Alex floated, alone, in darkness. And then, suddenly, she wasn’t alone. “Who’s there?” she called out.
“Call me Hex,” said the shadowy figure forming next to her. “Although not exactly. How odd. I didn’t know what applying my potion to non-magical mind control would do, precisely. I would not have guessed it would create a mental homunculus of me in your psyche. If you have the opportunity after we’re finished, would you tell the real me about this? I’m sure she’ll be as fascinated as I am.”
“What,” Alex replied flatly.
Hex sighed. “We’re in your mind right now. Your friends sent me to free you from mind control.”
Alex scoffed. “I’m not under any mind control!”
“Yes, you are.”
“Well played,” Olympia admitted. She sighed, letting some of the tension leak out of her. Across from her, she could see Alex relaxing as well. She deliberately slowed her breathing, but resisted the urge to smile when she saw Alex relax a little further. “I’m tired of this game we play, aren’t you? You know that I know that you know that I know that you know, and around and around we go. You listen closely for clues in everything I say, watch every gesture I make.”
“OK,” Alex admitted, watching the scene play out on front of her. “Oympia tried to hypnotize me that time. She got close, even. But I broke out!”
“Did you?” asked Hex.
“So tiring to work so hard all the time,” Olympia was saying. “So much better to just relax, listen and look, focus and relax. So tired, especially your eyes, your eyes and your brain, exhausted, so hard to keep your eyes open, so hard to think...”
From their vantage outside, Alex and Hex could see the past Alex blinking rapidly. As they watched, Olympia slipped a hand out of the handcuffs Sgt Dawson had left unlocked, and dropped it between her legs.
“She’s masturbating right across from her,” Hex said. “And you didn’t even notice.”
“No,” said Alex, “I did!” There was a slight dimming around them, but then the memory of Alex snapped her eyes open and stood, knocking over her chair. “See? I lost the thread for a second, okay, but I caught myself, snapped out and stopped her. She never had a chance to control me!”
“Really?” Hex asked. “What was that blip, then?”
Alex shook her head. “I just fuzzed out for a fraction of a second, so the memory’s a little fainter, but it wasn’t long enough for her to do anything! I came back to normal immediately.”
Hex put her hands on Alex’s shoulders and looked into her eyes. “No. You didn’t. You’re avoiding the memory because you were told to, but it’s there.”
“I’m telling you, it’s not! I haven’t forgotten anything!”
Hex sighed. “Then you shouldn’t have a problem looking closer at that blip. This is your memory after all, you can replay it how you want.”
Alex pulled away from the vague shadow that was Hex. “There’s no point. Just let me out of here, we’re done!”
“What are you afraid of? Show it to me and prove me wrong!”
“I’m not afraid!” Alex insisted. “There’s just no point.”
“No, you’re protecting your programming, as you’re programmed to. We can go around in circles forever, Alex, or you can just look.”
“God, you’re annoying,” said Alex. “Fine!” Once again the memory replayed, and once again there was that brief blip.
“You can do better than that,” said Hex. “Slow it down, expand it out. Really look at what happened.“
Alex scoffed. “Okay, okay! Whatever it takes to get you off my back and get me out of here.” She reached into the memory, probing at it. The image of the past dimmed and slowed as the moment approached, and then—jumped, suddenly, just as Alex did.
“You see!” said Hex. “Something is missing.”
A nameless dread welled up in Alex. This was wrong, this was bad, and she was in danger. She backed away from the suddenly threatening figure of Hex.
“Wait,” said Hex. “It’s okay! This is your mindscape. You’re in control here. You’re safe. You can do this!”
Alex shook her head. “I can’t, can’t look. Have to—”
The memory around them shuddered violently. Cracks opened, and something began to drip from them, something thick and red and sticky.
“The blood,” Alex whispered. “No, no, that stays away, that stays away!” Flames erupted from her, incinerating it, and the echo of Hex screamed as they struck her.
“Alex! No! I know it hurts! I can see there’s something else here, something that’s given you practice at avoiding memories, but we don’t need to look at that right now! You’re still safe from it!”
Blood everywhere. The grinding shriek of tons of steel bending, bowing, breaking. The violent shuddering as everything around her fell apart. A sudden blast of cold as the air outside broke in through the remains of the walls. But there was heat enough inside her, a blazing fury that could burn away the blood and the pain and the memories, and how dare this shadowy witch come into her mind and try to make her look at things that wanted to stay—
“Alex!” Hex screamed. “Please! You’re hurting me!”
Alex snapped out of it. Fire surrounded her, shredding the memory of her encounter with Olympia. Hex lay in a fetal position in front of her, wisps of flame coiling around her shadowy outline.
“...I did that?” Alex asked.
“Yes,” said Hex. “I keep trying to tell you. This is your mindscape. You’re supremely powerful in here, if you let yourself be.”
“Why am I destroying this memory?” Alex asked. “I just... I got so angry, and I don’t know why!”
