Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 19

Gwynivara knew that he intended to intimidate them, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction! She craned her neck to confirm that the man was the same dirty cop that tried to attack them outside the military supply store, and indeed he was. She turned back around quickly, hoping that he wouldn’t recognize her. If he did, he may attack them sooner than they planned, and she couldn’t have that. She really thought that she had killed him with her Venenatus Sanguis outburst! She did notice a slew of bandages scattered throughout his body, which did put a slight smirk on her face. It fell pretty quickly though- she didn’t see Kennith with him.

Kierram obviously observed this too and, cutting straight to the chase, asked him, “Where’s Kennith?”

“You’ll be with him soon enough!” he leered. He watched their faces, and when he saw such a lack of emotion coming from his captives, he remarked, “Oh, are we putting on a brave face? That’s cute! We’ll see how long that lasts!”

Gwynivara had to fight the urge to give him a snappy retort. If she opened her mouth, she knew that he would figure out her identity and would change his tactics, so she had to bite her tongue. She trusted Kierram completely though, so she knew he would he would take the reins and do the right thing to keep their plan in motion. This belief got confirmed when Kierram snidely commented, “There’s two of us and only one of you. I think we can take you!”

“You think I would come alone?” the man laughed him off. He motioned behind him as if he beckoned someone to enter. Gwynivara heard a floor board by the door creak three different times, and she had to fight her curious desire to see who they were. It was still too soon for her to reveal her presence, so she had to conceal herself as long as possible.

Unexpectantly, Rick poked his head inside the kitchen and asked, “Hey Abigor, you want me to guard this one?” Gwynivara’s interest peaked, wondering if she would finally be able to put a name to the face of the orderly turned police officer that kept popping up in the course of the mission.

Her suspicions were confirmed when she heard him snap at Rick, “No! Go guard the front door like I told you to!” Rick started to object, and so Abigor bellowed, “Do as I command!” Rick reluctantly slinked away. Gwynivara had already figured that Abigor must hold some sort of leadership position in the origin’s ranks, but Rick was a fairly powerful man himself, so she wondered what sort of leverage Abigor had on him.

Abigor ordered, “Sam, guard the female.” A very lanky young man in a monk-like robe stood before her harboring a creature somewhat resembling a dog, who snarled at her. She discretely dug into Kierram’s pocket as Abigor spoke, “I recognize you, brotha! You helped her escape the Public Health Center. you’re her little stooge, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kierram lied.

Abigor made a noise of irritation. “Sam, is that her?”

Sam tried to study her face, but she hid it by looking away and partially covering her face with her hand. Adrenaline surged throughout Gwynivara’s body. This was her favorite part of the plan, the part where it appeared as though they were loosing control when they were actually gaining it! Same tried to pry her grip away with his one free hand, but she stiffened her muscles so he had to struggle. When he finally pried her hand away, Gwynivara had to take action before he could confirm who she was, and so she spat in his face! While he reacted as if she had spilled something life-threatening in his face, the dog-like creature became defensive. It barked and put its forelegs on top of Gwynivara, who pretended to fall and cower down to it, holding its jaws so it couldn’t bite her.

At that moment, the doorbell rang, and their captors grew as still as statues. Their nervousness was palpable, and even the beast’s attention waned. Abigor whispered, “Get it off her.” Sam’s face protested the idea, so Abigor hissed, “Whoever’s there could hear a girl getting ripped to shreds. Get it off!” Sam reluctantly did as he was told. Gwynivara sprang up and waited for the rest of their plan to unfold.

Rick popped his head back into the kitchen, and he inquired, “You want me to get that?”

“No, you idiot!” Abigor spat. “It could be a threat!”

“It’s just a little old oriental lady,” Rick reasoned.

Abigor relaxed a little upon hearing this. “Fine. See what she wants and send her away.” Rick obeyed the instruction, and then Abigor warned everyone, “Stay quiet until they leave!”

