Oroitz’s knuckles rammed into my teeth the moment the I opened the door. I would have been mad but I’d wanted to do that to myself for the past three days.
“Hey!” Miranda yelled and stepped forwards but I wove her off.
“You son of a bitch!” Oroitz said. Again, normally I wouldn’t have let that go but he was just describing how I’d been feeling. “You let them take her.”
Ok, that wasn’t standing. “She let them take her. I tried to stop her but she had some damn self sacrificing idea stuck in her head.”
“And would they have been there if you hadn’t worked for them?”
I didn’t have anything to say to that. I sat down on the sofa in Flora’s apartment and wiped the blood from my mouth. It’s Miranda that stepped forwards.
“We can assign blame later. Right now we need to work together to get her back.”
“What do you mean get her back?” Oroitz gave me a glare, “By now they’ve probably cut her open to see how she works.”
“That’s not how they work,” I said. I instantly regretted it.
“I suppose you would know.” Oroitz snapped at me.
“Enough!” Miranda looked at both of us in turn. I for one gained a sudden interest in my shoes. “Lord beneath, you two will act like adults for Flora’s sake if not your own!” She fumed at us both for a few more seconds before nodding at me. “Alan, tell Oroitz what you were telling me.”
I sighed and rubbed my eyes. Sleep had been even more elusive than usual for the past few days. “They’ve taken down all the wards I put on their network and had someone put up new ones. I can get through them but I won’t be able to without whoever put them up knowing about it.”
Oroitz shrugged, “So what does that do for us?” It was a bit weird seeing him this mad. Hell, it was weird seeing him mad at all.
“It means I can get us information but whatever I grab we’ll have to use right away. I can’t look up where they have Flora because they’ll just move her by the time we get there.”
Oroitz didn’t looked pleased but he didn’t say anything either. Miranda had to prod me again, “What can you get us?”
“I might be able to find out where they have agents locally. I could disguise it so they wouldn’t know what I was going after at first.”
“So we can grab one of their agents and what?” Oroitz finally sat down, but he was pointedly not looking at me. “Are we going to beat the information out of him?”
For the first time in days I smiled, “Not exactly.”
The lighting underground lent everything a slightly sickly look. It was definitely not a benefit in the cafeteria. The fact that the cafeteria sold bland food to begin with didn’t exactly help.
Dr. Singh pondered all of this in a detached way as he poked at the noodles soaked in a watery red sauce that others seemed to insist was spaghetti. He barely looked up from the “food” when Dr. Teague sat down across from him with a sudden rush, clattering his tray against the table.
“Have you heard?” Teague said. He was young by the standards of PhDs, only just starting to lose his hair. Dr. Singh was a man who felt every year of his age.
“Heard what?” He asked, spearing a lumpy thing that may have been intended as a meatball at the end of his fork.
“They captured 48-V.”
“Three days ago.” Whatever he had just put in his mouth had failed to differentiate itself from the rest of the sauce.
“You knew?” Teague sounded legitimately hurt.
“Higher security clearance, seniority has its perks.” He glanced up from his food, “I knew that they would tell you in a little while.”
Teague moved on, “They’re bringing 48-V here, right?”
“This I do not know. At any security level.” Dr. Singh gave up on his meal and got up to put the tray away. Teague persisted.
“They have to bring her here. Our research has hit a dead end, she could be the only way-”
“They will do what they feel is right.” Singh said as he stacked his tray with the others.
“But who else could use her? We’re the only ones doing hematophage research right now. Her blood chemistry, her neurological structure, she could teach us so much.”
“I am not disagreeing with you.” Dr. Singh led the way out of the cafeteria, Teach having apparently forgotten his own meal. “But you’re forgetting that there are other places she could end up.”
“Like where?” Teague limped along behind Singh.
“Site M springs to mind.”
“They get results.”
“So did Unit 731, you don’t see people lining up to give them medals.”
Dr. Singh stopped just in front of his office and glanced back at Teague, “I wish you would stop comparing our co-workers to war criminals.”
“I will when our co-workers stop acting like war criminals.”
The door opened the rest of the way to reveal a man standing next to Dr. Singh’s desk. He was tall, with hair that looked too dark for his heavily lined face. Singh swallowed, “Mr Chairman?”
The Chairman nodded to them both in turn. “Doctors, I trust you’ve heard the news?”
“Which news?” Dr. Teague said, though everyone in the room knew what the Chairman had been talking about.
“We’ve captured subject 48-V and are putting the subject in your care.” He nodded towards a folder lying on Singh’s desk. “The details are in there. Inform me of any special containment procedures that you think may be necessary, and do not underestimate this one. We’ve already lost an agent trying to capture her and I would appreciate it if her kill count did not increase. She’ll be transferred from temporary holding to here in fourteen hours. I want a full write up by then.” With that he walked out of the room, carrying the feeling of a silent thunderhead with him as he nodded to each of them in turn.
Alone in Singh’s office, Teague turned to him and gave him a smile. “What did I tell you? No other choice.”
I brought up a few programs I’d made and let them run in the background, buffered by a few quick spells that I typed in. “There,” I said, “They should think that I’m looking in their operation records instead of their personnel files.”
Calla sat in the seat next to me, chewing on her knuckle. “You’re sure they won’t be able to find us?”
I glanced at the succubus and then at Miranda and Oroitz in the front seats. Oroitz stared forwards but Miranda gave me a glance. “Listen Calla…” I said.
“Don’t tell me I don’t have to do this. We both know that this is your only shot of finding Flora. So just shut up and do your thing.” She turned away from me and looked out the window.
Then the stupid part of my brain said, “You seem awfully concerned about someone who’s just your landlord,” and she turned around and gave me a look that reminded me that, as nice as she looked, I was speaking to something that is popularly classified as a demon.
“Alan,” Oroitz said, “you have one job. Why don’t you just go ahead and do it?”
I muttered to myself but started as he asked. It took a minute for me to connect to the S.E.A. mainframe start to get a feel for the new defensive spells that were in place. These definitely weren’t my spells, or the spells of any of the other online paranormal investigators that I knew. Something told me that whoever had set this up had been much more black hat than that.
Whoever it was, they were good. Unfortunately for them there was a reason that the S.E.A. went to me first. I’m pretty hopeless when it comes to having to actually fight people, mostly I’ll survive because I’m lucky, here though it was a different story.
The hard drive in my laptop whined as I sent my spells out. The whole thing heated up in my lap and I offhandedly punched in a spell to cool it down. I could feel a few alarm spells go off as I bounced through their database, but had a few spells set up to lay down false trails and stop anybody trying to trace my position. Suddenly I was into the agent’s personnel files.
I held up a picture that we’d grabbed off of the security camera at Miranda’s apartment. It showed the S.E.A. agent that had introduced himself as detective Parkins and that I knew only as Quincy walking across the lobby of Miranda’s building. Normally I’d have to scan this into the computer or something ,but magic has its perks.
I press the picture against the screen and typed in another spell with my free hand. There was another whine from my hard drive and then the list of names on my computer screen blurred, suddenly I was looking at the same face that was on the photograph.
“Hello agent Andrews,” I said as I grabbed a notepad and jotted down his address. I looked over the address and frowned, but just then my computer started emitting another whine, one that kept building.
I didn’t have a lot of time to think. Miranda had her window open so I slammed my laptop shut and leaned forwards past her. She started to ask what I was doing when I threw my laptop out of the window.
