Fragment

So there she was, sitting in the corner of the shop, tuning her guitar. I saw her almost every night, sometimes playing, sometimes behind the bar, smiling, singing, glaring, staring off into space—all of it. She’d gone through the range of human emotion in the time that I’d walked by this particular coffee shop. I can’t remember how many times I’d done it—weeks, months, maybe a year already. I came this way after my shift, without fail. There were a few times I took a different route at the beginning, but once I saw her, I kept on this one route. Going home this way was longer, a little bit. I had to take an extra elevator, and I had to walk a bit of a roundabout route to get there, but it was comforting to see her every evening.
And yes, I know that sounds creepy. I would walk by a coffee shop, look in the window, and see a beautiful girl whom I’d never spoken to going about her day. Yeah. I get that. I didn’t do anything creepy though. Just walked by, glanced in, went about the rest of my day. There were no fantasies, no carefully constructed unrealities that made her into a whole person, no elaborate meet cutes that would bring us together—none of that. Just me, walking, comforted by the fact that she was there. She probably never noticed me. She was always busy around that time of day—night?—evening?—early morning?—can’t really be sure, working on a space station and all. There’s clocks everywhere, and the lights get brighter and darker depending on what the numbers say, but people couldn’t tell. We were in a vast, gigantic, metal and ceramic box hurtling through space to who knows where, living our lives, doing our best to pretend like we were still on Earth.
The district towers reached up and down so far, that when the light was right—probably around “dawn” or “dusk”—their bases and tops disappeared. We spun, but we didn’t feel it most of the time. All of us had our own place, but some coupled up. Made it less lonely. Some liked living alone. Earth was crowded, and then you got on this thing and bam, you’re suddenly able to live by yourself, and not get in trouble for it. People loved that. It made monitoring for warning signs a bit more difficult, but the freedom of your own, real, actual, physical place tended to perk people up more than bring them down.
Anyway, I’m getting off base. I was talking about me. My walk home. From my job to my home. I would see her every night, but she wouldn’t see me. Looking back, I wish I had the courage to do what I did sooner.
So one night, I’m on my way home, and like always, I see her. There she is, being her radiant self. She was kinda tall, maybe six feet? Didn’t realize that before. I’m about five and a half, so you can see what I mean. Her hair was down. She wore it down when she wasn’t making coffee for people. It was auburn, I think. A kind of deep reddish brown, a color that changed in the light. Like a spectrum of red when the light hit it at the right angle. I wonder what it would look like if we had natural light…
Oh well. Can’t win em all.
Her skin was lovely. It was tan, dark. Ruby underneath, like when someone puts on makeup, it brings out that, uh, undertone! Undertone, that was it. The light would bring out the undertone. I like that word, don’ t you? Lovely face, too. Soft cheeks that bunched up in that cute way when she smiled. Eyes the color of…what was that damn color? Hazel. Grey when the light—ah, you get it.
Something about the light. Something about how she caught it. I got the feeling that it didn’t happen as much up here as it did when she was back on the planet. But my, she was beautiful. Just a vision.
But there I was, on my way home, and I see her. Nothing out of the ordinary. But something takes me. A little thought. I get moved by something, and not the guy trying to get by behind me. No, it was something like, I was moved by a spirit. Fate. That kinda thing. I decide that I’m gonna make a change. I grab the door, and I open it. I freeze for a sec, a small bit of a sec, so small no one notices but me, but my mind just races. I feel like I’m standing there for an hour, thinking about what could happen if I step inside. All of those damn what-if’s, every single possibility hitting me like a meteor shower. But I keep stepping, and like that, I’m in. I’m inside this little coffee shop I’ve seen for ages, and I’m there. I’m there.
Whoever made it did their best to make it look homey or something. Lot of yellow lights, not those harsh white ones in the work areas. Dark, finished wood. Comfy chairs, pillows, a few low tables near the stage. Bits of lights hanging from the ceiling—antique stuff, like Christmas lights. Most of them didn’t work, but it was a nice touch.

