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The Curse Of Differences

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'Strange'. It was a word that Aubrey Blackthorne was used to hearing. People said it often enough when talking about her and her twin. They muttered it under their breath when unexpected things happened, like the time a glass of water shattered as Alex was glaring at it, or when the room would grow colder when she was in a foul mood, even in summer sunlight.

She had memorized the sound of it, and it became something routine to her. After all, 'strange' was a good way of describing her life in general.

It was definitely ' strange' that she and Alex had been found wandering in an abandoned apartment complex with no recollection of how they arrived there. That was when they were 5.

Since then it's been an endless string of foster homes and group homes until at last , they turned 18.

17 years , and she had no memories of parents , or what events led to them being in that lonely abandoned apartment.

And now, they were on a bus in a new city, Alex was sleeping , and there was a man throwing grapes at the bus driver.

She sighed , checking the address again . "Stop the bus, please! We need to get off here!"

She nudged Alex awake , her twin yawning and squinting at her through his ginger hair. " What?"

"This is our stop. Our apartment is on this block. "

" Oh. Okay." Alex stood , stretching as he followed her off the bus. The Sun was shining brightly and the noise of the city was a cacophony of everything from loud K-Pop music to car horns and children crying .

Aubrey gazed up at the unimpressive brick building. "1352 Holland Boulevard. This is it. We're in apartment B 16. Hopefully our friend Mason moved our stuff into the right place. "

" Guess we'll find out. It's cold today, isn't it? "

" Alex, what are you talking about? It's 90 degrees out! "

"Really? It doesn't feel like that to me!"Alex shrugged, already pulling on his thick winter coat that , for some reason, he wore throughout the year.

A passing stranger stared at him. " A parka ? In summer? You're a strange one, huh?"

Alex merely glared at the man. After a moment, the guy seemed uncomfortable and wandered off.

Aubrey sighed. "Congratulations, dork, now we're getting called 'strange ' here , too!"

Alex laughed. " Welcome home, twin!"

 

Five minutes of confusion later, they were entering their apartment.

It was a nice set up : two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a living room area.

Mason had managed not only to deliver everything properly , but he'd also unpacked most of it. On the kitchen table was a wrapped gift basket with a note.

" Good luck in your new adventures! I hope I left everything in the right spot for you, but you can always rearrange! Enjoy this house warming gift! - Mason"

 

" Sweet! FREE THINGS!!" Alex grabbed the basket and unwrapped it with glee.

" Hey! Why don't you settle into your room first?"
Aubrey chuckled at his excitement. It wasn't often they got presents .

Mason had been their social worker for years, so he checked in on the twins now and then. He'd been happy to help them move, and had even gotten them jobs with a friend of his.

Alex smiled and tossed her some cookies from the basket. " I'll check out my room later. I'm hungry right now. "

Aubrey groaned. Food! That's what she'd forgotten to plan for!

"Ugh. We need to go grocery shopping. "

" On foot?"

"Yes, Alex, on foot. We don't have a car because apparently , vehicles overheat when you TOUCH them for some wild reason, and when I try to touch one, the gas tank freezes! "

"Okay, calm down, Bree! Let's go get food. Maybe eating will warm me up. "

" I'm very concerned that you think it's cold. It's sweltering here! Are you sick?"

" NO! I'm just cold. " Alex insisted, now putting on mittens.

Aubrey rolled her eyes. Mittens?! In JULY?!

Alex was so strange sometimes. But he'd always been like this, always complaining about the cold. The only time he ever seemed warm was when the temperature was in the hundreds and everyone else was dying of heat stroke.

 

But then, she was always too warm, unhappy with the heat around her unless the temp dropped to below zero. Then things felt normal to her. Alex would live happily in a desert and she'd be thrilled in the Artic.

'Strange' described the Blackthornes perfectly.

 

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" This is where we're supposed to work? Did Mason sign us up to be spies?! " Alex exclaimed, staring in awe at the building.

" No! At least, I don't THINK he did?" Aubrey replied, distracted by all the imposing windows. She'd never seen so many.