It exploded in mid air. There was no fire, just a burst of smoke followed by a loud bang. Bits of plastic spent a few seconds clattering to the ground as all of us ducked down in Oroitz’s truck. I looked up and swallowed. “Alright, I may have underestimated their new wizard a bit.” I held up the notepad I’d put the address on. “This should be good though.”
Everyone spent a few moments looking at me. Eventually Oroitz gave a bit of a snort and grabbed the notepad from me. I felt a bit of the tension that surrounded him dissolve, like by making a total ass of myself I’d shifted a bit of the blame off of me. Calla and Miranda however, just kept staring.
“So,” Miranda said, “if that had exploded in here…”
“Yeah, that’s why I threw it out the window.”
Oroitz was drawing a few of his floating glowy lines above the address. They eventually started to form something that looked like a floating compass mated with a gyroscope. I guessed it was some sort of magic GPS. Oroitz frowned as he looked at it. “Are you sure that this was his address.”
“Hey,” I leaned forwards and looked at the spinning glowy compass thing. “I may have screwed up the ‘not blowing up the laptop’ part but I did the basic spells right.”
Oroitz poked at his compass but it kept doing… whatever it did. I don’t know, I half think that Oroitz just makes up his magic as he goes along.
“This says that he lives at least a four day drive from here.”
“Can’t we fly?” Miranda asked.
I looked at her, “Who’s paying?” There was a moment of awkward silence. Flora usually picked up the tab.
“Well,” said Oroitz as he opened the truck’s door and stepped down, “if we are going to stick with this plan there are some things that I’ll need to gather.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“A change of clothes for one thing. Not everyone shares your, I hesitate to use the word standards, of hygiene.” Oh, so he hadn’t forgiven me. He’d just decided to move from outright hostility to taking cheap shots. He closed the door behind him and started walking off. I held up a hand and started counting down from five.
Oroitz opened up the door and sat back in the driver’s seat. “On second thought this is my car. So I guess all of you should get out.”
Calla looked confused and Miranda was trying very hard not to laugh. We all got out of the car one by one, Miranda still trying not to laugh. “We should meet back here at what?” I asked, “Eight tomorrow morning?” I looked at Oroitz, “You might want to write that down.”
He grumbled a bit but did write it down before pulling his car out of the lot and driving off.
Miranda finally let out the laughter she’d been holding in. It was a bit more that just reacting to what Oroitz had done. None of us had had much laughter in the past few days. She wiped a tear from her eye and said: “There are a few things I want to take care of before we leave too.” She got over the last of her giggles and then stood up straight, her mouth a hard line. “Alan, did you know that these people you were working for were brainwashing merfolk?”
“What? No! Jesus Miranda, what do you take me for?”
To my surprise it was Calla that said: “Well, you kept working for them after you knew they wanted Flora.”
I was quiet for a long time after that. What the hell was there to say? I finally settled on: “I’ll see you tomorrow.” and set off towards my car.
I dropped anchor in the middle of the bay and sat on the edge of my boat, considering stripping off my shoes to dangle my feet over the edge. I had a fast food bag next to me, open so that the scent drifted over the water. I sat there and hummed to myself.
There’s a lot of lore about mermaids singing. About us luring boats into rocks and dragging the sailors down to drown. Trust me, that really doesn’t happen. That’s siren crap.
Me? I just like singing. Not in public but there’s a sort of wordless tune that I catch myself humming along to when I’m feeling… I don’t know. Sad? Bored? Whatever it was I was singing it when I heard a splash and a head framed by bright red hair popped up out of the water next to my boat. She smiled at me and then jumped up, grabbing the side of my boat and dragging the rest of herself into it. “Miranda.” she said.
“Ione,” I replied and then held out the fast food bag. She smiled and reached in to pull out one of the burgers I had brought for her. She wasn’t a mermaid, not exactly, but she was a close relative. She’s a… actually I don’t know that humans have any words for them. I could tell you the mermaid name for them but you wouldn’t be able to hear it unless you were underwater. Basically where I have scales and a tail that goes up and down like a dolphin’s she has rough skin like a shark’s and a tail that goes from side to side. That and razor sharp teeth and enough upper body strength to rip an elephant in half. Those same teeth made short work of the first burger and she looked up at me expectantly. I made a gesture and she happily reached into the bag and grabbed another one.
“So,” she said with a full mouth, “what brings you out on the bay?”
“Anybody gone missing recently? Particularly from northern tribes?”
She shrugged and gave me a look, “You’re going to have to narrow it down. Things haven’t been to good these past few years.”
I sat down in the boat next to her, “How bad?”
“Oh… the usual, just more of it. Still we’re not here to talk about my problems. What can you tell me about your missing merfolk?”
“I think she’s from northern Greenland or southern England, I didn’t get a look at her tail,” I paused and bit down on my lip as I thought, “there’s also a good chance she was taken while on land.”
Ione tilted her head, “I think I might have heard something about that. I don’t recall the mermaid’s name though.”
“Could you get it for me? Anything else you can find too.”
“I guess… I do owe you, but what do you need it all for? Do you think you’ve found her?” This was more than just idle interest. Ione and her species are the closest things that the merfolk have to police, or an army.
“Yeah, but I might need some help getting her back.”
They walked down a hall together, Dr. Singh leafing through a file as he walked. Teague kept pace a step behind him. “Do you think she’ll be violent?” Teague said.
Singh licked his finger and turned a page. “She killed one of our agents during recovery.”
They reached a heavy steel door that two men in full combat gear and a second man wearing an off the rack suit stood in front of. “Dr. Singh, Dr. Teague,” the man in the suit said, “I’m agent Quincy Andrews.” He shook both of the doctors’ hands.
“You ran the team that secured the subject?” Singh asked.
“That’s right.” He pointed towards the door. “She’s secured for now in an observation room. Do you want her sedated?”
“We don’t even know if that would work. I’d like to draw some blood but first I’d like to have Collin talk to her.” He pointed to Teague.
“Talk to her?” Andrews frowned. “Why?”
Teague smirked, “Well, I am a psychologist. I’d feel wasted if I didn’t get to ask people about their mothers.”
“Isn’t that all a bit… passive?” Andrews looked from one of them to the other. Singh got the impression that despite the man’s friendly exterior there was something ugly underneath.
“We are the leading scientists on this project. If you wish to lodge a complaint…”
“No, no.” Andrews held up his hands. “You are the experts and as far as I’m concerned my work is done.” He nodded to the two of them and then to the men guarding the door. “Good luck doctors.”
“Thank you, the same to you.” Andrews nodded again and then walked off down the hall. When he disappeared around the corner Singh let out a breath that he didn’t realise he had been holding. Something about that man…
He shook his head and ignored the feeling. There were more pressing concerns. He punched his code into the keypad next to the steel door and walked in.
The room was simple. A few chairs and notepads next to a two-way mirror that looked into the subject’s cell, a door that led into the cell, and a control panel hooked up to microphone that let them speak to whoever was in the cell.
Right now the cell was occupied by a young woman in an orange jumpsuit. She was sitting in a stainless steel chair in front of a stainless steel table that she was secured to with a pair of handcuffs. Dr. Singh looked through the glass and studied her.
She had a slightly stocky build, one that suggested muscle more than fat, and though it was hard to tell with her sitting down she seemed quite short. But by far what was most striking about her was her pale skin and white hair that she kept cut close to her scalp, all framing a pair of red eyes that focused on the table.
Dr. Singh settled into one of the chairs and Dr. Teague sat next to him. “She doesn’t look all that dangerous.” Teague said.
