That night, as she slept, she went back to the old neighborhood again in her dreams. Katjia honed in on the flecks; she knew Sera’s aura and knew what it looked like as she ran through the emotions of life. On her 6th birthday, when their parents had finally caved and bought her the fancy doll she’d been begging for, it shone bright, almost sparkling with joy and excitement. The day their father had disappeared, it had been dark, almost dripping, imitating the tears on Sera’s face when they heard the news.
This time the flecks that Katjia saw were sharp, with a sickly acidic color to them. She had only seen that color in her Sera’s aura once before; on the day the gangers had grabbed their dog, smashed its head on the sidewalk, and turned to them. Before she grabbed Sera’s hand to run away, Katjia had launched a hastily assembled ball of mana at the gangers. It wasn’t enough to hurt them, not for a few more years, but it was enough to scare them into leaving the girls alone. As Katjia turned to grab Sera’s hand, she had seen pure terror in her eyes and her aura. The terror wasn’t directed at the gangers, but at Katjia. Sera screamed and ran inside the apartment building, bawling in terror up all 5 flights of stairs to their apartment. Katjia followed as fast as she could, cursing herself for losing control of her powers in front of her sister.
Katjia had kept her powers a secret since they had appeared. Magic, while becoming more widespread and common in the years since the Awakening, was still new and the general public was still fearful. When their father had disappeared, Sera had been too young to understand the whispered conversations; but Katjia understood. Their mother thought the girls were asleep, and Sera usually was; but Katjia stayed awake, listening in the hallway to the hushed tones as her mother answered questions from investigators. It took many nights of sore knees, as she knelt outside the kitchen door, but Katjia eventually pieced together what had happened to their father.
Miro Niska had been a researcher in MCT’s Thaumaturgical Research Division. Early in his career, he had tried his hand at teaching, doing a brief stint as a professor of Magical Awareness at the University of Oslo. He was ousted after just a year, when the student body demanded that classes on the magical arts be taught by people who actually had magical abilities. The administration caved and her father was let go from his position. Her mother, 5 months pregnant with Katjia at the time, convinced her father to move back to Seattle so she could be closer to her family when the baby was born. Miro soon found a position with MCT, drawing upon his magical knowledge to aid them in their research.
He had become a valued member of the MCT team, rising in the ranks to claim the title of Head of Research within the magical department. Most of his research centered around finding ways for the megacorp to fight against magicians who ran the shadows, using magic to help runners be even more of a thorn in the side of MCT.
From what she had gleaned from her father’s descriptions of his work (which to be honest, she rarely listened to, since it was incredibly boring), as well as some of the hushed conversations her mother had with investigators after his death, his research had some people royally pissed off. It seemed he had made some pretty powerful enemies of these shadow mages; and some of them wanted him dead. In the months before his disappearance, a few of them had made attempts to extract him from MCT, or just outright geek him; lucky for him, MCT thought he was a valuable asset and protected him as such.
Her father started spending more and more nights at work, where they could keep a closer eye on him. The family got used to it, calling him up for a vid-chat after dinner and keeping in touch by commlink when they could. Her father had placed his trust in the CorpSec of MCT, so Katjia did the same. Deep down she worried a bit; sure, her dad was a pain in the hoop sometimes, but what parent wasn’t, ya know? Back then, Katjia was still naïve enough to trust that the megacorps took care of their people. Frag, was she stupid.
One night, when her father was on his way home for an increasingly rare weekend off, he disappeared. The security detail was found a block away from the last known location of his car; their brains splattered on the rain-soaked streets. The driver was found near the street, with his throat slit from ear to ear. Her father and the car he had been riding in were never found. Some squatters and slot-heads in the area told investigators they had seen some crazed mage cut his own hand off just before the drek hit the fan. According to the MCT cops and the private investigators her mother had hired later, the investigation was “still ongoing”, even though there hadn’t been a new lead in almost 2 years.
Despite, or perhaps because of, her father’s in-depth knowledge of magic; Katjia had been raised to fear it. Her father knew more than the masses when it came to the truth about magic and those who wielded it, and that knowledge did little to banish the fear that the corps and their media stirred within the general populace. Her father’s area of expertise was in the darker forms of magic; he knew the destruction that a magician could cause with no weapon but his mind. Katjia’s mother Karen knew little of magic, only what Miro had told her, and she too feared what mages could do to innocent people if their whims bid it. It was in this cocoon of fear that Katjia and her sister grew up.
