Story art by Holly Heisey.
From the author: When the Destroyer comes, worlds fall. Trauma gave Lieve the ability to fly and manipulate energy fields and she joined the Wardens in protecting her world. Now the Destroyer of Worlds has come down from the sky, and to save her world she must confront her past and the nature of her powers themselves.
A spark streaked down from the afternoon sky, flaring orange before it disappeared behind the high-rises. At the crowded hoverbus stop, Lieve shifted her hold on her grocery bags and squinted at the blue after-image.
Her heart started to pound. It had been forty years since humans first manifested powers—new classes of powers still showed up every now and then, and there were always variations within the classes. The person who was that spark could be manifesting something new. They didn’t have to be the Destroyer of Worlds.
The hoverbus sighed to a halt and began disgorging passengers. Lieve clutched her grocery bags, heavy with onions and celery and the jaco fruit that only came into season for two weeks out of the year. She had promised her wife she’d cook tonight. She’d promised she’d actually keep her promise this time.
Lieve dropped the bags and pressed her earpiece.
The answering bot chimed, “Central.”
“Tell Natan I’m going to investigate the incursion, it’s about five kilometers southwest of my current position.”
The comm channel clicked and Natan boomed, “Lieve, I’ve sent people to scout the area, I don’t want you anywhere near—”
Lieve tapped off her comm. Natan’s version of scouting usually involved shooting. She had to be sure this was what she feared. She couldn’t let an innocent go down.
Her hands briefly felt the guilty absence of the grocery bags, but her wife would understand. She always did. Lieve was a Warden; she had to keep the world safe for her family.
She crushed any lingering guilt and scanned the street around her. It didn’t matter that the Wardens had been around for a while, they still made normal people nervous. But the bus stop was mostly empty now, and her grocery bags were already gone, scooped up by someone else.
Lieve crouched and leaped into the air.
Lieve shifted the fields controlling her flight and dropped onto the pavement in the low-rent district. She threw up a physical protection field and sent her telepathic fields scanning ahead of her.
Every person put off power. For some, it manifested as luck, or passion, or confidence. For those who had reached their breaking point, it manifested into full classes of powers. The stronger the trauma, the stronger the manifester.
Lieve was one of the strongest.
Here in the slums, there were more than the usual degrees of personal hell. Power spiked and ebbed around her—none of these people were full manifesters yet, but they might be someday.
Lieve caught a scent of a darker thread of power, a steady pulling on her strength. She leaped again and landed a few blocks away.
Ahead of her, a man of average height and build walked the cracked sidewalk in a battered leather coat and jeans. Power flowed to him, but she could only see the halo of it, like the accretion disk of a black hole. On the buildings he passed, cheap holopaint graffiti—normally invisible in daylight—flickered blue and pink in a darkness that was all his own.
Her earpiece crackled. Oh hell, Natan had forced an override.
“Lieve? Dammit, Lieve, I know you’re there. Don’t do anything. I’m sending over the teleporters.”
Natan would hear her sharp breathing over the open comm. And Natan would know what that meant.
This was the Destroyer of Worlds. The accretion disk effect, his appearance, the falling streak of his arrival—all of it matched the reports sent from the Wardens of other worlds, in their urgent calls for help. He dropped down from the sky, pulled in power, and went off like a bomb. He flattened buildings, and then cities, and eventually broke up the world.
Then he moved on to the next one. He’d destroyed four worlds that they knew of.
“Lieve!” Natan shouted. “I know what you’re thinking, this guy’s not out of control, he’s out and out rogue. He’s worse than rogue. Don’t even try—”
Lieve ripped off her earpiece and shoved it into the pocket of her civilian pants. She wasn’t in Warden uniform, maybe that would be less threatening. And she’d never understood how a man could hate everyone so much that he would utterly destroy worlds.
She strengthened her physical and mental shields.
Teenagers on the street corners watched the Destroyer, pointing at his rough clothes or his lank hair and laughing.
The Destroyer stared down at the plastic cups and wrappers littering the sidewalk.
Lieve came up beside him. He turned sunken eyes on her, and she felt the siphoning of her power increase. She quickly looked anywhere but at his eyes.
“Have you come to help me?” he asked, in a voice that rasped like old paper. “Please, kill me.”
