By Brigette Stevenson
“Do you want to tell me about your week?” Dr. York asked. She sat in a velvet armchair dyed a sea foam shade of teal. Maggie took her place on the sofa. Its pillows were covered with jersey cases printed with ambiguous patterns meant to be tie-dye or waves or clouds. Dr. York’s taste was on trend, but never well executed. She did keep candy, though. Maggie grabbed a Krackle from the glass bowl sitting on the low coffee table and unwrapped it. She tossed it in her mouth. The snaps and pops bounced inside her head. She missed those sounds.
“You changed your hair,” Dr. York inquired. “It’s lighter.”
Maggie reached for a strand with nothing but absent mind and muscle memory. Its sheep’s wool curl and flashing platinum white color turned some people off. Dr. York was one of those people.
“Oh, no,” Maggie replied, finally aware of her hands and letting go of the wisped ends. “When I use a charge it just gets a little lighter. It’s always been that way.”
“Then you’re getting more comfortable using your abilities at work?” Dr. York probed. Maggie’s heart pumped a little harder. She tugged at the cuffs of her long sleeves.
“No, it didn’t happen at work. I went out on a date,” Maggie lied.
“Oh?” the doctor sounded pleased. Dr. York loved to hear when she dated. It meant she was making progress. It meant she was moving toward a positive change. Dr. York pulled out her legal notepad and a pen from underneath her chair’s seat cushion. Maggie wondered where Dr. York kept those pens. They were nice. Nicer than what she had at the office. Taking one wouldn’t be that hard. She could slip it under her sleeve. But it might be better she didn’t, Maggie thought. She would only chew on them. And they were very nice pens.
“Yeah,” Maggie continued. “We went out for Italian. There’s a new place on 7th Street that’s pretty good.” Maggie didn’t lie about the Italian. It was just the person that was the lie. Bobbi dragged Maggie out of the apartment and away from the TV to try the place on 7th. Her roommate was convinced Maggie used the TV as an opioid or something. Maggie just enjoyed the hum and ping she felt while the machine was on. It filled in blank space.
“Did you have a good time?” Dr. York asked. “On your date?” After as many sessions as Maggie shared with Dr. York, she started to read her smiles like tealeaves. The one she put on for this question was her ‘I have to ask’ smile.
Maggie grinned. “Yeah, it was good. I actually loved the Bolognese so much some of my static popped up. The waiter got a little shocked.”
“And how did you feel? After you shocked the waiter?” Dr. York asked without looking up. Her smile was gone. She wrote on her legal pad with less and less emotion coming in from behind her glasses. It was like Maggie wasn’t even there. Maggie bit the inside of her mouth. This was never good.
Elemental Therapy began after her initial diagnosis and classification. She only kept coming back because work required it. Her medical leave wouldn’t be covered by the Elemental insurance unless she went to twenty sessions. Bobbi dropped her off every Thursday night and waited in the parking garage to pick her up after the session just to be sure she went. Maggie was loose about keeping appointments.
“I don’t know, I guess I thought it was funny,” Maggie answered.
Dr. York paused to looked up. “I’m sorry?”
“I said I thought it was funny,” Maggie repeated. “He was kind of a jerk and the shock made him make this high pitched yell.”
“Maggie,” Dr. York pulled off her glasses as she spoke. Her speeches always required her whole face. It annoyed Maggie to no end. “Your powers are not meant to harm, you know that. You have a gift. It can be such an asset to all of us, but only if you treat it as such.”
Maggie felt the electrons in the room start to vibrate. They smelled like the wet cosmic ozone she loved so much. The balmy burn of its raw chemicals made her nose wrinkle. Whenever her emotions started to flare so did the world around her. And that busy calm before the storm, the time between lightning strike and static shock, those were what Maggie loved about her magic. She could read a room with a single scent. Every particle, atom, and sliver of dark matter that floated careless through existence, Maggie breathed in. She felt small and insignificant in our universe. She was limitless and powerful in our world. All the beautiful ugly emotion of life made energies vibrate around her. All the carnage of existence rested in the tips of her fingers.
But Dr. York’s attitude about control, about vocational Elemental magic use, about growth mindset, made therapy no place to share all of that. Therapy was the place Maggie confessed her mistakes. Dr. York would give her a set of skills for the following week to try and remedy those mistakes. Maggie took the skills down to the parking garage, fell into Bobbi’s sedan, and they went home.
