Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 25

Zoom! They raced through the city at top speed with the sirens on top of the car blaring at full volume. Gwynivara hadn’t realized how heave police belts were until that day! It briefly took her attention away from watching the scene as it passed by. She could only imagine what people were thinking as half a dozen police cars raced through their neighborhood! No one in the vehicle spoke but not because of nerves; their adrenaline pumped massively high from both the stunt person level of driving happening at the moment but also the speed that they were arriving at their destination. When they left for it the first time, the walk took long enough that their feelings had time to fester, but after what felt like an instant, they were already almost there! Gwynivara held some pride in her team’s ability to control their emotions at a time like this! If they had created a beast after fighting to prove that they weren’t dangerous, it would ruin their new alliance with Chief Forsythe. She felt so grateful to him for vetting his men to prevent any sabotage by the origin! However, she knew that he had been doing all of this on the contingency that they came back with the cure, so she silently prayed that if they lived through this that they returned with it.

They slowed down as they reached the point where they left off because the barrier that the henchmen created still remained. Gwynivara theorized that finding the tracking device must have really spooked them. Bernadette, Kierram, and she hid their faces discretely enough so it couldn’t get noticed by their adversaries but not enough where it would have been super obvious that they were trying to hide. The policeman driving the car they were in stopped and casually waved to Abigor. “Mornin’!”

Abigor didn’t match his friendly tone. Quite contrarily, he appeared completely on edge. “I got the page about searching the mountains. I don’t understand; we got them all last night!”

The policeman shrugged. “Our intel indicates that they had more Rebels waiting in the wings. The first wave was planned- they wanted to distract us so the rest could sneak in!”

“Unbelievable!” Abigor griped. “Well, they slipped past me once, they won’t do it again!”

After that firm statement, Abigor’s curiosity got roused and he began to peer into the squad car curiously, but luckily for the Rebels, the policeman averted his attention by telling him, “Well, we better get going. Every minute they’re out there is another minute they could be enacting their plan!”

“Right!” Abigor remembered where he was and returned his focus to the policeman. “If you find them, page us! You have no idea the destructive power they possess!”

“Okay then!” The policeman rolled up his window as Abigor gave the car a pat. Gwynivara’s heart pounded as they drove past the barrier. The last thing they needed was for Abigor to discover their ruse. Thankfully, he let them pass through. She turned back and watched the rest of the Rebels’ cars go through. If just one car gave away their cover, it could spell out disaster for the whole operation! She dreaded the idea of, after all they went through, their journey stopping right there! To her immense relief, all of the cars made it through! She didn’t know what awaited them on the other side of that barrier, but at least they were safe for a little while longer!

After driving down a very windy road, they came to a dirt lot just outside a closed path. Everyone got out of the cars they came in and convened in a circle for further instruction. The policeman that had transported Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram addressed the Rebels, “This as far as our cars will go. We’ll use this as our base camp. If you need back up, radio for us immediately. Careful what you say though ‘cause they’re listening too!”

“Thank you, Deputy Cairdeas,” Gwynivara responded cordially. She then turned her attention to the whole group. “Just to review, we’re heading up a service road that hikers don’t have access to, so the nature around the path will look pretty undisturbed…except for the way the henchmen toke to get to the origin. Keep an eye out for signs of humans once being there. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for any potential traps. Okay, let’s go!”

“Good luck out there guys!” Officer Cairdeas told them encouragingly. They nodded at him to acknowledge that they heard him, but their concentration fixated on the final mission, so they didn’t say anything back. They all walked up to the flimsy wire that blocked the road ahead and just stared at it for a moment. The sign read: Restricted Access, Dangerous, Do Not Enter. They collectively took a deep breath, and then Kierram held up the wire so everyone could enter easily. One by one, everyone ducked under the wire and went onto the other side. Gwynivara went next to last and held up the wire for Kierram. After the last person crossed over, everything felt so strange. They had spent a lot of time talking about it and preparing for every possibility, but it didn’t feel real until this moment. After taking a moment to collect themselves, they started moving forward purposefully.

The dirt path they traveled on had lots of leafy trees and thick, green bushes on their right while the rocky side of the mountain stood solidly on their left. Birds chirped in the branches above them, and the sound of squirrels chattering periodically filled the air. If it wasn’t for their heavy burden, Gwynivara would’ve found the trail rather beautiful. It felt almost inconceivable that such terrible danger loomed close by! Gwynivara didn’t see anything that resembled what she had seen in her dreams, which made her question the validity of them. She didn’t dare bring them up again even though she felt certain they were accurate. She suspected that when they got closer to the origin, the environment would change dramatically, but she didn’t share this insight with the Rebels in case her hunch proved false. She feared pulling them in the wrong direction, so she let the scenery speak for itself.

The officers were diligent in searching for signs of humans straying off the main path, leaving no twig or stone unexamined, but after a lot of walking, it became a bit frustrating. John groaned, “Ugh! I need a break! My head hurts from all this concentration!” The other officers concurred with this opinion.

Bernadette and Kierram turned to Gwynivara, who wrestled with the desire to get this process done and over with versus her own growing fatigue. She wished she had some idea of where they were so she might have a clue to what she should do, and then an idea popped in her head. “A quick breather so we can get our bearings.” The Rebel officers breathed a sigh of relief. John found a rock to sit on while the others rested by leaning on a tree. Gwynivara pulled out the orb and examined the map. “Oh, I didn’t realize that the service station was on Obair Chrua! I thought it was its own peak! This mountain is definitely the entrance to the Athas Ridge, but the origin wouldnt’ be so close to the service station. The Cinealtas is north of here and the Misneach is due east. If the origin is on the latter, we should find the hidden pathway any time now.”

“Oh please let it be that one!” Bernadette clasped her hands together and looked to the heavens. “I just wanna get this over with! My nerves are killing me!” Everyone shared this sentiment.

“This place kinda reminds me of ‘Nam,” Kierram reminisced. “Sometimes missions got real tedious and you just wanna get it over with. But don’t think for a minute you’re gonna feel any better when you come across the enemy!”

Gwynivara put the orb away and said to them all, “It’s never gonna get any easier, but it will get harder if we don’t find this place by sunset. Let’s try to avoid camping in these woods overnight! As painful as it is, let’s keep going.”

They knew she was completely right, so they mentally prepared themselves to begin again. John sighed deeply, craning his head to the sky while doing so. At that moment, he noticed something in the branches above him. “Guys! I think I found something!” he called out excitedly. In an instant, everyone flocked over to where John sat and glanced up. They saw a branch of a tall bush inwardly bent and almost severed. “I don’t think any forest creature did that!”

“Not likely.” Gwynivara peered behind the bush, and she saw the valley covered in green, but between the brush, she noticed the grass had a small dirt path that could only come from frequent footfall. “This is it! Good job, John!” Everyone congratulated him as they followed Gwynivara into the woods.

As they walked through the flora, they saw more and more subtle signs of humans’ frequent travel. They made it down the mountain without incident. During their time traversing through the valley, the area had the eerie echo of total silence. They spoke very little as they maneuvered through the rocky grounds. Their pathway slowly got rougher and rougher as they went more and more east. No one talked unless they had to, and even then they were limited to a brief whisper. None of them had thought to bring a watch, probably because, like Gwynivara, they figured they would have found the origin sooner. None of them knew how long they had been out there, but they did notice the sun setting behind them. The anticipation just added to their bodies feeling totally drained. They kept going, inwardly praying to find out their fate at any second!

Just when they thought that they would never make it there before sunset, a peak came into view in the distance! They took a moment to study it, and once their eyes adjusted to the shadows, they noticed movement on the mountaintop that appeared to be human! Without disclosing this fact to anyone, Gwynivara saw that this scene mirrored what she saw in her dreams! She didn’t to say it though, everyone knew that they had found the right place! They quietly acknowledged this small victory before they ascended up to the origin’s location.

Shortly after they started up the path going upwards, Gwynivara stopped dead in her tracks. She had been in the back, and only Kierram noticed this. He went up to her and quietly asked, “What is it?”

“Something’s wrong,” Gwynivara answered him while she deciphered her feelings that kept her bolted to the ground. “It was…it was just too easy! I mean, we had a huge barrier in the beginning, and after that, nothing? It doesn’t make sense!”

