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.”

“Total?”

“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.

What I’m Worth

Poetry

Worthy to be loved
Worthy to be seen
Worthy to bear the fruit
To stand in the shadows of kings
to bear the burdens of artist and ingenue
to hold the weight of the future in my womb

Unworthy to share machinations of thought
Unworthy to be heard
Unworthy to choose a path beyond the cultivated garden
where my mother was beaten to submission
where her light was stolen and smothered
where she did no greater good than the day she bore a son

One day you’ll be president
One day you’ll be Queen
One day the world will stand in awe of what you’ve done
A little lie because we don’t want them to know
a little lie to give some hope
a little lie because you’re worthy to be loved
but only in body
and even then
only for a while

Ink for Blood

Poetry

Static burns in my chest
scraping raw the edges
where hope meets reality.

I once dreamed in technicolor
though the world tells me
that black and white is the limit.

Who are you to stop me
from bleeding color into life;
a desperate hope though it is?

I have ink for blood,
and I’m not afraid to use it–
to lose the pigment that fills me.

Though the static leaves scars
and the dream has long faded,
hope remains.

There is nothing else.

A Held Breath

Poetry

We started off our ‘20s with a
Bang Bang Bang.
The only upside is that things can
only go up from here.
When you’re living rock bottom
the basement looks like a ceiling.
The glass is so pretty
the way the sunlight sparkles through;
we stand mesmerized like ants
as all hope burns away.
Those fantasies and dreams
were never built to last;
like straw houses standing alone
while we hold our breath–
the promises were broken before my first gasp,
and will stay that way
long after my last.
They call me an optimist;
I’m afraid they might be right.