Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 24

Sleeping in his car doesn’t provide the most comfortable night’s sleep DeMarcus has ever had but it gives him a lot of time to think. To figure out what happened and how everyone could think the power was gone when it’s still going strong. He figured it out in the middle of the night. He kept telling everyone in the facility the power was getting weaker and less effective. He said it as a fact, not as an opinion. Slowly those test subjects came to believe it. For all he knows about his power, maybe it made him believe it. For people who weren’t exposed to that day after day though, like Jesse, it didn’t make a difference.

The part that frightens him most is that people who weren’t in the room with them were effected. Maybe not as badly or as fast but the people who were sealed off upstairs slowly came to believe what he was saying. Maybe a little effect over a long period built up. What sort of range does he have? How long does the effect of this really last? He doesn’t know anything really. Even what he thought he’d learned while being held is suspect now.

Anyone who could answer his questions is too dangerous to approach. He won’t go back in a cell or be made to disappear. Layla’s an option but he can’t bring himself to put her in that situation.

He drives to the temporary offices of his former employers. Layla mentioned a large severance package and that’s what he needs right now with massive debt and nowhere to go. Every penny counts because as soon as he has that he needs to take care of his responsibilities he needs to disappear.

Part 23

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Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 23

Standing outside the door to their apartment feels different this time. Maybe it’s his head pounding from drinking half a bottle of tequila with Layla. She put away plenty of her own and before long they were giggling messes. That’s mostly worn off throughout the day though. Most of the day DeMarcus just felt lucky to have somewhere to be. Layla’s got resumes circulating so her job right now’s to kick back and watch daytime TV. Joining her was a welcome distraction but it could only last so long.

It’s after six at night which means Jesse should be home. The sound of a Spanish song he can’t understand’s pounding from behind the door. It has a nice beat but it’s nothing Jesse would ever play if he were there. He finds not knowing what the people are singing about annoying. Light shines out from behind their rubber duck curtains. Jesse’s here.

Unable to let himself in, DeMarcus tries to work up the nerve to knock. After standing there for a minute he hears a throat clear behind him. He turns to find a pizza delivery driver standing there. “You the guy who ordered the pizza?”

DeMarcus shakes his head. “No, just a friend about to leave.” He steps out of the way of the door. “Here, you go ahead.”

The delivery driver looks suspicious as DeMarcus steps aside, out of the view of someone looking through the peephole. He doesn’t want Jesse to see him there and refuse to let him inside. After a moment of staring the driver steps forward and knocks. A voice inside says, “Just a minute.”

The door flies open as Jesse steps out wearing nothing but a bathrobe. His hair’s soaked and it looks like he just got out of the shower. He works at a grocery store and always feels gross after work. He’s holding his wallet and has a big grin on his face as he pulls out a pair of twenties. He’s cut his hair since DeMarcus last saw him; it’s shorter than he normally cuts it. His legs are showing below the robe and they look tight, like they usually do for a few weeks after he starts working out. A few times a year he says he’s going to start working out, does so religiously for a few weeks, then abandons it and goes back to his normal routine.

It takes him a moment to notice DeMarcus standing there but when he does the smile disappears. He shoves the money toward the delivery driver and grabs the pizza away. “I don’t want to see you. Figured changing the locks would give you a hint. Go away.”

He starts to slam the door but DeMarcus steps forward. “Don’t shut me out, I just want to talk. Please just talk with me.” There’s hesitation and the door doesn’t slam. Jesse glares at him but slowly steps inside, leaving the door open behind him.

DeMarcus follows. When he steps inside he’s shocked by what he finds. The place is immaculate. He’s never seen their place so clean since they’ve lived together. The mess isn’t the only thing missing though. Any sign of him is gone. Pictures of them together, trophies and awards he’s won over the years, his video games beneath the TV. Furniture and generic wall decorations are still there but someone new would have no idea he’d ever lived there.

Jesse walks into the kitchen and grabs a bottle of whiskey from their liquor cupboard. He pours a glass and takes a long drink. “If you want to talk, you should start talking.” He opens the box of pizza from their favorite place.

The aroma hits DeMarcus and his stomach grumbles. All he’s eaten today are a few chips Layla had laying around. She had a sandwich but didn’t have enough meat for both of them and he didn’t want to impose. It’s hard to think with the pounding in his head. He didn’t want to come over here drunk so he cut himself off hours ago but that meant he got to come over with a hangover. “You don’t think I could get a slice of that, or maybe a drink myself before I start?” Jesse’s eyes narrow and he doesn’t respond. “No, guess not.”

Walking into the living room, DeMarcus sits in his chair which he’s glad to see is still there. Jesse follows but sits at the nearby kitchen table. He’s never been willing to eat at the couch. Even on game nights he gets annoyed when DeMarcus wants to have snacks there. He stands and walks to the table, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “I can explain everything. I promise. I didn’t write those letters you got.”

Jesse takes a bite of pizza. It looks perfect. He ordered the margherita which is his favorite and which DeMarcus loves, though if given the choice he’d probably order the meat lovers. His stomach wouldn’t handle the meat lovers tonight though and he knows it. He chews slowly, looking DeMarcus up and down. “So your excuse is that while you were in the hospital for weeks, you didn’t write me the horrible letters I got, you just didn’t contact me at all?”

“I wasn’t in the hospital and there was no way I could contact you. The first thing I did when I woke up was ask for a phone to call and they wouldn’t allow it. They told me they were sending you those letters and I asked to write one myself to tell you the truth, or even to tell you what they wanted if I could only make it from me and tell you what I wanted to say about you. They wouldn’t let me.”

Taking another bite of his pizza, the anger on Jesse’s face seems to be replaced with disbelief. At least he’s interested. “Go on.”

He spills his guts. He talks about the attacks, saving people, watching people die, thinking for sure he was going to die. He tells him how much he wanted to call but how his phone died before he could. He talks about the chemicals and the powers, about taking out the attackers one by one using them. Then about his being taken into custody, how they wanted to study him. How he was offered those powers forever if he’d only take them but he couldn’t do it. He wanted to come home too much.

Jesse asks a few minor questions in the beginning but as DeMarcus goes on he stops, content to listen. By the time DeMarcus is done Jesse’s jaw sits open. He stands without a word and walks into the kitchen. He returns a minute later with a plate with a piece of pizza and a glass of whiskey. He holds them out. DeMarcus almost cries to see them. He considers jumping up to hug his boyfriend but doesn’t know if they’re ready for that yet. Instead he downs the whiskey in one gulp and starts tearing into the pizza. He didn’t realize how hungry he was. The crust cracks how he remembers and the freshness of the sauce and the basil make him feel weak. He’s home.

Watching him eat, Jesse seems to be studying him. He waits until the piece is gone before he says, “So to be clear, you were held prisoner by the government because they wanted to take advantage of the powers you got in this attack.”

Wiping his mouth on his sleeve since he doesn’t have a napkin, he nods. “I know it sounds unbelievable but it’s the truth.”

Looking at the ground, Jesse leans on his elbows and puts his forehead on his clenched fists. “It doesn’t sound unbelievable. We’re talking about the government. Besides, you’re not that good at making stuff up. Now I feel bad that I spent the last few weeks hating you instead of worried about you.”

“Come on, it’s not like that. You had every reason to feel that way.” The man still won’t look up. “Jesse, look at me.” He does, for a moment. The moment passes and he looks away again. “I don’t need you to feel bad or anything like that. I want to come home though. This is my home. This is our life. I want to come back to it. Can I do that?”

Standing and walking away, Jesse goes to the kitchen. He gets the whiskey down and pours himself another glass. “I cheated.”

DeMarcus feels his stomach drop. He glances down at his empty cup. There’s no relief there. “When?”

