Don't Date Your Nemesis... And Other Helpful Hints For The Modern Superhero

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Hint 33. It Only Takes A Second

The first person that comes to visit me is the last person I want to see. Vex provides me with a cctv stream so I have the chance to ready myself. It doesn't take long to straighten myself out, though, make it look like I haven’t just been moping around here, and in the end I just stand at the flickering blue boundary of my cell and watch his arrival. He nods guards aside with casual impatience. No retina scanning for Jack Docklen, not this time.

“This is not the first time he has paid you a visit,” Vex says.

“He knows I’m the only one that can tell him where Shark is.”

Jack bursts into the room, that familiar frown twisting his face into something heinous. I don’t flinch as he makes a beeline for my cell, even as Vex flickers off. She might only be a computer but it feels awfully empty without her.

His eyes are glazed, can’t even see me, but he knows where he’s going. It’s only as he makes it up to the shimmering boundary of my little cube, fist already raised to beat down upon its surface, that he notices my presence. He falters, eyes clearing of their fog, and… blinks.

I step back, an instinct. I don’t trust him, he’s unpredictable at the best of times, and this is completely unexpected.

“Maya…” he breathes.

I watch as the madness and the fury slowly drain from his crystalline eyes. This is the first time I have seen it in reverse. I have only ever seen him lose control, never seen him gain it back, and I do not expect the thing he replaces that madness with. I am not prepared to see the remorse in his gaze.

“Maya,” he repeats. “You’re awake.”

“Yes.”

“Oh God.” He looks at his own hands, like it’s the first time he’s seen them in days. He pats them over his face, fingers tracing the cross-hatching of his scars. He looks lost, confused. I’ve never seen Jack Docklen look confused. “What have I done?” He asks.

“You’ve fucked this city right up, Jack. That’s what you’ve done.” I regret the words as soon as I’ve said them; I always act too lighthearted for how I feel. I take a breath and, for the first time, try and talk to him with open honesty. “Jack…”

“Don’t say it,” he says, even though he was the one that asked me.

“People are dead,” I say. He just nods, screwing his eyes shut. “You have changed this place irreparably. It will never be the same.” I wait for him to catch up, to comprehend what I’m telling him. The last time I was Whisper, I told him he was the devil and my opinion on this hasn’t changed. “There’s something dark in you, something terrible, and you’re just letting it roam free. You’re not safe.” I pause. “You should be in here with me, Docklen, and I’m not so sure they should ever set you free.”

“But you never turned me in,” he says. “You had so many chances but you never said anything to anyone.”

I purse my lips. My silence had nothing to do with compassion. The fear I feel for the consequences of his temper know no bounds. Even Shark was crushed beneath the power of his fists. I never told anyone because I was too afraid of what might happen to them if they acted upon the knowledge. I never told anyone because I thought his retribution might be my end. And there’s a small part of me that has to admit that I never told anyone because Shark spent so long drilling one fact into my head - Jack’s secrets are his own - and I had just become conditioned to keeping it that way.

I don’t quite have it in me to air all that, though, so instead I settle with the obvious.

“You would have killed me, Jack.”

The forcefield hums as he leans forward, resting a weary fist on its flickering surface.

“I already thought I had,” he breathes. “When they gave you that stuff and you just didn’t wake up, I thought I’d killed you.”

“I don’t see how you would have had anything to do with it either way, Jack. It was just another bizarre Facility medical product. They’ve got things we couldn’t even dream of hidden down there.”

I don’t know why I’m even talking to him. I’ve always been weak around him, easily manipulated. He just uses me to ease his flickering guilt and I fall for it every time. I’m falling for it now. I know I am, even though he’s a monster, even though there’s blood on his hands.

Ripley would be so disappointed in me and, for the first time, I’m secretly glad of the blue haze between us, glad that Shark can’t hear a single word trawling through my head.

“It would have been my fault,” Jack says. “Things around me don’t work properly anymore. Look.”

He hesitates for a second, contemplating, and then with a slow, deliberate movement, he simply puts his hand through the field, stroking a single, gentle finger down my arm.

It’s like his touch has broken me. My whole body goes stiff, routed to the spot. When I thought they were going to take my powers from me, it filled me with so much panic I couldn’t keep still, I couldn’t focus on a single thing, but this is different. This goes beyond that. It leaves my limbs behind, drops deep down into the core of me, wraps its tainted terror around my heart, and just switches me off. I don’t move. I can’t move. I’m trapped and I’ve never felt more helpless in my entire life, not even when I had to sit back and watch him drive his fist into Shark’s face time and time again.

