View Full Version : IC: Daughter of Chaos (Nyx's Origin)
Chapter One: It Begins
(Author's note: I've been told this starts out slow, but I promise you that once it gets moving, it progresses rapidly!)
"Goodnight! Bye! Yeah. I'll be in Tuesday."
Nikeiva Kasta sighed in relief as she slipped out the back door of the restaurant and bar to the employee parking lot. That had been a long night. She paused for a moment, steadying herself against the doorframe to rub her aching feet.
"Just my stupid idea to wear brand new boots to work without breaking 'em in…" she muttered. She sighed again, this time annoyed. She was getting a blister, too.
"You all right, Niki?"
She looked up. "Don't call me Niki, Mikey."
Michael Flynn wrinkled his nose. She smiled. Michael had a nice nose. For a coworker.
"All right, all right. Nikeiva, then."
"Thank you. Michael."
She smiled. It wasn't the first time they'd taunted each other with stupid little nicknames. It wouldn't be the last.
"So, what are you doing out here anyway? I thought you weren't off work for another hour."
Michael wrinkled his nose again. "Just wanted to walk you to your car."
Nikeiva raised an eyebrow. "How… chivalrous."
She caught him blush, even in the dim porch light, then he threw up his hands. "I know, I know. There's probably nothing to worry about, but… well… why can't I walk a pretty girl to her car?"
She chuckled lightly and punched him in the arm before turning and starting toward her car. Michael fell into step alongside her. "Anyway," he said, "I wanted to ask about tonight."
Nikeiva stopped, stared at him. "Tonight? What about it?"
"Don't worry, not a date or anything. But tonight when you were working…" he hesitated. "Are you feeling all right? You looked a little ill all night. In fact…" Michael squinted at her in the darkness, "you still don't look well…"
Nikeiva sighed. "I'm fine… just tired and I have a headache. I was a little dizzy earlier-- no, really. I'm fine."
Michael's expression said he wasn't buying it just yet. "You're sure?"
She nodded. Never mind that it was a lie. Just a small one. She was still a little dizzy, but the headache was gone. It had been replaced with a strange sort of comfort and euphoria. She was feeling really good. Almost numb to the aches and pains that plagued her from a long night on her feet…
"My car's right over there, thanks Michael…"
She started towards it, feeling so good that she was starting to not care that she couldn't feel her feet…that her knees were getting shaky… that suddenly 'up' was a matter of perspective…
Suddenly, she didn't care that she'd lost consciousness in the back parking lot-- or that Michael was screaming for 911. The little world inside her head was wonderful as it went black…
Consciousness came slowly to Nikeiva. Everything faded in slowly, like watching the sunrise. Time to get up already? Where was that blasted alarm clock? The beeping was getting really bothersome…
She stretched out a hand to grope for the clock beside her bed. She found a table. Felt about. No clock. Grumbling, she turned to look, eyes still fuzzy and head still drowsy. Confusion mounted. Where there should have been an alarm clock, there was a vase of flowers. She blinked. Flowers. So where was the infernal beeping coming from?!? Flowers didn't beep!
She rubbed her eyes and looked around, a bit more aware now.
She turned. Michael was standing at her bedside. What was he doing in her house…?
Then it struck her. The bed was not her bed, but a hospital bed. The beeping was not her alarm clock. It was a heart monitor across the room. And Michael wasn't in her house, because this wasn't her house.
"What the--how did I--"
She struggled to sit up, but Michael put a hand to her shoulder to keep her down.
"I'll explain! Just relax. Please. You scared the crap out of me last night."
She stared at him, wide eyed. "What do you mean? What about last night? What's going on and why am I in the hospital?"
Michael sighed. "Do you remember when I was walking you to your car and I asked you if you felt all right?"
She thought. Her brain was still cloudy… "Sort of… why?"
"Right after you told me you were fine, you fainted."
"Out cold on the asphalt," Michael sighed, running a hand through his short strawberry blond hair. "I mean, one second you're fine and then -- BOOM! Out like a light."
She blinked at him, not knowing what to say. "You're kidding me."
"What do you think?"
She said nothing. One didn't just wake up in the hospital for no reason.
"So I called for an ambulance, and…well… here you are."
Nikeiva shook her head. Gently. It still felt funny. "So… do the doctors know what happened or was it just a fluke…?"
Michael sighed. "No word yet. They found some weird chemical levels in your blood, but they don't know what's going on yet… you're not 'on' anything, are you?"
She folded her arms. "So… now what?"
Michael shrugged. "We wait. I'm sure they'll tell us in just a few minutes that everything is fine…"
It'd been a week. A week of wondering, a week of tests, a week of no work and lots of needles. Nikeiva scowled. At least now the doctors seemed to have an answer. She was getting sick of needles. And of hospitals. She'd spent more time in the hospital than at home. It was understandable, though. After all, she'd fainted three more times since that night after work.
It was starting to scare her…
The door to her room opened.
She nodded, sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting. Three men entered. The first, an older man, balding on top, offered a hand to shake.
"I'm Dr. Adams -- how are you feeling today?"
Nikeiva shrugged. "All right, I think… still a little fuzzy…"
He nodded knowingly. "Well, I think we have a diagnosis for you."
"We?" she asked, glancing at the two men behind him. "Who're they?"
"Oh, them. Allow me to introduce Dr. Charles Harley and Dr. Bryan Wolfram. Both specialists in the field of neurology -- Dr. Harley actually flew in from London to see your case, but Dr. Wolfram is local."
Nikeiva nodded. "So, what's the diagnosis, then?"
Dr. Adams' genial smile drooped. "Well, after a week of struggling with every possibility we could think of, the consensus is that you are suffering from a severe brain disorder marked by wild swings of chemical imbalances. Symptoms include abrupt losses of consciousness and/or muscle and motor control, feelings of anxiety, euphoria, or depression, sometimes within minutes or seconds of each other, suicidal tendencies, and hallucinations."
Nikeiva sighed. "That sounds about right…"
"It's… extremely rare, Ms Kasta. There have only been about twelve cases of it known to medical science, and not all of those cases were even completely positive in their diagnosis. No one knows if it's genetic, the aftermath of other illnesses, or outright spontaneous. It's so rare that, actually… it doesn't even have a proper name…"
Nikeiva stared at him. "But is it… dangerous?"
Dr. Adams sighed. "Terminal."
Silence. Dr. Harley cleared his throat. "There are symptomatic treatments, of course, to improve quality of life, but medicine has yet to come up with anything remotely resembling a cure, I'm afraid…"
Nikeiva held up a hand to halt his speech. "How long do I have?"
Dr. Adams sighed and turned to Dr. Wolfram, a much younger man with glasses. "Wolfram knows more about it than either Harley or I, really. He's quite interested in… unusual cases…"
Dr. Wolfram adjusted his glasses. "Actually, it's hard to say exactly how long, Miss. All the cases that I've ever studied vary widely. Some people will live several years after diagnosis, gradually deteriorating in health, and others will run the course hard and fast. Best possible outcome, three years. Worst case scenario… you could die next week."
The silence seemed deafening to Nikeiva. Absolutely crushing…
"I understand it's quite a blow," Adams said quietly, "but we'll help you every way we can…"
Nikeiva jumped to her feet. "No. Good grief, I've had enough needles being poked into me, and I've had enough people staring at me and prodding me… if there's nothing you can do, then leave me alone!"
She rushed past them, ignoring the throbbing of her heart behind her ribs, ignoring the fuzziness in her brain, ignoring the way her feet tingled when they pounded the floor. She wasn't going to die! No!
She burst out of the room and tore down the hallway, running right past Michael who had been waiting outside.
She didn't stop. Concerned, Michael gave chase. He caught her before she reached the elevator and jerked her to a halt. "Nikeiva, what's going on? You almost plowed into a couple of nurses back there!"
For a moment, she wanted to seize him and throw him to the ground, but all she could do was sink to the floor, blinking back tears…
"What did they say, Niki?"
"I'm gonna die, Michael… They all…all said I'm gonna die…"
Michael blinked in shock. Knelt. Put an arm around her. He said nothing, only let her cry on his shoulder…
What a sweet release… it felt so good to cry, she thought. She wasn't sure why. Had the news really hit her that hard, or was it the disease that was making her moody… she didn't care. She wanted to cry some more…
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything…"
Nikeiva did not care to look up, but she heard Michael speaking to the voice.
"Who are you?"
"Dr. Bryan Wolfram. If I could have a word with you two in private?"
Finally, Nikeiva looked up.
"I told you all to leave me alone!"
Wolfram knelt next to her. "No," he whispered, "You said 'if there's nothing you can do, then leave me alone'. Hear me out: I think I can help you."
"What, you have a cure?" Nikeiva snapped. She hoped it had come across as sarcastic as it was meant to be, rather than the sniffle she supposed it had sounded like…
The corners of Wolfram's mouth threatened to smile. "Maybe. But before I say another word, I really must insist that this conversation be in private."
Michael looked at Nikeiva, who, teary-eyed but clearly curious, looked back, then at Wolfram.
"Whadaya say, Niki?"
She shot him a look. "Don't call me Niki." She turned to Wolfram. "All right. But this had better be good."
The door closed with a gentle 'whuff', and Dr. Wolfram turned to Michael and Nikeiva.
"First of all, sir, are you of any relation to Ms. Kasta?"
Michael hesitated for a moment. "Why?"
"No, he's not. He's a friend."
He looked at Nikeiva, his eyes questioning. She looked back at him, unflinching.
"We don't have time for games, Michael. Let's just hear what he has to say."
Wolfram nodded at Nikeiva's words. "To the point, I like that. Well, let me get to my point by first saying that no shred or bit of this conversation leaves this room, all right?"
The two nodded. Wolfram adjusted his glasses again and went on. "Ms. Kasta, I said I think I can help you, and I mean that. I'm a specialist in the field of neurology and neurochemistry, and I take a great interest in rare and unusual cases, like yours. Doctors Adams and Harley have never even personally seen the condition you have. I've seen it twice. And that, my dear, is a lot when dealing with something this rare."
"And?" Nikeiva prodded.
"And, I've spent a lot of time studying this, trying to come up with a cure for it. It's more of a hobby than a serious pursuit, but I think I've succeeded."
Nikeiva stared at him. "Why don't you tell the other two guys?"
Wolfram smirked and scratched the back of his neck. "Well… that's why this conversation needs to be in private. You see, the solution I developed works in theory and on lab animals, but… it's never been tested on humans, and it's certainly not FDA approved. But the proper testing and gaining approval would take years… a commodity that you do not have, Ms. Kasta."
Nikeiva nodded. "So you're saying I have a chance to be cured if I use your experimental solution?"
Wolfram nodded. "I'm warning you, though. It's never been tested on humans, so I don't know if there will be any side effects from it…"
"So long as I don't die, I don't care."
At this, Michael perked up. "No way! Wait a minute. Nikeiva, are you nuts? You want to try an unapproved, untested, completely experimental drug on yourself? Think of the risks you're taking! What if it…" he waved his hands in frustration, ''…I don't know… makes you blind or sterile or something!"
Nikeiva was in his face in a second. "If I don't, I'll die, Michael. As simple as that. It's a risk, yeah, but I'm going to take it. I don’t have any other choice."
She turned to Wolfram. "All right. Let's do it."
Wolfram nodded, smiling. "Give me 24 hours to mix up the solution. I'll call you. Have your friend drive you to…rats. I don't have any paper."
Nikeiva had a gum wrapper in her pocket. Wolfram scrawled his address on it.
"That is my private lab-- I'll have security watching for you. And, Ms. Kasta, one more thing."
Nikeiva nodded. Wolfram leveled a very serious look at her.
"Regardless of what happens --whether for better or worse-- you will not breathe a word of this treatment to anyone. If you or your friend was to spread the news that I used a homemade, experimental treatment on a girl with a terminal illness… I'd lose my license and probably get arrested."
"Don't worry, Doctor. We won't say a word."
Chapter Two: Things Get Weird
Rain. Pattering on the pavement, on the roof of the car, on the windows… it was calming. She liked rain.
Sitting beside her, Michael sighed. She tried not to look at him. He was nervous. Nervous for her. She could sense the tension through the cadence of the rain.
"You sure you want to do this?" he asked, turning to her. His ice blue eyes were questioning, probing her for some sign of hesitancy… If she gave the word, he'd drive her home immediately, without a second thought.
"I have to."
He looked sad somehow… but nodded. "All right…" Slipped out of the car and into the storm. Opened her door. Slipped an arm around her. Escorted her to the building that loomed against the grey sky. Inside.
Inside. It was a neat, sterile lobby, devoid of any people, or any sign of activity. Nikeiva took a breath. It smelled like chemicals. She liked the smell of the rain outside, and the sanitary smell of the lobby unsettled her. Reminded her of the hospital. She didn't like the hospital. She took a small breath, steeling herself against the unpleasant memories of yesterday. This was not the hospital that had condemned her. It was the laboratory that would give her back her life.
If all went well…
"I trust you're Miss Kasta."
The voice seemed to come from nowhere. It made Nikeiva jump. A man, whom she'd not noticed standing in a side door, stepped forward. He was tall-- a good six inches taller than her, and muscular, but dressed nondescriptly, neatly, in black. Only a shock of crimson at the crown of his otherwise onyx hair made his impression a striking one. It took her a few moments to realize that he had addressed her…
"Yes… Nikeiva Kasta. Dr…uh… Dr. Wolfram…I'm…uh… here to see him…"
The man nodded. "Yes. He's been expecting you. Come with me."
He turned and quietly strode back to the side door. After a moment's hesitation, Nikeiva followed, with Michael on her heels. The man, however, stopped Michael at the threshold.
"I'm sorry, sir, you'll have to wait here."
"What?" Michael's eyes were wide with horror at the thought. Leave her to whatever fate would befall her… alone? Leave her to that ape? Nikeiva winced. Michael had no intention of leaving her alone, but he would be hard-pressed to make it past her escort…
"Security rules. She's not even supposed to be in the labs -- staff and security only. I'm bending protocol as it is."
With that, he let the door fall shut, and it closed with a ring of finality that sent a chill through her. No turning back.
Her escort was stone silent as he led her through several checkpoints and corridors. Finally, he stopped at a locked door. Rapped his knuckles on it twice. Waited. Finally, a click, and it was opened to them…
"Miss Kasta… so glad to see you've arrived."
Wolfram. She smiled a little, she was so relieved to see a familiar, friendly face. He glanced around, then ushered Nikeiva and the escort inside, closing the door behind them.
The chair was cold. She shifted uncomfortably on her metal perch and glanced out the slits in the blinds that shaded the nearby window from the outside. She could still hear the rain outside. She tried to focus on it. Tried to forget, to ignore the goings on around her…
Wolfram was at present drawing a syringe full of his wonder-solution, while Nikeiva's mysterious escort guarded the door, standing so still and quiet she might almost have thought him made of stone…
"I had as much ready as possible in preparation for you," Wolfram said pleasantly, setting down the vial and tapping the syringe to rid it of air bubbles. "But the solution absolutely must be refrigerated until used… the compounds break down rapidly if left at room temperature for more than ten minutes… "
She nodded absent-mindedly as he sterilized a spot on her arm… She turned to him.
"Are you sure this will work?"
He looked up. A strange silence passed between them before he answered. "Am I sure? No. I'm taking a paramount risk. But I believe the chances are good--very good--that it will."
He picked up the syringe. Held it in his palm, showing it to her.
"If you're not sure you want to do this, Miss Kasta, now is the time to say it. I won't proceed unless you're absolutely certain."
She stared at the syringe full of clear fluid. It wasn't much. Significantly less than everything they'd pumped her full of in the hospital… so small…
She shook her head. "Now or never. If I hesitate, it'll be never. Do it."
"You understand the risks you're taking?"
"Yes! Just do it already!"
Wolfram nodded. Inserted the needle. Nikeiva watched in a strange, morbid fascination as he depressed the plunger and the fluid disappeared into her veins…
It took less than a minute. The needle was withdrawn. The wound was bandaged. As Wolfram turned to clear away the evidence that anything had happened there, Nikeiva sat, staring at her arm--staring at the bandage that marked the turning of her luck and her life…
"That's it? It's…done?"
Wolfram nodded. "Yes, that's it. As far as I know, anyway. You may require another dose, but… if I'm right, that ought to have done it…"
"How do I know when it's…"
"Working?" Wolfram sighed. "I don't know. Report anything and everything to me. All symptoms you experience, especially ones you didn't have before. Tell me when they happen. Where. Tell me when nothing happens. I want to keep a very close eye on you…"
She nodded. A mixture of fear and excitement was boiling behind her ribs. "Yes sir… I will…"
She rose, half-smiling at Wolfram, half-trembling from that self-same fear and excitement.
"So… I can go home?"
"Yes, yes… go home, get some sleep… go back to work if you feel up to it. Just let me know everything."
"Okay… thank you…"
She crossed the laboratory to the door where her escort still stood. Time to go home. She paused at the threshold.
"Doctor… just in case this actually works… thanks… for saving my life…"
Wolfram waved a little, and shooed her out the door. The trip back through the complex was a blur to Nikeiva…
Did she have her life back? What a delicious thought. Oh it wasn't certain yet… she had to always remember that it might not actually have worked… what if there were side-effects that were simply intolerable? What if something…happened? She couldn't go back to the hospital… too many questions would be raised. And poor Michael. What would he say or do if something did happen?
She broke from her feverish thoughts, and found herself standing in the lobby again. Her mysterious escort was gone. There was only Michael.
"Are you all right? What happened? How'd it go?"
She pulled up her sleeve, displaying the bandage in the dimness of the lobby.
"I got a shot."
He stared at her arm for several uncomprehending seconds, then looked up again, meeting her eyes.
"I might be better than 'all right'. I might be alive again."
His expression was many things… awed, bewildered, concerned, questioning, relieved… but for once she could meet his eyes without the urge to look away or drop her gaze…
"So," he said quietly, "Do we go home now?"
She smiled. "Yes, Michael. We go home."
Finally, Michael Flynn dared to smile. He slipped an arm around Nikeiva and led her back outside into the rain.
She squeezed her eyes shut and struggled to control the sickness in the pit of her stomach. The floor was cold. How long had she been here? Lying on the bathroom rug, feeling her insides revolt, and trying in vain to control the rapid-fire spasms that jolted her muscles. Since at least two in the morning. She groaned. She'd be missing another day of work-- there was no way she was going anywhere today. Not when she couldn't even trust her own muscles…
She'd told her employer and coworkers that she was suffering from food poisoning… she might be away from work for a while. Medical reasons.
But this was the first time she'd had seizures. Somewhere in her brain, she thanked… something… that at least the violent quavering seemed confined to a limb or two at a time, or when they did possess her whole body, they were only mild.
She turned her head, pressing a clammy cheek against the linoleum. It felt good. At least, she thought so. She wasn't sure. Everything was so backwards and upside down and inside out when the nausea seized her. She was conscious of the sound of her heartbeat in her own ear… the sound made her feel even worse.
"Just let me die…"
She shifted position, lying on her back now, thinking of how, just two weeks ago she'd been ready to fight death tooth and nail… and now after a week of worshipping the porcelain god, she was begging for an end.
"Gotta call the doc. He's got to have some sort of answer to this… I can't live like this…"
She considered standing up, staggering to her room, getting her cell phone from her dresser top. Calling. She almost laughed. There was no way on God's green earth that would happen. Moving very much at all sent her into spasms. Besides… the thought of standing up made her stomach protest.
But she couldn't go on like this. Groaning, she shifted to a kneeling position, and, clinging to the bathroom sink, struggled to her unsteady, twitching feet. It was just across the hallway to her room. She could make it.
Five minutes and thirty feet later, Nikeiva collapsed to her knees by her dresser. Stretched up a twitching hand to feel for the phone. Finding it, she brought it down to her and curled up on the floor, shivering. Punched in a speed-dial. Maybe it was five in the morning. She didn't care. She was making a plea for help.
Nikeiva winced. He wasn't going to pick up. She was going to get his answering machine and…
"Hello?" yawned a voice.
"Doc…" she could barely whisper, "I had a new symptom tonight..."
Was it half an hour ago? Or a whole hour? She shook her head, which elicited a wince from her face. Dang it all, she wished the aspirin would hurry up, she had a splitting headache… She knew she probably shouldn't be taking other drugs with all of the strange things that had been happening to her lately, but…
"Nikeiva-1, this is Houston, do you read me? Earth to Nikeiva…"
She jumped at the sensation of a hand on her shoulder and turned sharply, expecting her manager…
He looked concerned. She sighed. That's the only way he ever looked around her anymore. Concerned. She felt bad.
