August Novella

This is my first direct sequel story- Bi-Shoggoth, the sequel to August 2017’s ‘That Thing’! Spoilers abound for that story, but if you know my style, it’s probably nothing you didn’t see coming. If you’re interested in reading the full work- And That Thing, for that matter- they’re available for just a dollar here! https://www.patreon.com/user?u=5359808

Chapter 1: Slicing Life

Chronometer: 060014 041317

Playlist: Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra

The song played in my mind as I opened my eyes. Technically speaking, I didn’t need to sleep, or open my eyes. But it was part of being a person. Spending the night next to Lucky Charms, feeling his body heat and the nourishing reassurance of his presence, and ordering my thoughts from the previous day. I used the time to think about what I’d read and what I’d learned.

I could store information almost instantly, writing it to my molecular substrate and archiving it. But that wasn’t the same as understanding it. I had to process it the slow way, the way humans did, chewing over what I learned and parsing it into the context of everything else I knew. Certain things were easy. Chemistry, languages, probability. These things were effortless.

The tough part was the things that made someone human. Themes. Symbols. Personalities. All of those tricky little things. Particles and waves were easy. Humans were messy and all ever so slightly different. Connecting with them didn’t come easily to me. But that’s what made them so fun.

It was still dark outside, the barest hints of pre-dawn light filtering down through the cool April morning. The slightest trail of light struck Lucky Charms’ chin, illuminating him.

I leaned close, slightly entranced. Human standards of attractiveness were mutable. They flowed over time, with different eras favoring different things. Lucky Charms would not, in any era of history, have been considered one of the great examples of human attractiveness. It was silly. His features were symmetrical, his chin covered in stubble that showed he had an appropriate amount of testosterone, his shoulders broad enough in comparison to his waist to demonstrate his superior leverage and grip strength, all perfectly attractive features for a male primate. He should be proud.

Well, if no one else recognized how handsome he was, that meant he could be mine. I leaned forward, and planted a soft kiss on his lips, enjoying the warm sensation as his breath tickled me, a spark of delight racing up my spine at the intimate contact. He blinked as I broke the kiss, and muzzily rubbed his eyes. “Whattimezit?”

I considered the question.

>”6.”

>”About time for us to get up, you should prepare for that meeting.”

>”It’s still early, don’t worry about it.”

“Mmmm,” he murmured, and nodded, rolling over onto his side, leaning against my arm gently. I smiled. The meeting wasn’t until midday, and while it was important, he’d done everything that he reasonably could. I knew he’d been sleeping poorly the last couple of days, stress making it difficult for him to stay asleep. I’d embraced him each time he’d become restive, soothing him back to sleep. He needed encouragement to be well-rested.

Humans were messy and complicated. But if you spent time with them, you began to understand them very well. Ever since I had awoken, on an icy floor in an ancient and dead city, with no memory but pain, and fear, and isolation, he had been there. He had given me warmth, and brought me back from a very dark place. In spite of this, he still believed he was not special, and in truth, perhaps there were other human beings who would have done the same.

Humans had a far more complicated time of things than I did. They had to worry about relative status, genetics, cultural biases and clashes. I had only this knowledge: He was the one I loved, and I loved my life with him. A human might fear that they were not living up to their full potential. I was under no such onus. I knew precisely what I was doing, and I was overjoyed with my life. The least I could do was share that joy with him, by helping him to achieve his dreams.

Lucky’s mother was in the kitchen, yawning as she started a pot of coffee. She looked up, and smiled at me. “Good morning, Yuki. Everything ready for the big day?”

We lived with Lucky’s parents. With my abilities, we easily could have afforded any home in the city, but Lucky was worried about my abilities becoming more widely known. I understood his concerns, and so, I kept my actions subtle. If incautious, my abilities could dramatically destabilize the economy of the country. But I could at least make sure we didn’t want for anything. “Yes, Jane. Did you pick up the Pepto-Bismol?”

