Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 7

Argh!” Gwynivara summoned all of her frustration and disappointment and let that energy flow to her arms. It guided her arm and clenched fist like a current in the ocean, which made her punch almost effortless. Each time she struck the bumpy rubber, a piece of her stress chipped off, so it gave her a small sense of pleasure to bash it over and over again. She didn’t think any amount of this could fully release all of the pent up emotions, but it gave her a little satisfaction, something she desperately needed right now.

Emorick walked into the training auditorium, and when he walked up to her, she didn’t give him any indication that she recognized his presence. After a moment of watching her scrap with the punching bag, Emorick inquired, “How you doing, kid?” She gave him a quick glance that suggested she couldn’t believe he just asked her that question, and without speaking to him, she went right back to punching the bag. “I guess that was a dumb question.” Gwynivara didn’t acknowledge that statement. After a moment, Emorick then probed, “So, how long are you gonna keep punishing yourself?”

She stopped in mid-action. Those words echoed deep inside of her. She hadn’t left the training room since they got back except to change out of that uniform, casting off the reminder of the fiasco from earlier that day. The thrill of surviving washed away as the facts started to flood in. That mission was her idea. Everything that went wrong fell on her. She thought she had everything figured out! In a matter of minutes everything had fallen apart. She didn’t want to face the other rebels, especially not the officers! She knew that there would be questions, and she didn’t want to relive that day. She could feel tears start to well up, and she refused to let herself get upset enough for her Venenatus Sanguis to kick in, so she started punching the bag again, though her jabs were less forceful than before.

Emorick pulled the bag out of her reach, which forced her to stop. He addressed her, “Let’s get one thing straight-missions almost never go exactly as we plan. Sometimes you do your best to anticipate all of the possible outcomes and unforeseen circumstances still blitz you out of nowhere. That’s life! When plans go wrong, the most important thing to focus on is getting your men out alive, which you did. You did well! Perfection is impossible! Mistakes happen, failures happen, but one loss doesn’t mean you don’t have the skills to make it happen next time! Right now, your job is to show your team that when you get knocked down, you get back up! Learn from the experience and move on! You’ll gain more respect by how you recover from a setback, but you’ll never get there if you let this thing defeat you! Shutting yourself out from the world isn’t gonna fix anything! Don’t worry what others may judge about your actions-you still did better than those who didn’t even try! Take some pride in that! “

How?” Gwynivara desperately asked. His words were empowering, but she didn’t know by what means she could forget everything. A future victory could say people’s opinions on her leadership skills, but what was she supposed to do until then?

Emorick answered simply, “By walking out that goddamn door with your head held high! Don’t you dare give a shit what people think! Life moves on, and so must we!” Gwynivara realized that he was right and nodded in agreement. Emorick concluded by directing her, “You’re going to take over door guard duty tonight. Head over there now, and I’ll send someone over shortly to train you on it.”

“Thank you!” Gwynivara said appreciatively.

“Don’t thank me!” Emorick advised. “I’m just doing my job.” Gwynivara smiled in gratitude, and before she headed out the door, he mentioned, “I meant it; you did a good job today!” Gwynivara stopped to absorb it for a moment. She didn’t believe it, but she appreciated the gesture. She half smiled, but it quickly vanished. She took a deep breath, held her head high, and walked out the door.

Gwynivara didn’t realize how long she had been at that punching bag until now. The hallways were virtually empty, and the few people in the halls walked around in a half sleepy daze. She thought she saw those people give her a peculiar glance. She kept her head held up high as Emorick suggested, but she did question the people’s reasons for those looks. They could’ve been judging her for the things that went wrong in the mission as she feared, but maybe it was all in her head. After seeing a clock in one of the shops, she noted that the hour was late enough to naturally wonder why someone would be awake at this time. Everyone she passed definitely seemed tired. Actually, now that her adrenaline wore off, she felt exhausted herself!

Behind the red curtains, the person she was relieving had been resting on the cushioned bench by the stairs. He heard Gwynivara enter, and in a zombie-like trance, he left without saying a word. Gwynivara didn’t care though. After everything she went through, she knew she needed the rest. Her eyes felt heavy as she laid down. She fought sleep at first, but then she remembered that someone would be by shortly to train her, so he or she could wake her up…

On top of the stormy mountain, the sultry, green-skinned woman sat on her rocky throne. Two men came up the mountain. After walking past the chained and snarling beasts, they stood before the woman and kneeled. “Shouldn’t you be destroying evidence?” She regarded them in a stony voice and stared hard as if she knew they had come to deliver news of a grave mistake on their part.

