The Aberration #2

The Shield

by Michel Prince

The Shield by Michel Prince At what point does abnormal become normal? Aberrations are here to stay. Trying to figure out how to co-exist with the whole world, maximize their newly discovered powers and stop infighting among themselves. Worse yet, the elders are adding to internal stress.

Being an outcast had been the norm for Agatha ‘Aggie’ McArthur since well before middle school. By the time puberty and all its nasty side effects hit, she was a pro at guarding herself from hurtful words and more. Discovering she had the ability to shield wasn’t a great leap for the guarded teen.

Having an ability doesn’t mean mastering it. Especially when it means allowing yourself to admit you are special and powerful. The inconsistent shield, useless more times than not, failed and led to the kidnapping of one of their own. With a home now mobilized, the citizens of the makeshift Satori are not only on guard, but searching for their lost friend.

With an unknown elder, Imani, appearing, Aggie will have a teacher if she can allow herself to trust. But will the trust be worth the danger her life is placed in? And can she find the strength to protect the community, or will her shield leave her friends on the outside looking in?






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Crawling into my closet, I laid on my back with my legs up against the wall and pulled out my journal. Light caught from my bedroom when it hit the bright pink sparkles on the cover. Desperation had me using the faux fur lined notebook purchased by my mother. As if somewhere along the way she missed when I’d turned into a dark dressing middle schooler and believed deep inside the preppy princess I’d been when I was young still existed.

At age three, I wanted a princess themed birthday. I don’t remember it, that was what pictures were for, but if the frown I wore told me anything it told me I didn’t want a fluffy dress and a tiara. My mother insisted I did, but I couldn’t see how or why. No matter, in my mother’s mind I was still three, only I went to school and not daycare. My hair was no longer ash blonde, instead I sported a chestnut coloring and even if I didn’t want to admit it, parts of me were beginning to curve.

Adding to the princess persona was the prep school I attended. Uniformed, straight shot to the Ivies and a per capita trust fund population higher than the national average. The only reason I was able to stay in the exclusive private school after all our money was lost had been a mix of my grades, pitying parents and my mother’s ability to screw both the wealthy and poor alike. If nothing else, my mother’s inability to focus on her child had given me independence and an insatiable love of knowledge.

My scholarship, so I’ve been told incessantly, should be going to a better person. Someone with worth, like a savant child from an underprivileged area of town. Really, the K through twelfth school had been eyeing a kid with unbelievable times for the swim team. A grade older than me, but it wasn’t as if scholarships were grade specific. Since the kid was a swimmer and not one of the bigger sports, money exceptions weren’t being made. I wouldn’t know about him at all if the swim coach wasn’t also my English teacher.

Sad really, I used to like English. Now I wonder if he was purposely trying to tank my grades. Diagraming sentences aren’t subjective like book reports and the thought of the grade I’ll be receiving when I get back to school on Monday sent my stomach into a flight with butterflies in need of Ritalin.

Not only had I “embarrassed” him by calling out the error in grading, but I hadn’t waited until the end of class. No, my dumb ass raised my hand, confused and actually wanting to know what I’d done wrong so I wouldn’t repeat the mistake. Learning the error of my ways hadn’t gone the way I’d planned. His face reddened so quick as he scanned the room and snatched my paper back to review it.

Since then I’d been moved to the back of the classroom, relegated to a row of people not interested in anything more than the latest teen magazine. Laughing at the tampon ads and trying to mimic the beauty tips given in frame by frame images on a page. Thankfully, blocking out the people around me was second nature. Most anyway. Lord knows they weren’t exactly glancing my way, even if I did something that should get me noticed.

Rubbing my thumb and middle finger together, the pads of my fingers circling each other until a tingle of nerves made me have to pull them apart slowly. A blue electrical string formed as if I’d crossed a shaggy carpet in my stocking feet and reached for a doorhandle. Only there wasn’t a charge. No shock, just a tingle and the further apart my finger got from my thumb, a bubble formed. Clear, the blue lightening only on the edges.

“It’s okay, Ms. McArthur,” my best friend’s voice was unmistakable even through two doors, having me shake out my hand and bursting the bubble. “We don’t need any. Oh my goodness, that’s a great idea. I’ll try it.”

Summer Blankenship wouldn’t be fooled by my empty room. Once the first door closed, the door to the closet opened.

“What’s a great idea?” I asked, bending my head back and balancing on the crown.

