previous: Rise of Hellion ch17
“Come on, Nicki, just stop thinking about the pain,” I groaned out loud with every step. Walking with only one functional knee was difficult in itself, but to do so in thick snow was quickly becoming annoying. I was beaten and bloody, with a sharp pain in my side (what I assume was broken ribs, as opposed to a punctured lung.)
“Ms. Hellion,” Nash said, slowing down to walk by my side. “If you don’t allow me to assist you, we risk freezing to death before locating the apartment complex.”
“Are you being serious?”
“I may be a robot but even my electrical components risk damage at critical temperatures.”
“Fine, you may carry me, but only if we can stick to the shadows.
“That had always been my intention,” my robot partner said with a regal bow. I could hear my son giggling from inside Nash’s heated core. “See, even Abby likes the idea.”
“Mama!” Abby squeaked gleefully. There were no speakers or even airholes, but somehow, I could hear his tiny voice over the roar of the wind.
Nash took a knee allowing me to climb on his back. With my arms around his shoulders and my legs on his hips, I felt like a sidekick character out of a late 90’s anime. Nash broke into a run, and within moments, the crystal blue building came into sight. Framed in the glow of the pure white snow, the building looked like the world’s most silent nightclub. I was mesmerized by its beauty when suddenly, a hit to the face sent me flying.
I landed in a soft snowbank which immediately collapsed on top of me. Resisting the urge to scream in agony, I dug myself out. Freezing cold, I blew on my hands, if only to keep my mind focused. All I had to do was find the building and I could easily catch up to Nash. Unfortunately, the man that stood before me had other ideas. “Hey, Faust. It’s been a while.”
He stood over me wearing dark sunglasses paired with a tactical designer suit. “You were never the worthy one.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Lucy is the chosen one, and I need to collect her for my team. Ideally, I would have liked to prevent Sundra’s creation but unfortunately, that plan faced an insurmountable paradox. Noah inspired Lucy to pursue coding, but he also inspired her to get pregnant with the son of a high-ranking official.”
“Why not go after Denny’s father?”
“The father is unknown to history. And not just because Lucy was a slut,” he said with a sexist laugh.
Since the time-traveling wizard clearly was not going to attack, I felt a little more comfortable. “What are you talking about?”
“She purposely led on multiple high-ranking men; both police, and gang members. She used this to rise to a position of power but also to protect her son’s future.”
“Why do you look so much like my son?”
“Why does it matter?”
“I’m not feeling very good about myself, at the moment.” I knew my choice of words made no sense. I looked up at Faust with sad, innocent doll eyes. My goal was to appear emotionally defeated.
It appeared to be working. Faust crossed his arms, taking a seat beside me in the snow. He was smiling less like a comic book villain and more like a disappointed father figure. “You’ve come a long way from when we first met.”
“So, have you. You’re certainly more than a Russian pimp with a fetish for little girls.” I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry, so I did a bit of both. “Now, will you answer my question? Why do you look like Abby? Is this just one of your costumes? Or-”
“You want to know if we’re related.”
“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘you’re one in a million?’”
“With nine billion people in this world that makes us all doppelgangers to someone.”
“You’re saying it’s a coincidence?”
“Never said that.”
“Are we going to fight or can I go now?” I stood up with a sickening realization; he was stalling me, that had to be his endgame. I sprang into a run. For the briefest moment I forgot about my damaged leg, managing a good hundred feet before falling on my face.
Faust easily caught up using his teleportation. He stood over me, looking down like a horror movie villain staring down it’s prey. He didn’t want to kill me or even fight me, he just wanted to watch me struggle. “I figure Lucy and I; we could have a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ type of relationship,” he said casually. “Some people call it Stockholm syndrome but those people just don’t believe in true love.”
“You love her?”
“Given enough time you can’t help but fall in love with someone.”
“You can’t be serious.” He was, he wanted me to suffer. “Lucy would gouge her eyes out before she ever loved you.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” Faust ran his fingers through his hair, causing it to grow to shoulder length. He lowered his sunglasses, looking at me with familiar eyes; Noah’s eyes. “I can choose to look like him, as little or as much as I like. I can pull traits from any timeline, to give her the vision of Noah she always dreamt of.” He patted my head like a puppy. “Now, be a dear and play your part.” With that, he snapped his fingers and teleported away.
“Well, crap.” I looked ahead towards my target. Faust was likely already at the apartment, just waiting to pick through the remains like a vulture.
I knew what I had to do, but I sure as hell was not fighting for Faust. When I made it to the fire exit of the building, I could hear the sounds of gunfire. Since I had never actually set foot in Kitsune’s home I had no idea how many floors there were. I guess I would just have to follow the sound of combat and attempt to not get myself killed.
