Bondless and without form, the void of space stretches beyond the mad aeons of creation. Where gods were born and creatures of unimaginable horror are locked away, waiting for their release, the void carries with it a darkness beyond the absence of light. For in that barren plain, life, human or otherwise, rests at the fingertips of a restless chaos.
In that darkness, far from Earth or any Earth in its infinite possibilities, a pinprick of blue pulsating energy carves its place within the ceaseless black of the cosmos. The energy, vibrating in rhythm like a heartbeat, bursts into the formation of stars. Their numbers, limitless, provide a wonderment of radiance within the dark. The stars glitter in a swirling sea of light. The energy grows in intensity and curves long like a flowing cool blue river cut amongst slowly forming celestial bodies. The stars swirl into solar systems as galaxies take shape within the cascade of energy. Billions of years of cosmic evolution play out in seconds. Worlds form and life crawls from the primordial ooze. Civilizations rise and fall, all returning to dust.
From that current of energy, the stars shutter as the light begins to bend. Pulling upward, the illumination curves to take the form of a rising monstrosity. Emerging from the center of the ever flowing blue glow, the offspring of an Old One, of the terror before time and space, slowly rose up. Humanoid in its construct, the towering faceless being began to wade waist deep through the stream of galaxies. Planets and moons drip from its pale skin and tumble out of orbit as suns detonate at its approach.
Drawing back out stretched hands, the child of an ancient horror dipped its slender fingers into the blue oceans of planetary life. Moving ever forward, the offspring’s hands trailed behind it as all of man’s creation slipped through its grip. With one effortless touch, parallel universes are forced to cross timelines and are destroyed in spectacular displays of obliteration. The destruction sends vibrations through the tips of the monstrous child’s fingers. With each pulse of annihilation, the being without features, arches its back and sways its body in rhythm to the death.
The offspring’s caress forges a gravitational collapse amongst the celestial bodies, erupting clouds of interstellar matter out into the void. Plumes of dust and gases strike out into the darkness, bringing with it the vibrant colors of a violent chemical reaction. The cool blue stream of energy that once sustained life now wisps trails brighter than any star amongst thickening clouds of deepening dark purples. Growing hundreds of light years in diameter, the complex organic matter forms a nebula.
Amongst the thick curling clouds, the nebula begins to expand as from its center a pillar of interstellar matter rises ever upward. The dust and gases thin and take shape to form the hard cut humanoid lines of another being much like the first. Though having a solid upper body reaching up from the nebula, the offspring of an Old One’s frame looked as a window into a very familiar corner of the universe as within it, Earth rotated around its Sun and the stars glimmered within their constellations.
The being looked vaguely human as if to mock their flawed design. While retaining some earthly features, the ancient child’s face carried with it only the thin lines of a gaping mouth. Above its lips, a hollow place was carved out from the front of its face and reaching nearly all the way to the back of its head. In that pitted realm, a galaxies worth of stars hung as dust and gases swirled around them, shining a hue of blues out into the void.
Raising its massive limbs, the being reaches into the center of its face and pulls from it an aging star. The clouds of gas about the child’s midsection, harden and become flat as the star is placed upon it. With its other hand, the being pulls it upward while gripping the angry lightening of a volcanic storm concentrated into the form of a hammer.
Bringing down the hammer, the offspring strikes the star, causing a stellar explosion. Energy more powerful than the Sun sends shock-waves rippling out into the void to birth a supernova. The being strikes the star again and sparks tumble outward in the form of fiery comets.
The fireballs hurtle through the void and are swept up in the gravitational pull of a newly appearing planet. Cutting through the world’s atmosphere, the comets break apart and rain down blazing meteorites. The debris slams into the planet’s dead rocky surface, blasting impact craters that heave boulders and jagged stones into the air. One after the other, the comets fall and strike the planet. The sound is deafening as the meteorites reshape the world’s surface.
In that chaos of dust and debris, of a world on fire, a lone figure walked. Shrouded in black, its features slick and absent, the humanoid silhouette moved effortlessly as meteorites crashed all around it. Over the barren terrain it traveled, trailing behind it a long dark cloak that hung from its shoulders like a shadow that reached down to the dry crumbling soil below its feet. The cloak dragged along the earth and expanded ever outward, drawing midnight behind it, for all it touched turned to darkness.
With each step forward, the figure soon came upon those which were spawned by the Old Ones. From the hills, a horrid thing slithered on blood wet appendages that whipped about. Its trunk, a twisted collection of grey scaled deformities, convulsed as its clawed limbs struck out into the heavy air. Upon spiked shoulders sat an unusually large head.
Having seen the darkened figure approach, the being’s sunken eyes rolled back into its head as the flesh down the center of its face began to push outward and tear. The skin rips away as a hundred smaller faces push out from within the cavity of the being’s skull. Bone white with red smeared features and small black beady eyes, the hundred faces all watch the figure. In unison, they turn their heads, all staring with two hundred little eyes.
Soon the faces push and waver side to side until several have freed themselves from the offspring’s skull. Tumbling down to the dusty earth, the faces twist upright and unravel limbs curled around their heads. Standing on thin spindly legs, the faces scurry along the jagged hills and follow the figure until the crumbling soil allows them to no more. The faces pause as the mount before them gives way, forcing them to watch the figure at a distance until disappearing in the darkness that trailed behind it.
The faces were not the last to watch the black figure that carried on across the desolate land, for an offspring towering higher than any being paused at its presence. With feminine curves, the Old One’s offspring wore a dark shroud wrapped around its legs and arms as a six winged bird stood on its shoulders in place of a head. Upon its chest small grayish knobbed breasts sat as from its vagina metal chains reaching hundreds of miles long were hooked onto the skeletal remains of a creature unknown. Pushing forward, the being dragged behind it the immense skeleton and with it, carved valleys among the hills.
With each offspring that the figure passed, each stopped and watched as it traveled onward for the figure was the void within space and the void was the Baraggal, a name only spoken by humans. He is the keeper of those which birthed the horrors deep within the far corners of the universe. He is the crafter of the Gateway of the Gods and he will bring back the Old Ones.
Slowly the offspring turns back and fades into the darkness as the black cloak about the Baraggal’s shoulders drops away and pulls back, taking with it the night. The blackness that once was all around him bleeds away. The planet the Baraggal once traveled vanishes to become an undefined space that contains only the ground below his feet. Where once were the deep dark colors of creation now stood only white.
In that transition from darkness to light, the shadow figure that was the Baraggal took on human features. Wearing a meat suit from a host who should have been long since dead, the keeper of the ancient alien horror that is the Old Ones bent his knees to sit as up from the ground a throne of white greeted him.
Unblinking, the Baraggal stared forward. He looked into the endless white and saw a shimmer of blue streak within the distance as from that burst of light an aged and battle worn Riley Scott appeared.
Stumbling forward, Riley whipped around with her gun drawn. In a defensive stance, she stood with dirt smudging her once smooth olive skin and dressed in a blood stained uniform bearing the symbol of the human resistance movement. With a patch over the socket that once held her cybernetic eye, Riley raised what remained of her arm as below the elbow was a scar from the wound that severed her limb.
“NO!” Riley shouted upon seeing the Baraggal. “YOU SON OF A BITCH! Not now!” Stepping forward, she aimed her weapon. “Bring me back, you cunt!”
“Such language.” The Baraggal said coolly. “You sound more and more like your bother, Jake and his father…”
“Don’t you dare say his name!” Riley demanded as she marched forward across the great expanse of white. “Don’t you dare bring up Whitey Bulger. Not after what he did to my mother.” With one final step, Riley stood before the Baraggal, her weapon resting inches from his face. “And you let him convince her and those women that this…” She pointed to herself. “…was all for god!”
Unimpressed, the Baraggal glanced upward. “It is time we talked again, Riley.”
“I have nothing left to say to you.” Sneering, Riley lowered her weapon. “Now bring me back to Boston. We were about to retake Faneuil Hall. We are this close…” She raises her thumb and index finger to measure the distance. “…to driving back those fuckin’ alien sons of bitches.”
“After all these years, you’re still fighting the inevitable.” The Baraggal sighed. “That is alright, I assume because one day, after you and Jamison and the few remaining allies the both of you have left are nothing but rotting carcasses beneath our feet, the Old One’s will tell their spawn of the final battle for Boston…” He spoke through gritted teeth. “…and they will not care.”
“This isn’t over yet. We still have a chance.” Riley stepped back. “The humans will win.”
“You are no more human then I.” He scoffed.
“I was.” Looking back to where the portal once was, Riley spoke in a near whisper. “Once.”
“How can you cling to your humanity after all they have done to you and those with abilities? After they realized that metahumans existed, they came after you. The humans hunted you and here you are, fighting for them when you should be leading our armies and bringing back the Old Ones. This war has gone on long enough, Riley. You will lose and all of this death will be for nothing. Your friends will have perished for nothing.”
Raising her weapon once more, Riley held her finger against the trigger and aimed for the Baraggal. She had dreamt of his death. On the cold nights she and her squad had slept in the trenches dug within the blood soaked soil of the Boston Common, Riley had dreamed of how she would slowly take him apart, piece by piece. Though she had wanted nothing more than to erase the Baraggal from existence, Riley knew the war was much bigger than Jamison Whitlock or herself. She would need the use of a power far greater than any metahuman to kill that which could not die.
As they looked at one another, the Baraggal could see the wish for his death in her eyes but he felt nothing. “How long has it been going on now…since the first ships landed?” The Baraggal asked. “How long have we been at war?”
“I don’t know!” She shouted. The anger overflowed and settled into a cold release of spite. “The day Mark died.” Riley drew back her weapon and placed it within the holster secured around her thigh. “You came to me the night before. You told me about the invasion, that I would regret it if I didn’t agree to becoming the gate.” Riley closed her eyes and breathed a heavy breath. “I didn’t know the war was going to start with Mark’s death.”
“Mark was the first and a year later, it was Mike. Then Cesar and Gabe.” The Baraggal continued as he rose from his throne. Stepping toward Riley, he soon stood before her. “Then Domino.” He inhaled deeply and sighed with false sorrow. “Oh, the awful things that were done to Domino. She put up quite the fight before we took her head.” The Baraggal paused. “That was when we took your arm, wasn’t?”
Riley lowers her head and looks to what remained of her arm. She saw not a severed limb but the memories of how she had lost it. In the clutter of her thoughts, she could still hear how Jamison screamed. She could still remember how Mouse wept once she learned that Domino had given her life to save her and how she could not look at Riley, knowing she had lost her arm trying to save them both.
It is in this moment that the living metal reacts as it has become one with its host. From the point of amputation, the living metal pierces through the skin and takes shape to form a fully functioning arm and hand. In the center of that hand, the metal swirls, creating a circular conductor from which a blue glow of cosmic energy radiates from.
Taking her by the wrist, the Baraggal held the smooth metal hand within his grip. Looking to the pulse of blue, to the power he had gifted her, the Baraggal spoke, his words sounding almost mournful. “You count the passing years with the bodies of the dead. What will you do when the last of your friends have perished? How much longer will you let this continue when you have run out of time?”
Riley says nothing. Yet in protest, she tried to turn away. Drawing back her arm and out of the Baraggal’s grip, Riley stepped back only to stop as he laid a gentle hand upon her cheek. Turning her head toward his, the Baraggal looked upon the years that etched lines upon her face. “Oh, what war has done to you…” He spoke softly. “…yet you still look so beautiful. Out of the twelve…” He began, speaking of the other women involved in the gate experiments. “…and no matter the timeline nor universe…”
With the Baraggal’s words the white world around them shimmered with blue as streaks of energy crack and open portals to different worlds. From this display of power the many versions of Riley existing within the numerous forms of Earth step out and into the white room just as she had moments earlier.
The women stumble forward, all looking very much as Riley but still so different. Every possible outcome of a version of Riley found herself staring back at all the could-have-beens. From the crowd, a Riley dressed in an orange jumpsuit stood bound in shackles. Having never had her son nor married Henry, she rose among the ranks of Whitey Bulger’s crew and found herself in prison after her brother, Jake had sold her and his father out. Beside her, a young girl stepped forward. With blood running down her nose and a bruise swelling her right eye shut, another universes version of Riley as a small child asked the Baraggal if she had arrived in Heaven. While asking if Jesus had come to take her, a war ravaged Riley dragged herself forward, her legless torso trailing blood along the young girl’s shoes.
Though they had all been so different the one constant that connected them all was that each Earth had at some point in its timeline faced the alien invasion. For some, the Baraggal came as their lives had just begun and for others, the Baraggal knew it was only a matter of time before he would greet them. Despite the many Earths and the many versions of Riley, there had only been one gate and it had taken a war of Houses and Gods and unimaginable cosmic horrors to bring Riley Scott to the white room.
With his hands cupping Riley’s face, the Baraggal drew her in and whispered with a serpents hiss. “…you have always been my favorite.”
Pushing back, Riley freed herself from the Baraggal’s grip. His touch stirred a fire within her belly that had never seemed to fade. The anger was unending. It burned till there was nothing left but hate. Who she had once been when Boston still stood was gone as the fury that now consumed her drove up her hand and forced the power emitting from it to strike out.
Before the war, Jamison had criticized Riley for her refusal to use her gift, to take advantage of what the experiments had done to her. She had refused, never telling him why, that a part of her had been trying so hard to stay human, to be human. That desire changed the night the humans turned against them, the night Domino died. Unleashing her power, Riley had leveled nearly all of Manhattan, burning down much of what remained of New York. Domino’s body and Riley’s arm were never found.
With one fluid motion of her hand, the blue glow shined, manipulating matter. In a fraction of a second, the atoms and molecules composing each and every version of Riley separated by layer. Like an atomic wave, the cosmic energy rippled out and stripped away their flesh. Meat and muscle peeled away to expose bone. Their skeletons soon vanished just as the rest of their bodies had. The versions of Riley that existed on the many Earths simply were no more as if never having existed at all.
“Such a meager display of power.” Indifferent, the Baraggal sighed. “I gave you the power of an Old One who sacrificed itself to become a sun and this is how you kill?” Grabbing Riley by the throat, he pulled her close. Pressing his lips against her ear, he growled before releasing her. “Cleanse the Earth of god’s human excrement!”
Raising her hand to the Baraggal, Riley threatened to tear him apart. Piece by piece, atom by atom, she would try to do what she had always dreamed of, killing that which had killed nearly all of her. “ENOUGH!” She shouted. “Bring me back to Boston!”
The Baraggal smiled as if Riley’s opposition was pleasing. “I will but first…” With an open hand, the Baraggal offered her a seat as it rose up from the white ground beneath their feet. Though Riley refused it, the Baraggal took his place upon the throne. Clasping his hands, he looked upon her and what the years of war had done to his experiment. “…I come with the same offer and after all these years, you must have realized that it is the only way to rewrite the past.”
Folding her arms, Riley turns from the Baraggal. Looking into the vast expanse of white, the world around her began to change as from a distance, an image appeared. Stretched long and thin, the vague outline drew across the endless white above them and took shape. The images flicker like old Super 8 footage as the past plays out before Riley.
It was life before the war, before much of what they had been fighting for still existed. Mark Danvers was still alive as he and Riley drank until dawn, talking till the city woke. Mike Mckane had not needed to sacrifice himself so that his family might live as he held his newborn son, completely unprepared for what awaited him as a father. The lives of Gabe Gone and Cesar play out until the image of Domino stood tall and above them like a canopy. It had been their first mission together, the day they took on The Order of Adam and freed their prisoners from camps hidden in the north. Amongst the burning bodies and twisted metal, they had found some understanding that only the deeply angry do.
As Riley watched the past flicker by, from his throne, the Baraggal tempted her with all that she had ever needed. “I can bring them back.” The corner of his mouth curled upward as Riley slowly looked over her shoulder toward him. “Mark and Mike. Cesar and Gabe.” He pauses. “Even Domino.” His smile grew as from his mouth, Domino’s name lingered on his lips. “I can change the events of the past so that they may live again. I can give you back your arm and make sure much of what happened in New York never occurs again.”
“The answers the same as it’s always been.” Riley replied as she watched old memories of Mouse and Jamison play out. “And I don’t need you for their forgiveness.” Raising up her hand, Riley pointed to her friends, to those who now no longer stood by her side. “Someday…they’ll understand. They’ll realize they would have done the same goddamn thing in New York.”
It is with her refusal that the images above her begin to quicken and play one on top of the other. Soon memories collide as the moving pictures drop and crash into the ground. Becoming four dimensional, the images of the dead begin to rise up and flicker across the white room and all about her.
All of the dead and forgotten crowd the space around her as the memories they were chosen from continued on. From that gathering of guilt and sorrow, Riley’s mother stood heavily pregnant with eleven other women who had birthed children for the gate experiments. Beyond the women, Riley’s Division Six partner Benjamin Henley stacked something unknown with his weapon drawn as Theo followed close behind him. Past the pair that would call her teammate, Riley saw what she had always hoped to see. In the great distance, Henry and Jacob stood. In the seconds that passed, an unknown little girl in a yellow dress and pigtails stepped out from behind Jacob and took his hand.
Exploiting this moment of weakness, the Baraggal made a promise too tempting to deny. “I can give you back your family.” He stops only to watch Riley turn around to face him. “After all these years, don’t you deserve to know if Henry and Jacob are alive? Why their graves were empty?” Reaching out his hand, the Baraggal offered Riley her seat. “How it must eat you up inside, not knowing.” He smiled as a part of the Baraggal enjoyed the cruelty of his words. “If you really had a daughter?”
From the moment he had taken her from the battlefield, Riley had known what her answer might be. They had played this game for years and with each no, the human resistance movement lost more and more. “You’ll bring them back?” It was not giving in, she reasoned but maybe it was time to play by the Baraggal’s rules in order to win.
“The ones that vanished by my hand, yes but it all hinges on one little word.” The Baraggal offered Riley her seat upon the chair once more, insisting she take her place before him. “I can give you anything, if you agree to become the Gateway of the Gods.”
Changing her strategy, Riley took her seat. Wasting no time, she did as she had done many times before for her human squad, she moved in for tactical advantage. “If I say yes, you’ll come after me, you’ll hunt me down?”
“To the ends of the Earths.” The Baraggal said with utmost pleasure. “I can change the past, Riley but I leave the future up to you.”
“Then bring them back. Bring Mark and Mike and Gabe back. Give them and my family protection. House Twelve, the Division, and the aliens, they all have to leave them alone. They get to live…in peace.” Riley raised her hand, stopping the Baraggal before he could speak. “Cesar and Domino…Jamison needs his family back and I need back the goddess Inanna.”
“Your friends may live but New York and the hunting of metahumans will always be a possibility. Bargaining away the lives of billions is for the concerns of gods.”
Riley grew quiet but for a moment. Looking to the endless stream of memories, replaying aimlessly all around her, she asked for one final condition. “Tell me when you’ll make this happen? I need to know, what am I going to lose to change everything?”
Leaning forward, the Baraggal looked to Riley. With a gentle touch, he stroked the loose strands of hair from her eyes before cupping her face. “The night you and Jamison and your little friends freed the prisoners from the camps up north. The night you defeated The Order of Adam. You will lose your victory against the growing army of cybernetic men and women. You will lose to hate and it will spread like fire.”
Closing her eyes, Riley calmly shook her head in agreement. She needed no words as her body spoke for her. The final evolution of the gate now drew ever closer to completion. It would be mere seconds before the Baraggal would rewrite the past to bring the Old Ones into the future.
In those few seconds, the Baraggal leaned in and pressed his cheek against Riley’s. Whispering, the Baraggal revealed that he had been hiding more than Riley had ever known. “I know how to kill the immortal Jamison Whitlock.”
Pulling herself back, Riley’s eyes grew wide as she looked to the Baraggal, who only laughed. Before she could respond, the memories that roamed all around them vanished with the years of war that had shown on Riley’s face. No longer looking to the Baraggal with one eye but now two, Riley’s expression of shock turned to horror.
Years into the past, Riley had become the gate and the Baraggal had made it happen. While her friends had lived, a new war, a different war ravaged Earth yet Riley looked far different then a solider in the human resistance movement. She looked as none would ever expect.
“NO!” Riley cried out. Standing quickly to her feet, Riley stumbled back. Placing one hand over her very pregnant belly to protect her child, she raised the other as she shouted once again. “Leave my baby girl alone! Leave us alone!”
The Baraggal stood. With outstretched arms, he welcomed this new future version of Riley. “But why?” He began to laugh. “You have given me a gift. Though your first daughter may have died, you have given me another to carry on the gate.” The laughter grew crazed. “The Old Ones will return, Riley! They will return all because of you!”
In the growing terror, a blue pulse of energy cracked within the white room, opening a portal to send Riley and her unborn daughter back to Earth. In her leave, the Baraggal’s laughter died. His reaction had been more for Riley then for any emotion he did not experience.
His display had also been for those watching, the many eyes staring back, hidden within the white of the great expanse before him. With Riley’s leave, the Baraggal turned to those who had been witness to the changing of fate. In their acknowledgement, a group of men and women, dressed in the style of religious practices long forgotten, stepped out of the white and into view.
“Have you made up your minds?” The Baraggal asked, looking to the many who stood before him. “Which side have you chosen? That of the Old Ones or…” He hissed. “…the humans?”
From the mass of gathered bodies, an Aboriginal woman caked in mud and marked with white paint stepped forward. Pointing a finger at the Baraggal, she spoke in a thick accent. “These are our children. We are their mothers and fathers. They were born from the mud I molded.”
“And they feed from my seas.” Said a dark man wearing a thousand pearls around his neck and dawning an elaborate headdress.
“You are nothing more than forgotten gods and goddesses. Your children have outgrown you and your usefulness. They now worship false idols and fools that sit in boardrooms delegating their responsibilities.” The Baraggal scoffed. “I have taken you into the future. You have seen that the gate is happening, that it shall be reunited with the key. The Old Ones are at your doorstep and the new gods will tremble. You either die or serve the Baraggal.”
The ancient gods and goddesses grew restless. Their voices raised in anger. Shouting, they yelled that this could not be asked of them and for their return to the dirt of the Earth. From the crowd, one voice spoke louder than all the rest. Viracocha, an Inca deity, stepped forward and spoke with a voice as loud as thunder. “You were before us, older then gods and humans. We are nothing to you. Why are you doing this?”
“Because he can.” The voice of the Etruscan goddess Artume rose above all others as she pushed through the crowd. “Long after the Earth is gone, when all gods are forgotten, he will be here…ready to play a new game with another world.” Dressed in a shroud of moonlight, the night goddess shimmered toward the Baraggal, facing him. “We will go back, before the gate happens and we will warn the Christian god. She will listen and she will stop you.”
“Such faith.” The Baraggal mocked. “But the new gods care not for their old Earth ancestors. You, the old gods, mean nothing. The Christian god will not listen to those no longer worshiped.”
Artume tried to protest, to defend the gods that man once gave glory to but as the words tumbled from her lips, they fell upon deaf ears for from behind the Baraggal, the Sumerian goddess Inanna stepped. Dressed in a golden headdress from which jewels draped and hung to cover her bare breasts, the goddess stood in a flowing cloak that looked as owl’s swings. Her beauty was striking as from behind dark eyes stared a traitor.
The old gods gasped as before Inanna knelt the Slavic sky god, Stribog. With his head tilted back, the meat of his neck lay exposed to the knife that Inanna held against it. Pressing the blade against the deity’s throat, Inanna looked to the Baraggal, ready to follow even the darkest of his demands.
Gazing upon the angry faces staring back and crying out for Stribog’s release, the Baraggal offered the old gods one final chance to choose their side among the growing wars of gods, of aliens and humans, just as he had done for Riley. “We are the future. We are the damnation of the many Earths and you will kneel before the Old Ones for in this room of white, even gods may die.”
With the last of his words, Inanna drew back the blade, severing the sky god’s throat. From that wound, blood spilled as if the deity were human. Coating the white room in the darkest shade of red, the gods who bore witness to the power of the Baraggal screamed out but their cries go unheard for even the new gods did not care.
The years fade and the future is rewritten as the past is now the present. The endless white of a realm that does and does not exist takes on the oranges and yellows of fallen leaves as cool shades of blue ripple across a once still body of water. The white room is no more for rows of trees spring up around a small cabin deep in the woods. A lake sits in the backdrop as rolling hills converge into mountains, all of which provides the perfect isolation for those wishing to hide away and be forgotten.
From that quiet cabin, a thin dirt path curves around a thicket of thorns and a scattering of partridgeberries, leading to a small opening amongst the trees. It is where Riley Scott and her partner, Benjamin Henley now stand, drinking the last drops of warm beer as the sun broke above the tree line. There is an awkward silence between them as both knew something should be said before they parted ways.
