"That Links Your True Family"
By the third morning, the people
exposed to the zetetic substances
had begun to regain their energy.
Derreck clambered out of bed
and attended to morning necessities.
The dog park module had arrived,
complete with astroturf on the floor,
holographic projectors on the walls
to display urban or rural scenes, and
a water fountain. A fire hydrant
and a tree trunk provided options
suitable for scent marking.
Blitz and Derreck agreed that this
made a huge improvement over Blitz
relieving himself in the shower stall.
They also found a rope tugger,
and Anh assured them that she
had ordered an assortment of
large dog toys, so that they would
have different things to play with.
Blitz loved the fountain so much that
Derreck resolved to see about getting one
for home. He hadn't realized how much more
appealing the moving water was to a dog,
until he could feel the echo of pleasure.
"If I get you something like this,
will you quit trying to drink out of
the toilet?" Derreck asked.
Yeah, boss, Blitz agreed, tail wagging.
The gym module had arrived, too,
but so far only Joanne was cleared
to use it. Derreck flexed his arm,
felt the burns shift painfully under
the bandages, and agreed that
was probably for the best.
"Is there anything else I can
get for you?" Anh asked them.
"I want my coffee," moaned Derreck,
"and frybread, there needs to be frybread."
"Not donuts?" Anh teased gently.
Derreck rolled his eyes at her.
"Not all cops like donuts," he said.
"They're too sweet for my taste."
"I'll send someone to Kookhoos right away,"
Anh said. "There's one just down the road."
A jangle of worry raced through the air,
laced with self-doubt and a deeper discomfort
that Derreck could not pin down any further.
"Could you two excuse me for a minute?"
Anh said. "Joanne wants help with Wrex."
"He's upset about something, I don't know
what," Derreck said. "I feel it too -- wait,
should I have even said that?"
"I can talk to SPOON about getting you
a telepathic coach, whenever you feel ready,"
Anh said. "Right now, I need to deal with Wrex."
"You do that," Derreck said. "We're on our way."
Anh was great moral support, but the liaison didn't
come into the quarantine area; it was one of the
safety precautions in case anything went wrong.
That meant she couldn't provide contact comfort,
but Derreck and Blitz certainly could.
They knocked and entered, barely pausing
for Joanne's acknowledgement.
Wrex was sitting on his bunk,
rocking back and forth, the mattress
creaking underneath him.
Joanne sat beside him, one hand
between his shoulderblades,
but Wrex didn't seem to notice
either her or Anh on the viewscreen.
Anxiety poured off him in waves,
almost making Derreck seasick.
"Hey there," Derreck said. "We thought
we'd drop by to see how you're doing."
Wrex ignored him too.
Blitz put a paw on his knee,
and when that didn't work either,
gave the compelling little yap
that he used to get attention when
he didn't want to alarm anyone.
Wrex startled, his face clearing. "Oh. Hi,"
he said. "Sorry, I -- I don't think I'm
very good company right now."
"We didn't come to be entertained,"
Derreck said. "We came because
we could feel that something upset you."
"Sorry, I'm sorry," Wrex said again.
"I didn't mean to slop my awful mood
all over everyone else. I just, I can't help it,
I don't know how to control this thing ..."
"None of us do yet," Derreck said.
"The doggy fountain reminds Blitz
of drinking from the toilet, which
was a mental image I did not need.
And then there was the shower incident."
Yesterday Derreck and Joanne had
both been in the lab module at the same time,
and they'd run her through a rinse for some reason.
When she stepped out wearing nothing but a wrap,
he had thought what a fine figure she had --
only to broadcast it throughout the room.
"I told you, it's no big deal," Joanne said.
"Yeah, no, it's okay to think things like that
in private, most people do," Derreck said.
"Thinking out loud, though, that has to be rude,
like if I wolf-whistled you or something."
"Everyone's learning," Joanne said.
"Me too, because I am not leaving my partner
just because he got a new set of skills."
Derreck could barely sense her,
and even that little was erratic,
but he believed her anyway.
In contrast, Wrex felt painfully bright,
like staring into red-white-blue
flicker of emergency lights.
That gave Derreck an idea.
"Hey dude, your flashers are in my face,"
he said. "Could you maybe try imagining
the dashboard in your ambulance,
and turn them off?"
"I can -- yeah, I can try that," Wrex said.
He concentrated, dark face furrowing
as he struggled to follow Derreck's suggestion.
The strobing thoughts and emotions
began to settle down.
"Did it work any?" Wrex asked.
"It sure did," Derreck said. "Thanks."
"Do you have any idea what set you off,
or do you not want to talk about it?" Anh asked.
This time Wrex responded to her. "Joanne and I
were talking about what might happen after
we get out of quarantine," he said. "I just,
I guess I'm not coping very well with this.
