Earth-TRN1151515, January 12, 2025, Jersey City
Wesley Zhao yawned as he stared out the window of the fire truck he was riding in.
When Wesley said he was going to attend a concert at Jersey City’s Waterfront, the last thing he expected was his older half-brother Declan insisting he be allowed to take him there. Wesley was wondering how Declan was going to take him there since he had not bought the car he wanted yet, until Declan and his colleagues showed up in their fire truck outside their house, much to his stepmother’s amusement.
“Come out, Wesley. You’re going to the Waterfront concert in style,” Declan had announced on the loudspeaker while his colleagues laughed.
“Aren’t they going to get into trouble for this?” Wesley asked his stepmother.
“No. See? Their battalion chief’s with them laughing his head off,” she replied as she pointed out a stocky African-American laughing away in the front seat.
Thus, Wesley found himself carried by two firefighters and unceremoniously dumped into the truck. It may seem like Declan and his colleagues were messing around with him, but in reality, the guys were very protective of their future candidate, having shown up outside his former school to show support for him when he was unjustly expelled from his former high school, forcing the school staff to withdraw the expulsion to save face. The damage was done, however: Wesley’s stepmom was transferring him to another school once the school year ends in June. To cheer him up, she managed to secure a ticket for Wesley to attend the concert he was now heading to, fully aware of her stepson’s simping for rising K-Pop teen idol Seol Hee.
“Declan, are we there yet? Seol Hee rarely comes to the States. I’ll burn your PlayStation if we miss her opening act!”
“We would, if Marco here could push the pedal down a bit more,” Declan replied as he shot a taunting smirk at the driver.
“C’mon, Lieutenant, Marco is going as fast as he can in this traffic,” Tyesha, a recently-graduated candidate for Declan’s firehouse, retorted with a sigh at the sight of the heavy traffic congesting the road towards their firehouse, located a few streets away from the Waterfront’s main attractions.
“By the way, Wesley, is Owen still taunting you at school?”
“Not in front of me, at least. Probably because he doesn’t want his jaw re-broken. Didn’t mean to do it in the first place, by the way.”
“I told you sending him to the Chikara Dojo in New York City was a good idea. Wing-sensei taught him well,” Declan’s chief commented.
“Too well, I think. Never expected my little brother would go from a crybaby to One Punch Man in a matter of three months.”
After fifteen minutes, the fire truck finally returned to its firehouse, which also means Wesley has to continue his journey to the concert on foot.
“Wow, for a big event, they really cheap out on the decorations,” Wesley commented as he emerged from the vehicle about two streets away from the concert venue.
“COVID’s doing a dandy on finances around the world, that’s why,” Declan replied jokingly.
“Seriously, you’re the last person I expect to make a COVID joke considering that’s the first thing those racist idiots use when verbally abusing you,” Tyesha commented.
“Yeah, but then I start coughing on them. I’m pretty sure some of them have unknowingly broken Usain Bolt’s world record. But never mind that! Wesley, I know you’re mature enough to take care of yourself but remember: No alcohol, no strange pills, no going near girls you don’t know because you don’t know when one of them will cry wolf and no fighting. I don’t think Mom can handle you breaking another person’s jaw, hear?”
“C’mon, Declan, I’m sixteen! No need to keep treating me like a kid,” Wesley asked.
“You’re still a kid, just one who’s developed a taste for mixed martial arts and boxing. When you’re done, you can choose to spend the night here in the firehouse or go home. Just make sure you call me or Mom first, alright?”
“Yup. Got the spare keys on me too.”
“All right, then. Have fun but take care of yourself, Wesley. Call us if you’re in trouble. You got our numbers on speed dial?”
“Yup. Good luck with any emergencies. It’s been too quiet for you guys lately,” Wesley commented innocently.
“No, don’t say that!” all the firefighters exclaimed in horror.
Too late. The fire truck had just parked itself when the PA system went live about a multiple vehicle accident at Merseles Street.
“Ah, shit, let’s go, boys and girls! See you later, little brother!” Declan said as he jumped back onto the fire truck, with Wesley waiting for the crew to leave before making his way to the Waterfront area just across the street.
Waterfront, Jersey City
Shit, now that I think about it, coming alone is just weird… Ah, never mind, what’s done is done, Wesley thought to himself as he walked past a couple who were discussing something about “messing with the (racial slur) girl” which caused him to frown.
Chill, Wesley, it’s not your problem, don’t go picking fights, Wesley thought to himself as he continued walking, eventually arriving at the Waterfront.
If there’s one good thing he could say about his birth country, it’s that the importance of racial harmony was grilled into the minds of every Singaporean born after the 1980s. It’s not perfect, there are still some detractors, but it was a hundred times better than what they have here in America.
Unfortunately, the side effect of the grilling was that he’s become rather sensitive towards racism even if it wasn’t directed at him. And racism, while uncommon, was very widespread in America. It didn’t help that he was Eurasian (his mother was half-Scottish): Even back in Singapore, he has taken shit from both sides because of his mixed ethnicity. While he was grateful that his stepmother and half-brother put in the effort to legally adopt and bring him to the USA three years ago after his parents’ demise and his relatives disowning him, he did wish that they had been living in another country, like back in Singapore, where there was actually a law against hate speech (or faking it) with lawyers unable to give excuses like ‘free speech’ and ‘mental illness’ or try to play the victim card.