Ryn

Ryn meditated. He did this every day. This was where he could expand his mind, connect with the universe, find himself.
He was very concerned with that last part. Being a Scion meant he didn’t have that experience when he was younger.
The school was initially hesitant to accept him. He was a full Scion, meaning he had been built from the start as a machine. This usually meant that their brains didn’t function as an independent entity. He was a worker in his colony originally. Higher Scions were built or given organic brains, which didn’t have an upper limit on data storage. That allowed them to live as close to people as they could.
Ryn, however, had broken out of his original programming, and had become a thinking Scion. No one knew how it happened, but one day, he simply asked, “Why this?”
His supervisor heard this and immediately sent him to the ruling council.
This stirred something in Ryn. He couldn’t articulate it yet, but he felt fear. He knew that something wrong had been done, and now he was going to face the consequences for his actions.
Much to Ryn’s pleasure—another emotion that he felt, but didn’t know yet—this was very much what the Council had wanted. For years they had longed for the ability to become independent thinkers and real beings without the messy process of getting brains. Brains were expensive, and frequently acquired through less than legal means. A full Scion coming into his own and asking a real question was the breakthrough they had longed for for centuries.
Many schools and universities were contacted, but turned down the offer. Why should they take a robot who can just download all of the necessary information? It could just cheat on a test and pretend it was learning. The council was discouraged about this turn of events. They didn’t care about the raw acquisition of knowledge. They wanted a Full Scion to learn the ways of thought because they wanted to test it against the Brained Scions. They were sitting on the most advanced of their kind, and everyone thought of him as a simple robot.
Eventually, an academy that specialized in meditation and cosmic connection allowed Ryn to enroll in their school—the council footed the bill of course. It was a private university, and private institutions could be swayed with the right amount of monetary persuasion.

Starfall

The manned probe was the first of its kind. It was built for a crew of 5 people, and its mission was to fly beyond the bounds of our solar system. Engines and rockets were built using what few blueprints remained of the Nazi superweapon that had threatened the world only two decades ago. In 1965, man attempted to truly venture beyond. There were a lot of speeches, a lot of high minded optimism, and a lot of men on earth hungering for a life away from it. They were the ones who wanted it, but not the ones who did it. That fell to a few lucky astronauts who weren’t so keen on something so risky.
Captain George Reeder didn’t remember his crew’s names anymore. There was no way to send a transmission when the craft exploded. A wave of light bombarded them. He distinctly recalled a crewman mentioning that it wasn’t coming from the direction of the sun. It tore through the ship, and in an instant, it was reduced to a mass of debris.
George watched as his 4 crewmen choked and died in the vacuum of space. He remembered their drifting forms, still in the airless void.
For some reason, though, George didn’t die. He simply hovered in space, unharmed, but without a way to propel himself in any other direction, he spin in circles as he hurtled past the planets.
It was a disorienting experience, initially. He couldn’t figure out a way to slow his spin, and very quickly vomited out everything in his stomach within hours of the accident. He could reposition himself, but the spinning never ceased. He learned how to not let it bother him, and after what seemed like an eternity, he was able to simply sleep.
And sleep he did. There was nothing else to do, and he had no equipment or tools to communicate with anyone or anything. He was a man, spinning endlessly, shooting through space at an extremely fast speed. Immortality meant nothing if he had to spend it bored out of his mind.

Years passed. He spun. He felt himself leaving the solar system.
He wished he could finally be home. Everyone thought he was dead, and, if he was honest with himself, he was. There was no trace of him, and no trace of his crew. The ship had been reduced to nothing, and the rest of his crew was most likely turned to ash.
But then the light hit him. It didn’t happen instantly, though. George saw it moving towards him for a very long time. It moved very slowly—relative to his position in space and its distance from him. He waited for a very long time, trying to think of what it could possibly be.
It was a curtain of light, shining in a nearly endless array of color. Beams of gold seemed to fly from it, giving it the look of a spiked ball.
He hoped it would kill him. If he died, then everyone back home mourning him wouldn’t be lying to themselves. He wouldn’t be forced to come home again, and tell them that they lied to themselves, and that he was actually alive all this time.
He wanted to die, but if his body could survive years in the vacuum of space, then he feared that nothing would truly be able to kill him. He was afraid that his immortality was total and all-encompassing.
There was no comfort in that. He feared that he would suffer forever without any way to lessen or even end it. And what is an existence of suffering without a way to end it, or even mitigate that suffering?
It was horror. It wasn’t living. It was simply a way to mark time until the end came, and even then he might survive it.
I will never be, ever again, he thought. His mind was consumed almost exclusively by thoughts of what he’d like to do to die. He imagined a chair with a noose, breaking his neck when he kicked it from under his feet. A fistful of pills along with a bottle of his favorite bourbon. That would be a nice way to go. Just kick back and let sleep take you.
He could put a gun to his head and pull the trigger, splattering his brain all over the walls. Destroy his ability to live instantly. That would be pretty nice. He would like that. A simple and easy way to end his suffering.
It would all be a hell of a lot better than the life he had to live right now.

