Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Collin Goel! Collin finished 6th grade this past school year. The story he submitted is called “43.5.” Collin told us that his favorite part of his story is that “[e]verybody in my story has a special superpower. Some are more special than others.” Enjoy!
The spy silently traversed the building, quickly and spider-like for a few minutes before he stopped underneath a window. His fingers grabbed the window sill, and he pulled himself up slightly so that he could see through. There it was, a mother holding a newborn boy, cradling him so he would fall asleep.
The spy pulled out a small rectangular device with a display on the front. He pointed it at the boy and then read the display. It read the number 43.5, with an image of a brain next to it. The spy sucked in a breath. 43.5? What did that mean? No one had ever had a radiation count like that. Each count signified the amount of radiation in someone’s body, which determined their specific power type.
The device measured the radiation count through a small scanner that displayed on the screen. There were many different radiation counts, but there were only a few left undiscovered. When someone with an undiscovered count was born, a small electromagnetic wave was sent off to alert the oppressive government to their presence, and they were taken to the government for testing and monitoring.
43.5 was one of the more puzzling ones. Radiation was quite dangerous in your body, so nearly all powers at a lower radiation count weren’t unique anymore, and most undiscovered radiation counts were at higher numbers. 43.5 was the exception, still being low, but still undiscovered.
The spy raised a device that resembled a walkie-talkie up to his mouth. “I’ve found him,” he whispered. “He’s in Newhaven Hospital in Room 12.”
“Okay, we’ll be there soon, you’re dismissed from your post,” another voice replied. The spy let out a sigh of relief and began to descend. He dropped down to the ground and ran to a fence. He slipped through a hole, jumped into a car and drove away.
— 12 Years Later —
I remember when I was five. I was so excited when I found out I had a unique radiation count, and I couldn’t wait to find out what my power was. After years of anticipation, it turned out to be Invisibility. While Invisibility is by no means boring, it also isn’t exciting. It is one of the most common powers, after Super-Strength, and is extremely restricted in its use. While I can spy on people, why would I? I dreamt of having the power of Flight and being able to soar through the sky, or Telekinesis and being able to move almost anything with my mind, but all I could do was turn invisible.
As I thought about this in my first-period English class, not paying attention to the work (in my defense, it was identifying the differences between ‘may’ and ‘can,’ I mean, have you ever heard of anything more boring?), my mood turned slightly more sour.
“Jason!” snapped Mr. Trenton, a balding middle-aged man with a hooked nose and a terrible temper. I was convinced he hated kids and had no idea why he took a job as a sixth-grade English teacher. “Do your work right now!” A few of my classmates sniggered.
“Sorry, Mr. Trenton, but I finished it already,” I lied. I would just be able to finish it later at home. I mean, it wasn’t due for three more days.
As I was walking down to where I usually spent recess with my friend Lucas, a voice rang, “Jason Gray, please come to the office. I repeat, will Jason Gray please come to the office.”
“Ughh, I wonder what that is,” I groaned.
“It’s probably Mr. Trenton again, complaining about how you breathed too loudly,” Lucas responded.
“Well, I better go, see you later.”
A man stood in the office. More specifically, it was a large, imposing man, in military uniform, with three chins being displayed on his massive, pudgy face.
“Jason, this is Officer Morgan of the 39th Division of the Special Forces,” said the office manager, who appeared to be avoiding his gaze as much as possible.
“You will now come with me immediately. This is an extremely important situation. Save your questions for the car.” Turning to the office manager, he stated, “you will not inform anyone of my visit, do you hear me?”
“Y-y-y-es,” responded the nervous voice of the office manager.
“Wait, I’m skipping school? I can’t do that. My parents will be worried sick! I’ll miss all of my schoolwork!” I said.
“Jason! Your parents have been informed; you will come with me.” He reached out to grab my wrist and began to pull me to the school entrance. I considered breaking out of his grasp, but it looked like I wouldn’t be able to overpower him. And, he was a military officer, meaning he most likely had a gun, and if I made him mad enough, he would probably use it.
Right outside of school sat a police car. It looked more expensive and much nicer than any car allowed for civilian use. It had a sleek, powerful design, and, inside, there were full leather seats with temperature control. It made my parents’ beat-up minivan look like garbage, though it was one of the nicer civilian cars.
“Jason, do you know why we are at war?” Officer Morgan barked. Of course, I knew. Everyone in the American Empire was taught this at school.
