Prakash Balakrishnan isn’t a superhero. That’s what he tells himself, and nobody seems eager to contradict him. When the rest of the team invited him to join, they didn’t talk about his powers. They talked about what a righteous young man he was, what a loyal friend he was, how clever he was. They had him set up their website, manage their social media, pick up their food deliveries. He’s not a comrade. He’s a mascot.
Prakash can steal color. That’s it. He can snatch the color off of objects, leaving it as a discoloration on his skin. When he lets it go, the color snaps back to the object. The time he pulled the color off everything in his room, he wound up looking like a patchwork quilt. New Delhi has no shortage of colorful things on which to practice, but Prakash has only grown more frustrated with his parlor trick. What do you do with this? The Americans have useful powers, like super-speed. Maybe it’s all that garbage they eat, and it’s mutating them. Sometimes, he wonders whether he should follow his brother to the States, take a menial job, and hope to be noticed by an American team.
India isn’t America. Things are different - culture, food, how things are done. But America still has a ton of heroic supers. In particular, the Halcyon City super population is dense. Prakash has worked to understand how a super-team ought to work, and tell his friends what he finds. Privately, he wants to find a role model for himself. As a result, he’ll look anywhere and listen to anyone, even Americans.
The Vyortovia situation has held the attention of the world’s young supers. Who are they? What do they want? And what is their obsession with the southeastern United States? Prakash has studied the situation closely. When the announcement is made - that Vyortovia will negotiate, and with whom - Prakash takes note. He looks up whatever he can. After all, he’s not out fighting the Asuras. He has plenty of free time to Google.
He comes across blog posts written by a group of people who self-identify as … “Ponies”? Prakash knows very little about the American pony cartoons, but knowing anything would be grounds for merciless needling from his friends. These people seem like a fan club for Halcyon City teenage superheroes. He imagines a whole gaggle of female American Prakashes, the support staff for people with useful powers. He wants to meet them - they might get along very well.
There is no single post that answers his most urgent question: how did the Menagerie defeat this unbeatable opponent?
He sends email, and waits breathlessly for a reply. What a strange name: “Nono”. The reply is stranger. “I asked Summer. She said the secret is to never give up.”
Never give up, huh?
I’ve given up plenty already. Maybe it is time to try something new.
Color, color, color - Prakash knows color is just light, reflecting off of objects. He fetches his father’s old helmet lamp from a closet and takes it to his room, then shuts off the lights. He switches the helmet lamp on, watches it shine onto his palm. And he makes a grabbing motion.
He snatches the yellow color off the helmet. Again.
The yellow of the helmet. Again. The black of the plastic band that holds the helmet onto the head. Again. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Black. Yellow.
Dawn finds Prakash staring in wonder at a sourceless glow floating in his palm. The helmet lamp is dark, drained completely of power. What nestles in his hand is like a seed of light, a softly glowing dot. Experimentally, he draws it into his skin. Success! The mark is like a starburst tattoo. He releases the light. But rather than snap back to the helmet lamp, it comes out all at once, in a flash bright enough to briefly blind him.
The excited shouting can be heard throughout the house, and earn Prakash a stern reprimand from his father. Every moment is worth it. I did it - I did it - I didn’t give up, and I did it. I can create flashes of light. I need to find a laser. This is going to be amazing!
After the lecture, breakfast. After that, Prakash drafts a jubilant email to Nono. “You have given me a purpose in life.” Wait. Is this too forward? Is it too early? He puts it on hold.
There’s a laser pointer at school. It’s not very powerful, but the beam comes out of his skin just as focused as it was going in.
I need more. A bigger, hotter, more focused laser. More!
He gets back to the email. “Thank you very much for your reply. You have done a great service to me.” The next part just slips out. “If you are ever in India, I would love to repay your kindness.” What are you doing, idiot? Don’t talk to girls like you are familiar with them. He strikes it out and simply appends his name.
Prakash got no sleep. He stumbles through classes. He endures ridicule at his slowness. None of it matters. He has spent all day absorbing light from every source he can, including holding a magnifying glass between the sun and his palm. It didn’t burn, as long as his concentration held - he could soak it up indefinitely. There’s only one part of his day that matters: the team meeting, later on.
Prakash grins to himself. He’ll help them see the light.
author: Bill G.