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The Phoenix Initiative - Chapter 13

Written by papayoya1 :: [Saturday, 16 November 2019 15:10] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 16 November 2019 16:04]

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Chapter 13

Of all the abilities her transformation had granted her, the last one Susan would have expected was stealth. After all, she stood over eight feet tall and weighed almost three-thousand pounds! But when Nicole demonstrated it, it appeared logical like everything else.

The Hawaiian took the lead, using her enhanced vision to ensure that her bare feet stepped only in noiseless areas and that she would not let any dry leaves or twigs betray her approach. She proved to be remarkably skilled at that. Susan followed her lead until her comrade raised a hand, making both of them stop. She pointed to her ear and Susan listened, quickly identifying the same steps and breathing that Nicole had heard.

The former lawyer raised a hand with four fingers. Susan nodded. She had also distinguished four distinct breathings. Nicole pointed to the right, showing two fingers and then pointing at Susan. She nodded, understanding what she wanted. She was about to leave when Nicole brought her finger to her lips, reinforcing the fact that they needed to stay silent.

She was obsessed with not triggering any alarm before getting to the base. She knew they would evacuate if that happened, and she could not have that. Not if she hoped to get as many of the eggheads there as possible.

 

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

 

Like everyone else, Clinton hated forest watches. What was there not to hate about getting cold in the middle of the forest, walking without too much purpose around woods no one had visited for decades? And yet, his bosses would not hear about it when he suggested to stop the routine and replace the walks by motion sensors.

And still, if he had to do it, he would do it right. He did his best to keep his steps muffled, the rubber soles of his combat boots helping in the process. If anyone wanted to sneak into the area, the last thing Clinton wanted them to know was that there were guards patrolling. It was all about catching them by surprise.

He kept his respiration to the minimum as he randomized his walk, using the dim light of the moon that filtered through the canopy of the trees to try and identify shadows or movement. His blood froze when he heard something. His body got to full attention, his carbine suddenly raised in attack position, looking for a threat. He exhaled in relief when an incredibly spooked squirrel left a bush and climbed a tree.

A soft gust of warm air hit his nape, making him turn. The last thing he saw before the world went black was a finger heading straight towards him.

 

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

 

Nicole’s index finger had easily pierced through the eye and brain of the guard, stopping only when her neatly manicured fingernail reached the back of his skull. Her other hand quickly grabbed the man’s collapsing body, stopping the fall. She crouched, setting him much more gently on the ground, avoiding any noise.

One dead, one to go.

She loved the hunt. It added some challenge to the experience, even if not much. Of course, the fact that she could pinpoint her prey’s location so easily merely by listening to the effects of their presence made things quite a lot easier. She shrugged. There was no point in wasting any advantage, was there?

Nicole located her second victim with ease. She did not bother to hide as she focused her eyes on him, walking some two hundred yards away. Of course, he could not have any hopes of seeing her in the dark at that distance. Taking a slow breath in, the superwoman started the silent walk that would bring her closer to him.

This guy was sloppier than the first one she had killed, his steps much louder, his path much more predictable. It was so predictable, that all Nicole had to do was to wait for him, back rested against a thick trunk. He saw her the moment he passed by. Unfortunately for him, her right hand was already closing around his mouth and nose while her left had reached for his gun-holding arm, crushing it so that he could not even dream of pulling the trigger.

Of course, he tried to scream. Her hand’s seal around his mouth prevented even the faintest sound to escape. Nicole locked her gaze with the man’s terrified eyes as she held him in front of her face. She then flicked him in the chest, making his heart explode. A second later, she set his limp body on the ground with care.

 

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

 

Susan trusted Nicole to take care of her part of the plan without issues. Pyscho or not, her new comrade was also a pro. And yet, things looked easy. Using Nicole’s teachings made it look like a piece of cake for Susan to flank the first guard she had chosen and to sneak behind him unnoticed. She did not have any moral issues about killing him. Not after she had seen the sort of operations that were being conducted at the base. She did not see the need to make a show out of it either. So, without the man never knowing what hit him, Susan stretched her palm and chopped at the back of the man’s neck. He dropped dead an instant later. And this was the issue.

Alerted by the thud of the corpse’s fall, the second guard she had to take care of turned. Time seemed to slow down as Susan zoomed on him and saw his spooked expression. She realized that she had fucked up. The man was about to do many things, none of them beneficial for Nicole and her. He could either shout for his colleague, ask for an update on the radio or rush where she was, weapon ready. No matter which one of the three he chose, he would end up alerting everyone to their presence.

Susan had to think fast. She caught herself crouching and grabbing an oblong stone the size of her finger. Even before the man had time to open his mouth, she had tossed it at him underarm. It went right through his skull with a precision that she had not even known she possessed. The man dropped with another thud, but she was not concerned anymore. After all, there was no one left to hear it.

 

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

 

Jacob Sully wished there was some way to stop the moans of complaint as he stopped in front of subject 214. They distracted him from his train of thought. And this was such a great moment! The pinnacle of forced human evolution. And his entry ticket into History.

He knew there was nothing to do. He understood the suffering the remaining fifteen women were going through, even if only at a theoretical level. At best, they had days to live. Some of them would die during the night. And they had to get as much data from them as possible before that happened.

Other than to be annoyed by their semi-unconscious complaints, Sully’s attention was far away from the dying women. Why should he pay attention to them when he was standing in front of his masterpiece? His team was more than capable to extract the necessary information about the evolution of their advanced cancer. But only he could understand the intricacies of the early stages of 214’s transformation into a real Phoenix.

Lindbergh had asked him for proof. And he was standing in front of the ultimate proof. Sully had under-promised. He knew the old man too well by now. For all his pretended support of his research, Sully was not as big of a fool as the General had thought. He knew he despised him. He knew the only thing about him that Lindbergh cared about were the results of his work. And he knew that he would take the credit for himself as soon as he had the chance. Sully could not care less about the General’s career. But the last thing he was going to do was to place his breakthrough in the hands of Roark or Morris.

He needed a ticket to present his research in the Pentagon. Lindbergh was that ticket, even if that was only because he did not have any other option. Then, once he showed a developing Phoenix in front of the Joint Chiefs and the politicians and promised them a regiment of them in a year, he would not need Lindbergh anymore. He could not care less if he ended up staying in the project with him or if they assigned some other General looking for career advancement. Because, by then, no one would be able to deny the truth: that he, Jacob Sully, had made the biggest breakthrough ever in genetics and military technology.

The door cranked when opening, taking Sully away from his dreams of grandeur. He shot a glance over his shoulder to see the approaching Dr. Rand.

“We have the results of the simulation,” he said, passing a tablet to him.

Sully feigned disinterest as he took it and scrolled through the first numbers, showing that he was perfectly aware of what he was going to read there. It turned out he was not. His voice showed surprise when he asked:

“Have you double-checked them?”

“We have triple-checked. Look at the spleen readings,” Rand said.

Sully did. His jaw dropped.

“Are this current?” he asked.

“As of fifteen minutes ago. They compare with the second week of Susan Simpson,” Rand replied, anticipating his next question.

Sully tried to contain the excitement. He looked calm and commanding as he said:

“We need to understand the causes behind this. Get the team to work on this. Now.”

“Er… sure.”

Sully chuckled as the door closed again. Not having too much of a clue about how it had happened upset him a little, but his enthusiasm could barely be clouded by it. If the figures were true, and he had the certainty that they were, it meant that he could not only replicate the process that had made Nicole, Susan, Jennifer and Nathalie super-human. Where it had taken them thirteen weeks to complete their transformation, their simulation suggested that they would be able to do it in a little over eight days.

He looked back at subject 214, trying to see any visible physical changes. There were none that immediately caught the eye. Her hormone levels were a different story. At the rate the process was working, 214 would show noticeable symptoms in less than twenty-four hours. Her muscle mass should have doubled by then.

He had to call the General. He did not care if it was three in the morning. They had to catch a plane to DC right away. By the time they arrived, he would not even need to show them analyses’ results to prove his results. All he would need would be a live subject.

Sully let out a short chortle. There was no resource he would not get, no door that would ever be closed for him again. He was dying to have Campos learn. And Roark. In a week, they would see which one of the two was without a job!

His smile could not get wider when a gunshot in the distance took him away from his daydream.

 

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

 

Nicole and Susan stood at the edge of the clearing, some two hundred yards away from the base’s outer fence. The Hole was meant to go unnoticed, which meant that it could not feature massive defensive infrastructure. There was a short fence surrounding the perimeter, with a simple gate where a small guardhouse flanked the snaky road which was the only way in or out.

