Sapphire Angel – Beginnings (Chapters 38-40)
Written by CJS :: [Wednesday, 18 September 2019 17:44] Last updated by :: [Thursday, 19 September 2019 19:01]
After rushing from the room and down the hall, Dominick darted into the opening to his left, entering another corridor. Thirty feet later this hall ended at a door. Dominick opened it and slipped through the doorway. After closing the door behind him, he leveled his gaze at the handle and latch.
Sapphire Angel would be coming, and he couldn’t let her capture him. His suicide attempt with the empty gun had given him remarkable clarity. The fates had saved him because there was still hope for Ashley. Yes, that was it. He was meant to save his daughter. He just needed to escape this place, take his child somewhere safe, and come up with a new plan.
Dominick made a quick decision, fumbling in his belt and pulling out another handgun he had picked up off the floor when fleeing from Sapphire Angel. This one was loaded. He stepped back, aimed at the handle and latch, and fired. The shot sent an echo through the hall, hurting his ears, and leaving a mangled mess of the area around the door’s strike plate. He fired twice more for good measure before reaching down to test the door. He smiled when the handle wouldn’t turn. The door was jammed, and Sapphire Angel would need to rip it from its hinges to get to him. Which she might be able to do, he considered with a frown. At least this would slow her down.
He turned, racing down the hall toward the back of the building. The exit, and freedom, were just ahead. Even his men didn’t know of the exit’s existence, since it was hidden behind the door on the inside and a tangle of growth on the outside.
He fumbled through his keys after reaching the door. After finding the correct one, he inserted it into the lock and turned. When he pushed, though, the door only moved a few inches before stopping amid the sound of rattling chains. Wrinkling his brow, he pushed again, harder. Again the door barely moved, and again he heard rattling chains. With a soft curse, he glanced into the opening, and saw a thick chain wrapped around the exterior door handle, extending sideways. At this angle, Dominick couldn’t see the full length of the chain, but he knew it was securing the door.
With dawning realization, his heart sank. Someone had trapped him inside the building. He knew who had done it, without having to think. The man with the silver eyes. The strange man certainly didn’t plan to lock him in the building to be found by the authorities. The robed man was locking him in the building to kill him. Something bigger was coming.
Refusing to give up, Dominick pushed the door open as far as he could with one hand, and aimed the gun at the chain. He fired and looked away, wary of the bullet deflecting back toward him. When he returned his gaze back to the chain, he saw his shot had barely damaged it, taking out only a small fleck of metal. He knew it was futile, but Dominick fired the remaining shots from the weapon. His shoulders sank when the chain remained in place. He stepped back, charged, and slammed his considerable girth into the door, but still the chain didn’t budge.
A slim smile born of sadness and appreciation crept across Dominick’s face. The robed man had said there could be no trace of his involvement, and Dominick now fully appreciated those words. If nothing else, the robed man was efficient.
Dominick sighed and stepped away from the door. He looked down the hall and shook his head. With the lock destroyed, he was trapped. His only hope of salvation would be if Sapphire Angel found him before the silver-eyed man’s retribution came to fruition.
Before sprinting from the room, Sapphire Angel remembered Dominick’s words, directing his men to take Ethan to the garage. With that thought in mind, she hurried down the hall, shivering in remembrance when she passed where she had first felt the draining of her powers.
As she approached the end of the hall, the door through which she had entered the building stood ahead of her. To her left and right were the two openings she had ignored during her entrance. She stepped into the opening to her left, seeing another hall ending in a closed door. After stepping across the hall to the other opening, she spied a short corridor ending with a stairway headed down. She rushed to the stairs and headed down, knowing there was at least one more guard waiting, and possibly more.
The stairs stopped at an open doorway. She tiptoed to the doorway and peered through it, spying a short catwalk. Four stairs descended from the far end of the catwalk to the floor of a large garage. The garage filled the entire ground floor and was just as filthy and cluttered as the upstairs. Three cars sat across from a metal door, arranged in a neat line that seemed out of place in the disorganized room.
A massive metallic tube ran lengthwise against the side wall. A boiler, she realized, remembering one of her family’s earliest homes. Three individuals sat on the floor against the boiler, their wrists and ankles bound to the contraption’s thick pipes. They were all gagged.
