Chapter 1:

An Impossible Girl

ATLAS: Me, the Combatant, and Him, the Hero

"Ms. Calypso --"

"Calli," The pale girl corrected out of habit, before realizing what she'd done and giving an uneasy chuckle. She shifted uncomfortably in the folding chair, brushing aside a few loose strands of silvery-grey hair that had slipped out of her ponytail and forcing a smile. "Sorry. I just... um... yeah. I prefer to go by Calli."

"...Right," The interviewer slowly trailed off. He probably thought she was being needlessly rude. Or, given the way he kept staring at her hair, maybe he was just wondering why an obvious Stratan like her had such a flowery Golden Age name. Either way, no matter what happened, she couldn't afford to think negatively.

The moment you think you've lost is the moment you actually do lose. Just grin and bear it, Calli! You can do this!

"Then," the interviewer continued. "Ms. Calli Wolfwood --" he put a great deal of emphasis on the name, and she could practically hear the silent afterthought of "Happy now?" in the pause that followed. "-- correct?"

"That's correct."

"Right then. I've read over your resume, and I have a few questions for you." He was cutting right to the chase, then. Usually, they'd waste time asking a few pointless questions like "tell me a little bit about yourself" or "how did you find out about us." Whether skipping over those formalities meant she was being seriously considered, however, or if it only meant he wanted her out of there as quickly as possible, she couldn't tell.

"Of course! What did you want to know?" She answered, still forcing a smile, but feeling a sudden heat rising beneath the uncomfortably tight collar of her secondhand suit despite the coldness of the overly air conditioned room. Well, to be honest, the room's temperature would never have much effect on her anyway -- but her own nervousness was a different story. After all, she had an inkling of what was coming next, and so she mentally braced herself; but when the question came she still couldn't help but wince.

"Right. My first question would be about your educational background. It says here that you were home schooled?"

There it was: the first of the questions that always spelled her doom in a job interview. Mustering all her strength, she kept smiling, and did her best to answer.

"Yes. My guardian personally taught me advanced subjects like mathematics and the sciences, and I also did a lot of independent study on my own time in secondary, career-oriented areas like team leadership and marketing." Calli made sure to answer in more detail than necessary, doing her best to sound eloquent and professional. No doubt, this interviewer probably figured she was just some hoodlum who'd read a book or two and fancied herself an intellectual; which, really, she was, but if she could fool him into thinking that she wasn't, she might be able to undo some of the negative preconceptions her looks must have given him.

"Forgive me if this is too forward, but why didn't you just attend public school? Was there something that prevented you from doing so?"

And he'd actually asked for the reason? Normally, people would just assume the answer based on her appearance, which was bad in its own way; but having to actually go and say it was even worse! But she had to answer, so, her forced smile crumbling by a few degrees, she spoke the truth.

"There... uh... wasn't one in my area."

"Your listed address is... I believe it's in Orbital's district?"

"That's correct, but I only recently moved there." And that particular stroke of good fortune had only been thanks to her mom's -- that is, her guardian's connections -- but she thankfully didn't need to add that part.

"Then, where did you live while growing up?"

Another unpleasant question had appeared. It was becoming harder and harder to keep her cool, but once again, she couldn't avoid the question, and so...

"...Strata 19."

The interviewer's eyebrows shot up, and for just a moment, he looked like he'd been shot. His eyes darted up to her hair, then back to her pale features, then finally locked with her own amber gaze with a look of momentary disbelief, all before he even realized how much his thoughts were showing on his face. He coughed and quickly mastered himself, but by then his fear and contempt were obvious.

"Ehem." The interviewer cleared his throat, then carried on as if nothing had happened. "Right, then... So since there were no schools in your... um... home district... your guardian instructed you instead?"

"Yes. She had a rather large collection of books on her PT, and my siblings and I would take turns studying. If we had any questions, she would answer them for us, and she'd regularly give us exercises and worksheets to make sure we understood everything. She also had us take standardized tests every year, so we had a benchmark to make sure we were learning everything we needed to know at our level. If you'd like confirmation, I'd be more than happy to send you a copy of my results." On this count, at least, her education had been unimpeachable -- though, that never seemed to convince anyone anyway.

"That's very... commendable." The compliment was obviously forced, but at least he was trying to be polite. Her albinism already made it painfully obvious that she was a Stratan born and bred, living her entire life where the light of the sun and the hands of NOAH's governing board could never reach. Once they knew she was from one of the untouchable levels, it was only natural for topsiders to assume the worst. That was all the confirmation most people needed to come to the obvious conclusion -- that Calli was a dangerous person, and one with little to no possible value.

"Could you tell me a little bit more about your family? Aside from your guardian, I mean." The question snapped her back to attention, but unfortunately, there wasn't much she could do to honestly answer it.

"Well... there's not much else I can remember, to be honest. My parents left when I was still really little," she replied matter-of-factly. The man visibly winced again, and Calli mentally slapped herself. She'd just meant to explain why she couldn't answer, but the way she'd gone about that was way, way too heavy.

"What about your siblings?" He asked quickly, clearly trying to change the subject. Calli nodded vigorously and played along, hoping to clear the air before this turned into yet another awkward silence.

"Yeah. I have two brothers. They're twins -- six years younger than me."

"And so you were all left in the care of your guardian at that point?"

