There are some who call her a goddess, and some who call her a demon; many more can never quite make up their mind. Some call her a messiah, though she didn’t really save the world any more times than a dozen other metas, and some think she was merely trying to keep it safe until she was done playing with it, at which point she’d toss it aside like a broken toy.
To me, though, she was always just Mom.
Or, right at this moment, “Mother! Come on! It’s not like I did this on purpose!”
“Well, it’s not like this is the first time, Anabel,” she reprimands me, like this is all my fault, somehow, like I was the person in control. Please. Like she’d ever let me control any part of my life by myself. “You should really know better.”
I roll my eyes, though I know even she can’t see me. “Fine,” I say, “Whatever. I should have known better than to step off the bus. Silly me. I’m done with the phone - she knows I’m alive.” My captor is a bit taken aback by this, but, after a moment, moves the phone from my ear to his.
“You have an hour,” he tells her simply, then hangs up. A moment later, he winces. “I should have told her to come alone.”
“She always does,” I assure him. “She’s not exactly a team player.” I assume because she never had to be. While there’s no official way of measuring just how powerful a metahuman is, my mom is generally considered one of the top three. She was going to walk all over this guy, no problem; I almost feel sorry for him. Other than the whole kidnapping thing, of course.
And, to be honest, that was as much my mother’s fault as his. If she at least made some effort to keep her real identity a secret, maybe these wackos wouldn’t keep using me as bait. But no, she doesn’t even bother going by a codename, just goes around calling herself Regina Pouvier. I’m surprised she doesn’t use her middle name, too. And then she gets surprised when I get snatched up. Gee, I wonder how they could have possibly found me?
Except, I know that’s not why she’s surprised, or disappointed. She’s waiting for the day I call her and tell her some creep had tried to grab me and I’d punched him halfway across the county, or set his hair on fire, or even just kind of floated away. The day I become worthy of her time, I suppose, give all her hard work of parenting a sufficient pay-off.
That day had not been today. Instead, today was more like:
I woke up a few seconds before my alarm rang, just enough time to turn it off. I couldn’t quite remember what I had been dreaming about, though I was pretty sure it had involved a camp of some kind.
“Wake up, Anabel!” mom called from outside my door.
“I’m up!” I yelled back, already starting to feel annoyed. Could she really not even trust me to wake up on my own? Really? I mean, it’s not like I’d done it, and on time, for the past… well, forever. At any rate, it got my dog, Streaky, to stop hogging the other half of my bed, as he jumped down to go get his breakfast.
It took me a few more moments to get up, stumble over to my dresser. I grabbed a T-shirt and some jeans, simple enough, though I sort of wished mom would get called away before I headed off to school - I’d gotten a great new top the day before, but I knew that, if she was around, she’d never let me out of the house in it. Like she had any room to talk, after some of her “costumes” over the years. And I wasn’t even going to be fighting evil geniuses, or giant slug monsters from outer space, or whatever she had been battling when she was my age.
But, of course, it wasn’t the same, at least not according to her. I didn’t have my powers yet, which apparently meant she couldn’t trust me to do anything myself. An interesting point of view, really, considering how often she left me alone, sometimes for days on end. At one point, she had thought about joining the Squadron of Light, but I’d talked her out of it, knowing her only reason for it would have been so she could have left me at their headquarters, where I’m sure I could have received the finest in super-powered babysitting.
Unfortunately for me, mom was still sitting across the table from me when I heard my bus pull up in front of the house. She must have been able to hear it for a minute or two before I did, though of course she hadn’t bothered to warn me about that. Maybe she was testing me to see if my hearing had gotten astronomically better, or to see if I had gotten super-speed.
Neither had happened, which I’m sure was quite a disappointment to her as she watched me dart over at only slightly over regular person speed to her to hug her goodbye, then back to grab my bookbag and the last half of my piece of toast. The driver honked just as I reached the front door, and then gave me a dirty look as I climbed in, like the world was going to end if he was 90 seconds later than usual getting us to school.
Sadly, there were no empty seats, so I ended up sitting with Sara, who practically swooned when I set my bag down on the seat next to her, and came even closer when she saw a streak of color fly out of my house, off in the opposite direction. I rolled my eyes - mom had just -had- to wait for me to get stuck on the bus, didn’t she?
