The world had lots of colors. I don’t mean like, it’s naturally got colors. Anyone with standard eyes could see that. This was more like, my brain couldn’t focus on anything but blends of items that shouldn’t exist. I felt as if I’d been dropped into Wonderland in the middle of a black light party. Assuming someone had spent seven hours plastering the place with glowing paint and glitter bombs.
The stupid pale whiteness on my arm wouldn’t come off. It needed to be red, shiny, and all badass.
“Oh ribbons,” I mumbled. The words weren’t right for my situation.
The ground beneath me was cold. Or that might have been the area right above my head. Or something on my back. I couldn’t tell where the chill came from. Only that my skin had a pasty whiteness to it that had to go before I lost my mind.
“Don’t worry, I’ll kill that bitch for you,” Alice said. She nipped my ear. “Can’t let her get to my in-laws.”
“What?” I looked around.
“Are you all right in the head?” Lady Alexandrea asked.
Clearly not. But I could have sworn I heard Alice say something else. Something supportive and totally non-threatening that might have been a mumble. Or at least I thought she did but Alice wasn’t here, was she? I rubbed my ear and pretended that she dropped by as a disembodied voice all the time.
Looking back on it now, it should have been a sign. What kind of woman has two personalities, summons objects out of the air, believes herself to be Alice and a cheerleader, can speak in my ear despite not being around, teleports, and so on? The more powers a person has, the worse it is for the rest of us. One power, simply. One huge power, chaotic but still simple. Multiple powers that all defy reality, bad.
“I’ll be okay,” I lied and moved on. “My parents?”
“On the moon, with two others of the Planetary Defense Corps. We must go before the pirates get to them.” The behemoth turned to face a much smaller Tina. “How did they escape your grasp, Ice Princess?”
The taste of sour grapes and burned beef assaulted me. Everything remained cold. My senses slowly returning to normal. Whatever Vivian had blasted us with burned out quickly.
“She must have technology that canceled out the cuffs. Look at this!” Tina shouted and ice cracked to emphasize her irritation.
The cuffs were impossible to stare at. My head wouldn’t turn that far. I was on the floor, again. For the third or fourth time in an hour. That’s how long it’d been. Backroom stall, all the way to gas attack. I’d covered too many different power types today and sat poised in the middle of an other-dimensional school where anything could happen.
“She’s after my parents.” The words were strange to hear. My head tilted and I tried again, “My parents are in space.” The ceiling had a dull haze to it. The color didn’t have anything to do with anything, I simply had a hard time focusing.
“My parents,” I said like a broken record. Vivian wanted to kill them to prevent me from learning about some war. Well, wars didn’t interest me in the slightest. They might be huge for ratings on Hero Watch, but Ted and crew could go screw themselves.
A slew of questions assaulted me. Had my parents been in space this whole time? Who had Jade’s private detectives tracked down? Was the note from them before they went to space? Was my sister okay? Were they space people with ugly suits and weird cybernetic eyeballs? From there it only got worse, yet everything seemed possible. My own life had been beyond crazy and maybe theirs had too.
“How soon can we be on the go?” I asked.
Tina answered me, and what words she used I couldn’t say. Only that it’d take a few hours for something-something to happen. She continued and the words smeared together in a vaguely understood explanation. They had to finish cleaning the courtyard. Walker hadn’t foreseen this outcome or didn’t care enough to solve the problem.
Then she left to check on the students. Lady Alexandrea stomped off to find the Crystalline. I would have left but my body felt sore and abused.
Moving hurt. Not unusual, since I’d survived worse and would be okay in a few days. It wasn’t even the pain that set me back. It was hearing about my parents. I’d tried to keep them out of my mind during these last few years. Most weeks there was enough other insanity going on to drown personal issues into a mire. But something about that one exchange, those few minutes, had disconnected me.
I wandered out of the small room. Outside was a hallway with tons of other rooms that were all the same. One spot had a sign for bathrooms, male, female, other, bug person, whatever. This looked to be a dorm. People were going in and out of the other rooms. Beeping came from behind a door. I shook my head and continued onward.
