Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Never Special," First Meetings, pt. 1, 385 words

I’m walking home from the movies, a late showing of some eminently forgettable action flick full of explosions, when I hear the glass breaking. The noise comes from up an alley. A quick glance up and down the street confirms I’m the only one around. Well, what the hell. I’ve been looking for an excuse to try out my powers ever since I got them, really try them out like I’m an actual hero. And if I’m the only one around…

Eagerly – a little too eagerly – I hurry up the alley, trying to step softly. Other people like me, they’d probably use their flight to hover along silently and get the drop on whoever’s down there, but I’m not like, uh… people like me, I guess. I don’t have nearly enough control over my flight to just skim a couple feet off the ground slowly and silently, so I tread as lightly as I can up the alley.

I spot, just barely, a human figure ducking away from the broken window, but the alley’s a dead end. Nowhere he can go. Striding forward confidently, or as confidently as I can manage, I boldly declare, “Hey, uh… Oh, geez, um… Halt? Who goes there?”

Kill me now, God. Just get it over with.

“Uh, keep—keep back,” the figure stutters, in a pathetic attempt at yelling the order. His voice is just a little too thin for him to have a good yell. “Come no closer! I’m the dreadful, uh… the horrible Doctor Dreadf—no, I mean, uh…”

I immediately relax. A would-be supervillain, and one who calls himself “Doctor.” He’s probably so early in things that he doesn’t have a single weapon built, just trying to steal stuff for the first steps of his mad plot. He’d be a pushover if I felt like being a bully about things.

“What are you doing,” I ask, stepping in closer. I’m moving cautiously, even though I really have no reason to be cautious here. This may be a dark alley late at night, but I’m hardly the one at risk here.

“Keep back,” he yells again, a little more force coming into his voice. It’s almost a good voice for villainous and threatening declarations, almost, but it’s so close it’s worse than if it was farther away.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Space, Voices, 459 words

I hear voices sometimes.

I'm not insane. After all, the clinical definition for most mental disorders requires that they cause the sufferer distress, or impede the performance of his daily life. Yet I am not distressed, nor are my work or studies impeded. So, by definition, I'm not insane.

Nearly a century and a half ago, an American psychologist named Julian Jaynes proposed that humans have learned consciousness, that our minds were once bicameral. That is to say, though the left and right hemispheres of our brains are connected via the corpus callosum, they once operated separately, not together. To use an analogy, human brains once worked like two different computers connected together, able to share information but still distinct. Now, human brains work like one of those ancient dual-core computer processors, where the two chips operate as one. Integrated in a single Me. But in the old way, when the hemispheres communicated, the consciousness seated in one half of the brain perceived the information sent from the other half as the voice of an outsider, a god or spirit telling them what to do.

Even if the brain hemispheres are severed from each other, through a procedure called a commissurotomy, tests can be done to demonstrate that there is a consciousness present in each half, one independent of the other. You become, literally, two people in one body, though unable to communicate with one another. It's like taking that dual-core processor and snapping it apart, and somehow making two usable single-core processors out of them.

During my training, they performed several brain surgeries upon me, to study the nature of my gift firsthand as it grew, and to see how certain alterations of the brain reflected in alterations of the powers. Of course, I was never awake during these procedures. I never knew what they did, not precisely, but I think at one point they must have damaged my corpus callosum.

Not severed it. I've put myself through the various tests given to commissurotomy patients and found that I don't have the same responses. My brain is still functionally integrated. But I think it's not fully so.

So, I hear voices sometimes. Always when I use any of my powers. It's like a voice speaks out, telling me to do something that nobody else can do – read a person's thoughts, move an object with my mind – and it just happens without any conscious thought on my part. The voices are irresistible, and to hear them is to obey them. I couldn't actually describe to you the mechanism by which I employ my powers, they just happen.

So I'm not insane. If there is anything I am certain of, it is that. A little damaged, perhaps, but not insane.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Never Special," Introduction, pt. 4, 334 words

I don't even have an interesting personal background or origin story for my powers. I grew up lower middle class in the suburbs, my parents divorced and living with my mother, me the only child. A few friends, none very close, and few foes, none of the sort to come back and haunt me as an adult if they got powers too.