Beth put a hand to her mouth to stop herself from called out with joy when she recognized Ethan. Remarkably, his eyes were open. His shoulders sagged, and even at this distance he looked haggard, but he was conscious. The other two prisoners were twisted slightly away from her, leaning sideways against the boiler, so she couldn’t determine if they were awake.
Two guards stood in front of the prisoners, and a third crouched near the boiler, examining something she couldn’t discern. All three had their weapons holstered at their hips.
Sapphire Angel sprinted the length of the short catwalk, her feet clattering on the metal. As she hurtled herself through the air, the three men looked up and fumbled to pull their guns from their holsters. They fired as she landed a few feet away. With the bullets dropping to the ground around her, Sapphire Angel lunged at the two closest men, drilling one with a punch to the face, and landing a softer blow to the second man with her follow through. The first man slammed into the boiler and slumped to the floor. The punch to the second man was enough to make him stumble, giving her time to finish him with a punch with her opposite fist.
The guard who had been crouching near the boiler turned and ran, heading for the garage door. Sapphire Angel took two steps and leapt, closing the distance and slamming into his back with her feet. She rode him to the ground, coming down with her knees in his back. His head slammed into the floor, and he didn’t move.
The costumed woman didn’t waste time, tearing his shirt into strips, and using it to tie the wrists and ankles of the three men. The entire time, Ethan watched her with wide eyes and an expression of amazement across his face. As she worked, she stole glances at the other two prisoners - Tom and Nicole, from the pen at the farm. They were bound and unconscious, but not gagged.
Sapphire Angel ran to Ethan and pulled off his gag. She worked on his bonds, relief flooding over her.
“I’m glad I found you,” she said.
“Sapphire Angel, we have to get out of here!”
She paused, momentarily taken aback by the name he used, before she remembered he didn’t recognize her as Beth.
“It’s okay now,” she said. “I took care of Dominick and his men. It’s over.”
“No, we need to go! Now!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Look closer at the boiler!” Ethan said, nodding toward the large contraption.
“For what?” she said, frowning.
“Can’t you see the timer?” he asked, his voice shrill with impatience. “I think it’s a bomb! That’s what that guy was checking out. He had sent another guard upstairs to alert them.”
As her head jerked up to study the old machine, Beth thought of the guard who had run into the room upstairs and tackled her. He must have been coming to warn Dominick. Her eyes scanned the boiler, spying a small black box with several wires running from it and disappearing into the boiler.
“Are you sure it's a bomb? Why would Dominick blow up his own building?”
“Because it wasn’t Dominick. It was a strange dude with silver eyes. He came while we were tied up here, alone. He probably thought I didn’t see him, or was dead. He rigged that up and slipped out, just before they took me upstairs. I tried to warn them, but I was gagged so they probably thought I was screaming in fear. I was finally able to tell them a few minutes ago.”
“Did you see him enter a code?”
Ethan shook his head, and Sapphire Angel rose and hurried over toward the boiler to get a closer look at the black box. Three minutes, thirty-five seconds. She thought about moving the device, but she worried it might explode if disturbed.
She spun and rushed back to the prisoners. She finished ripping Ethan’s bonds from his wrists and ankles, and barked a command.
“Get out of here!”
“You’ve got to leave, too!” Ethan pleaded.
“I’m getting these two,” she replied.
The superheroine bent down and heaved Tom over one shoulder and Nicole over her the other. Ethan looked on in amazement.
“Move!” she ordered. The timer in her head counted down.
Ethan turned and sprinted to the large garage door, with the dazzling superwoman just behind him. He reached the door and pushed, but it didn’t budge. Beth came up beside him, reared back her leg, and kicked at a rusty panel. As the heel of her boot struck the panel, it ripped away from the door, falling into the darkness outside.
“Through there!” she yelled, nodding at the narrow opening. “Hurry!”
As Ethan crawled through the hole, she lowered Tom and Nicole to the floor. When Ethan was clear, she pushed them through, one at a time, before diving into the opening herself. She somersaulted to a stop in the dirt outside the door and jumped to her feet.
Ethan was moving away, toward the hills overlooking the warehouse. He lumbered and stumbled, reminding her of John when they had attempted to escape the Fizzure building. She forced those comparisons from her mind.
Sapphire Angel grabbed Tom and Nicole again, lifting them over her shoulders. She set off in a run behind Ethan, closing the distance quickly. As they reached a group of trees, Ethan slumped to the ground, breathing heavily and wincing in pain. Beth set the two prisoners down and ordered Ethan to stay put. She turned back toward the warehouse.
