Chapter XXXVII: Numb
Doctor Natalie Styles passed the steaming cups to each of her friends in turn. “Cider for Breanne,” she intoned. “Green tea latté for Michuru and white chai tea for Miss DiMera and moi.”
“Thank you,” Michuru said meekly, sitting down at the table once the other woman had. The albino sighed at the apathetic tone in his voice. She had hoped by dragging him off the campus for a night he would forget that his friend and teammate, Richard Jorgenson, was still unaccounted for.
Given that he was the prime suspect in a rash of murders at the school, his disappearing the night his son died didn’t lend itself to his case.
Breanne Jordan had removed the plastic lid from her Styrofoam cup and raised it to her face, letting the warmth cascade over her.
“Don’t thank me yet, Michuru,” Natalie said, trying to distract him with humor, “as a doctor, I’m not sure I can simply stand by and watch you put that into your system. That’s disgusting.”
“It’s actually quite good. Would you like to try it?”
“Nah; I’ve got issues with drinking after people.”
“I haven’t drank out of it yet.”
“No, but if I drink out of it then you’ll be drinking after me.”
“It’d be like if you two kissed!” Breanne exclaimed, eyes wide with an array of emotions that left Michuru unable to tell just where she was coming from exactly. Pandora seemed equally horrified. “It’s just… eww. Yeah, it’s best not to drink after anyone.”
Michuru’s eyes had wandered over to another area of the coffee shop. Despite her best attempts to take his mind off the night’s events, Cassandra Goodman could not get Adonis Skraag to pay her any attention. For their educators, they understood. Adonis was infatuated with Chienne Bedford, who was currently dating one of his teammates, a young man by the name of Magnus Loder. To say that Magnus Loder was the image of grace and poise as he administered to the situation would have been an overstatement.
“Donna-Anne’s been in about the same place as Cassie,” Natalie said. “Ever since the night Quinton died, Cloud’s been so… distant. It’s like he’s completely forgotten that he was dating Donna-Anne. He’s just been so cold to her advances…”
“I guess its date night,” Pandora said. “Loder’s off at the Bedford girl’s birthday bash. Lex and Jacque are out for the night—celebrating their promotions, likely. Deimos mentioned he had a date too and the Altair kid implied as much.”
“Suuuure,” muttered Breanne. “You can’t believe anything Ben says. If he’s not lying to your face, he’s insulting you.”
“He’s a good kid.”
Pandora and Breanne flashed a quizzical look at Michuru for daring to make such a statement. “In what universe?” Breanne asked. “Really, because I’d like to go there just to see how Ben is when he’s not constantly putting people down or boasting himself up.”
“Make it a trip for two?” Pandora asked. Breanne turned and shook the woman’s hand, sealing the deal.
“You two are horrible,” Natalie said with a low chuckle.
“If this is date night…” Breanne skirted around the question dangling from the tip of her tongue. “…Which one of us is out with Mich?”
Natalie nearly sprayed the room with her drink; Pandora flashed a devious grin; Michuru merely blinked. “Oro?” he asked.
“I think we all are,” Natalie said, quickly composing herself. She returned to chuckling softly as she hooked her arm around his. “Lucky you, huh?”
Pandora sighed. “These kids don’t know how lucky they are—being able to have something resembling a normal existence.”
“Normal?” Michuru asked. “So far, four of their peers have died and they just dealt with one of them nearly sending them all into orbit this afternoon. How is that normal?”
“Well… when I was their age—actually, when I was younger than they were, I was a full-fledged Vindicator. I was flying around the world and spelunking down into other dimensions with Crusader and her crew. I didn’t have time to date—I was too busy not dying!”
Breanne rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest. “At least you’ve been on a date. After I graduated the New Vindicators Academy, I was still too well known. I’m surprised I can just sit in a Starbucks and not be mauled.” Her eyes flashed up to an uncharacteristically-quiet Natalie. “What about you, Nat? Did you ever get to date?”
Natalie almost choked on her spiced tea. “Um… there… there was one guy, yes. He was so oblivious though… I ended up asking him out. Well… actually, I did it over the internet.” She looked as though she suddenly wished she were Alexa Hawk; at least then she could turn into a puddle and escape their stares. “I couldn’t work up the courage to ask him out in person so… I sent him an IM. I’m glad I did though. We went out and… and…” She began to blush; the bright red in her cheeks stood out against her white hair and pale complexion. “I—I really had fun. I really enjoyed being with him.”
“So what happened?” Breanne asked. “Did he dump you?”
“Did you dump him?”
Natalie blushed an even deeper shade of red, if that was at all possible. “Of course not! I’d… I’d never…”
“So what happened?”
