Ghost from Earth
Me: So...yeah. An Eidolon-friendly SI story. I wonder how well this will go over...at least it's relatively original? Aha? I hope you all enjoy it...it's been a while since I've been in a good enough place to do this sort of thing. I hope it's good.
Disclaimer: I do not own Worm.
What would you do to get a happy ending?
I was pondering that question as I gazed at my laptop screen, debating between my dozens of Worm fic ideas for my first foray into the fandom. I kept wavering on it, bouncing from one thought to another, writing a page and then discarding it. Really, I could only blame half of my uncertainty on my depression – I just couldn't decide which idea would blossom into a decent story. I worried about getting Taylor or Amy's characterization right. And partly...well...the deck was so ridiculously stacked against the people of Earth Bet I wondered if a happy ending, even a bittersweet one, could be reached without authorial fiat.
I thought it was ironic that the story was billed as a 'realistic' superhero fiction, considering that the space whales made no sense as living creatures. As unfathomable eldritch horrors, absolutely, but 'realistic' monsters? No way. There were only a handful of silver bullets that could do any real damage to them, and even then getting into the position to do any good was an uphill struggle.
Maybe I should focus on 'in the loop'. How could people find out the things they needed to know?
Few people on Earth Bet could imagine Eidolon debating whether or not it was worth it to get out of bed in the morning. Even his fellow architects at Cauldron rarely suspected how weighed down he was. Legend was most likely to notice, always willing to lend a sympathetic ear and an encouraging talk, but it had been a long time since he had honestly confided in his friend.
The thought of giving up had crossed his mind before. He'd tried, and failed, faced a life of being powerless to control his fate or even face life as a broken man. That's where the Doctor had found him. A pitiful creature, worthless to stand on his own power much less do anyone any good. Then – as if she'd stepped right out of a Disney movie – she'd made him the most powerful man in the world. He wasn't blind to what sort of woman she was; being an ambulance chaser was the least damning thing he could ascribe to her. But part of him would always be grateful, because she came to him at his lowest and raised him up. Because she came to him, he was able to protect other people, make a difference in the mad world they lived in. There were thousands of people who owed their lives to him.
Well. Not just him.
David's family was dysfunctional – had been for as long as he could remember. There hadn't been any violence, just an oppressive, hateful atmosphere propagated by endless arguments, threats and emotional manipulation. Escaping the house he'd grown up in had been a victory comparable to anything he achieved as Eidolon. It had been years since he'd spoken to either of his parents, and no matter how many times Nathan had carefully and casually raised the subject, he still felt no desire to do so. It had left scars. Sometimes he wondered how much of his social ineptitude was his own fault or simply a leftover factor. He'd never been good with people; not just in the I'm-at-a-friend's-party-and-I-can't-figure-out-how-to-politely-excuse-myself way, but the viscerally uneasy I-can't-say-anything-and-feel-safe sort of way. He had no childhood friends and could count the acquaintances he occasionally spoke to on one hand. Even as the loneliness ate away at him, he'd remained a compulsive loner for most of his life.
While he'd never acknowledged it, being rejected from the army hadn't been the first time he'd contemplated taking his own life. Some days were alright. Some days were hell. What good are you, cripple?
Then he'd become Eidolon. And he'd found himself pulled into Clark's orbit.
Clark – Hero – had been the most disorganized person he'd ever met; he could hardly find his own house without a map, yet he could navigate life and other people in a way that always stumped David. He was brilliant and cheerful and brave, he had a smile that promised however bad things could or would get, it would get better in the end. When they'd first met, Clark had done the lion's share of the talking; he immediately figured that David felt uncomfortable and kept tweaking his approach until they were immersed in casual conversation. The raven haired Tinker had thrown himself at the task of being David's friend, not just the co-worker he had to put up with, with the same determination he applied to everything in his life. David had never been so baffled by another person. For the longest time he couldn't figure out why Clark cared about being his friend; he kept thinking in circles before finally just asking him.
It was one of the few times Clark's smile faltered, just briefly. He said simply, sincerely - "No one should be alone, David. It sucks." A few days later, David had learned that Clark had been orphaned as a child; his only steady companion being his sister.
