Friday, October 31, 2008

"Never Special," Dinner, pt. 2, 314 words

"I was kind of surprised you called me, though," she says, breaking the silence. "You looked kind of poleaxed when I gave you my card—"

"It was the gas," I interrupt.

She smiles and goes on as if I hadn't said a thing. "And I was just kind of fishing, anyway. There aren't too many gay heroes out there, so I didn't really expect to get lucky here."

I cough, once, quickly. "Ah, um... Well, I'm not really a 'full' lesbian, so to speak. I'm bi."

It's hard not to wince, to close my eyes and hunker down against the ill wind I fully expect to blow. There were a number of lesbians I knew, mostly in college, who immediately thought poorly of any woman who professed to be bisexual. They thought of me as a BUG, Bi Until Graduation, as if I hadn't known who I was – and who I was attracted to – since I was 13.

Instead, she just says, "So was my last girlfriend," and holds my hand a little tighter. "I just hope you don't go right into a string of guys after this, too, or else I'm going to earn a reputation for turning girls straight."

I laugh with her, but my stomach knots up immediately at the idea of being included in her list of girlfriends. When she talks about going back to guys I can't stop Nefarious flashing across my mind. In a very physical way, I want Lucila Martinez, and more so in an emotional way now that I'm getting to know her. But there's the cackling specter of my villainous mastermind ex-sort-of-boyfriend hanging over my head and making me feel like shit, like my desire for her is some kind of rebound and not an honest interest.

God damn it, I hate being one of the Good Guys sometimes. Guilt is a heinous bitch.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Never Special," Dinner, pt. 1, 404 words

"It was mostly just a coincidence, really."

"Really," Lucila asks, more than a little doubt shading her voice. She grins a little before scooping a forkful of spaghetti into her mouth.

We're in a little hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant, a far nicer place than the phrase suggests, at her insistence. She was right, though; they make excellent tortellini, and the atmosphere is more casual and homey than romantic. It's incredibly relaxing, and I find myself much more at ease in her presence than I normally would have been. Cynically, I wonder if that was her intent -- not that I honestly believe she'd be out to seduce me, because I think she could do so much better, but I have thought about the possibility. "Just in case," of course.

Of course.

"Yeah, really," I say. "You know why no other hero went after him?" She shakes her head in lieu of answering, her mouth still full of pasta. I continue, "They were all out of town. Almost all of them. There was a convention -- you know, a trade show -- in Cape Cod that weekend. So out of the pitiful few left in the city, I happened to be the one on the spot. It wasn't too far from where I worked."

Lucila raises an eyebrow, swallows, and asks, "You work in your underwear?"

I can't keep from blushing. God, that's going to haunt me forever. I shake my head quickly. "No, I just... I left my skirt behind. It was just going to get in my way, otherwise. Not that it would've changed things much." I mutter the last, mostly to myself, but it's not like the restaurant is noisy. There's only one other couple at another table, on the other side of the room, and they're leaning close together and whispering.

"Don't worry about it, hon," she says, leaning in a little to put her hand over mine. Her skin is soft and a little cool. Without even thinking, I turn my hand up so I'm holding hers. She doesn't pull back. "You still had a pretty good first showing," she continues, "looked pretty good coming at him even without a costume. It's just that he had a good first time, too." She smiles weakly at that, and squeezes my hand. I don't know what to say, so instead I go back to eating a few bites of my dinner, still holding her hand.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Never Special," 34, pt. 2, 496 words

My computer takes nearly five minutes to boot up, so I wander off to the kitchen and get a cup of water, and succumb to the siren song of buttered bread. It only makes the hunger pangs sharper, but I ignore them as best I can and sit down to wait for the computer once more.

Log in, password, anti-virus update, Windows update... Come on already, move it. I ignore the instant messenger program, closing it down. The last thing I want to do is talk to someone directly. Web browser, Gmail, another password... Move it, damn you. My computer's too old and decrepit to really benefit from cable, but it's still better than dial-up.

A hundred and twenty messages... Jesus. It can't all be spam, the filter's too good. How did all these people find my address? It's like-- oh God. My mother. I close my eyes as I click on the e-mail from Candice Park, as if I could deny its power.

Thankfully, my mother's open-minded. She berates me a little for not telling her about my powers, but she doesn't say anything about my underwear or my failure. Really, she spends more time talking about her neighbors and friends, and asking about my love life, than she does on the topic of my powers and disastrous debut. She really wants grandkids -- but just to visit, and then go home at night. I wish sometimes I had a brother or sister she could depend upon for that, but my parents had gotten divorced too soon after I was born. If she ever even went out with anyone after that, I never knew it.

The next e-mail I open is from a friend, more of an acquaintance, Connie. The title just says "Rule 34." All it is, is a link to a website, an image gallery according to the address, and I click on it.

What. The. Fuck.

There are a dozen different pictures of... of me, on this site, drawings and edited photos. A picture, a still frame that must've been from the police helicopter's camera as I buzzed by, where someone had edited my underwear out and replaced it with some other woman's naked crotch. A couple of badly-done drawings of me, naked but for my panties, flying. One with some actual technical skill depicting Nefarious's gargantuan-breasted minion, still in gas mask and a uniform with breasts and groin torn off, having sex with me.

At the top of the page is a big image of some text that reads, in huge balloon letters, "Rule 34," and beneath it, in smaller, neater lettering: "There is porn of it. No exceptions."

Jesus fucking Christ on a pogo stick. There's porn of me online. The only comfort is a list of "Related Links" on the side of the page, which includes names like Kali Yuga, Amaza, and Polaris. It's almost flattering to be with those names.

Almost.

Mostly, I just want to throw up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Never Special," 34, pt. 1, 411 words

I'm unemployed.

Laid off, fired, canned, whatever. My boss didn't like it that I claimed illness as an excuse to, and I quote, "run off and play hero."

Play hero.

For a second there, I understood villains like Nefarious. I could take being fired -- after all, I'd kind of expected it already. But the idea, the insult that I'm merely playing at it, that pisses me off. I wanted to rip off the roof, tear down the walls, and throw her into the river to show her how much I was playing.

Fortunately I have more self-control than that.

I spent the rest of the day and most of the next at home, not willing to face the world. It didn't feel worth it. Nothing felt worth it, right then. I'd blown it, blown my big chance to show up at the scene of a crime and be taken seriously as a hero. I'd resolved not to be one of those heroes -- you know, the kind that dresses like a prostitute or a color-blind mental patient, does more damage than the villain, and screws up everything before just barely fixing the original problem plus what they'd done.

Instead, I'd flown out there in my underwear, and failed.

My phone rings, but I ignore it. It's been ringing a lot, for some reason. Probably because I was stupid enough to give my real name out there. What had happened to Shatterforce? Not the best name, but I was sure it would've passed muster. My phone rings again, not two minutes later, and I just turn over in bed. I'd unplugged my answering machine when I got home the other night, so the world doesn't have to hear my meek, half-hearted request to leave a message. And so I don't have to listen to the world's bullshit right now.

