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.

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Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Growling sounded from behind a nearby shrub, and Gwynivara’s nerves filled with dread. She stood with her sword at the ready, but Emorick pushed her arm aside. “That won’t be necessary.” Despite her nerves still needling inside her, she relaxed her arm more, yet she watched warily as a creature stirred the bushes. An almost metallic-looking hyena emerged, and everything in Gwynivara’s impulses made her muscles tense up in anticipation of a fight. She kept glancing over to Emorick, who stood coolly as the beast crept closer and closer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her questioning expression, so he assured her, “Wait for it!” When it came to the point between the catacombs and a large tree, it activated a tripwire, which made a gun in the tree blast it in the chest. With a final yelp, it fell backwards and remained motionless. As Gwynivara’s body flooded with relief and admiration, Emorick grinned. “What? You think I’d establish a hideout without any protection?”

His comment made her laugh a little, but soon after, she apologized, “That was probably from me, sorry!”

“Never apologize for being human!” As Emorick pulled the stone slab far enough for them to enter, he told her, “Besides, it happens a lot around here.” She realized that he had a point and decided to let it go, which became easy to do now that the door had opened.

Upon the first impression, the inside had all the markings of what one would expect from a catacomb tomb. Cavern rooms were barricaded by small, rod-iron fences. A few torches lined the walls to give the space a dim light. The center of the vast room was empty save for the stone floor, but as Emorick put the stone slab door back into its original place, Gwynivara observed that each cavern room contained two polished, wooden coffins, which prompted her to ask, “Whose bodies are in there?”

He finished closing the stone slab door and then answered her, “An old family. We like to think their spirits help protect us, but, more often than not, we find that anyone who ventures down here doesn’t have the gall to stay long.”

Emorick led Gwynivara down the long row of cavern rooms, and, at the end, a broad indentation filled the center of the wall. An ornate coffin propped up inside a glass case took the majority of the space, and a fresco painting of early townspeople covered most of the facade behind it. Emorick went behind the casket, and after Gwynivara joined him, he told her, “If you’re ever followed by police or anyone else who isn’t welcome, make sure they don’t see this.” Giving him the utmost attention, Gwynivara watched as he pushed the fresco wall, and to her astonishment, it opened up like a door! They stepped inside quickly and shut the door.

They stood on a foyer where the walls, ceiling, and floor were all made of stone. The end of the platform had a steep staircase whose darkened walls gave no indication of what may exist on the other side, but Gwynivara could see a small light glowing at the end of the staircase. At that moment, an elderly woman’s voice called out, “An bhfuil tú ina chara?”

“Is cara liom!” Emorick called back. He turned to Gwynivara and instructed, “Memorize that.” Gwynivara nodded and whispered it quietly to herself.

They watched as the tiny speck of light grew larger and larger. The echo of the individual’s footsteps sounded soft but grew louder as someone climbed up the stairs. A woman surfaced with a lantern in her hand. She had to be at least in her eighties, but she had a vibrant glow in her skin suggesting that she had an almost youthful amount of energy. She had a very gaunt body, but the way she carried herself conveyed that she was by no means frail. Gwynivara heard her speak in Gaelic, so she was a little surprised to see that she was Asian. Her wide eyes flickered over to Gwynivara and gleamed delightfully. “Oh, ni hao! I’m Niqun!”

“Gwyn.” She extended her hand.

Niqun shook her hand and said, “Welcome! Follow me!”

Niqun headed back down the stairs, Gwynivara went after her, and Emorick brought up the rear. Emorick explained, “Everyone takes turns guarding the front entrance. We’re not likely to have any problems, but if an adversary ever shows up-”

“They better not cross me!” Niqun interjected. “They’ll be sorry if they do!” Gwynivara giggled a little by her abrupt boldness. Meeting Niqun made her feel more at ease about her time here. She had hoped that the rest of the residents here would offer an equal amount of personality. At the bottom of the stairs, Gwynivara saw a cushioned bench and a long curtain rod with red drapes that obviously had the purpose of providing the door guard some privacy if they required it. Niqun dimmed the lantern and flopped back onto the bench. “Okay, Gwyn! Here we are! Wan’an!”

