III. Cold Snake Memory Charm
I tried pressing Ylissa for more, but after all that seizing, that one morsel of usable information was all she was able to pull from the nonsensical reeling inside her mind. But maybe that was enough. My suspicions were confirmed: the biology department was where I’d find the answers about what had happened to Gus, and if he was still alive, where I could find him. Then maybe my life could be normal again.
“We should tell the council,” Mag said once we were all back in the living room and Ylissa had gotten a drink of water. “They’ll be able to figure things out.”
“No,” Ylissa said and I stared at her. Crossing the council, doing something like this? The council would never want a thing to do with her again. “I don’t want to be their pet,” she said finally, glancing back and forth between Mag and me. “I don’t want them to know I had a part in any of this. I–I can’t control my powers the way they want me to, and until I can, I don’t want them to–to think I can.”
I nodded, and so did Mag. That was all we needed to know.
“Can you still help us, though?” I smiled sideways at her. “I know we could use it a lot.”
“I can do that,” she said and leaned forward. “Within bounds, of course, but I think I can still help a little. But I’ll need you both to put the pieces in place so I can see what’s going to happen, or else I don’t think I can do it.”
“Okay,” I said, sighing but sitting up straighter, eager. “What do we need to do?”
The next period I sat in his biology class again. As the students poured out at its end, I followed a few down the hall to their TA’s office. I slipped in after them; they piled up along the one wall, at the second small clustering of chairs. After a few moments, I looked up as dark-haired woman in a lab coat entered and I saw her facing me before I remembered I’d stopped breathing. I swallowed, and she smiled at the other students as she took her seat. I pushed myself back against the wall. I hadn’t thought I’d find her this quickly. In all this time, I had never once seen her in the classroom–what kind of TA was she?
She started talking to the others, and I took the opportunity to stand up and start toward the door.
“Wait,” she said quickly and I looked back at her. “Did I answer your question already?” She smiled, a sweet, dangerous thing. She knew I wasn’t in the class.
“Yeah,” I said, and nodded for emphasis, “yeah, you did.”
“I’m glad I could help,” she said, and I felt the other students looking at me now. “I’m sorry, I’m not all that great with names, what was yours again?” She had that same smile on her face. Her eyes were calculating. She thought she had me cornered.
“Gus,” I said, and her eyes ignited up with fury–he was a firestarter after all, “Gus Burnham.” The anger lit up her face until her cheeks flushed with red, and I smiled at her, nodding my head like tipping a hat, and then I walked through the door. I glanced back just long enough to read the two names on the wall–Tresha Neville and Rebecca Blakewell.
I was halfway down the hall before I thought she could’ve excused herself and followed me, but when I looked back, she wasn’t there. She had seen me, though, and now that I knew her name–and she knew I was looking for Gus–things would be different.
– – –
“I found her,” I said as soon as John opened our door. It was after two and I didn’t see the guy with him until they were both inside the doorway. John dropped his hand and looked at me like we were the only ones there.
“What?” he said, stepping into the room; his guest just stood in the doorway, looking awkward. “The woman who attacked Gus. You found her?”
I nodded. “I mean, I think I did. Does the name Rebecca Blakewell mean anything to you?”
John shuddered and crossed his arms. “She was Gus’s TA. He told me she was the only reason he’d passed his first test. He spent hours in her office each week, just going over the material.” He looked back at me. “Wait. You think she’s–” He looked over his shoulder and frowned; the other guy seemed to get the message, and looking more embarrassed than angry, he backed away and closed the door behind him. John whirled back to me. “You think she’s super? Seriously?”
“If she’s the right person, yeah.” I shrugged. “I read her webpage. She’s writing her dissertation on a field called BioGenesis. I didn’t really get it, but part of her CV included extensive research papers discussing possible biological factors for people becoming super.” I rolled my eyes. “I maybe paged through a little bit of it, and she’s wicked smart.”
John took a seat at his desk and leaned on the table for a long time before he looked up at me. “So what now? Do you–do you know if he’s still alive?”
