She didn’t dream after going back to sleep, to her surprise. She didn’t know if she even wanted to. Tabitha awakened to find the sun in her eyes, the sheets not charred and the smell of the alley not overwhelming her! She had felt something that she hadn’t felt in a while… rejuvenation. She didn’t have to worry about someone touching her in the middle of the night, trying to steal the little rag of a blanket that she did have; she didn’t have to worry about insects and rats scurrying over her as she tried to get somewhat comfortable… and she didn’t have to worry about accidently electrocuting anyone. She admitted that it was a challenge to constantly try to keep the surges from erupting all over her body, but it was a vast improvement from the day before.
She ran her hand over the soft purple and blue diamond-patterned sheets, covering her shoulders with them. She had a bed, now, she happily thought; a big, nice one with down pillows, thick covers and soft sheets. She moved her head away from the sun’s rays and let her eyes adjust by themselves. Pins and needles feeling aside, she felt better than she had in a long while. Tabitha slowly stretched and propped herself up against the headboard. She smiled as she lazily looked at what was at the foot of the bed; a TV. Last night had been fun, watching the likes of the various wrestlers. However, she needed to know what had gone on since she was dumped in that alley… and to confirm if she was indeed in Memphis.
Locating the remote on the nightstand beside the bed, Tabitha turned the TV on and wasn’t surprised to see cartoon characters fill up the screen. She quietly studied the remote, pressed the guide button and scanned through the menu for a local channel. It only took going through two commercials and the beginning of the broadcast for her fears to be confirmed; she was indeed in Memphis. Not wanting to make herself upset, she tried not to think about it and continued to watch the early morning news. It had been almost exactly a month since she was volunteered for that experiment. Nothing of major importance had happened since she last saw a news report; as a man went to talk about sports, Tabitha turned the channel.
She was watching a movie when there was a knock on the door. Tabitha realized that maybe she should’ve gotten out of bed, washed up and prepared to eat breakfast; she didn’t want to seem lazy to the doctor and her family. However, as the door slowly opened, Tabitha had a feeling that she would be excused due to all that she had been through.
She smiled as Jamila blinked a few times, slightly startled.
“Oh! Well… you’re up!” she returned the smile. She had expected Tabitha to be sound asleep still and she wouldn’t have blamed her. The young woman looked extremely better than what she did a mere few hours ago.
Jamila opened the door wider, revealing her husband right behind her. Tabitha’s smile actually widened as he casually wrapped his arm around her waist. His orange polo shirt stood out but actually complimented his mahogany skin. Looking at his jet black hair made her realize that all three of the children inherited a variation of their mother’s hair color.
“Yeah. I, uh… I kinda… messed up your sheets…” she decided to admit. The professor kept her smile and waved it off.
“No worries. We got ‘em from Wal-Mart; we can go get some more.” she said. Her husband slightly rolled his eyes and smiled.
“Another excuse to go shopping…”
“Shut up!” she playfully snapped. Before anyone could say another word, the triplets pushed their parents out of the way and jumped in the bed with their new guest. Tabitha flinched and the parents noticed, being seconds away from pulling the children out of harm’s way. However, she took a deep breath and smiled at the three. The children were still in their pajamas but had freshly brushed teeth; Tabitha could smell the combination of grape, strawberry and citrus toothpaste.
“Miss Tabitha, you’re still here!” A.C.’s eyes widened.
“Yeah… still here…” the youngest in her family was 14; she wasn’t used to speaking to children this young.
“That means she’s staying with us for real! You gonna eat with us?!” Jamil asked. She could tell that his father probably warned him about his manners but he constantly tried to stare at her white hair.
“Sure. You cooking?” she asked and it sent the children in an uproar of laughter.
“That’s silly; he can’t cook! He’s just a little boy!”
“I’m not a little boy; moooom… tell her to stop it!” Jamil started to whine. Albert gathered his children.
“It’s too early for all that! Go finish washing up or Miss Tabitha won’t eat with us…” he warned and they bolted out the door before he could stop them.
