001 – Sigma
Story One of Altered: The Alpha Children
Sunlight streaks through small holes in the forest canopy. Psi crawls slowly through the underbrush. The ground is damp and the cold is beginning to seep into his skin. He tenses up to keep himself from shivering. He can feel a multitude of living things around him, it is an ability he cannot turn off, but he holds his focus on one in particular. It sits high up in a tree, and it’s panicking. It believes that nightfall has arrived again, and it is confused because nightfall has just finished. Animals are a lot easier to trick. Psi has discovered this over the last few years. Humans can doubt their senses; they do doubt their senses. In order to trick the mind of a human, you have to be aware of this fact, and cater to it. But with animals, they rely on their senses totally. There’s no real thinking with them. They just do. To someone who can sense the thoughts of others, being among animals is like pure silence. It’s not long before the animal comes out of its hiding spot.
The possum clambers down the tree, sniffing for food and occasionally turning to look at the sky. Psi doesn’t see his own illusions, he can only feel them. But to the possum, the sky is dark. The possum reaches the base of the tree and Psi stops moving, he doesn’t have long before the possum sees him and clambers away. He clears his mind of everything but the animal and reaches his arm out. He’s too far away to lunge at it, but that isn’t his intention. Psi imagines tendrils forming from his fingers and slithering along the ground. He can’t see them, but he knows where they are by the way they shift the underbrush as they move. Psi is careful not to move them too quickly. One day he hopes he won’t have to use this technique, but for now it is the only way he knows how to make his power work. The tendrils reach the possum and slowly, very slowly, surround it, focusing on its neck.
The possum twitches and looks directly at Psi. The tendrils aren’t quite ready yet, but he can’t wait any longer. The possum turns to run and Psi closes his fist. He’s too far away to hear the snap of the animal’s neck, and he’s happier having not heard it. He pulls the carcass back and carries it home.
Psi weaves through trees and pushes his way through underbrush. The bush starts to get thicker, but he has carved a path through here before. He passes a tree with a mark etched into it: the greek letter psi, his namesake. It holds a particular power for him, allows him to see further. Many of the trees surrounding his home carry the same mark. They keep watch for Psi, so he is never found. Even though he’s situated himself as deep into the bush as he can go, he still holds his illusions. If anyone else, besides those of a particularly strong mind, were to stumbled into his home, it would look like any other part of the bush.
His hut slowly comes into view, in the middle of a small clearing. One of its walls has caved in, that’s his job today. Psi loads up the fire pit out the front with wood and sets the fire, letting it grow while he works on skinning the possum. The fur makes for good, warm clothing, he leaves it on a rack to dry. Psi cooks the meat and has his breakfast. The meat is fine, he doesn’t bother trying to give it any real flavour, he has work to do.
When he is done he gets to work on his broken hut. A heavy storm the night before caved in one of its walls. He’d been woken in the middle of the night by the loud crash and had spent the rest of the morning hours huddling away from the rain. He pulls away the temporary fix he’d hastily put up, a woven flax mat he’d been using for a bed, and assesses the damage. There isn’t much to be done other than tear away the debris and rebuild the wall. He’d hoped that it would be an easy fix, but he’s never been blessed with luck.
He pulls away the wood from the hut and tosses it to the side. Most of the wood has snapped and splintered. He figures he can let it dry and use it for firewood later. He searches for a good tree nearby that he can use for a replacement wall. He avoids a massive Kauri tree not far from his camp, mostly because it is too big, but also because a tree of its size being cut down wouldn’t go unnoticed. No amount of illusions can stop someone who is actively looking for him. He’s survived for this long on the fact that no one would even consider someone living where he is at all, and he isn’t about to change that. He lifts his hand and imagines the tendrils forming in front of him again. This time he wraps them together, lines them up beside the tree and begins hacking at it. With each hit, bits of the tree fly away. When he’s halfway through the trunk, the tree begins to fall and he readies himself to catch it. Before he can, something catches the corner of his eye and he loses concentration. The tree crashes hard onto the ground and Psi hopes no one is close enough to hear it.
‘That is an interesting use of your abilities,’ a woman says from behind him.
Psi spins to see who spoke. Standing only a couple metres away, leaning up against a tree, is Sigma. Her black hair drapes over her shoulders. She has a smirk on her face, like she knows that sneaking up on Psi is a feat. There’s a silence.
‘Hi, Psi,’ Sigma says.
‘What are you doing here?’ Psi says.
‘I could ask you the same thing. You know there’s a town a couple hour drive from here right? You aren’t stuck in the wilderness.’
‘Staying away from towns is the point.’
Dragging the felled tree behind him, Psi heads back toward his hut. Sigma follows. Psi ignores her and begins cutting up the tree. Sigma shifts uncomfortably nearby, clearly trying to work up the courage to say something.
‘Omega’s alive,’ Sigma says.
Psi stops. His heart sinks in his chest. His sadness is pushed away by anger.
‘How dare you,’ he says. ‘I saw her die. You don’t get to use her as some sort of bait.’
