2.1. Scenes 1-4

Scene 1 – November 1st
Interior Guest Room, Late Morning
Quinn Kaufman

I didn’t sleep much – or if I did, it wasn’t very restful. I didn’t toss and turn, just lay and space out. My mind was lost in a sea of fog, a wall of grief blotting me out from feeling… anything.

Ironic that my thoughts are becoming so poetic now, after my father died.

Eventually, I stopped staring at the wall and rose. It was at that point that I realized I wasn’t sure where I was.

Most of the previous night was a blur – I could only remember bits and pieces. I thought I remembered Devon saying something about calling Holly? She couldn’t have taken me home, since she had never been to my house, but I did remember the revelation that she lived in a mansion. Maybe there was a spare room – that she had stashed me? I wondered what her parents thought of…

I came back to myself after what I hoped was only a few moments. It seemed unlikely, I decided, that I was in Holly’s mansion. The room was rather bare and spartan, and I doubted that people as rich as that were particularly minimalist. So where was I, then?

My ESP might not be have been able to see through walls like Hypnos’ sensory projection could, but I could still get quite a bit of information if I tried. I took a deep breath, bracing myself for the slight headache that had come along with this when I had done it in the past, and shifted the ESP to plug into my hearing rather than my proprioception.

Instantly, I could hear everything – everything that caused even the slightest vibration of anything in the small room I had woken in. It wasn’t as great a magnification to my senses as I had experienced in the junkyard, since my presence filled only the room I was in instead of a radius of several city blocks, but it was enough to tell me where I was.

Judging from the low, near-constant rumbling of voices and feet shuffling in all directions, I was in a crowded building. Judging from the faint hum of plasma, I was in one of the few buildings in New Venice that was powered by an internal plasma generator – mostly corporate or governmental buildings. And judging by the murmur of conversation I could hear a few rooms away, I was in a building in Holly and Abe. All that added up to tell me that I was in the MLED Compound – presumably in one of the spare rooms.

Scene 2 – November 1st
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Quinn Kaufmann

I stumbled into the common room a few minutes later, finding Holly and Abe both there along with Simone, who was dozing quietly as she lay across one couch.

No, not quietly, I corrected myself as she let out what was obviously a snore, but in eerie silence. Holly had just magically silenced her snoring.

“Quinn!” the illusionist cried as I entered. “You’re awake!”

“Yeah,” I said, finding a chair and collapsing into it. “I guess I am.”

“Are you alright, kid?” Abe asked. He was wearing Canaveral’s white jumpsuit but had the cowl down, as it seemed he often did in the Compound. “Holly told me what happened…”

“…Quinn? Quinn!” Abe snapped his fingers in front of my face again. “Come back to us, kid!”

“Sorry,” I said, blinking as the world came back into focus. “I spaced out a bit there, I guess…”

Abe stood up straight again and exchanged a worried look with Holly, then said, “Holly and Simone brought you back to the Compound after the doctor called them. They didn’t think you should be alone right now, and I have to agree.”

I nodded. “Yeah, that… thank you,” I said to Holly.

“It was the least I could do,” she said quietly. She clearly hadn’t gone home – she was still wearing the same sweater from last night. Simone, however, had at some point changed out of her costume into something more casual.

“Do you know what you’re going to do next?” Abe said, seeming to choose his words carefully.

“I… I’m going to have to find where dad left his will, I suppose,” I said. “He knew this was coming, so he’ll probably have left something somewhere. And then… I’m going to join the Journeymen. If you’re still have me.”

They exchanged another look. “Are you sure?” Abe asked. “You shouldn’t make any snap decisions.”

“I’m sure,” I said. “I promised…”

“…well, if you’re sure,” Abe was saying. That time, I thought, had only been a few seconds.

“They’re sure,” Holly said firmly. “And…” She trailed off, then glanced at Canaveral and said something that failed to enter my ears.

“Please don’t talk behind my back – not right in front of me, at least,” I said. “I’m not going to shatter if I hear something bad right now.”

“Really? Because you look like a wet paper towel right now. We just don’t want to hurt you more.”

“I’m already broken,” I said. “How much more damage can you do?”

Holly sighed. “I was just saying that even if you’re only joining to get a little support, that might actually be the best thing for you right now.”