It was one of the nicest breakfasts she had in a while, even when she was in Chattanooga. Tabitha awkwardly spent a little more time with the children afterwards before the Lindsey parents took them to spend the rest of the day with their grandparents. When they returned, they found Tabitha in the living room watching TV. She was dressed in a white t-shirt that was a size too big for her and green Marine Corps physical training sweats that were a bit too short for her. She gave them an uneasy look; she felt as if she wasn’t supposed to have made herself comfortable. Albert laughed slightly.
“It’s okay. She should’ve talked it over with me before she made a decision but… my wife said that you’re staying with us so you don’t have to feel uncomfortable around us.” He reassured. Tabitha nodded and turned the TV off as the two sat on the other side of her.
“I guess… you two need to talk to me.”
“Yeah. How’d you end up in that alley?” Albert really wanted to know. Tabitha sighed and tried not to get upset.
“Well… I think I was dumped there… I know I was dumped there!” she narrowed her eyes at the thought. She explained to the two about the last day she fully remembered, right down to the second where the machine malfunctioned on her, “Next thing I know… I’m waking up in the alley…”
“You’re from ‘Chat Town’…? Why did he dump you all the way over here?” Jamila actually asked herself. Tabitha shrugged.
“I don’t know. Guess he figured that no one knows me here. By the time anyone would’ve noticed that I was dead here, they would’ve just called me an unknown bum and left it at that…”
“That’s cold…” Albert shook his head in disbelief. He slightly studied the young woman, remembering what his wife told him the night before, “My wife said that you’re… special…” he looked her dead in the eye. It was the first time that she fully realized it; she was special in a way. A freak, she half seethed to herself. However, Tabitha took a hard swallow and returned the stare.
“Maybe… it’ll be better to go outside for this…” Jamila suggested and the three went out into the backyard. It was the same size as the front lawn, just enclosed with a tan wooden privacy fence. There was a playground set for the triplets and the lawn was neatly trimmed just like in the front. Jamila put a gentle hand on Tabitha’s shoulder, “You know… I wouldn’t ask…”
“I understand.” she nodded. Jamila looked at her husband.
“Her… powers are emotion-based right now. If she’ll let me run some tests, I can help her make them more manageable…” she switched glances from Albert to Tabitha. A hint of a smile appeared and then she looked straight ahead. She was controlling them much better than she had been in a month; back then, she had no idea what was going on. She still didn’t know exactly how she came to be; maybe it had something to do with the serum they injected inside of her. The only thing Tabitha was clear about was that the general had a lot to do with everything. That bastard; when I find him I’m gonna shock the hell outta him, she thought angrily. It was one thing to dump her in some odd, remote place; it was another to do so halfway across the state. She had no ID, no dog tags; there wasn’t anything on her to identify her. And then, she had no idea what everyone thought happened to her; for all she knew, her family and friends probably thought that she was halfway to Iraq or some other country by now. She didn’t understand how the Army would let the man get away with something like that…
The thoughts were beating her head up, giving her the start of a headache. She felt the pins and needles feeling erupt throughout her veins; very noticeable currents of electricity flowed all over her body. She felt the energy wanting to come out and before she could do anything, it pushed itself out of her hands. She was glad she had the good sense to throw her hands out, making the streams of lightning travel to the fence; the wood exploded on contact. Albert’s eyes widened at the large gap in the middle of the fence.
“Uh… I don’t think I’ll ever doubt you, again…”
As the days turned into months, Tabitha became sort of a lab rat… as well as found out that Dr. Lindsey was not a doctor of medicine. But, she didn’t mind it; she was given a free roof over her head and free food to eat. All the tests that the professor was putting her through was for her own good; she was learning how to control her lightning ability as well as learning almost everything there was to know about lightning. In under a month, she was actually to a point where she didn’t have to tell herself to calm down or have a clear mind before she touched anyone or even let someone touch her. The eerie, electric, pins and needles feeling was still there, of course, but Tabitha was quickly learning to live with it. In a little under a year, Tabitha was able to even guide the lightning from her hands.
