New Author's Note: This is a repost of my old story 'When Tears Run Red', prequel to my other story 'The Scarlet Sonata'. There are quite a few differences from the original, enough so I thought a re-post would be better than a simple revision. In any case, please enjoy the new and improved WTRR, with half the calories but all the taste!
-Bert the Nomad
…Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies…
JumpCity11:02 p.m.: Professor Chang had his hands folded, his shoulders hunched, his eyes level. A small light glowed from overhead, illuminating his mahogany desk like finely polished stone. The room was dark. His gaze drifted temporarily down to his watch, then forwards again.
Two days, four hours, thirteen minutes, he thought quietly. At least he's specific about arrival time. With a sigh, he blinked and then leaned back casually in his chair. "I usually don't make last minute appointments." He said, scratching his chin nonchalantly with his index finger. "And I usually don't make appointments…with people I don't know."
Across from his desk, two little red lights shone back. One coming from the security console next to the door…the other coming from the hazy end of a small, glowing cigarette placed comfortably between a figure's lips. This was all there was to see.
The red dot swiveled to the floor as the figure lowered the cigarette and tapped a bit of ash from the tip with his pinky as he spoke. "This business means the world to me professor. I'll do anything in my power to gain your cooperation."
Chang eyed him. The man moved like a natural smoker, but his voice sounded like he had just developed the habit. It was untainted, youthful, and coolly confident. Chang always thought that he could tell a lot about someone by their voice and, comfortably, Chang had plenty of time to evaluate his new business partner from their phone conversation two days ago. Much to his disappointment however, Chang had decided that the owner of the cigarette and youthful voice was much more of a boy than a man. A decision that his arrogantly composed sentences, his exaggerated sinister tones, and his subtle underlying tone of…desperation had made that abundantly clear. Chang could tell there was no real threat here. Just a ploy. A bold ploy of a foolish boy.
A bad boy, Chang grinned secretly.
A fine trail of silver smoke weaved from the darkness as the stranger gave one more deliberate huff. Chang frowned, waving a hand across his nose, fanning the cloud away from his face
"You may be new here." He spoke flatly. "But the regulations of business remain as I stated over the phone. I need to know what you can offer before my services are given." He paused to smile. "It's just good business."
The red dot glowed brighter momentarily as the stranger took a casual drag before answering in a firm, decided tone. "The deaths of each and every Teen Titan." The red dot slowly spun in a circle as the cigarette was twirled in the stranger's long fingers. "Save one."
Chang's tilted his head. A bold bad boy, he thought with another wry smile. He straightened in his chair fiddling with his gloves. "That task has been attempted and failed too many times, sir." He glanced from his hand to the red glowing dot. "…What makes you think that you will be able to succeed?"
Another drawl from the cigarette, another puff of smoke, then, there was the sound of a zipper rapidly being drawn and something being removed from what sounded like a duffel bag. Chang was about to strain his neck to try to see what he was removing when something clattered onto his desk. Chang leaned forward.
"The communicator of Speedy. An honorary Titan, if I'm not mistaken."
Chang took it carefully into his hands, turning it over and raising his goggles to inspect it. It looked authentic. A quick flip of the screen confirmed it. This was Speedy's communicator. He hadn't been lying. Chang gave a thoughtful hum and placed it back onto the table, resting back into his seat and tenting his fingers. "So, are you claiming that you've…"
Four more communicators clattered onto the table. One of them speckled with an ink-blot of dried, rusty blood. Despite everything, Chang's throat constricted.
Jesus, he thought, he really killed them. Killed each one of them! Chang's head whipped from the communicators back up to the glowing red dot. In response to this, the voice whispered again. "Is this good enough business, professor?"
Chang pushed himself up in his seat. "Who are you?"
A pause. "You have my offer. You have my proof. Will you cooperate?."
Once again, Chang pushed himself back in his seat, his tongue irritably pushing against his cheek. I really shouldn't…
"Let me…see what you have."
The voice let out a quick, relieved sigh. "Thank you, Professor." It whispered, as a very pale hand slid into Chang's circle of light, holding a piece of paper. Just from looking at it, Chang could tell that the stranger had been holding it quite closely the entire time they'd been talking. With a huff, he snatched it and held in within an inch of his face with both hands, rearranging his goggles.
"Impossible." Chang said firmly, seating himself back and sliding the paper back across the table. "I can't build that. It's improbable! The technologies required are…"
"So you cannot do it?" The voice asked softly, almost…fearfully. "Our deal…is off?"
Suddenly Chang stood up. He wasn't mad exactly, but somehow…something in that wishy-washy tone made him feel like a he felt distinctly mocked. This was nothing but a boy. A bad boy. It just wasn't good business.
"We didn't even have a deal in the first place!" He said sternly. "This was a waste of my time. Come back when you have a reasonable request!"
The figure sighed heavily, blowing another billow of smoke into Chang's face.
"Well, if that's the case, I'm afraid there won't be a next time, Professor."
Chang stopped and looked at the red glowing dot. Something had changed. The boy's words didn't sound youthful anymore. The naivety was gone. Suddenly, the bad boy sounded older.Meaner.
The figure seemed to read his discomfort and explained. "You see, only my accomplices can know I'm here right now, I must keep a very low profile. I really cannot afford to be stopped right now." He spoke slowly, deliberately. He sounded so sad.
