My glare shifted from the bowl of water to the sympathetic smile Zeik gave me through the glass window.
“Take a breath and calm down,” he said through a speaker.
My eyebrow twitched. Don’t tell me to calm down.
“You made this sound a lot easier in your explanation,” I said.
“Hence why I ended it with it’s easier said than done.”
My fists clenched, and I tried to calm my breathing. We’d been at this for three days now. During that time Zeik had tried teaching me how to shape water, since it was the easiest material to manipulate for new contortionists. But I could only manage a ripple, and my patience was wearing thin. Obscenely thin.
“Close your eyes and try following your energy circuit back to your core,” Zeik said. “Once there, grab hold of it and pull it back through your arms.”
I closed my eyes, forcing the sarcastic thoughts from my head. How the hell was I supposed to know when I found my energy circuit? A tingling in my arm caused my heart to jump, and I focused on it.
This had to be it. If I could just grab hold of it and ride it to my core I might have a chance. I focused harder, and the sensation became stronger. I continued focusing, harder and harder, until finally unable to resist the sensation any longer, I caved and scratched the itch.
Profanities flew from my mouth painting the walls, and when I glared at Zeik he was blushing wide-eyed.
“This is stupid,” I shouted stamping my foot, and the entire room shook. I looked at Zeik, “Was that me?”
Zeik stared at his monitors with a knitted brow. He tried to say something, but the entire lab shook even harder and alarms began to sound.
“Attention all personnel, ORION is under attack. Extremists have taken control of galaxy two’s dock. Commence protocol three—all STAR units report to the second level of galaxy two. This is not a drill. I repeat—this is not a drill.”
Zeik and I stared at each other shocked. Before I could do anything though, Zeik pressed a button engaging the electronic lock to my door. My heart sped up, and I turned to Zeik.
“I’m sorry Pisces,” he said. “But they’re here for you. The room you’re in will protect you. It’s shrouded in a constantly fluxing stream of light and dark energies, and can only be accessed by someone from the inside now. When help arrives they’ll explain how to unlock it.”
I opened my mouth, but the lab door exploded killing my voice. Air choked in my throat as five white masks materialized from the smoke—all of them fixed on me.
For a second, I was glad Zeik locked me in here. Maybe he could hide in his office until help arrived. Then they all turned to Zeik.
“It’s him,” one of them said. He stepped forward, twisted his hands up, and then towards Zeik.
Wires from all the electronics tore away and wrapped around Zeik before he could move. He struggled, pleading for them to let him go. But the wires tightened until blood ran down them, forcing him to scream. I slammed my fists against the glass cursing them all, struggling for a way to escape the room. But I couldn’t get through, and the more I tried to think of a solution the blanker my mind went. Tears of frustration blurred my eyes as a cord of wires formed a spear in front of Zeik.
“Let’s get this over with,” the man said.
The spear shot forward, I screamed with all my might slamming a fist against the glass, and the spear stopped inches away from Zeik like it had hit a wall.
I blinked, trying to understand what happened. Had I stopped the spear? Did I finally manage to connect to my core?
“You should know better,” Ajax’s rumbled. His giant silhouette left the smoke, hand outstretched towards Zeik. “He belongs to Pluto.”
The one controlling the wires nodded, and the spear fell to the floor. I sighed in relief, and my noise drew the attention of Ajax. I knew I was safe, but my heart still jumped when he turned to me.
“Impossible,” Ajax said. Everyone else turned to me, some of their mouths even parting.
“How can she do that from inside,” someone asked.
I glared back with bared teeth before giving them the finger. I wasn’t some caged animal on exhibit. Behind them, glimpses of Zeik told me he was struggling to free himself. When we finally met eyes, his face paled and he started yelling but stopped.
Well, froze was more accurate. Everyone did. The smoke came to a standstill and even the small tongues of fire throughout the room ceased their movement. An invisible hand wrapped around my throat and squeezed. Sweat rose from my skin in a wave, and I could feel the blood leaving my face.
I screamed. As much as I hate to admit it, terror escaped my lips when his calm, low tone reached my ears. Anywhere. Anywhere would’ve been better than trapped in the room with him. I pressed myself to the glass, wishing I could move through it. How had he gotten in here? It should’ve been impossible. It wasn’t until I realized he still hadn’t done anything I began to regain some kind of composure.
“What do you want from me,” I asked, voice shaking.
Pluto’s head tilted to the side, and though his face was masked I sensed the smirk he gave me. And suddenly the image of Noah over lapped him, forcing me to breathe in. Pluto twitched, then reached into his jacket and pulled out a pistol.
My body locked. Thoughts, breathing, even the thundering in my chest paused as he drew the weapon. My eyes followed his movements, praying to whoever was listening he didn’t point it my way.
And he didn’t. Instead he pointed it at his eye.
More images appeared from my dream when Pluto had done the same thing. Had it even been a dream? Could he see the future? Or maybe he was a total psychopath who loved to tease death.
“I’m not suicidal,” he said as if reading my thoughts. “I’m just looking into your future.”
So he could see glimpses into the future. Well, that was terrifying.
