Chapter Twelve

Sunday, December, 13th, 2015

Sasha knew something was wrong. She had only intended to sleep for a little while, until noon at the latest, but she had the feeling that she had slept for too long. It was too warm. Too dark. Her eyes jerked open and she flailed, but she was surrounded on all side by walls. They were closing in on her, crushing her.

A hand slapped over her mouth. Her mind flashed with images of the Chameleon and Contagion. They had found them. She would be feeling the agony of poison burning through her flesh in a matter of seconds. Vaguely, she swore she could hear them, close and angry. Her whole body thrashed against the arms holding her back.

“Sasha, Sasha, Sasha,” Garrett hissed in her ear.

She froze. As she adjusted to the waking world, she realized that she had been incorrect. She was still under the bush, pulled tight against Garrett’s chest. One of his arms was wrapped around her waist, the other around her chest. His hand covered her mouth.

The sound of the Chameleon and Contagion’s voices, bickering again, was not as close as she had originally thought. She could not see them from beneath the cover of the leaves, but the sound of the sticks nearby cracking underfoot informed her that they were growing closer.

“They’re coming—” Garrett began.

Sasha squeezed the hand over her mouth, silently urging him to be silent. The footprints would lead them right to the bush and that would be the end of it. If they heard them, it would only bring them faster.

“Wait,” the Chameleon hissed. “What happened?”

Contagion replied. “This is the end.”

“They could not have evaporated into the air, Contagion, they have to go somewhere!”

“If they do, they covered them up.”

Sasha debated running. Hiding could only keep them safe for so long, until their pursuers listened hard enough to hear breathing and checked. They were backed into a corner. Running could at least give them options.

“Garrett,” she whispered under her breath. “Get ready to run.”

He held tighter to her, despite her insistence on getting away.

“What are you doing?”

He released her enough to roll onto her other side, forcing her to face him. He vehemently shook his head, placing a finger to his lips. She stared questioningly back at him, forcing her eyes not to linger on the way his lips molded to his finger.

Get a grip, Sasha.

“They could not have covered all of their tracks. They would have to start up again somewhere,” the Chameleon snapped.

“Have you forgotten who we’re following? I’m sure they could manage to cover up tracks. You know he would have trained her in it.”

She sighed theatrically. “Assuming she can remember it. She seems to have forgotten much. She is careless now. It is really no surprise that—”

“Stop.” Contagion hesitated. “She could be anywhere.”

“Who cares? She will be dead within the hour anyway.”

“You will have to find her first.”

Sasha stopped breathing. It was too quiet and her breaths sounded so loud in the silence. Garrett’s too.

“Try this way. The forest is not big enough for them to hide forever.”

“I have an idea.”

No more words were spoken. The sound of breaking twigs got closer. And closer. And closer. Sasha held tight to Garrett’s hand, rearing back into him as if it would mean not being seen.

The sound of their steps passed, moving further away. Sasha released the breath she had been holding.

Garrett squeezed her, hugging her. “I covered over our prints when I heard them. You’re safe, Sasha.”

Safe. She liked to feel safe. Her axe made her feel safe, her apartment made her feel safe, and her father made her feel safe. Garrett did not make her feel safe.

He made her confused.

“How long have I been asleep?” she demanded.

“Long time. The whole day is gone.”

She pulled away from his embrace and crawled out of the cover of the brush. The sky was black, dotted with stars and a little sliver of moon. The air was cold without the comfort of Garrett surrounding her. She could see her exhales puff into clouds of smoke. “It is dark outside! Why did you not wake me?”

“You seemed really tired,” he replied, pulling himself out after her.

Liar. She knew that he had let her sleep so long because she could not push him away if she was asleep. He could pretend anything he wanted if she was not disputing it in his face. She did not say as much. “We lost too much time. We have to move.”

He nodded. “Okay. Lead the way.”

She stretched as she crawled out from beneath the shrubbery, preparing for the long journey. Garrett watched her, studying her, ogling her. His eyes roved over her body for a long moment. “Let’s go,” she snapped, snapping him out of whatever trance she held over him.

Wordlessly, he followed.

As they started off the path, Sasha chanced a few looks at her silent friend. He was already watching her with the strangest look on his face. A small, smug smile. Heavy-lidded eyes. He walked forward but the top half of his body was turned to face her.

She did not want to ask. It would only bring on a torrent of his proclamations of love. Poppy. Poppy. Poppy. He might even touch her wear her shirt rode up and she would be confused again.

She would not allow such things to happen again. She did not like to feel confused. He opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to it. “What happened next?”

“What?”

“You were telling the story. What happened next, I want to hear more.”

