Falling Toward Grace: Profiling Sarah Voltaire
--by Jamie Easton, New York Times
From one of the world's most powerful and prominent Deltas to part-time barista in Greenwich Village, the life of Sarah Voltaire might seem like a fall from grace. But spending a warm afternoon with her recently, I came to know a woman who has fallen not from, but towards grace.
Editor's Note: Ms. Easton has previously interviewed Miss Voltaire, and has interacted with her outside of her professional work. Subscribers may look up old stories related to these interactions on our web archives using keywords Song That Doesn't End; Call Girl Cop; Spectre; or Fallen Angels.
February 15, 2021
With Quantum once again making headlines, I sat down with Sarah at the local coffee shop where she spends some of her time as a barista. When I first met Sarah as a young woman beginning college (was it really more than a decade ago?) my interview looked forward. Today, eleven years later, Sarah looks back. Over an afternoon of coffee and questions, Sarah opened up as she never has before; leaving no topic unexplored.
Arriving a little early, I'm greeted by the sight of Sarah behind the bar in Think Coffee!, a popular local coffee shop where she works part-time. Accepting the drink she offered (Voltaire's Vanilla Chocolate Explosion; 'world peace in a tall cup,' she quips), I took a seat on a sofa to watch and wait. Sipping my drink (tasty, though I admit I prefer more chocolate and less vanilla), I jotted down thoughts and observations. I see a woman who once stood shoulder to shoulder with the most powerful Deltas, her power unrivaled. Someone like me finds it hard to believe someone could find joy in steaming milk and pulling shots of espresso after having lived the life of a superhero. But watching her, joy is the only word which fits. Perhaps peace as well. She take pleasure from every interaction, the easy back and forth with her partner on this busy afternoon, the casual talk with her customers, and yes, a sort of calm when she works the old machine.
After the rush of customers ends, Sarah removes her half-apron and comes out to sit with me. She's dressed comfortably, jeans and tee shirt. Her hair is tied in a hasty tail made for efficiency, not to impress, which she removes as she approaches, shaking it loose. Her own coffee mug in hand (black, no sugar), she sits near me, and we're ready to begin.
The Dawning Age of the Delta
Sarah was ten years old when the world changed forever while cameras captured it all live. Too young to understand the larger ramifications, she saw only the glowing, flying man who saved everyone.
'It was... it was like the stories we've read in comics or watched on TV coming to life,' Sarah says, discussing the appearance of the first Delta on September 11, 2001. 'He captured all of our imaginations, especially that first day, surrounded by that glow, too bright to look at, even over the TV. At an age when we... kids my age, I mean... were just beginning to realize the world wasn't the sunshine and puppies you think it is when you're younger, this amazing man showed us it could be.'
Of course, it wasn't, as the world would see. Over the next five years as Deltas began to appear with increasing frequency, the world responded with fear and prejudice, the latest in a long line of people to suffer persecution for being different. Many were driven to hide, including Sarah when she first expressed a few months before her 15th birthday. She won't discuss the event which triggered her expression, even fifteen years later, but of the Expression itself...
'It was like white-hot energy pouring through every nerve,' Sarah says of her Expression. 'It burned, but... it thrilled as well.' Sarah closes her eyes, and the half-smile which shows on her lips tell the story. But then she shakes her head briefly. 'Of course, when it was over, I had to face what I'd become. Not just these strange new abilities I couldn't control. I saw myself through the lens of the popular media and news networks. I thought I'd become a freak. I thought the world would hate me for it.'
A familiar sentiment, particularly during those first ten years, echoed by many Deltas. Sarah's smile visibly dims at the memory. 'So I ran away. I left my family a note, explaining I didn't want to them to have to live with the shame of having a Delta for a daughter.' Again, not an uncommon tale in those early days. Many Deltas hid, or ran away, or sought more extreme solutions. But here is where Sarah's tale takes an uncommon turn.
'But then dad,' she says, referring to Daniel Voltaire, 'came looking for me. It took him six months, but he managed it. He found me in LA, living on the street. That's when I found out how much he loved me, and just how stupid I was.' Sarah smiles self-consciously. 'Everyone knew back then that expressions seemed to be triggered by... profound personal stress,' Sarah explains. 'It was one of the first things they figured out. What they hadn't learned yet was it was genetic. Well, when dad learned his oldest daughter had run away because she thought she was a freak, he experienced his own profound, deeply personal moment of stress, and he expressed, too.'
Sarah sheds a tear here, for exactly which part of the memory is hard to tell. 'Dad expressed over worry for me, and then he found me. It took him six months, but he never gave up. In the end, he took me home, and we were a family again. For a little while.'
