Derek awoke to music in an unfamiliar room, and with a soreness on his back. "What happened?" he said groggily.
Of course, hearing his voice was a girl's voice was enough to clue him in on a few things.
Well, no point in complaining, he thought to himself, sitting up. He looked over at Lauren's alarm clock, which he realized wasn't what was making noise. There was her cellphone playing some orchestrated music he didn't recognize. It was black, but then most cellphones he'd seen were either that or pink, so it wasn't a big deal.
For a moment, he wondered about getting his own cellphone. Mr. Swanson had been surprised Derek didn't have one, and Derek supposed it would be useful. Still, his father had a notion about earning things through your own hard work. His mother was more lenient, but things were budgeted, and so Derek didn't have much in the way of expensive belongings. But at least a cheap ten-dollar phone?
"Nnn," groaned Lauren, pushing part of the sleeping bag away. "Is it morning already?"
"Yep," said Derek, rubbing his own eyes.
Lauren waited for a bit, not getting up just yet. "Mmweird dream."
"Dunno. Some kind of talk show... and a little person... I can't 'member."
The morning was slow-going. Lauren disappeared into the bathroom to take a shower. Derek, too tired to walk, floated to the kitchen to find breakfast. Cereal seemed like the main option. Derek poured himself a bowl of Cap'n Crunch. He'd almost forgotten what it tasted like, having been used to his mother's cooking. Then he went back to the bedroom...
"Aah!" shrieked Lauren, quickly pulling her towel back up.
"Gah!" shouted Derek, pulling back into the hallway. He'd gotten more of an eyeful than he'd ever expected. "Why wasn't the door locked?" said Derek, face redder than it had ever been.
"I forgot you were here!" said Lauren. "Why didn't you knock?"
"I thought you were still in the shower! You always leave the door unlocked?"
"Everyone's usually asleep! I was still asleep!"
The rest of the morning was spent in a very awkward silence.
Shortly after school, Thursday, October 20
"Huh. Mom's not home," said Derek.
"That's weird," said Lauren. "Doesn't she get off before school gets out?"
"Must be busy at work. It's not the first time. If I don't hear from her by the time Dad gets home, then I'll worry."
"Mmkay. See ya Monday."
"Bye." He made to get out of the car.
"Oh hey, make sure you try out that super senses power." Seeing Derek roll his eyes, she added, "Derek, you need to know what you can do. What those weird extra senses are. And how far you can go before the headaches happen."
"Alright, alright. What are you, my mom?"
"No; just the only expert on superpowers you know."
"Hmph." He shut the door behind him and waved as she drove off, then approached his house. Sure enough, it was locked. "Well okay, guess that answers that." He reached into his pocket...and froze. Then searched the pocket further. Then his other pocket. Then his back pockets, even though he never put anything in them. Then he spun his backpack around to check that. "Figures," he muttered.
Working his way into the backyard, he looked up at his room. "How am I gonna get in there?" he muttered to himself. He approached the back door, but it too was locked. "Darn. Guess I'm stuck out here. It better not rain." He glanced at the blanket of gray clouds covering the sky as he slumped against the door, sliding to the ground.
"Wait a minute!" he said. "What am I doing? I have superpowers." He stood back up, leaving his backpack on the ground, and stepped over to the side area between the house and the fence. He was ready to transform...
But then he stopped himself. Remembering all of the past week, he wondered if he shouldn't try something else. "Mr. Swanson did say I should practice all the powers I know about..." Derek stepped back to the back yard and checked the windows and door once again. After failing at a handful of windows, he finally managed to nudge one window open. It was to the bathroom near the laundry room. The lock was broken, so they'd placed a wooden dowel in the track so the window couldn't open more than a couple inches, not nearly enough to get through.
That wouldn't stop Derek. He looked around one more time, hoping nobody would be watching through the cracks of the fence. He glanced up, hoping the clouds wouldn't start raining on him. And then he looked back at the window, staring at the little gap.
And he transformed once again. A line of white traced down his body from head to toe, replacing his clothes with those of his new form. Meanwhile his body molded, reshaped, and recolored itself wherever necessary. After around one-point-one-five seconds--Derek finally managed to time it over the week, though he could've sworn it'd taken longer than that--he was in his new shape.
While Derek reluctantly agreed that the other female forms he'd assumed before had generally good figures, this one he knew needed to lose a few pounds. He pictured her as being bloated beyond belief. Which was, in actuality, not true; pudgy and curvy were two words that fit her figure. She also had on a lab coat, as well as jeans and a gray shirt, with short brownish-blonde hair pulled into a short ponytail.
Staring at the gap, Derek slid his arm through, pushing further in until where his forearm was too wide around to fit.
Derek pushed further, and the arm seemed to stretch. His flesh seemed to be piling up against the gap until it was forced through; Derek compared it to squeezing playdoh through a tube. Meanwhile Derek's body seemed to be getting ever so slightly thinner.
It only took a few seconds for Derek's elongated arm to reach the doorknob, turning it and opening the door. He grabbed the door frame on the outside, and then pulled. First pressing his shoulder into the gap, squeezing his face through. His vision distorted for a moment as his face pushed through the gap, almost leaving his nose and right eye behind. His head through, he closed his eyes and concentrated for a brief moment; his eye and nose seemed to melt into his skin, disappearing completely before regrowing in their correct place.
Choosing not to try and bend his right arm through normally, he pressed it to his side, and then froze for a moment. Water droplets. Steadily increasing amount of water droplets. It was starting to rain. He had to act fast. He tried to pull more with his stretched arm before noticing it had shrunk back to a normal length. Ignoring that, he pushed against the wall with that arm and melted his free arm into his side, regrowing it inside the room and pushing the wall like its match.
