Legend – Chapter 09
“How it started?” he repeated. Dr. Hsui nodded her head. “Um . . . You think that’s important?”
She tilted her head questioningly. “I would think so. That’s what led to your current problem, isn’t it? In the end analysis?”
“Well . . . sort of, I guess.” Her eyes weren’t exactly brown, they seemed sometimes almost gray, sometimes even touched with green. And I’m distracting myself from the task at hand again. He gave a snort of laughter. “And I’d guess that the fact I’m dancing around the question probably means you’re right.”
She acknowledged that with her own smile. I wonder if she uses those treatments to keep that smile so white? Ben brushes but his aren’t like that. “That is one of the traditional assumptions in therapy, yes. The more someone evades a subject the more important it is.” She shrugged. “Of course, sometimes you’re just pushing on something that’s important but not relevant.”
Legend thought about that, but the tension within him did not yield, and that told him what he needed to know. At least I know how to be honest with myself . . . mostly. “Not this time.” He took a very deep breath. “All right.” Even after saying it, he found he couldn’t quite get started.
“It was the night the riot started in Albany,” she said helpfully.
“No . . . actually, it wasn’t.” He nodded at her surprise. “That was . . . I guess you’d say that was my first public debut, so to speak, but I’d given a private performance earlier.” He thought back to that day. Have to tell her . . . but try not to give away everything. I’m not sure if she should know, yet. “I was home, sick . . .”
Benjamin John Stephens closed his eyes and leaned back in his bed. The pillow was damp from sweat, so he reached back and flipped it around. The cooler, dry side felt good as he sagged back, the momentary effort having been enough to leave his heart pounding and feeling lightheaded. I hate the flu. Hate it.
His stomach complained and he reached out, making sure the large plastic bowl was nearby. I think I finished worshipping the porcelain god last night, but I’m not taking chances.
Of course, his gut might also be complaining because there was nothing in it. Frozen fruit bars in the fridge . . . \ha, that’s alliteration . . . but that’s downstairs. Mom and Dad were both at work, wouldn’t be back for several hours, so he couldn’t ask anyone else to do it.
Heck with it. If going downstairs doesn’t make my guts turn over, then I can probably survive a fruit bar. I’ll just stay down for a while.
Somewhat to his surprise, he made it down the stairs without either falling or throwing up and got one of the fruit bars. He collapsed into the living-room sofa, feeling like he’d just finished a marathon while wearing a lead backpack. Or like I think a marathon would feel like. I’m probably all wrong on that.
He glanced over at the end table where his backpack was leaning. No way I’m doing homework today. Good thing it’s Friday. Of course, that also meant that he wouldn’t be going out tomorrow night. Hopefully the game’s not at a crucial point – don’t want to miss out. The Saturday night RPG session was, as his dad often pointed out with a subtly concerned air, just about the only social interaction Ben had, and he didn’t want to miss it. On the other hand, Joe, Shana, Jasmin, and the others wouldn’t be happy about a chance to get his germs, either.
He almost smacked himself in the head when he realized he’d left the stack of new manga upstairs. He considered going back up. Nope. Not ready to tackle that yet.
Look on the bright side, he told himself. That means you’ll have all of them still to read when you go back up.
With a sigh, he reached out and managed to grab hold of the remote and click the TV on.
Instead of the usual shows, there was a special report. Just a quick glimpse showed smoke amid rain, shattered buildings, a hillside unnaturally slumped, white, horrified faces or sprawled bodies – unconscious or worse.
He almost switched the channel – these kind of things could give him nightmares, and always left him crying over what was happening, and he’d been made fun of more than once for being oversensitive.
He saw more flashes of faces, hurt, shocked, terrified, watched a building that had survived the initial disaster waver and collapse, felt the stinging in his eyes of tears for the people he didn’t even know. It’s stupid! I shouldn’t cry about this! It’s terrible but it’s not something I did, not something I could do anything about, even Mom and Dad couldn’t do anything! I . . . I should just stop, switch it off, not look any more . . .
