I’m never going out again. Maybe I can suffocate or starve in here. I was right, I was always right. I’m a monster.
I don’t know how to be anything else anymore.
I don’t even know if I can die.
So I’ll just stay in here, away from everyone else.
Ishikawa Yuto laughed triumphantly as he floated away from the fleet of aircraft to commence his attack. Back home he’d been carefully and closely monitored every moment of the day, never given an opportunity to truly exercise his power. The decision to launch the nation into war with the greedy, hypocritical Americans had finally given the young man that freedom.
Over a year spent in a tiny cell at a research facility had left the young man aching for any opportunity at freedom. The first opportunity came in the form of military service, as General Tōjō himself had come into the facility and asked for volunteers.
Yuto laughed again as the air crackled loudly with his electricity, and unleashed a bolt of devastation at the American’s naval base below him. Lightning, massive and sustained beyond anything found in nature, ripped across runways and into the buildings that surrounded them.
I finally see it. This was no curse, it was a gift! Ascension to divinity! I will NEVER go back in a cage! Yuto’s expression turned from joyous to disdainful as a cacophony of small explosions ripped through the air around him. Several soldiers on the ground had managed to get an anti-aircraft gun operational, and were attempting to shoot down the lightning-man.
And fools attempt to kill a god. The thought was punctuated with a new torrent of electricity, charring the four soldiers to death and obliterating their weapon in an instant. Yuto laughed again as he unleashed further destruction, raking his bolts through the barracks and surrounding buildings, taking delight in seeing his full potential finally unleashed.
A flicker to his right, barely there before it was gone again, drew the flying man’s attention. A cascade of electricity leapt out to meet the unknown object before Yuto even turned his head to look for it. Surprise registered across his features as he realized it was another person, airborne as he was, and flickering closer in vanishing jumps.
And so they send their own Divine to challenge me? I accept! The young man roared and his glowing body brightened incredibly, nearly a second sun sitting in the morning sky. The bolt he unleashed dwarfed his previous assaults, the deafening thunder continuous as electricity tore the air apart. Yuto smiled as he saw his attack intercept the oncoming figure perfectly.
The smile was still on his face when the figure appeared directly in front of him, the woman staring into his eyes with an impassive mask made of her own features. She’s on fire, but not beaten yet. I wi-…
Yuto never finished his thought, as the sky exploded around him, leaving no trace of the would-be god.
Master Sergeant Trevor McCull screamed profanity at the incoming wave of aircraft as he lifted his rifle to fire desperately at the swarm of planes. He knew, rationally, that the odds of even hitting one of the fighters from the ground were slim. Logically, it was virtually impossible that he would do any appreciable damage.
Sergeant McCull didn’t care about rational or logical at the moment. His base, his people, his country; it was all being attacked. And so he fought back, with whatever he could find, even knowing it was hopeless.
The explosion from directly above the Master Sergeant sent the man diving for cover, thinking that one of the bombs had landed in the building above him. A glance skyward revealed a plume of smoke far too high, and a rain of metal and glass from the sky.
We got one? McCull knew that he wasn’t the only soldier desperately returning fire at their attackers, but he did know there were no large emplacements on this side of the base. His musing was interrupted by another explosion in the sky above him.
The grizzled marine felt his jaw drop open in shock, and the rifle fell from his hand unnoticed. Above him the attacking planes were blasting apart one after another, as if running into invisible walls in the sky. A flash to the side drew his eyes, and Sergeant McCull saw a PERSON, falling in the sky on an intercepting course for one of the now fleeing aircraft. A ripple seemed to distort the air around the falling figure, and the plane blasted apart in a shower of fire and scrap.
The falling silhouette vanished, and another explosion came a second later. Scanning rapidly above him, the Master Sergeant caught a brief glimpse of the figure before it vanished again. The sky above was rapidly clearing of enemy planes, the few still in the air were turning away from the island and fleeing at top speed.
