Howling tore at my ears. Ted stood there with his lips pursed together but his whistle was inaudible. Alice’s face lingered in my mind as I glimpsed exactly what sort of madness a relationship with her might contain. For the remainder of the four second teleport a voice in my head screamed ‘run, oh dear god just run’ while another sarcastic and horny thought said ‘go for it, stick your dick in blonde crazy, see how that works out for you’.
We landed and the price for clenching my stomach hit. A bucket sat two steps away from our landing point. I took a shot breathe, dove then buried my face into the plastic while heaving. Ted’s footsteps moved on calmly.
“No time to waste Mister Millard! Do get up! Chip chop!” he used the safari hunter tone.
I hated how he kept calling me by my last name. It was too professional sounding. All that paperwork should have put us on the same level. Foul thoughts filled my mind as another two heaves wrecked my body. The after effects of teleportation faded and I reached for a paper towel to wipe off my face.
It was disturbingly thoughtful for someone to place both items at the other end of a teleportation destination. They even had a breath mint, which I took. I stood up slowly as knees wobbled. Ted moved on briskly. I saw a brief glimpse of him in a new costume. It looked like his news anchor suit with all the perfectly ironed layers and white undershirt.
I took a breath and pushed all the other thoughts of my head. There was only one thing that mattered, and that was getting whatever equipment Ted promised in order to move on with the next stage of this mad scheme. Gear, coaching, set me loose and keep providing guidance. Those were the next few steps. After that lay absolution for my failures, recording the duplicity of heroes, and dealing with Alice’s awkwardly mixed shyness and aggression. And that blackening hair thing.
My mind had wandered again and I needed to focus.
Coming out the door revealed a brightly lit area with all sorts of colors. A long bar sat across the way. At it were six people wearing the weirdest combination of gear ever, everything from road warrior to space princess skimpiness.
I wiped one arm across my face to make sure no barf had remained. A ding noise above me made the crowd cheer.
“Eyyyy! A winner! Drinks up ladies!” said a large burly man with fuzzy armbands..
I turned to figure out what the hell they met. A wall with six doorways sat behind me. One bright green light sat above the passage we exited. To the left was a sign that said ‘Minutes without incident’ and it had a zero displayed. To my right stood a green skinned man with warts and a disgusted look on his face. In one hand was a mop.
“I got it in the trash can,” I still felt shaky. Teleportation could be rough without preparation.
“Grglh,” it said then used its mop to push me out of the way.
“Mister Millard, time is short, and we need to move,” Ted stood ten feet away and was busy checking his clothing over for fluff. There wasn’t an ounce and his black pressed clothing looked perfect, minus a few flakes of literal snow falling down from somewhere.
I managed to keep moving. As we walked out of the bar a bell went off. I turned to see another green light above one of the doorways. That crowd at the bar cheered then laid back another round of liquor.
“Eyyyy!” the crowd cheered as another light went off marking a new mess.
“Three in a row! It’s a party now!” someone shouted.
Getting out of the bar brought us right in the middle of a crowded booth alley. Dozens, if not hundreds of desks with display stands, tends, and contraptions lined a narrow passageway. People were shouting and shoving pieces of paper at each other. A pile of books sat on one side with scantily clad women posed near large signs.
“Where are we?” I yelled at Ted.
He turned around. People passed by and crowded around him without regard. People had bags and fliers. Both the man’s arms went wide and people squawked. Ted didn’t care.
“Welcome to the one and only Grand Bazar, held four a times a year for the less morally rigid members of our world.”
In all my years, I had never been to anything like this at all. It was like an amusement park but for vendors. Each stall had someone different. People were lined up. I even saw one place for a single handshake with a Living Lust person. There was a insanely vivid picture with more curves then even Jade would know how to handle, much less myself. For one thousand dollars one could shake hands with the red skinned beauty and get god knows how many positive benefits.
“Mister Millard! We have two stops to make and need to do so before something untoward happens,” Ted pulled me away from the sign and I stuttered. That line looked long but maybe it would be worth it. “Come on.”
“Right,” I said slowly while trying to get a glance at Living Lust. We passed by the line’s head and someone had put up a giant privacy screen. People were being let in one at a time but their setup refused to allow passersby a glimpse.
That kind of annoyed me. I mean my power put me in the middle of everyone else in the universe. Why couldn’t it let me get some eye candy? I could barge through but there were people everywhere. The risk almost balanced out. At worst they’d try to kill me, which Ted would probably record anyway.
