Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 18

We think he got kidnapped!” Bernadette revealed.

“Kidnapped?” Gwynivara couldn’t wrap her head around the idea. It just didn’t seem possible, and her mind just wouldn’t accept it. “Kennith is a big, strong dude who could easily fight off an attacker! With or without his Venenatus Sanguis abilities! He’s one of the least likely people for this to happen to! Are you sure?”

Riley explained, “When you all left for the mission, I formed a search party like you said. We hadn’t even left the graveyard when we ran into two kids, scared to death, hiding behind a couple of tombstones. They told us after they escaped quarantine, they were trying to run to their grandmother’s house when some really tall man snatched them up and tried to bring them in his house. The kids were kicking and screaming enough to slow the man down, and Kennith heard them. He held a sword up to the guy’s neck and ordered him to let the kids go, which he did, but then he slapped the sword out of his hands! They started fighting physically, but the other guy was so big that it was easy for him to get the upper hand. At one point, he threw Kennith to the ground by where the kids were, and he whispered to them, ordering them to run to the graveyard. The man used this split second distraction to knock Kennith out. The kids did as they were told, but before they got out of eyesight, they looked back one more time and saw that he was gone.”

Gwynivara knew that the kids more than likely didn’t lie about the situation-they’d have no motive to do so, but something still didn’t feel right to her. “You said you think he was kidnapped. Kidnapped, not killed. How do we know he’s still alive?”

Bernadette told her, “The search party staked out the place. They saw what looked like a backhand slap to someone on the couch. No one actually saw him, but they heard some banging around. We were waiting until you started the officers’ meeting to determine what to do about this situation.”

Gwynivara found this so odd. She tried to comprehend what would possess the man to capture Kennith and hold him against his will. She mused whether or not the man got off on pain and torture or if he had a more sinister desire. She briefly considered calling the police and letting them do some good for a change by putting this prick behind bars, but that would risk Kennith getting arrested for quarantine evasion. She concluded that they would have to rescue him themselves, but something still gnawed at her. Before kidnapping Kennith, he tried to take the kids…that’s when it clicked for her. She uncermoniously got out of her seat, brusquely telling the others in the room, “Come on!”

They followed Gwynivara as she marched into the training room. The officers that had already assembled got startled by Gwynivara’s abrupt determination and snapped into attention. As soon as Bernadette, Riley, and Cody fell into place, Gwynivara stood before them and stated boldly, “It’s a trap!”

The officers were surprised by her assertion, and one of them reacted, “How do you know?”

“Because,” Gwynivara justified her belief, “the man tried to kidnap the kids first. He didn’t try to take them to authorities to claim the reward for capturing quarantine escapees. Then, when he’s stopped from doing that, he kidnaps someone totally different than who just tried to nab. Who does that? Criminals who prey on people stick to a type, and yes, I suppose it’s possible to kidnap anyone who just happened to be available for the sole purpose of torture, but how likely is that? The victims do have one thing in common though- they all have Venenatus Sanguis. If the man knew that, why would he risk his own life by putting them under extreme stress and making them conjure up a beast? What are the odds a kidnapper would pick up people at random not knowing that they all have this commonality? The only other explanation is that this guy works for the origin, and they’re trying to lure us in. They know we’re getting close to the truth, and they’re hoping we’ll feel we have no choice but to go in and save him. As soon as we’re inside that place, they’ll give us nowhere to run and do us in. That scenario seems more likely, don’t you think?”

Another officer inquired, “So, you’re saying that we shouldn’t rescue Kennith?”

“No!” Kierram refuted that notion. “She has a plan to use this knowledge to our advantage. We’re going to pretend to buy into it and spring a trap of our own!”

“Exactly!” Gwynivara didn’t expect Kierram to rush to her defense like that, but she felt so grateful to have that kind of solidarity. She continued, “We’re going to use this opportunity to plant the tracking device. We’ll deliver them what they want, at first…”

If it wasn’t for the adrenaline from anticipating an ominous mission, Gwynivara would have been exhausted! The walk took longer than she thought it would, and she wished that it wasn’t so far out so that they could get this done and over with! To keep her nerves from paralyzing her, she made small observations about her surroundings. The houses lined some grassy hills, and she guessed that the residents here liked being nestled close to town while simultaneously living almost within walking distance to the mountains. This neighborhood seemed like it was lower middle class, and she briefly wondered if they stood out walking through the area with their crisp, black suits. Kierram noted, “We’re almost there.” Butterflies fluttered through her stomach. She rubbed her head slightly, wondering if the wig would stay on during the battle. She didn’t know for sure what would happen, but she had a feeling it wouldn’t be so easy to rescue Kennith or to outwit the origin!

