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The Phoenix Initiative – Chapter 8

Written by papayoya1 :: [Saturday, 23 March 2019 20:47] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 24 March 2019 08:29]

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Chapter 8

“What do you mean she won’t be coming?” Kyle asked the straight-faced corporal. He had been waiting for Jennifer in her room’s oversized couch, feeling a bit stupid as he held a bouquet of flowers in his hand. “We have to rehearse for the show,” he added. Jennifer had mentioned that tonight’s show would be a little more complex than the first one. The PR team had chosen a mainstream news show for their next interview and they could not expect the questions to be so kind and unloaded as Hagen’s had been. Still, one of the criteria the team had used to select the network they would attend had been that the incisiveness of the journalists had been deemed acceptable.

The corporal, who did not seem to be able to express any emotion, replied in a flat tone.

“Tonight’s show has been canceled.”

It caught Kyle by surprise.

“You are welcome to wait here but be advised that it may be hours before Miss Watson is available.”

“I don’t understand. What the hell is going on? Can’t I just talk to her for five minutes?”

“I suggest you turn the TV on,” the corporal said as he turned to leave.

The wall lit into an image as he used the remote to follow the corporal’s suggestion. He wished he had not. The first thing that caught Kyle by surprise was the aerial image of the massive display his comrades from the Santa Isabel Police department had put together in front of what seemed to be the Miller Page building, one of the iconic skyscrapers in Santa Isabel’s skyline. Kyle reached for his cellphone, surprised not to have learned before about this when the struck-down antenna icon reminded him that Fort Exeter was isolated from the external world, also when it came to cellular communications.

He was wondering what could have led the Department to send so many men for one action when the image changed. His hair stood on end when he saw the woman on the screen. He did not know her, but it was obvious what she was. Her height and her incredibly toned body did not leave room for doubt. Even her attire was not so different from Jennifer’s when she was on a mission. The similarities ended there, though, for where Jennifer or Nathalie had always looked kind and had had a ready smile on their lips, the woman on the screen looked as threatening as one could.

“Oh, God!” Kyle murmured to himself, his mind just starting to go through the implications of what he was seeing. There was another!

This was the moment when he realized that the images he was looking at were not live. His blood froze when he noticed the text scrolling on the lower thirds.

“Phoenix-like woman attacks Miller Page building. Over thirty officers dead. An unknown number of victims inside the building.”

His comrades started shooting at the mysterious woman, at least in the recorded images, just when Kyle moved his eyes back from the text to the scene. It took him a few seconds to realize that they were not missing. It was not until then that the slugs surrounding the woman’s apparently impregnable body started to become visible.

“Oh my God!” Kyle said aloud, realizing that no one had dared to ask this obvious question about the girls.

A second later he saw her jumping in the middle of the blockade and tossing one of his fellow agents for three blocks. He could not help himself from puking when she killed five more comrades in the span of a few seconds, the bodies of some of them visibly breaking in unnatural ways when she hit them.

*=*=*=*=*=*=*

“Oh my God! Oh my God!” Jennifer kept repeating as the large screen in the common room kept showing the images of Nicole obliterating the men of the Santa Isabel Police Department.

Sitting next to her, Nathalie was paralyzed in horror and disgust, while Susan remained expressionless as they kept looking over and over again at the actions of their former colleague.

Quite instinctively, everyone else in the room but Dr. Campos moved so that they were as far away from them as possible without it being too evident. Elena Campos was not afraid of them, though. She could not be afraid of the girls she had saved and helped develop, even if Susan could make her uncomfortable sometimes.

“How… how could she do that?” Nathalie asked, still not able to believe that the woman she had lived with for almost a year could be capable of the horror she was seeing on the screen.

“She… she just fucked everything!” Jennifer protested.

“She killed dozens of people!” Nathalie repeated in the same incredulous tone. “Nicole was arrogant, but she was not this!”

“We are so fucked!” Jennifer repeated.

“Can you stop thinking about yourself for a second? There are a lot of dead people!” Nathalie complained.

Jennifer turned to her friend, looking as disgusted as upset.

“I know! I have eyes! And I’m as appalled as you are!” Jennifer barked. “But I can see beyond that too! And this is the end of everything! Nicole did not just kill those poor men. She fucked our lives too!”

Nathalie looked at her but could not find the words to reply.

Jennifer could only chuckle.

