Color Me Helpful
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard the announcement. I mean I knew the Quantum Academy was setting up shop on the Hill. If you didn’t know by now, then welcome to the Blog! The announcement of 5 across America, a full fledged franchise, well that set my heart a flutter. That mean that there are more metahumans than we know in need of the training the Quantum Foundation can provide.
I once tried to figure out how many metas are really out there. I mean, how many of them could there be active as heroes or villains, (and that also includes Gammas, heroes of just exceptional skill or tech). And I can tell you as someone who has been on the shores of the entertainment field but rarely delving deeper, the sheer volume of people involved who never get heard of or noticed more than a glimmer or the occasional “I know that guy.” I wondered if metas were the same. If you manifested powers did you want to immediately become a hero or a villain or something else.
As a good example, I found myself at the Golden Grog again, looking at photos and enjoying my third Elderberry Blast, when the Edgar the Ettin tapped me on the shoulder. Even with his slicked back grey hair, his hairy chest that showed evidence of veins and old scars, he hardly looked his 70 plus years. His barrel chest still impressed most visitors even though his six pack became a keg sometime while he was still strapping the mask on. When I tell you that his tap felt like rail road spike eagerly and politely getting my attention, you know what I mean. I’m glad he didn’t use the whole hand.
“Have you talked to Bobbi recently?” he asked. I raised my eyebrow, not knowing how to respond.
“She’s your employee,” I blurted out.
He threw his head back and gut laughed a mighty guffaw. Every now and again, especially when he pulls this sort of thing, I expect him to be holding a massive club over his shoulder and getting ready to tell me, the lowly and intriguing mortal, great and terrible stories of his conquest like an ancient Norseman or bad Hercules movie. “I see you still got your wit, Kid.”
He was one of the few people in the world who called me Kid, and one of the even fewer where I still felt some form of respect. It took someone scaling me in years by that amount to get to call me, a 40 year old man, “Kid.”
“But have you talked to Bobbi?” I noted that I had not since ordering a few weeks ago when she pointed out the Role Player to me. Then I blinked and remembered her taking my order a few times since then, smiling at me with unblemished glee but me not really having the brain cells to deal. I should really apologize to her for that.
“She’s on break,” he noted pointing me to a boot partially obscured by an old disabled and mothballed Dragonesti battle armor. “I think you should talk to her.”
Not knowing what exactly what this could be about, I shrugged, said, “Sure,” and headed towards the semi-private booth. At the table, she sat, going over a text book that I didn’t recognize but the pictures eluded to a bio-science book of some type.
“Hey,” I said.
Her head whipped up, a flurry of freshly dyed cobalt blue hair obscuring her face for a second before she tucked several locks behind her ear. “Oh, Hi.” She said. I think I caught her of guard or so entranced in her studies several armaments could have gone off and she barely would have noticed. As an ADHD man who commonly has a headset screwed into one ear, I knew the feeling. Hyperfocus was a harsh mistress. Productive, though.
“May I sit?” I asked.
She waved like a frenetic usher signaling a plan to the docking ramp. “Please!”
I sat, the booth a little tighter than I like but that was my own problem and an indicator how any one of my diet and exercise regimes had gone fearfully off the track some time ago. “What are you reading?”
She tried to cover the book before realizing that her hands would barely shade the pages and tried to close it up. “Oh, nothing.” She said as if I asked what that intoxicating scent might be and she didn’t want to admit it was Brut deodorant for men. I caught a glimpse of the book cover, a bright blue smear of color overlaid by stock images of people smiling, one of which with lightning arcing between two fingers of both hands. The book title she did managed to hide but I noted that it was the fourth edition and published by Quantum Press. It reminded me of her mentioning that she had a class with Penelope and Jingle. So she managed to get her hands on one of the extracurricular education books from the Academy. It wasn’t that hard, most book dealers sold it or previous editions, but it wasn’t cheap unless…
“Did you get into the Academy?” I smiled, knowing the answer long before she said anything.
“I got my powers!” She shook her arms before her in a restrained victory dance, her teeth clenched in a suppressed squeal of delight.
“Congrats.” I raised my drink to her in salute. “Anything dangerous?”
She shrugged, the wind falling from her delighted sail. “Not much right now. They say that even minor powers can evolve, get more useful over time.
