“How is that possible?” the green skinned woman screeched.
The male that Gwynivara encountered the previous day responded scornfully, “If I had any idea , it wouldn’t have happened!” She gives him a piercing glare, so he quickly apologized, “Sorry, Commander. I just don’t understand how two people in handcuffs and surrounded by police could escape like that!”
The woman sat on her rocky throne and mulled it over. “Did you notice anyone suspicious or unusual?”
“No.” He jogged his memory and couldn’t come up with anything…except…”Unless you count the actual suspect. The one who got taken to the police station.”
The woman raised an eyebrow. “Why is one more noteworthy than the other?”
“Out of nowhere, she has this ball of light!” he recalled. “She made the alpha creature disappear! Poof! It was there and then it wasn’t! What do you think it…?”
His sentence trailed off when he saw the look on her face. She grew pale, and none of her facial features moved. He had never seen her show any fear, so to see her in this state truly frightened him. Very breathily, she ordered, “We need to find them!” He started to object, but she cut him off, “If they’re successful, the mission will fail. I won’t let that happen to my planet! So, for the time being, finding them will be our top mission.” The man didn’t say a word, but he showed every sign of wanting to argue, so she bellowed, “DO AS I COMMAND!”
“Yes ma’am!” He turned to leave immediately just as a shrill whistle filled the air.
Gwynivara’s head almost hit the counter as she pulled herself back to reality. It took her a moment to realize that she had fallen asleep standing against the kitchen counter. She remembered why she had come to the room, which prompted her to turn off the stove and pour some boiling water into her cup. As she was setting the kettle down, she heard a noise behind her, and her jangled nerves almost made her drop the teapot. She turned around to see Riley in his pajamas, robe, and slippers shuffling into the kitchen. He sheepishly grinned and commented, “Looks like I’m not the only one on edge!” Gwynivara felt foolish for getting scared over something harmless, but she was relieved to see Riley on his feet. Riley inquired, “What are you doing in here?”
“I couldn’t sleep.” Right after the words came out of her mouth, she felt even dumber than before. She told the truth-she had laid awake with her mind racing a mile a minute, so she thought some tea would help her fall asleep. And yet, somehow she had fallen asleep standing at the counter! She knew that Riley would pick up on the irony of the situation.
Sure enough, he did. “Must be some powerful tea!”
Gwynivara begrudgingly laughed and joined him at the island in the kitchen. She told Riley, “I’m glad you’re okay!”
“Me too. Or at least, now I am,” Riley admitted. Gwynivara gave him a questioning look, so he explained, “Okay, I’ll admit it, I didn’t put up a fight when the beast came for me. I kept thinking about the past, and tonight it just really hurt. When it came for me, I closed my eyes and embraced the end. I thought it would end my suffering, but it made it worse. All I wanted to do was save my own life, but I couldn’t! It’s maddening to feel that level of helplessness! I got lucky that you three ladies came in when you did! I got a second chance at life! Not everyone gets that option. Now, I just wanna find as many people as I can and explain where it came from and how it deceives you. Once you cross that line, there’s no going back, so I wanna find more people and make sure they don’t cross that line. I wanna help with recruitment! I’m done passively waiting for this situation to end- I wanna help make it happen!”
Gwyinvara was shocked to hear that Riley had almost let himself succomb to Venenatus Sanguis, but she felt vastly relieved that he now had an ardent desire to not only live but help others find that kind of fight within themselves. “I keep thinking about that woman in the video that Emorick showed me. She just let the monster eat her! I know she was suffering, and it does seem so hopeless sometimes. It’s not like I’ve never thought that. I suffered through all of my twenties, and I kept thinking that right now my peers are all going to college, getting married, starting families and careers, and here I am struggling for basic survival! I wondered if I’d ever get the chance to have a real life. But then I also kept thinking what if my chance comes tomorrow? I mean, you never really know how long it’ll last- days, weeks, years, but at any point in the future, my chance could come, and it’d be worth the wait. And if I went through my whole life without getting it, at least people could say I tried! I was a fighter my whole life, and I take pride in that! Along the way though, I wanna help as many people as possible so that maybe they don’t have to suffer as much in their life as I did in mine!”
“That’s very noble!” Riley complimented. “Do you think we’ll ever find the cure?”
“I have to!” Gwynivara responded. “Someone has to fight for it! President Ford is too busy with his re-election campaign to give us any federal help. The Public Health Center has been compromised by people trying to destroy evidence. No one else is looking for a cure! The only solution people have come up with is to ‘quarantine’ us. People think if we all get killed off that the problem will solve itself. This is a global epidemic, and as long as one beast survives, it’ll keep spreading until our planet gets wiped out! If we don’t find the cure, the whole world is doomed! That’s why I won’t rest until I figure out a way to find the origin! If we find the origin, we find the cure! I don’t care if takes days, weeks, months, or years, I won’t stop ‘til I make it happen!”
Riley listened to her speech and let the emotions of it settle fore a moment. Then he asked Gwynivara, “They’re destroying evidence?”
“Huh?” Gwynivara slipped into an adrenaline-filled reverie from the feelings that welled up from their conversation, so this question totally threw her off. She needed clarification in order to answer it, “What do you mean?”
“That’s the first I’m hearing of it. Did you see them destroying evidence when you went undercover at the PHC?” Riley probed.
