The first of Clara’s senses to return was her hearing. Her mind swirled in a drug induced haze, which made it all the more challenging to concentrate. Every sound was distorted, clipped, and focused on the lower frequencies. At first, Clara was not sure what to make of it.
Eventually, the reverberation lessened, and pitch increased enough so that words filtered through. Curious, she maintained her heart rate, measured her breathing, and kept her eyes closed. People had a tendency to loosen their tongues when they believed their prisoners were unconscious.
“What do you have?” some man asked from the other side of the wall and, since no name was used, Clara settled on John.
Clara’s ears perked up, so it was fortunate that her hair concealed the motion. She concentrated and found three distinct heart beats. The one who asked the question had just arrived, indicated by the footsteps and closing doors.
“Female, Caucasian, in her early-thirties,” a woman replied and, this time, Clara christened her Jane.
“Not what she seems?” John asked.
“Well, fingerprints came up clean, although there were matches to partials lifted from crime scenes in the Twenties,” Jane answered. “A search through our main databases came up empty; she is squeaky clean. A bit too clean…”
“What do you mean?” John queried.
“Queries through all of our secondary sources also came up empty,” Jane replied. “She has never visited a hospital in any of the Five Eyes nations or even within a NATO nation. Her facial and retinal scans tells us that she never travelled by commercial air, was arrested, nor ever had a picture ID.”
“Looks like she wouldn’t need to board a plane,” John said.
There was a slight snicker from the third occupant but nothing else. Since that man’s resting heart rate was so low, she figured this was the sentry.
“Noticed that, did you?” Jane asked. “A bit hard to miss, really.”
“Are those real?” John wondered.
Something slid across the table. At first Clara believed it to be a series of photographs, but this object was heavier and metallic. Nevertheless, when John gasped, she figured they caught on that her wings were not part of an elaborate Halloween costume.
“That threw the doctors for a loop,” Jane said. “No signs of surgery, and the genetic sequencing of those wings matches her own.”
“Mutation?” John asked.
“Doubtful,” Jane said. “All tests indicate that she is human and within normal genetic variance. There is nothing in her genes that would account for them or her blood.”
“What?” John pressed.
“Temporary,” Jane said. “The blood we drew from her looked like liquid gold but turned red after a few minutes.”
There was a pause in the conversation. Clara maintained her vitals steady in an attempt to keep up appearances. She even drooled a bit to put on a convincing show. Anyone from the Tower would have done the same. After all, subterfuge was an old friend to their kind.
“Alright,” John said. “I’m going in.”
Clara heard him grab something from the table. Judging from the sound of shifting ice, she guessed it was a water pitcher and with that, deduced the rest of his grand plan. A door opened and a set of soft soled shoes exited the adjacent room. Without surprise, his steps approached until a loud buzzer rang out and released the locking mechanism.
Before she knew it, that same pair of shoes was circling her position. Clara remained indifferent, as though she were still unconscious, a hangover from the drugs. Deprived of sight, Clara focused on her remaining senses.
That’s when she became aware of the fact that she was no longer wearing her black leather outfit. Whatever she had on, it was light, ill fitting, and airy enough for the occasional blast of cold air to run up her bare legs.
The chair they secured her to was metallic, which did little to keep her warm. Her ankles were pressed against a set of bolts, indicating they were anchored to the concrete floor. Lastly, her arms and legs were bound by metal loops affixed to chains, most likely handcuffed.
Her arms were bound behind her back, restricting her wings. To the uninitiated, a set of wings were harmless but, if a goose’s wing flap could break a grown man’s leg, then she was capable of inflicting far more damage. A shame that her wings were restricted, for now.
The footsteps remained constant and precisely paced. She easily imagined him marching with a pace stick, although the shoes hinted that this was an officer and not a sergeant major. She knew he was observing her, watching for any signs of consciousness, since she would have done the same.