Gywnivara smiled and replied, “Thank you.” She could hear a quiet babble of conversation and commerce coming from the other side of the curtain. Her anticipation surmounted as Emorick strode over to the curtains. He noticed Gwynivara’s eagerness, grinned, and announced, “Welcome to the Rebel Hideout!”

He pulled back the drapes, and Gwynivara was pleasantly astonished to see a warmly lit hallway with large, cavern rooms where a small array of folks roamed in and out. The vast hall stretched as far as the eye could see, and the people roaming the hall all seemed so relaxed for the most part. A few people had despondent faces and walked alone, but the majority had a cordial demeanor. Like the catacombs, everything from the ceiling to the floor was made of stone, but the amber light and amiable conversation gave it more of a homey feel. Gwynivara remarked, “Wow!”

Emorick chuckled, “Were you expecting a rat’s nest?” Gwyinvara didn’t want to admit it, but she also didn’t want to lie, so she smiled sheepishly. Emorick didn’t seem offended by that at all. “That’s alright. Generally, criminal hideouts aren’t so nice. But considering we’re all suffering from a disease that feeds on darkness, I didn’t think it was smart to have us live in doom and gloom.”

Gwynivara nodded in comprehension. “That makes sense!”

Emorick informed her, “Everything you need for day to day function can be found in one of these rooms. The first room on the left has women’s clothes and shoes, men’s clothes are on the right. Feel free to take what you need, but keep in mind we only get supplies a little at a time, so no hoarding. Let me get you settled in before you explore though.” Gwynivara agreed, and they walked on. “This room has any toiletries you may need-shampoo, toothpaste, et cetera. Over here, we have snacks and dry food. Next to that is a shared kitchen. We have volunteer chefs that prepare meals for large groups sometimes, but if you’re hungry any time, feel free to use it. Across from the kitchen is our first aid station. We can treat minor injuries and illnesses, but if you have any major injuries, we’ll have to rush you to an actual hospital. Next to that is a ceremony room that people use for worship services; Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or whatever other religion is welcome! Across from that we have an activity room with games and other things in case you get bored.”

They reached a fork in the road, and whether Gwynivara looked left or right, the cavern rooms all seemed much smaller than the ones behind them. She also noted that these rooms all had doors. Before they went on, Gwynivara inquired, “How do jobs get assigned?”

“It’s all volunteer based,” Emorick answered her. “Each room has a schedule, and generally people are pretty good about making sure the vacant spots are filled before it’s too late. Now, if you go all the way to the left, we have a large auditorium where we practice combat. You’re going to to live in the far right with the other officers. I purposely put our practice grounds on the opposite side of our living quarters so that the officers have to pass by everyone and help anyone in need.”

“And I’m an officer?” Gwynivara was surprised by this title.

“Clearly, you’re a fighter and have the mentality of an officer!” He bent in close and whispered, “You saw the video. We need strong minds to make sure that never happens here.”

Gwynivara’s eyes widened with concern. She sincerely hoped that an incident like that occurred seldomly in the hideout. As they passed by the houses, Gwynivara noticed that some people kept their doors open, but most people had them shut. She hoped that this was simply due to the hour of the day and not a usual occurrence, otherwise she didn’t know how she would be able to watch over the other inhabitants.

At the end of the hall, Gwynivara saw one cavern room that appeared to be larger than the rest. Emorick explained, “That’s my room. It’s also the armory. For safety purposes, we can’t have easy access to dangerous weapons. If anyone would like to learn how to use more advanced weapons, they’re certainly allowed to stop by and request lessons though. I do give everyone a large dagger for protection, just in case.”

Gwynivara briefly wondered where the weapons and the other supplies came from, but she now felt a little tired and decided to ask about that at another time. So, she simply asked him, “Which one is my room?”

“Two doors left of mine,” Emorick answered. He opened her door, and Gwynivara’s eyes sparkled as she saw her new living quarters. Even though her space comprised of a single room again, there was more space than what she had before. The bed looked a little larger than her last one, and the pillows and sheets seemed more cushiony than the old one too. She had a nightstand with a radio like she had previously, but this one stood next to an ornate candlestick. The side opposite to the nightstand had a small fireplace nestled nicely into the wall. On her right, next to the dresser, she saw another door. Emorick saw where her eyes rested, so he revealed, “That’s a bathroom. You’ll have to share it with your neighbor, who happens to be my son. You guys…should get along.” Gwynivara noticed the hesitation in his voice but decided not to ask. If there was any issue involving his son, it was probably none of her business, she thought. “If you need more batteries for the radio or matches for the fireplace, you can find them in the toiletries room.”