He couldn't pin point the exact moment...but all of a sudden, David realized he was completely safe with the other man. It was strange, given that he was technically the more powerful one between them. Yet there was no comparison. Clark taught him how to laugh, listened to him whenever his thoughts went to dark places, and was always, always so...so supportive. He seriously believed that David could be Superman...and frankly, David hated the idea of disappointing him.
He loved Clark. He didn't have the words for how precious the other man was to him, an irreplaceable fragment of his life.
They'd been working together for about four months before Nathan was abruptly dropped into their lives by the Doctor. He'd come out of the life support ward with the most powerful Blaster ability on record, yet had been incredibly uncertain and shy when he'd been brought to meet them. It was strange to remember him being unable to meet their eyes when now, he rallied armies of heroes and villains alike to fight unstoppable, world killing monsters.
At first, David had felt a bit prickly, not liking the idea of sharing the only friend he'd ever had with someone else. Nathan made him nervous, period – he was gorgeous while David was very plain, clever and charismatic whereas David still struggled with his social skills, and he was kind and good-natured just like Clark. Privately he feared that, since the other man was easier to get along with (a better person, the dark voice would whisper,), Clark would finally realize he wasn't worth sinking so much time into.
Clark figured this out in the first week and told him he was being silly; he had nothing to fear and everything to gain from Nathan joining them. At his urging, David tentatively tried to approach the man who'd become Legend a few times, some more successful than others. The tipping point was during a meet and greet. A young woman Nathan had saved had grabbed and kissed him in front of a crowd, and while David hadn't noticed it immediately, he realized that Nathan's body language was growing increasingly strained as the woman kept hovering near him. He made up a story about being called back to base and extracted them both from the party – he'd had about his fill of that place anyway – and asked Nathan if he was alright.
He'd never forget the man's reaction. He let out a sad laugh and responded that if he answered that, David would be revolted. He'd sputtered for a moment before asking how that would even be possible, unless he was secretly a supervillain?
The question had startled a less hysterical chuckle out of Nathan, who then rather candidly said that he would never feel comfortable around that woman, because she could never make him feel the way he felt around Clark. It had taken David longer than it should have for him to figure out what that meant, but mercifully when he did connect the dots he didn't say anything stupid. Instead he asked if Clark knew. ...Which, granted, wasn't a whole lot smarter, but at least it wasn't damaging. It wasn't until he registered the distress in Nathan's eyes that he scrambled to assure him that no, he wasn't the least bit put off by this knowledge, and he seriously doubted Clark would be either.
Nathan blinked a few times, asked him if he was serious. He reiterated his stance, confused, and nearly panicked when he saw the other man's eyes briefly well up. (He didn't want to be the reason someone felt hated and unwanted.) Fortunately all was well. Clark might have been straight as an arrow, but he was sensitive and far more worried about his inability to reciprocate Nathan's feelings damaging their friendship than anything else.
Knowing that Nathan trusted him with that secret surprised David with how happy it made him. In seemingly the blink of an eye, Nathan transformed from a potential threat to his precious friend. He'd do anything to protect him.
Rebecca appeared quite some time after that. David had been initially unsure of her for completely different reasons. She was determined to be a hero, dedicating her every waking breath to it just like he did...but there was a cold streak to her, a ruthlessness more akin to Doctor Mother than Clark. It frequently bled through, despite her efforts – the violence, the recklessness, even occasional cruelty, all in the name of doing right by people who depended on her for protection and survival.
Surprisingly, that actually helped him get along with her. Rebecca had her demons, but he had his – they understood each other on a level their friends couldn't join. They could watch each other, make sure they stayed on the wagon. When Rebecca thought she might have feelings for Clark, David was the first person to learn about it.
He had three people he loved. Knowing they were there, being able to put their faces to the world, helped him get out of bed the day after Behemoth.
Endbringer. Herokiller. They still felt inadequate to describe that monstrosity. So many dead, the city destroyed...The stench of burnt flesh still haunted his nightmares. All that power, and he couldn't do anything. Innocent people, who'd trusted their lives to him, had died in the thousands. The monster simply came as it pleased, and then left. It was like he had never left the wheel chair.
