I made a small incision, only one inch long, and watched it heal slowly.
“One-inch incision begins repair after twenty-two seconds,” I said aloud for the benefit of my phone, which I had set on record. “Repair takes fourteen seconds.”
“I-haln Iten jeren-polar!”
I ignored the words, carefully making another cut and waiting. “Two-inch incision begins repair after twenty-one seconds. Repair takes thirteen seconds.”
“Three-inch incision—” I was briefly interrupted by more wild screaming. “Three-inch incision begins repair after nineteen seconds. Repair takes eleven seconds.”
No change from the last few days, then, though I didn’t say it aloud. “Moving on to today’s tests.”
I grabbed a gallon of gasoline and used it liberally. “Subject has been doused with gasoline.”
“Vasanis Itenar elgamass’n!”
I eyed my watch. “Starting test…now.”
I lit the gas from the approximate center, in order to ensure an even burn.
I winced as the flames spread, but not out of any pity or remorse. The screams became a thousand times louder the second the match touched, forcing me to cover my ears or risk being deafened.
The screams lasted for five, maybe ten minutes, until suddenly cutting off with a wet gurgle. Not long after that, the flames died down as well.
I stepped forward carefully, taking a closer look. “The fires have burned out, but the subject is already mostly healed. It is possible it is the same phenomenon as observed with the skins; the repair process interrupts combustion somehow.” I waited another few seconds. “Repair is now complete. Will have to check exact time later, but it appears to be far faster than previous tests. The repair seems to accelerate under extreme stress.”
I looked up, surprised that her vocal cords had regenerated so quickly.
Elizabeth Greene met my gaze with her unflinching golden eyes filled with hate and anger. I had her bolted to the wall in a spread-eagle position, and had already removed that blood-drenched dress of hers. We still didn’t know the full extent of her capabilities, so there were shackles on her wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and ankles. She couldn’t even twitch her arms or legs.
Since we knew she had a form of kinesis similar to Ling’s, the entire room was made out of solid steel rather than concrete. It was a Necessarian warcage, built for containing warlords and other extremely dangerous individuals. Normally the prisoner would be locked inside alone, but we needed to do more than just contain her.
She was too powerful; we had to discover any weaknesses before she escaped. And she would escape. As I watched, the last burns on her face disappeared as if they had never existed in the first place.
She was immortal. She’d escape eventually, even if the only weapon she could use against us was time.
“I yudu’n nitil-dra, gahmbi’n daina-dra!” She spat in my face. “Vasanis-olj zeif naka!”
I smiled. “Maybe,” I said, enjoying the look of surprise when she thought I actually understood her. “But I think I have the advantage here.”
Then I grabbed my Occisor off the table and shot her in the head.
Blood splattered the walls as the lower half of her face disintegrated. I realized a bit late that ricochet was a real concern when trapped in a steel box, but luckily the Occisor is not an especially powerful pistol, so the bullet lodged in her skull somewhere.
Obviously, I couldn’t actually understand what she was saying. I was recording everything, so hopefully MC would be able to decipher it, but I didn’t have much hope on that front. It was a language, but that was about all we had at the moment.
“Ahh…” She hissed slowly like a snake as her jaw regenerated. “Ubbilar…huucum ubbilar.” She clicked her jaw a few times, before looking at me and grinning. “Ubbil-draki lemen Iar.”
“Hm,” I muttered to myself. “That’s getting annoying.” I needed to find a way to silence her, but I didn’t want to get my fingers too close to her face. Her teeth were the only weapon she had left; I knew she’d take any opportunity to use them.
I turned back to my desk, doing my best to ignore her babbling. I didn’t have much equipment with me, because I didn’t want her to have many resources if she somehow overpowered me.
I had my phone, keyed to my voice, and I had my gun. Those wouldn’t be enough to get her out of the room, especially since the ‘sarians outside had strict orders to drop the warcage into the ocean if I didn’t check in every hour.
Of course, I also had an array of shiny medical instruments, spread out on a gleaming silver tray. Knives, saws, scalpels…everything I could get my hands on with such short notice. It wasn’t really much, all things considered, but it would get the job done.
