Kerra snapped off the connection. She knew she had to get out of there immediately. "Maru," she called, standing up, "I just remembered something I had to do." She practically ran to the door, feeling Hirschel's eyes following her. "Thanks for your hospitality! Bye!"
"Oh?" came Maru's voice from the kitchen, "Okay, bye then!"
Kerra fled. She ran across walkways, waited fretfully in elevators, and slunk down spiral staircases. She took a circuitous route home to make certain whoever--whatever--Hirschel was couldn't follow her. They had spoken in her mind. Only her sisters could do that. It made sense since they were related but Hirschel speaking in her mind felt like a violation, a breach of personal space.
When she burst through the doors of The Drowned Goliath, Zak looked up from another sketch of his. Usually he didn't speak to her unless she spoke to him, but today he said, "Doing alright? You've been in and out a lot."
Kerra nodded breathlessly and hurried up the stairs. She didn't have time for pleasantries.
As soon as she was inside her apartment, door slamming behind her, Kerra collapsed on the floor and tried to calm herself. She took deep breaths and tried to think rationally.
But by the time she got her brain settled enough to think, she felt something pressing on her. It was Shandi, trying to get her attention. Kerra closed her eyes, leaned into the feeling, and when she opened them again, she was looking at Shandi's grinning face.
"I saw him!" she said. "And you actually hung around him for a good long time!"
Kerra didn't know if she could be more rattled today than she was but she had not been expecting this. "What did he say?"
Shandi's face fell. "Well. Not much to be honest. He basically refused to tell me anything useful at all. He only told me that he knows what's going on and that you should stay away from the person you met today. For your own safety. I didn't actually get to see the guy you met today, I was too focused on talking to the dude in here. What happened?" Shandi took a second to study Kerra, as if she had been too excited to notice her sister's panic before. "Are you okay? You look a bit wigged-out."
"I'm fine I think. I just got spooked. The person I met today--Maru called them Hirschel--spoke in my mind. They said that they know me. But I've definitely never seen them before in my life. I would have remembered them. And now knowing that they're dangerous has me even more creeped out." A sudden realization struck Kerra and she sat up from where she was sprawled out on her couch. "Is Maru going to be okay?"
Shandi shrugged. "Like I said, I didn't learn much."
"I need to tell Maru that Hirschel isn't who she thinks they are. She needs to-"
Just then, Kerra heard a loud beep and then a fizzling zap come from her front door. Then, the door slid open, revealing Hirschel. In their hand was a machine pressed up against the chip reader to her door. A little plume of smoke curled out from the machine. Hirschel grinned again.
I know you, they said in Kerra's mind as she scrambled up from the couch. Shandi had disappeared.
"I don't know how that could be, since I don't know you!" Kerra shouted. Thinking quickly, she hit the call button on her communicator watch. She only had time to hit the redial button before her hand froze. She couldn't move a muscle.
She watched as the communicator reached out to the last person she'd called. The Grin. Kerra would have smiled if she'd been able to. Surely the Grin would hear the silence and know something was wrong. But then, before Grin picked up, Kerra saw Hirshel moving their arm and felt her own arm moving, copying the motion. Her fingers flexed and she'd hit the "end call" button.
This is between you and me, Hirschel sent.
Kerra couldn't speak, but she could send back, Why are you here?
To kill you.
Chills flooded Kerra's body. She struggled to move but Hirschel's strange grip on her was too strong. Why?
Because you killed him.
I didn't kill anyone, Kerra protested. I promise! You have the wrong person!
Hirschel raised the machine in their hand to point at Kerra. She would have flinched if she'd been able to, but instead of vaporizing her or shooting her or killing her in any way, the machine just beeped. Your DNA is a match. It was you.
Who did I supposedly kill? I've never killed anyone!
A wave of hot anger flowed over Kerra as Hirschel took a step forward and she followed suit. You killed my brother. Maybe you didn't execute him yourself, but your actions directly led to his death.
I don't understand! Kerra screamed in her head.
You haven't done it yet, Hirschel said, But you will. You'll colonize my home, kill and enslave my people, and execute my brother for crimes he never committed. I'm putting a stop to it now. Without you, they never would have made it. My people would never have let such a contaminant enter the atmosphere.
Kerra didn't know what to make of any of this. You're wrong! was all she could think to reply.
I am not. Hirshel began walking toward Kerra's left, forcing Kerra to walk in the same direction. Toward her kitchen.
What are you doing? She cried.
You will be executed like my brother was executed.
The silence in the room was unnerving. Kerra listened as her feet dragged against the ground, the imitated gait of the stranger strange and overlong. If this is something that happened in the future, can't you just let me change my actions? Kerra asked, trying to wrap her head around the situation. She had reached the kitchen.
Too risky. You must die. Hirschel started motioning in a strange way, but when Kerra copied them, she began opening drawers and cupboards in the Kitchen. She was stopped when she opened her knife drawer.
Who do you even think I am? There's no way I could do any of that. Kerra would be crying now if she could. Her hand closed around a knife and lifted it out of the drawer.
