— SEPTEMBER 2 | 11:55 A.M.
“I need to talk to you,” she says, stepping into the room. “Do you know North?”
“Angry girl, always ready to fight?” Luther asks with a small smile. “Yeah. I know her. She comes by the infirmary every so often to talk to Josh or Lucy. What about her?”
“She came by this morning and told me that Simon needs my help with something. Him and Markus--”
“They’re planning to send a message to the humans,” Luther says. “I know. He wants you to help?”
“Yes,” she says. “And… I want to agree to it. I went to see him and he told me he could help me. Figure out my powers and… in exchange I’d go on a mission with them to Stratford Tower.”
Everything she’s done has been an accident. Getting money from the ATM at the Laundromatic. Destroying the register at the store. Whenever she gives in to the magic inside of her, it doesn’t end well. She doesn’t know what to do. This feels like a good option. It doesn’t feel like something she should fight against. It feels like something she should understand.
“You could die.”
“Are you telling me,” Luther asks. “Or are you asking for permission?”
“I’m telling you,” Kara says, her voice uneven. “So you can take care of Alice and Ralph if anything happens. You’re the only other person that knows what Alice is. I need you to look out for her if anything happens to me.”
He stands up, crossing the room toward her, “Kara. I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Which is why I’m telling you, not asking.”
“Right,” he sighs. “And I won’t stop you.”
He says it like a lie, but she knows he won’t. But she’s prepared a hundred more words on why she should be allowed this, even if they’re unfair. Luther isn’t stopping her from training, he wants to stop her from going, and that isn’t going to happen either. Simon needs her. That’s why he asked for her help. It’s why she’s offering.
“Thank you, Luther.”
— SEPTEMBER 2 | 1:43 P.M.
The radio underneath her fingertips screams to life. The volume loud, blaringly so, making her shrink back as the voices of people, filled with static, switches quickly. Again and again from old country songs to religious talk shows to pop music and only stopping when Simon’s hand touches the side of it, putting them into complete silence again.
Kara sighs, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“I have to teach you. You don’t know how to use your powers, not even the basics. And to be honest, Kara,” he says. “I think you have a natural talent for this, a little bit.”
“Because I was born with it?”
“No,” Simon replies with a small smile. “You have a lot of restraint. It’s remarkable. You just don’t have any control when you finally let it go. Try again.”
Her hand comes up to the radio again, fingertips brushing the edges of it. It’s an old thing. Must’ve been manufactured twenty years ago. She just needs to turn it on. No power source, no plug, no batteries. Just her. Just her and one station. Every time she touches it, the thing borders on explosion. Never resting on one channel, constantly scanning. Simon has the station number written on the board behind him in case she forgets, but it’s ingrained in her head now.
97.5 F.M. - 97.5 F.M. - 97.5 F.M.
But then she thinks of Todd. She thinks of the radio in his truck, playing softly as she was driven back to his house from the hospital. She thinks about the signs and the people. She thinks about the collar around her neck, the sharp pain of it when the seal broke and her magic was unleashed. She thinks of him on the ground, laying bleeding.
She thinks about how she doesn’t know if she’s a murderer or not and she thinks about how Simon told her to find a good memory inside of herself and focus on that, but when she tries the radio in front of her reacts. Clicking on. Loud. Angry. Vicious.
Simon stops it again. He’s getting faster at silencing it when she fails. He isn’t expecting her to succeed anymore.
“I can’t do this.”
“Try again,” Simon says. “It takes practice. You can’t expect to get a handle of your powers in one day.”
“But this is supposed to be simple. How long did it take you?”
“That’s not important, Kara.”
She shakes her head, not wanting to fight about this. She drops it, even though his words and his voice tell her he got it much faster than her, probably. He probably managed it in an hour. Probably got it on his first try. Maybe had more happy memories to pull from.
“Tell me again.”
He sighs, “Think of it like water. You’re standing in a stream. There are fish all around you. You have to catch one, but you have to catch a specific one. They’ll circle back around. Just be patient. Wait.”