I selected one of the larger blades, as well as a few smaller scalpels. The scalpels I placed in my leather-lined lapel, while I took the knife and carefully sliced Elizabeth’s right forearm completely open.
She screamed wordlessly, but more in anger than pain. She grunted and spat as I dug around with the knife, slicing around the elbow in an attempt to cut the nerves. After a few moments, her hand stopped flexing, so I assumed I had succeeded. Her cursing redoubled when she realized what I had done; again, she seemed far angrier than in any sort of pain.
I didn’t have much time now, so I quickly cut off a large strip of muscle from the dead section of her arm, which I then placed in a small metal container that I then locked.
“Retrieved tissue sample from right arm,” I reported for the benefit of the recorder, hopefully loud enough to be heard over her screaming. “Secured. Awaiting results.”
I didn’t have to wait long.
In seconds, the blood splattered on the floor flew back off the ground and back into the wound, while the large gash sealed itself shut even as I watched. Her fingers started to twitch, and Elizabeth moaned as sensation returned.
And the box on my desk began to rattle.
As if the piece of flesh inside was struggling to return to its master.
I slapped my hand on the box to still it. I wasn’t very worried about it breaking—it was a good heavy metal box, so it was going to take more than a thumb-sized lump of muscle to smash its way out.
Elizabeth Greene has a way of ignoring conventional wisdom.
The sample shot out like a bullet, tearing a quarter-sized hole in the box. I didn’t actually see it rejoin the main body; it moved far too fast for that. By the time I looked, the wound I had inflicted had disappeared completely, and Elizabeth was grinning at me.
“Sample returned of its own volition and under its own power,” I noted, making special effort to keep any of my panic from reaching my voice. “Repair complete.”
If separating the pieces didn’t work, we were screwed. I had already cut off her head and destroyed her brain a few times, which hadn’t done anything. I had hoped this experiment might give us more positive results. From there, it would have been easy to just bury her head in a box at the bottom of White-Cap Bay or something.
Still, I kept tight hold of my emotions. I wasn’t done yet. I had more ideas. I just needed a few more materials, that was all.
I walked over to the wall and knocked in a quick pattern.
There wasn’t a pattern, of course. Well, not really. The only rule was that it had to be different every time. Hopefully, if Elizabeth did manage to get out, that part would slip her up.
But I still couldn’t help but feel like a little kid, trying vainly to hide from an angry parent. Were any of our precautions really going to help in the end?
One of the walls cracked open, and a line of light flooded in. I slipped through quickly, cursing as my chest scraped against the wall, and dusted myself off as the cage slammed shut behind me. There was a dull whumph as they turned the electromagnet back on. The prison was pretty solid already, but with the magnetically sealed locks, nothing was getting out.
Kids hiding from parents…
The ‘sarian operating the magnet, a large demon with impressive horns but no other obvious toys, saluted me. “Paragon.”
I sighed. “Don’t call me that.”
“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am.”
Well, I guess that was a step up from ‘dame’ and ‘honored’ and all that. “Don’t worry about it.” I looked around. “Where’s the truck?”
“Over there,” he pointed next to the warcage, a spot that had been in my blindspot as I slipped out of the prison. “We figured it would be better if it wasn’t the first thing she sees, if she escapes.”
“Might buy us a couple minutes while she’s confused,” the other guard added.
“Good thinking. Keys?” He tossed them to me. “Keep an eye on that door. It opens a crack, toss a grenade inside.”
“Yes, Honored Paladin,” they said in unison.
For the love of…
But I didn’t snap at them. It was just…something I’d have to get used to.
I walked around to the back of the large eighteen-wheeler shipping truck, unlocked the padlock, and rolled up the back.
The truck was another gift from Necessarius, filled at my exact specifications. As I had requested, the trailer was arranged like a well-stocked lab, with all the chemicals and tools I couldn’t afford to keep within reach of Elizabeth.
A mouth-watering array of microscopes, mass spectrometers, and more exotic devices lined one wall—all completely useless if I couldn’t figure out a way to keep Elizabeth’s pieces from returning to the main body.