“You’re right,” Maggie said flat and low. “That was mean of me.”
Maggie sat at her desk gnawing at the cap of a cheap pen. It was past closing. Only a few people were left at their desks. They typed with soft glow lamps at their sides. Maggie sat on the far side of the fourth floor in the corner. It was lonely and unassuming. The walls were woven with grey and blue fabric just bland enough to make the eyes go dull. No pictures were hung. Two desk lamps were clipped to the cubicle walls of Maggie’s space. They gave off a soft gold lighting. Maggie, for sentimental reasons, did love a good lamp. The hum these old ones gave off made the electrons floating around her sort of flop like butterflies in late June. A barbaric computer tower sat beside her monitor. Its fan ran constantly preventing itself from overheat. She liked her tech old and classic. Stacks of empty manila envelopes were piled in a corner underneath Maggie’s desk. Each one was a regret.
A man in a wrinkled white dress shirt grinned big as he walked by from the main elevators. His tie held a pin with the iconic symbol of the company: a bird flying over the old emblems of earth, flame, water, and sky. New Partridge tried to sell itself on inclusion. Elementals, with all their baggage, were welcome at the media data tank.
“Staying late again, Kahn?” Ambrose asked. The boss was back from the board meeting on twelfth. His teeth were an unnatural white and wouldn’t be kept hidden behind his lips. His skin shone red under the gold light. The look behind his puffed eyelids was a desperate empty calling that always made Maggie uneasy. She might have felt sorry for him if he wasn’t such a weasel.
“Yes, sir,” Maggie said. Maggie went back to typing. She only could hope he would leave.
“Your plant is looking a little rough, don’t you think?” Ambrose pointed to the top of the computer tower. A single dark green fern drooped on top. It was turning brown at the edges of the leaves. She never watered it.
“Aren’t your people good with plants?” he laughed. He always laughed at his own jokes.
“It’s just old,” Maggie lied, barely looking up from her screen.
“Or is it because of, your uh,” Ambrose waved his fingers. He used this gesture as a way to explain Maggie’s powers. The air filled up with thick charges around Maggie’s head as she watched him. She never liked how Ambrose set her off the way he did. But he always did.
“Eh, either way you should get a new one,” he said. “People judge a person on their work station, you know. No matter what they can do.” He glanced down at his pin.
“Sure,” Maggie said. “I’ll toss it tonight.”
“We got word from corporate about your lot’s new package and the outcomes,” Ambrose said. Maggie winced. ‘Your lot’ was Ambrose’s latest attempt at saying Elemental without say it. Subtle never worked for him.
“They said all the trainings we gave really paid off. We’re getting everything we need and then some across all branches!” Ambrose gave her a thumbs up with each hand. Maggie bit her lower lip and gave them back. The newest ploy to draw in Elementals to the company was a stipend, health care, and professional development offered to help harness ‘unique gifts’. Maggie made a quick glance down at the envelopes under her desk. Her throat became tight.
“Keep it up, Kahn!” he shouted over his shoulder. “You’re doing great things for everyone!” As Ambrose sauntered toward his back office, Maggie couldn’t help but smile. He had no idea. She gave him a quick salute behind his back.
Peeking over the left side of the cubicle wall, Maggie checked the rest of the floor. Every other person there held the same slack jawed expression. They sat in front of the white glow of their monitors, eyes clouded. They were all trying to make overtime. They didn’t even know Maggie was there.
She glanced up at the corners of the walls. Each corner was armed with a camera monitoring the employees. Maggie shocked them out earlier in the day. The only thing that kept the appearance they were still running were the little red lights. Maggie kept those on only half trying. She was in the clear.
Turning her attention back to her computer, the low light of the screen monitor buzzed back at her as she typed a few codes, clicked, and repeated. Popping a pen, cap and all, into her mouth, Maggie hacked into the main system in just under thirty seconds.
ENTER ACCESS CODE
She taught herself to read the unique binary of New Partridge a few weeks after she was hired. It was easier than she expected. Listening to the electric snaps all her life made company computer code seem like a children’s board book. While the coding Maggie made was calligraphy and the spark was its canvas. Maggie taught herself to paint code, in with varying degrees of sophistication, onto small sparks. It was just the spark she struggled with sometimes. It had to be precise, small and thin, yet sturdy enough to carry the binary. It was like constructing a feather meant to carry a knife. She rolled the pen cap around in her mouth as she typed.
