My mind is faster than my body.
This is of endless frustration to me, especially when I need my body to be faster. But even constant training in my reflexes, as well as using my hyper-genius to confirm how to act as efficiently, as effectively as possible (and, if need be, think outside the box: I can’t run 50 kph, but I can jump onto a car that can), I remain constrained by simple humanity.
(No, I am not interested in using chemicals, radiation, or cybernetic implants to go faster. No, no, no.)
Sometimes that limitation sucks. Like when someone with super-speed grabs me and hauls me around in a fireman’s carry, so that I can’t even use my hands to pull out a gun to shoot at the earth-slimy-tombstone fingers reaching for us. (As if that would do any good anyway.)
Even though I’m much slower than Harry (who isn’t?), and couldn’t block his grabbing me (even if I’d seen it coming), and can’t move swiftly enough to compensate for his shifting his grip to keep hold of me (which is a thoroughly unpleasant sensation) – I can still think fast enough to be aware of what’s going on.
What I can do about it, aside from fume, is another matter.
Yes, okay, the situation is goddamned scary. Whatever clearly-supernatural phenomenon is occurring hits all the right spots between gibbering terror and dumbfounded shock. There may be even psychic emanations that reinforce that sensation. One of the advantages of hyper-genius (mine at least – we’re all unique) is being able to spin off those limbic reactions into their own dead-end processes.
But that leave me vulnerable to fury over being so summarily removed from the the field. All right, yes, I can try to objectively analyze the tactical situation on the ground, speculate as to the capabilities and lethality of the phenomena, consider my ability to defend myself (acrobatics, judo parries, explosive rounds, grapnel gloves, electric bolts, the other various gadgetry secreted about my person – and those are the obvious responses), and evaluate whether it was reasonable for Harry to try and pro-actively rescue me.
That said, on an emotional level it feels like I am being treated as a delicate hothouse flower, unable to defend herself from the big, mean, eldritch horror, suitable only for chivalric rescue.
(Another thread of thought engages in a furious debate over whether I would be more outraged or more forgiving if it were Jason “rescuing” me. That one I definitely shove away as both irrelevant and far too distracting.)
Harry is a fine fellow. He’s of only mundane intelligence, though he can apply his powers to think average thoughts more quickly than most. But his heart is definitely in the right place.
It’s not his heart that I want to give a solid kick.
* * *
Split-seconds. Ahead of us rears an old stone folly, an antique (by American standards) observation tower in the midst of the cemetery. Harry’s clearly headed for it, perhaps to Rapunzel me to safety. Dammit, Harry –
And then I’m flying through the air, over his shoulders, as Harry panic-backpedals into furious deceleration, to avoid running into the rocky, earthy female form that has risen before us – huge, leaning forward, shouting, “MAKE IT STOP!”
This apparition doesn’t immediately bother me, as it’s no higher a weirdness level than everything else going on. In fact –
-- I correlate the overall form with vocal patterns, even as I twirl through the air –
-- it looks a lot like Charlotte. If Charlotte were a great slime-earthen statue, and shouting something about three octaves lower than usual.
Harry still manages to plow into the figure, tearing off an arm, blood – no, red clay – spurting from the wound, spraying across his lovely silver and white uniform …
Things slow down (from a perceptive / cognitive / processing perspective) still further, as my consciousness overclocks to help defend me. The world lazily spins about me, my body considering reflexively how it will land to properly displace the kinetic energy and inertia and be ready to act with the least pause.
The figure looks like Charlotte. She’s screaming, “Make it stop.” She’s clearly deeply disturbed, somehow wrapped up in the preternatural phenomena goin on around us. “Make it stop” – Yes, Charlotte, very helpful, I think we all want to make it stop …
(The world is more complex than can be comprehended, and even if some 3G-hyper-genius – do not think about the offspring of myself and Jason-- should be able to grasp all Newtonian factors of cause and effect, quantum uncertainty at the micro level would lead to random results at the macro level. The supernatural leads to an entirely new set of parameters, beyond normal predictability. As long as I consider it simply as additional pieces to the puzzle, and not some sanity-rending terror from beyond the grave, I should be able to respond tactically in an appropriate fashion.)
