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Lusus Naturae

Nereid collapsed onto the narrow dormitory bed in her room at the Gold Stars' New Mexico compound. The still-unfamiliar acoustic drop ceiling was industrial off-white, as were the cinder-block walls. The desk, chair, and wardrobe were some sort of ancient "walnut wood" laminate. The floor was a bland grey tile. The cheap white cotton sheets smelled sharply of bad laundry soap and felt like sandpaper. The whole effect served only to depress her with the feeling of being a freak in a hospital, or possibly a mental institution.

The sole exception to all this was the sleek black laptop that, clamshell closed, blinked at her with a spot that glowed pale blue-white. If she'd had the energy to pick herself up off the bed, she would have fetched it from the desk and gone to see if Lucid had responded to her email. She'd been here in New Mexico for three days, and had only just this morning possessed enough coherence to send the email she'd promised X she would send, asking if Lucid could (or would) bring them to the Dream Party so they could ask around about Sophie.

She was too keyed up to try sleeping, and it was too early in the day, really. Winter sunlight still filtered through the venetian blinds, reflecting off the copious mountain snow. Somehow, she'd always imagined that New Mexico was hot all the time, like Phoenix, Arizona. The fact that the Gold Stars compound had more snow than Wonder City usually saw all winter long had baffled her.

Moving her hand over the rough sheets, she encountered the manila folder she'd brought up to her room. She sat up slowly and riffled through it, stopping at the most recent test report.

"Subject demonstrates a power range consistent with Class 9 or higher," Peacenik, the retired para who ran the testing facility, had written. "In addition to water generation, she evinces a high level of water control, which extends to most other liquids as well. Her crisis-induced short-range teleportation remains uncontrolled. High-speed camera indicates that it may not be teleportation, per se, but some rapid form of self-evaporation and reintegration, suggesting that the subject may be able to shapechange into a liquid or gaseous form as her control improves."

Peacenik was a nice old hippie guy with John Lennon glasses perched on his beak of a nose and long grey hair pulled back in a long pony tail. He'd grinned at her after the last testing session. "You know," he said, "if you improve your control, you could easily tip over into Class 10."

"Oh, fuck," she blurted out, then covered her mouth and felt her face start to burn. He looked startled.

"Don't want to be Class 10?" he said, puzzled.

She sat down hard on the ugly orange plastic chair in his office. "My mother once told me stories about how hard life is for someone who's Class 10. You know, to make me feel better about being pathetically underpowered." She could feel her mouth twisting sarcastically, like Sophie's. "The Fat Lady, who has to practice all the time so she doesn't destroy everything around her. The Ultimate, who just kept getting stronger and stronger and so she has to practice all the time so she doesn't accidentally kill people by breathing too hard. That telepath who's stuck in a cave under the city because she can't turn off her power and everyone being around her makes her crazy. Jane Liberty, who's senile and also locked in a bunker to keep her from destroying the world or something. Then there was that Japanese-American woman that the Guardians freed from a US Army bunker during the 50s, who regenerated herself and anyone touching her," Nereid said, shuddering. "Mom said the government had discovered that when they cut a big enough part of her body off, it regenerated into a whole new her, only without her mind. So they had all these mindless clones of her scattered all over the world to heal up important people and sometimes even soldiers..."

He cut in hastily, "It's not all like that, you know, and now the Guardians and the Gold Stars have more power to investigate paras..."

"In the US," Nereid said, remembering a half-conversation with Brainchild. "If we've got all these Class 10s, where are the others? Where are the ones in Africa and India and China? The street kid in Brazil? The ones in Russia and..."

"We know where they are," Peacenik said, cutting in forcefully. "Look, the Gold Stars and a bunch of other groups forced the UN to make that commission on paranormal affairs to make sure the human rights of paras are at least as well maintained as in the U.S. Didn't they teach you that in school?"

Nereid looked away from him, but her ears were burning. "Probably," she said, a little sullenly.

Peacenik watched her for a moment, tapping his pen on his desk, then reached up to the bookshelf and plucked down a book. He stared at the cover and said, "Don't panic about this. No one is about to take advantage of you. We're going to help teach you how to control your power..."

"So I don't kill anyone accidentally," Nereid finished gloomily.

He sighed, clearly exasperated. "Look, you're tired. Why don't you take the rest of the day off, try to have a little fun? And take this." He pushed the book into her hands.

