Arc 1, Bittersweet 4

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I wasn’t happy to have abandoned Blindside on the side of the road like that, but at the same time I wasn’t mad at myself for doing it.  Blindside couldn’t really fault me for not trusting him.  He had cooperated, somehow, with Octagon to ambush me.

I started a little back and forth argument in my head, trying to feel out which side of the argument Octagon and I had been having made more sense to me.  I needed to stay careful and stay alert, and watching the road.  I was about twenty miles from home.  A decent chunk of time to think.  I turned off the radio again.  The sound of the engine and tires rolling on the road filled the cab.  A relaxing sound.

Blindside handled me with kid gloves.  All of Atlanta and anywhere within a couple states knows what he does to child porn offenders he doesn’t put bullet holes in.  The ones that just have the media.  He was capable of tying me in knots, if he wanted to.  I sacked him and dropped him in the woods.

There was a small plane flying low, to my left.  As I watched, it leveled off and the long bar behind it’s tail started spewing dust or aerosol.  Crop duster.  I looked back to the road.

I wrote him an apology.  Anyone capable of rewriting the sexual preferences of pedophiles so they are attracted to domineering adult prisoners instead of kids, and apparently making the change permanent, is more than capable of making permanent mental changes to my family to make us behave more like what Octagon thinks is right.

Didn’t I already consider this, in a way, when I considered my freedom and others’ freedoms and the relative costs?  My freedom might cost others their lives.  Their freedom might cost me my freedom.  The relative costs seem pretty heavily balanced against my freedom.

A deer was on the shoulder of the road, looking straight at me, trying to decide whether it wanted to jump in front of my truck or not.  I blew the horn, and it ran back into the woods, tail raised.  It was either a small buck or a medium-sized doe.  This time of year, bucks would have no antlers, so I couldn’t tell, not without being closer.

That doesn’t mean I have to meekly submit to someone else’s solution.  I know my life stopped being normal months ago.  My family knows.  Can’t we figure it out for ourselves?

Am I sure Blindside hasn’t already made changes in me?

Wait.  No.  Not going there.  Bringing that up while I’m in an argument with myself is just too weird. I can’t let myself jump down into the rabbit hole.  Bad enough that everyone close by is out to get me when my power activates.  If I think everyone is out to get me when my powers aren’t active, my mental health won’t stay intact long.”

I shook my head and took a couple deep breaths.  A few cows on my right this time, one of them scrubbing itself against a tree inside the fence.

Fine.  Sane thoughts.  That ‘Can’t we figure it out for ourselves?’ though?  I remember the last time I used that argument with an authority figure. The last night I slept under my parent’s roof, before Anne got pregnant with Danny.

Am I really acting like a typical teenager?

Another car on the road, coming towards me.  A four-wheel-drive station wagon, cleverly painted in a rust and white two-tone that made it difficult to tell that the bottoms of all the corner panels were rusty.  I waved, they waved back, then we passed one another.

Let me see.  A middle-aged authority figure confronts me and tries to discipline me verbally.  I act like I am listening, maybe even think I am listening, but he knows me better than I know myself.  He’s been doing the hero thing for twenty-plus years, half his life, and I just started.  But I, somehow, know better than him what’s good for me and my family, as a new super.”

I was listening.  They attacked me first.

I was listening, just like I listened to Dad the morning he made the ultimatum.  ‘Marry Anne and get a solid job, or stay out of her pants.’  Dad also attacked me first, as I discovered when I got back to the house that night after telling him to let me live my own life.  Nothing says ‘Go live your own life.’ like coming home after renting a hotel room with your girlfriend and finding your stuff packed in a horse trailer in the front yard.”

I could see where this was going.  My stubborn side was going down in flames.  No need to even consider the argument any longer, really.  I didn’t like what Octagon had to say, but after I got right down to it, he’d been a super, a hero, for as long as I had been an adult.  He had wisdom and knowledge I didn’t have.  Even looked at through the lenses of my own experiences, I was being an idiot.