She nodded, tilting her head towards the table. I picked up the small bottle, and let it fall into my hand, gathering and sorting the molecules. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen. These, I set aside as a small bar of titanium. The Bismuth was the important part. An extremely high atomic-number material, and for all intents and purposes stable, it was a relatively common material and low in cost. Additionally, it was several atomic numbers above gold, and well above iron.

An interesting fact is that Iron is, in many ways, the element most physically associated with entropy. Iron is the end-point of the nuclear fusion in the heart of stars, and attempting to fuse iron into elements higher in the periodic table requires ruinous quantities of energy. It is easier to fuse and fission materials towards iron than away from it. Every time I did so, I contained some of the energy as high-energy particles, and lost some of it to waste heat. Like any being, I could not deny thermodynamics’ grip.

But the thing was, it would be uncountable billions of years before entropy wound down our universe, and I had been a person for eight months. I honestly was not particularly worried. I smiled as I held out the delicate gold wedding band to Jane. The small diamond sparkled in it, an inscription visible within, something I had stolen from a jewelry ad. “This should cover the month’s rent.”

She smiled gratefully. Both Jane and Dan had welcomed me with open arms, despite my strangeness. Lucky had explained the entire story of our meeting to them, and while they had been bemused, they had not panicked. Lucky had inherited his remarkable tolerance from his parents. And so, they had welcomed me into their home.

And in the wake of the Atlanteans later that month, many lingering questions had been answered. Those that were not, did not matter to me.

The ring was my method of helping the household finances. Made, pawned, and forgotten. The amount of gold they added to the economy was negligible, and while the pawn shops paid half what it was worth, they did not ask questions. When Lucky protested that he should do more for the family, for me, I reminded him, gently, kindly, that he was doing everything for me. His writing had been flourishing, and he had found the courage to bring his work to an agent. Today would be an important day.

I smiled to myself as I went over to the stove, and helped Jane prepare breakfast. If he succeeded, he would celebrate with me. If he failed, I would encourage him and restore his faith in himself. Regardless, life was sweet.

I was, in fact, perfectly capable of preparing a meal simply by converting a bucket of water into an appropriate meal. Lucky had even expressed a fondness for that ability, noting my talent for cooking- though, in this case, it was more a talent for nuclear alchemy. Nonetheless, I tried not to rely on that too much. The eggs-

I glared down at the frying pan. The eggs were noticeably blackened, and nearly raw in other places. I did my best, but I wasn’t experienced with more traditional methods. I checked Lucky’s mother, and saw she was drinking a cup of coffee, not noticing the mess I had made of things. I passed my hand through the frying pan, and set it aside, the picture-perfect serving of scrambled eggs steaming lightly. It felt, subtly, like I was cheating when I did this, bypassing the rules. It also felt embarrassingly cliché. Lucky hated the cliché of the young woman with an absolute lack of awareness of how to cook, and I didn’t want him to know that I had an embarrassing tendency to fall into that habit. Organic materials were just so volatile; It was painfully difficult to predict when they would pass from ‘delicious’ to ‘inedible’.

I, for my part, did not need anything to eat at all; what energy I needed I absorbed from the ambient environment and my occasional acts of nuclear alchemy. Perhaps that was part of the issue.

“Mmm. Morning,” said Dan, yawning, as he walked down the stairs in his slippers and a bath robe. He sat at the table, and smiled. “Smells great, Yuki. Big day today.”

“Yes indeed,” I said, smiling back at him as I set down the food. Lucky got much of his appearance from his parents, but it was difficult to say where, precisely, his personality had come from. He had a strong INTJ profile, though he tended to keep his judgements internalized, not sharing them with others. His parents were both only moderate introverts, with a tendency towards light-heartedness and acceptance of the world as it was, in stark contrast to his somewhat dour and gloomy view of things. It was his desire to change things, to see the world improve, that stood out among his most attractive features. “I’ll be back in just a moment.”

Downstairs, Lucky lay in bed, an arm over his eyes. I smiled, and rested my hands on his side. He mmmed, and opened his eyes. “Time to wake up?” I nodded. He stood up, and gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek.

