Archetype: The Commander. Despite the name, Reds do not necessarily make for the best leaders of a team… Left to chance, a Red will often emerge as the leader of a group by a sort of subconscious consensus. However, Reds tend to be autocratic, with very little patience for any type of insubordination… They are often excellent strategists and marvelous in combat. Their greatest flaw is most likely their tempers. Red anger burns hot and fast, and can easily run away with a person.
"Come on, come on!" Ben pleaded uselessly with the Omnitrix, but the only answer was the red glow. Still recharging.
"Ben!" Gwen shouted, holding up a shield to block the laser lance blasts.
"I've got nothing!" Ben insisted.
"Great," Kevin muttered, hurling one Forever Knight at another. "Why'd we even bring you along if you drained that thing already?"
The barb stung, and Ben glared at his friend. Ever since the explosion in the garage, there was a definite strain in their friendship, and Ben was frankly sick of Kevin blaming him for the mutation.
"Who asked you?" he shouted back.
With his attention on Kevin, he didn't notice the beam coming at him until it grazed his right arm. He shouted in pain and clutched the wound, hearing Gwen and Kevin call out to him in alarm. But they couldn't help him; the best Gwen could do was throw up a shield in front of him before the next blasts hit.
"Are you okay?" Gwen asked, using one hand to maintain the shield and the other to fire off energy blasts.
Ben gritted his teeth and nodded as he checked the burn. He couldn't tell how bad it was, but it definitely didn't look good. The laser had burned right through his jacket, and underneath, the skin was red and very painful.
Kevin had managed to get close enough to him in the fight, keeping the Forever Knights from attacking on the other side of the shield. As Ben ripped off his jacket to check the burn, Kevin whistled.
"That's gonna blister soon," he warned. "Gonna feel like hell. But you got lucky. Whoever your sniper is, he's a lousy shot."
"Ben, you need to get out of here," Gwen insisted, creating an energy lash to throw the Forever Knights off their feet. "I can't fight and protect you at the same time. Call Grandpa—he'll take care of that burn for you."
"Yeah, you're pretty much useless here," Kevin added, and Ben shot him another glare before a burst of pain went through his arm. Kevin had been sure to touch the burn to keep him from arguing.
"Ben, I'm going to drop the shield on the count of three. Be ready to run," Gwen warned. Kevin moved away from Ben and started fighting off the Forever Knights that were between Ben and the door. "One…two…three!"
The shield dropped, and the lasers began firing again. Ben ran as fast as he could, ducking and dodging. He wished he was able to use the Omnitrix; Jetray's speed and agility would be incredibly helpful here, and he probably wouldn't have gotten into this situation in the first place. It was driving him crazy—the Omnitrix wasn't listening to him, his team wasn't listening to him, and now even his own body wasn't doing what he wanted, being in too much pain to be able to fight.
And speaking of his body, there it was in front of him—or a twisted reflection of it anyway. White hair and red eyes to his brown hair and green eyes. A cruel and smug look on his face to contrast with the sudden look of shock on Ben's. And a laser lance in hand, aimed directly at Ben.
"Albedo?" Ben asked in surprise. "You're with the Forever Knights?"
"I knew it would not be long before they drew your attention," Albedo bragged. "When I grew tired of waiting, I helped them acquire more laser lances, knowing it would bring you here to stop them."
"How did they trust you?" Ben demanded. "After you attacked their castles?"
Albedo smirked. "After you attacked their castles, you mean. They saw Ben 10 attacking, not an off-color doppelganger."
Ben glared at him. "Do you know how much damage you caused? My friends lost their trust in me, all thanks to you!"
"You appear to have done well destroying their trust on your own," Albedo remarked. "I have been monitoring your activities. Your experiment with the Omnitrix created a bio-energy feedback that affected your friend's powers, much as the proximal feedback altered my form. It also cost you Azmuth's trust, after all you've done to earn it."
Ben's glare deepened. He knew Kevin was mad at him, and he knew Azmuth didn't trust him, but he didn't need Albedo of all people to remind him of that. Not when he'd experimented with the Omnitrix against Azmuth's wishes…
The thought hit him like a blow, but before he had the chance to process it, Albedo continued, "Even if he doesn't trust me either, I'm sure he would feel far more confident of the universe's safety if the Omnitrix was out of your hands."
It was a mistake. Albedo's last comment only served to enrage Ben, and while Albedo lost concentration on the laser lance he held, Ben darted out of the way of the barrel and kicked the lance out of his hands. As Albedo clutched his sore hand, Ben followed it up with a reverse-roundhouse kick to the back of his left arm, nearly dropping him to the ground.