“We can’t slow down. They’re like vultures. Don’t touch anyone if you can help it.”
Every time we passed by a new display someone else started shouting. Signs were flashing violently, small flyers being shoved into empty hands. Ted kept two bags in his hands. Whenever someone would offer their spiel one of the bags would become available. The person, robot, or slime creature, deposited their informative packet into the bag and move onto the next conference goer.
Every so often Ted would drop a bag on the ground and pull out an empty fresh bag from a pocket. I caught a glance of one of the bags, sure enough the side was labeled 'Spam'. It looked like an elaborate strategy to keep the unwanted sales pitches down to a minimum. Clearly Ted came to this place frequently.
We were sweeping through the cramped hallways rather quickly. My escort was clearly headed in a specific direction. I turned and looked at the latest flier and raised an eyebrow. Someone had shoved it into my hands three turns ago and the woman on the front had a riding crop. Ted caught the glance and started talking.
"Evil mistresses are bad business. What you want is a morally ambivalent woman. A loyal one."
"Morally whatvalent? You mean, not evil, right?" I resisted opening the paper. Maybe I'd look at it later. I briefly recalled what the dou mentioned about Ted’s ex wife. She apparently had ‘gone all evil mistress’.
"Right. They’re not the same at all. Evil tries to stab you in the back. Morally ambivalent doesn't worry if you kill people for a living," Ted said.
"Mister Millard, you've got a lot to learn if you think honor, morality, and loyalty are the same thing. You can be one without the other, easily. Especially in this business. Look around you," he waved the bag of fliers and items went flying into people’s faces. “Or ask yourself about that girl of yours, Alice. Even if a looking glass separates the two, her insides and outsides are probably all mixed up. What one thinks the other does. She is willing to kill.”
“Why is that important? I barely know her.” My head reared back in confusion. That whole commentary was intensely out of left field. Alice had probably killed people, she certainly held nothing back on Wonderland creatures.
That was a moral quandary that would kill my brain.
“That doesn’t matter. You’re already halfway there. Remember, I can’t lie. So, when I call you a bundle of desperation willing to venture out on a limb for the slightest amount of hope, I mean it, with all the kindness I can muster.”
He wasn’t wrong but saying it outloud hurt. I glared at him.
“Come on!” Ted dropped both bags right on the floor then dashed over to a large looking metal box. “We’re going to go try our hand at a million dollars. Maybe you can buy a nice ring, or some wedding gifts, a good pair of pants, enteral toilet paper. Whatever it is a recklessly endangered person like yourself might need.”
“What?” I’d seen a million dollars in one place before. Actually, I’d seen about half a billion in jewels in one place. That sort of thing happened at least twice a year. At no point had I expected to actually get any real money for myself.
“What?” I asked again.
Ted pushed me past a string of people with green skin paint and obnoxious black headbands, around an old woman who wore owlish glasses, and right in front of the box display that took up a huge area. There were no desks anywhere near while even convention goers went nearby, except Ted. He didn’t care about whatever made normal people shy away.
He smiled woodenly. I glanced at one of the display signs. ‘Madam Zhora’ it said. ‘Have your fortune told’ and ‘don’t be afraid of death, Madam Zhora will tell you when it happens’. That sounded absolutely horrifying. Can you imagine knowing when your death would be? Here we were, at a bizarre bazar and someone was selling that knowledge. Thankfully there were no fliers.
And my sort of mentor stared at the place like it held every good thing in the world. Candy and calorie free cake and endless guilt free sex, or maybe more television without terrible side effects of people getting murdered. Maybe an off switch. Oh, an off switch would have been the greatest thing ever to find.
“Here is where we can earn some capital, Mister Millard. That will solve one problem of our two. Problem two might provide clues on your friend there,” Ted pointed to the floating camera. It bobbed around avoiding all manner of people.
My shoulders dropped and mouth hung open. Madam Zhora be damned, that floating camera was about the size of my head and still somehow managed to stay unnoticed. People paid the damn thing no mind. You might be wondering how the hell it made it through the teleporter. Me too. Such is my life.
Fuck it. Logic was too complicated. “How did it even get here? I mean, it looks just like your camera!” I said while waving both arms. “That’s got to be a hint. Right?”
“We’ll ask after you check with Madam Zhora.” Ted pointed to a shady looking doorway. It went into the square box where there was some small room lit by a red glow.
