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Sapphire Angel – Beginnings (Chapters 2-4)

Written by CJS :: [Tuesday, 14 May 2019 21:52] Last updated by :: [Friday, 17 May 2019 21:17]

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Chapter 2

Beth’s jaw dropped, and she looked up at John.

“Woah,” he said.

Beth stared at the box but didn’t move to open it.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” John asked.

She bit her lip. “I dunno. I’ve wanted to get in there for what feels like forever. Now that I can, it almost feels like I shouldn’t.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m afraid the mystery of the box will turn out to be greater than the contents.”

“There’s only one way to find out.”

Beth nodded, put a hand to the box, and lifted the lid. Her movements were slow and tentative, but the lid finally opened.

The interior of the box was lined with black velvet. In the middle sat a diamond necklace that gleamed in the dim light of her living room. She inhaled sharply before reaching down to touch it.

She grabbed it tentatively, as if she were afraid it would burn her hand. She held it up to examine it. The diamond was large, but not obnoxiously so, and was secured in a sturdy setting. She slipped it around her neck and fastened the clasp.

“It looks great with the costume,” John said.

“You think I should wear this to the party?”

“It’s destiny,” he replied with a laugh. “You’ve been trying to get into that box forever.”

He had a point, but what if she lost the necklace before she could learn about it? Of course, she probably wasn’t going to learn about it. Her mother was the only person who knew about the box, and she knew nothing about the contents. Beth nodded.

“I guess I’ll keep it on. We should get going,” she said.

“I’m parked right out front,” he answered, never taking his eyes off of her.

Before walking out the front door, she grabbed her long coat out of the closet. It was a cool fall night and there was no way her skimpy costume would keep her warm. She slipped into the coat, stepped to the door, and gave two hard tugs. After it didn’t budge, John stepped around her, took the handle with both hands, and pulled it open with a grunt.

“Sorry. I’ll get that thing fixed,” he said as they stepped outside.

They walked down the front sidewalk to his Mazda 3. John, in his costume, gave off an air of death and decay, while Beth radiated life and radiance. It was as if an aura surrounded her, trying to snuff out the drabness of his attire.

John opened the passenger door for her when they arrived at the car, and she climbed in. Moments later John was behind the wheel, and they were on their way to the party.

———

As they drove through the streets of Harrisburg, Beth caught John’s eyes glancing at her slender leg that slipped out between the front of the coat. She bit back a grin.

Looking out the window, she was amazed at how festive the town had become. Even more revelers filled the main roads, spilling out of the handful of bars on the main drag. Their excitement rubbed off on her, making her impatient to get to the party.

As they drove, she glanced down at the cup holder between the two front seats. A white plastic card sat in the holder.

"What's this?" she said, picking up with a gloved hand and examining it. It was devoid of any markings.

"I found it in the parking lot at work. I think it is a swipe card for some of the keypads in the building."

"The keypads that give access to areas that lowly starting employees like you don't have?"

John glanced at her and frowned. "Yes, that kind of keypad."

"Like the basement?”

John's eye roll was obvious. "Are you still hung up on that? I’m not poking around at work.“

"You said yourself that you had a bad feeling about what your company was up to down there. Don’t you want to know?”

“Not at the cost of my job,” John replied, with an edge of irritation in his voice.

Beth sank back into her seat, chastened by his response. She sat in silence until they came upon a billboard further down the road.

The billboard showed the face of a young man about her age, with the words, “Thomas Darcy, Missing Since October 1,” above the face. Below it was a phone number to call with any information about him, and the promise of a reward.

“Don’t say it,” John said, cautioning her not to revisit a past argument. She ignored his warning.

“But what if your company really does have something to do with those missing people?”

"Beth, we’ve been through this a million times already. My bad feeling was just that the company might be bending some regulatory rules in its research. That’s a far cry from thinking they've been kidnapping people. Holy shit.”

”Don't swear. And the only way to find out would be to take a look."

“No. For the hundredth time, no. We’re not going to hunt down some kidnapped people in the basement of my company, just because I had a bad feeling about something.”

“It can’t hurt,” she shrugged.

“It can’t hurt? If we get caught, I'd lose my job. Or worse."

"John, come on. It's after hours on a Friday night. Nobody will even be there. What if this really is something? We could really be helping people."

