What's it look like?"
"By yourself?" said Jason.
"Yeah, what's it to you?"
"Uh, ma'am?" said the woman. "Your table?"
Carol sighed and sat down at the booth right behind Lauren.
"And why aren't you getting ready for the next table?" the woman said to Jason.
"There's only three tables here, and I don't have any of them. I have time."
"You should be ready for customers all the time, unless you're on break. Now get your ass back to your post before I make you the laughing stock of Not Always Right."
"Sir, yes sir!" Jason stood at attention and saluted. This got Derek and Lauren to almost laugh.
The woman just facepalmed. "Just... just go." She waited for Jason to walk off, not seeing him give a half-hearted wave to Derek, before turning to Carol. "Alright, so what'll it be?"
"You just gave me my menu."
"Whoops. My bad. I'll be back in a few minutes."
When the server was gone, Carol turned to Lauren's table for a brief moment. "You know, you being here, with a guy, by yourselves... doesn't really help your 'I don't date' claims."
"It's not a date, Carol," said Lauren. "We're just friends."
"Yeah, sure. I'm just saying if you want people to believe that, hanging out with a bunch of guys--by yourself--is the wrong way to do it."
"Then what were you doing at our table?" asked Derek.
"That's private, Derek. God." And Carol pointedly returned to her menu.
"Sheesh. What's her problem?" said Lauren. "She's in a worse mood than normal."
"I can still hear you."
Ignoring Carol, Derek said, "No idea," and took a bite out of his meal.
It was still another few minutes before Derek's mother returned. "It took you ten minutes to go to the bathroom?" said Derek.
"Actually," said Derek's mom, "I stopped to talk to the staff about something. It's not important."
"Well your pancakes are getting cold," said Lauren.
"And who's this now?" said Carol. "Building a harem or something?"
Derek coughed and said, "Carol, this is my mom, Linda. Mom, this is Carol."
Carol's face showed a hint of panic.
Derek's mother looked at Carol. "So you're the girl who refuses to listen to anything she doesn't want to hear."
Carol scoffed. "She can't be your mom. She's too young."
"Thanks for the compliment," said Linda, "but I'm 41."
"Must be one hell of a makeup cabinet, then."
Linda glared, but was interrupted by the server woman who had approached just then. "Ma'am, I'm gonna have to ask you to stop bothering the customers."
"Why? I know them," said Carol, turning back around.
"But you're bothering us," said Lauren. "We just came here for dinner, same as you."
"Fine. I'll stop talking to you."
"If you didn't wanna talk to us," said Derek, "why'd you butt into our conversation in the first place?"
Carol didn't respond for a minute, before turning to the server and ordering her meal in a much lower tone than before.
The rest of dinner went by without incident, and the trio hopped in the car and drove off.
"So," said Lauren, who had ended up riding shotgun while Derek was relegated to the back, "what was that thing you realized about a pun or something?"
"Oh," said Derek, his face sinking with a resigned annoyance. "Jason reminded me of one of my transformations that I haven't figured out yet. If I'm right, then I know its powers, and there's a horrible pun that connects the appearance to the power. I hope I'm wrong, though."
"Because Jason specifically said the word 'hot'. If that one has fire powers, I will ban puns forever."
Lauren didn't really respond to this one.
"Okay, so where to now?" asked Linda. "Do we drop Lauren off at home, or do we wait for a little bit?"
"Well my car's at your house," said Lauren.
Derek spoke up. "Actually we might have to talk to Lauren's dad about something."
Linda waited in the car while the two girls left Lauren's car and approached the door. She was a little unsettled at Derek having introduced himself to his new friend's family as a girl, but she accepted Lauren's reasons for having coerced him to do so.
Derek himself, in his Amelia Earhart-esque form, had gone without that form's coat and fancy hat. She glanced at that form's boots, thinking that while their soft fleece material might be good for the coming winter and the chilled northern cold fronts that came with it, they weren't all that practical in the overwhelming majority of the local weather.
But that would be up to Derek to consider. She knew being a girl was uncomfortable for him and didn't want to force anything. Especially shoe shopping, which was widely considered one of the most girly activities one could do.
She sighed. Yes, she'd said before that she'd wanted a daughter, but she was right about what she said to George about having the best son in the world, at least from her perspective as a mother. She never said she didn't want a son either. But even so, there was a part of her that saw Derek's girl forms as an opportunity.
No. This was her son, and he still felt like a son. She had to respect his wishes. He was already upset at George; she didn't want him upset at her too.
She took out her cell phone. This was her part of the job right now. Lauren and Amelia explain things on their end, while she tells Mr. Swanson that the closed loop is opening.
"Mr. Swanson? It's Linda Parker."
["Hello, Linda. What seems to be the trouble? Any new discoveries?"]
"Actually, it's about what Lauren talked to you about the other day."
["You mean, about her father connecting Amelia's identities?"]
