Betty stared in disbelief. A light-blue substance that looked like water circulated inside the tanks, but it was too viscous to be water. Within that liquid floated the bodies of two people Betty didn’t recognize, but her gut told her one was Kristof.
Their mouths held an oxygen apparatus that allowed them to breathe, and their faces were composed in a deep, unconscious slumber. The strange apparatus hooked to their chests pumped fluid in and out through transparent tubes sealed into the glass. What disturbed her most were their frail bodies. She could see their ribcages through their pale skin. Their fingernails were elongated, their hair thin and long. Whether they were Supers or defects, they didn’t deserve this.
Betty shivered, thinking about all the lost supers, people who had come here, hoping to be treated, fearing for their lives. Had they also been imprisoned in a glass tank? Or had they just been stripped of their power and left for dead?
“Guys, you have to see this,” she whispered, but only Andy’s voice came back in response.
“Are you in the lab? Did you make it? I lost contact with Team Joaquin, and Massey and Anne aren’t answering either. I’m freaking out here!”
“Relax, Andy. I’m sure they’re fine. Hold on, someone’s coming.”
Betty ducked behind the console just in time. Two men in white lab coats and gas masks emerged from the far end of the basement, pushing carts loaded with cuvettes filled with a blue substance. Betty crouched down and watched. They drove the carts to a ramp that ended at a bolted door. This must be the extra outside exit Anne had mentioned.
When the lab assistants left, Betty crept toward the containers, looking for a way to disconnect them that wouldn’t require shooting at the console board or the containers themselves. She discovered the console’s keyboard was no use. It required a fingerprint scan.
“I wish you could see all this Andy. I can’t make sense of it.”
“Talk me through it.”
“The data written on the monitor shows a 99.9% chance of success in the “Generation 0” experiment. It says Stage 1 is complete. The uh test subjects administered with a “Genome Push” are a hundred, Jesus…they have a varying percentage of survival ranging from 0.2% to 99.9%! There are these calculations predicting—I think if I’m reading it right—a total of thirty test subjects to survive the first test, fifteen the second, and only seven the third, comprising Stage 1. Those numbers are addressed as “Batch 1.0”. What does that mean?”
Betty pulled back from the monitor.
“It means we were too late to stop the first stage of the experiment. Globe succeeded, at least in some way.”
“He created Godlike supers.”
“If only seven survived it means it’s still imperfect. We still have a chance to cancel the transmutation. You gotta destroy the originator, Betty, the one that will be the base for the new genome.”
“Would that kill Kristof?” Betty looked at the helpless faces in the water. Could she really kill two people?
“Probably. We can’t change that, Betty.”
“You can’t be in here!”
Betty jumped at the voice, turning to face a woman in a white coat. The woman reached for a security button, but Betty, gun in hand, gestured for her to step away from the console board.
“How do I disconnect the containers?” Betty demanded.
The woman’s eyes flicked toward the button. Betty raised the gun a little higher and clutched it with both hands.
“I asked you a question. How do you stop the process?”
“Only Doctor Globe can do that. The containers are protected with a two-way biometric scan that’s keyed to Doctor Globe – a fingerprint scan and a retinal scan. There’s no way of stopping the process without those.”
Betty grimaced, lowering the gun slightly. She would have to go to Plan B. “What’s your name?”
“Dr. Barbara Page,” the woman answered with authority.
“Okay Barbara, are there other people still in the lab?”
“Two of my assistants and a technician. Why?”
“Good. I want you to gather your team and head for the exit. Outside, an officer named Felix Wallas of the SPD will be waiting for you. The building isn’t safe anymore.”
Barbara shook her head. “I’m not abandoning months of hard work.”
Betty turned her pistol toward the containers. “I’ll shoot them if I have to. What you’re doing here isn’t science it’s torture. You risked peoples’ lives, and you’ll rot in prison for that. If you and your colleagues want to live, I suggest you start walking toward that exit. Got it?”
Dr. Page finally nodded.
“Is there anything else I should know about in here?”