“She’s spent the past five years hunting monsters and is the daughter of one of the most powerful sorcerers that ever lived and one of the oldest vampires of which we are aware. Looks can be deceiving.”
Teague swallowed and looked at the subject for a while longer. Both of the scientists flinched when she suddenly looked up, glaring in their direction.
“It’s a mirror on her side. She can’t see us.” Dr. Singh wished he was as confident as he sounded.
Teague swallowed and stood up. He went to the door and took a second to compose himself before saying: “Dr. Collin Teague commencing first interview of Subject 48-V.” Then he opened the door.
My eyes dart to the door and a small man in a lab-coat enters. He has a clipboard under one arm and a pen twitches in between his fingers. I keep eye contact with him as he crosses the room and sits down across the table from me. “Good morning 48-V.” He says.
I shake my head, “It’s late afternoon. Three o’clock at the earliest.” He’s trying to disorient me. I had a blindfold on through most of my transfer from my cell to here for the same reason.
He ignores my comment and presses forwards. “I have a few questions I’d like to ask you. Would that be alright?”
He clears his throat and says: “Why do you hunt monsters Flora?”
“Somebody has to.”
I don’t give him more than that. As far as I’m concerned I’ve given him too much. His questions wash over me but I don’t respond. “Why do you think that you have to fight monsters? Can you tell me about your parents? What creatures have you come into contact with besides vampires?” It goes on but I keep quiet until he gives up. Eventually he stops making notes on his clipboard and says: “We’d like to take a blood sample, would that be all right?”
I don’t respond but after a moment another man comes in. He looks East Indian and moves with the sort of self-consciousness that you’d see with a zookeeper. He kneels down next to me before taking out a syringe.
The plan was that I would cooperate. That even if my friends were going to come after me as long as I cooperated the S.E.A. would keep away from them.
That was the plan but as that syringe approaches me I’m suddenly standing up, sending my chair falling backwards. My hands are cuffed to the table but my feet are free and I kick out, smacking the syringe out to his hand then following up with a kick to the chest. I use the table as a pivot point and swing out to hit the other scientist. They both hit the ground the second that the door bursts open and two soldiers level assault rifles at me.
With my hands secured to the table I can’t raise them, but I try to sit back down and hope that they’ll get the message. One of them walks across the room in two long strides and raises the but of his rifle.
“Jenkins, Wait!” the man who had the syringe yells but the rifle falls. I feel it smack into my jaw a split second before I black out.
Four Days Later
We were sitting back in Oroitz’s truck. “This is stupid,” I said, “I refuse to believe that we’re here.”
“My tracking spell isn’t wrong.” Oroitz said. He’d mellowed out a little over the long drive here but he was still on edge, like the rest of us.
“I’m not saying your spell is wrong, I’m saying that the universe is wrong. I refuse to believe that of all the places that a clandestine government organisation would set up a base they’d do it… here!” I pointed at a building across the street. It said, Roswell Visitors’ Center.
“I don’t get it,” said Calla, “what’s wrong about it being here?”
“It’s so dumb…” I said, shaking my head. “It’s just… so dumb. This is the dumbest thing that… It’s so dumb.”
“It sort of makes sense.” said Miranda. “I mean, it’s the first place I’d think to look, so it’s also kind of the last place.”
I ground my palms into my eyes. “I don’t care. I just don’t care anymore. Let’s just find this guy so we can find Flora and leave.”
Oroitz pointed at the building opposite from the visitor’s centre. “He’s in there.”
Calla leaned forwards and looked out of the window. I tried not to notice the interesting things this did to her anatomy and failed. Hey, I’m a guy and she is a succubus. “Is he asleep?” she asked.
“This thing doesn’t say.” Oroitz prodded the glowing compass thing he’d conjured up on the dash again. “It does look like an apartment so maybe.”
“What does it matter?” I asked. “You messed with me and Flora’s heads when we were awake.”
“I only distracted you, used fantasies and memories to break your concentration of the real world. If I am going to truly enter this man’s mind he will need to be unconscious.”
Miranda looked over the back of her seat with a raised eyebrow. “When was she ‘distracting’ you?”
“He startled me back at Flora’s apartment.” I swear Calla is like a inappropriate conversation savant. “I put us both on a bed I remembered from Versailles, naked.”
At this Oroitz’s eyebrows shot up and he looked back at me as well. “Sounds awfully distracting.”
“Hey!” I said. “Guess what’s not helping us find Flora? This fucking conversation!”
Calla swung the door open and stepped out of the car, “He’s asleep, I can feel it.”
“We’ll come with you.” Oroitz said as he started undoing his seatbelt.
She smiled in a way that showed off her weapons grade dimples. “Quite frankly, I don’t see how you could.” She sort of, flickered, and for a moment there was more of a sense of her walking away from us than an image. The next moment she was gone and we were left there blinking.
“Huh,” I said. “Never seen that before.”
The world buzzed.
His old drill sergeant was yelling at him.
He hadn’t been a beautiful woman before.
Now they were in bed. She wasn’t his drill sergeant any more, thank God.
Her lips were at his ear saying, “Show me where you work.”
In his car. Velvet soft arms wrapped around his chest. He drove to a seemingly random spot in the desert. He entered the parking lot of a small gas station.
Around the back of the station. He plinks a key code into a door covered in rust that says “Employees Only.” Something pops out and scans his eyes.
Corridors. He walks through corridor after corridor. She whispers to him to take her to his latest catch. He shows her a padded cell. A woman with pale white skin and red eyes lays on a cot. The whispers in his ear go silent.
He started wondering. What was this? Who was this woman? Suddenly he knew.
He’d been manipulated. Tricked. He had to wake up and warn the base. Their security had been compromised. He had to-
Her voice whispered in his ear, “Forget.”
He woke up thinking that he hadn’t dreamt at all.
Two broken fingers, what feels like three cracked ribs, and I’m pretty sure that I have a slight concussion. I’ll have to stop resisting them soon, simply because my body will no longer be capable of it.
Whenever the doctors enter the room I’m heavily secured. It’s strange, but they’re not the Mengele types that I was thinking of. The only reason for my injuries is that I’ve been attacking them. The one of them doesn’t do anything but talk to me and doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that I don’t respond. The other took a cheek swab earlier and I haven’t seen him for days. I think it’s been days.
I wish I had a watch or a clock or something. I have no idea how long I’ve been down here. My best guess is that it’s been somewhere between three days and a week. I’m pretty sure they’ve been feeding me at random intervals to keep me disoriented.
The door to my cell clicks, and the lock is slid back. I don’t know what but something about the energy of the room makes me tense up and I jump up onto my cot. The door opens and I still feel that off energy.
The men that walk through the door don’t have the same attitude as the others that have come for me. I recognise Jenkins, the man who had hit me with his rifle, and there are three others that narrow their eyes when they look at me.
I’m still crouching on my cot, looking from man to man when Jenkins pulls out a knife. “You killed a man when we were bringing you in.” he says.
I don’t move, just keep looking at Jenkins.
There’s a trick I learnt a long time ago for dealing with situations like this. I scream at the top of my lungs and charge right at Jenkins while he’s in the middle of his speech. He’s still surprised when I ram my shoulder into his stomach. He goes down but he’s waving the knife around now and it traces two hot lines down my back.
By the time his three friends start in on me I have my thumbs in his eyes. They drag me off of him but I get in a few good kicks. One of their knees bends backwards and I’m pretty sure I dislocate a few fingers.
