“Everything, eh?” I ask. Gazing up into her stern face, I wonder how long she will permit me to remain in her personal space. “That is quite a request as I do not pretend to know everything, nor do I believe you have the time to hear all that I know.” I suppose as a man of God, I shouldn’t be tempted to continue this passive-aggressive assault on her, but I am a man, after all. There is a noise from the newly finished basketball court that gives me an excuse to divert my gaze as well as step back from the close proximity I had been maintaining. She visibly relaxes and I try not to smile.
“Don’t pretend to know how much time I have to gather the facts, sir,” she says rather coldly. I do believe she has been patronized before and does not relish it. “I require all the information you have, given in a timely matter. I can make no report to my superiors until I have ascertained the nature of the incident last night and you appear to be the only person able to communicate these facts.”
“How did you heal Joan, if I may ask?” I probably shouldn’t push my luck with her. She did do us the courtesy of not taking us directly to her Council.
“I have a device that accelerates natural healing capabilities,” she replies simply, as though this is a tool that anyone might have gathering dust in their garage.
“For someone who lives a double life, you are not very good at deceit.” She looks ready to argue, but I interject, “I do not doubt you have such a device and used it, but if it merely accelerates natural healing, then she would still bear the scars she has worn her whole life. Did she touch you?” That I would assume this bothers her. I can think of no other explanation. She has a very strong regenerative power and Joan, well, she has gifts as well.
“She did,” is her answer. “It caused me no serious or permanent harm.” She makes excuses for Joan? Odd that she thinks to protect the girl from me. Or perhaps she is reassuring herself.
“I don’t imagine it would, with your abilities.” Now we come to it. I must decide how much to reveal to someone who perceives me as her enemy. I feel no warning against her, even when I ask. Hmmm. Trusting a super hero is ill-advised for one such as me, but this one is different. Whether I can trust her or not does not appear to be an issue. The fact is, she needs to know, though I don’t fully understand why. “Joan is a type of parasite,” I say rather abruptly, turning back to face her. The girl’s unusually large eyes narrow. This is a classification she is unfamiliar with in her Hero world. “She lives off of others, essentially. Mostly, her ability is passive. When living around large groups of people, she needs only minimal food and rest because she simply siphons off excess energy from others. They do not note this loss because it is an infinitesimal amount. It is one reason why she gravitates toward cities.”
“And the other?” she interrupts, crossing her long arms.
“I’m getting to that. Please be patient.” I hesitate only a moment before plunging headlong into the worrying bit about Joan’s power. “When she is weakened severely, like she was last night, her power can become more active, sometimes involuntarily. She has warned me of this, in case she returns home or is found in such a state. Any person who touches her might be inadvertently drained beyond endurance. Her survival instinct will overpower any desire she has to do no harm.”
“She did not drain me of energy.”
“If you continue to interrupt, this will take a long time,” I reply, with a little more annoyance than I usually permit. “Around hybrids, her body will automatically absorb any ability it is already capable of handling. She has her own accelerated healing factor, so when she touched you, her body took advantage of your superior ability to regenerate. Did she seem to adopt some of your physical characteristics and modes of speech?” The girl nods slowly. “I have noted this aspect of her ability, as well. She absorbs language and social customs. The more she is around people, the more human she behaves. I believe it is a camoflauge-type ability that allows her to integrate in with her prey without their noticing.” I can see she wants to interrupt again. The word “prey” is not one bandied about in normal conversation and tends to put one in mind of less civilized situations.
“You must understand that I honestly do not know very much about Joan. This is the most contact I have had with her in years. Everything I know I have learned from observing her during those rare times when she has sought me out. I may have the ability to see her powers, but I cannot delve into her heart unasked.” I don’t know why I feel I must explain this. Still, I don’t make it a habit to ignore the inner urgings that have aided me so long.
I wait a few moments for some cue on her part that it is safe to continue. Why, if she is planning on making a report, is she not taking notes? Such a curious girl, to come back here, unmasked. I hope this doesn’t mean she plans to kill me. She nods at a wooden pew that acts as a bench for watching the basketball games. Some of the younger boys are playing a game with a worn out ball while some of the elders look on. I am glad to see them devote time to things other than surviving on a gang-ridden street.
Once seated, I find it easier to confess what I know with my eyes turned toward the game. The way she stares is surprisingly unnerving for someone like me, though I am also much learned in that art. “She hunts other parasites. Unnaturals. She was born to this world, you see. Unnaturals, they forced their way through and took a body by the same means. Most of them are naturally incorporeal and harmless in that form. If they have the strength to take a body, this changes. In order to maintain their host, they must have sacrifices. Some need blood, others flesh, but it all amounts to the same thing. They steal the life from living things, consume the spark to keep themselves tied to this world. And as long as they are in this world, they spread chaos and death.”