Sarah's parents would divorce soon after, the marital stress and her mother's fear of what having not one, but two Deltas in the house might mean for the family.
'Mom didn't reject dad or me because we were Delta. She never stopped loving him, or me. But she was afraid.' Sarah shakes her head. 'She was afraid, and angry at herself for not being able to get past it. But she wondered what might happen if the world found out about us... she worried what that might mean for her and my little sister.'
So Mr. and Mrs. Voltaire divorced, and moved to the west coast. 'Dad had made friends in Los Angeles during his search for me. He moved there and got involved in the local Delta community, where he opened the first community center catering specifically to Deltas. Mainly the most disenfranchised, the so-called Zeroes. Mom had spent time in Frisco as a kid, and wanted to go there. My sister and I moved to Frisco with her.'
After all the talk about her mom's fear, it might seem odd Sarah would live with her, but, 'Mom was afraid for me, not of me. Dad made the news in his search for me,' Sarah says, referring to her dad's role in preventing the assassination of Jacob Richter in April, 2006. 'But no-one knew about me yet. So he moved to LA, and I stayed in the closet in San Francisco.' Sarah smiles at the obvious reference. But of course, she wasn't going to remain 'in the closet' much longer.
Quantum first appeared the following year, on April 30, 2007. The world still remembers her: tall, statuesque, powerful and sexy, the very image of a comic-book heroine brought to life. The masked woman broke onto the scene when she assisted Polaris in a battle with The Fury in the skies over San Diego.
'It wasn't an assist,' says Congressman Jacob Richter (D-NY) of the day Quantum appeared. Reached for comment by phone, Congressman Richter told me, 'She saved my--' here he uses colorful language to describe his posterior. 'Fury was beating me senseless, and that's all there is to it. That flaming ball of rage and hate would have cooked me good if Quantum hadn't shown.'
Of her role that day, Sarah is much more modest. 'He would have been fine. But I was glad I could help him out.'
Of course, the world at the time had never heard of Sarah Voltaire. The stunning Quantum, clad in skin-tight PVC, her violet hair whipping in the wind, didn't at all resemble the skinny teenager Sarah Voltaire. 'Which was pretty much the whole point,' Sarah says with a grin. 'Plus it's possible I read a few too many comics as a young girl.'
Quantum was the first Delta to adopt her own public identity in such a way. Of course, the popular media of the day often bestowed nicknames, as happened with Congressman Richter, but 'I wanted to help, but I also wanted to assert my own identity instead of letting others choose it for me,' Sarah says. 'I also wanted to keep my mom from worrying, so I changed my appearance.'
Quantum was the first Delta to don a costume and adopt an identity for herself. Others followed, though fewer than experts guessed. While a few have managed to last around the world, none has lasted long in the US. Most learned the hard way that such endeavors aren't like in the comics. A few others discovered just how hard it is to maintain a secret identity. Today, more than thirteen years after the first, the world can boast only two masked heroes with any longevity: France's Pulsar and Japan's Kaze no Kensei.
Even Quantum would soon learn some harsh lessons. It is probably these lessons she's most remembered for today. Over the next six months, Quantum made news on the west coast several times, appearing to help people in every kind of trouble. She battled the mysterious Delta dubbed The Fury twice more, driving her away both times. But then came Warhammer.
The events of October 26, 2007 and the death of Wilson 'Warhammer' Brightman have been well-documented. But Sarah has never spoken candidly of these events. Until today.
'Those six months, I'd done some good. But I was still a kid inside. I was still... inexperienced,' Sarah says between sips of her coffee. 'That day, I got a call, and flew right down. I expected it to be easy.' She shakes her head, and even now, thirteen years later, the regret is easy to see in her eyes.
'They called him Warhammer, I guess because it sounded cool. He was big, closer to seven feet than six, and he was incredibly strong. He'd killed six people in five previous robberies. But I was cocky. I flew in, thinking I'd just take him down as he was stepping clear of the bank. That's when he stepped out with a hostage.'
It takes a moment for Sarah to gather herself before she continues. 'He had this poor woman by the neck in one huge hand. The moment he saw me, he just sort of casually flung her to the side. I raced to grab her, but while I was doing that, he kicked the door to the bank vault he'd left laying in the street. I dropped the teller and raced to catch the door before it hit a bus. I was scrambling, and he was laughing. I caught the door, but then--'
Here Sarah breaks off, the emotion still as real to her today as it was then. But everyone knows what happened next. While Quantum saved the bus, Warhammer kicked a police car, which landed on San Francisco Police Officer Paul Ruiz, killing him. 'I saw that, and I just watched in horror while trying to save the bus. The man just snuffed out a life for a single moment of distraction. I'd never encountered anything quite so... so evil before.'