Jenkins stumbles forwards- I didn’t have enough time to do any permanent damage to his eyes- and raises the knife. I twist as it descends so I only get a cut on my side.
The two men that I’ve left standing besides Jenkins have a grip on both of my arms but I get my right arm free to punch at the other man’s groin.
Instead of using this as an opportunity to get free I grab onto Jenkins’ fatigues and pull his head down so I can ram my forehead into my nose. It hurts but I can tell it hurts him more as he reels back and clutches at the bloody lump where his nose was. I go for the hand holding the knife.
There’s another click from the door as I pry his thumb loose and his only friend that’s still standing tries tackling me from behind. The door bangs open and more guards pour in. I’m so far into the fight that I’m surprised when they don’t just drag me off of Jenkins but drag Jenkins’ friend off of me as well.
What happens after that is a bit of a blur. Most of the guards file out of the room over barked orders and suddenly I’m leaning against the cell’s padded walls looking at the doctor that had taken the cheek swabs from me earlier.
He bends down in front of me, his tired eyes meeting mine. “Are you alright?” he asks. I don’t answer but it doesn’t seem to perturb him, “I’m Dr. Singh. Did those men hurt you?”
I look at him for a moment. He’d helped me, but he was still working for the agency. I spit blood on the floor and, gritting my teeth against the pain, pick myself up and fall onto the cot. I close my eyes and am asleep before the doctor has left the room.
“The men involved are being disciplined, but I want to move her to the maximum security wing.” Dr. Singh said to the Chairman.
The Chairman sat at his desk, looking at Singh over arched fingers. “I agree that you should take steps to prevent this from happening again, but what about the actual research? How is that progressing?”
“We’ve started genome mapping and we’ve scheduled her for x-rays and MRIs.” Dr. Singh sipped his coffee. “She’ll have to be sedated though.”
“What about psychological profiling?”
“She… hasn’t spoken to Doctor Teague, yet. It’s odd, Teague says that at times it seems like she’s almost autistic and at other times she seems like a barely restrained killer.”
The Chairman frowned, “We gave her to you because you assured us you could get results. If she’s not responding then I don’t see why she wasn’t sent to Site M.”
Dr. Singh ground his teeth together, “We are dealing with a unique specimen here. Do you really want to destroy her this early?”
“No, but it won’t be my decision. The Council is starting to take a personal interest in this case.” He leaned forwards, his cold eyes boring into Dr. Singh’s. “One way or another we’ll get results. It’s up to you if it’s done your way.”
I had set up my desktop computer in out hotel room, my cell phone at the ready and the hard drive humming as I waited for the signal to start. I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to disable the S.E.A.’s defences without setting off a few alarms so we’d have to do this as fast as possible.
Oroitz and Miranda were on the way to the base now, Calla was lying on the bed behind me. Her part of this plan was more or less over with, she could cloud one person’s mind or jump into one person’s dreams. But unless they were attacking their enemies either one at a time or while they were asleep Calla was largely useless when it came to a fight. It’s probably redundant to point out that she looked really good laying on the bed. She looked like a she was just waiting for a renascence master to burst through the door and paint her.
I nervously flipped through my notebooks, making sure I had all the spells I thought I’d need pre translated into code and earmarked. I’d done this about a hundred times since I’d sat down. Silence stretched to the breaking point so like I always do in these situations I opened my stupid mouth. “So, you and Flora huh?”
Calla sat up and gave me the same look she had before, the one that reminded me that she was allegedly a demon. “Don’t let Flora know that you know.” she said in a voice that could freeze oxygen. I swallowed and turned back to my computer. The silence stretched on further but now I had a concept of the alternatives so I endured it.
I breathed a sigh of relief when my phone rang.
Alan picked up before the first ring was over. “Yes?” he answered.
“You wanted us to call when we were ten minutes away from the gas station?”
“Oh, uh… right.” I heard the sound of him typing. “Alright, there’s no way around them detecting my intrusion but with any luck they won’t be able to see you coming.”
They’d pulled to the side of the road and Oroitz was letting the truck idle. “You’re sure this is going to work? How do you even know that their security system will be on their network?” Oroitz said.
“Hey, this isn’t baby’s first day at magic hacker camp! I know what I’m doing, you just take care of your end.” Alan continued to grumble to himself and we heard a bit more of his typing. “Are you going?”
Oroitz rolled his eyes, pulled the truck onto the road, and started driving. I started compulsively checking my equipment. I’d grabbed one of those camel back packs from a hiking store to carry my water. I also had a bullet proof vest that we’d grabbed from Flora’s apartment. I don’t know why she had a vest in my size, I just hoped I’d get the chance to ask her.
There were a few minutes of silent driving with the only noise being the clicking of Alan on his computer over the phone. This went on for about ten minutes before we reached the gas station. Oroitz pulled up to a pump and got out. I followed him and put the cell phone up to my ear.
“Ok Alan, what are we doing here?”
More clicking, “Ok, their cameras shouldn’t see you but I think the guy in the gas station is one of their agents.”
“How can you tell?” I asked, getting out of the car and looking at the guy. At first I was doubtful but after a bit I thought that Alan might have been right. He looked like a big fat gut that was sitting behind a counter, bored out of his skull. But something about the way he was sitting suggested that there might be more muscle to him than fat, and I don’t want to seem immodest but I’ve been to gas stations and nine times out of then the guys running them spend a lot of time looking at me.
And the tenth guy would be looking at Oroitz.
“Well…” Alan said amongst more typing. “He’s got a land line leading directly into the centre of the base. That could do it.”
I nodded, “Call you back in a sec,” I said and hung up. I walked in to the gas station and put on my best innocent face. I had my coat done up to hide the vest I was wearing. The guy behind the counter, his overalls said “Mac” but I didn’t feel like taking that at face value, glanced up at me. He had a slight edginess about him. I wondered if Alan’s intrusion had put them on alert.
I gave Mac a fake smile and wandered to the back of the store. I stopped next to a fridge full of bottled water, my smile became genuine.
Thirty seconds later I was out the front of the store and calling Alan again. “Mac” was stuck to the wall in a block of ice.
Don’t worry, I left him air holes.
Alan picked up, “We good?”
“Yeah, we’re good.” I waved over to Oroitz and we both went behind the gas station. There was an old door coated in rust back here, I didn’t see so much as a keypad. I tried the door but it wouldn’t budge. “Any ideas?”
“Hang on,” said Alan, “I’m going to try and access that door, see if it has an electronic lock.”
“Don’t bother,” Oroitz said and started drawing one of his diagrams in the air in front of the door. After he finished there was a hiss and the door swung open. “The twelfth seal of Hyperborea, opens ways.”
“Handy,” I said.
“Yeah, I memorized it because I’m always forgetting my keys.”
The door had opened to reveal a very sterile looking concrete stairway, we headed down. “Is this phone going to be able to keep reception?” I asked Alan.
“I keep telling you guys, I’ve got the tech shit covered. Just follow that map that Calla drew you and you should be fine,” he said.
Oroitz gave another roll of his eyes and we started down the stairs, there were a few cameras on they way but Alan took care of them. He also cheerily pointed out the motion detectors and laser trip wires he was disabling ahead of us.
The stairs seemed to go down forever. “Isn’t there some elevator we could be taking?” Oroitz asked, beginning to look a bit flushed after lord beneath knew how many stairs.
“Yeah,” Alan said, “if you want to run straight into one of their assault teams. This is a fire exit, disused, thanks to a few distractions I’m ready to set off in their security system you should have a clear run to Flora. No need to thank me.”
