David, Age 0
“He’s such a brilliant child,” his mother said to the nurse. The nurse smiled, indulging the new mother. Every first time mother thought her child was special. “No really!” The mother stroked the child’s head full of hair as she tried to explain. “His hearing is amazing. He knows when his father is coming down the hall… Look!”
The nurse nodded again, noticing that even as the child’s father strolled in the door, the tiny head turned to look before the man even rounded the doorframe. She put it off to coincidence, and the mother's fatigued state.
David, Age 4
“David, what are you doing in your Sunday best?” His mother laughed at the sight of him, all gussied up, hair well oiled, tiny shoes shined, and tie inexpertly tied around his young neck. “You’ll ruin it if you play in it.”
“I wanna look my best for Father,” he said, his young eyes on the door. He smoothed his jacket again, those wide eyes hopeful.
“Oh, dear… my darling boy…” She reached out to touch his shoulder, well used to his antics. “Your father is still on deployment. He won’t be back for another month, at the least.” It was rough being the wife of a government agent. He was always on deployment, off to some exotic locale, to make deals, or, maybe, and here her mind rebelled even as it offered the alternative, maybe something worse—
Her husband had some amazing stories, but there was always something he held back. It didn’t matter. He came home to her, eventually. And he kept her and her loving boy supported. Let the neighborhood biddies gossip about her being a single mother. The ring on her finger said otherwise.
“He’ll be here,” the boy said. “There was an accident, with an old friend. He needs us now.” He stood proud, as the man of the house his father always told him he was.
His mother shook her head, and opened her mouth to go tell him to change. It was at that moment the door opened, and her husband stepped through, looking ragged and haggard in his dress blues. She went to him, and held him, and, in the joy of their meeting, any oddness in her child was forgotten.
David, Age 12
“I don’t understand. He’s a brilliant child. You yourself said he’s passed all your tests with flying colors. Why do you want to hold him back?” David listened to his mother in the principal’s office. His seat in the hall wasn’t close enough to hear what was being said, but he listened anyways.
“Your son has several, ah, developmental problems. He’s always off daydreaming, watching clouds, or doodling in his notebook. He never plays with the other children. He rarely turns in homework.” The principal exchanged a glance with David’s teacher, and placed his hands on the table. “And, of course, we believe that he is cheating on his tests.”
“I see,” his mother said, her back ram rod straight, her eyes focused on her hands. People assumed she was submissive, weak willed. That, being a woman, and a minority, she would just roll over and let things be. In a lot of ways, that was true. But never when it came to her son. Her gaze rose, and both men took an involuntary step backwards. “I assume you have proof of this?”
Out in the hallway, David grinned to himself. While this had been the most likely course of events, that didn’t mean it was what was actually going to happen. It was nice to be proven right. Of course, he’d have to change his behavior, somewhat, to help his mother, and mollify the teachers. It was worth it, to see how things went.
David, Age 15
“I’m sorry David. I can’t keep doing this to you. I’ve been cheating on you," his girlfriend confessed, tears brimming in the corners of her eyes. She’d wanted to tell him for weeks, so, of course, he’d been aware of it the entire time.
"Mhmm," he replied, distracted.
"With your best friend!" She hadn't meant to say it, but when he didn't respond like she thought he would, she had to say something.
“I know,” he said, as he continued his drawing, a photorealistic image of some grey humanoid, strapped to a bed.
“You’re just always drawing, and you never seem to actually listen to- You know?” Her head snapped back to stare at him. “What do you mean you know? How could you know? No one else knows! I haven’t told anyone, and Brad said… oooh, did he tell you? I told him to wait, I’d do it myself!” He hadn’t told anyone, although he’d been sorely tempted. David had watched to make sure.
“Yes.” He said. “He told me.” A lie, but lies came so easy to him.
He watched that path for a moment, watched her storm from the room to confront his former best friend, watched as they had a huge fight, watched as the boy spread rumors that she was easy, watched her reputation ruined, her teen pregnancy, the joy of having a baby quickly turning into the depression of having to care for it, and her slow decline into drugs and prostitution later in life because of it. It was amazing the way little things built up.The good ones or the bad. Everything piled up, weighed you down. At the last moment, just before it wouldn't have mattered, he took pity on her.
“No, I’m sorry. I’m angry.” He wasn’t. “I loved you.” He hadn’t. “If he makes you happier than me, go to him. But if he hurts you…” He let it drift off, allowed her to fill in the blanks herself.
And, again, he watched, as the two of them became the best known couple of the school, prom king and queen, married at just after college, and then he stopped watching, because it hurt. They had a beautiful life ahead of them. His life hit a brick wall in just a year.