The woman gasped. “The children—someone has to take them out of here. But they need special incubators-”
“What children?” Betty snapped.
“The ones in the Blue Room.”
Dr. Page led Betty to an extension of the basement closed off by two heavy doors. Inside was a narrow white tent bathed in an eerie blue light. The smell of bleach was overpowering when Dr. Page lifted the tent flap to allow Betty inside, revealing a scene that made Betty’s eyes widened in shock. Six of the children from the Miles Jensen attack were here, lying on beds, blue light encompassing them and radiating from their skin. Unlike Kristof and the other man, they looked healthy but asleep.
“What the hell is this place?” Betty pointed the gun at Barbara again. The woman lifted her hands in defense.
“We’re only studying them. They were exposed to a large dosage of a very rare and unique ability. Their DNA helps us understand how to replicate it and use it safely in…in people who don’t have any abilities through birth.”
Betty gestured toward the beds. “How do we wake them?”
“We can’t. They’re comatose.”
She dropped her gun and stepped to the bed that held a little girl with long dark hair. She remembered the child’s face from posters hanging in the precinct at the time of the attack. Sick at heart, Betty sat on the edge of the bed and took the girl’s hand. The child’s skin was freezing, an unnatural cold that burned the tips of Betty’s fingers. Whoever had done this to these children was a monster.
“Poor thing,” Betty whispered. Her anger for Globe intensified. He had allowed this intentionally, and then used Miles Jensen as his patsy for the whole thing. All this time, the children of the grieving parents were here and Globe had been testing and probing them.
“We need to get them out, comatose or not. You’ll help me do that.”
Betty let go of the girl’s hand and started to get up, but the girl reached out and caught her wrist. Betty gasped and stared into the little girl’s widely opened eyes, which were white-blue, almost colorless.
“This is impossible, it shouldn’t be happening!” Barbara looked at the monitors. “They’re all awake. Their vitals are fine, look – they’re healthy. I don’t understand.”
Betty helped the girl out of bed.
“Easy, go slow,” she instructed the barefoot child. The girl didn’t speak, and her eyes moved from Betty’s face, staring blankly at nothing in particular. The other children were the same. They got out of bed, awake but almost catatonic. When Betty moved, however, the little girl followed her, and the other children formed a chain behind her.
“We need to get them out of here.”
Betty led the way from the tent, drawing the six children after her, the blue hue emanating from their limbs casting a blue glow over the pristine white laboratory. Barbara was reaching for the steel exit door when Betty felt the tip of a gun connect with the back of her head.
“Not so fast, Officer Patterson. Or Betty if you prefer.”
Betty turned, and her gun was wrenched from her hand. The smell of cheap cologne washed over her followed by Batiste’s warm breath which reminded her of stale mints at sports bars. For a Special Agent of the FBI, he looked more like a 90’s rip-off crook from a Sunday cop show. Batiste gestured for Barbara to move away from the door, tucking her gun into his belt.
“I bet you wish you could put a bullet in me right about now, eh? Too bad I took your pistol, ain’t it? Move your ass over there. I don’t want to damage the goods when I shoot you.” Batiste jabbed her in the ribs with his gun.
Betty felt the start of a tremor. Somewhere nearby, the earthquake was building, the waves catching the periphery and rolling inward. At the first opportunity, she grabbed the nearest keyboard and smashed it against Batiste’s head, then dropped it and batted his gun away, sending it skidding across the floor.
Batiste regained his balance and tried to punch her in the jaw. She ducked away and escaped that blow, but he slammed his other fist into her gut. Betty doubled over, gasping, but despite the pain, grabbed his arm, locked it between her knees, and twisted hard. She heard bone snap, and Batiste howled in pain. Betty released him and tackled him to the ground, pinning him face down. She straddled his back, reaching under his blazer to retrieve her own gun, and then smacked him hard in the head with the butt. She raised her hand for another blow that would have split his skull, then paused, breathing heavily. Flashbacks of the Prowler she had bashed swam before her eyes. She dropped her arm and reluctantly stood up.
