It is vital to our survival as a species that we not simply continue to sit here and ACCEPT these freaks that have been thrust into our midst. The media and the politicians will tell you that these ‘Altered’ are still human beings, and that they and their ‘abilities’ can serve a purpose in our society. They are LYING to you! Even the name they’ve adopted, ‘Altered,’ tells you right away. They are CHANGED! Yes, they were once human, but they aren’t anymore. They are abominations, and we must rise up before it’s too late! The evidence is mounting all around us while most sit snug in their cocoons of ignorance.
Every year, these freaks infect more and more of us with whatever steals our humanity, and we sit by and do nothing. Some of the most delusional are even revering them as some kind of divine being! The abominations gain in numbers and strength every day, but humanity has the ingenuity, the will, and the sheer weight of numbers to stop them! But we must rise up NOW, before the scales tip any further. Take up what weapons you can, educate yourself on the powers and weaknesses of the abominations, and strike them down every chance you get! For the survival of humanity!
Found on flyers distributed regularly in most major cities by the group, Defenders of Humanity
Jessica found herself carefully examining the newest pictures on the back wall of the office as she stood at attention in front of her commanding officer. It’s a little depressing that I’ve been in here so frequently that I can immediately tell when he’s put something new on the walls.
“At-ease, colonel.” The general’s voice was a solid mixture of exhaustion and frustration. “Your after-action report was meticulously thorough, and all of your statements have been corroborated by Major Torres. Please, sit.”
Jessica relaxed her posture and moved to seat herself in the proffered chair. “But you still have questions, sir.” The tone of the woman’s voice made it clear that this was a statement.
“Not really, no.” Mathis’ admission actually surprised a genuinely shocked look from Jessica for a moment. “It’s a terrible situation where lethal force was required, yes, but I don’t see any great need to relive the event ad-nauseam. Just following procedure at this point.” The general concluded his statement by sliding a piece of paper across the desk for Jessica to review.
“The official investigation into Lieutenant Tythen’s death will continue for another 72 hours. During this time period you are temporarily relieved of all duties, pending the outcome of the investigation.” Mathis managed to make it sound like the situation had been contrived to directly inconvenience him. “After 72 hours, you will have been cleared formally cleared by the investigators, you will be free to resume your duties, and I will be recommending you for a commendation for your performance in a difficult situation.”
Jessica found herself struggling to keep her jaw from dropping open in shock as she read the official paper relieving her for the next three days, and failed to do so in response to the incredibly blasé way the general was apparently dismissing the whole thing. “What the hell, sir?”
“You disagree with the regs relieving you, colonel?”
“No, sir. But the rest of this? A Paragon Nine with an otherwise stellar performance record goes off the deep end and all that comes out of it is a rubber-stamp investigation and shoveling everything under the rug?” Jessica slammed the paper back onto the desk and flicked it to the side, regarding it is entirely irrelevant. “We still have no idea who told Tythen we were coming, or WHY he tried to fight Major Torres and myself instead of simply running for it. And I would greatly prefer NOT to receive a commendation for butchering a man, sir.”
“What’s to discover, colonel? Lieutenant Tythen was clearly suffering from undiagnosed Progressive Altered Dementia. It’s-…”
“God dammit, we’re just turning the whole thing into a bullshit cover-up so we can slide Tythen’s screw up on the emergency deployment into the pile, aren’t we?” Jessica shook her head in frustration as she interrupted Mathis. “PAD is an incredibly rare condition, but definitely convenient for this scenario, isn’t it?”
“Interrupt me again, Colonel Lawson, and you’ll be relieved for a hell of a lot more than three days.” The general glared with enough intensity that the small woman actually shrank back in her chair a little.
And we were almost getting along for a couple days there. “I apologize, sir. But I don’t think we can afford to write this off as an incredibly rare mental disorder. Please, order a REAL investigation, sir.”
Mathis maintained his glare for several more seconds, but couldn’t quite keep the same level of fire in his eyes that he’d had initially. “Why wouldn’t you want a commendation, colonel?”
The topic shift caught Jessica slightly off-guard, but it was one that she’d dealt with so many times in the past that her answer came easily to her lips. “I’ve never wanted to be honored for killing people, sir. It’s something that HAS to be done sometimes, but that doesn’t make it worthy of award or recognition.”