Nicole had been doing her reconnaissance work, so she knew that what the place lacked in infrastructure Lindbergh had made up by assigning the most badass soldiers he had been able to find, starting by their leader, Major Dennis. Amoral, crude and brutal, he was the antithesis of Colonel Beck. Nicole had done her research and found out that the man had been court martialed for going well beyond the line in Iraq. Lindbergh had saved his career, earning his undying loyalty.

Nicole was barely concerned by the profile of the defenders. After all, it was hard to tell the difference between an ant and a badass ant.

They could not rush into the base yet, though. They needed to make a good assessment of the situation first. And it was not as if they were in a hurry. All Fort Exeter resources were still tied up at the Petrenko estate, still clueless about the fact that they were not there.

The two women did not even need to hide their presence as they rested their backs on a trunk and observed. At that distance, with the very dim light of the half-moon, there was no way anyone would be able to see them from the base. They, on the other hand, had no issues in seeing every single detail of their target.

Nicole pointed at the building in the center and addressed Susan in a soft tone:

“The lights of Sully’s office are on. So are those of the lab and the two rooms where they keep the women they test on. This means they are working around the clock. I guess we had something to do with that.”

“They’ll all be awake,” Susan observed, using the same volume as her partner.

“That’ll make things easier,” Nicole shrugged.

She then pointed at the leftmost building.

“The barracks seems to be quiet. The number of guards and their behaviour looks normal. They’re not expecting anything, so most of the grunts will be sleeping.”

“That’ll make things easier too,” Susan replied.

“Bah, a few more or less won’t make any difference. I don’t think they’re carrying any of the new sci-fi guns from the Initiative, though. I’m sure they have some, but I don’t think they’re taking the possibility of an attack seriously. That’s good news,” Nicole said, still remembering the pain she had endured when caught off guard.

“So, what are we waiting for?” Susan said, taking the first step. Curiously enough, she seemed even more eager than Nicole to go ahead, even if the former lawyer knew that it was because of a different motivation. The redhead really hated the men on that base. She knew what they were doing. She knew what they had done to her. And she despised them with all her heart. This would work well. For once, Nicole was completely unconcerned about Susan’s ability to unleash chaos. Only that was not what she needed from her this time.

“Not so fast,” Nicole said.

“What?” Susan asked, surprised.

“I don’t need your help to finish the apes,” Nicole said, shrugging.

“I’m not staying back,” Susan protested.

“Of course not,” Nicole quickly came back. “You’re getting Sully.”

Susan’s eyes opened wide. Nicole went on.

“I’ll rush the base, trigger the alarm and get their attention. I’ll take my sweet time finishing them, letting the ones that are sleeping get up but, more importantly, getting the guards inside the lab to join the fight outside, making it a piece of cake for you to sneak into the research building without any issues. Once you get in, you’ll only find two types of people there: dying women and the eggheads that have made them die. Including Sully.”

Susan took a deep breath. Nicole raised her voice a little as she rushed a warning:

“We need all of them alive. I know what they’ve done. I know what they did to you. But I’m counting on you to keep your blood cold. I promise I’ll leave Sully to you for whatever you have in mind once we’re done. Can you do that?”

Susan raised an eyebrow, as if she could not believe that Nicole was asking her if she could contain herself.

“I’m not the psycho,” she replied, mocking.

“No, but you are the troubled teen,” Nicole replied, way more serious.

Susan did not know whether to get upset. She realized she could not. After all, Nicole was not so wrong about the risk she was bringing up. She had been tempted to squeeze Sully’s head between her hands more than once, and she had not even known half of what the man had done, back then.

“I’ll keep them in one piece,” she finally said. Nicole seemed to be satisfied. “But Sully is mine when we’re done,” she added, drawing a smile on Nicole’s face.

“Good,” the Polynesian said. “See you on the other side.”

Nicole was about to break into a sprint when she turned:

“One last thing. Don’t let the women they are testing on get hurt. We’ll break them out.”

Susan arched an eyebrow.

“Seems I do have a heart, after all,” Nicole shrugged. And then, she broke into a sprint.

 

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

 

Nicole stopped ten yards ahead of the two soldiers standing guard by the gate, giving them time to reach for their weapons and activate the alarm. They were the type that shot first and asked questions later, as proven by the fact that she started feeling slugs ricocheting off her bulletproof skin without even a word being crossed. Of course, they knew who she was. This was proven by the fact that their hardened faces were locked in an expression of terror. These were tough men, but they had already realized that they were as good as dead.

What they did not know was that Nicole was planning to take things slowly with them. She had the time. And she needed to attract attention. Considering her strength and creativity, the suffering she could unleash was practically limitless. She panted in anticipation.

It was like a drug. The more she killed, the more she needed it. And the more vicious she had to be. She was not embarrassed to admit it. Why should she? After all, it was easy enough to get her fix. And very soon, it would be even easier.

Learning about her power had been mind-blowing. It had taken her some time to take some distance from the never-ending amazement and realize about the semi-slavery situation she was living in Fort Exeter. She had fled out of necessity. She had killed three people to do so because there had been no other way. She had not been able to stop since.

Never before had Nicole felt so sexually stimulated as when she crushed out a life using her super-human strength. Feeling the overwhelming power that she had over people, using it to squeeze the life out of them as if squeezing an empty candy wrapper was blissful at many levels.

Nicole had done all sorts of drugs in her life before the Flare. The most similar experience was coke, even if it could not come even close. Her new life was orders of magnitude more intense than anything she had experienced before the infamous solar eruption.

As with coke, she was in control. She could choose not to use it. Only the pleasure was so intense when she did! And now, it was time to indulge!

Nicole wondered if the thrill had clouded her judgment, whether she should have been the one to sneak up on the scientists while Susan dispatched the guards. She was by far the most skilled of the pair, and that was the real mission. She shrugged the thought off as bullets kept bouncing off her. The kid would do fine. She was hot headed, but not a natural born killer. She, on the other hand, was by far the best choice to make the type of mess they needed with the guards. She should get started.

Sooner or later, the guards had to run out of bullets. They reached for a new clip each once they did. It was her cue. To their credit, they did not try to flee, which made it easy for Nicole to reach them even before they could start shooting again. She grabbed the barrel of each gun in her hands and pulled, easily removing the weapons from their holders and drawing the soldiers towards her. The first one lost his balance, crashing against her granite-hard body and dropping to the floor with a bloodied nose. The second one barely managed to stay on his feet, only to feel her hand closing around his armpit an instant before she lifted him a couple of feet off the ground as if he were an empty paper bag.

Nicole raised her left foot with a graceful movement and set it on the back of the man that had fallen, pushing him against the ground. She was thorough enough so that he could not even move an inch, but managed to keep the right balance not to hurt him.

Her keen ears had no trouble hearing the commotion her arrival was starting to cause on the base. She could hear the alarms, the frantic movements of awakening soldiers getting ready for combat, the hurried pace of boots as the guards posted in the lab rearranged themselves for the new threat. She smirked. It was so easy to get the midgets to do what she wanted!

She focused back on the man in her grasp as he threw a punch at her. Of course, all she felt was a light tap on her cheek, along with the crushing sound of what had to be the man’s knuckles. A sorry moan confirmed to her that the man had hurt himself considerably. Even worse, he had caught her attention when she still had enough time to devote to him. Nicole rewarded his efforts with a slight push of her thumb. It was more than enough to break a rib and get another sob from her victim.

It was so easy! It was so damn easy! And at the same time, it was so intoxicating! Human bodies broke with such an ease under her titanic strength, that she literally had hundreds of options available to crush the life out of them, each of them very satisfying. Still, she strived for originality. This might very well be her last raid at her present strength; she wanted to live it to the max.

She had not exchanged any words with the soldier yet when she moved his body towards hers and locked her lips around his, her comparably larger mouth sealing his like vacuum. His lips had no choice but to follow the movement of hers, the apparently inconsequential muscles of her face being orders of magnitude stronger than what the man could muster in his entire body. Once his mouth was open, Nicole started breathing into him, taking it easy at first.

One of the things the amazon had learned at Fort Exeter that had surprised her the most was how her lungs could hold way more air than those of a normal person. It had to do with the way it was compressed, she had been told. Apparently, they were always practically full, as well. In practical terms, this meant that the girls could hold their breath for hours, probably more than a day. Right now, it also meant that she could keep blowing into her victim without any risk of running out of air anytime soon.

