Vorpal: Gyre and Gimble #7
Stephan Arceneaux leaned his head against the cold glass of the car’s window and watched the steadily intensifying snow begin to blanket Marseilles. The weather reports all concurred that a blizzard was coming, but that wasn’t why he’d left the club early.
The car was well heated, so he unbuttoned his wool overcoat, indirectly loosing the scent of mingled perfumes that had gathered on his metallic blue clubbing shirt from all the women he’d kept company with over even such a short time. It brought with it memories of dazed expressions and fingers that trembled with uncertainty even as they rubbed his chest and arms.
“I think tonight was my last night going to clubs, Arnold.” He said in quiet French.
“Do not worry, Monsieur Arceneaux,” replied Arnold. “Your power is not so easy to detect.”
When Stephan declared his intention to take the year off from university and travel around getting to know his country better, the condition his parents set on their approval was that he travel with a bodyguard. Arnold was the fulfillment of that condition and also served as driver, guide and confidant. His mother was French, his father Turkish and he’d been in private security his entire life.
Stephan fluttered his coat to try and diffuse the perfume. “De La Fonataine’s law isn’t what’s got me so concerned tonight. It’s just that I can’t do it anymore. Just the simple act of flirting is dangerous now, because I never know when I’ll suddenly start using my ability.”
“It can’t be that bad can it?”
“Worse.” Stephan’s breath fogged the window. “You haven’t seen them, Arnold. It’s like they can sense something’s wrong and can’t stop themselves. It isn’t that my Voice makes me charming or irresistible, it is mind control, pure and simple. No better than drugging them and I couldn’t live with myself if…”
He moved away from the window and put his face in his palms. I need to get a handle on this. Turning it on is no issue, but sometimes it works when I don’t want it to and people do as I say when I don’t mean it. Today it’s flirting, but tomorrow, what if I lose my temper and tell someone to kill themselves? Perhaps if I cannot gain control of this cursed voice of mine, I should stop speaking altogether.”
Arnold looked at him, sitting there in the back seat, in the rearview mirror. “Monsieur, you don’t mean that. As much as you enjoy talking?”
Stephan chuckled a little at that. He more often than not talked the bodyguard’s ear off at every turn. “That I do. But how can I justify it if I’m hurting people? The best I can do is use my voice again to tell them to forget.”
“Is there no one who can help you?”
“I’ve yet to hear of a place that disables psionic powers as out patient surgery.”
“Perhaps not, Monsieur, but training. If you look hard enough, there are classes for everything in a big enough city. You could search Paris, Versailles, the internet?” He smiled broadly at the last one.
Again, Stephan had to laugh even though he was still feeling like brooding. “Not in this country at least. Not if I don’t want to get drafted into the army.”
Arnold made a rude sound. “As much as your parents paid toward de La Fontaine taking the presidency? The least he could do would be overlooking the fact that you have powers.”
Stephan didn’t reply to that. He didn’t like how his family did things. Feeding political corruption was a lesser sin compared to the things their holdings still perpetrated in Africa and Southeast Asia. The family business. The family tradition. Somehow that was supposed to make it right.
He imagined how incredibly dangerous he would be if he shared their attitude and still had his powers. No one would be safe unless they never, ever spoke to him in person. Sometimes he daydreamed of doing just that. Not that he would admit it to anyone.
All the more reason to seek to curb it if he could.
“Maybe I should just look into the rumors that the British have founded a school. Suppose I’m too old?”
Arnold started to reply, but something in the road caught his attention and he swerved to avoid it.
The big town car slid on the snow covered road, snapping from one direction to another as Arnold fought for control. Something hit the door beside Stephan hard amid all the confusion, cracking the window right where he’d been resting his head. After what seemed like forever, Stephan came back to himself to find that he was clutching his safety belt like a lifeline, terrified breath coming shallow and rapid from his chest.
Arnold was undoing his own seat belt even as he turned to check on his charge. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t think I’m hurt.” Stephan gasped. His eyes refocused when he heard the driver’s side door open. “Where are you going?”
Halfway out of the car already, Arnold didn’t bother looking back. “There was a person in the road. I think we hit them. And if so, they may need medical attention. Bring the first aid kit.”
Stephan moved to the opposite window, the rear one on the driver’s side and saw the big man trundling through the blowing snow toward something dark and person shaped lying on the road. Nausea roiled in his stomach. Was that person dead? Had they just killed someone?
He tried to get a handle on his breathing as he leaned over the front seat to open the console where the first aid kit was kept. It felt like it took him far too long with many clumsy movements before he pulled the sleek, white box out and threw the door open to deliver it to Arnold.
The blizzard was setting in proper. The cold wind gathered in his open coat and whipped it around him in a whirlwind of fluttering, black wool. His shoes, purchased for the look, did nothing to keep out the wet and the cold on top of threatening to slip out form under him every step.
By the time he reached them, Arnold was kneeling beside the poor unfortunate soul. The bodyguard took the kit and opened it, retrieving the triage scanner first. While he was setting it up, Stephan took a closer look at the person on the ground.
