"The witness may resume the stand."
Noll bit back a yawn as he stepped through the short gate up to the witness stand. It was still early, the sun had barely peaked into the sky when they entered the courthouse, but Noll felt more tired now than he had then. Perhaps it was the nervousness as the bailiff held out the Bible and Noll raised his right hand, waiting as the bailiff read him the oath for the third time in just as many days. He thought by now he would be used to the nervousness that came with sitting in the small wooden box and at least a hundred pair of eyes trained on him, but his hands still trembled in his lap. His face burned hot as he scanned the crowd of cameramen and photographers supporting bulky cameras all trained on him.
He knew that, after everything, it would be nearly impossible to keep his identity a secret, but he desperately wished they wouldn't plaster his face all over Europe.
Are you okay?
Noll blinked slowly, trying to hold onto Mai's fuzzy, garbled thought, but it slipped through his grip, sinking back into the ocean that was his own mind. After months of underuse, their connection had grown weak and spotty, and neither had been too keen on spending time fixing it. Not now, anyway.
When he opened his eyes again, he found himself staring into a pair of soft, honey brown eyes. Mai's face lit up when their eyes met, a light blush tingeing her cheeks, but she didn't turn away like she used to. Noll wanted to smile back but his muscles wouldn't respond. He thought he may have managed a half smile, but from the way Mai's expression faltered it was likely more of a grimace.
"If we are all set to begin, will the bailiff please call in the jury—"
"Your Honor?" The defense attorney whose name was either Crowden or Crowley (Noll honestly couldn't bother to remember) suddenly rose to his feet. "If I may?"
Judge Mathis looked surprised but gestured for him to continue.
Noll made the mistake of meeting the older man's poised blue eyes. He didn't bother hiding his smirk as he said, "Your Honor, the defense beseeches the court to arrest the witness, Oliver Davis."
Noll stared blankly at the man, heart leaping in his throat.
Mrs. Klein stood, calm, having expected something like this. He couldn't help but notice the way her hands gripped the edge of the table. "On what grounds?"
The defense attorney turned his sly smile from him to her. "On account of murder, Your Honor."
The courtroom exploded into noise, reporters bending over in their seats, scribbling notes, and cameramen flashing pictures. In the front row, Martin and Luella had paled, holding each other steady as they watched the scene play out. The Irregulars all held similar faces. Noll had avoided telling them anything about The Event, but he supposed now that hadn't been such a good idea.
Noll, in the meantime, forgot how to breathe. He slunk forward in his chair, trying not to show the panic he felt rising in his chest. He knew this could have happened. Mrs. Klein had warned him it could have happened. But he never thoughtー
The gavel came down hard twice beside him, Judge Mathis' booming voice reining over the chaos that had exploded over the crowd. "Silence in the court! Approach the bench!"
Both attorneys sported opposite looks of smug gratification and delicate self-assurance as they left their notes behind and approached the Judge. "Mr. Crowell, what is the meaning of this? I do not appreciate you making a mockery of my courtroom."
Crowell motioned back to his notes, "New evidence has come to light, Your Honor. Evidence, it seems, the prosecution was attempting to hide from myself and the court."
Noll held his head between his hands, eavesdropping on the hushed argument.
Judge Mathis harrumphed disparagingly, raising an eyebrow. "Is this true, Mrs. Klein?"
"Your Honor, the prosecution has deeply investigated this claim and we can assure the court that Dr. Davis is not a murdererー"
"I request to see the evidence."
Crowell happily slid a thin folder across the podium. "This is all the evidence we were able to gather after yesterday's meeting. As you can see on the first page, this information was retrieved from the prosecution's evidence files."
Mrs. Klein didn't offer an explanation but pushed her own thick manila folder over to the Judge. "This is the sum of evidence that came from our investigation."
Noll ground up the courage to look up as Judge Mathis ruffled through each folder in turn, glaring at the contents. His eyebrows pinched together as he flipped the page backward, then forward again. After a moment of silence, he raised his head to the bailiff. "Bailiff, please escort the Jury back to their rooms. These documents are in need of further review." He paused for a moment, organizing the folders in his hands. "However... due to the nature of this accusation, the witness will be held in the court's custody. We will resume proceedings at 8 A.M. tomorrow morning. The court is dismissed until that time."
Noll swallowed hard, watching absently as the crowd began to stand and the room became a buzz of chatter. In custody of the court?
"Mr. Davis, please stand."
Noll jerked back, wide eyes finding the bailiff who had a stern look to him, metal handcuffs dangling from his belt.
Beyond him, James was being led in his own pair of handcuffs out the side door, grinning.
"Noll!" Luella was on her feet, leaning over the short barrier, a bailiff holding her back. Despite himself, Noll managed a Gene-like, reassuring smile, even if it felt like a grimace. "It'll be fine," he half said, half shouted over the chattering crowd.
Don't think like that.
Noll was being led by his elbow through the side door when he caught her thought and jerked in the officer's grip to see her in the thinning crowd.
A light bulb flashed in his face. A photographer.
He blinked, but the lights danced in front of his eyes, blinding him as they pulled him through the door and out of view.
5 months ago
It was unnerving not knowing what time it was. There were no windows as far as he could see in the dark, but he supposed that was the point; keeping him in a constant state of confusion.
Yes, that must have been Step One in the abduction handbook. 'Breakdown the body and the mind will follow.' He supposed that was Step Two. But no matter how unnerved he was, how painful the twist in his stomach had become, Noll would not give in. He would not give James the satisfaction of breaking him.
He figured it had been at least two days since his last interaction with James; the guards outside the door had changed shift three times already. Once every twelve hours, Noll guessed.