"And when it turns out to be nothing, like it will?”

"Then we leave, and nobody will ever know.”

"Leave the detective work to the police," John said. "They'll find them, but not at Fizzure Technology.”

Beth gave a snort and shook her head. “Those people have been missing for weeks. Five people, with families and friends. I’d be surprised if any of them are alive.”

“That means we can’t help them. You can’t let it bother you, Beth.”

“Yes, I can. You should think about what they may have gone through. Think of what their families are going through.”

“You don’t always need to butt in when you see someone being victimized."

"Butt in?" she asked, her voice quivering.

"You know what I mean."

"Caring doesn't mean butting in."

"Beth, come on. Whenever a friend talks to you about a problem, and it looks like somebody is taking advantage of them, you think it is your job to get involved. You don’t always have to have this huge chip on your shoulder."

She glared at him but didn’t speak.

The car was quiet for several moments. When John spoke his words were slow and there was caution in his voice.

"You don't even know these people."

Beth sighed and looked down at her white-clad hands in her lap. “Maybe it’s because the missing people are all close to our age. It makes it hit home even more.”

“Maybe. But something tells me you’d be feeling the same way, regardless of age. You can’t help everyone.”

Their ride was quiet for several more minutes as she stewed over his words. Yes, she did feel a compulsion to get involved when she saw people being victimized, but John of all people should understand. He alone knew about her past. About the time she had been drugged by a prior boyfriend, who had decided to take matters into his own hands after she had told him she was waiting to have sex.

"John, even if this is just my imagination running wild, aren't you curious what they do down there? It could be exciting.”

John shook his head.

“I just want to go to the party,” he said.

“We can be quick, sweetie. You can wait in the car if you want, and I'll go in.”

He didn't answer and just shook his head slowly. She reached over and put a gloved hand on his leg.

"Please," she said, with the sweetest voice she could muster. “After our last argument, you said that you owed me,” she said, her voice trailing off.

With a sigh and soft curse, John put on his turn signal and turned right at the next intersection.

"Fine, but I'm not parking behind the building," he murmured. "And if I lose this job…"

Three blocks later he pulled his vehicle into an empty spot at the curb. She noticed him scanning the area nervously.

"Relax," she said. "It's going to be fine."

Beth bounded out of the car, the thick heels of her boots clunking on the sidewalk. With a resigned sigh and shake of the head, John opened his door and followed as she headed off in the direction of the Fissure Technology building. She shivered in the cool night air and pulled her coat tighter over her costume. She knew the way, having visited John many times. She took a left turn, leading John down the sidewalk.

These streets were empty and quiet, even on Halloween. This was a business district, and all the local merchants had closed a few hours earlier.

After crossing one street, she saw a large brick building looming a block ahead of them with the words Fizzure Technology glowing in red on the side. She hurried toward it with John in tow, and went straight to a door at the back corner of the building. She held up the credit card-sized piece of plastic she had found in John's car, and placed it near a pad to the left of the door. She heard a click and pulled the door open.

Two stairwells awaited them inside the building. One went up and the other down. John used the flashlight on his iPhone to light the entrance, revealing sterile beige tiles on the floor, and concrete cinderblock walls. They chose the stairway to the left and headed down into darkness. The door closed behind them.

At the bottom of the stairs, they found a long hallway with metal doors lining either side. The hall ended with another door, this one twice as large as the others.

“What’s in there?” she asked, pointing to the smaller doors.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what’s at the end, either.”

“Let’s check that out first,” she said, her voice rising in excitement as she pointed to the large door. She moved straight down the hall, the thick heels of her boots thudding softly on the concrete floor. She shivered. She was still wearing her coat, so the shiver had to be due to the excitement and nervousness coursing through her.

“Beth, let’s stop here and go back,” John said as they reached the door. He put a hand on her shoulder.

She turned to face him with a grin. “We need to make use of this card before they realize it’s gone. We might not have another chance.”

John rolled his eyes as she turned to the door and swiped the card. She heard another click, and opened the door far enough to slip into the room. With a curse, John followed her.

As John closed the door, Beth expected to be enveloped in darkness. She was surprised to find the room was lit, albeit very dimly, by a device in the center of the room. A giant glass cylinder, about twenty feet tall and ten feet in diameter, rose from the center of the room. Another door sat in the wall on the opposite side of the room.

