Once we had gotten back to the hideout and had helped the Mexican VI4C members get moved in and acquainted with their rooms, I made a point of hunting down Nikto. I was not entirely sure of what I’d say or do to him, but I was slightly upset.
When I had volunteered to fight Duarte, I had volunteered to fight Duarte alone. Nikto should have intervened when Casilde had attacked, but he didn’t.
I barged into his room to have two of his puppets, one of the a prototype for a design I called the “assassin”, try to attack me. With a wave of my hand, the went spinning backwards through the air.
“Nikto,” I growled, angry. He looked up from his work and sighed.
“Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?” he asked, closing the notebook and setting his pen down. “I would have answered.”
“Sure you would have,” I snapped, my exhaustion getting the better of my judgement. “Just like you intervened when the girl jumped me.”
“Tell me,” he said calmly, sitting still and studying me. “Did you or did you not manage to defeat her?”
“I did, but-”
“I would have intervened if you hadn’t had it under control,” he said calmly.
“When?” I demanded. “Once she killed me? Because, let me tell you something, that would have been too late.”
“Danae, would you calm down and stop being so unreasonable?” Nikto asked, sounding slightly frustrated. “You’d be mad even if I had intervened. Ah-” he cut off my arguments with a raised hand “-don’t deny it. You’d be fussing about how I didn’t let you prove yourself and how you had the situation under control.” I stared at him, seething.
He was right and I knew it. That didn’t mean that I had to like it though. I turned on my heal and stormed out of his room.
From there I went to take a shower and to make myself something small to eat, before I fell asleep. As I pulled my tunic off, I cringed at the marks the mirror showed me.
Fine red lines crossed all over my arms and sides, places where I had been scratched with the blade, but hadn’t bled badly if at all. Five livid lines that were tinged purple stood out on my belly , where Casilde had clawed me with her fingernails. I had a shallow gash along my breast bone, too, from her furious attacks.
Innumerable bruises covered my arms, chest, stomach and legs, and a jagged and slightly deeper cut ran from my left hip to just under my right shoulder blade. I grimaced as I cleaned my wounds, and then carefully bound my torso, trying to prevent the wounds from bleeding as I slept.
The next morning I awoke to an odd smell, and I rolled out of bed, worried that someone was trying to burn down the hideout. I hurried to the kitchen, following the scent without bothering to brush my hair,, which was standing every which way.
The scene that met my eyes as I stepped into the kitchen was a surprising one. All of the Mexican VI4C stood around the kitchen, laughing and chattering eagerly in Spanish.
Adelita and the second oldest girl, Maria, were standing by the stove, cooking. I heard a slight noise from behind me, and I glanced over to see Nikto surveying the scene with equal shock. His hair was still damp from the shower and I suspected that he had rushed through his morning routine to investigate the smell as well.
“Good morning,” Nikto said, crossing his arms and surveying the scene like it happened every morning. It probably would, but that was another matter all together.
Maria’s hand jerked as she jumped. Obviously she had been previously unaware of our presence. A bowl that she had been mixing something in slipped off the counter, and in the blink of an eye Adelita had caught it and replaced it on the counter, before returning to her place at the stove in mere moments.
I glanced at Nikto out of the corner of my eye, and saw that he had an extremely smug smile on his face. That annoyed me slightly. We hadn’t discussed who had what power with any of the new members, yet that had to have been what he was smirking about. It was almost like he expected Adelita to have a power like superspeed.
Why do I care so much if he tells me what he’s thinking, or not tell me for that matter? I wondered, surprised by the realization. Why does it bug me? I sighed, trying to get a hold of myself. It was too early in the morning to wing out over stupid things.
I couldn’t get so upset about him keeping secrets from me, particularly as I knew that he owed me nothing. If anything, I owed him, for the clothes, the food and the home.
Suddenly it all clicked, and I leaned against the table, which I had moved to without thinking. It was all about trust.
Steppe had kept secrets, and it was part of his control over the entirety of the USA branch of the VI4C. You could be loyal to the VI4C for years, and then he’d decide that you were an inconvenience, or that you knew too much. He ruled by fear, by keeping us dependent on him, on the chance that he would spare us the fate that we’d all meet sooner or later.
No one really trusted Steppe, and because we all knew that he would betray you as soon as look at you. I felt as though I had been betrayed by the whole of the VI4C when he had turned on me, even though I had said and done some things in my anger that had triggered it.
Even after Steppe’s betrayal, while I was at the hospital, one of the doctors had been extremely kind to me in my muddled state. They must have all known from the moment they took a blood sample from me that I was a mutant, so I would be handed over to the CAMM agents. They had betrayed me in that way, and I had been too stoned at the time for the full force to hit me.
