Origins: Part 1
It was an odd thing, to look into a mirror and not recognize the reflection staring back. Nyx had known this particular face for three years now, the face of Natalie Jones. It was still unsettling to see. She often wondered if she would ever be used to seeing this herself this way, or if she would abandon the disguise before she had the chance. Still. Over three years now, that was something.
Eyeliner in hand, Nyx dotted freckles onto her cheekbones, her natural features erased and remade with makeup. Her straight black hair was no longer straight nor black, instead a sandy brown, short and painstakingly curled. Natalie was supposed to be ordinary, mundane. Contacts masked her most striking feature, her piercing green eyes, under a layer of dull brown. The look had taken time to perfect. It was boring, even ugly, but not the sort to make someone stop and look.
Nyx walked downstairs, as she did every Monday morning, and prepared to open the bookshop. She checked her inventory, arranged her displays, and refilled the bowl of sweets. The week’s magazines had to be set out as well. Though she didn’t open until three, she had an appointment to keep that morning, and so she had resolved to finish her work early. She skimmed the magazine headlines as she set them out: Time was advertising some interview with a doctor or something, People displayed its newest gossipy articles, and, as usual, the New Protectors smiled on the cover of Superhero Weekly. Sometimes Nyx wondered how the superhero team ever got around to fighting crime with all the time they spent sucking up to the media. She didn’t have time for musing though, not today. There was work to do, and an appointment to be kept. She swept the floor, and then spent maybe half an hour arranging a display for yet another superhero biography (Mr. Mystery tells all! Exclusive interviews, super tips and tricks, and more!). Last, she dusted the bookshelves in a distracted, absentminded manner before finally allowing herself to flee from her station to the outdoors. The day was brisk but clear, and Nyx could not help but to admire her store from the outside. “Novel Idea,” she had named it. A clever pun stolen from the internet, though she was happy to claim credit for it if anyone asked. A small smile, and she was off.
The therapist’s waiting room was an average one by Nyx’s experience, which by this point ought to be reliable. She’d tried five others, each time finding herself unable--or unwilling--to trust them. Whenever she resolved to tell her story, the familiar paranoia set in and she found herself unable to speak. The story, that for six years now she had kept secret, ate her up from the inside with each passing hour of silence, and yet she could never speak it. There was a certain amount of shame and regret in her past that would make it impossible for her pride to bear if she shared it with with anyone she mistrusted, even if it was just some tiny misgiving. And so she skated from one therapist to the next, searching for someone to listen to her and keep their mouth shut afterwords.
This one was different. Their first two meetings had just been them chatting, getting to know one another. Nyx had decided that she liked the woman with her easygoing ways and her willingness to share her own life. She seemed more like a friend than a therapist.
“Good morning, Natalie,” Pam said, smiling. “How are you today?”
“Wonderful, thanks.” Her alter ego’s easy smile, along with her happy, polite personality, came naturally now. Nyx could turn it on and off like a faucet.
“Shall we?” Nyx nodded her acquiescence and followed the therapist into her office.
Before Pam could start her traditional round of interrogation, asking about her week, her store, etc, Nyx insisted that she needed to tell her something. That she had been trying so desperately to get this weight off her chest, but could never find anyone she could trust with her story.
Only after repeated assurances of confidentiality on the part of the therapist did Nyx begin.
Her story began years and years ago, when she was sixteen years old. It began the day she became a metahuman. The day her powers activated.
This was the second thing she told Pam, right after revealing her true name. That she was a metahuman, that she had been a superhero. Nyx had paused here, to gauge her reaction. Even now, many people were distrustful of, and even disgusted with, metahumans. Mutants.
But when Pam showed no sign of this prejudice, and rather seemed even more interested than before, Nyx found the courage to continue.
Like any good superhero, Nyx had an origin story of sorts. According to the media, there were 3 types of superhero origins that any one person could have. Some had the glamorous trait of being self made. Whether they used gadgets or serums or technology or just plain natural ability in battle, these people chose to be superhuman, and that was that. The media adored a good self made hero; that, after all, was the ‘American’ way. They loved the second type as well, the ordinary person who fell into some vat of radioactivity or got hit with a meteor and decided to use their newfound powers to save the world. Not that they all chose the path of good, though one wouldn't know by the media's praise of their "humble origins". The Protectors--New Protectors now, she supposed--had always consisted of only the first two, being as desperate for public adoration as they were.
Metahuman was the term for the third group, though mutant was the common slur. It was the largest group, making up two thirds or so of the thousand something superhumans in the world. Nyx had known the exact number six years ago: exactly 1276 superhumans, by her count. Well, 1276 or just one, depending on the date. 823 were metahumans, though at least a hundred more must have activated by now. That's what scared people about them, really, that they were popping up so quickly. A new race, some freak of evolution, who began to appear in the 50s. The government had hushed them up at first, but by the 70s it was clear that metahumans were activating at rates impossible to cover up or ignore.
