Friday, March 29, 2013

The Things That Make Us Human

Ten months ago...

In the dark room the light from the laptop's screen cast a pale glow across the girl's face. She sat in bed, covers pulled up to her waist as her fingers flew across the keyboard of the laptop on her lap. The only
sounds in the room were the clicking of the keyboard and the faint music leaking from the earbuds jammed firmly in the girl's ears.

She smiled with relief as she finished her final keystroke with a flourish. This was the greatest story she'd ever written, her masterpiece. It was perfect, she couldn't wait to hear what her friends would have to say about this. After all, it seemed that they were the only ones who understood her genius.

Her finger started for the Enter key, when a sudden movement on the screen caught her eye.

An "I" and an "E" had switched places.

She frowned. She must have made a typo. Her finger diverted from its course towards the Enter key and headed for the Backspace key instead.

Another word twitched. She blinked. What in the world?

Suddenly, the word exploded into letters and began to blast around her text editor like snowflakes in a snowstorm. She could only stare in shock at the loose letters for a moment before several other words followed suit and dissolved into letters.

"What's going on?" she shouted, banging on her Backspace key desperately, but to no avail. "No!" She cried desperately, watching in horror as her story self-destructed before her very eyes.

Within seconds her laptop's screen had become a hurricane of consonants and vowels that ricoched around the screen for several seconds before re-arranging themselves to form entirely new words and sentences.

After several minutes the storm had subsided. Almost automatically, the stunned girl returned to the top of the document and scrolled down slowly, re-reading her forcibly-rewritten story. At first her eyes were blank and questioning, but by the time her scrollbar had reached the bottom of the screen, her eyes were as cold as ice.

"You'll pay for this." she whispered hatefully into the dark room.

The laptop didn't respond.


Present Day...

"ATCHOO!" Lily's head almost collided with the table from the force of her sneeze.

"Are you okay?" Karissa asked as she sat back up.

"Yeah," Lily replied weakly, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "I didn't knock anything off, did I?"

"I don't think so." Karissa gave the table a quick scan.

The table was covered in craft supplies of every conceivable nature, most having been shoved to one side in favor of other, more attractive baubles, or had been cannibalized for some of their better elements. In the middle of the table sat the fruits of the two girl's labors.

Two bracelets lay gleaming in the light. One seemed to be made of spun silver and twisted and twined back on and around itself several times. Three of Lily's Pins were soldered directly onto the metal, the elegant Excalibur, the colorful Ice Blow and the skeletal serpent head of Anguis.

The other bracelet was relatively simple and was made of a plain single chain. From smaller chains attached to it hung the engraved Top Gear, graffiti-style Wild Line and oriental tiger face of Live Slow, Die Fast.

Karissa continued packing up the assorted craft supplies as Lily tried the two bracelets on. "Well, do they fit?" she asked.

Lily flexed her wrists experimentally. "They fit great!" she exclaimed. "Thanks, Karissa!"

At first Lily had simply attached her Pins onto a pair of non-descript elastic hair bands, but quickly tired of their blandness. She had asked Karissa for help in constructing a more aesthetically pleasing pair of bracelets and the two had spent several hours constructing the accessories, the first few of which were spent on deciding the bracelet's design.

"I'm gonna go show these to Ben." Lily said, the Pins on her wrists clinking as she stood. "Do you know where he is?"

Karissa bit her lip. "I think he's the one administering the test for Rookies today." she said, as she swept several beads into a box. "You go on ahead. I can clean up here."

"Thanks!" Lily called again over her shoulder as she hurried off.


Ben swept his gaze across the assembled applicants in the testing room.

Half of the assembled applicants were casting nervous glances over into one corner of the room where Shirley was leaning against the wall, sulking. The other half were too afraid to look period. Shirley had been forbidden from attacking Ben during the testing process so she wouldn't disturb the applicants more than she usually would have. This basically gave Ben free reign to make as many bad jokes and puns as he liked, something which he intended to take full advantage of.

Ben smirked. He was planning on having some fun with this particular group.

He gestured with the sheaf of papers he held.