I nodded. “You’re… not wrong,” I said. “Either about that being part of the reason – although not the whole – and… about me needing it. I…”

I felt myself begin to cry only when the first drop fell from my chin to my lap. “I’m sorry,” I gasped. “I don’t know what…”

“It’s okay, Quinn,” Holly said, sitting next to me. “We’re happy to give you the support you need.”

I didn’t deserve this kind of care, I knew. I had done nothing to earn this. But I couldn’t bring myself to protest.

Holly was incredible. But I couldn’t… whatever I had promised my dad when he lay there dying, I…

…I couldn’t inflict myself on her. Not now.

Scene 3 – November 5th
Interior Testing Facility, Early Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

For days, I had just… drifted.

Dad’s will had been emailed to me on the night of the 31st, timestamped at around the time I had met Holly and Simone for the party – it seemed he had sent it to me after Doctor Yaffe had told him it was time. I spent most of the 1st and 2nd arranging his funeral – he had set some money aside for it, and specified exactly what he wanted in the message.

Going through the funeral had helped – seeing how many people were there, either to pay their respects to my father or to support me, as Holly had promised to do, had meant a lot, even though I had had difficulty feeling it at the time – as had spending the entirety of the 3rd sleeping.

The 4th had been filled with legalities and phone calls and emails – there was a lot of paperwork to go through to register myself with the DMO and to join the Journeymen – or rather, I had learned, ‘the New Venice MLED Junior Heroic Agent team’. No wonder MLED-sponsored teams got nicknames – it was for simplicity as well as to match the tradition of superheroic teams that had existed since before the DMO was founded, and which still existed today in some cities.

Plus I had had to call the college and let them know why I was going to be missing a week of school. That conversation hadn’t been pleasant. They already knew that dad was dead, of course – I supposed he must have had a message set up to go to them as well – so it was a lot of awkwardness as they tiptoed around the subject and I, still largely enfolded in grayness even though I was trying to push through, simply barreled through it like a bull in a china shop.

I was still staying at the Compound. I… hadn’t been back home yet. The thought hurt too much to even consider. I knew I would have to go eventually – if only to pack up my essentials and get clothes and toiletries of my own instead of the stuff I had bought from the gift shop, all branded and themed after various MLED heroes – and Holly had volunteered to accompany me, but… for now, it was enough, and I could continue avoiding it.

Today, having finished the paperwork shortly before lunch, it was time to go through powers testing. I had messaged Simone to ask her to pick up the PA4 from home, and was waiting for her – or for the power testers, whoever arrived first – in a large, gym-like room.

As no one seemed to be coming, however, I closed my eyes, and just… waited.

Scene 4 – November 5th
Interior Testing Facility, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

Eventually, I heard a polite clearing of the throat, and opened my eyes to see two people in front of me – a muscular black man not much taller than me in a skintight suit cut in a similar style to the PA4, and a taller, somewhat lighter-skinned black woman with braided hair, a lab coat, and a clipboard.

“Miss…” she glanced at her clipboard. “Sorry, Mx. Kaufman? Is that right?”

I nodded, standing. “Yes. I’m nonbinary, I use they/them pronouns, so… Mx.”

“I’ll do my best,” she said – she seemed to have a bit of an accent – Italian? I supposed that New Venice had a substantial Italian population – perhaps she was biracial. “You’re the first person I’ve met who uses they/them, so I can’t promise perfection, but…”

“If you’re making an effort, that’s all I can ask,” I assured her.

“So, Mx. Kaufman. I’m Dr. Anomnachi, a specialist in metahuman research,” she said, offering a hand, “but you can call me Isabella, or even just Belle if you prefer. I don’t tend to stand on ceremony.” Italian first name, and what I thought was a nigerian last name – that supported the biracial theory. She jerked a thumb at the superhero next to her. “This is Starling.”

“Quinn,” I told her, shaking her hand. “I don’t either. I barely recognized you without the cape,” I said to Starling, offering him my hand. He scowled as he shook it, but didn’t say anything.

“He’s grouchy because his cape is malfunctioning – it helps him fly – and he’s not terribly friendly at the best of times,” Belle said. “Don’t take it personally.”

I nodded. “Alright. You’re here to test my powers, then?”

“Mhm,” she hummed, glancing over the clipboard again. “I work with the DMO a lot to run these powers tests, but you probably won’t see much of me unless you’re acting as a safety officer for a test – that’s what Starling is here for.”