“About a week after your last letter. Or their last letter. I felt hurt. I wanted to be there for you. We’ve talked about getting married. Becoming a family. That’s what family’s all about for me. Being there for each other when times are hardest. I felt betrayed. I wanted to hurt you as bad as I was hurting. It was stupid. Some guy from work who wanted to go get drinks. It was only one time and I was safe but it happened.”

“Can you come in here and talk to me? I’d rather not say this to your stomach.” Jesse’s stomach is all he can make out between the upper and lower cupboards of their kitchen.

“I can’t say this to your face. I screwed up so bad. I told myself it wasn’t really cheating because I was going to break up with you the first time I saw you. I almost wrote a letter breaking up with you but I decided I’d rather look you in the eye when I did it. Funny, because now I can’t look you in the eye and say this.”

“I forgive you.” DeMarcus can feel his heart breaking but this wasn’t a betrayal, or at least not an intended one. He can’t say for certain he wouldn’t have done the same in Jesse’s situation. It hurts and there’s a part of him that wants to run out of here and never look back but he’s willing to forgive given the circumstances. What he wants more than anything is to go in the other room and hold his boyfriend and tell him they’ll be alright. That they’ll get through this. He stands, starting to head toward the kitchen. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Maybe you can but I don’t know if I can.”

Hearing the pain in Jesse’s voice drives a stake into his heart. He wants to fix this rift and put them back together. He can only think of one thing which might work though and there’s a good chance it drives them further apart. “I cheated on you too.”

Silence hangs in the air for a long time. He can still only see Jesse’s stomach but he notices it shaking. “When?”

“Years ago. We’d only been going out a few months and I got drunk one night at the bar. I don’t even know his name. I wasn’t safe but I got tested since then and I was clean. I thought about telling you but we’d talked and you said the only thing you couldn’t forgive was cheating so I never said anything. I should have but I didn’t want to lose you. Figured I’d take it to my grave but right now, maybe you need to hear it. If you can’t live with it and end it, at least you don’t feel like it’s your fault.”

He can hear tears and he walks around the corner into the kitchen. Jesse’s head’s against the cabinet, another glass of whiskey waiting to be drunk in his hand. “How could you do that?” He tries to respond but by the time his mouth can open Jesse screams, “How could you do that? Even back then?”

Walking closer, DeMarcus puts his hands up, trying to calm the situation. “I know it sucks and I suck because of it but I wasn’t trying to justify it. I know it sucks. Even then I knew it sucked. It was so stupid.”

“You’re damn right it was. You were willing to throw this away, for what?” He throws the glass of whiskey back and starts to pour another.

“I wasn’t trying to throw anything away. I was just stupid and young. Calm down. Please.”

The tears stop and Jesse sets the glass down. He walks past DeMarcus, out of the room and a glance into his eyes shows no sign of emotion. He walks into the living room and sits on the couch, turning the TV on. DeMarcus follows him. “What are you doing? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Stuff happens, no reason to lose it.” More than the words themselves, DeMarcus is concerned by the tone. He sounds too fine.

“We should talk about what you’re feeling. I just dropped something important on you, you have a right to be mad. You should be mad.”

“I’m not happy about it, but I feel calm.”

Now his blood runs cold. “How calm?”

Jesse shrugs. “I don’t know, just calm.”

Moving in front of him, DeMarcus puts a hand on each of Jesse’s shoulders. The first physical contact they’ve had since he’s been here. “This isn’t a time for calm. Get mad. Lose it on me. I’m okay with it, I can take it.”

Anger roars into Jesse’s eyes. It sweeps across his face like a flock of locusts. “You want me to get mad? Fuck you DeMarcus. I have plenty of reason to get mad.” He jumps to his feet and pushes DeMarcus away. Grabbing at a lamp next to him, he throws it and DeMarcus barely dodges.

“Don’t throw stuff at me.” The second the words leave his lips he regrets them. Jesse was already reaching for a pillow to throw but he stops. Still he comes at DeMarcus, pushing him back. “Calm down again.” He closes his eyes, almost hoping the anger will continue. It doesn’t though. The calm’s suddenly back and Jesse goes back to the couch, sitting down and resuming his TV show without a word.

Without another word of his own DeMarcus runs into their bedroom and grabs a duffel bag from under their bed. He throws his closet open and is relieved to find Jesse didn’t get rid of all his clothes. He starts stuffing a variety of things into the bag. He grabs another and fills it as well. Soon most of his clothes he cares about are packed. He runs to the bathroom and grabs his toothbrush and a few odds and ends. Jesse may have taken every sign of him from the living room but he wasn’t as judicious in clearing the rest of the apartment. Shoes, his tablet, a few other odds and ends he might need are easily found.

Returning to the living room, Jesse’s still watching TV as if nothing happened. A small grin starts to spread over his face as something funny happens on his show. DeMarcus considers saying something. In this state of control though it won’t mean anything and what can he say? What he’s done will wear off in a little while and Jesse will be back to himself. He could stay and try to sort this out. That wouldn’t be fair though. Every time they fight he could suddenly take control of the situation with a stray impulse. He can’t be in a real relationship with that power. It’s impossible.

Instead he walks behind the man he loves. He leans down and kisses him right in the middle of his head. He considers one last impulse like telling him to be happy or not to miss him but that’s stupid. It would wear off in a few hours. The man deserves to feel what he feels as much as he can.

Closing the door behind him, he considers going back to Layla’s and telling her what happened. He remembers her revulsion when he told her about the powers though. Her sudden fear she was being controlled. She calmed when she found out they’d worn off but now he knows that’s not the case. Somehow, they’re still here. How did they not work in the facility? It doesn’t make sense.

He walks toward the parking lot, preying to find his car sitting there. It is, parked right next to Jesse’s. Someone must have towed it home after the attack. He’s grateful for that. No locks have been changed here. He climbs inside. There’s not much gas but it will have to be enough.

Part 22

Part 24

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 22

Dr. Layla Kanish looks up at him, a huge grin pasted across her entire face. Tears well up in the corners of her eyes, magnified by the way her glasses have slipped down her face. “I should be really mad at you but I’m too happy you’re okay. I didn’t think I was going to see you again.”

DeMarcus smiles, squeezing her closer. “You need to learn to trust me. I told you I’d be alright.”

“People say a lot of things when they’re trying to be brave. Come on, you didn’t really think you could handle that did you?”

He shrugs, unsure how to answer. Did he think he could handle it? If it weren’t for a weird sort of luck he certainly couldn’t have but when he left her he didn’t know how bad things were. “Hard to say I guess. Wanted to.”

Looking him up and down, she fixes her glasses and looks again. “What are you wearing? This definitely isn’t something you’d pick out.”

He glances at the door, the sounds of Beast trying to get to them still clear. He hoped she’d invite him inside, maybe make some coffee. So far there’s no move in that direction. He looks down at his clothes. A pair of loose jeans and a hoodie. Not his normally sharp sense of dress but it isn’t that bad. “It’s what I could get cheap. I had to get by on what I had left over on my credit cards and it isn’t much. I was going to stop into the apartment and change but when I got there the lock was changed.”

She holds a finger up, looking down. “Don’t go there, at least not yet. That’s when I have to get mad at you and I don’t want to be mad yet. You can afford a lot better than this. We’re all getting good severance packages. Have you seen yours yet?” He shakes his head. “They’re good. You’ll be happy with it but it might take a few weeks to get.”

“Can I come inside? I’d love to sit and relax for a few.”

Her hand covers most of her face for a moment. She looks to be thinking. “If I say yes do you promise not to tell Jesse? I don’t want him to think I’m choosing sides.”

“I’m hoping after I get a chance to talk to him there won’t be sides. Things didn’t go down the way you probably think.”

Hearing the dog still yipping, she crosses her arms and says, “Alright, you can come in but you need to spill, sound good?”

“Fair.”