I was so -- so blindsided by the whole thing."
"You didn't have any warning," Anh echoed.
"Yeah, that made it worse," Wrex said. "I mean,
sure, accident scenes can be hazardous, but
we were clear back in a warm zone. I thought."
Derreck realized that he and Blitz had
an advantage there: they had gone
into the hot zone on purpose,
knowing it posed a credible threat,
even though they hadn't known
the exact nature of the risks.
"You thought you were safe," Derreck said.
"Thought we were safe, otherwise I would have
gotten a stretcher under you and taken you
farther away from the lab," Wrex corrected.
"You took good care of your patient," Anh said.
"And look where that got me," Wrex said bitterly.
Shifting, he pressed his hands flat together so
the stiff fingers interlaced. "What if I lose my job?
Hell, what if I lose my fucking mind?"
That hit a tender spot for Derreck, enough
to make him wince. He still had no idea
how this would affect his work life,
and especially Blitz.
"Yeah, that's a rough spot," he agreed.
Blitz whined and bumped his cold nose
against Derreck's wrist. But now we can talk.
I like talking with you this way.
That reminded Derreck of what they had gained.
He reached out with his thoughts, still clumsy,
but able to follow the familiar line of connection
that stretched between the two of them.
This level of the bond might be new,
but the gist of it remained the same
as it had been ever since he had
picked Blitz from a line of yearling pups.
All right, Derreck could use that.
"Maybe this superpower is just something
that links your true family," he said.
"Blitz and I are closer than ever.
You might develop something
similar with Joanne, if she's willing."
"I'm not going anywhere," she said firmly,
rubbing up and down Wrex's back.
"You don't have to do this alone. Partner."
"It's hard for me to imagine anyone
wanting to be around me like this," Wrex said.
"Then don't imagine. Feel," said Derreck.
He tried to project, gently but clearly,
his eagerness to make new friends.
"Besides, you may have saved my life."
"Stuff's not lethally toxic, they said," Wrex protested.
"Yeah, but it's corrosive as hell," Derreck said.
"What if it had eaten through to an artery or
something else important? I sure wasn't
in any shape to get that gunk off of me."
Wrex's mind twinkled, a quick amber blink
like a turn signal coming on, and yes,
his thoughts shifted to a better direction.
"Guess I could use some new friends,"
he said, dredging up a smile.
They talked for a while longer,
the mood slowly improving
as they exchanged favorites
from sport teams to music.
"Coffee call," Anh announced, and one
of the lab techs made the delivery.
Derreck took a long pull from the steaming cup,
letting the rich taste of coffee, chicory, and
subtler notes roll over his tongue.
"God, I needed that," he announced.
"Amen, brother," said Joanne,
saluting him with her own cup.
The frybread was delicious too,
each round perfectly crisp and golden.
After Derreck finished his, he let Blitz
lick the crumbs from the wrapper.
"Come on, let's go back to our module
so you can have breakfast," Derreck said.
Blitz perked his ears.
He knew the food words.
Back in their own space,
Derreck measured out kibble
into a bowl for Blitz.
Then Anh signaled for attention.
"I'm afraid I have some uncomfortable news
for you," she said. "Pizzo has decided to sue
the police department over what happened."
"For what?" Derreck said.
"I saved his ungrateful ass!"
Disturbed by the slosh of emotions,
Blitz looked up from his bowl and growled.
"It's fine, Blitz, he isn't here.
I'm just pissed at him," Derreck said.
"He accused you of stealing his opportunity for origin."
"But he already has superpowers,"
Derreck said, throwing his hands in the air.
"Evidently that wasn't enough for Pizzo,"
said Anh. "He was brewing up that zetetic mess
in hopes of gaining more -- and he was even
on the right track, since everyone exposed
has indeed developed telempathy."
"How screwed am I?" Derreck asked.
"It's hard to tell, this early," Anh said.
"Chief Edmundson says that he's got your back,
although he does want to talk with you about
a training program whenever you feel up to that.
He expects mastering your new gifts to take
at least a few months of adjustment."
"That makes sense," Derreck said.
"The department has good lawyers,
but I don't know what they'll make of this."
"SPOON is furious. They were notified
because they get alerts on cases that
involve superpowers," Anh said.
"They've offered to lend legal support
to your department, and that will give
the local lawyers some valuable input
on dealing with this kind of issue."
Derreck sighed. "Okay. Fine.
Let the lawyers talk it out,
then contact me when they're
ready to propose a plan.
I have no idea what to do."
"I'm sorry about the Jump Up Johnny,"
Anh said gently. "I think that you
did a good job in a bad situation."