A flare of static snapped above her head. Maggie bit down hard on the pen. Getting ahead of herself wasn’t going to help. She did the breathing Dr. York told her about, but this time she did not think about the woods or the ocean or wide-open spaces. This time she thought of a grey storm cloud clapping with flashes of white sharp electricity. She breathed in deep. Images of the storm became more vivid. The clouds bubbled until their ominous grey was nothing compared to the hot white shards of light bursting from its belly.
Maggie felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise up. A few blue sparks burst around her ears. When she opened her eyes her palms glowed warm and pink. Now.
Pulling a new flash drive out of her pocket, Maggie put it between her fingers and rubbed just a little. A white flash sprang from her index finger into the drive. While the sparked code was still hot, Maggie plugged the flash into the computer. The charge, with its code, lasted only three minutes before the flash drive lost its veneer. And she still needed to spark down the firewall.
Good thing she only needed one.
Maggie sat deep in a beanbag chair in her sweatpants. She ate ramen out of a pot in front of the TV. She drank up the noodles and let the spicy steam fill up her pores. One of her many cop shows played in the background. Maggie never really watched the shows. Having the television on sometimes absorbed up the quiet. Even now it sponged up a little of her worry. She put the latest set of data onto one of the external drives, but her shoebox of flash drives was getting very full. And she didn’t need new shoes.
Bobbi unlocked the apartment door and dropped her workbag down on the floor. She peeled her heels off from her feet along with the day’s litigation. She grabbed a scrunchie she kept by the keys bowl and immediately tied up her chestnut hair into a high bun. Her makeup, though nine hours old, was still pristine. Her skin was dewy but not sticky. Her eyeliner looped around her dark brown eyes in the perfect half cat eye. Bobbi was the image of effortless. Bobbi was steadfast and clear. Maggie was a flicker and a shadow. They needed each other.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said to Maggie from the entryway. “We had a client who just couldn’t take a hint. Did you order take out?”
Maggie sipped some of the ramen broth from the pot. “No.”
“It smells like take out in here.”
“Just from a package,” Maggie said.
“Good day, then?” Bobbi asked. “Freeze dried noodles usually means a good day.” She went straight to the kitchen to prepare her evening green tea. She poured sink water into the electric kettle before setting it to boil. Hearing the device turn on sent a ping up Maggie’s spine.
“The best,” Maggie said.
Bobbi sounded probing. Maggie tried to keep her answers brief and in high humor. There was no reason to waste a perfect evening on a talk.
“The pharmacy called my cell,” Bobbi said. There it was.
She shook her tea bag before dropping it into a cream and coffee stained mug. “There’s a prescription for you that’s been ready for weeks. They said they can’t hold it past tomorrow.” Her tone and her face were accusing. Maggie shrugged.
“Maybe Dr. York wants me on more than just uppers.”
“Don’t joke like that, Madge,” Bobbi snapped. “You are still taking your pills, right?”
Maggie felt the electrons on the floor around the beanbag start to vibrate. When she was anxious things were harder to control. Dr. York said Maggie’s ‘sporadic and emotional triggers’ tied to her magic were probably a reconstruction of her chaotic childhood. She would learn how to control the charges with time. Maggie knew that was stupid. Elemental power came from the soul. She wasn’t practicing anymore, but she remembered what they said in the Temples. She still believed it in spite of everything.
Besides, skipping on the prescription was just a minor detail in Maggie’s day to day. She needed herself in top form. The pills made her abilities fuzzy, whitewashed, unimaginative. They made her a straight line on white paper.
“I take them every day, you know that.”
The first charge was yellow. It was like a vein on the floor: small and insignificant. It lit up the pattern of their cheap rug giving the polyester fibers iridescent sizzle. Only Maggie saw the dormant charges. Bobbi was not an Elemental. It might take a few more charges for her to even see anything. The charge slithered through the apartment hunting for a place to roost.
“Are you?” The kettle switch clicked off and the ping subsided. Bobbi poured the hot water into her mug before walking barefoot into the living room. When she wouldn’t sit down, Maggie looked up at her. Bobbi held the last prescription bottle Maggie did fill in her hands. The bottle was very full of little oval pills. Bobbie rattled the bottle before she tossed it into Maggie’s lap.