She pushes her way inside, calling Beast after her so he doesn’t mob DeMarcus. The place is a bit of a mess with several glasses on the coffee table and a bunch of empty fast food wrappers beside them. Blankets are thrown all over the couch and mail’s piled in a stack on the recliner. DeMarcus can’t remember ever seeing Layla’s apartment anything less than spotless. He doesn’t comment on it though, moving the mail out of her chair and sitting down. “I really appreciate it. If I leave I’m afraid I won’t come back.”

Layla walks into the kitchen and the sound of the fridge opening can be heard. “Want anything to drink? I don’t have a lot but I can do water, tea, or coffee if you give me a few minutes.”

“Coffee might be nice.”

The sound of a coffee pot being started brings a smile to his face. Walking back into the room, Layla’s carrying a cup of tea. She moves one of the blankets aside and collapses onto the couch. Beast chases behind right on her heels and jumps up to snuggle. Seeing DeMarcus he wags his tail and hops over onto his chair. His tail goes wild as he runs all over the man’s lap and chest. “Beast, go see her.” He points at Layla and after only a moment the dog does as he’s told.

“Sorry about him. He loves people.” She rubs Beast’s head furiously.

“I know. So where do you want me to start? There’s a lot to tell.”

Setting her tea on a coffee table after one last sip, she leans forward. “Well okay, from what I understand you ended up in the hospital after everything that happened, some weird injury or something they couldn’t talk about. You told Jesse you didn’t want to see him or talk to him until everything was over. Is that more or less right?”

He breathes deeply. Is telling her the right move? Nobody told him there would be an issue if he started talking but somehow when dealing with an unknown government group holding American citizens prisoner against their will that seems to go without saying. He leans forward. “I’m going to tell you the whole story, but it’s going to sound kind of crazy.”

A smirk spreads across her face. “Those are the best stories.”

“This is serious. I think it might even be dangerous so you need to keep it to yourself. Can you do that? I don’t want to get you in any sort of trouble.”

Her smirk’s gone now but she doesn’t look less interested. She takes her glasses off and inspects them. Realizing how dirty they are she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a package of cleaning wipes. “Sorry, haven’t had much need for these the last few weeks. I can keep stuff to myself. I want to know.”

“What do you know about KJC2800?”

Layla’s eyes go wide, though after a minute she seems to get them under control. She sets her cup back down after taking a sip and brushes her hair out of her face. “I think I should ask how you know about that but I’m guessing you ended up in one of the main labs.”

“That’s right.”

“I worked on it. Some, it wasn’t my project. It was Kriss’. I helped him refine it though.” She stops to think for a moment. “I signed non disclosure agreements on this stuff DeMarcus. I can’t risk my severance. Tell me what you know, I’ll let you know if it matches up with what I know.”

Leaning back in his chair, he closes his eyes. She’s going to make this hard. “It’s a mood alteration drug. Meant to put people in a certain state of mind and make them easily suggestible. Useful for interrogations and things like that. That sound more or less right?” He opens his eyes in time to see her nod, biting her lip. “Good news, it works better than you can possibly imagine.”

Her hands start to tremble so she puts them on her knees. “Were you exposed to it? Is that why you had to go away and couldn’t be around people? Kriss was getting close to human trials but we weren’t there yet. There were some weird results in the last round of animal testing.”

“That’s news to me. I don’t know about any trials or anything like that. I was exposed though. To a lot of it.”

“How much?”

“Three canisters of it were shot right as I locked the doors down. They filled the room. I was breathing the stuff for the better part of an hour before the room was blown open and it got into the facility.”

Turning white, Layla puts her head in her hands. “You’re lucky to be alive.”

“I know.”

Peeking over her hands, she quietly asks, “What did it do to you?”

Laughing, DeMarcus leans forward. “You aren’t going to believe me.”

“Try me.”

“Alright, I got powers. I would say things and people would have to do them. Like, I’d say drop your gun and they’d do it. I’d say tell me where your people are and they’d do it. That’s the only reason I got out of that place alive.”

She blinks a few times and stares at him. Grabbing her cup, she takes a long sip, draining the last of her tea. “You’re right. I don’t believe you. That’s insane.”

“That’s what I’m afraid Jesse’s going to say. They had me in an underground place downtown. None of the letters he got were from me. I mean, it’s only been a few weeks. How would multiple letters get here from me that fast?”

“They could have been overnighted.”

“Do I seem like the type of person who overnights things? Come on, really.” He throws his hands up and then buries his head in them.

Layla continues to stare at him. “You’re not joking are you?” He shakes his head. “Hell. That’s not even something we thought about. Why would we? None of the animals could talk to us or tell us to do things. None of them were ever exposed to that much either so maybe this only happens if you breathe in a ton of it.” She jumps backward on the couch. “Wait, you’re not doing it to me right now are you?”

“No.” He shakes his head before putting his hands on his forehead and groaning. “For one, it only seems to work if I’m direct. Asking questions, suggesting things, that doesn’t work. I have to be like, ‘Come here boy.’” He pats his leg as he says this and Beast runs to him, wagging his tail and trying to lick his face. “Down.” The dog sits a little calmer but he’s still practically shaking. “Besides, it wore off. They ran a bunch of tests and the effect kept getting weaker and weaker over time. At first it didn’t last quite as long, then the range got smaller, then it was a suggestion people could shake off if they didn’t really want to do it. It’s gone now. If it wasn’t they would never have let me go.”

“Jesse’s not going to believe you. He’s going to think you’re full of crap.”

“I know, I don’t know what to do.”

Standing, she walks into the kitchen and comes back with a notebook. She starts jotting down notes on a piece of paper before tearing it out and handing it to him. Looking it over, it has a lot of the details of the formula. “I can’t prove it effected you this way but I can confirm a lot of what you’re saying. Hopefully that helps. Did you just get out today?”

“Few days ago. They tried to get me to agree to take more of the stuff and see if it would reactivate but I figured I got lucky enough surviving the first time. Didn’t really care to press my luck.”

“Oh I wish you had. I’d love to know if this can be replicated that easily. There’s so many possibilities. Kind of surprised they didn’t pull me in though.”

“Think they want to keep this quiet.”

“Oh sure.” She tries to take a sip of her tea but the cup’s empty at this point. She gives it a surprised look. “Be right back.” She’s in the kitchen for no more than a minute before returning with another cup. She has a second cup with coffee for him. A little cream and a little sugar, just how he likes. “With Kriss gone though, there’s nobody else who knows more about that stuff. I could have helped. Do you know if they had his notes?”

“They didn’t share a lot with the prisoner.”

She looks down in her cup for a minute. “Fair. This isn’t working. Hang on.” She returns to the kitchen and comes back with a bottle of tequila and two shot glasses. “I need a drink.”

“It’s ten in the morning.”

“Is that a no for you then?”

Thinking for a minute, he shrugs. “Pour me one. I’m going to need all the courage I can get when Jesse gets home.” She pours the shot and hands it to him first without making her own. He downs it in seconds and wishes he had a lime. Without waiting for one though he hands the glass back to her. “Another please.”

Part 21

Part 23

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 18

Weeks pass and still DeMarcus is held. The tests continue every day. Every time his powers are a little less effective than the day before. People start resisting, being able to over time fight their limbs free. Despite this the forces holding him make no move to release him. If anything the tests are increasing in frequency.

One day he’s led into the same room where he first met with Sean, first learned why he was here and what they wanted from him. Thing’s have changed though. Security has gotten a lot more lax. He’s not handcuffed. His legs are free. They know he can’t go anywhere even if he ran and he’s made no move to remove his gag. He knows that’s only allowed in the bright room.

Sitting alone in a dark room still gets old after awhile. He’d rather spend his free time in the room they’ve given him. It’s really a cell but it’s a nice cell and the bed’s not uncomfortable. He’s bored there but they’ve given him a stack of books and they help pass the time.