“Thank you so much!” Gwynivara truly felt grateful for everything. At the same time, it also felt so strange! When she woke up this morning, she was just a janitor renting a room in a mobile home, and now she was an officer in a rebellion! Her new surroundings and title definitely were an improvement, but it was so different than before and she still found it hard to believe. Everything changed so fast that she found it difficult to accept it mentally!

Emorick softly pat her back. “If you need anything, you know where to find me. Training begins at o eight hundred hours. See you in the morning!”

“Good night!” she chimed as he left. She took a moment to soak it all in. It still didn’t feel real to her. She saw what time it was and decided to get ready for bed. She set her sword down by the dresser, and she remembered that she had already dressed in her pajamas, so she didn’t need to do much to get ready for the night. She shook off the disbelief in her thoughts and went into the bathroom.

The bathroom was small, but the way it was built almost made it seem luxurious. The shower door was made of glass, but the rest was made of stone. They had a small bowl in place of a sink, and there was a faucet right above it. The toilet gave the feel of an outhouse, but it didn’t have a bad smell to it at all. Gwynivara vaguely wondered who was responsible for cleaning it. Since she got appointed as an officer, she relished in the fact that she was, most likely, done with janitorial duties!

As she washed her face, she noticed another door on the opposite side. That had to be Emorick’s son’s room, she figured. She saw a razor and shaving cream on the sink, and she pondered what it would be like to share a bathroom with a guy. So much curiosity surfaced now! She had so many questions about who he was. He must be an officer too, she thought, to live in this section. She wondered about his history and how he got Venenatus Sanguis. She figured that she would find out tomorrow at training and would get to know her new neighbor in the morning. It would be rude to introduce herself at this time of night; after all, he was more than likely sleeping right now. Or was he…?

She heard a loud crash coming from his son’s room! She pressed her ear to the wall, and it sounded like flapping wings. It sure sounded ominous, but she wasn’t sure if it was what she thought it was. If she was wrong and it was a pet or the radio, she would feel terrible for barging in. However, she remembered that Emorick had mentioned that it was part of her duties to watch over the other members. She decided it was best to take the risk and apologize later if she was wrong. She opened the door slowly, and in an instant, she knew that she wasn’t wrong!

Sabotage, Chapter 20

She never thought she would ever see him again. That was always the goal, but until now, it didn’t feel real. She bellowed, “Papi!”

Hank, still in in his pajamas and robe, clearly had been stressed for a long time, but when he saw his daughter, his tension melted. He grinned broadly as he ran to her. “Carmen!” As soon as she got close enough, he scooped her up and hugged her tight. “Mija, thank god!”

Carmen, overwhelmed with emotion, hugged him tight and started to cry. All of the fear she felt vanished from inside her and came flooding out. when she was a little girl, her dad was a source of strength and comfort whenever she had a nightmare or got hurt, physically or emotionally. At thirty years old, she found that nothing had changed. Now that it was over and he was here, she had a chance to really process all of her emotions. She didn’t realize how scared she was before, but she felt safe now. “I’m so sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Sorry for what?” Hank asked, slightly surprised.

“I’m sorry for leaving you!” she wailed. “I’m sorry for making you worry about me! I’m sorry that-!”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Hank interrupted her. “None of that matters. All that matters is that you’re safe!”

In the midst of their hugging, Carmen heard a familiar female’s voice call out, “Carmen!”

Her heart fluttered. It just couldn’t be! Carmen lifted her head to see a blonde woman in her fifties who closely resembled her own facial features and wore army fatigues. “Mom?”

Greta smiled and ran to her. She got on her knees and grasped Carmen tight. “As soon as I found out you were in danger, they sent me back. Oh baby, you had me so worried!” Greta sobbed uncontrollably as she clutched onto her daughter.

