John Doe – Riot

Something slid by Chris’s head with the sound of sandpaper on wood. He heard a loud hiss from the same direction. Up. I’m awake. Why am I lying here? Chris wrenched his eyes open, to be met with near total darkness. Bad. He froze for a second. What am I dealing with here? Glass above shattered, and he covered his head out of reflex. Nothing sharp hit him.

A familiar growl, an amalgamation of angry person frustration and a dry reptilian hiss, cut through the muffled silence. Someone, smart money said Olivia, crashed through a wall nearby, towards Chris’s feet. He couldn’t see anything other than the negligible glow of light from under a doorway, but the sounds of property devaluation were unmistakable.

Olivia snarled. Whenever she’s hissing or snarling, she’s gone all huntress mode and refuses to listen to anyone. Who is she going after? A couple of heavy footsteps made the line of light under the door flicker, then wood shattered and Olivia removed the door, letting light fully into the room. She stomped out, then snarled at something again. Not after someone in here. Good enough for now, and she can take care of herself.

His arm hit something warm and mildly squishy as he rolled to the side, trying to get up.

“Ung. Watch it,” said Miya.

“Sorry,” he grunted. He retracted his arm and got to his feet without further incident. He took a quick headcount. Miya held a hand to her face, Amanda helped Rob up, and Ben raised a hand to shield his eyes from the light pouring into the room from his position on the floor.

Chris leaned against the nearby wall, on the far side of the room from the now empty doorframe. He rubbed his temples with one hand, squeezing his eyes shut. Fuck me. I thought… I thought Alice was alive. That bizarre guy knew. He knew everything. Fuck, I thought I’d accepted this. I want to be angry at Miya for smacking and yelling at me, but she was right. Was she right? God damn it, I don’t know.

“Chris,” snapped a voice right in front of him. Amanda’s. Olivia roared in the background, and something glass shattered.

He opened his eyes to look at her. Rob stood behind and to her side with folded arms. Miya sneezed to Chris’s right. Ben, now up, poked his head out through the doorway to look left and right for any kind of threat. He still shot a glance back to Chris, a small smile flickering on his face.

“Olivia’s pissed off. She just took off through a window, flying after John. You got any ideas?” asked Amanda. It took everything in his power not to sigh and close his eyes again.

John? Who? Why? Why does everyone think I know what I’m doing? I have no clue. I’m just acting the part, more or less. I just say stuff because no one else ever has any idea what to do. It’s not like I’m smarter or anything. They’re waiting for me to do something.

Quit your bitching. Get moving.

“Fine, let’s go. Ben, get after Olivia, we’ll follow on the ground. Let’s get some answers.”

“Gotcha,” Ben responded with a nod, teleporting off towards the other ruined door. The rest of the group began to head towards the door with the powerless green EXIT sign over it.

“What happened?” asked Chris as they ran. My memory is a bit spotty. Outside confirmation that I’m not crazy would be great. He took the stairs down two at a time, soon leaving the others behind. There are benefits to being tall.

“Freaky guy you saw. John Doe. Trapped us in our own realities. Made us think it was real,” called Miya behind him, over the clatter of three other sets of feet, echoing all throughout the stairwell.

Chris didn’t respond until they got down another five flights of stairs, instead taking a moment to process. Fits with what I’m starting to remember. Ben kept dragging me away, and I kept accepting the illusion. Fuck me, I’m an absolute dumb ass.

“Olivia’s going after John. Don’t wanna know what’ll happen if she runs into other people,” said Amanda. I need to know what we have available to work with. A techie without their gear, and we have two, isn’t near as helpful as a techie with their gear.

“Does anyone have anything on them?” Chris asked. He swatted his pockets after another swing around another 180 turn in the stairs. No wallet, keys, or phone. That’s not good. No weapons either.

Three variations of “Nope, nothing,” came from behind him. Wonderful. They finally reached the ground floor, found an exit leading out of the building, and burst out onto the streets.

“Where the fuck are we?” asked Miya.

“Not a clue. Not important,” said Amanda. Houses across from the apartment building signified a residential area, but Chris couldn’t see any major street signs to know where they were. Night kept the mountains hidden, so he couldn’t just find them and gauge his geographic position. No streetlights either. Was there another city wide blackout? I thought they’d finally solved that problem.

Another roar from Olivia up above caught Chris’s attention. He caught sight of John Doe running on a roof before Olivia dive bombed and crashed the both of them through it, leaving a ragged hole in their wake. How the hell is he still alive?

“Like a mini Godzilla,” murmured Rob with a wide grin.

There were some terrified screams of civilians inside. John teleported onto the street opposite of Chris’s group. Shadows attempted and failed to cling to him, but blood dripped to the ground where he stood, and beneath the shadows he pressed a hand to his ribs to staunch a long and nasty looking wound. What? That’s the only fucking injury he has? Is he just using teleportation to avoid the worst of it? How would that even work?

A window on the second floor of the house shattered. John immediately broke into a run, not bothering to look up at whatever (it was Olivia, let’s be real here) had shattered the window. Olivia jumped out of the building and glided in pursuit of John, who’d managed another short teleportation. There are all sorts of things you can do with that power, but animal survival instincts override that kind of critical thinking, and I don’t think he has much experience in a fair fight.

“Olivia!” shouted Miya. No reaction. “OLIVIA!” Miya repeated. Olivia continued, making no indication that she’d heard.

“Oh no,” murmured Amanda.

Chris caught sight of Ben teleporting onto the ruined roof. Ben paused at the edge of the hole, then jumped off the roof and teleported down before gravity could make him regret that decision.

“Wait,” he shouted before the rest of them could follow after Olivia and John. “She ain’t all there.”

“What?” asked everyone else. Now what?

Ben teleported and caught up. “She ain’t respondin’ at all. She’s gone full rage mode like that one time with F.F. where she got all pissed. There’s a man in that house,” he pointed to the damaged house, “with his entrails clawed out. She’s knocked down one house completely, damaged another, then this one.” He grinned. “Kinda cool, really.” Rob snickered. The hell is wrong with you two? He resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

“Wait, what?” asked Miya. “She killed some guy?” Oh yeah, that’s right, you haven’t seen her like this have you?

“Yep,” responded Ben.

More destructive sounds caught their attention. The apartment they’d just left was just one in a complex of about five, so far as Chris could tell. All six stories tall, whitewashed, windows crammed together on each wall. Graffiti covered the bottom two floors, and even somehow extended up to the fifth floor. One caught his eye, the one with the large ragged hole in it. I really hope no one’s living in there. Something within made the building shake.

“Is he leading her on?” asked Chris.

Ben shrugged. “Could be. He could jus’ be runnin’. Could be both. She’s caught his smell though, got some of his blood on her. She’s trackin’ him that way, though there’s no trail. His teleportin’s gettin’ stronger, FYI.”

“Come on. Less standing and talking. We have to do something,” declared Miya.

“Do what?” asked Chris. “Trust me, she won’t hesitate to attack any of us right now.” Hey, remember that time she threw Amanda aside like a rag doll and smacked Ben to the ground with her tail in the course of five seconds? Because I do.

Miya whirled around. She unclenched her jaw long enough to say, “Anything. Better than just standing here.”

“She’s right,” said Amanda.

They’re right. Fuck, this sucks. “Fine. Ben, what did you do in the brief time we were separated?”

“Tried to keep up with her.”

“OK, anything’s on the table right now.” said Chris. “Ben, do what you were doing, try to stay ahead and keep people out of her path, and keep an eye out in case the police show up.” Ben flipped off a salute and teleported off once again.

The sounds of a segment of the apartment building crumbling spurred the two of them into action. An entire side of the building near the top began to shift. Then something broke, and the chain reaction took out a good third of the building, displaying its innards to the world. She took out an important support beam, I’m guessing.

“Go, go,” he urged them.

They began to sprint towards the building. Chris caught a flash of John teleporting into the overgrown common space before teleporting out again to parts unknown. One thud from up above, then another. Chris’s group reached the base of the building.

“I kinda don’t wanna get killed by fallin’ debris,” said Rob.

Olivia appeared on the exposed inside of the building, on the third story. She launched herself in the air again, in the direction John had gone.

“Wish granted,” said Amanda.

Olivia reached the same apartment they’d just exited. Back the way we came.

Before they could start running again, Rob said, “Wait, I got a theory.”

They looked around at him. He held up his hand. “Wait for it.”

The apartment building trembled. “There we go,” said Rob. “Any second now.”

A window shattered outward and John plummeted to the ground about ten feet from them. He let out a nice juicy crunch as he landed on the sidewalk. “Ah, better than expected,” said Rob, looking awfully pleased with himself. “Pattern recognition!” Fair enough.

John began to move almost instantly. No fucking way. Miya, closest to John and quickest on the uptake, dove in a tackle. John rolled out of the way, and Miya only grasped his arm for a moment before he wrenched it free.

John bolted to his feet as Chris phased into liquid form and shot a column of himself at him. John teleported a few feet, then another inch or so. He flickered, then collapsed face first. Chris snapped back to human.

“What did you do to him?” Chris asked Miya as she got up and dusted herself off.

“Don’t know, let me check,” said Miya. She jogged over, knelt down, and grabbed John’s limp arm. “Oh, cool. I was working on that.”

“That means?” asked Amanda.

“Long story short, I made a couple little spikes grow into his brain from his skull. Itty bitty ones, only had a second of contact.”

“Is he dead?” asked Chris.

“No, just a vegetable,” said Miya. She let go of the arm, which flopped down over John’s chest.. Miya stood straight, then brought all of her weight down in a stomp to John’s head. His head cracked against the pavement as her boot made contact. “Yes, he’s dead.” That’s over with.

Something passed overhead with a hiss, and Olivia landed feet first on John. Chris saw at least six of the claws of her feet tear up John’s chest. Miya staggered backwards as Olivia’s wings shoved her before folding up against Olivia’s back.

“Hey, Olivia, HEY!” said Miya, as Olivia did an about face. Olivia bared her teeth and hissed, eyes narrowed. Where have I seen that before? Oh, right, that day she slaughtered fifty people. Miya, you’re an idiot. Chris readied himself to turn into liquid form and get her out of Olivia’s reach.

After the hiss died off, Olivia turned her attention to some point past Miya. Chris didn’t particularly feel like taking his eyes off her to figure out what it was.

“HEY!” shouted Ben from a rooftop nearby over the wind. “WE GOT COPS COMIN’!”

Chris listened for a moment. Sirens, approaching sirens, drew closer.

“Is it just me or is it getting windy?” asked Rob over the sound of the trees rustling.

Chris froze in horror. This is very bad. “That’s not good,” said Amanda.

“Why?” asked Miya.

“Cyrus,” Chris stated.

Now that Rob had pointed it out, Chris noticed nearby trees bending in the wind, and the occasional plastic bag whipping its way down the street like a particularly ugly tumbleweed. Wind whistled through the shattered windows of a nearby storefront.

Great, we have two techies without their gear and a magician without her golem. If Cyrus is here, there’s not much we can do to stop him. Olivia could get lucky though. Maybe. I’ve watched him suck all of the air out of a pyro’s lungs and let him suffocate in a mini vacuum, no clue if she can withstand that or not. And that’s not to mention the fact we’re going to be drowned in MHU officers soon enough.

Olivia growled, then a wall of air blasted Chris and the rest aside. Olivia merely stumbled back a bit. Chris turned into liquid form and anchored down the other four before they could hit something unyielding, like a concrete wall of an apartment building.

Cyrus kept up the gale force wind as he approached Olivia, completely unaffected. He frowned under the black beard with pistol pointing to the ground. The wind drowned out all other noise, but Chris was willing to bet that Cyrus was trying to talk her down. Olivia responded by shooting forward and swinging a clawed hand at Cyrus’s throat. Naturally.

Three Metahuman Unit trucks, which may as well have been tanks for all the armor they boasted, burst onto the scene. They came to a stop between Chris’s group and Olivia and unloaded about eight heavily armed and armored MHU officers each. Beyond them, Chris saw Olivia get thrown into a previously untouched apartment building. Cyrus followed on a cushion of air, unwilling to let her escape.

Chris hoped that the twenty four armed men and women were there exclusively for Olivia, right until sixteen turned their attention to Chris in his liquid form. His light blue liquid form was about twice the volume of his human form, so he stuck out from the usual browns and greys of the urban blight surroundings.

He released his grip on the others. Amanda, get the others moving. It’ll take them all of five seconds to remember I’m basically gasoline.

The officers leveled their rifles at them and shouted. The wind drowned out most of it, but what Chris could gather it was something along the lines of, “Surrender or get shot a lot.” I really hope I can catch all these bullets, guys.

Behind him, Chris could hear Amanda shouting for Miya and Rob to get up and get moving. They started running, and the officers opened fire. Chris spread himself out to provide as much cover as he could. Bullets hot. Bad, bad, bad. He expelled them as soon as he could. Four or five made it through him, but went nowhere near his fleeing teammates.

Once they rounded a corner beyond yet another apartment building, Chris flowed after them. Four of the officers had gone to each flank, and the remaining eight pursued directly. A couple had pulled out small thermite grenades.

Chris caught up to the others, who had forced open the main door to the apartment building and made it a short ways up. He got rid of all the gravel and other detritus he’d picked up and returned to human form. Don’t want to stay liquid too long, no matter how bullet proof I am when liquid.

“Keep going,” he urged them, following behind them on foot. The clomps of the MHU officers came in right behind him.

The choose the fourth floor to exit the stairwell at Rob’s insistence. Don’t know why, don’t care. One is as good as any other. “Fuck. I hate not bein’ armed,” said Rob in between panting. They kept up the run through the central hallway.

“I might be able to clear a path, but they’ve got thermite on them.”

“Ambush?” suggested Miya.

“They’ll see that coming a mile away,” responded Chris.

“Idea!” cried out Rob. “This room.”

They came to a locked room. Chris shifted to force it open. The officers behind them reached the floor and flooded out of the stairwell. The others ducked in the room. One officer pulled out a grenade before another caught his arm to stop him. Thermite deterrent, not offensive. They still shot at his non-liquid companions.

Chris followed after and returned to human. Oh, this is convenient.

“I chose well!” said Rob over the howling wind.

An Olivia hole punched through their current apartment and the adjoining on. And the two below theirs. And one above. And the exterior wall of the building itself, letting in all that wind they’d been sheltered from. The resulting rubble, while in no way stable, formed a sort of ramp to the lower floor. Miya and Amanda already clambered down to the floor below.

Rob scrambled down, with Chris right behind him. He caught himself falling once or twice on unstable rubble.

Rob stopped at the base. “Wait, cover me.”

Rob ducked down to the pile. Fuck, what are you doing? Chris turned liquid once again. Gunfire came from above, the officers preferring to shoot anything on the other side of the door rather than walking into any possible ambush by five known supers. Rob dragged out a bit of concrete, then yelled, “Outta here.”

With Chris blocking the way, Rob ran out the apartment. What was the point of that? Chris backed up, and some officers appeared at the lip of the hole. Then the rubble shifted, collapsed, and began pouring out of the hole in the building, the officers nearly included.

Chris flowed after Rob. “Physics based engineers, motherfuckers,” Rob managed while maintaining a decent sprint.

