The moon was full, shining bright over the rooftop of what had been the Union Station Mall and was now the home to two hundred plus people. Elana Kittrick sometimes liked to come up on the rooftop where none of those two hundred people were there, where none of them could ask her a question about how many cans of chicken soup. Where they couldn’t complain about only being allowed 5 bullets for their magazine. Even in times of stress and crisis, people always found a way to complain, Elana had found. But the roof was a good place to escape it, especially when the moon was out and the air was crisp. She could almost pretend that D-Day hadn’t happened, that everything was normal.
But tonight, she was very much aware the world wasn’t normal. She didn’t normally seek out people’s company up here but Natalie was on watch tonight. Elana really wanted to talk to her. Talk to her somewhere private, that is. Living in Refuge Point was like living in her hometown. Everyone knew everything about everyone. You had to work to keep things secret. The roof was her best shot.
Keeping watch at ground level allowed one to sit. Up here, the watch walked the rooftop. So when Natalie rounded the leg of her route near the door, she was surprised to find she had company. “Elana. Hey… How goes? Do you have the next watch?”
Elana shook her head, causing her now dark hair to shake in the night breeze. 3 months ago, she thought, there had been a lot more gray in her hair. All thanks to the woman standing in front of her. “I was hoping to talk and thought you might not mind the company. I don’t do watch much, but I always remember it being lonely.”
“Sometimes,” Natalie admitted. Although right now she had a lot on her mind. “What’s up? You okay?” They aren’t strangers by any means, but they don’t exactly sit together at lunch either. She offered the other woman a smile. “You can walk with me while we talk?” she invited.
“Of course. I don’t want to get in your way.” Elana fell in beside her, quiet for a moment as they walked down the southern stretch of roof. “I’m okay, I just had some questions and you seemed like the right person to ask.”
“Sure. Shoot,” Natalie invited.
In response, Elana just held out her hand. The soft night breeze that blowing across her face coalesced into Elana’s palm, slowly forming a miniature whirlwind in her hand. “I don’t know what to do about this, Natalie. I thought you might have some ideas.” She left unvoiced any thought about Natalie’s responsibility for these new powers.
Oh shit. Oh shit!! This can’t be happening. Natalie’s eyes, drawn as they are to Elena’s display of Power, are very wide. She looks … Quite alarmed, actually. “How strong is it?” she added in a low voice, struggling to keep calm. “How much control do you have?”
“I don’t know and I don’t know.” Elana looked apologetic. She had been sitting on this for a while now but she had been too afraid to do anything with them and too afraid to say anything. But she had finally grown tired of being so afraid, ashamed of her fear and the way it was shaping her. She had died or almost died during that tornado. But here she was, looking ten years younger and with powers to boot. What excuse did she have to be afraid?
Elana explained a little more for Natalie, who was looking shell shocked. "I’ve been afraid to experiment, Natalie. You know, after Geetha…
Immediately, Natalie nodded. “Yeah. I….” She pulled in her lower lip and worried at it, looking up to meet Elana’s eyes. “I don’t know whether to say I’m sorry or to vehemently defend myself and say I didn’t do it…. Healing someone has never …. But in this time and place? Elana … I think we need to talk to Langston. He’s the only person here who might have a clue.” She looked ….. Worried. “He already has some theories that he doesn’t really talk about regarding the virus.” And holy crap, this might be the confirmation he’s been looking for. But what the hell does that mean for Nat’s own powers? Did it only happen because of Kofi? Or is it her healing ability coupled with Kofi and the nanobots?? Or some other option that’s way above her pay grade?
“I stood with you and yours when you left Refuge Point, Natalie.” Was “you and yours” now “me and mine”? “You don’t have to apologize for saving my life. I would’ve died if it wasn’t for you. Please don’t ever think I’m not grateful.”
She stopped for a minute, finding herself staring into the moon. When she was little, she had always wanted to be able to fly so she could visit the moon. She might be able to fly now. But she wasn’t 6 anymore. She was 68 and more scared than she really wanted to admit to Natalie, who had always seemed like a very nice person.