"Yes, that's it exactly. I'm parked in front of the Carter residence right now. Lauren and Amelia went inside to discuss things."
["Right now? I thought I was going to be there."]
"Amelia decided to tackle this on her own. She said something about not wanting the government holding her hand at every step." Which was a lie, or a stretching of the truth. Amelia wanted to get it over with, rather than wait for Mr. Swanson to show up, which could take hours.
["Why does she make reckless decisions? First the shapeshifting announcement and now this."]
"This is different. This is telling someone who already knows, behind closed doors at that. It's not telling the world; it's telling one person. And Lauren trusts her father to keep secrets; otherwise, she wouldn't have gone through with this."
["I know the arguments. She said as much the other day. Still, I wish I'd had some sort of warning for this. What are they saying, anyway?"]
"I don't know exactly what they're saying, but they said Amelia would continue to pretend to be Amelia, using the cover Amelia Stevens identity."
["As long as they stick to the story, then. I should be more concerned than this."]
"I know. I'll keep you informed."
["Remember: If you discover more about Amelia's powers, inform me. If she wants to learn how to use her powers, we'll need to set up a place where she can do so safely."]
"You told me all this already."
["It never hurts to remind people."]
"Okay. I don't like having to hide this part from him."
["I thought you told him that part already."]
"I thought when you told George, it was because it was a hush-hush thing."
["The entire loop of secrecy is centered around Amelia! She's supposed to be kept informed! Why wouldn't she be, when it directly involves her?"]
"I..." She scowled. "I'm going to have to talk with my husband tonight, aren't I?"
"Actually, here comes Amelia right now. I have to go; focusing on the road and all."
["Yes, don't get in a crash. Ask her what they said and keep me informed."]
Linda hung up and unlocked the door, starting up the car as Amelia sat in the back. "So, how was it?" asked Linda.
Amelia sighed. "Nerve-wracking, I guess?" The car started to drive off, and Amelia shifted down sideways on the back seats to transform where nobody could notice.
Linda hesitated. "Listen, when you did your superhero act at the museum, Mr. Swanson brought your father and I home early from work so we all could talk. Before he picked me up at the restaurant, he told your father to keep him informed about any new developments about your powers."
"Your father told me the same thing, but he said we weren't supposed to tell you that we were telling Mr. Swanson. I was just on the phone with Mr. Swanson, who said that we should've told you we were telling him all along."
Derek took the time to absorb this new information. And then he scowled too. "Why does Dad hate Amelia so much?"
"He just needs time to get used to her. That's all. You know how his parents are, right?"
"Yeah," Derek said with a nod. His parent's still needed to understand that yes, a black guy could be President. And women could have jobs. What, did women's role in World War II teach them nothing?
Derek shuddered at how they would react to Amelia. He promised himself then and there that he would never mention Amelia in their presence, ever.
"Still," he continued, "he didn't have to lie about government orders."
"I know. We're going to have a... discussion when we get home." She said 'discussion' with an obvious hint of anger, which told Derek she meant 'argument'. If it was like the one he'd overheard when he was preparing for the interview, he knew things would get loud and uncomfortable.
"Actually..." continued Linda. "How would you like to sleep over at Lauren's house?"
Now this was out of nowhere. "What?"
"I'm not sure how quiet it's going to be at home, and I know tensions between you and your father need time to cool down. I normally don't allow you to stay at a friend's house on a school day, but today I might make an exception."
"Mom, I'd be over there as a girl. I'm not..."
"It's either that or stay home and listen to your parents argue."
Derek was not amused.
First, he was on a sleepover. As a girl.
Second, he was currently in one of the girl forms that he hoped he wouldn't have to use. One that was even more embarrassing to him than the bikini-clad Waterbender form.
For clothing, this particular girl form had a red tank top. It was held up by spaghetti straps and was low enough to have a small but visible amount of cleavage showing. The top also stopped just short of the belly button, leaving about an inch-wide strip of exposed skin before the black short-shorts began (Derek could've sworn there was more visible stomach than that). Further down the body's shapely toned legs was a pair of sandals of the sort that had one triangular solid black piece that went from between the inner two toes to the ankle, and zipped up at the back.
She also had jet-black hair that was pulled into a ponytail, save for a few annoying strands that hung down to level with her hazel eyes. The tip of the ponytail tickled the space between her shoulderblades. Her entire body was toned and curvy, with a noticeable dent in the waist and with hips were wider than she would've liked. And her breasts were definitely bigger than she would've liked; Lauren guessed they were somewhere in the D or even DD range. The breasts were the first thing Derek had noticed about the form, mainly their weight pulling on his chest uncomfortably. At least this form had a bra, which had visible shoulder straps; he wasn't sure if he should be relieved or not that the shoulder straps were transparent.
There was no way Derek was staying in this form for more than a few minutes. He had to see if his guess was correct. Holding his feminine hand out, palm up, he concentrated for a brief moment.