The man’s eyes widened, telling Nicole that the effect she was seeking was probably starting to show up. This only encouraged her to make her kiss even more forceful.

The man unsuccessfully tried to scratch her harder than diamond skin, breaking his nails in the process. His legs then started to kick wildly, telling Nicole she was close. She breathed one last exaggerated puff and the man became limp.

It was not an explosion per se. Every orifice in the man’s body was bleeding, though, including some new ones that had not been there before. She had essentially blown his internal organs up, filling his lungs with hundreds of times more air than the one they were designed to hold. It had been less spectacular than she had hoped, though. Nicole tossed him aside without too much care, sending him flying a hundred yards, wondering whether making this particular aspect of her strength more eye-catching was part of the improvements she could expect.

She could hear some of the first guards reaching her position, so Nicole knew she did not have the time to get too creative with the second man. Removing her foot from him and crouching, she just grabbed him by the back of his fatigues and tossed him vertically, making him rise until he became too little a spec in the sky for even her to follow. She wondered whether he would die frozen, suffocated or when hitting the ground when he came back down. Whichever it was, it would take a while.

Nicole brought her hands to her hips as she observed the men rushing at her, focusing on the details. It had been a good move, since it allowed her to easily distinguish the six that carried the less than standard guns. They did not look like the ones that had been used on her almost two days before, but they did share some common features with the weapons that had managed to remind her that she could still suffer. At least, for now.

Of course, the last thing Nicole was going to do was to let them catch her off-guard again. They may have the sci-fi rifles, but she now knew what they were, and she had everything else. She started demonstrating it by hopping over the advancing soldiers, easily landing at their back. By the time they tried to react, Nicole had already pushed two of the taser-wielding grunts out of the combat field. She broke into a sprint that carried her to her next two victims in less than a second, allowing her to shove them just the same. The third pair managed to take a shot, but it missed by so much that Nicole wondered whether they had even aimed. In any case, it was a piece of cake to dash next to them before they could react and push them just like their other colleagues.

She had taken care not to be too forceful. She did not want them dead. Not yet. The half a dozen men had not been pushed randomly either. They all landed by a very obvious tanker truck that had been parked close enough to the entrance. Nicole was soon next to them. She did not address them before ripping a section of the tanker’s back as if it had been made of tinfoil. Gallons of fuel started overflowing, covering the six doomed soldiers.

Everyone knew what was going to happen. No one could do anything to avoid it. All it took Nicole to get a spark was a scratching of her neatly manicured fingernails on the tarmac. A second later, half a dozen soldiers were engulfed in flames.

“Do you like to make people burn?” she scolded.

She chortled as they burnt alive, their anguished shrieks sounding like music to her ears and making her womanhood wet. Nicole did not know if the men were aware of the type of weapons they had been given, but she was painfully aware of their effects. And she wanted them to suffer at least as much as she had even if only for trying. The sadistic choreography of the six burning men running around without purpose managed to draw an evil smile in Nicole’s face. She was enjoying it very much. The magic of the moment was lost an instant later, when the flames reached the tanker, which was still almost full, and caused a massive explosion that swamped a large area around it, including the spot where Nicole and the men had been standing. To her, it registered barely as a mild heatwave. The soldiers were ripped into pieces.

“Fuck,” Nicole muttered. She cursed herself. She should have been able to anticipate this. It was too obvious. However, she had been too enraptured with the suffering she had caused, which had now been abruptly ended by her own oversight.

To the rest of men, Nicole appeared like a devil coming straight from Hell as she broke through the wall of flames and moved in their direction, her skin and hair seemingly unaffected by the roaring fire.

She had messed up and she wanted to compensate. Maybe she should go back to sheer brutality. That never failed.

Nicole had to acknowledge the men’s bravery when they kept their positions and focused on firing their peashooters at her rather than fleeing. It was not going to save them a second of suffering, though.

She jogged to the first group of defenders, her unnatural speed surprising them nonetheless. She reached out for one of them at random and pushed him towards her with a hand on his shoulder. Her other hand was shaped like a knife and easily tore through the man’s stomach, emerging from his back a second later. She kept pulling until the entire man was impaled up to her elbow, then raised her arm to show everyone.

The man screamed as his comrades renewed their fire on her, trying to avoid hitting their fellow soldier at the same time. Nicole ignored the fire and moved forward, cornering a second soldier and repeating the process. She now had two soldiers skewered on her arm, and it was obvious that she could not hold more. So, she simply made a show of displaying their screaming forms to their colleagues, who now did not know how to react.

An abrupt movement of her arm ended up splitting the two men in two, now effectively killing them. Nicole was now standing next to a heap of four half-bodies. She crouched to reach out for the first, a torso, and tossed it with intent towards a shooting soldier. Both elements of the collision exploded in a gory spray as they hit at an impossible speed. Nicole was already reaching for her next “projectile” by then.

She could not help but wonder how much better than this it could become. At times like this, Nicole wondered whether it was possible to be more powerful. The consequences of the attack on her the day before and the pain she had felt confirmed to her that it was. And she could not wait to enjoy that sensation.

Her latest actions had left the defenders decimated, up to the point where a few of them were already falling back. Nicole tweaked her ears to listen into the lab building and smiled when she heard Susan addressing people. Her partner seemed to have taken care of her side of the job. It was time to start mopping.

She broke into a sprint that she did not end as she adjusted her path so that she would pass next to each and every soldier that had tried to defend the base. She simply threw a punch every time that she crossed with a victim. She did not hold back, though, so rather than knocking them down, her punches splattered their bodies in contact. A minute later, the Hole’s security detail was reduced to gore and scattered body parts.

She was ready to join Susan, but not before paying a visit to Major Dennis. She knew he was around, and it was unbecoming to have his men practically disintegrated with him not getting even a scratch. For all she knew, he had been the one that had sent them to die.

Nicole took a deep breath and listened, trying to filter out the chaos coming from the lab building. Susan seemed to be doing a good enough job of managing the sobbing scientists, so she was not concerned about giving her a few more minutes. The rest of the base was in eerie silence, which told her that she had finished with every soldier available. All but their superior officer.

It took Nicole a lot of focus to finally filter out the light scratching coming from below the ground. Once she had it, it was easy to zero on it. She did not need to think a lot to identify it for what it was: someone crawling through a tunnel. She should have assumed that Lindbergh and Dennis would have had something built in for emergencies. The man was about to get through the site’s limits and into the forest, where she assumed the exit was.

Nicole did not need to know how to get into the tunnel. All she did was to keep her stealthiest profile as she casually strutted in the direction the noise was moving. The last thing Dennis had expected to find once he opened the exit hatch, well into the forest, where two oversized and bloodied feet, belonging to a killer amazon.

The man was tempted to drop back into the tunnel. Nicole’s fingers closed around his skull and prevented it. He was soon at eye level. Nicole had read a lot about the man. She knew all the details about his alleged brutality in Iraq. It felt impossible that the frightened scrawny soldier in her grasp could be him. But, of course, it was him.

“I would have never thought you to be the fleeing type,” Nicole said with some disgust.

“Please…” the man started.

“I would have never thought you to be the pleading type either,” she added.

The man shut up, obviously uncertain about how to react. She decided to clear his doubts.

“You’re already dead. I’m only trying to make my mind up on how to top what I did to your men.”

He started shivering.

“First things first,” Nicole then said, reaching with her free hand into the pants of his fatigues and ripping them off, along with his underwear. His private parts soon became public. Nicole did not waste time in reaching for them and ripping them off his body with a sickening tearing sound. His howl was probably heard for miles. The super-woman tossed his testicles and penis to the side as she shrugged and said: “You haven’t earned them.”

Nicole was not able to think of anything that was not too obvious. Then, it came to her:

“You don’t have balls. You deserve to bleed to death through your lack of courage.”

And with that, she left the man there to die, turned and headed back for the Hole. The experience had been satisfying, but still below her expectations. The assault on the triad’s base had ended up being much more fulfilling, after all. She wondered if getting to the next level was going to open up some new possibilities on that front.

 

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

 

How does an eight-foot-tall woman weighing in excess of three-thousand pounds sneak into a building? Well, apparently by having another eight-foot-tall woman catching all the attention while obliterating the security detail.

The lights of the two rooms where the test subjects were kept went off as Susan approached the base, diverting from the main path to circle the fence to one of the sides. Once there she would just need to take a small hop, far enough from any security guard to be seen.

