Nuclear Family (short fiction)

Super Janine
It’d been years since I’d last seen Margaret. In that time, she’d moved onto a new containment suit. This one covered her head to toe in silver and gold. There was a small visor for her eyes, but not an inch of exposed radioactive skin. She wore a red sundress over the suit to try and blend in, but the suit made it impossible. People didn’t say anything, but the tables near us remained unoccupied.
I ordered a fancy coffee I didn’t really want. She ordered one she couldn’t drink, and we caught up.
“Remember the crisis in Atlantis?” she asked. “I still can’t believe you jumped in that monster octopus’s mouth.”
“If you knew a better way of punching it in the gut, I’d have been happy to hear it,” I replied.
She laughed. Her voice crackled with a slight hissing feedback. It wasn’t the suit that made it do that.
“Those were good times,” she said. “Weren’t they?”
“What’s wrong, Margie?”
“Nothing’s wrong.” Her hidden face was hard to read, but I could still see her eyes. She looked away. “It’s nothing, really.”
“If you want to talk about it–”
“It’s Norm. We’re having problems.”
“Ah, shit. I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “You two were always a great couple.”
“Were we though?” She turned her cup around to give her hands something to do. “We never had much of anything in common. Other than the radioactivity. I think that we’d never have gotten together if not for the accident. I mean, I’m a nuclear physicist, and he’s a janitor.”
She sighed.
“God, I married a janitor. What the hell did I expect?”
She covered her face.
“God, I’m terrible. Looking down on him. He’s a great guy.”
“He is,” I said. “And you’re not terrible.”
“There was this doctor in the lab. Tall, handsome, intelligent. A little boring. But damn it, I keep wondering why he wasn’t the one who got caught in that meltdown with me?”
“You can’t think that way,” I said.
“I know. But I don’t think I can make it work anymore. I don’t think Norm wants to either.”
“Have you talked to him about it?”
She stared down at her coffee. It started to boil in her hands.
“He’s cheating on me.”
“What? How?”
“Atomica, that radioactive bitch. I followed him. I’ve seen them meeting.”
“Oh, Margie, I’m so sorry.”
“I was mad at first,” she said, “but then I realized I’d have done the same thing if I could. If I could find a guy who didn’t melt having sex with me. I can’t be mad about it. We barely talk anymore. I think we’ll hate each other in a few more years.”
I wanted to say something comforting but came up short. The superhero gig trains you to deal with the impossible. Nothing trains you to deal with stuff like this. I could crush a car with my bare hands, but damned if I knew what to do now.
I put my hand on hers. She was warm, radiating heat through her suit. The warning light on her chest went from straight green to blinking green. It wasn’t dangerous. Not yet. Not until it went to blinking yellow, and even then, the built in siren would alert everyone to get to a safe distance in time if required.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“Oh shit.”
I regretted it the moment it slipped out. The moment before, actually, when I knew the words were coming but was still too powerless to stop them.
“You weren’t taking precautions?” I asked, regretting that too. This was my day to say stupid shit.
“Nuclear mutated biology,” she said. “Who fucking knows how it works?”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
Her warning light went straight yellow. She focused herself and pumped the excessive energies into her coffee cup. It vaporized in a puff of particles, and her suit went green again. The heat died down.
“I’ll pay for that,” she reassured the barista.
“Does Norm know?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I’m going to tell him. Tonight. I’m not worried. He’ll be a great dad, whether we’re together or not. If he wants to be one. If I want to be a mom.” She touched her stomach. “Jesus, this poor kid. What a fucked up situation.”
“It’s always fucked up,” I said. “My folks are married to this day and can’t stand each other. They spent decades making each other miserable because they thought they should. Never asked me what I wanted. You and Norm are good people in a lousy situation. You’ll get through this.”
Margaret nodded. “I hope you’re right.”
“I know I’m right.”
I gave her a hug. The lingering heat washed over me. It was nothing to worry about. The suit kept the radioactivity in check, and I was immune to it. I was pretty sure I was. If I wasn’t, it didn’t matter.
“Thank you,” she said.
I ordered a cookie, and we spent the rest of the hour talking about nothing important.
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One Comment

  1. Nathan (Wilson)
    Posted July 31, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    This is really good, very human. I like Super Janine more all the time, and now I want to know more about Margie’s future too, and if the baby won’t be a miscarriage.

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