Duality 001.001

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Author’s Note:

For this, I’m actually looking for some direct feedback. This work is actually quite a bit different from my usual style. First of all, it is in first person. Secondly, the main character’s power makes some of the narration… uh, interesting? I don’t want to say more and unnecessarily shade your first experience with it. I’m a little worried that things are unclear at times. It seems alright to me, but I’m the one who wrote it, so I know what I meant.

Aside from whether or not the writing is literally comprehensible, I would like to know general opinions, thoughts on characters, and anything else about anything else you might consider.

I don’t know when or if this project will be continued yet, but I am quite excited about it at the moment. Even if I don’t continue it anytime soon, Vacant Throne started out as a side project that I wrote a few chapters of while writing Void Domain. So it could be a project for after VT, though VT isn’t ending anytime soon just yet.

Also, word of warning: There is a medical term that gets mentioned two or three times in relation to one of the sisters. If you are squeamish, you might want to avoid looking up pictures.


The Family

“What is the difference between a hero and a villain?”

The man stared at me as if I had two heads. In today’s society, having two heads would be an uncommon sight, but not one that anyone on the street would gawk at for too long. That was just how unique today’s world was. People were different now than they were before. So instead, it would be more accurate to say that he stared at me as if he couldn’t understand how someone old enough to be in high school could possibly ask such a question.

His confusion lasted only a few moments. Deciding to take my serious question as a joke, he threw his head back and laughed. A hearty, boisterous laugh. “When you’re as Amazing as me, everything you do is heroic!”

The most Amazing man in the world patted my shoulder as he pushed by, moving to meet the press outside the bank. Rubble of bank didn’t impede his dauntless march. His boot tapped a brick from the wall he had broken through, sending it flying. A spiderweb of cracks spread through the impact site—a previously undamaged section of the wall.

No one noticed. The other hostages, they stared at Amazing’s large back in awe. They watched as he waved his hands in front of the cameras, reenacting his dramatic rescue of the bank’s patrons from the villainous robbers. He drew a fist back and punched the air, blowing back the hair of the woman with the microphone. She laughed a girly giggle, affectionately touching him on the elbow before running her hand through her hair. He continued right along, now aiming a finger at the camera.

I watched Amazing as well, though I didn’t have a smile on my face. The sting in one eye from the blood running down my face was enough to keep me in a grimace. Though I doubted I would smile regardless. Movement on the other side of the broken glass pulled my attention off the world’s greatest hero.

Police officers rushed in, not even needing cuffs for the would-be thieves with how their arms and legs were bent out of shape. One had managed to get away with a small gym bag full of money, but he had left his companions behind to escape. Paramedics were hot on the officers’ heels. Four, with a pair of stretchers, rushed to the two thieves. The way they moved, so practiced and efficient, I could tell that it wasn’t their first time dealing with Amazing’s aftermath. Police escorted out those hostages who had managed to avoid being injured. Another pair of paramedics started checking the injuries of everyone else. Those who could move were quickly escorted out.

The others were treated inside, away from the cameras. One poor man had his shoulder crushed by a flying door frame. A little girl, crying and clutching her mother, had shards of glass in her arm. With as much blood as was cascading down my face, it didn’t take long to draw the attention of one of the medics.

I tried to wave him off. Cuts to the face and forehead bled a lot because of all the blood vessels there, but I doubted I was in half as much pain as the kid with a broken finger. Really, the blood in my eye hurt worse than the cut on my forehead. But it was far more noticeable than a broken finger. Far more attention grabbing.

When they finally let me go, I walked out of the bank to find Amazing long gone. The majority of the press had moved on as well, probably to chase after him. Amazing was not a hard man to find while on the job. His white and gold outfit, marred with the sponsorship of a hundred companies, stood out like a beacon. However, the trail of damaged public property left in his wake was the real tell of his presence.

There was such little fanfare about a downtown bank being destroyed, it was a little surprising. Even before Amazing had shown up a decade ago, buildings occasionally wound up as collateral damage when costumed heroes and villains decided they wanted to have a fight. More buildings got destroyed now-a-days, but the number of heroes and villains had increased as well. Besides, the buildings were all insured. As long as nobody died, nobody cared. In fact, with all the tourism brought in by the big name heroes, spectacles like today probably generated more income for the city than what was lost in damages.