They caught up to Amanda and Miya at the ground floor. Four officers had them pinned to the walls. Chris didn’t allow the officers the opportunity to take in him or Rob. Chris, still a large mass of liquid, slammed into them, engulfing two and knocking down the others. He removed anything canister shaped on the two of them. Thermite bad.

Amanda and Miya both turned on their nearest officers, with Rob throwing himself in the fray as well. Chris, for his part, rhythmically slammed his two officers into the ground about four times each. He kept their heads from hitting the ground, though. Don’t want to ruin their lives and give them brain damage. Just want them to stop shooting us.

He tossed the two aside onto a patch of dead grass nearby and took the other two, mostly subdued by Rob, Amanda, and Miya while Chris wasn’t paying attention. He made sure they were in no shape to fight, and disarmed, then dumped them with the other two officers. He snapped back to human.

“Thanks for that,” said Amanda. Rob just laughed.

“Where’s Olivia and Ben?” asked Miya.

“We got maybe a minute before the other twelve officers catch up,” said Amanda.

Chris poked his head around the corner. A scrap of corrugated tin screeched by on the road. Small particles of dirt immediately whipped into his eyes. Ow, fuck. Several rapid blinks later, he said, “It’s pretty bad.”

Several husks of nearby houses provided a nice backdrop to Olivia and Cyrus’s property destruction war. Crumpled cars, toppled trees, a downed power line, and the apartment buildings they’d spent the last twenty minutes or so abusing all looked rather worse for wear.

Chris watched as Cyrus slammed Olivia into a nearby wall about forty yards away. This wasn’t the first time, based on all the holes in the nearby buildings. Olivia regained her feet and shook her head, as if to shake off the blow. Then the wind completely changed direction and the weakened wall behind her collapsed on her.

Shit, shit, shit. The only thing that stopped him from getting up and going to her were the eight MHU officers on the perimeter, keeping an eye on the proceedings and taking the occasional shot at Olivia. Some of the rubble shifted, and Olivia began climbing out again.

She swayed on her feet, but still attempted a charge at Cyrus. Damn it, Olivia. Where is the flight in fight or flight for you?

All the wind in the area stopped for a brief moment. What is Cyrus doing?

“No, Olivia. No, no, no,” whispered Miya. “Get out of here. That can’t be good.”

Cyrus answered Chris’s question by forming a powerful localized tornado out of nowhere, with himself in the center. The local architecture responded typically: by disintegrating. Olivia lost her footing completely, and the tornado flung her away, debris pelting her deliberately.

“I don’t think we can get to him through that,” Chris shouted into Amanda’s ear over the screaming winds.

“Ben?” she asked.

“See all that flying debris? He’d get torn up. And where is he?”

“Don’t know. Roof last time I saw.” Helpful. And I can barely hear her.

Olivia regained her feet yet again, roaring in defiance at the tornado. Several random bits of building from the fight bashed her about for her troubles. The wind died down around the officers, who began sustained fire. Olivia collapsed after five agonizing seconds.

“We can’t say here,” Chris shouted.

“What about Olivia?” she screamed back.

Fuck me. “We can’t do anything. We’re unarmed. Cyrus alone could take us all on if we were. We’re just going to die.”

Amanda grimaced. “But…” she began, leaving her intended sentence unfinished. “Fuck. No.” She shook her head, as if willing it to not be true.

“What about Ben?” shouted Rob.

“They weren’t looking for him, he can take care of himself,” Chris shouted back. “We need to leave.”

Amanda grabbed Rob. Were her eyes watery because of all the dust and dirt in the air? She mouthed something to him, Chris couldn’t hear exactly what, but it got him moving.

“No, I’m not just leaving her behind,” screamed Miya. I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.

“Come on,” Chris roared. “You can’t fight a tornado. Suicide doesn’t do anyone any good.”

As if to prove his point, the MHU officers finally caught up to them, and promptly began shooting. I’m not dying for nothing. He wrapped an arm around her and heaved her in the direction Rob and Amanda took. I’ve got one foot and eighty pounds of muscle on you. Don’t make this difficult. She took the hint.

They reached some relatively unscathed houses. The officers didn’t bother to pursue.

***

They limped back to the lair several hours later. The group collapsed on the nearest chairs save Miya, who paced the length of the auto shop. Chris slouched in his chair, staring at the edge of the tabletop. We fucked up. I fucked up. Amanda rolled her office chair over to a computer and woke it up, then typed. Other than that and the pacing, no one did a thing. Rob clenched his hands into fists. He’ll probably kill me if Ben doesn’t show up. And I’d probably deserve it.

After five to ten minutes, Chris didn’t bother keeping track, Amanda said, “She’s still alive. They’re gonna put her in the vault ‘til they can get her to that Houston research place.”

“So?” asked Miya, her voice hoarse. She kept up the pacing. “How does that help?”

“It means that we’re not going to be able to get to her until they get her out of there.”

“The vault’s the vault,” said Rob. “Ain’t gettin’ in.”

“It’s directly under MHU headquarters. Never got access to it when I worked there. Did you, Amanda?” said Chris. I never even had access to the lower two levels, so I have no idea where the vault entrances are.

“No. All systems are self-contained. The only thing that goes in or out of it are people through one of two entrances, within the MHU itself. They even use tanks of air to limit contact with the outside world,” said Amanda.

“It’s way the fuck underground, no one I’ve talked to knows how far, but rest assured that even earthworms don’t escape their sensor’s notice,” said Rob.

“They can flood the whole thing with napalm, collapse it with explosives, vent toxic gas in, or simply get a bunch of guys with large guns to kill everything as contingencies,” added Chris.

“If what I’m reading is correct, they’ve got Cyrus on watch there, Purifier is in the HQ, the whole place is on lockdown, and they’ve got the Air Force doing drone surveillance on the outside, ready to throw missiles anything suspicious,” said Amanda.

“They use the vault for only the most dangerous or powerful supers,” said Rob. “They’ve got redundant systems routed through the vault itself as well as HQ. Everything you can think of, they’ve got covered. Every major MHU’s got one. ” How do you know so much about it? Question for later, no need for distractions. We’ve got to get Olivia back first.

It was that moment when Ben kicked the door open. “THE FUCK?” he shouted. He did not smile.

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John Doe – Status Quo

He’s John Doe, right? I can’t think of anyone else that could be. Olivia took a slow, cautious step backwards. This can’t be good. Another step.

The naked man in front of her and Miya, the man keeping them trapped in a strange alternate reality he at least partially controlled, stood stock still, nearly blending into the background. Case in point, as she tried to back up, her heel hit a wall that wasn’t behind her moments ago.

She shot a look behind her, at the brown but otherwise featureless wall rising up a good three stories to the next intact floor of the shell of a building they were in. Can’t go that way. She glanced to her left, to Miya. Another wall isolated her from the outside. Wonderful. Walls. Close in walls. I don’t like this.

She’d only taken her eyes off John Doe for a second, but once she returned her attention to him, she found him standing about a foot from her. I didn’t hear him move at all. I don’t hear or see him breathing right now, either.

The lack of breathing wasn’t the only strange thing about him. The absence of a mouth on his face, the stumps for ears and a nose, and the fact his outline seemed to blend into the background only heightened the extreme unease Olivia felt. She loosened her fists. Don’t you take one step closer. The air behind him flickered in the process of forming images of something, Olivia couldn’t tell exactly what at that point. He took a step closer.

OK. I really don’t like you anyways, and I’m not that curious. Her right hand came up in an open hand blow aimed to below John Doe’s chin. She saw no reaction on his part until her hand made contact; he didn’t see it coming was the only reason Olivia could think of for that. She smacked him backwards. That should’ve done a lot more to him. What… oh, right, no claws. He stumbled back, and something fell on her from above before she could follow up, knocking her down.

Whatever had hit her had rolled off after delivering the blow to her head. She shook her head to shake off the pain, and immediately regretted it as her head protested with even more throbbing agony. Owowowowow, why does that hurt so much? She gritted her teeth and pushed herself back up. She glanced to the side to where the offending thing had rolled off to before she got to her feet. A smooth piece of concrete, as strange as that sounded, about twice the size of her fist lay about a foot off to the side with a small streak of blood down the side of it.

The wall to her left had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. The wall separating her and Miya still stood, about eight feet wide, terminating at the head of the stairs. As Olivia stood, she noticed a particular lack of John Doe in front of her. Then she nearly lost her balance as her head rebelled again. Don’t throw up, not now. She stumbled and leaned against the wall for support, holding a hand to the epicenter of the pain, a few tentative touches for damage assessment. She felt something wet and warm through her hair.

Blood. That’s my blood. That’s bad. That’s very, very bad. She nearly lost her balance, sliding against the wall a bit before catching herself. She pressed her hand against the wound. Please stop bleeding.

“Motherfucker!” Olivia heard Miya yell to her right, past the obscuring wall.

Right. Need to… need to move. Do something.  Olivia walked along the wall on the landing above the grand staircase both her and Miya had been standing on, finding a stride after a few shaky steps. She reached the top of the stairs where the offending wall ended. She turned the corner, and found John backing Miya into another corner formed by his walls. A large chunk of concrete jutted out of the wall above Miya’s head, where she couldn’t see.

“Miya!” Olivia yelled. Miya tore her eyes off of John. Olivia pointed to the threatening concrete above her. John reached out to about Miya’s face level. Leave her alone.

Miya jumped and took a hasty step out from below the concrete. Right into John’s hand. Olivia broke into a sprint, headache forgotten. John grabbed Miya’s hair and slapped his spare hand over her face. Miya thrashed, jerking him around a bit, but she gave a muffled cry of pain and her struggles lessened. She tried to punch his ribs, but he moved fluidly out of the way, still maintaining his grip. This movement also put Miya between him and the charging Olivia.

Olivia, unable to stop herself in time, hit the both of them, slamming John into the wall, and Miya into John. All three hit the floor in a heap. Sorry, Miya. Olivia put her forearm against John’s throat, and wrapped her arm as best she could around Miya’s shoulders and pulled the two apart. After some confusion, Miya got free. This meant Olivia was free to use her newly available hand to beat John’s face in. Then something slammed down on her leg. Olivia let out a scream and abandoned her assault.

“Shit!” exclaimed Miya.

The pressure on Olivia’s leg eased momentarily, then returned again. As John was providing no resistance, in fact going completely limp since being tackled, Olivia ducked her head down, the pain forcing her to curl up slightly. Aaaaaah. She involuntarily closed her eyes as the pressure on her leg eased off and came down again.

“FUCK,” Miya roared. This time the pressure left completely, and something large and solid thudded against the ground behind Olivia.

“Ow,” managed Olivia.

“Open your eyes, quick,” snapped Miya. “He’s gone.”

Olivia complied. Right. He can’t do stuff to stuff we’re looking at. She pushed herself into an upright sitting position, and Miya offered her hand to get her on her feet. Olivia accepted the offer. Where is he?

“Thanks,” said Olivia, shaking her leg. I can still stand. Good. Just hurts a bit. She shot a look at the concrete that had threatened Miya and fallen on her. We weren’t looking up.

Miya noticed Olivia’s leg. “Good to know some things never change. We have to make this stop,” she said.

“How?” Not that I’m arguing.

“Don’t look at me,” said Miya. “He can do stuff to inanimate objects we’re not looking at. You OK?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright. We need to get Chris to snap out of it,” rasped Miya. “He couldn’t do anything when Rob was aware of him in his world, remember?”

“OK,” responded Olivia, keeping her eyes on the area behind Miya, not letting John get another opportunity to attack the two of them. Miya did the same for her. “How do we do that?”

“Pray? Slap him? I don’t know. Let’s figure that shit out.”

“What about Ben?” asked Olivia. I don’t want to leave him behind.

“Get us outta here. I can’t do shit besides keep an eye on the roof,” he called out from around the wall, presumably where they’d left him.

“But-” began Olivia.

“Come on,” said Miya, cutting her off. “He’s right, and who knows what John’s cooking up.”

They descended the stairs, careful to face in opposite directions. I really don’t like not seeing John at all. I really don’t like that at all. What is he doing?

Miya hit a surprisingly immobile brick with her foot and nearly fell. Olivia caught her. “Motherfucker,” Olivia heard her mutter under her breath. They continued.

They made their way to Chris without any other incident. “You must have done a number on him,” commented Miya. “Hasn’t done anything besides the brick thing.” I’m not complaining.

They came to a stop, Miya watching behind them as Olivia considered Chris obliviously digging at the doorway. Let’s try this again.

“Chris,” said Olivia. No reaction. “Chris,” she insisted. Well this is going exactly as well as before. “You need to stop. We have to get out.”

“No other way out. Gotta get out through here. I checked,” he mumbled, wrestling with a particular stubborn beam of lumber. Is this just a pile of random building materials? I expected a better illusion, actually.

“Your girlfriend isn’t out there,” said Olivia. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

“What?” he asked, his hand coming to rest on yet another cinder block. You don’t remember our previous conversation, do you?

“She’s not out there.” What was her name? Alice? “Alice… isn’t coming back.”

“What? No. That’s stupid. She’s out there.” I don’t know how any of this alternate reality stuff works. I don’t know what John wants or what will happen if you stay here. I don’t know if we can even get out of this weird alternate reality, but I’m not losing you.

Olivia grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. Then Miya slapped him. “You fucking idiot,” she shouted in his face. He stopped, his face went a bit slack in shock. Miya! What?

“You’re so fucking trapped in the past,” continued Miya. “Are you just not fucking strong enough to accept it? Do you not have the fucking balls to man up? Are you just going to sit here on your knees for something that’s never going to come? How long have you been here?”

Chris opened his mouth, but Miya bulled over him. “Hours! Fucking hours you’ve been digging here! You can’t get over the fact she’s dead, and they’re just going to use that against you. This. Isn’t. Real. She’s dead, no matter how much that sucks.” Chris’s hands tightened into fists as Miya continued, knuckles white by the time she finished.

Something moved at the edge of her field of vision. Uh oh. She’d been too fixated on Miya’s rant to pay attention to their surroundings.

John Doe approached Chris. Miya drew breath to say something else but it was Chris’s turn to shout. “SHUT UP!” he roared down directly into Miya’s face.

Olivia jumped an inch at the outburst. The veins on Chris’s neck bulged, and his eye twitched. Chris? That was loud. When did he get loud and angry? Why can’t John leave us alone? Chris snapped his attention to John, his face losing none of its previous anger.

“You,” spat Chris. John nodded.

The air over John’s left shoulder flickered and formed an image. A darkened movie theater. Chris and a girl about the same age sat side by side, his arm draped over her shoulder. The girl flicked a bit of popcorn at his face. Both smiled. Chris’s expression softened. No. He’ll want to stay here. Say something.

“Chris, this isn’t-” Olivia began, breaking the silence.

“Quiet,” he said, lacking the vehemence of before. She still shrank back. Sorry. Miya hung back, eyes darting between John Doe and Chris.

“How do you know this? You just looked into my brain for this memory, didn’t you?” asked Chris.

John nodded. Chris watched the image for another moment. Nononononono. Chris’s jaw jutted out. “Out.” A man of few words. The image over John’s shoulder winked out, and he took a step backwards.

“Graaaaah,” grunted Chris, eyes clenched shut and hand splayed over his temple.

That worked? How did that-

***

Olivia jerked awake. She blinked several times as her eyes focused. Noise hit her ears. Lots of noise. Lots of sound. Creaks in the roof and walls around her, the light breathing of her friends lying beside her, a horn in the distance. Someone muttered something in the room. Loud. Stop it, stop it, stop it. Not again.