I was about to attempt to jump for the ladder but that proved difficult. Out of frustration, I stabbed the wall with my knife. The wall was climbable. I only had to make it about thirty feet, and with all of the commotion inside (and the roar of the artic wind), I had more than enough cover. The idea of death, loss, and sadness: it all got pushed to the back of my mind. And with it went the fear. Once I achieved a handhold, I swung up to the ladder. It was actually pretty fun.
My mind started to wander; was there life after death, or were we all just plastic pieces on someone else’s gameboard? Most importantly: what did Faust mean by playing my part? Using the back of my knife, I easily shattered the window. Apparently, it was made of the same material as a typical car windshield. There was an inner layer that appeared to contain a heating element. This left behind sharp shards, but I had nothing but time to chip away at the odd metallic fibers. I could hear voices in the distance; screaming and cursing in Japanese, interlaced with English and some Spanish (hopefully that was Axel.)
Upon entering the space, I was faced with a path that split into three hallways. The first one had lights; flickering red, yellow and orange, possibly a fire. The second had sound; gunshots, voices, this path seemed to lead to the main battle. Then there was the third; a pitch-black path with no discernable end. With one hand on the wall, I blindly followed the third path.
The hallway was straight, with a single sharp turn, leading to a mysterious sliding door. “A cleaning closet?” Using my wrist com as a light, I could see there was a hotel cart and an array of supplies, but something seemed off. The walls were covered in cabinets and drawers. This was for something other than storage; one of these was a hidden door. And if I was wrong, I could still use the cleaning chemicals to make a weapon of some kind. I started to open every latch; some were locked, some had hand tools (hammer, screwdriver, wrench.) Upon collecting a variety of tools and spray bottles, a previously locked door opened all on its own. It was a staircase.
The upward journey was long and winding, like something out of a fairytale (or a horror movie.) Without any lighting, the climb seemed to go on forever. After what felt like hours in the silent darkness, I saw a soothing blue light. Was this a server room, maybe a theatre? No, when I passed through the threshold, I could see it was a studio; the digital studio of a mad scientist.
“Lucy?’ This had to be where Kitsune was storing her secret weapon. Walking around the black-painted space I could see the home was the size of a typical hotel room. There was even a miniature kitchen and a bathroom:
Everything was lit up with digital neon lights; no windows, or even normal lightbulbs, just wave after wave of calming blue light. “This must be what those flying turtles see before they meet Super Mario.” The main source of the light appeared to be a floating wall of text.
“You are such a fake gamer-girl.” Lucy was giggling from behind a virtual keyboard. Her long manicured fingernails tapping on the glowing plastic.
Her magic was on display for all to see; line after line of coding that seemed to be crafting the world around her, from the art on the walls to her very appearance.
“Hey, Lucy,” I said, more nervous than I intended.
She stood up, wearing a black shimmery gown, like something out of a beauty pageant. “Hey,” she replied in a sultry Spanish accent. The light caught her long, shiny black curls, then with a stroke of the keyboard her makeup changed from dark and smoky to metallic (like some kind of robotic cyborg angel.) She walked towards me, the holographic color of her clothing shifting with every step.
“Are you wearing digitally generated clothing?”
“Don’t you just love it?” her accent changed to British. “This is my world. I can be the princess, the queen, I can have everything I ever wanted.”
I had a feeling I knew what she meant by that. “Show me.”
She stroked her hands through the screen projection, drawing the outline of a male figure. A man materialized by her side; a younger, healthier, clean-cut version of Noah. His long hair was pulled back in a braid, highlighting his sparkling eyes, and sexy groomed facial hair. It took a second before I even realized he was in a dark blue suit, complete with a cape.
I wanted to laugh, but in my heart, I knew that would be more hurtful than anything. “You know this isn’t real, right?”
“Do you think I care?” Lucy’s voice was filled with happiness, innocence, and pure joy.
“You can’t stay here.” That wasn’t what I had meant to say. If I had the technical ability to mold my own world, with the man of my dreams, I would do it in a heartbeat. “I mean, what about Wisconsin?” All I could picture was the sight of her precious son in the arms of her heartbroken father. She had people who loved her, people who wanted her home.
“What about it?” Lucy took a step towards the male figure, allowing him to hold her hand. “There’s nothing for me in that truck stop town.”
“Your family; your son, all the people waiting for you?”
Lucy’s reaction was a little too real. “My father only wants to keep face; it would look bad if he admitted just how little he cared about my disappearance.” She blinked her eyes, causing a single tear to roll down her cheek, over the digital makeup. The actual, physical droplet cut through the light causing a line of darkness.
The male figure smiled as he caressed his hand to her cheek. “This is what she wants.” His voice was clearly Faust pretending to be Noah. There was no way she didn’t notice that.
Lucy leaned back allowing him to put his arms around her. “Sometimes family isn’t enough. I want what I want, what I deserve.”
