Picky Minch never asked for sympathy or charity.
Not once had he ever asked for a loan of any sort unless absolutely necessary.
Nor did he expect anyone to take pity on him when, due to his father, Aloysius Minch, having a bad day, he went to school with his back and arms covered in belt markings.
He did not ask for intervention when his brother beat up on him for sport.
He did not ask for handouts when his mother forgot to pack him a lunch because she was too busy getting ready for another night on the town.
Picky had resolved, somewhere around the third instance of being beaten to the point of being unable to walk by his father, that he would prove his ability to be self reliant. That he would one day find the way to rely only on himself for support and protection.
He, in short, asked for very little, except for a chance to prove himself. He did not deceive. He did not lie. He did not cheat. He did not undermine or backstab. And above all else, he would rather die than bring an innocent to harm.
Admittedly, he did not have entirely noble reasons for this. His main motive for choosing such a seemingly noble path was to in every shape, form, and fashion distance himself from his decidedly un-noble family, who, at every turn, undermined, lied, stole, cheated.
(Of course, it should be noted, however, that four people whose exploits are significantly intertwined with the earth's salvation would disagree and say that attempting to morally distance one's self from Pokey was an entirely noble and worthy goal.)
And now… this.
From what a battered, weary, but triumphant Ness had told him, Pokey had somehow gone off and managed to enslave an alien monstrosity with which he intended to take over the world. It figured, Picky thought, that the events of the night of meteor, with all the prophecies and bizarre phenomenon- talking bees and androids alike- wouldn't die quietly, but it would have helped if the bee had mentioned his brother was going to do something stupid like try to achieve world domination.
A head start would have been greatly appreciated. "Oh, Picky, my boy, your brother is significantly more evil than you thought. You may want to run away now or take some other form of action before it falls on your head."
Or maybe the bee did not know that his brother would be the cause of this catastrophe.
Lardna had taken to the news with the usual fainting and swooning and cries of "Lies, lies, my precious baby Pokey could never DO such a thing!"
Picky himself had responded by banging his head against a wall and uttering every blasphemy his young mind could muster. It did not take a person of the intellectual caliber of Jeff, another of the heroic four, to figure out the potential fallout of having an evil super-villain in the family.
Assault. Vandalism. Imprisonment. Death. Chances were very likely Pokey had stepped on quite a few toes as he waddled towards his selfish goals, and soon enough, very angry victims would come looking for his relatives, demanding to know why they hadn't raised him better. Or, in Picky's case, they would come to make sure, by any means necessary, that he would never follow in his brother's footsteps.
He was, at the moment, in the kitchen, alone in the house, in the kitchen, cooking for himself a feast of frozen pizza and all the soda he could drink without vomiting.
His father? He abandoned them and left for Fourside when Pokey's actions turned out to be less than beneficial.
His mother? Out with yet ANOTHER one of dad's friends. She would not be home tonight, if past performance was any indicator.
The loneliness, the sheer absence of love, something a child desperately needs, could be felt as a palpable, choking force in the home… were it any other child, they would break down and sob and cry and wonder why they were not given more loving, understanding parents…
But this was Picky.
Picky was tough. He knew that soon the end would come by mob, and he did not want to waste his last hours sobbing futile tears. When the angry populace came for him, they would get no tears.
As the pizza was completed, he sat at the table, and, for the first time ever in the Minch household, grace was said.
"Whoever is up there," Picky said, hands folded in reverence. "let the end be quick. Amen."
Then Picky ate his last meal and went to bed, waiting for the mob he was so certain of…
It should be noted that while Picky is smart and more moral than his family, he is also an extremely pessimistic person, particularly when it came to his own personal fortune. That he had not yet been hunted down and beaten to death for his crime of guilt by association baffled him beyond mortal words- he was certain that, in lieu of his brother, he would be sacrificed to appease the mob.
But unbeknownst to Picky, there was no mob. No vengeful horde meant for him.