When you live a life like mine, waking up in strange places and adapting becomes second nature. Outside is outside, east and west are about the same. The goal is ultimately to find someplace vaguely comfortable and away from people. A building housing my potential students would be bad.
The students ignored me. Teachers might have been in the mix but they ignored me too. In a crowd full of capes and leather wearers, I must have stood out. Not everyone wore jeans and a t-shirt. It was my costume of choice because designer clothes, like the shoes that should have been nearly indestructible, didn’t last long.
So, I explored. If people walked by, I chose another turn. There were multiple small gym rooms. Most had modified equipment capable of ranging from ten pounds up to a thousand. Lockers were lined up in clumps all over. Some stood in the open, others in dark corridors. I found an island that had been surrounded by lava. It popped and bubbled as I walked by.
This place had a bit of something for everyone. I wondered, briefly, what my life might have been like with any other superpower. Maybe I could have been a real student here, or a teacher, for something cool like Blowing People Up with Mind Bullets 201.
The students seemed disgustingly normal. Imagine, a place with people who could shoot lasers from their eyeballs, and they walked to the library. The library itself was eight stories tall and had glass walls. There were classes in there too. People made wild gestures and shouted.
At least a hundred students were here and there was enough space for three to four times that. Classes, from what I could tell during my staggered walk around, were informal and held at various locations. It wasn’t like actual high school with a dozen rooms kids were shoved into for hours. People flew overhead. Some group poked around at the distant sky where the barrier was being repaired.
Everything reminded me how shitty my life had become since gaining powers. This sort of awesome setting would be for the gifted few. Wilhem wouldn’t have picked every person with a power. He might have gathered one in ten, at most. Less probably given country boarders, other superpowers, ideology issues, and so on. But I could see aliens in the mix, and others close enough to pass for human that I couldn’t tell.
I got bored of exploring the campus. That bothered me too. I’d been put through the wringer and took a walk to get some mental fresh air but ended up grumpier. My legs wobbled and knees hurt, but onward toward a more interesting landscape I went.
This time it was the crash site of the Crystalline mothership. The thing was huge. Students and teachers alike were in the middle of the wreckage tearing it apart, or maybe putting it together with improved design. I couldn’t tell.
I stopped to listen.
A thick man with his hands cupped like a megaphone shouted, “Come on guys! You’re in class for construction. Take it apart, flatten it out, put it in the pile.”
People moved around tearing at the ship. They’d torn a rather large hole in one side. Two teachers off to one side talked to a mess of Crystalline beings. These ones were larger and constantly shifted their gaze away from the two teachers to the side of their ship.
Crystalline vessels are strange to look at. Space stations and ships made by normal earth people were made from metal, paint, super glue, and the insane dreams of a select few cowboys. Mole people vessels were the same, but instead of cowboys it was five-year-olds with duct tape and crayons. The Purple Prose was a mad scientist invention that probably used a submarine as its base then shoved purple lightning bolts into an “alternate engine” and flew through space.
The big ship being torn apart now was rocks, dirt, and broken jewels. The people who rode it through the cosmos were also made of crystals. I scanned around, trying to figure out how they expected to demolish or repair the vessel. I mean, taking it apart this fast had to be kind of vile to them. The students and teachers were basically scavenging a corpse before it’d grown cold.
Next to the Crystallines appeared a third man. Hands clasped behind his back, legs relaxed in some military stance. I frowned. Walker had appeared abruptly to deal with the aliens. I hated his pony tail and longer hair. I hated his smug expression which wasn’t really smug but all serious and flat lipped.
I almost walked over to see if he’d vanish abruptly or put some trap on the ground. Doing might have almost amused me but whatever he would put in my way might almost amuse him. I didn’t enjoy the whole convergence of women upon my person either.
Fuck it, right? Anything for ratings. I bent over and grabbed a rock, hoping a long-distance attack on the back of his head might work out. Naturally it didn’t. The rock flew poorly and hit one of the aliens made of crystal. They jerked in unison and put their hands together in mockery of guns. Bright light glittered on the outstretched pointers as they searched for their attacker.
Walker and the two teachers turned in my direction.
