A Character Study
Tenfold wouldn’t come out of her room. That, more than anything else, made the Mentalist hate Psych, or whatever it was she called herself. Their encounter had scared the woman beyond reason. Or, perhaps, it was with good reason for her to be so afraid. After watching the video footage of the encounter between Psych and Tenfold it had become abundantly clear that Psych far outclassed the duplicator. It was as if they hadn’t even been playing the same game.
None of Tenfold’s hits had landed on the woman. At first it seemed like it. Psych reacted perfectly to every hit; slammed into walls so hard that it had left craters; and yet, the video footage told a different story. The walls broke before Psych hit them. Tenfold’s fists stopped just short of the red clad villain. And in the end, with a single touch, Tenfold had been left locked in place and completely vulnerable. The villain could have done anything to her, at that point. Tenfold could have been killed.
Instead, the villainess had simply tucked a slip of paper into Tenfold’s sleeve and made a run for it before backup arrived. The thought of it made Mentalist’s stomach churn. All of the top brass of the Hero Association had poured over the note. They tried to ascertain whether it was a manifesto, a declaration of her next target, or anything that made sense at all. It wasn’t. It was an address that led to a small apartment rented out by a poor couple and their four children.
Inevitably Alpha, the leader of the Hero Association, assigned the Mentalist to find out why Psych was targeting this family. And the Mentalist had readily agreed to the job. Because Tenfold still wouldn’t come out of her room.
His anger built as he approached the apartment building. There was no reason to get regular civilians involved in the game of heroes and villains that the supers of the world played. Supers were little more than entertainers. They were highly paid wrestlers at best. The fact that most of them could take out a city without breaking a sweat–well, they tried not to let too many people dwell on that fact. Laws for supers were much more strict than for anyone else, and that little bit of inequality would just have to put people at ease.
Mentalist reached out with his mind as soon as he entered the building. Tracking distance with his mind was impossible, so he searched through mental images until he found ones that matched the faces of the people he was looking for.
A sense of fear and pain hit him so hard that the Mentalist nearly stumbled into one of the other people taking the elevator with him. His heart seized and he punched a hole through the top of the elevator, briefly making a mental note to pay for the repairs later, and flew upward to the floor where he knew the family lived.
“She can’t already be here,” he cursed himself. “It’s too early.”
But villains who didn’t play by the rules of the association rarely followed any set of rules at all. It was stupid of him to assume Psych wouldn’t attack before the date and time she’d written on her note. He was through the elevator doors and at the apartment in the blink of an eye. He’d already ripped the front door off of its hinges before he even thought to take a closer look at what was happening inside.
A teenage girl huddled on the floor, covering a small child with her body as a woman struck her over and over with an iron pan. A bottle of whiskey lay on the ground at her feet, its contents soaking the taupe carpet.
“How dare you talk back to me! After all I’ve done for you!” The pan swung down once more and the teenager cried out in pain, but refused to move away from the little boy who huddled under her and cried. Bruises covered the girl’s face and neck. Blood poured freely from a gash on the boy’s head.
“He didn’t mean it!” the teenager gasped. “Please stop!”
Up swung the pan again, and back down, aimed straight at the girl’s head. It struck the Mentalist’s outstretched hand before he’d even realized he took a step. The woman stared at him blankly, and never had he wanted to strike down a civilian more than in the moment when her eyes met his.
He knew her entire life in a flash. Her name was Faith Hudson. Her own parents locked her in closets and refused to feed her for weeks on end. She’d run away from home at seventeen with the first boy who promised to take care of her. Her whole life was spent running from bad situation to worse until eventually she’d ended up with an abusive husband, taking care of his two kids.
She’d decided to foster to fill the void in her life. Faith had just wanted something to call her own, and her husband didn’t mind the extra money the new kids brought in. But the girl had turned out to be weird, and the boy was too difficult for her to handle. Resentment broiled inside of her at the two useless children she’d taken under her roof. She’d taken to drinking. Then she’d taken to beating them, just like her parents had done to her.
They deserve it, the woman thought. It’s their fault. Why can’t they just be normal?
The Mentalist flinched away from the woman’s mind. He didn’t want to pity her. Part of him didn’t pity her, and never would. That fact made him uncomfortable. He was the hero who always knew where people were coming from; he should have more compassion. That was difficult to feel as he stood over two bloodied and battered children who’d done little other than accidentally spill the woman’s whiskey during a tantrum.
The Mentalist scooped the children both up into his arms. “I’m here to protect you,” he said.
The girl nodded, but refused to look him in the eyes. Instead, she cradled the squirming young boy close to her chest. “Get us out of here,” she whispered. The boy wept silently.
Within minutes, the three of them stood in front a DCS worker at the hospital as the Mentalist quietly explained what he had witnessed in the house and what had brought him there in the first place. The woman listened quietly, nodding occasionally before gesturing for him and the children to take a seat.