When Katjia had been 13 and Sera 9, her parents had moved them from the school they had attended since first grade, and placed them in a private school an hour away where magic was forbidden. The students were tested once a year, and any children who showed magical abilities were promptly expelled; oftentimes never to be heard from again. Children being children, the rumor was that if you had magic and the testers found out, they were whisked away to a secret research facility where men in lab coats performed horrible experiments on their brains.
The first time Katjia had noticed her powers was the week after her 14th birthday. Conrad Davila, the boy she had a crush on, had come to her party the Saturday before, and he had brought her a present! The bear Conrad had brought her was simple, you could get one at any Stuffer Shack, but to Katjia it was practically the Crown Jewels. She was sitting in her room, propped up on her bed, listening to the latest Latch-Key Kids album and dreaming of love. She clutched the bear to her chest and sighed, her heart full-to-bursting with puppy love. As she gazed out the window, she thought of Conrad and his wiz-pretty eyes, and his cute hoop in those tight jeans he always wore. The next thing she knew, she was floating above her bed, she looked down and saw her body sitting there, as if she was asleep. The bear had fallen from her arms and lay at her side. In the next second she felt herself flying over the roofs of the buildings, everything below her a blur as it rushed past.
When she stopped, she was in a house she had never seen before, with no idea how she had gotten there or what was going on. The tried to walk around, to figure out what was going on, but it was as if her legs weren’t getting the message from her brain. She looked down and saw that she didn’t have legs, she didn’t even have a body. All she saw below her was a swirling mist. She screamed; at least she thought she did, but she couldn’t feel or hear the sound leave her throat. The panic truly began to set in as she realized that not only did she not know where she was, she didn’t know how she was. Trying to put the pieces together, she thought back to her body, lying on the bed in her room, and as fast as she’d appeared in the strange house, she felt a ‘pop’ as she was suddenly back on her bed.
The realness of her body was confirmed when she sat up and leaned over the bed to be sick. As she heaved, she reveled in the sensation of her body, still shaken at the sensation of having been without it. Sera heard her heaving and ran to get their mother. Still too scared of what had happened, and to confused to be able to explain it anyway, Katjia didn’t tell her mother what had happened. Her mother assumed that she had caught some sort of stomach bug at school, and Katjia agreed with her. Maybe the weird vision had just been a wild fever dream. She would soon find out just how wrong she was.
The next week at school, Katjia noticed that if she relaxed her eyes a bit, let the world go fuzzy, and looked at her friends, she could see colors emanating from their bodies; when they were happy the colors were bright and cheerful, if they were sad they were muted, and if they were angry to colors grew sharp and harsh. The colors reminded her of what her mother called ‘auras’; she got them sometimes when she had her migraines. Katjia began to notice that when her own mood changed, if she was angry or anxious, she could feel something like electricity in her fingers. Once, when she had a fight with her mother, Katjia had run to her room and slammed the door. As she turned to flounce on to her bed and cry, she saw the electricity on her hands. It looked like lightening, fizzing and sparking between her fingers. The angry scream of teenage angst turned to a cry of fear and stuck in her throat. She choked and sputtered, and the lightning disappeared. Shaking, she slid down the wall and sat on the floor, her arms wrapped around her knees.
Katjia stayed in her room long enough to look like a proper sulking before slipping downstairs to her father’s study. The study was closer to a closet than a room, but it was large enough for a compact desk and her father’s small but prized collection of books. A couple of the books were gifts her father had received from some stodgy old professor when he was in college, the others he had managed to collect over the years, at no small expense. Katjia had never been interested in the dusty old collection, much preferring her commlink when she needed to do research; but tonight she was grateful for her father’s odd interests, as she didn’t want anyone to see her doing Matrix searches for the information she needed.
She quickly scanned the shelf and pulled down a tome labeled Introduction to Magical Awareness: Magic and You. Holding her breath against the dust, as well as the rising fear, she opened the book and thumbed through the pages. She noticed a page titled “Auras” and stopped, running her finger over the words as she read. Her chest tightened as she realized the passage was describing what she had been seeing around her friends. As she kept reading, the chapter described something called “Astral Perception and Projection” and an annotation directed her to another page for more information. She turned to the page and felt her heart stop in her chest. It was as if whatever dusty old goon had written the book had been right there in her bedroom on Saturday afternoon. “…colloquially referred to as an out-of-body experience the magician leaves the physical body behind…flies through astral space…can see but not interact with the physical world around them…vertigo and nausea when first learning how to travel…” Katjia slammed the book closed and slipped it back on the shelf with trembling hands. She snuck back to her room silently and crawled under her covers, pulling them tightly around her as she had done when she was a child afraid of monsters. This time the difference was that she wasn’t sure if she was trying to keep the monsters out, or keep the monster inside her in.