Alpha II

Character Study

“You’ve hurt a lot of people already, Alpha. It’s time to stop!” Psych clutched her useless arm close to her chest and spent a few precious seconds creating a relative location freeze to lock it in place. It sent electric shocks of agony through her collarbone, which was probably broken. None of it mattered. She had to stop him. No one else could.

“You’re a fool if you think any of that matters. There’s always going to be collateral damage when crushing a rebellion.” He punched the side of a bus as the people inside shouted in alarm and scrambled away from the twisting, screaming metal. He smiled at a woman inside the bus, curled up in the seat opposite from him as she clutched a bleeding man against her chest. A light of hope entered her expression as she met his eyes.

Then he threw the bus. It hurled through the air so fast that the air roared behind it. Psych screamed, reaching out an arm that shimmered. Just before the bus collided with the side of a building, the wall of the skyscraper crumpled. The shimmering air from Psych’s arm raced out and surrounded the bus, shielding the people inside from harm as it smashed through the glass and steel walls.

Alpha shot forward, punching Psych in the sternum as hard as he could before she had a chance to call back her quantum shield. Her chest caved in under the hit before she was launched straight into the air, blood trailing after her in a sickening arc. He pursued her through the air, not giving the girl a chance to breathe or think as he kicked her in the side. She spun through the air sideways until he drove both fists hard into the back of her head. She crashed down onto a car that crumpled under the force of the hit. Pushing his advantage, Alpha raced for her again, intent on crushing her head completely with a final kick.

His foot broke as it met her quantum shield. He cursed, hopping back and away from the girl as she warily pulled herself out of the wreckage of metal that had once been someone’s only means of transportation.

It was remarkable that the girl could even move at all. Alpha suspected that Psych was relying on her powers to keep her body moving at this point. Her neck was discolored with bruising. She gasped desperately for air as blood trickled from her lips. But her eyes remained defiant. Rather than walk, Psych glided through the air towards him. The space between them shimmered with heat. If Psych managed to get in range of him, he was finished. She would lock his space time and end things in the blink of an eye. He wouldn’t even know he’d lost.

But there was a trick to dealing with people like her. He needed another distraction and a way to get her to send her shield away from her body long enough for him to land the finishing blow.

Alpha retreated. He led the girl back toward the Heroes Association building. And the trap. Because a man like Alpha didn’t make it to the top just from being stronger than everyone else. He made it there by being smarter. By being more ruthless. He was the ultimate hero because he was the best. It was time for Psych to realize the true difference between their abilities.

Psych pursued him relentlessly. She would get close, only to stop in her tracks as he overturned a train or punched a crater into a highway. She wasted precious seconds protecting bystanders. Time that he was able to use to get away.

The HA building came into view at last as he blasted his way through a manufacturing building full of employees, destroying the building’s supports right as Psych was about to come within time stopping distance of him.

She cursed, racing around the supports to reassemble the pieces and lock them into place, giving Alpha the time he needed to enter the building. He burst in through his office window and slammed a fist down on a button.

The building crumbled around him. He laughed cheerfully as Psych flew into view, her face contorted in rage.

“It’s over, Alpha. I’m stopping you here.” Her words were little more than a whisper, hard to understand through the persistent wheeze that issued from her damaged chest. The look she gave him could have caused blisters.

Alpha laughed. “You’re right. It is over. But not for me. Maybe not even for you. But certainly for them.” He gestured toward the ground. The rubble of the building he’d demolished parted as a set of metal doors pushed up and over, revealing the sub basement of the Heroes Association building.

Strapped to a series of tables, battered and bruised beyond recognition, the rest of the members of the Association lay helpless. Psych froze, staring down at them with an inscrutable expression.

“Do you think this will make me hurt you any less?” she asked in a deadly quiet voice.

“I think you don’t have time for that,” Alpha replied. He pulled a switch from a gloved hand and activated it. Light poured out from the walls surrounding the battered heroes, and a low hum issued from the tables where they lay. The Technopath, who lay closest to the walls, began to scream.

Psych cursed. She shifted her quantum shield onto her lover, but the moment it left her body, Alpha rushed her. Before he could land a hit, she pulled the shield back onto herself, but then the Technopath started screaming from the pain of the devices in the wall. The longer the light touched the heroes, the more pain it caused. After a few seconds, all of the heroes were screaming in agony.

