(11/23/80 – Eldritch/Nick)
I hadn’t been given a chance to get off the stage which meant I was the second person to hear Clairvoyant’s horrifying news. From my vantage, I could see a ripple of shock and terror spread across the crowd as people processed what she had said.
Whether we wanted to be a part of this fight or not, Titan was right. There was no going back for any of us.
For a moment, the organizer of this haphazard collective seemed daunted, but he quickly put back on a mask of confidence and spoke above the growing clamor to regain control. “Everyone, listen to me. We are going to survive this.”
“How?” a woman I didn’t recognize shouted back, “Multitask said the ship would be ready in a week, not tomorrow!”
Titan turned to her, “You have twenty hours and we need it to be ready. Chemtrail, give her all the doses you have. I don’t care about the possible side effects. Dragoon, Toolkit, Armorsmith, you are all mechanically minded; give her a hand,” he commanded.
“I don’t exactly build spaceships,” Toolkit called back.
“You do now,” he replied. “Relay, if you would please.”
At the edge of the crowd, one man’s hand glowed a soft green and then the group of people vanished. “For everyone else here,” Titan shouted, “We have very little time so listen closely! You only have a few hours to get your things together; when you go, tell Interface and Relay where you need to go, they’ll give you the location of the closest Relay station from that location. When you’re ready to meet at the ships build site, go to the Relay station and ask to be brought home; he’ll take care of the rest.”
“Yeah, but what are we doing?” an Adapted I didn’t know shouted.
“Get a change of clothes, make peace with your friends and family if you have any. Get your affairs in order because there is a decent chance we won’t come back to Tso’got for a long while.”
A glance at the crowd told me I wasn’t the only person who picked up on the unspoken ‘if at all’ from Titan.
“Stay with people,” Titan bellowed over the clamor, “Do not allow yourself to be isolated, but get your things in order as quickly as you can. We will have a camp set up around the ship. If your power or expertise can help with the construction, come quickly as those working on it will need all the help they can get. While running around on Ciel, do not go out alone. Always have someone you trust with you and keep each other safe,” he insisted. “And don’t leave out the front door. I need this location to remain hidden for a little while longer.”
The instant he stopped talking, people began to quickly flock into groups, hastily crowding around Relay and Interface, wanting to depart the mosh pit of Adapted. About ten people stayed where they were, people who worked directly for Titan.
People he had already gotten to let go of their former life.
“Hey!” a familiar voice shouted at me. At the edge of the stage, Murphy was waiting with Ragdoll hanging right behind him, “Let’s get you out of here.”
I got a nod from Titan and was relieved to get off the stage, away from the people looking up at me with a judgmental glint in their eye; even though Clemency had essentially pardoned me publically, it didn’t change that a monster had brought havoc to the place.
As I landed next to my friend, I was a little confused as to why the Flagbearers were standing with Murphy instead of my usual teammates. While I was glad to meet the team that Dragoon had worked with, they were the familiar faces I was expecting. “Where did the others go?”
“Mutant, Lightshow, Menagerie and Geyser all took off to clear out of their apartment and their little flat.” He let his eyes drop a little, “One of the things you made took a bite out of Mutant earlier; it spooked them and the others are still nervous around you.”
I tried to steady myself as Murphy relayed the news. “I get it,” I finally lamented, “I just hope they know it really wasn’t what I meant to do…to anyone.”
“They need some time,” Ragdoll said, stepping forward and extending a hand. “We’ve never formally met.”
“I know about you though,” I replied to the Enhancer as I took his hand, a bit confused that he was still wearing hand wraps even though he was otherwise out of costume. Ragdoll looked like a fighter and completely embraced the appearance. While Murphy didn’t come off as imposing, Ragdoll looked like a professional athlete and had a look in his brown eyes that made you a bit nervous. It made me wonder if his gift was at all related to his physiology like Murphy’s was.
Behind him, Soliloquy, Transport, and Mr. Magnificent were all waiting, albeit a little nervous when looking at me. Mr. Magnificent was the tallest of the bunch, but he was rail thin with a mop of messy black hair that threatened to cover his face entirely. Soliloquy was incredibly pale skinned and had a very slight frame; he seemed to be a direct opposite of Transport who was incredibly dark skinned with a frame even broader than Ragdoll. Even so, Transport didn’t come off as imposing like Ragdoll did.