“Yes, Britain wants to take back our nation.”
“Why?” he said, now yelling.
“Because they want our prosperous country back.” I didn’t actually believe that. It was rumored that it wasn’t the British that instigated the conflict, but the Empire, who wanted to take over the entire world, which sounded far more likely to me. The government wasn’t, and had never been, inclined to telling its citizens the truth about its conflicts. So, while I lived in this nation, I didn’t agree with its values, and neither did my family
“Why are you taking me?” I asked, wishing to finally find out.
“We’re going to run some tests on you, just to know if a prediction we’ve had about you is true. If it isn’t, you can go home. If it is, you’ll find out more,” he replied.
We got in the car and sped out of the school. As Officer Morgan drove, the scenery around us changed from town to forest. We crossed onto a “designated personnel only” road and, after dozens of turns off the road entirely, we reached a massive, gray, boxy building, surrounded by a ten-foot-tall barbed fence.
“Here we are. For now, you’ll be in a temporary room,” said Officer Morgan.
After walking through a maze of twists and turns, the “temporary room” was essentially a jail cell. It was six by eight feet and contained a leaky toilet and a bed that felt more like a wooden board. On the walls, there was a barred window, a camera, and the door I had walked in from, locked from the outside. I was under instruction to sleep until they were “ready for me” the next day. I was exhausted but tossed and turned all night, just waiting for morning to come.
The next morning, an ear-splitting shriek sounded in my room. The door opened, and a man wearing extremely thick-glasses and a pristine lab-coat walked into the already cramped space. In a voice that can only be described as slimy, he said, “Hello Jason, my name is Dr. Maligan. Come with me, please?” he asked, gesturing to follow him.
Going through the maze of the building, we stopped at a room resembling a doctor’s office with a massive machine taking up the majority of the space.
“This machine will determine whether our prediction for you is true. Please hold your questions until the end. It is perfectly safe, so don’t worry.”
The machine was a huge box, with multiple buttons and other inputs coming out of it and a chair wired to it, which Dr. Maligan gestured for me to sit in. Once I was sitting, he stuck two wires connecting each of my temples to the machine.
“We will be mapping the portion of your brain that controls the power. This process takes around twenty minutes of staying completely still, so don’t move.”
What did they want with ordinary Invisibility? There were hundreds of thousands of people in the Empire who shared my power, so why me? Did it have something to do with my unique radiation number? Were they mistaken about my power?
“Excuse me, umm, Doctor, you know my power is just Invisibility, right?” I asked, hoping they were mistaken and were trying to find someone else. He smiled and said nothing. If he knew, then what did he want with my power? After a few seconds of flicking switches and pressing buttons, I saw a bright light, but it was behind my eyes. Was this what it felt like? It was white, but it felt somehow hot, like it was burning whatever it touched, if it was even touching anything. Turning my eyes to the machine, I somehow didn’t notice the entire thing was glowing. In fact, the entire world was glowing. Shapes danced in front of my eyes, and my eyes began to feel as heavy as lead.
“Don’t try to resist falling asleep, it’s part of the reading,” rang a voice that sounded disconnected from reality. I gave in to the temptation and awoke after what felt like a few seconds.
“I have your full brain reading, and it’s even better than we hoped. You certainly have met our prediction, even far surpassing it.” Oh great. I had to stay at this place for longer.
“Now we just have to figure out how it works,” Dr. Maligan murmured to himself, sounding like he was in deep thought. Speaking more clearly, he asked, “by chance do you have any close friends or family who also have the power of Invisibility?” That was a strange question? Why would he want to know if I knew anyone who had Invisibility?
“Yes, my old best friend manifested a few days before I did with Invisibility.” Once again talking to himself, he asked, “why would it pick Invisibility then? Does it have something to do with desire, or was it simply picking the simpler ability? The question is how does it work and if we could rep—”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, though more yelling than demanding. “You said I could have answers after this. You told me you would tell me what your prediction was after this test. You’ve done the test, now tell me what you’re talking about!”
Taking a big breath and sighing, Dr. Maligan said, “Very well, after all, we did promise you. Prepare yourself for a long explanation, get comfortable.” Happily obeying his instructions, I did just that.
“Through a network of different systems, we were alerted when you were born with your unique atomic number of 43.5. We weren’t sure it was Invisibility. When you were born, we sent a spy to find out who and where you were, as well as find out your power before it even manifested.” A spy immediately when I was born? How did they even know where I was?