Fine. Charlotte is upset, and that upset is being rendered as an earthen figure – not topologically central to the phenomena (though perhaps directing it inadvertently?), therefore obviously an important facet of the situation and a team mate / colleague to whom I owe the duty of assistance.
I begin structuring a plan:
Land, get back as close to the Charlotte figure as possible, and shout something to get her attention, to draw her out of whatever mental snare she is in. Such as,
“Charlotte! All is not as it seems!”
No, I don’t want to engage her in a debate.
“Charlotte! What do you want stopped?”
Well, that is a polite enough question, and 89.4% likely to be ignored.
“Charlotte! I can see your petticoats!”
Tempting, but given that she is manifesting as a huge earthen figure coated in slime, that’s probably not going to be what’s bothering her most.
“Charlotte! Follow my voice!”
Okay, that could lead to trouble.
“Charlotte! We need you!”
Ah. Simple. True. Sincere. And carefully planned to draw a rise from her. Charlotte has a high degree of obligation to her cohort, a sentiment I respect. Hearing that she is needed is most likely to snap her back to the present and dispel any hallucinations that are blocking her.
I half-expect (47.2% probability) Summer – Radiance – to catch me as I fly through the air, but a quick glance shows she’s focused on the giant face in the cemetery landscape and doing, um, something with butterfly constructs. I find myself simultaneously relieved and peeved (as the American poet Frost put it, I contain multitudes).
I tumble slowly (in perspective), controlling my movements through how I hold out my limbs, adjusting the speed and timing of the tumble to land properly. I feel the space around me, look and build a model to understand where I am, where the others are, where the manifestation is manifesting. I have plenty of time …
Then things get serious, and all my plans have to undergo complete revision.
* * *
I have problems with empathy. I understand this.
In part, it’s because I’m a hyper-genius. I tend to overthink, over-analyze.
But the larger part is, I realize, my upbringing. Being raised by a psychopath, my ability to understand “normal,” socially acceptable behavior, interpret it, let alone model it, is hampered. And, to be honest, many of the men and women I was raised around, once Father sent for me, suffered from their own socipathy.
It’s amazing I’m sane.
Sane or not, I do have some academic training. Father insisted on a study course of leadership, specifically military leadership. I did some independent reading as well. And psychiatry texts. Criminal psych. Abnormal psych. Some of it was in self-defense, to be sure, but – even with the profound flaws at the foundation of Western psychiatric theory – I read and watched enough to have some intellectual understanding of what I’m talking about.
I have some real-world experience. I’ve been with units in the field. I’ve seen troops under pressure. I’ve seen older troops break under fire. I’ve seen younger troops …
Yes, there’s a distinction.
Soldiers of greater age – late 20s, 30s even – faced with a breaking stress tend to collapse. They either switch off and become zombies, repeating actions, losing all initiative – or else they go fully catatonic. Shell-shocked, as they called it once. People of that age don’t have the emotional resiliency to deal with that sort of thing.
Middle-aged troops – early-mid 20s – they express a similar problem differently. Full maturity, top of form, faced with a breaking stress they just go nuts, losing all cognitive restraint or judgment. Some of them simply run at full speed for safety. Others lose all sense of danger, become berserkers, the types who jump in the middle of the road with weapons on full auto, as much a danger to their comrades as their enemies.
They usually don’t last long.
Troops my age, their emotions don’t snap, but they still have an effect. They have their brains still engaged, but their emotions drive a spike into the back of their judgment. Teens, they’ve learned enough to know that with the real world comes hard decisions. Not just hard, but brutally hard. Decisions that sometimes will feel awful, that will seem wrong but that have to be done. Adult decisions, or what they think are adult decisions. What they’ve been told will be adult decisions.“Some day you’ll have to make the hard call,” we’re told. “You won’t like it, but you’ll understand it when the time comes.” Adults say that, a lot.
Except that adults agonize over those decisions when faced with them. Amp up the stress, and teens just do them, unable to judge properly whether this is (or isn’t) the right time, just knowing the situation means they have to do something drastic. Something grown-up and adult. Cued that they’ll have to do it when they’re old enough, they assume they are.
