Avalanche – Snippet 54
I looked at my watch. It was almost go-time. And I scrubbed at my eyes with the back of my hand as tears filled them, and my throat closed, because of what was coming. This…I couldn’t face this. Not again.
“I can’t do this anymore, Eight,” I choked. “It’s up to you now. Finish it for me.”
I barely heard Eight’s gentle “I will, Vickie,” as I closed by keyboard and went to join the others.
Is it wrong to be ruled by your desires?
I’ve always thought so. Doesn’t stop a lot of people from doing it, of course. I suppose most people are, to varying degrees, slaves to their emotions. Yet there are those special few who go to extreme measures to express themselves. There are no boundaries, no rules, regardless of their claims to the contrary. They swear by personal mantras, mask their transient nature with diatribes bordering on religious fervor, but in truth their values ebb and flow like the tides, serving their present needs and nothing more. Their first lesson is that history is malleable. The others follow soon enough: foundations are based on whim, to hell with gods, know what is yours and you fight for it, tooth and nail, and if some bastard is foolish enough to stand in your way, you strike him down and you don’t stop until he stays down.
I don’t know how these people manage to survive, given the horrific nature of their choices, but they do. Some even thrive, a precious few, as their environment continues somehow to provide for them. Most, however, laugh in the face of death, dance in the heart of the storm, drunk on the power of their perceived immortality as they tilt head-first into windmills. They burn, a blazing pyre of fragile strength, drawing those blind enough to follow into their consuming web. They are beautiful, if only for a moment, their fires extinguished all too quickly and they pass on, leaving only a husk of themselves. Sometimes, they are beloved and shrines are erected in their honor. Those they leave behind may swear eternal vigilance, but inevitably people move on. It’s what they do. A chance for happiness in what is left, for normalcy, for sanity, depends on their ability to forget, to distance themselves. These are the tragic stories, and they serve as warnings to others what demons lie in wait, what awaits those who dare to take the reins of their own madness.
And yet, I envy these people.
They feel something, something so strong and sure and powerful that they serve it without hesitation. Imagine a compulsion so complete that, over faith, over logic, over simple common sense it drives you to acts of courage and resilience even in the face of catastrophic failure. These people are easy marks for exploitation, and there are many who would take advantage of that.
I know of the fight. I have fought all my life, with people and ideals and concepts put into motion that evolve into something completely different from their humble beginnings. But I have rarely let myself be a target. It happens, but you can hide enough of your true self to mask the parts that are vulnerable, keep them away from the crosshairs. Let them take the shot. If the target is an illusion, you survive. And them? They take pause in a moment of confusion. And you? You can catch them unawares, drive that dagger into the base of their skull, or use those precious seconds to slip away. It’s an exciting game. I’ve had an exciting life. But I’m not the woman I once was.
Something is different. Once, it was the good fight, then it was just the fight, an endless series of battles to delay the inevitable boredom of stubborn breath defying an existential void. I didn’t rush into things. I planned them out. I placed value in the safest option, in prepping for contingency scenarios and I saw the mission done. And through it all, I never let myself feel a thing, nothing beyond mild amusement or irritation. It was simpler that way. When you calculate the odds of success in anything, there is no variable more chaotic and unnecessary than throwing emotion into the mix.
So how the hell did I get here?
All my life, I have wanted only one thing. Just one. And I mean want. It’s not a week on a beach or some end-of-year bonus or some bauble or drug or fame or whatever trivial prize most people might imagine. One thing, and I wanted it. And you know what? It’s changed. It’s not the same as it was, completely morphing over the span of a few measly months. No, that’s not fair. It hasn’t changed. I have. It has remained more or less the same sarcastic, pig-headed mess of a man that it started as. I started this by the simple act of wanting him. I wanted him, something he had, and I was prepared to win it, use it, and spit him out when I was done. Not my first time, I must admit. He knows the game, hell, he’s done it himself. But as he told me once, you can’t bet on these things. While you’re sinking your claws into someone, they’re probably digging theirs into you.
