June 28, 2017
Veronika Makarova glanced up from behind her desk, pausing in the middle of writing. Her eyes scanned the Headhunter who spoke: blond, middle-aged, broadly built. A jagged scar ran across his left cheek—a souvenir from one of his captures. A mark of failure.
“Have you made contact with Milton?” she interrupted, clicking her black fountain pen shut. It was nearly midnight, and she was expecting an important call from Seoul.
Karl Pelzer suppressed a small shiver, a habit he did not get rid of despite having known the woman for years. Her steel blue eyes reminded him of the blade that had cut through and scarred his skin. He cleared his throat.
“Only a few seconds.” Karl's voice was gruff, his accent distinctly German. “Gorski was there. No one else. Then they injected him, and he was Blocked.”
“They found an injected form of the Blocker?” Veronika raised an eyebrow, impressed once again at the group of rogue Sensates she had admittedly underestimated. A mistake she never planned to repeat.
“Be more vigilant, the next time Milton makes contact. I will not have them slip from me so easily. I expect to have him back, and soon.”
Karl gave a small, stiff nod.
Veronika leaned back in her leather chair, her back against the drop-down window. The lights from the other office buildings in Southwark shone like stars, but from her office on the twenty-fifth floor, she felt as if she was above them all.
“You said the St. Petersburg plan is ready to launch?” she asked.
She gave her indication of a smirk, the corners of her dark red lips quirking upwards for a brief second before pressing into a thin line. She leaned forward. On cue, Karl inched closer to her desk.
“Be ready in three days. I expect no delays.”
Veronika sat back in her chair and pushed open the cap on her fountain pen with her right thumb. She flipped to a page in her planner and wrote in an impeccable cursive: July 2nd. Nevsky Prospekt.
“Good day, Herr Pelzer.”
Karl took this as his cue to leave.
Wolfgang woke up to silence. He could tell the seven other voices in his head were still there, but they sounded as if they were separated from him by soundproof glass. All he could feel when he tried to reach out with his mind was a solid, cold barrier. Good. The further they were, the safer they’d be.
The footsteps in the hallway echoed off the walls. He counted three pairs of boots, hard soles, military grade. Based on Will’s deductions, that meant he was in an urban area. There was no sound of instruments hitting against a metal tray, no rustling of the hard plastic Hazmat suits. It would appear he was alone.
The Traceworks machine hummed next to him, announcing its presence with vibrations. (As if he could ever forget it was there.) It growled like a tiger trapped in a zoo, awaiting release, waiting to continue devouring its prey. Every day felt like it would be his last, but Wolfgang had always prided himself on his ability to withstand pain.
The ache in his chest was a constant growing throb. He drew a careful breath and his muscles spasmed. Instead of breathing out, he coughed, and his lungs clenched tightly in protest. He tried to open his eyes, but the whiteness of the ceiling was blinding, so he shut them tight and listened.
When the Hazsuits came, he noticed a change in the cadence of their footsteps. Their heels clapped against the marble floor in quick succession. He turned his head to the left and squinted, trying to see without being blinded by the fluorescent lights. A Hazsuit was swapping an emptied IV bag with a brand new one. His dosage was carefully measured, allowing no time for his Cluster-mates to slip in and deduce his whereabouts.
If his throat weren’t so parched, he would have laughed. The meticulous IV timetable alone was enough to show how scared BPO was. The Hazsuit’s movements were tense, too. They jumped a little in surprise when they noticed him watching. He allowed himself a smirk. For the first time in days, he felt like the predator.
Whispers had interrogated him twice more after he’d given Kala away. He’d have gone and shocked himself with those paddles for putting her in danger, but his limbs were bound to the recliner. Nothing hurt him more than seeing her lying on the ground of the airport, glassy-eyed, bleeding. Broken. His only consolation was knowing Kala was still free. If something happened to her, a part of his mind would have snapped louder than a shot, even if he was fully sedated.