Everyone remained silent and listened intently at the interaction. They heard Rick’s muffled voice but couldn’t make out what he was saying. They heard Niqun’s voice asking something frantically. Gwynivara and Kierram knew that she had a map with her, and at any second, she would point to it, making him bend down to see what she was referencing. Once that happened, they would hear…whack! Something hit Rick’s head hard, making the captors go on guard. The doors burst open, and the first thing they saw was a a shot gun being brandished towards them. Bernadette declared, “Don’t move! We have you surrounded!” Kierram and Gwynivara linked arms and concentrated fiercely as she made her entrance. As soon as she finished speaking, the walls of the house fell down as easily as a house of cards, revealing a dozen Rebel officers surrounding the scene!

Gwynivara finally faced Abigor, whose expression fell from shock. “You!”

Very coldly, Gwynivara told him, “You’re only alive right now ‘cause we need to know…where’s Kennith?”

Abigor scoffed at her, “You’re bluffing!”

The Rebel officers surrounding them, which he just now noticed wore all black with shirts that said ‘FBI,’ all cocked their guns. Abigor also realized that the people who lived in the nearby homes gathered outside and watched the scene totally astonished. He knew he couldn’t do anything out of the ordinary or else a witness would report him, so he knew there would be only one way out of this. “See that well in the backyard? He’s in there.” Gwynivara could’ve prevented what was about to happen next, but they needed the captors to think that they had outsmarted the Rebels, so the officers all turned their attention to the crumbling well in the weed-filled backyard. The captors used their distraction to push past the Rebels and shrieking neighbors and ran out of sight.

Gwynivara and the other officers ran after them…very slowly. The idea was that the origin’s henchmen needed to think they were in the clear. After a while, they lost eyesight of them and stopped. They had to play the part, and FBI agents would go after an escaped criminal. But this alos gave them the perfect excuse to escape the scene. Eventually, the Great Dismal Falls police department would catch wind of what was happening and would head to the area to investigate. They couldn’t risk staying there because they were all wanted criminals, and Gwynivara couldn’t risk anyone going to jail or quarantine. This rescue mission was challenging enough! The Rebel officers all marched back towards headquarters as planned. Most of their plan went down without a hitch, but everyone walked dismally for the part of the plan that went wrong- Kennith was supposed to be returning with them.

Gwynivara’s heart ached for the Rebels’ fallen comrade. Abigor hadn’t been dishonest, Kennith’s body was indeed stuffed in that well. She had really thought that they would keep him alive to bait the Rebels properly. She wondered at what point they killed him. It was hard to say if they murdered him right away and staged him being alive because they knew that the Rebels were watching or if they had done it while the search party’s back was turned. She could only hope that whenever they did it, however they did it that his suffering was minimal! She admired Kennith immensely for acting so heroically for their cause! If he hadn’t stepped in, those children may have been stuffed in that well! He died doing the right thing, which made the whole situation so tragic. She knew that it was a possibility going into the predicament, but that didn’t stop her heart from hurting.

When they got to the graveyard, everyone rushed in hoping to find Niqun. To their great relief, she was in the catacombs waiting form them! “Oh thank god, Niqun! You’re okay!”

“Of course I’m okay!” Niqun responded. “You think I would go down so easily?”

Gwynivara couldn’t help but to grin at her spunky attitude. “Did they give you much trouble?”

“Nah,” she replied. “They asked me what I saw, I pretended not to speak English, and they let me go. Works every time!”

Bernadette probed, “Did they…did they bring him out of the well?”

Niqun sadly nodded. “They put him on a tarp on the grass to examine him as they searched the well. I left before they took him away.”

One officer exclaimed, “We have to get his body back and give him a proper burial! We can’t let them throw him into a potter’s field!”

