It’s dark, but not as dark as it was before. That’s how I know it’s over right? I can actually see this darkness. I can hear my heart beating. I’m not breathing, but I gave that up centuries ago. I should move to scope out my surroundings, but I don’t. Perhaps there’s light around the corner. Perhaps I’m in some pocket dimension that would dissolve when I turn my head. It’s okay to do nothing for a moment. I earned that much after . . . After what? I don’t remember what happened before this—before I was cut off from everything. At some point, the memories just drop off into the depths. The more I try to conjure them, the blurrier they become.
Then I hear it. That single word—help—screamed out with such terror that I know their only chance is from above. They need a superhero to swoop in from the sky and deliver them from danger. My whole body tenses. Every muscle is primed to go, and that’s what they do. They release and I become speed. My hair and cape blow behind me because they are beholden to air in ways I am not. I burst out of the darkness and I feel the sun once again. I’m in space. My body can survive it and the cold doesn’t bother me, but feeling the sun again after feeling nothing for long . . . I feel like an ice cube dropped in a bowl of soup.
That doesn’t happen though. My muscles don’t release. I don’t leave this darkness. I just tense up. Over time the tensing lessens, then it’s over. Whoever cried out is left unanswered. I feel it in my shoulders. I feel it in my stomach. A drop of guilt added to each. I had only ignored the call to action once before. I hate it. I will never be able to lift my shoulders as high as I could have before because of that added weight. I’ve fallen short and will never never be able to catch back up.
I hear another. My muscles tense again. The same savior montage runs through my head.I retreat there. I flip through my memories like polaroids. The stacks and stack of times I answered the call. I fly over the streets and dip into the canyon the buildings create. The man lands in my soft arms instead of the abrupt rigidity of the pavement. He thanks me as I set him down. Several dozen more of those before I reach the cats. The old lady thankful for a rescue. A young girl crying because she thought her cat lost. I run my finger over the cats in the pictures and each purrs before their reunion. I flip through more. The fires I put out. The families I saved from the ones I couldn’t extinguish. The hostages taken back from those wishing harm. The bystanders in clashes with supervillainy. The memories could fill a room, and I could look at them all day. Perhaps I do. They fill me with a sort of distant happiness. A yell for help. The same one or a different one? Instinct kicks in. I drop the photos. My body is ready. Then nothing. Off I should go. Off I want to go. But I don’t.
Drops accumulate as I don’t move.
At some point, I stop tensing after each call.
Then, I see it. It’s a small dot at first. But it’s the only light I’ve seen since my senses have returned. I can’t tell if the light is far away, or small. A simple shift in perspective would answer the mystery, but I can’t move. Or I can and don’t.
It gets bigger. Closer?
It doesn’t have to get too big before my telescopic sight can see through it. Earth. It’s right there sitting in space. Home. As home as I can call any place. It’s not close in terms of distance, but I could be there in an instant. The instant passes. Then minutes. Seeing Earth allows me to see time pass. It does. The world spins and I watch it spin without me. The hole to the outside has gotten larger and closer. If I had any doubts about making it through the hole when I tried to go to Earth, those doubts are gone. I could reach out a hand and I’d be able to feel space. The sunlight on my skin. It could recharge me and I could get going and I’d be on Earth and I’d be helping and I’d rid these weighty drops from my body and I just need to move to do it.
I see the Aegis space shuttle. It’s flying away from Earth and towards me. My friends are on that ship. Maybe they’re looking for me. I should feel happy. I want to feel happy. Yet there’s this pit between hypothetical and actuality. Hildi would be the one driving. Her stack of photos showing her skill with the bow. Some show her discomfort with flight as I carry her to high ground. I could signal her. A snap with my super strength would measure something on one of the ship’s instruments. Ichaival would be on the ship. I touch the pictures of him and feel his slick skin until I catch on one of the suction cups. His many limbs grab for my finger as I pull away from the memory. Can all memories do that or is it just a side effect of his telepathy? I could transmit some thoughts to him. Quake would be there too. My very presence outside of this place and she’d pick up the gravitational anomaly. She was always annoyed when we flew anywhere together. “If we get caught unawares, it’s your fault for messing with my gravity sense.” I hold the moment in my mind. I run my fingers over it and see all the times she said the same thing. She would always laugh like it was the first time she said it. Like it was the pinnacle of comedy. I’d laugh too. Each time. My hair rushing back behind me, but hers remained as if she were on the ground. When you control gravity you don’t have a bad hair day, even when you’re breaking through the sound barrier. I turn the photo over and see it sealed with a kiss. Each pair of lips a different shade she wore. I run my finger over them. They smudge. The jet passes by my aperture to the outside world. I should be sad. I thought I would be sad. Instead, nothing.
The Earth cries for help again. Is it closer now? It would be easier now than it was before. One small step and I could be in the world again. One small shove and my body would fall into that familiar movement. The momentum could carry me through. Just one step. But I couldn’t before. I couldn’t move when my shoulders were unburdened. Now, they’re loaded up with these drops. Each one a tiny ton. I couldn’t move just my arm to get help from my friends, how am I supposed to move my whole body. The cry passes. The drop drops. The Earth turns. And I do nothing.
I think about the first drop. I didn’t feel it at first. I felt other things. I felt love. I felt passion. I felt warmth. Yet, when I hold the picture in my mind I don’t feel any of that anymore. I just feel the weight that came after. The candlelight in the photo flickers. I run my fingers over the flames and they go out. The signs outside paint the scene with their neon lights. The sheets move and my fingers tense as I hear the call again. I don’t leave though. The weight waits for the morning. The sunlight filters through the window, and when I stand, I feel it. My shoulders imperceptibly hunched. Come back to bed a voice says. And I can’t. The photograph fades as the relationship did. I let go and it drops hard. Weighing on my mind like the drops on my shoulders.
I blink and the opening is upon me. No steps required. Now I’m in space. I feel the warmth of the sun. I hear Earth clearly. I look behind me. A small circle of black obscures the expanse of stars. It shrinks until it’s either no more or small enough to not be visible against the backdrop of space. I’m out of it. I didn’t do anything, but I exist again. I look back to Earth. I hear another call. My body responds. It tenses. Then I go. I glide through space and reach the planet. I feel the heat of reentry on my skin. I feel my hair and cape flailing behind me as I go to the source of the sound. I feel everything again but diminished. There’s a bridge between the hypothetical and actual now, but I’m still on the other side watching my actions from there. I step back. I watch me save a building full of people from a thirty-foot tall mechanical spider. I drop the photo and pick up the next, watching memories be created without me.