A Character Study

Alpha couldn’t be bothered to walk the halls of the ER attached to the Hero Association. He jumped out a window and flew to the top floor instead. The fewer people he had to run into, the better. The sycophants and worshipful followers gave him a headache even on the best of occasions, and the Association was the number one gathering spot for that lot. Not that he didn’t understand their feelings, of course. He was, after all, the most powerful super alive.

The window leading into Psych’s room burst open before Alpha even reached it. The Mentalist, a dark and lanky man with disheveled clothing and dark circles under his eyes, scowled out at Alpha with his arms crossed over his chest.

“You’re not coming in until you promise not to harm her.”

Alpha rolled his eyes. “She’s a criminal.”

“She’s a child.”

“You can’t stop me from getting to her if I really wanted to do it,” Alpha pointed out.

“That remains to be seen.” The Mentalist glanced back into the room at the one who spoke, fighting a grin. The voice was raspy and crackled with congestion. What had the healer said? Blood in her lungs. Broken ribs. Concussion. Seriously, how had such a frail creature caused them such problems? No proper super should be this badly injured.

“You think the Mentalist could stop me?” Alpha scoffed.

“I’m in a hospital bed and even I could stop you,” the girl said. “The Mentalist wouldn’t even break a sweat. Or do you really think brute strength would work against someone who can break your mind?”

“I can’t break minds,” the Mentalist demurred.

“No, you don’t break minds. Can’t and won’t aren’t necessarily the same thing.”

Alpha flew closer to the window, but the Mentalist stepped up to block his path. “She’s a kid, and you will promise not to hurt her.”

The much more muscular super peered around his subordinate. He could see the girl’s feet at the end of the bed, and a quiet figure standing in the corner. More than anything, Alpha hated being told what to do. As if the Association and everyone in it didn’t belong to him. But, he had to admit, the Mentalist did have his shady little tricks. It was easier just to agree. He didn’t feel like having someone clean the splatter off of the wall.

The Mentalist glanced at him with a raised eyebrow and Alpha grinned. “Fine. I promise not to harm her. For now.”

The man in the corner snorted, but Alpha barely even glanced his way. The man was a nobody. Probably just the civilian that had brought her to the Association after he found her unconscious. The healer said the man refused to leave the girl’s side, and no one wanted to accidentally hurt him by trying to force him out.

“You have a lot of explaining to do, Psych,” Alpha warned her in a low growl. “After what you did to my heavy hitters, you’re lucky we even bothered to have you healed at all.”

“Sure thing, Ed. Whatever you say.” Psych leaned back on the bed and closed her eyes.

“Estelle,” the Mentalist sighed. He pinched the arch of his nose. “Why do you insist on being so antagonistic?”

“I’m good at it.” She twisted where she sat, her mouth pinched into a fine line. The man in the corner stepped forward. Alpha barely remembered he was there at all.

“She’s obviously in pain,” the man said quietly. “I thought you were an empath, can’t you tell at least that much?” He reached down and took her hand in his. “Can’t we get the healer to see her again? She obviously needs more help.”

“Not if she won’t allow it,” the Mentalist said, glaring pointedly at the girl. “If you would release your psychic shield, he could fix you the rest of the way in minutes.”

“I’d rather deal with it myself.”

“Psychic shield?” Alpha asked blankly. Having them talk around him like he wasn’t even there irritated him. Was he or was he not the leader of the Association? He deserved their respect.

“She projects a wall of psychic energy around herself as a natural defense,” The Mentalist explained. “It’s impenetrable. Nothing can get through it unless she wants it to.”

“Psychic energy.” The man who still held the girl’s hand glanced down at her with a raised eyebrow. She grinned up at him like he was a favorite toy.

“That’s what it is,” she said. “Why would I make that up?”

The man snorted, but didn’t say anything. The Mentalist harrumphed. “You can let her go, now, Akash,” he said, his eyes drilling holes into the pair’s linked hands.

Psych grinned impishly at the Mentalist. “Party pooper,” she said. The man, Akash, blushed and released his grip, taking a step back as he shoved his hands into his pockets. She sighed, her grin fading to a complicated frown. “I want to leave.”

At last, Alpha was in his element. “I don’t think so, Psych. Not until you’ve paid for your crimes!”

“What crimes?” she asked, her voice bored. “The heroes stopped me every time I tried, didn’t they?”

“You stole tens of thousands of dollars over the course of two years!”

Psych tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Hmm. Doesn’t sound like me. Do you have proof?”

Akash couldn’t quite hide his grin, and the Mentalist nearly choked on his own laugh. Alpha sputtered for a moment, caught off guard. Technically, they did not have proof that the girl stole the money. It wasn’t discovered that anything was missing until well after she’d run off, and there was no video footage or physical evidence to link the girl to the crimes. The only proof they had was that she was in the area when most of the things were stolen. Even when they raided her home and checked her employment records, there was no sign that she’d done anything wrong. They hadn’t even found her uniform. If it weren’t for the Mentalist positively identifying the girl, they wouldn’t even know she was Psych to begin with.

“Well then, I guess I’m free to go since there aren’t any crimes I can be charged with, right?” She swung her legs out of the bed and floated up rather than stand.

