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It’s funny how people label things that are a little different as “weird”.
Turns out, what they actually mean is “odd”. Technically, the word “weird” is used for the supernatural, for the physically impossible. Something that is “odd” is something that strays from the norm.
It was a bright, warm Saturday afternoon. Jasper and I were getting coffee, mentally preparing to pitch our school project at Makrotech’s main research facility.
Short for Macro-Nano technology, Makrotech was the world’s leading expert on real world applications of nanotech. They believed nanotech immersion was humanity’s “next step” for the future.
We were supposed to conceptualize a way nanotech could improve our lives with a rough idea of how it would work, and make a presentation detailing its pros, cons, and potential impact on the human race. The best presentation would get a chance to pitch it to Makrotech’s research team, which meant a chance to make connections and get backing for University.
Our presentation won. So when Jasper expressed his complete disinterest in the pitch that could potentially decide his future, he wasn’t being weird – despite my initial reaction – he was being odd. Extremely odd.
“Jasper,” I said. “You can’t afford not to take this seriously. If you don’t get backing for school, you’ll end up paying off loans for the rest of your life and you know it.”
He shrugged. “Money isn’t worth my soul. You know Makrotech’s been experimenting on humans?”
“Of course they have. Just because they specialize in nanotech doesn’t mean they can’t branch into biotech.”
He stared at me. “No, Rhea, you don’t get it. They’ve been experimenting. On humans. As in, lasers shooting out of retinas, fingernails that can cut through steel, muscles 100 times more powerful than normal.”
Um… Okay. “Where’d you hear that?” I asked. “Wouldn’t there be some huge uproar if that were the case?”
“Like they’d advertise the fact? Besides, it’s not like their test subjects were volunteers.” He said the last part quietly and his mood shifted, his coffee cup suddenly the most interesting thing in the world.
“If they’re so secretive, how do you know all this?” Either he was crazy or he was a victim of something extremely illegal, and neither of those options were comforting.
He looked at me intently and seemed to reach a decision. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
* * *
5 minutes of driving later, we arrived at an abandoned warehouse in the dangerous part of town. The building was covered in graffiti and gang signs but I couldn’t see anybody nearby.
I texted my mom and told her to call the police if I didn’t contact her in 30 minutes. She wasn’t happy about where I was, but she agreed.
Jasper led me inside the back entrance of the building. Industrial steel fans let in small amounts of light, rotating slowly in their frames. Stale, musty air enveloped my senses.
I guess if he’s going to kill me, now’s the time to do it.
I looked expectantly at Jasper.
“What were you going to show me?”
He nodded. Closing his eyes to concentrate, he brought his arms forward and held his palms so they were facing upward.
I could feel the heat before I could see anything. The air in front of me gradually heated up to what felt like an inferno, scorching my arms and drying out my eyes. It was getting to be unbearable, until–
A miniature sun perched itself neatly above his palm, a roaring blaze that somehow managed to contain itself perfectly in the shape of a sphere.
Am I hallucinating? Fire shouldn’t be able to shape itself like that, and why is his hand not burning up?
This is weird. Definitely weird.
“What the fuck, Jasper?”
* * *
After promptly freaking out at Jasper and ranting about the laws of conservation of energy not allowing for heat and fire to spontaneously erupt out of nothing while he just sits there with his eyes closed like a goddamn monk, I took a breath and assessed the situation.
My mother always said: when analyzing a difficult problem, start with simple facts and work towards the more complex issues at hand.
First: We were in an abandoned, windowless warehouse.
Second: We were supposed to be pitching our project to Makrotech later that evening.
Third: Jasper was worried about Makrotech being involved in illegal human experimentation.
Fourth: Jasper seems to know more about said human experimentation than should be possible.
Fifth: He’s breaking the laws of physics right in front of me.
“Rhea, it’s safe. I won’t hurt you.”
Jasper was looking at me, concerned, swirling ball of flame still perched above his hand.
“How the hell are you doing that?” I asked. He said he wouldn’t hurt me, but I didn’t know how volatile that ball was. I backed up a step for good measure.
“The technical answer involves nanobots. They convert chemical energy in my body to external heat in the air around me. Then they absorb the air above my hand, creating a vacuum. After converting water molecules from my body into oxygen and hydrogen, the nanobots emit pure hydrogen gas into the vacuum. Once the superheated air comes in and fills the void, it ignites the hydrogen, resulting in a contained inferno.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Why doesn’t it just dissipate?” I asked, my alarm receding to a genuine sense of curiosity.
“When hydrogen burns it creates water vapor, and it forms a kind of shell. I don’t really pay attention to it, honestly – all I do is focus on the shape, focus on an area, and push. It’s like flexing an imaginary muscle.” He threw the fireball at the wall and shrugged.
Amazing. The nanotech for this must be unreal. Energy conversion, gas manipulation, producing mass heat?
And it’s like flexing a muscle for him?
Wait. Flexing a muscle. To make fireballs.
He said something about laser vision earlier…
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