Clark had talked to him that morning. He jokingly suggested his friend was secretly a telepath, knowing that he needed it. It was weak, and his voice cracked in the middle, but Clark chuckled anyway before gently coaxing him to come meet him for coffee.
...Nathan was recovering from injuries he'd sustained quelling a super-powered riot the day Doctor Mother and Contessa told him, Rebecca and Clark what Scion really was. David was still suspicious of that, frankly – he doubted Contessa would have risked Legend's life just to keep him out of the meeting, but considering what he knew now, he wouldn't be surprised if her power said to keep him away from the conversation.
I started typing out a few sentences – a bit of dialogue between Hero and Eidolon. Unpopular opinion, maybe, but I quite liked David. I felt sorry for him. It wasn't a hundred precent confirmed that he was linked to the Endbringers, and even if it was, it wasn't really his fault. How do you blame someone for, effectively, sleepwalking? The mechanics of the whole thing bothered me immensely. Despite all he did wrong, no thanks to Doctor Mother, I didn't doubt for a minute that he wanted to be a hero, to help people, no matter what Taylor thought. That...and we had a few things in common when it came to insecurities...
Hero was the heart of my current thought process. I generally avoided WoG that wasn't in the text itself; JK Rowling's endless re-edits of Harry Potter lore had solidified that stance alongside the separation of book and game lore in Dragon Age. However, the little bits I found while trawling for information, dialogue, really anything about Hero had sparked my current thoughts. If he'd lived, the mission would have been just as much about improving the world and helping people as it was about saving everyone from Scion. Cauldron had a strong heart; Manton tore it out.
As if I didn't loath that utterly one-dimensional serial cannibal enough.
Seriously, if the Slaughterhouse Nine had only gotten one story arc, I would have liked them. As it was, however, the only one I could really tolerate was Burnscar.
...It was Clark's birthday today.
David sat up slowly and looked at his alarm clock. It was three in the morning; work didn't start until six thirty. He leaned against the headboard, softly hitting his head on the wall and staring unseeing into his rather spartan bedroom. His head hurt. He knew he wouldn't be getting back to sleep for a long time.
All that power and it was useless when he needed it the most.
Have you actually succeeded in anything worthwhile, in the end?
Clark...Hero...David had only started keeping memories – pictures, journals, the works – after he'd let his friend in; closer than anyone outside of Rebecca and Nathan. They were his family. He was... The picture books were full of Clark's smiles, his laughter, the moments when he lifted them out of despair and uncertainty with his contagious confidence. Video records of incidental meetings, holidays, the precious few breaks they could afford to take after becoming the vanguard of humanity...well loved though they were, now they sat on a shelf untouched. He hadn't cried so much in his life when...when... ...He had never cried since. David had run out of tears, even though he still bled from a wound that would never heal.
It burned him, that Manton was useful to defeating Scion. It ate away at him every time Doctor Mother insisted the cannibal bastard had an invaluable ability and should be preserved for the battle for humanity. Instead of rotting in the Birdcage where he belonged (it was better than he deserved), the turncoat was free and alive while Clark was dead.
I had known my powers were weakening. I should have warned him. I shouldn't have let him come.
David had, in many brief, manic moments, considered going rogue. So he could put down the Slaughterhouse Nine for good, or die trying. But he was in charge of the Seattle Protectorate, and there was always trouble here and there that demanded his attention. People who needed help. Between that and Cauldron business, the thoughts wouldn't last...though they always returned.
Would you even recognize me if you could see me now, Clark?
He knew so much of it was wrong – so wrong. That was the worst part. Even as he grew numb, there was a voice in the back of his head that shrieked one thing every time Doctor Mother introduced her newest crime against humanity – Clark would have never agreed to this. There had used to be times where David would argue loudly, strenuously, against dumping the Case 53s out into the world with no memories to guide them – against leaving parahuman warlords to rule over ruined, failing countries – against half the proposals the Doctor brought to the table, really. He'd remembered how fiercely Clark had been against sacrificing their souls in the face of the terrible odds, and he'd tried to maintain that spirit for the sake of his departed (murdered) friend. But slowly...he'd just gone numb. He accepted what the Doctor told him. It...there was simply too much...
