The Worst Gift, Part 2
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Last time on Nexus:
The Worst Gift, Part 1

It was a rare occurrence, but Fernand was beside himself with rage as he stared at the still-smoking Lumiére inductor. His technicians were already busy repairing the device, but that didn't change the fact that something had gone wrong. He looked around sullenly and finally spotted Lefty, who was insistently studying some continuous form paper printouts.

"Lefty…" he said with the calm of a sea about to be swept by a freak wave. "I've left you alone with this so far because I've been busy looking for my daughter, but what the hell went wrong here? You said you always deliver!"

"And I did," Lefty confirmed angrily with his Russian accent. "Machine worked like it was supposed to. Was like with warp car you used to get girl. I told you guys, need cool down periods. Chert voz'mi, I stuck sticky note on windshield! Same here, machine was perfect. Subject was not what it should be. Cannot make copperplate from steel block."

The leader of the Enfants de la Lumière rolled his eyes.

"If you're after the stigmata, I know they were gone, however you get rid of burn scars…. But they were only to facilitate the absorption of celestial resonance energy during Angelica's life and Uriel's takeover, they had no critical purpose."

"Not talking about torture scars," Lefty replied in disgust. "Mean energy inside. Printout says we tried to fill brimful barrel further. Have already put in too much resonance energy. No more room for Uriel."

"He was repelled…because she's too angelic?"

"Possibly," Lefty affirmed. "Could be other thing in her, too."

"Impossible," Fernand defended gruffly. "Where would that come from? Can we fix the problem?"

"Can raise power," Lefty suggested. "But will tear girl apart if goes wrong."

Fernand put a hand on his shoulder. His tone was icy.

"Then you know what can't go wrong. My people are already looking for her. If my daughter is killed because of you, then nowhere on this planet will you be safe from me, I promise you that."

Lefty swallowed.

In a small village far up in the Siberian outback, a huge impromptu party was held today. In the small, snowy village of fifty people, there was dancing and laughing in the village square and among the small cottages, despite the snowfall, and the local innkeeper was doing the business of his life. All sorts of instruments made music, including Elli with her bagpipes on occasion. It should be mentioned that the bagpipes were not invented for Russian music and accordingly the result sounded ghastly, at least to Chloe. The villagers didn't seem to mind, some dancing the Cossack dance in time to Elli's catcall.

Chloe, along with Dean, watched the hustle and bustle quite perplexed. Constantly someone came by and gave her either a hot chocolate, cocoa, tea or warm milk.

After being stuck in all sorts of sweaters and jackets, she had told Elli what had happened. As long as her father was out there, they decided, it was too dangerous to let Chloe go home again. He would only catch her again. Meanwhile, the villagers had gotten wind of Elli's presence and started celebrating. Elli had then decided to join in, as it was impossible to track Chloe's escape in the thick snow outside the village.

The woman, or as Elli called her, Granny Nikitin wiggled up to them and grinned at them with half as many teeth as actually belonged in a human jaw.

"You guys seem confused," she remarked.

Chloe and Dean nodded in agreement.

"Didn't she ever tell you about us…" the old woman muttered. "Elli spent several years here in our village, you must know. Changed the place quite a bit, for better or worse…"

"For the worse?", Dean made sure.

Granny Nikitin shrugged her shoulders.

"Since she came, we've been victims of all sorts of weirdness. First ghost wolves, then an American saboteur who could destroy crops by the power of his mind, Newspapers from nowhere that sent each of us into a coma…. Finally someone from the government took her away, but a little later we heard an explosion in the distance. Never got bored with her. But what the heck, we all have working heaters, radio reception, satellite TV and thanks to her no one died of any disease as long as she was here. Trained some of our specialists, Vorobyov and our mechanic Dmitriev. We are all very grateful to her."

"We see that," Chloe and Dean said as if from the same mouth.

"Why was she here for so long anyway?" asked Dean then. "Elli's never been in one place this long as long as I've known her."

Granny Nikitin shrugged.

"Had something to work through, I guess. While she was here, she changed too. For the better as-"

"-for the worse, yeah," Dean concluded. "Why? What was she like before?"