Average grades, average performance on the soccer team, average with the clarinet. Tried pot once in high school, ended up coughing out more than I breathed in. Tried beer once, to much the same effect. Went to an unremarkable college and came out with an unremarkable degree in political science, and went on to an unremarkable series of clerical jobs. Right now, I keep the files orderly in a dentist's office.

An accident awakened my powers. A drunk driver ignored a stop light and tossed me a good ten feet down the street. I later found out that if things had been a little different – if he had been sober, had a green light… basically, if it had been me acting irresponsibly instead of him – then he could've sued me for reckless use of powers, even though I wouldn't have known I had powers. Still, he got taken in once the paramedics checked him out, since he was driving drunk. Me, they made sure I wasn't hurt and then sent me on my way.

Yes. It's become just that routine in some places. It turns out about 75% of power discoveries involve an accident, and about half of those are car accidents. Nobody still knows what about these situations brings out powers people hadn't manifested before, but it's so commonplace as to be non-notable now. The common theory is that powers first manifest due to some stress, like our bodies kicking out enough adrenaline, but I'm not sure I even had enough time for that to happen when I got hit.

Still, if there's an utterly normal superpowered person, I am it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Never Special," Introduction, pt. 3, 388 words

I suppose it would help if I looked more like a traditional superheroine, the kind you find with their own merchandising lines and comic books. Instead, I’m an unimpressive five-foot-four, with unmanageable brown hair, small breasts, and a bit of a belly. I don’t look anything like the big name heroes. You know the kind – Amaza, the Raptor, Kali Yuga, all that sort. They got in on the ground floor, I guess you could say, made it big before the powers population explosion back in the late Eighties. Now here it is, twenty years after the population boom and thirty-five after Amaza first appeared in the news, and here I am. The latest of the late-comers.

Growing up, Kali Yuga was my favorite… Well, once the comics and her publicity got a lot less racist, and my former-hippie mother finally let me read them, then she was my favorite. The so-called “golden” heroes of the Fifties and Sixties that never sold out, never compromised, were on their way out when Amaza and then Kali Yuga appeared. Amaza strived to act in the old style, but never quite met their standards. She was silver to their gold – beautiful, powerful, but able to be tarnished.

Kali Yuga didn’t even try to be golden. She was dark without being grim, full of Eastern mystery and Victorian refinement. Willing to kill if she had to, unlike her predecessors. An avenging spirit out of Hindu myth who affected the visual style of her people’s former conquerors, a postcolonial abduction and perversion of an imperialist fashion sense, fetishizing the sexually repressive garments of a politically repressive nation. Or so her apologists and publicist put it whenever someone expressed outrage about an Indian woman who seemed to have adopted the modes of dress and speech of India’s former British masters, who thought she was regressive and submissive and a sign of all that was wrong with the world.

Honestly, all that went over my head at the time. To me, she was just interestingly different from the “normal” crop of powered people promoted here in the United States and, so I eventually admitted to myself in my first year of high school, pretty hot. I didn’t even think about the geopolitical subtleties and controversies around her until I took a modern history class at university.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Never Special," Introduction, pt. 2, 424 words

My name is Amanda Park. I’ve never been special.

***

I’d be lying if I said these powers didn’t have their advantages. It’s nice to no longer need a car to get anywhere in reasonable time, what with the price of gas these days. I don’t need to pay for taxis, subways – nothing. So at least it’s helped my budget some. And I never have problems with jar lids stuck on too tight… Though I have to be careful not to crush the jar. It’s no longer a problem that my door sticks in humid weather, and being a klutz doesn’t hurt anymore when I’m chopping stuff up for dinner.

But there’s still so much these powers don’t do for me. It’s not like I’m any more confident than I was before, it’s just displaced my anxieties onto something new. Powers don’t qualify me for any more jobs than I could’ve done before, and in fact disqualify me from some – despite what you may think, no police district wants the super-strong on payroll. Not when an angry punch, or even just an incautious finger-flick, can potentially be lethal force.

