3.12 Broken Reflection

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Enough gray light filtered through the ceiling grate for Alex to see his blurry reflection on the filthy dungeon wall. Heavy black chains restrained his shadowy form, with dented armor and the pitted faceplate of his helmet. No eyes. Just an ugly, ferocious blankness where his face should be.

This was who he was, and what he deserved to look like. The telepaths must have seen savagery inside him, even on Earth, unknown to himself or his mother or to Thomas. But he was a murderer.

"They deserved it," his inner mind told him in the sweet, sympathetic voice of Margo. "They weren't innocent day lilies. They probably torture people all day, every day."

No. Alex wasn't going to justify his murderous rampage, not even to himself. For all he knew, his jailers worked under duress. Maybe they served a larger good purpose that was beyond his knowledge. Maybe the sum total of their good deeds outweighed the bad. He had no objective way to judge them. He wasn't a telepath.

He had just enjoyed crushing skulls and snapping bones. He had seen terror in their red eyes, and rejoiced, bathing in their blood. The memory sickened him now. But at the time, he had been a whirlwind of strength. For a few glorious seconds, no one could stop him, no one could stand against him. Blind bloodlust was the only way to describe it. One could almost call it an accident, he'd had so little intent.

That must be why they hadn't stopped him fast enough. The telepaths usually sensed his emotional state and went on guard when he was in a dangerous mode. This time, he hadn't been angry or considering violence. He hadn't thought at all. He had simply flowed from his usual dejected state into ...

Awareness. He had been trudging up the aisle, surrounded by guards and red-eyed telepaths with blaster gloves, and he'd had a strange sense of oneness with his immediate surroundings. The scuffed floor felt as familiar as his own skin. His chains might as well be the hairs on his arms, inconsequential. He had been aware of the lives around him, like they were sparks of static electricity pinging his skin, so obvious that he didn't need to look to know where each one was. He was no longer limited to the scope of his body. In that moment, he had felt immense, unbreakable, like a juggernaut, capable of breaking his chains and killing anyone who tried to stop him.

He hadn't broken his chains, of course. The guards had gotten him back under control, and although he clung to the fleeting sensation of immensity and freedom, he lost it once the telepaths began to torture him with pain seizures. They'd taken turns for hours.

"Well, they shouldn't have tried to force you to murder someone." Margo would say that. He pictured her, as beautiful as an actress in a movie, talking to him as if she wasn't repulsed at all. "You do have some control. Otherwise you would have torn that guard apart in the arena."

Maybe. The hapless guard had seemed self-aware, sorrowful as well as furious. Too much like himself.

"You're human," Margo might say, if she was still alive.

He hoped that she had escaped, along with his mother and Cherise and Thomas. Maybe they were all drinking the tea that his mother liked, sitting around the kitchen table in the mansion, laughing about their misadventures among aliens.

"You're giving up on us?" His imaginary Margo sat down, arms wrapped around her legs. "That means death. We need you."

Alex slumped, gazing at his dull reflection in the dimness. No one had ever needed him. He'd been nothing but a burden, all his life, and yearning to be a hero was worse than pointless. He might as well wish to be shorter. He couldn't save himself, or anyone else. He was a faceless nobody, a freakish monster.

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