You’re not sure what’s going to happen when the leaders ditch the lot of you underground. The eleven others in your group stare at the elevator along with you as it whisks away the only guidance you have, leaving your squad to determine who gets which of the scattered bedrooms, who gets a hot shower, and which of the assembled bags of clothes goes to whom.
“Our first challenge,” announces an intrepid girl as it becomes clear nobody is going to be offering commands. “We have to act like Paragons and work together.”
“Work together to do what?” a boy says, and while you notice the wide diversity of skin tones, hair styles, and body sizes, the omnipresent blue uniforms have a way of blending everyone together. “Choose our beds?”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” the girl replies.
“Maybe they want us to fight?” another girl says. “Like in those movies. The winner gets out alive?”
The words kick off a cascade of ideas, from a powers competition to forming teams to a full-scale breakout, a push that gains traction until everyone remembers they’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s cold outside.
You’re pretty tired, so in the silence that momentarily takes hold after that dismal revelation, you decide to speak up and throw your lot in with the first girl, who’s looking a little miffed on one of the two couches in this otherwise sparse living room.
“I think she’s right,” you say, proud that your voice isn’t trembling in the slightest. Exhaustion breeds a disregard for consequences. “Why don’t we pick out the beds, grab some clothes, and if you want a shower, take one.”
Questions and demands come back at you, and the spotlight makes you wince. But you’re still tired, and you still want a bed, and yeah, maybe a shower too. So you shut them up in the new way you’ve learned, the way that brought you here.
You breathe, but more than that. Targeted, and as your lungs fill with the scrubbed air, your mind fills with the feelings of everyone in the room. Like instinct, like intuition, you know who said what, and you know why.
The girl in the back, still demanding a fight, is doing that because of a lifetime spent scrabbling with her brothers for every toy and after-dinner dessert. The questioning boy is too frightened at being away from home, being ripped away from his family to accept anything right now. He’s craving certainty, is too afraid to accept it.
You parade through the rest of the room in an instant, and then you exhale and all the buzzing fades from your head. Everyone’s quiet, too, until you send them back their voices, their mouths open like gulping fish. They start coughing, one laughs in a shrieking, scared sort of way. The girl whose side you’re on, whose only thought when you looked her way seemed to be an exasperated frustration with her fellow recruits, gives you a steeled appraisal.
Showing your gift, though, turns out to be a huge mistake. Even with the insights into each and every one of them, your knowledge proves to be a poor weapon against the desire to show off. One kid after another pops their power, and eventually you grab your clothes, slink off to the shower, and collapse in a bed with the sounds of crackled lightning, laughter, and future problems echoing the halls of your new home.