“Is he going to be this insufferable the whole ride back?” Oroitz whispered.
I laughed and then came up short as I rounded the next flight of stairs and almost ran into a brick wall. “Hey genius.” I said into the phone. “Your back door is a dead end.”
“What?” Alan asked amidst furious keystrokes. “No it should be clear.”
Oroitz gave an exasperated look and started back up the stairs. “No,” I said, “it’s bricked up. You must be looking at old schematics.”
There was a wash of white noise from the phone. “…don’t kno… out…” Alan’s voice faded in and out until it disappeared in yet another wash of static. Suddenly the phone beeped and said that it’d dropped the call. I looked at it in confusion for a moment before Oroitz yelled down the stairs:
“Miranda? I think we have a problem!”
I ran up the stairs after him only to find myself looking at another brick wall. I swallowed. “Yeah,” I said, “yeah I think you’re right.”
I scrolled through file after file, my mind feeling frayed at the sight of the blueprints to the base changing right in front of me. “What the… how the… what?” I threw a few general purpose counter spells at the blueprints, hoping one would stick.
Nothing did, just a lot of nonsense on my screen.
Suddenly it felt like someone hit me between the eyes with a sledgehammer and I toppled backwards out of my chair, my vision going black. When I thought about it, it really wasn’t fair. When you’re the guy that stays behind that’s supposed to mean that you’re out of harms way. Now I was on my back and releasing a string of expletives that could peel paint.
The craziest thing was that the moment I hit the ground I figured out what was going on. Whoever the S.E.A. had gotten to replace me must have decided that in lieu of putting up new wards they’d just fill the network with illusions. Miranda and Oroitz weren’t trapped behind brick walls, they just thought that they were. But seeing as I couldn’t contact them, or more likely I just thought that I couldn’t, there was no way for me to tell them that.
In conclusion: whoever was running S.E.A. security now was a total asshole.
I mumbled a few counter spells and tried to find my footing. Unfortunately I’m not too good without my computer and all this did was change my vision from “completely blind” to “unworkably blurry.”
And then just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Calla was standing over me, looking a bit smug. I sat up, rubbing my eyes. “You stopped it?” I said as I scrambled back to my computer.
“No,” she said. “Someone was making you hallucinate that you were blind and in pain. I just made hallucinate that you weren’t hallucinating.”
I spent a good ten seconds trying to puzzle that through my head. “Will any of this stop me from using the computer?”
She shook her head.
“That’s all I need.” In my business, you learn not to question things that are in your favour.
I threw myself into the chair and started trying to trace the spell that was being sent against me back to its source. Whoever was throwing this stuff at me had to have some serious magic. The wards on this computer would have kept out any mid level spell caster.
I’ve never been more than a mid level spell caster.
I began running some spells, my hard drive emitting a constant whine as I tracked down the caster. I was able to narrow it down by guessing that he was in the same facility that Flora and Oroitz were breaking into.
Ten seconds later I had him, he was hooked up to a supercomputer in the basement of the place. I started punching in a few spells that I hoped would distract him enough that he’d lower the illusions around Oroitz and Miranda.
Suddenly there was a beeping noise and an instant messaging window popped up in the corner of my screen.
I kept typing and tried to ignore it. I threw off a few more spells but they just seemed to be bouncing off of his wards.
You know that you can’t win this, right?
I changed tactics, instead of trying to get by his wards I tried attacking them directly, seeing if I could chip away at them. Nada.
Here. Let me show you something.
Another window opened up on my screen, I could see that it was security camera footage of Miranda and Oroitz. They were on the staircase and looking frustrated at where they thought there was a wall.
Now look at this.
The camera flickered and I saw a group of soldiers in black uniforms. They had their assault rifles drawn and were making their way up the stairs slowly. I swallowed and threw a few more spells at whoever was talking to me. I felt like I was taking pot-shots at the Terminator.
There was a familiar whine coming from my computer and I opened up a window that I used to track incoming spells. I recognised the spell that this guy was sending my way; it was the same spell he’d used to blow up my laptop. Now he was going to try and blow up my computer.
To be honest, I had to keep myself from laughing. I may not be the next Merlin, and I may be working off of my desktop from ‘aught five instead of a multi-billion dollar supercomputer, but I was a lot smarter than this guy and a hell of a lot more lucky.
You see, if I ever had to take myself down (and given my line of work I actually have given this some thought) I would start by never ever trying to pull the same trick on myself twice. I may have a tendency to be caught unawares, but I like to think that I always learn from my mistakes.
On the way here I threw together a little spell. I punched it in and picked up the phone to call Miranda again.
“Alan.” I said into the phone as the wall disappeared in front of us, “what the hell is going on?”
“Never mind that, you’ve got incoming… Wait…” I tensed up, looking up and down the stairs. If there was an attack I had no idea where it might come from. “Ok,” Alan said, “good news and bad news time.”
“Lord beneath Alan! Are we about to be attacked or aren’t we?” I said, sloshing the water in my backpack around impatiently.
“Well that’s the good news, the assault team that was coming up the stairs towards you is no longer coming up the stairs. Unfortunately that’s because when I destroyed the supercomputer that was casting those illusions on you there was some… spillage.”
Oroitz grabbed the phone from me and quite calmly said into it: “Alan, what the hell are you talking about?”
“I think I accidently destroyed every electronic lock in the building. So that assault squad had to go and deal with a major containment breach.”
Oroitz rubbed his eyes, “Are you telling me that you let every monster in the base that we are about to break into out of their cages?”
“Not all of them,” Alan sounded a bit sheepish. “Just the ones that were only contained with electronic locks. And hey, silver lining, from what I can tell that includes Flora. Of course in the same hallway as her there’s five werewolves, six zombies, two trolls, and a gremlin…”
Oroitz clicked the phone shut. “Let’s go,” he said.
Dr. Singh was under his desk and to his surprise he wasn’t scared at all.
They’d drilled for this a thousand times, and every time he’d been nervous, afraid that this time it would turn out to be real and that the monsters would be coming for him. Now that he knew that they actually were coming for him, there was a sort of eerie calm.
There was of course no question about whether they would be coming for him, he was the one that they knew from the tests, the one that had been the face of their captivity. Several of them could track his scent, several more could find him by tracking his aura. They’d put a steel reinforced door on his office but but it wasn’t as strong as the ones that they put on the cells. The door was to prevent him from being a target of opportunity. But he knew that he wasn’t a target of opportunity, he was just a target.
Slowly he stood up and sat in his desk chair, opening the drawer and fishing out a lighter and an unopened packet of cigarettes. The sounds of automatic weapons being fired was muffled by the door. It was steadily growing louder. Dr. Singh flinched as he dug an ashtray out of his desk and lit his first cigarette in two months. Slowly, the sound of gunfire faded. Either they’d chased all of the monsters away from his office, or had been forced to retreat.
The ground shook as something very heavy moved down the hallway towards his office. Dr. Singh wasn’t surprised when it stopped outside of his door. He took a puff on his cigarette, it tasted as filthy as he remembered. God, he’d missed it.
Something pounded on his door and Dr. Singh sat watching as the door buckled inwards towards him. There was a shrieking sound as the door burst off of its hinges and fell to the ground.
A troll stood in the doorway, a gigantic mass of muscle and armoured plates. Dr. Singh lifted his cigarette to his lips and met the monster’s eyes. He was ready.