Or so I had been taught. My actual experience with heroes and the world was limited.

Standing outside the bank, I stared down at the check in my hands. What was I supposed to do with it now? This bank wouldn’t be reopening soon. The next closest bank was a good fifteen minute trip by bus. It would be closed by then. That was assuming they even stayed open while another bank was under assault. There were apps to take a picture of the check and have it be deposited automatically, but my phone wasn’t smart enough for such apps. Not to mention my lack of an account. I needed it in cash.

I’d have to just come back some other time.

What a waste of a day.

There was still enough money at home to purchase groceries for the next week, at least. There was no real rush just yet. With mild irritation, I folded the check back up and slipped it into my jeans. Would the nearest bus stop even be operational? Some of the streets looked like they had been blocked off and hadn’t yet opened. Even more irritated, I started walking in the vague direction of the North End, my family’s home.

Only, I had to stop and frown. I could clearly see the gauze bandage above my eye in the reflection of a large pane of glass that had shattered on the ground. Although the cut wasn’t bleeding anymore, my eyebrow and eyelashes were caked in dried flakes of the stuff. The light blue of my collar wasn’t quite so bright and blue anymore either.

I couldn’t go home like this. My sisters would worry. I would already be late enough as it was between being stuck in the bank for over an hour and the bus situation.

Although I continued toward the North End, I took a brief detour before I made it out of the downtown area. Just a small alley with some fire escapes, air conditioning units, and a large dumpster. I double checked that there weren’t any security cameras before pulling out my wallet, phone, check, and pocket knife. I set all but the latter item on the ground in front of the trash bin.

Climbing into the dumpster, I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, a boy stood in front of me. Light brown hair. Large rimmed glasses. A skeletally thin frame. The boy wore an identical Super Burger uniform. This one, however, was not stained with blood. His face did not have a bandage above the eye. No blood marred his slightly sagging cheeks.

My sagging cheeks.

Kneeling, I started collecting the items I had left on the ground. At the same time, I took my pocket knife, flicked open the blade, and jammed it into the side of my neck. Blood pumped out in spurts. My grip was already weakening, but I dragged it forward, making sure to get the carotid artery so that I would have a quick death. I had barely enough presence of mind to wipe the blade on my opposite sleeve and drop the knife outside the garbage bin before I collapsed back.

It wasn’t a perfect job. Obviously. My hands had barely been able to hold the knife before I dropped it. Untucking my button up uniform, I properly cleaned the blade with the very edge of my shirt before tucking it back in. That would hide the blood well enough. Slipping it into my pockets with my other affects, I snapped my neck back and forth.

The irritating pain in my forehead was gone. Drawing in a breath, I felt clean and refreshed. My body was still twitching a bit, but I couldn’t feel anything from it anymore. In an hour, it would start disintegrating, turning to a dirt-like material. Blood, bones, clothes, and flesh. There would be nothing left in three hours. Hopefully nobody found it before then. I carefully closed the dumpster’s lid, adjust my shirt, and exited the alley.

This body really wasn’t the best for walking home. Too weak. The muscles were too atrophied. Had I used Amazing’s body, I would have made it home in ten minutes. Instead, it took me the better part of two hours, even maintaining as brisk of a pace as I could. I did push through it, but the refreshed cleanliness had vanished. Replaced with sweat and a shortness of breath.

I should have found a different bus stop.

My sisters would be worried for sure. A fleeting thought crossed my mind. I could slip around behind the small suburban house and kill myself again. It was just so messy. And the pain wasn’t all that pleasant either. While I could—and did—shove as much as myself as possible into my clone as I could, small prickles still made it through.

Deciding against it, I took a moment on the front porch to sit on the little wooden bench to cool off. The summer heat didn’t make it easy on me, but the small shade provided by the roof made it feel much cooler than it had while walking under the heavy sun. In short order, I felt better. Still sweaty, but at least I wasn’t panting like a dog.

