I’ve been roleplaying a lot lately. One ongoing game is a tabletop that uses the Masks system, and while creating a character for it, I wrote a little chapter of sorts to set the scene for my character’s individual plotline. In the end, while creating a hero to the template of “The Doomed” – an archetype in Masks in which a character has something of a clock worked into the mechanics, ticking down to a violent and untimely demise – I accidentally recreated Jet Li’s The One plot for myself in the game. So, I should actually sit down and watch that sometime before the end of this game and see what I do or don’t like about it so that I have a better idea of what I want out of playing through that concept. Considering how well-known it seems to be by everyone but myself, as well, I feel like I should have that cultural reference under my belt.
In the meantime I thought I’d upload what I wrote here. It was a fun exercise if nothing else, nice to be inspired by the roleplaying system so directly.
It was an otherwise normal day when Tierney met herself in an alley between the backs of houses on the way home from school, a path she knew as well as her own face. It was odd to see it there, though, on another person’s body and without it being flipped by a mirror. Her other self smiled, freckles spreading across her nose, and it was both a jarring and warm sight. A feeling of familiarity seeped into her mind. She instantly knew this Tierney went by Tee, and though Tee wore a loose hooded jacket that hid her arms, she knew that Tee had a scar on her left elbow by falling out of a tree and striking it on a rock when she was twelve. She remembered watching it happen in her own backyard – except in her world, that tree had been cut down when she was ten. Tee seemed as lost in thought as Tierney was as they both processed the false memories granted to each other by their powers.
This was the first time Tierney had experienced that power of hers for herself. It had taken her a while to realise it even was one – super strength and speed were obvious, but for a while there, with everyone finding her face so familiar, she’d just assumed her face was rather generic and friendly. It was harder to deny there was a power at play though when perfect strangers described seeing her around in a dress she hadn’t worn for years, or sharing a school event with her when they attended a college three districts over from hers. She could never quite seem to turn this ability off completely; but she was glad at any rate that it was such a pleasant experience.
It was Tierney who broke the moment by stepping forwards and grasping Tee’s hands like a long-lost sister. Tee smiled at her gratefully and hugged her.
“I think the memory power is at double strength right now,” Tee said, pulling away again, although continuing to hold Tierney’s hands reassuringly. “We share a lot of memories already. My reality is very close to yours.”
“What is close? How on earth do you measure realities?” Tierney asked, then shook her head. “You’ve gotta know how weird this is for me, right? What’s going on?”
Tee looked rueful, her smile dropping away. “I’ve got a few bombshells for you and you won’t like any of them. Sorry. If there were any other way I wouldn’t be doing this. Your life is sweet. I don’t want to ruin it. But I’m trying to stop something awful from happening and you can help me.”
“Why should I?” Tierney retorted. She slipped her hands out of Tee’s and crossed her arms.
“You’re in danger, too.” Tee closed her eyes for a second. When they fluttered open again, she looked weary, many years older than she was. “There are a lot of similar universes. Not all the same. I don’t think they’re infinite, but they’re about as easy to chart as one entire universe. But you, me, we’re echoed in a lot of them.”
“Is that a big deal?” Tierney wasn’t sure how to re-establish a sense of what normal was for this conversation, or if she should even try.
“I don’t think so, others are echoed too. The universes that clump together share the most similarities. It’s strange, trying to find the same people across them – there are resonances, but even when they have the same lives, the same parents, sometimes they’re barely recognisable. We’re not the same everywhere either – in some places we don’t have family, in some, no powers. We joined the army at least once.”
“That’s pretty cool–“
“She’s dead.” Tee rubbed her face. “We – no, she – killed her.”
Tee chewed her thumbnail for a moment, considering. “Here, it’s easier if I show you.” She leaned in, grabbed the back of Tierney’s head and pressed their foreheads together.
A migraine hit her at the same time as a wave of memories that weren’t hers: memories of hundreds of worlds and faces, strange sights and smells, cities, towns, deserts, unfamiliar stars, and seeing glimpses of people flash past her at the speed of a train as she was drawn across worlds to a single moment of searing pain.
That world was heat and ash. Dark grey skies and death as far as the eye could see. Tierney struggled to parse the images, that much destruction seemed surreal, cartoonish. Bones crunched underfoot. She shouldn’t have come, but something pulled her here, called to her. She didn’t have to wander far before she found it; the one body that wasn’t dry and empty of life, wearing her own face and framed by long, lanky hair. She reached down to touch her and her eyes opened, devoid of expression. Something was wrong. She moved with lightning grace and then there was more pain and a scream cut short. The memory was over.
One more slid into its place. A living world, three other selves standing around a corpse (did that one look like her, too? It was curled up as if in pain) hoarsely whispering to each other. The world rushed forwards again and there she was, the monstrous self with blood all over her hands, tearing guns out of a police officer’s hands and going in for the kill. There was shouting and then an explosion lit the scene too quickly for the armed forces to retreat. When the smoke cleared, she walked out from amongst blackened corpses, unharmed. The three fighting her turned and ran through unfamiliar streets. When a new and familiar scream rang out she knew one of them had fallen, but the one whose eyes she saw from didn’t look back.