Gwynivara thought back to that day. The receptionist, the staff, the patients, not even the orderlies, no one had destroyed anything. The orderlies sure worked hard to seize them, but no one went after the research or even anyone’s notes. Even earlier that day, in that murder victim’s house, the two men’s behavior was odd, but their destructiveness focused on people and not things. And yet, as she had said it, she knew it to be true. When she tried to think of how she would know that, it made her blink. “I didn’t see anyone destroy anything.”
“Did you hear anyone talk about it?” Riley suggested the idea.
Again, Gwynivara had to mentally review the last couple of days, but she couldn’t recall any conversation where people talked about destroying anything other than lives. Still, she felt like she had heard someone talking about it to another person. It didn’t make much sense, and now Gwynivara started to question her sanity a little. She didn’t know how else to explain knowing something without sensing it in this reality! She finally spoke, “Someone must’ve talked about it, but after going through the last few days in my mind, I know I didn’t hear or see anything. I always assumed that the orderlies were protecting valuable information, but if anyone’s gonna destroy it, it’d be them. It makes sense; they work for the origin, so they don’t want anyone to find the cure. They want to get it so they can keep it from spreading. They put agents in places that might find information, and if someone gets close to the truth, they destroy it!”
Before either of them could ponder this any further, Emorick walked into the kitchen. His eyes flickered between the two of them, and a look of disappointment fell on his face. “Please tell me the two of you went to bed early and just woke up.” Neither of them said a word, but the guilty looks they donned answered his question. Knowing the answer already, Emorick regarded them, “Please tell me you weren’t discussing work related stuff!” Gwynivara and Riley ashamedly shook their heads. Emorick groaned, and he too shook his head. Clearly, Gwynivara and Riley now felt horrible, so Emorick assured them, “Don’t feel bad- this is my fault. I’m your leader, I’m supposed to set a better example. You both went through a lot yesterday, and if you don’t get sleep, you won’t recover. You also can’t become so obsessed with the mission that you don’t have a life! So, I’m ordering you to take today off!” Both of them started to object, but Emorick cut them off, “Look at you two! A day off shouldn’t feel like a punishment! Take today off, have some fun, get some rest, and come back to work tomorrow with fresh eyes.”
“Yes, sir,” Gwynivara reluctantly obliged. Riley followed suit.
Emorick, satisfied with their responses, poured himself some coffee and told them, “Good! If you sneak any work in today…”
“You’ll tan our hides?” Riley finished his thought.
Gwynivara felt relieved to see Emorick crack a small smile. He took a sip of his coffee and responded, “I wouldn’t word it quite like that, but yes.” Gwynivara and Riley chuckled, and Emorick said cheerfully, “Now you two behave while I’m gone!”
Riley kidded, “But I thought you said to have fun!” Emorick heartily laughed and left the room.
After they had finished in the kitchen, Gwynivara and Riley walked down the hall. She fell to his gait, which was still slow because of his medical recovery. Yet he had still wanted to work, and so Gwynivara privately agreed with the point Emorick had tried to make. It was still very early, so very few people were out and about. As they passed the ceremony room, Gwynivara saw a sign that informed them of a meditation class at eight a.m. She saw that Riley had read the sign too, so she pointed out, “Emorick did tell us to relax…”
Riley shrugged. “Sure, what the heck. I’ll try anything once! Just ask my ex-boyfriend!”
“Not sure I wanna know more…” Gwynivara laughed, and so did he.
Inside the ceremony room, Gwynivara and Riley waited for the class to begin, but they were way too early for anyone to show up, so they sat on the pews and waited. The room was so quiet that it started to get on Gwynivara’s nerves. She glanced around and noticed a radio. “We could listen to music while we wait.” Riley silently consented, and when Gwynivara turned on the music, she heard a rock song that she loved. Lately everything had been so serious and scary that a fun, lighthearted piece reminded her what she was missing. She felt compelled to dance, which made Riley grin. “Dance with me!” Gwynivara invited.
“I would, darling, but I’m afraid I’ll get too winded,” Riley replied.
“Fine, you can stay in your seat and dance!” Gwynivara grabbed his hands, and he swayed a little in his seat.
They were having so much fun that they didn’t notice Kierram walk in. He saw them dancing and muttered, “God, I hate morning people!”
Gwynivara thought about making a snappy comeback, but she realized that if he was here, Emorick probably made him take the day off too. Figuring that he needed to enjoy himself, she overdramatically posed for him. “Your turn! Dance with me!”
Kierram refused, “No way! I don’t dance!”
“Oh, you’re scared?” she teased him.
“I’m not scared!” Kierram had a look of wanting to prove her wrong but strongly desiring not to dance.
Gwynivara danced up to him. “Oh come on!”
“No, no, no!” Kierram almost frightened and very uncomfortable as she put her arms around him. He soon felt forced to move and stiffly fell into her movements. The more he did, the more he realized he was enjoying himself. As he got into it and they danced together, Riley merrily clapped his hands. In the midst of it all, Gwynivara suddenly slipped on a rock, and Kierram caught her. “What was that?” he asked.
“I don’t know. A rock?” She turned to the floor and found the perpetrator. It was a black, jagged rock, and she peered at it curiously. She had a feeling she had seen rocks like this before. That’s when it clicked for her, and memories of all her dreams came flooding back to her. Overwhelmed, she slumped onto a pew. Very concerned, Kierram and Riley rushed to her side. They tried to elicit a response, but she couldn’t muster one. She was still trying to make sense of it herself. Finally, without thinking, she spoke, “It’s real! It’s all real!” Confused, the two men looked to her for answers, and all she could give them was, “I’ve met the origin!”