“Everything was going too well. Too well,” she said in a resigned tone.

The silence lasted well over a minute while the muted images on the wall screen kept showing their former colleague tossing, punching and crushing police officers as if it was the easiest thing in the world.

Elena Campos felt the need to say something.

“People will be able to see the difference between Nicole and you,” she offered, even if she did not sound too convinced.

Jennifer let out a desperate chuckle. It was Susan, who had been both speechless and motionless since getting into the room, who replied.

“Don’t be stupid Doc,” she let out, catching everyone’s attention. As if to prove her point, Susan stood up and crossed the room, making a couple of men take a step back as she reached the table where the remote control was and switched between channels until she found a talk show. Without saying anything else, she just turned the volume up and turned with a sneer.

“… the question is, of course, why didn’t they tell us? The government has been selling these girls as the ultimate heroines and now we know not only that there is at least one more woman that they had not told us about, but that they are something very different than what they said. Something way more dangerous!”

The pundit was visibly outraged as he uttered the words. The woman that replied to him was even more upset.

“I also want to know why the danger we were facing was hidden from us. But the key question is what do we do now!”

“What do you mean?”

The woman replied:

“This woman… Nicole Keilani… we need to learn more about her, find her and neutralize her. But there are three other women, and now we know just how dangerous they are.”

“Are you suggesting we kill them?” a third pundit said. He seemed more surprised than enraged.

“What is the alternative?” the woman replied.

Susan pushed the mute button and walked back to the couch. Jennifer and Nathalie were speechless. Elena looked sad.

Jennifer was shaking her head as if she could not believe the situation.

“They cannot be saying this,” Nathalie said, sounding incredulous. “I mean, some people will overreact, but this cannot be everyone. Not after all we’ve done for them.”

“Wake up Nat!” Susan snapped. “They always looked at us like freaks. As long as we smiled, looked like we did what we were told and did their heavy lifting, they cheered us as if we were circus animals. But now? Now Nicole has shown them what we really are, and they are scared shitless. Now they know everything Lindbergh had tried to hide from them. And they know that any of us can do the same. Do you expect them to make any differences between us? We’ll be lucky if people do not show here with pitchforks and torches before midnight!”

Nathalie was too shocked to reply. Elena was trying to find some words but was unsuccessful so far. Jennifer just kept shaking her head as she repeated:

“Everything was going too well…”

Silence took over the room once more. It was Nathalie who broke it:

“What do we do now?” she asked. After a few seconds without a response, she asked: “Where is Lindbergh?”

*=*=*=*=*=*=*

In a career so long as his, Owen Lindbergh had had many bad days. None could come even close to this one. He locked the door to his office and served himself a generous glass of bourbon before sitting in his comfortable chair, resting his feet on his desk as he waited for the call from Charles Dunbar, the Secretary of Defense.

He sighed as he took the first sip of the expensive golden liquid and cursed his bad luck. For all his arrogance, General Lindbergh was also a rational person, so he knew that part of it he had brought to himself.

He should have realized about the danger when Beck informed him about Nicole’s slaughter at the base of the Chinese Mafia and when he had confirmed that she was also behind the disappearance of Rhodes and his secretary. The former lawyer had never hurt anyone physically before the Flare but had already proven that she was capable of killing when she had murdered three people while escaping Fort Exeter. Beck’s update in the morning had told him that she also seemed very capable of killing in cold blood too, and God knew that she had the power to do so.

Already in his late fifties, Owen Lindbergh had always known that the Phoenix Initiative was his chance to transcend his career, and he was willing to do whatever was needed to guarantee his country the definitive weapon for the twenty-first century. In his mind, fifty years from now people would look at the Phoenix project and at Fort Exeter much like he had looked at Project Manhattan and Los Alamos when he was younger. And while progress had not always been as fast as he would have liked, for most of a year he had been convinced that nothing could deny him from this destiny. Sully was no Einstein or Oppenheimer, but he was a brilliant enough scientist. And, more importantly, he had the kind of amorality that was needed for the nature of the project they were embarked on.

It was ironic, Lindbergh thought, that Charles Dunbar, the friend that had given him the chance to enter his country’s history books was very likely going to be the man that would cut his head in the coming minutes.

Nicole Keilani’s escape had been, without a doubt, his worst mistake in the ten months he had managed the project. He had done such a good job at containing the backlash that he now he realized that he had even led himself into underestimating the consequences of that error. He had always been aware of how the worst case would look, but he had refused to believe that it could happen.