Metahuman superpowers were as varied in type and power as one could imagine, but they all had enough in common to identify with each other. Their powers were not results of plan or accident, but of genetics. Most went through childhood without suspecting their true nature, their powers only activating in adolescence, sometimes earlier, or sometimes later. The activation of a metahuman could not be predicted, though the process seemed to linked to either the aging process or to moments of intense emotion. Or both, or neither.
Nyx's activation was quiet. It was not during her first kiss nor from watching her parent’s life drain away. Even her powers were quiet: she didn’t turn blue or grow a tail or sprout wings. At first, she hadn't realized what had happened.
Nyx didn't quite remember who she touched, not anymore. A boy at school--she was only sixteen at the time. Somewhere, somehow her bare skin brushed against his. A simple, accidental touch would have been all it took. They both blacked out where they stood. Nyx woke up some time later with a second personality, a second set of memories that were not her own. The boy didn’t wake up at all. His body lay unconscious in some hospital, robbed of every bit of its being.
Nyx had absorbed the boy, or his mind at least. Suddenly, she shared her body with another. Suddenly, she had to fight to keep control, to hold on to her sanity. She ran away--everyone was scared of her, her own mother wouldn’t go near her. After days of aimless wandering, accompanied by the constant war that thundered through her mind, she figured it would be easier not to go on. To just step in front of a bus, or off a bridge, and be freed from this personal hell.
Matthew saved her. Matthew, a metahuman with an extraordinary gift for telepathy, had set his sights in scanning the minds of the world, searching for other metahumans. He had told Nyx, once, that the brainwaves off a metahuman were inherently different from those of a human, and that he could identify and seek out the scattered members of their new race with this distinction. He came recruiting at the age of twenty, looking for members for a new superhuman team, a metahuman only superteam. A team created to fight the discrimination of metas as it much as it was to fight evil.
Matthew, along with his partner and friend Steven, would approach her in the alleys of Chicago. They expected a superhero. They found a broken girl, trapped in a war between the voices in her head.
Nyx was scared, at first, when the third presence entered her already overcrowded brain. But Matthew spoke to her without speaking, offering her words of comfort and encouragement. Then, as her situation was revealed to him in the intimate way only possible through shared thought, he got to work.
A few minutes of intense concentration was all it took. To an outsider, the scene would have looked odd. A pale girl sat curled in a ball on the ground with a dark man looming over her, perfectly still, eyes closed. Steven fidgeted off to the side, wanting to help but unable to. His powers dealt more on the combat side. Whatever Matthew couldn’t take down mentally, Steven could zap with the strange red energy he emitted from his hands, but lasers were of no use here.
When Matthew opened his eyes, Nyx found herself free of the boy whose memories, for a week, had invaded her brain. She couldn’t even remember his name anymore. The telepath had been thorough. And on the other side of the city, a boy awoke from his weeklong coma as if nothing had happened.
Matthew had saved her, and Nyx was grateful. And so, when Steven had explained their offer, Nyx joined them.
“Excuse me? I’ve been waiting for ten minutes now,” said a man who had poked his head through the door.
“Oh! I lost track of time listening to your...well,” Pam said, with a nod at Nyx, “you should probably go, Natalie.”
“But you haven’t even heard the best part yet,” Nyx said in mock protest.
“Save it for next time, then.” Pam smiled. “I’ll be in suspense all week.”
6 years, she'd been hiding. As Nyx walked home, she recalled the first of them, running from one place to another the moment she had begun to become familiar. She had her money though, the account being the last remnant of a family long forgotten, and in time she was able to create new identities for herself. Amy Summers, a bubbly blonde from California. Johanna Fletcher, an all-business midwestern woman. Plain looking Natalie Jones, owner of a bookshop in small town Virginia.
Nyx had stayed here, as Natalie, for much longer than intended. She had grown to enjoy her life here, and found herself reluctant to leave. She was attached to the bookstore in particular. It was a childhood dream come true, the store. One she would have realized sooner, if fate and genetics hadn't gotten in the way. Besides, it had been so long, that sometimes she liked to tell herself that no one was still looking. She knew it was a lie, though; if there was one thing that every superhuman had, hero or villain, it was pride. Nyx had humiliated them. She had injured their pride beyond repair, and they would never stop looking for her. The fragile dignity of superheroes contained a single blessing, however. They refused to make their humiliation public, and so Nyx was at least safe from the eye of the media.
Bells chimed as Nyx pushed open the door to her store. She flipped the sign to open and took her place--Natalie’s place--behind the counter, and waited for the day’s customers to arrive.