Because she basically lived in solitude, she felt like a freak. She wondered what good were her powers to begin with. She thought about the many things that required electricity and how she would be of help in that department. Other than that, she felt useless. As she sat back and watched the Lindseys go about their normal life, she could only wish that she was a part of one as well. She thought about calling her family, letting them know where she was and what happened. However, the more she thought about it, the more she thought against it. How would her family react to her transformation? She knew that her youngest brothers would marvel at her new abilities; the thought would make her smile ever so often. But her parents? She didn’t know how she would deal with their reaction.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard the professor come in the house, calling her name. There was some excitement in her voice and Tabitha had hoped for some good news. While she was happy that she was able to control her powers, the two still had no solid idea as to how she came to be.
Jamila came into the kitchen just to see Tabitha idly fiddling with her lightning. Bolts and currents ran smoothly over her hand as she transferred them to the other.
“Tabs! Are you trying to scare my babies away from you?!” she half scolded.
“… sorry…” she mumbled, feeling more like one of the children. Jamila caught herself and sighed.
“No… no worries. I’m sorry; even after you being here for so long, I’m still used to yelling at the kids!”
“You treat your students like that?”
“Unfortunately. I get this look but then they see that I’m serious and I don’t get no more lip!” she laughed. As she sat down, she slightly studied Tabitha’s hair, “So, I got yelled at but it was worth it; I cancelled my last class so that I could do more research. That sample you gave me last week? Got a lot of new info on it today! Remember how we’ve been trying to dye your hair?”
“You’re gonna depress me, doc…” she remembered. Ever since finding out that Jamila used “Dr.” as a title, Tabitha got a kick out of simply calling her that, just as the professor only called her Tabs.
The one thing that stumped Tabitha wasn’t her new hair color… but the fact that it would not hold any type of chemical. She had refused to succumb to a wig in order for her to walk the streets normally and so Jamila suggested dying it. However, it proved that no matter how much dye, what color dye or even how potent it was, it would not so much as darken her snow white locks.
“My bad. At least it grows…” Jamila mentioned. The one thing that stayed constant was that her hair could at least grow. It grew faster than it had ever grown, being thick and shoulder length, “Anyway; I found out why your hair is white… somewhat.” she tried to finish. Tabitha stopped twirling a lock of her hair around her finger and looked at the professor.
“I don’t know which one did it but one of the voltages you received was so high that… it stripped your hair of all its pigments. You ever seen an albino person?”
“I would remember seeing a white-haired person like that…” Tabitha noted. It was enough to make Jamila laugh. She got up to get the two something to drink.
“Albinos have no color pigments in their skin, their hair or their eyes. But, their hair don’t turn white, it’s like a… bleached blonde. So look at your hair in that sense; there’s no pigment to hold any type of chemical. Problem is… nothing else on you got stripped of pigment… which leads to the most important thing!” she sat back down, handing Tabitha a glass of orange juice.
“Promise me you’ll explain it in layman’s terms…” she eyed her. Tabitha’s favorite subjects in school were geography, history and art; her least favorite was science. Jamila sighed.
“The serum injected in you was made of certain components. Some were regular and basic but there may have been one or two that were new and unique; it had to be in order for the project to work. A couple of small jolts were needed to activate the new components but… I don’t think they had any clue as to what would happen if there was a higher voltage applied. I still don’t know which did it, the one that killed you or the one that revived you but it caused something amazing to happen!”
“No. Well… yeah… but… something even more! A DNA strand; an extra DNA strand… do I have to explain what DNA is…?”
“I’m not that big of a damn rock, smart ass!” Tabitha laughed. Jamila smiled.
“You just don’t understand; I was getting really frustrated. Because, here I thought that it had something to do with your brain but there weren’t any abnormalities. Wyatt actually pointed it out to me…”
“My best friend. He’s the DNA analyst; it’s what he went to school for. He thinks you’re a practical joke so… he wants to meet you in person…”
“And… I’m pretty sure he’s gonna want to get a fresh sample from you…”
“Doc! Really?!” her eyes widened.