She eased herself upright. Remember, block it out. Focus on something else. Where am I? Where is everyone else?Where is John? A negligible trickle of light came in under an old warped door, enough for her to see her surroundings.

Dust floated throughout the room, a fleck or two catching her in the eyes. Her eyes watered in response. Other than a cracked light fixture hanging from the ceiling, the room was completely devoid of even furniture. There were people, though. Chris, Ben, and Miya lay to her right, Amanda and Rob were to left. Amanda, on her knees, shook Rob.

“Hey, wake up,” whispered Amanda, eyes darting back and forth, not resting on any one place. Can she see anything? And where’s John? Rob grunted in response.

“Sleepy time. Fuck off,” he mumbled, throwing an arm over his eyes.

“No, you idiot,” she said a little louder, punctuating her statement with a punch to his shoulder. “I can’t tell where we are.”

Olivia stood up, and Amanda froze at the sudden noise. Something else caught Olivia’s attention. There he is. John Doe, looking exactly the same as in the illusion, sat up against the wall on far side of the room, beside the door. You.

Olivia marched towards him. The long claw on her heel caught the floor, and she nearly fell. You made me think I was normal.

She recovered. You dropped chunks of concrete on me.

His head jerked up suddenly, beginning to tilt to the side until he noticed Olivia coming for him. Her wings smacked into the ceiling lamp. The glass shattered completely. You attacked my friends. You made them suffer.

John Doe pushed backwards with his legs, now fully aware of the situation. Olivia closed the distance You tricked me.

She aimed a downward kick to the center of his chest, putting as much force into it as possible. Right before she made contact, he vanished. Her foot shattered the wall and fractured the floor behind it. No running. She pulled her foot out with a snarl, bringing more wall with it.

Where are you? What started as an attempt to open the door with the handle ended up as her thrusting her fingers through the crack between the door and frame and ripping the whole thing off of its hinges and dropping it to the side.

John Doe, in the hallway, jerked his head in her direction. Shadows started to coalesce around him, but he ran to the nearest room and slammed the door behind him. No. None of that.

Olivia simply lowered her shoulder an inch or two and plowed through it in her pursuit. Now another room, just as dusty and featureless as the last. Except this one had a fleeing John Doe in it. Get back here.

John stumbled over the remains of a chair, then teleported again. Olivia hissed in frustration. Kill him. She stormed into the room. Movement in the window of the room caught her eye and the scraping sounds of feet against tile brought her to the window. John slip down another foot on a slanted roof of a nearby house, arms windmilling to the side, then recovered. The stoplights and headlights of the city twinkled in the background. Olivia brought her hand crashing down on the intact window. Tear his fucking throat out.

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

John Doe – Break

“You shot him in the face. With a shotgun,” said Miya. Olivia listened in, massaging her scraped knuckles with her eyes closed. She’d tried to punch the walls that had popped up around Rob after she and Miya hunted for a way in for a minute. The walls couldn’t have cared less. He’s back now. No need to dwell on it.

“Yeah,” responded Rob. Olivia settled in further in the beanbag. Wow this thing is comfy. This is great! Now I get the whole backrest thing, most are just annoying bits of wood, but if stuff like this exists it’s so worth it. Her small, contented smile slipped a bit. Wait, not real. Right.

“Why?”

“Why not?”

Miya didn’t immediately respond. Olivia poked an eye open. No. Don’t pick a fight with him too. Even though he looks just like Ben. Don’t. “Did it kill him?” asked Miya. Oh, good. Cooler heads after all.

“Pft. No. That would be easy. Life is never easy.”

Miya sighed. “Point. We still need a way out. Out of here at the very least.”

They’d spent some time trying to consciously leave. After thinking about it really hard for a while, they got nothing for their efforts except looking somewhat foolish, sitting in absolute silence in concentration. Then Rob hammered away at a wall with a crowbar for a minute, until this lead to the discovery that the walls were invincible. Not a scratch on them, and Rob’s crowbar now bent at an odd angle down the middle. But this beanbag is so comfy! So much better than that bed back at the lair, or that ratty old couch in the apartment. And I don’t have to lay on my face, either.

“You got any ideas, Olivia?” asked Rob.

“I think she’s lost in her own little world right now,” said Miya. Wait, I’m right here and paying attention, sorry.

Olivia opened her eyes fully. “What?”

From what Olivia could tell from under the scarf, Miya smiled. “Like the beanbag?” she asked.

“Yes! It’s so soft and comfy.” I know we have other things to worry about, but come on.

Rob rubbed his forehead. “I can’t take it anymore. Olivia, Bri and Jimmy… boned on that thing. A lot. I don’t think they ever washed it, either.” Boned? What?

Miya started chuckling. Hang on… what does boned mean? Rob just stared at her. “What?” asked Olivia eventually. “What does boned mean?”

Rob blinked. He blinked again. “Sex. They had all the sex on that thing. And never washed it. Why do you think I never touch it?” Miya doubled over laughing.

They had sex. On this beanbag. That I’m now lying in. Right now. Olivia jumped out as Miya lost it.

“She… she… her face… bright red,” gasped Miya. “Connecting the dots… Oh god. That was great.” My face feels really warm, maybe that’s it.

Olivia turned back to the enormous white beanbag, almost the size of a normal mattress, off balance. She looked at Rob on the couch, also laughing at this point. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she blurted out.

“Oh,” said Rob, who at least had the decency to look embarrassed, looked off to the side to avoid eye contact and rubbed the back of his neck. “You looked super comfortable, so I couldn’t really bring myself to stop you. Then you practically rubbed yourself in the damn thing, snugglin’ it-”

“Stop it!” she cut him off. Ew. She tried to drop the subject, Miya having a fit wasn’t helping. It’s not that funny. And you almost sound desperate. Olivia threw herself on the couch opposite of Rob.

“It’s not real,” Miya managed. “Calm… calm down.” Miya appeared to take her own advice for a moment, before breaking down into snickers once again. OK. Now who’s blowing this out of proportion? “OK, question for you,” Miya said to Rob.

“Yeah?”

“Pure curiosity. How do you know they did it on there?” What? Is that… oh. Yep. Why are you guys laughing at this so much?

“Me an’ Sean walked in on them in the act out here. They’d dragged it out a week prior, were just waitin’ for the opportunity when everyone else was out.”

“Why?” asked Miya.

“Maybe they liked the danger of exactly what happened occurin’. You think I fuckin’ quizzed them on their sex lives? Jimmy kept it out here to be an ass ‘bout it, too.” This is kind of embarrassing. Maybe it’s just me, though. This is funny for everyone else, apparently. “An’ that’s not the worst part. Michael came in about twenty minutes later, we’d all gotten up an’ were just talkin’ at this point, an’ threw himself in like Olivia did, face first.”

“Oh no,” said Miya, the hilarity of it all having apparently subsided enough for her to simply shake in silent laughter.

“Just wait. Then Michael said, ‘Man, this is nice and warm.’” Miya smacked herself in the forehead with the heel of her hand. “Then he saw Jimmy throw away the condom wrapper. He got outta that thing so damn fast, I thought he’d developed teleportation.”

Miya smacked herself in the forehead. Then, after a pause, did so again three more times in rapid succession.

“Yeah,” said Rob nodding with exaggerated slowness. “That happened.”

They settled into amicable silence. Everything still sounds all fuzzy. This is weird, going the other way. I actually kind of have to pay attention. And it’s not to the level of overhearing random conversations in completely different rooms. This is really nice. Like that beanbag was.

Bad. No. Don’t think about the beanbag. Don’t think about… gah. I’m thinking about the beanbag. Make it stop. Though that story was kind of funny. I bet the others would like it too. Olivia frowned slightly. I guess we needed to take a break for a bit, but we still need to find the others. Should I say something?

She glanced at the others. Miya’s scarf still hid her face, but the way she slumped in her chair and propped her head up with an arm on the armrest suggested she was equally drained. Maybe she was just laughing because she needed something to laugh at.

Rob, meanwhile, tapped his leg with a finger as he arched his head over the back of the couch he and Olivia sat on. She missed the customary smile on him and Ben. He made a strange gurgling sound and jerked his head fully upright. You OK there?

Before she could ask, he said, “Need a way out of here before I lose my mind.”

Miya sighed and settled further into her seat. No mean comment? “I know. We tried. We still have no clue how to  get the whole teleportation from one person’s world to another’s to work.”

“Lemme guess, it’s one of those things that can only happen when you aren’t payin’ attention.” Hang on…

Miya’s head snapped up. “Repeat that?” she said.

“One of those things that only happens when you aren’t payin’ attention?”

Miya sat upright. That actually makes sense. “I think you’re on to something,” said Miya. “This whole… thing,” she gestured emphatically to their whole surroundings, “has been based all on perception and shit. Kind of. I might be saying it wrong. But remember, that shotgun reassembled itself when you weren’t paying attention, Rob. Me and Ben popped into Olivia’s lair when she wasn’t paying attention to the spot. If we don’t perceive it, it can change.”

“Nah, nah, that makes sense. Nothin’ happens when we’re payin’ attention to it.”

“Yeah,” agreed Olivia. “When, um, when he was in the lair, he would… grab… someone when the rest weren’t, you know, looking.”

Rob leaned forward, animated now, “Alright! Now we just have to…” He trailed off, then started laughing. “Damn it,” he said between laughs.

“What?” asked Miya.

“You don’t get it? The harder we try to ignore somehin’ like this, the more we’re payin’ attention to it. We’re in a horrible catch twenty two scenario. Now that we’ve called attention to it, we’re gonna think ourselves in circles.”

Miya gave a frustrated sigh. “Fuck, this just won’t fucking end,” was all she had to say about that. Everyone fell silent again.

Well, I don’t think this would be too bad to be trapped in forever. I mean, I’m closer to normal now… wait, bad thoughts, bad. This isn’t real. And Chris and Amanda still need to get out, and I don’t know where Ben is right now. Stupid me, this isn’t a good place to be trapped forever. And Miya looks like she wants out. And why won’t she take that scarf off?

Should I ask? I don’t want to pry. But what if it’s important? She would have said, right? She isn’t wearing it for no reason. Probably.

“Um, Miya?” began Olivia, eyes flicking between Miya and the couch.

“Yeah?”

“Why are… why are you wearing that scarf?” I don’t want to bring up anything bad. I didn’t think about that.

Miya shrugged with forced nonchalance. “No reason.”

“So… um… why wear it?” No. This was a bad idea. Sorry. Rob chuckled a bit.

Miya’s eyes flashed in anger. “Because I want to. That should be good enough.” I messed up.

“Oh. Sorry. I, um, I didn’t… I mean, just… sorry,” Olivia stammered.

Miya paused for a moment, and tilted her head a few degrees. The scarf made it hard to tell her expression. “No, wait, no. Sorry,” she said. Why are you saying sorry? Miya continued, “It’s just… I don’t know. It looks like you guys got your heavens. Ben got his family, Rob got his old team, you got normalcy. I got hell.”

That doesn’t sound good. “Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Olivia.

“Because it’s my shit to deal with. I don’t exactly like sharing my own problems with everyone.”

“Yeah, but…” began Olivia. “We can help. I… just… you don’t have to hide stuff from us.”

“What do you intend to do, even if I told you?” asked Miya.

“I don’t know. Help.”

“Why? My problems, not yours.”

“We’re friends.” Right? “That’s what… that’s what friends do. Right? And you won’t even… even say,” Olivia finished with much less certainty than before.

“It’s all right, Olivia. Just… don’t worry about it.”

“But I am worrying. You started a fight with Ben. You won’t say what’s wrong and I don’t know why.”

“Well, what do you think?” asked Miya, impatience creeping into her voice.

“I don’t know,” stressed Olivia. “Bad… things? Maybe? I don’t know.” I’m tired of not knowing things.

“Guess. I think I told you a little about it before. Can’t think of anyone else who knows, anyways.” Miya’s hands clenched into fists on the armrests of her chair.

Bad things she’s told me about. There are probably better ways to say that but whatever. Um… “Well, it wasn’t…” You haven’t told me much about you. In the past, I mean. Hang on. “Do you mean… the… what’s his name again? Slave Lord?” That’s a nasty name.

Miya nodded. “Overlord. Used to be called Slave Driver.” Well those two aren’t much better. This is a very bad sign. “His old name probably used to mean something more impressive in Serbian but something probably got lost in translation. Not the point.”

“You were… captured, right? And so…” Bad. “That’s… not… good.” Where are you going with this?

“They weren’t nice about it,” said Miya.

“But… why the scarf?”

Miya sighed. Sorry. Miya stayed quiet a moment, then put her hands behind her head and untied the scarf knot. “This is why. Happy?”

Olivia took in her maimed face for a moment. Olivia’s eyes widened by a small fraction. She jumped to the edge of her seat, ready to either hug her or punch whatever was responsible or scramble for a first aid kit or do something, anything besides just sit there complacently on a couch doing nothing when her friend was hurt. Where is her cheek? Why didn’t you say anything about this? Why? What kind of logic possibly lead you to think that? That looks so painful.

“Why would I be happy? Why would someone do something like that?” asked Olivia. “Why didn’t you tell anyone? Why doesn’t that hurt? But… just… why? Or does it hurt and you’re just not showing it? Why didn’t you say anything?” This isn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t real.

Miya re-tied scarf back into place, not answering any of Olivia’s questions. Miya avoided looking at her, so she got up and stood in front of her. Do you need a hug? That’s helped me before. And talking.

“It’s my shit to deal with, I told you.”

WHAT? “That doesn’t make any sense!” Olivia resisted the urge to grab Miya’s shoulders and shake her to make her see reason. That worked in that one movie.

Miya stopped whatever it was she was about to say. And, strangely, her shoulders drooped in relief. “Where’s Rob?” He’s been quiet, actually.

Olivia twisted, looking back to where Rob sat. Had sat. There was no one behind her, and no way to leave the room walking directly into Miya and Olivia’s view. “Did he…” began Olivia. Did he what? Teleport?

“Did he find a way out?” asked Miya, finishing Olivia’s question. “Is that what’s going on?”

He’d better be OK. So help me, I’ll… I’ll… do… something. Something bad to them. “I… don’t know. I hope so.”

Miya gave a mirthless chuckle and leaned back in her chair. “Bastard didn’t take us with him.” He wouldn’t do that.

“Hey,” said Olivia. “Maybe he just-”

Miya sighed. “Relax. I’m joking.”

“Why are you so calm about this?”

“Because at least someone got out. Finding it hard to give a shit anymore.”

Miya closed her eyes. Fine then. Olivia crashed back on the couch. Hey, no tail or wings to bend. I wonder. Would I have met Miya if I hadn’t… triggered? I want to help her, and I don’t know what to do. But… would I have even known about her without the wings and everything? I do kind of miss flying. No, no getting sidetracked. That looked super painful. Why didn’t she want to talk about it, or say anything about it at all? She’s still being evasive.

Olivia’s turn to sigh. I hate this place. Miya’s really hurt. I haven’t even seen Amanda or Chris. Rob just disappeared, so did Ben. I miss the city. It wasn’t so bad when there wasn’t a riot or fight or anything going on-

***

With nothing underneath her, Olivia fell back onto what felt like concrete. She caught herself, and the feeling she got from beneath her confirmed her concrete suspicions.

