I released the bumper of the taxi a block from Laura’s apartment; luck had not been on my side tonight, requiring the better part of an hour to make a trip which was less than ten miles. I felt the whirl of music before I reached the building itself. Hymnos? I didn’t recognize the song itself, but it followed the usual fast paced, sensual complexity that I’d come to expect of the series.
I focused on the music, each note and beat, anticipating the melody to drown out the myriad events around me. Hundreds of televisions, countless conversations, hushed arguments and intimate encounters generated a cacophony that I had to force into the background of my awareness. It had taken me two years to figure out how to differentiate those sounds, identify sources, and filter one source from another. All things a human brain did on instinct, but either I lost that natural ability, or it wasn’t enough to compensate for the overwhelming sensory input of my power.
I locked on to the smaller, simpler movements in the area, using them to pull me toward my destination. One might imagine a being made of living sound could move at the speed of sound, but in my case I was limited to the speed of the object I had lock on to. Daryl gave me an explanation, and when I explained how I had no idea what he said, he told me to think of it as a sound based magnet, which was no help at all. His theory why bioelectricity blinded me and rendered living things invisible to my echolocation was even worse. In the end, he either gave up trying to explain the subject, or he gave up trying to understand my power at all.
If it were possible, I would have smiled when I noticed Laura had her bedroom ceiling fan running. It was our equivalent to leaving the porch light on, and gave me the momentum to pull myself into her apartment
“Hey, Glen, must have been one hell of a night,” she said a moment before I put together the focus to emulate speech. She was wearing a tight fitting long sleeve shirt, and similar tight jeans. In her hand she held a cup, and in her hair she wore a ribbon. Thus, she gave me an outline of her appearance as best she could.
I took a moment to recover, listening as the music switched over to another song, this time in Hindi. “How did you know I was here?” Unable to touch her, contact her any other way, I infused her outfit with my power, tightened the cloth against her shoulders.
“Well, one possibility is I’ve been saying that line every other minute for the last two hours hoping to surprise you.” She set aside her cup and its unknowable contents to the side. “The other is that I’ve got crazy good hearing. Back when I was a teen, I could hear bats. Like, it’s hard to explain, but they made everything around them sound just a little bit different. You do the same thing.”
“That’s good to know.” Given the superhuman senses available to Imbued, I knew to be cautious around them, but knowing ordinary people might notice me was worth worrying over. Until recently, it hadn’t meant much since I’d assumed I was immune to any attempt at harming me, but Daryl called that into question as well, and now I was second-guessing myself where before I had utmost confidence that I was as untouchable as Zach pretended to be.
Anima’s Flamewreath didn’t do me any favors. That power hurt, and confronted with a mortality I thought long denied shook me to the core. Much as Zach experienced with the high rise fire, but where he became that much more determined, I recoiled in fear, and any hope of calling myself a brave man died.
“What went wrong?” Laura asked
Case in point. My nonexistent blood chilled. “Nothing went wrong. We ran into some villains, but between Zach and Anima they never stood a chance. Okay, Lanza got away, there was that.”
Laura sighed the soft, sad sensation of drizzle trying to bring life to the desert. “Your voice changes when you’re worried.” She can hear that? “It loses clarity, like a poor recording.”
Good to know. “Remember what I said before about knowing when to stand back and let others make their own mistakes? Sucks, but that’s where we’re at right now.”
“What did my idiot brother do this time?” Laura’s resignation was clear in her voice, but so was her intent to get involved one way or another. I could imagine the chain of events, as she confronted Zach who, knowing him, would clam up and first deny anything was wrong, then tell Laura whatever she wanted to hear to get her to back off. I gave it better than even odds that she’d figure out the truth either then, or not long after. At which point, a coin flip decided if she’d come back to me or start up on Anima.
Sorry, Beth, looks like I can’t keep my promise. “Believe it or not, Zach didn’t do anything wrong this time.” Please don’t ask more questions.
The sleeve of Laura’s shirt moved up. “Then Beth.” Her voice was muffled as she talked through what I assumed was her hand. “Is it possible to have a power that lets you find and attract the worst women imaginable for a relationship? Because if that’s a thing, I swear my brother has it.”
I put the effort into rubbing the air, generating the soft, low growl that was the closest I could come to emulating laughter. “I seem to recall him saying similar things about your taste in men. I’d offer to kick their asses for you, but something tells me you don’t need the help.”
