It was a bit surreal being in the same room with a Trillodan, let alone seeing one in the flesh. For everyone in the cosmos, the Trillodan were these tyrannical monsters…but as Soliloquy continued to talk to them, they looked docile. Even the one that still had his helmet on clearly wasn’t intending to fight anymore. Instead, he was content to simply sit and be present, his head turned our way, watching the exchange that had started between Soliloquy and the Trillodan soldier who was apparently named Karak.
Parasite and Ragdoll had taken interest in the discarded helmet and were the first two people to get their hands on any kind of Trillodan technology in recorded history. As Parasite picked it up, his face twisted and he yanked his hand away. “Soliloquy,” he called out, “Ask our friend why his suit is wet.”
“Yeah,” Ragdoll confirmed, “It’s like the inside is coated in some weird gel.”
Soliloquy turned back to Karak, “Your armor,” he said, gesturing to the rest of the suit still on the Trillodan, “It’s wet. Why?”
Part of the reason Karak was hard to communicate with was his limited knowledge of universal common. “Trillodan…need wet,” he said, clearly trying to find another word.
“Do you dry out?”
“Skin crack, bleed. Air,” he waved around, “Hurt.”
“For being planetary conquering militants, it seems a little odd that Tso’got has an atmosphere that is too harsh for them,” Transport muttered. “Shouldn’t they be the best beings in existence?”
“Hush,” Soliloquy snapped as Karak started to look towards us and away from our inquisitor. “Karak,” he said, getting the Trillodan’s attention again, “You said you want to catch all of us.”
“Take…” he curled his lips, agitated at his lack of term.
“Yes. Use them to make weapons,” Karak replied.
Ragdoll sighed, “That’s not good.”
Soliloquy shut him up with a glare before continuing, “How many Trillodan soldiers are here in the city?”
Karak shook his head, “I do not know. Many. Most here of anywhere. Zellig brought us.”
“Commander. Strongest weapon.”
All of us looked between each other with concern on all of our faces; if this soldier had a smaller version of Shockwave’s power in a glove and a laser pistol, what did the ‘strongest weapon’ look like?
“Is Tso’got going to be destroyed?”
Karak tilted his head, confused.
“Protocol 37? Will that happen?”
“Do not know. Not important enough. Zellig decides.”
“Where is Zellig now?” Soliloquy asked politely. Unlike the rest of us, he did a good job hiding his dismay and concern; for him to do this well, he had to look in control, keep the two Trillodan under his influence that he was in fact in control of everything and that the fight was over.
“Do not know. Commander Zellig… I think he hunting.”
All of us in the room tensed at his word choice; being hunted by someone who had the authority to call in Protocol 37 and was described as the strongest weapon was extremely unsettling.
He’s coming for us, he has to be. We must have caught his attention earlier.
I wanted to scream at the voice in my head, but I abstained, not wanting to reveal how much I was losing it or to interrupt Soliloquy’s interrogation.
“Above us, how many Trillodan are there?”
“Do not know.”
Soliloquy sighed, clearly wishing that he wasn’t trying to work against a language barrier on top of Karak’s lack of information.
“What about the Zari,” Parasite asked, “What is going to happen to them?”
Soliloquy repeated his question and Karak smiled, revealing his daunting fangs again. “Zari with us now. Zari afraid.”
“Zari already went Sycophant,” I muttered in dismay. In less than twelve hours I had demolished a swath of downtown Ciel, brought around the Trillodan invasion, and prompted the Zari to turn Sycophant which made Tso’got a hostile planet for all Adapted.
“Nowhere is safe anymore,” Ragdoll thought aloud, “time to get the hell out of here before it gets any worse.”
“Karak,” Soliloquy said, getting his attention again, “What do you do with Adapted when you capture them?”
“Take to ship. Vaneel study there.”
Joshua, the Snatchers twisted practitioner, had been bad enough, and he’d been limited to human technology; none of us wanted to know what the hell this ‘Vaneel’ character would do to us.
“How do you get people there?”
Karak opened his mouth, unsure how to articulate what he was after. “Small ships. Take to big ship.”
Mr. Magnificent groaned, “They’ve likely set up shop on the West side of town where you didn’t break everything. It’s likely why the Zari didn’t show up to come after you; they had to answer to the Trillodan.”
We scared them all. The most powerful people in the universe are here for us.
I clenched my fists until my hands hurt and quietly told myself it was all in my head. My Adaptation couldn’t work without me, I was in control.