I flipped him off. He pretended not to notice. The Crystalline peoples though, they stood with their hands up ready to fire pow pows in my direction. For anyone who doesn’t remember, pew pews are small lasers, the bigger ones are more like artillery shells made of light. Because yay aliens. In the end they fisted their fingers. Holstered their hands. Disarmed their digits. Then went back to arguing with the teachers in slow gestures that made tree people seem fast paced.
At that point, the round man ordering people around stepped closer. “Come on!” he shouted into his loudspeaker hands in a whiny baritone. “Move it out! This week’s supply portal is opening in less than three hours. We need everything we can salvage ready to go!”
My head reeled which made the distant Walker chuckle. He’d probably ensured the loud speaker foreman was here just to scream in my ear if I stood in this spot.
“We ain’t got all day,” the foreman dragged out his words.
A lot of superpowers were at work. They weren’t quite as good as the people who rebuild cities like New York after a giant battle, but they were doing well for trainees.
Now, you may wonder why I took the time to describe all this. There’s a lot of reasons.
One, I wanted to explain a bit about the school. They had a lot. They were prepared for a lot. They trained for spaceships and cleaning up aftermath. This is a good sign. Heroes who can clean up after themselves are the best kind.
Two, I felt jealous. These people were learning to hone their powers in a place with some semblance of security away from regular Earth’s madness. The areas I’d seen for training in different environments were obviously meant to help all sorts of people learn to use all sorts of powers. They had coaching and safety nets.
Three, Wilhem obviously cared about their success. As much as a twit time walking jerk could care about people who wouldn’t live forever. He’d invested in this place, gathered students from all over. He’d built the nets to keep them from dying early and apparently felt willing to let enough mayhem through to give them real practice. Then when it got too complicated, he stepped in personally to deal with aliens.
So I pocketed two more rocks in case a sudden bout of annoyance hit me, and walked away. From the spaceship, from the field, from the students’ practice areas. My hands balled tightly and chest hurt. Then I found myself back at the stupid pad I’d been teleported in at.
Coming full circle bothered me.
I stared at him. Him and his giant red eyeball on a metal frame as big as my head. The lens around the red light narrowed then widened. He beeped once then spun around lazily.
“You’re from the future right?” I asked the robot.
He paused his actions, bobbed once and spun again. His orbit circled around mine like a small annoying moon. I turned with him and wondered if trying to get anything out of the robot might be useful. Flux wasn’t truly an artificial intelligence, but he had to be close. He reacted, he apparently lusted, but at times he seemed to enjoy not being able to communicate.
I couldn’t figure out how to ask the question I wanted to. There were too many. What if I met my parents and they died because of me? What if my ever-widening circle of chaos broke their legs, hurt my little sister more, anything? What if Lady Alexandrea’s belief in me being useful saved them somehow? I hated being morose and pondering but these were truly the thoughts I’d gotten hung up on.
And Flux, Flux showed no sign of caring. He simply continued an orbit.
“Can you tell me anything about my parents?”
It beeped twice, which might mean no, or that it needed to use the little robot’s room and dump some microfilm.
“Can you warn me about anything in the future?”
Flux beeped twice again.
This time I knew the machine wouldn’t answer. Flux never wanted to talk about anything. The machine simply responded to commands with a vague accuracy and recorded my life. Any other questions resulted in a gibberish language user’s manual. There were pictures on some of the pages. Most of the time they portrayed him in heroic and over drawn poses and me in crayon.
“All right, let’s start recording for Hero Watch,” I said.
Flux recorded everything but a lot of the footage came out with odd filler. He had panoramic shots, an unhealthy fixation for nice hardware, and enjoyed battles more than watching me. Clear directions got the best response.
Flux flipped around and narrowed his lens, waiting for action.
“Hey, everyone,” I spoke to my invisible audience. “Today comes with, revelations. Not about other heroes or powered fights, government conspiracies or nightmare beasts, or Alice.” The fans loved Alice. Why, I couldn’t say. Probably the closest thing they’d had to a woman in ever. I occasionally got to read the website every few days and would note that viewers commented frequently on her.
“So, these reveals are about me.” I stopped and scratched an itch that didn’t exist. “And my parents. Today two different people, Lady Alexandrea, who we saw a few months ago, and VVV, who I dated in high school, just before my powers activated. She’s upset that being near me resulted in an alien abduction.”
