Dr. Mind stood next to one of the folding tables scattered around his makeshift lab, holding a red helium balloon and a small potted plant, his characteristic white labcoat trailing to the floor. The ridiculousness of the image struck me all at once and I laughed out loud.
“What’s the balloon for?” I asked.
“Science!” he said. “Your power is fascinating.” He waved me closer with the potted plant. “Hold this for me, will you?” He handed me the ribbon trailing from the tied-off end of the balloon and placed the plant on the table. “Savage will be here shortly. For now, I want to run a few tests. If you will, please touch the balloon,” he said. I did, leaving a round black fingerprint on it, which faded after a moment.
Dr. Mind clapped his hands once. “You see?”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
“It didn’t pop. Here, another demonstration. Cover the balloon as well as you can and hold it by the string.”
I did as he asked, running my hands over the red rubber surface. When it was completely black, I ran the string through my fingers to cover it and let go of the balloon.
The balloon plummeted to the floor. I let go of the string in surprise, and as the shadow faded, the balloon floated back up. Dr. Mind snatched the end of the string before the balloon could get away and pulled it back down.
“Woah, weird,” I said. “I guess that’s not too surprising. I ignore air resistance.”
“Yes, It makes sense that the balloon would ignore the buoyant force from the air.” said Dr. Mind with an excited smile. “But, here’s the interesting part: the balloon didn’t deflate. Think about that.”
“So… The air outside it passed through it, but the air inside it stayed in?” I posited. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Really think,” Dr. Mind urged. “Why isn’t there an implosion whenever you cover yourself? If you suddenly become a hole in the atmosphere, logically there should be a moment when the air floods in. Furthermore, here does the air that is inside you go? And when you teleport, what happens to it?”
“I-” I stopped. “I’ve never thought about that. I assumed I just pass through it.”
“But it’s clearly not that simple. When the balloon falls, is the air it falls through also inside the balloon?”
“The answer is it’s not,” interrupted Dr. Mind. “The air goes in one side and out the other without passing through the intervening space. The sides of the balloon are, for all intents and purposes, contiguous with respect to the air around it.”
I stared at him blankly. No idea what that means.
“Another demonstration that should make it more clear, if you will cover it again.” He handed the balloon back to me and I obliged. “The balloon is full of a hydrogen and oxygen mixture, because that’s what I had on hand,” Dr. Mind said.
I held out the balloon and before I could pull it away, he flicked out a lighter and lit it under the balloon.
“Woah!” I exclaimed, and started to pull back, then stopped.
Much to my surprise, the balloon did not explode. More interesting still, I could see a small flame emerging from the top of the black surface.
“As I said,” Dr. Mind reiterated, “contiguous.”
“That’s… Woah.” I said. “It’s crazy that I never realized that.”
“I wager you never tried this particular trick.”
“I kind of did, actually,” I confessed. “With a candle. I got pretty badly burned.”
“Interesting,” Dr. Mind said, furrowing his brow. “If I may ask, how do you breathe?”
“I don’t,” I confessed. “Not when I’m like this.”
“Ah. That would explain it. I believe it’s a result of a survival mechanism built into your particular power. The purpose of your permeability, I believe, is to enable you to teleport without… well, exploding spectacularly. Every teleporter avoids this problem differently, but you have a particularly interesting approach. And then to be able to survive being unable to breathe normally while in this state, you gained the ability to take in oxygen out of the air that passes through you, on a cellular level.” I nodded, so he continued. “As a result, when you absorb oxygen, you may be inserting very hot or very cold air directly into your cells.”
“That sounds about right,” I confirmed. “Trading being fireproof for being able to breathe seems reasonable.”
“It does, at at that. This leads me to an interesting thought experiment. What happens if you touch one side of an object, but not the other?”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me show you.” He turned and walked towards another lab table. “I have something set up which I haven’t had a chance to try yet.”
I followed him, skirting around tables piled with precarious heaps of prototypes and scientific instruments, and stopped before the table he was at. “Is that a rat in a pressure chamber?” I asked, not entirely believing what I was seeing.
“Yup.” said Dr. Mind. “It’s the rat I coated earlier. It’s going along quite nicely, by the way. No adverse side-effects, as far as I can tell. I’m glad I only coated the outside of the rat, though I’m not entirely sure how I would have managed it otherwise.”
“It’s not coated now,” I pointed out.
“It’s not, no- that’s why I haven’t done this particular experiment yet. There must be a time or distance limit, or perhaps some other condition. We’ll have to do some more tests.”
Or Temple did something, I thought. Come to think of it, all my marks are gone.
“Are you sure that’s good for the rat?” I asked, gesturing to the metal and plexiglass tube.
“Don’t worry. They can take more than you’d expect. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue, anyway. You’ll see why.” Dr. Mind pushed the door on the pressure chamber open and reached in to pick up the rat. “Touch the rat. Lightly, if you will.”