A/N: Realized it was going to take 2-3 more updates to finish the arc and by now, I think you’ve seen enough to make a decision one way or another regarding this reboot. Please cast your vote here. A side story will run for a week or two while I decide what to do and give you all a chance to vote. A special bonus update will be posted on Wednesday.
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The whispering and hurried closing of doors served almost as well as any bell. Trouble was coming and for boarding school students, that meant administrators. Jen glanced around her dorm. Little knickknacks she salvaged from the nearby ruins sat openly on her bookshelf and desk. All of them contraband. The headmaster hated the ruins and banned everyone from going there. With the amount of stuff she had, the punishment would be severe.
Stripped of clothes and belongings then banished to the wilds. It was the worse punishment the headmaster had at his disposable, worse than death.
Jen activated her power. The whispers were silenced, no more closing doors. For once, not a sound could be heard in the dorms. It was her power at work, everything except her and the items she touched were slowed down to the point it looked like they weren’t moving at all. She collected all the knickknacks and hid them in the closet behind stacks of packaged lined paper.
By the time the world resumed going at its normal speed, Jen was lying on her bed holding her electronic book reader to her face. She needed to look casual. If one of the administrators got it into their heads that she used her power during a patrol, she’d get punished. It didn’t matter if they had evidence of it or not. Their word was law.
It was a military school, she supposed, they were going to be strict. Bradley Blake had really hated going to military school too.
She turned her gaze away from the screen to the door as she heard heavy boots pounding against the floors, getting louder with every second.
Mr. Hume passed her room without sparing it a glance.
Jen dropped the book reader onto the bed and crept toward the door. Mr. Hume wasn’t slowing down to look into anyone’s dorm room. He knew where he was going and wouldn’t be distracted or stopped.
“Oh boy, someone is in deep shit.”
Diana stood beside her, watching Mr. Hume’s retreating back. Her brown hair was tied in a simple braid to help cover up the greasiness of it. She smiled and stuck her hands into the pockets of her oversized jean jacket. “If you get out of the way, I’ll fill you in.”
Jen got out of the doorway to let Diana in. Their door joined the many other shut ones in their hallway. Diana’s eyes were so pale it looked like she was blind except for the glowing outline of the irises.
“You’re watching?” Jen asked, although the answer was obvious.
Diana always knew what was going on at school and it was due to her being clairvoyant and willing to break the rules. Using powers without permission was one of the big rules but Diana had never been caught.
“Yeah, we’ve got Bell and Eda doing the no pants dance with each other,” Diana said, plopping down on her bed. It was on the other side of the room from Jen’s bed, a coffee table sitting in-between. “And not for the first time, either.”
Jen sighed and shook her head. “You’re so gross.”
The smile on Diana’s face didn’t falter in the slightest. “A girl’s gotta have fun somehow, Jen.”
Jen shook her head again as she settled on her own bed, back to the wall. It was a good thing Diana and her were roommates. She doubted they would have become friends for any other reason. It would be far too dangerous being enemies with the girl who saw everything. She thought about the pile of stuff she had hidden in her closet.
“Did someone rat them out?” Jen said, curious.
“I don’t think so. Those two are just loud as fuck when they go at it. I’m shocked they haven’t got caught sooner.”
Having sex was a minor offense. Protection was hard to come by – so she heard anyway – and getting pregnant or the risk of it was enough of a punishment in the headmaster’s eyes. As long as the girl was willing to give up her baby and let it be raised like the rest of them had, no parental ties except the ones established with an administrator, she would only get a slap on the wrist. The boy’s depended on their history and how merciful the headmaster was feeling that day. Considering this was Bell they were talking about it was likely he was going to get expelled. Being expelled was better than being banished. They at least let you take some stuff with you if you’re being expelled.
Diana laid down so she faced the ceiling, her legs dangling over the edge. “I wish you could see what I’m seeing Jen. I have never seen Hume so flustered. Heh, I think he may have enjoyed seeing a naked Eda way too much for a guy that’s like thirty.”
“And now I’m very glad I can’t.”
Jen actually turned on the book reader. There was about a hundred more pages she had to read by tomorrow if she wanted to ace that test in English class.
