I’ve always wondered, when it comes to people with powers, how they ever chose a code name to go by. Sometimes it’s easy to tell what they were thinking. The guy transforms into a bulldozer, and murders people, so he calls himself the Killdozer. Easy. Other times it’s something only barely tangentially related to what they actually do, so you wonder if it’s just one of a bunch of synonyms they pulled out of a hat for their name. It’s like they’re trying too hard to be original.
But that seems almost like a missed opportunity to me. Take my Killdozer guy example from earlier. Killdozer just gives it away. He could call himself something generic, like John Smith. So now everyone’s looking for a guy named John Smith, while his real name is something along the lines of Indian-dude McChatterjee (don’t judge me, I’ve only been in India for about a week so far) or something, and no one can tell because he’s a bulldozer whenever he’s using his power, and is an Indian man for the purposes of this scenario. Lies are, in fact, a thing, but everyone seems to take superhumans’ names at face value. Trust me on this one.
As for me, I’ve never bothered with a super-secret code name or anything like that. I move around too much, and there’d always be something lost in translation. And, as you can probably tell, this is where the origin story is supposed to go in a tale like this. Well, I’ve been putting off telling you people my origin story, because it’s awful. Also, I suppose I should tell you my name in the first place. Sorry about that. It’s
Damn it. You didn’t get that, did you? But you got everything else, so that’s a plus. The power dampeners aren’t perfect, and she’s telling me that they’re going as hard as they can. Fine. For our purposes my name is John Smith. Got it? Excellent.
Anyways, I was never really interested in powers. You always hear about the fan boys and enthusiasts, but for me, it was always just another part of life. Most people with powers aren’t any more than regular people with an interesting trick anyways. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have complained if I got them (and the harsh mistress of hindsight is punishing me on this front, don’t worry) and I’m stalling again. Fuck it, here’s my origin:
There I was, trapped between the undead hordes and safety. Ammo: low. Morale: low. Knives: all broken but one. Dark grey clouds shrouded the sun, the stench of rotting meat filled the air. And… I’m just stalling again. Sorry, bad habit. I’m not used to people actually listening. Here’s try two, for real this time. Just… just give me a moment.
I… I was captured. By that Cain guy. You know him? Sick fuck who just tortured people while on the run. He’d go in a random direction, stop in a random place, grab a random number of people, and just torture them. Not for information or any reason at all. Just for fun. I was one of them.
Even if I told you who I was before, it wouldn’t matter. You wouldn’t remember. No one does. I checked the first time I was out of the sticks. Few records, not much in the news, not much of anything, really. But that’s not the point. The point is I was some white, middle class, high school kid in his senior year in America at the beginning of the twenty first century. There, context established. You have as good a mental image of me as you’re ever going to get.
I don’t remember much, not of getting captured, or the intervening time before the table. The table’s the important bit. I’ll spare us both the details, but I was strapped to that table for I don’t know how long, with nothing but pain and the smell of burnt hair for company. I couldn’t see out of one eye, I don’t know why, and I’m reasonably sure I was missing a few digits, and he was there, ready to go again for the nth fucking time, and fuck, what more do you want from me? I triggered. There. Good enough.
So… yeah. I triggered, and found myself somewhere and somewhen completely different. Yes, somewhen. It’s a word now. You can understand my confusion. One minute: torture in some random basement. The next instant, with no discernible transition, I’m somewhere else.
I looked at my hands once I realized I was standing. All of my fingers intact, complete with fingernails. No blood. I checked myself over. Nothing wrong, besides the clothes. I was wearing these strange leather pants, wool socks under some leather shoes, and a shirt, also wool. Kind of itchy. And when I say leather, I mean raw leather. None of the glossy black stuff. This was leather that was an animal a couple days ago.
It was at this point, I finally took in my surroundings. Trees. Lots and lots of trees. Foreboding trees, taller by far than any of the nearby structures. Looking out of the clearing I stood in, I could maybe twenty feet into the forest before the dark trunks blocked everything beyond. Overcast, too. Looked like it could drizzle at any moment.
I spun around about ninety degrees at the abrupt sound of a cow mooing. Several cows, actually, small lean brown ones grazing in a patch of grass beside some houses. For a long moment, I thought I was in a particularly accurate medieval reenactment. A good dozen windowless wooden huts, thatched roofs and all, clustered in the middle of the forest clearing. A woman weeded a small patch of vegetables in front of one; thin wisps of smoke came from the rough chimney of another.
