October 7th, 2017 AD
The screaming finally stopped. The man was dead.
Fayme knew this, but held the arc a few seconds longer, basking in the actinic brilliance of the lightning arching between her outstretched hands and through the dead man’s skull, filling his empty eye sockets with light and washing out everything else in the room.
When she released the flow the corpse slumped into the deep leather arm chair he had been thrashing in moments earlier. Smoke poured from eyes and ears and the scent of burnt meat, hair and feces quickly filled the air.
Fayme breathed it in, relishing something that usually made her just a little sick.
“Brule en enfer, piece de Russe merde!”
She spat on the body.
A sizzle of fat ran from one ear.
At last her pulsing rage receded. Nikolai Boricov was dead. Adele was avenged.
Fayme almost collapsed as her strength drained away. She caught herself on the dead man’s desk, palm flat, then yanked her hand away as if she’d been burned by the wood. She picked up the pink scarf she had dropped earlier while stripping and used it to polish the place she had touched. Then she found her red silk opera gloves and pulled them back on.
No fingerprints. Never any fingerprints. There was no hiding that Éclair had killed Nikolai. After all, there were only so many electrokinetics who could burn a hole through someone’s head and most of them were men.
However, Éclair had no fingerprints on file, while Fayme Verreaux did. Fayme preferred to keep her minor juvenile record separate from the thoroughly capital one associated with Éclair. She still had a life to live, after all.
Assuming she made it out of the manse.
It had been stupid to plan getting in but not getting out. Insane.
However, she hadn’t been sane after losing Adele. Revenge had been the only thing she wanted. Here, on the other side, life looked a little different. Getting out alive had value again.
She took stock of her surroundings, surprised that no guards had come yet. Of course, judging from the large collection of black leather straps and polished torture devices hanging from one wall they were probably used to screaming coming from Nikolai’s private office.
They probably had heard her sister screaming that night five weeks ago.
Nikolai’s screaming would have sounded little different. After all, she had made sure to draw out his finest falsetto.
Fayme pointedly ignored the wall filled with Nikolai’s toys and looked around the rest of the room. She was surprised to find a large collection of paintings, most from the Italian renaissance. She had missed it before when she first came in, too absorbed by revenge.
Fayme walked up to a print of Raphael’s Saint Michel Terrassant Le Demon. Saint Michael slaying the devil. She remembered seeing the original when she was thirteen. Her mother had taken her and Adele to the Louvre on a Saturday to show them the paintings. She had taken from ten in the morning until the museum closed. It had been wonderful.
She leaned closer, examining the brush strokes.
No. It couldn’t be. She extended her sensory field, feeling through the paint, sensing the radiation from isotopes.
This was the original. It had to have been one of the paintings stolen during the Paris riots of 2013. She checked the painting next to it. Caliari’s Wedding Feast at Cana. Also the original.
To think that all these beautiful priceless pieces had been wasted on that beast day after day. She thought of her sister being raped to death while the paintings she had loved as a child looked on and her anger built back toward the storm it had been when she came in. For a moment she wished she hadn’t killed Nikolai so quickly. Electricity began to crackle over her fists, leaving char spots on her gloves.
Then she looked again at the archangel Michael standing triumphant over the bestial devil, spear in hand, and laughed. She went to the armchair, dragged the corpse from it, and cast it facedown under the painting, mimicking the position of the devil. She liked the symbolism.
Turning her back on the body she extended her sensory field throughout the room, feeling for metal through artwork, paneling and flooring. She searched around the whole room without moving from where she stood and quickly found a safe in the north wall behind another Raphael, an active data line running through the floor up to a hidden terminal in the desk, and something that had to be an equipment locker or a safe room behind the leather restraints on the south wall.
She went to the terminal first. As she uncovered it she caught sight of her reflection in the shiny black surface of the dormant touch screen. Her long hair, currently dyed red to please the dead man, was all awry from when he had grabbed her. She combed it straight again with her fingers and tied most of it into a tight bun at the back of her head. Her green contacts were still in the right place. Her mascara was a little smudged on one side. No fixing that until she had more time. Fortunately, the latex pieces she had worn to accentuate her cheekbones and change her chin shape were also still in place. Even if someone got a good look they would have a very hard time recognizing her later.
Fayme woke the terminal and found it locked by a thumbprint scanner. That was easily fixed. A little work on Nikolai’s body with a superhot arc of electricity and she came back with the key.
Once she was into the computer she went straight for the security records. Nikolai had administrator privileges for the records of all cameras on his mansion. She found the ones for that night and set a 32-pass security eraser to work on them. There would be no pictures of her for anyone to find.
After that she set up a transfer to a backup site online and began uploading the contents of Nikolai’s computer. Everything, personal files and security records first. If she did get into trouble she could probably find something there to use as a bargaining chip, whether with the police or mafia.
After that she set up a voice-only call with a hacker who owed her a favor.
