Back in high school, I dated a guy who was heavy into ‘paras’, or parahumans. They were, supposedly, people who could do stuff that broke all kinds of natural laws. At the time, I’d thought him kind of immature for being into it, and filed it away under the same heading I used for telephone psychics and tarot card readers. Now, I was either going crazy, or living something like what the para websites talked about.
It was easy enough to find the sites my ex had frequented. A lot of them were so far off the beaten path google had never heard of them, but once I found the more common ones, it jogged my memory for the hidden ones, and before long I found parahumans.info.
It kind of skeeved me right from the start. I mean, usually when something wasn’t a .com it was a .edu or .net, or something regional like Russia’s .rus. I hadn’t even known .info existed, and it took a couple minutes of googling before I accepted it was a legit web domain.
The site itself was badly designed, with lots of pictures right on the front, and an entire page of para-related videos that all loaded at once when you clicked the ‘proof!!!’ link. I was about to give up on that particular site when I happened upon the forums.
Unlike the main site, the forums were organized and none of the videos tried to load until you actually clicked the links, so it didn’t strain my poor low-speed internet. I faffed around a bit until I came upon a thread dedicated to Chicago’s paras.
It was mostly the same kind of stuff that had been on the other sites – someone blowing fire with a lighter poorly hidden in one of their hands, someone else saying they’d jumped to the top of a building that anyone brave and athletic enough could get to the top of – but one thread caught my attention.
It was titled ‘Mirror’, and the thread starter was called ‘Predator’. I swallowed hard, and clicked.
‘Mirror, mirror, in her car
how I wonder what you are.
a’shiver in the parking lot
I watched as you and your lock fought
I’m no poet, gorgeous. I’ll be coming to have a little para-to-para chat this Friday after your last class lets out. You’ll know who I am.
I stared at the screen. If there were words for exactly how creeped out I was, I didn’t know them. The post was dated earlier today, and while there were a lot of other people commenting on what a troll Predator was for doing this, the thread starter hadn’t said a word after the initial post.
I logged off the site and tried to distract myself with homework. Predictably, it didn’t work. First I find out I can do weird glass-teleporting stuff, then someone else finds out about it and sends me creepy messages through a site I’d never been to.
I have several unpleasant theories as to why, but for some reason it never occurred to me to just not go to my last class on Friday, or to get Campus Security to escort me to my car. After all, I’d hardly be the first person worried about a stalker, abusive ex, or mugger; Campus Security would be more than happy to walk me to my car.
Truth is, for all that it stressed me when I actually thought about it, I spent the next few days in a pretty normal headspace. I studied, screwed around online, and went to my one shift a week at the local grocery store. I teleported through my shower door a few times just to reassure myself I wasn’t actually going crazy, but other than that, it was just my life.
Then Friday came, and I met Predator.
The day started out pretty normal. I went to class, studied during breaks. My World Civ professor had a droning tone of voice that made my teeth hurt if I let myself linger on it, and as I was trying not to think about Predator and the ‘little para-to-para chat’, I lingered.
World Civ let out, and I shoved my books in my backpack and shrugged it on, dreading what came next. It hit me that I didn’t know exactly when Predator would be coming, just that it would be after my last class let out. For all I knew, Predator would be waiting on my doorstep when I got back, or would appear in my room or something.
I knew that them somehow getting into my room was ridiculous, but so was Predator knowing about the mirror thing. So was the mirror thing in specific, or paras in general. The whole thing was threatening to derail my ten-year plan, and that more than anything bothered me.
“The camera footage doesn’t do you justice.”
I jumped a half-foot in the air, whirling in place to face the voice.
Now, when I imagined Predator, I had this vague image in my head of a greasy middle-aged guy with horrific acne and coke bottle glasses. There may have also been one of those unmarked work vans in the background, and he was definitely carrying rohypnol. Stereotypical, maybe, but with the way Predator had approached me, I think I can be forgiven a little stereotyping.
The real-life Predator was a tall, muscular girl, with dark blonde hair pinned up in a tight bun at the back of her head. She wore a tight black blouse and tight black skinny jeans, with a dark blue windbreaker over it. I didn’t see it, but I could almost sense the weapon she kept on her person. She smirked lazily during my (involuntary) inspection, and I felt myself turning redder and redder.
“Mirror, I presume?” Not only was she drop-dead gorgeous, but her voice was the kind that made little old ladies drop dead away. Whiskey-smooth with just a little bit of purr underneath, she enunciated in ways that should have been illegal.
“Aiyana,” I corrected, nervously jamming my hands in my pockets. “Um… is there something I can call you that isn’t Predator?”
