|Vires Per Dolor
Author: Alternate-Judas PM
What would you do if you were given the chance to become a superhero? Involved in a car accident, Jensen James performs a remarkable feat of strength to save his friend. Following this he is enlisted in a government program to create the first super powered human. Elevated beyond all others, Jensen soon learns that being superhuman isn't always enough to change the world.Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Chapters: 5 - Words: 14,328 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 09-07-12 - Published: 06-20-12 - id: 3034131
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Plain, ordinary, uninspiring; do these words sound familiar?
For Jensen James they were the construct upon which he had built his life. For twenty-six years and four months he had excelled at being unexceptional. This wasn't self-pity, this was fact. Jensen's existence could be summarised by the forty-five square miles of Nexus city, the perimeter of which was the end of the world as far as he was concerned. He had never been beyond the city limits, never tasted the freshness of country air nor seen the sky untainted by city smog. He had never even seen the stars. This was true for many of Nexus' denizens, and Jensen knew that he was not alone in his limited experience of the world as a whole. Blending in with the crowd was what people did, it was safe. To stand out was to put you at risk, put you at odds with the consensus.
Jensen stood in his bathroom, staring ahead into his reflection. The person staring back looked unremarkable. Sandy hair framed a face that was neither handsome nor unattractive. It tip-toed the line between the two and he could fall into either category depending on your point of view. His skin was pale, shy acne scars on his cheeks and a couple of blemishes on a forehead that was a fraction too big. His eyes were grey; a trait shared with his mother, and they seemed more and more fatigued as the years rolled by, sinking further into bruised sockets. Seeing the same thing day after day could do that, could birth the yearning for something wondrous to ignite a spark of excitement. His nose had a strong point to it, as did his chin and this collection of average features was all tied up with a clean, strong jaw.
This was him, Jensen, the same face he had worn all his days. Every morning he would take a moment and stare at himself, his own eyes staring back with a heavy sadness in their sheen. They seemed to plead with him, beg for something to change. Take a trip, go somewhere. It didn't matter where just so long as it was somewhere else, far from the same things they had seen all his life. But what about work, his mind would point out, what about mother? The same excuses every morning, the same blocks he could never haul himself over. With a defeated sigh, Jensen splashed water onto his face and proceeded to finish getting ready for work.
The sky was a snarling beast of grey this morning, as Jensen stepped out and began the same three mile walk he made five days out of seven. He worked for Sleepyheads; a bed retailer that operated on one of the commercial streets that threaded towards the epicentre of town, a cluster of glass skyscrapers that were once the seed from which the city of Nexus had grown. They could be seen from any point of the city, looking like a desperate hand reaching from the metropolis around it and towards the sky.
By the time he arrived at work, it had began to rain. Donovan, his friend and colleague for the past three years, was already in and he sat at the horse-shoe shaped desk in the middle of the sales floor. He was lounging back on one of the swivel chairs, his feet up on the desk and the phone clamped to the side of his head. He too looked tired, fed up and in need of an adventure. A year older, Donovan, like Jensen, knew nothing but what Nexus could offer.
Giving a salute by way of a good morning, Jensen made his way to the small kitchen in the corner of the shop and got himself ready for another thrilling day of selling beds. Retail sales weren't exactly the vocational area he had pictured himself in, this position was only temporary and it had been temporary now for three years. It was all too easy to get stuck these days, particularly when you didn't have the appropriate piece of paper to let employers know you were indeed as smart and as capable as you claimed to be. Sales paid well enough for someone of Jensen's experience and so he endured, even though he had no real aptitude for the job. He had always been introverted, shying away from the company of others and to succeed in sales you had to be loud, you had to be a conversationalist able to strike up a connection and then beg, lie and cheat your way to securing a deal. It wasn't something Jensen was comfortable with. A life spent looking within himself rather than out towards the world around had rendered him somewhat inept at small talk and creating bonds of temporary friendship. Because of this, Jensen often found himself at the bottom of the sales table. That was okay though, he would remind himself, because this was only temporary.
Laughing to himself, Jensen made his way to the desk with two mugs of hot coffee. He sat down and slung his own feet up on the table, turned on the computer and had a quick look through the emails to see if there was anything important needing taken care of. Satisfied that there wasn't anything requiring immediate attention, he slouched back and took a sip of his coffee.
"Alright mate, how are you doing this morning?" Donovan asked.
"Not bad, how are you doing?"
He gestured knowingly to the phone at his ear. "Same shit different day, you know."
Jensen nodded, knowing the frustrations involved with the job. Any time there was a problem with an order you would have to spend half an hour on hold to central office only to be told there was nothing to be done. "There's a coffee there for you."
"Just what the doctor ordered," Donovan said and took an eager gulp from the mug. He sighed contentedly. "How can something that tastes so much like crap offer so much satisfaction?"