Sara stared off behind the bus for a long time, luckily for me. I’m sure she was a nice enough person, and she really had gotten better over the years, but it was still rather disconcerting to have a schoolmate asking me all kinds of questions about what my mother had been doing lately. Not that she was the only one, of course, but she was the most persistent. However, she was at least the same age as me, and I knew her, sort of, which gave her a couple of good-enough advantages over the inhabitants of the other half-empty seats.
“Hey, Ana,” Sara said to me, upon finally turning away from the window and realizing she wasn’t sitting alone anymore.
I could tell that she was just bursting with questions, merely waiting for me to answer her first for politeness’s sake. I very nearly ignored her, but instead found myself saying, “Hey.”
“Where was your mom going? Is it The Skull again? I saw a rumor online yesterday that he’d escaped, so…” she blurted out, the dam finally breaking. I sighed and shrugged, settling back into the seat and staring up at the ceiling of the bus.
Perhaps the best part about sitting with Sara was that she didn’t try to hide the real reason she was talking to me. By now, I know better than to assume anyone trying to be my friend is doing so because of me, and not so they might have a chance to meet my mother. I had stopped inviting people over to my house long ago, which helped weed out a few of my supposed friends who got tired of waiting. Sara was refreshingly honest; I never had to wonder what her real motives were, would never feel let down when the realization that she couldn’t care less about me finally hit. There was a purity there, in her unbridled curiosity, and I had to admire her for that.
Of course, that didn’t really make it any easier to put up with her for the rest of the ride to school. By the time the bus had pulled in to the last stop, I practically leapt out of my seat and, as quickly as I was able to weave through the crowd, made my way for the door.
After that, I couldn’t really tell you what happened. I remember hopping down to the sidewalk, and starting up the stairs to the school’s entrance, but that’s about it. I assume there’s more to the story than that - it seems unlikely that I’d simply been drugged and dragged off right there, in front of a whole bus load of witnesses. I guess if I had, though, mom was right to be annoyed. Not that I would admit that to her.
As strange and perhaps even perverted as it might sound, I had, over the years, become something of a connoisseur of kidnapping. Sure, there were those who did it with the intent to kill me, and, while all of those, obviously, had ended with me getting rescued, they still freaked me out. However, most of the time I was simply there as bait, and my captors had no intention of harming me.
In fact, most of them were really pretty nice people, who simply disagreed with something my mother had done, but lacked the means to get her attention by any of the normal ways. And a lot of them were nicer than my babysitters had been, being much more indulgent with my peanut butter and ice cream addiction. And they had much cooler toys. Sometimes they’d let me keep one or two of them, though that usually depended on how things ended - sometimes mom wouldn’t give them the chance before snatching me away and taking off.
This guy, though, I’m not sure about. In my experience, the whole tying-people-to-chairs thing was a bad sign, but I really don’t see him being the killing type. As I got older, it had seemed like more of the benevolent kidnappers were getting into the whole bondage thing. Maybe they were worried that if they didn’t, I’d try to overpower them and escape? Maybe they’re afraid that I’d inherited some powers from my mother after all, and just not gone public with them?
“I’m not going anywhere,” I say, just in case that is what is worrying him. I guess I could tell him I’m still powerless, too, but that seems like the kind of thing I’d say if it wasn’t true, to try to lure him into a false sense of security, at least until he realized what I was doing and got even more suspicious.
He looks over his shoulder at me for a second, then goes back to fiddling with something on his work table.
“Come on, my wrists hurt,” I whine a little. Unfortunately, I’m getting a little too old to be able to consistently count on that sort of thing actually working, but every once in a while I’d luck out.
Not this time. “I’m trying to concentrate,” he tells me, not even sparing me a glance this time. “Please be quiet.”
I comply, for a minute or two, not wanting to tempt him to gag me, but unable to keep from asking, “Could you open a window, at least?” for too long. “It’s so hot in here,” I complain. “I can’t breathe.”
“Is your inhaler in your backpack?” he asks.
Wow, he’d done some research. But apparently he wasn’t a snoop, at any rate. Not too smart… Did he not think that my mom might have some sort of tracking device in my backpack? She didn’t, and he wanted her to show up here anyway, but still, if she’d been early, his plans might have been ruined.