“Where are you going?” Ethan asked.
“Dominick’s people are in there, tied up. I have to get them out.”
Without waiting for Ethan’s reply, the heroine rushed forward. She made it to the garage door, when a concussive blast of energy and flame burst outward.
Demarco Dominick sat on the floor of the hallway, his back against the exterior door. His escape was close, but unattainable, thanks to the man with silver eyes. He could blame himself, too. If he hadn’t sealed the hallway door, he might make it to another exit. More likely, though, the silver-eyed man had chained all the doors closed.
He hoped Ashley could understand his reasons for what he had done. It had all been for her. Deep inside, though, he knew Sapphire Angel was right. Ashley wouldn’t have killed others, even to save a loved one. But could she understand why a father would?
Dominick’s shoulders slumped, and a great sadness filled him. He had failed his daughter in more ways than one. Not only had he failed to save her, but he had failed as a father. She would be devastated if she learned the full extent of his actions.
A rumble sounded from the down the hall. And from above him. And from below him, too. It was all around. The entire building shook, as if in the middle of a terrible earthquake. Through tear-filled eyes, he looked up to see the door at the end of the hall blow off its hinges and cartwheel down the hall, followed by a wall of fire and light. Dominick closed his eyes as the flames consumed him.
The force of the explosion threw Sapphire Angel back, catapulting her away from the building. She crashed to the ground thirty yards from the structure, tumbling head over heels before coming to a stop. Ethan lumbered to her side, grunting and wincing with every step.
“Sapphire Angel!” he exclaimed as he reached her.
She sat up and held a hand to her head. Ethan looked down at her, his jaw hanging open.
“You don’t have a mark on you,” he murmured.
She climbed to her feet and surveyed her body. Aside from a dull ache, she couldn’t find any indication she’d been in the middle of a violent explosion. It made sense, actually. Even when she had taken blows over the past few days, she had suffered no cuts or bruising. Her powers continued to amaze her.
“Oh no…” she murmured, looking at flames dancing over the rubble of the building. The entire place had been flattened, and now was a pile of brick, mortar, and twisted steel. What workers had taken months to build, many years ago, the explosion had leveled to rubble in a matter of seconds.
“Nobody is walking away from that,” Ethan said next to her.
He was right. She balled her fists at her sides as she looked at the devastation. There were people in there, all dead. And it was partially her fault. They were criminals, and some might say they deserved it, but she still felt a pang of guilt
“I left them in there, tied up and helpless.”
“What?” Ethan asked.
“To get to you and the other two prisoners, I had to take out Dominick, his guards, and his scientists. Dominick slipped away, but I tied up the others, just like the ones in the garage. Even if they woke up, they didn’t have a chance to get out.”
“Woah, wait a second,” Ethan said. “You couldn’t have known someone would blow the place to kingdom come. If it weren’t for you, more people would be dead. Including me.”
She supposed he was right, but it didn’t make it any easier to stomach. Dominick’s men had been part of something horrible, but some might not have known the full extent of Dominick’s plan.
The sound of sirens in the distance brought her focus back to the building. The rubble was isolated enough that the fire didn’t look to be in any danger of spreading beyond the ruins, but fire and police personnel would arrive soon.
“What kind of shape are they in?” the heroine asked, gesturing to the other two prisoners. She noticed that they were awake, but looked like they had awoken from long naps.. They both stared at her, confusion on their faces.
“If they’re like me, Dominick’s goons shot them up with a drug to knock them out. They’ll be fine.”
She nodded. “Keep an eye on them. It sounds like help will be here soon.”
Sapphire Angel turned and took a step toward the nearest hill.
“Where are you going?” Ethan called out after her.
She turned back to Ethan, noting with worry his sickly appearance.
“I don’t know if the authorities are ready for someone like me,” she replied.
She turned and sprinted toward the hill.
“But you’re a hero!” Ethan called after her.
Sapphire Angel sprinted up the hill, ignoring his words. At the top, she turned and saw Ethan, Nicole, and Tom staring after her. She gave a short nod before disappearing over the back of the hill.
Three hours after the explosion, Sapphire Angel crept down the hall of Dominick’s mansion, toward Ashely Dominick’s room. As she reached the room, she saw a man with thinning grey hair standing next to the bed. She froze, before noticing a stethoscope around his neck and a clipboard in his hand.