Leviathan joined Behemoth, then so did The Simurgh. Cities destroyed, dozens and hundreds of capes dead in feeble attempts to defend their homes. He didn't envy Rebecca's perfect memory; the stench of the dead, cities swamped in water, screaming citizens walled off and abandoned to their fates...he knew it was more visceral for her, forever present when she let her mind wander. Aside from the Enbringers themselves...every day, there seemed to be new trouble. They were outnumbered and nearly outgunned by the villains, so numerous that the only saving grace was the varying degrees of severity when it came to their crimes. Africa was a nightmarish mess, a plain warning of what might be left of the world even if they managed to save it from Scion. Japan had never recovered from Leviathan's visit to Kyushu. The CUI threatened everything around it with its Orwellian, dogmatic policies. Every day seemed to bear new troubles.
Even trying to halt the loss of civilization...David had gone cold, numb. All that he could really focus on – the only thing he was certain he could succeed in, if he could only find a way – was that his powers were fading. He had to regain his old strength. They were loosing this fight. He couldn't even say if all the terrible things that he had been a part of were achieving anything. But if he became as strong as he was when he still had Clark, he knew he could do more. That they would stop loosing ground, even to the Endbringers.
...David could almost picture the look on Clark's face if he'd been presented the suggestion Doctor Mother had brought to him and Rebecca some time ago. Parahuman feudalism within America. Thomas Calvert believed it was within his abilities, and Rebecca believed that, with the Protectorate flagging, they should search for other alternatives to keep society from collapsing. I'd probably have had to spend a power slot to avoid being rendered deaf. He never would have accepted it.
He found himself moving on some subconscious desire. Leaving his bedroom, he crossed the dark hall, the old wooden floor creaking under his feet, until he reached the bathroom. Flicking the light on, he opened the cabinet and pulled out a straight razor, flipping it open.
The blade wasn't anything special...but it was sharp. David wasn't a Brute at base – he had to consciously run one such power to benefit from it.
I rounded out the conversation and found myself struck with a sharp bought of melancholy. I had exactly one 'best friend' in all my life so far, and the idea of her being murdered – and said murderer being let go in order to save thousands of lives – sat really heavily in my stomach. Sure, I knew that Manton's vaunted ability was pretty worthless in the grand scheme of the Scion battle, but it really wasn't that obvious from a ground level. The Siberian seemed unstoppable. If I knew my world was going to end, and had some power to influence it – what would I do in order to stop that? What would I do to ensure that everyone I loved, everyone I knew and everyone I didn't survived?
The idea was so huge I couldn't really come up with an answer, even as I stared at my laptop. Earth Bet's answers seemed easy because...well, I'd been given them by reading the book. Would I be much better than Doctor Mother if I had to save the world by myself?
I wanted to believe I would be. I hoped that God would guide me.
I began typing again, shaking my head to drive the emotional tailspin away. David needed help. He needed an epiphany. Him and Rebecca both. How might they get it? They were so jaded that it would take something just short of a semi-omnipotent being informing them at length how they were screwing up. Time travel was tempting, and I'd read this lovely Neon Genesis Evangelion fic that used a family of gods to set records straight...though there were already some supernatural aspects to that series, so it would feel more out of place in Earth Bet. I tapped my fingers against the keys.
I'd debated and discarded various ideas for parahuman OC ever since I first started reading. The one that felt most natural in the setting was a Changer/Trump somewhat unimaginatively called Skinchanger. And her baggage...I don't think she would really work in a fix fic. I needed a different sort of character for David's sake...
...My eyelids were heavy...I typed up another sentence, David thinking about being honest with Legend, before leaning back on the couch and closing my eyes. Maybe my dreams could grant some suggestions...
David spun the razor around his fingers, watching it catch the light. It would be so easy. The weight would be lifted from him forever. Those who suffered from what he had permitted would have justice. And maybe he would finally see Clark again...
Abandon Rebecca and Nathan to face the end of the world without him. Leave Seattle without a leader. Leave the world without having done far more good than wrong.
He flipped the blade twice, snapped it shut and put it away.
A hot shower drained some of the stress from his frame. That was usually a good sign. He put on some street clothes – there was still an hour and a half before he could go to work – and gave his head a shake. Just drive, just drive. David stepped out of the bathroom and paused. There was a strange chill in the air. Was the furnace breaking down again?
