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[Fiction] Lost and...

z-Sean McCline

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Sean wants to sleep, but it isn't happening. The sex alone should have worn him out; hell, his two companions should have put him in a coma. Shine snuggles against his right side, her hot, curvy little body pressed firmly against his; Medusa is wrapped around Shine, the yellow tentacles that take the place of her hair splaying across her pillow. Sean’s mind drifts as he remembers what those tentacles could do; a small, satisfied smile plays over his lips.

It didn’t last long; mere sex – though what Medusa and Shine could do could hardly be called mere – couldn’t make him feel better. It has been a long time since he had felt good. It has been about two months since he had felt good; to be exact, since the day that the baby had died.

It didn’t seem possible to get so worked up about something he had never had. And yet…

Nothing had been right since that day, since he had come home to find death and emptiness.

With a hiss of frustration, Sean slides out of the bed. Shine mumbles unhappily, then rolls over and wraps herself around Medusa. And just like that, Sean is unnecessary; completely replaceable.

He pulls his clothes on in silence, unsure of what he is going to do now. He grabs his wallet; in his hurry, it snaps open and a picture tumbles out. Sean sees it and starts to snap it up, but he hesitates. The girl smiles weakly from the picture, her little brown face curling cutely. Sean's hand slowly, almost against his will, cups the picture.

The picture was obviously taken in a hospital, and it was also obvious that the girl didn’t feel well, but she was making her best effort to smile for the camera. Sean isn’t sure why; he had been the one taking the picture. And she had smiled so tenderly, after he had nearly killed her.

“You save me.”

As he steps out on the deck of his boat, the words ring in broken English in his mind, in a perfect memory of how they had sounded in his ears. Her deep brown eyes had glowed with adoration as she had said it, her teeth glinting white in her face.

Sean groans and put his hands to his head; the picture conforms to his skull with a reluctant snap. Christ, he had saved a zip. And he still isn’t sure how he had done it.

This is driving him crazy, though he knew that wasn’t the whole truth. The loss of the baby was killing him, and he isn’t sure why. The loss of her – he wasn’t quite ready to hear her name yet, not even in his own head – should have hurt worse; the baby hadn’t been alive, hadn't really been there.

But he had wanted it. He had dreamed of holding it, of being a father, of being a better father than he had had. He hadn’t realized how important having a kid would be until Angie told him she was pregnant-

Sean grimaces as he realized what he had just thought: her name. He shakes his head, knocking away his thoughts. No, first he’d deal with this new, uncontrolled power; this new thing that had saved a zip, that had made him afraid that a fellow Teragen member would find out and give him shit for it. Or worse than shit.

Then he’ll deal with Angie.

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Sean clings to the coast of South America, using it as a general guide for north and a place to set down and rest when needed. He flies steadily, avoiding large cities as much as possible. When he notices that he is starting to parallel the sun’s path, he pauses for a long rest on the northern tip of Columbia. Then he heads dead north – or what he guessed was dead north – toward the land that he had once called home.

Once he hits the Gulf Coast, Sean follows the Mississippi north. He is still careful to avoid cities as much as possible – he circles New Orleans in the darkest hours of the morning. The first city that he purposefully enters is Alton, Illinois.

Setting down outside the city, he walks in. He shifts his clothes to something less conspicuous and makes sunglasses out of his Eufiber. With his disguise in place, he finds an OpNet café and gets a seat.

Sean prepares an email, working on it carefully. He wants to ask permission before he shows up, but he doesn’t want to give too much away. While it is said that the Alchemist wasn’t a Utopian toadie, Sean didn’t plan to risk a trap.


My name is Sean. I’m a Nova who recently developed a new power. Because of my associations, I need a neutral party to help me learn to control this power. I have heard that you are neutral and willing to help Novas who need help. Would you be willing to meet with me? I can be in Chicago in an hour.

Sincerely, Sean

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In his lab, Alchemist was stuck on a problem. It wasn't really a hard problem on the surface, but like so many small technical details, the closer he got to solving it, the farther the answer seemed to be. He'd been working this small problem over, in his head and on the bench in front of him, for hours, and he needed a break.

He checked his opmail. Since he'd started actually dealing with the media, he'd been going through twice as many fan mails as normal, which was impressive considdering he was both a city defender and a 'character' on a reality TV show. He considdered for a moment just erasing the whole batch of mail in his inbox, but only for a moment. You never know when something important is going to show up.

