I am death.
That was all I could think as I stumbled out of the charred frame of what once was a house and into the bright and loud world around me. My body knew where to go, how to weave through the streets and cars around me, but everything was eerie and strange; Foreign. Or maybe it was just the realization of my brother’s death was sinking in. Actually I know it was the explosion. The impossible explosion that blew everything to floor level on the entire city block.
And yet I was still standing. Standing, moving and clinging to my brother’s jacket, but not really in control of my actions. I was just wandering with no real direction.
It was probably better that way.
If I had been in control of my body I would have marched straight to the nearest government building and set that ablaze too. Instead I was scrambling around like a bumbling idiot with three dead feds in my charred house and most likely more already here or on the way.
Maybe it was that thought in my head, but suddenly my body grew faster.
I had to get out of there.
My hands slammed against a car as I keeled against it and hurled what was left in my nervous, twittering stomach.
Oh god… I killed government officials. There was no where I could go.
I might as well already be dead from that explosion. Why didn’t it kill me too?!
“Miss Manhattan, please turn around slowly and put your hands up.” I cringed at the government man’s mention of my family name. Figures I wouldn’t make it a mile before they were already swarming around me.
I didn’t need this today. The last thing I wanted to see was my brother dying in front of me, or an entire city block reduced to charred remains. Why did my stupid brother come to me?
“Miss Manhattan… now.” The man barked again.
I swung around, not at all slow, and threw my hands up. The acrid scent of puke caused one of the men stepping forward with cuffs to falter back for a moment. It didn’t last though, and my head hung as the cold metal chaffed around my wrists.
It was over. They were going to chair me.
“Goodnight, Miss Manhattan.” The same man said again. I looked at him askew right before I felt the slam against the back of my skull. My vision tumbled and I fell through the darkness until I couldn’t even feel myself anymore.
Pain and light flooded through me as I struggled awake, feeling the cuffs against my wrist and looking around at an all mirror room. My sight blurred from the intense glare and I pulled against the metal around my hands to see if I could slip out of it, break it; anything at all.
I wanted to cry. It didn’t help that my head was pounding, or that it was far too bright in this room, or that I was captured by the government after blowing up three of their operatives and a whole city block.
I was screwed.
And that was when the door opened.
A single man stepped in, his hair short and suit pressed, like the rest of them. He was just a face in the federal crowd. He slapped a folder as thick as an elephant’s neck on the table and glared at me. His eyes radiated an impossible blue as his lips parted to say, “Hello, Miss Manhattan. Do you have any idea why you are here?”
Oh sure, I was going to tell them I just killed a bunch of people, burned my brother’s body, and blew up my house before running from federal agents… Oh yeah, and I have no idea how I did any of it.
Instead I lifted my hands up to touch my forehead and rub my eyes. “Mister Suit, I’m not even sure where here is, maybe I’ll work on the why next week?”
He smiled and took a seat at the chair, flipping open the file and tossing a few pages from the impossible stack aside. “Your brother was Harry Manhattan, correct?”
I shook my head and wiped at my blue eye before glaring him over from between my fingers. A heavy breath left me, “Yes.”
“Did you know your brother was a fire elemental?”
I blinked. “Excuse me?”
“No, Miss Manhattan, if you will excuse me, your brother was the best damn fire elemental this agency had.” The man continued while leaning across our table and staring right into my eyes.
My hands fell away from my face. I was certainly sobering to life fast. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are even talking about.”
“Yes, you are afraid, Miss Manhattan, but you shouldn’t be. The skill you showed was beyond anything we’ve seen before. In fact, that is what makes the idea of your brother being a fire elemental so very interesting, because you are clearly not.”
I glanced around the room. “Sir-”
“Kem.” He interrupted.
I groaned. “Kem, I have no damn idea what you are talking about.”
He stood and picked up a paper from the top of the stack, then tossed it across the table. I slapped it down and saw the picture of the inside of my house. It wasn’t even charred, most of the house was gone except the fragments of the wall near the floor. There were no bodies left, and everything was ash or black.
“Fire elementals don’t do that, Miss Manhattan. Which brings up the question… what are you?”
I shook my head. My mouth hanging open as I stared at the picture. Kem stayed silent, at least for a few moments. Then he leaned in close to my face.
“You don’t even know, do you?” He peeled away from me just as I looked up at him. “I’m not surprised. As far as we can discern, you irradiated your entire city block, vaporized your house and your neighbors and left the rest on fire. Our scientists have only seen this once before with some of the prototype weapons being produced. They are calling you walking death.”
“Flattering…” I cringed and laid my chained hands on the table. “… But none of this matters to me, Kem.”
“Emmy, please.” I sighed.