She decided to use the new status of the large bedrooms in order to make them her entry point. She did not want to be seen until the last moment, so choosing an clearly empty room was the obvious choice. The issue, of course, was that they were on the second floor of the two-story building. Susan had no doubts that she would be able to easily jump through them. The problem with that she might as well go to the front door and knock, when it came to getting the eggheads’ attention.

She found a compromise solution by hopping onto the roof and then letting herself dangle from the cornice with her toes. The world turned upside down as she looked through the large window.

Her eyes had no trouble adapting to the dim light inside. She soon counted sixteen beds, each with a woman lying on top. The window could barely hide their moans of pain. Susan felt her stomach turning, but resolved to keep going.

The windows were shut, but all she needed to do to cut through the glass was to describe the contour of a circle with her fingernail, easily cutting a large enough piece of the window to fit her hand in and unlock it. Thirty seconds later, she was standing at the edge of the long room, her massive outline like a dark shadow against the faint light getting through the window.

The room was some fifty feet long. The beds were neatly arranged on both sides, eight on each. Standing between them brought the suffering wailing to a next level of distress. Susan frowned, her blood frozen by what she was experiencing. She could remember herself, going through the same pain for day after day after day. It had not been so long ago. Only in her case it had been by chance. The sixteen women she was looking at had been forced into it. Even after everything she had seen Nicole doing over the last couple of days, what she was witnessing now was several orders of magnitude higher when it came to cruelty.

She realized that she was clenching her fists so tightly that her fingernails were starting to dig into her palms. Susan did not remember ever having felt so disturbed. She wondered how many would die. For all she knew, all of them would. Unless she could prevent it.

Susan started to amble quietly along the aisle between the beds, taking a good look at the women. She had thought that her outrage could not get any worse, but she had been wrong. As soon as she noticed the pattern, she felt offended to the deepest fibers of her soul. Judging by their aspect, it was easy to gather where Lindbergh and Sully had got their test subjects from. All of them were young, but all of them also shared the symptoms of a hard life. For all she knew, they were homeless, hookers, petty criminals and the likes. The mental image of a black van going into a ghetto and coming out with human guinea pigs made her sick.

They had no names, only a number over their beds. This alone was proof enough of how they were regarded among the personnel on the base. Susan quickly got the pattern. This had to be room 2. Bed 1 was by the door, numbers going up to eight on that side of the room. The count started again from 9 in the first bed by the window on the opposite wall. Bed 16 completed the nightmare, facing the door where the torturers of these women got in and out.

Susan kept moving, feeling the rage increase. She stopped by bed 14. The first thing that caught her eye was how different the woman lying in there looked from the rest. Paler, in better health condition, without any tattoos or scars, it was obvious that she had had a different upbringing to the rest of the subjects. She then saw her face. It took every ounce of Susan’s self-control to prevent herself from screaming at the top of her lungs. She had to let the fire that was building inside her out.

She knew that face too well. It was the face of a girl that had been assaulted three days before. The face of a girl she had saved from being raped by the two men. Susan almost threw up when she realized that, by saving her, she had sentenced her to an even worse kind of pain.

The sound of footsteps approaching the door took her out of her trance and forced her to act. She was quiet as she stood behind the door. It opened two seconds later, a man holding a tablet disinterestedly walking into the room, as if on some kind of routine. Susan waited for him to close the door behind him. Her oversized hand was over his nose and mouth an instant later. Susan leveraged the movement to lift him from the floor with the same hand, rotating him so that he would face her.

He had to be in his forties. Other than that, there was nothing remarkable about him. He might as well have been a librarian or a butcher. There was no physical indication that he could be a monster that felt entitled to play with people’s lives and pain for his own benefit. Every fiber in her body was demanding her to kill him, to crush him beyond recognition, to rip him apart. Susan took a deep breath and a long exhalation. The man was kicking, but she was holding him far away enough from her that his frantic leg movements were worthless.

“You know what I am,” she whispered. “You know what I can do to you. Right now, I want to hurt you more than I have ever wanted to hurt anyone in my life. And I have ways of doing that that go beyond your worst nightmares.”

The man locked his eyes in hers. He was terrified.

“Give me an excuse. Give me a funny look. Take a second more than needed to obey my commands. Use one more word than needed to reply to my questions. I will rip you apart. I will pull your arms from their sockets and shove them up your ass. And when that happens, you’ll know that I’m only getting started with you. Understood?”

Susan would have never thought that she had it in her to talk like that. It turned out that all it had taken was to be shaken with the right type of atrocity.

The way Susan was holding the man made it hard for him to nod. He still managed to produce something close enough to one between his eyes and his head.

“How many of you are here? Eggheads,” Susan asked.

The man raised both hands and extended five fingers in one and two in the other.

“So, seven,” Susan said. “Does this include Sully?”

He produced a strange nod once more.

“I’ll set you on the ground,” Susan announced. “Produce any sound louder than a whisper and they’ll need to pick up the pieces of your body with a brush, understood?”

She was happy enough with a new nod, so she set the terrified man on the ground, removing the gag of her hand. He let out a groan. But aside from that, he complied with his side of the deal.

“Where can I find the rest?”

The man panted. She gave him the time to recover. It was obvious he was not going to risk his life.

“Sully is on his office, talking to someone on the phone. The rest are all down in the lab.”

“Let’s go,” Susan said, pushing him towards the door. “Not a sound,” she warned.

Both the lab and Sully’s office were on the ground floor. The first floor hosted the two rooms where they held the test subjects and the modest private accommodation for the scientists that were on duty. The steps groaned slightly as Susan followed the man down the stairs. There had been a lively conversation ongoing when Susan pushed the door open. From what she overheard, the eggheads seemed to be close to a breakthrough. The mood changed abruptly when five pairs of eyes set on her imposing and semi-naked figure.

Susan recognized them all from Fort Exeter. That included the man she had met at the test subjects’ room. They had never struck her as anything but normal. But here they were, experimenting on humans like Nazis. She did not realize there was a sixth man until a few seconds later. She turned to face him when he started shooting his side arm at her.

It seemed that the military guy in charge had sent all the men outside but for him. Susan wondered what type of military genius left a single man with a 9mm gun to protect some scientists from a woman like her. She frowned, but then realized that his presence could even be beneficial.

As soon as he finished his first clip, Susan grabbed the man she had captured and tossed him in the general direction of the rest of scientists, mindful not to hurt him much but unconcerned about a few bruises or broken bones. It was not as if Nicole would ever complain about that. She leaped towards the shooter before he had the time to get ready for a second round of fire. Her left hand slapped the man’s gun arm, breaking every bone in it and rendering the weapon useless. The fingers of her right hand soon closed around the man’s face, using the grip to lift him a couple of feet off the floor.

Susan turned, facing the scientists, who were cornered and had no hope of escape. Then, she advanced slowly towards them, holding her prey up high before stopping half a dozen paces before them.

“You always looked at us like freaks,” she said between clenched teeth. “To you, we were only four more of your test subjects, worthless girls who had had the highly improbable fortune to be turned into something else by an event that killed a million people. You never saw the person. Only what you could get from us. But it was never enough with us, right? You needed more women to play God with. Have you ever considered what would happen if the tables turned? Have you ever feared anyone playing God with you?”

As she finished uttering her angry words, Susan closed the fingers of her hand around the guard’s skull, breaking it with ease. The crunching sound was sickening, making two of the researchers throw up. She opened her hand, letting the headless corpse drop to the floor. This was, by far, the most brutal death she had delivered. She did not feel even a bit of remorse.

“You never thought the freak would fight back, did you?” Susan asked.

The scientists screamed. She let them. She smirked when she focused to overhear Sully’s telephone conversation, only two rooms away.

“I’m telling you, they’re here! Dennis is nowhere to be found. The gunshots outside died out a while ago. And I just heard shooting in the lab.”

Susan had some trouble understanding what the person at the other end of the line was responding.

“How the hell do you expect me to know how they learned about this place?”

There was another response that she did not get, then Sully came back, feeling angrier but also more scared than before.

“You need to send everything you’ve got. We cannot fail. Not now!”

More words from the other end of the line.

“Well, then talk to whoever has the authority!”

Susan heard the man slamming the phone back on its receiver. She did not give anyone time to react before she walked through the wall. Thirty seconds later, she was back, holding the scrawny body of Jacob Sully in her hand. She dropped him to her feet as soon as she was back in the lab, and rolled him with her foot so that he would be lying face up. Her humongous sole was soon resting on his chest, trapping him without any hope of breaking free.