McCull reached down to recover his rifle, still not sure what to make of the bizarre scene he’d just witnessed. Turning to survey his surroundings, the old marine wore a grim expression as he assessed the area. The damage to the marine barracks was extreme, but the buildings still stood. Already he could see navy corpsmen running through the damaged areas to pull the wounded under cover for treatment.
The Master Sergeant spotted a few groups of enlisted, coming out from where they’d sought cover and cheering at the apparent retreat of the attacking aircraft.
“MARINES! FALL IN!” McCull’s bellow was met with an immediate response, roughly two dozen marines scrambled to form ranks in front of the Master Sergeant.
The older man smiled at the quick response from his men, and then began shouting orders. Something the old marine didn’t understand had saved them all once, but he wouldn’t rely on a guardian angel twice. At his direction, machine gun nests were quickly established in the rubble on several rooftops, and more and more personnel were found and either rushed off for triage or pressed into immediate service.
Distant explosions drew the attention of the rapidly organizing troops, and the Master Sergeant found himself staring along with all the other men at the flashes and smoke in the sky out over the ocean.
I don’t know who, or what, you are, but thank you. “ALL RIGHT MARINES! BREAK IS OVER, BACK TO WORK!
Lieutenant Commander Yamada Oda stared at the distant flashes in the sky in front of him and tried to make sense of the panicked chatter streaming over his radio. Something had clearly gone wrong with the first wave, but even from three kilometers out the second wing commander could see that significant damage had been done.
No sign of Yuto, and where are all our planes? Oda knew he needed to decide quickly if he should turn his wave back or press forward into the unknown situation ahead. Unfortunately for the young officer, the decision was rendered moot.
The flight commander jerked his controls involuntarily as his wingman’s plane suddenly exploded off to the right. Oda lost a great deal of altitude fighting his controls as his uncontrolled movement followed with a tremendous amount of turbulence nearly sent him crashing into the waves. It only took a few seconds for the Lieutenant Commander to level off. What he saw as he searched for whatever had attacked his men left him white with shock, and terror.
More than half the hundred planes under his command were gone. No trace that they had ever existed save for the dense smoke and shimmering fragments of metal falling from the sky. Another plane shattered as Oda watched, looking as if it had somehow crashed into an invisible mountain. Panic engulfed the young officer as he realized that the first wave must have met a similar fate, and the Lieutenant Commander began screaming orders into his microphone.
Lieutenant Commander Yamada Oda barely finished his desperate order for the surviving planes to retreat, when his own craft exploded in a brilliant fireball.
Admiral Chuichi Nagumo stood on the bridge of his ship, the mighty carrier Akagi, and stared at the skies above the island his fleet approached. The rest of the bridge crew scrambled frantically about, trying to make sense of the chaos the surprise attack had descended into. Intermittent radio chatter about a ‘flying demon’ that the Americans had unleashed to destroy the Japanese planes was common. As were the screams.
The middle-aged Admiral seemed to ignore the chaos, instead focusing all of his attention on the departing shape of the battleship Hiei as it sailed closer to the island; technically against the fleet commander’s orders. Nagumo found himself desperately hoping that he was wrong, and that his subordinate, Mikawa, was correct in pushing further forward with his powerful ship against the unknown force that had apparently decimated their air forces.
The Fleet Admiral has already moved his fleet far closer than he’d originally planned, having been convinced that the overwhelming power added by the inclusion of the lightning-wielding Yuto would be enough to carry them all the way to a ground invasion of the American islands. Nagumo had no idea how that could possibly proceed now, with nearly all their aircraft missing or destroyed, and their most powerful weapon suddenly absent from the sky as well.
The advancing ship that the Admiral had all his attention focused on suddenly began firing, the entire deck of the ship seeming to light up as all of the smaller batteries and anti-aircraft guns began shooting at something not visible from the Akagi. Nagumo snatched a pair binoculars from a nearby spotter and brought them to his eyes to try and spot the Hiei’s target, as the distant *pop* sounds from the battleships small guns rolled across the carrier.
