Jekyll Or Hyde: Part 18

Haley raised an eyebrow. “But for real, who are they?”

Crossing her arms across her chest, Stephanie said, “They really are in the Marketing Department. Zola’s a graphic designer except she also writes—which means she writes a lot of internal memos from management to the masses. She’s not a bad person. She’s artsy—likes to talk about different periods in graphic design. I went out with her to a few bars when she worked in the lab. I haven’t seen her much lately. She’s been busy with work and learning to use her powers, I guess.

“Now, Art… I don’t know him as well. He worked in the lab too, but I avoided him. He’s the kind of 40 year old guy who’s always chatting up the 20 something women in the company? A little creepy. He didn’t ever do anything that could get him fired, but I stayed out of his way after the first couple times and he seemed to get the message. He used to do programming and analysis in the lab. Now he designs reports for management and some stuff for marketing too. I’m not sure what. Our company’s so small management and marketing are basically one team.”

Giving a shrug, she added, “And that’s pretty much all I know about them. I can tell you a couple stories about going drinking with Zola, but you’re not going to learn anything except that she has too much sometimes.”

Haley gave a short laugh. “Not anymore. It sounds like they gave her the same powers I got—which means getting drunk is going to be a lot harder.”

Stephanie’s brow furrowed and then her mouth twisted. “That’s for the best. She threw up in my car once. It took weeks before the smell was completely gone.”

That gave me the opening I needed. “Tara, what did you mean when you said, ‘they’re not the only ones’?”

She turned, her eyes meeting mine instead of some unknown point in the distance, and her mouth no longer a thin line. “I don’t know. I mean, I know that I meant that they obviously modified other people, but I don’t know who. And I don’t know how I know it.”

She interrupted me before I could ask why.

“Sometimes when I think I put together chains of facts that were too unrelated to notice normally, but sometimes I read between the lines without knowing how I did it. Right now, I know that Art and Zola aren’t the only ones they modified, but I don’t know who the other ones are or what they can do.”

In a tone that was all hers and not even Emmy’s, Tara said, “Sorry,” ending the word on a breathy, high pitched whisper.

Stephanie looked from Tara over to Haley. “Great. I guess we’ll find out what the other modified people can do later, but for now, how would I fool you into thinking what I want you to think?”

Haley bit her lower lip. “Um… I get most of my information on your emotions from your smell. Perfumes help mask scents especially if they’re perfumes that smell like human odors. So a musky smell might help. I’ve learned how to tell the difference, but Art and Zola might not be able to. I can also hear your heartbeat. If it becomes faster, I know you’re nervous or excited. I don’t know what to tell you to do about that. Think calm thoughts?”

Stephanie frowned for a moment, but then she smiled. “I think I can handle it. All I need to do is hack my own brain. I’ll make a symbol that keeps me calm but keeps me alert. It won’t be the first time I’ve made stuff like that. What are you going to do?”

I stared into the distance between Tara’s and Haley’s heads, thinking about my options. “I’m thinking that I’ll use my implant. While we were off-planet, we had the thing substitute the standard language for the Alliance in when we were talking. We didn’t even have to think about it. It translated our intended words into words in a completely different language—which means it’s got some serious hooks into my body, maybe even into things I can’t normally control.”

With a thought, I told the implant to give me blush. In seconds, I felt heat in my cheeks.

As Stephanie said, “That’s pretty good,” I told the implant to let my blush fade.

Even as I did, Haley added, “Can you make your heart speed up? It does that sometimes when you’re attracted to someone.”

“I guess,” I began.

“And sometimes,” Tara said, “you don’t make eye contact with them if you’re feeling really nervous.”

Stephanie grinned. “It sounds like the three of you are going to figure this out. I’m going to drive home. I’ve got some work to do.”

She gave us a wave as she walked out the door of the lab.

“You do,” Tara said.

She wasn’t wrong. “I guess,” I tried to remember the first time I’d met her. Had I done that or had she noticed that from other examples? Either way it was a little depressing.

We worked on it a little while longer until we had an approach that would work. Tara left me alone with Haley and the two of us talked together in the lab, holding hands as we sat next to each other.

“In a way,” Haley told me, “I feel sorry for Art and Zola. Everything they were talking about, I’ve felt too—maybe not in exactly the same way, but I have. Unlike them, I had my grandfather to teach me how to use my powers, and Travis and I could always talk about them with each other. So I knew I wasn’t the first person to feel this and I knew that I was more than my instincts.”

She looked up at me. “I wish I could talk to them—or at least to Zola because it sounds like it bothers her. Maybe after everything is over.”

“Maybe. I just hope she doesn’t go off the deep end before then.” Zola seemed to vary between worried about controlling herself, angry, and nice. At least she’d seemed nice. Overall, it didn’t seem like a good combination.

“Nick?” Haley’s voice broke through my thoughts.

“Sorry. I was thinking about all of this.” I looked at her face. From the way she looked up at me, she seemed concerned, not angry.

“I should go. I still have homework to finish.” She leaned toward me and we kissed.

“That’s okay. So do I and I should also show the video to Vaughn in case he needs to know too.” I let go of her hand and she went to the locker room to strip out of her costume and shower.

We did see each other before she left, but it was while Vaughn was watching the video.

“Stay safe,” she said, poking her head into the lab, and I waved to her while Vaughn said, “Oh, man. This just gets worse.”

11 thoughts on “Jekyll Or Hyde: Part 18”

  1. With this scene over, we move on to the next chapter…

    Incidentally, I’m thinking that I may have to update on Friday next week. Thursday’s Thanksgiving and I’ll have to pick up my daughter from the university she’s attending on Wednesday–a two hour drive each way. I’m not sure when I’ll leave or get home except that it will definitely be after work.