After a moment, she glanced over to Zartex and Garith. Zartex bawled unabashedly, and even Garith seemed a little overwhelmed with emotion. As a couple of reporters greeted Garith, Greta and Hank reunited with each other. Carmen told them, “I gotta say goodbye to them.” Her parents were too busy hugging and kissing each other to say anything, but they nodded to acknowledge that they heard her.

When she approached Zartex, she wanted to ask how long he had left, but before she could, he informed her, “It’s almost time.”

Carmen felt a surge of sadness sweep over her. “I don’t know how to thank you for everything!”

“I know how you feel,” Zartex replied. “Literally, I have been watching your emotions this whole time!”

Carmen softly snickered and turned Garith. She was sure he would want to say goodbye to Zartex too. He chatted with his reporter colleagues, so she waited a moment. She didn’t want to appear as though she were eavesdropping, so she watched the crime scene investigators clean up the scene and listened to the rock music the park had turned on. She couldn’t help but hear what Garith had been saying, “Thanks again, Marge! Oh, did you guys hire my production assistant?”

As Marge revealed that she hadn’t, Carmen’s heart stopped. She felt hurt and utterly betrayed. Abandoning all pretense, she grabbed Garith’s shoulder, spun him around, and barked, “You lied to me!”

Completely confused, Garith responded, “What?”

“Remember in Utah, I asked you if you knew anyone that was hiring in the Bay Area?” Carmen vented. “You said you didn’t! That wasn’t true, obviously! You must’ve known that, with my theatre degree, that I could qualify to be a production assistant! You didn’t even consider me for the job! You must not think much of me! And to think I was starting to feel-!” She cut herself off right there. He didn’t deserve to hear anything positive about himself right now.

Garith, with a hopeful gleam in his eyes, stepped up to her. “Yes?”

“Nevermind!” She snarled. “I hope that article was worth it!”

Fuming, Carmen turned her back to him. She saw Garith struggle with a decision, but she didn’t care. As she walked away, something stopped her dead in her tracks. It was Garith, who cried out, “It’s because I love you, okay?”

Garith sighed and confessed, “Things at the studio grew tense as my marriage went sour, and after a bitter divorce, they made a rule about inter-office romances. I know you would be perfect for the job, but…well…The more time I spend with you, the more these feelings grow. I could pretend that there was nothing there, but every day I would see you, and they’d come right back. I would remember what an amazing woman you are, and I couldn’t resist your smile, your curves, your eyes…oh, those eyes!”

Carmen often wondered why certain people couldn’t accept a compliment, but now she got it. Garith was the kindest, bravest, and most handsome man she had ever met. She didn’t feel worthy to inspire these kinds of feelings in him. “But…I…I’m just…I don’t have much to offer. I’m a penniless, jobless thirty year old who still lives with her parents! How could I…How could you…?”

Garith stepped close to her again, putting his hands around her hips. “Hey, you’re enough! Okay, so you got some baggage. I can carry it! I’m real strong, remember?”

Remembering the day they met, Carmen laughed. Garith gazed intensely at her, and her heart fluttered. She couldn’t believe this was real! She didn’t want to admit to herself before, but those feelings that she couldn’t figure out before were romance. Her nerves were all lit up, and she relished in the fact that she would now get to experience the exciting type of love that she so ardently craved. Garith leaned in for a kiss, and her heart beat wildly….!

Suddenly, Garith and Carmen found themselves kissing Zartex’s cheeks! “Sorry guys! I really hate to interrupt, but it’s almost time for me to go, so could I…? One more time? Please!”

Carmen laughed, “Go ahead!”

“Yes!” Zartex exclaimed as the song Nothin’ But a Good Time by Poison played. They soon felt their world morph to a nineteen-eighties concert venue…

(Zartex, totally decked out like an eighties rocker,
sang into a microphone. Garith played the
guitar, Carmen played the tamborine,
Hank played the drums, and Greta
played the bass guitar. Garith and Carmen
stood together to sing back up. All of them
dressed like eighties rock stars.)
Zartex:     Now listen,
Not a dime, I can’t pay my rent,
I can barely make it through the week!
Saturday night, I’d like to treat my girl,
but right now, I can’t make ends meet.