“I’m sorry, Tabs. He told me that if you’re really real… he’s gonna need a fresh sample to see the status of the mutant strand. He sounded a bit concerned about someone having a second DNA strand…”
“… You think something bad is gonna happen to me…?” for the first time ever, Tabitha realized that her powers may not be a good thing, maybe even something deadly.
“I… no.” Jamila thought about her words, “There would’ve been some type of sign. The only thing that I know is that the strand is the reason for your powers. There’s so many possibilities of what that strand is going to do to you… but I don’t think it would hurt or kill you. Wyatt’s doing some research now so… if you want to go and meet him now, we can.” she tried to reassure. Tabitha shrugged.
“As much as I don’t wanna… let’s go.”
“Good! Albert should be home soon so we’ll leave when he gets here. I really wish that we could get a hold of that serum…”
“Why? So you could make more people like me?” it actually saddened Tabitha. Jamila blinked a couple of times and immediately shook her head.
“Hell no! I don’t like the fact that it was used to make human weapons of mass destruction. If anything, me and Wyatt would want to do some modifications, run some tests, and find better uses for it. If a huge voltage was enough to create its own DNA strand… that could make stem cell research obsolete! Okay; you’re home! The kids are playing in their rooms; me and Tabs are gonna go to the lab for a bit.” Jamila was already out of her seat, kissing her husband on the cheek. He switched glances from his wife to their roommate.
“Um… a breakthrough?”
“Sometimes I think she’s more scientist than professor!” she sighed and followed her new friend to her vehicle.
“… Amazing. Simply amazing. I can’t believe she’s really real…” Wyatt half mumbled while still looking at Tabitha’s recent sample through an electron microscope. Tabitha was expecting to see the typical scientist, a pasty-faced man with thick glasses, adult acne and slightly socially inept. She was in complete awe still, even after gazing into the hazel sultry eyes of Dr. Wyatt Rivera. His skin was lightly bronzed as if he spent some time in the sun and muscles seemed to bulge out of his beige polo shirt. He looked awkward leaning his 6’6 frame low enough to look through the microscope but he didn’t complain.
“Just a friend, huh?” she mumbled low enough for Jamila to hear. She gave her a surprisingly sharp nudge before Wyatt turned around and looked at the two.
“I can’t tell you enough how amazing this really is. Every forensic analyst has always wanted to take a look at DNA like this. And, you’re giving me the honor to do so…” he smiled at Tabitha. She slightly blushed as Jamila rolled her eyes.
“You gonna hit on her or you gonna do some actual work?”
“I’ll hit on you…” he quickly drew his attention to his friend. She narrowed her eyes at him as he gave her an approving look. Tabitha’s eyes widened at the two but they both shared a laugh.
“What did you find out?”
“Kinda got some bad news for your friend. After looking at the old sample and this sample… it looks like this mutant strand is trying to fuse.”
“That… does sound bad. I thought you said that it wouldn’t hurt me?” Tabitha looked at Jamila, holding back tears.
“Hold on. Only reason why I say it’s kinda bad is… well, it depends on how you look at it. The human body simply can’t host two DNA strands; how your body is doing it is beyond amazing. Anyway; your mutant strand is starting to fight to be the only one. Once that happens, your powers will be permanent. Bad news if you don’t want that to happen. It doesn’t look as if it’ll affect anything major.”
“How long does it look like it’ll take for the mutant strand to fuse?” Jamila asked for Tabitha.
“It’s fighting very slowly. Two years at the least? To be one hundred percent sure, she’ll have to give us samples almost every week.” the idea made her cringe.
“Can it be stopped?”
“I think I can come up with something that can reverse the process; make your original strand fight off the mutant strand…” he started to mumble and went to his workstation. Tabitha looked back at Jamila.
“So… if I do nothing, I’ll be like this forever. But, if he can find something and I give him the go ahead…”
“Looks like you’ll be back to normal. It’s your call, Tabs.”
