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    "Fuck. Bill's going to kill me—" An hour and a half late, no call...
    "They know you won't be in today. You can relax."
    Relax, ha. There went my hard-won reputation. A nurse came in and took a blood sample. Their specialist was fighting a headwind returning to harbor and might be a while, so they let me go home as long as I promised to come back for some tests. Lucky me.
    I took a cab home, climbed the stairs to the fourth floor and let myself into my apartment. It's small, but I don't have many possessions, and I feel comfortable there. I sat on the neatly made daybed and tried to figure out what to do next. I hadn't had anything lined up after the job for Bill, which would have involved several weeks of back-and-forths—Paulo's wife just had a baby, and he'd needed someone to stand in on his regular run. I'd been a little worried about that, actually, but suddenly it seemed like a good thing not to have plans. I should call him, I thought, and didn't.
    Should I tell someone? I felt reluctant to pick up the phone; my parents would probably have heart attacks, and I don't have any friends. From next door I could hear Sinatra on Mrs. Wu's stereo. I sat quietly and listened. It's something I do when I'm feeling... turbulent. Hardly anyone really listens to music these days. By the time the record ended I felt more in control of myself. Whatever this meant for my future, I decided firmly, I would handle it.
    I never did call my parents that day, but when I finally did they took it pretty well. Over the next several weeks I was in and out of labs, patiently undergoing an exhaustive series of tests, and was officially reclassified as a variant human, Beta class. I can't lift much, weight-wise, no throwing tanker trucks around for me, but I have pretty good fine control and a rare knack for handling biological entities. I can lift a human body with far less effort than I would expend on a barbell, for instance, and can move my own body with relative ease, though too slowly to really call it flying—about a quick walking pace. I learned about bio-auras, the natural shell everyone carries around with them, which normally acts as a low-level shield against intrusive psionics. I can feel them to a certain extent, gather a few bits of information about a person from them. Go through them and hurt that person, if necessary. I can also project a sort of imitation force-field around myself. There's a visual side effect to all of this for no reason anyone's been able to tell me, a faint glow you can see in pretty much anything but direct sunlight.
    After a while "we" had something else to worry about. I've never been big, and in the course of that month I dropped fifteen pounds. Nothing showed up on any of the tests, at least not directly, but they did find that my reflexes had improved dramatically. Eventually we figured out that, more or less subconsciously, I had altered my own metabolism and sped up my nervous system. Not a bad trick, given that I had no idea I was doing it. So aside from being able to eat pretty much whatever I want and not gain weight, I get a buzz from sugar and can't drink much anymore. I stabilized around 90 pounds—underweight but not dangerously so—and resigned myself to life in baggy clothing.
    I certainly couldn't afford to buy anything new, since I hadn't had a job since this whole thing blew up and was running through my nest egg at worrisome speed while I tried to figure out what to do with myself. Then I received a phone call.
    Edward Ellis is a state senator with a rep for taking on oddball projects, and he'd just been handed a doozy, he told me when we went to lunch later that week. The Daemonwar is over, of course (although they're still picking up pieces of Brooklyn in Nebraska), but we lost Ground Zero in the process, its members mostly dead, a couple missing or expected to spend months recovering. This leaves New England without a viable defense against variant criminals. The money that used to go to them has been divided up among the states in order to set up such defenses as quickly as possible, and Ellis got tapped to head the committee for Massachusetts.
    I'm still not totally sure why I said "yes" when he finally got around to the question. I've been conscientiously warned that it's a dangerous job and the pay isn't anything to brag about. Adventure, excitement, and really wild things? The fact that I've been told, if I keep practicing, I'll be able to fly for real? Because it's the right thing to do? Probably all of the above.
    No costumes, though, I'm firm on that one. I've got a black coverall that will serve the purpose nicely—for one things, it's got pockets, which I've noticed are often lacking on the more standard skin-tight job, and it's reasonably warm. Black gloves and boots to match. Giving a bit of thought to what I can do to people if necessary, I'm calling myself Needle.
    So much for background. I've made up my mind, and have also decided to keep this record, since I'm having a hard time believing that any of this is really happening, and I have enough scientific training and mindset to want to keep a record of events, however biased by my own perspective it may turn out to be.
    Time to go meet the others.

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson