I just stood there, feeling the tip of the barrel against my head. I knew I should be running, should be pushing Marisol down, trying to get away, to at least survive the next few seconds, but what was I going to do, really? I couldn’t believe this woman was actually going to kill me, and if she was, well, maybe this wonky alien watch would come through with another force field, or some other way to protect me.
“Wes, I’m sorry,” she said again, a stormy vibrato running through her voice. I knew that if I looked over at her, there would be real, regretful tears running down her face.
I took a breath, tapping furiously at my watch, just in case it didn’t yet sense the urgency of the situation. Spectros watched me, a corpse’s smile cutting through his face. He held his hands in front of him, and for a moment, I thought he was about to lay them on his chest.
But he didn’t.
There was a click, and a choked exclamation from Marisol. I felt the gun leave my temple, while Marisol fell forward onto her knees, and vomited all over the floor.
It took me a few seconds to realize that I wasn’t dead and probably wasn’t going to die in the next few seconds. It was enough to make me want to add my own vomit to Marisol’s.
Well, that and the smell.
Spectros just grinned at us.
“You bastard,” I said, not sure on whose behalf I was the most outraged. “You gave her an unloaded gun?”
“We did,” Spectros said. “We couldn’t let her kill you, of course. We may need you alive if we are ever going to unlock the secrets of the armor.”
“So you … so this was … just a joke? What was the fucking point of this?”
“We needed to see how far Miss Reyes was willing to go.”
“I did what you asked!” Marisol wiped her mouth on her shirt sleeve as she got up on her feet. “It’s not my fault what you gave me. You have to take me to him now!”
“Did I tell you that I wouldn’t? Why so angry?”
As the wall between us and Spectros opened, Marisol turned to me and whispered, “I thought your watch would save you. I never thought you would die …”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I would have done the same thing.” I’m not sure that’s true, but whatever.
She winced as she accepted that half-hearted absolution. As soon as the wall shut once more, the light flicked off and Spectros guided Marisol out into darkness.
Leaving me with a spreading puddle of puke that didn’t even belong to me, which just fucking figured.
I went to one of the cell’s eight corners and sat down there, resting against the walls. Before I had been grateful for the company, but now I was glad to be alone, if only for a few minutes.
Ok, so a little more was clear. A lot was more confusing. Spectros was definitely involved in the events of the night, which we knew already, so I wasn’t sure exactly how helpful that revelation was going to be. But he had partners as well, hence his use of the word we. He kept correcting us about that too, which was odd. He’d wanted us to know he wasn’t acting alone. And it wasn’t like he was just trying to spread the blame. I’m no expert in super-villain psychology, but it seems to me that he wouldn’t think of something like that as “blame” so much as he would as “credit.”
So, who was he working with?
If Alice had been here, I would have asked her who of Mysteria’s enemies were unnacounted for, and I’d have asked her to read the “mystic signature,” if that was as much of a real thing as it had seemed to be earlier. It had obviously taken a lot of power to hang that island in the air like that.
Had it really fallen? Had the city endured more devastation? I thought about Laura and Chloe? Were they safe? Surely the bunkers underneath Ben and Claire’s apartment building would have protected them from falling rock. I hoped. I know it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can prepare for.
And where were Derek and Alice? If Spectros and his mysterious who-ever had grabbed Marisol and me, I had to assume they had Derek and Alice as well. Not to mention Michael. They were probably in a cell just on the other side of the darkness, having this same conversation. I don’t know what I expected them to do, but surely Derek’s disappearence would get the XDF involved, and they had resources. Someone was coming to get us. Someone, probably Laura and Michael, would lead a … well, I was going to say a charge of the Light Brigade, but decided not even I could go there.
I tapped on my watch, which once again seemed completely dead. What use was this stupid thing? Would it really have popped out with a force field and saved me from a point-blank bullet to the head? I would have liked to think so, but I couldn’t be sure.
I was a little afraid Marisol was being taken out and murdered. How binding was a mystic oath from someone whose powers came from death?
Resting my head against the wall, I closed my eyes and waited. There wasn’t really anything else to do. I could have done push-ups or run in place or something, just to keep sharp like the action heroes always did in those movies, but let’s face it, I’m not one of those guys. Conserving my energy so I could stay alert and take advantage of any miniscule opportunity, that’s what I told myself I was doing.
It was a good story. Too bad drifting off into a bored sleep after twenty minutes was the result.
I woke up when the wall slide open again. Spectros was there, with Marisol. Startled, I hopped up to my feet and took a good look at her, searching for signs of the tell-tale glowing, green eyes. They were still dark and clouded, so I was probably safe.
She was quiet though, and walking almost limply through the space. Without a word, Spectros shoved her into the cell and then signaled for the wall to close once more.
Once it was done, the darkness around us returned, leaving us alone in our bubble of light.
Marisol leaned against the wall next to where I was sitting. I kept waiting for her to come down to my level, on the floor, but she just rested there, as if she was unsure of what she was supposed to do next. As she did, a hand absently went to her belly and stayed there.
“Are you ok?” I asked her? I thought about getting up, but decided not to. I wasn’t sure I even owed her the courtesy now.
“What happened? Did you see him? Is he all right?”
She looked at me as if she was shocked I’d asked the question. I sat up a little straighter and waited for her answer.
“He’s not good…”
“Well … what’s wrong with him?” I was getting impatient. This wasn’t the time to get shy with me. We needed to come up with a plan on how we were getting out of here, and every little detail could matter. Especially if they were details about the condition of the last super-hero left alive in the city.
“How much do you know about Robbie … about what he is and what he can do?”