"Are you okay?"
She nodded, gently. "Yeah, I've just had a little headache for the last hour or so… I just took a couple pills for it. I'm fine, really. I don't even feel sick today."
Michael hesitated, looking her over once, before nodding. "Okay. Just asking. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you you've got another table."
Something in his expression warned her. Her entire face sank into disgust. "Not those four frat boys again… Michael, please tell me you didn't tell them I was working tonight…"
Michael shrugged and sighed, shoving his long, skinny fingers through his hair. "I'm sorry… Tara told them before I could cover for you. They asked for you. They like you."
Nikeiva groaned, resting her head on Michael's shoulder for a moment. "But I can't stand them! Dumb bunch of cavemen, but they don't do anything quite obnoxious enough to… ergh. I'm not sure how many more fake phone numbers I can think up before… oh well. At least they tip well."
She rolled her eyes and shot Michael a pitiful 'help me' look before going to wait on her customers.
She looked at her watch. Not that it helped. It had been a long time since she'd downed those aspirin pills. An hour and two rounds of cocktails for her… admirers… they should have started to take effect by now…
"Honey, your drinks are ready."
Nikeiva looked up at the bartender. The middle-aged woman nodded to Nikeiva's tray, which bore four margaritas for the frat boys. Through a fuzz of pain, Nikeiva looked up again at the bartender, smiled weakly, and thanked her.
"You okay, Hon?"
"Fine. Just have a headache."
Nikeiva was unaware of the sidelong, asking glance from the bartender woman as she walked the drinks to the boys' table. She wasn't aware of much, actually-- the hustle and bustle of the bar was background, the hooting, flirting boys were scenery. She was acutely aware of one thing, though. Her hand. The hand that carried the tray.
She was calm. As calm as could be, at any rate. She quickened her pace gracefully. Set the drinks down. Restrained the shaking as best she could. And slipped away to the restrooms, hoping to make it to solitude in time…
In time to break down into another seizure. She swallowed. A big one. She could feel it.
She turned the corner. The ladies' room would be on her right, just another ten or twelve feet…
Michael! Coming down the hallway from the other direction. He was talking to the manager, so far unaware of her presence… desperate to avoid any attention right now, she slipped through another door, cutting through a loading area to the back of the restaurant and bar. Had he seen her? She hoped not…
She sat on the back stoop, shaking. Nothing she could do now. Not until she got back over to Wolfram's lab. She'd called him several nights ago, when the seizures had started. Begged him for answers. He had none. She'd taken an experimental drug. The side effects were unknown. They both knew that. As for the seizures themselves… ride them out. Don't hit your head on anything.
But would they ever stop?
Wolfram didn't know.
And Nikeiva could only fight down a growing sense of concern as the convulsions began to subside…
"And you've been having these… how long?"
Her heart leapt into her throat at the sound of another voice. Michael again.
"Saw you make a beeline for the back door. Are you okay, Niki?"
She wanted to say it -- "Don't call me Niki"-- but her jaw was still trembling. She didn't trust herself. Not yet.
"C-couple d-days… oh please d-don't t-tell-l…"
Michael shook his head. "I won't. You've got another hour until your shift is over. Do you think you can make it?"
He offered a helping hand up, which she accepted, leaning on him to steady herself.
"I don't know if I should… geez, suddenly I'm so tired…"
He nodded. "All right. I'll take you home."
Home. She watched Michael's car pull away, then sighed and shut the door.
Home. She was so tired. The stresses that the nausea and seizures had been ravaging on her body and mind had her so worn out… She glanced up at the hall clock as she shrugged off her coat, hanging it up on a rack.
"Only eight o'clock… I hate going to bed that early."
She wrestled with the thought for a moment, then shrugged. She'd take a short nap, then call Dr. Wolfram when she awoke. She wrote a note to do just that, stuck it next to her bed, then crashed for a quick catnap.
"…in right now, so please leave a message after the tone…"
She wrestled awake. "Huh. The phone. I never heard it ring."
Feeling worlds better, Nikeiva bounded from her bed and snatched up the phone before the caller left a message.
"Hello? Stupid answering machine… hello? Michael?"
"Nikeiva? Good grief, I thought you were dead or something. I've been trying to call you for two days! Where were you?"
She blinked. Checked her watch. It was ten o'clock. As far as she knew, she'd crashed for a catnap at eight…
"Michael, what are you talking about? You just dropped me off from work two hours ago. Not days, hours."
His turn for a confused silence. "That was two days ago, Nikeiva. That was Wednesday. Now it's Friday."
"No it's not. It can't be."
"It's Friday. Check the newspaper. The television. The internet."
"Okay, I will."
She went to the television in her living room. Turned it on. The preview channel always had the date and time running… Friday. Ten o'clock. She felt a knot in the pit of her stomach.
"That's impossible. I haven't been asleep that long…"
"I took a little catnap when I got home from work today- I mean, Wednesday, and… But that's impossible. I can't have slept for two days straight…"
"I don't know. With all the other weird stuff that's been happening to you, sleeping for two days wouldn't surprise me. Look… about this Wolfram guy… I don't trust him. I really think you ought to get some real medical help…"
"I can't, Michael. If his treatment didn't work, the other doctors already said they can't help me. And if it did, then they won't have any idea what they're dealing with… just no, Michael. I want to ride it out a bit longer. It's only been three weeks. Maybe it gets better."
Another long silence. "Maybe. It's your choice…"
Nikeiva sighed. "Yeah. It is, isn't it?"
The conversation ended, and Nikeiva flopped onto her couch, staring at the ceiling, wondering what to do…
Long minutes passed on the couch before the sensation of the phone still in her hand forced its way back into her consciousness. She should call Wolfram. Meet with him. Ask him what's was going on with her. At least try for some answers. Nausea, seizures, and whacked sleeping patterns would cost her a job and a normal life if they continued.
She punched in Wolfram's number, only to get his answering machine. She fumed, then decided to leave a message anyway.
"Doc, it's Nikeiva. According to my friend, I just took a 48-hour catnap. We've got to meet soon. I absolutely have to talk to you. This is getting out of hand, and I need to know what to do. Call me. Please. I'm open."
She hung up. Nothing left to do but wait. Sighing, feeling very unmotivated to get up and replace her phone in its cradle, she instead set it on the coffee table, staring at it blankly. Through it. She was too tired to think. Too tired to feel like she ought to care about anything, least of all her phone running out of batteries.
She wasn't sure how long it had been that she stared at the phone, but it was long enough for the low power light to start blinking. She really ought to put it back. Wolfram might call back. But she couldn't muster the energy to get up and replace it…
The phone twitched, moving nearly a centimeter on the table. Nikeiva blinked at it. Stared harder. Almost daring it to twitch again. A crazy thought jolted through her mind. Maybe… maybe if she stared at it really hard again, concentrated… maybe it would move again.
Seconds became minutes as she stared at the phone, willing it to move. Finally, it twitched again. She jumped, but became intent again. More twitching. Rattling. Nikeiva could feel the hairs on the back of her neck rise to attention, but she kept at it. With a stronger… effort… if such a word could be used for exerting the force of one's will, she mentally shoved the phone.
And Nikeiva screamed as the phone slid off the table and fell to the floor by what had appeared to be its own power. The prickling of her nerves persisted, but she tried again. Knelt by the phone on the floor. Willed it to rise off of the carpet, even a little…
Minutes of concentration paid off with a twitch, a wiggle, and maybe half an inch of air between the phone and the floor.
"I'm telekinetic. Oh my holy frickin'shiznitz! I'm telekinetic!!… Oh crap."
So afraid was Nikeiva at the idea of even touching it that the phone remained on the floor all night.
It was the next week. Nikeiva shivered at she slipped into the lobby of the building again. She would see Wolfram tonight. Nothing was going to stop her. Nothing except maybe some locked doors… and armed security guards…
"What am I doing here?" she asked herself, turning in a circle once to look around the room. "How am I ever going to…" The building felt quite deserted-- down the hallway a janitor was mopping the tile floor.
She jumped, lashing around in midair to come face to face with her guard escort with the crimson lock in his hair.
He inclined one eyebrow slightly. "I startled you?"
"I've seen ninjas that make more noise than you."
"I doubt that."
She sighed, clenching her jaw, calming down from being surprised. If anyone could take her to Wolfram, this man could. She wanted to demand it right away, but she supposed the guard wouldn't be easily intimidated. Especially by her. Maybe conversation would help…
"I… never got your name last time," Nikeiva said quietly, feigning shyness. "I'm Nikeiva Kasta." She put out a hand for him to shake.
"I know," the man said with a nod. For a second or so, he ignored her offered hand, then reluctantly shook it.
"Seth," she said with a smile. "I had a math teacher named Seth, once…"
The guard smirked. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Eh… never mind."
He folded his arms, letting his weight settled onto one leg. "So, what are you doing back here? I know the doctor didn't summon you."
Nikeiva resisted a wince. "I…need to talk to him. Very badly. I've been having some symptoms that he said he wanted to take a look at… could you take me to him, maybe?"
Seth's face hardened a little. Not much, Nikeiva noticed, but enough to indicate that her plea did not fall favorably with him.
Puppy-dog eyes. She hadn't used them on anyone since she'd last conned Michael into waiting on the annoying frat boys. She hoped it would work.
"You know I can't do that. It's against security policy."
"But you did it once!" she pleaded. "Why not do it again? At least to help a girl who might be ill?"
"I did it because I got a special 'bonus'. It was a one-time deal, and I don't plan to make a habit of it. I'd get canned if anyone found out I took a layman into the labs. Sorry, missy. You want to see Dr. Wolfram, you meet him on your own time."
Nikeiva was about to sigh and walk back out when Seth winced and put a hand to his ear.
"D*mmit, Wolfram, could you maybe figure out how to operate the microphone at least once? You're a neurochemist, it can't be that hard…"
Nikeiva stared at him in undisguised confusion until he gave her a look that was somewhere between a smirk and a scowl and gestured to the earpiece he wore. She nodded.
She waited patiently as Seth stood there, listening silently.
"Yeah. And, Doctor, Miss Kasta is here again. I told her to meet you later on her own time. Would you like to…what?"
He listened again, looking confused. Even a bit annoyed.
Finally, after a few more seconds, he sighed and rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine. But you owe me another bonus for this."
Sighing, he turned to Nikeiva again.
"Seems the good doctor has overridden me. Again, follow me."
She was in Wolfram's private lab again in a few minutes. Seth leaned against the door, arms folded, as if guarding against any interruption. Nikeiva tried to ignore him. She knew if she were found they'd all be in trouble…
Instead, she examined her surroundings a bit more. She'd been too nervous last time to really take it all in… the beakers, Bundsen burners, freezers, centrifuges… she shivered.
Wolfram was just peeling off a pair of gloves when she spotted him.
He turned. Smiled. "Miss Kasta, so glad you came. What seems to be the trouble?"
She blinked. She almost wanted to strangle him. She'd been telling him for nearly a month about all of her symptoms and how they were interfering with her life…
"What do you mean 'what seems to be the trouble'? Throwing up, having seizures during work, sleeping for two days and having no idea? You tell me what seems to be the trouble!"
He held up a hand to calm her. "Relax…remember, I told you I had no idea what would happen. You agreed to that. Now just calm down, and we can work something out."
She tried to keep her brow from furrowing in displeasure. Maybe he had some plans, some ideas… She sat in a chair and took a deep breath, letting her head rest in one hand.
"I can't live like this. Please give me some good news. Tell me it's not going to be like this for the rest of my life-- however long or short that is…"
"I can't really tell you much until I examine your brain chemistry thoroughly--can't offer a solution until I understand the problem fully. It may be possible to just put you on some medication for them all. After all, seizures and the like aren't common side effects for anything, but they're not unheard of…"
Her head snapped back up, and she looked at him fiercely. "What about telekinesis? Don't tell me that's not unheard of for a drug's side effects!"
The doctor shook his head in disbelief. "Excuse me?"
Nikeiva jumped from her chair and strode quickly to the nearest lab bench. On it was an empty beaker.
"You think I'm nuts. Watch this."
She gritted her teeth. She'd been practicing all week. She'd known Wolfram wouldn't believe her… Hah. Let him refute this!
She squinted in concentration, and the beaker rose a few inches off the table. She moved it until it neared the edge, then put out her hand, giving the beaker her palm to hover above. Never breaking her concentration, she crossed the room to Wolfram. Breaking her concentration, the beaker fell into her hand. She handed it to him, folded her arms, and waited for a response. He stared.
"Well… that was… rather interesting. Are you sure…"
"YES I'm sure! You saw that! I just picked up that freakin' beaker with my mind ! You'd better have an explanation for that, because I KNOW that's not normal!!"
"Okay, okay, now just calm down and we can have a look--"
"Calm down? Somehow, your concoction made me into a freak! Tell me you know how to fix it!"
"Miss Kasta, please, I don't even know how it happened…"
"Then figure it out!"
Wolfram's brows knit together in a scowl. "Well, that's just fine! That 'concoction' may have saved your life! So sue me if I don't know all the ins and outs yet. Give me a chance first!"
"How do I even know it saved my life?" she roared. "I haven't exactly been having a better time, now have I? Tell me, doc, when do I start to mutate? Or do I have to be bathed in gamma radiation first?"
Nikeiva was oblivious to the fact that various objects in the room were starting to float and hover. She picked up an empty test tube that was resting nearby on a table and hurled it at Wolfram, who ducked just in time, as the test tube--and about five other objects, some of them glass-- impacted the wall behind him.
She caught Wolfram nodding to Seth, who had been watching the scene carefully. Seth approached. Nikeiva narrowed her eyes at him and chucked a book his direction.
"Leave me alone. I can show myself out."
She made a move to slip past him, but he blocked her way and grabbed her. She struggled in his grip for a couple of seconds, and--
The door. She was standing right before it. Seth was across the room, looking over his shoulder at her in bewilderment. Wolfram was staring too, jaw agape. Nikeiva felt her face go white.
"What… just… happened…?"
The two men continued to stare until Wolfram walked slowly up to her. Stopped about arm's length away. Stared some more, in awe.
Nikeiva felt her heart skip a beat, then she swallowed, and passed out on the floor.
Chapter Three: Faking Normal
"Come on… wake up…"
The gentle pat on her cheek seemed to reverberate through her head, sending the images whirling in her brain into a flux of confusion. Something to do with flying glass and the pale, bewildered looks on the faces of Seth and Wolfram.
"Come to, Ms Kasta… you're almost there… come on…"
The sounds were jumbled, but she recognized the words for what they were. Speaking to her. Groggy, she pulled her eyelids open. A couple of faces--at least, she assumed they were faces-- loomed over her, warping with every movement and blink. She groaned and squeezed her eyes shut, then, after what seemed like an eternity, opened them again.
"W-what happened? Why am I on the floor?"
Dr. Wolfram, bending over her, breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, good… I was hoping we wouldn't have to call an ambulance… Are you all right? Does anything hurt?"
She struggled into a sitting position, clutching her head in one hand. "Just my head, thanks. Did I pass out again? I haven't done that in a month…"
Seth was kneeling beside her on the floor. "The doctor doesn't think it was chemical in nature-- he thinks it was shock." He rose to his feet, then offered a hand up, which she accepted.
"Shock of what? What hap--"
The sudden, horrified expression on her face was enough to tell the two men that she'd remembered the reason she had passed out.
Wolfram rested his hands on Nikeiva's shoulders. "Now, please, before you panic, please listen. I know this is scary and probably very strange to you, but understand, I had no way of knowing that any…extra-natural abilities would arise from my solution. I may be able to get rid of them, or at the very least, suppress them, but it's going to take some time, all right?"
Nikeiva winced. "Is this going to involve more blood tests?"
She sighed, then pushed up a sleeve, offering an arm. "Do it."
Three months. Nikeiva sighed. Three months and scores of blood tests later, she was no closer to being normal again. Strangely, the nausea and seizures had gone away…somehow, that disconcerted her.
She sighed as she set a wineglass back in the cupboard in the bar. That had been a long night. At least the restaurant was closed now.
"Just have to turn in my tabs and finish putting away these glasses and this little freak can go home."
She shivered at her own words. Freak. She'd been trying to joke about it -- after all, it shouldn't be permanent-- but so far, she'd had trouble convincing herself that this whole mess was at all funny.
At least Michael didn't know… Nikeiva almost wanted to breathe a sigh of relief. Michael didn't know about her powers. All he knew was that her illness seemed to have vanished, other than some strange sleeping patterns. Nothing that a louder alarm clock couldn't fix. He'd eased off being so concerned about her all of the time. If only she could relax around him again…
She picked up the last glass and lifted it towards the cupboard. Her fingers found a spot of water still clinging to the glass, and it slipped from her fingers, tumbling end over end for the floor…
She grabbed for it, and at the same time, her telekinesis unconsciously came into play. The glass slowed in midair, allowing her to catch the rim before it shattered on the tile below. She breathed a sigh of relief.
“Nice catch, Nikieva.”
She jumped, turning to see another waitress smiling at her ‘lucky catch’.
“Uh… yeah. Thanks Shirley…”
Quickly placing the glass in the cupboard and shutting the door, she left the room to go turn in her paperwork, welcoming the respite from the eyes that had almost caught her powers in action.
“Now, fix your concentration on the beaker.”
Cold little electrodes stuck to her scalp and she was supposed to focus on the beaker? She frowned a little bit, dutifully ignoring the wires coming off of various places on her head as Wolfram studied the EEG readout of her brain activity. She supposed the documenting of how her brain functioned when she was using her telekinesis would help him figure out how to get rid of her accursed abilities, but just the same, she didn’t like looking like medusa-gone-cyborg.
“Okay doc… I’ve got a grip on it. Now what?”
Wolfram paused for a moment. Though Nikeiva was facing away from him, she could almost hear him purse his lips in thought.
“How about floating it over to Seth?”
Nikieva glanced across the room at Seth, who was looking out the window, then slowly lifted the beaker from the table where it sat, and levitated it through the air toward Wolfram’s bodyguard.
“Ten feet… you’re showing some strain…”
“I’ve still got it…” Nikeiva muttered, squinting, concentrating intensely on the beaker, which wobbled a bit in flight.
“Twenty feet… that’s your best all week, Ms. Kasta…” Wolfram noted, keeping tabs on both the progress of the beaker and the EEG readout.
“I’m losing it! Seth, catch!”
Seth looked up just in time to see a beaker falling only a few feet away from him. In a smooth movement, he snatched it from the air before it reached the floor, then silently returned it to its place on the table.
“I’ll worry when she starts getting beakers full of liquids that close to me.”
Wolfram chuckled, and while no smile was readily apparent on Seth’s face, Nikeiva knew he’d just made a joke. She grinned.
“Oh, how I’d love to see all of this activity on a CAT scan… though I confess, some of your brainwaves are very interesting… I’ve never seen the waves you’re using to command your abilities… but, then, I’ve never had a super-human patient before either…”
“And all of this is helping… how?”
“I must know the rules of the game before I can play a good offense, mustn’t I?”
Wolfram nodded. “Of course I must. Now… do just what you did again, only this time, instead of floating it gently over, throw it with your mind… we’ll see if Seth can still catch it, eh?”
She watched him silently as he paused, shifted his position slightly, then flicked the knife into the air. It came to rest in a target across the room, in perfect alignment with three more knives just like it. THOK.
"You're good at that."
Seth turned. There was no jump, no lashing around in surprise-- he was too in control for that-- but clearly, he'd not been expecting to see her. Nikeiva thought to dare a smile, but couldn't quite manage… Seth still unnerved her…
He said nothing, only went and retrieved the knives from the target, then resumed his position and threw the first again. THOK. Bull's-eye.
"Where'd you learn to do that?"
"I picked it up somewhere along the road," he replied without a blink, without a change in his rhythm. Nikeiva nodded.
Quietly, she slipped inside the small room, shutting the door behind her. "I didn't know you had a… practice room… in this lab building…"
"That's because you're not supposed to know."
She said nothing, feeling suddenly rather unwelcome as he went to collect his knives again. The silence was thick, like the air in a warm, stuffy room.
"I'll give you one thing," Seth said finally, after gathering his blades and returning to his spot. "You're quiet on your feet."
THOK. Nikeiva watched the knife in flight. If she watched it the instant it left Seth's hand, she could track it by sight. Seth paused, glancing at her.
"Are you here for something, or are you just bored?"
She shook her head. "Wolfram doesn't need me for another hour… he's busy looking at the results of that EEG test… I wondered where you'd gotten off to."
