Missing!

1 post / 0 new
liarliar
liarliar's picture
Offline
Last seen: 4 weeks 17 hours ago
Joined: Oct 10, 2016
Missing!

Maia usually had fun with French. It was a straightforward language, compared to some of the others she’d mastered, and flowed smoothly as she spoke it. It reminded her of French pastries and French wine. And it was funny to watch the men in the class who clearly thought that this, at last, would make them irresistible to women. A few of them had even attempted to hit on her, over the last few weeks of classes, and their stumbling, awkward pick-up lines had given her endless entertainment.
Unfortunately this week she was distracted. Not by anything too important – criminal activity had been a little low in the last few weeks, and she’d been getting an uncommon amount of rest as a result. No, her distraction was the little matter of a missing classmate.
Really his absence shouldn’t be bothering her. Students missed classes all the time, because of assignments, or parties, or hangovers, or a breakup so bad that they were lying around cocooned in bedsheets and wishing for the world to end so they didn’t have to feel sad any more. He could be missing for any number of reasons. But Malcolm had always seemed to be such a dedicated student, and one of the smarter ones – he could even keep up with Maia, more or less. He didn’t strike her as the kind of person who would miss classes without a seriously good reason. It followed logically that…
Professor Holtz was staring at her. Whoops.
“Ms. Montgomery?”
“Ah, yes Professor?”
She'd hoped to sound polite and attentive, but from the set of his eyes, hadn't quite pulled it off. He pursed his lips. “As I said, would you feel able to translate the next few lines for us? All the way until the end of the paragraph, if you please.”
She glanced back down at her text, and read as smoothly as she could.
Those who anticipated the discovery of a crime were, sadly, not deceived.” She continued smoothly until the end, and smiled at a job well done. Professor Holtz was still staring, and twitched his moustache as she finished. “Hmph. Very good, Ms. Montgomery. Perhaps you’re not as inattentive as you seem.”
She clamped her teeth together to hold back a sharp response. Besides, he wasn’t wrong – she had been drifting off. Best to focus now, and work on the mystery later.
When class finally ended, the students quickly grabbed their things and started to disperse, but Maia found her target and moved in before she could get away. She put on a glowing smile.
“Hey Paula. How’s it going?”
Paula Direen was a biomed student, just like Malcolm, and something like as smart. Although not as friendly, which was currently showing in the pair of suspicious eyes staring from under a flow of light-brown hair.
“Fine. I’m fine. What do you need?”
“I was wondering if you’d seen Malcolm lately? I haven’t known him to miss class before.”
She blinked, and glanced around at their disappearing classmates. “Oh, I didn’t realise he’d missed this one. I guess...I don’t really remember the last time I saw him. Maybe…a week ago? Or two? Sorry. I’ve got to go, I have work to do. I’m sure he’ll turn up.”
She scurried away, leaving Maia frowning at her back. That vague answer had done nothing to ease her concerns – if anything, it had started the itching on the back of her neck that always told her things were serious. And that feeling wasn’t going to leave until she’d done a full, proper, thorough investigation.

Reimannschneider University’s medical research centre was clean, sterile, and utterly labyrinthine. Maia spent a good ten minutes walking down identical corridors before finding her way to the right office. When she arrived, Professor Monkshood was sitting bent over her desk, muttering sharply as she scrawled something incomprehensible, and glaring down at her work, her long hair draped over thin hands that scurried like spiders. Whatever it was, she was engrossed – she hadn’t even heard Maia enter.
She coughed politely, and the Professor’s glare snapped up from the papers, locked onto her face, and intensified. “Yes? What do you want?”
“Professor Monkshood?” The glare was intimidating, true, but Maia had been glared at by champions in her little time as the Wraith, and an ordinary professor couldn’t compare. She wasn’t even armed. “I’m sorry to interrupt. My name is Maia Montgomery, I’m here about a student of yours.”
The glare faded by a few watts, letting a slight hint of puzzlement creep in. “Montgomery? I think I’ve heard the name. You aren’t one of mine, are you?”