"I have in my hand here a written test which will help determine if you are worthy to become a Rookie Agent of the Anti-Clichè and Mary-Sue Elimination Society." He addressed the assembled test-takers. "If you pass, you will only be given a cursory training course before you are thrust head-first into combat against ridiculously powerful, overly-perfect beings, many of whom have never known defeat, and nearly all of whom will do their considerable best to kill you. If you fail this test we will violate your mind and erase any memory of our existence and you will live out the rest of your life in complacency, never knowing that inside your favorite books, movies and video games we are waging a war to keep you and yours safe. And on the off chance that you answer certain questions wrong we will automatically assume you are one of afore-said overly-perfect beings and we will throw you into a dark, dank jail cell in the basement without any form of a trial."

 The applicants looked terrified.

Ben gave another smirk and made the Vulcan hand symbol. "May the Force be with you."

Nobody laughed. Shirley growled.

"Geez, tough crowd." Ben muttered as he started distributing the tests out.

One girl looked up and blinked as he set her test down in front of her.

"Um, excuse me?" she asked.

Ben turned back. "Yes?"

The girl bit her lip. "You're Ben, right?"

Ben nodded. "Yeah..." She looks kinda familiar... have we met somewhere before?

She smiled in relief. "I thought so, I was hoping I'd get a chance to meet you."

"Meet me? Why?"

"I'm Bella's Author."

Shirley's had been staring at the ground, but at this, her head shot up.

Ben blinked. "You're..."

Lily's Author nodded. "I know I caused a lot of trouble for you and I'm sorry. I was hoping to join the Society so I could make up for what I've done."

Ben felt a smile creep across his face. Lily would be ecstatic to discover that her Author was joining up. "Well, you may not have to." He said. "You see, Bella-"

Lily's author cut him off. "I know. I wanted to thank you for killing her. Bella was an abomination and she deserved to die."

Ben froze.

Shirley gave a low whistle.

Lily's Author continued onward, seemingly oblivious to the reactions she had garnered. "I hope I can pass this test. I've been thinking about it, and I've got some ideas on how we can kill the Sues more easily."

Ben paled. "Kill... the Sues?"

Lily's Author raised an eyebrow. "Uh, yeah? You know, 'eliminate' them? As in the Anti-Cliche and Mary Sue Elimination Society?"

"Um," Ben scratched the back of his head uncomfortably. "That's not exactly what we mean by eliminate..."

Dear god
, He thought desperately Please don't let Lily see her. If she does she'll-

"Hey, Ben!" Lily called as she hurried into the room. "Karissa and I-" She stopped dead in the doorway. "Amanda?"


Amanda shot to her feet, knocking her chair over. "Bella?" She demanded, her face pale, her voice shaking.

"Lily-" Ben said, starting towards her, but she didn't hear him.

"Amanda, what are you doing here?" Lily asked, rushing forward, her face glowing with happiness. "I thought you were-"

"Get away from me!" Amanda spat, drawing back from Lily's approach as if she carried a plague.

By now, the rest of the assembled test-takers were staring, wide-eyed.

Ben gritted his teeth. This was not going to end well.

Lily recoiled as if she'd been slapped. "Amanda, what-?"

Amanda rounded on Ben, livid with anger. "I thought you killed her!" she yelled. "Why is she still alive? No, why is she here?"

"Just listen!" Ben said urgently. "Lil-Bella isn't a Sue anymore!"

"What?" Amanda demanded, staring at Ben disbelievingly.

"We removed her powers and changed her name, she's Lily now. And that's not all," Ben continued, taking Lilys hand in her own and giving Amanda a meaningful look.

Realization and disgust crossed Amanda's face as Ben continued.

"Lily never meant anyone any harm." Ben said. "All she wanted to do was to help people. You should be proud to have created a character like her."

Amanda looked from one to the other. "Proud of her?" She asked incredulously. "She's more of a Sue now than ever thanks to you!"

"How do you figure?" Ben challenged.

"It's not the name or the powers that makes them Sues," Amanda said condescendingly. "It's the fact that no matter what happens, everything turns up in roses for them. And what better possible ending for a Mary-Sue than to be taken in by the very organization that's supposed to be hunting her?"

Lily flinched at the sharp edge in Amanda's words and shrank back into Ben.

"And you would know all about Mary-Sues, wouldn't you?" Ben challenged, putting an arm around Lily and pulling her closer to him. "After all, who was it that made one?"

Amanda flinched. "I've changed since then." She hissed. "I no longer create abominations like her."

"A-amanda," Lily began timidly. "Wh-why are you-?"