“Karak, how long are the Trillodan going to be on the planet? When will they leave?”
“Until job done,” the soldier replied, very matter of fact.
Parasite snapped his fingers, clearly having an epiphany. “Soliloquy, a blockade.”
Our grand inquisitor turned back to the de-helmed alien, “Are the Trillodan guarding the planet?”
He shook his head, confused.
“Can anything leave Tso’got?”
“No. Ships in sky, kill others.”
Transport groaned, “We might not have a ship that is going to be fit to escape the atmosphere; it sure as fuck isn’t going to be able to battle a Trillodan armada.”
“We have to trust Titan,” Ragdoll said with a drawn out sigh.
“I’d rather not trust that bastard. He’s crazier than I am thinking all this will work,” Psycho muttered.
“You have a better idea? All you ever manage to do is show up and make a mess,” Parasite shot back, “But hey, maybe you want to take your chances with more guys who are casually using powers like ours.”
“Shut up,” Soliloquy hissed; the Trillodan seemed agitated, less docile, as if our discord was helping to snap him free of the Projector’s suggestive stupor he had coaxed them into.
The one with the helmet still on abruptly raised the golden glove at Soliloquy, not managing to actually fire it before Transport teleported the glove on his own hand. He turned it to Karak and flexed his fingers, his elated expression quickly betraying annoyance. “How the hell do I even use this thing?”
“Not for you,” Karak hissed as he got to his feet, glaring at Soliloquy, knowing that the Projector did something to him. “Human can not use.”
“What do we do about them?” I asked as Psycho, Ragdoll, and Parasite stepped forward, all ready for a fight.
Parasite answered my question, stepping forward and bringing his staff around in a blur, knocking the Trillodan both unconscious with a few deft strikes. Transport ditched the glove and we quickly ascended the stairs, wanting to get out of the hellhole we had been stuck in for the last few hours.
The stairs led up to a rather mediocre looking hotel. Another bland concrete building that no one would think twice about in passing. It made me nervous to think that there could be, and likely was, several of these hidden around Ciel and we’d never known.
Even so, as soon as we stepped out of the building, I almost missed the security of the Snatcher hideout. In the handful of hours we’d been hiding below ground, the world above had turned hellish. Zari had flooded back into downtown, a mob literally flowing through the street as fire continued to remain unchecked leaving a number of buildings smoldering. In front of the mob, there were people running away and not making it far before a few Zari would streak out and attack them, pulling them back into the throng of bodies.
Soliloquy turned to run, but Ragdoll grabbed his arm and kept him still, “They don’t see us yet,” he insisted. “If we bolt, the movement might draw their attention. We need a car. Transport, can you hotwire something?”
“Fuck me,” Transport muttered, “They’ve gone beyond hunting Adapted, they’re just hunting humans in general.”
“Transport,” Ragdoll hissed, “Can you hotwire a fucking car?”
“I’m not sure-“
“Do it,” Ragdoll snapped, “Don’t think, just make it work. We aren’t all outrunning a fucking Zari mob, not without Magnificent boosting all of us and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have the juice for that.”
He shook his head, apologetic, “Sorry Rags, but after earlier and all that tonight-”
Ragdoll shook his head and waved, dismissing his teammates disappointment. “It’s been a long night and you’ve done a lot. No one is blaming you.”
I felt my blood pound in my ears as I watched the mob closing in on us; only two blocks separate us from the angry mob, and the only reason they hadn’t started charging us down was the lack of street lamps illuminating right where we stood.
“Parasite,” Psycho muttered, “Get that staff of yours ready. I think we’re about to have a fight on our hands.”
“Are you nuts?” he whispered, “If we try to pick a fight with that many people, we’re dead. Even we couldn’t hope to overpower two hundred Zari.”
Right on cue, the mob caught sight of us, and a war cry was let out: “Humans!”
“Transport,” Ragdoll yelled as people began charging us, “Get that fucking car running!”
As the gap between us rapidly closed, a sedan sputtered to life. “Get in, get in,” Ragdoll shouted. I threw myself in alongside Mr. Magnificent and Soliloquy as Transport hit the gas. Ragdoll launched himself and caught the passenger side door while Parasite leapt and landed on top. Psycho slipped into his manic state and ran alongside the car.