Keilani was a smart person, he had told himself. This would make her harder to catch but it would also contain the risks. She knew she could not be seen, so she would keep a low profile. Over the days, General Lindbergh had ended up convincing himself that there was a very good chance of apprehending or killing her even without the public ever learning about her presence.

Today, his mistakes had caught up with him.

He could hardly think of a scenario that could look worse than the one he was facing. In hindsight, while the decision to rush the public introduction of the three girls the day of the earthquake had seemed brilliant and had likely bought him a few more weeks in the chair he was now sitting on, it was now clear that it had been a bad mistake.

He never considered the possibility of Nicole showing up and doing what she had just done when he gave the green light to the earthquake relief operation. Had he thought about it, he would have never moved forward.

For a week, he and his team had done one of the most massive PR exercises in history to tell the world about the Phoenix Initiative, the girls and the strength they had gained. Now, when Nicole had shown up, the world knew exactly what she was and where she had come from.

If he had not hurried so much in introducing Jennifer, Nathalie and Susan, the PR team might have been able to twist Nicole’s attack and even position the FRU as the army organization in the best position to neutralize her. Of course, this would not have worked internally, but he could have managed the public opinion. Now it would be impossible.

Owen Lindbergh let out a long sigh and then cursed when he realized that this was what the damned Hawaiian had been looking for since the beginning. She had not moved for more than four weeks only to make her grand appearance when his team and he had done all the job. He cursed. There was nothing he hated more than being outsmarted.

The phone rang just then, so it was in this mood that General Lindbergh took the call.

He had expected a tough call. Even a nasty one. He had been ready for his immediate firing. It was way worse than all that. He took it all stoically until his jaw dropped in surprise at Dunbar’s last sentence.

“You can’t be talking seriously!” General Lindbergh finally replied.

“My neck is on the line, for fuck’s sake. And if don’t do something quickly, soon the President’s will be too.”

“And you think killing three girls is going to save your asses?” Lindbergh asked.

“They are not three girls. Not anymore. They are the three biggest threats to our National Security, aside from the damned Keilani. And to the public, they are monsters!” Secretary Dunbar barked back.

“They are also our best asset to stop Nicole,” Lindbergh replied, forcing himself to remain calm despite the tension he was feeling. His response was not driven by any special concern or attachment for the girls. But he was a rational military man and getting rid of his best weapon before a battle was utterly stupid. He knew his career was finished, so now he could focus only on the task at hand. And he was not willing to let a hot head politician make things even worse than they were.

“You have your special plans,” Dunbar replied, clearly trying to win an argument rather than thinking rationally.

“Which I think are the same ones you said your experts back at DC suggested were not good enough. I think you’ll remember. After all, you are the one who sent Roark.”

The line fell silent for a few awkward seconds.

“They are easier to kill while they are under your control,” Dunbar came back, ignoring his latest arguments and building some of his own.

General Lindbergh sighed. He waited a couple of moments to calm down and then replied, as coolly as he could.

“Charles, listen to me. We are fucked. I’m very aware of it. And I’m aware of my responsibility in the situation. Do whatever you want to me. Fire me. Jail me. Put me in front of a fucking firing squad if you want. But don’t do this. We need the girls. Use them to get Keilani. I don’t give a damn about what you do with them once that is done.”

He never got a reply. Only a few very deep breaths before the line died.

He was on his third glass of bourbon when someone knocked on the door. He chuckled when he opened it to find Eva Roark standing on the other side.

“Did he give you my job?” he asked, chuckling again.

“No,” Roark said. “At least, not yet.”

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Lindbergh asked.

“Mind if I come in?” Roark replied, taking the first step into the spacious office.

She sat and waited until the man, who looked a bit tipsy, sat back behind his desk.

“Dunbar called me. He inquired about the status of the project to neutralize the Phoenix girls. He ended up letting me know about his intentions to have Jennifer, Susan and Nathalie executed right away. I thought you would like to know that I strongly opposed to that.”

Lindbergh raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t like to take unnecessary risks,” Roark justified herself. “We are in a shitty enough situation as it is.”

“What did he say?” the General asked, curious. For the first time in months, he did not have a clue about which answer he would get.