“You can’t wait too long, my dear,” Alpha taunted. “Before long, they’ll die. I’ll make sure of it. Unless.”

“Unless what?” Psych snarled.

“If you die, they live.”

It was as simple as that. She was the one who stood in his way. She was the one who made it possible for the Mentalist to take over the Association. The one who stole his position as the ultimate hero. Psych was the one who’d caused the world to lose respect for him. Without her, he could get it all back. No one could stand against him.

Tenfold screamed in agony, her body splitting and reforming over and over. High Caliber strained against her restraints, veins bulging in her neck and arms. Her eyes were red from popped blood vessels. The one who suffered the most, however, was the Mentalist. He suffered under his own pain as well as the pain of all the others in the room. An agonized wail tore through him as he suffered for everyone all at the same time.

Psych watched them, tears in her eyes. And Alpha knew he’d won.

“Stop hurting them. I’ll do what you want.”

“You’ll do what I want, and then I’ll stop their pain.”

Psych floated down next to Akash. He and the few people around him stopped screaming, but the room was too large for her to protect everyone at once. She brushed her fingertips across her lover’s cheek.

“It’s always about power, with you. Who has it and who doesn’t. You think my love for these people is a weakness.” She walked across the room to the Mentalist and gently placed a hand on his forehead. The man stopped wailing. His breath came in ragged gasps and he shivered on the table, tears shining on his cheeks. He whimpered.

Alpha landed next to her. Even if she stopped his personal time, she couldn’t stop what was happening to her friends. He’d already won. “And you think it’s not?”

“It’s not. We’re stronger when we have help.” Psych wiped the sweat off of the Mentalist’s forehead and brushed away his tears, her face like stone.

The Mentalist looked up at her, shaking heavily. “Will it hurt?” he asked.

“I’m afraid so.” Her voice was clear, the wheezing completely gone. Even the bruising on her neck was fading.

A cold chill went down Alpha’s spine. Was she healing? But that was impossible. She didn’t have regenerative abilities, the Association’s healer assured him of that fact. However, it wasn’t her apparent recovery that made him sweat. It was the stone cold look in her eyes as she reached out toward him, her palm still pressed to the Mentalist’s forehead as he matched her expression perfectly.

The world froze, everything going perfectly still as Psych made contact with his forehead. Then it exploded, fracturing into a trillion pieces of information that bombarded him from all sides.

“Welcome to the multiverse,” Psych said. He could hear her words all around him, echoing into the shattered world around him. “This is every universe where you exist and have caused pain to other people. I thought you might enjoy a tour.”

“What good will this do you?” Alpha scoffed. “Do you think this will change me? Make me see the error of my ways?” His mind spread throughout all of the various realities that Psych showed him and he felt nothing. He was proud to feel nothing. Proud that her little trick would not affect him.

“My job is to bring you here,” Psych said. “I know I can’t make you feel things. It’s not my job.”

“It’s mine, actually.” The voice of the Mentalist infiltrated Alpha’s mind like an intrusive thought. Through Psych, the empath traveled the connection made between Alpha and the alternate versions of himself. Then his mind traveled beyond. Into the minds of those that Alpha had touched.

All at once, the empath ripped the pain and suffering from trillions of universes and shoved all of that feeling and emotion directly into Alpha’s brain. The empath screamed under the blowback from so much emotion and retreated from the connection, but his work remained.

For the first time in his life, Alpha understood. The torment of so many emotions racked his body and he felt it in the marrow of his bones. Every injury he’d caused. Every bit of damage he’d inflicted. It turned on him a hundred-fold. The empath had even dragged in every hurt feeling that Alpha had ever been responsible for. The backhanded compliments, the insults, times he’d battered people’s self-confidence.

He crumpled under the weight of it. Alpha, the strongest hero the world had ever seen, curled into a ball and cried. He didn’t resist when Psych pulled the glove off of his arm. He didn’t move a muscle as the machines turned off and the heroes were released from the power-stripping tables he’d trapped them on for days.

He sobbed brokenly as the images of thousands of lives full of pain repeated in his head over and over again.

“Make it stop,” he begged. “I don’t want this. Make it stop.”

Psych looked down at the man. Her eyes were downcast, and her lip quivered. “I’m sorry, Alpha. It will stop when you do.”