"Why?" Admanda turned her piercing hate-filled gaze on Lily. "Because," she spat. "You're a mistake that was supposed to die, and in my opinion, still should. You had the gall to disobey your creator and even after the crimes you committed you still have the audacity to call yourself human just because you can't make some pretty lights anymore!"

She shook her head bitterly. "I can't believe I based your appearance off of my own. If I could, I would rip your face off right now."

Something clicked in Ben's mind. "So that's it!" He said, looking from Lily to Amanda and back. "I thought you looked familiar! It's because you two resemble each other so much!"

Amanda's eyes narrowed. "Resemble each other? Don't make me laugh, Lily's nothing like me. She's nowhere near human."

She turned and glared at Ben. "I was hoping I could find a place here to rid the multiverse of the Sue menaces, but apparently you people are nothing but hypocrites and cowards."

"Look who's talking." Ben glared.

Amanda didn't turn or give any indication that she'd heard him as she walked out of the testing room.

Lily make a kind of choking noise before bursting into tears and dashing out of the room, sobbing.

"Lily! Wait!" Ben called after her, but she was already gone.

"The rest of you keep working!" Ben snapped at the wide-eyed Rookies, throwing the papers he still held in his hand down on the table. "Keep an eye on them, Shirley!" Ben called over his shoulder before taking off after Lily.

Ben had always been faster than Lily when it came to running, and with her vision blurred by tears it was easy for Ben to catch up with her.

"Lily! Wait up!" He called

She turned at the sound of his voice only to stumble and pitch forward against a bookcase.

"Whoa, easy there!" Ben panted, reaching out a hand to steady her. "Are you OK?"

Lily gave a gasping choke. "Ben... I'm so sorry, I-" Her speech was cut off by a sudden coughing fit. "-I should've-" she managed to choke out around the coughs before she was struck by another fit of coughing.

"Are you, OK?" Ben asked, alarmed.

Lily tried to respond, but she couldn't stop coughing. She sank to her knees, hacking and barking roughly.

"Lily!" Ben shouted, "What's wrong?"

"What's going on?"

He whirled to find Dave hurrying over.

"I don't know!" Ben said, on the verge of panic. He stooped and tried to pick Lily up, but lacked the strength to do it.

"Help me!" He barked desperately, trying to rise while still holding Lily.

Dave brushed Ben aside and scooped Lily into his arms. "Which way to the infirmary?"

"Follow me!" Ben shouted, breaking into a dead run with Dave hot on his heels.

Lily had finally managed to stop coughing, but she still couldn't properly draw air into her lungs. She lay in Dave's arms, a wheezing and limp.

Ben burst into the medical room ahead of Dave. "Valerie!" He shouted.

Valerie jumped, nearly dropping the book in her hands. "What's wrong?" She asked mildly, adjusting her glasses.

"Lily's sick, you've gotta help her!" Ben panted, bent double from the frantic run he'd just finished.

Valerie didn't waste any time marking her place in her book, just threw it onto a nearby table and stood from her chair. "Where is she?"

"Dave's bringing her! Hurry!" Ben urged.

Dave came rushing through the door a few seconds later. "Where?" He asked brusquely.

"Over here." Valerie replied and Dave gently set Lily down on a bed.

Lily lay there, eyes half-closed. She was flushed and her breathing was weak, punctuated only by the occasional gasping spasm as a weak cough worked it's way through her system.

"Lily!" Ben cried, shaking her shoulder. "Lily, look at me!"

Ben's voice barely penetrated the fog of Lily's mind, sounding as if he were miles away. She made one last effort to focus her eyes on Ben's face hovering above her before the darkness claimed her.


Lily came to slowly. She stared at the ceiling above her bed for several minutes before she realized she was awake and sat up gingerly. There was an oxygen mask on her face and Ben was asleep next to her bed, his head leaning against the head of the bed's frame.

"Hey, glad to see you're awake!"

Lily looked over to see Valerie get up from her desk and walk over.

"How are you feeling?" The healer asked.

"Tired." Lily admitted, her voice muffled by the mask. "Just how long was I out?"

Valerie shrugged "About two days."

Lily's eyes widened. "What?"

"You nearly died." Valerie said softly. "It's a good thing Ben and Dave got you here when they did."

Lily was too shocked to say anything, instead she reached out to take the sleeping Ben's hand.

Valerie noticed the action and smiled.