“We will,” one man spoke. “But commander, you should know our operation has been compromised!”

“Compromised how?” Her eyes flushed as her inner ire got close to a boil. She clearly waited to unleash based on the severity of their response.

The other man revealed, “Some spies infiltrated our mark. Morfran is dead, and the infiltrators escaped.”

“What?” the lady roared. “You let them get away? Who were they?”

“We don’t know,” the first man replied. “We think they’re part of a rogue agency.”

“Find them!” she bellowed.

The second man assured her, “We won’t fail!”

Someone put a hand on Gwynivara’s shoulder, which made her gasp and bolt up in a defensive stance. She saw Kierram standing before her looking bewildered, and she snapped back into reality. “Sorry! I had a nightmare.”

With a dark sense of humor, Kierram replied, “Don’t talk to me about nightmares!”

“Oh yeah…” Gwynivara remembered. This triggered more memories, like their argument and their close call at the Public Health Center. As she slumped back down onto the bench, she avoided eye contact with him, hoping that he wouldn’t bring any of those topics up. “So, you must be really good at guarding the door since they keep assigning it to you!”

Kierram scoffed, “Only ‘cause he knows I don’t sleep much. Well, you saw what happens when I do. And no, I haven’t forgotten about that night.”

Gwynivara really didn’t want to have this conversation, so she changed the subject, “So, when you’re a door guard, you can’t fall asleep?”

“Not if you’re a deep sleeper,” Kierram answered her. “Niqun is a super light sleeper and will wake up if she hears any noise. Youll need to keep your eyes open.”

Gwynivara shifted awkwardly. He obviously still felt mad, and if they were going to work together, they needed to make amends. She felt compelled to gush, “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t plan out the mission better! I really screwed up! I took a mission that should’ve lasted weeks or months and made it last a day! One stupid day! And worse, my misguided judgment almost got you killed! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I won’t plan out any more mi-!”

“Woah, woah, woah!” he interrupted her. “What are you talking about? You didn’t screw up!” Gwynivara opened her mouth to object, but she couldn’t get the words out. She got so shocked by what he said that she couldn’t comprehend it. So he asked her, “You heard everyone calling the mission suicidal, right?” She nodded. “None of us had the guts, or the brains for that matter, to take on that mission, not until you came along anyway. We learned something new, and we came out alive. I’d call that a success!”

Gwynivara hadn’t considered this viewpoint and felt very flattered, but she didn’t totally believe it. “We learned the origin of the disease, big deal! We found out it came from another planet, so all I did was take us from searching the world for the cure to searching the universe! How does that help?”

Kierram laughed heartily at this. “We don’t have to search the universe! My dad centered the Rebellion headquarters here because the origin happened here, and obviously they stuck around if their henchmen are attacking us!”

“That’s true!” She hadn’t considered that before. She started to let herself feel a little better.

“You did well on the mission!” Kierram told her. “And I don’t like saying that ‘cause I’m still mad at you. But I can’t deny it-you’re a good leader!” Gwynivara actually felt herself smiling even though she didn’t totally believe what he was saying. “At first, I only went back to training because you acted like I couldn’t do it, and I wanted to prove you wrong. I hated going there! The other officers are jerks, and it didn’t feel like we were going anywhere with this training. I volunteered for your mission ‘cause it got me out of training without making me look like I’m a coward or like I’m giving up, but now I’m excited that we’re actually going somewhere with this Rebellion! I don’t wanna go back to the way things were! Please, don’t give up planning missions!”

Gwynivara’s smile broadened at this. She felt so redeemed by this point of view! Before, she got so worried that people looked down on her for the things that went wrong that she hadn’t considered someone may actually admire what she did! She very appreciatively commented to him, “Thanks, Kierram!”

Half joking, he responded, “Shut up!” He pretended to pout. “‘Cause I’m still mad…”

“Right!” Gwynivara giggled. He laughed unwillingly, and Gwynivara couldn’t believe she went from sort of hating him to actually feeling a friendship! She didn’t know if he would ever forgive her for the beast incident, but it was nice to have someone show her loyalty despite his ill feelings. She thought about what he said, how the origin was close by to their location. She knew that she should cook up a plan to find the origin, but she didn’t have a clue how to find it…unless…”You up for another dangerous mission?”

“The more dangerous the better!” he exclaimed. “Lead the way!”