Riley had made Theo Taggart a promise to keep her safe and with a city on fire, the only way to protect the daughter of the man setting it ablaze was to leave Boston. To hide her away from the horrors of the Order of Adam, which her father led, Theo would need protection. Henley, bringing with him a man he referred to only as his friend, involuntarily volunteered. After bearing witness to the living metal, he would quickly realize he was over his head and drowning in a reality of experiments and their powers. He would keep Theo safe because it would keep him and the man he loved safe.
Though he knew the seriousness of the situation, the quiet had become all too much for the man who talked more than he should. After drinking the last of his beer, Henley glanced downward and noticed that Riley had looked to her phone for the second time since leaving the cabin. “When was the last time he called?” He asked, speaking of Salinger.
Slipping the phone back into her pocket, Riley tried to ignore Henley but she only knew he would ask again as with the threat of death they had been forced to get to know each other all too quickly. “Since before I went back to the old Division Six headquarters. He’s never just disappeared before.” Riley paused. “Something’s not right.”
“I’m sure everything’s fine. He’ll get back to you. I mean come on…look at you.” Henley’s hard cut features softened as he smirked. “You’re hot…scary and hot. Like dangerous scary and that’s hot. What guy can resist a chick who could probably crush him to death between her thighs.” Throwing up his arms in false protest, Henley laughed as Riley smacked him across the arm with the back of her hand. “Goddamn it, that hurt.”
“Pussy.” Riley smiled before taking a sip from her beer and wishing it was something stronger. “I’m not just talking about Salinger but all of this. None of it feels right. Something feels wrong. Like the rules have changed and there’s not a fuckin’ thing we can do about it.”
“What’re you telling me, Riley?” Henley asks as he whipped his empty beer bottle back and sent it flying into the air. With the sound of it shattering, he turned to her and continued on. “I thought you and that Whitlock asshole you mentioned were just going to raid the camps. You said the both of you had enough manpower to free those aliens. There’s something more, isn’t there? This is more than about the Order of Adam. What are you not telling me?” Grabbing Riley by the wrist as she tried to turn away, Henley refused to let her go. “Why are you really going there?”
Pulling back her arm, Riley stepped back and away from Henley. Tossing her beer bottle to the ground, she picked up a black canvas backpack, and slipped it over her shoulders. Knowing she was about to make a mistake, knowing she was about to repeat the same lies that had kept her and Mark Danvers at arm’s length, she lied hoping it was for Henley’s own good. “It’s just the aliens, Benny.”
Hearing her speak his name for the first time, Henley stepped back and did not try to stop her as Riley began to walk toward a path leading to the road back to Boston. Before she disappeared within the trees, Henley called out. “You’re coming back, right?”
Stopping, Riley turned around. Seeing the look of concern on his face, she forgave his anger and smiled. “Fuck you, Henley.” Flipping him off, Riley said goodbye the only way a Bostonian could. Turning back to the woods, she began to walk away.
Watching her leave, Henley sighed and called out. “Fuck you, Scott.” He waved goodbye with his middle finger extended.
Hearing her partner’s voice faded into the distance as she walked away and toward an unseen road, Riley looked to the camera. Titling her chin upward with a nod of her head, she addressed her opponent. “And fuck you, too Mary Beth.” Riley grinned. “I’m not gonna lie. I really don’t give a shit about you…well, really I’ve never given a shit about you but I’m supposed to pretend to since we’ve been forced into this shit show of a match. I’m supposed to come out here and yell and scream and pound my chest about how this whole season has led up to this moment, that come Friday Night Fright I’m gonna prove who’s the better fighter. Maybe spout a few lines about revenge or making a point and it’ll be infinitely better than whatever bullshit you pull outta your ass because, of course, you’ll come out here and say the same fuckin’ thing just in different words. It’ll be the same goddamn shit we’ve been saying back and forth to each other since DecayTV first opened its door. You’ll pile onto that with some line about Brand and my friends and how Brand has the Empire belt and how Brand and you are unstoppable because your existence is so hollow that you need that group of assholes to make a point you can’t back up on your own.” Riley rolled her eyes as she continued down the path. “It’s fuckin’ grade A boring bullshit. All of it. So, I’ll save you the trouble because what you really are this season is an inconvenience. You’re simply there. You’ve barely shown your face around DecayTV. You think you’ve earned a Pay-Per-View match this season? Fuck no. I should be beating the shit outta Seth Fisk for the stunt he pulled last #infection. I should be doing a lot of things but I’m not gonna end the season on should. I’ve fought every goddamn show this season. I showed up. I got my promos out. I did my part and I’ve earned the Pay-Per-View spot light. But you…I’m facing you by default.” She said with a stiff upper lip. “You could say it’s my fault, that if Fisk hadn’t taken out Salinger, if Tyson Sands hadn’t given up the win to make sure I wouldn’t have a shot at the Empire title, that I’d be facing an actual opponent.” Nearing the edge of the road, Riley shrugged with a smile. “But that says something about me, now doesn’t it. Fisk risked the wrath of Valentine by crashing last #infection’s main event to get at me and Sands was willing to do anything to keep me from his belt. Now I know you’ll say it’s my mouth, that he rather give up a win then listen to me one more time because you’re that goddamn predictable but bitch, him and I have been at it for three years. It can’t be all that bad if we’re still butting head. It’s that or that I’m boring, right? Has to be that because you and your little shithead Brand teammates seem to fall back on the same lines, never really trying…or I should say able to use my ability as a fighter for a reason. It’s just you saying I’ll talk you to death in the ring. Which would be hilarious if I didn’t continuously fight assholes like you and Brand better than anyone.” Stepping onto the long dirt road, Riley continued. “Now I may call you names and call you out on your shit…and believe me there is plenty of it and I think your record or lack of one this season proves my point but don’t think for a moment that I’ll take you any less seriously. I’ll crush you no matter how hot headed you come out here with your southern lack of charm. You can do whatever you rednecks do when you’re not fuckin’ your cousins because in the end, none of it matters. You’re just another piece of shit standing in the way of a win. So, fuckin’ try me, bitch. Give me your best excuses and lies. Tell me how you’ll beat me at Friday Night Fright. Tell me just how wrong I am.” Seeing a logging truck in the distance, Riley hitched her thumb toward Boston. “I need a good laugh.”
“This ain’t what our orders are. This ain’t on the agenda.”
“What evs.” Red says, dismissing Mary Beth’s concerns with her nose in the air and a snotty flick of her wrists. “It’s on my agenda.”
The pair come to a huge white door that quite literally appears out of nowhere. Red stops when they get to it and turns to face Mary Beth.
“May Beth, I think it’s time we get down to the reason I sought you out. That reason is a very generous job offer. One you just won’t be able to turn down.”
“I will turn it down.” Mary Beth snaps back. “I’ve told you, I don’t want this. I don’t want any of this.”
“Darling….as if. How could anyone not want to be immortal? To be a God? That’s, like, totally fucking bad ass.”
“Please….Red….let’s get out of here. We’re supposed to be at Miskatonic checking on our assets.” Mary Beth pleads.
“No.” Red frowns. “The only asset I care about is mine and that’s, like, you. I have important work, too. Far more important work than Jamison’s. I come first and the first thing I need is to update my product.” With that Red snaps her fingers and the massive white doors open. Mary Beth sees inside what looks like a massive board room with dozens of people sitting around it ranging from human looking men and women to some that are not human at all.
“People, people…” Red says loudly, getting everyone’s attention. “I think you know why we’re all here today. I’d like you to meet Mary Beth. The new face of modern religion.”
The assembled gathering of men, women and….things begin to clap on cue and Mary Beth suddenly feels very nauseous. She closes her eyes and begins clicking her heels together, hoping this reality will fade away. But this isn’t Oz. It’s something far more bizarre, unbelievable and awful.
…….Four months ago……
Mary Beth asked Red not to bring her here. She demanded it, actually. Mary Beth had refused to come here the last ten times Red had brought it up. She had just gotten back to being a normal woman when Whitlock had summoned her and taken that all away once again. She wasn’t ready to make the leap from unwilling metahuman to even less willing deity.
The mere thought of this word sends Mary Beth into an internal angst spiral. She longs for when she was just a simple country girl who held the Bible and her religious beliefs close to her heart. She misses the time when she had faith in her God. Back in a time before “knowing God personally” wasn’t a phrase that was literal. Back when she thought her God was the only God. Now she knows her God is but one of many, but hers is definitely the biggest bitch.
The applause begins to die down and Mary Beth finds all eyes on her and Red, who stands at her side, presenting Mary Beth as if she was Vanna White uncovering the most important vowel is history. As Mary Beth looks at the faces around the table, she’s finding it obvious that not all of the applause was genuine and some of these beings would like nothing better than to disintegrate them both.
“So…as I said, here she is! Isn’t she like totally perfect?” Red asks the boardroom and the reactions range from nods of agreement to silent hostility. Mary Beth notices that Red has transformed her look into a smart and conservative business suit and glasses. She’s now holding a small remote control and there is a screen behind them showing graphs and figures. “Hon? Be a doll and move out of the way, please? You’re blocking my presentation. Scootch.”
Red dismisses Mary Beth with wiggling fingers and she nervously does as she’s told. Mary Beth steps out of the the way of the screen, her head swimming and her legs feeling wobbly. She’s completely overwhelmed and for once in her life, she doesn’t feel a smart ass quip readily available. Indeed, she’d be too afraid to let one loose right now even if she did. A room full of Gods tends to do that to a person.
“SO.” Red continues, oblivious to Mary Beth’s mental state. “As we’ve discussed and as you can see in the charts before you, our numbers are down across the board. We’re collectively at an all time low.”
“We’re not.” Says one of the board members, interrupting Red.
“Our numbers are actually increasing. I think that objection should be officially noted in the records, please.” Although the Holy Ghost, who is the acting secretary, nods and records the objection, Red stares daggers into the woman who has just made the claim.
“Okay, Sanam. That’s totes sketch and I don’t know where you get the numbers, but whatevs. Moving on….like I said, you can see by the REAL numbers that we’re….basically all down to to record lows, per capita, Sanam. PER…CAPITA. Now, we can blame that on all types of shit. You know, like, people are dicks and what not. They’re all selfish and greedy and figured out that the stuff we decided were sins centuries ago are, like, totally fun. That kind of thing.
“WOOT WOOT! THAT’S ALL ME, BABY!” Satan yells as he stands and double points to his crotch. “SUCK IT!”
“Yeah. Totally who cares, Lucifer.” Red snaps at him. “Your numbers are lower than anyone in the room, okay. You’re just cock blocking the rest of us and gaining no followers. You’ve got sadder numbers than Seth Fisk’s Twitter feed. When’s the last time you even had a worship session that wasn’t really a sad excuse for an ugly person orgy? Save the dude bro shit for your stupid blog. We’re having a meeting for the REAL religions.”
Satan slowly sits down, hanging his head and pretending to thumb through his flier of the meeting’s bullet points, embarrassed and hoping no one is looking at him.
“Okay, so, like, back to points that actually matter. We’ve found that our biggest area of key losses is the youth demographic. Each new generation thinks they’re smarter than the last and has less use for us. That’s on us. It’s marketing problem. None of us has updated our brand in centuries. I mean, what’s the last thing any of us has done to appeal to the kids. The New Testament? That’s outdated as fuck. I mean, half of you still cling to food rules. That’s lame. Do any of you even have an Instagram account? Do you understand how hot bacon is? It’s totally a thing. How do you think you’re going to bring in new followers when you’re anti-bacon? That’s worse than being anti-EDM or, like, Anti-Game of Thrones. You have to get with the times.”
“I’m pro-bacon.” Satan mumbles.
“what?” Red asks him, incredulous that he’d speak again. The rest of the board room looks at him, most shaking their head or snickering.
“I said, I’M pro-bacon!” Satan says with more confidence. “AND we’re the only religion that’s pro-sex. People like sex. They fucking love it! They LOVE IT!” Satan shouts.
“That’s enough, stupid.” Red commands him.
“No!” Satan yells, standing from his seat again. “People love sex. A-and they love bacon. And drugs and violence and bad TV. In my religion, p-people can….they can…wrap bacon around their dicks…a-and sodomize a goat!”
“Ew. No one wants to do that.” Red says to him dryly.
“YEAH THEY DO! THEY WANT TO DO ALL THAT SHIT! AND TAKE MOLLY WHILE THEY DO IT AND LISTEN TO JUDAS PRIEST AND CHEAT AT POKER! MY RELIGION RULES!”
The boardroom is groaning and laughing at him now. Red looks disgustedly at the prince of lies and shakes her head. “Dude, just get out. I’ve talked to you about these outbursts. I don’t….I can’t even.”
“Nah! Fuck all that! The little guy is going to rise up against this corporate oppression. I’M GOING TO NORMA RAE THE FUCK OUT OF THIS!”
“Nope. Just go. Go see deity resources. We’re done here.” Red says and points to the door.
“The Lamia? You’re sending me to see The Lamia?” Satan asks incredulously. “I OUTRANK THE LAMIA!”
“No, you don’t. Not since he got promoted to deity resources. Enjoy your leave.”
“Fuck this. I-I’ll leave, but this isn’t over with. This is just tabled until you see I’m right.”
“Yeah. Sure. Bye-eeeeee.” Red sneers at him, waving slowly and exaggeratedly. Satan stomps out of the boardroom, grumbling and pulling up his khaki pants that are badly in need of a belt, because of course the devil would wear khakis. After he slams the door behind him, Red closes her eyes and massages her temples. The boardroom buzzes with talk and laughter until she holds up her hand to get things back under control.
“Okay….where were we?” Red asks.
“Updating our images.” Ganesha says.
Red notices that the elephant headed God who represent Hinduism stands by the catering table and has single handedly eaten all of the peanut butter and bacon fritters from Voodoo Donuts, but that’s an issue for another day.
“Right!” Red answers and points at him. “Updating our image. Now, there’s plenty of ways we can do this and, believe me, we’ve crunched the numbers to see what would be the most effective way to do this. We’ve looked at ad campaigns, but that would be too expensive if we wanted to cast a wide enough net to be effective and honestly, the profits would be small and probably short term.”
Sanam raises her hand, smiling smugly as she speaks. “Um, our Kill The Infidels campaign has been extremely effective as a recruitment campaign and it’s been very cheap as we’ve mainly focused on social media and outreach programs. We shouldn’t forget that the poor, disenfranchised and uneducated and still our ripest crop of followers.”
Red sighs. “Yes, Sanam. You’ve had a nice turnout. Blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard this at every quarterly meeting. However, your numbers still suck and you’re not the only one at this table, kay?” Red smiles a catty and phony smile at Sanam before moving on. “SO…like I was saying….what we need is an almost complete image makeover. We need a new rep. Someone who speaks to today’s youth market. That rep is Mary Beth Clements.”
Red turns towards Mary Beth, clapping loudly and smiling an exaggerated smile. The rest of the board room begins clapping as well, some more enthusiastically than others. Mary Beth tries to smiles, but it looks more like a grimace. She is wide eyed and sweating profusely, feeling like she’s trapped in someones else’s nightmare.
“Mary Beth is everything we need to reconnect with our earthly followers. She’s young, she’s sexy, she’s sassy. Her faith appeals to those who already believe and her rebellious streak appeals to those who question our existence. Men will want her, women will want to be her. Best of all, she already has a worldwide platform on Decay TV. She already has fans. She already has merchandising. She’s connected to Brand and Santana Marquez, who will do the bulk of our marketing work for us for a small cut of the monetary gains. Best yet, she already has powers that she’s displayed in public. People are already accepting of the impossible. It’s only a short to step to deifying her, publicly claiming her as one of our own and allowing her to perform an actual miracle. That happens and BOOM! Back to a ninety share of the market. That works for me and I know it works for all of you.”
The boardroom begins to murmur as it speaks among itself. While most of them seem positive, Sanam raises her hand once again, her expression obviously a sour one.
“What, Sanam?” Red asks, obviously irritated.
“Um, I still don’t understand why Christianity gets to be the spearhead of the new religious movement when Islam is the fastest growing religion on Earth. We have been at the forefront of innovation and creative marketing for quite some time now and no one here has followers as fanatical as ours. It hardly seems fair that you get to set the new trends. I’d like to have it recorded that I am calling for an official board vote that Islam and not Christianity gets to chose the new worthy and bring on a new marketing team. Islam is the fresh face of worship in this millennium. People don’t want more white colonialism.” Sanam smiles smugly as she finishes up her speech. Red is not amused.
“Two point two billion to one point six billion. That’s Christian shareholders to Islamic shareholders, Sanam. That’s why we get to take lead. That’s why I’m CEO.” Red tells her without a drop on niceness. Red mimics dropping the mic for emphasis.
“Yeah, well, Christians are far more meticulous in recording their numbers than any other belief system, so those numbers aren’t one-hundred percent accurate and-“ Sanam gets out before being cut off.
“We don’t need a fucking census, Sanam. We’re omnipotent. We automatically know the numbers accurately. Your arguments are fucking stupid. In fact, your arguments aren’t even legitimately acknowledged by the board since you’re just a representative for Allah and not Allah himself.” Red shouts at her.
“Allah is not allowed to be seen. You know this. I am his official representative and am allowed to speak on his behalf. You know this as well.” Sanam says and sniffs, trying to hold onto her air of superiority.
“Oh, honey…and I say this with all sincerity and respect due….eat a dick. Until that stuck up, fussy asshole is willing to pull himself away from his endless mojitos and his virgin pool parties, he has no vote that the board recognizes. He doesn’t take this seriously enough, okay.” Red sneers at her before turning to the rest of the room. “Unless there’s anymore objections, I move to proceed with Mary Beth as the new spokesperson for modern religion, first for Christianity and then as all of us as a whole as we move into the next phases of the roll out. All in favor?”
A man with intricate facial hair and a loud suit raises his hand to speak.
“Yes, YHWH. You have the floor.” Red points to him and says.
YHWH stands, holding a rabbit for a reason that only he knows why. “What about your son? How is he going to react to being replaced by her?”
“What?” Mary Beth asks, her voice cracking as she immediately understands the severity of that question. “Me? Wha….what are you talking about? I can’t replace Je-“
Red snaps her fingers together, making Mary Beth silent. Red answers the question instead. “I wouldn’t worry about Jesus any more than you worry about Abraham. It’s not like either or our sons show any interest in the family business anymore. All my son wants to do anymore is smoke pot and make music. He thinks he’s a rapper. He calls himself Lil Dickey now. Did you know this? He’s a Me Damn embarrassment. No. Our children are out. Mary Beth is the new representative.”
“Yes. You’re right. I just…you know….you always hope for the best. My son is a meshuga too. Thinks he’s a DJ. He’s terrible.” YHWH says with sadness as he sits back down.
“Yeah, well at lest your son has had some success as Skrillex. Mine is a joke. Anyway….moving on. All in favor of Mary Beth as the new Christ?”
“Aye. She’ll do.” Says Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé, the head Representative of the Native American Deity Collective.
“I’m cool with it. She’s a woman. My people will be on board with that.” Say Edwina, elected spokeswoman for the Wiccan and Earthly Spiritual Movement of GAIA Inc.
“Mmm…..she’s fine. That’s a plus. Prince approves of the spiritual goddess of sexuality in the heavenly circle of all that we have created divine under one creator as a whole representing the collective nativity of mankind and all that we hold righteous and oh so funky.” Says Shango AKA Prince, divine figurehead of all African based religions and living rock God.
And with that, the tidal wave of yes votes come in as the representatives of Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Jainism, Shintoism, Baha’ism, Confucianism, Scientology and the Church of Todd all chime in with their approval. Red smiles and removes her glasses. As she does, she shakes her head, loosening her hair from it’s bun and as her hair cascades back over shoulders and back her outfit ripples and turns into something less business like. She pops her newly existing collar like a boss.
“The yays have it as always because, as usual, my plan is fucking brills. Mary Beth is the new Christ.” Red tells the boardroom.
“What?”‘ Mary Beth asks helplessly.
“We’ll have her official ascension ceremony at a place and time to be determined later. Maybe an Applebees just to be ironic. Or, better yet, a Chic-Fil-A. The Southern Christians love that shit. It’s like fine dining and she’s already their semi-queen.”
“Wait….I don’t want this. I’m not your savior. I don’t want to be Christ!” Mary Beth protests as no one listens.
“Let’s meet back in three or four months to finalize all of this. Until then, Sell, Sell, SELL, people! Market the shit out of this. Sell your followers on the idea of a coming savior that will unify us all. Make up prophecies at your leisure. I want massive web hits. I want new Youtube channels. I want to basically take over periscope with fanatical followers. Holy Spirit, make sure to have an AMA set up on Reddit the minute we announce Mary Beth.”
“On it, boss.” The Holy Spirit nods in agreement before teleporting out of the room in a puff of smoke and a small popping sound.
“Wait! Listen to me!” Mary Beth yells to a room of beings that are quickly disappearing. “I’m not your fuckin’ savior! I DON’T WANT TO BE ANYTHING BUT A NORMAL WOMAN, YOU ASSHOLES!”
“Okay, people. Real good. Super positive. Super productive. We’re totally going to rapture them all, like, in a good way. Talk to you all later.” Red says to them all as she begins gathering up her things.
“What the fuck? Why won’t any of you listen to me? I have free will. I HAVE FREE WILL! I WON’T DO THIS! I WON’T!” Mary Beth yells and protests until she finds herself alone in an empty white endless space. All of the Gods are gone and no one can hear her cries but herself.
And then, with an audible pop, Mary Beth disappears as well.
……….one month ago…….the undisclosed location of The Losers’ Compound………
“Okay…..so what are we supposed to do?” Cesar asks me and I have no answers. I know I’m supposed to. I actually kind of have to. It’s my job. I’m the leader here. I’m the brains of the operation.
I’m not feeling too brainy right now.
I’m feeling like a fucking idiot. One that’s been sucker punched multiple times over the past few days. Worst part is, I feel like I asked for it. I’ve had my head too far up my own ass the past several months. Everything has gone too well for us. We’ve had nothing but victories. We’ve let ourselves get too comfortable with our weird little dysfunctional family and I’ve gotten too used to the idea of having a real life. We’ve gotten too complacent. We’ve gotten too enamored with the idea that we’re going to win. We’ve forgotten about concepts like loss and betrayal and doomed. We’ve forgotten just what the Houses are and what they can do.
That’s all on me. I acknowledge the problem. I accept the blame.
None of this gets me any closer to an answer to Cesar’s question.
I look between Cesar and Domino and neither of them seem to have any answers either. I can honestly say that none of us even want to deal with what’s on the table before us. We are, the three of us, are hard asses and pure business when it’s time to wear that hat. We understand what’s at stake. We understand that when it’s time to accept hard truths, you accept them and when it’s time to make hard, even ruthless decisions for the greater good, we make those decisions. We’re not quite there yet, but the fact that we’re even having to ponder them is breaking us.
Cesar, bless his soul, is the biggest heart among the three of us and the softest in most ways when it comes to remembering what it’s like to be a normal person. It’s obvious he has feelings for Mary Beth. It’s pretty obvious that she’s wobbling on the side of having feelings towards him as well. They grew a bond under combat conditions and their flirty bullshit with one another speaks to it growing into something else. I know the suggestion that she could end up being our enemy is sticking a dagger in his chest.
Domino, conversely, is maybe the least emotional and coldest killer I have ever known. Not that it’s her fault. It’s literally what she was created to be. She had only just begun remembering how to be human when she found us. She’s taken leaps and bounds in the time since then, remembering things like emotions and a sense of humor and understanding the reason to be loyal to a cause or a group of friends. The biggest reason for that is Mouse. The two of them became the most unlikely of friends and probably the closest of any two people in our group. I know they’d kill or die for each other. That’s why I know that the idea that Mouse may have been compromised or that something could be posing as her is filling Domino with the fear and dread that she’d forgotten how to feel years ago.
Me, I have to finally wrestle with the idea that I should’ve confronted from the very beginning. If something is too good to be true, then it probably is. Now, this is a concept that is natural to me. It’s like breathing. Let’s call a spade a spade – I’m a master con artist. It’s what I do. It’s how I’ve made a living. It’s how I’ve kept myself alive. The idea of getting one over on me has always been a laughable idea. But what if they did?
What if she did?
