1. For prospective new members, a word of warning: don't use common names like Dennis, Simon, or Kenny if you decide to create an account. Spammers have used them all before you and gotten those names flagged in the anti-spam databases. Your account registration will be rejected because of it.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Since it has happened MULTIPLE times now, I want to be very clear about this. You do not get to abandon an account and create a new one. You do not get to pass an account to someone else and create a new one. If you do so anyway, you will be banned for creating sockpuppets.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. If you wish to change your username, please ask via conversation to tehelgee instead of asking via my profile. I'd like to not clutter it up with such requests.
    Dismiss Notice
  4. Due to the actions of particularly persistent spammers and trolls, we will be banning disposable email addresses from today onward.
    Dismiss Notice

Super & Real

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Alejandro Gonzalez, Feb 11, 2020.

Loading...
  1. Threadmarks: Chapter One
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER ONE​



    The grocery bags plopped down and he collapsed backward onto his couch, breathing heavily. He shook his head and rested. Wow, he was out of shape. His friends were right; he did have to lose weight after all. “Dammit,” he said, recovering. He’d always been a bit chubby, but since getting full-time at the warehouse, he’d gotten so much fatter. The long hours kept murdering his feet and knees, but after being in poverty for practically all his youth, the money more than made up for it, and his waistline expanded accordingly. Pulling the mail from his hoodie pocket, he glanced at each one. The credit card offers he ptched into his burn pile, and his paycheck he opened and checked carefully. They’d finally gotten his name—Manfred Voren—completely correct.

    Taking a deep breath, he huffed, and hoisted the six plastic bags into his kitchen and began unloading. Some of the items he chose carefully, as per a recipe he wanted to try. He read the list and arranged each ingredient. Since the recipe estimated a thirty-minute time of completion, he opened his medicine drawer and popped his medication. For the next half hour, he toiled away at the chicken and pasta dish until it very nearly resembled the picture. Scooping it onto his plate, he chowed down while reading comics on his laptop. The latest issue of Breaker featured the main heroine, a tall, muscular powerhouse of a woman, ripping into the powered armor of a bad guy. He knew the lore quite well.

    First Breaker was a favorite of his. He’d been reading it since the mid-nineties, having picked it up at age twelve. What attracted him to it, as he had typed into a conversation defending it against arguments of it being outdated, was how unique it was as a comic. “First Breaker,” he had written, plumbing the depths of his childhood memories for the right words, “isn’t just a ‘hey, ‘let’s beat up bad guys and smile for the camera’ superhero story. The main character is Cyroya, a goddess from the fictional ‘Bakeru’ religion. She’s not actually a savior, or a good guy; she’s the main enemy, the Satan of her people’s beliefs. As the Goddess of Strength, she basically shows up in ancient Rome and nearly ends the world, cutting apart entire armies all by herself. Kareth, the God of Mercy and Creation, defeats her, at great cost and casts her into Pareion, basically their religion’s hell.”

    He remembered that exchange and how heated he became, even though he realized he was only staring at a computer screen. He’d also introduced several of his friends to it. “Cyroya is cast into the bad place for her many murders, and here’s where it really gets good,” he’d defended. “Where most comics from the late eighties to early nineties—the so-called Dark Age—were just blood and gore for no end, we see her get tortured in Pareion and repent her crimes. That’s when Kareth sends her to the modern world and she must use her powers for good to save humanity, or else spend the rest of eternity in Pareion.”

    “So,” his friend Shawn asked, “if this Kareth guy is so powerful, why doesn’t he intervene?”

    Manfred took that as his cue. “Because eventually, they encounter threats even beyond the Gods. There’s literally a moment where a guy tells her she can help him take over the universe, and she has a perfectly good chance to kill Kareth and be free of his threat forever. Instead, she helps him defeat the bad guy. It’s great because she’s clearly a recovering villain. You see her have to struggle with the fact that, no, these humans aren’t insects merely there to satisfy your violent urges. You see her literally become a better person.”

    He remembered the friend basically answering with, “that’s great, Manny,” and leaving it at that. It was his favorite comic. Shoveling pasta and chicken into his mouth, he pressed the space bar to move forward. Doctor Richard Felaru, the bad guy in the power armor, Manny read, clearly had thought his machine could duplicate the Godess’s power. He’d had her against the ropes, but with the strength of will, she ripped his armor apart. Manny felt like a little kid again. This storyline had been going for the better part of a year, and he was glad to see it end.

    “Wow,” he mouthed, reading the last page. The story had ended exactly as he wanted. After finishing his sizeable meal, he washed his plate and silverware, setting it in the drying rack and picking up his laptop. Sitting for too long made his legs hurt, so he walked around carrying it. He shopped for comics online before reading some other issues he had on his computer. Furious Thunder Comic issue 682 appeared full-screen, him clicking on it. He enjoyed it, even though the writing hadn’t always been great. Unlike First Breaker, Furious Thunder was a very traditional super hero story, although not the same as many others. Unlike most of the traditional stories that started in the early Silver Age of Comics, Furious Thunder had started with a female lead. A female lead character, in 1952, was unheard of. Somehow it had managed to avoid being absorbed by the bigger studios, but had suffered in the sixties thus.

    The new timeline, he saw, wasn’t quite as good as the one before, but he still kept reading. One of the things that annoyed him was that when the character was first drawn, she was a decently curved woman for sixties standards. Now, she was almost anorexic. It wasn’t unique; many of the big studios had the female supers being model thin, but she was supposed to be a major hero. At least she wasn’t drawn with comically exaggerated breasts—even being a guy, it became annoying and distracting after awhile. Once more, he noticed her pulling her cousin’s pod out of the river. Before it had been a mountain landslide, and the original reboot had it be a river. He knew the story by heart: Michelle Delanter, having been examining archaeological ruins in South America, touched an artifact and was magically transported to another world, where she was forced to fight for her survival for a hundred years, somehow not aging. When she finally succeeded, it was revealed the whole ordeal was an illusory test to see if she was worthy of the power contained within the artifact. She then became Capacitor, a hero that utilized otherworldly energy to possess great strength, speed, and energy abilities.

    He read on, seeing that the origin deviated just slightly, with her finding the artifact and the whole training ordeal montaged in a series of six panels. She apparently explained to her cousin that he had been put in stasis because of his disease, and the pod had cured him, right before the earthquake diverted the river through the area where the building was. She grabbed his hand, and shared some of her power with him. “We’ll talk later,” she told him. “Right now, help me save the people downstream.” The next few pages were of the two of them using their powers to save people from the flooding and earthquake. It was nice to see they’d updated her age. In the original 50’s and 60’s comics, she’d been a teenager and her cousin the same age. Now, she was five years older than him.

    His cellphone rang and he set down the laptop. The caller ID read a familiar name. “Yeah, Joey? What’s up?” he asked.

    “You still hanging out on Saturday?” Joey said.

    “Wouldn’t miss it,” Manny explained. “Shit, as much as I work these days, it’s the only time I can.”

    Joey let out a breath of a laugh. “Ain’t that the damn truth.” He coughed. “Well, if you’re busy right now, I’ll let you go.”

    “Eh, I think I’m just staying home,” he replied. “Nothing much to do ‘round here anyway.” He smiled. “See you then.” Both knew too well what he spoke of. Southern Illinois was well-known for a few major things: abandoned buildings where industry once was, being twenty miles from the nearest civilized anything. If he was going to a movie, it would be fifteen miles to Edwardsville, or eight miles to East Alton. There was one book store the Illinois side of the Mississippi river.

    He watched some shows on the internet. After that, closed his laptop. Normally, later in the week, he found himself not wanting to be bothered. Now, though, the thought of being around friends made him feel lonely. Still, the nearest mall worth going to would be almost thirty miles away in the Chesterfield, Missouri area. Popping his knuckles, he made up his mind. He didn’t want to be home alone. At least the mall, far away as it was, presented the possibility of running into friends.

    His gas gauge reading full, he started it up and headed towards the Missouri line. Miles of forested areas passed by as he left his house, which was just short of Jerseyville, and passed through Alton. The riverside showed block after block of abandoned buildings where jobs used to be, some fifty years prior. The riverboat casinos with their flashing lights stood in stark contrast to the rows upon rows of taverns and bars that segmented sections of former places of business. The economy had been rough and he was lucky to have gotten a job that paid well.

    After crossing the Clark Bridge, the economy seemed to get much better, with the businesses of the Florissant area passing by. After more than twenty minutes of driving, he made it to Chesterfield and one of the few remaining malls performing well in the downtrodden economy. The mall looked uncrowded as Thursday evenings weren’t major business. The first store he hit was the bookstore, checking out their manga collection. There seemed to be only twelve people walking around the store, and none of them he knew. He read a few volumes before he left the store.

    Walking around the mall, looking around, he felt a bit dumb. There weren’t that many things he wanted to buy, and none of his friends seemed to have thought to come out here. He popped into a dollar store and bought a generic cola. The man behind the counter looked at his shirt and smiled. “Hey, nice shirt,” he said. “Haven’t read a comic since I was a kid, but those movies are great.”

    The man looked to be nearly fifty. Manny regarded the man’s gray hair and lined face. “What’d you read growing up?”

    “Well, I read a bit of everything,” the man admitted. “I can’t say I remember much of it. Nice to see Hollywood finally giving a thought to it, though.”

    Manny let out a humph. “You can say that again,” he responded. “I think when I was a kid, there was the 1989 movie and other than that, a bunch of crap. Now it seems like everyone likes ‘em.” He shrugged. “It’s annoying. Where were these movies when I was in high school about two-thousand-one?”

    They shared a laugh and he left the dollar store. It raised his spirit to feel reassured he wasn’t alone. Entering the video and game store, he looked through the Blu-ray section. He came across a copy of the nineteen eighty-one Capacitor movie. They’d made a crappy sequel in two-thousand-five, and hinted at a Furious Thunder reboot, but he always enjoyed the original. He hadn’t seen it in years or had this updated disc, so he bought it to give himself a reason to have come.

    He started the car and set his bag in the passenger seat. Flipping the radio on, a news story talking about lights in the sky over various parts of the world, and what the experts had to say about such things. Even though it might have been interesting, he set his radio to Bluetooth and played music from his smartphone. Pressing the emergency brake off, he shifted into drive and left the parking lot. The highway back to southern Illinois signaled his experiment had failed and he had to return home. Miles of highway passed once again. Nothing much out of the ordinary appeared until he got about halfway home.

    Pulling the car over to the shoulder, he stared at the sky, both awed and weirded out. Streaks of color, vaguely reminiscent of aurora borealis made streaks across the evening blue. However, these were off-colored. Various pinks, oranges, and silvers streaked in with the green and red. It undulated in the sky like some cosmic worm wriggling. Eager, he checked his mirrors and got out. He clicked his phone’s camera app and pointed it at the sky. The image quality wasn’t fantastic, but he wanted to keep a record of this. Some ten minutes later, it faded, and he got back in his car. Since others were stopping and staring, he took his opportunity and left.

    Returning home, he uploaded the photo to his laptop and watched videos on the internet. He opened his bought movies and made sure they worked. After ten minutes, he checked the clock. Work the next morning would be a pain in the ass, so he decided to check in for the night. He set his phone’s alarm clock and changed into his pajamas. The usual evening routine came next: brush teeth, change into pajamas, swallow some pain medication since his feet hurt. Once the ibuprofen kicked in, his mind slipped away into dreams.

    The alarm interrupted his dream of driving through a vague pseudo-city consisting of several places he had been to, while fleeing some nondescript sense of dread. Waking up was an exercise in lifting himself to a sitting position and waiting for his sense of balance to kick in. Shaking his head to clear it, he stood up and stumbled a few steps before righting himself and walking to the bathroom. The routine became second nature: brush teeth, do business, shower. He had a half hour or so before he had to be there, so he made himself a few sandwiches for breakfast along with some coffee. He took a hit of his inhaler and dressed himself before heading out the door.

    The drive to the warehouse reminded him how much he hated it. His work was a decent paying job; it didn’t, however, mean he enjoyed it. The man at the door scanned his ID badge and he walked over to the counter to be assigned. The woman, a middle-aged smoking victim, regarded him with the same deadpan expression everyone got. The number he got was thirty-three with a ‘C,’ and that meant he would be on shampoo duty. If there existed a better demonstration of how to reduce a man to a robot than the next five hours, he would have loved to see it. His task consisted of taking finished shampoo two-packs, placing them in a cardboard box in their slot, sealing the box in plastic when full, and placing it on a palate for a forklift to retrieve when the palate filled. Other than a single fifteen-minute break, he did nothing else. When the lunch break came, he got in his car and drove to the truck stop across the road and bought a sandwich from the refrigerator along with a generic diet soda. After that, he went back to work and another five hours passed by.

    His knees and back ached, and his hands hurt, so when finished he popped two naproxen sodium and finished the last of his green diet soda. It was painful, but at least he was lucky. Some of the other warehouse companies that hired paid only minimum wage. Then again, he rationalized, most of them were staffed by stoners and ex-convicts. On the way home, he stopped by the video rental kiosk and chose some arthouse film one of his friends had recommended. It wasn’t normally the kind of film he watched, but it would be a welcome waste of time. The sun was still up and yet, he wanted nothing more than to plop into his chair and leave the day behind. It bothered him some of his friends worked as much as possible. Other than keeping the house clean—which was the responsibility of everyone with a home—these people exercised for three, sometimes four hours a day, and this is after an eight to ten-hour work shift, and then chores. Maybe by the time they were done, they’d have two, maybe two and a half hours to just relax and do nothing before going to bed at eight-thirty, nine at the absolute latest. His shift started at five-thirty, and he finished at three-thirty. He worked forty hours a week, his default four-day schedule. His arms and back often ached, but damn it, every weekend was three days, he made enough money to pay the bills on a house his parents left him, and that mattered most. Furthermore, if he skipped a few meals here and there, he could save enough money to buy something big. Five years ago, he’d skipped enough meals to buy a two-thousand, five-hundred-dollar gaming laptop. It kicked as much ass as he could hope for. Maybe next year, he would start saving for a new one.

    The movie was ok, not exceptional, but he was glad anyway, because it being Thursday, he wouldn’t have to be back at the warehouse until Monday. He pulled out his PC controller and plugged it into his laptop. He decided to play Inindo: Way of the Ninja, a role-playing game from nineteen ninety-three. A relatively obscure game, he’d rented it once as a kid from Blockbuster Video and enjoyed it so much he played it completely at least once a year. It wasn’t particularly breathtaking, but it was a fun way to pass the time. Noticing the clock on the wall was nine P.M., he saved, put his laptop into hibernation, and stretched his limbs. The night was calling and he didn’t want to stay up too late. Just not having to awake at four the next morning felt great. When he turned in the direction of his bookshelf, he saw the book occupying the top slot—volume one of the 2004 run of Capacitor in Furious Thunder Comics. Opening the graphic novel, he remembered the familiar opening. The heroine, Michelle Delanter, with her trademark red hair, reminiscent of the setting sun, flapping in the wind, stood poised to save lives. Her figure, not quite as anorexic as the new run, had the super-skinny frame of a waif model, which, absolutely did not mesh with her powerful expression. He’d been entering college during the original run of these issues, and they were always a fun time. Hard to believe, it had been more than ten long years since then.

    Replacing the book, he felt a mild static shock. It annoyed him, and he started towards the bathroom when he felt a mild burning sensation wash over him. He pulled his shirt off, having stripped down to his underwear. Furiously he slapped his hands on his torso, trying to locate if something was injured or in some way damaged. A few seconds passed with the feeling increasing before fading entirely. His head felt slightly dizzy and then became normal again. “What…” he uttered. Before he had a chance to finish the thought, he felt a yanking, a pulling. It came from his abdomen. In a scene of utter impossibility, he looked down to the source of the feeling, and saw—as he continued to feel—his large bulbous fat gut drawing in. His entire torso shrank before his very eyes. “No, oonooo!” Trapped in a panicked thought, that he was shriveling up into a corpse somehow, he grabbed and pinched at skin, pulling and yanking, trying desperately to fight it. After a few moments, there wasn’t enough fat left to grab handfuls of. He gasped and panted, wide-eyed at how small his torso had become. Now the pulling came over his limbs. From his waist to feet, and shoulder to fingertip, his flesh tightened and retreated. Coarse hair disappeared, scant, fair body hair appeared in its place. His mallet-like hand with stubby sausage fingers turned into a dainty palm with slender pianist digits extending from them. Legs became thin, smooth, with only faint hair that wasn’t too noticeable. Giant fat feet shrank several shoe sizes. Finally, a twinge travelled up his chest and to the top of his head. His saggy man-breasts became recognizable ‘B-cup’ women’s breasts. Hair grazed his shoulders. “Yeep!” he shouted, tugging at the intrusion, only to see the reddish hair attached to his own head. The voice registered clearly in an adult woman’s range. He stumbled to the bathroom mirror and stared.

    Twenty-year-old, redheaded, superhero, fictional character, Michelle Delanter, or, an incredible facsimile, stared back at him. He shook his head, slamming his eyes shut. No. This is impossible. He had spent years of his life thinking skeptically. It was the reason he’d left religion behind. No, what happened was, he’d gone insane. This was a hell of a hallucination; he hadn’t even had a history of mental illness. Sure, when he was ten, he had a phase where he wanted everyone to call him Batman, but even then, he knew he wasn’t turned into an imaginary character. He ran his hands over his face. The red-headed woman—who, now that he thought about it, had no reason to be a fictional character—rubbed her face the same way. He felt up and down the body, and sure enough, the hands in the mirror moved as well. He took a deep breath and let it go; this was an amazing degree of insanity. He’d really flipped. Not only had he somehow developed a separate personality, but the hallucination was so good, he couldn’t think his way out of it.

    A thought occurred to him. Had he been this red-haired woman all along? He fumbled through his wallet. His driver’s license was the same as it was that morning. Manfred Voren, Illinois Driver’s License, five foot nine, two hundred eighty pounds. He took a selfie, making sure to only photograph from the neck up, and sent it to a friend of his. “What do you see here?” he included with the text.

    Ten seconds later, his friend Jake responded. “Cute girl,” he said. “Nice hair. She your new girlfriend?”

    “She’s a friend,” he replied. He set the phone aside. He sat down on the toilet lid. Either he hallucinated the text, he figured, or else Jake had really seen the girl. That wasn’t evidence enough, he knew, but it was a good start. He honestly expected, had he simply gone crazy, for Jake to say something about why Manny would send a photo of himself. Still, he couldn’t trust his own mind. This wasn’t possible. He had a mountain of evidence to suggest he had spent thirty-one years as Manfred Voren. Thinking about it, he’d never so much as seen a single redhead, anywhere in his life that looked like her.

    He sent the photo to his perverted friend John. “Would you do her?”

    “Sure, I would,” he replied moments later. “Who’s she?”

    “Someone I had a pleasant conversation with earlier,” Manny texted. “Has anyone like her ever been around us before?”

    “No, dude, I wish,” John replied. “Don’t miss the opportunity on this one.”

    He set the phone down. Now he had more evidence. Still not enough to positively rule out his insanity, but two separate friends acknowledged that the photo he remembered taking a minute before was both not him, and not someone they’d seen before. Either he was insane enough to have hallucinated: transforming, taking a photo of the result, as well as his friends reactions, or something absolutely not possible was actually happening. He still didn’t want to accept what had never happened before in human history. He slapped himself to see if he was dreaming; he wasn’t.

    He stood in front of the mirror. In his mind, he could see an image of himself as this woman. He focused hard on the image. He imagined it turning back into him. Nothing happened. After a few minutes, he closed his eyes and saw the image even clearer. He did it again, and still nothing. He imagined both images side by side—himself, as he was before, and her. Nothing happened, except this time, he felt a presence in the back of his head. Not like a person or spirit, but as if a switch or lever had magically appeared in his brain. Obviously, it didn’t have a literal appearance of such a device, or any appearance at all, but he noticed it only when he summoned both images side by side. With thoughts, he manipulated it, imagined it changing. Once more, nothing happened. Almost a half hour passed with nothing changing.

    Opening his eyes, he stared once more at the red-haired woman he’d become. If this didn’t change, if he couldn’t change back, he’d have a lot of hell to deal with. Sooner or later, he figured he’d wake up in a nuthouse or a courthouse, having done something like beating a guy to death because he hallucinated the devil in him or some crap like that. Or, if the absurd turned out to be true, he would have no identifying papers as this woman, and no history whatsoever. He’d have no solutions. If he somehow overcame these problems, he’d be spending the rest of his life as this woman. Could he really commit to that? Could he really pull the trigger?

    Oh my god, he thought.

    It was a trigger!

    He coughed to calm himself. Okay, he rationalized. Let’s assume what, again, I know to be impossible, is really happening. Let’s say I’m somehow turning into a woman and back again, his mind fired. Wouldn’t it be damn inconvenient should, say, a random thought morph you in the middle of a crowded room? He was the kind of guy to imagine spiders crawling on the walls at random. He’d hate to have the kind of power to do that. So, he guessed, should there be a fail-safe, to guarantee that no random imagining of himself would cause the change to occur? He focused on the twinge in his head, the feeling the…whatever the hell it was. He imagined her morphing straight back into him. This time, he didn’t imagine himself manipulating the…well, hell, he just decided to call it the Trigger. He committed. He decided, firmly and completely, yes, he wanted to be fat, almost thirty, underpaid and overworked, Illinois native Manfred Voren. He felt the Trigger change to a different state.

    Like a bad CGI film, his body morphed back into Manfred Voren. The entire process took eleven seconds. His fingers were fat again, his gut stuck out again, and his penis and testicles had returned, along with his ungainly body hair. He could have cheered when he became normal again. He had never been so glad to be overweight.

    And then, his curiosity got the better of him. Oh hell, he realized. He couldn’t let it go. He stepped on the scale, and it read two seventy-nine. Hey, he realized, he’d lost two pounds from the month before. In his mind, he imagined the woman again. He pulled the Trigger by committing to the transformation. Hey, as far as insane ideas went, it was convenient, the equivalent of an “are you sure” before deleting the file from the hard drive. It snapped into its previous state, and the change happened again. This time, the burning was replaced by a tingling, almost like the cold mixed with electric prickling around fur rugs. He stared in bewilderment as the scale plummeted to one hundred and thirty-seven pounds. Wow, not just impossible, he thought, but ultra super-duper impossible, violating the Law of Conservation of Mass impossible. He reversed the transformation and the scale climbed again.

    He decided to go to bed. This insanity could wait until the morning. With thoughts raging on his mind, it took quite a while, but he managed to slip off to dream.

    The sun’s light peering in through the window and shining in his face woke him up. He rubbed his belly and face. He was still Manny and still fat. How much of what happened the night before had been real? He yawned and stretched. Stumbling to the bathroom, he splashed water on his face. Mental images of himself turning into the woman from the night before returned, and with it, a familiar presence. He pulled the Trigger once again. Eleven seconds later, the red-haired woman stared back at him in the mirror, blinking when he blinked. The possibility that this was a hallucination hadn’t diminished much. Much of what he saw continued to be impossible per all the scientific evidence he knew. He had two pieces of evidence he couldn’t necessarily trust because he could have hallucinated them as well. A decision entered his mind. Since what was going on didn’t appear to be harmful or destructive yet, one of the easiest ways to prove it real would be to do things that it would be utterly impossible for a hallucination to deliver. To get there, he had to know if he had been turned into Capacitor, or just a red-haired woman.

    Based on his current supermodel-thin build, it would be utterly impossible for an ordinary woman with red hair to lift a refrigerator. He knelt in front of it, and wrapped his arms around the large metal rectangular prism. He bent his womanly legs and expected his back to scream at him. Instead, he felt weight resistance on par with lifting a beach ball. At fully standing height, he yelped and immediately had to avoid three problems at once: hitting it on the ceiling, dropping it, or banging it into the wall. It felt like carrying a bag of groceries. So, not just an ordinary red-haired woman, he thought, but actually The Capacitor. Gingerly, he set down the fridge. Got it.

    He walked around the house a bit, curious as to how many of her powers he had in this form. If this were really happening, he took mental note, he’d already demonstrated strength. She had several more. He stared all around, trying to activate her see-through vision. What the writers had made sure to do, he remembered from the comics, was not to give her x-ray vision. Her vision was a form of psychic remote viewing, since they didn’t want to imply her eyes gave off harmful ionizing radiation. After long minutes of trying, he found wanting to see further caused layers to become transparent, allowing him to see behind and beyond them. With effort, he gained another small, possibly unreliable, piece of evidence that this wasn’t a hallucination. One layer at a time, he saw past the wall of his house, past the walls of the neighbor across the street’s house, and into the books on a shelf perpendicular to his vision in one of their rooms. One book, he had never once read, The Old Man and The Sea by Hemingway, he saw the cover, then the first page. The next page was backwards, obviously, when the first page became invisible as he saw past it. Exercising his will, his vision returned to himself, having remembered the text of the page as best he could.

    He downloaded a digital version of the book and read the first page. The text matched what he saw. Alright, I couldn’t have made that up, he realized. Unless somehow, he had read the book somehow and forgot that he read it while still remembering the text, which struck him as unlikely. He still couldn’t rule it out, but now, more evidence mounted. The best evidence, he figured, would be to act as though it were real and see how far it went. Certainly, real life broke down all barriers and the truth eventually came out. If he ventured out into the world, and this was a hallucination, it would come crashing down, wouldn’t it? Sure, it could be disastrous, but if he had the insanity to hallucinate to this degree, what could he trust? It also meant, the farthest and most unlikely scenario could be true. Something impossible could truly be happening, and the implications, he scarcely wanted to contemplate, for the whole universe was involved.

    Turning back into himself, he decided to push it. He transformed parts of his body into hers. Individual feet at first, then hands. He could even transfer much of his body fat to her form. This seemed practical, as it meant his clothes would fit her, but at the same time, it bothered him. He thought about it. Ultimately, he shook it off in favor of more pressing matters. Her being fat allowed him to put his clothes on and head outside to do some work. Grabbing the car keys, he headed for the park near Wood River, Illinois. There, he could find a quiet corner of the large open park and practice.

    The wooded areas had quite a few places off the beaten path where people hardly went. In a cluster of trees, he stood, focusing on what he knew. Alright, he thought, one of the most basic abilities she had was flight. She could, in the comics, fly incredibly fast. He focused on his presence and imagined himself moving. At first, just as he expected, nothing happened. Practice made perfect. It was just like riding a bike.

    After twenty boring minutes of trying different mental techniques, he focused on deciding to levitate upwards. Leaves blew away from him in a circle, as if he had a propeller blowing. His feet left the ground by an inch. I’m getting it! He thought. Then he fell backwards onto his butt. He stood, brushed himself off. Fly, already, he mentally commanded. Upwards! Fly!

    As though fired from a cannon he shot up. Uncontrolled at first, he slammed into a tree face first, having surprisingly tested his durability and upon issuing a mental yell of “stop!” he came crashing down with a thump. The thought occurred to him that direction and speed may not be the same mental process. He indicated the direction of up, and decided. Simultaneously, he indicated a speed of slightly above gravity and committed. Like a balloon, he levitated to the height of the tree. At the top, he changed his speed to exactly the speed of gravity. He came to a dead stop and floated alongside the treetop. Left, he focused and thought. Slow. He hovered in the direction of the next tree. What surprised him was that he continued facing the original direction as he moved sideways. He had to turn his body midair to face the direction he moved; it wasn’t automatic. Touching the tree, he stopped and lowered himself. Finesse and fine control would have to wait. He had other powers to practice. What surprised him was that flight worked much like the “trigger” that activated his power: he had to mentally force it so a random thought couldn’t interrupt it.

    Sensory powers were her next major task. Sure, he knew, he’d tested her sight, but now, he had hearing to test. This was easy to activate. Unfortunately, it was hard to focus. A thunderstorm erupted in his head. He heard everything from nearby cars starting all the way down to the footfall of a squirrel. Drowning out everything except people’s conversations proved hard. It wasn’t like the comics at all. Sure, with effort, he could hear what they were saying separately by paying attention to it, but just like regular hearing, everything else mixed in.

    Ironically, the easiest powers to learn were what he expected to be the hardest. Energy projection, which in the comics, manifested as her being able to emit laser-like beams from her hands and directly in front of her eyes, wasn’t hard at all. He thought of the type of energy to be fired. In this case, a powerful beam of laser light. He pointed at a log. Making the decision, the tip of his finger glowed red and a dot appeared on the log, slowly burning. He decided to increase power. The light turned from red to blue, and it ate through the log in seconds. Once stopped focusing, it vanished. The other, super speed, almost felt like turning a knob. He found the world frozen around him as he focused on it. The only disorienting part was movement. He found he could see and process all the information around him, even though he felt the tremendous speed at which he ran. The logical problem was that his clothes didn’t rip off. The only answer he could come up with was that the invulnerability extended somewhat during running.

    He shifted back into his normal male form. Within twenty minutes of testing individual body parts, he found he needed to transform his brain into hers to have any abilities at all. Furthermore, he found he needed at least half his internal organs to be changed to have strength or flight, but sensory powers only required his eyes and ears to change. After a few minutes of testing his sensory powers in his normal form, he realized, it bothered him somehow. It didn’t feel right to him to use powers in his male form. He pondered it a few moments, but shook his head. He had other work to do. Namely, the thing he wanted to do was, in fiction, usually the first thing the hero learned not to do. He’d read enough comics and manga to learn that one of the very first lessons a protagonist learned was not to use their powers for self-interest. It was wrong. To an extent, he knew why it was wrong. But as someone who worked ten-hour days, for less than fifteen dollars an hour, he didn’t care.

    Fortunately, for him, the cities along the Alton stretch of the Mississippi River had one thing in abundance: riverboat casinos. He found one and parked. What game would give him the greatest advantage? He guessed he would start with blackjack, just because it was the one with the rules he remembered the best. The security guard didn’t even card him. His goatee seemed to be proof enough of age. Two stops he made first: the ATM, and then the cage. He got a hundred dollars in casino chips.

    He wandered past the slot machines and found the blackjack table. It was early enough in the day that he was the only one sitting at the table. Knowing what he knew about security cameras and goons wandering the floor, he made a deliberate show of sitting down with his hands above the table and placed his palms flat. This was to provide a visual record, if accused of cheating, that not once did he have his hands below the table, eliminating the possibility of using a card counting device. The dealer, a man in his mid-forties, regarded him. “Hello, sir, this is blackjack,” the man introduced. “How much would you like to bet?”

    Manfred set down fifty dollars in chips. The dealer handed him two cards, face up, a three, and a seven. Before the dealer could pull out his own cards, Manny quietly used his see-through vision. The dealer was going to get a nine and a six. The dealer put one of his cards face up and the other face down. The dealer was in a better position than him now, closer to twenty-one. The next card was a seven. “Hit,” he told the dealer. Now he was at seventeen, forcing the dealer to hit to try and beat him. He saw, however, the dealer’s next card and had to force himself not to smile. It was a jack, worth ten, putting the dealer at twenty-five, a bust.

    “Good job,” the dealer said. “Table pays two to one, so you get a hundred.” He handed Manny a hundred-dollar chip. Manny put down the new chip with the fifty and went another round. The dealer was going to get a seven and a queen: seventeen. Manny looked at his cards to come. He could get a two, a five, an eight, and a three. He would beat the dealer again. The dealer whistled. “Two in a row, that’s something.” He looked further ahead. The dealer would have a nine, and a queen, putting him at nineteen. Meanwhile, he could get a six, a two, a king, and an ace. He would lose either way. He pulled his chips aside and bet fifty before going another round. The cards were dealt. “Ah, I guess no one can win ‘em all.”

    “I’m still in the positive, so, I’m going to keep going,” Manny replied.

    The dealer shrugged. “Sure.”

    This went on for a while. He would bet big when he knew he would win, and bet small when he knew he would lose. He had to stay under some amount just over eleven hundred dollars, because above that, he’d have to fill out a tax form. Maybe he’d do that at another casino, but right now, he had to maximize his starting bet at another casino. After nine hundred dollars, he stepped aside. After cashing his chips in, he pocketed the money and headed out to his car. He put the money in the middle compartment. He stared at it. Two weeks’ pay after taxes still fell short of what he had. He drove off, headed another ten or so miles to another casino. The Mississippi River had several of these to choose from.

    Sitting down at another blackjack table, he sat across from another dealer, and at least two other people sat here. Normally, it would be hard to consider how far ahead to look at the cards, but somehow, her brain was smarter than his. The other people noticed his incredible luck, and he tried to minimize it by placing more on losing bets. After quite a bit of winning, some eleven thousand dollars, security approached and asked him to leave. He went to the main cage, cashed out, and was handed a form.

    “Your Social Security card and Driver’s License, sir?” the cashier asked.

    He opened his wallet and produced them. “Death and taxes,” he joked, handing them over. He filled out the form, and handed it back. An uncomfortable few minutes passed. “I’d like my winnings in a check, please, minus a thousand in cash, if you could.”

    The cashier smiled, returning his identification. “Certainly, sir,” he said. A few minutes later, and he had a check in his pocket and more cash in his wallet. He also had a security escort to his car. He drove off and didn’t stop until he got to a branch of his bank, some four miles away. Shutting the engine off, he realized his heart was pounding.

    He leaned back in his chair. A ragged breath escaped. He had to remind himself nothing was coming after him. He had gotten away with it. Obviously, he figured, otherwise security would’ve pulled him aside then and there. He went up to the ATM and deposited the check. He doubted he could handle explaining things to a live person. He could scarcely believe that almost half a year’s money had entered his possession. Starting the car again, a thought occurred to him.

    Assuming this is real, he realized, it would be absurd to believe it would only happen to him. He’d gotten so mentally high from the winnings, and so distracted by the possibility of insanity, that the basic hadn’t even struck him until this point. After all, he’d unlocked more evidence: the likelihood of him hallucinating turning into another person was high. However, for the insanity option to be the truth, now, he’d have to have somehow beaten the incredible odds of casino blackjack consistently enough to have won almost twelve thousand dollars. Also, he realized he’d only been in the close, Alton casino. He’d never been in this other one. So, he would’ve had to hallucinate something he’d never seen before, in significant detail. So far, he’d made a lot of money, and assuming this wasn’t a giant hallucination, he could make more. But what bothered him is the fact that, he knew what would happen next.

    He’d read enough comics to know that, should he decide to use his powers, he’d be pulled into a situation he had little control of. It rattled him, knowing that, if enough people developed powers like his, society could very well collapse. He’d read plenty of comics and even some novels, and almost all of them had the same message: society can’t handle these things. The last thing he wanted was for the world to turn into Sengoku-era Japan, with local leaders fighting wars with each other. Another disturbing thought was, he could turn into Capacitor. Michelle Delanter was a very powerful super. She had the standard flying brick power set, and fought godlike beings before. In the comics, there had been a great deal of fights she’d been in. Unfortunately, her defining characteristic was that she always had an enemy to fight, many of which were more powerful than her. Obviously, he knew, in those stories, she always won. This wasn’t a story; this was life. He had no guarantees of winning. There were no mentors to teach him how to fight as a super. He had no one to help him learn.

    This was new territory. He sighed and shook his head. “Dammit,” he thought out loud. He started the car. He felt the weight of possible events to come pushing down on him. If only he could wish it away, he believed. Then a mental image flashed through his mind. Some super out of a young adult novel obliterating the entire city and its surroundings. The old him would’ve been a victim, swept away like a sandcastle, no way to fight back. Now, he might find himself having to do battle, but he wouldn’t be a helpless victim. In fact, it might turn out to be his only tool to survive.

    He returned home. If trouble would come to him sooner or later, he would be prepared. He had to know how complex her powers were and to what degree they worked.

    One of the first things he tested was her intelligence. Was she as smart as him? Was she smarter than him? He had to know. In college, he’d completed calculus one with a ‘B’ and that utterly thrilled him. Once he found out he wouldn’t have to complete calculus two he almost danced a jig. Now, he dug around the internet until he came across a year two calculus primer. Since it’d been almost a decade, and his math skills were rusty, he began reading through the descriptions. The websites had various levels of descriptiveness, so if he came across one that didn’t seem technical enough, he found one that was.

    After twenty minutes of reading, his mind snapped back to self-awareness. Suddenly, he became aware the math fascinated him. As far as he knew, it never occurred to him that math could fascinate anyone. More importantly, not once had any of the topics that bewildered him even remotely troubled her. The wiki for Furious Thunder indicated that all the versions of her possessed some degree of enhanced intellect, most being a four out of seven—with two being an average person. The latest incarnation, however, had been upgraded to a five—marked by the descriptor, “high genius.”

    “She possessed an intellect much higher than the common man,” he read, “even before becoming enhanced. Afterward, however, her brilliance was brought to nigh-superhuman levels. Although not as smart as beings such as Psi-Storm, she can outsmart many of the cleverest enemies.”

    Clicking back to the tab with the math instruction, he clicked on a video of a woman explaining some of the history of calculus. I don’t know if I’d wear that, he thought.

    At once he hit the spacebar, pausing the video, and leaning back in his chair.

    He’d just imagined himself, in her form, wearing the woman’s clothes, and found himself not enjoying that idea. He’d analyzed what he would look like in Capacitor form, dressed like that, and it bothered him. He’d judged her clothes. That thought caught him by surprise.

    I’ve never cared about fashion or how clothes look,
    he thought.

    A gasp almost escaped his mouth. The answer immediately presented itself. When I’m physically her, he realized, specifically, the brain, she has a different gender identity than I do. It would have been confusing if he didn’t currently have the intelligence to understand it. As far as he could tell, even though the brain was the seat of consciousness, there was no break in awareness. Granted, he had to admit, it had only been a few days. Still, it was no Jekyll & Hyde; there were no two people. There was just one person, with two different forms. It’s like two different word processors on the same computer, he realized. They have different features, but they share the same basic essence.

    It occurred to him that he’d shifted some excess weight to her form. Even though he did it to make his clothes fit her, it triggered the same body image issues he had as a guy, but worse. Still, at the very least, it made it convenient that his large pants fit her.

    His pants had slid down. He stood there and pulled his pants back up. A thumb and index finger slid into the gap where previously, it had been snug. Standing up, he pushed the chair aside and backed up. His male form re-emerged as he shifted back to normal, even transferring his excess weight back. Checking the waist of the pants, he coughed and shook his head. Somehow, in less than twenty-four hours, her enhanced body burned through enough fat to make his pants loose.

    Shifting back into her form, he clasped his hands over his face, breathed in and out, and sat down on his bed. This would be one hell of a learning curve.
     
    Fun and Biigoh like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter Two
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER TWO​





    In a five-star hotel suite in Manhattan, a phone rang. A hand reached out and lifted the receiver. “Hello?”

    “Mister Torvalds?” the receptionist said. “Here’s your six A.M. wake up call.”

    “Thank you,” Jericho Torvalds replied. He hung up the phone, rotated to a seated position, then wiped the sleep from his eyes. He stood up and contemplated whether to eat at one of the many three-or-more star restaurants around the city, or at the hotel’s restaurant. Honestly, it had been nice to get a good night’s sleep, even if he’d had to pay a bit more for the suite than he liked. It just didn’t seem likely that the three-star hotels would’ve even given him the kind of sleep he wanted. He showered, washing his medium-length brown hair, putting shampoo in his goatee, brushing his teeth, things that got him awake in the morning. After showering, he toweled off, checking his stocks. He’d made his billions in the stock market, and the competition would eat him alive if he took his eye off the ball for a moment.

    He put on a comfortable polo shirt and slacks, and his custom designed shoes. Exiting his hotel suite, the city opened up to him like a book. Freed from the responsibility of his old desk job, New York presented an opportunity for him to analyze the behavior of individuals. He had a meeting with a former employee of a big accounting firm. Businesses potentially breaking the law meant an investment opportunity. As he passed through the crowd, he found his way to a familiar restaurant. He smiled as he entered in, and the wait staff referred to him by his first name.

    The news showed a laundry list of ups, downs, and betrayals in the stock market. He clicked over to the science tab. If the price of solar continued to drop, as it had for the past several years, he might have to place an even higher investment in it. A lone news article caught his eye. Some upper atmosphere event had scientists confused and concerned. He clicked on the video.

    “Physicists all over the world are concerned,” the news anchor said. “Last evening, around seven-thirty P.M. Pacific Time, a series of strange colored lights appeared over much of the globe. Measurable effects have yet to be determined, along with the cause. Government officials have said that neither communications nor infrastructure seems to have been affected, and not to panic.”

    He clicked off the video. It wasn’t particularly interesting to him. Strange lights in the sky? Probably nothing. If it affected any satellites or communications infrastructure, then he might have to worry about certain stocks of his, but other than that, he felt no concern. The soup and salad arrived, and he put his food away and began eating. The fork stirred the Italian dressing in with the lettuce and greens, and lifted the mixture to his mouth. The familiar flavor shot through him like a bullet. He had to close his eyes. As much as he loved southern California, the food in Manhattan could be so much better. These places didn’t use any store-bought dressing; they made their own. It was worth the prices normal folk couldn’t pay. Someone brushed against his shoulder as they stood up to go to the restroom.

    A second feeling shot through him. A…presence…appeared in his mind. Words failed him; he felt as though a burst of energy had gathered inside of him…somewhere…and he couldn’t explain it. A thought entered his mind. As clear as the morning sky, he could see a woman, standing in front of her bathroom mirror, levitating her toothbrush, and soap dispenser. The thoughts in her head—that she activated a ‘trigger’ in her mind, and like an invisible hand detached from her body, could move and manipulate things around her. He felt her disbelief at first, and worry she had gone bonkers, and saw several hours of tests, where each thought in her head he saw as clear as day. Like a flash of light, it passed, leaving him where he sat.

    “Oh! I’m sorry!” A woman said, placing her hand on his shoulder. “Clumsy me, I’m just trying to find the bathroom.”

    He looked up and saw the woman from the…vision, or whatever that was. “N-no,” he stammered. “That’s quite alright.” She left, and he found himself staring at her as she walked. Part of the vision was that she was standing outside her apartment, on the street corner, when the lights shot overhead. She looked up as a green beam shot by like a banner carried by a supersonic jet. One of her friends had pointed up and gaped in awe.

    He turned his gaze to the salt shaker across the table. He manipulated the trigger in his mind by wanting to move the salt shaker. Her memories showed that, somehow, the trigger acted as an “are you sure” option. It guaranteed you wouldn’t accidentally kill yourself, for example, by imagining strangling yourself, if someone had told you that was a possibility, thereby causing you to think it. The salt shaker slid across the table to his hand, but only once he committed to it.

    The thought occurred to him, the insanity of the whole thing. He pulled himself to a fully upright position in his chair. What kind of lunacy was this? Had he gone insane? What sort of hallucination was this? Surely, if people had encountered such a thing in the past, if it had existed since the dawn of man, human history would be vastly different. Such impossibilities didn’t just pop into being.

    The lights in the sky, he thought. He’d never heard of aurora borealis showing such colors before. Could something impossible have simply come into being now? Was he on the precipice of human history undergoing a rapid change? If powers started materializing, he figured, like in those ridiculous superhero movies, it would upend all of civilization. This would change everything. What a challenge this would be; he had no guarantee of survival.

    Another thought occurred to him. Assuming this was real—which he could neither ignore or assume—he would have to rise to the occasion. It stood to reason that if there was no active selective mind behind the process of who got powers, many of the people would use their power for gain at the abuse of others. It wasn’t a question of ‘if.’ Depending on the quantity of people involved, the world could become a battleground. First, though, he realized, he’d have to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. A simple unclipping of his phone from his belt and he called up his doctor. The doctor would show either the world had changed, along with a fundamental understanding of physics, or he had gone insane. Some kind of tumor could cause such a level of delusion. Either way, the news would be world-shattering.

    After eating, he paid the meal and began to walk down the street towards the hotel suite. A strange sensation, separate and in addition to his newfound mental ‘trigger,’ it materialized as a vague twinge, like the feeling of hairs standing up from static, except dissociated from him. Every so often, maybe one person in a crowd of two thousand, would give off a signal in his brain not functionally dissimilar to radar. He guessed the amount, based on the conglomeration of people he saw in front of him, and the sparseness of the twinges. New York, the most populous city in the United States, would by statistical probability alone have the highest concentration of people with powers, if such an event were truly happening. Amazingly, this new radar-like sense extended for miles. Although the actual surroundings could not be seen, he knew instinctively how far away and in what direction in three-dimensional space each powered person was from his location. His senses extended almost all the way to the edges of the city. A rough count gave him his previous guess. By doing some quick math in his head, he figured that, if roughly one out of every two thousand people would turn, then, out of the seven point four billion people on Earth, somewhere between three point six and three point seven million people would be powered. That meant it was some four ten-thousandths of a percent of the world’s population. While that might initially give the laity a sense of positivity, he figured, the power presented by those people indicated a potential problem.

    As a member of the top one percent, he had purchasing power all by himself equal to millions of people combined. It neither bothered him nor pleased him—it was simply an effect of his activities in the stock market. Wealth, however, could be predictable, and, despite what those on the left believed, was not an indication of greed nor intent to inflict harm on others. No, he knew how concentrating wealth in the hands of the few could change society, and how trickle-down economics failed not because of the fault in the policy itself, but on greedy politicians who kept ruining its implementation. Wealth created the hotbeds upon which wars were fought and waged, but even the worst of the worst—World War Two in all its horror—was self-contained. It had limits. He doubted nuclear war would ever happen under normal circumstances because the wealthy in power on all sides of conflict enjoyed being able to spend their money. The biggest detractor to civilization-ending events, he understood, was rich people who wanted to continue going on vacation and enjoying their vast purchasing power. Only the insane wanted to go backwards, to have to farm again. Farming was what machines and the poor who’d been left behind did. It was why he never found movie villains believable—more often than not, they possessed incredible fortunes, and were perfectly willing to end civilization, to end their only way of going on cruises and travelling in luxury, in order to obtain some half-moronic ideal of human perfection or eugenics, or to impose some perfect society that made no sense.

    No, his ideal of a perfect society, he knew, would be one where as many people as possible would be able to experience the kind of joy and luxury he experienced. His grandfather, the billionaire Johann Torrell, had completely and utterly exiled his mother from the Torrell family fortune before he was even born. The man had been appointed, in his late thirties, the head of the massive wealth created by immigrant ancestors three-fourths of a century earlier, and he would expand it further. His youngest daughter had, in nineteen seventy-nine, at the age of twenty-two, partied hard enough to be disinherited. That meant that young Jericho had, almost as soon as he was born, given a burden of infamy. Changing his name to Torvalds, to escape the stigma of a partying mother, he entered and excelled at college, and fought his way up the corporate ladder, exhibiting an almost-supernatural gift for playing the stock market. Unlike most of his distant siblings, glued to their desks in upper floors of Manhattan office buildings, he would cash in his stocks at certain points, effectively turning digital money into cash, guaranteeing he could go where he needed to go. No more offices would plague him, and no more desks would he sit behind, or meetings to attend. Other than his tax people, and secretary, he never worried beyond making sure his existing stocks were ok.

    His joy came from his freedom, and idiots who would be perfectly willing to bring down all of society in order to be worshipped as gods would be the end of that. He didn’t need or want to be in charge. Those who did, however, were his enemy. A sense of willingness to fight entered his mind. The wheels would have to turn and someone would have to turn them—after attending his doctor’s appointment to make sure nothing was wrong with him, he had work to do.

    Lifting his phone to his hear, he called his doctor and set up an appointment for later in the day. He wanted an MRI of his brain, and due to his financial position, his doctor assured it would be done. Meanwhile, he would test this insanity to see if it was real or not. Based on the information he’d gotten, by touching the woman, he’d copied her power. If this did not happen to be a hallucination of his, then the lights in the sky had to be related to the cause, especially since the pictures he saw on his phone showed colors not before seen in the sky. He took a deep breath, and used his powers of telekinesis to move the gravel around his feet away from him. As a minor test, it seemed fitting. If this was dementia, he had gone too far to be saved, he imagined.

    Slowly, he made his way through the crowded streets towards the nearest person who lit up his mental radar. A man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties, wearing a dirty sports jacket and a worn baseball cap, strode slowly uptown. Jericho pushed through the crowd, approaching. He made his way up to the man and casually brushed past him. As his right arm connected briefly with the man’s left, a series of scenes played out in his mind. Images flashed before him, scenes of the man in his bathroom, activating his power. He vanished from his bathroom, appearing in the bedroom on the other side of the wall. It seemed the man could teleport, his range limited to about fifteen feet in any direction. As the man tested his power further, he discovered variations on the ability; he could teleport from a chair, seated, to a standing position, or vice versa. He could teleport from a stationary sidewalk to the interior of a moving car, or the other way around. After the long string of images stopped, the man turned and looked at Jericho. “Hey! Watch where you’re going,” he said.

    “Sorry,” Jericho replied, walking on.

    He made his way back to the hotel suite. Forget the day’s trading, he thought. This would be the story of a lifetime. Assuming this didn’t turn out to be the result of a brain tumor, the entire order of the world would change, possibly not for the better. Comic books had not been a part of his childhood. He logged onto the internet, and bought several digital comics to read. He picked the most mainstream issues he could find, from the big publishers, to see what tropes from fiction people might try to bleed over into reality. It occurred to him the idiocy of trying to imitate works of fiction—aimed at children, at that—but he wanted to be as up to date as he could be. It never hurt to be too prepared, he knew. Not more than a few minutes into reading the most popular hero of all-time, he found himself scoffing at how ridiculous some of these tales were. Still, as he waited for his appointment to arrive, he read on. It bothered him how so many people might have powers, and their entire idea of what to do would be inspired by works aimed at teenagers some fifty years ago.

    Frustrated at the lack of depth to comics, he turned to television and movies. There had been a few attempts to translate comic book superheroes into more serious media, and he wanted to see most of all, what people thought and expected. After a few episodes of a few different shows, he clicked off his laptop. The clock indicated it would be a little under an hour until his appointment. He paced around the room. He checked his bank account one more time. It gave him an idea. It seemed, assuming this was real, that his power was the duplication of abilities. Once more, it seemed the smart thing to do would be to simply collect as much as possible. He would have to outperform the rest, and by having the most, it would offer the best chance at surviving.

    Out the door of the hotel, he walked. To get to the doctor’s office would be a long walk, but it would take him right past a person, with powers, just sitting on a sidewalk. Placing the power on in his periphery, he could sense the person. It was a child, reading a pirated page of Japanese manga on a smartphone. In order to get there faster, ducking and weaving through the crowd became necessary. After switching sidewalks more than once, he crossed the street and saw the child swiping to a new page on the phone. Carefully, he shifted his stride to the left, and his swinging left hand collided “accidentally” with the child’s left temple.

    At once the scene flashed into his mind. The child sat on his chair, staring at an unplugged television. The child leaned forward, staring intently. Moments later, the LEDs flashed to life, the cartoon playing and echoing sound through the speakers, despite not having an apparent power source. The scene shifted to about an hour later. The young boy stood at his doorway, watching his mother struggling to open a pickle jar. His fingers twitched and his right eye opened a hair wider. The woman suddenly jerked the lid, an audible pop of the seal coming loose. Her muscles, he had momentarily enhanced.

    “Hey! Watch it, asshole!” the young boy beckoned, lifting his baseball cap back onto his head, covering his swirly hair.

    “Terribly sorry,” Jericho replied, returning to his stride. The child could enhance. He wondered what that meant. Could the boy enhance…anything? He had to test this one out. This could potentially be a jailbreaker for other powers he got. He turned away from the crowd on the street and into an alley. Leaning against a dumpster, he triggered his teleportation ability. In his mind, a three-dimensional duplicate of the world around him appeared, his mind remote viewing as though he were astral projecting. He could see up to fifteen feet in every direction. The world froze around him, not moving, as he journeyed the tiny bubble of available places to teleport, in his mind. He activated the child’s ability, which was a separate trigger—which impressed him, as each trigger was represented all by itself. He would have to remember that. Focusing the child’s…enhancement ability…on the teleportation ability, saw the sphere of available space expand. Soon, the whole of New York city sat within his vision. It seemed he was a ghost, able to travel through any solid surface to choose a destination; meanwhile, no time passed in the real world. He zoomed his vision from where he was, to an unoccupied stall in his doctor’s waiting room—instantly, no less. He popped out of being from where he was, and came back into existence in the doctor’s office. The smallest possible unit of time had passed. Eagerly, he left the bathroom and made his way to the waiting room.

    “I’ve got an appointment with Doctor Fields,” Jericho said, approaching the receptionist.

    “Mister Torvalds!” the receptionist said, pulling up his record on her computer. “Well, it says here you’ve got forty minutes until your appointment. Is your insurance information still the same?”

    He nodded. “Sure. I’ll just wait here.”

    “Okay! I’ll let the doctor know you’re in as soon as he’s done.”

    He took a seat in a chair in the corner. Curious to test his powers, even as he sat, waiting for proof it was or wasn’t really happening, he triggered his enhancement ability on his normal power duplication. Suddenly, he could do more than see where the nearest people with powers were. Their actual powers became known to him. About ten miles from him, a man with enhanced strength ripped a door off a car to get to a man inside. Using his remote viewing associated with teleportation, he saw the man’s gang insignia on his neck. The guy in a business suit, the target, was parked in a garage and sat mid-scream in the drivers’ seat. Jericho took a short stroll back into the bathroom, and hid out of sight. He teleported to ten feet behind the man, behind a concrete barrier.

    “You should’ve known that Benny was going to get pissed about the money,” the overweight, hulking man said, hauling the suited gentleman out of his car.

    “I’m sorry! I’ll have it tomorrow!” the man pleaded.

    “Perhaps debts shouldn’t always be settled out of court,” Jericho said, approaching. He did his best to sound confident. Honestly, his heart pounded. Triggering his enhancement ability onto his telekinesis, he strode forward, ready to strike any moment.

    “Who the fuck?” The brute said, reaching for his gun, only to find his hand unable to move. “What?”

    Jericho strode forward. “So, either this is the most in-depth hallucination ever,” he said, “or there are many people with powers.” He had the man completely frozen in place. The suited gentleman took the opportunity to scramble into his car and take off, door be damned. Jericho gave a smile and placed a hand on the brute’s chest. A scene popped into mind. The brute, with two of his comrades, beat a man to death as a brilliant flare of many colors showered overhead. They looked up and stared at the huge variety of colorful beams of light, as their prey tried to scramble away. The scene then changed to the man awing his friends by lifting cars of varying sizes as mob types cheered, drinking. Then, there were scenes of men breaking various boards, crowbars, and pipes against his skin. Apparently, a shotgun blast finally left a wound on his chest resembling a popped zit. He wiped the slight ooze of blood off and they laughed, continuing to drink.

    “Oh, Christ,” Jericho sputtered, almost heaving at the images of brutality. He shook his head. “Wow, holy fuck.”

    “What the fuck, man, how in the hell?”

    Jericho focused on the farthest away place he could see with his teleportation. Miles out into the ocean, he could see almost to the bottom by enhancement. With a bit of focus, the man disappeared from where he stood frozen, and appeared near the sea bed. He intentionally went back to focusing on his own self and away from the man’s predicament. Durability and strength or not, at that depth, no one would be bothered by that brute ever again. He teleported back into the bathroom stall and sat, clutching his head in his hands. This power business had serious drawbacks he hadn’t even considered. The guilt start to hit him, as he realized the truth, that he had killed a man. As he walked back to his seat, he pondered the implications.

    He’d just taken the life of a murderer. The reason that could even be possible, was because he’d acquired a power that enabled him to rise to the top. He let out a quiet sigh and leaned against the wall in his seat. Just as he predicted, the battle had begun. Now that a new set of circumstances had been introduced to the world, people began to explore their newfound opportunities. People, both good and bad, were separating themselves from the rest of the population. As in business, those able to go further than the competition would rise to the top.

    “Not going to be a victim,” he whispered to himself. He looked up at the television in the waiting room. A breaking news story showed a person in London, in the middle of the street, catching fire and walking around. The news anchors told of how everyone was seeing it and speculating on whether it was a prank. He raised and lowered his eyebrows. Well, he figured, assuming he wasn’t in a vivid hallucination, the ball had already begun rolling. The first soul dumb enough to show himself to the public, and break the temporary masquerade, had arrived.

    “Mister Torvalds?” the receptionist said, breaking him out of his stupor. “The doctor will see you now.”

    “Hmm? Yes, got it.” He stood up, and strolled slowly into the exam room.

