Somewhere in the USA – Monday, the 28th of May, 2012. 13:12 PM.
Chris woke to the sound of her heartbeat pounding in her ears. When she opened her eyes, she found herself surrounded by absolute darkness.
Her attempt to shift into a more comfortable position made her head swim and sent a wave of nausea through her body while her left arm was numb, reacting sluggishly. The effort of lifting her face off her forearm sent a sharp throb of pain through her neck.
Where am I? She wondered woozily. What time is it? What day is it?
The light came on, and the sudden illumination stung her eyes. Everything was a blurry haze of different shades of gray. She squinted against the glare. After a minute or two, her eyes had adjusted enough to survey the room.
Chris found herself in a fairly large cell, about twelve by twelve feet. Its walls were covered with white subway tiles, and a heavy metal door was set into the wall opposite the basic camp-style cot where she lay. The light source was recessed into the wall by the door. The only furniture was reminiscent of a typical prison cell: a freestanding toilet and small sink in one corner, a basic table and two chairs in the middle of the room, and a small metal shelf.
The shelf was stocked with a few neatly folded garments, some of which looked vaguely familiar. The ‘I had this at home, but never wore it because Mom picked it out for me’ kind of familiar.
Chris pushed the thought from her mind, feeling too weak to start thinking in certain directions. There were too many other pressing concerns that she had to deal with before she could even consider all that pent-up emotional baggage she associated with home.
Chris made the effort to sit up. As she endured the wave of nausea that followed, she began to try to sort out how she’d gotten here—wherever here was. She had a few vague memories, but the way they linked together in her mind didn’t make any sense. As far as she could recall, she’d played the principal role in taking out a pretty major threat—some crazy robot that even the heroes hadn’t been aware of. But if the Covenant was grateful for her help, they had a strange way of showing it.
Chris also remembered the eloquent reassurances that Athena’s drone had delivered to her in the park. You have been deemed safe by the UNEOA, and you may move around freely. Chris’s memories of that conversation ignited a cold spark of anger within her. She’d been lied to, obviously.
She dug through her memories some more, but Chris couldn’t think of anything that would reasonably justify this incarceration. Sure, she had to admit that she’d bent the rules a little. She’d used her powers on people, but it had been to protect them. It shouldn’t matter that those people had been armed gang members at a questionable location in shady company. Right?
Besides, Athena had outright told her that she could defend herself from other rogue Evolved, which was exactly what Chris had done. And even though the heroine might have recommended that Chris call for help in such situations, that didn’t seem reasonable. Even if she’d had her phone with her, what should she have done? Call 911? She pulled a face. The thought of calling the civilian emergency number was just ridiculous.
Almost makes me wish I’d talked to Gentleman, Chris seethed. At least he had manners.
Chris turned her attention to the small mahogany table in the middle of the room. Now that she was sitting up, she could see that there was a plate of food and a bottle of water waiting there for her. Her stomach grumbled.
She hastily swung her legs over the side of the cot and winced as a rush of pain and nausea nearly overtook her. After taking a moment to recover, she slowly climbed to her feet. The nausea seemed tolerable as long as she didn’t make any hasty movements.
She found her sneakers by the foot of the cot and quickly slipped them on, noting that they had been cleaned of mud and guck. She looked down at her body and noticed that the clothes she was wearing were still the same—her hoodie, the jogging pants, even the contents in her pockets. She had no idea what had happened to her costume and she didn’t particularly care.
Chris pulled out one of the chairs and managed to sit down at the table. The sandwich looked incredible, stuffed with meat and veggies. As she wolfed down the first bite, a crackling sound came from somewhere above her head. She looked up to see an intercom on the wall above the door.
Chris turned her attention back to the food. The sandwich tasted wonderful. The bread was soft and the vegetables were still crunchy. There was a hint of sauce that tasted distinctively homemade, full of herbs and spices.
A familiar voice came over the intercom. “Christina?”
Only people who are a pain in the ass call me by my full name, Chris mused, ignoring the voice and taking another bite.
“If you are still hungry after this, or if there is anything else you would like, do not hesitate to inform the guards stationed outside your door,” Athena’s voice said.
Chris chewed in silence.
“Your parents have provided some items from home that you might appreciate,” Athena went on. “Take a look on the shelf when you feel ready.”