“What if I get claustrophobic,” my voice stayed flat. “Or shadow people attack and give me a wedgie.” That had happened, twice. Life gets weird.
“Oh it’s perfectly nice inside. They just separate Zhora from the rest of the convention. It helps with her powers. You’ll be in there for a few seconds at most while the doors switch.”
Ted herded me into the door.I barely had enough time to turn around before the door closed tightly. Only the red light overhead remained. Ten seconds passed and a new door opened on the other side.
I looked around with hard earned calm. Inside a tiny looking woman with drawn together shoulders sat at a table. A smattering of purples and reds lit up the area.
Her face was barely visible under all the accessories. Neither of us said anything for way longer than I was comfortable with. I took a few tentative steps inside and the woman drew back and opened her mouth only she still said nothing.
“Hi,” I ventured. “What do I do?” Stupid Ted and his stupid desire for questions. We knew who this lady was. I looked around for the red camera orb to someone find me in here but the observed was absent.
“Who are you?” Madam Zhora, and I was purely assuming at this stage, said. The hood came down and more features became apparent. Her eyes were freaky. There was a darkness to them that moved. At times they shifted and small motes of light flashed out, bright yet buried in the distance. It was like staring into a dim night sky.
The rest of her outfit got lost. The multi colored sash and large bracelet bands were less important than her eyes. I barely took note of a wall of crystal balls. Each one had the same sort of lighting her eyes did and that freaked me out even more.
“Have you come to receive your fortune?” she asked.
“Not really,” I said then tried to take a few short breaths.
“What is your name?” she asked slowly.
“Adam. What’s yours?”
“You came to see me. I am Madam Zhora.” She gestured to a shabby looking seat. I took that was a hint then sat down. She opened her mouth again then tilted her head slightly. “Do you mock death, Adam?” Madam Zhora asked.
“Once, I think. ItHe took offense but here I am,” I responded.
Her hands wavered. I stared at them and tried to figure out if she was nervous or excited. The wiggle could have gone both ways. Madam Zhora nodded sharply once.
“This is good. Immortals die. Everything dies. Except a rare few who cannot. You are one such. Is good. I can talk to you and not think of death,” she said in crispe but broken English.
A breath escaped me as I tried to understand what that meant. The sign outside had promised in fancy letters exactly what Madam Zhora did. She foretold of each visitor's death, but I had no idea how or what that might be like. She also acted like it was a compulsion.
“Does that mean you don’t know when I’ll die?” I asked. The leap was small after seeing so many powers in my life. Some simply didn’t work on me.
“You will not. Surrounded by death, yes. Those close to you, yes. That is the way. But you, you persist.”
“Great,” I said while closing both eyes tightly. There it was, an undeath sentence. I could tell you that in that one moment, I hated my life. Part of me seriously fucking hoped her power was just blocked and that my life wouldn’t be an eternity of this shit.
"So. Now I talk. You have tea.”
“Tea?” Here is where I completely lost control. I had no idea what to do and Ted had sent me in here for reasons. He wanted me to ask questions so maybe that was a place to start.
“Yes. Sit, sit. You are tired. Your kind are always tired.”
“Have you met a lot of, people who won’t die?”
“Not enough. It has been almost four years. Four long lonely years since I can talk to another soul without chanting their death.” She pulled out fine china as her hands shook. The chopped words were slowly growing more jittery.
“That sounds insane,” I said. It took me a moment to realize that I wasn’t be sarcastic.
“Is difficult. Now, again, you drink. I talk. A confession for my soul. You have no death so I will talk without interruption."
"If that's what you want to talk about." I didn't have any conversation topics. My sense for current events was vague at best. Sports teams had gone untracked for years. It was easy to let it all slip after I'd spent most of football season in another dimension.
"I had a son. He died."
"Oh," I said slowly.
"Yes. I drowned him." This clearly wasn’t a confession. This was a conversational landmine in the form of a mind fuck. You can see it right? She unloaded the big shit on me.
"That's..." I didn't know what to call that. Terrible? How do you tell a woman that she might be a monster? Do you have a suggestion? It felt like my entire life was bumping into a swath of powered people with terrible burdens. We needed to have a support group once a month.
"How could I be a mother to anyone? Every time I saw his face visions of his deaths came to me and I spoke the words over and over. Often it was me doing the deed. He was only six months old." Zhora sipped at her tea and stared off into the distance. "If only he been immune, like you," she said.
"It's not all that great," I muttered.
