A minus 12 Days
Esperanza City; Four Days after the Hastur Incident
Birds sang, bees buzzed (when they weren’t being eaten by something), cars drove up and down the streets. There was a class of elementary school children passing by the graveyard, loud enough to be heard even over the wall that circled it, and someone somewhere was playing music so loudly that I could hear the words clearly even over here. Slow, slow me down…
The sun shone brightly down on the casket that contained Linda’s body. Or what was left of it. Her blood, on my bones…
I was wearing my funeral dress, the one my parents had bought for me a year ago for Grandpa’s funeral. I’d hated it back then, and I hated it more now. It didn’t help that it was way too tight around my chest for comfort.
Linda was wearing her own version of it inside that damned casket. Luckily for her, it was not too tight around her bust, mostly because her breasts were among the things that had been missing from her body. Shotgun blast from the side, they said. Point-blank range.
I felt the corners of my mouth twitch with the beginnings of a smile, before I ordered the summary execution of all facial muscles involved in that.
Let go, lay to rest.
And this is what’s called being in denial. Was I in denial?
Mostly, I just felt angry. No. I was totally angry. My hands were shaking where I’d clenched them into fists. Fortunately, I’d grown out of the phase where I always kept my fingernails long, so I didn’t tear into my own flesh…
I bit my lip, trying to calm down. Or at least keep up the appearance of being calm. Grieving.
Truth was, I wasn’t sad. I mean, I knew I should. And I felt like being sad, but I wasn’t. My sister hadn’t even managed to get to her seventeenth birthday before she died, and I didn’t even feel sad.
Just angry. Furious.
Bitch. You’re such a bitch, I thought, looking at the casket as the fat priest from our church droned on and on about heavenly grace and God’s plan and forgiveness and shit.
Why forgive her? That was a question that kept pounding my mind. She’d lied to me. She lied to me.
We fall, we fall, we fall to the ground.
My parents were standing to my left, with my brother in between them and holding their hands. I sneaked a glance at them, even though I knew what I’d see: Shame, sadness, disappointment, confusion. Freddy looked lost, his young mind not really able to grasp the situation yet. At least I hoped so.
They looked so small, standing there. The other guests didn’t help – they were watching us, their stares heavy and judgemental. They were all from my parents’ usual circles, and really only attending to express their disapproval, as well as, probably, keep an eye on me.
I hadn’t invited any of my friends, but they’d still come, since their parents were here, too. None of Linda’s friends were here, obviously. At least none of her real friends, as we’d so recently found out. She’d cut ties with her old crowd right around the time when she distanced herself from our family, from me.
No one around here was going to invite her new ‘friends’. And the fact that we didn’t know who they were was only a small part of that. Mostly, it was because they’d gotten her killed.
The priest finished his stupid rant, and they began lowering the casket. Mom broke down, falling onto her knees, sobbing, as dad knelt down to hug her and Freddy.
I just stood there, watching as my twin sister, the supervillain, was lowered into the earth.
And I couldn’t follow her.
Sleep, sleep all night.
* * *
Suddenly, I wasn’t in the graveyard anymore. Or at least, not in the same one. Or perhaps in the same one, only it was different.
The people around me had faded to mere shades, unrecognizable, unimportant but for the glimmer of light each held within themselves.
I looked around myself. The whole graveyard had become little more than a shade of itself, translucent, wispy.
There were stars everywhere. Above and below and around and inside and just plain everywhere.
My thoughts felt like they were moving through some kind of syrup. Utterly useless.
Then, something moved. One of the stars above – or was it below? I couldn’t tell. Weren’t those gravestones upside down before? – it sank down, until it hovered in front of me… flickering, blinking, shining, waxing, waning…
Was this what gave people power?
Linda saw a star like this, too.
Did I want this power? It pulsed so gently…
Linda accepted it.
So warm… so… warm…
“No,” I said, turning aw-
* * *
I blinked, looking around. The grave had been closed already.
What…? What happened?
I’d seen something… hadn’t I?
Just… you’re just not all there, silly.
What had I seen?
I shook my head, trying to recall the memory, but it simply wasn’t there. And then it was time to follow my parents to our car and get home.
* * *
Dad parked our car in the driveway to our home in the Oak Leaf community. The house was as sparkly clean as ever (cleaning services are good for that), but that only made looking at it worse.
No home should look this sparkling clean after someone who used to live in it died.
I was sitting in the back with Freddy, who’d all but collapsed against me, hugging me. I didn’t think he really understood what was happening. He was just five, after all.
