Orientation: Part 5

Fifteen minutes later, she stepped out of the office, and started walking toward the hall. I waved to her, and she slowed, letting me catch up.

“Did you just see your advisor too?”

“Kind of. I got out, and then I noticed you were in there, and thought I’d say hi when you got out.”

Then I wondered if I’d been too honest. She could take that a bunch of ways ranging from “creepy stalker” to “he’s interested in me” to “just being friendly.”

The first two were the last things I wanted her to think. Even beyond not wanting to hurt Haley, I’d never thought about Courtney in terms of dating. She’d been dating Keith the entire time I knew her. I’d always thought of her as nice, and a lot more sensible than Keith in a lot of ways, but more as a friend than anything else.

If I’d met her for the first time in college, I’d probably have classed her as “completely unapproachable.”

“Hey, you’re silent all of a sudden. What’s on your mind?”

“I still can’t get over how different you look.”

“Oh,” she said, and took a breath. “Well, you know why.”

She’d showed Haley and I at the restaurant when we’d gone out together before prom.

“Yeah,” I said, “but you’ve made a lot more changes since prom.”

Her eyes darted around. We were walking down the stairs to the first floor with a lot of other people. Every freshman had to see their advisors today. Classes started tomorrow.

“Let’s not talk about this here. Let’s try…” She paused. “Let’s try somewhere on the lawn. Michelle always has people in our dorm room.”

We didn’t say much as we followed people down the stairs and out of the building. One look outside told us that the lawn wouldn’t be private. People were everywhere. Freshmen had moved in on Friday and Saturday, but on Monday everybody could move in. Cars filled the streets between buildings, and every parking space in front of them.

Students carried suitcases, backpacks, and duffel bags full of stuff across the lawn toward the residential halls.

“We could walk by the river,” I suggested.

A few minutes later, we’d walked past Voss Hall of Engineering, and stood near the water. The park where the League fought Evil Beatnik lay on the other side. A few people sat in the park, or walked down the sidewalk next to the river, many of them in business clothes.

The university’s side of the river hadn’t been developed as much. Weeds started where the lawn ended, and continued down the bank, ending in mud.

It was private in the sense that no one stood in hearing distance. I supposed that people could still see us through the windows of the engineering building.

We sat where the river bank began—the edge of the lawn .

“You’re probably wondering why Keith and I broke up?”

I had been, but I hadn’t intended to ask about it. I’d really intended to find out how much power juice she was using, and where she was getting it.

“A little.”

She stared down at the river before she said anything else. “Keith wants to be a superhero. He went to college in Chicago so he could impress the Midwest Defenders. He kept on bothering me to do it with him—I’d do the investigating, and he’d do the fighting. It was awful. I only wanted to lose some weight, or at least look like I had. It wasn’t coming off any other way. We argued for months, and he dumped me in July.”

I nodded.

“And that’s it,” she said. “After we broke up, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I spent it experimenting with my powers. I don’t know why, but I thought I’d see how attractive I could become while still looking like myself. Maybe it was supposed to be some kind of revenge on Keith. I don’t know. It’s a little like how my mom dyed her hair red after my parents divorced.”

She stopped, and watched the river. I didn’t say anything for a little while.

“Does it last? Or do you have to take more juice all the time?”

She gave me a slightly lopsided smile that reminded me of how she used to look.

“If I change myself, and don’t take any more, I stay that way.”

“That’s interesting. I wonder if you’re changing yourself at the level of DNA, or if you’re rearranging yourself, but you’ll slowly change back with time?”

“Can’t tell you. I’m not taking the risk of finding out. I’m making my own juice. I don’t want to get stuck if I don’t have to.”

“What happens if power juice becomes illegal?”

She shrugged. “Maybe I’ll build one of those machines that make powers permanent.”

10 thoughts on “Orientation: Part 5”

  1. I guess Cassie was right about it, everybody has one. The next step is to admit the futility of trying to restrict access and instead make them available commercially with warning tags about how the use of this product may cause homicidal insanity…

  2. Mazzon, when has seeing the futility of trying to restrict access and instead allowing commercial availability with reasonable warnings ever been the way of the U.S. government?

    Toss it on the pile with marijuana, heroin, opium, cocaine, crack, meth, K, hash, ecstacy, LSD, PCP, and the others I didn’t mention.

    Perhaps you’d be interested in some perfectly legal flamethrowers, thermite, or AK-47s instead?

    There’s probably a lesson in here somewhere. Oh well, let’s go bomb some place to take our minds off it. Depart, my drone minions!

  3. Be careful with the B-word PG. If someone’s reading in an airport, you might be arrested and detained indefinitely without trial.

  4. Tapping into a little reality there, Jim, where so many people, and teens in particular have body issues that can result in a distorted view of themselves and reality. Ignoring those issues, you’d think she would have made all of the changes she wanted by now and therefore have no need for the juice. So either the body changes have become an obsession or she is more interested in her other powers now.

  5. WA_side: My wife is a social worker who at one point worked in a psychiatric hospital. She was involved in their program for people with eating disorders (anorexia, and bulimia).

    I can’t say I’m any kind of expert, but we did talk about issues relating to her work. Now she works as a hospice social worker, and we get to talk about issues that are sometimes also relevant to this story.

    As for why Courtney continues to be interested, well, that’ll probably come up eventually.

    With regards to power impregnators: Once power juice becomes common, the usefulness of power impregnators becomes obvious to so many more people. They’ll likely be affecting the story for some time to come in one form or another.

  6. Eh, I’m already slightly on the watch list anyway. I don’t quite understand it. Someone with a name like mine is suspicious enough to have to check in at the counter rather than be able to print a ticket out from online, yet not too suspicious to buy a ticket or let me on the flight in the first place.

    It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s the point. There’s more illusion of security there than actual security. See Vanity Fair’s article “Smoke Screening” for more details: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2011/12/tsa-insanity-201112

    Yeah, there’s a well known bias for girls to be all gorgeous whereas guys can be whatever. Think back to most sitcoms you’ve ever watched. Maybe the guy’s nothing special. He’s a fat UPS guy or something. His wife? Total hotty. Then cut to commercial where a guy with a belly is doing something stupid while his hot, smarter wife knows just the right cleaning thing to use or whatever. It works both ways like that.

    It should be slightly different lately, though. Research shows that in tough economic times, men begin to move away from favoring the skinnier women towards women with a lot more curves on them. For most of our history, really, that would have been more of a sign of being well off. More fat means more money. Being pale means never having to go outdoors because there’s enough servants to take care of all that for you. In various indigenous cultures around the world, a fat woman is still a woman you’d want to marry more.

    We now live on the flipside of that. Nowadays, the cheaper food is empty carbs and more likely to cause someone to become fat. More expensive food is healthier and allows one to be skinnier. There’s also that those better off financially have time to work out, where a poor person might need to work a couple of other jobs or just works one that leaves them absolutely physically beat at night.

    Given the large numbers of antidepressants the U.S. takes as a country, it also seems to mean that even the sane people around are crazy. Either they really need that stuff, indicating compromised mental state, or they believe they need that stuff, indicating compromised mental state.

    It’s times like these that I feel we need an emperor here. We should revive the old standard of Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Hail Norton, his madness kept him sane!


  7. Neil Gaiman’s use of Emperor Norton in Sandman was probably the best thing for keeping his memory alive in a long time.

  8. There’s room for the fantastic in everyday life, if we let there be. Take a look at Thoth, the street prayformer. Just don’t watch the time he went on America’s Got Talent. Hasselhoff has some balls to make fun of a guy for what language he decides to sing in, or whatever the rough equivalent is in German.

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