The Woman in the Sky

He couldn’t stop after just one flight. He knew he should have, just as he knew, if he wanted to keep himself concealed, that he should never have taken that first flight. Using his Talent, though — truly using it — had become something like an addiction. He felt like someone who’d been bound to their chair their whole life, who, upon release, discovered that they were perfectly capable of walking. He couldn’t give that away. Who could?
Most of the time, he confined the use of his Talents to his bedroom. His mother didn’t like to see him display them. She feared that someone would catch a glimpse through the window, or that Avery would forget himself and use his Talent in front of company, or that the government was secretly watching through cameras they didn’t even know about, scattered through their apartment.
Well, that last fear had some basis. Avery kept his webcam turned so that it would show only the wall, if anyone other than him happened to access it. It wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility. Even if the government itself didn’t do things like that, people online suspected that there were anonymous groups of hackers that reported to them while claiming to be unaffiliated.
He flew, sometimes, in his room, though he felt like a bird trapped in a tiny cage, beating its wings against the bars. It brought him some small hint of pleasure to pass from one side of the room to the other without his feet touching the ground. He bounced between the ceiling and the floor when he was bored, and he hovered while he read books or played video games.
He liked to exercise other elements of his Talent, too. He knew that he was strong — Powered-strong — but he had little chance to experiment with just how strong he might be. He was more interested in another of his capabilities. He could reach outside of himself, connect to objects, and move them as though they were parts of his own body.
This fascinated him. Within the safety of his room, he used this ability constantly. He wanted to know its limits. He wanted to be as dextrous with it as possible, for when the time came that he would actually get to use it for real. He knew, or at least believed, that he was far behind other Powered his age who had revealed their status to the world. They would have received training on how to properly use their Talents. He had only himself.
He used his Talent to dress himself in the morning. He used it when he didn’t feel like getting up to reach something across the room. He had tried to use it for writing and for playing video games, but both were exceedingly difficult. Still, he’d improved over time, making his Talent more dextrous than when he’d first started trying.
He had discovered that he could do two things with his Talent that he wouldn’t have expected. One — things that he held in its grasp were more durable, like his own body. Two — if something broke while he held it, and he was focused enough at the time that it broke, he could put it back together. He had accidentally broken a mirror while moving it, once, and there had been a sort of feeling of wrongness around all of the pieces, hovering in his brain. With a shock, Avery saw exactly how to correct that wrongness, and he had. The mirror flowed back together, ending up just as it had been before.
He couldn’t fix things he hadn’t been holding at the time that they broke. He couldn’t fuse other things together. He didn’t know why, but sometimes Talents had odd, seemingly arbitrary rules. He didn’t shrug it off. He still pushed at the bounds of what might be possible for him. Still, he accepted that he might never break those limitations.
Avery’s other Talents intrigued him, but it was flight that filled him with a passion to use it. His first flight, after he’d snuck out in the middle of the night, had been exhilarating. The next morning, he’d awoken having dreamt of it again and again all night long, his anxiety over discovery forgotten. He knew he had to do it again, and so he had. Weekly. For the past three months.
The night air was beginning to warm, now, as spring approached. The winter had been a sort of protection. Other Powered with the Talent of flight didn’t want to be high up in the cold winter air. That part wasn’t pleasant to Avery, either, but it didn’t matter, if he got to fly.
Sneaking out had become routine. He’d snuck out from the balcony before, but now he used his bedroom window. He donned his warmest clothes and his swim goggles after he was sure his mother had gone to sleep. He slipped the window open, using his Talent to move it gently, muffling the sound, then glided through it into the night air.
Avery jetted up the side of the building, keeping close to the wall to remain as hidden as possible. He didn’t stop once he passed the building’s roof. He continued, high into the air, feeling the joy rise within him in tandem with his height. Here, he was free. Here nothing held him down and nobody told him what he could or couldn’t do. He —
A sound came upon him, like ice crackling underfoot, or, no, more like hundreds of ceramic tiles gliding over each other, endlessly. If it weren’t for the high pitch, he might not have heard it over the wind. His head had been craned back, looking at the clear, starry sky. With trepidation, he slowed his ascent and looked downward.