"I can't think of anything that I could've
done differently," Derreck said. "That lab
was bound to cause problems, and I
couldn't just leave Pizzo there, even
if he is a major pain in the ass."
"Yes, of course," Anh said.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I need a beer," Derreck groaned.
"Maybe several beers, and a carton
of Bowser Brews for my buddy here."
"I can bring you beer," Anh said. "Bear in mind
that it doesn't play well with painkillers, though,
in case you still have a headache."
Derreck shook his head. "The worst of it
let up after the first day, just a little bit
the second, and I feel fine today."
He flopped onto the couch.
Blitz climbed up to lie beside him.
"I need something mindless to watch,"
Derreck said, waving at the viewscreen.
"Coming up," Anh said.
he said, reading from the screen.
"It looks like a kid show."
"Just give it five minutes," Anh said.
"If it doesn't grab you, there's always
the earlier run of Brass Lads movies."
Derreck laughed. "They're cats!
Naked, scrunchy cats. Why do they
have thumbs? And hang gliders?"
"They're spies," Anh explained.
"The plot isn't very coherent,
but the gizmology is entertaining
and there's a lot of slapstick."
"Yeah, okay. I'm good," Derreck said.
He sat and watched the Wrinkledoodles
chase each other around the screen
in search of the Invincible Nipleaf.
There were plenty of explosions,
although they were illustrated with
confetti instead of actual fireballs.
It made him feel better, especially
when the cat who reminded him of Pizzo
slipped and fell into a toilet.
Presently the beer arrived, and
Derreck treated himself to one with lunch.
"Here you go, buddy, have a near-beer,"
he said, tossing a Bowser Brew to Blitz.
The dog caught his biscuit and propped it
neatly between his paws, gnawing on the end.
Made from spent grain left over from making beer,
it had a pleasant and complex flavor.
Derreck remembered Blitz
chewing on Pizzo's arms and legs.
He smiled, and dropped another biscuit
on the floor in front of the dog.
On the viewscreen, Pizzo kitty
ran afoul of a Doberman.
Derreck and Blitz laughed together,
guffaws blending with tail thumps,
two halves of a terrific team bonded
in a way that was strange
but not unwelcome.
* * *
Ralph Edmundson -- He has fair skin, green eyes, and brown hair with a mustache. He runs the Plymouth Township police department in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania which is a suburb of Eastbord. Although he's a great guy, Ralph has bad luck with women -- either they dislike his job, or they try to take advantage of him. Consequently he's never had a relationship last more than five years, and currently he asks his closest friends to vet potential girlfriends.
Qualities: Master (+6) Police Chief, Expert (+4) Loyalty, Expert (+4) Optimist, Good (+2) Appraising and Appreciating Value, Good (+2) Fisherman, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Nice Guys Come Last
* * *
"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life."
-- Richard Bach
The SPAZMAT dog park looks similar to this bunker version. Both freestanding and hose water fountains exist for dogs. Here are some dog toys.
The gym module is equipped with mats just inside the door, two treadmills with large viewscreens, a boxing gym for sparring practice, and a multipurpose fitness gym.
This state map shows the location of Plymouth, Pennsylvania.
Here's a historic map of Pennsylvania tribes, including the Munsee. In their native language, kóokhoos means "owl."
In Terramagne-America, Kookhoos is a local convenience store, often paired with a gas station, named after the Munsee word for a barred owl. The chain runs from South Jersey through Southeastern Pennsylvania. Many teens find their first job here, as it is better than many to their employees, and expanding. Kookhoos draws ideas from traditional Munsee foods. It is particularly known for their chicory coffee, a proprietary blend unlike anyone else's which draws some inspiration from coffee substitutes and the historic black drink; frybread, a savory recipe without sugar, and Three Sisters Stew made with corn, squash, and beans. Those are the only organic items on the menu other than the fresh fruit. They also carry hoagies, hot dogs, potato bites, cheese curds, Pennsylvania Dutch sugar cookies, and of course packaged snacks. The local-American version is Wawa.
Distressed body language may indicate that an upset friend needs comfort.
Visualization appears in psychic and other skill development as a way to learn control.
Safety zones may involve chemical, tactical, or other threats. While the ideal is for medical personnel to stay in the cold zone, they will dash into the warm zone to rescue casualties. In this case, they were far enough back to expect reasonable safety -- except that the victims had contaminants on them that ate through standard protective equipment.
Police dogs begin training at 12-15 months.
Bowser Brews are dog biscuits made from spent grain used in brewing beer. They don't contain alcohol, but are a favorite treat bought by owners who want to "share a brew" with their pets.
Nugget Nectar is among Pennsylvania's best beers.
The Wrinkledoodles are played by Nakitties, a Terramagne breed of cat similar to the Sphynx but truly hairless.