“No, I’m not. You might be thinking of my parents’ company, Montgomery Industries?” After all, it was one of the biggest organisations in Rook City, only really rivalled by Pike Industrial, and if not exactly a household name, it was still well known by businesspeople across the country.
“Ah yes, of course. The rich girl.” The dismissal was familiar, but its scornful tone still stung. “What do you need here?”
“I’m looking for Malcolm Smith. He hasn’t been around for the last week or so, but I thought he might have checked in with you, since you’re-”
Miss Montgomery.” Maia cocked her head. “Allow me to correct your assumptions. I do not keep such a close eye on my students as you think. If they come to classes, good. If they do not come to classes, then they do not pass. That is where the student teacher relationship ends.”
She frowned down at the Professor. A host of criticisms gathered on her tongue, but she held them back and kept her questions focused. “Surely you have some thoughts on where he might be. Do you know what he was focusing on?”
“Something on the medical value of hypnosis, I believe. A rather dubious field, historically, but he said he had ideas for improvement. Well, maybe he did.” The professor pursed thin lips. “Frankly, Miss Montgomery, it is likely he merely could not take the pressure and decided to leave. Many of my students have done this before. It is nothing for you to be concerned about – if he were suited to the work, he would have found a way to remain here. Since he is not, it is better he leave without fuss. No doubt he felt the same.”
Anyone who didn’t know Maia wouldn’t have spotted the change in her mood. Her movements stilled a little, her eyes widened just a fraction. Like so much about her, her anger was subtle.
“Really? That seems a little...well, callous. Don’t you feel a responsibility to help your students develop?” Or at least survive? God knows student life is hard enough, without adding in staff who would deny assistance to their students just to save themselves a little time and effort. Some people just shouldn’t work with anyone young or vulnerable.
Professor Monkshood shrugged. “I am not their mother or their guidance counsellor, and I am certainly not here to make their lives easy. I am here to teach. Will that be all?”

Even as she left the building, Maia was fuming. The irresponsible, dismissive apathy of that woman! That she had the gall to actually boast of students abandoning her class! The absolute shamelessness of it!
She took a moment to lean a hand on the wall, and just breathe for a moment as she controlled her temper. Deep breaths, in, out. Focus on the feeling of the brickwork under her hand, the soft chill of the breeze, the sounds of early spring that were starting to make themselves heard through the emptiness of winter.
What had she learned? Not much. Despite his brilliance, Malcolm had apparently not made much of an impression, beyond an interest in a discredited field. She’d heard of the supposed medical benefits of hypnosis before, as a possible alternative to traditional painkillers, but it seemed to be one of those advancements that was perpetually five-to-ten years away. If Malcolm had made some breakthrough, would that be valuable to someone? Might it be worth kidnapping or killing its creator?
That was a thought she would have liked to dismiss, but she had seen too much of Rook City to believe it. The local organised crime syndicate had a strange but strong interest in science, and sometimes she’d even had to foil foreign spies who paid a little too much attention to what students were developing. If she pursued this to the end and it turned out he had just given up on study, or gone on a drunken binge...well, she might feel silly for worrying about it. But better to do something and be proven wrong, than to do nothing and find his corpse in an alleyway somewhere.
She shook her head. Tiredness and frustration were making her grim. Malcolm would be fine, she would make sure of it.
But how? She looked around for anything that might give her an idea...and as her eyes drifted up, they spotted something obvious. Something that would make a very good start.
She smiled, and her reflection smiled back, peeking out from the lens of the security camera.

Breaking into the security offices was almost depressingly easy. She’d broken into a few places like it over the last months as the Wraith, but most were a little better equipped. Of course, some places had more valuable things to watch over than mere students.
She slipped through the hallways, a darkness within the darkness, and found her way to the surveillance room. It wasn’t much – a couple of monitors, switching endlessly between cameras. But despite the cheap and frankly inadequate surrounds that were causing her to mentally draft a haughty letter to the administration (probably in the name of her parents, just to lend it a little more weight), this was exactly what she’d come for. She sat down and familiarised herself with the layout. It looked like the cameras all sent their feeds constantly to storage on the security computers. The physical hard drives were probably somewhere else in this building, but this terminal had full access – or it did once she’d broken in and persuaded it that she had the authority to look into anything she felt like – so it would do well enough for her.
