The new pen Mac hands me has two major advantages over the old one: it contains enough ink to write, and it doesn’t dissolve on contact with my hands. My left fist is still closed around the other pen, and I can feel it breaking down as I fill out the form. It’s an odd, crawling sensation, like having a fistful of ants. I’m a little concerned about what it might be doing to my hand, but there’s no pain and I’m a lot more concerned about what Mac will think if he sees me corrode a pen into nothingness, so I keep my fist closed until the sensation stops.
I finish up the paperwork and pass it over to Mac, who’s clearly written the incident off as “weird, but not too weird to make a sale.” As he begins typing it into the computer, I surreptitiously open my hand to peek inside. There’s nothing left of the pen but a small, ashy pile. I knock it onto the floor and wipe my hand on my pants, smearing a light grey smudge against the soda-soaked denim.
On the whole, I think I’m handling things very well here. It’s reasonable to view this as a situation worthy of panic. After all, I’ve discovered that I can break objects down into their component pieces — probably not their component atoms, but maybe. I mean, I don’t know what a pile of atoms looks like. Let’s say their component elements. That’s probably less likely to infuriate Doc Simmons when I report it to her.
The point is, I reduced a pen to ash in less than a minute, and I don’t know how I did it. Until I figure out the trigger, there’s no guarantee that I won’t do this to anything else I touch. This includes the chair I’m sitting in, the floor my feet are on, possibly even my clothes. That sort of thing is how you end up on the nightly news. “Area man streaks local dealership!”
So, why am I so calm at this point? Simple: necessity. I don’t know much about the nanomachinery that’s causing this, but every power I’ve had so far has been triggered off of some emotional response. Stress, anger, general intensity — this is what seems to activate the nanos. Admittedly, my mask-power activated on relaxation, but that was a growth ability, whereas this is destruction. It seems safest to remain calm, take deep breaths and not let anything get to me until I can get to Doc Simmons and have her help me set up a safe and controlled environment to test this in.
Although, what qualifies as a safe environment for this? When we were testing the pyrokinesis, all we needed was a fireproof container. I’m not sure that they make anything that’s entropy-proof. There’s plenty of stuff that’s billed as “indestructible,” but I doubt they meant against disassembly on a molecular level.
Well, probably not molecular. Elemental. Something.
I should probably refrain from describing my theories to the doc, to avoid getting yelled at.
Mac pulls me out of my reverie with a cheery, “Good news! The preliminary check came back fine, so we can get started looking at cars.”
“That fast?” I ask, surprised.
“Technology is amazing!” he grins. I’m seriously considering smacking this guy, but I work on maintaining my Zen calm. Focus on the breathing, and nothing dissolves.
Mac leads me out to the lot and pops the hood on a car. He rattles off some specs about it, but basically all I’m looking to hear is the mileage and the price. I investigate the components under the hood, unsure what I’m supposed to be looking for. Nothing appears obviously rusty or broken, so that’s good. I nod in approval, and Mac closes the hood again.
“Okay, you want to give it a test drive, see how she runs?” he asks. “I can go snag the keys for this one.”
“Sure, yeah,” I agree. As Mac turns to head back inside, a scenario suddenly flashes into my mind. I’m driving, Mac’s riding next to me, and suddenly a squirrel darts out in the road. It startles me, and suddenly the steering wheel beneath my hands begins to crack and fall apart. I step on the brake, but it cracks free, and the parking brake comes off in my hands. The two of us are left hurtling down the road, totally out of control as the car disintegrates around us.
“Hey, Mac?” I call, and he turns back around expectantly. “Could you also bring me a pair of gloves?”
He grins hesitantly, uncertain whether this is the setup to a joke. “Gloves?”
“Yeah, gloves. Leather gloves, work gloves — those disposable plastic ones, if that’s all you have. Gloves.” He’s still looking at me, waiting for the punchline, so I add, “I don’t really want to touch the cars. I don’t know who’s been driving them.”
“Dead serious. Can you get me some gloves?”