Finally, I get up out of bed to go to the bathroom. I'm hungry, but I've been ignoring that for a while. My computer, a cheap little laptop that has barely enough RAM to run a word processor, catches my eye on my way back to my room. Despite myself, I walk over to it and sit down, flipping open the lid and tapping the power button. I really don't want to see what my e-mail inbox looks like, nor do I want to see if the news has anything to say about me... But at the same time, I really do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"The Free," Angels and Demons, pt. 2, 520 words

It looked down on David and laughed bitterly, the unpleasant twist of its bitterness made all the more hideous by its beauty. "By Father, you're a bold one," it said. "I don't think I've ever heard of a single human actually asking for the name of any of us. Very well, little cousin, I'll tell you my name. But I'll say it like a human would, so I don't turn your brain into porridge." It leaned down a little, and whispered to David as if imparting a great secret: "Azazel."

The words were out of David's mouth before he could stop himself. "Isn't that a demon's name," he asked.

Azazel snorted. "How would you know, atheist?" It bit that last off, tearing the word loose with its teeth. "Hear it from a movie? Read it in a comic book? Ever since the Word was heard by mortal ears, it's been bastardized further in every retelling. Every iteration grows further and further from the truth." The angel shook its head. "One more question. That was the bargain. Ask it and I'm quit of you, human."

"The, uh..." David shook his head, trying to clear it. There was so much, and this chance... It would never come again. "This is the apocalypse, isn't it," he said. "The end times. Revelation."

"Yes," Azazel said, and turned away. "Very well, then. You have your answers, for all the good they will--"

"No, no!" David took a step forward, reaching out to grab at the angel's elbow a moment before pulling back. "I mean... What I've always heard about this kind of thing... There'll be the Antichrist, won't there? The one who seeks to take and enslave humanity, to come under a benevolent guise and bend everything left to ruin? Who is he? She? It?"

Azazel rounded on David, its eyes blazing with anger. "The Antichrist?" It jabbed a finger at the center of David's chest, stumbling him backwards with the force. "You are the antichrist! Everyone out there, all those miserable humans, they are antichrists! You, humanity, do not need a leader to drag you into ruin.

"You were taught kindness, fairness, love and charity and self-sacrifice! You were taught, above all else, to rise above base humanity and be something superior, something of Heaven upon Earth! Dozens, even hundreds of different prophets have told you so, again and again for thousands of years, and again and again you ignore it! You wallow in mediocrity, apathy, adequacy, never even trying to be something more!

"With just a little effort, a little restraint, you could have had paradise here in your own lives! Instead, you mope over some lost Eden or try to figure out the magic words to escape to Heaven when you die, to get paradise without even trying! That is the essence of antichrist, and your whole worthless species reeks of it!"

Azazel turned away, presented its back to David. It crossed its arms, drew its wings in tight, closing up into itself. Its voice was murderous when it spoke, violence barely constrained, "You have your answers. Get out of here."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"The Free," Demons & Angels, pt. 1, 388 words

David Arthur Freeh had been in the midst of celebrating his 31st birthday when the world came to an end.

***

"You humans," the demon rumbled, its voice ripping up and down David's nerves like a knife, "have the most unthinking, myopic views of your own religions." It leaned in closer to David, squatting over his numb legs so it could jut its face into his. Its breath reeked horribly of carrion and sulfur, and it was all David could do not to gag and retch right into the demon's face. It would kill him if he did it, though.

Then again, it would probably kill him anyway.

It went on, "You think that by invoking your God, you can hold us back. You think you can protect yourselves. You don't understand anything at all." Its lips pulled back from its teeth in a rictus grin, only accentuating the elongation of its jaw, almost a snout. So many teeth, David couldn't help but observe. So many teeth, each of them made to tear and rend.

"Our master does nothing without your God's approval. Of all the things you've gotten right and then so many of you thrown away, the Satan is simply there to challenge you on your God's behalf.

"Your God is my God," the demon finished, its grin even wider than before, if that was possible. "We all follow the same piper, but dance to a different tune."

***

The angel was glorious. Perfection made flesh. Easily eight feet tall, but with limbs and body in ideal proportion. Da Vinci would have wept, even despite the wings he'd considered foolish and unnecessary for the depiction of an angel. For the first time, David could understand how one might fall before such a creature in worship, or before the God that had crafted that creature for the mere task of messenger.

But no, this was no messenger. It was a killer, a hunter, a wolf in human shape, lean and long and muscular. Its coat was battered mail, its fang a dull and notched sword. Arms and armor of a life-long soldier, horribly incongruous on a being as fair as the angel. Wings as white as fresh snow, as a cloud on a bright summer day, except for the trailing feathers which looked to have been dipped in blood.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Never Special," Encounter, pt. 6, 385 words

"Amanda," I say, and it's like someone else is speaking the words for me. "Amanda Park."

She blinks and opens her mouth a little, obviously caught off guard for a moment. She didn't expect a normal name. She expected something like Shatterforce. Then she regains her composure, and it's like the moment never happened.

She chatters on all reporter-like for the next few minutes, professional and polite and probing. I barely remember what she says, running on autopilot as I consider the implications of what I just went through. They'd flashed across my mind earlier, but now they're unfolding with terrible immediacy, accompanied by the interview and camera right in front of me. My life is about to change, irrevocably. It's already changed. This is bigger than gaining powers.

This is being noticed.

Martinez nods to her cameraman, and he turns the camera off, carries it back towards the van. I'm left alone with a woman I would've given my right arm to be alone with just this time last year, and she's looking at me again. She leans close and my chest grows tight, nervous not because she's so beautiful but because she's beautiful and I still love Nefarious, despite what he's done.

I'm caught between him and her private little smile as she hands me a card and says, "Call me if you intend on showing up again and want some attention." Her smile spreads out to a grin, and as I take her card I can't help but wonder, Is she flirting with me? She's certainly making me one hell of an offer, one that any start-up hero would die to have. Her eyes flicker down, and oh God she's looking right at my crotch and I'm just in my underwear and she's still grinning, possibly even wider, as she says, "Though you might want to work on your costume. It doesn't match." And then she walks away, towards the van.

It's not until after the van leaves that I can move again. People are still watching as they drive by, but they're easier to ignore now that I've been under Lucila Martinez's eyes. Still, it's not a pleasant feeling, being watched by that many people. I throw myself into the sky, and away.

My skirt is long gone from the skyscraper.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Never Special," Encounter, pt. 5, 429 words

I climb to my feet, angry at Nefarious and angry at myself, and still a little foggy from the gas, when a van pulls up on the side of the road. My stomach knots up. It's not emergency services of any sort.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Channel 3, the local Fox affiliate. In other words, the nightly news. I consider throwing myself into the air and away, but someone's getting out even before I can move and he already has a camera on me. On my face. Either way, I'm out. I'm in the public eye now. It may only be as part of a two-minute blurb about the new villain out there, but I'll definitely be aired, because they love pairing new villains with new heroes, and vice versa.