He makes it sound like the stations don’t zip by at a hundred miles an hour, like they are casually strolling by, just waiting for Kara to reach out and touch them. This is really his way of starting her on figuring out her power? There’s a lamp in the corner. That would be so much easier to turn on with just a touch. There’s a television, where she could have a visual to help guide her and not just a feeling of something speeding by.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? To focus on the feeling, to grasp at something speeding along. To do it purposefully. Breaking the cash register and the ATM were both accidents. Destroying the collars wasn’t meant to be done with such force. Kara has restraint, but she doesn’t know how to use it.
“How long has it been for you?” she asks, looking away from the radio to his face. “Since you’ve been here?”
“So you’ve had two years to master your power?”
“I’d hardly call it mastered, but yes,” Simon replies with a gentle smile. “It’s… easier for me, I guess. But I still haven’t perfected everything. It doesn’t work that way. Our abilities are unpredictable. Why do you think we can break the seal in the first place?”
“Bad manufacturing,” she replies. “How’d you end up here?”
Simon’s smile disappears, “That’s not important. Try again.”
Kara turns back to the radio. Her fingers brush the surface. She feels the flow of energy. She feels a thousand things existing within it. She tries to not let her thoughts wander. She tries not to turn the radio into a bomb. She tries to find the channel.
Alice on the carousel, surrounded by snowmen. The brothers watching. The lights flickering. The only time Kara did something right. She holds onto that moment, she holds onto that smile Alice had. She holds onto the feeling of being in a snowglobe, all shaken up and bright.
The radio is electric underneath her fingertips, screaming static back at her, but it’s staying. It’s staying static. She feels a wave of relief, a small broken laugh escape her.
“Did I do it?”
Simon cranes his neck, reading the small display, “95.7 F.M., but I’d say you got pretty close. Good job, Kara. This is great.”
There’s a quiet clap behind her, a voice bored and even coming from the doorway, “Amazing. Incredible. Impeccable.”
“What do you want, North?” Simon asks.
“Came to watch the show. She’s supposed to help us not get killed, right?” North asks. “You’d think that threat would be enough for her to try a little harder.”
“North,” Simon says. “She’s learning.”
“And practice makes perfect,” she replies. “You should put that on your board, too. You’re very cliche, Simon.”
“Sometimes things are cliche because they’re true,” Kara replies. She isn’t offended by her. She knows that she is doing the bare minimum. She knows she should’ve been able to figure this out hours ago.
“Has he given you the speech on getting power from happiness and sunshine?” North asks, watching her. “He’s very fond of that. Using all your bright and shiny good memories to make something work right. Anger is too volatile. He forgets some of us don’t have them, though.”
“North, can you please go?”
North crosses her arms, leaning against the wall. “Markus needs to talk to you.”
“Tell him I’ll be there in a second.”
“What do I look like?” she asks. “Your fucking messenger? Make him wait for an hour for all I care. There are more important things to do.”
“Like bully the new girl?”
North shrugs, turning away, disappearing from the door. Simon steps forward, turning the radio off and leaning back against the wall.
“I’m sorry about her. She gets moody sometimes.”
“Are you sure?”
Kara smiles and nods, “Really. She reminds me of Adam.”
She bites her lip, “You should go see Markus. You don’t want to make him wait.”
“Right,” Simon says quietly. “We’ll take a break for a little while. Meet back in an hour?”
Simon leaves, the room empty and quiet without him or the radio. She could try again, without him. She doesn’t want to. It’s borderline dangerous if he isn’t here. She doesn’t know what she could do, and she doesn’t know how she would fix it if she did something terrible. She’s being paranoid. She is always paranoid about her powers. She saw what Ralph did to Zlatko, even if he deserved it.
Adam had a point, being afraid of variants. They are everything that the news says they are. Unpredictable. Volatile. Anger makes them volatile . But North is right. She doesn’t have very many good memories to focus on when she wants to use her magic. She can try and think of Alice on the carousel, happy and smiling, but she’s scared it’s eventually going to lose its ability. It’ll turn into dust if she thinks about it too much. She will consider the negative parts of that memory. Being on the run. Alice always upset. The freezing weather.
She can’t turn her one good memory into something bad.
— SEPTEMBER 2 | 3:07 P.M.
“You look happy,” Kara says when Simon gets back. He’s still smiling as he leans back against one of the tables.
“Your talk with Markus went well?”
“Yes,” he replies. “Maybe not as well as I wanted it to, though. He wants to do this sooner than later.”
