Legend – Chapter 14
Rain whispered and chattered against her office’s windows as she waited. She’d spread a towel underneath, so that when she opened the window it would keep the water off her carpet.
With a blurred flicker, he was suddenly there, inside, the window still closed, hardly a drop of rain on him, only a slight dusting of mist that edged that spiky mane with diamond dust and an aura of magic.
She realized she’d given an inarticulate yelp as he looked at her contritely. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Just thought you wouldn’t want the window open in this crap. It’s cold, too. You can really tell it’s heading for winter.”
She was still recovering. You would think I’d get used to surprises. Not yet, I guess. “How did you do that?”
“Oh . . . yeah, you wouldn’t know. We don’t detail our powers out for the world, after all.” Another contrite smile. “After I’ve spent enough time near someone, I can sense their . . . ki, their spirit, and use that as a sort of a homing beacon.”
“So you can . . . what, teleport anywhere I am?” The thought was a little . . . no, a lot . . . creepy.
He winced. “Um . . . yes? Not that I would if it wasn’t my appointment time. I have to have some idea of where I want to go first, anyway, otherwise the chance I can pick one person’s spirit out of all the others around is awfully low. Unless they’re one of the super-types and using their power, that generally turns ’em into disco strobe lights.”
“Well . . . all right. As long as you promise never to use that outside of coming to appointments.” She wasn’t about to forbid him from using a method of travel that provided him with better security, as long as he wasn’t going to be intrusive otherwise.
“Promise and cross my heart.” Legend suited actions exactly to words. He really does sound younger than he is. “Unless I think you’re in immediate danger â€“ like someone’s going to attack you and I’m near enough to sense it. I hope that’s okay? I’d hate to make a promise like that and have it put you in danger.”
She nodded and sat back in her seat. “I admit, I wouldn’t want that to come back to bite me either.” As good an opening as any. “From that, I’d guess you take your promises very seriously. Would you really leave me in danger if I’d had you promise exactly the way you said it the first time, with no caveats?”
Legend frowned, wrinkling his brow. “I . . . well, I wouldn’t want to, but . . .” He trailed off and sat for a long moment, thinking. “I really don’t know. It’d be really hard to break that promise, I know that.”
I think I’m seeing those limits Jason implied. She knew she should approach this carefully, so she hesitated, trying to think of exactly what to say next.
Before she spoke, Legend leaned forward nervously. “Um, Dr. Hsui, I . . . well, I need to talk to you.”
She who hesitates is lost . . . but this sounds like he’s approaching something else important. “That’s why I’m here. What about?”
Now the normally-confident hero looked really nervous. “Um . . . about . . . about the reason that I came here, I guess.”
He stood up like a shot, paced quickly around the room. “No, I mean, it’s not a guess, yes, the reason I had to look for someone like you.”
She waited. Often it was best to just watch, give them eye contact but let the quiet build its own pressure.
“I . . . It’s not easy. The problem . . .” He stopped and said something in Japanese that she recognized as a mild curse. “He will say it better than me.”
“Who will?” she asked, puzzled. “There isn’t â€“”
Legend glowed suddenly, shimmering silver-gold that utterly blotted away the dull gray of the rain, and for an instant she was dazzled. Blinking her eyes, she refocused . . .
To see a slender, brown-haired, brown-eyed, very young man looking nervously at her.
My God. She kept her interested doctor face on, although it was a major strain to do so. “Ben, I presume?”
The laugh was shaky and didn’t sound at all like Legend’s. “Well, I’m not Dr. Livingston,” Ben said.
“Why did you . . . change back?”
“Because Legend dumped this problem on me, that’s why.” The tone wasn’t really annoyed, more resigned, she thought.
“Sometimes Legend talks as though he is you, Ben. Are you really Legend? Are you trying to distance yourself from the problem by blaming yourself under a different name?”
“I . . .” He screwed up his face in a comical exaggeration of someone thinking â€“ covering up an obvious discomfort. After a few minutes, he shook his head. “It’s really hard to say. I guess . . . I guess I am Legend, but . . . there’s still something different when I’m being him. You know what an RPG is?”
“A roleplaying game, yes. Are you talking about a tabletop like Dungeons and Dragons or one of the online RPGs?”
“Oh, tabletop, of course.” He looked around, not meeting her gaze as he continued. “Well, um, it’s sort of like immersive roleplay, when you’re trying to be the character, but it’s more than that, I think.”
“You feel more restricted,” she said.
He looked surprised. “That’s it, that’s exactly it! Like . . . well, even when you’re immersive a part of you knows who you really are and can think of stuff that the character wouldn’t, you know, ‘hey, I know this adventure, I read the book he’s taking it from’, that kind of thing, and sometimes you have to work hard to shut that voice off so you can focus on what the character does?” She nodded to show she understood â€“ which she did; she hadn’t played much, but she’d known a lot of dedicated gamers. “Okay, well, when I’m Legend it’s really hard to think about stuff that he wouldn’t think about. I can sort of do it, sometimes push through things based on my real-life thoughts, but it’s almost like I am the role and he is the real person then.”
“But you just said that he is you.”
“Ack. Yeah, but,” he paused, clearly searching for a way to express it, “but he’s me the way I want to be, not the way I know I am.”
He had something else on his mind when he came here, but this is a very important direction to pursue. “You don’t like who you are?”
He gave a sort of half-grin. “Does anyone who isn’t an utterly arrogant prick completely like himself?” He continued, “I don’t hate myself, but I know I’m not perfect in a lot of areas, I do or say or think things I wish I wouldn’t, and even though they’re pretty much stuff I know everyone does, I wish I didn’t.