A woman in a pantsuit is moving in front of the camera, holding a wireless microphone as she opens up my part in the blurb. I recognize her, too: Lucila Martinez, one of those reporters hired on to cynically diversify the crew while still keeping the studio anchors lily-white.

"We're here at the side of the road with the woman who threw herself at today's new villain, the so-called 'Nefarious,'" the reporter says, not even looking in my direction yet. I could fly away now, but I'm paralyzed with fear. She goes on, "This unidentified individual is the first and, as yet, only hero to take up the chase."

Martinez turns to me, and I blush at being under the scrutiny of her emerald gaze. She may have been hired in a cynical move, but she's good. Sexy and sharp and entirely wasted interviewing people like me. A year ago, I would've loved to have been at the focus of those eyes, to have her full attention. Now, I'm just uncomfortable.

"Ma'am," she says, businesslike and direct, "most people would just let the other heroes here in Grey take care of this kind of thing. What brought you out here to the chase, Miss...?"

I blink. Being in front of the camera like this, it's a little unnerving, and I'm still not fully recovered from the gas. It takes me a moment to recover my balance, and I start to say, "Sha..." but choke off.

Shatterforce evaporates with the hum of the camera, the simple question of "Who are you?" Because it wasn't Shatterforce chasing that van, facing down Nefarious. She would have done it because it was the good thing, the right thing, to do. For puppies and kittens and apple pie. But I did it for myself.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Never Special," Encounter, pt. 4, 378 words

Besides, maybe it isn't really about the costume. I can't help but think, as I approach the chase, that the costume isn't who I am. Shatterforce isn't really me. Certainly, he never called me by that name, just the overly polite "Ms. Park."

No. It's not the costume, nor the name. Right now, it's him and me. That's all that matters.

That's all that matters, I think grimly as I barrel straight for his van. I pass the police helicopter, probably flashing my cotton-clad rear at their camera, and overtake the police cars as I drop in low.

"Nefarious," I mutter to myself, and reach for a hold on the van's roof.

***

I wake up and my head is full of felt. Angry felt.

I'm in my underwear. I'm staring at the sky, so blue with the occasional white cloud scudding by, and can feel grass crunching under my bare legs. I'm in my underwear...

Why am I in my underwear? More importantly, why am I in my underwear in public?

My heart seizes up and part of the fog over my thoughts retreats with that panicked realization. Oh dear sweet and merciless God, I'm somewhere outside in my underwear, and I don't know where I am.

I'm by the road. Okay, I'm in one of those narrow little greenswards to the side of a city street, in one of those odd little areas of Grey that's more like a small-town city strip instead of the midst of a bustling city. And anyone driving by can get a look at my underwear.

Nobody's even stopped yet, though some people are slowing down to get a look. Perverts. I sit up, crossing my legs, while I try to think, but something's...

The gas. My memory's fuzzy, but I remember seeing Nefarious toss me a canister that started to belch blue smoke. It's the last thing I can recall. I must have only gotten a tiny whiff of it, or else it's not very potent stuff, because there were cops and other emergency services everywhere around here. If I was lying here for very long at all, at least one of them would have stopped to check on me. Someone would have, right? Right?

Great. Kitty Genovese all over again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Never Special," Encounter, pt. 3, 406 words

"What," she asks from one of the exam rooms, where she's giving some kid a check-up.

"I need to go. I feel really sick." Not a lie, but not how it's normally used.

"Alright," she says. "Annie and I can handle the phone and desk. I hope you feel better."

"Thanks. I hope so too."

I hurry outside, and throw myself into the air as soon as there's clear sky above me. I crack the concrete with the force of my desperate leap for altitude, but can't stop to think about it.

This is my fault. This is all my fault. I can't get the thought out of my head as I fly. I was his friend. I talked with him, gave him advice, encouraged him when he was feeling down. I even wanted to... I'm so glad right now that I'm flying, so nobody can see my embarrassment.

What the hell was I thinking? Oh Jesus, I helped a villain get started. And now he's hurt people, challenged the world. Challenged me, I realize. He always hated how indifferent I was to my powers, and now... Now, I suspect, the only way I'll be able to see and talk to him is as a hero facing down a villain. He's a wanted man now, and anyone might know his face. Coffee is just out of the question. I'll have to become a hero for him, claim him as "mine" and take advantage of the gentleman's agreement not to get between a hero and her nemesis.

"Practice nemeses," we'd called each other, like it was something we could set aside later. God. I'd laugh, if this whole thing didn't make me want to cry.

I arc up, up over the skyscrapers here in downtown Grey, looking for the signs of Nefarious's passage. I can see the police helicopter from here, still following him. A sudden updraft blows my long skirt up, nearly tangling it around me. This won't do, I decide, and -- hesitating for just a moment -- leave the skirt hanging from a nearby building's antenna. I can pick it up later, if it's still there.

There are plenty of other heroines who look like they fight in their underwear. I'm just glad I don't wear anything lacy or revealing, just regular white women's briefs. I wish I had my costume on instead, but where would I have put it? Under my clothes? No.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Never Special," Encounter, pt. 2, 380 words

They've already got a video of him, transmitted from the police helicopter chasing him. It's shaky, but zooms in easily to his face as he descends the steps of the bank, his minions already piling into their van. He sports a gas mask identical to a hundred other villainous masterminds, and pauses to survey the scene before him as police cars pull in around the bank. Casually, confidently, disdainfully, he reaches up and yanks his gas mask off.

The face beneath the mask drops a leaden weight into my stomach.

Oh God. Oh dear God.

He yells something, inaudible from the police helicopter's position, but I can tell what he says half from how his lips move, and half from who he is.

"My name is Nefarious," he bellows silently from the TV screen, and laughs. He says something else, but I don't catch it. It doesn't matter. Something appropriately villainous.

Where are the heroes, I wonder, fretting. Where are they? Why hasn't anyone come to stop— Oh no. It's Friday, the 3rd. CapeCon, a hero convention and trade show, is in its second day down in Cape Cod. Everyone I know with powers, everyone, is there. It's so close by they can't resist going, because it's the biggest convention every year. The only reason I'm not there is because I don't have the sick days to waste. I was going to get a day pass for tomorrow.

Nobody really talks about it, but Grey City is basically empty of heroes during the daytime during CapeCon. I doubt anyone could get back here inside half an hour, and by that time Nefarious will probably have gotten away. A teleporter could get back in time, maybe, but I've never heard of one able to take on a gang on his own.

You're brilliant, Nefarious, I think, feeling sick. You're either brilliant, or so lucky you should be playing the lottery, if you ended up planning your heist for today by chance alone. Did I tell him when CapeCon would happen? I can't remember. I know we talked about it once before, but I just can't remember if I told him when it would be. And now I'm the only one anywhere nearby.

"Dr. Higgins," I call out. "I need to go."

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Never Special," Butter & Encounter (pt. 1), 380 words

"Have you tried buttering the bread," I suggest.

"Huh?"