She’d last seen Malcolm at class a week ago, so she found the cameras that watched the entrances of his college and started spooling through the footage, skipping over the days and just watching at night. He might have snuck off during the day, of course, but she had a feeling that he might want to be completely unnoticed, and Reimannscheider wasn’t so big that you could altogether disappear in the crowd.
There, that looked like him, leaving the college building through a side entrance. She checked the timestamp – around three on Monday morning, a couple of days after their last class together, and a time when even students would generally be dead to the world. He would have been pretty sure that there would be nobody around to see him going.
She followed his movements from camera to camera. He was walking normally, for all the world seeming as if he were taking the same trip he’d made every day. She almost worried that this story would end in a mugging and a murder, but the tapes showed nothing so dramatic – he made it to a carpark, unlocked a dark sedan, and drove away, without even the decency to give her a good look at the plates as he went.
And at no point did she see anyone else. It looked as though whatever he was doing, he was doing alone.
She sat back and considered. Any way she looked at it, this didn’t make sense. An apparently involved, interested and engaged student suddenly decided to leave of his own volition, without telling anyone where he was going or why. The only possibility was that he had made some sort of a breakthrough in his research, and that had...what? Inspired him to leave the country?
Well, that was a possibility, and if it was correct it would probably end her investigation right there. Even if he’d only fled the state, it would be difficult to track him down. But she was getting ahead of herself – and as her father always said, enough trouble in this world would come straight to you, so there was no need to invent your own. She’d leave this worrying line of thought unless some actual evidence came up to suggest it.
Still, that left her with very little to go on.

The next morning she was surly – both from lack of sleep, and lack of answers. Her eyes ached, and her throat felt somehow grimy. Some day, she promised herself, some day she’d get used to this ridiculous schedule. In the mean time, she pushed through with extra makeup and strong coffee, and covered her mood with a friendly smile that was no less a mask than the one she wore at night.
It was a Thursday morning, bright and early, and she didn’t have any classes until later in the day, so she was free to wander the campus at will, so her walk took her quickly to Malcolm’s dormitory – the same building she’d watched him subtly abandon through the camera’s recording. Hopefully someone here would know him well enough to point her in the right direction.
Well, she didn’t have any better ideas.
She mentioned his name to a few people, and showed a picture that she’d taken from his student file. The first few she asked were uninterested or busy, and brushed her aside. She kept asking. After about a dozen, she was starting to think he’d managed to be completely disconnected from everyone around him, an unlikely accomplishment for a man with his looks. Was he really that secretive?
Then she showed the picture to a pretty young woman with short-cropped hair, and the woman’s eyes lit up.
“Oh, Malcolm! Yeah, he’s gorgeous, right?” There was a sudden flash of worry. “Is he alright?”
Maia smiled disarmingly. “Oh, I’m sure he is. We’re just supposed to be working together, and he’s disappeared on me. Do you have any idea where he might have gone to?”
The girl frowned thoughtfully. “Not really. But Annie might know.” She turned and called to a friend, who came jogging straight over with a bright smile, blonde hair bouncing as she did so.
"What's up?"
"Hey, you know Malcolm?"
"Oh, the hot future doctor?" She grinned. "Yeah, I know him. Why?"
Maia butted in. "I'm trying to get in touch with him, for class, you know? But nobody seems to know where he is. Have you seen him?"
Annie cocked her head a little in thought. "Yeah, I saw him. On, um, Sunday night. He was getting pretty cuddly with some girl." The other woman looked a little shocked at this revelation. "Sorry, Julie."
This would only have been a few hours before he showed up on the security cameras - and if he'd been with a woman, she might know where he is, or at least help her in the right direction. "Did you get a good look at her?"
"Not really. She looked a little bit geeky, you know? Brunette, about your height or a little shorter, kind of dressed like a librarian." That sounded awfully familiar. "But I guess that's what he likes. They looked seriously into each other, you know? I saw them go inside together, and I mean, I didn't exactly expect to see either of them for a while after that, you know? But if he's vanished, maybe she might know where he'd be?"