He sat next to the children with a scowl.
“She didn’t believe you?” the girl asked. She appeared more resigned than worried.
The man hesitated, not sure he should explain what had him so angry. Rather than mention the woman’s underlying thoughts, he said, “She had no choice except to believe me.”
The girl nodded and looked away. “They never believe me, when I tell them. I’ve tried to report it before.”
“I know.” The Mentalist sighed, rubbing his temples to hide his anger. It had been on the forefront of the social worker’s mind. The girl, Estelle, was a known liar. She’d falsely reported the family for abuse three times according to her records. There had never been any evidence to support her claims, and the social workers had been instructed to take down her reports but put them in the de-escalated claims pile. This time, since the Mentalist had been there and witnessed the violence first-hand, they had no choice but to take it seriously. It made him sick to think what might have happened if he hadn’t been there to stop it. The girl might have died protecting her foster brother.
“It’s okay,” Estelle said, patting her brother’s shoulder gently. “He’s safe, now.”
She snorted, but didn’t answer. Instead she kept her eyes glued to the nurse who approached them with a chart. Estelle stood quickly, the little boy dangling from her arms. “Take him, first,” she insisted. “His head hasn’t stopped bleeding.”
The nurse whisked the boy away and Estelle sat gingerly in her chair. Her breathing was rough and from the waves of pain that emanated from the girl he was certain she’d broken at least one rib. He was amazed. The girl was a fighter, through and through.
“You’ll be safe now, too,” the Mentalist promised.
Estelle stiffened slightly, then relaxed her shoulders. “Yeah. I know.”
“We could try to arrange for a family to take the both of you,” he offered.
“It would be harder to place him.” She bit her lip and closed her eyes as she tilted her head back against the pillar behind her. “Could you check in on him, from time to time? Make sure he’s ok?”
“I will. I’ll do the same for you.”
“I won’t need it.” A tear fell down her bruised cheek. The Mentalist cursed himself for not coming to the apartment even a little bit sooner. He hated the fact that the girl had gone through this at all. She was so young. Barely fourteen, though her demeanor gave her a maturity well beyond her years. All the same, she was only a child.
No one had seen the horrors that this child had suffered. No one except Psych, who had sent the entire Hero’s Association to hunt the family down and protect the children. At the end of the day, he wasn’t the real hero. It was the red-clad woman who’d scared his friend that had saved these children.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” Estelle said. She stood up, clutching her ribs and limped away to the bathroom. The Mentalist barely made note of her exit, trapped as he was in his own self-pity and doubt.
After a time, the nurse returned to take Estelle back to the examination room.
“She’s in the bathroom,” the Mentalist explained. “How is the boy?”
“A small concussion. He needed three stitches, and we’ll keep him under observation.” She smiled broadly at him. “I’m a huge fan of your work, by the way. I have a thing for the thinking type heroes. You guys are the best.”
“Thank you, that really means a lot.” They stood and chatted until finally the nurse peeked around him to the bathroom. “Is she okay in there? It’s been a while.”
Without waiting for him to answer, she walked over to the bathroom and slipped in the door. He felt her surprise before she stepped out and called him over. “She’s not here,” the woman whispered.
The Mentalist took a step back in shock, then opened his mind to search for images of the girl. His eyes glowed and the air around him became thick as he spread out his search radius to the edge of his reach. At last he let the mental trick go with a curse.
“She’s gone. I think she ran.” He pulled out his communicator and typed a message to the Association, requesting backup to search for the girl. He didn’t have to wait for a response. A text popped up on his screen right away.
Runaway civilian teens are the jurisdiction of the police, not the Hero Association. Wrap up your business there and return to headquarters as soon as possible.
A cold ball settled into the bottom of his stomach. A child disappears in the middle of the city and this was the best response they could muster? Not for the first time, the Mentalist resented the title of Hero that had been bestowed to him the day he joined the association. Some hero he was, if he wasn’t even allowed to protect a child in need.
“Damn them,” he muttered. “Could you report the girl’s absence to the case worker on site?” he asked the nurse. “I’ll look for her on my own.”
The nurse nodded and ran off to do as he asked. The Mentalist took to the air, flying out of the hospital and over the city, scouring the minds that passed below him for any glimpse of the girl, however brief.
She was nowhere. Estelle had disappeared into thin air, as if she’d never existed at all. The Mentalist kept looking for her all night until his mind dragged and body dipped and swayed through the air as if he was drunk. He crawled into his bed that morning haggard and miserable.
He’d failed the child. Failed her so thoroughly that he would never forgive himself.
“It won’t happen again,” he swore. He would never fail another child like that ever again. And if he ever had the fortune to find Estelle, wherever she was, he would make sure she had a safe home to return. Even if it meant taking her in himself.