John eventually came to a halt. If Clara wanted to end this charade, all she needed to do was wince in anticipation of what was about to happen. Still, there was no desire to prove his hunch correct, so she maintained the illusion of being comatose.
As though on cue, cold water was poured over her head, which ran down both sides onto whatever covered her. The wet material immediately clung to her body and gave her goosebumps. Still, she waited, adding an appropriate amount of time to account for an individual under the influence of drugs to react.
When she sprang into action, she made a spectacular show of it. Her head snapped up, which sent droplets of water flying everywhere. Her eyes opened wide in panic, and she gasped for air as though she were drowning.
“Bravo!” John exclaimed. “But the rise in your core body temperature confirmed that you were awake before I walked in here.”
Clara smirked, and settled down. While cold, she tucked away that discomfort in a distant corner of her mind. Meanwhile, the man appeared to be unfazed about her change in demeanour but did leer at her appearance in her wet attire. She focused on his heart and breathing. As suspected, both were rising, which was not surprising. This was a man after all.
“Name,” John barked.
Clara did not alter a single aspect of her face. If this man thought he could break her, he was about to be taught a lesson in humility.
“I said his name!” John exclaimed, sounding just like a sergeant major on parade.
Clara ignored him and focused on slowing down time. Doing so accelerated her metabolism and forced any remaining drugs to pass through her system. That would come in handy, since they wanted her drugged up to prevent an escape but coherent enough to extract information.
When John’s eyelids began to close in a slow motion blink, Clara looked around. To her right, there was a large mirrored surface and, behind that glass was the source of the other two heart beats. The rest of this room was concrete, cold and desolate; a place designed to demoralise and break the undisciplined mind. There were also four vents that she could see, but they were too small to accommodate her.
She was able to confirm that her chair was indeed bolted to the floor, locked in place with cotter pins. Her arms and legs were in turn secured to the chair using handcuffs. That meant she would need to get creative to break free. Not that this was her first time getting out of cuffs, either police issue or fur lined for an intimate setting.
Right behind him, there was a small table. The empty water jug rested atop the plain metal surface. She wondered how long it would take for John to pull out the tools of his trade.
Before his eyes were shut, she was already back in her initial position. Clara chose to hold onto this speed for as long as she could. That meant enduring another attempt to intimidate her, and this time, in slow motion.
Out of boredom, Clara casually glanced at this man. He had all of the traits expected of a military man: the short hair, clean shave, hardened features, impeccable dress, and spit polished shoes. She half-expected him to have a waxed moustache, but figured this was an anachronism from her time.
What she never expected was how fast this escalated. Interrogators tended to try to trick, threaten, or intimidate, all in an effort to dominate their subjects. This one was playing by a different rule book which was reason enough for Clara to be suspicious.
John first approached her from the left and hit her square in the jaw. To mask the extent of her strength, she relaxed and permitted her head to move freely with the punch. Honestly, she barely felt it, but that would change over time.
“Answer me!” John demanded.
Clara smiled, cocked her head to both sides to stretch out her neck, and narrowed her eyes. She focused on his eyes, to give him a glimpse of the fire that burned within.
“I’ve been hit harder by a nun,” Clara said casually. “Why don’t you reach down, grab whatever you have for balls, and make me feel it this time?”
All the while, she toyed with the wrist-cuffs until the links were locked in place. The strength in her arms may have been weakened due to her position, but she possessed a whole other group of muscles they failed to account for.
His impatience would cost him. The man actually twitched as though she hit a raw nerve. Had she been watching a cartoon, that man’s moustache would have straightened out. Wait? What moustache!
“Well, why are you giving me the absent treatment?” Clara taunted. “Afraid to hit a g—”
This time she expected the hit. While it came with more power, it was also grossly inaccurate. This punch landed nearer to her chin which sent her head snapping hard to the side. She used this opportunity to push against her cuffs and used those wings for an extra oomph.