“Moving on, we captured a basic diagram of your brain as well, and well, let’s just say your power definitely wasn’t Invisibility.”
“Wait, not Invisibility, but then what’s this,” I asked, holding up my arm and turning it completely transparent.
“You know that powers are determined by the count of radiation in your body, and each person can only have one. Invisibility works by allowing light to pass directly through you, which you do with your Invisibility, but your power is directly connected with your eyes and had something to do with viewing power. We determined your brain was able to pick up on the small levels of radiation that are emitted when using any power. We think your power has something to do with mimicking others’ powers,” he said, wide-eyed with excitement of the discovery.
“Well, then it’s a shame I wasted it on Invisibility, isn’t it?” I said, half joking. Dr. Maligan suddenly turned very serious.
“After the brain scan,” he said, talking very slowly, “I now know that you’re able to do this more than once. Theoretically, you could have infinite powers, but that’s not likely, since new powers don’t appear that often.”
My eyes widened. More than one power? That was just as impossible as, say, living forever. It couldn’t be done. That was the one law of abilities. Only one. The law I was now breaking. Was this great or terrible? What would this mean for me? At that moment, I was so entranced that I didn’t even consider the possibility that he was lying.
“Do you understand what this could mean for the war! You could be our super-soldier! You would be unstoppable!” said Dr. Maligan excitedly.
I pictured this, hovering hundreds of feet above the ground, stopping all bullets fired at me using Telekinesis, calling down lightning from the sky to devastate enemy forces. No, I couldn’t do this. If we were able to leave safely without the threat of death, we would. How could I fight for a country I didn’t want to win? I was trapped. If I said no, they would threaten my family, and if I said yes, it would be against my beliefs.
He yelled, “We haven’t a moment to waste!” Then returning to a normal level, he said, “This facility contains people who have all of the necessary powers for combat: Telekinesis, Flight, Force-field Creation, all four types of Element Manipulation, Weather Control, we have everything. Follow me, we must do this as soon as possible.”
Standing in front of a soldier who was demonstrating his power of Flight, the soldier said, “It’s not really like imagining you’re being pulled up through the air, it feels more like some force pushing against the ground and lifting you off the floor. Push against any direction to fly in any direction.”
Picturing a force pushing out from under me and lifting me up, I focused in behind my eyes. I felt a light, similar to the one I felt during the brain mapping, though far less bright. I focused on that area, also imagining a force was pushing out from under me. In a way I can never explain, my brain just made it happen, and as soon as I knew it, I was hovering ten feet from the ground. It felt simply natural, or at least much more natural than it sounded.
By the next day, I was newly armed with Flight, Telekinesis, as well as Pyrokinesis, Hydrokinesis, Geokinesis and Aerokinesis, the four types of Elemental Manipulation. It felt like a dream that I could have more than one power, and, on top of that, any power I wanted. Today, if all went well, I would be able to use Teleportation, Full Time-Control, Superhuman powers, which were multiple powers, including Superhuman Strength, Speed, Endurance, and Healing. But of course, that was if all went well.
Halfway through the day, right after I finished learning Teleportation, which took an exceptional amount of time, being a very unstable ability, an alarm sounded. It was nothing like the alarm that sounded whenever it was time for me to wake up. It was the warning alarm. Dr. Maligan yelled at me to find cover. There were many escape routes along the outer-walls of the facility, but we were somewhere far inside.
“It’s the Brits! They’ve been doing raids like this on tons of our bases. We thought this one was too well hidden for them,” he yelled over the shriek of the alarm.
“Well, you thought wrong! Are there any escape routes that aren’t directly on the edge of the building?”
“No! You also can’t go up through the building! Jets are probably up there and will blow you to smithereens!”
“Why didn’t your military just bomb those planes out of the sky?”
“We don’t have the power to do so. You’re going to have to fight the soldiers! I’m just a Telepath. I’m not powerful enough to completely control others’ actions, but I can confuse them for a little bit! We have to get to the nearest exit.” A massive explosion shook the entire building, and the lights turned off, with emergency lights slightly brightening the absolute darkness.
“Bombs!” I yelled. He nodded in agreement. I followed him, along the twist and turns of corridors. As we were running around, more bombs hit the building, luckily, not on the side we were on. As we were about to round another corner, he stopped.