She considered backing down the hall, but the man turned to her and nodded. Without saying a word, he walked to the door, slipped past her, and continued down the hall to the stairs.
After he disappeared from view, Sapphire Angel looked back to Ashley, who watched her with alert eyes. The heroine hesitated before stepping forward. She moved with slow and methodical steps, and a burning dread roiling in her stomach, for she was here to be the bearer of news.
Demarco Dominick was dead. Stanley had learned this news through a police contact minutes earlier, after fire personnel found Dominick’s charred body in the warehouse ruins. Beth had suspected as much, but hadn’t known for sure whether the Fizzure CEO had escaped the building before the explosion.
Authorities might be heading here with the news, but Ashley should hear this revelation from Beth. The blond woman thought of her own feelings when John had died. The cold pit of despair still gnawed at her, letting her empathize with the dying girl.
Ashley watched her approach with wide eyes.
“You look better than earlier tonight,” Beth said to the girl.
The smile that crossed Ashley’s face seemed forced. She shook her head.
“This is temporary,” she said. “That was Dr. Frankel who just left. He said I only have a few days left, if that. Maybe hours. I wanted to find out what happened tonight, so I asked him to help me stay conscious for a bit. He gave me something to keep me awake, and to fight off the pain.”
Sapphire Angel forced her expression to remain neutral. She knew Ashley was in bad shape, but hadn’t expected her time to be so short. The heroine’s mind swirled, reconsidering her reasons for coming. Did she really want this girl’s last thoughts of her father to be of his horrible deeds? But could she lie to Ashley? And if she lied, what would she say? Ashley would wonder why her father wasn’t here.
Beth paused next to the bed. She forced herself to meet Ashley’s eyes. Ashley spoke first.
“They’ve been trying to locate my father, so he could be with me. Did you find him?”
It took the costumed woman several moments to answer.
“Ashley, I’m so sorry,” she said, and her voice cracked. She reached out and took one of Ashley’s hands. “Your dad didn’t make it. But he died a hero.”
Ashley looked away and stared straight ahead, not answering. The silence became uncomfortable, but Sapphire Angel couldn’t find any words that might help. Finally, Ashley’s head lifted, and instead of sadness, wide eyes lit up her face.
“When I arrived at the warehouse tonight, some Fizzure men captured me. While I was in captivity, I heard your father arguing with his scientists. It turns out they had gone against his wishes, doing very dangerous things. They planned to experiment on me next. Your father sacrificed his life to save me.”
A stunned expression froze Ashley’s face. Sapphire Angel thought it would be difficult to lie. John’s comic book superheroes weren’t supposed to stretch the truth, were they? But this felt right. Life was rarely black and white, she mused.
Ashley didn’t speak, so Sapphire Angel continued.
“They were powering up a device that probably would have killed me. Your father got to the device and started ripping things apart. It freed me, and I got the prisoners out, but something happened that caused an explosion. The whole building went up. Your father… he didn’t make it,” the heroine said, looking down. “I’m so sorry. He saved my life, and by doing so saved the lives of the other prisoners.”
Beth hoped her story didn’t contain noticeable flaws, and she couldn’t tell if Ashely was buying it. The sick girl remained silent, staring down at the covers of her bed. When she looked up at the superheroine, tears filled Ashley’s eyes.
“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?” Ashley asked.
Sapphire Angel shook her head. “No, I wouldn’t.” Again the lie came easily, and without guilt.
Ashley nodded slowly. Beth expected questions, but a thin smile came to the sick girl’s mouth. Ashley let out a prolonged sigh, and Beth could almost see the worry and stress evaporate from her body. The reaction probably had less to do with the quality of Beth’s story, than with the dying girl aching to believe in her father.
“How many prisoners did you save?” Ashley asked.
“Three,” Sapphire Angel answered, giving her first truthful statement of the visit.
Ashley folded her hands in front of her and took a deep breath. Beth realized the girl would ask no more questions about the warehouse. Questions could only shake Ashley’s belief in her father. The sick girl remained silent for almost a minute, before finally looking up at Sapphire Angel.
“Can I ask for one favor?” Ashley said.
“Sure,” the heroine replied, with a thin smile.
“Can you stay here? Stay with me, until the medicine wears off and I fall asleep? There’s nobody else, and I don’t want to be alone.”