Summer was aptly named, though currently upside down in my view she was the perky, pretty blonde with natural waves and crystalline blue eyes. Boys hung on her every word, even the high schoolers. Though I wasn’t sure if that was from her perfect skin that had never known so much as a pimple or the fact she’d been in bras since last year. Today she was in a cami with an oversized sweatshirt cut around the neck so it hung off one shoulder and a pair of leggings.

“Like I listen,” Summer said as she plopped next to the built-in drawers and got her phone out of her sweatshirt pouch. “Your mom gives me a new beauty tip or tells me about some show I should be watching every time I’m here. Basically, she’s like the teacher on that cartoon we watch every Halloween.”

“The Peanuts one?” I ask to clarify.

“Yeah, with the pumpkin kid.”

“Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah,” I mimicked.

“Uh Ms. McArthur, that’s so great,” Summer replied with a standard response and I shook my head. “Okay, so I was totally going to call you, but this thing showed up and I had to show you.”

Having a flip phone and not one of the newer ones, Summer’s ability to share amazing things with me was limited. At least if you heard her tell it. I didn’t mind the quiet and peace of it all, most of the time. Summer and I were rarely more than a desk apart so we could honestly share everything and usually did.

“Watch this.” She showed a quick clip from an app called The Ivy. Some brother was trying to prank his sister when the girl, about our age, created a fireball and tossed it at her brother. “It’s been going viral for sure. I’ve watched it at least a fifty times.”

“Play it again,” I said. “I swear these staged things pretending to be reality are so fake.”

Only the girl’s face went from rage to fear before the video cut off. I tapped it once more, but in the time it took to reload the video had been taken down by the company.

“They took it down,” I said, passing the phone back to Summer.

“Dang it,” she said, typing frantically to find it somewhere else. “I should have saved it. Ugh, I swear if my mom doesn’t up my data package soon I’m going to cry.”

“It wasn’t real,” I admonished and tucked my journal away before rolling to my side and letting my feet drop.

“Yes, it was,” Summer stressed. “Very real. I told you the other day I totally stopped Stacey’s cough with mind control. My mom is all about how the antibiotics in the meat are messing with kids big time.”

“But you only eat organic,” I countered.

“When I’m with my mom.” Summer removed a binder from her wrist and pulled her hair back in a bun, her fingers tugging a bit once secured to give it the messy I didn’t work hard at this look. “Something tells me your mom isn’t quite as particular.”

“We are nothing if not slaves to convenience. And why do the antibiotics make a difference?”

“Oh, because it weakens her immune system.”

“Stacey’s?” I questioned.

“Yeah, she was sick, and I cured her.”

“With your mind?” My eyes narrowed, trying to catch up to my best friend’s logic. Or was it a hope to be more than what we were.

“Well, I did place my hand on her back and said I hope you feel better.”

“And boom, she was cured of cancer,” I joked, and Summer smacked at me.

“Make fun of me all you want, but kids our age are getting powers.”

“And yet, with all the provocation I get daily at school, why haven’t I thrown a fireball?”

Summer had been on a kick, finding stories about superpowers. Each time she spoke of them my fingers tingled, all of them, as if triggered by the idea of others being gifted and in the back of my mind I had to wonder. I told her if she wanted to dress in a superhero cat suit with high-heeled boots do it. When she twists her ankles, I wouldn’t take the blame.

“Aggie, how many more must I show you before you believe?” she asked.

“Five hundred million,” I said in my best Dr. Evil voice.

“On the news they’re talking about camps.”

“Day camps or sleep away?” I joked, not in the mood for the conspiracy theories of Summer’s mother to come spilling out. “Because that one we did at the U was pretty dang fun. Though not as educational as my mother had hoped. I think she sent me there so she could day drink.”

“Would you be serious for one second?” she scolded.

“Deal, but you have to admit that at some point the blogs your mother gets her info from aren’t exactly scholarly.”

Summer narrowed her eyes at me. Why would she want powers? Or to stand out? At this point, she was already near the top of the social structure at school. Or would be if she dropped me as a friend. Then again, if she brought up the insane theories around most in our class, they would make her a tinfoil hat and call it a day. We would both be banished to a table by the column instead of the corner table where you could survey all the glory that was the cafeteria. I’m surprised a throne hadn’t been erected for those few, like Summer, to fight over. I was the jester at the end of the table, forced to keep my back to the rest of the undesirables.

