As the tests continued, Matheus, to his pleasant astonishment, realised that he was actually growing bored. After hours of non-stop stress and mounting anxiety, the worst had happened. He had revealed to the others what he truly was. It was done. And now, the lack of any consequences to showing his true form had lead to an anti-climax. But a welcome one, Matheus reflected.
He didn’t watch as Mrs Hashiji continued to twist her hands at Lintz’s directions. Instead, he found himself looking up at the window to the observation room.
He had hoped to see the reaction of Monica and Sandy now that his transformation was complete. Monica was looking down at them, her arms folded tightly together, with concern in her dark eyes. Matheus felt he could feel the apprehension in her gaze, as if she was waiting with bated breath for something to go wrong.
At first, Matheus couldn’t see Sandy. It seemed like Monica was entirely on her own in the observation room. The low angle meant that he could only see directly in front of the window. After a moment, Sandy appeared from the rear of the room. He was pacing back and forth with his back turned to the window, with a cell phone pressed up against his ear.
Once more, annoyance rose in Matheus’s mind. After building up his true appearance, after the terror of being asked to reveal himself to the others, he wanted at least some recognition from Sandy.
Matheus didn’t know how he would have preferred Sandy to react, but even a look of horror would have been preferable to ignoring him.
‘E-2,’ Lintz was saying to Mrs Hashiji.
Matheus turned to see Mrs Hashiji frowning down at the board. The domino at E-2 was still upright. ‘I cannot seem to affect this one,’ Mrs Hashiji said, a note of puzzlement in her voice.
‘Try again,’ said Lintz, but his tone and the way he tapped out a brief flurry of notes suggested that this was not entirely unexpected.
Mrs Hasiji looked contemplatively at the domino, her lips slightly pouting. Finally she shrugged, and wafted her hand as if waving away an insect.
Matheus felt a peculiar sensation pass across his flesh. With a slight whistling noise, a sudden breeze had sprung up from nowhere as Mrs Hashiji moved her hand.
The domino on E-2 tumbled over, albeit much more inelegantly than the others had done nearly knocking over D-2 as well. As it did, two of the small pinwheels that Kohli had placed at the corners of the table began spinning wildly.
Lintz clicked his tongue before tersely saying, ‘Please follow my instructions and refrain from causing the fans to spin.’
Mrs Hashiji smiled apologetically, ‘My apologies, Mr Lintz, I could not see another way.’
Lintz’s eyes dropped back to his tablet. ‘Note 3: Mrs Hashiji was unable to affect the domino placed on E-2. Composition is circuitry. D-2.’
Mrs Hashiji didn’t make a move. Lintz continued looking expectantly at her.
‘That was an instruction, Mrs Hashiji. D-2.’
Mrs Hashiji held his gaze. ‘I am aware of that,’ she said, ‘But I am certain that I will not be able to affect that one either.’
Lintz frowned. ‘How are you certain?’
She pursed her lips and tilted her head to one side, before saying, ‘I have an… impression. That is all.’
Lintz said nothing for a moment, before turning back to his computer. ‘Note 4: Mrs Hashiji did not attempt to affect the domino placed on D-2 stating that she had an “impression” she would be unable to do so. Composition is consecrated marble.’
Lintz’s voice irritated Matheus no end. Between the orders he was giving to Mrs Hashiji and the notes spoken into the microphones, Lintz’s nasal tone was inescapable. As he continued to drone on and on, Matheus once more found his attention drawn to the little window above them and its occupants. Sandy’s back was still to them, and to Matheus’s continued irritation he was still speaking into his phone.
He looked up just in time to see Sandy turn to face the window. As he stared at Sandy’s face, Matheus’s annoyance was slowly eroded by a mounting concern.
Sandy had always worn a near continuous smile. To Matheus, it gave him the impression of a used-car salesman. He seemed too happy, too pleasant, too greasy. There was something slightly disingenuous about the man, though never enough for Matheus to outright hate him.