The hairs on Lieve’s arms rose. She opened her mouth.
Teleporters pop-pop-popped in around them. Lieve tore her gaze from the Destroyer just long enough to mark the identities of the teleporters and the weapons they carried. Natan’s most lethal strike force.
She started to yell, “Don’t shoot!” But when she looked back to the Destroyer, he was gone.
“Shit,” Natan said. “Oh, shit.” It had been his mantra since Lieve had arrived back at Central with the teleporters. Natan paced the operations island in the center of the circular control room. Earthy dust trailed from his fingertips, matching the gray of his Warden uniform; he was not quite in control of his powers. But then, none of them were. Lieve had the bubble of a defense field wrapped tightly around herself, and she couldn’t drop it if she wanted to.
Natan ran a hand through thinning hair and turned to the gathered Wardens. “All right, suggestions?”
“Kill him,” was the general consensus.
“He’s a victim,” Lieve said.
Natan pointed toward the city where they’d found the Destroyer. “That thing knows exactly what he’s doing. We have five, maybe six days before he gathers enough power and—” Dirt puffed out from his hands and clattered to the floor. “No more planet.”
Lieve’s stomach tightened. Her wife was at home with their two-year-old daughter. Moira would be making dinner now, slamming dishes onto the counter and cursing Lieve for breaking her promise. Again.
They had five days until the world ended.
“I have to talk to him again,” she said.
“You’re not on this mission,” Natan said. “Not in the field—”
“But I was there, I’m the one who talked to him—”
“Yes,” Natan said, “and we all know what happens when you do too much talking and not enough following orders.”
There was a short silence. A sharp scent of ozone filled the air as one of the weather-changing Wardens released nervous energy. No one looked at Lieve, because yes, that last manifester she’d tried to talk down had almost killed three Wardens and even more civilians with his jets of fiery rage. That manifester had been one of the classes immune to tranq darts. Lieve had screamed at the Wardens not to take him down before she tried to talk to him, but he’d been too far gone. Lieve had nearly killed herself stretching her limits to shield the bystanders.
But she hadn’t been wrong to try.
“Fine,” she said.
“Fine?” Natan echoed. “Because that needs to mean, ‘Yes, Natan.’ I don’t want you going vigilante on me.”
“Fine means fine.”
It was past three in the morning when Lieve woke to her comm buzzing on the bedside table. Beside her, Moira groaned and pressed a pillow over her head, muttering that Lieve should go the hell back to sleep.
Lieve fitted her earpiece and waited until she was in the living room to answer. “Yes? This is Lieve.”
For a brief moment, silence. Then breathing.
Lieve tensed. “Who is this? Are you hurt? Where are you?”
Ice ran down her spine. It was the Destroyer. She pressed the comm to her ear, the edges digging in. “How did you get my comm code?”
“From your conversation with Natan,” he said.
Could he read comm waves? No, more likely he was telepathic, pulling thoughts with the same ease that he pulled on powers. Oh, that opened up a whole new realm of horrible possibilities.
“Where are you?” she asked.
All that day in Central, she’d watched the Wardens track him across the continent, and he’d always teleported away just before they caught him. He’d left a trail of flattened and burning buildings behind him. He’d left a trail of destroyed people. She wasn’t so sure of her victim theory now.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and his voice, which had been flat before, broke. Static filled the channel. Had he cut the connection?
She looked back to the bedroom where Moira still slept, and her daughter Ina in the next room.
The static cleared. “—didn’t mean to. I couldn’t help it, I can’t contain it all, it comes out in bursts, just little bursts. I tried to get as far from the city as I could, I always at least try when it gets bad—”
“Where are you?” Lieve demanded. “I’ll come.”
“Sorry—” The comm went dead.
Lieve pulled out her earpiece and stared at it for a long moment. Why had he called her? Well, she had been the only one to talk with him while everyone else was trying to kill him.
The call was on a Central comm line. If Natan wasn’t still awake, the bots that monitored the comms would be waking him now.
Lieve pinched her upper lip. What was she supposed to do now? Natan had told her to stay out of it, but the Wardens were not making any progress. No Wardens on any world had ever made progress against the Destroyer.
