by Cara Michaels
“The date of record is October thirtieth, two-thousand-twelve. This is Special Agent Everett Benjamin.”
The voice drew my attention from the digital voice recorder resting on the table. The red recording light assured everyone observing that my words would be captured for all time, with “all time” defined as “until the Gemini Group buried the story”. At best, anything I said today would end up in a heavily redacted report buried in some government archive. Hadn’t stopped me from trying to get the word out, though. No, the FBI could take credit there. Getting nabbed at a convenience store just proved I’d never been intended for the undercover life. I’d only lasted two months on the official run.
“For the record, please state your name.” The special agent sitting across from me held an air of comfortable superiority. As homegrown investigative organizations rated, he still believed his FBI sat at the top of the food chain.
“Dr. Savannah Welborn.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” For a tough FBI guy, he had a nice voice. Kind of deep, kind of mellow.
The pen held between his index and middle fingers drummed an uneven, impatient beat. The air conditioning kicked on, a background hum of recycled air smelling faintly of paper and dust. Like the room needed to be colder. What brainless desk jockey thought hypothermia contributed to productivity? The beds of my fingernails had turned blue some fifteen minutes of waiting ago. My body had already forgotten how it felt to be warm. Inside, outside, and everywhere in between. I ground my teeth to hold in a shiver.
“Not a problem, Agent Benjamin,” I said. I even flashed my gritted teeth as I smiled. Just call me Doctor Cooperative.
His gaze slid over my Celldweller concert tee. Beneath the table, worn blue jeans allowed refrigerated air to sneak in at the torn knees. Like I needed his visual disdain to tell me I was way underdressed for a federal interrogation. They didn’t do anything without a tie or stockings.
At least my feet stayed warm in socks and sneakers.
“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t get apprehended in my Sunday best. I’ll try harder next time.”
His lips pinched, biting down on whatever he wanted to say and emphasizing his stern features. Add a sense of humor and strip away the premature aging of his job, and I put him in his early thirties, maybe. Salt dashed his black pepper hair, the cut military short.
“You understand why you’re here, yes?” he asked.
“I can play stupid if you’d prefer to explain it for the viewers at home.” I gestured to the large mirror dominating the end of the room on my left.
Benjamin clenched his teeth, let out a slow breath.
“You’ve been charged with obstruction of an ongoing investigation, as well as aiding and abetting the vigilante organization known as the Paladins.”
He made a good show of flipping through a manila folder stuffed with evidence. Of my so-called crimes, no doubt. My actions over the last several years tied me to the Paladins and — if one knew where to look — to the Gemini Group who had unintentionally created them. I’d built the Gemini Group, created the experiments, written the procedures. I’d documented its transition into a monster as the sons and daughters of my trial groups grew and revealed the changes in their genetic codes.
The cells made to save their parents had resulted in unexpected, even terrifying mutations. A woman with Ehler Danlos Syndrome gave birth to a daughter who could dislocate and reshape her bones and body at will. A man with early-onset Alzheimer’s fathered a child with eidetic memory. A treatment for severe hypothermia resulted in a son with extreme cold tolerance, who could manipulate the temperature around him, and even generate ice from the water in the air.
In short, my efforts to cure disease created superhumans.
But Karen Gemini, the reason any of my work had been possible, accused me of using her to play God.
She had it right, maybe. At least in the beginning.
Like a proud parent, I’d been thrilled by these gifted children. But like regular humans, they came in all shades of good, bad, and indifferent. Some made an effort to use their unique abilities to help the world around them. The public had taken to calling them the Paladins, and it suited them. Honorable, fierce, and steadfast in the face of a world turning on them.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Karen Gemini gathered the blackest souls to her bosom, a nightmare brood poised to unleash hell on earth.
The FBI and Agent Benjamin might not yet realize it, but the Paladins stood in the way of gathering darkness. And as the woman whose research had started all of this, I stood to shield the Paladins.
If Benjamin meant to intimidate me, he needed a new strategy.
Go ahead, Agent Benjamin. Take me down. This is so much bigger than you know.
“Dr. Welborn?” Benjamin’s gaze, his eyes an eerie amber-orange, fixed on me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you want me to deny the allegations? For dramatic effect?”
He turned away, but not before I saw him grimace. Aw, did my attitude hurt his career advancement opportunities? Tough shit.
He needed to toughen up his poker face for this job.
I’d stepped into sharky waters with open eyes. I’d known the risks of siding with the Paladins. Of siding against Gemini.
He rolled his eyes, tension visible along his jaw. “Belligerent charm. Does that work for you often?”
“What do you want from me here, Agent?”
“Names. Aliases. Addresses. We want the Paladin operation.”
I laughed. Not a polite titter, but a snort of disbelief. “Sorry to say, but you’re doomed to disappointment.”
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Genre - Short Story Anthology
Rating – PG13 (some strong language)
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