Waking that time came fast. Much faster than my previous episodes of chemically induced sleep. When my eyes opened my head was clear and my heart beating strong. It was like a double shot of espresso had been fed straight to my veins.
Was I getting used to this?
“Good. You’re awake.”
Though I could not see him I knew it was Crabtree speaking. My stomach turned at the sound of his voice. I tried to lift my head but could not. I couldn’t move at all. I could hear and I could see but the only thing to hear was Crabtree and the only thing to see was concrete floor.
“I couldn’t start without you.” He said. “You absolutely must be awake for this to work and waiting is so tiresome. I hope you are enjoying the pick me up I gave you.”
So that’s why I was so alert. Crabtree had pumped me full of more drugs. Something from the opposite end of the spectrum he usually gave.
I looked right and left as far as possible and could see my fingers dangling over the edge of a metal table. I asked both index fingers to move and they responded. At least I wasn’t paralyzed. That was a start. Something else was keeping me from moving.
I closed my eyes and tensed every muscle, cataloging where I sensed pressure. I was tied up. I was strapped chest down to a metal table. Thanks to the hole my head rested in, a handful of functions were at my disposal. Sadly, movement wasn’t one of them.
“Where am I?” I asked through clenched teeth. My lips worked but my jaw was blocked from opening.
“Not far from where you’ve been all along.” He replied. “Only, a little farther underground.”
In a basement. That explained the concrete I faced and the dank smell.
“What are you doing to me?”
“I’m making it possible for you to do what I said you would.” He stated. “I’m helping you, help me.”
“How? What do you want from me?”
“Don’t you worry about that. You just sit back and let that special head of yours tell me what I want to know.”
I took a slow breath hoping to slow the rate of my heart. Survival training 101, stay calm. It was crucial to stay calm.
“It doesn’t work that way.” I said. “If you know anything about what I can do, you know it’s not that.”
Keep them talking, find out what they want then cooperate…these were the things Marco taught me. This was how you fought back when the situation was hopeless.
“People tell me their secrets,” I went on. “Not the other way around.”
If I offered to hand over what Crabtree wanted to force out of me, I might be able to make a deal for freedom. It could work.
It had to work because it was all I had.
“Besides, I’m not hiding anything.” I told him. “Whatever you want to know, just ask.” Crabtree laughed.
“Violet do you know why you have the ability to make people reveal their secrets?”
His question stopped me. Never once did I think my power was anything more than an anomaly. A birth defect, a sixth finger. Wherever he was going with this, it must be another trick.
“Sure I do.” I lied. “I was born this way.” Crabtree howled.
“I should have known they wouldn’t have told you the truth.” He moved around the room and I heard metal clink against metal. On my left a machine powered up. It hummed and beeped and I had to swallow back panic. I fought hard against fear. The situation required focus. Each move I made, each word I spoke must be carefully executed. There was no room for error.
“What do you mean?” I said, trying to sound angry instead of terrified. “What didn’t they tell me?”
“You are not a prodigy, Violet.” he said. “Nature did not make you.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“Certainly it does. You actually believe random genetic mutation, chance, spawned you? A human lie detector? A truth miner?” he tapped my head with a finger. “Miner. Oh my that’s funny. Violet Spiner, the truth Miner.” He chuckled at his little joke. I said nothing and Crabtree continued “My dear, you aren’t a happy accident, you are the result of years of research, thousands of hours of theorizing and tests. Violet you are nothing more than a science experiment.” He said flatly. “A terribly successful and wonderfully wicked, science experiment.”
I bit my lip stifling a cry, not wanting it to be true. Silently I pleaded that he shut up but Crabtree was not done abusing me. I could see his face in my mind, smiling excitedly, giddy to be the one who told me the real story of my life.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in your position right now Violet. To not know about the dozens of genetic designers responsible for who you are today. To be oblivious to the number of people who sacrificed trying to create what you have in your head. Then there was your mother, your beautiful brilliant mother. If not for her, finding herself pregnant with you at exactly the right moment…well her tinkering on your tiny embryonic brain turned what had been years of failure into success at last. You were the key. Truly Violet you would not be you without your mother but she would never have triumphed without you.”
Every word was terrible to take in and he would not stop. I could not let him know how I really felt. I had to hold it in. I could not be weak. I had to stay in control and lead the conversation to one that would see me free. If what he said about my mother was true, it would have to wait.
Crabtree slid next to the table and leaned over to speak right into my ear.
“Do you know how many people suffered to make you?” He asked. “Do you know how many died? Your mother understood what so few others did. Using you was a brave and daring move. Too bad your father did not see it that way. Maybe if he had, your mother would be alive, you wouldn’t be here, on this table, right now. No, if Carlos had been as brave as your mother I think your life would have been much different Violet.”