“Hey, quit gawking and get out of the way,” growled a voice behind me in what was definitely not English. So how did I understand him as he spoke in another language, you ask? THAT’S A VERY GOOD QUESTION.
I turned, again, and found myself directly in the path of a cart pulled by a big ass ox. The dude on the cart itself killed whatever snarky comment I had in the works at the time. The big blond guy’s axe rested on the seat beside him, an ugly iron thing with the occasional bit of rust on the side. His eyes glowered over a long mustache, though he slouched against his seat. I wordlessly stepped aside, and he hit the ox with a long switch to get it and the cart moving along the muddy track.
Now the first thing I did you’ll mock. You’ll say, “Well that was fucking stupid of you,” and you’d be right. But you’d do something similarly stupid in my situation, going from modern life to what appeared to be the ass end of nowhere and try anything to figure out what was going on.
In my case I checked my pants for pockets, and the phone that would hopefully be within. Naturally, this being Germany before the birth of Christ, there was no such thing in my pocket, nor was there any pocket at all. Also, spoiler: I’m in Germany, sometime in the BC range.
“Phone? Phone? Come on,” I muttered to myself.
I patted myself down. I had nothing but the clothes on my back. Then it hit me.
“Wh? Bu… eh?” I stammered. “Where the hell am I?” Going from a torture room to a forest without warning is not an easy transition to make, if I seem a bit slow on the uptake for this part.
The guy either didn’t hear me, or didn’t deign to answer the question. After a moment, I decided I may as well follow the man. He knew more than I knew. Hell, the cows in the field over there knew more than I knew. Probably.
I trudged behind him, heading into the village. I kept looking for a flash of modern clothing or a hidden camera. I still wasn’t remotely recovered from that place I was a few minutes ago that I’m not talking about anymore. Fun fact, farm animals make noise, and I jumped at every last one.
I caught up to the man. “Hey,” I said to get his attention. Unfortunately, this worked. “So, uh, where are we?”
He hopped down from the cart, then stared. After a long moment, he said, “Are you the new village idiot?”
“Uh, no, but I kind of want to figure out what is going on.”
His eyebrows drew together. He looked around a bit. “Nothing’s going on. Go away now.”
And with that, he walked to the back of his cart, grabbed a huge box, and took it around his house. I looked at the ox, which stared back with complete and total apathy. I wandered back.
“Fuck. I need a phone, I need a phone.” I squeezed my eyes shut, refusing to believe any of this was happening. I just needed something, anything that would help with my complete lack of information. I felt something pop into my hands.
I opened my eyes. There, in my hand, where there used to be no cellphone, there was now a phone. My old phone. The model, at least. A couple scratches I’d inflicted on it were missing from the screen. My jaw dropped a bit. After looking around a moment to check that no one was laughing at me from the bushes or something, I hit the on button. It lit up.
“No fucking way,” I muttered to myself. I did a lot of muttering to myself back then. I’m told it’s an only child thing. I still do that a lot even now. No one can hear me anyways.
My joy was short lived, as it couldn’t find any reception. I must have spent five minutes fiddling with the damn thing in frustration. Nothing. I chucked it as far as I could. It vanished about twenty feet from me in the air.
I blinked. “Phone, phone, phone,” I muttered to myself after a moment, eyes closed again, this time imagining a satellite phone. Lo and behold, another phone, this one much bulkier than the one before, popped into my hands. I checked it, and still no service. I dropped it in the dirt. After a few seconds, it popped out of existence. No satellites.
Before I could experiment any further, it finally started to rain. Cold rain, too. At this point the adrenaline of escape and the awesomeness of a novel power gave way to the crushing realization that I still had nowhere to go, and I haven’t even existed yet. Two passing people had glanced at me, nothing more. Though the clouds blocked most of the sky, it was still noticeably darker and colder than even ten minutes ago. I pushed the bizarreness of time travel out of my mind for the time being.
“Fuck it,” I said to myself. People are still people, no matter the place or time. I made a circuit around the village. Everyone took one look at me and slammed the door. I wound up back that first guy’s house. I walked up and knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” called a young female voice from within.
“Uh, John Smith.”
Did that come across? It did? Fuck yeah, two for two. Moving on.