I’m always working, slaving every day!
Gotta get away from the same old, same old!
I need a chance to get away!
If you could hear me think, this is what I’d say:

Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time,
and it don’t get better than this!

(Everyone abandoned  their instruments
and took turns singing into the camera.)
Garith:     They say I spend my money on women
and wine,
Carmen:     But I couldn’t tell you where I
spent last night!
Garith & Carmen:     I’m really sorry for the
shape I’m in,
I Just like my fun every now and then!

Hank:     I’m always working, slaving every day!
Greta:     Gotta get away from the same old, same old!
Hank & Greta:     I need a chance to get away!
If you could hear me think, this is what I’d say:

Garith:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
Carmen:      How can I resist?
Greta:     Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
Hank:     And it don’t get better than this!

(Zartex, now raised on a platform high above
the rest of the stage, sang as the other
four watched below).
Zartex:     You see, I raise a toast to all of us,
who are breaking our backs every day!
If wanting a good life is such a crime,
Lord, then put me away!
Here’s to ya!

(During the musical break, the other four
dance. During the guitar solo, Garith
grabbed Carmen’s waist, dipped her,
and kissed her passionately. The others
silently said rock on.)

(Greta and Hank dance together as does
Carmen and and Garith. Zartex sang.)
Zartex:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
And it don’t get better than this!

(Zartex’s stage leveled down to theirs and
he partied with them.)
Zartex:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
and it don’t get better than this!

(The audience, which consisted of the police and
the park workers, all sang with the five on
stage for the last verse.)
Everyone:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
And it don’t get better than this!

(As the song faded, the crowd cheered. Confetti
rained down on the stage. Greta, Hank,
Garith, Carmen, and Zartex took a bow.)

The world morphed back into the amusement park crime scene, but Zartex didn’t come back. A thick, azure blue light hovered over Garith and Carmen, who waved goodbye fervently with one arm while their other arm was around each other. Before the light disappeared completely, Hank saluted it with two fingers. Garith and Carmen watched it disappear. Though they were sad to see him go, they were proud of Zartex and really appreciated his role in their journey.

Detective Dinsung shook his head, pulling himself out of a reverie he didn’t remember having. He went over to where Zartex had stood, searching around the area in confusion. “Where did your friend go? We still have questions for him!”

“You wouldn’t believe it if we told you!” Garith replied truthfully.

“Is he coming back?” Detective Dinsung asked.

Hank answered, “He wishes!”

Totally confused, Detective Dinsung shook his head and moved onto another part of the investigation. Carmen grabbed Garith’s other hip, and they both snickered delightfully. Hank pushed himself between them, faced Garith, cleared his throat, and said brusquely, “Excuse me, who are you? I’m the daddy!”

“Papi” Carmen groaned. “I’m thirty years old!”

“What’s your point?” Hank surveyed Garith with high skepticism.

“Mister Alvaro, I’m Garith Kendric.” Garith offered him a firm handshake.

As Garith introduced himself, Carmen stood by his side. Greta joined Hank’s side and surveyed Garith in a very different way than her husband did. She met Carmen’s gaze and silently mouthed, “He’s cute!”

Carmen silently giggled as Hank and Garith got to know each other. After all the wondering about what laid on the other side of her journey, it laid out before her now. She may not have instantly found a job or ran into her own place, but she had something she hadn’t thought of-lots of love and support. In all of Mirage’s secrets to success, they hadn’t counted on how magical having these kind of people in one’s life could be. Money and status would come and go, but friends and family were a constant value that should never get discarded again! In a way, she felt sorry for the higher ups of this cult because they would never know this kind of happiness. They never had a chance because they were always chasing the next big thing. They focused so much on the future that they forgot about the now. The present was important too, and some moments and opportunities will leave if they aren’t captured immediately. She decided to stop worrying about the future and enjoy the bits of joy that would come her way in the present. The biggest lesson she learned was that she had no way of knowing any good or bad in her future, but if something good was here and now, she must savor it!

The End

Epilogue: On a clear television set, a judge asked, “How do you plea?”

The camera panned to Jorden, who stated, “I plea guilty.”

The camera panned to Arius, who stated, “Guilty.”