Vigilantism isn’t exactly an ideal career path for me, either. For one thing, fighting crime pays way too little to live on, even without competition. And with all the other powered people out there, flipping burgers would be a better use of my time. At least the income’s more stable. Going the other direction, committing crime, is just as pointless. I’d be another arrest for the first guy in a costume to swing by, put down in five minutes with a bunch of collateral damage added on to any punishment handed out to me by the courts, and then thrown in a cell designed to hold people like me.

Basically, go out and ask a random person what they think a person like me would be doing with their life. Now, throw whatever answer you get into the trash – it’s completely nonviable, because so many other people are already doing it. And given the limited scope of my powers, there’s not much else I can do with them.

But nobody wants to hear about that kind of stuff. C'mon, they say, stop whining. You've got powers! You've got what every kid dreams of! And really, that's true. I've managed to fulfill the dreams of childhood, entirely by accident. But they don't help me fulfill any of the dreams, plans, or goals I've had since childhood. Getting my childhood dreams fulfilled, I've found, has been pretty unfulfilling.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Space, Introduction, 603 words

The United Earth Government was precisely thirty-seven days old when they came for me. Fresh from victory over the reticent countries of the Middle East, and with public knowledge of psychic phenomena in mind, the new world order swiftly formed the UGPD, or United Government Paranormal Department, to help regulate such power. As it so happened, my government -- excuse me, my former government, China, had designated me, Yuan Li, as a person of interest. I was actually studying political science and philosophy in Japan when the early UGPD hunter squads broke down my apartment door and took me in.

I was, to be honest, a little surprised to learn I was a psychic. But only a little. You see, every psychic starts with a little... gift, you might say, a special thing they can do, often from birth, that sets them apart from others. Some people move things. Some start fires. I spoke into other people's heads.

It's not as impressive as you might think. Most people, when hearing my voice without seeing my mouth move, would assume that they just hadn't noticed me say it. The human mind works like that. It helped that I could only do it a few times a day without developing a migraine, so it's not like I could carry on my half of a full conversation silently. For a long time, I didn't even realize that I'd been doing anything of the sort, since I still "heard" my own mental voice like my physical one. So while China was taking the firestarters and the telekinetics away when they were children, sometimes just infants, they had no certainty I was worth the attempt until I was twenty-one years old.

And then the American president made his announcement and proposal to the world, and everything changed forever.

Since I had been, until shortly before everyone became a citizen of the world, a Chinese citizen, they decided to hand me over to the Chinese chapter of the UGPD for preparation and training. Despite this New Era Of Peace And Prosperity, as many government officials have declared daily for several years now, had been declaring daily for over a month then, the Chinese chapter was still largely the same pre-Unification organization. Their methods were not gentle.

Suffice to say, the Yuan Li who came out of their training regimen was not the same Yuan Li who went in. I do not state this to be melodramatic, to inspire your pity or sorrow. I merely observe this fact, that I am not the same man I once was. I remember him, well enough to imitate him in front of people he knew.

It only works for casual acquaintances, however. My mother and father discouraged me from returning home a second time. My Japanese friends would sometimes utter the word "bakemono" -- a monster, a "thing that changes," literally, as if I was something that had taken on their friend's form -- when they thought I couldn't hear them. Oh, these things didn't bother me. They didn't hurt. I am... beyond that. Such simple feelings don't exist for me anymore. I can remember them, what it was like to have them, and if I try very hard sometimes I can simulate them.

But at the same time, they are very alien to me. The memories of having those feelings, they aren't mine. They belong to that other Yuan Li, who went to Japan and had a girlfriend and dreamed when he went to sleep at night. I am... not him.

I am the Yuan Li who is going to the stars.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We The People, pt. 4, 447 words

I know I'm not the only one who feels like those days are starting to come by. I know I'm not. Our world is descending into chaos and self-destruction. Now, I'm not a Luddite who wishes for some never-never-land golden age that didn't exist, back when people "knew their place," or whatever you would call it. I don't want to live under a king or caliph or tyrant. But I can look back and see when other societies slid into decadence, amorality, corruption so deep it couldn't be rooted out and have the society still live.