"He hasn't left your side since he got here." She informed Lily. "He refused to get any rest either. I had to slip something into his Firebrand Whiskey to get him to sleep. He was really worried about you."

Lily smiled and nodded.

"So... what was wrong with me?" She asked, still looking over at Ben.

Valerie sighed. "Let's just say I'm going to have a talk with Charis about how she designs those Permanent Prohibitors of hers in the future."

Lily frowned. "Why?"

"You had a cold."

Lily's head shot up. "What?"

Valerie gave a wry shrug. "Embarrassing, isn't it?"

"But how could a cold nearly kill me?"

"You used to be a Mary-Sue, remember? Sues are perfect, and as such they never get sick. Since they don't get ill, they have no need to build up any defenses against disease. So when we took your perfection away from you, you had no immune system to fall back on. If being a sickness was a video game, you'd be the tutorial level right now."

"So then... what am I going to do?" Lily asked, concerned. If she had nearly died from just a cold, who knew what a real sickness could do to her?

"I had a word with Phoenixia and she's currently going through the Library's medical database. Between the two of us, we should be able to come up with some way to boost your immune system to where this won't
be a problem anymore. You'll still need to stay in bed for a few days though."

Lily sighed. "OK, good." She could handle a few days bed-rest.

"I've gotta go run some errands," Valerie said. "Are you sure you're feeling better?"

Lily nodded, pulling the mask off her face. "I should be fine now."

Valerie nodded as she headed for the door.

"Valerie, wait!" Lily called out.

The healer paused in the doorway. "Yes?"

"Thank you." Lily said sincerely, meeting her gaze. "If it weren't for you, I'd..."

Valerie smiled. "You're welcome. Don't push yourself too hard." She said as the door closed behind her.

Lily looked down at the boy in the chair next to her and smiled.

"Hey," She whispered, stroking his hair. "Wake up."

"Hmmm?" Ben murmured blearily, opening his eyes. "Wha-?"

He sat bolt upright. "Lily?" He cried. "Are you OK?"

She smiled. "I'm fine. Sorry I worried you like that."

Ben sighed with relief. "I'm just glad you're alright."

A thought occurred to Lily. "What happened Amanda?" She asked.

Ben's face grew dark. "Don't worry about her. She's had her mind wiped and she's back in the real world now. She doesn't remember a thing."

"She still remembers me..." Lily said, looking away.

"It doesn't matter." Ben insisted. "I told Tash what happened and she said she'd see to it that Amanda would never be able to join the Society."

"So what?" Lily asked, wrapping her arms around herself. "It's not like she was wrong."

"Of course she was wrong!" Ben said. "You're no Sue!"

"Maybe not by your definition!" Lily replied. "But if you think about it, Amanda was right! Lately it seems like nothings gone wrong for me!"

Ben raised an eyebrow. "Are you telling me getting chewed out by your own creator and nearly dying from the world's most common virus is nothing wrong?"

Lily sighed. "You know what I mean, Ben."

Ben nodded.

Neither said anything for a long moment. Then Ben took a deep breath.

"Back in the Eighth Grade," He began. "I went through a poetry phase when I believed I was the next Longfellow. I churned out the most horrible drivel on a daily basis and thought I was a genius." He chuckled darkly. "It was almost a relief when my sister accidentally put them through the washing machine."

Lily frowned. "You have a sister?"

Ben shrugged. "Older, but that's beside the point. Despite the fact that most of my poetry completely sucked, there was one poem that stuck with me. It was probably the best out of the bunch, despite the fact that it was the shortest.

He looked at Lily. "It's called The Things That Make Us Human. Would you like to hear it?"

Lily nodded.

Ben took another deep breath and began to recite.

He who does not dream has nothing to strive for.

He who does not fear has nothing to hope for.
He who does not die has nothing to live for.

Ben took Lily's hand in his own.

"Is there something you dream about?" He asked.

She nodded.

"Are you afraid of anything?"


"And we're both going to die someday." Ben said softly cupping her face in his hand. "You are human, Lily, moreso than any of us. We throw the word around so carelessly, but only you can truly understand what it means to be human because you're the only one of us who hasn't been human."

Lily was crying again by now, tears sliding slowly down her cheeks.

Ben leaned over and gently kissed each one away, whispering as he did so. "Whether you're a human, Sue or anything else, I will always love you, Lily. Never forget that."

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