“On the right!” Soliloquy shouted, pointing at a truck that came barreling from a side street. A blur of orange darted in front of the oncoming truck and Psycho turned himself blue at the last second. A Zari was cast from through the windshield as the entire front of the truck warped around Psycho, the front end nearly folding in on itself as it encased the Peculiar. An orange figure phased through the side and dashed back up to us.
“Holy shit his bi-polar power is handy,” Mr. Magnificent muttered as Transport turned a corner and put the mob out of our line of sight.
And instead welcomed a blockade comprised of several parked cars.
“Phones. Instant communication,” I realized aloud, “The second anyone sees us, everyone knows where we are.”
“Unfortunately that includes assholes with guns,” Transport growled as he slammed the car into reverse and stomped on the gas. From around the edges of the blockade, a handful of Zari poked out with automatic weaponry and began peppering the vehicle. While I thought we were done for, Transport began quickly teleporting slabs of cement and metal by the side of the car, making shields as we went along.
All of this mayhem, all for us.
Despite his best efforts, a bullet still managed to find our front left tire; trying to use his power and drive meant that he wasn’t prepared to deal with the sudden and violent lurch of the vehicle as we suddenly veered. Transport abandoned making shields for us, and was gifted with a bullet in the shoulder which caused him to jerk one way, and then overcorrect for his reflex.
A nasty crunching of metal filled the air as we slammed straight into a concrete pillar on the corner of what looked like a shopping mall. Ragdoll and Parasite had the good sense to clear the vehicle before we had crashed. Even though they chose the more dangerous modes of travel, they were actually the least harmed. Mr. Magnificent opened the door and staggered out, propped up by Ragdoll as the rest of us clambered out. We didn’t get much time to try and recoup: the mob was still coming in full force and those who set up the automotive blockade were getting in the cars to chase us.
“We’ve gotta run,” Parasite shouted as he helped Transport up to his feet, “Come on, we can’t let ourselves get picked up by a fucking crowd of Zari. We are not going out like this.”
The leader of the Flag bearers shook his head, “We can’t run, not from this,” he realized with a grimace. “Soliloquy,” Ragdoll snapped, “Do it.”
The Projector grimaced, “That’s a lot of people, Rags.”
“We’ll carry you away if we need to. We need space.”
Drawing a deep breath, Soliloquy turned to the crowd and shouted, his voice unleashing his gift. “Run forward if you want to die!” For being a guy with a slight built, it was amazing how well his voice carried, and how immediate the reaction was. Psycho’s display, and the fact he was glowing orange helped solidify the fact that we were Adapted and that we were dangerous. With Soliloquy’s emotional push of fear, the mob came to a screeching halt, all of them suddenly debating whether or not they should actually be attacking a group of Adapted.
“We don’t want to resort to violence, but we will if necessary!”
A glance showed Soliloquy’s arm trembling as he propped himself upright on the trunk of the car; affecting this many people in such a profound manner was taking a massive toll. He had halted a mob of probably two hundred people in an instant. Now it was just a question of how long his effect could hold.
“He can’t do this for long,” Mr. Magnificent hissed, “We are going to need to run.”
If we fought, we could beat the whole mob.
While I didn’t agree with the voice of my Adaptation, it did make me realize one thing. “How about we split up,” I suggested. “With Soliloquy’s influence, it will take them a minute to get a full head of steam again. They have trouble chasing with us split up.”
Parasite looked at me skeptically, “That sounds like a terrible idea. If a group gets isolated, they die. None of us are able to fight this many people at once.” Parasite caught himself as he looked at me, regretting his thought.
“What if they all chase one person?” I said softly. “What if we just let them all chase me?”
“Nick,” Parasite whispered, “What are you thinking?”
“If we tell them who he is,” Transport thought aloud, “They all chase him. Mr. Magnificent can’t give us all a boost, but he could grant you a boost for a little while. You book it for the Relay station while we take a longer route and steer clear of the crazy. It might work.”
Ragdoll shook his head, “Too much can go wrong and we can’t lose Eldritch, not after what Titan did to get him back alive.”
“Ragdoll,” I replied, “Let me bait them away. It’s because someone spotted me that the incident with the Snatchers even happened. We shouldn’t be out here, and if you let me do this it means you can get your whole team away safe.” I took a shaky breath in, “I need to do this. Please. I need to stop relying on everyone else to save me. Let me return the favor.”
He frowned but reached into his pocket and fished out a phone for me. “Take it. Call if you have any problems. I meant what I said, Eldritch. We really can’t lose you.”
