I wished I did. More than anything, I wished I understood what the girl in front of me was saying.
“Your parents left you because you’re a freak. They didn’t want you,” sneered Mindy, a girl from my gym class. Was she angry with me? I always had a hard time trying to decipher people’s emotions.
“They are my parents, of course they wanted me. Otherwise they wouldn’t have had me.”
It was the truth; if you didn’t want children then the logical answer would be not to have them.
“Oh, they wanted kids all right. My momma told me how much they dreamed of the perfect family, but instead they got you. Freak of nature. They didn’t want a kid as fucked up as you. They left you in that big, empty house to start a new family.” Her words seemed cruel, but she was smiling while saying them.
“Okay,” I murmured. It didn’t seem like the real reason my parents were gone. I didn’t know why they left, but the words Mindy was spewing didn’t seem logical, so I couldn’t see why someone would do something like that.
My mind was having a hard time being surrounded by all these girls. I didn’t know how I was supposed to act. Them being around me was making my skin itch, and my body tensed from being so uncomfortable. All I wanted to do was get away from their group and wrap my arms around my sweater.
The bell rang, signaling class was over, and my senses went wild. The anxiety from the confrontation and the noise jarred me.
I tried my breathing techniques to calm my mind, but they were useless. I felt a meltdown coming and knew that the girls would just use my breakdown as more ammunition. I didn’t want to give them anything else for their arsenal, so I ran.
Pushing past the girls, not caring if they fell from the force, I ran out the doors to the parking lot.
Barely to the woods, I crumbled.
My hands gripped my white hair hard, trying to pull out the strands, as if it would ease the pain in my mind. I screamed loudly, letting all the frustrations of what I wasn’t capable of understanding out, but I still couldn’t pull myself together. My body was in the driver’s seat of this meltdown, and my mind was just along for the ride.
I thrashed and screamed, hoping no one came out to watch me.
I had a hard-enough time at school as it was.
My hopes had been dashed when the school counselor saw me and came running over.
“Gwendolyn. Breathe. Focus on the feel of water between your fingers, the coolness of metal against your touch.”
She was trying to get to me, and I wanted to focus. Truly I did, but I was too far gone.
“Oh God.” Her voice was strange, and I opened my eyes, not understanding the reason for her tone.
A blue car near us was melting, and the white SUV next to that was being squished as if something was pressing down on it.
“Gwendolyn, honey. I need you to tell me something before you go into shutdown. Did your parents lie about your age? Are you sixteen?” She gripped my shoulders, and I pushed her away harshly. I didn’t mean to, but I didn’t want her to get hurt.
“Gwendolyn, answer me.” She wasn’t shouting, so I just couldn’t tell whether she was angry or not. She definitely didn’t look happy. Why was she wanting to know how old I was? My parents wanted me to be with the elite kids at school, so they told everyone I was fifteen. So I’d fit in.
“Today’s my birthday,” I whispered and felt the final stage of my meltdown taking over. I’d shut down and pass out.
But just before I closed my eyes, I saw every car in the parking lot crumble like a ball of aluminum.
Being on the spectrum, diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, sucked. But being a girl who could manipulate metal sucked even more.
Mindy was right; I was a freak.
“So, what you’re saying is that you want to give away your cozy robots for free?” Phillip Griffin, the head of Griffin Enterprises, sat across from me in his large office, his brow furrowed.
“I wouldn’t say that’s what I wanted unless it truly was. I know personally how much good these robots can do to people with needs. Not just kids, but everyone stuck in a hospital.”
I believed in my robots and have been tinkering for years to get them just right. They were finally ready for mass production.
Phillip was a tall man, blond hair, hazel-brown eyes, and lean. He’d always been nice to me, never making me feel like I was different. Instead he made me his chief robotics engineer. Right now, I was throwing myself on the line for this project.
“Have you thought about my other offer?” His eyes sparkled, and from what I’d learned over the years, that meant he was excited but curious. I wished I’d have brought Pops with me to this meeting; he was always helpful at deciphering emotions for me.
“If I join the Hero Society, will you accept my project and its price?” I countered.
He’d been after me to join his secret society of superheroes for a year now. I remembered the world before Phillip and his gang turned back time. It was great at first, but then the world fell. They had their second chance, and so far they had been doing it the right way this time. But I wasn’t good with social situations, he knew that. I wasn’t the type of hero to jump in front of a bullet or run into a burning building to save people. I wished I was.
“I can agree to those terms. We can test the product at Seahill Hospital. After the results from a one-month trial come back in positive, we can start mass producing. As for the Society, I don’t expect you to hang out with everyone, just that when your skills are needed, you take a leap and come. Both in robotics and your other power.” He winked, and I sat there running through my mental pros and cons.
