INVICTUS ORIGINS: May Long
On the streets of New Acadia, Spring, 2009…
May Long was bored. May was always bored. For the last couple of years, years that felt like decades or more, the world, the whole world, had been slowing down. She barely remembered what it was like when things moved normally, when walking—moving—wasn’t like pushing through water or jello. She could really feel the drag as she walked down Washington Street. Sure, she was leaving her parents scrambling to keep up with her, but the milliseconds were ticking by so slowly, and they’d promised her ice cream. She got to the corner, and as she turned to cross the street, she looked back at them trudging her way.
Her mother’s face was getting a funny look. May waited to see what it would be. Oh! It was fear! Fear of what? It would take them simply forever to catch up. She turned her head—she slowly swiveled it against the resistance that human muscles required when doing anything quickly. Eventually, as the milliseconds slogged along, she saw it—a car coming straight at her. She was in the middle of its lane. It would be upon her in a thousand milliseconds or so—not enough time for her sluggish body to get out of the way. No wonder her mother was afraid. And that other woman. As she’d waited for her head to rotate through 180° to face the car, she’d noticed a woman running towards her. May knew she was running—both feet were off the ground at once as she floated through the air, waiting for gravity to bring her back to earth. But even at the run, the car would arrive well before her.
May formulated a plan, judged the distance the car traveled in the next handful of milliseconds. The timing would be awkward. She slowly bent her knees, the left one a bit more than the right, as she twisted about a quarter turn towards the car. Now! She pushed off against the ground, beginning a leap nearly straight up, leaning towards the car, and reaching up into the air with her arms. Her legs straightened and then her feet left the ground. The car crept inexorably towards her. At least a hundred milliseconds, maybe two, must have ticked by, by the time she saw the driver’s eyes widen. Her feet were well off the ground, perhaps a foot off, as the bumper approached her legs. Her arms were almost fully extended over her head.
Looking down, she saw the front of the car contact her left leg, and braced herself for the pain that would soon follow. Several milliseconds later, it struck her right leg. That was going to hurt, too, but as she had planned, much of the force went into spinning her. Her legs were rising more rapidly now, and her arms were coming down. Counting, she measured her rate of spin against the advance of the car. This might just work!
As the car rolled forward, she continued to twist, reaching for a point just above where the windshield met the roof. Tick, tick, tick. She watched her fingers touch the windshield, first the left hand, then the right. It would be cold and hard when she could feel it. Her legs hurt now, but she didn’t let that distract her. She had been relaxing her arms and hands, letting her arms fold as the car rolled towards her and she spun back towards it. Now was the time to be pressing. She pushed off, and the windshield passed below her. Her arm muscles were going to ache from the strain.
She was pretty much vertical now, her feet up and her head down. As she continued to spin and the car passed slowly below her, she counted and measured. It was going at least four feet per hundred milliseconds, pretty fast for city traffic. Maybe she wouldn’t be down to its level before it had passed. She was facing up now, and her feet were falling to where she could see the trunk of the car. This would be close. She pulled her legs up out of the way. That was bad. She’d wanted them extended so that collapsing them as her feet touched down would absorb the shock. She was not going to stick this landing. What to do? What to do?
That’s when she saw the woman again. Off to her right, running in from the other lane, was the woman she’d seen before. Pretty, athletic, ruddy skin and long black flowing hair in a ponytail streaming out behind her. She looked concerned, but not scared—almost confident. More counting. Oh, my! May was impressed. She willed herself to go limp. It wasn’t going to be her landing to stick. Nearly a hundred more milliseconds, and she could see the woman reaching for her, beginning to catch her. May adjusted the angle of her right arm. The catch was underway—she could feel the impact.
Dena staggered some under the impact of catching the young girl—twisting her body to go with the motion. The girl’s arm came down on her shoulder, firm, but not quite hard enough to hurt, spreading the impact.
“Oof!” they both exclaimed as the air was driven out of their lungs.
“Thank you!” cried May, as Dena started to say, “It’ll be all right.”
Dena stepped to the curb and set the little girl down. An Asiatic couple rushed to them. “May!” cried the woman.
“D’jou see that, Mama? She caught me! She’s not very slow!”
May’s mother swept her up in her arms, tears in her eyes. “Oh, May! Oh, May…”
Her father stuck out his hand to Dena. “That was remarkable, Miss. Thank you, so!”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get there faster, sir.”
“You caught her, and she’s OK—that’s what matters.”
Mrs. Long was still holding her daughter and sobbing, with fear, and relief, and joy.
May was getting bored with the many thousands of milliseconds of crying and hugging. It was going on and on.
“I’m sorry you had to take that risk—running across traffic for our little girl,” said Mr. Long.
“It’s all right.”
“She…. She has a hard time paying attention, I’m afraid.”
“Well, she does remarkably well in a pinch. Has she been studying gymnastics long? Or is she…”
“A meta? Is that what you’re asking?”
“I didn’t mean to pry. I’m sorry.”
“No. You saved my little girl. I owe you.”
“She did most of the saving. I just spotted for her,” said Dena with a broad smile.
“So, are we still getting ice cream?” asked May over her mother’s shoulder.
Mrs. Long held her daughter back at arms length. “May Long! You nearly got yourself killed, and now you want ice cream‽”
The little girl smiled and shrugged.
Dena shook her head, smiling. “Maybe you should get checked by a doctor first, May. The car did hit you.” Looking from Mrs. Long to her husband, she added, “I did get the car’s license plate number. We can report it to the police.”