Moments later, Quantum streaked away into the sky, still carrying the vault door. Others there that day thought she was running away, but 'something in me just snapped,' Sarah says. 'He killed that man so casually, so easily... I couldn't let it stand. Especially since I thought I should have been able to prevent it.'
As Warhammer turned to leave with his loot, ignoring the small arms fire of the remaining officers, the bank vault door returned. Cameras caught it slamming down on top of Warhammer. Later, authorities would estimate the door had been traveling in excess of three times the speed of sound at the time of impact. It crushed every bone in Warhammer's body, burying him at the bottom of a ten foot crater in the intersection. The shockwave blew out most of the windows and sound equipment for blocks around. One news camera survived, capturing perhaps Quantum's most iconic TV image: in eerie silence, with no working microphones, her violet beams of energy gently lifted the car from the dead police officer. Then the zoom into her tear streaked face, anguish shown to the world.
'It wasn't like in the comics, and that's the day I found out,' Sarah gives a small shake of her head.
The Steps of City Hall
Of course, the news for the next few days was all about Quantum. Pundits of the day praised or condemned her, held her up as example or counterexample. They debated whether she deserved a medal or the death penalty and several options in between. Very few considered the person. One who did was Jacob 'Polaris' Richter.
'People wanted me to condone or condemn her,' Congressman Richter comments over the phone. 'I certainly couldn't condone what she'd done, but... condemn? It's like I said at the time... She didn't condone her actions. You only had to look at her face. She knew... she knew what she'd done. And it was tearing her apart.'
Five days after the death of Wilson Brightman, the Mayor, Police Commissioner, and District Attorney gave a press conference. There would be no criminal charges brought against Quantum. Promises of restitution by wealthy donors to fund repairs to city and private property also meant no civil penalties. Quantum was on hand on the steps of city hall, and addressed the city.
'I needed to apologize. Not so much for the death, as for the way I... just lost it,' Sarah is quiet a moment. 'When you could do the things I could do, you just couldn't afford to lose control like that. I wanted to promise it wouldn't happen again.'
But in the middle of her speech the unthinkable happened. 'One moment I'm talking. The next I'm falling backwards. I didn't even know for sure what happened.'
What happened was a .50 caliber sniper's bullet, directly to her chest as she delivered her speech. Cameras rolled as Quantum fell back. But if that stunned people, what happened next floored them. The tall, statuesque woman in the skintight outfit vanished, leaving in her place a skinny sixteen year old girl with a .50 caliber hole through her chest, slowly collapsing on the steps of city hall.
On hand for the press conference, Jacob Richter quickly grabbed the girl and flew her to a hospital. Reports first said she was pronounced dead on arrival. Later reports said she was in critical condition. Finally, reports said the girl had left against medical advice. All throughout, the media frenzied. A reporter for CNN identified the girl from footage she appeared in with her father in a story earlier that year, and suddenly Sarah Voltaire's name was plastered all over the airwaves. Meanwhile, Sarah...
'Next thing I knew I woke up, gasping for breath. I felt my chest, still wet with my own blood, but the wound had closed. My clothes were cut off, bloody rags. I grabbed one of those blue sheets, and stumbled out of the curtained area. The first thing I saw was my face on every TV in the place. Then everyone saw me and all hell broke loose. So I ran away.'
Actually, she ran home.
'All I could think of was my poor mom. I found her, still sobbing on her knees in front of the TV, her hand cut on a glass she'd broken when she watched me
die on live TV. I finally calmed her down, and she hugged me like she'd never let me go.'
Sarah offers a wry smile. 'Then she grounded me for six months.'
Out of the Closet
But the secret was out. The world's first costumed hero, arguably the world's most powerful and certainly the world's most visible Delta, was a sixteen year old girl named Sarah. It would change everything.
'It's funny, but it didn't really change much,' Sarah says wistfully. 'Mom was worried. I wasn't exactly worried - you take a fifty through the chest and survive and suddenly name-calling doesn't seem like that big a deal, y'know? - but I still expected some blow back.'
There was blow back in the media and around the nation, renewed discussions about Deltas 'hiding among' the people, their powers used as examples to frighten watchers. But for Sarah, 'the worst that happened to me was kids at school keeping their distance. Friends were suddenly scared, either of me or of being too close to me in case something happened. I certainly didn't help matters by changing my appearance. The next morning at school--' yes, Sarah's mom made her go to school the day after being shot. 'I wore my hair violet, and my eyes, too. I'd hidden what I was, first for myself, and later for others, but now the secret was out. So I expressed myself.'