“No,” I said, and I walked over to him and put a hand on his back. “I don’t know, it’s been a long time, and his body still hasn’t turned up, so maybe he is–I don’t know, John.” I sighed and walked a few steps away. “We’re putting together a plan to figure her out, but we need to know everything. Did she ever make any passes at him or do anything unusual?”
John swiveled around to face me. “You said she researched why people are super?”
“Sorta,” I said, “I mean, the longest one was a case study about a woman who could change her perception of time, but it resulted in schizophrenia practically, and she didn’t want to be super anymore. They were trying to ‘cure’ her–not that I think we need curing, of course–but the study was inconclusive. She passed away from unrelated causes a few months into it.”
John looked pale as a ghost.
“Why?” I asked. “Did he say something?”
John shrugged. “I don’t know, sometimes when we were together and we, you know, he’d tell me he wished he wasn’t super sometimes.” He shook his head and looked at me with pleading eyes. “Do you think he found her papers and asked if she could cure him?”
I felt a cold finger trickling down my spine. “That snake,” I said. “She can’t be–why–?” I shook my head and stopped talking when I realized John didn’t follow me. “She’s trying to find a way to stop people from being super,” I said, “and she’s using Gus as a guinea pig.”
John’s mouth fell open and the chair slid out from underneath him a bit. “How–how can you be certain?”
“A good hunch,” I said. “It all fits into place–there’s no body, so she still has him, and why would she still need him unless she’s still experimenting on him?” I walked to the window again and peaked through the curtains; the streets were empty under the yellow lamp light. “The one thing I can’t figure out is why she’d have to take him by force, or what kind of power she has.”
“You said he was seizing,” John asked, “when she knocked him out?” I nodded, and he looked a little hopeful–a little too hopeful, I thought. “Maybe she was treating him already and he had a bad reaction?”
“So where is he now?” I shook my head. “You didn’t see the look in her eyes when I said his name, John. She’s a cold bitch, I’d swear on it. I don’t know what she’s up to, why she wants to stop supers from being super, but I can promise you it’s not a good thing.”
I looked through the window once more, and still the streets were empty. I had to let Mag know, and Ylissa. All she’d asked was that I figure out her role in the bio department and then Ylissa said she could take care of the rest–and just by knowing the right questions to ask, I’d already learned so much more, but what next? Ylissa would know.
I walked back to my bed and pulled out my phone, bringing up the messenger and typing out to Mag that I’d figured out her name, Rebecca Blakewell, and how she’d met Gus. I’d barely hit send when there was a knock at the door.
I looked over to John, but I doubted he expected anybody if he’d brought someone back. He shrugged and stood up. “Maybe Justin came back,” he said. I looked down at my phone: Mag had texted me back already.
>> Great work. I’ll tell Ylissa.
I smiled and looked up when John opened the door. He stepped back at the woman in the doorway. She reached out and pressed two fingers to his temple and John toppled to the floor, thudding there as I jumped up, dialing Mag and sticking my phone in my pocket.
“Hello, darling,” Rebecca Blakewell said. “Don’t look so surprised. You’re an undergrad, and I’m a post doc. If you thought you could find me so easily and not have the feeling reciprocated, you have sorely underestimated me.”
I glanced at John and then up at Rebecca–was he dead? Should I leave him and save myself, or try to get him out, too?
“Don’t worry about him,” she said and pushed her boot into his side until he rolled over onto his back; I clenched my fist and she smiled, eyes alight with interest. “Did I stumble upon a love triangle?” She gave a short, bark-like laugh. “Gus keeps calling out, John, John, it wasn’t much to put all the pieces together and find you. I didn’t realize I’d find you both so entwined.” She shrugged and stepped one foot over John, crouching down until her lab coat covered half of him, and rested a finger on the side of his neck.
“What are you doing?” I shouted, glancing around the room for something I could throw at her. There were papers across our desk. Books on the shelf. Clothes on the floor. His lamp and computer. Mine.
“Just making sure he won’t remember any of this.” She twisted her hands over his head and I felt static in the air as lightning rippled under her fingers. She stood up, cracking her knuckles, and walked toward me.
“How–?” I said. “What can you do?”
I took a few steps back, but she just smiled, saying nothing.
“Don’t be such a coward. What you did to him?”