They didn’t need to see the address to know that they had come to the right spot. The house looked as though it had never been painted, and the wood was so dilapidated that Gwynivara was surprised that it stayed structurally sound. The fence, made of the same shabby material as the house, was lopsided in some areas, and the holes gave them a clear view of the unkempt grass on the side of the yard. When they rounded to the front of the home, they saw a void in the grass by the backyard gate, and the two of them instantly knew that this was where Kennith got knocked and dragged into the house. They both exchanged worried glances and tried not to think about it as they entered the front yard.

The pathway to the front door, made of that same rickety lumber, buckled slightly under their feet. Reaching the front porch didn’t provide much relief for them. Dirt covered everything except for the dead plants, and the state of the windows and door gave the place an almost abandoned feel to it. The only personal touch came from the slender, white figures dangling from the low hanging ceiling that made an unusual clinking sound in the wind. Kierram commented, “Wow, what strange wind chimes!”

Gwynivara studied them, and a sickening feeling rose in the pit of her stomach. “Those aren’t wind chimes!” Kierram took a closer look and realized that they were pieces of bone! He practically jumped away from fright, and Gwynivara inquired, “Do you think they’re human?”

Kierram pulled himself back into focus and replied, “Either way, it’s not a good sign!” Gwynivara grimaced and knocked on the door.

The few seconds it took for someone to answer seemed to last forever. Gwynivara heard footsteps creaking towards them, and she quickly fell into character. That didn’t stop her heart from pounding wildly as the door swung open. She expected to see a stereotypical convict, but what she got was a very tall man with straw-like hair matted down by a cowboy hat with alligator teeth around the base, which clashed terribly with the olive-drab green zebra striped vest he also wore. For a second, his cartoonish appearance threw her off, but the pronounced scowl and intense glare let her know that they had found the right guy. He growled, “Can’t you read?” He pointed to a sign that said ‘No Trespassing.’ He seethed, “Get off my property!”

Gwynivara coolly pulled out a piece of paper and informed him, “FBI. We have a warrant to search the premises.” While he read the sheet in total astonishment, Gwynivara pushed him aside and entered the building with Kierram.

Kierram and Gwynivara pulled out their flashlights and scanned the small living room. Bernadette had told her that the search party had seen the man slap someone in this room, but all they could see was old-fashioned, hardly used furniture. Gwynivara reasoned that he must’ve moved Kennith to somewhere less conspicuous, but that didn’t comfort her much. Although they had planned for this, she had partly hoped to get in and get out quickly. While they roamed the living room, the man staggered over and remarked, “I ain’t hiding no quarantine children!”

Kierram responded, “A witness placed them in your yard the night of the fire. If you’ve got nothing to hide, then you don’t have anything to worry about.” He saw some mail on a coffee table and casually glanced at the name on the address. “So, I assume you’re the homeowner, Rick Actaeon?”

He answered snidely, “I dunno, am I?”

“That’s him,” Gwynviara confirmed. “If he wasn’t, he’d deny it.” Rick pouted, not being able to refute her logic. As she peered at the couch by the window, she noticed blood spatter on its arm. “What happened here?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Rick said spitefully. “It ain’t kids’ blood.”

From behind a pair of wooden swinging doors, Gwynivara and Kierram heard a loud bump. Kierram asked, “What was that?”

“None of your business,” he retorted.

“We’ll see about that!” Gwynivara stated. They each took a door and slowly eased it open. The doors revealed a decrepit, neglected kitchen with flies hovering around a sink full of dirty dishes. The room appeared empty, but they were not so easily fooled. They tiptoed into the room, ready for an ambush. They heard another bump coming from a room in the nearby hallway. While Gwynivara crept towards the hallway, Kierram put his back to hers and eyed the room before him.

Gwynivara peeked down the hallway, which seemed dark and empty. She knew that they had not fully vetted the kitchen, but there was no signs of Kennith there. However, she did not budge. Something didn’t feel right. She thought, perhaps, it stemmed from the lack of escape routes in that part of the house, but her instincts seemed to indicate that they weren’t done in the kitchen. She heard another bump sound from what looked like the bedroom, but this area gave off an aura of being completely vacant. Puzzled and unsure of what to do next, she stayed rooted to the spot. A split second after she made that decision, a familiar male’s voice leered, “Well, well, well! What have we got here?”

Advertisements

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 16

Concentrate!” Kierram’s voice echoed through the training room as he gave Gwynivara direction. She stood before him with her eyes closed and her hand clasped tightly onto the lustrous orb. “Send all of your energy to what you want to happen.”

“I’m trying!” Gwynivara’s voice cracked a little when she spoke.

