My eyes were bloodshot the night I met the man from Heaven. The sun had set and I was submitting my last set of story revisions before dinner. One of my reporters had been covering illegal campaign contributions to the mayor. Looking back, it’s baffling to think about what used to be important. I was so wrapped up nitpicking little words about little men doing little things that I barely noticed when the gravity changed.
First, everything became incrementally lighter. My pen scraped dry on the page as the ink trickled to a stand-still. Scratching it to see if it would work sent my now-weightless arm smashing into the wall next to me. Stars filled my eyes as I heard the soft tap of feet landing atop our staircase.
Ink splattered onto my fingers. My bangs fell over my eyes. The building groaned with the sudden return of its stolen weight, gravity now even stronger than before. Even through my hair I could see the warm glow of Space Brother’s aura. Paperclips and stray staples drifted off of the table to melt and disappear into his skin. This was in the days before he’d learned to control his infection so well, when he was more like an open doorway to the raw power of the Other-Force.
I didn’t have those words for it then, of course. I hardly had any words at all. The first that went through my mind after he entered were his. “Evening, Miss Alley. My name’s Ted.” I had to repeat them in my head eight or nine times before they sank in as language at all, before my brain registered them as anything other than music. There’s a man under all this, I thought distantly. Or maybe just on top.
Life has shown me some crazy things since that day. There’ve been magic hobos whistling up mountain ranges and flying cities made of robots. History itself has been rewritten at least two or three times by my count and there could be plenty more I haven’t noticed. Fear and death are distant memories, things I remember with about as much urgency as I remember homework and missing phone calls. They’re problems for a smaller time, the walls of a smaller self.
But God, if you could give me the chance to shed the baggage and see the Space Brother like I did that first day, unvarnished and whole and pure, that light would grip me with the same primal power it did back in 1999. As I interviewed him, he described this power that had entered our reality and how it chose him to be its champion. He called it the Other-Force, claiming it knew everything about us and wanted to guide us to greatness.
It sounds hokey. It sounded hokey then. But it was hard to figure out where to draw the line while the fella was standing right there in my office, skin magnetizing every scrap of metal in the room and melting it into the plasma that streamed off him. So I did what any good reporter would do and I listened. I asked questions. I fed him every angle I could, frayed every thread of conversation until he’d unraveled his whole life in front of me.
He claimed to have been a pretty simple guy and after a few hours of conversation I was inclined to believe him. Normally I wouldn’t have been very impressed. He was old-fashioned for one thing, and not always in a charming way. He raised a burning eyebrow at the tattoo on my ankle like he was my old man, even though I was pretty sure I actually had a couple of years on him. He was also kind of a putz. Lived in a small town, never went to college, ran a comic book shop that struggled to stay open. Turned out he’d only come to see me because he picked up a newspaper and mine was the first name he saw. Seemed like the type to flip straight to the funny pages.
Ted had a hell of a story to tell, though. And something about the Other-Force demanded your attention, like the gravity he controlled was just the physical part of some deeper pull he could exert. When he started to seem bored or run out of ideas for what to say next I did everything possible to keep the conversation going. I strung probably an extra three hours out of him just asking him his plans, helping him figure out who else to tell about his powers, what angle of attack he wanted to take on his PR campaign.
At one point when he tried to go home, I physically intervened to stop him. It didn’t even occur to me it might be dangerous. I’d seen his skin vaporize just about every coin and thumbtack in the room but none of that was as pressing as stopping him right there. When I realized what I’d done I was terrified to think of how badly it could have turned out. Fortunately, his chest didn’t burn or atomize me or anything like that. It just pulsated warm against my skin as he chuckled and moved my hand.
I must have made an impression because he kept me on as his spokesperson after that. I was the one who came up with the name ‘Space Brother,’ though Ted didn’t like it at first. In time we became something more. I started to advise him on more than just P.R. Ted was too innocent to become so important all of a sudden, see. He needed someone with a hard nose by his side.
I’m not sure I ever fell in love with him, not properly. But I did get to see the kind of person he was. Regardless of his hick attitudes or the godly power infecting his body, he really was just a regular guy. He had fears and he had hopes. He wanted, deep in his core, to see everything turn out alright for people, even if he had some dumb ideas about what that looked like.
In fact, Ted Truitt might’ve been the last ‘regular guy’ I ever cared about. Before long it became clear that the Other-Force was infectious. It wouldn’t make you a glowing God quite the way it did for him, but it could still turn you into something weird. Something dangerous. Juno’s been looking through other folks’ eyes for so long she’s lost all sense of distance. Meanwhile silly Tyaun has to experience every moment one eternity at a time.
I don’t really feel bad for them, though. I can’t. I haven’t felt bad in about two decades. The Other-Force let me fix all that nonsense. Maybe it sent Ted to me because it knew I would need him. It knew this stupid world and my stupid body would become too weak to persist. Maybe I just lucked out and Ted could have just as easily found some other name in the paper, ended up saving some other life instead.
See, with all the personal time I spent with Space Brother I was bound to get an infection of my own in time. It took over fifteen years. Fifteen years of scheduling his labs and press conferences. Fifteen years of guiding him through the messy process of showing mankind a god walked among them. Fifteen years watching him gain greater finesse. Fifteen years watching him forget the boundaries he once lived by.
It happened the night he pulled me into his dream. Maybe the waking part of him didn’t have the courage to face his feelings so his dreaming mind had to reach out. Maybe the Other-Force was just playing matchmaker. Regardless, I know it was him dreaming of me and not the other way around because I’d been awake when it happened, chewing out a colleague in the newsroom. They said I collapsed mid-sentence, some goofy smile spreading across my face while I slept.