“He ended up seeing my point. Especially when I let him know that I would resign if he decided to move on with that stupid idea of his. He was not on the mood to talk to you again, so he suggested that I could inform you of myself. His words were quite more colorful, but essentially, that’s what happened.”

Lindbergh was genuinely surprised.

“Why did you do it?”

“I did not do it for you if that’s what you are asking. I did not do it for the girls, either, even if I think that I got to respect them more in three days than you did in ten months. But even if it may surprise you, sometimes people make decisions thinking about what’s right rather than on their personal benefit.”

She got no reply, so she just stood up and headed for the door. She stopped two paces away and turned in a very obviously calculated gesture.

“By the way, Dunbar also asked me to pass you the news that General Morris is expected to arrive at Fort Exeter tomorrow afternoon. He has been tasked with what he described as “search and destroy” operation against Nicole Keilani. You are expected to assist him in everything he needs.”

The door closed behind Dr. Roark before he could recover enough to reply. Morris! Of all the people in the world, he was the last one he wanted to see. The knowledge that Dunbar had selected him as part of the humiliation he would suffer before they landed the final strike on him made him despise his old friend.

*=*=*=*=*=*=*

Jennifer was still too shaken by the news as she headed to her room, where she had been asked to remain until further notice. Different than usual, none of the base’s personnel was walking with her.

Her mood lightened a bit when she recognized Kyle turning around the corner and getting in the same aisle she was. She had forgotten about him! They were supposed to meet! Jennifer did not know what she would say to him, but she knew that he was the only person in the world she felt like talking to right now.

He noticed her a second later, raising his head to meet her eyes. Jennifer was appalled when she saw his expression.

“Kyle?” she asked.

He did not reply and just changed his path to pass as far away from her in the aisle as possible. Jennifer’s heart froze. What the hell was going on?

The corridor was not so wide, so she only had to correct her trajectory slightly to reach out and set her left hand on Kyle’s shoulder. She had not meant to be rough, but of course, there was no way the police officer would be able to break from her gentle grip. She released him right away when she saw the terror in his eyes as he looked up.

“Kyle?” she asked again.

“Let me go, you fucking monster!” he yelled.

Jennifer understood. She felt as if she had been stabbed through the heart.

“Kyle, I’m not her!”

“You lied to me! You lied to everyone! You even used me for your lies! And now, more than thirty comrades are dead because of that!”

“I will tell you everything!” Jennifer said, almost pleading.

“I don’t want to be even fifty miles around of you!” Kyle replied as he started stomping back down the aisle.

Jennifer barely managed to get to her room before breaking into tears.

*=*=*=*=*=*=*

“About this morning…” Elena Campos started as soon as they were left alone in the common room.

Susan had not done anything to hide the fact that she was pissed off at having been asked to stay while everyone else left. She had not expected the doctor to bring up the incident with the would-be rapists again. Even if it had been only hours ago, it felt like another life.

“So what?” she snapped back.

“What the hell were you thinking about?” Dr. Campos asked.

Susan was very upset, and she did not see any reason not to show it.

“I was thinking on breaking their fucking necks! That’s what I was thinking!” she let out.

“What the hell happened to you?” Campos asked, not hiding the fact that she was getting concerned.

“Why does it always need to be something about me? Those were two big men trying to rape a much smaller woman. Only God knows what they would have done to her once they were done. They deserved to die!”

“That’s not for you to decide!” Campos replied, her concern increasing.

Susan did not reply right away. Her deep green eyes were locked on Elena’s and it took the doctor considerable strength of will not to move them away. The redhead girl finally replied. Her voice was icy when she did.

“Didn’t you just see Nicole?”

Susan’s answer sent a shiver down Elena’s spine. She was afraid at the words, but she was also afraid at who might have listened to them. Opening her eyes wide, Elena brought one finger to her lips while she pointed up with her other hand.

Susan just scowled.

“Do you think I don’t know we are being heard? Of course, I know! I’ve lived here for nine fucking months! I know people are listening. And now I also know that you are still experimenting with me!”

“Susan…”

“What would have changed?” Susan asked.

Elena Campos did not understand.

“What would have changed if I had killed those two fucking bastards? I mean, isn’t this a prison anyway?”

Susan stood up and headed for the door.

“Susan!” Dr. Campos called, trying to stop her.

The tall redhead turned as her hand reached for the door handle.

“You know? One of these days you should remember that we are people too.”

