Atlas leapt across the room at Anya and I, hands widely spread to get a good hold on whomever he happened to tackle. The photos I had seen earlier of him simply did not do him justice; the man was huge. If he was as tough as he looked, I certainly didn’t want him laying so much as a finger on me.

Reaching out with telekinetic force, I made the air molecules in front of us become more dense, forming a sort of protective barrier, and then “threw” it towards the giant. Atlas slammed into it and was sent flying across the room, flipping head over heels, and towards a row of electronic equipment which undoubtedly had to do with the project being worked on. The mobile equipment rolled out from under him when he crashed into it, and Atlas smacked his head on the hard tile floor.

Enraged, he was back on his feet in no time. Eyes narrowed, he picked up the desk he had been behind and with a savage yell, hurled it towards me. Unable to stop it fast enough, I pushed Anya out of the way and threw another barrier around myself in the nick of time. The heavy wood and metal desk, tumbling end over end, smashed into me, and pushed me into the opposite wall from Atlas, and pinned me in place. As I struggled to move it, both physically and mentally, Atlas, with a sinister leer on his face, headed over to Anya.

Before he could even get close enough to do anything, a fiery explosion came from Agent Petrucci. The sudden appearance of superheated air was almost like an invisible fist that sent Atlas flying back, though not as far as what I had done to him.

Hands glowing, Anya sent twin ribbons of flame to surround the titan, keeping him held in place, or so we thought. He looked as if he was bracing himself, and broke through his prison. He rolled on the ground and began to throw things at Anya, who ducked behind another desk to get away from the flying objects. I was shocked to see everyday utensils become lethal projectiles in his hands; he threw things with so much strength they went through the wall instead of shattering against it.

Not wanting to be a sitting target, I managed to extricate myself from behind the desk and began to throw things right back at him. However, without ever having really used my telekinesis in this way, my aim was a little off, and those items that I threw back at Atlas only bounced off. He seemed more amused than anything else by my attack.

Without warning, I felt as if every nerve in my body was on fire. A thousand red-hot needles would have been more pleasant than the absolute pain suddenly wracking my body. The thing about the human body is that when subjected to agony or extreme physical stress, it shuts itself down, going into shock to prevent any more stress on the mind. That must have been what happened, because within a second of feeling that infernal touch, I could feel myself falling.

When I came to, I was surprised to see I was in my apartment, in my bed, and out of my clothes.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of bringing you home and making sure you were comfortable. I also had to call in Dr. Lewiston to treat your injury.” Anya smiled at me from the foot of the bed. “Very rarely does anyone survive a brush from White Death, especially along the neck. Still,” she sighed as she sat down, “you were unconscious for three days. That seriously sets back the investigation.”

“Like it’s my fault?” I growled. “You came to me, remember? It’s not my fault we walked in on Atlas and White Death just as they were robbing the place. What the hell happened back in the lab?”

“Atlas and White Death got away, along with the components.” She sighed in disgust. “I thought you were more powerful than that.”

“Hey, at least I tried to do something, not hide behind a desk!” I snapped back. “How was I supposed to know White Death was right behind me?”

She regarded me coolly and took a sip of the tea she had made for herself. “You couldn’t sense her?” she shook her head in disbelief. “I should have called for experienced help. You obviously don’t know how to handle yourself in the field.”

“Get out.” I snarled, and turned my back to her. I could hear movement, so I could only assume she was leaving.

“By the way, James, some girl named Becky kept calling here. She said she had to speak with you right away. I told her that you were sick and couldn’t come to the phone. She didn’t seem too happy to hear my voice on the line.”

Becky was my girlfriend. Was. Past tense, meaning she and I had called it quits about a month ago. She had been convinced I was seeing someone else toward the end of our relationship, which was completely untrue. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and it’s a pretty good thing they don’t. She and I would have been completely miserable if we stayed together.

“What did she say she wanted?” I asked.

“Oh, so you’re speaking to me now? She said wants to talk. I guess she’ll be by today.” As if on cue, I could hear knocking on the front door. “I guess that’s her.” said Anya in a wicked, teasing tone. “I’ll get it if you need to freshen up.”

Unable to stop her from answering the door, I tried to get myself out of bed, but felt like the whole world was spinning around me as I tried to stand. Collapsing back on the bed, I managed to prop myself up slightly, just as Becky walked into the room.

Seeing Anya next to Becky was like night and day. Where Anya was dark and exotic, Becky was blonde and very much the girl-next-door. Anya’s amusement at the sight of my girlfriend was patently obvious not only on her face, but also to my empathic senses. Becky dropped the shopping bags she carried and with a sorrowful look on her face, ran to my bedside. Embracing me, she began to sob slightly.

“I’m sorry.” she mumbled into my shoulder.

“For what?” I asked, somewhat groggy from sitting up.

“For um, you know…” Becky hinted. She was clearly uncomfortable with Anya here.

“I’ll leave you two alone.” she said, and went to the living room. I could hear the TV suddenly turn on. For a moment, I wondered what all Anya had done while I was unconscious.