He was so totally entranced by imagining increasingly elaborate ways to kill himself that he didn’t notice when the light hit him. It filled his vision and bombarded every inch of his body in the most intense heat he had ever felt. His uniform burned away, leaving him completely naked in space, trapped within a golden ball of radiation.
He didn’t resist it at all. He had hoped for this moment for what felt like eternity. He could finally die now! He could know that all of the framed photographs wreathed in flowers, the pomp and circumstance of his and his crew’s funeral, the tears the entire world would shed for him and his comrades—it would all be completely true now. No more holding out hope, no more looking up at the stars and thinking “maybe they’re wrong”.

But something happened. He stopped spinning. He started moving in the opposite direction. He started moving back to the solar system, and very fast. Faster than he thought possible.
His muscles tightened and felt like they were going to explode. His mind opened to the vast possibilities of the universe. He saw himself as a part of it, a cog in the vast machinery of existence.
And he grew so strong. Stronger than even he thought possible. The light was giving him life.
And he hated it. This was the true toll of his power.

Captain Ron

Captain Ron was the galaxy’s most accomplished mercenary. He was a lonely man who lived in the shadows of his coming death, and with it, the extinction of his species.
His life was always war. The Dogmen of Sarrak-4 were soldiers all. He rose quickly through the ranks, eventually becoming captain of his own ship. He saw action from just outside the galactic core to the farthest reaches of the spiral arms. He never lost a man, and was not above fighting himself.
The Dogmen resisted entrance to the Consortium—they would not have a seat in the senate, and had no say in any negotiations as a consequence. They waged war against them, demanding a seat at the table, but the Triumvirate never wavered—entrance into the government must be earned, by blood and by deed.
Ron joined this war at its end. The Emissary from Sarrak-4 had been killed in single combat during a dispute with the Kharite Champion, the Triumvirate member of the planet Khar. In retaliation, a Dogmen capital ship directly attacked Origin Station, the seat of the Triumvirate.
Everyone on board was killed, and soon the Consortium turned its full military might Sarrak-4. Ron’s ship was captured and his crew killed. It was only after he valiantly killed 7 Kharite soldiers alone did he see the video. His home planet, the seat of his civilization, shot through like paper.
A voice could be heard on the video feed. “Let this be a lesson to any who would threaten us: the Khar are the sword of the Consortium, and we will never hesitate to wield our full might.”
That day, he disappeared to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, never to be found again.

There would be rumors, of course. A heist at Origin Station by a Dogman. An entire battalion of Kharite soldiers ambushed and killed. A Scion-Separatist rebellion that culminated in an official recognition of a new species of AI. The exposure a Doza-led slave ring that led to the dismissal of the Dozan member of the Triumvirate.
Ron would never admit to any of them. He would do the job he was assigned, take his money, and run. He wanted to die at this point, but it seemed like nothing would let him. He kept doing more and more dangerous jobs, hoping that someday it would happen.

He finished burying the bodies. He was supposed the head of a security detail for a new colony. They paid top dollar for the mythical Captain Ron. A sickness claimed the life of the entire crew, and the security detail.
There was no one left but Ron. He threw the shovel aside and went to the comm tent. There was a bottle of Alkt on the table with the comm device—it was to be a celebratory drink when the colony was up and running. Ron drank half the bottle in one gulp. It burned all the way down, and his stomach felt like it could catch fire.
He fiddled with the dials, trying to find something. No one was out this far, he knew, but maybe he might get a lucky signal.
A twist of a couple of dials pulled up something strange. It looked like an old Kharite faster-than-light broadcast channel. The encryption told him that it was probably a secret relay channel that no one had bothered to use anymore, possibly for decades.
He couldn’t make out the language clearly, but it wasn’t Kharite. The transmission came with a host of pictures depicting a planet not unlike his own—blue oceans, continents, white cloud cover. It made him tear up a bit.
Also included were coordinates. They were old Kharite standard galactic coordinates, and they didn’t match up with any known world in the Consortium database.
“Come to Earth, we have Godsteel. We are looking for someone to train soldiers for a new era of war. Come to Earth, we have Godsteel. This message repeats.”
He ran it through the translators on hand, and couldn’t find an exact match, but he constructed enough of it to know “Godsteel” and “War”.
He’d work for free if he had to.