Chris swallowed a mouthful of sandwich and washed it down with a swig of water. She would have preferred a drink with some taste to wash the bitterness from her mouth, but she was determined not to ask Athena for anything.
There were several seconds of silence before Athena made another attempt.
“I would like you to know that you have not been indicted of anything.” Athena’s crackly voice sustained its calm, practiced tone.
Chris took another long swallow of water. At least Athena doesn’t sound condescending, she reflected. Somehow, that made it harder to keep ignoring her.
The heroine tried again. “I assume you have a lot of questions right now. We have some as well, but there will be time for that a little later. For now, it is enough for you to know that there are no charges.”
“No charges, huh?” Chris repeated dully. “Then why the hell am I here?” Her face prickled with heat and anger. “And whatever happened to asking questions before you knock someone out cold?”
“Samael’s orders, Christina.”
Chris frowned and lowered the remaining half of her sandwich to the plate. “I thought Radiant was calling the shots on your team.”
After an uncharacteristic hesitation on Athena’s end of the conversation, “Radiant is currently preoccupied in South Africa along with the rest of our team,” she finally said. “There is a small matter that needs his attention.”
Something seemed off about that. Chris could think of several reasons why most of the Covenant would be called to some far-off part of the world, since the UNEOA had global jurisdiction and the Covenant was responsible for doing the organization’s bidding. Still, Athena’s hesitation hinted that there was much more that she wasn’t saying.
“Where are you?” Chris asked the intercom, thinking it was strange that she still hadn’t seen Athena in person. But maybe the Covenant just skipped that whole in-person thing.
“I am in the building, actually,” Athena informed her. “I will come to see you once you become more settled in your new surroundings.”
“To talk to me about joining the Wardens again?” Chris guessed dully.
“It is a good option for you, Christina,” Athena said. “The Wardens have two other teens who are about your age. You could connect with them and with others who have had similar experiences. In addition, according to agreements with your president and senate, the Covenant would be able to call on you in times of need.”
Chris sighed, but said nothing. She thought that she’d made her position clear when she’d talked to Athena the last time.
“We will talk more about the Wardens later,” Athena went on. “But for now, there is someone who would like to meet you. She insisted on making your acquaintance, and I believe it is a good idea. She will be with you in a minute.”
“What if I don’t want to see anyone?” Chris protested. But it was too late. The intercom had already clicked off.
They must not consider me dangerous if they’re sending random visitors in to see me. Chris was only slightly consoled by the thought.
She was swallowing the last bite of her sandwich when the door’s lock mechanisms shifted and clicked. A few seconds later, the door cracked open, revealing the shadow of whoever was on the other side of the door.
“Woo, it really is like a prison in here!” a small voice exclaimed. Judging from the sound of it, the voice belonged to a girl much younger than Chris.
A few seconds later, the girl stepped inside. “Hi,” she said boldly. “I’m Emily, but you can call me Kid. Everyone calls me that anyway.”
Chris just nodded. Even though the girl was wearing a striped polo shirt and blue capris instead of her Warden’s costume, Chris didn’t need an introduction. Everyone with media access would have recognized the youngest member of the American heroes team. Kid was undeniably cute, and the views she got on her online videos outranked the ever-popular kitten clips.
Emily took a position by the door, eyeing the cell’s sparse interior with the casual ease of someone who expected to be welcome everywhere. She was about nine or ten years old, but she looked small for her age. She had a small symmetrical face and a snub nose with a spattering of freckles across the bridge. Her large blue eyes roved the room with childish inquisitiveness, and a spill of straight auburn hair brushed her shoulders.
Chris could see where this was headed from a mile away. The only reason they would send a Warden to see her was if they were planning on forcing her onto the team.
Not that she had to give in.
Damn you, Athena, Chris thought, feeling blindsided. Sending a child to influence me is just unfair. Chris had a weak spot for children. She always found them easier to deal with than other teenagers or, worse, adults. From her experience, children weren’t nearly as full of shit.
“They said you don’t talk much,” Emily said, casually loitering in front of the shelf to check out the items stored on it. “Hey, it’s cool. I don’t mind.”
“Who said that?” Chris asked, watching the girl without budging from her cot.
“Um, like, everyone? The news people, your teachers, everyone. But your friend was on the news too, and he said you’re nice. Not as mean as you look on TV.”
