18:00, Sept. 13 2020
Ground Zero. Zoe hadn't noticed any of the others as she'd walked around. Realistically, she didn't care if they were, and didn't plan on going near them either way. This was something she had to do alone.
See, having other people around for training maybe helped with teamwork and all that, but not so much with what she had to work with. She thought back to the evaluations. Self-control. That was it. Self-control once she actually got a hold of someone, to be exact, which was a very different prospect to stopping herself from attacking in the first place. A different kind of strength.
She'd always thrown herself into things. Running away maybe, but nonetheless pushing her energy into something positive. Originally positive, in any case - circumstances changed. And so it seemed to be with this. Her instincts, impulses, white-hot temper. Always found a way to carry herself out, blood on her knuckles and a grin on her face. Strength came from fury, from action. Resolve built from fists and curses and fear."If someone comes at you, make sure they don't do it twice."
Advice that got her through a lot of trouble. She had the strength for that.
Resisting the temptation she faced wasn't the kind of strength she had, really. Selfish, but it felt safe, almost right. Like it was where she was meant to be, the heat of the moment, balancing on the knife's edge, win or lose, live or die. Battle wasn't a trial, or a struggle or a pain. It was an art. A beautiful, bloody, desperate art. Reduced everyone to their core. Coward, psychopath, predator, prey.
Zoe had always been fascinated by it. Used to watch documentaries on the TV, old ones. DVDs. Nature films, mostly, from before... Well, before everything went to hell. They'd had an old video player too, for those tapes that you had to wind back to the start every time. But the hunting had always caught her attention. Predators chasing down weaker animals, bringing them down. That was how the world worked. You had to be stronger, faster, more ruthless. There was always someone ready to bring you down.
She glanced at the nearest group. Who was it this time? A woman, almost striking in her lack of any distinguishing features whatsoever. Not real, but no luckier for it as Zoe's fingers dug into her arm. And through. Severed. It was so much easier now - areas that wouldn't have been lethal before posed a risk now. Blood loss was too much. No doubt she'd die on her own. Can't go all out.
But that was how it was, the way of life. These people were weak, and Zoe was strong. It was a crossroads, she thought, smiling as she watched the woman's expression twist in panic and unspeakable horror. She didn't want to hurt the others, but she had to be willing to hurt. Didn't want to lose control, but had to be able to kill. Couldn't fear her power, but couldn't embrace it. Scared to take it as her own. Didn't think of it as her.
It wasn't her, though, she figured. There was Zoe, and then her stigma. Zoe. And the power. The two couldn't be one and the same. Because if they were, then that meant she liked this too, that she was screwed up on some fundamental level below all of it. You weren't meant to enjoy hurting people, weren't meant to revel the fight like she did.
At the same time, she was letting her guard down. Despite herself, despite all of those problems, she'd let herself talk to the others, tried to make up. Attempted to explain herself, accepted their help eventually. Why? It wasn't just because she'd been told to, that wasn't really why Zoe did most things. She'd looked for a way to make things right, opened up despite knowing the danger that came with it. That could hurt them and her if things went wrong.
It felt like she had to decide which one she was going to be. Zoe the person, or Zoe the aberration. Friend or hunter, sister or monster. Humanity or survival - was it all that simple? Was it ever all going to be simple? So many discussions, so many times trying to get her thoughts together and it still didn't make sense
. The others seemed to be fine, seemed to have accepted whatever this place did to them. They were still able to care, so why couldn't she
The whole thing pissed her off. Being told repeatedly how much she was fucking up pissed her off. Being treated like she was just being stubborn, like there weren't good reasons to stay away - that pissed her off too. And she kept causing problems for the others as well. Kept pushing away help. Kept blowing up when they pushed too hard. So many little things irritating her, frustrating her.Whine, whine, whine. Have to do something about it.
Again, she looked for a target, settling on a short, dark-haired man. Slower this time, that was the key. Precision over power. Backing off would help, affecting from a range. That way the heat of the moment couldn't mess with her head as much. It was different when you were grappling with someone, when they were trying to hurt you too, easier to let instinct take over.
A quick shove was enough contact to start working. He turned to run but stumbled a few seconds later, sprawling to the ground. It would be so easy for her to just kill him, melt out his throat and let him choke. But she couldn't let herself, that wasn't what needed practice. Precision, aiming for the right places, that was the key. She should have probably asked for that biology textbook. Maybe next week, after class. Had to go back eventually.
She focused on the backs his heels. Tendons muscles and skin rotted away and with them any hope he had of walking away or even standing whatsoever. That was good. Non-lethal, little chance for escape for the average person. To the man's credit, he was making an attempt to crawl to freedom, but it didn't exactly lend itself to speed. It occurred to Zoe that experimenting on people, even the ones here, with her powers was kind of messed up, but that didn't change the fact that it worked.
Successful or not though, it didn't really feel like a fight. Zoe missed that. Being able to spar with someone and really put some effort into it, take a couple of hits, get her blood pumping. Catching them off guard and landing them on the floor with something to remember you by. Making it through by the skin of your teeth. Losing that sucked, but it all came back around to self-control.
What else needed to be figured out? Dealing with ranged powers? Psychic abilities? Maybe going for the eyes would help, blinding them. But then panic was an issue, if they attacked indiscriminately. Maybe finding a way to knock them out would be ideal, but she couldn't really think of anything that wasn't lethal. Issue for another time, maybe.
The man was screaming. That still unnerved her, but less than it had on Wednesday. Maybe because there weren't as many, maybe because there wasn't anyone else around to be horrified by it. That was always the question for Zoe though. It never seemed to go away - the question that seemed to decide whether she was a monster or just a bitch who'd been dealt a few bad cards.Why am I doing any of this?
That was enough for today. The sheer difficulty of holding back with someone at her mercy really took it out of her mentally. Deciding to quit for now was a relief for her. Not so much of a relief for the crawling man, who was doing surprisingly well with his escape.
At least he was until she tore his head from his shoulders. It was kinda surprising how much blood was actually in a person now that she thought about it - she frowned, remembering the game. With how the others had reacted to that, she could only imagine the reaction to a full-on decapitation. Might offend their delicate sensibilities, but to her it felt right. Losing herself in all of this.
It almost felt like this was how it was meant to be, where she was meant to be. Predators hunting prey. The strong doing what the weak couldn't. Zoe Fletcher, top of the fucking food chain, doing things that the others wouldn't, couldn't bring themselves to do. Maybe it'd be okay if she focused on that stuff until it felt alright again. Lost herself in the fight until she didn't want to fight anymore.
With a smile, she turned and started to run at the nearest group, black spreading across her skin. It wasn't a solution, wasn't perfect, but it was something. And if it meant that she wouldn't go off at any of her classmates unprovoked, then that something could be enough for now.