[Short Story] Helena

"Really, after all these years, you finally are willing to listen?" Helena scoffs. Her finger is just centimeters away from ending me.

"Yes," I groan. My ribs hurt like mad. I have no idea how I am supposed to get of this mess I have gotten myself into, but I know I need to try.

Helena chuckles. Hero of the people, that is what she calls herself. How she sees herself. But I know better. She walks up to me and tilts my chin upwards. For the first time in our entire history, I see her grin.

"I suppose it won't hurt," she says, "seeing that you're tied up in your current state."

She pulls up a chair and sits a few steps from me. "You never listened anyway, so maybe this is my only chance."

I breathe a sigh of relief. She took the bait. While my hands explore the lock that she placed them in, I need to keep her distracted. "So, tell me, hero of the people, what do you have to say for yourself?"

Helena is no hero of the people, no matter what she believes. The number of innocent lives that she took would put even Hitler to shame. She was a terrorist, simple as that. One who is committed to sowing chaos and discord. I am the one who have always thwarted her plans, stopping her from achieving her goals. People call me Protector for a reason.

"Have you ever heard of Syria, Mr Protector?"

I nod my head. "It's where you were born, isn't it?"

Interpol has briefed me before on Helena's history. They thought it would help me in my quest to stop her. It did nothing more than wasted a few hours of my life. Never once have those information, obscure as they were, helped me. I never had the time, anyway. All my time were devoted to dealing with Helena's evil plans.

"Correct. But I am sure you know what happened to the country right?"

I stay silent. Syria no longer exists. The place is nothing more than a wasteland now. Helena's gaze pierces mine. There is so much anger and hate burning in her eyes.

"You are a war refugee," I say. One of my fingers manages to slip pass the restraint and I am able to activate my distress signal. My team will know that I am in trouble and send help. I just need to keep Helena busy.

Helena chuckles again. "I see that your masters have taught you well. But have they ever told you about what happened after that?"

From the Interpol files, she was shown to have journeyed to Europe, like so many of her countrymen. From there on, details have been scarce. Interpol had no idea what happened during those few years, but when she re-emerged, her name was tied to a suspected bombing in France. Twenty people died. And people have never stopped dying since then.

"You became a monster," I whisper, which provoke a laugh from Helena.

"A monster?" She shouts. "Is that what your masters told you? That I am a monster? I'll show you what's a monster!"

Another sharp pain pierces through my ribs. I scream in pain as a few more of my bones break. I make the extra effort to spit my blood at Helena.

"Just kill me already," I taunt her. Even if I die, Helena will not be able to escape like how she always does. I have already done my role in locating her. Jonas and the rest will be able to take her in, finally.

Helena shakes her head. She looks at my arm, where a symbol of a shield was tattooed on it.

"I will tell you what happened to me," she says as she lifts her sleeves, revealing an identical tattoo to mine.

"No, it couldn't be," I say out loud.

Helena seems to read my mind. "Yes, Mr Protector. I have the same symbol as you. Maybe the same story as you. Let me guess, you're special, they need you to protect the world and you are destined for a higher calling?"

The sudden realisation hits me harder than Helena's earlier punches. Those were the exact words used when I was recruited. I believed every single one of them.

"You're lying!" I scream. Helena is just toying with me, I tell myself. She is, after all, the leader of the most dangerous organisation on the planet. Of course, mind games would be up her alley.

"My friends will be here soon and you will have nowhere to escape!" I continue. I will not let her get to me. I am the only one chosen to be the Protector, not her. She must have gotten the info about me, somehow.

Helena smiles at me. "I know that they are coming. My aim here today is just you. Just think about it, will you? Until we meet again."

A loud crash shakes the room and the entire area plunges into darkness.

"Helena?" My voice echoes in the room. She is gone.

*****

"You're back," the familiar voice greets me. It is as if she predicted that I will come back.

I dash up to her and yank her up by her collar. "Show me!" I demand.

Helena grins. "Now, now. No need to use your superspeed here. We both know how useful it was the last time."

Her gaze shifts between my hands. "Would you mind to put me down first? Getting hard to breathe up here."

I grunt as I lower her. That condescending grin of hers never left her face. It frustrates me to no end to not be able to do anything.

"I always wanted to tell you, you know," Helena purrs, her hand slowly lifting up her sleeve. The shield is still there, an exact copy of mine. "It's just that every time you show up, it's just zooming here and zooming there, things are finished even before I can start!"

I lift her hand up, paying no attention to her monologue. The design is unmistakable, with only one small difference. I grit my teeth at the implication. "Why is yours read two?"

Helena laughs at my question. "Oh come on Mr Protector, surely a man of your intellect know what that means?"

The thought makes me shudder. They told me that the Roman numeral 'III' on my brand signifies our division number. I believed them.

"You're... my predecessor," I hesitate. The word stings. I wanted to ask the team what Helena meant after what happened yesterday. But I did not. I do not why. Perhaps I wanted to get the answer myself. Maybe I was afraid of who to trust. Somehow, I found my way back to this abandoned factory, where I face my first defeat to the so-called 'Hero of the People'.

Helena claps her hands. "Correct! I was the Protector before you. There was another person before me, I suppose, but I never knew what happened to him."

"You're... lying," I try to counter. My mind is telling me that all these are part of Helena's tricks but my heart disagrees. Of all the lies Helena has told, this feels genuine.

"That's the best argument you got? Tell me, Protector, or shall I just call you John, since you're not willing to share your name, what reason did the Task Force gave to conceal your identity?"

"That we need to operate in secrecy, because the knowledge of a superhero's existence would upset the balance of the world," I recite. A line that has been repeated too many times to me. Even though I have saved the world numerous times, the name Protector is only known to a few, mostly governments.