“Probably a mutual breakup,” Pandora mused. “I mean, something happened… or they’d still be together.”
Natalie became extremely focused on the lid of her drink.
“Oh, my God!” exclaimed Breanne. “You’re still with this guy? Who is it? Have I met him? Is he as cute as Michy?” A wry grin spread over her face. “Does he have a younger brother?”
“Can we… can we change the subject, please?” asked Natalie, beginning to blush.
Pandora seemed just as disturbed by the direction their chatter had taken. “Yes, please…” she growled, not wanting to think about her best-friend’s possible love-life.
“Fine,” grumbled Breanne. “What about you, Michy? What was your first date like?”
Michuru stared intently at the cup in his hands. “Michy? Michy, what was your first date like?”
Michuru smiled fondly. “It was with Bridget,” he intoned softly.
Breanne’s eyes widened. “I—I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s fine. You—you probably remember it. It was just after Bridge started to talk again… when she had just come out of her stupor. Rosa, Bridge and I were watching CNN and there was this report about a rapist prowling Chicago State University. I—I grew up in Chicago. Back before my powers first manifested… I had friends. One of those friends was Leah Lynn. She was amazing. She was so emotionally strong and so sure of who she was—even at that age when nobody knows who they are or where they’re going. She did. I always admired her… but then one day admiration became infatuation. Unrequited love is the worst kind, I guess…
“I kept telling myself that my powers triggered and kept me from working up the courage to ask her out. Who am I kidding though? On some level, I think that I actually believe that my powers manifested to keep me from asking her out. I mean, if our powers manifest out of necessity… what if my abilities triggering that day was just God’s way of keeping me from getting the happy-ever-after with someone who I wasn’t meant to be with?
“Anyway… I hadn’t seen her in years but… there was a report about the rapist and Leah gave a statement. Normally, victims remain anonymous but—not her. She was too strong… too courageous to just become a statistic. I heard after that she switched majors. She’s a woman’s counselor now… uses her strength to help other women find their own.
“Rosa told me to let it go after I told her I was going. She said that a rapist wasn’t something for the Vindicators to deal with… She said that it was just a job for the police. I got angry and… well, you all know what happens when I get angry. I try to stay calm… I try to keep it all inside. Sometimes… stuff happens though and I go off the handle. When I get ticked… I explode. Stuff burns; people get scorched. I’m a dangerous person to be around when I’m angry and right then… after I had went against orders and took the Vendetta to Chicago… I wasn’t alone. Bridget knew I was going to just go anyway and she said she wanted to come with me. I figured that it was on account of our friendship. We were pretty close, Bridget and me.”
“That’s saying it mildly,” Breanne grumbled. “Michy—Michuru was the world to Bridget. See, she was in this catatonic stupor. She was there… but she wasn’t. Michuru and Bridget… their job was to follow close enough so that Brian—Bridget’s brother—could leach their powers with his. His powers were kind of like Drew’s… basically, the idea was that he could use their powers better than they could so… he did. Michuru was like Bridget’s babysitter. He was always talking to her and encouraging her and then… one day she broke out of her shell. She started talking again, sure… but there was more to it. It wasn’t that she had started talking—it was that she was talking to him.”
Michuru managed an uneasy smile for Breanne’s kind words and delved back into the recesses of his memory. “We were riding on my scoot, snaking our way through my childhood stomping grounds. I was so angry that Leah had been hurt… I was so enraged that something had happened to her and I was wrestling to keep it all under control. Bridget was on the back of my bike, with her arms around me praying to God that she didn’t fall off.
“I knew Brian was going to go ballistic. He was always so over-protective of her and I knew there was no way he’d buy that she came of her own free will. It was weird, but… hearing about Leah being raped had pushed her even further into the red zone than it had me.
“I figured it was a woman thing.
“Bridget leaned forward and I could feel her body shift against my back. Her chin brushed my shoulder and her hot breath hit my ear and sent a ripple through every fiber of my essence. We started to talk strategy—like how we were going to find the guy and what we were going to do. We weren’t going to run blindly into it. All of the victims had stated that they couldn’t move a muscle once this guy got to moving. He was drugging them or something; they were conscious… but their bodies were unresponsive.
“The plan was… we would hang around campus and wait. All the girls had been attacked while on grounds—the attacker was preying on them here. Once we got there… once I saw where Leah had been violated, I got mad. Small embers sparked up from the gloves and Bridget just touched my shoulder and they were gone.