Or was I in the first row of loyal disciples? The simple rules of elementary school had morphed from don’t be the kid with tuna fish in your lunch box, to a uniform is the base layer of your outfit. One must accessorize and wear the correct shoes. Socks were our rebellion. Customizable and getting to be expensive. The last thing you wanted to be was the girl wearing the uniform pants instead of the skirt.

“What if the vaccines we received as babies are finally kicking in and mutating our genes?”

There was an awkward silence. Her mother had been an early anti-vaxxer, convinced Summer would get autism, stroke out at six-months or die. It took her father, three doctors and a group of lawyers to force the issue when her parents were divorcing. Basically, if her mother wanted to have primary custody, child support and a bonus when it came to alimony, she would have to get Summer up to date on her vaccinations. When it came down to it, the fear for her child’s wellbeing was outweighed by her mother’s desire for a payday.

Sadly, none of this we should have ever known, much like the crap my mother pulled. Yet sheltering us from an unproven side effect was somehow more important than very adult issues. The grown-up issues came front and center during open discussion. Speak to your child as an adult and they will be one was a theory embraced by both our mothers.

“While I do love your closet, any reason why we’re in here?” Summer picked up a pair of ballet flats in like new condition and inspected them.

My walk-in-closet was more than I deserved really. The six by eight space was the same size as my father’s prison cell. No matter how tight Summer and I were, I could never tell her it was the only time I felt close to the man. My mother would never take me to see him. Having moved on with her life, the last thing she wanted was a reminder of money owed to all he’d swindled. Even now she was looking into changing not only her last name, but mine too.

No matter what my father did to others, the only hurt I experienced was him not being there for me. Most days, he’d been willing to drop anything for me. More than my mother had been, and for some reason. Even now I wondered if she would rather be done with me, too.

“I’d say noise proofing,” I replied, standing, stretching and pushing aside a few dresses more to knock off dust than actually make a fashion choice. “But there’s a vent in here for some strange reason.”

“Oh, have you been spying on your mother?”

“God no, the last thing I want to know is what she’s doing.”

When I was younger, in the big house with a pool, maintenance men came by and what did I know about the schedule for grown-up things? All I knew were the men smirked at me in a way that made me uncomfortable. Like they knew something about me or my family, I didn’t. I’ve never been one for smirkers in general.

The doorbell rang, the sound echoing through the vent, followed by footsteps. I tugged on Summer’s outstretched hand to help her up when the voice of her own mother made her stop at the doorway.

“They’re upstairs,” my mother said. “Who are those men outside?”

Of course, my mother noticed men. She probably was going into scan and assess mode. I crossed to my window to see a dark suburban with men spaced out from next to the rear passenger door and along our lawn and driveway. They were wearing windbreakers with yellow writing on the front and back. But a mix of distance, angles and their body position made it hard to determine who they worked for.

“Did your mom get bodyguards?” I questioned and turned back to see Summer’s face had paled. The normally sun kissed skin shouldn’t have that ability and yet, here she was one shade above pure white as fear had my best friend trembling. “What is it?”

“They’re here for me.”

* * *

Four years later.


Strange how normal the abnormal can become. There was a time when I couldn’t take a long car ride without breaks, let alone read while doing it. The motion too much for me. Maybe not having a window was saving me from needing to puke and hide under the covers. Now when the train stops, the solid, firm ground makes me feel uneasy. Like returning to Earth after floating in space and we had only been on the rails for a week.

When Riley Weston and Trent Marcus joined forces and suggested we take the railcars we were living in down and turn Satori, our camp, into a mobile unit, we were all skeptical. Maybe it was the nearness to almost dying that had me uneasy and not the idea of constantly being in motion. Our once vast suites were now split off into four units with one long wall to create a hallway.

The rooms were closer to normal sized bedrooms now, and I was no longer in a single suite, not because I was a Harvey, but because everyone had to share. Harveys, or as they older aberrations called them unblessed, were those whose powers either had yet to emerge or lacked them all together. While Summer had kept me up on all we had learned over the years since aberrations began plaguing the world, it was nothing compared to living in Satori. The crash course in class warfare and the general way the world sucks when you’re different.

“It’s like we’re in a lockdown camp without being in a lockdown camp,” Breonna, my roommate, said after tossing a book to the side. Her natural curls were creating a dark halo effect with one unruly one falling over her deep ash colored eye. Stunning, with no make-up, the girl’s doe eyes and flawless, burnt umber, colored skin practically glowed.

