Here it is, “The Other Identity”, the short story I’ve been writing for the past few days. It takes place during the opening chapters of Dual Identities, but there’s nothing from that story you have to know to understand this story. For something that I started five days before this posting, I’m quite pleased with the outcome.
Since I was inspired to do this as part of Emily Suess’ Writers’ Week, I should point this entry is based off prompt #3, You’d be much more attractive if you...
The Other Identity
By Len Berry
“You’d be much more attractive if you didn’t fight back,” Christina said. With her index finger she traced a line over the jaw of her captive, another young woman who needed a proper education. “I assure you, I will be much kinder than my mentor was with me.”
The strawberry blond student, Monet, scowled and struggled, but could only move an inch in any given direction. Nothing stood in place to stop the angered movements, nothing except for Christina’s will.
Christina paced around the chair where her student sat. She moved with grace between the student and the plush red curtains covering each of the walls. Her designer heels clicked with each step, drawing her student’s attention.
“You might be thinking you’re just another girl in my care, but you would be wrong.” Christina decided to be honest with her charge, especially since, elsewhere in the facility, Katzeva would be evaluating her performance.
When she finished her circuit around the room, Christina stood ten feet in front of her student. For the occasion, she decided to wear a sleeveless dress with a bold collar and a plunging neckline, just like Katzeva wore on their first meeting. Christina chose to wear shimmering black, a color Katzeva rarely enjoyed, and carried a plush dog instead of a fuzzy bear. Like her mentor, she swept her chestnut bangs across the left side of her forehead.
“I hope you understand the situation, Monet, as it is not open to negotiation.”
“I can hear it in you,” Monet said.
Christina’s eyes widened. It shouldn’t have been possible for Monet to talk without permission, but she did. “I should warn you, defiance will be punished.”
Monet spoke again, keeping her voice low and quiet. “She’s beat up and weak, but she’s still there.”
Christina thought about a hand closing around the young woman’s mouth and throat. A muffled gurgling sound filled the room, like Monet had been gagged and not silenced through more impressive means.
With a gesture, the curtain behind Christina pulled away, revealing a large projector screen. “You will now watch an instructional film. Please pay close attention since you’ll be tested on it in the near future.”
After hours of training, Christina could feel the weight of her eyelids pulling her toward the bed. She looked at the thin curtains covering the cushy mattress. The maids took loving care of Christina’s room; anything less would invite Katzeva’s wrath.
Christina locked her door and slipped out of her shoes. Only when the staff left her alone did she dare to relax. Blatant lounging was rude and lacked polite decorum. Of course, telekinetically gagging her new student wasn’t the most polite thing to do, but she had little choice. She warned the girl not to resist.
Christina wanted to find a way to reach the young woman, it could be done. After everything Katzeva put her through, she had to find an easier way. Christina stroked the black and white fur of her stuffed dog, satisfied it would help her when the time came.
She put the dog on the edge on a table close to the bed and opened a cabinet filled with beauty supplies, syringes, a mannequin head, and a vanity mirror. Christina massaged her forehead and started pulling hairpins from her scalp. It took a few minutes for her to finish pulling pins. A moment later, she lifted the chestnut wig from her scalp. The young woman pulled the hairnet loose, freeing a full head of blood red hair.
Seeing her reflection, Christina hated herself. With red hair, she could see what she once was, a rude, undisciplined creature. A woman lacking dignity, grace, or direction. Katzeva refused to let Christina dye her hair, nor could she cut it. She stepped away from the vanity mirror and started brushing the wig’s hair, since it was more important to her outward appearance than the vile red rooted in her scalp.
The next day, Christina elected to wear a maroon dress with white trim. Her student still resisted, wearing prison orange. “This simply will not do,” Christina said. “You cannot take your lessons looking like some… thug. I won’t have it.”
“I don’t care.”
Christina stroked the stuffed dog, tickling open a small pocket. She pulled out a trio of long needles. “I wanted to avoid this because I know how painful it can be.” All at once, she tossed the needles at her student, willing them to pierce the young woman’s flesh in sensitive places.
The young woman screamed, her voice tearing through the air. Christina winced as the sound ripped at her eardrums. She pulled out another needle and flung it through the air, stopping it inches in front of the young woman’s face. “That will be enough screaming, thank you. It’s an undignified sound and I will not hear it pass your lips again.”