“What do you..?” Before Kierram could finish his sentence, they heard commotion ahead of them. Their jaws dropped as they saw an electric cloud snatch up one of the Rebel officers! The rest of them scattered and hid as this force snatched them one by one. Kierram and Gwynivara ran and hid under a rock formation. Gwynivara couldn’t fathom how to fight this, and apparently Kierram didn’t either. He urgently told her, “Before we go, I gotta tell you that the night we first met, I was trying to die! You saved my life!” The dark energy got closer, so he swiftly revealed, “And one more thing…I love you!”

Gwynivara’s heart nearly exploded after hearing this! But before she could react, the thing snatched him away! Within seconds, she saw it coming for her too…

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Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 10

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!”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 5

Today is my first day in the Rebellion, and out of all the things to worry about, I’m most worried about what to wear!” Gwynivara remarked as she shuffled through a rack of clothes in a cavern shop. “I know, typical girl issue, right?”

A man with pepper-gray hair slicked to the left, large, thing metal glasses, and pale skin smoked a pipe as he sat behind as he sat behind the counter and casually kept an eye on the store. He shrugged and told her, “Listen sweetie, everyone wants to make a good impression on their first day! Sometimes you don’t get a second chance, so I get it!”

Gwynivara examined a garment, trying to decide if she wanted wear it today or not. “Ugh! I don’t know! What do the other officers wear?”

The man raised an eyebrow. “You’re an officer? That’s impressive! You got more guts than I do!” Gwynivara smiled gratefully, but before she could figure out what to say back, the man went on, “Most of the other officers are men, so they don’t care that much. Bernadette came from a rich family and brought most of her clothes with her, so don’t expect to find anything like hers here!” Gwynivara giggled, but that statement struck a chord with her; how Bernadette went from luxury to this environment must have quite a story to it! The man concluded, “Just go with anything that you would exercise in.”

Gwynivara found some lightweight pants and a matching shirt, but she suddenly noticed, “It looks really close to what I have on now!” She glanced at the clock on the wall behind him. “Crap! I don’t have time to look for something else!”

“It’s only for one day, dear! If you want, I can take a look around and find some items your size and set them aside for you,” he offered.

“Really?” She got a little thrown off because she wasn’t used to so many people treating her so kindly.

He shrugged again. “I got nothing better to do.” Gwynivara handed him the clothes she picked out, and he found the tags on them so he could see her size. “Okay, got it. Come by at the end of the day, and I’ll show you what I find.”

“Thank you so much, uh…” She fished for his name.

“Riley.”

“Gwyn.”

They shook hands, and Gwynivara complimented him, “You’re so nice!”

Riley chuckled, “Most of the time I’m pretty sarcastic, but you’re obviously new, so I’m on my best behavior right now.” Gwynivara laughed, and Riley concluded with, “Have a good first day!”

“You too!” Gwynivara replied automatically, but after she processed the interaction, she cringed. “I mean…”

“I know what you meant, darling.” Riley took a smoke but grinned. “It’s okay, you can go!” She smiled gratefully and left.

In the kitchen, Gwynivara didn’t have a lot of time, so she searched for food that could get prepared quickly. She settled on toast, and as she waited for her bread in the toaster, she heard someone enter from the entrance behind her. When she turned around, she saw Kierram and turned right back around. Kierram grumbled, “If you’re expecting an apology, you can forget it!”

Gwynivara shrugged and casually said, “Okay.”

“I-!” Kierram got thrown off by her nonchalant attitude. “What do you mean, okay?”

“I mean I don’t expect an apology from you.” Her toast popped up, and she began to put butter on it. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“What, now you’re mocking me?” Kierram accused.

Continuing to spread butter on her toast, she told him, “No. Actually, I genuinely don’t want your apology. I want to make my breakfast and do well in training. I could care less what you do or don’t do.”

Kierram scoffed, “Oh, now you don’t care! You cared enough last night to barge into my room and put your nose into my business, but now-!”

Gwynivara, who had already finished preparing her food, looked him square in the eye and stated, “I care for you as much as any other person or animal in that I don’t want you to die, but I have my own life to worry about, so I don’t care what you do or don’t with yours!” Kierram didn’t respond other than to look utterly stunned. While she walked out of the room, she regarded him coldly, “See you at training!”

“I don’t do training!” Kierram sneered.

Gwynivara turned her head and gave him a piteous glance. “Oh, okay then.”

As she walked down the hall, Kierram called after her, “I could, I choose not to!”

Not looking back, Gwynivara responded listlessly, “Good for you!” Kierram viscerally growled in frustration and went back into the kitchen.

Later that morning, Gwynivara found a heavy oak door at the end of the left hall. With great effort, she pulled it open and nervously entered. The training arena reminded her of a high school gym except for the dark, rocky floor. The spacious, well-lit room had soft, foamy mats placed strategically throughout the area. Nine men and Bernadette were already practicing sword fighting with slender, wooden poles. Emorick hadn’t arrived yet, so she surmised that they did this as a warmup exercise. With everyone else paired up, she thought it’d make sense to approach one of the men who formed a group of three. However, it felt too awkward to just in like that since she was so new to the group, so she hesitated. She silently debated whether or not to join them or to wait for a calm moment to introduce herself to everyone.

Her decision got made for her as one of the men in the group noticed her. He stopped in his tracks, nudged his buddies, and pointed behind them. They turned around were surprised to see someone standing there. The three discussed something, and one of them walked towards her. Gwynivara felt a rush of gratitude and really respected the Rebellion for its thoughtful people. When he got closer, she observed a smug smile on his face, the kind of smile that a person bears when they’re good-looking and know it. Gwynivara sincerely hoped that this interpretation wasn’t true, but the way he posed in front of her, leaning on his pole while maintaining way too much eye contact, she was certain her presumption would prove to be accurate and groaned.

The man very smoothly asked her, “Come to watch us practice, bunny?”

Scowling, Gwynivara informed him, “Actually, I’m here to practice. I’m an officer too.”

He raised his eyebrows in mild admiration. “Oh really? Well, feel free to practice on me anytime!” He either didn’t notice her disgusted expression or he didn’t care because he went on, “Seriously, I’d love to see your sword-work!”

Before Gwynivara could let out a noise of revulsion, she heard one from behind her. She turned around and was surprised to see Kierram standing there! The man must not have noticed Kierram giving him a dirty look because he urged, “Come on, let me have it!”

Reaching into a tall crate next to him, Kierram suggested to her, “You heard him, let him have it!”

He tossed her a pole, and anger impulsed her into it. She raised her arm and, using all of the strength in her muscles, she whacked him in the stomach! The force of her strike took the air out of him for a moment. The room fell silent as Emorick entered. Gwynivara still felt miffed about the situation, but she hung her head shamefully, fearing the worst from Emorick. Instead, Emorick ordered, “Keep going!” Although this slightly shocked her, Gwynivara obliged and hit him in the arm and then again in the opposite leg. Hiding his grin, Emorick regarded the man, “Come on, Kennith, fight back!” Kennith genuinely tried to fight back but couldn’t get a hit in.

When Gwynivara got a good hit on the back of his head, Emorick instructed, “Alright, that’s enough. Stop!” She adhered to his direction, feeling vindicated. Emorick stood over Kennith, who rubbed his head pathetically, and told him, “All soldiers will treat each other with respect if they want to remain in it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir!” Kennith responded civilly.

“Good,” Emorick addressed him, “Now go get an ice pack from the first aid station. You’re dismissed for the day!” Kennith could not get away fast enough and dashed out of the room! As soon as he was out of sight, Emorick directed, “Alright, everyone, gather ‘round!” He sat on an apple box on the other side of the room while the others sat cross-legged on the floor before him. He saw Kierram hesitate to sit, and clearly Emorick did not expect his presence. “Kierram? You’re here!”

Everyone turned to him incredulously. Gwynivara expected him to say something snarky, but instead, he pointed out, “You act like I’m the new one here!”

That brought their attention to Gwynivara, who clumsily waved hello. “Hi! I’m Gwyn!”

Emorick added, “She’s our newest officer. You’ll have to get to know her later though. We have more distressing news to discuss before we practice.” He reached into his pocket and brought out that purple orb. He showed it to the group, and when they leaned in close, they saw a local news article that showed a middle-aged man with light colored, slicked back hair, a bushy mustache, and a thin physique standing proudly with his hands on his hips, which had the effect of showing off his police badge on his belt. The headline read: Chief Forsythe Cracks Down on Venenatus Sanguis Fugitives. Emorick informed them, “It says that he’s hiring more officers specfically for the purpose of rounding up more people with the disease to bring them into quarantine!”