    He gazed around the room and saw all the various instruments. This would require a show. If he merely told the doctor he thought he was having a hallucination, it would be three weeks or more and multiple visits to specialists before the answer would arrive. No, an immediate response would be needed. The doctor knocked, interrupting his train of thought, and smiled as he stepped in.

    “Well, Mister Torvalds,” he greeted, shaking the man’s hand. “What brings you in for this visit?”

    He let out a sigh, squaring his eyes at the doctor. “I might be suffering from a hallucination, and I need to know for sure,” he explained. As he saw the doctor’s facial expression betray the gears turning in his head, he took the initiative by making the doctor’s phone fall off the counter. The doctor made a noise and reached quickly, only for it to freeze in midair.

    The outstretched, middle-aged doctor’s hand, halted. He stared at the phone, wide-eyed, for a moment, unable to speak. His gaze remained fixed on the cell as it levitated towards Jericho’s hand. Jericho reached out and handed it to the doctor, the man taking it, then realizing his mouth hung open. “How the hell…?”

    Jericho leaned in. “This morning,” he explained, “I touched a random person by accident in a restaurant, and suddenly, I can see her moving objects with her mind. Visions of her in my head. Then, I can suddenly do what I just did.” He looked deep into the doctor’s eyes. “If I’m imagining all of this, I need to know. Normally, this would take over a month. Do you think we can have some tests done today?”

    The doctor leaned back in his chair, coughed, and breathed in and out. After an uncomfortable minute, he cleared his throat again. “Honestly, I think you might have to do that again a few times,” he explained. He laughed and Jericho returned the feeling.

    “Thank you,” he said. “I’ve been worried about it all day.”

    Over a period of three hours, Doctor Fields begged, stole, and borrowed every free moment he could. He lied his way into an MRI of his patient, then a series of blood tests and even a CT scan. Money be damned, he thought, and after all, Jericho had promised to reimburse him well. The repeated scans and tests made the doctor certain, either they would discover an incredible series of coincidences followed by a rather nasty brain tumor, or else it would be revealed that superpowers—straight from fiction—were real.

    At the end of the day, Jericho felt a lot better about himself. None of the MRIs, CT scans or X-rays had turned up anything positive. There were no suspicious growths, no new additions or sudden disappearances, so the power, assuming it existed, was magical. What intrigued him, though, was the fact that it seemed to have specific rules. The fact that a mental trigger existed to turn the ability on and off struck him as odd. Still, assuming the blood tests were accurate and no drugs were in his system, he couldn’t deny reality. His skepticism hadn’t been abated completely, but he had evidence and that was the language he spoke.

    Jericho, at the end of the ordeal, shook his doctor’s hand. “It seems we live in a strange new world,” he said.

    The doctor let out a deep breath. “I tell you, this is a hell of a revelation,” he replied. He held up his phone. “Would you believe there are three separate cases on the news already?”

    “We’ll know it’s gotten serious when the government says something about it,” Jericho stated. Anyway, I’ll be sending you a sizeable check in the mail soon.”

    “Good luck, and try to keep in good health!”

    Jericho waved at the doctor on his way out. He stopped by the front desk and got his paperwork straightened, before heading outside and walking in the direction of the alley. He hid behind a dumpster for a moment, and when sure no eyes were watching, teleported into his private bathroom outside his business office. Stepping out, he walked down a short hall and opened the door, startling his secretary. She scrambled to get the papers on the right of her desk in a neat stack. “Mister Torvalds!” she said, frantically organizing. “I had no idea you’d be in! I was about to leave. What can I do for you?”

    “Have you heard on the news about the developments around the world?” he asked.

    Her eyes shot from left to right, as she calculated which of the topics she’d read that day would be what he referred to. Then, she saw on her laptop, the latest news feed and an obvious choice sprang into mind. “You mean,” she said, pausing for a moment, “these unexplained abilities being demonstrated around the world?”

    He gave a smile and a point. “Yes! Exactly.” He approached. “So, what do you know?”

    “So far,” she said, recalling the articles she read, “a guy in the U.K. demonstrated his ability to catch fire and return to normal at will, no harm done to him. A woman in Chicago took a bullet to the chest in a grocery store robbery and was healed by the time the EMT’s arrived to check on her, and a man in Los Angeles turned into someone else in a crowded shopping mall.” She skimmed the latest report on her computer. “Some people are saying it’s the end of the world, others, are saying comic books are real.”

    “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” he said. “get my jet ready in two hours, pull whatever strings you need to get it done, I’m going to Chicago.”

    She nodded, reaching for the phone. “Yes, sir!” She glanced up at him. “How many passengers?”

    “Just one,” he replied. “See you later.”

    He waved and she waved back as she spoke into the phone. He stepped back into his private bathroom and teleported back into his apartment suite. Sitting on his couch he pulled his laptop front of him. Since he hadn’t grown up a geek, he had a lack of knowledge of subjects that he had previously considered irrelevant. Now, though, if powers vaguely similar to those of superhero comics were in fact truly real, it stood to reason that they would influence how people perceived the real version. What that meant was that he stood at a disadvantage from the perspective of information. One of the major comic book publishers in the country had an unlimited digital package, he signed up and began reading. Time progressed, and he digested the histories of major superheroes at an alarming rate. Even as a child, he would have dismissed these stories as drivel. Now, though, they stood to have a real impact on world events. He had to know, and he had to know yesterday. Looking up at his watch, he noticed the time.

    Gathering his immediate belongings, he located a vacant stall of a bathroom near the front entrance of the airport. It would be another hour before takeoff, but he had no time to dillydally. One of the main powers he wanted presumably was in Chicago. He would not miss it.
     
    Biigoh likes this.
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter Three
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER THREE​



    I.​




    “Wilson!”

    Davis Wilson looked up from his desk. One of his superior officers approached from another desk. He set aside his paperwork and turned his chair. “Yes?”

    “Have you got a report on the superpower issue?” The statement came from one of his supervisors from the office that dealt with the information reported to the President. The older man in the expensive business suit had hands on hips, and the bags under his eyes told Davis that he hadn’t slept.

    “What I have so far,” Davis replied, “is confirmation from a number of sources at both NASA and CERN that the origin of the Lights was a strange burst of particles from a hole in spacetime above the Earth’s atmosphere.” He shuffled around his desk until he came across several printouts of email conversations. “According to our branch offices in nine different nations, there appears to be a higher concentration of these people demonstrating superhuman abilities where lights directly passed overhead, although we are finding these people everywhere.”

    “One of our friends in the CIA told us that there are those mobilizing supers,” The man asked. “How true is that?”

    “Most of the activity seems to be low-level gangs that organize around a member who demonstrates powers,” Davis explained. “The strangest case, however, is this man.” He produced a printout of a spec sheet on a Wall Street billionaire in an expensive suit. “Jericho Wilhelm Torvalds, basic ultra-rich guy, no connections to mafia or organized crime, grandson of Johann Torrell, head of Torrell Group. Prior to the Lights, he followed a basic rich-douchebag pattern. Trips to Italy, Germany, then back to New York.”

    He produced a second, longer printout. “After the Lights, he makes a doctor appointment, then proceeds to travel, in rapid succession, to Chicago, then Pittsburgh, Atlanta, London, Mexico City, and Los Angeles, all in the span of two weeks.”

    Davis’s superior whistled in astonishment. “So, what’s the deal?”

    “It doesn’t seem to be assassination or enlistment,” Davis corrected. “They are neither depowered nor killed, and so far, he seems to have given them money and asked for nothing tangible in return. They are not acting as though they’ve been recruited.” He set the printout down. “It’s as if he simply wanted contact with them.”

    The supervisor thought a moment. “What if he doesn’t have to steal their abilities?”

    “What do you mean?” Davis kind-of knew the answer already.

    “Haven’t there been stories where someone could copy other people’s powers?”

    Davis nodded. “He could be collecting abilities,” he said. “So, what do you want me to do?”

    “Torvalds will be investigated by Reynolds,” the man replied. “You’ll be looking into this.” He set a file folder in front of Davis.

    Davis opened it. It was a picture of a red-haired woman, garbed in thick sweatpants and boots, pushing a semi-truck out of some flood waters. What caught his attention was the twisted steel of the vehicle’s frame bent around the hands, not cutting them. “Where was this taken?”

    “Southern Kansas,” the man said. “That’s not all. There’s photographic evidence that she flew away.”

    Davis read the preliminary report. “Facial recognition…negative?” He looked up. “You checked everything?”

    “This person doesn’t exist,” his superior said. “They’ve shown up in about a half-dozen locations, but a lot of the information shows them returning to the area around southern Illinois.”

    “Or they have the ability to disguise their true self,” Davis finished. “In fact, the person behind that face could be literally anyone.”

    “I know you’re not up on pop culture much anymore,” the man replied, “but do you think you know who that person is?”

    He looked at a few more photographs, most of them not in very good lighting conditions. “Flight, strength, invulnerability,” he thought out loud. “Not to mention, energy manipulation. I might be wrong, but that, combined with the red hair, reminds me of the Capacitor character from Furious Comics.”

    The man pulled a notepad out of his suit pocket and began scribbling notes. “Get on that, and I’ll get on this,” he said. “Wilson, one last thing. Try to be subtle about it.”

    Davis looked up from the photographs. “So, do I just fly into St. Louis and start hanging out in the towns around?”

    His supervisor was gone by the time he finished his sentence. A skeptical sigh left his mouth. Not since the time he’d been shotgun on a mission to track down a series of mafia targets had he seen such little to go on. This person had their picture taken by many surveillance cameras around disasters. The amateur evidence taken by cell phones on the site of tragedies popped up on the internet, but nobody had a clue. Getting his phone out, he made reservations on a flight into Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. After rising from his desk, Davis made his way into the equipment room and got his FBI standard equipment bag for a reconnaissance mission. The internet would make his job easier, but right now, he wanted to get some research done. Odds were, if the true person behind the super kept returning to southern Illinois, it meant a base of operations. Experience told him, if the face didn’t register any records of any kind, it had to be a disguise. Likely, he knew, the real person looked much different, otherwise it would have nailed at least a few similarities. Mentally tossing around hypotheticals, if all of this were really happening, the person behind the flying woman could even be someone not female.

    Sitting in his car, he pulled out his electronic cigarette and puffed a few. After setting the radio and his cellphone in the charger, he played some anime themes and sat back in the chair, trying to relax. The last few weeks taxed the crap out of his entire agency. His desk had been making frantic phone calls and setting up every possible conversation with every possible scientific entity. Congress had tasked the FBI with investigating every possible angle. He hadn’t had a short, easy day in a long time. Driving home allowed him to wind down as he reminisced about his college days, watching cartoons and studying for tests. Walking in the front door, he set his stuff down on the table and loosened his tie.

    “Hey! How was work?” his wife asked.

    “Rather calm, for a change,” Davis replied. “I tell you, being put on the super powers thing has been a hell of a trial.” He pulled a glass out of the cabinet and poured some cola. “No more sitting in the office for a while, now I have to go to Illinois to investigate this person who’s been flying around saving lives.”

    His wife Yvonne smiled and breathed out a laugh. “So, they’ve decided to be a hero? What a terrible person,” she sarcastically lamented. “So, when are you going to be back?”

    Davis shook his head. “Dunno.” He held up his glass. “Tell you what, though, next vacation I get, we’re getting the fuck out of town.” After finishing his soda, he took his equipment into the master bedroom and disrobed, getting into his pajamas. From there, he set his laptop up. “What’s for dinner?”

    “Lasagna,” Yvonne replied.

    “Sounds awesome,” he said. It struck him as a good idea to investigate the character this super-powered woman seemed, at least superficially, to be based on. He downloaded some Furious Thunder comics. Reading reminded him of why he had gotten out of the superhero comics thing. A major factor that turned him off was the repetition. Most of the major arcs seemed to be self-contained, but the status quo always won—that is to say, everything always went back to a standard normal.

    Most of the versions of the character had a few standard abilities, at least as far as American superheroes went. The strength, durability, speed, and energy manipulation were all par for the course, with such powers being a dime a dozen. What caught his attention, was the enhanced intelligence of the character. Sure, people wrote the same dumb storylines they always wrote, but what would superhuman, or even posthuman intellect look like in the real world? Would it be like a person, but smarter, or would it give rise to thought processes normal people literally could not comprehend?

    After about forty-five minutes, his wife brought in a plate of lasagna and corn and set it on the table by his laptop. She leaned over. “Which comic is that?” she asked.

    “At least some evidence points to this character,” He pointed at the screen, “being the basis for the person I have to investigate.”

    She let out a whistle. “Wow, a fictional character brought to life,” she thought out loud. “There are a few I’d like to turn into.”

    “Funny you mentioned that,” he replied. “There’s no evidence this person ever existed before the lights, so there’s a good chance you hit the nail on the head. She might actually be a disguise or a transformation.”

    “Won’t that make it harder to find them?” she asked.

    He took a drink of the soda she brought. “Possibly,” he mused. “Still, the internet might do two-thirds of my work for me.”

    “Just be careful,” she said, draping her arms around him while he ate. “We’re in a brand-new world. Just don’t get killed.”



    II.​



    The non-stop flight from the nation’s capital to Lambert Airport in Saint Louis took Davis Wilson somewhere between two and three hours. He hadn’t been entirely sure, because somewhere in the middle, he fell asleep for an unknown length of time. He opened his mouth and, using the trained motion, released the pressure in his ears. A simple clearing of his throat, and he waited for the crowd to thin before he got up to collect his luggage and disembark. Only by means of his constant struggle at emotional detachment did he avoid the pandemonium that had plagued the world since the Lights in the Sky. The agency had gotten onto the subject immediately, when news agencies hadn’t even gotten to the guy who could set himself on fire at will. Many different religions started a bunch of shit right after the event, with every apocalyptic nutcase raging their end-times hormones on Facebook and Twitter.

    One of the major news agencies, on a television in the lobby outside the terminal gate, displayed the latest story—about fifty religious freaks went up into the Arizona desert and let some Manson-wannabe with electrical powers zap them to hell. He powered on his cell phone, removed it from his belt clip, and dialed.

    “Hey, I’m off the plane in Saint Louis,” he said, when she picked up.

    “Try not to get lost,” Yvonne said. “Or killed.”

    He rolled his eyes. “In this brave new world?” He chided. “I can’t promise you I’ll make it to the next phone call.”

    After completing the pleasantries, he hung up and called the local branch office and spoke to the liaison his supervisor had given him to. The man indicated that a fellow agent had driven to the airport and was waiting at the correct baggage claim. Upon reporting in, he went to the baggage claim and saw a man holding a sign.

    He raised his hand. “Here,” he said.

    The man put the sign down and extended his hand. “Agent Steve Vincent,” Steve said. “I’m here to escort you to the motel and set you up for your investigation.”

    “Davis Wilson,” he said, collecting his luggage.

    “So,” Steve said, leading him to the rental car. “You’re investigating this woman who’s been flying around?”

    “Yeah,” he said, answering. “Nobody’s been so noticeable as her. Most of the powered individuals have been keeping it to themselves, and a few are even pulling all sorts of criminal shit. Hardly anyone’s behaving like the comic books.”

    “Isn’t that weird?” Steve asked.

    Davis thought about it. “I guess it is,” he agreed. “I mean, seventy years of super-this and amazing-that, and this woman’s flying around pulling trucks out of rivers, and people out of fires, and she’s not even wearing a costume?”

    “What do you mean, not wearing a costume?” Steve asked.

    “Well, you can walk into Walmart and buy what she’s wearing off the discount rack,” he clarified. “In the comics, everyone wears a freakin’ costume.”

    “Must be a cheap bastard,” Steve said.

    “At least I can get behind that,” he agreed.

    They found the rental car in its spot, dark blue and very average looking. Davis loaded his luggage into the back seat and they drove to a cheap motel on the Illinois side of the river, some fifteen minutes away. They unloaded Davis’s luggage and several other cases of equipment in the trunk, into the room. Then they unpacked everything and set up all the major equipment. Ultra high-end DSLR cameras with lenses in the thousands of dollars range were set up to charge, Video cameras both big and small, with portable microphones and even infrared lenses scattered the bed. There were audio recording devices and electromagnetic field detectors, and weapons too. Guns of various types, both pistols and rifles, and tasers as well. After prepping all the major equipment, they set up the secure internet connection and the secure laptop computer.

    “Alright, you know what to do,” Steve said, extending his hand. “If you can get the subject to come in, or you can somehow force them to come in, we’ve got rooms set up. Just give me a call. You’ll be expected to report in at certain times to show that you aren’t dead or compromised.”

    Davis shook his hand. “Thank you,” he said, “and I hope I don’t need any of the guns here.” He laughed, they both did. Steve pulled out his cell phone and made a phone call, and in twenty minutes, the agency sent a car to pick him up. Free to work at last, Davis sat down and pulled up social media, looking up any example of the woman he’d seen in pictures before. Sure enough, social media had lit up with dozens of cell phone camera photos, of varying quality, and her face and fingerprints were everywhere. Despite dozens of independent analyses, neither piece of evidence revealed any history of any kind prior to the Lights. The advantage of social media was that each photo had many geographic indications. Even when there wasn’t a label, it proved trivial to compare background shops to Google Earth. Each of the times she disappeared, there had been a pattern. After two hours of comparing photos and videos to each other, he picked it up.

    He had a map of the area from the office and he tacked it up on the wall. Each time he found a definitive location to one of the photos of this mystery hero woman arriving, he looked to see if it was in this area or somewhere else in the country. He made a comparison of each point in the local area of southern Illinois, and each point outside it. So far, there had been several trips to California—which corresponded to the areas affected by wildfires—to several flooded areas in the south and along the coastlines, and to six random places in Canada and Mexico. None of them fit a pattern. For southern Illinois, however, it couldn’t be more obvious—each parking lot, abandoned building, or storefront, was in a town within a half hour’s drive of the Alton/Godfrey area.

    “You’re flying back near home,” he thought out loud, “then turning back into whoever you really are, then entering a vehicle and driving the rest of the way.” It was a brilliant piece of evidence. It was as genius as it was obvious: the person behind the red-haired heroine wasn’t concerned about people learning a secret identity, because she had no identity. She was no one, connected to nobody important. As long as nobody knew the man—or woman—behind the face, the true person was home free, and so far, they’d managed to blend in well.

    He made a memo on his phone of all the stores in the backgrounds of the pictures she appeared in. Setting the GPS, he got in his car and plugged his phone in. Four hours later, he had a pile of tapes in his car from copies made of security camera footage. Upon his return to the motel room, he called Steve. “Yeah, this is Agent Wilson,” he told his liaison. “I need a few more TV’s and VCRs to look over security footage.” While he waited for his liaison to arrive, he walked to a grocery store not far from his room, bought a footlong deli sandwich and a six pack of iced coffee. Chowing down, he put the first tape on and fast-forwarded to fifteen minutes before the confirmed arrival.

    In about an hour, a van pulled up and the doorbell rang. “Tell me what you’ve got,” Steve said, as men unloaded the other TV and VCR into the room.

    “I’m convinced this person is someone else turning into her,” he said. “At the very least, it’s a great disguise.”

    Steve folded his arms. “What makes you say that?”

    Davis blinked. “Well, I mean,” he explained, “I’ve already figured out that this person lives here in southern Illinois, about a half hour drive from the Alton area by the riverside.” He looked up from the screen. “They’re absolutely not worried about their real self being found out. The only way that makes sense, is if they know that this red-haired woman has no paper trail of any kind.”

    “Still,” Steve argued, “isn’t this person making a lot of mistakes?”

    Davis thought about it. A thought struck him. “Not if you consider they haven’t found anyone who can seriously challenge them,” he replied. “Think about it: they know how little the government trusts people. They know how unlikely it is that we’ve recruited a lot of superpowered people. She’s counting on her powers to make all the difference.”

    Steve accepted that as satisfactory, and, after the men set up the second screen, left with the others. Davis set the second video on, and fast-forwarded. The rest of the evening, until nine at night, was watching the two videos, from fifteen minutes before to a half-hour after. There were seven vehicles in both videos at the same time. He went to bed.

    When Davis got up, he showered, ate the other half sandwich, pounded two iced coffees, and went back to watching videos. There were four vehicles in common in the next two videos. At four in the afternoon, he drove to a big box store and bought twenty new notebooks after having filled the last bunch. He got back and went back to watching videos. By nine, there were two videos left, and two vehicles in common. By eight o’clock the next morning, he had found one vehicle that had appeared in all the tapes he’d collected.

    He let out a sigh of relief and jerked off in the shower to celebrate. After dressing, he had more field work to do. The car was registered to a Manfred Voren, and he even had an address. This was too easy, he figured. This had to be a trap. After a few moments’ consideration, he managed to change his own mind. This person’s yearly income was sub thirty-thousand, he saw. The man only had a house because his mother had paid it off, then died, a few years earlier. He worked at a warehouse for barely over minimum wage and had shit insurance. From driving around the small towns outside of Saint Louis, he saw there were tons of empty farmland or parking lots from buildings long-since torn down, that this Manfred Voren could have driven to. The man could’ve made this quite difficult. Instead? Wal-Mart. Target. McDonalds.

    He wanted recognition and legality.

    He wanted a job.



    III.​



    The subject of Davis Wilson’s investigation had spent the last days in a spree of helping people, figuring out his powers, and crashing and burning a few times. Flight had proved to be a difficult task for Manny. Floating and moving in specific directions he’d gotten the gist of after the first few times. What was a struggle, was acceleration and deceleration. Getting up to a specific speed took effort. Often, the tendency of his female self’s power was to act like a gas pedal. Applying effort caused continual acceleration. Stopping effort seemed like putting on the brakes. Only after about twenty or so flights, had he correctly guessed how to hit and maintain a specific speed. After pulling about thirty or so people out of flood waters in Kansas, he took off for home. At the speeds he flew at, it would take only about fifteen minutes.

    There had been other side effects. At first, he transferred much of his body fat to his female self in order to fit into his male clothes. However, her superhuman metabolism burned through it in days. After a certain point, she stopped losing weight, and, according to what he knew of the character’s background, started feeding off otherworldly energy. He hadn’t gotten hungry or tired in her form. He landed in a field, and ran at super speed to hide in a series of bushes out near a parking lot in Wood River, Illinois. Another useful trick he’d discovered, was that her form and his could have separate clothes. Sure, his superhero outfit as her, was a simple running outfit with sweatpants and waterproof boots, but it saved him money. Turning back into his male form, he was wearing a shirt and shorts too big for him. Since she’d burned through most of his body fat, it left his normal male form quite skinny. He had a normal body mass index for the first time in years. As he drove home, he thought it might be a wise idea to buy some new clothes, since he now knew he had a semi-permanent method of weight control.

    A careful look through his cellphone contacts reminded him of how different things were for a woman than a man. What he wanted was to be able to go shopping with one of his female friends, so they could give him a good idea of what to wear in his female form. What he discovered, however, was that he had few female friends of his own; most of them were acquaintances or girlfriends of his male friends. Most of the people he knew would be suspicious of the fact that a new female friend had entered his life, and had previously not been on any of their radars. It bothered him that he recognized he would be the subject of a lot of questions. The thought even came to him that perhaps his friends would recognize his female form as the superheroine going around saving lives. Oh Christ, he thought, Manfred, what have you gotten yourself into?

    “Hey, Ed?” he said, after his friend picked up. “Hey, this is going to sound really strange, but…”

    “I heard from Jake that you got a girlfriend!” Ed interrupted him.

    If rolling one’s eyes in exasperation made an audible sound, Ed would have been bleeding from the ears. Manny took a breath and held it for a half-second, then let it out, noticeably. “I shouldn’t have sent him any pictures,” Manny thought out loud. “No, she’s not my girlfriend. She’s just a friend.”

    “With benefits?”

    No,” he said, with effort, “not with benefits. That’s why I called you. I want to ask you a favor.”

    “Uh, ok,” Ed asked, a tone of confusion in his voice. “What?”

    “Can you ask Annie if she’ll take my friend out shopping?” Manny asked. He realized he needed an excuse, and didn’t want to raise suspicion. “It’s her birthday, and I gave her some money for a present, and she doesn’t know what to buy.”

    A laugh escaped the phone. “That’s weird,” Ed commented.

    “What’s weird about it?” Manny asked, a slight tone of anger in his voice.

    “You know,” Ed replied. “A woman that doesn’t know what clothes to buy?”

    The barb hit Manny and he didn’t quite know why it bothered him. “Regardless, can you do that?”

    “Gimme a minute.” Ed pulled the phone away from his face. “Annie! My friend Manny wants to know if you can take his girlfriend out shopping!” Manny heard Ed speak and rolled his eyes again. He wanted to correct them both now, but it struck him that nothing would stop it at this point. “Yeah, she says she could be ready in an hour. Have your friend call her cell phone. By the way, what’s her name? I forgot to ask.”


    Manny clammed up. Mentally cursing himself for not thinking of this contingency, he fired off a command to his brain to provide him with a name as quickly as possible. The pause had lingered for a good second, and soon, the friend would ask a second time, exponentially raising the suspicion. “Jennifer Black,” he said. Internally, he cursed his mind once again. It struck him as the most generic sounding name imaginable. Now, he was stuck with it. He couldn’t just tell one friend that name and contradict himself later.

    “Hmm,” Ed replied. “Must be new to the area. I thought I knew everyone around here.”

    “She’s from pretty far out of town,” Manny said. Then he slammed his eyes shut and silently swore.

    “Really?” Ed shot back without a second spared. “Where’s she from?”

    He yelled the first location that came to mind. “California.”

    Please don’t ask where in California.


    “Where in California?” Manny clenched his teeth.

    Again, the first two words that appeared were spoken. “Santa Cruz.”

    Silence reigned over the line. “Well, tell her I said ‘hi.’ See you around, Manny.”

    “See you around, Ed,” Manny answered, hanging up. Well, that was a flipping disaster.

    He looked through his contacts list and pulled up Annie. He transformed into Jennifer, his male clothes disappearing with the rest of his male form. In the days since he first started, he had the sense to buy a new wallet, a spare cell phone, and several pairs of running outfits for his female self. One thing he didn’t want to do was go out fighting in a gaudy costume. Inexpensive shirts, sweatpants, and boots for running would do him just fine. Figuring out what fit proved difficult, especially in the bra department, but it made it easier to replace outfits. Instead of a custom-made costume which would, based on his knowledge of cosplay, cost at least a few hundred for decent quality, he could spend fifty dollars and get two whole sets of outfits, minus the boots. He wasn’t out to look spiffy when he fought crime. Efficiency ruled that roost. During flight, he discovered he could run Jennifer’s extra-dimensional power through his clothes, and they would serve as a barrier. It perhaps didn’t make them indestructible, but they would be orders of magnitude more durable.

    Taking off the old outfit, he slipped on a green shirt, not loose, but not revealingly tight, and a pair of snug sweatpants. White socks and a clean pair of waterproof boots finished off the outfit. He went in the bathroom and brushed a bit of dirt out of his long red hair. Looking in the mirror, he found himself reminded once again of the unique nature of his transformation. As Jennifer, she had a different gender identity than he did, even though they were one person, and she did not exist as a separate consciousness. He could swap his body back and forth, and would go back to being male gender, mentally, when his brain was male. She considered herself pretty, and he did too, but the oddity lie in how differently they were. When he was her, she thought of herself as pretty because of a strange sense of feminine self-pride, that he couldn’t explain. When he thought of how he looked as her, he considered her pretty because of his male sexuality. Did that count as narcissism, since he considered her—himself in female form—attractive? These were questions bothering him. Honestly, he would have liked to stay as her most of the time, simply because she was powerful, brave, and vastly able, and he had struggled his whole life for his average existence. Hell, he couldn’t even stop being morbidly obese without her help.

    Typing Annie’s contact information into the spare cellphone, he clicked the green call button.

    “Hello?”

    Annie’s familiar voice calmed Jennifer down. “Hi, I’m Jennifer Black, Manfred’s friend,” she said to Ed’s girlfriend. “I was wondering if you could help me. I’m not much an eye for fashion. Could you take me shopping? I need another woman’s eyes for clothes.”

    Annie smiled. “Yeah, I’m up for that,” she replied. “So, where did you want to go?”

    “It doesn’t have to be the discount rack,” Jennifer clarified, “but I don’t want to break the bank either.”

    “Yeah, I know this great place outside of Edwardsville. You familiar with the place half a mile from the Hardee’s and the fish place?”

    Jennifer thought about it. “Oh, you mean that place next to what used to be a barbecue place?” she asked.

    “Yeah, that’s the one.”

    “See you there in an hour,” Jennifer replied. She grabbed both wallets and both cellphones, placed them into the purse she bought for her female self, and headed out to the car. She would have to be careful not to be pulled over in her current body. If she had to suddenly turn back into Manfred, it would be a pain in the ass. Never had she bought clothes with the intent of actually looking attractive. In fact, the female mind was very different than how she was when she was Manny. She felt a need to look good, for the first time in her life, and had little to no idea of how to execute such an action.

    Pulling up to the store, she parked and stepped out into the parking lot. Annie looked her up and down—necessary, since Jennifer stood half a head taller—and smiled. “I’m Annie Wilson,” she said, extending her hand. “So, you’re Manny’s girlfriend?”

    Jennifer shook Annie’s hand. “Manny and I are just friends,” she said, immediately gritting her teeth invisibly at having spouted such a cliché line. “I’m new to the area and he’s being so very helpful.”

    “That was nice of him to lend you his car,” Annie said. “Ed bitches whenever I have to drive his.”

    Jennifer shrugged. “Yeah, I know that one,” she replied. “So, I’ve always sucked at judging what looks good. Help me out anyway you can.”

    They headed into the store. “You’re tall,” Annie explained, walking her around the various parts of the store. “And you’re pretty tone. So, you’re big into fitness, huh?”

    She nodded. “Yeah, I do a lot of running and lifting.”

    Annie whistled. “I need to start working out again,” she said. “Anyway, you need to look at clothing that will…” she searched for a word, “demonstrate your figure to the world. I mean, take this,” she handed her a pair of jeans, “and I think they’re—God, I wish I had your hips and thighs—great for accentuating your curves.” She pulled a few pairs of other pants off the shelf. “You don’t want too tight and you don’t want too loose. You’re not showing off, but at the same time, you are.” She took a breath and looked up. “I’m sorry, does that make sense?”

    Jennifer smiled. “Yes,” she replied. “It does.”

    She stuck her hand in one of the pants pockets. “These pockets are, about an inch or two at the most,” she said. “Why don’t they have decent pockets?”

    Annie let a laugh escape. “Oh, you’re new to that, are you?” she asked. When Jennifer gave her a cocked eyebrow, she nodded. “Okay, here’s the deal. Most women’s pants either have fake pockets, or none at all. I don’t know why. I guess they just want to screw with us. You could probably find someone to sew real pockets on if you wanted to. That’s what I did.”

    “No problem,” Jennifer replied.

    “For tops,” she told her taller friend, “you have to strike a delicate balance between exaggerating your breasts—which, no offense, is a concern for you—and looking like you’re wearing a tent.”

    “So,” Jennifer said, grabbing a black shirt off a nearby rack, “something like this?”

    Annie’s eyes widened a bit. “if I wore that, I’d probably look acceptable,” she explained. “With your figure, if you wore that, you’d be the center of attention.”

    She blinked at those words. “Is, that bad?”

    Annie mulled it over. “If you’re ok with strangers hitting on you, no,” she replied. “It’s just that, it was made for more petite-chested women.”

    Jennifer imagined it. She shook her head, placing it back on the shelf. “No, wow, ok, you’re right on that one,” she said.

    They selected a series of outfits, which took about an hour and Jennifer began to understand why, as Manny, she hated shopping. Despite wanting to look good as a woman—and stop wearing the same stuff over and over again—she found the tedium of clothing shopping boring. Still, it was an exercise she wanted to get good at. As she stepped into and out of the dressing rooms repeatedly, she noticed guys that accompanied their significant others, occasionally glancing over at her. It struck her as both a compliment and an irritation.

    The two of them gathered several different outfits that Jennifer ended up liking. Having tried each one on, Jennifer wondered why the hell she couldn’t figure out what a decent outfit looked like. She went up to the counter and pulled out the cash and paid for her outfits. It came to almost two hundred dollars—and that was the cheap store. It bewildered her how expensive women’s clothing was.

    “You got a hell of a deal, looks like!” Annie noticed.

    Jennifer gave her a look. “That’s cheap?”

    “For seven outfits?” Annie said, bewildered. “Of course it is!”

    Jennifer shook her head. “Sorry,” she apologized. “I’ve just never paid much attention to clothing.”

    Annie coughed. “Honestly, if I had your figure, clothing would be my priority one.” She put a few outfits of her own on the table. “I mean, you could buy the cheap crap at the warehouse stores, but this is decent clothing.”

    Jennifer resisted laughing. As Manny, she was used to buying a single pair of twenty-five-dollar shoes to last a year or so, and shirts for five bucks apiece. The outfits he bought were purchased for economy at all costs. Now that she saw how expensive her outfits were going to be, she would buy women’s clothing and be sure to protect it from harm. She went back to her car.

    “Did you want to get something to eat?”

    Jennifer turned her head. “Um, sure!”

    “Is the Italian place by Walgreens ok?”

    “Yeah,” Jennifer said. “That’s fine.”

    They drove five minutes through Wood River and came to a small restaurant. As they sat down and ate, Jennifer noticed she drew attention. Finally, a man came from a table over, a middle-aged looking gent, and pulled a chair up to the table. “I saw you on the internet,” he said. “You’re one of those people with magic powers!”

    Annie shot a look between the two of them, startled. “You know,” she said, “come to think of it, I knew you looked familiar!”

    “Yeah,” Jennifer said. “I was hoping to just have a nice meal, though.”

    The man only partially took the hint. “I ain’t gonna take up too much time. I just want to thank you,” he explained. “Those fires are brutal.”

    “It’s sad how many people were trapped,” Jennifer replied. “I was pulling people out for days.”

    “That’s amazing,” the man said. “You just found yourself one morning, able to do these things?” Jennifer nodded. “Man, I don’t know. It’s like a miracle from God!”

    “Thank you, sir,” she said. After shaking his hand, he finally returned to his own table. Annie stifled a laugh.

    “How did you end up with a guy like Manny?”

    Jennifer—Manny—blinked a moment in surprise. “What’s wrong with him?” The statement came out more defensive than she would have liked.

    Annie quickly shook her head. “Oh, nothing really,” she said. “I mean, I hate to talk bad about my boyfriend’s friend, but he struck me as kind of flaky.”

    Jennifer shrugged for effect. “Oh, I don’t know,” she argued, “he was nice enough to let me stay with him and he hasn’t even hit on me.”

    “That’s awfully nice of him,” Annie admitted. “I mean, I know he’s a really decent guy, he just doesn’t have motivation. His mother died—God rest her soul—and she willed the house to him, otherwise he’d be homeless. He works at the warehouses, where he used to open boxes ten hours a day for minimum wage. Now he tells others how to open boxes for slightly above minimum wage for ten hours a day.”

    Jennifer scoffed. “I don’t really see what’s wrong with that,” she said.

    Annie cringed. “I mean, there’s nothing really wrong with it,” she countered, “but he’s perfectly willing to keep doing that for the rest of his life.”

    “He found a feedback loop that works,” she said. “I’m not bothered by it.”

    Annie laughed this time. “Oh, believe me,” she said, “I’m not the least bit bothered by it, he can live his life how he wants. I just think it’s a shame, because he could be so much more.”

    “He’ll figure it out,” Jennifer said, willing her teeth to unclench in her mouth. “In fact, I think he might surprise you yet.” It felt strange being able to find out the truth about how people thought about her male self. On the other hand, it was a power she could abuse easily. What bothered her was the knowledge that friends of Manny probably complained about him as much as anybody else. It shouldn’t bother her, but it did.

    After a good twenty minutes of shooting the breeze, Jennifer made up some excuse and called it an afternoon, she headed back home. With the new outfits she had, she could be more natural more often as Jennifer, and Manny could have his separate day to day from her. It struck her as curious—they were but one consciousness, and yet, Manny as Jennifer felt his male self as the less useful self. She had already started thinking of her female self as “she” and “her” when this side of her was active, and as “he” and “him” when she was Manny. The familiar sight of her home street snapped her out of it as she pulled up towards the familiar driveway.

    Her nerves clenched a bit when she saw an unfamiliar car. Her heart felt like it would skip any moment now.

    Dark blue Ford Crown Victoria
    , she thought. Standard vehicle for law enforcement. She used her visual powers. The gun and handcuffs were safely tucked away in the glove compartment, along with identification. Davis Wilson, she read. FBI. A quick roll of the eyes and she pulled into her driveway, to see a moderately pale man with burnt cinnamon hair, and a look on his face of above average nervousness.

    She stepped out of the car after pulling into the driveway. She leaned against the vehicle and closed her eyes. “Do you have a warrant, Agent Wilson?” she asked.

    He shook his head, trying to hide the fact that his heart raced. Sure, he had a basic idea that he wouldn’t be immediately killed, but the possibility always presented itself. The woman’s demeanor indicated a slight nervousness, although he could tell she didn’t seem truly worried. His lone presence—the lack of any sort of response—probably told her more than his words could. What he felt, though, was that she had more reason for bravado than he. Subtle twitches in her face, to her hand drifting left and right, told him she wouldn’t hesitate to flee. The stereotype vehicle, the badge and gun in plain sight in the car, were all planted specifically to get an easy reaction out of her. “No,” he uttered. “My superiors don’t care much, but you probably already knew that. We both know I can’t hurt you.”

    She let out a graveled breath. “Then why should I stick around and talk to you?” she asked. This agent was here to arrest her. Sure, she hadn’t committed a crime, but being so powerful as to stop disasters, was sure to alarm the government. Still, there was one man standing here, and not an army of specialists. The ball was in his court, even if he protested otherwise. She couldn’t harm him—obviously—and if she fled, a sterner response would come her way. The message came in loud and clear: comply quietly or else.

    “Believe it or not,” he answered, “I’m not the bad guy.”

    “So why are you talking to me?”

    He pulled out his phone and pulled up video of severe California wildfires. “You happened to be the first to respond with this degree of power,” he explained. “Sure, there are powerful people around, but you’re the biggest, most noticeable person.”

    “So, if I work with you,” she asked, “then I’ll be treated fairly?”

    He shrugged with his hands. “I can’t promise that,” he said, “but I can promise you will be mistrusted if you don’t at least talk to us. You know how scared the government gets when anyone has any kind of power other than them.”

    Her head slumped a bit. “If anyone threatens me, I’m out of there in a moment,” she promised.

    “Hey, no one’ll be able to stop you.”




    IV.​



    Jennifer sat, hands on the table. The cold, artificial light beaming down on her, she took a sharp breath and let it out. She’d been seated for the better part of ten minutes. Behind the one-way glass, she saw several men in expensive suits and ties, discussing her. “I have civil rights, you know,” she said, turning her gaze directly at them. “I have the right to be informed of the crime I’m being accused of.”

    Dave Wilson looked at his superior. “She can see and hear us, you know,” he said. “I thought you told me you weren’t going to do anything this drastic.”

    “Look,” the older man replied, “so far, we haven’t seen anyone with the degree of power she’s shown.” He glanced at the woman in the interrogation room. “Look, we know nothing about you other than you are incredibly powerful.”

    She gave them a glance. Dave turned to his superior. “Ok, here’s what we need to do,” he said. “Let me talk to her. One on one, no recording, no nothing.”

    The supervisor raised an objection. Dave cut him off. “Sam, if you trust me, trust me.”

    Sam shook his head while letting out a sigh. As much as it bothered him, he couldn’t ignore out of hand such a request. Dave had one of the cleanest track records he’d ever known. It almost bothered him at some point that his subordinate was well-known for not bending the rules. If protocol had its way, he would have ignored the request and sent word above to the FBI director’s desk. Likely, the President would be informed, and the word would come down to do whatever could be done to contain, threaten, or possibly, eliminate this person. Sam considered himself a traditionalist—any connection that could be exploited would be used. Dave wanted not an interrogation, but a conversation—that idea bothered the old FBI agent. Still, the odds they could charge this woman with a crime that would stick were slim at best. Furthermore, they were in brand-new territory with her powers. He grit his teeth, squinted his eyes hard, and released. “Alright,” he said, acquiescing. He turned to Dave and motioned towards the room. “You have the floor. I’m going to trust you,” he pointed a finger in his subordinate’s face, “and if you so much as give me the impression you’re gonna fuck with me, I’ll make you regret you ever signed on.”

    Sam left the observation room. Dave Wilson popped his head left and right, then headed into the interrogation room. The door slid open, and he stepped quickly to the metal chair opposite the woman in the cuffs. “Hey,” she said. “Think you can get these off of me? I don’t want to break them and get charged with destruction of property.” He read the sarcasm in her voice before he saw her half-skeptical look.

    He slipped his hand into his pocket, produced a keyring, and took the cuffs off, throwing them aside. They clanked on the floor and he shoved his keys back into his pocket, letting out a huff. “Ok,” he began, “I told you that you might not get treated fairly.”

    The redhead across the table took in a breath. “Yeah,” she uttered, loud for effect. “I’m sure.” Her hands gestured open-palm, seeming to say, “what the hell’d I expect?” and she let the rest of her breath out. “I mean, sure, I guess I decided to help people based on the comic books I read, but I didn’t think the government swooping in and crashing the party was so literally true, you know?” Dave watched her eyes. Anger flowed, mixed with frustration and several garden variety irritations, but also, what was hidden underneath her tough-girl act, a sense of fear. The right hand went to the back of the neck, scratching. Not because of an itch, it said, but nervousness, covered with the faintest coat of paint. Her hand came down, flat palm, on the counter. The eyes darted to it and back to him, so quickly, it spoke of her genuine concern of breaking the table, then attempting to hide it after the realization.

    “Sadly, I don’t know what you expected,” he countered, “or what I expected, honestly.” He fumbled in his right pocket for his wallet. He produced a faded, black leather wallet, badly eaten by age around the edges. He removed his driver’s license. “This is who I am,” he said. “I got into law enforcement because I saw the shit going down long before people could post about it on Facebook.” He set it aside, face up, pointed at her. He shifted his head upright. “Let me tell you something that may shock you. Did you know that the year Columbine happened, was actually a record low in school shootings?” The left corner of her mouth twitched slightly, the eyes bulged just enough to be seen. She found herself surprised, he knew, and then lost her train of thought.

    Jennifer breathed harshly through her nose. “No,” she said. “Didn’t know that.”

    He gestured, hands perpendicular to the table, fingers extended, a “what have you” gesture. “You see, all Columbine did was make school shootings known to white people.” He pulled himself back to a fully-upright seated position. “School shootings used to happen all the time, with most of them never getting reported. Know why?” Her mouth straightened to a near line. The mental gears were turning, mild offenses being felt on behalf of minorities occurring in her mind.

    “Most of the school shootings taking place in inner city school districts,” she guessed. “News doesn’t care too much about black people.”

    “Dead on,” he said, pointing for effect. “Columbine was straight-forwardly not what the news expected.” He began counting on his fingers. “Upper-middle class white community. Not an area wide with crime. Popular kids not from broken households.” He paused a moment. “Most importantly, despite what the media projected, they were not bullied loners. They were well-known, and they were the bullies.

    “I did not know that,” she said. “But what’s your point?”

    He leaned in again. “My point is,” he answered, “I made it to my current position by paying attention to nuance.” He tried to avoid swallowing so as to hide his nervousness. “You haven’t killed me yet, or broken out, or just flat out fucked off. Despite the fact that we both know you could. I have several hypotheses as to why, but I’d like to hear you.”

    She huffed. “Don’t laugh, but I actually didn’t want to have to deal with you trying to arrest me a second time,” she said. “I figured if I went with you now, I wouldn’t have to do it later, when you brought guns and bombs and whatnot.”

    He saw her eyes not move from his. No upward movement spoke of either no using the imagination to picture an answer, or an incredible ability to hide one’s dishonesty. Her rising and falling chest spoke of calm breathing. No sudden nervousness from thinking up an answer and worrying about it. She was either an incredible liar or an honest, scared-to-death novice trying to get through a question and answer session without a problem. “You’re just trying to help people,” he said, folding his hands together. “But here’s the issue. Here’s where we come into play.” He removed a file folder from under the desk and set it down, opening it up to reveal pictures of various rescues. “You’re off to a hell of a start. A fire in California and a series of tornadoes in the Midwest.” He pointed to a series of documents. “But you don’t exist. Facial recognition, prints, hair, nothing. You straight-up came into existence a little over two weeks ago. You don’t have citizenship, you don’t have anything. You popped up out of thin air.”

    She studied him for a long moment. “You don’t really believe that.”

    Her eyes flickered left and right so quickly, it almost evaded him. “No,” he said. “I don’t.”

    A momentary jitter of the neck. A sense of worry? Fear? The minor movement told him he was on the right track. She might as well have confessed and proven his theory true. “So, what now?”

    “I believe you are not the person I’m seeing,” he explained. “For all I know, you could have been a different person, transformed into a fictional character. Or, you could be a shapeshifter who takes on the powers of what they look like. What I am sure of, however, is that you’re not worried about physical harm to you as you are now. You seem to be worried about the harm to someone else—namely your alter ego.” She looked down quickly, then back up. He was on the right track. “You’re wearing pants that have pockets, when most women’s pants have fake pockets or none at all, which means you’re wanting to carry a wallet.” He leaned back in his chair a bit. “Which means you’re planning on carrying identification. Which means you want to be official.”

    Jennifer thought back to her usual male self. Manny wanted to be a superhero when he was a kid, but as a teenager, reality bore down on him. The “secret identity” thing that they did in the comics bothered him. What he couldn’t imagine was having a steady job where he left the office at convenient times to save the world and came back at will. It worked in the Superman comics because newspapers had worked differently back then. The next possibility, working during the day and fighting crime at night, was a definite non-starter because he didn’t want to be like Batman—all heroics and no play made Manny a dull boy. “You’re right,” she said, snapping back to the now. “I want to save lives, preferably with no micromanager, and get paid to do it.”

    Davis nodded. “Good,” he replied. “We’re getting somewhere.”

    Jennifer bore down slightly on the table, causing its metal hinges to creak. “Let me be clear,” she insisted. “I don’t want to be a mercenary, I don’t want to be a soldier, I want to use my powers to save lives.”

    He shrugged. “Great,” he replied. “Awesome motivation.”

    “You need to look me in the eye,” she explained, “and let me know you understand.” She leaned in. “I don’t want to be an extension of the Defense Department, I don’t want to be law enforcement, I want to answer only to the innocent people who need help.”

    “That way you can save everyone,” he said. “I understand.”

    “I hope you’re not bullshitting me,” she said, leaning back.

    “I can honestly say that I’m not,” he replied. He rested his hands on the table again. “Look, so far, no one has discovered anything capable of hurting you. You could have flown out of here through the ceiling at any time. I bet you could have leveled New York in an afternoon, if you wanted to. I can’t speak for my superiors, but I get it.”

    “So, why am I still in an interrogation room,” she asked. “And for that matter, how does a girl that didn’t exist three weeks ago become ‘official’ to the government?”

    “I’m going to talk to my superiors about that,” he said. “Stay here.” He exited the room, cleared his throat once, and headed down the hall. He knew where the breakroom was and he found his boss standing next to the fridge, drinking a cup of reheated coffee. Sam Louis was a hard-ass and one that did everything by the book. Dave found it impressive, honestly, given that the man often dealt with situations no rule had existed for. Talking him into anything was going to be a serious pain in the ass.

    “So,” Sam began, looking up from his coffee. “What does our princess want?”

    Davis rolled his eyes. “Look, sir,” he offered, “she wants to save lives. She doesn’t want to be a cop or a soldier, she wants to be a serious ally of ours.”

    “I prefer allies that are predictable and controllable to some extent,” Sam shot back. “Having a girl that can shrug off mortar rounds and pick up bridges be my ally isn’t either of those things.” He set down his coffee. “Besides, the American people will know our answer is, ‘hey, just trust me?’ Does that sound like bullshit or what? Also, since she doesn’t have citizenship she technically is illegal.”

    “If I may be frank,” Davis answered, “the fact that she doesn’t want to fly into the nearest Goldman Sachs vault and steal a pallet of twenty million dollars should give us a sense of relief. If we get her official citizenship, and let her work, she’ll save FEMA potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.”

    “Alright, I give you that,” Sam replied. “I don’t fucking like it, but you’re right.” He pointed a finger. “But the men above me are stupid enough they won’t believe it. They talk in terms of loyal soldiers and voters. They speak exactly a language of control and the status quo.” Davis held his breath a moment. “You think those dumb fucks are going to agree to this?” He didn’t know what pissed him off more: the fact that Dave was right, or the fact that this was completely new territory.

    Davis wiped his face with both hands. “Boss, listen,” he said. “It’s a sales pitch. That’s what these Wall Street billionaires in the White House cabinet think, right? Have her save someone important. Shouldn’t be too hard. How many school shootings have gone down? With random people getting powers, she’ll have a shitload of opportunities.”

    Sam took a drink, his eyebrows raised. “That’s cold, Dave,” he said. “Even for you.” He let the reheated coffee steam escape. “But that just might be the answer. So, you gonna look for it, or am I?”

    Dave nodded. “So, what excuse do I give for letting her go?”

    Sam shrugged. “She asked for a lawyer,” he said, “we couldn’t interrogate or charge her with a crime. Local jurisdiction in her field activities are a bitch. We didn’t send her to immigration because we don’t think that’s a problem. Hell, you can make up something for that if you want.”

    He nodded again and headed back to the interrogation room. She looked up from the table. An exasperated glare escaped her face. “Any word from on high,” Jennifer asked. “or do I get to wait here?”

    “You asked for a lawyer,” Dave replied, “and so, I can’t interrogate you, and I can’t charge you with a crime.” He winked. “Even though I probably could.

    Understanding creeped onto her face. “Ok,” she simply stated.

    He leaned in. “Look,” he whispered, “to get what you want, you’re going to have to save someone important. I’m going to look into it, but something tells me it won’t be necessary. I’ll be in touch. Get it?”


    She nodded. “Alright.”

    She exited the room and he followed close behind. The dozen or so different ideas kicking around in his head about what to do, but if he was honest, he would say he was scared shitless. Walking two and a half feet in front of him stood a woman who could get hit by a cruise missile and not be badly hurt. What struck him as worse had to be his lack of power over anything. Before, even as an agent, he had a deal of control over a rational situation. Now, he could do nothing except know who was who.

    “I’m going to drive you back home,” Davis said, “and I’m going to keep you up to speed.” A thought entered his mind. “By the way, if Jericho Torvalds visits you, I want to know at least something about it.”

    Jennifer entered the rear of the vehicle. “Is he the billionaire investor guy with granddaddy issues?”

    Davis laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “The reason he might visit you, is, he’s hopping all over the globe, talking to people and giving them money. We suspect he’s talking to people with powers.”

    As they drove back to the house, Davis flicked off the power to the radio and the dashboard camera. Jennifer leaned back in the seat and took a deep breath. “So, the superpower thing has you busy as hell, right?” she asked. Small talk calmed her down sometimes. Nothing quite so traumatic as surrendering to the FBI and being returned in the span of a few hours to set one on edge, but it went better than she had hoped. Her more cynical self said she only got out this easy because she had white skin, but even still, she wanted to minimize risk. If she showed them calm control before they went looking for her, it could only work out for her best interest.

    “Calm before the storm,” Davis replied. “I mean, so far, we’ve only gotten minor reports of people skirmishing with police and crap like that.” He cleared his throat. “So far, the really powerful players, wherever they are, they’re staying quiet for now.” He turned a knob to shut off the car stereo. “Look, I’m going to level with you, I’m sure you’ve already guessed.” He felt the air become slightly electric. “I was trying to avoid having to say it in there, but I’m guessing you’re Manfred Voren or you have a strong connection to him.”

    Jennifer swallowed. “What are you getting at?” Even before the words escaped her mouth, she knew. Or, at least, she thought she knew. He could have blabbed to his boss exactly what he knew. The information would pass up the grape vine. Instead, he was trying to protect her, at least to some degree.

    “You can interpret this as me being scared shitless,” he replied, “or how ever you want. But in any case, I’m trying to show you I genuinely am interested in where you take this from here.” He coughed. “You legitimately have survived temperatures hot enough to melt lead, and tornado debris moving at hundreds of miles per hour bounced off you. You could steal almost anything, and no one could stop you. And with your secret identity, you could’ve made it almost impossible to find ‘you’.”
    “T…Thank you,” Jennifer said. She found it hard to ignore the logic, and yet, the normal human nervousness came back.
     
    Armentho and Biigoh like this.
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter Four
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER FOUR​



    I.​




    Jericho’s private jet touched down at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. He picked up his briefcase on the way out and a brand-new Ford Taurus was waiting for him. Normally, he’d drive Mercedes or BMW, but he didn’t want to risk damaging such nice cars in the worse parts of southern Illinois. The ghettos of East Saint Louis happened to be his first stop, and since the economy had left the town behind almost three-quarters of a century earlier, it had become a breeding ground of crime and squalor, and the fruit of abandonment would become obvious even a few miles out. Forget what the racists said about black people, it was basic math: when any chance to make money disappears from a community, caused by valid business decisions or not, the result is violence and crime.

    “Good lord,” he whispered to himself. “This place is Walmart-ville.” Even having grown up not rich and having to make himself so, it never ceased to startle him how outside the city, any semblance of culture simply died. Forget city versus country, rural versus urban spoke more truth than any political map. The chief sources of jobs out here were part-time work no adult should have to do. Even as an objectivist, even as a supporter of conservative fiscal policies, it disturbed him how much adult value went to waste outside of the major cities.

    He parked on the street corner outside an apartment building that had seen better days. Not a half block down the street, the half-remains of a ruined brick building lay undisturbed. People walked the streets looking half-suspicious and half-jealous of the white man in the expensive suit driving a new, clean, undamaged car. With several of his new powers active, Jericho himself felt little danger. His sense of unease, he had trained himself to overcome, somewhat like a soldier, forcing himself to stare down guns and knives. An elderly man sat in a chair near the entrance to the building. The door had a hole in it with decay around the edge of the hole. “Excuse me,” he said.

    The elderly man looked up. “Careful,” the old man warned. “Lookin’ like that, you’re liable to get robbed.”

    “Understandable,” Jericho replied. He brought the name to the front. “Do you know if Demarcus Edwardson is in?”

    The man scratched his chin. “Maybe,” he replied. “What do you want?”

    “You may not believe this,” the billionaire answered, “but I want to help him. I’ve heard some bad news lately.”

    “Nothin’ but bad news around here,” the old man said. “If you ain’t here to hurt that poor boy and his momma, I guess they’re in.”

    “Thank you.” Jericho nodded and walked forward.

    “Hell, white boy like you never fired a gun or stuck someone with a knife in his whole life,” the man correctly guessed.

    The truth was, Jericho could easily have identified the location. What he wanted was to establish himself as known to at least someone on-site to lessen the inevitable curiosity as to why he was there. Plus, no one could accuse him of sneaking around the world if he made his presence known. He mounted the stairs, ignoring the smell and damage to the walls, and found a certain door on the third floor. He knocked.

    “Who is it and what do you want?” A black woman’s voice answered the door. It did not open.

    “My name is Jericho Torvalds,” he said, standing back from the door. “I know a Demarcus Edwardson lives here and he has something that I want to give him a lot of money for.”

    A chuckle echoed through the wood door. “That’s rich,” she said. “The asshole who gives bad financial advice on the evening news is standing outside my door and wants to give me money. Right.”

    “Look at it this way, ma’am,” Jericho said, taking a breath and a pause. “You’re living in a shithole. I suppose both your son and you work, and your combined income is almost enough ninety-nine percent of the time. You’re one catastrophe away from homelessness, and in terms of escaping the cycle of crushing poverty, neither of you are going anywhere. What more have you got to lose?” No answer came for a long moment. “Besides, I’m not in possession of a weapon, and I know you’ve got a gun on you.”

    After the last part, he heard an audible gun cock, and the door slid slowly open. She focused her sights rigidly on him. “I don’t know who you are,” she said, “but you’ve got exactly three minutes.” She walked backwards, gun and sights on him the whole time.