“Arnaud, you have contacts in the Paris police, yes?”
“Éclair? Of course.”
“Good. I need you to send them a picture for me. And tell them that if they are very quick, they might just be able to search Nikolai Boricov’s computer and private office before his men can destroy any of the delicious things lying around in here.”
“You are doing a very dangerous thing, my dear.”
“I’ve already done the very dangerous thing. Now I just need to escape. Will you do this for me?”
“Of course. I’ll have the police on their way as soon as you send me the picture. I happen to know a detective who is itching for a promotion.”
“Thank you, Arnaud. We really must have lunch sometime. You are a good man.”
“I look forward to it.”
She signed off and fished Nikolai’s smartphone from where he had left it in his jacket hanging on a chair.
It was coded.
She sighed and left it on the desk for the police. She would have to use her own.
After retrieving it from her shoulder bag she snapped a picture of the corpse lying under the painting and sent it to one of the fake emails Arnaud kept for such things. He would be waiting. That meant the police would be on their way in minutes. She would leave when they arrived at the front gates.
Distraction arranged she went to the safe in the north wall, carefully removing the precious painting covering it. Setting it out of harm’s way, she checked around the safe with her senses but felt none of the electromagnetic telltales of an alarm. Some quick work with a loop of electricity between right forefinger and middle finger allowed her to burn through the bolts holding it closed. She had it open in under thirty seconds.
It was filled with documents. A small stack of bank bonds would make a good addition to her personal savings. There also looked to be several small bars of metal.
She recognized them. Exotic elements. Translucent-gold kartium and silver-white vivium. The three small marked containers next to them would contain radioactive ludium, perfect-black spectrium, and liquid-silver alium. There was probably only a few ounces of each, but even that was a fortune.
Nikolai had been saving up for something, though it could just be his emergency retirement fund.
Everything small and valuable went in her bag. Then she shut the safe but left it uncovered.
On the other end of the room she found that the hidden metal room had been an equipment locker. She located the switch that slid the wall out of her way and opened the door of the locker the same way she had the safe.
Inside, an operator’s dream. All Nikolai’s most expensive toys. Some of the guns Fayme saw had to cost more than a middle-class family made in a year. Several of them had barrels and other parts made out of 1297 eternite steel so they could fire overcharged high-velocity rounds. That made sense. Nikolai had possessed some superhuman strength. He could have used those.
She grabbed a field bag and started packing the custom guns away, along with some other small items that looked useful.
In one corner she found what she had first thought was a statue was actually a British Gawain, one of their new powered armor suits. How Nikolai had gotten one… Fayme didn’t want to leave it, but she had little choice. They had to be fitted and she didn’t have time. She did take the power packs. They were small and worth almost as much as the rest of the armor.
Next to the armor she found a light railgun with ammo and more power packs. That she did take. It barely fit in the bag, even broken down, but the amount of exotic elements in one of those was absurd. She couldn’t bear to leave it.
When she laid eyes on the last item she truly smiled for the first time since stepping on the manse property. A full US military tactical rig, complete with computerized tactical helmet and ballistic armor. She was much lighter than Nikolai, but just as tall. This she could wear.
Minutes later she stepped out of the equipment room clad in black armor with the straps tightened all the way down, her face hidden by a blank-faced black helmet and a large field bag slung over one shoulder that would have crushed any normal person her size.
Before leaving she checked on the computer terminal to make sure it was finished downloading. It was. She logged off of her backup site and erased all evidence of the upload. Then she went to the main door and ran enough electricity through the deadbolt to fuse it. Finally, she went to another door in the north wall. This one would lead to Nikolai’s private quarters.
As she waited before the door she fished out her mother’s St. Nicholas medal from where it hung around her neck on a long silver chain. The shiny pewter icon showed the wear of many years in an anxious hand. She kissed the medal and put it back under her new armor.
In the distance she heard sirens fire up. They had probably waited until they were already at the gates to avoid warning the men in the house.
Fayme smiled again, put one hand over an open wall socket, and blew the wiring in the house.
She opened the door, searching the dark hall beyond in an instant with her sensory field. She found no adults waiting, but almost missed the two small children standing right in front of her. The oldest, a girl, barely came up to her waist. She shined a flashlight in Fayme’s face. Autodampers in the helmet compensated, but it was still annoying.
“You are not papa,” the girl said in perfect French.
Fayme stared, trying to take in the situation. She knew Nikolai had been married. Her research said he was separated, with two children, a daughter and a son. These had to be them.
Camille and Luc. Both born in France.
Where was their mother?
Why were the children here?
She couldn’t let them see their father.
Gently she pushed them both back a step so she could close the door. A zap from one hand fused the doorknob and lit the hallway with a momentary flash. The children jumped at the light.
Fayme knelt in front of them and flipped up the faceplate on her helmet. What would she say? She thought of St. Michael.
“No, I am not your papa. I am an angel. My name is Michelle.”