“No!” a couple men cried out.

Bernadette commented, “Well, looks like we’re about to get more crowded in here!”

“That’s true!” Emorick agreed. “We’re gonna increase our patrols in the city, of course. However, Chief Forsythe is relentless and won’t stop until every last one of us is exterminated! Our patrols will only be like a tourniquet-we won’t truly stop the bleeding until we fix the wound. We’ve gotta do more research on the cure!”

“How are we supposed to do that?” one of the men asked. “Every time we go to the library, every book written on the subject is checked out.”

“We could see if the hospital has any brochures,” another man suggested. The others murmured in agreement.

Gwynivara didn’t share their sentiment. “I worked for that hospital for over a year and a half, and trust me, their brochures aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on!”

The others were a little disappointed to hear this but accepted her input. The man who made the suggestion snidely inquired, “Do you have any suggestions?” He crossed his arms, clearly not expecting her to come up with a better solution.

Gwynivara shyly brought up her idea from last night, “The Public Health Center is doing research on Venenatus Sanguis, so they must have access to a lot of resources on the subject. Now, I know only authorized personnel would have access to the material, but I heard that they were looking for volunteers. So, if we signed up to help them out, we could sneak in and peak at what they’ve got.”

For a moment, no one spoke. Eventually, one man remarked, “That’s suicide! If we got caught-!”

Kierram interrupted, “I think it’s a great idea!” Everyone, especially Gwynivara, seemed stunned by his new-found allegiance. He affirmed, “What knowledge we could gain is worth the risk. I’m in!”

“Me too!” Bernadette asserted.

Emorick probed, “Are you sure you wanna take on a task so dangerous on your first day of the Rebellion?”

“We don’t have time to waste!” Gwynivara answered with absolute certainty.

He couldn’t argue with her logic, so Emorick consented, “Alright, Gwyn. You have my permission to head this mission.”

Kierram and Bernadette stood behind her. Hardly believing her fortune, she mentally started to prepare herself to plan this out. She began to head out, and the other two followed her. Before they could leave, Emorick called after them, “Just do me a favor…” Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram all turned around and listened. “…Come back to us alive!”

Gwynivara vowed, “We will.” As soon as they turned back around and left, the three of them tried to hide their ominous sense of foreboding.

Sabotage, Chapter 15

“I can’t believe it’s finished!” Carmen exclaimed as they walked down a rustic neighborhood lane with historic shops that still got used in modern times. They still, technically, were in Reno, but as they headed closer to the mountains, the area began to look more like a small town. Actually, Carmen got a small town vibe from the way everyone stared at them-incredulously as if they didn’t understand what was happening. Everyone probably knew everyone, and, more than likely, the three of them would be the source of gossip around here. Luckily, they just needed to get provisions for the night. In the morning, they would take a charter bus to Roseville, California. As long as this journey felt, it also felt like it went by so fast! They just had to survive a night in Reno, then Sacramento, and then they’d be back in the Bay Area! She didn’t let herself get too hopeful yet though-a lot could happen between now and then!

Garith seemed to share her sentiments. “I’m glad we finished the article! It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was just soliciting people involved with Mirage. I began to give up hope that I would ever get to do this story. The last step will be the hardest though. Nowadays, it isn’t easy to publish anything without electronics.”

“I like this place!” Zartex randomly commented. “It reminds me of a town I was assigned to years ago! I didn’t get to stay there long enough to stay long though because my subject died of cholera.”

“Cholera?” Garith questioned. “How old are you?”

Before Zartex could reply, they heard a man cry out, “Yep, I think we found an alien!”

The three of them froze immediately. They turned to see a scruffy man whose scraggly appearance could have fit in naturally as a scalawag in the Old West. He marched over with a slight limp and ogled them blatantly. Carmen spent so much time worrying about someone turning them into the police that she forgot that Zartex’s true identity could be detrimental if revealed. Zartex stammered, “What? Me? You’re quite mistaken!”

“Not you!” He pointed to Carmen, whose heart skipped a beat from shock. She couldn’t believe that he thought she was extraterrestrial! She thought he was utterly mad and was ready to dismiss him until he probed, “Do you have your papers?”

Carmen’s temper flared up. It seldom came up anymore, but occasionally people discriminated against her for being biracial or for her Hispanic heritage. It incensed her! She firmly believed in not judging people based on their ethnicity but their actions and character, and she grew very defensive to see discrimination against her family or anyone else. It didn’t make it easier when it happened to her though. She seethed, “I am a citizen! I was born here!”

“I wasn’t!” Zartex jumped in.

The man ignored him and focused on Carmen. “You’re legal, fine. Prove it!”

Carmen’s blood began to boil. Before she could let her steam out on him, Garith stepped in, “Why don’t you ask her mother, Sergeant First Class Greta Alvaro?”

“Greta? Oh, you’re white! My apologies!” He scuffled away.

Carmen still burned inside and marched towards him, but Garith stopped her. “Fools don’t listen to reason, and we can’t afford his hospital bills! Let that asshole think what he wants, he’s not worth it!” Carmen realized that he was right, but she still felt amped up. Garith directed, “Zartex, take her to our home base. I’ll grab the supplies.”

Zartex agreed, but Carmen couldn’t move. She was still fuming. “Come on, Carmen!” He physically had to steer her before she found her footing and began to recover from that emotional upheaval.

That night, Carmen and Garith laid on a cave floor while Zartex sat by the cave entrance, gazing at the expansive view. Carmen opened her eyes, too wrapped up in thought to really sleep. She still hadn’t fully absorbed everything that happened in the last couple of weeks. This all felt like a strange dream, and she wasn’t sure where it was heading. She couldn’t help but worry about what would happen in California. If they didn’t get killed by anyone in Mirage, they still could get captured by police, especially as they distributed the article. She scolded herself for being so pessimistic, but she realized that this was THE VOBS talking. She got taught to dismiss negative feelings, but that isn’t healthy for anyone, spiritually or mentally. Negative feelings should be felt! She needed to go through the motions and find a way to release the negativity. Having Zartex around during this process actually seemed to really help her because he could read her emotions and she couldn’t lie about her feelings. She found it funny that an alien had taught her how to be human again!

She decided to search deep inside herself and really delve into what she felt right now. First off, this cave floor was totally uncomfortable and the entrance let in too much light for her to sleep soundly. She was nervous about completing the journey, and she was afraid of what would happen afterwards. She felt really low. She used to feel like she was working towards a higher goal and got accepted by a higher class of people-alphas who were at the top of their game. She wanted to get to an elevated place socially so that she could build others up, but she didn’t know where to go for comfort or guidance as she took the first steps towards her new goals. She saw Garith shuffle in his sleep, which reminded her that one person had been helping her. He did benefit by having the groundbreaking exclusive on a dangerous cult, but no one had to go through all that he had. He could easily walk away-he could go back to San Francisco, beg for forgiveness, and get famous from the article, but he chose to stick around until the end. It took a really selfless person to show such loyalty! She felt a rush of admiration towards him now.

Garith peeked behind him and inquired, “Still awake?”

“No, I sleep with my eyes open,” Carmen kidded.

Garith glanced at his watch and then conversed, “A penny for your thoughts?”

“I don’t have a penny,” Carmen lamented. “I don’t have a dime to my name.” She realized the truth of these words as she said it, which made her feel a little shame. “I know money isn’t everything in our society, but you gotta have a little to be normal.”

“No you don’t,” Garith debated.

Carmen groaned, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter how much money you have, it’s what on the inside that counts! I know I’m a good person, but it doesn’t really fill the void.”

“Actually,” Garith checked his watch again and told her, “I was gonna say a lot of people are satisfied being dependent on others for their whole life. Some kids choose to live in their parents’ house, even when they’re middle aged. Or, some women find a sugar daddy who dotes on them like a child. You chose to leave a man with money and make it on your own. You would rather be penniless than be dependent on a man you didn’t love. You are strong enough to leave a life of comfort to start over on your own! A lot of people wouldn’t have the courage that you have!” His words really heartened Carmen. It was true that she actually wanted to be independent, and that was a trait she could be proud of. And, obviously he didn’t think less of her for having no job and no place of her own. He concluded, “You got a lot of hoo-eh-vos!”

