Part of Apex of Creation
Suddenly, everything made sense. Why Emily didn’t like to talk about her family. Why she had gotten so quiet on seeing her parents.
The sins of Emily’s father were overwhelming me, and I’d hardly even finished shaking the man’s hand.
“Nigel Butler, pleasure to meet you” he said, shaking my hand. Oh right, I still had to fudge my way through an unexpected social interaction.
“James,” I introduced myself. “I have organic chemistry with Emily and we study together a lot.” I paused for a moment, then added “And I actually happened to be at the bank with Emily when, you know, everything happened.”
Emily broke the tension. “I wasn’t expecting you guys until tomorrow.”
“Oh pshaw, we had to come make sure our baby was safe.” responded her mother, in an overly affectionate tone.
“I’m fine, mom, really.” No, Emily was not fine, not with the backstory that I had just divined.
I jumped in. “I’ve been with Emily over the last few days, since the bank happened. She’s dealing with it very well. Already got some counseling help, and she’s getting back into the regular swing of things.”
“Is that so?” asked Emily’s father.
“That’s pretty much it.” Emily said. I nodded my head in agreement.
“Well.” said her mother. “We just wanted to swing by and say hello. We’re in a hotel tonight, so we’ll see you in the morning, alright sweetie?” Allison Butler looked at her daughter.
“Alright.” Emily said.
“Wonderful. So nice to meet you James!”
And then they were gone.
Emily and I walked over to the elevators. She was still tense.
“You don’t seem to care for them very much.” I prompted, as the door opened.
Emily inhaled, then gave a long sigh. “We don’t always get along.”
“Oh? Half an hour ago you were laughing and smiling. Now you’re not. There’s something else going on.”
Emily turned to look at me, her eyes pleading with me. “Please stop, James. I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Before I could answer, the elevator dinged and Emily got off.
The school had free student access to legal record search services, and I spent the remainder of the looking for any information I could find on Nigel Butler. He was, as far as I could tell, clean. No arrests, no convictions, not even any charges for anything. He had four speeding tickets over the last twenty years, but a less-than-perfect driving record wasn’t particularly nefarious.
The door opened and Kevin walked in, crappy music blasting from the ear buds hanging around his neck. “Dude, you would not believe the day I’ve had.”
“I guarantee you my day has been stranger.” I shot back.
“So I was making out with this chick, and she was like all-”
“Do you mind? I’m trying to focus here.”
Kevin looked at my laptop screen, which was full of incomprehensible legalistic gobbledygook. To him, there was no difference between that and the chemical gobbledygook that usually filled my screen.
“Sure dude, whatever, no problem. Don’t mind me.” Kevin dumped out his bag, opened up his laptop, and loaded up YouTube music videos. On full volume. Without headphones.
I tried to concentrate. Nigel Butler’s professional profile showed off an impressive career, starting out as an intern and moving up through the ranks of various consulting firms. His current position was listed as president of finance for a national manufacturing company. Above average career, but again, there was nothing suspicious to be found.
I was getting frustrated “Kevin. Could you put in headphones?” Kevin ignored me.
Nigel Butler couldn't possibly be as squeaky clean as he appeared. Not only had Emily clammed up around and about him, but I’d also seen a glimpse of his soul. It was enough to connect the dots, but I needed some sort of confirmation that I was correct.
I also needed some privacy.
I thought back to the bank, what it felt like to be gripping on to a single moment of time, and not letting it pass by. I closed my eyes and gripped on.
The music stopped.
It took more concentration to halt time than it did before, perhaps because my power was no longer fueled by panicked emotion. But nonetheless, I had stopped time, and done so deliberately.
“Alocer!” I called. The door opened, and he walked in.
“James, nice to see you, as always. How have you been?”
“Not bad.” I responded. “Still kind of ticked that you couldn’t have warned me about Aamon.”
Alocer shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands. “My hands were tied - figuratively and literally.”
I cocked an eyebrow.
“Seriously, Lucifer is a huge fan of razor wire.”
I rolled my eyes, and Alocer seemed to take the hint.
“But that’s not why you called me, is it?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No. I need a favor. Nigel Butler - I met him earlier tonight, and saw sin in his eyes. Lots of sin. Is he really as terrible of a person as I think he is? Or am I drastically misunderstanding the situation?”
Alocer reached into his suit breast pocket and produced an enormous, ancient tome. “The reservations book.” he explained, as he set it down on Kevin’s badly slouched shoulders. “My understanding is that normally, you’d want the Book of Life for researching this kind of a question, but that one’s kept up in the Throne Room. So this one will have to do for now”
Alocer flipped through the huge book for a few minutes before finding the correct page. “Butler, Nigel. We have an opening reserved for him in… ooh, torture cell Ω-92’O#S5;-2B67-?1. Not many people get an Omega-series torture chamber; he must be a fine specimen, firmly on the path to Hades.”
Alocer seemed to have fondness and admiration for the man. He was a demon, after all.