And with that, she left the room, leaving an open-mouthed Dr. Elena Campos behind.

*=*=*=*=*=*=*

Nicole had never seen herself on TV before. She could not help loving the images of her rampage as she savored the sweet strawberries from the massive bowl sitting to her right in the oversized bed. It was hard to tell what she enjoyed the most: seeing the ease with which she had taken care of the helpless cops or listening to the shocked comments from the journalists that were reporting them.

Every now and then, Nicole switched TV stations to hear someone new talking about her. All the while, she kept bringing the delicious strawberries to her lips while two fingers of her free hand worked on her womanhood.

She moaned in delight as she felt the momentum growing. When the images started combining with pundits demanding harsh action against Jennifer, Nathalie and Susan she could not prevent a chuckle. Seeing her plan come through was almost better than seeing her power in action. She unconsciously thrusted harder with her fingers as her moans intensified while memories of the action combined with the images she was seeing on the screen.

Then, the door to her quarters opened and ruined it all.

Andrey Petrenko walked in, flanked by two of his bodyguards. He was stunned when he saw what she was up to. Nicole kept at it, trying to keep the flame burning, but while the physical stimulation was there, the mobster had killed the moment.

“You know, it’s polite to knock. I was in the middle of something, you see?” she said in a quite unfriendly tone.

“We need to talk,” the Ukrainian said, sounding more insecure than he had surely meant to. It was obvious that the situation made him uncomfortable.

Nicole removed her fingers from her cunt and narrowed her eyes.

“Well, it looks like you need to talk. I’m not so sure about me,” she said.

No one said anything for a few awkward seconds. It was Nicole who finally took over.

“Sure, come in,” she said as she patted the bed next to her. Seeing the look of uncertainty in a man that was used to command and be obeyed, she shrugged. “I’m pretty sure my lover will be readily available when I need her back,” she added, showing her hand to the three puzzled men.

Seeing as no one moved, Nicole pushed her forward, leaping from the bed in a movement that would have been impossible for anyone without the disproportionate strength to weight ratio she possessed. The apparently simple scoop from her backside muscles was enough to send her over the bed’s edge and land her considerable mass in front of her host, making the floor shake as she did.

One of the bodyguards was too startled by the sudden movement and reached for his gun. Nicole was faster, and the man was soon dangling two feet above the floor as she effortlessly held him with a hand on his throat.

Andrey took a step backward as the second bodyguard made a move for his weapon too. Nicole rolled her eyes as she shoved him hard enough to send him flying across the room but still not putting enough strength to make the collision with the wall lethal. She would not have bet at the man not having a couple of broken ribs, but she gave her props for having found the right balance.

Petrenko was too puzzled to react, so Nicole just eyed the man she was so effortlessly holding in her left hand and smiled at his pathetic attempts to break free. She did not toss him. Instead, she just closed her fingers every so lightly, enough to stop the flow of oxygen to the man’s brain while not breaking his neck like a twig. She was proud when she achieved her objective and the man passed out without dying. It was curious, she reflected, that it was considerably harder to take men out without killing them.

Letting the unconscious body of the thug drop with a loud thud, Nicole looked at his very spooked boss and said:

“Let’s talk.”

She turned and walked to the armchair, sitting lazily on it before pointing at its twin, offering the seat to the Ukrainian boss. She crossed her legs as she waited for the very puzzled mobster to take his seat in a piece of furniture that was clearly oversized for him. The moment after he climbed on it, she smirked and addressed him.

“I would have thought that you, of all men, would have realized the worthlessness of coming to meet me with two goons,” she said in a plain tone. “I hope you all learned the lesson. Next time, I’ll crush them.”

Petrenko swallowed hard.

“I hope you have a very good reason to interrupt me. I value my privacy, you see?”

Nicole had to admit that the man regained his composure quickly enough.

“You already went public,” he said.

It made her chuckle. She pointed at the screen, which was still showing images of her rampage, as she replied:

“I think that’s obvious enough.”

“It’s time to take care of my father,” the man said.

Nicole had known that this was the reason for the visit. God, the man was perseverant! She realized it was time to make things clear once and for all.

“Not yet,” she said coldly.

“It has been too long already! You used the excuse of not being ready to go public yet, but we are over that, are we not?”

Nicole wondered what the best way was to reply to the man. The key question was whether she trusted him to know more than he did. When the answer was that she obviously did not, there was only one thing to do.

