The day her father brought her in she wore beads in her hair and rainbows stenciled onto her shoes. She asked a thousand questions and demonstrated the sparks crackling from her hands to anyone who would watch while her father puffed up like the proudest man alive.
The first day of testing she screamed for the entire three hours. It had never occurred to anyone that she might not be immune to her own electricity.
The next day it happened all over again.
Years later Bennet would ask Claude if he'd ever thought about having children. The memory of Elle screaming as electricity shot from her fingers always made it easy to answer no.
One of the gauges blew and as technicians raced into the room to repair it Elle collapsed against the bed. "Daddy, daddy, I don't want to do this anymore," she said. "I want to stop. I want to go home."
Claude saw Bob lean over the microphone in the opposite observation room. "We still think you can do better," he said, "so I need you to give us one more good one. Really make that needle move this time." The technicians gave Bob the all clear sign, and he said, "Ready, sweetheart?" She nodded, her eyes locked on her father. "Good girl. Make Daddy proud."
She took a deep breath. Just before the session resumed Bob's voice came back over the intercom. "Oh, and sweetheart? Remember what I told you about crying. The extra moisture skews the results."
The screaming started again, but Claude knew Bob wasn't hearing it. He saw the flicker of satisfaction on Bob's face as the measuring needle on the electrometer moved one tick higher than the day before.
He started gagging before he made it to the end of the hall and barely managed to duck into a restroom before the nausea turned his stomach inside out. After he finished retching he sank to the floor, his head bowed over his knees and his hands trembling. He could still hear Elle's screams echoing, and he knew his invisibility could never hide him from that.
The first time she hurt someone it was brushed off as an accident. The second time the tech wound up in the medical ward, and Elle made a show of being wide-eyed with horror.
The third time there was no show. The man died, and Elle giggled as the body was dragged from the room. The same shrinks who had judged her as perfectly normal now diagnosed her as having a "marked and progressive inability to form and maintain empathic connections."
She was restrained at night. Sick fascination brought Claude lurking around after hours; he would steal into her room and watch lightning dance over her fingertips as she sang nonsense words like a bed-bound Ophelia.
The testing continued. Every day she moved the needle farther while her mind flaked away piece by piece.
Claude started waking up at night in a cold sweat from dreams he could never remember. During spare moments he wondered if he grabbed Elle and ran, how far they would get. He wished the thought would have occurred to him when it could have made a difference.
The day finally came when her power progressed beyond their ability to measure. Claude was there to see the instruments explode; electricity arced to the ceiling, bringing back memories of sneaking out of bed as a boy and catching Frankenstein on the late night show when he should have been sleeping. The scene where lightning came down from the heavens and brought the monster to life had left him with nightmares for weeks.
There was little point in further testing and Elle was swallowed into the Company machine. Claude wondered if anyone had explained why no one ever bothered to implant trackers into her neck.
There was no point in tracking someone who would never be allowed to leave.
Six years later Claude had barely stepped through the door for the morning mission briefing before the lock down alarm started blaring. He climbed down the stairs to the lower level and spotted Bennet coming towards him. "Noah, what the hell is going on?" he asked before registering the undisguised panic on his partner's face.
"Have you seen her?" Bennet said.
"Seen who?" Claude felt his stomach twist into knots; Bennet didn't get this agitated held at gunpoint. "Why are we in lock down? What's --"
Claude didn't get to finish; the color drained from Bennet's face and his eyes focused somewhere just over Claude's shoulder. "Move!" He didn't have time to react before Bennet rushed forward and shoved him out of the way; a cracking line of electricity missed his head by inches, and Claude saw the bolt fry an unlucky security guard as he and Bennet slammed into the wall.
Claude grabbed Bennet's arm and turned invisible; he caught Bennet's eye and crossed one finger over his lips. Bennet gave him a quick nod of understanding, then jerked his head towards the end of the hallway. Claude followed his gaze and felt his mouth go dry.
At the end of the hallway stood a girl around twelve or thirteen, and although it had been years the lightning sparking from her fingertips ensured that Claude recognized Elle Bishop. He didn't think Elle had been aiming for him specifically so much as firing at anything in her way; another guard went down in his peripheral vision as electricity flew towards anything that moved.
Claude and Bennet flattened against the wall as a bolt streaked so close Claude could smell the ozone trail. "I want. To see. My dad," she said, punctuating every other word with another burst of electricity. "Now!" Another big flash and the power went out; as his eyes adjusted to the dim emergency lights Claude saw Thompson creeping along the side corridor, gun in hand. Unfortunately, Elle also spotted him a second later and Thompson barely jerked his head back in time as lightning charred the wall. "Where is he? Get him out here now!" Bennet drew his gun but Claude tightened the grip on his arm, shaking his head. They were only safe because she couldn't see them; a missed shot would give away their location and Claude really didn't feel like testing his reflexes versus a lightning bolt.
