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 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?”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 9

Gwynivara knew that Bernadette didn’t scream out of fear. If an attacker ever scared her, she wouldn’t give that person the satisfaction of seeing the torment he or she had caused. The fact that she did meant only one thing to her- Bernadette had tried to warn her about the danger she currently faced so that she could escape. Unfortunately, Bernadette didn’t realize that her forewarning came a split second too late-Gywynivara had already opened the basement door! She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw one well dressed man holding a chained leash which harnessed a beast watching another fashionable male stab Bernadette in the back! Her heart stopped as Bernadette fell to the floor!

Gwynivara stiffled the sense of outrage that burned inside her, but she couldn’t contain all of it. The two men saw her, and the one with the creature lumbered towards the door. She slammed it shut and ran through the kitchen, heading towards the living room where the front door was located. She didn’t make it far when the fiend burst through the door! The man unleashed it, and it scurried towards her. Gwynivara eyed a knife holder on the counter next to her and grabbed a weapon just as it reached her. As it lunged, she stabbed it in the stomach. It fell to the floor and writhed in pain. Gwynivara thought about Bernadette lying in the basement, and she used her fury to spawn a ball of light. As the creature regained its composure, Gwynivara threw the ball of light at it. The creature disintegrated into the air! The man inquired incredulously, “How did you do that?”

She almost answered him, but her instincts pointed out that he was an enemy. She inwardly debated whether to fight him or questions him, and her answer came by him reaching into his pocket. She was prepared to combat, but before he could grab his weapon, someone from behind him put a knife to his throat! Disbelief flooded every inch of her body as she heard Bernadette snap, “Don’t even think about it!”

“Impossible!” the man blurted out as he put his hands up.

Bernadette retorted, “Your partner tried to stab my spine. He didn’t know that I have scoliosis!” The man cringed at his partner’s ill luck. “So, here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna-”

Before Bernadette could finish her sentence, the front door busted open, and a barrage of policemen poured into the home, pointing their guns at the two women. Bernadette dropped the knife and threw her arms up. Gwynivara did the same, and her mind started racing. There was nowhere to run, and her conjuring skills weren’t potent enough to take on this many people at once. Her only hope was to tell the truth and hope that the policemen would listen and believe her, but she had a nasty feeling that they had already sentenced them in their minds. She exclaimed, “We were only defending ourselves!”

“Yeah right!” one policeman responded. “It looks like you two have the upper hand here!”

The man in the kitchen tattled, “They killed my friend!”

“They tried to kill us first! Look!” Bernadette turned around to show them her bloody back.

Smirking slightly, the man informed them, “It was self defense! Oh, did I mention that we’re in the police academy?”

Gwynivara and Bernadette’s stomachs dropped upon hearing this. One police officer asked him, “No kidding! What division?”

“Venenatus Sanguis,” he answered solidly Gwynivara knew if that creature hadn’t disintegrated that they would have gotten accused of having the disease and get thrown into quarantine, which would be a death sentence for them. She knew he knew something was up with her, but she could tell that he didn’t know that Venenatus Sanguis could get used in this way. She didn’t want to get arrested, but at least it had more of an opportunity for escape compared to other options.

Another officer regarded the girls, “Sorry, ladies. We have sufficient evidence to have you both arrested.” As the police handcuffed them, Bernadette and Gwynivara glanced at each other, clearly both thinking the same thing- how were they going to get out of this?

Gwynivara arrived at the police station with her hands cuffed in the front of her. She hoped that while Bernadette was in the hospital that she would hatch a way to escape. The rebel headquarters had no phone line, so she figured that the patrol officers check the hospital and jail to check on missing members. Actually, she realized that she had never gone on a patrol before today and didn’t know the procedure for it. Just like herself, Bernadette were too preoccupied with Riley’s fate to discuss training or protocol. She had to use her best judgment and pray that she actually picked the best option. A female officer, without looking up from her clipboard, asked her, “Name?”

Ann Smith.” Gwynivara knew there had to be tons of different Ann Smith’s in the world, so it would take quite a bit of research before they realized she had lied about her identity. She could do nothing else but helplessly hope that she had given the other rebels enough time to find her.

The clipboard officer listlessly instructed, “Put your fingers on the ink pad and print them here.”