"She doesn't tell you much about herself, does she?" the old woman asked.

Chloe and Dean just nodded. Granny Nikitin grumbled briefly before finally beginning to tell them.

"Well, similar to Chloe, I found her half frozen in the snow back then. I think she stayed at first just to repay us for caring for her. She was… Cold, withdrawn. Had nightmares all the time… But then, as people approached her to learn crafts from her, we gradually thawed her out. She became friendlier… And started drinking…. Does she still stare pensively at that black cube in her pocket when she has nothing to do?"

"I think it's found a better place by now," Dean remarked, slightly puzzled. "But regardless, what was she doing before that?" wanted Dean to know.

"You'll have to ask her that yourself. Never told us about herself either. We called her Zhenshchina iz Niotkuda because of that."

"The woman from nowhere?" translated Dean, looking at Elli, who had just started playing Korobeiniki on her bagpipes. "Could be fitting…"

Ku staggered through Chloe's memory library. The whole place had been rumbling incessantly for a while. He also thought he knew what it was. The power that had tried to invade. Ku had recognized it.

In the deepest corners of Chloe's subconscious, a large, black-bound book lay on a pedestal1. Until recently, it had been bound by chains that not even Ku was able to loosen.

When he finally reached it, he found it open. Its pages were flipping in a wind that had to exist only for the book.

The world around it showed cracks. They were in mid-air or disappeared into the shelves.

Whatever these memories held, Chloe's mind was about to break, even if she probably didn't realize it yet…

It may seem ironic, but Ku prayed that the girl would not receive an emotional shock. In her condition, there was no telling what would happen…

Sects like the Enfants de la Lumière can't throw money around to attract personnel. It may have been enough for Lefty, but for the rest, the group had another currency at the ready.


Several mercenaries in snow suits were on the prowl, searching for tracks and other clues to recover Uriel's escaped vessel.

They had been promised that Uriel would make the world a better place after his descent. And these men had experienced hell in all kinds of versions in their lives. Be it because they had seen starving villages, plague victims, child soldiers…. Just because one was willing to kill people for money, one did not immediately lose one's humanity. The Enfants de la Lumière wanted to take these horrors away from the world.

But unfortunately, they faced a problem at the moment.

Fernand waited impatiently in the halls of the bunker for the report he had just been radioed.

"So, you're telling me you can't track down my daughter?"

"Things would be different if it wasn't snowing like this. The snow has covered all the tracks. Besides, if the guards hadn't been rummaging around under the fir trees by the window, we would have been a lot faster."

The leader of the Enfants de la Lumière tried to remain calm. He succeeded only insufficiently, after all, his own flesh and blood was in danger. Was possibly dead…

"I don't want excuses, I want results. It took you guys quite a long time to prepare, too, I might note."

"The outbreak caught us all cold, Mr. Maron, even you," the mercenary defended himself. "It is fact that we can't find her in this driving snow. If she has fallen unconscious, we probably won't find her again until spring. Deep-frozen."

"Are you seriously joking about the death of my Angelica?" asked Fernand with icy friendliness.

It had an effect.

"N-no, sir."

"Good," Fernando commented calmly. "Here's what we're going to do, I'm going to take the helicopter with a couple of guards and you're going to pass on to us the routes that Angelica was most likely to have taken. I know my girl. She's adorably neat. She doesn't like crooked lines. She'll make a beeline out of the woods if possible."

There was a brief silence over the radio.

"Well, using what we know…. There's a small village near the edge of the forest…"

The children of the village kept their distance from Chloe, possibly because of her hair and haggard appearance, thanks to Ku….

As fun as everyone thought this was, she had started to get bored. She wanted to go home.
Only, she couldn't find Elli anywhere.

A bearded man, who looked as if he had looked a little too deeply into the glass, finally pointed her in the right direction with a friendly smile.

She found Elli a bit away from the party together with Granny Nikitin. Neither of them seemed to notice her, so Chloe decided to let the two women finish their chat. She thought it was courtesy.

And curiosity about what she might learn about Ellis's life here….