She wasn’t incorrect. I found a record once of a supposed Kingpin of crime called “Prism” or “Tagger” who operated in Lagoon City before it got all hipsterfied. He gathered an battalion of minor supervillians, controlled the crime for the entire city and even fought several heroes I could name to a standstill before being defeated at least once and did it all over again. His power, besides a ruthless mind and a willingness to kill and maim others to do his will? Color manipulation. It wasn’t even light, just color. In doing so, he created camouflages, forgeries, illusions, and applied the psychology of color theory. He was also known for leaving messages for his underlings, bosses, or heroes in the form of intricate graffiti. He was brilliant in the use of the minor what some would call an almost useless power.
“So what powers do you have?” I inquired. I didn’t want to pry to much but I figured the Ettin sent me here for a reason.
“Is this going to make it into the blog?” She asked in the same way people ask reporters “Am I going to be on TV?”
“Sure, I guess.” I said. “If you like.”
She nodded enthusiastically.
“So what can you do?” I asked. I pulled out my phone, recorder ready and camera on quick recall, just in case.
“Ok.” She breathed, focusing herself. She put her hands out like she was getting ready for a scene. For a moment or two she sat there, her eyes closed. I thought she might burst into flames or shapeshift into a dragon or something at any moment. Instead she put her hand on her nose like she was about to sneeze and shook her head. In a flood, her hair color changed from cobalt blue to a radiant tangerine.
“Not bad.” I smiled and nodded.
“That’s nothing.” She did the same motions again, grabbing and shaking and suddenly her hair slashed with black and white to offset the orange in a perfect tiger striping. “How’s this?”
“Nice!” I complimented. “Very nice. Is it just natural prints or..?”
She cut me off with a quick “oh, no” and repeated her action. This time her hair exploded in a vibrant red and green tartan.
“OK, now that is impressive.” I laughed. “It even got your eyebrows.”
“I can change all the hair on my body!” She practically shouted, excitedly. Then her eyes shot wide and she covered her mouth with both hands, her face reddening deeper than I thought possible. “Oh, shit!” She said through muffling fingers as she realized what she just said.
I giggled, politely. “It’s ok.” I assured her. “And hey, apparently you face changes color too.”
She flopped her face against the table, a blunted scream bellowing out from under her nose.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t resist.” I patted her head, a jester’s attempt at assuring.
She kept her head pressed to the table, slowly rocking it. “I can’t believe I just said that.” She grumbled into the wood.
“Everyone has a gaff, every once in a while.” This was true. If it wasn’t the internet could not afford the vast number of videos of people saying strange and embarrassing things to news cameras.
I let her breathe for a while and drank my beverage. Letting her get her composure back, I eventually asked, “Is this why Edgar sent me here?”
She pulled her head away from the table and straight up in the air in one swoop while she pulled a huge breath through her nose, like she found a wall of cocaine. She held her breathe and finally let it out. She grasped her drink gently and opened her eyes as if the last few minutes was a strange delusion on my part and how could I ever think to say anything to the contrary… anything.
“I guess I had to come out to someone.” She smiled. “I mean Edgar knows and a bunch of people I go to the Academy know, obviously. But I wanted to tell someone like you, a fan you know? Then everyone would know when you posted to your blog.”
I wanted to tell her that everyone around here already knows that she is sporting the McTaggert plaid where the sun don’t shine but I wanted to let it pass…. Until now (Hi, Bobbi).
“Are you expecting to put on a cape?” I asked as seriously as I could muster.
She blushed again. “I mean I would like to but seriously?” She held and shook again, this time an almost impenetrable black. “Who’s that going to intimidate?”
“It’ll annoy Prism to no end.” I noted. She nodded.
“Ok, one supervillian. But this might just be the beginning of me understanding my power structure. I might have prehensile hair or learn to camo myself or maybe…”
Her face fell, followed by the will to act. “Oh, who am I kidding? What kind of super could I be?”
Now my old counseling mode kicked in and my therapist face fell on like a theatrical mask. It happens sometimes.
“What kind of super do you want to be?” I asked. “and for that matter what kind of person do you want to be?”
She smiled, faltering but still a smile. “Yeah, I know, I could go join the police force or be a fire fighter if I wanted to help people you know.”
