The elevator is slow.
It moves like a snail up the side of the building. He has nothing to amuse himself but this coin that he tosses back and forth, tries to sharpen his focus on the task at hand.
No wandering thoughts.
They are strictly forbidden.
But they trickle in the further he goes upwards and he has to force himself to count the ridges of the coin, to toss it higher, to challenge himself beyond what he’s been taught. Create something new.
His eyes flick up, watch the numbers switch over from sixty-seven to sixty-eight to sixty-nine and onwards. He breathes out a sigh as it finally comes to a stop. The doors slide open, he pockets the coin, steps out.
Captain Allen is somewhere in the apartment, down the hallway, around that sharp right turn. But he stops, something drawing him over to the table to the right of him. He reaches for the picture slowly, looks over the happy family.
No wandering thoughts.
He quickly sets the frame down, moves away, pretends he never saw it and turns to his other side in an effort to keep his gaze as far from the frame as possible. It lands on the aquarium, empty and cracked with a slow trickle of water across the ground.
No wander thoughts.
But he reaches down and picks the fish off the ground anyways, hesitates for a moment before releasing it back into the fish tank where it should be. He has to pull himself away, keep his focus on the task at hand.
No wandering thoughts, remember?
It is hard, though. Do they really expect him not to wonder? To want to explore? To want to take off from here, investigate somewhere else in this new world he has finally been released into? Find a family that he may or may not have? He could have parents. Siblings. A brother.
He is hit hard with the force of a woman grabbing his shirt, pleading with him, begging him.
“Please you have to save my little girl.”
That’s why he’s here.
But he isn’t supposed to talk to anyone but Captain Allen and the terrible, evil monster on the terrace. The variant.
So he says nothing as she is pulled away, as she is dragged to the elevator, shouting after him. His fingers ache with the pressure of being wrapped so tight into fists.
And he heads to find Captain Allen.
He quickens his pace—he can’t dawdle now. He has wasted enough time. His thoughts need to focus again. Why can’t he get them to focus?
“Why are we wasting time? That piece of crap could jump off the roof any second—You.”
He pauses and he doesn’t know if it is the sudden influx of fear in the back of his head or the fact there is a man pointing at him, his face twisted into a sneer.
“Captain Allen?” he asks, taking a step over the glass on the floor, but his shoe still hits a piece anyways, the sound it crunching into dust under his foot feels like it’s inside his brain, echoing around.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“My name is…” he says, crossing into the room, glancing above him as he goes. Mirrored tiles on the ceiling reflecting his face back down to him.
There is something shocking about seeing brown hair, brown eyes. Like he imagined something else would be there instead. Like it is the first time he has seen his face in a hundred years.
It very well could be.
But the shape of his features remind him what he was saying. How he lost his train of thought, how his mouth couldn’t form the correct vowels and syllables and consonants that his name consists of. His name.
“Connor. My name is Connor. I’m the consultant sent by AzureHeart?” he finishes, hating that his voice rises into a question.
“Right. I heard about you,” he says, and his eyes flick to Connor’s neck where a metal band should be but isn’t.
His hands twitch at his side, wanting to reach up and cover the skin there.
Captain Allen turns away, back to the guy at the computer, seemingly already tired with Connor.
Connor sighs, steps forward, needs to force this conversation to continue, “Do you know his name?”
“I haven’t got a clue. Does it matter?”
“I need information to determine the best approach.”
A beat of silence.
“Do you know if he’s been behaving strangely before this?”
“Listen,” Captain Allen says, stepping away from the computer. “Saving that kid is all that matters. So either you deal with this fucking variant now or I’ll take care of it.”
Connor watches as he walks away. He breathes in once, twice—back to work.
He spies the gun case on the floor, bullets scattered across the ground. Connor walks away from it quickly, not wanting to be in the room any longer. It’s not the time he’s running out of that pushes his feet across the floor. He doesn’t want to be near that case. The gun is missing but it’s reminder is still there and it’s enough.
The bathroom supplies no information. The girl’s room is stereotypical little girl room. Bright colors and soft blankets and stuffed animals tossed on the bed. A cute sign that reads if you love the life you live you will live a life of love. Except with hearts and a U in the place of you. The hearts are hot pink, vibrant and happy. Not like a blue would be. It would look so wrong in this room that consists of warm tones. Red and pink and fuschia.
He picks up the tablet, presses play on the video. Anything to distract himself of how wrong he feels standing in here. Still, Connor pays little attention to the words being spoken after the girl says, “This is Daniel—”
He doesn’t need to. He focuses on the man’s eyes, zeros in on them closely.