Carmen giggled, “I’ts pronounced huevos! You don’t pronounce the h in Spanish.”

Garith puzzled, “Then why did your father’s immigrant parents name their son Hank?”

Carmen reminisced, “Right before my dad was born, literally right before my grandmother went into labor, they got their green cards. A lot of people thought they couldn’t assimilate to American culture. They couldn’t even speak properly! Hank Aaron was the all-American player of the moment, so they named their son Hank. He kind of symbolized that they decided that they belong here. They didn’t let negative people show them who they should be-they took charge of their life, persevered, and made the life they wanted!”

“That’s great!” Garith fiddled with something and tried to hide it from Carmen.

Carmen caught on that he was concealing something. “You better not be doing anything nasty over there!” Garith laughed as he tried to flick on a flame to a lighter. “What on Earth are you doing?” He didn’t answer. The flame lit up, and he set it up to something. Carmen sat up as he put out the flame. “What are you-?”

The wind escaped from her lungs from total surprise. He held up a brown little cupcake with a birthday cake candle lit up on top. “Make a wish!” he invited.

“Wha…?” Carmen’s brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening right now. It felt exciting but she couldn’t totally accept that something amazing was happening right now before her eyes!

Garith showed Carmen his watch. “It’s after midnight, which means now it’s the twenty-seventh!”

“Oh my god, it’s my birthday!” Carmen gasped.

“I don’t blame you for forgetting,” Garith remarked. “It’s not much of a birthday stuck in a cold cave with none of your friends here. I know it’s not much, but…” Garith trailed off, his face looking a little crestfallen.

“Are you kidding?” Carmen’s heart practically exploded from mirth. “This is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me!”

“Really?” He perked up.

“Given our circumstances, it’s a treasure! I’ve had years of half-baked gestures that had no thoughts behind them, but this…this!” Carmen started to tear up. No one had ever done anything so sweet! She could still hardly believe that it happened. She closed her eyes an thought of a wish. She decided to wish for more moments like this in the future. She opened her eyes and blew out the candle. He took out the candle and handed her the cupcake. She felt herself smile. Literally, she had to put her hands on her mouth to see that it was true. She couldn’t remember the last time anything made her genuinely grin from ear to ear! Garith beamed warmly. Words couldn’t express how much it meant to Carmen to have someone actually and honestly care about her like this! She flung her arms around him and hugged him tight. He hugged back very willingly. They lingered for a moment, and Carmen felt as if her heart radiated with light. She realized that she didn’t want to let go! How strang it was to have such a feeling!

All of a sudden, Zartex ran up and scooped them both up. Utterly bewildered, they looked to him for clarification. “Sorry guys, we have company!” They assumed that he meant an assassin or a police officer, but they heard large footsteps and growling. They screamed, which alerted the bear to their presence! Zartex raced to the back of the cave, where there was an opening in the ceiling. “Meet you outside!” He tossed up Carmen then Garith and then he used his teleportation device to beam himself out, leaving the bear totally confused.

In the morning, by a small creek, a figure found Zartex, Carmen, and Garith huddled together, asleep. The figure pulled out a gun and used it to poke Carmen awake. She opened her eyes and gasped, which woke up the other two. They jolted up out of fright. Carmen probed, “Teddy?”

Teddy, who kept his gun pointed at them, greeted her coldly, “Hello, darling.”

This is Teddy?” Garith surveyed him in disgust. Carmen thought she detected a hint of jealousy, but the situation warranted no time to acknowledge it.

“I’ve got a job to do,” he stated firmly.

“So, kill us and get it over with, ” Carmen dared him.

“He won’t kill us,” Zartex remarked. “If he wanted to, he would’ve done it when we were unconscious.”

“You’re right,” Teddy acknowledged. “They want me to, but I can’t! I miss you, Carmen. Come back with me! I’ll protect you. We could have a nice life together.”

Carmen stood up and enspeeched, “Teddy, I don’t love you. It took me a while to realize…I never did! I’m a new person now. Even though the circumstances suck big time, I’m glad that I left my old life behind. I can finally be myself again! I can never go back. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I don’t belong in your world. Sorry, but I have to be true to myself.”

Teddy obviously tried to hide his hurt at her rejection. “Where are you going?”

“To the girl I was the night before Mirage found me,” she replied.

“I’ll figure it out.” He looked around and observed, “You left your stuff somewhere.”

“It’s in that cave.” She tried to warn him, “Don’t go in there!”

“I’m going!” he defied her. “I can’t bring myself to kill you, but I can at least get that article for Mirage!”

As he started scale the ridge the cave was on, Carmen shouted at him, “The article isn’t in there!”

“You’re hiding something there!” Teddy said defiantly.

Zartex yelled, “Yeah, a bear!”

“Yeah right!” He ignored their warnings and cries to stop as he entered the cave. After a moment, they heard him scream.

Carmen immediately sprinted towards the village. Garith caught up with her. “What are you doing?”

“I may not like him, but nothing he’s done deserves him the death penalty!” she exclaimed.

They got back to the shops and ran into the same man that accosted them before. “Help!” Carmen cried out. “There’s a man getting attacked by a bear!”

The man sprang into action. “Ya hear that, boys? Gear up!” A few men came out with rifles.

“You’re not calling the police?” Garith asked.

The man answered, “Listen, it’ll take twenty minutes for the police to come to our neck of the woods. If y’all really wanna see results, always go with a bunch of rednecks with guns!” They hollered to bolster their spirits and ran into the woods.

Carmen stood there looking very shocked. Garith tapped her shoulders. “Teddy has a whole posse to look after him. We have a bus to catch!” She still felt surreal about running into her ex, but she knew Garith was probably right about the townsmen protecting him. Either way, she did all that she could. She very willingly walked off with Garith and Zartex.

 

Sabotage, Chapter 14

“Did you find anything?” Garith inquired. He sat on a cot in a room full of them. A few people were scattered around the room, but Zartex, Garith, and Carmen had this corner to themselves. Carmen perused through a box of donated clothes while Zartex played Cat’s Cradle on some colorful string.

Carmen replied, “When I get back on my feet, I’m going to donate more clothes to homeless shelters. Haven’t these people suffered enough?” She held up a particularly hideous tee shirt and made a sour face.

Zartex did a somewhat tricky move and reacted with, “Oooh!” Garith chuckled and flipped through a newspaper.

From across the room, Bette entered and shook hands with the volunteer in charge of the homeless shelter. She saw Carmen and greeted happily, “Oh, hi Joan!” Carmen didn’t respond, so she repeated, “Hi Joan! Joan? Joan!”

Garith looked up and saw Bette, so he nudged Carmen. “Psst! Joan!”

“Huh?” Carmen glanced up, and when she saw Bette, she remembered, “Oh right, that’s me!”

Bette strolled over to them and conversed, “What a coincidence! What brought you to Winnemucca?”

Zartex, while continuing his Cat’s Cradle game, told her, “Our legs did.”

Even though Zartex was being quite literal, Bette took it as a joke. She laughed, “Well, I was just on my way to a church event in Oregon, but along the way, it was starting to get late, so I decided to stay in a hotel. They gave me some free slot play, and I won! But, I felt guilty for gambling, so I figured if I donated the winnings to charity, I absolved my sin. Anyway, where are you all heading?”

“California,” Carmen said truthfully. She trusted Bette, so she felt safe in divulging a little, but in the dire situation Carmen got caught up, she couldn’t give anyone any specific details. She really hoped Bette didn’t ask where in California or worse, why.

“California?” Bette recalled. “Oh, there was a man looking for a group of travelers heading to California.”

Carmen and Garith dropped the things in their hands, and Zartex got surprised enough that he lost track of what he was doing and got tangled up in the Cat’s Cradle string. Carmen tried to remain casual. “Lots of people travel to California. That’s kind of vague details to give to people about who you’re looking for! What kind of man do you mean?”

“I’m not sure,” Bette thought back. “He was dark skinned, had a think accent, and a nice suit. He didn’t have a badge though, and I asked repeatedly for him to identify himself. He wouldn’t tell me who he was, he just said he was looking for escapees that had classified information.” Zartex, Garith, and Carmen all had pounding hearts. Carmen and Garith gave each other a confused gesture, but their eyes shared signs of worry. They all were afraid of what Bette may have told Elden about their whereabouts. Bette went on, “I just couldn’t trust someone who wouldn’t say who they were! He wouldn’t even say where these people escaped from! I didn’t trust him, so I decided not to tell him anything. Well, nothing truthful anyways. He could be a kidnapper for all I know, so I wouldn’t help him! I fed him a red herring and said that I saw them going to a club in my hotel. He was probably a fed, but he ticked me off! Screw him!”

