Not Too Small, ch. 1: Austin Smith

“You are not too small. No one is ever too small to offer help.”
Honey the Hero, written by Emlyn Chand.

Monitoring: Austin Smith
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States of America

3:45 p.m. Central Standard Time
Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
21:45 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Fast forward—

On the way home the school bus passed by one of the houses that Austin had saved. All things considered, it looked pretty good. There was only minimal damage to the exterior.

Austin hadn’t always gotten to houses in time. He’d thought he was being clever, listening to dispatches from the fire department and driving to the scene on his sister’s moped, but he hadn’t accomplished very much. Sometimes he was able to get there before everything was over, but that didn’t mean that the house would be saved. After someone died, Austin realized that he simply had to do better.

The next day he went to the chief of the local station, demonstrated what he could do, and offered his services. He made no mention that there were others like him. Chief Walker agreed to keep Austin’s identity secret until he was older, and from the next day forward Austin did his homework at the fire station and stayed on call there.

He still hasn’t forgotten the sight of the body, though, and while he’s been lucky enough to not see any other deaths, it’s important to Austin that he not get cocky. Every night he googles burned-down houses and deaths by fire to keep them fresh in his mind. The house that he saw was okay, but only because he’s staying vigilant. There’s another reminder that he carries with him, but it isn’t as important to him as the price that others pay when help doesn’t arrive quickly enough.

The bus stops, and its doors swing open. He steps down and passes by a kid who’s been waiting at the stop. Out of sight, out of mind, though, at least until the other kid says his name. Austin turns around, wondering if he should recognize the kid. He’s Creole, Austin guesses, and shorter than Austin but not necessarily younger. His hair is a kind of ash brown, and his clothes are baggy, almost hanging off his rail-thin frame.

“I’m like you,” the kid says, and for a moment Austin wonders if it’s some sort of race thing, which for the life of him he can’t puzzle out because, like, what is the point of sitting on a bench and waiting to say that, but the kid evidently realizes that he was being overly vague and it’s all that Austin can do to not stare: “I can see how people are going to die.”

As if it’s not enough that Austin’s got one-half of the package from Stephen King’s Firestarter, now there’s a kid (with a Canadian accent, notices some part of Austin’s mind) who may as well have stepped out of The Dead Zone.

“How did you find me?”

“I realized that you were working with the Baton Rouge Fire Department. There were some little things, like realizing in hindsight that only the earliest news articles mentioned a moped, but I figured it out after I marked down all of the sightings and realized that they mapped to one of the fire stations. If you could listen to the dispatches from one station then you could listen to any of them, so that couldn’t be the reason why, which meant that either you lived next door to the station and it was coincidence, or you were working with them.”

Austin fishes his cell out of his pocket and sends a text to the fire chief. As much as he doesn’t want to admit it, this probably takes precedence. Dead Zone tracked him down, all the way from freaking Canada. and if weird things come in threes then he’s going to be meeting a spider-clown or a gunslinger or something next week, and he should at least try to be prepared.

“Do you want to talk at my place?” he asks,

Dead Zone nods and takes a place beside Austin. “What’s with the gloves? I mean, it’s not exactly cold right now.”

Austin glances at his gloves, then pulls one off to reveal a mess of bandages. “I can control fire, shrink it or even make it bigger, but I have to touch it and pardon the blasphemy but God forgot to add ‘fire immunity’ to the package.”

To his credit, Dead Zone is able to suppress the snicker that was clearly rising up in him, and offer up instead a sympathetic, “That sucks. Anyway, my name’s Simon Martin. I’d shake your hand but I don’t think you’d be interested in that. So,” he starts as they resume walking, “you think that God is the one that did this?”

Austin shrugs. “It’s as good of a guess as any, isn’t it? Really, it could be a giant turtle for all we know, or pure blind chance.”

Simon shakes his head. “It wasn’t chance. Maybe we were, but the event itself couldn’t have been.”

“No, I guess not.” Finally at his door, Austin pauses long enough to fish for the key ring and unlock it. He holds the door open long enough for Simon to walk through, then follows. “My parents won’t be home for a few hours. I don’t know when Abigail will be back.”

Simon sits down at the kitchen table. “Do you still drive the moped to the fire station?”

“No. I take the bus.” Sometimes he crosses paths with his sister as she’s coming home from classes at OLOL, but more often not. Austin slides out a chair for himself, opposite Simon. “It’s been a while since I’ve had quiet like this. The station is anything but.”

Simon doesn’t respond. He looks a little lost in thought. When he does speak up, it’s on another topic entirely. “How far is your range? I mean, if you’re touching the flames, how big can they be before you can’t affect the far end?”