Barbara was already gone, escaping along with the alien children. Betty moved back to the containers. The main console’s large screen blinked a red alert, indicating the facility was becoming unstable. She fired a shot at it, and backed away from the eruption of blinding sparks.
That should cancel Globe’s bullshit biometric, she thought, turning to aim for the first tanker. Batiste stood in front of it, having recovered and found his gun. Betty raised her own.
“Are you really going to shoot an FBI agent, Officer? You don’t have it in you.”
Betty chewed the inside of her cheek. “Yeah? You don’t know me.” She fired. The bullet ripped through Batiste, hitting the first container, and his blood sprayed over it. It only dented the glass, so she kept firing until the tank began to crack, blue liquid sipping out, wetting the tips of her shoes. The container was about to crack.
She destroyed the second cylinder, shattering its glass in multiple places. She backed hastily away as both containers burst, drowning the expensive machinery, short circuiting everything. The lights flickered and went out, leaving only the faint blue light of the smashed containers to illuminate the lab.
The bodies lay prostrate on the floor, and Betty hurriedly removed the triangular apparatus from their chests, wondering if Kristof was alive. She felt for a pulse, fingers pressing into his neck. His eyes fluttered open, and she felt a weak heartbeat.
“Oh my God—” Betty started to say when his body lifted into the air, head lolling back, hands and legs limp. He appeared to be in deep slumber, despite his half-opened eyes. Kristof’s mouth opened and he whispered a word that chilled Betty to the core.
Regaining control over his muscles, he floated back down, ignoring Betty, and addressed Batiste’s body, stripping off Batiste’s shirt and pants. They were too loose and too short, but Kristof didn’t seem to notice or care. He bent and picked up the older man’s body, hoisting it over his shoulder. Then he shot through the roof, ripping it open, and Betty threw herself to the side, but the ceiling was already collapsing on her. The entire building was being torn apart, floor after floor.
* * *
Joaquin didn’t know which button to press on the keypad in the glass elevator. The generic music didn’t help much either. He tried 50 but the button flashed red.
Globe’s voice said, “Not so fast, Joaquin. I wanted for us to talk first in private. I tried so hard to find you these past months, and you kept getting away. This is our get-to-know-each-other time.”
Joaquin looked at the camera in the corner of the elevator.
“I ain’t got nothin’ to talk wichu. Where are Anne and Massey?”
“Busy. We’ll get to them in a minute.”
“Imma comin’ for you.” Joaquin waved his Glock at the camera.
“Yes, I’m sure you are, but wouldn’t you want to save your friends first?”
Joaquin frowned. “I don’t want your games, bitch.”
“You’ll want this one. While we talk in here, both Anne and Massey are facing a predicament that would result in their deaths. I can tell you where they are, but you have to choose who you’ll save and who you’ll leave to die.”
“That’s bullshit, bruh!”
“Life isn’t fair, Joaquin, you know that best of all. You see, you’re just like me.”
“No I ain’t. Eat shit.” Joaquin paced around, a nervous hand scratching at his head. Globe’s voice dripped from the intercom like liquid, low and hoarse.
“As much as you want to deny it, it’s true. I could have taken you in weeks ago. All your little hidey-holes, that Sound Factory, I knew about all of them. But I didn’t want to spoil this, our reintroduction. I know a few things about you, Joaquin. You lived your entire youth unsure of who you are, who you wanted to be. And when you finally found out the world threatened to take that away from you and turn you to a monster. You weren’t any better than when you were a street thug, fighting for a little respect amongst better and stronger men. You weren’t the hero you thought you’d be. I’m right, aren’t I?”
“The fuck you talkin’ bout man, you don’ know me. I saved this city from you!” Joaquin felt the walls press into him, the tight confinement making him nervous, the wicked height giving him a free-fall view as the elevator moved relentlessly, not stopping at a single floor.
“You thought you were saving it. Look outside. Does it look saved to you? There’s a war raging, and you just add fuel to its all-consuming flames. I want to quench them, to bring the world to the place where it should be. We both wanted to be something better, to not be ridiculed or thought of as the villains. We can finally have the respect we deserve in the world I’m creating. Wouldn’t you want that?”