“You son of a bitch!” she muttered.

“Susan!” he said, looking surprised. Was he expecting anyone else? Of course! He had been expecting Nicole.

“Yes. At least you still kept a name for me, not like the women on the second floor, right? Why bother with anything but numbers when you were going to kill them anyway?”

“Let me explain…” Sully started saying.

“Oh, yes. You have a lot of explaining to do!”

Sully suddenly seemed to feel the weight of his actions, since his expression changed as soon as he tried to come back with an answer. Maybe it was only that he had realized how bad it would sound.

“It was necessary,” was everything that he managed to come back with.

Susan had to control herself very much not to push her foot down and be done with the idiot. Necessary? He seemed to realize her expression.

“You don’t understand, Susan. What happened to you… it was a miracle. I learned how to replicate that miracle! And you were instrumental. You should be proud, not mad!”

Was he for real? Susan was disturbed at so many levels that it was hard to choose which one to start from. Even once she had discarded killing him right away as an option.

“You experimented on me. Behind my back,” Susan said.

“I never did anything that would hurt you. I made you stronger,” the man replied.

“You experimented on me!” Susan yelled, sending everyone to their knees, hands on their ears, the volume of her voice making them dizzy. “I am a person!” she then added, barely a notch softer. “You don’t have the right to treat me like a fucking guinea pig,” she said. “None of you do!” she added, raising her voice again and pointing at the other six people.

Sully was now looking up at her in terror. Susan pointed upwards.

“It was never enough with the four of us, though, right? You needed more women. You needed to kill them.”

Sully babbled by the time he replied:

“You cannot imagine the type of progress that we made in three months. We’ve unlocked the key to bringing humankind forward several generations…”

“How many?” Susan asked.

Sully looked up at her with questioning eyes.

“How many women have you killed here?” she repeated her question.

“I… I don’t know.”

This was the worst possible answer he could have given her. He did not even know how many lives he had ended to push his goals forward? How could someone like this exist. Susan raised her sight, looking at the half a dozen incredibly jumpy scientists cornered against the wall.

“How many?” she repeated. “Someone must be keeping count for him.”

She got her answer from the man she had captured upstairs. His words made her hair stand on end.

“Two-hundred and twenty-six.”

Two-hundred and twenty-six. How was it even possible? The fucking monsters had been consuming women at a rate of three per day! Susan wanted to have each of them feel the pain of the two-hundred and twenty-six women combined. And she could hardly wait to start.

A loud sound broke the tense silence that had been building ever since the dreadful number had been mentioned. Susan turned to see Nicole breaking through the wall. Her partner scanned the room and smiled.

“Good job Susan,” she said, winking. She then turned to her audience and said: “Good to see some old faces. I believe we’ve all met at some point, so that will save the introductions.”

Susan observed how Nicole’s presence managed to achieve something that had felt impossible: to make the eggheads even more afraid. Her partner obviously noticed and rejoiced in it. She kept a permanent smile on her face as she strutted across the room and sat on an empty desk, which was the perfect height to serve as a chair for a woman like her. She had chosen a spot close enough to where the scientists were cornered on purpose.

“Sit on the floor. At my feet. Now!” she commanded.

There was some hesitation, but Susan realized that everyone understood that they did not have any other option. As soon as Nicole was satisfied with them complying, she eyed Susan.

“I see you started the conversation with Sully already. Mind if I join?”

Susan shrugged, then she raised her foot.

“Jacob, dear, join your team,” Nicole said.

Sully needed his time to comply. He was bruised, even if Susan had really gone beyond herself not to hurt him. He looked up at Nicole with panic before sitting next to his co-workers.

“Let’s get started,” Nicole said.

Nicole had taken over the situation naturally. Susan narrowed her eyes as she saw her partner acting as if there was no question about who was calling the shots.

 

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

 

“We don’t have time for the details,” Beck answered to an incredibly angry General Morris.

“Give me the essentials. Now!” Morris commanded, looking the man in the eye even if they were talking through the microphone and headphones, the noise in the command helicopter so loud that they were required. They were hovering ten thousand feet over the Petrenko estate, the General was red faced, presented with a decision to make that he did not understand.

Raymond Beck sighed. He had grown increasingly unquiet as the raid in the Petrenko estate had progressed without Susan and Nicole showing up. When he received the alarm, he knew at once that the Hawaiian had outsmarted him. He felt a stab through the heart. He had always known she was highly intelligent, but this was completely unexpected. With hindsight, Raymond understood her plan. It was brilliant: lead everyone to Fort Exeter as she wanted so that she could have a field day somewhere else. He should have realized. The overpowered bitch had managed to stay under the radar for over three weeks, so having her suddenly pop up in an easy enough to pinpoint location should have triggered some alarms. It did not. They were too eager to catch her. And he had never thought that she could be so devious. Nicole had not led them straight to Petrenko, but she had instead left a carefully laid out trail of breadcrumbs for them to follow, planting the largest one precisely when she needed.

Colonel Beck realized that the situation was even worse than he had thought when the alarm did not come straight from Fort Exeter. They had been contacted from there, but the request for help came from a secondary location, a place he knew was called The Hole, even if Lindbergh had not considered necessary keeping him up to date on the efforts there. Of course, this had only increased Beck’s curiosity of it.

What was Sully doing in there that Nicole wanted to badly? And, more importantly, what did Nicole know about Sully’s work that he didn’t? He knew the essentials, but the last few days he had had to devote too much time to the hunt for Nicole to be able to get deeper.

Raymond thought again about how the woman had managed to outplay him so well. Had he maybe underestimated her intelligence only because she was good looking and freakishly strong? He did not think so, but it was healthy to question oneself in front of failure.

Beck did not have the time to think thoroughly about it. Not when he had a four-star General impatiently demanding answers. He pitied the man. He had probably been called by the Secretary of Defense himself, getting promised anything he needed to complete the mission and twenty-four hours into the role he found out that he did not even have all the information. Raymond took a deep breath and gave the man what he needed to make his next decision.

“General Lindbergh and Dr. Sully kept a secondary research facility, about thirty miles inland from Fort Exeter,” he started. “It has no official designation, but men call it The Hole.”

“What?” Morris asked. He was having a hard time to swallow it. “Why wasn’t I informed about it?”

“General Lindbergh did not think it was necessary to publicize this secondary location. Officially, it is assigned to Fort Exeter. If you look well enough into Fort Exeter’s plans and books, you will find it, even if you would probably be led to believe that it is on contiguous grounds. I was a member of Lindbergh’s staff, so I knew about its existence. I was not cleared to get details about the operations there.”

“But you know about them,” Morris inquired.

“Less than I would like, but yes. Officially, The Hole is a secondary research facility, equipped to conduct tests that could be potentially harmful for Fort Exeter’s personnel,” Beck said.

“And unofficially?”

“It’s where they do the stuff they don’t want the world to see.”

“Which sort of stuff?” Morris insisted.

“The illegal, unscrupulous, unethical stuff.”

“Why would Keilani go there?” Morris asked. Like him, the General assumed that Nicole was the mastermind of the plan, which was very likely to be the case.

“If she wanted revenge or simply to cripple us, she would have gone to the main site. Right now, Fort Exeter is as defenseless as The Hole. If she went there, it’s because she knows something I don’t know. And it’s very bad news.”

“We need to stop her,” Morris said.

“I concur.”

They hurried to pick their teams up and redeploy them, even if Beck knew that it was probably way too late.

 

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

 

Sully was a small man even among his equals, which made him look even more ridiculous next to the two Phoenix. Nicole fondled his hair with care, only managing to make him look even more scared. She sat him next to her on the desk before standing up and saying:

“Wait for me here, dear, will you?”

She deemed him too scared to try to challenge her. She was right. So, Nicole did not need to worry about any stupid attempts as she crossed the room and hugged Susan, letting her prominent chest mash against the redhead’s pale skin. She then brought her lips next to the younger woman’s ear and whispered at a volume that was imperceptible for anyone else but her.

“You did a great job,” she said approvingly, even if Susan could not prevent interpreting her tone as condescending. “Did you find out about everything they did in here?” she then asked.

Susan nodded, drawing a smile in the Hawaiian’s lips.

“Good. I hope that you hate them as much as I do. Because I will need to make things extra gruesome in a bit.”

Susan did not reply immediately. She just pulled Nicole closer together first, whispering back later:

“I want to rip them to pieces so small that I can fit them in a bucket.”

Nicole could not prevent a chuckle.