He pulled himself in through to the waist, glancing backwards at the comical sight of having a window go almost all the way through his body and the less comical sight of his legs drooping. A bit of hesitation, and he decided not to deal with a mess now.
Derek suddenly fell forward, landing face first on the tile below with a solid smack. His face and body flattened and spread against the tile. Picking himself up--rather literally, as he peeled his head up off the tile--Derek pushed himself to a stand, shifting his body mass into an upright position. He regrew more than he expected, gaining back his pelvis and most of his thighs as well as becoming considerably thinner before stopping, his legs missing just above the knees. At least his clothes had reformed, the pants rounding off and covering the stump completely.
Walking on stumps was tricky work, but he found that if he kept his shoulder on the wall or the dryer or the kitchen cabinets that he could keep stable and move at a fairly decent clip. Derek finally reached the back door and unlocked it, then slid it open, letting the gentle roaring of rain rush in.
Fortunately he'd left his backpack right next to the door. Unfortunately, when he reached out and grabbed it, his hand got wet. He pulled in quickly, luckily taking the backpack in the process, but his hand was droopy. The details were smeared, and it even looked like bits of his flesh was on the verge of dripping off.
He would have to deal with that, though, for now. First, he closed the door, watching it rain harder and harder. Derek knew it was getting worse--he could feel the bluish mass that used to be his legs and feet spread further and further--but seeing it happen gave him a much better read on the weather, especially since he'd never felt the rain like this.
With a push, he tried to remotely move the mass that used to be his legs. They were blended together in a mismatched heap, but even so, they still had their own sort of separation, at least as far as Derek's senses went. He tried to push forward as if bending his legs to try to move them. It seemed to work, but it was difficult, and without a visual reference he couldn't tell what progress he was making.
"Wait a minute," he said. "Why can't I just change back? It worked before." Except before, he was only missing extra bits of flesh--as in literally shedding those extra pounds--not parts of his limbs.
So when Derek tried to change back, it didn't work.
"W-wait a minute," he repeated. "Why can't I just change back? It-it worked before..." But Derek figured it out. "Of course. I need my legs back. ...that better work." He tried not to think about what would happen if it didn't work. But it still unnerved him that he was unable to turn back to normal for now.
So for the next while, Derek tried to navigate the house. First was finding a towel to dry his partly-melted hand with. The bathroom had hand towels that were, unsurprisingly, out of reach. Fortunately there was a dry towel in the drying machine in the laundry room. Derek let his damp hand melt into a puddle and then rubbed the towel over it, soaking up the water and none of himself. It was surprisingly effective.
Arms at the ready, he experimented with his shape variations. He pulled mass from his leg stumps and even pelvis to make his arms thicker and longer, using them to walk around with. He was wobbly and unbalanced, falling on his face and back often, before giving up on that for now. Then he tried to climb the stairs, but after falling backwards six times (with no pain from the impact, Derek noticed), Derek resigned himself to the ground floor. Until he realized he could just ooze up the stairs like a slug. The carpet tickled, but he made it to the top shortly.
His legs were soaked and cold. Derek could feel the stark contrast between where his body ended and where his legs began. He also felt strange knowing he currently had hips and thighs attached to his body when he'd cut his body off at the waist before, leaving hips and thighs in the rain. But it didn't feel to him like he had two sets of thighs; rather, it felt like the puddle outside was the parts of his legs he was missing, just from the knees down, and had more surface area than they normally should. Each drop put a dent in that surface, which sloshed back up again.
Derek turned back down towards the ground floor, before deciding on watching TV. But...not just yet. He looked down the stairs again, then sat down, curling into a ball. Figuratively at first, but then he melted his body into a shape as round as he could manage. Pushing forward with his...butt?...he rolled down the stairs, hitting each step and denting into it. Each time he felt like he was starting to slow down (which was only once), he pushed again, sending him further to the bottom floor.
He landed again with a thud, spreading out a bit on the ground, his face facing the stairs upside-down. He wondered what he looked like, imagining himself a white-ish mass of Playdoh with some skin-, brownish-blonde-, gray-, and blue-colored patches here and there, and maybe the shape of a flattened-out fingernail or face. Shrugging it off, he concentrated for just a bit, his mass shifting to expand or contract until he was back to a 'normal' shape, though a female double amputee in a lab coat sitting upside-down was hardly normal in this house.
Deciding against melting and reforming into being upright again, Derek rolled down to lie flat on the floor, then pushed himself up with his hands until he was sitting normally. Then he hopped backwards to the stairs and used the end of the hand rail to pull himself into a stand. His mission: walk to the living room on stumps without the aid of a wall.
He fell on his face twice along the way, but slowly and surely he made it into the room. It was like learning how to walk all over again. Which, of course, it was, except he knew how to walk normally and just had to adjust his technique a little.
Pulling himself onto the sofa was tricky, so he settled for melting his body up. He then reached for the remote, sucking his leg stumps in to provide the extra mass for his arm.
Thud! Something heavy landed in his leg puddle outside! It broke his concentration, and his arm and leg stumps reformed. Derek waited for a moment to see if anything moved. Then another, and another, and another...before deciding it must've been a tree branch. He stretched for the remote again...
Click click. That was the sound of the door unlocking. Then the squeak of it opening and then closing. Derek glanced at the clock; it was only 3:30.
"Derek! Are you home?" called his mother.
"In here!" called Derek back.