Her eyes rose up the height of the cylinder. A metal lid covered the top, with an identical object forming the base. The lid and the base were each about three feet thick. Various hoses and switches adorned two panels attached to the base. Intermixed among the hoses and switches were banks of blinking blue and yellow lights, casting an eerie glow around the room. A door, also made of glass, rested within the glass on the side of the cylinder just in front of them.

“What is that?” she asked as John stepped toward the device. Despite his apprehension, she could see the curiosity on his face.

“I have no idea,” John murmured as he studied the cylinder. “I’ve never been allowed in this room.”

Beth moved next to him, and noticed a gap in the metal base. She knelt next to it, and saw that a metal panel had been pulled away from the base and had been slid to the slide. The opening was at almost three feet high, and just as wide.

“There’s something here,” she said.

John kneeled next to her.

“It looks like they were working on it,” he said.

He shined his light into the opening. It appeared mostly hollow, aside from some wiring and metal support struts.

Before they could further ponder their discovery, they heard a click come from the door on the opposite side of the room. Someone was about to enter.


Chapter 3

They both glanced back at the door through which they’d entered. They would never cross the distance in time, let along be able to open it and exit.

“Get in there!” John hissed as he pointed to the opening in the base of the cylinder.

Beth didn’t need any urging. She dropped to her hands and knees and scrambled into the opening. John dove in directly behind her. As they heard the door of the room open and footsteps enter, they eased themselves as far back into the opening as they could.

The footsteps drew closer. Beth was sure the pounding of her heart would give them away. She could feel John’s presence near her, but couldn’t see him in the dark.

“Let’s give this another try,” a nasally male voice said from outside their hiding spot. “This one is heavy.”

A shadow fell across the opening, and a set of hands came into view. Beth clamped her mouth closed, afraid she would let out a squeal or scream. A scraping noise came next, and Beth realized someone was sliding the metal panel into place. The dim light surrounding the opening disappeared completely, and she heard a click as magnets caught the metal and held the panel in place. She heard the sound of screws as the panel was tightened into place. She and John sat in darkness.

The air felt colder now and Beth started to shiver even with her jacket on. John must have sensed her trembling, because he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

The footsteps moved away from their hiding place, and moments later they heard the door open momentarily, before closing again. Beth strained to hear any indication that someone was nearby, but the room was silent.

The silence only lasted for a few seconds. Around them, in the base of the cylinder, a buzzing noise started. The sound reminded Beth of an alarm clock she used back in high school, but much louder. And unlike her alarm clock, she felt this one, to her very core. She covered her ears and winced, but the sound stopped as quickly as it had started.

No sooner had the buzzing stopped than a deep rumble sounded above them, as if it was coming from the cylinder. Beth’s every instinct told her to kick the metal panel open and run, but she fought the urge. Someone could still be out there, watching.

John had been right. They shouldn’t have come.

As the rumble intensified, the floor beneath them started to shake. Beth grabbed John’s arm, and he put a hand over hers.

The rumbling reached a crescendo, and a burst of golden light filled the space below the cylinder. Beth felt a tingling sensation rush across her body, as if every nerve ending in her body was on fire. She looked down at herself and saw a golden glow surrounding her body. She glanced at John, and saw a glow around him, too. If a glow could be dirty, the one around him was. The glow appeared closer to a murky cloud surrounding his body than to any sort of halo of light.

The tingling in Beth’s body intensified, and she gasped. It grew more and more intense as the rumbling strengthened, to the point she felt as if energy was going to burst from her body. The glow brightened, until the sound of a large crack, like a bolt of lightning, echoed around her. The glow dimmed, growing smaller until it only surrounded the diamond in her necklace, before flashing out entirely.

As the light disappeared so did the tingling in Beth’s body. She and John were left in the darkness of their hiding place, with Beth gasping and John groaning. She fought back her own voice, trying not give away their hiding place.

Sitting in the darkness, she took stock of herself. Something was different. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she felt… changed. She felt alive and full of energy, and wanted nothing more than to burst from their hiding place and let out a scream of joy. But she didn’t, instead remaining quiet and straining to hear what was transpiring out in the room.