The door opened to the living room. A small room with half of a hexagonal window to look out on the front lawn. It had two couches and a small television. A perfectly normal room for a perfectly normal family. The dining room and kitchen were hidden on the other side of the back wall. A staircase to the three bedrooms sat next to the door.

A smell permeated the air. A fairly unpleasant one that I was all too familiar with. But I didn’t have time to investigate the source.

The second I closed the door behind me, the television flicked on all of its own accord.

A cartoon started playing. Set in an engineer’s workshop, steam burst from small pipes, gauges and dials danced wildly, sparks jumped between the wires of a Jacob’s ladder. In the middle of it all, a girl with brilliant blond hair sat, tugging on a bolt with a monkey wrench over and over again.

She pretended not to notice me.

Smile on my face, I walked over, noting that the small lens on top of the television was indeed tracking me. The cartoon girl still didn’t turn around to face me.

“Hello, Thoth.”

Her grip through her fingerless gloves slipped and the wrench went flying. A pipe cracked with a resounding clank. Steam billowed into the workshop, quickly flooding in, obscuring everything with white clouds. A short burst of coughing followed several hammering clanks and a few squeak squeak squeaks of a valve twisting. The hiss of escaping steam stopped.

A cloth appeared on the opposite side of the television, swiping back and forth. The rest of the workshop was still obscured by white clouds, but Thoth’s grease-stained face was right up close. Her blue eyes were dancing wildly, irises jittery behind her goggles.

“You scared me,” she said with a definite pout.

“Sorry, sorry. You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?”

“Just some light scalding from the steam,” she said, holding up a hand. It cartoonishly flashed bright red. “It’ll go away when the scene changes.” Looking over her shoulder, she sighed. “Workshop is a mess though. Some of this stuff wasn’t supposed to get wet.”

“I’m sure you’ll get it all fixed up. You can fix anything!”

“Almost anything. More importantly…” Thoth put a hand to her goggles and lifted them to her forehead, looking right at me with the most serious expression a cartoon character could muster. “I saw what happened.”

Stiffening my back, I pulled away from the television to look directly at the camera mounted above the screen. Thoth didn’t like it when I did that, but it was far more her than the character on the screen. “You saw?”

“It was all over the news. Bank robberies don’t happen every month, so it got quite a bit of attention.”

Right. Of course. Thoth monitored the news constantly. Of course she would have seen what had happened. I didn’t think I had wound up on camera, but maybe some intrepid reporter had sneaked a little closer while the medics were still taking care of everyone. Or maybe Thoth simply put two and two together and decided my departure to the bank and long delay in returning were related to the robbery. Either way…

“The others, they didn’t see, did they?”

“Ares did. Toxx and Dice have been playing together since Toxx finished her session.” The girl on screen tilted her head as if to look at the rest of the house. She obviously couldn’t see as the camera was still aimed at me, but it wasn’t the only one around. “Speak of the devil.”

A few heavy slaps of bare feet against the hardwood floors signaled the approach of one of my younger sisters. A girl, no—A teen tore around the doorway, just about slipping as she sprinted toward me. Stringy black hair shadowed her face, but I could see her wide eyes clearly excited to see me. I tried to keep a smile on my face, but…

The whites of her eyes were bleeding again.

“Brother!” she whispered, just barely loud enough to be heard across the room. Despite the red-stained eyes, Toxx’s smile gave way for nothing. It was overly wide and her lips were a bit thin, but I liked her smiles much better than those I saw at work or on customers at the bank. It was more… genuine.

“Toxx—” was as far as I got before she plowed into me, wrapping her arms around my waist. She slammed into me with far more force than I expected. It was probably thanks to a new formula. My thin frame and weak legs didn’t let me stay standing.

We both crashed to the ground. Her on top of me. Despite the hard knock her knees had to have taken, her smile didn’t lessen in the slightest.

“You were gone for so long!” Despite her voice being so soft, I clearly heard her excitement. “I missed you so much.”

“It was only a few hours longer than I thought.”

“Any time at all is too long. Can’t you stay at home when you leave?”

“No. That’s not what other people do.”