Is that supposed to be a compliment?
Chris swept the thought aside. “Oh, yeah? Which friend?” she asked instead.
As if I have that many to choose from, Chris thought. Still, she needed to hear someone else talk about him. She needed to hear someone validate that Ryan didn’t hate her.
“You know, the long-haired sporty guy. The one who looks like a Japanese swordfighter dude when he has his hair knotted on top.”
Just then, a memory of Gentleman’s face beneath the silver masquerade mask bubbled to the surface. Chris felt her anger surge as she remembered how the villain’s face had taken on aspects of Ryan’s appearance. Gentleman had assumed Ryan’s features to manipulate her, and he’d probably based his manipulation on a picture he’d seen on the news.
“What did he say?” Chris couldn’t help but to ask. She regretted the words the instant they left her mouth. She wasn’t the type to go fishing for validation, and she didn’t want anyone—even a kid—to think that she cared what anyone else thought. She’d worked too hard over the years to surround herself with walls made from shovelfuls of ‘I don’t give a damn.’
“He said that people didn’t understand you. Something like that. Hey! That’s a nice shirt.”
So he didn’t actually say anything about me being nice, Chris thought with disappointment as she watched Emily unfold one of the garments. It was a sleeveless white summer top with a yellow flower printed on the front.
Emily unfolded the top and pressed it to her own chest over her striped polo tee. The flowery top hung to her knees like a shapeless sack, making her seem even tinier than she was. “It’s all sloppy and floppy for my size, but I think it’s gonna look nice on you as a Warden,” she mused.
Chris groaned. So she’d been right.
“I already told Athena that I have no intention of joining the Wardens,” Chris informed the girl.
Emily didn’t respond right away. She was fussing over the flower shirt, trying to fold it back up. She finally gave up and simply tossed it onto the cot.
When she finally spoke, her eyes revealed a burden which shouldn’t have been there. “You know what my powers are?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I can tell what people are feeling, and I know you’re sad.”
“Oh, yeah?” Chris said, surprised. Like everyone else in America, she’d known that Emily was an Empath. But the publicly available information hadn’t outlined the specifics of her power.
Emily nodded. “They asked me to use my power on you to get to know you better, so I did. But Mrs. Clarence made me stop because I was screaming and hitting a wall or something. I don’t remember.”
Chris’s heart skipped a beat. She was used to dealing with her own downs in life—she had been for years—but no child should have to endure that.
“They shouldn’t have asked you do that.”
The girl just shrugged. “It shouldn’t be a secret if you’re so sad.”
Chris didn’t know what to say.
“Hey, what’s your favorite animal?” Emily asked.
Chris was glad for the change in subject. “Dolphins,” she replied, surprising herself. It used to be tigers. She wasn’t sure exactly when that had changed, but it had.
Emily closed her eyes before tapping on her forearm with her fingers in some strange pattern. When the girl opened her mouth, her vocal cords shaped sounds that weren’t human. The cell echoed with a series of jubilant clicking and squealing sounds that matched a dolphin’s call, a perfect impression.
Chris’s mood took an unexpected turn, reminded of a vacation at a Florida beach back when she and her sister had been around Emily’s age. They’d swum with the dolphins, laughing at their tricks.
When Emily was done, she opened her eyes and just stood there with an expectant smile, spreading her arms wide. “You can hug me. I know you wanna.”
And it was true—that’s exactly what Chris felt like doing, but she didn’t hug her.
After an awkward moment, Emily took the initiative and crossed the distance to where Chris was sitting on the cot. Someone beyond the open door yelled a word of warning, but Emily never flinched. She just wrapped her skinny arms around Chris’s shoulders.
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Chris whispered. “I’m okay. Really.”
She wasn’t lying.
“Better watch yourself, Kid,” a male voice barked. The door swung open with a metallic squeal, revealing two uniformed men. “It’s time to go.”
Emily gave Chris another squeeze, ignoring the guards’ warnings. “I have something for you,” she whispered to Chris, making a mysterious face. She reached beneath her striped polo t-shirt and removed a piece of white paper, folded over and over until it was just a small square. She quickly pushed it into the pocket of Chris’s hoodie. “Look at it later, okay?”
Emily stepped away from her and then turned to head for the door.
