Belle burst in the front door and paused, shocked to find the room totally still and quiet. Her eyes surveyed the damage, scanning the apartment until they finally fell on Adrian, leaning casually against the oven with his arms cross. In his shadow, Belle could just make out the partial form of the creature. Adrian and Belle stared at each other for a moment but neither could think of anything to say.
Finally, Belle composed herself and asked, “What happened?”
“I . . . I caught him with my oven,” he said awkwardly. He immediately wished he’d said something else, something better, but his brain seemed to be on lockdown, still in emergency mode after the attack.
Belle opened her mouth and then closed it again, speechless. “Wow. I have no words for this situation. Is it dead?”
Adrian’s eyes widened at the question. “I don’t know. I thought you knew how to kill it.”
“Well, I do know a few ways, but I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anyone try to kill it with an oven before. I didn’t think it was possible to do that.”
“How do we know if it’s dead, then?” Adrian glanced nervously over shoulder at the part of the creature he could see. It looked dead. It wasn’t moving. But he had seen too much of what this monster was capable of to believe that it was no longer a danger.
“There’s only one way to find out.” She strode across the room until she was standing next to Adrian. Her eyes were trained on the monster.
As much as the idea alarmed him, he knew that the only way to tell was to set the beast free. Cautiously, he stepped away from the oven and let the door fall open. The creature tumbled out and rolled, face up, on the floor. It had burns on most of its upper body, especially the hands and face. Its eyes were vacant, staring blankly at the ceiling; its claws were curled, as though ready to strike, but it did not move.
“I can’t believe you really killed it with an oven,” she said in amazement.
“Me either,” Adrian responded with equal surprise.
“Better make sure,” Belle mumbled, talking to herself more than to Adrian. She pulled a small, pale green object out of her coat pocket and dropped it on the creature’s chest. The crystal-like object glowed faintly for a moment and then sunk through the monster’s skin and disappeared. Nothing happened, the creature was as still and unresponsive as when they first opened the oven. Then the muffled sound of rocks grinding together came from somewhere within the beast, followed by a cracking sound, like a mirror breaking.
“What was that thing?” Adrian asked, mystified.
“What?” Belle responded, “The crystal or the creature?”
“The crystal is called an SRCM, Synthetic Rapid Crystallization Mechanism. It’s a weapon, of sorts,” she explained, “It’s designed to sink beneath the skin and crystallize the internal organs. Our weapons designers have worked on them for years specifically to use in combat against these creatures. It’s one of the only known ways to kill them.”
“Crystallize the internal organs?” Adrian couldn’t believe that there could be a weapon capable of such a thing.
“Yes. It’s a very technical process but it’s also virtually impossible to survive. I have yet to encounter a creature the crystallization mechanism couldn’t kill or at least seriously injure.” She spoke in a grave voice, her gaze fixed on the unmoving monster. He noisily cleared his throat, causing her to jump and meet his eyes.
“What, exactly, is this thing?” He asked seriously.
“It’s a doppelganger,” she said.
“Which is what?” The word sounded familiar, like from old fairy tales he heard as a child, but he failed to remember specifically what it was.
“Come on,” Belle said, “I’ll tell you on the way.”
Without warning, she turned on a heel and left the apartment, monster and all, behind. Adrian followed her out into the hall, stumbling as he tried to put on his boots and keep up at the same time. She waited patiently by the stairs, watching him with an interested eye, like a cat watches a bird through a window. A small smile pulled up the corners of her mouth.
“On the way to what? Where are we going?”
“To the Federal Department of the Unnatural. You’ve just been hired.”