“No,” I lie, resisting the urge to wheeze. I’m not an actress, and if he was going to worry about me having an asthma attack, I didn’t want to stop him. “Please, just a little.”
He hesitates for a moment before nodding, walking over to a window and opening it just a crack, letting the curtain fall back in front of it. It sounds pretty windy outside, and, from the bit I can see when the curtain flaps just the right way, we’re pretty high up.
“How do you feel,” my captor asks after returning to his table, “about hypnosis?”
“I’m… all for it?” I shrug, not sure what kind of an answer he’s expecting.
“I’ve been studying it for a long time,” he tells me, barely acknowledging my response. “I thought for a long time that it was useless when it came to any practical application, but some recent experiments have made me change my mind.”
Oh, good. Mind control must be his shtick. Obviously he didn’t do -enough- research, since mom already defeated The Brainmaster years and years ago, without too much trouble. And -he’d- had a much bigger lab. Villains nowadays are just getting pathetic.
“The Brainmaster,” he continues, as if reading my mind, “tried to use a form of hypnosis to control your mother once, but she was able to break his hold on her easily. Do you know why? Because he was asking her to do things that she would never, in her wildest dreams, do. You see, hypnosis, even in its more… aggressive… forms, requires the subject to want to do whatever they’re ordered to do.”
“So, you think my mother -wants- to help you take over the world or something?” I ask, rolling my eyes. “You’re not that much cuter than the other Brain-guy.”
He smiles, shaking his head. “She’s not the one I’m going to be hypnotizing.” A look of surprise washes over my face once I finally realize what he means, signaling him to continue his speech. “You resent your mother sometimes, don’t you? Sometimes you hate her, wish she was gone so you could have a normal life. Wish you could hurt her in some way. Any way.”
I squirm in the chair uncomfortably, wanting to deny it, but unable to. Instead, I say, “So what? What do you expect me to do to her, even if you do hypnotize me? I’m sure you know a gun isn’t going to do anything to her. And if I had any powers, do you think I’d still be tied up here?”
“You might not have any powers yet,” he nods, “but given your parentage, there’s an extremely good chance that you will. You may even be more powerful than your mother. And I’m sure she’s just waiting for them to show up, isn’t she? I bet sometimes you think she’ll never really love you until then. Do you hate her for that, for the way it makes you feel? Do you ever think that once you finally get them, you’ll only want to use them against her, so you can finally make her understand how she’s made you feel all these years? So helpless, useless, and, dare I say, powerless.”
My heart starts to thump loudly, and I try to get a better look at his table, scanning it for any syringes. Supposedly the government had been able to give people metahuman abilities; for sure there was a drug out there that awoke dormant powers, at least temporarily. Most people who took it just ended up burning out their abilities for good, though - it took just the right amount to keep that from happening, and only pure luck could tell you just how much you needed. And if you didn’t have any powers sleeping inside you to begin with, it would try to create some by screwing with your DNA. There were all kinds of horror stories that we got told in school about horrific mutations, new limbs in strange places, organs melting together, skin dissolving. Very few people survived.
“Please, don’t,” I beg him, those images from health class floating in front of my eyes.
“Oh, this part is quite painless,” he assures me. “Just close your eyes.”
“Don’t do it!” I plead, tears starting to rain down my face.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he says gently. “Just imagine yourself laying on a beach…”
I don’t know how much later it is when I wake up, groggily wiping my eyes before remembering that, last I’d been aware, my hands had been tied together. I glance around the room, only to find that the chair I’m sitting in - and me, of course - is the only thing there.
It seems that I’m not dead, which is a plus. A quick glance down at myself reveals a significant lack of extra limbs, and my guts certainly don’t feel as if they’d melded together. I can’t say that I feel any different at all, really, though I don’t know if you can actually feel your powers before you use them. Upon closer examination of my body, I can’t find anything that resembles a needle puncture.
I roll my eyes at myself. I’d been freaking out for nothing. Hypnosis was his thing… He’d probably been trying to use that to jump start my powers. But had it worked? Nothing seemed different - I even jumped up and down a couple times to see if I floated, and walked around the chair to see if I was moving any quicker than normal.
