Chapter 1

I was in trouble.

I really have to quit saying that. 'In Trouble' was currently my normal state of existence. I think it would be easier and far less time consuming just to say when I wasn't in trouble.

I'd exited the laboratory and stumbled into a dark stone hallway. I mean really stumbled as in almost fell. The adrenaline was wearing off and whatever power I drew on to bounce around speed zones was severely depleted. I don't think I could have sped up if I tried.

Perhaps I should explain. I can manipulate the speed I move at. Doctor Lukas Braun claims that I create a temporal dilation – which, I think, is his fancy way of saying that I can speed up my own personal time and the time of objects near me. Evidently, I generate some kind of field around me that separates me from what I call objective time – the time that the universe runs at. Within that field, I can make time go faster – giving me super speed from the objective point of view.

I call it speeding up or moving to different speed zones but no matter the way it's said, the effect is the same. I'm fast. Scary fast.

The field has other properties, too, properties I don't really understand. It heals me; based on my last use of it, it heals me pretty darn quickly and pretty darn totally. I'm not sure how and I'm pretty sure that neither Doctor Lukas nor his pretty biologist wife Doctor Leoni Braun know either. It also protects me from things like friction, blunt force trauma and who knows what else.

I also excrete some kind of liquid when I speed up; something like sweat but isn't sweat, exactly. According to Doctor Lukas, it causes amnesia and can even do some kind of limited mind control but I'm not sure I'm buying that last. The amnesia makes a little sense based on my recent history but I've seen no evidence of any kind of mind control. Doctor Lukas might have been using that to trick me somehow.

Don't get the impression that the Doctors Braun are my friends. They're not. They tortured me for the past few days or weeks or maybe even months; my memories are kind of sketchy over the past little while. I can see things, I can remember things but they're disjointed at best.

The Brauns broke me. They broke my mind. The speed field brought me back but I'm not completely whole yet. I'm still trying to put it back together.

The hallway was empty but I couldn't count on that lasting forever. I had to get moving – but it wasn't easy. My legs were threatening to give out, my breathing was coming in gasps, I was sweating like a stuck pig and it seemed the walls were trying to close in on me. I could swear as I stumbled two steps, then three, that the hallway was getting narrower, the walls closer, the darkness reaching for me again.

I fell, coming down on my hands and knees. I wasn't sure I could go on. I felt like there was a weight on my back, like the ceiling was going to crush me at any second. I imagined I could hear Doctor Lukas coming for me, imagined he was right behind me. I started crying because I didn't want to go back there. I couldn't go back to that cage. Not again. There would be nothing left of me this time. I couldn't take it. I just wanted it to be over.

I somehow managed to get back to my feet, my left hand on the cool, gray cinder block walls. Doctor Lukas wouldn't let it be over. He'd have another Resurrection Barbie ready to bring me back. I'd keep coming back again and again, losing little pieces of me to the darkness until there was nothing left of me but darkness. That could not happen. I could not let that happen.

I smelled the god-awful stench of burning flesh again and I had to stop, had to look my body over. I had to make sure I was still whole, that I wasn't burning again. I didn't want to burn again, not again. I looked at my arms and they were covered in that black char, the exposed flesh red and covered with pus. I screamed and started rubbing at my arms; I had to get it off, it had to come off, I couldn't be burned again, not again.

I looked down at my arms again and they were whole. Normal. Pale skin. What the hell was happening to me?

Put it behind me. Don't think about it. Concentrate only on walking.

A step. Another. I concentrated; the steps became my world. Everything else faded for me. There was no hallway. There was no Doctor Lukas. There was no cage. There was only the next step. Then the next one.

I can't say how far I went down that hall. I know it was more than one step but I have no idea how many more than one. I could only concentrate on them one at a time. For me there was nothing else.

A hand touched me on the shoulder and I jumped back, stumbling and falling. I scrambled back from Doctor Braun, scrambled back on my ass, my feet pushing at the cold, concrete floor, hands scrabbling to get me as far away from my tormenter as I could. My back hit the wall and I could go no further. I curled into a ball, my hands over my head, watching Doctor Braun coming closer.

