The chair was uncomfortable. Not like a chair somebody grabbed out of a catalogue, mistakenly thinking it would be fine to sit in. This chair was uncomfortable deliberately. The whole room was uncomfortable. Too cold. Steel walls, steel floor, steel table, big inset mirror on one wall which you just knew was the one-way glass behind which who knows how many sullen agents in stuffy suits were trying to figure you out.

A door opened. A slim, silver-haired man walked in.

He seemed, if this was possible, a bit more like a real person than the rest of them. He was there when they'd 'detained me for questioning.' In fact, I had overheard him arguing with another agent about me; 'he's just a kid,' the silver-haired man had whispered with some harshness. Apparently whatever they were arguing about, he'd won.

"So," I twiddled my thumbs a bit, rolling a quarter back and forth between them. "Ain't you supposed to be guarding the President?"

"Secret Service does a lot of things you might not know about, son. Like dealing with counterfeiting."

I knew this was coming. "I ain't no counterfeiter, mister!!" I slammed a hand down on the table. When I withdrew it, three quarters were sitting there. Bicentennial quarters. "It's not-- it's not my fault."

The agent sat down across from me, in an equally uncomfortable chair. "I know, son, I know." He extended a hand. "My name's Jenkins. Sam Jenkins." He half smiled. "Call me Sam."

We shook hands. Then he looked at his palm and was only mildly surprised to find another pair of quarters in it. He left them on the table, and opened a manila folder that I hadn't even noticed he was carrying.

"Jason Robles. Age--" he glanced at me for a second, then back to his folder, "fourteen."

"Almost fifteen!!"

He ignored me, and read on. "Parents: deceased since August of last year. Car accident." He looked up from the file. "You disappeared after that. No known address." He snapped the folder shut. "How long you been living on the streets, kid?"

I shrugged, put my hands up. Each hand had a quarter in it.

Worldessly, the man-- Jenkins-- took something out of his pocket; looked like one of those remote car-locking things. He pointed it at the wall, and a panel slid open revealing a tv screen. Then the picture started playing. It was a bank security camera. No sound. I already knew what it would show. Me, this kid in line, with a heavily bulging bag -- you can't tell from the tape that it's full of rolls of quarters.

Two men enter the bank. The kid's back is to them, and suddenly they whip out shotguns. Their mouths are moving, barking orders; people are dropping to the ground and covering their heads. People, except for one kid in the middle of the fray, standing there holding a bag.

One of the men shoves that kid to the ground. The kid stands right back up, mouths off. He's flipping a quarter in one hand. The man raises his gun. The kid flips the coin high in the air. There's a flash of metal coming from the hand which just tossed the quarter, and the gunman jerks in surprise at the sharp pain in his hand. Then another flash and he grabs his face. The other gunman is walking over now, wondering what the fuck is going on. The kid cracks his neck and raises both hands, palms pointed toward each man. And suddenly a stream of quarters shoots out at them, almost knocking the kid off his feet, definitely knocking the gunmen off theirs. Every single one hits. Some draw blood. The gunmen stagger out the door they'd come in. The kid's hands drop to his side. A handful of coins can be seen dropping to the floor in either side. The kid looks around, there's surprise on his face; grabs his bag, and runs out. End of story.

"Naturally, we analyzed the quarters," Jenkins began; "bicentennials, all of them, identical down to the microscopic level, at least. Probably to the molecular. Seems you went on a field trip early last year? To the Wrenwroth Research Laboratory? Where they were working on a molecular duplication device."

"I don't-- I know-- I don't know what happened." Tears were coming. Great, now this fuckin' suit was gonna sit and watch me cry. "I got into this room I-- we-- we weren't supposed to go in. I had my lucky quarter that my dad gave me--"

"We know what happened. You were fiddling with the machine. You couldn't have known that the beam wasn't supposed to come in contact with metal, that it would reflect and scatter and go haywire when you went to catch that quarter. And you used both hands to. Son, listen to me. We want to help you, okay. We're not here to put you in jail."

I covered my face. A few wet quarters dropped to the floor.

"We know you've been living at the University campus. Sleeping on the benches. Living off the vending machines." He raised an eyebrow, inquisitively. "Paying for everything with bicentennial quarters."

My voice got very small. "It's all I have."

"I know, son, I know. That's.... well, there's something you need to know. And it's going to be hard to take, but you deserve to know."

I was confused. What could this guy possibly know that I needed to. He continued. "The accident your parents were in. We don't think it was an accident. We think it was somebody coming after you. Because of what happened in that lab. Because of the power it gave you."

It was all I could do not to cry again. "You think I don't know that, mister? Why d'you think I never went home, never went to see my relatives. You think I don't know it was my f-- my fau--" My voice cracked and I couldn't hold back the tears any more, just like I couldn't hold back the quarters from flowing out of my palms.

And then Jenkins' hand was patting me on the back, and he was telling me it wasn't my fault, it was an evil person's fault. And I wasn't evil, or I would've just let those guys rob that bank. And that they were going to catch the guy who did it, he'd see to it himself. And then the door opened again and a woman was standing there -- my mother's sister, Aunt Tilda.

"Your aunt is going to take care of you now." Jenkins continued to pat my shoulder, reassuringly, "and we're going to take care of you both, until we catch the bad guy.

I took two steps towards Aunt Tilda, then turned quickly. "Let me help. Let me help you catch him." I pleaded.

Jenkins half smiled and shook his head. "You've got a lot of guts, but you're a kid."

"I'm-- I have a superpower!!" I flashed my palm open, like a magician; a dozen quarters flew out, bouncing across the room.

Jenkins shifted. Just slightly. "Son, I've worked with some supers, and I can tell you, having a superpower does not make you a superhero. Or a supervillain, or a super-anything. You have a power, yes, but you can't control it. Not yet. That takes time. Training." He stood up straight. "You've heard of Dynamus?"

I nodded. After all, who hadn't heard of Dynamus, San Francisco's cyborg superhero who could shoot lightning bolts from his fingertips?

"He's an old friend of mine. He'll be visiting you later this week." Jenkins turned back to the monitor in the wall. He rewound to the part where the streams of quarters were shooting out, played it back in slow motion. "You know, the boys in the ballistics lab looked at that, they think you're on your way to having the firing power of a small-caliber handgun. That kind of power, you need to have absolute control over. You need to know when not to use it. That I can't help you with, but.... he just might be able to."

The three of us walked down the hall, towards the exit of the federal building. "You'll tell me, right?" I asked Jenkins. "When you catch the guy.... you'll tell me?"

He looked me square in the eye. "It'll be the first call I make."

Right before the exit door, I noticed a hallway -- I hadn't eaten all day. It was full of vending machines. I glanced up at Jenkins. He rolled his eyes and shrugged a bit, and just sort of looked the other way, as I dashed in and popped some quarters into the slots.

Quar"ter*mas`ter (?), n. [Quarter + master: cf. F. quartier-maitre.]

1. Mil.

An officer whose duty is to provide quarters, provisions, storage, clothing, fuel, stationery, and transportation for a regiment or other body of troops, and superintend the supplies.

2. Naut.

A petty officer who attends to the helm, binnacle, signals, and the like, under the direction of the master.

Totten.

Quartermaster general Mil., in the United States a staff officer, who has the rank of brigadier general and is the chief officer in the quartermaster's department; in England, an officer of high rank stationed at the War Office having similar duties; also, a staff officer, usually a general officer, accompanying each complete army in the field. -- Quartermaster sergeant. See Sergeant.

 

© Webster 1913.

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