Rebecca Blakewell laughed and put her hands together.
“You look surprised I could do anything at all. But I suppose most of you, what’s the term you go by? Supers, is it?” She laughed that same high-pitched, bark-like laugh. “You all think powers pop up so perfectly spliced between men and women.” She lifted her hands, as if emulating a scale, slowly moving forward as she came along, toppling back and forth as if every step were a precarious motion. “Men must have powers that act outwardly, because men are outward by nature. And women,” she frowned at me, “women must have powers that act inwardly because, don’t you know, women are modest creatures, so frail, so focused on themselves.”
Rebecca clapped her hands and threw her head back laughing. “It’s an old story, boy, what you all feed yourselves as fodder in place of facts.” She crossed her arms. “Women need only harness the powers they already have and then, then they can reach out and expand what they can do.”
“So, Miss Blakewell,” I said, slurring the word until her face contorted in rage, “what do you do?”
I crossed my arms and held my ground. She scowled.
“Since I was a girl I’ve been smarter, brighter, faster than the kids around me: my brain is supercharged with extra connections, neural networks that dwarf those of the wisest men around, firing more charges in an instant than an entire lightning storm over hours. Except,” she sighed, “except I wasn’t satisfied playing inside my head–I wanted to play with others, too.” She shrugged. “So I did–and when I did, I learned all I had to do was focus a moment and then I could speed up the nerve firings in another, and with that skill behind me, I can do so, so very much, Elliot.” She jerked her head toward John. “Like your friend back there. He’s sleeping now, and he won’t remember any of this–not you, not Gus, and don’t think I mean just in this moment–you’re both purged from his mind forever.”
I looked down at John. No. She wouldn’t do that–she couldn’t, could she? Just make him forget everything about us?
“You, on the other hand,” she said and I looked back at her with a cold gaze that should’ve killed her right there, “you I have plans for.”
“Think again,” I screamed and punched my arm forward–my hanging light shot through the air, the glass cover bursting as the halogen bulb struck her–instantly she caught fire and screamed, throwing herself to the ground as I shot past her. I whipped my arms around, John tumbling up through the air and onto my back as I shot past the door and, with a flick of my wrist, slammed it shut. I tumbled down the stairs without looking back and caused all the pictures to fly off the walls as I made my way toward the front door.
As I burst out, a car skidded to stop in front of the house and the back door flew open. I twisted as I approached, flinging John gently into the second seat and throwing myself in after him. I pulled the door shut as Mag pushed his foot to the floor; the wheels skidded and I looked up at the second floor window as flames leapt to the curtains, and then back at the door, Rebecca Blakewell standing with her arms crossed in the doorway, daring us to challenge her again.
“Mag,” I said, “we need to go.” The wheel’s weren’t spinning anymore, and I looked to the front of the car: Mag was slumped over the front, foam still dripping from his lips.
“You play a nice game,” Rebecca said as she walked toward me. “But it’s a game you can only play–there’s no chance you will ever win against me, Elliot.”
I got out of the car and stepped toward her, clenching my fists. “What did you do to him?”
“The same thing I did to Gus,” she said, “and it would be such a shame if I keep going, won’t it? I could fry his brain inside and out, you know, or you could come with me and I’ll stop right here.” She chuckled. “Hell, if we’re gone before the firemen arrive, I’ll even let him remember you–nothing of tonight, mind you, but at least you’ll have a friend left.”
I glanced back at Mag. He was still twitching, and John was still slumped in the back seat unconscious. There was nothing here for me to fight with, and if I kept fighting, she would only keep hurting my friends until they didn’t even know I was their friend anymore.
“Fine,” I said, cursing myself to even consider allowing this to happen, “I’ll go with you–just stop hurting them.”
“Consider it done,” she said, snapping her fingers. “I’m a woman of my word, Elliot, and you’ll find I can be quite accommodating to those who work with me, not against me.” She pulled a keyring from her pocket–I noticed finally her lab coat had been left behind–and pressed a button; the lights on a nearby car lit up and I heard the doors unlock.
“How about we go for a ride, Elliot?”
CHAPTER FOUR: Radioactive Kitten Cage