 

A man came out and greeted them. " Aubrey and Alex Blackthorne? Hi, I'm Doctor Lee Rosen! Pleasure to meet you! Please, follow me. "

They obediently followed him, Alex pausing to comment on decor or the heat, Aubrey dragging him along with annoyance.

The elevator deposited the trio onto a floor of offices and what looked like a break room , where three men and two women were seated at a table , chatting. Doctor Rosen cleared his throat , gaining the attention of all but one of those seated. The one not looking at Doctor Rosen was a young man around their age with black hair , who was fixated on watching his fingers as they played in the air.

Apparently used to this, Doctor Rosen spoke. " Gary, we have guests. "

The boy nodded. " Okay. Time for socialization. It's 9:00 , after all. "

Doctor Rosen turned to the twins.
" Aubrey, Alex, do you know why I asked you to work with me?"

Alex rose an eyebrow. " Because you wanted mischevious ginger twins on your staff?"

Aubrey laughed. So did Gary.

" No. You two possess unique gifts. I've looked into your files. Tell me, Alex, have you ever made something catch fire by glancing at it?"

Alex looked embarrassed. " Not on purpose! It just happens! "

Rosen smiled. " Cameron, would you mind holding up something inflammable? "

One of the men at the table nodded , and held up a small metal paperweight.

"Alex, look at that paperweight. Think of it catching fire. "

" WHAT?"

" Humor me, please?"

" Okay, but if it explodes , don't kill me!"

Alex narrowed his eyes, glaring intensely at the paperweight .
Thirty seconds later , Cameron yelped and threw it , the metal white-hot.

Alex whistled. " Did I do that?!"

Rosen nodded. " Yes! You're an 'alpha'! A genetically advanced human! You've evolved a trait no one else has! Your ability, as far as my research shows, is to control heat and flames. And your twin can control cold and ice, possibly water as well. "

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" Wait a second! What is going on here?! Are you saying... You mean there's other people besides Alex and I who can do weird things??? We aren't freaks of nature???"
Aubrey was suspicious. She'd seen how people had mistreated Alex for his ability over the years, and she wasn't about to let him be hurt AGAIN.

The temperature dropped, frost appeared on the windows .
" You...you better not be planning some trick! "

At her words, Doctor Rosen chuckled.
" We mean you no harm. Look around you, see what your emotions do? It seems from your file that for you, negative emotions , or powerful ones, cause the temperature around you to dramatically drop. This leads of course to freezing liquids and shattering solid objects if they freeze completely enough. And water seems to find its way to you when you are in distress. Whatever you gaze at when angry freezes instantly , and that has lead to trouble for you, hasn't it?"

Alex sighed. " Yeah. We've tried to stop freezing or burning things , but.... It won't go away. "

 

One of the women seated spoke. " Hi, I'm Rachel Pirzad. My ability effects my senses. I have heightened eyesight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. I can read a newspaper ten blocks away. But I also smell everything in that ten blocks. I know what it's like to live with a gift that effects your day to day life."

 

The others began telling their gifts .

Gary could see electro-magnetic frequencies.

Cameron had excellent control over his balance and movement that would backfire during times of stress. It also gave him excellent precision. His aim was incredible.

Nina could get her way simply by looking someone in the eye and asking. She had the ability to override free will by visual contact.

Bill had enhanced strength and could control his flight or fight response.

Each of them had struggled with their gift , and Aubrey felt like she could trust them.

Rosen explained that Alphas were people born with unique abilities, the next phase of evolution , and that some Alphas were dangerous , but most weren't .

His team existed to locate Alphas , assist them , and to fight the dangerous ones. Most of all, Doctor Rosen wanted peace between Alphas and ordinary humans.
He wanted to protect Alphas and help them to understand what their gifts were.

There were , of course, groups that would like Alphas like Gary on their side , since being able to access any electro-magnetic frequency would be highly useful for spies and shady dealings .

Or Alphas like Nina, who could get her way with ease.

Rosen tried to keep the Alphas with particularly powerful talents safe.