After a few moments, the sound of footsteps returned. The footsteps approached their position, until Beth heard movement directly above them, inside the cylinder. Moments later the footsteps receded again, and she heard the door open and close. Silence surrounded them.

“We need to get out of here,” John said with a groan. His voice trembled, as if he were struggling to marshal his words.

“Shhh!” Beth hissed and immediately regretted her tone. She reached out and touched John gently with a gloved hand. He moaned. What was wrong with him?

“Are you okay?” she asked, keeping her voice low.

“I don’t know,” he said, his voice cracking. “Something isn’t right. I need to get out of here.”

John scrabbled away from her toward the panel blocking their exit. He fumbled around its edges, but couldn’t find a way to move it aside. He raised a foot and kicked it. It didn’t budge, but the sound of his kick reverberated like a hammer on an anvil in their tight quarters.

“Shhhh!” she hissed.

“Help me do this,” he said.

“No!” she snapped.

He gave another kick, and the sound again echoed around them.

She gritted her teeth and shook her head. If he was going to give away their hiding space, they needed to get out of here fast. She shook her head, muttering, before moving up next to him and sitting with her legs facing the panel.

“On the count of three, kick with me,” he said.

She sighed in resignation.

“One… Two…”

Beth’s timing was off. A split second before John said “Three,” and a split second before John kicked out with his legs, Beth lashed out with her own legs. The heels and soles of her boots struck the metal panel, ripping it from its screws and sending it across the room. Light spilled into their hiding place.

John looked over at her. His face was twisted in either pain or confusion, but there was something else there. Almost a lack of recognition, like he didn’t know her.

“Adrenaline, I guess,” she said with a shrug. “Let’s get moving.”

Beth peered out into the room and found it empty. She scrambled out of the opening and jumped to her feet. She reached a hand down to help John crawl out and to his feet. It was then that she saw his face. He was in agony.

“John, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. Maybe something I ate. Maybe my gall bladder or something. Let’s get going.”

Beth nodded. She took John by the hand and led him to the door through which they had entered the room. Opening it, they were greeted by the sight of three men at the opposite end of the hall, walking toward them. Beth froze.

“Hey!” the man in front yelled. All three men rushed forward.

John tugged Beth’s hand and led her back into the room.

“Run!” John said, his voice tight with urgency or pain, or both.

Beth’s first instinct was to stop, but she remembered John’s worries about losing his job. She turned and followed him. He sprinted around the cylinder to the door on the opposite side of the room. She rushed to his side and swiped the card to the keypad, and flung the door open. John rushed through with Beth on his heels.

“Where are we going to go?” she asked. They were moving away from the back exit.

“We’ll try to lose them in the building,” John said, leading her down another long hall lined with doorways.

Beth sprinted behind him, glad she was able to run in the heels of her boots. She kept pace with ease, chalking it up to whatever ailment was affecting John. An intersection lay just ahead of them, and beyond it, the hall continued until it ended at a T junction. From the junction, two men wearing grey uniforms and badges appeared, guns in front of them.

“Halt!” the shorter of the two men shouted, and raised his weapon. The tall bearded man behind him raised his weapon as well.

John darted down the hall to the right. Beth followed, but not without protest. Another intersection approached.

“John, they have guns! This is serious. We need to stop.”

“I can’t get caught here. They won’t shoot at - “ he started to say, but his words were cut off by the sound of gunshots ripping through the air.

Beth shrieked as they turned the corner. Unbidden, thoughts rushed into her head of a cousin who had been shot and killed by a jealous boyfriend. She had sworn off guns after her cousin’s death. Now, like her, Beth was going to be shot dead.

“Are you hit?” John asked, turning to her with a horrified look on his zombie face.

“No,” she said. Or at least she didn’t think so. With the adrenaline coursing through her body, she couldn’t be sure.

“Good, then keep running.”

Beth stayed alongside John, handing him the keycard as they ran. He was the one who knew where they were going.

The hall ended in another door, with a swipe pad next to it. John lifted the key card but dropped it. She saw his hands shaking. The two guards came around the corner as John bent to retrieve the card. Their guns were drawn, and they were too close to miss this time. Their eyes focused on Beth, who stood in front of John.