The concert was jam-packed with teenagers, and apart from rising K-Pop teen star Seol Hee completely stealing the show despite being the opening act, the rest of the participants were pretty much unknown or mid-tier bands trying to crawl their way up the ranks. Some were pretty good, others were ‘meh’. Wesley spent the whole time stuffing himself away in one corner watching the whole event which was starting to degrade into an underage rave after Seol Hee had left.
Things are getting out of hand here… Better go before the cops arrive, Wesley thought to himself as he prepared to leave when something wet and cold splattered on his pants.
“The hell?” Wesley exclaimed as he turned in surprise, only to find a long-haired girl with messy bangs covering the entirety of her forehead coughing and trying to get rid of whatever contents were in her mouth, a dropped cup of juice on the floor.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Josh? You know she’s not allowed to take alcohol even if she’s legal!”
“C’mon, it’s not like she swallowed it…”
It was the couple he had passed by earlier, and remembering their conversation, the girl who just threw up on him was probably the Pakistani girl that they had been talking about. Staring at the cup, her reaction and the blonde guy arguing with the couple, Wesley put two and two together and figured out what they had done.
Wesley quickly made himself scarce, fully aware what he might do now that he’s triggered and not wanting to escalate the situation by getting involved. His stepmother may be proud of his desire to help redress injustice, but she’ll verbally murder him if he breaks another idiot’s jaw within a month from the first, so he made his way into the nearest portajohn to cool off and dry his pants. He was no longer in the mood to stay for the concert either, having attended it in the first place just to get a look at Seol Hee in real life instead of television and YouTube, and once his pants were free of juice stains, he left the Waterfront and began walking home.
Wesley had walked for about ten minutes, taking in the night-time sights of Jersey City which he rarely had the chance to experience. He could also see New York City from across the Hudson, which was currently blanketed by some kind of heavy fog, but then he rounded a corner and ended up colliding with someone.
“Sorry! I didn’t see- Eh?”
January 12, 2022, Waterfront, Jersey City Downtown
Kamala Khan did not expect to bump into the very person she had spat her spiked juice on again so soon.
She had snuck out of her house with Bruno’s help to attend the concert which her parents had strictly forbidden her from doing so, and it had been quite an enjoyable night. Unfortunately, she made the mistake of trusting Josh and Zoe again. Josh waited until she had some juice in her mouth before revealing that he had put vodka in it, causing her to immediately spit it out and rather unfortunately, everything landed on a boy with a messy taper haircut who appears to be around her age and looked slightly Caucasian-ish despite clearly being Asian. What happened next was Bruno and Josh almost getting into a fight, Zoe taunting her about her ‘curry smell’, then Kamala deciding that attending the concert was the biggest mistake of her life and outright walking away, refusing to listen to Bruno’s attempts to console her and now regretting it enough to turn back to find him…
… only to get knocked down by the same boy she had thrown up on, who looked utterly terrified and guilty he had done so because he had been walking too fast.
“Sorry, I didn’t see- Eh?”
Uh oh, he recognized her.
“Weren’t you at the concert?”
“Wait, you’re the guy I spat on by accident!”
“Er, yeah. Lucky me, I guess. Sorry about the crash, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking,” the boy apologized as he helped her up.
“Nope, nope, everything’s fine! I just U-turned without warning and was kinda running myself… Sorry about the whole juice-on-pants thing.”
“It’s fine. I heard the confrontation. They spiked your drink with alcohol?”
“Seriously? Assholes… In my birth country they would be charged with a hate crime already… At least your boyfriend stepped up for you. You running back to find him?”
“What? No! Bruno’s a childhood friend of mine, that’s all!” Kamala denied as she felt heat on her face.
“Oh, well, just thought he might be. So, you all right after the whole thing?”
“I think so… I hope I didn’t swallow anything.”
“Considering how wet my pants were, I’m very confident that you got rid of everything, so don’t worry too much about it… I’m Wesley, by the way,” the boy introduced himself as he scratched the back of his head, still looking slightly embarrassed.
“I’m Kamala. So, you live here? I’ve never really seen you before.”
“Yeah, McGinley Square. I rarely leave my house except to go to school, so I guess no one outside the neighborhood knows me.”
“That’s a coincidence. My family’s about to move to McGinley Square soon. Guess I’ll be seeing more of you then.”
“That sounds really strange.”
“Oh, right, yeah! Sorry about that, er, you know, I don’t remember New York being so foggy before,” Kamala quickly changed the subject as she tried to hide her embarrassment.
“Yeah, looks messed up. So, this is where we, er, part ways? Kind of in a rush to get back home, sorry…”
“Yeah, me too. Well, nice meeting you, Wesley! I need to go back and find Bruno… Hey, I just noticed… The fog around NYC, it’s kinda green?”
Kamala was now focused on the strange fog that was crossing the Hudson and heading towards Jersey. She’s never seen green fog before and she had a gut feeling that something was not right about it. Wesley was also staring at the approaching fog with concern.