She concentrated and a white glow filled her left hand as she excited the electrons in the air for an inch above her open palm. She could only pull that trick off at very close range, but that was all she needed right here. The glow filled the hall with soft white light and the children stared at her in wonder.
Then Camille met Fayme’s eyes.
“Where is my papa?”
Fayme sighed sadly.
“I am sorry, Camille. Your papa is no longer here. He did many very bad things and I was sent to take him away.”
Camille continued to stare into Fayme’s eyes before letting out a small gasp. She grabbed her brother and squeezed him until he squeaked.
“Shhhh,” Fayme said. “You must not cry now. Do you know where your mother is?”
“Good. Do you have her phone number?”
Camille nodded again.
“Very good. You are very smart, Camille. You must call your mother as soon as I am gone. She will come and get you.”
“I want to see papa!” Luc cried.
Fayme glanced down at him. He looked so much like his father. Same sharp nose, wide brow, brown hair. He couldn’t be more than seven, but Fayme could easily see that he would look just like Nikolai when full grown. She wondered if he would be a beast like his father.
“You cannot. You must go with your sister. Your mother will come and get you.”
“I want to see papa now!”
Fayme narrowed her eyes.
“You would address an angel so? You are very much like your father, I see.”
Camille clapped a hand over Luc’s mouth.
“Please, do not kill him!”
Fayme exhaled. She hadn’t even been aware she was holding her breath. She wasn’t here to kill a child. Even if he did look like a copy of his monstrous father.
“Teach him to be a good boy, Camille. See that Luc listens to his mother.”
“I will, miss.”
Fayme nodded. “Good. No go back to your rooms. The police will be here soon and then you can call your mother.”
Camille nodded and dragged her brother down the hall and into their room, shutting the door behind.
Fayme sighed again and got back up to her feet. The weight of the night hit her suddenly. She had not been expecting the children. She had seen comprehension in Camille’s eyes. The girl knew what lay beyond the door Fayme had guarded.
She had never thought of herself as the kind of person who would even consider killing a child, but Luc had looked so much like his father. Nikolai. Her sister’s rapist. Her sister’s murderer.
He was dead now. She had to let him be dead.
Was that what she was becoming? A monster who would even murder children?
Fayme shook her head and headed down the hall. She heard yelling from other parts of the house and knew she didn’t have much time.
Past the children’s room she found a window that looked out on the back yard of the manse. She opened it, threw her field bag down onto a bush and dropped down after it.
A quick scan of the yard showed her an empty run to the hedge bordering the property and the high fence beyond it. She hurried across the grass, carrying the bag on her back like it was nothing even though it weighed more than she did.
When she was almost as the fence she felt a bullet crack through the air over her head. She dropped, avoiding the second and third as the muzzle report from the first reached her. She knew which direction the shots had come from and put a large topiary between herself and the shooter.
So close to escape, but she couldn’t leave with someone shooting at her.
Fayme extended her sensory field around and through the bush, searching for the shooter, but found no one. They had to be some distance away if the sound of the shot had taken that long to reach her. Clear on the other end of the property. Well outside her sensing range.
Her best option would be to blind them and make her escape now, rather than engage.
She dropped the bag, fishing through and pulling out several smoke grenades she had grabbed from the locker. These were the hot kind that the military used to jam IR vision. She popped two and threw them to either side of the bush. She threw two more in the other direction for good measure, re-shouldered the bag and crawled to the fence under a thick blanket of black smoke. No more shots came.
When she reached the fence she stood up.
A wide, long loop of lightning stretching out from both hands cut through the bush and the fence in seconds. The flash normally would have given her away, but the smoke covered that. She did it again a few feet to the left, then again on the bottom to finish it off. She heard steel bars fall into the street on the other side.
Fayme pulled burning topiary out of her way and stepped through. A few quick bolts from her hands took out the streetlights and she was once again cloaked in darkness. Behind her she heard the yells of the police again as they covered the entire property.
Fayme jogged toward a dark alley. Once she was in it she felt fairly sure of her escape. It would take several more days to complete things, but once she sold the haul she was carrying on her back she would have more than enough money to make it out of the country.
It was a victory, but it felt hollow. Even though everything Fayme had ever known was here, she would have to flee the country if she wanted to have a life. She had grown up in France. It was where her mother had grown up, and her mother and father before her.
Yet, it was also where her mother had died a drug-addicted prostitute and where her sister had been raped and murdered by a monster. It was where she herself had been beaten and raped by gangs and used by the mafia to kill people and steal things.
Her heart still felt empty, but she decided a life elsewhere would have at least some benefits. Perhaps in America. She had been working on a minor career as an actress. Perhaps there she could do it full time.
It was decided then.
“Adieu mama. Adieu Adele. Priez pour moi en paradis.”
She truly wondered if anyone in the darkness heard her. Did it matter? She headed down another alley, intent on the home of a buyer she knew, already determined that she would never again return to her dingy apartment in the projects of Paris.