“I don’t know. I’ve only worked on houses, and those are big, but they’re not, you know, huge fields or something. I haven’t had to handle something like that yet, thank God, and I’m not about to create a huge fire just to test things out.” Simon’s power comes to mind. “Is there something in particular that I should prepare for?”

“No, just asking in gen…” Simon stops himself. “Well, okay, the world might be ending,” he says, and Austin’s glad that he wasn’t eating anything because he might have choked to death just then if he had been. “Now, you are the only other person with superpowers that I’ve met so far, but you’re still the only person I’ve met with firepower potential. I can tell how somebody might die, but that doesn’t do me much good in a fight.”

“Did anyone tell you about this, or do you see it when you do your Dead Zone thing?”

“Kind of both. I got told about some of it by this old lady when I looked into her future. She knew who I was and, I don’t know if she was going to die no matter what or if she sacrificed herself to send a message, but I saw a nuclear bomb or something go off in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She said that it was 2016, but I don’t know exactly when that was. There was snow on the ground, but it could have been January or December.”

This is definitely out of The Dead Zone. “How are the two of us supposed to stop a nuclear war?”

“Don’t forget, there are ninety-eight more of us. I think this is why we’re here, anyway. But, um.” Simon looks hesitant, like he really doesn’t want to say what’s going to come next, but knows that it really has to be said. “Nuclear war is probably the least of our problems. It might not even be for the reasons that you’re thinking of. In Toronto I saw people twisted into these grotesque, I call them ‘body trees,’ these things, like something had come along and shaped them like clay. I saw whole forests, sometimes. It stopped once I got far enough out of Toronto, and I’ve seen people die in plenty of other ways, but nobody’s been kind enough to die in front of the morning newspaper so I don’t know exactly what’s happening or how long we have.”

Austin is about to suggest that they use him to get a look into the future, but just then there’s a knock on the door. “It’s probably Bridgett or another one of Abigail’s friends. I’ll be just a minute.” When he opens the door, though, it’s no one that he’s ever seen before–none of them are. There are three people standing on his porch.

“I’m Mary Rucker,” says one, a woman with thin eyebrows. “This is my partner, Bert Blank,” she says, gesturing to the broad-shouldered man standing beside her. Both of them are dressed in business casual. “And this is Hannah Johnson,” Rucker says of the sharp-boned girl standing between them, who looks like she might be Austin’s age. Her arms are folded, one finger on her right hand tapping against her left arm as she scowls, ever so slightly, in Rucker’s direction. “We’re with the CIA, and we’d like to have a conversation with you.”

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4 thoughts on “Not Too Small, ch. 1: Austin Smith

  1. I admit I really enjoy how rational and smart all your characters are, so far.
    So you divide the story into sequences? What’s behind that?

    Like

    • Thank you! It’s always good to hear that people are still enjoying the story.

      //So you divide the story into sequences? What’s behind that?//

      It serves a few different purposes.

      First, the story is broken into smaller chunks, which is helpful for me because this is going to be a biiiiiig project.

      Second, each sequence is at least colored by the theme described in the opening quote: Big Change focused on initial reactions, and Not Too Small is going to have a lot to do with the kids finding ways to be useful despite their various limitations.

      Third, it gives me a basic structure to start from when I’m planning out a series of chapters and deciding how to do assign viewpoints. One of the things that was a struggle for me back in the initial planning process was balancing chapters that push forward what most people would consider the main plot, and chapters that show characters who don’t contribute to that (at least not obviously: there’s one kid who has appeared multiple times so far, but who has probably gone unnoticed in one of those appearances). If every character is a letter, then the default pattern for thirteen chapters goes like this:

      A-B-C-A-D-E-A-B-F-A-D-G-H

      So, in the first sequence you had:

      Simon-Hannah-Noam-Simon-Ananya-Michael-Simon-Hannah-Yuka-Simon-Ananya-Mary-Mitch

      The pattern is supposed to aid rather than dictate, though, so I’ll mess with it based on the needs of each sequence.

      In January I’m going to be opening a Patreon for this and some other projects of mine (worldbuilding resources, some columns that I had to stop writing but would like to start up again, etc.) and that’s probably going to lead to extra chapters in each sequence, but I think that’ll be fine. This story is in many ways an experiment, where I’m pushing my comfort level, seeing what works, and fixing what doesn’t.

      Thank you again for commenting!

      Like

  2. I’d like to pop in and say that I’ve also been really enjoying this story so far. I haven’t found a chapter I didn’t like yet. I’m really bad about commenting, though, so don’t take a lack of a response as me disliking the chapter or something.

    Regardless, thanks for writing this.

    Like

    • No problem! I’m glad that you’re enjoying it. I’ll assume that no news means good news, but then you have to promise to leave a comment if you decide that it’s turned awful, okay? >:P

      Like

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