“Whacker’s on the move too. Damn, I wouldn’t want to be either of them right now, damn,” Diana said out loud.
Ms. Whittaker – nicknamed Whacker behind her back – was the one administrator you never wanted to meet. She got her nickname for a reason. If Mr. Hume was an enforcer, she was the executioner. Bell rubbed her the wrong way the few times Jen and him talked but she wouldn’t want her worse enemy to be whacked.
She returned to reading her book. Once Whacker had her eyes set on someone, there wasn’t much to be done. The only exception as far as Jen knew was Vega but she was long gone.
Diana shot up out of bed as Jen’s head snapped upwards. That didn’t sound like a good sign. “What is it?” Jen asked slowly.
“You need to leave right now. Eda is ratting you and telling Whacker everything about your stash to get Bell a lighter punishment,” Diana said, pushing the coffee table to block the door. “She’s got proof too.”
“What? That’s – How the hell does Eda know about it? What evidence does she have?”
“It’s a video of you out in the ruins, it’s like three hours long.” Diana shook her head. “There’s no time, you have to get out of here before they –”
The door burst open, unimpeded by the coffee table. The table hit Diana’s legs as it was pushed by the door and she fell. Mr. Hume slipped through the opening. “Jennifer, you need to come with me,” he said in his no-nonsense tone.
She wanted to say she was innocent but she wasn’t. She wanted to fight but she didn’t stand a chance. Mr. Hume had the power, him and the rest of the administrators.
He took a step forward and by instinct, she activated her power.
He stopped. Everything stopped.
Jen had a moment to think, to process. She took deep breaths. She always knew this happening was a distinct possibility when she started exploring the ruins. It still came as a shock. It was dumb. She had known the risk rationally but it had never felt likely to happen to her.
She grabbed the duffel bag she had kept under her bed since Vega left. It already had what she needed along with the few of the best items she scavenged from the ruins.
She gave her room with its lumpy mattresses and clutter one last look, trying to memorize the scene. As sucky as it could be sometimes it was home, the only one Jen had ever known. The only one Jen might ever come to know.
Heart pounding, she jumped out the window.
With her power on, gravity had less sway on her, everything did.
The problem was her power didn’t last forever. She spent too much time being sentimental. The world turned back to normal when she was halfway to the ground. Rolling the second she touched ground reduced the impact but it still hurt like a bitch. Today was not a good day to be wearing shorts.
Jen slung the duffel bag over her shoulder and ran, ignoring the sharp sting of her scraped knees.
The guards stationed at the fence spotted her immediately. Hard not to when she was the only one in the yard. Some raised guns, others glowed as they activated their own powers.
The other problem with her power was that it needed time to recharge.
A minute into her great escape and she was already screwed.
“Stay where you are, student!” one of the guards yelled from where he stood at the fence.
If she moved the guards would shoot and kill her here and now. If she didn’t, Mr. Hume or Whacker would catch up and then she’d get banished.
What would Bradley Blake do?
He’d… save up his strength and fight when the opportunity rose. He always fought for what he wanted, no matter what. It was what made him so dangerous, a threat to everyone.
So she waited.
Her heart was on fire, beating so fast it blended together into slow painful throbs. Bradley Blake had loved the feeling. Jen never understood the appeal.
Whacker came out first with Mr. Hume trailing behind. They walked at an even, measured pace. Neither were afraid. Administrators were capable of being administrators because they were a lot stronger than the average person. They were used to being the most powerful people in the room at any time.
Could she use that against them?
“Jennifer, what you did was ill-advised,” Whacker said. “We’ll have to make the punishment worse. We can’t have anyone else getting it into their heads that they can disobey us. Do you understand?”
“Yeah,” she said, clutching the strap of the duffel bag. “I – I panicked, I’m sorry.”
“You knew the consequences so I must ask: why did you commit the crime?”
She needed to play along, buy more time, but she didn’t know how to answer. Her fascination with the past never made sense to her. She knew the risks but couldn’t stop herself from venturing into the ruins. She knew it started the moment she finished reading her first Bradley Blake book. Vega had given it to her on her birthday a few years ago.
“I thought it was cool,” Jen said.
Mr. Hume scoffed. “I’ll never understand children.”