But he’d called to apologize. Oh no, he wouldn’t have been that distraught if it was just the smaller havoc he’d wreaked earlier.
She grabbed her wife’s tablet off the kitchen counter and logged in. The news search didn’t take long; panicked reports were coming in from people who’d witnessed the destruction of Hanak, a port city in the north. Footage was shaky, people were screaming. There was no footage from within the smoking city itself.
Had there been any survivors?
They knew from the other worlds that the Destroyer fed on people’s powers. After the trauma of its destruction, Hanak would be surging with the power of new manifesters, and the Destroyer would be devouring it all and growing stronger.
Lieve shut off the tablet. He had just killed millions. But then, she’d known he’d killed billions on other worlds. The new manifesters might kill or wound hundreds more in the panic of their new powers, and the Wardens didn’t have enough people to teach them control, not while they were tracking the Destroyer. What use was it to teach control when the world was ending?
Shuttles had been lifting all day to get important people to what ships were in the system. The official explanation was that there was a conference being held on Orbital 3. The path of destruction on the ground was caused by a rogue manifester, and the Wardens had it under control. It was plausible enough—the worlds had seen their share of rogues.
But no one would buy that now. Enough rumors about the destruction of the other worlds had spread, and no one truly believed it was all due to natural phenomena.
There would be panic. More people would die.
And he had called her. He could still be a rogue trying to mess with her head, but…her gut was screaming that wasn’t so.
Lieve grabbed her flight jacket and headed to the balcony.
She found him five kilometers outside the ruins of Hanak. In the distance, the sky hazed bright with fire and smoke, and sirens gave a thin, constant wail. He looked up from where he sat on a patch of bare ground by the side of the road.
Lieve threw up her defensive fields and strengthened them. The pull of his own personal black hole had grown.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Lieve carefully sat down beside the man who had just levelled a city.
“What is your name?” she asked.
He didn’t answer.
She shifted. “Look, you called me. Do you want my help? I can help you learn control—”
He pushed himself up. “They try to teach me. Mostly they try to kill me. That helps, you know. It makes what I do easier to handle.”
Lieve swallowed panic and bile.
She needed physical contact. Sometimes a human touch could get through the panic of an out-of-control manifester when nothing else worked. To be willing to have contact with someone who was afraid of themselves was a form of acceptance.
She braced herself and held out a hand.
He flinched away from it, and then froze. He cocked his head as if scenting the wind. He disappeared.
For the barest breath, Lieve thought it was her hand that had spooked him, but then she felt the gathering energy of Wardens coming. She leaped an instant before they took shape and followed the power-sink trail of the Destroyer.
“I don’t look back,” he said. “I can’t look back. I can’t remember.” And more softly, “I won’t.” He flexed his hands as they walked in the dark, this time on a game trail in the forest.
Brambles and branches snagged on Lieve’s pants, and she pushed out her fields to sweep them aside. “Do you remember anything of your life before?”
“This is pointless,” he growled. “And now I feel the power building. I’ll have to dump some of it soon, and teleporting away might not be enough. This always happens when your kind try to help me. You should leave.”
“At least tell me your name,” she said. She was trying to sound calm. She needed to make a connection, but he was so cold, so drawn in on himself.
He was silent for several steps. “Matthew.”
It was such an ordinary name, one shared in some variation by most of the worlds.
She licked dry lips. “Do you remember where you used to live?”
He shook his head.
And then they walked in silence, because as much as Lieve could feel the ticking clock over their heads, she couldn’t push him. Maybe she’d already pushed him too much. She wasn’t a therapist. She just knew desperate people. She knew what it was like to be desperate.
Matthew stopped. “I have to teleport again.” But he didn’t. He waited, his shoulders trembling the branches around them.
Lieve readied herself to take to the air, and prayed she would have some warning if he was going to give off an explosion here.
At least it would be away from the more densely populated areas.
He rustled and held out his arm. “Touch my sleeve.”
Lieve hesitated. But she could feel the energy gathering within him. She touched his sleeve.
And in the endless moment between one step and the next, she felt everything. For that one moment, she knew him.
Matthew stood in the center of a wheat field. He had a pistol in his hand, heavy and slick in his grip. He raised it to his head, cold metal pressed against his temple. He dropped it. He raised it and dropped it again.