“The call came a week ago. So I snooped.”
The second charge was white. It was two-veined and crept up the living room walls. It illuminated the floor and cast shadows across the edges of the apartment. Maggie started breathing. She needed to keep it together. The last thing she wanted was another talk with Bobbi about her recovery in the dark.
“Ok, maybe it’s been a while,” Maggie admitted. “But I feel fine! I swear.”
Bobbi put her tea on the coffee table and slid herself on the sofa. She put her face in her hands.
“You’re my best friend, Maggie, and I love you, but you can be the absolute worst sometimes.”
Maggie held tight to the ramen pot. The charges were growing longer and thicker all over the apartment. They glided on the floor searching for a conductor. Maggie knew she did need to tell Bobbi what was going on eventually. She just needed a little more time. She needed more shoeboxes.
But before the guilt could build, Bobbi slid her bare foot across the rug. It went right into one of the white electrical veins. The crack was loud. It made the lights sizzle. Bobbi jumped high and cursed. A little black burn mark smoked at the inner flesh of her foot. Elemental burns were different.
“I’ll get something!” Maggie said, jumping up and dropping the ramen. The oily broth pooled around Bobbi’s feet. Running to the kitchen for a wet towel, Maggie darted back to Bobbi just in time to wrap her foot before the mark blistered. But it would scar. They always scarred.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. Maggie sat on her feet and pressed the cloth into Bobbi’s foot. Her friend winced as the pressure seeped in. Neither said anything. The static began to build again.
“Get the broth,” Bobbi said holding back her pain. Maggie nodded and ran back to the kitchen. She returned with more towels, soap, and warm water. Bobbi watched, silent and fuming, as Maggie blotted the broth out from the rug.
“What is going on with you?” Bobbi managed to say. “Don’t lie to me anymore.” Maggie opened her mouth to speak, but only just. A heavy feeling pressed into her shoulders. It made her feel small. It took words from her throat and drowned them into the back of her mind.
“Nothing,” she lied. Bobbi’s eyes narrowed to a glare sharp as a knife. But the gaze wavered.
“What is that?” Bobbi said. Maggie blinked.
“What is that?” Bobbi pointed to the shoebox sitting beside the beanbag. Maggie’s chest became hollow and void. Her hair began to lift from her scalp. The lights in the apartment pulsed. How could she be that careless? The shoebox, bursting with flash drives, sat exposed beside the beanbag chair. She forgot to hide the flash drives.
The apartment began to react all around them. The microwave pinged in the kitchen. The light bulbs smoked. The TV went out. The static build up was too big, and the charges were already layered like webs all over the walls and floor. The two met eyes just before a hard crack cut the power.
The women sat opposite each other. The apartment power was gone. A single candle glowed on the coffee table. All the flash drives were scattered on the tabletop as well, making a very strange pattern of shadows from the dancing flame. Each flash was labeled and cataloged. Each held little lifetimes inside of them. Bobbi pressed her knees against her chest. She was now in sweats of her own. The broth stained her trousers.
“How much do they have?” Bobbi asked.
Bobbi glared. “Be more specific.”
“A little of everything, legal documents, medical records, bank account numbers, and basic personality profiles. They’ve got something on almost everyone on the Web with a social account.”
Bobbi sighed. The gears of her legal brain were grinding. She was trying to work it all out. She was trying to make it go away. This was why Maggie kept the shoebox under the floorboards. She sighed back at Bobbi.
“Am I boring you?” Bobbi snapped.
“Relax,” Maggie laughed a little as she spoke. “You’re thinking too much.”
“How did you get all this?” The look Bobbi shot across the coffee table was sharply framed by the shadows in the room. She gave a ghoulish face to the things the flash drives held. She was accusing Maggie. And she was right to. Maggie still saw the manila envelopes inside her mind. They were packed away under her desk, but what they never really stayed there. The Elemental package New Partridge offered its employees came with a very high price. And Maggie’s price was inside each envelope, and inside Workroom 3. Bobbi didn’t need to know all of that. Not yet, anyway.
“I charged the flashes to look like a buyer. When I take data, they only see it as a transaction.”
“Look like a buyer?” Bobbie repeated back. Her eyes kept darting from one flash to another. Her eyes scanned the letters over and over. “What do you mean?”
