Have you ever got the feeling like you’re missing something big, but you can’t figure out what it is? That little seed of a thought in the back of your mind, that speck of uncertainty you can’t shake?
“Clockblocker!” I said proudly, grinning behind my mask. The gasps from the press conference’s audience and the curse in my comms was all I’d needed to know that I’d made the right decision.
It was something I’d gotten used to. I think we all have those things, the little aches or thoughts that just become normal until you notice them. And then, when you do, it’s like having to think about breathing, or blinking, or that itch above your eyebrow you can’t scratch because you’re in costume.
Empty. I should’ve been on patrol, but I’d given my shift away. Instead, I was staring up at the ceiling, feeling nothing. I couldn’t wait for the day to end. And with my power, I didn’t have to. I could cheat, skip ahead minutes at a time, the shadows in the room jumping millimeters in the blink of an eye. Until I came back to red emergency lighting and the wail of sirens nearby.
But even if you get used to it, it’s still there, waiting. The errant thoughts you keep forced down lie in wait, building in strength. Biding their time, waiting until you were your weakest…
“I’m sorry.” The last words through the earpiece before I froze it, tearing my head away and leaving it floating. Everything I’d done to buy him time, every medical check-up I’d driven him to when Mom had to work a double, even my trigger event… all for nothing. Leviathan had made sure of that.
We move on, we have to. Invent coping mechanisms. Find excuses to continue. Justifications. Even when you want to give up, you can’t. If not for yourself, then for your team.
The rain falling from the sky was a macabre reminder of the reason the marble obelisk overlooked the city. Nobody else here, this late at night my only company was the streetlights illuminating the overlook. I was soaked, shivering as the wind blew, but it didn’t matter. If I’d done better, if I’d tried harder, maybe there would have been fewer names to carve. I wanted to cry, to tell them I was sorry, but the tears didn’t come.
But eventually, everyone finds that breaking point.
I’d helped out with search and rescue before. Pulling bodies out of wreckage, tagging debris to make it temporarily safe for rescuers, reassuring the survivors that everything would be okay. It was a job, just like everything else, and you got used to it. Used to the sight of bloated bodies, used to the smell of floodwaters reeking, used to the sobs of despair when you had to tell someone their family was dead.
Maybe that was why I’d shut down, when I’d gone home. There’d been so much going on, and I’d been avoiding it. I knew what had happened, of course, Armsmaster had pulled me aside, but I’d been putting off going home for too long.
The house was in tatters, floodwaters still lapping around the porch. Half of it had collapsed, the windows were shattered, search and rescue spraypainted glyphs covering the door. An X in orange spraypaint, a date at the top, and “1D” in the bottom. A red V next to it, with a slash sprayed across.
The floorboard by the front door no longer creaked. Probably the water-swollen wood expanding to remove the wiggle room, if I had to guess. I was a superhero, not an engineer. My boots—once white but now stained with brown by mud—made the broken glass crunch as I wandered down the hallways. My hands grabbed at my helmet, pulling it off. I probably should’ve worried about my civilian identity being compromised, but it wasn’t like there was anyone around, not in this neighborhood. Besides, what could they take that Leviathan hadn’t?
Wandering through the wreckage felt surreal, like walking through an alternate reality. I’d grown up here, but now it remained in an uncanny valley state. The doorway to the kitchen remained intact, the little nicks in the edge still visible. Dennis, age 3. Dennis, age 4. Dennis, age 5. It stopped at eleven, above that was only the ragged line of dirt and filth showing the high water mark.
I had to use my power to climb to the second floor, to make sure the stairs didn’t finish collapsing. Sunshine streamed own on the carpet, the hurricane-force winds having stripped the roof away. Water damage everywhere. My room was in tatters. Someone had been through, stealing the blanket off my bed, some of the clothes out of the closet. They probably needed them more than me right now, anyway.
My TV was in tatters, but… huh. I knelt down, pushing away accumulated trash and debris. My Dreamcast had survived, somehow. It probably didn’t work, what with all the damage, but… if it did, it would be nice to have something. I pulled it out, brushed the worst of the gunk off, grabbed all the cables and cartridges, and tossed it all in the green canvas sack I’d brought to grab what I could.
Ten minutes later, I’d finished digging through debris, and it was still the only thing in the bag. Part of me had wanted to take one of the few remaining family photos, something to remember my parents by, but every one I picked up, I’d set down at the last minute.
The discomfort never went away, so I turned my back on it and went back to HQ.
I had the day off, mandated by the Youth Guard, so I wandered up to the Tinker Labs. I wasn’t one, of course, but I’d held the flashlight for Armsmaster and Kid Win long enough that I knew where everything was in the cluttered-yet-clean mess of a room. It took two hours of disassembly, cleaning, and resoldering, but finally, I got the console working again. With a fevered rush, I ran down to the common room, cables and controllers streaming behind me, and plugged it into the TV. Success! Even my saved games had made it.
Part of me, however, wasn’t there. I felt my smile falter, still feeling that itch, the need to do something about it. It was the first time I’d been happy in days, but even then, there was the bittersweet tinge. The undercurrents.
I was introspective enough to know that I probably needed to talk to someone. With how hectic things had been, though, I’d been putting off the appointments with a shrink. They’d always bugged me, and the neverending patrols around the city provided a good excuse to avoid them.
Fuck, I hadn’t even told my team. Of course, that was for good reason. We’d all lost, I didn’t need to pile on to that. But maybe a bit of normalcy would help.
I found myself walking down the hall, to Chris’s room. We hadn’t talked as much lately, but I could tell he wasn’t faring well either. I knocked on his door. “Yo, Chris,” I said, raising my voice to be heard through the wood. “You remember that racing game you played at my house? The off-road one.” Rally Slayers 18, Platinum Edition, to be specific. “Well, I’ve got it hooked up to the TV in the common room, and I’m looking for volunteers to get their butts kicked, since I am, as we all know, the king of drifting.”
He didn’t answer at first. Part of me worried that he hadn’t picked up the sarcasm there at the end. Finally, though, I heard his voice, quiet through the door. “Sorry, Dennis… I’m not really in the mood.”
Come on, Chris. Please. “You sure man? You loved this one. It’s got the super cool realistic crashing and the one chick you thought was—”
“I’m just not up for it right now.”
...Okay. I swallowed the knot in my throat. “Hey, suit yourself, man. Just thought I should let you know. We haven’t gamed in, like, basically forever.”
“Didn’t you want to beat the campaign so you could get that last car?” He sounded irritated. Angry, even?
Had I pushed to hard? Fuck… I just… “Yeah… I guess I’ll give that a shot… see you later man.”
Chris was probably the only person I could be myself around, or at least attempt to. And I’d pushed too hard, fucked it up… and now this.
I hung my head and walked away.