About two-thirds down the list is a short message that catches his eye. Someone named Sean, claiming to be a nova, needing help in training a power. From a neutral party. That's the bit that really caught his attention.

Alchemist gave some thought to this new puzzle. If someone considdered him neutral, they were judging him by his reputation, or else thought he was neutral to an issue he wasn't involved in. Not world politics, not baseline-nova relations, most likely an inter-nova issue considdering the kind of assisstance being requested. That meant a faction member looking for training outside their faction. Depending on the situation, and the faction, that could lead to some serious trouble. Not that that had ever stopped him before, it just changed the equation.

A bit more thought, and he had solved the problem to his satisfaction, taking into account both the possibility of a trap and the necessities involved for possible training.

He replied to the opmail through one of Bandwidth's protected channels. Best not to let complications get in the way.


I'll meet with you. Today, at noon, in the Chicago public library, by the chemistry books.


That taken care of, Alchemist returns to his workbench to start work on something new.

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Sean sits up straight in his chair and grins happily. Finally, he can get some help for this damned curse!

He pays for his time on the 'Net and hurries to the edge of town. He is about to lift off when he decides that he needs a disguise. He dashes into a store and picks up a bottle of comb-in hair dye. On the way to his lift-off point, he quickly colors his hair with a few quick swipes of the chemical comb. By the time he is in the air, his hair and eyebrows have dried into a nondescript dark brown. Hopefully, this will help hide who and what he was.

An hour later, at eleven, he is outside Chicago; by noon, he is pacing eagerly in front of the chemistry books. Realizing that he is drawing attention, Sean grabs a book and leans against the bookcase while adjusting his Eufiber to look like some of the other people his age in the area. He leaves his sunglasses though - his black sclrea required more than a simple dye job to cover.

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Glenn Roberts approaches the man in the chemistry section cautiously. His human looking eyes, the fringe of hair, and the slightly-pudgy facial features indicate that he has dormed for this meeting. But his senses are as keen as any baseline's, even in this form, so picking out the nervous nova in dark glasses and with a quick dye-job is relatively simple. Especially since he's not-quite-reading an ancient chemistry book that would be boring even to his pre-erruption self.

"You must be Sean."

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Sean had gotten lost in the book - or rather the memories that the book was invoking. Memories of his mother helping him with his science classes; memories of holding Sandy Applegate's hand under the lab table, his heart pounding as he fell into his first teenage love.

Memories of the doctors screaming for drugs and chemicals as they rushed to save lives in a dark ER.

He becomes aware of the man approaching him just before he speaks. "You must be Sean."

Sean turns and looks twice at the man, blinking in surprise. He had known that the Alchemist was a scientist, so he had expected something fairly tame. He had not expected a math teacher who would have been at home in any high school. "Yeah," he says, extending his hand. He gets it part way out and then withdraws it awkwardly. "Sorry, like I said, control. Anyway, its nice to meet you. And thanks for agreeing to meet with me - I owe you one."

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Glenn raises an eyebrow at the aborted attempt to shake hands. Control issues. Ah.

"Quite alright. I understand how these things can get sometimes. Well, I doubt you want to talk about this in the middle of the library, but how about we go downstairs to the stacks. Nothing but musty old records from town meetings down there. No one should bother us."

Pointing the way towards the staircase, Glenn moves to follow his own advice.

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Feeling stupid for a reason he can't figure out, Sean follows Alchemist quietly down the stairs. The heady scent of old paper and binding smacks him in the face at the foot of the stairs. Sean pushes away the memories - Mom's den - invoked by those scents and glances around the room, peeking down rows as they go. Alchemist assured privacy, but Sean isn't taking any chances.

Once he feels secure, Sean turns to Alchemist and absorbs his sunglasses back into his Eufiber, revealing his taint. "So, ah, how you want to begin?" he asks nervously.

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"Well," Sean says, sitting down so that he can fold his legs under himself, "I can increase my strength for short periods of time." A grin breaks across his face as he says, "It is really cool and it feels - aw, just incredible! Anyway, that's what I do - pump up, fly forward and engage. And that's all I do."