"-And you're not angry with us for throwing such a party?" asked Granny Nikitin just then.

Elli shrugged her shoulders.

"The safest place for Chloe to be right now is in a big crowd, and who would ever think that she indirectly started a party? Besides, after the shock, nice company probably isn't so bad."

"She's been kidnapped," noted the old lady. "She's taking it pretty well."

"She's been traveling with me for a while," Elli explained tersely. "And even if they do come, we can always leave."

"Dean probably quicker than you," Granny Nikitin surmised mischievously. "He seems like a responsible father."

Elli rolled her eyes with a laugh.

"Granny, I'll say it as many times as it takes, we're not related. Chloe is not our child. You know I'm… I'm sterile."

"You can restore limbs and you still haven't found a cure for it?", Granny Nikitin inquired.

"My remedies can't fix anything that isn't broken, Granny…"

The topic seemed to be extremely uncomfortable for Elli, that's why the old woman apparently decided to change it.

"So what? Family is not based on blood," she announced dryly. "Especially in your case. And starting one seems to have helped you. I hardly recognized you, as bright as you've become. And you got rid of that silly cube."

Elli blushed a little.

"Uh, the cube is now Dean's…"

"Ah, must be the brooding cube…. Let's hope Chloe doesn't inherit it. Although…"

And then Granny Nikitin dropped the bomb.

"How long does she have, anyway?"

Elli frowned. She turned pale.

"Uh, what do you mean?"

"Elli, don't lie to me. I was a little girl when Stalin came to power. I've seen everything in this country since then. I lost my brothers in the war, my husband, and almost all my sons and daughters to disease and starvation. I know when it somebody is going to perish."

"I really don't know what you-"

"Elli…" the old woman just growled.

Elli sighed sadly.

"A month. Maybe just a few more weeks, I can't say for sure. It's a miracle she can still move."

Granny Nikitin nodded in understanding.

"What is it, does she have cancer?"

Elli rummaged in her pocket and then took a sip from her flask before answering.

"If only it was cancer, curing that is a piece of cake compared to what Chloe is suffering from."

"So you would know how to help her?"

Elli became annoyed.

"Of course I do. But it's a trade, Granny. Chloe's life for someone else's. And it has to be given willingly. If it's one life for many, it would be much easier, but one for one? Can you make a decision like that? Can you expect Chloe to make it?"

The old woman was silent for a moment.

"Have you told her?" she then asked.

"No," Elli admitted. "I can't, Granny. Not to her… Not anymore…"

"That's what I thought," Granny Nikitin remarked. "For all your shrewdness and cunning, you're still the most foolish woman I know. You probably took her simply because you were too cowardly, didn't you?"

Elli pointed her finger accusingly at her. There were tears in her eyes.

"YOU have no right to accuse me of cowardice! I have experienced things, compared to which the Second World War and your horror of the Soviet Union was the purest children's playground! I had to be brave so many times, Granny, so why? Why can't I put mercy before bravery for once in my life!!!"

"Mercy…" echoed Chloe tonelessly behind her.

The cracks around the black book widened….

The women turned to her, startled. Elli immediately gasped.

"Chloe! I-"

"YOU call THAT mercy!?", Chloe cut her off.

She had known it! Elli had known all along! Chloe herself had too, but the pressure to let Elli know had been gigantic. It had kept her awake at night, eating away at her sanity. She had always thought with sweats of the moment when Elli would ask her about her physical condition. But now it all made sense. Why she had taken Chloe and ignored her ever worsening health. Elli wasn't just clueless….

She could hide it behind pitiful words, but Chloe, an expert at being lied to and taken advantage of, wasn't fooled by her.

Elli was probably even lying to herself. What she thought was parental affection was probably just relief that eternity had become a little less boring, Chloe now understood. Elli simply joined the ranks of people for whom Chloe was merely the means to an end. Like her father and her classmates.

She felt anger rising inside her. She felt betrayed.

"What am I to you, Elli? A pet to pass the time with in your never-ending life!"?

"Wha-," Elli began, before collecting herself. "How long have you been listening, Chloe? Didn't you hear Granny Nikitin?"