I could feel my hands shaking. This was not happening. “There is no way you’re this stupid.” I refuse to believe Faust was completely correct about the human psyche.
Lucy cupped her mouth in anger and offense. “At least you got the chance to make love to him. He was my teacher, my mentor. He believed in me more than my father ever did. I guess I just wasn’t worthy of his love.”
“You were a kid.” Again, that was the wrong thing to say.
She swept her hand in front of her face, conjuring up a keyboard. I suddenly felt fishing wire grip my arms, pulling me into what could only be described as a crucifixion. The wires lifted me off the floor. Holding me just high enough to keep me trapped.
The male figure pulled Lucy close in a loving embrace. He looked up at me, locking eyes. With a sickening smile, followed by a flirty wink.
This pissed me off worse than anything. “You,” I coughed in pain the string of curse words choking in my throat. “Tell her who you really are!”
Lucy giggled. “I know who he is. Faust; the big bad wolf who wants to devour my brain. That’s what you were going to say, right?”
Something broke deep inside me. “Do you really love the idea of playing house more than your son?” I needed to get back to my team, my own baby son, but above all, I needed to return to Wisconsin. I wanted to scoop Denny up in my arms while he called me Ms. Iron man; I would be the hero he deserved, I just needed to find a way out of this virtual spider web. “You’re such a freak!” My mind had gone straight for schoolyard bullying, hoping I could provoke her into a fair fight.
“Excuse me?” Lucy placed her hands at her sides as if trying to show off the fact that she was in control, and had no intention of letting me out.
“What are you going to do kill me?”
She pursed her lips, turning briefly to Faust. “I don’t know. I actually hadn’t thought that far ahead. Maybe I’ll keep you around like a trophy; cut off your arms and legs, just keep you alive enough to revel in my glory.”
‘Ok, you’re completely insane.’ I had one trick up my sleeve; my wrist radio. If I could knock it to the ground there was a slim possibility it would send out a signal to reveal my location. The way my arm was bound, I would need to attempt to dislocate my shoulder. I was so focused on knocking it off my arm, I barely noticed a new figure wearing familiar purple armor.
Sundra appeared, firing a single round. The sound of the bullet hitting its target caused me to pause my actions. Within seconds I was falling, landing hard on my shoulder. This caused me to crush my transmitter under my ribcage. ‘And holy crap did that hurt.’ I flinched in pain, closing my eyes for what felt like only a few seconds. But the next thing I saw was a plain, white room. The plaster was cracking exposing a colorful array of wires.
Lucy collapsed, falling into Faust’s arms. It was clear what I was looking at; she was frail, haggard, possibly starved. Lucy had been living in the virtual world, ignoring the state of her physical body. Even without the bullet, she would have been dead in a few weeks.
Sundra patted my shoulder as she turned to leave.
“Why?” I shrieked.
With a wave of her hand, Sundra opened a portal; a dark black void, leading to nowhere. “Blood is all we have.”
With Sundra gone I turned to Faust who was now carrying Lucy’s body like a lover. Was he taking her? The sickening idea (that was now stuck in my head) gave me a burst of strength. I charged at Faust, punching him as hard as I could. My wrist radio (which had been sending out a distress signal ever since getting crush by my ribs) collided with his sunglasses.
I’d like to think this act was what triggered the teleport. Either way, I was stopping Faust from harvesting Lucy’s brain (and whatever else he had in store for her body.
What I didn’t count on was where we landed. Looking around we appeared to be in a large ballroom covered in blood, broken glass, mirrors, and sculptures. It took a few seconds for me to realize this was Kitsune’s living room.
Kitsune and Axel stood frozen, at the sight of Lucy’s dead body. With Sundra long gone it was now a question of ‘How the hell did this happen?’ Thankfully they both seemed to assume Faust was at fault. The moment seemed almost unfair. I rolled to the side as both leaders opened fire at Faust.
When the world went silent again, Kitsune doubled over with laughter. “Wow, just wow.” She threw down her weapon, sliding it to the corner of the room. The heavy butt of the weapon thumped against one of many dead bodies, firing a single shot into a random wall. This was enough to bring out all remaining survivors.
First came Baron, dropping a body into the pile of dead guards. This was followed by Nash who was carrying a dozen or so swords that (I assumed) he took off his opponents. Nash’s core section was completely opaque, hiding Abby’s presence. (I just had to accept my son was still alive, until we were someplace safer, where I could physically check.) One thing was clear; Kitsune was outnumbered.
Faust started to stand up, gripping at his chest. The once-powerful sunglasses fell from his face, revealing blue eyes, cracked with sadness. He was injured, close to death. Was he going to apologize, beg for mercy?
