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Shofet

Rat Patrol

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Claremont

Fall 2019

Noon

 

Mia sighed as she exited the counselor’s office, rubbing her temples. She had just received what she was pretty sure was a tongue-lashing, except not much like the ones she had back at public school. There was less anger, more ‘we’re disappointed in you’, which strangely enough, felt worse. She grimaced, and pulled her phone out from the pocket of her faded black jeans. She looked down at the screen as she unlocked it, weighing her options.

 

She decided to settle on her dad. He was always the softer one with her. Letting her mom know she’d already gotten in trouble was going to give her a conniption and Mia didn’t need that. Her mom didn’t either, probably. Too much stress going on, lately. But her dad. He could take it, right?

 

She opened up a new text window.

 

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Me: 12:01 PM

Hey. Got in trouble at school.

 

Dad: 12:01 PM

What? How? Already?

 

 

Mia grimaced. That was fast. He must have been taking his lunch.

 

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Me: 12:02 PM

Yeah. There was a presentation with one of mom’s work friends and everyone freaked out so I bailed.

 

Dad: 12:03 PM

You’re in trouble for leaving?

 

Me: 12:03 PM

Uh… More… I bailed to Mexico.

 

Dad: 12:04 PM

MEXICO?!?!?!

 

 

Mia glared at her screen, and hastily tapped a reply, then deleted it, then wrote another reply.

 

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Me: 12:06 PM

Yeah. It’s not that bad. I was back quickly! They’re making way too big a deal.

 

Dad: 12:08 PM

You can’t just violate national borders like that! That’s a crime!

 

Me: 12:08 PM

Borders are fake, anyway.

 

Dad: 12:09 PM

Lots of people with lots of guns disagree with you!

I gotta tell your mom.

 

 

Mia’s eyes went wide. Tell her mom? No! She was telling him specifically to avoid letting her mom know!

 

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Me: 12:10 PM

NO! Don’t. Please, she’ll freak.

 

Dad: 12:10 PM

For a good reason. Look, I have to get back to work, but we’re talking about this tonight.

 

Me: 12:11 PM

I picked you up some Mexican coke.

 

Dad: 12:14 PM

Don’t bribe your father.

12:16 PM

Drop it off this weekend.

 

 

Mia pumped her fist. She assumed the acceptance of a peace offering meant that she was safe from him telling her mom. For now. He was definitely not getting that cola if he told her mom. No one would get any cola then.

 

Her attention turned back to the counselor’s office, and she narrowed her eyes. She couldn’t believe she actually got in trouble for this. It was such a non-issue. But of course, people had to blow everything out of proportion all the time. Couldn’t just be cool about things. Ugh. And man, now she had to write an apology letter to Aquaria, too. What was even the point of an apology if someone made you write it?

 

She rolled her eyes, then turned around, only to find she was staring at the reason she had teleported out of the presentation in the first place.

 

“Oh, hey,” she said flatly. “Didn’t… See you there.”

Edited by Shofet

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Octoman

 

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“Oh, hey,” she said flatly. “Didn’t… See you there.”

 

Ben faded out of view for a second, then reappeared. "Yeah, I get that a lot." He looked up at Mia. Damn, she TALL. And probably SUPER self-conscious about it. The baggy clothes, the long hair hiding half her face, the giant "PISS OFF" sign hiding the OTHER half of her face...don't poke the sore spot. Seriously. Don't.

 

He flashed her a quick double finger-gun gesture. "Heyyy, you look familiar..." He snapped his fingers. "Ben David, right? 'Shalom' and all that. So, what're you tall for? I MEAN, what're you in tall-tall-tall-tallKING to who're you TALKING to in the place with the people who do the stuff with the things and the SO HEY Rabbi Feingold, am I right?"

 

Nice save. I think she bought it.

 

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Mia stared at Ben. Her mouth was twisted into a smile, but her eyes steadily got wider and wider as he continued talking, her eyes darting from him to any possible exits. There was always the teleportation option, but she had already just gotten in trouble with that and the same guy was connected so that probably wouldn’t bode well. She could just die, maybe. Just will God or whoever was up there to kill her, or him, or both of them right now.

 

Then, something clicked. She blinked, and then shook her head. “You’re Ben Wang!” she said. “I’m Mia! My grandpa was the guy who accidentally set his sleeve on fire at that community seder? Like… That was… 6 years ago?” She blinked. “Uh… Wow, I didn’t expect… Huh.”