The whole team functioned as a support group for Ragdoll and they did a damn good job; supposedly he had even stood up to Rat and walked away which was no mean feat. I tried not to think of the fact that I’d watched the head of Vermin get beaten savagely to death just a few days ago.
“It doesn’t answer why you’re coming along with us,” I said as I let go of Ragdoll’s hand. “You sure you want to be around the guy who tried to devour most of the city?”
He shrugged, “We’re in a weird spot and I’m itching to stretch my legs a little. Besides, Armorsmith hypes the hell out of you guys and I’ve wanted to meet Parasite in person for a while now. I’ve watched your work; you guys are the real deal.”
I could tell Murphy was trying to play it cool, but he was doing a really lousy job at not letting his grin occupy the vast majority of his face. While I wanted to be excited like my best friend at the compliment from Ragdoll, something whispered at the back of my mind.
People only know you because of me.
“Hey,” Murphy slapped my shoulder and pulled me back to the present, “Let’s get an address and go.”
I nodded, not oblivious to the look of concern from Ragdoll and the other Flagbearer members. They would follow Ragdoll, but that didn’t mean they trusted me.
Interface, strangely enough, was the one person who didn’t seem to regard me with any kind of caution as we approached and said where we needed to go; Interface handed us a card with an address a few miles away from Murphy’s house. I almost stepped away from the androgynous individual but had to ask.
“You aren’t looking at me like I’m a freak.”
I felt Murphy tense on my behalf, but Interface only shrugged. “I don’t think you’re a freak. I think you might do some freaky shit, but that’s not you. Plus, I look at you and I don’t see a monster; I see the scared guy Playlist and I had to save from Suppression.”
The corner of my mouth actually curled a little into a smile, “Thanks. And I…I can’t tell. Are you-”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Interface replied with a cheeky grin. “Maybe sometime you’ll have to check for me.”
Even with the humiliation and shame I felt from everyone else around me, I felt myself blush and a flustered smile crept up for a moment. “I-um-“
Murphy was quick with the save, “Maybe when the city isn’t on fire he’ll have to take you up on that offer.”
Ragdoll shook his head, “Dragoon wasn’t lying about what a bunch of clowns you lot are.”
We got out of the way and took a step closer to Relay, telling him where we wanted to go and he nodded, his face looking strained. Between having to teleport people around the city to deal with me and now this, Relay was likely pushing the limits on Overexposing himself.
Still, I was glad when we appeared all intact after the green glow encapsulated us.
We were back at the start of my rampage from just a few hours ago, and emergency services hadn’t come by to clean up anything. Cars were still dented or knocked aside, there were burn marks from where Shock had tried blasting me, and chunks of the ground were warped and displaced thanks to Beleth.
More peculiar than the desolation was the complete absence of people. I was so used to people hanging around on their porch, seeing and hearing Zari get drunk and bitch about their shit day. Hell, I even missed being heckled as we walked towards Murphy’s house. The only real sound was sirens in the distance as fires were being doused downtown.
Collateral damage of Titan working to bring me down; most buildings I didn’t crush were on fire. He’d had no choice but to let loose entirely and we’d cut a swath of downtown to the ground. Forest trying to stop me had likely saved hundreds of lives, but there were entire city blocks that had been claimed by two massive entities battling for control.
“Hey,” Murphy said, putting an arm around me, “You doing okay?”
I shook my head, “Look what I did. Look at the fucking damage I caused. I killed…hundreds of people deliberately and thousands more are hurt or dead from the panic.”
Murphy took a deep breath, “Mate, that wasn’t you. You know that wasn’t you.” He turned me so I had to look him in the face, “My best friend, he’s a sarcastic asshole. He’s a sucker for a bad joke. He’s a bit more sexually repressed than he should be.”
“And he’s an obnoxiously good guy. My best friend,” Murphy said, abandoning his trademark grin, “He isn’t the guy who caused this. Okay? Say it back to me.”
I opened my mouth but no words came out.
“Nick, if you don’t do this, I will lose all respect for you and punch you in the face.”
