Sam stared off into the darkness long after Frank's tail-lights disappeared, trying but failing to stop the tears. "Stupid man!" she sobbed out loud. God, he thought he could handle this all by himself! He didn't understand. He was doing just what they wanted him to do, and he hadn't even given her the chance to warn him.
She leaned back against the wall of Chronos and tried to think through the panic that threatened to choke her. Frank had taken the car. All she had was her bike, and she didn't have the half an hour it'd take to get to the other side of town.
"Perhaps I can be of assistance?"
"Holy shit!" Sam jumped back against the door, hand to her heart, as a man stepped out of the shadows to share her pool of light.
"I apologise for startling you. So sorry." He stepped closer, and she groped for the door handle. The guy had the look of a used car-salesman, slicked back hair and a suit so expensive and new that it almost shone in the dark. He gave her an equally oily smile and adjusted the cuff of his shirt.
"What... What are you doing around here at this time of night?" Her voice came out reedy and weak, so she cleared her throat and upped the volume. "Are you lost?"
He shook his head and grinned again. There was something just... not quite right about this guy. Above all else, he'd managed to sneak up on her in the dark, and she hadn't heard a thing. What the hell was that about?
"I own a factory on the next lot. I was checking on a security alarm when I heard..." He inclined his head apologetically. "Well, I heard someone weeping, and I came to investigate." He took another step forward, now well and truly in her personal space. He was so soaked in heavy aftershave that she almost sneezed. "Are you all right?"
She forced a smile. "I'm fine, I'm good. No problem." Her wits were coming back to her, and she remembered a self-defense class from years ago. "My boyfriend is just coming to pick me up."
He raised one dark eyebrow. "Your boyfriend? Not Frank, then?"
Her mouth fell open. What the hell? "It's not really your business."
"I didn't mean to offend. I couldn't help but overhear your argument with... uh... Frank."
All she wanted right now was to turn around and let herself back in the building, but she didn't dare look away from the man. "I'm fine, really. My boyfriend is going to be here any second, so you can just... go. Thanks for your concern."
He gestured around them. "I'd feel so much better if you'd just let me wait til he gets here. I wouldn't want to leave you... alone. It's not safe." He smiled again, and she almost shivered.
The lot was emptier than empty, pitch black as far as the eye could see. She couldn't even hear a car within five miles. It was like this part of the city had been abandoned by human life. And she was locked outside of her building, with no way of communicating with anyone, and she had an overdressed slimeball right up in her face with a smile that made her skin creep. Holy shit. Was she about to be the victim of a garden-variety murder- oh, hell, probably a rape, too- in the midst of all this bizarre craziness? Frank was with Lipsenard, too far away to help. Cold panic swam all over her.
In an instant the smile dropped off his face, and something black and ugly swarmed behind his eyes.
Adrenalin kicked in and screamed at her to fight. She lifted her arm and swung with all her might- and stumbled forward into emptiness. She got her footing back and spun wildly, chasing the darkness for any sign of the man who had been standing there only a second before. Standing right there.
A low laugh echoed out of the parking lot. She staggered back against the warehouse door, heart in her mouth. Where the hell was he? What the hell was he?
There was a breath of wind and a whisper in her ear. "You already know the answer, my sweet."
She spun again, but she was looking at empty air. She took a deep breath and tried to stop shaking. She was just not up for this kind of crap right now. "Show yourself!" she shouted.
There was a moment of complete stillness, and then the night itself shifted, and he was right in front of her again. "As you wish."
The air erupted into flames and she threw up an arm to shield herself. Squinting through the heat and the glare, it took her a few moments to process what she was seeing. Standing in place of her used car salesman was something from her darkest nightmares- a monster on animal legs, huge, horned and...
The thing clicked its fingers, and just like that the fire was gone and the man in the bad suit was back, the same too-wide grin on his face. Through perfect white teeth, he hissed, "You're mine. Then Frank."
After that, a lot of things happened at the same time, all within seconds.
The thing lunged at her, and she felt anger boiling up from inside, a white heat she'd never experienced before. She opened her mouth and screamed- and the air around them seemed to shatter into a million pieces, echoes of the sound going on and on until she had to put her hands over her own ears and crouch down to get away from the buffeting waves of noise. When the sound finally dimmed to a faint ringing in her ears, she looked up.
The beast lay twenty feet away, sprawled motionless on the bitumen. The lights were all out, but she could see it all clearly- smashed glass everywhere, every window in the area rattled to pieces.
Her self-defense teacher would have been so proud. A half-crazed giggle escaped, coming out as a sob.
And there was a car, parked not ten feet away, as if it had been there the whole time. A silver convertible, top down, all the windows totally intact. Two people sitting in the front seats, mouths hanging open- the driver a younger woman with oddly silver hair swept up in a beehive; the other a guy who looked like he might have escaped the gorilla enclosure at the zoo except for the gold tooth winking out at her.
She took a shaky step forward as the driver opened her door and stepped out of the car, pushing aside a long gown of black. The gorilla hopped straight over his door. All three of them had eyes only for the inert body of the man in the suit.
"Is he...?" Sam didn't want to get any closer than she had to.
The gorilla shuffled closer and gave the suit a kick. No movement. He looked back up at her, grinning, and spoke like he had gravel caught in his throat. "I think he is." He turned to his companion. "I think she did it!"
The other woman had her arms tightly folded across her chest, lips pursed. "What I want to know is how she did it."
Sam wouldn't have minded the answer to that one, either. "Just who are you, anyway?"