“What does that mean?” he whimpered.

High Caliber grabbed him underneath the arms and pulled him into a standing position. “Come on, boss man. Time to go to prison.”

“What does it mean!” Alpha shouted as the woman dragged him away.

Psych never answered. She watched sadly as the Hero of Heroes was dragged away to face the consequences of his crimes.

Tenfold II

Character Study

Estelle sat uneasily on the chair in the doctor’s office. Her leg bounced as she waited for the results of the test. Tenfold sighed. She sat in the chair next to her friend and placed a hand on the anxiously vibrating leg.

“It’s going to be okay,” Tenfold assured her.

“I really don’t think it is.” She clasped her hands in her lap and leaned back, closing her eyes.

“Have you told Akash?”

Estelle exhaled deeply and looked away. “I don’t know what I could tell him.”

Tenfold rolled her eyes.

She knows what’s wrong. Tenfold sat a little straighter, paying more attention now that her intuition was onto something.

What is it? Tenfold asked silently.

I don’t know. But she knows something. Or she has a theory.

“You’re keeping something from me,” Tenfold accused Estelle.

The younger woman crossed her arms. “You know I hate it when you do that.” She looked at the door again as if waiting for the doctor, but now Tenfold was onto her. She was stalling.

“How many times have you blacked out, Estelle?”

“Four or five times.”


“This week.” Estelle slumped in her chair. She drew her legs up to her chest and closed her eyes, as if she was praying. Her lips trembled.

“Are you dying?” Regardless of how hard she tried, Tenfold couldn’t keep her voice from trembling.

“No. Not really.”

“What do you mean, not really?” Tenfold demanded.

She’s already dead, Intuition provided. You can’t die if you’re dead.

Are we going to lose her? Another part of Tenfold wondered.

“I think I’m fading,” Estelle whispered.

The door to the room cracked open and the Association’s doctor poked his head inside the room. “Good morning, ladies. Psych, I got your test results back. It looks like your CT scan came back normal. Better than normal, actually. It seems like some of your brain’s pathways have finally started to rebuild themselves. Your blood tests actually showed signs of heightened regeneration. It seems like your healing factor has finally started to kick in properly.”

“So that’s why she’s been blacking out?” Tenfold asked hopefully. “It’s just her body repairing itself.”

“We believe so, yes,” the doctor said with a smile.

Tenfold turned to Estelle. The young woman wouldn’t meet her eyes. Redness bloomed on her cheeks and nose, and the shining gleam of tears twinkled in her eyes.

“I understand, doctor. Thank you.”

The doctor stood awkwardly in the doorway, looking from Tenfold to the crying Estelle. At last, he nodded to the women and ducked out of the room, leaving them in silence. Tenfold waited for Estelle to explain why she was upset. As always, the younger woman was as obstinate as a cat.

“What’s wrong, now? This is great news! You can’t be hurt as easily.” Tenfold placed a comforting hand on Estelle’s shoulder. “We should be celebrating.”

Estelle wiped her eyes. “It’s not that simple, Ten.”

She’s fading, Intuition repeated. Tenfold went still.

What does that mean? she asked.

I don’t know.

“What did you mean when you said you were fading?” Tenfold asked.

Estelle clenched her fists. “I’m just a consciousness inside a stranger’s body, Ten. What happens when the brain repairs itself and the original consciousness returns? Is there room for two minds in one body?”

“I mean. Yeah. Look at me.” Tenfold was the ideal example of multiple minds in a single body. She and the others made things work well enough.

“Your mind is fractured, but it’s still just one mind,” Estelle said. “Every mind inside of you is a different aspect of the same person. You are complex and wonderful, but you are still just one person.” She folded into herself once more, resting her forehead on her knees. “Ten, I was never meant to live this life. I’m already dead. I’m just a ghost haunting a little girl. But she’s coming back. My purpose for being here is over.”

“You have more purpose than that,” Tenfold said roughly. “You can’t just let her throw you out. This is your body, too.”

“It’s not. It never was.”

“So you’re just going to give up? You’re going to let her kill you?” Tenfold stood up, anger seething as she fought to understand what was happening to her best friend. “We don’t want to lose you Estelle. We can’t.”

“You’ll have to. I’m sorry, Ten. I really am.” Estelle wiped her eyes. “I don’t want to go, either.”

“Then don’t!”

