She peeled herself off the mattress, and quickly discovered the reason for her involuntary escape from slumber land. The opened window.
"Not again," she said. "Get your shit together Jane!"
The young woman slid into a dressing gown, then dragged her feet to the kitchen of her studio apartment. She made a hot chocolate, then made her way to the other corner, where the TV was. Everything was bathed in an ivory glow, up until the point when she flicked the table lamp on.
"Holy shit!" She dropped her mug, which shattered on the ground into a hundred pieces. Frenzied fingers searched a moment later, through the mess on the table, her hand bag, until she found it. She got the sequence right on the third try.
"Mum?" Jane's voice was trembling. Tears streaked down her damp face.
"Jane..." an older woman's voice said. "Jane? Is that you?"
"It's happened again, mum."
"Honey, calm down." A brief moment of silence. "We're coming over right now, we'll be there in fifteen minutes."
"OK, mum... love you."
This was the sixth time. In all five previous occurrences, she had simply woken up fully dressed in strange clothes. Not strange like a clown-suit, but clothes that didn't belong to her—twice now in a full bespoke business suit, once in surgery scrubs. This was the first time she was actually wearing something feminine, maybe even a little risqué. It was an LBD that provoked too much imagination.
But of course, she didn't care about all that. All she wanted was to remove the thin layer of caked blood off her hands.
Minutes later, Jane's hands were scrubbed, rinsed, picked at, scraped, and scalded. Despite her acute singular purpose—to make sure only her DNA remained—she had the presence of mind to preserve some of the genetic material. The air-tight snap-lock bag rested on the corner of her vanity.
She looked up into the mirror, admiring her panda eyes. What's her therapist going to say this time? It was one thing to sleepwalk, break-in, and steal a full three-piece suit from the same person twice (her brother Lachie had tried on the suits); it was another to get involved in a violent physical altercation. Or was it?
Jane was startled when the door knocked.
"Mum! Dad!" she said after opening the door. The floodgates buckled. Mother, father, and daughter embraced. In that melting moment, Jane felt a tonne lighter. Her fists were balled, pulling taut both her parents' clothes.
"It's okay moo-moo," her mum said. "We're here now, and we'll stay as long as you need."
"Let's head inside," her dad said.
Jane Kei, budding white-hat hacker extraordinaire, stood blanched inside the shower recess. Water vapor rose; part lingering in suspension, part ascending into the exhaust fan above. There could've been an atomic mushroom looming outside, everything disintegrating, and she would be oblivious. Rhythmic patter of cleansing droplets drummed her skull, threatening to whisk her away to Wonderland. But every time she had drifted away, a jumbled thought tethered her back. The more she kept her mind clear, the more lurid the suppositions became.
Nothing made sense. Nothing could explain why or how she did what she did.
This was one of those times she wished she knew someone who could listen to her problem without judgment and provide insight that didn't revolve around deep-seated clinical psychological issues. Thanks Claire, she pouted, for taking my money, and for giving me back all that uber-useful advice! You’re a champion! Her family were great for support, but neither her parents nor brother had watched or read enough sci-fi to be helpful.
“Get your fucking shit together Jane!” She slammed the wall. “Think!” There had to be someone she knew in her past, maybe a classmate, with glasses, always buried in books.
Jane was about to give up when the image of a woman popped inside her head. Late twenties caucasian, stay-at-home mum as the woman had indignantly claimed. They met at the local Dymocks. The young lady was in the Star Trek section looking for a book for a nephew, or was it for a friend’s 8-year-old boy?
Michelle! That was her name. They ended up having a coffee together, talking about family, work, pet peeves… stuff that normal people talked about, Jane thought. Normal. The word resonated within the walls of her skull. She had never wanted to be be a head-turner, or the next Einstein. She had only ever aimed for the horizon, never the stars.
A rogue tear trickled down her cheek.
“Jane?” her mother’s voice floated in from the adjoining room.
The naked woman spun around, and took a deep breath. She wiped the glass and looked through. “What’s wrong, mum?”
“You better come out,” her mother said. “The police are here.”
Jane’s heart plunged into her bowels, and stayed there stubbornly for a good five seconds.
“You better come out.”
Two police officers stood by the doorway. The first was about 6-foot, lean build, probably runs marathons in his spare time. The second, roughly 4-inches shorter, had biceps the size of her thighs, and snaking down his right arm was a sleeve tattoo of a Chinese chimera.
“Malcolm!” Jane blurted out, much to the surprise of everyone present, including Officer Stanaway himself, who drew a curious look from his taller partner. She blinked, and then realized that the policeman’s body art had been entirely concealed by his light blue uniform.
“I’m sorry, Ms Kei,” Stanaway replied, eyebrows furrowed. “But do I know you?”
Jane felt a plume of heat rising from the neck of her bathrobe. She covered her gaping mouth with her fingers, not knowing the answer. “Yes,” she said without thinking, “I mean no, but…” Her mind was on the edge of a deep chasm. But instead of falling, she was swept up by a soft, yet powerful inner voice. Close your eyes. Trust yourself. She did both, and gradually, her misfiring neurons flocculated into coherent thoughts.
“I know you,” she said, her eyes open.
She could feel the four pairs of eyes on her face, hungry to devour her every word.
“I know your wife,” she continued. “Michelle, from the book club.”