Lucky always lingered in his touches. When he embraced me, it was an act of will on his part to let go. When he kissed me, he always seemed reluctant to break the kiss. He suffered from skin hunger, a lack of intimacy. His parents were both deeply affectionate people, and from what I understood, his experiences with other people had left him starved of it. He needed someone who was tolerant of being touched, who did not mind the way his hands lingered.

How fortunate for me that I had found him. The warmth of his skin is what had saved me from a slow death by madness and dissolution, encased beneath the ice. His touch always reminded me of that joy when I had become more than just oblivion. I was just as happy to have him embrace me forever. But, eventually, hunger drove him to release me. It was okay- He would embrace me again soon.

I sat on the toilet as he showered, smiling as I watched him. He was somewhat embarrassed about his body. Again, his experiences were relative. He was not pleased with himself. I, on the other hand, found him familiar, and deeply attractive. He didn’t show his embarrassment as he showered, but he turned slightly away from me. I simply sat and quietly appreciated him, showing him that he was attractive through slow and gentle repetition.

“What time is it?”

“Seven-thirty. We have plenty of time. Everything will be okay, darling.”

He nodded softly, and looked at me for a moment. He opened his mouth to ask a question, but didn’t complete it.

“Everything will be fine. The worst that can happen is that they reject the manuscript, and we find an agent with greater sense.” I smiled. “Either way, I will support you in this.”

He nodded softly. I knew he was embarrassed to thank me. Despite his agreeing to accept my love, my help, he still had his doubts. He wanted to be equals in our relationship, and he viewed his contributions as negligible. I gave him a small amount of mineral wealth, confidence, and support. He gave me life, purpose, a place to call my own. We both viewed our contribution as the lesser. That’s what made it love.

He still occasionally protested. But my memory was perfect. I could see how rare it was, now, and how it was becoming rarer. Slowly, but surely, his pain was being washed away by my embrace. His lack of confidence, his self-hatred, his fear of intimacy. Each time I was patient and kind and gentle, it taught him that everything was okay. Piece by piece, I made his life better.

We sat around the breakfast table, everyone eating industriously. I was still not adept at tasting things. I was capable of chemical analysis, but the particular synthesis of experiences that humans called ‘taste’ was alien to me. Bit by bit, I learned- each time, for example, that I kissed Lucky, I was able to study and scan a bit more of the nerve layout of his tongue. The delicate interplay of ion channels and protein receptors created a dizzying menagerie of sensation. The most difficult part was that I didn’t have the evolutionary needs that they did, and so, I did not have the same dopamine rush. But I could nonetheless learn to appreciate it. It was slow, sometimes frustrating work, but worth the effort.

“Manuscript all printed out?” asked Dan. Lucky nodded, toying with his food with his fork. He was worried, so I reached over and rested my hand on his, squeezing it. Jane reached over, and switched on the radio. NPR’s dulcet tones washed over us.

“The Atlantean diet: Could it work for you? Today, we’ll be examining the latest craze, powdered algae and seafood. Now-”

The Atlanteans. They had been the ones who had killed whatever I came from, who had found the ancient frozen city beneath Antarctica. They’d apparently been engaged in some sort of internecine conflict, as a cult tried to destroy humanity. There had been an entire odd business with dreams. Lucky’s dreams had been of a dark ocean. He told me it reminded him, vaguely, of me. I had chosen to let it lie, and focus on supporting Lucky.

It may seem ironic, even foolish. A creature like myself, not human, a shoggoth, something strange and unknown and fantastical. It may seem strange that I wouldn’t be more curious, that I wouldn’t desire to understand my origins, my reason for being. But that is a very human concern, and one I am just as happy not developing. The desire for a greater significance to one’s existence is human, and I am just as happy that the significance to my existence is to create something with Lucky. The Atlanteans, and their supposed psychic powers- none of that held any great fascination for me. I had mastery over the fundament of existence, and that was enough for a simple girl like me.

