The incident at the campground was as terrible as it was unexpected. Sierra, for all of her skills and constant over-preparation, couldn't outrun a speeding bullet, or jump a skyscraper in a single bound. While she was many, she was undeniably human.
When the attack began, her first instinct had been to take cover. With this many super-powered people around, fireballs and explosions would undoubtedly follow suit. She wasn't looking to be turned inside out by someone's mind, and if statistics were anything to go by, friendly fire was going to be just as big of a threat as the assailants. When she felt the first of her collective suddenly sever from her consciousness, she realized then that she would have to run.
Most of her made it out, some dragging others. Some were saved. Some weren't. When Sierra looked at her hands now, all she could think about was the ringing her her ears and the blood and dirt that caked her hands afterwards. In the grand scheme of things, there was still a few of her on the mainland, and some of her at the school. There was almost no real threat to her. Her lives were many- meaningless even, on their own. Her peers only had one. She should have multiplied- ran into the battle to drag out the injured. So what if a few of her took a round? That would've been one more round that her classmates wouldn't have had to take.
Should've been, even.
But she didn't. Her survival instinct, or cowardice, took control.
Nobody blamed her- probably in part because she was so new and so many people didn't know what she was capable of, but she blamed herself. So here she was, few friends, no house to call her own. A few bullshit classes that she could do in her sleep these days, and nothing but time to wallow in her thoughts on what had transpired. She found herself at the library a lot. A few other copies of her went off to do their own thing- as she always willed, but they were just following orders and going through the motions, too. It was hard. It all felt so... exhausting.
At least her books had happy endings.
"I came to Pacific Royal because I needed help getting my abilities under control. They've helped me do that, and with the H.E.A.T. program, who knows? I can run into fires without getting hurt. I've interned at a few fire-rescue operations as part of my schooling. I'll never forget my first rescue- that little girl... she called me a super hero."
Her finger hovered above the right click on her mouse, and then hit the restart. She listed to the young man's words. Again. Again. Again. This young man had the ability to turn to stone and was using it to be a fire fighter. This interview was old now, having come out in the year of our lord, 2017, but there were dozens like it, in which PRCU interviewed previous students who were either at the tail end of or had completed their tenure at the school. This place did a lot of good. Both for her people and for the world. Yet here she was- running away from the call to action like a coward.
Sierra was about to click it again when the felt the floor beneath her shake some in time with footsteps, and then heard the groan of the chair next to her. She glanced over- then up. Her vision was obscured by an impossibly large fellow- whom had folded himself up rather comically to sit on the chair and be able to reach the computer. He was so big that his head, even while sitting, towered above her standing height by a good two feet. His frame blocked the view of anything behind him. Behind him, a long scaled tail thicker than her entire torso draped along the floor- curling around their seats like some sort of black and white anaconda. He was also out of uniform? Adjourned in a navy blue hoodie with the PRCU logo and grey sweat pants. His hood was up= but as she leaned forward to get a better look at her neighbor, there was an indistinguishable snout that peered out from under the hood. His eyes, each the size of baseballs, were focused on the screen. She must've been staring for too long, because when he blinked, they were looking at her.
She squeaked, and sat back in her chair, eyes forward. He had caught her red handed. She tried to focus on what was in front of her but the interviews seemed far less interesting now. She contemplated changing to a new video, but an enormous hand, well over a foot in diameter, waved in front of her screen. The claws- god, they had to be over four inches long. She meagerly turned her head, expecting that this was her end-
His voice was so deep that she could feel it. She looked at him and he looked at her, his other hand having plucked out a comically tiny airpod that must've been hidden behind his hood. Surprisingly, his voice wasn't unfriendly. Just... neutral. She looked down at the keyboard and tried to find the words to answer. This was a person, and she was ogling him like an animal at the zoo.
"You smell stressed. I'm not bothering you, am I? I can sit somewhere else."
"No=no, you're fine. I'm just lost in thought." she answered, almost too quickly. Wait, smelled stressed? Just how did he know that?
"You're new, aren't you. Part of the recent class. Went camping right?"
Sierra didn't answer, her fingers instead gripping the table so hard that her knuckles turned white. She felt the weight of an enormous hand rest on her shoulder. She turned to look at the weight and briefly marveled at how gentle he was despite his size. He was warm, too. Despite looking reptilian, he was warm blooded. How did he know she was new?
"Yes. To all of that. How'd you know?"
"Everyone smells different." he said, moving his hand away from her shoulder. "I recognize everyone in this school by their smell. Well, almost everyone. I'm sorry that happened to you, that must've been awful."
They fell silent now, neither quite knowing what to do or say to one another. It was his turn to seem uncomfortable now- realizing that he had touched a nerve. Way to ask a terror attack victim about the terror attack. Maybe he should start shooting off fireworks in a neighborhood with a lot of veterans. She was still looking at the table and he was lost. He was always bad with talking to people.
"Hey," he said, managing to her her attention. He offered her his hand. "My name is Henry."
She looked at his meteor-palms and then at him, and offered her own- a hand smaller than even one of his fingers, and shook as best she could. "Sierra. It's nice to meet you, Henry. What year are you?"
"American college sophomore equivalent. Hard to keep track of how this school does it." he said, crossing his arms. "House Ursus." he looked between her and the computer, and pulled his hoodie down to reveal a muscular, serpentine neck that was just as scaly as the rest of him was. He was certainly impossible to attribute to a person, and frankly looked only roughly human. Sierra wondered what that meant for him. He spoke up before she could go down that rabbit hole much more. "Big dreams?" he said, motioning to the graduate interview on her screen.
She laughed, a dry sad cackle. "A while ago I'd say yes. Now I'm not so sure."
He hummed, sensing the subject's sensitivity and changing the subject. "Know anything about Kafka?"
She perked up. Kafka was, in her opinion, the greatest short story author in history. Did his scent reveal the future or something? "Plenty, The Lady With The Little Dog is my favorite. Why?"
"I'm writing about him. HU 302, Studies in Literature. I've chosen 'The Metamorphosis'. I need some help."
"That's his most famous work. A bit basic, yeah?"
"Well, it's less about the piece itself and how it can be re-evaluated by a modern audience. The professor wants my thoughts on it. You can probably see why." Henry said, motioning to all of him with an awkward smile. Sierra stifled a laugh. "Didn't your professor just call you a roach? What do you even need my help with if it's so personal?"
Henry smiled back at her. All teeth, but she didn't feel scared of him anymore. He motioned for her to look at the table, and then placed his enormous hand on his keyboard. It clicked them- while he could 'type', these keyboards were made for people an order of magnitude smaller than him. He just needed a scribe. "Say no more. Scooch." she said, pushing the hulk of a man playfully. Henry swatted at her hands and eased himself over a foot or so, probably to avoid stressing the chair he was in any more than necessary. "Alright, from the top, Goji."
"You know, that could be an insult."
"Is being called humanities' savior really all that bad?"
"Of course not. I'm just half Japanese."
It didn't make what happened better. There was still tons and tons of emotional unpacking to do. Between her family and what happened at the campsite. But talking to someone about anything else made it feel easier now. Less overwhelming.