“Oh, right,” Stanaway said. He glanced sideways to his partner, exchanging unspoken words.
“Ms Kei,” the other man said, “I’m Senior Constable Kennaugh. I’m sorry to intrude into your home this late, but—”
“Would you…” Jane sudden interjected, “I’m sorry, Constable Kenno? Sorry, I’m really bad with names. I really just wanted to offer a beverage: coffee, or tea, a glass of water?” She blabbed everything out in less than ten seconds.
“No, thank you, Ms Kei,” Kennaugh said. “It’s Jane, isn't it? May I call you Jane?”
Jane watched as the man flashed his chompers. The gesture was meant to disarm, to solicit trust. It was what you’d call an “easy win”. But Jane Kei was the exception that night—she felt her muscles tightened.
“Sh.. sure,” she replied.
“Perhaps we should sit down?” He motioned to the dining table next to the kitchen bench.
“I’m sorry,” Jane suddenly found her voice, turning around when she got to one of the chairs, looking at Kennaugh. “But why are you here?”
“As I was saying from before,” he replied, “I wanted to ask you a few questions regarding an incident that happened in the city, involving a major crime.”
Jane shot her parents a quick look, then resumed her focus on the man in blue, and sat down.
“Firstly,” he said, flipping his pocket notepad. “Can you tell us where you were between the hours of 10pm and 12:30am last night?”
“Sure…” she said. Her dominant hand found her opposite forearm and started massaging. Her eyes searched an imaginary white board. “I was working late. I hadn't realized the time, and by the time I left the office, it was already past twelve.”
“So, you stayed in the office for the whole time period in question?” Kennaugh asked. She heard the subsequent question although it was never uttered: building security can verify this, right?
“Actually,” Jane said, “I think I left just after nine.”
“Okay,” the man continued nonchalantly. “Where did you go next?”
“I went to a pub…”
“A pub? Do you know the name?” He looked at her, pen ready. His blue eyes boring through her crumbling facade.
“Uhm…” She searched her dad's face, then her mum’s, hoping desperately for a spark of ingenuity.
“Ms Kei,” Kennaugh said. “Is there a reason why you keep looking at your bedroom?”
“Oh,” Jane’s eyes widened, her ears were glowing red. “No, it’s nothing. I think I've left the tap running.” She was about to get up when Officer Stanaway cut her off. “Stay where you are ma’am, I got this,” he said.
She stood petrified, her brain was hyperventilating. Stan had just disappeared into the room. Her mind reconstructed the scene: bed was made, rogue pair of shorts on the bedpost, the dress was hidden away in her wardrobe, and the bag… her chest was visibly heaving.
“Honey?” It was her mother’s voice that pierced her reverie.
She snapped out of her trance. “Mum?” Jane looked towards her mother. “Dad?” He had the same horrified expression on his face. But it was only after she found herself staring down the barrel of a pistol did she realize what she had done.
“Put the knife down, Jane.” Kennaugh said slowly.
Mate, we got a 2-0-3, Stan’s voice crackled over the radio. She understood the code: it was for Suspicious Object. He had found the blood.
“Stan,” Kennaugh projected his voice back towards the bedroom. “In here!”
Jane wielded the knife in her hand. It was a Wustof Pro Santoku Hollow-Edge Knife. Slightly out of balance, with a heavy blade; not ideal for close-quarter combat, but adequate to keep her opponents off-balance. As the luminescent blade caught the ceiling light, she pondered upon her situation. They would take her into custody, issue a warrant to recover more evidence—that incriminating LBD that would visually place her at the crime scene. They would lay charges, and all her efforts thus far (which she still hadn't a clue), would be for zilch. Every fiber in her body cried out for her to stand down, to give in, to let justice run its course. But that inner voice, the one that seduced her just moments ago had other ideas. The idea of facing off against two armed policemen with a kitchen knife was just too… intoxicating.
“Jane,” Kennaugh said. “We just wanna talk. Please put the knife down.” He was exuding kindness with his charming smile. Or he was trying to.
Stan had reappeared, and flanked his partner from the left, ready to deploy his taser.
“Jane,” Kennaugh said again, drawing her attention. ”Let’s all take a step back, alright? I’m going to put my gun down, and—”
“No,” she said, cutting him off. “You either cuff yourselves to the oven door; or we escalate this. Your choice Senior Constable. Either way, I’m leaving the room without you.” Jane’s eyes were spitting hot acid.
Kennaugh raised his weapon again, the muscles in his arm taut. “Jane, please. Don’t do anything dumb.”
“I’ll count to ten,” she said. “You’re either fully self-restrained by then, or I’m exploring my repertoire with this kitchen knife.”
“One,” she started.
“Two.” Still nothing.
“Three, four, five...” Stan began to fidget. Both men had a sheen of perspiration on their foreheads, coalescing into beads of sweat.
“Six…” Jane stepped forward.
A bright flash and bang followed instantaneously. The window behind the young woman fractured into a thousand pieces, but Jane had deftly swerved her shoulders backwards to allow the subsonic projectile unhindered passage. Before either men had realized what had not transpired, Jane stretched out, her four lightning-quick appendages suddenly expanded in all directions. The last thing they each saw was the bottom of Jane’s foot.
She impaled the knife holder. “Ten.”