The experienced officer couldn’t find anything for a long moment, then he noticed how most of the batteries had stopped firing and the few that continued seemed pointed at the deck of the battleship itself. A second of further scanning, and the Admiral spotted what they were shooting at.
A lone person, – A woman? – covered in soot and wearing nothing but tattered rags, stood on the deck of the Hiei. Nagumo watched as the ship’s brave crew swarmed to the deck and fired an endless barrage from the ship’s guns and their own sidearms at the mysterious woman. He continued to watch, as the battered figure raised a single hand over her head.
The binoculars fell from his suddenly nerveless fingers, as the Admiral witnessed the mighty battleship broken in half by an impossible force. The shockwave resulting from the death of the Hiei struck the flagship with enough force to crack the massive bridge windows and frighten the entire ship into silence.
Admiral Nagumo walked slowly to his radio officer, and issued an order he never thought would come from his lips. The man stared in confusion for only a second before he began relaying the order to the remainder of the Japanese Combined Fleet. The fleet commander managed to keep his expression stoic as he watched the crew scramble to fly the white flag, and turned to exit the bridge when his radio officer switched to an open broadcast in English.
“American Navy, this is the Japanese Combined Fleet. We surrender. Repeat. We surrender.”
Deanne Ritely turned abruptly from her frantic run towards the Altered Research facility and spotted the source of the shout. Private Gleason braked sharply to skid his jeep to a halt and waved frantically at the blonde woman.
Deanne ran to the vehicle and pulled herself inside, making a ‘go’ motion at the young Private when she couldn’t catch her breath quickly enough to say the word aloud. Gary mashed the accelerator to the floor as soon as he got the signal, turning the wheel hard at the same time to spin the small car around and send it towards the road leading to the facility.
“Is… is she okay?” Deanne’s first question didn’t get an immediate response from the young driver, but the empath waited patiently as they bounced down the unpaved road.
“I don’t know.” Gary’s eyes remained focused intently on the road, and his voice was a monotone, but Deanne saw the storm of conflicting emotions behind the mask. “Dr Kimmel can’t decide if he’s furious that she disobeyed the order to remain in the secure areas, or overjoyed that she finally pushed her limits. I saw her when she came back in. She was covered in ash, and blood. I couldn’t see any wounds, but there was a LOT of blood. She wouldn’t talk to anyone, she just went straight to the vault she sleeps in and locked herself in.
“Kimmel was trying to convince her to come out, and Gunny Kramer is trying to convince the doc to let HIM go in and get her out. I decided to come find you when that conversation started.”
Deanne paled and shook her head at the news. “Tell me Bernard isn’t seriously considering allowing that.”
“I don’t know. He’s convinced that Sergeant Lawson is going to save the facility from being shut down, and he was getting desperate about getting into that vault when I left. The Gunny is probably the only one here, aside from Jessica, who could break it open.”
In spite of the situation, Deanne smiled. “You finally called her ‘Jessica.'”
“Not. Important.” Private Gleason flushed slightly but kept his focus forward, braking sharply and pulling the wheel to the side to direct the jeep around a small pile of rubble and into the facility’s motor pool. “We need to get you in there before Kimmel decides to let Kramer try his way. I’m not the mind-reader, but I’m pretty sure bad things will happen if someone breaks the Sergeant’s door down.”
“I’m not sure that I can get her to come out at this point. Not until she’s ready.”
Gleason stopped and stared incredulously at the blonde woman, then started chuckling softly.
“I’m pretty sure you’re the only one who can get Jessica out of there, Lieutenant.”
“And why is that?” The infuriating amount of confidence suddenly being projected from the Private caused Deanne to speak far more harshly than she’d originally intended.
“I was with her this morning when she took off.” Gleason shook his head and smiled as he spoke, recalling the moment. “That girl, who’s afraid of everything, who HATES violence? She went out to face an armada of planes, a flying Altered throwing Goddamned LIGHTNING everywhere he went, and apparently the entire Japanese fleet. Know why?”
“That’s, no…” Deanne trailed off without finishing her thought, but the taller man forced her to face him and nodded sharply.