Linda looked through the archway into the living room, seeing a most peculiar sight. A girl in a lab coat missing two legs was sitting on her couch. Hesitantly, she said, "Derek?"
And Derek nodded. "Hi, Mom."
"Wh... What happened to you?"
School cafeteria, Friday morning, October 21
"So, you're going out towards the Berry Center tomorrow?" asked Lauren, wearing an orange shirt this time.
"Not quite. There's this gravel processing plant or whatever it is on the way, on 290. Plenty of space there. We're gonna go over and test out my fire powers, and maybe see if that one with overalls has rock powers too."
"Wait wait, back up. You're testing out your fire powers?"
"Yeah," said Derek not without considerable reluctance.
"I thought you hated that form."
"I do. I also hate having to wear a bikini, or a dress, or just being a girl in general, but the superpowers are pretty cool and helped me ignore those. Maybe fire powers will help me get past that one's looks too."
"Ah huh." She took a bite out of her breakfast biscuit. "So," she said seriously, "how can I watch without getting in trouble?"
"Huh?" said Derek.
Lauren had an unusual look in her eye. It was almost...eager? "Just that. You're testing out your superpowers, and these are way flashier than controlling water or melting or making your voice sound different. I wanna at least watch."
"I don't think Mr. Swanson would let you. He's hand-picking who gets to observe. A few scientists, I think. And remember what he said about not wanting you in the paperwork? People would start to ask who you are to be allowed to watch. It's bad enough the government is breathing down my neck; I don't want them after you too."
"Well think of something. There's gotta be a way. Maybe he can drop me off and I can walk over?"
Derek wondered for a moment. "That... might work. You said it yourself; fire powers are flashy. Somebody would notice and pull over to check it out. If you do that, you might get excused as being just a curious bystander."
The school bell rang.
"Yeah. And if I'm not the first person to show up, bonus." She paused. "But why would I be down there? If I needed an alibi, that is."
Derek shrugged. "There's stuff down that way. You'll think of something."
"Yeah, I probably will."
There was a lull in the conversation before Derek said, "So... Black and orange, huh? Getting ready for Halloween?"
"Huh? No; I just felt like wearing orange today."
"...although... Maybe we could do something this year."
"I gue- Wait, 'we'?"
"I feel like I'm gonna regret this, but...what are you thinking?"
She stared at the target, a small pillar of wood with a wool rug draped over it, the former charred and partly splintered in the center while the latter had a hole burned through it, both damp from being extinguished earlier. Amelia herself stared it down, intending to reduce her target to ashes this time. She checked herself; she was ready. Fire powers, proper footing, her stance practiced in her mind a hundred times over, her borrowed fire-proof coat covering her skin...
"Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!"
That was Amelia's cue. Everyone and everything was clear. She could fire at her leisure, though nobody wanted their time wasted. She had no cue except her own movements. She shifted her feet one last time until she was sure of her stance. Clenched her fists, pulled back, and...
The target was washed with fire, a constant stream from Amelia's outstretched fist. A burst of steam came from the target as the water evaporated, mixed with smoke from the objects themselves burning, before the steam stopped and there was just burning rug and wood. Still Amelia kept it up, shifting her feet again to hold the pavement better.
She was dimly aware of talking behind her. Some scientists Mr. Swanson had invited were measuring the temperature of her flames again. There was an infrared camera trained on her, and another on the target.
The target fell to the ground, its supports having burned into uselessness. Amelia paid it no heed and kept the fire going for another minute. Two. Three-
The burst of fire stopped abruptly. Amelia relaxed her footing just before, and shifted into a more relaxed stand, pushing out a measured breath.
There was a brief round of applause before Amelia relaxed her stance. She turned back towards the small crowd. Mr. Swanson was there, of course, standing with three scientists and two firemen, all behind ballistics glass. Even further back, by the locked-shut gate, was about eight random people, also clapping.
"Alright," called Mr. Swanson, stepping from behind the glass and approached Amelia. "Good job. Any problems that you felt?"
One of the firemen ran up to the target and blasted it with a water hose.
"Are you sure? No feeling of excessive heat?"
"For the tenth time, no. I can't feel heat from fire. We've discovered that already."
Mr. Swanson nodded. "And how about force? What kind of feedback did that give you?"
"Some. I was shooting the fire out, and it's like it was pushing back."
"Good," said one of the scientists, a woman named Erin. "That means that even though you blatantly break conservation of energy, you still follow the laws of motion. Action and reaction."
"I don't exactly see how that's good," said Amelia, "since I have to keep my arm steady so it doesn't fly backwards every time I make fire."
"But there is force behind it," said Mr. Swanson. "It isn't simply fire. And more importantly, you can control the amount of force." He remembered the burst that punched a splintering dent in the target earlier, versus the steady stream that caused next to no movement, though it seemed like the punching fire was moving faster than the stream, which itself slowed down the further it got from Amelia.
"Possibly the hot air moving," said Erin. "Much like rocket thrust. The energy has to go somewhere, even though in your case it isn't coming from anywhere. The more energy, the more movement, the more force."
"Hm? What was that?" Erin looked around for the source of the shout, her eyes stopping at the gate.
"Do an Iron Man-style flight test!" shouted this one particular black-haired girl.
"Looks like you have a request," said Mr. Swanson. "From a fan, it seems."
"Looks like it," said Amelia, feigning ignorance. Not that Mr. Swanson didn't recognize Lauren--he clearly did--but she couldn't let Erin pick up on that recognition.
"Fortunately," said Mr. Swanson, walking back towards a truck, "meeting her request is coincidentally what we had planned next."