Sarah's mom was initially reluctant, but 'I love and respect my mom, but when she was a teen she got a mohawk. I figured I could color my hair any color I wanted.' Sarah chuckles at the memory, but sobers quickly. 'Mom was still scared. But I knew she'd get over it.'
One other thing to change was Quantum's costume. Gone were the skintight PVC, curves, and - as Sarah puts it - 'extra chest padding.' Her new outfit was snug, offering full coverage of her body without being as enticing. In addition she stopped altering her appearance, no longer appearing taller or older. In her new outfit, Quantum still appeared ( 'between groundings,' jokes Sarah) to help people in need.
During this time, Sarah watched her parents grow closer together. The love they'd never lost began to overcome the fear, and Sarah watched as nearly every child of divorce's secret wish seemed about to be granted. But all the while, Sarah was harboring a secret.
The Bombing of Flight 238
'I was getting headaches,' Sarah says. 'It started when I turned sixteen, and over the next couple of years it became pretty much constant. It got a lot worse right after Warhammer and the shooting, but I learned to live with it.'
Then, on June 21, 2009, Sarah faced her greatest challenge. 'I was flying to New York with Ellen,' Sarah says, talking about her best friend Ellen Lancaster, whom readers will remember from her involvement in the Song That Doesn't End incident as well as her role in quelling the Black Friday riots in Greenwich Village.
'We were moving there for college, and decided to fly out apartment hunting. Ellen wouldn't let me fly her, so we were on Delta Airlines Flight 238.' For those wondering, the choice of airline was deliberate. Sarah doesn't want to recount the entire event, which has been well documented: In flight over
the Rockies, a bomb hidden in the jet's main cabin just over the port wing detonated. A dozen people were killed instantly and the jet began to dive.
Several witnesses that day describe the plane, in pieces, falling, while Sarah - no time for a costume change - desperately tried to hold it together in her jeans and tee shirt.
Sarah herself has spoken in the past of her horror, watching people plummet to their deaths, unable to save them without sacrificing others in the plane, all at the age of eighteen. However, today she reveals a few previously omitted details.
'Those headaches I mentioned got exponentially worse every time I really strained myself with my powers. And that day I was straining more than ever. I'd never tried to hold something so heavy, moving so fast. I could feel my brain trying to escape from my skull as I generated more and more power, trying to reach a level which would let me save everyone.'
Generated? This gets my attention, and Sarah sees my eyes widen, my professional detachment overwhelmed, and she grins. 'I know, right? That was my secret. My power was never what people thought. Those abilities... were more of a side effect of the real power. Most Deltas harness this strange energy. I generated it. And that day...when the bomb went off, there was too much. I was losing it. With my best friend next to me--' Sarah shakes her head at the memory.
Investigators later determined Sarah was the likely intended victim of the bombing. 'The only reason we were still alive was Ellen whined about having no view because we were stuck in a seat over the left wing. A stewardess let us change seats at the last minute. But now... the plane was crashing, and it took everything I had and more to stop it. I just kept working harder and harder. In the end, I managed to stop the plane, and to get it to the ground.'
Sarah saved the flight, but soon learned the cost.
'My power constantly generated this energy, whether I wanted it to or not. I figured this was where the headaches came from. But every time some circumstance made me work harder, it set a new level for the energy generation, and the headaches got worse. This time, I realized energy was beginning to leak out. It started to affect Deltas near me. '
Sarah speaks very calmly about all of this, now, but her friends relate a very different story.
'Sarah was frantic,' says Ellen Lancaster, Sarah's best friend. 'We were all beginning to get the same headaches, and when Sarah realized she was doing it, she freaked. She tried to turn it off, talked about running away again, tried to push us away. We wouldn't let her, though.'
It all came apart a few days after the bombing. Sarah smiles when I ask her how it ended.
'It came to a head when we realized Deltas near me were beginning to experience uncontrollable surges of their own abilities. I couldn't stop, the pain was horrific, and I was beginning to panic. I thought my head was coming apart.'
Which it nearly did, according to Neurophysicist Elaine Benning, currently Chief Science Officer and one of five directors on the board of Lancaster Pharmaceuticals. With Sarah's permission, Dr. Benning spoke to me about her condition.
'I only examined Sarah after it was over, so I can't say with complete certainty. But an MRI showed a large number of micro embolisms in her brain, the likes of which I'd never seen before, most clustered near the area where the so-called Delta Node resides. I can only speculate, but it appears the power which let her generate the energy was causing increasing amounts of damage to her brain. Had it continued, it would have killed her, sooner rather than later.'
'It got to the point where I wished it would,' Sarah says. 'I was hurting everyone near me, and in the worst pain of my life. But that's when my dad saved me. Again.'