Petrenko became visibly more nervous as Nicole stood up and moved her towering naked form towards him. He looked over his shoulder but realized that there was nowhere he could go. Nicole’s mischievous smile was meant to say that she was perfectly aware of that.

Her hand reached down. She opted for the gentle option, so rather than grabbing him by the throat, she just took hold of a fistful of his loose T-shirt. The man was soon suspended a couple of feet in the air and facing her unforgiving eyes.

“I think it’s time to clarify a couple of things here,” she said in a cold tone. She suppressed a smile when she felt the man shiver in her hold. “You seem to be under the impression that I work for you. How did you get that, I don’t know. But it’s time to get this stupid notion out of your head.”

Petrenko could just babble, so Nicole went on.

“You helped me when I needed somewhere to stay, and for that I’m grateful. Of course, you did not do that out of kindness. I promised you I would help you back, and I will stand by my word. I’ve already repaid any debt I could have had with you many times over, but you asked me to help you free your father and I intend to fulfill that wish. This is not a working relationship, though. You would do well to look at this as a partnership. One where the balance of powers between both partners is clearly uneven. You are getting out way more than you will ever have the chance to put in, so the smart thing to do would be to shut the fuck up and stop busting my balls!”

Petrenko’s face was moving from shock to terror. Nicole continued.

“Now, if you leave me alone, Dad Petrenko will be home before the end of the week. What I do from now until that happens is up to me. Understood?”

Andrey nodded, and Nicole set him back on the floor.

“Good. Now, take those two worthless thugs from my room and close the door, if you will. I’d very much like to finish masturbating. If anyone else interrupts me before I come, someone is going to get hurt!”

*=*=*=*=*=*=*

“What is this supposed to mean?” Dr. Jacob Sully asked in an obviously annoyed tone as Eva Roark and Elena Campos closed the door to his office behind them.

He was as surprised at their unexpected presence as to the fact that they seemed to be working together. Dr. Eva Roark ignored his upset tone and replied dryly:

“We need to talk.”

“I’m busy,” Sully snapped back. The last thing he wanted was to talk to these two women she despised.

“I can make that change very quickly,” Roark answered, still in the same cold tone. “I don’t think you realize just how close you are to having a lot of free time.”

An arched eyebrow indicated that she had Sully’s full attention. She ignored the obvious disgust in his face and went on.

“You are smart enough to realize that management is about to change around here. Soon, your loyalty to Lindbergh will be worthless. I can use you, but the last thing I need is someone I can’t trust. And you are not irreplaceable.”

The tension could be cut with a knife. Finally, Dr. Sully replied between clenched teeth.

“What do you want?”

“Elena?” Roark answered, passing the word to Dr. Campos.

“This morning Susan improved her best top speed mark by fourteen percent. I reviewed the rest of her tests and raw strength almost doubled. You did something to her. I want to know what.”

Sully remained silent for close to a minute.

“This is above your paygrade,” he finally replied.

“Start talking, or you will soon be out of a paygrade!” Roark snapped.

“What did you do to her?” Elena inquired, obviously less calm than her counterpart.

Once more, silence extended for much longer than would have been comfortable.

“Science,” Dr. Sully finally said.

“She is a person, for God’s sake!” Dr. Elena Campos yelled back, fearing what he might have done to the girl she had saved first and fostered later.

It was Eva Roark who took the lead again.

“Which type of science?”

When Dr. Sully did not reply immediately, she insisted.

“We’ll find out. You choose whether you are around when we do or not.”

Silence took over the room once more. Sully finally replied, even if reluctantly.

“I made a breakthrough.”

Dr. Roark pierced him with her deep blue eyes. Sully coughed and went on.

“I found out that the girls were still evolving, even if only marginally. It was the Sun, of course. I decided to see if I could accelerate it. I could. Simpson’s test was the most successful.”

“You damned bastard!” Dr. Campos yelled. “They are human beings, not guinea pigs!”

Dr. Sully looked up to meet her eyes.

“What do you think we are doing here, Elena? This is a US Army base, not an NGO.”