I paused. One of the others working for Hero Watch would cut this scene apart and interject the other footage. They’d done it before and would continue to do so. It was strange to think that my show got as much viewer attention as some of the shows I used to binge watch on television.
“This leads me to question a lot of events in my life. Cindy, who was there when I first started working for Hero Watch, the dead woman who came back to life, also seemed to agree. My parents are alive.”
I paused again to let the people do their thing.
“I don’t know what to do with that information. For those who are stupid, I think one commenter called you, stupid enough to listen to the obits I do on my site”—one of my other activities was to recount how those caught in my wake passed, on a “separate” site—“should know that being near me isn’t safe. I’ve seen, hundreds of people die.”
My eyebrows tightened while I considered the number. The list in my head that I’d been catching up on contained about a hundred people.
“So, now I’m told I need to help with this war. As an Agent of Chaos, which is admittedly a way better title than Herald of Failure.” My eyes rolled. “So if I go, I’ll probably see someone die again. It might be the very people who raised me. But if I stay, then I guess,”—but I didn’t believe—“that they may lose this war.”
I busted up with sad depreciating laughter. “Me!” I lifted my eyebrows and shook my head. "The key to a war! Truth is even if I say no, I’ll be sucked in somehow. That’s how it is with these sorts of things. The harder you try to avoid it, the more tangled up in the mess you get.”
Expressing myself to a faceless machine still felt awkward, even after our half a year together. The human mind may be able to adapt to situations but this would go out to a crowd of assholes hiding behind pseudonyms. Who would then take turns making fun of me, my hair style, the manly method in which I threw up, and ask questions like “What’s Tina’s bra size?” I’m fairly sure a pair of fine Cs were packed away under the tight clothes, but the Internet wouldn’t learn that from me. Alice would probably be in some college classroom in Nebraska and watch my latest video during lunch. Then the stabbing would happen. My mind derailed too often. Back I went to the video being recorded.
“Flux, naturally, will be with me every step of the way. I’ll try to keep everyone posted on what’s going on, the major players, the prizes at stake. But as for my parents, I’m not sure what to do on that front. Leave your suggestions below and tell me what you would do in my shoes.”
Then promptly go fuck yourselves, was my follow up thought. I wanted feedback, but the Internet only spoke the language of condescension.
I made a cutting motion across my neck at Flux. It turned around and bobbed through the landscape taking pictures of flowers then burning them under his small jets. He, as I loosely gendered the floating eyeball like robot, drifted past the place where I’d first ported in.
Surprisingly, everything here remained untouched, save for my barf shirt and associated mess. Someone had swept through and cleaned the small half enclosed room. Grassy fields on either side had been marred by lasers and crashing spaceships. The bricked area stood pristine and defiant against the mess.
There lay the crumpled-up paper WhiteWash had given me. I picked it up while shaking my head in annoyance. At the bottom were words, now smudged by dirt and time. The magic word remained. Off to the left I went, to stand in the magic spot and see if anything neat would happen.
I put out my hands, got ready for a lightning strike, and said, “Gizmoto.”
Flux clicked, buzzed, and whirred. That didn’t match what I’d expected.
“Time for an oil change?”
His red eye dimmed and the engine keeping it afloat stopped. Eventually his rear end touched down upon the bench. I frowned. The robot camera acted like he was in shutdown mode, which normally only happened when it had grown really bored or stopped to upload files.
I sat myself and felt instantly tired. More accurately, the exhaustion from being battered finally caught up with me. Together we ventured into slumber land.
A breath or five hundred later and I woke. My heartbeat jumped. Liquid pooled at the nape of my neck. My legs clenched.
“Oh God, Mom. It’s not what it looks like,” I shouted while flailing my hands. “This is Alice! Alice! She’s nice, I swear.”
She wasn’t. Mom wouldn’t understand. I took deep gasps of air and searched for the sight that had inspired me with true terror. Alice, either one, meeting my mom for the first time. I’d seen it all so clearly. She’d been a bit shy and worried as her blonder calmer self. Then Vivian showed up and Alice went full psycho.