There was a spark an inch over the center of his palm, which exploded into a small flame. Fighting his reflex to pull away from the burning hot fire, he kept his hand still. Surprisingly, though, it didn't feel that warm to him.
"Well, we know this one makes fire," said Lauren.
Derek slumped his shoulders in defeat, letting the flame fade away into nothingness. "Yeah. And ha ha, this form is 'hot'. We get it. Thanks a lot, universe." This form's voice was lower than the others, which didn't exactly help how his mind perceived the form. It was the right vocal range that could go from depressed to seductive in a heartbeat, though right now the voice was annoyed.
"Well," said Derek after a moment's pause, "I got what I needed. Time to get out of this." He transformed back to normal quickly, then back to the form with flight powers. "Glad that's over."
"Yeah, you don't even get to have fun with that one in here," said Lauren. "Try to enjoy it like you did with Waterbending and you burn the whole place down."
"Obviously," said Derek, taking off the hat and setting it aside. "That form's just too uncomfortable. My balance is different, there's too much weight in the wrong places, my back was hurting... I don't get why girls like big breasts. Two minutes is enough to tell me they're annoying."
"Uh huh, yeah," said Lauren oddly.
Derek raised his eyebrow at Lauren's tone, but decided to let it go. "Well, this is a sleepover. Should we get some sleep? I'm ready for today to end."
"Yeah, I guess. You want the bed or no?"
"Huh? It's your bed," Derek said, taking the coat off.
"But you're the guest. It'd be rude to hog the bed."
"No, it's fine. I've slept on the floor before."
Lauren hesitated. "Why?"
Derek shrugged. "Same reason for here. Staying overnight at Jason's and all the beds are full. Though he does have an upstairs couch..."
"Well, I have a sleeping bag. I can just use that."
"And make you take the floor? I know it might sound weird coming from me like this, but if there's only one bed, the guy takes the floor."
"And yet you're a girl at the moment."
"I told you it sounded weird when I'm like this."
After some back-and-forth, Lauren eventually conceded and let Derek take the floor, especially since Derek realized he could try sleeping while floating. While Derek set aside his boots, Lauren disappeared into the bathroom and returned wearing a pink tank top and black sleep pants. This got Derek to again look at her with a raised eyebrow.
"What?" said Lauren.
"Nothing. Nothing. Just I haven't seen you wear pink before."
"Well this shirt's torn," she said, indicating a few sizeable holes on the side. "I haven't gotten around to replacing it yet. Usually I use old shirts to sleep in."
That was the end of that conversation, and Lauren tucked herself in bed, setting her glasses aside and drifting off to sleep. Or tried to, at least, but sleep didn't come so easily to either of them.
"I can't sleep," said Lauren.
"Me neither," said Derek, who was now floating in mid-air on his back.
They were quiet for a little while longer.
"How come?" said Derek.
"Thinking about your powers," said Lauren. "Things you could do with fire. And maybe there's more to that music note one. You?"
"Well partly is it's weird trying to sleep like this. Not as comfy as I thought." He hesitated, then sighed. "I don't wanna get between my parents, and I don't want Dad to hate me. I know he doesn't like me like this, but he's getting worse about it." He stared at the ceiling, following the jagged patterns it made. "I thought superheroes were supposed to make things better, not worse."
"Clearly you've never read the X-men," said Lauren.
"I saw the cartoon."
"Yeah, but that didn't get into it as much as the comics." Lauren hesitated for a moment, then resumed in a thoughtful tone. "Actually, there's a lot in the comics that could help."
"About my dad not liking my powers?"
"That, and other things in general. We might be able to figure out more of your powers from the comics."
"Lauren, I'm talking about my family issues. I'm not in the mood to be planning superhero training sessions."
"Sorry," she said apologetically. There were several minutes of silence before Lauren resumed speaking. "You and your dad... You should probably sit down and talk things out. Just standing around waiting for things to get better won't help."
Neither of them continued the conversation. Eventually, Lauren found it harder and harder to keep her eyes open. She closed them and let her mind wander-
Lauren sprang up in bed, grabbing her glasses. "What was that?"
Derek was on the floor, wincing. "That hurt."
"I dunno. I went to sleep and then I was on the floor." He rubbed his head. "Ow."
"Should I...get an ice pack or something?"
"I...yeah, that'd be... Ow."
Lauren left the room and grabbed an ice pack. Derek was sitting up when she returned. "Okay," said Lauren, "I'm guessing falling asleep stops your powers or something."
Derek took the ice pack and pressed it to the back of his head. "That makes sense, but I didn't change back." He paused for a moment to think. "Maybe my transforming works differently than the other powers."
"I think all your powers work differently."
Derek didn't argue with Lauren offering him the bed this time. She rolled out a purple sleeping bag for herself. And after they finally calmed down...
"And now I can't sleep again," said Derek.
"Same here. Crap."