As the young woman fought the needles in her flesh and the pain those pins caused, a quiet groan purred in the back of her throat. Her eyes watered but she did not cry.
“You are quite strong,” Christina said. She flipped two fingers on her right hand.
Monet soared out of her chair and collapsed on the opposite side of the room.
Before Monet could sit up, Christina flicked her left hand, releasing a handful of needles. The tiny metal shards floated as an indistinct cloud, surrounding the captive young woman.
“I am tired of your resistance on the simplest thing.” Her fingers, her mouth, even her eyes overflowed with hate. Christina wanted to reach out with her powers and twist Monet, ripping her in half if necessary.
For an instant, Christina remembered wrestling with Katzeva in a battle of wills. Their contest had been just as brief with Katzeva demonstrating her willingness to kill or maim Christina if she didn’t comply.
Christina shook her head. “I won’t be cruel to you, not if I don’t have to be. Tomorrow, when we meet, I expect you’ll have chosen something appropriate to wear. Or I’ll arrange for the guards to take your clothes.”
After the guards took Monet away, Christina grew tired once more. Training someone to act properly took more out of her than she expected. She decided the next time she saw Katzeva, she would thank her for all the hard work it took to refine her attitude and behavior.
As she rubbed her eyes, something moved behind the curtain. It wouldn’t be a mouse, since the facility was well-maintained. It couldn’t be a bug, since the staff frequently sprayed to exterminate any insects.
Not caring for intrusion, Christina stepped toward the swaying curtain, flipping her wrist to push it out of the way. A slate gray wall awaited her, no intruder or spy.
Christina turned, finding a manservant in a waistcoat bowing his head. “Yes? What is it?”
“You’ve been down here for some time. I was asked to come and make sure everything was in order.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“It’s been an hour since your session with the young lady ended and no one had spoken or heard from you.”
Only a few minutes before, Monet told her about this other person, some other woman wanting to get free from Christina. She knew of no such person, making the notion preposterous.
Beyond the manservant, standing in the hallway, a woman waited. She wore the same outfit Christina wore, kept the same makeup as well. Her hair fell all around her head and even down her face. With a blood red hue, the fallen locks made the woman look wounded. Her eyes turned toward Christina and did not move away. A pair of blazing gold irises studied Christina’s every move.
Christina stroked her stuffed dog, drawing out a needle. When she looked up, the woman vanished.
“Miss?” the manservant asked. “Is everything well?”
“Yes,” Christina said, then walked past the man, paying him no regard at all. She looked both ways in the hall and saw no sign of the woman.
In her room, Christina sat at her desk, looking over the files on Monet, hoping still to find a way to make things less difficult on both of them. When she did have time in her schedule to sit comfortably by herself at night, Christina would change into her nightclothes and read over her assigned readings until she couldn’t keep her eyes open or until morning came, whichever the case may be.
Her reading spoke primarily about Monet Sullivan—Sophie Monet Sullivan, a name Christina knew she needed her student to embrace. As Katzeva taught, a dignified name was the first step in having others treat one with dignity and respect.
For a moment, Christina’s fingers tread over another file hiding beneath Monet’s. The name listed on the margin was Kathryn C. Angel, a name that disgusted Christina. A taste of bile rose in the back of her mouth, making a flavor unwilling to subside.
Returning to the information in Sullivan’s file, Christina read over the young woman’s history. Reportedly a telepath from a few basic tests, Sullivan was an Angel Sympathizer, a radical youth devoted to the notion that Kathryn Angel fought for the good of the people and wasn’t a terrorist.
Most people who took part in a specialized education like Christina once did, understood that something in their makeup needed correction. Anything could be altered, from poise to manner of speech, from a name to a face, everything was malleable with enough time and patience.
Behind Christina, the weight of her bed shifted. She glanced over her shoulder reflexively and saw a woman smiling.
She twisted around and saw the same woman from the hallway. The woman sat still, holding up her right hand in greeting. Her crimson hair contrasted against her pink T-shirt and blue jeans. She smiled just a little.
Knowing she had to get rid of the intruder, Christina twisted around, grabbing her stuffed dog. She pulled a handful of needles free and tossed them across the room, launching them with a burst of telekinesis. The needles soared at incredible speed, biting through curtains, not flesh. The woman vanished without a sound or a step.