Albedo barely had time to duck as Ben came at him with another kick. Because he wasn't a fighter, he didn't have a whole lot of options to use against him. He didn't have the force or finesse Ben had picked up from various martial arts. But he did know that a second-degree burn was extremely painful. The next time Ben got close, Albedo managed to avoid his kick just in time and cupped his hands together and brought them down hard on Ben's burned arm.
White spots formed in Ben's vision as the pain shot through his arm again. Incapacitated by the blow, he was easy prey for Albedo, who at least knew the basics of a chokehold. Ben desperately tried to pull Albedo's arm away from his neck as his air supply was cut off, and he tried to kick at Albedo's legs, but Albedo wasn't reacting to the blows. He was concentrating too much on keeping Ben from breathing.
"The more you struggle, the more oxygen your body uses up," Albedo taunted. "You might as well give up."
Ben's vision was fading to black, and he felt his consciousness slipping. But it wasn't like him to give up easily. Instead of trying to pry away Albedo's arm, he reached behind him and felt for his face. When he felt the impression of Albedo's eye socket, he dug in his fingernails.
Albedo shouted in pain and let go to clutch at his eye. Ben hadn't just managed to scratch the skin, but he'd hit him in the eye too. Ben took a second to get away and catch his breath before Albedo lunged at him, one of his red eyes bloodshot from the attack. Adrenaline kicked in again, and Ben forgot all about having been close to suffocating. He blocked Albedo's enraged attack with his left arm and rammed his knee into Albedo's solar plexus. Albedo sputtered in pain and keeled over, unable to breathe. He looked up at Ben in shock as Ben's fist connected with his jaw. Ben was too out-of-breath to put enough force behind it to do much damage, but Albedo hit the ground and blacked out. It was only when he saw Albedo unconscious, with blood at the corner of his mouth, that Ben was able to stop and breathe.
"Ben!" Gwen cried. "I thought we told you to…" She stopped suddenly as she got closer. "Is that Albedo?"
Ben nodded, still trying to catch his breath. Kevin walked closer to the unconscious Albedo and said, "He's breathing, but it's shaky. Looks like you did a number on him." But when he looked up to see the large red mark around Ben's neck, he added, "Looks like he did a number on you too."
"Are you okay, Ben?" Gwen checked, her voice full of concern.
Ben nodded, but his voice was hoarse when he said, "I just need to catch my breath. The Forever Knights?"
"We took care of it," Kevin answered, fitting a pair of energy cuffs on Albedo. "We'll have to make sure they put him in a tighter cell this time."
"We're going to have to get him medical attention if he's not breathing well," Gwen warned, creating a makeshift stretcher with her powers to levitate Albedo. "Ben, we're going to call for Grandpa to help. Will you be okay if we leave you here for a little while? We'll come back for you." Ben nodded, and Gwen gave him a reassuring smile as she carried Albedo out, Kevin following and making the call already on his badge.
It was only in the quiet solitude when Ben was able to reflect on the thought Albedo had interrupted. They'd both lost Azmuth's trust by thinking they were skilled enough to experiment with the Omnitrix. They'd both been proud and stupid, and they'd both been burned. Albedo lost his original form, and Ben had lost his hard-won control over the Omnitrix.
His left hand was stinging. Ben brought it up to check. There was some blood under his fingernails from scratching at Albedo, and a streak of mixed blood and saliva from the cut he'd left in Albedo's mouth. But Albedo had inadvertently gotten in an attack of his own. Ben had scratched one of his fingers against Albedo's teeth, and the shallow cut was beginning to bleed. Gravity pulled a drop of the blood/saliva mix down toward the cut, mixing it with Ben's blood.
But in the end, the blood was the same. Albedo's DNA was the same as Ben's, except for the mutations that changed the color of his hair and eyes. In the end, there was very little that differed between Albedo and Ben, be it blood or motivation.
As Ben saw this, he saw red. He threw his fist into the wall, only managing to scrape his hand for his troubles. But at least he was sure the blood was his this time.
The last embers of his rage burnt out, he dropped to the floor and covered his face, trying to shut out the color and all it brought with it. But it was all for nothing because it didn't take long for Kevin and Gwen to return, and the light from the headlights was red through his shut eyelids.
Ben 10: Alien Force is the property of Cartoon Network. The quote at the top of the chapter (and for all the chapters) is from Ellen Brand's "Eight-Sided Rainbow" essay for her Power Rangers fanfic universe, "Personality Conflicts." This fic was intended to be part of a series based off the colors from the essay—a thought experiment applying the colors to characters and situations in Alien Force, exploring both the colors themselves and the personality traits assigned to them in the "Personality Conflicts" universe. Unfortunately, the series never got off the ground, and after much thought, I figured at the very least, I could post this one finished piece.