“It’s not my choice.”

Tenfold split. Three duplicates walked out of her body. They nodded to one another, then absorbed her back into them. Inside her own mind, Tenfold screamed as her other personalities soothed her. The three duplicates that remained on the outside turned to face Estelle, their expressions hard with determination.

“We’ll find a way to save you,” the three said in unison. Two of them stormed out of the room, but the third, Intuition, remained.

“If you are gone, what will be left in your place?” Intuition asked.

“Me. The version of me that should have lived this life.”

Intuition frowned, touching her lip as she thought it through. “This other you. She won’t know anything about the world. How to use her powers. How to be a part of society. Who we are.”

“I think she will,” Estelle said. “I think she’ll know all the things that I’ve known. I was left in her place to make memories. To form her so that there would be a life waiting for her when she returns. The one that remains will be me, but not the me that you’ve known until now.”

“How can you be certain?”

“I can’t. I’ve never been able to see the future. But I have a feeling.” Estelle flashed a sad half-smile, which Intuition returned.

“Intuition can’t always be trusted.” She knelt in front of Estelle and pressed the younger woman’s fingers to her lips. “I can’t bear to watch you go, Psych. You are my best friend. I won’t watch you go.”

Estelle sniffled, swiping at more tears that poured down her face. “I understand. I won’t hold it against you.”

Intuition stood and walked out of the room, leaving Estelle alone in her worry. She leaned against the wall outside of the door, clasping her mouth to stop the guttural scream that fought to work its way out of her throat.

Inside the room, Estelle’s agonized whisper pierced the silence of the hallway. “How am I going to tell Akash?” She began to sob.

Once again, Tenfold split. Every personality that ever lived inside of the woman came out, but not one of them was strong enough to bear the pain that she felt. The hallway filled with her duplicates, each one crying and holding onto the others for support.

“We can’t let her see us like this,” one of the duplicates said. “It’s too much.”

“We’ll go home.”

“We’ll find a way to save her.”

“We should go to the bar.”

“We’ll die without her.”

“We won’t.”

“We will.”

“We’re not strong enough.”

“Stop!” Intuition snapped. “Go where you need to go, just don’t stay here.” She shooed her duplicates away until she was the last one left.

Will we be alright? Tenfold asked from the safe place inside where she still sought shelter.

“No. I don’t think we will.”I don’t think so, either.


A Character Study

Tenfold watched silently as the red-clad woman floated from store to store in the packed mall. She carried several large bags slung over her shoulder and gleefully filled them in each place as the terrified store clerks stood helplessly by. As far as criminal acts were concerned, it wasn’t exactly diabolical. She never went near the jewelry store; the most expensive thing she’d placed in one of her bags was a gaming console, and even then she only took one.

Normally Tenfold would have left the petty criminal to one of the newbie heroes. The problem with that, in this case, was the way the woman flew. Something about it sent chills down her spine. It was like watching someone float in water. She didn’t angle her body to turn or pitch forward and back to change her speed; rather, she hung leisurely in the air and the world moved around her.

It’s eerie, a part of her thought quietly.

Let someone else handle it, a second part agreed.

“I can’t,” Tenfold whispered to herself. “We don’t know who she is.” She glanced at her com one more time, hoping the Association would get back to her and identify the unknown super.

I don’t like it. The new voice was always one of reason. Tenfold knew better than to ignore that part of her. Her intuition was never wrong.

“Why not?” Tenfold asked. A passing shopper looked at her with a strange expression, but she ignored it. It wasn’t the first time strangers found her odd, it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Technically she didn’t need to speak out loud to the voices in her head; it was a bad habit.

Most villains wear black. The ones that are okay with sticking out are the most dangerous. Another shiver went up her spine. As usual, her intuition had a point.

The red-clad villain didn’t even wear a normal uniform. She had tall red boots, loose red pants, a red turtleneck, and a flowing red jacket over it all. A red ski mask covered the villain’s hair and face completely. Whoever it was didn’t want anyone to guess who she was, but she clearly wanted to be seen.

It’s not a registered villain, another voice added. It can’t be. The Association would have gotten back to us by now.

Tenfold looked at her com again. Still no response. She sighed, rubbing her temples as voices clamored for her to run away. But she couldn’t. The shoppers and store clerks on the floors the woman visited were scared. She had to do something about it.

