With thanks to Alexander Wales for permission to use an idea of his.
Monitoring: Hannah Johnson
Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA
11:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
16:30 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
A thousand kilometers away, Hannah Johnson is experiencing her own revelation.
Someone else might laugh at the absurdity of her situation: she has a magic trick, something to show at parties. If moneymaking were on their mind, the first thing on their list would be children’s birthday parties, maybe followed by “Vegas?” with the question mark really big, because how would someone go about pulling off a whole magic show around just one trick. Maybe if she were already one-half of Penn and Teller, but at the end of the day it’s just a gimmick. There may be someone out there with laser eyeballs and bulletproof skin, and what she has is a conversation opener.
But she isn’t someone else. She’s Hannah Johnson, and she’s going to turn that conversation opener into a million dollars. She just has to prove that this is happening. Hannah’s working on it in the back of her mind, trying to figure out where to go from here, but most of her attention is on the map in front of her: The Principality of Cazgin. With the pencil work all done now, she’s on to placing the ink. It has to be clear enough that it shows through when she scans it into the computer.
She isn’t terribly good at drawing—there’s a reason she’ll have to commission someone to make a decent illustration out of this after she’s done—but the pen seems to glide in her hand anyway. Tracing the previous step’s lines is so much easier, and there’s a satisfaction in seeing her homemade worlds turn from graphite black to ballpoint blue.
Someone knocks on the door. She can’t be sure, but it was probably Carol. If she knows Jeff at all then he’s probably already left Carol to hold the fort while he gets drunk at some New Year’s Eve Party. Hannah doesn’t need shit from either of them, especially when she’s trying to think, so she puts on her headphones. Dubstep stopped being enjoyable a while ago, but it’s good for drowning out noise.
Her living situation, admittedly, is not the worst she’s ever had. The neighborhood is safe, she has her own room for once, and Jeff might scream but he doesn’t hit her, out of some perverse respect for… not her grades, no. She helped his kids with their work, but nothing changed for them even after they got better report cards. Hannah can’t imagine why he’d care about her anyway, since she has no share of his genes (thank God). He takes some sort of pride from having a smart kid. Whatever the cause, it’s been a long time since she’s been bruised, which is more than she can say for the others in his house.
Forty minutes later, the Principality of Cazgin has been inked down to the last Black Oaks freehold and Hannah thinks that she’s got the other situation figured out. She scans over the map one more time, then carefully slides the parchment into a drawer.
Time for one last test, she thinks. There’s an Arby’s down the street where she can get what she needs: raw materials and witnesses.
Halfway through the door, she pauses just long enough to shout, “I’m leaving!” before she slams the door behind her. The cold bites at her for just a moment as she she finishes pulling her coat around her.
Carol can rot in Hell, and Jeff with her, for all that Hannah cares. She knows who her family really is, and if the checks from the state are actually being used to her benefit for once, that doesn’t change the fact that she’s still getting used. Being somebody’s trophy is no better than being their paycheck, thanks very much.
She’s getting pissed just thinking about it, much to the imminent detriment of the cashier in front of her.
“Welcome to Arby’s, can—”
“Can you break this twenty, I need change,” she says absentmindedly, words blurring together in her haste. The man behind the cashier stares at her blankly, so she repeats herself more slowly, giving each word its own aggravating pause. “In coins,” she adds.
“I, um… Are you going to order anything?”
“What’s your most inexpensive item?” she asks.
“You want us to give you nineteen dollars in coins and hold up all these people behind you,” he says slowly, “in exchange for you buying something off our lunchtime dollar menu?”
Hannah drums her fingers on the counter between them. “And a cup of water too.”
“Uh, you know that water is free?”
“Fine don’t get bent out of shape, let’s get a chicken tenders meal, is that good enough? Now can I get my coins and my food?” It takes a sort of effort for Hannah to space the words out like they ought to go. She counts herself lucky that she has a one-track mind right now and doesn’t have to worry about changing topics mid-sentence.
“Right. Step to the side,” he says, ringing up her order. He turns to another employee behind him. “Hey Sam, can you count the coins while I take this next order?”
As she takes her seat, she admits to herself that she could have afforded to be a bit more polite. It wasn’t his fault that she’d been reflecting on her so-called guardians. She’ll give a big tip to make up for it.
There will still be enough here for a couple of test runs even after the tip, though, which is good enough for Hannah. She eats her meal first, then sets her garbage next to the four-dollar apology tip. She tests a couple of times for herself to make sure that she’s still got her conversation opener—she knows she does (it’s like a light in her skull that won’t turn off) but she’s got to double-check that she’s not crazy—and then she turns to the table next to her.
“Hey I got a magic trick want to see?” The kids turn to her fast enough that she’s surprised they didn’t whiplash. “Okay pay real close attention,” she says, and then she does it.
“Where’d it go?” one of them asks.
It’s not exactly the best of superpowers, but for all Hannah knows there aren’t any better ones that are actually out there. She doesn’t need something amazing, anyway—just money, and there’s a One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge waiting for the first confirmed case of supernatural powers. She just has to get there before anybody else.
Another coin disappears beneath her touch, and Hannah smiles. It’s really happening, it’s real, other people can see it, and it’s going to work.