I see the realization dawn on her face. Much as I have tried to disguise them as something else, my former profession always seems to make people leap to demons. That could be because men of my former profession have been notably preoccupied with demons. “What is this, story time?” she asks sarcastically. “She hunts boogeymen? Please do not waste my time with idle fancies of demonic spirits. This is the real world, not one of your ridiculous parables.”
I find it a bit rich to speak of demonic spirits as fantasy when she flies without the use of corporeal wings, but I also contend that now is not the time for that debate. “You saw them yourself. You saw them take the spark from those children.”
“I saw them cannibalize children. I saw no demons or sacred blood rituals or any other nonsense.”
“If you did not see them, then how did you know how to exorcise Legion?” I shouldn’t have said “exorcise.” Hollywood has made that a taboo word. Risking her angry look, I turn and make eye contact so she can see my honesty. “I saw you remove the demon from the host.”
“I-” she hesitates. This is what she really wanted to know about, and not for any silly report. She saw something she can’t explain. “I projected.” Of course! It’s a rare ability and those fools in the Council don’t fully understand the ability. Removed from the physical body, the illusions fall away and one can see reality. She could See just as Bernadette did, just using a different method. “I saw the minions latch onto the children and absorb their…their auras,” she stammers. “They had little suns over their hearts and if I plucked them out, the bodies fell.”
Her gaze is focused on her hands as she speaks, as though confessing some horrible sin. A creature of both worlds, but with only the knowledge of one, no wonder she came to me. I must tread carefully or else risk alienating her. “I believe we are suffering from a differing of nomenclature. I have a word for what you did, which you perceive as something different. Perhaps I can translate this into terms you are more comfortable with. Legion is the name of a super villain who found a way to permanently astral project from his body. Once this was achieved he found that he could occupy the bodies of the recently deceased, but only for a limited time. Then he discovered that if he absorbed the auras of other living things, the body would last longer. His true stroke of evil brilliance was when he discovered that with enough auras, he could split himself and maintain more than one corpse at a time.”
“Is that,” she pauses, trying to word her question in a way firmly within her realm of understanding, I think. “Is that why when I injured the minions, they just dropped and were replaced by two more?”
Not precisely, but at least she isn’t angry now. “Yes. You see, Legion had the luxury of multiple hosts available since they had killed so many children. Rather than trying to maintain a crippled host, he abandoned it and took up two more.” I cannot believe she is accepting this explanation. I suppose that people will do many things to avoid acceptance of reality. “The only way to stop Legion was to remove the extension of his astral self from the host and then doing the same to Legion, himself.”
She ponders about this for a few minutes, looking intently at the hand that ripped the demon from that woman’s bosom. “So Joan is a Vigilante,” she states after a time. That word, with a capital V, makes me understandably nervous. In my enthusiasm to make her understand, I have inadvertently endangered the girl I sought out to protect.
“No,” I reply fervently. Her eyes are upon me once more, her face showing neither incredulity or ire, but I feel that I must tread carefully. “Vigiliantes are human. Joan is not. I thought you understood that.” I didn’t think anything of the kind, but it is true. While Susan is a human hybrid, Joan approaches humanity from the other direction. “And she does not hunt humans. She hunts the Unnatural parasites that leak into this world.”
“Nonsense,” says the girl, still relentlessly boring into my skull. “You just said-”
“I am aware of what I said mere moments ago. It was an analogy to help you understand the who’s and wherefore’s of last night. I do not expect you to comprehend such things as they are beyond your realm of understanding. There are many things in this world that do not fit into the categories your kind has created.” There is a flash of anger in her face at this.
“I do not understand what you mean by that, sir. I am of the same kind as you and your little friend.” Standing again, I am struck by how very tall and imposing a figure she makes.
Perhaps I went too far. Oh well. “You are woefully mistaken. Do not think I mean to insult you, Susie. It is a matter of subtle distinctions only that threaten our new friendship. Please, allow me to clarify before you storm away.” She hesitates. Hesitate may be the wrong word with her. I don’t think she is debating with herself at any time. She is not the type of person to doubt herself, probably because they did not train her to. No, I have a suspicion that she is carefully assessing everything in order to make the correct decision. I wonder how fast her mind must work for her to analyze every situation so entirely with only brief moments of apparent hesitation.
