Awful Shadow, ch. 9: Olivia Garcia

Monitoring: Olivia Garcia
Mesa, Arizona, USA

7:45 a.m. Mountain Standard Time
Monday, June 9th, 2014
14:45 Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, June 9th, 2014

Fast forward—

The world as only Olivia can see it is an ocean of yellow paint. There is no difference between any two specks of it but all the same she has somehow learned to differentiate, say, between the yellow that made the outline of a person, and the yellow on top of that. There was yellow inside each person, and a few months ago she became able to distinguish between the yellow that was their organs and another yellow that was in and around those things. In that way, it’s like an amorphous onion, with a multitude of layers.

It took a little while for her to understand what she was seeing, and since then Olivia hasn’t stopped being astonished by the sheer amount of life that fills the world. It swirls in the air, coats every surface, and pervades every body, and while she can’t see unliving things, as such, she is able to distinguish them by their outlines and, often, by the life that is inside them.

Thank God she isn’t an obsessive hand-washer. Even as she is, it’s sometimes a little disgusting to breathe in air full of yellow particulates that she knows are part of someone else’s exhalation. Fortunately, she can turn her perspective in any direction, so while she can’t consciously move her body at the same time that she has opened her eyes to the yellows of the living world, she can at least face away from other people and even herself and not think about what’s happening “behind” her field of vision.

Even in her most nauseated moments, though, she still can’t help but be fascinated by what she beholds.

Too quickly for her liking, the bus arrives at school and she has to withdraw her second sight. It’s only for a few minutes, just long enough for her to settle down in her first class. Then it’s time to relax again. Mr. Caulder’s voice rolls by in the background, distorted and burbling as if someone had mixed it with the sound of a running brook. Noise is always weird when she’s in this state.

“Something something, physics equation something,” he says, or close enough. She hasn’t been called on for a few months–she isn’t the star student of last resort, to choose when nobody else has the answer, and there’s no reason to embarrass her like the students who are checking their phones or napping, because as far as anyone else can tell, she’s staring straight ahead. Maybe her blinking is a little robotic, depending on how her reflexes work there, but whether she’s blinking every five seconds or just staring like some zoned-out weirdo, it’s never drawn anybody’s attention. It would be nice if this power let her nap on the sly, but failing that it’s nice to be kept from falling asleep in a way that anyone can see. It’s really a shame, though, that her body doesn’t get any rest while she’s looking at the yellows. Olivia would love to be able to do it at night. It would help her keep tabs on her Lita, too.

Mr. Caulder says something about another special test coming up, but that’s ignorable too. There have been a lot of them in the past couple of months, but the only impact that they seem to be having is that she doesn’t have to take class that hour. They aren’t even being given special study sessions or anything. Just tests. Some new No Child Left Behind thing or something.

After Mr. Caulder, she trundles on to Mrs. Lebowski, where she turns in her social studies homework and heads to the back of the room. She tries to maintain an interest in the history of Idaho, she really does, but before too long she’s looking at people in the next room over and trying to practice what has to be the weirdest form of lip-reading ever. That loses its appeal pretty quickly, too, and she stops in favor of just scanning her surroundings, slowly spinning her vision around like she’s some type of psychic owl with an infinitely-twistable neck.

It’s been five months since she got a superpower, and the world isn’t any different. Olivia is pretty sure that she isn’t crazy, so there must be other people out there in the same spot, but nothing’s happened. Are they all like her, stuck in place and wondering why the others aren’t doing anything? Olivia’s thought about applying for search and rescue missions, but she isn’t in the mood right now to play through the part of the script where the disbelieving adults scoff and ignore her and she has to wait anyway. Maybe she’ll have the patience for that later.

Olivia finally gets to leave when her class breaks for lunch. There’s a meal bar in her backpack, so she doesn’t really need to go anywhere to get a meal, but she leaves the campus anyway. Maybe she’ll sit down for awhile at the Starbucks, or she’ll just keep walking. She has thirty-five minutes in her so-called “lunch hour” to decide what to do, and whether she’ll be coming back to class on-time (or at all).

Most likely, she won’t. There’s less than a week of classes left, so whatever she doesn’t isn’t going to impact her too much. Besides: What does it matter? So long as she doesn’t have to repeat a year, her grades are irrelevant. Superb academic performance isn’t going to fix her grandmother, get a better job for her father, or teach her some hidden quality residing in her power.

On a whim, Olivia crosses one way rather than the other when she reaches the intersection, and winds up at the McDonald’s. Still a coffeehouse, sort of, she guesses. She’s noticed that the chain has been trying to rebrand itself as a Starbucks for people without taste buds or something, so maybe it counts, even if hamburgers aren’t on the wall at most coffeehouses.