Authorities might be on their way here to tell Ashley of her father’s death, but Beth hoped the chaos at the scene would delay their arrival. If she heard them coming, the heroine might need to leave, but she had to believe this final gesture for a dying girl would work out.
“Yes, I can do that,” Sapphire Angel replied, and placed a gloved hand on Ashley’s shoulder.
Four days later.
As she sat by Ethan’s hospital bed and held his hand, tears streamed down Beth’s face. They were tears of relief, not sadness. Ethan had been mostly unconscious for several days, and had missed John’s funeral, but now he sat up in bed, looking tired but otherwise alert. Before Beth’s arrival, Ethan’s doctor had informed him he should make a full recovery within a few weeks.
Beth had arrived for her daily vigil fearing the worst, expecting a repeat of John’s condition. Whether Dominick had subjected Ethan to a different process than John, or his body had reacted differently, she didn’t know. She was glad she wouldn’t lose him.
“Quite the ride, huh?” Ethan asked, his voice weak.
The sound of his voice almost moved Beth to throw herself at her friend and embrace him, but his body might not be ready for such force. Instead she wiped away her tears and squeezed his hand.
“If this had been a movie, critics would have panned it as too unrealistic,” she replied through her sniffles. A thin smile was on her face.
“I know!” Ethan said, his voice mustering strength. “A real-life superheroine. Incredible!”
“Yes, it is,” Beth said, forcing a smile and biting her lip. “But I meant the whole thing, not just Sapphire Angel.”
“Beth, I wish you could have been there,” he said, seemingly oblivious to her comment, and speaking with such gusto he didn’t appear sick. “Well, not really, because then you would have been in danger, too. But I wish you could have seen her. Strong, beautiful, brave, righteous… she was like a goddess on earth.”
Beth wore the fake smile of a runner-up in a spelling bee and shifted in her seat.
“I’m sure she was just trying to help,” she said.
“I’d be dead without her,” Ethan said. “And not just because she saved me at the warehouse. Someone like her fills people with hope. That’s doubly true when you see her in the flesh. I think that’s why I’ve fought this thing off, and John…”
Ethan’s voice trailed off, and he looked away from her. Beth considered his words. John had seen Sapphire Angel in the flesh, and it hadn’t helped him. But it had been different for John. To John, Sapphire Angel wasn’t a mysterious, larger-than-life heroine. Sapphire Angel was Beth, his girlfriend. Beth wiped away more tears.
“Sorry, Beth,” Ethan murmured, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze. “That was a dumb thing for me to say.”
“It’s okay,” she replied softly. “It’s been tough for all of us.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I mean, yes, it’s been tough for all of us. But you’ve had it the toughest. Well, you and the Devors.”
“How are they doing? They’ve been so busy with the funeral arrangements and all the other chaos, I’ve barely seen them since the night you were rescued.”
“They were here a little while ago, when the doctor gave me the good news. I think that helped. They kept apologizing for not being here much the last few days, like I wouldn’t understand with all they had on their plate.”
“Sounds just like them. I think they need to focus on themselves for a while and stop worrying about us.”
“Mrs. D is down in the cafeteria now. I think Stanley planned to find somewhere near the waiting room to hole up and get some work done. He said he wanted to talk to you when you’re done here.”
Beth nodded, but said nothing. Thinking about Stanley and his wife, and the pain they must feel, had her fighting back tears again.
“I hope we haven’t seen the last of Sapphire Angel,” Ethan said, pulling her back from her sorrow. “I mean, what if she only showed up to deal with those Fizzure people, and now we’ll never hear from her again?”
Beth chewed her lip. She had given Sapphire Angel’s continued existence considerable thought, but couldn’t share those thoughts with Ethan.
“I guess time will tell,” she said.
“It would be a shame if that’s it,” Ethan continued. “I don’t think I’ve seen excitement like this in years. At least not around here. She’s all over the local news and the Internet, and everyone talks about her. Even the doctors and nurses here have been asking me about her, since I’ve been awake. There seems to be an optimism now that this area sorely needs. And, of course, us guys would love to see more of her.”
Beth said nothing, shifting in her seat once again. Ethan misread her discomfort and raised a hand in apology.
“Oh geez, I’m sorry, Beth. There I go saying something dumb again. Gushing about a woman, like a pig.”
“That’s okay, Ethan,” she said, forcing a thin smile. “If I ever get over John, I’m sure I’ll be talking to you about guys some day.”