“I’m sorry David, you’re just so…” She searched for words, and then shook her head. She kissed him on the forehead, then walked out of his life.
David, Age 16
“David, we need to talk.” His father pushed the door open without waiting for a response, and then stopped, staring appalled at the multitude of art David had stapled to his walls.
Here, a white and gray creature stood atop a mound of headless bodies. There, a beast dissolved in a green pool. The father could even pick out himself, and some of his exploits. He ignored his son, instead letting his hands drift from a picture of himself killing a man like wolf, one of him standing victorious atop a pile of clockwork, and -here he blushed- a rather explicit one of him in bed with three green tinged females.
“It’s true then, isn’t it.” It wasn't a question. He continued to study the art on the wall, unwilling to take his eyes from the pictures to look at his only, acknowledged, son.
David said nothing.
“I’m sorry,” his father said, eyes focused on a picture of a dead man, a ruby and silver medallion laid on his chest. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here. I could have seen this earlier. Stopped it all before it started."
David said nothing.
“I can’t… I can’t hide it. Not in my own family. Not with everything that’s gone before. I have enough pressure because of the others, and now, with your uncle…” He turned his head, his eyes moving to a picture above David’s bed. A boy strapped in a chair, blood dripping from empty sockets. “But maybe there’s still something I can do.”
David watched all the things his father didn't say. He watched as he ran off, only to be hunted down and dragged into a little box for the rest of his life. Or shot, by a nervous agent. Or turned into a vegetable, like the uncle he'd never met. He sees so many alleyways, but, in the end, they all lead to three choices. Death, box, or this.
David said nothing.
“I have… well… he’s not a friend. A working acquaintance? He knew your grandfather. They call him a power eater. He’s a resource of last resort. It will…” His father's eyes drifted downwards, catching sight of a picture below the bed. An image of an innocent faced red haired boy. “It will hurt. But it will make you safe.”
Still, David said nothing.
“Well?” His father demanded, sharper than he had intended, as he turned to his son for the first time. He was shocked to see tears stained his sons usually stoic face. “Well?” He said again, his voice raised. “Don’t you have any thing to say?”
“It doesn’t matter,” David said, his eyes locked with his father. “I’ve watched all the ways. I’ve looked at everything we do. It doesn’t matter what I say. It still happens. Sometimes it happens sooner. Sometimes it happens later. That’s when it’s the worst." His father looked away, unable to keep eye contact. "So, no, I have nothing to say."
The older man turned back to the pictures, focusing on one that looked like his own father, standing over an opened grave. It steeled his resolve, which was what it was there to do.“I’m sorry, son.” His father said. "I know you think you’re smart but sometimes, there are no good answers. I’ll… I’ll go set this up.” His father, a man who had faced down elder gods without blinking, fled from the simple raw emotion of his own child.
David said nothing.
David, Age 16 ½
David screamed. He screamed for a long, long time.
David, Age 18
“So, your mother was right. It didn’t work.” His father gazed down upon his blind son and the artwork on his desk. It lacked the picture perfect quality that it had before the eater, but it was still recognizable. Six girls dead. A seventh one pregnant. The older man looked away, wishing he could scrub his memories clean of some things. But someone had to remember.
“No. I told you it wouldn’t.” David didn’t look up. It wouldn’t have mattered. He saw the present just as easily as he saw the future. Where his gaze landed was entirely up to him, no matter where his body pointed.
“We can try again,” his father said, as placing one hand on his sons shoulder. It was immediately shrugged off. “We can find the spot it’s coming from, dig it out…”
“And have him eat more of who and what I am? No. No. I won't be turned into some brain dead idiot, coloring my life away, like what you did with my uncle.” David said. His hand gripped the brush awkwardly as he scrawled across the painting, dark colors streaming from his brush as he formed obscure symbols around the girl.
“You don’t have a choice!” His father snapped, his usual iron control slipping, his voice booming loud in the small room. He reached for the brush, wrenching it from his sons grasp, unknowing of what the runes might represent, only interested in preventing them. “We either fix you, or I have to lock you up! I will not see another of my kin in those cells.”
“I don’t need to be fixed." David said, his voice hushed. "I’m not broken.” Now David’s head rose. His eyeless face gazed at the window, or perhaps through it. “But you’re right. You won’t see another of your kin in those cells, not if I have anything to do with it."
"I do have a choice.” He cocked his head to the side, as if listening to someone. “I always had a choice. I just didn’t look far enough. You see, I’ve had a talk with my aunt.”
