Rorschach towers over Terminal C as a thick tangle of ink, just shy of the terminal’s glass ceiling. Massive arms support a trembling heart made of thousands of coiled shadow threads that undulate and worm around each other. Maisa and Tim Prince surface from the heart, reaching desperate hands out for any life line.
About a dozen people stand amid the benches, frozen in place, staring in shocked horror at Rorschach. Krater and Empyreal charge through the gates, and Snow Owl soars over them toward Rorschach. They see me burst through the wall, and Krater stops in his tracks. “Home Run!” His jaw drops as he sees my face, and he says, “No fuckin’ way, little man.”
“Bedevil, Epione, help those people!” I blast through the air, aimed right for the heart. For Maisa.
I’m not the only one charging in: Snow Owl rockets through the Terminal, and a blast of chilly wind chases after her, pelting me and the Blot with golf-ball sized pieces of hail. I expend energy to stay on course.
Rorschach’s entire mass vibrates, and a buzzing tone echoes across the Terminal, sawing through my skin and into my bones: GAAAAAAAAYYEYYYYYEEEEEEEEEBBBBABAAAAAAAA
I’ve heard it before, deep in the heart of my own fear. I grit my teeth and fight through it.
Rorschach swipes at me with two of its massive limbs. A giant, flaming hand just misses me. This thing copies powers; that must be someone’s from the airport.
I bounce off the elbow of the second limb, and launch right at Rorschach’s core.
I sink into sludge, and the coils of shadow shrink from my touch like frightened insects. I use energy to warp to Maisa. “I’m here, Maisa!”
Maisa doesn’t reply to me. The threads of Fear pack her mouth, cover her eyes and ears, and prevent her from moving. I try to dig her from Rorschach’s body. As my hands enter the heart of coils, images flood my mind.
I hurtle through the void on the back of a swarm of squirming, chitinous ropes. Stars rush past the swarm at speeds so fast they shift into a single orb of light in the distance. I slow, and the orb fades to reveal I’m approaching the edge of a galaxy.
I blink, and I’m back in Terminal C, pulling at threads with burning hands. The coils drag Maisa under the surface.
Snow Owl’s icy storm reaches Rorschach, and she smashes into the heart, grabs at Tim Prince, trying to pull him free. He’s just as stuck as Maisa is, and Snow Owl screams in frustration trying to get him out of the heart. When she can’t free him, Snow Owl flies up, dragging all of Rorschach with her.
“What are you doing?” I shout.
“Saving my brother!” Snow Owl flies straight up, toward the glass ceiling.
“Help me, Megajoule!”
I cover Maisa’s head and hold on for dear life, absorbing energy from my back.
We shatter the glass and keep going. Snow Owl lifts the entire hulking monster into the air above the terminals. I see the airport stretch out below us, and the hotel on the other end of the airport. People watch out of the windows.
“You can fly, right?” Snow Owl shouts.
I claw around Maisa. I have to dig her out before we fall. “Wait! The girl-”
My stomach flips as we drop back down into the terminal. Rorschach vibrates and the finger stabs hard into the back of my head. We hit the ground hard, I can’t grab a hold of anything, and I fall off.
I crash to the floor, absorbing all the energy I can, and rebound up with a kinetic burst, trying to get back on Rorschach’s core. Rorschach swings its limbs in huge arcs, easy enough to avoid, but I let a few of them clip me so I can absorb some energy. The amount they give me is huge, making my skin glow brighter with each hit.
I bounce between the arms and kick the flaming one with a huge amount of kinetic energy, absorbing heat from the arm before it ends up burning one of these civilians to death. Below me I see Bedevil using her telekinesis to pull a handful of people through the hole I made in the wall.
The flaming arm tries to wrap around me, and I punch it with another surge of energy, expending so much I lose my glowing aura. The red-hot threads burst, and the arm ruptures, uncoiling all the way back to Rorschach’s heart.
Rorschach’s body explodes into a field of lashes, and another arm grows from the heart. The wires slice through the benches, the stone, and the bodies below. Two of the closest civilians get diced, but Bedevil pulls a third person out of the way. I infuse myself with kinetic energy and blast out of there, grabbing another civie lady from the onslaught.
Snow Owl’s still trying to pull Tim from the heart, but I see Maisa drowning helplessly. I dash over to Bedevil and Epione, holding the paralyzed woman in my arms. Krater bounds in, smashing one of the arms apart. Another arm regenerates in the old one’s place, covered in rock. Wires lash across Krater’s skin, leaving him with thin stone scars.