“Come,” Whacker ordered. “I’m taking you straight to the headmaster and we’ll find a suitable punishment for you.”
Going inside would only increase the distance she needed to cover to escape. That little well she felt inside herself still needed time to fill itself. A few more moments. Using it at any less than full would have diminish the effect. Whacker wouldn’t be stopped by anything less.
“Can I ask you a question before we do?” Jen asked.
Mr. Hume scoffed again and glared at her, his fists clenched at his sides. “We won’t. We have no reason to after you pulled that stunt of yours. We don’t have time to waste. I would prefer it if we had her out shivering the wilds before her roommates has a chance to spread what she saw to the rest of the school.”
“I concur,” Whacker said. She gestured toward the entrance to the school. “Go now, last warning.”
Great, now or never, then.
Jen activated her power. The world slowed except for Jen and Ms. Whittaker. The woman looked mildly surprised, glancing over at her frozen peer. She bolted, going straight for the fence and the world beyond it. She was going to have to go to the wilds either way but at least this way she had a fighting chance. She would have supplies, clothes, and a few personal things.
Whacker followed, still moving at her leisurely pace.
Jen gripped the chain link fence and hurried to climb over it. She didn’t look back, didn’t have time to see what Whacker was doing.
She almost lost her grip and fell when she heard the loud crack of a gun. Guns weren’t supposed to work in this state. It never did for her. The sharp panic she felt at the realization made her climb faster than she ever did in gym class during obstacle courses. When she neared the top, she heard another gunshot. There wasn’t time to climb to the bottom, not with her power about to run out and Whacker trying to whack her.
The pain from the fall barely registered, easily trumped by a bullet going through her upper arm.
She couldn’t let it stop or slow her down. She made a run for the forest a little ways away. Trees could provide decent cover against bullets, better than the sitting duck she was currently. She would be dead already if Whacker was a faster and better shot.
She didn’t stop running even after her power wore off and she was among the tall, leafy green trees. She didn’t stop until she tripped over a root and fell on her face.
They would come after her. When Vega left, they searched for her for weeks until the headmaster gave up. Vega was a warrior, fearless when she needed to be. It was something Jen had admired and envied.
In the end she had been too scared to leave and now she had no choice. Things would have been so much better if she left with Vega when she had the chance.
Bleeding out, legs burning, tired, alone, face down in the mud, this is what she had wanted to avoid by staying at the school. More frightening than all those combined was the prospect of not knowing where to go, what to do. At school, she knew what was expected of her, had things to occupy herself with. It could be boring and sucky but it was something.
What did she have to live for? Her friends at school, the only real family she had, were lost to her. She didn’t have any dreams or ambitions, really. Nothing to push her forward beyond the basic need for survival.
If she died here, who would even care?
If Bradley Blake died, hundreds might cheer but thousands would mourn. He made an impact on the world he lived in. It was a lot easier to do having superpowers in a world mostly populated with the powerless. It was a lot harder to do in a world where the powerless didn’t exist.
She pushed herself into a sitting position.
That was enough wallowing. It was starting to get uncomfortable lying there and she needed to get a move on before they caught up with her. She took off her jacket to examine the wound. Her arm had a trail of blood dripping down it, oozing out of the hole. With her good hand she unzipped the duffel bag and pulled out a first-aid kit from it. Getting it had been a real hassle. She traded a month’s worth of desserts for it.
She knew how to clean and dress the wound. Doing it with one hand was a new experience but she managed well enough. Since she already had the kit out, she decided to do her scrapped legs too. Out in the forest, an infection was all too easy to get and a lot of trouble to deal with properly.
With that done, she stuffed everything into the duffel and got to her feet. She lost track of how deep into the forest she ran but better to be safe than sorry when people were no doubt after her.
Where did she go from here?
Jen knew for a fact there were some superpowered animals living in this forest and in the wilds surrounding the school. She encountered a couple in the ruins too.
The ruins would be safer for her than the forest. It was farther away from the school and nobody knew the ruins better than she did. There was this one building with a whole lot of maps in it. She kept one of the city the ruins used to be once upon a time but left the rest alone. If she had those maps she could figure out where the nearby cities were and how to get there.
From there… Well, she would just have to wait and see.
Jen started walking.
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