His wife couldn’t know. His children couldn’t know he had killed a man.
He’d been too drunk, and the warehouse had just laid off his whole shift. He didn’t know where money for the next bill was coming from, let alone food, and Jason Denov, whose shift hadn’t been laid off, had suggested that Matthew’s wife could take up whoring. Matthew had punched him.
In the field, Matthew tightened his grip on the gun. Crusted blood on his knuckles cracked, and the cuts began to ooze red.
He and Jason had carried the brawl from the shed in Matthew’s yard, where they’d been drinking, to the yard outside.
They grappled and fought. They were about the same size, and about the same strength.
Matthew punched Jason, and Jason punched Matthew. But Matthew had the strength of rage, and he gained ground by inches until he had Jason near the wall of the shed, and the pile of junk beside it.
Matthew clocked Jason on the chin, and Jason fell backwards into the pile of junk.
In every kind of hindsight, that had been so, so stupid. There was everything sharp about that pile. But Matthew hadn’t been smart that night.
Jason hit the pile, screamed, and looked down to see the shard of metal jutting from his chest.
Matthew screamed, and tried to pull him away from it.
Jason screamed and fought him off, tugging on the shard and tearing up his hands.
Matthew just screamed.
Jason fell still.
After a while, Matthew got the shovel from the shed and began to dig.
He buried Jason in his driveway, then parked his truck on top of the grave. He had been smart enough then to move the hovertruck up and down a few times to make the stones look like this was where it always sat. As if Jason had never been.
His wife came out of the house, wondering what all the noise was about. He told her to go back to bed. He shouted it, really.
And then he ran to the pantry to grab his pistol, and went into the fields.
He closed his eyes and pressed the cold muzzle back to his temple. His hand was shaking, but it was steady enough.
Jason was a prick, but he was Matthew’s best friend.
Matthew pulled the trigger.
They stepped out into a small clearing in the woods.
Lieve trembled, the memory like the taste of blood in her mouth. Did he relive that every time he teleported? No wonder he was half crazy. No wonder he had never gone beyond the first stages of the trauma. It was always still too raw.
And he’d been on Logan’s World. That farming world had gone silent over twenty years ago, but everyone had thought it was from a rogue black hole. Something had happened when he’d pulled the trigger. He’d gained his powers, he’d jumped somewhere else—to another world, maybe ahead to another time. He hadn’t started to descend on worlds until just over a standard year ago.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she said.
Matthew stiffened. “What?”
“Not your fault. What happened to Jason. You didn’t mean to—”
Matthew whirled on her. He glared in reverse, a directional swallowing of her life force. And his energy continued to grow, a pressure in the air.
She didn’t think, she just leaped. She was in the air when the blast hit her, sending her spinning across the sky.
Lieve landed in a field, and it was too much like the field where Matthew had held the gun, so she leaped again. She ended up by a lake, and it was too much like the lake where she had stayed when she was pregnant with her first child, and so she leaped again. She landed in a mall parking lot. It was still night, and only two cars dotted the pavement. From the top of the light posts came the occasional red flicker of a security beam.
Lieve braced her hands on her thighs, and for a long moment tried to breathe.
The breaths turned to sobs.
Her mind replayed that scene through Matthew’s eyes. She felt his shock, and the void that had opened inside of him. It was as if her fist had thrown that last punch, and her hands had buried the body.
Lieve sank onto a concrete barrier and covered her face.
She tried to tell herself it hadn’t been the worst tragedy. She had helped manifesters who’d witnessed gang shootings, or shot someone and broke because of it. She’d seen manifesters whose loved ones had been killed in a fire, or whose partner or parents or children had died in any number of horrific accidents. Some of them had been part of the accidental cause.
There were manifesters right now, in the wreckage of Hanak, who had lost everything. And they were not ending the world. She had not ended the world when she’d gained her powers.
The barriers in Lieve’s control cracked, and memories that she’d kept at bay for years flooded in.
Her wife had told her she shouldn’t drink so much, even though the wine had been bio-engineered as pregnancy-safe and boasted extra vitamins. She had been having pain in her back all week, and her boss was cramping down on her at work, and she’d had too much of a headache to care. Just one night of oblivion, she could give herself that.