Kierram opinionated, “He does deserve a proper burial, but he wouldn’t want us to risk our lives for this. I know it’s hard, believe me! Do you know how many men we had to leave behind in ‘Nam? So many heroes got left in the battlefield! It’s an unfortunate frequency in times of war.” Everyone seemed disappointed at the idea, but they had to accept that he was right.

Gwynivara put in, “Maybe when this is all over, we can go back for his body. But for now, we gotta put all our energy into another risk.” She pulled the orb out of her pocket, which showed a blank, black canvas with a small, red dot.

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Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 11

We believe these individuals to be armed and dangerous!” Chief Forsythe held up a picture of Gwynivara and Bernadette in their maid outfits as well as Kierram in his fedora. “If you see them, do not approach them! Find the nearest phone and call nine-one-one. Be assured the Great Dismal Falls police department has stepped up its patrols for the safety of its citizens! Go about your business as normal, but keep an eye out for these criminals! I’ll take your questions now.”

A flurry of reporters threw questions at him, but Chief Forsythe ignored them until he called on someone. The reporter he pointed to asked, “You mentioned earlier that these three were responsible for the death and serious injuries of five doctors, but reports show that they were attacked by Venenatus Sanguis creatures. Is it your opinion that the three fugitives have the disease?”

Chief Forsythe mulled it over for a second, and then he replied, “At this point, we cannot make that determination. The creatures in question may have come these individuals, however, the amount of chaos that ensued as a result of their escape may have triggered the emotions of other unreported cases. Either way, we have a team of specifically trained to hunt these people that are set to patrol for the first time later today. With the extra manpower, we’ll round up all of these lawbreakers and put them in quarantine where they belong. Next question.”

Another reporter asked, “Chief Forsythe, do you have any clues as to the identities of these individuals?”

“Our team is working hard to identify the individuals in question. We will contact the press with any new developments. That’s all the time I have. Thank you.” He turned away from the reporters and walked into the police station, which still had visible damage from the earthquake. The reporters chased him down and continued to barrage him with questions until Chief Forsythe slammed the door in their faces.

Gwynivara turned off the radio in disgust. She sat on her bed and rubbed her face in frustration. Bernadette walked in without knocking and shut the door behind her. Gwynivara didn’t look up at her. She now felt ashamed that her behavior garnered her some pity and compelled someone to check on her. Bernadette sat on her bed and tried to make eye contact with her, but Gwynivara turned her head towards the bathroom door. She felt like crying but refused to let the tears come out. Bernadette calmly told her, “Stop trying to be strong all the time! If you keep it all pent up, you’ll create another beast! What’s wrong?”

Gwynivara knew that she was right, but that made her feel a little guilty. “What’s wrong? I got someone who had a knife in her back and could’ve died worried about how I’m doing!”

Bernadette softly chuckled, and then she assured her, “Believe it or not, I’ve been through worse!” Puzzled, Gwynivara looked at Bernadette questioningly. Before she could ask about it, Bernadette went on, “We can talk about that later though. Talk to me! Let it all out!”

“Well…” Gwynivara took a deep breath. She didn’t know where to begin. She decided to go with the freshest wound. “Chief Forsythe has our picture out all over the media! I mean, I realize we’re all technically criminals, but now people know what we look like. Someone will recognize us, so I guess we can’t go on patrols anymore.”

“That’s not true,” Bernadette refuted. “You’d be surprised how easy it is to hide in plain site.” Gwynivara looked skeptical, so she added, “No, seriously! My father is…um…was rich and somewhat famous, but no one has made the connection. Change your hairstyle and lay low, and you’re instantly invisible! Besides, I’ve heard that you’re already good at changing your identity. It’s not that different.”

Gwynivara’s curiosity peaked after hearing this. She had so many questions reeling in her head about Bernadette’s past, but she had already indicated her disinterest in explaining her history, so she forced herself to table the notion for the moment. Gwynivara knew she was probably right about patrolling, and she was intrigued about the methods of execution. Again though, she had to table the notion. She knew Bernadette would insist on talking about her feelings and wouldn’t let the subject go until it was all out, so she decided to get it over with. “Did anyone tell you about my dreams?”

