Micheline performed her heroism under cover of night, and without drawing attention to herself, either then or during the subsequent daylight hours.
This made it easier to focus on the real work of living a just life, more than pursuing any specific definition of justice, which she had found to be an at best amorphous, at worst corroded term.
It hadn’t rendered the difficulty of coming up with a consistent definition for justice any less potent, to have become a superheroine (even a legitimately secret one). In fact, the decision made her grappling with the issue that much more desperate an exercise, at time. But it did help her to sleep at night, after she had finished doing what she could to save the world.
So, no, Micheline did not seek perfection in fulfilling her duties. She only attempted to make an honest try, with each new day, which in her view brought with it a fresh opportunity to earn and honor the gifts she had been given.
She had adopted an alter ego and donned a costume (as one did), to protect her identity and to adequately anonymize her exploits. And among and around those she had saved along the way, rumor had spread of her bravery and awesomeness (their words), but Micheline neither pursued nor wanted this fame.
This was why no one knew the name of her alter ego, except for herself.
Her powers helped her keep others from learning it, or from forming their own name for her. It was an honest trade, she believed, and one honestly if not simply transacted.
If her rescues did not exactly know that they had prevented themselves from remembering her name, they had in a way still allowed it. Never once had she suggested they keep the secret, or misused her powers to ensure they did. It was just that in the presence of her powers, her rescues simply agreed, silently, authentically, without question, to honor her wishes. Her powers helped them to understand not only her needs, in this respect and others, but their own of sympathy, reciprocity, and esteem.
They did not completely forget about her when she helped them, and were not bothered when they found themselves unable to enunciate a name for the mysterious super-woman who had been their heroine, but they would never know who she truly was, and for her that was part of the deal.
She and her, they would call her, with a smile full of both thanks and awe. And rather than stress over a lack of credit or recognition for what she had done, rather than feeling depersonalized by whatever pronoun, Micheline simply focused on the universality of who “she” was in relation to and among “them”, and what, as “she”, she felt called to do, as a woman among woman and man kind. And then she moved on the next situation that required her service.
Tonight this commitment had led her, in costume and a very long way on foot, to a dark place.
She had arrived here while in pursuit of a specter.
Specters had confounded her before. They appeared to come and go in the world, sometimes in batches for days at a time, and always they showed up without warning, appearing to choose their victims at random.
The difficulty was that Micheline’s powers, best summed up as a sort of extendable intuition and empathy, that if she concentrated hard enough could take on tactile, energetic, harness-able (if not malleable) qualities of foresight and understanding and influence, powers that time and testing had proven she could almost always rely upon and sometimes even leverage as a sort of compassionate weapon – they happened to automatically sever the parasitic link between a specter and its quarry whenever she found herself in the presence of both.
This tended to happen often, because as a heroine she sought every opportunity to lend her talents towards the betterment of the world around her.
In such cases, the specter, alienated and confused but still a specter, would then flee, back to wherever it came from but now, unfortunately, trailing a new link between it and herself. This link was reversed from the previous one, in that she was not in danger as the non-powered person had been, but its effect wasn’t necessarily reversed in similar fashion.
Micheline could, by her powers and with a great degree of concentration, resist the pull to pursue the specter if she wanted that. She was not a hunter, after all, and further felt she didn’t know enough about what a specter really was to assume the responsibility of potentially harming one (if she could help it). And yet it still always felt right to follow, and to learn more, and to make sure the specter didn’t go after another unsuspecting citizen, and so she usually pursued them.
On every other occasion before now, her eventual tracking of any one specter had taken her to some shadow of the waking world or another, itself always tucked behind some everyday place that she (had she been out of costume) and most others might walk right on by, on any other day.
There and then, almost as if it had run out of room or time on whatever plane it came from or still partially existed in, the specter would turn, and it would see her, and just as a chill spread through her heart it would scream and disappear into a suddenly-appearing void she dared never go in herself. The void would go away, shortly after that, if she waited.
Micheline suspected she knew that void already, and had no interest in knowing it again.
Life had gifted her something greater that the void, something brighter, which she intended to hold onto even as she was sometimes diverted by her mission and by the natural flows of life to a shadowy corner, now and then, in pursuit of some specter or another.
This is what worried her about the dark place she had come to now, and the particular specter which had shown up tonight. She was not sure of her footing, which does admittedly happen sometimes in the heroine business.
Looking around, she sensed she was still nonetheless safe, and in the world even if it felt like she was not. But she also felt much lonelier than she usually did while on a mission. She felt further from home.
Still, the specter fled farther into the dark, and she followed.
The more ground they covered, she and the specter, the less their surroundings looked like a place, and Micheline began to fear that she had made a mistake, and had unknowingly entered the void. But instead of panicking, she paused, and breathed, and let the specter get ahead of her.
Extending her powers out from her body, she took stock of her surroundings, not shrinking from their dark unknowns. In doing so, she found that she was safe. The shadows did not consume her.
In fact, they appeared to melt away, under her light.
Micheline remained still, even as the specter stopped in its “tracks” ahead of her (specters had no feet that she could see, that was partially how they had gotten their name).
She had not recalled giving off actual light before, when using her powers. But she was.
The light was gentle and warm and its colors shifted, from white, along then what seemed like an infinite spectrum of energies, to which she belonged and was also suddenly channeling.
It was a new manifestation of her powers and it felt wonderful, and right, and above all – essentially heroic.
Her fear and her worry disappeared.
The specter turned, and the chill it brought upon facing her would have been the worst she had ever felt, if her powers hadn’t absorbed into their light with ease, as they now did.
She stepped forward, towards the now-shocked-and-alarmed specter. In place of where in a human face there would be eyes, the sad creature had only wide, swirling white circles of what looked suddenly not like manifest malevolence, but severe anguish.
And her heart went out to it, as it went out to herself, in kind.
She had definitely never experienced her powers in this way before. As she continued to send them out, unafraid and unwilling to hold back, they fed back into her, in a continuous loop of sustained, regenerative energy.
The dark place filled completely with light. The specter cowed before her.
But Micheline had no intention of harming the creature.
Instead, she took off her mask.
She opened her arms and wrapped them around the specter, and together they felt love, and the joyfulness of light.