The door opens and light floods the room. He’s tempted to turn around and see who they’ve sent but he knows that could lead to punishment. His books might be taken away. Instead he’ll continue staring straight ahead. He isn’t surprised when Sean’s the one to step around the table, seemingly in a good mood today. He doesn’t have to explain their process at this point. He absent mindedly drops the notebook and pencil on the table.

“I hope you’re feeling well. I understand you had steak for dinner last night.”

He nods. They’ve let him start requesting the meals he wants. The more he cooperates, the easier this is. “It was good.” It’s not a lie. The food was good. Eating’s the only other time the gag comes out. It isn’t easy to enjoy a meal though when there’s two armed men standing outside your room, barely trying to hide that they’ll kill you if you start to say a word.

“Glad to hear it. I’ve eaten at the place they ordered from and it’s excellent. Wish I was here to discuss your meal but I’ve got an offer to make you and I hope you think it’s interesting. I’d like to offer you a job. If we’re going to do it, we need to do it now. The tests we’ve been doing show your powers are weakening. That’s good news for you going home eventually but there is a matter of national security that I think you’re uniquely situated to assist us with. We’ll need your powers so the sooner the better. Are you interested?”

Staring at the older man, he considers the offer which he’s pretty sure isn’t actually an offer. “Do I have a choice?” he writes.

“You actually do. I’d love to draft you into it but with your powers, if you aren’t interested, there’s a good chance you’d just slip away anyway. We’re not going to count on you if you don’t want to do it. I can tell you though that you’d be doing your country a great service.”

“Can you tell me about the mission?”

“I’m afraid not. I’d love to, but like I said, it’s a matter of national security. I can tell you if you’re in but short of that, we have to keep this quiet.”

They really want to ask him to take on a mission for the government while knowing nothing about it after how they’ve treated him? “Is it dangerous?”

Sean nods. “It is, but it would help keep a lot of people safe. If you don’t do it, we don’t have anyone else I believe can handle it. Not without a lot of good people potentially getting hurt at least. Maybe if we still had agents like Red Line back in the day but after how that ended, there was a lot of public pressure to stop creating powered soldiers and agents. Too much room for something to go wrong.”

Closing his eyes, DeMarcus tries to clear his head. He’s not opposed to helping his country. He cares about people and likes protecting them. Risking everything to do just that’s what got him here though. It’s why he’s not safe at the moment. Then he pictures Jesse. He must think terrible things about him but if he can get out of here, maybe he can explain. Maybe there’s still a way to win him back. After everything he’s gone through with this, after everything he knows Jesse’s gone through, can he risk their future together?

“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass. I just want to go home.”

He stares at Sean as he passes the paper to him. The man reads it, then looks up at him, no emotion visible behind those glasses. “I understand how you’re feeling. I’d like you to think on it, even if you don’t think you’ll change your mind. If this is what you decide though, I’ll respect it. You can’t go home yet but we’ll keep running tests and once we figure out what these chemicals have done to you, or once they’ve worn off most of the way, we’ll get you out of here.”

There’s no attempt to slide the paper back across the table. Sean’s seemingly no longer interested in anything he has to say. He gives him a nod as he walks out of the room and DeMarcus makes sure to keep his eyes pointed ahead, never looking back to watch which way the man goes. Soon he hears the door shut and he breathes easy. A few minutes later a guard shows up to return him to his room.

Part 17

Part 19

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 17

After a few days you get used to being lead around at gun point. Maybe used to isn’t the right choice of words. You accept it at the very least. Slowly DeMarcus spends less time locked to chairs or unconscious but he’s always in handcuffs, always gagged, and armed guards are never far away.

Today’s the day they start his testing. He’s nervous, both about what will happen if they find out he’s as powerful as they think but also about what he’ll do if he’s as powerful as they think.

Practically shoved into a large, bright white room, DeMarcus’ eyes take a moment to adjust. Looking up, he sees an observation window with four or five people staring down at him. All of them have ear plugs in to block any sound, even on the other side of what has to be a foot of glass.

The guards that bring him in have the same sort of ear plugs but more interesting are the three nervous men and two nervous women standing before him, none of whom have anything blocking their ears. They’re a diverse group, one of each gender’s white while one man’s black and another looks to be hispanic. The second woman’s asian. She’s the only one who looks calm, almost bored to be there. A speaker system bursts to life somewhere near the ceiling but looking up for long’s hard with how bright the lights are. He can’t even focus on the glass to get an idea who the people behind it are. They look almost like ghosts from here.

“DeMarcus, we want you to turn to your guards and hold your hands up. Put your fingers together. This will act as a signal telling them to remove your gag.” Turning to the men slowly since they each have a gun, he presses the fingers of his hands against each other. The guards seem to know what it means as the biggest of the men steps forward and reaches behind his head. He struggles with the clasp but eventually gets it loose and the gag falls free.

Taking a deep breath for the first time in weeks feels amazing. He’s content not to speak but rather to simply breathe without pain. He fears what they’ll do if he starts talking. “Take a moment DeMarcus, then we’ll get going.” He does as they ask but soon he’s ready and looks up expectantly at the glass, at least as long as his eyes can manage. “I’m sure you’ve noticed the five people in front of you who aren’t wearing any ear protection. That’s because they have volunteered to have your powers tested on them. To be clear, we aren’t going to have you do anything crazy. We want to get a better understanding though. Let’s try doing this a few ways. Ask them all to stand on one leg.”

Looking at the group, he wonders what sort of person volunteers to be mind controlled. He would never dream of it. They look nervous but none are trying to run or showing signs of being here against their own free will. “Will you all stand on one leg?”

Nothing happens. The men and women exchange glances, calm and relief flooding their faces. One of the women who wasn’t breathing well starts to calm down. “Nicely done, that doesn’t seem to have worked though. Let’s try another route. Tell them to stand on one leg.”

Nodding, he returns his gaze to the group. “All of you, stand on one leg.” Within seconds each of the five are balancing on one leg. The route they take to get there’s different for each person. Some are on their left leg, others on their right. Some are standing free while others lean against a wall to make it easier. One woman raises her left foot only a few inches, but she’s on one leg now. Their eyes go wide and they start glancing at each other but they stay on that leg.

“Good. Tell them to put their hands over their eyes.”

“Put your hands over your eyes.” The group all start to do so but again, they do it in many different ways. Two use their left hands. One uses their right. One puts both hands over their eyes while the last puts their hand on their forehead, or over their eyes on their face. Through the speaker DeMarcus can make out a noise that sounds like writing.

The faces of these volunteers betray their concern. A couple seem to think it’s cool but the other three have looks ranging from worry to fear. It’s hard to imagine having your body so completely controlled, acting against your own desires. He doesn’t want to think about it too much.

“Good work. Now ask them to forget all of your instructions. If it doesn’t work, go ahead and tell them.”

“Will you all please stop doing what I asked you to before?” There’s no reaction. He thinks he notices a strain in several of their eyes as they actively try to do what he’s asked but can’t. One of the women’s legs is twitching, though he’s not sure if it’s from trying to stop standing on one leg or from their other leg getting sore. “Stop doing what I’ve asked you.” The floodgates open and legs crash to the ground; hands go down. The five people look at each other, wanting to say something. DeMarcus wants to say something too. To think of a way out of here. Suddenly a realization passes through his mind. “My powers are getting weaker.”

A voice returns to the microphone after a short delay. “What do you mean DeMarcus?”

Looking up at the window, he shrugs as much as he can with his arms bound together. “They were able to fight it somewhat. I could see the strain and the push in their eyes and on their muscles. They’ll tell you when you ask them. The powers are getting weaker. They’re fading. Maybe they’ll keep fading. I don’t know.”

There’s hesitation and he wonders how much the men above are panicking. How much are they counting on his powers for something? “Thank you for the insight DeMarcus. We’ll run some tests and let you know.”