The camera panned to Elden, who stated, “Guilty.”

The camera panned to Lilith, who stated, “Your Honor, I plea guilty.”

The camera panned to Seth, who very begrudgingly stated, “Guilty.”

On the other side of the court room, Carmen, who now looked relieved, sat by her lawyer, Jayesh Chakrabarti. Garith, who sat in the audience behind her, put his hand on her shoulder. She put her hand on his hand, which showed a simple but very elegant engagement ring!

Munching on some popcorn and lounging on a white couch in a room with mostly white furniture, Zartex, back in alien face, commented delightedly, “Yes Oh, I love Earthlings-my favorite aliens!”

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!”

Sabotage, Chapter 16

With tears rolling down his cheek, Seth made a plea to a reporter, “She killed my buddy in cold blood, and she didn’t stop there! She humiliated our Western Regional Manager in public and framed him for a crime he didn’t commit. She got a vicious dog to attack our vice president. Our head of security is still missing. Our accountant got attacked by a bear. Our recovery agents have lost their minds. I knew she’s after me next! Please, find her before she destroys everyone I hold dear!”

The reporter put up Carmen’s picture alongside Garith’s, who got listed as an accomplice. Peering into the shop window, Carmen’s face turned to pure disgust. “That miserable f-!”

Garith interrupted her by putting his hand over her mouth. Some people stared curiously, so he casually waved them off, “She has Tourette’s Syndrome. Please, don’t stare! She just wants to be like everybody else!” People seemed to accept his explanation and went along their way down the row of vintage, downtown shops. Garith continued to muffle Carmen as he whispered, “He’s a liar, a murderer, and a horrible human being. I’m mad too, but we have to lay low since he’s framing us for his crimes! So please, hold onto your anger until we’re safe!”

Carmen pushed his hand off her mouth and hissed, “He tried to kill me! I defended myself and now I’m getting punished for surviving?”

Before Garith could calm her vexed nerves, a woman proclaimed, “Hey! You look familiar!”

A million excuses ran through Carmen’s mind, but Zartex was first to speak, “I get that a lot. People say I’m a dead ringer for Pee Wee Herman!”

The woman, who hadn’t noticed Zartex until now, realized he was right. “Oh my god, you do! Can I get a selfie?”

“A what?” Zartex replied. The woman took that as a yes and posed for a picture with him. Carmen and Garith slipped away to an alley behind them.

While they trotted through the alley behind the shops, Carmen apologized, “I’m sorry I am so emotional. I feel like such an anti-hero!”

Garith assured her, “No need to apologize for having feelings! You’re human, and you went through a horrific experience, so it’s totally normal to freak out a little. You’re stronger than I am! If I went through what you did, I’d be a big, freakin’ baby about it!” His comment made Carmen laugh, so he went on, “No, seriously! Men actl like we don’t feel anything but hungry and horny, so we stuff our feelings until eventually we blow up over something stupid like a dumb call at a football game!” Carmen laughed again, so he added, “I’m a reporter, so I’m worse! We aren’t supposed to show any emotion even when we talk about horrible stories. I’m a ticking time bomb!”

“Sounds like I’d be safer traveling with a recovery agent!” Carmen joked. Garith laughed this time, and Carmen commented, “I can’t believe it! A minute ago I was really upset. How do you do that?”

Behind them, Zartex teleported and abruptly related, “He uses humor as a defense mechanism.” Carmen and Garith turned to him, and Zartex inquired, “So, how do we get to Sacramento from Roseville?”

Carmen thought out loud, “Well, originally we were gonna take the train, but it’s probably not safe to do that. The city bus is gonna be crowded too. We could take the back roads and alleyways to a point, but eventually, we would walk right into a people-filled area. I don’t know! There’s gotta be a way! Don’t worry, it’ll hit me!”

Immediately, after she said that, she crashed into a business truck! A man poked his outside and yelled, “What are you doing?”

Zartex answered truthfully, “Escaping the police!”

“Very funny!” the man came out to check the damage. “No damage, good! Will you freaks scram? I’m behind on my deliveries! Damn, there better not be too much traffic going down to Fair Oaks!” The man stormed back inside.

“Where’s Fair Oaks?” Garith wondered.