“Good then. Follow my lead.”

She turned, trying to mask just how excited she was. Having taken care that Susan’s scruples would not get in the way, she now had a wide avenue to maneuver. And by the end of it, she would get what she longed for. The ultimate freedom. The ultimate power.

She fixed her stare on Sully, enjoying his reaction as she did.

“So, this is where you do the nasty stuff,” she started.

“This is where we do the breakthrough work,” he replied with a trace of arrogance along with the very obvious fear.

Nicole smiled. It worked well to have him brag. It worked incredibly well.

“Trying to copy us,” she stated.

“Trying to make better versions of you out of women that deserve it, rather than scum that got lucky,” the scientist spat.

Nicole forgave his insult and went on in the same slow and sensual manner.

“Did you succeed?” she asked.

“Why do you care?” Sully asked.

Nicole pushed the tip of her finger into a desk to her side. The table splintered a second later.

“Humor me,” she said. “By the way, I don’t think I have to mention what will happen if I catch you lying.”

“We’ve had our first success,” he admitted reluctantly.

“I heard you’ve also been successful in enhancing the scum that got lucky beyond their original abilities. Or so Susan tells me.”

“I managed to find out how the enhancement process works,” Sully admitted.

“How much did you enhance Susan here?” she asked.

“It’s not a simple answer…” he started.

“Dumb it down. For me,” Nicole commanded, making her voice as slutty as she could.

“About twice.”

No wonder the kid had managed to beat Jennifer! Nicole realized how freaking strong Susan had been all this time and wondered how someone could have all that strength and not enjoy it to the limit. She had purposefully avoided any strength-based confrontation with her, knowing that anyone that could beat Jennifer would be a dangerous opponent, but she had not realized that she could have kicked her ass as if she was a little kid fighting a professional boxer.

There was no point in thinking about that though. What mattered was what lay ahead.

“You were only experimenting, though. You only gave Susan a little nudge, didn’t you?” Nicole asked.

Sully nodded.

“Is there any theoretical limit?” she asked.

Sully arched an eyebrow.

“Why do you want to know?”

“Oh, come on!” Nicole came back. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m not even trying to make my approach subtle.”

She could see that Sully had finally understood what she was after. How could the man be so thick?

“This is madness!” he finally snapped.

Nicole let out a soft laugh.

“Is it?” she asked. “You know? A year ago, if anyone had told me that a person was able to do what I can do now, I would have laughed at them. I still find it hard to comprehend it sometimes. See for miles? Hear the faintest whisper? Leap over hills? Lift a bus over my head?”

She then ambled across the room, both slowly and menacingly, stopping by the very silent and very anxious scientists sitting at the back. Crouching down, she grabbed one of the men by the back of his head and lifted him up like a balloon.

Turning towards Sully once more, she went on:

“Hold a full-grown man in my hand like a feather?”

She closed her fingers with a sickening crunch.

“Pop his head like a grape?”

Most people screamed. Sully was not among them, but his eyes widened in panic. Nicole realized that he had not seen her in action before. She decided to use it to her advantage, so dropping the corpse to the floor, she took the five steps that separated her from the man and brushed her fingers gently over his cheek.

“I am impossible. Something out of a comic book. But I exist. I’m still human. But I’m much better. You don’t know just how much this can open someone’s mind. Up to the point where I’m ready to believe that I can get even more amazing.”

“Why?” Sully asked with a trickle of voice.

Nicole chuckled.

“You’re the one who’s been researching it. You should know better than me,” she said. “But it’s pretty obvious, don’t you think?”

Sully did not reply, so she went on, a second later.

“I am mind-blowing. I can take care of the security detail at an army base. But yesterday’s events painfully proved that I can’t take care of everyone and everything yet.”

“What do you want?”

“I want to be unstoppable. I don’t want to have to be concerned about anything anymore. If I have to be stronger than everyone else combined to achieve that, then so be it.”

“That’s impossible,” Sully said.

“A year ago I was impossible,” Nicole repeated. “So, tell me, what’s the limit?”

He did not reply.

Nicole tapped her foot noticeably.

“I… I don’t know.”

Nicole frowned, then changed tactics.

“How much juice can you get inside me, then?”

The utter fear in his face was all the answer she needed. Whatever the figure was, it would be enough. It would be more than enough.

“I won’t do it,” he finally said.

“No!” he came back.

Nicole shrugged.

“Well, then one of them will,” she said, moving towards the five remaining scientists.

She grabbed a small woman at random.

“Do you know how to do it?” she asked as she held her in front of her eyes.

When she shook her head, Nicole arched an eyebrow. The petite scientist started screaming like madwoman a second later. Nicole had placed her left hand under her butt as she kept her right on her throat. Shen then started bringing them closer together with the strength of a car compactor.

It was horrible. Vertebrae and ribs started snapping as Nicole went on, compressing the woman’s torso with the astronomical force of her arms. Her internal organs started bursting a few seconds later. She was dead way before Nicole finished, letting her remains drop on the floor in a gory heap.

Three of her colleagues threw up. Nicole looked over her shoulder to see that Susan remained motionless and expressionless.

“I‘ll do it,” a man said in a faint voice.

Nicole smirked as she eyed the middle-aged egghead, a pretty unremarkable man that looked calmer than his colleagues. They looked at him with both surprise and disdain, but he avoided their glances.

“No, I’ll do it.”

She had to suppress a laugh when Sully’s words came from behind her back.

“Wow, don’t all volunteer at once!”

She smiled evilly at the other three scientists and said:

“I think you have just become redundant.”

Nicole took a step in their direction. Hurriedly, they tried to stand up. When one of them tripped, he sent the other off their feet too. By the time they tried to react, the amazon was already on top of them. Nicole did not even stop as she raised her right foot and set it on the legs of the first man, crushing through bone and muscle as if they had not been there. Her left foot soon joined, obliterating another man’s groin.

The screams were heartbreaking for anyone but Nicole. Another step finished the first man, her right foot turning his chest into paste. The second man’s head soon followed.

Ten seconds later, Nicole was standing over two devastated corpses and had the third scientist, a dark-skinned woman, cornered against the wall. She was shivering when she crouched to reach for her.

“It makes you wonder how much more powerful than this I can get, doesn’t it?” Nicole whispered.

The woman could only babble in response.

Nicole grabbed her head with both hands, being strangely gentle.

“Shhhhh,” she said as she fondled the woman’s head. “It will be over soon.”

She positioned the head between her thighs.

“Just consider yourself lucky I don’t have time to make you suffer like you deserve.”

And with that, Nicole brought her legs together, crushing her skull to paste.

She was soiled again. She did not care. She was minutes away from having all her dreams come true. She turned to find that Susan remained expressionless. The same could not be said of the other two people in the room, two men that had been researching how to make people as formidable as she was already.

“Lead the way,” she commanded.

 

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

 

Of all the things she had seen Nicole do, the way she had killed the scientists had to be among the ones that bothered her the least. She could not think of anyone that would have deserved it more. Susan did not think she would have had any problem doing it herself. Not now that she had already accepted that killing was one of the tools at her disposal.

Nicole was amazing. Clearly the smartest in the Phoenix group, Susan had also had a secret crush on the former lawyer ever since waking up. Where most people ended up enamored with Jennifer’s stereotypical blonde bimbo looks, Nicole’s beauty was more exotic, wilder. She had never opened up to her or anyone else while at Fort Exeter, though.

In a way, Susan was getting to know the real Nicole over the last two days. And there was a lot to learn. To start with, she was way more intelligent than she had even thought. The way she used every advantage at her disposal to lead the conversations where she wanted was remarkable. But what truly blew Susan’s mind was her extraordinary skill for strategic planning. Ever since she had left Fort Exeter, Nicole had outsmarted and outmaneuvered everyone, including the Government’s supposedly finest.

They were where they were thanks to her. They had a chance to finally break free from the yoke of the Initiative thanks to her. And she had a chance to succeed thanks to her. Susan was not stupid. She knew perfectly well that the main reason Nicole had recruited her had been that she needed her to see her plans through. She was way less concerned about her freedom and dignity as a Phoenix than she said. But still, it would be unfair not to acknowledge how much she owed her.

And at the same time, Susan had also met Nicole’s darker side. She had been fully exposed to her cynicism, to her disloyalty, her authoritarianism and, more than anything else, her cruelty.

Nicole was a sadist. That much, Susan had already figured out. In the process, she had also learned that her transformation into a Phoenix had only highlighted something that had already been there: she thought she was better than everyone else. And that included Susan.

