A Character Study
The girl’s arms were strapped to the wall with thick wire. Flickering iridescent lights made the parts of her skin not covered in brilliantly blooming bruises and inflamed cuts look sallow. Both of her eyes were black over a nose that used to be a different shape. Her breath came in wet, heavy bursts from her chest.
“I thought you said she was a super.” Akash watched the girl closely, looking for any sign that his cohorts might be right. Based on the beating the girl had taken, it seemed unlikely. He should know, being a super himself. He was the resident expert on such things. As it was, the only thing remarkable about the girl was the fact that she was still alive after the torture they’d obviously put her through. He hid his feelings behind a blank stare, but looking at the damage that had been done made his heart ache; she was so young–maybe seventeen at best. Practically a child.
“She is.” Lieutenant Gains stood at ease next to Akash and glared at the girl. The lines on his face formed deep crags that made him look like an angry pug. “We have it on film. She reached into nothing and pulled out money. Probably stolen.”
“Then why does she bleed?” Despite the implication that the girl was a thief, he couldn’t quite shake the thought that they must be wrong about her. Supers didn’t bleed like that. Even the weakest of them were durable enough to withstand a stiff beating from a normal human with only small bruises and scrapes left as a memento. The ones that did bleed usually healed within minutes, but the girl showed no signs of regeneration.
Gains shifted. “We’re not sure. It’s some kind of trick. Probably part of her power set, to blend in more easily.”
The girl coughed and blood sprayed from her mouth. She gasped in pain, her head jerking slightly as she woke up. Akash held his breath watching as fresh tears spilled down her cheeks.
“Hello?” Words fell from her lips as more of a garbled croak than speech. She coughed again. More blood dripped down her chin. She groaned. Akash stepped closer to the glass. If it was camouflage that made her bleed like that, it was too much. The girl would die at this rate. Was she weak, a human, or just stupid?
Her eyes focused somewhat, clinging to Akash. “Are you here to kill me?” More tears leaked down her face as she gasped for breath, drowning in the fluid that was rapidly filling her lungs. “Please kill me.” It was no more than a wheezing squeak, but Akash heard it as clearly as if she spoke the words directly into his ears.
“Let me in the room.”
“She’s just faking-.”
Akash glanced at Gains without emotion. “Let me in.”
The older man grunted and gestured toward the solid metal door that led into the cell. Akash stood in front of it and waited patiently for Gains to press the button that released the magnetic lock. A tone sounded out and a heavy clunk indicated that it was unlocked. Akash pushed the door open and stepped into the cell with a chill of apprehension racing down his spine.
The air smelled pungent–a heavy mix of bile and fear sweat. He held his breath as he stepped haltingly closer to the girl. It wasn’t right. How could people who were opposing the tyranny of supers use tactics like this? He’d been so certain of their cause. Fighting against supers who abused their power was one thing. It was a cause that he knew was just. And yet, as he looked down at the silently weeping girl, he questioned his mission for the first time. Please kill me. Her hopeless plea would haunt him until his dying day.
The girl’s clouded eyes focused once again, taking in his face with an expression of wonder. Beneath the bruises, the swollen face, and the broken nose, she was beautiful. A face cut like a precious gem and shining gray eyes that bore into his soul as if she saw the very essence of what made him Akash. “It’s you,” she whispered. One shaking hand fought the wire rope to reach out to him.
Akash fought the urge to step back. Slowly, unsure why he did so, he bent to one knee in front of the girl so she could reach him more easily. She leaned forward and pressed her swollen, bloody lips against his in a gentle kiss. He jerked back in surprise, but the girl barely took notice. Her smile was brittle and wet. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I don’t know you,” Akash protested. His heart hammered against his ribcage. His lips tasted like pennies and something bittersweet.
“You don’t?” She swayed where she sat. “You-you’re not mine, are you?” Tears flowed down her cheeks and her breathing hitched. “I thought you were my Akash. Where is he?”
“I don’t know.” The admission was shaky and uncertain. How did she know his name? Even his cohorts didn’t know his name. They only ever called him The Technopath. “Are you really a super?”
“Yes.” The answer came so simply. They were right, he thought in wonder. Akash glanced back at the window where Gains smiled triumphantly. In the flickering light, the expression was foreign and dangerous. A pit of uncertainty grew in his stomach.
Akash shook his head in disbelief. “How?”
“What?” Her eyes fluttered. She danced on the edge of consciousness. Any second she would pass out, and he wouldn’t be able to get any more answers to the growing question that nagged at his mind.
“How were they able to hurt you if you’re a super?” He whispered, terrified of what her answer might mean for him. It could ruin everything. But truth was a rare commodity in the world in which he lived, and even a small amount of it was valuable. He would accept the truth even if it hurt.
“My powers. The space around my body is locked in a quantum field. If they hit it they would get hurt. So I moved the field.”