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Sabotage, Chapter 11

With a dour face, Hank typed an email on his laptop. He had to pause, take a sip of his hot apple cider, and sigh. Right after that moment, a heavy knock sounded at the door. He set down his computer and prepared to face an ongoing nuisance. He seriously doubted that they came to deliver bad news. sure, it was a possibility, but he had a strong hunch that if Carmen got hurt in any way, they would not have the decency to tell him first. He saw the way they kept trying to discredit her in the media, so they would only revel in her destruction. He knew why they were here, and he was willing to put up with it to help bring justice to Carmen.

He answered the door and came to face a young but short woman with dark blonde hair tied back tightly. She had remarkably plain features except for her dark blues, which had a glare that could scare anyone into attention. Hank couldn’t guess her role in Mirage based on her appearance. Her clothes looked as though they could be expensive, however, she did not fit into them very snuggly as the tightness exposed her muffin top. Regardless of her position, he knew she represented those vile snakes from that evil so-called company, so he took pleasure in telling her, “Sorry, no soliciting!”

He relished in the brief emotion she showed at that insult, but as he tried to slam the front door, she stopped it with her foot and sharply informed him, “Actually, Mister Alvaro, I’m Jorden Kasper, head of the Northern California division of Mirage.”

Hank figured that her titled must usually command respect and obedience, but it did not work on him. After all, he dealt with wealthy and glamorous clients all the time. He saw a flicker of annoyance on her face as her ploy didn’t work. Instead of cowering at her presence, he kept cool. Knowing full well why she was there, he decided to tell her, “If you’re interested in real estate development, you’ll have to come back during business hours.”

Once again, she tried to hide her vexed mood. Jorden motioned behind her, and two police officers approached the front porch. “These guys have a warrant. We believe that you have illegal information that I’m here to recover on behalf of our company.”

Hank, in mock politeness, gestured for them to enter. “The passcode for the safe is five one two two.” Jorden came in, scowling fiercely at his impertinence. “Yes?” Hank grinned.

She leered, “You’re hiding confidential information only privy to our people. You have no right to possess it! We’re far more clever than you think! We’ll find what you’re hiding!”

“By all means, Pintamonas, feel free to look for yourself!” Hank invited.

Jorden took him up on his offer. She searched every end of the living room while one officer searched upstairs and the other searched the kitchen and backyard. Jorden checked each nook and cranny-the entertainment center, the couch cushions, even the rug. When she checked under the couch, she gasped. The cat hissed and ran out of the room. Hank chuckled, and she shook her head and maintained a nonchalant attitude. She pat him down, which prompted him to joke, “Hey, Cabrona, I’m a married man!”

She gave him an evil eye and kept searching. She saw a bowl next to the front door where Hank stored a pile of mail. “Of course!” she deduced. “While we were so busy sifting through your electronic communications to find hidden messages, she slipped under the radar and conveyed her status the old fashioned way!”

“Don’t look through that,” Hank said pleasantly. “It’ll  totally waste your time!”

“Ohhhh, you don’t want me to look here!” Jorden practically cackled. She scanned each letter and examined each detail scrupulously. Hank sat down on a chair that faced the front door, kicking back and not bothering to disguise his amusement at her fury. She turned back to see the cat sitting next to him on the arm of his chair wearing a pumpkin sweater. He pet the cat’s unadorned fur and grinned toothily at her. She gritted her teeth and kept foraging for suspicious letters. finally, something caught her eye. “Since when are you friends with Hermione Granger?”

“Don’t read that.” He pretended to be worried. “You won’t be happy.”

Jorden smiled maliciously as she opened the envelope and took a look at the letter. She read out loud, “Nine, apostrophe, thirteen, space, fifteen, fourteen, space, twenty, eight, five space, eight, nine, seven, eight, twenty-three, one, twenty-five, space, twenty fifteen, space, eight, five, twelve, twelve, period. The bottom of the page says seven, fifteen, space, six, twenty-one, three, eleven, space, twenty-five, fifteen, twenty-one, eighteen, nineteen, five, twelve, six. This is an easy encryption to decipher. She thinks she’s so clever! The numbers clearly correspond to their position in the alphabet.” She took a pen off the table and began to translate. “Nine would be I, and thirteen is M. Yup, that’s what she did. The first word is I’m. Let’s see…I’m…on…the…highway…to…” She eagerly anticipated the answer, fully believing it would reveal important information. “I’m on the highway to…hell? Very funny! I bet the bottom of the page is more serious.” She translated the bottom and stood up in anger. “Go fuck yourself!?!”

Hank roared in laughter. “I told you not to look at that! Didn’t I say it would waste your time?”

“Why you-!” She stepped towards him as if she was going to attack him.

Just then, the police officers returned from the kitchen and upstairs. The cat ran into the kitchen, almost tripping the cop. The other officer reported, “We searched every inch of the house. It’s clear.”

