When she kills me a third time, I start to take it personally. She knows how much energy I need to recreate myself. My fourth body in as many days is gaunt, all angles and harsh lines. I’m nearing my limit.
So I run. It won’t stop her, not if she actually, truly intends to kill me, but it could buy me enough time to come up with a plan.
I leave the country stowed away on a steamboat, having bribed the dockhands with the local currency. Money is easy to create and I won’t miss the speck of power it requires.
I wake up the next day in a bustling European port city. The locals don’t recognize me in this form, which is a blessing. They don’t recognize the language I speak either, so I switch to English and manage to get vague meanings across. I dress myself in the local fashion and retire to a hotel room, where I spend the next few days researching and fabricating legal documents to set myself up as a newly-immigrated watchmaker. Jewelry is my preferred medium, of course, given how simple it is to create appealing geometric stones and small pieces of metal, but she’ll be looking for jewelers.
Over the next week, I work at my quiet little shop and pay close attention to the news.
The world feels my absence. Transplant waiting lists quadruple in length as their surest source of incoming organs goes radio silent. A small country near the Sahara begs for rain and receives only dust. The revolution in a European dictatorship grinds to a halt as weapons and medicine become scarce once more.
I force myself to witness it all, to take in what my cowardice has cost. And the more I learn about the worsening state of the world, the angrier I become.
Why is she hunting me? Why force me into exile?
After a good deal of deliberation, I pay remotely for billboard space in one of her favorite cities. For one week, all advertisements in the city simply read, “Why are you killing me?”
I get my answer a few days later when I check traffic cams and find the word KOVOGRAD carved into every billboard.
We were born different. Everybody is, of course, but we were a different kind of different.
Anastasi Valenz learned she could cause dust and cobwebs to vanish at will when she was seven years old. On the other side of the world, I learned how to create coins and flowers from thin air at age eleven. When Ana turned twelve, she started to get in trouble because her homework kept going missing. At the same time, I was becoming rich selling impossibly rare trading cards.
Ana was fourteen when she caused the man who touched her on the bus to explode in a shower of gore. I was sixteen when I manifested a car for my own birthday. At twenty, Ana became a wanted vigilante in her home country. I began to travel the world.
It was inevitable that we met. I had never heard of someone with powers like mine, and so the story I found online about the woman who could destroy anything snagged my interest. I created a private jet to go meet her.
We connected immediately. As it turns out, a shared feeling of isolation can be a powerful attractor. We challenged each other in ways no one else had. It was Ana who first suggested I start creating blood to donate to hospitals. In return, I took her on an experimental flight over the Pacific where she scrubbed a massive amount of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. From there, we began testing the limits of our powers. How large of an item could I create? How much control did she have over how her targets were destroyed?
It wasn’t long before we were discovered by the world at large. People called us angels, demons, aliens, and everything in between. At first, the world governments tried to sway us to work for them exclusively. Valuing our freedom, we refused to be tied down. Then came the death threats, the kidnapping attempts, and the snipers. We learned a lot about ourselves during that time. I discovered I could recreate myself in the seconds following my death. Ana discovered that her body passively deleted anything that tried to harm it. Privately, we made note of each other’s limits and weaknesses. We joked that if we ever went to war against each other, we would end up canceling out.
During that time, we worked hard to use our powers for the betterment of the earth. It was to our benefit to appear as helpful and nonthreatening as possible to the world at large. She spent years working on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I traveled, providing the means to clean energy. At the time, we thought we were saving the world.
And yet humanity churned ever onward. Wars were still fought over resources and religious ideologies. The ice caps continued to melt. The Amazon was being deforested faster than even I could replenish it.
When I told Ana we needed to get into politics, she laughed at me. She couldn’t see us having any larger impact than what we were currently doing. Our conversation became an argument, then a fight. We parted ways after that.
I created my own nation. It wasn’t that difficult. I picked out a piece of uninhabitable land and created a habitat. People flocked to me in droves, eager for the security I could offer. Since there was no scarcity of food or housing or medicine, I worked with sociologists from around the world to develop an experimental economic system outside of capitalism. There were some hiccups along the way, but with the abundance I provided, our growth was surprisingly smooth.
Of course, it wasn’t long before a combination of fascists and religious extremists decided we were a threat. The war was bloody and promised to get bloodier. I weighed the lives of millions of combatants and innocents alike and decided that something had to be done.
I visited a mid-sized city in one of the nations aligned against me, a lovely place called Kovograd. I caught a bus downtown. I remember it was an overcast day with snow in the forecast, the temperature hovering around one degree Celsius. I picked the tallest building I could find and bribed my way to the top floor.
There, I looked out over a city of some hundred thousand souls and created an ocean.
She finds me again after just over two weeks. I’m nowhere near recovered.
I look up from polishing display cases when I hear the bell on the door give a cheerful ring. And there she is.
She looks good. Better than me at any rate, with her hair tied up in a neat bun and an simple pea coat buttoned closed against the late winter air.
We make eye contact. Her expression shifts to one of sadness, tired lines tracing the corners of her eyes.
I quickly hold up my hands, a useless gesture given my powers but instinctual nonetheless.
“We don’t have to fight,” I say.
She regards me for a long, silent moment. “We don’t. You could surrender willingly.”
“Ana, I’m not going to let you kill me.”
“Then we do have to fight.” She sighs. “I should have seen from the beginning what your ambition would cost.”
“That’s hardly fair. We both want to make the world a better place.”
“You want to rule it.” Her tone sharpens, her eyes narrow. “You want to eliminate war through violence. Kovograd proved as much.”
“It worked,” I bite back. “Everyone else laid down arms after that; you saw it happen. Before you decided I didn’t deserve to live, the world was falling in line. There was peace.”
“There was fear.” She takes a step towards me, hands outstretched. “Is that what you think is best? A world that lives in terror of you? Of us?”
I lean forward against the counter, scowling. “Do you have a better idea? Do your powers give you the means to destroy hatred in all human hearts? Can you make all prejudice and violence vanish?”
“No. But I can remove the single most dangerous person on Earth.”
I know from her tone that I don’t have long. “Ana,” I plead, “take a moment to think about this. Powers like ours have never been seen before and might never be seen again. It’s our responsibility to use them to their greatest potential, to create the greatest good we possibly can.”
She shakes her head, looking downright exhausted. “If you truly believed that, you wouldn’t have gone into hiding. You would have stayed and fought for what you know is right.”
“I didn’t want to have to hurt you,” I say, and my voice shakes. “Don’t do this. Don’t sacrifice everything we could be.”
“You’ve already done that,” she says, and in the instant she destroys me I create a steel spike through her brain.
Then there is nothing.