I glanced at Nikto again. My head felt clearer than it had for days, and I almost felt relieved by my new understanding. Nikto met my stare, looking a little concerned.
“Danae, what’s wrong?” he asked, leaning over. “You’re all pale, and you’re trembling.” I raised a hand to wipe away a little bit of sweat from my neck, aware that he was right.
“Can I have a word with you?” I said, my voice uneven. “In private?”
“Sure,” he said, standing up. “Let’s go.” I followed him out of the room, and he led me to the gym-like training room. After he had closed the door securely, he turned to face me. “What’s up?”
“I- I don’t know how to say this,” I said. “For that matter, I don’t know where to start.”
“The beginning usually works well,” he said, studying me. I laughed harshly.
“It’s not that simple,” I said, running a hand through my hair. “Alright. How about this. Do you trust me?”
“What?” he said, obviously surprised. “Yes, of course I trust you. From what I’ve seen, you’re loyal and trustworthy.”
“Prove it,” I said, crossing my arms. “Be honest with me.”
“I am being honest, Danae. I’ve been freely honest about anything and everything you’ve asked me.” Nikto looked a little hurt, and I took a deep breath to steady myself. “Maybe even more honest than you.” I opened my eyes to glare at him.
“And how honest do you want me to be?” I asked coldly, my ever present temper getting the best of me yet again. “Is it my whole life story that you want? Do you want to know how many I’ve killed? How long I’ve been a monster?” Nikto blinked, shocked at my sudden anger. I bit my lip, feeling like I’d said too much.
“I don’t need to know everything, Danae,” he said, his tone soothing. “I trust that you have your reasons for keeping quiet, and that when the time is right, you’ll be able to tell.” I turned away, feeling like a huge idiot.
My pride wouldn’t let me apologize, but I couldn’t just walk away. I was confused, torn. I had no idea what to say. Nikto placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Look, we both ought to eat something,” he said. “Why don’t you go and get dressed, and I’ll make us some scrambled eggs. How’s that sound?”
“Fine,” I mumbled, feeling like a total toerag. Twice in the last twenty-four hours I had flown off my handle at him. Twice he had soothed me. My period must be coming, I thought glumly as he walked away. That’s got to be the reason I’m so on edge.
I went and got dressed, and then I shoveled down my scrambled eggs while avoiding Nikto’s worried and confused stares. From there, I escaped into the gym, when I contented myself with beating up a punching bag.
I had been in there for a half an hour when I heard them slip into the training room, and I chose to ignore them until after I had sent the punching bag spinning in a spiral towards the ceiling. I didn’t bother to turn to face them when I spoke, so I didn’t know who it was.
“Yes?” my tone was brusque. I was still upset about my fight with Nikto, if you could call it that, and the training hadn’t helped matters any. The fact that I was starting to feel bloated was decidedly not helping matters either.
“We were wondering if you could, maybe, teach us to fight like you do.” It was Adelita’s voice, and I guessed that Maria was with her. Those two stuck together, and it was almost unnerving how close they seemed to be.
I turned, shocked. The two girls were standing by the door awkwardly, and Maria looked a little afraid of me. Just then the punching bag swung back down, the chain making ugly noises, and I ducked. It barely missed my head by two centimeters, and I threw out an arm to stop it, and I made a mental note to check on the chain later. I didn’t like the noises coming from it.
“You want me to teach you how to fight,” I repeated numbly. Adelita nodded.
“You are really brave, and very strong,” she said, her tone steady even though she looked like she was just as nervous as Maria. “You defeated Duarte and Casilde, and they were our best fighters.”
“So you want to be like me?” I asked, surprised. “You want to become a killing machine, a monster, like I am?”
“What you’ve done isn’t what you are,” Adelita said, meeting my challenging stare easily. I snorted, but I filed away what she’d said for me to think about later.
I wasn’t proud of the things I’d done, particularly the things I’d done on Steppe’s orders, but I had assumed that that was an unavoidable part of me. I had killed, so I became a killer, though murderess might be more accurate in a lot of cases. Now this girl, who knew very little about me, was telling me that I wasn’t necessarily a killer.
“I won’t be easy on you,” I warned. I was slightly reluctant to take on the role of trainer for anyone, but these girls needed to learn how to fight, and there was no one better for the job.
“I know,” Maria said, surprising me.
“Do you think that Duarte went easy on us?” Adelita asked at the same time, her tone incredulous.
