ALL THAT GLITTERS
I immediately started to get ready, or at least as immediately as my condition would allow. The after-effects of White Death’s touch were taking their good sweet time to subside. I let the hot water in the shower pound down on me for a good fifteen minutes while I just stood there, head bowed, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
Lithos had Becky, and now he wanted to meet me so we could talk. I didn’t have the foggiest idea as to what he wanted. I’m not gifted with foresight, like my mother is, and I couldn’t just hack into people’s minds to read their thoughts or control their actions, like my cousin. Unfortunately for me, my empathic gifts only worked on people when I was in the same room with them.
I thought back on Lithos’ file; there were a few inconsistencies for someone who appeared to have an obsessive-compulsive drive to travel around and even eat in a clockwise fashion. There were a couple cities he had traveled to, neither of which fell into a customary pattern or seemed to have any significance. Then there was the matter of why he really wanted a laser. While there were all kinds of technology out there the government has made, and a good deal of it was unknown to the general public, the concept of a weapons-grade laser seemed almost far-fetched.
To complicate matters, there was Anya’s inexplicable behavior. True, her ability to conjure and manipulate fire was rather impressive stuff, but she could have incinerated Atlas if she had tried hard enough. Instead, she had hid behind the desk to avoid the barrage of flying objects the giant had hurled at us. Her emotional state was one I had a hard time figuring out. There was more there than meets the eye, but I couldn’t quite determine whether it was good or bad.
Looking at the clock, I saw that I still had plenty of time, so I put it to good use. Going to my computer, I went online to the criminal database kept by the federal government. This was where all the info on the really bad guys was kept: terrorists mostly, but also underworld figures so horrible, Gotti almost looked like Mother Teresa in comparison.
To my surprise, I found nothing on Lithos or his associates. Puzzled, I logged onto Interpol’s database. (Thank you, International Law Enforcement Shared Information Act.) I looked around as long as I could, and to my surprise, came up empty handed.
This led me to two possible conclusions: Lithos didn’t have a file because he was either a) under the radar, or b) not a criminal. I had to find out, and in order to make that determination, I had to meet the man himself.
Bast jumped up on my lap, purring loudly. Aside from her contentment, I was picking up all kinds of images out of her feline emotions; images mostly from her perspective as she hid under the bed while Anya looked after me. A certain dislike towards Agent Petrucci could be detected, and I chalked it up to my cat’s hatred for any other female vying for my attention. Then, with a casual yawn, Bast sent me another image that caught my attention; that of Anya going through my top desk drawer. Curling up and making herself comfortable, she started to sleep.
Moving slowly, I opened my drawer; I kept all sorts of information in there, but one thing in particular that I had was a list I maintained of my special contacts. Over time, I had come into contact with other individuals who were like myself, gifted in one way or another. All in all, I had met about ten in the Columbus area. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot, but considering how few of us are out there, it’s a pretty high number for a concentrated area. I kept not only a list, but also files on each of them; what they could do, where they could be located, and potential usefulness. After receiving the image of Anya going through my things, I was not surprised to find that the leather binder I kept that information in was missing.
“Son of a bitch!” I cursed, slamming the drawer.
Bast, awoken by my shift in mood, looked up at me and hissed. She jumped off of my lap and went back to the bedroom, presumably to hide under the bed again.
Now I had a bigger problem. Most of us with powers prefer to keep our anonymity, living our lives as quietly as possible, and using our talents to help others. With this list in the wrong hands (that being anyone other than me,) everyone on that list was at risk of exposure or worse; I had heard some talk about using individuals with gifts as some sort of super soldiers for the military.
Torn between finding Anya and meeting Lithos, my mind was racing. My phone rang again, and I quickly scooped it up.
“James, what in the world is going on!” snapped the voice on the other end of the line.
“I don’t know, Scott. Maybe you could tell me.” Scott was one of the contacts on the list. His powers of stealth and being able to alter his density made him very useful to those who wanted information or evidence retrieved by less than lawful means. He called himself ShadowWight. What can I say, he’s a little weird.
“Who’s this crazy Eurotrash chick you sent over? I mean, she comes over, says she’s with Interpol and needs my help with some assignment! How the hell does anyone know about me, James? I know you have that list, but you told me that thing was kept safe! She even called me by my code name, James!” he kept up his rant for a good two minutes longer. Scott was actually one of the few people whose feelings I could detect over the phone line, due to his highly emotional nature. He’s a bit of a drama queen.
“Scott, I honestly don’t know.” I began to put on my shoes. “I’ve got a very important meeting to get to. How about you come over to my apartment and hang out, just in case Anya comes back.”
Scott answered with a big exasperated sigh. “Fine, but you got some ‘splaining to do, Lucy.” he said before hanging up.
I opened my phone book and started to call the others; I had little asterisks beside the names of the gifted. Each person I called, I told them not to let Anya into the house. I was beginning to think everything I had been through had been one big set-up, but again, I had no idea what this was leading to.
One Nationwide Plaza is the address of one of the tallest buildings downtown. Everyone just calls it the One Nationwide building, or variations thereof. At the top is a very fine restaurant which affords the most spectacular views of the city, that is, if one considers Columbus a scenic town.