(It’s not just book learning that informs me here, nor observing the situation with others of my age. I will just say that.)
And so I watch Harry’s face along with everything out. The attack, the sudden appearance of the figure of Charlotte, the general insanity around us –
-- and, I suddenly realize, he’s been stressing for days, weeks. Kind, somewhat oblivious, chip-shipping Harry has been vibrating to a higher and higher pitch the past month. His father’s collapse. Running into his older self. Learning that his folks want him to join the HHL. He’s been under an increasing emotional weight – and, yeah, we’ve been doing fuck-all to help him, each of us wrapped up in our own head games of stress and angst and teen tsuris.
Lots of stress, then graveyard fingers reaching for him, then the slimy earth-statue of Charlotte that he ran into and half-tore off the arm of, sprayed with what looks like blood but is more likely dark-red earth –
I see shock give way to horror – give way to grim determination, as he realizes he must do something awful, a hard, brutal, overkill choice …
… that is completely, fucking wrong.
I hit the ground rolling, get to my feet in a skid that stops against a tombstone …
… And Harry’s moment of not-truth.
* * *
Something is happening. He’s not moving – or is he? Harry’s figure has become fuzzy, beyond my ability to see clearly. My cognition is hyper-fast, but my eyes, my visual centers are merely human.
The wind is picking up.
In the corner of my eye, something happens – a flash of light, a crack of sound – again, to the other side, and now behind, before, all around. I actually see a mausoleum disappear in an explosion of stone –
Harry. Mercury. He’s doing it. He’s lashing out in all direction, faster than I’ve ever seen, literally running a dozen, two-score, a hundred meters at a jaunt, striking objects – pieces of the graveyard, the tombstone figures, outbuildings, anything, _every_thing – with such force that they literally blow up when he transfers his kinetic energy to them – and then dashing back to Ground Zero in less than a blink of an eye.
A literal Ground Zero. The center of the ongoing detonation.
A sharp pain in my right arm – I look down, and there’s blood, the armor there shattered, a thin line slashed across my forearm. Shrapnel. He’s –
I see a half a stone bench flying high into the air, vanishing from sight somewhere over the city neighborhood to the north.
Another massive piece of stone, it might weigh half a tonne, arcs to the west. Anything – anyone it hits – will be crushed.
I’ve never seen anything like it. I look at Harry, but through his blurred face I can only see the wide eyes, the furrowed brow, the gritted teeth, the hard decision,
The wind continues to mount and howl, but its sound is almost lost muffled by a constant series of sonic booms all around me, windows shattering in the buildings adjacent to the cemetery, car alarms adding to the cacophony …
More pieces of stonework, boulders, pavement thrown up by the Face, uprooted trees or the shattered log-sized splinters of them – all flying in every direction, some so fast and high I know they will land beyond the city limits.
Nobody in Halcyon is safe.
What the fuck do I do now?
I’m only human.
I can shoot him. Rather, shoot at him. But his visible presence, the blur, is illusory – he’s spending no more than a third of his time reintersecting that spot on the sidewalk (the concrete already wearing away beneath his feet), so even if I unload on him, I will like as not miss.
I don’t want to kill Harry. Think, dammmit!
And if that bad decision decides that I am part of what has to go because I’m trying to stop him, I’ll be a fine spray of organic matter over a fifty meter arc.
I don’t want to die, either, but if I stay here, another bit of flying debris is going to do me in, sooner or later.
Batons, same problem. Lightning from the gloves? Assuming I could hit him would it actually show him down?
Don’t think lethality. Think effectiveness.
My brain is in overdrive. I still can’t see/process chunks of masonry headed my direction at super-sonic speed, but I can think a lot between heartbeats.
Dammit, Harry. I wish I could just give you a huge slap, break you out of your fear-constrained focus. But retribution aside, he’s moving at such speed that any physical contact with him would probably tear off my hand. My arm. My upper body.
It’s getting difficult to see, difficult to hear, difficult to stay standing, even though mere seconds have elapsed while I thought about it.