Elle stamped her foot. "No one's listening to me!" Claude saw the corner of her mouth quirk and her eyes slant upwards. "Fine, be that way. I'll make you all listen." She took a jacket from one of the fallen guards, fired electricity into it until it caught fire, then gingerly held it above her head.
"Oh, no," Bennet breathed, catching on before Claude. He didn't grasp the full horror of the situation until the sprinklers turned on. Elle smiled, electricity arcing from one hand to the other. "Now, someone's gonna tell me where my dad is, or we're gonna play."
"She's not immune, that's suicide," Claude whispered.
"She doesn't seem to see the problem." Bennet leveled his gun, but she spoke again before he could pull the trigger.
"Fine. Be that way." Claude saw the charge build up around her hand and held his breath.
Suddenly a voice came from the opposite end of the corridor. "Oh, Elle. I thought we'd discussed this." It was the only time in his life Claude was actually happy to see Robert Bishop.
The electricity fizzled out. "Daddy!" she said, and it sent a chill through Claude how her voice changed. "Daddy, don't be mad."
"I think it's a little late for that, Elle."
She pouted. "I wanted to see you. They didn't want me to."
Bob Bishop strode forward as if water-soaked death traps and corpse-strewn hallways were an average day at the office. "You're too old to still be having these temper tantrums."
She took a step forward, and for a second Claude thought she was going to attack him. Instead she said, "I want to go home. I want to see mom."
Bob sighed. "We've discussed that, too. We both agreed that's not a good idea."
"No! We didn't agree on anything! That's what you decided!" Sparks radiated around her like a nimbus, and Claude gasped as he felt the shocks run through him. The voltage wasn't strong enough to injure, not yet, and only because she wasn't actually trying. "That's what he said you'd say! He warned me, he said you'd never let me leave!"
Bob stopped approaching. "Who?" he said, his voice like ice. For some reason Elle's words had made him angrier than her intending to murder everyone in the building.
Elle seemed to sense it too; Claude could see confusion blunt her outrage. "The man in the basement," she said. Claude shot Bennet a questioning look, but he just shrugged. "He told me what you would do. He told me," she said.
"Elle, honey, there is no man. You're very sick, you know you are, that's why we have to keep you here." Bob's ability may have been a golden touch, but Claude always believed what truly made the man dangerous was his silver tongue. He was an easy man to trust, the kind of man you wanted to trust.
The kind of man who made you drop your guard. Claude saw a flurry of movement out of the corner of his eye; he turned his head just in time to see two men in containment suits grab Elle from behind. Before she could react they had fastened rubber restraints around her hands and lifted her off the floor; she screamed and fought but they were stronger. Seconds later one of them slid the syringe into her neck and she slumped in the arms of the guards as the sedative took hold. Bob walked up to her and tipped her chin up in a gesture so fatherly Claude wondered what movie he'd stolen it from. "It's going to be all right, sweetheart. Let your daddy make it all better."
She spat in his face. "I hate you." There was the barest flicker of emotion in his face, and then the cool, calm, familiar mask was back. Claude recalled watching Victor Frankenstein confronting his creature.
"Take her," Bob said, watching as the guards dragged away his now near-unconscious daughter. Afterwards there was a general announcement that all meetings for the day were canceled, and Claude wasn't surprised when all Company employees were strongly discouraged from talking about the "unfortunate incident." Late that night he spotted the Haitian rushing towards the medical wing and only needed one guess as to whom he'd been summoned for.
Claude only saw Elle one more time before his own "unfortunate incident," although he certainly heard about her, the bloody ghost in the Company machine. There was nothing of the happy little girl left by then; whatever had been spared by the testing had been hollowed out by the Haitian. All that was left was a creature hard-edged and glittering like a flawed and fractured diamond; it was like being locked in a room with a tiger, and when the mission was over all Claude could think about was taking a long, hot shower to scald the memory away.
Not long afterward Claude found himself on a routine bag-and-tag, the kind of mission he'd completed countless times over the years. He and Bennet had split up to search the house more quickly, and Claude was the one to find their mark hiding in an upstairs bedroom. The girl had no idea he was there until he turned visible and pointed his gun.
She looked younger than her file photo. And she wore beads in her hair.
It wasn't the first time Claude hesitated, but it was the first time he stopped. The seconds ticked by like claps of thunder as they stared at each other, and Claude thought it was a tough call to say who was more terrified.
Claude lowered his gun and quietly closed the door. "All right," he whispered, his heart pounding. "Here's what we're going to do."