Zartex used his watch to look at a map. “Oh, it’s down here by the American River.”

Carmen also peered over the map. “That river flows to Sacramento! If we went to Fair Oaks, we could get to Sacramento by boat! But…we couldn’t!”

Garith, who already climbed inside, pointed out, “He’s running late, like he’ll check!”

Carmen seemed skeptical, but when Garith reached out his hand, she felt compelled to accept. They heard the delivery driver coming back, but luckily they quickly found boxes to hide behind as he shut the back door. Before he drove off, he saw Zartex standing there and glared at him. “I live in the dumpster.” The driver rolled his eyes and took off. Zartex shrugged and used his teleporter to get out of there.

The delivery driver opened up the back door and started loading boxes onto  his dolly. After he removed a few, he saw Garith and Carmen hiding in there. “Are you freakin’ kidding me!” he reacted vehemently.

“We can explain!” Garith claimed. The man ogled him skeptically. “We’re from the union. We work undercover to see who’s paying attention to safety precautions during their runs. You left your vehicle unsecured and overweight. We’ll have to report you!”

The driver’s tuned totally changed. “Oh please, don’t turn me in! I need this job! If I don’t pay my rent, me and my kid will be out on the street!”

Carmen and Garith made eye contact and pretended to silently debate the issue. Carmen told him, “Well…we’ll let you off with a warning this time, but only because we wouldn’t wanna see a kid on the streets!”

“Oh, thank you!” The man seemed truly grateful. As they hopped out of the truck, he secured his vehicle even though the restaurant owner, who had been waiting for her delivery, came out to yell at him.

Once they were out of sight, Carmen and Garith gave each other a high five. “Good thinking!” Carmen complimented.

“I don’t even know where that came from!” Garith relished.

Zartex appeared behind them, almost making them jump, and remarked “It came from you subconscious instincts.”

“You gotta stop doing that!” Carmen admonished him.

Zartex ignored that and informed them, “I got us a boat. Don’t ask me how!”

“We know how,” Garith responded. “What are we gonna do? Call the police?”

Zartex explained, “I hid it by the river. If we go by night, no one should spot us. All we gotta do is walk a couple of blocks down Sunrise Boulevard, which is right over there!”

“A couple of blocks?” Carmen lamented. “We’re doomed!”

“After all of the walking we did, you’re afraid of a couple of blocks?” Garith probed. “It’s almost too easy! Oh, I see your point now. What do we do?”

“What choice do we have?” Carmen said sagely, “We can’t stay here. We gotta move forward. All we have to do is walk briskly and try not to look too guilty.”

As they walked down Sunset Boulevard, Garith and Carmen avoided eye contact with everyone. Zartex whispered, “Act more normal!”

Carmen quickly noted, “An alien is giving advice on being normal!”

They peeked their heads up to take a look at their surroundings. People didn’t seem to notice them much. A mother and father walked their baby in her stroller. People drove to and from their jobs. A group of teenagers hung out and goofed off with each other. Everything just seemed so normal! It just felt so unbelievable that as her world came crashing down, life still carried on. Carmen wondered if her life would ever be so ordinary. At this point in her life, she couldn’t fathom going to work that she didn’t have stress about so much. As she stared at a businessman on his cell phone driving by, she saw him crack a smile. His worst worry right now would be paying a ticket for using his cell phone while driving, a minor inconvenience that he would forget about it as soon as he saw his buddies at the office. How perfectly extraordinary it was that all this unexceptional behavior went on while this madness happened in Carmen’s universe!

The last block was the most difficult. Carmen’s heart pounded in anticipation. She tried her hardest to walk normally, but she knew that any minute something dangerous would come along. Any minute someone would jump out of the shadows and take her whole world away. The park got closer and closer. She felt faint. Danger lurked around the corner, she just knew it! She lost awareness of her surroundings. She couldn’t breathe. Instincts took over as she walked through the shadows. She  wished it would just happen already so she could get it over with. The anticipation was too much to bear!

Suddenly, she saw sunlight and took a deep breath. She found herself in front of a riverbank. It took her a minute to see a canoe hidden by brush, and she realized that she had made it safely! They didn’t get attacked or captured! Apparently, Garith thought along the same lines because Carmen heard him say, “I’m alive?”