“They’ve been selling all of the personal data to different places, other companies, places over seas, telemarketers, things like that. Then they keep backups to resell.” Bobbi’s expression feigned understanding. A lot of what Maggie could do gave Bobbi that face. She never really understood. Until that night she never really attempted to try.
“And they don’t know it’s you? Taking it?” Bobbi looked down at the pebbled coffee table.
“I don’t think so,” Maggie said. “I called the buyer code Chameleon.” Maggie thought her pseudonym was funny, but Bobbi didn’t laugh. Bobbi bit down hard at her nail. The skin around it turned white even in the dim light. Bobbi being a prude always worked for Maggie. It meant the bills were paid on time. It meant there was food in the fridge. Now it only made her feel translucent and porous. Maggie swallowed down a knot growing in her throat.
“What were you going to do with all of it?”
Maggie smirked as she spoke, “Put it in more shoeboxes under the floorboards.”
“This isn’t a joke, Maggie. It’s theft. Powers or no, they might be able to trace this back to you.”
Maggie already thought of that. And she was asking herself Bobbi’s question more and more. She just never came up with a decent answer. If New Partridge knew what she did, they wouldn’t just come after her. They’d erase her. And even after that, they could go after Bobbi, her mother, anyone close to her. So whatever she did needed to be big. And the colossus of what might be clouded her mind.
This was not something she discussed with Dr. York in Elemental therapy.
Bobbi let her thumb rest awhile and switched to nibbling on the skin of her lip. “You have to put it all back,” she finally got out between her teeth.
“Put it back?” Maggie was dumbstruck.
“This is too big, Maggie,” Bobbi said. “You can’t take on a corporation like New Partridge by yourself.”
“Your confidence is overwhelming,” Maggie shot back.
“Grow up, Maggie!” Bobbi yelled. “You stole this! These are scary people, you can’t just take their intel.”
“I already did,” Maggie said.
Bobbi put her face in her hands. “God, when are you going to learn to just accept your life like everybody else?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Maggie’s voice cracked as she said it. Bobbi’s words stung. They hung in the air long after they were said.
“No one is special, Maggie. We’re all mediocre and boring. The world is big and ugly and doesn’t play fair. No one is important. Nobody wins. Just accept it.”
Bobbi got up from the floor and went straight for Maggie’s backpack. She fished through the contents for a bit before she pulled out Maggie’s wallet. Bobbi opened it and flashed Maggie’s Elemental ID card at her.
“Read it,” Bobbi said.
Maggie turned her face away and crossed her arms. “I know what it says.”
“You haven’t even looked at it since your episode. Read it,” Bobbi repeated. “Out loud.”
The word ‘episode’ sent more static into the room. Some of Bobbi’s perfectly smooth hairs were flying above her scalp. They did not talk about the weeks Maggie spent in bed after her diagnosis. They learned to talk around it. But now Bobbi threw it in the middle of the living room and let it shatter everything in its path.
Maggie snatched the wallet from Bobbi’s hand and looked at the ID. It was a special wallet for Elementals. Her Elemental ID was on the left, complete with the flame emblem digitized in a hologram across her face. The picture was from when Bobbi first took her to the clinic. Her hair was longer but was still curling and fine. It looked much whiter. She had more color in her face. She used her powers without thinking twice, then. She smiled big and wide into the camera. Before the clinic, she believed she was something cosmic and eternal. She was wrong.
“’Margaret M. Kahn. Elemental Class: Fire, subclass Electric/Static, Elemental Magic Level: Low.’”
Bobbi bent down beside Maggie. She put her hand on Maggie’s arm. “It’s ok to just be ordinary, Madge. You don’t need to prove anything.”
Maggie closed her wallet and tossed it onto the coffee table. The flash drives scattered.
“That’s not why I did it,” she said low and tight.
“No?” Bobbi asked. The candle flame bobbed from an open window. Maggie smelled the soft electrons from the city pour into the apartment. They were cold from the night air. Maggie’s throat caught. She swallowed up the feeling she might cry. The static in the room began to stir slow and blue. One by one, little blue reactions burst and sparkled in the dimly lit apartment. Bobbi took her hand away and gazed around. Each spark floated elegant and slow to the floor, giving off its winter blue light. And as each landed, it shimmered something small and glorious before losing its light and burning out. Bobbi looked back at Maggie before she spoke.