I stood there for a long minute in that rain. I might have heard some talking inside, not that I could make out the words. Eventually the door opened to reveal… the same big guy from before.
“Who are you?” he asked.
I blinked. “That guy on the road, from earlier.”
He gave a noncommittal grunt. I pushed on. “I’m not from around here, so I kind of need a place to stay. Do you have a hotel or something nearby?”
After a long moment, he asked, “Are you the new village idiot?” This was beginning to sound familiar. And a bit weird, but then what wasn’t during all this?
“No. I just need a place to stay.”
“Because I don’t think I have anywhere else to go.”
He started to close the door. I blocked it as best I could. I got a good glimpse of the inside. One girl, probably about a year or two younger than me, had her hand on the shoulder of an even younger boy.
“No, sorry. I really just need a place to put my head down.”
The man stopped, which caught me off guard. “Can you work?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Follow,” he said, shouldering me out of the way. I moved, and he shut the door firmly behind me.
He came to a lean to on the side of the house.
“This is for the village dogs. I don’t think you’ll get much else here as an outsider. You work for me, you get this.”
I stared. Planks of wood kept it off the ground, at least.
“I’ll even throw in a few spare blankets,” he said, “but you’re not getting close to my daughter.”
Out of options, I accepted. “Oh, and your name is?” I asked. He let out a long string of syllables beginning with a G, then brought me the blankets and left me alone. I heard him taking care of the ox cart out front over the rain.
I never was able to pronounce his name. Not that it mattered. I found out later I could just say “hey you” to a crowd with someone in mind and they’d know I was talking to them. So for this gentleman, I alternated between Fuckbiscuit, the Great Chamber Pot Man, and Prick once I realized my power just translated what I meant as his name into his own language. In the interest of maturity we’ll just call him Gunther from here on out.
So began my crash course in farming. It was kind of like taking a child to the pool for the first time, then chucking them into the deep end and letting them sink or swim. I’ll spare you the boring details of farming life before the invention of basic hygiene, but even an idiot like me can shovel shit, so that’s a lot of what I did. They kept a lot of cows, and on the flip side there wasn’t much agriculture going on. On the plus side, I haven’t gotten sick since I got my powers, so I probably could have rolled around in the shit without any ill effect. I should do that next time, go for the crazy guy angle…
Anyways, the members of the family that let me sleep in the lean to on the side of their hut alternated between teaching (read: mocking) me as they did their own thing. I had to remind them, of course. If I didn’t, they simply forgot about me. This was becoming a running theme.
I did get occasionally get time to experiment with what I could conjure up in the few moments I could snatch alone. It had to be small, no bigger than, say, a handgun, which may have been one of the first things I tried. I also tried a small laser, like one you’d see out of a sci fi movie. I got prop, one I’d seen from said sci fi movies. I couldn’t make anything out of my imagination, unfortunately. I made sure no one could see me conjure random modern pieces of technology, lest they burn me at the stake for witchcraft.
I could lie and say I was getting better at the whole productivity thing, but that would be a lie, obviously. I kind of spoiled it for myself there. Anyways, I continued being the idiot, incompetent American thrown into a strange and unforgiving slapstick environment. I swear I thought I was in some hack movie or book or something for that week. Everyone sort of ignored me, unless I affected them in some way, so I never really got to know anyone.
Hell, I think the kids actually started to warm up to me, though that might have been because I got the shit tasks they used to get.
One fine evening, shit fully shoveled, the boy actually came to join me in sitting on the fence, there being a distinctive lack of movies during this time period. We’ll call him Little Timmy.
He hopped up on the fence, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “Pa says you’re the new village idiot, whenever I ask why there’s always someone sleeping where the dogs used to.”
“What happened to the old village idiot?” I asked with some amusement. I’ve always been able to make fun of myself, and so far as I could tell the kid had no malice in him. And lest you think they were treating me like a dog, I’ve seen inside that house a couple times. Not much better than what I got. I complained, of course, but according to Gunther the nearest other human civilization was a week away, and I had no experience in hunting or any sort of forest survival.
“He died.” Of course. Why would I expect anything else?
“Hey, I’ve got a question for you,” I said. “What is my name?”
“What is my name?” I repeated.
“What’s the question?”
“What do you all call me? The dog shack dude?”
“You’re the laborer guy.”
“Yes, but what do you think my name is?” I asked with no small amount of exasperation.