“I — I mean, sure, I’ll find something inside. I’ll be right back.”
He walks away, and I catch him shaking his head slightly as he goes. I don’t care how weird he thinks I am, though. These gloves might save both of our lives.
While I’m waiting for Mac, I pull out my phone to text Brian.
new powers have hit
you up for meeting with the doc tonight?
Then I email the doc: “New powers have hit. Are you up for meeting tonight?” I suppose technically she’s right that the email’s more formal, but it’s still stupid not to text in this day and age.
Mac’s still not back, so I put the phone away and study my hands. Neither seems any the worse for wear for having dissolved a pen, so at least I’m unlikely to erase myself in a nightmare or anything. In fairness, none of my powers have been directly harmful to me so far. Maybe the nanos have built-in safeguards in case they’re being operated by idiots. I suppose that if Dr. A is planning on releasing these to the public for profit at some point, that’s a good assumption to be working with. Speaking as a member of the public, I spend a lot of time acting like an idiot.
Finally, Mac returns with a keyring and a set of heavily-stained work gloves. “Do these work for you?” he asks, holding them out.
“Perfect,” I say, donning them. “All right, let’s try this car out.”
Getting the key into the ignition while wearing stiff-fingered gloves requires a bit of fumbling, but aside from that, the drive goes perfectly smoothly. The car runs well, with no suspicious engine noises or strange hitches on acceleration. It brakes and corners well, and it’s roomy enough inside that I don’t feel the need to push Mac out of the car to stop his constant chatter.
Honestly, I’m pretty taken with the car. It’s no one’s dream car; it’s an out-of-date mid-sized sedan, and the color is probably best described as “drab beige,” because someone apparently wanted it to be as bland as possible. But with as hectic as things have been for me lately, having an unexciting, dependable car sounds pretty heavenly.
We roll back into the lot, and I park the car. Mac gets out and says, “So, what’d you think?”
“It was great,” I tell him.
“Okay, next one I want to show you is –”
I cut him off. “No, no next one.”
“I’m done. Let’s do this.”
“Don’t you want to look at other cars?” he asks, perplexed.
“Why? Is this car no good?”
“No, of course it’s good!”
“Are the other cars better than this one? Were you saving better cars for later?”
“No, but don’t you want some options?” Mac seems genuinely confused by my willingness to buy the first car he’s shown me. This is just the latest indication that he and I do not see the world in the same way.
“No. I’m only buying one car. I like this car. No options necessary.”
Mac shrugs. “Hey, if it works for you, it works for me. Let’s get you signed up.”
I strip the gloves off and shake them out. No ashy dust falls into my hand, and they appear undamaged from the outside, so I feel safe in returning them to Mac. “Thanks for indulging me with the gloves. I appreciate it.”
“I’m glad I could help you out,” he says. His smile fades, replaced by the first real expression I’ve seen him wear. “Hey, they make drugs to help with that sort of thing. My sister’s on them, and it’s really helped her out. She was having trouble even going out in public for a while, and it’s evened her out a lot.”
It’s a small thing, but I’m genuinely touched that he’d offer me that sort of connection, instead of just writing me off as another weirdo. “Thanks,” I say. “It’s not usually a big thing for me, but I’ll look into it.”
After I sign about an entire ream of paper and Mac photocopies half the contents of my wallet, I am the proud owner of five years of debt and a drab beige, new-to-me car. Mac walks me out to the car, starts to stick his hand out to shake, then pauses as he remembers my theoretical condition. I see his hesitation and, with a smile, put my hand out for him to grasp.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” he tells me, with the salesman’s smile back on. It’s still smarmy, but now that I know there’s a human under there, it’s more tolerable.
“Thanks for the car, Mac,” I say, and climb inside. I check my phone before starting the car, and see that Doc has written back.
“Get here as soon as you can. Take a cab if bus schedules are inconvenient.”
“I don’t have to take a cab,” I tell my phone. “I have my own car again.”
Man, that feels good.