Another Powered, in the air, coming toward him. Avery’s heart leapt into his chest. Her Talent glowed a bright lime-green beneath her, illuminating her face. She seemed to slide through the air upon it, rather than truly flying, like he did. It manifested before her as if the air was breaking into glowing shards, like a layer of ice upon water, crumbling as a ship plowed through it.
He froze n the air, hoping she hadn’t noticed him. His Talent didn’t glow, after all, and his clothes were dark. Avery wondered if the glow of her own power disrupted her vision in the dark. She laid upon it, arms crossed, almost as though she was relaxed even in flight. The shards of it trailed behind her for a ways before fading into nothingness, showing the last few seconds of her path. She hadn’t deviated recently
Then she glanced upward, and oh, she definitely caught sight of him now. She extended one arm, creating a second trail of her power and pushing herself upward to a kneeling and then a standing position. She balanced upon the green light, still sliding forward. One of her hands covers something on her chest. “Hey. What are you up to, kid? Alone in the dark?”
“N-nothing, ma’am,” Avery stuttered.
She wore an IL uniform. Perhaps Avery should have recognized her. All IL agents were listed in their catalogue, with pictures and vague, somewhat misleading descriptions of their Talents. Full descriptions would put them in danger. Avery realized it might be good of him to learn more about them. He should have been researching that.
“It’s pretty late at night for you to be up here alone,” she said. Her feet traveled about in a circle, the little squarish shards of her power crackling and shifting beneath them. He wondered if the nature of her power means she can’t truly be still while in the air.
“I know, ma’am.” Avery didn’t know how to respond other than to be polite. He had never been in this situation before. He thought of Ms. Bolt, the IL liaison assigned to his school to deal with Powered students. He thought of how much she intimidates him. This woman did, too, even though he hovered several feet above her in the air. He lowered himself, wondering if he was being rude.
“So?” She folded her arms, tilting her head to one side. Her hair was bound into a braid wrapped into a bun. Her uniform looked to light, to Avery, for the weather, but he knew the IL have access to materials and technology that he does not. It was probably warmer than his own clothes. “What are you doing? Nothing isn’t an answer.”
“I…” Avery shook. He felt like he wanted to vomit. Everything his mother has made him work for over the years to conceal his Powered status was about to come to an end. For what? “I just wanted to fly, ma’am. Honestly.”
“In the middle of the night?” She slide a bit closer to him. He could hardly see her face in the dark. All of the light from her Talent came from below her feet, and orange-yellow glow from the city barely reached them here.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m afraid to do it in the day. My mom…”
She watched him for a moment. “How are you, kid?”
“Seventeen,” he said.
Again, she watched him in silence, each second of which makes him progressively more uncomfortable. He realized, in that silence, that she still covered her chest with her hand, somewhat conspicuously. Then he remembered: all IL agents have cameras on their bodies, to protect themselves and their organization. She was covering hers up.
“Go home, kid,” she said. “Now. Go to bed.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Don’t do this again,” she said. “You don’t know who else might catch you, or what. Drones don’t care about your life outside of being Powered.”
“Are you —”
“Just go,” she repeated, more forcefully this time. “I’m sure you’re registered, right? I don’t have to look that up?”
She said that last part very deliberately. Avery blinked. She understood. What little he had given her had told her more than he’d realized. Avery shook himself, then nodded at her. “Yes, ma’am. Have a good night.”
“You too,” she said. “And really. Don’t do this again.”
He gave her an odd, awkward wave. “Yes ma’am. Thank you.” Then he plummeted downward, as fast as his Talent would carry him without giving him fear that he wouldn’t be able to stop. He found his apartment far more quickly than he had on that first night, slipped through his window, and put on clothes more appropriate for sleeping.
It took him what felt like hours to fall asleep. Often, exhausted, he collapsed into bed and seemed to wake up instantly the next morning. Not tonight. Tonight, his heart still raced in his chest as he thought about the woman in the sk. He was lucky she hadn’t taken him in for registration. His mother would never have forgiven him. He would never have forgiven himself.
For now, his nighttime flights were over.

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