It happened again.
For the second damn time, I was slammed down onto the hard gravel of the sidewalk. I put a hand to the back of my head, and when I pulled it back, it was soaked in blood.
Perhaps I should back up a bit. Earlier that day, I had noticed a couple. I could tell that they were afraid of the prospect of running into me. They hid from sight until they were sure nobody was around, then they ran like hell to their next hiding spot. In a way, I felt bad for them for thinking that would work.
I swooped down when they reached the parking lot, much like I had done with many other victims. This time, however, something interesting happened. The moment I landed, the man swung, hitting a hard blow to my cheek and toppling me to the ground. That’s when I hit my head.
Another sharp pain rose up in my side as the husband slammed his knee into my rib. I recoiled, rolling out of the way and pulling myself to my feet. It was the first time I had felt weakness in a while. The wind knocked out of me, my head still burning… I thought that the Travis who fell victim to those things was no more.
I knew that I wasn’t invincible in this new form, but I wasn’t expecting to have a blow dealt on me, especially not in this situation. I had done this so many times, why was this different? I guess this man was much more stubborn than the rest. Oh well, it just meant I’d have to try harder than usual.
My powers were an amazing advancement, but with the blood pouring out of my scalp, I didn’t know if they would be able to help me there. There was only one way to find out.
I glanced over, seeing that the man was now comforting his crying wife and not letting me out of his sight. I closed my eyes, and tried to push the pain off to the side, focusing in the same way that I would create something.
To even my surprise, it actually worked. Though the pain didn’t go away instantly, my wound was patched up. No more blood was spilled.
I heard the husband’s voice call out to me, “Whatever the hell you are, don’t you ever come near me or my family again!”, like he had any authority over me. It was a shame, I was going to let him be the one to live this time.
I ran over and separated the two from each other, throwing the husband off to the side, where he stumbled to the ground. The wife made a pitiful excuse to attack me from behind, but one glare from me made her back off.
Afterward, I stood over the man, pinning him down with my foot, and summoning the dagger into my hand. The wife just whimpered from afar, and I saw the man make some kind of hand gesture I interpreted as “Run.” Aw, that’s cute, he was sacrificing himself.
But of course, I couldn’t let that stand. This guy had the audacity to stand up to someone like me to protect the love of his life, and now wants to throw away his one and only chance in this world so she could live another day. You know what? No. I wasn’t going to let him.
I delivered one quick stab to her heart. Then, it was all over. He tried to rush me, but I simply elbowed over my shoulder, hitting what I assumed was his jaw. When I turned around, he didn’t make another attempt to attack me. He knew it was hopeless.
“I can’t live without her!” he screamed. That one really pissed me off. So much so, I needed to correct it. I walked over, and pushed the man’s head up, forcing him to look me in the eyes.
I responded, “You’re lucky you got the chance to, that was almost you.”
He didn’t even give me a response, just scattered cries and sobs. I kept speaking, “You knew who I was, you knew I could kill her, you knew I would kill you, but yet, you threw a punch, just because you were in love!”
“You people are idiots!” I yelled. “Now, go. Go live your best life, and don’t ever even think about falling for someone else’s trap again.”
I dropped his head and dissipated my dagger, flying out of the public’s view once more. That man befuddled me. Once he knew all hope was lost, his one thought was to make sure his wife got away. I had a feeling that he knew I only killed one in every couple. To be honest, I had the urge to kill both of them, but that wasn’t what the world needed.
It’s fairly ironic that in doing everything he could to save his wife, those actions resulted in her death. I did that on purpose. He needed to live with his decisions.
His foolish love got her killed. I admired that he had the nerve to strike me, but when he had me down, he chose to go and look after his love. That was idiotic. He wouldn’t have put a dent in me, but he didn’t know that. Hell, I didn’t even know that.
I wanted people to live in a world where they don’t let love guide their actions at all. One where, if you fight, you fight to survive, never to protect. That was her downfall. He fought me, not to take out a potential threat to his life, but to make sure that his wife would live.