After explanations were done, the twins relaxed.

Aubrey settled in a chair next to Gary and asked him about what the drawbacks of his gift were , and she found herself charmed by the sweet , slightly awkward young man.

He began complaining immediately about the hum of microwave towers , and radio chatter. How blackouts scared him because the constant flow of information was not a river but a trickle.

He joked about how he unintentionally spoiled tv shows for his mother.

" I asked her how she felt when the main character in her favorite soap opera died. She got annoyed because apparently that episode hadn't aired in the U.S. "

He was funny and likable. She felt fond of him immediately.

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" May I ask what you three are up to? It looks....intriguing , to say the least. "
Doctor Rosen spoke as he entered the break room.

The table was set up with an elaborate domino chain, including a cleverly structured domino Jenga style tower that held a glass vase on top.

Alex , Gary , and Aubrey smiled. " We're betting Hicks twenty dollars that he can't knock our domino chain down without shattering the vase. Alex did the probability ratio on it. He says there's a one in eight thousand shot for an average person. So for Hicks , it's like, two in four thousand. Factoring in agility, balance, and aim, of course. " Gary explained proudly , fist bumping the twins.

"Bill said if Hicks breaks the vase , we get pizza. " Aubrey added slyly as Cameron entered.

Cameron Hicks whistled appreciatively at the domino set up , eyeing the vase nervously.

" So, do I have to knock over all the dominos?"

" Yes. NO CHEATING! You can't just toss something at the dominoes directly below the vase so it lands properly. No, you have to knock over each individual domino let the chain play out! As it goes , you can try to find a way to save the vase. You'll have about fifty seconds. "

Alex stated , eyes glinting with mischief.

Hicks sighed , and flicked a penny at the first domino in line. He quickly snatched Alex's parka , which was lying in a heap on the floor ,and prepared to toss it onto the table to cushion the vase's fall.

Alex, however , grabbed the parka away from Hicks .

So Hicks instead snatched Aubrey's hat , artfully flinging it beneath the vase as it fell.

The hat settled on the table, the vase landed, and the four of them rushed to see the result.

The twins leaned in closely, scrutinizing the vase solemnly. A minute of quiet later , the gingers stood , laughing.

" YOU CRACKED IT!" They announced gleefully, high-fiving each other and fist bumping Gary.

" What????? Damn you , you kids are too crafty.I want a rematch! "

" Fine, Hicks! It's YOUR money to waste!" Alex teased, waving his parka in surrender when Hicks glared at him.

Nina , Rachel, and Bill entered then , Nina immediately asking " Who won?"

" The Terrible Three here ." Hicks snapped, sulking.

Gary and the twins just laughed . Bill interrupted the mood by clearing his throat. " Doc, turn on the news. There's a situation you need to know about . A hostage situation."

Turning on the television, Doctor Rosen motioned for the group to sit.

The news broadcast was grim. " Channel 6 is here live outside Hakaido Tech's newest store in Queens , where hostiles have trapped five employees and the company's brilliant founder , Arashi Hakaido ! We've been sent a link to a live video feed from the hostile inside as they film their demands. So far , only an hour into the hostage situation, two employees are believed dead. Another two are injured. The fates of the fifth employee and Arashi himself haven't yet been shown.For those unfamiliar with Arashi Hakaido, he's the tech trader's newest star, innovating technology years ahead of anything else. He's created self replicating nanotechnology for use in medical aid and stronger metal alloys that will withstand the brunt of nuclear bombs without a scratch. He's commonly called "the Blind Visionary " by newspapers as a teasing reference to his lack of vision. We are unsure as to how Arashi lost his sight, as his past is quite a mystery, but being blind hasn't seemed to deter him ! Oh! Wait! We have new live footage!"

The camera cut to a computer screen , and a video began.

The video revealed a tech store that was ruined- display cases shattered, televisions hanging by sparking wires and lights flickering , sporadically illuminating the bloody floor littered with broken technology pieces and window glass.

Two very still forms lay in a far corner , nearly out of sight.