Breonna had met me a few times when I was classified as a Harvey. The first few days of laundry duty I’d been working intake. Making sure people’s drop offs and pick-ups were done properly. It helped me learn about the exchange rate we used and proved what I thought I had down when I arrived was far from accurate. But since my bestie, and only person I knew beyond Riley, was shacking up with her boyfriend, both Breonna and I were paired off in some random drawing of names. Part of me wondered if that was how colleges did it, not that college would ever be in my future. At least not in the foreseeable future. Then again, I hadn’t been in school for over two years now and catching up wasn’t exactly my first go to if I ever got out in regular society again.

“It’s not so bad,” I replied, though boredom was sinking in and there had to be something I could do to pass the time. Maybe I should sweet talk Riley into pulling me a board game next time I saw him. If I ever saw him again. Old high and mighty vice president doesn’t randomly drop in my room anymore. No longer my neighbor or with the ease of stepping between cars.

“Aggs, you don’t get it, there was this totally sweet show on the Nigerian channel that was just getting good.”

Aggs, short for Aggie, short for Agatha, had been co-opted by all on the rolling safe space. Another of the abnormal becoming normal in my life. Being hated, I’d gotten used to years ago when my father was arrested but hunted. That was only a few years old. Yet all of us determined to be dangerous based on our birthdate now suffered it. A whole year’s worth of children written off and marked by the randomness of our conception.

Breonna was a translator, but not like she’d spent years learning other languages or was even brought up in an ESL, English as a second language home. Nope, she was blessed. One who earned the whole aberration status by having a power. She could understand and talk to anyone. Not in some sweet as therapy way. Nope, she literally could understand every language from every man, woman or beast, as they say. Bring a dog in crying in pain and you’ll get a broken story about what happened. According to Breonna, while animals had a language, it didn’t track like humans did. Similar to sign language, there was a shorthand a hearing person would see as missing words. Or when I took that German class back in junior high and we learned their nouns and verbs weren’t in the same order as English speakers.

What would have happened to her if she’d gone to a camp? The government ones wanted skills that could be used in war. No matter what they told the parents, who, through duty or fear, had handed over their child to them. The United States wasn’t alone in the practice. We weren’t some shining paragon of virtue. You could see it in the eyes of generals and colonels, explaining what was happening there. Strange that my mother actually protected me while Summer’s mother had shipped her off at the first offer placed. Believing the lies without any hesitation about fostering the gifts and helping the children develop. As if we had agility with a ball or an aptitude to music that only needed a little assistance to guide us to some future career.

“I need a massive screen,” Breonna moaned as she sat up on the side of her bed and held her phone in the air, her eyes cutting to the TV still on the floor because mounting it wasn’t taking priority at the moment. “With streaming stations ready to be flipped. Seriously, how can you stand watching a handful of Blu-rays over and over again?”

I wasn’t at the moment watching any movies. For me, they were a way to drown out the noise and fall asleep. There was a study done on people watching the same thing over and over again. The comfort, much like reading the same book again and again. You know the ending, maybe you’ll see something new, but for the most part the anxious parts aren’t going to cause stress and no matter what I put out to the world, I was a ball of stress inside. That is why I usually went to sleep watching one of the Lord of the Ring trilogy movies. They were old and soothing.

“You want me to check and see if anyone wants to swap? I heard Gordon is into cult classics,” I offer.

“Any chance you know how long we’ll be circling the country like hobos?” she asked the question all of us were wondering about. This incognito way of travel was a band-aide to a very large bullet wound I’d seen first-hand and relived in vivid nightmares.

“The rest of our life? Or until President Marcus gets kicked out of government,” I reasoned. There was no immediate plan to stop, but the election was less than two weeks away and polls weren’t favoring the incumbent.

While our group of hidden dangers had the plus of hiding the President’s son, it only bought us time and a little extra protection. Once he was out of office, we would be out of luck. Sadly, that wasn’t the current priority of those in charge. No, that was currently held by a leaper named Taylor we needed to rescue. Kidnapped by her psycho boyfriend in some cultish ritual to kill Riley, it appeared. All of it, once again becoming normal.

Slipping from my bed, I finally became cognizant of the movement. Vibration underneath my feet, knocking me off balance and causing Breonna to look at me as if I were crazy. The train wasn’t going at some breakneck speed or around a curve. Last I heard, we were in Montana taking our time and would be stopping at some point to allow work to be done on the train and because who, beyond cows and sheep, were out at night in Montana. For the most part, we’ve been staying west of the Mississippi River because of the sparse population allowing us all sorts of room to roam.