“That’s a no-brainer; I wanna be normal, again! Will it turn my hair back to normal?”
“Afraid not. From the looks of it and all that Mila’s told me, the color’s been totally stripped. But with the mutant strand gone, you’ll be able to dye it whatever color you want. If you ask me, though… that color suits your face.” he gave Tabitha an approving smile, making her blush again. Jamila glared at him.
“Would you stop molesting her!!” she warned. Wyatt gave her a shocked look and threw his hands up in defense.
“I haven’t touched her! Now, once she gives me permission…”
“It’s a miracle you’re still employed, pervert…” Jamila couldn’t hide her smile. She shook her head and slightly laughed, “So, when can we start working on this?”
“Are you two doing another experiment?” a guy’s voice made the three of them turn towards the door of the lab. Tabitha could tell that the guy wasn’t wanted; Jamila grabbed some random sheets of paper and headed towards the workstation, joining Wyatt as he made himself busy.
“Yes, Sean. And as always, you would want to join in?” Wyatt, now with a more professional tone asked. He hadn’t bothered to look up from his “work” as he asked. The intruder pushed his glasses back on the bridge of his nose and smiled a little. His attention went from the two professors to Tabitha and his smile grew. She suddenly felt uncomfortable and slightly shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
“You know me too well, professor! Is this a new student? You’re a little late for the semester…”
“… Oh! Um… well…” she tried; she didn’t want to give him the blatant cold shoulder that the two professors had given him but then she never thought that he would speak to her.
“She’s my niece; she’s visiting from North Carolina.” Jamila stated without missing a beat.
“Hmm. Nice hair; is that a trend in North Carolina?” Sean asked her. He approached her and for a split second, Tabitha had the sudden urge to give him a small jolt; she was beginning to see why he was Jamila and Wyatt’s least favorite student. He looked at her as if she was the first female he had ever encountered and it was beginning to creep her out.
Jamila noticed the tension between the two first and abruptly stood between the two; as much as she secretly admitted that she would have liked to see his reaction from being shocked, she knew that it would probably be a bad idea!
“May I remind you that you’re not allowed in this lab after school hours? What is that you want?” she snapped. Sean cleared his throat and put his attention back to her.
“Extra credit, Dr. Linz…”
“I’m not handing out extra credit at this time. If you would’ve paid attention in class as much as you’re paying attention to my niece right now, you wouldn’t need to be here begging for extra credit. And I don’t believe that Dr. Rivera can help you out, either…” she added sternly when he turned to look at Wyatt.
“But… what about this experiment? If I can help…”
“Sorry, Sean but this experiment isn’t part of the school curriculum. It’s petty, anyway.”
“So, nothing to do with DNA testing or any applied physics?”
“Afraid not. Now, if you don’t mind, we’ve got some work to do here. Good evening, Sean.” Wyatt answered and went back to his papers. Sean gave Jamila a desperate look but she turned and rejoined Wyatt at the workstation.
“Tabitha, could you show Sean out?” she asked. Tabitha gave him a fake smile and led him out of the lab. He stared at her before she started to close the door. She shrugged.
“Sorry…” she apologized and closed the door. Sean stared at the door for a moment before making his way to the parking lot. As he started across the lot, he was abruptly pulled away and slammed against a building before he could even blink. He was about to scream until the guy’s hand covered his mouth.
“Sshh… quiet now. I won’t hurt you. You have some information that I want.” the man hissed. He slowly let his hand down but kept Sean painfully pinned to the building, “That white-haired girl. Know her?”
“N-n-n-n-n-n-n-not r-really. She’s from… North Carolina. T-t-t-the professor’s… niece.”
“Niece, huh?” the man chuckled at that thought, “Interesting. Did you get her name?” the guy suddenly wrapped his hand around Sean’s throat. He wheezed slightly.
“Very nice. I thank you for your information.” he smiled. Before he could do anything, Sean felt as if he had been split in half. As the currents faded from his hand, the man dropped the student, leaving him burnt and still smoking on the ground.