“A case of pots and kettles, huh?” Laura brought her arm back down to rest in the chair. I went about pressing her shirt against her back, something between a hug and a massage. “Well, until you, he was right. A trait we inherited from our parents.”
My parents were wonderful people, their only failing was coddling me, shielding me from the real world when I needed to see it the most. “It’s better that you let them deal with their own issues for now. If I thought it was a threat to the team, I would have told you.” Besides, Beth’s got a therapist who is no doubt better qualified than either of us. I felt bad about overhearing her talk to Muwth, but my power worked that way and there was nothing I could do about it.
I kept working my kinetic field through Laura’s shirt, doing my best to relax her, though I wasn’t doing a great job.
“I guess I’d know if I got powers, huh?” Laura let out a soft sigh. “Erica and Zach went through hell for theirs.” We stayed silent for a moment. “What about yours? Or, I mean, if you don’t want to talk about it. I get that you go through hell first-”
“Not always first,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong, some do, but it’s not a prerequisite. I dare say most of us have normal lives, then after getting powers is when it all goes to shit. But if we had a prize for stupidest reason, I’d probably win. For me, it was boredom.”
“Luke!” Selina screeched at me. “Natie! The fuck are you doing?!” I couldn’t get my head around the stupidity of the question; it was obvious what we were doing.
“Seelie!” Next to me, Natalie scrambled to pull blankets up, covering her assets. “Please! Listen! It’s not-”
“It’s not what?” Tears ran from Selina’s eyes, staining her makeup. “I’d say fuck you both, but you beat me to it! I never want to see you again!” Selina ran out of my room.
Natalie scrambled out of bed and began the epic struggle to get her clothes on while panicked. I watched the beautiful redhead from the comfort of my pillow. She looked over at me. “Are you just going to lay there? Shouldn’t we go after her?”
I shrugged. “You can if you want, but it’s not gonna do much good. She’s a drama queen.”
“You don’t care at all, do you?” Natalie’s eyes narrowed, and it was kinda neat to watch her opinion of me changing in real time. There was no chance of getting her in bed again any time soon, but that suited me just fine. The last couple weeks were fun, but I’d grown bored, which was why I arranged this reveal. Natalie dumping me was easier than dealing with her getting clingy. “Seelie’s right, you’re a douchebag.”
“Whatever.” I looked out the window while Natalie stormed out, no doubt to make up with my sister with mutual bitching about me. I turned my attention to the clouds outside. What’s the point of their childish drama? It was sex, not murder, a bit of meaningless fun is all. Everything’s meaningless in the end, meat doing what meat does.
It doesn’t have to be. The thought entered my mind, no, it was like it had been in my mind my whole life, but only now could I understand. A language beyond language, concept which transcended words, memories, and even concept itself. The promise to be more, to ascend beyond mere flesh and blood. Godhood. I embraced my new self, the future where I was more than man.
“Boredom?” Laura shifted, then stood. She sounded almost offended by the word. “I thought powers came when you lost something precious.”
“It can be both,” I said. I loosened my control over the fabric of her clothing. “I’ve given it a lot of thought, and talked to others who’ve given it even more thought.” Muwth, Zach, Mike, Dispel. Especially Muwth. “I think it comes down to… well… have you ever had a moment where you knew you were about to do something stupid. Not ‘a story to tell the grandkids some day’ stupid, but real, honest, this-will-fuck-your-life stupid?”
She waited a moment, her head tilting up toward the ceiling. “Back when I was seventeen, one of my friends got her hands on some heroin. Offered me a hit. I almost said yes, but then I backed out. Cost me a few friends, but fuck it, they weren’t real friends to begin with.”
“As good an analogy as any,” I said. “The one thing all Imbued have in common; we’re granted incredible power, and our lives our ruined. How we interpret the offer, how much we gain, how much we lose, why we dive into that abyss in the first place. Those details change from one Imbued to another as we get our own custom, personalized suffering for our decision. The one trait we share is that we knew we were making a mistake, and did it anyway. To hell with the consequences.”
It’s glorious. Touch, taste, and smell faded first as my body evolved into orange light. The orange faded until nothing was left but a monochrome glow. That, too, began to fade into nothing as the sense of vision itself ceased to exist as if I’d never had it in the first place. My new mind ceased to concern itself with such trivialities.
My senses had evolved into something beyond, as if I was touching and hearing the room, the way one could feel a strong percussion through the ground, I felt everything. My new, superior sense expanded outward, adding new sensation-sounds as my new state of being expanded beyond its earlier, fleshy limitations.
