As Told By Mumina:
I remembered Thom was there only because Rita looked at him. I felt her shock. That’s the way it usually goes around him. She frowned with her forehead, trying to keep from forgetting again, while he played it cool and tried to make himself unseen. Bit by bit, the sharpness of her interest washed away.
This is when, usually, Thom disappears. Not this time. Something in his thinking snagged me. I caught my breath and tried to listen; vibrations, like a purring motor, wrapped around me. Suddenly I couldn’t see myself, or feel. All around me was a maze of rigid boxes, collapsing and folding like a colorless kaleidoscope. I was split, and splitting in his maze, a beam in a prism, breaking. Streaks of me untying into channels, feeding his machine. In another beat, I wouldn’t be myself.
There was a shudder, a crack, and all my streaks were snapping back to me like rubber bands. Thom’s mind was around me, smoky and strong, gumming up his cogs – clinging to me, like a friend. In another second it pushed me out again.
Thom and I stood across the room, screaming the same wordless horror noise. His eyes were open in a thousand-acre stare. Mine were, probably, too. And then we stopped screaming and looked like normal at each other.
“I’m gonna go,” He said. And left.
I looked at Rita. “What was that?”
Neither of us knew, before, that Thom had all that locked away inside of him. He probably worked really hard to keep me away from that part of him. I wondered if he knew it was an accident, me going into his mind. Now I knew things he didn’t want me to know. Things about him, and things about others, too. There were names, and places – things I had seen, in that maze, like shimmering reflections. There were others who had been in his mind, gotten parts of themselves eaten by his machine. But I didn’t see how, unless Thom knew a whole bunch of mind-readers he never told me about.
“Never mind that now,” Rita told me. “Say the names again. Say the place.”
“Skybach,” I told her. There were other names I told her, too. There was a place, deep under water in the middle of the ocean. It had a name, and you could find it using satellite. Rita read the truth in me and put it into words.
We’d all seen videos of Flying Man. Before I met Rita, I wondered about him. He’s almost an urban legend. People who meet him swear that he’s real, and people who post videos all say the videos are real. But some of the videos are definitely fake, and some of the people who swear that they met him are definitely liars. Some people said he was white, and some people said he was black. Some people said that he was aliens, a few of them, like supermans among us. It was kind of cool when I met Rita, and you could show her videos and she knew which ones were real.
So when I saw him in Thom’s mind and thought he might be another mind-reader, we looked for him on the internet. The first thing that popped up was this new video of him and a lady on his shoulders getting sucked into a twister. No one knew who the lady was. Rita could tell from looking that the twister was people like us, and she thought they were going to the secret underwater lair.
I didn’t want to go on a rescue-mission. I’m not the judgmental type to weigh right versus wrong or good versus evil; from Thom’s perspective, it was wrong for us to even know about the flying man. From my point of view, it was possible to die by following tornados, picking fights with guys who had superpowers, or going to the bottom of the ocean with no plan for how to breathe. But Rita’s stubborn and I’m influenced easily. Her perspective is, mysteries are more dangerous than tornados or powers or the bottom of the ocean.
We had to go, and we had to bring Jayson, in case we were hurt. (Jayson’s a healer. He’s roommates with Thom’s girlfriend.) Sometimes Jayson and Thom act like they hate us because we bring them into drama all the time. If I could find a way to make them like us that didn’t involve not getting into drama all the time, I’d do it.
So we went to them and Amare said she was coming, so that meant they all would come. Then when we were all standing there excited and on the same page for once, it dawned on us what useless powers we actually have. We spent like twenty minutes brainstorming ideas for how to get to this lair on the bottom of the ocean and shooting each other down. Somebody – I think it was Thom – said I should brain-rape somebody with a boat until I knew how to drive it and steal it, and Rita listed reasons why I wouldn’t. Amare excitedly grabbed a screwdriver out of her random junk drawer saying we could pry off her fingers and shoot them over the ocean in fireworks, then have Jayson heal her while we grabbed hold of her hair and hopefully his power would make us all fly over the ocean to meet with the reconstructed digits. Then somebody – I think it was Thom – took the screwdriver away. Jayson said no.
I slipped into Rita’s mind and got all swallowed by her icicles. She keeps everything chiseled and pure and pointing out. Looking through her at Amare, I sensed a cosmic snag; currents of awareness, always moving, tangled. I shot out of Rita’s mind and into hers, and all the frosty goodness kinked into cotton candy. Atmosphere Amare was pink and spiky – excitingly, teeth-sucking sweet. It hurt like soda-burps out your nose. Her memories scattered around me, loud and glaring, no real secrets but a thousand stories there was no point in telling anymore. There were a bunch of them starting to pile up; ones she was avoiding, that she knew we’d like to see. They collapsed around me when I leaned in – people and places and bank accounts spanning the globe, relationships untended, nothing entirely dead.
I snapped back into my skin. “You were holding out on us!” I yelled at Amare. “Just to make us explode your fingers!”