Wolfgang Bogdanow might not always make the best decisions, but he always learned from his mistakes. So the second time the paddles pulsed against his chest, he had kept himself submerged underwater, in the depth of his favorite memory alone.
He was fifteen, and he was swimming at the crack of dawn. There was no one else in the outdoor pool. The air around him was a crisp autumn chill, the way he liked it. He held his breath and sank deep into the water, trying to keep himself from resurfacing for as long as he could. Surrounded by the blue water, he relished in the solitude—
Then the pain from the electric current had yanked him back to the surface, and he had found himself staring into Whispers’ face.
“Impressive, Wolfgang. But the water can’t keep you from me forever.”
“Maybe not. But I will fucking drown you in it, first chance I get.” He tried to keep his voice firm, but he sounded hoarse and shaky. Still, he gazed straight into Whispers’ eyes, and let the hatred he once embodied when he killed his father take over.
Nonetheless, the day after that, Whispers had gotten close, too close, to finding Felix, when the memory of the pool brought forth another memory of him and Felix jumping into a lake naked on a dare. Thankfully he had managed to push away before the headhunter could take over his mind’s body. Next time, he knew he wouldn’t be so lucky next time.
“The pain will break you soon if I don’t.” Whispers’ voice, steady as ever, masked disappointment.
Wolfgang hadn’t seen Whispers in days, now. Three days, maybe? He wasn’t sure. He wanted to think Sun gave him a piece of her mind, or Will shot him clean between his eyes and watched the life go out. But Wolfgang the optimist died on the same day as his mother. Perhaps Whispers was biding his time while Wolfgang was trapped in his cage.
And now, as the drowsiness brought forth by the tranquilizer kicked in, and his consciousness flickered in and out of focus, he heard the Hazsuits speak in hushed whispers, saw them gesturing wildly to each other, and concluded that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the only one breaking.
Hernando stared at the locked closet inside which Lito sat. The Speakeasy, they called it. Someone off Blockers would always be in there, a makeshift safe space they’d built to communicate without giving away their location. They hadn’t managed to get back in touch with Lito’s German friend—Cluster-mate, he corrected himself—but they kept a rigorous schedule. He longed for the days when the three of them attending a party at Kit Wrangler’s house was the craziest story of their day.
He recalled that time Lito called him on his way home, yelling about some crying Korean woman and a pain in his stomach he thought was a tumor, and wondered why he didn’t think there was more to it back then. He’d dismissed the episode as one of the many dramatic antics one would expect from Lito Rodríguez, the king of drama in and outside a movie set.
(I was not crying, the woman in question, Sun, had replied with a glare when Lito introduced her at the airport. And then Lito pulled her into a bear hug and spoke to her in rapid Korean, while he and Dani stood there wondering what their lives had come to.)
And now Lito was trying to contact a German locksmith telepathically in a locked closet, and Will was opening the door to the first hostage’s room, fist raised and jaw firm.
Dani sat next to him on the couch facing the window and leaned her head on his shoulder. She looked at the bolted-down closet and sighed.
“It takes a while to get used to, but you’ll get there.” They snapped out of their trance and noticed Amanita standing in front of them with two cups of coffee.
“I don’t know how we can,” Dani confessed, taking the mugs from Amanita’s hands with a small thanks, and passed one to Hernando.
“It’s like FaceTime without a phone, but cooler,” Amanita said.
They thought about it.
“It feels like Lito has this… this secret life,” Hernando said. “I used to think I know him. And then he passes out and starts bleeding and refuses to go to the hospital, and then he insists that we go to London. London. And when he tried to explain it to us, we thought he was going crazy—”
“Maybe that’s why he waited so long to tell us,” Dani said in a small voice. Amanita put a hand over her shoulder and squeezed it in comfort as she sat down, careful not to spill the mug of coffee in her hand.