She couldn’t imagine the two men would actually shoot them if they gave up now. Beth started to raise her hands. She thought she saw a look of wonder, or perhaps lust, in one of the guard’s eyes. With her life at risk, she found it odd that she took time to consider how he was looking at her.

John was still behind her, fumbling with the key card.

“John!” she hissed, hoping the urgency in her voice would cause him to stop his efforts and surrender with her. There was no way the would get through the door in time.

Before she could get her hands all the way up, the guns flashed as loud cracks reverberated through the hall.

Beth winced and waited for the searing pain of the bullets striking home. Time seemed to slow and thoughts rushed through her head, such as how their deaths would be explained.

But the pain never came. She opened her eyes to find the guards starting at her, confusion written across their faces.

The break in the shooting spurred John into action. He had finally opened the door. He tugged at her arm and pulled her through the doorway. The door clanged shut behind them. He led her to the stairwell, which ascended above them. He slung her in front of him and gave her a push.

“Run!” he yelled. She ran, flying up the stairs two at a time. As the stairs spiraled up, she heard the sound of footsteps entering the stairwell below. She glanced down and saw the heads of the guards below them. At the same time, she noticed John falling behind. She paused to wait as she came to a landing with a door.

“Keep going up!” John urged, finally catching up. He was breathing heavy, and his face was twisted in pain. Had he been hit? Or was his the illness getting worse? The sound of gunshots sounded again, below them this time. These people didn’t mean to take them prisoner. They meant to kill them. She turned and ran up the stairs again.

When they reached the next landing, she had to wait for John again. When he caught up, he hissed, “Here!” and nodded toward a door on the landing.

She sprinted for the door, but it flung open toward her before she could reach it. Two more guards rushed into the stairwell. Beth had a full head of steam and couldn’t stop in time, slamming into the guard in front. She got an arm up just in time to absorb the force of the collision. But she did more than just absorb the collision. Upon impact, the man flew backward as if shot from a cannon and barreled into the guard behind him. They both spun into the wall of the stairwell, hitting it with a thud.

Beth’s instincts took over, and she ran through the open door, with John lurching behind her. They were in a hallway that ran to their left and right. Both directions were lined with doors every few yards.

“Left!” John called.

She started in that direction, slower this time so John could keep pace. When they passed the second doorway, he put a hand on her shoulder and guided her through it. They entered, closed the door behind them, and found themselves in a dimly lit office. John raised a finger to his lips. Moments later, footsteps passed by the door, out in the hall, before receding into the distance.

“Were you shot?” she asked him, scanning his body. With his zombie costume, it was hard to tell if he had been injured.

He shook his head.

“Just feeling sicker. Are you okay?” he asked, his concern evident even through the makeup and pain on his face. “I thought you were the one that was shot.”

His voice cracked as he spoke, and his eyes scanned her up and down.

“I guess they missed,” she replied. “A miracle.”

She waited for him to speak, but she saw his eyes focusing on her torso. His face was twisted in horror. She looked down and saw what caught his attention. Six holes peppered the front of her coat. John ripped at the front of the garment, fumbling with the buttons and opening it.

Three flattened bullet slugs had been trapped within the jacket and fell to the ground, clinking off the tile floor. Beth’s jaw dropped and she looked down at the front of her costume, expecting to see blood. But the blue material was pristine and unblemished.

John looked up at her, his face contorted in confusion. She met his eyes, raised her eyebrows, and shrugged. She was just as stunned as he was.

“What the…” he muttered.

“John, we can talk about this later. We have to get out of here first.”

She said the words with confidence, taking charge of the situation in a way that surprised even her. It was as if overcoming the killing power of a gun had given her inner strength. She moved to the door and opened it slowly. She looked left and right, but the hall looked empty.

“What’s the quickest way out of here?” she asked over her shoulder.

“To the left, past the stairwell we came up, toward the end of the hall. There’s a spiral staircase going down to the lobby, where there are a few exits. The stairs are being worked on, but we can duck under the yellow tape.”

“Stay behind me,” she said.

“Let me -“ he began, but she cut him off.

“John, you’re in no shape. Let me take the lead from here on out.”

He didn’t argue. She stalked down the hall, listening and watching for any visitors. Her slow pace allowed John to stay with her. They passed the door to the stairwell and continued. After a few more steps she saw the top of the spiral staircase, ahead and to their left. Yellow caution tape stretched across the top of it.