    He stepped in, slowly to avoid raising the tension, and sat down in a loveseat across from her and the boy. There was a second gun sitting next to the boy on the sofa. “I’ll not need three minutes,” he said. “I’m here to copy your superpower, and in exchange, pay you a great deal of money. Honestly, with the amount of powers I’ve copied, I could easily have taken it by force and neither of you could stop me, but I don’t believe in that.” He exhaled and inhaled again. “Governments use force. Coercion is evil. Rational adults use negotiation and diplomacy in business transactions.”

    “Look around you,” Demarcus said. “Look where we are. Why do us a favor?”

    “I’m not doing you a favor,” Jericho countered. “I don’t do anyone any favors. I subscribe to Ayn Rand.” He noticed a lack of understanding. “Objectivism, plain and simple. Show any selflessness to someone else only if that person matters to you selfishly. Quite frankly, I don’t have a soft spot in my heart for you or anyone around you. I’m not going to give you an ounce of charity.”

    The boy and his mother started to get it. “So, you’re…” She began.

    “The boy has something I want very much,” he said. “I am willing to pay a pretty penny for it.”

    “Why?” The boy said.

    “Currency has value only because everybody on this Earth wants at least some of it,” Jericho explained. “If society were to collapse, paper money and precious metals would be worthless, no matter what the idiots trying to scam elderly people on late-night television infomercials say. Food, water and survival skill would become the new currency. The manager of a Wal-Mart with a working freezer and a fully loaded guns and ammunition department would be the new Jeff Bezos.”

    A dawning look of understanding emerged on them. Jericho continued. “I am wealthy. I got to a place in life where I can fly in my own jet, eat at any restaurant, no matter how expensive, and have any gadget or trinket I want. I got there by figuring out the best ways imaginable to acquire that which others place tremendous value on.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “Superpowers are now real, I believe, based on now countless pieces of evidence. Therefore, I’m simply securing my place among the top one percent in that regard as well. Your power will help me advance my power wealth.”

    “Alright,” Demarcus said. “What’s your terms?”

    “Here’s my terms,” Jericho explained. “We shake hands. Your power is replicated. I gain a flawless copy. You don’t even have to lose your power, or have it weakened in any way. In exchange, I will set up a long-term investment in your name that will pay you a dividend of at least one hundred thousand dollars a year for the rest of your life, even taking inflation into account.”

    Demarcus sat stunned. Jericho saw this and smiled. “No tricks?”

    The boy was skeptical. It pleased the billionaire, as so many others hadn’t even so much as questioned what the hell was happening. He reached into his wallet. “Here’s where I want you to be,” he said, dropping it on the table between them. “Oh by the way, here’s a down payment to show you how serious I am.” He placed two thousand dollars in hundred-dollar bills on the table. “For your rent as well as your car repairs. Consider it a bonus.”

    The two sat in stunned silence. It was more than both of their wages for a month combined, before taxes, just sitting there in cold, hard cash. They looked at the man in the suit, and the business card to a law office, and watched as he walked away. “Didn’t you want to copy my power?” Demarcus said.

    Jericho gave him a puzzled look. “The deal isn’t done until bound by contract,” he said. “That way, I can’t weasel my way out easily.”

    As he walked out the door, he caught the tail end of whispered conversation, discussion over the degree of belief they had over the offer. He would give them the opportunity to take him up on his offer. Based on everything he’d done so far, he believed he’d gotten them to take him up on the offer. They wouldn’t need a second bit of prodding. Only a few had denied him, and even the most skeptical buckled when he came to show them actual money. These people were desperate enough that they couldn’t afford to be too skeptical. He got to his rental car, which thankfully, had not been vandalized, and started the motor. His next target was quite a drive from here, and he wished suddenly he had not been squeamish about his choice of car. The mid-range American car served acceptably, but if he had his expensive German car, the ride would be smoother. Still, as orchestral music played over Bluetooth, he took a sip from his bottled water and followed instructions towards Alton. After a good thirty minutes or so, of endless gas stations, mini marts, and fast food restaurants, not to mention the Targets and Walmarts, with very few places of culture in sight, he found his way to the small house in a subdivision behind a McDonalds.

    He pulled the car up to the road beside the driveway, perpendicular. The lawn had been mowed not a few hours earlier, he could smell. Up two steps, he stood in front of the front door. He knocked twice. From the front door emerged a man about his age, hair freshly washed and a bit of stubble around his face. He could tell from the loose skin on the man’s neck and arms that he’d recently lost a great deal of weight. The man’s shirt and pants looked relatively new because they fit very well. He knew from people he’d met that sudden weight loss leaves one with clothes of various sizes too big.

    The young man looked at him skeptically. He registered a strange sensation; this person somehow knew the billionaire had been coming. The guy didn’t look as surprised as he should have been. Jericho estimated that the news would have reported that he had been travelling all over the world, but even still, it concerned him that someone should have any degree of inside information.

    “Let me guess,” Manny started, placing hands in pockets. “You’re this ‘Jericho Torvalds’ guy?”

    “Yes,” Jericho replied, “and I’m guessing that means you know why I’m here?”

    “Hmm, you know I have a power, and for some reason you’re here to…what, steal my abilities?”

    The investor shook his head. This guy wasn’t very nervous. To his estimation, this guy must be at least partially activated already. “No, not steal,” Jericho corrected. “I want to copy your ability. You’re in to be paid a lot more money than whatever you’re making. You don’t even have to lose your power.”

    The man looked a bit skeptical, but generally seemed to be accepting. “And you’re…what, assembling powers to be a hero?” he asked.

    Jericho chuckled a bit. “No, nothing so grandiose. I’m just wanting to be well-protected and stocked with abilities when the new order of wealth in the world asserts itself.”

    Manny looked oddly at the man after his last statement. “Come in, I guess.” He entered through the doorway, motioning behind him. Footsteps told him the rich man followed. “What do you mean, new order of wealth?” But he knew already. Or, at least he guessed he did.

    “Simple,” the investor corrected. “Money is the main order of wealth because people accept it in some form everywhere. If society collapsed, food and water would be the new order of wealth. Someone might be financially poor, but if they have an incredible power, they’re quite wealthy in terms of power, because superpowers are going to make people valuable.”

    They sat in separate loveseats in Manny’s living room. Jericho leaned forward, folding his hands together in his lap. “Give me your pitch, rich man,” Manny said.

    “I’ll be blunt,” he said. “You let me shake your hand, I copy your ability, and I set up a long-term investment paying at least a hundred grand a year until you die. Basic enough?”

    Manny leaned back in his chair. He could not afford to resist such an offer. It would remove him from his poverty, and even enable him to save lives without having to worry about money. And yet, this guy was exactly what bothered him. Here was a guy who had the power set to put a huge dent in world suffering and would not do such a thing. “I’m not going to bullshit you,” he told the billionaire. “I’m not in a position in my life where I can afford to outright reject you.” Jericho nodded in mutual understanding. “But you’re setting yourself up to have all the abilities, just so you can be the man with all the weapons. With all you’re going to be capable of, you’d be able to single-handedly save the world. And yet, all you’re worried about is you.”

    Jericho let out a sigh that indicated he had heard such words before. “I have to say, Mister Voren,” he explained, “I’ve heard this kind of moral statement before. As a follower of Rand, I…” He saw the man roll his eyes. “What?”

    Manny’s lip straightened out, and his eyes lowered to a skeptical, somewhat exasperated gaze. “I hope it’s no offense, but I can’t stand the writings of Ayn Rand.”

    Rather than be offended, the billionaire gave a look of genuine interest. “Go on,” he prodded. “Tell me what you find disagreeable?”

    “Ooh hoo,” Manny uttered, trying to avoid laughing. “Where do I begin? The fact that her characters are terribly characterized, either Mary Sue perfect, or Disney villain? Sometimes both at the same time? How everyone we’re supposed to side against is a blatant strawman? How her books contain hilarious mistakes?”

    Jericho folded his hands together as he reclined. “Hmm,” he countered. “I didn’t get that reading of the text of Atlas Shrugged or Anthem at all.”

    “I read Atlas Shrugged because it was supposed to be her magnum opus,” Manny shot back. “I was either in one of two moods: wanting to punch a hole in the wall angry or laughing my ass off at the terrible prose and characterization. It’s borderline unreadable.”

    “Give me an example,” Jericho stated. He’d had debates about Atlas Shrugged before, and he looked forward to what this person had to say. Masters of literary intellect had fought back and forth over Rand’s longest work before. He’d listened to fiery debates over the Objectivist ideology. Maybe a common opinion would be what he needed. Or not. Maybe this man’s ordinary level of education would prove uninteresting. Still, he had to know.

    “We’re told that main character Dagny Taggart is descended from Nat Taggart, who founded the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad without government assistance or government loans of any kind.”

    Jericho felt stifled by the pause. Clearly there was a point he wasn’t getting. What was the problem? “And?” he asked.

    “In the real world,” Manny explained, “the only way for national railroads to get the land they needed to build all the way to the coast was by eminent domain.” He shrugged. “You’re telling me this man was such a genius he managed to convince all these people to sell their land, and he bought land with no government help whatsoever? It’s ridiculous.”

    Jericho leaned forward. “Even if I give you that,” he said, “that’s not a knock on the ideology behind the story.”

    “If the foundation is rotten, the house will fall,” Manny countered. “This is supposed to be her best work. If the ideology is supposed to be presented at its finest here, this is a problem.”

    “A bit of a nitpick,” the billionaire said, “but ok, I’ll grant that. It seems implausible. But surely that’s not the biggest problem.”

    Manny took a thinking breath. “No,” he continued. “The core of her ‘great men make history’ idea of Objectivism is symbolized by John Galt. This is the biggest Mary Sue I’ve possibly ever read.” Jericho leaned forward. Manny took this as a sign to continue. “He straight-up invents a perpetual motion machine. Something that is physically impossible. So, his plan is to cause the government to collapse by getting all the best people with the best ideas to escape and hide away, and thus society can’t go on without them? Is that really believable?”

    “Why not?” Jericho countered. “Look at what Henry Ford created. Not just the automobile, but the assembly line.”

    Manny shot him a surprised look. “You’re really telling me you believe no one would be able to come up with that idea in his absence?”

    “Maybe scientifically, someone else could come up with it.” Jericho changed gears. “But the core idea of Objectivism is that the government should not be allowed to take from someone who earns money and give to someone who doesn’t, and people should not do what is not in their rational self-interest.”

    “That’s one of the problems with this world,” Manny fired off. “Eighty-six people have the combined wealth of the bottom three billion people.”

    “What’s wrong with that?”

    Manny let out a bellowing laugh at that. When he saw the rich man’s serious expression of genuine confusion, his laugh increased. “Yeah, I needed that,” he said.

    “No,” Jericho argued. “I mean it. They earned it.”

    “Oh, please,” Manny exclaimed. “Do you honestly believe that? Are you really that naïve?”

    “I’m not dumb enough to believe every wealthy person worked hard,” Jericho clarified, “but someone earned that money they inherited. Isn’t it the right of a parent to bequeath his money to his children?”

    “The average CEO makes almost three hundred times the pay of his average worker,” Manny said, trying to counter, “and can you honestly tell me you think the CEO works three hundred times harder?”

    “Shouldn’t a successful rich person have the right to create a dynasty of wealth?”

    Manny blinked hard. This man was not going to let him change to an easier target. “Not if it results in five or six generations of people who don’t have to contribute anything useful to society, and not if less than a hundred people can have more money than a huge chunk of the human race, no.”

    Jericho leaned back in the chair. “Can’t say I’m surprised,” he stated. “I can absolutely understand why you feel the way you do, even if I disagree with you.” He collected his thoughts. “And to answer your question, the CEO may not work three hundred times as many hours as his ordinary worker, but his work is three hundred times as important.”

    “Even IF that were true,” Manny shot back, “which I doubt, does that mean that it’s okay for him to pay them much less than they’re worth? Or to fail to share the benefits of extra profit with them? These are people who need to do more than mere survival. Also, how is he going to succeed without cogs in his machine?”

    He wasn’t expecting such an erudite statement from the man. He dismissed it immediately, of course, but the man started to speak a bit clearer and more firmly. That impressed him. “They agreed to work for the pay the market set,” Jericho explained, “and he’s not obligated to share his extra wealth with them, no.”

    “Wow,” Manny stated. The conversation hit him hard. The wind was knocked out of him. “That’s spectacularly shitty.”

    “That’s the way it is,” Jericho fired back. “If everyone followed this ideology, there’d be none of these problems. People become too dependent on government assistance.”

    Manny raised his eyebrows a moment. “Well, in any case, I think you’re dead wrong, and your ideology is terrible, no offense.”

    Jericho reached in his pocket and removed a business card from his wallet. “Anyway, if you want to finalize our deal, go here.”

    “Hold on,” Manny said. “Aren’t I allowed to counter with a stipulation?”

    Jericho turned, awestruck. “Ok,” he said, barely able to comprehend. No one had even considered the possibility of a counter offer.

    “Do you have a power in that growing collection of yours,” Manny asked, “that allows you to see things from someone else’s point of view?”

    The billionaire searched his mental storage. In the large group of abilities that he’d already acquired, there was one that allowed him to insert himself directly into the memories of another person. He wondered where this was going, although he believed he knew. “Go on,” he said, curious.

    “You can cut the money in half,” Manny suggested, “if you use that power to see the world through my eyes.”

    Jericho’s eyes went a bit wide and his eyebrows raised. “Really,” he said. A small whistle escaped his mouth. “That’s not a very wise financial decision. I’ve got a huge incentive to take you up on it, and not much disincentive.” He stepped a bit closer. “Tell you what. Give me a strong disincentive that you think I’m not considering, and I’ll take you up on it, no discount needed.”

    Manny didn’t have to hesitate. “You might end up changing your mind.”

    “Not likely,” the rich man countered. “Although, it might end up giving me a better defense of my position.”

    “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.”

    Jericho’s face didn’t change, but his internal smile was wide. “Tell me who said that, and I’ll take you up on it.” The expected answer was astronomer and famous skeptic Carl Sagan.

    “P.C. Hodgell in ‘Seeker’s Mask.’ People often think Carl Sagan said it, but there’s no evidence.”

    The billionaire said not a word. He simply stuck out his hand. Manny saw the grin emerge and shook the hand. He felt nothing out of the ordinary. He saw the rich man’s eyes go dim for a moment. When he came back a second later, he let go and shook his head a bit. “T…thank you,” Jericho stammered. The smile was fake enough to indicate something serious had transpired. “You’ll hear from my accountant shortly.”

    “Nice doing business with you,” Manny said.

    The billionaire made his way to his rental car and sat down. Firing the engine up, he ran the air conditioner and kept the radio silent. He sat in stunned silence, listening to the hiss of the fan and the sound of his own breathing. What he expected had been to experience the memories of the man named Manfred Voren. The experiences of the working poor would reveal the truth of his belief and perhaps challenge a detail or two of his ideology, but he would ultimately emerge unscathed. That wasn’t remotely what happened.



    II.​





    The power Jericho copied placed him literally inside the body of Manny Voren in memories reconstructed not by frail, malleable human psyche that changes the story every time a person thinks of it, but rather by supernatural power capable of accuracy.

    Manfred Voren was born in early nineteen eighty-six in southern Illinois. His views came to be dominated by poverty. When he was just a boy, no older than twelve, his father had lost his job and spent the next eight or so months struggling to find work. His mother had to support the two of them with her nursing income, and it hadn’t stretched very far. Even when the father had found work, it hadn’t been the same. Jericho saw all these moments in great detail, as an observer in the moments of the past.

    When Manny found work at the age of sixteen, he fought tooth and nail to perform his best and keep his chin up. His efforts often resulted in failure: his parents’ income would fall short and he would have to supplement their income. Two jobs apiece and his parents still couldn’t survive without occasional public assistance. This floored him; how could hard working adults, pushing themselves to their limits, need public aid to survive? He’d gotten used to seeing people fail. How could competent people fail like that?

    As he sat in his rental car, listening to the sound of the air conditioner, he snapped out of his thoughts. Never mind, he thought. I’ve got powers to test out. He found the trigger in his mind for the newly-acquired ability from this person. He pressed the mental switch and activated the power.

    He opened his eyes and stared in the mirror.

    Nothing about his body looked different.

    Reaching down, he took the cigarette lighter and burned himself with it. Then he activated a regeneration power he acquired. Damn it. Why isn’t it working?

    He took a breath. He pictured a number of mental images and activated his power each time. After a good five minutes of trying, he gave up. He looked identical to how he’d looked before, with no new abilities. How could he see a trigger in his mind, activate it, and have nothing happen? He wanted to barge in the house again, and demand answers, but it occurred to him that Manny wouldn’t know any different than he did.

    Using his primary ability, he probed the ability he’d acquired to see what the purpose of the original power was. It took a few minutes, analyzing with his full attention. With the assistance of the enhancing and increased intelligence abilities he copied, the answer came to him quickly. Manny had gained the ability to turn into the character he’d like to be most.

    A thought creeped into Jericho’s mind. There’s no character I’d like to be, he realized. He let out a chuckle. They always told me I was a bit narcissistic.

    “Oh well,” he thought out loud. Sure, he’d lost money on an ability he couldn’t use, but he’d copied so many recently that the losses weren’t that tragic. Already, he’d gotten abilities that would guarantee his long-term survival and were some of the most useful imaginable. He drove off, making another phone call to his accountant as he drove to the nearest branch of the gym he belonged to. It led him out of Wal-Mart Land and into the buildings and highways of Saint Louis.

    He parked in the lot and made his way into the gym, showing his identification at the front desk. He’d bought a new set of gym clothes on the way to the building, and carried his bag and his new combination lock into the locker room. A quick search gave him access to a shower with a draw curtain he could use to hide away from the others.

    “Here we go,” he muttered to himself, setting the towel on the plastic seat. He stared at his nakedness in the florescent light. His body had decent muscle tone and low body fat, but he’d never been an exercise nut who put serious effort into being a top athlete. Inside his mind, out of the collection of power triggers he had, he instantly located the ones for both regeneration and optimization. He’d copied the first from a child who had recently miraculously recovered from cancer as well as a broken leg. The mother had been ecstatic to find the child had powers and was not, in fact, possessed. The second was from a man who had been overweight his whole life, only to lose a hundred and fifty pounds of fat and gain seventy pounds of muscle since the lights shone overhead in the sky.


    At first, little happened. He’d hoped the regeneration would speed up the optimization, but it seemed they counteracted each other.

    Then his body lit up as if ablaze.

    His teeth grit to avoid him shouting. The pain was incredible. It lasted a good thirty seconds, as he watched his body reconfigure into the icon of physical perfection. His breath came back to him in gulps, as he wiped sweat from his brow. His arms, while not ludicrously huge, had grown by several inches. His body fat had changed a bit, revealing tone like he’d never had before. His chest muscles were well-defined, and his legs were thick trunks of meat where before he looked spindly. Wow, he simply thought, turning the water on. He wet himself down, dried off, and dressed.

    The new clothes he bought, he’d intended to be bigger and looser, just in case this happened. Now, they fit his more buff body more tightly. His flat stomach had a six-pack and his chest stuck out now.

    The fastest treadmill maxed out at twenty miles per hour. His sprint barely taxed him, and he felt his legs fatigue very slowly. That’s what I call ‘optimization,’ he thought.

    While running, he thought about Manfred Voren’s life experiences. As a fan of Ayn Rand’s work, he’d always fielded criticism of the literary work. Probably the most familiar arguments, typically from positions of perceived moral superiority, bothered him because these people honestly believed the rich had some outsized responsibility to society at large. What he knew from his education and his experiences in the stock market was that the rich fulfilled their role in society and enriched the masses simply by doing what made them rich in the first place. However, having inserted himself into the memories of the young man put him in shoes of another person as much as anyone could possibly be. He got to experience what the man had been through.

    The mother had a marketable skill in demand. The father was the same way; he was a welder. How could it possibly be that they needed public assistance? The memories he’d experienced answered his question as soon as he had it. The economy had basically ceased to exist in the eighties when the companies that ran the factories that hired almost everyone in the surrounding communities outsourced to China. Furthermore, he saw other damning things. Multiple families only survived because they often supported each other. The place he referred to as Wal-Mart Land only turned into that once the economy that made people able to life a middle-class life disappeared. There was a time where most of the people Manfred grew up with didn’t have to subsist on incomes from retail and fast food. Manfred’s own memories took a proverbial sledgehammer to everything Jericho believed.

    The worst part of all was he believed he’d grown up middle-class and not rich. Sure, he became a billionaire in his early twenties, but through the lens of Manfred’s own memories he saw just how rich he’d been. His mother had been a University professor on an income that was fantastic by the standards he now saw. He’d grown up in a gated community in a five-bedroom house his mother had paid off by the time he was eight years old. Even though he held his grandfather in contempt for disinheriting Jericho’s mother and dooming him to have to struggle, he now saw his mother had such a huge advantage that transferred to him. She’d benefitted from the most impressive college education money could buy and was able to parlay connections made with her father’s name into a teaching job at a prestigious university and he suddenly realized just how many of his accomplishments were built on a name he thought he’d thrown away.

    What did he believe? He didn’t know anymore. All he knew was that he would have to base his decisions on more than just one person’s memory. Coming to a decision he cleaned himself off and got dressed. As of now he had more information to gather.


    III.​





    Using several new powers in conjunction with each other, Jericho located several powered individuals he hadn’t managed to speak to in the past few days. As his repertoire changed with each new power gained, he found the synergies between them a fascinating learning experience. The St. Louis area had some surprisingly good restaurants, he noticed, and the flexing of his financial muscle got him a private dining room. He could dine in peace and focus his abilities. On the way in, he experienced the memories of several members of the wait and cooking staff. The degree to which his experience differed from the average person bothered him. Still, he felt determined to get over it and get on with his life. He wasn’t going to radically upend his behavior based solely on this new information.

    Now he had the ability to know the names of the targets that appeared on his radar ability. A Reverend Jack Hurst had recently developed an ability, and he would have to fly to Oklahoma to get this one. There were several closer targets he could get, but given his experience with religious people, he wanted this one to be over as soon as possible. The afternoon sun still hung above the horizon, but the events since the lights had weighed on his mind and he wanted to relax and process his thoughts. After paying his bill, he drove his rental car to the nearest hotel and checked into their first available suite.

    His suitcase dropped by the computer desk. He’d worry about the stock market later. Despite making his enormous fortune from it, he now knew about a superior market. This market, he knew, didn’t have very many competitors in it, so he had a true first mover advantage. These thoughts excited and worried him. Dozens of abilities had become part of him and he had more to get. A particular skill that he prided himself on was his knack for finding use for things. A lesser mind might not find a use for manipulating insect carapaces, but he could imagine several. So his goal was to grab whatever ability proved available, and worry about use later.

    His thoughts kept drifting back to the experience of living the young man’s memories. Just having access to another person’s life experience radically changed his perception. Even though it made him think about things in a way he’d never expected, he believed the struggle between his prior beliefs and the views of the other person would prove beneficial in the long term.

    What other experiences could he add to his mind? This thought raced around. The harrowing nature of living the memories of another person taxed him. This wasn’t receiving a summary, he got inserted into the person’s life. Years of their life passed in the instant of real time it took to make contact, and he had to live each long day. However, this provided him an experience like none other. Who else, besides the person he got this power from, could say they literally lived another person’s life?

    He found his way back to his hotel suite and checked the time on his cell phone. His office should still be open. A phone call later and his secretary picked up on the first ring. “Mr. Torvalds?” she said.

    “Starting tomorrow, I’m doubling your pay,” he said. “Anyway, check my schedule. You know that one black activist who kept slandering me on CNN? Do you think you can get in touch with her and see if she’d be willing to meet with me to discuss civil rights?”

    An uncomfortable pause followed. “Sir,” the secretary said, “she left her card as a token gesture. I don’t think she actually wanted to meet with you. If you want, though, I’ll certainly try to call.”

    “You know what?” he interrupted. “I think it’ll mean more if I call her. What’s the number?” Another pause of significant length happened. Then the secretary read him the number. “Alright, I’ll call her. Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome, sir.”

    He hung up and dialed.

    “Sharon Francis,” the husky female voice replied.

    “Yes,” he began, “Mrs. Francis? This is Jericho Torvalds…”

    “Uh-huh,” she interrupted. “This is a surprise. After the comments you made about Black Lives Matter on Fox, I didn’t expect you to call.”

    “Look,” he cut in, “I was hasty and I over-generalized. I think my position will be better if I sit down and actually hash it out with you.”

    He waited for her laughter to die down. “Alright,” she said, “I’ll give you this: we sit down and talk, and I get to record the whole thing on audio. You can’t take back anything you say.”

    “Absolutely,” he agreed. She audibly gasped. Apparently, she hadn’t expected him to agree to those terms. “Where are you? I’ll meet you somewhere.”

    “I’m having a sit-down interview in my New York apartment with Anderson Cooper at ten o’clock tomorrow morning,” she said.

    “How about the Waldorf Astoria at two p.m.?” He offered. “I’ll pay for any food or drink you want.”

    “You’re serious about talking to me about black issues and civil rights?” Her tone bit him.

    He put on a smile and brightened his tone. “You can film the fucking ordeal if you want,” he offered. “I just want a new perspective.”

    “You know what?” she said. “You’re on. I am going to hit you with some hard questions. You are going to answer for the shit you’ve said.”

    No problem,” he said, verbally leaning into it. He hung up. He made a few phone calls and got the jet gassed up and ready for flight and booked a room at the Waldorf in New York along with a conference room and even paid extra for food service to it. Once the hotel heard his voice and confirmed his credit card, they were more than happy to be accommodating. To hell with it, he thought. His power collecting could wait. After all, he had quite a collection already.

    A thought passed through: could he speed up the relevant sections and get just the important parts of a person’s life? There seemed only one way to find out. He teleported to behind a dumpster in the alleyway and walked out onto the street. Casual clothes had been the choice so as not to create too much fuss. Business formal could be saved for making deals.

    The first target to attract attention came into view. A shapely woman in what was clearly an evening dinner dress underneath the pea coat. In his collection of triggers in his head, he activated the ones for heightened awareness and perception and combined it with the empathic experience power. Stealthily his hand grazed hers as he strolled.

    Her life story, complete with tragedy and triumph, seemed to flash by. Some twenty-six years seemed to take only eight months of experiencing instead of real-time. As he returned to his own body, only microseconds having passed in actual time, he did his best to not make her think something wrong. If he acted out his shock and surprise, she’d have thought him a pervert who got off on brushing up against women on the street.

    She’d been in an abusive relationship with a guy who seemed almost clueless as to the effect he had on her. It almost bothered him as much as willful abusers. Based on what she knew, at this point in the evening, he’d be at their apartment watching television. He found their residence with his teleportation’s radar sense and appeared behind the couch. At times like this, he thanked the ability for being silent.

    I hope this works
    , he thought. He held his palm outstretched behind the man’s head and activated a mental projection power to combine with the empathic one and willed the experience of the woman into her boyfriend’s mind.

    “What the hell?” The boyfriend shouted, almost shooting forward. Jericho turned invisible and inaudible, backing up and watching. The man turned the television off and sat there in stunned silence for a solid minute. Tears actually began flowing from the man’s eyes. “Oh…my God…” Jericho left when he saw that the woman’s memories got the point across. He teleported back to his hotel room.

    A feeling of positivity swept over Jericho unlike anything he’d felt before. It perplexed him. Before, every logical center in his brain told him that doing things for strangers for no benefit went beyond pointless into actual harm being done. By being altruistic to others, one deprived them of their ability to be self-reliant.

    A chuckle escaped his mouth and he paused and laughed mentally at the absurdity of it. How could he be so clueless? It didn’t require one to become a hippie to help others. “Christ,” he muttered to himself. He couldn’t believe how rigid his style of thinking had been. Some people truly were being helped to the point of losing their self-reliance, but none of that justified making an iron-clad rule as rigid as he used to believe from Ayn Rand. Did he find her ideas completely devoid of value? He didn’t know. But it meant the real world resisted being put into such tiny boxes as the political and philosophical talking heads seemed dead-set on doing.

    After that, he took a shower and went to sleep. Sleeping took up a lot less time since he could use one of his acquired powers to regenerate his brain and need only a tenth as much.

    An hour later, he woke up, rested and ready. The clock on the wall read ten thirty. He made his bed and walked over to his laptop on the work desk. Placing his hand on the keyboard, he activated a technopathic ability. Being able to do late-night stock trading was much easier when one could mentally project into technology.


    IV.​





    Manny woke up and called in to the agency he worked for and quit his job. On the way back from the day’s events, he would stop by and turn in his badge. He still had plenty of money from his gambling winnings, and he would get more from that billionaire, assuming of course, that the man kept his word. He showered, brushed his teeth, and after drying off, put on the new thin clothes he’d bought from the local Target. Being able to use his female self to lose weight rapidly had served him well, although he would probably have to get his license set straight the next time he got it renewed. Placing his wallet and cell into the purse he’d bought, he shifted into Jennifer Black. The clothes her male self wore went with him. She changed into her usual heroics costume and put a spare set of clothes into the purse. The normal outfit she wore into action consisted of two t-shirts on top of each other, two layers of yoga pants, thermal socks and cheap rain boots. It had been carefully designed to be inexpensive and replaceable. Sure, she could channel her energy through it and the material became water and fireproof, as well as bulletproof, but it never hurt to be careful. Honestly, what blew her mind was that the bra she wore cost almost five times as much as the outfit without it. The shirts, pants, and cheap rubber boots came up to just a hair under fifty dollars. Bras that came in her bust size cost her over two hundred dollars for a very plain looking undergarment. She would make sure to get more money and buy plenty of replacements.

    She left the house, locking the front door. She made it to the car and reached into the purse for the key.

    A car approached from the entrance to the subdivision. Jennifer swore. Damn it, Annie, she thought, why the hell’d you have to tell Ed?

    She activated one of her speed powers and time seemed to freeze. Activating flight, she took off into the sky. High above the stratosphere, almost half the globe could be seen. Enhanced vision showed her huge sections of land up close. An explosion at a factory in Mexico had set much of a nearby small village on fire. Using both speed powers in tandem, she flew to the site in seconds. She zoomed through the wreckage, pulling out injured survivors. As she touched them, her power flowed through them, allowing her to grab them at hypersonic velocities without destroying them on contact. It took her the better part of a minute to zoom through all the buildings, grabbing those in harm’s way. After that, she found several fire engines still on their way and brought them faster than they would have arrived on their own.

    She flew back up to the sky and responded to several car accidents in several states. After that she looked for-and found-a few dozen cases of hikers in the wilderness stranded in places. It might have seemed like small potatoes to someone else, but being able to help anyone meant a lot to her. Her heightened intelligence and senses meant she could scan hundreds of square kilometers of ground with a single glance. Police outside of a major drug den in Baltimore were taking gunfire. She disarmed the gang and fled, depositing the weapons safely outside the building. No one saw her coming or going.

    Before returning to the sky to look, she stopped at a local library and checked the internet for any events that might be big news. There were several politicians giving speeches and she stopped by each one. It would be a bust, she realized. No disgruntled voters carried guns or bombs into the event for her to respond to. She would have to wait for the big chance that Davis Wilson told her about. The last one, a Democrat by the name of Jan Dunsmith, had appeared at a fair in his home state of California, and as she scanned the crowd, no one posed a threat. This was a bust.

    A gunshot rang out. The bullet smashed against her hand three inches from the representative’s face. She saw the gunman’s face and before he had a chance to fire off a second shot, she had the gun in pieces at her feet. “What the…?” The man cried out, looking at his hand where the weapon had vanished from. He looked up and saw a tall redhead standing in front of his target.

    The frightened crowd parted around the man and he took off running. The next thing he knew, he had disappeared from the crowd and was seated on the stage, facing the cameras.

    Jennifer had made a deliberate show of the event, capturing the man and leaving him on the stage ndfor everyone to see. The guards quickly approached the congressman and shielded him from harm. Officers rushed the stage and surrounded the dazed gunman. “Are you ok?” she asked the congressman.

    He seemed dazed. “I’m…” He struggled for words. “I’m alright.” He blinked. “I’m sorry, thank you for saving my life! You are…?”

    “Jennifer Black,” she introduced. “I’m glad I could be here to save your life.”

    The look on Jan Dunsmith’s face told of his recognizing her. “Yeah!” he exclaimed. “I remember you! You saved those fifty-nine people from the wildfires downstate!”

    “I’m always pleased to help,” she said, shaking his hand.

    “Tell you what,” he said. “If there’s anything you need, just stop by my office and I’ll be happy to help you out.” He produced a business card.

    “I’ll be in,” she said, placing the card in her pocket. She gave a pleasing smile and flew off, deliberately not activating one of her speed powers, enabling them to see her leave. With her goal of obtaining all the official paperwork to live, and just as importantly, do business, as her powered female self, she’d just accomplished her first major goal. There wasn’t anything wrong with being Manny, she just preferred to be in the form with powers.

    She couldn’t believe her luck. There had been a major incident like Davis had said. She was able to respond to it almost immediately. The morbidity of it hit her almost as soon as the thought entered her mind. Politics in America had become so heated, the climate so polarized, that she was able to be at a would-be assassination within the first five political rallies she attended. The thought bothered her. In seconds she returned to her house. There were two separate cars waiting there. She recognized all three people at once. “Damn it,” she swore under her breath.

    “Jennifer, look,” Ed said. “We’re not trying to intrude. It’s just that…”

    She folded her arms. “What, Ed?” she said, impatiently. She turned to Annie. “I thought we were on the verge of becoming friends!” She glanced over at John and chose not to mention him. “You could have called. I’m busy saving lives and trying to figure all this out. These powers are only a couple weeks old to me.” At the end of her diatribe, her anger came crashing down as she saw the frightened expression on their faces.

    John swallowed. Even considering his weight problem, his sweating seemed excessive for the mild weather. “L…look,” he stammered. “We’re…it’s just that we’re concerned about our friend Manny.”

    One of her eyebrows raised. “Concerned about…” Her eyes went wide as she realized their implication. She used her vision power and saw that Ed’s gun was in the cargo pocket of his shorts. “Oh my God, you’re seriously worried that I…” She hastily looked around. No one was within shouting distance who could make out specific words. Still, she lowered her voice. “You’re seriously worried that I’m threatening him!”

    “You have to admit,” Annie countered. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Manny might not be a bad person, or even bad looking, but how could he conceivably be with someone like you? You’re way out of his league.”

    Jennifer laughed. “Wow,” she said, folding her arms again and giving a stern glare. “I thought men could be sexist.” She laughed again. “Let’s go in the house and I’ll show you what’s going on.” She saw the apprehension. The hand closest to Ed’s cargo pocket inched closer. “Come on. If that’s what I wanted to do, I wouldn’t have let you approach me.”

    They followed her up the concrete steps and onto the porch. She looked around and saw no one staring and opened the front door. Each person took their shoes off and took seats on the couch and the loveseat next to it. “Alright, what’s the secret?” Ed asked.

    Jennifer waved her arms in a what-have-you motion. “What the hell,” she uttered. Activating the trigger in the opposite direction, her body and clothes transformed before their very eyes. In under ten seconds, Manny Voren stood before them. Annie almost collapsed in shock. John clutched his chest and almost fell backwards. Ed simply stared wide-eyed in disbelief. “Ta-da,” Manny shrugged and gestured to his body.

    “I…um…that…uh…” John tried to say.

    Annie took in the sight. This young man had a skinny frame, but the same slightly curly hair and pale skin proved it was Manny. “You’re…wow…” she simply uttered.

    “Hold on,” Ed stated. “You are Jennifer? How does that work?”

    John composed himself slightly. “I…stop a moment,” he said, forcing his will to gather. “That red-haired woman, is that Capacitor from the Furious Thunder series?”

    Ed turned to John, then flashed his glance back at Manny, and then back to John. “Wait…what?”

    “Wait a minute!”

    They all stopped and sat quietly at Manny’s sudden outburst. He blinked a few times and wiped his eyes. “Geez,” he uttered. “This is why I kept it a secret. I love you guys, but Christ you’re a bunch of leaky pipes when it comes to secrets.” He flipped the trigger back and his clothes and body vanished to be replaced by Jennifer in her outfit once again. “This,” she continued, “is what happened. The Lights or whatever the hell they’re calling it happened and suddenly, I discover I can turn into a fictional character.” Ed’s mouth opened to begin a question. “Yes?”

    “Aren’t,” Ed asked, “her breasts smaller in the comic?”

    Annie looked at him and prepared to smack him.

    “They would be,” Jennifer said, “if I ate nothing. She can feed off her energy itself. Unfortunately, I like food. Ok? Good thing her metabolism is post-human.” She gestured at her chest. “But, good lord bras are expensive at this size. I’m almost tempted to stop eating in this form just to get back to normal size.” She let out a sarcastic chuckle. “At least that would do something for the unwanted touching from other people.” She huffed. “Okay, any relevant questions?”

    “Can you have powers in your male form?” Annie asked.

    “If I want to experience gender dysphoria, yes.” They looked somewhat confused. “Powers seem to come from my mind. Changing just the brain gives me powers in either form. But my female brain is a woman and my male brain is a guy. Got it?”

    “So,” John added, “what about the fact that you don’t have paperwork as Jennifer?”

    “Working on it,” Jennifer shot back.

    “This is incredible,” Ed said, leaning forward. “The scientific implications of this blow my fucking mind.”

    “Believe me,” Jennifer said, “I thought I was going fucking crazy. If scientists want to study my body without hurting me, I’m all for it.”

    “Just a second,” John interrupted. “Jennifer Black? I thought the character’s name was Michelle Delanter?”

    Jennifer shot him a look. “If you turned into Clark Kent would you go on CNN and say to the world, ‘Hey, my name is Clark Kent?’”

    John pondered this a moment. “Wow!” he gasped, pointing for effect. “Smart!”

    Annie looked at the combination of the faded orange t-shirt combined with the dark grey yoga pants and five-dollar generic rain boots. “What kind of superhero costume is that?”

    Jennifer put hands on hips. “Well, excuse me for not having the tailoring skills of Yaya Han,” she chided.

    “Who?” Annie asked.

    “Famous pro cosplayer,” John said. Annie nodded, not knowing anything about it.

    Jennifer gestured at the bewildered friends. “Any more questions?”

    “A ton,” Ed answered, “but something tells me we shouldn’t.”

    “Thank you,” Jennifer complimented. She let out a long sigh. “Criminy, what am I going to do with you guys?”

    “What do you mean?” Ed asked.

    She waved her arms at them in an indicating gesture. “You guys!” she exclaimed. “You know about it! Now what?”

    John piped up at this barb. “Hey, look at the comics,” he advised. “Doesn’t the hero lying to his friends and family usually turn out bad?”

    Jennifer pondered this. At first it seemed so simple, but the more she thought about it, the more she was right. If the enemies knew about it and her friends didn’t, she would be endangering them for the sake of her privacy. But a counterargument came up just as quickly. “Wait, but won’t that mean you’re in on it, and you’ll have to lie?” she argued. “After all, everybody can’t know who I really am.”

    This seemed to stump them. “Look,” Annie said, chiming in. “There’s got to be a safe point where some people have the right to know and some people don’t. You’ve been hanging around with us since before high school.”

    Jennifer nodded and shrugged. “That is a good point,” she agreed. “Anyway, now that this ordeal is over, what did you want to do?”

    The three looked around. “What do you mean?” Annie asked.

    Jennifer gestured at them. “You’re here, after all. Might as well do something.”

    Ed looked like he wanted to say something, but John interrupted him. “We want to see you use your powers!”

    Jennifer rolled her eyes. “Isn’t that the most cliché thing there is?”

    “We have to know what we’re dealing with,” Annie said. “I guess it makes sense.”

    Jennifer sighed again. “You know what? Fine. I guess we have to do this shit at some point,” she conceded. She thought of a destination where she could have a lower chance of being spotted. “You know the park outside of Belleville?”

    The three debated amongst themselves. “You mean the big one?”

    “Yeah,” Jennifer agreed. “Not the small one in town.” They seemed to understand and headed out the door. Hastily, she changed into a more casual outfit of jeans, a short-sleeved black shirt, and a thin dark brown jacket. She grabbed her purse and headed out the door. After locking the door, she activated both speed powers and ran, following the highways and sidewalks. She covered the distance of almost thirty-five miles in under a minute. Once there, she deactivated one of the speed abilities and walked around the park with everything frozen around her, checking out who was there and in what direction they were looking at. She made her way into the women’s bathroom and sat in an empty stall, shutting the door. Then she deactivated the last speed power and exited the bathroom, walking out into the park with everything moving normally. She went on a leisurely stroll while she waited for her friends to drive there. Taking in the scenery with her heightened senses proved to be a real treat. Colors no other person could see hit her eyes. She hadn’t stopped to appreciate the finer details of her newfound powers, but she found she could hear the rumblings of the ground beneath her, frequencies no human ears could register. If she focused on her eyes, she could see infrared and ultraviolet, although not with much ease.

    After more than a half hour, the three cars entered through the brick and iron gate at the front and parked in the medium-sized of the three parking lots and she picked up her walking pace to greet them.

    “Let me guess,” Ed said, stepping out of the car. “You ran?”

    Jennifer shrugged. “Why not? Fastest way of getting here,” she said.

    “So,” Annie replied, “show us what you’ve got!”

    Jennifer looked around and judged the safest place in the park to go to. “Get close, like, skin to skin,” she advised. They huddled together. “Alright, hold each other tight. I’ve got to be able to pick all of you up at once. Nobody let go.”

    They all grabbed each other by the waists, tightening their grip. She grabbed as many of them as possible, holding them like an oversized barrel. With a slight heave, she had the lot of them in one go. An instant later, they were more than a half mile away on the opposite side of the park. She set them down gently. They stepped back, stumbling over each other. “Woah,” John said. From everyone’s point of view except Jennifer’s, they were huddled together in the parking lot, surrounded by a bunch of leaves and a brisk wind, and then, they vanished and were in the forested area near the edge of the park. “Super speed! I like it!”

    “Wait,” Ed said. “I might not be the geek you are, but I thought there were physics problems with super speed.”

    “There should be,” Jennifer said. “I should be running into bugs, and if I’m going fast enough, causing nuclear fusion by running into particles. I don’t know the details.”

    John shook his head. “And the strength thing,” he noticed.

    “Right,” Jennifer agreed. “Like lifting a watermelon with the tip of a safety pin. I should be punching right through any object with a big surface area because my hand is a small surface area.”

    Annie and Ed looked at each other. “So, most movies and comics just ignore that!” Ed said.

    “Wow, never even thought of that,” Annie replied. “Makes sense, though, it’s like a knife cutting a sandwich.”

    “I can’t wait for science to figure out how this works, “Jennifer explained, “think of what mankind will be able to do once we know how this works.”

    “How do you know science will be able to figure this out?” John asked, folding his arms.

    “This isn’t chaos,” Jennifer countered. “You buy a car because you know if you turn the key, it starts the car. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a car. If it was truly paranormal, I wouldn’t be able to predict how to make it work.”

    Annie pounded her fist into her open palm. “I get it!” she said. “It’s a part of nature, therefore, it has rules!”

    “Even magic has rules.” Jennifer walked around, surveying the surrounding material. She picked up a jagged stone, roughly the size of a football, and crushed it in her hands, shaking the pebbles and powder out of her grasp. “So, what do you want to know?”

    Ed laughed. “Come on,” he said, “Give us a show!”

    “Alright,” she said. A quick glance around with her senses showed her no one could see her. She flew up into the air, grabbed a log from the ground, about five feet long and two feet wide, chucked it into the air, and flew through the center, splitting it in half. She focused her hands on each half, and a burst of light shot out of each one, incinerating the wood.

    Each one stood clapping. “I don’t believe this!” John said. “It’s just unbelievable!”

    “I’ve been doing everything I can,” Jennifer said. “I’ve been saving lives. But we all know what happens next.”

    Ed cocked his head in confusion. “What happens next?”

    John blinked, then his jaw almost went slack. “Oh my god.”

    Jennifer nodded. “Right,” she said. “The villains always show up when the heroes do.”
     
    Biigoh likes this.
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter Five
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER FIVE​


    I.​




    The crowd left the church all smiles and excitement. Behind them, a man in a loose-fitting dress shirt and slacks shook hands and mingled, positivity radiating from him. One elderly woman took his hand and placed another on top. “Jack,” she said, a lilt in her aged voice, “that was one heck of a sermon.”

    Reverend Jack Hurst placed his other hand on top hers. “Ethel,” he replied, “as long as I’ve got the Lord helping me write, I don’t have anything to fear. Stage fright’s nothing.”

    “See you around,” she said, taking her adult son by the arm and walking to her car.

    Jack surveyed his friendly gathering as they departed for their everyday lives. His smile greeted each one as they walked by. One looked up from the driver’s side of a pickup truck. “Jack!” the man said, puffing on a cigarette halfway across his mouth. “You going to the game at Fred’s house tomorrow night?”

    The reverend gestured. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” he said. “Maybe this time Andy’s going to have to short his son on laundry money!”

    “Maybe!” the man replied. “See ya!”

    “See you around!” Jack replied, waving the man off.

    Jack’s wife approached from inside the church. “You did great that time,” she complimented him. “I think this time we’ll have enough donations to expand the church!”

    “I hope so,” he said. “That way we can stop using that back room for storage.”

    “Emily!” A woman shouted from a car. “We’re going shopping tomorrow morning, want to come?”

    “She’d love to, Cathy!” Jack interjected. He looked at his wife. “You go have fun tomorrow, I’ve got things.”

    “You sure?” Emily asked her husband. He nodded. She turned to the car. “Well, I guess I’m in!”

    “See you then!” Cathy said, driving off.

    Two young boys in suits exited the church. “Dad, Jim and Chris are going on a hike around the woods outside the Bleacher’s property. Can we go?”

    Jack looked at his wife. “Don’t get ahead of yourselves,” he advised. “Let’s get home, get some food in you, and then you can get ready and go.”

    “Now boys,” Emily said, “you know what you’re supposed to do, right?”

    “Make sure to carry the spray and the first aid kit,” one boy said.

    Emily looked at the other boy. “And what else, Eric?” She motioned. “Tim’s only half right.”

    “Don’t put anything in your mouth,” Eric said.

    “And be back before sundown!” Jack added. “We’re not going to go hunting for you.”

    “Yes, dad,” both boys said in unison.

    They went around to the rear of the parking lot and climbed into an antique of a Cadillac. The doors squeaked as the kids climbed into it. “Why do we always go to church in this?” Tim asked.

    “We’ve gone over this,” Jack said. “Your grandpa—my father—bought this brand new in nineteen sixty-nine, and he drove this to church every Sunday. He kept immaculate care of it, and I’m doing the same.”

    “Besides,” Emily added, “we use the Chevy every other day. This is for special occasions.”

    “Your uncle Dave used to tell this joke,” Jack said, driving towards home. “In the Caddy, your grandpa would pass everything except the gas station.” A laugh rang out.

    They walked through the front door of the two-story, four-bedroom house. Emily went into the downstairs bathroom and changed out of her Sunday dress into a casual blue shirt and jeans. Jack closed their bedroom door behind him and carefully removed his tie, folded it over a hanger, then unbuttoned his dress shirt and draped it over the side of a laundry bin. Finally, he slid his pants down, and placed them on a hanger after his shoes went in the wardrobe. After taking off his formal clothes, he put on a pair of shorts, slippers, and a t-shirt. He opened the door and went out into the kitchen.

    “Alright,” Emily said, “dinner will be ready in a half hour. Get cleaned up, boys!” They clamored up the stairs to their bathroom.

    Jack took a diet soda out of the fridge and drank it while reading. His wife asked what he was reading. “Oh, this?” he said, holding up the spine. “It’s some sci-fi number Craig told me about. It’s pretty good.” He went back to reading. A feeling came to him, it was a twinge in his mind. He ignored it. It had happened at least six times this past few weeks, and each time, it took a lot for it to go away. He had to focus on ignoring it before it would disappear. The strange thing was, it wasn’t that distracting, it just confused him as to what it was and why it was there. After living with it, he found it didn’t really get to him, he just wanted it gone.

    “Something wrong, dear?” Emily asked.

    “No,” he replied. “Just hungry.”

    “It’ll be done soon enough,” she replied.

    He continued reading as the smell of delicious roast beef filled the air. A grin appeared on his face as he shut the book and leaned back in his chair. “If it tastes half as good as it smells,” he said.

    “Just about,” Emily said, placing two serving bowls of corn and mashed potatoes on the table. “Kids! We’re almost ready!”

    Jack got up and helped by placing the condiments on the table along with the napkins and the spare silverware. He sat down and his wife took over by dishing out the portions on each plate. As the kids came down in their casual clothes, he held out his hands and soon everyone held hands. “I like to keep it simple,” he said, “just like my father did. Everyone close your eyes and bow your head.” They did as instructed. “Lord, bless this house, this family, and this food that nourishes us, as we worship you and thank you for the bounty you have provided us. Amen.”

    “Amen,” they followed him in saying.

    They ate, as napkins and soda got passed around. Jack reached over and picked up a remote from the counter. A moment later, the sounds of Miles Davis wafted across the dining room and brushed everyone’s eardrums. Eric piped up. “That reminds me,” he informed his dad. “Next spring, the teacher says I could get to be first chair.”

    Tim gave his brother a snide glance. “Jazz is okay,” he said, “but honestly, I want to play rock and roll.”

    “As long as you keep an eye out for what you’re playing,” Jack reminded. “You’re great on guitar, but remember, you don’t want to accidentally praise The Enemy.” The look in his eye meant he didn’t want or need to explain what ‘The Enemy’ was.

    “I’m not writing any lyrics,” Tim countered.

    “I’m not saying anything against it,” Jack said, clarifying. “I’m just saying, be careful.” He took a sip of his diet cola. “I listened to Black Sabbath growing up, and your grandpa hated it. I’m trusting you to know how to be a good Christian.”

    “Oh, dad, there’s nothing to worry about,” Tim said.

    “Still,” Emily added, “keep playing. You’re getting pretty good at guitar.”

    “Did you play an instrument, dad?” Eric asked.

    “No,” Jack said, shaking his head. “Grandpa wanted me to play trombone. I just didn’t think I was any good at it.”

    “I’m going to finish the party invitations for your nephew Taylor’s birthday party once we’re done eating,” Emily said.

    “Yeah, no problem,” Jack said. “It’s my turn to do the dishes, so after that, I’ll just read my book.”

    The kids finished and rinsed their plates off before putting them in the dirty pile. “We’ll be back before dark!” Eric said.

    “Remember to be safe,” Jack said, as the boys ran up the stairs.

    “We will!” Tim replied, coming back down carrying a backpack.

    “Wait a minute,” Jack said, stopping the boys as they reached the door. “That sun goes down in four hours. I want you in that door when that happens. Understand?” They nodded. “Go on and have fun.”

    “Don’t make us get a phone call from the police or the hospital,” Emily said.

    “We’ll be safe!” They said in unison, closing the door behind them.

    Emily began putting the leftover side dishes into their containers and then into the fridge. She rinsed off her dishes. “You’ll be okay down here, Jack?” she asked.

    “I’ve done dishes thousands of times,” he reminded. “I’m ok.”

    “No problem, then,” she said. “I’ll be doing party invitations.”

    “Gotcha,” Jack replied. He filled the dirty half of the sink with semi-hot water and a capful of dish soap. He grabbed the dish rag and rung it out under the water, then scrubbed each plate until it was soapy and devoid of grime, then placed it in the empty sink. Once that sink filled with dishes, he rinsed each one and placed it in the drying rack. After about fifteen minutes, each plate and piece of silverware had been cleaned, and he took one of two drying towels and dried each dish before returning it to the cupboards. In under a half hour, he was done. After that, he returned to the living room and sat with his book, while the Bose system played Duke Ellington.

    About two hours later, the twinge in his mind returned from a brief absence. He tried to ignore it, but that only made him focus on it more. He let out a huff and set down his book, placing his bookmark. The music changed from one artist to another, and so he leaned back in the loveseat and flicked the remote for the television and turned off the music with another. The first channel to come on was the news. He shook his head in disgust at the usual killing and bad news. The Lord would have to come down and deal with this world, he figured. Mankind had clearly misused the free will given to them. Every way in which people could betray the commandments of their Creator, they demonstrated an eagerness to do so. His father had instilled in him the idea of, “hate the sin, not the sinner,” but the sinners had dived head first into their idol worship of the Devil, and it bothered him. He wanted to save them. It concerned him that so many turned their heads away from God and his plan. It bothered him that he couldn’t do more than he did.

    His finger hit the button that moved the channel to a movie channel. The new channel was showing the original Die Hard. He took a mental breath and let it out. Arrogance had to be the most common sin mankind committed, he realized, as he had just placed himself above everyone else. Given the slightest slip of his will, he would be among the rest of the sinners as easy as the sunrise. His holy background meant nothing against the magnitude of evil stacked against him. Other than his connection to God, his constant devotion to The Word, and vigilance against evil, nothing stood between him and the evil of the world.

    An hour or so later, he shut off the television and sat in silence. He focused on the twinge in his mind. With some effort focusing on it, he found it to be somewhat…pliable. It wasn’t a physical thing, he noticed, and yet, it responded to his attention. His breath caught in his throat. Could this be the Holy Spirit? Could this be the Lord speaking through to him? He focused on the Lord, his image, and the presence he felt in his mind. With great focus, he felt the twinge shift.

    A brilliant light emanated from a point in space right in front of him. Spots appeared in his vision and he threw his arm up to shield his eyes. Soon, he could see again as the lights went dim. His soft loveseat had become hard wood. With his senses returning to normal, he whipped his head around and saw…the familiar wood pews of the church. His vision returned to in front of him, and his muscles went limp. His heart almost stopped.

    Standing in front of him, in his full glory, was The Lord.

    Jack couldn’t move. His body had to remind him to breathe. He sat, mouth agape, a silence almost deafening as his brain struggled to grasp what his eyes reported. The figure opposite him, standing on firm sandals, garbed head to toe in robes familiar from every depiction ever seen of him, his dark brown hair flowing behind him, could not be mistaken for anyone except Jesus. Jack blinked several times, hard and slow. He dared not speak. The Lord turned his head from one side to another, taking in the church, before returning his gaze to the reverend.

    Jack hit his knees. “I am not worthy, O’ Lord!” he swore, clasping hands together over his head.

    “Stand,” spoke the Lord.

    Jack almost jumped to his feet. “My Lord!” he swore. “Your glorious return is at hand! I…”

    “Not yet,” The Lord spoke. “We must gather the righteous at hand before we begin the final battle.”

    A thought came to Jack. “Forgive me for questioning, oh Lord,” he asked, “but why has the Rapture not happened before your return?”

    The Lord smiled. “Child,” he spoke, “do not doubt. The righteous who love and follow The Father shall be taken to Heaven in glorious rebirth. But The Father speaks to me not everything. The forces of the Dark One have their own plans and the Dark One moves independent of what has been written about him, so I shall enact The Father’s work accordingly.”

    Jack rubbed his eyes. “You’re going to adjust your plan to fight the Devil?” he asked.

    The Lord nodded. “You speak the truth,” he confirmed. “He is a crafty one, indeed; we must be craftier. But worry not! The Father’s will be done.”

    Tears came to Jack’s eyes. “This world’s gone to hell,” he said. “What will you have me do?”

    “We start from your congregation and work outward,” The Lord said. “Despite the sorry state mankind has descended into, our work shall gather followers and grow in size until it consumes the entire world in a wave of glory that crushes any evil beneath the light of The Father.”

    The news almost bowled the reverend over. “Me?” he almost gasped. He shook his head. “My Lord, you can’t possibly think I’m worthy of such a holy task.”

    The Lord put his hands on the reverend’s shoulders. “With my guidance,” he explained, “The Father’s words shall echo through you to the farthest reaches of the land! You will deliver goodness and grace to every corner of the Earth until Satan is driven out into the light and burned in the glory of His sun.”

    Jack wept openly. He’d never felt such joy in his entire life. It threatened to overwhelm him. “I don’t deserve this honor,” he said, “but if it’s what you want, I’ll do my best.”

    “We tell no one tonight,” Jesus said. “We reveal everything this Sunday at your next sermon.”


    II.​





    Jennifer sat in Rep. Jan Dunsmith’s office. She’d spent some money and bought an official-looking suit and tried her best not to scream. Everything had to go perfectly or else she might never get official citizenship for her current self. Every second she had to spend as Manny put her in harm’s way for no reason. The congressman seemed willing to help. His efforts were linked to her saving his life, she knew, but the point stood that someone had taken an attempt on the man’s life.