It was a beautiful night we spent together. I appeared in what looked like a farmhouse, what I’d learn later was based on a real house in Eudora. The air was kind there. He was kind. Even I felt kinder than usual.
We didn’t talk about it afterwards. I tried once, but he insisted the whole thing was improper. Unreal. He started by begging me to forget it and after a few minutes it sounded like he’d actually convinced himself it was a lie. That didn’t drive me crazy, though. Guys blow ladies off all the time and not even Ted was so kind that I’d have expected much different. It hurt, sure, but the worst storms always come from inside.
Maybe the infection helped drive me to the breaking point. It was too much power to have all at once. With Ted’s infection living inside me, I gained the power to carve words into things. Granted, I could always carve words into things, but now I could make those words true. I could carve ‘fast’ into a car to make it go faster. I could carve ‘tall’ on a sapling and it would grow. I even tried the HOMEFRONT gig for a while, stopping riots and super criminals with Ted, Petra, Tyaun and the others.
They needed my hard nose there, too, or so I told myself. They needed somebody who wouldn’t hold back all the time.
Even then, though, I knew fear. When my power first manifested it terrified me. It somehow seemed more dangerous to have complete control over my life than none at all. Surely chaos had to have some kind of deeper intelligence, something more reliable than my own stupid brain.
Idiot thoughts from the mind of a coward. As soon as chaos snarled even a little I had forgotten my higher-minded anxieties. Six months after I got my powers I was attacked by that monster, Milkboy Alpha, and nearly died in the rain. Six months and one day after I got them, I carved the word ‘immortal’ into my arm.
Maybe I could have looked death in the eye if I were just afraid for myself. But fear was still my enemy and it’s skilled at diverting your attention. There was something else I was afraid of losing when Milkboy Alpha slashed into my chest with his bone spurs. She was still three months away from being born and I couldn’t deprive her the world.
Ted never acknowledged my growing belly or the child that followed. Even the hospital nearly turned me away, reasoning there was little point prioritizing a woman who couldn’t die over the ones in real danger. That was one of the first times I began to perceive the wall that was growing between myself and normal people. Not when they turned me away… but when I swore to carve ‘infanticidal’ on the wall of the building.
Maybe it was extreme. No more extreme than the fist of loathing that pressed down on my head. No more extreme than the gut-deep urge I felt to hold the baby’s face against my distended stomach and seal off its nose and mouth until it stopped moving. The hospital tried to feed me pills and explanations. They suggested it was a kind of mutant postpartum depression, the traumas of childbirth enhanced by the nature of my daughter’s infection.
She’d be like me, they promised. Like her father.
A mother can’t afford to think what I thought then. I knew my terror and revulsion weren’t normal or real but that didn’t justify letting my daughter suffer them. I needed peace and objectivity. I had terrible decisions to consider and was too miserable to think straight. So I took another blow to my humanity. I stretched out my legs and I carved the words “happy” and “fearless” into my skin.
My thinking became much clearer, then. I found a purity I’d never experienced since that night I first saw the Space Brother. Ted made sure to let me know he was concerned about my behavior, disappointed, even. The last time I ever saw him, he said he’d pray for me.
I wondered then, and I wonder now, what on earth could a man like that pray to?
It was too late for the two of us at that point, anyway. I was still drawn to something inside him, still wanted his approval in a distant way, or at least wanted a feeling of ownership over him. But perfect contentment blunts every other feeling. It’s hard to feel longing or regret when everything is fine as-is.
On New Years Eve 2019, nearly 5 years after I got my powers, Truitt was murdered.
It was impossible, of course. Everything about Ted always had been. Even if he was kind of a jerk sometimes he’d shown enormous restraint as a God living on earth. In fact, discipline might have been his most superhuman quality and it seems clear nowadays that all of that was down to Ted, the man. When the dust from the New Years Eve attack had settled, Ted and our friend Mac Stevens were both dead. Worse, Mac and Ted had been guarding that purple ogre, Bigley. Somehow in the attack, Ted’s powers had been stripped from his body and transferred to the president.
Few of the little people wanted Bigley to be their leader, let alone their hero. In the months that followed you could hear the other members of HOMEFRONT talking about the scandal. Tyaun suggested we should disband, even pool our powers together to contain him before it was too late. Others disagreed, insisting it would be too dangerous, too political.
Intervening seemed like it would be more work than fun so I was glad when the others talked Tyaun down. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so blase. Even if I couldn’t make myself care about things, I could tell that Bigley was different. He barely had the discipline to take control of his mouth let alone the fundamental forces of reality. Leaving the powers of Space Brother in his hands was worse than leaving them with a child. A child doesn’t have an old man’s insecurities or resentments. A child can only barely hate.
That’s hindsight for you, though. At that time the idea that the human president could really matter to us was entirely foreign, like caring which queen got to command a hive full of ants. We never knew he’d go so far as to throw his enemies into The Error Zone… and it’s only within the power-dampening space of The Error Zone that I can even begin to care.
There’s no way of knowing how long I’ve been here. Time in the Error Zone spirals backwards, forwards and through neighboring timelines. It’s like you’re line-dancing through time instead of walking, moving constantly but never getting anywhere. Worse yet, your parts don’t age in the same direction. One hemisphere of your brain might start sliding back and ‘leftwards’ in time while the other goes forwards and ‘right.’
When the lobes of my brain are all on the same timeline and I can scrape a few thoughts together, I manage a few hopes for our daughter. I hope she keeps her wits about her, whatever the world may look like now. I hope she keeps her feet firm on the ground. I hope that she’s ready for a time when nothing is normal. I hope that she isn’t afraid.
Next: (1.1) Roxanne
Want to skip to our next guest narrator? Read (2.0) Roshan