"A mother shouldn't kill her own child," Zhora counted, to which there was no way to argue. No parent should ever have to suffer through that sort of nonsense.
Either way, this wasn't a conversation I should be in. I wasn't a shrink or a mother who shared a similar history. Of course, my own powers resulted in crippling my sister for life and god knows how many deaths. As the oldest it had been impossible to help around the house. There were lots of things people shouldn’t go through, but here we were.
Maybe I understood a little bit. Our powers weren't blessings. Useful in certain situations, but the cost was high. I looked up from my own muddled thoughts to see Zhora crying. Slow tears trailed down the sides of her cheeks. It was easy to tell that this had been tearing her up for years but there was no one to tell. By the time I thought of her using the internet it was too late, for both of us.
"How long ago was it?" I decided on something to ask, finally.
"Three years. His name was Sebastian. A little angel. The look on his face was..." Zhora’s starry eyes were closed as she hung her head. The size of that guilt must have been immense. Here the woman sat for telling everyone else's death and willingly altering fate but those moments weren’t as heavy as the murder of her own child.
"You don't have to explain."
"I do. If I hadn't done it then things would have gotten worse. Every moment he was in my arms I spoke horrible things. Every moment I said how I would kill him, or others world. I tried to bind my mouth shut and the visions made me swoon. There was nothing that could be done. What would you have suggested I do?" The look in her opening eyes dared me to say anything. There was no right answer to her question but I had to know anyway. What on earth would drive a mother to do that to her child?
"What about a blindfold?" If her abilities were based on sight a blindfold might have helped. Sure it would be difficult to care of the child but it was better than the alternative.
"You would suggest I go a lifetime without knowing what my little boy looked like? You are not a parent Mister Millard."
"No,” I looked away from those deep eyes for a moment. “Children are not in my future."
"I imagine not," her accent had to be fake. Her skin didn't look anything like a Gypsies. Maybe this was all a stage production to her, the clothes, the crystal balls, the accent. It was what people expected after all. Yet the power was real. I could fucking see it.
"Maybe someone could have adopted him?" I tried another suggestion.
"My baby?” Her bushy eyebrows drew together. “I could never do that. If I couldn't be his mother than no one would. Besides, they all would kill him, or let him die. Everyone dies. I see it. I know this. He was doomed."
"Alright." I shut my fool mouth for once.
The silence drug on and Zhora's eyes grew more unfocused as time passed. She was lost in her own thoughts about the situation.
"Enough. Enough. We had tea, you have other things to do I sure. It been good to talk to someone. Admission is not absolution but serves as a balm. Thank you." Zhora started sorting things on her desk. It was like a switch had been flipped and I wouldn't leave fast enough on my own. She wouldn't look at me, but this wasn't in fear of her ability, this was shame.
I knew that avoidance. It was the same look I gave others when they died in front of me. That ever present fucking list that went on for miles made me feel the same way.
"Alright." The conversation was awkward, terrible, and I had no idea what to say to her. "Do I just go out the way I came in?"
Zhora’s hand waved me off and the rings around her arm jingled. "Yes. Your money will be waiting for you in the entrance chamber."
"Money?" Now I was truly confused. We had paid money just to get in here, why was I being paid? Maybe it was just a refund since she couldn't predict my death.
"Yes. Your money. Take it. Go."
I stood up and walked towards the door. In a moment of weakness I turned around to look at the fortune teller. Her face was now outright smeared with tears.
"Are you going to be okay?" I wasn't sure what else to ask. Leaving without even a goodbye felt wrong. The whole thing felt fucked up. Would I end up like that eventually or had I already reached that point? No, I was trying not to let that happen. My list would grow smaller as I aired each death out on camera. I hoped it would.
Zhora blew her nose and wiped away some tears then smiled weakly. "It helped to talk," she finally said. "Maybe you come back some time, we talk about happier things."
"Sure. Maybe the next fair."
"Yes. That is good." Her accent was back again. "I always here. Sometimes the heroes convention too. They let me have quiet space."
Zhora straddled both sides of the fence. There seemed to be a lot of people who offered services to both teams. Or maybe the hero villain thing wasn't that clear cut. We were all people trying to get by.
"If I can."
"Thank you. Goodbye Mister Adams." This time it was a clear dismissal.
"Goodbye Madam Zhora." Which couldn't be her real name. It was too cliché, but she'd never given me anything else to go by. Her returning smile was weak as I turned and walked out.