Alas, the first attempt had not been enough to break the links, but he did manage to split her lip. She gave him the same look as before, while licking her lips, and realised that it had a mild taste of ambrosia. She spit out the blood, not aiming for his face but for the shoes with the mirror shine.
He looked down at the mess she made. The twitch on his face worsened, and his face flushed red with fury. Then he did something unusual. He went into a corner near the one way mirror.
While he pretended to reach down to clean his shoes, he smeared the mix of spit and blood onto his fingers to taste the combination. That show may have avoided additional scrutiny from those in the observation room, but her hearing registered his true intent.
When he turned around, she caught a red glow in his eyes. Unfazed, she let him see her big smug smile, pretending that ruining those shoes had been a victory. This time he did not dally. He made up the distance in two steps and unleashed a volley from both fists.
Her face flew from one direction to the other. His blind rage provided just the type of distraction she needed to rearrange the cuffs. On the second volley, she really let her wings push against her arms, so much so that she wondered if her shoulders would pop out of their sockets. How fortunate that the bindings gave out first.
He stopped after the volley, half-expecting for her to be unconscious. To his surprise, she again stretched her neck, feeling her muscles strain and vertebrae pop. Once more, she slowed down time as much as possible. With her hands freed from their bindings, she waited for an opportunity to remedy the remaining problem. Clara knew he was about to unleash another series of hits, but the blood on his gloves gave her an opening. When he sniffed her blood, she reached down to remove the cotter pins, then returned to normal.
For a moment, she wondered if he spotted the movement. Oblivious, he licked the gloves, shivered, and went back for more. This punch came out from his right and, unlike the others, this would have been a solid hit. However, she lifted the chair out of its anchors and pushed against the chair’s back.
This move yielded two results. One, she avoided this strike which left him unbalanced and ill prepared to defend against a counter attack. Two, the hollow tubes on the rear legs were pushed beyond their breaking point. The motion weakened the supporting welds, including those used to secure the outer cuffs. If the welds did not give out midway through her fall, they would after impact.
Clara curved her back and reached out. Once more, she slowed things down a smidge to help with her reaction times. Once her fingers touched the concrete, she let her arms bend inwards and brought her legs onto the chair seat. Finally, moments away from her head making contact, she pushed back hard.
The result was spectacular. Clara and her chair were rocketed towards the ghoul. She observed the impact and noted the dark stains appearing on its suit.
That thing managed to squeal during the impact but Clara was like a freight train. She flew on past and hit the wall with enough momentum to disassemble the chair, everything except for a foot binding and associated bar.
“Horsefeathers,” Clara said as she landed back onto her feet.
For the most part, she was free to move but would remain ineffective as long as this ball and chain remained. The presence of such an item was sure to make even the most lethargic of guards suspicious.
The ghoul stood tall nearby holding onto its side and, while hurt, it was not out of the game. So Clara got away from the wall, then twirled her restrained leg and jumped over the binding to get some speed. Oddly enough, it watched, mesmerised, even as the metal object was sent flying towards him with her leg in tow.
Clara followed the projectile’s trajectory to prevent any loss of momentum and realised why ballet dancing had been a core subject at the Tower. The steel bar hit that thing right in the forehead, penetrated the skull, and lodged itself into its brain.
Once she landed, Clara hesitated long enough to confirm if her restraint had been loosened or broken. Since it turned out to be the latter, she yanked hard to free the last handcuff, smiled, and made a dash for the table.
In the background, Clara heard the guard reaching for his weapon. She slowed down time for a fraction of a second, long enough to hurl the table towards the window. The metal object shattered the glass and struck the guard in the chest just as the pitcher shattered against the floor.
Fortunately, the man had been wearing body armour. While it helped to cushion the impact, Clara was sure he would wake up sore. The woman was not a concern. Jane sat there unaware, a side effect of staring into a ghoul’s glowing eyes too long.
“Time to get some answers,” Clara said.
Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!