Each time her father comes up in our conversation, I see her smile for the memory of him. This time is no exception.
'Dad's power at the time destroyed the same energy I was creating. He used his power on me, and we cancelled each other out. It nearly killed him, but he wouldn't stop. In the end, he stripped me of my power and I was happy to see it go.'
It's easy to understand why Sarah would keep this under wraps. Why admit it now?
'Well, Dad died three years ago. I don't need to protect him anymore. And now there's this new Quantum out there, and everyone seems to think it must be me. But I can't even fire a spark plug anymore.'
When the world learned Sarah had lost her powers, but she wouldn't discuss the circumstances, there was immediate reaction. Criticism from certain groups accused Sarah of withholding the secret of a possible 'cure' for the Delta condition.
'First, anyone who calls it a 'condition,' or any Baseline who says we need curing can blow me. Please tell me you'll print that.' Sarah smiles sweetly. 'Look, I'm the last one to tell another Delta whether they need to be fixed or not. You need to be fixed if you think you need to be fixed. But all those--' here she uses a word I can't print, '--who talk about curing us or fixing us just need to get a life, and worry about their own issues, not anyone else's. If it had been something I could duplicate, I would have tried to help anyone who asked. But screw everyone who thinks something like that needs to be imposed on someone else.'
College and FBI
The following September, Sarah and her best friend Ellen moved to Greenwich Village. As a young journalist, I interviewed the pair at the time, and also covered incident which has entered the neighborhood's collective memory known today as The Song That Doesn't End Incident. Two lifelong best friends taking on the big city and their college careers. Sarah was at a loose end, happy, but unsure what she would do next. That didn't take long to change.
'I was working a shift in this very coffee shop when a woman came in,' Sarah says. 'I'd met her the previous summer, and she'd... noticed me. She was now an assistant director at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, heading up a newly created unit designed to handle cases involving Deltas as either perpetrators or victims. She offered me an internship, offered to groom me. I tried it... and I fell in love with the life.'
Four years of year-round schooling later - no parties for this girl - Sarah had her Masters degree in accounting, with a specialization in forensic accounting. Over those same four years, Sarah pursued her own training, learning self defense and physical training, pushing her now Baseline body as hard as she could. Why?
'On my way home from school one day that first year of college, I heard screams. I didn't know that as a New Yorker I was supposed to ignore those now,' she winks at the joke, 'and so I rushed right in. In my head, I was still Quantum, rushing to the rescue. But to the guy with the knife, I was just another potential victim. He cut me, but I brained him with my bookbag, and then a cop arrived in time to keep me from getting cut again.
'I realized I probably wouldn't stop running into alleys, so I started taking lessons in not getting stabbed.' 'Lessons in not getting stabbed' turned into three times a week at a local Dojo, and eventually a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. 'Down at the Full Circle Dojo, if you don't mind a shameless plug for the man who taught me how to not get stabbed, I learned I could rely on myself even without powers.'
Once her degree was complete, her mentor sponsored her to early admission to the FBI academy at Quantico. Sarah passed her training with flying colors, and her career had begun.
'It's hard to express just how... how right it felt to be there,' Sarah says. 'Sure, I was a rookie, three years younger than all the
other rookies. Yeah, they joked, and made me get the coffee. But I've never been one for waiting quietly in the background.'
Indeed, her final operation as a probationary agent got her in the news, but not in the way she'd hoped.
'It was a stake out. We were in this hotel, and I was posing as a call girl, propositioning the occasional man. We'd make it look convincing by taking the men out, showing them our badges and offering to not arrest them if they stayed in their rooms for a while. Then I'd go back down after an hour. No big deal.'
Until Sarah propositioned an undercover officer in the NYPD's vice squad.
'It was so embarrassing. To make it convincing, the agent in charge let the cop arrest me. Before we could get it straightened out, some stringer for the Post recognized me under the wig I wore, took my photo, and all of a sudden my mug shot was in the news! Then, we STILL couldn't tell people why I was really there until the stakeout was over, so I had to spin this tragic story about school being hard, grades slipping, losing my scholarship, turning to prostitution because I was too ashamed to ask for help, the whole nine yards.'
But it worked in Sarah's favor in the end.
'Yeah. I guess I made a really convincing call girl. A couple days later, back at the hotel, the guy we were staking out approached me. He'd seen me in the news and he asked me to go to his room with him. He invited me right in. I got him stripped to his shorts and then pulled my weapon on him while agents broke in.'
Sarah's proudest moment? 'The press conference after, me in my FBI suit while everyone explained it was part of an operation, and that my work had been integral to making the arrest.'
