After the Circle, Jason was left with only two orders for the rest of his night. The first was simple, straightforward: find something to do, something he might enjoy, that involved interacting with the people of Phoenix. Obviously, he was to remain ready to respond in the event of any incident that required his abilities. This meant little more than making sure he was near the helicopter that had been designated for his use.
That seemed strange to him. A helicopter had been set aside for him to use as a personal taxi service
The second was, if anything, easier, although it was a long term one. He was now required to watch at least one hour of popular television per day. He understood the rationale behind both assignments, obviously, but he resented the second. Useful or not, it seemed… frivolous. He decided to address the first one immediately.
The waiting room was not particularly crowded, no more than six people of varying ages. Though, on further consideration, Jason did not know whether that was a relatively large or small number of people. This was something of a new situation for him. In that same vein, he did not know what to do once he had arrived.
“Is… is everything okay, Operative?” An old woman, her voice surprisingly firm for her age, had risen to address him.
“Yes ma’am. I am just here to… to visit, I suppose.”
She blinked, the motion exaggerated by her thick glasses. “Oh, well, that’s rather sweet of you, I suppose. I’m Agnes.”
He gave her a polite smile as he introduced himself. “Hello Agnes. My name is Jason Grim.” The majority of the other individuals in the room approached him and Jason introduced himself to them as well.
“If you don’t mind me asking young man, who are you here to visit?” Agnes said.
Jason cocked his head to show his confusion before realizing the mistake she had made. “No ma’am, I am not visiting a specific patient. As a newly stationed operative, one of my responsibilities is to get to know the city and its people, its community, I suppose. Yesterday, Dr. Heton was kind enough to show me and Operative Hive the inpatient portion of this program. I thought that it might be a good thing if I met some of the individuals in the outpatient portion as well.”
She gave another exaggerated blink. “Oh, I see. That’s… well, that really is very kind of you then. Not many people would be willing to… well, some of these folk have it pretty bad. It can be a bit ugly.”
“I am unsure if it should be called kindness. In truth, aside from my responsibility, I found myself curious after speaking to Dr. Heton. I simply want to know more about the Enfeebled.”
Agnes frowned at that. “How rude! Mr. Grim, talking about people like that-”
“I apologize ma’am, I meant no offense.”
She stared at him for a moment, her eyes behind their thick lenses and his behind his sunglasses. “No, I suppose not. Still, that word isn’t… isn’t very polite. You’re probably too young to remember the Dreamer, but words like that used to get used far too often and with a great deal of malice. It’s a bad habit to slip into.”
“Yes ma’am. Again, I meant no offense.”
The elderly woman was quiet for a moment, then answered. “Then we’ll say no more about it. Now, you’re here for a reason, so what is it you’d like to know?”
He set his mouth in what he hoped was a polite smile as he answered. “Well, I got a fairly good overview of the more extreme cases on my last visit. Would you be willing to tell me about your own Empowerment?”
She smiled and the wrinkles on her face shifted. It made Jason feel odd, warm. “Well, I don’t mind talking about myself but I’m afraid it’s not very interesting. I’m a Strong type.”
“Do you have any difficulties with your ability? It was my understanding that this was a program meant to study the negative impacts of powers.”
“Yes dear, but that means they have to look at the normal ones too. Well, and a few outliers. Really, that’s the category I fit into. My power is just textbook strength and toughness but I only got it a few months ago.”
Jason blinked. “I see. Yes, that is unusual. I know that technically anyone can become Empowered, regardless of age, but…” He struggled for the right phrasing. Jason was aware that comments concerning a woman’s age or appearance could often be offensive and did not wish to trespass again.
“Oh yes dear, I’m well off to the side on the bell curve.” she chuckled. “I came here to do my registration exam and when I told them about how I got my power they asked me to come back for their study.”
“I realize that older individuals require stronger emotions to become Empowered, so if this is a delicate subject I apologize, but would you mind-”
She laughed again. “No, no, no, that’s exactly it. I’m one of the oldest people to get powers on record and one of the strongest women in the country, but I triggered when I dropped my medicine! It rolled under the couch and I just bent over and picked it up without thinking. Imagine! There I am, with my cane in one hand and the sofa in the other!”
Jason smiled. It really was an amusing image. “So what role do you play in this study then? I must admit that I cannot really imagine what sort of experiments one would do to study the nature of Empowerment.”
“I don’t really know dear. Like I said, I just recently finished my basic registration exam and joined their study. All I’ve done so far is fill out some paperwork. Apparently the woman who designs their experiments, a Dr. Lisborne, is away on vacation.”
“That seems odd. I would not expect the basic function of a scientific study to stop just because of the absence of one woman.”
She sighed. “That’s the way it is in Phoenix these days. Everything’s going fine, so long as you don’t look too close, then one thing goes wrong. A machine breaks down or a person goes missing, and it turns out their irreplaceable. It used to be better, but… well, that’s what it’s like on the Border I suppose.”