The lights flickered, cut out for a second, and then came on.
It could be nothing; probably was nothing. But he'd been attacked in his home before. Only two had known who he was, mind you – the others were victims of circumstance and some exceptionally unlucky street punks. However, each time it had proven an unpleasant surprise. This was the only place he could really rest...
No sound. But the chilly feeling persisted.
The power came to him without his bidding; a thinker ability that sensed the presence of other parahumans. He gave it a push with his will, and...nothing. Frowning, he walked down the hall toward the stairs. The downstairs light was still on; he might have just forgotten it earlier. It wouldn't be the first time. This might be why Lightspeed calls me an old man when she thinks I can't hear her, David thought ruefully, a familiar mixture of frustration and reluctant amusement surging in him at the thought of his most troublesome Ward.
Gravity control. Mental compulsion. David began to make his way down the stairs. The lights flickered again, and this time a few of them winked out completely. He reached the landing and looked into his living room...
A startled gasp escaped him.
The figure whirled around. She – the long hair suggested it was a girl – was completely translucent. She was a starry, shimmering image straight out of a movie; he could see her and see through her if he wasn't concentrating. She wore typical street clothes, she was of average height...but she wasn't present. She wasn't there...
His thinker power insisted there was no one in the room. His eyes said differently. His power was weak, fading, but it had never blatantly failed him.
"I must be dreaming."
The statement came from her, not him. Her voice was clear as a bell...young, feminine, and moreover, it was just as shocked as he felt.
"I doubt it. I'm not much of a lucid dreamer." He responded flatly, wondering if she could hear his heart racing in the quiet. She must be a Stranger of some sort, he realized. At least she seems confused, so she's not an assassin. "What are you doing in my house?"
"Your house?!" She sputtered. "Hey, I was on my couch when I fell asleep! I think if I could sleepwalk into another person's apartment, I would have noticed a long time ago!" She took a shaky breath. "And if I'm not dreaming, how are you glowing green? Is that a weird new flashlight?"
...She's VERY confused. Maybe she's a new trigger? "...You don't know who I am?" Plain and ordinary looking he may be, but his powers, when in use, made him instantly recognizable.
"Why would I?" She crossed her arms and frowned at him. "I don't usually dream of people I know. It's an odd thing, but it's true."
"...You're serious." This was surreal. David couldn't remember the last time someone saw his powers and didn't make the mental connection.
"And you're funny. Why would green light be some sort of giveaway?" She raised her chin. "Are you a Green Lantern? I'm not a huge DC fan, but that's the first thing that jumps to mind." She looked around. "Though why would I dream up a Green Lantern in his house instead of in space?"
David floundered for a minute, baffled. "No! I...really? Green Lantern? I'm amazed you remember that." His father had written comics, before Scion arrived. Loosing his preferred job had been just one source of his bitterness.
"What's that supposed to mean? The movie wasn't that bad...I mean, it wasn't amazing, but it was alright for what it was. There are worse comic book movies." She said the words completely seriously, like it was an argument she'd had before. "...And I'm arguing with a figure in my dreams. Maybe my brother isn't the only one with a bit of a complex."
"You're not dreaming!" Was this conversation real? "Dear god..."
"I have to be," She retorted. "Where I come from, people don't glow."
"...This is Earth Bet! How can you say that with a straight face?!"
"Earth...Bet? Ah!" She clapped her hands together. "I'm dreaming about Eidolon?! Now I understand... it's because I was writing that story..." She smiled sweetly at him. The gesture startled him so much his heart skipped a beat. "David. You're David. You need to find a way to defeat Scion."
"...What did you just say?"
It was a very close call over who my SI would partner up with. I was torn between Legend and Eidolon for the longest time...it was when I started writing a bit of freestyle to get inside David's head that I decided definitively on him. I'll give Legend center stage in a different idea; the poor guy is criminally underutilized in Worm proper. (He doesn't even get a first name!) David, however, lends himself very easily to a character piece and I look forward to writing more from his perspective.
Next up - No, David, we need to go to Brockton Bay, now!
Read and Review please!