“We were thinking of seeing that new Vin Diesel movie this weekend,” said Dan, conversationally. “Would you two like to come? Celebrating, or taking the sting off of failure…”

“Oh, don’t be like that,” said Jane, shaking her head. “You’ll do just fine, sweetie. But it would be fun to go see a movie.”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” said Lucky, softly.

“Oh, come on,” I said, and pouted at him. This was our one sticking point. “You don’t really think it would bad for me, do you?”

“I’m just… nervous.”

I smiled. “You don’t think that just because I watch one action movie I’m going to become a merciless killing machine, do you? Me and Dan watched Terminator 2 last week, and I hardly think humanity is inferior at all.

Dan chuckled under his breath as Lucky glared at him. “Dad, come on.”

“It’s a classic. The Terminator finds out it’s as capable of being human as anyone, even if it can’t cry. She loved it,” said Dan, grinning. It gratified me. It was easy for people to be afraid of the unknown. But when they made jokes, when they teased, they showed their hearts. Jokes were how humanity made the ambiguous, the strange, and the terrifying into a friend. When they laughed with me, at my jokes, the fear died.

Lucky was worried about exposing me to violence. He worried quite endlessly about all the media he showed me, though I had solidified my personality fairly soon after we’d met. I wondered, sometimes, if he feared that I was going to take it as a lesson, start hurting people just because I’d seen it done in an action movie As though I was a powder keg that might be set off if I watched fake violence. It was slightly frustrating, but I understood why it could be a concern, and I respected his desire to play it safe. Dan, in the meantime, fed me a steady diet of contraband action movies, which I deeply appreciated.

The trip into Manhattan was unnerving. One of the upsides to the influx of Atlanteans, particularly in New York City, was that while I was an unusual sight, I was no longer inexplicable. Nonetheless, people were interested by the unusual. The large jacket I wore was more appropriate during the summer, but when people caught glances of my ink-black skin and glowing yellow eyes, they still turned to stare.

That wasn’t the part that bothered me. Human curiosity was fine. What bothered me were the crowds. All of those people, in such large numbers. Months I had spent in the city, and it was still difficult to handle the sheer social pressure of so much humanity. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable going out on my own, and so Lucky held my hand gently, letting me cling to his side, leading the way through the crowds as we approached the office tower.

The meeting was private. I sat in the lobby, looking up at novel covers. Most of them seemed only dimly related to the subject matter, though the romance cover novels were intriguing. The conversation would be between Lucky and the agent. This was the place I could not do much of anything. Here, Lucky fought his battle alone. But I had armed him well. I was absolutely confident in him. Almost absolutely, anyway.

He walked out of the office, and his expression was quiet. It could be difficult to read Lucky, sometimes. “How did it go?”

“He told me that it needs a lot of work. That he wasn’t certain if there’s a market for Atlantean romance novels, since they’re a very small minority. That it’s in desperate need of an editor.”

>I knew I should have edited it more.

>Why didn’t you hire one like I told you?

>It’s okay, we’ll get it into good shape and show it again.

“Oh,” I said, and reached up, taking his hands. “It’s okay, we’ll-”

“Also, that he loved it, and that he wanted to represent me.”

I blinked. “He liked it?”

Lucky smiled, and his smile was bright as the sun, warm as a summer day. “You almost sound surprised.”

I threw my arms around him, embracing him tight. He squeezed me back, and chuckled.

“It’s just a start, but yeah. He liked it. A lot.”

“I knew it,” I said, and grinned. “I knew it was good.” I basked in the incandescent warmth of Lucky’s happiness, and my world was beautiful, everything as it should be. “I’m making quesadillas tonight!”

“Well,” said Lucky, as we sat on the subway together, “it’s only the beginning of things. The agent is basically the first step. Still have to find a publisher, though he said things look good on that front. Then the editing, and we’ll see if it’s even successful…”

I smiled, and squeezed his hand softly. “It’ll be fine. You’ve taken the first step. You did the hard part. The rest is something other people are good at. You can trust them.” I leaned up and kissed his cheek. “You know, Dan mentioned that he’s been wanting to watch Taken on Netflix…”

He frowned. “You know I don’t like you watching those.”