“My mistake, then.”
Maggie’s prescription bottle rested in front of her keyboard. Bobbi pleaded with her to give them another try. Maggie never was so angry with Bobbi before. Bobbi never understood. Maggie knew who she was. She was deep inside those electrons. The therapy, the meditations, the pills, what did they all do? They just slowed her down.
“Nice to see you, Kahn,” a voice said behind her. Maggie grabbed the bottle and pushed it into her palm so no one could see.
“Nice to see you, too, Mr. Ambrose.” Ambrose looked spotty. He was sweating more than usually. He kept coughing out the side of his mouth as he smeared a grin across his face.
“Under the weather, sir?” Maggie asked
“Fine, I’m fine,” he said. “It’s your plant. It’s giving off some sort of a spore.” The fern was long dead. Its leaves were wilted and husked. She never tossed it like she said she would. And Ambrose pointing it out set her off.
“No,” she said smiling. “This is a new one.”
Ambrose stiffened. Something quick changed in his eyes, but only for a flash.
“I’ve got another file from upstairs for you to take a look at,” he said handing her a manila folder. “Why don’t you pop into Workroom 3 and work it out?”
Maggie swallowed hard. “Sure, Mr. Ambrose,” she said in a sigh.
She stood from her desk chair and tried to take the envelope from Ambrose. But he held onto it long enough for her to look at him. Ambrose gave a quick salute as he released the folder into her hands. It was odd. She was usually the one who gave him the salute. Ambrose snickered before he sauntered toward his office.
“Good luck, Kahn,” he said over his shoulder.
Ignoring the weasel, Maggie got her backpack and coat. She slipped the pill bottle in a compartment so no one might see. She walked with the folder in hand from her cubicle to the elevators. Workroom 3 held not just their fastest computer, but the main computer towers for the whole establishment. The network and IP addresses of the computers inside were untraceable, not that Maggie needed that feature. But the meds did blur things. Dr. York said it was a minor set back, but something to build toward. And Maggie knew New Partridge knew this. It was why they sent her there. Her own file was on a flash drive she kept in the shoebox.
It was a fast trip to the Workroom levels. Entering the cold elevator, she punched the steel button labeled WR and leaned against the wall. The elevator hummed her up. She felt a ping in the back of her neck as the machinery combusted to work. When the elevator chimed, the doors slid open to show a hallway with armored doors on either side. Each held black keypads. The code of the day was written on the top right of the manila envelope. Maggie walked to the door marked with III, punched in her code, and entered through the thick double doors.
A large fan hummed from the far left wall of the enormous space. A single desk with a single chair housed the state-of-the-art computer. On the far right wall were six identical black towers. Those were the main computers storing the New Partridge server, cloud, backups, and the entire system. She felt the massive amount of electrons flowing through each tower’s fan blades. Maggie sat at the desk and logged in under her company alias. She plugged in her headphones. She downloaded music on the Workroom 3 computer one of the times she worked there. The quiet was so haunting. It ate up the air. And there was no TV to turn on to swallow it up. There were no pens. She needed something to drown out what she did.
After her music was in her ears, Maggie pulled a disk from the manila envelope and shot it into the disk drive. Usually these things included a file with an Objective Doc. The Doc held information on what Maggie needed to acquire for the company. This one was no different. She double-clicked. Reading the first line, Maggie froze.
OBJECTIVE: REACQUIRE DATA FILES FOR FORUM KNOWN ONLY AS CHAMELEON; ENCRYPT DATA/BACKUPS AND WAIT FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS
Bobbi was right. They figured it out.
Maggie shot an eye up to the cameras in the room. They were recording. She tried not to move too fast. She didn’t want to appear guilty. But a soft click by the door made her heart start to pound. They locked her in. They never locked her in.
Sweat began to build up on Maggie’s forehead. She felt the air get thick around her. She breathed in deep to try and calm herself down. But little pops began to flash around her face. She wished she had a pen. Trying to compose herself, she kept reading.
The Doc described Chameleon, what data it stole from the company, and more information Maggie wished they didn’t know. But it did seem New Partridge was unsure what Chameleon was, though. She might be ok. They speculated for a few paragraphs on the possibilities: it was a terrorist organization, foreign hackers, maybe rogue journalists trying to expose the company, a few others. This might be a coincidence. Maybe she just needed to recode the assignment and do a little house cleaning.
