Chapter 8 – Underestimation
Alex’s eyes fluttered open. New day. More exercises, more blood tests, more men in white coats watching him trying to throw lightning at a dartboard from behind a glass screen.
---He looked over to the alarm, checking how little sleep he had before it inevitably went off, only to sigh in relief as he realised it was Sunday.
---Crux was, fortunately for what remained of Alex’s sanity, not entirely unreasonable, and had agreed earlier in the week that Alex should get one day off, and Alex had been looking forward to it. He had to wonder, though, how long he’d have to stay, as it wasn’t particularly enjoyable and his mother might have been worrying about him.
---Alex sighed as he pushed himself up, bringing his feet over the side of the bed and standing. He knew very well that his mother hadn’t been worrying about him, because she didn’t notice he was there unless he tried to grab her attention. She just went about her own life as though she didn’t have a son, as though she’d never met his dad, as though nothing had ever happened. Which was, of course, a fantasy, but it was one she lived in, and if it meant that she wasn’t crying all the time Alex could live with it.
---She still did cry, though. At night, when Alex was lying in his bed and worrying about how his wardrobe was slightly off the centre of the room and whether or not he needed to move it, he could hear her sobs downstairs. He thought back to one night when he was twelve, and had gone downstairs in the hopes of comforting her. He quickly pushed the memory back into the deep recesses of his mind where it belonged, deciding that it might be an idea to take a look around the underground building. He’d grown more used to the corridors, and was now able to make out imperfections, badly applied paint or a chip in the wall, just little things that helped him identify where he was. If he tried to memorise his path, he should be able to make his way back.
---As he closed the door gently behind him, he looked to his right, the direction where the scientists or doctors or whatever they were took him every day, then to his left, the corridor stretching out. That was the direction Crux had taken him when he’d first brought him here, after threatening to kill Christina.
---It still didn’t sit right with Alex that it was just for blood tests, or even for finding out how his powers worked, that Crux had threatened to kill Christina. Crux had said there were others like him, and it would probably have been just as easy to get one of them to work with him. Or would it?
---Alex had been incredibly co-operative. He’d done everything Crux had asked, and he’d done it because he had a weakness, a flaw, which Crux had spotted and immediately exploited for his own gain: his feelings for Christina. Crux wanted something from him, and regardless of what this Cult’s apparent purpose was he doubted it was to worship him. A man who hands out death threats to a person he’s meant to consider a god obviously has more sinister motives.
Alex stopped walking when he realised he’d drifted too far into his own thoughts and gotten lost. He swore under his breath, looking around to try and find anything he recognised, but all he saw were blank walls and security cameras. Just as he was about to turn and walk back the way he came, he did a double-take – security cameras?
---Alex had noticed the lack of security cameras when he’d first arrived. It was one of the first things he took note of. So if they were here, when they weren’t anywhere else, it obviously meant that something important was here, something that might have had to do with Crux’s plan. He looked back the way he came, then down the hallway ahead of him. If he went down that way, he’d be taking a massive risk. He could’ve said he didn’t know where he was going, but the camera had seen him hesitate. He had to make a decision, doing as Crux wanted or trying to find out the true reason he’d been brought here. And, as teenage boys often will, he chose to take the risk.
- - -
“I don’t see what you have against threatening to kill me,” Stephen sighed. “You were fine with it in Dundalk.”
---“First, I’ve already threatened to kill you more than once in the time we’ve been here, and it hasn’t worked so far,” David snapped, his irritation getting the better of him. “Second, I didn’t threaten to kill you in Dundalk, only to gag you.”
---David was silent, staring at the stone wall between him and Stephen as though he thought his glare would somehow travel through it. “No it’s not! With one you’d have duct tape on your mouth, and with the other you’d be dead.”
---“Couldn’t I have duct tape on my mouth and be dead, though?” Stephen asked, as though the question was somehow proving a point.
---“I’m not dignifying that with a response.”
---“Technically you just did.”
---“No, I undignified it with my response which refused to dignify it,” David pointed out. He’d been trapped with Stephen for just about a week, and they’d had either this same conversation or one very similar to it multiple times each day. His patience had worn thin by the end of the first day, and by the third it was all but nonexistent. Once again, he tried to distance himself from the situation by looking at the positives:
---First, they had the name of another Marked, Eve. That could make finding her easier than finding the boy here had been, or even decrease the screw-ups (although given her American accent, David had his doubts about the simplicity of the task).