“Lucky… Come on. I’m not going to get bad ideas. I don’t eat people.” I grinned up at him. “You’re much more fun to lick than to eat.”

He shook his head. “It’s not that. I haven’t thought you were going to hurt anyone since we left Antarctica. You’re maybe the most soft-hearted, peaceful person I’ve ever met. It’s just…” He sighed. “It feels kind of wrong, you know? Subjecting you to stories about people being hurt, and dying. It’s like I’m… I don’t know. Teaching you the wrong lessons. That kind of stuff, in the moment, it’s not fun, or thrilling, or exciting. It’s just terrifying.”

Lucky had killed someone. Once, and entirely by accident. He still had nightmares about it from time to time. An Atlantean. One of a group who, for reasons we didn’t know but suspected had to do with the weird dreams last year, had been in Antarctica. He’d nearly killed one of Lucky’s colleagues, and Lucky had tackled him into a crevice, where he’d fallen on his own knife. That was a far cry from murder in any sense of the world, but it still ached for Lucky.

“You’re a good person,” I said, softly, with every conviction. It was, in many ways, one of the axioms of my existence. Lucky was what I thought of as a good person: someone conscientious of others, kind, giving, letting people make mistakes. Being patient. Trying to create things. Not wanting to hurt anyone, not happy to allow others to be hurt by his inaction. He was my ideal. “Let’s get home, have a nice meal, celebrate with your parents, and then…”

A few seconds passed. He looked at me. “Yuki?”

I didn’t answer.

I’ve heard humans talk about their skin crawling. About feeling as though someone had walked over their grave. I had never experienced a sensation which I could not explain. I knew precisely what was happening to me at all times. When the sunlight rained down upon me, I could feel each individual photon as it tunneled its way haphazardly through my body. I could feel alpha and beta radiation, like the caress of the universe, as they entered the absolute territory that was my body. Electromagnetic waves, the interplay of strong and weak nuclear forces, gravitons and their passionate embrace, even the hushed ghostly whisper of neutrinos sneaking through reality with barely a disturbance. I understood these all.

I did not understand what was happening to me now.

I turned my head, feeling every fear reaction cranking up to full blast. The tension that poured through me made my whole body feel as though it was electrified, the sensation almost impossible to bear. A part of my mind, inexplicably, returned to the viewing of Predator that Dan had treated me to a month previously. The sensation of being hunted, of having something terrible and beyond understanding waiting for me.

The train car was half-full, still seats open. Almost everyone seemed to be focused in their own little world, entering a state of unconsciousness to ignore the tension that came with being locked underground in a small metal box with a large group of volatile strangers. None of them seemed to be the source of the fear.

Then I spotted him. A man standing by one of the subway doors, leaning lightly against it, a hat drawn down over his eyes. He was not particularly remarkable, dark hair hanging around his face, somewhat unshaven. He wore a suit and jacket, a tie knotted, and was holding a newspaper. He lifted his head, and hazel eyes met mine.

“We need to get off the train,” I whispered, very softly, squeezing Lucky’s hand for dear life.

“What?” Said Lucky, frowning. “We’re still three stops away,” he said, at a normal volume, which nonetheless felt like it was echoing back and forth against the walls.

“Lucky!” I whispered, urgently. The man’s eyes were fixed very solidly on me. I stood up quickly, and Lucky came with me, the two of us moving to the door as the train pulled into the station. I felt more trapped than I ever had. I wanted to rip straight through the door and flee with Lucky immediately.

I heard the man stand up as the doors opened. The two of us were out on the platform. It was only 2 PM, and the platform was terrifyingly empty as we walked along. I didn’t dare look behind me, but I could feel the fear growing deeper as I walked towards the stairs to the street.