    “I’d like to thank you for coming here,” Rep. Dunsmith said, shaking her hand.

    She shook his and sat down. “I’m just trying to help,” she said, putting on her most positive face. “I’m just doing what a lot of Americans would have done.”

    The congressman clasped his hands after he sat down, folding fingers together contemplatively. “I can’t guarantee any specific result,” he said. “I believe you want to help. As you’ve probably been told, the fact that you’ve gone out and helped people, and you haven’t broken into a bank vault and stolen a bunch of money, speaks volumes to that.” He reached into a file folder and opened it. “I spoke to an FBI agent named Davis Wilson who spoke to you. He had nothing but nice things to say about you.”

    Jennifer smiled but tried to avoid revealing she had tensed up. “Oh, I’m glad,” she said. “We had a pleasant conversation.”

    Jan Dunsmith shut the folder. “I’m going to be honest with you,” he said. “The Republicans are going to hit hard the fact that you might have an alter ego.” He steeled himself. “This isn’t a comic book, so the idea of hiding your true self from the world isn’t probably going to fly.”

    She clenched her teeth inside shut lips. “Oh,” she said. “I was worried about that.”

    “I’d use it as a bargaining chip,” he suggested. “We’ll try to avoid bringing it up as long as possible. The instant they bring it up, we should hit them with the idea that revealing yourself is an act that endangers those close to you and you would only do it under the tightest scrutiny.”

    She nodded, swallowing. “I guess that makes sense,” she agreed.

    “Trust me,” he said. “I believe you could be the best thing to happen to the United States. After all, the amount of assistance you could provide to the country is almost incalculable.”

    “If I may,” she said, “I don’t want to be a government military asset. I don’t want to kill for the government.”

    He gave a half-smile. “I hope to avoid that too,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to tip the delicate balance of the world powers.” He gestured. “I mean, there would be ways to assist the government not involving military action.”

    She nodded. “I just want to be able to live as I am now, officially,” she stated.

    “And you should,” he agreed. “The problem is you’re likely to run into opposition, and they’re going to make a big deal out of every possible thing you could imagine, and that’s if they agree to let you testify your side.”

    “Do you think we should rehearse some answers?”

    He pondered her question. “Honestly, I’d say no,” he said. “Normally I’d say yes, but this is a situation where their mind isn’t likely to be changed by a specific answer or answers.”

    “Really?” she asked. “You think that’ll matter?”

    He nodded. “They know prepared statements,” he stated. “They live prepared statements. I honestly don’t think being honest will hurt. Those that are sold against you already are going to stay that way.” He pondered it further. “Honesty is really not something that common around here.”

    She nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Sorry, I’m just nervous.”

    This got a laugh out of the Representative. “I totally understand,” he agreed. “The strangeness you must have gone through in the past month, I can’t even imagine.”

    They stood up and shook hands. “See you soon, I hope,” she said.

    “I will keep you posted,” he said.

    She exited the office and then the building and took off. A few minutes later, she’d covered a series of minor emergencies across the country. After that, she stopped at a restaurant in Chicago. One thing she loved was deep dish pizza; no place in the country did it like Chicago. She made sure she had at least fifty dollars in cash so she wouldn’t have to turn back into Manny and use his debit card.

    “Excuse me, miss,” A guy said.

    Jennifer looked up. The man looked fairly ordinary; he had short black hair and had a slight tan. He wore a green short sleeve shirt with a collar, and jeans. She regarded him as somewhat harmless. Sure, he probably was fishing for a date, but there was nothing he was going to do if he got violent, so she figured, what the hell. “Can I help you?” she asked.

    “Is this seat taken?” he asked, motioning for the seat opposite her.

    He was fishing, she realized. “No,” she said, “I guess not.”

    He pulled the seat and sat down. “Great!” He replied. “What’s your name?”

    “Jennifer,” she said.

    “I’m Gary,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”

    “Thank you,” she said.

    “So, what do you do?”

    Good lord, she thought, his questions were so predictable. “I save lives,” she said.

    His expression grew questioning. “Really?” he asked, a slight start in his voice. “Are you a nurse?”

    She shook her head. “No,” she said, resisting the urge to grin. “I’m a super.”

    His confusion grew. His head cocked just a tiny bit as he looked at her face closely. Realization hit him and his eyes grew wide. “No way,” he said.

    A quick glance around saw no one looking right at her. She held her right hand up with index and middle fingers close. A focus of her energy manipulation and a tiny bolt passed between the two of them. His jaw almost dropped. He regarded the look on her face and resisted the urge to shout. “Yes way,” she said, returning her hand to the menu.

    His confusion gave way to disappointment. She didn’t have to wonder what he was disappointed over. The waiter came. “Do you need a menu, sir?” the waiter asked.

    Gary’s daze broke. “Oh, no,” he said, “I just wanted to give her my regards.” He stood up. “Thank you for all your hard work.”

    She smiled. “Thanks again,” she said. This happened roughly every time she went to a restaurant alone. As Manny, she never imagined just how irritating it was that girls were constantly hit on. Now, she knew, men always saw women as advertising. As her guy self, she would never be bothered by anyone in public unless they had official business with her, or they were one of her friends or family. Now, she had to deal with every horny guy ever. Oh well, she thought. It was a small price to pay for being literally indestructible to almost everything.

    “Are you ready to order?”

    She looked at the waiter. “Yeah, I want your pepperoni deep dish pizza, large,” she said. “And a large Coke.”

    A chuckle almost escaped her mouth. She’d heard stories of her female friends, but to see it in action almost struck her as comical. Or, it would be, if most women weren’t as frail as any normal person. The drink arrived and she took several large gulps to wash out the taste of the experience she just had. A burp escaped and she stifled it as much as possible. “Excuse me,” she uttered, just in case. She placed the fork between her finger and the table and spun it to entertain herself. It occurred to her just how much a smartphone served to break up the boredom.

    “Ma’am,” the waiter said, about twenty minutes later. “Here’s your pizza.”

    “Thanks!” she said, pulling a piece onto her plate and digging in.

    She finished one piece and started on another when she looked up and saw another guy waiting, trying to get her attention. “Don’t worry,” the man said. “I’m not a random creeper.” He pulled a chair and sat down. “You really opened my eyes about Ayn Rand.”

    Her eyes went wide. “Jeri…?” She cut herself off as she realized his disguise was to hide his identity. “Hey, didn’t expect to see you here.”

    “You know, I’ll let you eat,” he said. “I just wanted to get your attention. Be here.” He showed her his cellphone with a local hotel room number and address displayed. “I want to talk in private.” He put his phone away and left. “See you soon.”

    She watched him walk away. The arrogance of that man, she thought. Well, screw what he wanted. She would keep him waiting. She had a whole pizza to eat and by God, she was going to eat it in peace.

    About forty minutes later, she arrived at the hotel. She stepped through the enormous glass doors and strolled through the cavernous lobby to the first hallway of elevators and took one to the tenth floor. At the end of the second hallway, she found the door and knocked on it. A moment later, she stood in front of Jericho Torvalds in his polo shirt and slacks. “So,” she quipped, “you can wear more than one outfit.”

    “Come on in,” he said.

    She entered and sat in a seat opposite the bed. He sat down. “Look,” he began, “I’m not about to do the ‘superhero’ thing. I didn’t read comics growing up, but having read some as research, I’m not doing that.”

    She shrugged. “Okay,” she replied, “so what?”

    “I want to help,” he said. “I’ve been making little ripples here and there. I’ve found the most useful ability I’ve copied so far is, I can get close to someone and literally experience their memories.”

    Her eyes lowered as she thought about it. “Yeah, that would be useful,” she said. “What’s your plan?”

    He let his hands fall to his sides. “That’s my point,” he replied. “I’m not entirely sure how to proceed.”

    She thought about it. “You think I do?” She took a deep breath. “Okay, look. We’re not going to get good ideas from the comics and fiction. This is real life.”

    Jericho nodded along. “Yes, that’s a good idea,” he replied. “I was wanting to work together in a sense.” He thought about it. “How do you know what to do?”

    The question revealed put a smile on her face. This was a Wall Street billionaire, who demonstrated fish out of water behavior. He seemed normal, for once. “I don’t,” she said. “How did you know how to get rich?”

    He thought a minute. “I played it safe until I had legroom to take risks,” he said. “It was never a guarantee. I could have failed at any time.”

    She nodded, smiling. “That’s how I’m doing it,” she said.

    He blinked hard, breathing out. “I…was hoping for an easier answer,” he said.

    “Me too,” she admitted. “There isn’t one.”

    “So, what should I do?”

    She folded her arms. “What have you done so far?”

    He thought about it. “I met with Sharon Francis and experienced her story first-hand,” he said.

    “Wow,” she replied. “The activist?”

    “Yeah,” he said, nodding. “It was enlightening.”

    “I’d imagine,” she responded. “What I’d recommend, is sharing the experiences you’ve gathered with the people that need them most.”

    That idea had already occurred to Jericho but getting a second opinion made him more certain. “I mean,” he explained, “having just read a bunch of comics for research, I think the piecemeal approach to making the world a better place is a bad idea.”

    “I think,” she countered, “what we need is to make big examples. I’ve been trying to save as many lives as possible. Rather than trying to get people to notice me saving lives, I’m saving lives and if I do it enough, people notice me.” She spread her arms out. “After all, it’s working.”

    “Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that,” he replied.

    “Hey!” she interjected. “You’re a billionaire. I’ve seen you on Fox Business and CNN. You have enormous power to get people’s attention.”

    “So,” he replied, “making a big noticeable example is a great idea.”

    “You should use the powers you’ve gathered to create things that the world needs, like renewable energy and food that feeds more people.”

    He started as if a wasp had stung him. “Hey,” he said, “creating products that save the world using my powers!” He paused to think about it. “I could give these things away for free and make the world a better place, clean water, energy and food, and that would serve as free advertising.”

    She nodded. “Yup,” she argued. “I can just show up and take care of a problem. You can take care of large-scale problems.”

    He gave a laugh. “I am so glad I met you,” he said. “You give me such a unique take on everything.”

    “We can disagree about politics and philosophy,” she said, “but I’m glad you’re getting it.”

    He laughed harder. “Yeah,” he agreed. “’Getting it’ is a great way to put it.” He thought about it. “I mean, these powers break the rules of economics because they seem to be endlessly reproducible.”

    “It’s important we do this right,” she replied. “Because the world’s going to change. We need to sell people on the idea that the old rules don’t apply.”

    He pondered this. “Wow, you’ve really thought this through.”

    She half-smiled. “No,” she disagreed, “I just don’t want reality to turn out like shit because people didn’t think about implications.”

    “So,” he said, “what do you think I should tackle first?”

    “Energy,” she explained. “Climate change is getting worse because we need fossil fuels. So, we need to make alternatives cheaper to the point where no one would use fossil fuels.”

    The gears turned in his head. “Normally, there’d be a lot of friction because governments would have to subsidize plans to make them cheaper,” he said. “With powers, we can make alternatives so inexpensive, companies would be fools to keep using what we use now.”

    “Right,” she agreed. “Was there anything else?”

    He thought about it. “Not really,” he said. “I just wanted your advice.”

    She stood up. “So, how’s your situation going?”

    He cleared his throat. “I’ve got a visit with a Reverend Jack Hurst,” he explained.

    She rolled her eyes. “Fun,” she quipped.

    “Yeah,” he replied. “I’m so looking forward to it.”

    “See you around,” she said. “I’ve got some white nationalists I have to spy on.”

    She stepped onto the balcony and took off into the air. A project she had been working on for the last few days, in south Texas, there had been rumors of a group of white supremacists who felt like using the newfound abilities of one of their members to commit hate crimes. She’d investigated, and found a number of their secret meeting places. Using super speed, she managed to hide listening devices in a number of buildings before each meeting.

    After a short flight, she landed in a field and hid in a bush behind a large lodge, watching with her enhanced senses at the group of men joking, laughing, and drinking as they discussed their plans.

    I’ve got you fuckers now
    , she thought, as she watched and listened. After a few hours, the less drunk members of the group took the more drunk members home. One of them stayed behind as the pickup trucks left the lot, and went to lock the door. She stood up, just out of sight of their porch lights, and zoomed past him into the building.

    Six microcassette recorders she held in her hands. The last man, suspecting nothing, locked the building a split second later, and she took off towards home.

    At home, she powered up the computer and plugged each microcassette player into the computer via an aux cable and a universal AC adapter. About three hours later, she had the recordings in mp3 format and she emailed copies along with the other information she’d gathered to the sheriff of the local police department, her ally Davis Wilson, and recorded the uncompressed original recordings onto CD-Rs to send to the press if need be.

    After her detective work, she got a phone call on her cell. “You’ve usually not taken on hate groups,” Davis Wilson said. “You usually just save lives. What gives?”

    She blinked in exasperation. “Are you going to help,” she asked, “or not?”

    “I’m getting in contact with the local and state police as we speak,” he replied, “I just want to know why you choose now.”

    “I don’t want to be a crime fighter,” she explained, “but I want to put a dent in hate crimes. Society needs fewer hate crimes and less hate, especially in this age.”

    His concerned breathing traveled over the phone. “Okay,” he said, “I just want you to know you’re beginning to toe the vigilante line, and society will not tolerate that.”

    “I know,” she uttered. “But this is something someone needs to do.”

    “Alright,” he agreed. “There’s no problem. Just make sure you make a good impression. When they attack and the police are outmatched, take the guy out carefully. If you use excessive force, that’s a surefire way to get them off the hook.”

    “Yeah, that really sucks,” she agreed, “and I hate having to take them down with kid gloves, but I’ll do it if it gets them off the streets.”

    “No problem,” he said. “Keep this up, I know the red tape sucks, but if you can make things better, you’ll be what the world sorely needs.”

    “Bye,” they both said.

    She hung up, glad he accepted her offer and for not behaving like a bad cop type figure. Police behaved badly all the time, at all levels, and she definitely didn’t want to let it slide if she could handle it. At the same time, however, she couldn’t afford to have any negative engagements with them. If it turned out badly, she could endanger her future.

    She went in the bathroom and splashed water on her face. All this dancing around legal minefields perplexed and exhausted her. She couldn’t break down a door of a group everyone in the surrounding towns knew as a hate group, because then they’d get off at the trial. At the same time, she understood the rule of law existed to prevent abuses of power by single individuals who had the power to lord over people.

    Good lord, she realized. Freedom and liberty really were a huge burden. Now she understood the allure of these dictatorial politicians people kept electing. It felt so much easier to just let others decide things for you. Now that she had power, though, real power, she owed it to the common people to show them how one uses power without corruption.

    Her phone rang again. “Hello?”

    “I spoke to the county sheriff," Davis Wilson said. “It took some wrangling, but he’s agreed to let you be there when this group conducts its attempt to hit the local black church ten miles outside the town limits.”

    “I guess that’s better than nothing,” she replied. “At least this way they stand a chance of winning.”

    “Again,” Davis said, “remember if you use even a little bit too much force, they win the trial."

    “Yeah, I get it,” she repeated, her voice sharper than she expected.

    “Ok, just making sure,” he said, apologetically. “No problem.”

    She hung up the phone. She wanted to turn on the news, see if there was any major issue going on now, but she resisted. From years of reading comic books, she knew almost all the superheroes had an issue with balance, but this bothered her. It felt selfish to her to focus on her life while others had it so bad, but at the same time, if she never took a break, it would eat up all her free time. Darn it, she thought, why am I worried about this now? Haven’t I been taking it easy before? She picked up the remote and turned on the news.

    There was an earthquake in China causing massive flooding. Fine, she thought. Last one. A second later, she had a different outfit on, a new set of pants and shirts, channeled her power through them, and headed for the upper stratosphere. From the great height above, combined with her speed powers, she moved over the Asian continent and scanned thousands of miles of countryside until she saw the affected areas. It took almost no time at all. A ball of flame engulfed the air a few millimeters above the fabric of her clothes, skin and hair, as her power protected her from the friction of reentry. Manipulating the heat energy, the flames died down and soon she saw the water, having rushed up on land. Everything seemed frozen as she moved at her speed, and the scene looked like a painting. The murky water wore thousands of trees uprooted like toothpicks and floating amidst scattered debris of ruined farmhouses and floating vehicles. Impacting the water like a bullet, her protective field pushed fluid out of the way as her enhanced eyes saw through the pitch blackness to the submerged victims. The urge to throw up forced its way to the front of her mind, and she mashed it back down by force of will. There were at least tens of thousands of people in the water, some alive, many dead or in the process of dying.

    Damn it, Jennifer,
    she thought, you can do this. She blinked back tears and forced aside her concerns as she approached each one. Each touch sent her power into them, so she could grab them at incredible velocities without tearing them apart. She scooped up a man and his wife. Draping them both against her, she had to stretch her arm as far is it would go to get it around them. Using her other arm, she grabbed two more. Rocketing out of the water, she scanned the surroundings for higher ground. A gathering of rescue equipment on a hill road above the rapidly flooding plain below showed her the target. She deposited the four down by the rescue workers in a somewhat open area and returned to grab more. It taxed her more mentally than physically, but she kept her speed up. If I slow down, she thought, to get people’s reactions, those few moments will mean more fatalities than if I just grab them all at this speed. She could only hold four at a time, not counting small children. Each trip caused her to have to catch her breath, mentally speaking. Having two separate speed powers made things a tad easier, as she could hover in place and take a moment’s respite before grabbing some more.

    The long moments dragged on as she left the hill, depositing people from the water, and returning to get more. Although everything stayed still around her, her pace seemed glacially slow compared to the size of the task at hand. Her protective power would shield her from the harmful material in the water, but would let her get wet, and so she returned to the hill soaked each time. Then, once outside the water, her power would force the water out of her clothes. It served as just one more irritation that grated on her mind as she pulled victims from the flood. She wanted to scream, to wail, but couldn’t afford to. Her nerves would simply have to hold out.

    Finally, after what seemed to her like days had passed, after she’d searched for hundreds of miles in each direction of the flood, after she’d travelled until she saw the end of the flood, she saw no more people in the water. With every piece of higher ground she could find covered in people for miles, she returned to the main patch of road she’d initially found, where a safety officer of some kind stood frozen in mid-command to one of his coworkers. Hovering about ten feet away, she released her speed powers.

    The chaos sprang into effect almost at once. Bodies writhed about as some coughed up water, and began struggling for bearings, and some, too far gone to survive, thrashed about for a few moments and went limp. The officers and workers, startled by the sudden appearance of thousands of people, jostled about in confused anarchy. A middle-aged officer approached her and started shouting something in Chinese.

    “I don’t understand,” she said.

    One of his younger officers approached and said something to him, then turned to her. “Are you, the red-haired woman saving lives?” he said.

    “Yes,” she explained. “My name is Jennifer.”

    He seemed shocked by the lack of a code name of some kind but ignored it after a moment and turned to his superior, translating. The older man pondered this and said something to his younger officer. “Did you save everyone?” he asked her.

    “I saved everyone I could find in the water,” she explained. “I searched everywhere for as far as the water went.”

    This got translated. The younger officer received a statement and translated it for Jennifer. “My superior gives you his thanks,” the man replied. “We would love to ask you to help more, but unfortunately, we need you to leave before your presence gets us in trouble.”

    She almost jerked her head from the shock. “What? What about the victims? What about the flood spreading?”

    “We wish we could ask you to help,” the young man said, “but we can’t.”

    Jennifer blinked several times in confusion. “Fine,” she said. “I won’t risk your neck.” She took off. Less than a minute later, she stepped through her front door. Her powers had dried her clothes, but she put her boots on the rubber mat beside the inside entrance and yanked off her shirt and pants and put them in a laundry hamper just for hero clothes.

    She sat on her bed, mentally numb. Breathing in and out, the raggedness gave way to calmness. This caused her adrenaline rush to die off and the plug came out of the sink. Her mental energy drained out as each dying person appeared before her mind’s eye. Untold thousands she had saved, but there were still many hundreds who died despite her efforts. She collapsed sideways onto the bed and the tears flowed like rain.

    III.​




    Jericho stepped off the plane and quickly made his way to the small town in upstate Oklahoma where Jack Hurst resided. Apparently, this man presided over a medium-sized congregation that covered a few surrounding small towns. The motel just outside town limits had a room available and he set his suitcase down on the bed after locking his rental car. It surprised him he had cell phone reception in this area, and he plugged his phone in and activated his Bluetooth speaker. He called the number.

    “Reverend Hurst speaking,” Jack Hurst said.

    “You may not know me,” Jericho replied, “but my name is Jericho Torvalds.”

    “I know you,” Jack interrupted.

    “You saw me on TV, then?” Jericho asked.

    “No,” Jack corrected. “The Lord told me you were coming.”

    Jericho clenched his teeth to stifle a laugh. “Did he tell you why I was coming?” he asked, instead of saying what he wanted to say.

    “He told me you wanted to give me some kind of great offer,” Jack replied. “He told me I should say no to you, but I wanted to meet you anyway because I have nothing to fear from you.”

    The billionaire’s eyes went wide. “You don’t,” Jericho affirmed. “I’m just wanting to help people with powers financially in exchange for helping myself out, power-wise. No one has to lose.”

    “You can come over in an hour,” Jack said. “Just make sure you come alone, and here’s the important part.”

    “Yes?”

    He heard a deep breath on the other end of the line. “Be sure you’re ready to meet the Lord.”

    Jericho squeezed his lips together to crush a chuckle. “I’ll be sure to do that,” he replied.

    Jericho read several books on his phone until the alarm he set told him forty minutes were up. He got up, went to the bathroom, and changed out of his casual clothes into one of his Armani suits. He fastened his tie and popped his knuckles. Finally, he relieved himself before washing and drying his hands and taking a sip of water from his Perrier bottle and slipping his phone—on vibrate, of course—into his pocket. Here we go, he thought. Then he pulled up his mental map of the surrounding area, located the man’s house, and, after finding a spot where no one would see him, teleported.

    He stepped out from behind the building and walked down the street, past the gas station, took a turn onto Mathers Road and strolled a good five minutes until he came to a modest, almost upper middle-class house. He noticed there was only one car in the driveway. A quick survey of the house with his powers revealed…

    What the hell?


    His powers would not reveal the inside of the house. Must have some form of anti-spying protective power, he thought. He knocked on the door. About twenty seconds later, a man with specks of gray intruding on dark hair answered the door. He wore a replica sports jersey and jeans and had a smile on his face.

    “Nice of you to come,” Jack said.

    “Pleased,” Jericho greeted, extending his hand.

    “No, really,” Jack countered, shaking it. “I’m always open to the children of the Lord in need.”

    Jericho flexed his copying ability.

    Nothing happened.

    Alarms started going off in his head, but he ignored it. He was Jericho Torvalds, after all. He had copied over a hundred powers, and several of the regenerative and protective powers overlapped. What could this man do to him? They sat in the living room. The reverend seemed so positive, what was going on? He prided himself on being able to read manipulators. After all, it helped him skyrocket the world of Wall Street. This man was not manipulating. He could not sense an immediate danger from mental illness or psychopathy, so what was it about this unassuming man that alarmed his inner sense?

    “Want something to drink?” Jack Hurst offered.

    “No,” Jericho replied, “I don’t want to take up too much of your precious time.”

    “Need a rag?”

    Jericho’s head turned. “Excuse me?” Something wet dripped onto his hand. His hand jerked into vision. It was sweat.

    “It can be hot here in Oklahoma,” Jack said. “I didn’t think it was that hot outside, though.”

    “Oh! Yes, please,” Jericho said. Now his breathing became rough. He was sweating? When did that happen? The man presented him with a cloth. He dabbed his forehead and forced his breathing to straighten. “Anyway, I’m sorry for that. What I’m offering is, a series of investments set up in your name, which will net you at least a hundred grand for the rest of your life, in exchange for allowing me to copy your ability.”

    “Oh, interesting,” Jack admitted.

    “One question, though,” Jericho asked, wondering how to word it. He reached into his pocket for his phone. He used a power to interface with the phone and activated the video camera.

    “You want to know how you couldn’t copy my ability when we shook hands?” Jack Hurst said.

    Jericho’s heart almost stopped. He swallowed, suddenly wanting to teleport out of there. His curiosity, though, got the better of him. “Y…Yes?” he stammered.

    A genuine smile appeared before the Reverend’s face. “It’s because I don’t have a superpower,” he said. “I’ve been visited by the Lord, and the Truth is behind you.”

    Jericho slammed his eyes shut a moment. Don’t turn around, idiot, he thought. A glow was coming from behind him. Now he couldn’t resist. He turned around.

    “Oh my God!” Jericho collapsed backward into his butt as he shouted. A shoe came off as he stumbled backward.

    The man standing before him looked to have stepped out of a romantic era painting of Jesus. Every detail looked positively perfect about it. Everything from the brownish hair, to the beard, to the light-colored skin, it all seemed so much like the portraits he’d seen a thousand times.

    The duality of Jericho’s rational mind talking and his emotional primitive brain screaming at him to run clashed. His heart pounded and he scampered backwards like a cornered rat. None of this made sense, the reasoning man inside him shouted. If Jesus were real, he would not look like a white man. At the same time, the emotional self didn’t want him to stay here a moment longer.

    “You have spent your life running from me, child,” The Lord spoke, his voice terrifying Jericho as it ate through him like a parasite, choking his will. “Now, shall you bend the knee and accept that I am the only way to salvation, or shall you be gathered up like firewood, and cast into the lake of fire, and burned?”

    Jericho teleported.

    “Oh, no…”

    Nothing happened.

    “You shall not escape judgment,” The Lord said. He held out his right hand, palm facing forward.

    A bright light engulfed the billionaire. His entire body lit up like a fire. An invisible force jerked him upward a foot in the air. His clothes flew off in all directions and turned to dust as his flesh began to melt. His scream echoed throughout the house. He activated one regenerative power after another, one protective ability after another. Nothing happened.

    “I really wished you would’ve accepted the Lord,” Jack said, as tears streamed down his cheeks. “I hate to see you suffer this fate.” His voice choked at moments as he took the rag and wiped his eyes. “The Lord has to mete out such punishments to nonbelievers, though.”

    Jericho flailed about as he searched his collection of powers for something. Anything. His fingers were turning into black charcoal as he lost feeling in his limbs. Never had he endured such agony. Every part of him felt ablaze. His voice began to crack as his vocal chords began to give.

    Dammit! I don’t want to die!


    He found a power hidden among the collection he’d scarcely noticed he had. Collecting it, he’d never bothered to even test it. An agonizing ten seconds passed as his last regenerative power failed to outpace the burning. He focused on his last power and smashed it on. Nothing happened at all. Fuck! WORK! He pushed all his mental might into activating it. A bright light overcame his mental vision as his sight went blank.

    “AAAaarr…UGH!” His shout tapered off as he arrived, sputtering and coughing, collapsing onto the ground. Jerking to his feet, he whirled his head in both directions, realizing where he was. Oh fuck, he thought. It worked! I sent myself back a few minutes! He wanted to cry, but his better sense kicked in and he teleported back to his hotel room.

    “Oh, my God, I’m alive!” he shouted. “I…oh, FUCK!”

    Steam began boiling off his fingertips and under his clothes. Apparently, the effects of that…person’s attack lingered with him, or he’d taken some of it back with him. Frantically, he tore at his clothes, as his fingers tingled then burned, and he screamed some more. This time, however, he was able to successfully activate all his protections and he collapsed to the floor. His regeneration began to outpace the harm, and he passed out from the agony.

    In Jack Hurst’s house, the light died as a small pile of ashes fell on the floor. The Lord looked and turned to his human ally. “Is that it for him?” Jack asked, drying his eyes again. It hurt him to have to see a person deny Christ, and as punishment, die in such a manner. He wanted nothing more than for everyone to be saved and experience the glory of Heaven firsthand. However, no one could escape the Truth that was God’s grace. If a man such as Jericho Torvalds loved money more than the grace of his Lord and Savior, then his fate, while horrific, had been deserved.

    The Lord simply nodded. “That is,” he replied. “For his denial he suffered the ultimate penalty.”

    Jack went to get something to clean up the remains. “It’s a darn shame,” he said. “I wanted to save him.”

    “Once you get your message to the masses,” The Lord said, “you’ll be saving plenty.”

    Miles away, light entered the dark vision of Jericho Torvalds.

    “Ergh, what?” His eyes snapped open as he came to. He saw familiar sights. He was in a hospital. “Crap, how…?” He turned to his left. One of his employees stood there. “Oh, Miss Jasperson, how are you?”

    She looked confused. “How am I?” she asked. “Sir, what happened to you?”

    “I met someone I shouldn’t have,” he said. “Otherwise nothing.” He laughed, then groaned as pain deep within his body ached. “How long was I out?”

    “Three hours,” she said. “When you got in here, the doctor said you had deep burns on your skin, but they’ve been recovering ridiculously fast.”

    “It seems I heal fast,” he said. “Just not fast enough to get rid of this pain.”

    “They’re thinking of releasing you in the next hour,” she explained, “because all the scans show there’s nothing wrong with you.”

    “I wish that were true all the way,” he admitted. “I’m still feeling pain.”

    She looked around. “What did the guy hit you with?”

    “Some kind of light,” he admitted. He didn’t want to say anything about the fake appearance of Jesus. “It burned. I guess I got lucky when I got away.” Moving hurt. He could sense that his body had no more injuries, as his multiple healing powers outpaced the diminishing attack, but the fact that it could still linger so long after the attack troubled him. Somehow, this fake Jesus had an attack that burned, and furthermore, it did so with no visible flame other than a bright light, and it lingered for quite a long period of time.

    “Well, sir,” she said, “it’s damn good to see you survived. Where do you want to go from here?”

    “Back to St. Louis,” he said. “I’ve got a friend to meet.” He looked around at the table. “Where’s my phone?”

    “Oh, we couldn’t find it,” she said. “We’ll replace it as soon as we get there.”

    He waited until the doctor released him. He went to the nearest pharmacy, paid for the prescription Vicodin and popped a few with some water, and made his way back to his plane, which was gassed up and ready. He flew back to St. Louis. From there he teleported to Manny’s house.

    He knocked on the door, and in seconds, Jennifer stood there. “Jesus Christ,” she swore, “what happened to you?”

    He smiled at the irony. “You’re right,” he said. “And we have a lot to talk about.”

    They sat apart from each other in the living room. She took his hands and focused her energy manipulation. It perplexed her, this power churning inside him; it damaged cells, even pushing right past his multiple near-invulnerability powers and requiring his regeneration. Said power easily took care of the damage, but the energy causing it lingered. She focused her mind on it and found it elusive. She pushed harder.

    “Your nose is bleeding,” he said.

    She ignored him and pushed harder with her mind. A final effort later, and it dissipated. “Oh, fuck!” he swore, as the burning stopped. His body ceased hurting almost at once. “Oh, thank you so much!” He reached for a napkin off the living room table and dabbed at her nose.

    “So, tell me what the fuck happened?” She folded her arms and sat back.

    “I met Jack Hurst,” he said, “and he somehow summoned a fake Jesus.”

    Her head jerked. “What?”

    He nodded. “I don’t believe for a second it’s real,” he explained, “but this fake Jesus looked exactly like every painting of white Jesus you’ve ever seen, and he had the ability to negate most of my abilities. I only survived by the skin of my teeth.”

    She closed her eyes for several seconds. “Fucking, just great,” she said. Already the wheels in her head were turning. “Now this is going to lead to religious freaks coming out of the woodwork. People are going to die.”

    “Whatever this being is,” Jericho said, “I believe Jack is subtly controlling it and is unaware because of his religious beliefs.”

    “Just what we need,” she replied. “A religious leader with the ability to summon beings that resemble a figure from a major western religion. This could destabilize the world.”

    Jericho put his hands together in front of his face and then set them at his sides. “We’re going to have to do something about this,” he said.

    “For the sake of everyone, yes,” she agreed.

    She wiped her face with her hands and shook her head. This was all happening at once, she felt. Complications from her desire to help people, and frustration with the system constantly butting heads with her, and now this would happen? She thought she’d seen it all.

    “What’s wrong?” he said.

    She gave a fake smile. “Where do I begin?” she asked. She composed herself. “Ok, here’s what happened. I went to China to help with that massive flood that happened today.”

    He pulled out his new phone and checked. “Oh, wow,” he said. “That’s a serious emergency.”

    “Right,” she agreed. “So, I pull thousands of people out of the water, and then I’m told I have to leave before I start an incident just by being there.”

    “Good grief,” Jericho said, “I can’t believe they couldn’t make an exception just for you for that situation.”

    She shrugged. “I know! I mean, the worst part is, I totally believe that the officials there would have been reprimanded if they’d cooperated with me.”

    He put a hand on her shoulder. “Look, I know it isn’t much help, but you’re a lot more capable than you think. Let’s worry about this now. How much do we watch before we act?”

    She put her hands together. “We can’t act before something bad starts happening,” she explained, “or else we run the risk of everyone turning against us.” She cleared her throat. “This is what pisses me off. If it were Bugs Bunny or Superman, everyone would know it’s bullshit, but since it’s Jesus, everyone’s on his side right away.”

    “And those against are really not on our side either,” Jericho added. “So we watch?”

    She nodded. “Pisses me off, but yeah, we watch. But the instant things go to shit, we act.”


    IV.​




    Jack Hurst finished cleaning up the ashes. A light from outside indicated his wife was coming home from taking the kids out shopping for clothes. He turned to the Lord. “Should I introduce you to them?”

    “No,” The Lord replied. “They will learn of my working through you the same way the world will. They will learn at the sermon on Sunday. You will have an audience and they will spread the word which will only invite more to hear the word.”

    “Good,” Jack said. “Thank you.”

    The Lord simply nodded and faded away. The door opened and his wife and kids came in carrying bags of clothes. “Hey, honey,” Emily said, “the neighbor across the street said he was concerned. There was a bright light and screaming coming from the house.”

    “Oh, just an action movie,” Jack said. “I was just taking a break in between sermons I was writing.”

    “Don’t work too hard,” she said. “Oh, could you help me?”

    “Sure thing, honey,” he agreed, and went outside to grab clothes from her car. He reached in and grabbed two bags and headed back in the house. He set them on chairs in the kitchen. “Hey, kids! Take these upstairs, and don’t wrinkle anything!” He noticed his wife in on the back porch. “Honey, what you doing right now?”

    “Nothing,” she said, putting something in her pocket and headed in. She took one of the bags of clothes and headed upstairs to put her clothes away.

    “Honey,” Jack called, “what are these?”

    “I bought you some shirts,” she answered. “I know you’re always needing dress shirts.”

    “Thanks so much!” he headed into the downstairs closet to put away the shirts she bought for him.

    Upstairs, Emily made sure her sons were doing something else, and she locked the door behind her. She pulled the phone from her pocket and examined it. It had a scorch mark on the back, and a lot of surface scratching on the screen, but otherwise looked unharmed. She tapped the bottom of the touchpad and it came to life. Its prior owner had unlocked it, she noticed.

    The status bar indicated a video recording was in progress. Curiosity got the better of her and she stopped the recording and played back the video.

    The angle was weird, the camera must have been facing the wall. But she clearly heard her husband ask someone why they thought they couldn’t copy his ability, whatever that meant. Then, the phone changed direction and the image of a man in proper attire meeting her husband came into view. The image looked familiar, but she couldn’t place the young man’s face or voice.

    Her eyes went wide as her husband revealed he had been visited by the Lord. Things progressed rapidly. The camera went flying and landed against a wall. It faced upwards at just enough of an angle as to get a full glimpse of Jesus in all His glory walking towards the cowering man. She didn’t know how to take it. The Second Coming had happened? Why hadn’t The Rapture taken place?

    The Lord pushed his palm forward and a brilliant light lit up the man. His clothes evaporated off him like a swimmer emerging into hot summer air. She had to turn down the volume as his screams grew louder and louder. Finally, she saw her husband wipe tears from his eyes, and, a moment later, all that was left of the gentleman was dust.

    She stopped the video and held her hand over her mouth. Every nerve in her body acted to prevent her screaming. Her breathing fired quicker and quicker as her heart pumped faster and faster. Her eyes slammed shut. “Oh, God,” she whispered.

    He’s been taken by the Devil in disguise
    , she thought. The Jesus she knew would never do such a horrible thing. She whirled her head left and right to make sure no one was watching her.

    A thought came to her. She searched the phone’s contacts. A ‘Jennifer Black’ was one of the top listings. She called the number.

    “Hello?” The female voice answered. “Who is this?”

    She calmed her voice. “This is Emily Hurst,” she whispered, hoping it was loud enough to hear. “I…uh…found this phone.”

    “Hold on!” Jennifer exclaimed, urgency leaking out of her voice.

    There was a moment’s pause. “Are you the wife of Jack Hurst?” The familiar male voice said.

    “Y…yes?” she said, hesitating.

    “Listen to me,” Jericho said. “My name is Jericho Torvalds, and you’re in danger. Your husband summoned a fake Jesus who tried to kill me. That’s not all, the person is extraordinarily powerful, and I’m certain your husband summoned him into being.”

    She paused, racking her brain to take this in. “How is that possible?” she asked.

    “Do you remember the Lights in the sky?”

    She sharply exhaled. She remembered the news about governments scrambling to calm the nerves of people, about a girl in ordinary clothes flying in and saving lives and helping to relieve the damage of riots and other disasters, and things slowly and semi-chaotically returning to some semblance of normal. “I do,” she uttered.

    “I’m certain your husband gained powers,” Jericho explained, “and his faith combined with his sudden chance to meet his Lord has blinded him to that fact. I was trying to offer him money in exchange for a chance to study and possibly replicate his ability, when I was attacked.”

    She rolled her eyes. “Of course," she said. "You just wanted to have it for yourself.”

    “Ma’am,” Jericho interrupted, “your husband, tears in his eyes or not, demonstrated no hesitation to let his fake Lord kill me. It’s possible this being is not fully autonomous and is driven, even a little bit, by thoughts and prejudices your husband has.” He took a break for effect. “If that is the case, as the power goes to his head, he may stop thinking of himself as merely a man and start thinking of himself as an emissary of the divine. If that happens, you and your children may not be immune.”

    “Why should I trust you?” she asked.

    “Matthew ten verses thirty-four through thirty-six,” Jericho answered. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.”

    She closed her eyes and opened them, gradually. “I don’t…”

    “Ma’am,” Jericho interrupted, “do you really want to take the chance that verse isn’t meant literally?”

    “What do you want me to do?"

    He cleared his throat. “Get your children and yourself out of there,” he explained. “Give him any excuse you think will work. It doesn’t have to be far. Just somewhere where I can get you out of the area.”

    She swallowed hard. “Do you honestly think he’ll hurt me?” she asked. “How am I supposed to trust you?”

    “He wasn’t broken up about killing me,” Jericho answered, “because he could justify it as me being unholy. All you have to do is make one mistake and I think he’ll be okay with it. Besides, I haven’t taken any violent actions against anyone, and I’ve amassed a decent amount of power.”

    “But he’s such a nice man!”

    Jericho’s breathing betrayed his frustration. “I know,” he said. “But his salvation is his alone and each person’s is theirs alone. So, if you get in his way, he’ll remove you. All he cares about is getting into Heaven.”

    “Okay,” she relented. “But he’ll come looking for me!”

    “I know,” he replied. “But that’s my problem, and my risk.”

    She relaxed somewhat. “Why are you helping me?”

    “The threat your husband poses to all of humanity is enormous," Jericho answered. "You may be the only key we have, and I want to protect that at all costs."

    “Honey, is everything ok?” Jack said from downstairs.

    “Crap! I have to go!” she said, hanging up, shutting off the phone, and slamming it into her pocket. She unlocked the door. “No problem! I’m just deciding what to wear tomorrow!”

    “Okay, honey!” Jack replied. “Just take your time!”

    She unlocked the door and pondered her next move as she tried to make her face look normal. This series of events evaded her best attempts to categorize it and put it into perspective. The fact was, that superpowers were real. Even someone as devoted to the Lord as her had to admit, she realized, that the chance that her husband had been visited by Jesus when so many different people seemed better choices, really strained her ability to believe. Also, she hadn’t read the Bible in its entirety in many years, but that quote from Matthew bothered her. What was even worse, it occurred to her, was that Jericho, whoever he really was, had to be correct because the clues struck her as so obvious. Jack had attempted to murder someone he barely knew, with almost no remorse and only minor strain to his emotional health, and that meant he took his perceived position far more seriously than she wished.

    She made her way downstairs. “Honey, I’m going to start dinner,” she said.

    Jack smiled. “Great!” he exclaimed. “I’ll be working.”

    “No problem,” she said, turning away to hide her nervousness. “Just take your time.”

    She came to a decision. Even if the stranger couldn’t be trusted completely, she had to get the children away from her husband, if for no other reason than the threat he posed. The kids went upstairs to wash up for dinner and she worked in silence, pondering, trying to come up with a perfectly legitimate excuse. She turned, briefly, to look at the living room where her husband wrote in a notebook. Damn it, Jack, she thought. Why now? Why couldn’t you just not do this?

    Her mind was made up. I must get the kids away from him.
     
    Biigoh likes this.
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter Six
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER SIX​


    I.​



    Manny walked into the bank and made a withdrawal and bought several cashier’s checks for his bills. Online auto-pay was easier and more convenient, he knew, but the problem was he wanted to have people see him as his male self so that no one wondered where the hell he went. The next trip took him to the local grocery store where he paid his utilities in person and bought a bunch of supplies.

    “Hey, Manny!” The cashier, a pleasant woman named Bethany, said.

    He returned a warm smile and set his purchases on the belt. “Hey,” he said.

    “Haven’t seen you in a few days,” she said. “I was beginning to think you’d become a recluse.” She noticed something, and her eyes went wide. “You’ve lost a lot of weight!”

    “Yeah, it’s amazing,” he said. “I finally found a diet that works. Anyway, no, I’m not hiding. I just wanted to take a break.”

    “Yeah, I know that feeling,” she replied, ringing up each item. “I’m about to start my new vacation.”

    “Great!” he said. “Vacation’s always good.”

    “Yup.” She pressed a final key. “That’ll be forty-six eighty-two.”

    He fished in his wallet and pulled out his debit card, shoving it in the chip slot. “Thanks,” he said.

    “No problem!” She bagged his items and set the bags at the end of the line. “See you later!”

    “Later,” he said, grabbing the bags and heading out. He loaded the bags into his car, wary of his surroundings. He looked carefully around him as much as he could.

    He shut the trunk and drove away. Now that he had powers, he didn’t want to use them in his male form, because that would cause avoid gender dysphoria, and thus every second he had to spend in his male form made him nervous. Every instant he spent as his vulnerable male self ate away at him. The sooner he could get home, into the safety of his locked doors and turn back into Jennifer where he’d be safe, the better.

    Inside his house, he put the groceries up, shut the refrigerator, and sat on his bed. A quick flip of the trigger, and once more, she felt safe.

    She looked at herself in the mirror. True to what she’d tested before, she could store an entire appearance of either of her selves, with Manny’s wallet and full outfit he was wearing turning into her outfit every time she changed her body back or forth.

    A quick look on the news and she saw quite a few incidents that required her attention. The first would be a man attempting to hold almost a dozen people hostage in an office building. He had superpowers, and apparently, had a religious lean.

    A few moments later, she hovered over the Earth, and used her vision powers to see the building in northern England where the man was. It bothered her. After powers became real, people generally didn’t devolve into rioting, and tear society apart. There had been pockets of trouble in the third world, but generally, they had been the exception, not the norm. Most people apparently wanted society to move on. She’d heard a lot of talk, but it was still in the curiosity stage. Why were the religious freaks coming out now?

    She zoomed downward, towards the building.

    Inside an office building, a man stood poised near a modest group of people tied up and placed side to side against a wall. His days since the lights had been a misery of one pain or another. If it hadn’t been for his abilities, he might never have stumbled across his true calling. Before, he’d been fired, lost his house and his wife, and more than anything, he’d lost his ability to make himself known as a man. The system had made him a joke. Then, he got his powers. Suddenly, the vicar had given him a task. He’d sat, watching the television, changing channels with his electricity manipulation, and came across one of the end-times televangelists rallying on about how the arrival of the lights in the sky had been a sign from God.

    “God has chosen his champions,” the man had said, “and the Devil is not far behind. It is up to each of you, ladies and gentlemen, to decide whose side you’re on. Because, my children, if you choose wrong, you’ll have an eternity to regret it.”

    He switched off the television without a second thought. The man had told the truth; this was his chance to get himself right by the Lord.

    So now, he stood in an office of liars and thieves, who stole from the poor every day, and he would use his God-given abilities to set things right.

    “You’re the first one,” he said, raising his hand.

    The woman started to scream.

    Then she vanished from before him.

    His head spun left and right as he desperately searched for the cause. “Who the hell did that?”

    “I did,” a feminine voice said.

    He turned and saw a busty redhead in casual clothes standing opposite him. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded.

    She flickered for a moment and he found himself suddenly tied up in hundreds of feet of Ethernet cable. “Someone who’s not going to put up with this crap,” she said.

    He attempted to inflict paralyzing shocks within her body, but nothing happened. “What in the fuck?”

    “You can spout all the religious nonsense you want,” she said, “but you’re not killing anybody.”

    “You might stop me,” he said, “but you’re not going to stop God’s righteous army!”

    She shot him a look. “The hell are you talking about?”

    “Just listen to what Jack Hurst has to say!”

    Her blood ran cold at the familiar name. Had the mad reverend revealed himself to the public? A headache began to form as she imagined it. She tied him up to a pillar and went over to one of the office computers. She pulled up YouTube and typed in the reverend’s name.

    Her teeth clenched at what she saw.





    The megachurch belonged to one of those big-name television televangelists that made millions, Jack knew as he sat in his waiting room. It hadn’t taken much convincing on his part to get the rich H.F. Masterfield to give him a platform. His holy partner and master had been kind enough to do that for him. It was a Sunday morning, and millions of people worldwide would be tuning in to hear the good news. He took a sip of water from the bottle and the makeup ladies finished their job on his face.

    Reverend Masterfield took the stage and made some announcement. It honestly didn’t matter to Jack as he heard the introduction. Everything he needed existed in his mind and the presence of his Lord. Upon hearing his cue, he took the stage. The audience went silent, not entirely knowing what to expect or why this unknown man stood on the stage.

    “Hello, ladies and gentlemen,” Jack Hurst began, making sure his clipped-on microphone could be heard and smiling to his audience as he walked around, gesturing. “Almost all of you have never heard my name before this moment. I am Reverend Jack Hurst of the Full Revival Baptist Church, just a few hundred miles north of here in a small, no-name town in Oklahoma. Before I say a word, let me introduce you to the reason why I'm standing here." He gestured off stage. The gasps and audible shouts grew to a cacophony as the figure of the Lord appeared out of thin air on stage. The Lord raised his hands slightly, and each person in the audience got lifted into the air, and placed gently in a standing position, shouts and other noises causing a ruckus. After that, the audience went silent.

    “Now,” the Lord spoke, and everyone present heard. “You shall listen to my emissary’s words. I have chosen him to speak on behalf of my Father and no longer shall the question of the Father’s existence be raised. Shall you believe?” The audience made a collective answer. He stepped aside and gestured to Jack.

    “Ladies and gentlemen,” Jack continued, “we are at war. We’re not at war with an enemy who has a capital that can be taken. We are not at war with a nation that can be demoralized and broken down. We are at war with evil itself. The final stages of holy struggle between God’s perfection and Satan’s horrible rebellion are at hand. Not that long ago, the sky lit up with every color human eyes can see, and then some. This was not, as the scientists say, merely a natural event that simply lacks explanation. I shall tell you there is an explanation.” The roar of the audience raised to rock concert levels. A quick extension of his arm and lowering of his hand silenced them.

    “No, save your cheers for the end. I do not bring merely happy news. The responsibility of this war has fallen to us, mortal humans. God will only do his work once we have done ours. We must prove ourselves. This light show in the sky heralded people across the world gaining powers previously only seen in children’s cartoons and comic books for the masses. These are not accidents, people. These are dice cast in the holy game between the glorious Lord and the machinations of Satan. There have been people around the world who did nothing. Those who got their powers and felt too afraid to even act. They wanted to keep going to work and going to shop, and they wanted their comfortable bed and their three meals a day. Do not be fooled; this may be why our society hasn’t collapsed yet, but these people will be drawn into the war, like it or not.

    “You must take action. You must oppose the forces of Satan. You have been drafted, and making no choice at all is still making a choice.” He pounded his fists on the podium. “God has chosen his champions, and the Devil is not far behind.” He shot a deadly serious look at the audience. “It is up to each of you, ladies and gentlemen, to decide whose side you’re on. Because, my children, if you choose wrong, you’ll have an eternity to regret it.”





    Jennifer watched the whole ordeal livestreamed and wanted to throw up. The fact that the fake Jesus went about healing a few of the sick in the audience and returning lost limbs to a war paraplegic didn’t change the facts at hand. Here was a man who had just become the next Jim Jones. People were going to die just from the words that already had been spoken. Jack Hurst had just unleashed upon the world a beast more terrible than any that ever walked before. She could already see in her mind millions of people, desperate to find a target to attack, eager to unleash their destructive urges upon a ‘villain’ and have the moral certitude to do it, causing untold destruction by mere use of their gullibility and hatred. These people lacked the critical thinking skills to ponder the fact that Jesus suddenly appearing to one man right after comic book-style superpowers appeared to millions of people around the world should be treated suspiciously.

    He may have just ended civilization with a speech
    , she thought.

    She went back and grabbed the villain she’d just defeated and led him downstairs to the Police. She stayed long enough to give them tips on his powers and help them contain him, and then returned home.

    Jericho sat waiting for her in her bedroom. “Sorry for barging in,” he said. “But did you see that?”

    She grit her teeth and forced herself calm. “Yes,” she said. “I wish I hadn’t. I wish no one had.”

    This is a disaster,” he replied.

    “That’s an understatement,” she countered. “This could be the worst thing anyone has ever done.”

    “So,” she asked, “what do we do?” She folded her arms. “We have to confront him.”

    “Not yet,” Jericho said. “Wait until he actually tries to kill someone.”

    She pointed. “But you know he’s going to kill someone!”

    He nodded. “I do, but if we attack him out of the blue, it gives him martyrdom. That’s exactly what he wants.”

    “This sucks,” she said, tapping her feet. “We have to wait until it may be too late.”

    “That doesn’t mean we can’t observe,” he pointed out. “Close up.”

    “As close up as we can,” she clarified. “We’re going to see everything that bastard does.”



    II.​





    Jack Hurst sat and met with Reverend Masterfield. The man he’d seen on television before, although the massive audience and enormous for-profit operation sat outside what he felt Christianity was all about. The older man, his white hair perfectly teased into a professional set up, sat down in the office chair, making a deliberate motion of stretching as he sat. A look of professional falseness was drawn on his smiling, pleasant face. It bothered Jack, though he didn’t show it. He wouldn’t even be talking to this man if he didn’t need his audience.

    “Well, Reverend Hurst,” Hiram Masterfield said, a down-to-Earth roughness in his gravel voice. “I’m always glad to meet a fellow man of Christ. What can I do for you?”

    Jack made sure his smile didn’t falter. That’s a fucking lie, he thought, as he pondered the likelihood he’d even be speaking to this man if he hadn’t heard from some of his own congregation about Jack. He shook the man’s extended hand. “Honestly, if I may be so blunt,” Jack replied, “I want to get straight to the point.” A familiar twinge appeared in his head, and that indicated his Lord would appear.

    “What point?” Reverend Masterfield asked. A moment later, a light emerged from behind his guest. A human figure emerged from the intense glow. Hiram’s breath left his body as he stared in disbelief. “Oh…my…”

    “I have arrived,” The Lord said, “and my chosen person is here to speak on my behalf.”

    Hiram glanced at Jack for just a moment. “My…My Lord!” he shouted. “I thought your arrival followed the Rapture!”

    “Do not merely follow the writings of men,” The Lord said. “My father’s will be done, and that means I expect my followers to listen and obey.”

    Hiram fell from his chair and hit his knees. “Anything for you, my Lord!” he swore.

    “For your obedience,” The Lord replied, “I will forgive your past indiscretions towards my father’s Laws. You shall provide your platform and audience to Jack Hurst here for the purposes of spreading my message.”

    “Absolutely!” Reverend Masterfield said. “Your will be done, My Lord!”

    “Thank you for your help, Reverend,” Jack said. “You’re helping the cause of the Lord.”

    Reverend Masterfield took his feet as the Lord stepped aside. “So, do you want me to introduce you to the audience before you speak?” he asked.

    “Could you be so kind?” Jack said. “I really appreciate it.”

    The audience cheered and clapped as their familiar televangelist took the stage. Thirty thousand cheers greeted him. Television cameras broadcast his face across the globe. A few local news stations were in the front two rows. He made some token announcement, and the audience’s confusion went live. A dreadful, awkward silence broken only by the occasional cough overcame the building as their familiar face went off stage and Jack took his position. He introduced himself, as basically as he could. He motioned and the reason he stood before them appeared.

    Someone could be forgiven for assuming a gunshot had rung out, based on the reaction of the crowd. The Lord appeared out of thin air, a glow about him. With the audience gasping in surprise, he raised his hands and they levitated out of their seats a foot into the air before being gently lowered into their seats. The Lord made his pronouncement, and they obeyed, as per his instruction. Jack saw they had opened their hearts, and he had to resist the urge to wipe a tear from his eye.

    He began his sermon. If someone had put a gun to his head afterward and demanded he tell them exactly how long he spoke, he wouldn’t have been able to answer. Time passed at a mysterious rate for him. Words came from his heart and poured into the air by the speakers. The cheers and shouts and applause came soon enough. The importance of driving home the fact that this was mankind’s one chance to defeat the forces of evil could not have been clearer. Every face in the crowd looked either excited or terrified at the prospect. God’s will would be done, and millions were watching around the world. After a long and winding road of emotion, he finished his sermon to a cacophony of shouts for the Lord.

    “Now that I’m finished driving home the important point,” Jack said, finishing, “The Lord has an important message for you.”

    The Lord stepped forth. “Those of you who are true to the Father,” he announced, “shall come forth and be healed.” He motioned to the aisle in front of him. “Make a line here.”

    Each seat emptied as a massive line formed. Jack watched in awe as arthritic hands moved freely again. This time, he could not avoid wiping his eyes dry. A gentleman with a wooden leg walked on two legs again. Heart conditions were made better. All in all, every person in the audience had their medical maladies eliminated. Truly, the age of God had come about, and he felt more blessed than anyone that he could be at the center of it.

    After the display, the news crews attempted to rush the stage. Security escorted Jack away from the crowd. He made his way to his car. The Lord went away to conduct business of his own and security helped the Reverend escape from the building. On his way back home, he heard on the radio a local station making a news story about him. He smiled as he realized the news had picked up the message and would spread it farther. This was the final battle, after all; he had to get the news out.

    The car pulled into the driveway and he had to slow his racing heart. The look on his wife’s face would lift him even higher. His kids would be thrilled to know their dad was the Lord’s chosen spokesman. He shoved the door open and, a smile on his face, threw the lights on.

    “Emily!” Jack Hurst shouted. “I’ve got great news for you!” Her lovely voice, accompanied by footsteps, would be coming down the hall any moment.

    As he set his notes on the counter, he listened. Only the quiet whistle of the air conditioning greeted him. He strolled over to the fridge and pulled out a Coke. “Eric?” he asked, taking a swig. He strolled over to the living room and flipped the switch. No one sat on the couch or loveseat. “Tim?” He pushed the door to the laundry room open and saw the folded, dry clothes in the hamper above the dryer. Nothing else appeared to him. His cellphone came out of his pocket and he found himself dialing as he climbed the steps. After six rings, her voice mail greeting appeared. “Honey? What’s going on? Why aren’t the kids here? If you’re shopping, why didn’t you call me if it was this late?” He hung up the phone and returned it to his pocket.

    Her room and the kids’ rooms were empty. His heart began to race for a different reason. The suitcase from the closet, along with about five changes of clothes, were gone from their closet. He checked the closets in the kids’ rooms, and both their suitcases were gone as well. He sat on Tim’s bed and clasped his hands together.

    “Dear Lord,” he prayed. “I need your help.”

    A light flashed as a familiar twinge appeared in his head. The Lord stood before him in His brilliance. “My faithful servant,” He said, “tell me what ails you.”