So far, Nicole had been nothing but good to her. Susan wondered how many of her displays of gentleness had been genuine, but she could not say anything bad about her partner when it came to her direct dealings. At most, she had been annoyed by her patronizing, which was something Susan knew would get worse.

For all her big talk, Susan knew that Nicole was not looking for a fairer deal with the world. She was not out for freedom. She was looking for authority. She was looking for unrestrained power. And Susan had already had a taste of what she was willing to do to get it.

And yet, could she blame her? Many of the things Nicole thought were actually true. They were better than anyone else. It had taken Susan a long time to understand it. Even longer to accept it. But it was undeniable. What had happened to Nicole, Jennifer, Nathalie and her had transformed them into something different. Something better. Much better. And yet, they had accepted being messed with by inferior beings, to be tested on, to be kept in a form of slavery.

Nicole had broken the wheel, back at Fort Exeter. She had set everything into motion. And now, she was going to do the same on a larger scale. In a way, it was everyone else’s fault. If they had cared to offer them a better deal, they might have never got into this situation, but they had cornered them so much that they had had no other option but to fight back. And Nicole was doing everything that was needed to come out on top.

Her train of thought was interrupted when Sully stopped in front of a metallic door with a large glass window in its top half. The small room beyond it was lined with metal. The two researchers had led them to the basement, shivering all the way there.

“Is this it?” Nicole asked.

Sully nodded.

“How does it work?” her partner asked.

“Like an X-ray machine. You get in, I program the composition of the radiation and the intensity. It gets delivered. It takes about two minutes,” the scientist replied.

“How much juice are going to put into me?” she asked.

“You don’t even know what a millisievert is,” Sully replied with some scorn.

“Then, measure it in Susan experiment doses,” she replied casually.

“Close to a hundred times,” he said.

“So, you’ll make me 200 times stronger?” Nicole replied. She did not seem too excited.

“You don’t understand. The effect is exponential,” Sully said.

Nicole arched an eyebrow, pleased with the information. She then turned towards Susan.

“Ok, Susan. Time to make our minds up. The chamber only fits one of us. The other needs to stay outside in any case, and make sure that they don’t try anything funny. So… one of us needs to go first.”

“You’re drooling over it,” Susan said, sounding more aggressive than she had expected. She was not in a hurry. She understood the need to transcend their current weaknesses and limitations to ensure their future survival, but sometimes she was still freaked out by some of the consequences of her original transformation, even if she had come to accept her strength and endurance as a good thing.

“As long as you don’t mind…” Nicole replied. It was clear that she did not share her concerns.

“Be my guest,” Susan said.

Nicole smiled and opened the door.

“If Sully tries anything funny, shred him to pieces and get the other guy to fix it.”

Susan rested one palm on top of each of the men’s heads and said:

“Don’t worry. I know how to handle them.”

 

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

 

Nicole could not believe that she was so close. She was magnificent now, but soon her current power would look like nothing compared to what she would become. She wondered what the physical consequences of the transformation would be. Would she get taller? Would her muscles get any more defined? Sully had not had a clue, but the truth was that she did not care.

All she needed to know was that when she stepped out of the room, the nasty scientist would have already triggered a process that would give her the ultimate power. She would be impervious to anything, invulnerable to whatever they could throw at her. Her strength, which was already mind-blowing, would become practically limitless. She would wield the power of an entire nation in her body! And to think that this could be unlocked in a human!

The lights inside the chamber turned off and Nicole soon started hearing the humming, which was the only indication that something was going on. She tried to focus, tried to feel the transformation happening. She knew it was stupid. As far as Sully knew, the entire process would take a few hours and would require her to get enough nutrients to fuel it up.

Susan’s almost expressionless face was easy enough to see through the window of the door to the chamber. She had grown to appreciate the girl, but still she could not fully get her. It beat Nicole how she could still carry herself with her weirdo attitude once she had got everything a human being could hope for, and then some more.

Nicole had been convinced that it was only a matter of nudging her in the right direction. Her first twenty-four hours had been promising, her carefully prepared encounter with the boys that had raped her very satisfactory. But it had not been the cathartic experience that Nicole had expected.

Susan had not shied away from killing, but the more confident she got after breaking out from Fort Exeter, the more she busted her balls. It was not as if Nicole had any hard complaint. So far, the redhead had done everything she had asked of her. Nicole would have never been able to see this mission through without her by her side. Yet still, the prospect of sharing the world with Susan was extremely unappealing.

No one would have ever called Nicole generous or altruistic. It was not in her, and her career as a lawyer had done nothing to foster that kind of behavior. And still, she could see herself sharing the unbelievable power that she was going to get with the right person. She could do with a partner. If only Susan was interesting enough! She was not even good in bed, for God’s sake!

Nicole could not wait to get out of the chamber, to have her transformation over. She could not wait to enjoy her new strength, to test the limits of her new power. The world had already been shocked by her, but they had no clue what they were in for. She would show them what real power was. She would scare the shit out of them. And she would crush as many as she needed to get them to bend the knee. She would crush them even after that, too. After all, she would still need to get her fix.

She chuckled. She was sure that when they had told her that she had a promising career at Gibson Kavanaugh they had not thought that she would take over the world before turning thirty!

She needed to make a decision when it came to Susan, though. It was hard to picture herself ruling the world together with her. She got tired just by the thought of the kid questioning her every move. The last thing a goddess needed was constant challenge.

Nicole would have lied if she did not admit that this was not the first time she had thought about it. But she had been willing to do the right thing. She had really intended to keep her word to Susan. But being so close to getting what she wanted was changing her perspective.

After all, she did not need to get rid of the girl. All she had to do was to prevent her from gaining the same power she was about to get. She could do that even without a fight. All she had to do was mess up the transformation chamber enough so that Susan would not be able to use it before she completed her evolution. In her mind, it wouldn’t even be that bad for Susan. What difference would it make for her to be even stronger than she was now when she was not even able to take advantage of all her current power?

She was taken away from the train of thought by the abrupt sensation of feeling sick. It evolved so quickly that Nicole did not even notice the entire process from the moment she started feeling unwell to the instant where she was forced to kneel and hold herself both with her hands and knees.

Was this part of the transformation? It couldn’t be! She suddenly felt like she was going to die! The feeling of something trickling down her nose made her bring her hand to her face out of instinct. When she moved it back she saw something she was not expecting to see again: her blood.

Nicole started getting very nervous, even if it was hard to focus on a single thought. Her head was spinning around as if it had been put inside a centrifuge, so it was almost impossible to build a complex reflection.

What the hell had Sully done to her! Nicole tried to scream, to get Susan’s attention. All she managed to do was cough. She mustered all her strength to drag her heavy figure forward, punching the door with her left hand. She dented it, but the consequences were far less spectacular than what she had expected. A more forceful punch finally managed to rip the door off its hinges and toss it outwards. Her eyes were partially clouded, but she could see that the three people in the room had very shocked expressions.

“Sully…” she tried to say. The word came out muffled, her throat barely letting the sound get out. Susan finally reacted.

 

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

 

Susan did not know what to do. The current events did not look like any of the outcomes she had imagined. No matter how much Sully had explained that things did not work like that, she had almost expected Nicole to step out of the room turned into a towering statue with bulging muscles. She had known that it was more likely that the woman that got out of the room was exactly the same one that had got in, the transformation happening later. She would have never thought that she would be looking down at the seemingly dying figure of her partner.

Susan frowned and reached for Jacob Sully without second thought, lifting him by the throat, her grip a hairsbreadth away from crushing it.

“You slimy bastard! What did you do to her?” she demanded, keeping an eye on the suffering Nicole. She seemed to be barely able to keep on all fours.

The doctor was even more shocked than her. He tried to reply, but her hold did not let any words out. Realizing, Susan relaxed her grip, even if only a bit. She had to exert considerably self-control not to crush the man on a whim.

“Nothing… I did everything I said I would do…”

“You’re lying!” Susan said, raising her voice. “Why else would she be like this?” she demanded, pointing at Nicole.

Sully was about to reply when the doctor’s head burst. Susan heard the shot a fraction of a second later.

“What the fuck?” Susan wondered aloud, her face covered with Sully’s brains.

She got her answer when a figure emerged from the shadows, wielding the murder weapon. Susan’s jaw almost dropped when she realized who she was.

“Doctor Roark?”

Eva Roark shrugged as she holstered the gun.

“It’s not as if it was going to be effective against you, anyway.”