“No,” I answered, smiling. This could be very interesting, I thought. “We’ll start tomorrow morning, before breakfast. Meet me here.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adelita said, grinning as she and Maria left the room. I sighed and crossed the room to where I had set a cup of water, and took a sip, thinking about what Adelita had said.
I had been a killer since I was ten years old. I remembered the look on Dan’s face when he’d found out what I’d done vividly. He’d been so disappointed, and that had seared into my mind and conscious, leaving me feeling guilty over doing what I had.
He had only wanted the best for me, and he had tried to protect me. He had done everything for me, even dying for my choices, because I had refused to leave my chosen path of violence, and he didn’t want to leave me.
I wish you were here now, Dan, I thought. So you could tell me what I should do with my life. I wish that you were here, Dan. I wish that you knew what I’m thinking now. I wish I had chosen a different thing. I turned to face the gym, and I closed my eyes.
Questions overwhelmed me. What am I doing with my life? Should I stick with this? Who am I, in this world, even? Where should I go? What defines me, if actions don’t?
The door to the gym opened, and my eyes flew open. Nikto stood in the doorway, looking not at all surprised to see me. He smiled slightly and crossed the room to the keypad.
“I was expecting you here,” he said, typing in a combination. I didn’t answer, and he continued. “Would you like to train with me?”
“Sure,” I said, feeling listless. “Why not? That seems to be all I’m known for- my fighting skills.” He shot me a surprised look as the punching bag was pulled up into the ceiling by a levy and covered by a panel.
“Which kind of training do you want?” he asked, studying me. “Armed combat? Hand-to-hand? Powers only?”
“Let’s go with powers,” I said, my mood becoming far more negative the longer we talked. He nodded and stepped away from the keypad, raising a hand. Three of the puppets he used, Blasters and a lighter design that I had made recently, rose from the corner where we had left them, and the one he stored my weapons in approached me.
I took my weapons from it, and slid the sheaths on. Within moments I was ready, and he began.
The Blaster shot several rounds of bullets at me, and I blew them apart in mid-air. At the same time, one of the puppets that I had designed circled around to behind me. I heard a soft puff of air as it shot a dart loaded with a sedative at me, and I bet the tip of the dart back on itself.
Nikto suddenly jerked his hand back, hard. The puppets flew over to him, and I studied them, unsure of what would happen next. In all of our practices Nikto had never given me a chance to breath between his attacks.
What’s your problem? I thought, scolding myself. You can’t expect him to use the same routines in a fight. Make a plan, Danae. Think.
Suddenly I realized why he had done that. I heard the inner parts of a flash bomb engage, and I squeezed my eyes closed. The light still showed through my eyelids, and I saw spots against the red of my skin.
Blinded, I was forced to rely on my other senses to fight him. On the bright side, I didn’t have to worry about Nikto using the Blasters to attack me. If he couldn’t see through his own eyes, that limited his attack methods.
I knew that he’d still be able to use the other design, though. When we’d worked on it initially, he had asked for a slot where the eyes would be on a face, explaining that he could “see” what his puppets saw in the back of his mind.
Cautiously I stretched out my hands, ready to crush the puppet if need be. I knew that I would be able to sense it because of my power before it struck, but I really didn’t want to destroy it, not after how much work I had put into it.
A puppet dropped from above, and I caused the part that was nothing but blades to fall off. I caught the now harmless puppet and ran my hands over the slit, moving a thin layer of metal over the eye. I then threw it in the vague direction of the Blaster puppets, that were hanging back, on the edge of my range. I heard it connect with something, and they clattered to the floor out of my range.
By this point in time, my vision was beginning to come back, although it was admittedly splotchy. I glanced around the room, wondering why Nikto had let me trash the puppets so easily.
Nikto himself stood in the center of the room, his eyes still closed. His hands were at his sides, and he was paler than usual.
“You okay?” I asked awkwardly as he slowly opened his eyes, blinking furiously.
“Yeah,” he said, rubbing his forehead. “I just have a little headache. Do you want to keep going?”
“No,” I said, glancing at the puppets. “I need to fix the puppets anyhow.” He nodded, and I couldn’t stifle the worry that was steadily growing. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine,” he said, turning to walk to the door. “And I need to talk to the Mexican VI4C. You coming with, General?” I froze.
“General?” It came out as a squeak. He stopped, chuckling at my shock.
“I told you that I trusted you. You’re the first of my recruits, and my second in command,” he said. “Coming?”
“Sure,” I said, following him out of the gym. I was beginning to feel better again. Maybe my doubts were just PMS after all.