Turn Your Eyes
Lost in Echoes 1.01
I awoke to darkness. The only illumination came from the subtle glow of the LEDs in my alarm clock, and I fumbled around the nightstand for my phone as it buzzed. Rubbing the blurriness from my eyes, I raised an eyebrow when I saw the time. Who was trying to get ahold of me so desperately at three fifteen in the morning? I swear to god, if it was Becky trying to talk to me about the latest fucking cape bullshit, I was going to strangle her the next time I saw her. How many times did I have to tell her not to bother me with that shit before she got the hint?
Fucking hell. I half hoped that it was just a wrong number. I couldn't imagine why anyone would be sending so many messages otherwise.
Unless something had happened to Mom.
That thought pushed me to full alertness as I put in my passcode.
I can help you.
I know what you're looking for.
You want your problem gone?
Of course you do.
Never have to be like that again.
Make you real.
No money, just a favor.
Not illegal, promise.
Just show up if you want it.
Want to be normal.
Today. Before 7.
Ask the bouncer for the Distillery.
He'll hook you up.
Tell 'em Brewer sent ya.
I blinked at the words for a moment before darting to the window. Outside of my little apartment window I couldn't see anything out of the ordinary, but a sense of uneasy paranoia was slowly building. How had this person gotten my number? Was I being followed or stalked? I couldn't think of anything weird or noticeable happening lately. It was all the same, day in and day out, a boring blend of reminders that my life had run into a wall the day I graduated college.
Or maybe it was just spam? Normally those were calls though, and they didn’t usually include local places. Especially not a local place that had been an abandoned warehouse retrofitted into a kind of club and hot spot. So, probably not spam.
Which meant that it had to be cape shit again. It was always cape shit.
I collapsed back onto the bed, running a hand through my hair as I looked at my phone. If there was one thing I'd learned it was that capes were bullshit. The second was that if a cape wanted me, they would've already gotten me. The only way I could think of for why this cape was contacting me was that either someone had blabbed about my questions or that they'd tracked me down through my online posts.
I wasn’t sure which was worse.
Or maybe they really were offering a solution to my problem. I’d been putting out feelers to the less than legal places in town to see if anyone could help me. Maybe someone had passed on word and they’d decided to help? To finally get what I had dreamed of for so long, but at the hands of a cape? Was that something that I could live with?
My gaze turned to my hands as I slowly turned them around, watching the shadows play across the surface of my skin. So much work just to get this far, and no hope of going further. Not without help. But could I, should I, accept help from a cape of all things?
It's not like capes had done a damn good thing in my life. They had pushed my job sector into irrelevance, there were gang-related disturbances in town nightly, and, hell, superpowered-Nazis were taking a chunk of the eastern seaboard. They were always at the heart of the problem, and the so called heroes weren't much better than the villains.
But… Well, I couldn't deny the fact that finally not having to worry about how I fit into the world would be a massive weight off of my shoulders. To never have to deal with that feeling of being so innately wrong floating over my head? That alone would be worth it. Finally having something go right could be the kickstart I needed to get out of this town. And then I could have a fresh start where no one knew me, where my past wouldn’t haunt me every single day.
I stood up suddenly, walking to flip the light switch and open my closet as I came to a decision. Tossing clothes behind me onto the bed I wondered if I was making a mistake before deciding to push the doubt out of my mind. I had to do this. I didn’t know if someone had leaked my situation or if the cape had no sense of privacy in scouting me, but did it really matter in the end? As long as no one was after me it couldn’t be that bad, right? I’d worked hard to make sure that the wrong people didn’t learn about me.
My phone stared back at me from the nightstand as I got dressed quickly, the slow and steady pulsing glow of a full charge giving me something to center myself with. I could do this. Stuffing my phone in my pocket along with my wallet, I nabbed the house keys on my way out and locked the door behind me as I stepped into the brisk night air. Streetlights, starlight, and the moon were the only things to turn their bright gaze my way as I started walking at a brisk pace.