“Nothing again,” he said and I caught the whisper of a sigh, “My, this is vexing. But this. This is quite impressive really,” he put the gun away while looking around the room. “To think you were capable of doing this only after just awakening.”
Confused, I looked around the room too and my mouth fell open. Deep cracks snaked across the floor radiating from where I stood. The metal in the walls that ribbed the room were twisted and warped towards me, and along the edges of the glass window cracks spider webbed out.
I’d done this? This is what I was capable of—destroying a room that was engineered to be nova proof.
“I didn’t even know,” I said.
“Which is problematic,” Pluto said. “You unintentionally damaged this room. You still don’t have a full grasp on your abilities.”
“So that’s how you entered?”
Pluto’s head tilted to the side and a chuckle escaped. “No, the room is still functional, thankfully. But something like this couldn’t stop me from entering or leaving.”
Thankfully? What the hell did that mean? And this room couldn’t stop him? Just what was he?
“Why are you here,” I asked, forcefully this time. I was tired of constantly being clueless.
“Let’s play a game, shall we?” Pluto asked.
I replied with a glare, and as my fists clenched together a new crack appeared at my feet.
“Easy now,” Pluto said holding up his hands. “Though I want to answer your questions, I’m short on time. So here’s what we’ll do. I’ll talk, you’ll listen. And when I’m done you can have three questions which I will answer honestly as best I can.”
I really didn’t want to listen to what this insane asshole had to say, but in truth he could kill me if he wanted. Or beat me into the ground painfully. I had no control over my abilities, and the man before me apparently had the power to erase my existence.
“Fine,” I said folding my arms, “but one of my questions first. Why are you here?”
The porcelain mask looked up briefly, and I heard another sigh. “There’s something I must do here; but mostly it’s for personal reasons.”
“Personal reasons being…”
“Revenge for what?”
“Ah, ah,” Pluto said wagging a finger at me. “My turn to speak. And that’s not really the question you want to ask anyways.”
Pluto waved his hand and images appeared before us. “Since the beginning of recorded history, Man has always worshipped a god in one form or another. The Greeks had the Olympians, the Norse—the gods of Valhalla, the Jews and Christians—God. And there’s such a desperate necessity to worship something, we’ve actually turned it into an inheritable trait. But the reality is—there is no god.”
The images faded, and my eyes narrowed on Pluto. So what did this make him, an anti-religion extremist?
Pluto snapped his fingers and more images appeared, this time around us as if we were actually there. War, disease, and famine surrounded me, the cries of its victims filling my ears. My stomach churned, and I brought a hand to my mouth.
“This is our reality,” Pluto said looking at me. “We live in a godless world, yet so many are governed by one religion or another.”
He jerked his hand to the side and the images faded, only to be replaced by new ones. Men walking out of a court house, surrounded by reporters as they stoically pushed towards a car.
“Our religions are corrupt. Greed has seeped into the very marrow of the idea and poisoned what once brought unity and peace. It’s been turned into a weapon, used to control and kill the innocent. How? How could a god let this happen? How could a god allow its very name to be twisted and tainted without bring down some wrathful retribution? The answer is: because there is none.”
The images faded for the last time, and only Pluto and I remained in the room.
“What about the prophets and miracle workers,” I asked. “You can’t disprove them. Those people make up the very foundation on which many religions are based.”
Pluto’s head tilted to the side once more, undoubtedly smirking again. He enjoyed me challenging him.
“The universe has been around longer than the existence of Man. This means dark matter—and energy—has always been here. Despite it being new to us, it’s relatively old in the grand scheme of things.”
I turned my head slowly and narrowed my eyes. I didn’t like where he was going.
“We know that novae are created when people are bombarded with dark energy. Isn’t it possible these prophets were the first novae to exist,” Pluto asked. “Some cosmic shift, a planetary alignment, whatever it takes. It’s not so hard to believe these people were the first to awaken their cores and access their powers. In a time where religion ruled, how easy would it be announce you’d been selected by your god to be a chosen one?”
I tried to push what Pluto said away, but it was hard to argue against. My body started to shake and numbness began creeping into my limbs. What if we really did live in a world with no god?
“You can’t prove god doesn’t exist,” I said. I felt out of breath, like I’d just finished running a marathon.
“Oh, but I can,” Pluto said, and my stomach dropped at the chill in his words. “I’ve crossed the divide. I’ve peered into the beyond—after life—and seen nothing. Emptiness. An abyss. A colorless void that consumes all. That is what awaits us.”
My very existence felt like it had suddenly come into question. I wanted out of here. I wanted to get away from what this…this heretic was saying. I wanted to change the subject.
“What does this have to do with me?”
“That’s your second question,” Pluto said holding up two fingers before pointing at me. “I need you to gain control of your core. If you do, then you’ll be able to locate a certain artifact I’m looking for. It’s the key to my whole plan. I can’t find it because I’m such a powerful DED it physically repels me away. If you can gain control of your core, then you’ll be drawn towards it. Once you have it I’ll take it from you.”
“How can you take it from me if you can’t get near it to begin with,” I asked.
“That’s your third question,” Pluto said holding up three fingers. “Are you sure that’s the question you want to ask?”