Alocer paused for a moment as he closed the book, then added “I should note that this doesn’t, strictly speaking, tell you if the person will actually arrive to take their reservation. That information is only in the Book of Life. But I’ve never seen someone walk away from an Omega cell assignment.”
“Good to know.”
“Not a problem. Anything else?”
“Great. You owe me one.” Alocer winked at me, then left through the door.
It was odd, the feeling of knowing a man’s innermost secret. I wasn’t quite sure I was ever going to get completely used to it. I relaxed my grip on time, and jumped as Kevin’s shitty music resumed.
The next morning, I waited in the common area on Emily’s floor to intercept her before she got to her parents.
“Um, listen, I’m sorry if I was too pushy before. Social skills are not my strong suit.”
“...Are you ok?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“I will be. After this is over. I may not get along with them very well, but… you can’t pick your family, you know?”
I nodded. “Anything I can do to help?”
Emily sighed and gave a weak smile. “I appreciate it, I really do. But I’ll be fine.”
“Alright. Just want to make sure.”
“Thanks, James.” Emily smiled at me.
The elevator arrived, and we rode down in awkward silence. I waved hello to Mr. and Mrs. Butler as Emily walked over to them. Briefly, I made eye contact with Nigel Butler again, just to double-check myself on the state of his soul.
He was, indeed, a horrible person. And I watched, almost helplessly, as Emily went off with her parents. There wasn’t much I could do to prevent that.
I brooded around the common area for a bit, browsing the internet on my phone. I didn’t like the idea of Emily being alone with her parents.
I closed my eyes and concentrated. My abilities with Insight had been slow to develop, but in a few minutes I had divined the hotel and room number where Nigel and Allison Butler were staying.
That gave me an idea. I’d already stopped time at will once, and I could probably do it again. With a few more miracles, I could at least ensure that Nigel Butler paid for his crimes.
I unlocked my bike and headed out. The first stop was the chemistry building, where I swiped a box of gloves from an unlocked lab. I circled back to the campus police station, where I paused time to “borrow” one of everything from the armory that I could fit in my backpack.
With everything loaded up, I biked to the hotel, pausing time again before entering. I pickpocketed the master key card from housekeeping, and let myself into the Butlers’ hotel room.
I put on the gloves, and rummaged through the luggage until I found Nigel Butler’s laptop. It was unlocked. Perfect. It didn’t take me long to find the files I was looking for.
All I had to do now was wait.
Asmodeus President of Psychological Engineering, United States Division
“Status report?” Lucifer asked. Or rather, demanded.
I double-checked my notes. “The Hybrid successfully detected the alignment of Nigel Butler’s soul, as anticipated. His powers are developing on schedule. Aside from the immediate benefit of reaping Nigel Butler - he’s quite a strong contributor to our cause, actually has a reservation for a Ω-series cell - his death should fundamentally influence the Hybrid towards less peaceful means of conflict resolution.”
Lucifer dipped a skull goblet into a fountain of blood. “And the girl?”
I flipped to the next page of skin. “The death of Nigel Butler, combined with the resulting damage to the Hybrid’s relationship with Emily, is expected to cause an upswing in emotional instability. While the immediate effects will be minimal, this should set him on a course to begin swinging local events in our favor. Approximate return on investment should be one to three years, with book acquisition expected within four.”
I handed a page of skin to Lucifer. “Here are the graphs, and here-” I fumbled with another page. “-is the raw data, if you want to look that over.”
Lucifer set the documents on the arm of his throne. “Thank you, Asmodeus.” Lucifer downed his drink. and turned to the demon beside me. “And good work, Alocer.”
The steak was overcooked. Normally, I’d send it back to the kitchen and demand it to be redone, but I didn’t want to ruin Allison’s evening.
“So how did you and James meet?” she asked Emily.
“We’re in the same organic chemistry lecture. And lab. We study together a lot.”
“So… tell me about him”
“There’s something off about that kid.” I interrupted.
“Who, James?” Allison asked.
“Who else?” I responded. I turned to Emily. “You sure he’s not just trying to get you in bed? That seems to be what college is all about these days.”
Emily muttered something under her breath. Allison didn’t seem to hear it, but I did: “You’re one to talk.”
“Now, princess, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were being disrespectful to me. But I know you wouldn’t do that, especially not with everything I’ve done for you. I don’t think I need to remind you of all of that.”
Emily seemed to deflate. “Yes, dad.” Good.
“I don’t think you should hang out with him any more.”
The rest of dinner went smoothly. I paid the bill and left a generous tip. We escorted Emily back to campus, kissed her good night, then drove back to the hotel. I was still bothered by James. There was something wrong about him, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. At least the tuition payments would keep Emily in line, for now.
We got to the hotel room. That was odd, I didn’t remember leaving my laptop out. Or loading up… those… pictures.
My train of thought was interrupted by Allison’s voice. “James?”
Then my body exploded in pain, and everything went black.