Seth snorted. He looked at her for several seconds, then singled out another knife and was poised to throw it when he hesitated, then looked at Nikeiva again. She caught the curious look in his eye, and for a second, wasn't sure if she liked it or not.
She blinked once, startled at his command. There was no beckoning, no jerking of his head for her to come, only steady, dominant eye contact and a command… She came. He stepped aside from his mark, then held out a knife to her. She looked at him, puzzled.
"Does it look like I'm talking to anyone else?"
Nikeiva blinked. No, of course he wasn't. Feeling stupid, she took the knife from him, adopted a pose similar to his, and before she could let the blade fly, Seth caught her hand.
"No. Like this."
It was calm but firm. Surprised, she let him rearrange her grasp on the knife, then guide her motion a few times.
Confident, she threw… the blade bounced off of the target and clattered to the floor. She sighed.
"I guess it takes some practice."
"That or some telekinesis."
Nikeiva looked at him. "What?"
Seth's expression held suggestion behind its otherwise calm exterior. "Can you fix on a moving object?"
Her eyes widened. "Unconsciously, sort of… but I've never really tried."
A faint smile. Seth took his place again. "Stand by the target." She shot him a nervous look. He scowled a little. "Don't worry. I haven't been off bull's-eye for years." She took him at his word, then stood along side his target, holding her breath. He took a ready stance, then ordered, "See if you can deflect it from center."
Nikeiva shrugged and said she'd give it a try. Seth threw. She strained, focussed… the blade hit its exact target.
"I… don't know. I'm trying to fix on it. Try again."
Another throw. She was squinting from the effort it took to grasp a rapidly moving object with her mind, but she felt it… felt her powers starting to be able to lock on… again, the knife found it's mark.
"I think I'm getting it. Again, again!"
There was excitement in her voice. She hated herself for it, but curiosity was burning in her veins. Could she?
Half a dozen more knives flew past her before she managed to turn one slightly, nudge it just barely off course…
It hit the target a scant inch from the bull's-eye. But it was off its mark. She'd done it. Seth nodded approvingly, then prepared to throw again. At her signal, he threw. It was an inch and a half off this time…
"I've got it… I've got it…"
"Bravo. Now, retrieve the knives."
She looked at him. His gaze was suggestive again. "This time, you're going to throw them yourself… and with your powers, you're going to get it right."
She blinked, looked unsure. "I…don't know if I can…"
She didn't like Michael's smile-- the sheepish one. The one that meant her favorite customers were back. Nikeiva pounded her fist on the counter in the back kitchen where the waiters cut bread.
"It wasn't my fault, I swear," he said quietly, with a slight grin. He reminded her of a puppy dog. "They saw you. They asked for you. They--"
"They like me, I know, I know," she sighed, finishing his sentence for him. "Just once Michael? Please? I don't want to wait on the frat boys again."
Michael held up his hands in a posture of powerlessness. "I'm full, Niki. I've got too many tables as it is. They're in your section, you take them. I can't."
She shot him a look, then rolled her eyes. "Fine. And don't call me Niki."
"Okay, okay…" he raised his hands in surrender, grinning. "I haven't seen much of you lately… how are things going?"
Nikeiva resisted biting her lip. "Um… better… I'm not having any more weird symptoms or anything… I've been a bit light-sensitive lately, though."
"Still seeing that Wolfram guy?"
She nodded quickly. "Yeah… every week… he's still monitoring me…"
Michael puffed a strand of hair out of his face. "Well, it can't be for much longer… you seem to be fine now."
Nikeiva felt like wincing… "Well, I hope it's not for much longer."
She was relieved when Michael made no comment about that. Instead, his grin widened. "Hey… I know we work in a restaurant, but would you… uh… like to go grab some dinner with me later? Someplace that isn't here, I mean…"
"Is this a date?"
She could see Michael's cheeks get pink. She struggled not to smile. He was so cute… "I guess… if you want…" he said, running a hand through his hair and then tucking it behind his back.
"I'd love to."
"It sure was dim in that dining room…"
Nikeiva chuckled at Michael as they slipped out the front door of a restaurant that was not their workplace. Actually, it was Michael's favorite steakhouse. Nikeiva smiled. The food was good, the company was wonderful, and she had enjoyed the dim lighting much more than Michael had… it'd been months since she'd been cured, and she'd been noticing a greater and greater sensitivity to light…
The steakhouse had a nice terrace out front, since the parking lot was down the street a bit. They lingered near a flowering vine, as Michael seemed reluctant to leave just yet.
"That was great…"
"Yeah… thanks… I had a great time…"
She felt thankful that it was dark outside… at least Michael wouldn't see that her cheeks were red… she could feel them getting warm.
"Wanna do it again… I mean, like next Saturday?"
"Yeah… yeah, that would be great."
Something in her gut said no. No. She couldn't be comfortable with him until she told him… told him about her powers. About what had come of Wolfram's miracle cure. She shivered to think of what he might say, though…
Nikeiva felt her heart quicken-- sometime during her guilty ponderings, her smile must have slipped from her face…
"No, no, I'm fine. Just tired…"
"Yeah… I'm fine."
She led the way out of the terrace and back toward Michael's car.
She stopped, turned to face him, even though she was certain that her eyes were betraying her. "I had something… I wanted to ask you."
"Okay… go ahead."
She bit her lip. "You… read comics as a kid, right?"
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Of course. Why?"
"All of the big flashy heroes have superpowers."
"And?" Michael asked, sounding more confused by the minute.
"What do you think of people like that? People who are… different like that."
"You mean people with superpowers?"
Michael paused for a few seconds. "I don't know. I never gave it much thought. I know I've never seen someone with powers…"
"Yes you have."
Nikeiva winced. She wanted to kick herself but the words had simply come out on their own. She couldn't make herself look up at him. She leaned against a lamppost and sighed.
"What if I told you I have powers?"
A long silence. With every unbroken second, Nikeiva could feel the butterflies in her stomach get more and more agitated.
"I wouldn't believe you."
"What if I said I can prove it?"
Michael said nothing. Finally, driven to speak again by the overpowering awkwardness, Nikeiva said, "Give me your watch."
"Why? What are you going to do?"
Nikeiva sighed. "I'm not going to hurt it. Trust me."
Reluctantly, Michael removed his watch and handed it to Nikeiva. Still unable to look at him, she took a few steps back and held it out on her open palm. With a little concentration, the watch floated into the air and made a neat arc toward its owner.
"Hold out your hand… take it when it gets to you."
Michael obeyed… mystified.
"Telekinetic," Nikeiva finished. "I can teleport, too, but it's scary… I don't like doing it. Ever since I discovered these…abilities, Wolfram's been studying them in hopes of fixing whatever happened."
"Wait a second. You're saying this ability came from that so-called cure you took a while back? Have you been telekinetic that long without telling me?"
A full wince. Nikeiva turned away. "About three and a half months, actually…"
Dead silence. She wanted to cry…
"And you didn't think to tell me."
"I was so afraid of what you'd think…"
She tried to brush away the tear that was sliding down her cheek before Michael saw it, but it was too quickly replaced by another. She dared to meet his eyes. He wasn't angry-- more like sad. Disappointed, but unable to be directly displeased with her.
"I've never had an opinion about people with superpowers, but I guess I'm going to have to come up with one now, huh?"
She could still feel her cheeks burning... she lobbed another knife at Seth's target, watching with some measure of disinterest as it bounced off, having hit handle-first. She would never live it down… never…
"You're getting better. If I'd known that teleportation practice helped your technique, I'd have suggested it long ago."
She'd not even heard him come in. As it was, she ignored Seth, who was standing and looking over her shoulder, and went to fetch her knives.
"I'm never teleporting again. That was awful. I'm sure you got a kick out of it…"
She tried not to reflect on what had just happened five minutes ago… She'd been practicing her teleportation--Wolfram had insisted on it for the purpose of studying it--and it had been going fine until some inconsistency in her mental commands, or perhaps something else, caused her to teleport… right out of her clothing. Wolfram and Seth had, appropriately, turned their heads and allowed her to get her clothing, but it had still been a painful experience.
"You'll keep teleporting," he said simply. Nikeiva snarled at his back as he left her to her knife throwing and went to start his rounds.
"Darn him… I wish I could punch his lights out…"
Gathering up her knives again, she looked around the room. There was no Seth, but there was a punching bag he trained on. Curious--and frustrated, she left the knives and approached it.
"Stupid powers." BAP! She threw her fist into the punching bag, which hardly moved. "Why can't I get it right?"
Two punches. The bag still barely rocked. She gritted her teeth. "Michael has to think I'm a freak… I can't tell anyone else…"
More punches. Less controlled. Wilder.
"Wolfram doesn't seem to be doing anything about it. Is he doing something? Can he really do anything at all?"
More punches. Followed by a kick. She staggered backward a little, but kicked again.
"And whatever is going on with my eyesight… if it's another weird symptom, I'll… RRRGH!"
A flurry of punches and kicks and knees… on one kick, she lost her balance. Fell. Landed hard with an "Oof!"
"Let me guess. You don't have an older brother, and have never taken ballet, gymnastics, martial arts or any other sort of coordination-building sport in your life."
Startled, she looked up from the floor… Seth, leaning against a wall, watching her. She started to frown, but stopped midway, succeeding only in looking extremely perplexed.
"How long have you been there?"
Seth smirked. "Since you muttered something about your eyesight… do you talk to yourself often? It's not exactly… healthy."
She picked herself up off of the floor. "I've got no one else to talk to… Wolfram speaks medical-ese, and is more interested in my hormone count than my problems. Michael… I don't want him to think I'm a freak. And you…" she paused, trying to think of something to say… "You just aren't the talking kind."
Seth's eyebrows rose just a bit, communicating his mild amusement. "Really. Well, conversationalist, I'm not. But if you want to get more satisfaction out of beating a punching bag when you're angry, I can teach you how."
She looked at him… didn't respond immediately. "I don't know…"
He shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Nikeiva watched silently as he gathered up the knives she'd left and practiced throwing them… with his left hand. Suddenly… as strange as it was… Seth was the only one she could talk to. She stood by him, watching him for several minutes, occasionally making his throws go awry with her telekinesis. He took note of her interference.
"So what exactly were you talking about when you complained about your eyesight? Things getting fuzzy or what?"
She shook her head. "No. I'm really… light sensitive. I've been noticing it more and more lately…"
"Should let the doctor look at that. Your eyes can tell a lot about the condition of your brain."
Nikeiva frowned, but agreed he was probably right.
"I don't even want to hear the word 'mutating', doc!"
Nikeiva winced as Wolfram pulled the little flashlight from her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Kasta, but there honestly isn't another word for it-- the shape and behavior of your pupils is changing… I'd be willing to guess that your rod and cone cells are also experiencing some changes. I'd like to keep a close eye on that… no pun intended, of course…"
"Of course," Nikeiva muttered.
"Is there anything else I ought to know about?"
She started to shake her head, then stopped. "This may be inconsequential, but my ears itch. Have been on and off for some time."
"Well, let me take a look," Wolfram said, turning her head gently to examine her right ear. "Huh. Well I'll be a monkey's uncle."
"What?" Nikeiva asked, suddenly nervous.
"Some interesting changes in the formation of your ear cartilage, that's what. The whole tip of your ear is red, and you've got a prominence forming on the outer ridge."
"Oh joy. What is this, a tumor?"
"Doubtful. Well, suffice it to say, I'd like to keep watching this, too."
"Going for the movie star look?"
The two of them had been silent for a while-- it usually was pretty quiet when she took twilight walks with Michael. She liked the silence… it helped her confused brain figure things out without the added distractions of trying to make conversation with the guy she was attracted to. Reluctantly, she turned to him.
"Movie star look? What…"
"The shades," he said, smiling. "I don't mind your hair being down-- it's pretty. You have nice hair. But it's almost dark. Why do you need the shades?"
She hesitated to answer. His jesting smile faded a bit.
"Not so much," she sighed. "I just… feel more secure with them on."
Judging by the silence, Michael hadn't bought it. He stopped under a street light, taking her arm to halt her.
"Nikeiva… no lies, please. Aren't we dating? Don't I deserve the truth?"
She swallowed. Ouch.
"I just don't want you to think I'm a freak, Michael. I want to be normal again."
He touched her cheek. "What's wrong?"
She didn't answer. With a sigh, he slipped the sunglasses from her face, and when she could turn her eyes nowhere but the ground, he slipped a finger under her chin, lifting her gaze to meet his.
She knew what it was that he saw. Her pupils were starting to change--noticeably. As the weeks passed, they grew more and more slit-like, echoing feline eyes. She was already noticing the change in the way she saw in darkness. The sunglasses hadn't hindered her vision at all…
"Oh Nikeiva…" Michael shook his head, then tucked Nikeiva's hair behind her ear. His hand brushed against it, and he paused… "How did…"
She pulled away. "I don't know, Michael. First terrible symptoms, then powers… Wolfram says any more physical mutations probably would have started by now, but…"
She fell into his embrace, letting the tears of fear that rolled down her face soak into his shirt. Something about his arms around her felt good, even as little shivers punctuated her sniffling.
"You can't keep going to him, Niki. He's not helping you. He hasn't done you any good. This is only getting worse."
"He saved my life, Michael… and besides… what else can I do?"
"Get some real medical attention. This guy doesn't even have legal permission to be doing what he's doing to you. Nikeiva, please. I don't want to see anything bad happen to you…"
"I… don't really have much other choice…"
A full year.
WHUMP! The punching bag lurched from Nikeiva's kick. It had been a whole year since she'd taken Wolfram's cure. She wasn't dead. Her telekinesis was developing more by the day, and with growing curiosity, as well as growing disgust with herself, she continued to use it, sometimes accidentally, more and more often. It had been months since she had last teleported out of her clothing-- for that, at least, she was thankful. Her knife-throwing was improving. Rarely did a knife fail to hit the board blade-first. Even her aim was improving. The wall had fewer holes. Seth was a patient coach, even though he wasn't terribly friendly.
A couple more punches and another kick. Sweat rolled down her face. When her ponytail wasn't flying around behind her head, it was stuck to her shoulders, saturated in some strands with more sweat.
She still hadn't made peace with the ears-- they were fully pointed now, like Mr. Spock. Or maybe an elf of some sort. Her hearing was improved, though. Now she could even hear Seth's near-silent footfall if she listened for it. And the eyes-- her night vision was incredible. According to Wolfram, five times stronger than a human's. Seth said that the cat eyes and the pointy ears made her look feline. She'd decked him. It gave her pleasure to see the hint of a bruise on his face yesterday. He hadn't seemed to mind.
He'd taught her that punch.
"St. Andrew's General Hospital, Mary speaking, how may I help you?"
On the other end of the phone, Michael Flynn tugged at his shirt collar. "Hello, my name is Michael… uh… Fowler. I was wondering if I could get some information on one of the doctors affiliated with your hospital?"
Michael paused. "He's a neurologist-neurochemist. Dr. Bryan Wolfram."
Chapter Four: It Comes to Blood
Michael Flynn sighed and leaned back in his chair, tilting it until the two front legs were off the ground, and rubbed his temples. Hours of poring through legal documents was getting to him. His eyes hurt from the strain. But what he was finding was worse. It was making him sick to think about.
Wolfram, it appeared, was not all he was cracked up to be.
Getting up to stretch his legs, Michael paced a bit, blinking his eyes to kill the eyestrain. He should tell Nikeiva all of this. She was placing herself under the medical care of this man. She deserved to know how deep she was in.
He phoned her, listening as it rang a few times. Finally she picked up.
"Hi, it's Michael. Look, are you free today? I… uh, found some interesting information that you might want to see."
Nikeiva hesitated. "I'm kind of busy today… Can I get a rain check? I'll come over, I promise. Just not today."
"Ok. No problem. Just let me know. I'm free all weekend…"
And Michael settled back into his chair, hanging up the phone, and looking with a sense of unease at the stack of papers that gave breadth and depth to his distrust of Bryan Wolfram.
She was getting good now. Even Seth had to admit it. He stood back and watched as she continued to throw his knives, improving visibly each day. Wolfram joined in on these little training sessions now, taking notes of when she used her telekinesis to steady the blades in flight and when she did not. She was improving in both aspects.
"I'm thinking of getting her a set of her own knives," Seth muttered quietly to Wolfram. The doctor looked up with a delighted expression.
"That could be very good for her… encourage her to practice at home perhaps. Though, I have to say, it seems kind of out of character for you to be so thoughtful…"
Seth snorted in denial of such sentiment. "Thoughtful? I just don't want her to dull my blades."
Wolfram only chuckled at this. "That sounds more like the Seth Mason I know…"
Seth only nodded and watched Nikeiva as she went to retrieve the knives she'd thrown, then he leaned in to Wolfram and whispered, "Security had some… issues last night. A couple of protestors tried to break into the building. O'Hanson told me one of 'em was armed."
Wolfram's face darkened. "Bah. That's the third time this month…" glancing at Nikeiva to make sure she'd not heard, he lowered his voice to Seth. "If they get past regular security and start to come for me, well… use whatever means you deem necessary."
Seth smirked-- an altogether pleased smirk. "Gladly."
"Done!" Nikeiva happily chirped. "Fifteen rounds of five knives apiece, and not a single miss."
Seth nodded. "If you think you can handle it, onto some light combat…"
"Oh sick… oh, that needs to go…"
Making a face of absolute repulsion, Michael shuffled a handful of leftovers to the garbage can -- the bowl of refried beans that had HAIR was by far the worst, though the month-old lasagna and the semi-liquid cucumber were locked in spirited competition for second place on the scale of 'ICK'!!
He'd just dumped the rotten food and their containers in the trash when a knock came at the door. Brushing his floppy hair back from his face, he darted to answer it.
"Nikeiva, hi! Uh… c'mon in, I was just cleaning out the weird and unusual from the back of my fridge… crisis averted… I'll make you a cup of coffee or something."
She was all sweaty, he noticed, as she greeted him with a hug. "No no, uh, actually, some cold water would be appreciated… I'm so thirsty…"
He nodded and fetched a glass. "What did you do, have a workout?"
She sucked down about a third of the glass before answering. "Yeah, Seth is teaching me light combat and knife throwing."
Michael blinked. "Who?"
Nikeiva paused. "Seth. You know… the security guard we met at the lab? With the red streak in his hair?"
Michael nodded again, clearly still confused. "Oh him. Yeah. Mr. Block of Ice."
Nikeiva chuckled at this and had a seat at Michael's table, drawn there by scattered papers on its surface. "What's all of this?"
He smiled. This was exactly what he'd wanted to get to. With Nikeiva sitting right across from him and seeing exactly the same information on impartial paper from sources who knew Wolfram better than either of them did, perhaps she'd understand why he didn't trust the good doctor. "This is what I wanted to talk to you about," he said casually. "I did a little research to see if my distrust of Wolfram was founded or not."
Nikeiva's genial attitude slipped a bit. "And?"
"This is what I found." He handed her a sheet of paper. "He's had his license suspended twice -- and I don't mean his driver's license. He's been investigated for illegal experimentation on three separate occasions, and has recurring problems with protestors regarding his treatment of lab animals. He has, yes, been awarded assorted honors proclaiming him a genius in various fields of neurology, and written whole books on subjects I'll bet you or I could barely pronounce, but that's not enough reason to trust him with your life."
A long silence followed this revelation, during which Nikeiva's gaze shifted back and forth from the papers to Michael's eyes. Finally, she pushed back in her chair.
"You swear you're not making any of this up?"
"Nikeiva, I swear, it's all in documented police cases. You could have found the same information yourself if you'd just looked it up."
Her look was hard for Michael to read as she stood up, folding the paper containing the list of accusations and shoving it in her jeans pocket. "I'm going to talk to him tomorrow and see what he has to say about this…"
It was a foggy, cold night. A thoroughly uninviting one. Outside, the city was caught in a loathsome drizzle. Inside, past midnight, the labs were quiet, save the buzzing of the fluorescent lights in the lobby, the occasional shuffle of a janitor finishing up his cleaning on the second floor, or a rabbit or guinea pig scuffling in a cage on level three. Wolfram's personal lab was on level four, and he was working late tonight. He'd asked Seth, for the sake of personal security, to patrol level four tonight.
Seth didn't mind. Overtime was overtime. It meant better pay, and the good doctor did pay rather well already. Despite the risks imposed by working late, alone, especially in the light of the recent attempted, aggressive break-ins, Wolfram had gotten himself an itch of genius and, to scratch it, had barricaded himself in his lab with three cups of espresso. He would pull an all-nighter if it came to it.