I can’t accept this, yet I have to start examining the possibility. I don’t want to, but I must. I’m not above these two friends here with me in this sullen room. I’m not above their pain. I’ve been too focused on my own oasis. I’ve been too focused on my own way out while not allowing anyone else to think about it. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been wrong. I’ve been a piece of shit. It’s time to rectify this and put myself back in the same box as my team.
“Honestly….I don’t know, brother.” I tell Cesar and I find it hard to look him in the eye as I say it. “What can we really do at the moment?”
“We have to at least do some investigating. Some surveillance. We can’t just pretend none of this happened.” Domino says and while she’s right, no one wanted to be the one to say it. I can tell by the way she nervously chain smokes that she didn’t want to either.
“Where do you want to start?”
“I’m already starting. Mouse is cracking data banks as we speak. She’s going to go full tilt at House Twelve as well as looking for any other possible time anomalies, random appearances, warnings of future occurrences, anything that fits the bill.”
“Yo, that shit wasn’t no Mouse from the future.” Cesar interjects. “We’re not in some fucking Schwarzenegger movie. That was a clone or something. It’s House Twelve trying to fuck with our heads.”
“Look, I agree that’s a more logical explanation, but with everything we’ve seen, do you really think it’s a good idea to rule out anything as impossible? It’s not like we don’t know it exists. Who knows what sort of things that idiot Calibash might have unleashed on accident.” I say to him and Cesar lowers his head and his shoulders slump.
“No. I feel you. We’ve seen a lot of fucked up shit. This is just one possibility that I don’t want to accept.”
I don’t want to either, because we all know what that possibility means for Mary Beth.
“I’m thinking maybe we should get Oracle and some of our other tech savvy people on this with Mouse.”
“No.” Domino says with an exhale of smoke. “We need to keep this in house. We just got the network up and running. We start getting word out that we need help investigating our own people and it’s going to cause bigger, unnecessary problems. Mouse can handle this on her own.”
“Look, I gotta ask, though. Why the fuck are we gonna let Mouse be in charge of an investigation when she’s one of the people that need to be investigated?” Cesar’s voice rises with the end of the question and Domino’s reaction is quick and hot tempered.
“Mouse doesn’t need to be investigated! That wasn’t her that appeared out of nowhere. That wasn’t our Mouse!”
“We don’t have any fucking idea who or what that was. She needs to be investigated too.”
“Mouse is the one person out of all of us that is above reproach. She could never be turned.” Domino is standing and shouting now.
“Girl, you better check yourself. Mary Beth could never be turned, either. I know that girl. We all do. She’s being investigated because some thing, that you just said yourself wasn’t Mouse, popped up and claimed she’s going to go all Anakin Skywalker on us. We’re investigating this man’s wife because some evil space baby implied that she is lying. What the fuck are we doing? Are we even hearing ourselves?”
While Cesar’s rant is purely based on emotion and is not logical or objective, it does the job of calming Domino down instead of escalating things further. For that, I am grateful. Domino sits backs down and grabs her pack of Red Apples off of the table to shake out another cigarette in frustration. “Maybe you’re right.” She says quietly. “What better an attack by Twelve than to make us start to question each other. Distrust and paranoia gets their work done for them.”
We sit in silence for a minute and while I would like to go with the most rosiest of outcomes, I can’t allow it. I am their leader. I am in charge. It’s time to do that job in all of it’s unpleasantness.
“No. You were right from the beginning, Dom. And so is Cesar. Everyone needs to be investigated and kept under surveillance. This could very well just be Twelve’s head games. That’s a huge part of how they fight their enemies. That’s a big part of why we must do this. The best way to fight paranoia is to eliminate anything to be paranoid about. Because, while we may trust all of them and know they would never betray us, there’s a real possibility that maybe they aren’t really themselves.”
“Yeah, bro, that shit ain’t gonna help ease paranoia.” Cesar says at me, looking as if I’m crazy. Or an asshole. Or both.
“It is a pretty terrible sales pitch.” Domino gives me the same look.
“Look, hear me out. Riley was kidnapped and replaced with a clone for months and none of us knew. Not even those closest to her. Mary Beth was away at Miskatonic for months. Mouse was out in the wild on her own for a long time before she trusted us enough to meet face to face. There was plenty of opportunity for either of them to be replaced.” I let the words spill out of my mouth. The cold, harsh words that I wish I didn’t have to say. I know exactly what will be said to me next and I know the even colder, harsher words that will come after that.
“What about Lauren?”
“Especially Lauren. I should have never trusted Lauren as quickly and easily as I did. She should have been run through a battery of tests before she was allowed in here. I’ve endangered us all by being selfish and willfully blind. It’s time I fixed that. We’re going to get our house in order.”
There is long and weighted silence after that. Thick and hot and ugly silence.
“So, how do we go about this if Mouse can’t be tracking information?” Domino finally speaks. “It’s not like we can stop her or make her forget the information she already has about her doppelganger.”
“Mouse will keep doing what she’s doing. Just, while she’s doing it, The Oracle is going to be tracking her. We have no choice but to bring in outside help on this. We can’t do it alone. We’ll be careful in who we enlist and there will be discretion, but the network was put together to help us in this fight. It’s time to utilize it.”
Domino and Cesar look to each other and then back to me and both slowly nod in agreement.
“Okay, boss. You’re the man with the plan. We’ll do it your way.”
“There’s still one big elephant to discuss. What about Red?”
Red. She’s the one case that’s easiest to deal with, since none of us are exactly fond of the huge pain in the ass.
“I don’t know how we do it, but it’s time we found out what her real agenda here is. She’s not saving Mary Beth’s ass at the risk of causing a cosmic apocalypse for no reason and she didn’t throw in with us because she’s trying to keep aliens she didn’t create out of her sandbox. She’s out for her own gain and we can’t keep pretending that it aligns with ours.”
“I haven’t trusted the bitch since day one, so I’m on board with getting to the bottom of this.” Domino sneers. Her words have never been truer.
“Yeah? Well how the fuck do we do this, pendeja? She’s God. She knows and sees and hears everything. She probably knows what we’re saying right now. How do you sneak up on God?”
Domino inhales her cigarette and exhales a cloud smoke, quickly and nervously. “Right. She’s God. And I’m Angelina Jolie. Fuck her.”
“Are you suddenly retarded? You’ve seen what she can do. Nothing mortal has that kind of power. You can’t explain that away.” Cesar argues and I wonder how much of it is coming from a Catholic upbringing that won’t fully release it’s clawed grasp.
“Everything can be explained away.” Domino shrugs and glares at Cesar like a catty sorority girl. “It’s what we do. It’s how we win.”
“Enough!” I interject before this gets too heated and off course. “She’s clearly something more than human or alien or anything else we’ve dealt with or seen. Whether she really is “God” remains to be seen, but we’re obviously going to have to be careful. She’s on our side for now and we want to keep it that way until there’s no other choice.”
“So what do we do?” Cesar asks and for a second, I actually have something to grin about.
“Lilah and House Seven. They specialize in this sort of thing.We have them on our side and by extension, we have The Sabbat. The rest of the Houses never liked or appreciated their talents. I always have. This is where our carefully cultivated alliance pays off.”
“So, you trust leaving this up to her?” Domino asks, arching an eyebrow is suspicion.
“I do. Our plate is full enough and it’s safer if she takes point on this. Lilah knows what’s coming her way as well as ours and she knows we’re the only ally she’s going to have just like I know she’s the only one I’m going to have. Plus, she’s already confronted Red once. She can do this.”
Cesar and Domino look at one enough and give each other semi-satisfied shrugs before turning back to me.
“Then, I guess we know what we’re all doing.” Cesar says.
“Guess we do.” Domino agrees.
“Good. We don’t need to be happy about any of this. We don’t have to like it. We just have to be in agreement. Dom, you go check on Mouse. Ease her mind and get her pointed in the right directions. C, you contact The Oracle and Dr. Kamdar as well, I suppose. We put him in charge of the Network. He should know why. Just be cagey with all the details and delicate in how you word it. We’ll give status reports when I get back.”
“Where are you going?” Domino asks and my answer is cagey with the details and delicate in how I word it.
“I’m going to see a man about my wife.” I answer as I slip on my sunglasses and exit the room.
…………DKTV BROADCASTING LIVE………..
You know, I think there’s starting to be some misconceptions out there about me. I get that. I do some confusing things, I suppose. Things that might look, I don’t know, opportunistic, if you will. People may think I’m using some people for my own ambitions. People may think I’m playing both sides against the middle or hedging my bets until I see which side is going to come out on top. That’s fair. Mainly because most of that is true.
Does that admission shock you? It shouldn’t. I’m a business man. A politician, of sorts. I’ve always been up front about that. I’ve been up front about it and, as I’ve prided myself around here, I don’t really lie. I’ve told every one of you here from the beginning what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and where you dip shits fit into my plans. I’ve never said I’m here to be what you want me to be. I’m not here to make friends. I don’t have friends. I have allies and those allies are nothing more than tools. Now, you should all know that by now and if this is some sort of shock that hurts someone’s feelings, you have no one to blame but yourself. You just haven’t been paying attention.
Even when I show you my true face, you try to define me with your own needs. Some of you see me as the good guy, because you need a hero in these troubling times. Some of you paint me as the villain because you can’t handle my honesty or that I won’t play by your black and white, two dimensional rules. Let me tell you something, dummies. I’m both. I’m neither. That’s because you it all boils down to this – all I care about is winning and that means all I care about is me.
Now, I know Ty understands that. He’s cut from the same cloth. It may be a little more roughly hewn than mine, but we’re on the same page. We’re not going to send each other late night texts. We’re not going to go fishing together. Hell, we may not even attend each other’s bar mitzvahs. Doesn’t matter because what we will do together is win. What we do is have each other’s backs and do whatever is necessary to achieve our shared goals. We’ve done that from the beginning and we’ve steamrolled to competition. That much can’t be denied at this point as Decay is a smoking wreckage that we rule. That’s why he and I both understand that when it’s time to face each other, we’re going to go hard at one another and not hold back because all that matters is that W. No hard feelings, no mercy. Officer Sands and I….we’re straight. There’s no point in even addressing that.
Riley, though? Riley is different. See, I’ve been telling Riley since we became partners that what we do outside of Decay is completely different from what goes on here and once it comes to Grendel’s business, we’re still enemies. She’s still a target and a perpetual victim of Brand’s agenda. She’s done…fairly well with that, I suppose. She’s played along. However, as time has gone on, it’s obvious she’s softening. She can’t help it. At her heart, she’s kind of weak and stupid. A sucker for sentiment and the inherent belief that people are good at heart. I know she plays a good game and she talks tough, but it’s obvious that she thinks she’s starting to sway me and that I’m going to walk away from Brand’s agenda.
Riley Scott is a fucking moron.
That’s why, Riley, I’m going to use this match as a teachable moment. I’m going to teach you by hurting you very, very badly. I’m going to make you bleed. I’m going to make you scream. I’m going break things. Most of all, I’m going to destroy your ability to pretend that you still have a chance at getting to me. I’m going to break your belief that you ever, EVER have a chance at stopping Brand. When I’m done with you, you’re going to be heading for the hills like your boyfriend Danvers. I’m going to teach you why all I care about is winning and you better believe your sweet ass that I’m going to be walking away as the winner.
Thing is, Riley…there’s lots of ways to win. Maybe it’s a literal win where I’m pinning your shoulder to the mat for the three count or knocking your ass out cold or making you loudly submit as I break your body. Let’s be honest here, we know Salinger isn’t the one to be beating you and it sure as hell won’t be Ty that I’m laying out. That’s pretty obvious it ends with me beating you. Or…maybe it plays out differently.
There’s other ways to win. Ty and I are accomplished enough that we don’t need to win one of Grendel’s silly manipulate some drama matches. We’re also a much better pair of assassins and team mates than some doofy star crossed lovers. A win for us would just be beating the shit out of both of you and reminding everyone, once again, just how dominant Brand STILL is, since day one. Maybe we high five as the two of you lie bleeding and crying in the ring, trying to curl up and die together like Romeo and Juliet.
Maybe, we have Mary Beth, Jinx and Castle run down to the ring and tie you up so you can watch me and Ty beat your Aesop loving boyfriend within an inch of his life as you struggle helplessly and cry. Maybe we do that vice versa so I can get in some licks in to remind you that chasing aliens and chasing Grendel’s prize are two very different things. It would be pretty satisfying to break your jaw so you have to be quiet when we’re forced to team up for a common goal. God knows that would be worth losing the match.
So what’s it going to be, Riley? Which way will I go? You don’t know? That’s the FUCKING PONT! YOU DON’T KNOW ME! NONE OF YOU KNOW ME. You think you do. You see the things you like and ignore the things you don’t. ALL of you do. NONE of you see the me I put right in front of your face. Jamison Whitlock does what’s best for Jamison Whitlock. Nothing more, nothing less. Riley….one way or another….you’re going to find that out at #infection. You’re going to find out just who I really am.
Oh, and, Salinger…whether I play by the rules of the match or by Brand’s….stay the fuck out of my way.
Everyone slips up eventually. Everyone makes a mistake. Doesn’t matter how good you are or how long you’ve been in the game, it happens. You get overconfident. You read the angles wrong. You underestimate your opponent. Sometimes you just get sloppy.
That’s how we got to this point. That’s why we’re being hunted by the top merc assassins on this planet and probably a couple of others. That’s how we got to being on the brink of full scale House war. That’s how we suddenly went from kicking our enemies ass at every turn to getting our own people set up and killed. That’s how my incredibly tight crew has been slowly unraveling at the thought of a traitor being in our midst.
There is…..and that’s my fault.
I’m just happy that I’m now in a position to make things right because I know who our traitor is. Like I said, everyone slips up eventually. She did too.
I watch her now before me. Bright, Beautiful. Everything I’ve ever wanted. Everything I’d lost. A dream come true. That’s because it is a dream. A work of fiction.
A lie I asked for. I lie I forced myself to believe. A lie that I forced everyone else accept. I’m as complicit in all of this as she is. A co-conspirator with benefits.
I look at her longingly, my beautiful Lauren, as she stares out at the ocean. Sun beating down on her pale white skin. Her blonde hair floats around her face in the lilting breeze. She was excited to come here. She said she could barely remember what the ocean even looked like. She was happy when we arrived and now she looks almost sullen. Maybe the weight of repressed memories coming back to her.
I know the feeling. Only I’m feeling the weight of false memories being stripped away. They say the truth will set you free. They never tell you that first it’ll stick a dagger in your heart.
I move in behind her and slowly wrap my arms around her waist, pulling myself in close to her. She eases back into me. Her arms wrap around mine. She nuzzles her head into my neck and shoulder and closes her eyes. I smell her hair. Her sweet skin. I close my eyes as well, trying to force away the willful prisoner inside of myself and let the old me come back out. The me who would’ve never let this happen.
The me that is willing to do what must be done.
“Oh, babe. This is so great.” She purrs at me. “Thank you so much for bringing me here.”
“Anything for my girl.” I tell her and I mean it. Anything. Complete gullibility, access to our data files, the location of our hideout, the ability to report our plans and ambush us….I gave it all to her.
“Good. When are we going to leave all of this behind?” She asks me, turning her face into my neck. I feel her warm breath. I feel the tickle of her even warmer lips. My animal brain wants to slay my rational one once again, but I will not let it.
“I thought you wanted to join the fight against House Twelve?” I ask her, forcing my voice to sound as if I’m being playfully sarcastic instead of cutting to the heart of our lies.
“I did when that’s what you wanted to do. If you were going to put yourself in harms way, no way I wasn’t going to be at your side.” She tells me, kissing at my neck and sending shudders through my body. “But, now that you’d rather we run from all of this and carve out a normal life, I prefer that idea much better.”
“I’m glad. We deserve something real.” I tell her and wonder if she senses the real meaning of that statement on some level.
“Oh, Jamison. I’m so glad you feel that way. I want to run away from all of this so badly. When can we leave?”
“This will all be over soon.” I say as I raise an arm and embrace her around her chest and waist, holding her tightly. I kiss the top of her head. “Maybe as soon as today if things play out the way I’ve planned.”
She spins around in my arms and looks up at me, her palms against my cheeks. “Oh my God, babe. You mean it?” She looks up into my eyes and they’re almost watery.
“Of course. We put our mind to our future and we achieve it. That’s what love is.” I tell her and it’s only through years of working on Capitol Hill that I am able to mask my contempt as sincerity.
She arches up on her toes to kiss me and I kiss her back, harder and deeper than I’ve ever kissed anyone in my life. Regardless of what reality actually is, I don’t want to let go. I don’t want to turn back into a pumpkin. There is no sugar as sweet as the last drop.
She pulls away from my kiss, leaving me feeling like a man desperate for methadone to ween me off of my addiction. “We’re so lucky.” She tells me and then places her head against my chest. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too….” Pause. Pause. Pause. “Kali.” Hammer.
The silence can’t last more than a few seconds. A few beats, really. It feels like it lasts for hours and is as loud as a scream. I feel her slowly pull away from me and I look down into a face that reads revulsion and contempt and panic all at one time before trying to cover it up with something more palatable. I’m a master at recognizing pantomime. They taught her well on many things, but they couldn’t teach her how to make someone believe once they’re no longer under her spell.
“What did you call me?” She asks quietly and without anger. That’s okay. I feel enough for both of us.
“I called you by your real name. Kali. I’d call you Bree, but you aren’t even her anymore, if you ever were at all.”
She tries to pull away from me, but I don’t let her. I grasp her by the shoulders and stare down at her with menacing indifference. I’m no longer seeing beauty and love and see just the alien weapon that she is.
“What are you talking about? Have you lost your mind?” She struggles to break my grab. There’s an ounce of surprise, an ounce of panic, an inkling of fear.
“Quite the contrary, dear wife of mine. I’ve actually regained my mind.” I tell her without an drop of emotion, as I’ve turned that spigot off.
“Jamison, you’re scaring me. What are you talking about?” She’s feigning confusion admirably, but I wish I’d realized just what a bad actress she was a long time ago. Would have saved some lives.
“What I’m talking about, Kali..” I say with emphasis on the name. “…is how you are not now, nor were you ever, actually my wife. You are the clone of a psychotic bitch and murderer who’s been part of an elaborate plan to bring down myself and my team because we are the only ones standing between your slimy overlords plan to bring down both the rest of the Houses and then the human race. Granted, I’ve turned out to be a sappy emo moron who played right into those plans. Fuck it. Makes me human, I guess. Makes me a better man than I thought I was. That makes me better than you fuck heads. I can live with that, at least.”
She stares at me with a quivering lip and tears forming in her eyes. She’s improving as the heat gets turned on. I’ll send House Twelve a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“No….No….” She begins her act. “They’ve gotten to you, babe. This isn’t true. You know this. You just have to remember. Try and remember the truth.”
“Truth? I guess aliens do have balls.” I laugh instead of cry, thankfully. “Bitch, it’s over. This whole thing. You got me. Be proud of that, but you left loose ends. Never leave loose ends. Your own team gave you up.”
“What are you talking about, Jamison? You’re sounding crazy. I have no team except for us. You need to listen to me.”
I sigh a hard sigh. “That creepy little cockroach that masquerades as Jacob gave you up, Kali. He’s more concerned with being sadistic than being discreet. He told Riley about what you really are. He….IT gloated about what you’ve done to me. He should. YOU should. You tricked the untrickable. You beat the best…BABE. Should have made it permanent when you had your shot.”
She’s quivering. She’s snotty. She’s shuddering and starting to sob. She also has the beady, steely eyes of a killer feeling her prey slip away. I know a predator when I see one. I know the look of a phony who’s feeling desperate. She’s ready to bolt and go feral because her plan A is declining rapidly to plan D. Unfortunately for her she’s seen Jamison the whale and not Jamison the Apex.
She has no idea what she’s dealing with, despite whatever training they gave her.
She stares into my eyes with a pleading gaze, yet completely aghast. “Jacob? You’d listen to Jacob? He’s trying to play us against each other. He’s one of them. He’s trying to destroy what we have. Don’t you see that?”
“Eh.” I shrug. “It crossed my mind. Seemed like the logical conclusion that Jacob would just be stirring shit. Your people have been working the paranoia angles pretty well, lately. Tip of the hat on that. Real professional work. But, I’m not an idiot, honey. Not completely, at least. I’d never crucify you over what that little shit said. I can’t believe a word he says. Come on.”
She seems to relax a little at that statement. A sense of relief washes over her stupid, beautiful, evil face. Sucker.
“No, I went off of what Gabe said.” I say and smile as she can’t mask her panic setting in after that.
“Gabe?” She says quietly and weekly. “But…I-I can explain…”
“No need to.” I cut her off. “He explained it all and unlike Jacob, our friend Mr. Gone just doesn’t have the ability to lie. Probably should have played the revelation of that photograph a little differently, but then, I never told you he’s in one of our safe houses, did I. You really had no way of knowing that I’d question him about the photo, too. We all have secrets, don’t we?”
She tries to pull away. And I grasp her shoulders tighter. “Ouch! You’re hurting me!”
“I don’t think you want to start measuring who’s hurt who, honey.”
“You’re going to listen to Mr. Gone over me? That…that fucking retard! I’m your wife. He has no idea what he’s even saying!” She argues as she grunts and struggles to break my grasp.
“Except, you’re not my wife, are you? He remembers that photo. He remembers that day. We were there, all right. He can’t explain it all. Not that well. You’re right. His mental facilities aren’t the greatest. He got the basics out, though. He remembers my wife and it wasn’t you. That he clearly remembers. Your picture frightened him. He said you were bad. He said you were the same as Jacob. He said you were made by House Twelve to hurt me just like Jacob was made to hurt Riley. He said you’re what took my wife from me.”
“No. That’s bullshit. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” She protests. She struggles. I can see her mind churning behind her eyes for a way out of this. There isn’t.
“We’ve been watching you for weeks now. We’ve watched you sell us out at every turn. Feeding them information and setting us up. Luckily we were ready now and most of it has been false information. You gave them nothing and gave us everything we needed to stop the leak.”
“No!” She protests once again and even she doesn’t believe herself, but she’s desperate. “It’s not true! It’s not!”
“We have surveillance systems that you and your alien masters can’t even comprehend. Mouse is a genius that way, but then your people genetically altered her to be that, didn’t they. We have metas in our network that can read minds. Metas that can watch you from the other side of the globe. Your side created them, too. They seem to have forgotten that every experiment they ran on an innocent human is someone that I rescued. They all work for me now, against your House. Against you.”
She knows the jig is up. She knows that the masquerade is over. What she probably isn’t sure of, is how this is going to end. Will she try to barter her way out? Fight? Just flat out give up?
“It’s not my fault! I didn’t have a choice. They made me do it. They said the only way they’d set me free was to pose as your wife and send them information on you and your friends. They said they worked for the government and you were all terrorists. I don’t even know how I got to Deer Island!”
“Look….they…they said they’d give me great power and wealth to help them. I don’t know who Kali is. I don’t even know who I am. They really did wipe my memory. I don’t want to hurt any of you. I just want to be free.”
“Once again, bullshit, but better. Probably closer to the truth, but you never were a close friend with the truth. Narcissistic delusion was always your drug of choice and default setting, wasn’t it….Kali?”
A switch is flipped. Her eyes go dark and her lip curls into a sneer. Her hand fidgets inside her jacket pocket and she pulls out a small knife. “Fuck you, you sniveling worm.” She hisses at me and jabs the knife into my stomach. Now we’re getting somewhere.
“There’s my bae. Missed you so much.” I smile and quickly shift my hands upward so that they are no longer grasping her shoulders and are instead, wrapped around her throat.
I start to squeeze tighter and she begins jack hammering the knife into my gut like a sewing machine. I feel the blade cut in and out and I hear the squishing sound of blood splattering and flesh being torn. I know the pain is there in the background, but right now I’m too focused on me causing her pain for once.
I jerk my face forward, smashing my forehead into the bridge of her nose and breaking it with a loud crunch as I bring a knee up into her crotch, feeling the satisfying thud of my femur crashing against her pelvic bone. She shudders and groans. The knife drops to the ground. Blood pours down her face. I squeeze her throat tighter and smile.
“You’re done hurting me, bitch. You’re done hurting my friends. You’re done, period.”
I squeeze harder and feel her windpipe start to constrict. Her face begins to turn red and whatever bullshit she’s trying to tell me is just coming out as grunts and gurgles.
“I wasted love on a monster. The only way to make that right is to make you pay for whatever you did to me and my real wife. You’re going to die, Kali. For the second time.”
I squeeze harder and he red face is starting to turn to purple. She hits my chest and face and claws at my wrists, trying to break our death embrace. Her eyes bulge and stream tears down her cheeks. I feel anguish somewhere inside me, but it’s buried under rage and hate and pure satisfaction.
