- A Serialized Novel -

This isn't a superpower. It's a curse.

Control, Control, You Must Learn Control

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So, predictably, I rushed home that night, excited. I walked in my door, locked it behind me, then went around to all the windows, made sure that they were closed, locked, and the blinds were all down. I couldn’t afford to take any chances.

I should have, I suppose, gone all super paranoid and checked my entire apartment for bugs and video cameras, but I guess I had this crazy thought that no one realized how important I was besides me. And even I didn’t know all that I could do yet. So that was what I was going to do. I was going to learn control.

I had Yoda chanting in my head, figuring he was as good a guide as any, and so I stood in front of the mirror and picked an age. Then I stood and watched as I changed. Delighted with this discovery, I hopped around a little, did a dance, whooped and hollered and generally acted like an idiot. I didn’t care. No one could see me.

First lesson I learned about my power? You’d probably think that it was not to drink coffee and talk to a girl. True, maybe, but I wasn’t counting the morning’s failures in them. No, the first thing I really learned—and, as always, the hard way—was that it was not an instant polymorph. That is to say, I couldn’t go into one form and then immediately into another.

Well… I could, I suppose, if I want to end up comatose on the bathroom floor next to a leaky toilet…

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Clayton felt something wet on his face and reached up to wipe whatever it was off his face. Nasty. He didn’t even want to know what that was. He shuddered as he looked at his bathroom floor. He checked his watch. What? How the hell had he missed an entire day? The watch had to be broken. No way it had just gone like that.

He rubbed at his shoulder—everything was sore, he was one giant mess of aches, and walked into the kitchen. It looked the same as it had when he went into the bathroom to try out his new ability, but he didn’t think that was right. Maybe it had only been a few minutes. Of course, he kind of felt like he’d spent the night on the floor, but that didn’t necessarily mean he had.

He went to his laptop, opened the lid, and when it came back to life, he groaned. He had missed an entire day. Crap. He’d thought he had a whole weekend to work on figuring out this ability, but he’d lost a day. One day. This was going to suck. How was he supposed to have this thing mastered before he went out in public again? He needed to know so much more about what he could do. He had a lot to work on. He needed control, and this was clearly not it.

He did type up a few brief notes to summarize what he’d experienced. He didn’t seem to have kept the form he changed into, so his theory would be that he had to consciously hold it, or he’d lose it after a certain point. He’d like to test that, but he was a bit more concerned by the comatose in the bathroom thing. He had already kind of seen that he couldn’t switch right away, but how soon was too soon? One minute? Five? Ten? This was going to be very important. What if he had another accidental one, like he had when he turned into the old man in front of Cailey? He needed to know how long to disappear before he tried coming back in public.

He looked at his watch. He looked at his computer. He reached for the mouse and set up the camera so he could record himself. He needed to know exactly how long all of this lasted. He took a deep breath. “Okay, here we go. Experiment one. Well, technically, two, but since I don’t have any documentation on the first one, I’ll just call this one number one. I am going to turn into… an old man.”

He waited until he saw the old man’s face on the screen. It was still a bit hard to accept that it was really him. He was that old man. He made a few faces at the screen, making his eyes cross and sticking out his tongue at the screen. “Clearly, I can be an old man. I can make faces at my computer. I’m not really sure what else this is good for, but right now, we’re just figuring out what I can do. And by we, I mean me. I guess me and the computer? I don’t know. I don’t really know what I’m doing.”

He sighed, looking at his watch. “Well, I’m not entirely sure how long passed last time. I know it wasn’t very long. I did one change, danced around—shut up. You don’t have to laugh at me—especially since you’re an inanimate object and can’t even laugh. The point is that I didn’t wait very long before I tried to switch again. So maybe this time I should set a specific time. Ten minutes, how about that? Sounds reasonable enough.”

Clay found himself wishing that he wasn’t alone in all this. Still, he’d been humiliated enough already. He would figure this out, and then he would tell someone about it. Maybe. He didn’t really have any close friends that he could share this with, and the girl he would have thought about trying to impress already saw it—and thought what he could do was gross.

Well, fine then. He’d keep it to himself for now. He could handle that. Soon enough, he’d know what all of this was. He’d know how to use it, and he’d make himself useful with it. He knew it. He’d find a way. It would just take time.

He looked at the camera, tempted to keep talking just because it was recording. That had to be more interesting than a bunch of images of him sitting still doing nothing while he waited. He checked his watch again. Seven minutes. He was almost tempted to try now, but then he thought of the bathroom floor again and shook his head. No way. He’d take his chances with ten and hope for the best.

“So I have a really boring new job. Organizing the file archives. Greatest job ever. Not. I don’t know. I think they should have just fired me, but I guess they must be desperate for people who will organize that place. The money’s okay—what am I saying? I don’t get paid for this. I get this crappy apartment and food allowance, and it’s never enough but I pretend that it’s enough so that I don’t have to go crawling back to my foster family who said I was an idiot for finishing school early. I never really understood that one—but I suppose being on your own at sixteen instead of eighteen changes things a little, and I did not want to live on campus but didn’t have a choice and—oh, thank goodness, I’ve babbled on for at least three minutes. Here we go.”