A Forgotten Death

Captain Crash was tied to a chair in a what looked like a featureless concrete room. He opened his eyes, but his left was swollen shut. His mouth was filled with blood, and when he spit, he could see that at least two teeth flew out in it.
Above him was a single hanging lamp, casting a pale greyish green light over him. It made the blood turn almost black. He could smell an awful mix of sulfur and blood in the air, mixed with cigarettes and perfume. Oranges and vanilla. That meant one thing.
The Secretary had found him.
He tried to break free from his bonds, but they were heavy steel bolted to the chair and to the ground. He could move his hands and feet, but nothing else. His eye wandered the room, trying to take in any extra detail, something that could tell him where he was—if he could figure that out, maybe he could get out of here alive. His chest was compressed. He could barely breathe. That meant no screams.
The chair rose from the ground, and spun 180 degrees. There was a door, a heavy steel thing with no knob.
And there were no windows he could break. This would be a tough job, even for a seasoned hero like Crash.
“Did you think it would be that easy, Captain Anders?” A voice asked from the corner. “You’d just report to the facility and think I wouldn’t notice?”
She was standing over a table, resting her hands in a bucket. The jacket of her impeccably tailored powder blue pantsuit was resting on a chair. Her sleeves were rolled up, and she was wearing a pair of wooden vambraces, covered in intricately carved inlays, filled with rubies and gold. She was holding her hands in a bucket of ice. It sloshed around as she flexed her fingers. “I’m nowhere near as strong as I used to be, I gotta tell ya. This happens more and more now.”
“Madam Secretary, I’m an officer in the United States Military, and an official Post-Human Operator,” he said through broken teeth and swollen lips. “You’re not gonna get away with this.”
She lifted her hands from the bucket, and toweled them off. Moving with an inhuman quickness, she was on him, and her fist met his jaw. Everything went white for a moment, and then he returned to the world. Her fists and the vambraces were glowing in eerie red and gold hues.
“Captain, you’re the first person to leave the facility that the Vice President was able to read.” In the corner he stood, stock still and towering, eyes glowing purple. “He got something from you. Nothing definite—impressions, really.”
“But we got something from you. Oh boy, we got something from you.” The VP’s eyes glowed brighter and Crash could feel him digging into his head.
“Well, Mr. Vice President, let’s see them!”
Crash felt his world convulse. A sound like sheet metal wobbling filled his head, and then the cell around him faded into blackness. A new world began to snap into place. The images were blurry and ragged, drained of nearly all their color. “We think they might have tried to wipe your memories when you left, but your abilities necessitate a stronger bone structure and a muscle mass than can withstand your own power, so whatever they did, it didn’t take—not all the way. You’ve got a thick skull and a fatter brain. Makes it tough to really get in there.”
It was a large containment unit. The General was standing next to him, and on Crash’s other side, a 8 foot tall beast that walked like a man. He wore a uniform that suggested elite military, but in his heart, he knew this was a real life alien.It was filled with a luminescent green fluid. Wires ran through it, connecting to a body, completely still in the fluid. “Entros,” one of them said. “—of some kind. We’re still—fig—ossibly mean.”
“Yes. —In gods. ——Must be close—“
And behind them was a door.
The memory ended, and Crash was back in the real world.
The Secretary bent over to look Crash in the eye. “They’re hiding something, and you lived to tell about it. I couldn’t let that slide.”
The VP nodded. “This is a good start to an investigation, son. You’ve tipped us off to something big.”
“Unfortunately, we can’t let you live. We have to deal with these issues discreetly, and a Post-Human is far too great a liability to keep around.”
“Why?”
“It’s been twenty years, son. The United States has struggled for two decades to restore truly powerful superheroes to its ranks. You know better than most. You fought the top when after everyone died. Even today, we live in the shadow of Fort Conger. Starfall destroyed everything, and we’re picking up the pieces. We wanted new heroes. A way to truly push us forward, and you know.” Another jaw blow. “Or know enough. We’ll get what we need and stop,”
Visions again. They were so intangible. They resisted any kind of touch. The buildings were made of wisps of silk, then the world disappears into a silk, as far as the eye could see. Crash could see the office, its fabric form billowing away in the unusually strong winds today.
“Give me a second longer.” The VP thought, and then nodded.
Nodding to the VP, his eyes glowed more intensely once again, and Crash’s restraints were removed. “It may not be the greatest way to go, but a decorated soldier such as yourself deserves to die on your feet.”
Making the most of it, Crash let out the loudest scream he possibly could. The VP fell to the ground, unconscious, while the Secretary kept her footing, even with the concrete cracking and breaking around her.
She delivered a flurry of punches to his face, and he did his best to block them, but she was too fast. His defenses were breaking and she was getting through, battering his cheeks and jaw. A final punch landed square in his nose, reducing it to a red ruin, and body blow seemed to collapse his stomach.
He fell to his knees, unable to breathe. The scream subsided. He couldn’t see anything. His arms felt limp and cold. The only feeling was the presence of the Secretary, looming over him.
“That was a fine showing, Captain, but I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve dealt with sonic abilities.” She put her hand on his forehead, and he could feel her hand beginning to close.
He attempted to speak, but nothing came out but blood and wheezing. He noticed he was beginning to cry.
“I’m sorry soldier, but your service to this country is at an end.” She closed her fist and Captain Crash’s skull cracked and splintered, stabbing fragments into his brain. It was at that point he lost consciousness and ceased to be.
Grey matter curled around her fingers, and she opened her head, letting the ruined corpse slump to the ground. “Fucking shame to lose him. You awake, Aaron?”
The VP rolled over, rubbing his head. He got to his hands and knees and vomited. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Good, ‘cause we have some work to do.”