Susan was trying to keep up with the events, but it was not an easy task. She looked at Roark, then turned to look back at Nicole, who still felt as she was going to die any minute and finally dropped Sully’s headless body. Cornered as far away from it all as he could was the fifth person in the room, the researcher she had learned was named Rand.

“Why?” she finally asked.

“Oh, the man was as despicable as it gets. I can’t think of anyone I felt more like killing. Except maybe your oversized friend back there.”

Susan still could not understand what was going on.

“How?”

Not even Susan knew what she had meant by that question. Dr. Roark, who had changed her usual business suit for black fatigues and her heeled shoes by rubber-soled combat boots seemed eager to help her understand, in any case.

“Oh, I had my fair degree of experience in the field before I got to DARPA. No one should work in a special weapons agency without knowing how these weapons are going to get used, but of course, it’s not easy to find grunts that are good enough to become SpecOps and that have a PhD in Advanced Physics at the same time. It’s hard to sneak on you and your friend, though. I had to time this one perfectly, wait until you had your guard down. Thank God Lindbergh and Dennis had built enough tunnels in and out to give me some advantage.”

Susan still did not understand anything. Nicole’s moans momentarily grabbed her attention. Her partner was suffering, and not only a little. She looked at her and then back at Roark and asked:

“You?”

Dr. Roark smiled dryly.

“Of course it was me. Sully lacked the imagination. He even lacked the smarts to check if anyone had changed the programming before activating everything.”

Susan took a step towards Roark, fists clenched. The doctor did not even flinch.

“I’m going to kill you,” she muttered.

“That’s one of the options you have,” Roark replied. “It’s not as if I would be able to do anything about it.”

Susan stopped. The natural thing to do was to keep going, to grab the woman, to crush her. She had killed Nicole and, for all she knew, she would kill her the moment she had the chance. Her attitude did not match, though. Something did not add up.

“Why did you kill her?” Susan asked instead of attacking.

Dr. Roark shrugged.

“Oh, she’s far from dead. I messed her body real good. Right now, her cells don’t have a clue what they are and I don’t envy the hormone cocktail in her bloodstream. But eventually, her cells will settle and her accelerated metabolism will start cleaning the mess. I’m afraid I didn’t find a way to kill you girls with radiation alone,” she said. Then, she looked at her watch and added: “If the simulation is right, we have about seven minutes before she starts recovering. Which means that you have seven minutes to make a decision.”

“What decision?” Susan inquired.

“Whether you kill me or you let me kill her for good.”

Dr. Roark had never struck her as anything but blunt since she had first met her in the corridors of Fort Exeter. The proposal certainly reflected that. Now Susan knew that Nicole would not die. She knew she should have felt some relief, but for some reason, she did not. In any case, all she had to do was wait seven minutes and kill Roark and things would get back to plan. Nicole would be even more pissed off with the world, but the outcome would essentially be the same.

She realized that she did not know what to do, though. She tried to gain some time.

“Why would I let you live?” she asked.

Roark shrugged.

“You need to choose your partner. If Sully’s model is right, and I do not have any reason to believe it’s not, you’ll live for hundreds of years. Are you ready to spend them with her?” she asked pointing at the suffering form of Nicole.

“So, should I spend them with you instead?”

Roark smiled.

“I don’t know you,” Susan said.

“Quite true. You do know her, though, don’t you?”

Susan did not reply, but Roark’s lips curled in a slight smile. Susan hated being played with, which was exactly what the doctor was doing with her. But the only reason she could get away with it was because there was truth in what she was implying.

“Nicole is the only one that has ever helped me,” Susan said, even if it was evident that she had done so half-heartedly.

Roark arched an eyebrow.

“You know better than that,” she said. “She needed you. But she won’t need you anymore. Are you really so naïve that you believe she hasn’t thought about that?”

Of course, the doctor was right. Once Nicole recovered and turned into whatever it was that the process had made her, there would be nothing Susan would be able to do if Nicole decided to go solo. The question was, of course, if she would do it. Susan did not need a lot of convincing to know that Nicole was perfectly capable of it.

“I could kill you both,” Susan threatened.

Doctor Roark arched an eyebrow, then unholstered the gun again. Susan frowned. Had she suddenly turned stupid? Shooting at her would achieve nothing, except the certainty that she would kill her instead. Dr. Roark raised the gun, but then shifted her aim in a swift movement. She pulled the trigger. In the corner of the room, Dr. Rand’s chest burst into a splash of crimson. Susan had never seen a gun do that to someone.

The scene had happened almost in slow motion. Roark dropped the gun to the floor, shrugging again.

“You could,” she said, replying to Susan’s threat, even if it felt as if she had uttered it ages ago. “But then you would neither get what Nicole offered you nor what I can put on the table. You may be tempted to accept this as a fair outcome, but let me tell you this: you would not survive a week. Not now that the FRU knows how to hurt you in your present form. I’m sorry to say it, but you don’t have Nicole’s survival instincts.”

“So, what is it that you think you can put on the table?” Susan asked.

Dr. Roark seemed to be satisfied just with the fact that she had asked. Susan realized that showing interest was already saying a lot.

“A much fairer deal. And the knowledge that you will be in control until I can deliver on it,” Roark said.

“Why? I thought the only reason you came to Fort Exeter was to find a way to kill us,” Susan said.

Roark shrugged once more.

“It was. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I arrived, though. The breakthrough was when I realized that things are never going to be the same. You girls are here and the world has changed forever. Even if we managed to kill you all, which is by far the most unlikely outcome once you decided to join Nicole and got out of the Initiative’s control, Sully already found out how to replicate the Flare. There is no way the Army is not going to use it. But, as much as I don’t want to live in a world where super-powered women are used to wage war, it is preferable to an alternative where Nicole comes out on top. Just thinking on that world gives me the creeps. I would gladly die before I let that happen.”

“So that’s what you’ve come to do? Die?” Susan asked.

“Not if I can make you see things my way,” Roark said.

“Which way is that?”

“One where we’re in the driver’s seat. One where we build a world that’s better, that’s fair and that makes humanity leap forward.”

“It sounds great when you say it,” Susan said. “Of course, it’s not that different from what Nicole has in mind, once you get into the details, is it?”

“Oh, the details are extremely different,” Roark said.

“So you say.”

“Yes, this is the part where you need to decide who do you trust the most,” Roark came back.

“Why?” Susan asked.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the personal interest. But I hope that by now you can also see that that’s not all that moves me.”

“What are you waiting for? Kill her!”

Nicole’s muffled words came from behind. Both Susan and Roark looked at her. She was groaning as he tried to get back to her hands and knees. At some point, she had just dropped to the floor.

“Time’s up,” Roark said.

Susan took a deep breath. It was never going to change, was it? She had tried to deny what her change implied for almost nine months. It seemed that all the pending decisions had caught up with her in the last forty-eight hours. She abandoned the Initiative and joined Nicole, she killed her first person, she then killed the boys that had raped her, then took a mafia kingpin out of jail. No matter what she did, the next decision seemed to always be waiting for her. And now she was faced with the hardest of them all. After all, she had taken the previous ones almost by discarding every other alternative.

Susan looked at the struggling figure of Nicole. She could see the strength coming back to her as she tried to steady her kneeling position. Nicole had been the smartest of them all, the only one that had realized the true nature of their reality and what the Initiative really was. She had been the only one with the guts to do what was needed. The only one that had really offered her an alternative. The one that had ensured that she could break free. And, in doing that, she had got to know her.

Susan took two steps to the side and turned, looking at Nicole and then at Dr. Roark, opening an imaginary path between them both.

Nicole’s eyes opened wide. She looked both surprised and betrayed. Susan realized that there was something else in her look. Something she had not seen before: fear. Eva Roark crouched. She was holding a weird-looking rifle when she stood up. It was longer than usual and bulky, it’s barrel square rather than cylindrical.

“Personal railgun,” she said as she took a step to the front. Her movements suggested that it was heavy. “We don’t have the technology to miniaturize the parts yet, so it only holds enough charge for one round. This makes it practically useless.”

Roark reached Nicole. She could see as the Hawaiian tried to stand up, to defend herself. She was unable. Roark groaned as she lifted what had to be the considerable weight of the weapon, finally resting the nozzle of the barrel on Nicole’s forehead.

“Except for this occasion.”

Roark pulled the trigger. There was no bang. There was no flash. Only the zipping sound of a massive condenser discharging. And then, what seemed impossible happened. Nicole’s skull burst and her brains splashed against the wall.

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