"That we're family?" asked Chloe, upset. "Oh yes, wonderful observation from someone who has known me for just a few hours. Did you have fun playing mommy? What about Dean? Does he have a computer virus that's slowly eating away at his programming code?"

"Look, Chloe, I was trying to help you," Elli defended herself but Chloe cut her off with an angry gesture.

Pieces began to fall out of Chloe's mind like shards, giving way to pure black.

"Help?! You could have started by coming clean with me. All this time I've been trying not to worry you!"

Elli furrowed her eyebrows in confusion.

"You… You knew?"

With a bang, the cracks widened to cover the entire memory library. A sound like shattering glass rang out.

Chloe exploded.


Tears ran down Elli's cheeks.

"Chloe, I'm sorry, I-"

"You go ahead and finish celebrating," Chloe said coldly. "Then you take me home, and we'll notify the police and if there's need to, one of your super-awesome secret organizations about my father. And then you find yourself another terminally ill person to work off your guilt on, because I'm tired of being used by others like a toy…"

She walked past Elli and a shocked Granny Nikitin.

She wanted to be alone.

Behind her, she heard Elli sink to her knees, sobbing.

Dean, meanwhile, had also started looking for Elli and Chloe. He was using it largely as an excuse, because some of the Russians were very persistent in persuading him to drink. Explaining that Dean didn't drink alcohol hadn't stopped them.

He found Granny Nikitin behind some houses. She was trying to comfort a disintegrating Elli, who had her face hidden in her hands and was crying a lot.

"What is it now?" he asked, annoyed.

"Oih!" the old woman chided him. "Your girlfriend is devastated, show some sensitivity!"

Dean studiously ignored her. He had long since stopped handling Elli with kid gloves, after all, she barely listened to him as it was, and he certainly wasn't going to start using subtlety now.

"Elli, what is it?"

She looked up at him and began to cling to him. Dean angrily registered her smearing tears and snot on his pants as she did so.

"Dean," she wailed, "Chloe- Chloe she-"

Dean was informed by a haltingly crying Elli of what had transpired. He listened intently.

"Elli, remember when you dumped me for my 'cleaning mania,'" he drew quotation marks in the air with his fingers at this, "in 1900 New York? Saying you'd had enough of me?"

"I had to save you from Edison," Elli confirmed chokingly.

"Exactly, but you came back," Dean summed up his explanation. "Sometimes when we're angry we just say things to each other that hurt the other person, you should know that better than I do. Now, take Chloe here. She was kidnapped a few hours ago, by her own father, who branded her as a young child, and she nearly froze to death during the escape. Do you think this will pass her by without harm?"

"What do you mean?" asked Elli.

"Now think about it. Since she was little, Chloe has either been tortured, neglected, bullied, or a combination of those things. Do you think she understands true affection if she only knows it from the two of us?"

Elli looked at him dumbly and then very noisily pulled her snot up her nose.

"First we'll leave her alone, and then I'll have a talk with her, all right?" asked Dean, now that Elli had finally gotten herself together. "There, now stop acting like a drama queen, we're celebrating."

Elli nodded and slowly stood back up.

"Someone-someone should go check on her," she stipulated.

"Oh, we'll find someone," Dean waved off, pausing. "Do you hear that?"

Elli and Granny Nikitin put their hands to their ears.

It sounded like an approaching helicopter.

"No, no!" muttered Elli. "How did they find us?"

"Apparently the snow wasn't quite as thorough as you thought," Dean surmised.

"We need to split up and find Chloe!" said Elli. "Granny, tell the others she needs to be tracked down and brought to me as soon as possible, we're getting out of here now!"

Chloe had retreated to Granny Nikitin's cottage. Her huge tomcat Miron kept her company and purred.

The sound helped her calm down again. But her anger at Elli remained.

She wondered if there would ever be a time when she wasn't someone's victim.

At least Miron seemed to keep Chloe company without ulterior motives. He had come out from behind a pile of wood with his tail up and made himself comfortable on Chloe's lap.