“—and then he was speaking six languages, and plotting to interrogate prisoners with people we didn’t even know he knew,” Hernando continued. “It’s all”—he gestured to everything around him, mattresses and sleeping bags strewn across the floor, scratch papers filled with notes in six languages scattered all over the big dining table. “I feel… It’s like… Like I’m stuck in one of the only movies I can’t analyze.”
“It’s like that telenovela we filmed where he had to play twins,” Dani said.
“The Mirror Has No Heart? The one with the good twin and the evil twin?” Amanita asked.
“Exactly!” Hernando agreed. “Lito’s living as two people. Except here we have ‘action movie star’ Lito, and ‘actually kidnaps people in a Hazmat suit’ Lito. I mean, yes, I know both Lito’s are my hero,” Hernando remarked with a blush, and Dani smiled a little, “but neither of them is invincible. I don’t want Lito to get hurt.”
“I think about the same thing with Noms every day. But that’s why we’re here.”
Hernando nodded. “I can see how you can get cocky, with all this”—he waved his hands around to search for the right word—“this sharing thing. But access to more minds? It doesn’t give you superpowers.”
“Every Sensate needs a Sapien guardian or two.” Amanita stood up and patted Hernando on the shoulder. “We keep them grounded.”
Hernando nodded. And, before Amanita headed back into the kitchen, he asked, “So when you said they share one mind, Amanita, what exactly does that mean?”
“Well, based on what Noms told me, if one of them sees something, everyone else can see it too. Or if they feel something strongly enough, the rest of them might feel it too—when Noms first felt like that she thought she was going crazy—”
“So they share emotions?” Dani asked.
“Yeah. Like if one of them’s afraid, or angry, or excited… or aroused.”
Dani pressed a hand against her mouth, eyes suddenly wide open. She let out a small squeal.
“A-a-aroused?” Hernando’s voice was hoarse.
“Oh yeah. Noms is fucking amazing when she gets like that.” Amanita winked and got up, heading back into the kitchen to make another cup of coffee for a sleep-deprived Nomi currently asleep face down on the mattress in the corner.
On the other side of the living room, Dani and Hernando gawked at each other. Then Hernando buried his face in his hands.
Milton kept his gaze fixated on the ceiling despite the intense swelling in his left eye, a testament to the Cluster’s frustration from the day before.
“Stop this nonsense, Will. It’s not me you should be fighting.” His voice, hoarse from dehydration, was steady as always.
“You’re right,” Will said as he leaned over to look Milton in the eye. His usual defensive posture was gone, replaced by an air of nonchalance. “It’s not you that we’re fighting. You mean nothing to us,” Lito said in Will’s body.
“In case you have forgotten—”
“Oh, right. You’re our bargaining chip. Hmm.” Will put on a tone of mock defeat as he walked away from the stretcher. “I guess you haven’t heard?”
“Do tell, Mr. Gorski. If you are Mr. Gorski.”
“I hate to break it to you.” Lito-in-Will ignored the comment. “But the Chairman said he no longer needs you. So since you’re stuck with us with no reason for BPO to get your sorry ass traded back to them, we’re gonna have some fun.”
Then Will was back in his field of vision, fist raised, aiming straight for the angry purple bruise on his jaw from a few days past. Milton suppressed a pained groan, but a whimper escaped as blood trickled down his chin.
“Either you tell us where he is, or we’ll make you. We’ll get an answer out of you one way or the other.”
When Milton opened his mouth again, blood was dribbling down his chin, but he spoke with his usual air of dignity. “You’ve never been a good liar, Will.” Milton tried to grin, too, but decided not to push it when he felt the muscles on his battered jaw protest. “I know you haven’t spoken to the Chairman.”
“Yeah? Why’s that?”
“The real Chairman would never give up on me so easily.”
“Good pals, are you?”
“No, no,” Milton said with a dry chuckle. “You misunderstood.”
“Please, enlighten me.”
Milton quirked his right eyebrow, the only one he could raise without pain. “I’m sure you’ve already been informed of the internal struggle inside BPO. The Sensates in BPO have their own agendas apart from the Sapiens, Will. If my procedures sound unethical to you, they are nowhere nearly as destructive as the plan put forth by the Sapiens.”