There was another burst of automatic gunfire. The bullets bounced harmlessly off of the troll but drew its attention. It looked to the side and gave something that lingered between a growl and a hiss just before there was a single gunshot and the troll’s eye exploded.
The troll slumped to his knees for a second and then fell to the ground. Dr. Singh looked at the body for a long time, wondering if it was going to get back up. The troll looked like it had been shot in the brain but they were an especially resilient species.
Quiet footsteps advanced up the hallway towards Dr. Singh’s office. He registered them almost subconsciously, a soft tapping so unlike the deliberate clunk of the military boots that the soldiers in the base wore.
It was only a few more seconds until his saviour came into view. She was wearing the orange coveralls that all of the prisoners that could pass for human were forced to and had apparently been walking barefoot through the facility. She had one of the guards’ assault riffles up to her shoulder despite the difficulty that she had in holding it from her multiple broken fingers.
What struck Dr. Singh the most was the red glare of Flora’s eyes as she locked on his.
I step around the corner and spot Dr. Singh, sitting on his office chair with a lit cigarette in his hands. I guess from his expression that he wasn’t expecting to see me. He was probably expecting one of the facility’s guards. Now he’s looking at me with wide eyes and I get the impression that he thinks he’s in the final moments of his life.
I’m not even looking for him. All I want is to find an exit. I turn away from him and start to leave when I feel a pang in the pit of my stomach. I can’t think of anything he’s done to warrant my saving him, but I can’t think of anything he’s done that says he deserves to die either.
I walk back to the door and look in. Dr. Singh is still sitting there, staring at the floor. “Hey,” I say.
He looks up, clearly shocked to see me again. I tilt my head to the side to indicate he should follow. He doesn’t look inclined to move so I start away anyways. After a few seconds I hear him following me from behind.
The facility is oddly quiet, though I can hear the sound of gunfire in the distance.
“I don’t,” he says, “I don’t know how…” He’s starting to babble.
I keep the M4 that I’d picked up from a dead guard out in front of me and checked around the corner. The hallway looks empty, though if there is something there I don’t know what I could do about it. This gun is only loaded with 5.56 NATO rounds, great for putting down people but people are my last concern.
Dr. Singh has grown quiet now and is just content to follow me. “Dr. Singh?” I say.
He seems shocked to hear me talk, “What?”
“We need to get out of here. Which way is the exit?”
He points down the hall. “If you take a left at the end of this hall and go straight it will lead to an emergency exit.”
I nod and we start to head in that direction.
We were in the facility for about five seconds before we ran into the centre of the fight. I had to stop and look at the mess in front of me before I could react. I was surprised by the sheer variety of the species in front of me. Every creature that you’ve ever had a nightmare about all seemed to be trying to tear each other apart along with any humans that got in their way.
We ran back the way we came, I was muttering a prayer under my breath that none of the creatures behind us would follow. Oroitz skidded to a halt next to me and started drawing one of his designs in the air.
I looked back to see a trio of zombies shambling towards us, away from the fight. “Is this really the best time!?” I yelled at Oroitz as I reached for the water in my backpack and sent a trio of icicles towards the zombies. They twitched and fell over as the magically enhanced ice punched through their skulls and destroyed their brains.
“It should stop them from noticing us.” Oroitz said. His hands were moving with an almost hypnotic calmness as they trailed light into the shapes and diagrams that he was looking for. It was larger than any I had ever seen him do.
“Are you going to be all right?” I asked him.
“There might be some memory loss. Whatever you do don’t let me move once I’ve finished. The seal will be broken once I move my feet.” I noticed a werewolf look up from mauling a guard. Blood covered its muzzle and it snarled. The fight seemed to be dying down a bit, or more accurately moving away from us, but that only meant that the stragglers had nothing left to focus on except us. Another werewolf and something that looked like a garden gnome with a crystal meth addiction looked at us.
Oroitz moved his hands through another few complicated patterns, sweat starting to break out on his brow. Finally he pushed his hand through the centre of his design and the whole things flared before disappearing. Suddenly the creatures in front of me didn’t seem too interested in us, looking away and moving towards the rest of the fight.
I sighed and looked over at Oroitz. He had a look of complete terror on his face like… well, like somebody who was looking at a room full of monsters and had no idea why. I thought fast and channelled some water at his feet, freezing it and keeping him from moving. “What? Miranda?” His head darted around in random directions, “What is going on?”
“Calm down, calm down. We’re rescuing Flora.” I held out my hands to keep him from falling over.
“What? Why does she need to be rescued? And what did you do to my feet?”
“What’s the last thing that you remember?”
He looked into the middle distance for a second, “I was in Tibet.”
I nodded slowly, “Right, that’s a bit too much to fill you in on. Just don’t move your feet, it’s the only thing that’s preventing those monsters at the other end of the hall from noticing us.”
“Ok… the second seal of Athens. Why would I cast that?”
“I just told you, to stop a room full of monsters from killing us.”
He shook his head, “Right, sorry.”
I looked around, the monsters in front of us were still hanging around behind the rest of the pack. “We still need to find Flora, we can’t just stay here.”
Oroitz shrugged, “I’m open to suggestions.”
I sighed and pulled the phone out of my jeans and dialled Alan. “Can you still see what’s going on?” I asked as he picked up.
“Who’s that?” Oroitz asked but I shushed him.
“Yeah,” said Alan, “yeah I can see it.”
“Can you do anything about them from your end? Does this place have like, automated defences or something?”
“Not as such no… I could turn on the sprinklers,” he said sarcastically, before it sunk in for both of us exactly what he had just said. “I’ll get on that.”
“Yeah, you might want to.”
There was ringing as the fire alarms went off a second before the sprinklers turned on. Water poured from the ceiling and I could feel every drop of it. I held out my hands and clenched them into fists, letting the water swirl around them before I formed it into a hundred floating blades of ice.
I stepped forwards past Oroitz’s barrier and attacked.
I follow the directions that Dr. Singh gave me. About half way there the sprinklers turn on, soaking us both and making the floor lose its traction. I wish I still had my boots, but the loafers that they’ve given me barely have any traction on the floor when its dry. I consider going barefoot but we’re running across more and more bodies as we head foreword. The bodies are increasingly non-human.
I don’t know whether that’s a good thing because on the one hand it means less monsters to deal with, but on the other it means that they’ll have this under control soon.
Dr. Singh is following close to me, somehow he doesn’t seem all there. I think that he expected to die in that office.
Suddenly he stops over one of the bodies and says a word I don’t recognise. It sounds like it might be Hindi. He bends down next to the body and says, “Collin…”
I look at the body. It’s the same man who has been interrogating me for the past few days. Dr. Singh is blinking from behind his glasses. I can’t tell if he’s trying not to cry or just trying to wake up. I grab him by the collar and start dragging him away. He resists at first but after a few strides he starts following me again.
I hear another fight coming from ahead. I raise my rifle to my shoulder and gesture for Dr. Singh to stay back. It sounds smaller than the other fights, and I don’t hear any gunfire. Hopefully it won’t be anything that I can’t handle.
I creep forewords, remembering the training I received at the hands of former Green Berets, SAS, and Spetsnaz. I present as small a target as possible as I peer around the corner.
For the past two years I’ve always assumed that, though I have no magic of my own, I was the most dangerous of us. Watching Miranda now, I find myself having to reassess this.
I’d always seen Miranda dealing with small amounts of water, only as much as she could carry on her. Now, with the sprinklers dumping gallons upon gallons of water on her, she didn’t have to be economical. For the first time ever, I was seeing her in her native environment.