Just as they stepped toward it, the stairwell door opened behind them. Two different guards stepped out, saw them, and ran at them.

“Go!” Beth shouted to John. She grabbed his arm and yanked him past her toward the spiral staircase. She hurried behind him as he ducked under the caution tape.

Then she saw it. Three steps down, several treads of the stairs were missing, leaving a gap of five feet. It would be easy to jump in normal circumstances, but they had two hostile men in pursuit.

John hurried to the gap, leaped, and made it across. Just as Beth readied to jump, she felt a hand grab her from behind. She spun to see one of the guards with a handful of her jacket, trying to pull her back toward him. She struggled and twisted, but his grip was too tight. As she fought to break free, her writhing caused her to spin so she saw John headed back up toward the gap. He was coming for her. She couldn’t let him.

Beth twisted and turned, trying to slip out of her jacket. It came free just as she gave a mighty tug. Her momentum carried her backward toward the gap. She fell through it.


Chapter 4

She fell through the opening face first. As Beth dropped through the air, she heard John’s scream.

“No!”

In the air, instinct took over. She twisted her body, and a split second later her feet hit the floor. Beth flexed her knees, absorbing the impact, before standing to her full height. She waited for pain to come. Like with the gunshots, it never did.

John’s footsteps pounded down the stairwell. As she looked up, the guard’s face peered at her through the gap, thirty feet above her. He froze as he took in the sight of her. The dim light of the room shimmered off her blond hair and the stretchy material of her costume, radiating an almost mesmerizing aura around her. The blue and white outfit hugged her slender form, revealing her toned arms and flat stomach. The short skirt only accentuated her long legs.

Beth looked ahead as John rushed to her. His mouth hung open, but no words came out. The footsteps sounded on the stairs above them. Beth whipped her head to the right and spotted a glass door. A dark city street waited on the other side.

“Move!” she yelled to John. When he didn‘t move, she pushed him toward the door.

He lumbered toward the exit, reaching it as the two guards turned the corner at the bottom of the stairwell. John leaned against the push bar and stumbled outside when the door opened. Beth turned back toward their pursuers.
The first guard was upon her. As her icy blue eyes locked with his, she tried to call up memories of a few martial arts courses from college. She wished she had taken them seriously.

The man reached for her and she pivoted, grabbing his arm and using his momentum to slam him into the wall next to the door. He hit it with a crunch, and blood flew from his face as he hit the floor.

She spun, acting on instinct, and lashed out with a kick. Her foot connected with the ribs of the second guard, driving him backward. He landed on his back and his head whipped into the floor. He lay unmoving.

Beth tensed for another attack, but none came. No other guards had found them yet. She rushed through the doorway, not noticing the cold air of the autumn night. John looked at her with his mouth still hanging open, and confusion in his eyes.

“Let’s go,” she said.

———

Beth drove John’s car as they left the Fizzure building behind them. She needed to get medical care for John.

“What the hell was that?” he asked.

“That was the consequence of going somewhere we shouldn’t have,” she replied. “I should have listened to you.”

“That’s not what I mean. Beth, you just fell from thirty or forty feet up. They shot you multiple times. You got into fights with men much bigger than you. Yet you don’t have a scratch on you. What is going on?”

“I have no idea, but I’m driving you to the hospital.” Thoughts of the gunshots and her fall edged into her consciousness, but she forced them back.

“I feel better already,” John said. “It must have been something I ate.”

She glanced at him. “Really?” she asked with a frown. “You were in agony back there.”

“I just have a minor ache in my stomach. I don’t want to deal with a hospital tonight. It will be a zoo. And you can‘t go wearing that. The men there will love it. You might not.”

She glanced down at herself, remembering she still wore her superheroine costume.

“Oh, yeah,” she said with a murmur. “Okay, but promise me if you don’t feel better in an hour, we’re going.”

“I promise.”

“Where to, then? The police?”

John shook his head. “I don’t want anyone to know we were there.”

“You’re kidding, right?” she asked, her voice dropping with disbelief. “They shot at us. We have to report this.”

“No harm, no foul, right? Let’s just go home. I’m not in the mood for the party now.”

“We can’t just let this go.”