Seth almost hoped something would happen. Patrolling was dull.
Twelve minutes to one, fate granted Seth's unspoken wish. Gunfire. His ear piece came alive, scratching and squealing with the emergency communication between the regular security team, scrambling to converge on the point of the break-in. Seth stayed put, relaying what was going on to Wolfram.
"From what I can hear, there are six of them -- four male, two female. The same animal rights protestors we saw last time. Two are armed. Handguns. Unclear who's got 'em as of yet. One guard's already been shot, non-fatal. What say you, boss?"
Wolfram, on the other end of Seth's ear piece, sighed. "If security doesn't get things under control in the next few minutes, go ahead, but be sure not to let anyone get to level four."
Seth sat listening to the chaos for a bit longer. One perpetrator had been knocked out, another was out of ammo but still making a fuss. The other, more careful with his use of ammo, had security at bay, and was trying to crack the pass code to level two…
"I'm going. Lock down the lab."
Seth didn't wait for a response from Wolfram. In his ear, reports of an officer down from gunfire were squealing at him, spurring him on. It was time to get to the fun part of his job.
The protestor trying to crack the door lock code got a surprise door in the face and fist in the nose when Seth burst onto the scene, catching the man off guard. Another punch, and the perpetrator was out to lunch, sprawled on the floor with a bloody nose and swollen lip. Seth cocked his head at the gun, which lay on the floor by the man. It was the still-loaded one. He kicked it through the doorway into the stairwell leading to level two and let the door fall shut. No one who didn't know the security code was getting to that weapon any time soon.
Seeing their comrade put out of commission, the remaining protestors made haste for the doors. Security, feeling a bit bolder now, grabbed and restrained two of them. Two more, a man and a woman, escaped.
"Oh no. I'm not done yet…" and Seth gave chase out the door and into the drizzle. Crashing through puddles in the street, in hot pursuit, he pulled a throwing knife from his belt. He'd had a feeling he'd need them tonight. He was right. He threw it, catching the male fugitive in the back of the thigh, bringing him to his knees, unable to run. Without breaking his stride, Seth continued on after the woman.
He caught up with her in a parking lot half a block down when she stumbled across a low shrub in a planter, and pounced on her, knocking her to the wet asphalt, pinning her there.
"Get off of me you idiot!!" she shrieked, fighting and clawing to escape from his grip. Seth grabbed a lock of her blond hair and pulled tight.
"Nothin' doing, witch. Now I want to know if it's just you six who have sissy Green Peace issues with this lab, or if there are more of you."
She spat in his face. Seth backhanded her.
"Do that again and I'll hamstring you like I did your partner. You'll never walk the same again. Now talk."
Rather than talking, the blond managed to wriggle a hand free of Seth's grip, raked her nails across his face, distracting him, elbowed him in the jaw, and when Seth jerked back in pain, got a knee between herself and him, jerking free of his hold. A tussle followed, each struggling to get the other to submit, and somewhere during a savage twist, Seth felt his arm crack…
The struggle ended with a boot to the head, and Seth, out cold, on the wet pavement.
"Oh my word… what happened here?"
The lobby of Wolfram Labs was in a state of some chaos the next morning… police were questioning security, and the janitorial service was beginning to mop the floor of several bloodstains and repair some damage done. Nikeiva stared, and was soon approached by a security officer.
"I'm afraid the Labs are closed today, miss. We had an… incident here last night."
Nikeiva nodded, bewildered, and turned to leave, but paused when she heard Wolfram's voice.
"It's okay Joe. She has an appointment to speak with me."
With that, Nikeiva followed Wolfram up to his office, away from the chaos of the scene below. Moaning and taking a moment to remove his glasses and rub the bridge of his nose, Wolfram settled in his chair and waved her to a seat.
"Please… make yourself comfortable… I'm sure you're wondering what's going on in the lobby…"
"It had crossed my mind," Nikeiva replied.
Wolfram nodded, cleaning his glasses on the edge of his shirt, then slipped them back on. "Of course it had. Truth be told, we had a break-in last night by some violent protestors… animal rights activists, we believe. I've been getting all sorts of threatening mail about it… that I should stop my testing on lab animals because it's inhumane or something of the like… but of course I can't, you know. That would mean the new drugs that I'm trying to create would either never get tested… or the risks would fall on human volunteers first."
He looked across his desk to Nikeiva, who appeared a bit uneasy at that statement… she clearly didn't wish her position of being a medical guinea pig on anyone else…
"Don't concern yourself too much, Miss Kasta. We'll get this incident sorted out with the police. We caught five of the six perpetrators and Seth got a good look at the sixth before she got away."
"Where is Seth, anyway?" Nikeiva asked. "I haven't seen him skulking around today."
Wolfram winced. "Seth… is in the hospital under observation. He has a mild concussion and a splinter fracture of his right ulna. He should be out sometime today, but he'll be unable to serve in his duties as security adjunct and my personal bodyguard until he's fully healed."
It was Nikeiva's turn to wince. "Do you think the… protestors… will make another attempt?"
"We're… not sure. Seth gave the impression that they might be more organized than they appeared to be last night."
Biting her lip, Nikeiva nodded. "Well, I hope nothing happens… anyway… the reason I wanted to see you…"
After blushing, Nikeiva pulled out the folded paper of the smudges Michael had dug up on Wolfram's medical and legal record. "My boyfriend was doing some research… he found this stuff and… we wanted to know your side of the story…" She set the paper down and scooted it across the desk to him. Wolfram picked it up and glanced over it a few times, then adjusted his glasses.
"What can I say, Miss Kasta, except that this is all true? The part about the protestors… well, you can see the aftermath with your own eyes. I have been investigated before, and I have had my license suspended in the past. However… and please understand this… each incident I was investigated for was related to my attempts to help individuals with rare and incurable diseases… like yours prior to your being cured. It really is a pet passion of mine… curing that which no one knows about, or cares about, except those who are suffering from it… that is why I asked for you to keep the strictest confidence regarding what went on in this lab between you and me. I helped save your life, and I don't see it as fair that I should be penalized for that."
Nikeiva sat back in her chair, took a deep breath, and nodded. She hadn't thought of it that way before. "I'll … explain to Michael what you said. I'm sure he'll understand."
"He was concerned for you, I imagine," Wolfram said quietly, folding his hands, seeming genuinely interested.
"He was. Is. He's a sweetheart… I guess he just doesn't see what you do the way I do."
"He sounds like a good lad. Also… I'm glad you called to arrange this meeting, because I have something I wanted to share with you."
The look of curiosity in Nikeiva's eyes was unmistakable and she leaned forward to find out what it was. From a coat pocket, Wolfram produced a small vial of pills. Small green pills. Green like her eyes.
"I've been working on these for some time now, and I think I've gotten them right. Judging what I know about the nature of your current brain chemistry and where your powers originate in your brain, these pills should help to suppress them, possibly remove them altogether, with no ill effects. Are you willing to give them a try?"
A short silence. Nikeiva stared questioningly at the little green pills. The possibility of a normal life again seemed within her reach-- assuming no more unexpected happenings occurred. She chewed at her lower lip for a moment.
"I'll try it once… just to see what happens. But if it's got unpleasant side effects, I'm off."
"I understand totally." He handed her the vial. "Take it tonight at about 9:00 pm, and come straight over here after that. I want to gauge your brain activity after you take it."
She nodded, taking the vial and secreting it in her purse. "Will do. Thank you."
It was pouring rain again as Nikeiva drove through the night streets to Wolfram Labs. She'd taken her first of the little green pills just five minutes ago on an empty stomach with a glass of water, just as instructed on the little vial. She hoped it would work. She couldn't help but feel that she relied too heavily on her powers now. Maybe it would reverse her mutations too? She didn't want to hope too hard…
Pulling into the parking lot and making a dash to the door, she arrived only somewhat damp, and was met at the door by…
"Seth! I heard you were in the hospital."
Anything resembling gladness to see her evaporated from his face with those words. Sighing, he glanced in disgust at the sling his arm rested in and nodded.
"I'd prefer not to discuss that… follow me."
She followed him up to level four where Wolfram was awaiting them. Nikeiva smirked at seeing him. He was preparing to take another EEG reading. She should know. She'd had enough such tests performed on her.
"Glad to see you again, Miss Kasta. Dreadful weather we're having, isn't it?"
"I keep looking in my rearview mirror expecting to see animals in pairs."
Wolfram had a laugh at that, and beckoned her to a reclining medical chair. "You took your pill, correct?"
"Yeah… about five or ten minutes ago."
"Excellent. Now if you'd be so kind, I'd like to take a look at how the medication is affecting your brain activity. It should be taking effect soon…"
Nikeiva took her place in the chair, waiting patiently as Wolfram carefully positioned a dozen or so cold little electrodes to her scalp, monitoring her brain waves…
It was the strangest feeling, really. She could almost feel the drugs taking effect… she felt calm, a bit spacey… she decided to just count the bumps on the ceiling until Wolfram was done with his test…
Hardly five minutes later, Nikeiva wore a blank stare. And Wolfram, pondering her read-outs, broke into a grin.
"Perfect. Delta waves. By all rights, she should be asleep when exhibiting delta waves, but…"
He strode over and waved a hand in her face. Though her eyes were open, even blinking periodically, she did not respond to his wave. As though trapped in a waking dreamlike state, Nikeiva Kasta was neither awake, nor asleep…
Seth cocked an eyebrow at Wolfram. "What did you do?"
"Those pills I gave her are a prototype hypnotic drug. Made them myself. They're specifically tailored to work with her particular brain chemistry to induce a half-sentient, but ultimately very dream like state. In such a state, she'll be highly vulnerable to suggestion. Now… where did those protestors we caught say their other cronies like to gather?"
Seth shot him a curious, even a bit shocked look. "What are you getting at, Wolfram?"
"I'm just going to give her newfound abilities a bit of a test run, that's all… see how she uses her powers and her light combat training in less-than-everyday situations…"
"You're sending her after the other protestors."
He slipped a hand under Nikeiva's shoulder, easing her up into a sitting position as he picked the electrodes from her head. "Now, my dear, you're going to help me do something about my pesky protestors."
Producing a security ear piece from a drawer, he fitted it on her, then donned the one he used to communicate with Seth, who was already wearing his own.
"Miss Kasta, Seth is going to take you to the protestors' meeting place, and he shall instruct you from there… Seth, you know my rules. Don't be seen, and use whatever means you have to. Oh…" and he tossed Seth a camera. "Take pictures."
With a nod, Seth ordered Nikeiva to follow him, which she did, still with the blank stare on her face…
"See? I told you 'Godzilla versus Freddy' would be a sucky movie…"
Michael Flynn had to agree with Nikeiva. It had been a sucky made-for-tv movie. He couldn't hold down a grin, though. Sucky movie or not, at least he'd gotten to share it with Nikeiva… she'd come over to visit tonight, and sat next to him, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, eating popcorn with him. It was good to be with her and hear nothing of Wolfram or tests or symptoms or anything else of that nature.
"So, what would you suggest we watch now?" he asked, turning to her, wondering if it would be too forward to slip an arm around her. "There's a Spy-a-Thon on channel 12…"
"Actually, could you turn it to the news for a second? I haven't read the paper today, but I heard whispers at work about a local mass murder…"
Michael's eyebrows bounced in surprise. "Yeah… that would be something worth knowing about…" and he flipped through channels until he got to the news, which was just starting.
"-- rumors are flying over the so-called 'Animal Rights' murders that took place just last night in a private residence on Beech Street. Police have not identified any possible suspects in this case, and evidence, says Detective Ormand, is few and far between. The names of the 12 victims, all members of an aggressive Animal Rights union, have not yet been released."
"Creepy…" Michael breathed. "Who goes berserk and kills a bunch of Animal Rights activists?"
Nikeiva shook her head. She didn't know.
"I can't imagine how anyone could be that brutal…"
"-- rumors are flying over the so-called 'Animal Rights' murders that took place just last night in a private residence on Beech Street. Police have not identified any possible suspects in this case, and evidence, says Detective Ormand, is few and far between. The names of the 12 victims, all members of an aggressive Animal Rights union, have not yet been released."
Wolfram sat watching the news, sipping at a glass of pinot noir, nodding in approval. Beside him, Seth, silently viewing the same program, shook his head in total disbelief.
"So she was good?"
Finally, Seth turned to Wolfram. "She was like an animal. Like… like a cat. Very fluid. Ruthless. But neat and quick about it… I've never seen anything like it."
"I hope you got some good pictures."
"I think so. I have a friend who's a developer. For a little hush money, he'll develop them and not say a word."
"Excellent." Wolfram smiled, thinking his own thoughts as the news anchor switched to another topic. The test run of Nikeiva's powers and training had gone exceedingly well. Not only did she handle her gifts like a seasoned professional… neither Seth nor Wolfram would have guessed that such a young, gentle, and terribly naïve woman had such feral, vicious instincts…
It had indeed been Nikeiva, under Seth's suggestions and the power of Wolfram's hypnotic drug, who had slain all 12 of the assembled protestors. Neither of the men had suspected her capable of such violence… and Wolfram knew with great glee that her murderous power was under his control.
Dr. Bryan Wolfram couldn't help but smile to himself. "Ah, progress."
Chapter Five: Blackmail!
In the smoky after-hours of the restaurant and bar where Nikeiva worked, she sat quietly at a table, staring at the tabs she knew she needed to fill out, total, and turn in, and thinking.
Okay, so… this morning, I turned off my alarm clock with my teke. I also poured my orange juice, closed my sock drawer with it when I left it open, grabbed my keys with it as I went out the door, and steadied a tray of drinks with it while on the job. I haven't tried to teleport today, but I can… 'feel' it in the back of my mind… I know it's still there, still active. And I'm still light sensitive and I STILL hate the way Mindy's watch beeps… it's so shrill…
"It's official," she breathed aloud, unaware that her thoughts had become spoken words, "those pills just don't work."
"What pills? You on medication?"
She looked up, startled, to see her manager, Justin Hamilton stride up to her, a half-consumed margarita in his hand. Justin always had a margarita after closing the place up. It was like clockwork. As soon as the last customer was gone, there was Justin with his margarita. He pulled out a chair and sat across from her, taking a long, lazy sip, getting just the tip of the mustache of his goatee wet.
"Oh… it's nothing… A friend let me have a few of her headache tablets, but… they haven't really worked very well…"
"Sorry to hear that… er… lime?" He offered her the lime on the edge of his glass. "I hate limes."
"And yet you like margaritas."
"Go figure, huh?" he laughed. "I've been meaning to say, though, you've been a real trooper through all of this medical stuff… mind if I ask what happened? I only know you were really sick some days…"
"Oh…" Nikeiva waved it away, pretending that it hardly mattered, glad that she'd taken to wearing her hair in such a way as to hide her ears. "It was… just a bizarre virus. But it's over now… I'm fine, really."
"Glad to hear it," Justin said with a nod. Nikeiva gave a small smile, then returned to calculating her tabs. Justin left to return his empty margarita glass to the dishwasher, and Nikeiva soon left for home.
Standing outside in the empty parking lot, she looked up at the starless night sky, sighing. It was cold. She hated the cold. Quietly, she got into her car and drove home.
She arrived home several minutes later, pulling her coat around her and looking out at the uninviting night with little desire to leave her car and walk to her apartment.
"I suppose I could try teleporting in… it's not like anyone would notice… I should be able to port from memory… I know my own place well enough."
Closing her eyes, she concentrated, bringing up a mental image of her living room… the small couch against one wall, a coffee table next to it, on a stripy throw rug… the TV in the corner, and the island separating the living room from the kitchen…
Giving herself a little mental 'push', she forced her body out of its current placement in time-space and into the little environment she'd pictured in her head. Other than the fact that she'd pictured it with the lights on, and the lights were in fact off, nothing had gone awry. She even had her clothes.
"Well, that settles it. I'm calling Wolfram."
She took a moment to hang up her coat and make herself a cup of hot caramel apple cider before settling on her couch with a blanket and calling up the good doctor. He picked up after a ring or two.
"Hi doc, it's Nikeiva. I hope you're not busy."
"Oh, I've a few things on the bunsen burners, but nothing that needs my immediate attention… what seems to be the problem?"
"Well, actually, it's about those pills you gave me."
"What about them?"
Nikeiva smirked… she was using her teke to fish them out of her purse even while she was on the phone. "Oh… they just don't work is all. I've been using my powers all day… they're not suppressed in the slightest. I even teleported from memory for the first time."
She could tell Wolfram was straining to keep the scientific excitement out of his voice as he responded, "Oh, well, that's very interesting… but for the pills, it may take a bit of time before you see any changes… the effects are cumulative. Give them a month. You'll see. They work. I know they do."
"Oh, I just know it, my dear. Call it a scientist's instinct."
That was enough answer for Nikeiva, and she thanked him and hung up. She stared for a while at the little vial of pills that now hovered in midair before her, then decided one more couldn't hurt.
Seth was waiting when Eric slipped out the back door of the 1-hour photo shop, glancing around cautiously. Seth smirked. Had his arm not been broken, Eric was the kind of guy whom he could have taken easily in a fight. Tall and wiry, barely past his white-punk-kid stage, with the tips of his mousy brown hair still dyed a ridiculous platinum blond color, and a piercing in one ear, Eric was a typical troublemaker waiting for an opportunity. Seth and the little proposition he'd made were just such an opportunity.
Seth smiled just a bit, watching Eric jump before spotting him in the darker shadows behind the building.
"Yo man, I got your photos…" and he patted his coat, indicating that the proofs were inside.
"Good. And I…" Seth reached into his own jacket, flashing a little bit of green before stowing it, "have your money. Remember, not a word."
Eric smiled. Immediately Seth didn't like the smile. It was cocky and self-assured, just like a troublemaker before he said or did something stupid…
"Actually, bro, I've been meaning to tell you… the old agreement ain't gonna cut it. These pictures… mmm… they're awfully incriminating… Maybe you ain't in 'em, but they place you at the scene of the crime watching… the police are offering a reward to anyone who's got info… and I got info… so, uh… yeah… you gonna pay me more than the cops?"
Seth squinted in irritation, but not outright refusal just yet. "How much is the reward?"
"Twenty five thou…" Eric said, tipping his chin up a bit. "If you matched it, bro, each a' these pictures would be worth over a grand a piece… "
Seth knew Eric was lying… he'd heard on the news that the police reward was only ten grand. Suddenly, he didn't trust Eric with this secret…
"I'll see what my employer says… stick around. Have a smoke. I'll be back in half an hour."
"Sweet." And Eric pulled out a carton of smokes and made himself comfortable as Seth left. Seth, meanwhile, made his way across the parking lot and into his car, then drove a block or so away, pulled over, and called Wolfram. When the good doctor picked up…
"We have a problem."
Wolfram seemed surprised. "Ah, Seth… trouble with your developer contact?"
"Yeah. He's trying to milk this for more money… I don't trust him. Even if we give him his asking price, I bet he'll still go to the police with what he knows to get the reward too… he may even have made a spare set of photos. I just know he's going to stab us in the back if I make this transaction."
A pause passed between the two men before Seth continued, "We need to ice him."
Wolfram hesitated, then replied, "I'll call Ms. Kasta and tell her to take a pill. Start heading over to her place… she should be about ready by the time you get there. It seems only fitting that this fellow meet his end by the same manner he was trying to make his fortune, doesn't it?"
Seth only muttered an approval and headed toward Nikeiva's apartment.
Nikeiva jumped when her phone rang… who called at midnight? Then again, who sat up watching old murder mysteries and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at midnight either? Without moving from the couch, she picked her phone from the hook and answered it, muting her program.
"Hello Nikeiva, it's Wolfram…"
"Oh, hi doc… what's up?"
"I just wanted to remind you to take a pill tonight… it's important to keep on top of your regimen, you know…"
"Yeah yeah… I can't remember if I took one today or not… lemme see…"
She found the vial of pills on her kitchen counter, buried under a newspaper, an old take out carton, a few bills, and the TV remote.
"So that's where that thing went…"
Nikeiva paused, then backtracked. "Oh, nothing, nevermind… I found them…"
"Take one right now, if you please… you know… so you don't forget. Always best to do things while you're thinking about them…"
Nikeiva shrugged at this and popped a pill. "Ok. Done. Is that all?"
"Yes, Miss Kasta. That's all."
"Okay… g'night then." And she hung up and returned to her movie.
* Reader Discretion Advised*
Seth didn't bother to knock. Nikeiva had to be a zombie by now. It'd been fifteen minutes. She'd never have answered. He picked the lock and slipped out of the cold night air into her apartment.
