Ashes 2-III

That Time Again

The sound of sizzling greeted me as I padded downstairs, socked feet on carpet. “There you are.” Dad turned to look at me from where he stood in front of the stove. “Did you fall asleep again?”

“Nah,” I said as I swung myself onto one of the chairs behind the breakfast bar, “I just had some, uh, hair troubles.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Right. Well, I hope these ‘uh hair troubles’ weren’t too major.” He grinned at me, and I smiled back. Dad and I got on well; Mom always said I’d always taken after him, and, at least in looks, she wasn’t wrong. We shared the same face, and although I didn’t have ears as elephantine as his, they were still pretty big. Thankfully, I’d dodged his shock of bright red hair, Mom’s blonde having diluted it.

“Nothing major,” I agreed sheepishly. “What’s cooking?”

“Eggs,” he said, turning back to the stove. “Want some?”

“Ehh, I’m good. We got any of those protein bars left?”

“Hanners, you really shouldn’t eat so many of those. It’s not healthy.”

“It’s healthy,” I protested as I leant down to dig through the cupboard below the bar. I found one hiding behind the cereal boxes and pulled it out. “See? It’s got…” I paused and read the label. “Wow. That is… a lot. Of things. Lots of things.”

“See?” He sounded satisfied. “I told you-”

He was cut off by the sound of me ripping the wrapper off and shoving the whole bar in my mouth. “Mnorrh, twm lmte.”

He sighed. “You’re impossible, Hannah.”

“Ahm-” I swallowed the whole lot in one massive gulp, “I’m storing up fat for the winter.”

He pointed outside, to where at least a foot of snow covered our garden.

“Well, that just makes it even more important, doesn’t it?”

“Impossible.” He sighed again, but it was good-natured.

“Mom already left?” I asked, hoping she had, as he flipped the eggs flamboyantly onto a plate with some toast. "Showoff," I added offhand as he slid the plate across the counter, then walked around and sat down next to me.

“Yeah, some big thing at work going on right now. She left an hour ago, but with this weather I’d be amazed if she got there yet. Speaking of, you going to be okay getting to school?”

I looked outside. The snowfall had obviously been heavy, but it wasn’t snowing now, and the sun shone brightly, reflecting off the pristine snow.

“I think I’ll be fine. Honestly, the glare’s probably going to be the worst.”

He chuckled through a mouthful of food. “Trwue enoff.” Swallow. “Heading off now?”

I glanced at the clock. 9:20, and school started at 10:00. “Probably should, yeah.” I swung off the chair, and started heading back upstairs to grab my bag. “Might be a bit early, but I’m supposed to meet Sabi on the way, so it should even out.”

He looked at up from his plate, surprised. “Oh, is she back at school now?”

I shrugged. “Apparently. She texted me yesterday.”

“Any idea what it was?” he asked, an odd look on his face. My best friend had basically all but disappeared about a month ago, and all attempts to communicate with her had resulted in voicemails and unread messages. But now, apparently she was back. 

“No, she hasn’t said. I think it was family stuff, but I haven’t been prying.”

He nodded, then looked down at his plate. “Fair. Maybe I'll try and drop in on them later if I get the time, see if everything's smooth sailing."

I winced. "Ah, no, Dad, don't do that."

"Why not?"

"Just... don't pry, you know? You know what they're like about that sort of stuff."

"True," he acknowledged. "Gymnastics this afternoon, then?”

“No, not today.” There was, but I wanted to try and get some time to experiment with my new-found powers.

“Alright. I’ll be back later; going round the lake to run some tests.”

“What kind of tests?” I asked, interest piqued.

“Standard sort of stuff, just readings and the like. But we’ve managed to find ourselves a Titan-class who can withstand the radiation, so we can get right into the center of the Blast.”

Dad worked for Vault 101, the small government taskforce that had been created about ten years ago with the express intent of figuring out if Old Chicago could be made inhabitable again, after it became clear that the radiation from the Blast wasn’t going away any time soon. From what I’d picked up over various dinners, their current avenue of attack was energy-absorbent powers, and they’d been petitioning the government to let them borrow John Doe to run some experiments.

“Well, good luck with that. Hope it goes well.”

He acknowledged me with a nod as he turned back to his food. I headed up back up the stairs and to the office, where I kept my bag and school stuff. The room was an odd triangle shape, and we’d never been able to figure out why, but we’d taken advantage of it as best we could. One corner of the room was my dad’s, with various beeping things and tools arranged neatly in rows, another mom’s, with papers and pens scattered everywhere, along with a few mugs of cold tea scattered here and there. The third corner, of course, was mine.

I like to think of myself as an organized person. I’m not, but I like to think of myself as one. I’d decided to get around that in my workspace by simply having very little stuff. A single pad sat in the exact middle of the desk on its charging cradle. On the right side, perfectly aligned with the edge, a single pen and piece of paper, on the left, my phone, also in its charger and also aligned with the edge. On the wall were a few posters of various pieces of media, and a laminated wallboard planner.

I grabbed my bag, an old canvas satchel, from under the desk and slipped the pad into the main pocket. The pen and paper went into the front, the phone in my pocket, and I was ready to go.

I waved goodbye to Dad, who was finishing off his breakfast in the kitchen, grabbed my coat, gloves and hat from the rack, opened the door and stepped out into the cold.