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Superbad Copyright © 2012 Vivi Andrews All rights reserved.
Chapter One: Running With Scissors
Mirage jerked awake in a strange room, disoriented, a chilled sweat making the unfamiliar cotton scrubs she was wearing cling to her body. No, not scrubs. Not medical. Institutional. Her awareness seemed to stutter, like a poorly cut movie, jerking her from moment to moment with no transitions. Something was wrong. Was she drugged? She felt quickly along her arms and throat for IVs, needle marks, but found no evidence.
The room was small. A box with four white walls, a high, narrow window, and a sturdy door that held another high window, the light from the hall shimmering off the thin bands of metal reinforcing the heavy glass. A cell. Where was she? Did it matter?
Escape. The whisper came from inside her mind. It was her own voice, but there was something off about it. It was too confident, too sure, when she felt nothing but confusion and doubt. An outside force speaking in her own mind, in her own voice. Kevin. Mirage shuddered and quickly rolled off the bed and slid under it, hiding from whatever cameras might be watching her.
No. Not Kevin. She’d killed Kevin. Hadn’t she? Disjointed memories tripped over one another, overlapping in impossible ways. Breaking Kevin’s mind. Slitting Kevin’s throat. Listening to him scream. Banging his head hard against the floor. Yes, that one. No, strangling him, smothering him, a silent death.
Were they memories? Fantasies? He’d… done something. She shook her head, trying to shake some order into her thoughts. Why couldn’t she remember clearly? Kevin had tricked her, used her, bending her mind until she didn’t know where she began and he ended anymore, but she hadn’t been the one he wanted. Lucien. He’d been after her brother. Another fragment of memory surfaced—Lucien surrounded by Kevin’s mind-controlled hordes, swarmed by them, too many, even for a man with superstrength.
Had Kevin killed Lucien? Another cold shudder ripped through her body. Why wasn’t Lucien here? He would never abandon her. He would never leave her in a place like this and no force on Earth could keep Lucien from getting to her if he lived. He was too strong. He’d broken her out of Area Nine, the supervillain prison. She remembered that much. He would have broken her out of here. Wherever here was.
Escape. The word came again. Sounding more right this time. Escape and find Lucien. Escape and kill Kevin. Escape and shake the effects of whatever had her memories looking like a mirror that had been shattered and put back together in the wrong order, rough-edged pieces refracting back on one another in awkward, impossible ways.
The sound of a key in the lock was eerily loud, ringing in her ears. What fools held her that they thought they could enter her room with impunity? Or was she the foolish one? Had they given her something to inhibit her abilities? Were her disjointed memories only a side effect of some new super-suppressing drug?
Mirage held herself still under the bed, waiting, hoping to gather more information to fill in the massive blanks in her head. The door opened slowly, soundlessly, and a pair of legs entered her vision. Sturdy black boots, dark jeans, and the trailing edge of a lab coat.
“Mirabelle, I know you’re in here.” The voice was calm and soothing, with a careful lack of fear or hesitation, like he was talking to a feral animal and trying not to startle her with any sudden moves. “I’m Dr. Eisenmann, remember? I’m here to help you. You can show yourself to me, Mirabelle. You’re safe here.”
Mirage ignored his claims of her safety, focusing instead on his urge for her to show herself. He hadn’t even tried to glance under the bed. He wasn’t looking, because he didn’t believe he would find her. Dr. Eisenmann clearly thought her powers were still fully operational.
It was all the go-ahead she needed.
Mirage reached out with her gift, the one part of her mind that was working properly, and plunged into the good doctor’s perceptions. She couldn’t read his thoughts—her father had always been disappointed that her gifts hadn’t developed in that direction—but she could control what he thought he saw, felt, heard, smelled, all of it.
He was hers, for as long as she could keep her focus tight. She let him see her, a decoy version, standing across the room beneath the window, innocent and immobile, as her real body slipped out from under the bed and moved toward the door.
“What do you want?” Fake Mirage snapped.
Eisenmann turned toward the window, tucking his chin in an oddly submissive gesture. “I only want to help you, Mirabelle. You’re confused.”