In a huff, Christina stood up and ventured toward her bed. She pulled the curtains back, hoping to find a few drops of blood, if not a body in agony. Either way, she had been too slow, or at least not fast enough to strike her target.
“I want you to say your name,” Christina ordered.
Christina shook her head and threw a needle into Monet’s shoulder. “Try again, please.”
Struggling, the young woman said, “Monet.”
Over the course of several days, they made small steps of progress. Monet started dressing properly, wearing a skirt and blouse instead of the garish orange prison jumpsuit the standard inmates wore. The young woman’s hair had much to be desired, but that would change in time, especially once Christina could start refining Monet’s attitude.
Again, Christina threw a needle into the young woman’s flesh. “That is incorrect. You’ll have to try again.”
“Only if you tell me yours.”
“You know my name is Christina Devlin—”
“Are you sure about that? Are you sure your parents gave you that name, or was it that Katzeva woman?”
With venom, Christina said, “My mother gave me this name.”
“Then why do you hate redheads?”
“I don’t hate anyone.”
“Really?” Monet glanced at the corner of the room where the hallway entrance hid behind a layer of plush curtains. “Who’s that then?”
Christina turned, knowing she would see the same woman again. The redhead lifted her right hand and waved, content to sit and wait until…
“I see nothing.” Christina lied.
Struggling with her words, Monet said, “I know you can see her. She’s waving right now.”
Christina started to draw another needle. “I don’t see how this can affect anything.”
“You can see her. You know she’s there.”
“This is a pointless distraction—”
“I’ll do it.”
Christina lowered the needle she held. Tilting her head, she waited for a response.
“If you admit she’s there, I’ll do whatever you want.”
“That’s quite a proposition. What’s to keep me from lying?”
“You know she’s there. If you admit it, you’re telling the truth. Now.” Monet took a deep breath. “Do you see her?”
Christina looked again. The red-haired woman crossed her arms and stared at Christina. Without saying anything, she watched, waiting for Christina to answer Monet’s question.
When she turned back, Christina said, “Yes. I see her. She’s quite impatient.”
“She wants to go home,” Monet said.
“I have little doubt of that.” Christina took a deep breath, blocking herself from thinking about the woman standing behind her. “I recall you said you didn’t plan to resist any more. Start by saying your name.”
Monet sighed and said, “My name is Sophie.”
Alone in her room, it all started to feel wrong. Sure, she had permission to everything going forward, but she didn’t know if she wanted that. She wanted to know what was bothering her, that itch behind her eyes, the one she didn’t think about unless—
The red-haired woman stood at the edge of the desk, her hand resting on a file folder Christina left behind from her previous reading. She pushed the folder to the edge of the desk, and lifted her hand with the exception of her index finger.
“Why don’t you say what you want?” Christina asked.
The other woman shook her head and tapped the folder.
Christina only stared back, waiting for the woman to speak. “Just tell me what you want already?”
The other woman shook her head again and pushed the file off the edge of the desk.
Stepping forward, Christina started picking up each of the papers, pictures, and reports. All parts of the file swayed through the air, spreading in several directions. Once she had them all together again, Christina noticed a pair of pictures, both belonging to Kathryn C. Angel.
She glanced up, finding herself alone again.
The pictures showed Kathryn, an inmate at the facility. Her nose was strong, her lips simple and slender. The second picture showed a woman with a button nose, fuller lips, the kind of face that should belong to a model, one with blood red hair.
It was a picture of Christina.
She shook her head. “That can’t be right. Someone’s playing games with me.” She crumpled the second picture. “That’s not me.”
Every time Monet agreed with Christina’s requests, Kathryn would soon appear for a moment. After several days, days Christina found success with, she finally had enough. “Sophie, there’s something I want to know.”
While brushing her hair, Monet said, “I’ll answer to the best of my ability.”
“Who is she? The redhead?”
“Kathryn Angel. She’s been missing for months.”
In the back of the room, Kathryn nodded.
“Yes. She was all over the news showing off her powers, then no one can find her.”
“So why is she here?”
“I don’t know,” Monet said. She crossed her legs and leaned back in her seat. “Why don’t you tell me?”
Instead of flinging a needle, Christina walked out of the room.