“She went out because YOU were out there. To keep YOU safe. If she went out to fight a WAR for you, I think you can probably manage to get her to come out of her room.” Gary produced a handkerchief from somewhere and offered it to his teary-eyed companion.
“Now come on, Dr Kimmel is sounding like he’s starting to take Kramer seriously.”
“I’m back, Jessica. I’m still right here, as soon as you want to open the door. You don’t even have to come out. Just open the door and talk to me.”
It had taken Deanne almost an hour to convince Bernard that breaking into Sergeant Lawson’s room would be the absolute worst option possible. It had taken a great deal longer than that to get the irate Gunnery Sergeant Kramer to leave the situation alone.
And it had taken the first full day of trying to get her friend to open the door before Deanne stopped feeling ridiculous, sitting in a hallway and calling into a megaphone so that her friend could hear her through several feet of steel. She’d acquired a pair of ear plugs after the first two hours, realizing that her hearing might not hold out as long as Sergeant Lawson without some assistance.
The attack had been three mornings ago. Deanne knew objectively that Jessica was physically fine. Subjectively, she could FEEL the ball of misery on the other side of the door and it was killing her that she couldn’t fix it.
“Please, Jessica. You need to open the door. Just talk to me. PLEA-…!” Deanne’s entreaty broke off in a fit of hoarse coughing as her overtaxed throat complained at her abuse. The blonde nurse wiped her lips, absently noting a few red flecks on her sleeve, and reached down for her water so that she could continue.
“Jess-…” This time Deanne’s plea was interrupted by a loud *clunk* from the door in front of her. The blonde woman wasted no time in scrambling out of her chair to help the freshly unlocked door swing open, and staggered back a step at the sight that met her there.
“I’m glad you’re okay, Deanne. You should go now, though. I can’t come out. It’s like I told you at first, I’m a mon…” Jessica stiffened and stopped speaking as the taller woman regained her footing and surged forward to wrap her arms around the brunette.
“You are NOT a monster. Stop trying to convince me, because I can FEEL what’s going on inside that head of yours. Now you are coming with me, you are going to SHOWER, and then we are going to feed you, and THEN we’re going to make sure you aren’t injured.”
“If that were true, you wouldn’t have opened the door for me.” Deanne began pulling her smaller friend towards the hallway. “Now come ON. Or do I have to throw my back out carrying you to the shower?”
It took a few more minutes alternating between gentle prompting and stern rebukes, but Deanne finally got the short brunette moving, and once moving it was only a matter of navigating to the listed destination. Jessica looked around suspiciously when the pair encountered no other personnel even during their trip to the mess hall, but Deanne offered her a smile in response.
“I convinced Dr Kimmel to keep everyone out of your way for your first trip out. Now off to medical. March!”
The examination room was reached without any further objections, voiced or otherwise, and Deanne was unsurprised to find her friend completely uninjured, physically at least.
“Did you feel any physical pain during combat?” Deanne ignored the flinch her question elicited and pressed on before her friend could come up with an evasion, either verbal or literal. “And don’t lie to me, Jess. I’m not going to watch my best friend die because she was hiding some internal injuries behind her nearly impervious skin. Talk.”
The brunette started at the authoritative tone, and answered without thinking. “The lightning burned me. On my left side, pretty bad.” Jessica looked away nervously from the disbelieving gaze the nurse gave her after a close examination of the completely unblemished area.
“It was burned, when the other Alt-… When the lightning hit me. But it got better, really fast. Just like…”
Deanne waited patiently as her friend trailed off, realizing immediately that pushing this time would be the wrong approach. Jessica was silent for almost a minute before she spoke.
“It was like, that other place. The one that couldn’t have been real, because I was only gone for three days. When I had to fight there, I got hurt. But at the end, I always got better really fast. But it wasn’t real…”
“It wasn’t real, but it has been an indicator of all your other abilities.” Deanne maneuvered herself down to look directly into the shorter woman’s eye. “You never mentioned super-healing when we talked about it before.”