He glances at Alchemist to see if he's still paying attention before he continues, "Then, three days ago, I developed a new power - and broke something," he gestures at his eyes. "I can heal, but I can't stop it. If I touch someone, I heal them. You can see how that won't work in my current job."

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"Ah. Yes, I see how that could be a problem. Hold on a moment, I think you've finally passed the screening."

As Glenn adds that last, somewhat incongruous comment, someone else slides up out of the floor next to him. It's Alchemist. Bald, golden eyes, pointed face and lab coat all present and making him easily identifiable.

The newly arrived Alchemist smiles and says, "I hope you didn't mind the minor deception. I've been having problems with ambushes lately. I needed to make sure you were legitimate." Touching his not-quite-duplicate on the shoulder causes him to morph from a mild-mannered scientist into a hunk of stone.

"So, you've developed a power and you can't turn it off. I've experienced a similar problem. Some more details about exactly what happened would be helpful. Like what you were thinking and how you were feeling when this ability first manifested. Would you like a chair?"

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Sean nearly has an aneurism when the shape comes up out of the floor next to Alchemist, but he quickly figures out what is going on. Clever little trick, he thinks, making a mental note to remember it in the future.

Sean is just starting to relax again when the new, improved Alchemist asks for details. The tension comes roaring back, and Sean completely spaces the question about the chair. Instead, he hops to his feet and begins to pace. “Give me a second,” he mutters, hoping that Alchemist is patient.

Come on, Sean, you knew this might be part of it, he thinks angrily. He gulps and steels himself before beginning. “I’m with a group who was investigating charges of unethical tampering with Nova development. We were trying to get into this facility so that we could seize their records. I was pumped up and using my secondary abilities, my entropy skills, to disrupt the security. I was mostly helping keep the Four-Colors – eh, Team Tomorrow members, off of Shine. She was cutting down the walls of the facility so that we could access the building.

“Then I see his guy; he’s huddled over something and he’s screaming. I know he’s a zi-, eh, a baseline, and Shine’s clear, so I float down a little to see what he’s all worked up about,” Sean pauses and swallows hard. When he continues, his voice is shaky. “He’s holding a little girl and screaming for someone to help him. He sees me and he starts begging me to save his daughter.” Sean is nearly whispering now as he says, “And then he wails and cries, ‘she’s dead, I’ve lost her.’ And I was there next to him. I don’t know why I did it, but when he sees me there, he shoves her into my arms, weeping for me to do something.”

Sean pauses and collects himself before continuing, “There was this pain in my skull, and suddenly, I could do it. I healed her. Unfortunately, I’m healing everything these days, including the guys I’m supposed to be stopping.”

He looks up at Alchemist with a hopeful plea. “Can you help me, Doc?”

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Alchemist frowns. "Maybe." He pauses for a few moments, taking in the individual in front of him with his full array of senses.

Chaos' quantum signature is bright and flowing, with motion and flux more obvious than the stable points that indicate a continuous concentration of power on one particular point. The extraneous power bleeds that are commonly referred to as taint show only a single point of evidence, the color-change in the eyes. Alchemist does several more sweeps to be sure he hasn't missed anything before continuing.

"Probably. It's not an aspect of your...evolution, as far as I can tell. Perhaps if you showed me?"

Though he is standing still, the collar of Alchemist's lab coat takes on a metallic sheen, and moves to slash his cheek. It leaves a red line, easily visible and just starting to seep blood, but shallow and superficial.

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Sean sighes and touches the Alchemist on the arm, trying not to feel like a trick-pony. Come on, boy, heal him! Heal him, boy!

As his skin contacts the jacket of Alchemist's coat, Sean feels the heat flow away from him and he feel that touch of personal power lost. But the fatigue is overwhelmed by the other side-affect from this new power: the sense of loss and sorrow that he feels everytime it kicks on. Frightened by the emotions that threaten to overtake him, Sean pushes them far away, forcing his mind to the here and now.

Alchemist feels the young man's hand rest on his arm. For just a moment, he feels only a slight increase in warmth... then heat flows up his arm to wash over his cheek. He feels the pain recede quickly but there is a sound just beyond his hearing: a cry or a sob, perhaps. It's gone too quickly for him to be sure, but it adds a new piece to the puzzle.

