Chapter 3

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It was past midnight, and most of the artificial sun lamps were off, leaving Arx dark and empty. Joey was wearing black pants and a black hoodie, the hood pulled up to cover his face as best he could. If he did stuff like this again, he figured it might be good to invest in a full-face mask like Achilles had. 

He made his way down to the bottom level of the business district and stared up at the sidewalk running along the top of the buildings down here. Bridges spanned the gap between each side every three blocks or so. The goal was to see how high he could jump. The stair incident from last week had weighed on his mind the whole time. 

No, stair incidents. He'd fallen down one, then leaped up another one. His head was fuzzy with a 'Miracle' or something. So here was a test. He wasn't a hardcore scientist, but at the very least Joey knew that discoveries were made through experiments, and usually those experiments had to be in a controlled environment. Even if psychology wasn't given as much credit as chemistry, physics or other hard sciences, they still used the scientific method. He'd learned about experiments in his classes. 

First: Could he jump up one story? Or at least, how high could he jump? 

He'd start from a standing position, then see if running and jumping changed anything. 

Second and perhaps more important: What would happen when he came down? 

Whatever came up had to come down. That was the law of gravity. And he knew firsthand how devastating gravity could be on a human body. But if this 'Miracle' kept him from experiencing the sharp impact that came from falling three stories onto a sheet of metal, he had to know - and before a crisis happened. 

Joey took a deep breath and lowered himself, anticipation mixing with anxiety as he thought about how this might go. Worst case scenario, he leaped up ten stories, fell back down and broke every bone in his body again, except there would be no one to call the hospital this time. He kept telling himself that wouldn't happen, though, and sprung up. 

His stomach flipped at the feeling of weightlessness followed by gravity's sharp pull. He'd intended to jump as high as he could, but he'd chickened out at the last second and only put maybe half his muscle power to work. Despite that, he cleared the first story bridge and managed to gracefully absorb the impact when he landed. 

Hands shaking, Joey tried to calm himself. His stomach was doing sumersaults. But he was fine. One more jump. 

This time he made it two and a half stories, and it took all his willpower to not scream on the way down. He panicked and landed hard on his left leg, collapsing on the ground. Panic gripped him as he remembered being in the hospital for what felt like an eternity and questioned every life decision he'd ever made. 

Gasping for air, he tried to steady his limbs and slow his heartbeat to no avail. It took what felt like hours to calm himself back down enough to test his leg. It moved fine. Joey stood shakily and ran in place for a bit. No pain. Which probably meant he was fine...right? 

So then was he just immune to gravity? No, that wasn't it. Gravity still pulled him down. Or was it a sort of temporary loosening of gravity's restrictions? Whatever it was, it was scary. 

Figuring he'd had enough for one day, Joey hopped up the buildings, from one level to the next, taking a deep breath to steel himself each time. Each time he managed to not kill himself. 

When he was about four blocks from home, he ran into Achilles again. Joey hid his face and pressed into the interior lane, but Achilles saw him anyway. 

Drat. 

"What are you doing there?" Achilles asked, stepping towards Joey's hiding place. Joey glanced at him, doing his best to keep his face obscured. 

Achilles stepped closer, his hands clenched into fists. 

"It's pretty late to be out and about. Sir? Or ma'am? Can I escort you home?" 

"I'm fine," Joey said quickly. "Just heading home myself. It's not far." 

"Where did you come from anyway? I don't remember seeing anyone else on this level." 

"I...I just got here." 

"The closest stairs are this way. I think I would have seen you." Achilles was right in front of Joey now. The guy felt huge. He wasn't actually much bigger than Joey, but he felt far more imposing than anyone else ever had. 

Joey fell silent and pressed himself against the wall, prepared for things to go very wrong. What in the blue earth had he been thinking, going out at night to experiment with his new whatever-this-was? 

Achilles was silent too, and that was even more unnerving. Then a soft voice broke the silence. 

"Are you like me?" 

It sounded so different from his usual voice, which carried so well and seemed to be made for issuing commands, that Joey didn't realize it was Achilles at first. 

After several seconds he found his voice again. "What do you mean?" 

"Did you get a Miracle too? From the foggy one?" Joey hesitated to collect his scattered memories. 

"The purple figure...?" 

"Yes! You did, didn't you?" In that moment, the great and immovable Achilles sounded like a high school kid who'd just been invited to eat lunch with the popular kids. 

"So...what happened to you?" Joey asked. 

"Hm?" 

"When they talked to you." 

"Oh! It was a normal day and I had a dream after falling asleep at my computer. They said they'd make me invincible and I swore to use the power to protect people. They...smiled I think? I couldn't see their face, but I just got the impression they were smiling. Then they told me to use my power well. What about you? What's your Miracle? Did you make the same promise?" 

Joey reeled for a moment before replying carefully. 

"I don't remember it that well. I just remember I was in the hospital, and they said they'd grant me a Miracle. I'm still figuring out how it all works and stuff. I didn't say anything back to them since I was pretty confused and out of it. Sorry." 

"No worries!" Joey was sure Achilles was grinning from ear to ear under that mask. "I'm just glad I'm not the only one anymore. So are you practicing with your powers before you start helping people? Or are you patrolling already?" 

"Um..." Joey didn't know how to respond. How did he tell this overexcited...kid? How could he say that he was just trying to get a handle on his situation? That he'd never had any noble intentions or anything. Achilles didn't seem to notice his hesitation. 

"I know! We should see if there's others too. We can start a group, and that way everyone will be safer. Oh, we'll need a name for ourselves too. Superheroes is too bland, we need something cool..." He glanced at Joey, pausing the pacing he'd begun. "Don't worry, I'm great at names. Speaking of names, what's yours? I don't care if it's your hero name or your real name. Like you probably know, I'm Achilles." 

"Um..." Joey didn't have an alter ego name, and he certainly wasn't giving Achilles his real name. On the other hand he didn't want to lie. He spent a total of ten seconds running ideas through his head before saying the first thing he thought of. "Jumper." 

Jumper? Yes, that was the best his addled brain could come up with under pressure. Yes, he certainly jumped, but that name was ridiculously boring. What if his powers ended up as something different anyway? Anxious thoughts flew through his head one after the other while Achilles nodded as if deep in thought. 

"Jumper, huh? Sounds kind of bland, but it'll grow on me. Hm...if your power's jumping I could think of an ancient hero with some kind of similar ability. Oh! I heard once about a man named Icarus who flew with wings of wax-" 

"Jumper's fine!" Joey did not want a weird ancient name like Achilles. The guy deflated a bit, but quickly bounced back. 

"Right, sorry. I know different people like different things. So when do you want to meet up again?" 

He didn't, but Joey felt like he'd talked himself into a corner here. 

"Thursday at midnight? Around here?" Why couldn't the ground just open up and drop him through the city? 

"Sounds great! I look forward to seeing you then, Jumper." Joey nodded and then, with one last glance at Achilles, jumped two stories too high for his residence, trying to convince himself not to scream at the height. He heard Achilles gasp in awe, but ignored it. When he was sure the other man wasn't following him, Joey went down two flights of stairs to get home. 

What in the blue sky had he gotten himself into? 


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