With one hand on my phone in case of an emergency, I mentally mapped out the best way to get to Baker’s Warehouse. It wasn’t a terribly far walk, a mile or two if I had to guess. I could still remember when it had been a storage building for one of the local mines, back before tinkers had made the owner nearly bankrupt and forced him out of town. Fucking tinkers, and all capes for that matter, thinking they could just do what they want.
I didn’t see a soul as I made my way across town, which wasn’t surprising given how late it was, but I couldn’t help but note how eerie it was to see everything so dark and quiet. As I got closer to my destination, however, I noticed that people were still out and about. A few drunks passed out at the bus stop, some girl dancing to the sound of nothing in the dirt parking lot, and a line waiting to get into the building itself. The bouncer, even from across the parking lot, looked absolutely massive. For a second I hesitated, feeling like maybe I should just go back home and forget this silly business. But then the bouncer looked over my way, slowly looking me up and down before jerking his head in the universal sign for “come here.”
This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy, I thought to myself as I started walking over, cutting the line, and found myself face to face with someone easily two feet taller than I was and twice as wide at least. His arms looked like they could be as big as my torso, and I could imagine that if he felt like it he could literally break me in half with his bare hands. As the line started to erupt with complaints he held up a hand to silence them as he looked down at me.
“You lost, ma’am?” he asked in a thunderous voice. “I can call a ride if you need one.”
“Uhm, actually, I was told to meet someone here. Or come here, I mean. Something about the, uh, Distillery,” I said quietly, trying to ignore the stares of the line. “Said to tell you that, uh, Brewer sent me?”
He stared at me for what had to be a full minute before nodding once and pushing open the door next to him and pulling a lanyard out of his back pocket. Putting the lanyard over my hood, he guided me much more gently than expected into the hallway beyond the doorway. “Downstairs. Enjoy your stay, ma’am,” he instructed me, pulling the door shut behind me.
Inside the building it was almost as dark as it had been outside, dull red lights lining the walls of the hallway. The hallway opened up into a large, expansive room full of people dancing and lights flashing, fog flowing over the floor lazily, a purple haze moving along people’s feet as they kicked it around, spewing from a machine behind the bar in the center of the room. I stood still in the entryway, partially in shock and partially from anxiety at the amount of people, amazed at how utterly loud it was in here. In the far corner of the room I saw a neon sign, glowing letters forming an arrow.
Well, I’d found the Distillery at least. I just had to find my way across the room without attracting a lot of attention and I’d be fine. Or I could just turn around and leave the way I had come. It would be easy, simple, and all it would cost me is never knowing if this was my way out. After all, there was a chance it wasn’t even a cape and just some weeb or something thinking code names were cool for non-capes. As if having a fancy name was a good thing when it meant people would consider you a cape of all things.
Okay, I was stalling. Just one foot forward, one step at a time, keep my head down, and I could do this. I had to do this. Pushing forward, I weaved through the bodies on the outskirts of the room towards the stairwell, my heart pounding in my chest more and more violently as I got closer.
Looking down the stairs, I saw another bouncer guarding a door with a green glow poking out from beneath it. I took a deep breath and set off down the stairs slowly, keeping a hand trailing on the railing, and came to a stop in front of the bouncer. Where did this place find guys so big? I couldn’t think of anyone in town who was so absolutely massive, let alone two of them.
“Lanyard,” he said gruffly, holding out his hand. With trembling hands, I pulled it back over my head and set it in his grasp. He stepped aside — apparently, I got the honor of opening this door myself — and I mumbled a quiet thanks before entering into the unknown.
I found myself rooted in place on the other side of the door as a verifiable lab greeted me. Beakers, incubators, centrifuges, safety cabinets, and fume hoods, an HPLC, microtomes, cryostats, microscope, and was that a mass spectrometer? This place was decked out full of equipment that I hadn’t seen since my college days. How did they set this up? Some of this stuff was expensive, let alone the fact that I didn’t think you could just buy half of these things. Unless you could on the black market or something.