Baron didn’t give him the chance. He flew at Faust, pummeling him with armored fists. I assumed this raw reaction was an emotional mixture of grief combined with the desire to make sure Faust didn’t have the chance to teleport.
Unfortunately, Kitsune took this opportunity to flee the room. Axel went after her, while Nash stayed behind. I could hear the sound of a motorcycle leaving in one direction while Baron and Faust continued their hand-to-hand combat down the hallway. Nash gripped my shoulder, helping me to my feet. “Are you alright, Ms. Hellion?”
I wanted to ask to see Abby. Nash was covered in blood, any part of which could have come from my son. Would he have told me if Abby was dead? Or would he want to wait until we were at a place where we could be alone? (That seemed like the human thing to do.)
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a body being dumped at my side. I flinched as a splatter of fresh blood hit me in the face. “Ew!”
Baron had tossed the limp body of Faust before me. “What’s the matter, Nicki? You look surprised? Was it the blood?” He kicked Faust in the gut, causing the body to groan. “He’s not a God, just a man.” Baron chuckled, stretching his back. My teammate appeared relaxed as he started to remove his armor.
To me, this seemed more than a little strange. “Why are you getting naked?”
Baron laughed. Clearly, he was not getting naked, just sheading TAC property; weapons, armor, etc. “Because the last move is up to you. I’m out of here.”
“You’re out of here?” I asked with a forced giggle. This could not be happening. “What about the plane?”
“Nash can fly.” Baron took a look at Lucy’s body, paying close attention to her hands.
“Are you trying to decide what to bring to her father?” I could hear my voice breaking with emotion. My impending tears seemed to inspire him to find a way to take the entire body.
“I guess so,” Baron said calmly as he wrapped the body in a nearby rug. Lucy was small enough for him to carry like a bride, so there was the real possibility he was going to fly her back to Wisconsin.
“Where are you going to go?”
“That’s none of your concern.” Baron fired his weapon, opening a hole in the wall. His boots were active; he was going to fly off into the snow.
“Are you coming back?”
“To Siberia?” He asked with a chuckle.
This was all a big joke to him. “Never mind.”
Baron turned back one last time. A soft gust of wind blew his hair over his face, giving him a raw ethereal appearance. “If you’re ever in the neighborhood, be sure to ask for Leo.”
He took off towards the airfield, likely to steal a plane. I forced myself to my feet, but I couldn’t make myself go after him. Leo could tell Lucy’s family that we failed; they were his friends, his priority.
Nash put his arms around me, holding me close like a true human friend. “You have to let them go.” His voice was calm and serene. “We need to get back.”
“Back to what?” I asked, my mind, body, and soul were all too tired to move. “TAC, Dr. Toki? And to where? Vancouver, Washington?”
“Yes.” Nash’s answer was quick, direct, and precise.
With no sensation in my legs, I was unable to verify the location of Faust’s body. Was he still alive? Did I want to know? “It’s too quiet.” The moonlight sparkled off the fresh snow. ‘Why were there no alarms? Where were the rest of the base’s employees and staff?’
“Ms. Hellion?” Nash tilted his head, looking in the same direction. “What do you see?”
“We need to run.” I put my arms around Nash, gripping his back. “Now!”
At the moment, Faust was an afterthought. I wanted to be as far away as possible before this base started its self-destruct sequence. “Affirmative,” Nash replied, breaking into a run.
In the distance, I could hear the sounds of multiple aircraft taking to the sky. We needed to get to the plane and get airborne. The thought, of course, crossed my mind: what if Axel wasn’t there? Could I really leave him behind? He was older, stronger, Axel could take care of himself. I needed to believe that.
With Nash’s speed, we made it back to the plane in record time, but my worst fears were realized: Nash and I were alone. ‘What do we do?’ I wanted to ask, but the words that came out were, “So, can you get this bird in the air or not?”
Nash paused for a moment, “Should we attempt contact with our commander?
“I’m your commander now and I want to go home.”
“Setting a path to, ‘home,’ Commander.” Even with his robotic voice, I could hear his sarcasm. “And by that, I mean Abby.”
“I’m sure you do,” I replied with a smirk. I took a seat beside Nash. I put on my seatbelt in preparation for takeoff. I could hear groaning, but within seconds we were in the air. Judging by the radar map I could see we were heading back in the direction of Vancouver. “Do you think Faust is human?”
“Dr. Toki will let us know for sure.”
“Dr. Toki will be able to dissect Faust; relieve him of his blood, flesh, and tissue.
Again, he spoke calmly as if his actions were an afterthought. “I attached a teleporter ping, sending his remains straight to our cargo hold.”
“Oh, ok.” I closed my eyes, reaching my hand to the opaque window. Was Abby controlling Nash? Was he flying the plane? I wasn’t about to ask to see him, especially if Faust was still alive somewhere on the plane.
To be concluded.