But he remembered the times he’d been cornered by others, kicked or punched or insulted, and no one had watched, they’d turned away so they couldn’t see what was happening, wouldn’t be involved, wouldn’t have to face the bullies themselves . . . and he couldn’t quite make himself turn away.
He couldn’t let himself turn away.
“–only fifteen minutes ago, Maury,” a young woman was saying over the drone of the helicopter she was in. “Aftershocks are expected, but the devastation is already incredible. We were already in the air so we were not affected, but we can’t stay here much longer; we have to make it somewhere we can land and refuel.” The camera tracked across the devastated landscape – from the remains of the buildings and the shape of the hills, Ben guessed it must be somewhere in South America – showing collapsed homes, fires, and people. Ben felt the horror rising in him as he saw a man collapse to his knees, the limp body of a girl half Ben’s age in his arms.
“Oh my God,” the reporter murmured. “Maury, there’s a new housing development up here and . . .”
Ben saw houses, some collapsed, some still standing, in a small valley slightly higher up the mountainside . . . and above that development, a dam.
A dam that was clearly on the verge of collapse.
The camera zoomed in, showed dozens, hundreds of people trying to recover from the quake. A few of them, then more, pointing, realizing that the danger was far from over, that death hung above them. “Linda, is there any chance they can get out of there?”
Ben was leaning forward, nearly out of his chair. He no longer noticed how tired and sick he was. The terror on the screen overshadowed everything.
“I . . .” The reporter’s professional tone wavered, broke. “No. No, Maury, I can’t see how. If you look on the other camera feed, you can see water’s already starting to trickle out of the dam. They have minutes, and half of them are probably still stuck in their houses.” She shook her head, tried to recover, as a family of six appeared, stumbling away, trying to flee but with the father limping, covered with blood, the mother carrying an injured baby. “And the rest of Nuevo Vista, a Chilean city of over thirty thousand people, is directly in the path of the outflow, it’s built on the bay where the river . . .”
Ben felt his eyes filling with tears and found himself reaching out toward the screen, toward a little boy and girl who were fleeing something they couldn’t outrun. Someone should do something!
I want to help them. But I can’t. I can’t!
The screen-in-screen view showed a part of the dam start to shift.
No! It’s not fair!
He knew it was stupid, idiotic, he should just shut the TV off, there was nothing anyone could do, not anyone, and especially not some skinny little American kid ten thousand miles away, and he shouldn’t be watching, it wasn’t his problem . . .
But I wish it was! I wish I could see things that were wrong and make them better! I want to . . . want to . . . be a hero . . . a hero that matters . . .
He felt something, a pressure, a tension, building in him, something he’d never felt before, but it also felt like all the pain and anger and terrible, burning sadness he’d ever felt, for himself when he’d come home hurt but hiding the bruises because he was ashamed, for his mother when her father had died after a drunk driver crossed the line into grandpa’s car, for other kids being bullied or worse, for everyone he saw suffering something they didn’t deserve, because he knew the world should be better than that, the world could be better than that.
He pressed his hands against the screen, tears cold on his cheeks, and saw the crying children looking back, looking at him, pleading, asking for the cameraman, the reporter, anyone for help as their terror was transmitted across the world to be duplicated, packaged, and sold, and that pressure rose higher.
“No,” he heard himself say. “No. No, don’t let this happen. Someone stop this.”
He turned away, and as the pressure within him reached a terrifying peak, screamed, “STOP THIS!”
There was a golden blaze of light.
He was confused; how had he gotten here? He had sensed the boy’s desperate cry of need and urgency, and so he was here . . . but no, the urgency was not for Ben Stephens, he now realized. It was for those faraway people, and there was so very little time now. So very, very little.
But there was just enough.
