[Author's Note: This story takes place the Valentine's Day before Plasma #2, et al.]

Love Is In The Air

by Andrew Barnett

Lithium strolled down the corridor to his office happily. Even though it was one of the most recognized nonreligious holidays of the year, there were no signs of it at the straight-to-business headquarters of the Department of Paranormal Investigations. This was one of the more obscure departments of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, but recent circumstances were thrusting it into the limelight.

When the agency had first been formed years ago, it mostly dealt with so-called UFO sightings and the like, most of which proved to be false. A year and a half ago, that had all changed. A strange virus that targeted humans had been introduced into the Earth's atmosphere, and the results could easily be classified as "paranormal." In most of the population, there had been little to no effect. However, in some cases, a person's genes were mutated. In most cases, this would only be evident in the next generation. But with this virus, it had actually rearranged the infected's genetic structure. Sometimes this led to deformities, but most of the time it gave the person some sort of super-power. It didn't make any sense to the scientists who were studying it, of course. What's worse, it could lead to panic in the general population, or worse yet, super-powered vigilantes and criminals.

But none of that bothered Lithium right now. In fact, it insured that he would have plenty to occupy his mind today, without having to worry about what today was. As he walked down the gray tiled floor in the hallway full of sterile light gray walls and plain dark gray metal doors, he mused as to how much he loved it all. On many occasions, he found himself annoyed and depressed by the sterility of the building he worked in, but not today.

Lithium passed an open double door, which led to the kitchen/lounge. He had only been in it a couple of times, as he preferred to eat his lunch in his office. A group of agents was congregated in there, he noticed. Glancing in, he realized why they were gathered. One female agent, Carrie Bellis, was displaying a ring with a diamond big enough to generate "ooh"'s and "ah"'s. A sharp pain went through his heart, and for a minute he felt as if he were going to throw up. He forced it back, though, and staggered beyond the door before anyone saw him. Regaining his composure, he made it the rest of the way to his office. After fumbling the key into the lock and practically jumping inside, he immediately closed and locked the door, and collapsed into the chair behind his desk.

Counting backwards from one hundred, he was able to completely purge the need to vomit, but the terrible feeling in the pit of his heart remained. He sighed deeply, and resolved that he was going to make it through the day. The promise had been made every Valentine's Day for eleven years, but never had been kept. This year was going to be different, right? Lithium pushed himself out of his small swivel chair, and over to the window. His office was not big, and the window was right behind his desk. He opened the blinds, and the natural light refreshed him. Maybe today wouldn't be so bad after all.

Seating himself back in his chair, Max flipped the switch on his computer. Maybe there would be a case for him, or something else to keep his mind off. . . No! he shouted to himself, You're not going to think about it. He decided he needed a cup of coffee to wake him up. But to get it he'd have to go back to the kitchen, with those people gasping over some damned rock. Looking down at his watch, he saw that it had been a good five minutes since he had been in there. More than enough time for them to have cleared out. But it was too late. When he had looked at his watch, he had noticed the wedding ring which still lay on his finger. And with this recognition came the overpowering memories of over ten years ago.

It had been Valentine's Day, appropriately enough. Max Lithium was only twenty-three years old at the time, and was not yet stuck in the FBI rut in which he was now entrenched. He was also more of a social creature, and loved to go out with his wife. It had been a tradition of theirs to have a picnic in the park for lunch every Valentine's Day. Terribly cliche, Max had known, but it was still romantic and had always been special to both of them. The tradition had stemmed from their first date, which had been a picnic dinner at midnight. They celebrated their first date on Valentine's Day because it was also their wedding anniversary. Everything was picture perfect, right?

They had been eating a modest lunch of apples, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and champagne, all on a checkered blanket. His wife, her name was Kathleen, had told him that she had a surprise for him. She was wearing a pink oxford-style shirt, with the sleeves pushed up past her elbows and the top few buttons unbuttoned, revealing the navy T-shirt underneath. Her long blonde hair had been up in a ponytail, and he remembered that she had looked absolutely beautiful without any makeup.

They had just finished lunch when it happened. There had been a bench not far from the grassy knoll on which Max and his wife had been encamped. A man was sitting on it, reading a book while he gently rocked the stroller next to him. It had been the old-fashioned stroller that was more like a basinet on wheels. As Max and Kathleen had talked about how much they loved each other and the future, the man got up from the bench, and slowly began to walk toward them.

He looked like an average yuppy, with a polo shirt and khaki shorts. As he approached them, he donned a friendly grin. The smile was phony and hiding something, now Lithium was sure of it. But Lithium couldn't do anything, he was standing under a nearby tree, unable to move. The only thing he could do was watch as Max and Kathleen said hello to the man. He introduced himself as Tom Jenkins, and then said he had a message for Max.

Lithium screamed as loud as he could, telling them to get away from there, but neither Max nor Kathleen could hear him. The other man did turn and look at him, though, and flashed a smile that said, "It's too late."

Tom Jenkins handed a piece of paper to Max with one hand, and at the same time pulled a revolver from the back of his pants with the other hand. Max's eyes were turned down to the paper, but Kathleen noticed the weapon immediately. She emitted a deafening scream, and Max looked up just in time to see it fire at her chest, causing a deep crimson to burst into her blue shirt. Lithium, now able to move, darted over to the blanket. Max was coddling Kathleen's dying body, telling her everything was going to be okay. Jenkins had dropped the gun and ran the instant after he had delivered the shot. Max wasn't pursuing him.

Lithium's eyes flew open, and he awoke to a loud screaming. A moment later, he realized it was coming from him. A cold sweat had broken out from his body, and it felt particularly uncomfortable in his oxford shirt and tie. Clasping his mouth with his hands, he got his bearings. He was lying on the floor of his office in the Department of Paranormal Investigations office in Olympia City. Kathleen's body was not lying in his hands, she had been dead and buried for eleven years.

Lithium rose up from the floor, and looked at the clock on his desk. It was 9:13 and he had already had the dream. Last Valentine's Day he had held out until the afternoon, but now it appeared that he was almost back to square one. Lithium had long since vowed that he was not going to therapy or a psychiatrist, and that he would work out his problems the same way he did everything: on his own. Right now, none of that mattered. He was going to get to work and make up for the time he had lost.

A sharp knock came from his door, and agent Brachner's voice boomed through it, asking Lithium if he was okay. Lithium responded yes, and then sat down at the desk. He noticed that the blinds were open, and scowled. He rose up again to close them and turn the flourescent lights on. Their soft, isolating glow made him feel much better.

Later that day, during his lunch break, Lithium drove his two-door sedan to the cemetery, and made his way to the familiar gravestone. The below the name and dates read "Beloved Wife," but that was not entirely true. Lithium had loved her, of course, but when fate had cruelly seen it fit to kill her in her prime, she had been pregnant. Max had found out later at the doctor's office, when the doctor had told him in a matter-of-fact manner that the fetus had also been killed. New tears welled up in Lithium's eyes as he thought about how eager Kathleen had been to tell him of her surprise. Even that little, final pleasure had been taken from her.

As he crouched by her grave to put the bouquet of roses on it, he wept bitterly. Pulling a small piece of paper out from his pocket, he made a promise that he had made every day for the past eleven years. He was going to find the man who killed his wife. The police had gotten "Tom Jenkins"' fingerprints from the gun, but they had not matched anything in the database. The only clue Lithium had was the paper, on which was scrawled a symbol. It was the Greek letter "Omega."

Copyright © 1998 Andrew Barnett, all rights reserved.
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