Slowly, her fight fades. She can barely even lift her hands against me. Her grunts begin to silence. Her face is so bulging and discolred she looks as if she’s going to pop. I squeeze harder still and stare into her bulging eyes as they stare back into mine until I see the roll back and glaze over. I squeeze until I see the lights go out.
And then I am free.
I release my grip and let her lifeless body slump out of my hands and collapse to the ground. She falls face first to the wet sand and I watch as the surf washes in, rocking her body and making sure that if she miraculously has a breath left, it’s going to be filled with sea water.
The thought brings no emotion to me one way or another as my own physical pain begins to overwhelm my adrenaline and I’m dropping to my knees in the sand beside her. I look down to see blood pouring from my side and I remember now the reason that when all of this began, when I was given my choice of anyone on the list to choose to accompany me on Decay TV, I chose Kali.
I chose her, because, in theory, she was the only person alive who could kill me.
As darkness starts to fill my head and I fall next to my sweet, demonic bride, I realize that we’re going to test this theory in full.
My last conscious thought is that I hope I was right.
The explosion was as blinding as it was deafening. Neither Lee or Mike saw it coming. When the car they were chasing was a mere ten miles from the destitnation, they had tripped the EMP placed in the car. Instead the car burst into a ball of green flame, searing both men’s vision. The cloaked car Lee had been driving careened out of control and slammed into the concrete pillar supporting the highway overpass. The impact ripped the back half of the car clean away, leaving Lee and Mike in the front reletivaly unharmed. Without stopping to think, Lee growls as he rips the harness away and tears out of the wreckage. He looks back at Mike who just nods and motions for Lee to go on. Lee stalks towards the flaming pile of rubble looking to see if a body is inside. As Lee looks around, the traffic has come to a standstill and the sounds of approaching sirens can be heard. Then Lee’s earpiece cracks to life.
They are not in the car.
No shit, where the fuck are they?
They all just came after me and Maiden and well, she and I are on our way to you now. We uh….won’t be followed by those guys.
Yea, Maiden tends to have that effect on people. But if our little buddies just ambushed you, who was in that car we were following.
I…I do not know.
Realizing the sirens are getting too close, Lee walks back to the car to see that Mike…and the car…are missing.
Right here John.
Lee turns to see Mike has rigged the cloaking device to cover their wreckage and has “commandered” a speedy looking Dodge Charger.
Get in boss….only this time, I get to drive.
Mike slams the muscle car into drive as Lee continues to try and talk with Bonnie. That is when a third voice joins the conversation.
Nice Guy? Bonnie, I thought this was a one way communicator.
“Oh, it is John, it is. But, I only hire the best and well, hacking into this little phone call of yours was child’s play for Mr. Nathan. Really, you can do much better.”
“What is it that you want Nice Guy?”
“Only what is mine. That gold bar for example”.
“Breaking news, we ain’t got it. And your friend tried to take down Bonnie and Maiden back in Louisville.”
“That…that scoundrel.” The tone of Nice Guy’s voice clearly indicates he is legitamately angered at this news.
“Is the lovely Bonnie unharmed?”
“Heh, Maiden did what Maiden does. No worries.”
“Now, what of the gold?”
“I legit do not know. The car I thought it was in just went up in flames. Weirdest damned fire I’ve ever seen.”
“Weird, how so?”
“The flames were green.”
“Oh, that sneaky cunt.”
“Your bet mate?”
“No, an ex….associate of mine. Calls herself Jade. Seems she enjoys video games a bit much. But she has been making quite the nuisance of herself lately. Abort this game gentlemen. My opponent has violated the rules and will be dealt with accordingly. Go to the safe house I mentioned to you and await further instructions there.”
The line goes to static as Bonnie chimes in. Her voice is frantic as she speaks.
“John, you there?”
“Yea, Bonnie. I’m here, you ok?”
“Yea, you just vanished on me so I started to freak out.”
“Y…you did not hear him?”
“Nice Guy. I just had a full conversation with him over this signal.”
“Apparently not. Fuck it, head to the safe house outside Lexington, Mike and I will meet you there. I gotta feeling shit is about to hit the fan and I want us all on the same fuckin’ page”
“Got it. We will be there before sunset.”
The police cruisers and other emergency vehicles go roaring by on the other side of the meridian. Mike keeps the car right on the speed limit as Lee closes his eyes to try and collect his thoughts. How did this op go totally apeshit haywire. He recounts his steps, the planning, the execution. Then it hit him, this bet, was never about the wager itself. He wanted to draw out Jade. Used his team as bait. Good news for him…is that the plan worked. Jade made her move and it nearly took his team down. Now, Lee and his team will be wanting revenge and will be more inclined to assist Nice Guy. Bad news for Nice Guy is that now Lee, suspects Nice Guy planned it to go this way putting Bonnie and Maiden in the direct line of fire, which is just a non option. Period. Before Lee had decided that Nice Guy would eventually pay, now… it is time for Mr. Nice Guy to be… no more.
A Few Weeks Ago
Somewhere in Ireland
Joseph Grey’s eyes snap open to an unfamiliar setting. Straight above him, plain lengths of wood form the roof. The same goes for the walls, leading him to assume he is in a log cabin of sorts. The air is warm and cozy and filled with the the smell of a freshly stoked fire. Sitting up, he takes in his surroundings – a small, yet comfortable room, with minimal furnishings and an appropriate rustic feeling. Grey swings his feet off the bed and stands up, his legs a little unsteady at first, and an ache beginning at the base of his neck. As he steps forward, his side erupts in pain and he winches harshly.
“Son of a…” he says through clenched teeth, looking down. As he looks down at his shirtless, yet heavily bandaged body, he starts to come out of his sleepy haze. “Who… wher–”
A noise outside of the door catches his ear. Faint footsteps, almost inaudible, slowly making their way towards the room. Grey’s eyes scan over the immediate area, landing on a decent sized candlestick sitting on a table near the bed and he snatches it up quickly. He takes a position near the door as the steps loom near. They stop just outside of the door, and Grey watches the knob as it slowly begins to turn. Yet, it stops halfway.
“If you try and hit me with a candlestick, I swear I will end you.” A stern feminine voice says from behind the closed door.
The voice is familiar enough for Grey to relax slightly, but in his current state, he is unable to clearly place it. The doorknob turns again, this time to completion, and the door swings open slowly. As the dark-haired woman walks through, a small wooden tray in her hands, Joseph relaxes completely, letting his arm, and the candlestick, swing down to his side.
“Good choice,” she says, setting the tray down on the bed. Nodding to it, she adds, “I figured you might be hungry.”
“Morrigan,” Joseph starts, lead by his suddenly growling stomach towards the bed, “what the hell am I doing here? Better yet… where is here?”
“Sit,” Morrigan replies. “Eat.”
Grey sits down on the bed and looks down at the tray of food. A hearty helping of scrambled eggs, potatoes, and a couple pieces of dry toast. He quickly begins eating as Morrigan slides over a nearby chair and takes a seat herself.
“First, Joseph, I have to confess that I have been following you ever since our last encounter.”
“And I must confess,” he replies through bites of food, “That I was aware of that. You’re not quite as sneaky as you think, Morrigan.”
Morrigan huffs with a smirk. “Perhaps I was being sloppy, but trust me… if I want to disappear, I can. But my abilities are not the concern here,” she says. “I saw your fight, the one that left you unconscious. I saw the…. man… that you were fighting, and I recognized him.”
“To be honest… I don’t remember any of it… nothing except this overwhelming sensation of energy,” Grey says. “I can’t even describe it.”
“I saw everything, Joseph,” she replies. “I saw your ascension.”
“This again?” Joseph starts. “I told you before… I’m not who you think I am.”
Morrigan groans. “You humans and your intolerance to belief. Listen to me, “she leans closer to him, “it doesn’t matter if you believe or not, Joseph Grey, the fact of the matter remains. You have been chosen; you are a Guardian.” Joseph goes to retort, but Morrigan keeps going. “And the man who attacked you, he was no man at all, Grey. He was a demon – the right hand to The Other, in fact.” She pauses. “And you killed him.”
Finishing off the last of the food, Grey pushes the tray away from him and wipes his mouth. He sighs. “Alright… so say I believed any of this. Who is The Other?”
“I have explained all of this to you before, you know.” Morrigan answers with a tinge of sarcasm.
“Let’s just say I wasn’t paying attention.”
Morrigan sighs heavily. “There was a time when we, the Lesser Gods, ruled over mankind. At first, there was a nice balance; however, as time wore on, some of us began to abuse our power and position. Cruelty and greed took over, and dark times overtook the lives of man.” She pauses. “The few of us that stood with mankind pleaded to the Elder Gods to intervene. And so it was that the Guardian was created. An entity of good and compassion, the Guardian was meant to protect mankind from unjust cruelty; however, as with everything they create, the Elder Gods had to preserve balance. And so it was that the Other was created. An entity of evil and hatred, the Other traveled the world, and war and death followed in his wake.”
“Then how could it be me, Morrigan? I’m no embodiment of good or compassion.” Grey inquires. “And I’ve definitely never had any sort of supernatural powers.”
“As man’s dependence on and, ultimately their belief in, the gods began to subside. Over time, we began to fade away as man became more absorbed in themselves. And so it was that both the Guardian and the Other disappeared, as well.” She pauses. “That was, until now. There has been a shift in the balance, Joseph. Your friend, Riley, is at the heart of it. She is changing, and it has caused a sort of domino effect. The Other has returned, and, as a result, the essence of the Guardian has had to find a new host: You.”
Grey is quiet for a minute, deep in thought. He runs his fingers through his hair and sighs. “It just doesn’t make any sense, Morrigan. I’ll admit that sounds odd for me to say, given everything that has happened in my life… but this? This is just too surreal.”
“Like I said before, Joseph, it doesn’t matter what you believe. You are the Guardian. I can sense it; just as I can sense the Other. We are all connected.” She says. “And now… we must fulfill our destinies. The Other must be stopped, and you are the one that must do it, Joseph. I can lead you to him, but you must face him.”
Joseph arches his eyebrow, “How would you be able to lead me to him?”
Morrigan smiles. “You underestimate me, Joseph. I have eyes and ears the world over, not to mention my own abilities and powers. And, like I said, we are all connected.” She says. “Trust me, I know where the Other resides, and I will take you to him.”
Grey groans. “Fuck it, I don’t even care. I’m going to go against all rational thought, and I’m going to believe you.” He pauses. “Now… what’s the plan?”
Standing up, Morrigan holds up a finger, “First of all….” she exits the room, and quickly returns with both hands behind her back. “You’re going to need this.” Bringing her hands into view, Grey can see that she is carrying a very shiny, very sharp looking sword. “It belonged to a previous Guardian, ages ago, before they disappeared.”
Taking the sword from her, Grey is surprised by how light it is. Standing up, he swings it a few times, noticing how smoothly it cuts through the air and how pleasant it feels in his hands. Smiling, he looks at Morrigan and says, “You know, if you had just told me that I’d get a sword, I would have accepted all this a long time ago.”
Mesopotamia Valley, Iraq
“Here?” Grey’s question cast itself out over the great desert expanse before him. Save for the river running steadily to his right, there is not a drop of moisture around, leaving the air very dry and harsh. He licks his lips a couple of times. “This is where the Other resides? In the middle of the fucking Iraqi desert?”
Morrigan shakes her head with a sigh as she presses on through the sand. “This is the Mesopotamia Valley, the birthplace of life. It is where both the Guardian and the Other came into being. It is only fitting that he would return home.”
“Fair enough,” he replies. “So, do you have an exact location… or are we just hoping to stumble across him?”
Morrigan rolls her eyes as she comes to a stop, pointing forward. “There.” She says. Grey’s eyes follow and land on a cave.
“Seriously? A cave?”
Morrigan turns to face him, a slightly confused look on her face. “Are you questioning my powers?”
“No, it’s not that,” he says. “It’s just… so damn cliche.”
“That, I don’t know,” Morrigan replies. “I do know, though, that the Other is in there.”
“Alright then… what’s the plan?”
“As I told you before, Joseph, you must face him alone.” Morrigan says.
Grey sighs and mumbles, “Of course I do.”
With another sigh, Grey readies himself before starting towards the entrance to the cave.
“Good luck, Guardian.” Morrigan calls after him.
Throwing his hand up behind him, Grey continues on, trying his best to clear his mind. Over the last few weeks, Morrigan has trained him for this fight. She has bestowed all of her knowledge of the Other onto him, and it has all been for this moment.
The contrast between the bright, blistering sun and the still darkness of the cave is incredible as Grey steps into it. He slides the sword from the sheath on his back, gripping it steady as he moves slowly into the darkness. His nostrils prickle at the growing odor of mildew, moisture, and decay. Ahead of him, near the back of the cave, he can hear heavy, but not tired, breathing. He grips the sword tighter as his eyes finish adjusting to the lack of light.
A few feet ahead of him looms a large, muscular creature. Humanoid in shape, save for hooved feet that grind into the packed sand of the cave, it stands at around seven feet tall, with extremely broad shoulders. It’s voice is deep and growling as it speaks.
“At last… you have come.”
Grey stands silent, his fingers wringing the hilt of the sword.
“You do not have to speak,” the Other says. “I do not doubt that all of this has been a whirlwind for you. I do not doubt that what I am about to say will not make sense to you. But, I will say it nonetheless. I will say it because I it has been festering within my being for ages.” The creature turns around and takes a couple steps towards Grey. “I have been waiting for a chance to exact my revenge on you, Guardian. For such great lengths of time you ruined me; you foiled all of my plans. But that was then. Back when you were new and strong. But now… now you are weak. And now, you will die!” The creature booms.
Flinging its arms out and clenching its fists, the creature snaps its head back in a ferocious roar. At the same time, an energy erupts from within it, encasing its entire being in a layer of flame. Relaxing only slightly, the creature stares down Grey and snarls.
“Let’s do this,” Grey smirks, bringing the sword to a ready position.
They both let out a roar and charge at one another. The creature rears back and unleashes a devastating punch, but Grey is able to duck underneath it. Slicing his sword out, Grey catches the creature’s side, gashing it open. The creature growls in pain, but is otherwise unphased, wiping around and smacking Grey with a swift backhand that sends the man flying.
Joseph crashes into the side of the cave, reaggravating his broken ribs, but he recovers quickly. Charging at the creature, Grey avoids another punch, and slices across the beast’s left arm. Another quick slice catches the top of a thigh, bringing the creature down to one knee. Joseph attempts to seize the opportunity with a stab to the Other’s chest, but to no avail.
The creature reaches out, catching the tip of the sword in its palm. It clenches its hand around the sword, while pushing itself up with its free arm. All the while the sword digs into its hand, blood sliding down the blade and dripping to the cave’s floor. Back on its feet, it rips the sword out of Grey’s hand and smacks him hard in the face with the handle. Then a second time. And a third.
The blows send Grey reeling backwards, as blood gushes from both a gash on his forehead and his now broken nose. All the while, Grey does not waver, sneering at the beast. Through clenched teeth, he snarls, “Is that all you’ve got, bitch?”
With another roar, the Other slams the end of the sword handle into Grey’s gut, doubling him over, before snapping it upwards into his chin. The force of the blow knocks him up and off his feet. Grey crashes onto his back with a loud thud.
“Hahaha,” the Other laughs menacingly as he steps forward, coming to stand over Grey. Turning the sword to hold it properly, the beast aims the blade at Joseph’s chest. “As I said, Guardian, you may have defeated me in another life. But that was then, and this is now.”
Grey spits a wad of blood into the Other’s face, before laughing himself. “You’re right… this is a different time, and I”m different. Let me show you just how different.”
With a flick of his wrist, Grey reaches to his side and grabs his trust, ever-present handgun. Snapping it up and forward, his finger pulls back on the trigger. A blast erupts from the barrel of the gun, sending a bullet ripping through the Other’s skull. The force knocks the creature back, through it remains alive and on its feet, dropping the sword and grasping at its head. Joseph pushes himself up, placing the gun back at his side and starting towards the preoccupied beast. Snatching the sword off the ground, Grey steps up to the creature and rears back.
In one quick, fluid motion, Grey brings the sword around with such intensity that it cuts clean through the Other’s neck, decapitating it. The beast’s head rolls across the floor as its body crumples to the ground. Silently, Grey sheathes the sword, and heads out of the cave. Without stopping, he reaches down and grabs the Other’s head off the ground as he steps into the bright sun of the desert.
Morrigan stands a few feet away, waiting for him. She smiles when she sees him, and calls out, “Guardian!”
Grey quietly walks over to her and tosses the severed head at her feet. He takes a deep breath before looking her straight in the eye. “I need a fucking drink.”
It’s the same as any other day. I wake up and have a beer. Make a list of the errands I have to run for the day and then leave to go train.
Mikes van pulls out of his driveway. Brandy waves goodbye from the window. Mike waves back then lights a cigarette and the vehicle begins it’s usual morning trek.
Gym Bag, check. Invitations to the baby shower, check. The route to Coombs gym is so familiar that I could do it in my sleep. Except….
Mike takes a right and then stops the vehicle abruptly. He begins a three point turn in a driveway to go in another direction and abruptly stops the vehicle. Mike closes his eyes and rubs at the bridge of his nose and resumes his course.
The noise in my head and the nearly irresistable urge to go in a direction other than where I intend to go.
Mike uneventfully pulls onto a main road and runs a red light before pulling the vehicle over in front of a Dunkin Donuts.
“Ignore it Mike. Just drive. Go train.”
The vehicle pulls out onto the road again and continues in a straight line.
Everyday is the same and every day is different. The urges are getting harder and harder to ignore.
Mike starts to pass through another intersection and abruptly cuts the steering wheel to the left.
His vehicle is hit by a box truck.
:One hour later:
“Mr. Mckane? Mr. Mckane do you know where you are?”
“Can I have a cigarette?”
“You can’t smoke here Mr. Mckane.”
“Because you’re in a hospital.”
“Oh…. Can I have a beer?”
“There’s not beer here. You’re in a hospital.”
“….. This place sucks.”
Mike lays on a stretcher in the emergency room. A doctor looms over him. A nurse stands in the background.”
“I’ve called your emergency contact Mr. Mckane.”
“I have an emergency contact? Good to know.”
“We’d like to ask you a few questions about the accident. Would you like some water?”
“Water, this is a hospital Mr. Mckane. Nurse, please get Mr. Mckane some water.”
“How’s my truck?”
“I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that question. It’s your head that I’m worried about. We called Dr. Phillip Walker. He tells me your a fighter.”
I already know where this is going.
“Head trauma is not uncommon for men in your profession Mr. Mckane. What can you tell me about the accident?”
“Can I have a cigarette?”
Mike lays in a hospital bed impatiently changing channels. Jim Coombs sits on a chair still dressed in gym shorts and a tank top.
“I’m your emergency contact? Didn’t think about updating that to Brandy or your Dad?”
“I hate hospitals. I wasn’t exactly planning to be in one.”
“If you weren’t such a shitty driver you wouldn’t be in one. Buying a vehicle made in this century that has an airbag probably would’ve helped too. Brandy and your Dad are on the way.”
“I’m hoping to be discharged before they get here.”
“They’re not discharging you. They’re going to check out your head. They’re going to keep you overnight for observation.”
“Can you sneak some beer into this place?”
“When I’m not at the gym and you’re not at the gym those kids are left to their own devices. As soon as Brandy or your Dad get here I’m out.”
“You’re a terrible emergency contact.”
The same doctor walks into the room.
“Mike. We’re going to get you into an MRI in about an hour or so.”
“Gee. Sounds great doc. Really looking forward to it.”
The doctor leaves the room.
“Is this anything like what happened to you Jim?”
“What do you mean?”
“Freak accident. Doctor checks your head. Sees something wrong. You’re done.”
“It was my knee but basically. Yeah. It gave out on my playing softball and my fighting career was over. You were at the softball game.”
“This feels the same.”
I’m not claustrophobic but this could get me there.
Mike lays in the solitude of the MRI machine. Only his feet are visible.
“Stay very still Mr. Mckane. We’re taking pictures of your brain now.”
The only sound in the room aside from the technician is the occasional whir and click as the machine takes pictures that determine my future. The whir accompanies the eternal WHHIIRRRR that’s become background noise in my brain for the last few months of my life.
“How long do I have to stay in this thing?”
“Be patient Mr. Mckane and stay still.”
Be patient. Easy to say for the person on the other side of this things. I can’t help but wonder what my life is if this thing shows us massive trauma from multiple concussions. Rarely am I scared by the prospect of fighting a man but this scares me.
“Almost done Mr. Mckane. We’ll have you back in your room in no time.
Mike is sitting up in bed eating hospital food as Brandy waits anxiously in the corner of the room, not sitting. Mikes Dad has taken charge of the television and is lazily flipping from one college football game to the next.
“This is going to be a bad week for me son.”
“You know I don’t watch college football Dad. Any chance you wanna run out and get some food that tastes like food?”
“Sounds like a plan. What’s your wish?”
“Anything but bland rice and mystery meat. Pizza will do.”
The doctor walks into the room holding a chart.
“Good evening folks. Mike we have your test results back. I’ll keep it short and sweet since I know you’re anxious about this. You have a concussion but I don’t see any signs of long term damage. My reccomendation would be no physical contact of any kinds for at least two weeks due to the severity of the concussion. As far as long term care you should probably be coming back here every six months for an MRI. A man in your profession can never be too careful.”
Brandy smiles and hugs Mike.
“That’s great news doctor. Thank you.”
“We’re going to keep you overnight for observation Mr. Mckane but we’ll have you out of here early tomorrow. Do you have any other questions tonight?”
“Did you ever find out how my truck is doing?”
This is a broadcast from the Memphis Madness Network.
The scene opens on Memphis standing on his soapbox with a wall of televisions behind him. The televisions display videos of the previous episodes of the Memphis Madness Network.
The response emits from somewhere in the background.
I hope everyone is having a great day. Except for Seth Fisk. Fuck him. This next one is just for him, and his precious Sally. Pay close attention to this one Fisk. This is how it all started. I’ve been saving this one just for you.
Memphis hops off of the soapbox and turns to the televisions in the background.
“We’ve had a great innagural season of the Madness Network folks. I’m sad to tell you that this will be the last edition of this season. I’m happy to tell you this is when the fun really starts.”
Memphis faces the camera.
“Remember the storage unit Fisk? Remember all of the patients residing there? I bet you do. Let me introduce you to the mastermind behind all of those lovely experiments. Let me introduce you to The Doctor.”
The scene opens on a hospital room. The doctor stands in the room sourrounded by staff members.
“Move him to 1B. This one is special.”
The staff begins the process of moving the patient as the doctor jots some notes onto her clipboard. As the patient is moved out of the room the doctor glares coldly into the lens of the camera.
“But first do no harm.
I’m a doctor and that is my credo. My credo is left up to interpretation. What precisely is harm?
I had a patient last week who was involved in a shootout. He was a gangster. He came in with two gunshot wounds and I saved his life.”
The doctor leaves the room and walks to the elevator.
“I had an attorney come in two weeks ago. He had a heart attack. He told me that the cause of the cardiac arrest was because his wife discovered he was cheating on her.”
She presses the button that says B and the elevator decends.
“Everyday patients come to this place and leave this place. It’s my job to heal them. It’s my job to decide on which patients I can improve.”
The elevator dings as it hits the bottom floor. The doctor walks through the dingy basement passing a janitor and makes her way to a door. She opens the door and shields her eyes from the bright lights that engulf the next room. Her assistants wait for her in a small alcove.
“Have you prepped him for surgery?”
The doctor washes her hands and puts on a pair of gloves and glares into the camera as her assistants shuffle into the next room.
“Some patients benefit greatly from minor alterations. Some patients need something a bit more major.
Tell me you’ve never met anyone who would benefit from a lack of a tongue? I certainly have.”
The doctor moves into the next room. Her assistant holds out a labcoat and she carefully places her arms into the sleeves. The assistant buttons the labcoat as she speaks.
“Fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms, legs. These are all things we’re used to having but what happens to a man or woman when stripped of these extremities. In my humble profesional opinion some people are improved by the removal of these so called necesities.
Everyday I change someone and everyday the world gets just a little bit better because of my work.”
The doctor holds her hand out and her assistant hands her a scalple.
“First, do no harm.”
The scene resumes on Memphis. Behind him stand Stitch, Shellshock, The Highwayman, The Family Man, The Artist, and the Doctor.
“Here we are Fisk. I’m just sitting here in my base of operations waiting for you. Come get us.”