“If we report this, then they find out I was there, and I can kiss my job goodbye.”

“Oh my gosh,” she muttered. “I can‘t believe you’re worried about that job. They just shot at you.”

“Beth, just take me home, please.”

She wanted to argue the point further, but she had gone against his wishes once already, and it had almost gotten them killed. No matter how deplorable the company, it wasn’t her call.

“Fine, we’ll go home.”

They drove in silence for several moments. Beth felt John’s eyes on her the entire time.

“Enjoying the view?” she asked with a smirk.

“Yes, but that’s not why I’m staring.”

“Oh?”

“This will sound weird, but if I didn’t know it was you, I don’t think I’d recognize you.”

“So now your head hurts, too?”

“Very funny. It’s not that. When we were hiding under the cylinder, and you kicked out the metal panel from our hiding place and let light in, I looked over at you. It took me a few seconds to remember it was you. You looked… different. I almost asked you who you were. I can’t explain it, or even put my finger on it, but you were different.”

“Probably the side effect of whatever you were feeling.”

“I guess.”

A few minutes later they arrived at his apartment building. Once inside, he lowered himself onto the sofa. She studied him, looking for signs of pain or injury.

“You’re okay?” she asked.

He nodded. “Now can we talk about what happened?”

“I guess so,” she said with a shrug. “But I have no clue what happened.”

“Did you feel those bullets hit you?”

“I didn’t feel a thing. And I didn’t feel any pain when I landed after falling from the stairs, either.”

“And you tossed the guys around like they were nothing. And you kicked that metal panel halfway across the room. It was almost like you were - ”

“A real superhero,” she finished his thought.

John stared at her, chewing the inside of his cheek.

“Do you think the cylinder we hid under did this?” he asked. “Maybe that’s why they shot at us. It was their big secret.”

“Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound? How is that even possible?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “But everything you did shouldn’t be possible, either.”

“You were under the cylinder, too. Shouldn’t it have affected you?”

He shrugged. “Maybe it did. I didn’t get shot or fall off a stairwell, so I didn’t get a chance to see if it affected me.”

Beth tapped a finger to her lips and scanned the room. She walked to a large easy chair, and bent to grab it from the bottom. She lifted one end, and it titled up in the air. After lowering it to the floor she turned back to John.

“That was easy for me,” she said. “Now you try.”

John rose from the sofa with a wince and walked to the chair. He bent and tried to lift it. He grunted and only moved it an inch or two off the ground.

“Holy shit, I forgot how heavy that thing is,” he growled between breaths. He walked back to the sofa, rubbing his back.

“This is really weird,” he said.

She nodded slowly.

“I need to process this,” she replied. “I’m getting a shower. Do you want to go first? You probably can’t wait to get that makeup off.”

“No, you go. Although I’m tempted to go first to keep you in that costume longer.”

Beth grinned, before turning and heading for the bedroom. She closed the door behind her and started stripping off the costume. She slid the gloves from her hands first. After unzipping and stepping out of the boots, she unclasped her necklace. Upon removing the necklace a slight tingle, almost a shiver, coursed across her body. It was barely noticeable, and if she hadn’t been paying attention she wouldn’t have noticed it.

Beth furrowed her brow and eyed the dresser a few feet away. She stepped to it, bent, and tried to lift it. Nothing. She moved back to the bed and dressed herself in the rest of her costume again, except the necklace. Once dressed she tried lifting the dresser again, with no luck. She retrieved the necklace, fastened it around her neck, and tried again. This time she lifted the dresser with ease.

“Woah,” she said to herself as she stepped back from the dresser.

So many thoughts flooded her mind that she felt as if a haze had enveloped her brain. She removed the necklace and stared at it, dumbfounded, for several minutes. Finally, she tucked it into her suitcase.

John was dressed as a zombie, but she was the one who moved slowly and mindlessly as she stripped out of the rest of her costume again. Her body movements were robotic, as if it was only her years of dressing and undressing that allowed her to remove the costume. Her brain was not operating.

Forgetting she wanted to get a shower, she slipped into a pair of jeans and a sweater, stuffed her costume into her suitcase, and headed back to the living room to reveal her discovery to John. What she saw when she stepped from the bedroom froze her in her tracks. John was sprawled back on the sofa, with green bile oozing from his mouth.

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