“You good, Aggs?” Breonna asked, though she hadn’t moved so much as her eyes from her phone screen.

“Fine, just thinking about wandering up and down the hall.”

Our freight cars currently didn’t have the connecting compartments, which meant when in motion I could only go so far. Hopefully, we’d figure out a way to fix this because the bathrooms were four cars in either direction for me. A stopping point luxury that needed to be remedied sooner rather than later.

Stepping out into the hall, I found I wasn’t alone. One of my neighbors was out and running laps, it seemed. Headphones in, all I got was an irritated glare barely visible in the dim light of the makeshift home we now all occupied. Only a week into this whole cluster of crap, I’d yet to meet all twelve of my fellow riders. With two Harvey pods and two aberration pods, there was a bit of tension among those who had and who didn’t. Then again, if four people, instead of two, were jammed into my pod I’d be upset too.

“Sadie,” the girl said as she tapped the wall, turned and headed to the other end of the freight car, her purple streaked hair swishing back and forth in her ponytail.

“Aggie, Aggs, really.”

“I know,” she replied, her breathing even considering she was jogging.

“I thought Dina was our only reader?” I questioned.

Sadie slowed down and finally stopped. Scooping up a water bottle with a dozen brightly colored stickers on it from the floor outside what I assumed was her door. A middle door. A Harvey door.

“You don’t need to be a reader to know what people are thinking, Aggie.” Sadie let out a long breath, then took a drink.

“I suppose not. You’re brave, drinking when we don’t know where our next stop is.”

“Should be in a half hour, max.” Sadie leaned her back on the wall. “So, Aggs what are you?”

“A shield maybe.”

“Maybe?” Sadie snorted, her features a strange mix of ethnicity. The more I took her in, the more confused I was by her. “Newly found or newly claimed?”

“Found,” I said, straightening my shoulders a bit. Claimed was a nasty way of saying someone was faking their power.

Powers, newer ones at least, were hard to harness and a person could say they had experienced an ability. Lord knows Riley could barely tap into pushing when he arrived and now, he was the amalgam. A mix of all powers coming to him in harsh bursts obtained when correctly touched by another aberration. His ability to absorb powers had us all questioning his sanity for a few months. The secret he kept from me, of all people.

Tall and athletic, I wondered if Sadie was part of the security detail. They would know our stopping spots. Eyeing the maturity of her face, I became a bit uneasy, wondering why we didn’t all step out when in motion to meet each other. It was as if we’re all locked away in cells instead of a community of misfits trying to conform. Maybe she was closer to seventeen. Were January babies our elders in a way?

“I came here as a Harvey,” I confessed, hoping to build a bridge.

Normally I’m closed off. Wary of people, but Riley and Taylor, both taught me to take chances. We’re all locked in until a better solution was found and I’d need to expand my circle. Then again, I’d doubled it by allowing Riley in, and that should have been commended. The baby steps I was taking, the last thing I wanted to do was leap head-first into an ocean. It was better to have ten loyal friends, then ten thousand followers.

“I’m not a Harvey,” she replied, dropping the water bottle to hold it by the hook on the top and the stickers were on full display. Rainbows, a Cal-State sticker, and an Army one. “Contiguous.”

“Older, I assume,” I said, the term for those punished for being born close to the year two-thousand.

“Ninety-eight, I was all ready to sign up to be all I could be at Cal-State’s ROTC when the laws got extended, by the time they were rescinded my drive to follow in my daddy’s footsteps and join anything run by the government had faded.”

“I’m sure he understood,” I reasoned, rocking back on my heels a bit unsure what to do with a person now hired on to be our helpers, the protectors that could get us food and transport us without question. Four digits on their license saving them from our fate. One, I’ve recently learned, will not end any time in the near future.

“There are many ways I’ve disappointed him since then. Not jumping back in and going to college being step one.”

The train was beginning to slow, the vibration under my booted feet sending signals of impending freedom.

“I have to get my shower stuff before my shift,” Sadie said, wiping her brow. “Nice to meet someone beyond my roomies, Aggie.”

“Guess I can’t help but see you around,” I replied, thinking one at a time I can let people in as the air rushed from my lungs. Sucked out as if a vacuum was pulling all the oxygen from the bags and a ghost-like figure was running from me. Had my soul been snatched? My arms stretched out as I fell forward with only the image of Riley, the floppy haired boy who’d been my neighbor, with a face full of panic staring back at me.


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