"Yeah, good thinking! Thanks!" And it certainly was. It was about time to go and see Paula again, and ask her where exactly Malcolm had ended up. She was planning to ask a little more firmly than last time.

Paula, as it turned out, lived off-campus in the city somewhere, and drove in every day. It was almost tragically easy to get into the student database, find her personal details, and cross-reference that to city records to find out her car registration. That information, added to the class schedule that she'd pulled from the database, led her to a carpark outside an old stone building on the west side of campus, where it took her only a minute or two of investigation to find Paula's car. It was a brutally functional little sedan of an unassuming blue, almost as uninteresting as Maia's own – and she was making a special effort not to draw attention, while Paula was presumably just naturally this dull.
She took a moment to scold herself for being judgmental. It was still possible that Paula was an innocent bystander to this whole matter, and that the clues pointing her way were just coincidental.
Not enormously likely, at this point, but possible.
She parked herself nearby, in a spot not too close but with a good view of Paula's car, and sat down to wait.

Hours later, the sun was going down, and Maia was finding prime factors in her head in a desperate attempt to stay awake and focused. Staking out a car for most of a day was not thrilling, even under these circumstances. But she kept her mind on the job, and her eyes on the car.
A building's doors closed with a slam, and she flicked a glance that way. A glimpse of that same brown hair, and suddenly it was very easy to pay attention. She didn't move, didn't do anything that might call attention, just watched carefully as Paula hurriedly clambered into her car, slammed the door shut, and drove off.
She took two slow, patient breaths, and then started her car.
Finally, the hunt was on.

Paula's car wound through the darkening streets of Rook City, deeper into the bad parts of town. The city had had an industrial boom a few decades ago, before Maia was born, and the wreckage of that time scarred its face even now, with abandoned factories, warehouses and laboratories scattered across vast areas. And Greenstreets, where they seemed to be heading, was one of the worst areas of all.
Which told Maia that either Paula was the one she was looking for, or she was seriously cheaping out on rent.
In better times, Greenstreets had been a nice place – industrial, but spaced out with parks, and with a few wide roads lined with trees. Now, those trees were dead, the parks were brown and ugly, and the only people who wandered the streets were addicts and their dealers. And there weren't a lot of cars. Consequently, she was doing her best to be inconspicuous, leaving a long gap between her car and Paula's. The bright side was, the lack of many other drivers meant that it was harder for her to lose Paula in the crowd, especially since, boring though it was, her car was a lot nicer than most of the others around here. That meant she had a good view of it when it found a space on the side of the road and parked.
Maia did the same, pulling over as soon as she could, and watching as Paula got out and walked just a little way, up to a large, dirty building. She couldn't tell what it was – or rather, what it had been – as her quarry stepped down to a basement entrance, and out of sight.
She gave it five more seconds, then ducked down into the back seat of her car to change.
When she stepped out, she was entirely the Wraith – wrapped in bandages and shadow, a creature of darkness. A vengeful spirit, sent to pursue earthly justice.
She moved unseen to the same entrance Paula had used. It was a solid-looking door with an electronic lock that took all of about five seconds for her wrist-computer to hack through, then it clicked open and she was inside. The corridors were quiet and dark, and she felt very much at home as she slipped through the dusty shadows. In the distance there was the hum of electricity, and she slunk closer as quickly as she could. As she approached, the sounds divided into distinct parts – electric lights, air vents pumping into the underground complex, and other, more unfamiliar noises that she couldn’t quite place. She rounded a corner, and saw light streaming out through a doorway.
That had to be it. She slowed, moved closer as carefully as she could, despite the feeling in her blood urging her forwards. Someone inside the room shuffled a few steps, and she knew it was the moment of truth. One way or another, this would get her to the bottom of this mystery. She moved fast, burst around the corner, and hissed: “Don’t move.” And suddenly she was glad that her mask covered her look of shock.