---Second, Crux wasn’t going to kill them (yet). He needed them for his grand plan, making other people as ‘special’ as they apparently were, and somehow David doubted that he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart. His mind returned to the day Crux had captured him, and the smell of the albino’s breath as he crouched before him and whispered those precious few details of his plot. On the surface, it was all too many breath mints, but there was something else underneath, something unpleasant, something he suspected the mints were intended to hide. He hadn’t been able to place it at the time, but since then he’d had long enough to think, and slowly he’d become certain: the smell was blood.
---He had run through as many ideas as he could, but most he dismissed immediately. The only two that had stood a chance were that Crux was a vampire or that he was suffering from some kind of illness, and even the vampire one would have been pushed away were it not for the man’s appearance. David stopped for a moment to wonder if that was racist, then decided it probably wasn’t. He wasn’t sure how either of those fit in with what Crux had told him of his plan, but he hoped that it would make itself known. Assuming we don’t die first.
Hearing someone approaching, David shushed the still-talking Stephen, and tried to remain as quiet as possible in case it was Crux. However, as their visitor came into view, the silence broke with a quiet gasp from David and he immediately stood upright, in order to get a proper look at the boy before him.
---The boy looked about the same age as Stephen, and seemed to be exactly the same as when David had seen him in his vision, even wearing what looked like the same clothes. Although he wasn’t too sure, David thought he was a little paler than before, almost sickly-looking, with bags under his eyes, which were staring curiously at David.
---“Who are you?” he asked, and David was silent for a moment, trying to figure out the best way to answer the question and eventually settling on simply lifting up his sleeve as he had done to Stephen. They had been given different clothes, and although they fitted they were uncomfortable, and Stephen seemed to think that lime green didn’t match up well to his skin tone.
---“A friend,” he answered, allowing the sleeve to drop as the teenager continued to observe him carefully. “What I want to know is why you’re out there, and not in here like us.”
---“That would be easier to answer if I knew why you were in there to begin with,” he retorted. “You haven’t even told me your name, and how am I to know you don’t just have a tattoo?”
---“Are all fifteen-year-olds like this, or did I just end up stuck with you two?” David sighed.
---“In my defence, I did start off with ‘no offence’,” Stephen cut in. “He’s obviously just a prick.”
---“I didn’t start off with ‘no offence’ because I couldn’t care less whether or not you’re offended, I just want to know why I’m supposed to trust you,” he replied.
---“Alright. My name is David. I woke up last Saturday with a glowing tattoo on my shoulder and the ability to see the future. I met someone who also had powers, also about your age which is really making me feel old, and he used them to beat me to a bloody pulp, but not before telling me that there were others apart from us with powers and that he was going to find them all and convince them that they were gods, presumably by telling them that humans were parasites or something like that. I then had a vision in which I saw you being led to a police cell and teaching the police present the difference between electrification and electrocution, and shortly afterwards another of our friend Stephen. Wave your hand, Stephen.” Stephen didn’t wave. “I found Stephen, recruited him to the cause of finding you and the others, then we used news sites to make our way to a town in South England, where we found a cover story about you having been arrested for shop-lifting in a local newspaper. We then made our way to the police station, only for it to explode, leaving me with a splitting headache and confusion as to whether you were alive or dead. We rested in a hotel for the night, then were captured by a fellow called Crux who knocked us out, brought us here and then told me that he already had one of us working with him, who I presume is you although that might just make you untrustworthy, before informing me that he was planning to find what gave us powers so that other people could have powers too. Your turn.”
---“Okay. I woke up in the middle of the night last Friday-forward-slash-Saturday with a sore arm and a glowing tattoo. I went to the park and was gripped by a strange need to protect the girl I fancy from her thuggish ex-boyfriend, which resulted in leaving her terrified and the ex-boyfriend and his thugs unconscious. I was promptly arrested and escorted to a police cell where I informed the police of the difference between electrification and electrocution, before being led out by an albino in a Morgan Freeman suit named Crux who promised not to viciously murder the girl I mentioned earlier if I went with him. He told me that there are six of us, the Marked, each with a different power, and said some other stuff that I can’t be bothered adding to this summarised version. He’s spent the last few days getting scientists to take my blood and watch me throwing lightning at dartboards. Today was my day off so I took an opportunity to explore the building and came across this room which was miraculously unlocked despite the presence of security cameras all around it, hoping to find out exactly what Crux was doing, which I sort of have now.” The boy paused for a few seconds, as though trying to figure out if there was anything else to add. “Oh, and my name’s Alex.”