She’d wrecked the hovercar on the way home from the club, drove it straight into a traffic post. In the end, she’d lost the baby. For a few drinks, she’d lost her daughter.
Lieve bared her teeth and made a sound that could have been a scream.
All Wardens were workaholics. You didn’t manifest without trauma. Why couldn’t happy people get to unlock the latent powers in their DNA? Wouldn’t the worlds be a better place?
Lieve couldn’t distract herself from the memories, so she rocked herself and let them play out. She didn’t dissect them. She didn’t have the energy—all of that had gone into surviving Matthew’s memories. She didn’t process. She just watched.
Maybe it wasn’t her fault. Wasn’t that what she’d told Matthew? It was her mistake, yes, her stupid mistake. But it wasn’t murder.
After a while, she got up. She wiped her eyes again and looked around. The sky was pink and the air thick with dawn. The mall workers would be arriving soon.
She had to go home. She needed to let her wife hold her, and she needed to hold her daughter—her second daughter—tightly, and tell Ina she loved her. She hadn’t done that lately.
Lieve crouched and leaped.
And came down a half meter from where she’d been standing, stumbling to not hit the ground.
Her powers were gone.
Lieve walked into the mall when it opened and talked a store clerk into letting her use the comm. She called Central, and two minutes later, a teleporter popped in beside her. He grabbed her arm, and she was back in Central’s control room.
Natan hovered on the operations island, his shoulders hunched and eyes bloodshot. “What happened? Did he steal your powers?”
Lieve opened her hands. The control room hushed. Central was even more crowded now, a clutter of uniform colors with Wardens from other global sections brought in to help take down the Destroyer. All of them stared at her.
Wardens had lost their powers before. It was rare, but it happened. Sometimes a rogue stole them. Sometimes, the powers just went away. A Warden would be active one day, and retired the next. No one talked about it.
But Lieve thought she understood now. Her pain had given her powers, but she had faced that pain and come away with less tatters in her soul. She couldn’t explain that to the Wardens. They had been more family to her than her family, and she had been the same to them. But no one talked about their lives before, or what had caused them to manifest.
“Ah, shit,” Natan said to her silence. He looked past her to one of the big screens on the wall, his face grayer than she had ever seen it. He puffed out a cloud of dust. On the screen, a newscast showed the ruins of Hanak, still burning.
No, not Hanak. She could see parts of the skyline of New Sydney, the white pencil of the Hubble Spire still standing near the river. Matthew had destroyed another city.
“Lieve,” Natan said slowly, “I get that you want to help him. I get it. But you really screwed up this time.”
She’d screwed up because of what she’d said to him. She had escalated the Destroyer’s destruction. And she’d screwed up because she’d deprived Central of herself, one of the most sensitive trackers, when it badly needed all available resources.
She didn’t dare look around the quiet room. The other Wardens felt like strangers watching her.
“Go home, Lieve,” Natan said. “You can’t do anything here.”
The teleporter deposited her in her living room, and Lieve collapsed onto the sofa. Morning light peeked through the wall of windows, and the aroma of brewing coffee wafted in from the kitchen. She heard water running—Moira in the shower. Her daughter would be up soon.
Had it only been a few hours since she’d left, so eager to fix the Destroyer? How naïve of her, how utterly egocentric. The last out-of-control manifester she’d tried to help had almost killed a handful of people. This one had just killed millions.
And she didn’t have her powers.
She tried to throw up a field, just a small psychic barrier, but nothing happened.
She couldn’t go back to cubicle work, not after being with the Wardens.
Lieve looked around the vaulted living room, at the trendy furniture, the chrome and red plastic decorations. Moira didn’t make enough alone to keep them in their downtown apartment. And Moira wouldn’t want her to stay home all day with their daughter—Moira’s daughter, carried by Moira, because they hadn’t wanted to make that mistake again. They had an unspoken understanding that Lieve was not the responsible one. Not in that way.
And what was she thinking planning for the future, when in a few days there would be no more future?
Panic would already be breaking out. There would be no trip off-world for her family, who had no real status, especially now that Lieve was no longer a Warden.
Why did she have to lose her powers now? Why had she lost the one thing that truly mattered to her when everything else was falling apart? She’d looked at the worst of herself and survived, and whatever gods there were had punished her by taking away her powers. Was that how this really worked?