All he can do is nod. This isn’t his show and he knows it. The men above are the ones who will decide when he walks out of here. For that matter, they’ll decide whether he walks out of here.

Part 16

Part 18

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 16

Ragged gasps for air define the days after DeMarcus Dodson is dragged unconscious from the campus of Secure Solutions Chemical. Most of the time he’s kept unconscious. The few times he wakes up his mouth’s filled with a gag so tight no air can get in. Since a football injury broke his nose as a teenager he’s always struggled to breathe through it. His body’s fighting to get the oxygen it needs and half the times he wakes from his drugged state it’s only his body fighting for air that pulls him from his sleep. His captors increase the dosage of drugs and he slips away again.

Waking in a chair for the first time, he starts to wonder if something’s changed. He’s not strapped down. His hands are handcuffed to the chair but they aren’t particularly tight. That’s good since his wrist is in a cast and it hurts to move. He can’t get loose but at least the cuffs aren’t adding any pain. His legs are free and he tries to stretch sore muscles. How long has he been out?

A mostly pitch black room prevents him from seeing much of anything. An old looking wooden table sits inches in front of him, a table with many years of wear on it. A single light swings above his head, a simple one with a shade which makes sure the table’s lit but keeps the rest of the room dark. Even that looks to be on it’s last legs. The gag’s still in his mouth and he has a feeling it isn’t coming out any time soon. Whoever has him, they know what he can do.

There’s no way of knowing what the rest of the room holds. Whatever it is, the light never reaches any of the walls. The room could be five feet across or twenty. There could be people standing right out of sight, observing his every move. Considering he’s tied to a chair though he can’t imagine they’d be learning much.

A creak behind him lets some light into the room. Not much, but for a moment he’s pretty sure he can make out a wall near the far end of the table. His eyes don’t have time to adjust so he can’t be sure. There’s a clicking noise and the light’s gone. Whoever opened a door, they’ve closed it. Footsteps fall behind him and he realizes he isn’t alone.

A tall, thin man circles the table. He’s older with grey hair, wearing a dark pair of sunglasses even in this room. A small scar runs down his cheek. Dressed in a suit which matches his hair, he has a sly grin on his face as he leans his hands on the table.

“Hello DeMarcus, good to meet you. You can call me Sean. Well, you probably can’t at the moment actually. But when we get this all cleared up you’ll be able to.” His voice is loud, strangely so. It takes a moment for DeMarcus to notice the earplugs sticking out of each of the man’s ears. Even with a gag in his mouth these people aren’t taking any chances. “I want to start by apologizing for the way you’ve been treated over the last week.” A week? It’s been a week? He knew it’d been at least a few days but after this long Jesse has to be worried sick. “I can assure you it was necessary though. After the chemicals you were exposed to and the strange reaction you had, we needed to make sure they weren’t going to kill you.” Nice excuse, this has all been for his good. He’ll believe that when hell freezes over.

Gesturing forward, his eyes go wide and he tries to get a message through the gag. Smiling, Sean doesn’t make much move to react. “I know that makes it hard to communicate. I’m sure you can understand our concern though and why it has to be in place. I’d like to go back and forth though. I have an idea.”

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a frayed notebook and a pencil. He sets them on the table and then pulls a syringe out as well. He stands and walks to DeMarcus’ side and rubs his right arm. He realizes he has no shirt on. He’s wearing only a pair of shorts. Taking the Syringe, he pushes it against his skin. The needle’s not small and he grunts as it enters his arm. There’s no way to resist. He’s surprised when the contents aren’t injected.

“I want to make you a deal DeMarcus. I’ll release one of your arms, the one that isn’t injured. You can use this pencil and paper to communicate and we can have a conversation. If you make any move to try and shake that syringe free, or to reach for your gag, which is secure I might add, I’ll have to inject that. Nothing too dangerous mind you but it’ll knock you right out. I want you to nod your head if you agree.”

Seeing no other way out of this, DeMarcus nods his head. A jangle of keys is heard and then he feels the clamp holding his right arm in place released. He’s glad to have his arm free and briefly considers trying to grab for Sean. That seems like a bad idea though. What would he gain? His other arm would still be locked to a chair.

Sean returns to his seat and pushes the pencil and paper toward him. “Now let’s get started. Let me tell you a little about me. I work for the government handling vigilantes and people with powers. Been doing it a long time. After this little incident, I think that now includes you. Rude awakening I know but with the level of power this could potentially give you we have to tread lightly. Do you understand what happened to you at your company and what those chemicals did to you?”

It takes a moment to realize the man’s waiting for him to write something. He grips the pencil, wondering if it could be used to try and escape. That seems unlikely. If this is a government facility, there’s no knowing how many guards are outside. Instead he writes, “Sort of” on the paper.

Sliding the pad across the table, Sean has to lift his sunglasses to read in the low light. His icy blue eyes peak out, but he smiles when he sees what DeMarcus wrote. “That’s more than a lot of people would have. Great job. To be clear, you were exposed to some seriously heavy duty mood altering chemicals. It was never meant for that kind of application. Even if it was tested and worked, it would have been used in small doses to make people suggestible. You breathed the stuff in for hours. It’s a miracle you’re alive. After that you dealt with people and they all seemed to listen to you. Doing whatever you told them to. Is that more or less right?”

He slides the notebook back to DeMarcus. Grabbing the book, he writes down, “Pretty much. I have trouble breathing through my nose.”

Sean laughs at this. “Look, I don’t like the gag and all that. I truly am sympathetic. I’ve dealt with vigilantes my whole life though and I know you never underestimate powers and what they can do. You could run the world with your powers if left unchecked. My bosses won’t like me saying that, but you’d have figured it out eventually anyway. If you think about that, you know I’m right. Now, I don’t know that you want to do that. I’ve spent the last week talking to everyone you know to get an idea of how you’ll handle this. Most of them speak positively, though the further we go back in your past, the less that’s true. I found some people in Atlanta who had some pretty negative things to say. I’m sure you can guess who.”

DeMarcus squeezes his eyes closed. Atlanta’s not a place he’s thought about for a lot of years. That’s by design. That was another life. He nods, telling Sean he understands what he means.

“I thought so. Now look, I don’t think you’re an enemy. I think you’re a good guy who put his life on the line to save his coworkers. Not a lot of people would have done that. You could have locked yourself down in the first room you came across and been safe. Made sure you went home to your boyfriend. Instead you risked your life to run through that place, dodging bullets and protecting people. A lot of people are going home to their families because you did. You should be proud.”

He reaches across the table for the notebook. At first Sean tenses up, his eyes closely following DeMarcus’ hand. When he realizes he only wants the notebook he hands it back. When it comes back all it says is, “How are they? The people in the rooms? The guards?”

Sean reads it for a moment and then looks up at DeMarcus. This time he removes his glasses, “You mean they didn’t tell you? Shoot, you were supposed to already know.” He looks down at the ground, not eager to answer the question. DeMarcus knows that isn’t a good sign.

All he can think to write is, “I’ve been unconscious pretty much since they brought me in here. I don’t remember anything since they grabbed me.”

Sean nods his head slightly. “That explains it then. Someone probably did tell you. You were just too out of it to remember. Let’s start with the good news. Everyone you shoved into the rooms and locked down? Fine. Even that girl you left in C wing. She’s smart by the way. Glad you protected her. Now the worse news. You know the other guards? The one who went outside, you know who I’m talking about?”

“Bobby?”

“That’s him. He’s going to live. Tough guy. Probably never walk again but he’ll live. The rest mostly weren’t lucky. The three other guards inside, two of them were outright slaughtered. The only one who survived was a woman. You know her.”

“Kelleigh?”