I swear I can feel every contour of his skin, even through the layers of my clothing. If this is a Sapient+ thing, then it’s not something I have experienced before. I can feel his heartbeat so strongly that I’m afraid it might overwrite my own. It’s not quite right, that heartbeat. It’s not human.

Jack removes his hand from my body and, suddenly, I can breathe again. He retracts the limb entirely, back through the crackling forcefield, and drops it to his side.

“See,” he says. I don’t know if he was trying to show me that the forcefield that keeps me trapped is nothing to him, or if he was trying to show me what it is he can do to me with just a single touch. Either way, I have learnt one thing. Delanon could not hold him now, not like she did the last time we battled on Facility grounds.

He has grown stronger.

“How can you live with what you are?” The words are tumbling from my lips before I can stop them. It’s not me, I know I’m not stupid enough to say something like that. It’s his power, it’s forcing its way past the barrier between us and it’s making me say things that’ll upset him.

Jack doesn’t react like Jack, though. He just sighs.

“I don’t remember much of the last few days,” he admits. “But I think some terrible things have happened because of me.”

I want to tell him it’s not too late, although I’m not quite sure that this is the truth. I have to phrase it properly though. The last time I tried to advise him, the last time I told him to go back to Larry, I ended up letting him take out an entire market full of people.

“Jack, I…”

“Are you telling me to hand myself in?” He asks, interrupting before I can speak. “I can’t decide what it does. I’m not at fault if I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m a good person. I just need to work out where my limits are. I can get on top of it, I promise.”

It’s the first time he’s argued with me, the first time he hasn’t just said sorry, and I don’t know how I feel about that. I have to push everything he’s said to the back of my mind. I can’t react like I want to, like I feel I should. Everything about me wants to rise up at what he’s telling me but I know I can’t afford it. He’s not a good person, sometimes I’m not even sure he’s a person at all, but if I tell him that, if I argue with him, hell may just open up beneath my feet.

“No.” I try and keep my voice firm. “I’m saying the other thing.”

He frowns for a second, mind running over my subtle suggestion.

“You want me to go back,” he says, “to Larry, to the machines. I’m free for the first time in my entire life and you’re telling me to go back?”

I don’t reply and he gets agitated.

“I can control it,” he snaps.

This time I don’t need to reply. He hasn’t even finished speaking when something in the distance cracks. Vex appears, in sudden red fury.

“Stop it,” she demands, nothing else, and then she’s gone. There’s no patient listing of the facts, no smooth computer introduction, just an irritated imperative. She’s a machine but even she falls prey to that strange influence he has.

“Some control,” I say.

“Don’t give up on me.”

He steps forward, throwing a quick glance over his shoulder, and the next thing I know, he’s stepping through the force field. Not just an arm this time, he passes his whole body through the blue as if it were nothing more than a trendy light display.

I want to tell him to go away, a panicked childish response, but I don’t. I can’t believe I’m actually so scared of the consequences of upsetting him that my whole personality has changed. I’m not normally good at holding back. I say what I think and I think what I say but… not with Jack.

“You’re finally giving up on me, aren’t you?” He asks.

“No.”

This time there’s no disguising the lie.

“You are,” he says.

I think I already gave up on him a long time ago. I gave up on him when I saw that he was capable of killing, not just as a byproduct of a power he couldn’t control, but by drawing a cruel weapon from behind himself and aiming down the sights.

There’s a pause as we just look at each other. I’m trying to soothe the tension from my shoulders, trying to subtly place as much distance between us as I can, without making it desperately obvious that I’m running from him. For the first time since Delanon threw us catastrophically together, I’m trapped with him and there’s no escape. He can walk through that barrier as casually as if it were nothing but air but I can’t. I’m the prisoner here.

And I realise something. I realise that I shouldn’t be here.

Shark was right, as he always is. I gave up. I got tired of fighting, got tired of being in charge of the decisions, and I just gave up.

Giving up isn’t really my thing. I’ve never stopped, not once, not when it came to getting what I wanted. No matter how often Ripley told me not to use my powers, I never listened, because it was what I am. I never even hesitated when Shark placed the mask in my hand. And then one day, when Jack was at his worst, when he was alone and losing to The Lady, I woke up in the middle of the night with the sudden desire to turn myself in.

And how much chaos has that impromptu act caused? The list is endless. It has ripped holes between Alex and I. It forced Ripley from the station he’s dedicated his whole life to. It nearly tore Shark and I apart. And, most importantly, it allowed Jack free roam of my city. It allowed the utter destruction of almost everything I know.