He found her staring blankly at the TV, which was showing a not particularly riveting commercial for laundry detergent. Seth switched it off.
"Come with me."
He had to admit, we was still a bit spooked by the way she obeyed his every direct command in total silence, while her luminous green eyes seemed transfixed on some point in space, far from the here and now…
She followed him outside into the cold night, and into his car. Starting it, Seth drove back to the rendezvous point where Eric still waited, and parked just within sight. He turned to Nikeiva, who was still staring, totally incoherent of her surroundings.
"Nikeiva. Look over there."
He pointed, and her gaze followed the length of his good arm until she spotted the punky young man slouching against the back of the photo developing shop, having a smoke.
"He has some pictures in his coat… we want them. We have to get them from him without giving him a chance to make any noise or call for help."
Seth paused, evaluating her keen, but still blank stare. There was something so unfeeling there… he could almost taste it. Some cold instinct… maybe it was inherent in all humanity, or maybe this young woman had a subconscious blood-lusting streak… but he could feel her, ready, willing and able to do whatever was necessary…
It would have scared him if he weren't in control of it.
"You know what to do." He produced a knife and a pair of gloves and handed it to her. "Just make sure you do it quietly."
Taking the weapon, she teleported from the car, appearing atop the roof of the building. Picking a piece of gravel from the rooftop, she tossed it over the edge. It bounced into a bush, drawing her target's attention. Below, Eric glanced around, then took a few steps forward to see if he could find the cause of the noise.
The cause found him. In a motion so smooth and quick that even Seth had trouble believing it, Nikeiva teleported behind the unwitting developer, put him in a choke hold, and SLISSH!! … slit his throat, nicking her own finger in the process so rapid and savage was the attack..
Not a noise was heard as Nikeiva stood over the body, watching blankly as the blood drained away, mixing with the puddles in the back parking lot and flowing to a drainage grate. Satisfied, she turned the dead fellow over and unzipped his denim jacket. Inside, in an interior pocket, were two packages of photos. One had the negatives, the other package was full of reprints. Taking them both and wiping the knife blade off on the corpse's clothing, she teleported back to the car, handing both the knife and the photos back to Seth.
Seth stared for a long while, still amazed by what he'd just seen, and slowly took the proffered items from her.
"Time to go home."
"Hey Holly… have you read this?"
Nikeiva beckoned the bus girl into the kitchen, where she was hovering over a newspaper. Holly, a curly haired girl of about 18, peered over Nikeiva's shoulder. The front-page header screamed back at them in bold letters.
Another murder victim found!
Holly's blue eyes grew round with horror. "Oh my gawd, that's the second one in our area in a week!"
"Pretty nastily done in, too," Nikeiva muttered, reading down the article. "His throat was slit."
Holly's hand went to her own neck. "Oh, ow… I'd rather be shot…" Nikeiva nodded in agreement.
"So far, no one knows if it's the same killer, a copycat, if the newest victim is connected to the animal rights victims, or what. It's getting dangerous to live here."
"Hey Michael!! Come look at this!" Holly called, beckoning to Michael, who was carrying a loaded tray out to the dining room.
"I'm kinda busy…"
"It'll only take a second," Holly begged. "There's been another murder!"
Nikeiva rolled her eyes. She hadn't wanted Michael to hear about this yet… the latest killing was right in her neighborhood. She knew he'd be worried about her.
Sure enough, Michael peered right over Holly's shoulder, reading the headline and the photo caption and the first paragraph of text. "Oh my word, Nikeiva that's half a mile from where you live!"
"Oh…" she said, pretending she hadn't noticed. "I guess it is."
He gave her a concerned look. "I don't think the mass murder was too far from your place either… you've gotta be careful. You're living in a dangerous neighborhood."
"I'll be fine, Michael. It's not like I go out at night prowling the streets for trouble."
He nodded, then went to deliver his tray of food, which was starting to get heavy. Holly turned to leave, but spied a cut on Nikeiva's finger as the woman was refolding the paper.
"That looks like it hurt…"
"Huh?" Nikeiva looked up, confused. "What looks like it hurt? The… guy with his throat slit?"
"No, your finger." Holly pointed, and Nikeiva, surprised, turned her hand to look at the wound. It wasn't very deep, but it certainly was something she thought she ought to have noticed earlier…
"I wonder where that came from…"
"Ow!! Dangit!! Where'd that come from?"
Nikeiva wailed pitifully at the bruise on the back of her arm, which she'd not seen before today. Michael, who was busy taping up a box of Nikeiva's clothing, paused to see.
"That's got to be the eighth bruise in two and a half months that you can't remember getting… you must bruise easily."
"I swear, if I end up cut and bruised all over from packing my entire apartment and hauling it across town, I'm going to hold it against you," she joked, loading some dishes wrapped in newspaper in another box. Michael smirked and tossed another wadded up piece of newspaper at her.
"Hey, just ask and I'll kiss it and make it better…"
Nikeiva chuckled, finished packing the box of dishes, and ruffled his hair. "You wish. And I wish I didn't have to move…"
Michael tossed the roll of packing tape at her so she could tape up her box. "You want to stay in this neighborhood? Nikeiva, in three months there have been four separate cases of murder-- one of them last night!"
She held up a hand to halt his speech. "I didn't say I was attached to the neighborhood, Michael. I just hate moving. It's a pain. Literally." And she rubbed the sore bruise again.
"Yeah… Anyway, I called last night, but you didn't pick up. You said you'd be home… so I was kinda worried about you, especially in light of that murder."
Nikeiva shot him a funny look. "You called last night?"
"Yeah. At about ten o'clock."
"I don't remember ever hearing the phone ring… that's bizarre. I guess I was really engrossed in that program."
"What program?" Michael asked as he hefted her TV into its own box.
"Oh, something about Jack the Ripper… was in kind of a morbid mood, I guess."
She didn't like the silence that Michael made… it wasn't a good silence. She turned to see a slightly confused look on his face.
"Did I say something?"
"I watched that same program, Nikeiva. It ended at nine."
She stared at him for a minute, then blinked. "I don't know… all I can say is, the last thing I remember doing was watching that program… come to think of it, I can't even remember how it ended… I probably just fell asleep on the couch."
At this suggestion, Michael visibly relaxed. "Yeah, that's probably it. You and your weird sleeping habits." He returned to packing her TV, rooting through some papers and packing peanuts to find her remote and her VCR. Meanwhile Nikeiva, who was now packing the contents of her refrigerator, paused, feeling a little chill up her spine.
But that's impossible… I woke up in my bed at around eleven… I have no idea what happened between 8:45ish and eleven o'clockish… creepy.
Shrugging and deciding it was simply a lapse of memory and that it would come to her eventually, she chose not to mention it to Michael.
"Seth Mason, I will never ever understand why you aren't a photographer instead of an odd-job dirty-work hound… these photos are just beautiful."
Seth rolled his eyes as his employer, Dr. Wolfram, examined the photos he'd taken the night before on the display screen of their new camera. "Dirty work pays better. And you get to play with dangerous toys like guns and knives."
"You don't like guns."
"My point still stands."
"Genius idea getting a digital camera, though… no middle man," Wolfram said with a smile as the two loaded two excursions' worth of Nikeiva's murderous exploits onto a computer to burn them to a disk for safekeeping. "Do me a favor when you have time, Seth… when we get more pictures, keep adding them to this disk, and, when it's full, make a bunch of copies. If she gets out of hand, I want plenty of evidence, just in case."
"Okay, so, clearly these pills aren't working… it's been three months and I've seen no changes in my power levels…"
Nikeiva shook her head and braked for a red light. She didn't want to come off sounding like a whiner, hence why she was rehearsing her speech before she arrived at Wolfram Labs. It was true, though. The little green pills hadn't done anything for her, and she felt it only rational that Wolfram, the man whose care she was under, should know. She'd taken half of them so far… she didn't want to needlessly finish off the bottle.
"The old neighborhood… can't say as I miss it too much…" Nikeiva muttered as she pulled past her old apartment. She smirked. Michael had expressed, subtly of course, his great approval of the fact that since Nikeiva was moving away, maybe she'd find the need to visit Wolfram less. She'd changed jobs, too. She liked that a bit more. No more frat boys.
She pulled into the Labs parking lot, and shut off her engine. She wondered if she ought to go through the front way, summon Seth, and wait for him to escort her up, or if she could possibly just teleport into Wolfram's office… it would certainly show him that her powers hadn't diminished… Shrugging, she decided to do exactly that, closed her eyes, concentrated, and …
PAF! She found herself in Wolfram's private laboratory, her arrival making little more noise than the clapping together of a pair of thick winter gloves. The lab was dark and quiet, but his office was through an adjoining door… and from the sound of it, he was in it. And on the phone.
Not wanting to disturb him, she slinked quietly to his office door and leaned against the wall to wait, eyes wandering the darkened lab casually. Though she didn't intend to, her sensitive ears tuned themselves toward his conversation…
"…told you that it was possible. Didn't I tell you? She's been marvelous so far. I must admit it was a delicious stroke of luck finding her, and so close to my own labs, too. Just what I needed to test that serum on."
Nikeiva stopped, took notice. He was talking about her. Feeling both guilty and curious, she listened more closely.
"Yes. Isn't it? I'm amazed the amount of information I'm getting regarding her powers, too… I was pretty sure she'd take me up on the offer, and I knew she'd develop powers from the serum, but whether or not she'd let me make a guinea pig of her was entirely conjecture. But she's quite the naïve and compliant little lab rat…"
Nikeiva snarled. He had no intention at all of getting rid of her powers…
"Hmm? Oh, well yes, of course. What would any brilliant mind with a super-powered little lackey on green pills do? Uh huh. Uh huh. And the one two weeks ago, too. I know, weren't they? I can't tell you how many times I've had the front of this building repainted… I've had no more trouble with them."
Nikeiva felt sick… he was using her… using her powers… and the green pills had something to do with it… disgusted that she'd not seen it somehow earlier, she started to back away from the door, mind whirling, unable to decide what to do…
"I hope to improve upon her current abilities… she seems a bit weak in some areas…"
THUD! Nikeiva's heart leapt into her throat, but it was too late. She's backed into a shelf rather hard. Before she could react, one -- just one -- beaker, empty, toppled and crashed to the floor, dashing into a million pieces. Nikeiva clapped her hands over her mouth in horror, and glanced to the office door.
"… I just heard something… I'll call you back ok? Bye."
And Dr. Bryan Wolfram poked his head out into the darkened lab to see what had caused the commotion.
Nikeiva stared at him, at his face in the dark, as he looked all around, unable to see her, or much else in the dark… unlike her. She saw everything. She saw him. For what he really was.
She saw his hand go to a light switch, but before he reached it, her trance of fear broke and she sprang, pouncing on him, grabbing him by the lapels of his lab coat and shoving him up against the door jamb.
"You B*stard!! I can't believe I trusted you!!"
It was a full three or four seconds before Wolfram even knew what had happened. Finally, in a voice that could not disguise a hint of surprise, "Nikeiva… May I ask…"
"What?" she snarled, whacking him against the doorway again. "Are you going to ask me for my EEG reading? Another blood sample? Or to take more of your stupid pills?"
"Miss Kasta, get a hold of yourself!"
Nikeiva laughed. "No! For once I actually know what's going on! I feel like I've got more of a hold on myself than I have for the past year! I heard everything you said, you jerk…You're using me!"
Wolfram's face slipped from one of mock, game-playing surprise and confusion to a more genuine expression, one of annoyance. "So what are you going to do? Kill me like you killed those protestors?"
Nikeiva slapped him across the face, nearly knocking his glasses off. "Liar!" She didn't see Wolfram's hand go to a cell phone in his coat pocket, punching a button. She only saw Wolfram roll with her slap and fix his glasses before answering.
"You doubt me? There's proof."
"Everything you ever told me was a lie and I believed it -- well, not anymore."
"Not everything, Miss Kasta," Wolfram said, finally managing to throw her off of him. "I told you I could save your life, and I have. Your brain condition is gone. Your symptoms, ceased. I told you I had no idea what the side effects would be-- I never considered your powers to be side effects. I was aiming to induce them, yes. And what I'm telling you now is the truth, you little freak. You're a killer. Photographic proof exists. I have it."
"I don't believe you."
"I can prove it."
Nikeiva heard the lab doors open… in came Seth. The fact that his arm was no longer in a cast didn't help her opinion of this encounter.
"Yes, he's quite healed," Wolfram muttered, opening a locked safe and pulling out an envelope. "A colleague of mine made a compound that helped to heal his fractures ahead of schedule. A lucky turn, for me at least. You see, Seth is, among other things, my personal bodyguard. He also runs errands for me of the… illegal sort… at least he did, until he broke his arm."
Seth, hovering protectively behind Wolfram, only nodded.
"You, my dear, have been filling in for him lately."
He handed her the envelope, in which was a sheaf of photos. She flipped through them, at each one her face growing paler and her eyes turning further from the images which they were forced to take in. Photo after photo of her -- it was unmistakably her -- killing. Slitting throats, breaking necks, stabbing… and the photographer had spared no pains to make sure there was blood, plenty of it, in each photo.
"I'm told I take excellent pictures," Seth muttered with a wry smirk, shifting his weight to one leg and cocking his head at her. "You're very photogenic."
She looked up at him, half sickened, half enraged. Then, as if possessed by a madness, she ripped the stack of photos in half, picking up a few bits and shredding them into tiny pieces, angry, confused and scared…
"Destroy them all, if you like. Burn them. I have copies. And pictures of the murder of that developer… what was his name?"
"Eric," Seth answered.
"Ah yes. And that nosey investigator who gave me trouble several years ago… and that bum. Yes, I know you've heard about that one. He put up quite a fight before you choked him to death…"
Nikeiva could only shake her head, pale and disbelieving… "I… I don't remember any of it. I didn't do it. I couldn't have. I'd remember seeing… doing… killing…"
Wolfram shrugged and pulled open a drawer at his desk and pulled out a little vial of pills, green ones, just like hers. "Not when you're using these, you wouldn't."
If she'd felt ill before, she wanted to throw up now…
"They're hypnotic drugs, actually," Wolfram said, turning the little vial around in his hand casually. "They induce a dream-like state in the patient -- a state wherein they are very very susceptible to suggestion. They do what they're told, in effect. And they wake later to have no memory of what they've done…"
Wolfram shook his head. "It worked so well… even Seth was impressed, I think."
Seth nodded. "She's a natural-born killer. I only had to instruct her in the killings of the protestors. The other murders were all her. I didn't even necessarily need to tell her to kill… she did it all by herself…"
"Yes, I'm afraid so," Wolfram said, almost sounding pitying of her position. "You're a killer… your hands are almost as dirty as Seth's."
"I…I'll tell the police… You can't do this and get away with it…"
It was Wolfram's turn to laugh, and he did, throwing his head back and cackling with glee. "Oh you poor fool… you didn't give that a second thought, did you? Of all of us, you're going to be the one in the most trouble if you squeal. You're a serial murderess. There's even photographic proof."
"The drugs… I can't be punished for something I didn't even do in my sentient mind…"
"Oh these drugs?" Wolfram held up the vial, and Seth produced one, half full, which Nikeiva recognized as being the one from her purse.
"Shouldn't leave valuable things in your car," he said with a smirk.
"This is all the evidence in the world that indicates these killings weren't intentional and deliberate on your part. And I'm quite afraid…" He popped them both open and turned to dump them into a boiling beaker on a workbench. The mixture fizzled and hissed, and in seconds, the green pills had dissolved away. "…that they no longer exist."
Curiosity played with superiority on Wolfram's face as he turned to her again. "I guarantee you, Miss Kasta… if you try to spill what you know to the police, I'll spill everything about you. If I go down, you go with me. And you can't execute a doctor for malpractice. Serial killers, however… well, that's a different matter."
She lunged at him, but Seth caught her and held her back. She struggled in his grip, but could not break free. Even teleporting wouldn't work… she couldn't seem to separate her body from his, mentally. She could only seethe with hatred and loathing as Wolfram stood just out of her reach, leaning into her face.
"You've proven to be such a valuable commodity, in fact, that I can't guarantee I won't find other uses for you."
"If you want to keep your squeaky clean record, you'll do as I tell you. My warning stands. You defy me, and I'll ruin you. Your move, Miss Kasta."
Chapter Six: Burying Chaos
It had started raining again by the time she arrived home… too numb to it -- to much of anything, really-- to care, she trudged through it to her apartment, porting through the door to stand in the middle of her half-unpacked living room, sopping wet, and feeling even worse. The fluorescent street lamps which shown through her rain-speckled, undressed windows cast the shadows of boxes and partially arranged furniture as strange shapes on the bare walls. Not bothering to even turn on the light, Nikeiva looked around, feeling forlorn… Her life had to get turned upside down and shaken like a snow globe and she didn't even have someplace warm and inviting to go home and cry…
She sank down where she was, making a little soggy spot on the carpet, curling up into a fetal position, head on her knees, her wet hair hanging in tangles.
"How on earth am I going to get out of this…"
The phone rang. The sound both startled and depressed her… it seemed so out of place in this dreary silence… She struggled to her feet to go pick it up, but before she laid hand to the receiver, she saw the caller ID. Michael. She paused, feeling hot tears come to her eyes. No. She couldn't talk to Michael now. She'd lose it, break down, cry like a baby, and he'd rush over to see what was wrong…
She'd have to tell him…
"No… I'm not going to get you involved… you weren't stupid like me… you shouldn't have to get hurt…"
She left the room before the answering machine picked up, heading into her bedroom, thankful that at least her bed had all the appropriate sheets and blankets on it. Stripping off her wet clothes, feeling tears of fear and hopelessness fighting to be free, she crawled under the covers, crying into the night until she fell into a fitful sleep.
"Are you sure you're okay? You've been awfully quiet lately…"
Nikeiva looked up at the shy voice behind her, putting a hand to her aching back. There stood one of her coworkers in Bardey's Books and Beverages, Shelly. Shelly was nice enough, with a pretty young face and curly hair… she was the last person -- aside from Michael -- that Nikeiva could ever tell her problems to.
"Fine… just adjusting to changing jobs and moving…"
"Want a hand unpacking those books?"
Nikeiva thought for a moment -- the offer was tempting. She had two more heavy boxes of coffee table books to unload and put on the top shelf… just the thought make her already sore back hurt worse.
"No, I'm doing all right. I could use a cappuccino though."
"It's quiet right now… lunch rush hasn't started… I'll make you one and add it to your tab."
Nikeiva breathed a sigh of relief when Shelly had gone… Somehow, something so cute and innocent didn't need tainted by her problems. Everyone she brought into her confidence was in danger, after all. She was in over her head, and she was in it alone. She wondered if she ought to call Michael back… she'd not returned his call yet.
"I can't face him yet… I need to know I can keep my composure… I need to rehearse it a bit…"
Shelly returned too soon with the cappuccino. Nikeiva thanked her for it and took a long sip, pausing to enjoy it.
"Are you sure you don't want to talk?"
Shelly followed with an awkward silence, which made Nikeiva uneasy. "Aren't you on register?"
It worked. Nikeiva smiled to herself as her young coworker spied a customer at the register, ready to make a purchase, then scuttled off with her beaming 'customer service' smile. Nikeiva sighed.
"With nosey types like her around, I almost miss the frat boys. At least all they ever wanted from me was my number..."
Nikeiva jumped, literally nearly leaving the mattress, when the incoming call woke her from a light sleep. Her nerves had been on end all week, and mysterious phone calls in the night were not helping.
Wide awake and trying to suppress the shaking in her still-startled limbs, she threw off the covers and crossed her bedroom to the phone, checking to see who it was. With a grimace, she noted that it was Wolfram. She stared at it as it rang a few more times, half-tempted to pretend that she was asleep or out of the house. Some nagging thought in the back of her mind prodded her, though. To ignore Wolfram was dangerous. It was a risk that, however much she loathed it, she could not run. She picked up.
"It's twelve-thirty. What do you want?" she snapped.
Wolfram chuckled on the other end. A bit of a crackle and some fuzzy reception told her he was on a cell phone.
"Smart girl. Actually, I do want something of you. Be behind the Labs building in an hour. Dress inconspicuously. I've got a job for you."
He hung up before she had the chance to protest, or even hang up herself. Nikeiva stuck out her tongue at the phone, then slowly hung it up. She had been summoned, and as of yet, she'd not thought of a way out of this whole mess…
With a sick, icy feeling in her gut, and renewed trembling in her hands and her knees, she set about to pulling on some warm, black clothing. Swiping a pair of gloves off of her dresser top, she slipped outside into the dark and cold while the rest of humanity was settled in for the night.