Garith, Carmen, and Zartex all breathed a sigh of relief. Garith remarked, “Wow, you never struck me as someone who rebelled against authority!”

Bette grinned. “Ever since I took that bus to the BYU game, I can’t get the hippie era mentality of my head. To be honest, I kind of thought he might be talking about you three, but you guys are too nice to get captured by ‘the man!’ If it’s you, I would leave town right now while he’s distracted!” Bette winked at them.

“These travelers owe you one!” Carmen thanked her.

“Hey man, cool!” She gave them a peace sign and left.

“She’s right,” Garith said to Carmen. “We should head out before Elden realizes she tricked him.”

Carmen thought about it, and logically, it made a lot of sense. Something inside of her urged her to stay, but she wasn’t sure what reason it may have had. She thought about Bette, and it clicked for her. “No. If we leave, Elden will know Bette lied and will go after her. I think we need to go the club.”

“Uh, guys, a little help!” Zartex’s hands were bound together by his snarled string.

As Garith untangled him, he questioned Carmen, “How are we going to stop him from murdering us?”

Zartex suggested, “It’s a public place, right? He’ll get caught trying to kill you or kidnap someone. Just let him get caught up in his own game!” Garith freed Zartex, but there was still a knot in the string. “Aw!”

“Ah!” Carmen found a pastel pink, off-the-shoulder shirt in the box. “So, when was the last time you went clubbing?”

The three of them waited in line on a casino floor as the music from the club pounded away. Garith turned to Zartex and directed, “You’re not coming.”

“What?” Zartex objected. “Why not?”

“The music,” Garith explained. “We need to catch this guy, and we can’t afford an emotional overload right now!”

Zartex reasoned, “I can behave! I will! I will do it because I’m still at work and I’m supposed to be watching Carmen. I can do this!”

Carmen kidded, “Are you trying to convince us or yourself.”

“Both,” Zartex confessed. “I’ve never been to a club! Please!”

Carmen and Garith silently consulted each other, and Carmen relented, “Okay, but if you feel like you’re on the verge of an emotional overload, go outside!”

“Deal!” Zartex agreed.

As they got closer to the entrance, they saw a bouncer checking people’s ID’s. When it was their turn, they patted their clothes as if they were searching for their wallets, but the bouncer dismissed them, “Please!” He opened the rope and waved them inside.

The song “Worth It” by Fifth Harmony played as they came onto the dance floor, which was packed. The room itself had an old-fashioned disco floor, and the walls had a rustic, wooden appearance. It had a bar on the opposite side of the floor and a DJ jamming in front of the dancers. Carmen complained, “He didn’t ID us! Do I look old?”

“Well, you haven’t gotten a lot of sleep and your make up has worn off…” When Garith saw her glare at him, he changed his tune, “So, to answer your question, no! Definitely not!”

More people began to arrive, and the incoming crowd pushed them to the actual dance floor. Zartex stood at the edge, refusing to dance. Garith and Carmen got swept into the center. Not wanting to stand out, Carmen began to dance. Clearly, it had been a while since Garith did anything like this and moved stiffly. “Do you know how to dance?”

“What?” Garith put his hand to the side of his ear.

Carmen shouted into his ear, “Do you know how to dance?”

Garith yelled towards her, “Not really!”

“Oh, Cielo, you need to move your hips!” She put her hands on his hips and shook them. He seemed to enjoy that as he moved his hips more, and Carmen felt of jolt of pleasure from this moment too. Suddenly, she felt awkward and snapped her hands out of the way. What was that? she wondered. She shrugged and kept dancing.

Meanwhile, Zartex found it harder and harder to contain himself. He saw himself moving his leg a little, and he panicked a little. When he realized that no consequences came, he pushed the boundaries further by moving his leg more. Still, nothing happened. He now stared to bend his leg to an almost lunge and nothing happened. He felt giddy at this discovery and kept doing it. As Garith and Carmen moved on the dance floor, he continued this move while sliding to another end of the dance floor. People gave him a strange look, but he was having too much fun to notice.

At the end of the song, the DJ announced, “Alright, alright! It’s that time again-women’s hour!” The women in the club cheered. “You know what that means-the ladies want the eighties!” The women in the club cheered again, but so did some of the guys. “Let’s get funky with some old school jams!”

As he played Love Shack by the B-52’s, Zartex spotted Elden. He got close to Carmen, brandishing a knife. “Hey!” Zartex yelled as loud as he could, but no one could here them. Elden was about to stab her. No one could see him doing this, and Zartex couldn’t push through the herd of people to get to them. In order to save her life, he had to act fast. He let this song into his heart, and the world morphed into an eighties’ discotheque. All of the clubbers dressed in vintage, gaudy clothing with neon and other bright colors. Zartex commanded everyone’s attention as he got on top of the DJ’s booth and sang:

Zartex:     If you see a faded sign at the end
               of the road that says “Fifteen miles
to the-”
(Zartex pointed to Carmen & Garith,
who take over singing)

Garith & Carmen:     Love shack!

Carmen:      I’m heading down the Atlanta Hwy,
lookin’ for the love getaway,
headed for the love getaway!
(Carmen sang to Elden, who looked uncomfortable.)

Garith:     I got me a car, it’s as big as a whale,
and we’re headin’ down to the love shack.
I got a Chrysler, it seats about twenty,
so hurry up, bring your jukebox money!
(Garith now sang to Elden.)

(Garith and Carmen put their arms around
Elden, who looked confused and mad.)
The Love Shack is a little old place where we
can get together!
Love Shack, baby! A Love Shack baby!
Love Shack, baby, Love Shack!
Come baby, that’s where it’s at!
Ooh, love, baby, that’s where it’s at!

(Elden escaped, but Garith stood in front of him
to stop him.)
Garith:     Sign says “Stay away fools!”
‘Cause love rules at the Love Shack.

(Carmen turned Elden around and set him
back on the dance floor.)
Carmen:     Well, it’s set way back, in the middle
of a field.
Just a funky old shack, and I gotta get back.
Glitter on the mattress!
Glitter on the highway!
Glitter on the front porch!
Glitter on the highway!

(The dancers in the club circled around Elden,
who tried to find a way out and couldn’t.)
Garith & Carmen:     The Love Shack is a little old place
where we can get together!
Love Shack, baby! Love Shack, baby!
Love Shack, that’s where it’s at!
Love Shack, that’s where it’s at.

(As Elden tried to escape, Garith continously brought
him back to the dance floor.)
Garith:     Huggin’ and a-kissin’,
Dancin’ and a-lovin’,
wearing next to nothin’
’cause it’s hot as an oven!
The whole shack shimmies when everybody’s
movin’ around and around
and around and around!

(Carmen joined Garith as Elden began to
rhythmically fist fight with them. Carmen
and Garith rhythmically dodge him.)
Carmen:     Everybody’s movin’, everybody’s
groovin’, baby!
Garith:     Folks linin’ up just to get down!
Carmen:     Everybody’s movin’, everybody’s
groovin’, baby!
Garith:     Funky little shack!
Funky little shack!

(Zartex magically drives a giant, baby blue
convertible into the dance floor. Carmen
grabbed some rope from the back seat
and tied Elden up. Garith forced Elden
into the car.)
Zartex:     Hop in my Chrysler, it’s as big as
a whale,
and it’s about to set sail!
I got me a car, it seats about twenty,
so, come on and bring your jukebox money!

(The people on the dance floor wave goodbye as
Zartex drove them through the desert. Garith
and Carmen dance as they sit with Elden.)
Garith & Carmen:     The Love Shack is a little
old place where we can get together!
Love shack, baby! A-Love Shack baby!
Love Shack, baby, Love Shack!
Love Shack, baby, Love Shack!
Love Shack, baby, that’s where it’s at!

(They brought Elden to a rustic shanty in the middle
of the desert mountain top. They set him inside
and party around him.)
Carmen:     Bang, bang, on the door baby!
Garith:     Knock a little louder, sugar!
Carmen: Bang, bang, on the door baby!
Garith:     I can’t hear you!
Carmen:      Bang, bang, on the door!
Garith:     Bang, bang, on the door, baby!
Carmen:      Bang, bang!
Garith:     You’re what?
Carmen:     Tin roof, rusted!

