Through the last day of experimentation, she was beginning to discover the limits of the gift. She could make someone see something that was not there, but she could not make herself invisible. A person’s brain notices that there is a figure before it. All she could do was distort that figure. Thus far, she was limited mostly to visual cues, but she was beginning to discover ways to manipulate perceptions of other sounds, like changing a kitten’s meow into a haunting cry.
She did not even bother changing out of her uniform, it would suit her task. She looked at her watch. Claire had told her that Pierre Renoir would be off work at five o’clock on his way home. She had three hours and being in no hurry, she took a detour. There was something she wanted to remember, and there was a certain place which cradled that memory.
When she turned the corner she beheld a street of some of the oldest and tightest packed homes in the city, built back in the pre-revolution era. Her gaze locked onto the third house on the left.
The day she was last here came back to her so vivid it felt as if it was happening all over again.
On a sunny summer day ten years ago, her mother held her hand, taking her to a weekend ballet class as was their routine. She heard familiar laughter, the kind that made one think of spring and young life. She looked up, and saw the third story balcony. Little Océane halted, much to her mother’s surprise.
“Qu'est-ce que c'est, cherie?” Her mother asked.
Océane did not reply. She was too entranced. For the first time, she saw her, the blonde girl with whom all her dreams were shared. At the age of seven, Océane realised that she was a copy. She had no dreams of her own, everything she was she had been inherited from the girl, twirling in a white dress, her curly blond tresses floating in the breeze.
Young Océane smiled. Brunette and bland Océane had a secret with gracious Claire. She wanted to run and greet the girl that she had never met but already knew from their shared dreams. They were the best of friends, two halves that made a whole, though they never before had met in person.
With one more spin, the girl twirled and brought herself to a halt, leaning on the steel railing of the balcony. Her wandering blue eyes locked with Océane’s and her smile brightened at the girl on the opposite street below her. Her mouth opened to call a greeting.
Océane mouthed her name ‘Claire’, still trying to overcome her surprise. The next second would echo in her mind for years. The hollow, snapping sound of the railing joints breaking pierced the centre of Océane’s heart. The golden hair twirled beautifully as the girl tumbled from where she leaned like an angel cast from heaven.
All of Océane senses went numb, she did not hear her mother gasp in horror, nor did she hear the noise of the girl’s body hitting the side-walk like a bag of flour. All she heard was the eternal snapping of the iron railing.
She did not bid her body to move, but Océane found herself running out into the quiet street. She did not see the white car hurtle around the corner and she felt no pain when the bumper slammed into her right leg, snapping her shin bone in three. The next thing she knew she was tumbling through the air, like a cast aside doll, but eyes looked only at the white, beautiful folds of the dress and the fair girl who even in death lay in a graceful pose as she as her gown turned red.
Océane lay on the pavement, feeling no pain for her eyes were glued on the girl who was surrounded by people, her father dashing out of the door letting out a heart wrenching howl of sorrow when he saw his broken daughter.
Océane raised a broken and twisted hand, trying desperately to reach for the woven gold locks. She wanted to touch them, to feel the hair of her closest friend, the one who she had copied, to whom she had sacrificed all she was as a person, making herself into a mere, tarnished reflection of her brilliance. But the girl, like a star, was out of her reach, and soon her image blurred, robbing from her all that she found beautiful and Océane’s open eyes ceased to see the world, her ears oblivious to the screams of her desperate parents, the gasps and tears of onlookers, and the distant shriek of sirens.
Océane shuddered in memory of the event. It felt like some bad dream. Weeks later when she had been released from the hospital, her sight began to return, but the whole world looked tarnished. She would have preferred to have the last thing she saw be the angel that fell. In fear, she closed her mind, all dreams and nightmares vanished, in both reality and in sleep. She became a dull girl; the one who could never dance again, the girl who would pursue some meaningless career, who would vanish into the grey world so that when she died, her memory would never outshine the perfection of her broken angel.
Later on, painting appealed to her, she would draw, still life, buildings, birds and plants, but never people. The worlds she made were always empty, devoid of life, save a haunting white figure concealed in the distant background or slightest reflection.
A few years ago, the ghost of the girl she had stored in her mind had returned to her, reopened her heart to the dreams of others.
Océane straightened her back, eyes no longer locked on the once bloodied side-walk, but looking ahead. 'Thank you, Claire, for this gift. Tonight, I am going to tear down a maker of nightmares and give peace to a child, like you did for me.' She wiped tears from her eyes before they fell. The heaviness in her heart vanished. The selfish vengeance had been replaced. She was no longer moving on to this righteous act out of anger or hatred, but out of duty and with a willing heart.
She sighed. 'I am ready.'
Aleksei resisted the grievous temptation to tap his foot while the van idled, the passengers staring at the police blockade a hundred metres in front of them. He felt some comfort that he was not the only person uneasy with the tense atmosphere. Anya, The Messenger, Evan, and even the as of yet nameless driver were all acting antsy. Whatever The Czech was supposed to do, he needed to do it fast, because they were all about to explode from the pressure if SICA did not get them first. In addition, Aleksei needed a chance to contact Mashka.