“I never thought about it. I thought it was just something that happened so that I could keep fighting, if it was just some kind of nightmare…”
“Alright, come on then. We have a few more stops to make.” Deanne pulled at the shorter woman until she had her on her feet again and led the way down the hallway.
“Where are we going?”
“I… I don’t want to see any-…”
“It’ll be empty.”
“You’ll see.” The perfectly singsong tone the taller woman managed actually startled a soft giggle from her friend, which drew a huge grin from Deanne in turn.
After making most of the trip in silence, Jessica found her voice again.
“Do they know how many I… How man-…”
“We’re here!” Deanne interrupted and steered Jessica over in front of the room’s television. “This was broadcast a couple days ago, but we got a recording because we thought you’d want to see it.”
Before Jessica could try to ask her question again, Deanne had flicked the screen on and started the playback. The Staff Sergeant froze as she saw the face of President Roosevelt appear on the screen, and listened attentively as her Commander in Chief recited a long speech addressed to the American people.
Deanne stood quietly back, watched, and hoped. You won’t believe the people around you when they tell you you’re not a monster. Not even when your friends and family tell you. PLEASE listen when the leader of our country tells the entire nation, the entire WORLD, that you’re a goddamned hero.
Jessica watched the entire recording in silence, tears forming in her eyes when the President finished his closing statement.
“He… he thinks I’m an officer.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ve got a promotion coming.” Deanne smiled encouragingly as she felt her friend letting go of some of her guilt.
“He said… I saved… I stopped a war?”
“He also called you a hero at least a dozen times, and declared you as a ‘champion of democracy and freedom.'”
“This is, it’s not what happened!”
“Seems pretty accurate to me.” Jessica turned to look incredulously at her friend. “Well, I admit he did get the detail wrong about your rank, but that was probably one of his staff making a mix-up somewhere, and like I said; it will probably be true soon enough.”
“The country thinks I’m a HERO!” The disbelief practically dripped off the last word.
“That would be because you ARE, Jess.”
“He’s talking like they want to give me medals!”
“A Medal of Honor, at the very least. First woman ever awarded one, I understand.”
“I killed people! Hundreds of people!”
“You defended your home, your friends, and yourself. And you saved thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of lives.”
“I don’t deserve ANY of this!”
“You didn’t deserve to be Vanished away into some private hell with nothing but violence and death for what felt like YEARS. This? This isn’t about deserving. You EARNED this. You’re a hero, a champion of the nation, all of that.”
Jessica sank down to the floor and hid her face in her hands. Deanne walked beside her and knelt to wrap her arms around the smaller woman.
“I didn’t…” The petite brunette’s frame shook as she sobbed. “I couldn’t STOP fighting. I didn’t know how. It was like I was watching myself from outside.”
“But you did stop. As soon as the fleet surrendered, you stopped and came straight back here to hide in your room.” Deanne kept hold of the smaller woman as she continued to shake. “If you were a monster, like you keep trying to tell me, you wouldn’t have stopped. You would have kept going. I bet ALL those ships would be at the bottom of the ocean. You could have done it, easily, right?”
Jessica nodded silently as she continued to cry.
“So stop trying to convince people you’re evil and dangerous, and start FIXING IT.” The abrupt shift in tone startled the crying woman into stopping. “Honestly Jess, stop pushing everyone away. We all want to help you, LET US.
“Now,” Deanne pulled herself to her feet and brought the unresisting Jessica with her. “Let’s get you cleaned up again. They’re having a parade in your honor at the naval base, as soon as we tell them you’re up and about again.”
Deanne giggled as her friend vanished, feeling the panicked woman make a beeline back to the safety of her room. Little too much, we’ll try again tomorrow. The blonde woman stretched her arms over her head and tried to flex out the kinks in her back from sitting in a metal chair in a hallway for most of the last three days. A smile remained on her face as she began making her way up to Bernard’s office to report on her progress. Good progress though. She didn’t lock her door this time.