“Soldiers,” he whispered. “Four of them, on a patrol to find people.”
“I’m not powerful enough to make two people invisible, and they’ll see us. We have to fight them. We should still ambush them. You confuse them,” I told him.
I got ready to fight. As soon as they turned around the corner, I finally could see them. They were definitely British soldiers, with the Union Jack proudly displayed on their uniforms. All of them were holding massive rifles. With just a touch to his temples, Dr. Maligan made them all forget what they were doing, one of them even dropping his rifle. Using that as an opening to attack, I used my Telekinesis, lifting all of their rifles and smacking each owner on the temple, knocking all of them out.
With the bodies, I used a combination of Telekinesis and Geokinesis to stand all four of the bodies up, and imprison their wrists and their feet into the concrete walls and floors respectively. Being able to control all earth, stone, mud, sand, dust and most metals was useful! After that encounter, I cursed myself for not practicing more with all of my powers. Why didn’t I practice being able to teleport through walls? Why did I never practice turning another person invisible? Continuing running, while extremely close to the exit, we found that one of the areas we had to pass through was completely destroyed by a bomb, with a giant crater where the corridor used to be, with fire around the perimeter. The other end of the corridor was across maybe fifty feet.
“Here, Doctor, I’ll lift you,” I said. I jumped into the air, then using Telekinesis to lift the Doctor behind me, I used Aerokinesis to blow out all the flames, allowing us to cross safely without any danger of fire.
We were forced to stop more often, as soldiers passed on either side of us as we gradually got closer to the perimeter of the building until we finally were forced to fight eight soldiers. Dr. Maligan was only able to temporarily stun at max five people, for far less time, as it took much more effort just to stun more people. It was a feat most telepaths could only dream of. But still, as there were eight of them, three of them raised their rifles, about to shoot at us. I yanked their rifles out of their grasps, then knocked two of them out. The third was faster, and using his power of Super Speed, he rapidly grabbed his rifle at the same time the rest of the soldiers recovered from their confusion.
As fast as possible, I turned the ground underneath the feet of the Speeder to mud, then back to concrete, forcing him to fall over, while at the same time, once again yanking the rifle out of his grasp. His eyes widened, and I could just hear what he was thinking. Two Powers? Then the rest of the soldiers completely came back to their senses. Thinking as fast as possible, I blasted the front four’s rifles with fire using my Pyrokinesis, melting the barrels and making them unusable. I knocked all five soldiers to the ground with my Telekinesis and trapped them all once again with Geokinesis.
We were in even more trouble though. The Speeder had summoned help, and more patrols had come from behind us. Walling off behind us with Geokinesis, I grabbed Dr. Maligan and flew away quickly, with him directing me to the nearest exit and telling me to stop whenever he heard another person. Finally, after what felt like years of dodging soldiers, we arrived at the nearest exit, which was guarded by a dozen soldiers, who alerted others stationed at other exits to come over.
This was the ultimate test, I told myself. If I could defeat these soldiers and get out of the building, I would be safe. I dropped off Dr. Maligan, who was too weak to stun any more soldiers. The first thing I did was wall off the corridor that wrapped around the entire perimeter of the building, as well as behind me, preventing any reinforcements from coming through. I turned the entire floor in front of the exit into mud then back to concrete again, then quickly Telekinetically yanked all rifles out of soldiers’ hands, the effort of which made me vomit onto the floor. It was bigger than anything I had tried before and apparently my limit. But still, all of the soldiers were trapped, and only a few had ranged powers, so it benefited me a lot.
I dodged a blast of flame and used a captured rifle to knock the front few soldiers. I tried to knock out those behind the first row, but another, more experienced Telekinetic contested me, forcing me to abandon it. I then tried something new. Grabbing moisture out of the air, I turned it into water, then sent it as fast as possible to knock out the Telekinetic, who couldn’t react fast enough. Turning my attention to the rest of the soldiers, I knocked them out, using the same small amount of water. I had done it. The exit was clear. I had won, over dozens of soldiers. Running back, I grabbed Dr. Maligan and opened the door, the sunlight lighting up the corridor behind me, illuminating a clear passage into the thick woods, where they wouldn’t be able to find me. Victory was mine! I shuffled into the woods, burdened with the weight of Dr. Maligan, for long after the sunset. I kept on going through the forest until I collapsed between three redwoods, where I was almost sure they wouldn’t be able to find me. It was over. For now.
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