“Hi. My name is Jacob, and I’m Powered,” said Jacob.
“Hi Jacob,” chorused the other attendants.
“My power is teleportation. It activates every time I sneeze.” Jacob stood at the podium inside the school gymnasium; metal folding chairs were spread out before him, filled by about twenty other people. They ranged in age, sex, and dress greatly. For his part, Jacob was middle height, middle aged, and greater than middle weight. He adjusted his glasses as he continued.
“This is my first meeting, but I’ve been Powered since I hit puberty. I remember my sixteenth birthday party, enjoying a nice barbeque with my friends and family. My uncle, a big clumsy man with too much body hair, spilled the pepper shaker in front of me. I let out a gigantic sneeze, and suddenly I was standing in the middle of the street, five miles away.”
The crowd made appropriate “ooo” sounds, remembering their own origin stories and sympathizing with him. One man in the front row with white hair nodded forlornly, a sprinkle of snow falling from nowhere and settling around his feet.
“I tried to get help of course. No one knew much about Powereds in those days though, not that they know a lot now, so the countless doctors my family took me to were unable to help.”
A slight grumble swept through the other attendants, the sounds of an old unhappiness rising from its hiding place. The inability of doctors to offer any aid was an old wound, one that had still not died away in the first generation of Powereds.
“As I got older, my ability grew stronger. At first I would only go a few miles, then one day, in my senior year of high school, I sneezed myself halfway across the state. It took me three days and cost me my shoes to hitch a ride back. This was before credit cards and cell phones of course”
Jacob paused for a moment to clear his throat. The audience tensed momentarily, fearful he would sneeze himself out of the meeting. He did not though; as it turned out there was merely a chunk of emotion in his throat, and not a threat in his sinuses.
“What made it really hard was a year later when I was seventeen, and my best friend since kindergarten found out he was a Super.”
The other attendants hissed under their breath, so that it sounded as though the entire room was leaking air. A gigantic woman in the back accidently hissed so hard she blew a few people in front of her forward. There was a flurry of apology and forgiveness as chairs were reset, and then Jacob continued.
“Steven Seismer was his name, but he went by Seismic Steve once he got his powers. He could manipulate the earth, using it as a weapon or an armor, or even to form giant shapes like hands and hammers. Unlike me though, he could actually control his ability, which I guess is why he wound up a Super and I’m just a Powered. He started wearing a garish costume with bright green and brown tones, topped off with a stupid pair of sunglasses.”
Jacob’s tone had grown harsher; he took a moment to drink from the glass of water provided on the podium.
“Oh sure, he tried to stay friends at first. It was always ‘Next time we’ll stop the robbers together Jacob’, or ‘I can always earth surf us both to the crime scene Jacob.’ Eventually he made a few important busts though, and the media got a hold of him. He went big time, and left me behind like nothing more than a forgotten memory…which I suppose I was.”
Jacob’s smoldering anger died out with the last sentence, his shoulders slumping in acceptance of what was past.
“I tried to go to college once Steve moved off to guard a bigger city; I figured I could at least have a normal life if not a super one. I made it work for two years, but finally I had to give up. I couldn’t tell when I would make it to class or not, because I didn’t know if I’d even be in the same time zone. By this point my powers could send me across several states and I lived in tremendous fear of pepper, onions, or any other nasal agitators. I finally let it go when I sneezed myself into Mexico on the day of my final exams. College wasn’t all bad though, I did meet a girl.”
The others perked up.
“It didn’t last long of course, no woman wants a man who can’t promise he’ll be there for her, emotionally or geographically. It was beautiful while it lasted though. She had long dark hair and a smile that could make a man in hell feel happy, if only for a moment. She’d always wanted to travel, and so hearing about the places I had been, albeit unintentionally, excited and interested her. She left me for another student in one of our classes who was going to be an anthropologist and visit other cultures. It was…it was for the best.”
Jacob’s voice had thickened as he related the tale of his short lived romance. He cleared his throat once more to wash the emotion back down. The mood was little better among the others, as they all thought of the ones they had lost along their way. An old man in the middle began to cry gently, his tears turning into butterflies before they touched the ground.
“Anyway, when I gave up on college I decided to try and find a real job. The trouble was that none of them wanted to hire a Powered, especially one that couldn’t predict when he would be in the same town as his office.”
Metal chairs scraped the floor as backs straightened and legs crossed in echoed frustration. The other attendants knew all to well about how hard it was to get work as a Powered.
“Eventually I made my disability work for me though. I got a job with a sales company that was nationwide. Now I work wherever I end up, and they handle hotel rooms for me. Once I sneeze myself to a new locale, I give them a call and set up shop all over again. It’s an ideal arrangement for both of us.”
Jacob smiled at this point, proud of his success in finding a niche where his ability was an asset instead of vulnerability. The others clapped lightly, not wanting to trample over his time to speak, but glad to share in the joy that one of their own had managed to attain. Large multicolored balloons began to manifest on the ceiling, though whoever was responsible for them opted to keep silent.
“So that’s how I- ACHOO!” Jacob let out a blistering sneeze and vanished from sight. There was a stunned silence, followed by awkward shuffling as a few people got up to get coffee and donuts from the table set up in the rear. A young woman in a pink dress with hair that was shifting through the colors of the rainbow walked briskly up to the podium.
“Let’s take a five minute break for bathroom and refills, then when we come back we’ll hear from another first timer, Terrence the Torrential. Those of you who have already met Terrence may use the towels set up near the entrance,” she said in a bubbly and high pitched voice.