Amelia stared after him. "...what?"
"He means," said Erin, "you're gonna practice flying today."
"...What!? But I can already fly."
"Have you ever flown in this form? I’d imagine levitation and rocket thrust are two different things."
"Erin! Behind the glass," called Mr. Swanson, dropping a strappy backpack behind the glass where he too stood.
"Right. Sorry." The woman darted away.
Leaving Amelia standing there, not sure what to do. "Okay, so... What do I do?"
Mr. Swanson said, "Concentrate your fire so it aims down. Put some force behind it too, but start small and build until you achieve liftoff." Looking around, he made sure Amelia was the only one not behind glass, then called out, "FIRE IN THE HOLE! FIRE IN THE HOLE!"
Amelia stood ready, going over how best to do this in her head. Mr. Swanson's advice seemed sound, but how to stand? Finally, she just sighed and went with it, counting down to herself. "Three... Two... One."
Beneath her feet came streams of fire, jutting out in a small disk before curving upwards. Bits of the fire randomly stopped and started as her feet wobbled and blocked the fire from going in different directions, the jets of flame themselves making her footing unsteady. Trying a bit harder, the flames spread out further and moved faster, and she became a bit wobblier but kept upright. She shifted her technique just slightly, shooting fire equally from all parts of the bottom of her feet and with equal amount of force behind it, which had the odd effect of keeping her more stable.
And her feet were no longer touching the ground. But only barely. She held her arms out for better balance. Just a touch more push behind it, and she was now starting to go up. One inch, two, three... The flames fanned across the pavement several feet around her.
A short gust of wind pushed her back, causing her to tilt forward a bit. This was enough to throw off her balance, causing her feet to tilt, pushing her forward. Trying to correct herself, she leaned back, and nearly fell over the other way. She flailed for a moment until she finally extinguished the flames and stumbled onto her butt.
"Are you alright?" said Erin.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Amelia stood up again.
"Use fire from your hands to keep stable!" called the spectating Lauren again.
Amelia looked over at the spectator, wanting to go over and ask a few things, but she was busy right now. She had to keep up appearances. Still, she looked at her hands for a moment. Extra fire from her hands to keep stable? That...might work. She didn't know how well, but it was worth a shot.
Releasing the fire again, she pushed herself upwards a bit. She started to wobble, but then shot streams of fire from her hands. She rose up a bit more before stopping at about two feet up.
Wobbling further, she started to move, gliding a bit over the pavement and turning her hands to compensate. Frequently overcompensating and going backwards or sideways, trying to find a good balance. At one point she fell over forwards, but pushed fire from her hands to stop herself from hitting the pavement.
She kept thinking back towards her first flight. It was...a whole month ago, actually; the twenty-second. What are the odds. She had stumbled a bit, trying to get used to controlling her own flight, not used to steering with nothing. But she had gotten the hang of it rather easily, and was soon rocketing off without a care.
The same seemed to be happening now, as she figured out how to tilt her hands and feet to compensate for subtle shifts in weight and balance. She pushed backwards, then sideways, then spun around, keeping mostly upright for the whole thing.
Feeling explorative, she pushed a bit harder, rising upwards to about six feet. At this height, the wind pushed her a bit more, not having to dodge as many tree branches to get to her. Trying to find a good balance, she pushed fire from her ankles and shins, covering her feet in fire in the process. She felt none of it but a comfortable warmth, and she held her balance better.
Part of her considered shooting fire from still other places to help her keep stable. But she didn't know how truly fireproof her borrowed fireman's jacket was, and didn't want to shoot flames to the inside of the jacket to no practical effect.
She tried to move around again, looking for an easier way to shift around. She first leaned forward and angled her feet back, using her hands to "steer". Then she tried flattening out, like how she'd learned how to fly faster and with less resistance a month ago, but she couldn't maintain it at a low speed and almost fell again.
Back over at the gate, Lauren and the other random spectators were watching what looked like a girl too distant to tell the features of, dressed in a firefighter's jacket, fly with flames shooting from her hands and feet. She was vaguely aware of someone other than herself holding a camera phone. Probably the guy who was already there when Lauren pulled over; she had her dad keep driving unless someone else had stopped to watch.
Lauren wished she could've just watched the whole thing from start to finish, though. Earlier she saw the figure that was clearly Amelia hold a flame to the middle of a rug and keep it from spreading, but since she was in a moving vehicle at the time Lauren couldn't tell for sure what was happening. She just had to get Derek to talk about it later.
"Dad, is that lady a Human Torch?" asked John.
Lauren rolled her eyes and said before their father could, "No. She's a pyrokinetic. A, um... what'd he call it... a Firebender. Human Torch is a specific character."
"Oooh. So she's Azula."
"...who?" She immediately regretted asking, knowing it would bring one of John's lengthy and repetitive explanations.
"Azula is the princess of the Fire Nation, and Zuko's sister. She has blue fire and...and she's mean and a bad guy and-"
"Shush," said the guy with the camera phone.
"Hey! I'm talking!"
"I'm trying to record here. Shush."
"Me too," said Lauren.
"But I was-"
"John," said Lauren's dad, "I know you're talking, but these people want to know what's going on over there."
"But I was talking!"
"John, if this keeps up, I'll take you to the car and we'll go somewhere else."
"She stopped flying," said someone else. Lauren knew; she hadn't stopped watching or recording and had heard Mr. Swanson call 'cease fire'.
"What are they doing now?" said another spectator.
Another car pulled up.
"Hopefully she's testing out flying even more," said Lauren.