Jorden didn’t like hearing this. she ogled Hank, who simply smiled and shrugged. She reluctantly relented, “We’ll come back again another day. He’s hiding something, I know it!” Giving him an angry face, Jorden stormed out. The police indifferently followed.

The cat returned to the living, staring up at Hank, who praised him, “Good boy, Orlando! They have no respect for your prowess, so they underestimated your worth.” He peeked under the sweater and saw the three pieces of Zartex’s papers rolled up into a fine tube. He put the sweater back into place. “Good boy!” He pat Orlando on the head, and the cat seemed pleased.

As Carmen, Garith, and Zartex gingerly scaled down a sandy, pebble-filled hill, Garith discussed, “Okay, let’s go over it one more time. THE VOBS were the company’s sale system?”

“Yes,” Carmen concurred. “But after we got promoted and began to build our teams, they said it would help us with managing a company too. It wasn’t a sale system-they called it the system.”

“Right. So the T stood for turn every corner,” Garith recited. “In sales, it referred to thoroughly working your territory.”

“And in management, it referred to recruiting people from high and low,” Carmen explained. “Sales are a numbers game, but so is recruitment, especially for a job people generally aren’t willing to do.”

Zartex added, “On a corporate level, they turn every corner to find people who escape, as we’ve seen.”

“That’s true!” Garith agreed. “H stood for haste. The quicker you move, the quicker you reach your goals. People forget about a deal if you don’t nab it quickly. And managers will lose recruits to other jobs if they don’t act fast. And corporate wants to grow quickly, of course. If they can get ahead enough, one failure won’t mean that much of a loss. That’s why they were so fast to kill off one of their managers. Find the problems quick. Like escapees, find them fast!”

“E is for envy,” Carmen continued. “They turn sales people into the cool kids on campus so everyone will get jealous of their life. It gets recruits excited for a chance to share the spotlight. They dress sharply and make it look like we did all these fun things to create that insatiable desire to be trendy and fabulous. That’s how they motivated people to stay.”

Zartex stated, “That goes along with V for voracity. They play on people’s greed to get sales and to trick people into thinking they want to get promoted. They got so focused on making lots of money and doing flashy things that their voracity clouded their judgment, which allowed them to heinous things like murder.”

Carmen bitterly commented, “O is optimism. They claim it was to attract positive things by thinking positive. They didn’t want us to think any negative thoughts. So, any negative impulse we had about the job we had to ignore or destroy. They brainwashed us into thinking we were happy. It made us compliant to their whims.”

“B, big picture, did the same sort of thing,” Garith appended. “They talked about delayed gratification, paying now so you can play later. Forget about how miserable you are now, focus on the goals we made for you stemming from greed and envy! It made you forget your identity.”

Zartex finished with, “S is for seize control. That’s the obvious end goal.”

At the bottom of the hill, they came to an expansive lake with a clear view of the mountains on the opposite side. Carmen breathed, “It’s beautiful!”

“Didn’t I tell you that Utah Lake would be a great place to camp out?” Garith remarked.

“I won’t say you were right,” Carmen bickered.

“You don’t have to,” Garith gloated, “not wehen it’s obvious.”

“Who are you bragging to?” Carmen retorted. “There’s no one here that cares.”

“I’m sorry, I won’t be cheerful then,” Garith said sarcastically.

“I don’t have a problem with your cheerfulness!” Carmen argued. “In the last week, I had to deal with failing in sales and running out a doomed marriage. I have to walk to California with company that I didn’t have a choice on! I gotta live like a homeless person to survive while trying to avoid getting killed by hit men! I’m usually hungry and always tired! I’ve had so much go wrong that I don’t need a smug jerk pointing out another reason why I suck at life! So, I’m sorry if I’m a little cranky, but if you know this, why are you purposely making it worse?”

Carmen was clearly fuming, which immediately made Garith uncomfortable. “I’m gonna…I gotta go to the bathroom. There’s no bathroom here, but you know what I mean. I’ll find a tree to hide behind far enough away so that I don’t disturb you…again!” He ran off.

Zartex observed, “You sure scare him when you’re angry!”

Carmen didn’t respond. She sat down and faced the lake. As she gazed at the lake, she felt a little more peaceful. She shifted a little to make herself more comfortable, which made her remember that she had to sleep there. The prospect made her a little more disappointed. She thought about their discussion on THE VOBS and how they had used that on her to trick her into joining their cult. “Why didn’t I see it sooner?”

“See what?” Zartex asked.