    Jack looked up at his Lord. “My Lord,” he said, beseeching him. “I’m not worthy to ask your help, but my wife and sons are missing.”

    The Lord looked upward with his eyes closed. A long moment passed, and he opened them, an angry look on his face. “I have found them,” He said. “You may not want to know where they are.”

    Jack almost jerked to his feet. “What?” he almost gasped.

    “Someone I felt certain I had punished,” The Lord replied, “has aided them in their escape from you.”

    The words sank in slowly, as a dawning anger drew itself across Jack Hurst’s face. “You don’t mean!” he swore.

    “That man, Jericho Torvalds,” The Lord explained, “is attempting to hide them.”

    “But why would they hide from me?” Jack implored.

    “Come,” The Lord offered, extending his hand. “I’ll take you to them and you shall find out.”

    “No,” Jack said, raising his hand. “Pardon me, my Lord, but if she’s so afraid of me, then I need to make it known that I’m not a threat.”




    Jericho and Jennifer arrived at the house as soon as they could. He knocked on the door and she stood next to him. As the front door opened, the woman stood there, a mixture of confusion and fear on her face. “You’re the guy on the phone!” she said.

    Jericho extended his hand. “Ma’am,” he said, “we’ve got to go now.”

    “Are you sure?” she said.

    “Look,” Jennifer cut in, “your husband may not believe it, but his thoughts are driving this fake Jesus that he summoned. He’s secretly behind the wheel. I imagine in the next few days, he’ll direct his anger towards different people and his summoned monster will respond. You don’t deserve to suffer.”

    Tears streaked from the woman’s eyes. “Why is this happening?” she pleaded.

    Jennifer hugged her. “It isn’t fair,” she said, “but your husband is the worst kind of person to get this power.”

    “People are going to flock towards him,” Jericho reminded, “and I don’t trust him with the kind of authority he’s going to get.”

    Emily looked at the two of them, skepticism still drawn on her face. “I don’t know…” she said.

    Jericho extended a hand. “I can actually show you what I experienced,” he offered.

    She regarded his hand nervously. Then, she blinked her eyes clear and took his hand. An instant later, she jolted as if shocked. “Oh my god,” she exclaimed, gasping for breath. She regarded him with amazement. “That’s what he did?” Jericho nodded, wordlessly. Her hand covered her mouth. “Oh, goodness.” She turned to the house behind her. “Kids! Let’s go!”

    Two above-average, modestly athletic early teens approached. “Mom, who are these people?” the darker haired of the two asked.

    “In the interest of full transparency,” Jericho said, taking Jennifer’s right hand in his left and extending his right hand. “It’s better if I just show you.”

    “You shouldn’t!” Emily interjected.

    “We can’t keep secrets in situations like these,” Jennifer said. “It’s better if they simply know.”

    The kids looked suspiciously at them, and then the mother, before she nodded, and they took Jericho’s hand.

    The entire ordeal up to that point, including all the events that had led Manny to become Jennifer and back again, as well as Jericho’s experiences since getting powers and meeting his newfound ally, became known to them. After the moment passed, they had almost the same reaction as the mother. Shock passed over them, and they quickly rushed to get their suitcases. “I can’t believe this,” Emily said, as she departed to get their stuff.

    Jennifer did a look around the neighborhood. They’d snuck in with no attention as most of the people either had windows drawn or were not at home. “We’re good on being noticed,” she said. “No one is looking at us and Jack’s nowhere nearby.”

    “Good,” Jericho said. “We’ve got a better chance of getting away with this.”

    About ten minutes later, the three came by with their suitcases. Jennifer grabbed the two boys around the waist in her arms, with suitcases in each hand. Channeling her power through them connected them to her and protected them. Jericho channeled several abilities in order to do something similar with Emily. The two then took off into the sky at incredible speed. Less than a minute later, they arrived at a cabin in the northern part of New York. Jericho activated a power and the door flew open. “This place can only be opened by me,” he explained. “I set it up shortly after developing powers.”

    They entered the cabin. “Oh, wow!” Eric shouted.

    The three stood agape at what greeted them. Despite being a wood building, it looked perfectly insulated and modernized, with a living room the size of their entire house, a kitchen her master bedroom could fit in, and more fancy gizmos than she’d ever seen in her life. “I…I don’t know if I can accept this,” Emily said.

    “I confess I’m not merely being generous,” Jericho admitted. “I need something from you.”

    She turned. “What do you mean?” she asked. “What help could I provide?”

    “I wasn’t able to empathically touch your husband’s memories,” Jericho explained. “I don’t know anything about him beyond the superficial.”

    She grabbed his hand and touched it to her forehead. “Go ahead,” she said.

    Jericho touched her memories with his empathic abilities. Enhanced by an intellect power, he zoomed through a lifetime of memories of her marriage to Jack Hurst in an instant. All their beautiful highs and anger-fueled lows came to him. He experienced their painful disagreements and wonderful reconciliations. The fact of their combined beliefs enhancing their marriage to each other wasn’t a small detail, either. An important fact, he noticed, was that her belief wasn’t quite as powerful or as detailed as his. With effort, he focused on all the moments Jack expressed his anger and frustration towards those he perceived as “sinners” in the world. The man seemed genuinely interested in saving people’s souls from hell but had a near-hateful perception of those who didn’t obey the Word of God. As he focused on each important detail, he painted a picture in his mind of what would be problematic and likely to be the most destructive. “Thank you,” he said, finishing the image. He turned to the kids. “If you would, I’d appreciate it.”

    Each child extended their hands. He took each one. Processing both at once wasn’t easy, but he dealt with it. It shocked him how good a father Jack was. Somehow, the man had found a near-flawless level of balance between strict and lenient. He had his flaws, but he did not succumb to rage or let injustices go by. The boys got pushed a decent amount, but not oppressively so. Most importantly, he always stood open to compassion. He couldn’t believe how violently the image he experienced through the man’s family’s memories clashed with the path he sat on.

    He stood back, shaking his head. “You’ve helped me enormously,” he said. He touched Jennifer and gave his experiences to her, who came out of it equally shaken and confused. A touch and he granted each of them a protective and a regenerative ability. “I can’t keep you here, and I can’t guarantee he won’t be able to penetrate my abilities, but I can give you some basic protection.”

    “So, how will this help if it didn’t stop Jack from hurting you?” Emily asked.

    “I’m not expecting it to protect you from him,” Jericho explained.

    We’re going to be protecting you from him,” Jennifer cut in. “This is to protect you from other things.”

    “I’m hoping to keep you safe,” Jericho explained, “but you’re not a prisoner. If you need to travel around, I can teleport you there.”

    Emily wiped her eyes. “Thank you,” she said. “I can’t begin to say how much this hurts.”

    “You’re not likely to be the last,” Jennifer said. “Things are going to get really worse before they get any better.”

    The magnitude of the ordeal hit her. “Oh god,” she exclaimed. “World War III might start!”

    “I know,” Jennifer replied. “That’s why we’re watching this situation intensely.”

    The kids went about unpacking their bags and getting acquainted with the cabin and its surroundings. Emily took her bags into one of the bedrooms and began setting her clothes in the chest of drawers and the closet. Jennifer flew outside the cabin and checked out the surroundings with her enhanced senses. A forest surrounded them, and the nearest town was eighteen miles away. No sign of impending doom greeted her.

    “How is it?” Jericho said.

    “Good so far,” she said. “But I expect his friend to find us, and even if he doesn’t, people will.”

    Emily came out of the room. “Quick! Look at this!” she exclaimed.

    She held up his smartphone, opened to YouTube. It was Jack.



    Jack Hurst stood in the center of Times Square in New York City. His Lord had taken him there. “My children,” The Lord spoke, his voice amplified. “I have brought to you my messenger upon this Earth.” A wave of his hand cleared an area of two square meters, and a section of the concrete copied upwards to form a platform levitating above the ground. He took his place behind Jack.

    “Ladies and gentlemen,” Jack spoke, the Lord enhancing his voice. “I have come here to bring to you a message of hope and love, as well as righteous anger.” He looked at the people staring in awe at the glowing figure behind him. Some looked at him in bewildered confusion. “Satan has infiltrated every element of our culture and poisoned our own wives and children against us with fear of our brother and anger towards our kin. We fall in love with his machinations and succumb to such sins as lust and praise our own siblings and children for being ‘gay,’ or ‘transgender,’ when such are the work of Satan. It wasn’t enough just to live and let live, no, we had to go and make defiance of the will of God almighty a prideful thing.” He gestured with his fists as he walked around the platform, glancing at each person. Jeers and commotions of resentment came up from the crowd.

    “Hey! Fuck you man!” a man spoke from the crowd.

    “You! My child!” The Lord spoke. A finger point brought the man levitating above the crowd. “You speak in anger for you live this defiance of my father every day. I can bring you absolution. Defy your evil ways and bend the knee to me, and you bend your knee to the Father.” He brought the man forward onto the platform. “This is your last chance for salvation.”

    The man began to quiver, to struggle against the invisible bonds pulling him before the Lord. “Christ, please don’t kill me,” the man pleaded.

    “I will not kill you,” The Lord corrected. “You will be killing you. That is, in the event you refuse the Will of The Father.” He touched a hand to the man’s cheek, soaked with tears and shaking. “Don’t you want to be saved?”

    “Please don’t hurt me!”

    The Lord drew his head mere inches away. “That is not an answer,” He reminded. “You need to decide, right now, are you going to Heaven or to Hell?”

    The man visibly wet himself. “I…I can’t…”

    The Lord drew away. “Words cannot express my grief,” He said. “At the thought of Satan gaining another.”

    “What?” The man’s question escaped his mouth. A moment later his piercing scream echoed throughout the city as his body lit up in a great light. Flames erupted beneath his feet and the smell of burning flesh and fat filled the air. The crowd broke into pandemonium almost instantly, various screams echoing throughout as people dashed in opposing directions.

    The Lord lifted his right hand upward by bending the elbow. A wall of semi-transparent light surrounded the exits to Times Square. People smashed into the walls and found themselves trapped. “You shall not escape from the Truth!” Jack spoke. “Witness the pain of refusing the Glory of God! You have had every single chance to redeem yourselves, to repent. This is it. Now is the last chance you will ever get to be a part of salvation.” He paused, taking a breath. “The forces of evil are marching on, and we are marching to gather faithful souls to oppose them! You have until we find you to make a last decision!”

    The Lord moved his hand and a person’s cell phone camera came closer to Jack. The man stared into the camera. “People of God’s World, you have one last decision to make: repent and be faithful or face eternal hellfire.”

    A sonic boom high above the city broke the sermon. A redhead wearing a boring t-shirt and sweatpants combo descended from the sky and hovered a few meters in front of Jack and his Lord. “You’re not killing anyone else,” she yelled at him.

    I have not condemned anyone,” The Lord spoke. “They condemned themselves by not accepting me. No one gets to the Father except through me.”

    “Don’t give me that shit!” Jennifer shouted. “You’ve just killed a man, and you tried to kill another! No more!” She turned to Jack. “You shut this ‘thing’ down right now!”

    Jack laughed. “The Lord cannot be ‘shut down,’ child of Satan!” he shouted. “You accuse me of having a power? No! This is the Lord!”

    The Lord stepped forth. “My child, you will submit to me now,” he stated.

    Jennifer didn’t wait for him to finish. She slammed into him and knocked him into the sky. This psychic creation of a brainwashed bigot bothered her. The fact that this fake Jesus looked like the white Jesus always portrayed in paintings didn’t escape her. It bothered her that people would fall for this shit. Now that the monster had murdered, and declared war, she had to stop him.

    Jennifer slammed a fist into the monster, who got caught by surprise and flew backwards out of the city limits. She followed and blasted the creature with a few dozen punches and kicks. His anger boiled over, and he let out a shout, and knocked her back with a shockwave. He swiped a hand in her direction and a wave of fire struck her, and her power blocked the fire, but the heat ate deep within her. She let out a scream and fought through it, plowing forward into him like a torpedo.

    “Enough!” He shouted.

    An invisible force grabbed her and froze her in place. He hovered closer to her. “You’re going to have to kill me,” Jennifer replied. “That’s the only way you’re going to stop me from keeping you from killing anyone else.”

    He paused to take a breath. “My child,” He began. “You have enormous potential to do the Father’s work upon this Earth. I would hate to have to subject you to…”

    “You just said you don’t condemn anyone,” she interjected. “You said they condemn themselves. Which is it?”

    He grit his teeth and fire engulfed her. She let out a screech and fought through the pain. “It seems you fight against the Father,” The Lord said, “and I cannot save you if you will not submit.”

    Her flesh resisted burning, but the pain felt intense. Thought became difficult as she pushed through the agony. The light nearly blinded her, but her eyes fought through to see her target. She pushed against her bonds and fought to manipulate the energy surrounding her. Pain began to bleed from every pore of her body. Individual parts stopped hurting as her body became a mass of agony. Her invisible bonds held firm as muscles pulsed with strength, she barely knew she had, even as a superpowered being. A thought appeared in her mind in response to a need. She focused her energy manipulation and discovered her bonds didn’t hold it back.

    The Lord felt his nervous system almost shut down for a moment as his body’s electrical impulses went wild. Before he knew what had caused it, or how such a thing could be possible, his foe smashed into him at super speed once again and began pummeling him with impossible force. This should not be possible, He thought, as unfamiliar sensations like pain began to appear in his mind.

    “You cannot defeat me!” He shouted, grabbing her fists and holding her back as they slammed into the ground.

    “Don’t bet on it!” she yelled, smashing him into the dirt. She’d gotten him out of the city and away from the people he posed a threat to.

    Suddenly, the Lord’s expression changed, and he blasted away from her in a beam of light. She tore off as fast as she could to follow him.

    “You’re finished, Jack Hurst!” A voice cried out.

    Jack turned around. “How’d you…?” he asked.

    Jericho prepared to smash a hand down on the reverend’s head.

    The Lord appeared a moment later and a burst of pressure knocked the businessman away from the reverend. Jennifer rocketed in at incredible speed. The two shared a glance then took off towards their enemies at once from opposing angles. “You’ll never defeat God’s Will!” He screamed and threw his hands upward.

    A brilliant light shot upward, and the two flew down, and the light screamed towards them.

    Jennifer attempted to turn around, but the blast moved too quickly. “Jericho!”

    “Son of a…!”

    Jericho’s screech cut off mid-sentence.

    The reverend looked upward as the crowd’s fearful screams reached a crescendo and then fell. “Two agents of the devil have been destroyed!” he shouted. The Lord waved his hands, and his disheveled appearance returned to normal. “The Lord will always prevail! No one can defeat the Lord!”
     
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter Seven
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER SEVEN​


    I.​



    Jack Hurst looked up as the brilliant light consumed the two enemies. His grin widened as he saw the sweet victory at hand. The Devil’s most powerful agents had been defeated. That they decided to stand up to their Lord at all proved the Dark One’s most twisted arrogance. This battle had proven, at long last, that none could stand up to the grace and the power of Truth. The Lord conquered all enemies, no matter how far they had fallen. He turned to the crowd as their silence grew to an uncomfortable crescendo. The noise that followed rose from quiet to almost deafening in seconds.

    The Lord clapped his hands and a sound of thunder prevailed over the group. They went silent. “Bow to your Lord!” Jack cried. “Show your devotion to Christ!”

    One by one, they all knelt.

    “Rise!” The Lord commanded. They all rose.

    Jack turned to his Lord. “What now?” he asked.

    “Let us begin our most important mission,” He spoke.

    Jack turned to the crowd, his Lord amplifying his voice once again. “Followers of The Lord!” he announced. “Go forth and bring me the enemies of God!” The Lord waved his hands at his mouthpiece’s words, and the barriers went down. The crowd spread out as the two stepped off the platform and it returned to the concrete below.

    A distance away, sirens could be heard as the crowd parted. “I see we have attracted attention,” The Lord reminded.

    “Let me greet them,” Jack said.

    The police cars stopped at the edge of the crowd. Seven officers exited, wearing body armor and carrying assault shotguns. Jack stepped forward, unafraid. “Officers,” The Lord greeted, gesturing at Jack.

    Jack spread his arms out. “I am not armed,” he said to them, “and also, I am not afraid.”

    “Maybe,” the officer at the front said, “you can tell us what the hell is going on.”

    “I am simply bringing The Lord’s message to the masses,” Jack said. “I am only opposing the forces of darkness.”

    The officers looked at each other. “There was a fight,” the main officer said. “Did you kill them?”

    “I defeated only agents of the Devil,” Jack replied. “They had sworn to destroy The Lord, and so, they were struck down by His awesome power.”

    The officer levied a shotgun at Jack. “You’re under arrest for murder!” he swore. The other officers drew weapons.

    “No,” The Lord simply said.

    A flash of light exited his eyes and their guns dissolved into dust. Several of them reached for handguns, only to find them gone. “What the hell’s going on?” one shouted.

    “You will not be harmed!” Jack shouted. “All you have to do is swear fealty to the Lord!”

    “We can’t let a murderer go free!” The lead officer shouted.

    Sorrow painted itself on Jack’s face. “Please,” he begged, “don’t oppose Your Lord.”

    “I won’t let a murderer go free!” he shouted, reaching for Jack.

    The Lord put forth a hand, and a light shone all around the man. His hand stuck out from the light for just a moment. The officer’s entire body then vanished in an instant, without even a scream of pain. “All who oppose The Father,” The Lord said, “oppose Me. And none who oppose me can gain eternal life.”

    A scream passed between the officers and the crowd. “Pledge yourself to your God!” Jack admonished. “Then you shall gain eternal life!”

    The clamor died down as the officers knelt before their Lord. “Rise!” The Lord said, and they obeyed.

    “Bring the enemies of God’s light to Him so that they may be dealt with,” Jack ordered.

    “The forces of Satan hide from the light,” The Lord said. “You will have to bring them out of the darkness for them to be dealt with.”

    “I’m sorry! Forgive me!” one young officer cried, stepping forth and bowing his head.

    “Oh, child of God,” Jack said, placing a hand on the man’s bowed head. “All is forgiven, for you have sided against evil! You have sided with The Lord!”

    “What do you want us to do?” Another officer said.

    “Find those who claim to have powers,” Jack said. “They are affected by Satan and we have to either convert them to the Lord’s ways or destroy them.”


    “This way,” The officer said, leading them to a vehicle.


    Jennifer did something she hadn’t expected to; she woke up. A burning sensation passed throughout her entire body and she stifled it with a twist of energy manipulation. It hurt to stand as steam vented off her skin, her knees popping as she forced herself erect. She flexed her arms and fingers as the pain passed and left. “Oh, fuck,” she uttered, getting used to standing.

    “Holy shit,” Jericho said, pushing himself up, and then collapsing into a chair. He shook his head. “So, did we make it?” He looked around.

    They were in the cabin. “Looks like you sent us back a bit,” Jennifer said. She reached over and helped the burning power to leave his body. “So, how does this work?”

    “Some guy had the power to reset himself in time just to before he died,” Jericho said. “I enhanced it to a few minutes longer. Our other selves are gone, but we’re here. We went back during the gap.”

    “That’s fucked,” Jennifer said, sitting down.

    Emily heard the clamor and left her room. “Oh, hell!” she exclaimed. “What happened?”

    Jennifer looked up with an exasperated look. “Your husband just killed us,” she said. She gave a ‘what have you’ gesture. “Thanks to Jericho, we’re alive.”

    “Oh my god,” she exclaimed, taking a seat. “What has he done?”

    “He’s proven he’s willing to kill anyone who doesn’t bend a knee to his fake Jesus,” Jericho pointed out. “He’s turned into Jim Jones with a walking nuke.”

    Emily’s hands covered her eyes as she wept. “I’m sorry.”

    Jennifer walked over and draped an arm around her. “It’s not your fault,” she told the housewife. “You didn’t know.”

    “How…how could he have done this?” Emily replied. “He was such a nice man.” She stuck an arm out in an incredulous gesture. “He gave back to the community, for heaven’s sake! He’s the most giving man I know!”

    “He’s convinced he’s God’s righteous man,” Jericho said. “He believes he’s doing the work of The Lord. Any act of cruelty can be justified this way.”

    She wiped her eyes. “I can’t believe this,” she uttered. “I trusted him.”

    “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” Jennifer said, “but let me assure you, I’m going to keep you safe.”

    “I promise,” Jericho added.

    Emily sank back into her seat. “I…I know I can’t ask you not to kill him,” she uttered.

    Jericho and Jennifer exchanged a glance. “I can’t promise you that,” Jennifer reminded.

    “I know,” Emily shot back, blinking tears away.

    “If we don’t stop him,” Jericho reminded, “society might come undone.”

    “It’s a horrible thing,” Jennifer said, “but I’ll say this: if it is in any way possible to stop him without killing him, I will at least look for it.”

    Emily coughed in surprise. “You…you mean it?” she said.

    “I can’t promise it is possible,” she reminded the woman, “but if it is, I’ll try.”

    “Just remember,” Jericho explained, “that if he isn’t dead when he’s stopped, he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison.”

    Emily nodded. “Thank you for at least humoring me,” she said.

    Jennifer gave her a tight hug, then stood up and walked with Jericho to the kitchen. “Let’s plan this carefully,” he said. “He’s stronger than both of us. It’s been shown he can kill us easily.”

    “Worse than that,” Jennifer added, “he can nullify most of your powers.”

    Jericho flexed an aching arm. “I know,” he replied. “And the pain was worse this time than last time. You know what that means.”

    “We can’t use your ‘go back a few minutes’ power as a get-out-of-dying-free card,” she finished. “It’s not going to be easy.”

    Jericho closed his eyes. “We need allies,” he said. “No one I know is either willing to help or knowledgeable in the relevant areas. That leaves your friends.”

    Jennifer looked at him with shocked eyes. “You want to put them in the path of this monster?” she said, almost gasping. “You can’t be serious?”

    He put his hands on her shoulders. “Look!” he said. “I don’t want anyone else to die, either!” He took a deep breath and pulled back. He collected himself. “I don’t want to put anyone else in danger. But we can’t do it. Your friends are knowledgeable.”

    “Yeah,” Jennifer replied. “They’re all geeky enough to be decent supers.” She folded her arms. “Goddammit, I can’t believe I’m even considering this.” She thought about it. “Fuck!”

    “You’re a really powerful character,” Jericho said. “But maybe your friends can turn into more powerful characters!”

    Jennifer thought about it. “Wait,” she said.

    A light went on in her mind. “Son of a bitch!” she said, pounding a fist into her open palm. “I fucking didn’t even think about it!”

    He shook his head. “What?”

    “First time you met the fake Jesus,” Jennifer explained, “he damn near turned your powers off.

    His mouth fell open. “Oh, fuck!” he uttered. “Why couldn’t he do that to you?”

    “Think about it!” she shouted. “Flight, speed, strength, the sensing stuff, these aren’t my powers!”

    “You’re Manny Voren,” Jericho said, realizing. “Your power is turning into Michelle Delanter from the Furious Thunder comic!”

    “This ‘Jesus’ can’t be all-powerful,” Jennifer explained, “because if he was, he’d be able to turn my powers off.”

    Jericho’s hand covered his mouth as he pondered. “Son of a bitch,” he uttered. “He’s a similar type of power to yours.”

    “Depending on how powers work,” Jennifer fired back, “Jack’s power might even be a sibling to my power!” She thought about it. “You couldn’t change when you copied my power?”

    He shook his head. “It wasn’t that,” he said. “It’s sort of, well, you know,” an embarrassed red painted itself on his cheeks. “I couldn’t imagine being anything other than myself.”

    “But you copied my power,” she said.

    He nodded. “I did.”

    “Then let’s go,” she announced. “Because I know some people who are about to become really powerful allies.”

    “Already?” he countered. “I thought you were against it.”

    “Either we do this,” she reminded, “or we all die. Given those odds? Fuck it.”

    Her phone rang almost the moment the words left her mouth. Seeing the name, she almost smashed the accept icon. “Jennifer?” Davis Wilson shouted. “Oh, fuck! You’re alright!”

    She almost laughed. “Yeah?” she said. “Well, let’s just say that I don’t think we’re going to be able to do this on our own.”

    “Way ahead of you,” the FBI agent said. “My superiors have spoken to the President and there’s going to be a formal statement not an hour from now where we give our formal declaration that we do not bow to terrorists, even if they look like every painting of Jesus ever.”

    “Finally, a voice of reason,” she replied. “So, we need to meet.”

    “Who’s that?” Jericho asked. She tossed the phone to him. “Hello? Who is this?”

    “I’m…Davis Wilson,” he replied. “Is this…Jericho Torvalds? So that was you that’s been working with her.”

    Jericho gave a half shrug. “If you’re working with her, you’re alright with me,” he said. “I’d like for us to meet and attempt to gather allies.”

    “I agree,” Davis answered immediately. “If you can somehow get here quickly, I’d appreciate it.”

    Jericho paused a moment. “Where are you?”

    “Washington D.C.,” Davis replied.

    “Alright,” Jericho answered. “Give me a few minutes. I think I can make it.”

    Jennifer saw him hang up the phone and stand with his eyes closed, focusing. “Alright, everyone!” she shouted, getting Emily’s attention as well as her kids. “Time to go!”

    The trio came forward, surprised. “Where are we going?” Emily asked.

    “Away from here,” Jennifer said.

    Jericho motioned. “Got it,” he announced. “Take my hand. Everyone form a chain.” The group formed a chain of hands held. A few seconds later, they vanished from the house.

    They rematerialized in a thirty-foot by thirty-foot conference room of some kind. A grizzled old man with white hair and a frustrated expression painted on his face gave her a nod. “Looks like we’re in deep shit,” he said. “Sam Louis.” He extended his hand. He saw the busty redhead as a symbol of youthful naïveté but didn’t say anything.

    She shook his hand, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. “Jennifer Black,” she introduced. “This here’s Jericho Torvalds, and the family behind us are the wife and children of Jack Hurst.”

    “So, you brought them,” Davis said, appearing from behind his supervisor. He brushed his curly brown hair away from his face. “We’ll be working with you to keep you safe and working to bring this whole ordeal to a close.”

    “This may be a stupid question, but I have to ask,” Emily ventured. “Are you going to kill my husband?”

    “If he surrenders without taking further action against our government,” he explained, “we’ll try to take him down non-lethally.”

    “But,” Sam cut in, “he keeps this up, he’s going to be treated as a terrorist and be taken out.”

    A conflict played out in various expressions over Emily’s face. “Okay,” she simply said.

    “Let’s get down to the important business,” Jericho interrupted. “Do you have anyone who can help us?”

    “Yeah,” Davis said. “When this whole thing blew up, people came forward. Not a whole lot, mind you, but some important people.”

    “We’ve got some potential allies of our own,” Jennifer said. “Their names are Annie Wilson, John Stephenson, and Edward Mitchell.”

    “Alright, let’s get something ahead of time,” Sam interjected. “You have to meet this guy we met.”

    Almost as if on cue, a mid-forties gentleman in jeans and a sweatshirt stepped into the room. “Oh!” The man said, approaching Jennifer. “I’ve been wanting to meet you.” He extended a hand. “Name’s Raymond Weiss.”

    Jennifer shook his hand. “Jennifer Black,” she introduced. “How can you help?”

    “This whole thing,” he explained, gesturing, “these powers, these transformations, all of it may seem like we’ve been put in a movie all of a sudden, but I assure you, this is not chaos. There is an explanation, and I believe I’m on the verge of finding it.”

    She cocked her head in confusion. “What?”

    “Let me take you back to the beginning and explain,” he said.


    II.​




    “Doctor Weiss,” a blonde male assistant piped up, “have you checked the latest equations?”

    “I’ve been,” he replied. “But it’s been hectic lately.” He turned away from the board. “You are?”

    “Alan Jordan,” the assistant said. “I’ve been transferred here from Caltech.”

    “Ah, Mister Jordan,” Raymond said, turning back to the whiteboard and checking the equations again. “As you can see, these have been pissing me off for the better part of a week because I simply can’t figure out how to get them to work.”

    “If you need anything, Doctor,” Alan announced. “I’m right here.”

    “For starters,” Raymond said, reaching into his pocket, go get me a Diet Doctor Pepper from the machine upstairs, and get yourself something too.” He handed the man three one-dollar bills.

    “Yes, sir!” Alan said. “Oh and thank you!”

    “No problem,” Raymond said. He set the pen down and stood back, folding his arms. “Mother fucker.” These equations kept stumping him and it resisted any attempt for his mind to wrench the solution out of him. It was a problem that kept him from making the breakthrough he knew he could etch his career in stone with. A light in the corner of his vision distracted him as it painted across his whiteboard.

    His head drifted in the direction of the window. The sun was going down, and the evening sky was…

    Multicolored beams of light streaked across the sky in every which direction.

    His hands fell to his sides. “What in the fuck…?” he stammered, involuntarily drawn to the window. A long second passed as he stared, mouth agape, before his hands frantically jerked towards his other pocket for his cellphone. It clattered to the floor. “Shit!” He snatched it and bolted for the door.

    His feet tore down the short hallway to the door leading into the University’s outside courtyard. He stared up at the evening sky in bewilderment. A single point, high above the evening sky, served as the center of a constant outward stream of colored bursts of light. Each one streaked far across the sky and out of sight. Every color a human eye could see emerged from a single point of white light and shot outward. His cell phone camera took footage. “Holy…shit…” he uttered.

    The center point flashed, and the streaks of color stopped.

    “Oh my god!” he shouted, dashing for the door. He had to record this.

    He made it five steps before his face met the grass. “Ow,” he groaned, pushing himself to his feet. His hands drifted over himself, checking to see if he was hurt. He wasn’t.

    Back in the lab, he plugged his phone into his lab PC and watched the video. As he watched, it was almost as if the pulses of light triggered something in his eyes.

    “My mind,” he whispered.

    He caught it the moment he did it. He’d spoken involuntarily. What did this mean? It made sense, he realized. Something was different. It didn’t make logical sense at first, but he focused intensely on it and it came to him. He could sense something resembling a switch in his brain. Not a physical one, he figured, but rather, a mental one that he could flip. With a nervous chuckle, he whispered, “This is crazy.” Then he flipped the switch.

    Thoughts lit up like a thunderstorm.

    The moment he looked at his coffee cup, he had a very accurate estimation of its volume. His eyes drifted to the video. His thoughts processed at incredible speed. “Specific alterations to the laws of physics,” he whispered, his thoughts alight. “It’s impossible, and yet, it’s here!” The skeptic in him told him he could simply be crazy. So, he turned his attention to the whiteboard. He stared at the formulas that had puzzled him. The answer came to him semi-immediately. He found his fingers scrawling it on the whiteboard almost the moment it came to his mind.

    He stared at the writing in disbelief. He didn’t even have to double-check it. “Months of work,” he found himself uttering. “And here it is.”

    His hands went to his mouth as he resisted the urge to scream. His teeth chattered.

    “No,” he uttered. He shook his head. “What the fuck am I saying?” Alterations to the laws of physics? How had he gotten that from colors shooting through the sky? How had his brain landed on that idea? “I’m…smarter,” he realized. He took a picture of the whiteboard with his phone, then cleared the board and began scrawling a second set of equations on them. These equations had bothered him for the past eight months. They’d frustrated him so that he shelved them altogether once he got this new project.

    The answer came to him before he had finished writing the original equations on the board.

    If his chair hadn’t been behind him, he’d have collapsed onto the floor. His fingers dialed a number. “Doctor Weatherford?” he said. “No, I don’t give a shit what time it is where you’re at. You know that problem you were working on? For achieving fusion? Check this out.” He texted a picture of the whiteboard to his colleague and one-time mentor. Then he had to hold the phone at arms’ length because of the volume of the screaming on the other end.

    Seven hours later, he stood in a lecture hall at Oxford in London, after hours, surrounded by at least a dozen of the world’s leading experts in various fields of science. “Gentlemen,” Raymond explained, “I think we can safely say that I’ve become a lot smarter. The question is, why?”

    “Let me tell you something,” a gray-haired scientist said. “I sent this to a friend of mine, and he had to be hospitalized after he fainted and hit his head on his bathroom sink. This is…” he let out a gasp of a laugh in surprise, “a fucking magic trick.”

    “Putting it mildly,” another colleague said. “Most of the people I talked to about this said it would require sci-fi level artificial intelligence to finish these.”

    “You’ve single-handedly moved at least eight fields of science ahead fifty years, Doctor Weiss,” Doctor Weatherford said, “and that was just the stuff you showed me.”

    “We’ve already seen rumors of people who can catch fire at will without burning,” Raymond explained, “and even though there’s no news media confirmation yet, there’s a viral video of a guy in India standing in front of a freight train and healing before the train even finished passing over him.” He brought up on the projector every video or image rumor he could find. The news agencies were staying uncharacteristically cautious about their reporting. “I don’t think this is religious bullshit or anything like that. I believe we’re witnessing selective alterations to the laws of physics.”

    “This could be a mass hallucination,” Doctor Weatherford offered.

    Raymond pointed at him. “You’re right!” he admitted. “I absolutely thought of that. But think about what that would mean.” He pointed at his palm for effect. “Let’s see. For years I seemed smart, but not smart enough for this,” he gestured at a stack of print-outs, “and then suddenly, one night, I produce work so revolutionary that it would easily put me in the same category as Newton and Einstein.”

    Several scientists folded their arms. “Difficult to imagine,” one said, “but not impossible.”

    “I’ll freely admit it could be bullshit,” Raymond said. “As a scientist I have to concede the possibility. But you, Charlie,” he gestured at his Canadian colleague, “you’re the optical expert. You tell me what those lights were caused by.”

    Charlie pondered it. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But you’re talking about magic.”

    “It could be science from another universe,” Raymond said. “Or, other dimensional physics leaking into our universe. In any case, it behaves like science. You turn your car’s ignition key, you don’t cause a random effect each time. You get a specific result each time as long as the damn thing’s working right.”

    “Ray,” A younger scientist said. They looked at him. He pointed a remote at the projector and changed it to a TV news station.

    The news was reporting multiple videos of one of the guys that could cover their body in flame at will and not get hurt. The man in India with amazing healing appeared next, as he was attracting a religious congregation.

    “If this is a mass hallucination,” Raymond said, “it’s the biggest, most dramatic mass hysteria in history.”

    “What do you recommend?” Doctor Weatherford asked.

    “Put any project aside that isn’t of the utmost importance,” Raymond said, “and start studying this.”

    “Ok, that’s a good idea,” Doctor Weatherford replied. “I’ll get in touch with everyone I know.”

    “Thank you,” Raymond said.

    The next few weeks passed by in a whirlwind of activity. Several universities across the globe put him on jets and flew him to various corners where people kept developing superpowers. He fought the urge to scream out of either joy or terror at the thought of his discoveries. The patterns kept leading him in the direction of other dimensional existences, but even with his incredible new intellect, the truth lay just beyond his reach.

    “Are you sure this is the way?” Alan said, holding the scanner up.

    “I’m sure,” Raymond replied. “We can detect certain distortions that signal different abilities.” He pushed his way through dense rainforest, hacking away with the machete as his boots crunched down on foliage. “There’s a radio distortion zone in the middle of this jungle here, and we’re sure to find our guy there.”

    “I just hope he’s friendly,” Alan replied.

    The foliage gave way to an open area, where the ground had been cleared and leveled and a hut sat in the middle of a circular area a third of a kilometer in diameter. They stepped close to the edge of the dense jungle and saw that the bumpy floor became smooth and clear precisely at a point along the circle, almost as if cut by a razor. “Here goes nothing,” Raymond said, pushing a hand outward.

    The air became a solid wall at the beginning of the circle. A transparent wall bristled with light near the point where his hand rested on the solid surface. “My God,” Alan swore, looking on.

    “What is your business?” a heavily accented voice projected out of the forcefield in front of them.

    “I just want to help understand the science behind the powers that are appearing,” Raymond replied.

    The forcefield pushed inward. “Step in,” the voice said. Both scientists stepped into the indentation. The bubble expanded inward, pinching off the outer wall and encasing them in a bubble. “Come on.” They stepped forward, nervously taking slow steps, as the bubble followed as they walked closer to the hut. The wooden structure more closely resembled a house in a western American suburb than a jungle hideaway, but they came to the door and their bubble adjusted size to avoid damaging it.

    Inside, the wooden floor remained clean as they realized they stood on more forcefields, these just millimeters thick, and they made their way to the center room. The well-lit, rustic interior belied the exotic location. They saw a man, white with a tan, lounging in a loveseat. He took a drink of his beer and gestured to the couch opposite him. “This is amazing,” Alan said. “I mean, how did you pull this off?”

    “It’s not difficult,” The man said. “After all, I discovered I could make forcefields of any shape, and even make them impossibly sharp, so it really only took time.” He leaned forward. “Name’s Ricardo.”

    “Ray Weiss,” Raymond said, shaking the man’s hand.

    “So, you’re a scientist?” Ricardo asked. He gave a hint of a chuckle. “I wondered when the eggheads would come out to take a look under the hood.”

    Raymond returned the laugh with a smile. “I figured,” he began, “you know, if we’re not all going crazy in the biggest hallucination ever, there’s got to be a rational explanation.”

    “Hey, I get that,” Ricardo replied. He got up to get drinks from the kitchen. “I went out here to get away from the religious nuts that started showing up. The villagers leave me alone except to trade for supplies, so, I’m eager to get the word out there just like you are.” He returned and handed sodas to his guests. “I don’t have to give you any blood, do I?”

    “No,” Alan said. “We’re just here to study the way you affect things around you.”

    Raymond took his backpack off and removed from it a collection of various instruments and power cells. “I’m mostly interested in how these things that seemingly violate the known laws of physics interact with the known laws of physics.”

    Ricardo looked at each device curiously. “Those don’t look like normal devices,” he commented.

    “They’re not,” Raymond said. “I’ve had to modify them given theories we’ve developed recently that are not even all published yet. I’ve discovered there are types of interactions and particles that don’t correspond to what we’ve known before.”

    Ricardo shook his head. “Dumb-person speak, please,” he joked.

    Raymond thought a moment. “According to the Standard Model of particle physics,” he explained, “Prior to the Lights in the sky, we knew every particle that is relevant to most people’s daily lives.” He paused for effect. “Not every particle, mind you, just every one that matters to ninety-nine percent of people’s daily lives. Before, if you wanted to have a new particle, say, to cause spoons to bend from you thinking about it, it would be impossible, because if such a thing existed, we would have known about it.”

    Ricardo thought about it. “So,” he ventured, “we’d have made it in some particle accelerator?”

    “Exactly,” Raymond replied. “Now, though, they’re reporting new particles in particle accelerators, and some of them are radically different than anything we’ve seen before.”

    “So,” Ricardo thought out loud, “What does that mean?”

    “There appear to be things entering our universe that can selectively effect the known laws of physics.” He continued setting up his equipment.

    “Good lord,” Ricardo replied.

    “You don’t know the half of it,” Alan shot back. “We’ve been to eight different countries and seen about a dozen different patterns depending on the superpower itself. There’s repetition but often we find a new pattern.”

    “Either way,” Raymond said, “if this is magic it behaves like a science. There are patterns to figure out.”

    “Which means the religious nuts are wrong again,” Ricardo said.

    “Once again, the religious nuts are wrong,” Raymond confirmed. He removed several devices, each one about the size of a toaster, and connected to a central large box. “If you could, I would appreciate you setting up a forcefield around yourself that I can attach these to.”

    Ricardo surrounded himself in a bubble that had small projections which served as stoppers to prevent the devices from sliding off. Raymond placed each one in its specific spot and turned the large center box on, attaching a cable from it to a tablet.

    Alan looked at the readings. “I’m not as up-to-date on this as you are,” he mused, “is this a new type?”

    “Kind of,” Raymond said, giving the readings a cursory look. “We’re going to have to run this through the computer, but I think we’ve got aspects of multiple types here, as well as a little bit of new.”

    Alan glanced back and forth between the tablet and Raymond. “So, we’ve got confirmation that there’s overlap?”

    “Nothing’s confirmed until it can be replicated,” Raymond reminded, “but yeah.” He shook his head. “Wow, I mean, we’ve just barely got the equipment made to study this shit. I can’t wait until we can figure out a way to make this easier.”

    “Doc, didn’t you want to record a conversation?” Alan asked.

    “Oh, right!” Raymond exclaimed as the readings recorded to a portable hard drive. He got out the microphone and attached it to the camera Alan was setting up. “I hope you don’t mind.”

    “Nope,” Ricardo said.

    They had a chat about the lights in the sky. It turned out Ricardo had been living in Mexico, teaching English at the university when he’d discovered, one evening, that he couldn’t get out of his bedroom because an invisible wall was blocking him. After an hour of panicking, he discovered a kind of switch in his mind that could turn off the wall. A few days later he could make the walls into any shape he wanted, any size he wanted, and quickly he realized he had the power of force fields. The local community had taken to religious superstition, so he took the money he’d saved and moved to South America, deep into the jungle and used his talents to isolate himself. He’d found a nice living, using his powers to extract resources from the jungle and to trade with nearby cities.

    “You don’t miss the urban life?” Alan asked.

    “Sometimes,” Ricardo answered. “I just wanted to be left alone. It’s nice and peaceful out here. Did you know the force fields stay up when I’m asleep?” He reclined in his seat. “I’ve got this whole place in a dome, a third of a kilometer from end to end. So long as I’m careful to let the air circulate, I’m perfectly safe. There’s even one on the ground to keep the bugs out. It’s nice out here.”

    “And if you go exploring the jungle,” Raymond extrapolated, “you can take a forcefield with you.”

    Ricardo pointed. “That’s true.” He took a drink.

    Alan checked his watch. “Hey, Doc? We have to get going,” he reminded. “If we’re going to make it to camp before night fall.”

    Raymond smiled and extended his hand. “It was a pleasure,” he said.

    “Pleasure,” Ricardo said, shaking it. “Hey, if you want, I can give you an easy way out of the jungle. Which way did you come from?”

    “From the northeast…” Raymond began.

    “Got it now,” Ricardo said, focusing. He saw the looks on their faces. “I can see and hear with my force fields as light and sound pass through them, if I don’t filter it out, that is.”

    Alan almost gasped. “Amazing.”

    Raymond thought about it. “So, that’s why you weren’t afraid of us?” he thought out loud. “You saw us coming?”

    “From quite a ways away,” Ricardo said.

    “See you,” Alan said, amazed.

    They headed for the exit, and saw that, outside, there was a force field in the shape of a staircase leading up above the jungle canopy. It connected to a transparent covered walkway leading all the way back to their camp. “You seeing this?” Raymond said.

    “Still working on believing,” Alan replied.

    After almost an hour of walking, they were back at camp. The walkway and staircase down vanished as soon as they set foot on firm ground. The flat grass that marked the area just before the beginning of the jungle and the edge of the village encampment gave them a sense of relief. Their local guide ran up to them. “Gentlemen!” he shouted. “There’s an American agent looking for you!”

    Raymond and Alan shared a glance. “An agent? What kind?” Raymond asked.

    “Never mind that,” Sam said, power walking towards them. “I’ve come here as quickly as I can. I heard about you. You’re the scientist making waves by trying to figure this stuff out?”

    Raymond looked the grizzled old man up and down. The white, perfectly combed hair contradicted the uneven scars time and years of painful detective work had left on his face. He wore a dress shirt and khakis, exactly the wrong type of clothing to wear in this environment. He really had come straight here from somewhere. Everything from his posture to his body language told of a short fuse. “I am,” Raymond said.

    “Sam Louis,” Sam said, “FBI. My friend and subordinate is working on a case involving an ever-expanding collection of disjointed chaos.” He took a breath. “Okay, here’s my deal: you’re going to come with me, help us deal with a massive problem, help some powered allies of ours, and get paid for doing it.” He saw a nervous look on the scientist’s subordinate’s face. “And we won’t even confiscate your work. Look, I’ll explain everything in the car.”

    “Where are we going?” Raymond asked.

    “We’re taking a forty-five-minute drive to the airport and catching a flight to Washington D.C.,” he explained. “You’re in on the ground floor of the biggest event of yours, or possibly, anyone’s life.”
     
    Biigoh likes this.
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter Eight
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER EIGHT​



    I.​




    “You see,” Raymond explained, “after I was brought back here, I got set up with a lab. The first thing I was going to figure out was how powers worked.” He led them out of the room and across the hall into another. Even with her enhanced intellect, Jennifer could barely grasp what some of the metallic shapes and panels were for. He saw her gaping stare. “I built most of these myself. You see, we’re dealing with types of detection that don’t involve anything we’re aware of.”

    “Not electromagnetic?” she asked.

    “It affects electromagnetic radiation,” he explained, “but not directly, and not in the same way each time.”

    “How is that possible?”

    “Like this,” he said, pulling down the whiteboard. He grabbed a marker. “Imagine for a moment that you had an alien race who somehow couldn’t tell that fire existed.” He drew a campfire and a pig roasting over it. “They know if they strike certain rocks together over dry wood soaked in accelerant, it allows them to cook the meat somehow, they just can’t tell the fire is there.”

    “Ok,” Jericho said, arms folded.

    “They can look at the meat and see it’s cooking,” Raymond said, pointing at the drawing of the pig. “So, they know something is happening, but they can’t tell there is a fire there.”

    “Couldn’t they just put their hand in the fire and find out?” Jennifer asked.

    “They could,” Raymond said, “but that would only be more indirect evidence, because they still can’t detect it directly.”

    “I see,” Jericho interjected. “We’re blind to this…stuff…whatever it is, and we can only tell it’s there by looking at what it does to stuff we can see.”

    “Right!” Raymond said, snapping his fingers. “Anyway, what that means is, I firmly believe we’re swimming in a sea of either new particles around us, or even new things besides particles and waves. I believe I can build a device capable of detecting it directly, but the problem is, how do you build something to find something utterly unlike anything in our universe?”

    “It’d be like an alien race that can’t see fire building a machine to detect the presence of fire,” Jennifer said.

    “So,” Jericho commented, “how do you do it?”

    “I’ve been worrying about that for a while now,” Raymond said. “Honestly, it’s incredibly complicated.”

    Davis Wilson stepped forward. “Anyway, explain the whole ‘powers are real now’ thing to us,” he said.

    Raymond took a deep breath and let it out. “Alright, if I lose you, please stop me and ask questions,” he said. “Okay?” They nodded. “Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together, based on the incomplete information available to me from my partially working new technology.” He activated the overhead display screen and attached a laptop to it. The screen showed a graph of various colors streaking out of a point high above the Earth and spreading all over the globe. “This is an image I got a number of radio telescopes to take. It’s based on these particles having effects in our reality even if we can’t perceive them directly. Sort of like the aliens that see the meat cooking but can’t see the fire.”

    “What’s that?” Jennifer said, pointing to the position on the screen where the colored streaks originated.

    “I would presume that is where the Lights came from,” Raymond explained. “You see, I believe that a hole in our universe opened up and some other reality, and something is pouring out that causes specific changes to the laws of physics. How this works,” he shrugged with his hands, “I hope to find out. Right now, though, I can only speculate.”

    “So,” Sam said, “magic.”

    “It may seem that way,” Raymond replied, “and it might be, from a practical point of view, but it is remarkably like a science. Powers follow rules. For example, Jericho, when you copy a power, explain how it works.”

    Jericho blinked a moment at being put on the spot. “Ok, um,” he said, “well, I touch someone, and if I activate my power at that moment, I see the moment they first tested their power and can copy their knowledge of how to use it along with the power itself. It appears in my mind as a separate trigger next to all the others.”

    “See?” Raymond said, gesturing. “It works the same way every time. Very predictable. If it were truly supernatural, it wouldn’t be possible to get a predictable result. The fact that it obeys rules tells me a lot about what we’re witnessing. It may be beyond our current ability to understand—maybe—but it isn’t unexplainable.”

    “I get it,” Jennifer said. “These things can’t just up and do anything at any time, because they’re not random.”

    “In other words,” Davis added, “it’s not just hand-wavy nonsense. There’s a mechanism behind it.”

    “You got it!” Raymond said, snapping his fingers again. “That’s the point. I believe, contrary to our pastor who’s going around causing all sorts of harm with his fake Jesus, this isn’t a miracle; in other words, they might not follow our laws of physics, but there are laws of physics that do govern them.”

    “So,” Jericho said, “let’s get to the point. What can we do against this fake Jesus? Jack Hurst is clearly, in some way, responsible for this being’s existence.”

    “I believe he’s got the power to summon things into being,” Raymond said. “Powers have been around for months now, and we haven’t seen anyone able to turn into something they imagine, the way you can.” He motioned at Jennifer. “I think certain powers are hierarchical. Otherwise, such a powerful ability would be more common. With over a billion Christians in the world, how is this random pastor from a nowhere church in Oklahoma the first one to have Jesus with him? I’d imagine he’s the first to gain summoning powers of this level.”

    “Bastard was able not only to negate my abilities,” Jericho commented, “but I almost died from this heat and light attack he hit me with.”

    “Exactly,” Raymond pointed out. “Any other details?”

    Jericho thought about it. “He was able to stop me from copying his ability or even seeing him test it.”

    “Fascinating,” Raymond acknowledged. “So, I think it’s safe to say that there is some kind of hierarchy because he interfered with you. Jennifer, what about you?”

    “I have a better idea,” Jennifer said, turning to Jericho. “Let’s all combine experiences.” She held out her hands. “Everyone. Come on.” On her right, Davis and his supervisor formed a half circle, and Raymond and Jericho completed it.

    “Ready?” Jericho said. “This may seem a bit weird.”

    “These experiences won’t interfere with each other?” Sam asked.

    “No,” Jericho said, shaking his head. “With a bit of intelligence enhancement, you’ll be able to process all of them separately in seconds. Ready?”

    Nervously, everyone nodded. Jericho pulled the triggers for enhanced intellect as well as empathic projection. Instantly, all five of them plunged into the memories of all the other members of the circle. A lifetime of experiences for each flashed before their eyes. Each one had an intricate understanding of all the others.

    “There we go,” Jericho said. “I’m getting more and more used to it. I figured out how to exclude personal details like credit card numbers, social security numbers, et cetera, pretty early, and now I’m working on how to seamlessly transition more effectively.”

    “Wow,” Sam said, stepping back, brushing white hair out of his eyes from his startled head jerking as he stepped. “Was I really that much of a hard-ass when you were in academy?”

    “Eh, well,” Davis said, sheepishly, “I think you know I got used to it.”

    “So,” Raymond cut in, “I think I got a huge amount of important info just from you two.” He stepped back and took a deep breath, brushing his hands over his face. A thought startled him. “Oh, Jericho! I know you’ve got a ‘make people smarter’ power that you used on us just now, but based on what I’ve seen, it’s a bit lesser than the ‘super-intelligence’ power I’ve got. So copy that one, and give it to everyone here, if you would.”

    “Whoa, there,” Davis cut in, “don’t you think that’s a bit risky?”

    “I think we can trust each other,” Jennifer said. “After all, Jericho here is a billionaire. If anyone was going to turn evil, it would be him. Besides, he used to be an Objectivist.”

    He shot her a look. “Come on,” he protested. “I’ve spent the better part of months getting inside other people’s memories. I’ve got less a reason to ‘turn evil,’ as you put it, than anyone here.”

    She gently knuckled him in the shoulder. “I’m just teasing you,” she admitted.

    Jericho rolled his eyes and shook Raymond’s hand, copying his mind power. One by one, he touched the other three, and gave them the ability. “Good lord,” Sam said. He didn’t have to say anything else. He felt smarter.

    “I think I know how to help you get your technology off the ground,” Jennifer said. “We’re going to have to be combine my energy manipulation with several others. Jericho, do you have any kind of technology manipulation?”

    He quickly went through his collection of abilities. “Not directly,” he admitted. “I do have the ability to manipulate things on a microscopic scale.”

    “That might work,” Davis said, cutting in. “I think I can see what you’re going for. We have to be able to see what we’re being powered by; the aliens have to be able to see the fire.”

    Jennifer gave her the thumbs-up. “Right!” she cheered.

    “So, we should probably start with the edge of what quantum physics knows,” Jericho cut in. “Once we know how the powers are able to manipulate the laws of physics, we should be better equipped to take on Jack Hurst and his fake Jesus.”

    “Let’s get to work,” Jennifer said.

    II.​




    Jack Hurst had spent days in New York, tending to the sick and injured, as well as preaching to those who would accept. One by one, the law enforcement had accepted their lord and savior.

    “We found another sinner, oh Lord,” an officer said, bringing a young man up to the pedestal.

    The man had scuff marks on his arms and legs where he’d put up a fight. Dried scabs marked the struggles. The Lord stepped forward and placed his hands on the man’s shoulders, and the wounds healed. “My son,” He spoke, “we both know why you’ve been brought here.”

    The man lifted his left forearm and wiped red, soaked eyes. “Please don’t kill me,” he pleaded.

    “My son, I want nothing more than your salvation,” He replied. “The problem is, I need you to renounce your sin and accept the will of the Father.”

    “But,” the man begged, “my boyfriend…”

    The Lord shook his head. “No, my child,” he chided, “you will not lie with another man in lust. Thus is not the way of the Father. You will sin no more. If you choose the sin over the love of the Father…” He held his right hand to the side, which began to glow white hot, “then the path that sin leads to is clear.”

    “Oh, no, no…” the man begged, nearly choking on his tears.

    “Your time is up,” He replied. “You must choose.”

    Forgive me, my love,
    he thought. I want to live. He lifted his head, and dropped to one knee. “I submit my soul to the Lord and Savior,” he said. “I beg for my forgiveness.”

    The Lord held his hands to the man’s head. “Do you choose to serve Our Father with all the love in your heart?” He asked.

    “Yes, I do,” the man replied.

    “Then, you are forgiven,” the Lord spoke. “Take your place among the faithful.”

    One officer turned to his Lord. “But, my Lord!” he argued. “I thought…!”

    “You thought he would refuse me," The Lord answered. “What you thought was that you would see a homosexual killed before your very eyes. I warn you, child, though I do not hesitate to cast the sinners into the lake of fire, I do not do so blindly. And I offer redemption first.”

    The officer quickly bowed. “Yes, my Lord!” he shouted. “Forgive me!”

    “You are forgiven,” The Lord said. He hovered high above the huge congregation. “All of you! Go forth and spread the word! If you have faith, you too can perform any of the miracles I do!” A glow passed from him gently over the heads of everyone in the crowd. “But be warned: I can see each of your hearts. Misuse will not be tolerated. Punishment will be swift.”

    “My Lord, what is your will?” Jack said.

    “Come,” He spoke to his servant. “We have other places to go to.” He lifted his servant up into the sky next to him. He addressed the crowd. “Any who will submit to the Father’s will, accept into our ranks. Any who defies, cast them out as I have done to the sinners.” The two of them flew away.

    “My Lord,” Jack said, as his Lord pulled him along, “why do so many choose to die when confronted with the possibility of eternal life and eternal love, from the Father, God in Heaven?”

    The Lord pondered this. “I would say,” He said, “that they are so set in their ways that they cannot contemplate the possibility presented before their very eyes. True love has been denied them so long they think it ill."

    “What of the ones that call us evil for taking lives?”

    The Lord gave a slight chuckle. “My child,” He replied, “the power of the Deceiver, Satan, is such that any who refuse the love of God the Father at this stage cannot be trusted. There is no other course of action.”

    “Truly, you are wise, my Lord,” Jack said.

    “No,” The Lord corrected. “Only God is wise. I am merely repeating His wisdom here on Earth.”

    Jack seemed to accept this. “Where are we headed now?”

    The Lord looked east a moment. “Quick, down here,” he ordered.

    They landed in a wide-open area of plains. Other than the occasional tree, and a lot of grass, there was nothing around for miles. Jack looked around in confusion. “Where are we?”

    “Somewhere far away from people, just like they want it,” The Lord said. An angry sneer came across his face. “The foolish kings believe they are taking good and decisive action.” He pointed.

    Jack looked in the direction, squinted, and used his hands to block the sun from his eyes. He saw a glint off in the distance. The Lord placed a hand on him, and allowed him to see with divine eyes. Jack’s jaw dropped and his heart raced. “Oh, my God,” he swore. Sweat began to bead on his brow. He put a hand to his mouth. “Is that, a nuclear missile!”

    “Do not fear,” The Lord said, “for you will now witness the power of the Father at play.”

    “Is that why you took me away from the crowd?” Jack asked.