Joaquin looked at the camera sideways.
“In the new world, you will be a God, people will look up to you as a hero. You’ll lead them. No more hiding and petty thievery. You can put all the behind you. Wouldn’t you want a world in which people like you are free?”
“Why you doin’ this, you ain’t even a super?”
Globe’s laughter echoed in the cabin, rebounding off the walls. It drilled into Joaquin.
“I don’t need to be a super to have power. I own the only power capable of restoring history and continuing its course as it should have been. I hold the key to the next generation genome. Life will reboot under my orchestration, Joaquin. All the people out there matter nothing. They are the sickness that erased humanity; they are false. You know I’m right. Deep down, you know that.”
Joaquin sat down, head resting against the cool interior of the elevator. Anne had said much the same thing. The first time, it had made Joaquin feel alienated. Suddenly, the friends he knew were nothing more than barbarians, colonizers of the world that belonged to him, a singular individual belonging to the extinct race that was humanity. It flipped his world upside down. But then he’d moved away from it, taking his ability for granted, trying to sell it out on the street by abusing its purpose. Despite all that, he had lived his entire life amongst the people Globe called parasites. He had fought them, loved them, killed them, and saved them. He breathed their air, ate their food. In his eyes, they weren’t different from him. They were the people who prevailed and whether they deserved this planet or not didn’t matter. They had it, and had had it for centuries.
Joaquin got back to his feet. He spat at the camera, cranking a smile at the little hooligan gesture.
“I want to save the supers and give them the future that was stolen from the defects of Genghis Khan. How are you blind to that? I want the planet to be as it was meant! You want the same thing as I do, why can’t you see that? I want to save your kind. Why can’t we work together?”
Globe’s voice had raised to shouts, excitement bubbling on his eager-to-speak lips. But Joaquin wasn’t sold. He shook his head. “No, all you cause is chaos. You is the one hurtin’ my kind, destroying it. I tried to help! So fuck you and your fucking monologue.”
“You misinterpret my actions as vile. I did what was necessary and the price was worth it.”
“I’ll misinterpret your face when I get up there, bruh!”
“Fine. Be it so. I’ll be waiting for you, Joaquin, but I don’t think you’ll come in time. Remember, you have your friends to save. So who is it going to be? Who will you save – Massey or Anne? Mind you there’s a lovely-looking daughter in the Massey package. Time’s a wastin!”
Joaquin went silent at the impossible choice presented to him. Anne would probably be all right, she was tough. Joaquin knew that after seeing her murder his entire gang within minutes. Against Silas though… She’d specifically warned them she couldn’t take him on her own. Joaquin realized the truth. Her death wouldn’t weigh on him as much as Massey’s would. And Massey was alone; he didn’t have any abilities. Joaquin owed him.
Joaquin frowned when the elevator stopped at 18 and the door slid open. Globe’s cackle unnerved him.
“It’ll be too easy if I lead you straight there. Run, Joaquin. They don’t have much time.”
As soon as the elevator doors opened, Joaquin dashed through the corridor, running past offices. In his mind’s eye, the red-lettered EXIT was the only destination to reach. The emergency stairs lay beyond that door.
Black boots stepped into his path, the shoulder of a Nightprowler connecting with his sprinting body. It threw him off, and he crashed into the wall. The Prowler pinned him there, twisting Joaquin’s gun hand behind his back. The pressure on his head doubled when he tried to move, squishing his face into the white paint.
“What’s the rush, Joaquin?”
Cosma came around to look at his face, smiling at the sight.
“You come for more, bitch? You ain’t got enough last time?” he managed to slur.
“We’ll see about that.” The Nightprowler peeled him off the wall and pushed him inside one of the offices. Two more Prowlers waited with their stun rifles tracking him. Joaquin flexed his fists, determined not to be kept from Massey.
“Hit him until he doesn’t move,” Cosma ordered.
Before the sizzling blue lightning enveloped him, Joaquin moved with a roar toward Cosma.