“How do I get Maisa out?” I ask Epione.
Bedevil takes the woman from me while Epione looks at Rorschach. “The Fear is feeding all these people’s pain into its own body. As soon as you damage it, it repairs itself with that pain.”
I turn around. “Like Sledge. Then, if we get these people out, and I hit it hard enough, it won’t be able to grow back again.”
“Look out!” Bedevil holds her hands out.
Krater careens through the air toward us, but stops short as Bedevil’s telekinesis cushions him. She sets him down on the ground, and he groans as he climbs to his feet. Krater steps back when he sees us. “You… You’re…”
“We can talk about it later. Right now, we need to stop that thing.” I point at Rorschach.
Krater hesitates, but settles on a curt nod. “We’re definitely talking about it later.”
“We’ll get the people out,” Bedevil says. She floats into the air, and slings over to the other side of the room.
I need enough energy to blast this thing to smithereens. My options are gather heat, or let it pummel me. My plan is why not both?
I suck in as much heat as I can without supercooling the air around me, and jump into the razor wires. They slice through some of my clothes, but I absorb them as they enter my skin, so that they only leave minor abrasions. Rorschach swings another arm my way, and I let it hit me, absorbing everything I can from the attack.
I absorb so much my skin shines. Rorschach shoves into me, trying to bury me in the ground, but I push back with the the same amount of energy he’s pressing down on me.
I just realized how Megajoule carried that building. Feeding the energy of falling back into itself.
Rorschach lifts up into the air again. Snow Owl carries it back outside through the glass ceiling. Second verse, same as the first. Maybe she’s hoping that it will crack open.
Danger Close, Jettison, and Tachikaze rush into the room. Danger Close is in a new, sleeker mech suit that looks like a cross between a beetle’s exoskeleton and plate armor. Still has four arms, though, and he aims two of those at me. “This is an OPI operation, you’re in the way! Stand down!” His two other arms aim up, and shoot rockets at Rorschach. They explode and destroy another arm.
“Don’t you see who he is?” Empyreal runs up beside me, but steers clear when he feels the heat coming off my body. “He’s not just a vigilante!”
“It’s a trick, like in the Second Ward where they used decoys. Megajoule is dead.” Danger Close flies up, chasing after Snow Owl and the Fear. “Tachikaze, slice those limbs off. Jettison, get ready!”
Jettison doesn’t look like he’s in any position to do anything. He looks badly beaten, his leg is in a cast, and he can’t even fly higher than a few feet.
Bedevil pulls the last of the civilians through the hole. Tachikaze draws her sword and falls into a practiced stance. She swings her blade three times, each attack launching a ghostly arc through the air.
I’m glowing, but I need more. This thing is coming down soon, and I need to attack before it recovers. I can feed energy from something’s attack right back into it, in a kind of feedback loop. That doesn’t gain me any energy. What if I leapt into the air, and at the height of the jump, I absorbed the force of gravity on my own body? If I’m not moving, I could just charge myself like a battery. Draw in as much as I can and unleash it all at once.
No more time to think about it. Rorschach falls into the terminal, trailing wounded arms from Tachikaze’s attacks. It holds out one arm, catching itself by rupturing that limb.
I turn to Bedevil. “I’m going to make an opening. When I do, help me get her out.”
She nods. “Got it.”
I blast up into the air, almost to the ceiling, and try to draw in the energy of gravity.
Yes! I stop dead in the air, and energy pours into me. I suck in heat, too, building up a huge amount of heat inside me. The air shimmers, and my sweat hisses on my skin, which glows like a piece of steel pulled from a furnace.
Rorschach reforms its body, slower than before now that it can’t draw on the fear of the civilians.
The awful tone vibrates on every molecule inside of me.
One by one
I explode down, kicking into Rorschach’s core like a bullet. The coils unravel, the ink and wires tear apart as I transfer all of the energy I have into the heart.
Into the dark
The inside of Rorschach is deeper than it should be, stretching into a starless void. Maisa screams inside, and she reaches up for me even as inky tendrils swallow her alive.
ONE BY ONE
I dive in.
INTO THE DARK.
The world tears in two. I’m inside the Fear, shooting toward Maisa, and I’m in a dark hallway. Hundreds of my fellow clones charge me from the shadows, all dressed in my vigilante costume. Superheated fists, kinetic kicks, and glowing poles storm around me.
One of the clones shouts at me: “You fight so hard!”