Malcolm was tall and slender in his lab coat, focusing on a whirring machine, monitoring a few dials while a large beaker bubbled nearby. He turned to look at her, looming out of the darkness, and his expression didn’t change – it was as blank and unconcerned as if he were watching sugar dissolve into his coffee. There was something very wrong about it. He took a heavy step towards her, and she took two back.
“Malcolm? I've come to help you. Are you okay?”
“You’re the Wraith. Know my orders. Have to stop you.”
He took a swing at her, moving quicker than she’d expected – there was strength under that coat, and his long arms were an advantage against her size. She backed into the corridor, and he followed her into the darkness. He struck again, and she ducked under the swing, jabbed a fist into his side as she moved lightly around him. He barely grunted. She followed up with another pair of jabs as he swung around, then his arm caught her and sent her flying back. She flipped backwards as she rode out the blow, landed on her feet, and backed up, put a little distance between them as he lumbered gracelessly towards her.
He was moving strangely, whatever was making him act this way was making him graceless and slow. But while he was trying to beat her like this, she had no time for questions about why he was doing it.
She took careful aim with the stunner strapped to her wrist, and the little device fired right into Malcolm’s chest, sparking as it landed. He took another step forward, slow but steady, and another, tore the bolt from his chest with one hand and threw it aside. Maia growled low in her throat, and dashed forwards, inside his reach, and as he raised his fists and sent one flying towards her face, she ducked down, drove her hand up into his solar plexus, hitting hard and pushing the air out of his lungs, bending him forwards. It didn't drop him, but she didn't give him the time to recover. She hit again and again, pounding into his stomach, his chest, hitting every vulnerable spot that she could, while he was too stunned to respond, finishing up with a hard uppercut that slammed into his jaw. It sent him straight upright, staring dimly down at her, and then – he stumbled back, and fell hard, motionless.
She moved forward, retrieved her dart and checked his pulse, which was doing fine, slow, but regular. Now she had to see what he had been working on, and find out what was going on here.
The lights flickered a little as she stepped inside the lab. The room was larger than she’d realised at first, and messier than she'd ever known Malcolm to be. Unlike the ordered way he'd kept himself in class, this place was crowded with equipment and mess – in one nearby corner of the room, there was even a pile of empty food containers next to a dirty mattress. Was he living here? She shook her head – these distractions weren't important. She'd seen Paula come in here, and given that she'd actually found Malcolm, it was all but certain that she was the guilty party. Now, where was she? The Wraith looked further into the room, peering around the humming, bubbling equipment.
There – just feet away, on the other side of the laboratory, was Paula. She was wearing a gas mask, but Maia could still read the confidence in her posture. Well, that was about to change. She strode quickly towards the student scientist – but as she got near, the woman sternly said:
“Stop.”
And she did.
She was suddenly standing completely still, and the change was so abrupt that she nearly stumbled forwards. But she kept her balance, with her feet rooted to the spot while her eyes darted back and forth, looking for an escape. What was going on? Why couldn't she move?
“Look at me.”
She stopped, and stared straight into Paula’s eyes. “What have you done to me?”
The voice under the mask sounded amused, as it said: “I don’t know what you mean. Now, Wraith, do as I say. Take off your mask.”
She resisted, fought for every inch as her fingers curled and her elbows bent, and gradually, gradually her hands rose to her face. They faltered for a moment, and her will redoubled, dragging her hands to a stop. Paula glared.
“Take. It. Off.”
The hands kept moving. They took a firm grip, and to Maia’s horror – they pulled down her mask and showed her face.
Paula took a step back in shock. “Maia? Maia Montgomery?” Her eyes were wide, and face had lost all colour under her gas mask. But she recovered her composure quickly, and those wide eyes narrowed viciously. “You know, that actually makes sense. No wonder the Wraith is so interested in what goes on at the University. And it makes sense that you always seem to be asking strange questions. I thought you were just eccentric, but this...well. Not only has Malcolm perfected the formula, but I’ve used it to defeat the Wraith for good. Quite a successful night.”
Finally the clues clicked in her mind – too late, she cursed herself, too late to be of any use. “That’s how you did this. You dosed me with Malcolm’s project.” Her voice sounded strangely distant and flat, with none of the horror she felt.