There was no smile on Sandy’s face now. Whatever the topic of conversation, and whoever he was sharing it with, it had left Sandy’s expression sallow and worn out. Bags, which had been noticeable under his eyes before, now looked like bruises. His cheeks had sagged, and even his hairline seemed to have receded a little more. Matheus felt like he was looking at a man ten years older.
The person on the other end of the phone was clearly saying something at length, because Sandy barely got a word in for the twenty seconds or so that Matheus watched him. When he did, it looked like he was cut short. Someone had just interrupted him.
Matheus was glad Sandy didn’t notice him. Even without the psychic focus to translate Matheus’s natural expression into something understandable, he thought the agent would have seen the concern in his eyes.
Monica noticed him watching though. As his gaze panned across the window, he saw her looking at him. She smiled in a way that was sad, warm, and protective all at once. It was the smile that a family member might give to a patient on a hospital bed.
Matheus made a brave face back, as it seemed the appropriate response, before turning his attention to the testing.
By now, Kohli had reentered without Chester. He positioned himself near the storage crates and crossed his broad arms, watching Lintz. Something about Kohli didn’t sit well with Matheus. He was a Captain, dressed in uniform, albeit one that had little if any resemblance to a military uniform. He was dignified, so why, Matheus wondered, was he volunteering his time helping out someone like Lintz? What was he getting out of this?
‘Captain Kohli,’ said Lintz, ‘Please take up position for the next step in Mrs Hashiji’s testing.’
‘Right you are, Mr Lintz,’ he said, before leisurely walking over to stand in front of Mrs Hashiji’s table.
‘Captain Kohli has certain abilities,’ said Lintz, returning the dominoes to their upright positions, ‘That he is going to use now.’
His words caused Kohli to snicker. The captain then raised his hands, fingers splayed, like a pianist preparing to play.
Lintz continued speaking to Mrs Hasjiji, saying, ‘He is going to raise the temperature of some of the dominoes without indicating which ones. Please knock over the ones that are affected.’
Mrs Hashiji narrowed her eyes, but smiled. ‘Yes,’ she said after a beat, raising her own hands, ‘I think I can do that.’
‘Good. You may begin, Captain Kohli.’
Matheus had expected to see a beam of light, or a flame, or something else to emerge from Kohli’s hands, but nothing happened.
After a few seconds, Hashiji indicated with her own hand and a domino fell down.
Kohli smiled approvingly.
‘Good. Please continue,’ said Lintz, dispassionately. He turned to Matheus, ‘Mr Costa, while Mrs Hashiji is working on this, we are going to commence with your tests.’
Matheus nodded. ‘Very well.’
He still hadn’t sat down, that is pretended to sit down as he usually did. He and Lintz looked at each other for a moment.
Matheus didn’t know everything the psychic focus did, but one of the things he did know was that it made people underestimate his size. They’d see him as big, but his true form was bigger. Inhumanly big. He saw the intimidation in Lintz’s eyes, unclouded by psychic distortions.
Matheus decided to smile down at the little man. Even he was unsure whether he was trying to put Lintz at ease, or intimidate him even more.
‘I presume,’ said Matheus in a polite rumble, ‘That you wish to test the limits of my physical strength? Or endurance, perhaps?’
‘No. Not yet,’ said Lintz, holding his tablet in front of his chest like a shield. He coughed, before continuing, ‘Instead, I think our time here would be better spent with a visual examination for now.’
Matheus realised that he had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts and feelings that he’d failed to notice how embarrassed Lintz was. He seemed almost shifty-eyed.
‘Very well,’ said Matheus, ‘How can I help?’
‘Well, if you feel comfortable with it, would you mind removing your shirt?’ said Lintz, haltingly.
Matheus could have laughed. If they had asked him before they’d started whether he would have preferred to strip fully naked or drop his focus, he would have exposed himself then and there to all of them. He had already faced the worst humiliation. Everything from this point onwards was a walk in the park.
