Month: January 2016

Chapter 82: Reign

The library was silent, and Jack was doing his best not to fall asleep at the desk. With the storm raging outside no one had come further into the library than ducking into the vestibule to escape the downpour.

He’d tried going online to keep himself distracted, but after spending the night jumping on the rooftops and stopping a few muggers, he couldn’t concentrate on the screen long enough to stop his eyes from drifting shut.

Bouncing a ball off the high ceiling wasn’t much better, but at least it kept him moving. He kept himself entertained by adjusting the throws to see just how close he could get to the ceiling without touching it.

He kept throwing the ball when he heard the outer doors opening. Even if they came into the library, whoever it was wouldn’t be checking out any books without plastic bags to put them in.

Jack leaned back to catch the falling ball, but just before he could something crashed into it with the force of a bullet and send it rocketing away from him.

Jack slowly looked at the entrance. His eyes widened and he felt his heart start galloping in his chest.

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Rose watched the last of her employees rush out of the office before they closed the roads. With the amount of rain coming down, it was a miracle the storm drains hadn’t already overflowed.

She turned and stared out the window; the rain beating against it sounded more like bullets than it did water. She should be leaving too, but there was some paperwork that had to be finished today if she wanted to sleep this weekend. In the worst case scenario, she could leave her car in the garage and take a straighter path home. She could grow something to keep the rain off her if it came down to that.

The nearly blank document on the screen behind her beckoned and Rose bit back a sigh and forced herself to sit down. She tabbed over to a new window and turned up the volume on her computer; it was the only perk being alone in the office was really offering her today.

She typed along with the music as quickly as she could, but she quickly caught her fingers dragging on the keys. She kept typing the same letters over and over again. She couldn’t remember when the song had changed.

Rose felt her eyes grow heavy as a long string of ks began filling up her screen.

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John listened to his mother moving around in the kitchen below. After nearly two days of spending as much time with her as he could, she’d finally ordered him to go upstairs and play some games before he drove her insane. He’d obeyed reluctantly. He couldn’t help but feel like he might vanish again as soon as he was alone.

It was a pointless fear; he knew how to return now, but the hollow echo of the Between still lurked in his mind and made his heart clench in his chest.

He had the TV on its highest volume, gratefully listening to every second it didn’t reverberate through him like he wasn’t really there.

John leaned back in his bed and let the sound wash over him. It wasn’t anything he needed to see the screen for, just some over the top action movie he’d seen a thousand times. Instead, he stared at the city map he had taped to the ceiling. Dozens of pins stuck out of it in places all across the city; the feeling of pride that had filled him the day he’d stuck the first one in rushed back into him. His brother’s drug dealer had been a good place to start, but it had only been the first step in his crusade.

For a brief moment, John let himself sink into the memory. The sound of the TV faded into nothing as he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

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Mitchell sat on the bus from school, and it was killing him. He could have been back in less than a minute if he ran, but if his sister realized what he’d done then he’d be stuck with granola bars as the dessert in his lunch bag for weeks.

Even though he’d had his powers for less than a year, Mitchell couldn’t understand how people could live with moving so slowly. His teachers always spent so long talking about a single thing he could have read a library book about it faster than they finished. And none of his classmates ever seemed to notice. They took notes on every word as if they hadn’t heard the same thing literally seconds earlier.

He’d lost count of the number of times his teachers had picked him out for a question, trying to prove he wasn’t paying attention when he’d already copied their entire slide of notes before the transition animation was done.

When the bus finally dropped him off, Mitchell had to run slowly enough indoors that the rain would actually get a chance to soak his shirt until it clung to him like plastic wrap. He grimaced and tried to pull the garment away from his skin but it slopped back the moment he let go.

At least there was supposed to be a meeting tonight. Even with this rain they could probably still meet. Everyone there talked slowly too, but at least they were usually interesting, especially with Unimportant back. It was better than he’d been expecting when his sister forced him to go that first night. Even if he knew that he was going to be a hero no matter what, he had started to understand why the others were thinking about quitting. Plus, he’d actually made friends with other heroes. That was something he may have had to wait years to do if he hadn’t joined the group.