On the other hand, opposite the equipment were the things I could find a use for. Chemicals, of all types and descriptions. Acids, poisons, preservatives…even just a few odd items, like garlic and holly wood, on the off chance that Elizabeth was a mythical creature of some sort.
I grabbed a few of the more obscure materials, in addition to the chemicals I actually thought would be useful. Sure, she probably wasn’t a werewolf, but stabbing her in the heart with a silver knife would make me feel better.
Back in the warcage, I set down my equipment and smiled at Elizabeth, feeling a little better about my chances. “Ready to get started again?”
I cut her throat with the silver knife.
Blood spurted from the wound as she tried to scream at me, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was a wet gurgle and more blood. Her raging eyes communicated better than words ever could anyway.
Unfortunately, while the silver clearly hurt her, the damage was no more permanent than the scalpels. After a few moments, the healing began again, with the spilled blood flowing back into place and the torn flesh re-knitting itself, leaving no trace of a scar.
“Maskin Itenar?” she snarled.
I eyed her warily. “You are becoming more annoying with each passing minute, you know that?”
Actually, that was a lie. Every time I watched her heal, a new test or experiment occurred to me. There were so many thongs we could do with an immortal test subject…
But I couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. She was such an unknown variable, and a dangerous one at that, that I had to kill her.
And that’s what this equipment was for. A couple more tests, and I might be able to actually do it.
“Tronis Itenar?” Elizabeth moaned, eying the object in my hands with disdain. “Kirill-ki genedess. Arvauruis Iar.”
I grinned at her, and removed the lid from the small metal container. “You’ll enjoy this one, I promise.”
Her gaze slowly turned wary. “Likel neuv-moikin-ki?”
I set my phone on the table again, clicking it to record. “Beginning test.” I set down the container, then retrieved one of my scalpels.
The Composer snarled. “Liga bak, I—aaaaagh! Sangli Iten.” She spat in my face.
I just smiled, before turning to the container on my desk, dropping the large chunk of flesh inside, and quickly locking the lid closed.
I turned back to Elizabeth, watching her sweating and cursing under her breath. After a few moments, the shed blood jumped back to her wound, sealing it shut…
The chunk of flesh I had cut out was still missing. Even after the rest of the wound healed, it did not. Like before, it couldn’t finish the repair without all the missing pieces.
And the metal container behind me remained silent. It didn’t rattle or vibrate as the piece inside tried to return to the host.
I felt a smile spread slowly over my face, despite my best efforts to stifle it.
I had won.
Then Elizabeth’s wound finished healing.
The piece I had locked away hadn’t blasted out of the box. The wound just…healed. Completely. Filled in as easily as smoothing out a wrinkle in the sand.
I scrambled back over to the box on my desk, ignoring Elizabeth’s triumphant gaze, cursing at the pain of touching it unprotected.
The lump of flesh I had cut off was still there, frozen in the small pool of liquid nitrogen. I’m not sure what I had expected. Maybe I thought it had teleported out? Plus, it felt like I was forgetting something. Something I should say…
I glanced at Elizabeth; she was grinning from ear to ear. She, at least, had seen this coming.
Okay, so if the pieces were too damaged, she could just create new ones out of thin air. Unfortunate, but maybe not an insurmountable problem.
Because now I had a piece of the Composer I could analyze. It was hard to get a DNA test when the blood jumped out of the test tube before you even had a chance to start.
My hands were shaking as I put the lid back on and placed it carefully out of her sight. If I ran it out of the warcage right now, it would be too obvious that I had figured something out.
I tapped on the wall again, a subtly different pattern than before.
The door cracked open a sliver. “Yes?”
“I need more equipment.”
They let me through without complaint, once again shutting the door behind me. “Why didn’t you grab it before?”
“It’s an entire vat of liquid nitrogen, and I’ll need your help with it. I didn’t want to make you before I tested it on a smaller scale.”
The baseline tipped his hat. “That’s a kindness, but an unnecessary one. We’re here to help, Honored Paladin.”
“…right. Well, come on. And get some more ‘sarians on that door.”