And now, it’s all different. Because I’m feeling something new. Some tiny seed has taken root and it’s all gone to hell. Anything I used to hold dear, it all pales in comparison. No matter what I thought at the time, no matter how much I thought I yearned for something, it all seems dull and insignificant next to the brilliant and terrible and chaotic thing that he is, if you can believe it. If I can believe it…
The bastard’s done something to me, and though a part of me is crying out, spurning the very absurdity of it, another drives me forward into his arms…
She caught him by surprise, and Red Djinni struggled to maintain balance as his exuberant assailant tackled him mercilessly, planting a series of kisses on his neck.
“Mel, for chrissakes…”
Red sighed and with an exaggerated gesture removed her arms from around his chest and gently pushed her away. He glared at her over his scarf, his eyes questioning.
“Well?” he asked.
“Well what, chèr?” she answered, impishly.
“Not that I object to your gestures of affection, oh no, not me. In fact, I’m sure I’ll be taking advantage of them later…” He coughed. “But please explain yourself.”
Mel shot him a look of pure infatuation. “Now Mr. Djinni,” she purred. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to explain myself before…”
Red looked at her helplessly. “This isn’t you,” he said. “You’ve never acted this… well, this… I feel like I’m in a teen beach movie…”
Red heard muffled snickers from his left, and he exhaled dramatically, bowing his head.
“You’re punishing me,” he said, understanding. “For last night.”
“You bet your firm ass I am,” Mel muttered. “No one falls asleep on me, Red.”
“I’m sorry,” Red muttered, the words barely escaping his palms, which were pressed firmly to his face. “You know how exhausted I’ve been of late.”
“You fell asleep on me, Red,” Mel hissed. “Correction, you fell asleep in me! What in the name of…?”
“Look, can we talk about this later?” The Djinni, still clutching his face, nodded slightly to his left. “I do have a certain menacing reputation to maintain.”
Mel gave Red’s recruits a casual glance. They stood at attention, but shook with suppressed laughter, one going so far as to press her lips together, her eyes shut, with such ferocity that her face had flushed a brilliant shade of red.
“You see what you’ve done?” Red sighed. “They’re laughing at me now.”
“So what are you going to do about it?” Mel smirked.
“I’m going to be their teacher,” he growled and leapt away, sprinting towards his charges at a dead run. Snickers became yelps of surprise. The recruits scattered as Red tackled one of them, rammed him into the soft turf of Echo’s training fields, rolled and landed in a fighting stance.
“No warm-ups today, kids!” Red snarled. “Let’s get to the pummeling! Do your worst!”
There was a collective groan as the students warily began to circle the Djinni, except for Bullet Time, the hulking brute Red had managed to slam into the dirt. He lay on his back, gasping for breath.
Mel stood her ground, arms crossed, and watched in amusement. She now made it a point to watch Red during his daily training exercises. There was little else at ECHO she found remotely entertaining. After their short-lived victory at Ultima Thule, things had gone downhill for ECHO so rapidly it wasn’t a “hill” so much as a “chasm,” which meant, among other things, “Mel’s Place” tended to be full of silence, brooding, outright depression, and a great deal of heavy drinking. She knew Red felt helpless in the face of all this despair. Bulwark, while mending remarkably given the extent of his injuries, was still under strict orders from Bella to stay off his feet for now. The big man was resisting, of course, but despite being the love of ECHO’s commander-in-chief even he wasn’t exempt from her stern reprimands. Upon his return from the ruins of Metis, Bull had somehow slipped away from Bella’s watchful monitoring and hobbled into the barracks, only to find his powers as Chief Trainer had been temporarily rescinded with a brief memo from Bella herself. Red Djinni was called up to replace him, reluctantly at first, but with growing vigor as Red was hungry for something, for anything, useful to do. And so here he was, performing his daily dance. Mel liked to think he was dancing for her.
But he wasn’t, of course.
She watched as he took them on, one-by-one. The idea of rushing him all-together still eluded them. They had tried it, once, but the Djinni had been ready for it, dodging their clumsy attempts at teamwork and pitting their strengths against each other. They simply didn’t coordinate their efforts, and a simple display of “hit me if you can” on Red’s part had left them discouraged, too busy bemoaning the fact that they were doing more damage to themselves without landing a single blow on him. Bulwark would have put them through their paces, drilled teamwork and prepared maneuvers into them. Red preferred a different approach. As he saw it, pain and humiliation were great motivators. In time, they would wise up, if they wanted it badly enough. For now, that first lesson had robbed them of their courage, and they were reluctant to make the first move against their teacher.