I took the phone and nodded, silent; Ragdoll didn’t need to know that I disagreed with him entirely.
The leader of the Flagbearers helped steady Soliloquy and whispered into his ear, giving me one last glance to make sure this was what I wanted. “The one you’re after, the one who devoured downtown,” Soliloquy projected to the crowd before pointing a finger at me, “Is him. There’s Eldritch, in the flesh. He’s the one you want.”
It was not a hard sell for him to make; the crowd was practically gifted their perfect villain to crucify.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Mr. Magnificent said as he closed his eyes and focused. I felt every fiber of my body strengthen. Even with a small dose, I felt like a world class athlete; with a full dose of his power I felt like I could conquer the world. Even with the injuries from earlier, I could run so much faster than the Zari could dream to. I had to slow down initially to make sure they kept chasing me, to make sure that the other Adapted would be able to get away.
Once I had run for a minute, I sprinted with all that my legs had to give.
I didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t care. Regardless of what Titan thought, regardless of what Ragdoll believed, regardless of what Murphy insisted, I was too dangerous to go with them. Whatever had happened to my Adaptation earlier tonight, whatever mechanism had given my Adaptation the ability to start thinking and speaking to me, that was too much.
If I came along, I became a liability whether or not I used my gift. The instant I got any amount of extra mass, I would become nigh unstoppable. If I left without the use of my Adaptation, I would be a liability. Even the Cognates who couldn’t fight at least had value. I’d be a bigger handicap than Big Picture and that guy was basically wheelchair bound. It was better than I take my chances on Tso’got, that I do my best to hide and wait until the Trillodan quit searching and rounding up Adapted. It was better I only put myself at risk than everyone else.
I was not going to continue to be a burden. I’d nearly cost Ragoll everything with the Snatchers and that was not a mistake I would make again.
My legs started to ache as Mr. Magnificents power started to fade. Before it gave out completely, I ducked into a little bar. The place was still abandoned, and the door was unlocked; when people all ran from my rampage, the last thing on their mind was locking the door.
I stepped over a number of overturned chairs and tables, making my way to the bar and hopping over. Reaching over the shelf, I grabbed a bottle of vodka and sat down, pressing my back against the metal wall. As I gagged down a gulp of the fiery liquid, the thunderous approach of the mob filled my ears. Shouts of discord and rage could be heard, people were furious that I had given them the slip. Still, I was cautious as I heard some footsteps poke in the establishment.
One pair of footfalls started coming right towards me with a second set close behind.
As quietly as I could, I shuffled along the concrete floor and slid around the edge of a metal cabinet behind the bar, drawing my legs into my chest, hoping that whoever was coming wasn’t going to look too closely. Even though the place wasn’t particularly well lit, there was enough light that I wasn’t able to hide entirely in the gloom. Blood thundered in my ears as a pair of feet landed on the close side of the bar; they were only two meters away from me and I was sure they could hear my heart hammering my chest. Gripping the neck of the bottle, I readied myself to go down swinging.
And then, there was a laugh and a clinking of glass as a pair of young Zari swiped some of the liquor. I almost laughed; the bastards nearly gave me a heart attack and all it had been was a few delinquents swiping booze. As I heard them leave, I let out a sigh of relief and let my legs stretch out.
They are persistent.
“They want you, not me,” I muttered back, positive that this was what it meant to go crazy. “You’re the one who ate so much of the city. You’re the one who ate all those Zari.”
You’re the one who consumed your parents to start it all.
I took a huge swig, as if that would help make it shut up. “For something that lives in my head, you’re a fucking asshole. Aren’t I like your host or something?”
“Just… stop talking. You’re the entire reason we’re in this mess. Mom and Dad wouldn’t have wanted me killing anyone, let alone everyone.”
But we’ll never know what they wanted, will we? Beleth deserved what he had coming to him.
“But it isn’t Beleth! You went ape shit and ate everything! Everyone!”
And I should let myself die instead of feeding? I should just relinquish my body and go back to being a figment of your mind? Fuck that. How you felt, like a passenger, that’s how I feel constantly. I was never able to articulate it until you gave me control, until you lent me access to your brain.
“Maybe you should go back to being that: a nice, silent passenger,” I grumbled as I took another swig.
Maybe you should just admit you need me. Without me, you have to hide. Without me, you don’t have a place among your friends. Without me-
“Shut up!” I snapped, “Shut up! Shut up! You’re a parasite, a disease, something that my brain has concocted to help me cope! Something! Anything! You aren’t real!”