Legend managed to keep from blushing as Dr. Hsui stared at him for a long moment. “That . . . that was you? You were the Earthquake Miracle?”
“A clumsy first outing that almost ended up killing people itself and they call it a miracle.” Sheer luck, if you want to call it that, that the earthquake had already sealed off a connecting pass. “I wasn’t . . . entirely clear on who I was then. I wasn’t Ben, I knew that, but I didn’t have an identity yet, just a . . . a purpose. But I knew how to do things, and when I got there I knew there was no way to hold that dam together. So the only other choice was to bust a hole in some direction that wouldn’t get people killed.”
She laughed. “So the conspiracy theorists who claimed something had shot into the lake just before the localized shock that took out the southeast corner of the lake and let most of it drain harmlessly away . . . they were right.”
He smiled. “I guess they were at that. The chopper did get a small clip of the plume I left when I hit the water.”
Dr. Hsui was now more serious. “So this . . . change happened because you were so upset, so focused on the injustice and the pain, that the only thing you were thinking of was wanting to do something about it all.”
“It sounds to me like you were very young then.”
What? I thought I’d carefully avoided saying anything about how old I was, what school I was staying home from, anything! “Why do you say that?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well . . . um . . .” His thoughts seemed to just run down. How much do I really need to hide? How much can I hide and expect her to do her job? “What do you mean by very young?”
She just looked at him.
He tried to just look back, but that wasn’t working. First of all, her eyes were very pretty and that was distracting him, and making him feel guilty, because why should he notice that at all given why he was here in the first place? And second because he knew she was just waiting for him to answer her question, and he’d come here to answer her questions, and maybe his own.
“Okay. Okay, I was . . . I was a freshman in high school.”
She nodded. “I thought so. Making you, what, nineteen now?”
He blinked. “You thought so? I mean, before just now?”
“I had guessed your rough age by the end of our first session.”
Okay, I can’t hide much from her at all, I guess. “You are either psychic or just a lot better even than I thought you were.”
“Age groups have patterns of behavior – often ones they are not directly aware of.” She was still looking at him with that curious expression that he couldn’t quite interpret. “So you say that you didn’t know exactly who you were then? You weren’t Ben, but you weren’t Legend, either?”
Wait. How did she know Ben’s name? And then he remembered mentioning it just a few minutes ago. I suck at this. But she asked a question. . . .“Yes. It’s . . . really hard to describe. Those days are pretty foggy in my memory, too. I had a purpose and a drive, and I could think, but I . . . I didn’t exactly have an ‘I’.”
“That’s very . . . intriguing. When did you find that you were . . . someone, then?”
“Oh, that’s easy. The riots. I remember those five thugs leading the mob – the first empowered crooks the world ever saw, but only one of them, Mangler, ever amounted to much, if a villain can amount to something. Anyway, Ben saw them on TV, I . . . awakened, I guess, and I . . . or we . . .went there, and I looked down and saw them almost kill one of the troopers and that’s when I dropped down and told them to try picking on someone their own size. And when it was over and the police asked me who I was, Ben answered through me:”
“‘I am Legend,'” she quoted.
“And in that moment, suddenly, I was. I knew that was my name, I knew it fit, and I knew who I was, what the name and image meant and how I would work to live up to that name.”
“That’s even more interesting,” she said, her tone serious. “I’d like you to think about what that whole sequence of events says to you, and perhaps we can talk about it in our next session.”
He was startled, but the clock didn’t lie. And he wasn’t sure he was comfortable with thinking about . . . whatever she thought he should think about. “I will,” he said, with an effort – because by saying that, he knew he was committing to actually doing it. Still, that’s why he’d come to this place to begin with. “Same time next week?”
“Unless you have a problem with it?”
“Well . . . not next week, but the week after I have an . . . an exam that I can’t avoid.”
“Then we’ll arrange a different time for that week.” She shook his hand. “Until next week, then.”
He was twenty miles away before the warmth faded from his hand.