Kierram gently instructed, “Ignore any thought that says you can’t do this! Take a deep breath and really feel it in your core!”

Gwynivara took a deep breath and turned off her thoughts for a moment. She listened to her heart pouding, and after a while, she could feel a vibrant fore pulsating through her veins. She sent her entire focus on everything going to the orb, which she held in her left hand. That entire arm tingled as it quickly flowed to the purple glass. Suddenly, the orb lit up and became very warm very quickly! She opened her eyes as it emitted a couple of sparks. Automatically, she opened her palm and dropped it. Kierram caught it before it hit the ground. “Sorry!” Gwynivara was alarmed from how breathy her voice sounded, and then she realized that she felt pretty physically drained.

“Are you okay?” Kierram’s eyes swept over her left arm, looking for marks. Gwynivara had to take a deep breath, but she nodded. Kierram let her catch her breath and saved her from the effort of speaking by checking for injuries himself. He brought her left hand to his eye level and examined it. Once it seemed like she was breathing normally again, he asked her, “Is that what you were trying to do?”

“No!” Gwynivara shamefully admitted. “I was too busy trying to send energy to it that I forgot to tell it what to do!”

“Don’t beat yourself up! You made something happen, and that’s a start.” Kierram assured her, which made her smile gratefully. Gwynivara noticed that Kierram still had her hand, and he rubbed his thumb across her palm. “It’s still warm! You’ve got a lot of potential there. Be careful!”

“Well, obviously!” Gwynivara sassed him, grinning while she did so.

“Okay, wise guy!” Kierram playfully threw her hand back at her. Gwynivara chuckled, and Kierram had a very toothy smile. Gwynivara relished in the fact that his mood was light enough to render such a reaction. It was quite the change from when they first met, and she hoped that it would last, especially because he had such a great smile. At that point, she became very aware of how close they stood to each other. She would have stepped aside for anyone else, but for a reason she couldn’t explain, she stayed rooted to the spot. She thought it should feel awkward right now, but it actually felt very natural. For a brief moment, they didn’t move or think, they were simply gazing at each other.

The spell was over as fast as it came. The training room door opened, and officers began to pour in. They stepped apart in order to assume their roles in this upcoming meeting. Gwynivara silently wondered what just happened, but she quickly dismissed it, reasoning that this sort of enchantment involved a lot of high emotions, which will always leave a strange effect in people. She saw Bernadette’s eyes flash a shade of twinkling, which made her decide that practicing before meetings were a terrible idea, especially today’s session. The Rebels would soon embark on a dangerous mission, and she needed everyone’s mind on its serious nature.

Once the majority of the officers had assembled, Gwynivara noticed something different about the group. “Where’s Kennith?”

The other officers looked around to confirm that Kennith had not shown up. They looked to each other for explanation but answered with a shrug. Riley flipped through the notes on his clipboard and told her, “Officers have been trickling in all night. Jose came in a few minutes ago actually.” Jose nodded to acknowledge the accuracy of this statement. “Let’s see…nope. I don’t have a record of Kennith returning. He could still turn up.”

“While we’re out, keep an eye out for him,” Gwynivara ordered. “If he doesn’t return within a couple of hours, form a search party.”

“I take it we’re going on a mission?” Bernadette inquired.

“Yes,” Gwynivara replied. “To pull it off, we’ll have to evaluate our newcomers and recruit as many officers as possible. After that, we’re gonna need a hell of a lot of disguises…”

Inside a military supply store, one worker sat behind a glass case of guns and played solitaire while another worker perpendicular from him sat behind a cash register while reading a newspaper and eating a donut. The shop is small, but since it was totally empty, every time one man flipped a card or turned a page, it echoed. The man playing solitaire gave a bored sigh. As the man with the newspaper flipped a page, he noticed a moving mass out of the corner of his eye. At first, he dismissed it and kept reading. After it registered in his head that this was an unusual sight, he lowered down his newspaper and squinted his eyes to see what it was. He could tell it was a group of people, but he couldn’t see who they were or what they were doing. He told his coworker, “Hey Ed, can you take a look outside?”

The man playing solitaire seemed confused but complied. “What the hell?” He could see that they were coming closer, and once he got a better clue of what was going on, he reacted repulsively, “Oh no!” He flung his cards down and stepped out from behind the counter just as they burst in.

A group of hippies chanted angrily and held up protest signs as they filled the store. The man with the newspaper barked, “Hey! You need to leave! This is private property!”

Bernadette responded, “No way, man! You’re encouraging violence and destroying the planet!” The rest of the Rebel officers vehemently agreed with her.

