by Elliott Bell
Molly was looking for ways to be powerful. She was tired of feeling out of control. Her father, the scientists, the serious government men who never smiled – they ran her life in meticulous detail, from dawn ’til dusk and from dusk ’til dawn again, every movement planned, approved, supervised, recorded, and evaluated. Her room was supposed to be her sanctuary, but she’d known for years that they watched her there too. It didn’t bother her. The idea of privacy, of a right to freedom of movement, were only vague notions in her mind as powers other people had that she did not. She might as well be bothered that she couldn’t fly, or read minds. Dr. Harrelson told her she was a very special little girl, that she was a national resource, no, a national treasure, and that it was very important that she stay safe, to stay where she could be watched over. Molly believed her, of course – Dr. Harrelson was the closest thing she had to a mother. Her own had died of an illness when she was very young.
But now that she was getting older, she noticed things were changing. The few scientists at the facility where she lived served as her teachers and mentors, and one she even considered her friend – they were all behaving differently. It was hard to pin down at first. Dr. Ramachandran, who let Molly call him Mohinder, was always happy to talk with her about anything, usually the things she read about in the library, like Japan or Paris or circuses or mountains or what fish were like, what did the ocean look like? He was her best friend because he always answered her questions, no matter how many she asked, and most importantly he smiled more than the other scientists, who were all so fidgety and serious. Mohinder said they just weren’t used to little girls, but he had two of his own so he understood better. Molly desperately wished to meet them. He always said that they didn’t have clearance to come on campus, but maybe someday.
However, she did successfully convince him to read to her from her favorite series of novels. They were all about Miss Agnes Pinkerton, a girl in Victorian England who solved mysteries at her boarding school with her best friends Charlotte and Rachel. Molly could read just fine on her own, much better than most eleven year-olds, as books were the only place she found the company of other children. But she liked Mohinder to read out loud to her, it felt like they shared a secret together. Miss Agnes and her friends were always sharing secrets with each other. Miss Agnes’s freedom to go and do as she pleased was something of fascination to her, but Charlotte and Rachel were Molly’s favorite part of Agnes’s life at school, and sometimes she imagined Mohinder’s little girls might come visit and the three of them together could have adventures just like the three girls at the Madam Winthrop’s Academy for Young Ladies.
One day she asked Mohinder if he might solve a mystery with her sometime, and he smiled and said that she herself was already a great mystery, if she might like to understand herself better he’d be happy to help. She took this to mean it was time to get back on task, and helpfully went into the Safe Room for their next game. It was called the Safe Room for everyone else – she was always safe, in any room on campus, Dr. Harrelson often reminded her.
After receiving Mohinder’s instructions over the intercom, Molly melted the block of plutonium as requested, and in a burst of creativity, wiggled her fingers over it a little until it bubbled and hardened into the shape of a face. She wanted it to look like Miss Agnes – she pictured the face illustrated on the covers, the round cheeks and little snub nose that Agnes was so insecure about, and was just putting the finishing touches on Miss Agnes’s proper Victorian curls forming in the glowing lump of metal when Mohinder’s voice echoed in the mostly empty Safe Room, crackling,
“Molly? Please stop now, it’s too hot.”
“Okay! Just a sec!”
“Molly, the system can’t handle this much heat for so long.”
Just the eyebrows now, like little feathers…
She stopped. Mohinder never raised his voice, and even through the intercom she could hear he was upset.
Agnes’s face began to cool, her glowing features fading back into a dull metallic color. Molly frowned. It wasn’t bad, but it would have looked better if she’d been able to work on the eyebrows just a second longer.
“Thank you Molly, please come out now and wait for me in the lobby.”
The lobby is where she entered the long corridor that led to the Safe Room, whereas the scientists would go into the monitoring chamber to the other side, donning big suits lined with lead. Mohinder said they were very hot and heavy, which was why it always took so long to receive her instructions in the Safe Room. She didn’t need any special suit, but had to wait patiently before she was allowed to play. The games weren’t usually all that interesting or exciting, nothing like the games Agnes played with Charlotte and Rachel. Once they got up in the middle of night to talk to the spirit of the old groundskeeper through a Ouija board, and then there was the Truth or Dare game that always hurt someone’s feelings but then would bring them closer together by the end – if she ever got to meet Mohinder’s daughters, she would like to play these games with them.
No, the games in the Safe Room were mostly just following some instructions. But she liked to be free to use her “ability”, since she wasn’t allowed to melt things, make them glow or shake or break down into little bits of dust in any other room in the facility. Dr. Harrelson, Mohinder and just about everything from the sign in her bedroom to her father’s perpetually worried eyebrows were constantly reminding her of this. She knew it as well as she knew how to breathe. You Do Not Use Your Ability Outside the Safe Room. It was a fact of life.
But she did enjoy her ability in the Safe Room, it felt good, like she’d been holding her breath until she let it all out of a burst of energy. She often felt a little giddy afterwards, and wanted to run around and shout. She had a regular playroom for this and took advantage of it, but it was never quite as satisfying as games in the Safe Room. Usually games lasted several hours, but not today. It had barely been fifteen minutes, and she was disappointed that she wouldn’t get to play anymore.