“That’s right. A very special gas, cooked up in order to further his studies. I’ve had him making industrial quantities, and refining his method." She gestured around at the lab, proudly displaying her success. "It’s now quite harmless, almost odourless and practically invisible. And it makes its subjects amazingly suggestible. Enough to do exactly as they’re told. Can you imagine what’s that worth? You could have spies tell you any secret, guards let you into any facility. And he wanted to use it for medicine!” She laughed, and it was a cruel, cold sound. “He had no idea what he’d made. Well, of course I had to take it from him. It was easy enough to slip him a dose while he was showing it off to me, and once I’d done that all I needed to do was tell him to keep up the dosage, keep a little trace of it in the air here. He's a prisoner who guards himself!” Another laugh. “He was the perfect servant, and I knew he would make me rich. And then you came along. Snooping around, trying to find where he’d gone.”
She scoffed, and the flickering lights struck reflections in her mask, making her look almost inhuman. "I should have known you were the Wraith as soon as you stopped me in class. But I couldn't be sure if you were alone, or working with someone else. Well, all I had to do was make sure I came here straight after the end of class every day, and I knew sooner or later anyone looking into Malcolm would follow me here, and be trapped by the gas. A perfect plan."
It seemed a little thin, actually, but Paula hadn't asked for her opinion and she didn't much care to give it. And it had worked, she couldn't deny that. The lights flickered again, and the Wraith's head cleared slightly before they came back and Paula's eyes locked back on hers. Still, that moment of freedom was enough to come up with a plan of attack.
"So let's think. What can I do with the Wraith? What do you know that I can use?" Those eyes narrowed. "So many possibilities."
One more flicker, and she moved – a stun bolt shooting into a light fitting, shooting out sparks. The fitting flashed out, and a wave of darkness spread through the room as the other fittings followed it, or burst in showers of glass. The Wraith heard an angry, fearful scream, and knew she had to move fast.
She lunged, lashing out and catching the edge of a lab coat as her foe ducked back away from her. She pulled, dragging the woman closer for a moment – then the resistance suddenly vanished as Paula slipped the coat off. A growl of frustration tore out of her throat, and she widened her arms, moving carefully and quietly as she pursued through the pitch black room. This room wasn't so large – even in the darkness, Paula couldn't hide for long.
But she could still fight back, in her own way.
"Stop right there!"
She almost obeyed – the impulse was hard to resist, even without Paula’s eyes staring her down. But she willed herself onward, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, reaching into the dark.
"Stop! Obey me, damn you!"
She closed in on the voice, felt the movement of air and darted forwards, just as Paula tried to shove past her. She grabbed hard, pulled the woman into a tight hold and dragged her down to the ground, face down. And then she reached down, and roughly pulled off her gas mask.
"Breathe, Paula. Breathe deep."
She tried to fight it, to hold her breath, and succeeded – for a few seconds. Then she gasped, heaved in a lungful.
"There. That's right, keep breathing. Don't say anything, just breathe and do as I say." She eased the pressure a little, to let her breathe more steadily, and take in more of the gas. She wasn't trying to free herself any more, wasn't fighting back or even speaking. She just lay there, deeply breathing the gas.
One of the more distant lights shuddered back into life. A few others followed it, bringing the room into a dingy half-light and giving the Wraith a look at her opponent. She could just see the corner of Paula's eye as she lay there with her head to the side. It was staring blankly at nothing in particular, unfocused and empty.
As she pulled her own mask back into place, the Wraith felt sick. This gas had been meant to help people, and what had happened? Someone with big ideas had come along to exploit it, to abuse people with it. Appalling. And yet here she was, about to turn around and do exactly the same thing.
She get off Paula. "Stand up and look at me." She did as she was asked, moving stiffly, robotically. There seemed to be no mind behind her eyes, and the Wraith just hoped that would come back, given time.
"Do you know my real name?"
"Yes."
"What is it?"
"Your name is Maia Montgomery."
She looked away for a moment, ashamed – but she had to do this, and she had to be sure of it. She pulled her gaze up from the floor, and made contact with those empty eyes.