Mitchell pulled off his wet clothes and plopped down onto his bed. He’d take a shower before the meeting, but first he wanted to take a nap.

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Tina slowly stood up from her wheel chair. The mechanical joints next to her kneed whirred to life at the twitch of her thoughts and slowly lifted her onto her feet. She stood up and almost immediately collapsed back into her wheel chair.

The assister was working correctly, but the amount of conscious thought and physical effort it took to do simple tasks still bothered her. She’d been told a hundred times already that it would become like second nature with practice and that her legs would get their strength back with use. She knew it was true, but it didn’t stop her from wanting to break down in tears every time she had to practically crawl into bed.

Thirty minutes twice a day. It was all she was allowed to practice for the first week. It was the third day now, and she was lucky if she managed to make it twenty minutes into practice before she was too exhausted to continue.

She’ was only ten minutes into it today and she already felt like collapsing. Tina closed her eyes to take a deep breath and was instantly asleep.

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“Thomas, you’re…you’re alive!”

“Hey…Mason.”

Jack easily leapt over the desk and raced to his old friend. Thomas seemed uncomfortable but let his former teammate wrap his arms around him and lift him into the air as easily as he’d been tossing the ball a second earlier. It was almost a full minute before Jack let him down and let him take a step back.

“Where have you been? I thought you were-“

“I know. I would have come sooner but I was…busy.” Thomas slowly ran his hands over the bleach white suit he wore, carefully smoothing any of the wrinkles left by Jack’s manhandling of him.

“Well you took too damn long,” Jack’s smile faded slightly, but still held strong. “You couldn’t have called, sent me a letter, anything?”

“I’m sorry, Mason, but I don’t have time for this right now. I came to give you an offer, and if you accept I promise we’ll have all the time we need to talk about it.”

Jack’s forehead creased as his smile dropped from his face. “What are you talking about Tom?”

“I’m going to change the way the world looks at us, Mason. I’m going to show them what happens when they turn walkers into their puppets like they did us.” For the first time Jack’s eyes locked with Thomas’, and he felt himself burning beneath them. “They treat our kind as if they deserve our protection no matter what they do and how they act. I’m going to prove them wrong, and I’m starting with this city.” Thomas’ smile nearly split his face in two, but his eyes still burned. “And I want you to help me.”

Jack took a step back. “What do you-?”

Thomas shook his head. “I see. You’ve already been corrupted by this notion of hero. I was afraid that I’d be too late. I really should have come sooner, Knight.”

He turned and started walking for the door. Almost immediately, Jack dropped to his knees. Exhaustion flooded through every bone in his body.

“Maybe when you see what I’ve done, you’ll understand.”

“K-King!” Jack managed to call out.

Thomas looked back, for a moment Jack swore that the fire behind his eyes dimmed. “I threw that name away, Mason. When you wake up, tell them to call me Trump.”

Another wave of exhaustion hit him, and Jack fell asleep.

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George Sadler ran through the streets. His eyes darted back and forth constantly, looking for a sign that anyone else was still moving.

But it was pointless.

Burnout was the only one still awake.

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Memoirs of the Second Age 3: Unimportant

If I was easy to find, then I wouldn’t be doing a very good job. But, if you managed tracked down Allspades and Scanner already, then I guess I should be next anyway.

The last days of Rumor.

Depending on who you ask, they lasted anywhere from a week to almost five years. Personally, I think that Rumor died the same day Kalliope did. But then again, heroes come back from the dead all the time. Rumor just took a few years to get back on his feet.

One of the last things I ever heard him say was that heroes can’t retire; the ones that try, no matter how long they last, always end up dying as a hero. I think anyone you ask will say that he did, but if you asked him, he’d tell you something didn’t.