Gwynivara’s first instinct was to comply, but then it occurred to her that they may not have been able to recognize her by name, but but everyone’s fingerprints were unique, very distinguishable and traceable! For a moment, she panicked. But, at that moment, a figure walked into the police station. He wore a black trench coat and a matching fedora, which was attraction enough, but Gwynivara had a feeling she knew who that person was. Intuitively, she knew she had to stall for time. She put ink on her middle finger first. Most people didn’t know she had a double-jointed middle finger, and it curved slightly up when she wanted it to. She pressed it to the fingerprint sheet, which only produced a partial. The lady probed, “What’s wrong with your finger?”

“It didn’t look like that this morning!” Gwynivara fibbed.

“Did it happen during your arrest?” she questioned. Gwynivara shrugged, so the woman told her, “I’m gonna have you talk to our medic over-”

The female officer physically pointed her in the direction of the medic, but before she could finish her sentence, the earth began to quake! The tremors were so violent that the furniture got knocked over! Everyone got under some cover as the ceiling began to grumble, but Gwynivara was not near any furniture, so she couldn’t hide. Fortunately, she didn’t have to. The man with dark fedora scooped her up and ran out of the police station just in time!

Once outside, the man held onto her to keep her from falling with one hand and made some strange gestures with the other. Suddenly, the quakes stopped. “Maybe if you’re nice to me, I’ll teach you how to do that.” He turned to look her in the eye, revealing himself to be Kierram! He grinned, linked arms with her, and took off running.

Once they were at a safe distance, Kierram and Gwynivara ducked into an alleyway, and Kierram produced a key to unlock the cuffs. Gwynvara had to ask, “How did you know?”

As she uncuffed her, he answered, “Blake and I were on patrol and heard a policeman listening to a page where they called all units to an address. When we got there, you were getting hauled away.”

“Is Blake at the hospital with Bernadette?” Gwynivara questioned.

Kierram replied, “I hope so!” They exchanged grim glances and dashed away.

At the hospital, the emergency room staff clearly were over-occupied and understaffed, so no one bat an eye when Kierram and Gwynivara entered. They went down the hall, peaking into each room. They found the operating room and lingered a little. Since Bernadette got stabbed, there was a good chance she could have been in there. What they saw was a group of surgeons gazing down at the patient on the table with very solemn looks on their faces. One surgeon stated, “We lost him.”

“Him? Oh good!” Gwynivara started to walk away.

Kierram stopped her by saying, “No wait!” As they covered the patient with the blanket, he revealed, “That’s Blake!”

Gwynivara felt stunned. They had just talked to him not that long ago, so it just didn’t seem possible for him to be dead. “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” Kierram confirmed. “Come on, we gotta find-”

Taylor?” a nurse called out. Gwynivara responded automatically, but it felt strange, almost as though she stepped into a world she thought she left behind. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I got my job back,” she improvised.

“No,” the nurse responded, “Why aren’t you looking for the missing patient? Every available staff member is supposed to help find her! Come on!”

“I’m on it!” Gwynivara gladly volunteered.

As the nurse went in the other direction, Kierram whispered, “Where could she be?” They heard a loud bang coming from above them, which they were fairly sure had been the answer to their question. They bolted to the nearest set of stairs.

As they ran up, they saw Bernadette, who now wore a doctor’s lab coat, hurrying down towards their direction. Bernadette inquired, “How are we gonna get out of here alive?”

When they got to a landing, Gwynivara spotted a trash cart and pointed to it. “That’s how! Get in!” Bernadette climbed in, and Gwynivara put a small trash bag on top of her to cover her up. The hospital staff didn’t pay them any mind, that is until they reached the five doctors from the hiring panel! Clearly puzzled, they were about to say something, but Gwynivara cut them off, “I don’t get paid to clean, but no one said I couldn’t volunteer!”

The doctors looked as though they wanted to object but couldn’t find any reason to…until they were almost out the door. Doctor Richards blurted out, “Why are you bringing the trash outside?”

For a moment, they thought they were done for, after all, there wasn’t any reasonable explanation to do so. Kierram and Gwynivara wracked their brains to think of something, but fortunately, they didn’t have to. Three creatures that resembled wingless birds skulked towards them. Gwynivara smirked and told them, “No offense, but you got bigger problems to deal with right now!” She pointed behind them, and the doctors turned around, screaming at what they saw. Gwynivara and Kierram rolled Bernadette out of sight!

Searching for a good read?