Another: “You fight so well!”
“They made us!” my brother screams.
“They buried us!” My brothers wash over me as a tidal wave of Megajoule’s clones, crushing me under their weight.
One of the Gabes stares me in the eyes, and it’s like I’m looking in a mirror. “You forgot.”
I close my eyes and focus. I’m in the Fear. Maisa needs me.
I’m zooming through the void toward her.
Arachnid legs surface from the tar around us and bash me off course, sending me farther into the dark. I blink and I’m falling not inside the Fear but over Houston, down into the Second Ward. I crash into the alley.
“Black hole, Gabe, black hole!” Sledge stares down at me, his muscled form ballooning until the buildings around us can’t contain him. They grin down at me. “Impossible to escape. Just as impossible as the world you want.”
I’m in my apartment, in the living room. Asperity’s headless corpse floats at me while Dustdevil and Carapace weep beside him. The Bay Biters and Pyre litter the floor, drenching my carpet in blood. Asperity stretches his hand out, a specter of death.
“One by one,” Dustdevil says.
“Into the dark,” Carapace finishes.
I’m in the lab, I’m watching scientists take my own brothers away to die. “One by one,” Doc says, watching from behind a clipboard.
“Spaghettification,” Sledge screeches in the alley as he grows ropes of his own flesh to tie me.
I’m being divided. Just like Parlor.
I close my eyes. Breathe. Focus. I reassemble myself. G for Good. A for Able. B for Beautiful. E for Enough. G for Gabe. G for Gabe. I claw my way out of the ink, screaming, “MAISA!”
“Gabe!” Maisa wrestles against a mountain of black fibers, and she’s losing. “Help me! I don’t know where I am!”
I blast toward her. Tendrils chase after me. I’m so close. The event horizon.
I stretch my hand out to her, I fly as far as I can, I reach and reach and reach.
Maisa sinks into the dark. Thousands of hands seize me with mottled fingers. Desiccated children, my brothers, Asperity, the Bay Biters. The dead overwhelm me, pulling me back into their mass.
The bodies compress into a singular mass, and stretch into Megajoule’s face. He leers at me, his eyes wide with frantic glee, and screeches, “THERE IS NO ESCAPE.”
Sledge howls out of the corpse void, “THE WORLD YOU WANT.”
“IT’S IMPOSSIBLE!” Lugs screams, as my fellow clones rip his metal arm free of his body.
Alley. Dark hallway. Apartment. Park bench. Lab. Bedroom. Living room. Houston. Drawn and quartered by my own worst memories. Dismembered and ripped apart, one by one, into the dark, one by one, into the dark, one path.
One path you can’t get off.
One path taking you into the shadow. Forever.
How do I escape? I don’t know.
I don’t know.
I don’t know
I don’t know
I don’t kno
I don’t kn
I will win.
I will save her.
I will not surrender to the Fear.
I erupt from the tar, and rip my way through the threads and coiled shadow, through the arachnid legs, through my memories, through the guilt, through Megajoule’s face. I burn like the sun, scorching my way to freedom.
Maisa is right in front of me. I grab her.
Hands hook into my shoulders, and around my waist, and lift me up into the light.
I’m not in the dark, anymore. I’m in Terminal C, clutching one of Maisa’s arms. and I have her halfway out of the void inside Rorschach.
Bedevil is on one side of me, latched on with her telekinesis, and Epione is on the other, pulling Maisa’s other hand. Krater grasps her waist from behind, and pushes her up.
We heave, one last time, and wrench Maisa free from the Fear. I wrap her in my arms and launch backwards, landing on my feet near the boarding entrance.
The mass of threads spools back into Tim Prince, and he drops into the benches, unconscious. Snow Owl rushes to his side.
Maisa gawks at me, like she can’t believe we freed her from that monster. Her shock gives way to tears of relief, and a sobbing smile. She throws her arms around me.
I sink to my knees. “It’s okay, I’m here. I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”
Bedevil stumbles toward us, starting her own ugly cry, and Epione follows, taking off her mask. Realization dawns over Krater’s face as he sees the girl I tried to tell him about back when we first fought. He looks down at the ground uncertainly. Tachikaze, Empyreal, Jettison, and Danger Close are dumbfounded, transfixed at the sight of us huddled around Maisa.
Maisa weeps into my shoulder.
“It’s okay.” I can’t hold back my own tears. They run down my cheeks, and sobs wrack me and leave my body shaking. I cry out: “I’ve got you.”