Rome was just such a case. A sort of pseudo-democracy with a senate and reverence for law and order, old wisdom and piety, the greatest empire in human history. But power consolidated, the senate voted in emperors instead of consuls, city life became the infamous "bread and circuses." They never even realized what they lost. And when Rome came down, it sparked not just a dark age, but the Dark Age, when the Western world slid deeper into ignorance, factionalization, and chaos than it had in centuries. Before Rome, even, was Athens, the model for Western democracy, and that took dominance in Greece and then was set upon by former allies, torn apart as it grew self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing.

Sound familiar?

I wonder if it's democracy that's the problem. Representation, appeal to the lowest common denominator. Give people a choice and they'll choose a tyrant, even one they distrust, so long as he keeps the food and entertainment coming. Authority is devalued, yet power still consolidates into the hands of a few. Chosen not by "divine right," which tends to instill a certain loyalty to the rules of the God that establishes the system; chosen not because they were trained for it and merit the position; but because they believe the "will of the people" is for them to model, enact, and satisfy the public's baser urges. Good and evil become lost when the questions are no longer "right" or "wrong," but "fun" or "not." And so, subsumed by our base desires, the time comes that we become as the Great Old Ones, free and wild and amoral, reveling in sound and fury, in death and destruction.

There's another figure, after all, who came to people as a man in black, bearing secret lore. A figure who came to Arkham himself, in the bad old days, and had been abroad in New England before the American Revolution as well, teaching the ways of darkness, power, and the Great Old Ones to the witch cults that thrived in both the 17th Century and the early 1900s.

I'm sure you know his name.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We The People, pt. 3, 377 words

So. Like I was saying, the copper plate. Now, some of the people who look meaningfully at the Great Seal and pronounce it a secret Masonic "fuck you, we own everything" to the world, they look at the story of the man in black giving Jefferson the engraving and declare that obviously the man was someone like Adam Weishaupt, the founder of the Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria (better known as the Bavarian Illuminati, or just the Illuminati). It only follows, you see, it just stands to reason, they say, and talk about Weishaupt's own Masonic influences and his anti-monarchy, revolutionary writings back in Bavaria, about how the Founding Fathers weren't just influenced by the Masons but the Illuminati as well. It's not just some good old boys' club anymore, no, it's a grand conspiracy to rule everything. And from there the explanations just get more and more complicated, more and more confused.

Me, I've got my own theories. And I know they make me sound even wackier than the conspiracy theorists, who want to blame the Rothschilds, the Bilderburgers, the aliens... God, I wish it was that easy. That simple. That human. I really do.

There's a line I read once, from another person that others called crazy, like they're going to call me. He worked at Miskatonic University in Arkham, back in the "bad old days," when the legacy of the Spiritualist movement brought back interest and belief in the occult, in séances and spirits and witchcraft and other bits of malfeasant lore. Back when Arkham and the surrounding Miskatonic County had the highest suicide rates and most people committed to mental institutions per capita of the whole world in the middle of the Roaring Twenties, and held on to its record clean through the Great Depression.

In his memoirs and collected letters, which saw a very limited circulation due to the pressing distraction of World War II, this professor at Miskatonic reported a prophecy about the fate of the world: "The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy."

Sound familiar?

Monday, September 22, 2008

We The People, pt. 2, 455 words

Just as you might expect, Jefferson unwraps the thing as soon as he gets inside, and under the paper is a copper plate with the Great Seal engraved on it. Nobody is more baffled than Jefferson, but he just passes it on.

No consultant, no engraver, it just gets dropped in their lap, and they use it. Of course, the official history says otherwise, but who can tell? Nobody alive was around then -- or, at least, nobody alive as we reckon it. We have physical evidence, letters and such, but even the accounts of that evidence's reliability often relies on experts who can't really be held accountable.

Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with having experts -- God knows I'd rather trust someone with an M.D. from a prestigious university before some quack peddling homeopathy who paid a few hundred dollars to a diploma mill, and I'd listen to Darwin or Dawkins or Gould before I'd refer to Genesis. Doctors, well, you can see and live the results of their training, and biologists and physicists can show you the maths and logic chains behind their work. But history... The official story. Stories are mutable. Stories can be rewritten to fit an agenda. Stories lie.

