Mindbender

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Caught In A Web

Me and Mitch had turned into hermits.

The sweet old lady at the bed and breakfast continued to treat us well. I came out of misery and depression long enough to give Mitch a stack of bills and told him to give them to her.

She’d bring breakfast to our room, and every time she thought to complain about the smell of cigarette smoke, or the unkempt nature of the room, or the fact that I hadn’t had a shower in weeks, I got “Good Vibrations” stuck in her head. It must have been unsettling, because I don’t think she even knew that song.

It reminded me of Lana. Everything reminded me of Lana, my loneliness in particular, and I couldn’t escape that.

I barely talked to Mitch. There didn’t seem to be much point. I’d been in his head already, and every time he felt like speaking it was usually just him talking about how much he missed making people bleed, asking if it was okay to use his powers.

Eventually I got so sick of it I told him to use his powers on himself if he was so hard up to see blood. He spent a lot of time in the bathroom cutting himself after that.

The manhunt was still on, trying to find me. My face was still a big question mark, as was my identity, but they’d already tracked down Mitch by name, and had posted his likeness everywhere. It was one reason why I wanted him grow a beard. Unfortunately, Mitch grew a beard like pigeons ice skate, which is to say not at all. Mitch was seventeen years old, and with the exception of a very goofy and wispy mustache, I wasn’t getting anything else out of his hair follicles.

The day Spider found me, I was where I’d been the last month, sitting in front of the window in my room at the bed and breakfast, staring out at the Oregon countryside, blowing smoke into the air, and watching it hang and disperse in the room.

Then a woman appeared on the other side of the glass, and frowned at me. My mind snapped into hers, instantly, and I knew it was her.

Spider had skin as black as night, and hair that had been laboriously braided into almost individual strands. She had striking nubian features, her mouth in particular. She was wearing sunglasses, wraparounds, so I couldn’t see her eyes, but I knew they were brown, because she knew it. She was rather fit for someone who sat at a computer all day, wearing snug jeans that hugged her hips, and just the faintest slice of dark chocolate and dare I say toned muscle across her stomach from the half-shirt she wore. Over all that was a grey hoodie.

The scarred corner of my mouth twitched. If I needed visual proof she was one of the digerati, the hoodie cinched it.

Angela Basset. That’s who she reminded me of. If I ever sell this story to Hollywood, I’ll see if she’ll take the part.

Of course a flood of other information came with it once I got into her head, but I mostly mulled it over. I’ll get to the specifics later.

“Fuckface,” I said. “Get the door. We have a visitor.”

Mitch obediently got up and opened the door, and Spider stepped inside.

“Oh..my…God…” she said, looking around, and pulling her sunglasses slowly from her face with an expression that conveyed a mother’s disgust for an unkempt room. I was already in her thoughts, so I saved her the trouble of articulating her issues.

“Yes, it’s messy,” I said. “No, I’m not done feeling sorry for myself. Yes, Mitch has behaved himself, no, I am not interested in starting a super villain team, and, um…yes. I think you are very pretty. And I’m not even into black women.”

She raised her eyebrow at that, and seeing the timbre of her thoughts change, I jumped on it as she opened her mouth.

“It’s not a racist thing,” I said. “I don’t normally prefer redheads, either, if it makes you feel better.”

“Lance, stop—” she began.

“—interrupting you before you can speak? It’s a waste of time, you know. I always know what people are going to say before they say it.”

“Then can you—”

“—Get out of your head? I guess.”

I pulled back. A little, though not completely.

She pulled out a chair from the table I was sitting at, gave Mitch an uneasy glance, and then knocked the pile of empty McDonald’s bags out of the chair onto the floor with only the slightest veil over her disgust.

“You look—” she began.

“Like shit, I know.”

“Do you have to be in my head?”

“That was just inference. Wasn’t hard to guess what you were about to say.”

She sighed, and shook her head. “I thought once we met for real, you’d stop fucking with me.” She reached out for the pack of smokes. “You mind?”

I shook my head, and pushed the Bic over towards her.

And then we smoked cigarettes together for awhile. I ended up speaking first.

“Where’s your son?” I asked.

Her head turned to me so suddenly that one of her braids whipped me in the eye.

“Fuck!” I shouted, and blinked.

“Oh!” she said, and stood up, hovering over me. “I’m so sorry!”

“It’s okay,” I said. “Lucky for us I have a spare.”

“I thought I kept that buried…” she began, and sighed. “That I had a son.”