“Kid?” Chris called before she had time to stop herself.
When Emily turned to look at her, Chris picked up the yellow flower shirt from where it lay on the cot and tossed it to the girl. “You can keep this,” she said.
Emily caught the bundle with a wide grin. “Thanks!”
The guards were making a ruckus again, so Emily continued her retreat.
“Geez, take a chill pill,” she told the guards as she left the cell. The words sounded hilarious, coming from such a small person. “She’s not dangerous, okay? Trust me, I should know.”
The door slammed shut, and Chris could hear its internal locking mechanisms clicking back into place. She walked over to the small table to sit down on one of the hard chairs. The hug had been nice; she honestly couldn’t recall the last time anyone had hugged her. She hadn’t even realized how much she’d needed one until that little girl broke through her defenses.
She pulled the folded piece of paper from her hoodie pocket and considered it for a moment. Emily had asked her not to look at it until later. But why?
Chris traced the edge of the small white square with her fingertip, then set it on the table. If Emily didn’t want her to look at it yet, she wouldn’t. Besides, she enjoyed the idea of having something to look forward to, even something as minor as a letter written by a little girl. If she unfolded the paper now, she’d break the magic.
With that decision out of the way, she moved back to her cot to wait for Athena. Chris didn’t know if the heroine was coming in a few minutes, hours, or even a few days, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like she had anything else to do.
Chris must have dozed off, because she awoke to the sound of a voice calling to her over the intercom. It put her entire body in a state of alert. She sat up with one jerking movement, peering at the door through narrow eyes.
Stop calling me that. The flicker of irritation which had been sitting in the back of her mind for hours suddenly flared, reminding her of how frustrating her situation was.
“Christina, may I come in?” Athena asked.
“I can’t exactly stop you, can I?” Chris said, keeping her eyes on the door rather than the intercom.
The locking mechanisms shifted and the door slowly swung open, allowing for a draft of cool, fresh air to flow into the cell.
Chris was taken by surprise as she spotted the figure in the doorway. It was the real Athena for once, not just a gadget sent in her stead. Instead of the suit of power armor she was usually depicted in, Athena’s petite body was wrapped in a mundane pair of jeans and a simple peasant blouse. She looked surprisingly small and vulnerable without her armor. Her dark curly hair was piled in a big bun atop her head, adding a couple inches to her height.
Athena looked to be in her mid-twenties, with olive-hued skin and jet-black eyes to match her Greek origin. She was pretty, but not strikingly attractive. She had a weary, drained look about her as she walked across the cell to one of the chairs.
“I apologize for the delay,” the heroine said. “Things have been hectic at headquarters.” Her practiced way of speaking sounded amplified in person.
“Yeah, I get it. Distraction in South Africa,” Chris answered, wishing the woman would get to the point already. There had to be an explanation for all of this, and she wanted to hear it.
Athena’s mouth tightened. “That, among other things. There were some reports of fugitives who fled from the White Center mall location on the night of your altercation. Overseer Vega demanded that you be put on hold until the situation could be cleared up.”
“And by on hold, you mean solitary confinement,” Chris supplied icily.
“We had no other choice, Christina.”
“You could have asked, you know? Knocking me out without warning was a bit of a dick move.”
Athena didn’t disagree. She drew out the chair she was standing beside and sat down. “Samael was of the opinion that you might run if the evidence turned out not to be in your favor, and you are not exactly a slow runner.”
The remark put Chris on the defensive. “What evidence?”
“Witness testimony, mainly. Fortunately, the witnesses were cooperative, and their stories matched for the most part. You encountered a villain named Gentleman?”
Chris bought some time by arranging herself into a sitting position on her cot, her back against the wall. “Yeah. He pulled some kind of appearance shifting stunt, and so did that monster robot of his. He changed his speech, too. It was all over the top. Like he got a kick out of it.”
Athena nodded with a pensive look on her face. “Gentleman is a negotiator, the front man associated with a villain group known to us as the Conglomerate. The group was originally founded by Data, whom we suspect to be the creator of those machines you have seen. Gentleman had vanished and was considered dead, but your encounter suggests otherwise.”
“Machines?” Chris repeated, sitting up straighter. “You mean, there’s more than one of them?”
“We found three others, but there are likely more out there. They all detonated upon discovery, leaving little in the way of data to be examined.”