(Elden struggled to get out as the three said
goodbye to him. They left the shack and
drove away, heading for the highway.)
Garith & Carmen:     Love Shack, baby, Love Shack!
Love Shack, baby, Love Shack!
Love, baby, yeah, that’s where it’s at!
Love Shack, baby, Love Shack!
Love, yeah, baby, that’s where it’s at!
Love, baby, Love Shack!

Zartex:     Huggin’ and a-kissin’,
Dancin’ and a-lovin’,
at the Love Shack!
(When the music stopped, the car came to a stop.)


After the music faded, they were temporarily suspended in mid-air. They fell onto their bottoms on a cold highway with frigid air and stars beginning to appear in the sky. They gazed at Zartex incredulously, wanting an explanation. Zartex defended himself, “Hey, I had an emotional overload for your protection!” Garith and Carmen looked highly skeptical. “He was literally about to stab you!” They seemed surprised by that answer but decided to accept it. Zartex stood up and said indignantly, “Uh, you’re welcome!”

He gestured an offer to help them up, which they accepted. They got up and began to walk towards a sign that told them how far away Reno was located. Carmen wondered, “Are we sure it’s safe? I mean, where exactly did we send Elden?”

Zartex shrugged. “I think we actually did leave him tied up in some shack in the middle of the desert. He’ll be there for a while.” Garith and Carmen laughed as the three of them walked towards Reno.

 

Sabotage, Chapter 13

“Thank you kind sir!” Zartex waved to a trucker as he left an old gas station. He turned to Carmen and Garith, who had a look of discomfort mixed with surprise. “I don’t know why you were so worried about taking a ride from a stranger!”

Garith noted, “People are rarely that nice without wanting something in return.”

Carmen observed her surroundings and remarked, “Who decided to call this place Oasis? Were they trying to be ironic?”

“So, this is Nevada, huh?” Zartex also looked around. “This doesn’t look that different than Utah!”

“Wait ’til we get to Elko,” Garith responded.

As the three of them walked through the desert alongside the highway, they ate breakfast sandwiches that they got from the gas station they passed. Carmen commented, “I never imagined I’d be in a situation where gas station food would taste amazing!”

Garith nodded in agreement. “Yeah, and I can’t believe how excited I got about using a gas station toilet!”

“I got you guys some of these free samples.” Zartex pulled some beef jerky out of his pocket.

“Those weren’t free!” Garith pointed out. “You’re supposed to bring it to the register.”

Carmen burried her face in her hands and shook her head. “Stop stealing things! Like we need another reason for the police to come after us!”

They all heard a low growl, and Garith joked, “Gee, Carmen, you don’t need to get that mad about it.”

“That wasn’t me!” Carmen stood still and looked around. The other two stopped and joined her in the search. They heard some rustling from a bush with inverted, whip-like branches, so they huddled together in preparation for an attack. The growling grew louder as the perpetrator emerged. “It’s a dog!” Carmen exclaimed as a tan, coyote-looking dog reared its teeth at them.

“Run!” Garith started to flee.

Carmen grabbed his shirt to prevent him from sprinting. “You can’t outrun a dog! Why do you think they have canine units in the police?”

“You want to fight it?” Garith asked incredulously as the dog crept closer to them. Carmen studied the dog closely and saw something the other two didn’t. She slowly approached it, prompting Garith to shout, “Are you crazy?”

Without breaking eye contact with the snarling beast, Carmen informed Garith, “She’s hurt!” After she said that, Zartex and Garith noticed the dog’s limp gait.

The dog let Carmen kneel before her, which made Garith really nervous. “Be careful!”

“Duh!” Carmen gingerly reached for its paw, which made the dog snap at her a little. That didn’t ease Garith’s nerves, so she assured him, “It’s okay. She’s in pain and isn’t sure if she can trust me.” Carmen’s pulse raced as she picked up its paw. Despite her assurances to Garith, she got forcibly reminded of when a dog bit her before. Her instincts made her trust this one though. She really hoped her gut feelings wouldn’t betray her since she just vouched for this dog. She saw a thorn stuck in her paw with some blood caked on around it. “You’ve been hurt for a while! Poor baby!” As she removed the thorn, the dog snapped a little again. Finally, the thorn wriggled out. Carmen felt a wave of relief, and evidently the dog felt the same way as they watched it scamper around and enjoy full use of her paws.

She licked Carmen in the face, which made her cringe a little. “Not the face!” She laughed and pet it. She glanced over at Garith, who appeared to be recovering form a near faint. “You’re not gonna say that’s what she said?”

“Don’t ever do that again!” Garith breathed.

Carmen laughed and stood up. As they continued their journey, Carmen noticed the dog following them. “Go home, doggy!” The dog happily followed them still. “No, no, no! Don’t pick us as your humans! Your life will constantly be in danger! Plus, you wouldn’t even have a home to go to. You’re better off finding someone here. Go on! Shoo!”

Garith laughed, “You can’t reason with an animal!” He grabbed Zartex’s beef jerky and threw it. The dog scampered after it and enjoyed gnawing on it. “That jerky was hard as a rock, that’ll keep her busy for a while!”

Zartex chirped, “Well, we helped her nurse her injury, and she helped us dispose of evidence!” Carmen shook her head but smiled.

Hours later, the town of Wells could be seen in the distance. Carmen conversed, “Wasn’t it uncomfortable working with your ex-wife?”

“She moved to L.A. once I said I wanted a divorce,” Garith told her. “It’s something she always wanted to do but didn’t because of me. It’s not like I ever said I wouldn’t leave San Francisco, but she said I held her back. She accepted a high end position at our headquarters and left me behind. Actually, I was okay with her getting far away from me ’cause it was easier to pick up my life where it was before I met her. The only difference between my old life and my single life was nicer furniture and Phoebe.”

“Phoebe?” Carmen questioned. “You have a daughter? Or is Phoebe one of your ex’s friends that you hooked up with?”

Garith chuckled, “Phoebe was her cat. I didn’t like cats much, but she grew on me. I felt bad for her, actually. I mean, her mom just abandoned her. Who does that?”

Carmen felt a surge of guilt hit her heart. “I left my cat behind when we moved to Colorado. I couldn’t have pets where I lived, so I let my dad take care of Orlando. I didn’t think I’d be gone long. The Grand Junction office was new, and it was supposed to give me more opportunities for building my team and getting promoted quicker. I thought I’d get promoted in like a year ’cause that’s what they told me. I didn’t think I’d be away from him for so long, and once I became a manager, It never occurred to me that they could be wrong or mislead me. I never got that promotion. I just abandoned my poor cat!”

Before Garith could reply, a sheriff’s car pulled up to them. The three of them tried to remain cool, but they were silently praying that this officer wasn’t here to arrest them. They had nowhere to run or hide in the middle of the desert! “Hey! You look like you’ve traveled across this highway for a while. Tell me…” Carmen felt like he could hear her heart pounding because she could feel the tension from the other two. “…have you guys seen my dog?”

Everyone took a breath of relief. Zartex addressed him, “A brown, coyote-looking dog?” The policeman nodded. “Yeah, she was just outside of Oasis. She helped her nurse an injury and he gave her my beef jerky.”

The officer clearly felt overjoyed to hear this news. “I sure do appreciate that! Y’all are decent folks!” He made a quick u-turn and raced towards Oasis.

Sometime later, they came just outside the town of Wells where, once again, all they could see was a gas station. Zartex inquired, “Why are there people gathering here?”

Garith squinted his eyes to get a better look. “It’s a sign for the Red Lion Casino. Oh, they must shuttle people to Elko.” Carmen gave him a glance that non-verbally told him that she wanted to go on the shuttle. Garith objected, “Oh no! Don’t you remember what happened last time we took a shuttle?”

Carmen argued, “There aren’t any mountains going from here to Elko! Plus, after over a week of non-stop walking, it sure would be nice to get a break!”

Garith still seemed weary. “I don’t like the idea of endangering so many people in an enclosed…” He stopped mid-sentence as a nearby bush rustled. The other two also stopped and gazed at directly at it. “Maybe the police dog followed us here.”

Carmen differentiated, “I think there’s a different bitch that’ll emerge from that bush.”