I can’t use force.
I can’t even touch him.
I have only my mind, and I’m no psychic or teke. Only my mind, and reciting the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (Ninth Edition) from memory is not likely to have any significant effect, esp. since I’ll probably be dead before I get to apocalyptic.
And then the 1100 lumen idea hits me.
The pen is mightier than the sword.
The word is mighter than the fist.
Assuming he can hear me.
I step forward, soooo slowly (in my mind), trying to keep my balance, trying to avoid any macro-level debris flying (the micro is beyond my control), hair whipping about me, trying to gain a few meters to increase my chances …
I can’t get any closer. I stare at Harry, willing him to look at me, be aware of me, register and see me.
Our eyes meet.
"HARRY! SNAP THE FUCK OUT OF IT!"
There’s nothing for a long (eternal) moment, then his eyes widen, dart around, as if realizing what he’s been doing – and what the results have been –
And I see in him the struggle to regain control …
Abrupt images flash through my mind, making no sense – _Jason’s conversation pit, Harry, Charlotte (!), butterflies, howling winds … a dark cave of writhing despair, with Adam (!), Charlotte, Summer’s glowing butterflies … _
I see myself – confronting Harry before he ended up in the Sepiaverse … in the Sepiaverse, shouting at Jason … sitting at the Quill Compound looking very reserved and defensive in a cushiony chair … moving in with Summer …
The hell? Then I hear a voice – Summer – ringing through my head, “Come home!”
She’s speaking to Charlotte. I know that, somehow, but what --?
Harry screws his eyes shut. I can see him concentrating, trying to get himself under control, and the hurricane around him.
And, slowly, his vibrations die down, his face comes into in focus … the winds turn to clouds of dust to mere shudders of air … the crack-thumps of destruction become sparse, then stop.
And Harry sags in place – almost, but not quite, dropping to one knee before straightening out. Given the amount of energy he’s just extended, it’s shocking he’s conscious.
He eyes open, and focus on me. He opens his mouth, croaks something, swallows, then, “You can’t complain … the next time I save you.”
He grim smile. “I’ll be … returning the favor.”
Oh. It was an oblique compliment. Too oblique, though. I realize I’m still pissed off, between his yanking me out of danger like I was so much precious baggage – and then going nuts and nearly killing me and demolishing the city.
Okay, to be honest, I more pissed about the former, but the latter is a bitter irony on top of it.
“So, you admit I did something useful here?” My voice is more angry than it should be. Angry with Harry – and maybe angry with myself. I should be celebrating, snarking to him about what I’ve done. Instead, I’m uncertain enough to almost snarl the words. “Are you saying I actually contributed? That you maybe, even, respect me?”
Because, dammit, I may have been utterly useless in dealing with whatever the Giant Face and Disappearing Adam and Moaning Charlotte – but I may have just saved Halcyon, and that’s not just xiǎobáicài. Is it? Dammit, why do I need him to tell me?
Because he’s Harry. And, huge fear management issue aside, I respect his opinion.
But I’m expecting him to be defensive, or defiant, or in denial._ I had it under control. I was just worried you would get hurt. I knew what I was doing. You should have run. We didn’t need you._
Instead, he replies, his face utterly grave, his voice harsh. “You’re as much a superhero as anyone else here. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
And I am struck dumb, except to stammer out, “Uh … thanks.”
* * *
That’s not where things end, of course. Between Giant Face / tombstone finger shenanigans, and Harry playing super-powered demolition squad, the area is, frankly, devastated. That entire sector of the cemetery is gone, functionally flat – a scoured, muddy, post-tornado + hurricane + tactical nuclear device wasteland. No grass or walks or streets or trees or topsoil.
There are some broken headstones. A few fragments of crypts. No sign of Charlotte’s tomb.
The others are all back. There are hugs amongst them. I’m standing near Harry – half-watching to make sure he’s okay (and not about to freak out again), half in solidarity to let him know someone’s there.
In the distance, the siren wails of First Responders are echoing from three directions.
I’m suddenly exhausted, but I have a painful feeling we’re not going home any time soon.
author: *** Dave H.
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