Oh no, I wasn’t going to let a single part of that happen. Not that the wife wasn’t a shining example of the problem as well. She could’ve taken off while I was injured, or when I was distracted with her husband, but instead, she stuck around. Maybe in her mind she thought he would beat me, or she just wanted to see him one last time. Either was equally illogical.
On the bright side, I had a feeling that man had learned from his encounter. After losing his wife, I didn’t think his first instinct would be to go out and find another one. No, if all went well, he would learn to appreciate his limited days in this world while he still had them.
Every single time I drove that dagger into another heart, I wished it would be the last person I would have to kill. To take another life is morbid, I know how precious life is. But I know that if you would dare waste it, you don’t deserve it.
Sadly, I had a lot more work that needed to get done.
My fears were starting to consume me as I paced back and forth inside the clock shop.
What if the experiment was a failure? What if the demon killed me? What if nobody could stop it? What if it managed to kill every couple in Auburn? What if it managed to kill every couple in the state? The country? Hell, what if it succeeded? What if love was eradicated from the world forever?
I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the experiment. Tockman had called me about an hour before, said that the machinery was almost ready, so I should probably get over to the shop.
He told me to sit down in the lobby, and I did, but that lasted about five seconds. There was no way that I was going to be able to sit still. If the experiment was a success, then it would be a long time before I could even think about relaxing.
Penny was in the room with me, and she seemed even more worried than I was. It was the first real time we had been alone with each other. Penny had a freckled face with piercing green eyes and ginger red hair. She looked young, despite being older than I was.
“Don’t worry!” Penny piped up. “Doc may be a bit snippy, but he’s brilliant! You’ll be okay, I promise!”
I sighed. Her attempts to comfort me weren’t working. Maybe she was really saying that to help calm herself down. I didn’t give her a response at first, but I decided it was better to make conversation than just ignore her. On the subject of Tockman, I replied, “Does that man ever show any emotion other than narcissism?”
“Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it,” Penny answered, shuddering. “...Now, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want me telling you this… Or anyone, really, but I think you should know…”
That was something I didn’t expect to hear. Penny usually kept her mouth shut when it came to personal matters, supposedly to keep everyone’s spirits lifted. But with the situation at hand, I guess not even Penny could stay in a good mood.
“About a few weeks before I found you…” Penny started her story. “I came into the shop one day, and the place was almost completely unrecognizable. There were broken clocks all over the floor, the storage room had been almost completely torn apart, it was awful… Doc was so mad, I thought he was going to attack me or something. That was the only time we ever closed the shop early. It took us the whole day to clean up the mess.”
There was a moment of silence as I took in what Penny had told me, but it was interrupted by her voice. “He never even told me what happened to the shop, but… I knew. I was more worried that he didn’t tell me what happened to him. He didn’t say another word at all that day. We never spoke of it again.”
“He’s lost too, Ava. No matter how much he tries to hide behind that time lord persona, he’s just like us. He just won’t admit it… I want to change him, I really do, but I don’t even know if he cares that I exist most days.”
“Do you really think Tockman cares about what’s happening?” I asked, crossing my arms. “Don’t you think he just wants an experiment to flaunt to the world?! Honestly, he-”
I didn’t even get to finish my thought. A sharp, “Avalonia! It’s ready, you best get up here.” derailed my entire train of thought. It was really happening…
“It’ll be fine!” Penny waved off, wearing a comforting grin on her face. “We’ll worry about that later…”
That’s what people always said. Later, later, later… Just another way of saying “Not my problem.” Future me will figure it out, I shouldn’t worry! I didn’t even have long to enjoy the comfort of later.
I couldn’t afford to be afraid. Fear could make me have second thoughts, and this couldn’t wait for me to reconsider. I had to do it as soon as humanly possible, who knows how much damage that thing may do if I don’t! There wouldn’t be a later to lean on.