She was at the edge of the village and this gave her a wide view of the snow-covered fields that surrounded the small village.

The sound of a helicopter rotor reached her ears. And it was getting closer.

Chloe shooed Miron off her and tried to take cover behind some stacks of wood, but it was too late. Across the rooftops, the helicopter approached and suddenly turned around to land right next to Granny Nikitin's house. It kicked up veritable clouds of snow.

From her hiding place, Chloe saw two henchmen with assault rifles and her father get out with a pistol in his hand. He stopped right in her direction.

"Angelika," he said softly. "Please stop hiding. We've solved the problem. This time it will work, trust me."

Chloe looked around for places to escape. There weren't many.

"I'm not turning into your angel!" she threw at her father, and just ran.

Elli had given her Panacea, but the medicine did nothing for her severely compromised body.

Her father took off in pursuit.

Chloe ran between the houses and bumped into Elli, who was also running. Instinctively, she took a few steps backward.

"Chloe!" said Elli, meanwhile, relieved. "Come with me quickly, we have to-"


Elli, as well as Chloe, looked stunned at the spot on Elli's chest where the bullet from her father's gun had entered. It had left Elli through the back and had lodged in a wall of the house.

Behind Chloe, her father stomped up.

"Don't you ever insult my daughter with that horrid name again…" he hissed angrily.

Chloe was too much in shock to keep running away. Her father grabbed her by the hand and pulled her behind him.

He did not lose a glance at Elli, who silently went down on her knees behind him and fell to the ground.

"ELLI!", Chloe finally brought out.

Even if Elli had only used her, anything was better than this man's presence. Chloe fought back as hard as she could, screaming at the top of her lungs, but her father and then his henchmen dragged her toward the helicopter, which promptly took off.

Below her, Chloe saw Ellis's body gradually turning the snow around her red.


Elli was paralyzed. In part by the fear for Chloe and in part by the pain caused by the gunshot wound. Her heart seemed to have been missed, but her left lung was now useless.

She had nowhere safe to open the Nexus, and she could literally feel her thought processes slowing down as her blood seeped out and filled her lungs. She had been lying here for a while now. Around her she heard footsteps and shouting, but no one was looking here between the houses. They probably thought the screams and gunshots had come from the helipad.

I'm bleeding to death here, damn it!

Then she finally heard panicked shouting and fast footsteps in the snow approaching her.
Hands grabbed her and turned her around.

"Door…" she choked out.

Blood ran from her mouth.

Stay awake! Concentrate!

She recognized one of the villagers above her, one of the old-timers. He didn't seem to know quite what to do.

"Door… Inside…", Elli brought forth with infinite effort.

Gradually, the lack of oxygen in her brain made itself known.

But then her helper understood. Elli was taken on her hands, which caused minor explosions in her chest and woke her up a bit again.

She forced herself to keep her eyes open as the man headed for a door. Elli formed a Nexus portal.

The man quickened his steps.

Then they were through.

Immediately, Elli teleported the necessary oxygen to her brain, then closed her wound and transported the blood on her clothes and in her lungs back into her body. More material was teleported from the Nexus to her bloodstream, where it formed fresh blood cells.

The man watched the recovery with disbelief and hastily took a step back when Elli could stand again.

Anyone who had seen that face would have done the same…

Dean had heard screams and a gunshot, but in the place where he had seen the helicopter rise, he could not find any injured. Some villagers had gotten shovels and dug through the snow to find any casualties that might have been hidden underneath, but so far in vain. Along with Chloe, he could not find Elli anywhere either.

He was searching for her when a Nexus portal opened in a front door next to his search party. One of the villagers stumbled out, borne more by fear than anything else.

"Dean?" a voice rang out from the portal, its tone causing the blood to freeze in the veins, or rather the operating fluid in the pipes, of everyone present. "Come here, please. I know where Chloe is…"

Dean exchanged a quick glance with the men and women who had accompanied him. They all silently came to the agreement that this was his problem alone.

Elli was mad. Earth-shatteringly, world-scorchingly mad.

And someone would pay for it…

Next time on Nexus:
The Worst Gift, Part 3

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