“That’s the one. She was shot in the side. Bled a lot, they probably thought she was dead, but it wasn’t actually that serious. She’s going to be alright. Good thing too, lady’s got three kids.” DeMarcus closes his eyes for a moment and thanks anyone listening for saving her. Leaving her was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.

“My partner Anton? Never showed up for work.”

“We’ve been looking for him but so far we haven’t had much luck. No clue where the guy is, seems like he fell off the earth. Can’t go into much more detail than that I’m afraid. We still have an ongoing investigation.”

Nodding, he watches Sean put his glasses back on. If he was previously willing to seem human and try to connect, that stage of their meeting’s over. “What do you want?”

“You’re to the point Dodson, I appreciate that. I won’t waste your time if you won’t waste mine. These kind of powers need to be closely monitored. We have a few paths forward, but all of them involve some sort of monitoring. You’re not getting around that. First though we need to establish what you can do. How broad the range of these powers can be. We’d like to run some tests. Some are the type you hook someone up to a monitor for. Others will be live, in a room. We’ll need you to cooperate for those. Putting the gag in at the right times, things like that. Are you willing to work with us? If so, I promise I’ll try and get you home as soon as we can.”

He considers the offer. Finding out more about what he can do sounds pretty good to him too. So far, everything he knows is just a guess from what worked. “What does Jesse know?”

“Nothing important.” DeMarcus’ eyes go wide and he considers grabbing for the man with his free hand. They haven’t told Jesse anything? He must be freaking out. “He thinks you had to be airlifted for emergency surgery. You’re in New York as far as he knows. Not able to talk at the moment and not wanting to see him but you’re okay. We’ve even been sending him messages from you, letting him know you’re alright.”

“Can I send him one?”

“I wish we could allow that. There’s way too much chance you slip something in we miss though. No, you won’t be communicating with home until we finish. The sooner we get going though, the sooner we’ll be done.”

“Why haven’t we started then?”

Part 15

Part 17

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 15

Ten minutes go by and nothing happens. DeMarcus knows there have to be a lot scared scientists upstairs to deal with but he kind of figured they’d be down here by now. Thinking about Alexis and Layla safe upstairs makes him happy and he doesn’t have to tell himself to feel that way. He hopes some of the other guards survived. He knows it’s a long shot but the only attacker he asked about them wasn’t sure they were dead. Maybe someone made it. They gave him a chance to get started. He’d love the chance to thank them.

Another eight minutes pass before he hears a door bang open in the distance. Someone scuttles forward. “Clear!”

Someone’s coming down the hallway right outside this office. DeMarcus pulls his feet down. “I’m in here. Don’t shoot, name’s DeMarcus Dodson. I’ve been working with Grady on the phone to get this place open.”

A man in tactical gear fills the doorway. Two more wearing the same follow him. “Put your hands up sir, just for security you understand.” The man grabs his walkie talkie. “We found him sir, he’s hurt but safe.”

Raising his arms in the air hurts, his left wrist hangs limp. “Do I really need to do that? This hurts like hell.”

“I understand sir. We’ll make it quick. That computer terminal there opens the doors down here, correct?”

“Ya, it’s pretty easy. I’m already logged in. Just select the downstairs locks and enter the password. It’s in the texts on the phone sitting on the desk.”

“Excellent sir, I appreciate it. I’m told there’s still some people we need to watch out for?”

“Ya, three attackers are locked up in the president’s office. The president and a couple other employees are safe in a door five to the right of there. A few of the attackers are still in the storage area if you want to grab them.”

“Sounds good, we’ll make sure to handle it. Can you stand up and step away from the computer for me?”

Doing as he’s asked, DeMarcus stands and moves aside. There’s now a ton of men in tactical gear running through the hall in the direction of the other offices. “Can you tell me more about the people upstairs? Is everyone okay? Did any of the other guards make it?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have those details sir but we’ll try to get them for you when we can. Can you turn around for me?” Once again DeMarcus does what the man asks, facing away. He feels someone start to frisk him and rolls his eyes. After all of this you’d think they’d realize he’s on their side.

As they finish he expects them to let him put his hands down. Instead he feels a hand slip over his face and something being shoved into his mouth. He can’t say a word before it’s forced completely inside. He tries to spit it out but it’s too large and a hand covers his mouth to make it even harder. He starts to feel light headed. The last thing he hears is, “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about this.”

Part 14

Part 16Part 16

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 14

DeMarcus does as he’s told and finds Big Man standing behind him with a gun pointed at his head. “Figured out your little trick with telling people what to do. Not sure how you do it but you’re not getting in my head again. You’re going to do the listening now. I know that terminal can open this place up and I assume you know how to use it. Nod if I’m right.”

Slowly DeMarcus nods his head.

“Thought so. When I woke up my head felt clear. Well, for the most part. Still had to fight to do the things you told me not to but I could get through it. For the most part. Still couldn’t pick up my gun, but I found a way around that. Grabbed one of the other ones. I don’t know who or what you are but here’s the deal. I’m walking out of here. I have a plan to make that happen and I even have good news for you. I need your help to do it so you get to live. If I’m not getting out of here though I can assure you I’ll let you die with the rest of them. Nod if you understand.”

Once again DeMarcus nods his head. He has to press his lips together to avoid yelling something out. He wonders what would be faster, Big Man’s bullets or his words. He doesn’t want to find out if he doesn’t have to.

“More good news for you. None of my men are walking out of here with me, clearly. So I’m not getting more than I can carry. I have an escape waiting for me on the roof though. Helicopter I can call in any time. Right now though this place is locked down and I can’t get to them. You can change that. I could change that for that matter, but I’d never get from here to the roof after opening the place. The cops will catch me on the way and I’ll be dead. I need you to give me a head start.”

DeMarcus cocks his head, trying to get the okay to speak. Big Man sighs and rolls his eyes. “You can speak if the first word makes it a question. Figured out the questions don’t work earlier.”

“Why,” he pauses after the first word, “would I help you get out of here?”

“That’s easy. You’ll be dead if you don’t. Not just you either. I can open all the doors from here if I want. I can make sure those three you tucked away end up dead. I heard you mention a girl in a lab somewhere. I’ll make sure she’s dead. I’ll even make sure the people you locked down at the start of this are dead. I might not get them all before the cops get me but I’ll get enough. You wanted to protect them. Now’s your chance. You give me eight minutes. That’s all the time I need. After eight minutes you open the doors. I’ll be gone before the cops know it, you all live, most of your stuff’s safe here. You blow the doors early though and I’ll be even closer to those labs and kill a lot more of them before the cops get to me. Do what I say and it’s a win for everyone.” Big Man stands there waiting on a response. “You can speak. Question word first.”

“If,” he again pauses, “I do this, how do I explain where you went?”

“You don’t even have to tell anyone about our deal. Who knows where I went? Slipped out in the confusion. Your call but I need an answer. No words this time, just nod your head.”

Closing his eyes, DeMarcus thinks about seeing Jesse again. He thinks about all the people he wants to help in this place. With his eyes still closed, he nods his head. When he opens his eyes again Big Man’s holding a grenade.

“Don’t think I’d leave without a little insurance do you?” He takes a few steps backward. “I’m backing out of here. You say anything while I’m in ear shot and I throw this back in here and you’re dead. Done. Keep your mouth shut and we both get what we want.” He starts backing out step by step. DeMarcus looks at the time on the phone in his pocket to know what time to open the doors.

After two minutes he starts the process of logging in and trying to disengage the red alert. His first attempt to type in the password leads to a message saying the password’s wrong. He starts to freak out but a second try goes through. It’s hard to type with only one working hand.

Time keeps passing and DeMarcus tries to use it to familiarize himself with the system. He finds the basement’s on a separate switch from the upstairs but there’s no way to unlock the outer doors without also unlocking the inner ones. Unless the tied up attacker he left locked in with Alexis got free that’s not an issue. The only attackers he’s worried about are down here. He waits until the seven minute mark before calling Grady back.