I let the noises of the road and engine relax me.  Driving was a joy, but it was a dangerous joy for me now.  I had to pay a little more attention, or risk losing myself driving and risk being startled by something.

My thoughts drifted back to Octagon.  No matter what else, he still had me ambushed, there was no way I could forget that in the short run.  Just like it took me years before I would step under my parent’s roof again.

Or maybe you can just man up and accept Octagon’s actions as what they appear to be, an attempt to protect ‘his’ city from the influence of my powers, while offering some protection to my own family.

I filed that under ‘slippery slopes others were walking.’

Blindside, however, was just doing a favor, paying a debt, greasing the wheels between himself and the heroes, perhaps.  Even Blindside had been a super, a vigilante, for at least two years, publicly.  Rumor had it, he had been around a year before that, rooting out corrupt cops from the Savannah police department before he was ‘asked’ to leave by the local hero group there when he got too picky about how good of a person a cop should be.  Very few people had complained about him since then.

He’d just been caught in the middle, and I wouldn’t hold it against him.  I couldn’t really trust him either, because he would probably want to continue what he started, if ‘the plan’ was for him to break up my family.  I also couldn’t be sure how he would react to being sucker punched.  He was young, and he was a killer, even if we happened to agree that certain people gave up their right to life by creating sufficient misery.

What happens to others when they are in my range of influence is not very pleasant.  Is what I do to people that much different?

People forced to commit violent acts, perhaps against their nature, powerless to resist my influence.  Nobody had died yet, though there had been some pretty ugly injuries.

That was a very uncomfortable thought.  Equating myself to a teenager was one thing.  Equating myself to the active pedophiles that Blindside went after was a completely different story.

Did he mess with my mind?  Or is just the possibility that he did causing this much chaos in my thoughts?

I shook my head briefly to try to clear my thoughts.  Then quickly looked around.  I had been distracted.

“Paranoid much?” I said, out loud, to myself.  Then I shook my head.  Talking to myself was a habit I had picked up after I married Anne.  Answering myself was a habit I had picked up after Danny was born.

I tried to adjust my seat again, without thinking, and once again the whole seat moved.

Crap.  I really need to fix this seat, soonest.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of Blindside messing with my mind.  No wonder very few super teams had full-time members with mind control powers.

I was driving in known territory now, with a little bit of traffic.  One stop light, ten buildings on Main Street.  Notown, USA.  It was sort of growing on me, to be honest.  Anne didn’t seem to mind it.  She had never much liked living inside the city limits.

I sighed, thinking about it.  Danny was having a bit of a hard time making the transition.  I could see where it was a huge shift for him, going from city living where everything was almost next door, to an area where even cellphones wouldn’t work if I hadn’t set up the booster.  I had to work online, so at least he was guaranteed some sort of internet access.  He had his running too, which helped a lot.

Anne and I grew up in Small Town, USA, with no internet, no fast food, and daily chores around the house.  My high school graduating class had forty-seven students.  Anne’s, the next year, had forty-five.  Danny had nearly two thousand kids in his grade at the school he had been in before we moved.  All things considered, he was doing fine, I supposed.  He would go to college this year in any case.  Problem mostly solved.

I successfully navigated the town’s stop light and traffic, all two cars, four trucks, and a tractor of it.  Three miles after leaving the town limits again, I pulled into our driveway.

The gravel driveway crunched loudly as I drove towards the house.  In a few spots where erosion problems were obvious, the prior owners had used slag to fill in the damage.  There were a couple new spots I would need to tend soon.  Perhaps it might be a good job for Danny and I to do together on a day when he seemed cooperative and I had some time.

After I parked the truck in its accustomed parking space at the end of the driveway, I grabbed my notepad and wrote, ‘Slag for driveway.’  Then I tossed the pad on the passenger side of the seat with the note on top, and put the pencil in the console storage.  After that, I pulled out the titanium band and put it on my finger and got out of the truck, walking between it and Anne’s station wagon to the front of the main house.

