The next day was pretty normal, Patricia was there, her hand bandaged up but she minded her own business that day. But that changed at the end of Divergent History class when Mr Godric gave us a team assignment to do by Friday; to research and do a presentation of an important figure or moment of divergent history. As everyone got up to find a partner, I remained sat, knowing I’d get stuck with whomever hadn’t found someone else. Except to my surprise, Mackenzie came to me and sat down in the next seat.
“Want to work on this together?” She said with a smile, running a hand down her hair.
“Sure…” I said, feeling odd. It was so unusual to have someone noticing me, wanting to be near me, I didn’t know what to do.
“You have anything you want to do the report on?”
“I don’t really know all that much about divergent history.” I said, lamely. “It kind of depresses me, to be honest…” I might have been divergent but I’d never really connected with the community or obsessed over the history, it was kind of depressing to learn about people having the adventures you weren't allowed to join by motherly decree.
“That’s alright, I’m somewhat of an expert. I’m guessing most people will talk about the exaltation or whomever their current idol is, generally Mega Girl, Patriot if they're jerks or whatever villain is popular right now.” I nodded, not knowing what to say.
With my limited knowledge I knew only a few basic things I’d gleaned from the class: The exaltation was the name they had given to the first time a human being had gained superpowers, it marked the end of the terror, that stretch of time since giant super powered city-destroying monsters had inexplicably appeared eighteen years ago and started razing cities every so often along the pacific ocean’s coast.
“How about something local? The establishment of the Anchorage Guardians and the defeat of the Red Path?”
I had no idea what the Red Path was, but I accepted.
“Back then the team was composed of Kickback, Molecular, Hekatonkheire, Rave, Heatwave, Jackdaw and Dazzle.” She counted the names with her fingers.
I’d never heard of them.
“You’re kind of a cape geek.” I stupidly blurped out.
“You could say that.” She answered with amusement clear in her voice. “Say, since the day is almost over, want to hang out after school? We could go to my place, work on the homework and stuff.”
I took a moment to think, I didn’t really have anything to do… No, I never had anything to do after school…
After a few minutes, the three-o’clock bell rang, the students in class leaving. Kenzie waited for everyone else before getting up with me, she took the lead toward her locker and I followed after shoving my books in my bag. She grabbed her coat and we headed for the nearest exit.
“My place is a little far, but there should be someone to pick us up.”
She was right, in the ring where school buses waited, there was a black sedan like the one I’d seen the previous night. She hopped in the back and I took the back seat on the street’s side.
“Hey Jacob.” She said to the driver. “You know where to get us.”
“Good afternoon, Miss Mackenzie.”
“Do you have your own chauffeur?” I whispered to her.
“Something like that. It comes with being disabled.”
For a moment I stared at her leg braces and I caught her eyes looking at me. “I didn’t mean to stare.” I mumbled, looking away. I didn’t want to offend her by gawking at her… She was the only person being nice to me after all.
She put a hand on my shoulder and I jerked a little. “Relax, it’s normal to be curious.” That didn’t really soothe me. “I can explain, if you want me to.”
“Only if you really don’t mind. Like you really don’t have to.”
“I have cerebral palsy.” She said without any hesitation. “Before I was born, something happened, we don't know what, that caused some damage in my brain that impair my motor functions; my leg muscles are excessively stiff, with some minor effect in my arms. The braces allow me to walk normally by holding my joints at the right angles. In case you’re wondering, it’s a stable condition, I won’t degrade as I grow up.”
“Oh okay...” I shifted uncomfortably in the seat, silence filling the car for a second.
“Are you always this stressed or only when you’re with me?”
“It’s more like an ongoing thing, I guess it’s just how I am. I’m feeling a little trapped and I don’t know… I’m not used being around people, talking and things.”
But it get worse when I’m near a really smart, cool and cute girl… I thought, but didn’t say out loud. I didn’t want to risk her being disgusted at me…
“Well, I like you Paige, you seem like a really nice girl that I want to know and I hope I don’t cause you too much stress.” Her hand brushed up against mine and after a moment, we quietly held hand in the car. It was oddly soothing, even if I got all flustered. Just focusing on her soft skinned hand.
“We’re here.” She said.
The chauffeur parked in front of a compound that didn’t look remotely residential, three concrete buildings surrounded by a thick concrete wall topped with barbed wire. unmarked beyond the street address above the entrance.
“This is your house?” I asked.
“Not my parent’s obviously, but I’m boarding here.” We got out of the car and when we were on the sidewalk, her hand found mine again. If she noticed I was blushing, she didn’t show it. She held her wallet against a reader by the door and we walked through the front door into a reception area.
“G’evening Rita!” Mackenzie said. “Usual old me with a friend.” It felt odd but heartwarming to be called that.
“Evening Kenzie. The others are in the west pavilion if you’re looking for them.”
Mackenzie turned to me as we walked down into a shallow tunnel to what I presumed was another building. “I just need to go see the others, shouldn’t take long.”
“I’m kind of confused about what’s going on here…”
“I’ll explain in a minute, bear with me?” She said making a pleading, puppy-dog face.
We came into what looked like a gymnasium and I saw that five people were already inside of it. Something was off about them. They stopped doing anything and looked our way, as we got closer I realized who they were.
“Kenzie, you’re not supposed to bring your--” The only adult in the group, a man in a tank top and a large domino mask said, pausing after 'your', only for Mackenzie to continue.
“My friend, Paige.” The man gave her a very skeptical nod.
The others gathered around us, I was surrounded by superheroes in full costumes. Four teenagers and tank top guy.