“So they do have a greater purpose for this genocide.” The sarcasm was apparent in Will’s voice. “And here I thought they were killing us for fun.”
Milton ignored that last comment. “Mr. Gorski, if a headhunter like me is enough to drive you and your Cluster into hiding, the Chairman’s plans will destroy all of us. Your foolishness will be the end of Homo sensorium.”
“Sounds sinister,” Lito kept Will’s tone nonchalant, though both men suppressed a shudder after hearing that last revelation. “Why don’t you tell us more? We’ll need information if you wanna stop those Sapiens in time.”
“You really think you can stop BPO?” Milton gave a dry chuckle. “Please, don’t be a child, Will. A ragtag group of Sensates renegades, against the Chairman?”
“You’re one to talk,” Will glanced at his prisoner, bound by an array of belts and ropes on a stretcher, a stolen IV drip of saline attached to his left arm.
Milton laughed, as unnervingly as before. “Mark my words, Will. One rookie mistake is enough to end your Cluster for good.”
Will crouched down and looked him straight in the eye, their faces so close, their noses were almost touching. “Your concern’s real touching, Milt,” he said, spitting out the last t. “But like I’ve told you before, we’re not amateurs.”
With that said, Will walked away.
“These interrogations are getting you nowhere, Officer Gorski”—Whispers called before Will shut the door. “You know what you have to do to find Mr. Bogdanow.”
June 29, 2017
Wolfgang woke up to see a scarred face sneering down at him.
The man crouching down to look into his face wore a simple black leather jacket and jeans. Moderate climate, then, Wolfgang deduced. Or maybe this was a costume. But he’d apparently had this jacket for a long time: the ends of the sleeves were worn, the leather chipping away, and there were deep creases around the underarms and the collars. Were they in Europe?
“Good day, Wolfgang.” The man spoke in German, his accent distinctly Berliner, all too familiar to Wolfgang’s ears.
Unlike Whispers, who relished in taunts and ridicules and rhetorical questions, this Headhunter wasted no time before turning the dial. Wolfgang turned his head to his left and saw the arrow pointing to the highest voltage Whispers had used. The man took the paddles from a Hazsuit and pressed them hard against Wolfgang’s chest.
Wolfgang closed his eyes and submerged himself in the memory he used before, hoping the water can drown out his pain. But his body betrayed him. He convulsed hard against the shock. He clenched his teeth tight, suppressing a scream, and tasted something metallic. Warm blood was trickling down his chin from the corners of his mouth. He didn’t dare draw a breath in case he choked.
The shock stopped not long after it began, and Wolfgang noted to himself that the pain felt slightly dulled compared to last time. He didn’t know what to make of the fact that he was growing accustomed to torture. He tried to bring his mind back into the haven underwater, imagined blue water, crisp autumn air, stillness…
“Care to share a memory with me, Wolfgang?” The Headhunter in the leather jacket suddenly appeared next to him in the pool, his voice conveying none of the gurgling one would expect to hear if they were to see someone speak while underwater.
Wolfgang shut his eyes tight, the blue of the water fading away until only the cold and rippling sensation around him remained. He tried to ignore the intruder. Maybe if he couldn’t see him, he could convince himself the man wasn’t there?
Then a hand was slapping against his bare chest, and it was not a part of his memory, because in his memory his chest didn’t ache at the slightest hint of contact. The impact made him cough out. His blood sprinkled into the face of his torturer, who merely wiped it away with the back of his hand before punching Wolfgang in the chest again. He tried to bring himself back into the safety of being underwater, but instead of chlorine, all he could taste was the metallic tang of his blood.
Firm hands gripped his shoulders and shook him, slamming his back against the reclining chair. He panted. His blood was on the verge of trickling into his windpipe.
“S-s-sto-o-p.” He gasped before coughing. Please, he thought. Please stop.