"Wolfram," she muttered to herself, "I wish you could die more than once."
It was cold when she showed up in the parking lot… she found Wolfram and Seth waiting by a black sedan, the former nursing a cup of coffee. She shot them both a disgusted look, saying 'I loathe you' more potently than words ever could.
"Ah, Miss Kasta, right on time. I trust your abilities were useful in getting here…" Wolfram said as he glanced at his watch.
"Like I'd give you the satisfaction of an answer. What do you want?"
The good doctor glanced at his bodyguard. "Everything's ready, yes?"
Seth nodded. "I have it all cleaned up and ready for her."
To this, Wolfram nodded, and Seth opened the back passenger door of the sedan for Nikeiva, beckoning her in. Nikeiva, however, did not budge.
"First you tell me where we're going."
"To the Brasswood Street housing complex, my dear. Now get in."
She shot Wolfram a venomous look, but ducked inside the car, feeling not unlike a caged animal when Seth shut the door behind her. The two men piled in the front, and away they all three went into the cold night.
"Brasswo-d" read the name on the front of the concrete entry sign. The second 'o' had long since been stolen, leaving only the shadow of where it had been behind. The sedan stopped at the curb, all three looking at the closed community gates.
"Your target is in there, Miss Kasta," Wolfram explained. "One of those houses belongs to Private Investigator Marshall Williams… or, should I say, 'belonged to'. You killed him some time ago, while drugged, of course. Well, I have a dilemma… he had some interesting files on my medical activities… so Seth tells me… he's quite helpful… and since his estate is going to be sold off, passed on by way of his will, or, in the case of his private files, turned over to the state, well… you can see my problem. I want those files, before anyone else sees them."
"And you want me to steal them," Nikeiva muttered, meeting his eyes in the rearview mirror.
"I hate to break it to you, quack man, but I don't know the first thing about theft. A P.I. has got to have a security system from Hell, and I can't even program my VCR."
Wolfram had a chuckle at that. "That is why the ever-resourceful Seth has already gone ahead and disarmed the security system. Your job is simply to find the house, get in without the neighbors seeing you -- which shouldn't be difficult, it's midnight, after all -- get the files, and return to us. All while trying not to leave any signs that you've been there. A simple snatch and grab, really."
Nikeiva felt ill at the thought. Then Seth passed her back a scrap of paper with directions on it. "These are the directions to the house, as well as the street address. A few houses have dogs that like to bark. Be careful."
She sat there for a long while, staring at the piece of paper, shaking her head quietly to herself. She couldn't do this…
She looked up. Both men were looking at her, waiting for her to do something. Her mouth and throat felt dry.
"I… I can't do this… I don't know how. I won't."
Rather than gaining a sense of bravado at her words, she felt a jolt of fear. She knew Wolfram would twist her chain about now… he didn't disappoint her. The good doctor reached into his coat, pulling out a cell phone, and began dialing. Nikeiva's eyes widened a bit.
"What are you doing?"
"Dialing your boyfriend's phone number. What does it look like?"
He paused. There was one number left to go, and his thumb was poised on the button. All he needed to do was press down and send. Nikeiva was sweating.
"Okay okay… just… just don't call Michael. He-He can't know…"
"Then you'd better hustle, kid," Seth snapped with a wry smirk. Nikeiva shot him a look, then slowly exited the car, looking up at the gates. She couldn't do this. But she had to.
"Oh, and Miss Kasta…"
She turned. Wolfram was speaking to her. "If you return without the files… I'll call him anyway."
Snarling under her breath, calling him all manner of things she dared not call him to his face, she teleported past the gates and started down the quiet, darkened private street on her lonely mission.
Miserable night. Nikeiva looked up at the murky skies, clouded over and threatening to rain. She hated nights like this. It was cold, and the very air was damp. That wasn’t what she hated about it so much, though. She paused behind a bush, glancing at the directions Seth had given her, and checking them with a street sign.
It was Wolfram she hated. The evil son of a …
Her ears perked up when she heard a sound coming from a nearby yard. A curious, rustling, sniffing noise. A dog. She bristled. A dog that would bark if it noticed her. She teleported away, to the rooftop of another house. From here, she had a good view, and the chimney that she hid behind helped to obscure her from other houses.
“1159. Well… that across the street is 1126…” She ported again, this time to the even-numbered side of the street so she could more easily see the odd. She crept along, careful to keep her tread so light that she could barely hear it, minimizing the likelihood that a dog would investigate. She hated dogs. They made her nervous.
Finally, she found it. 1159. It looked deserted, all right. The grass was overgrown, the drapes drawn, and no car in the driveway.
“How am I going to get in there?” she wondered quietly to herself. Glancing around, she stole up to the house, wishing there were some cover. There was none. The house had belonged to a PI, after all. It would have been foolish of him to give burglars an edge on his own property. Burglars like her.
She felt a bit ashamed, then looked out at the surrounding neighborhood, paranoid that somewhere out there some eyes were watching… She found a tiny gap in the curtains, and peered in, careful not to touch the glass and leave a nose print. When her eyes adjusted a bit more, she could see in. And with a PAF!, she was in, standing in the middle of an unfamiliar living room, smelling the unfamiliar surroundings and straining her ears to hear anything.
She sighed and began to think. “If I were a Private Investigator, where would I hide my files?”
The idea that the former inhabitant might have had an office or a desk of some sort occurred to her. She decided to pursue that line of thought first, and went poking through the house, looking for such a room.
She indeed found a desk in another room – in what she assumed was his bedroom. She’d seen no other beds in this house. She assumed he’d been unmarried.
“Pal, I’m sorry I have to do this…”
She rooted through several desk drawers, glad for the gloves. Nothing but tape, staplers, and the like. A large bottom drawer was locked, though. Nikeiva had to concentrate a bit, but the application of some telekinesis unlocked it. Inside were manila folders and hard copy files of several dozen cases. She flipped through them. One fat one was labeled ‘Wolfram, Dr. Bryan’. She pulled it and examined it. There it was.
“This is too easy…” Then she looked at the computer.
“He might have back up files of this stuff… I wonder…”
Starting it up, she managed to bypass the password prompt by hitting ‘cancel’. “Not very secure for a PI… unless that was some of Seth’s doing too.” She rooted through computer files until she found one. The back-up of the hard copies. She copied it all to a disk.
“Now to delete.”
Then she hesitated. If this investigator had dirt on Wolfram… why shouldn’t she? Biting her lip and wondering how much time she had, she logged onto the internet. Creating an email account under a false name, she emailed the files to herself. She could go and get it when she wanted to. Shutting the computer down, grabbing the disk and the files, and replacing everything the way it had been, Nikeiva crept to the window and peered outside again, into the shadow of a large juniper bush across the street. From there, it was a quick jaunt to Wolfram’s waiting car.
The moment she arrived, she was greeted by the sight of Seth with a stopwatch. He clicked it when she arrived, then glanced at it, unimpressed.
“We have GOT to work on your speed.”
“Glad to see you too,” she snarled, thrusting the papers and the disk at him. “Here. Take your information and get lost. I’ll find my own way home.”
Seth, after tucking the stolen goods away, looked to Wolfram, who nodded.
“You’ve been a great help, my dear. And don’t worry too much about Seth and his stopwatch… we’ll hone your skills quite a bit more before you’re done…”
“B*stard,” Nikeiva muttered as the car pulled away, just as a light drizzle started. Disgusted, cold, and tired, Nikeiva started the walk back to more familiar territory.
Michael knocked a few more times on the door… no answer. But Nikeiva’s car was here, and her lights were on. She had to be home. “She’s probably taking a bath or something…” he muttered to himself, trying the knob. It was unlocked. He let himself in, trusting that she wouldn’t mind. He’d only come by to drop off a coat she’d left at her work last night, and say hello.
Stepping in, he noted that she wasn’t in the living room, or – he looked around the corner – in the kitchen. Shrugging, he dropped her coat on her couch and headed down the short hallway to see if she was in her bedroom. He found the door partially closed and the light off… he didn’t figure she’d be in there, but he peeked in just to make sure…
There she was. Nikeiva lay sprawled across her bed, lying on her tummy, head tucked amidst her folded arms. He’d almost assumed she was asleep… then… she blinked.
“Nikeiva? You awake?”
He looked to see if she was awake. Her eyes were certainly open, but she was not looking at him. She seemed to be staring into space, as if she was unaware that he was there at all.
Still no answer. He slipped in, feeling obligated to break the heavy silence as little as possible. After a moment, he sat on the edge of her bed next to her. Touched her shoulder.
A tear traced its way down her cheek, but still her gaze didn’t seem to break… Michael shook his head, then brushed the tear away.
“Nikki, baby, are you okay?”
She sniffled, then finally turned to look at him. He saw for a moment something in her eyes… some deep hurt… before she turned away, hugging a pillow.
“Just moody… I think… that time of month, ya know?”
Michael hesitated, then lay down next to her, caressing her back. “You’re never like this, Nikeiva… what’s going on? You can tell me…”
“Nothing’s going on… I just… felt like I needed a good cry today. That’s all. I swear."
I’m a liar, she thought. Along with a thief and a murderer… I wish Wolfram would die… just die!! Get in a wreck or something… have one of his experiments explode… Four houses… god, I never thought anyone would ever be able to force me to rob four houses… kill alarm systems… take people’s stuff… while they’re asleep upstairs… oh god… but… but that poor man… forget Wolfram… I want to die… I can’t believe I… hit him… I sure hope I didn’t hurt him…
“Fine. I’m fine. It’s… it’s a girl thing, you wouldn’t understand…”
No… you wouldn’t understand… wouldn’t understand how two idiots and a cell phone could prompt me to attack an unarmed man from behind while he was walking down the street, unawares, and leave him bound and gagged at the mercy of the night… for no reason at all… I’m sick of this…
She wanted to be sick as she felt Michael rubbing her shoulders, sighing quietly. Unable to stand his gentle touch – feeling wretched and filthy and awful-- she quickly got up, snatching a tissue from a box on her nightstand and blowing her nose.
“If it’s all right with you… I… think I’ll take a hot shower… it might make me feel better.”
Michael watched her for a second, then nodded. There was nothing more he could do. “Okay… yeah… I think it’d do you good. Anyway… I just stopped by to drop off your coat… you left it at work last night.”
“Well… I, uh… have to be off…” he crossed the short distance to her and gave her a hug, which she weakly accepted. “Try to feel better, okay? I mean it. You’re too sweet a girl for this mopey, depressed stuff.”
He tapped her nose, and Nikeiva faked a little smile. She saw him to the door, and as soon as it shut behind him, she stared at it for a while, stared into space, feeling even more repulsive than she had before… like a dirty rag next to a pristine sheet.
“I can’t get you into this…” she whispered to the long-gone Michael. “You’re clean…”
The thought of a shower seemed ludicrous, so, with a sickly sigh, Nikeiva shuffled back to bed, hoping that maybe sleep would take her for a few hours.
(Reader Discretion Advised)
She hadn't seen Michael since that depressed episode… Nikeiva figured it was probably for the better. She'd needed time to get her composure after the last of the atrocities Wolfram had forced her to commit. She thought she'd call Michael back… apologize for her bizarre behavior lately… maybe tell him the whole story.
Ah, but it wasn't that easy. Nothing ever was…
The moment she'd gone to pick up the phone and dial, it had rung in her hand. Wolfram. She'd been obligated to answer, and that same obligation had landed her in the back of that hated black sedan again, off to commit some other vicious act against her very will and nature.
Nikeiva stared morosely out the windows, leaning her head against the glass. The night was dry for once, but a steady wind had picked up, rushing old newspapers and bursts of dead leaves across the street while they drove. They were heading into the poor part of town… the slums and shantytowns. A knot began forming in her stomach. What were they doing here?
The car stopped, and Seth ordered Nikeiva out of the back. She came reluctantly, and the two men led her to an alleyway between a cigar shop and a boarded-up adult video store. Behind a dumpster, under a pile of old newspapers and a filthy coat, slept a hoary old bum, sputtering and snoring, totally unaware of the three onlookers.
"Miss Kasta, you've done remarkably well as of late with all of your new training. Seth was, in fact, so pleased with your attack on Mr. Johnson that we've decided to move the timetable up a bit and make it all a bit more challenging. So… if you please, Mr. Mason?"
Seth plucked an object from his belt somewhere under his long coat and handed it to Nikeiva. A knife. The blood drained from her face.
"Y-you want me to…."
"Kill him, yes, that would be the idea," Wolfram said as casually as if he were asking her to swat a bug. "I don't expect he'll struggle too much if you catch him unawares like he is now… don't worry, Miss Kasta… no one will miss him."
She felt sick… she wanted to throw up… she couldn't… wouldn't do this…
"I won't… you can't make me…"
Wolfram smirked. It wasn't a pleasant smirk. "Let me put this in a way that you can understand, then. You will do as I say, regardless of what it is I tell you to do. That includes killing. If you refuse… Seth is prepared to terminate Mr. Flynn. Tonight."
"Someone will die tonight, Nikeiva. It's either that bum, or your boyfriend. And you will choose." He looked at his watch. "In the next ten seconds."
She felt her heart jolt. Ten seconds to make a life-taking choice… to decide just where her priorities lay…
"Five seconds, Miss Kasta."
"Please don't do this…"
Seth started for the car. Nikeiva snapped.
"All right all right… I'll do it… just… please… don't hurt Michael…"
Wolfram smiled, and Seth returned to watch. Feeling sick, so sick, hands shaking, knees shaking, she swallowed, then started for the old man, wanting with each step to throw up…
"Come come dear, we haven't all night…"
"Shut up!" she hissed, feeling her voice tremble. She knelt next to the old man -- if she was going to do it, it had to be fast… it would be better for everyone if he didn't know what hit him… didn't wake up. She didn't think she had the strength to stab, so terribly were her hands shaking…
I can't do this… I can't do this…
Slowly, very slowly, she reached one hand out, hovering it over the old man's sputtering mouth, and positioned her other hand, with the knife, over his throat…
She closed her eyes. Whispered a small prayer, unsure if it was for herself, or for her pending victim…
It was over before Nikeiva opened her eyes… but when she did…
Nausea overtook her, sending her head reeling with what she'd done… panting, hyperventilating, unable to get control of herself… she staggered to her feet, dropping the knife, covering her mouth, stumbling backwards, consumed with horror…
Nikeiva was, for several moments, too busy being sick down a sewer drain to notice Wolfram smiling…
Nikeiva was still shaking when Wolfram and Seth dropped her off at her apartment. She would have insisted on walking rather than be in their company, but she couldn’t. Her knees could not support her. Her body was still reeling from the shock…
The shock of murder… committed by her own hands.
She lay, for the moment, face down on her bed, sobbing, near-hysterical, trembling, unable to calm down…images flashed through her head – images of the killing, though she’d had her eyes closed – more graphic and colorful than if she’d actually watched. She wanted to throw up again, but there was nothing in her stomach to throw up…
Feeling restless, contaminated, she staggered to the bathroom, collapsing by the sink for a few minutes, trying to get her breathing under control, trying to fight down the rampant nausea.
“Stop it… stop… stop crying…please… It hurts…”
She leaned her head against the door of the cupboard under the sink, sniffing, feeling the painted wood grain against her cheek, eyes barely open… she couldn’t bear to close them for fear of what she would see if she did…
“I… can’t believe I… god, I… I didn’t…”
She stood slowly, shakily. Avoiding her reflection in the mirror, she extended a visibly shaking hand and cranked on the cold tap, splashing her face over and over and over again, hoping to shock some of this pain out of her system long enough to get control…
Maybe I shouldn’t try… but if I don’t… the pain… the shame… I’ll die… it’ll kill me… I can’t live with myself… I just can’t believe I …
There’s another way…
Nikeiva stopped, cranking off the water, almost as if she’d heard a voice… she hadn’t… unless the thought, which had come deep from within her own mind, counted as a ‘voice’…
It’s not your fault, you know…
She swallowed, looking up at her reflection in the mirror. What she saw was puffy-eyed, wet, tear-stained, and ragged-looking… haunted. “It’s not my fault… I didn’t choose to kill that man… I didn’t have a choice… Wolfram… he made me…”
It took a while for the realization to surface, but the shame, the disgust at herself, the grief and horror, was subsiding… it was being replaced by a new force… one equally powerful, if not more so…
Indignation, rage… anger. It sprung up like a spark behind her ribs… it hardly burned yet, but it was there, making her tingle all over… It wasn’t painful …
She liked it… after all… it made it easier to stuff those other emotions… easier to sweep them in a closet. She could ignore her pangs of guilt and horror if she could focus on her anger…
“It’s Wolfram… he did this to me…”
He wasn’t looking forward to this conversation. Michael Flynn concentrated on the little drop of coffee that clung to the sipper hole on his plastic coffee lid. He wasn’t ready to confront Nikeiva… but he had to. He used to call their relationship a dating one… boyfriend and girlfriend, last he checked. Never mind that it took a week of persistent calling to get a hold of her anymore… and enough begging to negotiate peace talks in the Middle East. He was sure that didn’t count as a steady, close, growing relationship.
“You sure are a difficult one to figure out, Nikeiva,” he said quietly, at last as they sat outside a coffee shop at wrought iron café table. She looked up from her mocha, looking curious, but not too curious.
“Is there a problem?”
Michael shook his head. “I don’t know… maybe it’s just me… I’m probably just paranoid, but you’ve been so hard to get a hold of lately… I mean, I practically had to beg you to meet me…”
“Yeah…” she said, taking a long sip. “Been busy…”
“Doing what? Maybe I can help.”
She shook her head, not meeting his eyes. “Nah… don’t worry about it. I can handle it. I wouldn’t wanna bring you down.”
Michael reached out to take her hand, but Nikeiva, unprepared for the sudden movement, out of reflex jerked away, taking an almost defensive stance – then met his eyes suddenly, realizing her reaction too late. Michael was staring at her.
“Sorry…” Nikeiva sighed, relaxing. “You startled me…”
“By reaching for your hand? You’ve never been this jumpy…”
“It’s nothing, I swear, I don’t want to talk about it…”
Michael paused. “I do.”
When Nikeiva looked up at him, looking just a tiny bit trapped, he continued. “You’ve been acting really strangely lately – not returning calls, never being home, avoiding me… what’s going on? Please tell me.”
Nikeiva looked away, playing with a lock of hair, nervously drumming her fingers on her coffee cup. Michael leaned in.
“Nikeiva, if there’s someone else, at least tell me. Please don’t lie to me. I just want to know what’s going on.”
“There’s no one else,” she said quietly, still not looking at him. She gathered up her purse and her coffee and rose from the table. Michael jumped to his feet.
“Just like that? You’re going to walk right out on me? If it’s not someone else, what else could it be?”
Nikeiva, giving him an ‘I’m sorry’ look, just started walking. Michael ran after her, catching her elbow.
Turning sharply on her heel, she twisted her arm out of his grasp and took him by the shoulders.
“LISTEN, Michael,” she hissed under her breath. “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you the what or the why right now. I’m dealing with something right now, and no, you can’t help me. Don’t try. I don’t want to give you my problems.”
Just like that, a light bulb went on in Michael Flynn’s head. He blinked. The thought had hit him like the proverbial ton of bricks.
“This has to do with Wolfram, doesn’t it?”
Nikeiva hesitated, momentarily surprised at Michael’s sudden revelation, then quickly answered, “No.”
Michael nodded. “What’s he done to you this time?”
The look on her face told him – he’d hit the nail on the head. Nikeiva gritted her teeth, then growled, “Come on,” and pulled him around the corner of the building, near the dumpster in the back. Michael leaned against the dirty brick wall, tucking his hands in his pockets, expecting her to spill it, big.
“What I tell you stays between you and me. I MEAN it.”
Michael nodded. Nikeiva exhaled, her breath shaking a bit, then continued.
“I’m the one who killed those animal rights protestors.”
Michael blinked, shook his head, then said, “What?”
“And the photo developer. And six other killings that have happened within the last year. And an assault. And a burglary. And… never mind.”
“And… this has something to do with Wolfram?”
Nikeiva nodded. “It has everything to do with him, but it’s complicated.”
Michael nodded, motioning for her to go on. Nikeiva took a deep breath.
“Do you remember those green pills he had me on? The ones that were supposed to help me get rid of my powers?”
Michael nodded again. Nikeiva continued.
“They were hypnotic drugs. They’d put me into a dreamlike state for a specific amount of time, and in it, he could tell me to do anything and I’d do it. Well… I was in that state when I killed the protestors. And five other people. And did a bunch of other nasty things. I had absolutely no memory of it later. Then I caught him one night talking to someone on the phone, and I found out via eavesdropping that he’d been using me… and now he’s blackmailing me with the crimes I committed unknowingly.”