"What's going on here?" said a newcomer, a young woman.
"Amelia Powers is doing some fire tests."
"No, actual fire powers," said the recording guy.
"Wait, really? Lemme see."
Lauren glanced back to see how big the crowd was. Eleven including herself...no, another car was pulling up. Word must've been spreading fast.
Looking over at where Amelia was, Lauren saw the empowered girl talking to Mr. Swanson while he and some others were...was that the backpack thing they were putting on her? She wished she could hear them.
"Are you sure?" said Amelia as another strap was tightened.
"I got the parachute, didn't I?"
"How do I know which cord to pull first?"
Mr. Swanson pointed. "This one."
"If she can fly," said Erin, "then why does she even need a parachute?"
"You can never be too careful."
"But how good is a parachute if I don't know how to use it?" said Amelia.
A sigh escaped Mr. Swanson's lips. "In order to get Air Traffic Control to allow this, I had to promise safety measures would be taken. Now, is it secure?"
"Yep. All set," said one of the scientists who was not Erin.
"Alright. Amelia, you're going for speed, and control. Stay close to here and avoid power lines; those are difficult to spot if you're closer to the ground. I'll leave the rest up to you. If you get tired, slow down and make your way back here. Got it?"
"Yes sir," she said.
"Good. Now, one last thing." He slid a flight cap over her head. "So we can maintain radio contact. There's a microphone in there."
"Alright." He turned to the others. "Get back! Get back!" he shouted, leading everyone behind the glass. Once everyone was in the clear, he picked up his radio. "Radio test. Can you hear me?"
["I hear you,"] came Amelia's voice over the radio.
"Good. The range is clear. You may take off when ready."
Amelia was thinking about how to proceed. She could just rocket upwards if she wanted to. Or she could go sideways and lift off more like a plane. There were a couple significant piles of dirt nearby...or was it gravel? Either way...they had sloped sides, so they could do as ramps.
She needed to build this up a little. She started by shooting fire from her feet, hovering just barely off the pavement. Then she leaned forwards as if running, holding her arms low, tilting her feet to stand on her toes, serving to make her slide across the pavement. She turned, going in a somewhat wide circle, getting faster and faster. Lining up with the dirt, she pushed her hands back, building up even more speed as she shot towards the dirt like a jet taking off. Launching herself off the dirt ramp, she straightened her legs and body, rocketing upwards at an angle.
Her hands spread to the sides, palms down, trying to keep her from turning downwards. She flailed a bit, not used to flying by being pushed, but she managed to find the right balance, the right pose to keep stable.
["Everything good?"] said Mr. Swanson in the radio.
"You bet." Amelia put her hands closer to her sides, and shot off faster.
First, turning. She shifted her arms to turn, with some success, then decided to lean into the turn, with better success. Spreading her arms further out helped keep her from descending in the process. She flew over the bridge crossing the highway before turning upwards, leaning back to help with the process, until she was upright, and then further until she was upside down, then spun around to be flying facedown.
["Amelia? How are you?"] It was Erin this time.
"Fine." She made a sharp turn to the right, taking her over the area. She heard a distant cheer from some girl below; she thought it was Lauren, but she'd never heard Lauren cheer or scream before, so she wasn't sure.
["Good. How is it?"]
"Great. I get why people wanted jetpacks in the fifties; it's a lot of fun. I think I like flying the other way, though."
Amelia suddenly stopped her fire, and started to fall unaided. She then held her arms down and shot more fire, which whiplashed her legs to point down, at which point she rocketed up again and banked to flying level. She noticed that this strained her shoulders a bit.
"In this form, I have to keep shooting fire to stay in the air. In the other one, I can float just by not thinking about moving."
["Hmm... I'm wondering if your powers aren't strictly for flying per se."]
"This one's probably fire first and flight second." She turned to be flying on her back. "Think I can try an altitude test?"
["I dunno... We don't have the equipment to measure that."]
["We'll tell you when to stop,"] said Mr. Swanson.
Amelia didn't ask twice, banking straight up and shooting for the sky.
["Hang on a sec,"] said some scientist, too late.
["What is it?"] said Erin.
["I think her chute's on fire."]
["What? Let me see."]
At the scientist's words, Amelia turned to look down. There were flames on her back that she wasn't making.
"Bad." She tried to stop the flames, but the wind was making that difficult, spreading the burnt part out despite her efforts to keep the flames down. She resorted to batting it with her hands, but this meant she wasn't focusing on making fire from them, sending her off balance. She glanced back again after regaining control to see the flames were back. Finally... "Screw it."
And there was a small explosion. The straps that held the parachute on were severed in few sudden bursts of flame. Which was an impressive feat, as she managed to burn through parts of the fire-proof jacket in the process.
Amelia stopped flying shortly after that, now freefalling to catch the burning parachute. This being too slow, she aimed down and shot herself in pursuit, grabbing it when it came close. But then the ground was coming up fast. She tilted her body and used her free hand to steer, clumsily, in the direction of the impromptu launch site. When she was close to the pavement, she dropped the chute and steered upwards sharply, barely skimming over Mr. Swanson and the others.
With a spin to get her bearings, Amelia flew in a short spiral and slowed down until she was floating comfortably over the test site, breathing heavily from the adrenaline rush.
"Well... That was fun."
["Yes, but I wouldn't recommend doing that again,"] said Mr. Swanson.
["I suppose that's what I get for not shelling out the extra thousand dollars for a fireproof parachute."]
Amelia was a tad distracted, though. She saw some red and blue flashing lights on the highway, approaching from the southwest. It looked like only one vehicle, but it was a police car at least.