“You must be Kali,” a smooth voice said from my right. I flinched, eyes following the sound, and I could feel my blood run cold. That had to be a cape, no one in their right mind would ever wear something so gaudy and ridiculous. With flasks filled with liquids all over their body and some kind of modified lab coat and goggles covering his body and face it was like some kind of cheesy science horror film. “I’m the Brewer. I’m glad that you came promptly.”
“I want to know what you know and how you got my number,” I demanded, wincing internally at the shakiness of my voice.
“You don’t ask the kind of questions you were without me finding out. You want to change your body and can’t afford the normal ways. That’s fine. Because changing bodies is my specialty. No scars either, no downtime to heal, just a few hours of your time,” he said offhandedly as he moved around machines that I didn’t recognize to stand a few feet in front of me.
“Yeah? And what’s it going to cost me?”
“Precious little. You see, not all of my work is permanent. When I am developing something new, for example, the tests are always made to be temporary. No permanent changes that someone doesn’t want, just testing to see if things are at the perfect levels needed to make the perfect mixture. All I ask in return is that you allow me to run a few extra tests after you get what you want.”
I bit back the urge to tell him to test it on himself and fuck off. If he was telling the truth…
“How do I know I can trust you?” I asked hesitantly.
“You saw the bouncers. They’re my handiwork. Wanted to be big and strong, and so that’s what I made them. I imagine there’s not a person without powers alive who could beat them in a strength contest.” He sounded a little indignant at my question. Pride in his work, perhaps? Or did he just not like being questioned?
“How many experiments?”
“I’m sorry?” He looked up from where he was messing with one of the machines, his tone distracted.
“How many experiments for me to get what I want?”
“Just a few. It’ll feel like no time at all, I promise.”
“And I’d be real, finally? Forever?” I hated the longing in my voice, the desire in my chest, and I unconsciously stepped forward.
“Forever, Kali, I swear it. I wouldn’t be able to have any customers if I couldn’t keep my word.”
“What do I need to do?”
He gestured for me to follow him into a side room filled with more machines I didn’t recognize and a lone operating table. It was a little bright, and I could smell disinfectants in the air.
At least it was clean.
“Lie down. You’re going to be awake the whole time, but I’m going to bind your limbs for your own safety. From all the tests this one is...a little painful,” he said slowly. “When the pain stops you’ll biologically be a girl, all the way down to your genes. You’ll never have to worry about it again. Now’s your last chance to change your mind. You’re free to walk away still.”
“No. I need this. I need to not hurt anymore, to not have to second guess being myself.”
“Alright then. Say goodbye to the past, Kali, and welcome the future,” Brewer said softly as he put leather straps around my wrists, ankles, and forehead. I shivered at the cold table beneath me as I stared up at the ceiling before he pushed something leather-tasting in my mouth.
Suddenly I felt a sharp prick in the crook of my right arm followed by a feeling like frozen fire running up into me before I could begin to wonder what the thing in my mouth was for. The feeling spread out until I felt like my entire body was burning, and I suddenly was grateful for something other than my tongue to bite down on as my muffled screams filled the room. I felt my body break and shift, my heart beating fast enough that I was sure it was going to explode, and everything felt wrong. So much worse than I felt every single day when I saw any part of my reflection.
And then the pain really started. I’d heard people describe what it felt like to be stabbed, and that was the closest thing I could think of to describe what I felt. Like every cell in my body was being perforated at the same time, over and over and over again. My nails dug at the metal table beneath me and I closed my eyes as tears started to flow.
I was going to die. I knew it. There was no way that I couldn’t. This cape had lied to me and he was killing me and there was nothing I could do about it.
My last thought before darkness took me was that at least I wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore.
This project has been a long time coming! I’ve been planning and tweaking this story since mid-last 2018, using my other projects as stepping stones to improve my writing until I felt that I was able to do this story justice.
As always, thank you to everyone who gives this a read, a like, or a comment. It means the world to me to get to share something that matters so much to me.
And, of course, this wouldn’t be possible without help from the wonderful people who were willing to beta this chapter. @zenithBemusement, @Mondrae205, @Vilheim, an anonymous Beta, @radiorobot.
Again, thank you to everyone who steps on this journey with me, and here’s to more to come!