Elena Campos was a calm and peaceful person, but Jacob Sully had finally taken her over her limit. She did not reply to him. Instead, she just took a paperweight that was holding some documents in a shelf to her right and tossed it at the researcher in rage. She had never been especially accurate, but chance wanted her to hit the bulls’ eye this time. The trickle of blood down Sully’s forehead was noticeable enough by the time he let out a surprised and pained yell. Still mad and encouraged by the result of her first attempt, Elena looked for something else to use as a weapon. She never got to the vase she had reached for since Eva Roark intercepted her as she did. She was surprised about how fit the former DARPA director was. Truth be told, she did not have too many problems to overpower her.

“This is pointless, Elena. We must go. Now!”

Dr. Campos wanted to protest. A stronger pull from the taller woman let her know that it would not be a good idea. They were soon walking away from the office, leaving a shocked and bloodied Dr. Sully behind.

“I’ll have him for this! This time he crossed too many lines!” Elena managed to say as she panted. Eva Roark had already managed to push her around the corner from the corridor that led to Dr. Sully’s office and had gently pushed her against the wall.

Dr. Roark hushed her.

“You will not mention this to anyone,” she advised in a firm voice.

When Elena looked up at her with a mix of surprise and disdain, Roark understood that she was questioning her loyalty.

“Come!” she commanded in a tone that admitted no question.

They walked in silence for too long. Elena finally recognized the door to Roark’s office. The other woman did not open her mouth until the heavy door was firmly shut.

“There is something you need to know,” she said, once she was in the safety of the only place in the base she trusted was not bugged: her office.

Elena was still breathing hard, more out of rage than exertion. Roark ignored that and went on.

“Earlier today, I got a call from the Secretary of Defense,” she started, immediately catching Campos’ attention. “He had just hung up with Lindbergh. He asked us both the same thing. He wanted Jennifer, Nathalie and Susan dead right away.”

Her words landed like a hammer blow in Elena Campos. She stuttered as she tried to reply, visibly shocked by the revelation.

“What? Why?”

“Because a woman just like them had just killed over thirty cops and, from what we know, more than forty office workers in cold blood. That’s why,” Roark said with a steady voice.

“But… it’s not their fault!” Campos protested.

Eva Roark’s change in volume was so sudden that it made Dr. Campos shiver.

“Do you think they care? Seventy people are dead, Elena! The entire country watched Nicole Keilani kill them in cold blood with her own hands!”

Elena Campos was speechless.

“They are afraid, Elena. And people react in stupid ways when that happens.”

“Will… will you kill them?”

“Do you think I would be telling you if my plan was to finish them?” Roark asked with a chuckle. “I guess that Lindbergh and I finally found something we agreed on. I threatened with my resignation if I was forced to carry the order. We convinced Dunbar that we need the girls to stop Nicole. But it was a close call. If anyone learns about what Sully just told us… if anyone suspects that the girls can get even more out of control… there will be nothing I’ll be able to do to stop them. Do you understand?”

Campos seemed frozen for a while. Finally, she nodded.

“You will kill them, eventually,” she said in a shaky voice.

Roark held her stare as if thinking her answer. She finally said:

“I decided to trust you. So, I won’t lie to you. It doesn’t look good. If they can really help to stop Nicole and if I find a sustainable way to stop them in the future, we may still save them.”

“And turn them into weapons,” Campos said.

Roark let out a long sigh.

“Don’t be stupid, Elena. You heard Sully. He already has everything he needs to replicate the process. He can use the girls, but he can work without them. He also knows we know. So, the only question, really, is what he will do once he gets out of the infirmary. Will he come to me or will he go to Lindbergh?”

*=*=*=*=*=*=*

Susan was the last one to enter the common room. There was a trace of annoyance in General Lindbergh’s face when he looked at her, but he chose to shut up as she crossed the room and sat in the large couch, next to Jennifer and Nathalie, who looked as shocked as they had two hours before and as surprised at being summoned as she was.

Lindbergh did not waste any time and cleared his throat as soon as she was sitting.

“The last few hours have been very hard,” he started in a grave tone. “They have been the worst of my life for me, and I can only imagine how they must have been for you.”

There was no reaction from the crowd, neither Nathalie nor Jennifer moving an inch at the General’s words. He ignored the fact and went on.

“We all know Nicole, and while I won’t hide the fact that she and I had important differences and that her escape was a tragedy for this organization, none of us could have ever imagined that she would be capable of the horror she unleashed. What she did is appalling, the act of a monster. I’m still struggling to accept that the woman that lived with us for eight months could do it, but there is no point in denying the truth.”