"Hey, I see a cop car and it's heading this way."
["I hear it too."]
"Looks like..." She squinted, seeing there was some other speeding vehicle ahead of the cop. "It's a car chase, I think."
There was silence on the other end.
["What are you asking me for? You're the superhero."]
Amelia nodded--not that anyone could see her--and flew off towards the chase, banking at one point until she was flying above the police car. Further up the road was a car speeding and swerving past other cars driven by people who were too dumb to pull over and let the cops through.
"Alright... How to do this..." Amelia said to herself. She had fire powers. How could she use that to stop a car without hurting the guy driving it or blowing everything up?
Wait, cars don't drive so well if they don't have tires, right?
Amelia lowered herself towards the road. It was tricky getting close, considering the other cars, but she managed to be above and one lane to the side of the speeder. There was a clear stretch ahead (Now they get out of the way.), so Amelia flew closer to the road, about three feet up. Either the driver was really determined, high as hell, or mind-numbingly oblivious, since he didn't react to Amelia's presence right next to his window. At all.
She held her left arm close for stability and extended her right arm, shooting a jet of fire at the tire. Which worked fine, seeming to melt the tire...until it burst. Shards of rubber propelled by the rapidly-expanded high-pressure air flew off in different directions.
One of which being towards Amelia's face. It didn't go very deep, but it did slice her cheek and damage the radio. It also broke her concentration, meaning she very nearly crashed into the pavement at eighty miles per hour, stumbling to keep this from happening while she tried to slow down and get to the side. Eventually she rolled to a stop, gathering a number of scrapes in the process.
["Amelia, report,"] came Mr. Swanson's voice.
Amelia winced from a particular scrape on her knee, and her face, and her palm. "I'm a little hurt, but I'll be..." She hissed a little. "I'll be okay."
["Amelia, respond. We heard an explosion."]
The radio was drowned out shortly by the police car pulling up, and driving past. Amelia looked over and saw the car whose tire she destroyed had pulled over too, fortunately with only a missing tire and a few scorch marks.
["Amelia, if you can hear me, answer. Fly up, shoot a fireball, something."]
"I'm right here. A few scrapes... It's nothing bad." She paused on that, and realized she'd already endured worse at the hands of Lucas. Worse than getting a cut on her face and several scrapes from rolling on the pavement. That was...kinda sad, now that she thought about it.
["I'm going to see what happened. If she starts responding, let me know."]
["Yes sir. ...Amelia, are you there?"]
Amelia had to give some kind of signal. Looking up, she raised her hand (noticing another scrape, this one bleeding visibly) and shot a burst of fire, then concentrated on that fire not going out. She wasn't creating any more fire; she was simply keeping a flame from going out. She raised that fire upwards, until it was about the size of a tire and floating far above her head. She couldn't see it directly, but she was shaping the flame to look like an arrow pointed down at her.
Mr. Swanson's car pulled up first. "Amelia? Are you okay?"
She hissed once, then said, "It's fine. I've felt worse."
"You're covered in scrapes, you have a gash in your cheek, and there's burns everywhere. Come on; let's get you to a hospital at least."
"No no, I'm... I'm fine. I'm not burnt at all; just my coat. Just need to hide for a minute and I'll be good."
Amelia allowed Mr. Swanson to help her into his car, where she laid down in the back seat. Mr. Swanson started to drive off, but not before checking in with the police officer, who expected a full report on Amelia's involvement. The agent assured the officer he would cover it, up to and including the speeder's car repairs if it came to that, before driving off with the need to have Amelia healed up.
Once away from prying eyes, Amelia transformed back into Derek. He already knew the injuries would stay, but it surprised him a little that the fire jacket and headset hat also remained, as well as a few bloodstains from the still open wounds. With another wince, he pushed past it and shapeshifted again.
This version of Amelia was already wearing bandages, of the gauze wrapping variety, extending from her sleeves to her wrists, from under her knee skirt to her ankles, and from her neck under her shirt to her waist. The shirt and skirt were white, matching her flats, and on top of that, the shirt stopped above the belly and had a red plus sign on the left side over the heart (though Amelia knew the heart was further to the right), and was also pushed forward quite a bit. Her hair was light brown and pulled into two pigtails which looped back to where they started, topped with a white headband.
There were two other things Amelia noticed. One was that the bandages were clean even though Derek's clothes had been bloodied slightly, but that didn't last long as they were very rapidly stained red (though not as much and not in as many places, as if Derek's clothes soaked up most of it). The other was that the burnt coat and damaged headset was gone.
Amelia hovered her hand over her cheek. From her palm, there was a bluish glow. The cut also glowed in that color, but it started getting smaller and smaller until it was completely covered up. Not a scar to be found. Just a smear of blood that had to be cleaned off. Amelia repeated this with where her scrapes and bruises were.
"How'd you come across this one?" asked Mr. Swanson.
"That melting form. Turns out, if my hand isn't in a strictly human shape, like a hook, turning back forces it into that shape rapidly. I think it strains the muscles moving to fix it that fast."
"Sounds like it's part of that thing you mentioned. Your powers are canceled out when you transform."
"Uh huh. But... I used that melty power yesterday and found out I can't change back if I'm missing a leg or two. So there's opposites too. I can't use my powers if I change back, but I can't change back if I use certain powers."
"All the more reason to find out your limits. If there are circumstances that can prevent your transformations, then we'd better find them so we know how to avoid them."
Amelia nodded. She had healed as much of her injuries as she could find. "When I'm using this power... there's kind of a pain-killer effect."
