Chapter Fourteen

Sunday, December, 13th, 2015

Sasha’s feet ached but she put it out of her mind. The thought she could not seem to shake was of those injections. She did not care how much they hurt, as he had said; to be strong and powerful like him would make it all worth it.

How could she get her hands on it?

“That is all it took?”

Garrett raised his head, blinking at her as if waking from a dream. “What do you mean?”

“That seems incredibly easy. They gave you a few shots and you woke up feeling like Superman?”

He stared at her. “What’re you thinking?”

“Exactly what I said.”

“No. You’re thinking of something bad. Tell me, what is it?”

Sasha grinned. “You know me so well, do you? Fine. I was considering how beneficial it would be if you helped me gain your abilities.”

She certainly would not have to worry about being caught by Contagion and the Chameleon. If she had the power he was capable of, she would look for them herself and make them regret every second they spent hunting her down like prey. They would learn to fear her, as they should have.

“What?” He stopped walking, grabbing her by the shoulders.

“We cannot stop—”

“Sasha, are you crazy?” he demanded. “Why the hell would you want that? Do you know what he would get you to do?”

“Nothing I have not already done. And if you gave me your blood and I had your powers, The Chameleon and Contagion would not stand a chance! Please, move.”

“Why could you possibly want to bring this on yourself?” he demanded, shaking her by the shoulders. “Why? Why?”

Sasha shoved him away, but it only served to throw her to the ground. She bristled. It was just another reason that she wanted his abilities; she was sick of feeling weak beside him. “And what is it that is so bad about your life, Garrett? No Poppy? No friends? That seems to be your fault, not my father’s!”

“My head.”

She hesitated. She should have expected he would not make sense. “I’m perfectly aware that there is something wrong in your head. What’s the problem?”

“It hurts.”

“Aww,” she mocked, squeezing his face in her hand, “it hurts?”

“That thing he used hurts my head,” he forced out, though her hand made it difficult. He wrenched himself free.

“I should think you would be used to it by now.”

He shook his head, though she could not imagine the depth of what he was saying. It could not possibly be as awful as he said. It could not possibly be a steep enough price to pay for what he received. He continued, “It doesn’t get better.”

“I would imagine you would be able to put it out of your mind. Think of other things.”

“I wish,” he said. “I can’t put anything out of my mind. And I don’t have anything pleasant to think of, anyway.”

Sasha narrowed her eyes. “What?”

He plopped down on the ground. His fingers grabbed at the grass, pulling it out by the handful. “Whatever they gave me to make me this way has affected my brain just as much as the rest of my body. There’s a lot more space in there these days, and an unfortunate ability to sift through the thoughts I put there like photographs. I can’t forget. I can’t distract myself. There’s just more to think.”

“Is that why you are crazy?” she inquired, stooping into a crouch beside him.

“I’m not crazy,” he was quick to reply. “Not right now.”

Sasha chuckled. “When are you crazy, then?”

“Only sometimes. When I’m alone. It’s hard to keep those bad memories locked up and I don’t know how to function with them. So I can see them. Playing in the dark. I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not, anymore.”

“That does not surprise me. Do you think I am real?”

He nodded fervently. “I know you’re real.”

“What do you see?”

Garrett frowned. “I see a lot of things. Nightmares. Sometimes, though, I see her, too.”

“Who?”

“My wife.”

She made a face. “Is it me?”

“No,” he said. “Not you. This one remembers. She talks to me and I can touch her. If I let myself pretend, it’s like she never left.”

Sasha stood back up to her normal height. “Well, if she can do all that, I wonder why you waste your time talking to me.”

“I’m not crazy enough to forget that she’s a delusion. As much as I want her to be real, she’s not. You are. And I want you back.”

“Not crazy enough, then? I doubt it.” She quirked a reddish brow. “I wish I could see inside your head, Garrett. I’m sure it’s interesting.”

“It’s bottomless. And unnatural.”

“It could not possibly be so bad. If I had the ability to do the things you can, I would love it,” she annunciated. “I would not waste my time mourning a pathetic human life. I would act like the goddess they sought to make.”