He grunted, taking a seat on the bench I had vacated. “You’d better not actually need me, I’m trying to figure out what went wrong with the cape.” He removed a short baton from his belt – his vaunted tech-staff, a thousand different tools all in one gadget – extended what appeared to be a holographic screen from it to turn it into a tablet, and began examining a set of blueprints.

“Once I’m done, you’ll have more contact with Dr. Rogers – he’s the lead physician for New Venice’s MLED agents,” she continued. “Now, introductions over – let’s get started, shall we?”

I allowed the testing to blur by, for the most part. Dr. Anomnachi may not have stood on ceremony, but she didn’t mess around when it came to her work. She briskly ran me through a series of tests to check if I had beyond-human abilities in any way other than the ones I had noticed – from strength to toughness to speed.

None of them turned up anything, unsurprisingly. I didn’t seem to have any powers other than the two I had discovered on my own. The testing for those powers, though, did bring me out of my funk and back into the present.

“I see you reported a sort of radial ESP,” Belle said, tapping her clipboard. “Tell me more about that.”

“Extending in all directions from me, there’s an area in which I have massively enhanced sensory input,” I said. “It plugs into my proprioception by default, letting me feel and understand the location, shape, and momentum of everything in my radius, but I can shift it to other senses if I try. Doing that inhibits all other senses to almost nothing, though, while using it with proprioception doesn’t.”

She made a few notes. “Perhaps you’re directing all your senses into just one, not the ESP alone. Might be worth experimenting with. What is it like for other senses?”

“Vision lets me see everything within the radius, which… doesn’t seem super useful, to be honest. Seeing in, effectively, all directions is cool,” I said, nodding to Starling – omnidirectional sight was one of the many enhanced senses that he had, “but it doesn’t tell me much that the proprioception doesn’t except for color. Audio gives me something approaching echolocation, because with such a wide area to pickup sounds from, I can hear things that are much fainter, and to a greater fidelity.”

“Interesting.” She frowned at the board for a moment, then stared at me as though I was a puzzle. “And your telekinesis operates only on the same radius?”

“As far as I’ve observed, yes. If it’s not in my ESP, I can’t affect it.”

“Hmm. Why do you call it radial ESP?”

“Isn’t all this on your board already?” I asked.

“The board has only the most basic information,” she said. “Even if it didn’t, I prefer hearing from the person themself – themselves? Well, whichever. It tells me what it’s like for you, which I find more helpful in these tests than interpreting what some clerk thought you meant.”

“Makes sense,” I agreed. “I call it radial because it seems to extend outward from me as though I’m radiating it. The farther something is from me, the more faintly I can sense it, and if there’s something behind what I’m sensing, I can’t feel that at all.”

“Hmm… I have some ideas for tests.”

She had lots of ideas for tests. After confirming that the ESP was present, and that it was fine enough at close range to let me operate completely blindfolded without difficulty, she began testing the limitations of it.

A closed window confirmed that it was stopped by any solid object, not just visible ones.

An open window and a few buildings used as benchmarks gave me a rough idea of my effective range – just under 100 feet for anything fine, slightly under 500 for mid-sized objects like people or cars, and a bit less than 2500 for large objects like buildings.

A fine metal grate told me that objects which weren’t solid didn’t actually stop my ESP, but they could break it up and reduce the fidelity of my perception – things behind the grate were significantly fainter to my ESP. As the grate came closer to me or farther from whatever was behind it, though, the obscured objects came into greater relief.

Rolling up my sleeves and tying my shirt up a little (and probably wrinkling the Anima-branded heart logo that adorned it) confirmed that whatever force my ESP worked on was either emanating from or being picked up me all of me, every bit of my skin. The clothes I wore, being permeable fabric, didn’t stop it completely, just as the grate did. And, just like the grate, they were very close to me, meaning that my senses weren’t affected much – but enough that showing a bit more skin sharpened them.

After testing the ESP, we moved on to the telekinesis. The doctor seemed very curious about the fact that it affected me as well as my target. “It suggests that it’s anchored to you in some way, in a way that no other telekinetic I’ve ever heard of is,” she told me. “Even those who can affect their own body are physically lifting themselves, rather than pushing off of something else.”

It wasn’t hard to confirm for her that the TK was blocked by the same things that blocked the ESP. What was more interesting to me was that it seemed to be weakened in the same ways as well.