“Riley did,” Bernadette replied.

Of course he did, she thought. His story probably was what prompted her to visit. “No one believes me. They don’t think my dreams are anything more than pure fantasy.” She paused and added, “I don’t need anymore reminders of that!”

“I wasn’t gonna say that!” Bernadette refuted. “Dreams can be a powerful window into the subconscious. It’s a part of your brain that tries to sort out problems you conscious brain can’t. I would still share what you learn from them, but if you want them to take your insight seriously, I just wouldn’t present the dreams as real.”

“But the dreams are real!” Gwynivara objected. “If I don’t tell them the whole truth, then it’ll feel like lying! I could be leaving out important information that could lead us to finding the cure! I have to tell them everything!”

“How do you know it’s real?” Bernadette’s tone wasn’t judgmental or argumentative but more of observant wondering.

Gwynivara felt she had a valid point. She hadn’t really questioned how she knew it was real before but accepted it as fact. After evaluating it, she noted that she never got out of her bed, so she obviously hadn’t actually been there in real life. She didn’t personally know the woman she saw, and the only reason she knew any of her men stemmed from the fact that they had tried to kill her. She didn’t know any of them enough to have a psychic connection either. Actually, she remembered that she didn’t even believe in that stuff. She could now understand Riley and Kierram’s reactions. It didn’t have much logic to it, and they may have even pondered about her sanity. She told Bernadette, “All I have for proof is is this strong feeling in my gut. But I understand what you’re saying. I really don’t have any solid proof. I guess I figured that the feeling was strong enough that people would take my word for it. I won’t mention my dreams until I have more proof.”

Gwynivara could tell that Bernadette didn’t believe in the idea of her dreams being real visions, but she knew Gwynivara’s conviction was so strong that there was no point in arguing. Instead, she smiled and then changed the subject, “You must be starving! I know I am! Let’s go grab a bite to eat!” Gwynivara agreed and they left for the kitchen.

As they walked down the hall, they saw a small group of people gathered with plates in the activity room, so Bernadette exclaimed, “Ooh, someone’s cooking something!” They went inside, and the people who had gathered scooted over to make room for them. It was a tight squeeze, but no one seemed to mind. Gwynivara didn’t recognize the people there, but they all seemed very cordial. Even though the group ranged in ages and cultures, she felt like she was attending a family gathering. After everything she had went through lately, she definitely needed this! Despite all evidence otherwise, Gwynivara had a gnawing feeling that this was too good to be true. She shook the feeling off and forced herself to enjoy the moment.

From the kitchen, a male shouted, “Food’s ready!” The people gathered were excited, and Gwynivara couldn’t wait to meet the cook. To her astonishment, Kierram walked in carrying a wok of steaming food! He met her eyes and also seemed stunned. For a moment, they just stared at each other. But before they could process the moment, they heard the hallway behind them fall deadly silent!

The dinner guests turned towards the hallway, and they saw everyone taking cover. They felt confused until they heard Niqun shout, “Tha coigreach an seo!” The dinner party gasped, snuffed out the lights, and hid under the table. Gwynivara whispered, “What’s happening?”

Kierram answered, “Do you remember when I trained you on door guard duty? If you shout ‘An bhfuil tú ina chara?’ and they don’t say ‘Is cara liom!’ back, you shout-”

“Tha coigreach an seo!” Gwynivara remembered. With horror, she realized, “An intruder!”

They strained their ears to hear what was happening, but they couldn’t hear a thing. Bernadette observed, “It’s too quiet! Something’s wrong!”

Gwynivara responded swiftly, “Well, whether Emorick likes it or not, we got work to do!”