Sabotage by Dana Lee Burton

What would you do if you discovered that you belonged to a cult? Carmen faced that decision right before her 30th birthday. She devoted her life to a company called Mirage, which promised a luxurious lifestyle in a exchange for some hard work. After spending her twenties bouncing between jobs, this seemed so stable, but it took an alien, Zartex, assigned to observe her to show her the truth. Once she did, she vowed to expose their misdeeds to the world. So, together with a dashing reporter named Garith, Carmen creates an expose’ to sabotage Mirage’s plans. Trouble wreaks havoc though once Mirage discovers her plans, so they send dangerous people to stop them at all costs. Carmen, Garith, and Zartex must flee for their lives, but they will do whatever it takes to get the truth out there before more lives get ruined. Can they thwart Mirage in time, or will they also become the victims of sabotage?

Sabotage, Chapter 19

Carmen’s mind stood still in a dream-like trance. None of this felt real. Seth wasn’t supposed to be here! She wasn’t supposed to be facing a gun! People always said that before a person dies, their life flashes before their eyes. That didn’t happen to her. It was more like the effect one has at the end of an epic film-everything came together like a puzzle that was now complete. She couldn’t believe that this was it. She had a hard time accepting that her life didn’t mean more than this; she had goals, dreams, she wanted to make a difference in the world! She searched for a solution, a way out, but she drew a blank. This really felt like the end.

A simple question drew them back into reality. Zartex asked, “How did you get in here?”

Seth answered, “The door in the back was unlocked.”

“There was a door?” Zartex cried out incredulously. “We sure did it the hard way!”

Jorden used Seth befuddlement over that interaction to her advantage. She took out a gun and gently pushed it to Carmen, who quickly scooped it up. Arius reacted vehemently, “What are you doing?”

“Traitor!” Elden declared.

“She saved my life,” Jorden pouted. “I can’t do it! She has a fighting chance now. My conscious is clear.” She folded her arms, clearly upset that she couldn’t stomach her duties to Mirage.

Carmen pointed the gun at Seth, who turned his attention away from Jorden and finally realized what the situation was. Carmen felt uncomfortable toeing the thin line between taking a life and protecting herself. She had no experience with guns, so she really didn’t feel confident at her shooting ability at the moment. If she missed, she would get killed. Or worse, she could get an innocent bystander hurt. She concentrated as much as possible, going over every fact she knew about a gun based on the handful of times her mom took her to the shooting range. She really hoped the police would interrupt this standoff so that she wouldn’t have to make this difficult decision. Inwardly, she knew she couldn’t show fear to Seth right now, so she sarcastically said, “By the way, I’m declining your Head of Security job offer!”

Lilith made an almost hissing noise, but Seth just laughed, “Look at you, pretending to be brave! You never were good at hiding your emotions. You were always scared to go to the field, everyone knew that. I kept waiting for the day it would snap together for you, but you never got it. Truth is you didn’t have the guts to be a manager!”

“She didn’t need to be fearless!” Garith couldn’t refrain from shouting passionately. Zartex had to physically hold Garith back, who was basically shaking from anger. “Each day, she faced her fears! She was braver than you’ll ever be! She walked away from Mirage! She rejected you, not the other way around! She walked away because she was too good of a person to ever rank up! Don’t you dare try to make her feel inferior!”

Arius and Elden pulled out their guns, but Seth just chuckled. “Give them to me!” Even though they were confused, Arius and Elden handed over their guns. “Yours too, Lilith.” Scowling, Lilith reluctantly gave Seth her gun. “Guys, she’s not gonna shoot me!” He put down his own gun and put his hands up. Carmen wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but she didn’t trust him, so she refused to stand down. “Go ahead, shoot me!” Everyone at the scene looked from Seth to Carmen, back and forth. Seth, totally cocky, taunted Carmen, who concentrated only on his movements and fixing her gun at him. “You’re too goody-two-shoes to pull the trigger. That’s the difference between you and us-we do we gotta do to succeed. You have the upper hand! You can solve your problems right now by eliminating me! But you won’t! You’re too weak!” Carmen was starting to get irritated and hoped that it wasn’t apparent. Seth did notice and did a little dance to egg her on. “Shoot me, bitch! Shoot me! Go on, shoot me! Do it! Come on, do it!”