Helena shakes her head. "Wrong. The only reason why they have to keep you a secret, the program in secret, is because of the consequences they would face if the public finds out that they are experimenting on humans..."

"A sacrifice that is needed to protect the world from evil like you!" I cut in. I made the choice to be the Protector. Even though it meant leaving life as I know it. But what is there to leave, when everyone I ever loved is no longer around?

I stared at the face of Helena. The face of a terrorist. A murderer. "A sacrifice that I am more willing to make to bring my family's killer to justice?"

"What?" Helena frowns. "What family?"

"Don't pretend to forget. January 27, 2025. The Amsterdam bombing. Hundreds of innocent people died," I hiss. I was supposed to be there too. Together with mum, dad, Jenny, and Adam. It was supposed to be Adam's first trip with his grandparents.

There was a sudden emergency back at base and I had to postpone my flight. I remember kissing Jenny goodbye at the airport and told her to enjoy herself first. I would be joining them a few days after. If I only I knew that would be the last time I see them.

"You killed my family!" I screamed, the pain all came rushing back. My family, all burned beyond recognition. All because of a stupid political statement. I charge at Helena and wrap my hands around her neck.

"You killed all of them!"

Helena coughs, but she does not struggle. Instead of the hatred I saw yesterday, there is only pity in her eyes. "I didn't kill them."

"Liar!" I scream. I just kill her and finally get my revenge. To hell with not stooping to criminals' level. Why do they deserve our mercy, when Jenny and Adam did not?

Tears well up in Helena's eyes and in this brief moment, I see a familiar pain shoot across her face. My hands instinctively let her go. She falls to the floor, coughing, but she keeps her gaze on me. Tears stream down her face.

"I didn't kill your family," she whispers. "Because my family died there too."

*****

All my life I thought I am the good guy, doing the right thing. For as long as I could remember. It was the reason I joined the prefects back in school. The reason I studied Political Science. The reason I applied to the army the first thing after I graduated. When Captain Miller approached me with the offer to be more than who I could be, to protect the world, I said yes without even thinking.

That was my world. Used to be. Now, I am not so sure anymore.

Helena hands me a photo. Her family. Her two daughters, her husband, her sister and her nephew. They were all smiling around a table, a sumptuous feast prepared before them.

"It was the last picture we took, before all went to hell. We were celebrating Eid al-Fitr," she says, her eyes still wet. I take my necklace out and pulled a small photo tucked in between the frame. A picture from happier days too.

Helena takes and studies it. "What is his name?"

"Adam."

She hands me the picture back. "He looks just like you."

I stare at the picture. It has been three years since that day. Three years since I swore to bring their killer to justice. Helena slides me another picture, one that chills me down to the bones. It is a photo I saw before. Burned, black bodies beyond recognition. Two girls.

"Nina and Maya," she whispers, fighting back tears again. "They promised that no harm would come to them, should... should I continued to obey them... but I cannot, not after..."

Helena breaks down in small sobs. I have never seen my arch-nemesis crying. All the stories about her ruthlessness and cold-bloodedness melt away in an instance. She is not an evil psychopath, she is human, just like me. A woman who once used to be a mother.

I place my hand on her back. "What happened?"

She turns to look at me. For the first time in our entire feud, I feel sympathy for her.

"I disobeyed the Task Force," she says. "I went rogue."

Helena sits down and recounts her story. The one missing from the Interpol files. Like many refugees, she and her family found out that Europe was less than welcoming than what they hoped. Her family was separated, shipped to holding camps. Only her daughters were allowed to go with her.

"The next time I saw my husband, he was in shackles." Helena's husband was accused of trying to escape and in his attempt, he accidentally killed an officer.

"I was given a choice," she says and I immediately know.

"To join the Task Force?" I ask.

She smiles and shakes her head. "No, to become an experimental subject. What did you think, that the serum given to you was stable from the beginning?"

Helena eyes the Shield tattoo. "And yes, part of the deal was to become some sort of superhero. To uphold order. To give back to my community."

"That explains your strength."

Helena nods. "What did you think? That I was born with super strength? I guess for you, the serum gave you speed instead. I tried to tell you many times, you know."

The Task Force never told me how Helena got her powers. They simply said it was my job to find out. I never gave Helena chance though. I was always too eager to finish the job. To bring down Helena. I was too thirsty for revenge.

"What made you go rogue?"

Helena sighs as she looks into the air. My hand reaches out to hers. Her fingers wrap around mine. "They asked me to kill my fellow people. Long story short, it caused me to question the Task Force. And I did things that I was no proud off."

"The France bombing?"

"Yes." Helena explains that she never intended for the incident to go that way. It was only to send a message. But she was betrayed by the people she trusted. By the time she realized, it was too late. Both sides used her.

"I killed them all, the Brotherhood, to atone for my sins, but the Task Force has already branded me a traitor." The Amsterdam incident was a message to her and an opportunity. Europe needed a bogeyman and they found it in Helena.

But it did not explain everything. "Where do I come in then? Why do they create me if you're a tool to them?"

"Perhaps I am becoming too dangerous," Helena jokes, and I find myself grinning to it. "Maybe I have achieved the purpose."

Before I can respond, an explosion shakes the building. Men march in, led by a familiar figure. Captain Miller. He gives me a satisfied look. "Thanks for leading us to Helena, Protector."

Helena looks at me with a betrayed look. "You didn't..."

I did not. I came here alone. The Task Force must have followed me here.

"Step aside, Protector, you have done your job" Captain Miller commands, as the men charge towards her. I look at Helena, then back at Captain Miller. The choice was clear.

[END]

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