“What the hell’s taking so long? Get this thing open.”

“Good to hear from you too. You try typing with one working hand. I figured it out and I’m about to open things. Get everything ready. I’m leaving the basement sealed until your men get down here. I’ve got a few of them locked up down here and I’m nervous they can still be a threat. Upstairs you’ll find one tied up in C wing with a girl named Alexis. A and B wings both have a bunch of scientists locked up. There might still be an alive attacker in B wing though I don’t think you need to worry about them. Get down here fast.”

He desperately wants to tell them to watch the roof as well. If Big Man figures out he’s been double crossed though he might run back inside and go after the scientists. He can’t risk it, not after everything he’s done to get this far.

“We’ll be down as soon as we can. Just hang tight. I’ll send a doctor down for you too.”

“Thanks Grady. See ya soon.”

Eight minutes are up so DeMarcus overrides the code red. On the phone he can hear excited cheers in the background as he assumes the shutters are going up. After a moment Grady ends the call.

With nothing to do except wait, DeMarcus kicks back. He puts his feet on the desk and tilts the chair backward. This is a great chair. The vice president has good taste. He starts getting excited at the prospect of seeing Jesse. A nice shower sounds nice too. Looking at his wrist takes away the joy of that a bit. He knows he’s going to be in a cast and won’t be able to fully enjoy a shower. “It’s not a big deal.” Immediately he stops worrying about it. He’s alive, it could be a lot worse.

Part 13

Part 15

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 13

Walking back to the storage facility, DeMarcus pulls the phone out and calls Grady back. “You get the explosives yet?”

“Not yet, but I’m close. The last of the attackers should be neutralized at this point. I found the executive staff. A few of them were killed but there’s three that were still alive including the president. They’re locked down safe.”

“Not bad Dodson, guess you were right to go down there. If they’re all safe though why don’t you lock yourself down and wait for us.”

“Well, the guys messed my wrist up and I’m bleeding pretty bad from my head. I’m okay for now but I don’t really want to suffer through this for another six hours or however long it takes you to get in here.”

“Fair enough. Look, the explosives are apparently in a plastic case in the back right corner of the warehouse. They’re marked highly flammable. Do not run with them, do not jostle them. They could go up very easily. Get them and then get to the vice president’s office. We’ll walk you through wiring it when you’re in place.”

Following every direction Grady gives him to find the case, DeMarcus almost laughs when he reaches the right aisle. There’s the woman who he sent away earlier, with her face on the ground and her hands on the back of her head. When she hears him coming she starts to move. “I’m not here for you, stay where you are.”

Pulling the case off the shelf almost causes it to crash to the floor. He feels panic rising in him but manages to hang on and steady it. This thing’s heavy and usually he’d use both arms to carry it but with his left wrist broken that’s not an option. Lugging it out of the storage area he checks on the other two men and finds them still where he left them.

Soon he’s outside the vice president’s office. “Now what Grady?”

The man hands the phone off to Jerry who instructs him on how to open the case and wire the explosives. Four wires have to be run between several components and they need to be perfect or he’s going to blow up like a pinata. Several times Jerry has to adjust his directions to compensate for DeMarcus’ wrist but finally the bomb’s built and in place. All that remains is to insert the final wire and then haul ass around the nearest corner before it blows up. “You’ll have maybe ten seconds, so you need to move once it’s in.”

“You realize I’m going to be on the ground to insert the wire, then have to get up with one good arm and make it at least ten feet, right?”

There’s a long silence. “Ten feet would be awfully close. Don’t slip getting up.”

He breathes in and out a few times. His nerves are shot. After everything he’s gone through here he’s not ready to die. “Calm down.” It only takes a moment and suddenly he feels calm, in complete control. His mind clears and he knows he has this. A part of him knows how weird it should be that he can calm himself down with a few words but right now he’s grateful for it.

Connecting the last wire, he uses his good arm to push himself to his feet. As soon as he’s standing he takes off sprinting. Reaching the corner, he dives to the right so he lands on his right side and doesn’t hit his injured wrist. Once he’s on the ground he puts his good hand to his ear and shoves his other ear into his shoulder.

He feels it before he hears it. Heat rushes by him and is immediately followed by wood and debris. Even with his ears covered he fears they might burst. The noise hurts almost as much as his wrist. It only lasts a moment but the entire building feels like it’s being shaken from its foundation and his ears are still ringing. When he gets to his feet he finds a layer of dust covers everything including his clothes. He brushes them off and puts the phone back to his ear. “You still there Jerry?”

“Good to hear your voice DeMarcus. A little warning might have been nice though. Even over the phone that was loud as hell.”

“Sorry about that. I’m heading in though. Text me the log in information for this computer. I’ll take it from there. I’ll see you soon.”

He hangs up, knowing he needs to focus. The hard part’s over but he’s still got to get into this computer and undo the lock down. He hopes the controls let him choose what to open as well. Some of the men he left alive are locked in and he doesn’t want to let them out.

Stepping over the remains of the door, DeMarcus is thrilled to find the inside of the vice president’s office isn’t badly damaged. The computer terminal seems intact. He moves toward the desk but before he can get around it he hears a click behind him. “Open your mouth and I fill you full of bullets. Reach for a weapon and I do the same. You’re lucky I haven’t already done it but I need you. Turn around, but do it slowly.”

Part 12

Part 14

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 12

The person holding a gun to DeMarcus’ back could open fire but so far they hasn’t. They must want something. Keeping himself under control DeMarcus knows if he’s going to get out of this he needs to find out if he’s right about what that chemical did to him. Ever since he got sealed in a lab with a massive dose of a new mood controlling drug everyone seems to do exactly what he says. Weird stuff that he can’t think of another explanation for. Jerry said it was possible he was made a conduit for the chemicals.

“Don’t shoot. Can you take the gun off my back?”

They don’t shoot, but the gun doesn’t go anywhere. “You’re not in control of this situation. Keep your hand away from your gun.”

DeMarcus doesn’t know why but he’s surprised to hear a woman’s voice. She speaks with confidence. Something didn’t work but he tries again. “Take the gun off of my back.”

This time she complies. He’s terrified but also excited. Turning, he finds a pretty blonde who can’t be older than twenty five. Her hair’s done up and she has pink nails that match a pair of pink combat boots she’s wearing.

The woman looks confused and starts to open her mouth. Before she can speak he says, “Don’t say anything.” Her mouth hangs open and after a moment she closes it. Now she really looks confused. Her hand shakes and she keeps pointing her gun at him. She still doesn’t fire. “Why don’t you give me the gun?” She makes no move to do so. He decides to rephrase. “Give me the gun.” Now she holds the gun out and offers it to him.

He’s starting to get the hang of this. They don’t do things he asks. Only things he tells them to do. “Walk to the far end of this warehouse, lay on your face, put your hands behind your head and stay there with your mouth shut until someone comes and get you.” Her eyes go wide and she looks angry but she does as she’s told.

Turning back down the aisle, DeMarcus sees the situation hasn’t gotten better. The accountant’s been forced to his knees and is openly weeping. His tie’s been removed and is tied around his eyes. The lawyer and Mr. Sarraf can’t look. The bull of a man is standing over him with his gun pointed and a grin spread across his face. “I’m giving you a last chance. Where are the chemicals I need? Tell me or you’re dead.”

Between sobs the man manages to say, “Do you really think I’d die to protect this place if I knew? I just do the books. It doesn’t matter anyway. Even if I knew, you’d still kill me.”

The big man’s jaw drops. “No, I actually won’t. You don’t have to believe me but I’m a man of my word. I don’t have time to check every box in this place before the cops get in here. I might luck into the stuff I need but there’s a good chance all of this was for nothing if you don’t help. I need you. I’ll reward your help if you help me.” He takes a moment to turn to Mr. Sarraf. “For the record though, no, I don’t think you have a clue where the stuff is. I think the big guy here does though. I’m hoping he’ll feel bad enough watching you all die that he tells me. I might be wrong though. Maybe he doesn’t know. Or maybe he’s just that cold.”