“Who is she, James?” Becky asked, her green eyes reflecting the worry she felt. I could also detect a rising sense of feeling threatened by Anya’s presence.

“Agent Petrucci is from Interpol. She and I are working on a case together.”

“Oh.” Becky replied, and glanced out to the living room. I could hear the sounds of one of the soap operas playing. I knew she didn’t believe me, and to be honest, I didn’t care. I was going over in my head the recent events, and trying to make sense of it.

“I heard you got injured on the job, and I wanted to see you, but she wouldn’t let me. Is she really just another agent, James?”

“Becky, for the last time; Anya is a special partner on for this particular assignment. You didn’t act like this when I was working with Roxanne.” Reminding Becky of my former partner, wisecracking, brash, red-haired fireball Roxanne Miller had the desired affect. Roxanne had probably been a bigger threat to our relationship than what Anya posed. I took a deep ragged breath. I was still exhausted, and told Becky so.

“Alright, I’ll go, but I still want to talk.” she got up off my bed and left the room. I could hear her say goodbye to Anya and the sound of the door closing behind her.

Anya showed up almost immediately. “She seems like the kind of girl you would date, James.”

“Anya, don’t bother being insincere around an empath.”

She only shrugged and sat back down in the chair opposite my bed. “Now that Lithos has the components for his little laser, it will only be a matter of time before he either uses it or puts it up for sale.”

“So how do we track him?”

We do not. I’ll have to contact Stockholm, and see what they may have uncovered. I may have to go wherever Lithos plans to set up his weapon.” She gathered up the dirty dishes in the room and took them to the kitchen. “I’ll be out of your hair in a day or two.”

“Maybe I can still prove useful. Give me the file on Lithos, a map and a marker.” I said.

She eyed me critically, but retrieved the items I requested. She tossed them on the bed and sat back down.

Opening the file, I read it over, quickly scanning the information. Each appearance either he or his lieutenants made I highlighted on the map. Before long, I was beginning to see a pattern; maybe it wasn’t much to go on, but it was something.

Reading over Lithos’ arrest reports, I got the strong sense that the man was a very systematic, logical type of worker. He liked order, he liked discipline, he liked to move around in a particular way, always clockwise; and it wasn’t just the way he moved around the country. Every city he had been to, he traveled around it in the same manner. Someone had even taken photos of him at some outdoor café in San Diego, and again, he even ate his meal in clockwise fashion. In fact, it bordered on obsessive-compulsive. Grabbing a pink highlighter, I began to mark five other cities. I handed the map to Anya.

“What are these?”

“The most likely places he’s going to hit: Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York, DC, and Miami. I might be able to narrow it down if I had more information.”

“He’ll probably want to demonstrate it in a major city to get everyone’s attention. I would put my money on either New York or Washington.” she mused, and I was glad to see that she was genuinely impressed by the quick work I had made.

“But wouldn’t he need to assemble the laser components first? Where would he be able to do something like that?”

Anya studied the map. Pulling out her PDA, she quickly tapped at the screen, scanning each page for information. I wondered what, and who, were in her files.

“There’s a gentleman who goes by the name of Glitch down in Miami. He’s an electronics genius. No known affiliations, but will work for whomever pays well.”

“Well, I think you may have your lead. Good luck, Agent Petrucci.” I lay back down, wishing I was better.

Anya seemed about to say something, but then abruptly left. I heard the front door close, and I knew she was gone. I sighed deeply; interesting my little foray into using my gifts had been, I wasn’t convinced I was exactly cut out for it.

Bast, my cat, came out of hiding. I picked up her instinctive emotions quite easily: relief the strange female was gone, contentment to see me home so I could tend to her, and hunger. She purred loudly as she rubbed her head against my hand, and curled up beside me. Exhausted, I closed my eyes.

I had almost drifted off to sleep when my phone rang. Groggily, I answered it.

“Hello, Mr. Branden.” came a baritone voice with a rich accent to it. “I was hoping I would be able to talk to you before you did anything rash.”

“Who is this?” I asked.

“I think you know the answer to that, Mr. Branden.”

“Lithos.” I responded.

Warm laughter. “Very good. I have recently made the acquaintance of a lady friend of yours.”

The way he said it sent chills running down my spine. “What have you done with Becky?”

“Don’t worry, dear boy. I find the girl completely charming. I have no intention of harming her. Atlas on the other hand, might. White Death, I’m afraid, is quite taken with you, and doesn’t like the thought of a rival for your affections.”

The veiled threat was not lost on me.

“What do you want?”

“I want you to meet me for dinner tonight. I believe there’s a very fine restaurant at the One Nation building. You don’t live too far from there. We need to discuss some things. Meet me there about, oh, 7:30 or so? Oh, and don’t tell Ms. Petrucci. I really would like to keep this meeting as discreet as possible.”

Lithos hung up, and I was torn between panic and keeping my professional calm. Managing to get up, I fought the grogginess and staggered to the shower. I had approximately four hours to get myself healed up and find out why they had taken Becky. Anya may not want me on the case anymore, but now, I was involved more than ever. For me, it was now personal.
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