‘Of course,’ he said pleasantly, unbuttoning his shirt.
The shirt, like everything else that Matheus wore, had been tailor-made for his enormous frame. This included the buttons, which were disks of metal wider than a quarter. They were still a challenge for his fingers.
After a minute or so of fumbling, he removed his shirt, exposing his chest. He looked sheepishly around for a moment to see the reactions of Hashiji and Pretorius, but to his surprise both barely looked up at him. Lintz on the other hand was studying his torso carefully, but at least Matheus now knew he was doing so for testing purposes.
‘Thank you, Mr Costa,’ said Lintz, his eyes flickering up to his face.
‘No problem at all,’ said Matheus, carefully folding his shirt and placing it on the table.
Still staring fixedly at Matheus’s torso, Lintz began speaking into his microphone. ‘Note 5: Mr Costa’s physical form has been dramatically altered, as per the information contained in the first report. Most notably his proportion have dramatically increased.’ Lintz began to step closer to Matheus, studying his abdomen. ‘Though the subject’s strength was enhanced, his musculature is surprisingly unpronounced. It is difficult to differentiate muscles from the general mass of his body.’ Lintz now began walking around Matheus, studying his back and sides. ‘Apparently a complete lack of body hair. Notable discolouration. The greater part of his body seems to be a pale white – though a whiteness of a tone not usually associated with human pigments. Though, interestingly enough there are patches of pink amongst the white. These patches are large, patterned with soft, curved edges, and seemingly quite symmetrical.’
Lintz circled back around to the front of Matheus, still studying his exposed body. As he walked, he continued speaking. ‘The skin discolouration, combined with the dramatic change in physical form, seems characteristic, as the report suggests, of genetic alteration, specifically mutation.’
An icy dagger of fear shot upwards through Matheus’s abdomen.
The word pinged off the inside of his skull repeatedly, making his breath come in sharp gasps that he had to work hard to suppress.
It must have been an extreme reaction, because Lintz seemed to notice despite the way his true form distorted his expression. He paused, but continued without referencing it.
‘The nature of the mutation is difficult to ascertain. The speed at which the transformation took place suggests against mutation entirely, but the physical changes are inconsistent with traditional Sekt-Cell activation. The lack of reaction from the detector-dog suggests against daimomorphism. The altered anatomy could be consistent with carnomorphism, but that does not account for the discolouration. The specifics of the power manifestation rule out the majority of other mutations. Appearance and abilities are perfectly in keeping with leukomorphism, if it weren’t for the fact that it was a sudden transformation… and the pink discolouration…’
Lintz paused, still looking at Matheus’s bare torso with a distant expression. He clicked his tongue.
‘Mr Costa,’ said Lintz at last, ‘Did you have tattoos before the accident?’
Matheus’s mind raced as he tried to decide what answer Lintz was looking for. In the end, he settled on the truth.
‘Yes. Yes I did.’
‘Did your tattoos correlate with the your current discolouration?’
Matheus frowned, ‘I am sorry, but I don not think that I understand the question. Would you mind rephrasing it for me please?’
‘Were the tattoos similar in any way to the pink spots that you currently have on your body?’ said Lintz, somewhat impatiently, ‘Were they in the same place? Or of the same colour?’
Matheus thought for a moment, worried that any answer he gave could be misinterpreted. ‘They were about the same places and sizes. A different colour.’
Lintz started tapping with greater intensity on his tablet, which Matheus took to mean that a theory of his had just been confirmed. Without looking up, he continued speaking.
‘According to the report I received, you were not aware of your exact proportions before the accident. Is that correct?’
Matheus shrugged, ‘That is correct. I had not measured my height and I was not watching my weight as much as I perhaps should have been, so I was unsure of that also. Speaking of which, have you finished examining my body and if so, may I return my shirt?’
‘Yes, you may,’ said Lintz, the rose creeping back into his cheeks.