“What about the pills?” Michael asked, stunned at this news.
“Destroyed. I have no way to prove it wasn’t my fault. He knows that. And he has pictures.”
Nikeiva glowered, her face darkening with anger. “Seth.”
Michael shook his head. “So… he’s blackmailing you… what for?”
“To not tell, mostly… but he’s also using that leverage to get me to do other things… burglaries. Random assaults for no reason at all. He even made me kill a bum…”
She nodded, trying to keep her chin up. “It was the bum or you, he told me. I had no choice. He made me do it.”
After a few stunned seconds, Michael found his voice again. “Nikki, baby, this is crazy, you have to go to the police… Wolfram’s got a spotty record as it is… they might believe you…”
“Might,” she scoffed. “There’s nothing tying me to him. He could disavow all knowledge of me – I have nothing to prove that he forced or drugged me to do anything. None at all. He, on the other hand, has photographic proof that I did these things. All he’d have to do was have someone turn in the pictures anonymously, and… I’d be so screwed…”
“You have to try… you can’t let him do this to you. If nothing else, he’d lose his ace card… the secret would be out… he couldn’t blackmail you anymore…”
Nikeiva, for the first time during the whole conversation, finally showed an expression besides anger. It was a pitiful, sad one, too. “It doesn’t end there, Michael. He uses you as leverage, too. He told me that if I don’t do what he wants, he’ll kill you. That includes keeping my mouth shut about this. I’ve already put you in enough danger by telling you this… we CAN’T go to the police.”
“So that’s it?” Michael snapped, taking a step toward her. “Wolfram wins? Nikeiva, I’m not going to let this man own your life… he’s got a spotty reputation as it is with the law. They might be able to find some damning enough information to clear you.”
“They won’t. I stole a file of information about him already. He made me do it. Whatever there was in it, he has it, and he’s prepared for it. Don’t you get it, Michael? I’m screwed.”
“No! I’m not going to let you give up that easy!” He was struggling to keep his voice down now, to not shout. He couldn’t let the customers in the coffee shop, or out on the terrace where they’d come from, overhear. “I don’t care if I’m in danger because of it. I’ll go with you. I’ll take you to the police station myself if I have to. Please…” his voice fell to a near whisper, “let me help you. I love you.”
Nikeiva shook her head. Quietly, she kissed him on the cheek. “I know… that’s why I can’t let you. If anything ever happened to you because of me, I’d never ever forgive myself. It’s my battle, and if anyone’s going to get hurt fighting it, it should be me, not you.”
“I mean it, Michael. Not a word. To anyone. Forget I ever told you. It might even be safer… to forget about me entirely.”
Shaking his head, overwhelmed with the conversation he’d just been through, Michael stared as Nikeiva looked away. Confusion reigned in his mind. Did she love him? She didn’t want him hurt… but she didn’t want his help, either. She hadn’t tried to confide in him—she’d hidden from him and avoided him… she was pushing him away. For his sake? For her own?
Unable to process it all, Michael staggered away to think, leaving Nikeiva alone behind the coffee shop, brooding silently.
The strange emptiness that filled her whole being didn't register in her mind until Michael had been gone for the better part of a half-hour… It wasn't until then that she sensed her surroundings again -- she was behind the coffee shop, standing next to a dumpster filled with used cups and stirrers and other odds and ends -- and Michael had gone. He'd gone without a word… she supposed it ought to bother her, but somehow…
It didn't. She didn't feel anything, really. A bit numb, a bit tingly in her feet, but that was from standing in one place for so long… She'd just ordered the one person she really cared for out of her life, for his sake, and he'd gone… she supposed she ought to feel like crying… she didn't.
It's better this way… he won't get hurt. You can't hurt him anymore.
She nodded, though no one but that persistent voice in her head had spoken. She was starting to agree more and more with it… Quietly, slowly, drained somehow, spent beyond what she thought she ought to be able to handle, Nikeiva started for home. A tremendous silence and brokenness filled her very mind, her soul, her body… and it was in that inner wasteland that the strange voice from the back of her mind was whispering…
It was dark by the time she returned home, and Nikeiva's mood could hardly be said to be any brighter. The lights were off at home. She did not bother to turn them on. She dropped her coat and purse, letting them fall where they may, and collapsed onto bed, staring quietly into the darkness, feeling no pain like one in shock. From her bed, she could see her reflection faintly in the mirror over her little desk.
"What have I done?"
A sting. A tremor of pain. Her lip trembled. And it hit her, the pain and disgust at herself and what she'd just done, like a thousand knives. She sobbed, violently. Gasping for breaths only to squeeze them from her lungs with tortured cries…
Another spike of emotion rammed itself through her breast, burning, fiery. Angry. It hurt so bad -- searing her open wounds, cauterizing her tears -- she jerked back, then threw her fists into her pillow with ferocity that surprised even herself.
"SHUT UP!! Shut up, shut up, shut up!! You idiot!! You IDIOT…"
Grabbing the pillow, she hurled it across the room, hitting a lamp, which shattered on the floor with a loud SMASH! She paused, panting, sweating, trembling, face twitching now and then…
"Fool… Why are you crying? What's done is done, and it was unavoidable…"
Somehow, the thought that talking to one's self was unusual never registered in Nikeiva's brain… perhaps because it wasn't Nikeiva talking anymore. She rose from her bed, stalking over to the mirror, staring back at herself, seeing a spark burning in her eyes… a glimmer of something… some fire, some cold rage…
"If we're to survive, drastic changes will be in order… and drastic measures as well."
Seth pulled to a stop at a red light, plucking up his cell phone and answering it. Wolfram. He nodded. “Yeah. I’m about a half mile away. Just keeping an eye on him. Why?”
The light turned green, and Seth pulled the black sedan through the intersection toward Michael’s apartment, all the while listening to his employer. “Yeah… he’s been moody lately… hasn’t called Nikeiva in over a week. What do you think is up?”
A stop sign. Seth stopped, leaning onto the steering wheel, face taking on a strange look of curiosity. “Oh really?” He listened a bit longer. He could see Michael’s complex from here. “So you think he knows about Nikeiva? You want me to kill him?”
At Wolfram’s response, Seth’s face contorted in confusion. “Why not? He knows. If he knows, he could blow this thing wide open!” He pulled up into the parking lot, taking a space at the far end, shutting off the sedan.
“Yeah, well, whatever you say.”
Clicking off the cell phone and tossing it on the seat, Seth climbed out of the car, looking up to Michael’s apartment. Something of Nikeiva’s behavior and something of Michael’s behavior had Wolfram suspicious… he believed that Nikeiva had spilled the story to her beau, and that Michael now knew about their shady activities. Wolfram had advised him, however, not to kill Michael. Seth disagreed with the idea, but was forced to agree that Michael was their main leverage over Nikeiva. Right now, he was going to pay a visit to the unfortunately informed young man—a professional courtesy call of sorts, to ‘remind’ him to keep his mouth shut.
Seth knew the way to Michael’s apartment… he’d been surveying Flynn since they’d started using Nikeiva for their purposes. He knew the quickest routes to get there, precisely how to pick all the locks, and when Michael’s roommates were gone. Like now. He smirked. Michael was alone. He ascended the stairs, pausing for a moment, looking at the door that separated him from Michael Flynn. A door he could have broken down if he wanted to, with a lock that was no bar to him, protecting a man who wouldn’t even have been a challenge…
Resisting the somewhat sadistic desire to break the door down and make a show of it, he quietly unlocked it and let himself in. No Michael as of yet. Shutting the door but not letting it click shut, he slinked through the apartment, wary of the squeaky spots in the floor, peering around corners to find his quarry.
He found Michael in the kitchen, nursing a bottle of Bud, brooding. Seth watched him carefully. Something was eating Mr. Flynn, something was bothering him. It looked as though Wolfram’s hunch had been right…
“Women. Nothin’ will mess a fellow up like ‘em.”
“GAH!!” So startled that he jumped halfway on the counter, nearly dropping his drink. Seth restrained an amused smile as the 22-year-old tried to muster up some nerve. “Who are you?? How’d you get in here? Get out!!”
Seth smirked and shook his head. “Nothin’ doin. I’m here to give you a message, so you might wanna relax and listen.”
Michael was hardly ready to do just that, and started feeling for the knife block behind him, never taking his eyes off of Seth. Seth rolled his eyes and shook his head, pulling out a throwing knife and throwing it….pinning Michael’s shirt sleeve to the wall. Michael swallowed a scream.
“No no no. No knives. You’re out’a your league. Trust me.”
Seth strode up to Michael, taking the terrified young man by the neck, and shoving the rest of him against the wall where his arm was pinned, getting in his face.
“We know Nikeiva told you. Here’s a message from my boss and me to you. Not a WORD to the police. No hints. No tips. No anonymous calls. I’ll know if you do. I’m watching you.”
“There’s a place in Hell for people like you…”
“Oh pal, I’m so close to sending you there to find out for me. If you think I’m joking, try me. If you go to the police with what Nikeiva told you… I’ll kill you. And I won’t be nice about it. And after I kill you… I’ll kill Nikeiva for spilling the beans.”
Michael’s eyes widened. “You’re lying.”
“You can’t afford to find out, can you, little man?” Seth said with a smirk as he dropped Michael and started for the door. He paused at the entrance to the kitchen, then returned, jerking his knife from Michael’s sleeve. Flashing him one more warning look, Seth was gone, leaving Michael shaking.
Outside, Seth climbed back into his car, dialing up Wolfram again. “It’s done. I’ll be surprised if he tries it… but what the kid’s made out of remains to be seen… I don’t think he has the spine.”
Michael, meanwhile, slumped to the floor, shaking. Shaking. He’d not in a million years expected… how did they know? Who’d told? He looked up, spying the phone in the kitchen… he had to call someone… starting to his knees, he abruptly stopped. Not the police. Break in and threat to his life and limb or not… he couldn’t call the police.
He rose to his shaky feet, snagging the phone and collapsing back to the linoleum again, fingers shaking as he started to dial… he stopped midway. Nikeiva. Nikeiva who had told him to avoid her… for his sake. Nikeiva who had warned him to stay away from her. Nikeiva… who wouldn’t help herself… and who wouldn’t let him help her…
Nikeiva who might not even love him…
Feeling sick somehow, Michael hung up. That was that. If Nikeiva wanted him to leave her alone… whether it was for his sake or for her own… he would.
“So long, Nikeiva. I’m sorry.”
A year. Nikeiva flicked a dart across the room, not really bothering to aim. She hardly had to anymore. Her aim concerning things in flight was almost as sharp as her reflexes, almost as sharp as her night vision, almost as sharp as her knife blades.
The only thing that had dulled lately was her conscience.
She hadn’t seen Michael in over a year. Funny, now that she thought about it, she didn’t really feel any particular way about that. Frankly, she didn’t really care about anything anymore.
Except Wolfram. Stopping him. It was her obsession.
Another dart. “He’s made me kill 18 times now… if only there were some way to pin all of those kills on him. Or at least on Seth. Oh, it would be such sweet justice…”
The dart landed dead on the bull’s eye. The bull’s eye was, of course, the center of Wolfram’s head… he kept a picture of him on her dartboard. His picture had been in the paper several months ago, applauding the man’s gallant attempts to find a more effective treatment for meningitis. Right next to the article about a serial murder case, of course.
She loathed him. As could be expected, his picture was quite full of holes.
“Hate this life… Need to do something. Bored. Angry.”
Picking herself up off of the couch where she lay, Nikeiva grabbed some shoes and a coat and teleported to the roof of her building, then across the city one port at a time, arriving in Seth’s training room. He was there, still practicing his knife-throwing. Keeping sharp. At some other time, she might have laughed at such a pun. She wasn’t in the mood now.
“Seth!” she snapped, breaking his concentration. One knife flew errant of the target. He scowled then turned to her.
“Well, look who got up on the wrong side of the morgue today,” he sneered, resuming his knife throwing. “What do you want?”
She stepped in front of his target, stopping on of his knives in mid-fly, letting it clatter to the floor. “Throw.”
He blinked at her. “You’re crazy. If I kill you, Wolfram will have my hide. He’d probably use me as a guinea pig.”
“You honestly think you’ll kill me by throwing knives at me? Arrogant jerk. THROW already!!”
Seth threw. It flashed through the open air, and Seth was tempted to wince when Nikeiva waited until it was inches from her face before shunting it effortlessly aside. She started slowly toward him. “Again.”
He threw again. Once more, she waited until the last second before the flashing blade careened around her. “Your days are numbered, you know. Yours and Wolfram’s.”
Another knife. Again, she shunted it out of the way. “It’s only a matter of time before I find a way to bring all of this home to you both. Find a way to make you pay for it all.”
“Girl, it’s been more than a year… it isn’t going to happen,” Seth muttered, chucking another one. She was five feet away… but her split second timing made the knife wobble past her, impaling into the floor. Her fierce gaze did not falter.
Seth’s final knife froze in his hand, thanks to the concentrated effort of her telekinesis. She stared him in the eye, hardly two feet away, before storming out of the room without another word. Seth watched her leave, confused and unnerved. A tense minute later, when he was sure she was gone, he picked up his knives and went to find Wolfram. Nikeiva was more psychotic than they’d predicted… the conditioning had worked too well… and now their very lives might be in danger of the monster they’d created.
Her apartment was just as she’d left it when she returned. Just as it had been for months now. Bare, except for essential pieces of furniture. Rather empty-looking. She preferred it that way. Pictures on the walls and knick-knacks on the coffee table made her feel. She couldn’t afford to feel.
Flopping on the couch, she stared up at the ceiling, thinking. Seth was right, confound him. If there was a way out of this situation, she couldn’t see it. She’d tried to retrieve the files she’d sent to herself when she’d first been sent to steal them, only to discover that the email account she’d created for herself had been deleted, and that the information – d*mn Seth!! – was gone. She couldn’t go to the police. She had no way of proving anything, and she would be admitting to more than 18 murders, some of which she had no memory. She’d even exiled Michael from her life…
You might as well get rid of them and move on… your life has been ruined.
The thought was a curious one, and she entertained it for a while. She’d been listening more and more to the voice in her head… it was starting to make sense.
“Get rid of them?” she asked herself in the still quiet of her empty apartment. “How?”
Kill them, the voice said. Nikeiva smiled a bit. It was a pleasant thought. Heaven knew she really wanted to, but she’d never actually entertained the thought on a serious level… never actually considered the hows and whens of it… never actually… planned it.
“Seth has to go first, as he’s the one standing between Wolfram and me. He’ll be difficult to get rid of… He’s stronger than me, his reflexes are faster, and he’s never unarmed… He’s taught me some things, but I’m sure there’s more I don’t know about him…”
She sat up, thinking some more. “Well… I have to start someplace… might as well start watching for an opportunity…”
“I’m telling you, doctor. She’s a psychopath. She’s getting too dangerous to handle. And you know she’s after you…”
Wolfram waved away Seth’s statement and sipped at his espresso as he pored over a thick book of neurochemical abnormalities… as was his hobby some days. “I know, I know. But that’s what I have you for. You ARE my bodyguard, after all. She has to go through you to get to me. And I’m not so sure she wouldn’t like to terminate you as well.”
“Yeah… and for that reason, I was hoping you’d ease up and give me hazard pay for dealing with her… she’s a superhuman. I’m carrying a gun for the first time in years, because she’s that dangerous. Besides…” Seth muttered, leaning back in his chair and propping his feet up on one of the lab tables. “I don’t get paid for dirty work anymore, now that you’ve got little-miss-blackmailed to do it all…”
“I’m not paying you extra just because you actually have to do your job now, rather than just hanging around and throwing knives. What you’re getting is sufficient, and it’s what we agreed on earlier.”
Seth scowled. It was true, he had agreed on the terms under which he was Wolfram’s bodyguard… but his job had earlier been supplemented with assorted ‘after-dark’ jobs… which no longer seemed to fall into his responsibility. An uneasy silence passed between the two men, Wolfram ignoring Seth, and Seth doing his best to ignore Wolfram despite his growing dislike of the man. He was turning out to be crueler, stingier, and more self-centered than he’d first believed…
The silence broke for Seth before Wolfram was aware of anything… it wasn’t until he saw his bodyguard sit up, hand to his ear, listening.
Wolfram straightened up, turning to Seth. “How do you know?”
“I rigged a motion sensitive alarm in my training room to sound in my ear plug. Nine times out of ten, when she teleports here, that’s the room she arrives in. I’d advise getting away from the door, in case she comes in looking for blood.”
Wolfram hesitantly did so, closing his book and going to fiddle with an experiment that was simmering across the room. Seth, meanwhile, crept toward the door, readying his handgun. Just as he reached for the doorknob, she entered, almost as if nothing was unusual about this late-night visit. Seth’s face darkened with suspicion.
“Why are you here?”
Nikeiva looked over at him, disdain and disinterest mixing in her eyes. “My evenings weren’t painful enough alone. I figured I’d share the love.”
“You weren’t called. Go home.”
Nikeiva’s momentary smirk was all the warning Seth got, and she disappeared with a ‘PAF!’ of ash, reappearing by Wolfram. He looked up, startled by her sudden appearance, stumbling backwards to put space between them.
The elvish looking woman smiled unpleasantly, and in a flash had a knife blade at Wolfram’s throat, her eyes burning with hatred and glee. Wolfram braced against her arm, struggling…
The deadly tango was halted by a ‘click’ near Nikeiva’s ear. Seth. She turned to look at him, glaring, her gaze as poisonous as cyanide.
“Drop the knife and hit the road, girl.”
Snarling, not ready to be outdone, Nikeiva used the uneasy pause to flick the knife to Wolfram’s ribcage instead, braced between two ribs, ready for a deadly plunge.
“Drop your gun, or I skewer him.”
“Lemme put it this way… you kill him, you die. You’re fast, but I doubt even you, even with your teleportation, can dodge a bullet at pointe blanc range. Your move.”
She glared at him again. He was right. If she killed Wolfram, she’d meet her own end… and as much as she wanted revenge… she wasn’t ready to commit suicide for it.
Clatter. The knife fell to the floor. Nikeiva muttered a few curses under her breath, staring a bit longer at Seth, who didn’t lower his gun. She could hear Wolfram’s heart thundering in his chest… even though outwardly he didn’t look all that distressed. She almost smiled, letting her tendrils of telekinesis reach into his chest and kind of ‘feel’ the beating organ. Now was not the time. Not with Seth’s gun six inches from her head. But soon. She started for the door, summoning her knife to her hand when she was well clear of the scene. That had been a sloppy attempt… but things were becoming clearer…
She’d be back.
After she left, Seth sighed and put away the gun, then looked at Wolfram, who had gone through the incident unscathed except for a few bruises.
“You sure you don’t want to give me hazard pay?” he asked, his gaze hard, expecting a serious response from so close an incident. He was to be disappointed. Wolfram, rather than looking pleased, scowled.
“She could have killed me twice… your job is to keep her AWAY from me… hazard pay? Ha. For that scene, you’re lucky I pay you at all.”
Seth’s anger didn’t rise to his face, but he fell silent for a moment, before going back to his post. “Fine. If that’s how you want to play this cat and mouse game, that’s fine. Just remember, you get what you pay for.”
He headed for the door. Wolfram stopped him. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Seth sneered. “To make sure she’s gone. After all, we want to keep her away from you, right?”
… a statement he finally no longer believed himself.
The night was quiet, except for the crickets. They sprang out of the way when Seth Mason crossed the parking lot and found his way to Nikeiva’s door.
Seth, frankly, had had enough. Tired of Wolfram’s sadistic cruelty, tired of the low pay and lack of action, and tired of the uneasy atmosphere whenever Nikeiva was around. Wolfram wasn’t worth it anymore. Even still, it took him several minutes to work up the nerve to knock on Nikeiva’s door. He couldn’t help but shake the notion that he might be disturbing a perpetually angry lioness.
He waited. If she didn’t answer, he’d find another way to reach her… he almost hoped she didn’t answer… face to face conversations with someone who hated your guts were always risky propositions. He was just about to turn back when the lock and deadbolt clicked. Slowly, the door opened a crack, and he could see about half of Nikeiva’s face through it, one eye shining, caught by the indirect light from a parking lot lamp.
“What do you want?”
The fact that her voice was like a thin layer of ice over many daggers wasn’t what made him hesitate. It was that her eyes held the same feeling. He took a deep breath.
“I want what you want. Wolfram. Dead.”