Wait, what the… oh, new place. She blinked a couple times, then jerked her head around a bit to take in the new surroundings. I really don’t like this whole complete lack of transition between places. A ruined building. Someone dug with their hands at a rubble filled doorway on the side opposite of Olivia. Light came in through glassless windows. Something crumbled off to her right. Many big somethings.

“FUCK!” screamed Rob approximately half a second later off to Olivia’s side. Rob is here? She turned and rolled out of the way, the chunk of concrete missing her by a hair.

The collapse kicked up dust into the air. Miya started coughing to Olivia’s other side. Olivia focused on the guy, Rob, lying on the floor, one leg trapped under the rubble. Wait, completely different clothes. Do they change when we go different places here? She looked down at herself for a moment. Same blue shirt. Same dark brown pants. Ben, then. I hate not being able to tell the two of them apart. Also…

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” he muttered rapidly, grabbing at the pinned leg.

Miya scurried to her feet behind Olivia. “Shit. Olivia, can you get it off him?” she said, going to Ben’s side.

This spurred Olivia into action. She scrambled forward, reached the offending rubble chunk, found a handhold, and threw all her weight into pulling it off Ben. She got it about a foot off the ground. Heavyheavyheavyheavy. Hurry. Hurry!

“Nyaaaaaaahaha,” Ben gasped as Miya dragged him out of harm’s way by his armpits until his crushed and limp leg came clear of the rubble.

“This is fuckin’ bullshit,” he muttered as Olivia set the rubble back down. Owww. That hurt. “Fuck, this better… fuck.”

“Shut up and stay still,” commanded Miya, her eyes going red. She grabbed his face.

“Wh-?” began Ben.

“Shut up,” she barked. Oh god, his leg looks bad. Olivia joined Miya, kneeling over Ben. She could make out some blood seeping through his pant leg. Can I do something to help?

“Is he-” began Olivia.

“Sh. You too. Go check on that other dude. This leg’s in bad shape.”

“Don’ tell me that,” said Ben, managing a shaky smile.

“Shush. Go, Olivia, unless you’ve developed magic powers since I last saw you.”

But… but… Miya ignored her completely after that, focusing entirely on Ben. Fine. Olivia got up and worked her way down the ruined and rubble strewn staircase. They appeared to be on the ground floor of some sort of hotel. An old one, seeing as a cursory glance upwards revealed the floor above them had completely vanished. Some concrete and pipes and drywall littered the area. From what Olivia could tell, they’d appeared on the landing of a grand staircase overlooking the main entrance to the building.

A sharp piece of glass jabbed the bottom of her bare feet as she walked, thankfully failing to break the skin. OW. I’d like a pair of shoes right about now. She walked far more carefully from then on out, bypassing the occasional concrete bit or glass shard scattered about the place. She reached the guy digging at the doorway. Is that Chris?

“Chris?” she called out. No response. “Chris?” she repeated, more insistent.

“What?” he said with a pause in the frantic digging. He moved over an inch and resumed. “Help. Need to help. Got to get through. Alice on the other side.”

What? Who? And he looks terrible. She watched as he scraped his arm against an exposed bit of rebar, not the first such cut she could see, in his haste to grab at the next bit of concrete, drawing blood. He continued on regardless.

“Chris,” she said, grabbing his arm to arrest his movements. “What are you doing?”

He stopped. His dirt streaked face spared her a second or so, then he turned back to the door with the same urgency. “Got to… she’s on the other side. In the riot. Got to get to her.” His speech broke down into incomprehensible murmuring. Something is really wrong here. What is Chris talking… about… Oh, I remember. She’s dead, right? His girlfriend? And he thinks she’s still alive. Oh god.

“Chris,” she said, grabbing him again. He shrugged her off this time. He’s a lot taller than me now. Is this how everyone else feels when they’re talking to me? Never mind, no distractions. “Chris, you need to listen.” He continued to ignore her. “Stop,” she said.

“What? No,” he said, tossing another cinder block to the side.

“Wait,” croaked a voice from where she’d left Miya and Ben. Some whispering from them that Olivia couldn’t quite make out.

“Olivia, come here a sec,” called out Miya. Olivia hesitated. But… Chris. “Trust us,” Miya added. Fine. Just make up your mind at some point. Olivia rushed back up the stairs, avoiding the shattered cinder blocks strewn about.

“Don’, need a good plan,” managed Ben once she came in earshot.

“What have you been doing?” asked Olivia. “Are you OK?”

“Went here after you two vanished. Been tryin’ to get him out. Didn’t work. Somethin’ changed. Got my leg pinned. Couldn’t move. You reset an’ it’ll happen again. Hurts like fuck, manageable now.”

“You’re welcome,” said Miya, sitting back on her heels in a squat.

“Are you OK?” asked Olivia. Wait, no, dumb question.

“Been better. Can’t feel my leg, she did somethin’ to it,” Ben said.

“How far have you gotten with him?” asked Miya.

“Not far. The one time I got him away he started rantin’. Thinks it’s back in the F.F. riots. Gotten worse in the last resets though. My screamin’ got him over here the first time, froze time to avoid it the second, tried to do the same trick the third, but that didn’t work. I mighta annoyed him enough to reset again for you two to come in, though.”

“Something changed,” said Miya. “We pissed him off. Your John Doe theory was right, by the way. Rob saw him first hand. I think he’s taking steps against us, though.”

“Oh, good. Rob’s free then. I can finally stop watchin’ Chris diggin’. No matter how much he does, the pile doesn’t get smaller,” said Ben. He started to get up.

“Nope,” said Miya, pushing him back down. “Rob’s free, we don’t know where he is. But you’re in for a world of hurt if you try to move that leg at all. Magic isn’t perfect, as much as I’d like it to be.”

“We need to help Chris,” said Olivia. I’m not just going to sit here and watch this.

“I get the feelin’ that my leg’s gonna get re-broke every reset, no matter what I do. Be damn sure you got a good plan. I’ll jus’ sit here an’ hope Miya’s thing holds out,” said Ben.

“It will. It should,” said Miya, standing upright. They stood over Ben. “Well, sounds like we need to do some sort of planning.”

“Yeah. He’s… really obsessed. Like, hurting himself obsessed. I couldn’t get him to stop. He’s… he’s hurting himself.”

“Don’ mind me, I’ll jus’ lie here,” said Ben from below. He managed another shaky laugh. “Serious. Make the bad man stop. Go.” He made a familiar shoo-ing gesture.

Olivia began to return to Chris, hoping Miya would follow suit. They stopped. A pale, blurred man stood before them.

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

John Doe – Lights Out

Rob washed the grease, sweat, and metal shavings off his hands, then checked the fridge for a quick bite to eat. Apple. Sure. He leaned against the counter of the cramped kitchen they’d tacked on to the underground base.

Jimmy’s picking up Bri, because they’re still doing their weird thing for whatever reason. Michaels’s visiting family, should be back soon. And Sean’s picking up more alcohol. Life is good, so long as he remembers the damn everclear this time. Glad we could get back together.

He chowed down on the apple. Need to get back to work soon. Again. Armor always needs tweaking. Gotta check weapons, mask is half done, might work on the BAT later. And there’s always-nyah! Fucking seed. He spat it into the sink, then threw away the apple core.

He passed the communal living room on the way back: a TV hooked up to a busted cable box that they’d jury rigged to actually get some shows for free. See, Sean and Jimmy? If you two work together, you can actually get shit done.

They’d already cleaned out the dust in the base from the (how long was it? Two months? Three? Four? Nah, just two) two months of disuse. I had to make sure everything worked properly again. I did check all the plumbing and stuff, right? Eh, I’m sure I did.

Everyone had moved back in, it was like no one had ever left. Jimmy’s door still had that skewed, paint spattered street sign with the gas mask picture on it. Michael’s room had his bookshelf with several different fantasy series of varying quality. Just like he remembered it. Rob drummed his right hand along one of the sheets of metal on the wall. Maybe text Amanda later, see how they’re doing back in Colorado.

The lights flickered a few steps later. He turned around. Damn it, knew it was too good to be true. Maintenance is never that easy. He mockingly glared at the lights in the empty hallway. They remained steady. Nothing else but the bedroom doors and that metal sheet to his right. Whatever, I’ll figure out which one it was later.

He resumed the walk to his workshop, half shutting the door behind him once he reached it. With the fan on to circulate air, he resumed his work. Gun needs cleaning. May as well do that. He took a seat at his stool next to the table and disassembled his shotgun. He plunged into his work for some time. How long have I been at this? Feels like a while, but it still isn’t clean.

A gleam off the unfinished mask to the side caught his eye. Fuck it, why not? He grabbed the mask he’d been working on earlier, a sort of welcome home present for Sam when he finally got leave to visit family, or whatever Lock Corp. let him do. He lost himself again in his work for a bit, not an unusual occurrence in and of itself. People entering, violating the most sacred techie law of not entering a workshop unless invited, was unusual.

Just need to sand down that edge a bit. Aaaaand there. Good. Sam, you’d damn well better appreciate this mask when you get back from wherever the hell you are. Just gotta make the filters and lenses. See if I can scrounge up some glass, some random cleaning chemicals, and a towel no one cares about.

“Hi, Rob,” said a vaguely familiar voice. He suppressed a surprised jump and looked up.

Two girls, don’t recognize. Not hostile, seem to know me. I think I know them from somewhere, can’t see one’s face under the vaguely familiar scarf, the other… don’t know. And what the fuck are they doing in here?

He jerked his head towards the door they hung back by. “Out,” he said. Both hesitated. The one who spoke seemed to physically recoil from his statement.

“Bu-” began the scarf-less one.

“OUT,” he repeated, raising his voice. His hand drifted to the shotgun. People can’t just sneak in here. Only four people besides me have the keys and combos necessary, and neither of you are them. No alarms set off either.

Scarf girl grabbed the other’s shoulder. “Come on.”

No scarf opened her mouth to protest, but went anyways without a word. They closed the door behind them. Good. He grabbed his shotgun and stuffed the box of shells into a large pocket of his work pants. I may have been alone in here, and the prospects of no pants may be tempting, but when working with machinery it’s still recommended you wear them.

Rob leaned against the doorframe, the shotgun held out of view of the people outside. He partially opened the door and leaned into the frame. Scarf leaned against the wall, while no scarf stared at the ground, rubbing her upper arm with the other hand. Both looked up when he opened the door.

Before either could say anything, he said, “Who are you, how did you get in, how do you know me, and what do you want? In that order. Go.” And why the fuck did you barge in on me like that? But that’s a question for later.

After a silent moment where the two of them absorbed what he said, scarf said, “It’s really hard to explain. I’m Miya, she’s Olivia.” Who is she talking about? Oh, right, the lair in Colorado. Fuck, how did I forget that? She gestured to both of them in turn. Buuuuullllllllshiiiiiiit.

“Cute. Try again.” He pushed off the doorframe with his shoulder, letting them get a glimpse of the shotgun.

“No, seriously. You have to believe us,” said the girl who called herself Miya, with a hint of desperation. She does sound exactly like her, but why is her face all covered up?

He pointed at Olivia. “She’s literally half the Olivia I know. An’ why you coverin’ up your face, Miya? An’ for that matter, why go halfway across the country for a visit without so much as a heads up? No, you gotta do a lot more to convince me.” Olivia’s eyes widened. That is a very Olivia kind of response. What the fuck is going on here?

“You have to hear us out,” pleaded Miya. Shotguns! “Some guy’s power did this. None of this is real.”

“So a power changed the two of you, which is why I’m guessin’ you got a scarf, an’ teleported you here. Somehow.”

“Kind of, yes,” said Miya.

“No power I ever heard of.” That’s stupidly powerful. You think I’m a fucking idiot?

“No, no, no, this isn’t real,” she said, motioning around wildly to the base. “None of it. That shotgun was in pieces when we first walked in, remember?”

No. Wait, yes? Fuck, what was I doing? The hell? He glanced down at his shotgun. Definitely in one piece now. I was cleaning it out, then I was working on the mask. I… didn’t put this back together at all.

“Are you willing to listen now?” asked Miya.

***

One long explanation later, mainly Miya’s explanation with Olivia clarifying every now and then:

“So, quick rundown,” began Rob, still behind the doorframe. “We’re in an alternate dimension thing. Reality is inconsistent, hence the lost track of time and the self assemblin’ shotgun. These are more mental projections of ourselves, so I’m forced to assume Miya has some sort of shameful tattoo on her face she got one drunken night that she lasered off before we met, and Olivia can now only crush people’s ribs, rather than cars.”

“No-” began Olivia, forcing him to listen closely so he could actually hear what she was saying.

“Yes. Your hug this time around was more bone crushing, rather than last time, which probably nearly killed me,” countered Miya.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean… you know. Um,” she stammered. Never have I met someone so in dire need of a hug. Still not sure about this story, though.

“Anyways,” he said, saving her from having to stammer some more. “This is all due to some local ghost story. Like the kind you’d find anywhere, or you’d tell around a campfire. Stop me if I’m off track here.”

“No. That sums it up.”

“OK. Now, you get around by thinkin’ about it real hard or something, you weren’t too clear on that. He’s doin’ this for shits and giggles, too. Forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical of this Matrix-esque scenario you’re paintin’ here.”

Fuck this. The shotgun thing is right, and it is a bit odd how long we’ve been in here without Sean or Michael at least coming back in. These two act exactly like Olivia and Miya, but they look super different. That and the whole reasons behind this are insane. Fuck this.

“But-” began Olivia.

“Idea. We’ll be going now,” said Miya. “Show us the door and we’ll be out.”

“What?” asked Rob and Olivia simultaneously.

Miya nudged Olivia, who, rather than taking the hint, asked, “And what was that for?” Well it’s a good thing I have mental alarms, because right now they’re ringing like crazy.

“Did you fuckin’ booby trap one of the doors or somethin’?” He began to push his way past them. So help me, if one of my team is hurt or killed because of that, you’ll pay. Probably why none of them have shown up yet, either.

There were three entrances to the base. All three were enormous slabs of metal, the only way to open them was to put in two keys, which would unlock the place to put in the nine digit combo. Try to pick the locks or cut through anything, and the opening mechanism would shut down, and the aforementioned slab of metal would cease to function as a door.

And before you think of trapping us down here like that, it’s actually quite easy to open them from the inside. The only reason you could move them in the first place was how the slabs were balanced. Thank you, Panama Canal, for that idea. And the glory of it all is that it’s entirely mechanical. No electronic systems for some techie to get through.

“What? No. You want us gone and we’ll be gone,” said Miya, rushing to keep up with him as he stormed down the hall. “Just lead us to the front door.” Olivia hesitantly followed.

He passed the kitchen and living room again and stopped at the blank patch of wall where the elevator should have been. The fuck?

He turned back around the other two. He pointed at the wall. “Wha?”

Miya shrugged. “I’ve never been here before. Is there supposed to be a door there?”

“Yep.” Fuck. I know damn well there’s supposed to be a door here.

Shit. They’re right. That’s why the lights are all wonky, I never flipped a switch to turn on that fan in the workshop or to turn on a light. This isn’t real. It’s like a lucid dream. And, hang on, what did I say about the lights?