“The red flags!” Carmen answered dramatically. “They exaggerated the earning potential, but I ignored this because of the big picture. For once in my life, I felt like a somebody! I thought I closed the chapter on petty, dead end jobs. No one gave me a shot at leadership because I’m an actress and I’m pretty; no one took me seriously! II never cared about management though, I just wanted to make enough money to pay rent so I didn’t have to be an adult dependent on family to survive. I don’t care about making a ton of money, and I’ve never cared about materialistic things. I wanted a circle of friends and a sense of being part of an important team. I wanted to belong somewhere! And I just wanted to prove myself to the world. When I make a goal, I see through it ’til the end. I’m fine closing that chapter of my life, but I just wish I knew what was coming next! So far, this has been a miserable experience, but when it’s over, what’s next? Will it, just be more of my old life of floating from place to place never truly finding my sense of independence or belonging? They say everyone goes through hard times, but my whole life has been this way! Why can’t I just be happy? This job made me give up on my dream, and I gave up on this job too. I’m just an all around failure, aren’t I?” As she said this, tears welled up in her eyes. Suddenly, all of her hurt seemed to surface. All of the hard times that THE VOBS made her bury came out. The sacrifices she made, the heartbreak, the defeat…she didn’t feel it then, but she felt it now!

Carmen buried her head into her knees and sobbed uncontrollably. Zartex noted, “I don’t need to use my emotional reader to know how you feel!” Carmen heard him but did not acknowledge his assessment. She couldn’t. Zartex observed, “I spent my whole career analyzing humans and their emotions, but not once did I learn how to deal with them. I understand you’ve been through more hardship than most people have ever or ever will deal with. This is overwhelming and caused an out pour of emotion. I know all of this, but I don’t know how to make it better. I’ve never had to know. It’s not a requirement of the job to make our subjects feel better, just understand them. I do understand you, but you’re different than my other clients because I actually want to make you feel better! You’re the first subject I’ve ever cared about! I never had an Earthling as a friend. The problem is my species doesn’t process emotions the same way yours does. So, I don’t know how to help you. But I want to, I really do!” Carmen continued to sob, so he made an awkward attempt at comfort by stiffly patting her back and spouting, “There, there!”

She continued to cry as Garith came back. “Oh good! You can show me what to do!” Zartex requested. “You are human and experience these emotions. Help!”

Garith ineptly sat next to her and gracelessly pat her back much like the way Zartex did. He bumbled, “There, there!”

Carmen wailed, “Forget it guys! I’m hopeless!”

Zartex looked to Garith, who quickly analyzed the situation. “What was she saying before it happened?”

“Um…” Zartex thought back. “She wanted to be successful in Mirage because she didn’t succeed in acting or getting a job that pays rent. She gave up on her dreams and she gave up on Mirage too, so now she wonders if the next part of her life will ever make her feel like less of a failure.”

“Okay, I got this!” Garith put his arm around her and rested his hand on her shoulder. “There’s a big difference between giving up and realizing that you’ve had enough. Like, it’s why I stopped getting houseplants. I got busy at work and went straight to bed when I got home. I forgot about it until Fourth of July. I stayed home ’cause it was a holiday, and as I tidied up, I saw it turning yellow. I felt guilty and vowed to bring it back to life. I kept giving it plant food and watered it like crazy, but it just grew more and more brown. One day, I realized that there’s no point in watering something that will never live. when something in your life is over, it’s better to let go ’cause holding onto the past will break your back. Your life will get better as long as you do something different. Doing the same habits will get you the same results. I can’t guarantee success, but at least you can take pride in the fact that you gave a shot. No matter how often you fall, get back up again! Keep trying different things until you succeed. If you don’t give up, at least you can say you did everything you could. If you try, you might fail, however, if you never try at all, failure is guaranteed. You’re not a failure from walking away from an unhappy situation. I’m proud of you for overcoming all you went through and for having the courage to move on!”

Carmen pondered his words for a moment. Mirage always made anyone who gave up on their goals feel lower than dirt, but sometimes important to let yourself fail so you can move on. It’s true that a person can’t focus on new ideas if they stick to the old ones. She still feared perpetual failure, but she knew she wouldn’t stop trying and took some pride on that. This didn’t make her feel optimistic, but she realized that she had stopped crying. Zartex inquired, “How are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling…”Carmen listened to her innermost feelings and heart before she finished her thought. “I’m feeling like I gotta pee!” She had so much mixed emotions that she couldn’t even process it all right now, and she said that without even thinking about it. She had decided that she didn’t have to understand it all tonight. She gingerly got up and headed for the trees. Garith and Zartex high fived, and Garith sprawled out to go to sleep.