I walked up to my own front door, knocked loudly five times, paused a couple seconds, and then entered.  One of several safety measures we had in the household now, since my powers were no longer a secret around the house.  No entering either their house, or mine, without knocking loudly first.  I even adhered to the rule, despite the fact that it was a rule aimed at avoiding startling me.

Anne stuck her head out of the kitchen, where I could smell something made with oranges and chicken cooking.  She looked me up and down.  “I don’t see milk, eggs, and bread, Zeke.”

I had completely forgotten.  I walked into the kitchen, and walked up behind my wife where she had re-seated herself on one of the high stools, and was typing at her kitchen workstation.  The webpage she was building looked like it was close to being a finished project.  At least the page I could see.  Some plumbing company.  I leaned over a bit and put my chin on top of her head and wrapped my arms around her midsection.  “I, uhh, figured I would check back and make sure we didn’t need anything else before I went to the store.  Paper towels, toilet paper?”

This was code for ‘Your husband, me, completely forgot to pick up the groceries, and is trying to save face despite having used the same excuse every time he forgot to get the groceries in the past.’

I saw her eyes flicker to look at my reflection in her monitor.  “Danny said you got in another scuffle today in town.  You said you were going to be careful.”

“I was careful.  Majestic Mind threw some sort of a flashbang grenade at Jumping Jack.  I was trying to get away from their fight, but was too close.”

She sighed, finished another line of code, and saved her work.  Then she rotated the stool to her left a bit and stepped off the bottom rung of the stool onto the tile floor.  As soon as she started moving the stool, I let her go and lifted my chin off her head.  When both her feet were on the floor, she faced me fully, and gave me another look up and down.  “Well, it looks like you brought home all the bits and pieces you left with.”  Then she hugged me hard, her right ear against my chest.  I rested my chin on her head again, nestled in her short, curly red hair, and wrapped my arms around her back.

We just rested against one another, silent, for a few seconds.

“We still need milk, eggs, and bread.  I suppose we could use some apples and oranges too.  Danny’s been hitting the fruit pretty hard recently with all the extra running he’s been doing.  Chicken in orange sauce tonight too, the oranges we got last time were a bit overripe, and needed to get used before they went bad.”

I nodded, which she couldn’t see, but she could feel because my chin was on her head.

Note to self.  Check oranges for ripeness when buying them.

She released her hug, reached up with both hands to grab my head and pulled me down to her level for a kiss.  I was happy to oblige.

After a few seconds, she broke off the kiss and slapped me on my ass with her left palm, pointing with her right in the general direction of the front door.  “Go, mighty hunter, we need milk, eggs, bread, and fruit or the young one might starve!”

I pulled her back in for another quick hug.  “Yes, domestic goddess, your will be done, domestic goddess.” As I let her go, I asked, “Time for a family meeting after dinner?”

She looked up at me and squinted a bit, thinking, then cautiously said “Yes.”

I walked back out of the house in a little better spirits than what I had walked in with.  As I crossed the little gravel parking lot at the end of the driveway to get to my truck, I heard a faint “Dad, need to talk to you for a minute!”

I looked for the source of my son’s voice and found him jogging towards me along the driveway, bright orange shirt with silver reflector lines, baggy lime green shorts, and white running shoes.  Six foot four, one hundred seventy pounds of running machine.

One of the only reasons Danny could deal with living this far away from everything was how open it was and how easy it was to just go out and run.  Take a wrong turn in Atlanta and a jogger could quickly become a target for any number of crimes.  His running, which was already strong, had gotten even better since he switched to home schooling to finish his senior year after we moved.

He had my body shape, his mother’s hair, and some combination of our features that seemed to avoid most of my worst parts.  His ears, for example, didn’t qualify him as a stunt double for flying elephants.

I watched him pick up his pace for the last hundred or so yards, a little envious of the energy of youth, but a little irritated with myself too.  I kept myself in shape and watched my diet.  I had wanted to start running with him on his routine since he could do it right near the house instead of at school, but I hadn’t been able to keep up.  He was very good, college scholarship good, and I wasn’t going to ask him to match my slower pace and potentially lose ground in his development, or even backslide.  I had started complaining about my ankles and let him run on his own.