“Bummer,” Chris muttered. Her victory diminished in light of the new information.
“Can you tell me what else you observed about Gentleman?” Athena asked.
“Um, it looked like he was planning to hire a gang. I don’t know why, though.”
“Yes. Those civilians for hire were most likely intended to support an offensive strike at some point in time. We do not know when they intended to unleash the robots, and there isn’t any evidence which shows who–or what–their target was.”
Chris had no words. As far as she knew, villains only existed in fiction that predated the Pulse. The Covenant was quick and efficient in dealing with dangerous Evolved that cropped up.
Athena was tracing the table’s edge with a fingertip. “Christina, did Gentleman try to recruit you?”
“Yeah. And I told him to go fuck himself.” A thought dawned on her. “Wait a minute. Is that why you’re keeping me locked up? Because you think I might become a villain?”
It would make sense. It was easy to imagine how Chris’s powers might help a villain team survive a Covenant assault.
Athena shook her head, but something was gnawing at her, and she wasn’t very good at hiding it.
The heroine held up an index finger and made a circling motion in the air. A tiny metallic object detached itself from the brooch on her blouse to hover in the center of the room. When the device had positioned itself, Athena pulled her chair close to Chris’s cot.
“We cannot be overheard now,” Athena told her, meeting Chris’s eyes with her own. “I want to be honest with you, Christina. It is my own personal decision to tell you this because I think you need to understand the situation we are facing. Once you do, you will need to make a very important decision.”
Chris just nodded, unsure of how to feel about this sudden shift in the direction of their conversation. But honesty was something she could appreciate for now.
“Right now we are faced with a two-fold risk,” Athena began, drawing in a deep breath. “For the two reasons I am about to mention, the UNEOA has recently decided that rogue Evolved are no longer tolerable. The potential risk they pose is too great.”
Chris’s mind raced to process the information. Does she mean that all new transitions with rogue status are going to get locked up? She was incredulous.
“First of all,” Athena began, barely giving Chris a chance to catch her breath, “Are you aware of the Evolved disappearances in America and Europe? There have been nine confirmed cases so far, all within the past two months.”
Chris was still numb. “I heard about a couple of them in the news, I think.”
“We refer to these disappearances as going ‘off the grid,’ meaning my teammate Queenie is no longer able to locate them. There are some theories regarding the reasons for these disappearances in Europe, but those same theories do not seem to apply to the American continent. They may have been kidnapped, or they could be dead,” Athena informed her. “Regardless, we need to make sure that no one else disappears.”
“You mean there could be a serial killer and not even the Covenant knows for sure?” Chris asked, taking the thought one step further.
“Obviously, we need to get to the bottom of this,” Athena said firmly. “Even if they are alive and have found a way to block Queenie’s powers, we cannot have Evolved just roaming around dodging Covenant intelligence.”
Chris nodded. She felt like she was back in Mr. Kim’s chemistry lab, wanting to know all the things that were not in the curriculum, but were more immediately useful.
“Second of all, the issue of the power surges is becoming much more concerning,” Athena continued.
Chris knew about power surges. From what she’d gathered, they were inexplicable, seemingly random bursts of energy that supercharged Evolved powers. They greatly increased the strength and range of existing powers or, more uncommonly, granted them new abilities. Power surges had only begun to happen recently. Newscasters and pundits had discussed the potential of detrimental post-surge side effects, but Chris hadn’t known that they were considered such an immediate problem.
“Did you figure out what’s causing them yet?” Chris asked, hoping to learn something new.
“We still lack any definitive evidence, but we do know that they are happening more frequently now. And they are posing more and more risk.” Athena looked up to check that the little device was still hovering. Satisfied, she went on. “Shadowslasher’s range increased to half a mile. He became overconfident, declared himself a god and saw fit to ‘punish’ those who opposed him. Since he was a rogue and could not be contained, the Covenant had to cull him.”
Was he the only one they killed? Chris wondered. She hadn’t heard anything on the news, but, then again, the UNEOA would have all sorts of reasons to keep the incident under wraps. That was the kind of news that inspired mass panic.
“We didn’t have any choice,” Athena went on, watching Chris’s face. “His power had developed to the point where he could slice a two-story house in half. From half a mile away.”
“What happened in South Africa?” Chris asked.
