Locus sat down at his desk, back pressed up against the wall. He reached for a fork, but it shifted, the distance between his hand and the implement compounding. The walls yawned away from him as space distorted.
No! he thought, suppressing his power. The wall settled against his back again, and the room compressed to its normal cramped size. He snatched the fork off the desk and looked at it, hand trembling.
When did this get so hard? he wondered.
He started to eat his dinner- shepherd’s pie made by a local whose home he’d saved at some point in his career. He ate at his desk, his tiny apartment too small to fit a proper table. He finished his food only a few minutes after he started.
Meals go faster when there’s no conversation, he thought, not for the first time.
As he leaned back, the walls rushed away from him again, opening up into a featureless grey void as the color drained away. Sounds vanished, swallowed up by the distance. He stood, and the instant he was upright the chair vanished into the distance, pushed away by his power.
“No!” he screamed. His voice sounded insignificant in the endless wasteland.
He took a step forward. His footfall kicked up a cloud of ash, as grey and dull as the rest of the desolation. The ash drifted upwards into the air in a cloud of tiny flakes.
Locus’ breathing sped up. He spun, looking for any remnant of the room he’d been in moments before. A cloud of ash swirled into the air around him as if agitated by his motion.
This is how it all ends, he thought. Entropy. Everything spread too thin.
There was no motion apart from his own. No sound, apart from those he made. Even his footfalls were silent, muffled by the ash.
And yet he could feel it. Something watching him, unmoving in the infinite distance. Something malicious, vast beyond comprehension, and above all else, patient.
I’m losing my mind, said some rational part of his consciousness. Losing control.
“What do you want?” Locus shouted. He could see the dust around him shift, disturbed by the vibrations, but the void swallowed his words. “Leave me alone!” He started to pull space in, trying to compress it back to its normal size, to no avail.
It’s getting worse, he realized. I thought retiring would help. Being away from danger, away from people.
He closed his eyes with some effort and took several breaths to calm himself. When he opened his eyes again, he stood before his desk. It had been pushed a few feet farther away from the wall.
A knock interrupted the beginning of a thought. He opened the door and looked over the man in the well-worn suit who stood in his doorway.
“Ah, hello,” the man said, extending a hand. “You are David Jungherr? My name is Dr. Ermen. I believe I may be able to help you with your… rather unique problem.” He spoke with a thick German accent, indicating that English was not his first language. Especially considering that he pronounced ‘Jungherr’ correctly.
“My problem?” Locus asked. His voice sounded more hostile than he’d intended. Now that Dr. Ermen’s had stepped closer, Locus could see that his face was red and patchy, like he’d done a poor job shaving recently.
“Yes. An associate of yours whom I happened to owe a favor directed me to you. I specialize in helping metahumans control their powers, though I must confess I typically deal with much younger patients.”
“None of them knew,” Locus said, not bothering to hide his susipcion. You don’t look like somebody who works with kids.
“Oh come now, have a little faith in your friends,” Dr. Ermen said in a kindly tone. “They aren’t completely unaware of your struggles.”
Dr. Mind, Locus thought. Always did think he knew what was best. Was usually right, too. He sighed with resignation. Locus had long since lost the accent, but despite his initial suspicion, he found himself relaxing at the sound of the familiar speech patterns.
“Come on in. You know who I am?” Locus asked, then added, “Sorry it’s a bit cluttered.”
“Yes, I do. As a specialist, I am licenced to have access to the CLEAR act’s psychological profile databases.” Dr. Ermen looked around the room and asked, “Agoraphobia?”
“A bit,” Locus confessed. “I can have space whenever I want. Seclusion is harder to come by.” He gestured for the other man to have a seat on the other of Locus’ chairs.
Ermen nodded. “I can respect that. It’s cozy, certainly. Now, do you mind if I ask you a few questions? If you don’t want to answer any of them, feel free to decline at any time, of course.”
“Why not?” Locus said. “Most conversation I’ve had in weeks already.”
“Your lapses in control, they’re new, correct? You didn’t always have them?”
“Yes.” Locus nodded. “How did you know?”
“I’ve seen other, similar cases in the past. Metahuman abilities tend to grow with use, and so upon occasion when a particular ability becomes more powerful, it can become harder to direct and control, as the the control mechanisms have not adapted to handle the greater strength.” Dr. Ermen grasped at the air as he spoke. “This is why in most cases metahuman abilities have the greatest growth in the form of versatility.”
“That sounds about right. When I first started, I could fold about a foot or two. Could stop a punch, if I was lucky. Now I can absorb bullets all day.”
“And it became reflex?”
Locus nodded. “It had to be. If I couldn’t react fast enough, I could still get taken down by a stray bullet.”
“I believe I know the cause of your problem, then. The average human reaction time is a quarter of a second. A bullet moves at… what, 200 meters per second? I’m not a mathematician, by trade, but even I can tell that that is just too fast. It’s impossible that you, as a human, could have responded to a threat that quickly. And yet you did. You had to, to survive.”
“So somehow your ability adapted to react to threats without having to pass through an intermediary- your brain.”
“How is that possible?”
“I don’t know. Research into that particular topic is quite illegal by international treaty.” Dr. Ermen sounded irritated by this, but quickly amended, “with good reason.”
“How can I make it stop?”
“Regular doses of denudine?” Dr. Ermen said with a shrug. “Hardly ideal, I know, especially on a government pension. No, my recommendation would be instead to learn to live with it. In your current state, when your power acts to protect you, you panic- which it interprets as increased danger and compounds the problem.”
“So it’s self-causing?” Locus asked.
“In a way, yes. But if you can isolate the cause, for example, small metal objects approaching you. Your power might perceive them the same as bullets.”
Locus nodded. That could explain why reaching for the fork earlier triggered it.
Dr. Ermen continued. “Or perhaps physical contact. Whatever motive force drives your metahuman abilities may not be able to distinguish a handshake from a punch -This is all purely speculation, of course, but I’ve found this line of reasoning successful in the past.”
“Hm.” Locus lowered his gaze. “Learn to live with it. You say it like it’s a disability.” Dr. Ermen started to speak, but Locus continued. “You’re right, I know. But whether you meant that or not, that’s what it is. I guess… “ Locus took a breath to steady his nerves. “I guess it’s time I hit up rehab.”
“Please, for your own health, try to think of this on different terms,” Dr. Ermen said. “But I’ll do what I can to help.”