“We talked about this, you’re not supposed to bring civilians here.” One of the teen said, a hint of a russian accent in his voice. He wore a matte white body armor with silver pieces, covered with harnesses holding different oddities, his face was obscured by a white balaclava that let his medium length brown hair loose and his eyes hidden behind red goggles. He had a earpiece hanging off his left ear. “You don’t see us bringing friends here.”
“Volley, dude, that’s because none of us have any.” Another one joked, I couldn't place his accent beyond somewhere in Asia, although it wasn't very thick. He was wearing an orange and black suit, with a gray wavy-pattern to it, his face was partially hidden behind a oversized domino mask, that left the coppery skin of his neck and jaw exposed. “When was the last time any of us got out to do something other than kick villain’s butt?”
“This is really not the time to for that, Buzzkill.” Volley sighed.
“Booooooo!” Buzzkill responded, throwing a tiny rubber ball from the floor at him. He reflexively batted it away and it went my way.
My ability was very sensitive, it didn’t matter if it was harmless, it activated, wrapping my torso in a layer of liquefied air. Every eyes except Mackenzie’s turned toward me.
“Did she just?” Buzzkill said.
“Definitely.” The third boy of the group spoke with a serious voice, having stayed on the sideline since the argument has begun. He wore a light gray armor that formed geometric patterns engraved in light blue, his face concealed by full helmet with the same pattern.
“You’re divergent?” The adult asked.
“Yeah...” I wanted to run away and hide.
“What can you do?” His attitude had changed.
“I kind of make an armor out of liquid air to protect me, I don’t really control it, it comes out when it senses something.”
“I’ll make you a deal miss-- What’s your name again?”
“Paige. Just Paige is fine.”
“Alright, Paige. If you do this training exercise with us, I’ll forgive Kenzie’ little infraction and let her give you a tour of the gamma restricted sectors. How does that sound?”
I looked at Kenzie and her face told me everything I needed to know. I couldn’t let her be in trouble.
“I’ll do it”
“Let’s see what you can handle. Amarok, Volley. You two are up against her, no holding back. Hedron, Kenzie, Buzzkill, you’re on the bench.” I gave my bag to Kenzie and she left for the bench.
That seemed rather unfair, two against one. Two experienced heroes against me, whose only fighting experience was hurting someone who tried to hit me by pure accident…
Without really talking about it, we set up in a triangle about ten yards from each others at the center of the arena. On the side where the benches were, a thick plexiglass barrier rose from the ground up to protect them.
I took a second to look at the only person I hadn’t had time to inspect, having hung in the back and remained quiet. Amarok was a tiny girl, she wore a blue fur trimmed coat with a hood over body armor, her face was hidden behind a sculpted wolf mask with lens hiding her eyes.
“Ready, Set, Go!” The man I hadn’t caught the name yelled.
As soon as the signal was given, I charged at the boy.
“Brick alpha.” Volley took out a ball from his harness and it began showering me with bits of hard rubber, shooting tons of miniature projectiles in a cone at me. Still, my armor handled it, absorbing the energy of the hits and I starting running toward him. His ball had disappeared and he drew out another, once again pelting me with rubber bullets.
Breaking things into bits and shooting them as projectile, that was his power. It didn’t seem all that dangerous to me.
He moved backward slowly, but not fast enough to get out of arm’s length, I clumsily struck at him and he dodged to the left, rolling out of the way before getting back on his feet. He had practiced this move.
“Brawler alpha.” He shouted.
I turned toward him and took a few steps when my armor formed all over my body, a second later, something hit me with full force, sending me toppling me and sprawling me on the ground. Slightly off of where I'd been standing was now a quadrupedal creature; mostly opaque, made of a green angular solid material, like it was made of colored plastic you could see only a tiny bit through. It’s stance shifted and it jumped at me,. I didn't really think and hit it, my fist was covered in my armor in anticipation of the impact.
We hit each others, it’s mass and momentum enough to send me on my ass. On the far side of the arena, I saw the girl; holding her hands out and a greenish goo dripping down, solidifying into another of the creature. She was one of those minion summoner type.
“Brick beta.” The boy shouted, bringing my attention back to him for a moment.
He took out another thing and this time, metal shards rained at me, my armor handled it, but unlike the rubber, they stung pretty hard. The creature next to me began to get back up and I kicked it clumsily. Sending it rolling down. Either these things were very light or I hit much stronger than I thought I could.
I felt the armor form over my back and turned to intercept the next creature that had run up to me, I caught that one without falling down again, it clung to me and tried raking at my armor, it was somewhat heavy and it’s flailing put me off balance, which answered the question; I hit harder than I thought.
“Schemer alpha.” The girl yelled, somehow making that sound timid.
I really wanted to know what those code words meant. That’s when the first creature came back and tackled me right in the legs, I fell on my ass again and the two things started trying to maul me. I tried to get them off, but by the time I had pushed one away, the other was clinging to me. Soon enough, Volley was at my side, aiming a gun to my head from inches away.
“Bang. Bang.” She said tonelessly.
A whistle signaled the end of the exercise. And the creatures retreated and mobbed around their master who had created a third one while I was down.
Mackenzie jogged up to me, looking uncomfortable doing so and gave me a hand, I rose back to my feet, struggling to keep standing, I was already aching all over and exhausted even if the exercise hadn’t taken more than a few minutes…
“Want to go hang in our lounge?” She asked.
“I’d be happy anywhere so long as I can crash down for a while.” I said, smiling weakly.