They quietly crouched down and tiptoed out of the door. The hall was dark and eerily quiet, and they couldn’t hear anything happening near the stairs. They crept close to the curtains, and Bernadette spoke in a barely audible whisper, “Niqun, are you hurt?”

She whispered back, “I’m fine. He’s still up there.”

Gwynivara couldn’t tell if the man had heard them or not, but right after Niqun spoke, he shouted, “Hello? Is anyone still there? Please, we need your help! It’s dark, and I can’t do it alone!”

Without speaking, Gwynivara could tell that Kierram was ready to fight off the intruder, and Bernadette seemed seriously skeptical. Gwynivara detected as sense of urgency in his voice that sounded genuine, but she didn’t totally let her guard down, just in case. She grabbed a lighter and relit the torch. Bernadette and Kierram gave her a panicked look, so she told them, “If there’s an enemy, I wanna see who I’m facing!”

As they accepted her explanation, the man hollered, “Are you someone who can help us?”

Gwynivara put a foot on the staircase. She felt like her nerves were on fire, but she had to investigate. If danger laid on the other side of the staircase, she wanted to face it right then and there so she could corner him and give the others a chance to escape. If the intruder wasn’t an adversary, she felt mystified as to who else it could be. “Who’s us?”

He replied, “My name is Cody. I don’t know who this is, but he told me to come here.”

Gwynivara took the torch and slowly climbed up the stairs. Kierram and Bernadette immediately followed her, ready to fight as backup if Cody attacked her. Gwynivara probed, “If he told you to come here, why didn’t he give you the password?”

Cody answered her, “There wasn’t time!” They got closer to the top, and they saw Cody for the first time. He was a skinny, pale boy in his late teens. He wore overly baggy clothes that had numerous dirt stains, and coupling that with the troubled expression on his face, the three of them let their guard down a little as they didn’t totally think he was a threat anymore. They still held a little caution as they listened to his claim, “He’s badly hurt and told me to take him here! Please help him! He saved my life! I don’t want him to die!”

Gwynivara saw a hand on the ground, and she now absolutely had to see who it was. When they got to the top of the stairs, their hearts stopped. His body was limp, and blood poured out from his chest! Gwynivara’s mind wouldn’t accept what she saw. Without thinking, she instinctively shouted, “We need medics now!” She heard people downstairs scrambling, but she couldn’t think about them. She raced to his side to feel his pulse. She couldn’t accept that his life could be in danger, she absolutely wouldn’t! She closed her eyes, and with trembling hands, she put two fingers to his neck. With her her heart pounding, she got the result…

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 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 7

“Come on!” Colt frantically flipped through a stack of paperwork, which sat on top a myriad of scattered files. When he didn’t find what he was looking for, he flung the file in frustration. He laid his hands on his temples and just sat there, trembling. He almost hit his head when Colt walked in with an intimidating man. This guy had dark skin, clean shaven hair, and cold, dark eyes. Seth greeted curtly, “Colt! You remember our head of security, Elden Gundulf?”

“Of, of course,” Colt replied shakily.

Elden, with a thick South African accent, asked Colt forcefully, “Did you find anything helpful?”

Colt groaned, “Carmen has been such a gypsy in the last five years! I have no clue where she went! She could be in Florida with her grandparents…”

“Bull!” Seth exclaimed. “Where did she say she wanted to open up a branch?”

“California,” he supplied unhelpfully.

Elden commented, “California is a very large place. Can you narrow it down?”

“No, I tried!” Colt said ruefully. “I never narrowed it down ’cause she wasn’t even close to getting promoted!”

“Where did she live before she moved to Grand Junction?” Seth asked swiftly.

“I don’t remember!” Colt wailed. “She lived near a beach. I know, I know, that doesn’t narrow it down much. I’m sorry! I wanna find Carmen as much as you do!”

Elden picked up a torn file and handed it to Seth. “Sir!”

Seth read the file, his face twisting into an angry confusion. “This is Carmen’s employee file. Her personal information is gone!”