My hands weakly balled into fists then loosened. Another problem for another time. I could put off worrying about it until later. Much later. Maybe next. Flux beeped. My head still bobbed unsteadily as the loud throb of blood overrode any noises besides the camera. I glared at the horizon until I realized the school still loomed around me but the Mothership had been deconstructed.
Either sound didn’t carry or I’d been too tired and slept through the noise. I glanced around to see if Flux had woken up. A small green dot on his back served as the only indicator my robotic pal still operated. Fingers absently rubbed against sore eyes. None of the others had shown up.
On the bench, sat a tablet. I stared at it. It didn’t transform into a killer machine intent on destroying all life. Upon touching the screen and waking the device, I realized it was much worse. My fingers dangled over a video clip and jabbed down to press play.
“Hey, everyone,” a voice that sounded exactly like mine said.
I jabbed the screen again to pause the video. My brief nap and nightmare had lasted long enough for Flux to upload the video. The cry to the masses had already been posted. Maybe someone would have useful suggestions on how to deal with my family.
I paused before scrolling down. Asking other people for advice came with dangers. They hadn’t lived my life, but some viewers had apparently lived a life of danger and intrigue vicariously through me.
Others kept tabs on me the same way I used to watch The Next American Top Loser on television. Or whatever those shows were called. They were seasonal celebrities. I’d made it to six months and part of me hoped that at the end of the year this show might be canceled. Then I could return to being me, a partially grown man-child who hadn’t completed a GED.
One man’s post provided a link to another article on the site, followed by a note. “Correlation isn’t causation but we can’t argue the above links. The Fiasco gave testimony on this site. The government agreed. In his wake key events happen.” Followed by “lol” and “look at this, The Fiasco is generating superpowered people?”
My eyes drifted to the link. I clicked and scrolled through. There were miles of names. Heroes who had died in battles I’d been witness to. Heroes who lived. Villains and vigilantes. Superpowered cleaners and psychics. Mystics, nearly every breakthrough in the last four years.
I stopped, put a hand over the tablet’s screen and tried to compile what I’d read. How many births of superpowered people had I been involved in? That list carried on. Once I’d mentioned a murderer in a small county who ramped up his kills when I arrived. The list stated that the lead detective in charge had a near death experience which boosted him into small time powers. He functioned as human bloodhound now.
There were more links. One showed a female in a nun’s outfit. The sole survivor from a nunnery that engaged in a covert war on two demon overlords. I didn’t know her but I probably knew the demons and the deceased women. They’d exorcised me once before. My path intersected with theirs.
A civilian caught in the New York battle against mole people. He’d been trapped in a store when I’d walked in, grabbed supplies, then chased off the mole people army. His daughter broke through upon watching the news and having a panic attack. Another man gained abilities fighting against villains who had broken out of an interdimensional jail cell. The timing reminded me of when Ted had framed me for robbing a quickie mart.
I scrolled to the bottom, past the comments section and reread the article’s title.
It said, “Adam Millard; Power Catalyst? Written by Ted Rose.”
My face felt numb and a cynical thought hit me.
“Great, now idiots will chase me in hopes of getting superstrength,” I said slowly, put my face in my hands and sighed. “Fucking Ted.” We’d broken up from our whirlwind Vegas partnership and he still haunted me.
After manly pouting and hand wringing, I picked the tablet back up and searched through the comments for anything useful to my drama with family reunions. A few were supportive but those were easy to ignore.
One comment said, “Stay as far away from them as possible or you’ll get them killed like you did my kids” which resulted in a dozen more follow up posts that were equally useful. The Fiasco, a monster. The Fiasco, a killer. The Fiasco, Herald of Failure. For every post that said, “hey guys, it’s not Adam’s fault” there were dozens harassing the person defending me.
So, my fan base made their feelings clear. Stay away. Could I? Of course not. The only sure bet involved seeing my family through the safety of a dozen one way mirrors warded against bad luck and bored gods. It’d be easier to vanish into a black hole for a month, again, and deal with the paradox of showing up back in reality before subjective black hole time realized I’d left. If that doesn’t make sense, it’s because physics, and black holes.