 

She then looked behind her. “The uh… Reason I’m here is because I bailed to Mexico after that presentation and apparently I’m not supposed to leave school grounds like that or violate national sovereignty or…” she sighed. “Whatever. You doing okay? Seemed like that hit you pretty hard and… Like I’m no good with this comforting people stuff but if it helps I think squid powers are pretty cool, and like… I don’t think anyone’s gonna…”

 

She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m somehow making this more awkward.”

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Octoman

 

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“You’re Ben Wang!”

 

Ben did a 360-degree spin, ending with one foot dramatically planted forward while his arms stretched out to his sides. "THE ONE AND ONLY."

 

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“I’m Mia! My grandpa was the guy who accidentally set his sleeve on fire at that community seder? Like… That was… 6 years ago?”

 

"Yeah! And then some IDIOT grabbed some wine and chucked it at him to put it out, but that didn't work, 'cause alcohol, and physics, and me, it was me."

 

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“Uh… Wow, I didn’t expect… Huh.”

 

"Yeah, me neither! Figured I might get to do, like, tech support for a superhero someday, be the voice with an internet connection on the earpiece while they punch the bad guys, and that's as close as I'd get, y'know? Then BAM, freakin' DESTINY comes around the corner and hits me like a truck! Only, like, LITERALLY, a truck hit me. BOOM. Powers."

 

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“The uh… Reason I’m here is because I bailed to Mexico after that presentation and apparently I’m not supposed to leave school grounds like that or violate national sovereignty or…” she sighed. “Whatever."

 

"Dude, SERIOUSLY? They got their undies all twisted up their crack just 'cause you peaced out south of the border for a couple minutes? What, they're gonna declare war 'cause you bought a taco? WHACK."

 

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"You doing okay? Seemed like that hit you pretty hard and… Like I’m no good with this comforting people stuff but if it helps I think squid powers are pretty cool, and like… I don’t think anyone’s gonna…” She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m somehow making this more awkward.”

 

Ben's smile evaporated. His shoulders slumped a little. He turned his gaze to the side and rubbed the back of his own neck. "It's...um...OCTOPUS-powers. Not squid. But, like, whatever, no big deal." He cleared his throat, glanced around, then leaned in conspiratorially lifted up one of his forearms and rolled his sleeve up to his elbow. A seam appeared on it. Flaps of skin parted like flower petals to reveal an orifice. A couple feet of tentacle slipped out through it. "So, like, see how the suckers go all the way, one end to the other?" As he spoke, the tentacle lazily swayed and twisted in the air, and the suckers on the underside flexed, squeezing shut and then relaxing open, several times in rapid succession. "Squid just have, like, a patch on the end, and that's the only part with suckers, and it's got a spike, too. Octopus, no spike, just suckers all the way down." The tentacle rapidly retracted back into his arm, making a slurping noise.

 

Ben couldn't quite bring himself to make eye contact anymore. "It's just, like...it sure sounded like THOSE freaky fish-people are GONNA come back some day. And when they do, THIS freaky fish-guy is gonna be on the front line, kickin' ass eight ways from Sunday. But when there's ONE freaky fish-guy doing the superhero thing, and ALL the freaky fish-people doing the superVILLAIN thing, someone's gonna panic, and BOOM! It's tako nigiri on the menu. Like, I don't even know if that's a METAPHOR. She SAID it, you HEARD it, they freakin' EAT people. Even their OWN people. Scratch that, ESPECIALLY their own people. Maybe they think I count? Maybe not just them. Like, who knows who all looks at ME and sees THEM, y'know? Like I needed one more reason for randos to tell me to 'Go back where I came from'."

 

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Mia watched the display of the tentacles, only kind of grasping what Ben was teaching her about cephalopod anatomy. But that was because she was focused on something else - the fact that she definitely messed up here. She saw how she had tanked his mood by bringing it up, and now was wondering what exactly she did that morning to make her so stupid? Just some stupid juice in her morning cereal instead of milk? Was that it?

 

Once Ben finished pouring his heart out, Mia searched for the words to say that would fix things, but she didn’t know if she found any. She instead simply thought back to a time when she was really young and all her classmates teased her for having a ‘terrorist’ for a grandfather, and what her mother said to her then.