She laughed, reaching out to brush the back of her index finger against my cheek. (I shivered. I couldn’t help it.) “Predator’s the only name that matters, Mirror. You must be new, to think the old things will last into the new world.”
Why, yes, that is exactly the point my self-defense mechanism overrode my hormones.
“Wait, what?” I blurted out, stepping back. Before Predator could say anything else, I shook my head, cutting her off. “Can we not talk about this in public?”
She nodded, looking inordinately pleased with herself, until I added, “somewhere within sight of the security cameras but not within earshot.”
Her smirk turned into a frown at that, but she nodded again, and followed me out of the building.
I led her into the parking lot. Despite the real lack of Security when I’d done my mirror thing the first and second times, the parking lot was pretty heavily monitored in most places. I stopped about where I judged no one coming out would hear us, but stood directly in the line of sight of no less than two of the cameras.
“What the hell is all this ‘new world’, ‘old world’ stuff?” I asked before Predator could speak.
She scowled, but answered, “it’s the world the Named will bring about.” (I could hear the capitalization in her tone, and a shiver ran up my spine. It was not a good shiver.) “We’re beyond regular humans, most of us far beyond even cutting-edge technology.”
“Who are the Named?” My fingers itched for a notebook and pen. It felt slightly ridiculous to want to take notes on something so outlandish, but this was something intruding into my life, and I wanted all the information I had to be as accurate as possible.
She chuckled at that, a teacher condescending to repeat a lesson the favored pupil should have learned already. “We are. Paras, Named, superheroes- supervillains if you’re feeling saucy. They all mean the same thing: we’re above everyone else.”
I took a step back. “Some fancy mirror tricks don’t mean I’m above anyone. Besides, I don’t have any proof you’re anything but a normal human being. For all I know, you’re some… some government agent trying to get me alone and take me to a lab somewhere.”
More chuckling, and her eyes smoldered. “Oh, I would love to keep you all tied up, but I’m not with the government. I’m just… an interested party.”
“Okay, prove it,” I lifted my chin, “do something a regular human couldn’t.”
She shook her head. “It doesn’t work like that. I’ve got one of the more low-key Names. I can track, I can take a lot of punishment, and I’m stronger and faster than anyone but Olympic athletes, but I don’t have one of those flashy Names.”
I took another step back. “Until you can prove you’re a para, I’m gonna assume you’re some creep who hacked into the school cameras and decided to screw with some poor college student.”
I watched a couple different emotions flash across her face: shock, anger, and finally irritation.
“I just told you, I’ve got a low-key Name.” She folded her arms over her chest, cocking a hip. “I don’t know what you’re looking for, but I can’t breathe fire or scale buildings, and I’m not getting in a fight just because you’re a skeptic.”
I shrugged, crossing my arms over my chest in turn. “Until you’ve got proof, I’m not going to believe you.”
‘You’re hot and all,’ I thought to myself, ‘but I’m not even sure I believe paras exist.’
Silence settled, and she attempted to stare me down. When it didn’t work, she grumped (yes, literally grumped) and rolled her shoulders.
“What if I got someone with a flashy power to come show you?”
“That’d be a start,” I allowed.
She flashed a feral grin. “Great! I’ll be back in contact as soon as I get a hold of an acquaintance of mine.”
“Back in contact how?” I asked warily.
“Well,” she drawled, “I can try one of those missed connections type posts on parahumans.info, or….”
“Or?” I prompted, raising an eyebrow.
“Or you could give me your number,” she grinned, reaching into an inside pocket of her windbreaker and taking out a top-of-the-line phone.
I eyed her. “My number. I don’t even know your name.”
Her grin didn’t falter. “You know the only Name that matters.”
Truth be told, I’d given people my number without knowing much about them. Cute boys at parties, girls in the G&S department. I usually put them under names like, “Carrie party with the crazy shirtless guy” or “John 9in”, but the thing was, none of them were claiming to have powers straight out of comic books. I could get a restraining order if I needed to weed some crazy bitch out of my life, and my brother was big and imposing enough to dissuade any attempts to stalk me at home.
“Or I could just track you down again,” Predator suggested, with a too-casual shrug.
“No, phone is fine,” I took her phone when she gave it to me, and punched in my number. She took it back, and then I belatedly realized what she’d said. “Track me down again?”
“Sure,” Predator grinned, “I got wind of a Naming in the area, so I decided to go on the hunt. Found you, didn’t I?”
I frowned, suddenly a lot less sure about giving her any way to continue being in my life. “And how did you hear about my… naming… exactly?”
“I’ve got sources,” she waved off my concern, and turned to walk away, “I’ll text you when I talk to my guy. Kisses, Mirror.”