"Also good to know," he said. "But I notice it doesn't put blood back. I suppose that's because the blood could be contaminated with bacteria or dirt that could cause illness or infection, and it's a preventative measure."
Amelia shrugged. She didn't know much about medicine. Bits and pieces, maybe, but still not much.
"How do you feel right now?"
"A little stunned, really. Pavement hurts."
"You haven't heard their records," said Mr. Swanson with a smirk.
"We should get back to the field."
And they did. Amelia turned back and forth to the form with fire powers--first noticing that the burnt coat and headset reappeared on Derek, at which point they were removed for the shift to Amelia before being put back on. Everyone was relieved to see Amelia okay. Amelia, however, was soon asked a barrage of questions and had pictures taken.
"What's it like to fly like that?" "Are you a Firebender like Azula?" "What was that explosion?" "Were you scared?" "You're bleeding?!" That last one came from Lauren. And nobody else, Amelia noticed.
"One at a time, people. One at a time!" Once the small crowd (eighteen people, Amelia counted) quieted down, Mr. Swanson resumed, "Now. Amelia will answer your questions only if she feels like it. Go ahead."
Amelia looked at the crowd nervously. Her eyes trained on Lauren, who made a subtle gesture to continue.
"Uh, well... Um... Different than flying normally because I'm not used to, um...being 'pushed' to fly, I guess. Yes and no; I'm a Firebender technically, but the Fire Nation isn't real. Uh... Car tire from stopping a speeding car. Dunno why he was speeding. Yes, kinda... I got a little close to crashing a couple times, and the last time I did kinda scrape the pavement. No, I'm not bleeding. I was, but I took care of it."
"Wait, does that mean you have healing powers?" "What was that thing you dropped?" "You're not very good at public speaking, are you?" The last one was Lauren again.
"Yes, parachute, no."
"Why did you have a parachute?"
"You're not looking so well." "Can we see the healing form?" "Maybe you should take speech lessons? Or an acting class?"
"I guess I'm still a little stunned. I didn't really expect to do any crime fighting today, let alone have a tire explode in my face. No, you can not." The last question...or suggestion, really...met no response.
"Your coat is burned. You burned yourself?"
"No, actually." Amelia decided to demonstrate with this one, by shooting a small flame down at her leg for several seconds, then pulling away to show a decidedly unburned area. "See? Fireproof."
"Then how did you burn your coat? Isn't that a fireman's jacket?" "Yeah. Aren't those supposed to be fireproof?" "Why didn't you respond?" That last one was Erin.
"Okay, okay, that's enough," said Mr. Swanson. "Her radio was damaged in the tire explosion. Nothing to worry about. Now, I think we've learned plenty today, so let's call it a day."
"Awwww," groaned the crowd.
"Hey, even superheroes need to take lunch breaks. Now, you've been a good if unexpected and...helpful audience--" Mr. Swanson directed that last bit to Lauren. "--and if we ever do anything else out here, we'll let the neighborhood know so we can organize things a little better. But for now, I'm afraid we have to say goodbye."
The actual act of getting out of there took a bit longer, as Mr. Swanson and Amelia had to stay for clean up. Mr. Swanson also called in a few arrangements on the side. When they left, they stopped at a store, where Amelia into the restroom, cleaned up, transformed back and forth to the form with the music note on her shirt, and left in a different agent's car. This made Amelia nervous, but nothing came of it. Eventually Amelia made it home, after a stop at a local Whataburger (the same one she and Lauren usually stopped at, Amelia noticed) to get lunch.
And another few YouTube videos got a few hundred thousand hits each in the first hour.
"I can't believe you got me to do this," said Amelia.
"You agreed it was necessary for a number of reasons," said Lauren. "Especially your freezing up and stuttering last week."
"I know, but I... I still feel uncomfortable."
"Just keep calm and remember your line," suggested Lauren. The two of them approached the house, rang the doorbell, and waite-
"TRICK OR TREAT!"
The man stared at them for a moment before saying, "Aren't you two a little old to go trick-or-treating?"
"Never too old for free candy," said Lauren.
He handed the bowl to the duo, who each took a handful and walked off. "Happy Halloween!" said Lauren with a wave.
Lauren and Derek had debated that Derek needed some way of getting more comfortable with talking to people as a girl. With Halloween just over a week off, Lauren decided it was the perfect opportunity. She'd settled the issue by letting them pick each other's costumes, so if Derek didn't like it, he could get Lauren something embarrassing as payback. There was no insignificant debate about which costume they should wear and, more particularly, which form Derek would be in.
Lauren had lingered on one form in particular that looked like a child-sized gothic doll and was creepy looking. She shuddered to think of what that one's powers were, but Derek assured her its powers were okay, if a little scary. A discussion on possible applications of that one for a revenge prank against Lucas was considered, but ultimately dropped as they got back on the topic of costumes.
Ultimately, Lauren decided that Derek would be in one form that comes with winter clothes by default. Derek didn't have many objections to that form; his only complaint was that the heavy coat was pink and he could easily remove it. Though Lauren noted that the hair was light brown mixed with a kind of red, which made it kinda pink if you stretch it. Derek chose to ignore that information.
For costumes, Derek had an idea in mind for Lauren, but Lauren gave her suggestion first. After thumbing through her comics, she initially considered Amelia dressing as Peggy Carter, an iconic S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was pretty badass, before moving on to the version of Kitty "Shadowcat" Pride from the X-Men "Exiles" series, owing to that particular Shadowcat and that particular Amelia having similar hair colors, until some debate just whittled Amelia's costume to that of a generic X-Man. Which was doable, Derek decided.
