I stood opposite him, arms folded over my chest. “Right, what animal-like tricks have you got?”
“Well, um, I’ve got a sting. At will, I can make a poisonous needle appear out of the top of my right index finger.”
“Okay, what effect does that have?”
“It doesn’t really cause much harm but it can make you itch like crazy. And I mean crazy.”
“So in combat it would be distracting, would you say?”
“Definitely,” he assured me, widening his eyes to emphasise his answer. “All you can think about is the itching.”
“That’s good. What else?”
“I can make my body go as soft as liquid, and then obviously back to hard again. Like the sea cucumber. So I can be mush and wiggle through little cracks or anything like that.”
“Interesting,” I drawled. “So it’s slightly similar to how Stuart can shred into molecules and then reassemble himself.”
Denny nodded. “I can ooze slime out of my pores, too. It’s the most amazing slime – I can wrap someone in it and suffocate them. A little like with Hagfish.”
“I’m impressed. Anything else?”
“He can jump higher than you can believe,” Harvey spouted out.
I twirled and raised a brow at Harvey. “I can’t remember asking you anything so pipe down. You’ll get your minute in the spotlight in a sec, big boy.” I had to think of this as a classroom of students; let one get away with something and they’ll all try it, and then before you know it you’re at risk of losing total control of the students. I turned back to Denny. “As you were saying...”
“Yeah I can jump really high. Better than a frog – about as good as a colepod.”
“You can accelerate as fast as five-hundred body-lengths per sec when you jump?” He nodded. “Wow.”
“I’m not too crazy about the last one…” All the blokes started giggling quietly so I knew this had to be embarrassing for Denny. He closed his eyes as he confessed, “I can release an anal musk. Like a skunk.”
I couldn’t help wanting to laugh. Not at Denny, it was just the shock of what he’d said. I didn’t laugh, of course. But the other recruits all did which was a shitty thing to do because they already knew about it so it wasn’t a shock, and they knew just how embarrassed he was. It was hard not to be protective of the baby-faced boy. So I got an idea. “Show me.”
“Pardon?” said Denny.
“I just want to know how bad it is. You can test it on your friends there.”
I heard an ‘Oh hell no’ and a ‘No way’ and a ‘Not a chance’.
I turned to look at them all. “It wasn’t a request. Every one of you has just been giggling like a school girl at Denny here. So why shouldn’t he get to have a good laugh? Tit for tat.”
“Oh, come on, Coach, we were just laughing,” said Damien. “You gotta admit it’s funny.”
“All of you line up by the eastern wall,” I ordered.
“Coach, please, don’t be tight!” begged Max.
“We laugh no more,” promised Reuben.
“Unfortunately for you lot, I am unmoved. Either you walk over there yourselves or I’ll air-blast the lot of you over there.”
Grumbling and whining and holding their noses, they all lined up.
Denny looked at me, giggling, and said quietly, “You’re just kidding, right? You don’t really want me to do it?”
“Oh I do. See, I had a skunk do it to me once and I know it’s bad. I promise you Denny if you do this now they’ll never laugh about this again. Think of it as a learning experience for them.”
“Yeah, a learning experience,” he agreed, working up the nerve to go do it. I think he found it a teensy bit mean. Sucking in a mound of air, he added, “It’s for their own good.”
I nodded. “Exactly.” Then I patted him on the back. “Go, boy, go. And don’t be shy about how much musk you let go.” All the other recruits were sending me pleading expressions, begging for mercy. “I’ll just stand right over here, I think,” I told them all as I backed against the wall opposite them.
“Come on, Coach,” said Max, “we won’t laugh again, we swear.”
“Too right you won’t,” I assured him. “Not after this.”
Denny was now in front of them but facing me. Smiling, he…well, farted I suppose. And then every single recruit – other than Denny who it seemed could take the smell of his own lethal fart – were on their knees, coughing and balking and scrubbing their eyes. I could get a whiff of it from where I was, but as I hadn’t been in the…line of fire, you could say…I was able to take it standing.
Denny was giddy when he came back to my side. “Cool or what?”
“Very.” We both stared at the grown men on their knees studiously, as though they were a science experiment. “I have to admit that after the way they all behaved toward me I’m really enjoying this.”
“Me, too,” he chuckled. “You know, I really am sorry about the way we were.”
I just smiled at him. Eventually they all recovered and walked dozily back over to myself and Denny. “Hi, welcome back.” Their expressions were priceless. “Now, I think you’re all expertly familiar with what Denny can do. What I want to know, Denny, is which of your gifts you have a problem controlling or you find to be a bit temperamental.”
“I’m okay with the jumping and using the sting and the musk and the ooze, but making my body go soft can be a bit time-consuming. I’m not sure if I’d be able to do it faster, but if it’s possible I’d like to.”
“Well let’s find out.” I fed off the energy around him, letting my system breathe it in and revel in it. I could then feel Denny’s energy as separate from my own; his was wilder and more potent. I knew immediately how to channel it and control it. I let it travel throughout my body until it filled me, hitting even my extremities, and then I let it go. In the space of a second my body was mush, and then just as quickly I was back to my substantial self. “Yeah, you could do it a lot faster.”
Denny’s mouth was hanging open rather unattractively. “Um…How…How do I do it faster? What am I doing wrong?”
“You’re not doing anything wrong with your gift.” I spoke to them all then. “You’re all making the mistake of thinking that this is the same as physical energy, but it’s not. It’s an unnatural energy that started being produced when your body evolved and you Turned. It’s produced up here” – I poked my head – “and that’s where you have to dig for it.”