But Maggie stopped again. Below the theories of Chameleon was a list of specific data files needed for recovery. They put one file out of order, up top, and in italics. The intention of it was clear.
Retrieve files for Roberta ‘Bobbi’ Toma: finance, personality algorithm, all medical. Priority: High.
A grip wrapped itself around Maggie’s neck. Ambrose’s salute, the change in his eyes, all of it. He knew. They didn’t think it was Maggie. They knew it was Maggie. And they were using Bobbi as leverage. This was bigger than any recode. This was bigger than a computer fry. This was the end. They had her. And they had Bobbi.
Maggie took in a deep breath. She needed to stay calm. No sparks without her control. Moving slow and casual, Maggie pulled her phone out from her backpack. She did have a few things going for her. Workroom 3 was a cleanroom. They couldn’t trace her digital action while she was inside. She also knew if she turned the cameras off, it took seven minutes for New Partridge security to get up to the Workroom floor. A lot could happen in seven minutes. She just needed to keep it together.
Trying not to shake, she quickly texted Bobbi something vague, but direct. Maggie only hoped Bobbi would figure it out. Once it was sent, Maggie set up a timer for seven minutes on her phone. She slid the phone to the side of her keyboard like she just checked the weather.
Her next move needed to be as big as New Partridge, maybe bigger. A trickle of doubt made its way up Maggie’s back. Dr. York’s many smiles filled up Maggie’s mind. Was she even strong enough to pull something like this off?
A familiar smell started to swell in her nostrils. It was faint, but it was there. It was the electrons in the room, but it was also something else. Workroom 3 housed some of the highest levels of charge Maggie ever felt. The place was swimming. But the last time she smelled charges like this was long before Workroom 3. The last time they smelled something this hot and violent was years ago. It was from before the ID or the clinic or the pills. It was when she was in control. It was when the charges listened to her.
A smile broke across Maggie’s face. The Temple said Elementals found their power from the soul. How much of that was different from when she was an unstoppable force?
Maggie closed her eyes and thought of the storm. The clouds were black this time. Rain tumbled from every edge. Thunder clapped loud as flashes beat like a silent heartbeat. Maggie breathed in. She imagined herself standing on the ground just above the raging storm. Her hair fell wet and sopping to her neck. The water penetrated every part of her, making her stronger. The thunder kept rolling as the sky became darker still. White scars of lightning bolts shot down from the belly of the clouds. They scorched the ground beneath them. Black burns pebbled the ground by her feet. Elemental burns scarred the very Earth.
I am the storm, she said to herself. Nothing can define me. Nothing can predict me. I will come only when I wish. I bring fire and rain, I ride on the back of the wind, and I crack the earth. I am no element. I am a force of nature. Nothing can stop me.
Pulling the headphones out of the socket allowed her rage metal to echo off every wall. That drowned out the microphones. Maggie scanned the cameras: one in each corner. Rubbing her fingertips together, she threw marble sized charges at each. The four cameras smoked. Without missing her breathing, Maggie hit the timer on her phone.
Maggie rubbed the fingers of her right hand together counterclockwise. The static in Workroom 3 was thick and bubbling. She smelled the electrons spinning off the blades of the giant fans. The room swelled and pulsed. She felt the warmth coming from her right hand. She rubbed her left hand fingers together. She breathed in deep and long.
In her mind the storm was uncontrollable. Dozens of orange hot veins of electricity stabbed the ground. The clouds were red, auburn, white, and black. There was no sky. It was all filled up with the inferno. Maggie breathed in its wild rage.
Six minutes, 35 seconds.
Maggie snapped her fingers. The lift from the reaction shot her up four feet. Her body was completely charged. The bolt she formed from the positive and negative charges in her hands glowed white and pure. It was five feet long at least. She saw herself in the reflection of the Workroom 3 computer monitor. Her eyes were glowing white. Every vein in her body radiated beneath her skin. She floated without any restraint. Maggie’s smile grew big and wide.
Spinning her hands, the bolt grew multiple branches. The light it gave off was blinding, but Maggie was unaffected. The black glossy towers holding everything New Partridge was hummed underneath the crackle Maggie weaved. Once the bolt’s branches were grown to her liking Maggie gripped the bolt, floated over to the New Partridge system hardware, and stabbed deep into its core.