To my surprise, Thoth responded before Toxx could, tapping her side of the television with the end of her wrench. The flat screen wasn’t glass, but it still clanked like it was. “You aren’t other people. You are Janus. And I agree with Toxx. It just isn’t safe. I know you say that it’s just work or just the bank, but people frequent those place. People aren’t safe. If something like today happens again—”

I shushed her, clamping my hands around Toxx’s ears.

Thoth didn’t look impressed. “She isn’t stupid. In fact, after today’s session, I think she should be on par with an above-average fourteen year old.”

“No matter how old she gets, she’ll always be my little sister. Just like you are. And Dice as well. Speaking of which…” It was a bit strange that the second oldest of my three younger sisters had yet to make an appearance. She usually came running right alongside Toxx when I walked in the door.

Yet there was no sign of her.

Gently sliding Toxx off me, I got to my feet. “Dice?” I called out.

From the corner of my eye, I watched the television screen go dark. Toxx took a step away from me, hands finding the hem of her black dress, wringing it like she did whenever she got nervous. Neither sisters’ reaction was a good sign.

Sighing, I walked over to the opening Toxx had recently skidded around. The dining room and kitchen.

I froze in my tracks at the sight of a charnel house. That explains the smell.

Blood poured off the dining room table. Long sticky drips resisted gravity before the thin strands snapped and the droplets splashed into pools on the floor. A hand, severed, rested on one of the placemats. A slit from the wrist to halfway up the hand had been expertly cleaned, exposing muscles and tendons and bones. To its side, a leg had been cut open in much the same manner. A torso, waist to neck only, was right in the middle of the table. A large Y-cut dominated the chest. Flaps of skin had been pulled back and the ribcage had been cut open. A beating heart had been propped up on an altar of forks while both lungs gently inflated and deflated.

“Wha—” I was speechless. Torn apart as it was, that could only be Dice. I recognized my sister’s body. “Dice?”

The hand still attached to the torso lifted up, offering me a wave.

At the same time, the television at the head of the table flicked on. Thoth’s workshop was back to normal and she looked none the worse for wear. “Now now, before you get too angry, there are extenuating circumstances.”

“Extenuating circumstances?” I shouted. “Dice is in pieces on the dinner table!”

“Toxx’s session today included an in-depth distillation of surgery and anatomy.”

“But the dinner table? Couldn’t she have used the bathtub?”

Toxx’s wringing of her hands increased in intensity as she refused to meet my eyes. “T-The bathtub isn’t an operating table.”

“Neither is the dinner table!” I couldn’t help but shake my head at the insanity of it all. “It’s so unsanitary. Normal people don’t cut open their sisters on the dinner table.”

“I think you spoke four words too many, brother dearest,” Thoth said, flashing a grin filled with sharp teeth.

I ignored her. “And where is Dice’s head!” Dice’s legs were sitting on one of her chairs, but her head was nowhere to be seen.

“T-That’s the other reason I couldn’t use the bathtub. An experiment is already taking place there.”

“An experiment.” My voice was flat as I looked between Toxx, who had yet to come around into the dining room proper, and Thoth, who just shrugged on the screen.

“We know Dice can’t drown, so I was wondering if sicking her head underwater would make water come out of her lungs down here. If so, we could use her like a purse! Stick all kinds of things in her stomach and just pull them out of her head as we carry it around.”

Despite the mess, I had to raise my eyebrow. “And?” Some people had portals. They could do similar things like jumping in one and popping out of another some distance away. So it wouldn’t be entirely out of the question.

But Toxx was shaking her head. “Didn’t work. Otherwise water would be flooding the dining room at the moment.”

“Thank goodness for the small things,” I said with a sigh. There were no buckets around. Toxx had clearly not prepared for her experiment to be a success. And she hadn’t prepared for the blood either. “I want you to go upstairs and get your sister’s head. You will march straight back down here and start putting her back together. Then you both will clean up every drop of blood. Only then will I start dinner. And if it is too late, you will be going to bed with no food.”

Her bloody eyes nearly popped out of her head. “No food?”

“Not a crumb.”


“Better hurry. I’m going to bed by ten.”