We're in the diner again, the same one we ducked into after our first confrontation -- if you can call it that. Nefarious is sitting across from me, his hands holding tight to a mug of coffee as he goes on again about, well, pretty much anything that wanders across his mind.

I think I understand, now. He loathes having a life that's completely routine. Every complaint and rant of his goes back to that: how meaningless his life feels in his obscurity in a lab. It's the little things that seem to get to him most of all, as if they're something he should be able to grapple with because they're so small, but he still can't master them. Like his sandwiches.

"To stop the mustard soaking into your bread," I explain. "My mother always buttered the bread when she was going to put something on a sandwich that could soak in, when she made lunch for me in elementary school. If you don't mind the extra butter in there, it's like an insulating layer, protecting the bread. It works with mustard, jelly, whatever."

"Huh," he repeats to himself.

***

I'm at work when the news pops on a report of a new villain announcing himself at a heist. Now, this is only of interest because he hasn't been caught yet. Usually, if the police haven't taken care of it quickly, some random hero spots what's happening and comes on in. Rarely, if it's bad, a bigger one gets called in.

This one? It's been five solid minutes since he got into his van and started driving. Five minutes with a brazen new villain uncaught. This makes him newsworthy, possibly just because he's supernaturally lucky.

At my desk, I have a good view of the TV that Dr. Higgins keeps in her office's waiting room, and I have the remote. Out of curiosity more than anything, I turn up the volume to see what they're saying about the new villain. He hit a bank not too far away, and hurt three police in the initial getaway -- one in critical condition. For a moment I imagine taking off after him. It would probably get me fired, so it stays a fantasy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Space, Hyperspace, pt. 3, 478 words

Because who knows how the FTL drive really works? They call it hyperspace, or a jump drive, or FTL, that we're on a "cosmic highway," but who knows what we're really seeing? Is that really the universe's light out there, caught frozen as we move faster than it, creating a tunnel as we plow through the photons? Or are we seeing another dimension, a hyperspace we drop into to go from here to there almost before we leave? Just because we made it work doesn't mean we understand the physics behind it; people made gunpowder work before really knowing the chemistry of it. What is the true shape of space?

Where others see wonders out there, I see horrors. The currents and coils of light or other-space or whatever coalesce into things, creatures that live and exist in this hyperspace or faster than light, things into whose dimension we have now breached, which are angry at our intrusion. The speed of light is a lower limit for them, would have to be, and we are normally invisible to them, too slow for them, or else they would have destroyed us all by now, rent our world asunder. And now we have forced ourselves into their reality.

The others see a tunnel of blue light, staring out at the wonder of it all, but I see red eyes in threes and fours, sixes and sevens, tens and hundreds, staring in at us. The hunting horrors that lurk in the dark between photons.

We are, indeed, upon a web, and there is a spider that crawls along it. A spider with countless legs and eyes, with perfect hunger to taste anything that falls upon its web, whose mere existence is the most virulent venom. And we have poked and prodded it, made it aware of us. I name this spider Infinity.


CTRL-SHIFT-HOME
DELETE


It is difficult to describe, the experience of faster-than-light travel. I thought that perhaps my psychic gifts would give me a particular insight into the moment, but they have not. Suffice to say that my experiences have not been much different from what others recount: the sharp white light which engulfed the ship, the sense of motion yet stillness, then the return to normality but for what we saw outside the ship. That tunnel of variegated light, like something woven from threads of all the shades of blue, draws the eye like nothing else. One might liken it to the work of a great abstract artist, blending the many shades of blue into a swirling storm that seems chaotic and random, yet holds an underlying purpose and pattern, like the fractals found in some of Jackson Pollack's works. I would not be surprised if, someday, our mathematicians and physicists divine a structure to this all, an artful structure and rules that put humanity's greatest painters to shame.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Space, Hyperspace, pt. 2, 355 words

In the first second of recovery, I wonder if the others saw what I saw, felt what I felt, knew what I know, and how it had taken them. Who had given in to that temptation to just cease, to stop existing, to never exist. They all look the same, though, as if nothing has happened, as if they felt none of it – but perhaps they never did. If they had never existed, after all, would I know it? It would be someone else sitting there instead, in the captain's chair or at one of the various stations around the bridge, someone else who was yet was not there before we made the jump. Indeed, I may not even be the same person who sat in this seat, who made the decision to not-be and was replaced with me.

Or perhaps the option was only available to me. I am the only psychic on board, after all. I see things nobody else sees. If minds are like nuts, theirs are still closed tight while mine was shattered open long ago.

And I see things nobody else sees. Everyone stares out of the plasteel windows in rapt fascination, and talk about a "tunnel of blue light," everything blurring past like a subway passing another subway going in the opposite direction, the glow of their lights a wave flinging past at twice the speed you know you're going, too fast, too fast. That subtle sense of alienness at seeing something that big and made of metal moving past at such speeds, like you get with helicopters and planes and now, yes now, spaceships, but only sensed when you see it happen in person and not on a screen. Screens insulate, making real life alien.

I see that alienness out in the tunnel of light beyond, the tunnel that FTL makes of light. It's like seeing a special effects illusion in real life. I see the alienness and it repels me, touches something deep inside and dead, resuscitates it for a moment, just long enough to drive me from what everyone else sees as a wonder, a glory.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Space, Hyperspace, pt. 1, 334 words

The captain tells us to prepare, and we prepare. We are all here on the bridge of the SS Terra, those of us who are not absolutely necessary elsewhere. We're here to see what there is to see when one jumps from sublight speed to faster-than-light speed, aided by this "tunnel" or "highway" network the astrophysicists have found threading the stars in an infinite web.

Each star system, they say, is like a miniscule bead of dew hanging on a spider's web early in the morning. The paths of hyperspace are the web. I cannot help but ponder, then, if this web is as fragile as the gossamer of a spider's web, if like those beads of dew we can be shaken or evaporated off the web. But I'm probably carrying the analogy too far, I conclude, and let it go.

We belt in, all of us, and wait with varying degrees of anticipation the initiation of the jump drive. Finally, everything is ready, and we go.

And everything... goes.

It is difficult to render into words. An infinite point of white light that engulfs us all for less than a second, for just long enough to have happened -- the length of a moment, the time it takes for now to pass into now, what an old English author called the tick of the universe. And my mind opens up instantly to that moment, that infinite instant, and I feel everything pass through my head. Everything. Too much for me to even comprehend, to retain for more than that moment, a memory of a memory of remembering afterwards.

The shock is thrilling, stunning, impossible, almost knocks me back into humanity, while drawing me away at the same time, away from the world of material substance and such crude barbarism as quantum physics. It would be the effort of a thought to drift away, disintegrate upon the astral winds, but even as I comprehend it that moment ends and we descend back into darkness.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Never Special," Conversation, pt. 4, 436 words

"See me again," he says – no, commands, like someone with confidence. Like a real villain. His tone just takes it for granted that I'll want to obey him, to see him again. And, you know, I want to.

So I borrow a little of his confidence, say, "Alright," and smile just a little. "But out of the costumes, next time. I don't know about you, but I don't feel ready to put that back on just yet."