People don't know a tenth of one percentage of what actually goes on because of what's done to history, and it's just getting worse. I know people, not much younger than me, who know nothing about the Know-Nothing Party of the United States anymore. It took a long time for the Armenian Genocide to be recognized for what it was (not that Turkey admits to it, still), and barely anyone knows a damn thing about that. Most people still accept that George Washington took axe to tree and then declared "I cannot tell a lie." That last one's particularly insidious, a lie about honesty. It turns kids who learn the truth just that much more cynical, which is probably the point.

That's the problem with history. Most of it, it's all lies. The evidence used to back it up derives its legitimacy from other evidence, which derives its legitimacy from the first round of evidence. It's so circular it could make a person sick in the head just to try to comprehend it all. Hell, modern politics is that same kind of history-making in action, as politicians and news anchors all tell the same lie over and over until the public believes it, like mass belief makes it into fact. Goebbels would orgasm out of excitement over what passes for news these days, jerking himself off daily with a fresh copy of the New York Times like it was an Aryan supermodel. Even the paper cuts would feel good.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

We The People, pt. 1, 448 words

One legend, a bit of folklore from the beginning of the United States, goes that the Founding Fathers were struggling to come up with a seal, a symbol of the fledgling nation. Official history states that a consultant came up with the design, Congress put it into a copper plate, and passed it on, and there you were: the Great Seal of the United States. If you've ever looked at the back of a dollar bill, you'll know what I mean. The eye in the pyramid, with the Novus Ordo Seclorum ("New World Order") banner underneath, and opposite that the eagle with the shield holding the arrows and olive branch and the E Pluribus Unum ("Out of Many, One") banner. Lots of stuff that people like to claim is a bunch of Masonic imagery, showing the Founding Fathers' allegiance (and the United States' subjugation) to the Freemasons.

But I digress.

So, in the one hand, you have the official history. The designer, the copper plate, the designs deliberated over and carefully planned out. On the other hand, you have the distinctly un-official history. The bit of folklore about how they wracked their brains and couldn't come up with anything. That's not the significant bit, though; after all, who wouldn't be stumped for a time and have to think about it, when it comes to something like that?

Now, the legend goes, one night Jefferson was at his home in Monticello, and trying to come up with a design. He's frustrated, and steps outside for a moment to wander through his back garden. You know what I'm talking about, we've all been in that kind of place before, where we've been beating our heads against a problem so long that we don't know what to think or even how to think anymore, so we need to get away and take a break. Get a breath of fresh air, forget the problem, just leave it to our unconscious and come to it later with a new perspective. Perfectly normal, which is how all such legends start. Normal. And then something else intrudes.

Outside, Jefferson suddenly finds himself face to face with a man dressed all in black, his face obscured so it's impossible to tell who he is. Now, it's not like Jefferson's place is like Fort Knox, but it's not the village green either. He's surprised, obviously, but the man in black just hands him a heavy squarish thing, wrapped up in paper. What else does Jefferson do but take it? When he does, the man in black turns around and leaps away over a high hedge from a standing start, and he's gone. Just gone, impossible to find.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Next Project: "Lords of Light"

Well, Arshan's first story is finished (I fully intend on revisiting him someday), and now I need to prepare for the next project: Lords of Light. I intend on spending the next month or so researching ancient Sumer to try to get the feel and structure of their society down, as well as the monomyth.

That doesn't mean this site will go fallow for the next month, though. Starting this coming Sunday, the 21st, I'm going to be putting up pages from various other things I've been writing on the side. Mostly you'll be getting further pages of Never Special, which has become my half of a collaborative project with a friend. If she feels like it, I'll give her posting access here and get her to put up related pieces of her half of the story. Even so, it's not all done in a single, flowing narrative, but in scenes here and there. Eventually, it'll be fairly broken up and skip a lot of time. We need to sit down and work out the precise plot (we know the general flow of it, just not all the specifics), so we can fill in all the extra details.

Otherwise, you're likely to get bits and pieces from the perspectives of different characters as I try to get a grasp on them. Mostly I do this for characters I play in games (yes, I am a nerd; as if writing fantasy wasn't a big enough clue), but sometimes it's to get into the head of someone I'm writing, so you'll also likely see more bits and pieces here from Far and Aristide's perspective. The other major talker in this case will be a man called Yuan Li, a telepath from a science fiction game I'll be playing soon.