Two young males were propped against a display stand , one bleeding from a head injury and the other from a shoulder wound.

In the center of the store , five gunmen stood .

The gunmen in the middle each held a captive .

One seemed to be an employee , as his nametag was visible.

The other captive was dressed in a bloodied suit and wore a pair of sunglasses that had a broken lens on the left side. His long hair was being roughly held in the fist of his captor.

" All right! Listen up! We're part of The Hand of Mercy! We exist to eliminate the greatest threats to humanity: Alphas! And we want Mr. Hakaido here to help fund our cause! All we ask for is a simple 6 billion dollars. If he provides that , he can go home. "

" You want me to help you kill people ?! You DARE ask me that , when you've already murdered two of my employees and injured the rest of us? Alphas aren't wrong or a threat! YOU seem to be more of a threat! I won't help you terrorize innocent people!" Arashi protested, struggling to get out of the man's hold.

The captor scowled. " Such a shame. I bet Mr....Ryan really wanted to go home tonight. " He said menacingly , nodding to the gunman holding the employee.
A gunshot rang out , and Arashi screamed.

" NO!!!! NOOOOO!!!! HE WAS INNOCENT!!!! Ryan??? RYAN!!!! Please , please , just....just let the others go. I won't press charges. Just let us live. If you must kill , then...let it be me. These people are only here because it's their job. "

" Sorry, Arashi.The Hand of Mercy doesn't allow sympathizers to live."

Gunshots , screams , then silence. Slowly , a white-blue glow began to shine from Arashi , who was trembling with fury and despair.

His captor yelled in pain and let go as sparks began flying from Arashi's skin.

The gunmen watched nervously as the electrical equipment closest to the blind man was drained of power, volts of electricity rushing to him and being absorbed into him.

" You...you ....you killed them. All of them. Ryan. Katy. Blake. Mica. Thomas. They ...they had homes and hopes and dreams..... They were just doing their damn jobs....and you....you murdered them. HOW CAN YOU DO THAT? THEY WERE INNOCENT!!! You came here and just... I WON'T STAND FOR IT! You say you're the Hand of Mercy, that's a lie! YOU MONSTERS DON'T KNOW WHAT THE WORD MERCY MEANS!!!"

As his fury peaked, electricity arched from the young man , drawn to the guns and shocking the gunmen unconscious. The video cut out, the camera presumably damaged by the electrical activity.

 

The news returned. " Well, that was.... Unsettling. Authorities will be containing the scene and dealing with the punishment for the hostiles. "

Doctor Rosen shut off the tv, stunned.

"I have no doubt that Arashi is an Alpha, and an extraordinary one at that. We must get to him immediately and bring him to safety. Nina, we may need your persuasive abilities. Bill, use your connections with the FBI to create a cover story for Arashi's...electrical talent. "

 

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Within fifteen minutes , the group had managed to arrive at the store and within ten , a very exhausted Arashi was in their care. Nina had cleverly convinced an EMT that she was Arashi's aunt and the EMT had asked no further questions , simply letting her take Arashi's wheelchair away.

The unfortunate young man was bandaged in several places , his skin was pale and his face was pained even in sleep. One wrist was in a cast, and there was a line of rough stitches on his left forearm.

Nina handed Doctor Rosen the medical sheet the EMT had given to her detailing the man's injuries.

 

" Well team , let's get our new charge home. " Doctor Rosen said.

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~Arashi's POV~

The first thing I was aware of were the voices. I didn't recognize any of them, and that made me nervous. There were five men , one of whom sounded older than the rest , perhaps 50-60 years old. One had a tone of authority to it , he sounded like law enforcement of some kind. Another was calm but sarcastic , he sounded like he was a guy in his thirties , probably with a kid at home.And the last two didn't sound any older than me.

Three women as well . One sounded cold and harsh . The second was shy and kind. And the third was sarcastic and defiant .

What caught my attention next was the headache. It was awful.My head felt like someone had smacked it into a wall a dozen times. I tried to think back , recall what had happened , but the memories were gone. The last thing I remembered was leaving my apartment that morning.