He seems genuinely surprised that I agreed, and manages to stammer out, "Oh, uh... Alright, then. Good. Very good. Very good indee—"

I reach out and take his hand and say, "You're babbling," stilling the impending tide of words. I shake my head. "I'm sorry. I don't really want to ditch you right now, but it's late, and even supergirls need their sleep. But I do want to see you again. Same time next week?"

"I, uh... Yes, I think I'd like that," he says, stumbling over his words. I'm still drawing on his confidence, I guess, and I wonder if I'm drawing too hard. He's so... earnest. That's the word, I think. He's so earnest about everything when he's not showing these flashes of something else. He has to force everything out, dedicate himself to every word even when he's tripping over them. Other people would laugh at it, I think, but I can't help but find it charming.

On an impulse, I grab a pen out of my little bag, the one I packed my costume into, and scribble my phone number down on a napkin. My name goes just below it. The ink bleeds out a little into the napkin, but the letters and numbers are still legible. I hand it to him and say, "Call me if something comes up. Otherwise, see you in a week. Good night."

I leave him to finish his pie, not really interested in my own anymore, and drop a five and one to cover my half of the bill and a tip. I can't resist the urge to pat his shoulder lightly, careful to keep my hand from lingering because I'm not sure I like him that much yet and I don't want to send the wrong message. But maybe I'm just overthinking it.

Then again, I don't care if I am overthinking it or not. I have a tendency to dwell on the good as well as the bad, and right now I feel so oddly light that I think I could fly even without my powers. I think something good for me happened tonight, really good.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Never Special," Conversation, pt. 3, 441 words

I blush a little in the aftermath of that... that burst of himself, feeling my cheeks get warm. Just the thought that I'm telegraphing my reaction so openly makes me even more embarrassed, and I cough and hide my face behind my mug of tea.

It's not another girl, but that makes my stomach knot up more, not less, for some reason. It would be easier if there was a woman driving him crazy, so to speak, just like it's always easier to fall in love with someone who can't reciprocate. It means there's no burden, no expectations. The only difficulty is coping with the feelings, no need to make time in your life for another person, to change any little annoying behaviors or clean up your apartment a little more. It's just easier if there's no chance.

I recover after a moment, composing myself before I set the cup down. I smile and ask, "Why isn't it that simple?"

***

"Sometimes I feel like this is my only recourse. So...So I decided to give it a shot."

I take another drink of my tea, considering the little display I just witnessed. He's definitely villain material, could easily be completely cracked, with his hatred of the world.

A rational part of my brain demands that I be repulsed, disgusted by this pathetic little man with his egotistical response to the common cruelties of life. A whiny fool who wants to blame everything else instead of himself for being so very pointless.

The rational side of me drowns in the wave of sympathy. We're more alike than he knows, I'm certain, and it's all I can do to keep from putting my arms around him in a maternal hug. Not here, though, not in public. He wouldn't appreciate a show of pity. And I'm not sure I want him seeing me as a maternal figure...

We're so alike I want to cry. So average, boring, bland that nobody even wants to notice us. The only substantive difference here... The only real difference is that he wants to lash out, while I want to be something... something better than I am.

So despite the fact that he's the villain and I'm the hero, despite the fact that we're on the opposite ends of more things than just this table, I reach out and put a hand on his forearm. "I see you," I say. "I think I understand. People barely look at me twice, either. I've got the world's most common powers, and even being... superhuman," and I shake my head, dismissing the word as I say it, "I don't stand out at all."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Never Special," Conversation, pt. 2, 372 words

And I'm concerned about the answer because, well damn it, it's been nearly nine months since I was last even asked out on a date, much less shared anything more than casual acquaintance or platonic friendship with anyone. And he is cute, in that awkward sort of way, so shy that he makes me forget my own social awkwardness because it's a drop compared to the ocean. I even caught him looking at my chest once on the way over here, unample as it is, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing when he tried to act like he hadn't been looking at all. I feel comfortable around him, more like myself than I have in weeks, even though he tried to kill me or something back in that alley a few blocks away. It's not like he hurt me, anyway, and he did ask me out to coffee afterwards.

I like him. Despite myself, I like him, or I want to like him. Even though he's a villain and I'm a, well... sort of but not quite a hero.

"N-no, not a girl," he says after a long moment's contemplation and a bite of pie. He frowns and tugs on his sleeve for a moment before finally looking up at me, right at my face for the first time since things went wrong in the alley. He was almost confident then, getting into... not his role, not really.

Getting into himself. That's it. It was like, back in the alley, he was becoming himself. Now he's someone else, that nervous and shy guy I met last night. Uncomfortable in his own skin.

Well, I know how that feels.

A momentary change comes over him, here and then gone almost as quickly as it came. But while it's here, it's like he was back in the alley again, more himself as he laughs lightly and says, "I wish it was that simple." Light reflects off his glasses for just a moment, opaquing the lenses with brilliance, and he grins.

And then it's gone, and he looks back down to his pie for another bite. He looks at me over the rim of his glasses, gone clear once more.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Never Special," Conversation, pt. 1, 403 words

(Note: it'll be getting pretty choppy from here on out. Much of the rest of the Never Special stuff written so far is half of a back-and-forth from Amanda and Ned's shifting perspectives. I'll be inviting Ned's author to provide his parts here, but no guarantees she'll want to do so.)

I smile a little, shrug off my own words as if they mean nothing. Everyone is new at it at one point or another, though you sometimes imagined heroes like Polaris being born with their costumes on and five years' experience in crime-fighting already under their belts... Diapers. Whatever it would be under, anyway.

The waitress drops off my green tea and raspberry pie – I couldn't believe they had raspberry pie, nobody has raspberry pie – directly opposite his, Nefarious's, coffee and cherry pie. I'm glad for the momentary respite she brings, as words die in her presence and I take a moment to drink some of the tea. Freshly brewed and scalding hot, but I'm long past worrying about burning my tongue or the roof of my mouth. I look over the rim of my cup as I drink and consider the mad genius in front of me.

I like the name. Nefarious. It's just one of those words that sounds like what it means, a sort of definitional onomatopoeia. Like "defenestration," assassinating someone by throwing them out of a window. It just sounds like a sinister word. The name doesn't suit him yet, not by far – "Nervous" would have been better – but he could grow into it. Be one of those dapper, gentlemanly villains who are so hard to pin stuff on, if he keeps his sanity about him. But he'd look cute with his hair mussed and wild, too, just all over the place like pictures of Einstein in his later years. Then again, I had a crush on the Fourth Doctor when I was just a little girl, so it's not like my standards are normal.

I set the cup down and force myself to ask the question that's been on my mind for a little while now, ever since we sat down here. I let a little laughter carry under my words as I ask, nonchalantly, "So is it a girl?" I'm more concerned about the answer than I even want to admit to myself.