As if on cue, a concrete wall materialized between him and the girls. Uh oh. A quick look to his left and right revealed more impassive concrete wall. He spun around just to cover all the bases. A pale, naked man stood before him. Don’t look at the crotch, don’t look at the crotch. Even though the lights had dimmed quite a bit, Rob could barely make out the man’s features.

His face is… blurred. A bare, rounded stump for a nose, colorless eyes, protrusions shaped like ear silhouettes on the sides of his head, and no hair. And no mouth. Your power did a number on you, you poor bastard. His head cocked to the side at a relatively extreme angle, as if he couldn’t get it upright. Oh joy, I’m in a motherfucking horror movie.

Rob couldn’t make out any distinguishing marks on the man, either. No tattoos or freckles. The skin was absolutely smooth, with the color of sour milk. The man, John Doe if the girls were to be believed, raised his arm in the general direction of Rob. He blurred every time Rob tried to get a better look at him. Are there fingers at the end of that arm? I can’t tell.

They stood like that for maybe a minute without motion, until Rob said, “Me?” Fuck it, let’s see if he understands human speech anymore.

The head twitched in the semblance of a nod. To John Doe’s right and left, images appeared, flickering in and out.

They were things from Rob’s memories, more specifically ones attached to his old team. The original meeting when they’d finally finished construction and Rob passed out the keys he’d slaved over for a week. That time he and Sean had walked in on Bri and Jimmy on Jimmy’s enormous beanbag. No one could meet each other’s eyes for a week after that. And I refuse to sit in that thing now. The one time they’d found an injured stray dog and debated whether to keep it or not for an hour before finally giving it up to a good shelter. What did we call him? Ranger or something equally generic. Can’t believe no one else wanted to call him Crushinator or something.

Rob shook his head to snap out of it. “How do you know these things?” he asked. A single close up of a twitching bloodshot eye, completely unattached to anything else, appeared.

“You watched?” A nod/twitch thing. “In my brain, right?” he asked, tapping the side of his head. Another nod. Really confused for a second.

Another silent moment. “What do you want?”

The memories resumed, taking the place of the eye. Rob couldn’t distinguish between them except by their familiarity. What is he saying?

“You want me to stay here.” No reaction. “You want me to want to stay here.” A nod. Living here, thinking everything is alright, everything is back to normal and just the way I want it. Living in a lie.

“I only got one thing to say to that,” said Rob, staring directly at John Doe. The intensity of the images lessened a bit. Lying son of a bitch. “Shotgun!” he yelled as he lifted the aforementioned weapon and fired directly into John Doe’s face.

The images, and John Doe himself, vanished. Fuck. How dare I think that’d work? The surounding walls disappeared a moment later.

“Rob!” Something hit him from behind, squeezing the air from his lungs. This did not help the sudden, incredibly intense headache.

He managed something along the lines of, “Aaaaaaggghhhahahag.”

“Olivia!”

“Right. Sorry.” She released Rob, who nearly collapsed. He caught himself on the wall.

“Owwww. Brain.”

“Give him some space,” said Miya.

“Sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Like the flamin’ penis of Satan himself,” Rob groaned. Fuck, this hurts.

A minute later, after the headache subsided enough for him to form a coherent though, he said, “Ow. I was just force fed all the crap I’d forgotten earlier.” I looped about three times. This last time I spent an hour just cleaning the gun over and over.

“What the hell happened with the walls?” asked Miya.

“That didn’t happen to you? I thought you two were the experts on this.”

“No. We were just standing there when the lights got all screwy like any good horror movie, then the wall between you and us just popped up out of nowhere.”

“Right.,” he said. He looked around at the all-to-familiar base. “Gotta get outta here.”

“Wait, are you looking for a physical way out, like a door?” asked Miya. “There won’t be one.”

Like hell I’m going to bend over and take this. “I know this place like the back of my hand. If there’s a way out, I’ll find it.”

He patrolled the whole area, checking every possible escape route he knew of, and a few he didn’t. This isn’t exactly my old place, John might have fucked up and left a way out somewhere. The two backup exits were in the same condition as the main entrance: a clean sheet of concrete where the door should have been. The escape routes he’d put in his workshop and every bedroom were also gone. The air ducts let nowhere, and weren’t big enough for most people to fit through anyways. He ended his search in the living room.

“Fine, you’re right,” he conceded. He crashed on the couch. His shotgun he placed on the coffee table before him, barrel pointed away from anyone.

Miya took the reclining chair, and Olivia threw herself backwards onto the beanbag. Wait, no. I don’t think Jimmy ever washed that. Olivia settled further into the beanbag, presumably enjoying the fact there were no wings sticking out of her back while it lasted. God damn it. I’m just not going to say anything.

“That never happened to any of us,” said Miya, looking over her shoulder.

“Well fuck.” Rob thought back to before he found himself in his old base. They were in the lair, they’d thought Miya had been taken, he’d been gathering weapons, then something black and shadowy jumped out at him, then here. He got Ben, too, if what Miya and Olivia said was right. They seemed certain of it, though they don’t have any idea why he’s not here too. Bastard, we have no clue how his power works.

“Maybe…” began Miya. “Maybe he can concentrate more on fewer people.”

“Hm?” Olivia sat up a bit. She’s looking over her shoulder a bit too.

“He had six of us. I got out, and now Ben and Olivia too. Now he only has three, now two, people to control. He’s not as spread out. This place was a bit more consistent than the place I started out at.”

“Yeah. Where did you start out at, anyways?” asked Rob.

“None of your business,” she said with the air of having explained it several times.

“Come on. You told me about Olivia’s place, and Ben’s place,” Which I need to talk to him about later. “And my place. What’s wrong with yours?”

“Because,” she began heated. She stopped and took a deep breath. “I’d rather not say. That’s all. Please drop it.”

He shrugged. “Fine. Whatever. We got a game plan?”

Miya tried to exchange a glance with Olivia, who simply said, “Find the others.”

Rob grinned. “Let’s do it.”

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

John Doe – Mask

“Did we break her?” asked Ben, off to Olivia’s left. He poked her in the cheek, failing to provoke any sort of reaction out of her.

“Leave her alone,” said Miya, who still wore that face concealing scarf for some reason.

“She hasn’t said a thing since the brain aneurysm thingy. Tha’ sucked, by the way, never told ya earlier. Same for you?” he asked Miya. Head still hurts a bit from that.

“Yes, and she’s not going to get any better if you keep harassing her. Leave her alone,” commanded Miya. They had the headache thing too?

“I’m still here,” murmured Olivia, eyes fixed firmly on her knees. She still sat on the top of the table. Ben had caught her from falling off when the brain thing happened.

“Wha’ was that?” asked Ben.

“I’m still here,” repeated Olivia, about one quarter of a decibel louder than before.

“Ah. See, Miya? Improvement.”

“Are you alright, Olivia?” asked Miya, taking a step closer.

Olivia closed her eyes for a moment. I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember how I got here or what had happened again. Again. How could I have not realized that? Stupid me. And get a grip, the others are here. Don’t cry or waste their time or anything.

“I’m OK,” said Olivia.

Ben gave a disbelieving snort. “Bullshit.”

“Shut up,” barked Miya. Please stop. Both of you.

“I’m OK,” insisted Olivia. At least I’m not bleeding or anything. Find a bright side. “I’m… I’m fine.”

“I don’ think you’re bein’ entirely honest ‘bout all this,” said Ben.

“I’m stupid, OK? I thought it was real,” burst Olivia. “I thought it was real and I didn’t question it and I didn’t want it to end and I couldn’t remember how it happened and I didn’t care. Sorry.” Stupid, stupid, stupid. And the others from the lair are still gone and I have no idea where they are.

“The hell is wrong with you, Ben?” asked Miya before Olivia could finish. “Look at what you did. Why do you keep harassing her about this?” She advanced on Ben.

“Curiosity. Honesty. I dunno.” He didn’t smile anymore.

“It’s OK,” Olivia tried to say.

“You need to just stop talking,” Miya continued to Ben. Please stop.

“Yeah, I’m jus’ gonna ignore that. Now fuck off,” said Ben, lifting a hand over Miya’s head and making a shoo-ing motion. He got a swift punch to the gut as a result. Miya!

Miya followed up with a blow aimed at the underside of Ben’s chin. As he flinched from the punch to the stomach, he tilted his head so her second punch landed directly on the ridge of his jaw, rather than ruining his mouth.

His shoo-ing hand snapped down to grab Miya’s hair at the same time. He wrenched her head back and his other hand shot forward in a punch to her throat. He stepped forward and swept her leg quicker than Miya had time to react. Miya turned and fell on her back, and Ben snapped a kick to her ribs.

What… stop it. Just stop it. Less thinking, more stopping. Olivia jumped down from the table.

“My tolerance for that kinda bullshit is real fuckin’ low right now,” he shouted down at Miya, still not smiling.

He wound up for another kick when Olivia lowered her shoulder and hit him in the side. She only meant to distract him, to get him to stop, but she hit him hard enough to make him trip over his own feet and topple over. Oops.

Olivia placed herself between the two of them, feet planted wide, bracing. “Stop it, both of you.”

Ben rolled and began to get up, pausing to spit some blood and saliva off to the side before jumping back upright. Don’t do something stupid, don’t do something stupid.

“She started it,” he said as he pointed to Miya.

Olivia half turned to check on Miya. Miya sat upright, massaging her throat. It sounded like she was deliberately breathing to make sure air passed through correctly. Doesn’t sound like she’s wheezing or anything.

“I don’t care. What are you two even doing?”

“Did you,” began Miya in a rasp. She coughed, then continued in a clearer voice. “Did you hear him? He was being a complete ass.”

“I’m fine. I told you. Please, just stop,” said Olivia. “This isn’t helping.” Please listen.

“Fine, whatever,” said Ben, one corner of his mouth curving upwards in a half smile. He began a slow walk back to the table, not taking his eyes off her or Miya..

Olivia turned her attention back on Miya. She offered a hand to help her back up. “Are you OK?” asked Olivia.

“Been worse. I’ll live,” she responded, accepting Olivia’s help. “And you,” she added to Ben, “Fuck you.”

Olivia tightened her grip on Miya’s hand as she pulled her up and said, “No. I said stop.” Listen. Why won’t you listen? Please listen.

Miya winced under her scarf (Why is she wearing that? Should I ask?) and said, “Ow, OK. Fine.” Sorry about that. But still, both of you are really short tempered all of a sudden.

Miya and Ben sat on opposite sides of the table and glared; Olivia half expect the air between the two to catch fire. Olivia gave a long sigh as she took a seat. I didn’t realize I was kind of holding my breath that whole time. She leaned back in the chair and hung her head. Well that was a distraction if nothing else.

They sat in silence for a while, no one knowing what to say. This isn’t real. None of it is. Everything still sounds like I have a blanket over my ears, only super thick blankets. She’d pressed what she’d used as blankets against her ears a few times in the week she’d first woken up.

She twiddled with the hem of her shirt again. The fabric feels all… fabric-y. Claws can’t really feel anything. Or scales, to a lesser extent. Never noticed that before. But this isn’t me. It’s just some weird illusion thing, not real.

“Gaaah! We need to find a way outta here,” exclaimed Ben, breaking Olivia’s train of thought.

“Yeah, no shit,” said Miya.

Olivia sighed and rested her forehead on the tabletop. Please stop it. That’s becoming my mantra isn’t it?

“See?” said Ben to Miya. “Look at what ya did. Olivia, jus’ remember, no matter what happens, you’ll always be taller than Miya.” Olivia gave a tiny smiled in spite of herself. That was kind of forced, but yeah, she is kind of short. Miya rolled her eyes, but said nothing.

Olivia sat upright again. “Sorry. For, you know, hitting you.” I mean, if this gets you two to stop fighting, I’ll take it.

He blinked. “S’alright.” He stuck his tongue out at Miya.

“What?” exclaimed Miya.

“I didn’t hit you,” explained Olivia. She narrowed her eyes at Ben, who grinned wide. You know what you did. He glanced at Miya. Olivia glared at her too, for good measure. You too.

“If I literally had an olive branch, I’d give it to ya. A figurative one OK?” said Ben.

Miya said, “Let’s just focus on getting out of here.” Good enough. Olivia relaxed.

“OK, let’s start at the beginnin’. Where is here?” asked Ben. “So far as I can tell this is some sorta mental construct place.”

“Yeah, based on stuff out of our own memories, at least where we started,” said Miya. Hey, they can pretend civility. Yay.

“So who’s causin’ it?” asked Ben. “Shadow fella?”

“That’s what my golem saw.”

“Wait,” said Olivia. “I, um, I think I might have seen him before. Not here. No, not here, here, real here. Um, and before. If that made sense.” And I didn’t say anything about it. Because I’m an idiot.

“What do ya mean?” asked Ben.

“I think I’ve seen the shadow guy before. The first time was… a couple days after I first met you… I think. He only popped up for a couple seconds on a rooftop. But I think I saw him a few other times since then. Um, sorry. I mean… I didn’t mention it before. Sorry.”

“Ain’t nothin’ to say sorry for. I wouldn’t have believed ya if ya said there was some guy watchin’ ya that no one else saw, an’ who did nothin’ over the course of a month or so. Hell, it’s almost the middle of June now, jus’ realized.”

“Oh, this was some dark figure that vanishes once you try to look at him, right?” asked Miya. You too?

“Yeah. That’s… that’s exactly it,” replied Olivia.

“I might’ve seen him before, at that animal smuggling place. I thought he was just a trick of light or something.”

“Oh, fuck,” said Ben, smacking himself in the forehead. “This fucker John Doe?”

Olivia glanced at Miya, whose eyebrows had nearly formed a unibrow in confusion. She cocked her head to the side.

Ben glanced between the two of them. “John Doe’s an old urban legend from around here. Lemme think.” He drummed his fist against his forehead as he squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

“OK. I think the story goes like this: Back in the seventies or somethin’, there was a murdered guy. No one knew him, came outta nowhere, but Johnny Law found his fresh corpse on the side of a road real enough. Middle age dude, shaved head, no tattoos or somethin’ to identify him. Dental records got nowhere fast. Guy was a fuckin’ ghost. Couldn’t figure out how he died, no injuries or poison traces or anythin’, but clinically dead. Cops were lookin’ for any kind of lead, when three days after they found him he vanished from the morgue. Not a single trace.”

“Well, um, why is he called John Doe?” asked Olivia.

“That’s just what they call any unidentified bodies. Women are Jane Doe,” explained Miya. Well that’s appropriate for this guy.

“Yeah. So when I say there was no trace of the body, there was nothin’. No body bag they were storin’ him in, no scraps of hair or tissue, nothin’. Records of the body, eyewitnesses remembered him though. Everyone started pointin’ fingers, cryin’ foul play, never got anywhere past that. This was right after the Gülmer invasion in the seventies, an’ the cops had bigger problems on their hands than one dead dude who wasn’t causin’ any problems at the moment.”

“So a week or so later, people started dissapearin’. No trace, trail would go cold at some random point. Sometimes between work, sometimes from their bed, no pattern. This got to the point where people got scared, an’ conspiracies started comin’ out. Maybe twenty disappearances in the course of the two months. Some journalist made the connection with the vanished John Doe and the missin’ people, an’ the name stuck. Then, after the two months the vanishin’s stopped.” This is kind of creepy.