We left the car and I all but carried him out and towards the door, as my father unlocked it and stepped in. I could already hear the other cars of friends and family approaching. Soon, our house would be swarming with them. Giving condolences that weren’t about Linda dying, but about her being a meta. A supervillain.
My parents got in and I followed with Freddy. Mom could barely stand on her own, her crisp black dress dirty at the knees from when she’d gone down in front of the grave, and Dad took her up to their room, leaving me with the small one.
While the young, they wait alone.
Fucking song. Stuck in my head now.
“Terry? Why’s everyone so strange?” Freddy asked. He looked up at me with muddy brown-gold eyes.
So tired. He looks so tired.
“Because… because Linda w-” I sniffled not knowing what to say. How to say it. How do you explain to a five-year-old that his older sister is dead, and that she was a supervillain to boot?
“Because your sister went away, son,” Dad suddenly said as he came back down the stairs, still in his expensive black suit. It was the same one he’d worn to grandpa’s funeral, and unlike my dress, it still fit him perfectly. He picked Freddy up as if he weighted less than a feather. Considering that my dad was tall and broad enough to just so fit through our door, and it was all muscle, that wasn’t a surprise. “C’mon, mommy needs you to hug her a lot. You gonna do that for me, big man?” he asked in his baby talk voice. Freddy nodded, still confused, and I relaxed. Now I wouldn’t have to be the one to try and explain it to him.
I looked up to find Dad looking at me with worried eyes. They were more amber-coloured than Freddy’s, who took after mom. Me and Linda, we’d shared his bright eyes. Now only me. “Do you want to join us, sweetheart?”
“No!” I replied immediately. There were few things right now that I wanted less than to listen to them explaining to Freddy that Linda was dead. “No,” I repeated, more subdued. “I… I need some time alone. If that’s alright.” I looked down again, at my feet.
These shoes look horrible on me.
“Alright. But if you need anything, anything, just say so, alright?”
I nodded, just to get him to leave me alone. Then I went up to my own room, stopping to look at the three large-size posters on the wall next to the stairs. The first one depicted a white rose on a golden background, with the words We must stand together! underneath. Pretty bland and innocuous. The second one depicted a blue cross on white ground, with the words Say NO to the False Idols!. But the last one was the kicker, being another white rose on gold background, but with the words Humans MUST come first! I tried to imagine how Linda must have felt, walking by these posters every day until she ran away. How long had she had her powers, anyway? Did she start to act weird after getting them, or did she get them after things changed?
It was no great mystery why Linda hadn’t told our parents about her powers. They spouted anti-metahuman propaganda every day, and all their friends – who had also been keeping an eye on me during the burial – were the same.
What baffled me – enraged me – hurt me was that she hadn’t told me.
We were supposed to be one soul in two bodies, weren’t we?
I continued up to our – no, my – room, closing and locking the door behind me. I deliberately did not look at Linda’s half to the left, but instead focused on my own. The yellow paint on the wall. The posters of my favourite tv shows (Sherlock, the Mentalist and Elementary) and my favourite music act (Owl City). The big mirror on the wall between my bed and my wardrobe.
Taking a few steps in, I started taking off the dress… but then I heard a tearing sound and looked down to see a long, ugly tear on the sleeve, near my shoulder.
“Damn it!” I cursed. It was old, but it had been really expensive! “Goddamnit!”
My vision got blurry, and before I knew it, I’d simply torn the sleeve off. “Fuck!” I tore off the other, then I grabbed it by the collar.
Less than a minute later, I was down to my underwear and my vision was clear again. At some point, I’d fallen down onto my knees, and turning right, I could see Linda kneel in the same position on her half of the room (blue paint, lots of anime posters and a framed pressed rose), mostly naked and with a blotchy, tear-stained face.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked her. “I know mom and dad would have reacted badly, but why didn’t you trust me?”
Someone knocked on the door. “Sweetheart?” It was Dad. “Are you alright? We heard a thump.”
What a stupid question. “It’s… it’s alright, daddy. Just need some time for myself!”
“Alright… we’re all in the living room now. You can join us whenever you want.” ‘We’ meaning that your pals from Humanity First! are here.
There wasn’t really anyone I wanted to see less right now, I thought.
I heard him walk down the stairs.
