Professor Lynn Haffrun sighed and watched the fragments of the planet below her whirl into the maw of the singularity as it devoured the solar system.
“You need to use a lighter touch.” she told the young woman standing beside her on the bridge of the Persephone.
“They were disgusting!” Alex said. Her fists shook with the after effects of the blinding rage that had consumed her.
“I know.” Lynn said. “That’s why I brought you here.”
“So that I could see there’s something worse than humans?” Alex asked.
Lynn smiled. She remembered being Alex’s age. She remembered the passion and the energy that she’d had then. The drive to change the world no matter the cost. In regular people it was one of the qualities that Lynn admired most. In dreamweavers though it was the first trait she worked with them to temper.
“There are humans who are just as bad as the Benaashi Cult of the Grand Science.” Lynn said. The last pieces of the Cult’s homeworld spiraled into the black hole and were reduced to a subatomic slurry of degenerate particles. It was a better end than the Cult deserved, but not the one Lynn would have chosen for them.
“Am I supposed to kill them too?” Alex asked. She tried to stop her shaking but her anger and revulsion were too fresh.
“I thought we might talk about what you did here before we proceeded with your training.” Lynn said. Dealing with new dreamweaver’s required handling delicate moments. It didn’t take exceptional skill, just a willingness to listen, to question and to suggest viewpoints the new shaper hadn’t considered. For all their unfettered power, one limit applied to every dreamer. If they couldn’t imagine something, they couldn’t do it. Lynn’s job, more often than not, involved helping a new dreamer to learn that they could change a world in a lot of other ways than by breaking it into tiny pieces.
“I killed them.” Alex said. The muscles in her jaw were pulled so tight they twitched.
“Yes, all of them. Why?” Lynn asked. She could feel Alex withdrawing into herself. Rationalizations and excuses swirled through the girl’s eyes like a storm trying to drive back the accusation she thought Lynn had made.
“The slaves didn’t want to live anymore. They were all infected with the torture plague. The nanomachines were in the air and the water and the ground.” Alex said. “I had to destroy the planet to purify everything.”
“Do you think what you did was wrong?” Lynn asked.
“No!” Alex said. “I don’t know. I don’t know why that had to happen at all. I feel like I failed them. I feel…”
Her voice trailed off and she looked down and her feet. She knew Lynn would punish her, she just couldn’t guess what form the punishment might take.
“Helpless? Weak? Not yourself?” Lynn asked. “You’re not.”
“What do you mean?” Alex asked.
“You’re not helpless or weak. You’re young and you’re learning. You will make mistakes, but you are only as limited as you imagine yourself to be.” Lynn said.
“What if what I imagine myself to be isn’t real though?” Alex asked. She didn’t look up as she spoke and her voice came out in a choked whisper.
“That’s the trick of being a dreamweaver.” Lynn said. “It’s not about figuring out what you can do. You can do anything that you want. The real struggle is figuring out who you are and who you want to be.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t be like this?” Alex asked.
“Shouldn’t be like what?” Lynn asked. She knew the secret Alex had hoped to conceal. In Lynn’s mind it was the tiniest and least important of secrets. Something that, had Alex come from a sane world, the girl should never have felt the need to keep secret at all. To Alex though it was a terrible burden to bear and one that could be an incredible danger to share.
“A girl.” Alex said. When she looked up, Alex’s smooth girlish curves had been replaced by the angular lines of a teenage boy. Her eyes were unchanged though. In them, Lynn saw both pleading and resignation. A desperate cry to be allowed to escape this old reality and a fatalistic acceptance that her dreams were beyond her reach.
Not all of her fears were encapsulated in that one issue. Not all of her hopes or all of her dreams either. Of the many challenges that lay within her though, the disconnect between who she was and who she appeared to be was the one that cut the sharpest into her heart and mind.
A soft and gentle smile graced Lynn’s lips. She knew the courage Alex had needed to muster to share that particular truth about herself. Lynn’s smile deepened and lit her eyes with a sparkle as she thought of her next words.
“Look over here for a moment.” Lynn said and gestured a long mirror into existence on the Persephone’s bridge. “Tell me what you see.”
“Me.” Alex said.
“Is that who you really are?” Lynn asked.
“No.” Alex said and looked down, unable to bear the sight of her former appearance any longer.
“Once more please, look again.” Lynn asked.
In the mirror Alex saw a toddler starring backing at her. She recognized the baby’s bib from old pictures of herself.
“Is that who you really are?” Lynn asked.
“No!” Alex said, anger rising at the implied insult.
“But it is who you were?” Lynn asked.
“Yeah.” Alex agreed.
“But it’s not who you really are, right? It’s just how you looked then.” Lynn said and watched as understanding slowly crept up on Alex.
For moment, disbelief and confusion fought on Alex’s face, trying to hold onto the painful dismissal of her dream. Her dreams were hers to shape and make real though. She knew that, she just hadn’t imagined what it meant. Her breath caught in her throat and she blinked as her mind finished processing what Lynn’s words were telling her. Once she accepted it, accepted herself, Alex’s transformation passed through her like a shockwave.
“I’m really a girl!” she cried out.
“You always have been.” Lynn said. “The important part of you, the real part of you, has always known yourself as a girl. That’s the part of you that matters, not the body that you happen to be tooling around in.”
“So my power’s not going to make me into a unreal freak?” Alex asked.
“Your power lets the truth of who you are show through with less hassle than you’d have to deal with otherwise. If that’s what you want. It’s your choice. If you want my advice though? Be yourself. Be who you want to be. It sounds simple, but it’s the hardest thing you can imagine, even with all the power in the world.” Lynne said.
Alex laughed, tears running down her stubble-free cheeks.
“Where should I even start?” she said.
“Well, while I agree with feeding them into a black hole, that seemed to upset you a bit, so we could try to come up with a more redemptive way of handling the Cult of the Grand Science.” Lynn said as she spun the black hole around and reformed the destroyed planet from its core.