Derek had to take Lauren's costume out of his own pocket, much as Lauren did for Amelia's, except Lauren could afford it while he couldn't. Fortunately for him, he found help from a certain G-man, who was surprisingly willing to fund a simple costume.
Back in the present, the two of them approached the next house, Lauren keeping a grip on Amelia's forearm. "How did your Dad ever let you do this?" asked Lauren.
"I told him I was gonna try out a different neighborhood this time. I didn't mention the...you know, girl thing."
"Yeah, he's not very good about that, is he?"
"He's trying. Were your eyes always this bad, or did Mike throwing soup at your face make it bad?"
Lauren was currently without glasses. "No, they were terrible before. Nothing got in my eyes, thank God."
They approached the door and rang the doorbell. "Trick or treat!" they said when the door opened.
But the woman scowled. "No. If you teenagers don't get off my property in five seconds, I will call the police! Understand!? I've had it with you!" And she slammed the door in their faces.
"...well that was rude," said Amelia.
"Indeed." They turned to leave, passing a few kids (Lauren bumped into one, but apologized). The kids rang the doorbell only to meet the woman yelling before she realized she'd just scared a group of six-year-olds. One of them started crying. The woman slammed the door anyway and turned off her lights.
At the next house, Lauren and Amelia met the person with the usual phrase.
"Oh my," said the older lady. "What have we here? Some... Yellow and black, X symbol... You're an X-Man, right?"
"Yes, Ma'am," said Amelia.
"Spot-on! I was a fan back when it was new. Good to see the younger kids have good taste in entertainment."
"Actually it was her idea." Amelia pointed to Lauren. "We picked each other's costumes."
"Hmm... Well then she has good taste in comics. I don't have a clue what she's supposed to be. Some kind of dark samurai?"
"...I guess that's one way of describing it," said Amelia. Lauren was actually dressed as a Soul Reaper from Bleach, specifically Rukia Kuchiki because of the resemblance between Rukia and Lauren (minus Lauren's green eyes, glasses, and hairstyle, and Lauren fixed the latter two for the sake of the holiday).
The duo got their candy, but Amelia got two extra handfuls for some reason. As they walked to the next place, Lauren asked, "So, what was all that about? Why'd you get more than me?"
Amelia shrugged. "She thought I had the better costume, I guess."
Lauren started to turn to the next house, but was held back. "What is it?"
Amelia pointed. "Them."
"All I see is three figures. Who are they?"
"Lucas, Mike, and Ben." The three bullies were coming around the corner where Amelia and Lauren had come from.
"Crap. ...actually, I never met Ben."
"Dumb as a brick, faster than lightning, really mean but only when Lucas is around. Let's try the house."
Each house didn't really help, as the bully trio kept getting closer while the two girls stopped for candy. They hoped Lucas's group would turn left and go bug a different neighborhood.
And they picked up their pace when the trio spotted them and walked faster. One more house, and they'd caught up.
"He-hey," said Mike. "What's a couple of cute ladies like you doing out here by yourself?"
"Getting candy," said Amelia.
"Right. Sure. Candy."
"Shut up," said Lucas. "What are you supposed to be?"
"A dark samurai," said Lauren. "What are you, the Easter Bunny?"
Ben started laughing, but a sudden egg to the face from Lucas' egg carton shut him up.
"The Easter Bunny, the Toiletnator, and...you." Mike being the 'you' in Amelia's count.
"Yeah, and what are you, a bumblebee? Who are you anyway?"
"Melanie Stevens," said Amelia. She and Lauren picked that alias by finding the name "Mel" in "Amelia" and expanding on it, and Amelia's official last name. They knew it wouldn't get any use after today, but it was good to have a backup plan.
"And how come I've never seen you at school before?"
"Shut up," repeated Lucas, who then turned to Lauren. "What are you doing out here? Lookin' to join us for some fun?"
"Nope," answered Lauren. "Just trick-or-treating. Didn't even know you'd be around here; if I did, I would've stayed home."
"Well how about we go over to my place so we can-"
"Don't you dare finish that sentence if you value your dignity."
Lucas scooted back a bit and covered his crotch protectively at that. Amelia smirked. "What's so funny?" asked Lucas.
He suddenly got loud. "You better tell me what was so funny before I rearrange your face!"
Amelia shut up and glared at him. "Excuse me, but I don't think you know who you're dealing with. My Dad's a cop. If you hurt us, if you touch us, if you so much as breathe at us wrong, I can land you in the slammer faster than you can say 'convicted'. Same with those eggs; vandalism's illegal, you know."
"Fine," said Lucas. "Come on, guys. Let's go find some other street to egg."
"Yeah," said Ben, following Lucas. But not before grabbing towards Lauren's bag of candy. Lauren pulled away, and Ben left, deciding it wasn't quite worth the effort.
Mike lingered for a moment, then headed off with a "Tch. See you around, Rukia."
"Did he actually guess correctly?" said Lauren once Mike was far enough away.
"Mike was always smarter than the other two," said Amelia, "and he's worn shirts from the show so I guess he's a fan."
Suddenly Lucas slipped and fell on his butt. Ben and even Mike started laughing.
"What happened? What'd you do?"
"He slipped on ice."
"What th- You froze the ground under him?"
"Nope. Just the bottom of his shoe. Oh my god! He landed on his eggs!"
"Damn. The one time he gets what's coming to him and I'm blind as a bat."
"Maybe you could wear the glasses?"
"No no, you were right about authenticity."
Amelia nodded. "So...next house?"