“Tell me what happened,” pressed Eli, losing patience.
Victor gazed around the room at the table, the straps, the machines that had once hummed but now appeared to have burned out, fuses blown. The whole place was dark.
“Where are you?” he snapped when Victor didn’t answer.
“The labs,” he said. “We were—” The pain came out of nowhere. His pulse quickened, the air thrummed, and a breath later Victor doubled over. It crackled over him, through him, lit up his skin and his bones and every inch of muscle in between.
“You were what?” demanded Eli.
Victor clutched at the table, biting back a scream. The pain was horrific, as if every muscle in his body had cramped. As if he were being electrocuted all over again. Stop, he thought. Stop, he begged. And then he finally pictured the pain as a switch, and snapped it off, and it was gone.
His pulse dropped, the air thinned, and he felt nothing. Victor was left gasping, dazed. He’d dropped the phone to the linoleum. He reached down a shaking hand and lifted the cell back to his ear.
Eli was practically shouting. “Look,” he was saying, “just stay there. I don’t know what you’ve done, but stay there. You hear me? Don’t move.”
And Victor might have actually stayed put, if he hadn’t heard the double-click.
The landline in their apartment had been provided by the university. It made a faint double-click when it was lifted from its spot on the wall. Now, as Eli spoke to him on his cell and instructed him to stay put, and as Victor tried to get his coat on, he could just make out that small double-click in the background. He frowned. A double-click, followed by three tonal taps: 9-1-1.
“Don’t move,” Eli said again. “I’ll be right there.”
Victor nodded carefully, forgetting how easy it was to lie when he didn’t have to look Eli in the face.
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll be here.” He hung up.
Victor finished pulling on his coat, and cast a last glance at the room. This was a mess. Aside from the body, the scene didn’t scream murder, but the contorted shape of Angie’s corpse showed it wasn’t exactly natural, either. He took a sanitary wipe from a box in the corner and cleaned the bars on the table, resisting the urge to wipe down every object in the room. Then it would look like a crime. He knew he was written on this lab, somewhere, despite how careful he’d been. He knew he was probably on the security footage, too. But he was out of time.
Victor Vale left the lab, and then he ran.
* * *
As he made his way toward the apartment—he needed to speak to Eli in person, needed to make him understand—he marveled at how good he felt physically. High from the chase, and from the kill, but free from pain. Then, at the edge of a streetlight, he looked down and saw his hand was bleeding. He must have caught it on something. But he didn’t feel it. And not just in the adrenaline-blots-out-minor-injuries way. He didn’t feel it at all. He tried to summon that strange humming air, tried to lower his own pain threshold a fraction, just to see how he was really faring, and ended up doubled over, bracing himself against a light post.
Not so good, then.
He definitely felt like he’d died. Again. His hands ached from gripping the handles on the table, and he wondered if any bones were broken. Every muscle in the rest of his body groaned, and his head hurt so much he thought he might be sick. When the sidewalk began to tip, he threw the switch back. Pain blinked out. He gave himself a moment to breathe, to regain himself, and straightened in the pool of light. He felt nothing. And right now, nothing felt amazing. Nothing felt heavenly. He tipped his head back, and laughed. Not one of those maniacal laughs. Not even a loud laugh.
A cough of a laugh, an amazed exhale.
But even if it had been louder, no one would have heard it, not over the sirens.
The two squad cars screeched to a stop in front of him, and Victor hardly had time to process their arrival before he was thrown to the concrete, cuffed, and a black hood thrust over his head. He felt himself being shoved into the backseat of the cop car.
The hood was an interesting touch, but Victor supremely disliked the sensation of being blindfolded. The car would turn, and his weight would shift, and without any visual cues or physical discomfort to orient himself, he’d nearly topple over. They seemed to be taking the turns purposefully fast.
Victor realized that he could react. Fight back without having to touch them. Without even having to see them. But he restrained himself.
