Fiction Fragment Friday
This week’s story comes from multiple inspirations. The first is that it is yet another story about the character in Restless and The Gauntlet. I am enjoying this character and glimpses into his life. The previous two stories ended right when the real action was going to start because they were about discovery. I did not want to do that again as it would feel like pulling the carpet out from under the readers. I wanted a complete story this time, but wanted it to grow from what had come before.
The next motivation was watching Power Rangers Once and Always this week. I have been a Power Rangers fan since I was a kid and seeing two of the originals return for the first time ever. It was a story written for other adult fans telling a more mature story but honoring all that had come before.
The third point of motivation is fairly obvious for anyone who knows me. I am a big Dresden Files fan. To not see Jim Butcher inspirations in this character would be disingenuous. As I am going back to some of the early books in the series I’m remembering the learning process the character went through. How he was often his own worst enemy. I too often do not put my characters through the proper level of difficulties.
There is power in nostalgia. I am not referring to the innate ability to cloud a person’s mind to the imperfections of things they loved. Likewise, I’m not referring to the potential for financial gain inherent in reliance on previous work. I’m talking about the power that only comes from mental energy generated by large volumes of people focusing thought on a single source. This energy generally dissipates over time, but if it is aimed at someone or something that knows how to harness it then there is potential. Thankfully it is rare for someone who has the knowledge to also have the access needed for making use of it.
For my old friend Vince Allen nostalgia was food. When I say old friend, I don’t mean that we had been friends for a long time. Vince was over a hundred years old, but he looked like he was in his forties. Through most of his life he looked twenty-three and just created new identities every few decades. I still don’t know what his original name was, and I doubt he will ever tell me. Even to friends Vince is a guarded person.
“Congratulations on the successful reboot.” I was waiting for Vince on the couch in his dressing room. He was not expecting me and jumped at the sudden greeting. I find it is useful to catch people off guard if you want to get truthful answers out of them. Keep your target flustered and they will let things slip that they wouldn’t if they had been better prepared.
“How did you get past security?” There was surprise in his voice, but he was trying to hide it. Vince does not really trust anyone. I suppose a long enough life can bring that out in a person. He hung up his jacket and moved around his dressing room. He mindlessly flipped through a pile of fan mail using it to stall and regain his composure. Even with a friend he couldn’t relax, but I suppose he was right to be on edge since I was there to check up on him.
“Come on Vince, I manipulate more magical energy before breakfast than most people will unconsciously in a lifetime. Do you really think a bunch of guys playing dress-up carrying tasers had any chance of seeing me?” I let out a bit of a forced chuckle I had not expected this conversation to hold so much tension but wasn’t sure how to deescalate. I have never really had many friends and while I was concerned, I didn’t want to lose one of the few I managed to make. “What’s going on here Vince? You look twenty years older than when I saw you last.”
“Oh that,” he waved his hand like it was a minor thing. “I let myself age a bit. With this new wave of remakes and reboots I knew it was only a matter of time before my agent called. I couldn’t exactly come back to the role looking like I did after all this time. I even put off creating a new identity because I knew the call would come.”
“How does it feel?” I watched his face for the real answer underneath his words.
“It is incredible. I have tasted fame so many times, but this is different. There is something more visceral about fame flavored by the memories of youth. Even if I had more fans at different points in my life, they were never this devoted. I think I’ve gained another fifty years off this movie.”
“I’m happy for you. I really am.” I heard an insincerity in my own voice. I’m good at bluster and intimidation, but when it comes to covering up my own insecurities I fail every time. If I am being completely honest with myself, I might admit that I was also a bit jealous of his skill at extending his own life. I don’t like to be that introspective though. If you can’t lie to yourself, who can you lie to?
“Then why don’t you sound like it?” I couldn’t meet his eyes and let him see the shame in them. “I’ll tell you why. It’s because you spend so much time dealing with power hungry monsters that you’ve started to see them everywhere. You want to know why we haven’t talked in two years? It’s because I see how you look at me. You’re doing the math in your head trying to decide if I’m a threat because you are so full of yourself that you can’t imagine anyone else being able to handle power without being corrupted. Well maybe you should look in a mirror before you start judging me. I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you.”
A more introspective person might have asked themselves if he was right about their motivations. Of course, that means I doubled down and started trying to figure out what his outrage was trying to redirect me away from. Maybe I really am a horrible friend. “Ok, I admit it I’m worried about you. This kind of influx of power is intoxicating.”
“You don’t think I know that?” I flinched backwards at the intensity of his anger. I could feel energy radiating off him. It was a channeled power greater than anything I had ever controlled, and it was just the residual energy from his emotions. It was the anger of fans tired of seeing the thing they had loved so long disrespected and changed. The energy of a fandom only now finally getting what they wanted. If he decided to focus that power on me, I wasn’t sure if I could defend against it. Then as quickly as it had overwhelmed me the power was gone. “See? I am in complete control and have had multiple lifetimes to prepare for this. I can channel it, but I can dissipate it as well. This is what I do.”
I only realized that I was on the floor when he reached out his hand to help me up. I took the hand and felt no power from it. His control was complete and while I might have far more general ability, I knew I would never be as good at this type of energy. It was his specialty, and he didn’t need me to explain the dangers. I would never understand them as well as he did. When I spoke this time, I held nothing of my emotions back. “I’m sorry.” It was only two words, but I put everything I was into them.
His voice was soft now. “I know you are.” He patted my back. “You really do need to get out more. I swear you are becoming more antisocial. I figured having a kid would cure you of that.”
The pain in my head was like a knife directly into my brain. My knees wobbled and went out from under me. I was unconscious before my head hit the floor. In those moments though it felt like my life flashed before my eyes. The only issue was that it wasn’t my life. There were aspects of my life, but this one was fuller. I felt an overwhelming sense of loss as it faded away, but just as quickly the memories of the event faded.
I woke on Vince’s couch with my head pounding. I had no idea what had happened. The last thing I remembered was the apology. Like most things I trying to defuse my confusion and reassure myself with smartassery. “See this is why I don’t ever apologize. Besides it requires my being wrong about something it really does hurt.”
Vince helped me sit up and I could feel him radiating a healing energy. I felt the cut on my head from the fall heal. Let me tell you feeling a process that usually happens over days happen in seconds is a bit disconcerting. I’m ok at healing magic, but Vince apparently was an expert. This should not have surprised me because his own life extension and eternal youth were all expressions of this focus. I decided I had to try one more time. “You know with your skills you could do a lot of good.”
“Oh no. I’m not you. I don’t want to fight anything. Not my thing at all.” He was shaking his head hard.
“You don’t have to fight, but with your healing skills you could save a lot of lives.”
He laughed at me. “You really have no idea. Do you know how many children’s hospital visits I do? How many wishes I grant for terminal patients?” I just shook my head. “Then you probably don’t know the remarkable recoveries that have come from so many of my visits.”
I was in complete shock. I really had no idea my friend had been using his abilities for anything other than his own benefit. The realization that I didn’t really know him at all was starting to hit me. My own ego had once again gotten in the way of seeing the truth. A voice in my head screamed at me that I wasn’t always like this. Something had changed. I had changed. “I am realizing that I have been a terrible friend, but I want that to change. Can we try again?”
He looked at me with a broad smile. “I would very much like that.”