As Carmen predicted, Lilith came out from hiding and pointed a gun at them. They threw up their hands, and she gently told them, “Guys, I’m not here to kill you.” She threw the gun to the floor. They slowly put their arms down, but they did not trust her. Each of them kept an eye on her. “You got me all wrong. I’m here to save your life!”

“A Mirage executive wants to help us?” Garith challenged. “I have a hard time believing you care about anyone but yourself!”

Lilith tried to appear as docile as possible and spoke softly, “Look, they need a high ranking member to watch over people, that’s why I’ll never leave. I don’t like hunting people down like animals. I didn’t come to commit murder! But, I did catch you. If I wanted to, I could turn you over to the police. I’m not gonna do that. Actually, I want to promote you!”

That statement took everyone by surprise. Mirage had spent over a week chasing them down and tried to assassinate them, and now she claimed that they wanted to promote her! Carmen didn’t buy it. “Even if you decide to bypass the rules of building a team, I don’t wanna be a manager!”

“Actually,” Lilith revealed, “We want you to replace Elden Gundulf as head of security.” Zartex and Garith got a jolt of surprise from this, but Carmen did not. She stared at her hard. She wanted her to keep talking to see what game she was trying to play. Lilith continued, “You beat us! You won! We threw every trick in the book at you and you made it through each time. No one has ever gotten this far! Instead of trying to destroy you, we want to use you. You can think like the most clever employee that goes astray, so you can help us humanely rescue them. We need someone like you to make sure what you went through doesn’t happen again. Think about it. You can dedicate you life to saving lives!”

Garith and Zartex looked to Carmen, who did not seem remotely tempted by this offer. In some ways, her argument made sense. If she was head of security, she could stop them from murdering and kidnapping people. Carmen’s gut instincts would not let her consider accepting this offer. Zartex spoke up first, “What about the way you treat your low level employees? Would you expect her to condone that?”

This touched a nerve for Lilith. “We do not mistreat our employees! We have a success plan that has been proven to work! Even our lowest level employees can make over a grand in a week! What other company offers that for people with no experience? We help people get careers and fabulous lifestyles, and that’s supposed to be a bad thing? We’ve also given hundreds to charity-does that sound like an evil, malicious company?”

“Lots of wealthy people do that for tax purposes,” Garith pointed out.

Lilith almost blew a gasket, but she closed her eyes and collected herself. “Carmen, you have a choice. You can choose to believe the lies this reporter has filled in your head and go to prison for the rest of your life. But, if you want a better life, listen up. We’ll get you a lawyer and get that murder charge thrown away at no cost to you. We’ll send you to luxurious training camp at Mirage headquarters. We have the best training! The classes take dull leadership lessons and makes them fun. And, after class, you can get spa treatments, eat fine food, all sorts of stuff! After training, you’ll make a six figure income and live in a nice place all on your own. You can help your whole family out too. Isn’t that what you always wanted? I don’t think I need to ask which life you want-prison or luxury? So, come on, let’s go!”

Lilith turned away and started walking to her car. When she realized that she hadn’t followed her, she turned back around. “What’s the problem? Is it all that walk you did? Don’t worry, I’ll bring the car to you!”

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Carmen said firmly. “The only thing that you said that I believe is that you wanna use me. A few weeks ago, I was just like you. I defended Mirage like it was my own family. Whenever someone criticized us, I responded exactly like you did. How dare they! How dare they spout such hate and disrespect! I did the same thing as you-I seduced people into Mirage by waving these temptations over their heads. Who doesn’t want to live a life of luxury? Only a few people get that posh lifestyle, and it comes at the price of the lowest level employees’ blood, sweat, and tears! You exploit hundreds to help a few people live well. You keep people in by distracting them with things they want to make them forget what they stand to lose. You got me for over three years, but you’ll get me no more! I won’t by snared by getting shiny things waved at me! How dare you insult my intelligence like that! Believe it or not, I’d rather sit in a prison cell than sell my soul again!”

Lilith’s frown was so pronounced that her lips practically disappeared. “Fine, have it your way!” She bent down as if she was retrieving her gun. Before the three of them could react, she spotted something behind them that made her eyes grow round as dinner plates. She darted off and ran in the opposite direction. They tried to comprehend why, but everything moved so fast that they didn’t have time to question it. A flash of brown brushed past them and made a beeline to Lilith. The flash caught her, and now that it had slowed down, they recognized it as the dog they saw in Oasis!

As the dog continuously bit her, the officer that owned her pulled up. He exclaimed, “Atta girl, Trigger! Good girl, you got a bad guy?”

He got out of his car to get Trigger off of her, but he continued to praise her for a job well done. The other three saw the shuttle for the Red Lion Casino pull up, so they ran to it before Lilith talked to the police. As they boarded, Carmen playfully teased Garith, “See, didn’t I tell you that you can’t outrun a dog?”

Garith rolled his eyes but didn’t look bothered. He smiled as he said, “That’s your favorite phrase, isn’t it?”

“Yes!” Carmen grinned as they took their seat. Garith chuckled as he slumped against the seat, ready to take a nap.

As the shuttle took off, Zartex noted, “We weren’t there to tell the police officer the crimes she committed against you, so she probably won’t get charged with anything.”

“That’s okay,” Carmen responded thoughtfully. “I’ve been bit by a dog before, so, trust me, her injuries will be punishment enough.” Carmen, too, slumped against her seat to take a nap. Zartex shrugged, kicked back, and relaxed as the other two dozed off.

Sabotage, Chapter 12

“What did they do to you?” Seth peered at the scruffy recovery agent, who had googly eyes and, even though he sat in a chair, he swayed to music that no one could hear.

Lilith observed, “Here’s trying to speak!”

Seth, Lilith, Arius, and Elden all leaned in and listened carefully. The recovery agent indeed whispered something unintelligible. The more they listened, the more pins and needles of anticipation grew. Suddenly, he bolted up and sang, “Zephyr in the sky, at night I wonder/do my tears of morning sink beneath sun?”

The other four all deflated. Seth kicked a small table and exclaimed, “Damn it! They broke him!”

She did,” Lilith corrected him. “We taught her how too. Now she’s using it against us!”

Seth concluded, “It’s not safe for us to keep sending out recovery agents after her. They’re good for the entry level who escape. Their minds are weak, and they can get silenced easily. There’ll be no point in trying to get to get to her mind, she’s proven she’s too strong for that…”

“And obviously she’s proven she can outsmart the recovery agents too,” Elden added bitterly.

“Like a ray of light, she’s flying!” the recovery agent crooned enthusiastically.

Lilith sat him down and commented, “Too bad she had a change of heart; she could have been a great asset to Mirage!”

Seth responded, “That’s exactly why she’s so dangerous now! We only have one option-”

Arius stepped in and finished, “We’ll need to go after her ourselves! Since she’s in my region, I volunteer to get her! It’s my region, I have to protect it!”

Seth nodded in approval. Elden looked to his notes and informed him, “The Recovery Agent found her heading towards Provo. The rail heads to Salt Lake City, so, more than likely, she’s heading there.”

“More than likely!” Lilith reacted sourly. “How is it that we can’t get any video of her? They must pass by cameras sometimes!”

Seth and Elden shrugged at each other. Arius disregarded this, “It doesn’t matter! I’ll find her! I’ll go to Salt Lake City and turn every corner!” Everyone but the recovery agent laughed.

As Carmen, Garith, and Zartex walked down a bustling street in downtown Salt Lake City, Garith argued, “Oh come on! We could’ve gotten those tickets for free! It’s not like we have gotten a lot of chances to have fun!”

“Fun?” Carmen questioned. “How is Nightmare on Thirteenth fun? Haven’t we had enough scary people popping out of the corner brandishing weapons?”

“It’s almost Halloween!” Garith pleaded. “Let’s go back and find that guy before someone else grabs those tickets!”

“You really wanna make it easy for them to corner us?” Carmen said wryly.

“Why would they look for us there?” Garith retorted

Zartex opinionated, “I’ve yet to learn why humans enjoy getting scared. How does fear release endorphin?”

“See, we need to go there and find out the answer to his question!” Garith implored.

Carmen shook her head and smiled. She decided to change the subject, “Do you know anyone in San Francisco that’s hiring? You know, in case we make it back…”

“We will make it back!” Garith asserted. “I have no idea what’s happening in San Francisco right now. How can I? I had to ditch my cell phone in Colorado. It has been strange for me, as a reporter, to be so uninformed about what’s happening in the world.”