The shower turned off. She heard the squeak of bare feet on tile as her wife stepped out, humming softly in the bathroom.
Was that how this worked? Lieve hadn’t wanted to deal with her problems here, so she’d gained the ability to fly above them. She’d wanted to shut out the world, so she’d given herself fields to identify threats and keep herself safe.
And maybe Matthew had gained his ability to destroy so he would never have to go back and face the ones he loved, because there was nothing to go back to. He streaked down from the sky to give the world a chance to kill him.
From Ina’s bedroom, there was a loud yawn that morphed into a giggle. Ina called for her mommy to make strawberry oatmeal. Lieve thought of answering the call, but she didn’t. That half hour could cost millions more lives.
Lieve didn’t have her powers, but the knots inside her were looser than they had been in years. Maybe the knots inside Matthew could ease as well. Maybe it wasn’t that Matthew couldn’t be helped, but like her, he didn’t think he should be.
Lieve grabbed the keys to Moira’s car. She hadn’t driven in years and she had planned to never drive again, but her need was greater than the fear.
She put on Moira’s earpiece—the Wardens could track her own comm—and hand-tuned it to the national broadcasts. Lieve would follow the chain of destruction to Matthew. She didn’t know what she would do from there.
It might take hours to get to where he was, or she might not get there at all. Even if she could ask the Wardens for help, they would only want to kill him. And they had to try. And maybe they would succeed where no one else had. Maybe they could save the world. But Lieve had to try, too.
She stopped thinking about the end of the world. She stopped thinking at all.
And then, between one step and the next, she stood before a wall of flames. Heat seared her eyes and cracked her lips. She threw up an arm to shield her eyes, the keys she still held smacking against her forehead. Had Matthew heard her thoughts and come to her neighborhood? Was he burning down her house?
She turned to scream for Moira. Instead, she faced an open field, grass wavering in the light of the fire. The burning building was a farmhouse, and wherever she was, the sky was just approaching dawn, not fully morning yet. She had crossed time zones. Matthew hadn’t come to her; she had somehow gone to him.
That shouldn’t have been possible. But then, there were a lot of things that day that shouldn’t have been possible.
Beside her, Matthew turned. Tears streaked his face, cutting tracks through grime and soot. Still refusing to think, she took his hand. He flinched, but after a moment, he didn’t pull away.
They watched the house burn.
“I got them out,” he said. “The father was well enough to drive. One kid had burns.”
Lieve squeezed his hand. She couldn’t feel his drain on her power anymore. And it was comforting, at the end of the world, to touch another who knew the kind of pain she had known. Who understood loss so deep that it snapped DNA into another state entirely.
She tried in turn to convey with her touch what she felt. That she understood the pain, too. She understood.
Matthew must have caught her thoughts, because he gripped her hand hard enough to hurt. “I’m trying to be better,” he whispered. “Then maybe it will stop.”
Teleporters popped in around them, and Matthew yanked her with him through his instinctive teleport away. His memories were slightly different. Raw, but in a sense that spoke of examination, not animal observance.
They came out near a stream. The morning sun was just cresting the lip of a hill, spotting through the trees and onto the water.
Matthew shuddered. Lieve kept her grip on his hand, and he made no move to let go.
He poured out words in a rush. He told her of the guilt that was tearing him apart. His need to pull so far inside himself that he pulled in everything around him too. His horror that the universe had not allowed him to die. His horror at what he was—and it was a horror that had little to do with the manifester he was now.
“I lived it, over and over. I can’t face them, my wife and my kids, not even in my memories—I can’t even think about them. I can hardly remember them, I haven’t thought about them outside of that memory in…” He waved a hand. Months in the relative time of his powers? Years?
Lieve teleported with him three more times when he felt threatened. Between teleports, he continued to pour out words. And every time they teleported, his memories were different. Every time, the nuances changed. It became less of Matthew beating his friend in a rage, and more of the give-and-take of a drunken brawl. It was more the fear of the moment. The fear for his family, for their survival.
Lieve listened, because she’d had no one to listen to her. The Wardens had shown her how to make her world black and white and no longer feel the color.
Matthew stopped talking. He looked around them. They stood near a tree line, and birdsong filled the absence of words.