“This is Queens Plaza. The next stop is… 36th street,” said the pre-recorded message.

“Yuki,” said Lucky.

“Keep moving,” I whispered, tense.

“Yuki!”

“Stand clear of the closing doors.”

Lucky suddenly pulled sideways, yanking me after him. I was not particularly large or heavy, and I wasn’t prepared for this, so I was easily dragged. The two of us passed between the closing subway doors, and they snapped firmly shut as he took a couple of steps back from the door. Out on the platform, the man in the hat stopped sharply, his hazel eyes still on me, narrowed. He took a step towards the door, his hand curling into a fist. Then he looked from side to side, and stepped back. The last thing I saw as the train pulled out of the station were his eyes, focused on me.

As the train entered the tunnels again, I felt a sense of relief flood over me, and slumped down into one of the chairs. My body didn’t produce adrenaline, or experience its after-effects, but the sensations I felt now were much the same, relief after unbearable tension, and the embarrassed realization that I had been consuming and fusing large quantities of nitrogen to provide myself extra mass and energy. I let it out in a rush of oxygen, modulated to a sigh.

“Are you alright?” Lucky asked, softly, sitting next to me, holding my hand in both of his. “Who was that guy?”

“I don’t know.” I shivered. “He felt… terrifying. I’ve never felt anything like that before. He felt… wrong.” I was experiencing things altogether new to me. Themes. Symbols. Omens. In all of them glowed one particularly notable thing. “Three stops? Home’s all the way out in Jamaica. Why did you say three stops?”

“You sounded panicked. I figured, if someone was listening…”

I leaned back in the chair. Then I laughed, grinning brilliantly. Lucky always overthought things. It was when he was acting in the moment that he shined. “I’m sorry. I’m not sure why I freaked out like that. It was just… scary.” I squeezed his arm, and the two of us rode the train the rest of the way without further incident. By the time we arrived at our stop, I was still somewhat worried, but I had begun a systematic check of my form, working to make sure that I was not damaged or malfunctioning in some way. My own way of telling me it was just my imagination.

“You alright?” asked Lucky, as we stepped out into the sunshine.

“Yeah. I think I must have just been having a strange reaction to some atmospheric phenomena.” I smiled softly as we walked along. “Or maybe I was just tense about the book.”

And so things became normal again. Dan and Jane were thrilled by the news, embracing Lucky and grinning. I knew both of them had held private anxieties, fears that the book wouldn’t find a niche, that he’d have trouble finding an agent. But things had gone well. We settled down for dinner together around six, the sun low on the horizon. Jane and I bustled in the kitchen as I corrected mistakes with quick passes of my hand, unwilling to take any chance. We sat down together, and Lucky smiled at me as he sat beside me. “Thanks for the meal, honey,” he murmured, and kissed me on the cheek. “Let’s eat.”

At that moment, as Dan lifted one of the wedges of cheese and steak, the doorbell rang. “Oh, god damn it,” he growled. “It never fails. Just a second.” He stood up. A moment later, the telephone rang. From the foyer, Dan waved. “Get that, would you, Jane?” He opened the door, and frowned. “Can I help you?”

As Jane stood up, and Lucky took a bite of his quesadilla, the man smiled. He was black, wearing a jacket. “Hector. NYPD. Just going door to door, there’ve been a series of robberies in the neighborhood lately and we’ve been spreading the word, making sure people are taking precautions.”

I tuned out of the conversation. Tonight was the night. Lucky was going to be a success. It was the right night to talk about children. About my fears, about my desires, about the burning need I felt, and…

“Lucky… I’ve been thinking about it, and… I wanted to talk about kids-”

I felt something, humming in the ether. Electromagnetic waves bounced and danced, wifi protocols and phonecalls and then, above it all, on a band that was usually kept empty-

“The parents are currently engaged. Primary and secondary target are clustered.”

“This is excellent. Did you do something new?” asked Lucky. I blinked.

“Huh?”

“Primary target is in sights. Fire when ready.”