The disguised officers spread across the front of the store, shaking displays and knocking items down. The two clerks were so distracted by their chaos that they didn’t notice Kierram sneaking through the aisles and searching through the shelves. After a minute, he found the box he was looking for. He stashed it inside a wooden guitar case and dashed back to the crowd. He shouted, “Make love, not war!” The rest of the officers began to shout that too and started to pile out of the store.

Gwynivara expected them to head back to the Rebel headquarters without much fuss, but she knew trouble could be lurking around any corner. What she didn’t expect was to encounter it as soon as she left the store! A police officer pointed a gun at them and commanded, “Freeze!” Everyone stopped and put their hands in the air. The policeman radioed for backup, and the Rebel officers waited calmly. They had been prepared for this to happen eventually, and even though they didn’t know it’d be this soon, they weren’t too worried. “You dirty hippies are under-!”

“We didn’t do anything wrong!” Gwynivara interrupted him. “We made our point and left. There’s no law against that!” The other officers expressed their agreement with this point.

The policeman eyed them suspiciously, but after a moment, he reluctantly stated, “Fine. You’re free to go. But if I hear you guys causing trouble in this town again, your asses are all going to jail.” He picked up his radio and ruefully said, “Dispatch, this is two-four-five. Go ahead and cancel back up.”

As the Rebels started to leave, another police car showed up. The policeman immediately jumped out and brandished a knife. “Freeze! Don’t move!”

The other officer remarked, “What are you doing? I just canceled backup!”

The policeman ignored him and circled the bunch like a bird of prey closing in on their hunt. “All of you, hands up!” Everyone complied, but worry began to set in as his behavior became more and more unhinged. When he passed Gwynivara, she instantly recognized him as the surviving orderly! She now understood what sparked his behavior at the moment, but it didn’t help much. She thought furiously of a way to get out of this situation before he eliminated the threat on behalf of the origin!

The mad officer noticed that Kierram only had one hand up. “Put down that guitar!”

“Screw you!” Kierram spat.

The rogue policeman’s lip curled, and he brandished his knife, ready to strike. Gwynviara had always felt protective of her people, but something about seeing Kierram in harm’s way woke up her primal instincts. Before he could strike, she stepped out and seethed, “Leave him alone!”

The policeman, amused by her audacity, strolled over to her. “Sup babie! Allow me to introduce myself- I am the law! What I say goes- ya dig?”

“That man is also the law.” Gwynivara pointed to the other policeman, who looked too scared and confused to move. “He let us go, so you need to leave!”

The malicious officer stepped up to her face and growled, “I’m not going anywhere!”

Gwynivara could see his face twisting in thought. She inferred that him being this close to her allowed him to see past her disguise and stirred up some memories for him. She couldn’t let him identify her, and with fresh rage still pulsing through her veins, she acted swiftly. “Yes, you are!” She felt the heat of the moment surging through her body, and she quickly sent it to her fingertips. Purple sparks beamed electricity at him, sending him flying backwards! The Rebel officers were shocked, but the other policeman as well as the spectators who had gathered couldn’t even fathom what just took place! Gwynivara suddenly felt drained and almost collapsed. Kierram and Bernadette caught her, and everyone ran away before anyone else tried anything on them.

The green skinned woman awoke suddenly from her sleep. She immediately dug inside her dress pocket and pulled out a green orb. She needed confirmation! When she saw the orderly policeman unconscious and laying on a newspaper stand with papers scattered everywhere and electricity still popping up on his body, she knew that this could only mean one thing. Outraged, she let out a blood-curling scream!

Gwynivara jerked out of her sleep and let out a gasp. Bernadette covered her mouth and whispered, “Shh! We’re almost there!”

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 18

“Whooooo-hooooo!” Zartex cried out in jubilee as the dragon roller coaster cascaded down the tracks. He appeared to be more animated about the experience than the kids that were also on the ride, which the park manager was quick to notice. Carmen simply explained, “He’s European.” The park manager seemed to take that as a justifiable explanation and walked away.

As he walked away, Garith slipped a newspaper in his tool belt. Garith told Carmen, “That was my last one. They’re all out!”

“Great!” Carmen responded listlessly. She joined the crowd of parents watching the roller coaster to watch Zartex enjoying himself. All the newspapers were out. The bombshell information about Mirage now could be seen by people outside the cult. Their secrets were now out, which is what Carmen had been waiting to do for a long time. And yet, now that this moment was here, she actually felt pretty depressed.

Garith seemed to notice this and joined her in watching the ride. “It’s not exactly happily ever after, is it?”