She swipes her arms around in large exaggerated movements, sending powerful waves into the werewolf in front of her and knocking it off of its feet. While it’s still in the air she makes another sweep of her arms to create a wall of ice between her and the other two werewolves.
As the first wolf hits the ground Miranda makes a fist and the water around the wolf rises up and freezes, holding it to the ground while the other two start to chip through the wall of ice she had put up.
Miranda spins and hold out both of her hands. The wall melts and falls over the two werewolves before instantly freezing again and holding them both in place. Miranda takes a step back and looks at her work, satisfied apparently.
I spot something small scurrying across the roof towards her. A gremlin, I think, it’s moving too fast to be sure. It’s putting itself right above Miranda. I don’t bother to call out a warning and instead just sight on it and fire a burst of 5.56 NATO rounds into its diminutive skull. It’s head pops like a balloon filled with oatmeal and mucus.
Miranda ducks at the sound of gunfire and spins to face me, raising up a wall of water before she realises who she’s seeing. She lets the water splash back to the ground. “Flora!” she says and runs forwards. I tense up just before she reaches me and hugs me.
She’s too close, not enough space between us. I start to squirm while repeating, “Let go, let go, let go!”
Miranda springs back suddenly, her face a bit red. “Sorry, I’m sorry I forgot that you don’t…”
I held up my hand and screwed my eyes shut. “It’s ok.” I look around for a bit and say, “It’s good to see you.”
She smiles, “Back at you.”
I look back down the hallway and see Dr. Singh peeking out from around the corner. I gesture to him and he swallows and steps out. Miranda looks at him and then at me with raised eyebrows. “Who’s this?”
Thoughts clash in my head. I turn the idea around while I look for a purchase, “This is Dr. Singh, he helped me.”
Miranda’s eyes narrow a bit. “Did he?”
I look back at Dr. Singh, “Are we near the exit?”
He nods. “It’s just down that hallway.” he points behind us. “I should stay here.”
I glance at the frozen werewolves, they’re struggling but don’t seem to be making any progress. “How long will they stay like that?” I ask Miranda.
She shrugs. “About five hours.”
I nod and look at Singh, “Can you find somewhere to hide?” I listen, the gunfire in the distance has begun to die down and I know that as formidable as the monsters in here were they couldn’t stand up to a properly equipped and trained military force. “You should only have to remain hidden for about seven more minutes.”
He nods and starts to back off, only pausing to glance up at me. “Flora I…” he seems to be thinking for a second but wanders off the way we came.
I turn back to Miranda. “We should go.”
Oroitz was overjoyed, if a little confused, to see Flora. I don’t think he had most of his memories back. We reached the top of the stairs in no time, paradoxically it was easier to go up them. Maybe it was because I knew that we were heading away from danger.
We got to the top and pushed open the door. The heat of the desert hitting us as we found ourselves back behind the gas station again. I shivered a bit at the dryness of the air, but I was more than glad to be out of that hole.
“Is someone going to explain to me where we are?” Oroitz asked. Flora didn’t react but I couldn’t help but laugh. I was still laughing as we got to the parking lot.
We all stopped abruptly as we saw that Quincy was leaning against Oroitz’s truck. The look that he was giving us was not unkind, but he was still placing himself in our way.
“You’re very devoted.” he said to us. “You should really think about a career change. Keep doing things like this for each other and you’ll end up dead.”
Flora stepped forwards, bringing her gun up and pointing it directly at Quincy.
Quincy raised his hands, “Are you sure that you want to do that? Don’t you remember our deal?”
“Deal’s off.” I said, stepping forwards and standing next to Flora. I pulled a bit of water from my pouch and let it swirl above my outstretched hand.
Quincy gave a smile like a snake gives before it strikes. “I don’t think you would have been a very god match for this organisation Flora.”
I scoffed. “What tipped you off?” Flora stayed silent.
“Any of our agents would already be looking for my backup.”
A brief sensation of water flying at me was all the warning I got before I had to throw the water in my hand up as a shield to stop the five icicles that were flying at me. 13 M was across the parking lot, standing next to the gas station’s ice machine and using it to throw spike after spike of ice at me.
Flora pivoted and turned her gun towards the other mermaid but an icicle slipped by my defences and popped the rifle out of her hands. She ducked behind my shield just as I started to charge towards 13 M. My shield deflected another icicle before it shattered.
I grabbed the shards of my shield and reformed them into more icicles that I threw at her. I charged in after them, just trying to keep her off balance.
I heard the barking of another gun and 13 M had to shift her shield to stop the incoming bullets. I glanced back, expecting to see Flora firing and was surprised to see Oroitz holding an handgun and firing at 13 M again and again.
While she was distracted I ran forwards and fell into a low crouch. Just as she turned back to face me I kicked out at her legs. The others all think that Flora is the most dangerous of us in close quarters.
They’re right, but what they forget is that it takes a lot of muscle to swim, especially at the extreme depths that merfolk prefer. Her feet went out from under her and I seized the opportunity and pinned 13 M to the ground.
She tried to claw me off of her, but I kept my weight on her. “Lily!” I yelled into her face. “Lily wake up!”
She blinked, her head tilting oddly. After a few seconds she started to struggle again.
“Your name is Lily. They grabbed you in Hastings, you’ve been gone for three months.”
She twitched, losing control of herself as I pushed off of her and got to my feet. I glanced around, looking for Quincy. He wasn’t by the truck anymore, I looked around and the others started to as well. Somehow Quincy had disappeared during the fight.
I heard a moan from behind me and I spun around ready to fight. Lily sat up, looking around and blinking into the desert sun. “What the hell?” she said with a distinctly English accent. “Where the hell am I?”
“Long story,” I said, holding out a hand to help her to her feet. I looked over to Flora, she had her sleeves over her head, but her skin was already starting to turn red and peel from the sun. “We should get going.” I said to Oroitz, who was looking at Lily with complete confusion.
“Alright,” he said, walking over to the truck and unlocking the door. “But on the way back, someone has to explain to me just what the hell is going on.”
They’d called me to tell me that they were clear half an hour ago. After hearing that I had taken the flash drive out of my computer and unplugged the computer itself. I was pretty sure that I’d wrecked whatever hardware that my opposite number had been using, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel like being careful.
Now that I was free to do anything I wanted, I decided to watch TV. I was beginning to regret that as every second I looked at the screen it felt like I was losing a bit of my soul. “God damn it. I used to like this show, I used to really like this show.”
“Hmm,” said Calla.
“And that was a good episode. I know that was a good episode. That was the one with all the creepy floaty guys that take everybody’s voices. It’s awesome.”
“But now, when I watch it, it feels like work.”
“Hmmmmmmm,” Calla said and I finally looked over at her.
“Uh… what the fuck are you doing?”
“Sorry,” she said as she sat back up. She was fully clothed, but somehow I felt like I had been peeping on her. “It’s nothing.”
“Didn’t look like nothing.”
“I…” if it was possible for her to look bashful she would have. Instead it just kind of came off like she had some dirty secret that she couldn’t wait to share. “I think someone in this motel is watching one of my movies.”
“What?” I sat up, rubbing my hands on my shirt. “God, no I… I did not need to hear that shit. No.” I stood up and went to the bathroom. “I feel like I need to wash my hands now.”
“There’s nothing filthy about it Alan,” she called after me. “It’s all very natural.”
I’m almost certain that at this point she was just screwing with me.
Messing. I mean that she was messing with me.