“Very well, Emmy, do you know why your brother came to you? Or what he had been doing?”
I laid one hand across the other and clenched them while looking away. “My brother died hardly a few hours ago and I’m being questioned about what he did? Why would I know? He was doing something for the government and…”
The image of my brother with his hair falling out in clumps and his skin sickly looking was making my stomach boil. Because of these people my last moments of seeing my brother would be the damage they had done to him.
I had to fight back the tears. I wasn’t going to cry like this, not here.
“And he came to you because he was dying from the doses of radiation we used on him to amplify his abilities as an elemental.” Kem continued for me as I heard his squeaky shoes hit the tile of the room. “He was part of a project that had been going on for a while in trying to amplify a fire elemental’s abilities to the point of true weaponization on a massive scale. Entire cities consumed in fire was the goal.”
My body froze. I leaned back against my chair and lifted my cuffed hands to my brow. “And now you just found someone who can do better…”
“Not better, Emmy.” He explained as he stood next to me and lowered down to my eye level. “The best we’ve seen. Not a single fire elemental came close to the damage you caused without even trying. You don’t know it, but everyone on your block is dead. And the fire didn’t even touch many of their houses.”
“They…” My hand fell over my mouth. Oh god, I was going to hell. I… What have I done?
I pulled my hands away and set them on the table before swallowing. I didn’t care anymore that tears were pooling in my eyes to the point of making my vision blurry. “How many people did I kill?”
“Not counting your brother, eighteen people died, four children, Nine women, the rest men, including the men in your house.”
Nineteen people… I killed nineteen people by just being angry… and one of them was my already dying brother.
“Many more are sick, we believe at least ten more might die. But… we can offer you immunity if you work with us, Emmy.”
My tear-welled eyes shot up to glare at him. “And be free to kill more people?”
“Kill people in the name of the United States, Emmy. With your unique elemental talents, we could end the current war.”
The agent looked sparkling with excitement and brilliance, like I could make the whole world better by killing people. Like I was the only option; like death was the only option. It sickened me to the point of tasting acrid bile in the back of my throat. My brother would have been ecstatic to have the power to end a war in his hands, that was probably the whole reason he signed up for this project.
He was dedicated to it… me… not so much.
“No.” I stated.
“Then you forfeit your life anyway, Emmy.” Kem responded without his eyes wavering from me and a hard expression chiseled into his stone-like face.
I lowered my head and my body ended up crumpling with it against the table. My voice had become barely a whisper. “At least it will only be my life then.”
“If that is what you want, Emmy, then I’m afraid we will have to resort to different measures.” I felt cold iron press against the side of my head. I didn’t even move, just laughed through my tears.
“This hardly seems like a different measure.”
The barrel lowered down to my chin and pushed it up so I could see as the door to the metal room opened. My brother stepped through the doorway and pulled his hat from his head. I just stared at him.
“… What?” I didn’t understand. How… how could my brother be here? How… what was going on?
I popped up from my seat and swatted away the weapon, but it was locked back on. Just not to me. Kem aimed at my brother and a sound ripped through the air like a thousand baby cries compressed in a single second.
My eyes widened as I watched the red pour down my brother’s shirt. He dropped to his knees as I threw myself over the table and gripped onto his body. I pulled him against me while my tears weren’t holding back this time. I don’t think I could have held onto him any tighter.
That’s when I noticed my body start to glow. I didn’t look away from my brother, at least until he faded from my hands. My eyes shot around to find out where he had gone, but all I saw was Kem standing over me, before everything just faded till there was only me glowing in the dark.
My head snapped up and I fell back in the chair I had been placed in. The darkness was gone, my glow was gone, but my eyes were crying. I could feel the wet all over my face. I couldn’t stop crying until Kem leaned over me with a smile.
“Have you had enough, Emmy?” He said so calmly. I wanted to just jump up and throttle him.
“Enough?” I managed to squeak with a voice that felt like I hadn’t used it in years.
“I can keep doing this for a few days. The advantages of being a water elemental is letting you play out fabricated events like a dream. It’s a simple manipulation.”
“S…simple?” All that pain? My brother’s death? It was all fake?
“Not fake, Emmy. Simple, but not fake. It’s almost like a memory I can make you relive over and over. If you think killing your brother and seeing him die each once wasn’t enough, then I can continue many, many times more.” Kem explained and I was suddenly way more afraid of him than I had been minutes ago. What kind of sick person would do this?
“I’m not sick. It is simply my job, Emmy. I coerce people until they give me what I want.”
Shit. He was definitely reading my mind. Just what else could he do?
“A lot. And I’m sure you’d rather not find out, Emmy. All you have to do is agree to fight for us. You’ll sign a contract and you will save a lot of people’s lives.”