“I know!” Colt showed him a couple more files which had similar tears. “I don’t know what happened!”

Elden eyed Colt suspiciously. He stepped up to just inches of his face and propped open his jaw. “Ink stains on the tongue!”

“You ate her personal info?” Seth shrieked. “You knew we needed it, and you purposely destroyed evidence!” He glared at all of the strewed documents. “You destroyed anything that may help us locate our fugitive!”

Colt abandoned all pretense. “Carmen is a good person and doesn’t deserve to go through this!”

“You know that this kind of defiance leads to termination?” Elden pointed out menacingly.

“I don’t care anymore!” Colt picked up a picture frame with his wife and son, staring at them forlornly. “I started with this company to make money, but I stayed ’cause I thought I was doing good for the world. I thought I could positively influence some of our erroneous policies. It’s clear that I’m doing more harm than good, so my time with Mirage is up. It’s time for me to go! I miss my family! It’s time to leave this place and join them!”

“Ohhh Colt!” Seth stood behind him and put his right hand on his shoulder. “You had so much potential! But I’m afraid that you’re officially terminated!” With his left hand, he shot Colt in the back of the head! Colt instantly died with head landing on top of the photo, his blood trickling down the desk. With a tissue wrapped around the barrel, Seth handed the gun to Elden. “You know what to do.” Elden nodded and left the room.

Hank came home late that night. He opened his front door with one hand while he held his cell phone with his head and while he cradled an armful of blueprints. “No, Mister Windshift! You misheard me! I didn’t say that I wouldn’t make your changes, I’m saying you’d put yourself in an impossible situation.” He took his keys out of the lock and used his leg to shut the door. He tossed everything but his phone onto a glass coffee table and sat on his sofa. He rubbed his forehead in frustration. “Listen, I’ve heard all of the reasons why you want to move the kitchen to the back. I know, I wouldn’t want to walk into my kitchen right when I got home either, but we can’t move it!” He turned on the light and rolled open one of the blueprints. “I’m looking at the floor plan now. The back of the house doesn’t have the equipment you need to function as a kitchen. There’s no pipes and no-” The man on the other end asked a question. “Yes, in theory, we can have them installed, but you’re already at the top of your budget for renovations. If you really want to move the kitchen, you’d have to finance it outside your home loan. If you come up with the money, I’d be happy to accommodate. But really, we toured the house before you purchased it…didn’t you have some idea of what you were getting into?” The man on the phone relented and said goodbye. “Alright, have a good night.” Hank chucked the phone and sighed.

A black cat hopped onto the back of the coach and meowed. Hank pet the cat, which reminded him, “Oh yeah, your mom got married today!” He picked up his cell phone and checked the time. “Well, it’s an hour ahead in Colorado, so the ceremony is definitely over. I’m sure the reception must be winding down too. Perfect, I can catch her before they take off for their honeymoon. You think she’ll answer?” Hank half expected the cat to answer, but it simply stared blankly. “Well, I don’t get a lot of chances to talk to my little girl, so I’ll always give it a shot, even if it’s a long shot.” He went to his contacts and dialed the number for someone named Mija. It came back as an operator saying the phone was out of service. “That’s weird! Well, I can always write to her online. I’m sure she’ll check it eventually.” He clicked onto the Facebook app, and his brow furrowed. He read aloud, “Traitor! How could you? Traitor! Traitor! You deserve what’s coming to you…”

A wave of fear washed over him, and his parental instincts kicked in. “Something is wrong!” He turned on the television, and it was at a commercial. “Come on, come on!” His nerves were completely on edge. Finally, a young anchor appeared on the screen. “Finally! Come on, give me a clue!”