---“Well doesn’t my Saturday seem boring now,” Stephen muttered.
---“Aw, poor you. It’s obviously so much better to have the people you care about threatened or be beaten up.”
---“Well, I... uh...” Stephen was silent, trying to think of an adequate comeback, before looking down at the floor in shame when he found himself lacking one.
---“Alex, we need your help,” David said once he felt certain Stephen wasn’t going to think of something witty. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re kind of locked up.”
---“You want me to break you out?”
---“Well, yes, if possible,” David shrugged.
---Slowly, Alex nodded, after giving it some thought. “I... I can try.”
- - -
Manhattan, New York
Eve was bored.
---That was the sum of her problems. Even the guitar was beginning to irritate her, as she found it to be increasingly out-of-tune, regardless of how much she tried to tune it. She had become so busy tuning it, in fact, that she seemed to have forgotten to play it, and although her parents usually didn’t notice her playing it would appear that when the same note was repeated over and over with no noticeable change it began to grind on their nerves, leading them to commit the ultimate sin: they confiscated it.
---Regardless of what they believed was ‘for the good of our sanity, and yours’, it was Eve’s opinion that they had no right to take away her guitar. Or her keyboard, which she immediately turned to once the guitar was no longer available. The only thing she had left was her phone, which was very much less than a musical instrument with its tinny speakers and all-but-unreactive touch screen. All she had left was Angry Birds and the internet, and the former had grown a little tiresome after she found herself trying to score three stars in every level again.
---She’d tried waiting for whoever else was like her, assuming they existed, and they hadn’t come. Alice seemed to spend most of her days either asleep or out with friends who weren’t Eve. Eve didn’t really have many friends, apart from Alice and Sam, who was in France and not replying to Eve’s text messages. Probably to avoid being seen to have a girlfriend, which was very moral. Commitment didn’t really seem to be Sam’s area.
The internet had become Eve’s only companion, as she scoured it for signs of anyone else like her. There were things here and there that stood out as odd – something about UFO’s in Dublin or something, she didn’t really know the difference between Irish places. They couldn’t be that separate, right? It was such a small country.
---While people talking about UFO’s wasn’t odd in itself, it was the fact that it took place around the same time as she would have fallen unconscious that seemed odd to her. At first she didn’t notice it, given the timezones, but it was right. There were also paranoid blog entries about people disappearing around Ireland, saying that whole towns and cities of people had vanished. Ireland seemed like an interesting place to live. It seemed that Eve was just on the wrong side of the Atlantic. As Eve went through the search results for ‘Dublin UFOs’, she found her eyes drawn to one in particular. It looked like the average paranoid alien blog at first (and it seemed to think that the UFOs were in Cork. Then again, though, they might have been Cork...), but she felt something in the back of her mind urging her toward it and clicked it anyway.
---There was only one article. It was the first Eve had seen to actually have photos, and not low-quality phone images – there were six clearly visible balls of light, all different colours, in the sky. It could have been photoshopped, sure, but something told Eve, the same way it had told her to look at that article, that it wasn’t. The article was the first to suggest that it wasn’t caused by aliens – in fact, it seemed to think that it was something ancient and somewhat human. It claimed that the lights were directly related to six ancient gods, the Marked, who had been sealed away somewhere in Ireland in some legend or another. But it was able to list where the lights had gone – this couldn’t have been the work of one person, these were being tracked by at least one person each – which caught Eve’s interest. There was a red one which was apparently in Northern Ireland, although they couldn’t get the exact location but seemed to think it was in Belfast, an orange in somewhere called Dundalk (also in Ireland), a green one which had apparently barely moved at all and remained in Cork, a grey somewhere in the west of Ireland, a blue in the south of England and, lastly, a purple in New York.
The last one, of course, convinced Eve that there was some amount of truth in it, and she continued to read through the article (it seemed to be massive, but she didn’t try to save time by skimming), learning that these Marked apparently had what seemed to be superpowers. She started going through the list of powers, convinced that telepathy was going to show up, but found that it got cut off halfway through. Mobile sites.