“I guess I was hoping that once the article got out that people would get outraged by the truth and that Mirage would go down immediately. It would set me free from sneaking around and I wouldn’t have to survive assassination attempts anymore. But people aren’t reading it. I know they gotta look after their kids, but not one person has read it! So, that means we gotta keep living like criminal nomads for a little longer. Or a lot longer, who knows! I just wanted this nightmare to end!” Carmen sighed.

Garith assured her, “These things take time. At some point on our way back to the Bay Area, the right person will read the article and spread the news. It doesn’t end here, trust me!” He pat her back, which made her feel a little better. She couldn’t shake the surge of disappointment, but it was nice to have someone who had faith in her.

Zartex surfaced by them with an exhilarated expression and slightly staggered walk. “I’m a little dizzy and a little nauseous, but I would do it again in a heartbeat! These machines are awesome!”

“So, now what?” Carmen asked.

“How about the teacups?” Zartex suggested.

Garith pointed out to him, “I think she meant travel-wise. Besides, you were lucky enough finding one ticket, good luck finding three more!” Zartex took him literally and began to search the grounds. Garith talked to Carmen, “We don’t have much money left, but I do remember that there’s a charter bus that goes to San Francisco for a discount. If we leave at six a.m., our tickets would only be a dollar. I think people would be too groggy that early in the morning to pay to us. What do you think?”

“I think I would pick a green teacup,” Zartex remarked.

Carmen noted, “We’ll have to spend the night here again. But yes, I think you have a good idea. I don’t feel much like walking long distances again! Once we get there, I could take the BART to…wait, I don’t have any money. I could borrow a phone to call my dad to come get me. Oh, but they’re probably monitoring his phone calls. I don’t know! Ugh!”

Garith put his hand on her arm, “You’ll figure it out. You always do.”

Carmen smiled. Even though she didn’t quite believe it, she found comfort not necessarily in his words but for the fact that he really cared. Before she could respond, Zartex showed them something. “Hey guys! I found three tickets! Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah…” Garith and Carmen said unison.

Zartex didn’t catch their tone and grabbed their hands. “Yes, let’s go!” Zartex dragged them towards the teacup ride. “Garith, I thought you wanted to have more fun?”

“You know what sounds fun right now?” Garith responded, “A stiff drink!”

As they stood in line, Carmen inquired to Zartex, “You steal these tickets, did you?”

Zartex handed them each a ticket and revealed, “Of course not! I found them in a puddle!” As soon as it hit their hands, they felt the wetness of the paper and grimaced.

Jayesh Chakrabarti brought up the last of their belongings from their day trip to their apartment. He took a deep breath to decompress from all of the exercise he just did. For a moment, everything was peaceful. Suddenly, a teapot whistled and his toddler came out of the kitchen, bawling. His wife, carrying their six month old, chased after the screaming child. “Oh good, you’re finished! Change his diaper!” She handed the baby to him.

Jayesh groaned, “Sweetheart, can’t I rest a moment?”

“Do I get to rest? she snapped. “It’s hard enough to cook dinner with a child who won’t-!”

“Alright, alright!” he relented. His wife gave him the stink eye but quickly got back to what she was doing before.

As Jayesh reached for a diaper on the changing table shelf, he realized that the shelf was empty. He grumbled a little and grabbed the diaper bag. After he unzipped it, he saw a map from the amusement park they were just at. He did not want to remember that chaotic experience at the moment and threw it to the ground. As he reached for a diaper, he felt a newspaper. That was strange since he typically didn’t read a newspaper let alone pack one for a family outing! He unfurled it and began to read out of sheer curiosity. Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, and he dodged out of the way just in time to avoid getting sprayed by his son.

After he quickly changed his son’s diaper, he went to the third bedroom where his home office stood. He had several shelves of law books behind his desk, which had a computer and a few case files on it. He sat down and red the entire article, growing more agitated the more he read. When he finished, he set the paper down and looked up a phone number on the computer. He got on his office phone and waited for someone to pick up. When someone did pick up, he immediately jumped in, “Hi, this is attorney Jayesh Chakrabarti. We need to take immediate action against Mirage…”

“Noooo!” Lilith growled. Limping quite a bit, she hobbled over to Seth, who was asleep at his desk. She shook him, but he did not budge. She turned on the light, revealing his decadent space with ebony walls, tabriz carpet, oil paintings, a marble fountain, and yew desk. As he groggily sat up, she turned her laptop towards him. “They got the article out!”

Rubbing his eyes, Seth told her, “So? Just delete the article from whatever site they published it on. It’s not like the first time someone has tried that.”

“The article isn’t online,” she informed him, growing more and more angry by the minute. “Our tech caught an email conversation between a lawyer and a government official! They want to find Carmen and this reporter so they can testify against us! How do we stop them?”