Prologue

The world as we know it died 20 years ago. In a sense, it is kept existing, let those who truly understand no the the world is gone, and it could be dying.
Every major superhero died all at once in one-day, and Hell followed with their deaths. It was a very long summer that year, in 1996, when every major super villain decided to rise up at the same time. People called at the bedlam—it was a period of almost constant undressed, Full of people who held the almost unimaginable power, with only the weakest able to stand against him.
In probably, the tide shifted to the people, in some measure of order was restored to the world, but the scars remained. This is a world without its greatest heroes, its greatest powers, in the sense that something was missing could be felt.
No new exactly what was missing. There was something missing in the air, there was there cosmic absence. The stairs still shined overhead, the moon still hung over the earth, but there was something that couldn’t be felt anymore. What was the sense that a vital organ have been removed, or that several limbs had been amputated at once.
Most people simply thought this was an effective losing so many powerful heroes once, but there remainder a very small group of people who thought otherwise. They were sure let’s something more terrible had happened, and they were determined to try and figure out what that could possibly be

Chaim and Nic

“So you’re shipping out tomorrow?” Nicodemus Cashew, or Nic for short, asked. He was a police detective in Terminaburg, a long lived half-demon who dealt exclusively with the supernatural and occult incidents in the city. Naturally, this brought him into contact with a good deal of the city’s superheroes. Some were more willing to accept his help than others—being an official member of the police meant that the more violent vigilantes had to stay clear unless absolutely necessary—but he was an integral resource for the more legitimate superhero community.
“That I am, straight to the front. They need the morale boost.” Chaim sipped the cheap bourbon that the barman had generously offered on the house. “The fighting is fierce, and there are rumblings of something worse on the horizon. We’ve been dispatched to perform recon and possibly stop it.”
“I don’t envy you. The stuff going on here is crazy enough. Did you hear about the werewolf pack that the Nazis recruited? It was a mess.” Nic slumped at the bar, rubbing his forehead with his hands. His tattoos looked freshly healed, which meant he had “gone demon” recently. “Blood and guts everywhere. I mean, from the floor to the ceiling, and this was at a warehouse that didn’t have anything to do with meat. The new kid didn’t pull any punches.”
“And how is he faring?”
“Better than some, worse than others.” Terminaburg’s social elite had a chosen hereditary protector, a line unbroken since the city’s founding in 1699. They were called the Drifters. They were always a subject of fascination for the city. Chaim himself found the assertion that it was a family line suspect, but Nic said time and again that it was true, and he just had to believe.
In addition to his police work, Nic was the appointed mentor and partner of the individual who held the name Drifter. He had seen over a dozen in his time, and after the previous Drifter perished in World War I, he vowed that they would never again leave the city for such a cause. This had caused friction with the Federal Legion, who had obviously eyed Drifter as a man who well suited to the rigors of war.
“There’s too much risk involved. The bloodline is tenuous enough as it is. We don’t want to throw it into jeopardy because of some war on Earth.”
“I wouldn’t let other people hear you say that out loud, friend.”
“Let them. There are wars to be fought all over the damn place, including here. A city without its protector is just waiting to be overrun.” Nic finished his glass and signaled the bartender to pour another. As he did, Nic said, “Just leave the bottle.” The bartender did as he was asked.
They sat quietly for a few moments. Neither of them wanted to make eye contact with the other. Something felt uncertain.
Nic spoke up first. “I don’t want you to go. I know what’s happening over there.”
“I’m needed, Nic.”