“Where am I?”
“Trident Labs. The Mental Rehabilitation wing. You checked yourself in after… do you remember Kevin?”
Mirage made her fake self give a jerky nod—it was the little gestures, the details, that were the trickiest to replicate when she doubled herself, but Eisenmann gave no sign that her illusion was anything but perfect.
“Prolonged exposure to Mind Benders like Kevin can have lasting effects. We’re trying to help you counter them.”
She reached the door, more than a little surprised when the knob turned smoothly beneath her hand. Why hadn’t he locked it behind him?
“You’re on the hero side now, Mirabelle,” she heard the good doctor say as she slipped out into the hall. Something dark shuddered through her soul. Now she knew he lied. The heroes were the bastards who had stood by and let her world shatter without lifting a finger. She would never join them.
She closed the door silently and twisted the keys he’d left in the deadbolt on the hall side, locking the doctor in, but keeping up the mirage of her other self in case he had a way to sound the alarm.
Escape. The whisper in the back of her mind was back, insidious and dark. Was it her whisper, or could it be something Kevin had planted there?
A strange double beep sounded over the PA system and Mirage jumped. Shit. She’d forgotten about security monitoring. Yet another sign something was very wrong with her. She would never make such a careless, rookie mistake if she were in her right mind. She dropped the illusion on Eisenmann and threw out a blanket perception-deadening wave, pushing it out through the entire complex. It was hurried and clumsy, but she didn’t have time for targeted finesse.
“Wroth protocol implemented. Lock-down commenc—” The soldier-sharp voice over the PA broke off as the wave finally reached him, sending him into the catatonic daze she held over the entire facility—but not before he implemented his damn protocol.
Electronic doors slammed home, sealing the hall as the fluorescent lights went out, replaced by irregularly flickering red emergency lights. An intermittent siren sounded at odd intervals. Damn it. They knew what they were doing. The more they changed the environment, the less predictable they made it, the harder it was for a chameleon like her to maintain the illusion covering it all.
Mirage ran to the end of the hall and tested the door, but the handle didn’t even rattle under her hands. She cursed softly. Closing her eyes, she picked through the dozens of minds she held in sensory-deprived thrall, searching for the one with his finger on the lockdown button. False alarm. Undo it. Nothing to see here.
She was dizzy and sweating with the effort of maintaining her hold on so many minds when she finally found the right one. The siren cut off, fluorescent lights blinked back on and the door popped open. Mirage ran.
If she could just get outside before her powers burned out, she’d be home free. After she was out of the building, all she had to do was make herself invisible to whoever saw her—that was much less taxing. She’d run to Lucien’s. He would know what to do. If he’s alive…
She didn’t know how many wrong turns she took, but finally she tripped across a distinctive glassed-in atrium. She stumbled a step, startled to see she really was in Trident Labs after all. They were neutral, the Switzerland of supervillain-superhero confrontations, espousing science above all, so why would they be holding her prisoner? It didn’t make sense.
Nothing made sense tonight.
Mirage threw open the double doors and raced into the parking lot, pushing herself, her muscles burning. When she was a hundred feet from the building, she let herself drop the illusion and collapse to her knees, the sweat pouring off her skin chilling in the cold night air as she tried to catch her breath.
More memories surfaced, tangled and disorienting. Lucien shaking hands with Eisenmann blended and morphed into Lucien being blown to pieces by an Apocalyptum bomb. Apocalyptum… a substance lethal even to supers and developed by only one company. Trident Labs. Was it Kevin who had killed her brother? Or Eisenmann? Were they working together?
Rage and frustration made the fragmenting worse. Her head throbbed, pain the only constant as everything else in her mind shifted and rolled like clothes in a dryer. What was happening to her? She would worry she was losing her mind, but all evidence pointed to it already being gone.
A figure dropped out of the sky, landing hard enough to make the ground beneath her quake. Mirage froze. He was huge, menacing, dressed in black leather and bad attitude—and her heart flew to her throat at the sight of him.
Her brother crouched in front of her, his eyes wary. Why would they be wary? Why was he so tentative with her? So damn cautious.