“Can you tell me what it was like when you first discovered your powers?” She was sure Langston probably had clues and maybe answers as to the how and why. But mostly right now, Elana just wanted to feel like she wasn’t alone.
Natalie stopped and stood with Elana, thinking about it. “I was young,” she finally told the other woman quietly, digging back in her memory. Her own fears were insignificant compared to the fear that Elana must be feeling. “Maybe… 8 or 10, I can’t really remember. We had cats. We lived far enough out of town that we let them run around wherever they wanted, you know? But I got off the school bus and one of them was in the ditch next to our mailbox.” She was quiet a long moment, thinking back.
“She wasn’t dead yet, and I scooped her up and ran up the lane to the house. I was crying, and my mom tried to take her from me. I couldn’t let go, though. It was like she was a part of me and I couldn’t unlock my hands from her. I guess my mom kept trying to pull the cat out of my hands, and it took a few seconds… and then the next thing I remember, I was on the ground in absolute agony. I know I must have been crying, but mostly what I remember was being scared. I couldn’t breathe. I kept trying to, but …. looking back, it’s pretty obvious that the cat’s ribcage was crushed. Her lungs were punctured. And so for just a minute or two, so were mine.” She trailed off, remembering the horror, the pain, the terror.
Pulling in a deep breath, as if to shake off that memory and the fear, she looked at Elana. “I was always grateful for the fact that my parents, once they figured out what had happened, immediately set about teaching me to control it. I practiced on the small animals in the woods near the house… mostly birds and things, you know? But they made a point of making sure that I took anatomy classes and first aid, so that I could assess injuries, and of teaching me that I couldn’t heal everything. That if I wanted to help people, that was great… but that I needed to be careful about doing it, and generally speaking to not feel obligated to heal every injury to its fullest extent. They could see the toll that it took on me… how tired healing bad injuries could make me.”
There was another long pause, and Natalie couldn’t help but grin just a little. “Or at least, they TRIED to teach me that. I even took EMT training to try to learn that objectivity. Never QUITE managed it,” she added ruefully, absently reaching up to touch the white streak. “I would have done what I did for you even without being out of control…. the out of control seems to have made me take on some things I was never able to before.”
In that moment, one of Elana’s life philosophies collided with actual reality. Age is just a number, she would always say to anyone willing to listen. And she really believed that, or so she thought until the rubber hit the road. Approaching 70, she didn’t want to have to rethink everything about who she was. She liked who she had been.
Elana could see the underlying point in Natalie’s story, even if she hadn’t intended it as a lesson. When he was a little boy, her nephew Alex used to quote his Spider-Man comic at her all the time. His favorite line was…how did it go? Oh yes, With great power comes great responsibility. Of course, that was before comics began to look quaint next to reality. Natalie had to learn control (i.e., responsibility) to go with her power. Am I too old to learn? Am I set in my ways?
“You must have been a very brave child, Natalie.” Elana spoke up after the moments buried in her own thoughts. “I find that I am not as brave as I thought I was. Certainly not as brave as you.”
Natalie shook her head. “No,” she told Elana sincerely. “It’s not bravery when it happens to you as a child — it’s simply the way it is. Everything is a new challenge; you don’t know enough to be afraid.” Reaching out to touch the older woman’s arm, she looks at her seriously. “Gaining a power as an adult… has got to be terrifying. Especially right now.” In this post-Destruction world, she’s pretty sure that no one wants to learn that they had a latent Power. “It may change not just your perspective on the world and what happened but the way you understand your Self.” She paused, making sure she had Elana’s eyes.