Toxx sucked in a breath. She looked like she was about to cry, but I didn’t give in. As I pointed at the stairs, she took off, climbing the stairs with both her hands and feet.

Once she was out of sight, Thoth had the audacity to chuckle.

“And you should have stopped them. Dice is a child. Toxx a teenager. But you should have known better.”

“Aww, but I’m the youngest. Barely a year old.”

“And I’m four years old. Age means nothing in our family.” I looked from her to the table and shook my head. What a mess. “Is Ares awake?”

Thoth turned her head away from the television, facing back into her workshop. The spring in her step made her wild hair bounce as she moved over to one of the dials on the large wall of controls. “Looks like he has been asleep for an hour now. Would you like me to wake him?”

“I should tell him I’m home and safe, but… No. Let me know if he wakes before I go to bed, otherwise I’ll tell him in the morning.”

“Speaking of being safe, I was being serious earlier. I want you to leave one of yourselves home, Janus.”

“It’s not—”

We aren’t normal. And we shouldn’t have to hide who we are. The heroes don’t,” she said with a sneer. “And neither do the villains.”

“It will put us in too much danger. There are too many people who would kill us to get at Mother and Father’s devices. To get at us. In a few years, when Dice is at least an older teenager, we’ll discuss it again. We’ll have a proper meeting. I promise.”

“Will we be able to survive that long?”

I blinked, looking at Thoth’s unusually serious expression. “What?”

“I mean your job. It isn’t making much, is it? If I only had more parts, I’m sure I could help, but we’re spending everything on food and medical supplies for Ares.”

My surprised expression softened. Of course she just wanted to help. It was perfectly understandable. I was frustrated myself at how little I could do. None of us had identities or background. We were people who had sprung out of nothing. No social security number. No birth certificate. No parents. I was lucky to have found a place willing to hire me. I was pretty sure my pay was coming from somewhere less than legitimate. My coworkers all seemed to have filled out employment forms. I hadn’t.

“Don’t worry. My probation period is almost up. I get a raise when it ends. An extra thirty cents per hour.”

“Drops in the ocean.”

“And Toxx… she’s almost a proper teenager. Mentally speaking. Teens work, don’t they? We can surely find something she could do.”

“Another low paying job like yours?” Thoth’s blond hair shook back and forth on the screen. “There is no hope for us if we continue like we are. We’ll either be slaves to the lowest of jobs or we’ll be found out. The latter will happen eventually, but I would rather not have it happen while they’re still undergoing constant sessions. If something happens to the machine, and to you… to Ares…”

No matter what, moving Thoth wouldn’t be easy. It would never be easy. Ares as well. Neither of them were mobile. If someone did attack our home, I would have to fight them off tooth and nail or risk losing my siblings. Having both Toxx and Dice in a mentally adult state of mind would help a lot with any theoretical defense.

“All the more reason to increase our income. Get me more equipment. Get Ares some help, if Toxx can’t find a solution. It would—”

Thoth fell silent. Dropping the goggles from her forehead back to her eyes, she looked off screen. A moment later, two giggling women came rushing down the stairs.

Well, one giggling woman and one giggling freckled head.

“Hi Janus!” the disembodied head said, short red hair still dripping with water. Behind me, the body waved an arm.

Now that the subject had been brought up, Toxx had a really good point. How was Dice speaking when her larynx was across the room? Not to mention the lungs, which were on full display with the ribcage pried open. There had to be some connection.

But, ignoring all that in favor of greeting my adorable little sister, I smiled right back. “Hello Dice. Did you have fun today?”

“I got to sing underwater! It was all wavy when I looked up.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.” She said it with such enthusiasm, how could I not. “Now get yourself put back together so that I can get started on some food.”

“Hurry, Toxx!”

Dice had barely started speaking before Toxx rushed over to the table. Setting Dice’s head down started the process of her reattachment. Skin closed up like some ethereal hand was pulling a zipper closed. The blood that her body had been pumping out didn’t go anywhere. They would have to mop that up.

Smiling, I watched my sisters as they quickly took to getting everything tidied up. There was only a little complaining going on. Food was a wonderful motivator.

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