Zartex pointed out, “Except your involvement in a story that will get broadcast from coast to coast!”

“Thank Captain Obvious,” Garith responded. “I didn’t realize how glued I was to my cell phone until now. I used it all the time for work and communicate with people.”

Carmen inquired, “Is there someone waiting for you back home?”

“Oh no!” Garith replied. “I communicated with my family and friends via text. I hardly had time for them let alone a personal life. I spent so much time in the field interviewing people, but I spent more time doing research in the office. That’s how I ended up with my ex wife. And that’s also why we divorced. Well, one of the reasons.”

“What was the other reason?” Carmen felt compelled to learn more about him. After all this time they spent together, she didn’t know much about him. They had devoted their energy to surviving the journey and writing the article, and now she felt a twinge a guilt for not getting to know him.

Garith blushed a little. “I normally don’t talk about this in front of a lady.”

Whatever response Carmen was expecting, it wasn’t that. “Well…tell Zartex then!”

“Okay, Zartex!” Garith recalled, “She didn’t like having sex. Like, we hardly ever did it, and when we did, she would just lie there like a cold fish. When I love someone, I like to really get into it, like really make her moan and squirm, you know?”

“Do I?” Zartex looked to Carmen, who nodded. “Okay, yes, I know what you mean.”

“I wanted to please her,” Garith explained. “But, get this, she didn’t even like to orgasm!”

“What?” Carmen reacted vehemently. “If Teddy ever gave me a real one, maybe I wouldn’t have ran out on him!”

Garith had no idea she would be so comfortable about the subject, but since now he knew that she was, he abandoned all pretense. “A real one? You mean, you faked it?”

“It’s like we both did,” Carmen divulged. “We were both so convinced we were in love that we believed our lovemaking was passionate and pleasurable. I realize now that I brainwashed myself to loving him as much as I tricked myself into liking that job. I moaned deeply because I thought I was supposed to feel orgasmic. Teddy did too. But really, I felt nothing. I mean, how could I? We were lying perfectly still!” At this point, Garith burst into mirthful laughter. “It’s not funny!”

“Are you kidding me?” Garith howled. “You were both lying still like statues but still shouted in passion? Teddy must’ve looked like a beached whale!” Garith stood perfectly still and let out a huge moan.

“Stop that!” Carmen playfully hit him. Now that she heard, and saw, it out loud, she did realize how comical her relationship was. Everything about it was fake, just like Mirage. They made everything look flashy and prestigious, but it was just theatre. She got so lost in the act that she never realized that she was just playing a role. She had adopted a whole other identity! “We should probably stop talking about sex so loud. Isn’t this the Mormon capitol?”

Garith pointed to a sign in front of them. “There’s a bar! Look around, do these people look like religious fundamentalists? Plus, it’s not like Mormons don’t have sex. How do you think they make so many kids?”

Carmen laughed, “You have a point. Not that all Mormons have a particular ‘look,’ but these people staggering out of the bar definitely don’t look like Mormons!” She had referred to a group of young people dressed up to clubbing.

“That guy definitely isn’t.” Garith pointed to a rabbi that passed by them. The three of them laughed.

Zartex joined in, “Well, we know that guy isn’t Mormon! Not enough morals!” Zartex pointed to the distance and laughed.

Garith and Carmen stopped dead in their tracks. The man he pointed to was Arius! Garith and Carmen hid behind a building around the corner, and Zartex followed. “What is he doing here?” Carmen groaned. She was not mentally prepared to see him again. She was starting to move on with her life, and seeing a person from her past was like seeing a ghost. She figured she would run into nameless henchmen, but she didn’t think she would have to confront him or any of the Mirage executives unless they were in court. At that point, more time would have passed and they would have the barrier of police and legal teams to prevent them from hurting anyone. Now there would be very litte to stop him, especially since Mirage had the police convinced Carmen was a murderer.

Zartex remarked, “They know you can outfox their recovery agents, so they didn’t have a choice but to send their best and brightest.”

Carmen began to panic, so Garith snapped his fingers. “Don’t you give up on me now! Don’t let your fears cloud your mind! Now think…you’ve known him for several years, and you know these executives better than anyone. You know his strengths and his weaknesses, so tell me, what do we do?”

Carmen’s mind raced. Arius always reminded her of a wolf, and when he’s on the hunt, he chased his prey until the bitter end. He rarely made mistakes. Zartex suggested, “That bar is playing music, maybe we can do another song.”

Garith liked that suggested, and the two guys started to head out, but Carmen physically stopped them. Zartex’s suggestion triggered a memory for her. “A bar…he’s a booze hound! That’s how we’ll get him! Zartex, is there any music that won’t give you an emotional overload?”

“Country,” Zartex replied firmly.

“Let’s find a country bar!” Garith directed.

Arius walked down the streets with a determined look on his face. He scanned every person’s face and even read between the lines. His instincts told him she was close by. Suddenly, from across the street, he heard a small crash. He saw Carmen recovering from tripping. When she saw him, she suddenly grew a deer-in-the-headlights look and bolted into a nearby bar. Arius darted after her.

His heart pumped knowing that he was getting close to catching her. When he entered the bar, there was no sign of her. A couple of people in Western wear sat at the bar. The jukebox played a country song that reminded him of home, which made him feel at ease. At the opposite side of the bar stood a beer pong table. After he noticed that, a very tall man came up to him and jovially invited, “You up for a game? I’m losing terribly. You any good?”

“Are you kidding? I’m the best!” Arius boasted. “But I can’t right now. I’m looking for someone important.”

“You mean that girl?” Zartex said as casually as he could. “She got chased out by police.”

“Really?” Arius seemed pleased. “She’s not a very fast runner, so they probably got her. So, yes, I do have some time to play!”

Zartex and Arius played against a couple of strangers, and Arius had not lied aobut his prodigious skills at this game. He helped Zartex win easily. As the evening went on, the bar got different patrons, and since his adrenaline was up, he challenged more people each time they finished a game. After a few hours, Arius had less control of his body and slurred speech. He craned his head to the front door to welcome a new challenger. He saw Carmen, which prompted him to remember his mission. “Youuuu! Y’er supposed to be in ja-il!” Arius uttered.

Carmen ducked away, and Arius clumsily went after her. At that moment, Garith shouted, “Bartender! That man’s trying to run out on his bill!”

Arius stopped and swiveled around. “What bill?”

The bartender informed him, “You said you would cover the tabe from all these beer pong games!”

Arius got a confused expression on his face. “Wha….? No, I gotta go!” Arius ran out and ignored the anger from the people in the bar.

He went out on the street, but everything felt blurred. “Wherrre did you go?” He meandered down the road, glancing at everyone. People could tell he was drunk and felt uneasy by his appearance. He asked multiple people if they were Carmen, but they shook him off.

He came to a statue and saw her from across a plaza. He stumbled, and the next thing he knew, he was being awakened by a police officer poking him with a baton. “Wake up, buddy!”

Totally disoriented, he woke up to see himself on top of the statue buck naked. “It wasn’t me!” he slurred. “It wasss the wanted killller, Carmen!”

“Sure, you lush!” The police clearly didn’t believe him. “You’re wanted on multiple charges: larceny, drunk and disorderly conduct, public nudity…” Arius protested more, trying to get the police to look for Carmen. They ignored him and put him in their squad car.

Just outside of town, Zartex, Carmen, and Garith hiked along a railroad. Carmed buzzed, “Oh, I wish I could see the look on his face as he got arrested!”

Garith wondered, “We are safe from him for a few days. But, do you think he’ll go after us again once he’s released?”

“No,” Zartex stated. “They’ll try again with someone else to solve their problem faster. You know what’s ironic though? He got arrested for stealing, but technically, I’m the only thief here!” Garith and Carmen stared at him in disbelief. “I technically ran up that bar tab. I also stole that food from the dumpster. Oh, and I stole that boat at the lake on your wedding day!”

“That was you?” Carmen was shocked, but she felt a rush of gratitude for him. If Zartex hadn’t done that, she may not have been able to escape. Garith also played a huge role that day too. If weren’t for the two of them, who knows what would have happened to her? She may have escaped one day, she was certainly capable of it. But she realized that no one could do everything alone all the time. She now had powerful allies. She didn’t know if she would be successful, but, thanks to Garith and Zartex, she at least had a chance. She compulsively gave them both a hug. They were surprised by this gesture, but they accepted it and hugged back.