Even coming from the club, he hadn’t seen a costume that was quite the same brand of strange as the one on the woman lying in the snow. It was partially shredded by dozens of small cuts that congregated around her right shoulder, upper arm and side. There were still pieces of glass in the wound and her shoulder was at an odd angle; dislocated. There was also a hole over her ribs that was slowly leaking blood into the snow. Her left arm was clearly broken and from how she was breathing, so were some of her ribs.
“Mademoiselle?” Arnold had the triage scanner running and was passing it over her body. “Mademoiselle, can you hear me?”
The injured woman muttered something and tried to turn over, presumably to stand. Her wounds swiftly make themselves known and she screamed out into the gathering whiteness. Through the eye-slit in her mask, tears began to glitter and she started murmuring in a foreign language. Stephan picked out some English and another tongue he couldn’t identify.
“She doesn’t have any spine or neck injuries.” Arnold reported, just loud enough for Stephan to hear.. “We can move her and that’s good—this weather could easily kill her.” Louder, for her benefit, he said, “You’ve been in an accident and need to go to the hospital.”
“No.” She said and then began repeating it over and over.
“Mademoiselle, I’m sorry, but without a doctor, you may be in serious danger. A blizzard is coming and we need to get you off the street.” Ignoring the woman’s protests, Arnold looked to Stephan. “Are her legs hurt in any way you can see?”
Stephan looked, crouching to see clearly before shaking his head.
“Good. Then I am going to bring the car closer and you and I will very carefully put her in the back seat.”
Stephan looked around desperately. “What about an ambulance? If we move here, with the way she’s hurt, we’ll put her in a lot of pain.”
Arnold stood up. “And if we stand here waiting, she’ll have hypothermia on top of it.” He didn’t wait for Stephan’s reply. Stephan didn’t try either. The message was clear: a life was on the line and any sort of employer/employee dynamic was now suspended because only Arnold knew what to do.
Doing his best to shield her from the wind and the snow with his body, Stephan leaned over the prone woman.
“No hospital.” She said, her eyes wild and watching things that weren’t there. “No police. Please…”
It was all in English. Stephan wondered if she was a tourist. Maybe her bizarre costume was the new fashion wherever she was from. She almost had figure of a model, though it was hard to tell given her injuries and position.
“We have to.” He replied, also in English. “You’re hurt. Badly. Still bleeding.”
“No.” She said, her voice becoming a throaty growl. “I won’t!” Her attempt to reach out and presumably strike him ended in earsplitting shrieks of pain that broke down into involuntary sobs. “Ruy.” She murmured, eyes rolling in her head. “Please… I…”
Once more, she tried to move with much the same results.
Stephan looked up to see that Arnold had the car moving, but slowly. It wouldn’t do for him to slide into them and make things worse. But that left him alone to find a way to keep the strange woman from hurting herself in her frenzy.
And there was only one way he knew of with so little to work with.
“Shh.” He said and licked his lips to warm them against the cold. “Before I do this, I wan you to know I am not the kind of person who just does things like this. I am a good man. I want to be a good man. But if I don’t do this, you’re going to harm yourself worse than you are now. Sp… please forgive me.”
He took a deep breath and focused inwardly. Something opened deep down in his lungs, or at least that’s how it felt when he put The Voice to work voluntarily. His lungs, his throat and his mouth felt like they were vibrating long before he started to speak; before he put the words together.
It took some thought to give a good command. People interpreted them in the most simple way possible and followed them to the word. If he left things open ended, they would keep doing whatever they were doing until they were exhausted.
“Until a doctor sees you, be calm and lie still.”
As soon as she heard it, she stopped trying to move. Her eyes fluttered and she finally seemed to focus on him. Whether there was an accusation there, or if that was Stephan’s accusation, he thought the words behind those eyes were obvious: ‘What did you do to me?’.
He looked away and didn’t look up until he heard the crunch of tires on snow and the low hum of the electric engine.
Arnold leapt out and tried to open the passenger side rear door. It wouldn’t move. In fact, the handle was badly warped and the surface of the door itself was deformed into a ripple pattern. He puzzled at this, but there was no time to put a great deal of thought into it. Instead, he opened the door on the other side and hurried back to Stephan’s side.
“She isn’t struggling anymore.” He commented as he knelt to scoop her up as carefully as he could. His concern deepened whens he didn’t react to what had to be incredibly painful with more than a short gasp.
Stephan pulled his coat closed around him and turned away, moving toward the front passenger door. “I won’t want to speak of it.”
“You are the one who brought her in?”
Stephan looked up from where he’d been dozing in the lobby of the emergency room. He didn’t even know what hospital it was, only that it was the nearest one from the scene of the accident. Arnold had disappeared to get coffee.
He nodded without a word. He hadn’t said anything since he got in the car.
The doctor speaking to him was a short man of Indian origin, but who spoke French fluently. He was bald except for a partial ring of hair that started from his temples and went around the back of his head. A pair of glasses balanced on his nose.
“Do you know this young woman?”