Tockman’s lab, with all of its machines and gadgets, seemed inviting before, and I was eager to find out what all of them did. But now that my first experience would be being hooked up to one and being used as a subject, I was mortified. I swallowed my fear and pressed on, towards the machine that Tockman now stood by.
I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on what Tockman told Penny about the experiment. The dagger contained some sort of remnant of the power used to create it, and Tockman hoped to implant those same powers into me.
My brain told me to back off, my gut told me to back off, my heart told me to back off, but I kept moving. Maybe it was hope, maybe it was my soul, or maybe I was just an idiot, who knows, it didn’t matter.
It wasn’t like hope would get me very far, anyway. Hope was a motivator, not a force. I had all the motivation in the world, but that wasn’t going to stop this demon. If I didn’t take action, no one else would! You wouldn’t just be able to shoot a being like this, you needed to fight them on their own terms.
Tockman beckoned me over, and I followed his instructions. He had me strapped into a chair that was hooked up to a bunch of other machines and computers. Penny looked like she was about to explode, so Tockman made her go downstairs.
As she turned away, Tockman came to my side, and spoke in a serious tone, “Avalonia, last chance. If you do this, no matter what the result is, you can never go back.”
“I can already never go back,” I responded. “The only other option is to just do nothing, and with that thing running around, that wouldn’t do anybody any good either.”
Tockman muttered, “I could use someone like you,” before he moved over to stand at a control panel. This was it. No turning back now. I glanced over at Tockman, who didn’t seem worried in the slightest.
Clocks. Machines. Loose parts. Blueprints. Documents. If an outsider were to glance at it, they would never know that one of the most important events in all of human history was about to take place.
Maybe I should apologize to science students of the future that I didn’t make this more of a spectacle, but I really had no other choice. The method required to literally transfuse the altered DNA of a superhuman into a regular girl required every single split-second to be planned out. I had to call in about a thousand college favors to even get to sniff technology like this.
Though I would never admit it to anyone, I was nervous. Meticulous planning had gone into this, and if it failed, everything would go crazy. If that creature didn’t get stopped, he could kill me. Penny’s recklessness would get her on his list as well.
Even if we were spared, I’m certain there are people
who would care about a scientist killing a girl in an experiment gone wrong. That would completely devalue everything I’d ever worked toward… I sought to improve lives, not end them.
But my worries and fears were playing second fiddle. I stood at a control panel, ready to intertwine Travis’ DNA into that of Avalonia’s. God, I would’ve had to give a lecture if someone had said that sentence to me a few weeks ago…
I heard the faint sound of Penny watching a news report on her phone downstairs. On any normal day, I would’ve told her off, but the story was pertaining to that Travis fellow.
“Another victim has tragically been lost in this devastating string of murders. Recorded estimates place their number of victims in the high eighties, with more and more being found slaughtered every day. One Lance Stanley was found dead in his own home, by apparent suicide. Lance was the husband of one Olivia Stanley, found stabbed on the side of the road by the Auburn Demon. Lance is one of a growing number of individuals in Auburn lost to suicide as a result of the Auburn Demon’s bloodstained streak.”
Looks like the problem was more drastic than we once thought… People were driven so mad by the loss of a loved one that they would take their own life. Love can be replaced, but life is precious.
I was conflicted on the ginger test subject that just waltzed into my life. Her ambition was tremendous, but misplaced. I’m not complaining, but I would prefer that a guinea pig be just that, someone just willing to sacrifice in order to contribute to the progress of humanity. Avalonia was hellbent on revenge, somehow under the impression that the world chose her to jump onto the shoulders of.
I didn’t sympathise, but I understood. However, I still wished that Ava hadn’t thrust this all on me so soon. There were still tons of preliminary tests that could be done, but if I didn’t run the experiment as soon as humanly possible, Ava and Penny would never forgive me. I was not in the mood to lose either of them.
I got fairly close to losing Penny. When she stormed out on me, there was a bit of doubt in my mind that she would come back. I wish I could tell her that making a difference didn’t mean letting everyone and their kitchen sink into her life, but then I’d lose my electricity for another day.
