I have to help.

It’s not just a drive within myself. It’s not something altruistic inside me that sees a person in danger and says, Hey, you really should intervene. I don’t like to listen to that voice. I don’t often hear that voice at all. What I get, instead, is a voice that said, There’s trouble. You better avoid it. You don’t want to get mixed up in that.

I have to help because the law says I have to help. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. If a Powered individual sees non-Powered folk in trouble, they’re required to intervene. You can try to make a case for whether your power is conducive to helping in certain situations, and maybe the court will listen to you and give you a pardon, but it’s a long-shot. The chances are greater that their lawyers and their talent theorists will come up with a way you could have used your abilities, and just chose not to.

It’s a simple fender bender. It shouldn’t be anything, really. Nobody is hurt. The cars are hardly damaged. They should just be calmly exchanging information and discussing whether they need to pursue the situation further, but that’s not what’s happening.

Instead, one man’s face is red. Even from across the street, I can see the vein standing out in his neck. I know that vein, though I don’t know the man. My father had that vein. He and the angry man look otherwise nothing alike: this man has a dark, thick black beard, and his arms are just about as thick as my neck. He is growling in the face of the other man, the one whose car hit his. I imagine flecks of spit flying from his bared teeth into the smaller man’s eyes.

The smaller man looks terrified. I can see how he wants to shrink in on himself. I would guess him to be in his mid-twenties, but he seems younger. Perhaps this is because he is so thin, and because his face is clean-shaven. Perhaps it is because he reminds me of myself, at a young age, breaking beneath the onslaught of my father’s shouts before his hands even struck me.

I want nothing more than to turn away and continue to walk along the street to carry on with my own business. If I lose much more time here, I’ll be late to work. The knowledge of the law in the back of my mind compels me to stay. I’ve already called the police, but the cameras are watching. I glance at the streetlights, knowing there’s a camera hidden in each of them. If I leave and the situation escalates to violence, I’ll be in even more trouble than the aggressor.

The street is busy, and if it mattered to me, I couldn’t cross it easily to be of aid. Luckily, for me, the distance is no barrier. I watch them intently, hands lose and ready, just in case. I don’t want to get involved if I don’t have to, and I don’t want it to look like I was the one who instigated a fight. That would be worse still than ignoring the situation.

There. The larger man raises his hand, balled into a fist. The muscles of his arm, which are much more defined than mine will ever be, tense. He is readying himself to strike the smaller man, or at the very least, to intimidate him beyond the bounds of what is acceptable. It is time.

I have to help.

I reach up and grab his wrist. I am still across the street. There are still four lanes of cars between us. The distance doesn’t matter. For me, it is the same as grabbing an arm a foot in front of me. My hand meets his wrist. My fingers close around it. I can feel his skin beneath my hand. He freezes, tensing even further, though in a new way. I would like to think it is fear.

He stares at his wrist. A projection of my hand, cast in a ghostly white like illuminated fog, holds his wrist. He glances at the smaller man, who has hunched forward, ready to accept the blow. He hasn’t even put his arms up in defense. Yes. Yes, he reminds me of myself, as a child. That’s why he seems so young.

The large man is stronger than me, but two things allow me to hold his hand back. One: he’s not really trying, now. He’s too surprised to continue. Two: When I reach out with a projection of my body, it’s stronger than my own body. I only feel a fraction of the force taken by my projections.

With my free hand, I tap the man on the side of his head. A projection of my finger knocks against his temple. His head snaps around. He sees me. He sees the odd position of my hand, and the way my arm is tense as though pushing against something. He is not stupid. He connects the dots. I wave at him, then point at the smaller man. I shake my finger. No, no.

I have never seen a man make a face so much like that of an animal. He bares his teeth, and I swear that if I was close enough, I could hear him growling. There’s a new vein standing out from his forehead. He looks right and left, as though he’s considering charging across the traffic to get to me. He can’t, of course. Even if the cars didn’t stop him, I would before he got to me.

Men like him hate Powered folks. In a talentless fight, he would have me beaten every time. I’d be willing to bed the reason he worse so hard on his body is that he’s jealous of people like me, who are just born better than him from the start. We have a natural advantage, and there’s no way for him to overcome that. That’s why the laws exist. That’s why I have to help, even when I don’t want to.

Looking at the kid who was about to get his face punched in, I don’t regret it too much. He reminds me far too strongly of my childhood self for me to complain about saving his skin. Still, now I’m definitely going to be late to work. When the officers arrive, I’ll ask them to write a note for me. What else am I going to do?

I have to help.

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