Heroes Save the World

Not Too Small, ch. 4: Austin Smith

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Monitoring: Austin Smith
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

4:25 p.m. Central Standard Time
Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
22:25 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, February 12th, 2013

Rewind—

Austin has dealt with some serious fires and seen gruesome burns, but it still unnerves him when Dead Zone’s eyes roll back and he slumps in his seat. For a moment everyone is looking awkwardly at each other, maybe wondering, like Austin is, whether they ought to check Dead Zone’s pulse or something. Before there’s any sort of silent consensus, though, his eyes are open as wide as they can go. He stares at Hannah for a moment, then pointedly turns away.

“You gave me a message,” he says, still looking in any direction that isn’t hers.

“That was the point.”

“It goes like this: ‘Repeat this exactly: No vision and your power stopped working. London isn’t clean. Greg has the package. Cincinnati Ohio at 500 Almond Street, August 4.’ I don’t know what all of that means, but you must have spent some time practicing because it took almost exactly ten seconds for you to say it.”

Hannah looks thoughtful, but doesn’t say anything. Rucker sends a glance in her direction, evidently decides that if Hannah knew what it meant then she would say something, and then moves on to what they can figure out about the message. “In these visions, you haven’t received any visions from even further in the future, have you, Simon?”

He shakes his head. “So, how does it work, exactly? I guess that it makes a little bit of sense, that there’s some timeline where I don’t have a vision, but the mechanics aren’t making sense to me.”

Rucker shrugs. “We don’t have nearly enough information to guess at that, and I’m reluctant to use up another vision just to find out. A good source of information is not just someone that you can touch and that we can trust to give us information, but someone that we can trust to stay alive until the time is right.” She pays Hannah a look. “You will let me know, of course, if you figure out anything about what your future self was trying to tell us?”

“Of course,” Hannah agrees. “I want to talk about what we’re going to do about this woman that Simon was talking about but…I think there’s a more pressing issue to address first.”

“What?”

Hannah looks first at Simon, and then at Austin. Slowly, she stands up from her chair. “When I signed up for this I wasn’t expecting the apocalypse. Austin looks like a good citizen and Simon wouldn’t have gone cross-country for lack of nothing better to do but I don’t think that they’re interested in pro bono world saving either. So consider us unionized and consider this our first renegotiation of employment terms. You know health and medical and death benefits.” She leans over the table, supporting herself with one hand. “But before that you have to come to an appreciation of what it is that we can do.”

Agent Rucker gives her an appraising look, while Agent Blank remains silent off to the side. “And what it is that you can do?” she asks.

Hannah turns to Austin. “I’ve been thinking about how your power works. You’ve been putting out fires but you don’t have to go through the entire house to do it. You have to touch the fire but the fire is apparently one whole object as far as your power is concerned.”

Austin nods. That wouldn’t be hard to figure out from the reports, and it doesn’t look like anyone else is surprised by her statement.

“I have a hunch though. You don’t just make fires smaller do you? You can make them bigger too.”

Austin nods. He checks the agents, but Blank’s face is impassive and Rucker just looks curious, probably wondering where Hannah is going with this. He’ll have to ask Hannah how the CIA discovered that part of his power.

“So how quickly does it move?”

“A little faster than I can walk.”

“Alright. Let’s say…” She closes her eyes for a moment, evidently doing some calculations or at least bringing something to memory. “Let’s say three miles per hour.” Hannah turns more fully to face Rucker and Blank. “Simon can see how you’re going to die, I can make coins vanish but Austin,” she says, snapping her fingers, “he’s a regular old person of mass destruction.”

Austin almost falls out of his chair. “W-What?”

“The core blast radius at Hiroshima was one mile in diameter, and the firestorm was three miles. So if Austin is at the center you can get the first in, let’s see…ten minutes, and the second in thirty. You can’t tell me that doesn’t have tactical value! But wait, it gets better. There’s this show, have you seen it? Avatar: the Last Airbender? There’s this scene in the third season with zeppelins- and well anyway the point is imagine him hanging out of a plane with a wall of fire two miles wide scouring the battlefield as fast as that plane can go without knocking him out.”

Austin blinks. Hang him out of a plane? How exactly is that supposed to work?

Rather than elaborate, though, she’s on to the next idea: “Not to mention he can probably set up a defense against bullets by–“

Rucker holds up a hand. “We don’t need a full presentation right now.”

“Oh. Right.” Hannah blushes and puts a hand on the back of her neck. “My point is there may not be a single other person with a power like Austin’s–or Simon and I might be the unusual ones–but what matters is that you have at least one, and I bet you thought he was just a firefighter!”

“But that’s all that I wanted to be,” Austin mutters, and Hannah turns to him.

“We’re going to stick together,” Hannah says as she crouches in front of him and puts a hand on his shoulder. “If there are monsters or worse out there, though, then the only option we have might be to kill them with fire. Simon saw nukes go off, and maybe they were meant to contain an outbreak. With you around maybe we’ll be able to avoid that.”

Austin nods, though he’s still uncomfortable with the idea. “I overheat, though.”

“Excuse me?” Hannah says quickly, almost snappily.

“My core temperature rises as I use my power. I don’t know if I could hold it for twenty minutes before it got too hot.”

“We’ll figure out a solution to that. I’m good at solutions,” Hannah says. She glances at Rucker, and Austin finds himself hoping that she won’t. Hannah might be committed to only fighting Giger tree monsters, and maybe the CIA will be on board with that, but one day the world will be saved–however temporarily–and the dust will settle, and slowly everyone will start to scrabble for power again. He’s okay, at least in principle, with fighting monsters, but he doesn’t like the odds that one day they’ll be pressuring him to use his power against other people.

Hannah goes back to her seat and props her feet up on the table. “Now that you know what we’re worth, let’s start negotiating.”

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