There were only hushed, sad, remarks of "He deserved a better brother than that" and sad shaking heads, and inquiries as to where his mother and father were when he needed them most. In place of rallying cries for mob justice, there were only mutterings of "It ain't right."
Most of all, there were four persons of extreme bravery and caliber of spirit who believed Picky had been dealt a rotten hand- cursed with parents that hated him, a brother than tormented him… Ness' own mother had considered calling the police after seeing Picky home alone for three nights in a row.
This boy now rested in his own bed, recuperating. The adrenaline of world peril had worn off. Mind and muscle now cried out in protest, and the fatigue of his journey and all its bashings and fights came crashing down- gone was the motivation to will himself to ignore the strain, and with it the inhuman endurance. Legs and feet refused to walk or stand for more than a few minutes- a wheelchair by his bed attested to this. Arms and shoulders could scarcely bear the weight of clothing.
Ness was, in other words, pooped.
He had spoken to Paula- she sounded half dead, and her parents had taken her in for a medical evaluation. Even after being pronounced 'not going to die', she was advised/commanded to rest, for several weeks, to not do anything strenuous besides basic hygiene and eating.
The doctors had, in their baffled report, concluded that the sheer exhaustion and toll on their bodies should have by all rights killed them by now. That they could still walk was nothing short of a miracle.
Macho as he was, Ness felt that seeing a doctor himself may be a wise idea. Lifeup aside, their bodies needed rest and restoring. Lifeup and healing could remove debris and poison and insanity and even bring them back to life from the very edge of death… but death was a sore, sore, loser, and in turn, Ness was sore.
Jeff… had spent several days in one of his father's healing capsules before he could really move around. This was not surprising- the psychic toll of being transferred to an alien shell- the robots they used- then returning, nearly damn killed him, Paula, and Poo. That Jeff survived- intact and sane- was nothing short of a God-sent miracle. Nonetheless, Jeff was still in need of rest, tended to by medical machines that analyzed his body's need for certain compounds and nutrients and injected them where they were needed most. From what Jeff told him, it was not a walk in the park- but it was certainly better than having his body fall apart on him, and with no lifeup of his own, this was the best plan.
Ness made a mental note to offer Paula some Life up as well. Briefly, the idea of using a session of such healing to further the already powerful romantic bond between them arose
-but was quickly beaten down by the fact that any sort of hanky panky could literally be injurious to both parties. The idea of fatal fondling would have made Ness laugh… if laughing didn't hurt so bad.
Then there was Poo. Poo had Lifeup, yes, so that took some of the aches and pains off. But still he had been in a meditative state to recover. Such was his own personal weariness that he could barely lift his sword of kings. He would recover, yes, to full strength as would they all, but the hard, cold, chilling fact was that none of the four were in any shape for… anything.
For Ness himself… going to the bathroom was a chore. Eating felt like a full exercise regimen. Sleep came as soon as he crashed into the bed.
There was not only the physical component to their weariness, but a psychological one.
Giygas, the destroyer, the great evil, the greatest threat to humanity ever known… was innocent.
They had HEARD him cry out for release by death as they fought, Giygas enslaved by Pokey's own, previously unknown psychic domination abilities.
They had been forced to kill an innocent. And world-saving heroism and getting the girl and being a 'hero' aside, whenever an innocent life dies…
It made him hate Pokey even more. Because in turning Giygas against Earth, Pokey had tainted them all.
He had tainted Ness with the task of executioner. How many of the monstrosities were simply pawns being controlled?
He had tainted Jeff with the duty of arms maker. A boy, being forced to make weapons of war to kill!
Poo he had tainted with the chore of being partner to a crusade of bloodshed. Heroism aside, Ness knew Poo abhorred the fact that his first official act as Prince was mass violence.
Then there was Paula. Paula was forced to draw on everyone's might through prayer to beat an unwilling Giygas to death with raw, destructive energy. In that act, was not everyone who prayed tainted, and Paula herself infinitely more so?