It- I- expanded again, and again, and again. Without the limitations of flesh to inhibit me, I was free in a way no man could ever know, I was infinite.
Too much! I can’t see, I can’t distinguish! I don’t recognize anything I’m sensing!
I have no way to know what the next year and a half looked like from the outside. I flailed, blind and deaf in the chaos of my own senses. With time, I’d discovered a place that brought comfort by virtue of being less noisy than everywhere else, a refuge in as much as I had ever found one. Even then, I was trapped in a world so full of sensation that it was indistinguishable from no sensation at all.
<Greetings. What is your name?>
The force that cut through the impossible tapestry of sounds, a lone beacon of clarity in the storm. Words! Ideas! Things I understand! Who are you?! What are you? Are you God? Or the devil?
<No need to shout. I’m an Esper. I’ve been hired to drive off the evil spirit haunting these crypts. Seems the local witch doctor’s naked moon dances don’t work. Gee, I wond- oh. You’ve been isolated so long that sarcasm no longer holds meaning for you. Jesus Christ, how long have you been like this?>
I… I don’t know… I don’t know where I am, I can’t remember my name.
<I see. You’re in New Orleans, and to the best of my employer’s knowledge, you’ve been here for the last six months.> The soundless words ceased for a moment. <This isn’t quite in my job description, but I think I can help, a little. You’re so lucky I have telepathic secondary abilities.>
I felt the world around me change, as a slow, rhythmic pattern joined the chaos. It was distinct, uniform, I could track the pattern. What is that? How are you doing it? I reached for the new predictable sensation, the port in an endless storm.
<Nothing special, just a basic understanding of human brains, and a voice box. I’m humming Ah, vous dirai-je Maman. A simple pattern that even an infant can follow instinctively. You might be made from energy, but you’re still human. Although, I don’t know if a normal human brain would be capable of rational thought after what you’ve been through. Now, follow me. I think I can help.>
<Time and effort. First we’ll teach you how to recognize music, then work our way up to language. Perhaps, with time, we’ll learn who you were, where you’re from. I have some well connected friends.>
“Consequences.” Laura stood so still that for a time I had to listen to her heartbeat just to know she was still there. “Like you… losing your body?”
“May as well call it what it is,” I said. “I died. Died, came back as a ghost. Believe it or not, compared to some, I think I got off lucky. I found people who could help me, the generosity of strangers as it were.”
“Like the mysterious precog whose name you will not say in my presence.” I expected her to sound disappointed that it was yet another secret we kept from her, but she seemed more concerned than anything.
“A precog who’s helped more people than I care to guess at.”
“Forgive me if I’m a little paranoid,” Laura said. “This unknown person that has you, Zach and Anima of all people on speed dial. Plus who knows how many others. It adds up to a lot of power, in the hands of someone who can see the future. Scary shit.”
Laura wasn’t wrong that Muwth could inspire paranoia. Her influence was to an extent that otherwise existed only in conspiracy theories. Which was why I was confident she had no significant plots involving me or the others, because we weren’t important or powerful enough to matter at her scale. With exception to her power interaction with Zach, which took her top tier power and put it on a level that had no known equal. Shit, now I’m paranoid.
Dispel stopped in front of the house in the pleasant, quiet suburb. Is this where I transformed? I can’t believe at one time I couldn’t handle it. It’s so quaint, now. I hadn’t expected to recognize my former home, but some part of me had hoped I would.
“You can change your mind, if you like.” He took his hands off the steering wheel. “Five years of looking, three days in town, and then to leave without so much as speaking to them. It seems… anticlimactic.”
Almost eight years since I vanished. Selina grew up, had a son named after an uncle whose tombstone sits over an empty grave at the edge of town. They moved on, now I had to do the same. “I’m a ghost, and for their sake it’s better if it stays that way.”
“I doubt they’d see it that way,” he said. With no further protest, he began to drive away. Slower than necessary, a countdown to give me time to change my mind. I didn’t, and after an eternity my old home left my senses.
Muwth has been nothing but good to me, I trust her with my life. “Trust me, it’s not about power.”
“Then what is it about?”
It was to an extent, in as much as Muwth’s own past left its scars. She had the power to see death approaching others, and a body that had not aged a day in seventy years. In the end, she might have suffered worse than any of us. “Some people, in an effort to escape from their own ghosts, seek to rescue others from theirs.”