I mulled it over for a second.
My answer was a kick to his head, before I sprung up from my fallen chair and shot over the table for what felt like the second time. My hand was on the doorknob, but I couldn’t budge it. Kem’s laughing came from behind me.
“Effective. Your brother taught you a few tricks didn’t he?”
“More than a few.” I growled before turning around to face the water elemental. He was rubbing at a bleeding mark on his head, but otherwise standing fine.
“No matter. You can’t leave here anyway. Even if you kill me, they’ll just send someone else in until you agree. And I can’t guarantee that anyone else would be quite as accommodating as I have been.” Kem continued, while I measured up whether he was lying or not. Honestly I couldn’t tell. But I wouldn’t be surprised. Apparently the military thought ‘elementals’ were easily expendable.
“What if I told you I could give you something that your brother recorded. Would you then be interested in signing the contract?”
My eyes brightened. He had something like that?
No, no. It was just more lies. They’d say anything at this point if I could really cause that kind of death without trying.
I didn’t even want to think of what I could do if I tried.
“Bullshit.” I hissed.
“Oh? You want some proof?” He nodded. “Understandable. Jillian activate the tape.”
My eyes narrowed at Kem as silence held. Then there was some scratchiness. And every muscle in my face relaxed as I heard my brother’s voice. “Test? Test? This is lieutenant—“ there was some shuffling around. “Do I have to be so formal? It feels weird. This is supposed to be for. Oh, okay.”
“Cut it, Jillian.” Kem concluded, and the scratchiness, accompanied with most sound recordings I was used to, ended.
I lowered my head and wiped at my face. Could I really say they were messing with me now?
Just as Kem was opening his mouth I looked up at him and said, “Fine. But only to end this war. Then I’m done.”
I think I surprised Kem, because he didn’t say anything, just looked at me with a strange glance. I had to glimpse down at myself instead and that was when I realized my brother’s jacket wasn’t with me. “And give me back my brother’s jacket, and the rest of that recording. Or I’m not doing anything.”
Kem nodded slowly and finally found some words. “Of course, Emmy. But first we want a test of what you can do at full capacity.”
I tilted my head. “You want me to blow up a city to see if I can blow up a city?”
“Not quite. We need you to go through those doors and then set off an explosion with all you can on the house you’ll see.” Kem pointed to the same door he had come in from. The one I had been locked away from. So I stepped up to it and glanced back at him.
“Fine, but I’m not responsible for your death.”
He didn’t laugh this time, just stared at me before saying, “I doubt you’d feel that way, Emmy.”
Damn him. It wasn’t like he knew me. Have I mentioned how much I hate elementals? Yeah, and I barely just met them too.
He lowered his head in that weird nod thing that guys usually do with each other in passing, and the door swung open.
“You better play that recording.” I said through my gritted teeth before turning my head to look out the doorway. It was already desolate out there; a wasteland of wind, dust and sand everywhere, except for a house in the distance.
“Yes, the recording and the jacket. I understand.” He said, sounding exhausted almost.
I didn’t wait around to hear what else he’d lie to me about. Instead I took my steps toward the house, feeling the wind lash at me along the way. It really wasn’t even that far away, maybe a couple hundred meters.
As I closed in closer to the house though, I started grinding my teeth. Those jerks. They modeled the entire house after mine. It could have been a twin.
I shook my head and sighed while grabbing on the doorknob and pulling the door open. They didn’t say I had to go in the house, but honestly I think I’d be more comfortable inside. Plus I think they knew even less about my power than I did. I’m the center, so the house should be around me. I guess?
I took my steps down to the middle of the living room, as if I were taking my green mile march. In some ways I almost wish it was that. But if I survived the last explosion that wiped charred remains on my original house then chances were I’d survive this one. Right?
I took a deep breath. And then realized I had no idea how to start myself. Get mad? I was already pretty mad. Maybe it was something else, or I wasn’t mad enough.
I must have stood in the center of that room for five minutes before the speakers in the house came on. I could hear their feedback, but nothing was playing but static. And then the scratchiness of the recording came back and my brother was speaking again.
“Okay. So… Hey Sis. You can guess who this is. Your brother, Harry. Sorry, this is really awkward to do. I wasn’t sure how else to start this. I thought for a while about what to say, like maybe starting with some cheesy line from our past or something, but that’s not me. Okay, okay, it is totally me.”
I could hear him laughing in the tape and I shook my head and bit back a laugh myself. My idiot, cheesy brother.
“Look, I guess I shouldn’t ramble too much…” God, no. Please, please ramble. If there was any time in the world now that I would want to hear one of your stupid, way off topic stories it would be now, dammit.