I saw a red dot track across the back of Lucky’s neck. I moved without thinking, and threw myself into him.

There was a crash, but no sound of a gunshot. I stared around the room. A dart was stuck into the opposite wall.

“We’re made! Now!”

The detective suddenly grabbed Dan, yanking him backwards through the door. I stood up, stepping towards the door. There was a crash, as one of the walls caved in. Standing there was a figure in something vaguely like riot armor, a heavy mask covering its face, a large gun in both hands. It raised the weapon, pointing it towards Lucky. “Both of you! On the ground, now!”

I had thought about this. I had prepared myself for the moment, out of idle amusement more than anything else. My arm whipped out, briefly becoming a knife-sharp whip, and cracked through the armored figure’s wrists. The riot gear provided no more resistance than the air, and the wrists less than that. The gun toppled to the floor, firing mechanism fused into uselessness where my blow had struck it as the fingers went limp.

It was simple. Cutting off the nerve connections. I would be able to set them right easily enough. No pain, no permanent trauma that I couldn’t easily undo, and the figure’s hands were now useless. Perfect.

“My hands,” he said, in horror. “I can’t feel my hands. Oh sweet merciful fucking god, she cut off my hands!”

I froze. The panic in his voice, the terror, it was awful to hear. The mask had blocked his face, but now his voice filled the air, a terrified sound. A second and third figure appeared in the opening, and raised their rifles. I raised my hands uncertainly. Had something gone wrong? Had I badly injured the man? As my mind raced, the new arrivals lowered their guns, and a woman stepped between them. Blonde hair, and blue eyes, though she kept one of them closed. She wasn’t particularly tall, but wiry. She wore a ballistic vest, a white T-shirt underneath, and a pair of jeans.

“I really didn’t want to do things this way,” she said. I was about to respond when a second figure appeared in the gap. Huge, broad-shouldered, it was a man, though about nine feet tall, dressed in a rather insufficient loincloth, and with a great sword hanging from one hip. A blindfold rested around the figure’s eyes, as it rumbled, and I realized she hadn’t been talking to me.

“We cannot take any chances. Who knows what she has done to these individuals. You have your orders, commissioner.”

The woman shook her head, and turned towards me, opening both her eyes. I could see that one of them was a brilliant golden sphere, marked with a starburst. “Thought you’d hide in my town, huh? Thought I wouldn’t find out about it? Thought you could assault one of my men?” She reached down to her belt, and drew out a length of lacquered wood. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get on your stomach and surrender.”

“What the hell are you doing?” said Lucky. I saw he was back on his feet again, the steak knife in one hand. Forgotten in the chaos, held loosely at his side. Not a threat. “What the hell are you doing to my girlfriend?”

One of the figures in riot gear stepped towards him, raising the gun. I moved instinctively, flashing forward, uncertainty forgotten in the face of a threat to the one who made life worth living. And then, suddenly, the blonde woman was in front of me. I struck mindlessly for her arm.

Within my boundaries, I am an absolute. Humans are nothing but complex lines of carbon, hydrogen, and phosphors. They are, functionally, no different from anything else. A human had no hope of fighting me. No amount of skill or technology or armor could stop my blows. You could sooner stop the moon from falling.

My whip-like tendril struck her wrist, and rebounded like jelly off a concrete wall. I stumbled back, in shock. The attack should have left her arm useless. It didn’t matter what she was made of, it should have been no more substantial to me than a thought.

While bewildered by such thoughts, I was not focusing on the fight at hand. The woman struck me in the stomach with one fist, and the blow hurt. I didn’t have pain receptors, but it sent a shock of agony through me, my perceptions dancing and crazed as I stumbled back. She moved in time with me, and slammed the wooden stick across my jaw. Everything went briefly dark, and when I regained my senses, I was crumpled against the wall. I could barely stand up under the weight of my own fatigue. My body wasn’t working right, and I couldn’t understand why. I couldn’t understand anything.