“Why do you really think that Tythen wasn’t suffering from PAD?”
“He was far too focused, sir. I’ve seen PAD before, the really bad cases where they’ll just lash out at anything. This wasn’t like that, sir. He was deranged, but he was still attacking and defending tactically.”
“Based on your report, his ‘tactical defenses’ don’t appear to have amounted to much.”
“They never do. Not against me, sir.” It was the general’s turn to involuntarily shrink back for a moment, as he contemplated those quietly spoken words.
“I’ll make sure the investigators actually do their jobs. Not a simple rubber-stamping of the statements and then back to business as usual. But there’s no way I can extend the timeframe to make this a truly detailed investigation. The orders to keep it at the minimum duration came down from on high, and I’m not seeing enough to convince me to throw my ass in the fire to countermand those orders.”
“Thank you, sir.” Jessica didn’t manage a very grateful tone. “If the timeframe is going to be that limited before the case is closed, I recommend having them look into HOW Lieutenant Tythen knew we were coming.”
“You realize it’s entirely possible that he simply SAW you and Major Torres heading towards his residence and assumed the worst. Particularly if he was suffering from any sort of mental malady, as the preponderance of evidence suggests?”
“If no one warned him, then I’ll concede mental illness as much more likely, sir.”
“Very well, colonel. I will accept your request to NOT recommend you for a commendation at this matter’s resolution. You officially stand relieved of all duties for the next 72 hours. No movement restrictions are being placed on you, but please keep your tracker on your person at all times. Dismissed.”
“I’m so glad you finally decided to make an appointment with me!”
Jessica struggled not to roll her eyes at the gushing tone from her newest psychiatrist, lucky number thirteen. “It’s a little disconcerting to have a mental health professional HAPPY to see me, Dr Carpenter.”
“Hey, I’ll take every chance I can get to reassure myself that the strongest woman in the world isn’t teetering on the brink of insanity, thank you very much!” The red-haired psychiatrist giggled as she made her mock-indignant declaration, somewhat ruining the serious tone she’d been attempting.
“Well, as long as YOU feel better afterwards.” As hard as she tried, Jessica couldn’t quite seem to manage a truly scathing tone. My God, she’s actually so cheerfully oblivious that it’s affecting me. Or-…
“No, I’m not the type of empath that can screw with your emotions. Not anymore than a normal person can, anyways.” The perfectly timed statement, interrupting her thoughts as they were asking the same question, resulted in a deeply suspicious glare from the brown-haired woman.
“Except that a normal person wouldn’t have known what I was thinking about.”
“A normal person who’s also a trained psychologist could probably figure it out pretty easily. Your poker-face isn’t as good as you think it is, Colonel Lawson.” The redhead crossed her arms triumphantly, then her expression shifted to one of contemplation. “Of course, if I wasn’t an empath in the first place you wouldn’t be wondering if I was somehow manipulating you, so I guess that train of logic doesn’t actually make it out of the station.”
“Any chance we can do this without you using your power to poke around inside my head?”
“Well, we could try something like teleconferenced therapy sessions or something, but I don’t think I’d be nearly as effective that way.”
“Because we’re making SO much progress face to face…”
“Of course we are!” Jessica offered an incredulous look in response to the fervent statement. “We’re getting to know each other! This is our first session together, the one where we have to build the foundation that will hold up our entire professional relationship going forward! We’re making GREAT progress!”
“You haven’t honestly wanted to leave for the last five minutes. That’s a HUGE improvement over the first ten minutes when you were contemplating escape every thirty seconds or so.”
Jessica opened her mouth to argue the point, but closed it when she realized her new therapist was actually right. At some point in the past few minutes, she’d relaxed enough that she wasn’t actively looking for a way out. “You’re reading way more than just emotional state.”
“Not really.” The psychiatrist accepted the accusation with a cheerful smile. “I get a little bit of the context surrounding your emotional state, but it’s nothing special.”
Jessica looked unconvinced, but opted not to press the point for now. “So, gotten a chance to read through all of your many predecessors’ notes yet, Dr Carpenter?”
“Please, call me Heidi. And no, I would never do anything like that. What you chose to share with your previous therapists is between you and them, Jessica. Oh, is it alright if I call you Jessica?”