Seth, finally awake, read everything on her screen and concluded, “Their article isn’t a nail in the coffin. They want to talk to get more details. Well, they can’t prove anything if they don’t have their witnesses! We’ll have to get to them first.”

Lilith thought for a moment. “If they didn’t publish their article online or on television, they must have distributed it on paper. So, this lawyer must have visited wherever they are hiding! I’ll have our tech look at his credit and debit purchase history.”

“While you do that, I’m gonna start packing!” Seth took his gun out and cocked it.

Meanwhile, Hank couldn’t sleep. He got out of bed and started pacing. He often got inklings that Carmen was in trouble, and he did his best to figure out where she was. He turned on his newly purchased police scanner and opened up his laptop. He searched crime news from various stations in Northern California. Orlando jumped onto the bed and rubbed his head on the police scanner. Keeping his eye on the screen, he spoke to the cat, “I haven’t seen any articles about spotting her. I lost track of her after she left Reno. I know she was in Reno ’cause a man named Teddy got attacked by a bear. That isn’t a coincidence! But where is she now?” Orlando began meowing, but Hank ignored him. “I just need some clue or sign where she might be!” He couldn’t ignore Orlando’s meows anymore and snapped, “What?”

When he turned to the cat, he noticed the police radio next to him. That’s when he heard an officer report, “That’s a negative. Truck was clear. Suspects are likely still in Sacramento.” Orlando was now silent but stared at him expectantly.

“How did you…? Oh, whatever!” Hank bolted out of bed and grabbed his jacket as he ran out the door.

Carmen opened her eyes, but she had not slept. She feigned sleep for the sake of normalcy, but she couldn’t relax. Something about this part of the journey made her incredibly nervous. She reasoned that perhaps it stemmed from the increase in police presence. She felt like a mouse getting chased by a cat; the moment she got caught, her life was over. “You could just get a lawyer,” Garith suggested.

Carmen jumped slightly. She thought she was alone in not being able to sleep. “Can you read my mind?”

Garith chuckled, “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what you’re thinking. You’re innocent. How can they convict you?”

“Because Mirage executives are professional liars!” Carmen told him. “Besides, do you think that they would get a conviction out of me and leave it at that? There’s nothing to prevent me from talking in prison. And I’m willing to bet they have connections on the inside. No, they didn’t involve the police to put me away. They used them to make it more difficult to get away from Mirage! They used them to trap me.” The thought hadn’t occurred to her until now, and it completely creeped her out.

“They also probably wanted to discredit her,” Zartex chimed in. At that moment, a notification sounded on his watch. He viewed it and frowned, “Uh, guys…”

“We know, it’s time for us to go,” Garith responded. He hopped out of their hiding spot and began to help Carmen down.

“Well, it’s time for you to go,” Zartex said sadly, “I’ll be going home in a few hours.”

“What?” Carmen and Garith replied in unison. Out of shock, Garith stood still, and Carmen was so stunned that she didn’t realize she was dangling off the pergola.

“No!” Garith lamented. “You gotta leave the planet today?”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Carmen asked ruefully. Her arms began to feel sore. “Uh, a little help?”

As Garith’s attention snapped to her, Zartex also climbed down and explained, “I requested an extension, and since my subject was in mortal peril, I really thought they would grant it. I got denied, so they’re going to beam me back today.”

“Wow, this really sucks,” Carmen said forlornly.

“We’ll miss you!” Garith remarked. “I can’t imagine going on without you!”

“Guys,” Zartex related to them, “I still have a little while. It’s not time to say goodbye yet!”

“I disagree!” Seth seethed. With the utmost horror, Zartex, Carmen, and Garith turned to see Seth, Lilith, Elden, Jorden, and Arius all smirking as one does when they catch their prey. Seth cocked his gun.

Sabotage, Chapter 17

“I think this would be a good spot,” Zartex declared as they rowed down the river. It was still dark, but Zartex had been navigating with the map on his watch to pinpoint a good spot to land the canoe. They rowed towards the shore, but when they police lights, he revoked his previous opinion, “Never mind!”

“Duck!” Carmen instructed. Gartith, Zartex, and Carmen got low as the police searched the river. Zartex, with a little stealth, stuck his hand outside of the canoe and pushed it away from the land so they could get out of the police’s eye.

After they felt it was safe enough, they brought the canoe to the shore. Garith asked Zartex, “Are we still downtown?”

Zartex checked the map on his watch. “Yes. If we go down Sutterville and turn left on Land Park, we’ll be there…unless we run into more police!”

“I’m gonna be optimistic,” Carmen asserted. “We won’t run into anymore police for a while.” They heard sirens in the distance. “And I’m done with optimism!”

