When Hands was six, she discovered that not everyone had a third arm.
She’d long wondered how her mother, a delicate but stern woman, kept her third arm out of the way of things. Why she would let pans drop when she was nervous, or fretting, and why she couldn’t open doors when her hands were full.
But when Hands caught the bottle of wine before it shattered on the cabinet, and it floated in front of her in that strange invisible fixture, her mother shrieked and shrieked and shrieked. Red face. Terrifying.
At around this time, Hands discovered that her father existed, and that he was the strange man who occasionally visited them, long trailing strands of clothing attached to an off red suit. Mottled clothes protecting armor.
And she could see his hands. Dozens of them, freely unaffixed, attached wherever he wanted or needed them to go. A hand for every occasion. They were beautiful; a proper number of fingers, a strange inevitability to where they’d move. Practice. Precision.
He talked with the agent that arrived to say that they’d missed her in the scans of newborns, and she’d need to be monitored for later.
Every Monday, Hands left her elementary school and instead went to another school, where a mixture of kids like her attended. Some breathed fire. Another could hurl acid from their fingertips. Others hurt people when they thought too hard (they weren’t around for long) and others made people feel happy (they weren’t around for long.
Every day after school, her father would be there, taking care of her. Whispering beautiful stories of lands far away, that she might get to see one day.
She loved that. There was nothing wrong with that.
Then he vanished, and her mother took her to school instead, and her face tightened, grew harsher and fiercer with each mention of the strange friends she made, who might be there one day and disappear to other classes another. (she was told this was where they went)
Hand’s mother had long been archetypical. Less something explained, and more of a force of nature. Kept three kids in line without input from another soul; interrupted only briefly by the occasional smile when Hand’s father came about, his cape cut into triangles to better catch the light.
Publicity, brief snatches of memories flowing through her head of a man that had always made sure money was there for them. Not enough, never enough for her.
Hands had always wanted him to notice her. Her, the only one with powers among their family. Caught a spark of his genius, of his loci, of his focus. When she looked into the mirror she wanted to see his face reflected, but she just saw the tanned skin of her mother looking back, and the quirk of her eyes. A faint hint of his face in the curve of her chin; in the way her hair parted.
A tattered photo kept in a frame.
When Hands was nine, her father never came back home. AWOL, at first, then declared dead.
A permanent payment from the Association, monolithic agent at the front door, her mother’s facade, implacable phalanx shield it was, crumbling in an instant into something raw, horrendous, terrible.
She thought she saw the devil that day, seeing her hands shaking, quivering. Mother rushing about, throwing and dashing things against the wall, and she-
The baby started crying, and Hands slid in front of it to protect her, and Mother turned, half of a broken bottle in her hands, and stared down at her.
Nine year girl, desperate to try and make it better.
Did her eyes reflect the same pale shade as her mother’s in that instant? Did she see herself, reflected, a hideous creature?
The bottle dropped numbly from her hand then, shattered across the floor.
Then she broke down into hot tears.
When Hands was 12, her mother was dating again. A strange man; perhaps he used to know her father, he knew some of the secrets about him.
When she was 13, he was gone, spiralled off and shuffled back into the Association. Mother refused to talk about him, but Hands wasn’t stupid. Hands wasn’t stupid at all.
Mother stood over top of her, a bruise on her face, twisted up eyes, and looked down at Hands. “I never want to see you mixed up in that, you understand?”
“I want to be like Dad,” Hands said, flat. “Like a hero.”
Her mother turned to the side.
“You’ll regret it for the rest of your life if you do. You, and everyone you’ve ever cared about.”
Papers were burning in the fireplace. The ink had a strange smoke to it that made her head hurt. The perils of being in a widowed hero house.
She wanted to make her dad proud. The photo, tattered, faded, she kept hidden in her room, in case another fit of madness took her mother. Her sister didn’t remember.
Hands would always remember.
When Hands was 15, she was taken to the side in her classes, led off into a dark part of the Association building she attended powers in. They led her to a series of dummies.
“These are for the uppers,” Hands said, crossing her arms over each other. The half dull sensation of her third hand hung in front of her for a moment, before the elbow looped over her back. Like a hug.
Sometimes she pretended it was her father, a phantom sensation resurrected from some pale grave in a nameless dead southern country.
“They are,” The man with the sunglasses agreed, laying back. Cobalt A adorned his suit, glinting in the light cast from the fluorescents overhead. “It’s time to retest.”
Hands hesitated, staring at the targets strewn in front of her. Durable; heavy leather covering a wooden shell.
“You were flagged for further testing,” The man said. “Given that we haven’t been able to figure out the specifics of your power… and because your mother declined further testing.”
Hands clenched her fists. The third arm clenched as well. “She did?”
“She did,” The man with the sunglasses said, tone neutral. “How does that make you feel?”
His pen clicked out, and he wrote something down on the clipboard in front of him. Hands scowled. “A retest?”
“Do whatever you want with the targets in front of you,” The man said. The pin clicked again, then again.
Hands walked forward. Took a few steps, and reached out with her invisible hand. Fingers wrapped around the delicate foam. A few scattered breaths.
Then she squeezed.
There was never really any pressure to it, not that much feedback. A balancing game, a terrifying balancing game where the feedback was numb, quiet, cold. She knew what the fingers would do, and yet, there was little stopping her from squeezing so hard
That the dummy ripped in two, a pseudo humanoid note in the separation.
Clicky click went the pin.
Hands threw up onto the ruined target. Hot bile poured between her lips.
“Do you do that everytime?”
She remembered the fear in her mother’s eyes, and that intense heat, that intense demand that she
“I’m sorry,” Hands said. “I can’t do this… I can’t…”
“There are classes for that, you know,” Sunglasses said. “If you really wanted to.”
“You’re not going to try and make me?” Hands asked.
“There’s no point in trying to push someone with a weak stomach onto the front,” Sunglasses said. “The Association doesn’t need people who might flinch away. You understand? It should be because you need to. Because you want to.” He smiled. “Besides, you’re not that dangerous.”
Her eyes flicked down to the tatters around her. Then back up at him.
“You’re a D-class. C at worst,” he said. “There’s no need to keep you in this system. Just keep a com somewhere in the house, in case the worst happens, alright?”
Hands was 18 when the worst happened.
Explosions in the distance. A rattled crackling dispersal that made the entire city hiss with ozone, deafening explosions.
Live news camera caught the footage of a hero rising from the ashes. Blood splattered the streets from where Faraday had been. A long line of it into a destroyed building.
Excelsior wasn’t moving.
A hero rose from the ashes, drew Excelsior sword, squared up, and prepared to fight.
A hero’s life for fifteen minutes. A hero’s life to save the day.
Her com went off.
The next day, Hands found herself searching for that hero. Against her mother’s wishes. Ditching class.
A forgotten dream clinging to her lips. A father she’d wished that she had gotten a chance to impress.
A life that maybe she actually wanted.
She’d never know if she didn’t give it a chance.
Or maybe she just wanted a chance to save the day, too.
It was quiet in the backseat of the SUV. Two older heroes, and that hero, Negalli’s bane. This was her shot. This was her chance.
They were going to save Dauphin Island.