Memphis turns and gestures towards them and they all leave the room.
“I’m unleashing them in a city near you Fisk. All you have to do is follow the trail and you’ll find us.”
Memphis smiles at the camera. He holds a remote control in his hand.
Memphis presses the On/Off button and the scene becomes.
Fisk stands with his team outside of a house at the end of a cul de sac. The cul de sac is filled with police vehicles and swat vans. A policeman emerges from the home and immediately throws up in the front lawn. Fisk talks to the chief of police.
“Noone else is going in there mister. We haven’t checked out the whole place because it might be trapped.”
“With all due respect officer, I’m going in there. I’ve already shown you my credential and my friend here is FBI. This is our scene now.”
“FBI? Show me the cred.”
Randy steps forward and opens his wallet displaying his FBI badge.
“Fine, do what you do. Just realize we’re the ones that have to handle the cleanup.”
“Sorry about that officer. I promise you this is bigger than just this house and it’s my job to stop it.”
“Do your thing. Try and keep it clean.”
Fisk and his team circle up. Sally speaks first. “I’ll go in, I can handle it.”
Fisk objects. “No. This was meant for me. It’s all meant for me. I go in, everyone else stays outside.”
Tompkins chimes in. “I’m going in too.”
Fisk glares at Tompkins. “I’m the boss and I’m the one going in. Noone else. If it’s trapped I can’t afford to lose any of you.”
Tompkins speaks again. “Noone told me you’re my boss Fisk. I’m going in.”
Fisk stands up straight and glares at Tompkins. “Noone told you eh? Well here’s the deal, I’m the boss whether you like it or not. If you try and follow me in there I’m throwing you out and I’ll let Randy handle the rest.”
Tompkins turns from Fisk to Randy. Randy smiles. “He’s the boss Tompkins. Glad he’s going in because I don’t want too.”
Fisk begins to make his way towards the door. Sally follows him. “You sure you don’t want some company in there big guy, second set of eyes? I can handle it.”
Fisk stops. “If there’s a trap I don’t want you hurt Salley. Stay out here. I can handle this. It’s meant for me anyway.”
Sally rejoins the group as Fisk makes his way to the front door. An officer continues to throw up on the front lawn to Fisks left as he opens the door.
The first thing I see are fingernails laid out in an arrow formation. The fingernails lead to bones. Fingerbones and Toebones meticulously laid out to lead me towards my destination. I walk into the next room and I’m greeted by what’s left of the legs clearly pointing to a staircase. I cautiously move through the house although I don’t think it’s a trap. A carefully placed trail of blood gets me up the stairway. I’m greeted at the top by a spleen and an arrow drawn in blood. As I walk through the room more organs are noticeable but mainly just for decoration. The large intestine is now my guide. I follow it to the next room where a heart lays over a map. I approach the map and lift the heart. Under it is a remote control. I glare up at the television knowing what I have to do. I click play and the vcr springs to life. It’s the artist.
RIIIPP… “Hello Mr. Fisk. It’s me, the Artist. I was tasked by Memphis to draw you a map so I’m drawing you the best map I can given the supplies I have.” RIIIPP “ This canvas isn’t easy to work with but I have to make due with what I have. Since I know just placing the heart on your destination is a bit vague what with the mess and all I left you a clue upstairs. Just follow the bones.
The blood trail leads me up another flight of steps to the attic. I flip on a light as I go up. I see bones. Bones constructed in a very specific shape but nothing is coming too me. There is a brain in the middle of the bones and that should be my clue.
“Sally, you don’t want to see this but I need a second set of eyes. It’s a message. C’mon up.
I hear footsteps and heavy breating. I didn’t want her to see this but I need her. She energes to the top of the stairs and gazes at the scene.
“What is it””
Sally plays with her phone for a minute and then holds it up for us both to see.
“Providence Rhode Island Fisk. That’s where they’re going. We’ve got to get there.”
“They’re not going there. They are there. This is an invite. Let’s get moving.”
Fisk and Sally go back down the stairs and meet Tompkins and Randy outside.
“It’s Providence. That’s were they’re massing. It’s ten pm and we have a five hour ride.”
Tompkins fingers his phone. “Do we call in backup?”
Fisk doesn’t wait. He brings his phone to his ear. “We need reinforcements. Send whoever you can. Chuck Lincoln, Mary Higgins, Joe Eaton, Jen Smith. Whatever you can spare. Get them to providence now. We’re on our way.”
The team is assembled in the van. Randy speaks first.
“So how do we find them?
Fisk finishes a text and responds. “The town is flooded with agents. We’re the best though. We have to split up. They could be anywhere. They want us to find them. Just look for clues and be careful. Each and every one of them is dangerous.”
Tompkins steps out of the vehicle.
“I have a phonecall to make.”
“Randy and I are going solo. We may hook up with an agent but for the most part we’re solo. Sally, you’re rolling with Tompkins. Watch him.”
“You’ve got it captain.”
“Alright folks. We’ve got our plan. Stay in close communication. Roll out.”
Sally and Tompkins pull the car over and walk on foot.
“What the hell are we doing Sally?”
“Walking. I can hear everything while I’m walking. The car drowns out the important sounds. Plus I have a hunch.”
“Lets hope your hunch isn’t leading us to Shellshock. If it does we’re easy targets.”
“Who then? What are we listening for Sally?”
“Sshhhhh. Just walk with me. I’ll know it if I hear it.”
A song is heard softly in the distance.
You say it’s only a paper moon Sailing over a cardboard sea But it wouldn’t be make believe if you believed in me Yes, its only a canvas sky Hanging over a muslin tree But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me.
“That one Tompkins. That one. That’s him”
The two approach the house. Sally tests the door and it opens. The Alcove is well lit with a coatrack waiting for Sally. Tompkins approaches the door and peeks in.
“This one Sally. Are you sure?”
“I”m sure. Get in here, move quietly.”
The lights in the alcove go dark. Tompkins shuts the door.
“Sorry Sally. “
Tompkins walks back to the car and drives away.
At an unknown hour, in the midst of darkness, two unmarked vans idled in the center of a long lonesome dirt road. The vehicle’s headlights shine and provide the only light as cicadas play a soundtrack to the end of summer. Isolated and far removed from the city of Boston, the undisclosed location serves as a meeting place for deeds best kept from the public.
Standing between the two vans, illuminated by their headlights, two figures stood. The bright glare cuts sharp silhouettes as solemn faces stared back at one another. In the ever cooling night, Riley Scott looked to Daryl Tompkins. Slowly, a small smile cracked the corner of her lips as the absence of Tompkins’ team did not go unnoticed.
“Where’s Q-Ball?” Riley asks, titling her chin toward Tompkins. “Thought Fisk would at least want to bully his way in on this.”
“We work as a team Agent Scott. I’m here on Fisk’s behalf.” Tompkins says coolly. “Once you’ve crossed the Massachusetts’s state line you are to call Fisk for further instructions.” Tompkins pauses briefly as he watches the smile leave Riley’s lips. “That was the agreement. Our prisoner claims to know the location of the suspect that assisted Senator Taggart in the assassination of Thomas Ricker. He only agreed to this on the grounds that you transport him. Do I need to remind you how valuable his Intel is?”
Riley laughs sharply. “For fucks sake, Tompkins relax. I swear if there was a lump of coal up your ass, by the time this prisoner transfer was over you’d have turned it into a diamond.” Seeing Tompkins’ displeasure, Riley stopped briefly. Shaking her head, she continued. “Look, I don’t want to be working with you either but we both want the same thing. We both need whoever murdered the activist locked up and to put Elizabeth Malloy behind us.” Raising her hand, Riley signals to her partner Benjamin Henley. Stepping out of the van, Henley swings open the back doors of the vehicle as Riley ends her conversation. “At this point, Fisk is just lucky I’m still willing to put up with his shit. So, let’s just get this over with. The sooner you and Fisk are outta my city the better.”
Tompkins says nothing as he watches Henley take to Riley’s side. With Henley’s arrival, an unknown associate of Tompkins, stepped from Fisk’s agency vehicle and pulled the prisoner from the back. Bound with shackles about the wrists and ankles, the man clad in an orange jumpsuit with a black bag over his head, shuffled forward. The prisoner remained quiet as Henley takes him by the upper arm and leads him to the Division Six van. Pushing the man up against the side of the vehicle, Henley patted him down before securing him in the back.
After exchanging professional niceties, Riley nods to Tompkins and takes her leave. Confidently she strides toward the van and does not stop as Tompkins calls out. “Remember to call Fisk as soon as you leave the state. It’s important, Agent Scott. Don’t forget that.”
Riley hears Tompkins insist on his demands but does not respond. Climbing into the front seat of the van, Riley puts the vehicle into drive and carries on down the long dirt road. Looking to her side mirror as she left, Riley watches as Tompkins’ reflected image becomes smaller and smaller until all that remains is the glare of headlights.
Time passes while dawn draws near. The darkness of night begins to lift as the van barrels down a back road, kicking up a cloud of dust. But for small talk, the ride carries on mostly in silence. To fill the awkward quiet the radio plays through crackling speakers. Classic rock sings songs of excess and play as anthems to a musical revolution. The music continues until more urgent matters like sports scores and game highlights force Henley to fumble through the stations. Turning the radio’s nob, blips of music and talk pierce through the speakers as the station signals grow weaker the further they drive from Boston. Flipping through the stations a familiar voice hissed and spat lies.
“American citizens demand it! The registration will become law! It is time for this country to get on the right side of God!”
“This is hysteria! There has not been a single sighting of an alien since Thomas Ricker’s murder and he was killed by a human! Senator Taggart you are dangerous and god help us if this fear spreads across this great nation.”
“Doing nothing is the real danger! There will be a separation of alien and human. The behemoth that fell into Boston Harbor…that was just the beginning. Let us hope the rest of the country knows this fear!”
Cutting through the screams of two vastly different political parties, Riley huffs, “Turn that shit off.” Taking her eyes off of the road briefly, she glanced upward and into the rearview mirror. Monitoring the unmoving prisoner behind the cage door, she continued. “We’re about to enter into Albany. Time to give Q-Ball a call.”
Reaching into her jacket, Riley retrieved her cellphone from an inner pocket. While swiping through her contacts, in search for Fisk’s number, she glanced back once more at the prisoner and said nothing of his eerie calm demeanor. The prisoner had not spoken a single word for the entirety of the ride. He had not interacted with his keepers nor moved as he sat upon the cold hard bench. He had remained ever still until the sounds of ringing began to fill the van as Riley had put her call to Fisk on speaker.
The phone rings and rings. Its noise sets into motion the plans of devious men as with Riley and Henley distracted, the prisoner slowly slips the black bag from his head to reveal a new foe, The Highwayman, a murderous religious fiend of the Madness Network. While still bound, the killer bent forward and reached within his mouth. Gagging, the Highwayman moved an object from the back of his throat and spat it into his hand. Having hidden a small master key within his mouth, the killer used it to remove the shackles from his hands and feet.
The Highwayman moves quickly as the ringing ceases and Fisk’s gruff voice answers with a reluctant hello. Before Riley can speak, the killer unlocks and swings open the cage door. Whipping the chain of the shackles around Riley’s neck, the killer twists and pulls back. Riley grabs at her throat as Henley tries to take the wheel. Grabbing the gun from Henley’s holster, Riley reached back and fired. The bullet rips through the roof, barely missing the killer’s head. A second shot grazes his cheek. Adjusting her aim, Riley goes to fire a third shot that would surely hit its mark but the vehicle fishtails. Clipping a telephone pole, the van flips. Crashing onto its roof, the vehicle slides along the dirt road. The van comes to a sudden blunt stop as it drops over the edge of the road and lands within a deep ditch.
The impact leaves Riley and Henley unconscious as the pair hang upside down, strapped within their seats. Within minutes, Henley’s eyes flicker open. Groaning, he coughs before spitting blood from his mouth. Wounded, he looks to Riley and sees the blood dripping from the laceration across her forehead. Slowly, he twists his aching body and reaches to pull the chain from around her neck. Checking her pulse and seeing that she was still alive, he called out to her, trying to wake her but garners no response.
Unbuckling his seat belt, Henley fell and landed against the shattered windshield. Before exiting the van, he looked to the back and saw an empty cage. With the vehicle doors propped wide open, the killer was gone. Cursing, Henley looks for Riley’s cellphone and his weapon but finds neither.
Exiting the van, Henley moves around the vehicle to the driver’s side. Prying open the door, he tried once more to wake Riley before trying to unbuckle her from the seat. Finding the belt jammed, Henley takes the long hook toothed blade from within Riley’s boot and cuts her free. Slipping his hands underneath her arms, Henley dragged Riley from the van and into the tall grass.
Taking the blade, his only weapon, Henley began to scale the sharp walls of the ditch. Pulling himself up, he stops briefly as he swears he hears a man’s voice calling out. Moving quickly, Henley reaches the road to find the Highwayman waiting. Standing in the center of the road, the killer slithered a smile as he held the lost cellphone within his hand. Extending his arm, the killer presented the phone as Fisk’s voice rang out on speaker. Tilting the cellphone side to side, taunting Henley, the Highwayman motions with his free hand to come get it.
Calling out, Henley orders the killer to drop the phone. Henley yells, demanding the killer get to the ground but the Highwayman refuses. Taking a step forward, he raises up his arms and looks to sky, all the while Fisk angrily insists on knowing what is going. The Highwayman’s body begins to tremble with the power of faith and conviction. With god on his side, the killer preaches. “A great sign appeared in heaven!” The Highwayman strikes at the sky with his fists. “A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head!”
The killer continues to cry out, snarling spittle. His voice rises up above Henley’s and demands the death of the sinner. It is only when Henley approaches that the killer tosses the phone, still screaming with Fisk’s voice, to the ground. Lunging forward, the Highwayman attacks.
Far stronger then he appeared, the killer grabbed onto Henley’s wrist as he swung the blade. Back and forth, the pair struggled for the weapon. Their bodies collided into one another as fists connected to flesh. Landing a series of blows about the head, Henley forces the killer back. Repeating his orders, for the Highwayman to get on the ground, Henley takes the killer by the arm and tries to subdue him. The Highwayman twists and jots his arm forward, jabbing his thumb into Henley’s eye. Freeing himself from the agent’s grip, the killer smashed his forehead against the man’s skull. Henley stumbles back and draws closer to the edge of the road.
The two continue to struggle as Henley slams the butt of the blade’s handle into the Highwayman’s wound carved by Riley’s bullet. The killer screams. Clutching his face as blood seeped between his fingers, he called out. “Then another sign appeared in heaven!” The killer steps forward, kicking the cellphone, and sending it into the ditch. “An enormous red dragon with seven heads and nine horns and seven crowns on its heads.”
Pulling his hand from his wound, the killer looked to the blood. Raising up his red tipped fingers, he smudged the blood across his forehead, marking the sign of the cross. Praising Christ, the Highwayman sprung forward without warning. Tackling Henley, the two tumble over the edge of the road and fall down into the ditch. Rolling through the tall grass, Henley loses the blade as he crashes into the upturned van.
In pain, Henley groans. Trying to get to his feet, he begins to push himself up when the Highwayman slams him against the van. Kicking him, Henley falls back into the open vehicle while his legs dangled over the side, nearly touching the ground. Raising up his hands, Henley swung two thick fists aimed for his attacker’s jaw. He misses and pulls back quickly once he sees the Highwayman armed with the blade.
Holding the weapon above his head, the killer screamed. “The dragon was enraged at the woman and waged war against her offspring!” Deranged, he aimed the blade for Henley. “I’ve come for the whore! I’ve come to end the war! I…” The Highwayman suddenly stops.
Lowering his arms, Henley watched as a look of horror over took the killer. Soon blood began to spill from his mouth while his body jerked forward. His chest heaved as he began to rise up from the ground. Dropping back, the Highwayman began to slide backwards. The front of his orange jumpsuit started to run red before a massive blade pierced through his chest. Choking on the last of his words, the Highwayman is tossed to the ground. With his death, Henley looks on in shock, staring at the mad man’s killer as Riley stood wielding the living metal. Bio-chemical in design, the blade jotting from her arm, dripped wet with the Highwayman’s blood.
Having been forced into revealing her power, Riley sneered. Turning from her partner, she began to walk into the tall grass. Henley quickly leapt from the van and watched in awe as the living metal retracted. Of all the questions racing through his head, he is left speechless as Riley reaching down and retrieved her phone.
While so much had occurred within mere minutes, Fisk’s voice can still be heard barking out from the phone. Riley cares not nor listens to a single word of Fisk’s demands. With a rage burning from the fiery pit of her gut, Riley put the phone to her ear and made a promise. “Fisk…” She spoke calmly and without emotion. “I’m going to destroy you.”
A serpent smiled. With slicked back black hair and empty dark eyes, he stared upon the congregation that had assembled before him. From his forked tongue, he raged with pure American hate. Fags and whores. Heathens and the lazy poor. He hissed the wrongs that had been done to his country, what the nigger in the White House had done to his fellow Christian brothers and sisters. More importantly, what the extraterrestrials had done to his city of Boston.
He was the politician prophet, the elected official who swore he spoke with god through prayer. Standing upon a stage with the American flag, the new American cross at his back, he symbolically threw himself upon it. Nailing himself to the stripes and crowning himself with the stars, he was the new Saint Peter. He was Senator Marcus Taggart and this is the rock from which this new American church is built.
Standing with god at and on his side, Taggart gripped his fingers around a framed picture of Elizabeth Malloy, nearly breaking the glass. With a crooked finger, he points to her smiling face, spewing rhetoric laced with emotional trigger words and phrases, damning the extraterrestrial that had killed her, that would kill their children, too. He lies of god and country, of us versus them, and of how those who stood before him were the righteous sons and daughters of Adam and that they alone have been given a gift, a gift of faith and of metal.
Giving praise to the technology that god has granted them, Taggart screams of a posthuman revolution. In the fight of organic verses inorganic, god has given them a gift, a substance that allows those who pledge to sacrifice their bodies to Adam and to accept the replacement of limbs and organs with wires and steel, a deliverance from the pain. Their flesh was weak and though god had corrected their weakness with technology, he had granted them strength with a cure.
Casting aside the picture of Elizabeth, the senator plucked from his pocket a vial containing a clear liquid. Holding it above his head with both of his hands, he looked upward, gazing upon it like a holy sacrament. The drug, that Taggart gave praise to, had healed the wounds of the fallen, of those who had once served in law enforcement and the military. Lost and forgotten by the city, they had found their new orders in which to follow. All that they had needed was a leader and a name to call their righteous cause.
The Order of Adam had been born on the battle field. A blunt instrument of faith, wielded by the senator, it had soon become the weapon it was needed to be. With their growing numbers and the addictive healing ability of the cure, the sons and daughters of Adam had readied themselves for war.
“RAPISTS!” Taggart yells. “MURDERERS!” He screams. “They are criminals! Every last one of them! And worst of all, they have done this to themselves.” Clutching the vial to his chest, Taggart pounds his fist. “They are the reason why the behemoth fell into the harbor. They are the reason why our Elizabeth is dead and they will be the reason why more lives will be lost.” Looking unto the crowd, Taggart points to each soldier in the front row. “Mothers! Daughters! Fathers and sons! They will kill them all. That is why, my brothers and sisters, it is time to RISE UP! It is time to take back OUR city! Boston has been under attack for far too long. It is OUR RIGHT to defend her. It is OUR RIGHT to do so by any means necessary. That is why they must be purified!”
The camera, which had solely focused on Taggart, begins to pull away. Frame by frame, the scene around the senator begins to unfold as on each side of him stand three sons of Adam. The only flesh they wore was upon their faces as their bodies were blackened metal. Slick and complex, the artistry of the science used to craft their bodies was beyond man’s current knowledge of transhumanism. The camera within each of their eyes dilates the pupil as it zooms in, focusing on the stream of information being fed to their brain. Panels on each side of their wrists slide open as a black blade extends from within the arm.
“We shall rain down Heaven’s divine judgment for GOD has chosen us as his holy people! And that judgment shall be cast NOW!” Taggart proclaims with a certainty only found in faith and in insanity.
The camera slowly begins to zoom out once again, revealing a man forced to kneel before each of the soldiers on stage. Dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods over their heads, the six silent men faced the crowd. Not a single man moved as the son of Adam standing behind them placed their metal hands atop of their heads, gripping the hood that covered their faces.
“ALIENS and their sympathizers shall be rounded up like the devils they are. We will go into their homes, their places of employment, and places of false worship. We will purge this CITY! We will take it back!”
Pulling back the hoods, frighten faces stare into the crowd. A number of the men show no emotion, having made peace with what was to come next. Another openly wept as the man beside him cried out.
“PLEASE! Don’t do this! I’m not alien.” The man tried to move forward, to beg for his freedom but was quickly pulled back. “You can’t do this. I have a family. A son and a daughter and….” Turning his head as he spoke, the captive saw the soldier behind him raise his blade. “I’m not an ALIEN!”
With a swift motion of his hand, Taggart signaled for the sons of The Order of Adam to execute those who knelt before them. Grabbing a fist full of hair, the soldiers drew back their victim’s head, exposing the tender vulnerable flesh of the neck. Without a single utterance of a prayer or an apology, they simply obey.
Pressing metal against flesh, they saw. Back and forth, their blades tear through meat and cartilage. Blood gushes as their bodies twitch. Once removed, their heads are held proudly before the congregation.
Of the hostages, all lay dead but for one as his murderer hesitates. Trembling, the captive slowly turns, looking to the empty eyes of Peter Bannon. Standing with his blade drawn, Peter fights the better part of him, the part that was still human.
Taking to Peter’s side, Taggart holds before him the vial containing what the Order has deemed a cure. Allowing for Peter to see the drug he had resisted for so long, Taggart spoke, “Son…do you love your country?” He whispered with a hiss. “Do you love your God?”
Peter says nothing. Closing his eyes, he slowly nodded his head as he tried to remind himself that this man’s death would be no different than all the others he had committed in the name of Adam. In his agreement, Taggart pulls back his hand and slips the vial into the port in his back, delivering the drug into Peter’s system. A warm rush over takes him and the metal that is his body feels as flesh once again. The pain, mental and physical, is now no more.
“Now prove your love.”
His words are poison, further sickening the damage already done. Taggart’s influence guides Peter’s blade as it makes the first cut. The senator smiles, wiping the fresh blood from the flag pin upon his lapel.
Neutral ground came as a sacred institution of New England. Second to the church, the Dunkin’ Donuts on Old Colony Ave. in Southie served as one of the oldest cop moves in the book, a well-lit and well-traveled public location to meet a prep. There would be no agents of the Division or members of House Twelve here. They would hear and see nothing for everything appeared as business as usual.
For Riley Scott and Benjamin Henley the coffee shop had been their late night pit stop, a staple of their routine and somewhere to go during that quiet lull before the storm that often accompanies police work. It had been a very public place, one where they could discuss their case load for like many of Southie’s residents the shop’s patrons minded their own damn business. Beat cops and average locals would come and go throughout the day, no scene will be made here. No matter the information a prep was given, no criminal in their right mind would lash out in the midst of every day slobs just trying to live their lives and that is what Riley had been counting on. Only Henley wasn’t a criminal, he was Riley’s partner. Still, there was need to treat him as such for no matter how innocent his secrets had been revealed to be, he was still an agent of the Division.
Even now as they sat across from each other, staring into their slowly cooling cups of coffee, Riley had made no plans to reveal why she knew Henley had kept her at arm’s length, why he has said nothing of his private life though they had spent much of their time together. She had now known his secret, a secret that would jeopardize his career and she would keep it just as that, a secret. Though she had finally known the truth, of why Henley had remained so distant, it did not mean she trusted him anymore then she once had. It had only meant that he deserved a chance, one that she had never given him.
Looking up from his coffee, Henley opened his mouth to speak but for once, the man who often said too much was nearly speechless. The hard cut of his features, naturally resting in a frown, made his reaction nearly unreadable. Tilting his head to the side, he peered over Riley’s shoulder, and watched as Theo stood beside another woman. Leaning back on the counter, she bobbed her head in agreement to whatever was said between the two. Smiling, Theo reached out her hand and ran her finger along the woman’s arm. Flirting, she did so openly and without care.
Henley looks back to Riley, unsure of what to make of the young androgynous woman who claimed to be the daughter of Senator Marcus Taggart. She had dressed and presented herself as male and while her sexual identity did not distract from her credibility, it did raise concerns of her father’s fanaticism if he was willing to abandon his child in the name of god.