It stopped, and Wolfgang thought it was finally over.
But then the man pressed his hand against his chest, his fingernails on the verge of digging into Wolfgang’s flesh, and Wolfgang felt a tingling sensation from where the fingertips pressed against his chest, the pain worming its way beneath his skin with every passing second. He felt a million tiny needles prodding at his lungs. A whimper escaped his tightly pursed lips. He choked. All he wished then was to get away from the pain, remove his physical body from that prison and transport himself somewhere safe.
Before Wolfgang realized what he was doing, an image of his apartment flickered into his mind’s eye. Then his mind was not his anymore, and his vision glided over to the bedroom, where a memory of him and Felix passed out in his bed after a long night of drinking and dancing in clubs zoomed into view. Then the torturer was inhabiting the Wolfgang inside the memory, pushing himself up from the bed.
Wolfgang imagined invisible tendrils reaching out to bind himself to the bed. But they, like him, were numbed by the electric shocks and the physical attacks that followed. The exertion made his vision zoom in and out of focus as if the water from the pool in his earlier memory had seeped inside his head.
His left arm—but not his, no longer his—moved without his command, pushing Felix’s head towards him so that he could see his face. His right arm reached to Felix’s right back pocket, the place he always kept his ID.
“Felix Berner,” said the Headhunter’s raspy voice.
Suddenly, Wolfgang was pulled away from his memory, a hand at his shoulders hoisting him out of the flashback, and his back slammed against the reclining chair on which he was bound. Another gush of warm metallic liquid brimmed in his throat from the impact. The man grabbed his shoulders again—
Wolfgang heard the door open, and the Headhunter let go of him. A woman’s voice spoke through what he presumed was the mask of a Hazmat suit. She had a London accent.
“Pardon me, Mister Pelzer. Someone’s expecting you down in the atrium.”
Pelzer let out a gruff sound of acknowledgment before turning back to Wolfgang, who cowered in the chair, dreading another punch to the chest. Weak, said his father’s voice, but he pushed it away and braced himself for more pain.
“That will be all for today, Wolfgang. You have been very helpful.”
Pelzer appeared to have turned to leave, and Wolfgang was about to try and breathe a sigh of relief when turned and slapped Wolfgang’s chest again. And before he had a chance to launch a mental kick at himself for putting Felix in danger, Wolfgang choked and passed out from the pain.
This is fucking crazy. Felix chanted it to himself like a mantra as he got on the train. This is fucking crazy. Fucking crazy.
Then again, nothing about his life had been normal lately.
It all started when he and Wolfie decided to steal the diamonds from right under Steiner’s nose. They’d thought it was a smart trick to pull under the watchful eyes of his uncle. In retrospect, if they’d stuck to petty thievery, a lot of this could have been avoided.
Though he was almost certain someone more powerful than Fuchs was involved in his friend’s disappearance, and he wasn’t sure anyone could have avoided that.
He’d gone to Wolfie’s apartment the day after he last saw him to confront his friend for ignoring his texts. He found the place tidy but not spotless, the way Wolfie usually left it, but there was a half-packed suitcase on the bed, and the clothes were strewn about as if he’d gone out for a quick walk and would be back to finish packing later.
You motherfucker. Going through with the India Plan without me?
But a hunch told him there was no way Wolfie would ghost his best friend and take off to another continent without at least saying goodbye.
The walls, upon closer inspection, had a faint smell of chlorine and bleach. Someone had tried to get rid of the sign of struggle. Blood? Probably. He prayed it was not Wolfie’s. Then his phone had chimed, and an undetectable number had sent him the following words:
Wolfgang is in danger. Do not go back to your shop. Pack your bags. We will be in touch.
And this was how Felix Berner found himself on a train from Paris to London four days later with no further instruction except to wait in front of the ticket office at St. Pancras Station.