Ness could not forgive Pokey, all moralistic high ground principles be damned. Let the fat little bastard fry in the pits of hell, tormented by the jeers of his victims. Let his murderer of a mother join him, constantly consumed by ants. Let his father join them as well, boiled in oil- the divine punishment for greed.
Then there was Picky.
What could be said for him? When they first faced a Starman Jr., Picky did not cower, he rushed the monster with his fists, beating it until his hands bled. A life and death situation, and the boy's response was to fight with his bare hands! Not the wisest of choices, but damned if it didn't show some guts.
He did not cheat. He did not lie. He was anathema to the lifestyle his parents and brother practiced.
Pain. An ache in a leg that had been set by Lifeup and medicine many times over ached. Another lifeup alpha dulled the pain, and eventually Ness could focus again.
If life were anything resembling just, Picky would not be brother to Pokey. He would be… anyone else's kid.
Even in the possessed Carpainter's care, the boy would be better off! This was no exaggeration, and the irony of it sickened Ness. He stifled a laugh at the idea of Picky merrily helping Carpainter paint everything blue, in father/son spirit.
But life was not fair, and so Picky was home alone while Mrs. Minch tried to pick up another man who was drunk off his ass, Mr. Minch hid in Fourside, and Pokey fled into the seas of time.
It brought Ness further nausea as his mind brought him to the conclusion that this, a normally hellish situation for a child, was probably the best thing that ever happened to Picky.
Suddenly, his aches and pains did not seem so significant.
("You know,") came a voice, ("If the boy you were so worried about knew what you were thinking, he'd tell you to focus less on his 'petty problems' and worry about, oh, not letting your human frame fall apart.")
Ness sighed and reclined. ("Giygas.')
There was a pause.
("He's tough. Tougher than I was at his age, I'll give him that, but being able to cook frozen pizza and not burn the house down does not self-sufficient make.") Ness stated psychically.
("No.") conceded the disembodied spirit that was Giygas. ("It does not. Doesn't your species have some method to handle cases like this?")
("Foster services? Yeah.") Ness said. ("But with what Pokey did…")
("Celebrity or a pariah. Neither are choices beneficial for him at this age.")
Ness shifted his body. Ah, mattresses. At last his weary spine was relieved of a great deal of strain from holding up his weary frame. ("And he still holds himself responsible.") Ness added.
("I will never understand the logic of your species' youth. He believes that he should have somehow foresaw Pokey's plan, confronted him, and killed him before it could be set in motion?")
Ness shrugged, an act that sent waves of pain through his body.
("Still recovering, I see.") came Giygas' voice, tinged with regret.
("You didn't get off much better.") replied Ness, lying back. ("Speaking of, why haven't you-")
("Moved on? Ohhhh no. I'm waiting for-") and here Giygas used several adjectives and nouns that were alien to Ness, but carried the weight of all encompassing, all consuming hatred and loathing; he could assume, therefore, they were used in reference to Pokey- ("to get his, so I can spit in his face.")
Ness cast a raised eyebrow at the empty air. ("Why don't you kill him now? I mean, even without a body, you're able to still remain here of your own free will, why not track him down and finish him?")
Ness suddenly felt a chill, cold, wave of malevolent glee fill the room, and knew in his mind Giygas was smiling. ("I have it on… 'good authority' that his will be a fate worse than death- that when his just desserts come about, he will literally beg heaven and hell to die. Plus, it's out of my hands- I can't track him down while he's time hopping, and even if I could, there are… rules, divine laws, that forbid 'direct malevolent interference with a being's life.")
("So you're going to wait for the bastard to die, then rub it in his face?")
Giygas grunted psychically. ("I had my life ripped away, my honor destroyed, and my last act of redemption was to hold back as much as I could. I daresay I am allowed to take some minor pleasure in knowing he will pay dearly- don't tell me you don't want him to suffer, if not for what he did to you, perhaps to those who aided you on your journeys…")
Ness turned over, in preparation for sleep. ("I want the rotten little bastard to burn in hell, but revenge won't help Picky.")