The pair exchange silent glances, using their body langue to carry on a conversation that neither knew how to properly express. It is when Henley raises an eyebrow that Riley knew immediately what he had been asking. Raising her cup of coffee to her lips, she takes a slow sip before gently nodding her head.
“Yeah…she’s a girl.”
“How do you know? I mean, look at him…her.” Henley asks, pointing toward Theo with an open hand.
“For fucks sake…she’s got tits.”
“Oh, come on. It’s not like that at all.” Riley rolls her eyes. “Women tend to notice these things about each other.”
“What?” He laughed. “Is that like a super power? Tits-ray vision.”
“Really?” Riley asks, shaking her head.
“Hey, I never promised you comedy gold but…I did promise the great state of Massachusetts that I’d have your back.” Henley sighs. “So, tell me…how fuckin’ bad am I going to regret this?”
“Depends if you’re willing to break the law?” Riley says casually like this conversation had been an everyday nonevent for her. “Just hear me out.” She requests as Henley shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “You’ve been doing this job long enough so I know you know how the game is played. The steaming pile of shit that’s landed in our laps…this is connected to the dead girls who look like their insides were tore out by a monster. Only there was no gate and no monster. Just a snake using god as an excuse.” Henley does not react, he merely listens, knowing everything Riley has said to be true. Allowing Riley to continue, his lack of response is seen as chance, that just maybe he could be trusted. “The minute Taggart was implemented in the bombings, the murders, and Thomas Ricker’s death…the rules went out the window on this. We’re dealing with something neither of us can take down on our own and the Division isn’t going to do shit unless its public. You’ve seen the footage. I showed you that it came from Theo’s laptop. Now it doesn’t matter if she’s the senator’s daughter or not. What matters is that she has evidence that the Elizabeth Malloy death video came from his office. We turn it in to the Division and it disappears. We get more evidence, something they can’t hide, and maybe they are forced to listen. You and me…need to go back to that office and…”
“Whoa, whoa there. Slow down.” Henley leans in, his voice nearly becomes a whisper. “Say that I believe you…that Theo is really Taggart’s daughter, that we need evidence that the Division can’t lie itself out of…and I’m not saying Taggart doesn’t seem guilty because the fucker probably is but what you’re saying, you want us to break into private property and steal whatever the hell it is that Theo claims her old man has in his office?” Henley watches as Riley simply shrugs in agreement. “Any evidence we find…none of it will be admissible. They’ll throw the case out. Someone like Taggart will sue us for everything we have. We’ll lose our jobs and probably be charged with a B and E. That’s a possible twenty year sentence in Norfolk.” Henley’s eyes narrow. His natural angry expression doesn’t break as he looks Riley square in the eye. “Bitch…I’m too pretty for jail.” The words barely come out of his mouth before Henley breaks into laughter. Any tension seems to vanish with the reality that he is clearly on her side.
“You’re a real dickhead, you know.” Riley states as she smacks Henley across the arm with the back of her hand.
“Well, you’re the dumbshit to think I wouldn’t be all over this.” Henley rubs his arm and laughs once more. “Besides, I knew what I was getting into when we were assigned partners.” He grins. “Do you realize how long I’ve been waiting for this? I’ve heard the stories. I wanna be a part of them.” Henley sees Riley’s lack of recognition and appears surprised. “Oh, you don’t know? The guys at the station…they talk. The shit you and your original squad got away with before the Division went public…” He leans in again, excited at the possibility of such recklessness. “Is it true what they say you did to that governor…” Henley snaps his fingers trying to remember the man’s name.
“Governor Franklin from Kentucky.” Riley responds dryly. “He was my first case with the Division.”
“So, it’s true then?” Henley makes a snipping motion, like a pair of scissors with his index and middle finger. “You cut off his dick?”
“The man was torturing and raping prostitutes while somehow convincing an extremist religious order named the Skoptsy to murder for him.” Riley tries to defender herself but quickly realizes she’s lost control on the conversation. “Fine.” She sighs heavily. “I cut off his dick…and nearly burnt half of northern Maine down.” Riley points to him. “Shit happens sometimes.”
“And the CEO of PureTech Ventures?”
“Why are we hitting all the highlights of my last three years in the Division? We need to stay on point. If you’re with me on this, you need to be prepared. Taggart is a religious fanatic. That alone makes him dangerous…but add this Order of Adam and he’s got an army willing to follow that fanaticism.” Slowly Henley’s over eagerness began to make Riley uneasy as she watched him and the smile that never left his lips. “The Order of Adam…from the information Theo got off her father’s computer, all we know so far is that they’re using the same tech that Division agents have been using but this is different. This is willingly. This is a group of broken people willingly replacing nearly all of their body. The worst part is that Taggart is giving them an addictive drug…this serum that heals their wounds so their bodies don’t reject the replacement tech. I’ve seen this shit before. I know what it does to people. He’s enslaving them through religion and narcotics.”
“Did you really throw him out a window?”
“No, he jumped.” Riley stops, taken aback. Looking to Henley, she watches him and can no longer deny the fact that while he had always talked too much, this sudden interest in her felt out of place. He had suddenly become too interested all too quickly. “What the fuck is going on here? Are you fanboying on me or what?”
“No, not at all…now tell me about Deer Island. Tell me…” Henley’s voice begins to change. His deep tone becomes flat and loses all emotion. “Tell me what it was like to kill your clones? What was it like to watch Jamison Whitlock kill the very things that were nearly you?”
His words, while questions, come as threats. Henley’s smile only seemed to grow. His lips thin as the corners of his mouth pull upward, distorting any notion that this was Henley at all, that something terrible was about to unfold. In this realization there is a silence, an absolute stillness that falls between them. All the everyday noise that carried on around them thins and becomes hollow until it is heard no more. Bodies move but the patrons carry on mute.
Riley leans back in her chair, giving herself space to make the quick decision between reaching for her gun or brandishing the living metal should the next few minutes play out as she feared. Though Henley said nothing, there was a halted madness to his composure, a resistance to the insanity that seemed to be slowly taking over.
Before Riley can speak, before she can question if Henley had betrayed what little trust she had given him, Riley suddenly feels someone brush against her shoulder. Resting her hand against her holster, Riley turns to see Theo slip past her. Making her way around Riley, Theo plops within the last remaining seat at their table. Smiling, she tilts her chin toward Riley.
“You tell him you have superpowers yet?” Theo asks, her voice penetrating through the silence as only their conversation is heard.
“What? No.” Riley cocks her head, taken aback. Unsure of Theo’s safety, Riley waves her off. “Weren’t you just busy trying to get into some girl’s pants?”
Theo grins. “There’s something going on across the street. She wanted to check it out.” Reaching into her jacket, Theo pulled a piece of paper from an inside pocket. Holding the paper between her index and middle finger, she flashes Riley the girl’s number. “I’m gonna need to borrow your car later.”
“Theo…” Riley’s eyes narrow as she relies on her body language to speak of the threat that no words could say. “We’re discussing your father and how we’re not going to get ourselves killed. You need to…”
“But I can still use it, right?” She interrupts. “I mean you could always just zap or poof or whatever superpower sound yourself into my dad’s office. Why be stubborn and not use your gift?” Theo shrugs as she betrayed her promise to never mention the power of the gate. Henley had heard nothing of powers until now and still he does nothing but smile. Soon Theo’s tone becomes flat. Her voice loses all emotion as she speaks of things she could have never known. “That’s what Jamison always says isn’t, Riley?”
Theo begins to smile. The corners of her mouth pull upward, thinning her lips into a twisted grin. Soon she looked just as Henley, empty and detached. The pair began to laugh. Dull and narcotized, the noise coming from their cracking lips chokes back as a dark fluid seeps upward from their throat. Blackening their teeth, the liquid begins to flow like small rivers along the sides of their mouth. The rivers flood and the black fluid pours.
From their eyes and ears, the darkness also streams. The liquid drips onto the floor, creating a pool that appears to thin and then expand. Darkening everything it touches, the blackness spreads across the floor of the coffee shop and inches its way up the walls. Its volume and speed only increase as from behind Riley the thick dark fluid spread ever faster.
Slowly turning in her seat, to witness the darkness taint and consume the shop, Riley watches as each of the patrons stand motionless. Paused, the employees pour coffee that overflows from cups firmly held within now scolded hands. The line beyond the counter never moves as those who had gathered around the storefront window to gawk at what had been happening across the street, remain still. Their bodies never move but from their lips the darkness spreads. Staining their skin, the black carries over every inch of their bodies, camouflaging them within their ever darkening surroundings. Soon the black, ever flowing, liquid ripples out across the ceiling. Swallowing up the last of the lights, all within the shop disappear as it is devoured by darkness.
There is a nothingness, an absolute desertion that now defines the space Riley finds herself within, if it could be called a space at all. There is no light to see. There is no sound to hear but for her labored breathes that rattle as she tried to remain calm.
Soon a sliver of blue light breaches the darkness. The tiny speck begins to grow several inches wide and across until it forms a perfectly round circle. The light pulses like the rhythmic beats of a heart until from it life is born.
From the center of the hovering flat disc of light, a small cherub face pushes upward and bends the light to contour its features. Giving a small cry, the infant rises up. With each inch of its body exposed, the child ages and becomes a woman. Her naked frame, made entirely of light, shines brighter and brighter until the blue glimmer can be contained no more. Every atom within the woman’s body pulls inward before her form blasts outward, sending blue sparks up into the air that fall down as stars.
The stars hang within the darkness as there blue glow illuminates the sudden appearance of all too familiar smiles. Sitting around the table with Riley, Henley and Theo sat, unmoving. Their dull empty laughs become louder and louder until the laughter takes on several different tones as other faces emerge from the darkness, all laughing.
The faces take shape as the energy being using Jacob’s memory to manifest appears seated next to Riley. He is but one of many. Soon Riley’s mother, Mary sat beside James Bulger. Her brother, Jake was seated along with their old and nearly forgot friend, Peter Bannon. Friends and family, all those who would be left behind once Riley’s presence became too dangerous for Boston, sat along the ever growing table within the endless darkness.
The table continues to grow in size as at the very end Dr. Petra Sutter stood with her arms out stretched and hung in a faux crucifixion stance. Though she had only met the doctor briefly, it was difficult to forgot all that she had done on Deer Island. Serving as an aid to the Baraggal, Sutter ran the gate experiments in his absence. Always remaining within the background, never making her presence known until the very end, Sutter would stop at nothing to do as the Baraggal demanded.
With the sudden sharp drop of Sutter’s arms, those seated and paused, came alive. The laughter becomes words spoken in remembrance of the lives they had all lived in Boston. Disjointed and fragmented, the mournful epitaph of a city which had been very much a character within their own life stories played out all at once. Each face among the many spoke. Bits and pieces are heard as particular words and phrases stand out above all others.
Peter Bannon’s voice was the first to rise above the growing spoken chaos of memories. Reminiscing of days gone by, Peter spoke of how with Riley and her brother, Jake they had been unstoppable. Friends from the very beginning, it was when Riley had tried to stop his abusive father that she had saved him. Only the price of his father’s accidental death had cost him any chance of a life with her as she had been sent away from Boston.
Peter had been the what if, the life without Henry and Jacob. He had been the maybe, that if she had never met Henry, the actions of House Twelve and the Division may have been less severe or may have never happened to her at all. There was no way to tell as now through her guilt and neglect, Peter had found solace in The Order of Adam.
Peter’s words lose their fight for dominance as Riley’s brother, Jake asks why his little sister had murdered him in front of an audience of thousands? He asks his killer, if she still trusted her memories of him murdering her family now that Henry and Jacob were found to be missing from their graves? He insists she had killed him for nothing, that she had enjoyed it, and that blood lust had made her no different than him.
Her mother, Mary and James Bulger speak of the gate experiments as the thing pretending to be Jacob tells Riley of how they will be together forever once she becomes the gate. Her brothers Sean, Thomas, Daniel, and their deceased sister Ruth talk of their biological father and how he raised Riley even though he knew she wasn’t his. The family of Riley’s murdered FBI partner tells her they’ve forgiven her, that they know House Twelve used his death to lure Riley into joining Division Six. Their voices, the voices of the many speak their final words to a last good bye.
A last supper.
In this clatter of sounds, of words competing to be heard, the noise becomes a cacophony. Louder and louder the displays of unrequited love and sadness, of rage and terror pierce Riley’s ears. All the would haves and could haves and should haves become all too much. Bending forward, she grabs at her ears, trying to protect herself from the piercing pain of all the terrible things said, seemingly over powering all the good. It all becomes too much.
“STOP!” Riley screams, trying to be heard above all the noise. “Just stop!”
With those words uttered, silence fell as every voice ceased. In the sudden quiet the faces draw back into the darkness and vanish. While each person disappears, Riley takes notice of those who had lost their voice amongst the rising noise. Gabe Gone smiles innocently as he’s pulled back into the blackness and is no more. Arthur Marek, the head of Division Six, and her former team members fade back into the nothingness. Everyone who had ever meant anything, good or bad, simply were no more. Everyone but Henry as even in this display of the Baraggal’s power, his face could not be seen.
The table, at which Riley sat, returned to its small circular size as the chairs Henley and Theo had occupied were now empty. Under the blue glow of the stars, Riley watched as out from the darkness Sutter stepped. Detached and wholly unhuman, she looked upon the insignificant ape and cared only for the desires of the Baraggal.
“The voices, Riley…” Sutter speaks, without emotion or care. “Their accusations. These are your sins.” Sutter pauses briefly. “You are a failed human being and your city will burn for it. Your people and your god will die at your hand.”
“Isn’t that what you want?” Riley hissed. “I thought the Baraggal wanted to break my god damn mind. If not, then what else was the point of Deer Island, of the horrible fucking things he has done? But for this fucking moment.” Balling her fist, Riley raises it, and displays the power of the gate.
In that moment, if Sutter could have smiled, she would have but even the littlest joy in something purely evil was too human. Still she found use of Riley’s hate as it had been everything that the Baraggal had craved. The gate was evolving before her eyes and the Old Ones would come soon enough.
“You have failed because you are defined by each and every person that had just been seated at this table beside you. This city and those you call friends and family, they make you a human being. Left to your own devices, the anger and selfishness within you is all consuming. The only good in you is the people you have lived for. They make you what you had been before your family was taken away and what you have become since Deer Island. Yet, all those voices…they are the dead and the betrayed. They are all of your mistakes.”
“That’s not true.” Riley said with a bent lip.
“Is it?” Sutter asked. “In the last six years have you been known for anything other than a hate filled machine endlessly devoting yourself to work and alcohol? It has only been since Deer Island that you have found happiness. Why is that, Riley? There hasn’t been anyone else since Henry’s death until now. Are you happy because of you or because of Salinger? And was it you that saved yourself from Whitey Bulger or was it Henry? After all, he became a lawyer to do good. Isn’t that why you became an officer of his law?” Sutter pauses as Riley refuses to react, believing nothing that has been said. “You are an empty shell filled only by others. A husk of our design. The Baraggal shaped you from the moment your heart first beat within your mother’s womb. You are clay and you will be molded into the very thing that will destroy this world.”
“This is all bullshit. Fucking BULLSHIT!” She yells. “I am human. I…I am…” Riley pauses as her voice loses its edge. Looking to Sutter, she shrugs in defeat. “I am fucked up. I…I hate too much and care too little. I try to do good, to be good but I am bitter…I’ve been bitter since Henry died. I at least admit that, not that it’s a secret. But the one thing I am not is some empty vessel waiting for orders. Now I don’t care why I was born, if it was for the Baraggal or not and I sure as fuck don’t need others to give me purpose.” Riley tries to hold onto the anger, to defend herself with rage but feels it slipping. Leaning forward, Riley looks to her hands and their dull blue glow. “I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to create doubt. You’re trying to make me think that I should just allow the gate to happen. That I’m a horrible fucking person and I deserve this. You want me to lay down and give in because of how the outside world sees some little shit from a city full of assholes.” Riley sneers. “You’re gonna have to try something a little stronger to get to me because all the people who’ve come and gone in my life…and you, fuckface aren’t gonna cut it. That blade ain’t sharp enough. So, enough of This is Your Life.”
“Is it, Riley? Is this your life?” A sudden familiar voice asked.
Slowly, Riley draws her vision upward to see the face staring back at her. Shaking her head, Riley curses. “This is low.” Anger takes to her voice once more as she slams her fist against the table. “Using him!”
Where Dr. Petra Sutter once stood, Mark Danvers sat upon one of the tables empty chairs. Alone and sitting across from one another, the pair look to each other, watching to see who will be the one to make the first move. In their silence and above their heads, the darkness shifts. The glimmering blue stars roll backward like moving over a rounded ceiling. Falling, the stars each retake the shape of a woman. Their blue glowing naked frames crash down upon the blackened ground behind Riley. Motionless, they lay as if dead upon some unknown future battlefield. The woman, eleven in number, make twelve with Riley’s presence.
Riley did not need to look upon the faces of the fallen for she had known somewhere within her gut that these women had all been subject to the gate experiments. Should she fail to become the gate and die, another woman was at the Baraggal’s ready. He would groom her and give her the gift of the living metal.
While Riley tried her best to ignore why these women lay dead and displayed like causalities of war, the darkness from which the stars had fallen begins to fade into the colors of dawn. A time-lapse of the night sky becoming day rolls overhead as in the distance tall buildings begin to take shape. The skyscrapers grow in size as they appear to move closer and closer until a familiar cityscape takes form. In all of its glory, shining in the morning sun, Manhattan took shape. The very same Manhattan that looked as the postcard of New York that James Bulger had sent Riley’s mother. The very same Manhattan that the Baraggal needed Riley’s to remember.
The image above Riley and Danvers of Manhattan quickly drops. The structures once portrayed within the postcard now become four-dimensional as buildings and monuments spring up around them. The darkness that once consumed the endless empty space they had found themselves in now was the very city in which Riley had met her husband, Henry. Though the blackness had changed, the pair still remained within their seats, sitting at the table in the center of a once busy city street. Desolate, not a soul wondered the blacktop as in that moment Riley and Danvers existed only for themselves and each other.
Folding her arms, Riley tried to look away but only saw the eleven dead women lying around her upon the pavement. Sighing, she spoke though she knew her words would change nothing. “This is all in my head. This isn’t real.” Riley looked to Danvers. “You’re not Mark.”
Furrowing his brow, Danvers paused to think. Had he been who Riley wanted him to be, had he been her best friend, she would have guessed and even joked at his expense that in this moment his thoughts had wandered into some deep internal monologue. Had this been the man she considered a brother, Riley would have laughed as Danvers brooded. While everything within the darkness was crafted by the Baraggal, the thing that appeared as Danvers quickly adjusted his behavior to fit all the actions Riley had begun to question. The darkness adapted as Danvers became another version of himself.
“I am Mark.” Danvers replied simply as his demeanor shifted effortlessly. “You have made me him. I am a whole human being constructed from the pieces of Mark Danvers taken from your thoughts and emotions. I am what is in your head and I have to say there is some messed up stuff between the two of you in there.” Danvers points to his skull, tapping it with his finger. “A lot of vague boundaries and unresolved sexual tension. A lot of things that could have been if all of this alien and gate stuff hadn’t happened. Really, it was the lies, the trying to protect him from the truth that steered the two of you away from each other a long time ago. But that doesn’t matter now does it? After all, you don’t even believe this is real.” Danvers leans forward. “Makes you think, doesn’t it? If this isn’t real, then how do you know any of it is? If the Baraggal can bring you to wherever this is in the middle of the day, how do you know you’re not still back on Deer Island? How do you know your still not in the pit dreaming this?”
“I know what you and that bitch Sutter are doing. I was in the FBI. I know this technique.” Riley laughed. “You can torture someone and they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear but you create doubt, you fuck with their reality and they’ll believe what you’ve tortured them into saying.”
“Were you in the FBI, Riley? Or after the House took your family, did they place you in the bureau to ready you for the Division? Like Phyllis Stein did with Jamison? He wasn’t a lobbyist by choice you know.” Danvers replies coolly. “But don’t worry, even Jamie believed the lies. In fact, he still does.” Danvers smiled. “Well, one in particular that is and I think it may just be our favorite.”
“Yeah…and just what is this lie?” She asked as her voice began to rise. “You might as well tell me now. For as much as we’ve fought it, the gate is going to happen. At least tell me the fucking truth. Tell what is so goddamn special about Jamison. Why that thing pretending to be my son insisted I bring him to Florida with me? Why does that little fucking monster keep saying they have plans for him?” Riley sneered. “If you really are Mark…my Mark or at least a part of him, then you’d know he’d do the right thing. He’d tell me the god damn truth instead of stringing me along for months because that’s what he does. Mark does what all of us should have been doing right along. He tells the tells the truth and no matter how weird things are between him and I right now, he’d do whatever it would take to help me save Jamison from the Baraggal.” Running her hands over her face, Riley sighs. “There’s no stopping the gate. I…I don’t know what’s going to happen to me but Jamison still has a chance.”
There is a long silence before Riley’s insistence of the truth garners any response. Her willingness to set aside her pride gave Mark pause as displays of emotion did not suit her well. Riley had clung to loss for far too long as the death of her husband and son ate away at her humanity like a cancer. She was not a sympathetic character but Mark was different and in-turn, he had made her different. Now with the gate fast approaching, Riley not only had to say goodbye to Boston but the friend who had made her human.
“You know, I waited three years for you to show some kind of emotion and here it is…you ask me to save Jamison Whitlock.” Danvers replies as if the words fill his mouth with a bitter taste. “Why is that, Riley? Why do you suddenly care what happens to him? He’s never cared about you or me or anyone…and now you two finally want the same thing and you’re buddy buddy.” Danvers anger does not go unnoticed as the buildings around them shimmer blue. “You can’t answer that can you?” The shimmer soon takes to the pavement below their feet as the blacktop becomes less solid. Drawing back, the pavement rolls out and then in like an ocean wave. Unfazed, Riley watches as Danvers stands. He paces before kicking at the blacktop and splashing pavement up over the sidewalk. Leaning on the table, he points to Riley. “You can’t answer anything because you’re not asking the important questions!” Lifting up his arms, Danvers pointed to the city all around him with open palms. “We’re in Manhattan, Riley! What is so important about New York?” Danvers points to the sidewalk. “Over there, in that very spot you met Henry. You literally ran into the man that would help you escape Whitey Bulger.” Stepping closer to Riley, Danvers pointed toward several blocks away. With this simple action the street shifted. The pavement lapped against the shores of the sidewalk as the buildings glimmered blue before merging into the exact spot in which Danvers had pointed. The table and chair in which Riley sat still remained in the center of the empty street but now stood within the shadow of a massive skyscraper. Still pointing as his hand lined up perfectly with the building, Danvers voice rang out hollow. “Here! This building, right here! This is where Jamison met Stein for the first time. He had come for job and met her in the lobby.” Dropping his arm, Danvers stepped forward Riley and looked down upon her. “He met her here, by accident or…not but it all happened just blocks away from where you met Henry.” Gently, he placed his hands upon her face. Cupping her cheeks within his palms, he knew Riley did not resist as a part of her had always needed to know the truth no matter the consequences. “You need to ask yourself the important questions, Riley. You need to ask about the postcard. You need to ask…why New York?”
Glancing upward, Riley looks to Danvers and sees only emptiness staring back. His touch, feels vile and reveals the thing standing before her to be something entirely different then the beautiful sad man from Northie. “Henry.” She replies. “The answer to all of this is Henry. It’s always been Henry.”
Danvers grins and in doing so, the outline of his frame shutters. In that moment, all color vanishes to reveal a blackened outline of a human. The darkness remains visible for mere seconds before Danvers’ image returns. Tightening his grip, Danvers pressed his fingers into the soft smooth flesh of Riley’s face and still she did not resist. “You’ve always known it was him. Now remember Henry. Remember his face.”
“Don’t you think that I’ve tried? I’ve tried to remember what he looked like. To think why he and our son wouldn’t be in their graves.” Riley insists as the dull blue shimmer within her hands begins to shine. “I want to remember but I can’t…and I shouldn’t.” The light begins to glow as the pavement, lapping at their feet, begins to recede. “If I remember him, if I get back everything I’ve lost I become the gate. I have to choose between Henry and hurting you. People are going to die.”
“People are going to regardless.”
“No.” Riley sneers as she pries Danvers fingers from her flesh. “If I become the gate because I remember his face, that means he’s the key and he’s still alive.” Leaning back in her chair, Riley hammers her boot into Danvers’ chest. Springing to her feet, she casts out her glowing hand as the living metal pierces her skin and covers the entirety of her arm. Standing before Danvers, Riley looked upon the thing claiming to be the man who had made her human with an anger reserved for those who threaten family. “You!” She hissed. “Your Mark is shit! You don’t even sound like him.”