Five minutes, 13 seconds.
Following with her mind’s eye, Maggie tracked the rate of the bolt and each of its branches. The branches went to different systems in the company’s many layered back ups. But Maggie knew them. She hacked so many companies, and New Partridge was not original in its design. The bolt branches were ruthless. Each hunted down every scrap of binary, every trace of a file, anything. Years of online storage, coding, systems, all flashed out in a blink.
Maggie started to feel sweat building on her brow. A headache dug into the back of her skull. Her skin started to get warm. She didn’t have much more time before the weight of everything made her black out.
The bolt itself, still in her hand and in the main computer, rattled. She grabbed onto it with both hands. Breathing in one last gasp of electrons Maggie dropped the bolt into the towers. The thunderclap that went with it rattled the ceiling tiles. Maggie fell to the floor. Everyone in the building must have felt that clap. The overhead lights flickered before they went out. Emergency red lights came up half a second later. Maggie ran to the desk. She pulled up a quick static charge and blasted the desktop.
Three minutes, 54 seconds.
She grabbed her phone, backpack, and coat. The pain constricted against her temples. Blue and purple spots clouded her retina. Maggie couldn’t black out now. She needed one more charge. Breathing slow, centered, and clear, Maggie rubbed her palms together for another bolt.
Nothing. Panicking, Maggie tried again. Still nothing. Her skull throbbed. If only she could charge something, not sustain an entire bolt. The doubt from before started to weed its way back in. Her powers had limits. There was a point when she just couldn’t. Dr. York told her everyone should accept limits. Acceptance was part of wellness.
Maggie refused to believe that. Fighting back the pain storming inside her, Maggie threw everything she had onto Workroom 3’s tiled floor. She screamed as her skin felt every hot charge of the electricity running through her. Burns started to wrap like roots up and around her arms. Elemental burns always scar.
A yellow charge spread as a web all over the floor. Once the charges began to grow, she moved them together into a sphere. Blood filled up her ears. Waves of nausea swam in and out of her. Her arms bled through her shirt. She saw spots between hot tears. But she held the spark.
One minute, 45 seconds.
The electric ball wasn’t very big, but it had to do. Lifting it into the air, Maggie took a step forward and threw the orb at the armored door.
Maggie sat in a plastic chair beside reception. Bobbi sat in the chair next to her reading a magazine. Maggie realized the last time she went to an Elemental clinic was her diagnosis. Bobbi was there then, too. The clinic looked exactly the same as the one in the U.S. The chairs were cracking on the sides. The frosted glass wall separated the receptionist from the waiting room. The overhead lights buzzed. There was even an earth Elemental kid making the peace lily in the corner grow up to the ceiling. His dad did not look pleased. But Maggie smiled at him when he finally got it the way he wanted. She knew that kind of happy.
“Maggie Roberts?” a doctor called from the entry door. Maggie raised her hand. Bobbi looked up.
“I’ll be here,” she said as Maggie got up. The doctor led her into an exam room.
“Hi Maggie, I’m Dr. Park,” the doctor said extending her hand. “I saw you just came to Vancouver a few weeks ago, welcome!” The doctor took a seat on the medical stool on the other side of room. Maggie sat on the exam table. The paper crackled underneath her.
“You know, I’m a U.S. expat, too.”
Maggie smiled to herself as the doctor spoke. “Oh yeah?”
“Yes, small world, isn’t it? You’ll like Canada. It’s a whole different speed, but in a good way. Anyway, on your forms it said you wanted a consultation, but you didn’t fill out what for. What did you want to talk about exactly?”
“It’s complicated,” Maggie began. She pulled back the long sleeves of her shirt. Maggie unveiled a thin lacing of purple scars wrapped around her arms. Dr. Park’s eyes widened.
Before the doctor could speak, Maggie pulled out her backpack. After rummaging around for a spell, she handed the doctor a flash drive with T. Park written in black pen on the side. She also handed the doctor her U.S. Elemental ID and her last bottle of pills. It was still full.
“I think I need to be reclassified.”
Bio: Brigette Stevenson is an author and teacher from Ventura County, California. She has been published in the Morning Glory and Black Fox Literary. She lives with a black pug who enjoys Nintendo a little too much. @BrigetteWrites
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