It is comforting for a split second before it grows unsettling.
This was the face he expected to see when he looked up at those mirrors. He expected blonde hair, gray eyes. Sharp nose, gentle eyes.
Connor sets the tablet down quickly, steps backwards just as fast, hears the soft sound of plastic breaking underneath his foot. He turns, picking up the broken headphones. Soft pop music still playing through them, volume at max. Her parents shouldn’t let her listen to it this loud. She’ll go deaf before she’s twenty.
If she lives.
He drops it, leaves the room as swiftly as he came, scanning the area. A gunshot rings out and he whips his head to the left, watches as one of the SWAT members is hauled away with the help of another man dressed the same as him. Connor watches as they set him down, turns his head at the wound.
He’s never seen blood before. Not red or blue.
No wandering thoughts.
Connor leaves, crossing the threshold into the living room, turning to look over at the dead body to his left. The father. He recognizes his face from here. Connor walks over to him, crouches beside him. Things are getting a little clearer now. He can make out the faint lines that warp around his body, wound up tight around each wound.
He doesn’t want to see this man dead. It’s making him sick. It’s making him want to turn around and run. His feet stumble over the tossed over furniture, he passes the second body, can’t look at it yet. He needs a break. He needs to breath. This is all too much. This is not what Connor was supposed to do. He was supposed to come in here calm, cool, collected. Nothing was supposed to affect him.
Blond hair. Gray eyes. Blue blood.
And no wandering thoughts.
Connor makes his way to the kitchen, shuts off the burner on the stove to rescue the pot that has been boiling over for too long. Someone else should have done it. Someone else should have thought of this.
He walks back over to the second corpse, surveys the area around them. A small shoe. A pool of blood belonging to Daniel. Connor glances over the body, searching for the cop’s gun and when he doesn’t find one, he turns, investigating underneath the table.
When he spots it, he automatically reaches out, grabs it, turns it over in his hands.
And he takes it. A safety precaution. A necessity, perhaps. He just knows he feels like he is on a dangerous edge here. He needs some form of weapon. Or, maybe it isn’t him. Maybe it’s something else telling him this.
On his way towards the glass doors he crouches down, touches his middle and index finger to the pool of blood, brings it up to his tongue. The world around him stops, everything sharpens into a collection of millions of lines. A single one is plucked out from the assortment of colors, a shiny silver thread. No longer a gentle shimmer weighted around wounds, but thick strands winding around the entire house, centered at the back door.
Connor follows it outwards, knows even before the finger closes around the trigger that he is going to get shot. Pain blossoms up his arm, splatters blue blood against the door. He looks at it for a moment before glancing back to the shooter. To Daniel.
The single line he followed out here connects them like it’s wrapped around their fingers and it wraps around Daniel like a cloud. Turning from something like a metal write into soft hues, radiating away from him like a nebula. It disappears almost seamlessly into the black sky around him.
“Hi, Daniel,” he says, taking a slow step forward. “My name is Connor.”
“H-how do you know my name?”
“I know a lot of things about you, Daniel,” he says, and it is true. Beyond that video of him and Emma. Beyond the way the energy is concentrated in the room behind him. “I’ve come to get you out of this.”
A helicopter whirs by, the wind sending the terrace furniture tumbling. Connor pushes forward, tries to steady his breathing but it gets more and more haggard the closer he gets to Daniel.
“I know you’re angry,” Connor calls, he can feel it pulsing in his veins—the rage, the fear. “But you need to trust me and let me help you.”
“I don’t want your help,” Daniel yells back. Connor’s eyes flicker to the girl, the blood smeared across her throat, the tears in her eyes. “Nobody can help me.”
That much is true.
But Connor is a practiced liar.
“All I want is for this to stop—I just want all of this to stop.”
Connor feels before he sees the sudden shift in Daniel’s face. The shift from terror to anger, the gun going from motioning as he talks to pointing directly at him.
“Are you armed?”
He glances to his right, sees the body floating in a pool of red blood. He glances to the left, sees the injured cop bleeding out. If he’s quick enough, Connor can save him. Maybe not by running over to his side, but ending this before he’s lost too much blood.
“No,” Connor finally answers. “I don’t have a gun.”
His heart thunders in his chest, but he knows Daniel, the extent of which his power goes. He might be able to tell something is off in his voice, something false about his speech, but he won’t be able to pinpoint. Especially not with the way the energy comes off him in scattered, random waves. He can’t control it yet. Daniel can’t concentrate it. His lashing out—that’s all he can do. He hopes with his power—he does not act with it.
“I’m telling you the truth. I came here unarmed.”
