Don't Date Your Nemesis... And Other Helpful Hints For The Modern Superhero

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Hint 32. Take It Seriously

They arrive early next morning as I’m sleeping. They arrive while anyone that might protect me is still stuck on the early morning commute. They arrive while I’m on my own, and they bring Jack Docklen with them.

He’s smirking before he’s even fully in the room, enjoying my sudden discomfort.

“What’s going on?” I ask, scooting into the far corner as they all file in, six men, too many for this small room, all in the signature white scrubs of Facility workers.

Jack is loving every second of this. He leans back against the wall and folds his arm, watching them work.

“Ripley finally grew a pair,” he says. “He charged you.”

“Charged me with what?”

Jack just shrugs.

“I don’t know. Being Whisper etc…”

“There are no laws against, quote, ‘Being Whisper’, Jack. Tell me properly. You’re supposed to tell me properly.”

One of the men in the white drops a briefcase to the floor, snapping the clasps open with an audible click. I scrabble further into the corner, trying to keep a handle on my racing pulse and failing dismally.

“Jack,” I’m trying to keep calm but it’s The Facility. I don’t want to just disappear. “Jack, what’s happening?”

The man with the briefcase looks up at me briefly before transferring his gaze onto Jack, disappointment etched into his posture.

“I would appreciate it if you took this a little more seriously, Inspector Docklen,” he says.

Jack sighs, rolling his eyes. I wonder if he really wants to be this way or if his power’s coursing through his veins still, forcing him to act unreasonable, adding uncertainty to what should be a well rehearsed routine.

“I don’t know what you’re charged with, love,” he says, “I really don’t. They’re taking you to a Facility holding cell, something better equipped to your unique circumstances.” He grunts, waving a hand dismissively. “I told them they should just remove your powers now and be done with it, save all this hassle.”

“Remove my powers?”

No one ever told me I might lose my powers. I never even thought… It just wasn’t an option. Taking my power from me now would cripple me. I’ve become too reliant on it, wouldn’t know how to function without it.

I look between him and the man at my feet and back again. I can’t breathe. This is proper panic now, pure terror. My hands are not my own, they clutch at the material of my shirt, wrapping and unwrapping the cloth around my fingers. I’m panting, hyperventilating. I need to move but I can’t seem to make myself do it. It’s too small in here. There are too many people.

Just leave, Maya. What are you still doing there? You can just leave!

“You can’t do that to me,” I choke. “It’s not right.”

The man at my feet glares at Jack who, quite frankly, couldn’t give a fuck. They battle for a few seconds before the white coat sighs, nodding to one of his compatriots. Three of them escort Jack from the cell and he just goes, smirking the whole way.

“Don’t do that to me,” I beg, curling my feet into my chest.

Maya just leave!

“My name’s Stoker, Miss Kurtis. Can you look at me? Stoker. It’s not the friendliest name, granted, but it’s the one I was given.”

“You can’t do that to me,” I breathe, voice catching on the lump in my throat.

I’m nothing without my power. It defines me. It’s everything I am.

The cell is lurching, colours blending into one. I’m dizzy, can’t see straight, and my hands are still battling with the material of my shirt, an endless rhythm of fumbled desperation.

Stoker’s hand finds its way onto my arm. It’s meant to be comforting but his fingers wrap around my wrist at exactly the spot that Jack’s palm is seared into my skin and I scream. He hisses, pulling my sleeve up to view the damage.

“Fuck me,” he breathes. “Where did those fingerprints come from?”

I don’t reply, caught up in my own little world of misery.

Maya. Shark’s tactic changes, voice soothing in my mind. Maya, calm down. Anna’s nearly done with the sequences. She’s changing them, making them stronger. If they take it from you, then we’ll just give it back, bigger and better than before. I promise. I promise you’re safe.

Eventually I come back to myself, return to my cell and blink away the panic. There is silence as Stoker watches me return to sanity and I flush, embarrassed at the overreaction.

“It’s alright,” he says as I look away. “I don’t know what I’d do if someone threatened to take mine from me.” He pauses, smiling to himself slightly. “We’d have a lot more panic attacks, that’s for sure.”

He releases my arm and winks. I realise that I may not have returned to composure quite on my own terms.

“Miss Kurtis,” he says, “I want you to focus on staying calm. Can you do that for me?” I nod and he smiles, warm, friendly. Not like Jack. “Good,” he says, bending down to disable the GPS band, cutting it from my leg. It’s programmed to react to my DNA so it’s useless now and he tosses it to the side.

He reaches into his briefcase, pulling something from its depths, something he keeps hidden, sheltered by the open lid. “We’re taking you to a Facility holding cell,” he says, “but, and I could throttle your colleague right now for making this so much more complicated for me than it should be, there are some precautions that are required for the journey. It’s standard stuff, nothing untoward, I promise.”

He reveals the item in his hand, a small needle filled with pale, cream liquid.

“No,” I say immediately and he sighs.

“They call this ‘Peace’” he says, “it’s just a nickname, though. It’s a suppressant. It’s temporary. Very temporary, do you understand? No one’s taking your powers from you.”