"I want you to forget. Forget the identity of the Wraith."
Paula nodded.
"Do you know my name?"
Paula shook her head. "You are only known as the Wraith."
That sickness twisted in her gut, but all she said was: "That's right."

She was quiet and subdued in her next French class. In fact, she'd been that way ever since facing Paula. It was bad enough that her enemy had been a fellow student, but her vicious self-centered nature had really shocked her, and the way she'd beaten her and preserved her secret identity had left a bad taste in her mouth. The police had taken Paula away while she'd still been affected by the gas, too dazed to even really seem aware of what was happening to her. The Wraith had explained the whole situation, and though they'd taken Marcus into custody, he was out in only a few hours.
She flicked a glance his way. Against her expectations, and against the advice of his doctor, he was back in class today. He seemed okay – in fact he seemed as attentive as ever, although Professor Holtz was taking it easy on him in a rare show of sympathy.
The professor cleared his throat, and Maia immediately focused.
"Yes, Professor?"
"Drifting off in class again?" He pursed his lips. "Well...perhaps it can be excused. Under the circumstances. I know that certain...events of the last few days have been very distressing for some of our students. Never mind. I'll let you off the hook this time."
She was stunned. But she held it together enough to nod gratefully. Unusual enough that he was nice to Marcus, but Professor Horrible Holtz being kind to anyone else was practically unheard of.
She drifted through the rest of the class until finally, finally it ended, and she had a chance to chase after Marcus. She caught him outside class, in the old hallway, and light streamed in through old wooden windowframes as she grabbed his shoulder. He flinched away, then saw her and relaxed a little. "Oh, it's just you."
"Yeah. Sorry for scaring you." He shrugged. "I just wanted to ask how you are?"
"I don't know, really. Better, I guess?" He walked to the window, stared out over the courtyard, and she joined him. Below, there were people dashing from class to class under the old trees, but Marcus didn't seem to be looking at any of that.
"The whole thing is like a dream. I thought Paula was interested in what I was doing, so I showed her how it was going, and then...that's it, that’s all I remember. I guess she caught me right there, in my room. She made me into her slave." He shook his head. "She had me making my medicine for her to steal and sell. To be used for God knows what. I don't know, this has all made me question what I'm doing here. I don't know if I'm really making the world a better place. Maybe I should quit."
She looked at him, frozen for a moment in complete shock. "Are you sure?"
"Not really. But that's just it – I was sure, I was so sure that what I was doing would be great. It would be a huge breakthrough in medicine, it would help countless people, all of that. And now...I just don't know."
He looked so pained. It seemed cruel to have brought him back from his imprisonment, only to face this doubt about everything he was.
Well, she'd do her best to save him from that too.
"Look, I can't tell you anything for sure. Life is...complicated. But you always had the best goals in mind, you wanted to help people and you were working to actually do it! Marcus, that's great, it's inspiring. You're a good person, and you're going to do amazing things." He didn't seem totally convinced, and she ran a hand back through her hair. "And yeah...someone tried to steal your work and use it as a weapon. That doesn't mean you need to just stop everything. I think what it means is you need to be careful. You need to talk about what you're doing with people, and you need to take some more precautions. You can’t just hide away and do everything alone."
Slowly, he nodded. He didn't smile, but it was something. "You're right. I don't need to stop, but I need to be more careful. And maybe a little less trusting."
She smiled wryly. Of course she'd teach someone that lesson, even when she wasn't meaning to. Of course. "Maybe. Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah. I think so." He pushed himself away from the window, and went to walk away. Then he seemed to think of something. He turned, and gave Maia a curious look.
"You know, I don't remember much of that time. But I think...when the Wraith came to save me, I think Paula used me to try and fight her off."
Maia blinked, and tried not to react to much. "Wow, that sucks."
"Well, it all sucked. But it’s strange. I can remember the Wraith better than anything else in that whole time. Her eyes. It was dark, so I didn’t really see much, but her eyes were..." He shook his head. "Sorry, I’m rambling. Never mind. Take care of yourself, Maia."
He turned and left, and Maia watched him with a frown until turned a corner and stepped out of sight.