    “Shh,” The Lord said. “Just watch.”

    The sky lit up with a flash. Jack threw his head to the right and shielded his face with his arms. He began to scream, but the pain never came. He risked a glance, and saw the light didn’t blind or scorch, as it should have. The explosion had been contained within an orb. It shrank as the Lord closed his fists and popped out of existence with no dramatic moment whatsoever. “That’s the power of God!” Jack announced, pumping his fist.

    “That means the nations of man have taken up arms against us,” The Lord said. “What we do next will be the turning point of our conquest of evil.”

    “What will we do, my Lord?” Jack asked.

    “We show the power of God to the would-be kings of the world,” The Lord said.

    After a short flight, the two of them landed at the entrance to the United Nations building. Two security guards drew their firearms and were ash before they could get the first shot off. Jack walked slightly to the left of his Lord and savior, and the entrance flew open as they walked past screaming people in business suits. More security came running and men in S.W.A.T. gear filled the hallways. The two came to a stop.

    “Freeze!” a man at the front of the riot gear announced, drawing his semi-automatic rifle at them. “You won’t get any further! Surrender now!”

    “Any who lays down his arms shall be forgiven for taking up arms against the Lord,” He announced.

    “You won’t be given another chance,” Jack added.

    “Open fire!” the man at the front shouted.

    “Fools,” Jack said. The Lord simply gestured forward and a light engulfed the S.W.A.T. commander and reduced him to a pile of ash instantly. The hall became a cacophony of shots fired and explosions. The bullets simply stopped in midair and fell harmlessly to the ground before hitting. Pulses of light emerged from the ground, and one by one, the men burnt to nothing.

    At last, there were two. “My children,” the Lord said, “I do not wish for any more of you to die. If you persist in opposing me, you will leave me with no choice.”

    One of the two officers threw his weapon aside. “I won’t help you, murderer,” he said.

    “Then stand aside,” Jack said, “and no harm will come to you.” The officer stepped aside.

    “I can’t let you walk on,” his coworker said, lifting his rifle.

    The Lord stepped forth and placed the barrel against his chest. “This is your last chance to be forgiven,” He advised. “Do not pull that trigger if you want to receive the Kingdom of Heaven.”

    The officer pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

    The Lord closed his eyes a moment. “Father, they know not what they do,” He said. When he opened his eyes, the man vanished in a burst of light. “Come, Jack. Our opposition is gone.”

    They stepped forward, down a series of elaborate hallways, decorated with all manner of national flags and pictures of world leaders. The last two security guards at the entrance to the large hall posed no threat whatsoever. The door burst open and the clamor of shouts and cries went dead silent in an instant. As Jack walked, trailing behind his Lord, whose bright robes moved with each step, they took in the sight of the men who ruled the world.

    “Normally,” Jack said, stepping up to the podium as the President of the United States stepped aside. “I’d be giving a grand speech. However, I believe my Lord—your Lord—can say it better than I can.”

    The Lord walked, his voice amplified by power and magically translated for all to understand. He took in the sights as he glared at specific individuals. “The time of Judgment is at hand,” He explained. “I was willing to be slow and methodical in my approach of bringing about the end of the forces of Satan and evil. Unfortunately, your rash call to action has forced my hand.”

    He paced in front of the European nations. “My Father, your God on high, has tasked me with bringing about the final victory against evil. What has transpired has been the appearance of supernatural abilities into the world. These are not the works of either my Father, or of the Deceiver. Thus, I have been attempting to gather them in service of goodness on high. What I have seen transpire, however, has been the forces of secularism and a drive towards individual rebellion against the Father, push men to believe these are instruments they should use for their own ends. This ends now.”

    He slammed a hand on the desk of France. “A demonstration of the fact that God the Father reigns supreme over any supernatural power must be made to rally the faithful. Who was the first to raise their hand and authorize a nuclear strike on my servant and I?”

    The room went deathly quiet. He stomped his foot and the sound of thunder clapped throughout the room. “WHO?” His voice boomed and everyone felt it in their chest. He scanned the room. No hands went up, no faces nodded. “Very well, then. I shall pick someone at random and they shall experience what it means to suffer.” He held up a hand in the direction of the delegate from Hungary.

    “WAIT!”

    Everyone turned in the direction of the voice. It was the delegate from India. He stood up and held his hand high. “Please,” he begged. “Spare everyone else here. Punish me.”

    The Lord approached. “My child,” he said, holding out welcoming hands. “I will not punish you. Unfortunately, your kingdom has a great many heathens in it, and I fear a demonstration must be made.”

    “NO! PLEASE!” he shouted, collapsing to his knees.

    A bodyguard for the Italian delegate attempted to rush the Lord as he strolled down the aisle. The Lord, however, merely lifted his left hand and an invisible force threw the guard into and over several tables, to collapse in a broken heap against the far wall. “There are tens of millions of loyal faithful in your nation,” The Lord spoke. “They shall be spared.” He stepped into the center of the room, placed his hands together, and looked skyward.




    Thousands of miles away, at the Pakistani border with India, a blue light travelled along the ground, heading in both directions, marking the boundary between the two nations. The Pakistani guard stared in confusion as the light snaked in different directions.

    Millions of people across India saw a blue glow overtake certain people and engulf them like a raincoat made of semi-translucent light. The people not covered reacted with panic and confusion as they discovered they could not touch their comrades through the light. The engulfed found they were unimpeded by their surrounding glow. They could breathe and move about, and the confusion only grew.

    An airplane flying over India caught a glimpse of an impossibility. From the horizon on one side to the other, a blue light travelled upwards from the ground to connect in the shape of a dome. Just a few hundred feet below the plane’s cruising altitude, the passengers could see the translucent blue light form a bubble over the entire nation, as far as they could see.

    Many millions of animals didn’t even notice as a glow engulfed them. The plants, even less so. All the greenery and waterways of the country got surrounded by the light. The trees and grass all went about its business as if nothing had happened. People inside the protected wilderness areas found the barrier protecting the plants on the ground to be an impenetrable carpet they could not step into, marveling at or worrying about the semi-translucent floor they walked on.

    A bright sphere of red appeared in the center of the dome’s ceiling. People all across the nation looked up to see the faint red dot of light shining almost as bright as the sun. They stared in a mixture of disbelief and fear.

    It exploded, and the resulting inferno raced like a solar flare from one corner of the nation to another. Anyone caught in its path died with the scream still caught in their throat. Buildings became a fine vapor. The blast raced forward in all directions at hypersonic velocity, until every part of the interior not protected by barrier had been utterly destroyed. Ten minutes later, the commotion died down, replaced by utter silence.

    A magical light touched the ground, cooling its heat, as the barrier dropped, and millions of Christians emerged to an utter silence. Except for the sounds of the occasional footstep, and voice of a grieving person, no sound greeted them. There were no cars or buildings anymore. Tens of millions of survivors moved around in an utter daze as they took in the inhuman sight of barren countryside as far as they could see. Plants and animals were the only indication life existed at all. All industry, all trace of human civilization, and all culture had been eradicated. Much of the unprotected ground had been leveled by the force of the explosion.

    Despite the containment, the shockwave, unbounded by the dome, travelled invisibly through the Earth and was picked up on every major seismic reading device on the planet. Military satellites of several nations scrambled to get photos of the source of the disturbance.

    The CIA were the first to register the magnitude of the disaster. Anything not a plant or animal life, or any person not a Christian, had been reduced to atoms by the destructive wave. No electric lights lit up the sky there. India, as the world knew it, had been erased. The news made itself known to the world within minutes.



    In the U.N. conference room, a display screen hung behind them, and one of the aides, upon request, turned it to a news station covering the breaking news. Gasps, shouts, and swears echoed through the chamber as a torrent of noise shot back and forth between various members of the group. The Lord smacked his hands together and a sound of thunder roared through the chamber, rendering it silent. “As you can see,” he said, “the works of man have been laid to waste. Those who would not love my Father, your God in heaven, have been destroyed. Those who worshipped their God and kept his commandments have been spared the fate of the nonbeliever.”


    He stepped out from behind the podium. “For the love of god, what the fuck do you want?” the delegate from Ireland shouted.

    “I thought that was obvious,” The Lord replied. “Stop this pointless struggle against your Lord. Agree to serve your God on high and agree to place your military might behind the forces of good.” He motioned to his human ally. “Jack Hurst will provide assistance in this regard.”

    The camera crews that usually recorded these events zoomed in on the pastor standing behind the podium as the Lord gestured towards him. “There are a number of individuals that have been working in the name of the Deceiver,” he began. “Your orders are simple: locate anyone who has powers and determine if they will or will not serve the Lord. If not, they must be dealt with. If so, they join the ranks of the holy warriors tasked with defeating Satan.” He pulled up photos on his cell phone. He showed it to the assistant trembling by the computer, and she pulled up the Google image search on the screen. “This woman the media has been calling ‘Capacitor’ after the comic character she resembles, has been working with the enemy. Any who know her whereabouts and refuse to cooperate are to be destroyed. This man, the billionaire Jericho Torvalds, has actively attempted to sabotage our mission. Any allies they have must be destroyed. They even kidnapped my wife and children.”

    He gestured away from the screen and back to the Lord. “Do not underestimate Satan’s power,” he continued.

    “We are in the final stages of war against the Deceiver,” the Lord spoke. “Do not entertain foolish notions of opposing your God on high.” He motioned to the President of the United States, who he kept attached to a chair to prevent escape. “You will come with us.”

    “What do you want with me?” The President asked.

    “You are the leader of the most powerful kingdom,” The Lord spoke. “We need you for this to proceed.”

    III.​




    “Guys,” Davis Wilson said, running into the lab. “You’ve gotta see this.”

    He pulled up the news on a laptop. The top story was an invasion of the United Nations by their two most popular enemies. “Approximately an hour and forty-five minutes ago,” the female news anchor said, her voice audibly shaken, “the Mad Reverend and his Fake Jesus broke into the United Nations building and took the entire collection of delegates hostage after killing a number of armed guards.”

    “Oh, goddammit,” Jennifer said, clutching her fists.

    “Wait,” Davis added, “it gets worse.”

    “This came in response to a vote by the U.N. Security Council to launch a nuclear attack on the pair,” the newscaster said. “Utilizing an aerial bomber, the pair was tracked outside major metropolitan areas and attacked. It failed, however, as the being was able to defuse the bomb with powers.” The news anchor paused and swallowed hard, hand momentarily cupped over her mouth in shock. “Then…” She had to pause again. “Then, the Fake Jesus unleashed a superpowered attack that…has destroyed the nation of India.”

    Jericho gripped the table so hard the metal surface buckled under his powered grip. “Mother…fucker…” he uttered through teeth clenched.

    Jennifer blinked tears away. “We have to attack now,” she said.

    “A scan of the area has determined that, out of the over one billion people of India,” the anchor said, pausing to collect herself. “It seems less than thirty million survived. Speculation abounds that only the Christians were spared.”

    “We have to plan our attack,” Raymond said. “Let’s get this done and then you can be better equipped!”

    “As much as I’d love to fly over there,” Jericho said, “we’ve seen this before.” He clenched his fists. “Goddammit.”

    The news then played the statement Jack Hurst made before the delegation and the display of their pictures. “Well, he’s made a formal declaration of war,” Jennifer said. “We’re public enemy number one.”

    “So, what are y’all going to do next?” Sam asked.

    “What we’re going to do,” Jennifer said, “is get allies.”

    Jericho turned to her. “Your friends?”

    She nodded. “It’s a start.”
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter Nine
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER NINE




    I.


    “You know, if this were under any different circumstances,” John said, “This would be totally awesome.”

    The group looked at him and more than one had a forlorn expression on their face. “Yeah,” Jennifer said, “but we’re going to have to end this.”

    They had arrived moments earlier, and gotten Ed, Annie, and John away from their homes, and in amazing time. Jericho had several properties not listed as officially his, and this one sat in the middle of the woods somewhere between Missouri and Kansas. He’d set it up in the days after getting his powers. The entire team stood in the living room of the cabin and had spent the better part of two hours planning their attack. “The cameras and motion sensors Jericho helped me set up are working,” Davis said, checking the screens. “And so far, there’s no threat of attack. They don’t know where we are.”

    “Just got word,” Sam explained, “that the state police of Illinois decided to ignore the government’s official decree and comply with the Fake Jesus.”

    “Shit,” Jericho swore. “What happened?”

    Sam hung up his phone. “The secure line said that they invaded each of you guys’ homes with intent to turn you over to Jack Hurst.”

    Jennifer clenched her fists. “Damn them,” she swore. “So, we’re already seeing fractures within the government.”

    “We knew this would happen,” Annie argued, “the minute that the preacher took stage and made his announcement.”

    “Plus,” Ed added, “the whole world got to see this being’s power in action not once, but twice.

    “Yeah,” Jericho cut in, “he defeated us live on camera, and then destroyed an entire nation.”

    “What pisses me off is the government’s gonna buckle now that he got the President,” Sam said, folding his arms. “I spent my whole life working for the FBI and one thing we were taught was, you don’t just give in to terrorists.”

    “So, what’re we waiting for?” Annie said. “Let’s get to it!”

    “Right,” Jericho said, holding out his hands. “You three, touch hands and form a circle. That way, we all can see each other’s memories and get the best idea of what we’re going to do.”

    “Is it odd that a guy I used to make fun of for being on Fox News,” John joked, “is standing in front of me?”

    “No,” Jericho said, perfectly serious. “I used to be a hardcore objectivist. Literally inserting oneself into others’ shoes has a tendency to change one’s mind.” He touched hands.

    Without further hesitation, they formed a circle. Jericho saw each of their three pasts. They each saw each other’s pasts. “Whoa,” Ed said. “That’s fucking weird.”

    “I’m not getting used to that,” John said.

    “It’s strange, I know,” Jericho said. “But can we please focus?”

    “Alright,” Annie agreed.

    Jericho pondered using his enhanced intelligence. “I think the best thing to do would be to give each of you a number of regenerative powers, but in the end, you’re going to need the same power Jennifer’s got.”

    “You want us to turn into Capacitor?” Annie said.

    Jericho shook his head. “No,” he said. “Remember?”

    It came to her. “Oh! Right!” she exclaimed. “His power is to turn into one of his favorite characters.”

    “The Fake Jesus couldn’t just turn that one off,” Ed said, remembering what of Jericho’s memories he experienced.

    “Yeah,” John said, recalling it. “Why was that?”

    “I’ve gone over everything five times,” Raymond said, cutting in. “The more we go over it, the more I believe it’s true. These powers have a hierarchy.”

    “You mean, higher or lower?” Ed asked.

    “In a sense,” Raymond explained. “Based on the minor skirmishes between criminals that made news, we saw that many people have regeneration, but some people’s regeneration is able to heal from damage from powers faster than others.”

    “Right,” Davis interjected. “There was a fire guy in England who kept trying to torch people before the cops took him down. He managed to hurt three people with regeneration and one of them healed immediately, and the others over the course of a few hours.”

    “The Fake Jesus was able to simply turn my powers off,” Jericho said. “I could still use some of the abilities I copied, but I couldn’t use my duplicate ability at all, and his primary heat attack kept damaging me despite having multiple durability and regeneration powers activated.”

    “He hurt me,” Jennifer said, “but it was manageable at first, and he couldn’t transform me back into my male, powerless self.”

    “So,” John acknowledged, “our goal is to see if that carries over into us?”

    “Precisely,” Jericho said. “So, what I want you to do is imagine a character you are a big fan of, on par with Jennifer, and one that you would want to be.”

    Annie snapped her finger, realizing something. “That’s why you couldn’t turn it on,” she said. “You wouldn’t want to be anyone except you.”

    “Here we go,” Jericho said. He shook each one’s hand and granted them each the same set of powers. They stood pondering for a long minute and each one opened their eyes as they came to a decision. Annie stepped forward and clenched her fists. She pushed her heartrate down and calmed her nerves. With her breaths smoothing out, she activated the trigger in her mind.

    The switch pulled, her flesh and clothes morphed. The five-foot-six woman with Irish facial features transformed before their very eyes. She grew almost another foot taller in height and gained at least sixty pounds of muscle. Her hair hung down, now a long, black mane. Her tan and toned body stood as a tower of strength. Her facial features were like her normal ones but had a vaguely Egyptian look to them. Her green eyes were brown. The outfit she wore marked her warrior status. All three comic book fans recognized her character instantly.

    “Cyroya from First Breaker?” Ed almost shrieked. “Whoa, there’s a heavy hitter.”

    “I figured we needed power,” Annie said, pausing and gasping after she finished speaking. “I didn’t expect to sound so…”

    “Intense?” John said.

    Annie pointed. “Intense!” she said. “Right!”

    “That might just be powerful enough to make a difference,” Jennifer said. “Cyroya is the Goddess of Strength.”

    “Alright, my turn,” Ed said, slapping his face a few times to steel his will. He rolled his shoulders forward and danced his head back and forth, nervous. “Whew.” He let out his breath and flipped the switch. His body turned into a lean but toned man of a non-specific Asian facial appearance. He wore an elaborate, multi-layered kimono and had a katana holstered at his side. Wild green hair hung in clumpy whirls around his head. “What do you think?”

    “Kadosuke Otokada from Spirit Blood,” Annie said. She snapped her finger, pointing. “Smart!”

    “I had a number of people I was thinking about,” Ed said, “but honestly, I went with Kadosuke because he stopped an attack with the power of supernova with his soul sword.”

    “And,” Jennifer said, thinking, “he totally defeated the Anti-Dimension God. I’d say a good choice.”

    “I figured it out,” John said, stepping forward. He flipped the switch, and a moment later, before them stood a seventy-year-old man in a twenty-year-old body, toned and athletic, but not superhumanly strong or durable. His long brown hair hung past his shoulders and safety glasses adorned his face. He wore a white lab coat and dress shirt and slacks under it. “How’s this?”

    Annie folded her arms. “Doctor Anti?” she scoffed. “From the Dimension Turner novels?”

    “He has no powers,” Ed said, gesturing in confusion. “All he has is he’s really smart.”

    “No, wait,” Jennifer interrupted. “It might just be brilliant.” They turned to her.

    “Now that you mention it,” Jericho thought, “you might be right. You two went for sheer power. I like the way you did it, two very different characters with very different powers, but you both went for sheer power.”

    “The way I see it,” John said, “think of the villainous Doctor Anderson Antel, a.k.a. Doctor Anti. What did he do? He built a goddamn anti-reality cannon that destroyed the rogue dimensional hopper when the heroes couldn’t. He gave himself eternal youth and he’s built inventions that put most sci-fi to shame.”

    “The way I see it,” Jennifer added, “Raymond is our primary source of super-intelligence, but I believe this Fake Jesus might just be able to turn that power off.”

    “Makes sense,” Raymond agreed. “And if that’s the case, you need to be able to actually make up for the sudden loss.”

    “Point me at your work,” John said to Raymond, “and I’m sure you’ll have twice as much done in half the time.”

    “So that means we have to set up a new lab,” Raymond said.

    “Can’t do that,” Davis said, pointing to his boss.

    Sam shrugged. “FBI just cut our access,” he said. “We’re officially considered rogue agents because they know we’re helping you.”

    “Damn it,” Jericho swore.

    “Not a problem,” Jennifer said. “Doctor Anti’s more than smart enough to be able to build a better lab. Right, John?”

    He gave a thumbs-up. “I’m up for it!”





    II.




    Things had really picked up for Jack Hurst and his Lord and Savior. The reverend stood on a platform in a clearing just outside Washington D.C. There had been set up several hundred locations across the country for him to visit, and to each, crowds gathered. A military and police presence kept the angry ones away from the adoring and the sick. He preached as the infirm and ill lined up according to the instructions of armed guards.

    “The final battle against Satan’s forces is nearing every minute,” Jack preached, as his Lord spoke to people lined up. “Declare your love for your Lord, and confess your sins, and the gift of everlasting life will be yours!” Protestors stood just outside the long line of armed soldiers. Jack had arranged for those who would throw harsh words at their God, but would not directly confront their Lord, to be spared until the very end. “No need to punish them now when you can punish them all at the end,” he had argued. His Lord, surprisingly to him, had agreed.

    “Very well,” The Lord had spoken to Jack a few days prior, “I will punish only those who confront me or stand in our way.”

    Right now, the sick and dying came to their Lord, pledged their obedience, and His healing hand touched their bodies, and their wounds vanished. True to his word, any who pledged loyalty and agreed to serve found themselves returned to good health. A great many politicians had given their word and received the sacrament of healing. All opposition by the United States government had ceased. Several governments allied with the nation of India had threatened war against the U.S. if they did not reject what they perceived to be a false messiah, but the Lord promised to punish them if they did not back down. In the end, they agreed to not support but also to not oppose this “Jesus.”

    Jack finished a sermon and headed over to his Lord. “My Lord,” he said, as his Savior touched an old woman and made her diabetes-addled body healed. “I’m not complaining, but what’s your plan moving forward? You’ve kept it secret.”

    “Jack,” The Lord said, “I have agreed to your insistence that we minimize my doling out of judgments until our final victory, would you agree to my demand that we continue our current course until I insist otherwise?”

    “Oh, yes, my Lord!” Jack cried. “I would never challenge your authority.”

    “It is not my authority by which I make these proclamations,” The Lord spoke. “Only the Father in Heaven drives my actions.”

    “Yes! Of course!” Jack said. “Merely tell me of my next course of action!”

    “Next,” The Lord said, “you shall preach to the faithful in Europe. We depart in a few days.”

    Jack clapped his hands. “Great! I’ve been wondering about that,” he said. “What about translation?”

    The Lord nodded. “It will not be a problem,” he reminded.

    “Fantastic,” Jack stated. “What of our enemies? What are we going to do about them?”

    The Lord pondered this point. “Nothing,” he stated, flatly. “We don’t have to hunt them down; they will be coming to us.”

    “Is that the best plan?” Jack said. He clenched his teeth without parting his lips; he regretted his words the moment they exited his mouth.

    His Lord turned to him. “Why, you of little faith!” he exclaimed. “Did you not see their last performance against me? What little effect they had, it was as if a fly smacked into the backside of a camel!”

    “Forgive me, oh Lord,” Jack said. “I was just trying to be proactive.”

    His Lord pat him on the shoulder. “You have done well, my servant,” He spoke. He leaned in and whispered the itinerary into his servant’s ear. “Go forth and inform them of our plans.”

    “Yes, my Lord,” Jack agreed. He left the podium. The moment he moved, three armed soldiers immediately flanked him and led him away from the crowds. A group of soldiers formed a line and led him through to the secure area leading to the helicopter parked in the landing area. “Can you connect me to the White House?”

    “Yes, sir,” the soldier asked, his rosary visible around his neck. He reached inside the helicopter and opened a secure box requiring a passcode. He opened the briefcase and inside was a phone.

    “Thank you,” Jack said, lifting the receiver. “Mister President? We have our next series of locations in mind.” He waited for a response and got one. “We’re going to spend four days in London, six days in Berlin, and two days in Paris.” He waited for another response. “I appreciate your cooperation. We plan on making things peaceful, but yes, we do want an armed presence. We’re expecting resistance, but hopefully, no judgments have to be doled out.” A pause for conversation came. “No, we understand. Thank you!” He hung up and returned the briefcase. The soldier closed it.

    The guards led him back to the podium. “Have you taken care of it?”

    “We’ve got our armed escort into other countries,” Jack said. “Although, I don’t think we’ll need it.”

    “I don’t,” The Lord replied. “But you do. I can’t go losing you, after all, you are important to my mission.”

    “All I need is your protection, my Lord,” Jack stated.

    “And you shall have it,” The Lord spoke. “But it never hurts to be proactive.”

    Over the next few days, more superpowered beings came to Jack’s aid. His retinue had expanded by leaps and bounds. In addition to the thousands of armed supporters without powers, people fiercely dedicated to their Lord fought against any who stood in His way.

    In Atlanta, Georgia, they picked up a telekinetic named August Diedrich.

    It had been a warm sunny day, and the crowd had gathered, corralled into an audience area in an open area outside the city limits. As the Lord offered his wisdom and healing touch to those in need, volunteers stepped forward to offer their services.

    “My child,” The Lord spoke, “you have a power. Are you here to serve the Father in heaven?”

    The man got on one knee. “I am, my Lord!” he swore.

    “Your power is mind over matter, is it not?” He asked the young man.

    “Yes, my Lord!”

    The Lord nodded. “What is your name, child?”

    The young man looked up, then bowed his head again. “August Diedrich,” he said.

    “Your power shall serve the Father mightily when the final battle takes place,” The Lord said.

    “My Lord!” Jack said, finishing his preaching and heading over. “We’ve got a bigger crowd this time than last time!”

    The Lord turned to the city, then his servant. “Just a moment,” he said.

    “What? Oh…” Jack trailed off. He knew what was coming next. They were about to be attacked again.

    A pop sound could be heard, and everyone shouted and turned. The Lord held up two fingers at chest level, pointing up, and an energy bullet hovered in place inches from his head. The shot had come at him at relativistic speed. He examined the purplish ball of light before banishing it. “Come out and be judged,” He spoke, spreading his arms. “You’ve failed to harm me.”

    “They’re not coming out, Lord,” Jack advised.

    The Lord moved beside August and placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder. His power flowed through the man, and August felt power unlike anything he’d felt before. Instantly, he knew where the two main interlopers were. Understanding his Lord’s command at once, he waved his hands and his telekinesis dragged them out of the underground hideout they’d dug. He hovered them in front. The Lord stepped forth.

    “Why have you turned against your Lord?” He asked them.

    The man on the right said nothing, but his eyes twitched slightly, and an explosion went off near The Lord’s face. As the fireball vanished, and He stood unharmed, the man went to try it again, but nothing happened. The Lord stuck out his right hand and touched the man on the chest. A glow engulfed him and he vaporized in seconds. His scream abruptly cut off. The Lord turned to the other man.

    “You are not the Lord!” the man shouted. “The Lord I worship would never kill!”

    “I’ve killed no one,” The Lord spoke. “I’ve only judged fools who have refused to serve their Father in heaven.”

    “You’ll have to kill me!” the man shouted.

    “If that is what you desire,” The Lord replied. He reduced the man to dust instantly.

    Jack resisted the urge to turn away at the last moment. It hurt to have to endure these judgments, but it had been the task he’d been given. Each life taken bothered him, because these were people who deserved to receive the glory and mercy of God, and the only thing keeping them from doing so was the machinations of the Deceiver.

    Jack wiped his eyes. “When will we be venturing into China?” he asked.

    His Lord pondered the question. “Soon,” he advised. “It is a land of much superstition, and we will have quite the opposition on our hands.”

    Jack blinked a few times at the magnitude of the task mentioned. “I just hope we don’t have to do as big a judgment as we did to India,” he said.

    “What I did there,” The Lord declared, “was to show the world that the prior Kingdoms of Man will not stand in the way of my mission.”

    “I know,” Jack replied, “but it’s still weighing on my mind.”

    “It should,” The Lord advised. “It means you’ve still got your senses about you.”

    “Tell me about your Kingdom to come on Earth,” Jack said. “I want to be able to convey the glory to those in my preachings.”

    The Lord thought for a moment. “I do not wish to insult you,” he said, “but your words cannot convey the glory of my Father’s mercy and love that will reign through me upon this Earth. However, I will tell you this: all negativity and pain will be gone, replaced by joy and love.”

    Jack held his breath. He’d always known, but hearing it again allowed him to gather the strength to keep going. “Thank you, my Lord!” he exclaimed.

    “Let’s keep going,” The Lord advised.





    III.




    Jericho teleported the group into a jungle-like area. The average temperature seemed to be upwards of ninety degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity, according to Jennifer, had to be close to one hundred percent. “Where the hell are we now?” Annie asked.

    “An isolated area of the jungles of Vietnam,” Jericho said. “While I was gathering powers, I mapped a good portion of the more isolated regions of each nation I went to, using a combination of powers.” He thought back to his mental map. “We’re about a good two or three hundred kilometers away from the nearest anything.” He used a radar-like power in tandem with a sensory enhancement. “Yeah, the nearest person is a hundred fifty kilometers away from us. We’re invisible.”

    John, in his Doctor Anti form, pulled a handheld device out of his pocket and pressed a button. A huge portal opened, and a series of drones came out and cleared a section of the ground. After the ground was cleared, they leveled the terrain and a large robot brought a building the size of a mobile home out, setting it on a rapidly forming foundation on the cleared square of ground. After all this ended, the machines vanished inside the portal and it shut.

    Annie whistled. “Man,” she exclaimed. “If we survive this battle, you’re gonna win all the Nobel Prizes.”

    “If we survive this battle,” Jennifer said, “we’re going to solve all of humanity’s problems. Right, Jericho?”

    The billionaire turned to his ally. “I can’t believe I spent my whole life falling for that Ayn Rand horseshit,” he said, frustration in his voice. “But yeah, you’re right. We are.” He thought of his fellow billionaires. “In fact, we won’t give them a choice.”

    Raymond and John went back to work inside the lab area of the mobile base. “I’m utterly amazed at the fact that we’re so close to an actual theory of how this all works,” he said.

    John went over the results of the latest iteration of the scan device they invented. “Having the ability to alter the laws of physics on small scales is great,” John said. “Being able to use said alterations to discover the mechanisms of how they work, is even better.” He took a sip of coffee from a mug nearby. “Hey, I’m used to being an average geek. Being really smart is something else, I tell you!”

    Raymond half-laughed as he looked at the results. “I tell you,” he agreed. “I was, well, I suppose I was smart before,” he admitted. “But this, is beyond what I would have ever imagined. We might actually have a way to defeat him from the data we have here.”

    Jennifer walked in with Annie, in her Cyroya form. “What have you got for us?” Jennifer asked.

    Annie gestured at herself. “I mean, this is great and all,” she said, “but I don’t think the whole ‘Ancient Egypt’ attire is very battle ready.”

    John snapped a finger and pointed. “Gotcha just the thing you need!” he said.

    Raymond brought out a bodysuit that looked like a weird mix between cotton and spandex. “We analyzed how your transformed body changes its durability,” he explained, “and based on the effects that happen at the subatomic level, we’ve been able to focus that into a fabric. When you wear this, it’ll be the underneath layer, and it will focus your durability into not just the fabric, but the armor you’ll be wearing over it.”

    John reached under the table and pulled out some solid plate pieces. “The thing is,” he explained, “being able to change the laws of physics to a slight degree while still acting like it obeys ours is how we can have people burst into flame and still have their normal bodily functions.” He put a glove on her hand. It looked like an immobile, solid piece. “Now flex this.”

    She gave him a look. The glove looked like a hard, ceramic or metallic piece. She flexed it, though, and it moved like it was thin and made of latex. “Wow,” she said, clenching her fists. “How does it work?”

    “It draws upon your durability,” Raymond said, “while still functioning as a glove. These things work by being choosy about what laws of reality to obey.” He handed over the pieces. “Now, put all this on.”

    Annie took the complete set and left the room. About five minutes later, she emerged, in full costume. “You look like something out of a late eighties sci-fi movie,” Jennifer quipped.

    Annie flexed her arms and moved about. “It’s not intrusive at all!” she said. “Even though I’ve got a full helmet on my head, it’s as if I’m not wearing any headgear at all!”

    “Yeah,” John explained. “It’s designed to be see-through to your eyes, and filter poison out of the air around your face using the same abilities as your character’s lungs.”

    “Jennifer,” Raymond said, waving her over. “We’ve got you covered next.”

    “This I ought to see,” she said.

    He handed her a shirt and pants, which looked more like tights. Then, there were gloves that attached to the long sleeves. “I took into consideration how you said you didn’t want something overly flashy. So, it’s simple. Two pieces and gloves. That’s it,” John explained. “The gloves are designed to focus your energy manipulation into points where you can create effects based on what you’re doing. Electricity, heat, light, et cetera.”

    She slipped out of her outfit and into the new one faster than anyone could see. “Why’d you go with white?” she asked, examining.

    “I just figured we weren’t trying to be stealthy,” John replied. “When we go into battle, we’re going to make our presence known.”

    Jennifer pointed at Annie. “But hers is dark blue,” she pointed out.

    John shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess you just look like more of a ‘heroic’ type than she does.”

    Jennifer nodded. “Yeah, I guess that’s right.”

    Annie looked over. “What about you, Jericho?” she asked.

    Jericho nodded. “I’ve been giving ideas,” he said. “I don’t know if I want a battle suit, per se, but the one thing I did want was something to enhance my teleportation.”

    John snapped his fingers and pointed. “Got you!” he said. He reached into a box and pulled out a needle. “In here is a subdermal device that will do just that!”

    “Under the skin so I can protect it,” Jericho noticed. “Good job!”

    “I thought you’d like that!” As Jericho stepped forward, John pulled the syringe out and swabbed the site with an alcohol wipe. He carefully injected the device into the rich man’s arm. “See, there! That should help.”

    Jericho brought up his teleport power. In his mental map, his range now included the full extent of the Earth, and moreover, he saw the scene perfectly. “Works great!” he said. “Thank you.” He turned to Jennifer. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to take care of some things.”





    In a room chosen for its proximity to nowhere in particular, Jericho appeared out of thin air. A middle-aged blonde woman with gray peppering her hair, and a gentleman of similar age with glasses stood up, surprised. “Jericho!” the woman said.

    He nodded. “Mother,” Jericho replied. “Sorry about all of this. It seems I have to move you again.”

    “We’ve kept up with what’s been going on, son,” the man said. “Suzanne and I have been worried sick ever since the broadcast.”

    “It’s sick how that monster claims to be Jesus!” Suzanne shouted, interrupting. “Just…horrific!”

    “I know,” Jericho replied. “My allies have been working on solving that problem.” He turned to his father. “How’s Luther been?”

    Jericho’s brother, younger than he by five years, stepped out of the second room. His tussled black hair he attempted to hand comb into submission. He wore a basic white t-shirt and jeans, and his lanky frame and pale skin spoke of his lack of sleep. “I’m pulling through,” Luther replied. “I want to get out there and help you guys out!”

    Secretly, Jericho grit his teeth. He wanted to shout at his little brother to keep quiet and stay safe. What he knew, however, meant he didn’t have that luxury. In his parents’ case, he could insist they stay out of harm’s way, and he could keep moving them. Luther, however, could actually do something—he certainly wouldn’t be dissuaded—and that meant he had to be given a chance. “You know what?” Jericho said, conceding, and unclenching his fist. “You’re right.”

    Luther Torvalds shook his head. “Wait, what?” he cried. “You’re going to help me?”

    “You were the only one who pushed me on how bullshit the Ayn Rand stuff was,” Jericho said. “You were always the rambunctious one.” He extended his hand. “Take my hand.”

    Luther looked at the extended hand, cautiously, for a few seconds, then took it. Instantly, a multitude of superpowers entered him, and he experienced the memories of everything that had happened to Jericho up to that point. As he pulled away a second later, he had to stumble briefly to catch his bearings. “Wow,” he exclaimed. “That’s a rush.”

    “Now,” Jericho said, “all of you come with me.” They all joined hands in a circle, and he teleported them out of there.

    They reappeared in the portable base. “Wow, this is…” Jericho’s father Andrew struggled for words.

    “It’s like Star Trek,” Luther said, “only…” he gathered his thoughts, “less colorful.”

    “First thing’s first,” Jericho said. “Luther’s joining our excursion, which means we all share memories again. Join hands.” He took Luther’s hand and the crew formed a circle. And they dove into the memories of the younger brother.
     
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter Ten
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER TEN


    “Aww, Jer! You cheated!”

    A ten-year-old Luther Torvalds shouted his accusation at his older brother. He pushed his older brother and swiped at him. This really upset him, the fact that he couldn’t beat Jericho at any of their games. “Naw,” Jericho said, shaking his head. “I’m just better at it.”

    “That’s enough roughhousing,” Suzanne said, pulling them apart. “And you!” She turned her attention to the older brother. “Your little brother is trying! You don’t need to be so hard on him!”

    “Yeah! I can’t lose forever!” Luther cried.

    “Don’t worry about it,” Suzanne said, hoping to relieve some of his tension. “You’ll win at some point.”

    “Are we visiting my cousins this year?” Jericho asked.

    “I’m not sure yet, honey,” Suzanne said. “You’ve got distant siblings, but they don’t come by, so we won’t be going unless they pay for our side of the transportation.”

    “No point in flying us all out to New York just to visit the rich,” Andrew said, entering the room.

    They lived in a four room, two-story house in the suburbs outside Chicago. Both parents worked as university professors, and, although far removed from the wealth and privilege that Suzanne’s father had cut her off from, they made it. Jericho had snuck into his mother’s room and read her private musings on the subject. It struck him as odd that she, having been disinherited by the billionaire patriarch of the Torrell family, wasn’t worried about the connections missed and lost. If he had his way, Jericho would make sure to get what was his. That, he decided, was his plan. He would enter the world of his estranged grandfather and show him that he’d made a mistake.

    “Dinner’s almost ready,” Suzanne said, leading them back inside the house. “Better wash up and get ready.”

    Luther did exactly as planned, washing up and getting ready for dinner. He sat, and soon enough, turkey breast, and all his favorite fixings, were placed in front of him. “Looks great, mom!” he said.

    “Thanks for the dinner, mom,” Jericho said.

    They ate, the family quiet for the first half of the meal. Andrew and Suzanne sat, proud that their two boys could be quiet long enough to eat, and thankful that they weren’t too picky. She worried about how their upbringing would affect them. She tried to raise them as best she could, her father’s influence notwithstanding. She’d partied quite a lot. In her youth, she’d done quite a few things she wasn’t proud of. The newspapers had made an ordeal out of how she had gotten drunk in public more than once. She’d been the public face of the shame of the Torrell family more than once. Finally, her father had cut her off. That’d gotten her on the right path, and she made her own path in life. She desperately hoped some of her sense of recovery had filtered down to her sons. What she wanted, more than anything, was for them to succeed and avoid the pitfalls she’d made.

    Jericho had given her the greatest sense of relief. The boy took to hard work without complaint. He seemed hell-bent on getting as far up the ladder of success as fast as possible. He did chores well in advance, just so he didn’t have to worry about his little brother doing them wrong, and he having to be blamed. He read a grade level higher than he needed and got the grades his parents lauded. Their only complaint seemed to be his lack of empathy towards others, but they believed he would grow out of it. The boy himself had a million questions. “When am I going to meet grandpa?” he asked.

    The silence became a thick fog. The parents stared at each other a moment. “When I decide he’s worth seeing you,” Suzanne said.

    “I thought you said you didn’t hate him,” Luther cut in, repeating what he’d overheard.

    Suzanne shot him a look. “Your mother doesn’t hate him,” Andrew answered, reading the expression on her face. “But he’s not the kind of person we want around. He doesn’t care about anything except money.”

    The mother made a visible decision. “I once thought he was a monster because he ruined my chance at living it up in riches,” she said. She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I was a dumb twenty-something. Now I look back and it’s the best thing that happened to me. I learned that life is more than just having it all.”

    Luther felt his spirits raise. It was a sentiment he could get behind. Sure, there were games and other goodies he wanted, but even as a child he wanted to help people. The last thing he wanted was someone around who only cared about being able to buy things. What bothered him about Jericho was that his older brother’s selfishness. Sure, he looked up to his older brother, who always seemed to be able to get things done he couldn’t, but he never did anything to help anyone. It really upset him sometimes and he hated holding things inside.

    Jericho wanted to protest. But instead, he went back to his food. Soon enough, he would get out of this situation and make himself so rich he could prove to them you could have money and not be the kind of person who cares only about money. He didn’t quite know how he would do that, but he knew he wanted it, and that meant everything to him.

    “You boys will understand it someday,” Andrew said.

    An event took place not three weeks later, which set wheels in motion that Suzanne and Andrew wouldn’t have anticipated. Johann Torrell decided to show up. As the daughter of the billionaire tycoon stood agape in her doorway as the middle-aged man in the fifty-thousand-dollar suit had appeared right before her. She’d tried to keep her sons away from him because he would try and fill their heads with his corporate Wall Street nonsense. Even though she’d spent her youth living in luxury, she took pride in the fact that she had evolved as a person since then. His graying hair sat perfectly coiffed on his head, and he had his Rolex on his wrist. “Suzie,” he said, his slight German accent present. “It’s good to see you. I see you’ve landed on your feet.”

    A long breath escaped her nose. Skeptical eyes ran over him. “Father,” she said. A long moment passed, the silence hanging on the air. “What brings you here?”

    “We’ve only talked on the telephone,” her father said. “I understand the reluctance to see me, but I would appreciate the opportunity to see my grandchildren.”

    “I thought we discussed this,” Suzanne said. “I didn’t want you to just barge in. I know you’re used to seeing everything go your way, but I would’ve liked for us to discuss this first.”

    He gestured outward, looking more than a bit hurt. “How long do we have to talk about it before I can see my grandchildren?” he asked.

    “I’m not mad at you for cutting me loose, dad,” she admitted, preemptively. “In fact, I’m glad you did, looking back. I couldn’t see it back then, but I’m glad I didn’t stay in your world. Understand that I don’t want you dragging my children into yours.”

    He tilted his head just a fraction. “I wasn’t here to do that,” he chided, “and furthermore, that’s their decision, not yours.”

    “Grandpa?”

    Everyone turned at the sound of Luther’s voice. He’d never met the man in person, but he remembered faces well, and the pictures his mom had of this man told him this was his grandpa. He didn’t know what to expect—after all, mom wasn’t happy with him—but he did his best to hide that from his face.

    “You must be Luther!” Johann Torrell said, kneeling beside the ten-year-old. He ruffled the boy’s black hair. He hugged the boy.

    Suzanne watched her father hug her youngest son. The fact that he’d bothered to remember the boy’s name meant one of two things. Either he was trying to curry favor, or he was genuinely concerned. It hadn’t sold her on his arrival just yet, but it bought her points. This was a man who got people’s names wrong on purpose just to prove a point.

    “Hi, sir,” Luther said, still suspicious. The man looked like a comic book villain to him. His outfit had a whole bunch of layers. He could see the suit’s jacket on top, vest underneath, and a shirt underneath that. Didn’t that get hot and uncomfortable? Who wore that kind of outfit in normal sunny daytime? Furthermore, the man’s hair looked like the kind of people his dad made fun of after coming home from work.

    “Grandfather?” Jericho announced, running up at the sound of his little brother’s cry.

    The older man stood up straight after finishing hugging his youngest grandson and extended his arms outward. “Wow, you must be Jericho!” he announced.

    “I wanted to meet you,” he said.

    The billionaire hugged him. “I wanted to meet you too,” he exclaimed.

    “You and mom don’t get along?” he asked.

    The man pulled back slightly from the hug. “I…it’s not something so straightforward,” he said. “Your mother and I have a complex set of issues.” He stood up straight again, looking at the mother. “So, what are the kids and you up to?”

    “We’re about to head out for dinner,” Andrew said, coming out from behind and standing in the doorway. “The kids placed first in the regional math and science quiz championships.”

    “We wanted to celebrate,” Suzanne added. She wanted to slap the man. This was his gimmick. As a corporate head, he often forced his way through deals and he treated people in a similar way, she knew. “It would be rude of me to not invite you, but it’s not only up to me.” She looked at her husband.

    “You can come,” Andrew replied, “just don’t make any commentary about the food.”

    “I had manners as a part of my formal education,” Johann replied. He ignored the sarcastic look that Andrew shot him as they went inside the house.

    “Kids, finish getting ready,” Suzanne said. “Don’t take too long.”

    Jericho and Luther went into the upstairs restroom to wash their hands, and finish putting on their outfits. As Luther dried his hands in the towel, he couldn’t help but notice the look of amazement lingering on his older brother’s face. “Grandpa seems…” he struggled for the word that adequately described him.

    “Amazing?” Jericho offered.

    “No,” Luther said, shaking his head. “He seems fake.”

    Jericho finished and turned off the water, grabbing the second towel. “He’s rich,” he explained for his younger brother. “They all have to act like that.” He gave a chuckle. “I’m gonna be rich someday.”

    “I wouldn’t wanna be like that,” Luther said.

    “Aw,” Jericho protested, “You’re just jealous.”

    “He’s gotta act like a certain way,” Luther argued. “I don’t think I could stand it.”

    “I’m gonna be rich like him one day,” Jericho continued to argue.

    “Yeah,” Luther said, rolling his eyes. “And it’ll be because they’ll look at you and know you’re his grandson.”

    “Uh-uh!” Jericho countered. “It’s gonna be because I did it!”

    “Okay,” Luther said, sarcasm dripping.

    They got their clothes on and headed downstairs to the car. The whole time, of the two, Jericho marveled at the middle-aged man. Something about the man his mother didn’t exactly enjoy, just sat perfectly well with him. This man had real power in the world. This man had ways of getting exactly what he wanted. He commanded respect without having to say a word. It was a place the young boy wanted to be. It was a world he wanted to live in. Luther, on the other hand, wasn’t impressed. To him, this was a man who had to worry night and day about aspects of money that, even at his young age, the boy knew he didn’t want to deal with.

    “Let me drive the boys,” Johann said, motioning to the Maserati at the end of the driveway.

    Suzanne found her lip curling in frustration, and she had to force it to stop. The prick had to show off, she thought. She faked a smile. “Why not? Saves me the trouble,” she said.

    “We were going to the Denny’s across from the Walgreens…” Andrew said, leaning into the driver’s side window.

    “It’s your family celebration,” Johann replied, as the boys climbed in the backseat. “Are you boys ready?”

    “Absolutely!” Jericho cheered.

    “Yes, sir,” Luther stated.

    As they drove out of the neighborhood, the expensive luxury car got more than its fair share of glances. The older man knew, despite the boys waiting patiently at first, that they would want to ask questions. So, he waited for the inevitable.

    “Grandfather?” Jericho asked, sheepishly.

    “Yes?” The businessman replied.

    “How did you get so rich?” Jericho’s question drew a smile from the man’s face. The boy’s natural hunger and curiosity gave off a look that he could see a mile away. Here was someone destined to be somebody. You’d never see this kid growing up to be a worthless layabout, a nobody destined to leech off the hard work of others like a parasite, he recognized. This was a kid who had that go-getter attitude so lacking in modern America.

    “My father and a friend of his started a business repairing and selling machines,” he explained to the boy, “and when I inherited it, I expanded into multiple countries, fought off competitors, and drove efficiency up and up.” He looked in the mirror and saw that the boy hung on every word. “It wasn’t easy, and it took a whole lot of hard work. We had to expand our business into several distinct fields.”

    “That’s amazing!” Jericho exclaimed.

    Johann Torrell noticed that his youngest grandson hadn’t said anything. “Luther?” he asked. “Is there anything you’d like to know about me?”

    The younger boy pondered this for a brief few moments. “What do you do for fun?”

    His question prompted a minor chuckle from the man. “When you’re as busy as I am,” he offered, “you don’t have a lot of time for fun.” He put his thoughts together. “I mostly like to watch live theater, I’m a big fan of symphony orchestra, and sometimes, I even like to drive fast cars around the racetrack.”

    Except for the last one, none of those interested the boy. “I get it,” he said, not wanting to sound too negative.

    “What books do you read?” Jericho asked.

    Luther shot him a look. Honestly? He didn’t want to read any books that this guy thought were interesting. They were likely to be the kind of reading that he hated, work that largely focused on real life. He read books to escape from real life, thank you very much.

    “I’ve got a whole list I could give you,” he said. “I learned a lot about how things should be from the works of Ayn Rand.”

    Jericho then asked the question that would shape the rest of his future, up until very recently.

    “If I read that,” he said, “I can be more like you?”

    This time, Johann laughed out loud. “Not so easy, I’m afraid!” he explained. “Honestly, it’s just a starting point.”

    “I’d like to read Ayn Rand, if it’s a starting point!”

    As the Maserati pulled into the parking lot of the Denny’s restaurant, Suzanne saw the bag in the backseat, next to her oldest son. She suddenly felt like punching her father in the face. “Father?” she asked, as the older man stepped out of the car. “Can I talk to you?”

    He let out a nasal sigh. “Before you say anything,” he defended, “Jericho asked himself. I didn’t just buy it for him.”

    “He’s just a child!” she retorted. “You’re putting propaganda into his head before he’s old enough to understand what’s happening!”

    “Suzanne,” he said, trying to calm her down, “please. He asked me a question, and I gave him an answer. If he decides he doesn’t like it, that’s his decision. Please don’t take it from him.”

    She fumed. “Alright,” she said. “I’ll let him read whatever he wants. But you’re going to cut this shit out!”

    “Alright!” he said, putting up his hands in a mock defensive posture. “I won’t tell him any more!”

    “I’ve seen you show off like this before,” she warned. “This isn’t one of your business partners to get on your side!”

    “Mom,” Luther asked, “is something wrong?”

    She looked at him, and the genuine concern on his face. “No, honey,” she said. “Nothing’s wrong.”

    They ate uneventfully, but secretly, Johann sat pleased with himself. Sure, his daughter had surprised him with her ability to rebound from his disinheriting her, but that hadn’t been it. She’d become a tenured professor and her husband in a similar position provided a decent life for her children and her, but her children were a different story. Luther, he loved the boy as the grandson he was, but when he saw Jericho, he saw what he’d been looking for. There was a boy who would enter the world he lived in. The seed had already been planted. The boy saw what could be achieved and wouldn’t stop until he’d done so himself. Unlike several of his family, this boy wouldn’t have a crutch to lean on. This would be a prime example of one pulling oneself up by their bootstraps. He had longed to see such a success story to legitimize his viewpoints and his expectations. He wanted someone who would become a driving force at the company, or at least, someone who could demonstrate their intellectual superiority in the market.

    Suzanne occasionally stared at her father. She knew what he intended. This man was talent scouting. He wanted a future executive at his company, or at the very least, someone he could talk investments with. Everyone he gave his time and attention to was for a reason. This man lived and breathed the Virtue of Selfishness. He had come here looking to expand his empire, and it pissed her off. Still, she didn’t want to seem too much of an asshole, so she toned it down. The thing that bothered her was that she knew Jericho was the kind of kid who would eat this stuff up, if for no other reason than he now had a strong male figure feeding it to him to look up to.

    As time progressed, it turned out that Suzanne had a lot to worry about. Both her sons were smart as hell, but of the two, Jericho seemed to take after his grandfather in ways she’d hoped he wouldn’t. He started absorbing all the information about investments he possibly could. Luther was close to his brother, and it annoyed him how he stopped being fun. When they were kids, the younger boy found it always exciting to be around him, because he got into all sorts of adventures in the woods and in the playgrounds. Now, Luther had pursued his interests closely. He’d learned how to play the guitar and had joined a rock band. Girlfriends had come into his life. Dating, sex, it all gave him pleasure in life. Sure, he never would make it big, but at least he got to live on his own terms.

    As he watched his brother, he felt sorry for the guy. On one hand, his older brother excelled at everything business-related he stuck his hands into. Entering college at a young age, he blew past scores of people much older and more skilled than him. Harvard business school took him in on a full scholarship and he shot up to the top of the roster. One day, Jericho had come home on a break from school, and Luther had his bandmates over. Jericho took him outside and told him how he felt.

    “Luther,” Jericho had said, “are you supporting these people?”

    “I don’t have to explain to you how I spend my money,” Luther defended himself. “Mister Ayn-Rand-worship should know that.”

    A scoff escaped the older brother. “Are you serious?” he exclaimed. “We both know you’re the only one of these fools who has any talent and here you are, footing the bill for them to live in your house.”

    “It’s my house,” Luther said, “and I paid for it with my money. If I want to support these people, these brothers of mine, who’ve been with me through thick and thin, that’s my prerogative, not yours.”

    “They’re using you!” Jericho shouted. “How did you make that money, anyway?”

    “You should know.” Luther folded his arms. “Whenever we visit mom on certain weekends, you’re always bragging about how your stocks are doing. I just follow whatever you’re doing.” He laughed and shook his head. “Oh, and I also have an actual job of my own. It’s the manager of a bookstore, but still, two incomes means I’m doing just fine.”

    “You have actual talent,” Jericho countered. “If you had a proper group of musicians, you could actually make it big. Instead, these clowns are not only holding you back, but you’re actually spending money to house them.”

    “They were there for me when I got depressed,” Luther retorted. “Our grandpa, the guy who you look at as if he were a god, hasn’t come to visit since we were children. He wasn’t there when you broke your leg.”

    Jericho rolled his eyes. “He wasn’t supposed to be there,” he reminded. “It wasn’t necessary.”

    “You mean it wasn’t in his rational self-interest,” Luther said.

    “No! It probably wasn’t!”

    Jericho’s angry shout had drawn a shocked expression out of both as soon as he’d said it. “Unbelievable,” Luther said. “You want to take after a person like that?”

    “I want to take after a person who took full advantage of his capabilities!”

    “No,” Luther countered, “you want to take after a person who took full advantage of people.”

    Jericho started as if shocked by a taser. “You take that back,” he said. “You’re just jealous I’m doing something with my life!”

    “I’m doing the things that make life worth living,” the little brother said. “If I don’t make it big, there’s no skin off my ass.”

    “It’s a damn shame you’re okay with this,” the older brother said.

    “I just hope you don’t wake up and realize you’re thirty-five with a whole lot of money,” the little brother retorted, “and no actual friends who care about you.”

    Jericho let a hurt huff escape his nostrils. A half-formed sneer drew itself on his face. “Well,” he said, “I’m at least going to make the first part of that come true.”

    Luther shook his head. “If you had any other business,” he said, “let’s talk about it now. Otherwise, you can leave.”

    “I’m not going to bail you out if this plan of yours goes south,” Jericho reminded.

    “I know,” Luther said. “I wasn’t planning on it.”

    After that, they separated for years and barely spoke to one another. The older brother managed to make good on his promises.

    “We’re here with Jericho Torvalds,” the pundit had said, “the latest addition to the Forbes’ billionaires list.” The older man motioned to Jericho, his three-piece Giorgio Armani suit and tie perfectly adorning him, as the lights moved over to his position. “He’s worth one point eight billion dollars, and he isn’t even thirty yet!” The audience gave a cheer. “Mister Torvalds, nice to get to interview you.”

    “Nice to be here,” Jericho replied.

    The older man folded his hands on his lap as he turned his chair to face his interviewee. “So,” he began, “twenty-five years old, worth over a billion dollars, the head of an investment firm new but rising like a rocket, how is this possible, and how did you do it?” Mild laughter came from the studio audience.

    Unbeknownst to Jericho, Luther sat in the studio audience. He’d been on another news program at the same station, so he just asked, and they let him be in the audience for his brother’s interview. He watched his brother take part in this spectacle of money worship at the altar of shameless capitalism. Despite everything, he did love his brother and it pained him to see the boy he played with as a child grow up to be one of these bloodsucking leeches. The band he led had made it big, but he wasn’t making pennies compared to the egregious wealth his brother was starting to both horde for himself and earn for greedy Wall Street vampires. Still, he wanted to hear what his brother said.

    Jericho gave a cordial smile and minor chuckle. “It’s actually fascinating the story of how I got here,” he explained. “As you know, I didn’t have my grandfather’s money to fall back on, so I had to make it in the world of investments from the bottom up. My mother and father are both professors, so I grew up in an environment of learning. I was taught to learn from every source I could find, so that’s what I did.”

    The pundit nodded. “You credit Ayn Rand and the philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism for your success,” he pointed out.

    “When I met my grandfather,” Jericho went on, “he gave me a chance to buy any book I wanted. I wanted to read what he said made him successful, so that’s what I read.” The audience cheered and gave a mild burst of laughter. “Hey, it worked. I learned about the morality of capitalism. My investing skills? That I had to pick up as I went along.”

    “And what investing skills they are!” The pundit cheered. “In just under two years, you’ve turned a few tens of thousands of dollars of money into over a billion dollars. Don’t keep us in the dark.”

    Jericho leaned back in his chair. “Where do I begin?” he asked rhetorically. “I looked at the market and picked up on trends I noticed and started investing. When the trends I saw started to pick up, I got others to invest along with me. Soon I was running an investment firm. When I started pouring other people’s money into stocks, that’s when the dough really started rolling in.”

    “You made billions for others,” his interviewer asked, “and over a billion for yourself. Are you worried the gravy train is coming to an end?”

    “Ha ha,” Jericho said, chuckling. “Not really. I’ve decided to recession-proof my organization by converting a lot of stock into cash before reinvesting. That way, we cover our cash flow issues before they exist.”

