Legend – Chapter 18

Chapter 18.

Ben straightened, balancing carefully, his heart beating faster. I’m not really in danger, there’s a couple feet between me and the edge!

He raised his eyes slowly, standing still, and a tingle of awe and joy swept over him. The red-brown stippled with dusty gray-green of the California desert stretched away beneath him, massive blocks of sandstone jutting out here and there, but none the equal of the huge single stone on which he stood, a hundred fifty feet above the sandy, rock-strewn plain from which the Vasquez Rocks jutted.

He laughed and jumped — just a little jump, not enough to take him even slightly closer to the edge, just enough to express the thrill of having made it all the way to the top. By myself, from the entrance, across the desert, through the rocks, to the top!

He felt the sweat evaporating as fast as it came, took a drink from the bottle he’d brought with him.

This was the one way he was willing to cheat, the one way he’d use Legend’s power for himself — to go places he couldn’t ever have dreamed of going, seeing things with his own eyes that had previously just been pictures on a screen. Legend did not object; it cost no one anything and it was equally possible that some event needing Legend’s presence would be here as well as anywhere else.

I’ve walked the top of the Great Wall, seen the Colosseum, stood in the Parthenon and felt something waiting beyond the columns and marble. I’ve stood inside a fragile cage and watched two tons of white death gnawing on the metal, almost screaming into the mouthpiece with terror and amazement. I’ve stood atop a mountain so high the blue sky was nearly black above at noon, felt my breath short and fast and almost useless in air too thin for ordinary people to breathe.

And I’ve looked out through his eyes and down, and seen a shimmering blue-white globe below me, so small it seemed I could cup it in my hand.

Looking out across the sun-bright land, he realized how much had changed for him that day. Legend hadn’t just given him dreams made real, he’d given Ben J. Stephens new dreams . . . and something new to measure himself against. Maybe it’s some of Legend bleeding through to me, but I finally got up the will to do some work.

And to his astonishment it was visible, now. He was still slender, a skinny kid barely out of high school . . . but there was muscle there, a hint of outdoors tan, and — just maybe — a wider view of the world.

Of course, that was probably partly due to seeing things through Legend’s eyes, too.

If I’m being really honest with myself, though, right now I’m busy running away. Legend was useful for that, too. Traveller could go faster — maybe simply teleport anywhere she wanted — and he wasn’t sure he’d want to try racing Superlative for money, either. But most people, including Fireflux, wouldn’t have a chance of following him.

He began making his way back down the steep but climbable rock. His cell phone suddenly chimed.

That chime was for his regular cell. He listened for a moment, decided there were no telltale noises, and he had gotten Steel Sentinel and Cyberware to secure all the phones. “Hello?”

“Ben!” his father’s cheerful tenor burst from the phone almost loud enough to hurt, as usual; Dad still wasn’t used to cell phones and practically shouted into them. “How’re you doing?”

“Um, okay, Dad. Nothing much different since yesterday.”

His father laughed. “No, I suppose not. Except that your mother and I are in the area and thought we’d drop by your apartment, so I’m giving you fair warning.”

“Dad! I told you to give me more than just a few minutes! I’m on a walk right now, not even in the apartment.”

“Calm down, we’re not at your door yet. We’ll be there in about half an hour. Will you be back by then?”

Whew. “Yes, I’ll be back then.”

“Good! See you in a few!”

He looked down at the phone with a half-grin. “I guess I’d better start walking fast.

Get out of sight. He glanced around, noting where there were tourists in line of sight, where other climbers were going. He took a diagonal line down that ended with him behind one of the several ridges in the rock, out of sight of anyone. Then a swift focus . . .

Gold-silver light sang a soundless chorus of triumph, and Legend sprang from the Vasquez Rocks, so swiftly that even had anyone been looking, they would have barely seen a flicker. So, Benjamin, we have to get you home quickly.

And get into the apartment, but that shouldn’t be a big deal.

Legend could sense Ben’s conflicted inner state, and felt it echoed in himself. He honestly did not know where he left off and Benjamin Stephens began, but he was pretty sure there was a difference. In some cases, they shared the same problems, but in this case . . . You cannot keep hiding me from your mother and father forever. I am part of you.

I know, I know. And every time something like this happens I have to wonder if the pain in the ass is just a waste of time. But . . .

The images that accompanied the but were too clear for Legend to ignore, and the pain was not Ben’s alone. Your parents are nothing like those of Lightsword.

No. I know that. Legend could feel that there was still the irrational fear of rejection, of anger or horror or simple denial. After what had happened to Lightsword he couldn’t blame Ben, either. But that’s not really it. I’m just afraid of making them targets. The more people who know the more the danger. We’ve managed to confuse the issue with the help of some of the others so far, so there are times where it can be completely verified that Ben Stephens was sitting in a classroom with a dozen other people at the exact same time Legend was whipping Vector’s ass in New York City or helping divert a lava flow in Hawai’i.

Legend had no true answer for that, either. Ben was right, and Legend had even made the same arguments. At the same time, the more lies a man kept in his life, the harder it was to keep his life honest otherwise.

Albany streamed into view below, and Legend reached out and down, sensing . . . No one else in the apartment at the moment. The rear alley is . . . clear.

Ben emerged from the alley at the side of the house and went to the side door his landlord let them use. Lessee . . . I’ve got fifteen minutes left. A quick shower and I’ll be presentable enough even for Mom.

He opened the bathroom door, starting to pull off his shirt. At that moment, the doorbell rang.

Assuming, of course, that dad had a better sense of timing than usual. He yanked the shirt back on and, with a sigh, headed downstairs. From the sublime to the mundane. Such is my life!