Jack’s power is not all about blowing up buildings. It’s about influencing the most turbulent pathways in life and it’s not just getting stronger, it’s becoming subtle.

I look up at him, now, and try and determine if he can see the change in me. He cannot. He cannot see beyond himself.

“Go back,” he says, looking down on his hands again, like he doesn’t quite know what to do with them. “But I haven’t even worked out what I can do yet. Everybody always forgets I create things too. Without chaos there’d be no life, Maya. There’d be nothing.”

“Is it worth it, though?” I ask. “And wait a second before you give me an answer because I don’t think you’re the only one that has the right to be making that decision. It might be your power, Jack, but it is not your loved ones who are dying.”

“You’re right,” he says, breathes it almost, as if he can’t quite believe what he’s saying.

“You’ve got to go back, Jack,” I say. “Who knows what could happen if you don’t?”

“That’s exactly it, Maya!” He exclaims. “No one knows. I don’t even know. Don’t you think I deserve to know what I am? It’s got to stop eventually. It’s got to come to a point where I can control it.”

He’ll never be able to control it. It’s chaos. To control it, he’d have to change the very fibres of his being, and the only way he can do that is at The Facility. If there’s one thing that’s becoming clear about Jack Docklen, it’s that his power controls him, not the other way around, and that’s a fact that will never change.

“Please,” I say, resorting to the only thing left that might sway him. “For me.”

“For you?”

He steps closer and I regret my decision already. I shouldn’t have encouraged him. I shouldn’t have made out like there was anything left between us and now he’s getting too close.

“For you?” He repeats.

My mouth has gone dry. I just nod.

His hand finds its way to my arm again and I suffer the same paralysis as before. There’s nothing I can do as he slowly trickles his palm down to my elbow and then across my waist.

All I can think about is Shark. I can’t risk anything with Shark. I won’t let Jack Docklen ruin everything before I even gave it the chance to really begin.

He leans in, hot breath drifting down my neck. He’s a monster and I’m so filled with fear there’s nothing I can do.

His eyes drift closed and finally, finally, I find the strength within myself to actually dosomething. I reach up, laying a steady, open palm on his chest, and push him back. The movement is not a powerful one but, right to its very core, it is a rejection and Jack Docklen knows it.

“Don’t,” I warn as he steps back. “Don’t get angry.”

I can see him losing it already. It’s slower, this time, gradual. Maybe he was right, maybe he can defeat it…

“Why should I?” He asks. “Why should I do anything for you?”

With Jack, it’s inevitable. I had a moment of doubt but there’s a bitterness in his tone. He doesn’t even want to control himself.

“Please,” I breathe, catching his eye.

“I’m getting awful sick of your pleases,” he says.

He closes his eyes, he opens them again. It’s just a blink, takes no longer than a millisecond, but that millisecond feels like an hour when my gaze is all that’s holding him back. By the time he’s looking at me again, he’s gone.

I’m too slow with my power. Perhaps it’s the last of the drugs, exiting my system, perhaps it’s lack of practice or, perhaps, it’s just reluctance, the last residual traces of whatever it was between us begging me to trust him, just a second longer. I don’t disappear, I don’t slip into the safety of transitioning non-existence. Instead, I just stand there as he destroys everything. It takes no longer than the blink.

It does something strange to my head, standing there in the eye of the storm with him, and it just cycles through my mind. That one moment, over and over. I watch the bed burst into flames, watch the books begin to bubble and melt, sliding onto the floor like liquid steel. The droplets of literature hiss as they land, burning through the floor like acid.

Vex appears. She’s flickering, and screaming, and changing. She’s no longer the pleasant comic book character I have come to know and love. She’s a writhing beast of nightmare, flayed and bleeding.

The walls ripple outwards, the ceiling drops down. I can see every shard of splintered something as it flies through the air, twisting, shattering, breaking. I can feel the vibration of every collision, shuddering up through my toes and into my arms.

I wait for the moment when it’s my turn, wait for him to snap me, to break me down into a hundred different pieces. I wait for the moment when Jack spreads Maya out across the floor and walks away, not even bothering to look back in distaste.

It is a moment that never comes.

By the time I return to myself, return to the present moment, hours have passed. By the time I stop seeing the torture at the core of him, Jack Docklen is gone. Jack is gone and the only things left standing are myself and the flickering blue walls of my prison because, of course, the only way to keep spreading the chaos, is to keep me here.


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