It was too much to hear, too much to process. Carlos was my father? Who had he been to Margaret then? What happened to him? What kind of woman had my mother been? Had Margaret stolen me from love or had she protected me from a monster? Was my story truly littered with betrayals and death?
I strained against the ties holding me down. I was impotent. What could I do about any of that now? All the hate and hurt, all that was wrong came together at once and I sent it out in one furious, terrible roar.
Crabtree stepped back. At the instant I lost myself out of the corner of my eye I saw his feet moved away. It was an opening.
“No!” I screamed, releasing tears without care. I sobbed openly, sprinkling the concrete floor, knowing Crabtree watched. Hoping he bought into them.
“Interesting,” was all he said. It didn’t really matter. He didn’t need to feel for me. He only need believe the story I was about to tell.
“My mother…” I sobbed. “What happened to her?”
“Your mother,” He said more to himself than as a reply. “Ah your mother.” He was remembering. “They killed her. That is what happened. They killed her before you were four years old. While you slept, she died and then they boxed you up like a stray kitten and dropped you into a new life without her.”
I knew it was wrong to believe him. He was lying, he had to be lying, I had no memories of anything he said. It couldn’t be true but if it was, it changed everything. If it was true it meant I really could not ever go home.
No, Violet, no. Don’t go there now.
Marco, how can I ignore it?
Because you must. Stay in this crisis. You are a prisoner but he is beginning to turn. Crabtree, this room, the table, these are the only thoughst you should have right now. This is the only place your mind needs to be.
“They lied to me.” I wailed. “Everything they ever did, ever said, it was all lies. Why did I believe them?”
“It’s who they are.” Crabtree almost sounded sympathetic. “They can’t help themselves.”
“How can you say that?” I spat back. “They killed my mother. They do not deserve understanding! I won’t forgive them. No I cannot. I…” I drew in a loud breath, a show that I was ready to stand against them. Crabtree had to believe that I was serious. He had to be sure that I was coming to his side because it was what I truly wanted. “I want them dead. All of them.”
“Begin.” I told him.
“Begin. Start. Whatever you are going to do, do it now.” It wasn’t a suggestion. “I’m ready. Get it over with. Just…do me one favor.”
“And that would be?”
“Don’t kill me.” I said. “Let me live so that I can take them out.”
Crabtree was silent.
“Will you do that?” I asked like it was nothing. Would you pass the salt? And Oh yeah, don’t end my life.
Crabtree stood behind me quietly for a moment. Perhaps he hadn’t considered that I could turn. Perhaps he thought the only ending possible would be him, cutting me open.
“You want to know how they did it, how they altered my brain, how I work, I get it.” I said. “I’m just asking to be left the chance to end those who destroyed my family.”
Machines hummed around us, but there was no other sound and in the silence I wove my tale.
“Look, there’s something they don’t know.” I said. “Something no one knows. There’s more in me. I’ve been testing my abilities and I’ve found out stuff. I can do much more than just steal secrets. I haven’t told anyone, but I’m powerful.”
Crabtree was motionless. The only indication of his presence was the deep in and out of his breath.
“You cut me open, you’ll figure out how I go together.” No big deal. Whatever. “You keep me alive though and I can give you the rest of the story. I can do things I bet my mother never thought of and they will be, I will be, all yours.” There was a long pause. Was it working? Would he release me? My heart was pounding to the point of explosion. I closed my eyes to concentrate and be still.
“Mmmm tempting.” Crabtree sighed. “Very tempting. You know if we had more time, I might even take you up on that.”
“Time? What do you mean?” Anxiety had crept back in. “Why don’t we have time?”
“Well, I didn’t want to worry you earlier.” He said, obviously toying with me. “But it would seem we’ve lost Bob.”
Bob. The text message from Bob. Something had gone wrong.
“I don’t…what happened?”
“It’s not important. Bob was a minor figure, just filling a role. I’ve already called in his replacement. He’s standing guard as we speak. And he is just as expendable as Bob was. ”
“Bob is dead?”
“He better be. That was his directive. If he is simply being held prisoner… well, that would complicate thing, but I believe Bob followed protocol.” Crabtree hummed. “At any rate, the wise course of action is to accelerate our timeline. I need to know how you work. Once I learn that, once I understand how your mother made you, I can make more. As many as I want. Each one with all the potential you claim but ideally more willing to work with me.” He moved. I heard items shift on a table nearby. “So you see, you’re proposal isn’t really much of one.” I felt him draw close again and then I knew it was my last chance.