Trying to sit up , I realized I was lying on a couch. Judging by the sounds it made when I moved, it was leather.My efforts to get up failed as soon as I put weight on my left wrist. I groaned , and cursed loudly in Japanese. What had happened to me ?! I sat up much more carefully ,a plethora of bruises making themselves known as I became more aware.

I could smell perfume- a heavy, expensive rose scent , a light peppermint scent , and one that reminded me pleasantly of home - cherry blossoms.

Cologne as well, Blue Suede and Axe , knockoff brands . A strong smell of someone's teriyaki noodles made my stomach growl.

This was definitely not my office at Hakkaido Tech , nor was it my new store. What was this place ? The voices hadn't sounded evil or menacing , save for the cold and harsh -sounding woman , but was I truly safe here?

I took a deep breath , and winced. My ribs didn't like that. I spoke loudly in English , since that's the language I'd been hearing the strangers use.

" Um...Hello? Where am I? Why am I here? "

The voices quieted quickly. I heard someone enter the room. Light , careful footsteps , as though they didn't want to frighten me.

" I must apologize to you , young Arashi. We've brought you here without asking you first, and that was rather rude of us. My name is Doctor Lee Rosen. I'm a friend , you can trust me. Now , do you understand English well , or would you prefer to converse in Japanese?" He said softly.

" English is fine , I'm fluent. Actually I'm fluent in a few languages. Doctor Rosen, I...I don't even remember what happened , but I'm injured. And this place doesn't smell or sound like a hospital. Why am I here? Do you know how I got hurt? What is this place anyway , and who are the other people I heard talking ? "

Doctor Rosen sighed. If I had to guess, I'd say he was giving me a look of pity. Most people did , at one point or another. When he spoke next , his words were laced with sadness. " Arashi .... May I call you that? " I nodded,and he continued. " Earlier today , you were taken hostage with the employees in your new store , and I'm afraid....you're the lone survivor. The group who took you hostage was cruel. You likely don't recall what happened, you got a major concussion in the ordeal. But that's not why you're here with me. I work with Alphas, humans with unique abilities.During the hostage situation, you revealed a very intriguing Alpha ability, one that , left unchecked, could prove dangerous. "

My head hurt , my heart racing as I tried to rember what he was talking about. Fragments came back to me - gunshots, screaming, the sound of breaking glass. A man had grabbed me , I struggled with him , and then there was...pain.
I didn't want to believe Doctor Rosen, but his voice was sincere.

" A hostage situation? Oh , God. How terrible! I've got to make a press appearance , apologize to families .... Help pay for funerals.. . Alphas? I've heard of them , but I.... I didn't think I was one! What's my ability?" I said quickly , my voice a bit quieter than I intended. My chest hurt , likely from damaged ribs.

Doctor Rosen laughed softly. " It appears to give you control over electricity. But we can talk about that later. For now , you should eat and get acquainted with the rest of my group. I assure you , you're safe here. "

 

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After a couple hours with them , I'd gotten reasonably comfortable with the others.

Cameron was kind to me , and Gary was quick to explain things when I was confused. Nina brushed me off and ignored me , but that didn't bother me. Rachel seemed shy , but friendly enough.The twins were funny, Alex telling me strange trivia , and Aubrey making jokes .

The most difficult thing was navigating. There were scents and noises that kept throwing me off. It wasn't like my apartment, where I knew my way around without help.

I felt clumsy , bumping into things and running into people, wandering into the wrong room. After getting rudely shoved out of Nina's office for the fifth time , Alex offered to be my tour guide, and he patiently showed me around every inch of the office floor , explaining things as precisely as he could , one warm hand placed on my elbow lightly to help steer me in the right direction.

" I know it's probably super disorienting right now for you , but don't worry! I'm a foster kid , I'm good at memorizing new places fast. I'm so sorry you got beat up , man. That sucks. That group of thugs were monsters! If I ever catch them, I'll put them in the ground for you. I'm new to the whole ' team of supers' thing too, so we can be rookies together! " He jabbered rapidly , his calm tone helping me relax.