For the first time in years, Martha slept like a goddamn baby. She had to admit to herself, she expected Mouse to put up more of a fight, but the snatch and grab went swimmingly. And seeing that look on Jessica’s face? Priceless.
The doorbell ringing at nine the following morning was what prevented her from sleeping in all day. Her cabin was situated off the beaten path, so her visitor was either a co-worker or the FBI. Rolling off her covers, she projected a slate of light underneath the tablet on her dresser and slid it down into her hands. The camera outside was showing Charlie standing by the door, checking over his shoulder and bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Thumbing the mic button she snipped “You step in an anthill or something, buddy?”
He jumped at the sound of her voice. Locating the camera, he gave it a nervous smile and turned for one last check. “Sorry, no, it’s just. I kinda half expect to get zapped from nowhere.”
Rolling her eyes, she tossed the tablet back to its original spot and got dressed, then took her sweet time to answer the door. The boss hired some weird dudes…
“Come in,” she said, gesturing with her head. As soon as he stepped inside she slammed the door shut and thrust her hand into his chest and began feeling around. A big smile crept across his face. She snorted. “Don’t get your hopes up sport, I’m making sure you’re not wearing a wire.”
“Really? Is this about the Higgins thing?” He puffed his shoulders. “You know I told him to go pound sand, right?”
The light construct that formed in her hand came to a point sharp enough to slice flesh. Lifting his chin with it, she replied firmly “Either I check you or I make the worms in my backyard very happy. Capiche?”
Charlie grimaced and tilted his head up – a substitute for a nod, she surmised. Content, the dagger dissipated and she spun into the kitchen. “Would you like some coffee?”
“I’m good,” he squeaked, and she noticed he hadn’t moved from his spot. She shrugged and dumped some grinds into her machine. He must have realized how rude he was being, because he decided to ask “This is a really nice place. How’d you afford it?”
Martha smiled as she poured her drink. “I inherited mom’s assets when she passed. She was one of the boss’ original disciples back in the 90s. He awarded her loyalty handsomely.”
“Huh.” Charlie scratched his chin. “So do you know how Skinny has so much money?”
“I do, but if I told you I’d have to kill you.” Charlie flinched as she turned to him, taking a sip. He knew she wasn’t joking.
“Oh, uh, alright. Time to get started then?”
“Mhm.” She led the new student to the back of the house, past the laundry room, where an unceremonious wooden door led to the cellar. “The one bad thing about not living in the city is I can’t hire an exterminator, so watch out for the creepy crawlies.” She got a few steps down before crying out, “Argh, I’m such a dunce, almost forgot about the light…” She trotted back up the stairs, flipped the lights to the basement on and carried on.
A few roaches scattered from the light, but all things considered it was far more sanitary than the places the rest of Apex liked to hang out. The basement was a nice soft brown, with wood that hardly even creaked. In the rear, past the water cooler, Mouse was strapped into an oxygen chamber. IV drips brought isotonic saline into her veins and a catheter made sure it wouldn’t make a mess when it came back out. She wore a mask that looked like a crab glued to her face, which periodically she breathed a clear gas into, collecting in a gas tank. At first Mouse tried to be a stubborn hardass, so Martha had to prod her with electrical shocks. Pavlovian conditioning won out in the end.
“She awake in there?” Charlie asked, tapping on the glass. Mouse’s eyes turned to him, narrowing into angry slits.
“Oh yes, most of the time.” Martha soaked in Mouse’s pained wheezes. “It’s amazing what the human body can stay awake through.” She gestured towards the gas tank. “That’s a nerve agent I’m working on. Fairly typical symptoms – muscle convulsions, salivation, defecation and in the unlucky, asphyxiation. Be a sweetheart and fetch me a 250 milliliter sample.”
“Yeah, no problem.” Charlie took a tube from a box and went to work. “Isn’t she gonna get like, ulcers or something if she just lies there all day?”
Martha snorted. “Do I look like I give a shit? She killed my mother.”
“Oh.” He patted the chamber as he got up from his crouch. “Then serves you right, bitch.”
Martha took the sample from him and sat in an office chair, rolling over to a cage where her test subject – a mouse, fittingly – was nibbling on its breakfast. She switched her camera on. “This is Martha Napier. It’s 9:27 AM on July 17th, 2023. I’m about to begin test one for Project Kadath.”
As the sample began to waft in, it was only possible to pinpoint its location by the way light rippled through it. The mouse, though, knew something was wrong immediately and began to sniff. It managed a horribly shrill scream before toppling onto its side, legs kicking wildly in all directions. Soon, though, the only motor functions left were short, sporadic death spasms. A muffled growl came from Mouse’s chamber.
“Oh, shut up,” Martha snapped. She almost knocked the office chair over as she stomped over and administered an electric shock through the chamber. Mouse’s head slammed into the plexiglass as she recoiled. “You should be grateful. If Skinnyman hadn’t wanted you, I’d have killed you.”
Mouse’s eyes twinkled with hate, but she made no further noise. Martha grabbed a bottle of sanitizer and slathered her hands. What a terrible time for her phone to go off… The area code on the caller ID was Ugandan. It had to be the boss’ daily throwaway.
“Charlie, detox the cage and perform an autopsy on the critter. I have to take this.” Charlie gave a salute. She rolled her eyes as she turned and walked up the stairs, cell phone held to her ear by her shoulder. “Morning boss.”
“Good morning. Is our pale friend re-acclimating?” His voice was garbled far beyond its regular tenor, but his tone was steady, almost pleasant.
“She had an absolute fit last night, but tuckered herself out pretty quick. It’ll be awhile before I attempt to let her stretch her legs, though. Anyways, the Kadath test seems to have gone swimmingly. Your new student is picking the test subject apart.”
“Excellent. I’ll forward you the rest of the compounds I’d like you to produce shortly. However, there is a brief matter I wish to discuss, and I’ll be terse about it. Why did you leave Jessica alive?”
Martha felt a chill trickle down her neck, like a bead of sweat. “She’s not a threat, sir, she’s a pathetic drunkard. And death is letting that matricidal bitch off the hook. She deserves to suffer.”
“I thought the same of Detective Higgins. Then he gave his vigilante rescuer state sanctioning.” Skinnyman let a moment of silence drive the point home. Silly as it was, Martha averted her gaze as if he were standing there. “Jake Rivers was interrogated by Jessica last night. Interrogated with powers. She was asking questions about our operation.”
Martha pinched her nose and sighed. “Goddammit… I’ll handle it, sir. I think I might have a better idea.”
“I trust that your solution will be to my satisfaction. Few have that trust.” Martha involuntarily exhaled.
“Hey Martha, you’ll wanna see this when you’re done!” Charlie called up the stairs. A perfect excuse.
“I’ll call you back later, something’s come up.” She hung up and made her way back down. He pointed excitedly with the scalpel at tiny greenish blotches on the mouse’s skin, where the fur had fallen away.
“I think it’s the early stages of necrosis,” he said, “But it’s only been a few minutes. That kinda stuff doesn’t usually show up for hours.”
“Increase the PPM of oxygen then run another test,” she ordered, grabbing her coffee cup. “I have another matter to attend to.”