Two days... Where was he? It pained Noll to think of what James could be doing to Mai in the time he was wasting here.
Mai? He prodded through the bond, but it echoed back to him. It almost felt as if there was something blocking them, interfering with their mental frequencies.
Noll shook his head, closing his eyes. He couldn't think about that right now. He needed to figure a way out.
There was one guard at his door, but were there others? The only other person he had seen was James. In an all-out battle of strength, Noll had no doubt he would be the victor, but as satisfying as it would have been to give James what was coming to him, the imminent death that would follow wouldn't help anyone. Noll straightened at the sound of footsteps, opening his eyes just in time to make out the hulking figure in the darkness. Defeated, he waited for the guard to strike out, legs too numb to defend himself and throat too dry to speak.
But the guard didn't so much as spare a glance at Noll as he turned to the other end of the room and nudged the body lying there.
"Get up." She didn't move. He kicked her harder. "Get. Up."
Was she dead? No, Noll could see the steady p and down of her chest, but she hadn't moved in all the time he had been there
The guard leaned down and fisted her hair, jerking her up.
There was a mousy squeak that filled the room and Noll could just make out her body jerking in the guard pulled her to him, chuckling as he hugged her against his chest. "I kind of miss your struggling. It would make this more enjoyable.
"Madam Miska has arrived early for the viewing," Noll sneered at James who he hadn't seen leaning casually against the doorway. He looked annoyed; uncharacteristically rumpled. "Run that one through the shower first. Miska likes them clean."
The guard barely turned to see James as he drug the girl backward toward the door. "Yessir."
Noll leveled James with his fiercest glare, watching him follow the path of the guard up the stairs. Only when the door slammed shut did he turn to Noll. "Sorry about that. Business, you know."
He didn't answer.
"Speaking of business," James had apparently deemed it safe enough to lean over him and detach the cuff from the wall. "it's about time you earn your keep."
Noll tried not to cry out in pain as his arms fell, shoulders protesting, popping into their old position by his side.
He couldn't, however, stop the yelp that escaped his lips when James, quite unceremoniously, jerked him to his numb feet. It only now occurred to Noll that he was free. There was nothing beside James stopping him from escaping this cellar. Sure, the handcuffs were still firmly around his wrists but he could still fight. He could even win ー if his head would stop throbbing painfully from his new upright position. He could step backward and force James against the wall, but he wobbled, unsteady on his numbed feet. Before he could regain his balance something cold pressed into the small of his back.
"I really would like to keep you lead-free, Davis. Move." He jabbed the barrel of what Noll assumed was the pistol he had seen earlier into his spine, forcing Noll forward on shaky legs. He stumbled twice on the ten foot stretch to the doorway before he could feel his toes again.
For the first time, Noll could see the other end of the hallway. There were two other rooms likes his, each shrouded in shadows from the dim swinging light above the stairway. Noll couldn't tell if anyone was being held in these rooms, but he doubted it. In all the hours he had spent writhing in silent pain, he hadn't heard any voices besides the guards.
"Keep going," James dug the pistol in harder, pushing Noll forward on tingling legs. They slowly climbed the stairs, Noll grimacing with every step as pins and needles shot from his feet up his shins.
When they reached the top, James reached quickly around him to push open the heavy wooden door. They emerged at the end of another, longer hallway. Noll held his hands over his eyes, shielding them from the sudden burst of sunlight. His eyes watered as James prodded him through a maze of lefts and right, rooms that lead to other rooms and hallways with no windows, lit only but too-bright, flickering floodlights.
Eventually, James jerked Noll to a stop in front of a plain, industrial looking room with a single, narrow window. He shoved Noll inside whose legs were still kind of numb and couldn't yet move fast enough to keep himself from falling over. He fell hard on his side just inside the door, James following quickly behind him.
He didn't close the door, pulling a chair into the middle of the room but didn't sit. Instead, he stood a few feet away, palming some type of stick. and pointing to his feet. "Kneel."
Noll glared, struggling to maneuver himself into a back to his feet. This was his chance. "Go to hell."
James twirled the long, black stick once in his hand and chucked. "I was hoping you'd say that." The low humming was Noll's only warning before a sharp electric shock seared the back of his thigh. He yelled, his knees giving out and sending him tumbling to the floor again.
Above him, James sported a rather smug grin, "Picana electrica or otherwise known as a cattle prod. Averages five million volts a pop. Great device, don't you think?"
Noll panted, resting his forehead on the cold floor. "I think you enjoy this tooーngh!" The cattle prod hummed again, zapping him in the back. Noll bit his lip to keep from finishing his statement, choosing to focus on the physical pain instead of his wounded pride.
"I do rather enjoy this part," James cackled, spinning the stick expertly around his fingers. He stepped in front of his crumpled prey, pulling him roughly into a proper kneeling position. "The human will is something to be admired."
Noll jerked away, nearly throwing himself back to the floor in the process. "What do you know about the human will?" He spat, sinking back to his heels. If he could just catch him by surprise...
"Nothing." James gave him a devilish smile, bending down to level with Noll's shaded blue eyes, "Except the satisfaction of breaking it."
A shaky grunt punctuated the end of his statement as the cattle prod found Noll's rib.
Anger and irritation seized him, enticing him to lean bravely into the electric pulse. The air in his lungs seemed to be frozen, but he managed a soft growl. "Try me."
The current seared his skin, burning through his shirt, the shock making his toes twitch.
He gulped down fresh air as James pulled away, masking his annoyance behind a cunning smirk. "You'll regret that."