Matheus thanked him and began putting the shirt back on. As he did, he continued speaking, ‘I was tall, taller than average, certainly. And I was… Broad, for want of a better word. Well-muscled.’
‘Are there any photos of you from before the accident?’ Lintz asked, before quickly adding, ‘For comparison purposes, you understand.’
‘Well, unfortunately, I do not believe there are,’ said Matheus, carefully, ‘At least, not recent photos.’
Lintz actually seemed taken aback by this, ‘You have no photographs of yourself whatsoever? None?’
Matheus pursed his enormous lips before forcing a smile. ‘I regret to say,’ he said slowly, ‘That I do not have much of what one might call a social life. I am afraid that I have not spent too long in the United States, and as a result I have not yet managed to build a social circle. As such, I don’t have many opportunities to have my photo taken.’
‘Only a short amount of time?’ said Lintz, ‘According to our records, you’ve been in the States now for eight years? Is that not correct?’
Matheus grimaced, ‘Yes, I am rather slow to making friends. Thank you for bringing that to my attention, Mr Lintz.’
Once more Lintz seemed to struggle to hide his embarrassment. ‘Thank you, Matheus. If you know of anyone who might have a photograph of you from before the accident, please pass it along to Parma or myself.’
Matheus sighed slightly through his nose and turned his eyes to the ceiling. ‘I will speak to my mother about it, but I would not hold out much hope. We Costa’s are a remarkably unsentimental family.’
Lintz continued tapping on the tablet for a moment more. ‘Thank you, Mr Costa, I will return to you in a moment.’
Matheus barely heard him. When he had turned his eyes upwards, he had spotted something that had caught his attention. While Lintz returned to Dr Pretorius to see how he was handling his test, Matheus’s eyes focused on the viewing window. Sandy was no longer on the phone, but his strained expression was still apparent. Now, he seemed to be talking to someone else in the room. At first Matheus thought it was Monica, but both of them seemed to be facing the same direction. Towards the far wall of the observation chamber.
From his vantage, Matheus couldn’t make out who they were speaking to – the lip of the chamber made the angle awkward. But after a moment, it didn’t matter, because the figure strode into view in front of the window.
It was a woman of about average height, dressed in formal business wear in a charcoal colour. She had blonde, almost white hair in a short cut, and eyes that even from the distance Matheus saw them at were startlingly blue. She looked like she could have once been beautiful, but she was older now. Hard-lined.
She was speaking to Sandy. The Agent’s back was turned to the window, so Matheus couldn’t make out his reactions. Judging by the woman though, it looked like the conversation was tense. She was speaking rapidly, and from the movement of her lips she seemed to be snarling.
Every now and then while they were talking, she would cease long enough for Sandy or Monica to get a few words in. But then she’d start up again, dominating the conversation.
After a minute or so of watching the window, Matheus saw the blonde woman stop talking abruptly. Sandy and Monica said nothing.
Her cold blue eyes glanced through the window, and made contact with Matheus’s.
He held her gaze.
The emotion on her lined face was hard to judge, but whatever it was, it was overwhelming. A torrent of hard, conflicting emotions, directed squarely at Matheus. There was loathing there. A cold, calculated loathing, but it was mingled with pity. Running through it all was suspicion.
It was the look that someone might give to a family dog that had suddenly, brutally attacked someone out of the blue, and now must be put down.
In that moment, Matheus knew that of everyone he had encountered in the Parma Station, she was by far the most dangerous.
Her eyes pierced into Matheus’s. Twin, blue-flamed blow-torches.
Matheus knew that he should look away, but he had had enough of being demure for one day. He had finished buttoning up his shirt now. Without breaking eye-contact, he adjusted his cuffs, and gave the woman a polite nod.
She didn’t acknowledge it, but after a moment she continued talking to Sandy and Monica. A second later, she turned her eyes from Matheus.
Only a little satisfied, Matheus turned his attention back to the other two and their tests.