"I sorry Professor, but if you aren't an accomplice of mine, then you aren't anybody's."
He began to sit up.
"I'm so sorry, I really am."
"Wait!" Chang cried, still trying to grin, still trying to remain in control.
He's just a bad boy…He's all talk!
"I can try it at least! For god's sake just sit down and we can talk about…!"
In less time than it took for Chang to finish his sentence, the figure leapt from his seat and thrust his hand towards Chang's head. The knobby white fingers enclosed around his face like a baseball glove, pressing up his nose and shoving his head back so it almost touched the top of his shoulders. The hand was dry and cold, like chilled leather, like a cadaver. Chang screamed angrily snatching at the figure's forearm, reaching for something vital, something he could scratch, but the overhead light was so bright…the only thing he could see was the hazed outline of a figure perched on top of his desk, and for a moment, he could make out a wide brimmed hat. His head was pushed farther back still and the shadowy figure slinked leaned over the overhead light. For a brief instant, Chang thought he could see a face beneath it. A sickeningly pale, face hidden deep within the shadow of the hat. His skin was aglow in the light, like polished marble. Dark undertones of grey formed his high-cheek bones on either side of a long, thin nose, but the eyes were dark, they almost didn't seem to exist…like two ink smudges on the paper of his skin. Everything was just too bright for him to see clearly.
Still though…for some vague reason, Chang could tell that he was handsome. A boyish sort of handsome.
Suddenly, the grip loosened and Chang fell backwards, flipping over his chair and lying sprawled on the ground. The figure slowly slid back of the desk and began snatching the communicators back into the bag, muttering to himself. Chang threw himself to his feet, his hands cradling his face. "You have just made a very large mistake, stranger." He hissed.
The figure tilted his head, and took another drag, that infinitely sad look still shadowing his face. Chang pointed a thin knobby finger at the red light on the security panel. "You forget, you're locked in my lab. You have no way to get out, you little…" He stopped, as his eye twitched involuntarily, fluttering like an old fashioned movie projector. Although the man had released him, Chang could feel the pressure continuing to build. His eye twitched again, quickly followed by his cheek, twisting upwards in a repressed grin. The pressure continued to grow, feeling like either side of his head was caught in a vice.
"What the Hell did you do to me?" He screamed as his entire face began to spasm.
Chang let his hands claw at his face but it had gone numb, his fingernails ripping away his goggles which clattered to the floor and leaving two deep cuts along his cheeks. He felt nothing. Chang's face began to darken; first turning a rose pink until it was so red it his cheeks were almost black. He pitched himself from one side of the room to the other throwing his body against the walls trying to make the pain stop when suddenly, the left side of his face swelled outwards, like a marshmallow in a fire. His bloodshot eye bulged from the size of a golf ball to a baseball within seconds before the entire left side of Chang's face exploded like an egg hit by a slingshot. Blood, muscle, bone and brain matter splattered against like it like chum thrown from the bucket. Chang tried to speak, tried to move but half of his jaw was gone as well, snapped like a wishbone. The professor fell back into his seat, his head falling back and his arms swinging uselessly over the armrest like the pendulum in a grand-father clock, a trickle of blood running down it and dribbling from his finger tips. The last thing he remembered seeing was that blinding overhead light again…and a particularly funny thought that kept trickling down his thoughts with the rest of the inhabitants of his skull.
Such a bad boy…such a bad bad boy…
The room was silent for a moment, then Chang's last lungful of air came hissing from his exposed throat like a leaking balloon. The stranger slowly stood up, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and gently spreading it over what remained of the professor's head. "I'm…so, so sorry." He whispered before turning back towards the end of the room and zipping up the duffel bag once more. If Chang had been alive at that moment, he probably would have believed him.
As the man stood, the light in the ceiling caught off the surface of a dime sized ruby crystal embedded in the middle of the figure's forehead. He turned slowly towards the door, removing another piece of paper from his pocket and staring at the picture of the young girl who stood in the middle of it, dressed in blue, hood up, skin pale. After a moment he held it to his chest, gripping the picture so that it crinkled, his hands trembling slightly.
The only picture he had of her, the only clue he had to go on. "Oh, Raven…" He whispered, eyelids sliding slowly shut. "It's all for you, Raven. All for you."
Still clutching the picture he smiled, the corners of his mouth drawn upwards like hands on a puppet. "Soon…" He whispered, and the light illuminated the ruby once again as the end of the cigarette glowed. Three red dots. The man let the cigarette fall to the ground and stepped on it, rubbing his toe from side to side as he pocketed his beloved picture. Two red dots. He turned, his back to the light and to the splattered remains of the professor, picking up his duffle bag and beginning to whistle. One red dot. He placed his hand upon the control panel as casually as a hand print identification pad. It buzzed once and promptly crumpled in on itself like a beer can before exploding in a small plume of smoke. Moments later the door hissed open and the stranger coolly disappeared into the corridor, flicking off the light...
And…two miles away, across the city's harbor, across the choppy, white tipped waves and up the pathway to the gigantic 'T' structure illuminated against a glowing night sky…a girl awoke from her bed. She awoke screaming as a matter or fact.
Author's Note: More coming soon.