They ran down the road, but they heard the sirens coming from the street they were supposed to turn on. Instead, they ran straight, coming to a concrete wall. Zartex grabbed Carmen and said, “I’ll see you inside!”

“What?” Carmen responded. “We don’t know what’s in there!” She saw flashing lights coming closer. “Ah, who cares?”

Zartex tossed her over the wall. She landed on some gravel. Garith landed next to her, and Zartex teleported in front of them. They stood still as the flashing lights and sirens passed them. Afterwards, they gave a sigh of relief. “Well, whatever place this is, there’s no vicious dogs coming after us, so I think we’re okay!” Garith commented.

“I’m not so sure!” Carmen pointed to the black box on the wall behind them. “Whoever owns this place is practically watching us right now!”

“They might have caught a glimpse of you,” Zartex stated, “But as long as you stay with me, they can’t catch you on video tape.” The other two stared at him quizzically. “If I push a button on my watch, I can temporarily suspend the program, but the Universal Coalition put in a security measure to block me from appearing on film. Our identity is top secret, so we can’t risk anything leaking to the media.”

Carmen found this information suprising, but Garith seemed to be a little vexed. “So, you’re telling me all this time we could have stayed in vacant hotel rooms?”

“I thought you wanted to sleep outside!” Zartex defended himself, looking slightly guilty.

“We avoided hotels to avoid being seen on camera!” Garith admonished him.

“Shh!” Carmen put her hand on his mouth. “Hold onto your anger until we’re safe!”

She removed her hand, and Garith admitted, “I guess I deserved that.” He paused, mentally collected himself, and inquired, “Where are we?”

Carmen dared to step forward and felt something on the ground. She stooped down and grazed the object since she couldn’t totally see it in the dark. When she realized what it was, she was puzzled. “They’re train tracks! Small ones though. How strange!”

The three of them followed the track until they saw something glimmering in the moonlight next to the track. They took a closer look and saw twisted metal. Carmen’s mind couldn’t comprehend this place. They stood on tracks, but there were different tracks above them. She didn’t know what to think until Garith snapped his fingers. “It’s an amusement park!”

Carmen chuckled, “An amusement park in the middle of a city park? That’s so random!”

“Well, odds are no one would think to look for you here,” Zartex surmised. “And with no lights, this place can’t function ’til daylight. Shall we find a place to sleep here?” Carmen and Garith shrugged but agreed.

They followed the train tracks until they came to a couple of towers that supported a pergola, which rested above some wooden picnic benches. Garith noticed, “It looks like there’s a small platform between the towers. We can probably hide in there.”

Zartex lifted Garith and Carmen up, and then he climbed up after them. They had a good view of the amusement park from up there, but they couldn’t see much in the dark. They did see large shadows lurking where the rides must have been located. Carmen opinionated, “Amusement parks are kind of creepy at night!”

“So, people pay money to go on these machines?” Zartex said judgmentally.

As Garith got comfortable, he told Zartex, “You would probably love it! I’d buy you a ticket, but the last thing we need is for you to go on an emotional overload.”

Carmen situated herself next to Garith and Zartex so she could comfortably sleep. “Zartex, you love machines. You spent all night reading instructions on how to use the printing press, remember?”

Garith, who was half asleep, remarked, “I’m sure he was just killing time since he doesn’t need to sleep. He’s gotta do something to pass the time!”

“Actually,” Zartex informed them, “I do require daily sleep. I just haven’t been able to.” Garith and Carmen’s eyes flew open and looked greatly concerned. “It’s okay. It’ll be worth it in the end. Plus, I’m due for vacation time anyway.” He surveyed the area directly by them. “There aren’t any cameras pointing over here, and you guys won’t move much if you are sleeping. I will be back before you wake.”

Carmen bolted up. “You’re doing it tonight?”

“With the police so intent on finding you,” Zartex reasoned, “I think it’s now or never.”

Garith sat up and put his hand on Zartex’s shoulder. “You have no idea how much we appreciate this!”

“Yes I do!” Zartex pointed to his emotional reader. “I only have one question-why is it called the Sacramento Bee?” Carmen and Garith shrugged. “Oh well. Just don’t move until I get back!”

Zartex teleported out of the park, and Carmen laid still for a moment. The three of them had been inseparable for two weeks, so it felt strange for one of them to leave. They knew it would be temporary, but it felt oddly lonely with their buddy missing. They both laid down, but neither of them could fall asleep. Suddenly, Garith exclaimed, “Uh oh!” Carmen sat up, looking concerned. “How are we going to go to the bathroom?” Carmen wanted to roll her eyes, but she realized he had a point, so she pondered it for a moment.