Amare shrugged, then shouted, “Let’s go!”
We all went racing out the door after her. Long story short, we used her secret money and things she knew about to fly to the closest island to that underwater lair and buy a boat – a big one. She already knew how to drive it.
Amare has like, a lot of money. She gave us all some decent cash before we left, so nobody minded that we’d be missing work. Before we all took off, she floated the idea that we quit our day jobs and be a super-hero league. Rita said yes, in pursuit of truth. Jayson said yes, if she kept paying him this much every week, but Rita corrected him saying he was only in it to keep us all safe. (He waited until later on the boat when she was throwing up to tell her she was wrong, and he didn’t make her better until Amare said she’d pay him extra.) Thom didn’t say anything. Or maybe he said yes.
Anyway, we were on the ocean for a few days before we reached the secret base. We knew we were getting close when we spotted this eerie glowing ring in the air, like a halo. In the middle there was a big metal shell, like a spaceship, and a woman sitting in a pretzel-shape and making gaspy sounds.
“They’re dead,” said Rita, looking up at the woman. “She killed them.”
There was a sudden plunk, and next to our boat in the water was a white mess of foam, with three people gasping and writhing.
“Oh,” said Rita. “Never mind.” I looked at her until she explained: “She only thought she killed them.”
We tried scooping the people out of the white mess, but the white mess came up with them, like a net. Above us, the sky trembled, with little veins of shimmering branching off the halo. The shimmering went black and rainy. Then I understood – somewhere in the halo was the tornado-maker. I stood up to see it better, opening my mind.
Suddenly I was in a world that looked just like the sky – slick and chill, with nothing extra. This was the tornado-maker’s mind. It reminded me of Rita’s, all fast and sharp. The difference was the wind. It burned against me right away. I thought it wanted me to move, and I relaxed a bit to see where it would carry me. But it wasn’t that kind of force – it didn’t nudge you like a breeze through sail. It pushed against you to keep itself moving. There was no pulse, no in and out. There was only go.
The consciousness I wanted to read was pummeling against me, so intense it turned all other things to background. Memories winking like shadows over frank lines of philosophy. Staying still, I was nothing more than fuel. If I wanted in on the thinking, I’d have to match its speed.
I’m good at adapting; I saw how right away. My desire brought me here and nothing else should matter. I let myself be hunger. Imagine the difference between the pain of breathing when you’re running and you know it’s good for you, and the pain of being punched in the face. Know what it’s like to have one turn to the other? I latched onto the mind that tried to burn me, like it would make my blood pump clean. It’s what you have to do if you want to catch up. You have to want what isn’t very good. So it seemed natural, while every bit of me but hunger was flying off and I was diving deeper in the speeding current of this mind, that there were echoes of a seering voice around me.
Donny, you retard. Stop running.
It got in the way of my wanting, slowing me down. I realized I was coughing in the comet’s tail of a faster mind; the full thrust of consciousness was still ahead of me.
Look at what you’re doing, kid! You’ll fucking kill us all, your little twat came back, get the fuck down here –
I couldn’t get away from the voice. I gripped it – taking it, hearing it. I let it get all in me and then I threw the full power of my will against it as a curse, self-biting: FUCK OFF!
The power made me fly straight into the core of the mind. There was fast, and faster. There was looking out at a world gone foggy and far-away, a scene through a dirty window: the sky wrinkled up with rainclouds, and mounds of them piling, making sounds like falling towers. There was a memory, crispy and near – a pale-faced skinny woman scrambling with others under water. Alive in a bubble that could pop at any time.
The voice now stretched out slow and thick, hanging on despite our trying to leave it behind. It was grime in the wind of this mind, reverberating like a cold. We were going too fast to want to stop, wanting too hard to have to listen. The past could open up if we ran fast enough.
I could go faster. His hunger was regret and going back. Mine was more. I gripped it – that whole mind. Took the desire, the regret, taking it in, getting full of it. Then, with the might of my insistence, I shoved against his consciousness and I was faster than the fastest man alive.
That was all I’d wanted.
His whole mind took the blow of my push, and it slowed down. Then my mind had nothing to desire; I stopped, in his way. There was his consciousness again bowling into me, both of us crashing, jumbling my wants and his and all his thinking scattered, and all my pieces left behind came back. The nasty voice caught up to us was howling, normal speed and pitch, and through the grimy window of his eyes the black storm rose above the spaceship.
I fell into my head. The tornado-maker was a fast man. He’d landed on the spaceship and was staring blankly out. There were hailstones pelting the boat and lightning cracked nearby. My hairs all stood on end. A man in a bright blue suit stood beside the man, a hand on his shoulder, looking down at me across the water.
Rita came running up beside me. I guess she’d been helping the hostages; white webs were in her hair. She stopped, looking at the ship, and her lips peeled away from her teeth in a feral scowl. I looked away in case I got curious. I wanted to stay in my skin.