He watches as Daniel’s face twitches, tries to reconcile his words with whatever the energy is telling him. Connor watches the threads shudder, pull back again, and he knows Daniel has decided to believe him.
“There’s no way out, Daniel,” he says, continuing forward. “What you’ve done is too serious. The only question is whether or not you take another innocent life.”
“It’s not up to you. I’m the one holding all of the cards.”
No, no, no.
“If I die, she dies,” he says, holding Emma out over the edge. She screams and Connor takes a large step forward, half ready to sprint towards them even though he’d never make it in time if Daniel decided to drop her. He can’t tell if that’s where he’s going with this. This isn’t like a road. It’s not a two-way street. It’s so much more intricate than that.
It’s like trying to run through a crowded entrance at a theme park. It’s like racing through lines and lines of people all going the opposite direction, all reaching out and trying to stop him. He can only make out flickers of Daniel. A snatch of a thought, clear and concise, or drowned under water, words mangled together.
Connor breathes out a sigh of relief as he pulls Emma back to the edge, holds her just as close against him as before. His precious shield keeping him alive.
Fear presses in on the back of his mind and he searches for the right words to say, but he can’t quite figure them out, can only focus on this little girl that could die if he makes one wrong step.
“I know you and Emma were very close,” he says, his voice falling apart at the seams. Daniel is going to see right through it, see how much he is scared for her. Connor isn’t sure if that is good or bad in this situation. “You think she’s betrayed you, but she’s done nothing wrong.”
“She lied to me!” he screams and the little girl echoes it. “I thought she loved me… but I was wrong. She’s just like all the other humans.”
“Daniel, no,” she pleads.
Connor’s chest aches, his fingers are shaking. He’s not close enough to do anything if something happens.
“You have to trust me, Daniel. I’m like you. I understand what you’re feeling,” he says, doesn’t say that it is more than just understanding, that everything he feels right now is reverberating back to him. “Let Emma go and everything will be alright.”
Daniel turns the gun on him, holds it a little steadier but his hands can’t seem to keep a perfect grip. “I want everyone to leave. And I-I want a car. When I’m outside the city, I’ll let her go.”
It hits him so hard that he stumbles backwards a step.
Daniel is lying. He’s not going to let Emma go. He’s going to take her with him. She is the only human that ever showed him kindness—she is the only human that treated him as an equal. He isn’t going to let that go, even if it spirals into dangerous territory.
But Connor can’t state this out loud. He has to cover it up, he has to shove the blame onto someone other than his disbelief—his knowledge that Daniel is lying.
“That’s impossible, Daniel. They’ll never let you get away. You killed people, your only choice now is to let her go and I promise you won’t be hurt.”
I don’t want to die.
He doesn’t know who the thought belongs to.
“I didn’t kill them,” Daniel yells instead. “I never killed anyone.”
No. Connor supposes that’s right.
All of the wounds were self-inflicted.
“I know you’re very confused right now—” Connor says. “But I can help you.”
I don’t want to die.
I don’t want to die.
He is going to die.
And Connor is a practiced liar.
“You’re not going to die,” he says, the words slipping off his tongue like poison. “We’re just going to talk. Nothing will happen to you, you have my word.”
It’s all Connor needs.
And he gets it.
Daniel’s hold on the gun lowers, his grip on Emma loosens. She drops to the ground, takes off across the rooftop. It was like she was a shield between them, because as soon as she is missing Connor can feel, see his energy spinning wildly out of control. It lashes out like sun flares, damaging everything it touches.
Things are so much clearer now.
It makes this so much worse.
Connor feels the bullet that hits Daniel in the shoulder. He feels the one that sinks into his abdomen. He feels the pain in Daniel blooming outwards, infecting absolutely everything. He feels the terror and the betrayal and the anger.
You lied to me.
He cannot move. He only watches as the force of the bullets sends Daniel backwards, toppling over the edge of the building. His hand trembles, resists the urge to grab onto something. Something to keep him from falling. Something to keep him from pressing against his skin to see if he’s bleeding, too.
The connection is broken, suddenly, violently. Whatever the exact moment Daniel hit the ground below, it disintegrates with the last breath Daniel takes.
Connor lets out a long sigh, feels the fog of his mind drift away and a weight lifted off his shoulders. He is not scared. He is not angry. He simply is.
He turns, walking back into the apartment, passing by the soldiers as they rush out to help the wounded cop laying off to the side. They won’t be quick enough. Connor should have done something. He should have been prepared to build a better barrier between him and Daniel.
Mental powers are not something to take lightly, and he did.
Next time he’ll do better.