Posted by: lordkyler | April 17, 2015

The Overview Effect – Short Story Week

Invictus stood quietly and alone, watching the multitude of displays that surrounded him. He did not focus on any particular screen, instead drinking in the whole, processing every piece of information and assimilating it into a grand, unified picture. His video feeds showed that nearly every Empowered, gifted and specially talented individual in the world was assembling at the Nexus, his base on the summit of K2. Newsfeeds confirmed that they were here to kill him for his supposed atrocities.

Everything was proceeding according to plan.

He dismissed most of his displays and stepped up to one of the transparent panels that formed the geodesic sphere perched atop the mountain like an all-seeing eye atop a pyramid. From here, he could see them coming, a line of tiny specks converging at the base of the mountain.

“Zoom,” he commanded, and a display appeared with an enhanced image. He scanned slowly over the line, taking note of who had come. There was Hellfire, burning like a comet as he streaked across the sky. Silver-haired Lancelot with his shimmering cape trailing behind him. Architekt surrounded by his technological minions, dark-eyed Aurora, bathed in green light. Coming up the western slope were the Tokyo Guard, Torrent, Champion, the Jade Twins, Dervish. And those helicopters would be the Delta Squad, in from Moscow.

The longer he looked, the more it seemed it was true. They were all here. Tech wizards and brainless bashers, solo artists and power teams, do-gooders and ne’er-do-wells, people from every nation, race, and creed, all united to kill him. All in one place.

Everything was proceeding according to plan.

He called up a diagnostics panel for one final check. Everything appeared to be in order. The orbital cannons were in place. His automaton army was fully upgraded and assembled. His brainwashed Empowered waited only to be unleashed. There was nothing more he could do to prepare. This was it, his finest hour.

He dismissed the last of his screens, and for a moment did not recognize his reflection. He had once been so youthful, so optimistic. So human. Now baleful red eyes looked back at him, dark under a furrowed brow. His face was pocked with injuries and lined with scars from countless battles. Little of his once unassuming body remained, just a few organs housed in the form of an iron titan, a warrior’s body. A warlord’s body. A monster’s.

All necessary. He dared not look back. Everything was proceeding according to plan.

There was a cracking noise behind him, then another. His guest had arrived. The last, and most crucial detail of the plan yet to be resolved. He took one last glance at his reflection to remind him what he had become – of all he had sacrificed – and turned to welcome his visitor.

At the top of the sphere, an unbreakable panel shattered and fell like a shower of hailstones. A dark-skinned figure dressed in pure white descended from above. Apex.

He was aptly named. He represented the pinnacle of human power. His physical form was flawless, his Empowerment levels represented the top of the scales, and he was almost universally lauded around the world. He was the zenith to Invictus’s nadir. His arch-nemesis.

He had been crying. No– sobbing, his eyes red and haunted, a glisten of mucus on his upper lips, stubble thick on his head and face. He had not a shred of his typical majesty, he was a man truly broken.

Everything was proceeding according to plan.

Invictus began to pace around the perimeter of the Nexus, paying little heed to the superman in the center. The army was getting closer, he could see auras around some of the specks, and make out colors on some of those flying around.

“It’s funny, isn’t it, how everything looks so small from high up?” he asked conversationally. His voice was normal, though deep. It was one of the few things he hadn’t altered about himself.

Apex said nothing, so Invictus continued. “It sounds banal and obvious at first, but when you have experienced it, you will find it is quite profound. Astronauts experience the feeling. They call it the Overview Effect.”

“Is that what this is about?” Apex asked, struggling to regain control over his emotions. “World domination? Some sort of superiority complex?”

“My reasons aren’t important right now.”

Apex shot up out of his crouch, crossing the space between them in a heartbeat. “Not important?” he shouted, and only Invictus’ hearing upgrades prevented him from being deafened by the force of that shout. “After Moscow, after Chicago, after Johannesburg, you say your reasons aren’t important?”

Invictus stared at Apex as though he were a lapdog yapping for attention. “My reasons will become obvious in time. A new age is coming, Luke, and I intend to bring us to it.”

Apex looked stunned for a moment, and then his eyes narrowed. “How do you know my name?”

“Oh, I know all about you. I know about every hero here. Their families, friends, acquaintances. As a matter of fact, I have them all. Key loved ones are being kept at a secure facility, and their survival depends on my own.”

“No! Not-”

“Yes, Stacy is among them, as are your parents.”

Apex raised a fist wreathed in white flames, but he could not bring himself to do more than shake it in Invictus’ face before turning away.

Energy blasts began to rain down from the sky, casting colorful lights across the barren white interior of the Nexus. Invictus payed them no heed.

Apex stared at the ground, seemingly mesmerized by the colors. “I have never taken a human life,” he said softly. “In all our battles, I felt that perhaps there was something worth saving in you. That your problems lay with your ambitions, not your soul. But after what you did to those cities, I realized I was wrong.”

He looked up at Invictus. “I came here to kill you,” he said, and Invictus felt a twinge of fear. As mighty as their battles had been, Apex had always withheld his full power before.

No. He could not fear now. Everything was going according to plan.