Because it's always a girl for these types. Always. Read the comics or watch the movies. Some woman they fell hopelessly in love with from a distance, but who doesn't even know they exist, that kind of thing. Love can make you crazy, if you're the right sort of person, and I suspect the guy in front of me is just the right sort.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Space, Dreams, pt. 2, 428 words

Many have attempted to harness the powers of the mind to explore the future. However, success has been limited, to say the least, in this area. The closest that anyone has been able to demonstrate is a sort of short-term unconscious "psychohistory," to borrow a term: analysis of all known data and factors to produce a prediction of how things will go in a given situation. This is not truly seeing the future, but merely exceptional cognition -- good guessing. But still, some seek out the ability to see the future by psychic means. The quest likely will never end.

I think, sometimes, that my visions are of the future. I do not inform others of this, because it means I would be taken back to the operating table immediately, my brain dissected to discover what precise mix of biochemistry allows me to catch such glimpses of the future. While I do not fear such a situation, I do not desire it, either.

My continued existence is of no real import to me, but I tell no one for the same reason I do not commit suicide: just because my continued life does not matter does not mean I am ready to quit it. If I had to define it further, I would say it is a survival instinct that never went away despite the damage dealt my brain during my training. It is the same impulse that keeps a person edging away from a ledge despite the rampant curiosity of what it would be like to jump. Indeed, I experienced as much once in my life before my training, on the top of a skyscraper in Tokyo with friends. I considered, briefly, what it would be to climb over the fence and jump, but some unconscious impulse stayed my hands and feet no matter how much I tried to even take a step towards the edge. It is not fear, it just... is.

Be that as it may, my occasional visions have grown increasingly accurate. I recognized our starship, the SS Terra, upon first viewing. My introduction to the other members of the crew had something of the familiar to it. The training I am going through now is almost already known to me. Sometimes, I could take over a lecture being given us, silently speaking the words a syllable ahead of whoever stands before us, preparing us.

Though my dream-visions aren't entirely about the training I go through now, in preparation for exploring space. Fewer and fewer are, in fact.

Mostly, now, I dream of violence.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Space, Volunteer & Dreams (pt. 1), 358 words

I volunteered for this mission.

Most, I am certain, would wonder at that. I lack in aspiration and ambition, which to many makes me an acceptable subordinate, but not what one would consider an intrepid explorer. When the word came, however, that a final team was being assembled to crew the SS Terra, my superiors in the UGPD immediately began to cast about for a suitable agent to have aboard the ship.

After all, they were not about to let the Great Wonder Of Modern Science And Human Ingenuity cast off without one of their own aboard to provide them with detailed summaries of all discoveries and crew behavior. Indeed, what some of the more paranoid of my superiors desired aboard the Terra was an informal political officer, to make sure that "right thought" was practiced amongst the crew and that, if we did indeed find extraterrestrial life, nobody had their loyalties swayed away from the UEG.

My request was unexpected, but fortuitous. I met the strict requirements they set upon whoever would become their agent aboard the Terra, and yet I was junior enough -- and therefore expendable enough -- to be sent along on a ship that could be destroyed in any one of a thousand different ways. My loyalties were never in question; what could anyone offer me that would get me to betray my masters? I have no wants, and only minimal needs.

However, I volunteered for my own reasons.

Though morality and many human values escape my comprehension, I am still a man of conviction. One conviction. Progress, defined as the increasing accumulation of information, is its own end. For that reason, I will go to explore the galaxy. For progress.

***

It is not quite accurate to say that I do not dream.

I sleep, as any other human does. I do not dream while engaged in REM sleep, or if I do, I do not recall it and my brain shows none of the normal activity known to go on while dreaming.

But sometimes, while on that fringe between consciousness and unconsciousness, I experience... dreams, of a sort. One might even call them visions.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 7, 322 words

Feeling a little disheartened at his evaluation, and realizing he's right, I say, "Yeah... Yeah, I guess you're right. I'll just, uh..."

"Hey now," he interrupts, "don't go abandoning it just on my say-so. You picked it yourself, and that's more important than the best name from someone else. A name you choose is who you are, even more so than the name your mother or father gave you at birth. You may not be Shatterforce yet, miss, but you could be if you wanted to be. That's what matters.

"'Sides, you can change it later if you decide you don't like it. It's not like we're sewing a big red S on your chest."

I smile faintly and shrug, bemused by the idea. It’s not like I’d be the first hero to get a costume with some lettered symbol like that, but it’s definitely not for me. What do you do if you decide the name is rubbish? Get a new costume, too? No. If you’re going to go the costumed hero route, better to find a costume that fits your powers than one that fits a name.

“I’ve got some ideas,” he says. “Nothing premade, I don’t think. How soon do you need it?”

“Uh, I was going to wear it tonight, and…”

“Tonight? That eager to get out there? Sure it can’t wait a couple days?”

I shake my head. “I agreed to…” Oh boy. That sounds stupid. I agreed to meet a villain tonight? Geez, he’ll think I’m treating heroing like a way to get dates, if I prearrange my confrontations. I sigh inwardly and cover up with the first thing I can think of:

“I know this guy, this… villain is going to be somewhere at a specific time, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who knows. I’m going to go there to confront him.” Okay, not a lie, but not the whole truth, either.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 6, 399 words

Nodding in recognition, I say, "Oh, I think I've heard of you. Didn't you use to work with Hat Trick? That string of con man thwartings?"

Alter Ego smiles and nods. "You've got a good memory. That was, what, eleven years ago? Nah, twelve, soon."

"How come you didn't keep going on," I ask, genuinely curious. Hat Trick had been a magician and professional skeptic in the vein of Houdini, always ready to tear apart any con or scheme he stumbled upon, taking care of the less-obvious but no less insidious criminals out there who preyed on the lonely and elderly, the grieving and the gullible. He was still working, last I heard, but his time with Alter Ego had been his most successful. Hat Trick found them and Alter Ego leaned his brain on theirs until they couldn't lie, and their schemes fell apart under Hat Trick's scrutiny.

He shrugs. "I've had my fifteen minutes," he says, "and I've always been a bit of a homebody. Traveling all over the place like that chasing one con man after another... Not really to my liking." Alter Ego shakes his head and grins wryly. "But enough about this old dog. What kind of powers bring you here?"

A little reluctantly, I admit, "The standard set."

"Now don't be like that," he says, leaning on the counter. "Nothing to be gloomy about there. That's a good all-purpose power set you have. I would've loved to be able to fly, back when I first got my powers. I still wouldn't mind it, but I'm more used to how I am now. You chosen a hero name?"

"I, uh..." I start to shake my head, but suddenly something leaps to the fore, and I speak it before I can really think about it. "Yeah," I say, tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear. "Shatterforce."

It feels like it should be a momentous occasion, finally deciding upon my hero name, but what little significance there is in the moment gets swept away by his casual nod and businesslike, "Alright. Decent name. Lord knows I've heard far worse, considered far worse for myself when I was just starting up. Though if you don't mind me saying so, it sounds more like something for a big, mean cuss of a bruiser than a lady like you, no matter what your powers may be like."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 5, 401 words

“Hello,” he says, his voice a little deeper than average and kind of scratchy. It goes with the rest of him, heavy and a little gruff-looking with wild hair and a day or two of unshaven growth on his face. “Can I help you with anything?”

