Story: The Deep Blue Abyss




The good doctor flipped back a few pages of the yellow, ruled notepad, and glanced over some of the scribbles. He nodded a few times before putting the notepad down and setting his pen on top. If he had brows to furrow, they would most assuredly have furrowed. "Vell, I believe I have ze prognosis, Aphid man." He folded his hands together and tensed with concentration.
"Yeah, Ganglion? What is it?"
"It is clear that you are hiding zomething, Aphid. You most definitely are in ze post traumatic stress disorder breakdown. A high function case, yes... but you know, none of zese degrees are necessary to see that something out there has crushed your spirit. The healing can't begin until you let it out of that cage you've got in there."
Aphid Man's eyes fixed on a spot on the rug that was special in its total lack of distinction from any other spot on the rug. He held his breath a moment, and then let out a very controlled sigh. "What's the point?"
"Well, you'll feel better if you...," Doctor Ganglion began.
"No, no," Aphid Man interrupted. "I mean, The Job. Being a hero. Fighting crime. I mean, we'll never stomp out nickel and dime gangs like the Hellions and Skulls. Oh, sure, we'll get rid of the Skulls, but then another gang will just rise up to take their place. We can make it difficult for them to do `business, but they will always exist."
"Yes, but think of the specific lives you touch..."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm not knocking it. It's good, decent work. I mean, my money's practically no good in this city because I'm a major hero, I could throw a rock and hit someone who'll give me a meal free because I saved their cousin from the Clockwork, or something, so it's nice to be able to earn that sort of treatment. It's not like I can bill an hourly rate right after snatching someone away from the jaws of crime."
"Have you considered psychology? I hear they not only get to bill hourly, but the pay is good too..."
"Yeah. Funny, Doc. Anyway... there are major criminal enterprises going on as well. Using the local thugs as training bars to get ready for the major league is all fine and well, too. Dismantling the operations of the Rikti, you know, and all that. There's something there to achieve. A world to make better. It's not like some local hood can decide to become the next Rikti, right?"
"Sure, I get where you're going, but I don't see what's tearing you up inside. All of this so far seems, actually, rather esteem building."
"As you recall, I worked closely with Portal Corporation on some classified operations," Aphid Man began.
"... the Cerebrus files, I believe they were classified as..." Ganglion interjected.
"Yes, exactly. I investigated threats to Paragon City and Earth proper of an interdimensional nature. That is, I went knocking on the doors of alternate Earths to see if they'd be a problem. The following information is still classified to the highest levels, but... there's a blackops within the Cerebrus project named the Janus Incident. "
"Janus? That's a two faced mythological character..."
"Gee, doc, I'm glad your psychology degree had you focus on the important stuff. Anyway, yeah. Well, it stands to reason that if there are multiple Earths, with similar if not the same history, then there are ..."
"Multiple us."
"Yeah, but just like how there are differences in world history, there are..."
"Differences in us."
"I found an alternate me."
Ganglion's exposed muscles twitched nervously. "Oh no," he thought.
"It seems that I've subjecated three dimensions beneath my iron heel. Using the words 'democracy,' or 'dissent' are shoot first and investigate later offenses. His Earth was exactly ours in every regard, with two notable exceptions. Rikti at the end of their invasion unleashed a nerve agent. Every hero who fought in the War could count their remaining days on one hand. They prepared the influx of fledging heroes to Paragon City as best they could, but... one ambitious and decidedly evil upstart quickly saw to any equally powerful heroes having 'accidents'. Once you're top of the food chain, it's actually fairly easy to stay there, especially with death squads enforcing your rule." Aphid Man paused, and slouched back into the leather lounge chair. He idly ran his finger around the rim of his glass. "I thought, you know, with the lack of challenge in his home dimension, or through some difference in our creations... or just something, I could take him down." He stopped, and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes.
"We fought for six hours, neither of us landing a real hit. His goons, of course, were on the spot in a minute or two, but he waved them off. He. Waved. Them. Off. Six hours!" Aphid Man rolled his eyes. "The neutrino corridor supporting the portal to that dimension couldn't be kept open much longer, so that's how it ended. A total and complete stalemate, except he had the upper hand. So. Yeah. I am in a bit of a schlump right now. For every success I have, I know that he's had an equally brutal success. Even in victory, defeat. I can't stand to look into that deep blue abyss linking worlds anymore... Nietzsche said that if you look too deeply, the abyss, it looks back." He crushed the glass in his hand, its shards cutting all along his arm. "Careful ye who hunt monsters, least you become monsters yourselves. Or in my case... find that you yourself are the monster."