Giygas paused, as if to offer rebuttal or a counter-point. Then, with an air of defeat, he spoke.
("No. But may I ask why you are so concerned with him? Getting back to your own state…")
("I'll heal.") Ness retorted. ("There are doctors willing to work on me for free in thanks for 'saving the world'. Picky however, has no mom, no dad, no income, and in a very short time no home. I… I just don't think anyone deserves that.")
("Particularly a kid who was willing to go toe to toe with a flame throwing robot with his fists.")
It was injustice in its purest form, to Giygas.
His own death notwithstanding, Pokey had essentially sent four kids on a life-threatening journey, endangered millions, enslaved hundreds of lifeforms to his will, (how he accomplished this, he still did not understand) and now was lost to time itself.
Part of his spirit raged with desires of hellish revenges unfulfilled- how he learned to flay the very flesh from the brat's bones, if not for what he had done to Giygas, then for what he had done to Earth.
But the other part reminded him of the promise he had been given, a sad, grim promise that unless, miraculously, Pokey repented of his ways, that fates far worse than any torture in the human- or inhuman- imagination awaited him, and dwelling on how he felt Pokey deserved to suffer was, at the moment, a moot point.
There was, however, the issue of his family.
It would be so much easier if they were ALL simply vicious, self-serving, cowardly parasites- then he could arrange, with what limited influence he had, at the very minimum maddening misfortune. At the very worst, he could claim one or two lives before his power was exhausted…
But this was not to be- there just had to be a sheep among the wolves. There was Picky, the innocent bystander, who was in spirit anathema to every evil Pokey personified. On one hand, Giygas felt irritation that he was denied vengeance without the risk of harming this one, as if the universe mocked him openly by planting yet another moral obstacle to impede him from having any self-satisfying vengeance.
On the other, the child was a pitiable case. Left with his parents- correction, parent, singular- the boy could likely starve. Or be beaten to death by said parent.
Taken into whatever system these humans had to deal with such tragic cases, the boy may find a loving home, an apathetic home, or yet one even worse than what he had before.
It then struck Giygas that, amid all the irritation of dying and his murderer fleeing the current time-space continuum, he'd never gotten a good look at this Picky.
It was an easily remedied matter. Death freed him of any bodily constraints. Movement was nigh instantaneous- a willful thought and he was at the Minch residence.
Lavishly built and furnished, Giygas noted that this abode had none of the warmth of Ness' home. No kindness went into this home- only the desire to create a nice, little façade for neighbors to see. A sterile, cold, vicious environment saturated with the unrelenting perfectionism that the Minch family exuded.
Nearly every square inch of the house held some mark of malevolence to it. A closet fitted with an external padlock told him of times where it was used as a disciplinary tool for minor offenses.
The liquor cabinet spoke of drunken Aloysius' rages. The stove… the stories the psychic residue on the stove told him of ghastly punishments for money thought stolen by Picky. How innocent hands were burned despite frantic pleas.
It was little short of a miracle that Picky had not become a villain in his own right, lashing out at the world with whatever was at hand, driven mad by this hell.
And yet, the house sung no tragic tales for Pokey, the favored son, the one who exemplified his parents moral decay- no doubt they believed him to be a fine member of the Minch family, and spared him such atrocities, heaping on him material rewards to further his evolution into a self-centered omnicidal maniac.
A flicker of light amongst the miasma of greed, rage, and apathy caught Giygas' attention. Heading into the living room, decorated with all manner of artistic and electronic finery, he saw the youngest, Picky Minch, asleep on the sofa. Cans of some highly sweetened beverage and plates containing traces of this delicacy the humans called "Pizza" were strewn about.
The boy was thin in frame, covered in healed scars, of minor build, blonde hair as his relatives, and, at the moment, sound asleep.