That intrigued me. “How would you bury it?”

“You know, just…not think about it. Try to think about other things instead.”

I started to laugh, and she flat glared at me. “Is that why that soap commercial jingle was in your head?”

She sighed, and looked out the window, taking a few angry drags on her cigarette.

“I know all kinds of things about you now.”

She shook her head. “I thought I’d know.”

“That you’d know what?” I wasn’t in her thoughts at the time, so I didn’t actually know what she meant.

“When you were in my head. I thought I’d know. I thought I’d feel something.”

“Nope,” I said. “Because your boring conscious mind doesn’t really do much of anything except tell you what your brain has already decided to do. And play soap commercials, apparently.”

“Are you in my head right now?”

“No, but you’re giving off a pissed-off vibe.”

“Truly you are a genius,” she said, voice throbbing with irritation. “But you could be in my head right now. You could be lying, and I wouldn’t even know.”

“Well,” I said, stubbing out the cigarette, leaning forward as I did so, and pulling out another cigarette from the pack. “Now I suppose you might know how it feels, to meet someone who is as skilled with minds as you are with computers. Not exactly fair, is it?”

“No,” she said. “It’s not.”

“But you aren’t going to give up snooping on people any time soon, now are you?”

I didn’t need to read her thoughts to know her answer. “No.”

“Then we have something in common. Want to get married?”

She shook her head again, and tried to hide her smile. “I thought you were depressed.”

“I am.”

She sighed. “So…you’re not in my head now, and I have to trust you on that. But…just in the time you were in there…how long was it…?”

“I dunno,” I said. “Maybe twenty seconds?”

“Right. What did you find out in twenty seconds?”

I grinned at her, taking a very long drag on my cigarette and blew the smoke up into the air. While I watched it roil around on the ceiling and disperse, I talked in a slow, almost deadpan voice and kept staring at the ceiling, because I didn’t want her reactions to rattle me.

“Your real name is Delacroix Radford. It’s pronounced ‘Della-croy’ for some reason. Your friends call you Della, but you lost most of those recently, because your ex-husband was an abusive asshole who liked to play punching bag with your face, and most of those friends were his friends.”

I heard her stiffen beside me. All the more reason not to look at her while I continued talking.

“So you started taking self-defense classes. Some women, they get hit, they get scared, or they think of how to manage their husband’s temper. Not you. You got mad, and couldn’t wait for the next time he tried something. One thing I always liked about you, Spider…you don’t take shit from anyone, not even me.”

I could feel her nodding even if I couldn’t see it, and she exhaled a plume of smoke at the ceiling where I was looking.

“He wasn’t as bad as some, so it was another couple months before he tried anything again. He was angry you didn’t have dinner ready when he came home, but you were working for your boss from the home computer, and there was a crisis, and you had to stay locked at your desk for hours trying to fix the problem. Then your husband comes home and slaps you. Just once.”

“Damn right just once,” she said.

“Then you broke his jaw in seven places. Damn, I mean…you smashed a glass coffee table over his head. You’re not sorry about it at all.”

“Nope.”

“The kick to the nuts was, I feel, a tad excessive at that point. But then you called the ambulance, and after they hauled him out of there, you and…” It took me a moment to remember, “…Keith got in the car, and drove to your sister’s house in Portland. Her name is Kymberlee. Damn, what is it with your mother and the names?”

“Okay, stop,” she said, and I turned to find her glaring at me. “You got all that in twenty seconds?”

“All that and more,” I said. “We’re moving at the speed of thought here.”

“Let me have it,” she said. “The rest of it. Whatever else you got.”

So I listed off her home address, her favorite food, the birthmark on the inside of her left thigh that was shaped like a teardrop, her son’s birthday, and then I got to the good stuff.

“You watch all of them, every one of the supers. You just need some kind of electronic device, you don’t even need a computer. So everything just goes through the smartphone in your pocket, and the interface is your mind. But for some reason, you’ve been watching me more than anyone, and it’s because of more than just my powers…”

“Okay, that’s enough,” she said, holding up her hand.

“It’s because you do like me, Spider. Something about me, maybe it was the accident or how I got scarred up gave you some sympathy, or maybe it was how you saw that I treated Lana, because you have always wanted a man to treat you like that—”

“That’s enough,” she said, voice deepening, and eyes dangerous.