I saw Lucky, on the ground, pinned down by one of the figures, a knee against his back, his face held against the ground. He squirmed, turning his head towards me.

>Run

>Save Him

I had to do it. I knew it. It was the right choice. I had to save him. Why wasn’t I standing up?

“Run,” he said, his voice wheezy.

“Shut up, asshole,” growled the figure on top of him.

“It’s okay. We’ll be okay. They’re not after us. They’re after you. Run-”

There was a thump as the figure lifted Lucky up, and slammed him back down.

I became insubstantial, passing through the carpet and the floor like a vapor.

“Shit! Get the squad down in the sew-” was the last thing I heard the woman say.

I landed in the water, and became solid again. The water was not clean. I pushed myself to my feet, and stood up shakily in the storm drain. Nearby, I heard the grinding of metal against the grating, as the manhole cover was drawn aside.

I began to run. I ran for a long time. In fact, I ran for precisely eighteen minutes and thirty-six seconds, crossing the better part of a mile. Through it all, I heard the splashing of pursuit. They were following me, and sooner or later, they would catch me.

I’d left Lucky behind. I’d abandoned him. In the moment, when it counted, I had found out who I really was. I’d found out who he really was. I hadn’t been strong. He had.

I stopped, and turned towards my pursuers. They were close, no more than a couple of hundred feet. I had to fight. I had to go back and save him. I had to do something, because otherwise, I would never be able to look him in the eye again, and if it was only because of shame I would be lucky. This was a patch beneath another manhole cover, a dry spot, giving just enough room to maneuver. I had to fight. Had to trust I could fight.

A wave of utter, numbing fear washed over me. I felt the chill in my heart, the terror. Was I a coward?  Terrified, in my heart, unable to stand up when I was actually at risk?

No. This wasn’t that kind of fear. I turned my head, and to my utter horror, I saw the man in the hat. His hazel eyes sparkled in the darkness as he studied me. I lowered my arms involuntarily, some deep and primeval instinct telling me that fighting was useless.

“Do you mean harm?” he asked, softly. I blinked.

“No?”

He nodded at this, as the men following me came around the bend. Six of them. I could see, now, that they were dressed in swat uniforms. These men definitely were members of the NYPD. They carried rifles, flashlights attached to the barrel illuminating me and the terrifying man.

“Down on the ground!”

I sank down slowly, feeling a grisly sickness in the pit of my being. I had resisted arrest. I was going to go to jail. Or worse. They would probably dissect me, or do something horrible. And I wasn’t sure I could fight. My body still felt strange and delicate and fragile after the beating I had taken.

“You too, buddy!”

“Make me,” said the man, and he grinned.

The cop in the lead snarled, and marched forward, bringing his gun up, and swung the stock at the man’s face. I lowered my eyes. There was a brief and very complicated sound, and when I look back up, the cop was on the ground, groaning, his arm hanging at a very dislocated angle. The other men had their guns up.

“Those aren’t going to work,” said the man, softly. One of them apparently didn’t believe him, and fired. The gunshot echoed deafeningly loud. The man frowned, and lifted his jacket, poking a finger through a hole. There was a distinct lack of blood. “I’m pretty sure I warned you.”

“Commissioner? We need backup, we’ve got  a freak, just-”

He moved with incredible grace and speed. Watching him, his movement was just at the limits of what a human could conceivably do. The police officers opened fire, and not a single bullet came close. Then he was among them, and there was a brief and very busy flurry of movement. When he was finished, the men lay unconscious in heaps.

“Do you need help?” asked the man, softly.

“Yeah. They took him, and I don’t know why they were after me, but-” I felt the urge to cry welling up. It was what I was supposed to do at this moment, as a terrified person who had just been hunted down and narrowly saved. Humans cried because it was a way to leak out excess stress hormones. I didn’t get that advantage, but it still seemed only right.

A hand reached down, and rested on my head. “It’s okay. My name’s Silas Nash. Tell me the whole story.”

“Please,” I said, softly. “Teach me how to fight like you.”

“… What?”

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