Jensen shrugged and looked out the tall windows that lined the front facade of the shop. The street was quite but that would change as the day wore on. The rain was coming down heavy, rapping against the glass and thundering at the roof. The sound was relaxing and Jensen had to fight the urge to drift off to sleep.
"Tired, mate?" Donovan asked and gestured to the numerous bedsteads and divans in the showroom, "there's no shortage of bunks should you wish to take a wee lie down. Was it a big night?"
Jensen recalled the previous evening spent playing video games and listening to heavy rock music, the usual as he called it. He shook his head, "No, not really. Just didn't get to sleep until late is all."
"Always the same with you," Donovan said with a laugh.
"What did you get up to last night?"
Donovan ran a hand over his face, his eyes looking even more tired as a result. "It was a bit of a late one for me too, like. Amy and I split up."
"I'm sorry to hear that, are you doing okay?"
"Yeah, I'm alright. Kind of knew it was on the cards for a while, you know. Hell, I've been whining about her to you guys in here for so long it shouldn't really come as a shock."
"Still, these things can hurt," Jensen said, drawing from no experience of his own. His romantic life was more of a picture book than a sweeping and epic tale of love and passion. A month was the longest he had been able to carry a relationship. He always struggled to share himself with another person. His insular world was closed to those around him. He carried everything on the inside and this caused something of a struggle with those of the opposite sex keen enough to engage with him on an emotional level. They always wanted more than he was able to give. When he was upset, his first instinct was to contemplate rather than open up and share. Whether this lack of personal interaction bothered him or not, Jensen wasn't sure. It simply was what he was, and he doubted he would be able to change now.
Donovan stared ahead, quiet for a moment. He turned and Jensen could see that he was hurting more than he was willing to let on. He and Amy had been together for a year and a few months ago they were on the verge of moving in together. Losing her had to sting. "Yeah, I guess they do. Which is why I was going to see if you fancied going for drinks after? It's the done thing, you know."
Jensen hid his reaction behind his mug, taking a long sip of coffee. He wasn't keen on going out at the best of times, but last night he had got to a key point in the role-playing game he had been playing for the past week and he was looking forward to finishing it this evening. But he knew Donovan would not let go, and to prevent a day of persistent cajoling, he conceded. Like Donovan said, it was the proper thing to do.
"Excellent," Donovan said, "I know just the place where we can find some loose women. That's just the remedy I need."
Jensen groaned and lamented the loss of his quiet evening in, far from the crowds and noise of the world.
The rest of the day was fairly typical. Jensen spent large chunks of it on the phone, chasing his tail and being shouted at by customers who had been delivered wrong items or not received a delivery at all. Donovan made a couple of sales while Jensen had to force himself to speak to the customers he got through the door, his lack of enthusiasm evident in the big fat zero he finished on.
By the time they closed up, it was dark and the city was alive with orange light. It had been raining for most of the day, and the pavement was awash with puddles and streams of water. Together, Jensen and Donovan made their way to The Silver Bar, a quiet pub they often frequented after work. It was fairly busy for a Monday, and they had to push through the crowd to find a table near the back. Donovan left to get them a couple of drinks allowing Jensen to look around for the loose women Donovan was in search of. The place was alive with idle chatter and laughter, the jukebox at the other side of the bar blaring classic hits that people couldn't help but sing along to. The air was clammy and thick with body heat, and Jensen already couldn't wait to be on his way home. This place offered the interaction he so often declined.
"You don't look happy," Donovan said, setting the drinks on the table and taking his seat. He looked around the bar, his gaze stopping at each female he spotted.
"It's busier than I expected," Jensen said.
"Means there's more opportunity," replied Donovan. He looked to Jensen, his thick eyebrows lowering down onto his eyes. "You don't like crowds much do you, Jensen?"
"I prefer the quiet."
"Yeah, I can see that at work. You don't get involved with your customers. It costing you and don't think that James hasn't noticed."
"I know, I know," Jensen said, feeling the slight irritation at the back of his mind he always felt when someone pointed out something he already knew. "I do try; it's just harder for me to talk to people. I never know what to say to get them to interact."
"Do you know why I'm good at sales?"
"Because you're an asshole," Jensen said, taking a drink from his beer. It tasted good and he could feel himself beginning to relax.
Donovan laughed, "Cute, but no. It's because I get in involved with customers. I ask them questions and I win them over. If you can get them to talk to you then you can sell to them. It's like they always say, people buy from people. It doesn't matter that I don't really care about their kids or their plans for the weekend, what does matter is that I make them believe that I do care, and that I want to help them. Once they buy into me, they'll buy whatever I put in front of them."
"See, that's what I have problem with. I'm not a liar, I can't make myself seem like I care because the truth is I couldn't give a shit. I can't bring myself to act like the clown with all that theatrical enthusiasm you put on every day. It just isn't me."
