MERCY

I and another were born with the power to manipulate matter with our minds. But he's more powerful than I. When we were children, I would cheat and steal and he would exercise his power by cleaning up my messes. It is easier and more elegant to destroy, but to repair requires a unique strength. I believe this is where it started, what made him so much more capable. It was I who provided him with such valuable training.

But raw strength isn't everything. He hasn't got my wits or my attention to detail. I've long graduated from simple cheating and stealing, moved on to domination of people and their wills. And once he's broken there will be nobody left who's capable of stopping me. So I spend my days thinking up ways to manipulate, outmaneuver, and demolish him. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't - but every attempt chips away at his psyche, makes him more ripe for an enslavement of his mind.

"Let me go, you bastard! This is the third goddamn time this month!"

That's his wife. She's a frequent target in my schemes. I have no idea why she stays with him in light of my antics, and I wonder whether it's because he's been exploring the more exciting applications of our powers. And it's worth noting that I'm not actually in his home, I'm inside the head of one of the neighbors who I've brought into his home. I'm also controlling one of his son's third grade classmates. The plan is simple, but essentially foolproof: I've communicated to him that I will be killing both of them by proxy quite soon, and that he's only got time to save one.

The woman is continuing to say abhorrent things about me. I inform her, "You'll shut up or I'll do things with your head you won't like at all." She must know the threat is probably empty - it takes exceptional effort for me to maintain control with the esoteric mental shielding my opponent has given his family - but she remembers well the occasions when it became material and quiets nonetheless.

I can see the boy sitting in class, stealing nervous glances at me. I've inserted myself into the mind of a girl who has an unreciprocated crush on him, and I haven't allowed her to look anywhere but directly at the boy when he's around. I've never seen a child so deathly uncomfortable, nor so visibly impatient for a class to end. It's the little mischiefs in life that really make a person feel whole.

It's unfortunate that my opponent seems to have a talent for unpredictability. He's cheated at our little game, come after and discovered my hiding place instead. I'm inside a bubble of air I've created at the bottom of the river and I can see him flying in this direction through the eyes of those nearby. I'll wonder how he found me later, first I need to get away. I feel the currents trembling around me, he clearly is not happy. I release the neighbor's and schoolchild's minds and I tunnel down into the riverbed. I can sense him coming after me.

He hasn't trained his powers to pierce into minds like I do, so I generate many similar, diversionary tunnels as I descend knowing that he'll have no way of knowing which I'm in. I can sense him trying to probe for my mind to find where I've gone, but it's no difficulty to deflect his inferior power in the same manner that a jet deflects radar. He chooses a tunnel at random and, since I've played my odds right, he's chasing the wrong one. I branch that tunnel again and again to lead him farther and farther away from the tunnel I truly travel in. It will take him hours to explore all the branches and discover all the dead ends, and by then I will be far away.

Or perhaps I miscalculated again. I sense him coming up on me fast. He must have been able to distinguish the vibration of my traveling. I try some simpler obstructions like collapsing the tunnel behind me, flinging sharp rocks in his direction, and dragging pedestrians down from the streets and into his path. But it's not slowing him down enough.

I can feel him pulling on my body and though I'm traveling quickly he's affecting a steady deceleration. It's no time at all before he's caused me to stop and grabbed my neck with both hands. But he isn't pushing hard enough to suffocate me. If I concentrate I can speak without obstruction. "Hello, Brother."

"Brother." It comes out as though he's the one being strangled. I would love to know what goes through his mind when a face identical to his own stares back at him, grinning as I am now. I can read his emotions, but the deeper thoughts are concealed from me. "You threatened my family. Again."

"You got me." I put my hands above my head.

He furiously shakes his head. "This is the third time this month, asshole."

"It never gets old, right?"

"Fuck you." He leans in close, and I can feel his control slipping in the venomous tone of his words and even more distinctly in the crushing pressure that's now being exerted upon my neck. It's taking every modicum of my will to suck in these wheezing breaths. "It's been very, very old for a very fucking long time. All you do is hurt people, do you realize that? When is it going to stop?"

"When I win."

He growls and pushes off of me, and dirt and stone crumbles over me as he rockets upward. In glimpses of his mind I see that he's starting to genuinely lose control, and once it's gone completely I'll finally be able to step in and impose my own will. I've nearly succeeded in pushing him over the edge. All he needs now is one final, dramatic shove.

It's taken a while to set up the scenario exactly how I planned, but everything is ready. Today my opponent becomes mine.

I'm in his home while he's out helping to fix some minor damage I inflicted upon a water main. His wife and son are tied to chairs while I recline on their sofa. I can sense that he's too distracted by holding back flooding to notice what I've done, but this next step of my plan will ensnare his attention absolutely.

I destroy the woman's head as a foot crushes an ant. Blood sprays onto the wailing boy beside her and paints the ceiling, walls, and carpet. I invade everyone within earshot of my opponent to make them scream at him: "COME BEFORE I DO THE SAME TO THE BOY."

My hands are shaking and my thoughts are running into one another. I never killed before. This incomprehensible noise the boy is making isn't helping at all. I evacuate the air from his lungs - it doesn't kill him, but it replaces the shrieks with the more tolerable sound of gasping and coughing.

Within seconds my opponent drops through the roof and debris scatter. His face is twisted by molten rage. He's finally breaking, becoming ripe for control. I snarl, "Do as I say or I'll kill your son, too. Much more slowly." The boy winces and begins to shriek in between gasping, jagged breaths as I tug and squeeze at his bowels.

"You're dead. You are fucking dead. Stop this now."

I laugh at him and I make sure to spray saliva into his face as I do. "You know you can't kill me. Even if you could, you know he'd die first." My words are set to the noises of his son experiencing an agony reserved for those subjected to a surgical knife without anesthesia. It takes precision to do anything but outright kill when anatomy is in question, and my opponent knows that interference can only cause worse damage than what's already being done. He will cooperate.

"Fuck, what do you want? What do I have to do to make you leave me and my family alone?"

I can feel the tendrils of my will slipping into the gaps between his thoughts. I say, "I want you to kill yourself. Your life for your son's. I'm finished with you being an obstacle to my intentions." It's a strategic decision, the demand, one to confound him and cause his guard to drop. Despondency like barbed sludge is filling his skull. The connections between memories and motivations are rotting, and soon I can replace them with whatever I choose.

I detect a thought prominent in his head, growing quickly and repeating as though it were a mantra. "Kill him." I don't have the time to react before it explodes into his conscious mind, which is now too coherent for my continued intrusion. He slams me onto the floor without regard for what consequences I might exact upon his son. I expect a hellish reprimand, but instead he's only weeping. I can't read why.

I grin, though it's not easy to push out through my fear. "You won't hurt me, Brother."

He opens his mind to me entirely, for just one moment. I understand all of his memories and emotions. I see myself through his eyes. I watch a turbulent void overwhelming facets of his mind that represent mercy and virtue. And I glimpse his resolute intention. Then he pushes me out and I see nothing more.

"Brother?" I repeat, this time a plea rather than an assertion. "You won't hurt me!"

I was wrong. It hurts like hell.

Written by Sophie Kirschner