I arrived at the restaurant after a vertigo-inducing elevator ride. The elevator to the restaurant is on the outside of the building, and since it only stops there, I had a slow ride up, which I absolutely hated. So, I faced the elevator doors, unwilling so much as to peek outside at the nighttime cityscape. Feelings of amusement and other curious attitudes toward my behavior from my fellow passengers hung in the air like the cloud of perfumes in the enclosed space.
Finally, we reached the top, and the doors, mercifully, opened quickly. I practically leapt out of the elevator, almost landing on the maitre’d. He didn’t seem terribly amused, he brushed himself off and with a sneer, asked if I had a reservation.
“I’m meeting someone. Aristotle Miniakis.”
“Ah, yes. He’s here now. Follow me, please.” Weaving his way expertly through the tables, he led me toward the back of the restaurant.
The emotional clamor of all the people having dinner and conversation made me realize that Lithos knew exactly what he was doing. By bringing me around so many people, I was going to have a hard time focussing on one person. The emotions of everyone were providing, in effect, a smoke screen.
Lithos greeted me warmly and motioned for me to sit. “Ouzo?” he offered, gesturing for the waiter to come to the table.
“Sure.” I said, even though I wasn’t exactly in a drinking mood, much less so with someone who had just kidnapped my girlfriend.
“I’ve already taken the liberty of ordering dinner for us. But now, to business. First, let me assure you, I do not intend to let any harm come to your friend.” he stated after my drink had been placed in front of me and the waiter had taken off.
“That’s nice to know.” I glowered at him.
“Second, you can stop giving me the death dart looks. Are you hoping to turn me to stone?” he laughed for a moment. “Rebecca will be released as soon as we are done here.”
“What do you want, anyway?”
“I believe you have been played for a fool, Mr. Branden. I think you know by who.”
“Exactly. She is not all she claims to be. In fact, she is by far worse than I.”
I picked up the ouzo, which had turned milky white from the ice in it. I took a sip and tried not to grimace. I never liked the stuff. Lithos chuckled; I guess he found it entertaining. Detecting an individual’s feelings in a crowded room for me was like trying to hear someone whispering at a rock concert.
“What is she up to?”
“She’s no Interpol agent, let me assure you. She works for the military as part of their ultra-special forces unit.”
“Gifted individuals.” I added. I did not like the direction this was taking.
“Exactly. The governments of the world know that people are being born with gifts. What they want to do is use people like us as a specialized branch of their militaries. Super-soldiers, if you will.”
“And what is Anya’s role?”
“She’s their top recruiter. Somehow, they manage to find us, and she comes in with some tale about tracking down a gifted terrorist, usually me.”
“Because, dear boy, I was the first. I was only sixteen when I was taken away from my family, never to see them again.” his jaw clenched, and for the first time, I could sense his anger as he relived those days. “I was forced to do…all kinds of things for them.” He exhaled deeply. “But I escaped, I changed my name, and ran away to Greece. I made a living as a… sculptor for a while.”
The perversity in his smile was not entirely lost on me. I figured it would be best not to pursue what all happened during that time.
“What about this whole underworld figure story she gave me? She led me to believe you were some mob boss. And,” I added, “that you currently have possession of the DeLong Ruby, switching it with a fake.”
“Not entirely true. I went underground because I know the US Army is still looking for me. All I want is to live my life in peace. Surely you would understand that.”
“But, Atlas, and WhiteDeath? I mean, Atlas is a sociopath. He killed someone with his bare hands and seemed to enjoy it!” I protested.
“Atlas is the way he is because of what they did to him. WhiteDeath is a product of their own design. When they discovered her ability to take on the qualities of any organism’s DNA, they injected her with massive amounts of genetic strands of Chironex fleckeri.”
“Better known as the Sea Wasp. The most deadly jellyfish in the world. Her skin is loaded with stinging cells which only now she is beginning to control. This whole time, she has never had any physical contact with anyone. Poor thing. With her deadly touch and their training, she became their most lethal assassin, until she too escaped with Atlas.”
I looked at him with a furrowed brow. I was intently trying to discern if he was telling me the truth. His story actually seemed more plausible than Anya’s story, but I still didn’t trust him.
“The US military has gone through great pains to get us under their control, and no doubt, being aware of you or any other like us, will come after you.” he cautioned.
“What about this part about components being stolen for a laser or something?”
He laughed loudly, and several other patrons turned to look at him. “What do you think this is, a science fiction movie? What could I possibly use a laser for?” He laughed again as if I had said the most hilarious joke he had ever heard.
“But Anya and I walked in on Atlas and WhiteDeath at Borealis Labs! They had killed an entire research team!”
“Did you actually see them kill?” he asked between sips of his drink. He twirled the glass around, the ice making a tinkling noise. He regarded me critically with a raised eyebrow.
“Atlas broke one scientist’s neck and threw him like he was nothing.” I countered. “That I can say for certain.”
He merely gave me an enigmatic smile, saying nothing.
“If this laser thing isn’t supposed to exist, then what were your people doing at the lab?”
“My reasons for doing things are my own, dear boy. Suffice to say, I was making sure that those who would try to exploit us experience a…set back in their work.” his smile looked a little more menacing. “You see, the military isn’t the only place where those of us with gifts can use them.”
At this point, I don’t know if it was the ouzo on an empty stomach or what, but I was beginning to feel dizzy. I felt myself slumping forward, and as my mind began to spiral into unconsciousness, I thought I heard Lithos say something about helping me to the car, but then I let the darkness take me.