“Legend doesn’t. Even when he’s really mad at someone he never seriously thinks about just blowing them to dust, which he probably could with most of the schmucks he runs into. I don’t think I’d ever do it, but boy, when you see someone you’ve put away twice before once more running around putting innocent people in danger, I’d sure think about it; if someone just shot people like that they wouldn’t have the chance to kill anyone later.”
“I see. So you’re saying that even against the worst of his enemies he doesn’t think of using his full power without restraint?”
“Not many of them. About the only one I can remember is Endgame, or Mageddon as he called himself the third time. Mainly because he had enough power to make us have to pull out all the stops.”
She knew that name â€“ both of them. You didn’t forget a genocidal maniac whose appearances were disasters on the same level as a Richter 9 earthquake. “Legend thought about killing him?”
Ben thought a moment. “Yeah, mostly from sheer outrage. Endgame . . . even for the villains he was in a class all by himself.” The young man grimaced. “Um, look, this might all be important stuff too, but I got shoved out here to talk about the real reason we came to see you.”
And it must be important if you’re forcing yourself to confront it like this. I have a guess. “All right, Ben. Go on.”
“It’s . . .” He shifted in his chair, almost squirming; the motion told her she was almost certainly right. “You remember how I said that almost everything can change about us? I mean, when Legend first showed up he looked just the way he does now, even though I was a lot younger?”
She nodded. He was leading up to his problem, and the way he was doing it . . .
“So, yeah. A lot of the others have that same kind of thing happening, and it can . . . kinda get confusing when you’re dealing with them. You know, like do I treat them like I know they are, or like they are when they’re in their empowered form, or different in each form?”
“And there’s one particular person that this is posing a big problem with.”
He gave an explosive sigh as he nodded emphatically.
Play the hunch. “Fireflux.”
“How do you do that?” The boy went crimson.
“Should the magician show her tricks?” she asked with a smile, then shrugged. “Do you really want me to explain? I will, if you like.”
“Please. I know, it might be sort of my way of evading the discussion, but I’m really interested.”
“All right.” She thought a moment. “You’re barely graduated from high school, you told me in your own background that you were . . . socially isolated for the most part, and in the last five years you’ve been thrust into what might be the most high-profile situation any human being has ever been in. I have very little doubt that you have a lot of female fans who are . . . extremely willing to spend time with Legend. In any capacity.
“But you’ve told me just now how Legend won’t consider things that are immoral from your point of view, and â€“ correct me if I’m wrong â€“ you would think just having physical relationships with these girls would be immoral.”
He coughed, cheeks still bright red. “Uh, well, yeah. Not that I wouldn’t . . . well . . . like the idea some, but they don’t know me or Legend really and it’d be like taking advantage of the image, and the image is too important for that, and anyway I would have to really like someone to want to do that with them . . .”
She continued. “But someone like Fireflux understands. She’s part of the most dangerous â€“ and I think the most exciting â€“ life you could ever have imagined, and she’s Legend’s equal in this. She knows not just what it’s like to be on the firing line, but what it’s like to have a second secret life.” She nodded towards her computer. “And the tabloids and celebrity mags certainly snap a lot of pictures of the two of you together when not out fighting things.”
“So what is the problem, Ben? Is she really a he?”
The expression on Benjamin’s face was so comical she couldn’t quite restrain a laugh. “No, no, she’s not. I mean, yeah, that would be . . . really a problem, and . . . and it is definitely not just possible, I know one hero that switches sex. More than one, now that I think about it. But that isn’t the problem.
“The problem is that in her real form, her non-super form . . . she’s fourteen.”
Oh my. She glanced at the clock and realized that they were already close to the end of the session. “I can see that would definitely be a problem â€“ in more ways than one. But she often seems older. As did Legend, I admit.”
He sighed. “And that’s a big part of the problem. If she was just fourteen I might notice she’s very pretty, but I’d never think about actually . . . well, the thing is, she’s not. The transformation isn’t just physical. It’s mental, and in ways that . . . well, as Legend I am an absolute master of the martial arts. I know every style, every technique, every move you can imagine, and they’re instinctive, like I’d trained with them for twenty years. I know things I shouldn’t have any way of knowing. Heck, even before Legend was named he knew how to use his powers pretty well, though we’ve done a lot of refining since then.
“Fireflux knows a lot of things no fourteen year old should, and she can act a lot different from any fourteen year old. And at the same time she does act fourteen. And she is one of my fans, was for a couple years before she changed. At first it was just like she was the quiet head of my fan club â€“ she didn’t go all squee on me or anything â€“ but after a year or so she started . . . flirting with me. And she’s been getting a lot more obvious with it.”
“And both you and Legend are torn over this.”
“Um . . . yeah.”
She looked up to the ceiling and thought a moment, then closed her notebook. “Unfortunately we are out of time today. But I think we both need some time to reflect on everything. Let’s pick up on this next time.”
“We’re out of . . . oh.” To her surprise, he looked sincerely disappointed; most people, especially young men, would feel considerable relief at being able to back away from a subject with that much emotional â€“ and potentially legal â€“ dynamite. “I guess we are.”
He stood up and looked out at the still-grey day, and abruptly the silver-gold light shone out, leaving Legend standing before her. He bowed. “Then until next time . . .”
And he was gone.
If I could publish on this, she thought wryly, I think I could make a career from this case.