For a second, I wasn’t sure if he was serious, but then I saw the grin creep back. “It wasn’t me,” I finally eeked out. “I didn’t want this, and I won’t let it happen again.”
Even though they weren’t totally privy to all that Murphy and I had gone through, the Flagbearers understood enough. “Now, let’s go,” Murphy said. “We got one place to stop before we go to my place.”
Even though he didn’t explain where we were heading, I knew. I felt numb as we walked the few blocks, almost oblivious to the conversation that Ragdoll struck up with Murphy. For me it was just a challenge to make my feet move at all. Each step felt heavier than the last as we got closer and closer to my old home.
After what felt like both an eternity and not nearly enough time, we were there.
Half of it was collapsed, compliment of Beleth trying to thwart my early rampage. Murphy slapped my shoulder and dragged me forward, “Come on. They deserve a better funeral than this.” With a flex from his passenger, Murphy threw aside a section of collapsed roof that had effectively sealed off the back half of my home.
The chairs that Beleth had made were still there, and a mound of bones scattered around them. Skeletons didn’t hold shape when the tendons were stripped away, and I had taken every ounce of material from them I could gather. One thing caught my attention though: a pile of bones was discernible as a pair of hands. Even at the end, they hadn’t let go of one another. Sinking to my knees, I wrapped my hands over that pile of bones and felt tears start to slide down my cheeks.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ragdoll nod his head to the others, “We’ll be outside. Take your time guys. Let us know if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” Murphy said for me as he knelt down beside me.
“I didn’t leave a body to bury,” I whispered, “What kind of fucking son am I?”
“Most people are cremated,” my friend said softly, “And at least their body was used.”
I shook my head, “Don’t try to make a joke out of this. Not yet, okay?”
For a minute, we just sat there. My hand squeezed what was left of my parent’s fingers and my best friend had a hand clasped on my shoulder, offering what little support he could. “My dad,” I finally stammered, “He was a fighter to the end. The whole time, he shit talked Beleth,” I said with a choked laugh, “Even when Beleth punched him in the face, he had the stones to call him a pussy.”
Murphy snickered, “A fucking bastard until the end. What a legend.”
“The whole time, he tried to draw attention so he wouldn’t hurt my mom or me. And my mom she…” I took a shaky breath, “You could just see that she was proud of me and her husband. She was proud to be related to a pair of stubborn fighters.”
“And why wouldn’t she be?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, “And my dad… he never got a chance to say it, but I could tell he was okay with me. We had this little moment where I just knew he had forgiven me for what happened. He forgave me for the lies, the secrets, even my outburst. He knew I didn’t mean to rattle my mom and risk their safety. And…”
“I could tell he was proud of his son for standing up.”
Tears were flowing freely down my cheeks at this point and Murphy wrapped an arm around my shoulder, pulling me into a firm embrace, “Hey, you’re alright man. You’re okay,” he said softly as I let myself weep openly.
I wasn’t sure how long I cried, but eventually I managed to pull myself together and wipe my face dry. “We need to bury part of them,” I said, “And this was their house. Can you…can you break a hole in the floor?”
He nodded, pulling his collapsed staff out; with his Adaptation adding extra power to his arm, he slammed the dense metal into the ground a few times, cracking the concrete enough to get a grip in and rip a chunk free. It was just a hole into the crawl space, but it was the best we were going to be able to do. Even with all his strength, it would take a long time for Murphy to chisel through a proper foundation.
Gently, I placed both skulls and their hands down below the house, wishing I could do a little better. Standing up, I looked down at my parents remains and clasped my hands, “Mom, Dad,” I muttered, “I’m sorry for everything you got roped into. I promise to make it right.”
I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but it felt like the right thing to say.
“Come on,” Murphy said, grabbing my shoulder and helping me to my feet, “Let’s go.”
Sitting on the remains of my house, the Flagbearers had somehow procured a case of rum and were passing a bottle between one another. “How did you-“
“There was a corner store a few blocks down. Magnificent boosted my sight, I dragged it down here,” Transport explained, his voice heavily accented which caught me a bit off guard.
“Where was your family from?”
“Britain,” he explained to me, “Their accent stayed with me I guess. A lot of the slang doesn’t transfer to Common though. It’s a pity, I liked a lot of it.”