If I ever get over John. At the moment, she couldn‘t envision that day ever coming. John wouldn’t want her to mourn forever, but his death seemed so intertwined with the changes in her life, she might never get past it.
Ethan reached out a hand and touched her arm.
“It will be hard, but we’ll get through this,” he said. “Together.”
She nodded and wiped away a tear.
“I hope it is together,” she said, before rushing to add, “I mean, not together like that. Here, together in the same town.”
“I know what you mean,” he said with a small laugh.
“I need one of these online writing jobs to pan out, so I can work from anywhere.”
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Just make sure you graduate first. I hope you’re not too far behind at school. You better not still be hanging around here because of me.”
In fact, he was the reason she had stayed after the funeral. She would never tell him, though.
“I wasn’t. I had some loose ends to take care of. But I’ll probably head back tomorrow morning.”
They talked for a few more minutes about their plans, before Ethan’s eyelids drooped. Beth gave his hand a soft squeeze and leaned in to kiss his forehead.
“I should let you rest,” she said. “I’m going to find Stanley.”
Beth found Stanley in the same small meeting room where the doctor had first given them John’s dire prognosis. He had grabbed the room for himself by spreading papers and file folders on every surface, and he sat on the sofa with his notebook computer on his lap. He looked up from the sofa when she entered.
“Come on in, Beth,” Stanley said in his booming voice, clearing a spot next to him.
Beth closed the glass door behind her and sat next to Stanley. He looked at her, empathy in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry I haven’t been there for you, Beth, the last few days. You have nobody to talk to about it, except me, and I’ve been tied up.”
“Stanley, good grief, you of all people don’t have - ”
He held up a hand, cutting her off.
“It’s okay,” he said, giving her a gentle smile. “I’ve had enough people worrying about my feelings the last few days. I’d rather not talk about my problems for a while. It will be a relief to talk about something else.”
“Are you sure?” she replied, hesitation in her voice. Although she had been aching to talk to someone about the changes in her life, it didn’t feel right to turn attention to herself, with all Stanley had lost.
“Absolutely,” he answered with a firm nod. “And I’ve been curious to get an update from you, anyway. The last time we talked, you were consumed with making sense of the tunnel of light. Any luck?”
Beth gave a slow nod, considering her words.
“You’re right. I have been consumed with it. Thinking about it. Focusing on it. Trying to see it again. Even dreaming about it. I’ll cut to the chase, Stanley. I’ve figured out how to summon it.”
She expected a bigger reaction, but Stanley sat silent, watching her. She continued.
“I’ve learned how to get my mind just right - focused, but kind of blank, if that makes sense. I can then conjure it up in my mind’s eye, like it’s really there. My necklace is the key. If I’m wearing it, I can send the necklace and my costume through the tunnel. Like what happened in the cylinder at the warehouse, except I can control it. It’s kind of funny, in a way.”
“How is it funny?”
“When I was in that cylinder in the warehouse, having my powers ripped from me, it was awful. I wanted to stop it, more than anything. But the process let me see how it all worked. That opened the door to figuring it out. Don’t ask me to explain how I do it, because I can’t. I just know how, if that makes sense.”
Stanley nodded slowly, with his brow wrinkled, but said nothing.
“There’s more. Just like I called my necklace and costume back when I was in the cylinder, I can do that, too. I could do it right now, if I wanted, since I’ve already sent the necklace and costume there. I could call them back onto my body, right now. These clothes would go there.”
Stanley nodded slowly as he watched her.
“Isn’t the whole thing a bit risky?” he asked. “You could lose the necklace, if you wouldn’t be able to call it back.”
Beth shook her head.
“I know, somehow, that I can call it back. Like so much of this, I can’t explain it. I just know. But the necklace is the key to making it work.”
“This sounds like… “
“Like one of John’s comic books,” Beth said. This time, when discussing John’s hobby, she wasn’t cringing. She was smiling.
“I’m glad to see the idea doesn’t bother you, like it did before.”
“Figuring out the tunnel has helped, Stanley. My mind has been awhirl the last few days, mostly about whether to be Sapphire Angel. I thought about things John and Ethan said. About John wanting his death to mean something. About giving people hope, as Ethan said. And I can’t lie. As stressful and dangerous and crazy as it as is… I like it. The power. Making a difference. They helped. But…”
“But?” Stanley said as her voice trailed off.