“Bridget spotted a flier for a party one of the frat-houses was throwing that night. Drunk chicks seemed like a good target for a serial rapist and we thought we might get lucky and find him there. Most of them were too drunk to notice the guy in a trench coat walking through their house carrying a katana. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why people drink: it looks like urine, it smells like urine, I can only imagine it tastes the same but… what would I know? I’ve never drank beer… or urine.
“Out of the corner of my eye I spot a guy in sunglasses grab a redhead’s wrist and pull her into his arms. My thumb eased the blade and the steel sang to me. I had awoken it to the prospect that it was time to dance—to shine. The girl laughed and called him Scott and kissed him in a familiar way and I disappointed my sword by letting it hammer back into the saya.
“‘Hey, babe!’ this guy says. ‘Enjoyin’ the party?’
“My head whipped around and… there’s this guy in a Kiss the Cook apron and his boxers trying to coerce Bridget with a plastic cup he’s spilt half of on her boots. Every ounce of me wanted to throw him to the floor and force him to lick it off. I’m a stickler for showing women the proper respect. I let it go at the moment as… we’re here with a purpose and causing that sort of a scene would not help that goal. I simply slid up beside her and slipped my arm around her waist. ‘She’s spoken for,’ I told him.
“‘She’s got lips… a tongue… why not let her speak for herself?’” In my mind, I’m thinking of about fourteen things I could do to him right here that would have him weeping himself to sleep for the next month or so. ‘Then we’ll see what else those lips and that tongue can do.’
“Bridget got clear when my body burst into flames. Not only do I fail to register what I’ve just done, I don’t even see that I’ve just blown our cover, killed the party, and sprung our trap myself. Some guy screams that I’m an NS, stating the obvious and really doing the education system a great credit. ‘Get Rodney!’ the guy screams.
“At the time, I was trying to figure out if Rodney was their resident advisor. Do fraternities have RAs? I dunno. Fraternities are stupid. Well, Rodney comes running in and he doesn’t look any different than the rest; he has a little more muscle, maybe but he has the same haircut and the same sideburns and he looks just as drunk as they do. Given the NWO shirt he was sporting, I’d say he’s was a wrestling fan and… you’d have to have a few beers in you to be entertained by that. Nothing at all stands out about Rodney… but something seems familiar.
“‘I can’t touch him!’” Rodney screams. “’I’ll get burnt!’
“‘Take him, Rod!’
“Rodney, it turns out, was a backyard wrestler. I’ve studied martial arts for years. I could humiliate him without powers so… I power down. It takes a lot to get me calm but… I’d been making some progress. It wasn’t just that I had an effect on Bridget, she had an effect on me and my emotions. I managed to power down and the flames that were licking my skin snuff out. I’m okay. I’m normal. My clothes are fine—they were specially made to withstand this as… well, my accidentally combusting into flames tended to happen a lot. Seriously; back then it was like a biweekly habit.
“‘It’s him!’ Bridget screams. I spin around to see her pointing at Rodney and for a second it doesn’t click. ‘The descriptions!’ she screams at me, frustrated with my ineptitude for not seeing this sooner. She’s right though; I get it now. Rodney is the sketch they kept flashing on the news. Rodney’s face is the one that’s gunna be waking Leah up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night for years to come. Rodney’s the piece of filth I had come looking for.
“Rodney’s hand landed on my face as I turned, ready to draw my katana. Suddenly I felt all tingly… like when you stay up too late and your leg begins to fall asleep. It hit my arms first. I dropped the sword and screamed from the pain of the massive cramps in both my feet. It felt like my toes wanted to turn inside out—like they were trying to get the rest of my body to follow suit. We’re talking full-body Charlie Horse. I failed to notice that my scream was slurred; my tongue was numb and my jaw was slack.
“I crumbled to the floor. I could see Bridget’s boots—slightly stained from that moron spilling his beer on her earlier. I could see my sword laying between us. Then I could see Rodney move around me and I knew he was going for Bridget. The girl let out a scream as he advanced closer and closer.
“Rodney, I realize, is the kind of person the Vindicators were created to fight. He’s a Neo-Sapien, just like us, who uses his powers for ill-gain. He’s no Atlas or Mister Mayhem. He’s not disillusioned with the idea that he needs to conquer humanity or destroy one faction of humanity to ensure a peaceful tomorrow. He’s simply a guy whose touch can leave a person numb and defenseless. It clicks with what the news said; the girls all said they couldn’t fight back. They were forced to just lay there and take whatever he did to them. He didn’t overpower them… he just used his powers on them. He numbed them, like he did with me, and then he had his way with them.