I opened my mouth to say yes—then snapped it shut. Was it really that important? I shook my head, trying to clear the doubt he’d planted there. Fucking asshole. What was the right question then?
A growl passed my teeth as I glared at him. Should I ask him what his plan was? No. Why would he tell me? He’d gain nothing from doing so. If anything he’d be giving us a way to stop him.
But he did say he’d answer my questions honestly.
No, he said he’d answer honestly as best he could—which meant he’d give me some vague answer, and I’d be down my last question.
“Dammit!” I glared at his expressionless mask and grit my teeth. That calm attitude was really pissing me off. Oh how I’d love to rip that mask off and kick him in the nuts. Then we’d see just how calm he could be.
As if sensing my thoughts, Pluto shifted slightly and then raised his hand to look at a watch. “We’re out of time. Last question, Nora. Make it count.”
My scowl tightened. I wanted to make it count. I wanted to catch him off guard. I wanted him to be the one backpedaling and fishing for a way out. And then it appeared. From the back of my mind came one question that had been eating away at me. The one question everyone wanted answered.
“Who are you,” I asked and he straightened. “What’s your real name?”
He said nothing, instead opting to stare at me. Despite the mask I could see the struggle in his sky blue eyes, weighing whether or not he should tell me the truth or bullshit me. I smirked. I had him.
And then a an icy hand grabbed my stomach and yanked down, the smirk disappearing from my lips as Pluto’s eyes narrowed and his head tilted to the side for few seconds. The jolting in my chest increased, he was smiling too? Why?
“BK 201,” he said. I didn’t even bother asking the question, I knew it was on my face. Pluto shrugged his shoulders, “It’s the name of a file. In it, you’ll find all the answers you’re looking for. But be careful, the people here don’t want you to know about it.”
“Now it’s time I set the final plan into motion, so I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice.” Pluto shimmered away, like I’d talked to a mirage the entire time.
I looked around and realized the world had resumed from its temporary pause, and Pluto’s voice echoed throughout the room.
“You’re not a contortionist, Nora. You’re an architect. And the key for an LED to take control of her core isn’t through a checklist of step by step directions. It’s through her emotions.”
Pluto shimmered into existence beside the Zeik. “Hello, Dr. Belto,” his voice colder and more emotionless than ever before. “It’s been a long time. Do you remember me? Your memory might be a little hazy. Here, let me remind you.”
And I watched firsthand how the last type of DED earned their title.
It started with Zeik’s skin and hair, peeling back in pieces revealing red muscle underneath. Blood seeped from his body, forming little globules that floating into the air. He screamed—the kind of panicked scream of a dying man while tears ran down his cheeks. The wires holding him in place cut further into his body, and more crimson escaped him. He thrashed and his muscles snapped like twine. The free ends deconstructing into the air while still attached to his body.
I looked away, the sight too unbearable, only to vomit. I closed my eyes and pressed my hands to my ears, my erratic breathing and explosive heart drowning out any of the strangled cries that might’ve escaped the dying doctor.
I don’t know how long I stayed like that. Trapped behind a wall of glass unable to stop the agonizing death of an innocent man—unable to do anything but cry and whisper nonsense and try to drown out what was happening.
His voice was soft, and echoed within my mind. But I refused to acknowledge him.
“Nora, look at me.”
My eyes opened despite my protests, and shifted from the floor to where they stood. Zeik hung from the wires, barely breathing and twitching in spasms. Blood ran freely down his destroyed body. Bile rose in my throat, but Pluto waited until I looked at him.
“This is our world,” Pluto said, and a black haze condensed around his hand. It shot into Zeik’s chest, and his body imploded. I stopped breathing as blood exploded out covering the room. Then Pluto snapped his fingers and it all disappeared, disintegrating in dust. “This is our existence.”
He didn’t wait for a reaction or for me to say anything . Instead, he turned to the others. “We’re leaving.”
The numbness inside me began to fade. Like Zeik’s existence. It crumbled, rapidly giving way to anger. My hands clenched, my jaw groaned, tears burned my eyes, and inside an unstable fury consumed me. He claimed there was no afterlife, and yet he could so easily kill?
Out of nowhere energy burst from within me, and I glared at Pluto shaking—no—vibrating uncontrollably.
The glass in front of me started cracking, and around me I could hear the walls moan as the metal reinforcements bent and twisted further. A pressure like at the café returned, and white crept in from the edges of my vision.
But Pluto remained. He was my focus. And when I could stand it no longer I screamed.
The weightless feeling returned. Deafening cracks and groans of protest filled my ears, and while the others shrank away from the window Pluto watched unmoving.
I felt the cold touch of the floor on my bare feet as I returned to it, the air spent from my lungs and my clothes completely destroyed from my moratorium. I dropped to my knees exhausted, but my eyes never left Pluto, and his never left mine. We stared at each other silently, until he pulled out his gun and looked down the barrel.
“I can see it,” Pluto said—his voice barely audible through the mangled speaker. “I can finally see it.”
Pluto waved his hand and the air rippled. Within seconds Nebula was gone from ORION.