Anyways, then the front door opened and I suddenly had more important matters to attend to. Like that Oroitz punched me again.
“Jesus!” I said as I held a hand up to my lip. “What the fuck is your problem!? You already hit me you asshole!”
“Did I?” Oroitz looked confused, “The last few days are a bit fuzzy.”
“Yeah, no shit.” I leaned over and checked my lip in the bathroom mirror. “You know what? Do me a favour. Write yourself a God damned post-it note or something.”
I brushed past Oroitz and into the main room of the motel. I was a bit shocked to see the mermaid that Quincy had had with him standing next to Miranda in the middle of the room. But everyone else seemed to be cool with it so I decided to just go along.
Then I saw Flora. She was pretty red from having been out in the sun and she was wearing clothes that looked a size too big for her, they were probably Miranda’s or Calla’s, but she looked well enough. I stepped forwards to talk to her, to see if I could say anything, but she stepped right by me like I wasn’t there.
I wished that Oroitz would hit me again.
Flora stepped up to Calla and looked at the floor. Those strangely meek mannerisms of hers returning now that there wasn’t any danger. “You came after me?” her voice was quiet.
Calla opened her mouth to talk but there was the slightest hesitation. So small that I half thought that I was imagining it. “Well you know, where else in the city am I going to find a landlord that will tolerate me?”
Flora blushed and looked to the side. I tried to look elsewhere and ended up looking at Miranda.
“You really came through today,” she said.
“You meant that I really cleaned up my own mess.” I looked over to the TV and turned it off before it could tarnish any other memories.
“Lots of people wouldn’t have.”
“Oh, so I’m better than the worst people on the planet. Is this supposed to make me feel any better?”
She shook her head and punched me in the shoulder, but not that hard. “I’m trying to compliment you, you ass.”
“Right uh… sorry. Guess I’m just not that used to it.”
She shook her head, “You want to get a drink sometime?”
“Huh?” I replied artfully.
“The way I see it,” she said as she sat down on the couch. “You saved my life today.”
“Yeah but I’ve done that before, and you’ve saved mine. If we’re going to start trading favours for that we’ll need a damn chart.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Well, then don’t think of it as a favour. Maybe we’ve been through enough that the least I can do is get a drink with you some time.”
“Ok,” I said looking over at how Flora was trying not to look at Calla. “Yes, I would love to get a drink with you some time.”
“Good,” she said, “I’d hate to have to freeze all the water in your pipes.”
Her boat rocked gently in the water as Lily stripped out of her clothes. “Are you sure that you won’t take Flora up on that plane ticket? England’s an awfully long swim away.”
“I’m sure,” Lily said. “I’ve been away from the ocean for far too long.” She got out of the last of her borrowed clothes and splashed into the water. She was transformed in a few seconds and sighed with relief.
Miranda smiled, careful not to show any sadness. “Good luck.”
Lily paused for a second, “I could ask the others about you.”
“That wouldn’t be a good idea,” Miranda reached down and swished her hand through the water.
“I…” Lily looked down. “I thought that it wouldn’t be. You should come and visit sometime though, if you can find the time.”
Miranda nodded, “I will if I can find the time.”
Lily nodded back and then disappeared under the water, her glossy black fins appearing above the water for a second before she vanished completely. Miranda sighed and started back to the shore.
Oroitz got his memory back on Saturday after walking by the Buddhist temple in Chinatown. He called Alan right away.
“Hello?” Allan said. There was an edge to his voice that Oroitz hoped wasn’t on his account.
“Alan? Hi… I really wanted to call and apologise for how I reacted earlier this week…” There was a long silence from the other end, “Hello? Alan? Are you there?”
“Yeah I’m here. Uh, listen just forget about it.”
Oroitz pressed on, “It’s just that I hit you twice and I really want you to…”
“Look, Oroitz, tempers were running high. Also this isn’t really the best time.”
“Oh, you’re not on a job are you?”
“Sort of. Look, don’t worry about it and I really have to go.” He hung up and Oroitz ended up listening to a dead line.
Alan shoved the phone back in his pocket and looked across the park as Quincy approached. He stuck a hand in his pocket and hoped for the best.
“I have to admit,” Quincy said, “I am impressed that you had enough courage to call me.” He stopped a few paces away from Alan.
Alan pulled his hand out of his pocket, holding a USB-drive. “Here,” he said as he tossed the drive to Quincy. “I pulled this off of what was left of your server after I’d had my way with it.”
Quincy turned the drive over in his hand. “So? Why give it to me?”
“Do you think that the Scorched Circle would appreciate all of your activities? How about the vampire nests or the werewolf packs?”
“Again, why give it to me?”
“So that you know that I have what I say I have, because that is far from the only copy that I made.”
A hint of a smile wrinkled Quincy’s eyes, “So what? We leave you alone or you leak all of this?”
Alan smiled, “Got it in one.”
Quincy nodded, “I’ll pass it along to my superiors.”
“You made your play, now I’ll pass it on. There isn’t much more to say is there?”
“I never want to see you again.” Alan pointed at Quincy with each word.
“Trust me, the feeling is mutual. But then again, I have little control over the orders that I am given.” He turned away from Alan and walked back towards the exit to the park.
Dr. Singh knew that they would never let him resign, so he’d ran. He couldn’t work for them, not any more. He suspected that they would come looking for him, so he tried to stay out of the way as much as possible.
He was walking down a street in a bad part of a bad town at night when he heard it. A few low voices were talking out of an alley that he walked by.
“My leg’s broken.” One of them hissed.
“Just change, it will heal itself.”
“Look at it, it’s crooked.”
Before he realised what he was doing, Dr. Singh was walking down the alley. “Stop!” he said.
There were two men wearing old and ratty clothes sitting in the alley. One had a leg that looked like it had an extra joint in it. The other one stood up and blocked Singh’s path.
“This doesn’t concern you. Leave.”
“Look,” said Singh, holding up his hands, “I know what you are. If he transforms without having his leg set it could cripple him permanently.
The standing one looked sceptical but the one on the ground said, “Let him through.”
Singh sat down next to the werewolf and felt his leg. The werewolf hissed but didn’t look away. “I will have to set the bone.” Singh said to the werewolf. “It will hurt.”
“Do it,” growled the wolf.
Singh didn’t bother with a count, he just set the bone without another word. The wolf hissed and then started to change. Soon a fell werewolf was standing in front of him, moving its leg experimentally.
“How do you know so much about medicine?” the other wolf asked.
“I’m a doctor.” Dr. Singh explained.
Singh hesitated, “I’m not a normal doctor.”
The werewolf nodded apparently satisfied before heading down the alley with his pack-mate.
Dr. Singh watched them go before turning around and heading off.
“So,” Flora asked Calla, “why do you like this show?”
“Because it’s fun!” Calla explained as she ate another handful of popcorn.
“But… none of its accurate.”
“So? If the people that made this were masters of he occult they wouldn’t be making TV shows anyways. Oh!” she said. “Watch this dropkick!”
Flora shook her head, “That’s not a… how did you even hear about this show?”
Calla kept munching on the popcorn. “What? Oh, a friend showed it to me.”
“Really?” Flora looked at Calla. As far as Flora knew, Calla was the only person in the world that had less of a social life than her.
“Besides,” Calla said, “I like the girl on this show. She reminds me of you.”
Flora leaned in next to Calla, “I missed you.”
Calla smiled and looked at Flora, “I missed you too.”
They settled in together and watched the action on the TV.