Please no. Intuition, yet again, screamed at her that it was a mistake.

“We have to. If she’s not registered, she needs to be taken in and face punishment.” Several voices inside of Tenfold’s head groaned. “We can fight about it later. Just get out here.”

One by one, several forms stepped out of Tenfold’s body. The voices in her head grew quiet until, at last, she was the only one left. The blessed silence was peaceful, but also a bit lonely. She didn’t like to be separated from the others for long. The other figures were all perfect duplicates of Tenfold, each looking to her with different expressions ranging from irritation to outright mutiny.

“We can fight about it later,” Tenfold said. “For now, we’ll focus on bringing her down.”

“I’m not sure we can,” Intuition said. She looked uneasily toward the red villain, before turning back to the others. “Call for backup.”

“We are our own backup,” one of the duplicates muttered. She practically vibrated with excitement. That one was always ready for a fight, for no other reason than to test herself. Obviously, that competitive spirit was a very small part of Tenfold, because the rest of the duplicates shifted uneasily at the thought.

“I’ll call,” Tenfold muttered, giving her competitive self a stern look. She typed out a quick message and waited a few seconds for a response. “ETA ten minutes.”

“What if she’s gone by then?” one part of her asked.

“What if she hurts someone?” another chimed in.

Tenfold chewed on her lip and peeked around the corner at the red woman. Her breath caught in her chest. The woman was turned, fully looking at the pillar behind which she and her duplicates remained hidden. Her posture was casual, hands in pockets as the tail and belt of her long jacket flowed out behind her.

“We’ll have to keep her busy,” Tenfold said.

Before the others could complain, she stepped out from behind the pillar and struck a pose. She genuinely hated this part of the job, but if the shoppers thought this was anything other than a normal, planned show then they would panic. People could get hurt. As far as they were concerned, this whole episode needed to be nothing more than a silly pro-wrestling match with super powers. Because that’s how things were done.

“Halt, in the name of justice!” A couple of her duplicates chuckled at the stupid line. She fought to keep from turning around and glaring to shut them up. “I don’t know what makes you think you have the right to rob these innocent people, but I’m here to protect the peace! Leave these people alone!”

The red woman floated smoothly down, hovering in the open air on the other side of the railing in front of Tenfold. She laughed, her clear voice ringing out to the crowd around them. “Innocent? Oh, please. None of these people are innocent, little hero. Their minds are full of dark deeds, just waiting to come to light.”

Tenfold nearly melted with relief. This woman, whoever she was, played the game. She couldn’t be that dangerous, right?

“Don’t let your guard down,” Intuition whispered behind her.

Almost on cue, Tenfold’s body froze in place, as if the air around her solidified. The red woman floated upwards and Tenfold followed suit, panicking. Below, her duplicated rushed out from behind the pillar. Two of them leapt into the air to grab hold of Tenfold’s feet. The rest sped up the steps, following along on the sidelines to try and encircle the villain.

“Who are you? What are you doing to me?” Tenfold yelled.

“My name is Psych,” the red woman announced. “And I’m here to bring the darkness to light.”

Tenfold struggled against whatever force bound her body, grunting with effort. One of the duplicates that dangled from her legs climbed up, first steadying herself by using Tenfold’s feet as a platform before clambering up to her shoulders and leaping toward Psych. The supervillain twisted out of the way, allowing the duplicate to sail uselessly past before freezing her in an awkward pose.

Two more duplicates leapt toward Psych at different angles. For a moment, it seemed as if the pincer attack might catch her off guard; but then she dropped down several feet, allowing the duplicates to collide in the air and freezing them at the moment of impact. She laughed heartily and twisted her hand, setting the duplicates spinning in place. Tenfold and the strangely posed duplicate twisted around in a wide orbit of the two embracing duplicates.

“Oh, this is fun,” Psych said, raising an arm flamboyantly. More duplicates rushed her all at once, but the villain froze all of them in various embarrassing poses before sending them into orbit along with the others.

“Let us go, Psych. This isn’t a game.” Intuition stood at the outside edge of the top floor, staring down at the cluster of duplicates as they spun helplessly around one another.

“Isn’t it?” Psych asked, touching her chin in thought. “It seems like a nice little game to me.”