Clay got ready, then thought briefly about how maybe he should add a little drum roll for effect, and then he shook his head again. That could wait for when he edited the video later.

He rubbed his hands together. “Okay, make me… a little kid.”

He was barely aware of his face changing before he slid off the couch toward the floor, taking his computer with him.

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“Oh, great. I broke it,” Clayton muttered as he opened his eyes. He winced as he looked around, trying to figure out where he was. That was the couch, and that used to be his computer, and he used to have a dining table, but apparently, when he’d come out of being a kid, he’d crashed into that and boom, no table. No laptop.

Clay was starting to get a bad feeling about this ability of his. Like, maybe it wasn’t a good thing. Maybe it was a bad thing.

He shook his head. Everyone thought that at first when they got their powers. Well, not everyone. Some superheroes trained for years to make themselves into the heroes they were. Some of them knew exactly what they were doing when they started. Others didn’t. They just stumbled into what they became—got powers by accident or experiment gone wrong. Clay was kind of like that, only he was no lab rat and nothing had bitten him or fallen on him or abducted him. He must have some kind of mutant DNA, though. That would make sense, wouldn’t it?

He picked himself up from the floor, dragging himself back to the couch. Okay, clearly there was a price to pay if he tried to switch too soon, and it wasn’t just a night on the floor—though this time, according to his watch, it had only been about eight hours. He needed to know the right amount of time, the minimum that he could wait between shifts. He had a feeling that was going to be very important.

He ran a hand through his hair. He hadn’t accomplished much, though he supposed that if he got at least that part figured out, that was enough. He’d deal with it, work on another part later. He’d try and figure out how long he held a form without thinking about it. He seemed to stay his normal one unless he thought about it, so that was good.

He felt a weird twinge in his fingers and looked down. Wait. He knew that feeling. He’d had this happen before. It had happened—right before he switched into the old man. No. Not again. Not into the old man—Clayton dropped to the floor again, writhing around as he changed. That hurt. Again.

He sat up and lifted his hand. His sleeve fell halfway down his arm. What, he was a kid this time? So… he just randomly shifted—completely randomly, right? He didn’t have any control over it, and it wouldn’t be into an old man or a kid every time—it was just going to happen? He put a hand to his head and tried to think.

He looked at his watch. Okay, he’d wait twenty minutes this time and try to shift back into what he really was. He didn’t feel very good. The other shifts didn’t seem to hurt, but when he didn’t have a choice—yeah, it hurt. Was that all in his head? He didn’t want to do it, so it hurt? He wasn’t sure about that. He did know he needed a way to stop this from happening again. He wandered into his kitchen and took out a bowl and spoon and then glared at the refrigerator again. He was going to have to make sure he got more that he could eat when he was a kid, things that didn’t need to be cooked or gotten out of the fridge, since he might randomly become a kid and then have to wait at least twenty minutes—if not longer, he was about to find out how long twenty minutes between shifts cost him—to do things like eat and other things that he didn’t want to think about.

He sighed. It was going to be a long twenty minutes. He couldn’t try to fix his table and didn’t really want to think about what he’d done to his laptop. He had to figure that he’d probably broken the LCD at the very least. He shook his head.

Had he had anything good happen since he got this ability? He couldn’t remember anything. He might not have a superpower after all. Maybe this was something else. Something completely useless and stupid, and he was just stuck with it.

He needed a distraction, he thought as he checked his watch. It had only been nine minutes. He didn’t know what to do for the next eleven. He was not going to make it. How was he supposed to make it? And if he couldn’t stand it for twenty minutes in the privacy of his apartment, what happened if he had one of the spontaneous shifts in public and had to hide?

Oh, crap. If it took longer than twenty minutes to be safe to shift again, how was he supposed to go in public? What happened if he spontaneously shifted from an adult to a kid in a bar or something? Or a kid to an adult around a school? He was so screwed. He’d never be able to leave the house again. Never. He was going to have to find a job that he could do from home and shut himself in. He couldn’t use a power like this. It was never going to work.

He sighed, sitting down next to his refrigerator. He had wanted to be a hero, wanted a superhero power so badly that he’d never thought that this could happen. He had a super ability. He could do things that no one else could do.

Only he’d ended up a Morlock and not an X-Man or even a part of the Brotherhood—either Brotherhood. He had to hide down in the sewers or something. And then he’d end up getting massacred. He lowered his head.
He glanced at the minute hand on his watch. Almost twenty. Maybe he’d get lucky. Maybe it would only be twenty minutes. Why couldn’t he have been more like Mystique, though? Why a time limit? His ability wasn’t lame enough without it?

He leaned his head back against the refrigerator. That sounded dangerously like asking what else could go wrong, and he already knew better than to ask that question.

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