A chill that made no logical sense ran down Alpha’s back at the sight of her floating before him. Her hair and the robe she wore fluttered slowly as if the girl floated in water. When she moved through the air, it was with finite precision, as if a robot programmed coordinates in her flight path. It seemed as if the world moved around her instead of the other way around. Fighting the part of himself that told him to flee, he reached out to grab the girl’s arm.

His fingers slid off of a solid surface several inches over her skin. She looked down her petite nose at him, as if Alpha, the strongest hero in the entire world, was nothing more than a bug to her. What’s worse, for the first time in his life he actually felt like one. Was this what it was like for the people who met him? This sense of being entirely outclassed?

“I’m leaving,” Psych announced.

The Mentalist gently pushed Alpha aside and touched the girl’s hand. She let him, Alpha realized. “I told you that I would happily take you in, Estelle. You’ve already been through so much. Let me protect you.”

Psych looked away from him. A small tremor traced its way across her shoulders before her chin firmed and she pulled away. “I can protect myself.”

“You’re just a child,” the Mentalist said.

“I’m not a child. I’m sixty-seven,” she retorted with a pert smile.

“You’re sixteen,” he replied, voice dry.

“I’m an old sixteen. Ancient. Practically a fossil.” She looked past the Mentalist, her eyes clinging to Akash with an expression of longing that looked too mature for her young face. For a moment, Alpha could almost believe that the girl was in her sixties. “Akash. You could come with me.”

Akash frowned. “You should stay here with the Mentalist. It’s where you belong.”

“I don’t belong anywhere in this world,” she said.

The pressure in the room intensified. For a moment, Alpha’s body felt as if it was being torn apart–like every cell of his body would disintegrate at once. He collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath. Somewhere on the other side of the room, Akash cursed. When the pain subsided, Psych was gone.

Alpha panted, pressing a hand to his chest as if unsure his body was still in one piece. “What was that?” he demanded. “What did she do?”

The Mentalist didn’t answer. He stared at Akash, who floated in the air with his arms held out wide and his eyes glowing. He stayed that way for three minutes before dropping to the ground with a scowl.

“Well?” the Mentalist asked.

“Moon,” Akash growled. “She went to the moon.”

“What? How?” Alpha demanded. Even he couldn’t fly to the moon that quickly. Was the pain he experienced caused by the air burning as she left?

“What is she really?” the Mentalist asked.

Akash hesitated. “That’s not for me to say. It’s her secret to tell.”

“Then what are you?” Alpha demanded.

Akash looked at Alpha like he was a speck of dirt. Lip curled in animosity, he said, “I’m called the Technopath.” The name meant nothing to Alpha, so he looked at the Mentalist, whose skin had gone pale.

“Is that so?” the Mentalist asked.

“It is.”

Neither man said anything further. They stared one another down and the tension in the room grew palpable. At last, the Mentalist sighed, backing down. “I see. It’s that serious, is it?” Akash blushed, but didn’t answer. The Mentalist nodded and glanced at Alpha. “I will take care of the Psych case. Place her under my jurisdiction. I’m officially applying for the right to adoption. I will take responsibility for her from here on out.”

“Something tells me she won’t appreciate that,” Akash said. “But we can try, I suppose.”

“You can’t decide these things on your own,” Alpha said, feeling for all the world like a pouting child. “I’m the head of this Association. That girl is a danger to everything I’ve built!”

“That girl is a runaway child who is desperately trying to survive on her own,” the Mentalist said.

“She’s kind,” Akash added. “Kinder than I had reason to hope any super could be.”

“She didn’t seem that kind, to me,” Alpha muttered.

“She doesn’t like you,” the Mentalist said. “You don’t even need to be an empath to pick up on that much. You’d have to be a moron to not realize it.”

Was that a slight on him? Alpha glared the Mentalist down, but the empath only smiled sweetly in reply. That more than anything set Alpha on edge. He ground his teeth in frustration. If the girl hadn’t already put him on edge, the Mentalist wouldn’t have dared to talk down to him like that. Something about her put him off, that was all.

“Why don’t you go back to your office and fill out the paperwork for the adoption?” The Mentalist suggested. “We can take it from here.”

“I’m still your boss,” Alpha said.

“Yes, of course you are,” the Mentalist replied. “And I do appreciate you getting to work on that for me. Akash, if you would? I believe we have a workroom you could use to help track Estelle.”

He led the Technopath, or whatever he called himself, out of the room. Abandoned, Alpha sank into a chair and dropped his head into his hands. He never wanted to see the girl again. If the Mentalist never found her, well, it was no problem of his. All the same, maybe it was better to let the empath take the fall for whatever the girl chose to do next. If the past was any indicator, it wouldn’t be long before she got into some kind of trouble. And then Alpha could be rid of her and the Mentalist both.

They were below him. Little more than pests. He kept telling himself that as he flew back out the window and down to his office on the lower floor to get started on the paperwork. Alpha wasn’t scared of some strange super kid. He was a Hero. The Hero of heroes. Strongest in the world. Nothing could stop him. It was fine. Everything was fine.

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