 

“Ben… I… Look. Bigotry, it’s not rational like that. It doesn’t have this… like, purpose or reason. The people who would hate you for who you are… They don’t need a reason to do it because they’re already hateful. It doesn’t matter if there’s someone like Ms. Innsmouth around, they were always going to be jerks,” she said, looking away. “And the people who aren’t jerks are gonna stick up for you because they know you aren’t like that.”

 

She sighed, chewing the inside of her cheek. “Look, the last time we spoke was a real long time ago and even then I didn’t know you very well, so I don’t know the exact words for like… y’know, a pep-talk. But uh… As someone who has also got some of the bigotry - yeah, I’m white but you know, Jewish on one side and I have a Muslim grandpa so I get it - Anyone tells you to ‘go back where you came from’ and I’ll… I dunno, turn their car into a bunch of rubber ducks or something like that. Disintegrate their clothes. I’ll think of something.”

 

She gently punched him in the shoulder. “You know, solidarity.”

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Octoman

 

Ben grinned. "I mean, it ain't like I'm HELPLESS or anything. I can pick up a parked car and throw it clear to the other side of the STREET. And I'm not talkin' some little one-and-a-half lane suburban back road. I mean MAJOR. THOROUGHFARE. But I feel you. Thanks. Yeah, it's like Socrates said, 'Haters gonna hate'. I gotcher back too." He returned her light arm-punch with one of his own. "But, like, seriously, please do NOT do that clothing-disintegration thing with me, like, not EVEN as a joke. Real talk..." He glanced around and dropped his voice to a whisper, but continued to gesticulate wildly. "The dirty secret about shapeshifters? Ya ever wonder how we change, like, our clothes too?" He waved up and down at his own body. "Well...we DON'T. The 'clothes'..." He made exaggerated air quotes with his fingers. "...are US. So, like, if you try to fry off 'my clothes', or even, like, turn 'em into something else, what you're ACTUALLY gonna do is burn off is MY FREAKIN' SKIN."

 

Edited by Grumblefloof

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Mia nodded, smiling. And then, a wash of realization came over her. Her expression changed to one of shock and concern as her eyes slooooowly drifted downward. Then, sense returning to her, Mia yanked her head back up to make sure she was looking Ben directly in the eyes and absolutely nowhere else.

 

“Ohhh,” she said. “Ohhh.”

”Okayyy,” she said, rubbing the back of her neck. “I will keep that in mind. Do not fry your skin off.” She sighed, now not entirely sure where to take the conversation now that Ben’s little bombshell had been dropped. Forcing her brain to start working again, she figured that the best course of action was to move away from the conversation at hand onto something else.

 

“Do you, ah… Wanna go get lunch with me? I haven’t eaten yet and I don’t have class until a little bit. Figure I could use a conversation partner.”

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Octoman

 

Ben crossed his arms, cleared his throat loudly and raised an eyebrow at Mia for a few moments, then turned his gaze downward. When Mia finally let her gaze slip as well, she could see that the front of Ben's pants now appeared to have been embroidered with block letters reading "MY EYES ARE DOWN HERE". Once it became clear she'd seen it, he cracked up and doubled over laughing. When she looked again, the lettering had vanished.

 

"HELL YEAH I'm down for lunch. ALWAYS down to get my grub on! ESPECIALLY here. Falk's almost as good as Tatay's deli, and I don't even get THAT all that often. You'd think a guy who runs a freakin' BAKERY would do more home-cooked meals, but it's almost EMBARRASSING how much take-out we eat. It's cool for the first couple of days, but after that, it's like, nah, I'd rather just have some cereal or make a sammich or somethin'. Some people just don't like bringin' the work home with 'em, y'know? "

 

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Mia rolled her eyes, turning a bit red at having been silently called out like that, but she ended up grinning despite herself. When the topic of take-out came out, she nodded enthusiastically, a bunch of memories flooding back. “Augh! Yeah, jeez. My mom was holding down a whole lotta jobs when I was a kid - waitress, bartender, delivery driver - so I was always eating fast food at her apartment since she had like, no time to cook. I swear, I am intimately familiar with every item on the McDonald’s dollar menu.”