Rumor was a perfectionist; the kind of guy who could never forgive himself for missing a step or losing track of somebody. I found out a few years later that he’d almost figured out I’d vanished before they tried to lock me out. The kind of guy who can figure out a memory’s missing just from the shape of the hole it left behind is not the kind of person who could forgive himself for being even a little bit late.

If you want to understand what happened to him, then I think I can give you an idea, but I need you to understand something.

What do you think is the day that I regret the most in my life?

I think, most people who actually know about me would probably give you one of two answers. The day my brother died, or the day Rumor died.

If you’ve done any research on me I’m sure you heard about my brother. He didn’t die of an overdose, although I’m pretty sure at least a few people thought he did; he died in rehab. Withdrawals hit him too hard, and the facility couldn’t get him through it.

I’m not going to say that wasn’t a big moment. Him going to rehab is what made me become a hero, and him dying just drove me further on that path. But that didn’t make me who I am. I was a teenager running on anger and adrenaline. I’m still surprised I didn’t get someone killed in those first few months.

As for Rumor; his death hit all of us differently. I think I blamed myself for the part I played in it more than any of the others even considered. It took two of us to get him into position, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was entirely my fault. But that’s not the day I regret the most.

The day he died was the end of a long path that started months sooner. So the day I regret the most wouldn’t be the day he died. It would be the day I killed him.

I had just come back from being trapped in Between for weeks. And he was there; he tried to let me know that everything would be all right and I ran away. I’d figured out who he was by then. Then I told him something he already knew.

It didn’t seem like much at the time, to either of us. The words didn’t hit him hard, and I didn’t try to make them hurt. At the time, I’d just wanted to get away. I’d wanted to say something that would get him off balance so I could be alone. And it worked. We were both left alone with our thoughts; I got to go see my mother and she greeted me like I’d been off visiting relatives for over a month, and Rumor was thrown right into Trump’s Invasion. But somehow, between then and the next time I saw him, he had started to become his old self again.

He didn’t really change too much. He was the same old man who got us to talk to each other as he’d ever been. But over the next few weeks, he seemed more open. He still didn’t talk about being Rumor, he still didn’t talk about any of his old teammates, but if you asked him how his day was you could actually get an answer.

It probably doesn’t seem like much, but it was a good change. I think that we actually connected with him more in those next few weeks than we had in the months before. Even in the middle of the last supervillain war of the Second Age, he managed to find the time to make sure all of us were alive and safe.

Rumor was coming back, even if none of us realized it at the time. Even the people who’d known him all his life only noticed much later.

A couple months of becoming the man the world respected once more. I hope he was able to be even a little happy during that time. Maybe then, I could convince myself it was worth it; a few months of happiness in exchange for a death I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But that thought’s never made it easier to sleep.

You probably think I’m silly. It was months after I said that that he decided to go out fighting. The idea that I traced it back to something as small as that day is probably insane. I’m aware of that, but trust me when I say that that’s the day that started it all.

If I had done things differently, sitting on that couch, then Rumor wouldn’t have had to sacrifice himself. If we had realized the truth sooner, then there’s so much more we could have done to prepare. We could have warned people capable of stopping it safely.

Instead, I said the words that would make him Rumor again, and he decided that he needed to be the one to end it.

The moment that defines who I am now, is the moment I ran away from a man who was only trying to help, and I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since.

-Unimportant
Memoirs of the Second Age

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Chapter 81:Melting

It was a quiet night, but the echoes of conversation still drifted across the bar. Will wasn’t listening to any of them. Roy, the bartender, was drifting back and forth behind the long bar, as if he wasn’t quite sure where he should be standing.

The glossy oak bar seemed to glow in the golden light. Will felt his fingers tapping out a slow pattern on its surface, but couldn’t remember when it started. The sound joined the muffled noises of the other customers, blending into the meaningless rhythm that filled the air.

The drink in front of Will was almost completely untouched, and Roy’s eyes kept darting between the two. He kept almost saying something, but the words died in his throat. Over the years, there had been few customers he couldn’t start a conversation with; normally, Will was easy. He’d join into any conversation Roy wanted to start. But today there was a wall around him that Roy couldn’t seem to work his way through.