Then I got up myself and looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was messy – I’d torn the knot I had it in open, and now it fell down to my shoulder blades in black waves. I really didn’t look much like my sister right now – I had more muscle tone than she’d ever had, and unlike her, I didn’t always make sure to straighten my hair out. Plus, I think my skin was actually a few shades darker than hers had been, mostly due to all the stuff I did outside. Though I guess most would simply describe us both as ‘black’ and be done with it.
And yet I couldn’t shake the impression that it was my sister who was looking out at me from the mirror.
Because why should I look so guilty?
* * *
An hour later, dad called me down to dinner. I put on a pair of black sweatpants and a grey-blue hoodie and went down to the dining room.
When I saw our guests, I almost turned around and left again.
Richard Svenson was sitting at the table in all his blond-haired and blue-eyed glory. He was wearing a dark blue three-piece suit and was wearing it well, despite being in his mid-forties. For the man who was the head chairman of Humanity First!, he looked way too much like one of the metahumans he was campaigning against.
He looked up just as I entered, though, and rose with a perfect, white-toothed smile. Though he also displayed the perfect percentage of sadness and sympathy, as well. “Theresa, my dear, I am so sorry for your loss!” he said with that annoyingly pleasant voice of his, grabbing my right hand with both of his, holding it gently. “I wanted to talk to you at the burial, but I thought it best not to disturb you then – but if you need anything, any help, just say so. We’re there for you.”
Meaning, you’d like me to join H-One? Thanks, but no thanks.
“That’s very kind of you, Sir. But right now, I just want to be left alone,” I replied, trying to suppress the creepy feeling he always caused. Especially right now, when he was touching me. “It’s… a lot to get through.”
He nodded, somehow managing to look honestly understanding, and finally let go of my hand, sitting back down at the table. I looked around to find my dad at the table opposite of Svenson. Mom was arranging some snacks on a platter, though her hands were shaking. I couldn’t see her face, but I was sure she was crying.
Svenson had brought his usual gorillas along (I never could remember their names), as well as his secretary, a trim, if short hispanic woman in a business dress (whose name I couldn’t remember, either). I knew that, if he was here, the house was probably under heavy surveillance both by his organization’s personal security force and local police – there’d been more than one attack on him by supervillains, as well as by fanatic metahuman worshippers (mostly the True Believers – ever since his speech against the Protegé a few years ago, he’d topped their shit list and was still up there, uncontested).
I sat down next to dad and turned to him: “Where’s Freddy?”
“He’s… asleep. We tried to explain to him what happened – well, to explain that Linda isn’t coming back – but I don’t think he really got it. He just got agitated and had one of his fits, then he fell asleep,” he replied, not looking up from his fingers, which he had folded and laid down on the table to stare at.
“Oh.” I looked away. As if we didn’t have enough to be sad about.
* * *
Dinner itself was a pain. Mom was on the verge of another meltdown, but was trying to keep it together. Dad seemed more ashamed than sad, at least in front of Svenson. And Svenson… Svenson was trying to comfort them (and me) and it probably would’ve worked well (he really had a silver tongue) if it wasn’t for me feeling so… angry. All I could think about was that this man had probably been a big reason why my sister had turned away from us. If not the main reason.
You’re still a bitch, though. You could at least have come to me. One soul, two bodies.
I noticed that everyone was staring at me. Then I realized that I’d stood up pretty abruptly. I looked around, for just a moment, then I said: “Excuse me, I need a moment.”
Without waiting for anyone to respond, I stormed out of the kitchen… but where was I going? I went up to my room out of sheer reflex, opening the door before I had even made a conscious decision.
Why didn’t you tell me?
“Why didn’t you tell me!?” I screamed at the mirror. My vision got blurry for a moment, but I wiped my eyes dry and forced the tears down before I really started crying. Honestly.
Suddenly, my eyes fell on an item visible in the mirror. It was unthinkable… it had been our deal… but… she was dead…
I turned around and walked to her desk, picking the small book up with a shaking hand. Her diary. We each had one, and it was the only thing we hadn’t shared… before she stopped sharing at all.
Opening it, I had to blink another squall of tears away as I saw her cramped, tight writing. She’d always been good at putting as much text on one page as others put on two or three (I was no better. Our teachers hate us).
I skipped ahead to the last few pages, to see if there was any…
No. The last entry I could find had been written exactly one day before I’d noticed her acting strange. She’d been looking forward to going out with her friends to watch the newest Major Lightning movie.
Anna had said they’d split after the movie, Linda had told her she was going straight back home… But I could remember that she’d been late that night, I’d woken up when she’d snuck back in at three in the morning… and the next morning, she wouldn’t tell my parents where she’d been so late…
And she hadn’t told me, either.