Stephan shook his head and croaked. “No. We hit her with our car.”
The doctor, whose ID said was named Benipuri, frowned and pushed up his glasses. “Yes, your driver said the same. And her broken arm, dislocated hip and two broken ribs as well as the attendant contusions corroborate that. However, this young woman was badly hurt before that happened. She has lacerations, which still carried some of the plate glass that incised the wounds, we found a cauterized wound track from some sort of projectile, her shoulder is dislocated, and both ankles are sprained in a way consistent with a controlled fall. Where were you when you hit her again?”
Stephan told him. Dr. Benipuri nodded, looking concerned.
“She’ll survive, yes?” asked Stephan.
“Yes, I believe she will. She’s stable, but I’m concerned for her in other areas. For one, she fought the nurses when they tried to remove her mask. And her costume… I don’t know what to make of it. We had to cut it off her as we couldn’t find any other way to open it.”
The doctor looked highly uncomfortable. “Monsieur Arceneaux, occasionally, we have young women admitted here; injured in strange and unlikely manners, never willing to identify themselves, and ignorant of our language. They are victims of human trafficking, of clubs that serve certain illegal clientele. I regret to inform you that you and your driver may have stumbled across another victim.”
Stephan felt disgust for the very idea rolling in his gut. “Any idea who did this to her then?”
“I cannot speculate. That is a matter for the police. I’ve already filed a report, but with the storm, they will likely not arrive until morning. They will want statements from you and your driver. Then you may go on your way.”
A nod from Stephan and the doctor started to move away. But the young man raised a hand to stop him. “May I see her?”
Dr. Benipuri considered him carefully, making no secret that he entertained the possibility that he might be the one that put the young woman in the condition she was in. Whatever he was searching for, he either found it, or didn’t, because he nodded. “Yes. But once she comes out of anesthesia. I will send a nurse when she’s awake.”
The sky had lightened, but the snow was still coming down, hiding the sun’s face when a gentle touch woke Stephan again.
He returned to his sense groggily, registering again the dull blues and whites of the waiting room. Arnold was across from him, hands folded in his lap, head bowed in sleep. The nurse was standing to his right, reaching to nudge him once more. She was middle aged and still pretty with dark hair and large, dark eyes. Strangely, to his mind at least, she was speaking English with a heavy accent.
“Hmm?” He asked her eloquently.
“I am Nurse Addison. I am taking care of the young woman you bought in. The doctor left instructions to bring you to her when she woke up.”
Cognition started working for him again. “Ah.” He said in French. “You’re assigned to her because she doesn’t speak our language.”
Nurse Addison nodded. “We have no one who speaks Portuguese,” She switched seamlessly to French. “And I am the only one who knows enough English that managed to come in today.”
Stephan nodded. “Thank you. Please; take me to her.”
The nurse did as asked, taking him through a set of automatic doors and down a hallway of emergency examination rooms until they came to the one containing the person he sought.
She was still wearing her mask and was elevated only slightly. Wireless monitoring devices dotted ever inch of exposed flesh, which wasn’t much, given the cast on one arm, and the bandages binding her other arm to her body and still more covering her stitches.
Her head moved slightly to look at him. The eyes behind the mask were sharp and alert and dissected him where he stood. “You’re the one that bought me here.” She said quietly. It wasn’t a question.
“Don’t rush to thank me.” Stephan stepped forward and Nurse Addison detached from his side, moving down the hallway to afford them privacy. “We only bought you here because we hit you.” His expression grew dire. “What happened to you?”
“Not what they think.” she said with a sneer in her voice, disdaining the theory the nurse had already floated to her. “But I do need to leave here.”
“You’re hurt.” Stephan protested. “And some of that is my fault.”
She rolled her eyes and the lingering anesthetic made her dizzy for it. “Not as much as I’ll be if the police get involved.” Stubborn to the last, she tried to grasp the railing of her bed, but pain lanced up her arm. The railing warped.
Stephan watched with sudden fascination. “Or the military. Am I right?” He wasn’t about to call her a psionic aloud with others around to hear.
She looked at the railing and behind her mask, scowled. “Yeah. Or them.”
“No matter what, I can’t stand by and allow that.” said Stephan. Part of it was some mad, misguided chivalry, part of it was the fact that she might remember him using his power on her and drag him down with her. “Don’t worry, I can make it so you can stay here and avoid the police.”
I can’t say, even looking back on it now if I would have helped her if I knew the truth then. Maybe in another lifetime, I simply made her forget me, but in this one, I could not leave her alone. I still cannot. Forever, my first memory of her; that helpless girl bleeding out in the snow, overrides that capable and fearsome assassin that I know her to be.
The day, both of our lives changed and if I am honest, Is till can’t say if it was for better or for worse. Perhaps once day, I will chronicle what happened after and how the two of us got where we are today. But this was her story, not our story. Its purpose was to tell the whole story, as I understand it, of Zoe McNamara and why she is Vorpal.
I hope that by recounting this to myself, I will eventually learn how to bring Zoe back.
End Vorpal: Gyre and Gimble.
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