Will stared at the slowly melting ice in the glass. When he had come here, he’d wanted nothing more than to drink until his mind turned into a happy slippery puddle, but the bourbon was turning sour on his tongue and his mind was stuck in a constant loop.

He probably shouldn’t have let Unimportant walk off like that, but he couldn’t have stopped him either. The kid’s emotions were running wild; he’d been stuck without any human contact for around two months and now that he was back he was lashing out.

Will forced a sip of the drink down.

Or maybe he was completely right about Will and his reaction was perfectly natural. Will wasn’t so naïve that he didn’t realize he was a different person than he’d been a few years earlier. He didn’t regret being Rumor, not anymore, but whatever had driven him to become a hero was gone. Despite what a few of his old friends claimed, Rumor had died in that jail cell in the other world. The only thing left was an old man who liked to pretend he still did something important.

So why couldn’t he get rid of the pain in his chest? Why was there a lump spinning around in his stomach? Rumor was supposed to be gone.

And yet, Unimportant had figured it out. He wasn’t the first, but over the years, Will had given up more and more of the man he used to be. The few pieces he had left fit into a different puzzle. Unimportant had put it together anyway. It could be he had just gotten lucky, but Will had stopped believing in luck a long time ago. Unimportant was good at what he did, maybe even better than Will had been at his age.

The ice in is drink was almost completely melted now, and Roy’s mouth had been drawn down deeper with every passing minute.  The bar hadn’t grown any emptier, but almost all of the customers had changed. They were just as loud as before, but somehow the ticking of the clock on the wall had started to drown out all of them.

A familiar voice was talking to Roy, but Will couldn’t be bothered to identify it. They seemed to have trouble believing whatever Roy was telling them, but the bartender insisted.

Will set some money on the counter and moved for the door. Apparently, drinking wasn’t going to help this time.

The nights had started getting cooler. Summer had long since turned to fall, but in most parts of the city the weather was the only way to tell.

It had started raining while he’d been in the bar; the soft pattering of the drops onto the concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads tried to fill Will’s head, but his mind pushed it to the side like it had all the rest. There wasn’t anything happening, there wasn’t anything to distract him from the weight in his chest. There wasn’t He didn’t have an umbrella, but the water that was soaking into his coat wasn’t as cold as he thought it should be and he didn’t want to deal with a cab.

He didn’t have a destination, but his feet carried him east. If he had kept track properly, then none of the kids should live on the path he was taking. That was good enough.

Someone was darting after him, their footsteps splashed through the layer of water on the ground.

“Will!”

It had been a long time since he’d seen him out of uniform, but even without it, the air around Slipstream seemed to dance unnaturally. His golden brown hair drifted lazily despite the rain.

“Tim.”

Tim Beck took the chance to catch his breath.

Will slowly led him under the awning of a nearby store.

“What is it?”

“There was a disk dropped off at the Council Room last night. It’s a threat against every hero in the city. We don’t know who sent it, but you need to see what’s on it.”

“That’s your business. It has nothing to do with me.” Will started to walk away.

More quickly than he should have been able to move, Tim was standing in front of Will.

“Will, I can’t tell you why, and I can’t make you come with me, but a long time ago, you thought of me as a friend. Right now, you need to trust me, because I know that you need to see that disk.”

“Give me one good reason why.”

“Someone killed Stalker.”

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Chapter 80: Believe

When John opened his eyes, he only saw white. A soft sheet was resting over his face, and he heard the hum of a microwave from close by. He gently grasped the sheet; he wasn’t sure when it had worked its way over his head, but he was used to moving around in his sleep. Maybe he’d get a chance to grab a bite of whatever the person who actually lived here was cooking before he left. If it was big enough, they’d never notice a few missing bites.

“You might want to keep the sheet over your face,” a familiar voice said. “Your power shut down when you managed to slide back.”