Lunch with Katzeva wasn’t an entirely unknown quantity, taking lunch outside the facility was a rarity. A car arrived in the garage, collecting Christina and Katzeva. After driving down a long tunnel, the sunlight blasted through the windows, nearly blinding Christina. “My dear,” Katzeva said, “that is why you must find yourself a stylish hat while we are out.”
Taller than average, Katzeva wore a close fitting royal blue skirt and jacket over a black shirt. Her wide brimmed hat made her look like a sinister Audrey Hepburn.
Christina dressed like Katzeva’s echo, lighter in skin tone, color of dress, and gaze. There was little difference in their heights. However, between the heels and the hat, Katzeva looked taller than her younger compatriot.
A while later, they found civilization and an outdoor restaurant featuring an exclusive clientele. Katzeva did little more than show her license and the entire staff started seeing to their every need. The staff at the facility hadn’t been so astute or willing to wait on the duo.
Once they were seated, Katzeva took the liberty of ordering for both of them. The moment the waiter stepped away, Katzeva leaned in and smiled. “How are things progressing with Miss Sullivan?”
Christina frowned for a moment, then remembered who she sat with. “She has been… difficult.”
“May I ask how?”
“She is willful. She doesn—does not wish to better herself.”
“I recall a few students who could be described the same way.” Katzeva stroked the fuzzy bear sitting in her lap. “They all improve.”
“She doesn’t actually fight back.”
Katzeva’s scowled and reached into her bear’s back. Then she leaned back, leaving the needle inside the stuffed animal. “Miss Sullivan accepts the training?”
“Without question. She still resists the core of what I teach her, even though my requests are always obeyed.”
“Have you conquered some part of her mind?”
“No,” Christina said. “I find the habit unconscionable.”
“Quite. Have you thought about introducing the protocol yet?”
“I am not certain it will take.” Christina forced herself to speak each word distinctly. Any deviation could result in swift punishment. She didn’t strike against contractions when training Monet, but she didn’t want to risk a slip in the presence of her teacher.
“Regardless of when you decide to introduce the protocol, I have absolute confidence in your ability to complete Miss Sullivan’s training.”
As much as Christina wanted that, she didn’t know if it was the right thing to do, not if Monet was the only one who could explain the red-haired woman.
Determined to do what she must, Christina went to her room and opened her vanity. She took one of the syringes out and checked it, making sure there were no air bubbles. Calling forth a pair of guards to escort her, Christina walked into a part of the facility she never ventured into, the prison.
They walked through the tall halls, stepping from lit area to lit area. As soon as they came close to the proper cell, Christina took a deep breath. The time for hesitation passed, the time for action, whether she liked it or not, had come.
With a nod, the guards opened the door. Inside, Monet lay sleeping. Her cell lacked aany room to move between the cot and the toilet. There were no windows, but, for Christina, that wasn’t unusual. The only light for the room came from an overhead lamp switched on from the hall.
The guards held Monet face down on the cot. She screamed and tried to kick, but couldn’t move enough for it to matter.
When the syringe was prepped, Christina said, “There is no need for you to fight back. In a moment, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself. You’ll want to better yourself.”
She moved in, plunging the tip of the syringe into the base of Monet’s neck. A moment later, the solution started to flow inward. Each drop took more of the fight out of the young woman. Christina couldn’t remember where or when Katzeva gave her the protocol, only that it worked, regardless of how much or little she struggled.
“Don’t fight. It’ll just hurt.”
Sophie relaxed and surrendered. Her gaze shifted everywhere, unable to focus on any one thing or person.
Christina looked around, wondering where Kathryn might be. Since Monet faded, Christina hoped Kathryn would as well. After a moment, Christina said, “Take Sophie to better accommodations, a room fitting a refined young woman.”
Finished with her first student, Christina returned to her room, ready to lie down for a while. She felt totally drained, like something had taken all the life out of her. From her lessons, Christina knew it was better to stop and rest rather than exert herself when others could take care of menial tasks.
After locking the door and drawing the curtains around her bed, Christina lay down, simply wanting to rest. She didn’t even bother taking off her wig, it felt so natural on her scalp.
Though the fibers of her disheveled hairstyle, Christina could see the face hovering above hers. The imagined woman still lingered, still refused to go away. For once she didn’t seem too imposing or unnatural.
Wearing a faint smirk, Kathryn said, “You’d be much more attractive if you fought back.”