She had left because it was clear he didn't want to deal with her any more. She wondered how one could have "fun" while isolated on a snowbound mountaintop in New Mexico.

She hauled herself upright and looked around for the book she'd dropped as soon as she entered the room. It lay by the door on the ugly tile. She got up and fetched it.

The trade paperback was thick and heavy, with a blue cover. The front cover had a sepia-washed Victorian engraving of a circus strong man, surrounded by other players, though he was boxed off in a red square. The title, in a yellow-gold script, read, Superscript: The Written History of Paranormals in the Twentieth Century. Down at the bottom of the cover, regular print of the same color of the script said, "By Alfred Jarvis, Second Edition."

The cover was creased and the corners of the book were mashed and bent. She thumbed through quickly and noticed a large number of faded sticky notes and a high incidence of underlinings, boxings, and marginalia. There was a section of black and white photographs in the middle that she flipped through, noting that she could, in fact, recognize Damned Yankee as a young man in World War I, and that, while the men got spiffy custom uniforms in World War II, the women got plain khaki uniforms, and Lady Justice sure looked stern.

She put the book down next to the laptop and went to peer out the window.

Then, a little dreamily, she pictured what the mountaintop would look like without snow. She reached out, just a little...

It took about five minutes for all the snow in her line of sight to sublime into the atmosphere. About fifteen minutes later, as she continued in rapt and appalled contemplation of what she'd done, it all started coming back down in a furious snowstorm.

There was a knock on her door shortly after that, and with a sigh, she turned to answer it.


From the Author:
More arm function every day! I'm feeling so positive that I'm contemplating posting twice weekly through December as a [fill in holiday here] present for you all. We'll see how I feel next week. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. :)

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction! We're up in the ratings! Help us stay there!

Date: 2010-12-24 06:19 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
NEREID <3333

I love her. She's such a klutz, in such a sweet way.

Date: 2012-05-10 01:06 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
An incredibly powerful klutz in a sweet way, I'll remind you.

Date: 2012-05-10 01:14 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Yeah, and then she got -- wait how far have you read? Don't want to spoil you!

Date: 2012-05-10 01:19 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Oh, I finished book 2. Haven't read any of the post-2 interludes yet.

Date: 2012-05-10 01:19 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
But better not spoil any of the people who are going through this for the first time. We can take this to PMs or something.

Date: 2012-05-10 01:29 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Oh, I guess I didn't spoil too bad - since this is the ep where she's IN New Mexico. Hah. But good point about not spoiling first-time readers who will find this later!

Date: 2012-05-10 01:27 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
OH GOOD. Well, the whole bit where they shipped her off to NM because she was so powerful and she might be a class 10 - that had some _nasty_ vibes for me, like they would turn her into a lab rat! Or a weapon! Poor Pacifica.

(Also this is my favourite story with her in http://wonder-city.dreamwidth.org/25196.html#comments)

Date: 2012-05-10 01:34 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Yeah, I was getting worried, especially since we've gotten glimpses of Class 10s already, and the lives they lead.

I have to say, my favourite single story (although I love the story arcs) is the Lady Justice article that Ana Hernandez did. I just... it's so powerful.

Date: 2012-05-10 01:42 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
especially since we've gotten glimpses of Class 10s already, and the lives they lead.


I have to say, my favourite single story (although I love the story arcs) is the Lady Justice article that Ana Hernandez did. I just... it's so powerful.

Oh, that was so good, yeah. I love all the little interludes and offshoots - usually those get pruned away in published books, and it's so great to be able to follow them all out here. (Altho usually they relate right back to the plot later! I am in awe of the plotting.)

Date: 2012-05-10 01:56 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
I am in awe of the plotting.

Yesssss. I can't believe how many seemingly insignificant threads turn out to be hugely important in this series. It's part of the reason I love it so much. It gets into all the stuff I really love: cast of hundreds, subtle foreshadowing, good unconventional families, marginalised main characters getting centre stage right alongside the more privileged folks, awesome nods to intersectionality, and personal fuck-ups right alongside cosmic danger.

...I think I should probably write a review or something. I might tumblr it.

Date: 2012-05-10 02:02 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Oh, yes, a review on Tumblr would be good!

Date: 2015-01-23 09:09 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Wow... Oops?

And a water controller on that scale, on a planet with a surface almost covered in the liquid?


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