A little stiffly, she resumes her seat and averts her gaze from me, focusing instead on the ongoing game. “Your kind, the heroes and villains that make up your caped menagerie, are hybrids, in a sense. You are descendents from humans with a few contributions from…” I stutter over the word I would normally use, “…other humanoid species. There is no way of ascertaining from whence your extraordinary abilities came. I have heard a wide variety of theories and few of them fill me with any confidence.” This is not precisely a lie. I have heard many theories, most of them absurd. One theory, however, seems very plausible to me. If it is true, I’m afraid my confidence in the survival of the human race is very slim. “I have already explained Joan and I think that you know what she is, whatever your brain is trying to tell you. You have much clearer sight than your superiors, I am sure. As for me, I was not born with my abilities. They were given me, when I proved myself worthy of them.”
This statement is greeted with a blank look. Is she capable of making facial expressions without extraneous effort? Interesting that they haven’t trained her to do those better. I was convinced that the Council trained them to do everything. I did not anticipate her believing my account of my trials, so I am perfectly content to stare her down. On this one thing, I refuse to sing. She is not ready to believe it and I am not ready to divulge such a difficult experience to a near stranger. “Now, I think, you know all I have to tell, though you may not believe any of it, and I would not be astonished by this in the least. They train you for many things, but faith is a subject they are sadly lacking in.”
We sit in companionable silence for several minutes, both pretending to watch the game that is getting steadily more exciting as it progresses. The boys are definitely aware I am watching, otherwise I am sure they would be a little more, and I use the term lightly, competitive. Only weeks ago, I caught two of them stealing from the community emergency funds and the others I’d seen variously on street corners and down alleys either selling or imbibing drugs. The fact that they held violent tendencies in check, even in a game, on my account after such a short span of time makes me almost indecently happy. If we accomplish nothing else here, the survival of these children without the dependency on gangs is enough. Thank you, God, for the small reminders.
“I’ll have to keep an eye on her,” the girl says at last. Her tone is business-like, contrasting sharply with her young face. She is strangely ageless, young and yet old, naive and yet…no novice could have seen that gymnasium and be sitting here calmly, completely unphased by it. “She is an unpredictable element in my, I mean, the Alpha’s territory. I cannot in good conscience let her roam unchecked in the city.”
This might solve a few problems. “If you would like, I am always looking for volunteers for the center. I could request that she check in on the weekends and it would be an excellent cover for you to work here.”
“If I work here, it will be to keep an eye on you, sir. I can find her on my own. I can find anyone once I know them.” Somehow, I don’t think she means “know” like most people do. This is probably a phrase calculated to make me nervous. However, the ability to hide is only coveted by those who don’t want to be found. I am not one of those people. If only she found faith so well as she purports to find people, my job would be half done. “I am a very busy person, but if you need a donation, I am not without means.”
“Money is never half so good as helping hands. We are never in need of money where charity of heart moves the hands to work.”
“Is that some sort of parable?”
“Not precisely, no. The simple fact is, I do not like dealing with money. It is a temptation too great for many and leads to the downfall of honorable people. If you cannot donate your time, I have no need of your money.” Too many people throw money at problems, in my humble opinion. I am grateful to say that none of the improvements we have managed have been due to money. Sure, people donated materials and time, not to mention loose change for the car emergency funds. That is not the same. Too many people seem to forget, if they ever knew, that the only time Yeshua became truly angry was when money was brought into His Father’s house.
“I can donate time on the weekends, though I cannot be expected to perform any task unusual for a girl like me. No one must be aware of my abilities.”
“I wouldn’t presume to ask you to use your talents for such base reasons. Most of the construction is complete, anyway. The kitchen is always short a pair of hands, if that would interest you.” Again, that pause. Is she ordering her thoughts or translating them to human? That is a cruel, Peter. Shame on you. Still, the robotic way she responds and moves is suggestive of a severe disconnect from humanity.
“That will be acceptable, sir.”
“Good. I will see you Friday morning. And call me Peter, please.” She wants to argue and yet won’t. They must have trained her for that, too. This experience definitely will be good for her. Human connection and I might even manage some de-programming. Plus, her reconnaissance of Joan will ease my mind greatly. They will look after each other, I think, and Susan will begin to see the truth of the other world. Whether that will be for the better, I cannot foresee. If she is to be the Alpha, however, I would rather she take on the job fully aware of what she is becoming ruler over.
Without a backward glance, she leaves me to my thoughts on the pew and departs in her surprisingly quiet car. I turn my attention back to the game, but my thoughts back to last night. The boys before me might have been among the dead if only their parents were richer. Yes. Thank God for small favors. The rest of the afternoon is spent in prayerful contemplation. So many children lost. And the battle has only begun for those left behind. Father, watch over Bernadette and Benjamin.