They’d teleported every other time he’d stopped his torrent, but though Lieve braced for the transition, they didn’t go. His cheeks were still streaked with the tears and soot, but in the morning light, his eyes were less shadowed. He looked younger, maybe younger than she was.
“I don’t feel it,” he said. “I’ve felt everything, every bit of energy from the trees and animals and people, so bright. Everything’s too bright. But I don’t feel it. I should feel my power starting to build, but I don’t.”
They still gripped hands. Lieve couldn’t see the accretion disk that had once been around him, but she could no longer see powers in the same way, either. And yet power flowed between them, a quiet energy humming through their hands. It warmed her—not with a warmth of lust, or of family, but acceptance.
She hadn’t lost her powers. She’d only lost the powers that had let her run from all that was important to her.
There was the pop-pop-pop as Wardens teleported in around them, weapons at ready.
Matthew stiffened, but he didn’t teleport away. Neither did she. She’d done it once, but she had no idea how to make it work on command.
Matthew shot her a panicked look.
With realization, Lieve vented a short, tense laugh. Matthew couldn’t teleport. He was truly losing his powers.
Natan stepped away from the teleporter who’d brought him, and the ground trembled as his face purpled with rage.
“You,” he spat at Lieve. “You didn’t lose your powers. He corrupted you. That’s what he does. Now you laugh, while people are dying—” His rage slipped just long enough to show the hurt beneath it. “Never thought you’d go rogue.”
One of the Wardens pointed at Lieve. “The power’s coming from her,” she said.
“Trap,” Natan breathed, taking a step back. “It’s a trap, he’s going to blow—”
“He has control,” Lieve said. “He’s not going to destroy—”
“Both of them! Kill them both!” Natan bellowed.
Lieve didn’t have her fields to protect them. Matthew couldn’t teleport them. She felt his shock ripple through their gripped hands. His palm grew slippery with a cold sweat. Or maybe it was hers.
But she had a need. Power breezed through her and lifted them away from this point in time and space.
It dropped them gently in another field, under a different, bluer sky.
Matthew wasn’t holding her hand anymore. He knelt a few steps ahead of her in the wheat, crushing the stalks around him. He held a black pistol to the side of his head.
“No!” Lieve rushed forward.
He opened his eyes and looked up at her, then down at the gun in his hands. His mouth opened and he dropped the gun, skidding away.
For a long moment, they both stared at the gun.
“Are we…?” he asked.
Lieve took a shaky breath. Yes, it felt like his place and time. It felt like his moment. “I think so.”
He dragged a sleeve across his face, which was unmarred with soot and tears. There was dried blood on the cuff of his sleeve, from his fight. “But if we’re here—I still remember—”
He looked around him and swayed. “Did it actually happen?”
“I don’t know,” Lieve said. “I think so.”
Lieve closed her eyes. What indeed?
His powers were gone, or at least changing into whatever form they would take now. He was starting to heal. He had made the change into this new form of manifestation. And maybe he had brought them here. She didn’t know.
This was the next level, wasn’t it? No one was ever meant to stay in the shock of their first powers, it was only the first step in this phase of human evolution. The first step required control, a careful bottling of emotions. The next step took the courage to set those emotions free and move beyond the pain.
Lieve reached for his hand again, pressed it, and let go. “Go be with your family.”
He hissed through clenched teeth. But then he braced himself. “Thank you,” he said. He nodded, cast one more look at the gun, and left it behind as he walked away through the field.
He would need to tell his wife what he had done. He would need to tell the authorities. He would likely go to prison. But Lieve knew he would survive it. He had a different self to grow into, and new powers to bring change to his life, to his world.
And so did she.
Lieve thought of her family. She needed them, and they needed her—a need that had so long gone unfulfilled. It was time to live again.
She closed her eyes and let the wind take her home.
This story originally appeared in The Doomsday Chronicles.
When the Destroyer comes, worlds fall. Trauma gave Lieve the ability to fly and manipulate energy fields and she joined the Wardens in protecting her world. Now the Destroyer of Worlds has come down from the sky, and to save her world she must confront her past and the nature of her powers themselves. Power Outage is a superhero short story originally featured in The Doomsday Chronicles, a Future Chronicles anthology.
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