“You didn’t read ANY of them?”
“Why would I? I wouldn’t want previous analyses, some of them DECADES old, to color my personal interactions with you. This way it’s a fresh start!”
“Are you like this with all of your patients?”
“I… think so? It can be hard to self-evaluate, but I try to approach all of my work the same way!”
Jessica lapsed into silence as she considered the woman across from her for several long minutes. Most surprisingly, the energetic redhead let the silence persist this time. She’s different, that’s for sure. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“So two days ago, I killed a man. That’s why I finally decided to make an appointment with your office and keep it.”
“And you feel guilty… Because you think there should have been another option?” Jessica started a bit at the surprisingly perceptive question, though more at the suddenly businesslike tone that accompanied it. “And you feel more guilt, because you don’t think you feel guilty enough in the first place. A confusing set of emotions, but I can assure you they aren’t uncommon.”
“You know, I’d almost forgotten how annoying it is to have a conversation like this with an empath.”
“Deflection won’t work anymore, you’ve finally opened up to me. Now; why do you feel like there should have been another option?”
Jessica stared incredulously back at the woman for several seconds. “Because… Because everyone keeps telling me I’m the strongest, the most powerful, all of that. But am I? When I can’t figure out how to bring someone in alive who CAN BARELY HURT ME?”
“Did you kill him because he was trying to hurt you?”
“No…” Jessica trailed off with a distant expression as she remembered Lieutenant Tythen’s last words.
“You killed him to protect OTHER people. And I’m going to guess you didn’t do this until AFTER offering him the chance to surrender. A chance you probably gave him WHILE he was trying to kill you. Am I right?”
“What do you really feel guilty about? I know you’re evading something. Empaths and annoying conversations and all that.” The self-deprecating tone at the end of Heidi’s statement actually surprised a chuckle out of Jessica, but her expression quickly returned to its earlier distant look.
“You can tell me anything, Jessica. No recording, no writing it down. I’ll do everything I can to help you, if you’ll let me.”
“I… There should be a better way. A better way than me showing up and killing people, ALWAYS killing people! It’s all I’m really good for. The military has me prance around for the public sometimes, put on a good show, inspire the people and all that, but when it comes right down to it, I’m a weapon. The deadliest weapon in the world, and I haven’t done a DAMNED thing to change that.”
“You save people. You’ve saved more people than anyone can even count.”
“But it’s not FIXING anything. I promised Deanne that I would make the world better, and I’m NOT.”
“I’m sure the people you’ve saved, year after year, would disagree. But even if you can’t see it that way, so what? Keep trying!” Heidi leapt to her feet as she began her impassioned speech. “You can’t accept all the guilt or all the blame for the world being a fucked up place! You’re keeping it from burning down around us, and that alone is better than what the other billions of us can manage! As far as we can tell, you have all the time in the world! Even you can’t change the whole world in a day, or a week, or even a month or a year. As long as you keep trying, you’re keeping your promise. Every time you save a single life, you’re keeping your promise. Every time you step in and stop another Lunatic from destroying a city, you’re keeping your promise! Stop looking for the one big victory to win it all, and start adding up all the little ones!”
The therapist suddenly seemed to realize that she was pacing in front of her patient, arms waving wildly, and clasped her hands together tightly as she blushed with embarrassment. “So, yeah, let’s stop focusing on the bad, and try to focus a little on the good, okay?”
Jessica tried to come up with an objection, any argument that she could use against the redhead’s passionate speech, but her mind kept swinging back to the same thought instead. The theatrics are different, but I feel like I’m talking to Deanne giving me another ‘You’re not a monster’ speech. So the brunette opted for a more honest question instead.
“So how do I do that? How do I even start?”
“You start the way you’ve started. You find someone you can trust, and you ask them for HELP.” Jessica felt herself giggling at the incredibly earnest, and incredibly simple, advice.
“Now, seeing as you’ve already been here for about twenty minutes past the end of your session, the first step in getting that help you should be asking for will involve walking out to reception, and scheduling your next session, because I need to meet my next patient ten minutes ago!” Jessica’s giggles broke out into genuine laughter as her psychiatrist ushered her out of the room.