“Our guy got close enough to use his powers on her. Bridget fell forward, her eyes focused on me… tears in them. Rodney bent down and rolled her over onto her back. I had cleared the room with the fireworks show but we could already hear the sirens wailing in the distance. I got that Rodney couldn’t do anything here… and he got it too. He grabbed her ankles and started to drag her off and… that’s when I saw Bridget flex her fingers. Her face turned twelve shades of enraged and her hand suddenly moved. In a heartbeat she’s freed my katana free from the saya—the blade was drawn and moving and I was helpless. I was numb from Mister Walking-Anesthesia’s trick.
“I was defenseless to save Rodney…
“An hour later, Rodney was en route to the nearest hospital. Emergency rescue squads stopped the bleeding, but they couldn’t stop their laughter. Bridge stabbed him right where it counted—she planted my blade right between his legs. As Vindicators we were congratulated for our collar. They said once he was hooked up on the painkillers they started pumping into him he admitted to the whole fiasco. Rodney had admitted to countless rapes over the years—all courtesy of his powers. Worse, he wasn’t the only one. Most of his fraternity brothers were in on it too. He’d numb them and he got to go first. We leave the other guys to the locals and make our way back to the Vendetta. That’s when Bridge drops the bomb on me…
“‘I was raped,’ she said once we were back on the scoot. ‘My dad was an attorney. I was going to be one too. Well… he had gotten this guy convicted and his two brothers came after me. Me and my fiancé… well, he had only just proposed. They raped me and shot him. That—that’s why I was in the institution.’
“I didn’t say anything. What could I say? What do you do when someone tells you something like that? All I could do was think-down the flames rising up on my arms. ‘I had the power to heal Kyle but… I didn’t,’ she told me. ‘I couldn’t. I was too afraid. I didn’t want to see some other girl end up like me, Michuru. I couldn’t stand the thought of someone else going through what I did.’
“‘I was just appreciative of the company. If you hadn’t been there though… how were you immune to his powers anyway?’
“‘I wasn’t,’ she said. ‘My regeneration must have pulled me out of it.’
“‘Good thing you came then.’
“‘Before we head back to New York… can we swing by Phoenix? I know it’s out of the way but… that’s… that’s where Kyle’s buried.’
“I nodded. ‘Yeah. Anything you want, girl.’
“Her arms slipped around me again and once more I could feel the warm of her body heat transferring to me; the sensation of her head resting against my back. ‘This is enough,’ she whispered. ‘Just let me stay like this…’”
“Wow…” Breanne said. “That’s… that’s some first date.”
“Yeah,” Michuru said, rolling his eyes. “Most people end dates by walking up to her door and maybe a kiss… I’m a rebel though. I like to end a date by taking a girl out to her dead fiancé’s grave. I know, I know… most people like to save that for the fourth or the fifth date but… what can I say? I move fast.”
“And why should we?” thundered Adonis. The four whipped their heads around to see what the commotion was. An apron-clad employee stood before Adonis and Hourglass, the look on his face saying a million things at once; ‘I don’t get paid enough to do this’ worked. So did ‘What if this kid uses his powers on me?’ Though it had been nearly fourth months since the incident, Adonis’ face was well-known after his parents’ murder.
“Let’s just go,” Cassandra said. “C’mon… we’ll find somewhere else…”
“No!” Adonis boomed. “This isn’t right, Cassie! I haven’t done anything indecent. I haven’t caused a commotion. I haven’t threatened anyone or harmed anyone in anyway. I haven’t done anything wrong! Why am I being thrown out!?”
“Sir… no one is getting thrown out…”
“No? Good… then I’ll have another espresso… maybe a cheese Danish if you’ve got them.”
“Why don’t you just leave, Freak Show?” one of the other patrons exclaimed.
“Is your girl an NS too?”
“Gotta be! Why else would she be touchin’ one!”
Not all of the patrons were quick to dispense genetic slurs. Some were content to merely get up and leave, half-finished drinks still steaming on the table in protest. Their point came across all the same.
Adonis looked around the room. His ability was to leave women infatuated with him; it wouldn’t have taken much effort to turn half the room to his side… but he knew what it meant. In the corner he saw four of his teachers. Their inaction spoke volumes. Any one of them could have unleashed their Neo-Sapien powers on the people here… but that would have only proved their enemies right. He could have used his powers to strike back… but he settled instead for standing up, helping Cassandra into her coat, and leaving peacefully.
As Michuru turned back to his colleges he was surprised to see a smile on Natalie’s face. “What?” he asked, unsure what about any of this had pleased her.
“The way they handled that,” she said. “I—I think we’re really having an effect on these kids. I think we’re doing something right.”
And they all sipped their coffee in silence.
To Be Continued... wrote:Party of the Year