“Something’s not right. When does fog move so fast… We got to go.”
“Yeah, good idea.”
By now, the fog had reached Jersey City, and Kamala and her new friend went from brisk-walking to running, but the fog quickly overtook them both. Worse, Kamala was starting to feel a bit faint, wondering if she really did swallow some of the vodka.
“Hey, you all right?” Wesley asked.
“I don’t know…”
Kamala felt her knees buckle, but Wesley managed to catch her as the fog grew thicker. However, as he tried to help her stand, he suddenly lose his grip on her arms and dropped to the floor on his back. By now both of them were coughing badly, and Kamala saw Wesley’s arms going limp on the pavement right before she felt her own consciousness leave her…
“This is a S.H.I.E.L.D. Global Emergency Broadcast to every country. We have received confirmation that fifteen minutes ago, the global terrorist think tank, Advanced Ideas Mechanics, triggered the explosion of a Terrigen Bomb during their invasion of Attilan, home of the Inhumans. The presence of Terrigen Mists in the atmosphere is being reported all over the world. All agents are to liaison with local government agencies and prepare for the worst. Repeat, this is a S.H.I.E.L.D. Global Emergency Broadcast…
January 13, 2022, Kafka General Hospital, Jersey City
Kamala had no idea how long she was out, but when she woke up, she was in a hospital that was full to the brim with patients, all of whom she later learnt had been affected by the green fog. Her parents and brother were beside her bed, and the first thing they did was pull her into a big family hug, clearly worried out of their heads by the fact that she had been hospitalized.
Once the worry was over, the reprimanding began.
“We told you explicitly not to go to that shaytani concert and you still snuck out? See what happened to you? If Bruno did not call to inform us…”
“Bruno told on me? What is this, sixth grade?”
“He is the least of your problems! We ran around the city looking for you, then that weird fog showed up and we had to rush and take shelter in a vet’s office until the fog disappeared, and we find out three hours later that you’re in hospital? Do you know how long you were out?”
“How long was I out?”
“Twelve hours,” Aamir, her older brother, replied uncomfortably.
“What? That long?”
“You were lucky. Some of the people who got affected by that fog are still in a coma. The boy who found you, the firefighters told us he was trying to wake you up despite practically crawling on his knees from that fog.”
“Oh, so you know his name, and I was wondering how he knows yours! How is it that Bruno doesn’t know his name, and yet he’s the one who was with you instead of your childhood friend?”
“Wait, ammi, what are you talking about? I only just met him and I literally bumped into him around the corner! He doesn’t even have my number! Are you saying he’s one of my ten imaginary atheist boyfriends?” Kamala protested while her father face-palmed.
“Dear, we’re in a public area… Don’t say such things…”
“This is your fault, Yusuf! You say moving to this country will give our children opportunities, yet our daughter sneaks out to parties and say sarcastic things like this while our son doesn’t even want to get a proper job…”
“How did I get dragged into this?” Aamir protested.
“Excuse me, ma’am.”
A tall Asian man who appears to be in his late twenties with a small burn scar over his left eyebrow had approached the Khans with an apologetic look on his face.
“I’m sorry to intrude. My name’s Declan Zhao, and the boy who found your daughter is my brother. I understand that you’re worried about your daughter, but I know Wesley well enough that he won’t do anything stupid. But if I find out he’s done anything to your daughter, I assure you that I will make sure he face the consequences for his actions, so don’t you worry too much,” the man said to the Khan family with a firm but gentle tone, causing Kamala’s mother to go red from embarrassment.
“Oh, no, no, Mr Zhao. I am not suspecting or accusing your brother of anything! Please, don’t take this the wrong way, I apologize if I’ve been rude!” Kamala’s mother quickly said, and the woman nodded with a reassuring smile before turning to leave.
Kamala turned to see Wesley, the boy she had just met, on a nearby bed throwing up into a paper bag with the man who had just talked to her family standing next to him, while a rather somber-looking Asian woman sat beside Wesley’s bed holding his hand.
“Oh God, ammi! I know that guy who just talked to us!” Aamir suddenly exclaimed.
“You know that guy?”
“The only Chinese firefighter in Jersey City, the one that put out the fire at the bank abu works at and helped carry him to safety four years back! I heard he’s a lieutenant now…”
“The only Chinese firefighter in Jersey City? I thought there were a few?”
“Kamala, those guys are either Japanese or Vietnamese. He’s the only Chinese among the Asian-American firefighters in the city. I would know, Tyesha’s a firefighter too, remember?”
Kamala’s mother facepalmed in horror, realizing how ungrateful she had sounded when she expressed her suspicions earlier.
“Settle down, you both. This might be a sign for us since I never got to thank my savior, and now I finally meet him after four years. I will go talk to them.”
Kamala watched her father approach Wesley and his brother, engaging in some conversation with the entire family, before she laid back down on the pillow of the hospital bed with a sigh, thinking about her bad luck and everything that’s happened to her as of recent. She really needed to figure out who she is and what she wants in her life.
She had no idea that the fog that hospitalized her have forever changed her life, and not just hers only…