I was pretty sure he knew what I had done, and why.

He finished up the end of his run and tapped the pedometer at his side.  I joined him as he started walking back and forth along the driveway, breathing deeply, twisting his torso and stretching his arms, occasionally stopping to pull his knees up to his chest one at a time or touch his palms to the ground between his feet.

After the first twenty yards of walking and stretching, he spoke.  “I heard on the radio that you got in another fight today, Dad.  Have you thought about getting some help?”

I nodded.  “Yes.  I’m going to start going to Super Powers Anonymous, I think.  There’s also a disruptive powers program that encourages people to live in rural areas.  Octagon mentioned it to me today.  I’ll be looking into it.”

He nodded, and didn’t say anything else, just stretching as he walked, still breathing deeply.

“I understand that you’ve adjusted your diet, more fruits.  Anything specific you want?” I asked.

He thought for a moment.  “Whole wheat pancake mix and some frozen berries I can use for smoothie mixing.  I’m getting low on both.”  He ate what we ate, but he also had his own refrigerator and freezer for the foods he used to supplement our meals.  With his exercise schedule, he needed around seven thousand calories per day to maintain weight.

“Sure thing.”  The list was getting long enough I’d need to write it down or risk forgetting something.

“Thanks dad.”

“You going to be available after dinner tonight, Danny?  Family strategy get-together tonight.  Some stuff came up today that I need to talk to you two about before I make decisions.”

“My Spanish study group doesn’t start until nine, so I’ll have time for a while after dinner, sure.” He perked up a bit, still not quite used to the fact that Anne and I were starting to include him in our decision making processes.  We had even let him cast the tiebreaker vote on where we were moving to, when Anne and I decided living in the city with my power was far too dangerous.  He respected his grandparents, but he didn’t want to live in the same town with them.  He couldn’t understand them at all, and none of them really understood that running was more than just exercise for him, it was a potential for a living.  Sports clothing endorsements and various energy food commercials could quickly add up to be enough to retire on, if one were frugal.

The second time we passed by my truck, I patted him on the back.  “Gotta run, back soon with groceries.”

He nodded and did a couple more stretches before walking up to the front door of the main house and grabbing the black towel there.  After a few seconds of wiping the sweat off so he wouldn’t drip it all over the house, he knocked five times, waited a couple seconds, and entered the house carrying the dirty towel.  “Hey Mom, gonna hit a shower, please don’t start the washer for a few minutes?”

“OK Danny.” I heard, as the door closed behind him.

I just stood there a few seconds thinking about how lucky I was to have a wonderful wife and a son who, for the most part, was well-behaved, smart, and knew where he was going in life.

I got into the truck, got the pencil out of the console, and flipped up the note about slag, writing down the grocery list items: bread, milk, eggs, apples, oranges (too ripe?), frozen berries, and whole wheat pancake mix.  I thought about it for a moment and added a couple things for myself.  A six pack of dark beer, toothpaste, deodorant, and some sleeping medicine.  After a moment’s thought, I wrote a ‘2x’ by the entry for the six pack of dark beer.

As I drove to the store I tried to figure out how, exactly, I was going to try to separate myself from the family I was so lucky to have.

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  1. thomas

    A very thought provoking chapter. Man, that last paragraph is depressing. Isn’t he already sort of separated?

    • I graduated, and forty-five
    Comma not needed
    • four trucks, and a tractor, and three miles
    suggest: four trucks, a tractor, and then three miles
    • work, then rotated the stool to her left a bit and stepped off.
    Suggest: work, rotated the stool to her left a bit and then stepped off. 

  2. underwhelmingforce

    I feel like the mind control guy will understand- Zeke’s motivation was family, after all. Hard to argue with that.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s generally standard to format internal dialog as italic but sans quotes. Since italics are used for emphasis and whispering, it could cause potential confusion.