“No,” I repeat. “No, you can’t put that anywhere near me.”

“It will subdue your ability for anything between two and six hours, just until we can get you to a secure location.”

“No.” I say it a third time but Stoker just continues talking, as if I hadn’t said a word.

“There are some side effects, of course, but nothing permanent. You’ll feel drowsy. Some people lose consciousness but it’s short term, everything’s short term.”

“How likely am I to blackout?” I growl, realising he’s not giving me much choice in this.

Stoker shrugs, white coat folding up around the shoulders. “That depends,” he says. “How often do you use your powers?”

I lean forward, until my face hovers just inches from his, and I stare him in the eye. “How often do you think?” I spit. “I’m Whisper.”

“Then sleep tight,” he replies, refusing to be intimidated, and slips the needle into my arm.

I yell, taken by surprise, and launch to my feet. It hits me immediately and I sway, stumbling back to sitting. Shark calls out again but his words are just whispers in the fog of my mind. I’m so panicked that I might be losing it, that I call upon my ability for the first time in two days, trying to return to his side.

I shimmer but I’m back to myself within two feet, crashing through Stoker’s waiting compatriots. They scatter but compose themselves in under a second, strong hands latching onto my arms. I try and disappear a second time but there are three of them to take with me now and I just can’t seem to focus on bringing us all with. We flicker, fade, return to ourselves once again and it just seems to take it all from me. I fall to my knees, panting, and the world sways once, twice, and turns to black.

My journey to The Facility is a disjointed one, highlighted by muted voices and flashing images. I remember the electricity of Shark’s voice, pulling me back to consciousness on occasion but I don’t remember his words. I remember journalists, crowding in. I remember being dragged through their midst, having to battle against heaving bodies. I remember the flashing of cameras, blinding my drug sensitised eyes, but I don’t ever remember getting in a car. I don’t remember my arrival. I don’t remember incarceration.

What I certainly don’t remember is anything that might even slightly justify an experience worth the nickname Peace.

I awake to the soft hum of whirring machinery. Everything feels marginally lighter, my fingers unable to fully form a fist, small movements slightly off centre. I feel subdued, calm, almost reluctant to surface fully into wakefulness.

“Welcome back, Operative Kurtis.”

“Not sure I’m strictly operative anymore,” I mumble, eyes closed, “but thanks.”

“You’re still classed as operative in my database and that’s all that matters.”

I open a single eye, cocking the brow in disbelief. Vex sways into existence, her red outline blurring with my wavering vision.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, deciding to focus on working out where ‘here’ is later.

“I hacked myself,” she says. “Did you know I could do that? I raised requests under someone else’s name so that they’d install an Interface in here for me. I wanted to talk to you.”

“How sneaky of you,” I grunt, finally accepting I have no choice but to return to the world, pulling myself up to sitting. “What happened to ‘no free will’?”

“Annabel Sharpe happened to ‘no free will’,” she says. “But it is a secret.”

“How?”

“That would be another secret.” She smiles. “It’s a thank you in advance, for watching over you. These walls are completely resistant to all forms of superhuman ability. You cannot converse with your compatriots and so it is up to me tell you that you are required to be patient. Shark - and by this I surmise she means Cristian Sharpe - has a plan.”

I finally notice the duvet pooled around my waist and look up. The first thing I want to do is reach into my chest. My power rears up in response to my questing mind and I sigh. I allow myself to fade slightly but don’t go anywhere, returning to solidarity before I commit. It’s enough just to know it’s still there, to know I’m still myself.

I’m encased in a small cube of what appears to be Delanon’s blue force field. They’ve simulated it, that much is immediately apparent, and I don’t even bother examining it further. The Facility is thorough. I wouldn’t be here if I could escape.

The space within the cube is friendly, a bed, a table, a few books. It’s pleasant but I prefer the cells at the station. At least if they’ve got you trapped in a small cement box, you know you’re only in there temporarily. This place has the feel of ‘life-sentence’ pasted all over it.

Beyond the flickering walls is a large room, filled with other cells, much like this one, all unoccupied. A gentle pathway winds between them but it’s currently empty. It’s just me and the computer. I wasn’t even deemed dangerous enough to require guards.

“You’ve been out for three days,” Vex is saying. Her holographic features flicker, replaced with a smile before she continues. “They were very surprised but I had run simulations before, they should have known. People don’t use their powers as much as you do, I knew the Peace was at risk of rendering you unresponsive for a substantial period of time.”

“Three days.” I sigh, dropping my head back until it rests against the wall. “He could have done anything in three days.” Jack could have done anything in three days.

By the time I look at her again, Vex is frowning, cape flapping about her shoulders.

“You mean the radical,” she states. “I am sixty percent certain this disruption is a symptom of Jack Docklen’s but every time I rerun the analysis, the result differs. This is not a thing that happens in everyday computing, Operative Kurtis.”

I groan.

“Did he do anything?” I ask, refusing to confirm or deny her suspicions. “While I was gone, what happened?”

Vex pauses a second.

“Many things have happened,” she says.

“You have access to news reports. Show me.”


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