Suddenly, I felt energy return to my thoughts. It was like I was waking up… I knew what to do. Linda hadn’t told me anything. She’d kept it all a secret.
So get up, shake the rust.
So I would have to find out myself.
* * *
Once I’d made my decision, I got myself ready. I put on a pair of black cycling shorts, one of my newest sports bras (I’d had a growth spurt since hitting sixteen and most of my clothes were all new now – I’d grown three whole inches and two bust sizes) under my current attire. I hung my wallet on a string around my neck, put the collapsible baton dad had bought me when I turned sixteen into the inside pocket of my blue coat and put that one on, too.
I left my room and turned to the stairs… but I really should check up on Freddy, first. So I went to his room. It wasn’t very dark inside, because Freddy had pretty much covered every available inch of his walls and ceiling with stars of all colours drawn in glow-in-the-dark paint. He’d once told me that he tried to make them look like what he saw every time he had a fit.
Sneaking on tip-toes to his bed, I knelt down, brushing my hand over his sleeping face. He looked so small, even for a boy of five years. Curse those fits of his. He didn’t eat right, because his tastes changed with every fit he had, among other things.
Since he was asleep, and I didn’t want to wake him (he slept rarely enough), I just bent over him and kissed him on his cheek. He stirred, but didn’t wake up, and I left the room again.
Outside, I had to stop and take a deep breath again. Then another. And another. Until I’d calmed down – a little. Then I went down to get my shoes and leave.
* * *
“Terry, are you alright!?”
I turned just as I came down the stairs to see dad standing there, looking worried.
“I’m… better,” I said, hoping to get away quickly.
“Then you can join us at the table again.” Dratz. “Come, your mother is worried enough as it is.” Double dratz. Now I can’t just walk away.
I followed him back into the dining room and sat down.
Mom was looking even worse than before, her eyes blotchy from crying, her dark cheeks glistening with tears, while Svenson was talking to her in an almost-whisper.
Dad wasn’t looking much better, if in a different way. He looked composed, but I knew that he hadn’t had any grey hairs a week ago, and now he had grey streaks in his close-cropped hair, contrasting starkly with his black skin and hair. He also had more wrinkles around his eyes than ever.
Once I’d sat down, I tried to ignore the conversation that started up, but that wasn’t really possible.
“You couldn’t have known, Fiena, we still haven’t found a way to detect this deviancy,” said Svenson. “If there are no uncontrolled aspects to the symptoms, or physical mutations, detecting these poor souls is all but impossible, unless they openly use their powers.”
Why is that important?
“But don’t worry about your other children – whatever ailment causes this madness, it doesn’t seem to be contagious, unless someone spends a lot of time around a carrier – and neither Terry nor Freddy did, since poor Linda was infected!”
“B-b-but how did Linda… how… she never had anything to do with…” Mother choked, sobbing as Dad held one of her hands and Svenson another.
“We don’t know. It happens, sometimes, and there’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent it. Our scientists are labouring tirelessly for a cure, or at least an inoculation against it, but until we have some kind of breakthrough in even detecting the vectors, all we can do is try and avoid the usual triggers, as well as contact to anyone who’s already expressing symptoms. Which this beautiful little community we live in already does, as well as it is pos-“
“Oh, this is just ridiculous!” I shouted, slamming both fists onto the table. Every but Svenson flinched as the dishes jumped into the air for a moment. “My sister was murdered and all you care about is making sure no one else manifests!?” I glared at my father, my mother and then at Svenson, who had remained calm, unlike his gorillas, who’d almost gone for their weapons. I guess I’m a threat factor now. “Why doesn’t anyone seem to care about who murdered her?“
“Terry, please, calm yourself. It’s not a good thing to grow so uncontrolled in your current situati-” he began, but I cut him off the moment he started talking about me triggering again.
“I don’t fucking care about that! Why is it so important that Linda got powers? Why isn’t it important that she DIED!?”
He sighed, as if he was talking to a small child, and replied: “Finding her murderer is out of our hands, my dear. All we can do is do our best to prevent anyone else – especially you or your poor brother – from going down the same doomed road.”
“Why would getting superpowers change anything!? You’re talking like they’re the end-all be-all evil that caused all of this!”
Again, that maddening sigh. “My dear, ever since metahumans appeared, history has taken a turn for the worst – just look at the world war that is brewing, all over a broken boy with a god complex!”