Sarah's work on that and several other cases over the next three years earned her a seat at the table for the joint task force looking into the Spectre murders in late 2016 through early 2017.
'I have this... instinct, I guess. I get hunches, and they turn out to be right more often than not. An old friend told me it was my subconscious processing information the conscious mind doesn't blah blah blah...' Sarah waves away the technical talk. 'Short version, I was a really good guesser. So they put me on the task force.'
Sarah moved back to San Francisco for a few months, working the task force. She has been credited with breaking the case, but 'It was actually a friend of mine, and pure dumb luck,' Sarah explains. 'Seven victims with nothing to tie them together. I mean NOTHING. But we had a few civilian Deltas in as consultants, and my friend recognized one of the victims from an old photo.' Sarah shakes her head. 'Like I said, pure luck. Years ago there was this scientist working to discover a 'cure'--' and here Sarah emphatically uses her fingers to make air quotes, 'for the Delta condition. Lots of us went to see him. Hell, I went to see him when I ran away. All looking for a cure we didn't need. My friend had gone there too, and she recognized a picture of the victim, all punked out ten years before, as someone she'd noticed in the waiting room. She remembered him because of the mohawk, piercings, and violin case. Pure coincidence.'
However it happened, that link broke the case. The killer was targeting Deltas classified as 'Zeroes' using a list of people who had visited this scientist ten or more years earlier. Agent Voltaire would get credit for ultimately stopping the killer, but not before tragedy would strike.
'Some of this is still classified, okay?' Sarah begins. 'But I was captured. I think... as a Delta who'd lost her power, I was ideal in this guy's deranged mind. He captured me, and tortured me.' Sarah can't entirely control the shudder which passes through her. 'I'm sure he was trying to force me to express. But pain and fear for myself? Those were never my trigger.'
Sarah takes a moment to compose herself from these painful memories before continuing. 'One more time, my dad came looking for me. He and some other friends found me, but the killer... he slit my throat and ran. I was finished, bleeding out. I closed my eyes, and that was it.'
But that wasn't it. 'My eyes snapped open and there was my dad. He stood over me, looking down at me with a smile. I saw the love and relief in his eyes. 'You're alright,' he said to me. And then he died.'
The full story hasn't been told until now. But Sarah's father saved her one last time..
'Dad was what's called an Unstable Expression. His power shifted to become whatever it needed to be when someone he cared about was in trouble. That was his trigger, and it usually meant his power changed to save me.'
Even through tears, Sarah smiles. 'I wasn't the only person he loved that much. I was just the only one regularly getting into that much trouble.' Then she's quiet a minute, before continuing her story. 'He died, right before my eyes, and... I lost it. I was screaming, and shouting, and pulling at the ropes still tying me down, and I could feel it... I could feel the energy boiling up. I could feel the Expression beginning, remembered what it felt like. But then, they appeared.'
By 'they,' Sarah means the Deltas known as The Angels, so named for the corona of white light surrounding them when they appear.
'The damned angels. They fed off expression surges, stealing the energy the nascent Delta would use, killing the expression. I was about to express, and I could have saved my dad... but they appeared, and ripped it out of me.'
After that, Sarah's downward spiral began.
'I was on about four different kinds of leave at the same time,' says Sarah. 'Administrative, bereavement, post-traumatic... they really didn't want me around. But... I couldn't just sit there.'
Two months after the death of Daniel Voltaire, authorities apprehended Danar 'Spectre' McBride. He'd been beaten, drugged, bound, gagged, and shoved out of a moving car in front of the precinct where the task force was set up.
'Yeah, that was me,' Sarah says with a sense of... regret. 'I knew he still wanted me, so I let him find me. I wasn't Delta anymore, but I had friends, and tech. I disabled him, beat him, drugged him, and tossed him out of a car.' Sarah shakes her head. 'I was so satisfied at the time. But I was really just struggling with the pain.'
I visited Lompoc Federal Penitentiary, where I attempted to ask Danar McBride about the events in question. None of his comments were fit to print.
Wracked with guilt and self-doubt over her father's death, Sarah faced disciplinary action, dismissal, and possible criminal charges for her actions. She returned home, where she found a job as a night security guard. Working nights only served to further isolate her from loved ones, including her pregnant and grieving mother.
'I was a mess.' Sarah explains. 'Between several different kinds of guilt, shame, and grief, I was barely holding it together.' Sarah managed to rally briefly when her brother was born. 'I still can't believe mom got pregnant. Here's the age where people think I should be starting a family and mom gives me a little brother.' But not even Daniel Robert Frank 'DR' Voltaire could pull Sarah from her funk.Over most of the next year after her father's death, Sarah's depression continued to spiral downward. It reached it low point in January the following year.