The day or so after it happened, there was a little thought prodding at the back of my mind. What if I did lose Penny? Well, it would certainly be an… Inconvenience. She powered my machines, after all. But Penny seemed utterly devastated to find out that I didn’t love her the same way that she apparently loved me.
How could Penny love me? I had done nothing for her besides pay her at the end of every week. Yet the moment I told her the truth, her little heart broke. I decided to be more careful from then on. Wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings, after all.
It was amazing that I had to worry about feelings at a time like this, but lo and behold, Penny and Ava were quite crucial to this plan. Not like I’d find another energy source and/or willing specimen before the demon figured out what I was up to.
At this point, the machine had activated, and the experiment was underway. Ava’s eyes were closed, and she seemed somehow at peace. All sorts of numbers and data flashed along my computer screen, and it seemed to be going according to plan. What little of a plan I had managed to concoct, that is.
Penny was crying downstairs, and I heard her talking on the phone, likely with that boy she wouldn't shut up about. I tried to tune it out as I made sure every value was where it was supposed to be, but it was hard to ignore.
“It’s just terrible, Zizi…! The stabbings are one thing, but now there’s been a rise in suicides…?! What if something happens to someone we know?!”
I could hear that she wanted comfort. Wanted someone else to share in her problems.
I didn’t have that luxury, and frankly, I didn’t want it. Once, I made the mistake of indulging Penny with an engineering problem that I was facing. She spent the next twenty minutes trying to bounce possible solutions off of me, trying out different tactics and strategies, and I didn’t have the time for that! Any calculations or possible solutions she offered were completely incorrect, including basic arithmetic.
She had a strange mentality of two heads being better than one. No, in this case, instead of one head actually figuring out a practical solution, there was an annoying second head trying to pry into a business that they knew nothing about, and making it utterly impossible to hear one's own thoughts. I noticed that Penny was clearly distraught over this whole situation, and if I could put myself in those shoes, the last thing I would want to do is involve someone who couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
Maybe there was a tiny part of me that didn’t want to be the pioneer of demon creation, of all things. I had already had to abandon scientific rules that had guided mankind for its entire existence. When I finally get a working time machine going, maybe I’ll catch a break, for once.
With all the work that I’d put into it, it was hard to fathom that one day it would be over. I could sit and watch the world change for the better under the light of my creation. But now, as the data died down, the whirring stopped, and I stepped over to unhook Avalonia from the contraption, peace seemed so far away.
It was unbearable. The silence somehow managed to drown out Doc’s typing and all that ticking. I put on a bit of music, but that barely did anything to help. The anxiety was unlike anything I had ever gone through before. My friend was being experimented on, and I don’t even think that Doc knew she was going to be okay. I called Zinovi a few times, and he certainly comforted me, but it seemed like the wait would never end…
I hated it. I hated sitting there helpless, unable to do anything but wait for news. It was disgusting. It felt like there should be something I could be doing to help, even if it was something small like dusting the shop or the lab or something, but Doc specifically told me to stay down in the shop and not move. Too late there. I was pacing around like a caged animal, checking my watch every five seconds until I was told that I could come upstairs. It felt like I would be pacing around all day until I perked up and stopped in my tracks at the sound of Doc’s voice.
“Penny, it’s over! She’s okay.”
I gasped and rushed up to the lab. Ava was standing, even if she needed Doc’s support to keep her balance. She was breathing pretty heavily, and Doc was already grabbing a few smaller machines to perform tests. I laid my hand on her shoulder. “Did it work?”
“I don’t know…”
“Can you make something?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Couldn’t the other guy make a dagger at will?”
“Just let me focus!”
I backed off, giving Ava a bit of room. My worry had been replaced with a bit of giddiness. I mean, she might have superpowers! It was like a story come to life! It was hard not to be excited. Still, Ava really seemed to be struggling. I watched her close her eyes and take a few deep breaths. She stuck out her hand, but nothing appeared in it.