---As quickly as she could, she clicked to read the full entry, waiting as it loaded, growing ever more frustrated until she was met with a blank screen and an error message. She hit refresh, and again, and again, and went back to the full blog page, but it had disappeared completely. It wasn’t even listed in the search results anymore. But she had something now; she knew what these Marked were, she had some idea of where the others were (even if they weren’t anywhere near her), and if this site had been taken down it must have had something important on it. Or the author realised he was drunk when he wrote it and proceeded to delete it out of embarrassment.
---She was taken by surprise as her phone vibrated in her hand and began ringing – a text. Probably Sam.
It came up as a hidden number, but Eve couldn’t help but be a little curious and decided to read it, just in case of the slim chance it had something to do with what she’d been searching for.
---‘Who are you?’
---Eve narrowed her eyes, reading and rereading the three words. Wrong number. It had to be, she hadn’t texted anyone. She deleted it, but almost the moment she did the phone vibrated again, this time with a call. She hung up on it, trying to push away the feeling of dread rising inside her. A minute passed, then another. She breathed a sigh of relief.
---Then the house phone began ringing.
---She froze, waiting for it to ring out and stop. There was hardly any other way they could try to contact her, and her parents were out for the day – her dad was showing off some painting he’d made or something, still trying to convince the world that he was more an artist than a school teacher – so they wouldn’t be picking it up. After about eight rings, it stopped, but Eve didn’t move, still frozen, still waiting for the next ring, not daring to even breathe in case the phone started again.
The next ring was the doorbell. Eve couldn’t help but gasp, as she heard a voice and keys fumbling and the door creaking open and–
---“Eve! I'm home!” Sarah called out, and Eve smiled. It was all in her head. It must have been, it was just coincidence. But still, like one of those nightmares that feel so real even after you’ve woken up, the fear and the dread just lurked there on the outskirts of her mind, waiting for the next ring to be whoever was looking for her. “Eve?”
---“I’m upstairs, mom!” she shouted down, surprised at how calm and unbothered her voice sounded. She heard her mother coming up the stairs, and then her head peeked around the door.
---“You should try to go outside at some point, Eve,” Sarah sighed, seeing the phone in her daughter’s hand. “Being cooped up in here on your phone all day can hardly be healthy.”
---“Being cooped up all day in here on my guitar might be a little healthier,” Eve suggested, earning another sigh from her mother.
---“I’m just here for a few minutes,” she said, changing the topic. “Your father has just realised that he left his glasses here.”
---“Haven’t you been there for about two hours?”
---“Yes, and he’s been complaining about how much blurrier all the paintings seem since the last time he’s been there for quite a while.”
---“As a joke?”
---“Sadly not. He realised about an hour and a half after we arrived that he wasn’t wearing his glasses and sent me back to get them.”
---Eve raised an eyebrow. “How many times so far has he claimed to be a genius?”
---“Six, if you don’t count the sarcastic one about the absence of his glasses. But anyway, I really have to just grab them and get back, I just wanted to check in on you,” Sarah explained.
---“Okay,” Eve smiled, watching her mother’s head disappear as the door closed. She waited, listening as her mother closed the front door and the car drove away, and she was left with silence and the knowledge that whoever was trying to contact her wouldn’t have given up just yet.
- - -
Alex slowly ascended the stairs away from the dungeon where David and Stephen were being kept. He wondered if it was his fault that they were in there, then decided that if he hadn’t decided to work with Crux then it would have just been him in there and one of the others playing his current part.
---But that wouldn’t have happened, because Crux knew he would work with him. Somehow Alex felt that he’d been singled out among the others, chosen for a specific reason, that Crux had just known it would be easier to make him co-operate. He was weaker than them, and Crux recognised that, but perhaps it meant that he would underestimate him. If he was weak and passive then he wouldn’t act, but he was going to.
As he reached the top of the stairs, he stopped, hearing two guards walking past. The footsteps were growing closer and closer, and he was even able to make out what they were saying. He took a deep breath in and held it, trying to remain completely still.
---“What do you think of this kid, then?” one of them asked.
---“I’m not really sure. I wasn’t really expecting the Marked to be children, you know?” the second replied.
---“Well, we were all children once,” the first shrugged.