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Alchemist watches the nova before him carefully as he is healed. The healing process itself holds little interest for him. He's seen that before, and while each nova's take on it is slightly different, the end result if fairly universal. The side effect goes a fair way towards explaining things he sees within Chaos, and confirming his initial suspicions.

One thing Chaos does not know about Alchemist, which he has told no one thus far, is that he no longer possesses sight, as baselines would understand that sense. Instead, he percieves the atoms and molecules around him, both in concrete and abstract forms. His hyperintelligent mind is capable of piecing that back together into a crude visual image, but it comes with a few side effects. Like that fact that Alchemist can, quite literally, see right through people.

Annoying and disconcerting as that effect is, it has its advantages. One is that Alchemist was quickly developing a much better understanding of people. As he watches Chaos for reactions, both to his cutting himself and to his own abilities, Alchemist notices a surge in various neurotransmitters, chemical activities in certain parts of the brain, even a short burst of adrenaline, all pointing to an extreme emotional reaction, either remorse, anxiety, or probably both. This emotion is followed by a burst of endorphins and a constriction of bloodflow to the emotional centers of the brain, probably a choking back of these emotions, most likely not through conscious effort.

It's as clear as daylight to Alchemist what is going on. Now all he has to figure out is why. That would be the tricky part. This nova isn't the trusting sort, and wouldn't admit to an emotional problem even to his closest friend. But Alchemist would try. It was the least he could do.

"I think I see what your problem is. I should be able to help you. But you're not going to like the solution very much."

Alchemist ponders how to tell him. Say the wrong thing and he'll bolt. But say too little and he won't believe the solution. Not for the first time, Alchemist wished he had better than an armchair understanding of psychology. Not having that kind of experience, he decides to err on the side of giving Chaos as much as he thinks he can handle.

"The problem isn't the power itself, per se. It has manifested this way because of some deep seated emotional issues. Your subconscious mind has hijacked your node in an attempt to do something, either to correct a problem that it perceives to be an ongoing issue, or else to relieve some emotional burden. In essence, it's dealing with a problem that your conscious mind hasn't accepted, which is why you believe your ability to be uncontrolled, while in reality you are in control."

Alchemist pauses just long enough to let Chaos understand what he said, and then continues, overriding his reply.

"To understand why this is happenning and how it can be fixed, I'm going to have to understand what it is you're repressing. Something about that dying little girl, or the father's agony over losing her, triggered an extreme response from your subconscious. Can you think of any reason why?"

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"No." Alchemist is fairly sure he's heard a worse attempt to lie, but he can't recall it. The young man's jaw is locked and his muscles stand out in sharp contrast to the planes of his face. He's giving Alchemist too much eye contact, an intense stare that dares Alchemist to defy him.

Those tell-tale neurotransmitters are surging so fast that Alchemist half-expects them to start their own tidal system. The kid is ready to bolt.

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Alchemist sighs. This is the reaction he was afraid of. He was never very good at handling people. Cold logic and predictable chemical reactions were where his strengths lay.

"Well, if you can't tell me, then at least admit it to yourself. Your emotions are the key. If you can't tell me your feelings, what's really bothering you, then I don't think I can help you. At least, not right now."

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"I thought you were a scientist, not a quack," Sean growls. "My emotions have shit-all to do with this." Realization dawns and he shakes his head angrily, backing away from Alchemist as he does. "This is such bullshit. You can't figure out what is going on, so you dress it up with this psycho-babble and blame it all on my 'feelings.' Well fuck you. And the fucking camel you rode in on. I'll find someone who can help me."

He bursts up the stairs in a quick run. His disguise is blown; in his agitation, he's forgotten his sunglasses, and people are reacting to him, scurrying to get out of his way.

Sean doesn't stop until he is clear of Chicago. When he finally stops running, he is alone in the middle of the flats of Northern Illinois. He stops and drops to his knees, panting - not from exhaustion, but from anxiety. "It's not the cause," he whispers over and over, until he's convinced himself of the lie, until he can climb to his feet and start to walk south, wandering aimlessly.

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"Wait!" Alchemist calls after the fleeing nova, but it's too late. Annoyed by how badly he's botched this, Alchemist waves at the stone sitting on the library floor. It vanishes, as though an invisible wind swept through it and turned it to nothingness.

Less than satisfied, but controlled enough to not disintegrate the library books, Alchemist stalks out the front door and heads back to his lab.

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