    So don’t expect an update on Thursday and you’ll be happily surprised if one happens anyway.

    And here’s the Top Web Fiction link:
    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=the-legion-of-nothing

  2. [She’s not a bad person.]

    I mean, evidently she is; it’s just she’s a pleasant person. Got to say, this and Haley’s reaction later surprise me. Did they miss the part where Zola confessed to being an accomplice to murder?

    [When I was in college, I roomed with a supervillain. She goes by Preying Mantis now—that’s with an ‘e’—but she didn’t have a codename then. We were just art students and we had no money so she’d steal from people and I’d act as lookout. One night someone discovered us and Paula—Preying Mantis—ripped her head off. I helped her hide the body.]

    That alone is enough to make most of my sympathy drain away, personally.

    1. You’re not wrong.

      In the case of the characters though, Stephanie still hasn’t quite adjusted her opinion post video to be more important than her personal evaluation of the person pre-video in much the same way people sometimes talk about a dead person as if they’re still alive shortly after the death.

      It’s easy to do that when you’ve had personal good experience with someone, but never saw them do the bad thing that they presumably did.

      Haley sees Zola as someone going through what she went through but without support. She’s not wrong in that, but Zola’s additional background well… It’s not exactly the same and will likely have an effect on what happens next.

    2. Okay I think the issue is she is trying/wants to be a decent person.

      Now I am not condoning the accomplice bit. However, let’s look at the scenario. 19 to 20’s college student going hungry. So you help commit a minor crime. A little theft, nobody got hurt right? Young, inexperienced, and getting the shared concept it will be okay because two of us think it is okay group think beginning. After a few times you might even relax a little. You are getting good at this right? And still not hurting anyone.
      Oh crap oh crap. My partner just killed someone what am I going to do? Fear sets in. Now your partner has way more power than you and is probably as freaked as you are. So you have to go along for now and hide the body. Or she will be hiding two bodies. Turn her in after the fact? You have seen this on television. Guilt by association so you are just as guilty even if you turn her in. Life in prison, or worse the death penalty for something you did not do. How is that fair? Oh my god what do you do?
      So she buried it and tried to be a decent person because one idiotic mistake. Now it has come back again to haunt you.

      So I can see why she might act as she does.

      Now you see Haley is not focused on that. But the parts where this woman is acting and falling to issues Haley is sensitive to. Haley has been afraid on her powers due to the predator mindset it sets up. She doesn’t want to be someone that chases squirrels, as she put it. Now she sees someone struggling with the same issues and in roughly the same way. But without the support she now recognizes she did have. So she wants to make it up to a ‘kindred spirit’ and her focus is likely making her miss or gloss over the guilt by association.

      1. Not to mention that in Haleys case “squirrels” are equal to prey, meaning everything that looks weak and/or is trying to run.

  3. Well, reached the end of the archives and must say it is a very interesting and nuanced read. Lots of action, but lots of interesting ‘in the life’ moments in the characters lives. Comics and movies are great for the action, but sometimes that is all they have. Something like you are doing here shows a different side of a supers life, which feels very realistic.

    Anyway, some recent super films seem to equate gritty and dark as realistic, which I have come to disagree with. Some are so dark, it is just depressing to watch (like the new superboy as horror film)

    And the humor of ‘The Flash’ tv show is sometimes silly, but also wonderfully fun.

    Anyway, I like it when you include those kinds of things, the humor, but also the ‘ordinary life’ kinds of things into the super story you are telling.
    Thanks for treating us to a wonderful journey.

    Now to start at the start again, and wait until later this week, or maybe next week, Happy Thanksgiving and write when you can, but don’t forget to enjoy the company of family and friends and good food this holiday!

    🙂

    1. Thanks. I’m glad you’re liking it.

      In many ways, I feel like what I was trying to do is recreate the feeling of comics that I liked. In high school, that would have been X-Men, and New Mutants. That said, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen were also touchstones for me.

      I’ve also enjoyed Spider-man, Justice League and more recently enjoyed the new Ms. Marvel, Runaways, and Miles Morales version of Spider-man.

      All of that gets mixed with a long term interest in science fiction and fantasy as well as the history of comics and interest in history and sociology before it comes out as whatever this is.

      I like humor, don’t really like darkness for the sake of darkness, but at the same time like Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos despite being something of an optimist.

      This is what you get when you throw that all in a blender.

      1. This partly explains why I like your writing so much.
        The “grim and gritty” approach to the DC movies for the past couple decades really turned me off. I liked the Batman movies in the 80’s because Burton kept the 4 color feel of the comics, “Where does he get his toys?!”, even while portraying a dark and dangerous city that needed the Batman. Later movies kept the darkness but threw the humor into the trash can. I feel that if I want a depressing story I can just turn on the news.
        Interestingly, my two most favored comic characters are Captain America and Superman. My wife says it’s because I’m a paladin at heart. I must say I loved the antipathy the two had towards each other in the crossover. Cap accused the JLA of setting themselves up to be looked at as gods and limiting the free-will of the common man while Superman was appalled that the Marvel heroes were allowing squalor and atrocities against humanity without being more active to stop them. Oh my, I tend to get long-winded when discussing comics so going to cut this off here.

        Please keep up the great work Jim!

        1. I meant to reply to this earlier, but I ended up briefly discussing JLA/Avengers with Kurt Busiek, the writer of the series via Twitter. This isn’t because I know him at all, but entirely because he’s a nice guy.

          I brought up the scene where Plastic Man describes Batman meeting the Punisher. It was only a sentence or two, but it was a near perfect description of how I imagine that would go. I imagined that he’d found it fairly simple to write, but was interested to learn that it had taken him some time.

          Anyway, I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

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