“I speak half decent English,” I replied, “In case you ever want to tell me.”
He smiled and passed me the open bottle, “Here, take a swig.”
I didn’t need any additional incentive to take a long draw from the bottle, but it made me wince as it went down rough. Room temp rum was not an easy thing to slug down even though the Flagbearers made it look all too easy. Ignoring the little laugh from Mr. Magnificent and Transport, I poured out a splash for my dad and for my mom.
Everyone went quiet out of respect, all bowing their heads for a moment. As I handed the bottle to Murphy, the moment ended.
“You know,” Mr. Magnificent volunteered, “I could help with some of your emotional stuff for now. My power isn’t long term, but I could soothe you over if you want. A little dopamine and serotonin hit, just to tide you over for now.”
“Or I could just adjust things a little,” Soliloquy added, “In case you don’t want him fucking with neurotransmitters.”
I thought about it for a moment but shook my head, “No, I don’t think this is something I should wash away. I should just let it feel, but I appreciate the offer guys.”
Ragdoll nodded as the bottle was passed his way, “It’s easy for us to not feel stuff; I think you’re making the right call.” He stared at me for a minute and shook his head, clearly unable to let something go. “Alright, I have to ask; why the fuck do you turn into a Neklim of all things?”
“I Adapted because a Neklim almost ate me and my girlfriend,” I replied. “I just…sort of copied it to protect myself.”
“You don’t get to choose what you turn into like other Enhancers?”
“Neklim or bust.”
“Tough break,” Mr. Magnificent replied, “But at least you can do something on your own.”
“Yeah, but I’m not half as tough without you,” Ragdoll reminded him. “Stop being so down on yourself.”
I didn’t entirely know how Mr. Magnificent worked, but the long and short of it was that he could provide other people with pretty insane physical perks. The only other Adapted I knew who had a gift entirely designed for support purposes was Powerhouse. She was capable of giving entire powers to people though hers came with a pretty harsh downside: the longer people held her gifts, the more likely they were to Overexpose. There was about a three hour fuse until you started to endure serious damage from holding her powers. Mr. Magnificent didn’t risk killing his targets.
We passed the bottle around a few more times and then left my old house, leaving my parents behind as well as whoever I used to be. It didn’t just feel like I had buried my parents under the house, it felt like part of me stayed behind.
I was glad Murphy was able to talk enough for both of us and keep the members of Flagbearers amused while we walked; I didn’t feel much like talking anymore and fortunately no one forced me into conversation until we had made it closer to Murphy’s house.
“Any idea who that is?” Transport asked.
“I think this is for you,” Murphy said as he nudged me, prompting me to look up and see a Zari girl waiting on his doorstep.
Once she saw me, Xana charged down the street for me, causing a bit of a start from Ragdoll and his teammates; fortunately Murphy waved them off. My girlfriend slammed into me and literally lifted me off the ground in an embrace that was stronger than most humans were built to endure.
“You’re crushing me,” I grunted as I tried to avoid having my lungs collapsed.
“Oh fuck,” she said, dropping me back on the ground, “I just… but you’re here now, and I-” She stopped when she noticed all the Flagbearers looking on.
“My back yard maybe,” Murphy suggested, “I have to pack shit up, I can get Nick’s crap together too.”
“Sorry but is she-”
“She knows who we are, Ragdoll. She’s my girlfriend. Xana, meet Ragdoll, Transport, Soliloquy, and Mr. Magnificent.”
Under any other circumstance, Xana probably would have lost her mind being able to meet a whole other Reckoner team; all that happened was a polite nod and a distracted, “Hello.”
Murphy gestured around the side of his house and I was all too glad to take his suggestion and get the two of us away from everyone else. The two of us took a seat wordlessly on the step outside his house, where just about six hours ago I was talking with Roger and Alexis about settling things with my parents.
Six hours. That was all the time it had taken for my world to get turned upside down.
Beside me, Xana couldn’t hide her concern. “So, are you…okay?”
I shook my head, “No.”
“Murphy told me about what happened with Beleth. I’m really sorry, Nicky.”
I nodded, unsure of what to say next.
“Are you…still you? I know you said that use too much of the growth at one you lose control and get kind of subsumed and I can only assume that is what happened,” she said quickly, nervous to bring up the subject.