“Those reasons weren’t enough. Not enough to overcome the bad memories of what happened to John. But when I figured out the tunnel, that sealed it. It seemed like I was meant to be Sapphire Angel. Like I’d be fighting fate if I quit now. So I’ll be wearing the costume again. Eventually.”
Stanley nodded and cocked an eyebrow. “Eventually?”
“I still have six months of school left. And I need that training you mentioned. Plus I need to figure out how Sapphire Angel will help. I can’t simply drive around town and hunt down criminals, can I? I can’t imagine I’ll ever be in the middle of something like events of the past week again.”
“You never know,” Stanley replied, and seemed about to say more. But he remained quiet. She watched him for a moment, trying to read his expression, before continuing.
“I can come back a couple of weekends a month, if the offer is still on the table for you to have someone train me.”
Stanley leaned in, fixing her with a gaze so intense she nearly backed away. Beth had never seen him like this.
“Beth, the offer is there. Absolutely. But you must be absolutely certain you want this. Life will never be the same. Or safe. You’ll be getting it from all sides - from criminals, and even from those in law enforcement who will view you as a threat or a vigilante. So you have to be 100% committed to this, both for your sake, and for the sake of your loved ones. I’ll lose sleep worrying about you, but you’re the one who will live it.”
“I’m sure, Stanley,” she answered.
The words sounded strange coming out of her mouth. A week ago, the idea of being a hero mortified her, and now she had even more unanswered questions. She had thought Dominick‘s experiment had taken her thoughts and turned them into reality. Perhaps that was true, but thinking back to the words of Danielle Gruden, she was no longer certain.
“I won’t stop you,” Stanley said, interrupting her thoughts. “As a matter of fact, I’ll do everything in my power to help you. But I want you to be sure.”
“I said I’m sure, Stanley,“ she replied, surprised by the annoyance in her voice. Thoughts of her future had so consumed her thoughts the last few days, that it bothered her to have someone question her decision. When she looked at Stanley, though, her face softened.
“Sorry,” she murmured.
“Training it is, then,” he said. “I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
Beth shook her head. “I won’t put more stress in your life. After the training, I can do this on my own.”
Stanley shook his head so hard she feared he would dislodge it from his neck. “Absolutely not. You talked about this being your fate, but I feel like this is my fate, too. I will help. End of debate.”
Beth frowned, but saw an intensity in Stanley’s eyes that could start a fire.
“Okay,” she said. “No more field work for you, though. I’ll be thankful for your expertise.”
“You‘re right. I’d slow you down in the field. But I’m giving you more than my expertise. Money, too. I can help make sure I properly equip you to take on this responsibility.”
“Stanley-” she interjected, but he held up a hand.
“Hear me out. The Fizzure board of directors has regained control of the company. Lawyers are already circling. The families of the victims will be compensated, either through settlements, lawsuits, or, if the company goes under, through the bankruptcy process. It’s a wealthy company, so there will be plenty of money to go around.”
Beth blinked. She hadn’t even thought of the possibility of payments to the victims’ families. It made sense. But she couldn‘t take the money.
“That money should be for you and Mrs. Devor,” Beth protested.
“Nonsense,” Stanley said. “It’s more money than Mrs. Devor and I will ever need. We will give some to some worthwhile causes in John’s name, but nothing would make us feel better than to make your life less dangerous. Please don’t say no, Beth. You lost John, too. We’ve been talking about fate, and I think this money was meant to help you. To help Sapphire Angel.”
Beth shook her head.
“That’s for you and Mrs. Devor,” she repeated. “I could never accept it.”
“I’ll let it go for now, Beth. But I won‘t let you tangle with people like Dominick and his goons without giving you every advantage I can.”
“Let’s table the issue, Stanley.”
“Agreed. But I will revisit this some day.”
Beth sighed and smiled as she shook her head.
“So what’s next for you, Stanley?”
“I’m making sure all loose ends are tied up. I’ve already reached out to my contact with the State Police. They’re digging into Fizzure, of course. There will be arrests, but the explosion killed the people who really knew what was going on.”
“And the ones who knew I’m Sapphire Angel. And who knew the cylinder could take away my powers.”
“Yes, that too.”
“It’s good that my secret isn’t out in the open, but I still feel horrible about it. If I hadn’t tied them up, maybe they’d be alive.”