“I only know what the rest of the public knows. Your boyfriend hasn’t been around very long, and my brother didn’t exactly come home with a dossier on everyone in the Light Brigade. He kept everyone’s secrets pretty well.”
“Robbie was … well, Robbie IS, a cop. When he first started out, he had a second job as a security guard at the University Science Lab.”
“Let me guess. Some sort of weird experiment went wrong and he got himself transformed into a were-scorpion? Or whatever the weird thing he became is?”
She nodded. “It was a nanotech experiment, body armor. It bonded with him, but he can transform back and forth.”
“And …” This was interesting, but I wasn’t sure of the relevance.
“And now he’s … he’s alive, but in incredible pain. It’s almost like he’s stuck in mid-transformation. Frozen halfway between states, unable to complete the process.”
“Did you … were you able to talk to him?”
“I did. But I don’t know if he heard me. He didn’t respond to me.”
“Did you tell him … you know … what you had to tell him?”
“I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know, I just wanted to know that he could know and be happy. I didn’t want his knowledge of our child to be tainted by that memory of his pain.”
“That’s an interesting way of looking at it,” I said.
“It’s my decision to make.”
I looked up at her, wondering why the hell she was so mad at me. I guess she needed to be mad at someone and I was the only one around. Dan always told me that half of his job as Laura’s husband was being around for her to gripe to. He actually loved it. And even though she had just shown that she’d been willing to put a bullet in my head, I guess a part of me was grateful to be that person for Marisol. What was wrong with me?
“So, I’m guessing there’s not much point in expecting a rescue from that direction?”
She stared at me, appalled, so I quickly added, “which means we need to account for rescuing him?”
“I don’t know how we’re going to do anything,” she said. “Look at us. We’re helpless here.”
“Yeah, well … you got any better ideas?”
Now she did sit down, her back against the wall. She pulled her legs up against her chest and rested her head on her knees. I watched her sit like that for what seemed like an hour, until I said, “It’ll be ok, Marisol. I’ve been in a lot of weird situations, and something always happens. I mean, the entire town went to hell, and we got out of that, right?”
Her glare told me her answer to that question, but I wasn’t going to address it. Of course we’d had the Light Brigade then. Of course there’d been ancient enemies willing to help us in our fight against the demon king? But we didn’t know any of that while we were being held in the slave pens? That hadn’t been the thought in my head while they’d branded my ass, but it had turned out to be true. Something would turn out to be true here, too. The only way we were sure to lose was if we just gave up and killed ourselves now.
I don’t know how much time passed while we sat there in silence. We each slept again. I awoke having to pee really badly, but lacking a place to do it, had to resort to pissing in the corner. I used my tux shirt to soak up the urine so it wouldn’t spread out and left it there in the corner as a stinking, lumpy, putrid-yellow toilet. Eventually Marisol used it as well and we both moved on with out lives, trying to ignore the traumatic fact of the thing’s existence.
Reduced now to my tux pants and t-shirt, I was grateful that I still, at least, had my shoes.
I started to pace around the cell, careful to avoid the slowly drying puddle of puke and the makeshift latrine. Marisol did some stretching exercises on the floor. I counted to a thousand. We played word-association alphabet games.
We got really hungry and joked about resorting to cannibalism. I actually started to hope we would see Spectros again.
And about that time, we actually did.
I had continued to walk around the cell, trying to ignore the gnawing sensation in my stomach, as if my internal organs had abandoned the thought of me getting them any food and decided to eat each other instead. Devoting significant mental processing power to a question that had occurred to me: how long had we been here? Judging by biological processes, it must be at least morning. But who knew how long either of us had slept?
I’d been ignoring the dark space on the other side of the cell well, and had started to regard it as something like a black wall. But then there was Spectros’ face, and his grey-suited body, against the black like a propped-up corpse. My start almost sent me jumping into the mess in the middle of the floor.
“Your presence has been requested,” he said, his voice piped in on those invisible speakers.
This woke Marisol, who looked at me confusedly as she stood up.
I stood there in the middle as the wall slid up again, Spectros standing on the border between the light and the darkness.
“Come with me,” he said, as if he was the maitre’d at some weird, Halloween-themed, chain restaurant.
As we stepped out of the cell, I saw a series of walls slide upward in front of us, each of them opposite and slightly to the left of the one before, so that the path we walked curved in that direction. Light appeared, showing the way. We passed through at least four cells this way before we ended up in an actual corridor. This was a polished white as well, and made me feel like were were going to find ourselves in the tower from which Steve Jobs secretly ran the world. I guess I couldn’t fault the design sense of whomever had built this secret headquarters.
I thought about commenting on the fact that Spectros hasn’t summoned any guards to help him with our transport, living or dead. Did that mean he trusted us, or that we weren’t a threat. I felt pretty confident that, had I wanted to, I could have taken him. But I wanted to find out what was going on more than I wanted that. At least that’s what I told myself.
I had the sensation that we’d been on a gentle upslope for quite some time, and eventually were came to an arched doorway, cut with strange symbols on the ceiling around it. Symbols I was afraid that I recognized.
Oh, shit, we couldn’t possibly be …
Pulled through the doorway, I was in a chamber with a transparent ceiling, a dome that looked out at the sky.
“Wes!” I heard Derek’s voice choke. He was standing in the center of this chamber, manacled, his hands together at his waist in front of him. Alice was next to him, a skin-colored film over her mouth so she couldn’t speak, her hands in the same position as Derek’s.
An armored figure had his back to us, and next to him was a human figure, though from the deep white of his uniform and the red sigils emblazoned on the back, I knew he wasn’t human. He was something much more, and so much worse.
I felt no motion, but the view above us changed, and I realized my suspicions were correct. The Earth drifted into the view above us.
And the Earth was burning.