Flux beeped then whirred into action. I eyed the tablet, flicked the screen up and down a few times then set it back down on the bench. There wouldn’t be anything useful for me in the comments despite my vague hope otherwise. Tina and Lady Alexandrea didn’t seem to care. My students would probably be useless since they were self-centered jerks.
I chuckled and rolled my eyes. “I’m already thinking of them as my students, Flux. What the hell is wrong with me?”
“Desperation to fit in?” a woman said.
I froze until the voice registered. Tina had snuck up on me. We were vaguely alone in the middle of a school ground. My body still felt flushed from all the comments calling me a disaster and implying anyone who could stay away should. It’d been a roller coaster already.
“Penny for your thoughts?” she said.
“Not sure who’d get the worse end of that deal,” I answered while turning around. “But you’d be overpaying.”
The budding attempt at a friendly smile died as I saw everyone else. Whitewash, Leticia, Midnight, Clinton and Kennedy stood next to Tina.
“Your students have asked to go on this mission with you.”
“My students are wise,” I answered and sighed. Shaking my exhaustion proved difficult. “But maybe those three shouldn’t go anywhere together.”
“We’re all going,” Leticia stated with a foot stomp.
“You can say no, but they’ll probably figure out a way to sneak on board.”
“We did two months ago,” Clinton said.
Kennedy nodded. “Almost missed the boat. Fought this Eldritch horror thing with arms and legs that didn’t make sense.”
“You mean The Land fought it,” Leticia corrected.
I couldn’t figure out the lot of them. We’d only interacted for a few hours, they clearly had hang ups with each other, yet here they were. Together. It’d been implied they’d done this before too. I couldn’t figure out a proper teacher way to tell them all to fuck off or die. Those were the choices.
And was I now their teacher? Wilhem had told me as much. I found myself absently staring at Ice Princess. She responded in kind. No blushing or other stupid embarrassed gestures. Tina studied me like an animal at the zoo.
“You all understand I can’t protect anyone, right?” I asked.
Leticia opened her mouth but Whitewash clasped her hand tightly over her sister’s lips. “We know. But field trips are extra credit and help with placement afterward, and if you can point out problems, then Lady Alexandra solves them, we’ll be okay.”
Tina shook her head. “They also get emergency bracelets made by Walker. If it cracks the student gets yanked back here. Surprisingly we’ve only lost two students this year, and that was because they turned on a shredder robot.”
“I’ve run into creatures that make shredder bots look like little girls,” I said. This was literal. I’d met a person who could make people look like little girls. They didn’t have to be alive, or functional. It got weird. I’m not explaining any further.
In the time I buried a budding memory, the students managed to look resolute. They wore matching armbands that weren’t really bracelets. Green lights lazily chased each other over a spinning pattern that might have been Celtic.
“Fine.” I glared at the guys then the girls. “Keep your hands in your own pants.”
Generalized Ratings as Follows
Intelligence: 6 (Speed enhanced)
Agility: 7 (Speed enhanced)
Attitude: Easily amused, occasionally drunk, loyal, flighty,
Items of Note
Speedster from a family of speedsters. Slowest of the lot. Still learning. Often too busy hiding his relationships. Easily distracted by boyfriend.
Kennedy actually has a modified speed power. Not only does he go fast, but he’s often unnoticed by others as a result. His powers are a mixture of stealth and moving quick. Like most speedsters he heals quicker than normal humans and is more durable. These powers are standard for all speedsters as a survival mechanism. Otherwise fairly quick witted.
Kennedy actually has a fifty percent attendance rating on all classes since the sixth grade, but most teachers are unaware. He’s often assumed to be present even if he doesn’t respond. This is tied to his powers, which have been active in a lessor form since he was a child.
As such, he’s often more interested in what others around him are doing verses his own well being. He’s been fairly proactive in working with his boyfriend regarding his expansion of powers. He barely takes note of his own abilities or honing them, as he takes an instinctual approach to powers, rather than a scientific one.
He delights in pleasing others rather than taking charge. He actually hates those who are too bossy. To the point of actively punching aggressive people in the balls when they weren’t looking. This may seem confusing but with power comes the ability to take care of assholes.