Apparently I was boring him, because he just kind of blew me off and started looking out at the forest again. This whole getting ignored thing was beginning to get annoying. I didn’t bother trying to talk, I’d just let the power wear off.
Eventually the daughter joined us. Since this was Germany, and I’ve already named her dad Gunther, I called her Gertrude. Now. Back then I just utilized the “hey you” approach to her. But they had a strong resemblance, so it all worked out.
“Timmy, Pa says you’ve got to help the neighbors tomorrow.” No, I don’t know what they meant by help, and I never did figure it out.
I thought Timmy might have complained, but his common sense kicked in and he just nodded. The one time I’d seen him talk back to her she’d grabbed his ears and lifted him off the ground by them.
Gertrude looked even more tired than I felt. Their mother had apparently died recently to some disease, I don’t know which. Gender roles in ancient times being what they were, Gertrude got saddled with all the stereotypically womanly tasks, but the techie’s giving me a look, so I’m just gonna gloss over that bit.
We had some nice idle conversation. The weather is a lot more important when your entire life depends on it, so that was actually a relevant topic. Timmy and Gertrude just laughed when I expressed an interest in travel.
Then some cows started mooing quite incessantly.
“Did you see that?” asked Timmy.
“What?” asked Gertrude as I shook my head.
“There,” he pointed. “I saw a couple men out there.” He got down from the fence.
“I don’t see anything,” I said.
At the same time Gertrude said, “Get Pa. Get anyone you can.” A horn sounded as Timmy ran off to the village.
A good dozen men in the forest burst from cover, sprinting towards us with spears, shields, and clubs. Me and Gertrude stared in shock for a couple, ill-advised seconds. I smelled fire from somewhere else in the village. I heard a scream from behind, taking my attention off the dudes running towards us.
There were armed men in the village, one of whom cut down Timmy.
“NO!” screamed Gertrude.
They turned their attention to us, painted faces and unpleasant smiles. Fuck.
“Run, run,” I yelled at her, pushing her in the direction of the forest not blocked by bad things. She obeyed, and I nearly followed her.
I heard a roar, and saw Gunther ram into the village group, taking off one man’s head with that axe of his. Their attention turned to the large man killing them and away from us, which I was fine with. I began to run after Gertrude. However, Gunther had only taken care of half the problem, the other half taking form of the other dozen men I’d stupidly forgotten about.
However, Gunther had given me an idea, and that idea was violence. I could make a small device that makes small bits of metal go at great speeds. Surely that could have been some use here. Then, with a handy dandy gun, I turned around to face my pursuers, leveled the gun, and fired until the gun stopped making bang sounds. Not a single one of them fell, though they hesitated enough for me to start running again.
I caught up with Gertrude too short a distance later. She leaned against a tree, which is something you may have noticed you can’t simultaneously do while running away from a pack of murderous raiders.
“No, no. He’s dead. He’s dead and they’re coming.” If my knowledge of ancient history served me correctly, this was not a nice time to be a woman during the sacking of a populated area, to put it mildly.
I was panicking too, don’t get me wrong. You’re getting an account after everything was said and done, when I’m removed from the fighting and adrenaline and the animal urge to survive. I can make snarky comments and observations now. Then, I was panting, close to vomiting, my hands were shaking so bad I’d dropped my gun a good seventy yards behind me, and I very nearly just left Gertrude then and there.
“Come on, we’ve gotta move,” I managed between gasps of breath.
She ignored me. “I saw him… I saw… I see.” She collapsed to her knees. I heard footsteps behind us.
“What are you talking about? Come on.”
I grabbed her arm to pull her up. Like hell I was going to let her die out here for no reason. Then the visions hit me.
I saw… everything. Her powers, her slow descent into madness, the human sacrifices, everything. Nothing too specific, but this continued for at least two thousand years. A brutal war with the Romans, culminating with two legions massacred and a full quarter of the forest burned. Armies came and went, cities and kingdoms clawed their way out of the mud as she watched from the forest.
Time marched on. On and on and on. She had no interest in anything beyond the forest. On the outskirts states formed. Gunpowder arrived in Europe, and gradually the Germans began to lose their fear of the woman of the forest. More superhumans came to fight, more armies, as Europe began to recover from the dark ages. She and her followers held them off, but time took its toll.