Only as she came closer, I could see it wasn't Doctor Braun. She was younger. Her rich brown hair was longer. There was pity on her face. She reached to touch me and I pulled into myself even more but I was literally up against the wall and there was nowhere else to go.

She pulled her hand back, her face looking worried and sad. "Please, come with me. I can help you. I want to help you."

Her words were accented but I'd gotten used to it in the recent past. I stayed curled up, trying to shrink even more. I couldn't trust her. I couldn't trust anyone. I'd trusted before and they'd betrayed me.

"Please, Reece," she said. She knew my name. How did she know my name? "I've turned off the cameras in this hall but they're going to notice it soon and turn them back on. Please, we must go now."

I closed my eyes and cried for the briefest moment. I didn't want to go back. I couldn't go back to that cage. I had to face the fact that I couldn't get out of here on my own either. I needed an ally. Maybe I could trust this young woman – no, not trust. I couldn't trust. I'd go with her ... but I'd watch her. Not trust. I'd let her think I was trusting. I wouldn't. I'd watch her. No trust.

I stood up and tried to take a step. I stumbled, nearly fell, and the young woman grabbed me and put my arm around her shoulder. She held me upright, helping me to stand, and she turned us to the left, starting us down a long hall that crossed the first. I was even more messed up than I knew; I hadn't realized there even was a crossing hall.

I'd like to say I was paying attention to where we were and where we were going but it would be a lie. The truth is that it was all I could do not to shut down in blind panic. The walls were closing in, every door we passed reminded me of the one leading to my lab and the cage and I was shaking so hard I'm not sure how the young woman kept us upright.

Finally, she stopped at a door and punched some numbers into a keypad right next to it. The keypad flashed a green light and I heard a click. The woman pulled on the door and quickly helped me inside. She closed the door behind me and for a moment I was in darkness as black as pitch.

Darkness. It was coming for me again. It wanted me, couldn't stand that I'd been withheld from it for so long. I had been teased to it, dropped near its open maw only to be snatched back to the pain of my mangled body. It wasn't going to be denied this time. It would have me this time. I was falling into it, falling down, nothing beneath me to catch me.

I pulled away from the woman holding me. She had betrayed me just as I'd known she would. No trust. I had to get away. I had to get away from her, away from the darkness, away from everything. The darkness, though, was everywhere. I stumbled over something in that black pitch, felt myself fall. Falling. Falling. The darkness had me now, there was no escape. I pulled my arms and legs into a ball, clutching myself, making myself as small as possible. Maybe if I were small enough, the darkness wouldn't see me. Maybe it wouldn't take me if I could be small enough. I tightened even more, tightened the ball until it was hurting me, made myself as small as possible.

The light came on but I wasn't going to be fooled again. It was a trick. The darkness was just waiting until I uncurled, until I stood. Then, it would come for me again. Well, it wouldn't work. I would just stay here ... stay here until the darkness went away ... stay here until the darkness stopped looking for me.

"Reece?" the young woman said. "Are you okay? Come on, get up. They can't get you here. They can't hurt you. I promise."

They couldn't hurt me? She promised? She'd betrayed me once to the darkness, how could I trust her. I started crying because there was nothing I could do. I was helpless. Broken. I had no one I could trust. No one and nothing.

Eventually, it was too much. Eventually, I dropped into a troubled sleep.


I was feeling ... better ... when I woke up. Still not myself but ... better. I still had a headache but then I'd probably always have a headache now. I'd been broken and you don't come back from that unscathed.

I was in a big bed but I couldn't remember how I'd gotten here. The room was covered in shadow but the hallway light was on and the doorway was partially opened. That comforted me somehow but I wasn't sure why.

I looked around the room. It was ... well, it was definitely a female's room. No 'boy band' posters or anything but the long white dresser with gilded edges and oval mirror screamed female. As did the four poster bed with red comforter – or maybe it was pink, it was hard to tell in the shadow. There was also a small, drawered table with a trifold mirror set on it and a stool sitting just under it. It looked like bottles of some kind – maybe makeup bottles – sitting around the edges. Besides, I could smell perfume – a flowery, girlish scent.