She had me exert a constant force on a scale, then moved the grate around in between me and the scale. She had me physically step closer to or farther away from it, as well, and from this concluded that the force was weakening in similar fashion, and at the same rate, as the ESP.

She had me lifting weights, to try and find the limit of my telekinetic force. After we had found my limits outside of the suit, she said, we would try with it on – Simone had apparently dropped the PA4 off and left again, not having time to stay and chat today. I warned her that my limit had seemed to be above what my body could handle in backlash, and she promised to keep an eye on it.

I was embarrassingly weak, as it turned out. I could comfortably exert only about 100 pounds of force (translating into pounds from, what else, newtons) before my knees started to give out. After a suggestion from Dr. Anomnachi, I tried pushing against the ground as well, to transfer the force through me – this helped, bringing my telekinetic strength up to 500 pounds (and a feeling like I was being squished), which was a little more useful, at least. 100 pounds of force wouldn’t do much for a superhero, however useful it could be in everyday life.

Changing into the PA4 definitely helped – by a whole order of magnitude. I was comfortably lifting 1000 pounds, 5000 while bracing myself. A quick check through the window confirmed that the expansion of my presence had gotten a similar enhancement – I was sensing at 1000 feet, one mile, and five miles.

There were no real surprises, and in the end I was classified just as I had expected to be – Self Buff 1 (Sensory) and Area Control 2 (Telekinetic*). Even if it wasn’t quite accurate, Dr. Anomnachi explained, it was better to give the rough idea and leave the details in the footnote, for these ratings.

“I think,” she said, looking over my results after I had changed back into normal clothes, “that your ESP and TK are actually just aspects of the same power.”

“Because what I can feel with one, I can impact with the other?”

“I think it’s the opposite, actually. You’re getting feedback from the TK.”

I thought about that. “Like… what, like I have lots of tiny invisible arms holding onto things?”

“More like… well, like you’re radiating yourself,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not a magical specialist,” she cautioned, “but I know a little. And it seems a bit like you’re emitting some sort of magical energy which is, in some way, yourself. Your soul, perhaps, or maybe your mind, in a psychic sense. What it touches becomes part of you, for some purposes. You’re feeling with your proprioception because that’s the sense that tells you where parts of your own body are.”

“Hmm… that would explain why I get telekinetic backlash,” I tentatively agreed. “It’s just like pushing against a wall with my own arm.”

“Exactly.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “A better name than ESP and telekinesis, since your powerset doesn’t quite seem to fit the standard forms of those, might be… presence. You radiate your presence, you can exert a force of presence, and where you’re present, you’re aware.”

“More poetic, certainly,” I commented. “Which I like. Instead of ESP, it’s… what, the sense of my presence? And a force of personality?”

She smiled. “Yes, I like that. A force of personality, and a sense of your presence. Your presence fills a room.”

“Like a bad smell.”

She laughed. “Alright, enough poetry and useless theorizing,” she said, tapping her clipboard. “I’m not here to figure out the mechanics behind your power, as much as I’d like to – I have another appointment to get to in…” She glanced at her watch and sighed. “Five minutes ago.” The doctor gave me a nod. “Pleasure meeting you, Mx. Kaufman.

“You’re done for today, Miss Kaufman,” Starling said, standing from the bench where I had nearly forgotten he was, and I glowered at him for what had to have been a deliberate misgendering. “Don’t forget your meeting with PR tomorrow morning, but for now you can go.” He strode out of the room, still engrossed in the designs on his tablet.

Right… PR tomorrow for costuming and presentation. But the day after that…

Paintball.

Intermission | Act 1 | Next Chapter

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1 thought on “2.1. Scenes 1-4”

  1. Welcome to the second arc/book of Paternum, the Unforgiving Minute. Remember, you can purchase the first arc/book now, and if you do so you’ll get access to the interlude arc, Drawing Hands, which won’t be going up on the site. Drawing Hands isn’t strictly necessary to the plot, but it is recommended – it contains, among other things, an account of the funeral that this chapter brushes past.

    Speaking of this chapter… it’s the first chapter of a new book, which means we’re back to establishing basic things. Here we get the main character, Quinn, and their current situation, along with the two most significant side characters, Abe and Holly, and an accounting of Quinn’s capabilities. Not much plot-related stuff happening yet, but it’ll come before long. As you might be able to guess, the main topic of this first act is going to be the paintball game mentioned at the end of this chapter.

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