Lindbergh took a sip of water from the glass next to him and went on.

“I know you are shocked as well. And I know you are suffering. I’ve seen the public’s reaction. I know you’ve seen it too. It is unfair. You are heroes, and you do not deserve what’s being said. None of us do.”

His pause, this time, was longer. When he started speaking again, his tone was way louder.

“The world needs heroes more than ever. It is time for us to step up and protect the world from its new villain!

The silence was awkward. It was Nathalie who broke it.

“What do you want us to do?” she asked.

General Lindbergh smirked.

“I want you to fight Nicole,” he said plainly.

“Do you expect us to kill her?”

“I expect you to do whatever it takes to restrain her. You saw what she did.”

There was a new long pause.

“Rid the world of Nicole’s threat, and I guarantee you that you will be heroes again. I will do whatever it takes to make sure of it.”

It was Jennifer who replied this time.

“Nicole threw us under the bus. She knew what she was doing. We need to recover our lives. And we cannot let her kill innocent people.”

Nathalie looked at her, then lightly nodded.

“The problem with your plan, General, is that… well, no one has a clue about where Nicole is,” Susan pointed out with a trace of sarcasm in her voice.

“This will change soon. And when we find her, you will be ready to act. Starting new, you will be on alert twenty-four hours. We will have a chopper ready at all times. Next time she shows up, we will be ready.”

Jennifer and Nathalie nodded again, even if there was not a lot of enthusiasm in their gestures.

“Any questions?” the General asked.

There were none.

“Good. Let’s get over with this nightmare once and for all!”

*=*=*=*=*=*=*

General Lindbergh did not go straight to his office but stopped at Dr. Sully’s Lab. He had to suppress a smile when he saw the bulky bandage in his head. He would have never imagined that Dr. Campos could have that aggressiveness in her but imagining her assaulting the doctor was somewhat comical.

“What took you so long?” Sully asked. “This is urgent!”

“Everything seems to be urgent today,” the General replied with a shrug.

“Roark and Campos know!”

It did not catch Lindbergh by surprise. Seeing how jumpy Sully was, Lindbergh decided that he had to be the one to calm things down.

“What do they know?”

“I had to tell them about the tests to replicate the Flare effect,” Sully said, sounding anguished.

“Of course, you did. There was no point in hiding them once the redhead managed to improve her speed fourteen percent in just one day, was it?”

“We… we never expected the effect to be so intense,” Sully admitted.

“Isn’t it good news, though?” Lindbergh asked.

“I… I guess. It validates our theory and the latest developments,” Sully said.

“Do they suspect about the Hole?” Lindbergh asked, referring to the small secondary base where the tests with real women were being conducted.

“No.”

“Then, what is the problem?” Lindbergh asked.

“Roark threatened to fire me. He implied that she was going to replace you. What is going on, Owen?”

“Didn’t you see the news?” Lindbergh asked

“Will they put Roark in charge?”

“It’s likely. They will probably wait until we can get the situation with Keilani under control, but I won’t be around much longer.”

The fear in Sully’s face was obvious. The General went on.

“I guess Roark tried to put you between a rock and a hard place. She probably pushed you to choose your loyalties. I guess it might be tempting for you. It’s good that you were smart enough not to tell her about the Hole. Because one thing you should know is that when I fall, you will fall with me.”

Sully did not take it well.

“I did everything you ever told me!” the scientist protested.

“And I let you do everything you wanted,” Lindbergh asked. “I’m not sure anyone else would be so tolerant with your actions as I have been.”

“You cannot drag me with you!”

“I can. And I will. Jacob, you need to understand that the only way you will get away from this unscratched is if I do too.”

“How?” Sully asked, as afraid as he was angry.

“It’s unlikely, I admit. Roark is waiting for the right moment to push Dunbar for my job. And General Morris will be here tomorrow to take over the search. We have twenty-four hours. Forty-eight if Morris needs some time to take over things. If I manage to get rid of Nicole and you deliver the next phase in your research, we may still make it out of this.”

“I cannot guarantee results in forty-eight hours!” Sully protested.

“You’ve made amazing progress in the last two days,” Lindbergh said.

“This is not how science works!”

“For your own good, I suggest that you make it work like this. Get to the Hole. And don’t come back until you have something Dunbar will want so much that he might be willing to disregard the mess we made these last few days.”

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