“That’s because you made me! I am your memories.” Danvers began to laugh. “Everything you touch turns to shit! I am made from your damage!”
“Get out of his skin!” Riley screams and the power within her reacts.
With Riley’s arm outstretched, the living metal retracts and reveals the skin upon her palm. The living metal circles around the flesh and reacts as a conductor for the power surging within. Through grace and control, the cosmic energy within Riley’s hand manipulates matter at her will. At the call of a simple gesture, the atoms surrounding the backward drifting pavement force the blacktop to roll inward as a massive wave. The pavement surges and sweeps Danvers away within the undertow. The blacktop moves quickly, drowning the man and burying him beneath a city.
With his death, the pavement washes in and out with the rhythmic pull of the sea. Soon a current pattern forms as the color of the blacktop begins to fade. With each lap of the waves the pavement becomes the cold dark blue of a New England bay. New York is now no more as Manhattan becomes Boston Harbor.
The skyscrapers fall downward in glimmers of blue and splash outward into the sea. The sidewalk becomes the rocky shore of the remains of Deer Island. A seagull calls out as the sun shines over an empty harbor.
Once more Riley finds herself seated at the small circular table. Stationed in the center of the port with miles of sea all around her, Riley does not sink nor float but merely exists. The ocean beneath her feet remains solid as to her back, the eleven dead women still lay where their bodies had fallen.
Riley looks to the dead, staring at their faces as the ocean pools around their naked frames. She recognizes none of the deceased but knows without question that each must be found. It is the mass death that steals her thoughts and it is the sound of his voice that draws her back.
“You can’t kill me here.” He lied.
Slowly, Riley turns within her seat and is greeted by the ever growing smile of Danvers. Sitting across the table, Danvers appeared very much alive. Seeming unharmed by the will of Riley’s power, Danvers was not alone as Dr. Petra Sutter stood at his back, her hands resting atop of his shoulders.
“I’ll be happy to can try.” Riley hissed as she raised her fist to wield the power of the gate.
“Do it, Riley!” Danvers shouts.
“Yes, Riley. Use your power. Do it.” Sutter insists.
Riley drew back her hand and held it against her chest. Looking to her palm and it’s dull blue glow, she spoke plainly. “That’s what he wants, isn’t it? The Baraggal needs me to use this…this power.”
Danvers sighs. Glancing upward, he looks to the woman behind him. “So stubborn.” Sutter nods as her hands begin to crawl upward, along Danvers’ neck. Slipping her fingers within his unkempt blonde hair, Sutter began to pull. “Jamison was right. She’s letting her extraordinary gift go to waste but she’s wasted so much already.” Sutter yanks back Danvers head causing him to grin. From his smile, a darkness seeped. The black liquid that once spilled from the mouths of Henley and Theo, now leached from Danvers’ lips. He laughed as the darkness fell from his mouth and took to the ocean like an oil spill, polluting it with untold horrors. “We had plans for him. You should have taken him to Florida but no, you brought Salinger.”
“Why was that?” Sutter smiled.
“Yes, Riley…what happened in Florida? You made your peace with Whitey Bulger and then what? What happened between you and Salinger that you wouldn’t allow filmed?” Danvers insisted as the black liquid continued to pour from his mouth.
“Did you fuck him, Riley?” Sutter said without emotion. “Did he hold you and tell you how much he cared? Did you think of Henry when he laid between your thighs?”
“ENOUGH!” Riley yelled, slamming her fist against the table.
“That is alright.” Sutter continued coolly. “We will adapt as we have since before time. Riley and Jamison will just have to find their memories under Boston instead.”
“She’s right, Riley.” Danvers replies as the darkness flowed. “There is nothing for you or your case in Senator Taggart’s office. Nothing that you don’t already know. The truth is underground. Go to the remains of the black market under Faneuil Hall and find the serum Division Six uses on its agents to see all of alienkind. Salinger has already put the pieces together for you. Remember his speculation, that if the serum can make you see what has been hidden, imagine what the source of the serum can do for what has been forgotten. Your answers and your memories are there.” Danvers begins to laugh as his smile grows ever wider. “And bring Jamison…”
Riley opens her mouth to speak, to refuse their demands though she knows there may be some truth to their words but the black liquid flowing from Danvers’ mouth and now running up the legs of the table causes her to pause. She stops, only to turn around in her seat, and witness the darkness crawl little rivers like jagged fingers over the flesh of the eleven dead women.
The black liquid runs along their skin and drips within their open mouths. Their flesh absorbs the darkness and blackens their veins. Soon the dead begin to rise. Pushing themselves up and standing upon unsteady feet, the women moan. Pulling themselves forward, they stagger across the top of the ocean and make their way toward Riley.
Quickly standing from the chair, Riley steps back and the living metal reacts. Sensing a spike in Riley’s adrenaline, a blade pierces through the flesh of her arm and readies for battle. Calling the dead forward, Riley draws up the blade and charges.
With each step forward Boston Harbor beings to shimmer in blue. The waves beneath Riley’s feet become the green grass of a graveyard as the rocky shore of Deer Island becomes Henry and Jacob’s empty graves. Still Riley continues on, ready to strike down the dead as the graveyard becomes her mother’s living room and the empty graves, the many boxes packed away with the remains of her mother’s life.
Quicker and quicker, the landscape begins to change as one memory becomes another. The scene shuffles like a deck of cards. New location after new location is revealed and falls away for a new setting. The world around Riley begins to change so rapidly that it becomes almost transparent and appearing white.
The force of the change slows all movement as Riley jumps with her blade aimed at the woman. Her actions stretch into minutes for a single response. Slowly, she falls through the air when the world around her shimmers blue. The illumination falls away and forces Riley’s image to split in two. Though she still attacked the dead, Riley’s other half moved forward in real time.
Dropping to her feet, Riley swung her blade but cut no one as the slowed women marched forward and through her. Quickly stumbling back, she watched her other self hammer her blade into the dead. A battle ensued and continued as Riley slowly backed away.
The further she stepped away, the whiter the world around her became. Drastically different from the darkness Riley had found herself in when this nightmare had begun, she turns from the fighting to search for an exit but finds her best friend.
Sitting at another version of the small circular table, Mark Danvers sat, smoking a cigarette. He looked every bit as Danvers but for having aged some years. Slightly disheveled, Danvers appeared tired as his clear blue eyes had dulled. Lines ran and dipped along his forehead as grey speckled his hair. His clothing were worn and ragged as if the advancing years had not been kind.
“Don’t worry, Rye. You’ll be alright.” He said, trying to smile.
“Are you?” Riley asks, approaching the table.
“I’m him.” Danvers takes a long drag from his cigarette, inhaling deeply. “I’m really Mark.” Exhaling, the smoke puffs from his nostrils as he seemed to pause briefly. “Well, at least from the timeline I come from, I’m that version of him.” Sensing Riley’s apprehension, Danvers opens his jacket and patted down his pockets, showing her that he was unarmed. Riley hesitates but still takes a seat at the table across from Danvers, who looks to her as if he’s been through hell. “It’s funny.” He remarks, taking another drag from his cigarette. “In every multiverse or parallel universe or whatever Mouse will be calling it, you always look the same. It’s like you and Jamison never change.”
Leaning back in the chair, Riley crosses her arms and examines the man sitting before her. In the world of aliens and powers, she had learned to accept much and just move on but when it had come to Danvers, emotion had the tendency to cloud judgment. “If you’re really Mark, then tell me what the fuck is going on? Where am I?”
“After everything, I’m kind of surprised you don’t recognize the place. Look at it, Rye. Look all around, beyond the versions of ourselves fighting and all you see is white.” Danvers replies, allowing the cigarette to hang from his lips. “It doesn’t really have a name. It’s not really even a place. It’s an in-between. A white room existing and non-existing all at once. Time and reality do not apply here but your memories do and so do the memories of the many versions of yourself.” Danvers replies, tapping his skull. “This is all you, Rye. You made all of this come to life. The Baraggal just kind of opened the door and you and your powers fell through.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. None of this makes sense.”
“It doesn’t have to, at least not for right now. It won’t be long before you’ll be back here and by then, you’ll get it. Just take my word for it and no matter what happens…” He pauses. “Stick by Jamison, okay. No matter what happens after you remember New York, when you remember your husband, the two of you are gonna need each other. No matter the timeline, in some way, you always do.”
Once more Danvers tries to smile but the effort seems all too tiring. Slowly, he stands from his chair and takes one last drag from his cigarette before flicking it across the vastness of the white room. Turning to leave, he only stops at Riley’s request.
“Is that it? Can’t you tell me anymore?” She sits forward in her chair and reaches out her hand, needing him to stay. “I have more questions. Like…like how did you get here? If my power and the Baraggal brought me to this place that doesn’t exist, why are you here?”
“When the war comes, Rye…the world becomes a pretty awful place. This…this right here is nothing and I just assume I got here the same way Citizen Zero has been communicating with you.” Danvers pauses briefly as if the moment brings back painful memories. “Do me a favor, Rye. I know you know this is the end. Just promise me you won’t disappear, that you’ll let the other me know. A proper good bye.”
Riley stands as Danvers fumbles through his words. Taking to his side, she looks to him as the broken man bows his head. In a moment of compassion, Riley placed her arms around Danvers and held him close. The hug, while awkward and out of character, seemed her best reply.
With her touch, Danvers body becomes ridged. Slowly, he relaxes and rests his head against hers. In a quiet voice, he spoke. “Remember a real good bye. Then maybe…maybe I won’t hesitate to kill you when you set the world on fire.” Pulling back, Danvers’ hands strike out and grip Riley by the throat. With his face inches from hers, his body begins to shake. His voice rises up and screams. “There’s something happening across the street!”
Pushing Danvers away, Riley steps back and nearly stumbles. Looking down upon the white floor, she watches as the blackness that had seeped from the mouth of Henley, Theo, and now the first Danvers, had continued to spread forward. Darkening everything it touched, the liquid took to the white room and swallowed up the light.
Once more in darkness, Riley’s memories replay from the beginning but shift as what lay in that eerie empty space adapts to fit the needs of the Baraggal. In that nothingness, mere feet away, the eleven fallen women lay as their bodies shimmer blue. All is still until a single woman slowly sits upright. Appearing Middle Eastern, the beautiful woman with long jet black hair raised a finger to her mouth and silently shushed. In that hush, Riley knew the woman as the goddess Inanna, the very first gate.
Stepping forward, Riley reached out. “I know you’ve been trying to reach me through the living bombs. Where are you? Tell me and I’ll find you…I’ll look for all of you.”
Inanna says nothing. Drawing back her finger from her lips, the shimmer of blue that defined the goddesses body over took her and returned Inanna and the women to the solid blue discs of light from which they had came. Once more, there is nothing but darkness. In this return to the beginning, the geneses of daydreams, Riley blinks and her reality returns.
“Hey…you paying attention?” Henley asks, snapping his fingers.
“What?” Riley asks, startled. Quickly, she looks around, seeing that she had returned to the coffee shop, that everything had returned to normal. Looking back to Henley, she watched as he and Theo waited for an answer. “Yeah, of course.”
Crossing his arms, Henley tilted his head, knowing that Riley had been lying. “I said we’ll need help. The three of us alone can’t take Taggart’s office. A buddy of mine from the service…he’s been staying at my place. He can help.”
Hearing Henley’s words, Theo jumps forward in her seat with excitement. “So, we’re a team?”
Henley shrugs. “I guess…I guess we’re a team.”
Holding up her fist to Henley for him to bump it, Theo replies. “Sweet!” Slowly, Theo drops her fist as Henley does not move. “Awe, come on. Not even a little bump?”
“No.” Riley shakes her head. “Everything’s changed.”
“Why? What’s wrong?” Henley asks.
“I…I can’t really explain it.” Riley says with hesitation as she looks to Henley and Theo, studying them. She watched for any hint of behavior that lead to the darkness and the Baraggal’s abuse of her memories but saw that their twisted smiles had vanished. The two, that claimed to be her teammates, now appeared as if nothing had happened at all. “I just need you to trust me. Henley, I need you take Theo and your boyfriend and get out of town. I need…”
“My what?” Henley asked sharply, trying to deny publicly his sexuality for the sake of his career.
“Just listen to me.” Riley insisted and moved on as if the acknowledgment of Henley’s secret had truly been the nonissue that it was. “Our answers are underground.”
For a moment, Henley looks to Riley, trying to gauge her admittance of the secret he had kept for so long. Acting as if he had simply misheard, he moved on. But still, anxiety cut an edge to his voice. “The aliens down there…you know how dangerous it is to go down there alone.”
Trying to force some resemblance of a smile, to assure her partner that she knew what she was doing, Riley opened her mouth to reply with a smart ass remark that only Henley himself would say. She would have caused him to laugh but the commotion stirring at the coffee shop window had finally drawn her attention.
Turning from Henley and Theo, Riley looked to the growing group of onlookers as they watched from behind the safety of the window. The whispers become questions as the word alien is heard. It is not long before Riley remembers Danvers’ parting remark that Theo insists she had spoken of it earlier.
“I told you.” Theo points toward the window. “There’s something happening across the street.”
Neither knowing what would draw such a crowd, Riley and Henley exchange shrugs. Nodding toward the door, Henley answers Riley’s gesture by standing from the table. Theo quickly scrambles to her feet as the pair are nearly out the door by the time she joins them.
Exiting the coffee shop, they enter into a scene of escalating chaos as anti- extraterrestrial protesters had assembled around the front porch of a triple decker apartment. Holding signs and chanting words of ignorant hate, the masses had gathered as rumors spread, pointing fingers at innocent families. It had been a witch hunt. A frightened city on the verge of imploding, suspecting anyone and everyone of being an alien, now tried to take the law into their own hands.
Ready for violence, the protesters push back against members of the National Guard, who had not left the city since the behemoth fell into Boston Harbor. The Guards quick response had been troubling as neither Riley nor Henley had heard the call over their radios of the impending assault. How they had known about the protest before Division Six would be one of many questions raised after their return to the station but for now, the greatest threat had been the several guardsmen who had kicked in the front door of the first floor apartment and pulled a man from it. Resisting, the man tried to twist out from their grip but was meet with a nightstick to the back of his legs for his effort.
The man stumbles to the ground to the cheers of the crowd. Picking him back up, by his hands and feet, the Guard tossed the suspected alien into the back of awaiting military truck. The man’s wife comes running as their teenage son is placed in the back of the truck with his father.
The woman screams, begging the Guard to release her family but her pleas are only met with further unfounded accusations. Turning to the crowd, she looked upon her fellow Bostonians and was only met with violence. A rock is thrown before a glass bottle crashes at the woman’s feet. Projectiles are thrown as the woman turns, hoping to find safety within her home but falls as she’s pushed to the pavement.
Pulling her knees to her chest, the woman covered her head with her arms and braced herself for the worst but the attack did not come. Slowly lowering her hands, she looked up to see Riley crouched over her body as she called in the assault over her radio. Providing cover, Henley instructed the crowd to fall back while Theo watched from the coffee shop across the street.
Helping the woman to her feet, Riley slipped her arm around the victim’s shoulder and escorted her toward her apartment. In the brief walk, between chaos and safety, Riley looked to the National Guard vehicle and gave pause as a familiar face stared back. Standing beside the truck and dressed in fatigues, Peter Bannon stood, masquerading as a National Guardsmen.
Once a friend and now a member of The Order of Adam, Peter had not seen Riley since losing his legs to the Division. Now, standing tall upon the bio-technology that allowed him to walk, Peter had made the decision between the family of his past and the family that had now given him purpose. Without a word or a hint of remorse Peter dropped his arm to his side and allowed the metal panels running along the top of his fingers to slide upward, exposing sharp claw like blades.
This had been his admission of guilt as Peter knew that Riley had been working on several cases involving suspected extraterrestrial attacks with no evidence of an alien beast or gate having been present during the murders. He had known for some time that the wounds created by the power of his robotic clawed limb would lead her to Senator Taggart. The better part of him had fought the change, the cold slip into becoming more then human. Though the good within him would lose, he had provided Riley with a last good bye, a way to stop him.
With Peter’s confession, Riley watched as the man who was once her childhood friend climbed into the military truck before it entered into traffic and drove away. There was nothing she could have done but watch Peter leave as confronting Peter and the Order of Adam on a busy street in Boston would draw only one outcome, mass causalities.
While the woman clutching onto Riley for protection, begged that she help her husband and son, that they had done nothing wrong, Riley is quick to assure her that she would bring her family home. But first as war drew near, she would need to go underground, under the city of Boston.
In the last hours of light Riley sits on the stoop of her mother’s home. The door behind her opens and closes as Theo tosses the last of her bags to Henley. The pair pack the SUV before taking their seats within the vehicle and calling out to Riley that it was time to go. Their readiness to leave was met with a simple hand gesture, motioning to them that Riley would be with them in a minute.
Though it had been several weeks since the incident at the coffee shop and even less since Riley had gone underground, it was now time to address her opponents. Leaning back against the stairs, Riley looked to the camera and spoke. “What the fuck am I supposed to say?” She asks with a sigh. “Jamison, you and I have been at each others throats since the very beginning. Now it’s three years in and the only thing that’s changed is that I’ve got a longer list of swear words I’ve called you and more wins against you. I know we act nicey nice when we’re outta the ring but we both know and so does the rest of the world, that we’re just using each other. We’ve got something the other wants and we’re sucking it up until we see this bullshit we’re caught up in through until the end. You may play a decent human being to the Losers and to Lauren but we all know this is what you’ve been groomed to be. A liar. You’re a lobbyist for fuck’s sake. You’ve made a career of backroom deals and lies. This is all just a show.” Riley sits up and shrugs. “But so what, right? Like no one knows you’re a piece of shit and what the fuck does that have to do with your performance in the ring? A lot considering your tagged with the guy whose daughter you nearly killed and I’m stuck with your BRAND boyfriend, Sands. You may promise to follow the rules, to try to win with Salinger’s help but we all know what it would mean to Santana if you and Sands dropped me down a peg or two. We all know what it would mean for BRAND to show the world that they attacked two of the biggest threats on the DecayTV roster who don’t play along by your stable’s rules. No matter what BRAND wants, I want to win more. I know I’ve said it before that I don’t give a shit about titles, that I’m only hear to learn the truth about Grendel. That’s all still true but the thing is, the best part of trying to learn the truth is pissing Grendel and Valentine off in the process. I want that title just to screw them. For years, I’ve pushed and pushed and they keep warning me that the next time will be my last. Surprise! It hasn’t and it’s not going to be. So, I’m going to continue to drive that thorn deeper into their side to make a point, that I still want the truth. That we all need to know why total strangers came together to fight under one roof just to learn that nearly every single one of us is connected. So, I want to win. No. I need to win because it’s one step closer to answers. It’s also one more way to screw you and BRAND.” Riley smirks. “I think at this point in the game, I really don’t need to bring up Salinger. We’re professionals and we’ll still do our jobs, even if that means kicking each other’s asses. The only benefit we have in facing each other is that at least I can trust him to not play dirty like your boy, Sands. He’s had a rager for that belt since Danvers got his hands on it and he’s said over and over again the lengths he will go to keep it. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he turned on me but on you, you’d never see it coming. He may hate my fucking guts but the son of a bitch is faced with either facing me for the belt, which is one opponent or you and Salinger, which is two. That’s one on one verses two on one. Let that sink in and then ask just what do you think Sands is willing to do to keep that belt. The fucker struts around here with that thing slung around his shoulder. It’s all he talks about because that’s all he cares about.” Riley rolls her eyes. “In all of this fucking mess, the only thing that matters is who wants a shot at that the Empire title more. BRAND has had their turn. Now it’s mine.”
Standing, Riley dusts herself off before reaching into her pocket to retrieve a key. Sliding the key into the front door, she locks it. Stepping back, she looks to her childhood home one last time before turning to the camera.
“This is the end of a lot of things, asshole.” She paused. “Including you.”
“You do realize..” she begins as they are traveling up route 1
“Yeah.. black escalade.. 5 cars back.. “ he states, cutting her short, as The Offspring’s You’re gonna go far, Kid plays on the radio..
“Huh? Oh, yeah.. thats what I was talking about..” she responds..
Aiden glances once more through his rear view mirror, keeping an eye on the Escalade.. Easy to tell the wheels in his mind are turning..
“.. we need to swap places..”
“Uh.. OK.. Ill go over you go under?”
They begin to swap places but the limited space under the steering wheel makes for a closeness..
“Hmm.. finally..” she whispers
“Uh, can’t you be serious for once..” he responds..
“Oh, I’m very serious” she returns “But I’m not the one with a partner popping up” she continues as she briefly places her head back on his shoulder..
“Not now..” he states
“Promises for later.. always later..” she returns.. as she continues to move into the drivers seat and he continues to move over into the passenger..
“turn into Pizza Hut.. I’ll get out.. you circle the block..”
“When you come back.. I’ll have him pinned in the Men’s room.. It being a Saturday night the place will be packed.. we should be able to get in and out without being spotted.. we’ll order a pizza as if that was our main business there.. “
“Ok.. good enough…”
He grabs a gun from the glove compartment.. places a silencer on it.. he makes sure the escalade is still following and isn’t disappointed to find that it still is..
As planned, she pulls into the Pizza Hut parking lot.. He gets out and goes into the restaurant.. he watches from a window to ensure that the escalade pulls in and follows him instead of following her.. Plan goes off as expected.
He then notices an old acquaintance in the dining area. Aiden gets a flash idea. He walks up to him quickly and slides a 100 dollar bill onto the mans table in which he is sitting alone.
“Hey Aiden..” the gentleman begins. Aiden holds a finger to his own lips.
“I need a favor..”
“Please..” as he slips out of his light jacket.. “..Put on my jacket and walk into the mens room..”
“Nothing I cant handle.. with a little help..” the man agrees, slips on Aidens jacket and the two swap places.. Just as the male makes his way towards the restroom, The pursuer begins to follow him towards the restroom..
Just as the two enter the restroom, Aiden makes his way towards it..
The pursuer grabs a hold of the man’s shoulder, spins him on his heels “I want you to see this com…” after noticing its not Aiden..“Who the fuck are you? where is he?”
“Don’t fuck with me..” he states “The fucker who gave you this jacket..” He then goes to pistol whip the guy when he suddenly gets kicked behind the knee cap, causing him to drop like a rock..
“Thanks..” Aiden states to the guy, handing him the bill, getting his jacket back.. “I’ll come talk to you in a bit.. I’ve got a matter to discuss with this guy first..” The guy exits as the pursuer attempts to get back to his feet but finds another hard kick, this time to his abdomen.
“So.. tell me..” looking down on the pursuer “Who hired you?”
“Fuck You..” states the pursuer
“Wrong answer” kicks him in his abdomen once more.. causing an oomph to escape from between his lips. “Again, who hired you?”
“Again.. fuck you.. I aint telling you shit..” he states
“Oh really?” Aiden begins to laugh “Good.. I was hoping this wasn’t going to be easy.. I need a little excitement” He then places a hard knee right into the pursuer’s nose.. causing blood to trickle from it.. He pulls the guy up and slams his head against the granite bathroom counter..
“Now.. who hired you?”
The guy remains silent..
He slams the guys head against the counter once more causing it to come way from the wall.. Under normal circumstances this bastard would have been out cold but this guy works out.. big burly muscular types..
“Ready to talk yet?”
“Yeah.. fuck you..”
Aiden laughs.. the guy’s back is now towards the door.. the door becomes ajar, but Aiden knows it isn’t Anna’s return quite yet.. He drags the pursuer into the handicap stall and gags the male’s mouth with toilet paper. The gentleman at the door now enters.. noticing the pursuer on his knees in front of another male (Aiden).
The male then states, “This is a family establishment..get a room.. queers..” and quickly exits..
“Now where were we? ahh yes.. who..” :punches the guy in one eye: “..hired..” :punches the guys other eye: “…you?” Punches the pursuer in his now broken nose, causing blood to splatter across the handicapped stalls walls, he removes the toilet tissue from his mouth
“FUCK..” as he holds onto his nose “..YOU!”
Aiden then pulls the gun from his waistband.. “Ok.. Fuck me then.. but let hell know I sent you and I’ll be sending your friends soon..”
“Fuck you.. tough man.. you don’t have it in you to shoot me..” states the pursuer..
Aiden then kicks him back… causing the guy to fall flat on his back..
