Chapter 4: Nick

11/1/07

The first thought in my head this morning wasn't so much a thought as an abstract, intense, shooting terror that wracked my body. After that was an intense pain, followed by extreme grogginess and the realization that I was totally unable to see anything around me. For many minutes, I was terrified to even move, and my head was too muddled to properly process the variety of bizarre inputs it was being given. Finally, I managed to calm myself down enough to start trying to figure out where I was and what was happening.

Alright, alright, start with the last thing you remember, I thought. My short-term recall was totally shot, I couldn't remember a thing. Start with the date, see if you can get the date, I told myself. It was 2007, the month was Oktober. I was a bit foggy on the day, had I passed Halloween yet or not? Yes, I had attended that Halloween party with Matthias, Jones, and Natasha. Natasha, I had been walking with her to check up on Kitty, then... Blank. Nothing after that, except for the vague memory of being extremely cold.

Okay, okay good. So I was probably knocked unconscious by Natasha, I can worry about the motive later. Now, where am I, and why can't I see? I felt around. The ground was cold stone, slightly moist. I attempted to get up and found that I lacked the motor coordination, maybe the aftereffects of some sedative drug? There was a slight draft, and for a while all I could do was sit and let it wash over me. A cave, it occurred to me, I'm in a cave.

"Are you awake?" a voice penetrated the silence, it was Natasha's. Apparently she heard me fidgeting, I had tried getting up again. As I try to form the words to respond to her, nothing comes out but a tangled mess of syllables. "I'm so sorry, I didn't want you to be awake for this," the voice continues. I hear a match being struck, and the flame of a candle illuminates the room. Natasha was sitting in the corner, curled up in the fetal position. Her eyes are bagged, her skin is pale, and her hair greasy.

"Where- ah, what..." I manage to get out, with a few other random words dribbling out at the end.

"Don't try to talk, you're too out of touch with your body right now, you'll just get frustrated. It doesn't matter anyway, this will all be over soon," Natasha looked sad, she gazed at a large, black sack at the base of her feet, just out of the range of the candlelight. "I can put you back to sleep if you like, you won't feel at thing that way."

"What is- are you... ta..." speaking was exhausting, I exhaled a large sigh, and closed my eyes.

"You have a right to know, I guess," she said with a sigh, "Look." She held the candle over the 'sack', and with horror, I realized it was not a sack, as you may have guessed, but a body. Natasha's body. My mind went reeling in shock, I tried to scream but I couldn't, I tried to run but I was paralyzed. I kept telling myself it was a nightmare, that it'd be over soon. The unconscious Natasha was extremely pale, and was in an unnaturally rigid position. All color had drained from her, she was white as the grave. Multiple lacerations covered her arms and legs, and the blood was slowly draining from them and being caught in pans. I closed my eyes, the only method of escaping I had. My stomach churned, my head throbbed, and every part of me was screaming to run, yet still I couldn't.

"I'm a shapeshifter, Nick. But I'm an exceptionally poor one, I'm unstable. If I stay in one form too long, I'll destroy myself. Rapidly decay into nothing. But to change, I have to do this. See, I need the life- hmm, that's a bit mystical for you isn't it? Think of it like this, I need the genetic material contained in her blood to change myself. And so, if I want to survive, this is the ritual I must go through every couple of weeks. But this one, her life is so weak... It's like it's not fully developed," she paused for a second, looking dismally at Natasha's body. "You know what the worst thing is? I have to keep them alive during this, or else it's all for naught. I use a sedative," she gestured to a variety of needles on the ground, "It keeps their heart-rate low, and allows them to stay... well, living during the process."

My mind shut itself off., it just couldn't deal with the insanity of the situation. All-consuming terror took its place. The false Natasha noticed that I had begun to hyperventilate, and shook her head slightly, in a casual manner that seemed to convey a sense of disappointment in both me and herself. She reached for one of the needles full of sedative and stood up. A vague sense of calm came over me, terror had thrown its fit and was through, now there was nothing left but an emotional void.

"I-... wait," a few coughs, "What? Oh, piss, don't tell me..." the new voice was just a few feet away from me, it was Matthias'.

"Matthias?" I sputtered.

"Nick? Good, you're still alive, well that's a plus," Matthias said. The shapeshifter had halted it's advance.

"How are you awake?" she asked. "You should be out cold for at least a few more hours."