“What are you doing out here, Belle?”
Another form floated down from above, alighting delicately about fifteen feet away. It was dark, but even with no moon, Mirage recognized the woman with a giant red D emblazoned across the chest of her black supersuit. Darla Powers. DynaGirl. She must have flown Lucien here. Why would a hero do that for Luc? DynaGirl folded her arms, watching Mirage with an expression that wasn’t even a distant cousin of friendly.
“What are you doing with DynaGirl?” Mirage snarled, unable to keep the belligerence out of her voice when she wanted nothing more than to scream, Why are you with Miss Goodie Goodie when you should be protecting me? Since when did Lucien hang out with the princess of the superhero set?
At her question, Lucien’s face shuttered, but she saw the flash of disappointment before it fell into resignation. What had she done to disappoint him?
Lucien took her hand, squeezing it tight—but not hard enough to hurt. He was always careful of his strength. “I’m here, Belle.”
Her broken mirror shattered again, the pieces scattering until she didn’t even have a distorted illusion of who she was anymore. She was a blank slate, which was much lonelier than she’d imagined it would be. “Luc, what’s happening to me?”
She shivered and he slipped off his jacket, draping the warm leather around her shoulders. “Come inside, Belle. I’ll explain everything.”
He nodded toward Trident Labs and Mirage jerked back, stumbling and sprawling gracelessly to the ground as something primal and irrational inside her rebelled. “No. They killed you.”
Lucien flinched, his eyes unspeakably sad. “No, they didn’t, Belle. I’m fine. See? Eisenmann is trying to help you. You came to Trident of your own free will so they could help you.”
“No,” she murmured, repeating it over and over again, her voice barely audible. She started shaking her head and found she couldn’t stop, though she wasn’t even sure what she was protesting anymore.
“Come on.” Lucien guided her to her feet and Mirage let him tuck her against his side, tugging her toward the building. Nothing felt right, not even her brother’s familiar arm across her shoulders, but she went along with him. Docile. Dazed.
DynaGirl fell into step beside them, giving Lucien a supportive little smile. What was she doing here? Was he with DynaGirl now? Had Lucien really turned hero? Lucien “DemonSpawn” Wroth gone over to the side of the angels? It was all so wrong.
As they approached the front of the building, Dr. Eisenmann held a door open for them, nodding to Lucien with a weary, well-used smile.
Everything felt like an illusion another chameleon had cast over her eyes, but this was reality. Wasn’t it?
They didn’t go back to her cell. No one spoke as they navigated the halls and though Mirage had no idea where they were going, the other three seemed overly accustomed to their path. They stopped outside an office with Eisenmann’s name etched in the glass and the doctor took a moment to unlock it. Mirage stumbled a bit as she crossed the threshold into a reception area and Lucien caught her, lifting her easily into his arms.
“She’s exhausted,” he said, keeping his voice as low and cautious as Dr. Eisenmann had. “On the verge of burn out.”
Eisenmann nodded toward a couch. “Perhaps she should rest first and we can speak privately.”
Lucien settled her on the couch, tucking his jacket around her like a blanket. “Just rest,” he murmured. Then he straightened and followed Dr. Eisenmann into the office, DynaGirl sliding her hand into his and entering at his side. Apparently, privately included Miss Goodie Goodie.
It was a small illusion to convince them they’d remembered to shut the door behind them. Barely took any energy at all and she could eavesdrop with no one the wiser. Mirage curled on the couch, burrowing under her brother’s jacket, trying to warm her icy core, and closed her eyes to listen.
“I’m sorry, Lucien.” The voice was Eisenmann’s. “I just don’t know what else we can do for her. I’m not sure we can help her.”
“There must be something more—”
“We’ve tried. The usual therapies aren’t having any effect. It’s been three months and she’s showing no improvement. If anything, she might be getting worse.”
Mirage gasped. Three months? She’d been here for months with no memory of it?
“For the last couple weeks, we’ve spent more time trying to contain her than we’ve been able to dedicate to healing her. She doesn’t feel safe here and we can’t seem to change that conditioning. And the more security measures we put in place to try to hold her when she has a breakdown like tonight, the more convinced she is she’s being held against her will and the harder she tries to escape.”