---“I don’t really see gods returning as children. I mean, what if they aren’t gods? What if they’re only kids with powers they don’t understand?”
---Alex heard one set of footsteps stop just outside, immediately followed by the other, and felt a bead of sweat creep slowly down his forehead. “You’re starting to sound like Thompson. You remember what happened to him?”
---“He... was executed.”
---“He got blown apart,” the first corrected. “The Cult doesn’t take kindly to disrespect.”
---“Calm down, I’m not planning to convert any time soon,” the other guard assured him.
---“I’d hope not,” the first growled, and as they started walking again and the footsteps faded away Alex considered breathing a sigh of relief, but the words of the guards seemed to hang in the air over him as some intangible threat: Crux was not to be messed with.
Alex sat in his room later, trying to figure out how he could break David and Stephen out. He could use his powers, he supposed, but what good would they do? He could knock out the guards and take down the security cameras, but he didn’t see what he could do after that. He didn’t know who had the keys... although he did have a suspect in mind.
---Crux liked to be in control. He wasn’t afraid of doing the dirty work himself, as evidenced by him showing up at the police station. It made sense for him to have the keys, and if he did he probably kept them on him. So Alex just had to get to Crux... or wait for Crux to come to him. He grinned, but it became a frown almost instantly as the lights in his room went out. He stood up, walking towards the door, and felt for the handle, but there was nothing there, and even unadjusted as his eyes were he could clearly make out the bright white suit in front of him.
---“Going somewhere, Alex?”
- - -
Crux sat back on the chair in his office, his legs crossed and up on the desk, sipping at a cup of tea. Alex was safely locked away with David and Stephen, and he already had all the information he needed – the plan would continue as, well, planned. He grinned as he lay the cup down. There was a knock at his door, and quickly brought his legs down, sitting up and pressing a small button on top of his desk to unlock the door, looking curiously at the security guard who passed through. “What do you want?”
---“I know what you’re doing,” he said.
---“Hm?” Crux tilted his head slightly, hoping to earn some explanation from the guard. He wasn’t the first to suspect something, and probably wouldn’t be the last, but he still needed to know how much he knew and how many others he’d told.
---“You have the Marked locked downstairs,” the guard explained. “You’ve been doing all those tests on Electricity to find out how their powers work, because you want them for yourself.”
---Crux couldn’t help it; he laughed. He looked in the guard’s face and he laughed. “How many people have you told about this?”
---“No one, yet.”
---“I see. And what, exactly, do you think you’re going to do?” Crux asked, his tone now completely serious.
---“I’m going to kill you,” the guard answered, pulling out the gun he’d had in his pocket and firing. He watched as Crux looked down at his brilliant white shirt, now slowly turning red, then back up at him. The guard couldn’t keep his eyes off the shirt, though, as the red slowly receded and the bullet itself was spat out through the same hole it had created in Crux’s shirt.
---“Good luck with that,” Crux smirked, standing up and beginning to walk toward the guard. “Mr Stuart, isn’t it?”
---“Y-yes...” the guard whimpered, backing away from Crux.
---“You have a wife, don’t you?”
---“Yes, I do,” the guard nodded.
---“Part of the Cult?” This time Crux didn’t get a spoken response, but the guard did nod his head. Under different circumstances, Crux might have considered pitying him, but pity was an emotion he’d left behind him a long, long time ago. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell her the truth of what happened here. Preserve your honour. I’m sure she’ll love hearing about how you took the same bullet that was meant to take my life. Or, at least, the closest available at the time.”
---Crux had fired the gun before the guard had even had time to register its presence, and he looked down at the red spreading across his shirt, almost as though he was hoping he would mimic Crux and survive.
---He had no such luck.
---“By the way, I’ll make sure that everyone knows that your last act was buying me a new shirt with your payment for this month,” Crux smiled icily, leaning over the man as he made a weak gurgling sound. When he was certain he was dead, he walked back to his desk, trying to ignore the red smear the guard had left on the perfectly white wall, and pressed a small red button beneath a microphone. “Hello, reception? Another assassination attempt, you’ll need to send in the clean-up crew.”
---With that, he sat back in his chair, putting his feet back up on the desk and lifting up the teacup. He put it down, frowning, as the lukewarm liquid slithered down his throat, then pressed the microphone button again. “While you’re at it, could you send up a new cup of tea? This one’s gone cold.”