“Is that it? Or are you looking for something else?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s certainly a way to get away from this dump.”
Chaim placed his hand on Nic’s as discreetly as he could. “That’s not it at all.” He pulled away.
Nic slammed back another glass, and poured another. “I worry about you. You’re not super like those other guys. You’re just…you’re just a guy, Berk.”
“No one who takes on the mantle of hero is ‘just a guy’, Nic. You know that. You’ve seen me fight alongside you.”
Nic smiled weakly. “Yeah. I get it. There’s just, there’s just you and all of those super folks there. They’re aren’t small timers. These are the heavy hitters.”
“I was chosen for the whole of my abilities, and I would be a boost to morale.” Chaim spread his arms in a dramatic manner. “See? Even an ordinary man can make a difference and take the fight to the front lines!” He shouted in his best announcer voice.
The levity didn’t help Nic’s mood. “I don’t want to lose you.”

 

Chaim

The warehouse was well lit for something that was supposed to be secretive. After his little group of heroes roughed up the right people, they pointed to this building, the warehouse at the edge of Pea Soup Harbor—so named for its impenetrable fog, and the fact that it glowed green at certain times of day. It was a tall an imposing warehouse, square, made of metal and wood stained by the sea and air and who knows what else. It was the sort of place that bad things happened in, even for Pea Soup Harbor.
The easy assumption was that some kind of offensive was being planned here, but the big guys needed confirmation first. The First Patriot had pushed away their papers and photos, and told them their hunch wasn’t worth the risk. “You need more than this,” the Patriot said, obscured by a thick cloud of cigar and cigarette smoke. It hung in the air in the command center, full of clacking typewriters and coded whispers. “I won’t have my best pulled away on bad info. And what if it turns out to be nothing? Not gonna look good for the papers, I’ll tell ya that.”
“Sir, I think there’s enough evidence to suggest—“
The Patriot held up a hand, pushing away smoke. “Do you want my honest opinion, Mr. Berkowitz?”
Startled, Chaim nodded.
“This is Pea Soup Harbor. Bad shit happens there regularly. Even the bad guys have trouble. On a good night, someone gets killed. A bad one? It’s a fucking meat grinder. If there’s something really bad going on at this warehouse, you’re gonna need a lot more than just the First Patriot and some b-teamers. Anything less than a ten pairs of jackboots and I don’t go near it. You need to stay away too, you hear?” His eyes were pleading, honestly drawing deep lines in his usually youthful face. “Don’t get killed on a hunch. Stay away. That’s an order.”
“Yes, sir.” Chaim left the room in a hurry, resignedly relaying the information to his team, who then, rather foolishly Chaim would add later, suggested they do as he said. Besides Chaim himself, who went by Smasher, there were four others, all rookies, all eager, and all too hungry for danger and glory. Suggesting to a group of hot-headed beginners that they follow orders tended to have the opposite effect.
The Fencer, a swordsman with a magical spirit enhancing his ability, spoke up first in protest. “It could be our big break!” he said. “That’s our ticket!”
Chaim shook his head. “Now, Fence, we have no idea what we’re dealing with here. We could get killed just for getting close.”
Brunette Bomber, a woman who had the ability to explode on command, also chimed in. “Smasher, we’re not stupid. Look at us! All five of us—“ she glanced skeptically at Chaim—“the four of us have some kind of power. We’ll be fine in a fight!” Her eyes were bright with optimism, as were her teammates.
“The broad’s got a point, Smasher,” Leoneus, a half-lion, half-man said. He wasn’t the most sensitive of people. “I say if it was really that bad, ol’ Patriot woulda stepped in already!”
The Green Man nodded in agreement, stoic as ever. “He doesn’t believe this particular event is worth his time, Smasher. We have to show him that it is.”
“The First Patriot himself ordered us to not—“
His teammates were resolved, and cut him off in a cloud of laughter. Chaim couldn’t convince them otherwise. The best he could do was make sure it didn’t go sideways.