Akash let out a bark of indignation. “You moved it. So they wouldn’t be hurt when they hit you.” He ground his teeth together, forcing his way through the uncomfortable conversation despite his growing anxiety. “Why haven’t you healed?”
“You can’t heal?”
She folded forward, her fleeting strength completely used up. She couldn’t heal, and so the monsters that put her in the cage beat her so badly she could barely breathe. It made no sense. Not unless it wasn’t only the corrupt Hero Association that his allies were after. Akash was no fool. Supers weren’t the only creatures who abused power. He desperately hoped that he was wrong: but there was a quick way to find out.
Akash caught the girl up in his arms and yanked the wire ropes out of the wall, freeing her chafed wrists. Scooping her up as gently as he could manage, Akash lifted into the air. His veins filled with icy calm despite the hot fury that broiled within him. The power in the building flickered at the surge of his anger.
“What are you doing, Technopath?” Gains growled, slamming a fist against the glass. “Return the prisoner at once!”
“She is a child,” Akash said, brushing the girl’s mahogany brown hair out of her sweaty and swollen face. “She needs medical attention.”
“She’s a super,” Gains growled. “She should be euthanized before she’s powerful enough to cause us harm!”
“I’m a super,” Akash said, his eyes glowing as the technology in the building flared to life and powered down over and over again as his rage grew. “Is that the fate you believe we all deserve? Regardless of our loyalties?”
“Supers have no loyalties except to themselves. Your insubordination today proves that.” Gains slammed his fist down onto the panel in front of him. An alarm sounded and the door to the room flew open. Into the room streamed men in riot gear holding polymer rifles with a sickly orange glow emitting from the barrel–weapons known as Ability Obstruction Assault Ordnance, or AO-AO. They were a particularly nasty type of rifle that Akash had created to help the military more easily handle rogue supers. The absurdity of them using Akash’s own weapon against him seemed to be lost on Gains.
“I won’t allow you to harm an innocent child,” Akash hissed at the old man.
“Pah! Innocent.” The old man’s face hardened, his upper lip curling upward in a fierce snarl. “Fire!” Gains shouted at the soldiers, spittle flying from his mouth.
Akash held out his hand to the men with a wicked grin. “Override four-two-oh.” The guns in the soldier’s hands flashed a green light over his outstretched palm, then fell to pieces in their grips before any of them had a chance to fire.
“In case you ever betrayed me,” Akash explained quietly. At the time, he’d felt guilty for planning such a feature. How easily it could have been used against his allies. All of that worry seemed meaningless, now. “I’ll deal with you later, Lieutenant.”
Gains’ face went pale. The soldiers who crowded the room shuffled nervously, gripping the remains of their weapons with shaking hands. All of the power they once held was literally in pieces on the floor at their feet. Without those weapons, they had no chance to stop even the weakest of supers. Akash was not weak. He was not weak at all.
Akash looked down at the girl in his arms, perplexed. He floated down to land in front of the terrified soldiers who backed away from him as if he was a predator and not a dedicated friend who’d worked alongside them for ten long years. Silently, Akash walked through the retreating crowd of soldiers, into the empty corridor, and out of the building. Sirens blared uselessly all around. Wherever he walked, soldiers on the base stopped to stare, but no one dared make a move against The Technopath.
Outside of the military base, the girl stirred, tucking her face closer to his chest. “Where?” Her breathing was so rough that she could barely get words out anymore.
“I’m taking you to the Association. If my information is correct, they should have a healer.” It was the last place he wanted to go, but the only realistic choice if the girl was to survive.
She shook her head emphatically, tugging on the front of his shirt. “No. No.”
Akash paused, just as confused as before. “You don’t want to go to the Hero Association? Why?”
She tugged desperately on his shirt. “Please. No.”
“I can’t fix you on my own. Not without more time,” he explained.
The girl tucked her head to his chest. “No.” It was a small whimper that did wonders to make him reconsider.
Akash was at a loss. He hugged the girl closer and took to the air. “I’ll protect you,” he whispered into her hair. “I promise. No one will hurt you ever again. But I have to take you where they can fix you.” Never had Akash thought he would argue in favor of the Hero Association. They were the enemy. Supers used the association to place themselves on pedestals above the everyday hardworking man. They used their strength to manipulate leaders and government systems to their own ends. Supers were a menace to society. Except the young woman in his arms was hardly menacing. She was small. Strange. Beautiful. “I’ll protect you.”
She went slack, and for a moment he panicked–until the sound of her labored breathing beneath the roar of wind in his ears told him she’d fainted again. He sped up, leaving a slipstream in his wake. He would take her to the association, find the healer, and then…he wasn’t sure. Run away with her? Shut himself and the girl away somewhere no one could ever find them? He wasn’t sure what he could do.
The way she’d looked at him, with foggy gray eyes that softened as they fell on his face, made his chest ache. He would do anything for her, he realized. One look was his undoing. So into the lion’s den he fled, leaving any sense of regret far behind.