A momentary spark of surprise flickered in her face before it was replaced with suspicion. “Why?”
Seth played it cool. “Let me in so we can talk in private and I’ll tell you.”
She hesitated for a long moment before slowly opening the door to him, never breaking her mistrusting, feral gaze, or – he noticed – her grip on the knife in her hand. Just in case.
Shutting the door behind him, he walked into the dim and barren apartment, settling on the couch, one of the few pieces of furniture Nikeiva still bothered to keep around. He watched her pace a bit. She was very like a caged lioness… a hungry one. Certainly not the same woman he’d first met in the lab’s lobby two years ago…
“Wolfram’s a cheapskate. Now that you’re doing his dirty work, I don’t get paid for it. That used to be part of my job. Besides that, it’s only a matter of time before his sadism and blackmailing extends to me too. I’d say that’s plenty of motive.”
She stopped pacing momentarily to look at him. “I want him. Don’t touch him. He’s mine to kill.”
Seth leaned back, making himself comfortable. “Oh, I wasn’t going to. That’d be suicide with you around. But I’ll tell you what I will do.” He paused, making sure he had her attention. “I’ll drop my guard, and completely ignore Wolfram for a few minutes. I’ll let you know when. Without me, the man’s helpless. I’ll keep security away, lock down systems, whatever you need. And…” he smiled, “afterward… I’ll get us both a nice little chunk of cash. Getaway money.”
Nikeiva’s ears perked up. “How?”
“I’ll hack into Wolfram’s bank account. He trusts me a little too much with his affairs. The man’s a respected neurosurgeon with a hefty piece of green in the bank, and I think I can get to it.”
After a brief hesitation, Nikeiva folded her arms and asked, “When do you plan on making all of this happen?”
“We’ll have to lie low for a few days. After that attempt tonight, you’ll have to wait until he calms down and drops his guard. Knowing him, it won’t be long. He’s gotten cocky. Until then, spend your time preparing to leave the state. Pack a bag, arrange for transportation, find a place to stash your money. I’ll call you the night things look most promising.”
Nikeiva nodded. “If this works… I owe you.”
Seth smiled. “Hey, you aren’t the only one who’s benefiting from getting rid of that maniac. The world’s a better place without him.” He rose and headed for the door, and, stopping at the threshold, turned back to her and said, “Remember, I’ll call you when it’s time. Until then, get ready to leave.”
Closing the door behind him, Nikeiva’s heart thundered with this new and enticing change in fortune. She would finally kill Wolfram, and soon…
(Reader Discretion advised: Violent Content)
It was pouring again. Nikeiva sat huddled on a window ledge, just out of the cold rain, waiting for her signal. Seth had called her just an hour ago. Tonight was the night. It was about time. She’d waited a week – a very slow, anxious week – for this moment…
“Come on, come on…” She could see Seth through the window blinds… he was pacing by the door… what was he waiting for? He paused to check his watch, then kept pacing a bit. Nikeiva fumed quietly. This was getting monotonous. Time passed. He paused to check his watch again, then started for the window.
“Geez, is it STILL raining out there?” she heard him ask. She perked up. This was her cue. She waited, muscles tensed, as he walked over, pulling up the blinds and peering outside. “Uhk, things are getting ugly out there.”
There it was. The code phrase. As soon as Seth was away… Wolfram was alone.
“I’m gonna go check with lab security really quick,” Seth said to his employer as he started for the door. Long seconds, to Nikeiva at least, passed and then… open, through, shut. Click. The door locked behind Seth. Wolfram was alone.
But not for long.
Using the view through the open window, Nikeiva teleported in, hiding behind a cabinet so that Wolfram did not see her immediately. She concentrated, reaching out with her telekinesis, feeling… feeling for the movement of a human heart… it was elusive, calm… She scowled momentarily, then smiled… she knew how to get it hopping…
“Aw, look who’s all alone without a bodyguard…” she purred, still hiding. She watched Wolfram jump, looking around for the source of the voice… there was such fear on his face… she loved it. Even better… his heart was pounding.
She loved adrenaline.
Concentrating again, she felt the throbbing organ with her mind, grasping it with an immaterial telekinetic grip… and started to squeeze. A few seconds passed… and then Wolfram’s hand went to his chest, grasping at his shirt…
“Oh god… stop!”
A laugh seemed to float around the lab. An evil laugh. There was no other way to describe it. Wolfram clenched his jaw, brow furrowing in anger.
“You’ve crossed the line, Kasta. Come out where I can see you.”
Silence. Then – WHAM!! – Wolfram cried out in shock and pain as Nikeiva appeared right in front of him, thrusting her foot into his chest, kicking him into a lab table, overturning it, and sending test tubes, shattered glass, and several experiments all over him. He looked up. There she was, towering over him. Grinning unpleasantly. He never imagined he’d be so afraid of a woman…
Nikeiva was enjoying this. She was enjoying the fear in his face, as well as the bluish shade he was slowly turning. She was enjoying his struggling heartbeat, and the tiny little scratches all over him from the broken glass.
“You’re the one who crossed the line, Doctor Bryan Wolfram. You lied to me, mutated me, and abused me… you destroyed my life. Well guess what? I’m gonna return the favor!” She snarled the last bit, grabbing him by the lapels of his lab coat, jerking him to his feet and hurling him against a wall, powered by her pure rage, tightening the grip she had on his heart all the while. Wolfram slid to the floor, still clutching his chest, gasping, turning blue…Nikeiva watched, fishing a pair of latex gloves from a box and pulling them on, then reaching for a knife she had tucked in her waistband. She stalked toward him. Summoning a little presence of mind, Wolfram grabbed for the pager on his belt and jammed his thumb down on the panic button… it would summon Seth and the rest of security to his aid immediately…
Nikeiva only smiled when, after several seconds of nothing, Wolfram realized help would not come.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, you know,” she hissed, crouching down to come face to face with him. “I feel like a kid at Christmas, staring at the great big present under the tree… the one with my name on it…”
“You ungrateful witch,” he sputtered, “I saved your life!!”
“I’d have been better off dead than having met you!” she roared, decking him, making his nose bleed like a faucet. “You saved my life, only to destroy it in a much deeper, more painful way… so… give the devil my regards.”
Wolfram gasped… Nikeiva smiled. She could feel his heart… stopping. She held on until he stopped moving… until, when she released his heart… it wasn’t moving either. Out came the knife. She had a point to make. She felt nothing, no pity, no mercy, no revulsion as she put out his blankly staring eyes and cut out his silenced tongue. Dipping her gloved fingers in the blood, she wrote on the wall above him…
“You kept me in the dark and blinded me to the truth.
You told me lies and silenced my protests
You saved my life, only to destroy it.
As you can see, I have returned the favor.”
Seth was waiting outside in the black sedan when Nikeiva appeared next to him in the passenger seat. He didn’t even look over at her.
“How’d it go?”
“Beautiful. It’s done.”
“Good. Got a couple of sacks in the back. One’s yours. It’s your share of money. Cash. You destroyed any evidence that it was you?”
“I picked my hairs off of his clothes, and tucked the latex gloves into a bottle of bleach. No fingerprints on the inside, and no skin traces. I cleaned off my knife, sterilized it, and I have it with me. You shut off the security cameras and the alarm system, yes?”
“All taken care of. There’s absolutely no visual proof of your actions. And the photos and photo disks of your former crimes are in with your money. You disavow all knowledge of my part in this, I’ll do the same for you.”
Seth finally turned to her, meeting her eyes for a moment.
“Good luck out there.”
Nikeiva only nodded, picked up her sack of booty, and disappeared. As far as she was concerned, she’d died in this city… it was time to move on.
(In honor of National Novel Writing Month...)
Daughter of Chaos (Nyx's Origin): Part Two!
A few days passed like centuries. Somewhere in a dumpy apartment on the cheap and sleazy side of another town in another state she sat, staring into an unpretentious mirror at another woman. The reflection was herself, sure enough. Her hair. Her face. Her nose. Her mouth. But her eyes…
Something burned in the depths of her eyes… something so familiar, so intimate, so deep in her bones—and yet alien. Strange. Unknown.
Nikeiva Kasta – or what was left of her – didn’t know what to make of it…
The thrill of freedom, of murder, was gone. She felt hollow. A shell of a person, waiting. For something. She couldn’t go back to the way it was. She knew that. Even if no one else knew… she knew. She couldn’t go back. Life would never be the same.
“But how to go on…”
She’d taken to talking to herself lately. Held entire conversations with herself, in fact. Her life was so like that in-between-awake-and-asleep state anyway that she hardly felt it mattered that she talked to herself, or that her self answered back. They were strange, rambling, flow-of-consciousness monstrosities of conversations, fading from speech to thought and back again like the sun playing an elusive game through a cloud. She would talk, and that… thing… in her eyes would answer. The moment at the mirror was only one of numerous such encounters.
“I can’t believe I did all of that. What I did wasn’t my fault. But I killed Wolfram. The man deserved it. If I hadn’t, someone else would have. But does that make it right? He was killing people through me. NOT killing him would’ve been a greater sin.”
Nikeiva couldn’t argue with that.
“I enjoyed killing him. So why do I feel so lousy?”
She paused. Did she really feel anything at all? Emptiness, certainly, and echoes of guilt, but not much else…
“I thought I’d feel guiltier than I do… but I haven’t done anything wrong…”
Nikeiva, not really sure who – or what—was doing the thinking at the moment, couldn’t quite shake her confusion… tired of trying, she went to bed, hoping that time and rest would help her sort out her jumbled head.
(and for those of you who are wondering what's up with the red and green text... it's her and her developing second personality taking turns in her brain... O_o)
Pain. Somewhere under the never-ending crimson sunset, she stopped to notice the buildings looming all around her, miles high. It was raining. There was a sharp pain radiating in her chest… she wanted to cry…
Picking herself up, she struggled down the street – the street littered with broken bits of mirror, tangled strings, and needles. They hurt her feet. But not as much as the pain in her chest… she couldn’t understand it. She walked on. Now and then she’d pass a brick wall scrawled with graffiti of some sort. Dripping. Fresh. She squinted but couldn’t read it. She looked up again. Up past the buildings that seemed to lean in on her. Tumultuous clouds rolled past, rumblings of thunder and mumblings of words issuing from their bellies. She turned to look in an alley, struggling over a pile of broken mirror to peer into the darkest corner behind a dumpster.
The pain in her chest surged, toppling her to her knees.
Blood. The alley dead-ended… the brick and asphalt soaked with blood… the crimson life of the innocents who lay in the alley, all stabbed through the heart… except for one… an old bum… his hoary beard and gnarled face dappled with drying red from his throat…
Nikeiva woke with a start, tears rushing down her face, and her chest aching from guilt and shame… she could hear her own heartbeat in her ears… it made her sick. Made her want to throw up. What right did she have to even be living… to have a heart that still beat?
Struggling out of bed –bed consisted of a mat on the floor now—she went to the window to look out. Dark. And raining. But beyond that, nothing like the visuals that had plagued her sleep.
The images no longer danced before her eyes, but that didn’t stop the pain.
“Stop it. You’re being a child.”
She gritted her teeth as anger flared up in her, doing battle with the consuming guilt. It hurt. Hurt worse, in fact. Hurt like pulling out a sliver by sticking in a needle…
Tears returned. The sobbing was uncontrollable, making her ribs ache and her body convulse, her eyes itch and her nose run. She couldn’t keep doing this. Days of confused emptiness followed by nights of agony… it had to end…
End. Yes. That was a pleasant thought. To be done with it all. To make all the pain go away. To make everything go away. To never hear that voice again… to never feel that piercing shame, or wake in cold, shivering terror because something in a dream was too real…
Feverish and frenzied, she staggered to the kitchen, yanking open a drawer and grabbing a knife… she stared at it for a moment. Crazy how something that was her worst enemy seemed like her best friend suddenly…
She peeled off her shirt, placing a hand over her heart to find its pulse, then, swallowing, hands shaking, she picked up the knife, finding a gap between her ribs right over that steady beat.
She took a deep breath.
Chewing at her lip, still sniffing, blinking away tears… “It’ll be fast… it’ll only hurt for a moment and then it’ll be over…”
Her hands shook. Her heart began to pound. Beads of sweat formed on her chest, and coated her palms…
She dared to ease the blade in, just a fraction of an inch…
Startled by the pain she cried out and dropped the knife, falling away from it to shrink against a wall and look at it in horror before lapsing back into sobbing again…
Life, if one could still call it that, had yet too great a hold on Nikeiva Kasta.
If one could still call her that.
(Date: Nov 1st)
(words today: 1,001)
(total count: 1,001)
“Would you quit smoking that crap? It gives me a headache.”
Jeremy Merwin Sandersohk – most of his back alley friends called him ‘Jerm’ – lay back against the ratty old couch and nestled happily in his thick cloud of weed. Seth Mason, however, only snorted – half in distaste and half to clear his nose of the smell – and slipped into the kitchen to get a beer.
“Aw man,” whined Jerm, too buzzed to look especially upset, “first the crack and now my MJ? Man, you need to chill and have a joint… come on… I got more…”
“Like I said. Headache,” Seth muttered, reentering – reluctantly – and popping the cap of his beer off on the edge of a much-scarred table. He flopped in a mangy La-Z-boy and flicked on the television. It had been a week since the murder of Dr. Bryan Wolfram, and the news was saturated with the tragedy. The only competition it had for airtime was something about severe weather over New York. The airwaves loved their bloodshed, that was for sure.
“Dude, you watchin’ the news again? Come on man, I got cable. We’ve got fourteen channels of naked ladies and you wanna watch the freakin’ news?”
Seth didn’t answer. He was concentrating on every bit of information the newscaster uttered. So far, it seemed that no one had any clear leads about what exactly had happened to Wolfram, despite the inquiries made of colleagues, patients, lab workers, and even protestors. He smirked. Nikeiva had been clever to stop the man’s heart, making his death indistinguishable from natural causes, but he’d been more than a little annoyed to find out that she’d done some post mortem work to him. The gruesome message written on the wall in Wolfram’s blood had been enough to start an investigation. Damn her. She had them both in jeopardy because she couldn’t resist rubbing Wolfram’s dead nose in a bit of poetic revenge.
“Ya look pissed. Did you know that guy or somethin’?”
Seth finally turned – the station had taken a commercial break—and looked to Jerm. “I worked for him for a while as a security guard. The man was a brutal psychopath, and a little crazy in the head, I think. I’m not sorry he’s gone. End of conversation.”
Jerm was either too drugged to know what ‘end of conversation’ meant, or didn’t want to leave it at that. “Oh man. So… so, didja kill him?”
He tried not to react to the question. He was pretty sure he hadn’t. “No. And we’re not talking about it, cuz someone icing my ex-boss right under my nose is embarrassing.”
“Yeah, I bet, dude. Hey, go to channel eighty-four… they got naked yoga or somethin’…”
Seth declined and tossed the remote to Jerm, muttering something about needing some fresh air, then slipped out of the room and its cloud of weed and into the night to think.
To call the outside air of the city ‘fresh’ would only be in comparison to the thick atmosphere indoors. Seth breathed it deep anyway, distancing himself from everything for a moment. Outside, other than the sounds of the traffic, and the vague babble of the TV in the house he’d just left, it was quiet, and Seth felt he could think.
His mind had been consumed with the Wolfram incident lately. No surprise as he and Nikeiva had conspired and brought about the late doctor’s death just a week ago. It was something more, though, which bothered him. Something else about the whole situation, in fact. He couldn’t help feeling that while he and Nikeiva had gotten away – bribes had shut a lot of mouths at the lab and a convenient lack of records that either of them had ever been there had investigators rather in the dark– that they were hardly out of the woods yet. Seth wasn’t worried so much about the police. Police he could handle, he’d had his dealings with them before.
He was worried, more, about just how far Wolfram’s influence extended. Seth’s brow furrowed as he sat on the porch. Did Dr. Bryan Wolfram have allies? Friends? Family? He took a sip of his beer. He couldn’t imagine anyone would have sentimental ties to so conceited and ruthless a man, but that did not mean that he had not been valuable somehow to someone somewhere.
“He couldn’t possibly have been working alone…”
He hardly realized he’d spoken aloud, and hearing his own voice seemed to startle him a moment, but the words hung in the air, as potent as Jerm’s weed. The lab, the funding for projects, the equipment… of course Wolfram wasn’t paying for it all himself. Nor was it from the hospital he had worked at. The labs were privately owned, though who in fact owned them was a thing of which Seth was unsure. He was fairly certain the late Wolfram had not owned them.
“He had a lot of leeway in those labs… state of the art equipment and plenty of money… Whoever owned the labs was funding his research in a big way….” Seth continued to mutter to himself. “And psychopath or not, the man was making huge medical strides well ahead of his time… so ….” Seth winced. “So someone out there is probably more than a little unhappy about his murder…” His brow fell further, until he wore a veritable scowl of concern. “…and possibly planning to take the matter into their own hands.”
He rose, finishing off his beer before heading back into the house. He had some research to do. Find out who owned the building, who might have been backing Wolfram’s research. If they were on the up and up, the investors shouldn’t be difficult to find, and probably not as much of a concern to his and Nikeiva’s continued well-being. If, however, whoever had been funding Wolfram was as ruthless and morally cavalier as Wolfram himself, Seth could only foresee an even darker road ahead.
(Date: Nov 2nd)
(words today: 1,000)
(total count: 2,001)
He hated libraries.
Not because of books, no no. Seth didn’t mind books. That was not to say that he was much of a bookworm – he couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually read anything more than a newspaper or magazine article.
He hated libraries because they made him sneeze. Dusty books on dusty shelves. Dust everywhere. He nodded to the lady passing by who’d wished him a cheery ‘Bless you!’, and went back to his web browsing. Jerm did not have an Internet connection in his weed-permeated house, and Seth had been hoping for a more anonymous point of access anyhow… so long as no one got their suspicions up about him, all should be fine. Not that there was anything inherently suspicious about a random man surfing the Internet.
The Wolfram Labs had a web page, of course. Seth had never really bothered to look at it much before. The glowing references to the late doctor’s humanitarian efforts and medical advances were full of more BS than barnyard. It was enough to make Seth more than a little sick.
After several minutes of alternately browsing and gagging and sneezing, he found a page of contact information for the good doctor – the link had been removed due to his unfortunate passing – as well as for the St. Andrew’s Hospital where Wolfram had worked, and other names of both private individuals and of organizations. Seth recognized some of them as other scientists and doctors whom Wolfram had sometimes mentioned, but who had, as far as he knew, never been associated with the labs. One name stuck out though… Seth hadn’t heard of him before… Ian Carver, of Crey Industries. Seth thought that he had perhaps heard of Crey before, but until now had not given it much thought…
He sneezed again. Enough with this… he had to get out of here before he sneezed his brains out. Copying down the information for Mr. Carver, he carefully wiped his prints off the mouse and keyboard, making sure he was unobserved doing so, and left, his thoughts processing this whole matter. From what he could remember, Crey was a major business, more than capable of backing the Wolfram Labs. He wondered what role Mr. Carver played. He’d find out one way or another.
Calling cards were wonderful inventions, as were, at least at the moment, phone booths. Seth hated loose change. He hated jangling, hated how heavy it felt in his pocket. Hence the phone card. And one could buy and use the card anonymously, much like using change. The one drawback to the card was the vast number sequence required for one to call another number. He was punching it in for the third time now, muttering. Somehow, he still preferred it to the sheer amount of loose change this particular call was likely to require.
Finally – a one-eight-hundred number, a pin code, another one-eight-hundred number, an automated menu system, and four menu options later – he reached a human.
“Thank you for calling Crey Industries, this Cheryl Landers, Mr. Carver’s personal secretary, how may I help you?”
He smirked. Now wasn’t that just the cheeriest customer service voice he’d ever heard? It was like a sugar overdose, cloyingly sweet.
“Hello, I’m told that Mr. Carver is the Crey representative to contact regarding the business done with Wolfram Labs?”
“Do you know if he’s available to speak with?”
“Let me check, sir. And, can I tell him who’s calling?”
Seth grinned. “My name’s Max. Max Stanford. We talked earlier, I think.” It was a lie, but he hoped it would get him in.
“I’ll check… please hold one moment…”
Seth sighed. Now to endure what might be either a few seconds or interminable hours of elevator music. How he hated it. Why couldn’t they play classic rock or something?
He jumped – that hadn’t taken long…. “Yes?”
“Thank you for your patience, Mr. Carver is available. Please hold again while I transfer you.”
Seth ran his hand through his hair, a little surprised at the promptness. “Of course.”
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