Intuition launched herself forward at the villain. Before Psych could freeze her in place, she threw a fistful of dirt at the woman. Psych called out in pain as the dirt hit her hard in the face, distracting her just long enough for Intuition to land a solid punch to the gut.

Psych flew backwards, slamming hard into a pillar. Intuition landed on a duplicate, absorbing her back into her body, before dropping lightly to the ground and disappeared back into the mall. The villain stood slowly, shaking herself off and brushing dust from her clothes.

“You pack quite the punch, little girl,” Psych taunted, floating back up. “That was a mean little trick you played, don’t you think? Unbecoming of a hero.”

Something pelted Psych from behind and the woman turned, one hand out as if ready to freeze someone. When her back was turned, Intuition and the rescued duplicate leapt out to recapture more of the captured clones, disappearing once again before Psych could capture them.

“That trick won’t work a second time,” Psych growled.

“How about this, then?” Intuition leapt from below, slamming Psych upward into a beam. Psych moaned in pain and several of the duplicates broke free of her grasp as she lost her concentration.

Again and again the duplicates took advantage of the villain’s blind spots, slamming her into walls, distracting her as more of the duplicates were rescued, until the last of them was finally free of her grasp.

Tenfold checked her comm again and nodded toward Intuition. Backup was here. It was time to end this. All of the duplicates surrounded Psych on all sides. The woman heaved, exhausted. She dropped a few feet in the air before gaining altitude again. The contents of her bags of loot were scattered around, forgotten in the fight.

“It’s time to take you in,” Intuition said. “You’re no match for all of us, Psych.”

“That’s what you think,” the villain gasped. She raised her arms and the entire building began to shake.

As one, Tenfold and all of the duplicates rushed out of their hiding places, high over the villain’s head. For a moment, they all paused briefly in the air, shuddering briefly before continuing forward. In the center, above Psych’s head, Tenfold collided with her duplicates, reabsorbing them into her body. She dropped on top of Psych and slammed her fists down onto the woman’s shoulders, sending her shooting down to the ground so hard that a crater formed where she landed.

Tenfold dropped down next to the woman, breathing heavily as all the shoppers cheered her victory. Something about the crater gave her pause. “Have I ever hit anyone that hard before?” she whispered.

We can’t hit that hard, a voice in her head whispered.

Something’s wrong, Intuition agreed. Her clothes aren’t ripped. After a fight like that, they should be damaged, right?

“Your right,” Tenfold agreed. She slowly made her way to the woman lying unconscious in the middle of the crater, body tensed for a trick. Her backup would be here any second to help her clean up, but the worry made her overly cautious.

Tenfold knelt beside Psych, reaching out to touch the woman’s mask.

She blinked and Psych was gone.

“What…” Tenfold looked around. She was surrounded by members of the Hero Association.

“Tenfold?” The Mentalist asked nervously. “Are you alright?”

“Yes. I’m fine.” She stood up and looked around, confused. “When did you all get here? Where is Psych? Did you take her away?”

They’re looking at us weird. Tenfold shivered and clutched herself for warmth. The other heroes traded glances before the Mentalist rested a calming hand on her shoulder.

“She got away. You were frozen in place. No one could wake you until I broke you out of the psychic hold she’d placed on you.” The words were loud and reassuring, but Tenfold couldn’t help but notice the slight waver in his voice; he wasn’t certain. Why wasn’t he certain?

Tenfold stared down at her hands rather than look at the confused heroes that surrounded her–and went still. Tucked into one of her sleeves was a small slip of paper. Shaking nervously, she unfolded the note, reading it over twice and still unable to stop the shivers that wracked her body. A duplicate stepped out of her and took the note.

“I’ll take it from here,” her calm self said, gently touching Tenfold on the shoulder.

Tenfold nodded and allowed herself to be absorbed into her duplicate.

“Psych left us a note,” the calmer version of Tenfold said, handing it to the Mentalist.

What did she do to me? a voice in her head wondered. Why don’t I remember? All the voices in her head murmured amongst themselves, but Tenfold ignored it as she watched her compatriots with level eyes.

“What is it?” the Mentalist asked.

“An address. And a timestamp.”

“Another attack, maybe?” One of the heroes asked. The others crowded around, checking the note quietly. The Mentalist didn’t join in. He watched Tenfold, worry in his expression.

“Are you alright?” he whispered.

No. No, I don’t think I am.

The Technopath

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.