The young anchor somewhat awkwardly informed the audience, “Breaking news from Colorado! A local businessman is dead, and the suspect is on the run. Carmen Alvaro ran out on her wedding, which is where she was last seen. The attendees searched frantically for her whereabouts only to find her former boss, Colt Duncan, dead at his desk. The police don’t have any leads as to where she’s fleeing to, but they believe that my colleague, Garith Kendric, may be connected to her. He, too, disappeared after attending the wedding ceremony. It is unclear whether he’s a hostage or an accomplice. Grand Junction detectives set up a hotline for anyone with information about her current location. Please, if you see them, call the number that is on your screen now.”

“Those bastards!” Hank fumed. He turned off the television and threw his phone across the room. The cat folded his ears, obviously alarmed. “She’s getting framed! I know my baby girl didn’t do this! She wouldn’t! I know it!” He stopped his pacing as he had a realization. “I’m an idiot! This place sounded fishy from the beginning, but Carmen always had an explanation for everything. I believed her! I thought she was happy! God, I could’ve prevented this! Now this cult is pinning a murder on her!” He slumped back onto the coach. “Well, she’s escaped. She might come here. We’ll have to prepare for it if she does.” He talked directly to the cat now. “They’ll come looking for her here, regardless if she’s coming here or not. We don’t know what they’re capable of, so we’ll have to prepare ourselves. Prepare for what? Well, clearly they’re capable of anything, so we gotta prepare for everything. We’ll keep our eyes and ears open, and if push comes to shove, we’ll be ready to shove!” The cat gazed at him blankly. The phone rang, and it made him jump. He picked it up and after he saw that it was one of his clients, he rejected the call and threw it again. He collapsed onto the coach in tears, and the cat curled up next to him to comfort him.

“Say cheese!” a man in a mid 1800’s outfit pointed a camera and tripod at a cardboard cutout of a train conductor, a man, and a woman at an old timey train station. Zartex, Garith, and Carmen stuck their heads in the cardboard cutouts, and while Garith and Carmen smiled awkwardly, Zartex beamed from ear to ear. After they took their heads out, the photographer informed them, “It’ll just be a few minutes while the picture prints.”

Zartex rejoiced, “This is great! I’ve never gotten to go on an adventure before! The other humans I observed were so dull. For the most part, they stick to the same routine every day. I literally don’t know what to expect next! What’s gonna happen tomorrow? No clue! How exciting!”

Garith responded less enthusiastically, “I’m glad you’re having fun. By the way, this will have to be it for souvenirs. I only had three hundred in cash in my wallet. This is so strange! We have to live like pioneers! No credit cards! No cell phones! No place to stay!”

“At least we won’t go hungry!” Carmen pointed out. “If we’re careful, we can use the last of our money on a bus so we don’t gotta walk the whole way. Jeez, after quitting my door to door job, I thought I would do less walking!”

They saw that the souvenir shop was still open, so they wandered inside. Zartex had fun playing with the various knickknacks that had the Greenriver, Utah logo on it. Garith looked at the clothing section while Carmen explored the small grocery area. “This souvenir shop is so small!” Garith observed.

“Well, Greenriver is a small town,” Carmen responded, “I think most just pass through it.”

Garith held up a pair of hiking sandals with a gawdy pattern. “What do you think of these?”

“They’d look great on you!” Carmen replied sarcastically.

Garith tossed them towards her. “Try them on.”

“What?” Carmen reacted, appalled. “I’m not wearing those things!”

“Well, they look like they’re the only shoes that will fit you.”

“Are you saying I have big feet?”

Garith held up a pair of children’s flip flops. “It’s either these or you can walk to California in your stilettos. I don’t care!”

Carmen refused to admit he was right, but she did try them on. “They fit.”

Garith took them from her. “You’re welcome!”

Before Carmen could argue, Zartex came over and said seriously, “Guys!”

He pointed to an old television set playing the news. The anchor informed the viewers, “The Runaway Bride was last seen at the train station in Grand Junction, Colorado with the missing San Francisco reporter and a very tall man. They could be anywhere tonight, so police are urging everyone to be vigilant. These people are considered to be armed and dangerous.”