    Also, I could see a habit you picked up from Symbiote in the internal argument which might cause issues if you aren’t careful. You clearly have the habit of writing with two characters in each head and you need to get away from that habit now. The argument could be significantly reformatted to be a lot less clunky and awkward to read. I don’t think many people actually argue with themselves in that manner- similarly, yes, but there is a subtle but significant difference between two people arguing and one person debating with himself. Further, be careful about using “we” or he starts to seem like he has multiple personality disorder.

    • farmerbob1

      Good point with the internal dialog. I will need to watch for influences of multiple people in a single skull, from Symbiote. Pronoun usage will have to be watched carefully. Will poke around in earlier chapters as well. I may need to simply boldface emphasis.

      I think all of the “we” usages left are clearly pointed at “we” as in Zeke and his family, rather than Zeke talking to himself.

      • Isa Lumitus

        Hi, I’m the Devil’s Advocate. Sorry for being a year late, but I’ve had a heavy case-load recently.

        When thinking to myself, I frequently use “we” instead of “I”, unless I’m mentally rehearsing something I plan to write, or say to others. I started on the basis I had to use plural, to account for both speaker and listener. I know that sounds strange, but it seemed like ironclad logic when I was four. After that, the habit stuck, and I felt no need to change it.

        Then again, if I’m going to devil’s advocate my devil’s advocate argument… People have always thought I was a strange one.

        • farmerbob1

          I normally use ‘I’ when I’m thinking to myself. The problem here was that I had recently finished writing Symbiote, which had two characters sharing a single body, and eventually sharing the same mental space. When they talked to themselves, it could get confusing, and I developed an internal monologue style for that. Which I had to unlearn.

  3. Beyogi

    So the mind control guy goes after those that everyone thinks despicable. I wonder what he would have done with the homosexuals 50 years ago…

    Mindrape is mindrape. The worst is the ass could have probably offered it and most pedos would have taken it. But no, he goes the moral panic route and feels good about being about as despicable as pedos who actually abuse children.

    • farmerbob1

      Vigilantes frequently engage in grey moral behavior. They are allowed to continue to act by the hero community until they step over the line and start to anger the community instead of pleasing the community. Blindside was forced out of the Savannah area because of exactly this. He went after corrupt police too hard. People expect corrupt police, and as long as the corruption doesn’t do significant damage to the community, and the people still feel safe, they might hold their noses, but are mostly fine with it. When Blindside started breaking the legs of cops that engaged in petty corruption, he was eventually told, in no uncertain terms to go somewhere else, and either find something else to do, or stick to officers that engaged in corruption that harmed others more clearly and directly.

      This means that there have probably been communities where homosexuals might be targets for vigilantes. In some parts of the world, there might still be. There might also be ‘villains’ in those parts of the world that attack homosexual-targeting vigilantes… Move those ‘villains’ to parts of the world where homosexuals are not targeted by vigilantes, and the one-time ‘villain’ might find themselves better aligned with the hero community than either the villain or the vigilante community.

      This isn’t going to be a black-and-white world.

    • Isa Lumitus

      Good point about the homosexuals. I don’t think I’ve seen the point brought up before.

      That said, my own moral-judgement-o-meter is tilted strongly against saving or punishing people who willingly harm themselves, such as druggies and (by 1950’s standards) gays. Since pedophiles are usually causing harm to an unwilling person, it seems fair to me to be a bit more harsh with them.

      That said, when you can make permanent changes to someone, does it even seem like others have free will anymore? Is it really right to punish people because they were unlucky enough to be the sort of person you dislike? As you said, Beyogi, Blindside could have just fixed them completely.

  4. Bart

    The relative costs seem pretty heavy balanced against my freedom.
    heavy should be heavily

    Danny was having a bit of hard time making the transition.
    should be an “a” between of and hard

    to an area where even cellphones wouldn’t work if I hadn’t had set up the booster
    remove the “had” between hadn’t and set

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