“You can’t sneak up on me, you know,” said Wilhelm, without looking up.
“Wasn’t really trying to,” answered Andrew, “but I am surprised that you heard me.”
“Even if there aren’t footsteps, you still displace air.”
“Whoa, you can hear that?”
“If I’m listening for it. I heard you open the door, though.”
“Ah, that makes more sense. Can I sit with you?”
“I doubt I could stop you.”
Andrew rolled his eyes. “May I sit with you?”
“I don’t make the rules.”
“Oh for—you know perfectly damn well what I meant. Fine. Do you mind if I sit here?”
“…I suppose not.”
Andrew dropped heavily onto the edge of the roof next to Wilhelm. “That seemed dangerous,” said Wilhelm, still without looking at Andrew.
“What, was I gonna fall? No. Look, you’re upset. I get that. You’ve said you’d never use your powers again, and now that’s what we’re asking you to do. But I’d like to think we’re a little bit different from your first, uh, employers. You know everything we know. And we’re not giving you orders, we’re asking for your help. Do you disagree with our aims?”
“No. But I don’t know that I could trust myself to know if I should. That was the mistake I made last time.”
“Dude, last time you were, what, three years old?”
“Three years old, but with accelerated aging. I was physically and mentally mature, and supposedly far smarter than other adults.”
“But not emotionally. And you were hardly worldly. Wasn’t that, like, your first time outside? And you’d been lied to all your life. You figured out that something was wrong pretty quickly after being presented with counter-evidence. I understand that you feel guilty, but a normal person would not have been able to figure that out at all. Even if they were actual adults.”
“'With great power comes great responsibility.’ A normal person would not have killed 67 people and injured 53 others during that incident, even if he or she had seen it through to the end.”
Andrew was silent for almost a minute. Then he continued slowly. “But you turned it around, you got out of there. They said an ‘unknown force’ stopped the others. That was you, wasn’t it?”
“No. I was… unconscious.”
Andrew turned around and looked straight at Wilhelm, confused. “Wait, what? How did that happen?”
“I do not know, exactly,” said Wilhelm thoughtfully, staring resolutely at his shoes, “but… I must tell you something that I’ve not told anyone before. It may be an exaggeration to say that I figured out the lies on my own at all. I had a… vision, I suppose, although ‘hallucination’ might be a better word for it. I saw myself, saw my potential. This vision attacked me, and told me to look at the evidence before me. He pointed out how different what I was looking at was from what I’d been told, and pointed out that no matter how much I trusted them that reality clearly held more weight than their words. When I regained consciousness, the Übermenschen had been defeated. I left.”
Wilhelm leaned back, and looked at Andrew for the first time. “I suppose I did do something about it. I found the American forces and I told them all I knew. They gave me passage here. They did not try to use me. They feared me. They forbade me from revealing who or what I was or using my abilities. That suited me well—I was also afraid.”
Andrew took a moment to process that information, then he smiled slyly. “What do you mean by a vision of your potential? Was he sitting on a roof and moping?”
Wilhelm growled softly. “No. He was strong. He fought me to protect the innocent. He said I could do that, too. But it was just a hallucination.”
“Two minutes ago you called it a vision. And if it was a hallucination than it was still your own mind working things out. Either way, it was meaningful. And hey, you just proved it. You saved us down there.”
“What? I did not! I barely did anything. You saved yourselves, and if you hadn’t had the power to stand up to the Übermenschen without my help you would’ve all been killed.”
“Well, okay,” Andrew said obligingly, “Maybe you didn’t save us single-handedly. But you helped! And what we’re dealing with now is more dangerous than a bunch of washed-up old soldiers. We’ll be much more ready for what’s coming than we were for that ambush, but we still need all the help we can get. We need you.”
“The world hasn’t needed me yet.”
“Okay, fine. What about what you need? You need to stop this. Yes, there are bad things in your past. I’d say that’s not your fault, but actually, who gives a flying fuck? Don’t let yesterdays screw-ups stop you from doing something better tomorrow.”
Andrew grinned and stood, floating away from the edge of the roof to look Wilhelm in the eye. “’There’s only now, there’s only here. Forget regret, or live in fear. No other path, no other way—No day but today.’”
“’Will I lose my dignity?’” answered Wilhelm, meeting Andrew’s look.
Andrew smiled sadly. “Oh, Sweetie,” he said, “it’s too late for that. I’m trying to give you a way to get it back, Übermensch.”
Wilhelm was on his feet, standing on the very edge of the rooftop with his hands balled into fists. Startled, Andrew moved a few more feet away from the roof and held his hands defensively in front of him, the light in his eyes that hinted at his huge psychic potential lit.
“Do not ever call me that!” Wilhelm roared, “That is the name they gave me, the one that suggests my supposed superiority.”
“No need to get so upset!” said Andrew, moving tentatively back onto the roof. “Fine then, we’ll find you a new one. But we could really use your help… Penance.”
“I like it. It suits you. But if you don’t, choose something else.”
Andrew moved back into the air, floating back towards the door into the building but still facing Wilhelm. “I’m going back to Priya’s office now, to see what I can do about the damage. But we’ll be having another meeting tomorrow. 1 pm in her lab. Will I… ? No. No questions. I will see you there, Penance.”
He closed the door behind him, leaving Wilhelm alone again on the roof again. But he felt different, this time.
He leapt lightly off the roof. He knew the fall wouldn’t hurt him, he’d done that before with much taller buildings. But this time was very different.
“’No day but today…’” he sang softly to himself. He looked up at the moon, at the beautiful stars from which this great threat was supposedly coming.
He certainly couldn’t let those people handle that alone. They were so disorganized. His experience as a leader of soldiers would be useful, even if he’d never give or take an actual order again.