“Listen to me… and take this to heart. You are still the same person inside your soul that you have always been. You are not obligated to use an ability at all. The only obligation anyone has, Powered or not, is to know enough about their talents to not hurt the people around them. And maybe that’s just my opinion — other people will certainly tell you that you have some kind of responsibility to help other people with them. Before D-Day, I might have encouraged that belief too. But my parents taught me that the only true responsibility is to be able to look yourself in the mirror. If you WANT to use your abilities for something, or if you as a person feel that you’ve been given the ability for a reason, then I’m quite sure that you’ll find the right use for them. If you don’t want to use them, then don’t — just work with them enough that you have control of them so no one gets hurt.”
“I can see why you were a hero.” Elana said simply in response, holding Natalie’s look for another few seconds before turning away and looking back up into the sky again.
Natalie blushed a little, offering a shy grin. She didn’t really know what to say to that. In some ways, Elana has been a maternal figure for many in the Point.
“You’re right, of course. I’m afraid now, but how bad would I feel if I hurt someone because I had been too scared to use my powers?” She had been there when Geetha had left to go with the survivalists. Geetha wasn’t the same since the accident and Elana could picture the same thing happening to her.
As they started walking the watch again, Elana asked Natalie, “Do we have to bring Langston in right away? Maybe you could teach me in private for a while?” Once Langston was involved, chances were the whole community would know before long. The community’s grapevine was active and it was hard to keep a secret. The only way to do it was not to tell anyone, but Elana had needed to share with someone. Not wanted, but needed.
Natalie was quiet as they walked, considering the options. “I’ll keep it to myself for a little while, yes. But….” She paused and considered. “It worries me. Langston has this theory that everyone who survived the virus may have a latent Power. Just something in their DNA that they were born with that was never activated. And if my healing you activated it… who’s to say that I won’t do the same to other people?”
In some ways, she was more using Elana as a sounding board than having an actual conversation, but the older woman had the advantage of additional years of perspective, and as Natalie felt her way through her thoughts, she tried to articulate her concerns. “We have no way of testing that theory, obviously. And honestly, I don’t think I want everyone to know what his theory is — what happens when someone who is adamantly anti-Power suddenly finds out they have one? What happens if all the people in the world do have an ability and everyone starts evidencing them? We’re back to where we started in some ways — there are always going to be bad apples in the barrel, no matter how small the human population is.” Ugh…. too much thinking!
Natalie clearly felt the weight of the world on her shoulders and Elana felt somewhat guilty adding to that load. But she felt relief too that she had someone to share her burden with. She did agree about not letting everyone know that theory – that was a recipe for chaos. But as Natalie articulated her concerns, a thought crossed her mind.
“Natalie,” Elana said cautiously, “do you think the form of my powers is a coincidence? It seems odd to me that you heal me in the middle of a storm and my new powers are wind related.” And Geetha had been wind related too. It was hard to forget that, Elana thought.
Grateful to have her attention taken off the larger issues, Natalie stopped in a secluded corner of the rooftop and turned to look at Elana. It was an interesting idea. But how would that have worked? It still didn’t address the idea of how her own healing might have triggered that, but…. “It’s possible, I guess. But you’re asking me not to tell Langston, and that would be his specialty. Because my own powers were out of control and did things I’ve never done before, I think the answer is that anything is possible.”
Elana just nodded. “I’m not saying to hide it forever, but I just want to get my feet under me. I haven’t felt this way since my husband divorced me so many years ago. Confused, lost,and hurt all in one bundle.” She hadn’t thought about David in years. Over time, she had learned to forgive him for the abruptness with which he ended their 10 year marriage. One minute straight, the next minute gay and suffocated by their relationship. But in this moment, she had a tremendous amount of empathy for him. Maybe someday she’d get to see him again and tell him she understood.
Natalie nodded. “I can understand it, I promise. And I’ll keep it to myself for a little while. If you want to practice up here when I’m on watch, I can volunteer a little more than usual and make it happen. But… I have to admit, I’m not sure what help I’ll actually be.” She smiled a little. “Learning to control can be a highly personal experience.”
Elana just nodded and spontaneously hugged Natalie. She no longer felt quite so alone.