“I’m still me,” I said, not mentioning the little voice I’d heard speak twice in the back of my head now. “And while I was in that, it really wasn’t me. I didn’t-”
“I know you didn’t,” she assured. “I’m so sorry about what happened though. I wish you’d gotten to at least get a hold of Beleth. He would have deserved it.”
“Probably. But, he’s still alive, so there’s that.”
She reached around my shoulders and squeezed me tight, “Are you going to go after him?”
“No. I’m actually…”I trailed off, realizing that she wasn’t an Adapted, she didn’t know about Titan’s plan or have any clue about what I knew. “I’m actually going to be leaving.”
Xana’s face sank, “Leaving? Like leaving Ciel?”
“Leaving Tso’got,” I mumbled.
“Whoa, what?” she exclaimed, “Leaving Tos-how? How the fuck are you going to do that exactly? Why didn’t you tell me before now?”
“Xana, relax,” I said with a weak laugh, “It wasn’t like I had been planning the thing for a long time now and just didn’t tell you.”
“Well then what’s going on?” she demanded
I paused for a second, debating how much I should really tell her. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she had my back from the very start; she deserved to know the full truth. “When they carved me out, Titan took me to a house with dozens of Adapted he has recruited from all over Tso’got. When we were there, he told us that he was going to leave the planet, to try and get all the other Adapted from other exile planets.”
“And you’re going to go with him? Why?”
“Your life is here! Your home is on Tso’got! Your friends live here!”
I clenched my fists, “My home is flattened, okay? I am now the biggest criminal in Tso’gots history and I did it all in a single night! I lost control once and steamrolled a decent chunk of downtown. I killed hundreds of people alone, and someone will eventually count how many died from the panic and hysteria I induced.”
Xana drew back a little, startled, “Wh-what are you saying?”
I shook my head slowly, my pulse returning to normal, “I don’t think Tso’got is my home anymore.”
“But your friends?”
“They are going to come with,” I whispered, “We’re all leaving. Tomorrow.”
My girlfriend grabbed my shoulders and turned me so I had to face her, “You are all leaving, tomorrow? How could no one tell me? How could you do this to me?”
“How could you do this to me?” she demanded, her voice shaking, “How could you leave me?”
I reached up and put a hand on her cheek, “We don’t have a choice,” I said sincerely.
“You always have a choice.”
“We don’t,” I insisted, “The Trillodan are coming tomorrow.”
For a second, she laughed in my face, like I was making some kind of edgy joke. And then, the laughter faded when I didn’t join in. “Oh my God, you’re serious. They’re coming, tomorrow? How, how do you even know that?”
“Clairvoyant saw it happening…and he saw it more than once. A lot more than once.”
“Because why the hell do you think they are coming to Tso’got?” I said, exasperated, “They’re coming for us! They’re coming because they are going to figure out what makes us tick. They are going to rip us apart and figure out how to take our powers for themselves. And I’m…I’m the one who finally prompted them to come here.”
“So what we talked about in class?”
“Exactly what we talked about in class.”
Xana couldn’t sit still and got to her feet, turning to stand over me, “But, but what about me? I-I want to come with!”
I couldn’t answer her, but I didn’t have to; she saw my face and saw the turmoil.
“So this…this is it? This is what happens to us? We get split up because some shitty fucking alien tyrants come after my boyfriend?”
“Hey!” Ragdoll shouted, his frame appearing in the backdoor, “I hate to interrupt, but we have a problem.”
Once he stopped talking, a new sound filled the air: shouting, yelling, and the general buzz of a crowd. Getting up, I followed him into the house and to the front room where Transport was standing with Mr. Magnificent, both looking down the road.
“What is it?” Xana asked. “What’s happening?”
“I’m not sure what they want,” Transport muttered, “But I know an angry mob when I see one.”
“I think I know what they want,” Murphy said with trepidation as he turned his phone around.
All eyes turned to me as a picture of my face occupied the screen. “What-”
“Nick, when they carved you out, some idiot who didn’t run away identified you. And half an hour ago, someone reported seeing you when we went to your house. That mob,” he said with a gulp, “They’re here to get revenge on Eldritch.”