    “But isn’t that a way to attract higher and higher taxes?”

    “Well,” Jericho retorted, “we do end up paying higher taxes, but it keeps us safe in the long run.”

    “A bit counterintuitive.” The pundit smiled. “I like it!”

    The interview went on, but Luther had seen all he could take. The worst-case scenario their mother had envisioned was happening. Jericho had been suckered into the selfish world of Johann Torrell. This pathetic display of wealth worship was more than he could stand.

    “Luther!” Almost out of the building, the younger brother turned at his older brother’s voice.

    “Jericho,” he stated, a flat acknowledgement.

    Jericho threw up his arms. “I didn’t know you were coming to see me!” he said, cheerfully. “I thought you didn’t care!”

    “You’re my brother, I love you,” Luther said. “But I wasn’t just here for you. My band was being interviewed for the quadruple platinum of our debut album.”

    Jericho let out an impressed whistle. “I read about that,” he admitted. “That’s a hell of an accomplishment.” In spite of everything, he actually loved his brother. What bothered him, though, had to be the fact that Luther could have gotten much farther on his own.

    “Thank you,” Luther said. He sniffed, stifling emotion. “That means a lot to me.” It seriously burnt him up that his brother had gotten poisoned by the mental nonsense their grandfather, and a hack of a writer who’d been dead for almost two decades, had convinced him of. He looked down just a moment. “But, honestly, I don’t think I can stay here and just watch you worship wealth and the type of people who value money over human life.”

    “Oh,” Jericho cried, “not this shit again.” He wiped his face once. “Why can’t you just see things my way?” This always came between them, and by now, he’d gotten tired of Objectivism and the value of selfishness coming between them.

    “I can’t support this world you live in,” Luther explained.

    “You’re rich now,” Jericho pointed out. “Hell, you’re likely to get richer.”

    “I’ve given more money to charity than you,” Luther retorted, “and you’re worth more than nine hundred times what I’m worth.”

    Jericho’s arms shot out to his side. “That’s because I’m not subscribed to a mentality that makes people helpless!” His head shook in disbelief. “My god, Luther! When are people responsible for themselves, when we’re always expected to prop them up?”

    “I hope you never have to suffer like some people,” Luther retorted, turning to leave. “Some people never have the luxury of getting to prop themselves up.”

    “Like the people you call your bandmates?”

    Luther’s head shot around as he heard his brother’s words. A long moment passed as he stared in a mixture of anger and utter disbelief. “You…you motherfucker!” He stomped back towards his brother.

    “Yeah, I know you got that one!” Jericho shouted. “You bailed them out of jail, you’ve paid for their kids’ medical bills, you’re practically their sugar daddy. And for what?” He pointed at him. “So they could one day maybe pay you back? Don’t make me laugh!” He chuckled. “You could’ve been so much more so much faster if you’d thought about yourself.”

    “You fucking…!” Luther’s statement didn’t have time to finish as he decked his brother in the face. His hand would feel it later, but right now, he wasn’t about to let that one slide.

    “I touch a nerve?” Jericho managed to say, even as a jolt of pain rocketed through his cheek and up to the top of his head. “I think I got one that time.”

    “FUCK YOU!” Luther propelled himself forward, crashing into his brother and tackling him to the ground. The two then began trading body blows as people nearby rushed to pull the younger brother off of Jericho.

    The older brother struggled to his feet, his cheek bleeding and his suit scratched and torn in places, and let out a sigh as people nearby held him up. “Proves my point,” he told his younger brother. “You don’t have an answer for me.”

    Luther moved away, a wall of spectators forming between him and his brother. “You’re a sad piece of shit!” he swore. “A sad little fucker with his pile of money! Well, fuck you, Jericho!”

    After that, they hadn’t spoken for years. It always bothered Jericho that his little brother couldn’t realize how his potential kept being wasted by his insane desire to put others before himself. Luther, on the other hand, felt that his older brother had sacrificed all his sense of compassion and empathy in favor of a giant bank account and the attention of some fake friends who wouldn’t be there if he hadn’t had a dime to his name. Both were convinced of their correctness and the utter wrongness of the other.

    When the series of lights had lit up the sky, one fateful day, Luther had simply known that his brother would have gotten powers. He’d gotten some as well. He’d gotten a power that had proven very useful.

    The evening sun was beginning to set and he’d just gotten through doing an afternoon show for a television special, and was leaving the studio. A woman sat on a bench, staring at a television screen in an electronics store window.

    On the screen, a man had set fire to a police station where an officer accused of a racially motivated killing had worked. The woman pointed at the screen. “Crazy world we’re living in,” she said. “Guy walked up and fired something out of his hands. Would you believe that?”

    “I would,” Luther said. “It’s strange. They say powers are popping up.”

    She laughed. “Do you believe that?” she asked.

    Just then, he felt a twinge in his mind. Somewhere, in the back, almost completely unobtrusive, but still making itself known, was some kind of…presence. He found it difficult to understand. Words didn’t seem adequate to describe it. Breath stopped in his throat before he could speak out loud what it was. A thought came to him a moment later, maybe it was the thing calling to him, there were two states. Currently, it made him realize it was in the off position. He flipped it on, curiosity getting the better of him.

    A fire hose of emotions, images, and situations flew through his mind with lightning speed. The man on the television had somehow, someway, made his motivation crystal clear to him. The power had told him everything he needed to know about why the man did what he did and his feelings about everything related to his action. The disorientation came the moment the instant-long vision ended, and he struggled for balance.

    “Holy crap, are you…?” The woman, curious as to the sudden stumbling of the man she’d just been talking to, found her question die when he stumbled and, to balance himself, placed a palm on her shoulder. The instant contact occurred, what had been shown to him came to her. “What in the fuck!”

    He pulled away a moment later. It took a long few moments before the impact of what had happened occurred to him. Somehow, he’d gotten the motivation of the person he’d seen on the television and had shown the woman by making contact with her.

    He fled, switching his power to the off position. Whatever this power was, being able to discern people’s…what, motivations? Emotions? Desires? Whatever it meant, he would have to figure it out. It disturbed him that he would have this ability, but a few days ago, he wouldn’t have even believed that superpowers even existed. He almost had to laugh at the absurdity. If he’d been asked, he would have chosen a power more like Superman, where he could fly and have incredible physical power. Being able to not even fully read people’ minds? What was that about? Still, it seemed like the perfect bit of poetic justice, being that he got a power based on empathy when his brother always accused him of letting others take advantage of his empathy. If Jericho got powers, he figured, it would be something absurd like copying powers.

    Luther had started small. He started walking down the street, and listening in on people’s conversations. Whenever someone mentioned someone by name, he could focus on that, and without even knowing the person, use his power to gleam aspects of their mentality. At first, just the motivation related to the topic of confusion mentioned by the other person would come up. Then, with much effort, he could gather the entire reason for who they were as a person at that moment. After that, he would give what he found to the person who had been confused or unsure. This filled him with a kind of glee; he could help the world be free of misunderstanding and confusion. He could show people exactly what their ‘other’ was thinking. Still, he wasn’t a naïve moron; he knew some old prejudices would never go away. Nonetheless, any bit of help was help.

    His first few outings he took slow and safe. The major political groups around city hall desperately needed some exercises of empathy. Whether Democrat or Republican, there were all sorts of ideas and no one seemed to understand that their counterparts had reasons behind what they believed in. Sure, a few genuinely had bad intentions, but the people would discover that knowing what someone else intended and their reasons why made cooperation more possible. Occasionally, he stumbled across a genuine stumbling block, such as the racists of the world, but in between concerts, he would go around each city he toured in and see what he could do.

    On his tours, answers to questions he hadn’t even considered. As a child he’d read a few comic books. He’d always imagined that the arrival of superpowers would cause catastrophe, with people going wild and releasing their inhibitions wherever they could. As he looked at the motivations and memories of various people with powers, he found a common theme. Most people possessed at least enough logic to understand that they weren’t the only one with powers. The vast majority he came across simply did not intend to actually get into a fight other people. A situation came up that he honestly hadn’t expected but didn’t surprise him.

    Jericho got powers. Luther couldn’t help but give a disapproving sneer at the television. It was exactly the type of power that suited a greedy crapsack like the man his brother had turned into.

    “Do you believe that?” He told his mother when his parents came to visit at his house for their vacation.

    His mother gestured a “what have you” motion. “He went down the rabbit hole my grandfather wanted him to go down,” she said. “Now that this insanity is our world, he got what he wanted. I’m still going to love him, but I’m through discussing things with him. If he wants to live in a world where only what he desires matters, that’s what he wants and I’m going to leave him to his life.”

    “Yeah,” Luther simply agreed. Jericho had called them several times over the intervening weeks, but they’d simply given basic small talk and ended the conversation.

    One fateful day, he got a phone call from his brother. “Luther, hey,” the businessman had said. He tried to hang up, but sensing this, his brother interrupted him. “Look, hey! You were right all along!”

    The younger brother’s finger held suspended in midair. Cautiously, he held the phone up to his ear. “Alright,” he began, slowly and eyes shifting, “you got my attention.”

    “You know I’ve been trading money for powers,” Jericho explained. “A few days ago, I gained the ability to experience the memories of others and have others do the same.”

    A pregnant pause passed. “I’ve got a similar power,” Luther said.

    “Really?” Jericho said, startled. “I wasn’t expecting that.” He recovered. “Anyway, being able to experience what the world is like for real people has shown me that everything grandfather got me to believe is, at best, horribly flawed, and at worst, an out-and-out manipulation and delusion.”

    A chuckle escaped Luther’s lips. “Are you serious?” he said just short of shouting. “You expect me to believe that suddenly, you’ve gained a conscience?”

    “The wealth I’ve gained is evil,” he said. “I have a plan to deal with that, but honestly, first, I have to help you deal with a problem.”

    “What problem is that?”

    Luther heard his brother utter a harsh breath. “I have to get you and mom and dad to safety,” he said. “Someone is trying to bring about the Second Coming.”
     
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter Eleven
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER ELEVEN​



    I.​




    The plane flew over the ocean as Jack Hurst sat in the lounge area, taking drinks from a glass of ice water. The events of the past few days weighing on his mind, he focused on the situation at hand. Most of his accusers denied him his right to suffer for the burden on his shoulders. Each person judged, punished with death for their sins, or for choosing to fight against their Lord and savior, their fate weighed on his mind. No matter what he told the world, they didn’t believe him. They saw him as a monster to be conquered, a villain to be defeated. The people that supported him, had swept through the halls of governments, upwards from the bottom levels, driving their leaders out who chose not to follow. America had shown the strongest willingness to follow. The leaders of the federal government had chosen to surrender in the end.

    “It is a wonderful day,” The Lord spoke, seated across from his chosen servant. “With the government choosing not to fight against their own people any longer, the kings in their chambers now have agreed to serve us.” He saw the expression on Jack’s face. “Tell me what troubles you, child.”

    “I hate being looked at as a monster,” he replied. “Every death weighs on my soul.” A hand moved up and wiped his left eye. “I don’t enjoy taking part in killing these people.”

    “You do what must be done,” The Lord advised. He got up and knelt beside the seat of his ally. “I am grateful you have led so many millions of Our Father’s chosen people to our side. Their power has brought unwilling nations to their knees, and more are soon to come. Do not lose faith, my child.”

    Jack smiled and hugged his Lord. “Thank you,” he said, blinking away tears. “I can’t wait for the chosen day where no one has to suffer and die anymore.”

    “With your hard work and vigorous faith,” The Lord replied, “it shall come about. All of Our Father’s children under one Heavenly blanket of love, it shall be a wondrous day indeed.”

    “Sorry to interrupt,” a voice called from behind them.

    The Lord stood and stepped back to his seat. Jack turned his head around. “Yes?” he said.

    “Sorry to interrupt,” the man in the suit continued, “I just wanted you to know we’ll be over mainland China in less than an hour.” He swallowed. “We’ve received word that if we continue, we’ll be fired upon. I…uh…” he blinked a long moment with bated breath. “I just wanted to know if…that was gong to be a problem.”

    The Lord looked at him, then looked past him with a white glow in his eyes. It lasted but a moment, then he redirected his attention. “My child,” He spoke, “do you have such little faith in your Lord? Do not fret.”

    The man smiled and returned to his seat. “Great! I’m glad to hear it,” he said.

    “I’m sorry for having these moments,” Jack said, waving it off.

    “Not at all,” The Lord advised. “You are but a man. These are feelings that all men have. Few could have carried the burden as far as you, and fewer still would be able to carry it even farther.” He took a drink of water from a cup. “Do not be so harsh on your own mind.”

    Turbulence rocked the plane. “That was a warning shot!” The co-pilot shouted from the cabin.

    “I had hoped,” The Lord began, stretching his arms to the end of his armrests, and pushing himself to a standing position, “that my voice would have calmed them and convinced them not to fire. It seems I must take a more direct route.”

    Miles away from the plane, at ground military installations within the People’s Republic of China, operators controlling missile launchers and their commanders watched the first warning shots explode within proximity to the plane. It bobbed up and down as it jolted from the shockwave. “Give them five minutes!” the commander shouted, in Mandarin, standing at the center of the control room. “If they haven’t begun to turn around, destroy them!”

    “I had hoped,” The Lord’s voice spoke, inside their heads, in their native tongue, “that I could have convinced you with my earlier words. Apparently, that was a mistake. I will not make it again.”

    Each of the ten operators seated at their stations suddenly went up in a burst of white-hot flame. Their primal screams of horror and suffering lasted but a moment, cut off by their utter immolation. Their ashes fell to the seats and the floor below in less than ten seconds. The commander clasped his hands to his head in horror as he fell to his knees, his screams lost in a cacophony of fear as soldiers dashed from their posts and abandoned the station. This situation repeated itself at the same time at dozens of other stations across a fifty-mile area.

    Jack watched his Lord’s eyes glow and then die out. He knew action had been taken. He stood up from his seat. “Please show me their deaths,” he said.

    “You need not ask this of me,” The Lord advised.

    Jack shook his head. “No,” he countered. “If I am to be your servant, and judgment is to be handed down to my fellow men, I must be able to bear the weight of the actions I am taking part in.”

    “As you wish,” The Lord spoke. He touched his servant’s forehead and showed him the lives lost to judgment.

    After a few moments, Jack pulled back, breathing hard and wiping his eyes. “Thank…you…” he uttered, regaining composure. His breathing returned to normal. “I am a better servant by sharing the burden.”

    “I worry about you,” The Lord admitted. “You share in burdens not needed to be borne by you.”

    “I’ll be alright,” he said. “I hate the killing but recognize its necessity. I will not falter. Our glorious kingdom, free of suffering, shall come about.”

    “We’re coming in for a landing,” the pilot announced. A short pause followed. “Sir, are you sure? They’re not giving us permission to land. There’s tanks on the runway!”

    “It won’t be an issue,” The Lord stated. “Begin landing procedures anyway.”

    “Gotcha,” the pilot confirmed.

    On the runway, three columns of tanks, spaced thirty feet apart, sat half the length. The military had decided their unwanted guest would not be arriving. The wind picked up, and the sunny skies overhead turned overcast. The gray clouds turned a dark bluish color, venturing on violet. Military commanders and their soldiers looked as the impossible weather pattern formed overhead. Droplets of rain fell from the oddly colored sky. The water fell on the flesh of men and women, little beads of dark blue rain, harmlessly rolling off the skin. Where it landed on tanks, guns, or any other weapons of war, they dissolved in the liquid like sugar into hot tea. The weapons intended to keep their guest at bay disappeared in puddles of liquid, leaving behind tank operators sitting in puddles on the runway. Soldiers stood with empty hands and men crouched in front of empty air where mounted anti-personnel rifles once stood. As swiftly as the display had begun, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and the bright rays combined with a gust of warm wind blew the liquid away. Men stood baffled as the plane began its descent from the sky above Chinese airspace.

    The plane touched down, with confused and angry soldiers standing helplessly on the sides as the vehi
    cle taxied to a stop. As the door opened, a stair descended from the plane. Jack Hurst stepped out, with his Lord in front. A gust of wind blew aside a group of soldiers clamoring to ascend the staircase. With their feet on the ground, the Lord and his servant stepped away from the plane. An older gentleman, adorned with a more elaborate uniform than the rest of his soldiers, approached. Despite the obvious fear in the eyes of his men, he looked as firm as ever.

    “Are you the general?” The Lord said, in Mandarin.

    “You will not destroy our nation,” he commanded, “the way you destroyed India!”

    “Their nation made a choice,” The Lord replied. “I responded in kind, with judgment. I am here not to destroy, but to save. All who decide to prostrate themselves before me, and accept Our Father’s love into their heart, shall be saved. It is my intention only to bring about a wondrous kingdom of mankind, all together under one God, accepting and loving and not suffering anymore.”

    The man would not be budged. “No,” he replied. “Others may see a savior, and the people of the western world might be easily swayed, but in you, I only see a false prophet who commits murder of any who refuse to accept his word.” He paused a moment to reflect. “After all, isn’t the Lord of Christianity supposed to be a healer and accepting of all?”

    “Does the text not itself say that when I returned,” The Lord explained, “that I would be returning as a conqueror? That the armies of Satan would be marshalled in the hearts of men, and I would be tasked with defeating it and bringing the children of God before their creator in love and in power?”

    The general considered this for just a moment. “You have the power to do as you wish,” he said, “but understand that there are those who will never accept your racket of ‘love-me-or-die’ as a gift from a God above.”

    The Lord’s expression darkened into a somber tone of grief and anger. “I am tasked by The Father with judgment of all who refuse His call,” he stated, sternly. “Should I interpret this as your refusal to accept?”

    “You will have to be seen killing me,” he said, as helicopters for news agencies hovered nearby, their cameras fixed on the ordeal. “I want my people to see the ‘love’ you bring them firsthand.”

    The Lord bowed his head for just an instant. “As you wish,” he uttered.

    The general launched himself forward, wrapping his arms around The Lord and planting his feet in a futile attempt to hold him back. In response, The Lord, unimpressed, simply moved his right hand and the man got launched a few meters into the sky, where he flashed into dust in an instant, his scream a dying echo in the wind. The men scattered at the sight.

    “Where do we go?” Jack said, turning to his Lord, after the spectacle.

    “We do what we’ve done thus far,” The Lord replied. “We go in search of people. Wherever people are, there are those who will be willing to listen.”

    They moved forward, towards a city ahead, and to both opposition from the powers that be, and to the masses that needed their message badly. From behind, a collection of super beings that had aligned themselves with Jack and their Lord, exited the aircraft and followed into the city.

    “My lord!” August Dietrich said, approaching Jack and the Lord.

    They both turned. “What tidings do you bring?” the Lord asked. Jack watched with intrigue.

    “One of our loyal soldiers has found the whereabouts of the forces of Satan!”

    “Fantastic news!” Jack announced. “My Lord, are we to dispatch them now?”

    The Lord shook his head. “No,” he said. He turned to the flock of super beings. “My servants, you will go to where they are and you will fight them. You can win this fight. My servant and I will remain here and minister to the lost children of this nation.” He turned to Jack. “You agree, or not?”

    “Oh, yes!” Jack announced. “I believe your plan is flawless, oh Lord!”

    The group took off behind them. “With the Father on their side,” The Lord explained, “they will not be able to lose.”

    “Oh, glory day!” Jack cheered.

    II.​




    Luther’s memories ended as the group found themselves caught up. After the group had been brought up to speed, they each regarded Jericho and Jennifer, as the two of them had been at the center of this issue the longest.

    “So,” Annie said, “what do we do now?”

    Jericho’s senses activated. “We may not get much of a choice,” he said, sweat beading on his forehead. “They have someone who can sense people, and they seem to know where we are.”

    A tone of dread fell over them. “Goddammit,” Annie said, shaking her head.

    Ed pulled out the katana he would use in his Kadosuke form, and John retreated quickly to another room and returned with a different looking kimono to the one Ed wore. “Try this,” John said. “I forgot to show you earlier.”

    Ed hastily pulled the character’s kimono off and tried the multi-colored, sci-fi looking one. Instantly, lines of light escaped from his sword and passed through the kimono and into his flesh. He felt tingly all over as power surged through him. “What the hell did you make?” he asked.

    John did a perfect Doctor Anti pose, pushing his safety goggles up and down. “I have to say,” he said, “it’s quite an item. It channels the energy from the sword into you to make your form more durable.”

    Jennifer looked outside the shelter using her sensory powers, and saw their enemies flying over the countryside, either under their own power or carried by the telekinetic, whose power seemed enhanced by the fake Jesus. Focusing her energy manipulation powers into her senses, the shock of what she discovered almost caught her breath in her throat.

    “Oh hell,” she swore, “this fake Jesus has upped all their powers.”

    Annie clenched her enhanced fists. “Looks like we fight to the death,” she lamented. “I was hoping to avoid this.”

    Jericho turned to his biological family. “Mom! Dad!” he announced. “I need you to get out of here!”

    Suzanne turned to her son, surprised. “They found us here,” she stated. “Where can we go?”

    Jericho touched his mother and father’s shoulders, granting them enhanced teleportation. “You’ll be able to go anywhere on planet Earth,” he explained, “and sense who’s coming!” He pointed to Jack Hurst’s wife and children. “Take them, and keep them safe!”

    Suzanne started back in shock. “What about Luther!”

    Luther turned to his mother. “I’m not a helpless victim,” he explained. “I’m going to help.”

    Emily and her sons gathered around Jericho’s mom and dad. “See you, hopefully, when things are better," Suzanne lamented. A moment later, the small group vanished.

    “How long?” John asked Jennifer.

    “Another minute,” she said.

    “I’ll be back in a minute,” John said, pulling out a handheld remote. He created a portal in space-time, jumped into it, and it vanished behind him.

    “The hell is he going?” Jericho shouted.

    Raymond smiled. “You’ll see,” he said. “We worked on it together.”

    “Worked on what?” Ed cut in.

    Raymond turned to the man. “You’ll see,” he explained. He could see their confused expressions. “Time flows differently in there.”

    Jericho looked confused for just a moment, then an eager grin appeared. “Call it, Capacitor,” he said, electing their leader by default.

    Jennifer looked at him, then at the others, and saw them nod. “Alright,” she said, heading for the door. “Let’s take it outside.”




    August Dietrich, his power surging with vitality courtesy of the almighty power of the Lord, carried the group of supers as if they weighed nothing. A righteous feeling of pride surged through his very soul as he felt the combatants in their hovel not a few kilometers away. He couldn’t hurt them from so far away, but it didn’t matter. The Lord had returned, and given him glorious purpose, tasking him of leading the group of empowered mortals in servitude of the Father on High. He had been born again; only now, with the glorious Kingdom of Heaven on the horizon, he knew he could fall in battle with Satan’s emissaries, and he would be saved. Along with an army of true believers, he knew whatever heathen gods these foolish blasphemers and their idols of gold conjured up to fight them, it would not ultimately amount to a hill of beans against the power of God the Son.

    “How farther?” a pyrokinetic said, looking up from the protective shield his telekinetic brother-in-arms had around him.

    “About sixty seconds, brother,” August said.

    The group flew at top speed over the jungle, until one of their own spotted the heathen enemies exiting their compound and gathering outside, weapons drawn and readied. An Asian-looking man in a multi-colored kimono, wielding a sword glowing in various blue and violet hues from lines of light surging up and down it stood near the front. In the very front, the leader of Satan’s forces on Earth stood poised, an aura around her of electricity, the air by her pulsing with power. Behind her, to the left of the Asian man, an enormous woman of sheer muscular bulk garbed in some heavy-duty full-body armor, with solid silvery gloves, and a mighty war helmet atop her head stood with boots planted firmly and fists clenched. Two ordinary looking men, one with chin-length straight brown hair and a freshly-shaven face, and the other, with long black hair and a recently-amped up physical build, stood near the back. Both Torvalds brothers had changed their appearances, but they were recognized all the same.

    As the group of the Lord’s soldiers encroached ever closer to the enemy, August counted, and thought back to what his Lord had taught him of the foes. "Aren’t there supposed to be two more?” he asked.

    A huge hole opened in space right above the enemy group, and two enormous robots fell out of the portal. It collided with the group, smashing the force fields apart, throwing the group into chaos. “It’s all yours!” a male voice cried out, amplified artificially. Raymond piloted one and John piloted another.

    Of the dozens of warriors brought together, August caught them all and shielded them from harm. A few were slightly injured by the impact, but he would have the healers heal them. Right now, battle had begun.




    “Fight to the death!” Jennifer beckoned, after their scientist allies emerged from the alternate dimension in the machines of war they’d designed. “I don’t want to kill either, but if they don’t give you a choice, don’t give them a chance to kill you!”

    She shot forth, as her group moved outward in various directions. Annie, as the mighty Cyroya, took bounding, Amazonian leaps, coming down fist first towards one of the healers. She knew, from Jericho’s intel, that the enemy group had no fewer than five healers, who would keep the enemy army coming back for more. He gave them a sense of where each was, and Jennifer told them to target some of them first, if possible.

    Five barrier supers arranged themselves into makeshift phalanx against the giant battle goddess. Her massive boots landed on their force fields and she leapt backward, flipping and landing on her feet. Propelling herself forward, she plowed both outstretched metallic gloved fists into the group of shields. The ground quaked as some of them dug their shields into the dirt. A few got thrown back because their reflexes hadn’t been up to par.

    Someone grabbed the healer and pulled them out of the line of fire while the barrier supers scattered. One formed a forcefield around a super who could solidify himself and the telekinetic launched him at the goddess. Annie dodged to the left as the projectile shot past her. With insane reflexes, she caught the person by the leg and launched them into the nearest crowd of baddies she could find.

    Jennifer shifted into super speed, as the scenery froze around her. There stood several supers ready to fire lasers or projectiles made of light at her allies, and she dashed past them, turning them around to fire at their own combatants instead. As she headed for one of the healers, intent on taking them out of the battle, she saw, near the back, one super, a young man in his late teens, seated on a rock, glowing. Out of a sense of dread, she headed towards him.

    A surge of light escaped him as he entered the same speed as her. His feet touched the ground and he took off at an incredible pace. An attempt to intercept his trajectory failed as her hand grasped only air as she’d arrived just short of where he had been. Without hesitation, she took off after him, flying instead of running. The man’s velocity was nothing short of ridiculous. He ran much faster than she, and almost as fast as her flying speed. His closest target was the leg of one of the two robots. His hand began to vibrate.

    “No!” she shouted.

    He turned his head at the last moment.

    She collided with him and knocked him off path. He tumbled and regained his balance right away. Jennifer didn’t wait a moment; she took off the moment she made contact. Unfortunately, she swung her fist and it caught air as he ducked and ran the moment she arrived. It dawned on him that he wouldn’t be able to evade her and would have to fight her. He turned her way and drove vibrating fists into her torso.

    Jennifer felt the force of a battering ram against her body with each blow. His speed so great, she struck out to block his blows, but his fists moved around her hands as if automatic. Next, his fists blasted into her face, knocking her for a loop.

    “Give it up,” he said, his voice distorted by the slight difference between their speeds.

    Her indestructible skin held, but her sense of balance started to falter. Soon, she would be dizzy, and he would have the opportunity to break away from her and do untold harm to her group, because none of them were fast enough to be able to handle him. Dammit, she thought. Think!

    She couldn’t hit him because he moved too fast. If it hadn’t been for his momentary distraction, he’d have torn apart the leg of the robot. What could she possibly do to harm him?

    An idea came to her as she stumbled. His next blow headed straight for her right temple. If he connected, she would lose balance. He grinned as he saw his attacks beginning to weaken her. “This is the end,” he said, drawing back his fist. She shot out a hand to catch it, and he moved his fist effortlessly around it. His blow connected with her forehead.

    A burst of electricity shot from his hand up his arm and to the ends of his body. From every part of her aura, she’d drawn upon her energy manipulation to send a surge through him when he contacted. The jolt moved through him fast enough that he only managed a few steps away before it convulsed the muscles in his legs and he stumbled, collapsing to the ground.

    Jennifer sprung forward, landing next to the prone speedster, and collided an open palm with his forehead. His body fell limp in a heap. She fell over onto her butt.

    Jericho, struggling with supers throwing projectiles at him, saw Jennifer vanish from where she stood, while a man in the back, glowing, did the same. An instant later, Jennifer and the young man reemerged, the latter sprawled on the ground. The billionaire could sense that the super had been given a fatal blow, but a few specks of life remained. He launched a shockwave at the group attacking his brother and him, and he shot forward. His hand touched the prone enemy, and he looked to the side at his ally. “Are you alright?” he asked.

    Jennifer stood up. “Fine,” she said. “It’s just that, I wasn’t expecting them to have someone this powerful.”

    Jericho took this as his cue, and shifted into super speed, using the newly copied power. He headed straight for August. His hand held tightly into a striking position; he readied the blow. The telekinetic shot an invisible assault that gut punched him, launching him back.

    “What was that?” Jennifer asked.

    “Automatic defense,” Jericho noticed. “Certain people are given protection passively.”

    “Great,” Jennifer lamented.

    Together, they looked around and saw a few more people with speed powers. “Looks like they thought of everything,” Jericho lamented. They too had been gathering power since arriving. The four enemies took off running, heading in different directions.

    At normal speed, Raymond and John didn’t see the speedsters and their fast allies moving about. They had their hands full redirecting plasma fire from the energy types. “Shield status!” John shouted, moving his machine arm in the direction of a group of five shooting basketball-sized projectiles of white-hot plasma at his robot. He fired a rapid succession of bolts of power at them and they scattered.

    “Shields are at seventy percent,” his robot’s voice said. The situation would be awesome, he thought, if it weren’t for the dire situation outside the battle.

    “Ray!” John broadcast to his battle partner. “We’ve gotta take out the telekinetic!”

    Raymond had judged just the same, seeing that August sat in the center of the combat, protected by an invisible barrier that automatically returned any attack that came his way, no matter how fast or powerful. “How?” he replied. “His protection is automatic!”

    Annie drove a mighty fist down on a plasma super, who’d been firing at the robots. A barrier super arrived just in the nick of time to throw up a tent-like forcefield of energy over the ally of his. The force of her blow drove the edges of the field into the dirt. Before the guy could adjust the shape of his forcefield, she drew back a mighty leg and soccer-kicked the two of them as hard as she could. The two of them, encased in a force field, uprooted like a tree and launched in the direction of the telekinetic. The barrier fizzled out and the two yelped in a mixture of pain and shock as they collided with August’s passive protection, before abruptly going silent and limp as they fell.

    Before any of this was going on, Jennifer and Jericho dashed around, combining their efforts to stop speedsters from being able to attack their allies. The billionaire would dash to get within ten feet of one of them, then before they could deliver a blow to an ally unable to defend, he would hit them with a dizzying mental attack.

    The first one, he got within a few feet of Annie when, suddenly, his mind flashed away from where he was. In an instant, he spent several years in the memories of a civil rights leader named Sharon Francis. When he came back to himself, he checked his hands. What had happened?

    Before he could react, a hand grabbed the back of his head and a powerful surge of electricity fried his neural tissue. Jericho grabbed the lifeless speedster and launched his body out of the way. He turned and ducked beneath a swipe of a hand that would have decapitated him. The second speedster drew back for a second attack, when Jericho nailed him with mental attack. He stumbled, and in that instant, Jericho launched an attack that stopped the man’s heart. The speedster’s body collapsed as he writhed on the ground in pain.

    Jennifer discovered that two of the speedsters didn’t have the same type of power as the others. While she couldn’t tell how the first one’s power worked, or how Jericho’s opponents’ powers worked, she could sense that some form of energy manipulation had to be involved in these two. In some way, their bodies manipulated power that didn’t come from this dimension.

    Instead of trying for one of her allies, they double-teamed her, driving a knee into her stomach while another went for a kick to the back of her head. She couldn’t dodge both, but the force of the front impact let her dodge the back attempt. Her arm shot up and she latched a hand on the speedster’s leg. Immediately, his leg vibrated, and he shook his way free in moments, before she had a chance to do damage. In that moment, though, she’d sensed the power coursing through him. Whatever caused superpowers to exist, could create similar effects through vastly different means, like a knife and a laser both being able to cut. The power he wielded allowed him to alter his flow through time.

    Her first opponent peppered her with punches and kicks. Her body barely withstood the attack. Focusing on the otherworldly energy inside her, she adjusted the flow through her body and became aware that her speed powers indeed acted separately. She could stand still, and reality would be frozen around her, and that was her first speed power as Capacitor. She could also move incredibly fast without the laws of physics damaging her or her damaging her surroundings. That was her second speed power. It turned out that she could focus on them.

    Utilizing them semi-autonomously, as she had, her uses had been acceptable until now. Unfortunately, these opponents had such power that she couldn’t just let her abilities act on autopilot. She had to have fine control over her abilities, or she wouldn’t win. In her mind, she focused on her time-related speed power, and cranked it up as far as she could push it. All of reality slowed to a crawl around her. Her own body stood locked in position. The fist paused in mid-air before it could get to her. She stood locked in her own mind. If she could gasp, she would have; her enhanced mind allowed her to think at this impossible, almost unfathomable rate. She couldn’t look around her, but now, she presumably had all the time in the world to contemplate her situation. Was this what it would be like to be an artificial intelligence, a computer, thinking at the speed of electricity running through nano-circuitry?

    With will, she turned her velocity-based speed power up, little by little, and felt that her time-based speed power dropped in intensity to compensate past a certain point. The relationship between them fascinated her. She couldn’t use them both at maximum, because if you pushed one past a certain point, it necessarily dipped the other. The fist began to move once again, and she found she could move, albeit with effort, as she struggled to find the perfect equilibrium point, where both her speed powers could sit at their highest levels. As the fist moved towards her, and she pulled her arm up to catch it, struggling, she focused harder than ever internally.

    The speedster launched a punch, when suddenly, the redhead seemed to get blurry for a moment. He didn’t have a chance to wonder about it, though. She shot out a hand and caught his fist at a speed even he couldn’t match. Her other arm stuck out, colliding with his body, and his body shot backward as though a leaf behind a jet engine. He was dead before he touched the ground. The other speedster, who had kicked at her head, landed nearby just in time to see this happen to his ally. He took one look at what happened and kicked his power into high gear. She didn’t even follow as he vanished into the horizon. Based on her estimation, he could be thousands of miles away before he needed to recharge his powers. She didn’t care. He’d fled the scene, which let her focus on the task at hand.

    While Annie, John, Raymond, and Luther were busy fighting plasma blasters, barrier makers, and the healers keeping them in battle, August kept throwing up invisible attacks and traps to keep them guessing.

    Suddenly, Jennifer got everyone’s attention.

    “Hey!” she shouted.

    August, and the rest of the attackers looked at the aggressive yell. The telekinetic leader of the pack looked in horror as he saw the bodies of the speedsters piled up, lifeless. Jericho took a ragged breath, wiping moisture from his eyes. “Your main way of attack is defeated,” he explained. “This was your main threat. Surrender now, or we can kill the rest of you at super speed.”

    The telekinetic grit his teeth. “You dare assume we would back down?” he shouted. “No! We fight for the Lord!”

    “Don’t be stupid!” Jennifer said. “We’re giving you a chance to stop this nonsense!” She paused just a moment to think about it. “If you’re the army of God, why doesn’t God just use his might to strike us down? Why does he need you to fight us at all?”

    August shook his head. “The Lord does not need to explain!” he yelled. “We will fight Satan’s army until the last man! God’s glorious kingdom will rise!”

    “You will return at once!”

    Everyone turned to hear the source of the booming voice.

    August realized he heard it in his head. “My Lord!” he argued. “We can still win this! We will die for you!”

    “No, my child,” The Lord argued. “I have other battles for you to fight. Return. I will have to fight these particular sinners myself.”

    August blinked tears away and sighed. “As you wish, my Lord,” he said. He lifted the corpses off the ground and, hovering the group into the sky, left at once.

    Jennifer clenched her fists. “You!” she shouted. “We end this now!”

    The Lord, far away, in China, had been speaking to them from afar. “No, progeny of Satan,” he spoke, “you will fight me, in a week’s time, at the destined battle.”

    “Dammit!” Jennifer shouted. “Why do we have to give you time to kill more people!”

    A grin appeared on the Lord’s face. “We have reached the point where everyone knows of our purpose,” he explained. “Now, it is time to gather your force against the Armies of the Father in Heaven and meet for the final Battle at Armageddon.”

    “The Valley of Megiddo,” Jericho whispered, realizing.

    “We’ll see you there,” Jennifer simply stated, holding her tongue. Biting back verbally would prove pointless at this point.

    “He’s giving us time to prepare,” John said, exiting his damaged robot.

    “That doesn’t make sense,” Annie said, blood dripping off her armor.

    “Yes, it does,” Jericho thought out loud. A sense of dread appeared over Jennifer’s face, as she realized it too.

    “He knows the story,” she said, finishing the thought. “He knows the way it ends. He knows God defeats the sinners and he doesn’t feel he can lose.”



    Jack turned to his Lord as they proceeded to the airport, a new flock from China following them. “My Lord!” he said. “Why did you call them back?”

    “I tested their power,” The Lord advised, “and I now know how to best defeat the heathens in battle.”

    “It was a…” Jack said but trailed off. A realization struck him. “Wait a minute, you never thought our loyal soldiers could defeat them?”

    “No,” The Lord said. He turned to his faithful believer. “I never once thought anyone besides myself could defeat the lot of those followers of Satan. The Deceiver has given them too much power. Our armies of mortal men are useful for hunting down and delivering judgment to other powered men and women in servitude against My Father, but those are special. They are especially empowered to defeat The Father’s glorious kingdom on Earth, and only I have the power to stop them.”

    Jack pondered this. “So,” he asked, “why sacrifice men against them?”

    “Because I needed to prove how capable they were,” The Lord spoke. “That only I could face them down. Those fallen in service of God the Father will be seated beside him in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

    This lifted Jack’s spirits. “I’m sorry for doubting you, oh Lord!” he cheered.

    “Go make the announcement,” The Lord advised. “Inform the peoples of the world that, in seven days’ time, the final battle of Armageddon will take place.”
     
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter Twelve
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER TWELVE​


    I.​




    “Mother fucker!”

    Ed’s shout echoed throughout the group as they gathered their damaged weapons and took them inside. Everyone present looked gloomy at the pronouncement having been made. Jericho and Jennifer sat just outside while everyone else took stock. The two sat exchanging glances, all the while thoughts of the events played out in their minds.

    “The more I think about it,” Jericho said, “the more I think this fake Jesus is limited by the lack of imagination of Jack Hurst.”

    “I figured that,” Jennifer countered, “but what’s your point?” These same thoughts had played out for her. What specifically was he referring to now?

    “Jack Hurst probably thinks, ‘well, Jesus is the son of God, so he can do anything,’” he explained, gesturing, “but we haven’t seen him working at maximum efficiency.”

    As it dawned on her, a storm of emotions crossed her face. “You’re right,” she said, straightening in her chair. “When I fought him the first time, he reacted to what I was doing.” She checked off items on her fingers. “He didn’t know what I was going to do beforehand, there were questions he couldn’t answer, and when I attacked his nervous system, it worked. For a while anyway.”

    “Which leads me to believe,” Jericho added, “that he himself may only have a slight grasp on his powers.”

    “What are you all talking about?” John said, approaching.

    “This fake Jesus thinks he’s Jesus,” Raymond said, hearing the conversation from close by.

    John looked between them. “We knew that,” he said.

    “No, think about it,” Raymond countered.

    “Oh!” John exclaimed, his head shaking as if stung by a bee. “I get it.”

    “If Jesus knew everything, we wouldn’t be able to defeat him,” Jennifer thought out loud, “and if he didn’t, why not?”

    “How could he know about modern society,” Annie asked, sitting on a rock, “and not know some of the other things?” She didn’t wait. She finished her own thought. “Because he’s based on a flawed mortal man.”

    “Wait,” John said, startled. “How do we know he isn’t listening on this conversation right now?”

    “He doesn’t think he can lose,” Jericho explained, cutting in. “Think about the way he’s carried himself. Jack Hurst thinks of the Second Coming of Christ as him returning as what?” He pointed. “A conqueror. He’s supposed to conquer the forces of evil in one climactic battle. It should be impossible for him to lose.”

    “Except,” Jennifer cut in, “he’s not the perfect son of God, he’s a monster summoned by a man.”

    “But,” Annie asked, “why isn’t he able to just kill us from afar?” She looked around, suspiciously, at the implications of her own question.

    “Because we represent the enemy to him,” Jericho explained. “He has to be seen defeating us. That’s the point; he needs an audience.”

    “So, how do we proceed?” Ed asked, wiping his face.

    “I think,” Raymond said, “that based on the last battle, speed is going to be the make-or-break power.”

    Jericho snapped his fingers. “Exactly,” he said. “By the time most of you all got around to fighting, we’d already had to deal with four speedsters and that was a pain in the ass.” He shook his head and wiped his brow at the thought of it. He took a deep breath and let it out. “I think because Jack isn’t used to fighting, and he doesn’t imagine this fake Jesus as being a fighter, we should force him to fight our way.”

    John, who had been listening while tinkering with his gear, turned back to the group. “How do we do that?” he asked.

    “Best way?” Jennifer thought out loud. “Honestly, I’d say we all use speed in some way.”

    Jericho thought about it. “The way I see it, given that he hasn’t been able to shut off Jennifer’s power, if he wants to shut off speed, he’ll have to do it to where it affects him.”

    “How do you figure…oh never mind, I got it,” Raymond said, his thoughts catching up to him. “If he can shut off everyone else’s, but not hers, that means he’ll have to affect himself as well.”

    “Because his power and mine are at a similar level,” Jennifer stated.

    Just then, their ally Davis Wilson popped in behind them. “Okay, we’ve got good news,” he said.

    “My family is safe?” Jericho asked, turning to face them at once.

    “What? Yes,” Davis said, stumbling over his words. “We check on them very often.” He blinked the confusion away. “No, what I was talking about is that we’ve got more allies.”

    Jennifer stood up. “What kind?” she asked.

    “Sam and I had been checking on any people in the government who didn’t follow orders,” he explained. “We just reconnected with a group of them who are resisting the official orders to follow Jack and his creation.”

    “Excellent!” Jericho said. “And they can get the ball rolling on a project John was working on.”

    “Oh,” Raymond said, chiming in. “You mean the containment?”

    “Exactly,” Jericho stated, pointing.

    “Man,” Ed said, “I never saw John work this hard.”

    “He never had something so important to do in his life,” Annie explained.

    “So, can you come with me to help?” Davis asked.

    “Absolutely,” Jericho said. The two of them disappeared.

    “While they’re gone,” Jennifer said to Annie, “why don’t we get some training in?”

    Annie looked at her funny. “Training?” she asked, a mixture of startled and confused. “Like, anime-style training?”

    Jennifer nodded. “Let’s face it,” she said, “we’re not in a comic book. We’re not trained combatants, and there’s no Batman here to train us.”

    “So,” Annie asked, “how do we get better at it?”

    Jennifer shrugged. “We just have to master our powers,” she explained. “This is an entirely new category of battle. Superpowered combat has never really existed before in this world, and we can’t count on what we know from fiction to get us through.”

    The two women stepped away from the base and into the large open field surrounded by vegetation. They stood battle ready. “What do we do first?” Annie asked.

    “Your speed,” Jennifer said. “She may not be speedster level fast, but you should at least have been able to fight at a super speed.” She took a deep breath, motioning for her friend to do the same. “Focus.”

    Annie clenched her massive fists. She hadn’t read First Breaker in a while, but she knew what Jennifer was talking about. The goddess had fought against super villains at impossible rates of speed and based on what they’d experienced against Jack Hurst’s forces, speed would ultimately be the deal maker or breaker in the upcoming fight. Pushing her mind to focus on her inner self, she felt the abilities one by one. Strength and durability, she’d already figured those out. She could just act and those would act. But the goddess had other powers as well. A mental struggle passed by as she searched for the feeling.

    “Nothing’s happening,” Annie said, clenching and unclenching her fists.

    “It’s not like mine,” Jennifer explained, “mine is based on energy from another dimension. Yours is combat based, because Cyroya is the Goddess of Strength. She lives for combat.”

    “Combat,” Annie reaffirmed. She nodded. “Let’s see.” She focused her mind on fighting. Being somewhat non-violent she had a difficult time picturing it. In a few minutes, however, pictures came to her mind of the rush of combat, the impact of explosions and heavy blows from powered enemies, and weapons of every type. Whether it was the goddess’s thirst for battle or something deep within herself, she found the air flowing differently around her.

    Jennifer saw her friend’s head move rapidly from one side to another. Far too quickly to be normal. She shifted into a bit of super speed and saw her friend become normal again. “Good!” she commended. “You’re getting it!”

    “It’s not easy,” Annie stated. “It’s requiring serious effort.”

    “It wasn’t easy for me to figure out all these powers either,” Jennifer said, laughing a moment. “Just take it slow.”

    Annie opened her eyes and saw that the insects in the air flew at molasses speed. She looked forward and saw her friend, smiling. “Is this how it works?”

    Jennifer nodded. “Don’t lose concentration now,” she reminded. “Just keep this state in mind.”

    “Alright,” Annie exclaimed.

    She launched forward, her powerful legs propelling her. Jennifer took up defensive posture in response. A huge fist swung by the smaller superhero. As Annie launched blows, she found her state of mind easing into the combat. The goddess’s battle sense helped her plan the moves. Blows got dodged with shorter and shorter intervals.

    Jennifer saw the enormous strikes from Annie coming, and she dodged. Fists and rising knees, kicks, and other frontal attacks tested her. At first, the blows came at a speed she could easily dodge. The armor-clad body of her friend made a large target, so she would soon test Annie for her ability to dodge, and switch from offensive to defensive in one turn.

    “You’re getting it!” Jennifer cheered. “You’re…!”

    Before she could finish her sentence, the rising knee streaked upward towards her abdomen faster than ever. Her breath caught in her throat as she pulled herself into a concave position. The knee missed her abdomen by inches. Her foe took initiative without hesitation. She had to push her speed further in order to duck her head backwards. The fist zoomed by and caught several hairs and shredded them loose.

    Several more near blows caused Jennifer to push the attack into offensive. She pushed her speed even further and aimed for the exposed abdomen. Annie perceived the blow and pulled backward, focusing her combat sense. Her friend pushed forward, throwing punches and kicks, and Annie had to work extra hard to stop them. Jennifer’s forward onslaught gave her an idea. The goddess threw up her arms and absorbed several hard punches, using the opening to launch forward and deliver a hard straight punch to her opponent’s chest.

    Jennifer realized her mistake when she’d delivered the last blow, absorbed by Annie’s forearms. With ever-hastening velocity, her foe moved forward lightning fast and smashed a hard fist into the upper chest. She flew backward and had to catch herself in the air.

    Annie stopped. “Oh shit,” she exclaimed, “are you okay?”

    “I’m fine,” Jennifer said, righting herself midair and hovering back to the ground. “That was great! Your speed is getting faster!”

    “How’s my strength?”

    Jennifer judged. “If that was holding back,” she explained, “I think you’re on your way to really hammering our enemy.”

    A blue spot of light in midair opened into a portal. John stuck his head out. “Hey, do you think you can spare Ed for a bit?” he asked.

    The two women looked at each other. “Uh, yeah,” Jennifer said.

    “You need me?” Ed said, walking up.


    II.​




    “I think this is the place,” Davis said, focusing his teleportation.

    Davis Wilson and his boss teleported into the room, the whole time several powers gifted to them active. Candles lit the room; the air smelled of air freshener and essential oils masking the odor of people trapped for more than a week. All at once a great ruckus came over everyone. Some thirty different people all reacted with horror, shouts and screams echoed, and every gun on a hip drew itself upward to point at the new intruders.

    “Wait!”

    A lone, female voice cut through the tension. Sam Louis recognized the voice at once. A gun lowered to reveal graying hair with flecks of blonde still present in places, blue eyes wrapped in dark circles, and wrinkles reflecting years of service. She holstered her pistol. “Brenda?” Sam said, arms wide.

    “Hold it!” she yelled, retreating a step, hand hovering over her hip holster. “You’re not with the preacher, are you?”

    “Christ, no!” Sam stated, miffed at the insinuation. “We’re with the good guys!” He looked at the squalor, the hallway behind a barricaded door, where waste was taken out to be disposed of, only when the coast could be proven clear. “How long ya been down here?”

    Brenda waved behind her, and the group of government agents and their families lowered their weapons. “Holy shit, Sam!” she exclaimed, embracing him. “It’s been ten days. We fended off the attack, and got out of the last hiding spot, but we’ve been down here for a long time.”

    “How’s the situation with the fake Jesus?” one young man asked from behind her.

    “Bad, but we have hope,” Davis said, stepping out from behind his boss. He extended his hand for the woman. “Davis Wilson, FBI.”

    “Brenda Jeffers, CIA,” she introduced herself. “Holy shit, this has been a disaster.”

    “You’re telling me,” Davis interjected. “I just got word that a group of super-powered worshippers attacked our allies at their hideaway.” Quiet gasps and conversation followed for a few moments. “They survived, but this would-be ‘savior’ gave his final declaration: a week from now, in the Valley of Megiddo, he expects to face off against his enemies for the last time.”

    One could almost feel the wave of anguish and horror wash over the group as they heard those words. “So,” Brenda said, resisting the urge to hang her head and cry, “this is the end.”

    “Not if we have any damn thing to say about it,” Sam retorted. “How many people do we have here that are willing to fight?”

    “Fight?” one voice cried out. “Are you fuckin’ crazy?”

    “No,” Davis said, stepping forth. “Think about what we’ve had to do.” He gestured. “We’re all government agents here, or families thereof.” He scanned the room. “Every one of us started off as a naïve kid who thought they were going to be different. That they’d heard the stories of horrible things the government did, and we were going to change things. Right?”

    A series of guilty faces greeted him. “We’ve all seen firsthand our government lie to and betray its people,” he continued. “This may be our one chance in this life to actually be the good guys for once. Who doesn’t want to take it?”

    He looked around. Some seemed resolute in their desire to stay far away. He didn’t blame them. Hands flicked hair back, thumbs absent-mindedly wiped away sweat beads. Eyes darted here and there. The seeds of heroism had been squashed so deeply, beneath a tower of fear, yet he still saw them. “We aren’t warriors,” Brenda replied.

    “We don’t have to be,” Sam cut in. “We just got to be there to stop the riffraff.”

    “He’s right,” Davis argued. “We’ll have plenty of time to sift the finer details later. Right now, we have to provide help to those on the front lines.”

    “When all this began,” Sam explained, “I had to oversee this brand-new type of fuckery straight out of children’s funny books. Dave here’ll tell you, we had to spend eighty-hour weeks turning over every leaf we could get our hands on.” He let out a huff. “I thought I was going to go crazy. But one of the things we found out was we had a few people we could absolutely count on. I was pleasantly surprised. Someone I was worried about was just what we hoped for.” He saw some familiar faces, having looked closer at the crowd. “Some of you reported to me. I know you know how hard it is for me to trust people.” A few minor chuckles escaped the awkward silence. “A few people, none of whom have any professional training at real action, have stepped up when we need them. The least we can do is help them.”

    At first, only minor talk rose. Then, as people spoke to one another, a consensus began to echo above the rest. “I can guarantee you won’t be going into battle unarmed,” Davis reminded them. That seemed to push the boulder over the edge. Several shouts of approval resounded. “That’s more like it.”

    “What do we do?” Brenda asked.

    “Give me a moment,” Davis said. He teleported out of there. Almost a half a minute later, he returned. “Everybody join hands, a long line.” They did and a moment later, disappeared.

    They rematerialized in a building surrounded by snow on all sides. Some of the agents recognized based on wildlife in the distance that it was northern Canada. “Why are we here?”

    “Because of me,” Jericho said, appearing from a separate room. “This is one of the hideouts I’d established after the Lights.”

    Brenda stepped forward. “So, what happens now?”

    “We regroup soon enough,” he explained. “First, I don’t have time to explain everything. So, keep your hands joined.” He grabbed the first hand, and soon, everyone had shared memories and several new powers. “Thankfully, I don’t have to explain everything, so, I’m going to go now. I have to get back to the others.” He vanished.

    “So, boss,” Davis said, “What’s the plan?”

    Sam looked at his subordinate. “Oh no,” he said. “I’m not taking point on this one. You tell me what the plan is.”

    Davis took pause, contemplating the vote of confidence. “Alright,” he explained, turning to the group. “We’re going to form into teams and take down certain members of the enemy’s entourage that have committed acts of terrorism against humanity.” He began to point. “If I give you a number, huddle together and we’ll discuss targets.”


    A group of supers gathered in a church in Kentucky sat playing cards at a table set up where the wreckage of pews sat a few feet away. A pile of bodies had been removed from the building after an intense battle took place, the corpses in a hole with scorched grass around it. A number of believers in the church had decried this would-be Lord and Savior as a phony, as they refused to accept Jesus’s judgment, calling it murder. These loyal followers of Christ had taken it upon themselves to bestow judgment on behalf of their savior. Ever since the display of power in the United Nations building, the police had been delivering non-believers to them to be judged.

    The front door exploded into splinters with a burst of white-hot plasma.

    “What in the fuck!” a man shouted.

    A bolt of power hit him in the chest and blasted him backwards through the broken pews. A partner of his threw a series of fireballs at the group of invaders. A young man in his late twenties, garbed in a flak jacket and cargo pants, kicked a pew towards them. It caught the fireballs and exploded into pieces. An agent behind him grabbed him and chucked him like a projectile at the group of bad guys. He went for another fireball, but the agent collided with him, slamming into them and knocking two of them into hard wood. Six others exchanged blows before being overwhelmed. Before they could recuperate, another agent arrived and held them together, while another wrapped them up in bonds of pure light.

    “Alright,” a female agent shouted, “that’s one group down.”


    In Cincinnati, a base of supers got interrupted in the middle of their sermon.

    “Our Lord has returned,” the ‘pastor’ of the group began, “and…”

    A bolt of power struck him square in the chest. He was out like a light.

    The congregation of ten turned to see a group of thirty agents standing around them. Like a shockwave through a pile of straw, bodies collided, and plasma streaked across the room. Loud pops carried through the room whenever someone met fist to face or face to floor. A few unlucky believers turned into projectiles and sailed across the room to leave their mark in the walls. About two minutes later, a pile of bodies, writhing in their bonds, sat in the center of the room.

    “Let’s bring them these,” a male agent said, motioning for the group to join hands.


    In a pocket dimension, John, in his Doctor Anti form, watched as another group of enemies came in through teleportation. “How’s it going?” John asked.

    A group of no less than a hundred agents carried a group of hundreds of bound enemies onto the platform inside the mobile base. “We’ve been hunting,” Brenda explained. “I know you guys are the ones who are going to be doing the fighting, but we want to make it easier.”

    “Believe me,” John said, breathing a sigh of relief, “we’ll take what we can get. Put them over there.”

    She motioned and the agents carried the group of connected, bound bodies to a platform. Grunts and huffs were heard as the group got placed in the center. John produced a handheld device and pressed a button, and a wave of purple light passed over them, and they became motionless. An undulating translucent violet light coated them like a blanket, and they sat like statues. “Are they frozen?” she asked.

    “Just paused,” John explained. “Stasis. Once we’re done, we just hit the resume button and they go back to normal. It’s the only way to keep them from doing anything while we’re gone.”

    An agent from behind Brenda stepped forward. “You think we’ll be able to win?” he asked.

    John shot him a look. “Honestly,” he admitted, “I don’t know. But there’s cracks in this fake Jesus’s armor, and we’re going to find it.”

    A thought occurred to Brenda. “How could he destroy an entire nation,” she stated, “and not be able to take you guys out remotely?”

    “He probably could,” John said, “but that wouldn’t be very Christ-like of him. We suspect Jack Hurst’s thoughts influence the creature he’s summoned, and he’s too lost in his faith to see the inconsistencies in this ‘Jesus’ that he created.”

    Brenda thought about it. “That’s messed up,” she admitted.

    Davis stepped forward, having teleported in. “Guys, we’ve got a hell of a chance,” he said. “August Dietrich has been sent to collect some more loyalists. We’ve got a shot at taking him down.”

    Brenda and John looked at each other a moment. “Tell me what you need,” John said.

    “I think Ed should be enough for this,” Davis explained.

    “Ok, I’ll get him,” John said, reaching for his portal device. A few moments later, their friend, in the body of the mystical swordsman, stood listening to their plan.