"When you've been tranq'd as many times as I have, you build up a bit of a tolerance," Matthias replied, "Also, I see you weren't clever enough to restrain me." I heard Matthias get up, but he was still concealed in the shadows of the dim cave, so I could not see him. Panic flashed across the shapeshifter's face.

"I've been around a lot longer than you have, child," the shapeshifter said, her voice steely, "I suggest you be extremely cautious right now." No response. The shapeshifter moved forward, deeper in to the cave, holding the candle high and casting light in to various corners. I knew Matthias was buying time, he was either unarmed or unwilling to fight the shapeshifter. I dragged myself towards Natasha, the sedative was now rapidly wearing off. Frantically, I looked around for a weapon, there was nothing to be found, except the syringes, which I grabbed with a cringe. I hate needles.

Matthias there was a loud clattering on the other and of the cave, and the shapeshifter turned rapidly towards it and stood stock-still like an animal. Cautiously, candle held high, she approached. There was nothing there, she bent down and picked up a stone.

"Don't play games with me!" she yelled. I had gotten up, and I was silently stalking towards her. Two more rocks were thrown, one after the other. Bad idea, the shapeshifter was able to figure out where they had come from, and bolted for Matthias. The candle feel and rolled a few inches away, amazingly not extinguishing. The light just barely illuminated the two wrestling each other.

"You don't know what you're getting involved with!" Matthias yelled.

"Yeah, actually, I'm quite aware! Your Russian friend mentioned your employer's name!"

"Oh, well then you're just flat-out stupid if you know who we work for and you're still screwing with us."

"Believe me, I'll have disappeared before the Rousseaus even know you're dead." She grabbed his neck, and throttled him. Matthias could only choke out grunts and gasps. His face turned blue, and a maniacal look of joy came over the shapeshifter. And then it disappeared very rapidly. And then she realized that she had just felt the sharp pain that was me thrusting a needle into her neck. And then she passed out.

"Cutting it a bit close there Nick," Matthias said.

"Yeah, sorry. I would've taken her down sooner, but I was too busy shaking off paralysis. Could you act a little impressed please?"

"We don't have time for that. Here," he tossed me his phone, "call Midas. He is on speed-dial six. Explain to him what has happened and tell him to send in a Medevac, then call Smith and tell him to get Katie ready and meet us on the edge of town." Matthias, as he was saying this, rushed over to Natasha and immediately started to apply what little first-aid he could. I dialed six on Matthias' phone, the other end picked up immediately.

"Matthias. Explain yourself now," the voice was formal, businesslike, and curt.

"Actually, this is Nick here," there was a pause.

"You're not allowed to talk to me, Nicholas. Put Matthias on."

"I'd love to, however our mutual friend is busy right now. Natasha has been severely injured, she needs a Medevac." From the other end, there was a frustrated sigh from the other end.

"Fine, I'll send one with the clean-up squad. The person who assaulted your team, is she injured?"

"Tranquilized. How did you know the gender?"

"After Matthias gave me a call yesterday, I had someone cross-reference any known threats in that area. Are you familiar with the story of Narcissus and Echo, Mr. Forte?"

"No."

"Hmm, look it up one time. Tell Matthias I expect a full report on my desk tomorrow morning." There was a loud click, he had hung up. Within minutes, a helicopter landed outside the cave, shortly followed by a variety of motor vehicles. Various black-clad paramedics hurriedly got Natasha on to a stretcher and rushed her to the Helicopter while another set of men in suits gathered the body of the shapeshifter and carried her on to a black, armored truck.

"What are they doing with her?" I heard Matthias ask, he was talking to one of Midas' men a few feet away.

"Your assailant was not a doppelganger as you suspected, it's a much more rare specimen. Midas believes that she could be an immensely useful research subject, and lead to many advances in biological weapons."

"And Natasha?"

"She is being sent to a nearby hospital, then being moved up to Washington for long-term treatment. After she has been sufficiently treated, she will be placed in the care of Dr. Schmidt for psychoan-"

"What?!" Matthias yelled, furiously, "You do not have the authority to place her-"

"It was a direct order from Matthias. Natasha should return to Projekt Oktober in about a week," and before Matthias could say anything else, the man turned away and began ordering the teams to clear out. Within seconds, they were gone, even more rapidly than they had appeared.

"We're leaving," Matthias stated slowly, then walked towards the single SUV that had remained to give us transport. I followed, cautiously, not saying a word. For the entire ride back to St. Augustine, we were silent.




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