From the Story Arc: The Wayward Spiral

Previous Story in the Arc: Patience by Sturmfront (Tuesday, July 19, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Incompetence by Sturmfront (Tuesday, August 30, 2005)

(posted Friday, July 22, 2005)

Up here, there was no Paragon City. No CCCP. No other human being at all unless someone launched another rocket into space. The air was thin enough so as to be completely foreboding to any mundane form of life. For Sturmfront, though, it was a training ground and staging area. While his activities centered around Paragon City he was well aware that the place was not where the world turned.

Not that he could make out single trouble spots from up here. Given the fact that even for his aberrant physiology that was known to adapt to adverse conditions after prolonged exposure the lack of oxygen was almost crippling, he was happy to make out continental land masses below him. No, it was the simple fact that up here, he was at the top of a bell curve that described the fastest flight path to any spot on this side of the planet. Halfways there, wherever the local 'heroes' might be outnumbered and outgunned.

Luckily for everyone, the big one was yet to come. There had been another attempted invasion by the Rikti over a year ago, but he had spent that time in a kind of coma. Useless, locked inside his head. Not traumatized or brain-damaged. His body had simply shut down under the strain. He had gone...

Sturmfront could not even recall how long it had been. Ten days? Two weeks? No sleep, no food, no cigarettes after the first few days. Troublespot after troublespot from Havana to Port-au-Prince he had zig-zagged across the gulf, back and forth. Of course the endeavour was doomed to fail. Of course it had to be. He was just one man against an endless army of armoured soldiers, drones, mind-benders. Sooner or later, something had to give. And it had to be him.

There was no way to recall anymore what or when or how, but something had gotten him and for all he could puzzle together, his body had kicked into self-preservation mode. Something further inside than instinct. Deeper down than fear. Had just shut him down. Dumped him into the sea, without control of his body, without access to his powers.

He had been in that place again then... the place he should not remember but did regardless. Somehow anyways, not on any rationally applicable level.

It was the same feeling with the woman. He thought to recognize her and yet, even now he could not recall her face. Only that she had smiled at him, and touched his cheek.

And that was how he had spent the rest of the Rikti war, and considerable time after that. One moment for him, but a small eternity outside of his mind.

Lost in thoughts, Wolfgang Degenhardt tried to chase these memories he did not have. His mind wandered even further, his guard slipping...

It hit him unexpectedly, in a wave of inexplicable personal sadness. Once, twice, and in the distance he could already feel the third wave stir.

"Hoelle." He cursed aloud, though nobody was there to hear. Well, almost.

'You might say that. Though it is not quite accurate.'

On any day, he would have cursed the voice. The voice that rang inside his head like something from his subconscious surfacing to remind him of his errors. At first he had simply thought himself going mad and not paid much heed as insanity was the least of his worries. But even Wolf, stubborn and bull-headed, could not argue that the voice had the right of it more often than him. In his black and white world, where the mind or a soldier fought with the heart of a warrior in a constant deadlock, the voice had become one thing he could always rely on, even if he did not want to.

Above and beyond the few friends he had, here was one... thing... that he could not hide from. Could not placate with a fast smile. The experience was frightening yet cathartic at the same time. Inside his head, he had nothing to lose. Any struggle he put up was simply his inability to yield. He had to rage against the dying of the light because the struggle was what counted.

But right now, literally hovering at the edge of the world -the physical and his own- there was no resistance. Only stunend acceptance.

'I... died?'

'Drowned, yes.'

'And yet I live.'


'I am not still comatose, or in some mind-bending machine or whatever usually happens to people in my line of work.'

'No. I give you my word on that.'


'Why did you die?'

'No. Why am I alive again?'

'You get to pick. Maybe you are needed. Maybe you are amusing.'

He had recently accepted that what or who that voice in his head was, it was nothing of his own. With his memory as damaged as it was, it became hard to make out when he first heard it, but he could swear it only manifested after that fateful night when his mutant powers erupted and saved his life, and the lives of the crew of the Brandenburg. Even from that time, he could only recall few instances, though. There had not been any form of actual communication until he had been reborn for the second time in a Paragon City hospital.

And still, conversations had been rare until lately, it had become a fact of his life that he was hardly ever alone.

'I only wished you would be clearer.'

'Trust me, I wish I could be. But...'

It was becoming a rather absurd experience about now. Sturmfront had come to accept the stowaway in his head for the simple fact that he did not dare reveal its presence to anyone and because frankly, in this particular case he was too damn curious for his own good. The voice itself always had a calm, soothing presence. It could sound mocking and scornful, but never had he heard it appear regretful. Until now of course.

'But you are willful. Stubborn. Headstrong. Unyielding. As I said before, you are old blood. These traits are part of your heritage. Which is why your continued existence is important. But at the same time it means many a lesson will be useless to you unless the experience is carved into your flesh and your soul.

'I am sorry for your suffering -- more than you will understand -- but it is vital that you realize your own weaknesses and shortcomings.'

'Because only an enemy that is known can be efficiently fought. Because a weakness I am aware of is an advantage.'


'Well, at least that I understand.'

'I am proud of you.'

'Heh. Are you now?'

There was no answer. And for what probably was the first time, he was saddened by the silence. There were many things still to do. But at least the world would not end this day, as it lay peacefully below him.

Back to Paragon City then. Not quite home, but acceptable for now. With a single thought, Wolf commanded the winds to brace him no longer and began his descent, friction tearing at his skin as he plunged towards his destination.

Free fall was at least partly freedom. But maybe he did not need to be as free as he thought. Maybe he could live with some shackles, if he could accept them as part of who he was. Some, anyways.