‘The Order has a way to bring people back,’ Sigma says. ‘Look, I know I could have done more back then, but I was afraid. Please, just come with me, I can explain everything.’
The sound of cracking branches and trees falling erupts from behind them and a strange warbling noise fills the air. It’s a noise Psi recognises. It’s been two years since he heard it, but it is unmistakable. He turns to see a dark, swirling sphere suspended between broken trees. He can hear Sigma calling out behind him, but he’s stopped listening. The sphere bulges out and a blonde haired woman dives out, landing on her feet. Psi recognises her immediately.
‘Gamma,’ he says.
But something is off. She’s wearing armour, the same armour the Order guards wore. The symbol on the chestplate, the greek letter alpha. Psi takes a step back, and something else comes flying through the portal. A massive man who crashes heavily into the ground in front of Psi. The ground shakes and Psi nearly falls backwards.
‘Look who we have here,’ the man says, stepping toward Psi.
Memories of his time at the Facility overwhelm Psi. He remembers Alpha, but the last time Psi saw him, he wasn’t as big as this. Psi stands still, unable to move. Psi, and Alpha had always had a rivalry back at the Facility. Psi was the only person who could hold a candle to the might of Alpha. It had always bothered Alpha that Psi, a scrawny runt, was able to fend off his blows using only his mind, but Psi isn’t so sure that is possible anymore. He is much, much bigger than he used to be.
Sigma’s voice snaps him out of his stupor. ‘We have to go!’ she yells. Before Psi can react, Alpha lunges toward him. Psi tries to form a barrier to protect himself but can’t summon his power fast enough. Alpha crashes hard into Psi and the impact throws him backwards into a tree. Sigma grabs Psi and pulls him up and he stumbles in a daze away from Alpha.
They sprint through the forest, dodging trees, with Alpha hot on their trail. Psi doesn’t dare look back, but he can hear Alpha crashing through trees and the ground shaking under him. Sigma runs next to him. ‘I have a car not far from here,’ she yells through heavy breaths. ‘If we can get to a town Alpha won’t follow.’ She pauses for a moment and glances back at Alpha. ‘Hell, if we just get to a road…’
A portal springs up in front of her and Gamma jumps through, crashing shoulder first into Sigma. Psi skids to a stop and spins to face them. Sigma lies on the ground, dazed from the hit and Gamma stands over her. Alpha slams through a tree in the distance. Psi’s eyes dart between Sigma and Alpha and he lifts a shield in front of him. Alpha crashes hard into the barrier and Psi can feel the pressure in his mind. He pushes back as hard as he can but he can feel his mind slipping as Alpha continues his assault. While holding Alpha off, Psi focuses on pulling Sigma away from Gamma’s assault. He sweeps Gamma’s legs out from under her and grabs Sigma, but before he can drag her to him, Alpha breaks through his barrier. As the barrier breaks, Psi feels a sharp jab in the top of his spine and he keels over in pain. Alpha grabs him by the hair and tosses him against a nearby tree. Psi hears the tree crack and feels the air evacuate from his lungs. His vision blurs and in a daze he tries to pull up another barrier, but he can’t concentrate properly. He feels Alpha grab him and lift him over his shoulder. Alpha barks orders at Gamma and Psi hears the distinctive sound of one of her portals opening. He struggles and shakes in Alpha’s grasp. All around him Psi can hear the trees cracking. He focuses on them, willing them to fall. The cracking of wood gets louder. Alpha stops walking and tosses Psi to the ground. The trees around them begin to fall inward in a thunderous avalanche of wood and leaves. Psi forms a barrier around himself. Splintered trees crash against it and Psi can feel the pressure of it with every impact. In his state, he struggles to keep the barrier up. But just when he feels like the barrier is going to break the chaos stops. Psi lets the barrier go and looks around at the carnage. Alpha lies on the ground bleeding, a tree branch sticking out of his chest.
‘Alpha!’ Gamma’s voice is a shriek of terror. Gamma is on him in a second, putting pressure on his wound. Tears roll down her face as she frantically tries to lift Alpha off the tree that’s impaled him. It’s strange to see her cry. Psi doesn’t remember ever seeing her cry before. His thoughts go suddenly to Sigma, and he spins around in search of her. She stands only a few feet away, staring at the injured Alpha, seemingly bewildered.
‘We’ve got to go,’ she says.
Gamma opens up a portal and turns to face them. Alpha pulls himself off the branch. He wails in pain as he does so. He stands hunched over, blood pouring from the wound, being held by Gamma.
‘Run,’ he says. ‘But don’t try to hide. Because we’ll find you.’
They step back into the portal and it closes behind them. Sigma and Psi stand in silence for a moment, each waiting for the other to speak.
‘I’m sorry,’ Sigma finally says, ‘for dragging you back into this. I can go it alone.’
‘No. I’ve hid away long enough,’ Psi says. ‘Besides, I don’t think I have much of a choice now.’
‘First,’ Sigma says. ‘Let’s get you cleaned up. You look like shit.’
Psi laughs, but says nothing. He envisions the symbols surrounding his house, just to get one last look at the place he called home. He soaks it in and takes a deep breath, because he probably won’t be back again.