The old man immediately went on point. His head up, eyes open, body tense for fight or flight. He backed against the nearest wall looking around him, taking in every detail, prepared for an ambush. When one was lax in showing, he let his hand drift to his sidearm, and addressed his son. “You’ll be an outcast. Always on the run. I’ll have to tell them, have to have them look for you. I have my duty, my job.”
“I know. You'll always have your job. You always did. But I can always be one step ahead. Just like her. Goodbye. Tell mother I love her.” Even as he spoke, his body faded, the color leeching from it in an instant, followed by the solidity, until there was only an outline that slowly faded into the dust in the air.
His father watched, and raising one hand. “Goodbye David.”
David, Age 21
And so he went to live with his Aunt. It was not an easy life she offered him, but it was a free one. He could smile, and, though forced, it was the beginning of happiness.
In the first year he was with her, he learned how to guide his visions. To set them in their place, so they came when he called, not when they wanted. It was grueling work, the mental equivalent of learning to stroll up the side of Mt. Everest. With practice, came ease, and skill.
In the second year he was with her, he learned what was needed to aide her in her work. He used his visions to watch over the shoulders of scientists as they punched in their passcodes to keep people imprisoned. He used his art to draw detailed maps of locations that needed infiltrating. Most importantly, he listened to those agents already out in the world, reporting back on how best to free their brethren.
In the third year her went to her with a simple request.
“I want to do more,” he told her.
“More?” His aunt carefully closed the book in front of her, a slight frown on her face. “You do so much already. What more would you like to do?”
“I’ve had… visions.” He made a face as she smiled in commiseration. “More so than usual, I mean. Ones that I think… I think they’re a call for help.”
“Show me,” his aunt declared, reaching out to take his hand.
In a cell in a hospital in Singapore, a girl shook, uncontrollably. Her every movement caused her to vibrate, her body bounced around the room as she tried to fight it. Sometimes, she could hold it in, long enough to eat, to drink, and then back again to her vibrations, sometimes so hard she destroyed what she touched.
In Seattle, a large eyed man slumbered under a bridge, safe in the arms of a concrete troll. When he begs, he does so mutely, because he had long ago seen the damage his voice could do. Just because you can make people do as you wish, it doesn’t mean you should.
In the jungles of Peru, a person of indeterminate gender, slithered through the undergrowth. It raised its head and flicked out its tongue, as it sought its prey. It had been kicked out of its home, for being tainted by the other.
On the streets of London, someone plied their trade, looked for any John who might need a quick fix. The body changed, against its will, becoming what their client wanted them to be, no matter how much the mind rebelled.
A sentient idea lodged itself in the dirty thoughts of the worst scum it could find, as it tried desperately to feed on those that would not be missed, not understanding that it was making things worse just by doing this.
A red headed woman from the opposite team jumped with a start as she realized someone was looking for her. She was reaching for her rifle, even as the scene shifted, aware that someone was looking at her.
Again and again, scenarios played out in their heads, showed them children, adults, humans, and otherwise, in need, unaware of their shared history. If he still had working tear ducts, he might have cried. Because, in each of them, in their faces, he saw traces of his own. Black, white, Asian, scaled, amorphous, he still felt the kinship, that feeling that they were like him.
“Ah. You’ve found your kin,” his aunt said, nodding. “I wondered if you would.”
“Are they all…” He said, letting it trail off as he looked further down each pass, seeking places he could intervene.
“Family? Yes, although they go by many names. D’argent, Navon, Azayaka, Mushriq and so many more besides. Many of them, the result of my parents, or brothers. Some of them, further flung than that. But family, nonetheless.” She smiled, thinking of the multitude of kin she had saved. The smiles vanished quickly, thinking of the two she had not.
“How, how can all those things be family?” His mind raced, looking for the connections, the places he could be useful.
“You’d be surprised what our family will stick its dick in. I have a half-brother who’s green,” she said.
“Well, that’s not so odd-“
“Not, like, green skin. He’s actually the color green,” she interrupted.
“Oh.” He thought about it, then shrugged. “But still, they’re family, right?”
“They are. They think they are alone. They need someone to show them they are not.” She said. Her eyes watched his face, a gentle smile showing that she could trace his thoughts.
“And I can be that someone.” He said. All the trails knotted, he saw, came together, because of him. Became something so much more than they were.
“Do you think you have what it takes?” She said, eyes upon his face.
“Of course I do.” He smiled at her, his first real smile since he’d lost his eyes. “I'm a Bright. No, more than that." He wouldn't be defined just by his name. "I'm not just Bright, I’m brilliant.”