Scene 4 – October 28th
Interior Coulton Library – Early Afternoon
A few days later, I was at the library doing some research for this week’s Metahuman History course. We were each assigned to pick one figure from early metahuman history and write a paper about their lives and impacts on today’s society – I had chosen Aaron Atwick. I was skimming through Atwick’s Argument, a biography of the man which alternated between chapters telling about his life and chapters relating that portion of his life to parts of his most famous theory, when he had proved that 20% of metahumans used magic.
It was the kind of book I would love to read for pleasure, but as a source for a research paper, I had to admit that it left something to be desired. The biography chapters were too fictionalized to be used as sources, while the science portions were too split up. Still, I was resolved to at least finish skimming, and intended to check it out to read properly later.
After a few more minutes, I set it aside and turned to the next book I had pulled from the shelves, Scientific Sorcery, another biography of Atwick which was ought to be less fictionalized. Before I could open it, though, a familiar figure sat across from me.
“Quinn!” said my friend Devon Durandel brightly, setting down a thick sheaf of papers. “It’s nice to run into you. How are you doing?”
I smiled at them. “I’m doing…” I trailed off, then shook my head. “No, I shouldn’t lie. I’m at a real turning point here, Devon, and I don’t know what to do. Everything feels like it’s up in the air, and I don’t know what to do.” I gestured to my own stack of books. “I’ve been throwing myself into schoolwork to try and avoid thinking about it, but it hasn’t helped much.”
They nodded. “I know how that is. I did something similar when I was starting to come to grips with being nonbinary – I thought if I kept myself busy those thoughts would go away, but…”
“…but they keep breaking in,” I agreed. “It’s a real pain.”
“Sure is,” they said, then took the first paper off of their stack. “Well, I’d be happy to try and give you advice if you’d like. If you’d prefer silence, I need to read these papers.”
“Advice would be nice, but… maybe in a little bit,” I said. I needed to figure out exactly how much I was going to tell them. “Let’s try distracting me at least once more. What papers do you have there?”
“I’m doing research for a patient with a particularly stubborn type of Alzheimers,” they explained. “I can’t give you identifiable details, obviously.”
“That said, I can tell you it’s a tricky situation. It’s not any of the most common types of the disease – the hospital’s magical healer can treat those just fine, if slowly. It’s some kind of odd variant that hasn’t been seen before.”
“Already troublesome,” I commented. “Do you have any idea why?”
“Some,” they said. “The patient in question apparently has decades of exposure to magical artifacts, which may have affected their genetics or even caused them to build up a resistance to magic.”
“Have you tried contacting Arthur Peregrine?” I asked. “Greatest magician and greatest healer in the world, he might have some ideas.”
“That insight was the result of contacting Peregrine,” Devon informed me. “I’ve been treating this patient for three years, and sent a message to him about a year and a half ago. He only just got back to me, along with suggestions for studies I should look into that might help me untangle the magical mess.” They patted the stack of papers. “Therefore…”
“I assume the patient can’t afford Peregrine Hospital?”
They shook their head. “No. There’s an anonymous donor who’s paying for their stay at NV General, but their pockets don’t run nearly that deep – or they’re not willing to, for an Alzheimer’s patient who still has at least a few years longer. I’m told the family is trying to raise money for it, but…”
I nodded. “Not an option right now. So this magical mess is keeping the magical healers from being able to treat it?”
“It’s keeping them from diagnosing it properly, too. So we’re stuck with conventional methods, which have never been all that successful for Alzheimer’s, let alone this weird variety.”
“That sucks,” I commiserated. “I hope you can find an answer for this guy.”
“So do I.”
We fell silent, each returning to our reading.
Scene 5 – October 28th
Interior Coulton Library, Afternoon
It was some time later that I finally worked up the nerve to ask Devon for help. “It’s a job thing,” I said out of the blue, and they glanced up at me.
“This is your turning point?” they asked.
I nodded. “It’s… alright, hypothetical situation.”
Devon set the paper they had been reading aside. “Is this one of those hypothetical situations where it’s actually you?”
“It might be,” I hedged, probably unconvincingly. “Hypothetically.”
They nodded. “Hypothetically. Alright, go on.”
“Hypothetically, I’ve recently discovered a unique skill,” I began. “A talent that qualifies me for a job that I didn’t think I could do, before, and therefore never looked into.”
“Is this a job that you’d like to do? Hypothetically?” they added with a definite smirk.
“Hypothetically, it may have been my dream when I was a kid,” I admitted. “But childhood dreams aren’t based on knowing what it’s actually like, you know?”
“I do,” they admitted. “Are you having second thoughts about wanting it, now that it’s actually possible?”
I shook my head. “No, it’s more that…” I drummed my fingers on the table. “It’s a really big commitment,” I finally said. “Hypothetically, it could eat up my entire life. It certainly wouldn’t let me become a doctor as well. Which makes all of the time I’ve spent studying for it feel like a waste.”
“Have you enjoyed your studies?”
“Well, yeah. Most of the time.”
“Not a waste, then.”
“What else?” they asked.