Knowing he can’t wait anymore, DeMarcus steps into the aisle. Both guns immediately swing toward him. “Drop your guns.” Both men’s eyes go wide as they release their weapons and they fall to the floor. They lean down to grab them. “Don’t pick them back up. Leave your guns where you dropped them. Stay where you are.” They do so, though both stand back up and look at each other with fear in their eyes.

Mr. Sarraf comes running his way with tears streaming down his face. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier to see anyone DeMarcus.” He wraps him in a giant hug.

The accountant’s jerking his head back and forth. “What the hell’s going on?” DeMarcus walks up to him and pulls the tie from around his eyes. Looking up, he sees who came to help and seems speechless. He puts his hands over his mouth and falls backward.

The two attackers look back and forth at each other. The big one has a sneer on his face. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Nobody you need to know. What are you doing here? What’s this about?” The two men look at each other for a moment but neither says a word. “We’re going to play it that way?” He looks straight at the bald man. “Tell me, what’s your plan?”

“Not that complex. We broke in hoping to steal a bunch of chemicals. A lot of the ones upstairs and some we were told would be in storage. Got most of what we need ready to go upstairs but these idiots weren’t any help finding what we needed down here.” Once he finishes the man’s eyes go wide and he throws his hands over his mouth.

Turning to Mr. Sarraf, DeMarcus gets a strange look on his face. “Did you really not know where this stuff was?”

The older man looks ill. “Not most of it. I might have led them to a few pieces if I really wanted to but they’d have likely killed us anyway when they realized I couldn’t lead them to the rest. Besides, you know the stuff we keep here is too dangerous to let them have.”

DeMarcus’ head slams forward into a metal bar. The world spins around him and he can’t clear his head. A fist punches him in the face. He raises his arms to try and block the next punch but it’s even harder and it feels like his left wrist shatters. He falls to his knees where he’s kicked in the gut. All the air’s forced from his lungs. He tries to tell the man to stop but he can’t manage a word. Everything spins as the lawyer screams. She tries to run and the accountant’s right behind her. Mr. Sarraf after a long look at DeMarcus follows.

The big guy jumps onto his chest and punches him again and again. “What the hell did you do to me? Why can’t I pick up my gun? If you don’t say something soon I’m going to bust your head open.”

Blows keep raining down so there’s no chance for DeMarcus to answer. He starts to feel light headed and fights to stay awake. The man relents for just a moment. “Tell me what I want to know.”

“Stop.”

That’s all it takes. The man freezes. His eyes go wide and he seems to realize something’s wrong. There’s a slight twitch in his arm as if he’s still trying to punch but his body won’t allow it. They stay like this for over a minute. DeMarcus doesn’t have the strength to get out from under the man and he’s got no interest in moving. Finally DeMarcus catches his breath. “Get off of me.” The giant man complies but when he’s on his feet he tries to get away. “Stay put.” The man stops walking away.

With his right arm DeMarcus wipes his head. When he pulls his hand back he finds it smeared with blood. Looking at his left wrist, it’s limp and he can’t move it. Anger rises in him. He almost messed this up. He has no idea where the last three survivors and the other attacker went. He needs to find them. He turns to the big guy. He wants to do sadistic things to the man, or even better make the man do sadistic things to himself. Now isn’t the time though. “Follow me. Don’t do anything to hurt me or anyone else.”

They take off down the aisles, searching for any sign of people. He finds the remaining three near the entrance to the storage area. The attacker’s chasing after them but without his gun he’s not that dangerous. It looks like someone got ahold of the lawyer’s red hair because it’s been pulled from the ponytail she had it in.

DeMarcus runs right at the attacker and tackles him to the ground. His wrist hits wrong and he lets out a scream. The man skids away. DeMarcus scrambles up first and looks right at the attacker. “Stay down.” The man looks at him but doesn’t do anything else. He looks over at the lawyer and Mr. Sarraf. “You two alright?” They each give a weak nod.

His attention returns to the attackers. “Tell me who you are.” They both start to speak at once. “Stop. Point at whichever one of you is in charge.” They both point at the larger man. DeMarcus turns to the smaller one. “Sit facing a wall. Don’t move, don’t speak.” He then turns to the larger man. “What’s your name?” It takes him a moment to realize why it isn’t working. “Tell me your name.”

“My name’s Rupert Corey, but everyone calls me Big Man.”

“Okay Big Man. Answer my questions from here on in. How were you planning to get out of here?”

“There’s a way to override the lockdown in some of the offices, for the real big shots. I just figured I’d force that idiot over there to let me out.” He points at Mr. Sarraf as he says it.

DeMarcus closes his eyes and curses under his breath. That was a better plan than he had and it won’t work. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because with what we get here we can start the process of taking back America. I’m also getting paid a lot of money. That doesn’t hurt.”

Realizing he doesn’t have any other questions DeMarcus decides to have a little fun with the man for all he’s done. “Bang your head against that metal shelving behind you until you pass out.”

Watching Big Man bang his head against the shelving repeatedly is cathartic. He looks at the lawyer, the accountant and Mr. Sarraf to see if any of them has a problem with it. The lawyer’s eyes are wide with excitement. The accountant looks a little queasy but doesn’t say anything. Mr. Sarraf doesn’t have much of a look on his face at all. Blood’s pouring out of the man’s head by the time he hits the ground and stays there.

Getting back to business, DeMarcus goes up to Mr. Sarraf. “Time to go. I have a question though. Do you happen to have keys for any of the offices except your own?”

“No, why?”

Looking down at his feet DeMarcus swears under his breath. “I may have locked a group of them down in your office. So if you were counting on using that to get out of here, we’re going to need a new plan.” Mr. Sarraf’s face droops. “Don’t worry, I have another idea. First, we need to get the three of you to safety.”

Taking the lead, DeMarcus exits the storage area, moving toward the offices. As they walk he informs them of Grady’s plan to blow open the vice president’s office. Mr. Sarraf doesn’t like it. “I know the explosives he’s speaking of, they’re very unstable. One wrong move and you’re dead. We’ve taken care of all of them. Why don’t you just lock down with us in one of these offices until help comes?”

He points at his left wrist. “Mainly because this hurts like hell and it could be hours. I also have a girl upstairs in one of the labs locked up with one of these maniacs. I can’t leave her longer than I have to.”

They nervously look at each other before the accountant stops for a moment. “Not that I don’t appreciate your help, but why are all these guys listening to you?”

“We can worry about that later Jack.” Mr. Sarraf looks nervous. DeMarcus wonders if he’s already figured it out.

“I don’t mind answering Mr. Sarraf. I got locked in one of the labs with a bunch of chemicals meant to alter moods. Now I seem to be able to alter moods or make people do what I want. Kind of weird.”

The accountant’s eyes go wide. “So wait, if you tell us to do something we’ll have to do it?”

Shrugging, DeMarcus doesn’t stop. “Seems like it. I haven’t gotten to test it out in that much detail so I don’t know how it works but it seems like people do anything I tell them to.” He raises his left eyebrow. “I guess I could test it out on you if you like.”

“I’m good.”

Reaching the offices, he picks one that has three chairs and a desk and leads them inside. Mr. Sarraf doesn’t like it. “Why don’t I come with you and try to help with the explosives? With your wrist it’s going to be very difficult to manage.”

“Appreciate the offer but my job is to keep you all safe. I’ll be able to focus better if I know you’re all locked in here.” He considers telling them to stay put so there’s no issue but he decides against it. They’re not fighting him, there’s no reason to force it.

Steel shutters close between them and once again he’s alone.

Part 11

Part 13