“Police looked into it again, this time they actually cared. Still nothin’ because what kinda story you think this is? Things were quiet, but every now an’ then since then, someone drops off the face of the earth in Westward, an’ some conspiracy folks point to John Doe.”

“So how do we know this is because of him?” asked Miya.

“Right. Yeah. One of the main rumors says he’s a sort of super. Teleportation an’ light manipulation. Tha’ fits with what you’ve said, but that theory goes on to say he eats the corpses an’ scatters the bones and stuff all over to cover the tracks. Kinda falls apart there, unless we’re in the afterlife right now, but I ain’t gettin’ a blowjob from God right now, so I don’ think tha’s it.” Blowjob?

“Maybe he has a third power,” said Miya. “Maybe a personal physical power as well, if he’s a particularly lively corpse.”

“Yeah, so maybe,” began Ben, a thoughtful look on his face. “Maybe he’s trapped us in our own minds. With a power or somethin’.”

“Why?” asked Olivia. Why us? Just for fun?

“I… don’ know,” said Ben.

“Let’s think this through,” said Miya. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but we started out trapped in our own mental constructs.”

“Yeah, I’m guessin’ we’re lookin’ like how we imagine ourselves to be.” He met Miya’s furious eyes (Miya, what’s under the scarf?) and continued, “An’ tha’s the last I’ll say on that, but tha’ points to this bein’ more based on our minds than his, or a pocket dimension he controls.”

“Why would he do this? What does he gain from doing this?” Miya asked the group at large.

“We all have powers. Maybe that?” said Ben.

“Depends. Who were the people who was abducting before?” asked Miya.

“Hrm. Well, I don’ think there was any pattern behind the disappearances. Tha’ kinda thing woulda been noted. Never mind ‘bout the power thing.”

“How do you know this?” asked Olivia.

“Yeah, never heard of this before,” added Miya. Yay, they seem to have forgotten their malice. Or are just putting it aside for later. Either works.

“Internet. Talkin’ to people. I’ve worked in food a lot, you pick up stuff from customers or lifers workin’ there.” Lifers? Whatever, ask later. If it were relevant, he would have said. Probably.

“Alright, it’s not an obvious trend. Maybe we just got unlucky? We were in the wrong place at the wrong time and he just picked us off?” said Miya.

“Tha’s a possibility,” said Ben. “Maybe the others will be able to do somethin’ on the outside.”

“Um…” began Olivia. Rob, Chris, and Amanda. They’re in trouble too. “The others. I… kind of saw them get… taken by him.”

“Wait, everyone?” asked Ben. Olivia nodded. He smiled. “Of course. Why would I expect anythin’ less?”

“We thought he got you as you were flying back, same as Ben,” said Miya. “You saw him?”

“Sorry. No. Well, kind of. Um… I never got a good look at him. Everyone kept vanishing when our backs were turned.” That was scary. That was really scary. At least we can find them again. They’re not gone.

“Don’ know how he did it?” asked Ben.

“No. Sorry.”

“Well, we know he can’t fly, or imitate flyin’ with his power,” said Ben.

“What makes you say that?” asked Miya.

“Woulda nabbed Olivia en route like me if he coulda. Less people to deal with if she’s on her own up in the air.”

“OK. But that still doesn’t help us figure out why we’re in here right now,” said Miya.

“Hey, jus’ throwin’ out as much info as possible,” said Ben. No, no, not again you two.

Miya looked like she was about to say something then changed her mind. After a second or two she said, “Fine. But so far the best thing we’ve got is random, but that’s not right if he’s been stalking Olivia for a month.” That’s really creepy, now that she’s said it like that.

“Stalkin’, right,” said Ben. He pointed at her and Miya. “Right. He was observin’. He was lookin’ for somethin’. An’ ya know what I noticed between me an’ Olivia’s places? It wasn’t a place we’d wanna leave. Each tailored for ya. Lookin’ back, I was kinda goin’ through mental hoops to convince myself it was real.”

“Yeah, you remember the resets?” asked Miya. Yeah, those weren’t fun.

Olivia nodded as Ben said, “Yeah. Every… every time I started questionin’ if it was real, reset.” Yeah, that… that sounds like what I did. “Same with you, Miya?”

Miya nodded, adding no further detail. Ben continued, “So maybe he was lookin’ for people who wouldn’t fight it so hard. I mighta looped continuously ‘til Miya popped in. I knew somethin’ was wrong, jus’ couldn’t think straight long enough to figure it out.” What happened to Miya? What happened to Ben, for that matter? “An’ it took us a bit for you to come around,” he said, pointing to Olivia.

“Yeah,” said Olivia. Sorry.

“So it is possible to fight him, even here,” said Miya. “His control isn’t complete. How did we wind up in other peoples’ heads though?”

“He’s connectin’ us? I dunno.”

“So he could be watching us now?” asked Olivia. Creepy, creepy, creepy. She resisted the urge to turn around to look for some sort of boogeyman behind her.

Ben and Miya stopped. Ben eventually said, “Yep. Didn’t think about that.”

“So he knows… we know… he knows. Now. Maybe,” said Olivia. That made more sense in my head, I swear.

“Yep,” said Ben.

“We need to figure out why he’s doing this, too,” said Miya.

“Why?” asked Ben.

“Because it could be helpful,” responded Miya

“We could jus’ spend the time workin’ on how to get out.”

“What if it helps us get out?” asked Miya.

“What if it don’?” retorted Ben.

“You have no way of knowing that.”

“Neither do you,” he said with a grin. Both were at the edges of their seats now, voices getting heated.

“Guys, please stop,” pleaded Olivia.

They didn’t hear her. “I’m not the one grinning at everything like it’s some kind of joke.”

“Yeah. It’s kinda funny if ya think about it. An’ at least I’m honest about what my thing was. You ain’t contributin’ much on that front.” They’re not listening again. Olivia folded her arms on the table and buried her face in them.

“I’m not fucking talking about that, especially with you.”

They’re not going to let it go. They’re going to just keep going at it. They’re just going to fight, and I can’t get them to stop. I can’t get them to listen. And I can’t get them to stop, and the others are still going through whatever illusions this guy has for them, and I think I’m crying, and my memory is easily manipulated, and I’m still just a weird stupid monster thing once we get out, if we get out, and…

“Hey, hey, hey,” said Ben from next to her. “I have no clue what to say now,” he muttered under his breath. Welcome to my world. “It’ll be alright. Probably.”

“Probably?” asked Miya. “Really.”

“Bein’ honest. An’ you really wanna play the blame game right now?”

“Fine.” They’re… they’re not fighting?

“We’ll figure out a way out,” said Ben. “Don’ break down now.” Right. Just… just get up. Olivia wiped her eyes on her forearm, then sat back up. Ben was down on one knee next to her.

“S-sorry,” she murmured.

“You sure you’re alright?” asked Miya with crossed arms from Olivia’s other side.

“Yeah. I’m better.” Get it together, get it together.

“Good. Besides, gotta find the others an’ get them out, too,” said Ben.

“That’s a good point, actually. Where are we really?” asked Miya, retaking her seat.

“Hrm?” I’m with Ben on this one? What do you mean?

“Where are we physically at right now? Are we just lying on the side of the road, unconscious while we run around in circles in our own heads?”

“I don’ like that idea. It’s a good point, but I’m not likin’ it,” said Ben, leaning back in his chair.

“Well, no,” said Olivia. They both snapped their attention to her. “I mean, um, the others… when he was in the lair… you know… attacking. They just vanished. I couldn’t hear them… or… you know, smell them or anything. They were just gone. Couldn’t see them. He… um… got me last… so… yeah.” She trailed off. I know, I’m weird.

“Alright, so, wait!” said Miya. “Didn’t you say this guy had light manipulation?” she asked Ben.

“Yeah, but this was rumor, mind you.”

“Um…” began Olivia. I think I’m right in this. “I don’t think light affects sound or smell.”

Miya sighed. Sorry. “You’re right. So what, did we get absorbed into him somehow? Why would he be jerking us around in our minds then? What does he get from it?”

“Well, we don’ even know if he pulls us in physically,” said Ben.

“You got a better explanation?” asked Miya, leaning forward.

Ben thought for a moment, eyes unfocusing a little as he stared off at a point over Miya’s head. He shook his head slightly, like a dog shaking off water. “Nope, carry on.”

“So what does he get from this?” asked Miya. “Does he enjoy headgames? Is he eating us like a Venus flytrap and keeping our minds occupied so… we don’t… struggle…” What is this about eating us? That’s bad.

“The fuck kinda power is that?” asked Ben. “Ya get some weird ones, but tha’s at the top of the list.”

“Maybe it’s not a physical consumption. Maybe it’s heat or mental… stuff. He could’ve teleported us anywhere, keep in mind. We have no real idea what his power is. This is all guesswork,” said Miya.

“Heat? He could go to any heated buildin’ or factory to get that.”

“I’m just throwing ideas out there. Just an example.”

“OK, OK. Jus’ wonderin’,” said Ben, half raising his hands in the air in mock surrender. “But a real question for you two now: why hasn’t he stopped us yet?” He smiled a bit. “My thinkin’ is that he doesn’t ‘ave complete control over us. He reset whenever we started questionin’ if it was real. But once we came to the realization, no reset. It might not be a conscious thing on his part. Powers are easier fooled than people. We have this mental image of ourselves, an’ this place in our heads that we don’ wanna leave, maybe it’s good enough he puts it on autopilot or somethin’.”

His attention had been flipping between Miya and Olivia; he ended on Olivia, who nodded along. I guess that makes sense. She glanced at Miya, staring off into space. “Miya?” she said.

Miya’s eyes refocused. “Hm. Oh yeah, that makes sense.” Are you OK?

“Now, how do we get out of here?” asked Ben.

***

Olivia poked her head around the corner. Nothing more than a concrete corridor. I know I hear something. The mechanical grinding noise got louder as her and Miya progressed.

“You sure about this, Olivia?” asked Miya.

“Yeah. Chris or Rob has to be in here,” replied Olivia. I’m still worried about where Ben wound up.

“I’ve never seen this place before.”

“So?” I closed my eyes and he’d vanished. Just like in the lair. Except I was someplace different as well. At least Miya’s with me. And we both wound up in chairs, too.

They’d found themselves in what appeared to be a concrete bunker. The color of the concrete shifted between different sections, with the occasional bit of sheet metal over random patches of wall, but the place otherwise seemed structurally sound. As far as I know. And I don’t know anything about architecture, so I’d take that with a grain of salt.

“I don’t like underground concrete bases like this.”

“Why?”

“Because, you know… let’s just move on.” Odd.

They passed an open door. Out of curiosity, Olivia looked inside. A stereotypical bedroom. A bed, desk, a shelf full of knickknacks. Behind her, Miya stood on her toes to get a good look over her head. Yay, I don’t have wings to brush up against the roof.

Olivia kept walking, Miya following a few moments after. “You didn’t notice anything strange about that room?” asked Miya.

“No, why? What was it?” What did I miss?

“Never mind,” said Miya. She pointed, “That room, I hear it too now.” How did you not hear it before?

Light flickered from a partially open door, accompanied by more grinding noises. Olivia ran the rest of the way. She pushed open the door and came to a stop on the inside. Rob hunched over a workbench, facing her. On it lay a mask, the same kind he and Skulker wore. He pushed a tool of some kind off to the side, then took a rag and started rubbing at the forehead, making it shine under the single fluorescent light on the ceiling. Miya joined her at the door a second later.

“Hi, Rob,” said Olivia.

Rob took in the two of them for a long moment, face impassive. He jerked his head towards the way they’d come in. “Out,” he said.

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

John Doe – Bad Alcohol

Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Good to be back. He kicked off his shoes and headed for the kitchen. They left all the lights on, apparently. He opened the fridge and browsed the selection of food within. Apple, sure. He peeled off the sticker, threw it in the trash, then hopped up on the counter, and began munching. About three bites in, he jumped back down to the floor. Mom hates it when we sit on the counters. Forgot about that.

He walked along the thick carpet in the living room and plopped down on the dark blue couch, across from the small flat screen TV they rarely used anymore. Rob took the Xbox with him. Insert snobby PC superiority comment here. Another substantial chunk of apple gone, the juicy crunch of his bite breaking the silence of the apartment. He stretched out on the couch in the meantime.

Mom and dad should be back by tonight from their little second honeymoon. Definitely need to wait for them. Rob and Sam should get here by tomorrow or so. Got nothing else to do right now. He finished off the apple. Need something to do. He wriggled on the couch, angling so that he could pull his phone out of his pocket.

Did I throw away that apple core? I think I did. He scrolled through the various updates and memes of the day. This got old after about ten minutes, or twenty, or thirty. He lost count at some point. How much time he felt had passed and what the clock said seemed like two completely separate things. He looked up at the various wall decorations, the old Pakistani rug dad had brought home, the two lighthouse paintings mom favored, and that was it for the walls.

Need something to do. He pushed himself out of the cushions of the brown couch, stood with purpose, then promptly forgot why he stood in the first place. Need something to do, right. Dad’s birthday gift shouldn’t arrive for another couple days. Ben walked back into the kitchen, opening various cupboards. Got enough food, dishes are all clean. Damn. He shut the last door, the rattling of the bowls the only sound in the apartment. Or was it cups? Whatever.

May as well check on the old room, see if there’s any evidence of dad’s claims that they’re renting it out to a hobo while we’re gone. A quick five steps down the hall between the living room and the kitchen later, and he poked his head in the mostly empty room, with the bunk bed and normal bed pushed against the wall. Nothing else in here?

Crap, left my stuff in the car. He turned around and began fishing his keys out of his other pocket as he walked. He came to the door right as he got the keys out. Except… He stared at the blank expanse of wall where the door should have been. Where the fuck is the door? Why the hell-

***

Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Good to be back. He kicked off his shoes and headed for the kitchen. He opened the fridge and browsed the selection of food within. Apple, sure. He peeled off the sticker, threw it in the trash, and hopped up on the counter and began munching. About three bites in, jumped back down to the floor. Mom hates it when we sit on the counters. Forgot about that.

He paced until he finished his apple. Need something to do. From what I can tell, everything’s covered for the party, though. Cake was in the fridge, presents for dad are incoming, can’t think of anything else. He pulled out and twirled his keys around his finger as he continued to pace.

Just need to wait for the rest of the family to get here. Just want to see dad again, now that he’s finally retired from the Marines. But this is still boring, and I’ve only been here for about ten minutes. Or has it been thirty? Whatever.

May as well check on those plants mom keeps by the window sill. Those bulb things with water in them are cool and all, but then mom keeps forgetting about them. He entered the living room. Huh. Could have sworn there was a window in here. Their room, maybe? I know she doesn’t trust the three of us to keep a thing alive.

He poked his head into the master bedroom. Queen sized bed, a dresser with a large attached mirror for mom’s various accessories (or whatever they’re called), a sizable painting of a mountain background over the bed. No window in here, either. Bathroom? No window.

This is weird. I don’t remember there being no windows in here. Hell, how long have they even had this place? He poked his head into his old bedroom, the one he had shared with his brothers. Beds, a desk, my backpack, and no fucking window. The hell?

He ducked back out to the hallway and scratched the back of his head. I do not remember the no window thing. That is definitely not right. I can’t remember how I got here, actually. Hell, I can’t even remember-

***

Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Good to be back. He kicked off his shoes and headed for the kitchen. He opened the fridge and browsed the selection of food within, though he closed the door a minute later. Too quiet right now.