The air began to shimmer and crackle as his defenses prevented teleporters from gaining access to the Nexus. There wasn’t much time left.

“I think it is time you accepted the inevitable, Apex. You cannot defeat me. Even if you killed me – an act that would kill hundreds of innocents, including your fiancé – my plans will still unfold.”

He took a deep breath. It was time for the critical reveal, the last lie. “I have made contact with-”

“No.”

“-several… what?”

Apex looked away from the shifting lights. “No.” He began to step forward aggressively, and Invictus had no choice but to give ground before him. “I will not allow you to continue on this path of destruction. You killed millions! I cannot let the lives of a few individuals keep me from preventing another tragedy like that. You say your plans will unfold regardless, but there is no way that keeping you alive will improve the situation for humanity. It is the end, Invictus. Pray to whatever devils you worship.” He raised a hand that seemed to glow like the sun.

No. Invictus stopped retreating. He could not allow everything to unravel like this. If he was killed too soon, everything would be fall apart.

Things were not proceeding according to plan.

He had no choice but to play his trump card: the truth.

“Wait! You don’t know everything!”

“I know enough. Your actions are inexcusable.”

He could only pray that was not true. “I am not the real threat, Apex,”

Apex paused. “If you are holding another city hostage with one of those plagues, Invictus, I will make sure you suffer before you die.”

“I am not the threat,” Invictus repeated. “All that I have done has been necessary. They are coming, Luke.”

Apex seemed unconvinced. “Cowardice, after all this, Invictus? You can’t deflect your fate. I will not dignify this foolishness by replying. I came here to end you, and nothing you say can stop it.”

So instead, Invictus showed him.

A holographic screen appeared between them. At first, the image was blank, save for a timestamp in the corner. It marked the video as being thirty years old. “I was a researcher,” Invictus said. “An astrophysicist, working with an experimental telescope. Late one night, we picked up a strange signal.”

There was a flicker of movement on the screen, a small cluster of lights that grew steadily as they approached. Before long, it was apparent that they were some sort of spacecraft, although they were not constructed to conform to any physics known to man. Suddenly, bright beams of light lanced out of the ships, coming directly toward the camera. The image cut to a shot of destruction, an alien world engulfed by flame. Strange creatures were hunted by monstrous beasts in armored exo-skeletons, towering slender buildings were razed like grass, seas boiled, and the skies grew black. And then the video cut short.

Apex was still. Invictus had watched it a thousand times, but hadn’t shown it to another soul. He could now see what his face must have looked like the first time he saw it.

“That transmission was deliberately aimed at us. It was a warning. The Destroyers are coming.”

“And you made a deal with them?” Apex demanded, suddenly angry again.

“No!” That had been the lie he had prepared, but it was too late for that. “The opposite, in fact. I have spent the last thirty years preparing the world to survive.”

“By killing millions?”

I have analyzed this video endlessly. We cannot afford to waste resources. My virus targeted the elderly, children, those with disabilities. I ran so many calculations, and even that many deaths is cutting it very close for what will come.”

“If this is true, why didn’t you tell anyone?”

“I tried at first, but I was young and unpersuasive. They thought it was a hoax. Nobody would even look at the video. And I knew that going public would only cause panic or disbelief. Even if I was believed, there was no way I could get the whole planet to join forces, and yet there was no way to survive unless we were totally united.

“So I took matters into my own hands. I made sure accidents leading to Empowered became commonplace. I took the resources I needed. I engineered wars to further military technology. I culled the least productive members of society to ensure we would have enough resources.

“And in so doing, I made of myself a villain so great that the whole world could rally together against me. It is a sad fact that a common enemy will unite men quicker than common nature ever will. There was no time for the world to form committees on the problem, no time to bring everyone on board. And so I became a placeholder threat, designed to unite every hero and every nation against me.”

“You’re a monster.”

“Yes. Perhaps the greatest that has ever lived. But I am the monster mankind required. I have sacrificed my humanity to save humankind.”

An alert sounded. His satellites had detected approaching craft. His fears of insanity slipped off his shoulders like a great weight, but his relief was instantly replaced by the burden of being right, and all the horrors that came with it. Would that his atrocities were the worst mankind would face.

“I have arranged everything in anticipation of this day,” Invictus said. “I have brainwashed the Empowered that are uncooperative. My automaton armies and satellites are prepared to battle, and I kidnapped your loved ones so that they would remain safe and these heroes could focus on fighting.”

“Your crimes are no less abhorrent, but I no longer know if I should kill you,” Apex said.

“If I do not die fighting the invasion, you may kill me yourself. I know what I have done. I don’t care if I am remembered as the ultimate villain, so long as there is someone left to remember me.”

Apex, looking conflicted, shook his head, and launched himself into the sky. Overhead, flashes were visible in the sky as his defense satellites opened fire on the approaching ships. It had begun.

Invictus activated the last few protocols, and stared for a moment at the skies. Humanity was small, a fragile thing existing on the edge of the void. From far away, one could neither see nor care about the individuals that squandered their lives in petty squabbles and meaningless disputes. But with this perspective came an appreciation of the whole, a vision of humanity united. It was precious because of its fragility, its potential.

Everything had proceeded according to plan. He could only hope it had been enough.

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