“I’m not sure I’m your typical hero,” I confessed, feeling the idea more in the con section than the pro one.
“There is no perfect hero—just people trying to help in the ways they can.” He leaned over and gave me an intense stare.
“You have so much more to give this world than you give yourself credit for.” He could see I was uncomfortable, so he looked away and put on a kind face.
“No rush, think it over. I don’t expect you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with. Think you can have thirty cozy robots out to the hospital by the end of the week?”
Numbers I could do. Thirty robots would be simple.
“Sounds good. If you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to call. Keep up the good work, Gwendolyn.” He smiled, and I smiled back, feeling like my vision for people who needed a friend would come to fruition.
The elevator ride down the few floors to my office was quick, and thankfully there was no one in there that I had to try to make small talk with. I sucked at small talk. I never knew what I was supposed to say, or when. So, I usually just stood there with a straight face, looking at something on the floor or wall.
The people I passed on the robotics floor didn’t wave to me or greet me as I passed. No doubt they were instant messaging each other, cracking jokes about the human robot who was heading back to her charging station, as they liked to call my office.
Things didn’t get better after high school. I was continually picked on. People tried to belittle me, and I had no friends besides the guidance counselor, Lynn.
She had a sister who came into powers when she turned sixteen but died a few years later. Apparently if you suppress your powers, they will consume you.
The Hero Society, when they re-established last year, had spread the word about people with powers and how they had come to be.
The old Greek gods and goddesses were dying and threw their powers out into the DNA of mankind. These powers stay hidden until they land in the perfect host, and then on their sixteenth birthday—Boom! —they have some sort of superpower.
They’d been given to humans to protect each other. Used for good. Of course, some people tried to go the other way and use them for their own self, but that’s where the Hero Society stepped in. They were the protectors of mankind. They had been doing a good job this second time around.
I hit the right key code in front of my door and walked in after the beep.
My office was fairly large. All white, glass windows, and completely organized. Chaos was not something I did well. I like routine and structure.
“How did it go?” Pops was sitting on my desk, waiting for me to come back.
“All right. He is letting me do a one-month trial and asked if I would consider joining the Hero Society.” I walked over to my refrigerator and grabbed myself a bottle of water.
“You should do it. Could be fun.”
“I’m not the superhero type,” I told him, rolling my eyes.
My chair was comfy as I sat down and sipped my drink.
“But you get to wear a cool costume.”
I laughed at my friend’s words.
Pops was a six-inch robot that I’d created as a graduation present. Back then he couldn’t do any outrageous tasks except move and put a ball through a hoop. Over the years I’d advanced him, and now he was his own little person, programmed with emotional recognition and a full range of thoughts and actions. He was my best friend.
Pops’s real name was Popeye, after the TV show I watched as a child. His original torso shell was actually made from a Popeye Spinach can. We kept it for a while, but he asked for an upgrade a few years ago, and I figured it was time. His arms were thin and could move like any humans could, same with his legs. He had a small line for a mouth, but his internal speaker made him sound like his voice was coming from his little lips.
His black eyes were looking at me, and even though he couldn’t move them expressively, I was able to tell what his mood was by his tone. He’d taught me that.
Tiny clinks on the desk brought my attention to my other friend: Cora, my robot dragon.
I like reading fantasy novels in my spare time, and I’ve always been obsessed with dragons, so Cora was a fun project. She has evolved quite well, and now acts like both a cat and dog, depending on the situation. She couldn’t talk like Pops, but she was highly intelligent.
Her length, from her snout to the tip of her metal tail, was about eighteen inches. She was completely covered in shiny metal, but her eyes were big and blue. She opened her mouth and huffed—her way of saying hello—while walking on all fours over to me.
She was considerably light since I used tungsten for the robotic parts, microlattice for the exterior, and for the wings I used graphene. All were very durable metals, and lightweight, making her the perfect agile and strong creature that she was.
Cora was my guardian when I had my little meltdowns. She protected me until I came back around after a half hour or so. Her little body held many extra traits. She could lift up to two hundred and fifty pounds and could fly, but carrying that weight while in flight was something we were working on. She was also able to create a small flame from her mouth, but has programming that restricts her from using it unless I or she were in danger. Though, she found ways around it sometimes.
Both Pops’s and Cora’s batteries held enough energy for three days, but I gave them both some solar charging panels just in case they didn’t make it to their charging beds in time.
“He’s putting my cozy robots out there, and for the price I’m asking. I should be able to help people, right?”
I didn’t know how great I’d be at being a hero, but I felt like I did have things I could offer this world to people who were hurting and alone.
Pops didn’t say anything, letting me form my own thoughts, and Cora was eyeing a reflection of light on my desk like she was about to pounce on it.
I drank another sip of water and toasted myself: to being a hero, and whatever madness would entail.