“It’s not like that, Sasha. It’s pain. Constant pain. And I can’t see it, so I can’t stop it.”

“Well, obviously I would not be locked up and suffering. I would be out there, forcing the mortals to their knees.”

“They would hate you,” he finished. “How could you want that?”

“They would fear me. As they should.”

Garrett whimpered, “How could you want to be so cruel? You’re a person, just like them. A mortal. Why would you punish them for that?”

“I was never like them!” Sasha exclaimed, stomping her foot. “I was born a God. I decide who lives and who dies, do I not? Then why should I be anything else?”

“Are you insane?” he whispered. “You think you’re God?”

“I’m certainly not as low as those creatures out there,” she continued, running her fingers through her strawberry hair. “Crawling around like bugs, just waiting to be stomped on. If I decided that one of them has lived just a day too long there is no way they could stop me!”

“Did Summit raise you like this? To believe that you are invincible?”

“No one needs to tell me that I am invincible. How could you be such a coward? All of the powers you have and you barely show your face in public. Why would anyone choose you for anything? Especially for God-like strength?!”

“I told you. I chose them. They just knew no one else would be crazy enough to go along with it.”

“I am.”

“You wouldn’t be, Sasha. Not if you knew the things Summit has had me do.”

She shot him a wry smile. “Oh, Garrett. Sweet, innocent, Garrett. If only you knew of the terrible things he has had me do, already.”

“I didn’t regret it until he sent me on my first mission.”

Tuesday, December 24, 1985

A single bar on one of these deserted streets in one of the more questionable areas of the city turned black later than it should have that evening for Christmas Eve, exiling three patrons and a bartender to the frigid air and the snow-capped cars lining the roads. The bartender’s feelings of goodwill drastically sunk with the realization that it was going to take him all night to dig out his car; nevertheless, he pulled himself into the vehicle, started the heat, and debated whether or not to offer the men huddled in the snow a ride home. Selfishness and a desperate need for sleep won out and he averted his gaze from them as he fought to pull his pickup truck out of the snow. By the grace of God and the height of his tires, he pulled away from the curb and drove away as fast as the pained engine would allow, leaving three very inebriated customers behind to freeze. With the mental image of his mother and girlfriend waiting for him at home pressed into the back of his eyelids, he did not allow himself to feel very guilty about what they could be missing at their homes; it could not be very much if they had spent their Christmas Eve on a barstool.

One of the more severely intoxicated men inwardly cursed at being left behind, as the bartender’s car had been his last chance at convenience that night. He had left his phone on his desk, so eager to drown his concerns after work, and would not be calling a car service. The customer’s building was not very far; even he could have made it without much trouble. However, he did not relish the thought of walking the ten blocks in the snow, especially today when he was feeling anything but safe. He should not have been out at all, but the meeting he had been forced to suffer though left him depressed and confused.

James Quint was a drunk, but he was a drunk only because, by trade, he was a business man. And not only that, but somewhere between drinks over the last few decades, he was a self-made businessman. The company he had built from the ground up manufactured weapons, a few of which had been picked up by the military of the United States. Along with the help of his long-time partners, Charles and Avery, he had made quite the name for himself and Quint Enterprises. They had been going on thirty years of uninterrupted success.

Charles pulled out of the company two weeks previously. Giving no warning and no reason, he had called a meeting one morning only to tell the staff that he was stepping down as CFO. James desired nothing more than to question his friend on the decision, but he had practically run from the building. He had not seen him since, and the many emails, voicemails, and text messages he sent had gone unanswered. It was all entirely baffling.

James and Avery had discussed over drinks the evening of the meeting that Charles’s resignation was an act of betrayal. Avery was in no way surprised that Charles had left; he was furious. James wished that he could be furious, too. Instead, he was only disappointed. Disappointed, and confused.