He bounced on his toes for a bit, first considering crashing on the dark red couch in the living room, then at the dining table. Waiting for dad. Just gotta wait for dad. And mom, her too. He drummed his hands against a nearby countertop, a rapid beat that could’ve belonged in any rock song.

Need something to do. It’s too quiet here. No cars or neighbors or anything. He eyed the empty bottles on the counter in the corner. He sighed. Mom been drinking again? I thought she got over that… when? She never got over that. Wait, she did. Last year? Last time dad got back? Ben shook his head, willing the cloudiness to go away and the memories to return.

Dad… came back? When? That doesn’t seem right… don’t know why. But I’m waiting for him right now. So why can’t I remember-

***

Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Good to be back. He began the process of kicking off his shoes, then something stopped him. I’ve done this before. Maybe. He moved on, not bothering to remove his shoes.

Gotta wait for dad. Gotta wait for Sam. Gotta wait for Rob. Just gotta wait. Just a bit longer. He passed by the cracked wall where that red and white lighthouse picture used to hang. I need something to do. Hell, what am I doing? Not here, in general. This is Maryland. But… I was living in Colorado. No, I am living in Colorado. Last thing I remember, Rob was talking about Bri the day before she visited. Then… what-

***

Ben entered the apartment, door shut firm behind him. Home sweet fucking home. He kicked an empty bottle out of the way as he worked his way inwards. Half these lights need changing. The fuck is mom doing? The hell is dad doing? Why are me, Sam, and Rob even bothering coming here? An aluminum beer can crunched under his foot. He spat and kept walking.

A couple thuds came from his old room. He went into defensive mode, hands up to protect from or punch whatever made that noise. I know damn well I’m the only one here. No hello or hug from dad, no slurred retardation from mom? No one else here but me that belongs in here.

“Ahh. Fuck,” came a ragged but familiar voice.

He stopped by the door. I know that voice from somewhere. He went in, then stopped.

Miya pulled herself up from the floor with the help of the nearby bunk bed, facing Ben. That’s not what made him stop.

A good half of her face on the left side was gone. Blown off, more accurately. Fractured, exposed jawbone. A couple teeth. Flayed bits of cheek. While not pouring blood like Ben would’ve expected an injury like that to, some still seeped from exactly where he expected. Namely everywhere.

She pressed a hand and the tattered remains of a tank top to the left side of her stomach as well. More blood there, too. He didn’t look too closely. Even her left leg bled, from a presumably similar grievous injury.

This sure as fuck ain’t real. But fuck it, she needs help. Nah, she need a hospital, not that little first aid- His thoughts were scrambled as what felt like the flaming penis of Satan himself came up from hell and directly into Ben’s brain.

“Shit, fuck, cock, ass, bitch,” he managed as he stumbled forward, barely catching himself on the floor. After a second, the pain began to recede. Slightly.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” he continued, in the hopes that it would make the pain lessen by any noticeable degree. It did, but that was probably more due to the passage of time than anything on his part.

By the time he could gather his thoughts, Miya was standing again. Right. Get up and quit your bitching. He grimaced and pushed himself up to his feet, noting the thin sheen of sweat on his arms. And, from how cold it was all of a sudden, the rest of himself too.

He looked back up at Miya, staring at him. “The fuck was that? How the fuck you get in here? I thought I was waitin’ for…” No. No, no, no, no, no. “Fuck.” He turned away.

I thought dad was still alive. I thought he was still alive for whatever reason, and the whole family was back together. He tapped his head against the doorframe. Idiot. He’s still dead. Another tap, a little harder. Idiot. Some fucker brought in my fucking family against me. In my own mind. I’m surprised they didn’t use Heather and that cage while they were at it. FUCK. He slammed his fist into the wall.

The wall did not care. His knuckles might have been bleeding, they hurt enough. A cough from behind him. Right, an audience. He faced Miya and pointed. “Answers. Now.”

She’d taken a seat at the edge of the bed, head hanging low. “Don’t know,” she rasped. She turned her head so that the right side face him and stared off to the side.

“Not fuckin’ good enough. I’m rememberin’ some shit now, an’ it ain’t good shit, lookin’ back. Somethin’s makin’ this lie, an’ I wanna know how to shoot it fulla bullets ‘til it’s dead.”

“You think I’m not in the same boat?” asked Miya, half turning her head until she stopped herself. “Fucking look at me. I should be dead at this point, so this obviously isn’t real.”

He pressed his non-bleeding fist against the wall, rather than punching it. Take a step back. “How did you even get in here?”

“Don’t know.”

“How did you even get free of the mind control stuff goin’ on?”

“Don’t know.”

He sighed and rolled his eyes. “What do ya know?” he asked.

“Same as you,” she replied.

“So nothin’?”

“Yep.” He sighed again. “Look, I’m sorry, alright?” she burst out. “You aren’t the only one going through hell right now.” Defuse, defuse.

“S’all right but wha’ happened to ya?” She glared. “Hey, half your face looks like a hamburger. Ya can’t jus’ not explain that. Surprised you ain’t screamin’ in pain right now.” So much for the defusing bit.

“Not your fucking business,” she spat.

Don’t punch her in the stomach, no matter how tempting. No idea if that will kill her or what. I know I don’t want to talk to her about this place. “Fine, whatever,” he said, throwing up his hands. “But you’re in my fuckin’ brain right now, keep that in mind.”

She looked around the blank room. “This is it?”

“There’s more, don’ worry,” he said. “Come on.” He led the way out.

They sat down at the dining room table. Miya made sure that the shredded part of her face pointed away from him the whole time. Idea.

“Gimme a sec,” he said, getting back up and running off to his parents’ room. I remember remembering that there was something in here. There it is, that old scarf non-existent dad brought back. Fuck it. He grabbed the somewhat musty red scarf and returned.

He passed it to her and sat down again. “Ya look super self-conscious. Can wrap that around yer head if ya want.”

She nodded and did so, leaving only her eyes exposed. There’s probably a better way to do that than with a simple knot, but whatever.

“Ya good?” he asked. She nodded again. “Alright, let’s compare notes. Last thing you remember before all this?” He pointed and twirled his finger.

She closed her eyes and looked down at the table for a moment. “I… I think I was out back, behind the lair. I was trying to get this one carving to work, when my golem saw some shadow guy. I jumped up, then… I was… someplace else. And… how about you?”

Well,” he began, leaning in his chair on the rear two legs. “I took a nap, the day after Bri left. Same as you, yeah?”

Miya nodded, so he continued. “Olivia asked me to help her out with her old place, make sure there was nothin’ left there. We went, got some of her old stuff, an’ left. Nothin’ happened there. We got food, ate it on a roof, an’… headed back. Last thing I remember was runnin’ on the street at… about midnight, I’d say. Never saw a shadow guy though. Well, might have, it was dark.”

“Sounds like he grabbed us at about the same time then,” said Miya.

“Alright, think he got the others?”

“Why would he have? I can understand him just grabbing people off the street, we were just unlucky. We’re in a city full of people, he has options if he’s breaking and entering.”

Why us indeed. He chuckled. This is stupid. This is so goddamn stupid. He started laughing. Kinda funny, actually. He couldn’t stop laughing. Miya stared at him as if he’d lost his mind.

“Ben…?” she asked cautiously, on the edge of her seat.

“This is,” he managed between laughs. “This is so stupid. We have no clue what’s goin’ on. We don’ know who this guy is or what he wants or how he’s doin’ all this, an’ we can theorize all day an’ put our best logic behind it an’ still be stupidly fuckin’ wrong. Think of any question, any question at all, an’ the answer is ‘fuck if I know’!”

“This is serious,” scolded Miya as he composed himself again. How is this not funny to you?

“No, this is stupid. Come on,” he replied.

“He might have gotten Olivia first or something,” commented Miya.

“Aright. So, how’d you find me, then?”

“I don’t,” began Miya. “Let me think.” She went silent for a minute. “I was… trying to figure out how to get out. Like, think of any way to get out of where I was. I… kind of panicked, and it was a bit of a blur. Sorry.” Are you really feeling the gaping holes in you right now?

She caught his glance at her side and leg. “Painkillers,” she said, inviting no more comments on the matter.

“Alright. So we jus’ gotta… what? Think about it? Tha’s stupid.”

“You just said this whole situation is stupid. Which I kind of agree with now, actually.”

He laughed. Fuck it. Why not? Let’s just think about pretty fucking rainbows and quadricorns while we’re at it. The hell? Am I supposed to be concentrating on something? A concept or a physical thing?

Cars. Fuck it. Why not? Cars go places. As places is plural, that includes not here. Cars, cars, cars. Cars go fast on a road and have tires and I’m wasting my fucking time. And sometimes they break down and-

***

Suddenly, Ben found himself above a different table, still in the same sitting position. With nothing to support him, he fell back. He reflexively rolled to avoid smacking his head on the concrete below him as he fell off the side.

Miya had appeared sitting in a chair around the table Ben fell off of, and leaned over about an inch out of the way of his fall.

She snickered as he climbed to his feet and said, “Sucks to suck.”

I think I pulled that off rather well, considering the circumstances. Miya got up from her chair and helped him to his feet.

Before he could take in the surroundings, someone said “What was- hi, guys!” Some bare feet slapped on the concrete in a run.

He turned to the source right as something hit him and Miya at about his chest height. That something proceeded to crush his torso, and from the squeaky grunt thing to his side, Miya too. They collectively stumbled back and almost fell again, before whoever was making him see stars and almost blackout caught them and hauled them fully back to their feet.

The pressure on his chest eased off, and the unknown person took a step back. He got a good look at her. A small, teenage girl with messy brown hair, a t shirt and cargo pants that both looked a couple sizes too big, and a wide smile. Who the fuck is this? And come to think of it, where the fuck are we?

He whipped his head around. The lair? Also, I’m getting tired of asking questions. It was the lair. Same scratched up, folding plastic table near the center with the various chairs. Amanda’s desk nearby, covered in all sorts of fancy techie gadgets. The pseudo-bedroom area, with the dividing curtains him and Chris had put up almost a month ago.

It wasn’t quite the same as he remembered, however. The lighting actually worked and the floor had a remarkable lack of old oil and grease stains. Less… craptastic, overall.

“Where have you guys been?” asked the girl.

“Places. Who are you?” responded Ben. You seem familiar for some reason.

“What?” Her smile faltered a bit. “You don’t… Oh!” Her smile returned.

“Where do I know you from?” he asked. Hold on. Quiet voice, messy brown hair, human eyes, but with silver irises, same face as…

“Olivia?” asked Miya. No fucking way.

He looked up and waved a hand over where maybe-Olivia stood, right about where her shoulder might have been. Nothing but air.

“Olivia?” Ben repeated.

“Yeah! Hi.”

“So…” began Miya.

“Oh my gosh. This is great. I’ve been waiting for you guys to come back,” said Olivia, rapid fire. “This is so cool. I can balance on my toes.” Someone’s more enthusiastic that I’ve ever heard before.

She stood up on her toes, arms held out to either side. “Or back on my heels.” She rocked back to her heels for a moment, then stood normally. “I sat in Amanda’s chair with the backrest and everything and I don’t really get the appeal but it was great. And look.” She stuck out her tongue.

Ben glanced at Miya, who shrugged. “Uh…” he began. What the fuck?

She caught their exchange, so she explained, “It’s not forked anymore!”

It was Ben’s turn to shrug when Miya glanced at him. “You have, er, had a forked tongue?” he asked. Wait a sec.

“Yes. Or, no, not anymore. Whatever.” She bounced up and down on her toes.

“Ya know this ain’t real, right?”

She stopped as her smile vanished. “Wh… what?”

“This ain’t real. One,” he pointed to her, “How? Two, notice there’s no doors in here?”

“But… but,” she protested, eyebrows furrowed. “Then…”

***

Now in a sitting position above the table once again, and once again without a chair to support him, Ben felt himself falling back again. He caught himself in a rough roll, keeping most of the force from hitting just his head or spine. Again, damn it?

“Damn it,” he muttered under his breath as he pulled himself back up.

“That was weird,” commented Miya. “Wait, we’re back. That means ‘she who has a poor grasp of normal human strength’ is still here,” she said as she started to get up. So we’re going with this is how we view ourselves, or something like that?

Ben heard feet slapping on the concrete. Oh no. Olivia slammed into him and Miya with a bear hug again. OWWWW. After she released them and caught his breath again, he massaged his ribs and said, “Hi there.”

“Hi.”

And of course she remembers nothing of our conversation from twenty seconds ago. Let’s get this over with. “You look different.”

***

He tumbled off the table again. “Motherfucker,” he growled.

Miya deigned to help him up that time. “How old is she?” she asked.

“Fourteen? Fifteen? A really young looking sixteen?” he said as he braced as best he could for the incoming Olivia. They started the process over again.

***

“Everything looks and sounds all fuzzy. I don’t know how you guys stand it but it’s great!”

***

“I tried eating some carrots earlier and it was so much easier!”

***

“I can actually feel stuff with my fingertips and hands now. I never noticed that before, but I can now and it’s so cool!”

***

Ben managed to turn the tumble into a cool looking roll and stuck the landing on his feet. I’d feel better if I wasn’t in the process of corroding my soul. Because if this isn’t, I don’t know what would. What are we on? Try ten? Twelve? She actually burst into tears in a couple of them, and me and Miya are trapped if this doesn’t work at some point. And I have no clue if there’s a time limit for us or something.

Miya grabbed his arm. “This isn’t working,” she hissed.

“Worked for me,” he replied.

“She’s not you or me.”

“You got a better plan?” he asked as Olivia made contact. Why does she have to be so enthusiastic about this?

One painful bear hug later, and the same explanations, Miya said, “Hey, Olivia.”

“Yeah?” said Olivia as she hopped up on the tabletop and swung her legs beneath her. Don’t let her kick you, whatever you do.

“What…” began Miya. “How did this happen?”

“What?” asked Olivia.

“What is the last thing you remember?” asked Miya. Where are you going with this?

Olivia looked down, concentrating. “Well, I flew back, then… I got back. Then, this,” she said, spreading her hands for them to see.

“OK. How?” asked Miya.

“Well, you know,” said Olivia with much less certainty. “I… um… I can’t remember. W-why can’t-”

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

John Doe – Vigilante

Skulker waved to Olivia from the other roof. She took the cue and glided over, landing on the gravel of the roof with a crunch. Skulker yanked open the door to the interior of the apartment building and led the way inside.

“No cameras or anythin’ that I found. They were here, an’ there’s a good chance there’s listinin’ devices that I missed, so watch what ya say,” he explained as they walked down the familiar staircase.

“Should we be in here then?” she asked.

“We’re fine. Can’t dawdle too long, though.” They reached the third floor of the building, exiting the stairwell and entering the building proper.

They came to Olivia’s old apartment, the one she’d used for the first couple weeks. “Fair warnin’, Johnny Law went through everythin’,” said Skulker as he stood off to the side of the door, making room for her to enter and passing her a small duffel bag.

“OK.”

She went in through the broken down door, passing her scratched-in tallies by the door and reached the old blue couch she’d used as a bed. Skulker waited by the front door, keeping watch. Smells different. Other people have been here, just not recently.