 

She began walking towards the cafeteria, thinking to herself about conversation topics as they went. She worked her jaw, looking over at Ben occasionally as she thought. “Okay… So… Ah… Hey, what do you like doing? Like, aside from the… super thing. I’m real into music, uh, I like to work with computers.”

 

She stopped moving for a second and snapped her fingers. “Yeah! If you got any tech you need me to work on my dad runs a computer repair shop so I can probably do that for you. If you want.” She resumed her pace, reaching into the ether and pulling a water bottle out of nowhere. She unscrewed the top and took a swig. “Also super nerdy but I’m real into chemistry since it helps with my powers. Can help with that too if you… I mean, heck, you’re probably smarter than me, nevermind.”

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Octoman

 

"Yeah, I'm a, whatta ya call it, a CONNOISSEUR of frozen microwave burritos. I could write a listicle about my top five brands, pros and cons. Mamá's a lawyer, so SHE's only cookin' two things: Diddly, and Squat. And we're all outta Diddly. She used to say she married Tatay for his cooking, but that feels like a long time ago..."

 

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“Okay… So… Ah… Hey, what do you like doing? Like, aside from the… super thing. I’m real into music, uh, I like to work with computers.”
She stopped moving for a second and snapped her fingers. “Yeah! If you got any tech you need me to work on my dad runs a computer repair shop so I can probably do that for you. If you want.”

 

"I WAS into music, before, y'know..." he twirled one of his fingers in a circle next to his ear. "And I still AM. Just not, like, NEW music." He pulled his phone out of his pocket. "See, there really IS an app for everything. Whenever the speaker picks up a loud noise, like a scream or a car crash, it starts doing this." He pressed a button on the screen. His phone and watch both started buzzing, and their notification lights both started blinking. "And when I wanna groove on some tunes..." He pressed another couple of buttons, and a techno song featuring a lot of video game samples started playing. His phone and watch blinked and vibrated along with the beats, and he started nodding his head back and forth, jumping on his feet, and waving his arms as if he were scratching records on a turntable. "It's not a GREAT substitute, but it's better than nothing. Helps when it's a song I knew before. My memory fills in the gaps. With new stuff, I can kinda tell there's a lot I'm not getting, even if I get a chance to read the lyrics. It's better at a concert or a club, 'cause you can feel the vibrations all over the place."

 

"But computers, THAT's something the accident DIDN'T take away. I freakin' LIVE on my computer! You ever see 'geckofan', that's me. Can you believe I got that username on EVERY site? HeroHouse, TroubAlert, EVERYTHING. I figured I'd at least have to throw in a number somewhere, like 'g3ck0fan69' or somethin', but I guess I was just quicker on the draw." He mimed yanking a pistol out of a holster at his hip and popping off a round. "BANG! Pulled off some RIGHTEOUS hacks, too. Seen the inside of all kinds of places we're not supposed to see the inside of. I never, like, messed with anything or hurt anybody. But, y'know, information wants to be free and all that. My parents STILL don't know I check their email. If one of 'em ever, like, cheats on the other one, they're gettin' DESTROYED in the divorce, I'm-a make SURE of THAT. I didn't know I was gonna get powers, but I've wanted in on the whole superhero thing since I was little, so I figured becoming a super-hacker was my best bet. Nah, I can work on my own rig. But you should show me whatchu got sometime. I might wanna copy your layout or somethin'."

 

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She resumed her pace, reaching into the ether and pulling a water bottle out of nowhere. She unscrewed the top and took a swig. “Also super nerdy but I’m real into chemistry since it helps with my powers. Can help with that too if you… I mean, heck, you’re probably smarter than me, nevermind.”

 

"Oh wow, that was awesome! Can you just, like, do that with everything? Are you pulling a water bottle that already existed from somewhere else, or turning the air molecules into water bottle molecules, or what? Nah, believe me, there's nothing I could use in this world more than help with my chemistry homework. I can write code that'll make anything with a CPU roll over, fetch, and play dead, but the whole ionic-versus-covalent thing makes my head hurt. I freakin' GUARANTEE I'm not smarter than you, just ask anyone. I mean ANYONE. I got into this place 'cause I ran into some superheroes and they thought I didn't know what I was doing and I was gonna get killed if I didn't come here and learn the ropes, so they pulled some strings. It wasn't 'cause of my GRADES."

