Chapter 70

“Fall... the... hell... over.” Alice hissed the words through gritted teeth as she stared at the small particle board table. It was shoddily built and would lean to the side on its own. The weight of it was practically negligible and it couldn’t really be used to support much more than a whisper, let alone functionally hold up anything with tangible mass. Professor Hill had built it himself specifically so it fulfilled all of those specifications. Weak and barely stable was a good starting ground.

“Let’s take a break,” Professor Hill said, handing his pupil a bottle of water. Alice accepted it and took a deep swig. She never would have guessed doing nothing could be so draining. This was her third private training session and she still hadn’t gotten the hang of her new abilities. Sometimes she could send the table tumbling multiple times in a row; other times she’d go for an hour producing not so much as a wobble. Professor Hill had been a surprisingly patient teacher, supportive during her failures as much as her successes. Alice felt she might have given up on the whole endeavor already if not for his encouragement.

“I can’t seem to get it today,” Alice said, gulping down the rest of the bottle and setting it aside.

“That’s okay; I told you on the first day you’re going to have steps back as well as forward until you get a stronger level of control.”

“I remember, it’s just frustrating,” Alice admitted. “By the end of our work Wednesday I could knock it down no problem. Now it’s two days later and I’m getting zilch.”

“It happens to nearly everyone in this situation. You’re still learning the motions. It will get easier once you understand the coordination.”

“You sort of lost me there.”

Professor Hill gave her a reassuring smile. “Look at it like you’re learning a new exercise, like a jab. At first you just blindly slug away on the bag with all you’ve got. Some hits seem to make it move more, some barely get it to wiggle. If you keep punching long enough, you’ll stop paying attention to just the motion of your arm and start noticing other things your body is doing. You’ll feel the tension in your abs, you’ll catch the way your back swivels slightly, even your foot placement will become more obvious. You’ll keep taking in the details and realizing that altering these pieces makes a visible difference in how much the bag moves.”

Alice could see what he was saying. When she’d first started doing her defense tapes she’d just been swatting at the air. After a few weeks she had gotten the form down. More than that, she found herself doing it without even focusing.

“So you think once I learn how to do more than just turn it on, once I get the hang of all the factors that affect it, I’ll be able to use it more reliably. Right?”

“Succinctly and intelligently put,” Professor Hill confirmed. “First you learn the motion, then you learn the system, then you can elevate both to higher levels. So let’s get at it.”

“Sounds good.” Alice turned her attention back to the barely-balanced table and drew together her concentration. She’d tried tapping into her anger, the way she’d inadvertently done on Halloween, and found that while it drew some reactions, it was inconsistent. Applied concentration and an empty mind had been the best tools she’d uncovered so far. She wondered how anyone ever learned to use their powers as a child if this was the required effort. Perhaps it was like language: it simply came more easily in earlier stages of brain development. Even Powereds at least figured out how their abilities worked, even if they couldn’t willfully turn them on or off.

“Your mind is drifting.”

“Sorry.” Alice could never figure out how he knew when her brain started filling up with idle thoughts, but the man had a knack for it. Empty mind turned into distracted mind more than she would have expected. A couple of deep breaths dissolved the meanderings of her brain and put her concentration back on the ugly, leaning table.

The hardest part was reorienting the way she thought of her power. She’d always picture her flight as severing the connections with gravity, which had left her idly tumbling through the air when she was a Powered. No, Alice didn’t ignore gravity, she repurposed it. She understood now that she oriented it in the direction of her choosing. What she could do was less flying and more incredibly-controlled falling. Alice kept that thought in mind. She wasn’t trying to push the table over: she was just trying to shift the gravity slightly to the side.

Her eyes close as she imagined hundreds of hands all over the room, each one stretching directly from the ground and grabbing an object dead center then pulling down. The hands weren’t pulling hard, just firmly enough to bring down anything unbalanced. Alice put her attention on the hand gripping the table. Rather than trying to sever it or make it curl, she tried to slide it ever so slightly to the left. It moved in her mind, inch by inch, pulling the table at an increasingly acute angle. There was a soft thud as the table tumbled over, its mass too low to generate any more impressive sounds.

“Nicely done,” Professor Hill complimented. Alice had to suppress the urge to squeal with joy. Every time she pulled it off she still felt a rush of surprise and giddiness. The professor moved to reset the table so she could try again.

“Wait,” Alice said.

Professor Hill looked over at her. “Do you need another break?”

“No, I just want to try something.”

“By all means.” Professor Hill stepped back and kept his eyes on his pupil. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she stared at the now-defeated obstacle. He smiled to himself, perfectly aware of what was going through her head. She’d found a method that felt particularly effective and she wanted to test it in other applications. She was trying to recreate it, just as it had been seconds ago. If she succeeded, she’d be taking a big step forward; if she failed, she’d likely waste several days trying fruitlessly to recapture that initial sense of magic.

The table leapt from the ground and rocketed to the ceiling, smashing itself to bits against a metal support pillar.

“Very impressive.”

“Not really; I was just trying to stand it up.”

“Still, you got a good bit of force with that one. Control is learned through practice, and now we know you can handle heavier and more stable objects.”

“You think so?”

A few splinters of particle board wafted down from the ceiling and settled on Professor Hill’s shoulders. He watched them land then surveyed the other chunks of former-table that now littered the ground before him.

“I’m positive you’ll be fine.”