“Monsoon happened,” Athena said. “His power surge created a lake the size of a town near Johannesburg. Hundreds of people have drowned. Many more are missing.”
“So that’s why Radiant and the others are over there,” Chris murmured, getting off the cot to take the chair opposite Athena at the table. Things were starting to make a little more sense now.
Athena nodded. “I am telling you all of this because we need you. As you can probably imagine, the UNEOA is concerned with these new developments. The power landscape is shifting, and we are not sure if the Covenant can stay ahead of it much longer. Just last night the small Assembly agreed to evacuate the Oracle. She was moved to a secure location which is being kept strictly confidential.”
The Oracle. Chris remembered that name because it had been all over the news for some time. The Oracle was a comatose, paraplegic Visionary. The most powerful clairvoyant in the world, in fact. Most of her prophecies had come true, though no one truly understood her predictions about the end of the world. They involved ‘the One’ and ‘the Other,’ who the UNEOA believed to be the Healer and the Antithesis.
The former, everyone assumed, was Shanti. The latter had never been identified.
“Why did you move her?” Chris asked, wondering what had sparked the sudden concern for the Visionary’s life.
“To prevent a worldwide panic. If people learn of her visions of widespread devastation, who knows what lengths they will go to in order to save themselves and their families? But that is top secret information that is not to leave this room.”
Chris just sat in silence as she processed Athena’s revelations. So the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and Athena thinks that I can help? Even if this was true, Chris couldn’t imagine how her force fields prevented power surges and mass panic. Maybe Athena had an idea. But if she did, she was keeping it to herself.
But if I’m not with them, they might think I’m part of the problem.
Chris’s eyes shifted to the abandoned piece of folded-up paper on the table beside her elbow. Before she made any decisions about something which would have a huge impact on the rest of her life, she wanted to know what the little Empath had to say.
Athena watched curiously as Chris unfolded the paper. But it wasn’t a letter—it was a drawing. Something about the pencil illustration looked eerily familiar, but she couldn’t place it. The clumsy composition clearly indicated a child artist, but the scene was identifiable enough. A giant lizard—equipped with horns, wings, and tentacles—held a broken skyscraper within its monstrous grasp as two small figures with capes opposed it.
The shorter figure, labeled ‘Super Kid,’ stood closest to the giant lizard and was surrounded by a bubble which deflected the monster’s fiery breath. The larger figure extended its arms to protect the shorter companion.
Chris lowered the drawing to her lap, her eyes seeking Athena’s. “You’re not giving me a choice, are you?”
The heroine didn’t flinch. “If it were up to me, I would have no problem trusting you. But you were a subject of debate even before Monsoon’s surge. And now the situation is concerning enough that all rogues, even cooperative ones, will be treated much more harshly. If you do not agree to join us, then I cannot offer you anything in terms of protection.”
Chris smiled sadly at the irony of it all. She was a Guardian, and now she was the one who needed protection. She couldn’t help but to feel that Athena was pointing a proverbial gun at her. Sure, Chris wanted to reach the point where she could eventually face her parents without feeling like a monster. Just not like this.
“But I wanted to work on my terms,” she said quietly. To her horror, she felt tears prickling at the back of her eyeballs. She wished she had a cigarette.
Athena leaned across the table and forced Chris to look her in the eyes. “When we spoke in the park, you asked me whether I believed you could make amends. Well, this is your chance. We are not talking about catching criminals here, Christina. This is dangerous work, and there is no guarantee that any of us will make it out alive. But we are about to face a worldwide crisis, and we need all the help we can get. The next surge might very well make your hometown uninhabitable, or end tens of thousands of lives, or worse.”
Chris felt her resolve begin to crumble. Another glance down at Kid’s drawing confirmed her decision. Something about the thick pencil lines struck a chord in her. It only made sense that an Empath like Kid would know exactly how to get under her skin. Maybe she should have been irritated by that, but she could forgive a cute little girl easier than she’d ever forgive Athena or Samael.
“Fine. Introduce me to the Wardens,” Chris agreed. “But that doesn’t mean I’ll be a puppet on a strings.”
Athena smiled. “Fine. Anything else?” she asked, relief audible in her voice.
“I really need a cigarette,” Chris told her.
Athena shook her head. “Have you not heard? Smoking can kill you.”