Zartex appeared in Hank’s living room, which was totally dark. He wondered aloud, “How am I supposed to find a black cat in the dark?” Orlando jumped onto the coach and mewed. “Oh, hi!” He lifted the cat’s sweater, but before he could get the article, Orlando hopped down. “No, don’t do that!” He went a couple of steps to find him, but he didn’t realize that the cat went in front of his feet, so he tripped. Zartex managed to catch himself by holding on to the couch, but he knocked over a lamp in the process. The lamp did not shatter, but it scared Orlando, causing him to howl and scurry upstairs. “Oh great!” Zartex muttered. At that moment,  the lights flickered on. Automatically, Zartex put his hands in the air and spouted, “I’m not Mirage!”

“I know,” Hank replied. Clearly, Zartex had woken him up because he was still in his pajamas and had a woozy stance. He did not give off an angry vibe but instead looked a little concerned. “Those s.o.b.’s would be a lot more sneaky and quiet if they broke into my house. Plus, I got your message that a tall stranger would come by to get the article, though I didn’t expect you until tomorrow.”

“We had to speed things up,” Zartex explained. “So, you’re probably wondering how I’ve been able to teleport all this time. The thing is-”

Hank interrupted him, “You’re an alien.”

Zartex’s jaw dropped. “How did you know?”

“Well, no one on Earth can teleport objects or beings,” Hank rationalized. “My wife has access to the best technology on the planet and has yet to find anything remotely like this. Plus, there was Universal Coalition emblem stamped on the bottom of the papers. I put two and two together.” He paused for a moment, and then he commanded, “Orlando, come!”

He sat down on the stairs, and the cat hopped onto his lap. As he retrieved the rolled up papers, Zartex observed, “Your personality is so much like Carmen’s!”

Hank’s head jolted up,and his eyes glistened a little. “How is my daughter?”

Zartex mulled over the best way to answer that question. “She is safe and sound, all things considered. Once we get the article out, it won’t take long for her to come home.”

Hank got the last paper out and handed it to Zartex. “Watch over her, please!”

“That’s literally my job!” After Zartex said that, he saw tears well up in Hank’s eyes. “She’s in good hands.” He put a sympathetic hand on his shoulders, and then he teleported out. Hank listlessly turned off the lights and slowly trotted upstairs.

When she heard a scream, Carmen jolted awake. For a moment, she had forgotten where she was, and she didn’t even remember falling asleep. She glanced over and saw the scream had come from a child on a roller coaster, and her heart rate began to slow back down. Garith, apparently, had also worried that the scream came from a place of danger and now looked relieved. “Where’s Zartex?” Garith wondered.

“I wish I knew,” Carmen told him. “We will have to get down though or eventually someone will see us up here.” Garith and Carmen used the pergola and a small, concrete wall to carefully climb down. Thankfully, no one had noticed them. They half hid in the picnic bench area, surveying their surroundings. Just ahead of them, a very bored teenage boy blew a bubble with his gum as he watched his ride spin fast. A mother desperately tried to convince her toddler to climb down from a giant, ceramic airplane. One of the teenage girls that worked there casually answered a text message as her ride began to gather a group of impatient children. A woman hurried off the carousel ride carrying a small child, who was throwing a tantrum. A worker grumpily swept up a puddle of popcorn as a kid inadvertently kept spilling his food as he walked. “This is great!” Carmen commented. “Everyone here is too distracted to notice or care what we’re up to!”

“I agree!’ Zartex, who carried a hefty satchel of newspapers on his back, sauntered up them looking tired but satisfied.

“There you are!” Garith said happily. Carmen, too, felt a surge of relief. They didn’t totally believe that he was in any kind of peril, but it was good to verify any inkling of doubt. “Where have you been?”

“I had to walk back here,” Zartex informed them. “Unfortunately, these papers don’t teleport even if I’m wearing them. I should have foreseen this complication. But, in any case, I got it done before they opened up for the day and made it back here without incident…unless you count my interaction with a vagrant man. He asked if I had a quarter, and I asked ‘a quarter of what?’ Then we were both confused. Anyway, to distribute these, we’ll need to find a very public place where people are too busy to care what we’re doing but plentiful enough to have a few people actually take this home and read it. Can you guys think of anywhere like that?”

After he said that, a small child asked loudly, “Mommy! Where’s the bathroom?” She looked down at her dress and said, “Never mind!” A bunch of little kids screamed and ran away from her. The workers all pretended like they didn’t see it happen until the manager came over to see what happened and demanded an explanation. Carmen remarked, “I don’t think we’ll have to look far!”

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 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.