"Well, I -- yeah. Something like that. She took all of us in and raised us after that." She gave another nervous laugh. Really, couldn't they just move on from this topic? The inevitable awkward silence at last began to settle in despite her best efforts as the interviewer shuffled through several holoscreens projected from his Personal Terminal. Whether he was looking at her resume or his own questioning notes, she couldn't tell. He might have just been flipping pages at random to buy himself time to think, for all she knew. Regardless, when he did finally address her again, it was with more normal lines of questioning, giving her a chance to regain her composure.

"What would you say your strengths are?"

"Above all else, I'm extremely adaptable!" Calli answered without missing a beat. "Since a lot of what I know was self-taught, I'm very good at picking up on whatever skills I need to succeed in a job." Her secret technique, turning her suspect educational background into a selling point for her skills, could only get her so far -- but it was at least a step in the right direction to salvage this interview before her prospects got any worse.

"And it says here that you're applying for... oh."

"For whatever job you're willing to hire me for, yes," she added helpfully. Things were getting tenuous again, and if he asked about her qualifications for each individual job, she'd only end up shooting herself in the foot, so she quickly returned back to her tried and true answer. "I have a lot of cursory knowledge in a plenty of different fields, which I believe will give me a solid foundation regardless of what job you give me. And if that's not enough, I can quickly learn whatever else you need me to know!"

"I... see." He didn't sound convinced, so she opened her mouth to continue, but just as quickly checked herself. Pushing the point too strongly might only make him question her more. So, she said nothing, and just went back to forcing that same old smile.

"And what would you say your biggest weakness is?" In retrospect, it probably should have been a giveaway that he didn't ask about the specifics of her knowledge or interests, but she was just happy that the interview hadn't already concluded prematurely, and so blindly continued answering honestly.

"Well, probably my appearance." It was an uncomfortable answer, but an obvious one, given her circumstances. It wasn't as if she was particularly ugly or anything -- in fact, though it might have been arrogant to say it about herself, she was tall and fit and had a decently good figure. Were it not for people's assumptions based on her albinism, everyone would definitely agree that she was a beauty! ...Or at least, that was what her mom -- no, rather, what her guardian had said.

At any rate, it was best to be realistic about such things. "I'm well aware that there aren't many Stratans in the upper city," Calli continued with a wry smile. "And we don't exactly have the best reputation, so if you put me in a position where I had to work with clients face to face... I'd probably make people uneasy."

Calli gave another nervous laugh, but inwardly hoped the interviewer would at least try to deny it. These hopes only ended up dashed, however, as he just nodded and said "I see" before moving on to the next question. "Aside from what you've already talked about, do you have any unusual skills or special talents?" At this, her fake smile turned into a real one. After all, she did have one particularly unique skill at her disposal!

"Ah, actually, I do! I have a Metahuman ability!"

Once again, the interviewer's eyebrows shot up, and she inwardly wished he'd stop giving her that look. A Stratan from the untouchable levels, living in the Orbital District, with a Golden Age name normally reserved for wealthy heirs and heiresses, and who had even developed a Metahuman power -- surely such an impossible girl couldn't exist, right? Meeting someone like that would be like winning the lottery, then getting struck by lightning twice!

Well, there's one right here, though.

"Is... is that so?" The man asked, recovering from his shock. "Could you explain what that ability is, and, if possible, demonstrate it for me?" For the first time in the interview, he seemed genuinely interested. Maybe she'd gotten his hopes up too much...

"Of course! My power is called 'Adaptive Body.' It's a D-Ranked, mutant-type ability. Basically, my body automatically adjusts itself to local conditions! So things like hot and cold temperatures don't bother me at all, when I'm injured I heal more quickly, and I'm really resistant to diseases and stuff. I don't think I've even once caught a cold!"

...Put another way, that last bit just made her sound like an idiot. But surely, he'd see the value of an employee who never had to take sick days, right?


...No such luck. Two days later, she received yet another message that stated simply "we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors." In the darkness of her one-room apartment, lit only by the distant neon glow from the high rises that lined the shores of the endless ocean, Calli breathed a heavy sigh, and sunk down onto her bed like a puppet with its strings cut. She stared at the message on her PT for who knew how long, as if by sheer force of will, she could change the text displayed therein.

But Calli Wolfwood was nothing if not adaptable. Some might even say that it was her only redeeming trait. They'd be wrong, of course; there were plenty of good things about her -- but she had long since stopped expecting other people to be able to see them.

No one was just going to reach out and hand her anything on a silver platter -- even if all she wanted was the ability to work, to build a future for herself and the people she cared about.

She already knew that, but knowing it and being able to do anything about it were two different things. No, rather, what could she even do if the circumstances of her birth decided how people saw her before she even opened her mouth? She was who she was, and nothing would change that; no matter how unsightly or disgraceful others might find her, her way of life was all she had.

She had tried her best, and it wasn't enough -- but all she could do was keep trying. After all, she couldn't return home empty-handed. If she fell down five times, she'd just have to get up six. If she was refused a hundred times, she'd just have to apply herself a hundred more. Until it all worked out, somehow. Until something changed.

She picked up her PT again, then swiped over to the next window, and looked at the balance in her savings account -- all three digits of it. Then she looked at the upcoming reminder on her calendar app for the rent payment that was coming up in a week -- and the red circled dates for the last two installments she'd already failed to pay. She sighed again, then opened up her contacts and tabbed onto a chat thread helpfully pinned at the top of the page, highlighted in bright red text.

Pleione Employment Agency. In need of work? Just call us!