Monday, November 26th, 1984

We walked down a hallway of closed doors, each as completely nondescript as the last. I swore that I could walk down this hall a million times and still have no idea which door held what. Eventually we stopped at one. There was nothing remarkable about it, only the number 21.

“I will warn you, Garrett,” Hartl began, “he’s not the nicest of men. Speak only when spoken to. Don’t ask too many questions.”

“Aren’t you going to be doing the interview?” Hartl Laboratories did insinuate a certain amount of power in the man himself.

The doctor in question shook his head, jotting something else in his notepad so he would not have to make eye contact. “I’m afraid not.”

Keeping Doctor Hartl’s most recent piece of advice in mind, I did not ask why.

“Ready?”

I only nodded. My nerves were tying my stomach up with knots already. Hartl threw the door open for me; I was glad for it, my history with the steel doors was not a good one. Unlike my first time entering the building, this room was brightly lit, the walls all an iridescent white. A single chair occupied the center of the room. In it sat a middle-aged man with closely shaven salt and pepper hair. His dark eyes pierced me from our very first meeting, making me nervous.

“Mr. Daniels,” the man said, “glad to see you could make it.”

He waited for a response. I managed to mumble back, “Pleasure to meet you.”

My companion laughed lightly. “I rarely find pleasure in anything.”

This time, I did not speak.

“Anyway, my name is Summit Freeman. I put the ad in the paper you’re here for. I suppose my first question is…why are you here?”

I knew the answer very well. “I’m a dedicated worker. I am very proud of my work and would like to be as valuable as possible as soon—”

“No, Garrett,” Freeman interjected. “What’s the real reason? What made you desperate enough for work that you drove all the way out here?”

I hesitated. “I need the money.”

“A young man like you?” he went on. “What could you possibly need money for so badly?”

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “My mom,” I replied, cracking my knuckles. “She can’t work.” She won’t work.

“Surely there are other, closer places that could fill that need.”

“No one would hire me.”

Summit’s stern face displayed the slightest bit of curiosity. “Oh? Why?”

I bit my lip, wondering whether I should give away my record. My guilt ate at me. “I…I was arrested fairly recently.”

“Hmm, do tell.”

“I was involved in a fight at my last job. The other guy was taken to the hospital.”

The older man perked up. “Really? What did you do to him?”

Encouraged by his obvious interest, I went on. “I threw a few punches. When he didn’t go down, I hit him with a bottle.”

“Can’t say it was wise for you to do it at work,” Summit chuckled. “Why’d you do it?”

Poppy’s face surfaced in my mind. No glasses. Hair down. Halo completely visible. “He was bothering my friend.”

“A protector. I must say, Garrett, you’re so much better than I could’ve hoped for.”

Forgetting the instructions I had been given by the doctor to not try this man’s patience, I asked, “For what?”

“I’m trying to do an experiment, and I’d like your help. I think the two of us can be very beneficial for each other. You need money. I just so happen to have it in spades. I need a willing subject, and you’re perfectly willing to help. Do you see where I’m going with this?”

I nodded. “What’s the experiment?”

Summit stood, offering me the chair. I took it gladly.

“I’m a very important man, Garrett,” he paced the small room. “I require protection. Naturally, with the kind of people I face, I need someone strong, someone smart, someone who can scare my enemies into staying away.”

I looked down at myself. In the smarts department I was average at best, and much less so when it came to strength. I should be the last person to be considered for a security position.

“I’m looking to make this kind of person. With the help of Doctor Hartl, I think we’ve found a way to manipulate the human body into becoming bigger, stronger, and faster than would be naturally possible.”

What? I had assumed working in a lab would consist of some time as a lab rat, but this was a bit more than I had bargained for. Bigger? I had always wanted a better body. If what he said was true, I could not believe he would be paying for it, “What does that mean for me?”

“Just a short series of injections into your head,”—Summit stilled, probably because of the look of horror on my face— “it’s the control panel for your entire body. We can do anything there, change anything there. Over a period of a few weeks, you’ll get between ten and twelve injections, depending on the results, and we’ll closely monitor you. Eventually, once you’ve been trained and prepared, I’ll take you on as a bodyguard.”

I quirked a brow. Well, the man was out of his mind, but the promise of money was too good to pass up.  “Okay. Just assuming that this works, what’s in it for me?”

“It will work,” Summit leaned in. “Once we’ve manipulated your body into forming muscles and producing enough adrenaline to constantly flow on its own, no human will be able to stand up to you.”

To be strong. Intimidating. Powerful. It was more than I could have hoped for. “I’ll believe it when I see it. What am I getting out of it, though?”

“Exactly what you wanted. As long as you’re under my employment, I will pay every bill you could possibly have. You will have more than enough for anything you could possibly desire. My riches are completely at your disposal.”

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