    “No, I agree with Davis,” Ed explained to Brenda, “this is a great opportunity.”

    They stepped through a portal into a wooded area, with a cityscape off in the distance. Davis recognized it and drew his weapon. “Be careful,” he said, “we have to worry about civilians they might involve.”

    “I know,” Ed said. “I think I can pull it off.”

    “You’re not getting the element of surprise,” August Dietrich said, approaching. “I was able to sense the portal from miles away.”

    Davis cursed. “It’s a trap,” he exclaimed.

    Ed looked around. “No,” he said, “not really. They underestimate us.” He looked. “They didn’t bring any speedsters.”

    Davis thought about it. He didn’t bother to ask why not.

    “We’ve noticed you taking our forces off the map,” August explained. A half-sneer painted itself on his face. “No matter. Regardless of what you have, the Lord will prevail. Reducing the number of our forces won’t change the outcome.”

    “Then why do what you’re doing at all?” Brenda shouted.

    August shrugged. “One does what the Lord asks him to do,” he explained. “We’ve been sent to convert hearts and minds to the Lord.”

    “So,” Brenda explained, “The Lord brings about a perfect kingdom of happiness and eternal bliss by murdering lots of people? What sense does that make?”

    “You haven’t read your bible, have you?” August said. “The world runs red with blood before the eternal kingdom on Earth can begin. Or didn’t you read Revelation?”

    “My preacher growing up always taught me that the Lord was about loving thy neighbor,” Davis argued.

    “The Lord shall return as a conqueror to defeat Satan and his forces,” August shot back. “Enough talk!”

    Several supers, cloaked in a telekinetic bubble protecting them, shot out of the ground, pulled upward by power. The sudden increase in forces caused Ed to grit his teeth and draw his sword. It glowed several shades of dark blue as lightning and other powers crackled off its body. Several moments passed, with everything frozen in midair. Ed drew upon his knowledge of Kadosuke’s sword powers from the Spirit Blood manga and focused his mind. Tightening his grip, he stepped forward and slashed, a beam of power arcing forward and shattering the forcefields protecting one-fourth of the protected enemies.

    August Dietrich saw several flashes of light shoot forward in multiple directions, and his telekinetic protection over dozens of individuals popped like bubbles. Bodies got launched backward as if balloons hit by an air cannon. Agents bounded over dirt mounds and other debris, and began attacking the prone enemies with plasma projectiles, lightning bolts, and various kinetic attacks.

    Ed stepped forward and launched an attack, his curved arc cutting through the first line of defense around August, his bubble bursting and knocking him backward. The psychic barely dodged a lightning-infused swipe as he shot downward. An invisible pressure bullet exploded a foot-wide section of dirt where Ed had stood a moment earlier, the samurai dodging the telekinetic assaults and slashing again. A second pressure bullet met a plasma arc cut into the air by the sword and the two exploded, knocking both attackers backward.

    The two sized each other up before attacking again. “You might defeat me, but you’ll never defeat the Lord!” August shouted. A moment later, sections of ground exploded as kinetic waves erupted upwards. Ed leapt just in time to avoid being pulped by a shockwave. As he readied his sword, a rock shot towards him. He tilted his body to avoid it.

    Just then a kinetic shot caught him in the chest. Spittle flew out of his mouth as the wind escaped his lungs. He shot backward and clumps of Earth erupted from a ditch carved by his body. The surroundings seemed to spin as he struggled for balance. Eyes went wide as an invisible telekinetic field surrounded his body, lifting him out of the hole. “Don’t you…!” Ed tried to shout, before a force tightened around his throat.

    “Oh no,” August mocked, “are you begging?” He hovered the man at a forty-five-degree angle over him. “No, you’re going to die for your service to Satan.”

    Ed felt his chest burning as he struggled to get a hand on his sword. The invisible hand around his throat meant his time would soon be up. His mind began to scream at him to breathe, as his body began to feel faint. The truth became clear to him. Only one shot left.

    August smiled as he saw the rapidly bluing face of his opponent. The Lord had instructed him to find more of those willing to be loyal, and to bring judgment to those who would not be swayed, but here was a chance to get one of the Deceiver’s generals! It would be near blasphemous to pass up such an opportunity. He looked around; the heretic’s allies were busy tackling the forces August had brought with him, and yet, there was no problem. After this fool died, it would be a trivial matter to stop the rest. The lord had given him a share of his power, after all.

    Ed focused strength into his rapidly numbing arms. His right arm shot out and latched onto the sword on his left hip. Fingers clenched as tightly as he could muster. Only one shot, he figured. If I mess this up, that’s it! Crystal clarity wavered in an out as his consciousness struggled to remain. Thoughts of his friends and family burning in his mind, he focused. Light began to glow from underneath the scabbard. August saw his opponent doing something, and he readied an attack.

    “Damn it!” August shouted. What was this fool up to? Couldn’t he just take his judgment like a man?

    Ed drew his sword, slashing outward with impossible force. A white-hot arc of plasma curved into a tight boomerang shape, shot forward, cutting through the bubble around him like a needle on a balloon. August’s eyes went wide as he let loose his strongest telekinetic shot. It collided with his foe’s attack, and the two attacks stalemated for but an instant. August’s attack pushed forward.

    Then it vanished, and Ed’s continued forward, impacting the forcefield in front of the telekinetic.

    “No! This can’t…!” August shouted, as his forcefield popped like a bubble.

    The wave hit and his entire upper body became vapor in less than a second. His breath had no time to escape in a scream.

    The swordsman collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath. The enemy combatants, having seen an enormous flash of light followed by the crack of two telekinetic forcefields collapsing, got distracted just long enough for the agents to turn the tide of the battle. Agents’ fists collided with heads, and bodies launched into others quickly made short work of the loyal followers.

    “Are you alright?”

    Ed looked up at Brenda’s question, easing his breathing. He shook his head. “I’m alright,” he said.

    “Let’s get these assholes locked up,” she replied.

    “Yeah, let’s.”


    Jack saw his Lord close his eyes a moment. “My Lord!” he exclaimed, getting up from where he sat to come to his side. “What’s wrong?”

    “One of our loyal followers has gone to his eternal reward,” The Lord spoke. He shook his head. “No matter, we will not falter.”

    Jack closed his eyes and prayed a silent prayer. After, he blinked tears away. “Forgive me, my Lord,” he said, “but shouldn’t we not give them any more time? All they’ll do is take more of our followers.”

    The Lord looked at him. “I understand your concern, my child,” he explained. “However, we want to attract all our enemies to one spot. There will not need to be another battle.”

    “Yes, my lord,” Jack replied. “I won’t falter.”

    “Your uncertainty and fear are natural,” The Lord stated. “Just put your faith in me and all things shall be as they should be.”

    “My Lord, your kingdom is almost at hand!”

    The Lord’s holiness washed over him like cooling rain on a hot day. Whenever he felt his faith waning, whenever the Deceiver sank his claws into the heart of Jack Hurst, the Lord would be there to set him back on the course of righteousness. The questions that popped up in his mind from time to time, creeping in to sow the seeds of doubt and confusion, got stripped away with a single statement from the Lord. Soon, Jack knew, all the children of the world would be receiving this message. Soon, the enemies who fought so hard for the Devil would be defeated.
     
  13. Threadmarks: Chapter Thirteen
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER THIRTEEN


    I.






    The team stood in the makeshift arena. John had used his super science to transport them to another dimension once again, and they used one of their dimensional bases as a training ground. They didn’t want to trust that their enemy would leave them alone. It didn’t seem like their enemies had the ability yet to travel between dimensions, so they counted their advantages and proceeded.

    “So,” Jericho said, as the group stood in the barren building. “We’ve got all the equipment we’re ever going to have, all the powers we’ve gathered, and our allies are doing their part to limit our enemies’ power. What do we do next?”

    Jennifer pondered the events that happened thus far. “I won’t lie,” she said. “This is insanity.” She looked at her friends, whose battle experience, while limited, contained the memories of herself, Jericho, and several others. The looks on their faces, the weeks of horror that felt like decades, told her of their understanding. “We might not make it. This is one of the worst-case scenarios I envisioned when I started this. But we’ve got to stop Jack Hurst.”

    “I think I’ve got something I can do,” Luther said. All eyes turned to him. “My power is empathy. Jericho’s memory sharing power is one thing, but I think mine is stronger. I think I can hit Jack with every person he’s hurt, all at once.”

    Jericho had a thought. “What if Jack is having the fake Jesus share some of the suffering with him,” he explained, “because, you know, so many religious leaders have said that pain brings you closer to God?”

    Luther nodded. “Believe it or not,” he explained, “I’ve thought of that. It’s possible, but I don’t think he’s been hit with everything at once.”

    Jennifer pounded fist into palm. “Right!” she exclaimed.

    “Think,” Luther said. “Think about all those millions who he’s killed, all those people who’ve seen the image of their lord perverted into something horrible. I don’t know if he can handle it.”

    “Think you can do it?” Ed inquired.

    “I think so,” Luther replied. “Honestly, I can feel their memories just by invoking my power and thinking about it.”

    The two brothers shared a nod that spoke volumes. Jennifer cleared her throat. “We can battle train until the cows come home,” she said, “but honestly, I don’t think you guys want to stand here and fight each other one more time.”

    Annie clenched her steel-covered fists. She’d been dying to get something done. To her right, Edward breathed in and out. He’d spent days learning every facet of his character. John and Raymond had hardly slept, wracking their brains for every ounce of scientific advancement they could squeeze out of their enhanced intellects. They’d developed some things that would make Star Trek stare in disbelief and envy, but all of that depended on survival. Each person didn’t think they could hide away any longer. “What do you want to do?” Annie asked, eyes on their de facto leader. One by one, each member turned to her.

    “I want to go back in time and put my fist through Jack Hurst’s miserable skull,” she admitted. “But barring that, I think the best thing to do is to be a symbol.” Jericho gave her a look indicating he had a similar idea. “Our enemy wants a big spectacle. He wants his army versus ours. We took out one of his loyal followers. We take out the people doing wicked things in his name.”

    “Yeah,” Ed said, clearing his throat. “He might have been keeping his followers in line at first, but now, they’re let loose.”

    “John?” Jennifer asked.

    Her friend looked up from his laptop. “Yes?” he asked.

    “I’ve got some locations in mind,” she explained. “We go out and put an end to the worst that this fake Jesus has to offer.”

    He grinned and showed the map on his laptop to her. “Way ahead of ya,” he explained.









    In Africa, a group of men and women had been gathered onto a platform. At least six pyrokinetic supers stood in a circle around them. They’d been tied to posts. Beyond the group of men with hands on fire, stood several brutes, muscled and bulky. A figure stepped onto the platform, hand in a vial of oil. He made the sign of the cross in the air and began speaking.

    “As the hour of our Lord is at hand,” the man said, turning pages with his thumb, “the servants of the enemy must be sacrificed.”

    The ground trembled as a quake shot through the area, knocking men off their feet and jostling wooden buildings. Everyone turned to the sound of the impact, as it originated behind the large group. The sound of metal grinding and tearing echoed as Jeeps and other heavy vehicles were ripped to pieces. A single scream broke the dam, and soon, thousands of voices cried in a cacophony of noise. A woman of incredible stature rammed her way through the crowd, taking shots from artillery like a man playing dodgeball with children.

    The brutes charged forward, smashing their shoulders into Annie at full force. She took the blows and dug her feet into the ground, tearing a ditch as she held. She grasped the two and smashed them together and launched them in opposite directions. Several fireballs hit her and rolled off her armor. The two that got close to hurl fire fists into her, got limbs broken. One unlucky bastard caught her fist right to his chest, bending him into a tight U shape, and launching his crushed body into a truck with enough force to flip the vehicle.

    “Anyone else?” Annie yelled.

    She ripped the shackles and ropes off the victims. Before they could thank her, she took to the sky. Using her battle sense, she could tell where all the conflict areas were, as the servants of the fake Lord had come out in force. She landed in a village a few dozen kilometers away, where a local terrorist group had found themselves a new leader.

    “The Lord has given us great purpose!” the man shouted.

    A giant boot planted itself in his back, launching him into a mound of dirt. He looked up and brushed himself off. His face lit up. “A ha!” he yelled. “This is my chance to destroy one of the lieutenants of the Devil!”

    “I’m the Goddess of Strength,” Annie said, playing up her character. “Not some servant.”

    He assumed a fighting stance. “Matters not,” he shouted, clenching his fists. “I’ve had my power enhanced by the Lord himself!”

    She slugged him in the chest, smashing him through several wooden buildings. Before he had a chance to get to his feet, she clobbered him with a rising knee to his gut, lifting him off the ground. He hovered in place for a fraction of a second, before a left arm clothesline caught him and propelled him into and through a rock wall.

    He burst from the rubble and swung at her. His fist connected with her abdomen, and the shockwave from the impact blew away loose dirt and debris for several feet around. She didn’t budge. “Hey, that wasn’t half bad!” she said. Then, a swift upwards kick caught him on the chin and he sailed upward.

    At the peak of his flight, he screamed and swung a fist. She dodged, and an axe handle smash shot him downward with the rifle bullet velocity. He left a forty-foot crater in the ground. She landed and saw as he breathed his last breath. She closed her eyes and let the feeling come and pass. Each life taken bothered her, cut her deep, but she wasn’t about to let it stop her. Each person corrupted by this fake Jesus had to be stopped. The sooner they defeated Jack Hurst and his monster, the sooner people could be shown that this messiah wasn’t real.

    The sound of gunshots and explosions nearby told her that followers of the false messiah were everywhere. She grit her teeth and leapt into the fray.









    Jennifer flew head-long into action. Scores of superpowered gangs were hunting down those of religious faith that did not accept Jack Hurst’s Jesus as real. She landed in Texas, where she’d heard clusters of people being rounded up and imprisoned inside churches. An ice shot sailed past her as she impacted the ground, throwing six men in different directions from the shockwave.

    They swung their ice-armored fists and steel-coated feet at her, and her speed meant they sailed past her. The variety of superpowers coming at her honestly impressed her. Here were people who had gotten together incredibly quickly and fought in sync perfectly after just a few days. She would have been impressed if they hadn’t been either brainwashed zealots or those simply seeking the right to harm others with impunity.

    Angry shouts and expletives flew as she used her speed just enough. Their strikes slowed down to a crawl just in time for her to be seen effortlessly dodging them. Once they tired themselves out, she zapped them, disrupting their nervous systems and capturing them.

    She signaled and a portal opened, with their agent allies taking the criminals. She then snapped the chains sealing the church and let out the innocent. A woman ran up and hugged her as the crowd spilled out of their makeshift prison. “Oh, thank you!” she yelled, crying. “We were so scared!”

    “It’s alright now,” Jennifer said. “We’re going to do everything we can to put things the way they should be.”

    “It’s horrible!” the woman said, regaining some measure of composure. “That monster is so blatantly a false messiah!”

    “I know,” Jennifer agreed. “Right now, I have more people to save.” She gave the woman a smile. “We’ve got a few more days until the battle. We’re going to use the time to save as many as possible.”

    She took off and returned to a high position in the atmosphere. A battle she saw taking place was a young man with projection powers fighting off a crowd of zealot supers. She flew down. An eight-foot tall beast of a man pounded against an energy barrier projected in front of him while fists made of light constructs battered him in the side. A young man attacked several assailants at once with energy fists. A similar brute attempted to charge the young man from behind. At that moment, Jennifer smashed into both at incredible speed and knocked them silly. Freed from the distraction, the young man grabbed two magnetic manipulators attacking him and smashed them together with energy fists. A teleporting super popped in front of the kid and smashed an elbow into his face. Before he could be hit, he popped out again. Before Jennifer could find him, he popped into being in front of her. Using her super speed, she grabbed him before he knew what happened, and zapped him.

    The young man turned to her. “Thanks for saving me…Wow! You’re Capacitor!”

    His excitement turned somber. “Don’t thank me,” she reminded. “I’m just doing what needs to be done.” She turned to leave.

    “Can I help?”

    She turned back at his question. “It’s your choice,” she said. “We can’t guarantee our survival, much less victory.”

    “I don’t want to leave this world to the nutjobs,” he said.

    She mulled it over. “What’s your name?”

    “Andrew Javier,” he said.

    “Come with me,” she said. She signaled for a portal and one opened.

    Luther approached. “What do we have here?” he asked.

    “Another ally,” she said. “Go with him, he’ll get you set up.” She returned to the outside and the portal closed.

    She returned to the air and listened. Some of the agents were hard at work taking down targets, and her friends were busy with their own battles. Knowing that the Lord sat in the middle east, preparing for the final battle, gave her a sense of foreboding, but at least his effect could be reined in. Being able to do something was better than doing nothing.

    A statement, she realized, would be the best way to get the whole ordeal set in motion. Sure, the date had already been set, but she knew her foes would use the opportunity to give a series of final statements before the battle. She had to make one as well.

    The portal opened, and Raymond, working on a project with John, turned to her. “What’s next?” he asked.

    She let out a harsh breath. “We have to make a statement,” she said. “We’ve been behind this whole time. Our enemy preaches and everyone sees him, but it’s time we make a statement for ourselves.”

    The two exchanged glances. “Are you sure we should be baiting them like that?” Raymond asked. “Shouldn’t we just be doing what we’re doing?”

    She gave it some thought. “We probably should,” she agreed, “but I think we need to set the record straight.”

    John smiled. “I think we can work something like that out,” he said.



    II.




    Jack Hurst preached to crowds in the middle east, on their way towards their destination on this crusade. To his immense surprise, the crowds were very receptive. Very few displays of power had to be made, and few resisted. They recruited more followers as they moved onwards, and some of the supers that came along would prove quite useful, he figured. What truly pumped him up about the validity of his mission, the reason why he knew the Lord would not be countered by evil, was the communities that came together once He showed them healing and love. These were vulnerable people left behind by decades of western imperialism and to see children who had lost limbs to American bombs hurt his heart. To be able to restore them, as well as health and vitality to the elderly who had been victims of western chemical weapons injected adrenaline into his faith. He had finished preaching, and the Lord ordered the latest crowd to line up and receive the blessings.

    “My Lord, you look conflicted,” Jack said. “What bothers you?”

    The Lord touched a man’s hand, fingerless after being hit by shrapnel from an IED, and function returned. As the man stared incredulously, the healer turned to his mouthpiece and smiled. “There is no emergency,” He spoke, calming tones in his voice. “It saddens me when I feel our allies being defeated in combat.”

    “I have no doubt of your inevitable victory, my Lord,” Jack pleaded, showing his unshakeable faith.

    “Nor do I,” The Lord agreed. “There is a limit to how much I can enhance someone’s power. Our enemies are crafty and come up with strategies our allies haven’t stopped to consider.”

    “Will it impact our cause?” Jack asked.

    The Lord kept on healing people while talking. “No,” he decided. “Ultimately, giving our enemies a false sense of security won’t hurt us at all.”

    Those words struck Jack a bit oddly. “Do you honestly think they’ll believe they can win?” he asked. “That they’ll fall for it?” He trusted his Lord beyond explicitly. It was the kind of trust a son gave his father. Yet, his human wisdom failed him; he thought his Lord was making a mistake, and yet, he knew his Lord made no mistakes.

    “Once again,” The Lord reassured, “I sense and understand your concern. Our allies that fall against them go to receive their final reward. Our enemies might believe they’re being careful, they might believe right now that they aren’t letting their victories go to their head, but as their battles progress, they will.”

    Jack pondered this. “It’s human nature, right?” he asked.

    “Correct,” The Lord replied. “The Word of the Father will play out, even if not exactly as ancient men have written.”

    Jack seemed content with this answer. As the crowd finished receiving their blessings and healings, he made his bid of farewell to the crowd, and those who had pledged their loyalties got onboard a series of aircraft, while Jack and his Lord took their places aboard Air Force One. Soldiers made sure no one else got on board, and the craft took off.

    “Sir,” a soldier said, standing next to Jack’s seat, “we’ll be touching down in Tel Aviv in a few hours.”

    “Fantastic!” Jack cheered.

    “Soon, the holy land will be receiving our final blessing,” The Lord said, “and then we will prepare for our final battle.”

    Jack turned to his Lord. “I’m terribly sorry for wavering,” he confessed.

    The Lord looked at his charge. “No, my child!” He said, his strength and conviction audible. “You’ve held firm in the face of impossible opposition! How many others could have survived the insanity you survived? You’ve kept your sanity against all odds!”

    Jack wiped his eyes. “Thank you,” he said. “I am not worthy.”

    “Come now,” The Lord replied. “Sleep.”

    Jack leaned against the wall of the plane, and a soldier came and provided a pillow. He went to sleep almost immediately. In his dream, he got to experience a limited mortal glimpse of the eternal happiness that God’s kingdom on Earth would provide. A world appeared in his dream, in which, no person would ever suffer again. Anytime his mission seemed too difficult, he had only to think back to what the end goal was. Mankind could not be trusted with its own future, and the inevitable collapse of humanity could not be stopped by human hands. The arrival of the Lord would bring all debts into the clear. The Kingdom of God on Earth would solve all problems. There would be no sorrow or misery. These servants of Satan probably didn’t think they were bad people, but they seemed like they didn’t understand what they fought against. It was the fact that they fought to prevent God’s eternal kingdom of happiness.

    “Sir, wake up,” a soldier’s voice said.

    Jack slowly rose to awareness. “Hmm?” he asked. “We’ve arrived?”

    “Yes, sir,” the soldier agreed.

    “We shall get prepared for the final battle in a few days’ time,” the Lord said, rising from his seat.

    As the two stepped off the plane, a battalion of soldiers greeted them. The leader of the Israeli army greeted them and led them to an armored vehicle. Crowds stood outside guardrails where men wielding machine guns kept fanatics away. The shouting fanatics mingled with hatemongers and every manner of sign was held up.

    A man in a business suit came up to greet them. “Ah…uh…” he said, stammering as he struggled to get his composure. “I’ve been assigned to be your official government liaison. What will you be needing?”

    The Lord and his loyal follower exchanged glances. “What is the state of the site of the final battle?” Jack Hurst asked.

    “Well,” the government liaison explained, “we’ve been keeping the people from crowding it too much, because we expect that a battle between yourselves and the enemy will cause significant casualties without.”

    “Good decision,” The Lord complimented, nodding once. “Until such time as the final battle has concluded, we don’t want to be involving those who have not yet picked a side.”

    “Um, if you don’t mind my asking,” the man asked, “what will be happening after…well, the battle?” The Lord gave him a confused look. “Well, I…it’s just that the text of Revelation hasn’t happened according to the Word, so I figured…”

    “I understand,” The Lord said. “After the forces of Satan are defeated, my father’s eternal kingdom of glory and happiness shall begin upon this Earth. All who disbelieve shall be cast into the Lake of Fire.”

    The man swallowed and nodded. “I…see,” he said. “Let me be the first to say, I am a believer.”

    The Lord pat him on the shoulder. “Do not worry,” he said. “I have seen you accept my father’s glory, just now, so as long as you remain faithful, nothing bad shall befall you.”

    “Thank you, my Lord,” the man said.

    An armored vehicle sat at the end of their short stroll. “In here,” a soldier said, opening the rear compartment. “Forgive the accommodations, but it was the safest vehicle we had.”

    “Nothing to apologize for,” Jack Hurst said.

    They stepped into the vehicle and sat on a padded bench on one side. Jack Hurst marveled at the thick steel walls and the soldiers armed, seated around them. The preacher took a deep breath and relaxed. This whole adventure had been a bizarre whirlwind of activity. He’d seen the best and worst of humanity. His Lord had performed great miracles of healing, and painful judgments consisting of what mortal, flawed men would consider murder. It tested his faith, but he would hold strong. This is what he’d been praying for his whole life. If only the glory of God happened in my lifetime, he would pray. He wanted to be there for when the Lord’s kingdom on Earth returned.

    “Sir?”

    The Lord and his servant both looked at the soldier across from them. “Yes?” Jack said. The Lord sat, paying close attention. Jack listened attentively.

    “Will I get to see my grandfather again?” he asked.

    Jack turned to his Lord. “If you believe, and are faithful,” The Lord advised. “Anything is possible for my Father. I will advocate on your behalf.”

    “Tell me, Lord, if you will,” another young soldier said, his voice cracking with uncertainty. “What will we do all day, in Heaven?”

    The Lord smiled, and Jack Hurst let out a mild chuckle. “Oh, my child,” the Lord spoke, “your mind wasn’t meant to comprehend eternity. Let me tell you, the wondrous experiences that will enter your soul will be more than enough to keep you fulfilled forever and ever. Such is the power of the Father above.”

    The sense of wonder painted itself across the soldiers’ faces as they exchanged looks at their Lord’s words. “To me,” Jack interjected, “That’s what makes all this worth it. Our enemies believe this Earthly world is the extent of the pleasures available.” He solemnly shook his head. “No. The kingdom of Heaven is beyond any Earthly paradise. God in Heaven has no equal and his love and glory will fill us all and guide us to feelings impossible to put into words.”

    “They condemn you as a murderer,” a soldier said, “because they only see the forest for the trees.”

    “Exactly,” Jack replied. “When I got into preaching at a young age, I wanted to get across the feeling of love that the Lord instilled in me.” He leaned back in his seat, letting the youth in front of him fill his eyes. “I don’t enjoy the punishments we have to dish out. I don’t. I would prefer no one be judged and come up short. I don’t want anyone to be sent to hell.” He took a breath and let it out. “The problem is, some people are so unwilling to experience glory that they will fight to defend this broken place.”

    “Said wonderfully,” The Lord praised his charge. “Together, we will defeat the armies of Satan and the Kingdom of my Father will be restored.”

    The vehicle passed by an almost endless crowd, some cheering, some screaming and holding up signs decrying a false messiah, everyone drowning the military escort in a cacophony of noises. Military forces held onlookers at bay while a military barricade was moved aside so their vehicle could pass through. Once their vehicle entered the area, Jack Hurst marveled at the scene. Although people had snuck in, the military kept grabbing people and getting them out. The preacher stood in awe as he surveyed the land that, within a few more days’ time, would see the greatest battle for good versus evil in the history of civilization.

    The Lord beckoned, and the vehicle came to a stop in the middle of a clearing, and they stepped out. As military men clamored to surround them in a shell of human protection, a man wearing a more decorated uniform approached the two of them. “Will you be giving a statement to the press?” he asked. He gestured behind him. “There’s a number of news outlets who want to have access to you.”

    The Lord and his charge exchanged glances. “I imagine that’s our purpose here,” Jack answered.

    “That area near here seems to be the best vantage point,” The Lord said, pointing. “Bring them here.”

    In about a half hour, a series of news crews had been helicoptered into the secure area of the valley, and cameras and all manner of recording and transmission equipment got set up. Jack looked at the crews and at his Lord. His Lord nodded.

    “Okay, then,” Jack said. He turned to the camera crews. “We will begin.”

    The crews got their equipment set up finalized, and a woman indicated the broadcast had begun.

    Jack took a sharp inhale. It held in his lungs for a long moment, then he let it go. “My fellow servants of Christ,” he preached, “in less than seventy-two hours’ time, the final battle will be here. Our most powerful opposition shall gather their satanic forces here, for the climactic battle against God almighty.” He stared into the camera. “The kingdom of God that shall reign upon this Earth will be an everlasting kingdom of love, peace, and holiness. No longer shall pain endure. Every debt shall be paid, every misery made right. The things that make you less than whole shall be taken away, and your imperfections made perfect, your shortcomings made substantial and enough. There shall be no need or want; all shall be provided to all.”

    He paced around as he lectured his sermon. “All of this shall be made by the mighty hand of God in Heaven,” he continued. His expression darkened as he thought to their enemies. “Our foes are the worst kind of sinner. They blaspheme against their Father in Heaven, because they believe they possess the ultimate knowledge of their righteousness. Satan’s influence has convinced them they can prevail against their Lord and their Father, because they believe the lies of the King of All Liars. They have been misled into treating the eternal goodness as misery and pain, that the kingdom to come shall be the worst of all.” A contemplation passed through his mind, and he settled on a decision, shaking his head, in the manner of a disappointed parent. “It is beyond words how sad this makes me. Believe it or not, I do not want to see my fellow people suffer, even sinners such as these. However, they fight for the deceitful one, and their misery shall have to be overcome by holiness and joy.”







    A signal broadcast all over the world. Within minutes, every news station on the planet began showing it on their stations. From an undisclosed location, Jennifer and her immediate allies stood visible within the frame of a camera’s lens. Jennifer blinked a long moment, then opened her eyes and let out her breath.

    “Hello, everyone,” she began. She clasped her hands together in front of her abdomen. “You know me, and you know my allies. I’m not going to go on and on about good and evil, I just want to get a few basic points across. This won’t be long.” She closed her eyes and went over every thought with a fine-tooth comb. A few moments later, she opened her eyes. “When superpowers first became real, we all thought we were going insane. After all, this wasn’t a comic book, this was real life. The first thing I thought about was the impact of what I’d been given. After all, this was an impossible opportunity; I could actually do something to make the world a better place.”

    Her eyes drifted over to her allies, her friends, with whom she’d spent the past weeks doing untold good in the world. “My friends and I have been on an incredible adventure, we’ve done more in these past weeks than the entire rest of our lives beforehand, and we’ll never be able to get over how amazing this whole thing is.” Her expression darkened as she turned back to the camera. “Now, the thing I feared the most has come to pass. A horrible evil has come to extend his rule to the world. I’m speaking, of course, of the false prophet, the Reverend Jack Hurst, and his false messiah, this monster masquerading as the Lord and Savior of Christianity.”

    The briefest of moments of silence passed while she allowed the statement to gain traction in people’s minds. “I’m not here to tell you what to believe, or how to believe,” she continued. “I’m here to tell you that, regardless of what you believe, this is not the savior of humanity, nor can he be the savior of anyone. My parents were religious; they taught me that Jesus was a Lord of compassion, of justice, and of love. This monster commits murder. This monster uses the threat of death to compel nations to bow to his feet. Most importantly, he is the creation of a mortal man with a superpower.

    Jericho stepped forward. “I met the man,” he explained. “I discovered that this fake Jesus appeared not to the world, but to him. He appeared to one man in his living room.” He gestured disapprovingly. “How can you trust this man and his summoned monster when he blatantly demonstrates a lack of the basic characteristics needed to be a savior?”

    “If you understand that this man and his summoned monster cannot save us,” Jennifer cut back in, “if you see this abuse of religious belief for what it is—a tool of monstrous control and manipulation—then you must not support this. We aren’t going to ask you to follow us to your possible death in combat, but we must ask that you do whatever you can to oppose this creature.”

    “For the sake of the future of civilization,” Jericho said, “we will fight. If need be, we will die for the future of civilization. Just remember, this man does not fight for you, and his promise of an eternal kingdom will not happen.” He wiped his eyes. “Thank you.”

    The final verbal volley had been launched. The warriors who stood as the last line of defense against Jack Hurst and his false messiah hugged each other as the camera stopped rolling. They only had a handful of time left before the ultimate struggle.

    “If I die,” Jennifer said to her friends, “I’ll…”

    “No,” Ed cut in. “Don’t talk like that. I’m not going to hear it.”

    “We win together,” Jericho said. As Jennifer looked into his eyes, she saw his deathly seriousness.

    “We win together,” she agreed.
     
  14. Threadmarks: Chapter Fourteen
    Alejandro Gonzalez

    Alejandro Gonzalez Getting out there.

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2020
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    8
    CHAPTER FOURTEEN




    Massive armaments of soldiers kept a massive area of the Valley of Megiddo clear. The Lord and his servant stood waiting. Scores of supers, too powerful for the military to keep out, stood stationed around their Lord and waited for the all-important moment. The air seemed to hold its breath and the very Earth seemed to rest on the edge of its seat. The morning sun beat down. Despite the heat, a chill passed through all present. All manner of believers and non-believers alike stood in a gigantic circle around the inner circle where the final battle would take place. People stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back, some holding signs, all perfectly silent. No noise, save for the rustle of the wind moving the stray leaf about, would move through the land. The Lord hovered several feet above the ground, his eyes watching as he turned in every direction, facing both the crowd and seeing off into the distance, and the sight of him awed all present into submission.

    A portal opened. Jennifer, clad in a custom set of armor, touched down, forming the tip of a triangle pointed towards the enemy, about fifteen meters away from her enemy. The others landed behind her, each watching intently for the first sign of action. Jericho had a set of armor on and attuned each specific power he believed would give him a fighting chance against this fake Jesus. Only the non-combatants sat the appearance out.

    The tense silence exploded when the group of enemy supers vanished from their position, each propelled into action by their respective power. Jennifer ducked to one side and planted her foot in the neck of one super, his body a mass of muscle covered in stone. The shot launched him into the waiting arms of Annie, who planted him in the ground with a forearm smash. Jericho moved his head to the right, and a piece of metal shot by at relativistic speeds. He stretched out his hand, with a dozen powers in tandem, and pulled. The telekinetic saw his body fly forward. Edward leapt off Jericho’s back, and in one lightning motion, drew his katana and slashed. The curve of light that shot out moved forward and engulfed the foe, and his dust fell on the soil. Two supers dashed forward at impossible speeds and started trading blows with Jennifer. She had to activate both speed powers to match them, but dodged each punch and kick, and caught the first guy with a gut punch, and when he bent over, drove her knee into his forehead. His head snapped back at an impossible angle before the momentum of the kick launched him skyward. The other’s fist sailed past her, and she drove a right elbow into his temple, separating his head from his torso. Jericho raised both palms upward, and a group of eight projectile launching supers hovered high. He clenched both fists, and they compacted into a sphere the size of a basketball before a fireball shot from his palm and vaporized it. Jennifer made short work of the remaining enemies at super speed.

    “Enough games!” Jennifer shouted.

    The Lord turned to his servant. “It seems the inevitable has come,” He said to Jack, forming a protective sphere around him.

    “My Lord!” Jack shouted, safe within his bubble. “This shall be a glorious beginning to your eternal kingdom!”

    The Lord hovered to within five meters of his foes. He waved his arms outward, and a golden light overtook him, and his robes and sandals were replaced by golden armor, reminiscent of a thousand paintings of the archangel Michael. “The first time I came,” He spoke, taking his enemies in his sight, one at a time, “I came as a shepherd, a sacrifice, to rid the world of sin, at our Father’s request.” He closed his eyes and blinked away a lamentation. “It saddens me to have to return as a conqueror, but the forces of Satan have risen, and the final victory is at hand. I shall complete my Father’s work upon this Earth, and the result shall be eternal paradise!”

    “You talk too much!” Jennifer shouted, throwing a punch at his face.

    Before it connected, an invisible force caught her and launched her into the ground, kicking up dirt. Annie came up from the Lord’s left side, smashing a fist into his side. The force bent him inward, but he merely thrust his hand forth and a wave of invisible power blasted her back, forming a trough where a small rocky hill stood. Jericho stuck his arms out and clasped his hands together. A perfectly black sphere formed around the Lord, and at least a few dozen explosions could be heard from inside. An instant later, the investor got lifted off the ground, and hundreds of handless punches smacked into his body. He jerked back and forth as his armor cracked and splintered from being used as a punching bag. The last two shots caught him under the chin, causing blood to spurt from his mouth, and then a mighty battering ram of a shot blasted him into the ground. The sphere vanished, revealing a Lord whose hair had been tussled and his face marred by ash, but otherwise unharmed. Ed hadn’t even gotten his sword removed before he saw dirt.

    “Is this the extent of Satan’s might against his Lord?” He asked. As his foes pulled out of the ground and stood up, their armor falling away, revealing their bodysuits underneath, blood oozing from cuts and skin swollen from abrasions, he shook his head, eyes closed. “Saddening.” He opened his eyes and landed.

    Before a thousandth of a second had passed, all were on him at once. Punches bashed against his face, feet against his armor. Ed’s sword slashed at his exposed neck and face. He stuck his arms out at his sides, catching Jennifer and Annie, launching them like toys strewn about. Ed saw a hand wave in front of his face, and he flew face first into solid stone, propelled a good three meters.

    “You FUCKER!” Jericho shouted, peppering the fake with every projectile attack he had. Everything from lightning, to fire, to gravity bullets, to metal and rock, and beyond, merely ricocheted off. The lord raised a palm at his side, and the man did a three-sixty flip before faceplanting on stone.

    “I honestly expected at least a battle worthy of the Son of Man,” The Lord spoke, raising a finger and blasting Jericho back first into stone hard enough to crack entire boulders. “It really is sad how much hope the Deceiver puts in his false messiahs, given that you fools expected to seriously oppose your Father in Heaven.” He lifted a finger and the lot of them hovered and were set down safely on their feet. “I am giving you a warning. You have but one option: bow your knee to your Lord and receive eternal life. For no one gets to the Kingdom of Heaven but through me.”

    “Fuck you!” Ed shouted. An invisible force pelted him in the gut. He bent over and spurted the contents of his stomach onto the ground.

    “Say again?” The Lord asked.

    Ed spat on the ground. “You know what?” he shouted. “I’m a Christian. My friend Jennifer might not believe, but I do. My mama, you know what she did? She spent my whole childhood teaching me about Jesus.”

    The Lord listened with compassion in his eyes. “Continue,” He spoke.

    “She spent years teaching me about the Lord,” he explained. “We read the Bible together. She always said Jesus was all about love and understanding.” His eyes turned red hot and his face donned a furious anger. “You, sir, are not the Lord!”

    A sad melancholy expression passed over the Lord’s eyes. “It saddens me to hear that,” He spoke. “Do you know why?” He breathed out. “Because it means you have chosen, here and now, to die forever. The fate that awaits you is the fires of hell. It means you will never see your dear mother again.”

    “I bet,” Ed shouted. He swung his blade, but the curved beam of energy harmlessly reflected off the invisible field surrounding the Lord. Jennifer shot forward and swung a kick upward. The Lord curved his hand, and she focused her energy powers into her eyes and saw the telekinetic blast heading her way and shot a burst of ball lightning out just as she got launched backward. The blast exploded in front of the Lord’s face. He wasn’t hit by it directly, but the intense flash of light and explosion of thunder centimeters in front of his face caused him to blink briefly.

    Annie buried her fist hard into his armor as he showed the slightest of distractions. The force of the blow curved him upward and shattered his golden armor. His eyes shot open and a massive battering ram blow caught her in the chest and launched her into the ground. Jennifer appeared an instant later and caused hot plasma to erupt on the Lord’s back, and he spun around as chunks of his wrecked armor fell away, revealing his robes beneath. Without a word, he quenched the superheated attack, just in time for a blade slash to crash energy into the remaining pieces of armor on his waist and legs. With a shout, he stuck his arms out at each side, and a spherical wall of power smacked everyone away from him.

    Jennifer pushed through the pain and grabbed ahold of the Lord’s shoulders, spinning him around and attempting a headbutt. His eyes lit up and she found herself hurtling into stone.

    “No!”

    The Lord’s head shot around. “JACK!” He shouted. One of the enemy, the younger brother of Jericho, Luther Torvalds, had appeared out of a portal, inside Jack’s protective bubble, and latched both hands onto Jack Hurst. The Lord waved his hand and Luther’s head snapped back as he flew skyward.

    “My Lor…AAAHH!” Jack clenched his head and shrieked in agony. His eyes open as wide as possible, a look of sheer horror painted all over him, he cried out into the Heavens. He touched Jack’s head.

    The Lord’s eyes went wide. “Jack!” He implored. “What is this!”

    He could not see what was happening inside Jack’s mind. He couldn’t see.

    The Lord outstretched his hand. Luther appeared before him, blood leaking from his nose from the whiplash caused by the attack. His eyes rolled about and he sputtered blood from his mouth. A quick smack by the Lord’s left hand and Luther was restored to health. “YOU!” He shouted. “Tell me at once what you have done!”

    A grin appeared on Luther’s face. “Why, my Lord,” he sarcastically stated, “don’t you know? I thought you were God.”

    An angry sneer appeared on the Lord’s face. A finger extended, and a glow overcame the lower half of Luther Torvalds. His lower extremities lit up with the fire of a thousand suns. An agonized shout like no other released itself from the depths of his lungs. Never had the young man experienced such unbridled pain. A moment later, it ended, and he was restored. “You shall not tempt the Lord,” He replied to Luther, his eyes stern. “I will ask you but one more time, what have you done to my servant?”

    “See for yourself!” Luther shouted, his eyes suddenly blinking and then opening as wide as possible.

    “What? I…”

    The Lord’s statement cut off mid-breath. A child looking up from his toy truck appeared in His vision. The boy looked upward just as a massive wall of red light lit up the sky outside his house. A moment later, it overtook him. His fingers and toes evaporated, nerve endings lighting up with every pain impulse at once. It arrived at the brain just in time to cause unimaginable suffering, which followed by the eyeballs exploding, the nose melting followed by the rest of the face, and finally, parts one normally expects not to hurt firing every sense of misery at once. This lasted an eternity in the few seconds it took to occur, before the boy felt nothing at all, ever again. This macabre demonstration, down to the slightest sensation, repeated itself hundreds of millions of times, inside the mind of the Lord, as he got to experience firsthand, how every life he had taken had died.

    The Lord screamed and shouted, attempting to banish the experiences wracking his brain. He saw sights and experienced sensations utterly beyond compare in their horror. Worst of all, his every attempt to rid himself of what he felt ended in futility. He fell to one knee as his mind lit up with six or seven such experiences at once. His servant, Jack Hurst, writhed on the ground and sputtered as his body began to seize from the horrible sensory input. The Lord reached out to touch him and free him from his agony, but not only did that not happen, but it proved impossible to even free himself.

    Jennifer and Annie took positions as more than two dozen supers, crosses burnt into their foreheads, took to the sky with various powers, seeing their Lord in peril. Various fists traded between the two and the twenty-four different enemies ganging up on them at once. Fire covered fists and feet covered in spiky metal began to impact them from five different directions. The two combatants defended themselves, with fists impacting skulls and ribcages, and several different bone cracking noises could be heard. However, with the crazed expressions on faces, it became apparent these people proved more than willing to martyr themselves.

    A fist sailed towards Jennifer’s bloodied face, but a hand caught the wrist. The assailant, a young man with vaguely Germanic features, looked up. A muscle-bound woman hauled the would-be martyr up above the crowd and smashed an elbow into the man’s forehead. His neck gave way at an impossible angle and his body went limp. The attackers stopped and looked up as the new arrival tossed her victim aside.

    “None of you are real Christians!” the woman shouted, in Georgian-accented English. She then dove into the group, scattering them.

    “Thanks!” Jennifer said. She immediately assumed fighting position again, after wiping blood from her forehead.

    “We’re here to show this false messiah what real Christians are like!” A man shouted, popping in. Behind him, a good hundred or so supers appeared. In response to this, the Lord’s defenders regrouped, and a fresh batch came in from beyond the barricade, in equal numbers to the newly arrived defenders.

    “Go stop the fake Jesus!” the lady said, grabbing martyrs in each hand. “We’ll fight these!”

    Jennifer and her friends left as the two large groups of supers began to skirmish with each other. Jericho had grabbed his brother and the two of them circled around the two main enemies, ready to attack.

    The Lord struggled to his feet. A war still raged inside his mind, but he began to reassert his command over his body. Divine power continued to rage through his veins. He shot forth like a rocket, swinging for Jennifer, she barely dodged, his fist clipping part of her cheek off, which regenerated in a moment. Opportunistically, she kneed him in the gut as hard as she could while bent at the correct angle to do so, then elbowed him in the back of the head from his other side. He stumbled into a power-infused sword strike across his gut. A moment later, his elbow caught Ed in the chest, sending him sprawling backward. Annie smashed a jab into the same place the sword struck. That’s when Jennifer saw it.

    There wasn’t a cut, with blood, in the traditional sense. Where the two hits had struck, a crack appeared horizontally across his abdomen, with glowing white light emerging from it. It sealed up a moment later. In the fraction of a second after the attack, the look that exchanged between the three friends said that they all saw.

    All finesse went out the window. The Lord gave up dodging and the four belligerents began trading blows, each counting on their durability to hold out. After absorbing a sword slash, the Lord drove a flat palm into Ed’s gut, causing a spurt of blood to spray forward into his path. He then planted the sole of his right foot hard into Annie’s left knee, bending the leg backward at an impossible angle, causing the giant goddess to shout in agony, before righting her leg and setting it to heal. He swiped a burning right hand across Jennifer’s face, melting a hole in her left cheek, which began regenerating quickly.

    Ed drove his sword’s tip like an ice pick into a spot on the Lord’s chest, and Annie planted her enormous fist into the same spot. Jennifer’s fingers shot forward but hit flesh as the crack sealed up a heartbeat too late. Jericho arrived on the scene and shot twenty different types of projectile attacks into the Lord’s upper torso. His robes melted off and his skin charred in spots, but ultimately, he held. He smacked a glowing palm into Ed’s chest and the man collapsed and sputtered as an inhumanly bright light shot out of him.

    “You had surprises, servants of Satan,” The Lord said, regaining his composure, “but ultimately, you…”

    Three fists, one glowing with different powers, smashed into his face, and propelled him into soil. A beam of light erupted from the hole in the ground and burned straight through Jericho. “SHIT!” he sputtered, as he looked left and right, then vanished into mid-air. A right palm smacked into Jennifer, and a light pulsed through her, and she felt several organs rupture. A gush of blood and a piece of lung tissue came out her mouth as she rocketed backward into the ground. The Lord erupted from the ground and stuck out two left index fingers. Annie’ right arm bones exploded at several places. She let out a cry of pain like no other. He stuck out his right index fingers and her left arm repeated. Finally he stuck both hands out and her leg bones pulverized and she collapsed into a mass of suffering.

    The Lord spat blood from his mouth. “YOU DO! NOT! INTERRUPT THE LORD!” He screamed at the top of his lungs. He looked over, at his servant, Jack Hurst, regaining his composure. He saw Luther appearing and attempting an attack. “AND YOU!”

    Luther felt invisible hands drag him over to the feet of the Lord. “YOU DARE! HARM MY SERVANT!” The Lord’s unholy screech echoed for miles. A look of anger not remotely human painted a horrifying picture on His face. He stuck out his hand.

    Every bone in Luther’s body exploded into dust all at once. Every organ ruptured. His brain went for seizure and passing out, but He did not allow the man the luxury. The sound that came out of Luther Torvalds should never have been heard by human ears. An instant later, the Lord healed him, only to perform the same excruciating torture a second time. And then, he did it a third. As his allies watched, struggling to their feet as their regenerations attempted to heal the damage, a sense of dread and horror washed over them as they felt like children, unable to crawl to their friend’s aid. “You leave…! Him alone!” Jennifer sputtered, blood shooting forth from her mouth.

    The Lord turned from Luther, leaving him partially healed, but unable to move from the torture. He stepped slowly, deliberately, towards Jennifer. She looked up at him and would never be able to forget what she saw. She saw a look of anger and hatred no human face should have been able to make. It was the look of pure evil personified. If a normal human made such a face, they would die from anger alone. “YOU!” he shrieked, his voice carrying the weight of every act of anger ever performed. “YOUR FATE IS THE WORST OF HELL!”

    He stuck out a finger and tapped her on the forehead.

    Her body went limp. Her brain could no longer send commands to flesh. It found itself wrapped up in a suffering beyond description. It would prove impossible for any being, regardless of intellect or capacity for description, to put to words what suffering she endured. To say she was dead would be a misnomer. Her brain had images and stimuli, and her flesh had metabolism. But her experiences were beyond experience.

    If it were possible to describe her suffering, the description would not fit within reality.

    No infinity reached high enough to adequately accommodate her pain.

    Somewhere, a billion light years away, a thousand different attacks collected on a single point on the Lord’s abdomen. A massive crack shot from one of his sides to the other. A massive light shone outward.

    All at once, Jennifer found herself in command of her flesh again. Her hands moved of their own accord, it seemed. They wedged between the two parts of the crack, and her arms pulled with otherworldly strength in opposite directions. Glasslike edges of the Lord’s flesh cut into her palms as the crack began to seal, spraying her blood all over.

    She took to the sky, pushing upward like a Saturn rocket, drawing power from other realities into her body and burning them like coal to fuel her strength in as many ways as possible. The Lord smacked burning palms into her face, burning off huge sections of her hair and scalp, leaving behind blackened scars on her head. She gritted her teeth and pulled. As she yanked with everything she had, the Lord stuck out a finger and a javelin of light impaled her right hip. She screamed and sprayed a bloody mist across His face as she dared not let go.

    “You will not prevail!” Jack Hurst shouted. “No one can defeat the Lord!”

    Jericho appeared out of a portal, a hole in his battle uniform where he’d been skewered by a beam of light, now healed. He stuck his right arm through the bubble surrounding Jack, scarring his flesh as it ate through his clothes and into his skin. His palm landed on Jack’s left shoulder, by the neck, and a surge of power shot into the preacher, burning him internally. He screeched in pain and collapsed.

    The Lord shot a look over, taking a break in his defensive assault on Jennifer. His vision distorted as a wave of a feeling he’d never felt before surged through him. He saw the bubble surrounding Jack warp, then pop.

    The crack, almost sealed before, gave a loud crack as the blood coating Jennifer like spilled paint continued to pour from her wrecked hands. His mouth went wide. “WHAT?” he shouted.

    “rrrrRRRAAAAGGHHHHH!”

    The sky lit up like the flash of a nuclear explosion a moment after Jennifer’s inhuman screech. Most held their arms over their eyes. Four people saw it first.

    The Lord had been bisected at the abdomen.

    Jack collapsed onto his butt, lying there. Finally, he pushed himself up to a seated position. His eyes saucer-wide and his mouth as open as can be.

    Annie spat up blood as her body healed enough to stand. Ed lie there, in agony but alive. Luther felt a feeling of pure joy wash over him as he stared up, utterly unable to even turn his head. Only Jericho stood tall, his burnt arm slowly healing as it sizzled with smoke coming off.

    Jennifer let gravity take her and hit the ground in a puff of dirt.

    As the Lord’s two halves fell, and the light dimmed to normal daylight, at the openings where his body had been broken, light continued to emerge. Globs of liquid-like light emerged, congealed into a hard, crystalline shape, like quartz, then evaporated into dust, and finally, nothingness. His lower half hit rock and shattered like an ice sculpture. All color, texture, and features indicative of the human form faded to white light as the crystals grew from where pools of glowing liquid formed. The mass of crystals grew upward a few feet, then began to turn to glowing dust, and then faded.

    The upper half hit hard dirt. The Lord’s upper torso landed on the left side, shattering the arm, and leaving a cobweb-like pattern of cracks up the torso. He landed ten meters from his servant. Chunks of his torso lost all features, and fell off, crystal chunks of pure white. They hit the soil, and swiftly faded from reality. The Lord’s brown hair turned to glassy strands at the tips and began crumbling away. He looked at his cracked right arm, losing its features as it cracked, and began to pull himself forward. The stump of his left arm moved weakly as he crawled.

    “Jack…” he sputtered, white light shining from cracks in his mouth as he spoke.

    Jack looked in horror. At first, his limbs refused the signal coming from his brain, as his body mutinied against the reality taking place in front of him. Finally, he forced his body to react, and he clamored up. He ran at full speed.

    “I…” The Lord looked up as his servant, scared like never before, knelt and cradled the body of his Lord. “I don’t understand, Jack…” he said, sputtering.

    “M…M…” words failed Jack Hurst as he lifted the body into his arms, as one would a wounded child. “I…I…”

    “Please!” The Lord begged, as unknown quantities of fear and horror emerged from places in his mind He hadn’t known could exist. “Jack! Please! Help me!”

    “Um…Uh…” Jack’s mind raced at a billion miles per hour, but in a hundred billion different directions. He could not commit his brain to rational reality. “The…I…”

    “Jack!” The Lord shouted, his voice warping and warbling. “I…I can’t…! It hurts, Jack!” His face began to lose color. “How can this be…How…Jack…tell…”

    “My Lord!” Jack shouted, his mind latching onto the only thought possible. Tears streamed out of his eyes and onto the rapidly deteriorating body in his arms.

    “The…How…” The Lord’s gaze turned skyward. “My father…doesn’t answer me…”

    Finally, His eyes went wide. “Am I not…?”

    He went silent and still.

    A moment later, his body turned to dust in Jack’s arms.

    The preacher stared at the vanishing dust where his Lord had been. He blinked once with mouth agape.

    Then, he let out a scream of pain and loss not even a war widow could equal.

    A dozen news cameras and several helicopter cameras caught the moment. All the world’s eyes were fixed on the scene.

    Jennifer stood up, shaking wooziness out of her mind. From head to toe, she stood covered in her own blood. Wounds were healing, but her body bore the remnants of all-out war. “Water,” she cried.

    A super landed by her, and she gestured. He sprayed her from head to toe, washing as much blood and grime off her as possible. Next, he produced a bubble of water, which she stuck her face into and drank.

    She limped towards Jack, the hole in her hip having healed, but still bothering her. A super stripped one of their beaten enemies of her clothes and tossed it to Jennifer, who changed in a flash. She stood a meter from Jack, still kneeling by an empty spot where not even the dust remained. He looked up.

    She gave him a look that disarmed him.

    “How…!”

    She collared him, hoisted him to inches off the ground, and held her other arm at striking position. “What?” she shouted.

    “How could you defeat the Lord!” he spat out, the last of his will in his voice.

    She barked a laugh and dropped him.

    He stared confused. The strange response, like a splash of cold water on a sleeping person, drove his confusion away, and sobered him. “What’s so funny?” he said, heart still racing.

    She laughed harder. He continued to stare as her laugh reached exuberant highs.

    He clenched his teeth. “WHAT’S SO GODDAMN FUNNY!”

    She blinked several times. “You honestly don’t get it,” she said, shaking her head.

    “That wasn’t the Lord,” Annie said, reaching their position.

    Jack found his sense of will and grabbed for it. “You’re lying,” he said.

    “Nope,” Jericho said, stumbling over, still somewhat dizzy. “Feel that twinge in the back of your head?” He tapped Jack on the forehead, and the man got reminded of his own memories. “I don’t know how you gaslit yourself into forgetting about it, but everyone who has a power has one.”

    Tears returned to Jack’s eyes, but everyone could see he was lying. “You’re…you’re lying!” he shouted.

    “Then you won’t be able to summon anything else,” Jennifer said. Everyone shot her a look. “Jericho, if he does anything funny, explode him.”

    Jericho stood behind the man and placed hands on his neck. “Gladly,” he said.

    Jack would prove these fools wrong. There was no twinge in the…his heart fell in his chest.

    He felt it.

    Reaching, he pictured some harmless silly cartoon character from his childhood. He pulled the trigger.

    “Hey!” the cartoon rabbit said, popping into being in front of them. “I’m late!”

    “No!” Jack shouted, disabling the power and banishing the cartoon character.

    He thought of a superhero his kids watched on those Japanese cartoons and activated his power.

    “We’re going to have a fight!” the Asiatic character said, adopting a fighting pose.

    “NO!” His legs went to give way, but Jericho pulled him up.

    He turned on his power once more, and another cartoon character from his childhood appeared.

    “You’ll never be able to…!”

    “NOOOOOO!” Jack silenced the creature at once by turning it off. He collapsed to his knees again, hands clutching his face.

    Jericho folded his arms and waited as the preacher wept into his hands. After a long moment, he emerged, face a picture of horrified realization.

    “Oh God…” he muttered, his voice barely audible, as dawning terror captured him. “I killed them.” He blinked. “I killed them!” He let out another scream. “All those people! I KILLED THEM! OH MY GOOOOOOOOD!”

    Annie looked between Jericho and Jennifer, but when she looked at Jack, she was the only one who saw it.

    “JENNIFER!” she shouted.

    Jennifer, at super speed, saw the moment expand into an eternity. Jack was going to try biting through his tongue.

    Jack slammed his teeth shut, only for an impossibly hard hand to wedge itself into his mouth. “NO!” Jennifer shouted. “You’re not going to martyr yourself!” Annie reached down and hauled the man upward like picking up a kid’s doll.

    “You’re going to face humanity’s justice,” she said.

    Three portals opened, and John stepped out, with Raymond, Davis, and Sam. John snapped a nasty, red glowing collar around Jack’s neck.

    Davis and his superior poked futuristic-looking pistols into the man’s back.

    “Reverend Jack Hurst,” Davis Wilson said, leaning into the man, “for crimes against humanity, you’re under arrest.”
     
Loading...