“Or maybe it’s because of how I fuck. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”

If I’d been in her head, I’d have seen the slap coming. I wasn’t, and so when she hit me I got thrown off of the chair, and my head snapped back and I fell into the bed, crashing to the floor.

It took me a few moments to come to my senses, but by that time Mitch was already standing in front of me, on guard, hands held forward ominously, about to squeeze. I knew she’d never withstand it.

I sent Mitch a quick command, and he dropped his hands to the side and he sat on them on the bed. Spider looked quickly from him to me, getting off of the floor.

“If it makes you feel better,” I said, groaning and getting to my feet while the world continued to spin. “I’d totally do you. You’re fine.”

“Thanks,” she said dryly, as I went to my bag of prescriptions, and shook out of one of the last three painkillers. “Even though you don’t like black women?”

“Just as a general rule,” I said. “But, I d-d-dunno…” I said, and I guess the slap must have knocked some sense into me, because I started having the good grace to be embarrassed. “I t-t-think you are pr-pr-pr-pr—”

“Pretty?” she said, and smiled.

“Pr-pretty sexy,” I said. “Yeah. But, you know, pretty, too.”

“Thanks,” she said, and seemed pleased by it.

“So, how long before they get here?” I asked.

She turned and gave me a look as her hand began to move behind her back to the gun she’d stashed there. “Before who get here?” she asked.

“The feds. The ones you sold us out to.”

Her eyes were shocked, but the problem with having a mindlink to a serial killer that follows your every command is that he got to her gun before she did, snatching it from the back of her waistband, and then handing it to me.

Not that I had the slightest clue what to do with it. I’d fired guns in Call of Duty, but I wasn’t sure that qualified me as an expert.

“Dammit,” she said.

“Sad, Della…really sad,” I said, still staring uncaring out the window, spinning the gun on the table surface nearby, on the opposite side of my body from where she was sitting. “Got to your kid, right?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Not much choice in a situation like that.”

“Not for me there isn’t,” she said, and sighed. “They’ll be here soon. There’s no way out for you.”

“Or you, either,” I said, and shook my head at her.

“What are you talking about?” she said.

“Jellybean,” I said.

“Let me be your sex slave,” she said and gasped, and her hands slapped over her mouth, and her eyes were like white boulders.

“I could have followed up that programming trick with the actual desire, rather than just making you say those words in response to the trigger.”

She still did not trust herself to speak, and her eyes were still wide.

“I thought about it, when I realized this was a setup.”

Still no response except shocked horror.

“But I still respect you, Spider, even if you did totally rat us out. So I couldn’t do that to you. I just left it in there to illustrate the point.”

“You motherfucker,” she said.

“Excuse me? Did I sell you out to the feds? No, I fucking didn’t. You still get to keep your free will. Be thankful I didn’t turn you into Fuckface over here.”

“Anything I can help you with, Boss?” asked Fuckface, I mean Mitch, hearing his favored epithet. He leaned close, giving Spider a meaningful look.

“Nahh. She’s gonna help us. She’s on our side now.”

“Like hell I am,” she muttered.

“Skittles,” I said.

“I will do anything you say, Mindbender,” she said, dropping down to her knees on the floor. She wanted to punch me, I could tell she wanted to punch me, but she couldn’t.

“Sorry, hon,” I said. “I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. You didn’t leave me much choice.”

“Why do you care?” she asked. “You don’t seem to care if you live or die right now.”

“Because,” I said, and I gave her a deep, hard look, and I emphasized it in her mind while I leaned forward, grabbing her shirt front, and pulling her forward until my face was inches away from hers. “I have worked too goddamned hard. I have sacrificed too goddamned much for my anonymity for you, or anyone to take it away from me.”

I pushed her to the floor, and then packed up some cigarettes. I heard Spider begin to cry, and I really did feel bad about it…but what was I supposed to do? If I hadn’t been full of fresh hurt over Lana, I probably would have been hurt by Spider’s betrayal, too.

They’d threatened her son, though.

“You can scramble them, right?” I asked. It took her a moment to realize what I meant.

“Their equipment, sure. But they still have eyes, Lance.”

“I guess I’ll have to take care of their eyes.”

“What about Keith? What about my son?”

I shrugged. “I guess we’ll have to pick him up. Know where he’s being held?”

She shook her head, looking down at the floor. “Guess I’ve got to do everything. But hey, at least you finally get your wish, Spider.”

She looked up, tears in her eyes. “My wish?”

“Yep. As of right now, we’re starting a Supervillain Team, and you’re on it.”

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