Anya and I left my office shortly after she told me why Interpol was carrying on an investigation in the US. Fortunately, she knew enough about international law enforcement protocol to inform my superiors that I would be assisting her on this case. Of course, my director wanted me to keep in touch with them about what was going on with this assignment, but Anya insisted I say nothing.

We ended up going back to her hotel suite. It turns out she was staying only a few blocks away from my place. Once there she told me everything there was to know about Aristotle Miniakis. She pulled out her cell phone and placed it onto the small table. She pressed a few buttons on it and a beam of light came out of it, projecting an image onto the wall. Turning off the lights made the picture more discernable, and Anya began her presentation almost as soon as the room was darkened.

“On the surface, Aristotle Miniakis appears to be a normal individual.”

The first image was that of a man of about sixty years old. He was getting out of a long black limousine, and he was looking around, as if he knew someone was watching him.

“He also goes by the codename of Lithos.” she said as she flipped the slides on the wall with a simple verbal command. The images showed further pictures of the investigation’s target.

“Greek for ‘stone’.” I commented.

“It’s an indication of his powers.” She showed a few more pictures of buildings, automobiles, even people encased in stone. The shots of the human victims were particularly disturbing. It was as if they had been turned into statues, their faces frozen in horror and pain.

“That can’t be good. Any known associates of his with gifts?”

“Well, he does have his standard retinue of enforcers and triggermen, but those are for his standard criminal operations: gambling, extortion, anything requiring muscle. However, he does have his two lieutenants. Next image.”

The picture changed. It was of two people, a man and a woman. The woman looked extremely pale, with white hair and wore large dark glasses to cover her eyes. The man was tall, blonde, and had his hair pulled back straight in a small ponytail. Both were very well dressed, and were very close behind Lithos.

“The man is known as Atlas. Very strong, quite invulnerable. The woman is known only as White Death. Her touch can be fatal.” She flipped the slide to a picture of a what appeared to be a security guard. Burns and lacerations were all over his face and neck. Anya went through a couple more slides depicting the same injuries on different people and body parts.

“That looks painful,” I commented. “What are those? Electrical burns?”

Anya shook her head. “We’re not entirely sure. Our doctors have been trying to determine what it is she does to people. But all we know is this; contact with her bare skin can range from either very painful to lethal. I believe she can control the potency of her touch.” she sighed. “But the reality is that until now, Lithos has not made any moves in a bid for power until now. So Atlas and White Death are only now coming to our attention.”

“Agent Petrucci…” I started.

“Anya, please.”

“Anya, what is all this about? Are Aristotle and his group here in Columbus? What are they up to?”

“We believe he is up to something, but until recently, we didn’t know.” She flipped another slide. It was a picture of CalTech. I regarded her with a raised eyebrow.

“This came to our attention two days ago.” she pulled up another slide. “They have the components for a very powerful laser emitter. It was stolen.” The subsequent pictures showed guards tied up and more wicked looking burns around their faces and throats. The wide open, horrified expressions frozen on their dead faces indicated their last moments were painful ones.

Seeing that I was not exactly following her, she continued with the slideshow. “At Borealis Labs, here in Columbus, they have been working with top EU scientists on another laser. This one is run through a ruby crystal. The purpose of this particular laser is to facilitate satellite communications. However, if combined with the stolen components from CalTech, as well as the DeLong Ruby, it could very easily be used as a long range weapon, bouncing the signal off of a satellite, and targeting anyone or anything with incredible precision.”

She switched off the projector and turned the room lights on. Anya looked at me with narrowed eyes, reminding me of my cat.

“Why would he want such a thing?”

“Who knows? He may try to sell it. Another possibility is that he has more than a few scores to settle with people in the criminal underworld. Besides, by using American technology, he could very easily trigger a war, or whatever his ultimate goal is.”

“Sounds a little paranoid, Anya. Technology like that is not something that gets stolen and my government doesn’t notice.” I watched her cross the room and look at her reflection in the mirror. “They’ve probably got people tracking down Atlas and White Death.”

She casually brushed her face with her fingertips, removing any stray hairs from her face. “Care to wager on that? There are those in your government who would eagerly want such a weapon for themselves, or use such a weapon as an excuse to invade another country.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I said, shaking my hand at her in protest. “What makes you think that my country would be so hot to start a war?”

Her look, as well as her emotions, told me that I should quit the righteous indignation bit.

“Ok, politics aside, is Lithos working for someone else, someone more powerful?”

“No. He’s opportunistic, but ultimately, likes to call the shots. It is possible he’s working with other groups, perhaps even another government, but we’ve found no evidence of it.” She turned around to face me, leaning against the counter.

I looked at my watch; the time was a little after twelve. “Let’s change the subject.” I sighed. “Hungry?”

After lunch, we decided to head over to Borealis Labs. I had a friend who worked there, although he wasn’t in the department that we wanted to see. Nonetheless, he was still happy to show us around and answer any questions we had.

“Must be something big if Interpol and the FBI are working together,” he commented. I could tell from his tone he was both fishing for answers as well as flirting with Anya. The moment he saw her, his emotional state went from calm to frazzled, which was always the case when he was attracted to someone.

Anya smiled politely and said nothing as he led us around the lab. Unfortunately for us, the security clearance to see the joint US/EU project was much higher than he had, and we were unable to go in. He apologized and went to go find one of the directors of the lab to see if he could get a special clearance.

The moment he disappeared down the hall, Anya pulled a swipe card from her purse and ran it through the scanner. The lights on the panel switched from red to green, and the audible click of the lock could be heard.

“Do I even want to know how you got that?” I asked.

“My directors make sure I have whatever I need for a mission.” she explained. “Besides, I also have the security clearance for something like this.” She strode down the hallway as if she knew exactly where she was going.

I knew she had more going on in her head than she let on, and I didn’t even have to check her emotions to do it. We passed several large rooms, all closed off, the activities hidden from prying eyes, and the only indication of what went on inside were the signs on the doors.

She stopped in front of one of them; the door was, like the others, closed. Absolutely nothing seemed different. Suddenly, I was hit with a wave of fear and panic, but it wasn’t coming from Anya. It was coming from inside the room.

I focussed my senses, which is difficult to do if I can’t see who I’m dealing with. I could also pick up feelings of menace and ambition.

Anya must have been able to determine that all was not well in the room also. With a swift kick, she forced the door open. What we saw stopped both of us in our tracks.

Standing over the bodies of several scientists was the gigantic Atlas. He had one of the scientists in a brutal headlock. When he saw us, a twisted smile crossed his face. The absolute chill I picked up from his mind told me everything I needed to know; he was enjoying the torment and murder of the scientists. In other words, Atlas was every bit the psycho- and sociopath.

“Ah, Malafleur. You’ve come just in time to play.” he said, then shifted his gaze to me. “And you’ve brought a friend. Excellent.”

In a single, savage move, Atlas snapped the scientist’s neck. Flinging the body aside as if it were a rag doll, he then leapt at us from across the room, hands and arms extended.
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