I thought back to the hallway and remembered the young woman that had brought me here ... wherever 'here' was. Still in the complex, still near what I thought of as 'my' laboratory – but I could handle it without panicking now.

Well, mostly without panicking. The panic was still there, still hovering around the edges of my awareness, waiting to take over ... I was just holding it back. I'm not sure how.

No telling how long I'd slept but I felt refreshed. Yesterday – I called it yesterday but it actually could have been earlier that same day or even several days ago; my sense of time was shattered at the moment - had been ... well, traumatic is an understatement. I'd died yesterday. Quite a few times, as a matter of fact.

A man named Mr. Judas had killed me by electrocution. He'd then had his lovely assistant pull a real magic trick out of her hat and brought me back. To life. In my dead, burned, electrocuted body. Just so he could kill me by electrocution again. And again. And again. I'm not sure how many times he'd killed me only to have her bring me back; the pain of existence made it so I couldn't count my deaths. By the time they'd done it the last time, though, my body had been little more than bones and ash.

Their mistake. My ability heals me. It had taken me untold deaths to figure it out – yes, I'm stupid - but before he could electrocute me that last time, I'd shifted into a high speed zone and let it do its work. Then I'd shown them what my ability could do. I'd wrapped them in fields of their very own and changed the field so that it wouldn't protect them from time. Then I accelerated them to death – they aged somewhere around a decade a second.

It had cost me. It had almost cost me everything. I don't think my talent is supposed to be used that way. At least, it wasn't as easy as I thought it should be. I had had to pour tons of energy into those fields to remove their protection until I'd almost given myself an aneurysm.

Worse, I'd left myself very close to powerless – and I still had enemies around me. Doctor Lukas had almost managed to capture me again. I think if he weren't so frightened by what I had done to Judas and Resurrection Barbie, he might have figured out I was running on fumes and managed it. As it was, I'd just barely gotten out of there.

Note to self: always keep the big picture in mind before doing something monumentally stupid.

I threw the covers back and climbed out of bed. Only to discover that I was naked. Still. Doctor Lukas had covered me with a rubbery foam; a latex-carbon fiber mesh that allowed the sensors he'd embedded to analyze every part of my physiology. It couldn't be removed except with a special solution – a solution I'd had him give me before I left the lab. I'd removed the stuff from my skin right then and there and left.

I thought I should be concerned about my nudity but ... I wasn't. Strangely, I just didn't seem to care. The black latex-carbon fiber suit had basically been painted on my body; it was nothing more than a second skin. I'd spent the past two months and change 'letting it all hang out' as it were. Somewhere along the line, I'd lost my body shyness.

I walked to the doorway and was reaching for the door when I noticed that my hand was shaking. I just stared at it. I hadn't even realized it was moving. I closed my eyes, clenched it into a tight fist and squeezed. I opened my hand and then my eyes; the hand was steady again.

If only I could fix everything that way.

The doorway led to a small hallway. To my right was a bathroom and to my left the hallway continued for three feet or so and then turned to the right. I glanced back and forth for a few minutes and then headed right.

Bathroom first. I didn't want to have to fight my way out with a full bladder. It could get messy.

Peeing was an ordeal. It was the first time I'd peed in a toilet in over 2 months. While I was held captive in that cage, they'd just provided me with a bucket and left. At least, at first they left. As time went on, though, they just waited for me to finish, watching me as I relieved myself. I think that was what cured my body shyness.

When I was done, I washed my hands. As I was washing, I looked up ... and jumped back a foot. Maybe a foot. It depends on how far the back wall was from the sink because the wall on my back is the only thing that stopped me from going further.

There was a window above the sink with a strange guy looking back at me. It took me most of a minute to realize that there was a mirror above the sink. The strange guy looking back ... was me.