“If you want to know, there’s one way to find out.”
And there it was. Alex was a detective. Curiosity was a powerful force in her life, much more so than fear, and maybe even more than anger. Gritting her teeth, she reached into what was left of the memory, found that blip, and tore it open.
“That’s right,” said Olympia. “So tired, so focused on me, letting everything else fall away... you’re listening very, very closely now, aren’t you, Alex?”
“Yes,” the memory of Alex said thickly.
“You’re focused so intently on my words they might as well be your own thoughts, absorbing everything. There’s so much you want to know that I can tell you, and I’m going to give it all to you know, all that truth you’ve been seeking...”
Alex watched, in horror, as Olympia guided her past self down into trance. “That absolute bitch,” she said, as Olympia programmed in a nonsense phrase to use as a trigger. “She got me. She actually got me!”
“You’re a great interrogator, so you know that everything I’m telling you is true,” Olympia was saying. “It’s true that you’ll come back to this place when you hear your trigger, and true that whatever instructions you’re given here, you’ll carry out once you wake.”
“Yes,” past Alex said, her voice quiet and devoid of emotion.
Olympia repeated the suggestion a few different ways, getting Alex’s agreement every time. Then she continued on, “So many of your memories are troublesome and distressing, but you’re so good at keeping them away, aren’t you? You can do that with any memories of what happens in this state, too, locking it all away safely, can’t you?”
“Yes,” past Alex repeated in exactly the same tone.
“I’m going to kill her,” Alex snarled. “I’m going to lock her away safely, and throw away the key. We done here?“
“I still exist, so apparently not,” replied Hex. “Can you find any other blips like this in your recent memories?”
Alex concentrated. An image appeared, herself getting out of the shower. Her brow furrowed. “That’s weird. Olympia hasn’t been in my apartment.” Then her memory of her phone rang, and her past self answered.
She and Hex watched quietly as her past self talked with her sister. They could hear Allie as well as past Alex could, of course—she remembered it, so it was included. It was a pretty ordinary conversation, Allie comforting Alex over DeShawn’s capture—until suddenly, Allie said the trigger Olympia had given Alex.
Alex watched in stunned silence as her sister instructed her to text Tina to take all the evidence from the Carpenter case to Allie’s office, then delete and forget the text. “Allie, no,” she whispered. “They got you, too?”
“That was it,” said the shadow of Hex, beginning to break apart, pieces of her shadowy self falling upward as she dissolved. “Remember this, Alex. And remember to tell me about it when you wake!“
In the back of Tina’s car, Alex’s eyes snapped open as she jolted awake. Then she clutched her head in pain. “Owww... What the fuck? Where is this? What happened?”
“Oh thank God,” said Tina. “You’re awake!”
“Yeah,” said Alex, trying to reassemble what had just happened. Her memories were a jumble, but one resurfaced suddenly. “Wait, did you drug me!“
“I’m sorry! I didn’t have a choice, you were mind-controlled and I had to—”
“No. You’re right. It had to be done.” Alex hesitated a moment. “Thank you.” Her eyes fell on Breanna. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Someone I could trust,” said Tina. “She helped.”
“You’re...” Alex searched her memory. “The shadow. Hex?”
Breanna shook her head. “No, but I put Tina in touch with her. How do you know—”
“It’s been a weird... however long it’s been. It’s still daylight. A few hours?”
“About that,” said Tina. “Listen, uh... I have to know, are you still...”
“Mind-controlled?” Alex asked. “I don’t know. I know about it now, but... I don’t know what happens if I hear my trigger.”
Breanna closed her eyes and concentrated a moment. “I can still feel traces of the programming, I think. But it’s different. Less solid, more tenuous?”
“What are you—are you reading my mind?” Alex snapped. “Who gave you the right?”
“Sorry,” said Tina. “It was the only way to get you help, I couldn’t take you to a police shrink and I had to go to someone I was sure I could trust.”
Alex’s eyes widened as a key bit of memory resurfaced. “More than you know. Allie!”
“Who?” asked Breanna and Tina, almost in unison.
“Right, quick summary: Olympia hypnotized me and implanted a trigger. But remember that text, Tina? I was triggered and ordered to send it by my sister Allie. They’ve got her, maybe the whole DA’s office and who knows what else!”
“Oof,” said Tina, sitting back. “That’s—I mean, that has to be—”
“We can’t trust anyone,” said Alex. “Not even me, apparently. How the fuck are we supposed to be unraveling this when anyone could be controlled?“
“I guess I have a bit of an advantage there,” said Breanna. “I’m not the world’s best telepath, but I can detect the programming they’ve been using, now that I’ve seen two versions of it.”
“Two?” asked Alex.
“Long story,” Tina replied.
“Point is, if you can trust me, I can figure out who else we can trust,” Breanna said.
“Sure,” Alex replied. “Great. But how are we supposed to know if we can trust you?”
And none of them had an immediate answer to that.