By his own admission not entirely privy to human standards of living, Giygas still arrived at the conclusion so many had before him- this was not right. Injustice compounded on injustice dwelled here- where Picky had injury, his brother had gifts. Where Picky had punishment, Pokey had rewards. Where he had only his wits and courage, Pokey somehow developed incredible domination PSI powers…
Then it struck him- how did that brat manage to conjure up that powerful a PSI ability? Was it a freak mutation? Empowerment by the Mani-Mani statue? Was it hereditary?
Freak mutation was out- a psionic realization of that magnitude would have most definitely fried Pokey's brain and left him incapable of logical thought. Moreover, how would he be able to control the power so well?
Empowerment could be eliminated as well- if that were the case, when the statue was destroyed by Ness and Jeff, his control should have been broken. Again, how did he learn to control it?
That left hereditary learning as the only culprit- that, and what had to be essentially training from cradle onward in the use of PSI. Focusing solely on one disciple- dominance- above all others. Life Up, the elementals, and all others would need to be tossed to the side. Moreover, he would have to be meticulously trained to use such powers… but the idea that the Minch family would know about his existence AND know how to focus psychic powers was absurd…
One way, Giygas surmised, to determine whether or not his theories were at all valid would be to examine Picky's psyche, to see if indeed his genes carried any hint of psionic ability. Normally only mildly detectable by most humans while wide awake- hairs would prickle on the back on the target's neck- Picky, while asleep, likely wouldn't notice a thing.
Thus self-assured, Giygas gingerly peered into the boy's psyche… but, in his haste, Giygas had forgotten the crucial factor of Murphy's Law- anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Envision for a second the plight of Picky Minch.
He had just consumed more pizza and soda in two hours than he had in an entire lifetime, and had settled down for the night. He is tired, somewhere between the zen-like acceptance of what he feels is impending death and stifled outrage at the injustices that death will bring, among them the fact he will die in this house, a place that he, above all else, had hoped not to die in.
He'd hoped the mob would be merciful and just shoot him in his sleep. That would be best. Let them parade his corpse; as long as they made his a quick, painless death, he'd be satisfied.
So, it stood to reason then, that he was not prepared for his dreams, mottled and blurred visions of flight and being a hero in some other world, to be interrupted by what is best described as the psychic equivalent of an air raid siren rattling his mind.
Instantly he jarred awake, fatigue replaced by something that was perhaps very much like panic. Instantly his senses registered something was terribly wrong here; a paradox was taking place.
There was no one around him. No one he could see or smell or hear. He looked to the door. Still locked, still on its hinges, and that should have settled the matter of whether or not someone was there with him.
But it was with a profound awareness, some sixth sense that Picky knew- not believed, but knew he was not alone.
Picky spun left and right looking for the source of this alarm. It had not come from one direction, like a sound or the vibration of a footstep, rather, it had exploded in his mind, a sense of being viewed, as if someone were standing over him… observing.
He had never been one to believe in ghosts or demons before this mess had begun, but now, he realized, if a boy can heal grievous injuries with one thought and send telekinetic shockwaves that can sheer metal with another, if the dead can walk in Threed and alien entities be enslaved by a brat… then the likelihood that this place could be haunted was no longer laughable.
He almost laughed as he put two and two together- of course, he wasn't fit to be torn apart by a living breathing mob- he would receive the vengeful attacks of all the ghosts his brother had, through the alien, killed.
If the walls had bled and the floor moaned and the air around him filled with screams demanding blood be paid for with blood, he would not have been surprised.
But instead a voice resonated with what he could swear was his very skull. ("Hello, Picky Minch. Sorry to awaken you.")
Picky's right eye twitched of its own volition. He'd snapped- that's what'd happened. He'd snapped, his sanity had finally left him. The mobs would find him frothing at the mouth, retorting madly at this voice which now assailed him.
("No, Picky.") the voice assured him. ("I am Giygas- I'm speaking to you via telepathy. Don't worry- you're not going insane.") the voice sounded like it had the intent to comfort.
But in this moment, face to face with his brother's victim's ghost… the assurance of sanity was little comfort.