When the train door opened, he walked out and sat down on a bench right below the big screen with the timetable. He took out his phone and scrolled through Twitter mindlessly, then stopped and did a double take when he found his picture on a wanted sign, posted by the Berlin Metropolitan Police. (And it was not a flattering picture, mind you. It was a fucking mugshot from when he had long hair.)
Felix Berner. Wanted for robbery. Reward up to €5,000.
Whoever was behind Wolfie’s kidnapping had probably also done this. Felix admitted to himself that if he weren’t so creeped out, he would have seriously considered asking someone to turn him in. They could have split the reward.
“Felix!” a woman exclaimed behind him.
Felix turned, but before he could open his mouth to say anything, he found himself suffocating in a jumble of wild black curls and yellow sundress. He could smell jasmine. Behind her, a woman with short black hair smiled faintly at him in apology.
“Let him breathe, Kala,” the other woman said.
“Right.” Kala gave an apologetic smile before pulling back and placing her hands on Felix’s shoulders to look him in the eye. “Sorry.”
“Alright,” Felix said in English, mindful that he was no longer in Berlin. “I’m flattered that a woman like you threw yourself at me like this”—the woman with the bob behind Kala put a hand to her face—“but I’ve had a fucking crazy couple of days. And the last time I tried to help a damsel in distress, I got shot.”
“Felix,” Kala started, sitting down next to him. She opened her mouth and closed it again. “We—I mean, Wolfgang, he”—she flailed her hands about, brows furrowed in search of the right words—“we’re trying to—”
“She’s the India Plan,” the woman with the bob said.
Felix froze and turned back to Kala, who nodded. Then the woman with the bob walked closer and patted him on the shoulder with a firm hand.
“If you want to help us find Wolfgang, I suggest you keep quiet and follow us.”
This is fucking crazy. Felix repeated the mantra to himself as he followed them into a rental car. But in the last few days, he’d taken five trains and two shuttle buses across Western Europe to find his brother per the instruction of anonymous texts. He certainly wasn’t going to stop now.
When Felix had been debriefed, and everyone else had gone to bed, Sun and Nomi sat on the couch facing the door to take the first shift. Sun watched as Nomi sifted through confidential emails and hacked into security systems in places she didn’t even know could have cameras.
“I used to think you can only hack like this in a movie,” Sun remarked.
Nomi smiled. “I told you, I’m an all-access kind of girl.”
“You are.” Sun thought of the time Nomi broke her out of prison, away from the confines that made her vulnerable to ordered attacks by her brother’s men. Sun didn’t protest when Nomi yawned and turned the screen towards her, and laid her head on her shoulder.
Nomi’s fingers continued to dance on the trackpad. She logged on to a Korean news website. Sun turned to her and raised an eyebrow.
“I thought you’d like to check for updates on Mun.”
Right. With all the crazy things Sun had experienced in the last few days, she’d nearly forgotten about the stubborn detective. She swallowed back her guilt. She tried to tell herself that her concern was merely due to her brother’s responsibility for his shooting, but even she couldn't convince herself.
Nomi lifted her head and put an arm around Sun’s shoulder. “I don’t think he’s giving up any time soon.”
She pointed to the screen that now showed a video of the latest news report. Shot detective at Bak Summer Gala, awake, in stable condition, the caption said.
And then: Detective identifies CEO Bak Joong-Ki as shooter.
Stupid. Dangerous. Joong-Ki will kill him if he finds out. He did all this for Sun. He got hurt because of her. Why her?
“My theory is that it’s a cop thing,” Nomi said, knowing what was on her mind despite being on Blockers.
Sun humphed. “Not all police are like that.”
“No, I suppose not.” Nomi leaned against Sun’s shoulder again. “But he’s not like every police officer, is he?”
Three hours later, Will and Riley woke to find Nomi asleep on the couch, her head cuddled against Sun’s shoulder. Will opened his mouth to say something, but Sun’s glare shut him right up. And when Riley leaned in closer to put a blanket over them, she could have sworn Sun was smiling.