“Already taken care of, ma’am,” a gruff voice noted. It came from a kemo of unclear subculture, taking position beside the door with a partner. “We also have snipers at the ready.”
Good enough for me.
It took a good hour for the demon and the baseline to wrestle the tub out of the truck and slide it into the warcage. It was twenty gallons, a bit less than half the size of a bathtub, which would have been heavy enough on its own. But full of liquid, it weighed a couple hundred pounds.
All the Necessarians guarding the warcage—including the two with me now—were wearing MC’s noise-canceling headphones, so at least I didn’t have to worry about them turning because they heard a pretty song.
Elizabeth’s eyes were narrow slits. “Iten genedess, Highlander.”
“That all?” the demon asked a little meekly, trying very hard not to look at the girl strapped to the wall. MC had been careful to recruit people who didn’t believe Elizabeth was being framed, but it was still hard to see anyone like that.
“Actually, no. One last thing.”
The soldiers swallowed their anxiety and nodded, ready for more orders.
Okay, so being a de facto warlord had some perks here and there.
I turned to the silver tray, arrayed with tools, and selected a large machete, which I handed to the demon.
“Chop her head off,” I instructed as I started unlocking the nitrogen. Hesitantly, the baseline followed suit.
“Genedess,” Elizabeth said. She was trying to stay calm, but I could tell she was angry. Still not scared, just angry.
The demon looked at our captive, then at the machete in his hand, then back at me. “Are you sure, Dame Laura?”
“Yes, absolutely. Just be careful not to let her snap your fingers off.”
He recoiled a bit, but at the same time seemed to find his resolve. With the Composer staring daggers at him—but still strangely quiet—he walked up to her, paused for a moment, then sliced her head off with a single swipe.
It thudded onto the ground with a wet and heavy thump, while the body relaxed for the first time in four days, slumping in the restraints like a rag doll. Both my bodyguards stared in horror, as though they couldn’t believe what they had just done. I was beginning to think MC had chosen poorly.
“Honored Devil,” I snapped in a commanding tone. “Bring that over here. Quickly, please.”
If nothing else, he was well-trained. He obeyed instantly, lifting the severed head by the sides to avoid any possible threat from the mouth, then rushing over and plopping it in the tub of liquid nitrogen. Some of the sub-zero liquid splashed around, making us all yelp as we tried to dodge, but we managed to survive with only insignificant injuries.
“What are we waiting—”
“Shush!” I reprimanded the baseline, without taking my eyes off Elizabeth’s corpse. Mercifully, he fell silent.
I should have been narrating for the benefit of the recorder, but I couldn’t bring myself to break the silence. I felt as though if anyone spoke, something unexpected would happen.
After five minutes of waiting, I was finally beginning to relax…
When suddenly her body twitched.
First it twitched. Then it stretched, flexed, and pulled as much as it could still restrained.
Then her head started to grow back.
It was beautiful and horrifying to witness, like a gory building being put together at incredible speed. The gray matter of her brain slowly built up, as though placed piece by piece by an invisible hand. As it continued, the skull started assembling around it, then skin and hair and…
That stupid, grinning face, with those golden eyes and that perfect skin.
My baseline bodyguard wretched in the corner.
It took an effort, but I made sure not to follow suit. Instead, I nodded to the demon. “There’s a mop in the truck. We’ll clean this up first.”
The demon looked a little green as well, but knocked on the door, and was let out within moments. He’d follow orders, no matter how much he hated it.
I looked in the tub of liquid nitrogen. As I suspected, Elizabeth’s head was still there, a grisly mirror of the one now grinning at me from her body. What that meant, I couldn’t say, other than the fact that I had a much bigger sample now. We just needed to get it out without her noticing. Should be able to do that while cleaning the vomit.
The baseline wiped his mouth, cringing. “Sorry, ma’am. I’m just not used to anything like this. Once we clean this up, I’ll get out of your way.”
“Not quite yet.”
He skipped a beat. “Uh…okay. What else do you need?”
I turned to look him in the eye. “Once you finish this, I want you to get me the woodchipper.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 141)
For the record, Laura’s power doesn’t work on languages she doesn’t understand.