Zartex pleasantly chuckled, “You guys got some funny looks, so I told them you just saw a scary movie. It’s kind of true. I can only imagine the images running in your heads!”

Garith and Carmen giggled nervously. It took them a moment to compose themselves. Garith asserted, “Now all we have to do is wait for the sun to set. And then find a place to hide in California’s capitol! That should be easy, right?”

Zartex was about to answer, but Carmen stopped him. “Don’t answer that.” Garith and Carmen laughed a little, starting to relax again.

As dusk loomed close, the three of them finished eating some chicken. Garith asked Zartex, “Where did you get this? I will make a trip back to Sacramento just for this!”

Zartex recalled, “It was on a picnic table by the lake. I wanted to steal the boat, so I shouted ‘Bear!’ The humans went running! I remember you guys like to eat every day, so I thought that since I’m already stealing from them, I may as well steal some more!”

Garith mused, “You should probably stop admitting to stealing so often!”

“Psh!” Zartex countered. “If I get arrested, I’ll just teleport out! The worst case scenario is my boss will lecture me about breaking the rules. Actually, she can be scary when she’s mad!” Zartex raised an eyebrow at the thought.

Carmen remarked, “You sure do move your eyebrows a lot for someone who doesn’t have any human muscles!”

Zartex retorted, “What kind of disguise would it be if I had a face that didn’t move? Besides, the human body is fun to play with!” He wiggled his eyebrows one at a time.

The three of them laughed, but Carmen shushed them shortly after. They listened for a moment, and the other two heard what she did-footsteps. They hid behind some bushes as Jorden came into the scene, surveying her surroundings with a flashlight. As she scanned everything, she spoke spitefully, “I know you’re here, Carmen! I heard your laugh! You’re here with that reporter! You guys can’t hide for long! I’m right here! I will find you!” She shined her light to where the canoe was hidden. The three had to hold their breath since Jorden had no idea how close she actually was to them. “Oh, this must be your canoe. I’ll wait.” She sat on the edge of the canoe but couldn’t resist baiting Carmen. “You really pride yourself in breaking the rules, don’t you? You’re just like your father!” Carmen felt herself get riled up but didn’t dare act on it. “Maybe we’ll just forget you and focus on him! He’s been successful at keeping secrets so far, so we can use him! And if he doesn’t cooperate, we would have no trouble getting rid of him…”

Carmen felt herself tense up with rage. Jorden was threatening her father and she couldn’t tolerate that! Jorden sat up and spoke to the river, which put her back in the position of being within inches of their hiding spot. “You wanna hide like a coward, fine! Don’t face your charges like an adult! I’m gonna call a recovery agent and tell him to go retrieve Hank! Forget giving him a job in Mirage! We’re gonna send his brown hyde back to the ass of Europe!” Without even thinking about it, Carmen stormed out of the bushes. Before Jorden had time to react, Carmen punched her in the face! Jorden fell to the ground, knocked out!

Garith emerged from the bushes and celebrated, “Yeah! Take that, you racist bitch!”

As Zartex came out, he noted, “The sun is almost down, we can probably get going.”

As they cleared the brush from the canoe, Carmen noticed that Jorden kept slipping closer and closer to the water. As they got the canoe out and began to climb in, Jorden’s head went totally underwater! “Oh no!” Carmen cried out.

As she waded through the water, Garith questioned, “Are you really gonna save someone who wants to kill you?”

“I hate her guts!” Carmen explained as she retrieved her. “But I’m not about to stoop to their level and be responsible for a loss of life!” She got her back onto the land, and as Zartex and Garith rowed to the bank, Carmen pushed down on Jorden’s chest to give her CPR. Finally, Jorden coughed up water, and as she came to, the other two grabbed Carmen. The three of them rowed out of sight before Jorden realized what was going on.

As they rowed down the shadowy river, Garith complimented Carmen, “You’re a better person than me!”

Carmen grinned, “Thanks!” She felt herself blush and was really glad it was so dark! She changed the subject, “How are we going to get away with this?”

Garith replied, “With dumb luck, just like every other part of the journey!”

The three of them laughed together as they rowed down through the shadows.