It was strange listening to them talk about her. She knew it was her, but this girl they were talking about, the one with all those problems, she didn’t seem any more real than anything else that had happened tonight. A giant illusion. A web of twisted thoughts and careful lies.
“I’m not giving up,” Lucien growled. “She can come live with us.”
Us? Who was us?
“Lucien, is that wise?” came a throaty, female voice, and Mirage realized with a jolt that her brother was living with DynaGirl. What the hell? She wasn’t going to live with some holier-than-thou hero. She’d sooner go back to Area Nine.
“Tonight was a mild night,” Eisenmann said—not so much warning as resigned. “Sometimes she wakes up violent and attacks anyone who comes near her.”
“We can take it,” Lucien said, with the arrogance of a man whose superstrength made him all but impervious to harm.
“She digs into your perceptions. She can make even someone with your strength feel the most excruciating pain.”
“I know,” DynaGirl said dryly, and Mirage had a flicker of memory of forcing Darla Powers to believe she was burning alive, but it slithered away before she could remember why.
Eisenmann continued, “If we hadn’t been able to sedate her quickly enough, she would have broken an orderly’s mind last week. And we’re having to use nearly dangerous doses just to put her far enough under to smother her gift. She’s starting to use it when she isn’t even fully awake. As much as I would like to be able to entrust her to your care, Lucien, she’s simply too much of a danger to everyone around her. At this point, I feel our only option may be to send her back to Area Nine, where at least they can contain her.”
“No. It won’t come to that.”
Mirage was surprised to hear DynaGirl, of all people, agreeing with her brother’s feral snarl.
Eisenmann sighed. “I’m sorry, but it has come to that.”
“Suppress her powers.” The harsh command in Lucien’s voice fell like a blow and Mirage flinched.
He can’t mean it.
“It must be possible. You have some drug, some chemical that can do it. Don’t tell me Trident isn’t experimenting with it.”
Mirage wrapped her arms around herself, as if she could protect the wild light of her power where it was buried deep inside her. She wouldn’t know who she was without that light. Lucien couldn’t mean to neuter her that way. It would be like stripping away a piece of her soul. That he would even suggest it…
“We don’t do that here.” Eisenmann’s reprimand was low, but steely hard. “Trident has always been in the business of celebrating those with powers. To be so gifted…” He trailed off and Mirage wondered if the good doctor realized how evident his raw envy was in that moment. “I would never violate her by tampering with her powers. Unless she needed help honing or focusing them—”
“Honing her powers is not the issue. They are clearly working all too well,” DynaGirl interrupted. “She’s in control of her powers, just not of herself.”
“She doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t,” Eisenmann said flatly. “During her time with Kevin, he fed her a string of false images that are still embedded in her memory. There are lingering compulsions and alternate realities, which normally we would be able to help her undo, but her ability to warp the perception of others seems to have played into the illusions Kevin implanted in her brain and it’s exacerbating her condition. She doesn’t have any grounding in reality. Even on the good days, she can’t even tell when she’s lying to herself.”
A chair creaked with sudden movement. “Lying to herself?” DynaGirl said, her voice sharp.
“A figure of speech. It’s what we call it when she can’t distinguish whether a memory is something she put there rather than something Kevin did. Often even we can’t determine when a memory is authentic versus implanted—unless we have the records to prove one way or the other, but memory is so subjective…”
“But the way you put it, like her brain was lying to her…”
“That is essentially what’s happening.”
“What if there was someone she couldn’t lie to, whether she wanted to or not?” DynaGirl’s voice was bright, filled with a hope Mirage couldn’t share. “I think I know someone who might be able to help.”
“We’ll try anything at this point, but if this doesn’t work…” Eisenmann trailed off, leaving the consequences unspoken, but Mirage heard them all the same. Area Nine. Neutering her powers. Either one was a prison. A life sentence. But would she even know the difference with her thoughts in pieces? She was already trapped in the fragmented prison of her mind. Caged by Kevin… had she killed the only man with the key?
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