“I don’t think so…”
“Can you make, like, a tennis ball or something?”
“Why a tennis ball?”
“It’s small, and you know what it looks like… I don’t know, I’m just thinking.”
Ava asked for complete silence, then cupped her hands together. She seemed to be trying and failing to stay calm, and I couldn’t blame her. This was an experience that nobody could ever predict that they would have to go through. But still, Ava remained focused, determined. Finally, she held out her hand, where an orange tennis ball now sat.
Out of the three of us, I don’t know who cheered the loudest, but I think it was Doc. He immediately took the ball over to his work station and stuck some gadget on it, but I was busy pulling Ava into a giant hug.
“You did it!” I cheered, practically crying at this point. “How did that feel?”
“I can’t describe it… It was like, the same feeling as moving a limb, somehow… But I’ve never felt anything like it before.”
“They’re a part of you,” Doc spoke up. “This is incredible…”
I could tell that he was doing everything he could to keep his composure. To be fair, so was I. I couldn’t get a read on Ava, I think even she was confused on how this was possible. But we had all come to some kind of silent agreement. We didn’t need to know how it was possible, it just was.
“I can kill it,” Ava spoke out. “I don’t care if it kills me, I’m going to rid the world of that monster.”
“Don’t rush it, now…!” I tried to warn. “Tennis balls are a good start, but that thing is a demon! You can’t just fight it!”
Ava stopped herself from saying anything further, and pulled out one of Doc’s chairs to calm down. She caught her breath, and once again closed her eyes, trying to focus. It took a good minute, but when she held out her hand, there was a dagger in it. It looked really similar to the one that she had brought in earlier, but this one was orange instead of purple.
“There,” she started. “A dagger. I can fight.”
“No, no… That demon has, like, wings! I don’t want you to go!”
By this point, I had a grip on Ava’s shoulders. The dagger had already been promptly confiscated by Doc. Ava avoided eye contact, and soon walked out of my grasp and down the stairs. Doc and I both followed her, curious as to what she had in mind. But I thought I knew, and it turns out I was right.
Ava stopped in the middle of the open clock shop, and gestured for Doc and I to stop approaching her. We heeded her warnings, and stood back. She tried for a while to get her breathing in check, and was apparently forcing herself to focus. But no matter how hard Ava tried, nothing happened. Eventually, she fell to her knees, breathing harder than ever.
I ran to her side, and quickly got her back up to her feet. Ava was crying now. Doc stayed off to the side, as I stood with her and tried to calm her down to the best of my abilities.
“I can’t do it… Penny, I tried and I tried but I just can’t do it!”
“What did you try to do?”
“He’s gonna kill me… He’s gonna kill us all, and it’s gonna be my fault!”
“No no no… Calm down… We can figure something out, I promise!”
I was trying just about every trick in the book to get Ava to relax, but none of it seemed to be working. But somehow, it was Doc speaking up that finally made a difference.
“It’s been literally ten minutes. We’ll run tests, do some practice. Before too long, you should be able to do anything you want with those powers. Then we’ll deal with your demon.”
Ava sniffled a bit, but seemed to calm down. I honestly don’t know if Doc said that just to get Ava to cooperate with whatever ulterior motives he had or if he really meant it, but whatever the case is, it worked. She got her composure back, and walked over to join Doc by the stairs. He led her back up to the lab, probably to put some kind of doo-dad on her head and measure her brain waves or something.
I didn’t feel the need to follow them. I know how Doc feels about me interrupting his work, and this seemed above me, anyway. Besides, I had something more important to do. I pulled out my phone and dialed Zinovi’s number.
“Hey babe. What’s up?”
“The experiment is over. She’s okay.”
“Woah… You weren’t kidding when you told me about that…”
“Yeah… It’s kinda crazy here right now…”
“Do you need anything? I can drop something off for you.”
“No, I’m fine… That’s not what I was calling you about.”
“Then what’s up?”
“Christmas is coming up in a couple weeks, and I have a few ideas.”