I moved closer, turning my head back and forth to look at me. My face had always been rather square; a wide, full face with a strong chin. The mirror told another story. There were traces of the person I used to be but they were hidden rather well. My face was more gaunt now, my cheeks sunken. My bright blue eyes seemed dimmer now, almost glazed over and they were sunken in my face with dark circles under them. Even my nose seemed thinner; it looked harder and sharper now. My lips were just as full, but even they seemed duller, hidden by erratic patches of thin hair.

I stepped back. I'd never been the slightest bit pudgy since I was about 8; that was the year I started football for a Pop Warner league and grew thinner and stronger. Now, though, I had no fat on my body at all. I was all muscle and bones; thin to the point of anorexia.

My hair was longer, hanging down to my shoulders. It was wild, travelling every which way. I had not had my hair cut or shaved my face since I'd come here.

I didn't recognize the young man looking back at me. I didn't like him much, either. I wondered if I ever would.

I walked down the hall and turned the corner into a small living area. It was ... a miniature little apartment area. The whole room was decorated a light tan with dark brown accents. The couch, recliner and chairs were all a light tan color, matching the carpet perfectly. The walls were white paint on cinder block.

"I see you finally woke up," the young woman from the previous day – well, the previous waking period, at any rate – said from the kitchen. She was dressed in jeans and a light blue peasant blouse and was wiping her hands on a towel.

I was still naked.

"Why don't you sit down and relax for a minute," she smiled but I noticed that her eyes traveled up and down my body. I didn't mind. She was very pretty and when she smiled she pushed the boundaries of beautiful. She was tall, maybe a half a head shorter than me, and fairly thin but there was a set to her shoulders and arms that made me think athletic rather than anorexic. She had long, glowing brown hair that she had pulled back into a pony tail. Her eyes matched her hair, a soft, warm brown set in a pale face with a small, button nose and full, small lips. "Let me finish up so that the food doesn't burn and I'll see if I can find you something to wear. Dinner will be ready shortly."

I looked at her, glancing at the door in fear. The place looked cozy and all but I never let the fact that we were maybe a few hundred yards from the laboratory where I'd been kept prisoner for the past two months leave the back of my mind. I wouldn't be caught again...

"Don't worry," she said. "They won't come in here. They would never come in here."

She watched for a moment, staring at me, making sure I understood what she'd said and accepted it. I relaxed as much as I could under the circumstances; it must have satisfied her because she turned back to the kitchen. It was basically the same room as the living room just divided by a breakfast bar. Inside she had all the standard appliances – refrigerator, stove, toaster, microwave and so on – and a little wooden table in the center of the room. I watched for a minute as she stirred a saucepan on the stove.

I wasn't relaxed. Nice little apartment or not, I was still a prisoner.

I went to sit down but the pictures hanging on the wall above the flat screen television called to me, so I bent forward to look at them. The first one I saw was an innocuous photo of her and two other girls standing on a snowy slope in skis. They were laughing and having fun. The next was her and a guy and girl standing in the street of some European city somewhere. They had their arms around each other, smiling happily at the camera.

The third one, though ... The third one sent a chill down my spine, and I felt my legs begin to give way. As I stared at the innocent seeming photograph, I felt my teeth grit and my hands start to shake. Before I could even stop myself, before I could even think about it, my hands had reached out and grabbed the picture frame and tore it from the wall. I heard the glass crack in my hand but I didn't heed it.

"They won't come get me here, huh?" I asked, rage burning through me. The young woman turned to me in surprise, a spoon still held in her hand. "Why won't they look for me here? Why won't they dare come in here?" My voice was a growl and I was trembling at the effort not to let that rage consume me and tear the young woman limb from limb. I felt the speed field surround me. I could not remember consciously erecting it. "Tell me. And while you're at it, tell me what you're doing in this graduation picture with Doctors Lukas and Leoni Braun."

Her eyes widened briefly before her entire face turned sad. There was even a tear in her eye but I wasn't buying it. "It isn't what you think. Please, let me explain. My name is Johanna Braun. Lukas and Leoni are my parents."

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