“So, you should know I’ve known for a while that you were special. I mean, I figured you were at least a fire elemental like me, but it wasn’t until I was visiting you frequently around the times they were training me to try to level a field with fire, that I realized you were something completely different.”
My heart was sinking. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to hear this recording now; despite how much I just wanted to hear his voice. Could they just replay the beginning over and over again? The part that made me want to smile?
“You see, Sis. They weren’t dosing me with radiation to amplify my power. They wanted to, but the higher-ups weren’t clearing that kind of thing.” I could hear him sigh as he paused. “I know, I know. I told you they were, but that was only after I realized I was getting stronger. And no one could explain it. None of the other fire elementals going through the same training were having any noticeable increase. But I was.”
Why was he telling me this? I didn’t need to know. My hands tightened in to fists and I swallowed what I could. Tears were already streaming down my face, because my body knew what I didn’t want to admit yet.
“It took two more visits to see you before I came to realize you were the connection. Every time, after I visited you, my power was more out of control, but a lot stronger than the last time. At first, I thought maybe you were giving me something in the food or something like that, but I knew deep down what it was.”
Don’t say it. Don’t say it, you idiot.
“You were doing it. In fact, I should have realized it long ago. Remember the first times I ever showed you the fire I could create? They were sparks, hardly even a match worth of fire. There are still some fire elementals on the base that can only do that. I should have known that over the years it was because of you that I was able to work up to the level of exploding entire cars with fireballs.”
My tears were dripping down my chin and I licked at the trail one left. I wanted to wipe my face again, but my hands weren’t cooperating. Instead they were glowing again.
“It wasn’t until a medical check, when they discovered my body was starting to finally give up that there was confirmation it was definitely radiation poisoning. Funny, I last for years near you and as soon as I go away the effects really take hold. I was dying, but I knew now that you had a very special gift. Something better than a fire elemental, I’m not even sure what. A sun elemental?”
He laughed. I wasn’t quite in the mood to laugh along this time. My face felt like it was cracking and spilling out water, while my body was overheating. Why the hell did he record this? Why?
“Eventually, when I knew I didn’t have much time, I told my officers. Some of the scientists speculated you could have been something like a ‘light elemental’, and you just always give off some low levels of radiation, but that it could be heightened to toxic or power-altering levels when moments of stress or high emotion were caused… like every time I came home to see you and then had to leave again when you weren’t sure you’d ever see me again.”
I shook my head and tears scattered around me as the glow had spread up my arms. “Stop it. Stop talking. Please, Harry.”
I knew he couldn’t hear me. I just wish he did.
“You are probably wondering why I’m mentioning all this… Well, I know the only reason you are hearing this is because I’m dead and you are probably being forced into a position to where you have to use your ability. And well, you used to always say that knowledge was the real power.”
I laid my glowing hands over my ears, gripping my head as the light spread to my shoulders and worked along my chest.
“I’m sorry I’m dead. I know, it probably sounds weird for your own brother to try to comfort you about… well, your brother’s death. But I wanted you to know that it wasn’t your fault. I could have been treated, survived. But I refused. And you probably know why already.”
My fingers slipped through the strands of black hair around my ears and I screamed up at the speakers. “Because you are an ASS!”
I hated the sound of my screeching voice, but not as much as I hated my brother in that moment. How could he do this to me? How?
“I know, sis. I know you are probably listening to this recording now as you are attempting to show that you can explode to a degree the United States needs. And I know you will probably hate me for it. But I chose to die for my country. I chose to die, because I knew it would be the only way I could get you to do the right thing. The only way I could get you to release your power for this country. And I really am sorry.”
I shook my head. I didn’t want to hear anymore. Just make it stop. Make it stop! This wasn’t my brother, this couldn’t be. It couldn’t.
But I knew it was too late. I knew it was my brother. And worst of all, I knew I could never forgive him for this, especially as the glowing light engulfed my waist and legs.
“I’m so sorry, Emmy. I do love you though. I love you enough to tell you, no matter what. Whether you do have the power to explode, or not. They can’t hold you down. They can’t contain you. You may not be a sun elemental, but you are a star, Emmy. A star that shines brighter than anyone I’ve ever known. And no matter what they say, no matter what you might do for them, you should know: You can make a difference. You can change the world, Emmy. And it starts with doing what needs to be done. So let your power go.”
The glow consumed my face and my hair. I couldn’t hold it back even if I wanted to anymore. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I gasped, and spread my hands to my side as I felt the energy coil inside my body. And just as my brother spoke one last time, all that energy shook free from me and spread out in every direction.
“Shine, Emmy. Shine like no one else can.”