Mr. Long started to look very uncomfortable. “Ah, no… I—”
Dena interrupted, nodding. “Ah. Undocumented meta, and you don’t trust them not to track her…”
“Well, she should probably be checked by a doctor, at least. I know one we can go to. One who doesn’t report these things.”
She had May’s parents’ full attention now. “You’ve heard of the Household?” They nodded, gingerly. “My uncle, well, he’s like an uncle, works there. Technically, it’s foreign soil, Titania’s a Queen. They don’t have to report stuff. Their doctor is really good.”
“But won’t they… won’t the officials be able to see us go in?”
“Possibly. But there’s a treaty with Titania, and after the Demon Wars…” She shrugged. “Lots of people go there who aren’t metas or masks or… But yes, there’s a chance you’ll be seen. We can go in the back door, if it would make you more comfortable.”
“Please,” he said. Mrs. Long picked up May, and Dena led them to the Harris building, a block away from the Household’s headquarters. There she led them down a small corridor to an elevator lobby. After making sure they had the elevator to themselves, she pushed the first floor button—the floor they were already on—three times, and the car began to descend. When they stepped out, she looked up at the security camera on the corner of the small corridor they found themselves in, and then pressed the buzzer next to one of the doors. There was the click of the door unlocking. Once through, they were faced with a corridor leading to the basement of the Household. Once more, she looked into the security camera, and before she could press the buzzer, the door opened.
They were greeted by an aging, overweight fellow in a nondescript black uniform lacking any insignia.
“Dena!” that worthy called out and swept her into his arms and off her feet.
“Uncle Gus, stop showing off!”
He set her down lightly and turned to the Longs.
“Welcome to the Household. I hope you’ll forgive an old man getting carried away.”
The basement of the Harris building and the corridor leading from it had been nondescript and dingy. The room Gus showed them into was anything but. It was all bright lights, shiny metal and glass, and fresh paint. One corridor led straight ahead, and another to the left. Through the glass to the right they could see a garage, housing a van, a sports car and a couple of motorcycles. To the left, there was an exercise room. The equipment in it all looked very heavy duty, and the free weights on the far side were huge. While all the rooms had glass—or some glassy substance—walls, a couple were frostily opaque.
“Are we in an emergency situation?” asked Gus.
“No,” replied Dena, “but May here was involved in an accident, and we’d like the Doctor to check her out.”
“Iris, would you ask the Doctor if she is available?” Gus asked no one in particular.
A moment later, a soft, smooth, female voice replied. “She says she’ll be down directly.” There were no visible speakers for the sound to be coming from.
Gus opened the door to their right and led them upstairs. Dena stopped in the lobby area to chat with a woman with skin like supple, shiny chrome, while Gus escorted the Longs into the Doctor’s examining room.
“Is there anything about the accident that I should relay to the Doctor, Dena?”
“She’s a meta with phenomenal reactions and control. So far as I could tell, the car didn’t hit her per se. She mostly vaulted it gymnastically.”
“I’ll let her know…” replied Iris. Then, after a pause, she continued. “Ah, that is consistent with what her mother just said…”
“I’d have been hard-pressed to have pulled that off, even after all the years of training I’ve gotten here. I’m not sure what her powers are.”
“The Doctor is guessing that she has enhanced agility… but her parents are saying that time flows really slowly for her. She says she’s bored. The Doctor wants us to do a genetics scan. Toolsmith and the Library will handle that. If you could stand by, there’s another test he’d like me to do.”
“Sure,” replied Dena.
Iris slowed and stopped moving, suddenly looking more like the robot that she was, rather than the being of living, metallic flesh and blood that she usually appeared to be.
She sat absolutely immobile for the next few minutes, before slowly swiveling her head to gaze directly at Dena.
Dena gave her a puzzled look.
“Well, that’s different…,” said Iris.
“The Doctor had me speed up my interactions, so that I could communicate with her more on her timescale. Normally, I limit my sensoria and behaviors to be comparable to human norms. I gradually sped up how fast I was talking and interacting while talking to May. It would appear that the doctor is correct—she has the mind and perceptions of someone with superspeed, but otherwise the physiology and limitations of a typical human.”
“It took a bit of attention and recalibrating to change my rates after all these years. I am now experiencing and interacting with the world at two different rates—one for interactions with May, and the other for the rest of you.”
“So, you sped up your clock?”
“Yes, sort of. There are a great many things that I do at rates far faster than humans, but they are all… I guess you would say ‘subconscious’. I have now adjusted my conscious social interactions with the world. It is—” She cocked her head quizzically. “—an interesting phenomenon. It does seem to allow me to calm and reassure the child some.
“It occurs to me that some of what Madame Tchen and Yin have said about the meditative aspects of their slow Tai Chi is not unlike this ability to perceive things at two rates. The Doctor likes that idea and has suggested that May, perhaps with me to accompany her, study Tai Chi with them.”
Dena smiled. “Perhaps I’ll join you. Expanding my martial arts might be fun.”
“I have conveyed that notion to the Doctor. She suggests that perhaps I should not be sharing as much of what is going on there with you as I have been, but the Longs, especially May, say that they would welcome you to participate with her on her lessons. They are grateful for your earlier assistance. But for now…”
And with that, Iris stood and excused herself.
All three, May, Dena and Iris, did take up Tai Chi together, cementing friendships and eventually alliances.