At least the seats are comfortable, Olivia thinks as she slides into a booth. Leaning against the corner and propping her legs up on the rest of the bench, she goes back to that weird little thing inside her–mind? soul?–and the world turns yellow again. Olivia could make a joke about how germ-coated the kitchen is, but everything everywhere, even the air, is yellow, so that wouldn’t exactly pass. The real shame, though, is not being able to say that the meat is so antiseptic that there isn’t any yellow on or in it.

It actually isn’t that hard to keep track of the time when she’s seeing yellow, especially when she’s in a fast food place like this. People move in and out, leaving and entering the line, ordering and acquiring food, and further on, in the kitchen, other people are making that food, and Olivia fancies that she could set her watch by it if she wanted.

A few people, though, don’t head for the counter. Olivia hardly notices it at first, but they make a beeline for her table and she sure starts paying attention then. Sort of, anyway. She still can’t hear what they’re saying, and only pulls herself out of the yellow once it becomes clear that they aren’t going to leave.

There are two kids sitting across from her, and some stocky guy in a business suit at a nearby table, watching them. One of the kids, some sharp-faced girl in a hoodie jacket too hot for the weather, pulled a plastic ziploc bag out of one of her front pockets. She poured its contents on the table, coins spilling all over, then touched her finger against them one at a time, disappearing each one.

“I can keep doing this for as long as you want, but I think that you get the point,” she said.

Olivia slipped into the yellow for a moment, hoping that her expression would turn as dull as she thought it went at these times, and took a couple of seconds to compose herself. “Can you do something, too?” she asked the boy sitting beside her.

“I can,” he said, “but it hurts. I have to be touching a fire to do it. So, you know, I would rather not demonstrate if I don’t have to.”

She nods. “So, who are you?” she asks, and he blinks.

“We told you already.”

“Pretend I wasn’t paying attention,” she says, and he re-introduces himself and the girl with the coin trick. Olivia glances at the big guy watching them from the other side of the dining area. “And is that Professor X or Magneto?”

“Bert Blank,” answers Austin.

“Well, yeah, but what does he do, what does he want? I doubt that you’ve swung around just to say ‘hello,’ so this has to be where you hand me my Hogwarts letter or something. I mean, you’re here for some reason, and out of all of you I’m pretty sure that it’s the adult who has the big agenda.”

“So far as we know,” Austin explains, “there aren’t any adults with powers like ours.” That’s a little disappointing. “Bert Blank” is a comic book name if she ever heard one, probably for somebody who can blend into crowds or turn invisible or something. Plus, if this had happened before, then she’d have a better chance of getting all her questions answered.

“Do we know why we have powers?” she interrupts, and Austin shakes his head. Of course.

“We do know, um…” Austin trails off.

“Look,” Hannah says. “The biggest, most important thing that we know is that something awful is going to happen. There’s another one of us who can see the future, sort of, and it’s a real horror show. Nuclear war isn’t the half of it. So, we don’t know exactly what you can do, but you can do something, and that’s better than nothing. I mean, I can make coins vanish, and they’d prefer to keep me around.”

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“The CIA,” answers Austin, and Olivia stands up to leave.

“The answer’s ‘no.’ I don’t care what you–”

“Imagine your family being twisted into horrible sculptures like out of H. P. Lovecraft’s nightmares. Imagine them suffering from radiation poisoning,” Austin says, and Olivia stops, just a moment, then interrupts him in turn. “Imagine–”

“No. I’m not doing that. You really think that the government is going to fix this? They’re probably behind it. For that matter, how do you know that it’s actually the government? Did you walk into their headquarters, wherever it is, and talk to the guy who runs it? Or the President? Probably the only thing worse than the government would be some nefarious shadow organization pretending to be the government. Winter Soldier has been out for almost two months now, and you’re telling me that it hasn’t made you question whether you’re actually working for secret Nazis or something? I’ve known about this for less than two minutes and I’m sure questioning it.”

“No,” Olivia says. “The answer is ‘no.’ Now leave me alone. I’m late for my classes.”

Austin moves, but Hannah puts a hand on his arm. Blank doesn’t do anything to stop her, either, so Olivia marches out and leaves them all behind. She doesn’t head back to school, though. It’s a longish walk, but…she feels a need to be home right now. CIA or not, secret conspiracy or not, if there’s a lick of truth to that apocalypse line that they trotted out then it doesn’t really matter who’s actually behind it, she still has a lot of thinking to do.

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