'I was pushing friends away, lashing out. I hurt one so badly I'm not sure we'll ever be the same again. I got reckless, maybe even suicidally reckless. In the end, I nearly died.'
But she didn't die.
'There's a lot here that's really personal. I needed a lot of help to come back from the dark places I went. Without my family and friends... well, we wouldn't be talking today.'
But Sarah tells me you don't just decide to get better.
'When I started to pull out of the dive, I took at look at the person I'd let myself become... and I just hated her. I wanted to change, but everything around me reminded me of my dad, or thing things I'd done. So my mom told me to get out.'
Sarah smiles easily as she talks about her mom.
'You know... she'd suffered as much as I had; hell, probably more. But she held it together, gave birth to DR, looked after me, all while dealing with her own grief.' She shakes her head. 'Maybe you should be interviewing her instead.'
I did speak with Constance Voltaire. The co-founder of Delta House was only too happy to talk to me. 'Sarah and her father were always incredibly close,' she told me. 'But it wasn't only that which pulled her down. Sarah blamed herself for his death. In her mind - and ONLY in her mind - she killed Daniel. And you can't logic or explain away guilt and grief like that. She had to work through it.'
Working through it meant leaving. Connie explains, 'Sarah said it best in the message she left on her voicemail. She didn't like the person she'd become, so she left, to see if she could find the person she used to be.'
Sarah agrees whole-heartedly. 'Nothing fit anymore. Nothing made any sense. I began to understand in my head, but not really in my heart. So when mom suggested a trip, I saw a way to... at least put some distance between myself and my grief.'
So, Sarah packed a bag she could carry easily and flew to France, to begin her journey.
'I wanted one perfect night. I flew to Paris, booked the best room in the best hotel, ate the best meal, drank the best coffee, and slept in the best bed. The next morning, I had a good breakfast, left the hotel, and started walking.'
Sarah didn't only walk, but her journey would last more than a year, and cover every continent. The experience was very personal, and Sarah is reluctant to talk about a lot of it, but she smiles brightly and shares a couple of anecdotes. The first was in Egypt.
'Dad always wanted to see the pyramids, and the Sphinx. He never made it, though. I carried his ashes with me. I took him on a tour, and wandered a bit on my own. I took him into the desert a little ways, made a picnic of it, and just watched the sun set over the pyramids. Then I opened the can and poured dad into the wind.' Sarah is quiet a long moment and a tear comes to her eye, but then she smiles.
'Something came over me there. As I watched the wind carry him away, I just started shouting. I couldn't just let him go without some sort of fanfare, so I screamed and shouted as the last of him disappeared on the wind. Then I collapsed, half laughing, half crying, and fell into an exhausted sleep. The next morning, I woke and felt for the first time like everything might be okay.'
But that wasn't the end of the journey. 'It was really the beginning. I'd shed the old, bitter, shame-filled me, but still needed to find the other me. Over the next ten months, I wandered. I met a lot of amazing people, so many who have experienced so much worse and are still standing. I helped carry water in droughted areas, and helped tend sick children in poor villages.'
Sarah smiles at one memory. 'Don't ask how, but I got to Antarctica, with all the cold weather gear I'd need. I built a snowman. It just seemed like the thing to do.' It barely lasted an hour before the chill winds would crush it, but, 'I managed to take a picture of it.'
Sarah had brought a camera and two dozen memory cards. 'At first, I didn't take many pictures. I had the camera because mom insisted. But in Egypt and every day after, I took as many as I could.' She shows me a few of her photos, and blushes when I compliment her on her eye. But I also notice, as her journey progresses the pictures become... happier. Earlier images are of stark landscapes, or sad people or places.
Later, Sarah finds more joy in her pictures. I see smiling faces, playing children, a snowman, a field of flowers. 'I guess I was finding more joy in myself, seeing it around me more.'
Sarah's journey neared its end as she attempted to cross the border from Mexico. There she encountered a problem and a startling realization.
'At the border with Texas, the immigration guy looked back and forth between me and my passport a few times, then refused to let me in the country. He said I must have stolen the passport.'
Sarah had changed so much on her journey, 'It all happens so gradually you don't feel it. But there at the border, I understood. I wasn't the same person who'd left.' Sarah laughs. 'I'd changed physically, of course. I was leaner, my skin was darker from hours in the sun. My hair was lighter, and a lot longer, braided down my back. I was dressed in this light, colorful skirt and blouse I'd found in a bazaar in South America. But that wasn't why he stopped me.'