It seemed unnecessarily dangerous to hurt the cops while they were driving. Just because he could turn his own pain off didn’t mean he wouldn’t die if they wrecked the vehicle, so he focused his attention on staying calm. Which was, again, too easy, given all that had happened. The calm troubled him; the fact that the physical absence of pain could elicit such a mental absence of panic was at once unnerving and rather fascinating. If he weren’t currently in the back of a cop car, he would have wanted to make a thesis note.
The car turned hard, slamming him against the door, and Victor swore, not out of pain so much as habit. The cuffs dug into his wrists and when he felt something warm and wet run down his fingers, he decided to lower his threshold. Feeling nothing could lead to injury, and he wasn’t Eli. He couldn’t heal. He tried to feel. Just a little and—
Victor gasped and tipped his head against the seat. Hot pain tore through his wrists where the metal dug in, and magnified, his threshold plummeting. He clenched his jaw and tried to find balance. Tried to find normal. Sensation was nuanced. Not on and off, but an entire spectrum, a dial with hundreds of notches, not a switch. He closed his eyes despite the darkness of the hood, and found a place between numb and normal. His wrists ached dully, something closer to stiffness than sharp pain.
This was going to take some getting used to.
Finally the car stopped, the door opened, and a pair of hands guided him out.
“Can you take the hood off?” he asked the darkness. “Don’t you have to read me rights? Did I miss that part?”
The person guiding him nudged him to the right and his shoulder clipped a wall. Campus police, maybe? He heard a door open, and felt a slight change in the sounds of the space. This new room had almost no furniture and smooth walls, he could tell by the echo. A chair screeched back, someone pushed Victor down into it, uncuffed one of his hands and recuffed them both to a place on a metal table. Footsteps faded, and were gone.
A door closed.
The room was silent.
A door opened. Footsteps drew closer. And then at last the hood came off. The room was very, very bright, and a man sat down across from him, broad-shouldered, black-haired, and unamused. Victor looked around at the interrogation room, which was smaller than he imagined, and a bit shabbier. It was also locked from the outside. Any stunt in here would be an utter waste.
“Mr. Vale, my name is Detective Stell.”
“I thought those hoods were only used for spies and terrorists and bad action movies,” said Victor, referring to the pile of black fabric now sitting between them. “Is it even legal?”
“Our officers are trained to use their judgment in order to protect themselves,” said Detective Stell.
“Is my eyesight a threat?”
Stell sighed. “Do you know what an EO is, Mr. Vale?”
He felt his pulse tick up at the word, the air buzzing faintly around him, but swallowed, willed himself to find his calm. He nodded slightly. “I’ve heard of them.”
“And do you know what happens when someone shouts EO?” Victor shook his head. “Every time someone makes a 911 call and uses that word, I have to get up out of bed, and come all the way down to the station to check things out. Doesn’t matter if the call-in’s a prank by some kids, or the ravings of a homeless man. I have to take it seriously.”
Victor furrowed his brow. “Sorry someone wasted your time, sir.”
Stell rubbed his eyes. “Did they, Mr. Vale?”
Victor gave a tight laugh. “You can’t be serious. Someone told you I was an EO”—he already knew who, of course—“and you actually believe them? What the hell kind of ExtraOrdinary am I supposed to be?” Victor stood but the cuffs were locked firmly to the table.
“Sit down, Mr. Vale.” Stell pretended to examine his papers. “The student who called in the report, a Mr. Cardale, also said that you confessed to the murder of student Angela Knight.” His eyes flicked up. “Now, even if I want to overlook this EO business, and I’m not saying I do, I take a body pretty damn seriously. And that’s what we’ve got on our hands over at Lockland’s engineering school. So, is any of this true?”
Victor sat and took a few long, deep breaths. Then he shook his head. “Eli’s been drinking.”
“Is that so?” Stell sounded unconvinced.
Victor watched a drop of blood fall from the cuffs to the table. He was careful to keep his eyes on the one, two, three drops as he spoke. “I was at the labs when Angie died.” He knew the security cameras would show as much. “I needed to get away from a party, and she came and picked me up. I didn’t want to go home, and she said she had work to do... it’s thesis time and all... so I went with her to the engineering school. I left the room for a couple minutes, just to get a drink, and when I came back... I saw her on the floor and called Eli—”