Carmen’s scowl deepened. It was too tempting to pull the trigger. That SOB would deserve it! He was evil and hurt a lot of people! She would but doing the world a favor…Ultimately, she knew she couldn’t hurt anyone unless she absolutely had to. She kept thinking of solutions that didn’t involve anyone dying, including herself. She tried to think of ways to subdue him without killing him. He kept mocking her, which made it hard to concentrate. The situation was tense, no one knew what would happen. If Seth reached for his gun again, she knew she would have to hit him before he could shoot her. But where could she shoot him that would stop him physically but not fatally? Seth saw her arms grew weaker, so he remarked, “That’s what I thought!” He bent down slightly to the left where his gun laid. Instinctively, she aimed her gun and pulled the trigger!

The girls shrieked, and the guys moaned in sympathetic pain. Seth screeched louder than anything Carmen had ever heard. He rolled and writhed in pain as blood flowed from…his groin! Lilith, Jorden, Arius, and Elden timidly turned to Carmen, who still held up her gun. “Get down on the ground!” The four got onto their bellies, peeking at Carmen as she spoke to Seth, “You’re right-I’m not like you. I don’t need to kill people to reach my goals! No, I didn’t spare your life out of pity or remorse. The thing I realized was that upon your death, your body would be at peace. You don’t deserve that! There are things so much worse than death!”

“That’s so cliche’!” Seth groaned. He felt some sharp pain, which made him cry out. “Ugh! You bitch! You bitch!”

“I’m the bitch? I got your balls! You don’t!” Carmen mocked him. She put down her gun and turned to Garith and Zartex, who had a mixed look of sheer terror and utter admiration.

Before anyone could say anything, a group of police swarmed in and surrounded the Mirage executives. “You’re all under arrest!”

“What?” Seth roared out. “She tried to kill me!”

The police informed him, “The amusement park caught you guys breaking in and ambushing them. Thought they were trespassing, we’re gonna let that go ’cause clearly you attacked them!”

Seth argued, “She killed Colt Duncan! We were trying to apprehend her so she could go to jail-where she belongs!”

At that moment, a man in a nice suit flashed his police badge at them. “Detective Disung. I’ve been in touch with the Grand Junction police. Colt’s autopsy showed that he got killed by someone who’s left handed. Carmen is holding a gun with her right hand. We are starting to doubt that she did it.”

Still writhing in pain, Seth pointed out, “So, she shot with her left hand to cover her tracks!”

Detective Disung took out his phone, where he read his notes, “She had the opportunity to let one Teddy Amsan die, but she risked her own freedom to get him help. That just doesn’t seem like the behavior of a guilty person.”

Crying in anguish, Seth yelled, “She wants you to think that! I demand that you arrest her!”

As an ambulance came and began to render him first aid, the police all shrugged at each other. Garith stepped forward and asked, “When was Colt’s time of death?”

Detective Disung gazed at his notes answered, “Colt’s time and date of death: October thirteenth at seven-o-three p.m. Unless you guys have proof of your whereabouts at that date and time, we’ll have to arrest Carmen too.”

Carmen’s heart sunk. She couldn’t believe after everything she went through that it would end this way. As a police officer approached her, Zartex unexpectedly interjected, “Wait, I have proof!” This statement stunned everyone, who watched him with total anticipation as he dug through his pocket and gave something to Detective Disung.

Carmen glanced over the detective’s shoulders, and her sunken heart reinflated. Zartex gave him the photo that they took with the cardboard cutouts at the Green River railroad station! She finally broke her silence, “Look, there’s the receipt stapled to it with the date and time of the transaction! I wasn’t even in the same state as him when he died! I’m innocent! This is proof!”

As Seth got strapped to the gurney, he insisted, “Anyone can fake that! She did it!”

Detective Disung suggested, “Watch what you say-just ’cause you’re going to the hospital doesn’t mean we won’t use what you say in the court of law! Plus, you should be grateful to be alive right now. She could have killed you! I would have!”

As the ambulance wheeled him away, he shouted, “No, she did it! She went into his office and shot him in cold blood! She left him there to bleed all over his family’s picture!”

Detective Disung grinned. “Funny, that detail wasn’t released to any public records!” Seth realized his mistake and cringed as the ambulance loaded him in.

Carmen stood in disbelief. Was it really over? What just happened? What will happen now? The park manager stood before his crew and scolded them, “You guys have GOT to start locking the doors!” Suddenly, it clicked for her-she didn’t have to run anymore! Everyone knew the truth! She was free!

At that moment, something caught her eye that made her beam from ear to ear! She ran in pure joy. She never thought she would ever see…

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!”