Zartex whispered, “They’re accusing you of murdering Colt.”

Carmen felt her stomach drop. She knew Colt for almost two years now, and while they were never really as close as other coworkers at Mirage got to each other, but she liked Colt. He was always kind to her, and she just saw him at her wedding! She couldn’t believe that he was killed! “He’s dead?”

“And they think we had something to do with it?” Garith also appeared extremely troubled.

The cashier shouted, “You three!” Zartex, Garith, and Carmen all had their nerves shaken as they cautiously turned to the cashier. The cashier pleasantly told them, “Your picture is ready!”

They breathed a sigh of relief. Garith asked, “Can we buy it with some supplies here?”

Garith helped Carmen rinse her hair in a railroad bathroom sink. “Is it out yet?”

“Yeah, it’s out and I’m doing this out of sheer enjoyment,” Garith answered sardonically.

“This water is freezing!” Carmen complained.

“What did you expect? A four star hotel?” Garith finished washing her hair. “There’s an electric hand dryer over there.”

“I know that!” Carmen grumped. She squat under it but nothing came out. Zartex waved his hands below it periodically so it would dry her hair. When it was finished, she peeked at herself in the mirror. Her new hair color was extremely dark and clashed garishly with her pale skin. “I look like Snow White!”

“As long as you don’t look like Carmen Alvaro it’s perfect!” Garith handed her a tee shirt, and she begrudgingly took it inside a stall to change. Garith took off his suit jacket and put on a baseball cap with a picture of a train going up a mountain. “I’m sure ready to hit the road! We were seen in our old clothes and hair here, so we need to get out quickly! Which we will since now all that we’re waiting on is for you to get out of your wedding shirt thing.”

“It’s called a bodice,” Zartex put in.

“How do you know that?” Garith remarked.

Before Zartex could answer, Carmen awkwardly told them, “Uh, guys, we need to get one more thing…I need some, feminine items…”

Zartex inquired, “You mean like jewelry?”

“No!” Garith cringed. “Come on, man! Everyone on the planet knows that’s code for tampons.”

“I use pads,” Carmen stated.

Garith grumbled, “Are you serious? Why now? We’re about to go on a long journey and you get your period?”

“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Carmen disputed. “And believe me, I’m just thrilled about it!”

Garith moaned, “Ugh, my money is sure disappearing fast!” He left in a hurry.

Carmen asked Zartex, “You seriously don’t know about women’s menstration?”

“Is that a bathroom thing?” Zartex answered with another question. “I don’t observe humans in their private mode, remember?” Carmen laughed unexpectedly, so Zartex probed. “What’s so funny?”

She explained, “Tonight was supposed to be my honeymoon! I don’t know if you know the tradition, but it’s custom to have passionate sex on your wedding night. Teddy never did it with me during this time of the month, so he would’ve been so devastated!”

“And that’s comical now because you hate everyone associated with Mirage after what they did to you?” Zartex tried to understand.

Carmen had not thought about it before. “Yeah, I guess I do. It’s so strange to have these feelings come out when not that long ago I felt so much loyalty to them. How weird is it that I could fool myself like that?”

“You find that weirder than talking to an alien while you sit on the toilet?” Zartex asked curiously. Carmen cracked up, and Zartex even guffawed a little. “Is that a yes?”

Garith came back with a package of pads and slid it under Carmen’s stall. “I don’t know what kind you like, but the girl on the box looks happy, so…”

“Thank you!” Carmen told him sincerely. She came out wearing a purple shirt with a cat that had a train conductor hat on. She still had her tulle wedding skirt on, so that coupled with her outlandish sandals made her look a little goofy. “Wow!” she said while gazing into the mirror. “Well, I doubt anyone will associate me with murder! My only crime is against fashion!” She sighed, and then she declared, “Alright, I’m ready to go!”