Althlokrax 2

But, when all seemed so definite, along came a figure dressed in a black robe that flowed and billowed like smoke. His face was obscured, and he wore no protective gear, but he floated in the void as easily as Althlokrax. He reached into his sleeve, and pulled out another object. Metal, connected to a chain.
“This universe has ended. You will submit, and there will be no argument.”
IN WHAT WORLD DO YOU THINK YOU CAN COMMAND ME?
“In this world, and all others. In all things, there is an ending, and you are impeding that ending. No being has the power to prevent the end of the universe.”
OH HOHOHO, I SEE YOU ARE A FEISTY ONE. ANOTHER DIVINITY WHO THINKS THEMSELVES GREATER THAN I, ALTHLOKRAX, THE EATER OF ALL.
“There is no need for honorifics. I know you. You are a god of this existence. Even you aren’t allowed to live beyond your appointed time.”
LIVE? I DO NOT LIVE? I SIMPLY EXIST. I AM ETERNAL. THERE IS NO MORTAL BEING WHO CAN STAND AGAINST ME.
“True eternity doesn’t exist for anyone but my brother and I.” He raised the object, and smoke began to pour from it. It was a small thing, mere specks of dust for Althlokrax. It washed over the figure in space, and attempted to reduce it to component parts.
I WILL NOT STAND FOR SOMEONE WHO THINKS THEY CAN BEST ME. It was confident. No one could best Althlokrax in any sort of combat, because Althlokrax simply pushed forward and consumed all in its path. YOU WILL DIE JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE, AND I WILL TAKE YOUR—
A new sensation. A mental searing. Cutting open, bleeding. The feeling of being in something. It was the opposite of the feeling it felt when it consumed. There was no word to describe it, but the minds of all that it had taken in cried out at once.
Pain. True pain. Tearing it apart, breaking it down, its soul leaving the mass, sucked into the small metal object this interloper had held out. Althlokrax could feel itself being stripped of all of its knowledge, its experiences, its victims, reduced to nothing more than a collection of instincts and impulses.
And the hunger. Always the hunger.

It was reduced to the instincts that made it grow in the first place. All of what it knew was simply the result of who it ate and added to its vast mental library. It was now nothing more than an idea, or a collection of impulses, but it was persistent, and it never stopped.

The inside of the Censer was a brutal place, full of greater and lesser gods fighting for eternity. They never stopped fighting, so sure were they in the knowledge that escape was truly impossible without the aid of sacrifice. Many had tried, but they were destroyed the moment they reached the other side. Blood was the only way to leave. It gave them a conduit into a body, to bond with it, and to make it theirs.
Althlokrax had survived by simply being invincible, neither stronger nor weaker than the others that raged within the censer—just completely impervious to the assaults that were visited on it, and unceasing in its own attacks. It was given a wide berth, and no one interacted with it after a few billion years. It was simply too much to fight.