“There is always the Quantum Corps.” I said, referring to the vast number of non metas and gammas who help with the day to day operations of the Quantum Academy. Everything from administrative personnel, teachers, janitors, accountants, what have you.
Bobbi thought about it a moment. “There is that. I am taking classes there after all.” Suddenly she breathed like a unpleasant truth settled in the back of her throat and looked at the sky. “I mean, I have these gifts and talents that kind of seem useless when you look at them.”
“They aren’t useless.” I said, still in counselor mode. She didn’t hear me.
“And I won the Unicorn Lottery but to end up with just this? Who is that going to help?”
I let her talk for a while. Mostly she went in circles of logic and self pity. I know that feeling well and it hurts to see others in the same situation. It’s hard to realize how far up the mountain you are only to look down and find someone not that far behind you refusing to take the safe path. But as someone who didn’t take the safe path or at least stumbled on it when possible, I knew someone in that state had to wait to breathe before they could hear anything again. So I let her talk about her frustrations, her disappointment and her astonishment of her new powers. She mentioned trying to bank on them somehow as others had or making a name for herself as a super. It seemed logical and reasonable and completely chaotic, the logic and reasoning of a young woman not quite old enough to drink. When she finally calmed down, or at least hit a plateau of pain and frustration, I spoke up.
“You know who you could be a big help to?” I asked. She shrugged. I pointed over to barrel chested Edgar. “You know the odds of finding a meta willing to work at a place like this, even if it’s to get a little spending cash while you are still in school. I wouldn’t want to bet on it.”
Bobbi smiled half heartedly. “That’s nice to say and all but what about, you know,” She threw her hand around as if that pointed at existence in general. “All this? The great struggle of law and chaos and all that?”
“You think that doesn’t happen at a place like this?” I asked. She flopped down her hands conceding the point. “Sure, it’s not strapping on the tights or the battle suit, I mean it can if you really want it to, but it’s sometimes just being kind, nice, and not letting the assholes get their way when they are being, you know…” I lost a good synonym. “Assholes.”
“But?!!” She shook her head. Vibrant purple with images of small Saturn like planets. It reminded me of a wallpaper I had as a kid in a strange way.
“What about it? You have a special gift. That’s not so bad. It’s something to add to the repertoire. Doesn’t stop you from using it or any other gifts you might have. I don’t know you that well but I know you are a decent student with a passion for supers. I can really empathize with it, except I wasn’t that good of a student. Use that. Find some way to find your bliss with it. Hey, who knows, if you work your way up to manager, you might have a nice gimmick that you or Edgar might work with.” There were a few other professions where a woman who could radically change her body hair might make a fair bit of cash, but as none of them were really a polite subject for a 40 year old man to give a woman half his age, I let those ideas pass. “Maybe you find there are some other powers that emerge, some secondary flare up. Maybe you become great at camouflage and become an agent for Paramericans or part of the Elite Questers in time. Who knows. At the end of the day, you have to use what you have been given and follow your heart you know.”
“Can’t my heart lead me to some place where I can kick ass and like save the world?” She asked, more confused than I was hoping but hey, I never finished counselor school.
“Sure.” I said, “Invent a battle suit, master some ancient combat technique, or just put on a mask and see what happens. Anyone can do that if they want. Just figure how best you can.”
She smiled, shrugging. “Is that my reading for the week?”
“I’m not charging for this one.” I laughed. My alarm beeped and I had to head home. I gave her a quick side hug and wished her well.
I did actually look at the statistics. Only 38% of known metas use their powers openly or in the way that most people recognize. Most go about their day as they normally would only flying or cooking with bare hands, what have you. I even ran across a hero, an actual caped hero, named Mother Thunder who works part time for Flight of Champions. Super strong, fast, nearly invulnerable and a talented flyer with limited capabilities to control or create thunder as a shock wave. She can only allow for part time as she is a full time mom. Can you imagine that? She gets up in the morning, devotes herself to her kids, sends them to school, battles henchmen and stops supervillians in time for PTA meetings and bedtimes. I don’t envy her schedule but I have to respect her priorities.
A week later, I swung by the Grog again. On a large sandwich board sign, in beautiful calligraphy, I caught the evidence that Bobbi had talked to Edgar.
“What color is Bobbi’s Hair?” Weekly contest, held every Tuesday. Winner gets a free mug of Grog and a novelty hat.
I guessed Chartreuse.