“Well… I suppose one of the big things is that the job might require me to move to another city,” I told them. “I like New Venice, I don’t want to leave. And besides… my dad is here. All my friends, too, those few that I have.”
“Is this one of those jobs that’s very lucrative? You could potentially bring him with you.”
I shook my head. “No, it’s not.” Then I paused – heroes had merchandise, after all, and while part of it went to the government and part of it went to charity, I was sure that part of it went to the hero as well. The most popular of heroes – Aegis, for example – no doubt made a tidy income from those royalties combined with the MLED salary. But it wasn’t as though I would ever be one of those hyper-popular figures. “Probably not, anyway,” I corrected myself.
“Well, it’s not the end of the world if you end up moving,” Devon told me. “I’ve done it myself – I’m lucky to have gotten to stay at NV General after my residency, but I’m not originally from New Venice. You’re a good kid, you’ll make new friends. And hey,” they added, “you don’t have to lose contact with the friends you have here. You’re not going to lose my number just because you moved. Your dad isn’t going to forget you just because you don’t live with him anymore.”
“You’re right,” I admitted, “it’s just a big decision, you know? It’s a completely different direction for my life than what I had planned up until now.”
“It sounds like it,” Devon agreed. “That kind of decision shouldn’t be made lightly. How long do you have to decide?”
I was still in my one month grace period, having only gotten my powers two weeks ago, so… “I have another two weeks before I really need to make a decision,” I said. “After that I think I could still take the job, but it would probably be a little more complicated to do so.” Director Shepard had told me personally that she wanted to have me as a hero, after all, and I knew that there were metahumans who had retired from heroing into the private sector, or vice versa. I had to assume that there was paperwork involved, though.
“Then take your time,” they advised. “Don’t rush into it. Talk to people you trust, get their view on things. Talk to people who’re already in this job, if you can, see what they think. Talk to your dad.”
“He’s all for it. You know him – he believes in me 100 percent, even if I don’t.”
“I guess I should have expected that. David is a great guy and a good father.”
Devon seemed to be hesitating for a moment, then asked, “Speaking of your dad, has he told you how his health is recently? I worry about the guy.”
“Not really. He was in the hospital again recently, but he was out again before long. We don’t tend to talk details about it – he doesn’t like talking about it, I don’t think.” Neither did I, really.
“I can understand that, I guess,” they admitted, “but still. Ask him what’s up. For now though, let’s talk about something a little lighter than intractable Alzheimer’s or your father’s health or a hypothetical job as a superhero -”
“Did I say superhero?”
“Hypothetically, I might be making an assumption,” they said, giving me a wink, “but am I wrong?”
“You are not,” I admitted. “Hypothetically.”
“So yeah, let’s turn to a lighter subject. What are you doing for Halloween this year?”
Scene 6 – October 28th
Interior Coulton Library – Continuous
I blinked. “Fuck, I completely forgot! I’ve been so wrapped up in this new thing that I haven’t even thought about it!” I cupped my face in my hands and groaned. “God, what can I even put together in just three days?”
“You know you can just buy a costume, right?” Devon asked.
I peeled off a hand to give them a look. “You can just buy a costume. I have a reputation.” It wasn’t one I had asked for, admittedly, but at this point it would disappoint people if I didn’t live up to it.
“…I think I’m missing something.”
“One of the fraternities at UNV hosts this big costume party every year on Halloween,” I explained. “They rent out a nice big space and invite everyone in the college – it’s both surprisingly accepting and surprisingly responsible, for a frat party. They check drinking ages, designated drivers get free drinks, the frat bros themselves are constantly roaming, making sure no one is being harassed or dangerously drunk.”
“Sounds like a nice party.”
“It is. And I’ve won the costume contest for the last three years running,” I said proudly. “So I can’t show up in a store bought costume – it’s got to be something good.”
“Hm…” Devon eyed me appraisingly, probably picturing me in various costumes. “What costumes have you won with in the past?”
I raised a finger. “Freshmen year I dressed up as a wizard. I had a robe, flash paper for special effects, and a pretty realistic-looking fake beard.” Another finger. “Sophomore year I made myself up as Han Solo – the tricky part there was the makeup, more than the outfit. And the impression, too, but I managed to get it down. That was when I was starting to have less time, classes kicking into high gear.” A third finger. “And last year I had even less time, but I borrowed a leather jacket, gelled my hair to hell and back, and did an early Elvis.”
“Sounds like your best bet is something that you can do mostly with an impression, then. Can you work one up in three days?”
“For the length of a party, probably. But of who?”
“Well, you’ve got a couple different genres represented so far. The wizard is fantasy, Han is sci-fi, and Elvis is real life. Maybe someone from a romance? How about whatshisface from Pride and Prejudice?”
“No way,” I said, shaking my head. “Recognition is important for a contest like this. It’s gotta be something recognizable – people vote for things they know as much as they do for impressive costumes. If I’m up against someone who has a good costume but of someone more recognizable…”
“Fair enough,” Devon admitted. “I don’t know then.”
“I’ll have to keep thinking about it,” I said with a sigh, “and quickly.”