The first door closed behind me cutting off the fortune tellers portion of the store. Sure enough, there was a bag off to my left in the middle room.
I'd barely stepped out of Zhora's stall before being accosted. Someone tugged at the bad I let it go out of reflex. There was a brief glimpse of Ted opening it up as people pushed me backward against the metal wall.
"Special deal! Predict your death and arrange a backup!" A taller figure waved arms wildly right in front of my face. The man’s teeth looked like they were about to rot out. "It's easy! Works for the magical and technologically inclined!"
He pushed a pamphlet into my hands. A single sheet of paper had been carefully folded to show a human body on the front. It was nondescriptor and imfolded at the center to show price ranges plus the benefits of a body backup.
"MINIONS!" Someone shoved another brochure into my hands and took me by the shoulder. I was steered towards a booth with faces lined up one side and down the other. The man moving me had a hook in one hand and a patch over the opposite eye. Contrary to the pirate image he was wearing a freshly dry cleaned business suit. In the direction he was guiding me were piles of binders and laptops sat on tables. Each one opened to a person with some sort of statistics.
"You buy em, we clone em!" The first man with the rotting teeth said. He tried to find an empty hand to shove a third piece of paper into. Quickly he moved on to shoving the paper down the back of my shirt and hopped around. It was the grin on his face that disturbed me.
"Buy your favorite minion and clone em, guaranteed to stay stable for twenty-four hours!" Rot face said.
"Imitation knock offs! Buy real skills with real people!" came the business pirate’s response. He refused to let go of my shoulder with his good hand.
They were glaring at each other. I tried to back up away from the scrawny one with the uglier face but the tall one dug fingers into my arm then yanked. I stumbled to one side as they bellied up to each other. The well dressed one still had his grip.
"Once they're dead, they're worthless!"
"A few zaps of your shoddy cloning machine and good men are brain dead!" Business suit let go of me and shook a hook at the shorter man.
"Clones don't require insurance or feeding!"
"That's because horse shit lasts longer than they do!"
"We can clone horses too!" The shorter one turned back to me and tried another sales pitch with a new pamphlet that he yanked out from between his ugly teeth. "Fully digestible! Cows too! You can feed your newly owned third world country!"
"With an electric bill the size of the east coast!" Pirate said. He shoved at the short man with his good hand. I turned around looking for any way to escape this nonsense, or for Ted at least.
He was standing off to the side taking pockets of money from people. There was an image projected from his little machine onto the back of someone’s stall. I scanned the odds.
The hooked man had higher odds on winning an upcoming fight. Strangely my odds were about even.
You may be thinking like I did. ‘Why is Adam’s odds being bet on?’ and the answer is on who would win this fight. He appeared to be using the recently acquired one million as capital for his little scheme. My mentor was ninety five percent asshole. I caught Ted’s eye and flipped him off. He waved a handful of money at me and went back to taking more bids.
Notes on when mentality means shit all
Powers and Mental Stability
Translated from Technobabble by Captain Longhall, the sucker currently in charge of Area Fifty One
One of these earlier files talked about the correlation of super powers to insanity or mental breaks. I even shared the formula. If you haven’t read that one drop this and go do something useful with you life - like wipe your own ass - since clearly you’re not an adult and like to skip ahead. I bet your the douche who reads the back of a book first so you can judge it with no real context.
Assuming they didn’t hire someone like that as my replacement, then here’s part two. People with might often think they’re right. They will ignore morals, laws, and opinions of friends to complete their goals in a way that makes sense to them.
They also have far less moral judgment across the board. This is theoretically because at some point their power either shapes them, or they shape it and they get reduced to a few specific goals and beliefs. Eat, fuck, fight, go fishing. That kind of thing. These drives and their powers are interlaced so intensely that instability in one will ruin the other. It may seem like this is straying from anything useful so I’ll try to sum it up in a way that makes you think and earn your god damn star.
It’s like watching an ex-wife shit all over her husband and tear him down. Then he goes through life moping like a sad sack in need of antidepressants and therapy. None of that works so his ding-a-ling is broken forever until his confidence comes back.
Still confused? Well sure as shit I ain’t holding your hand on this one. Figure it out.Once you do, any powered person can be controlled - or you know, destroyed. Whatever the protocol calls for. That being said; this shit goes wrong too. Fuck with a person’s mind too much and that may go absolutely insane and take out a city. Page 1043 of this stack of crap cites some examples. It'll be your call, don't fuck up.