Was that why he’d left, then? Had he realized there was nothing in me he could use and ditched me before mom got there to kick his ass?
It doesn’t mean anything, I try to tell myself, making my way across the room to the door. It wasn’t like I even had reason to believe he was any good at hypnosis. Or that anyone could even use hypnosis like that.
I flail my arms around a bit, in case doing so might activate fire, or spikes, or something, but all it accomplishes is making me look like an idiot.
The door is unlocked, leading to a hall that is equally empty, a few other doors sprinkled across the bland walls, but not much else, until I reach the end, where an elevator is waiting, telling me I’m on the twelfth floor. Not quite a high as I might have guessed.
Suddenly, I hear a noise behind me, loud an violent. I can’t say that I’m too surprised when I turn to find my mother there. “You’re safe!” she exclaims, already at my side, hugging me. “Where is…? Did you beat him yourself?” I can see the pride shining in her eyes, stronger than I could ever remember seeing it before.
I wish I could tell her yes. I want it more than anything.
“He just left,” I shrug instead. “I think he was…”
But, for some reason, I can’t bring myself to finish that sentence. Is this his work, keeping me from warning her that I might be dangerous? Maybe his plan was to make me think my powers, if they existed, were still dormant, while in reality they were there, waiting for the two of us to get free of this place and back home, where we could both feel safe and let our guards down.
“He what?” she asks, brushing aside a strand of my hair.
“Nothing,” I shake my head. “I think he might have had second thoughts.”
“He should have known better than to mess with us,” she smiles, but that shine is gone. “But we probably better get you to a doctor, just in case.”
“I guess,” I comply, though I don’t expect them to find anything. It’ll just be a waste of time, like I’d been for whoever that hypnotist guy had been, like I was for my mother yet again. “Hold on for a minute,” I tell her. “I forgot something.”
I brush past her, back towards the room, ignoring her questions. The twelfth floor… Not as high as I might’ve thought, yet still more than high enough. I know she’s right behind me, and that it won’t stop her for long, but it might be enough. I don’t need long.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her, slamming the door and locking it. The curtain is still flapping in the breeze from the barely open window as I approach. I take a moment to ponder whether I can jump hard enough to shatter the glass before deciding that failing would likely cost me more time than just opening the window.
I hear the door’s hinges buckle behind me as I begin to maneuver myself through the window. “What in the world are you doing?” I hear her ask.
“Goodbye,” I say, and then I push myself forward into thin air. ‘This must be,’ I ponder for a moment, before my brain fully processes what is going on, ‘what it feels like to fly.’
And then I fall.
And that’s where the dream ends, every night. Sometimes, in the darkness, I can pretend it’s just a dream for a minute or two.
She hadn’t let me die there, of course. What kind of a superhero would she have been then? She hadn’t let the truck I’d dove in front of once she’d set me down hit me, either. She’d stopped me from doing anything with the doctor’s scalpel, too.
The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with me, or at least anything he could fix. Or anything mom could, either. Even, after days and days, once I’d managed to tell her that the hypnotist was behind all this, not me, there wasn’t anything to be done. Mom went out to try to find him, but he had vanished.
I stare out towards the door. There’s a light on outside, dim through the tiny window. She’s out there, I know, even though I can’t actually see her. She hardly leaves, unless the world is in some serious peril. I’ve told her to go, to leave me be, but she never was a very good listener.
Standing up while wearing a straight jacket isn’t easy, but you get used to it eventually. Same with walking across a padded room.
Sure enough, when I get to the window, I can see her sitting out there, watching. She brightens a bit at my appearance, approaches the door.
She looks so old… When did she get old?
“Go,” I tell her. Even someone without super-hearing could surely have figured out what I meant. She just shakes her head. Whenever I go over to my little window, she’s there, no matter what time of day or night it is, and especially whenever I leave, so she can keep an eye on me, keep me from doing anything to myself.
Outside, the other metas struggled to keep crime in check, ever so slowly losing the battle. I saw it on television, even though she usually changed the channel before I could see too much of it. Maybe she didn’t want me to feel guilty, but how could I not?
After all, I was the person who had defeated Regina Pouvier.