He had been feeling uneasy ever since their hasty decision to leave her behind. It was true that with her enhanced senses she could easily keep herself several steps ahead of anyone who might catch on to her, but that same power was slowly eating away at her. Last night in Jack’s house, before they went to bed, Mashka confided with him about her power and how she could feel a consciousness that was not her own, clawing and whispering at her from within as it slowly gnawed on her self-control. Every time she used her powers, she found that she could pull herself back a fraction less than the time before.
Hearing about such a strange experience, Aleksei decided to tell her about Nida, the Repha that resided within his inverse. He told her how he had to reconcile himself with that fragment of his soul in order to regain full control of his power. But unlike Aleksei, Mashka did not have a rational being within or a tranquil palace in the wooded mists. Instead she had a whirlwind of bestial destruction within a void.
He gave the back of Evan’s head a look that he hoped would somehow convey his worry. He had not yet shared Mashka's secret with him, but he determined to have Mashka tell Evan later.
Silently the seat and floor of the van in front and to the left of Aleksei turned into pools of scurrying blackness out of which emerged The Czech. Aleksei had never wanted to see this ability up close again, but at this proximity he could clearly see the strange effects. As the Czech pulled himself out of the void, the blackness seemed to flow off of him like a slime before vanishing into oblivion within a fraction of a second.
Anya turned around. “It took you long enough.”
The Czech simply shrugged as he pulled his last arm out of the now tiny void through the seat. Before his hand completely emerged, the blackness expanded once more as the blond Vladimir was pulled out by his coat.
Once all the way in, Vlad flexed his neck a few times to loosen up, clearly displeased with his transportation he flopped down in a seat beside Aleksei, who was too shell-shocked to react with more than just a blank stare.
Evan took a surprised double-take at Vladimir, who was the perfect copy of his brother. The only reason he could tell which was which was Aleksei’s dyed brown hair and different demeanour. Vladimir ignored his brother, seeming to not recognise him. Aleksei had to bear down on himself to avoid hyperventilating. His brother was right next to him, and far too many emotions were flowing through him at once.
“So, big guy,” Anya began, address her Czech partner “We have a problem. That blockade up there has us trapped, what do you suggest?”
“Just drive through them, I’ll take care of it.”
“You do realise doing that is going to be hard to cover up?”
“That’s the advantage of going against SICA.” The Czech reminded her. “Cover-up is on their dime.”
Anya shrugged and turned to the driver. “Floor it, Dmitry.” Inertia threw everyone but Anya back in their seats. Just before they reached the row of police vehicles, The Czech stood and braced himself against the van’s ceiling and floor. Just as the nose of the vehicle touched the barrier, a black splat appeared upon the area that the van passed through.
“Woohoo!” Anya cheered as they phased through the vehicles. “Keep going Dem, we just got started!”
Dem laughed nervously and kept his foot on the pedal. Within moments they had come to the end of street and the only thing in front of them was a row of Gregorian residencies.
Unable to control himself, Aleksei let out a frightened yelp just before the van passed through the building, surrounding them in darkness.
“Ok, Dem,” Anya began as she looked at her hand-held GPS display. “Turn left once we pass through the next row of buildings, we should be in an alley. Tech-devision scrambled the video feeds in that area, so SICA will not see where we go from there.”
“Da, Miss Aho.”
“Oh come now, call me Anya.” she muttered sultrily in the driver's ear.
“Uh… sure… A-Anya.” Dem blushed nervously. “Here we go again.” he warned just moments before they phased into another residence.
I think I’m going to be sick. Aleksei moaned inwardly as his stomach flipped over and tried not to get thrown into Vlad’s lap.
Finally they found themselves in a wide alley and the driver slowed down, much to everyone’s relief, save Anya who seemed entirely unscathed by the experience. The Czech exhaled and sat down between the two boys, causing Aleksei to lean as far against the window as he could. Being on the same team was weird enough; he did not want to be hip to hip with that creep as well.
A loud clanking noise caught everyone’s attention as a fire escape stairway lowered in front of them, off of which a woman leapt and signed for them to halt.
“Stop!” Evan and Aleksei shouted in unison.
The van parked beside where the woman stood as she put on her round lens sunglasses.
Evan hurriedly slid open the door. “Welcome aboard Mashka.”
He was met by a rather peeved expression on the young woman’s face. Her brown hair was a windblown mess barely contained below her large grey/blue scarf.
Silently she stepped aboard and Evan made sure to scoot over to make room.
“Oh, long time since we last met.” Anya noted casually.
Mashka angled her face so she could glare at Anya with her golden cat-eyes. Anya provided her own haughty stare in exchange.
After a few awkward seconds, Anya spoke again, “Well, get in, we don’t have all day.”
Wordlessly Mashka boarded and sat next to Evan. She glanced back at Aleksei and gave a half-smile, and avoided eye contact with The Czech and Vlad.
“So, how did you find us?” Evan inquired after they began moving again.
“We will discuss that later and in detail.” Mashka replied testily.
Evan half-chuckled knowing he would be on the receiving end of one of Mashka’s rare but unpleasant lectures, but she was safe.