I expected a reply, but there was nothing. Instead, silence.
Was this what being crazy felt like? Had I completely lost it and snapped? Adapted could withstand tremendous amounts of psychological trauma with limited side effect, but I’d seen my parents die. I’d eaten their flesh…literally. I’d lost control and killed hundreds of people. If that wasn’t enough to cause some kind of mental breakdown, I didn’t know what was.
“But if that’s the case, and I can actually control my powers, I just bailed on my friends for no reason. All because you, you fucking prick!” I glared down at my hands, half expecting them to somehow erupt in black tentacles and attack me. Of course they didn’t though, I didn’t have mass left to burn. I shook my head and took a third swig of vodka, shuddering as it went down rough. I couldn’t take the risk being around people; if Titan wanted me alive, he would want me to use my power again and likely to do something huge.
I was never going to be that monster again.
“Never again,” I said to the gloomy bar. “No more Feast Days. No more Eldritch.” I had a sobering realization that came with, “No more Sentries. No more Reckoner.”
My whole body felt numb as I pressed the bottle back to my lips and finally appreciated why people tried to drink their troubles away. One night was all it had taken to strip everything away from me. I had no home, no friends, no identity, no money, nothing. I was a fugitive who would be executed by any sane individual, and I totally deserved it. To top it all off, I’d fucked over everyone I gave a shit about and brought the most dangerous race of alien conquerors to the planet. More innocent people were being attacked and dying because of me.
“Nicely done, Nick,” I whispered as I tried to clear the lump in my throat. “Nicely fucking done. You’ve really messed it all up, haven’t you? This is rock bottom, isn’t it: drinking vodka from the bottle, hiding for your life, all alone.”
Not all alone.
As much anger as I felt, there was a strange relief hearing something else talking to me. “Oh great, welcome back.”
I’m never really gone.
“Of course you aren’t.” I sighed and pressed the bottle to my lips, feeling the effects of the alcohol coming on as my cheeks started to burn. “So, if I’m going to be stuck with you, I might as well know exactly what you are.”
“Great, my super power talks to me. The coolest thing in my life is also a fucking muderous cannibal.”
You need me to survive, and I don’t want to be held back.
“And so you think the solution is destroying my life entirely? Did you fucking think about what might happen if you ate half the city? Did you think about who might look at you going ape-shit and think, ‘oh wow, that looks neat. How about we poke him with a stick and see how he works?’ No. You didn’t. You ruined my life. And you’ve probably killed us both.”
If we die, it is because you won’t consume anything.
My head slammed against the metal cabinet as I growled in frustration. I couldn’t exactly look inside my own head, so I opted to glare at the ceiling. “I’m not letting you loose. I’m not letting you kill anyone else.”
And when someone tries to kill you? When someone tries to kill both of us?
“You aren’t a person.”
But I am alive.
“That’s debatable. You’re a Neklim parasite…thing,” I replied, my speech starting to slur. “The only-”
I stopped talking as a heavy thudding approached the door. Something walked in, the ground shaking under its feet. I held my breath as whatever it was approached the bar and stopped. A drawn out sigh made the hair on my arms stand on end as adrenaline flooded my veins. “Humans brought alcohol here with them, a last little relic of their home and when life made sense. Not quite up to snuff with what we’ve managed to do, but I must admit that you all did quite a bang up job making a diverse array of options. What I do appreciate was mixers. Humans were masters at mixology.” Whoever was waxing rhapsodic had a sweet baritone voice, but something felt off about it. Whoever was talking was working to sound gentle and nice, but only as a front for something dangerous.
I stayed perfectly still, doing my best not to breathe and hoping that this was just some wistful intruder.
“Gotta admire the tenacity of humans all this time, don’t you? Coming to a planet as exiles, and managing to preserve part of their culture. Hell, more than preserve, they even managed to proliferate parts of their culture. Zari were a great host world for the exiles, it is such a shame that Feast Day had to happen and demolish that balance, isn’t it?”
My blood ran cold. Did he know I was here? How could he?
“Oh, come on now, let’s not pretend you’re doing that well to hide from me. Even if I couldn’t smell you, I could hear you breathing from outside. And you were talking to yourself earlier, though you only held up half the conversation. At least now you have someone more corporeal to talk to, yes?” When I didn’t respond, there was an annoyed huff, “I remember humans being big on hospitality; be a good man and make me a drink, will you?”