Sarah shows me her old passport photo, the one she took before leaving for her journey. I see grief, pain and sadness etched into the woman in the picture. 'The customs man looked at my picture, and he just didn't see any of her in me. That was the moment I knew I was ready to head home.'
But what about the border? Sarah waves the worry away. 'I still have friends in the government. I made a phone call, and then four or five phone calls later the customs agent got a call and then called me over and stamped my passport and apologized. I asked him to apologize again over dinner.'
Sarah's journey nearing an end, she still needed to make a few more stops.
'All those friends I'd lashed out at, and pushed away... I needed to make it right. Most of them understood, and just hugged me as soon as I showed up at their door. A couple... well... lets just say I did some damage when I was at my worst. They've forgiven, but... some things are harder to forget.' Sarah crinkles her nose and adds, 'I'll win them over eventually.'
Sarah returned home a year later. During that time, her mother had released the two apartments they lived in, and bought a home for her family. As part of that Family, Sarah was welcomed with open arms.
'And a lot of hugs,' she adds. 'When my mom opened the door, there was another moment like at the border. It took her a second to recognize me. But when she did, she just grabbed me and hugged me like she'd never let me go again.'
After that, Sarah settled into her new home and familiarized herself once more with the neighborhood she'd called home for ten years.
'The neighborhood just welcomed me back. No...' Sarah trails off, thinking. 'More like... like I'd never left. Everywhere I went, you'd think I was just there yesterday. I just fit so smoothly back into place, people didn't remember I'd been gone for a year and hadn't been myself for a year before that. Instead of 'welcome back, Sarah' it was 'hey, Sarah, looking good.' It was actually the best welcome I could have received.'
The Mysterious New Quantum
I've been dying to ask all morning. I've refrained, but now I have to know. Is she? Sarah laughs when I ask her.
'The first I heard of this new Quantum was when some random reporter from CNN cornered me coming out of the coffee shop.' Sarah shakes her head, and looks me in the eye. 'I'm not her. But she helped save my mom, so she has my thanks.'
I ask Sarah what she thinks about the differences and similarities. Two things stand out to Sarah. The first is her power.
'You know I could do pretty much anything I wanted with enough practice. But as Quantum, I always used the same powers.' Media at the time had jokingly dubbed her 'Polaris' cute sister,' both for her appearance and the nearly identical abilities. But... 'This new Quantum has used several abilities I never used in public. She's more like me than people knew, but she's not keeping to the same schtick.'
Another noted difference is her appearance.
'She looks like I made myself look when I first put on the mask: taller, curvy, bigger boobs. But she dresses like I dressed after my mom found out that was me under all that latex: Still snug, but no cleavage, no high-cut thigh, not skintight. It's a good fit, but it's a difference worth noting.'
Does Sarah have a guess who she is? Sarah shakes her head when I ask.
'She's Quantum. That's good enough for me.'
We near the end of our time together, and questions are more personal. I ask about her powers. Does she miss them? Years ago, when I asked her the same question only three months after losing her powers, her answer was very well rehearsed and almost convincing. Today, she smiles.
'The action? The adrenaline?' She shakes her head. 'No. I used to, but I've learned I don't need to be Quantum to find excitement and thrills if I need them.'
I believe her this time. But I can sense the--
'But,' she says after another moment. 'I do miss flying. There's never been anything like the freedom of just... ignoring gravity. If I could, safely, I'd love to fly again.'
I nod at that. I can only imagine what it must be like. What about running into alleys? Will she still be doing that? She laughs.
'Every time. I'm like Pavlov's dog, conditioned to run directly towards the nearest shout for help.'
One last question. I ask Sarah about plans for the future. She rests her head on the back of the sofa we've shared, and regards me a long moment.
'Today's my thirtieth birthday,' she tells me with a smile. 'I have a loving mother, a beautiful sister, and a delightful toddler brother. I have so many friends, who make every day worth living. I have my job here, and at the dojo, and I enjoy both so much.' She smiles, and I know she means it. She's found something many would envy. Peace.
She falls silent again, her look clouding over for a brief moment, but then clearing.
'Dad died so I could live. So that's what I'm going to do. Live.'
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? Responses (8)-8
Beautifully done, and summarizes all the important highlights of her life, looking forward to seeing Ellen as a sub in the near future!
Thank you. I struggled with some of the important 'secret' moments, before finally deciding to leave some out so other GMs can make their OWN secrets, and explaining one important one, about why she's no longer Delta. Ellen's in the works!
Really well written, and very enjoyable to read.
Thank you. Much appreciated.
Very good - rides the line between NPC and fiction though. Quite well written.
A true pleasure to read. Loved the idea of 'Expressing' and the hints at an alternate history. Very much looking forward to the other linked subs now.