John’s hand froze. He didn’t want to move. If he moved then he might just wake up again, and he’d have to go another day, another week, another year alone in his nightmare. The seconds ticked by, broken only by the ringing of the microwave.

John listened to the man’s feet softly padding on the tile floor and onto the carpet. He heard a plate being placed on a table next to his head along with something that smelled like coffee.

“You probably don’t want to use your power right now. I’ll wait in the other room while you eat. I can get you a cab home or to the nearest bus station when you’re done eating.”

John didn’t wait, he tore the sheet from his face and looked Will straight in the eye.

His breath caught in his throat when he saw Will meeting his gaze.

“I-I’m back.”

The events of yesterday flooded his mind, and he felt a phantom pain running over his entire body.

Will leaned down and placed a hand on his shoulder. He smiled gently.

“You’re back.”

It took John a moment to realize that there were tears running down his face. For the first time in over a month, he had said something without hearing his words echoing through the half silence. He wanted to shout and jump and run home and hug his mother.

But his limbs felt like they were frozen in place and his breath was catching in his throat. His eyes began burning as they overflowed with tears and his shoulders started to shake with every labored breath.

Will sat on the couch next to him and let him weep into his shoulder. He stayed silent, maybe because he didn’t know what to say, maybe because he knew that there wasn’t anything to say. Either way, John was grateful for the silence. For just a few minutes more, he needed to be invisible.

“How long was I…?”

“About seven weeks, we think,” Will said. “It’s hard to say exactly when we forgot, but that’s how long it’s been since you were at a meeting. Someone who sees you more often might know better.”

John’s eyes grew wide. “My mom. How will I-?” He took a deep breath. “She doesn’t know about my power. Will she know she forgot, or will she just think I disappeared?”

“I don’t know, kid. I don’t remember forgetting, just being told that I did. She may notice that she hasn’t seen much of you, or she may think you ran away.”

John felt his fists clenching against his will. He could handle her being angry or happy to see him, but the idea of her thinking he’d been missing for weeks; she’d been through that once before. He had had to watch her come home every day, hoping his brother would be coming home despite everything telling her it was impossible. Even if she hadn’t known it at the time, that wouldn’t make the day she remembered any better. It might make it a hundred thousand times worse.

“Calm down,” Will said. John hadn’t realized that his breath had been growing shallower and shallower. “The important thing is that you’re back. Whatever happened that got you stuck, you managed to get out of it.”

At Will’s words, a face drifted across John’s mind, and his hear froze.

“What is it?”

“I saw him. I saw-” John’s voice caught in his throat, and he had to take a deep breath. “I saw Eclipse.”

Will took a sip of the coffee in his hand. “Oh.”

They remained silent for a moment.

“Is that why you lost control?”

John nodded. “He’s also the reason I was able to make it back. I don’t know how he did it but…he kind of shoved the knowledge into my head.” His knees retreated towards his chest and he clasped his hands around them. “He was so…normal. If I couldn’t sense him I’d never know who it was.”

“You’d think that someone that insane would show it,” Will said. “But that never seems to be the case.”

“Shouldn’t we warn somebody? Tell the Council that he’s in town?”

Will shrugged. “We could. But even if they don’t know, it won’t do any good. We can’t stop him from attacking, and we have no idea when he will. Telling them won’t change that. It’ll just make them paranoid for a few weeks.”

John’s grip on his legs relaxed slightly, but his hands were slowly clawing their way into fists. “So we just wait? What kind of hero knows that a monster like that is out there and just sits around doing nothing?”

“What do you want to do? What will make you more ready to face someone who can rip a city apart just by walking through it?”

John looked Will in the eye. “A hero doesn’t ask what will make him ready, because it’s his job to be ready for anything.”

Will made a sound somewhere between a scoff and a grunt. “That’s a nice dream, but the man who said that died alone and in constant pain, because he believed it could be true.”

“You didn’t disappear because you believed. You disappeared when you stopped.”

John left his still full plate on the table and walked out the door.

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