Donovan shook his head. "You don't have to be like me, Jensen. You can put your own spin on things, be yourself, but you have to make more of an effort. If you don't start doing numbers, then James is going to have to speak to you. I know you can do this job, you're a smart guy."
Jensen shrugged. He needed the money this job gave him but because in his mind he believed this was just a short term thing, he couldn't bring himself to care much about it. He lived alone, he had no major responsibilities other than taking care of himself and because of this perhaps, on some level, he had become selfish in his approach to things. In fact, his mind reminded him, he had definitely become selfish. There was someone who depended on him...
Donovan groaned. "You're impossible," he said, "Always going to do what you want to do. Anyway, enough about work, let's not forget why we're here in the first place. Have you seen any potential drifting around in need of a good seeing to?"
The night wore on and by the time they spilled back onto the rain sodden street they had drunk enough for Jensen to let go of his usual inhibitions, a sensation he enjoyed at the reluctant acceptance of his sober self. He felt like his head was submerged in gel as the stark coldness of the night air struck him and suddenly he felt like he was going to be sick. He stopped and stared up into the sky. It carried an orange soaked miasma, the light of the city caught in its texture.
"Have you ever seen the stars?" Jensen asked. His head was leaning so far back it felt like it could topple off.
"Yeah," Donovan said coming up behind him.
"What do they look like?"
"Exactly like they do on the telly," Donovan replied, bursting into a childish giggle.
"Alright fellas, one of you got the time on you?" Came a voice from up ahead. A young man approached dressed in baggy grey jogging bottoms and a hooded jumper. The hood was pulled up so his face was cast in shadow but Jensen made him for no more than eighteen years old. He came right up to Donovan who staggered to one side as he checked his watch.
"It's a little after midnight," he said.
The young man nodded and Jensen, feeling a prickle at the back of his neck, turned slightly to see two more similarly dressed youths approaching from behind them. He began to feel very sober, as sick feeling frothed in his stomach.
"You got a smoke on you?" The youth asked. His tone of voice was uneven but cold. The way he spoke was deliberate, like he was reading lines he had rehearsed.
"I don't smoke, mate," said Donovan.
"Why's that, you a faggot or something," the youth said with a snigger. Jensen could see him grinning. It wasn't a smile of warmth or kindness; it was more predatory like that of a carnivore looking at fresh prey before it strikes.
Donovan scrunched his face in confusion. "How does that even make any sense at all?"
The grin vanished. "What's that mate? Are you taking the piss?" The youth shoved Donovan in the chest, and robbed of the balance his sober mind possessed, he toppled over onto the ground to whoops of laughter from the two behind them.
With a resigned sigh, Jensen stepped forward and mistakenly placed a hand on the youth's chest and went to help Donovan up. "Come on, man. What's your problem?" he said turning to look at the guy.
In truth, Jensen had expected what came next but his body wasn't able to catch on to the warnings of his subconscious fast enough. There was a crack and he felt his legs give way. The blow caught him right in the mouth and instantly his teeth felt like they weren't there anymore. Sprawled on the ground, Jensen barely had enough time to reflect on how much his jaw was hurting before he felt another stab of pain in his lower back. Realising what was coming next; he tucked his legs up and pulled his arms over his head in an attempt to weather the kicks that rained in from all sides.
It was all over in a few moments but it had felt like hours. Jensen's body ached all over as he slowly pulled himself to his feet. Donovan was already standing up, blowing blood from his nose into the gutter. Jensen's wallet was gone and his phone smashed, his pride dented and his body ravaged with pain.
"It's okay," Donovan said hoarsely, coming over to where Jensen stood struggling to remain upright. "I had change in my pocket they didn't get. I'll pay for the taxi home."
"Fucking whoopee," Jensen replied!
The taxi back was quick, Donovan keen to tell their driver all about why they were bleeding and their clothes were wet. Jensen just sat there, nursing his cut lip and aching ribs, wishing more than anything he had chosen just to stay in and play his video game.
Home at last, Donovan crashed onto the battered couch he would be sleeping on and Jensen made his way to the bathroom. He stood in front of the mirror and surveyed the damage. His lower lip was split and the skin around his mouth slightly discoloured. Unbuttoning his shirt, he found red boot prints over his ribs and down his back. He was sore, the pain greater than any he had experienced before. At least now his eyes had seen something new, this was the first time he had been mugged and beaten up.
"I'm sorry about tonight," Donovan said, appearing in the doorway and resting against the frame.
"It's okay," Jensen lied, bending down to fill his hands with cold water and splashing it onto his face. He winced at the stinging pain this caused inside his mouth.
"Yeah...at least it wasn't a boring night. Different from what you're used to, am I right?"
Sucking his lip, Jensen spat a dollop of red saliva into the sink and watched it circle the plug hole. "Yeah..." he said quietly. He stared into the reflection of his eyes to see if there was a spark, a sign that they had seen something new. There was nothing, just a reflection of the pain inside.