Scuffs near the feet of the couch further marred the old, shoddy carpet. A scavenged chair leaned against the wall of one of the bedrooms she never used. Stupid backrest. The shattered leg was new, though. She checked the hallway closet where she’d kept most of her old clothes. I remember there being more in here.

Oh, hey, that alarm clock’s still here. If I remember right, it just needs some batteries. She grabbed that and shoved it in the bag. Food’s gone, water’s gone. Not much here besides some trash I never got to cleaning up. The blankets are way old, and dusty. Not much else I need from here. My backpack was at Ben’s old apartment, and that’s the only other thing I can think of.

She grabbed the last pair of pants and the two shirts that didn’t smell too funny and stuffed them in the small bag Skulker had loaned her. Nothing else. She still paused at the hallway leading to the apartment’s front door, looking back over her shoulder. I don’t really miss this place.

“We good?” asked Skulker.

“Yeah,” said Olivia, leaving the apartment.

“Meet ya at the strip mall thingy?” Donut mall. Does Skulker still work there?

“OK.”

Olivia passed the bag to him (flying with a bag usually just got in the way) and they parted ways. Her to the roof, him going to the ground floor. Running and teleporting on the ground meant he didn’t have to worry about gaps or differing roof heights when he was in a hurry. There was no one on the streets, like a large mob out for blood, so there was no need to use the rooftops.

Bri had left yesterday, and now everyone else was busy with other things. Amanda had vanished into her work, Chris and Rob were working on Company stuff, and Miya seemed distracted when she wasn’t practicing out back with all those bones.

She took flight once she reached the roof. That was… I don’t know. What did I even want from that? Didn’t really have any closure. I don’t know. Oh well, there’s no reason to go back anymore. Kind of afraid there’d be rotting food in there, actually.

She passed over the neighborhood. She’d never actually walked in this area since she figured out the whole flying thing. Nothing but old houses, nothing food-wise that she would feel comfortable with taking. Even flying, the power lines throughout the neighborhood didn’t have any lights, and she couldn’t catch every single one. Though the lack of wind that night made it easier.

She found the roof of her favorite building to overlook the donut mall. After a minute and some hollow metallic echoing sounds, Skulker climbed and teleported up to join her, bag slung over his shoulder instead of his rifle.

“Well tha’ went well. Hear any sirens or some such?” he said once he got within normal speaking distance.

She paused.  Nothing that really stands out. That ringing sound is starting to get irritating. Actually, other than that, there’s not much at all. Isn’t it a Friday night? “No.”

“Cool.”

Skulker pulled out the wallet, the one that said “Bad Motherfucker” in red block letters on the outside. This one only had cash in it, no immediate form of identification.

“Do I have cash?” he muttered to himself. “I do! Wanna get some food?”

“OK.” I can’t ever think of a reason to turn down food, actually.

He started for the fast food joint below them. He didn’t take off the mask or anything.

“Wait,” said Olivia.

“Yeah?”

“You’re going in just like that?”

He stopped, spreading his arms apart and looking down at himself. “Wha’s wrong with me?” There’s nothing…

“What? No. Sorry. Not you. You’re just… you know. The mask. Sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“Eh? Oh, ya can’t pay a fast food worker enough to give a shit. So long as they know I’m payin’ an’ not shootin’, they don’ care. This ain’t too outta the ordinary. Supers ’ve still gotta eat.”

“I still don’t think I should walk in there. Because, you know…” she trailed off.

“You can read the drive thru menu from here, right?”

“Yeah.” Of course I can. Those giant, bright panels outside with all the colorful pictures and words on them? How could you not?

“So read it. I’ll call ya, an’ ya tell me what ya want.”

“Alright.”

Skulker dropped the bag and went back down the way he came. Olivia watched as he blatantly teleported up to the store and walked through the door, mask and black clothes and all. I really hope the worker guy in there doesn’t shoot lasers or something. Her phone rang maybe twenty seconds later.

She picked up. “Wadja wan’?” he asked in a hurry. That barely qualified as English.

“Um, the bacon burger thing. Oh, yeah, the meal. As a meal.” However you say that.

Some muffled talking over the phone. “Anythin’ else? Wan’ a shake?”

“Sure.” Why not? I don’t think I’ve had one before. Or can remember having one, whatever.

“Flavor?”

Olivia glanced at the menu again, finding the bright desert menu in the lower right corner. Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. The cake they’d bought a while back, the white cake with white vanilla icing that Ben insisted was called a Nathan Bedford Forrest cake, tasted good. “Vanilla,” said Olivia.

A figure caught her eye on a distant rooftop. The moment she focused on it, it vanished. I keep thinking I’m seeing that, but I’m not sure

More muffled talking as he ordered. Then he asked her, “Really? The borin’ Superman of shake flavors?”

Boring is great! Nothing is shooting at you when things are boring. “Why not?”

He didn’t answer immediately. Instead more muffled talking came from his end. “I’m headin’ yer way. See ya in a sec.” He came out of the building as he said this, carrying a large bag of food and a drink with one hand, returning his phone to his pocket with the other. That looks kind of difficult.

After a minute, he rejoined her at on the rooftop. “Jumpy little fry cook. Yer plain-ass shake,” he said, offering the cup with a straw sticking out of the lid. He joined her in sitting on the edge of the roof and lifted his mask to eat, leaving it resting on the top of his head. They divided the burgers and ate.

“What do you have against vanilla?” asked Olivia after a moment.

“Nothin’s wrong with it, it’s jus’ borin’. Kinda wonderin’ why, actually.”

“Well, I liked that vanilla cake we got earlier.”

“Oh, yeah. The Nathan Bedford Forrest cake. An’ no one got the joke, either. Disappointin’,” he said around a mouthful of chicken sandwich. Please stop that. Please?

She pushed on. “Do you need to explain the joke then? Because, you know, only you and Rob laughed at that.”

“Nathan Bedford Forrest was a founder of the KKK.”

“OK.”

“You don’ understand the significance of callin’ a pure white cake with pure white icin’ after a KKK dude, do you?”

“Nope.” Because of course not.

“White supremacist group.” He paused. Go on. “They don’t like people who ain’t white. They’ll word it differently, so that they ain’t soundin’ like the bad guys, but the core of the matter is they hate anyone who ain’t white, or jus’ anyone who ain’t them. Despicable fellas.” That’s kind of depressing. “So if ya put colorful sprinkles on a white cake, it’s a desegregation cake. Now, speakin’ as a white dude, I don’ think I’m really qualified to speak on race an’ stuff. Jus’ sayin’.”

They finished their food in silence after that. Mmmm. Shake good. Burger tasted a bit off, though. At some point the light of the drive thru menu started dimming over the course of a few seconds then flickering fully back to life in a regular pattern.

Skulker crumpled the last of his three value menu burger wrappers and threw it in the bag. “Had jus’ as much fast food in the past month than the rest of the year combined,” he commented.

She nodded in agreement, still drinking. I can’t remember ever having much healthy stuff.

“No complaints? From a chick?” asked Skulker. What? “The others, minus Rob, were all moanin’ ‘bout that earlier.”

She shrugged. I don’t really mind. I mean, it’s better fresh… “You don’t care?” asked Olivia.

“Nah. I’m, an’ Rob,‘re some of those infuriatin’ fucks who don’ gain weight no matter how much they eat. Within reason, of course.”

She nodded and passed the trash to Skulker, who threw it in the bag. He got up and said, “So, vigilante-in’? You got anythin’ in mind?” She’d asked him about how to vigilante (not a verb) before they’d left.

She followed him, getting to her feet. “What do you mean?”

“Stoppin’ all the crime is a lofty goal, an’ completely unobtainable. You gotta focus on somethin’. Trade of a specific drug or two, or forced prostitution, or some organization. Tha’ kinda stuff. Gotta have a hobby, after all. Though I think you could do street level stuff better than most. Might wanna focus on an area, but I’m jus’ comin’ up with ideas right now.”

“Focus? Just on one thing and only one thing?” That sounds kind of narrow minded.

“Well, if I witness a bank robbery in progress while patrolin’, I’m not gonna ignore that because they ain’t kidnappers. But focusin’ yer efforts on somethin’ more concrete will actually get ya results. An’ there’s the usual makin’ enemies, yadda yadda yadda.” He started walking on the roof, in the direction of the lair. She followed.

“So, you mentioned patrolling…” Speaking of which, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a car drive by.

“Eh. Tha’ won’t get ya too much. Though yer power continues to refute my every point. But for the rest of us, it’s not really expected you run into a crime in progress. Patrolin’s more for gettin’ the lay of the land. Odds are pretty small for actually findin’ somethin’. When I first met ya, I wasn’t seriously lookin’ for a fight, I was jus’ tryin’ to get some exercise an’ practice my roof hoppin’ skills.” Hey! I remember that!

He continued, “This is Vigilante 101, so we’ll get into other stuff later. Might be able to get Cinder on board with a bit of sparrin’ or somethin’, he probably needs a partner, too. Give ya someone more in yer bruiser range. Also, need to talk’ to Rob later ‘bout gettin’ you some action clothes tha’ will actually stay intact with ya-”

All the streetlights died. Olivia looked around. Some lights twinkled off in the distance; nothing near them. This is strange. Skulker just sighed. Or not?

“Come on, people!” he exclaimed to the sky. “I thought we got this shit sorted out last year!”

Um… “What?” I am just full of clarification questions today, aren’t I?

“The power’s been spotty since… well, forever. But they said they got their shit together. Hell, that was part of the mayor’s campaign. Or was it governor’s? Whatever.”

“That… doesn’t seem very good.”

“Well, they say once New York goes four month without a blackout, the recession slash depression thing we’ve been in will be over. Still, we’ve got a fraction of the population of what New York’s got, so fuck us, I guess. Anythin’ you wanna do while we’re out?”

“No. Not that I can think of. And thank you. For, you know, coming.”

He laughed as he put his mask back into place. “No problem. See ya back at the lair?”

“Sure.” It’s too quiet out right now. Kind of dark now, too.

He started jumping down to the ground, and Olivia took flight back to the lair. The lack of wind made the air noticeably hotter, and thickened the pollution. Is that… tapping I hear? She looked to behind her. Nothing but empty air and lights on the horizon. Weird.

She landed at the lair, ahead of Skulker, in front of the side entrance, out of view of the main street. Not that it matters, the whole city’s still tonight. She went in, closing the door behind her. Almost exactly where we left them. Except… where’s Miya?

There was Amanda, hunched over her desk. Rob flicked a lever of a gear contraption thing, a small model trebuchet which swung, then returned to its original position with rattles and clanks from within. Rob and Chris talked. Well, Chris talked and Rob maintained a sort of glazed expression. They haven’t moved. At all. But no Miya. She alright? I didn’t hear any movement from out back.

Olivia poked her head out back. Nothing but a pile of bones. Weren’t those moving around on their own before? Olivia walked up to Rob and Chris. “Hi guys. Um… Do you know where Miya is?”

“Erm…” began Rob. “She came in to borrow a chisel maybe three minutes ago.”

“Did she come back in?”

“No, why?” asked Chris knitting his eyebrows together.

“She’s not out back, and the bones are just sitting there.”

“Anything else weird back there? There’s no reason to wander off at this hour on foot, and she doesn’t have a car.”

“Not that I could see. Or smell. Or anything. The bones didn’t look like they’d gone through any fighting.”

Rob and Chris exchanged glances. Uh oh. It’s never good when people do that.  They got up. “Hey, Amanda, you’ve got cameras all around this place, right?” said Chris as Rob jogged up to a large metal box.

“Yeah, why?” responded Amanda, not looking up from her tablet thing.

“Miya’s missing. Olivia didn’t see or smell anything,” responded Chris.

Rob yanked on a small lever on the front of the box. Well-oiled machinery worked within, and the lid popped open. He keeps weapons in there, right?

Amanda shoved the tablet along the desk off to her right and clicked on a mouse to get the central computer’s monitor running. “Out back, right? Also, hi, Olivia.”

“Oh, hi.” said Olivia as Amanda opened the feeds for the cameras. Let’s not get distracted now.

Amanda re-winded the camera footage. “Just a couple minutes back,” said Chris.

Olivia looked over her shoulder to Rob. Keeping his eyes on the nearest door, he strapped a knife to his right forearm. She caught a glimpse of some wires extending towards his hand. A crowbar rested on the box beside him.

Olivia returned her attention to Amanda’s screen. “The fuck?” said Amanda. Well that can’t be good.

Static. That’s all that was on the screen. The static moved around in a vaguely humanoid shape, but that was somewhat less helpful than the real picture would have been. Amanda re-winded back a minute, and everything became clear. On the video; Olivia still had no clue what was going on.

Miya sat cross legged with a large bone in hand. She didn’t move an inch, just concentrated on the bone. Over the course of the minute, the edges of the feed became blurrier and blurrier, gradually swallowing up their whole view. Then movement happened.

“What’s it look like now?” asked Chris.

Wait, when did the lights get so dim?

“WH-” Something cut off Rob’s shout.

Olivia spun around, her tail nearly taking out Chris. Nothing. Nothing by the box, or in the lair, or by the doors. The crowbar hadn’t moved. Where’d he go? Still smells like he’s here. I didn’t hear anything or anyone else.

“Amanda,” barked Chris.

“On it- where the fuck did my phone go,” she said, jumping to her feet and whipping her head from side to side, searching her desk.

Olivia took a cautious step forward. Nothing happened. She stalked over to where Rob had been. Still nothing. Where’d he go?

“Something’s got it out for us. Stay here or run for it outside?” Amanda asked Chris from under the desk where she’d continued her search. Ben.

“Where’s Ben?” asked Olivia.

“What?” asked Chris.

“Ben?” Something caught the corner of Olivia’s eye. She spun in that direction, only to find a whole lot of nothing, at least nothing out of the ordinary.

“Don’t know, but he can take care of himself,” said Chris from behind Olivia. “Amanda, is there any way…” He trailed off. Amanda was gone. I did not notice that. How did I not notice that? Who’s doing this? What is going on?

Chris ducked his head under the desk as Olivia scanned the lair for a target, any target at all. Where are they?

“Shit, shit, shit” Chris muttered under his breath in rapid succession. To Olivia he said, “You see anything?”

She didn’t respond, instead preferring to continue her search of the lair for any clues at all. I’m hissing, aren’t I? Doesn’t matter. Give me back my friends.

“Olivia? You still with me?”

Right. Threatening. Sorry. She turned her head and nodded to him over her shoulder. Then something blurry and dark caught her eye again. Come here, you. She slashed at where she estimated the blur would be, moving at that speed. Harder to do when there were no accompanying sounds she’d grown used to taking advantage of. She hit nothing.

She growled in frustration. “What was that?” asked Chris.

She shot him a questioning look. You didn’t see that? He wasn’t looking at her, instead observing his surroundings. “I saw something. Couldn’t make it out at all, though.”

Right. Focus. “Need to get out of here,” he said, backing up towards the nearest door.

She followed watching wherever he wasn’t. This is frustrating, not knowing what to hit. The oppressive and absolute silence, beyond her and Chris’s breathing, started to grate. Hate not knowing what’s going on. He turned around to open the door once he reached it. Olivia took a moment to look around at the lair. Looking exactly like home, just devoid of people.

“F-” Whatever Chris said was cut off. No. The door remained closed. Olivia roared. Get out here. Something dark came from overhead.

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