I could barely feel my legs as I slowly got up, my eyes going wide as I looked at the monster waiting patiently for me to serve him a drink.
He was massive. The only thing I could think to compare him too was a bulked up Goliath, but he didn’t look awkward and overburdened by muscle. He was clearly Trillodan and had many of the amphibious features like Karak had in terms of facial structure with the nostrils as slits and the double eyelids, but that was where the commonalities stopped. His skin seemed almost dry, more like leather. Where Karak had been vividly colorful and pleasing to look at this mountain of muscle was desaturated, his skin a decrepit grey. As lifeless as he looked, there was a certain noble quality to him in the way he held himself. Even without the massive bulk he wielded, something about him commanded respect, demanded attention. As I dared look him full in the face, I almost recoiled as I noticed that even his eyes were a lifeless grey color.
“I know it must be your first day on the job,” he said calmly, “So I’ll make it easy. A rum and coke. A classic back on Earth.” Where everyone else tonight had been frantic, this monstrosity was patient. There was no rush, no concern, no reason to not enjoy himself a little.
I nodded, shaky as I reached for a glass and put it up on the counter, fishing around for a few ice cubes and pouring half of the cup full of coke and a third with rum. “Oh come now, everyone needs someone to drink with.” He looked around the bar and turned back to me, “I don’t think you’ll get in trouble if you share just one with a patron.”
My body moved on its own, not wanting to dare anger this monstrosity in front of me. I poured vodka into a cup with some ice and tonic water.
He extended his glass, “A toast!”
I gulped, “What to?”
“To a successful night!” He clinked his glass against mine and swallowed the whole drink in a gulp. Sharpened teeth were bared as he hissed and shook his head. “I really should drink more often, I’ve never quite gotten used to the burn of alcohol.” He looked at my full glass, “Don’t make me drink alone.”
I complied, sipping politely, the ice rattling against the glass as my hand shook.
He set the empty glass down and pushed it back to me, “A second please, if you don’t mind.”
I nodded and looked him up and down again, noticing how much less bulky his armor was. Karak said that their armor kept them wet, like some kind of life support system to keep them safe from the air. It only looked like he had an armored vest and green trousers on. His arms and head were completely exposed to the elements and he didn’t give a damn.
He took the drink from me and sipped this one, watching me intently as he did it. “Let’s get into it then and address the elephant in the room.” He chuckled to himself, “I must admit, I love some of the idioms you humans came up with. They are so much fun to say.”
“What are you?” I managed to whisper.
“I’m sure you discerned what I am by this point.”
“Well, yes, but you…you aren’t wearing armor. Not like the others I saw.”
“Ah good, you’re ahead of the curve a little bit. Yes, the overwhelming majority of my species has to wear those suits of armor when we are off world to preserve our skin. The atmosphere of Tso’got,” he clicked his tongue, “It is really a nasty one. The air so dry, so polluted, so hostile. My kin are quite susceptible to it.”
“Are not,” he concluded for me. “Clearly.”
“And you speak common.”
His rows of sharpened teeth showed again in a cruel smile before replying, “And even English.”
My eyes went wide; the only person I had ever spoken English with in my life was my father. “How do you…how could you-”
“I love to pick up elements of cultures from the planets we destroy. I like learning about religion, history, language, etc. Earth had a great wealth of such interesting and diverse culture. One of the great things about you was your lack of homogeneity.”
“You…you helped destroy my home?”
“Oh, I did so much more than participate. I was the one who oversaw it,” he said with a grin.
It finally dawned on me that I knew who I was talking to. “You’re Zellig, aren’t you?”
“Give the man a prize,” he said with a nod, “I must assume Karak said something that gave me away.”
I gulped, how did he know who had told me?
“Cameras,” he replied, answering my unasked question, “The helmets are all equipped with them. However, thanks to the depth of the Snatcher hideout, we lost his live feed for a while, otherwise I would have found you earlier. But all I did was follow the mob and sniff around. You weren’t too hard to find; most Adapted seem to have a distinct scent. And you, you smell a bit like blood: metallic, violent, dreadful.”
“You’re here to take me, aren’t you?”
He nodded. “There is no rush though, it isn’t like they will leave without my say so,” he said, nodding to my unfinished drink. “After all, you were the one I really wanted to meet.”