“Wait. I’m only asking for revenge. Please. After that, you can do whatever you want. Study me however you need.”
“Oh Violet, poor naive…”
Ppt pt! Ppt! Ppt! The sound rattled through the ceiling above, drawing Crabtree away from me in an instant. Gun shots, close in succession, exploded somewhere near.
There was another burst, maybe three shots that time. Then we heard breaking glass and the thud of something very heavy falling overhead.
“Damnit!” Crabtree growled. He dropped what he was holding. The thin silver scalpel bounced twice, landing under the table and in my view. Relief coursed through my veins.
Crabtree raced across the room. I hear a drawer slide open then a click then nothing. Crabtree was still. Above was quiet for a long while. After a moment Crabtree slid across the floor to my side.
“Will you excuse me my dear?” He said in a voice suggesting he was at a café, not in a basement on the verge of pealing my head like an onion. “There’s something I need to check on.” Then he was gone and a few seconds later I heard the stairs creek as he climbed. Crabtree was leaving.
I kicked and twisted and strained against the straps holding me to the table. I only needed an inch, just enough to get loose.
The strap around my wrist gave way a little. I pulled my arm with all I had. My hand came free. The cuff tore flesh and now my fingers were coated in blood, but I was free
I reached around and blindly unbuckled the straps holding my head down. There was a patch of smooth skin at the base of my skull where once there had been hair. The thought of what Crabtree would have done, would do if I didn’t get out of there threw me into a frantic race to be loose. Once my head was up I could rise enough to reach my other hand and ripped the needle out of it.
The noise upstairs was impossible to follow. Footsteps, shots, a door slamming, none of it gave any indication to what was happening. I freed my other arm then twisted painfully and reached the strap at my waist. The basement door opened and the sound of gunfire echoed off the walls around me. I pushed myself up to my knees and unbuckled my left leg. Then my heart sank. The right ankle was secured with a fat padlock. I had no key.
There was a familiar creak of wood and soon the basement stairs moaned under weight. Someone was climbing down.
I was out of time.
I scanned the room for something to break the lock. I was in a lab. Metal cabinets lined one wall. There was a refrigerator with glass doors along the other. In the center was a large machine with wire sticking out of it and two tables, one holding a tray of surgical tools and the other, me.
I reach over to the other table. It was on wheels. I pulled it closer and grabbed a handful of tools just as the bottom stair gave its last gasp. The footstep stopped.
“Violet my dear? What are you doing?”
It was Crabtree. He was back. He heard the noise of the tables and now he knew I was moving. I needed to be free. I made a split second decision and violently dove over the side. The table, still tied to my leg, came crashing down with me. There was a loud snap and a pain that made me scream. I looked back. The strap had broken free off table. I was free! But I still couldn’t run. Blood drain from my face. The jagged point of my broken shin bone stuck out the side of my leg. Mr. Crabtree was moving in.
I took my eyes off my leg and tried to focus. The IV that had been attached to my wrist had toppled when the table went down and now it was caught, wedged between two cabinets. The rubber line that once fed Crabtree’s cocktail lay next to me dripping wake up juice. Scattered across the floor around me were a frightening array of surgical tools.
“You can’t escape.” Crabtree spoke calmly as he cautiously moved into the room. “There is no way out.”
“Ha! You stupid old man!” I screamed back hoping to anger him. I grabbed the IV line and wound it once around a table leg. “You don’t scare me! You are nothing!”
At that Crabtree picked up his pace and tore into the room. I held still and waited. The second I saw his face I pulled the line. The tube rose, stretched taut across Crabtree’s path and caught his leg. He fell, face first, into the concrete and I lunged. The pain in my leg was incredible. I lunged anyway, hard with both fists out, and drove the two surgical knives I clung to in to Crabtree’s back.
He screamed but what I heard was Marco’s voice.
Don’t stop until they stop.
I didn’t plan on it. I picked up the medical tool tray and bashed until the knives were flat into Crabtree’s back. I kept swinging. Crabtree had long since stopped moving but I kept at him.
Suddenly there were hands on my forearms. They squeeze and shook until I let go and the tray flew off. I struggled against them, blind with fury, butting my head back repeatedly desperate to hit, desperate to end things.
“Let me go!” I screamed. My assailant was powerful. He pulled my arms down, pinning them against me. He dropped to his knees, capture my wrist in one hand and with the other steadied my head.
“Violet,” he said softly. “Violet stop, it’s over.”
I stopped hitting and looked up, seeing clear again. It was Marco. Not his voice, not my imagination but really truly Marco.
“Violet, it’s OK. It’s over.” He whispered into my hair, holding me close. “It is over. You are safe.”