Hirschel paused and faced Kerra, and she mirrored them, knife in her hand. You are Everen Hope. And you already did. I killed your mother thinking she hadn't birthed you yet. Then I met you today and I realized you were alive. You will not be for much longer. Hirschel raised their hand so the knife in Kerra's hand was pressing against her throat.
"Now!" came a voice from the hall, and a shadow burst into the room, tackling Hirshel to the floor.
Suddenly, Kerra could move again. She dropped the knife and kicked it away from her. The scream she'd been holding in came out all at once.
"Kerra, are you okay?" No Name was at her side.
Kerra couldn't speak, mind awhirl with knives, throat raw with the scream that had just ripped out of her. She nodded, then shook her head, then shrugged and sunk to the floor.
No Name squatted next to her. "It's okay. I'm here."
Numbers, the shadow that had tackled Hirschel, was sitting on top of them, pinning their right arm down and the Grin was pinning down their legs and left arm. Maru was sitting in the doorway looking terrified, an expression Kerra had never seen on her face.
Kerra had just taken in a breath to try to ask a question when the window in her living room crashed inwards.
Everyone screamed, and then a figure jumped through the window, landing on all fours in a pile of glass.
"Whoever you are, put your hands up!" Maru said. She'd produced a gun from somewhere and was pointing it at the newcomer. Her hand was shaking badly.
The person lifted their head and Kerra saw that it was a face she recognized. Blast Boy whipped their head around to take in the room. Kerra on the floor with No Name, the Grin and Numbers pinning down a tall figure on the floor, and Maru with a gun pointed directly at them. "Bad?" Blast Boy asked Kerra, inclining their head to Maru.
Kerra shook her head. "Maru's a friend," she managed to say.
Blast Boy sheepishly raised their hands, a couple of glass shards embedded in their palms bleeding.
"You know this person?" Maru asked.
The rest of the room nodded.
"They're with us," No Name said.
Maru lowered her gun and took a breath of relief.
Hirschel struggled on the floor.
"Blast Boy," Numbers said through gritted teeth, "we could use your help."
Blast Boy picked themselves off the floor, unclipped a rope attached to a harness that Kerra hadn't noticed they were wearing, and dutifully sat on Hirschel's legs.
Numbers swore. "When is Angelface going to get here?"
"I'm already here," came a voice from the hall.
Maru spun around in surprise, raising her gun again, but Angelface elegantly kicked it out of her hand. It slid across the floor to land by the broken window.
"Please," Angelface said, rolling her eyes at Maru. "Don't patronize me." She stepped into the room, pulling a syringe out of a pocket in her jacket. "Alive?" she asked, darting her eyes to Kerra.
"Numbers, hold it steady," Angelface demanded, then stabbed the syringe into Hirschel's arm, depressing the plunger only half way. "That should do it in a few seconds, but hold them steady just in case."
"We came as quick as we could," the Grin said. "I didn't know if you were really in trouble, but I figured it would be best to be safe. Numbers and No Name were already in the area, so they got here before I did. But this lady was already here." He gestured at Maru.
"When you left so suddenly, I was worried, and then Hirschel pulled out that machine," Maru pointed at the little device that had fried the chip reader and identified Kerra's DNA, "and left as well. I followed them and they eventually started heading toward your apartment. I'm glad your friends were so quick to come. Well, most of them." She squinted at Blast Boy.
"Hey," Blast Boy said, holding their bleeding hands in the air again. "I repelled down from the lower crust to get here as fast as I could. I didn't know I was going to be late!"
"You didn't have to burst through a window," Angelface said.
"It was the fastest way in!" Blast Boy argued.
"I think they've stopped struggling," the Grin said. "We should constrain them before they regain consciousness. You didn't see it Blast Boy and Angelface, but they were controlling Kerra with their movements somehow. We have to ensure they can't move at all."
Angelface nodded and pulled out two pairs of handcuffs. "Put this on their arms and legs." As Numbers and Blast Boy worked on that, Angelface handed the Grin a chain and a lock. "This is all I've got on hand with such short notice, but it should be good enough until we can get them somewhere safer."
"All you've got?" Maru looked stunned. "You just carry around chains and handcuffs and syringes?"
Angelface looked at Maru with hooded eyes, "A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do," she said.
Maru just shook her head in amazement.
"How did you get here so fast?" Numbers asked Angelface. "Weren't you in the Upper Crust?"
"I repelled like Blast Boy," she said, "But a bit more elegantly. I didn't feel the need to bust through a window either. You have a holding cell right?"
Numbers snapped his fingers. "Yes! I'd nearly forgotten. I've just been using it as storage. But we can clear it out.
"Then let's move. We have thirty minutes tops." Angelface clapped her hands. "No Name, Lady whose name I don't know, take care of Kerra."
No Name nodded.
"Okay," said Maru. It was clear she didn't like being boseed around by Angelface but she wasn't going to argue with her authority. Mary finally entered the room to get out of the way of those who were now carrying Hirschel.
"We'll call you soon," the Grin said to Kerra.
"Be careful," she replied.