 

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He's deaf? Mia thought to herself. That was surprising to her. He must have been reading her lips the whole time. God, with how much her head moved, that had to be a pain. It occurred to her that the library probably had resources on learning ASL. He hadn't given any indication he knew it, but... If he did, maybe she could learn it too?

 

Mia thought about the information she had just learned. She was talking to a hacker, huh? Mia didn't really hack, per se, but she did know how to some extent. Really, most of her experience in that regard came from helping people who had accidentally done something dumb to their computer or network. Still... If he was into computers too, maybe there was something there.

 

But then the concept of how she got the water bottle came up. "Oh! No, I have a like... Extradimensional pocket I keep some of my stuff in," she said. "Though making the water bottle is also in my wheel house - basically in the same way you said. Can make basically anything that isn't illegal to make."

 

She looked over at him, making sure it was easy to see the motions her mouth was making. "But, uh... If you like computers, I heard about a tech club... Maybe we could join? I dunno. It's just a thought but it'd be cool to hang out with people who're interested in computers and stuff."

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Octoman

 

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"Oh! No, I have a like... Extradimensional pocket I keep some of my stuff in."

 

"TIGHT. Only pockets I have are the ones I make outta my own skin. I basically have to keister my phone every time I go out. Not, like, in a gross way. I mean, it's not REALLY like a butthole inside here, see?" He pulled open one of his pockets. It looked like any other pocket. But then it squeezed itself shut for a moment, a seemingly involuntary movement. "...OK, it's a LITTLE like a butthole."

 

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"Can make basically anything that isn't illegal to make."

 

Ben raised an eyebrow. "Whaaat about stuff that IS illegal to make? Does your power have, like, some kind of built-in leash that keeps you from making NAUGHTY STUFF? Or do you just CHOOSE not to synthesize contraband, because rules and stuff?"

 

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"But, uh... If you like computers, I heard about a tech club... Maybe we could join? I dunno. It's just a thought but it'd be cool to hang out with people who're interested in computers and stuff."

 

"DUDE. SERIOUSLY?! 'TECH CLUB'?! You had me at 'TECH'! And then again, at 'CLUB'! And you didn't lose me in between, so you got me with both hands! Yeah, I'm 'interested in computers' like Steve Jobs was 'interested' in making his turtlenecks black and everything else white and round! C'mon, where do we sign up?!"

 

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Mia giggled at the butthole pocket. Yeah, okay, it was a little gross but just enough to be funny. Besides, it seemed useful. Once he got to the topic of her making things, she stopped ominously. They were just at the cafeteria door, however, so she relocated to just beside it. She lowered her voice, eyes looking back and forth.

 

“Okay, so,” she said, not quite whispering since she heard that was louder than just a normal speaking voice. “People with powers like mine can theoretically… destroy the global economy. Imagine if I like… decided to suddenly make a whole lot of money, or gold, or whatever. That would throw the economy out of whack, rapid inflation… Y’know, some real chaos stuff. And uh… I could also theoretically make fissile material for nukes… which would be bad, so the government has a list of things I’m basically not allowed to do, and I might just be being paranoid, but I’m not really willing to test if they’re checking up on what I’m choosing to make. I really don’t wanna get yeeted into Area 51 or whatever,” she said.

 

“And… yeah. Awesome about the tech club, looking forward to seeing you there,” she said with a smile. “…Sorry about getting serious.”

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Octoman

 

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“…Sorry about getting serious.”

 

"Nah, it's cool. Damn, that's HEAVY. Worst I can do with my powers is stain someone's shirt." Ben held his open hand toward a nearby trash can. Mia heard a wet squishy sound, and a glob of black ink splattered against the can. He let a few of his tentacles slip a couple feet out of his body and out from under his shirt. "Or, like, film a REALLY niche porno that gets pirated and cut up into .gifs and goes viral. But me making the next Two Girls One Cup isn't gonna crash the freakin' economy, no matter how much time people waste at work passing it around and watching the crappy sketch about it that Saturday Night Live will crank out at the last minute. Hey, if you really wanna know if the black helicopter guys are spying on you, I can probably help you figure that out. Set up a stakeout or somethin'." Ben's entire body slowly changed colors to match his surroundings. In a little over a second, he was completely invisible. He re-appeared suddenly a few seconds later, behind Mia. "BAM! Never know what hit 'em. Hunter becomes the hunted, know what I mean?"

 

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