I wasn’t exactly a fan of the Protegé, or rather his followers (I’d never met the guy himself), but even I could tell that this was stupid. It had always been the people around the Protegé that had screwed things up. But he wasn’t going to accept an argument like that.
“Just because someone gets powers doesn’t mean that they’re gonna be more evil than others! Linda didn’t die because of her powers, she died because someone took a shotgun and blew her full of holes!”
Mom choked, wailed and buried her face in her hands, all but collapsing on the table. Dad sank to his knees next to her, to calm her, while Svenson kept looking at me with those damned sympathetic eyes.
“Terry, I’m not saying that metahumans are automatically evil… but they have far more potential for evil, and that’s why we need to be careful that there are no new ones, and somehow seperate the existing from the normal, healthy, sane population. Just look at-“
“I know about DiL and the Six – who are apparently quite finished now – but-“
“You know about them, but they are hardly the worst examples,” he said.
Now that gave me pause. “What the fuck?”
“Language, young lady,” he rebuked me. “And really, people like the Six or Desolation-in-Light or the Caliphate were probably going to be monsters anyway – Atrocity was a serial killer long before she got her powers, and let’s not even get started on the Caliphate and their so-called ‘prophets’ – and Weisswald, as monstrous as he was, would never have been half as bad without being enabled by the Nazis and other supporters – but what we are really concerned about are people like Caliban, people who turn to evil out of nowhere due to random negative experiences, if even that.”
“What… what do you mean?” I asked. It might have been because of how tiring the day had been already, but I felt so slow.
“You’re too young to remember, but there have been far greater monsters than the Six, far more horrific evils than Desolation-in-Light. The Godking of Mars, who staged a global invasion and war by himself. You’re too young to remember most of these, but to us a little or a lot older, names like Nightmare Sun, Dread Roger, the Queen Bee or Hannibal Storm still cause shivers just by being mentioned.” He paused for effect, taking a deep breath. I knew what was coming next, it was his biggest argument, his personal story, but I still listened with bated breath. “You weren’t here, fortunately, but I still remember the terror that ruled, when the Living Trinity took over the entire San Francisco area. Three girls, all just two years younger than you, all daughters of our so-called protectors, the superheroes of our land, all manifested due to the most trivial reasons, and it took nearly two years until they were finally taken down.”
He stopped again, letting that sink in. We’d all heard the stories, and there were still some reminders left to see, especially when one visited San Francisco. I’d only ever seen pictures of the Living Trinity, but… brrr.
“The problem is that, normally, even the most evil person needs an enormous support structure, cunning and luck to perpetrate evil on a large scale. Throw in metahumans, and suddenly you get newborn babies who wipe out Los Angeles, or three teenagers that can break reality, or a careless little boy who can make it seem like he’s bringing back the dead. And then, which is maybe worse, you have the superheroes-” He spat the word out like a curse. “-who encourage children to put on costumes and go out to fight in the streets, until they get killed, like your poor, lost sister.”
I didn’t really know how to refute that.
“All we can do is make sure that you and your brother don’t manifest too, and if you do, we’ll do our best to heal you, of course.”
“It’s not curable,” I replied. “And besides, what if powers could heal Freddy, make it so he wasn’t having those fits an-“
Svenson snorted derisively. “Honestly, my dear, after what you went through, I’d think you’d know that he’s better off with fits than superp-“
I took my cup and threw the coffee in his face. “Fuck you!” I screamed, as he squinted his eyes while my parents looked aghast. He took a handkerchief and began wiping his face, still calm.
“My sister is dead and you try to tell my parents that they couldn’t have known? Linda didn’t tell them precisely because people like you hang around with them! She could still be alive, if she’d felt safe enough to confide in her own family! And now you tell me that my little brother is better off sick than having powers!?” I glared at my parents. “And you don’t throw him out of the house at that!? Well, I’m not staying if he is, and God knows I have better things to do anyway!”
“Terry, wait, what a-” Dad began, but I just jumped up and ran to put on my shoes, then left out the door as he stormed after me, calling my name. But all those hours on the track and in the gym paid off and I was already halfway down the street by the time he reached the front porch.
I just ran to the gates that led to Esperanza City, fuming with anger.
Fuck them all.
I was going to find out who killed my sister. And I was going to find out who had been helping my sister, too. I was going to get them all for taking her away from me.
So first, I needed to go to where my sister had died.
I ran through the cold night towards the industrial district.