Those scenes echoed in her head for a moment, overlaying each other and memories of her own like double-exposed film as her brain integrated those images. There were no new clear memories. A few last residual feelings and smells faded from her body, finally allowing her to comprehend her physical surroundings again, to find that she was lying on her back staring at the sky with Tee squatting besides her.
“Sorry, that was the only way I knew that you would understand,” she said quietly.
Tierney didn’t move for a moment. “That memory, the first glimpse of her… that wasn’t yours, was it? Someone died.”
Tee nodded. “I’m not the only traveller. I never met her, but I think that one liked travelling, felt drawn to the rest of us. That happens a lot, though she was able to travel further than anyone else could without tech to help. The dangerous one – I don’t know what to call her – she felt that hunger too, but she was a monster. She took the travelling power from the first one. She can only take new powers from us, that’s why she hunts us down. But she’ll take the lives of others, too.”
“How did you get that memory?”
“A few of us were in contact. We noticed when someone went silent. You saw the body we found when we went to her world. When I met the monster and fought against her with the others, I tried to read her memories when she was distracted, found what she had taken from the first of us.” She shook her head, skin looking a little green. “I really don’t recommend it. I haven’t slept well since then. Her mind is… inhuman.”
“You think I could fight her?” Tierney sat up slowly. “How long until she gets here?”
“We have a bit of time. I’m going to buy you more.” Tee stood, and held out a hand to help Tierney back up. When she was standing again, a feeling of deja vu swept over her and their surroundings shifted, placing them in a large, dark room.
The space wasn’t wasted. One corner was set up with a bed and looked clearly lived-in, while the rest of the room was full of tech that was better than anything Tierney had seen first-hand. Computers linked up to what looked like the door of a concrete bunker that jutted into the room. One wall appeared to be thick, faintly glowing glass and revealed it to be some kind of prison.
Tierney’s attention was drawn back to Tee as she walked to the centre of the room, where a mess of other equipment stood, connecting to a metal chair. She placed her hand on one panel and it glowed. Her body sagged against it for a moment, then she turned to look at Tierney.
“The containment room is built for her, but it’s not ready yet. Your world is full of tinkers. Find someone who can help make it better. I don’t actually know if she can be killed, so the next best thing is to lock her up and throw away the key.”
“What, by myself?” Tierney looked around, a frown on her face. “Where are you going?”
“Use this machine now so that I can show you how it works. It’s calibrated for you. I’ve charged it up with some of my abilities, but it does more than that. Use it if you ever need more power, but sparingly.”
Tierney hesitantly stepped forwards and dropped into the chair that Tee gestured to. Tee quickly strapped her hands down to the arms of the chair, then powered up the machine using a small control panel that was close enough for Tierney to reach had her hands not been tied. A slow hum built up into a louder one, and a crackle of energy filled the air. She instinctively tried to pull her hands away as jolts of electricity struck out at her fingers, but it didn’t hurt. It was over in a few moments, and afterwards she felt a little dizzy, but rejuvenated and restless, like she wanted to go for a run. Her hands snapped out of the bonds easily, ripping through the fabric.
“Oh, sorry,” she mumbled. “Normally I’m better at controlling that.”
Tee didn’t look surprised. “Work on it. She’s stronger than you, but you’re stronger than all the others I’ve found, and you have the potential for so much more. If anyone can take her down, it’s you.” She strode towards the back of the room, where a doorway stood against the wall. Tierney twisted to watch as she activated another panel. This one had what looked like a GPS connected to a few other screens that she wasn’t sure how to read. Tee punched in a string of numbers and turned around. “Use this place sparingly. Once she’s killed me, she’ll probably have memories of it, and she might be able to sniff her way back here. I’m going to jump her across several multiverse clusters. It took me a while to locate them in the first place because there’s no one there to hone in on. It should take her a long while to work her way back out of them again.”
“Wait-” Tierney stumbled out of the chair, but the doorway sprang to life, electricity and swirling colours filling it up, and Tierney found herself sliding to the floor, her knees still weak from the new power that thrummed through her body.
“This door will be locked against interplanar travel once I’m gone. Don’t try to follow me, focus on preparing for her arrival.” Tee smiled bitterly. “I really hope you beat her. Five of us have died to give you this head start, and it would suck if that was all for nothing. And your family don’t deserve what she’ll do to them if you don’t succeed.” With that, Tee squared her shoulders and stepped through the doorway. It blinked out a moment later, plunging Tierney into darkness.
She sat there for a while, head reeling with all the revelations that had been dumped on her. Once the shock wore off, she would wander around the room, checking the equipment and leafing through all the journals Tee had left behind to describe how the room worked and the ways it was separated from her home dimension. It would take her months to study it and try to make sense of it though, so after a while she gave up, and teleported five minutes away from home with the power Tee had given her thrumming through her body. It was strange to use, gave her an eerie chill up her spine. She slept badly that night, dreaming of a monster wearing her face and Tee’s body lying on an alien world, lifeless.