The gradual change became sudden. Germany pushed for unification as everyone figured out what steam power was, and to the world’s surprise, she did not interfere. And in a few years, she controlled an industrialized nation, not just a dwindling ancient forest. She lashed out, and world wars happened. She retreated, beaten. She lurked, always in central Europe, keeping the Cold War from becoming hot as a sort of very lethal buffer between the East and West.
Then, darkness, at about the time I came from.
I just watched The Mother trigger. Fuck me. She’d popped up in about 300 BC in Germany, so that’s was when I finally figured out where and when I was.
“Get off of her,” growled Gunther, grabbing me by the shoulder and throwing me bodily to the side, breaking my train of thought. The bloody gash on his back did nothing to make him any less strong, as my ass could attest.
“I see, I see,” Gertrude whispered to herself, rocking back and forth on her knees. I thought that would have been more appropriate for me to start repeating insanely, but that’s the narcissistic American in me talking.
I scrambled back to my feet. Gunther shook her. “We need to get out of here. Come on, on your feet.”
“I SEE,” she screamed in his face. The grass at his feet began waving of its own accord. The mud swirled, lacking any coherent pattern. The trees began to groan, bending inward towards us.
At this point the raiders caught up to us. I know this because two snuck up behind me. One hit me in the back with his club, sending me sprawling. I cried out in pain and managed to turn just enough to catch a glimpse of the spear heading towards my chest. Looking back, I kind of pity them. There’s a lot of water in a human body, after all.
This happens a lot. The whole getting killed thing. I find myself in a random place, in a random time, and just as I get my bearings I get killed. This time the asteroid or a rioter is probably going to kill me once I leave this room. Hey, maybe if I get killed by the world ending cataclysm it’ll kill me for real.
But we’re recording for posterity here. They’re burying copies of all of humanities accomplishments, our history, our culture, everything they can. Maybe some of the colonies will dig it up. I have all sorts of interesting stories, this one was just to set the stage. I’ve wound up here, in the year 2416, right before an asteroid is going to hit the earth. I’m still trying to figure out why they can’t just blow it up. But I don’t think I’ve explained all of my power, and they’re motioning for me to continue. May as well do that.
As you can tell, I don’t die, just get sort of unstuck in time.
What? You still understand a Vonnegut reference? That was centuries ago for you. Fine. Sorry, was talking to the techie. Moving on.
So as far as I can tell, when I end up is decided first. Once the time is decided, then where is based on population. If population were the first deciding factor, I’d actually wind up here in the future a lot more. I mean, people have overrun an entire planet at this point, that takes some mind boggling numbers. This is also why I have plenty of experience farming now, not so much in politics or soldiering, despite having been bouncing around for about seven years now, by my estimate. Most people throughout history have been farmers, not anything else.
There’s still a lot I don’t know about my power. I don’t know if I replace some random dude. No one remembers me, so I never wind up on any records. I never take anything with me from time to time, so no diseases can spread when they’re not supposed to. I know what happens with my power, I don’t know how or why and it drives me crazy.
You might be thinking I recovered rather quickly from the whole torture thing. Honestly, I can barely remember it. Once I was obviously not losing anything important, and there were no signs I had ever lost anything important, I kind of forced it out of my mind, preferring more immediate survival to angsting. Well, angsting isn’t the right word, but you get what I’m saying.
Anything I conjure up is one hundred percent lifeless. I might have tried to get a test tube full of smallpox once. Now before you call me a sociopath, this was in the middle of a smallpox outbreak in Damascus. And yes, I’m an idiot who didn’t realize until too late that the modern strain that would coincide with a modern test tube I tried to come up with would still have slaughtered everyone. But it’s OK, I got a completely sterile test tube for my efforts.
There’s a lot of stories I could tell. The first time I wound up back in the modern day States (my modern, of course) I happened to be in Westward City, helping a terrorist cult blow up stuff. I tried to get out, but they had a guy who could see through me better than most, and track as well. Leaving was not an option, trust me.
Another time I wound up in Mexico. This was one of the few times I know I had an impact. How, you may ask. I saved Cuauhtémoc’s life. Of course, I tried to kill him with that nifty god killer thing I found this other time when I found out he was, or would be, basically an equally blood soaked version of The Mother, but I’ll get to that later.
I have all sorts of things I want to say, now that I can. I guess I’ll start with the next story. I found myself in the Roman legion a couple hops later…