He was not so surprised when Avery did the same only hours ago. His face had been black and blue around both eyes, his lip was swollen, and the old man looked to be on the brink of tears when he stood in the board room, issuing his own resignation. James had skulked around the office while Avery cleaned up his desk, waiting for some kind of explanation. Somehow, he had already assumed what had brought his partner to this: a shakedown.

Someone had threatened him.

Naturally, James had ignored the threat, comforted by his hired bodyguards, both of whom had gotten off of work by ten o’clock.  They had been desperate to run home to their families, pockets full of his money. His begging had done nothing to dissuade them, they had better things to do after all, and taking James with them was not one of them. They had advised him to go home, even offered to call him a taxi, but he had refused. He was not nearly drunk enough to go back to that empty penthouse. Besides, at the time he had been fairly confident in the law’s ability to protect him should this threat pursue the matter any further. At least, he had been fairly confident until he was alone.

Gulping back the bile his body was threatening to heave, the businessman shoved his hands into his thin blazer pockets, the only cover he had troubled himself to bring, and shuffled toward home. His mouth tasted like vomit, which made him feel like vomiting more and the contents of his stomach thrashed like a turbulent sea when he walked. The roundness of his belly protruded from the suit he had finally declared too tight.

He had had too much coke with his scotch. “Merry stupid Christmas,” he mumbled, kicking at the dunes of ice.

His words echoed around him, the rest of the street having emptied out long ago.

“Ah yes,” someone agreed, keeping a few steps behind him. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Quint. I trust you have a great morning planned in combination with this wonderful evening.”

The stranger was blurry and spinning before James’s eyes. He bit his tongue. “Listen, Mister, I don’t have any cash on me.”

Summit laughed, approaching him cautiously. “Are you alright, Mr. Quint? You’re not looking very well.”

Quint nodded. “Super. Just super.”

“If you say so. I’m actually glad to catch you. I have been meaning to discuss something with you these last few days.”

“You can make an appointment with my secretary, Janice.” Quint kept shuffling toward home.

Summit grinned, grasping Quint’s shoulder. “My intentions are a bit less formal than that, Mr. Quint. I’d have to put on a tie to go down to your office and have a meeting, quite undesirable in my opinion. No, I’d much rather talk out here.”

“Well, what is it, then?”

“No need for rudeness. You and I are actually involved in the same business. I have other people make my weapons and I exploit them for my own gain. And I sell them, too.”

“If you’re looking to give me advice, Mister,” Quint slurred, “I’m really not interested.”

“Oh no, not at all. I was actually more interested in making you a little business proposition.”

Quint’s agitation was becoming harder to hide. It was not the first time he had been approached on the street about business propositions and advice and he knew it would not be the last, but remaining polite was something he had never been particularly good at. “Like I said, if you want to make an appointment, you’ll have to call my secretary, Janice. I don’t make deals out on the street.”

Summit frowned. “Oh, well that’s too bad, Mr. Quint. Your friends were a lot easier to talk to.”

“Friends? I don’t have friends.”

“Really? Charles? Avery? They seemed to think that they were your friends. You disagree?”

James was much too drunk for this conversation. “I don’t know what they are.”

“That’s too bad. They seemed to think I had good ideas.”

The drunk said nothing.

“Really, Mr. Quint, how rude. You’re not even going to ask me about my idea?” Summit demanded, throwing his companion a look of mock disappointment.

“Probably not.”

“Well, I’ll tell you anyway. You see, I have a lot of friends around these parts, friends who’d really like to purchase your products but who don’t really have the credentials. I think if I was your partner I could broaden your market with them.”

It was James’s turn to laugh. “Give guns to criminals? Yeah, like the press wouldn’t crucify me for that! Why would I do that?”

“I didn’t know I was giving you a choice, Mr. Quint.”

“I don’t need a partner.”

Summit hugged him mockingly. “Well, partner, you’ve got one.”

“Or what?” James demanded, shrugging his way out of the embrace. His back struck a wall of flesh, keeping him frozen in place. His eyes climbed up…and up…and up the giant’s chest before they could find the green eyes above.

“Or, I’m afraid my friend Garrett will have to break your legs.”

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