“You should be upset then, shouldn’t you?” she asks. “Or did something else happen?”
“Nothing happened,” Simon says, the smile drifting away. “I just… He hasn’t been here for very long. It’s nice when I feel like I can make a connection with people that are here.”
“And you made a connection with him?”
“No,” he laughs. “I mean, yes, but not in the way that you’re implying.”
“And what am I implying?”
Simon tilts his head to her, refusing to answer the question. She wasn’t implying anything. Simon was. All smiles, looking like that. Like a schoolboy that got an excuse to talk to his crush. Kara hasn’t really met Markus. She’s only seen him from a distance, she’s only known it was him by the fact people pointed him out. He always looks serious. It always looks like he’s preparing for a final exam in two hours. But it’s bigger than that. It’s Stratford Tower. It’s everything or it’s absolutely nothing.
“We should get back to practice,” Simon says. “We need to get this right before we go.”
— SEPTEMBER 2 | 9:52 P.M.
Kara steps back from the row of lights. Simon had been right. It was a bad decision to start with these first. She’s broken five light bulbs in the last hour and the majority of her time has been cleaning up the glass. She’s running through their incredibly low supply being selfish and training in the dark by herself. The dark being mostly her own fault, the being alone part pinned on Simon. He left her a few hours ago and told her to take a break and she stayed, pretending that all she was going to do was to put things away, but instead, she’s done the opposite.
She isn’t afraid of the lamps in the same way she’s afraid of the stereo. The stereo feels like it could combust into a bomb, the lights feel like they’ll just break the bulbs. It’s easier.
“What do you want?” she asks, leaning against the table.
“To help,” North replies. “And I was rude earlier.”
“You came to apologize?”
“Sort of,” she offers a smile. “I wanted to see the progress you made. There’s a lot riding on this and Markus is rushing our timeline. He should’ve given us more to prepare.”
“So am I,” she says with a shrug. “If this goes bad, it ruins everything for all of us. Aren’t you concerned? Don’t you have a daughter?”
“Yes,” Kara replies, deciding again like she has the entire time she’s been here not to correct them. “But I want her to live in a world that’s safe for her.”
“You sure? You’re risking an awful lot.”
“And I’ll continue to do so for her.”
North steps forward into the room, her hands moving to the glass remnants sitting in a pile on the table, “Simon trains using happiness. Focusing on the good that your powers can do. Or the mechanical. How it works. Eventually you just sort of get it and it just does whatever you want. But...”
“You don’t agree?”
“He’s a good teacher but not all of us were afforded pasts with good memories,” North says, turning back to face her. “It… hurts to think about the good things. It’s just a reminder of how little moments there were like those, or how little they meant once your parents found out you weren’t what they wanted you to be. In more ways than one.”
“This is really important,” she says quietly. “So I’ll help you. Focus on the bad, negative shit. All the awful things that happened and keep happening. Use that. It’s harder to control but it’s stronger. It’s what worked for me.”
Kara watches North’s hands move, carefully over the space above the glass shards. They lift up, turning and shifting, slotting together. The cracks glowing bright before disappearing into nearly invisible lines, almost golden.
“Use the bad for good,” she says, turning the bulb back into the lamp. “It might help you. And it’s the least we can do with it.”
Kara reaches out to the lamp, her hand touching the brass base of it. Feeling the possibility running beneath her fingertips. All of that electricity and wires she could pull on. Creating magical endless loops of energy to power the entire boat. People like her could power the entire world. But she doesn’t think about that. She doesn’t think about the possibilities of the future. Instead, she reaches inside of her for something bad. Something awful. Something negative and terrible. She lets the feeling fill her up. Todd punching her, Todd breaking her nose. Todd chasing after a little girl who did absolutely nothing wrong.
And she pulls back at the last second, like Simon taught her, utilizing that restraint he always talks about. Out like a breath, all that excess power. The light turns on, shining brightly in the dimly lit room. Kara pulls her hand away tentatively, and the light stays. It doesn’t shut off like she expected it to. It doesn’t shut off like she thought it would. It is such a tiny, baby step in the right direction, but she knows Simon would be proud of her. It’s not just a sign that she can turn a light on, it’s a sign that she can rein in her power when she needs to.
When she focuses on the negative, awful shit.
“See?” North says. “Told you I would help.”