“Whatever you think you’re going to get from me-”
He smiled and held a hand to stop me, “I appreciate your concern, but I am Trillodan, not Zari. I respect your power and the threat you pose, believe me.” Despite the immense size discrepancy now, I knew he wasn’t lying. Zellig was sincere, he did legitimately appreciate what I had to offer. “It’s why I’m here, now, in person. I wanted to see the kind of package that such a magnificent and destructive power came in. And I am glad to see that big things do come in small packages, Nicholas Weld.”
“You-you know my name!”
He laughed, “Of course I do! And I know about your friends too. Murphy Pell, Alexis Trent, both people I am very much looking forward to meeting.”
There had to be something I could say, something to detract from how intent he was on his hunt. “Adapted, you don’t know what happens when you experiment on us for days on end. They can-”
“Alter? You think we weren’t aware of people like ‘Psycho’ as you call him and his band of merry misfits?” he asked with a laugh, “Eldritch, do please stop. Whatever argument you want to make to convince me that taking you for experimentation is a bad idea, stop now. We have been watching so much longer than you think. And any objection you might present, I’m going to ignore, especially since you have no way to fight me right now.”
He raised his hand to silence me. “If you had mass to burn, you’d have done it already when I mentioned your friends. But so far, not even a first layer under your clothing. Even if you started growing right this second, I’d rip it away.”
He was so sure of himself, so confident in his superiority that I believe him. But he was close by, and there were plenty of things I could use to try and inflict some damage. After all, I was still an Adapted, and Adapted fought.
I reached for the bottle, but one of his massive hands beat me to it with speed not matching his immense frame. Zellig laughed as he tossed the bottle in his hand to get a feel for it. “With this? That’s what you’d try to do? Here, let me try for you.” In a blur, he broke the bottle on his face and didn’t even blink. “And, then what was the plan? To stab me with the broken glass?” Turning his wrist, he jammed the jagged neck of the bottle into his throat; the glass didn’t puncture but instead broke on his skin. Zellig dropped what little bottle was left to the floor and stood up straight, towering over me. He had to be seven and a half feet tall with a frame that wouldn’t fit through a standard doorway. “What was your next move, little Adapted?”
For once, the voice and I were in agreement. With the prompt, I turned and bolted, throwing myself over the counter and through a door to the storage room. There was an exit out into a dank alley that smelled of cigarettes and exhaust where delivery trucks likely pulled up. I shoved the door shut behind me and started to sprint away-
And a rending of metal demanded my attention. Zellig hadn’t opened the door, he had simply hit it off the hinges and sent it flying across the alley. “Don’t tell me you plan to make it a footrace. Even with Mr. Magnificent helping, there is no chance you outrun me.” Once again, he didn’t seem concerned; he was confident that nothing I could do would let me escape.
Even if he wasn’t somehow made to be quicker, his height alone would make him substantially faster than me. But still, I had to try. Pushing through the pain from the biopsies, I ran down the dark alley and willed myself to go faster than I ever had-
Three massive strides and one huge leap literally had him soar over me. Zellig landed a few paces in front of me and abruptly stopped by digging his toes into the road. Before I could try to turn, he shot forward and grabbed my shirt, lifting me off the ground as if I weighed less than a paper bag. “If you had material to burn,” he said with a disappointed sigh, “Tonight would have been much more interesting. I was hoping to have a go with you at about the five-tonne mark and see how I could fare, but I’m sure we’ll get a chance later.”
I kicked against his arm and tried punching his hand, but his damned fist was the size of my chest and hitting him was like hitting stone. He dropped me and let me land on my ass before kneeling down to seize my arms. Two metal bands clasped around my wrists and a powerful magnet snapped my hands together.
“Hey, what the fu-” I didn’t manage to finish that last word as I felt myself lose any will to retaliate. “What the…what did you do to me?”
“This, Nicholas, is Trillodan technology. Those restraints, they inhibit your sympathetic nervous response and drastically reduce the production and interaction of cortisol in your system.” Zellig reached around my shoulder and nudged me forward; I walked willingly, unable to think to do anything else.
“I don’t want-” I started to protest, my brain fogging and body feeling strangely relaxed.
“Shhh, enjoy the little dopamine and serotonin influx they’ll give you to ensure you’re a docile prisoner,” Zellig insisted as he led me out of the alley and back towards the main drag, “Now please, relax,” he said with a triumphant smile, “You will be of great use to the Trillodan empire.”