The gorilla jostled forward, holding out a giant hand, but just as she reached for it he yanked it back. "I'm Brahman," he said. "Sorry, but..." He nodded from her hand to the dead guy. "You know."
Sam nodded, numb. She hadn't even touched him. She hadn't even had to. "And you?"
"Midnight," the woman said. She didn't make a move to unclench her arms.
"Brahman. Midnight." Sam looked between the two of them. "I'm guessing you didn't just get lost on the way home from the theatre?"
Brahman snorted. "We came for you. We thought you might need some help, but..."
"I do. I do need help." She waved an arm. "I need to know what the hell is going on here."
Midnight tapped her elegant stiletto against the pavement. "I'd like to know that, too." She turned to Brahman. "You know, I've only ever seen one person who could do what she just did. One person."
Brahman nodded, thoughtful. "I know. I just don't know how it could be possible."
All three of them spun toward the voice that rang out of the shadows. Familiar, deep and smooth. "Simon!" Midnight exclaimed.
He walked towards her slowly, almost limping. The beautiful face she'd seen only in her dream was stretched with tension and sadness, the blue eyes deep with despair. Grief radiated off him as he reached her and stood looking down into her eyes. "Livy. Oh, Livy." In an instant, the shell broke and he collapsed against her, sobbing. By instinct she put her arms around him and held him while he cried. For such an elegant man he had surprising bulk; broad shoulders and strong arms. Behind him, she could see Brahman and Midnight staring in stunned silence.
"Simon. Simon!" He was squeezing her so hard she could barely breathe.
Finally he let her go and stood back, holding her by the arms, examining her face. "It's you. It really is."
"Samantha," she said softly. "My name is Samantha Nichols."
He nodded, and smiled a sad smile. "I know, my dear." He put an arm around her shoulder and turned back to his friends. "You understand what this means?"
Midnight nodded, terse. "She's gone, isn't she?"
"She... she is. I lost her in the rip, I don't know how. And when we landed here..." A shudder ran through him. "Her body was the only thing left. Empty."
"I'm sorry," Sam said. "I'm so sorry." He squeezed her shoulder in acknowledgement.
"So..." Brahman was scratching his big ape head. "Are you saying that Sam's powers..."
Sam answered herself as the realisation hit her. "Came from Livy." She turned to Simon. "Is that it? You're saying I've somehow taken on these powers? I just don't see how that's possible."
He smiled gently at her. "Samantha, dear. You haven't just taken on Livy's powers. You have her... essence, I suppose. Her..."
"Her soul? Is that what you're saying? I've been... I don't know, possessed?" She rubbed her face with both hands, then sat down promptly on the concrete step. "This is a lot to take in."
Simon settled next to her. "It's the tip of the iceberg, I'm afraid. You see, we are all special- but Livy... well, Livy is something else." His jaw clenched. "Was something else. Was."
"I saw. What I did..."
Simon nodded. "Her powers are unlike anything on earth or beyond. You must understand that she posed a great danger to Them. And now so do you."
"Who is 'Them'?"
Brahman chuckled. "That over there was just one of them. Just a soldier in the army."
Midnight rolled her eyes. "What does that make us? Are we each "just a soldier"?"
"They are like us," said Simon. "They are special, too, but they choose to use their powers for nefarious purposes. That.. thing... is one of their most elusive hunters. Was."
They all looked over at the body.
Or at the empty space where the body had been before Simon arrived. Empty.
Sam jumped to her feet. "Oh my God. Where is it?"
They all rushed over, but there was no sign of the fiend. Sam watched as the other three exchanged worried looks.
"I could hear her three streets away. Thinking." Midnight didn't bother to hide her scorn.
Sam bristled. "Hey!"
Simon shook his head. "She didn't even know he could hear her."
"He could hear me? Thinking?"
"He could. You must receive training in how to use your powers correctly, my dear, and as soon as possible."
Sam nodded. "Yes. Okay. I should. But not right now- you said he could hear me thinking? Well, I was thinking about Frank. He said he was going to get Frank next, and now he knows just where to find him." The cold panic was back, and Brahman and Midnight each backed up a step.
Simon smiled. "You're glowing, my dear."
She looked down at her hands and found them swathed in translucent blue. "Holy shit."
"You understand that anyone can see your emotions when you are like this. All of your vulnerabilities are visible, to anyone."
He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You must receive the training, my dear. Frank will be fine for now- the beast must return to his lair to regain his energy, and besides, Dr. Lipsenard knows what to do."
Sam sighed. "Of course he does. Everyone does."
"Let's get her to Nemo, then," said Brahman.
Simon looked up sharply. "No. We must train her ourselves, somewhere safe."
Midnight raised one slim eyebrow. "No Nemo?"
Simon took a long, deep breath. "They have him. He and Sneedly."
Midnight and Brahman gasped.
"It is not Nemo I'm worried about. I fear Sneedly will have told them all our secrets before we can get there."
"Then we must go there right now!" shouted Midnight.
"We need Olivia's powers, Magdalena." Simon's tone was soft, but authoritative. "And we need Sam to have full control of them before we throw her into a confrontation."
"It will be too late by then!"
"I will not risk her again, Midnight!"
They were up in each others' faces, shouting. "You risk all of us, every single one, if you delay!"
"Stop!" Sam cried. They both looked at her. "I am the one with the powers." She pointed at Midnight. "I am the one who decides where we go next." She turned to Simon. "You can't do it without me, right? Well, you'll have to do what I choose, and I'll tell you what we're going to do next."