“Uh, yeah,” I say, reflexively folding my arms a little like I’m hugging myself. I doubt he’s able to hurt me, but I haven’t gotten over my good-old-fashioned shyness around strangers. I always feel like I’m interrupting. “I’m looking for a, uh, a costume.”

“Alright,” he says. He gives me a quick up-and-down look, appraising instead of leering. I’m sure he’s already thinking about what size I’d fit. “Got a party coming up,” he asks, making conversation.

I make a face, and shake my head quickly. Ugh, costume parties. “No,” I say. “I’ve, uh… I’ve got powers, and I need something to wear.” The words come out in a rush, and I tighten my arms around myself. My stomach knots up.

It just feels so stupid to say something like that. Like I’m not taking it seriously to come here, instead of going to a proper super shop. A party costume isn’t a sign of dedication, of being willing to put one’s life on the line for the greater good. I want to turn around and run immediately. The only thing keeping me here is that, if I run now, I literally don’t have any other choice except to face Doctor Dreadful or whoever he is in my normal clothes. And that’s even less serious heroing than going in a Halloween costume.

"Well," he says, "I don't usually provide costumes for powers, but you're hardly the first person to come in looking for one. Do you have any idea what you're after?"

"No." I shake my head a little, comforted by his matter-of-fact manner. I shrug. "I just don't want something that's very..." I hold my hands up like I'm cupping a pair of gargantuan breasts. "You know?"

He grinned to himself and let out a short laugh. "Yeah, I understand. I used to be in the business, too." He slapped his gut. "Had my own share of problems finding a costume that fit right."

I smile faintly at his easy self-deprecation and ask, "Really? Who were you?"

"Alter Ego. Named the shop after myself. I was a mentalist – not quite mind-controlling, but definitely mind-influencing."

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 4, 405 words

Unfortunately, I’m not one of the few people with flight who also have super-acute vision. It means I can’t actually fly very high when I’m looking for something, nor very fast. My eyes are already watering a little from the constant irritation of the wind just a few hundred feet off the ground, and I have to wipe them clear of tears every so often to keep a watch for the costume shop’s sign.

Finally, I spot it: bright purple, just a little too big for the storefront, lettering and a silly face traced in gold. “Altered Egos,” the owner named it, apparently trying to be cute. I shrug off the silliness of the name and descend to the sidewalk before the store.

The name makes a certain sort of sense, I guess. They do say that “the clothes make the man,” and I always feel a little more prepared for what I do if I dress for it. If I need to think differently, to think heroically, maybe a new costume really will help me. “Alter ego” not as alternate identity, then, but to alter one’s existing identity. I could, after all, be one of those heroes who goes around unmasked, let the world know I’m Amanda Park instead of The Golden Dart or Wings of Glory or whatever stupid name it is I come up with.

Wings of Glory? Geez. Why did I ever consider that for more than a second? I don’t even have wings.

My descent and landing don’t draw more than a few cursory glances, nothing more than the look any person would reflexively give someone walking in the door. An acknowledgement of presence, but not anything more. I let my hair out of the ponytail I had to tie it back into for the flight, and straighten my shirt and pants before opening the costume shop’s front door.

The counter stands right near the door, the better to observe it, and immediately on the far side of it begin the racks of pre-made costumes, costume accessories, and materials for making, patching, altering costumes. Some hang off the walls and others stand free in the middle of the way, creating narrow aisles for the curious searcher to slip through. I’m the only person here, though, aside from the middle-aged guy manning the counter. He looks up from the comic book he’s reading, and squints a little like he needs glasses.

Monday, October 06, 2008

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 3, 357 words

As far as regular, dedicated costume stores, with stuff that's sturdier than tissue paper and doesn't bare my chest to the world by default, I found one. Oh, I found plenty under the "Hero Accessories" category in the yellow pages. But those places cater to people who want fireproof fabric that wears like cotton, armored and bulletproof coats so they always look badass, and no end of gadgets for escaping and disabling various death traps, superweapons, and robot armies, and to incapacitate the bad guy nonlethally while doing it. In other words, a lot of stuff I can't afford on a secretary's salary.

The costume shop is on the other side of the city, but it's not like that's an inconvenience for me. Once more, I appreciate not having to drive or ride anywhere anymore if I don't want to. As long as it's not raining, I like flying, the one unquestionably positive adjustment to my life that these powers have brought. Flying above everyone makes me feel... not so insignificant. I understand, from that position, how some people with powers start indulging in rampant egotism, seeing everyone else as inferior just because they don't have powers. But then I look up, and see the others flying higher, faster, beautiful and with amazing costumes, and realize that I'm not so different from those below. There's still someone higher up than me. Oh, I could ascend to a higher altitude, fly at the same heights as the greats who fly above, inscrutable at so great a distance, but I wouldn't really be one of them.

I shake my head and come back to earth, figuratively speaking. I don’t want to sparrow against a window, so I need to keep my mind on where I’m going and what I’m doing. It’s not that I’m worried about hurting myself because, after all, when you throw a rock at glass, it’s not the rock that gets hurt. I don’t want to end up cited for a hit-and-run against a whole building. I have an hour after work before the costume store closes, and I really don’t need to get held up.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 2, 356 words

I dig as deep into my cramped little closet as I can, and— ugh. I do have a costume, I realize, stuffed back into the package it came in and then shoved into the back of the closet. For good reason, too. It'd been worn once, and that was enough, at a party last Halloween. The package showed, like any adult woman's costume, a fit, slender woman showing off ample cleavage, dressed in this case in a black bodysuit with a few daubs and lines of make-up on her face, and felt cat ears perched on top of her head. A sexy cat costume guaranteed to please normal guys and zoophiliacs alike. Well, on anyone but me; the bodysuit had been tight around the stomach and baggy at the chest, something in the make-up gave me a rash the next day, and the cat ears' headband tended to get tangled in my hair. That would be my last Halloween party, I had decided. My last date, too; the guy had been cute, but an asshole.

I toss the costume back into the closet and shake my head. I'll check a costume shop after work tomorrow, but if I can't find anything then I guess The Office Temp will go out to meet her nemesis for the first time.

I really, really need to figure out a better name, though. I think I'll sleep on it.

***

At work, I spend my lunch break looking through the yellow pages for costume shops. You'd think it wouldn't be hard in a city like this, where supers are thick as flies on a dead body. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. At Halloween, everyone goes to drug stores and department stores to pick up costumes that are only out through October, or makes their own. I don't really want a prepackaged costume anyway, because for women they only come in one design: sexy (or, depending on your perspective, slutty). Like the cat costume I had, a lot of them are form-fitting with lots of breast exposure. Not ideal for someone with a body like mine, or for fighting crime.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 1, 399 words

First things first.

I need something to wear.