The blood released it, and, conveniently, Althlokrax was closest to the exit, the first participant available to possess a new body. There was a scream, a flash of light, and then there was nothing.
But this was a different nothing. It wasn’t the warring void that it had found itself in when it was destroyed and imprisoned by the god with the Censer. This was a void that had some sort of life in it.
Althlokrax felt about, sensing something returning to itself. Speech, ideas, senses. This was a body that could think, and, weak as it was, it would serve for now. There was a small bit of resistance from his new host, but those barriers broke quickly. Now there was a sumptuous collection of memories and sensations right in front of it, and it would savor this meager feast for as long as possible.
It took in all of the information about its new body instantly, and knew the words naturally as if it had been speaking for its entire life.
Hm. A human brain. Such a small, weak thing.
“Who is this?”
I’m the one who will be living inside you now. I’ll also be taking over when you’re ready.
“What do you mean?”
I am a divinity. A god. I am power. Hunger. The need to consume. Nothing will ever satisfy me, but now, I have the chance to truly attempt to sate myself. You will allow me to do that, and when you’re finally ready to submit, I will take over and become the true god I was supposed to be.

All that Gerald could do now was scream. Scream for peace from the hunger, scream for someone to help him, scream for something to eat.
But there was no one. And there would be no one. He was now a Subject at the Project. His abilities made him a danger to the public, and whatever happened, it could be used as a way to justify keeping him locked away.
Hunger and terror were his life now. Hunger and terror. There would be nothing else. His mind was nothing but second guessing and memories he couldn’t tell were real, his body was a husk of skin and bones that ate everything, starved constantly, and refused to die, and his superpower only made it all worse. He could never rest, he could never sleep, he could never enjoy anything.
Satisfaction and contentment were the only things he wanted, but even those were impossible to find. Gerald was a superhero now, but he wasn’t really Gerald anymore, either.

Althlokrax

His memories were always hazy. There was always something being injected into him to calm him down. His memories had become so fuzzy that he’d forgotten his name. He had to read it from a nameplate every morning. He was surprised he could still read, and that he was able to think in ways that suggested his brain wasn’t completely shot.
The man known as Gerald Sullivan was subjected to a series of tests—he could remember needles and screaming, lots of monitors and clipboards, nodding, whispering, two way mirrors. There were the words “unable to induce” and sitting alone in a concrete box for some period of time—it was longer than a day, shorter than a year.
And then one day a man came to his cell. “I have something that might be able to get what we need from this guy.” The cell was opened and suddenly he was in a totally white room, alone. In the middle of it was something like he’d seen priests use, those things they’d swing around at funerals. He knew they existed because of something about dead bodies smelling, but he was never actually sure. It was plain, the metal dull. It didn’t seem so bad. They cut him and pressed his bloody hand to it. It lit up and it belched some sort of gray smoke, edged with gold. It had a life of its own, floating in loopy tendrils towards him, caressing his skin and wrapping itself around his torso. It moved into his nose, but he didn’t inhale. If he inhale it would be in him. He held his breath, but one of the men holding him stuck a needle in his arm and he could feel himself falling asleep. As his eyes felt too heavy to stay open, he started to breathe again, and the smoke entered his body completely.
There were flashes of something, impressions of a world that he had never seen. It was a lush and beautiful and green, a great mass of life sitting under a purple sky streaked with the oranges and reds and bluish purples of a sunset. The cacophony of life in the light settled into the more subdued sounds of things alive in the night.
But then there was a silence. A deafening silence, a silence that stifles everything, a silence from which no sound can be made. A being rose up over it. A great, pink blob filled with eyes and bones. It reared back what could be its head, and let out a roar. It was an otherworldly sound. It felt like the screams of billions, crying out. They had been eaten by this beast, and they became part of him.
The beast flopped over onto the ground, and the life under it was pulled from the earth and absorbed into its girth.
He realized he was now seeing through the creatures eyes. The world could be seen at every angle, and everything eaten was part of a network of memories and impressions. People, animals, buildings, and data—data. Like from computers. He could feel impressions of starships that were torn apart and consumed. A fleet of alien ships consumed and added to its own mind. There was screaming and pleading, but the ooze crept on, consuming anything and everything in its path, adding to its mass and expanding its mind. There would come a time when all had been consumed, and it would rest, content in the knowledge that there was nothing left.
The worlds fell, and then systems, and then galaxies, and soon enough it was expanding to spaces beyond, aiming to consume the known universe. There was no resistance. None could stand against a god who could muster the might of all it had defeated.