“Beth, don’t blame yourself for this. There’s one person, and one person only, who is responsible for it. And that’s the man who set those explosives.”
“The man with the silver eyes,” she said. “And he’s vanished.”
“Yes, he has. Someone like that doesn’t disappear forever, though.”
“He needs to be behind bars.”
“Maybe Sapphire Angel will see to that someday, Beth.”
Beth nodded. She knew, deep down, she hadn’t seen the last of him.
Majid Azari climbed from the bed, slipping on his pants as he looked down at the sleeping woman. A thin chain ran from a collar around her throat to the headboard. She was beautiful, with long limbs and the slender figure he liked. A famous model, her stardom had attracted him the most. That stature had given her an air of mystery, and was the reason he had authorized such an exorbitant bid for her purchase at the auction.
He tore his eyes from her and finished dressing. After straightening his hair in a mirror on the door, he moved to his office in the next room, and greeted the silver-eyed man sitting on the sofa.
“Your plans in Pennsylvania didn’t go so well, did they?” Azari asked.
“It was a temporary setback,” the man with silver eyes replied, his voice unwavering.
Azari snickered. “But you left no trace of my involvement?”
“I left no trace of your involvement, or my involvement. Dominick had cleaned out the downtown facility, and as you know, I destroyed the warehouse facility. The only other piece of evidence was the sample I had given to Dominick, which he was using to aid his daughter. I retrieved that from a safe in her room before coming here. She saw me, but is now dead.”
Azari nodded. He didn’t know whether the man had killed Dominick’s daughter, or if she had died from natural causes. He was sure the authorities in Pennsylvania wouldn’t know either.
“Very well,” Azari said. “I have many irons in the fire. And many fires simmering in the United States. This single failure is of little consequence, amid all my other plans. But our business with one another if finished.”
“I still have need of you, and you of me,” the robed man said.
Azari paused. He normally didn’t tolerate challenges to his authority. But this man was different.
“Why do I need you?” Azari asked.
“Because you have not heard the last of Sapphire Angel. Eventually you will cross paths with her, and when you do, you will need me.”
Sapphire Angel. A spark stirred deep inside Azari at the mention of the American heroine. He still wasn’t convinced she was real, rather than a creation of the American media. He hoped she was real, though, and as amazing as the stories described. That would make her perfect.
“Assuming she is not a fabrication of a glory-seeking American reporter, what makes you think I’ll cross paths with her? And you still haven’t answered my question. What makes you think I need your help?”
A thin smile crossed the silver-eyed man’s face, sending a chill down Azari’s spine.
“Fate will make you cross paths with the American woman. And because I have learned from Dominick’s failures, it is only a matter of time until I reach the goal we had set. So when that time comes, and Sapphire Angel becomes a problem for you, I alone will be ready for her. I will have someone more powerful than she is, who will crush her.”
Fate. Coming from anyone else, the word would sound preposterous. Coming from the silver-eyed man, though, it sounded like a premonition. Azari studied him carefully, not avoiding his silver eyes. Those eyes remained dull and lifeless, but still somehow filled the room with their presence. They suggested something else. Truth, and perhaps the future.
Beth collapsed into bed. It had been a long week, and a tiring drive back to school. Tomorrow, life would return to normal, or at least as normal as it could be. The recent events had forever changed her, but tomorrow she would attend class, go the gym, work her part-time sales job at a men’s clothing store, and continue her efforts to secure a writing job after graduation.
At some point she would need to catch up with her friends. Four of her friends had made the trip to John’s funeral, but her time to talk to them had been brief. She wasn’t looking forward to rehashing the events of the last week, or concealing her newfound powers.
Her return to school emphasized how much her life had changed, and how much she had changed. Before the events of the last week, she had been a happy, perhaps slightly irresponsible, college student, who wanted little more than to enjoy the last few months of school. While she had never controlled the urge to rush to the aid of those being victimized, she didn’t have much of a capacity to make a difference. Now it was different. She could help others and felt as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders.
A strange mixture of sadness and hope filled her heart. Sadness over her loss, both of John and of her carefree life, but hope over the change she could make in the world. She said a silent vow to allow the hope to win out over the sadness.
With that thought in her head, Beth reached over to the nightstand and poked around amid the mess on the surface. She took a few moments, but found the reading material she wanted. With a smile on her face as her head sank into the pillow, she opened the glossy cover and started to read John’s comic book.