I hate how stereotypical it makes me feel to even think that, but this is something bigger than trying to dress up for a date. We’re talking about my first real action as a… a hero. I need a costume, a good one. Something like Kali Yuga’s co-opted Victorian menswear, or Amaza’s armored white singlesuit, only… not. Something different, something distinctively Amanda Park…

I need a name, too. Shit. The more I think about it, the more issues pile on. Should I come up with a catchphrase? Something witty to say? What if he knows my secret weakness?

No, scrap that. I don’t even know my secret weakness, if I have one. I’m not sure if a human with the “standard set,” as it’s come to be called, has any special weakness, a vulnerability that overcomes their powers.

And damn it all but I still can’t figure out what to wear! It’s midnight, I need to be up in six and a half hours to get ready for work, and I know I won’t be able to sleep until I solve this problem. But it’s like when you realize you went a day too long to wash your laundry, and now everything you can find that’s clean has some ugly stain or embarrassing hole. There are just so many clothes sitting or hanging there, and yet not a single one of them will work. I find myself searching again and again as if it’ll change things, but the fact is, I have absolutely nothing I can use for a costume unless I want to go as The Office Temp.

I punch my palm in frustration, a habit I had to develop quickly over the past two weeks lest I put holes in my walls from all the stress of these changes, worse than puberty and my first period for making me feel like my body is a completely alien thing. My fist thudding into my palm feels the same as it always has, making me almost able to forget that I’ve changed.

That’s just an illusion, though, my own body having become hardy enough to endure the consequences of inhuman strength. Invulnerability’s almost a side-effect of that kind of thing; they go hand in hand like a chicken-and-egg problem. Otherwise I’d be tearing myself apart with the forces I can exert.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Space, Morality, pt. 2, 333 words

The Categorical Imperative fails for me because it does not matter to me whether everyone lies when they wish or not. I place no moral value on not-lying, just as I place none on lying. There is literally nothing I can "will" to become universal law.

I have a similar problem with theological sources of morality. Such codes rely upon obedience to a higher power which will punish you if you do not obey, and reward you if you do. What fear have I of punishment? What desire have I for reward? It breaks down immediately once you remove emotion from the equation.

Secular humanism is as much a fool's errand as theology. Such a philosophy presupposes the "specialness" of humans, the need to regard all humans as equal moral agents. What basis the specialness of humanity? Sapience? Perhaps. If humans are the only sapient life form in existence, as we are on Earth, then perhaps we are special. And if our mission discovers sapient alien life, as many hope? Humanity's specialness diminishes.

Some have suggested I would be a good nihilist. Perhaps. In some ways, my non-beliefs are in line with the tenets of nihilism. Or they would be, if I could accept a "non-belief" as a thing akin to a belief. Nihilism, however, seems to involve in most of its adherents a sort of world-weary cynicism that I cannot truly comprehend or explore. Even in those who do not feel this way, to embrace a philosophy, to append its name to yourself, requires an effort of recognition and sympathy with its views that I cannot perform.

Ultimately, the quest for moral understanding may be utterly futile. No philosophy can truly be formed and followed in the absence of emotion. But then again, there is also the possibility that, if there are aliens out there, they may have solved the problem themselves. That supposes there is a problem, of course, but one must make certain presuppositions to enable any course of action.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Space, Morality, pt. 1, 445 words

Of all the ideas I grapple with, I think that morality and sexuality challenge me the most.

The latter is both the easiest and the most difficult to explore. I understand the sex drive on a logical, biological level, as an imperative to perpetuate the species. At the same time, it challenges me on a personal level.

My sex drive still exists, but I do not have the familiar anchors others have: no emotion appends to it. I do not have any sort of preference to express as others do, not based on sex, ethnicity, body type, or other superficial features such as hair color or eye color (note the Western cultural obsession with "blonde over blue," for example). Despite my rational, fact-based understanding of it, sexuality does not bend to rationality. And so the drive exists, though nothing may be done about it aside from the purely mechanical.

Morality, however, is another creature entirely.

So far, every bit of philosophy I have read, every attempt to explain the need for a moral code, ultimately appeals to emotion. Such appeals suffer from a certain lack, to me. It requires, at base, one recognizes a certain "good" or valued state of being that cannot be explained entirely rationally. Various justifications are essayed to define such a "good," but they always relate ultimately back to some kind of emotional appeal.

Even the most rational-seeming system I have studied, Kant's Categorical Imperative, appeals to certain things which cannot be defined without some emotional basis. The first and most well-known form of the Categorical Imperative goes: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." On first glance, this seems logical. But only if you accept a few existing presuppositions.

The first is that one must already value the integrity of society. Kantianism requires society and social cohesion to be valued for this to work, else a person can use the Categorical Imperative to justify any act. The traditional example to demonstrate the Imperative goes thus: if you cannot will that everyone lies when it is convenient, then you should not lie when it is convenient. But that supposes a moral value on the state of affairs where people do not constantly lie. Where does such a moral value come from? Kant suggests they come from various duties that we have as humans. Whence do such duties come, then? How do you define a necessary duty? You cannot. They are tautological, where they are necessary because they are good, and good because they are necessary. When one questions the basic definition of "good," then it breaks down.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Never Special," First Meetings, pt. 2, 392 words

“No, seriously, what’s going on,” I ask. I’m so close to him now that I’m stepping on broken glass, grinding into the soles of my sneakers. I could grab him, and probably break his arm into tiny bits if I grab too hard. I glance down at his arm, the one I considered grabbing, and notice a few dark marks growing larger on his white coat, barely visible in the dark of the alley here.

“Oh Jesus, you’re hurt,” I say, taking care only to grab his arm by the loose sleeve. I jerk him sideways anyway, and he stumbles a little against me. It’s a lab coat that he’s wearing, an actual honest-to-God lab coat that’s getting stained with his blood.

“Yeah, it was some of the glass,” he says. The note of strain in his voice is obvious for the first time – or maybe I was just too caught up in the whole heroes-and-villains thing to really notice it before.

“We’ve got to do something about this. Do you have a first aid kit or anything,” I ask. I look up from his arm, and from this close get my first real look at his face. He’s cute in a shy, geeky way, short brown hair and brown eyes behind trendy glasses that look all wrong on his thin, pale face.

“No, I, uh, no. This is just my first heist and… Crap, this isn’t going right at all, is it?”

“Huh?” I blink, thinking for a moment, and realize what he means. It’s going nothing like how the comics or the movies make it out to seem. “Oh, no, I guess not.”

“Well… Well, balls. Can I call a mulligan,” he asks, frowning to himself. Despite myself, a do-over sounds like a really good idea.

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, sure.” I let go of his arm, step back a little. “Same time tomorrow?”

He glances over at me, finally actually looking at me for the first time. I mean actually looking, like I was really there and not just his imaginary friend. “I…” He shakes his head quickly. “Yes, okay.”

“Well, uh… um…” I stammer, wondering what to say now. I’ve always been bad at this moment, trying to end a conversation gracefully and split off. Hell with it, it’s not that hard, I think, and say, “See you later.”