“But I do..” she states as she stands over his fallen body, she pulls the trigger causing blood to splatter all over the restroom’s floor..
Anna had snuck in unbeknownst to the pursuer..
Both Aiden and Anna go to the fallen sink, wash the blood from themselves best they can..
“No problem” she turns to him.. “So.. its later..”
He glimpses into her eyes..kisses her cheek.. “Not exactly the place.. don’t you think..”
“I’ll take what I can get when I can..” she laughs.. glances over at the now dead guy on the floor..“What about him? Your fingerprints are probably on him..”
“Yeah.. probably.. but did you forget where we are? We’re in Trenton..” :laughs: “This is where that money Michelle left will come in handy.. by the way, Johnny is here.. I say we just blend in and eat with him..”
“I’m good with that..” Anna responds..
So the two exit the Men’s room and join Johnny at his table.
“Hey you two.. “ Johnny states as he rises, he shakes hands with Aiden, puts a small peck on Anna’s cheek “.. Please, have a seat.. “ Looks at Aiden, “Took care of that issue?” he questions..
“Only a part of a bigger problem..” Aiden states “You still have ties with TPD?”
“Well, cause there was an .. accident.. in the mens room.. “
“Don’t sweat it.. this is Trenton” the three share a laugh
Io looks into the camera and addresses the audience:
“I have been busy. A couple of months ago I was flung into the past again. I don’t have any contact with anyone from my time period. My time machine is so messed up that no one can come find me. I’m not smart enough to fix this thing myself. I’ve got a new job with a group of mercenaries, but they want my skills. They aren’t around to help. For the first time in a long time I am on my own. No crew, no friends, no nobody.
“I just got my ship back and now I’ve been separated from it again. Pandora, Pirex, Queensryche… all floating around in space and time without a clue where I am and probably no way to check on me. If they can check on me… well they can’t let me know.
“So here I am back a couple centuries before I was born passing the time by fighting with a bunch of tense assholes that take themselves too seriously. Waiting. That’s all I can do. Pass the time and try and escape the past.
One of these days I’m gonna run out of time. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe it was yesterday and I just don’t know it yet. I think in the chaos of my own life I forgot that I am the chaos. Nobody is gonna stop me from getting back to the future. I’ll figure this shit out. I don’t care if I’m the biggest idiot some of you people have ever met. I don’t care if I’m late to my match. I don’t care if I get smashed into a pulp in the ring. Cause I always get back up. I always keep fighting to control the chaos.
Io flipped a cell phone out of his pocket with one hand while his other snatched the cigarette from his mouth.
“Yeah?” he answered as his cigarette hand swooped under his nose to wipe it. “Got it.”
He flipped the phone back into his pocket and began strolling down the sidewalk, passively puffing at the nicotine. Raven glided out of a store front and fell in line at Io’s side.
“The Fox called it. We’re rolling hot,” Io told her. She was wearing sunglasses. The planets that hung in the sky reflected in the lenses like cartoon pupils. The aura’s of the gases and dust that hung around the planet were beautiful. She stared up at them.
“On your mark,” she started as they approached the corner. Aliens and humans alike bustled past them. The corner opposite of them housed one of the many tower shards that the natives of the planets had built centuries ago.
“Gotta love the architecture here,” she commented. The tower’s tapered into a tip with large fins running along the sides in an upwards direction. It looked like a space ship with its nose vertically stuck into the ground.
“There’s my marks,” Io said.
“Stick to the plan this time.”
“Always do,” he lied.
He split off from her and went up to a hot dog vendor. He was pleasantly surprised to note that despite the fact that the hot dogs of this planet contained a mixture of wildlife not known to earth and at least several things with thoraxes, it still wasn’t as disgusting as hot dogs from Earth.
“One wiener, chief,” Io said, tossing a couple credit chits onto the vendor kart. The alien running the stand said something in a language that consisted of only consonants and saliva. He produced a bun and served the dish to Io with a horrifying smile.
Raven was at the building doors, shuffling through the crowd of civilians and businessmen that flowed in and out. Security ran her through a checkpoint, silently waving her through without a second glance. She scooped up the briefcase they had checked. She was dressed well and blended in with the upper echelon of people and aliens around her.
Io glanced at his watch and noted the time mentally. He clicked a button on its side and a countdown timer began. His phone buzzed in his pocket. He flipped it out and glanced at a message from McStratus. He looked up at a skyscraper down the street. He could see the glint of the fox’s scope.
Io smiled to himself. He moved to the next vendor and bought a handful of helium balloons. He took the hot dog and balloons over to the building wall. He glanced up the structure and squinted. He shuffled a little to the left and right, and then happy with his positioning, he leaned against the wall and loitered while he ate.
Inside the building, Raven stepped quietly into an elevator amongst men and women in business attire. Some carried brief cases and others carried files under their arms. The magnets that lined the elevator shaft rippled and they glided silently and very nearly motionlessly from floor to floor. When they hit the forty-seventh floor she glided off the elevator as if she had been there before. She walked with the confidence of someone with a well formulated plan.
She crossed through an office full of cubicles and offices. She glided past a secretary too busy on her cell phone to notice. Raven came to a stop in a waiting room for a corner office. The walls were glass windows overlooking the city. She sat in a chair across from the windows, smiling at the other occupants in the room. None of which seemed to notice that she failed to check in with anyone.
Down the street on the roof of another building, McStratus the red space fox was laying on his belly, one eye pressed to the scope of his sniper rifle. He could see Raven sitting in the room. He tilted the scope downwards in a straight line. Io was directly below popping the last of the hot dog into his mouth.
Calabash’s watch beeped. He pulled a metal device from his leather jacket and snapped a metal clip onto the strings of all his balloons. He let them go and without hesitating walked towards the doors of the bank. He cleared security without any issues. He received a few sideways glances, mostly because of his apparel. He counted fifty guards all with disintegrator beams. He smiled like a fool, but suppressed it.
He cut in line to a woman at one of the many service windows. He slid a deposit box slip under the window. She snatched it and ran it through her computer system.
“Thank you, Mister Sands. A security officer will escort you to your deposit box.” She slid a key back out the slot and he snatched it up with a smile and a wink. She blushed and turned her attention to the complaining man Io had cut off.
Half a hundred floors above Io, Raven clicked open her briefcase. She pretended to shuffle her paperwork (in reality nothing more than a stack of papers with the same three paragraphs cut and pasted repeatedly. She spun the numbers on the case’s lock around to a secret code.
Silently, she began to count. She stood, snapping the briefcase closed once again. She left it in her chair and walked swiftly towards the ladies’ room. She walked into the stall the furthest from the waiting room she had just left. She crouched into the corner and pulled a sting in the lining of her coat. A cushion inflated around her neck. She plugged her ears with her fingers.
McStratus watched the balloon through his scope. It was gliding up through the still air uneventfully when Raven’s briefcase activated. A high powered quantum magnet activated. It was designed specifically to attach only its counterpart, which was currently attached to a metal box of napalm and nitroglycerin on a bunch of balloons outside the window.
The balloons and their little explosive cargo swung against the building as the quantum magnets attempted to reconnect. Raven’s briefcase magnet flopped out of her abandoned seat and smacked against the glass. The people waiting jumped in alarm. Some of them stood in alarm upon seeing the metal box and balloons.
“What in the world?” one business man exclaimed upon seeing it.
As Raven counted to thirty, several blocks from her, McStratus also reached the same count. The magnetized bomb was sitting in the exact center of his crosshair. He swung up and to the left a bit and fired.
In the safety deposit box room Io pulled a package from a little locker. The box was heavy and he dropped it onto the ground with a metal thump. He ripped it open with his fingernails and removed two solid iron boots.
“Sir, you can’t do that in here. Please move along.” The guard said, rather annoyed. Io ignored him and shoved his feet into the boots.
The tracer round he had prepared glided, turning slightly over the distant projection. It smashed through the bomb and immediately exploded. Fire flooded into the building and out into the air. People started screaming and running. Glass rained into the streets.
Io’s escort stopped as an alarm screamed to life. The guard slapped a hand to his headset. A commanding officer was screaming out orders.
“Sir, there’s been an explosion! We need to evacuate this building immediately.”
“Don’t worry,” said Io, “it was only done on the outer perimeter on purpose. Minimal damage to structural integrity and blah blah blah.”
“Excuse me?” the guard managed before Io uppercut him in the chin. The guard stumbled backwards. Io grabbed the barrel of the disintegrator gun and jerked it from the man’s hands. He spun in a circle, his cumbersome boots making it difficult. He sprayed a beam of blue light on the deposit boxes. They began melting and a new, local alarm fired up.
Metal shutters began to slide over the exits of the deposit room. Io looked at his hand to remind himself of which deposit box he was stealing. He scooped up a duffel bag from locker fifty-two and bolted for the exit, his heavy iron boots clanging noisily.
The guard shouted at Io, “You’ll never get through all those guards!”
“That’s why I’m going over their heads,” Io smiled and pointed at his metal boots. The guard gave him a confused look as the metal shutters to the deposit box room slammed shut behind Io.
Raven ran from the bathroom. Smoke and debris littered the floor. People were running to the elevators and stairs. A man was shouting to the others by the elevators.
“Take the stairs! An explosion puts them out of commission!”
Raven pushed her way past them and grabbed onto the metal doors. She pulled them apart. Emergency protocol also disengaged the locking mechanism to the elevator shaft. She looked down the elevator shaft towards the lower floors.
“I told you they aren’t working!” the man shouted over the noise of panic and fire. Raven grabbed the edge of the panel on the outer wall and jammed her fingers under it.
“What are you doing!?” the man shouted, he gestured with frustration, then turned his attention on directing others out of the building.
A block or two away, McStratus was patiently and calmly climbing into his fighter ship, which with the aid of stealth engines, he had landed on the rooftop inconspicuously. He was humming melodically to himself as he lifted into the air. The wings shifted and realigned. He glanced at his watch and opened his cargo bay. The ship glided silently through the air, hovering up above the building that Raven and Io were currently in.
Police vehicles were swarming the streets. Helicopters and hoverships bolted around McStratus, completely unaware that he was there at all. He popped open a Dr. Pepper and sipped it while patiently watching his watch.
Io tucked the disintegrator under his coat and stumbled into the lobby. Guards and police ran past him, racing up the stairs and rushing civilians out the main doors. Calabash ignored them and went to the elevator. He pried the doors open and jumped inside. He walked like his shoes were stuck in mud.
“Sir! You can’t be in there!” an officer shouted at him. Io smacked the emergency close button and let the doors shut behind him.
“Hey, what the hell!” the officer shouted. Io aimed the disintegrator straight up and fired three shots. There were no cables in the elevator shaft. It was completely run on magnets that lined the inner walls. The three bolts hit three consecutive targets. The first dissolved the roof of the elevator, the second burned away the roof of the elevator shaft some one hundred and fifty stories up. The third and final shot burned through the building roof and let sunlight pour in.
He pointed the gun down and melted out the floor of the elevator too. Io flopped onto his back and held his feet in the air above his head. Raven snapped off the panel of the elevator and pulled out bundle of cords. She snapped a USB driver from her pocket and connected it into the elevator’s mainframe. A virus self-activated and pulsed through elevator system. Raven jumped into the elevator shaft and tumbled downwards.
The magnets at the base of the elevator shaft activated and with a sudden ripple, they took hold of Io’s Iron boots and launched him into the air feet first. He held out his hands. As Raven fell past him in the opposite direction, both of their prepared and out stretched hands clasped together and he pulled her along for the ride.
“Woo-hoo-hoo!” she screamed in delight.
“Let’s rock and roll!” Io shouted over the rush of the wind in his ears. They were flying upwards towards the sky, where Io had burned a hole in the roof. The magnets disengaged ten floors from the top and they flew out into the air unhindered.
McStratus glanced at his timer and quietly tapped the button to close his cargo bay doors. He was positioned perfectly at the maximum height of Io and Raven’s ascent. They flew up through the air. Io clung tightly to her wrists as she clung to his. Just as they were beginning to slow and begin their descent back to the earth, the doors of McStatus’s perfectly positioned ship snapped shut and they landed against them with a thump.
Silently and without being noticed, they flew away with their loot.
“Good job team. Our client will be happy,” McStratus said over the intercom. “Everything went perfectly.” Then, without warning, a time bubble burped into the air of the cargo bay and Queensryche, Io’s pet tyrannosaurus rex, fell through the portal with Weyland riding on her back. He was wearing a special suit reminiscent of the time machine technology strapped to Io’s wrist.
“Io!” Weyland shouted, “It worked, it fucking worked!”
A Tick & Lyn Joint
Whitlock finds himself sitting on a floor, shaken and confused by what had transpired. He turns his head toward Riley to ask what the hell just happened only to find a hand in his face. He looks upward slowly, his eyes following the arm connected to the hand and the person connected to the arm. He sees the face of a man he does not know looking down. The squared jaw and jutting brow of the man doesn’t make him look friendly. Neither does his angry frown.
“Come with me if you want to live.” The man says to Whitlock.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Whitlock responds quietly.
Before he can react further, the man grabs Whitlock’s hand and pulls him to his feet.
“Nah. I’ve always wanted to say that. I love science fiction. It amuses me.” The man turns and walks away and Whitlock is able to take in the rest of the scene. They are in a completely different tunnel now. One that’s not filled with mysterious black liquid and looks like a normal sewer system. There are other people here, besides the angry man that helped Whitlock to his feet. They are all simply dressed, but heavily armed. They eye Whitlock suspiciously, but do nothing to seem hostile or threatening. He watches as the angry man, who’s obviously in charge, walks over to Riley. Riley half smiles and nods at him.
“Jerry. Good to see you. What are you doing here?” Riley asks him and Whitlock can’t tell how much is sarcasm and how much is actual surprise.
“What am I doing here?” Jerry repeats, obviously not pleased to be answering. “I’m earning myself more problems than profits. That’s what I’m doing here. Not my idea. I’m just following orders.”
“Aw, Jer-Jer. You’re not happy to see me?” Riley answers him while making a pouty face. The amount of sarcasm is easy for Whitlock to detect this time.
“I’m a business man, Riley. You’re bad for business.” Jerry answers, nonplussed by Riley’s attempt at humor.
“You know I’ll make sure that you’re compensated for this.” Riley tells him.
“Like hell I will be. I keep fucking around with you and I’ll be lucky to be peddling brats at Bruins games.” Jerry answers. “You’re a fucking curse, Riley. All your people are.”
“Business man, huh? What sort of business are you in?” Whitlock interjects, suddenly feeling the need to insert himself in the situation.
Jerry hesitates before answering. “I’m a caterer.” He stares Whitlock in the eyes as he says this. Whitlock recognizes that Jerry is trying to intimidate him and is also lying.
“Oh yeah? Awesome. You happen to have a Slim Jim on you or something. Almost getting killed and hallucinating about dead women who want to kill me because of the influence of some living river of goo has left me famished.” Whitlock says, assuming Jerry will have no trouble recognizing his sarcasm, either.
Jerry turns to face Riley, now smiling. “Is this cocksucker kidding me right now?” Jerry asks before turning back to face Whitlock. “You want to eat something? I can whip you up a feast when we get back to camp. Real exotic shit. You’ll love it.”
Riley steps forward in between the two men before it can escalate. “Yeah, I think we’ll pass on that. Jamison here really isn’t into the kind of cuisine you import.”
“Hey, don’t speak for me. I have an advanced palate. I’m not afraid of a challenge.” Whitlock answers, not wanting his battles fought for him.
Jerry chuckles and shakes his head. “This guy’s even dumber than the last guy you brought around. I figured you’re the type to have multiple boyfriends. Just didn’t expect you have this low of standards.” Jerry walks past them and the rest of the group begins following him down the hall. “Let’s go, dumb fucks. I didn’t save your asses because I enjoy your company. We have places to go and people to see.”
Whitlock starts to respond, but Riley places a hand over his mouth. “Shut the fuck up.” She leans in and says to him quietly. “This isn’t the time to rooster up. Just be quiet and follow him. I’ll explain later.”
Whitlock knows the look he just received. It’s Riley’s “I’m not fucking around” look and he’s learned to listen to it. Riley removes her hand and walks past him, following Jerry and his crew down the tunnel. Whitlock sighs and closes his eyes.
“I’ll explain later.” He mocks Riley quietly to himself. “Always later. Never now.” He slowly turns and begins to follow the group through the tunnels.
They move swiftly through the winding tunnels, taking spillways to transfers to routing junctions. What could have kept Whitlock lost for days, Jerry expertly navigates in minutes. They walk briskly in silence for the entirety of the journey with Riley not wanting to further irritate the ones who saved their lives and Whitlock too consumed with trying to work out all of the angles and information in his head. They finally come to a large open area that is obviously not known to exist by the Boston Public Works, mainly because it was never meant to exist. The area stretches on in a couple of city blocks or more in each direction. It’s covered with tents and booths and ramshackle shacks and is bustling with hundreds, if not thousands of people.
That word hangs in Whitlock’s brain for several seconds as it begins to dawn on him that probably not everyone walking around this tent city is a people, or at least not a human one.
“Hey…Scott…think you can make that explaining everything later into explaining everything now?” Whitlock asks her, the words falling clumsily out of his mouth. “What the fuck is this place?”
Jerry shakes his head and laughs. “Oh, nice. You didn’t even prepare this fuckwit, did you? Good luck with that, I guess. Better prepare the drooling monkey quick like. The elders want to see both of you.”
“I sort of figured.” Riley answers him. “Any chance they want to give us medals of recommendation?”
“Doubt it.” Jerry says and shrugs. “Don’t know, don’t give a fuck. I sincerely hope they aren’t fragging you because, as has been said, I saved your ass and you owe me. Stay alive until I can get my Slythlonian Kr’kr’kr’tkt fillets through customs. I’ll need help for that. After that, get splattered all over the Xenuian beltway for all I care.”
And with that, Jerry and his team turn and walk away, leaving the pair alone with an entire encampment of human and not quite so human looking people between them and the tent of the elders.
“Fuck you, Scott. Fuck you. This is nothing but aliens, isn’t it? I told you I don’t want to deal with this alien bullshit, didn’t I? I may know they exist and I may help fight them, but I want as little interaction as possible.” Whitlock bemoans.
“You really need to stop being a bigot at some point.” Riley says and begins wading into the crowded camp. Whitlock follows her, looking none too pleased about it.
“I’m part of a group that secretly controls the globe and determines the course of mankind, while having secretly been betrayed by it and alien infiltrators who made me part of a group secret experiments that were given unnatural powers. Mine is the curse of not being able to die and my wife being turned into a maybe Goddess who maybe actually wants to kill me. That knowledge is enough of an open mind for me.”
“Point taken, but you can’t keep pretending that the picture isn’t even bigger than you thought a couple of years ago. It’s not healthy.” Riley answers him, weaving through the crowd of the human looking inhabitants of the camp.
“Because it makes me feel better. Let me cling to it.” Whitlock grumbles, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand up as he takes in the crowd, wondering what’s really going on beneath their skin.
“No.” Riley answers him, pushing further into the crowd.
Where Riley walks confidently, pushing her way through the crowd with no fear, Whitlock looks nervous as he wades into the center of his personal paranoia and prejudices. He has no love or understanding for this non-human culture. They only represent vile things that have happened to him and his loved ones and so, so many others that he’s tried to track down and protect. They represent why he feels that the House system still holds more good than bad for this world. It’s now the main reason that he tries to find the good in House imposed slavery over free will. He begins to notice as they move through the crowd that more and more attention is starting to be paid to them.
“Scott…we’re not incognito here. You need to be ready to fight our way out of here.” Whitlock whispers to her.
“We don’t need to fight these people. They don’t want to fight us. They want help.” Riley answers him, sounding a little more irritated.
“You do understand that these fuckers probably want to kill us, right?” He snaps back at her.
“No.” Riley answers him in a measured tone. “They aren’t all the same species, much less the same person. These people are to be held as accountable for what House Twelve has done as Hitler’s cat was for the Holocaust. They’re collateral damage here. They’re victims as much as anyone else. Innocent beings are being persecuted in effigy for House Twelve, Jamison. They’re being forcibly separated from their loved ones and sent to FEMA camps to serve Taggart’s agenda. Hundreds are imprisoned there and allowed to be hunted and used as examples by the Order of Adam. These beings are coming here because they fear for their safety. I know you, Jamison. I know you know this is wrong. I know in your heart you understand that these people need to be protected just like all of the metahumans do. They didn’t want to be part of this war, either.”
Whitlock is quieted by her words. Quieted and humbled. He’s tried to ignore the alien fallout from their war. He’s tried to ignore the stories of Boston, much like the rest of the country has. He’s tried to view them all as forgettable at best and enemies at worst. As he looks around at these tired and sad individuals that just want their quiet lives back, the truth begins to sink in and he realizes that this is going to be much harder from here on out.
“This is your line of work, Scott. I’m just a tourist. I’ll follow your lead.” Whitlock acquiesces.
“Follow my words on this and then follow your instincts. These people aren’t the enemy. They’re just someone else that needs to be saved.” Riley answers.
As they weave through the crowd, it starts to become obvious that the things they have been discussing did not go unheard. Heads turn. The noise level begins to rise as the crowd begins to speak. Low murmurs at first. Then louder. They begin to make out words. Phrases.
And then they have the crowd’s undivided attention. They begin moving towards them. Surrounding them. Reaching out for them and calling to them.
“I fucking told you, Scott. This is going to be trouble.” Whitlock says, his voice rising from stress. He starts to reach for his gun, but Riley grabs his hand and stops him.
“I told you to be calm. Be calm and listen to me.” Riley says and then pauses. “Listen to them. They don’t want to harm us.”
Whitlock does as he’s told, although he can’t say he’s okay with it. As he stands and listens, trying to remain calm, he begins to understand what she’s talking about.
“It’s Riley. Riley Scott. Orelyh, bless you! She’s here to help us.” One woman says to her as they pass.
“Oh, Ms. Scott. Can you help me, please. They have my husband in the internment camp and they won’t let me see him. I fear for his safety. Please help me.” Another pleads.
“I knew. I told you, she’d come and she’d bring others!” Another man shouts. “She’s going to help us fight them!”
“Give ’em Hell, Riley!”
“They’re claiming there’s a quarantine! Is that true? Is there a virus?”
They push through the tighter crowd as cheers and pleas for help echo all around them. Riley nods and smiles at them as much as possible, but Whitlock seems overwhelmed. Even more so when he is recognized by a small alien child.
“I know you. You fight on TV. You’re that good guy that pretends to be a bad guy so he doesn’t get caught by the other bad guys. I’m glad you’re helping us with the rebellion.” The little boy says to him and Whitlock feels a knot in his gut. This is not what he expected.
They move through the crowd a bit further before Riley stops and turns to address the crowd.
“Good people. We hear you pleas and we are doing everything we can to help you. I assure you, we’re going to do even more. You have my word. Right now, we need to meet with the elders and after that, I will speak to you individually to figure out what my friends and I can do to ease your burden.” Riley says before turning around and moving back towards the elders’ tent. She grabs Whitlock’s arm, pulling him through the crowd with her as cheers go up around the crowded camp.
Finally they move past the crowd as it begins to disperse. They enter a less populated area that’s only occupied by heavily armed guards. The guards, knowing they are coming, nod and move aside while also funneling them down a one way alley that leads to the tent of the elders. Riley stops before they get to far down the empty alley, turning to Whitlock. He recognizes that she’s once again making that “don’t fuck around” face.
“Okay. This is it, Whitlock. This is where shit gets real and there’s no turning back. You have to make your decision right here, right now. Are you in or out?” She asks him without a hint of humor.
“I don’t know, Scott. I don’t even understand completely why we’re here.” Whitlock says, feeling more confused than he even sounds.
“I know my explanation was hasty and vague, but the basics are true. We’re here to get our memories back.” Riley says.
“I don’t know. I don’t think-” Whitlock starts to protest, but is cut off.
“No. You do know. You want your old life back. This is where you start. You start by learning the truth.” She tells him, looking him straight in the eye so that she knows he understands her words.
“Okay. What does this entail?” He asks her.
“That shit we were wading through in the tunnel? The black liquid. That was blood. Blood from the offspring of an Old One. It has many powerful properties, not the least of which is the ability to let you see things for what they actually are.” Riley explains to him.
“I don’t think either of us was seeing the truth in there, Scott. We were fucking hallucinating.” Whitlock snaps back at her.
“Yes. When exposed to too much of it, it has that effect. That’s why you’re only going to be injected with a little of it?” She tells him as calmly and rationally as possible.
“INJECTED WITH IT?” Whitlock answers her loudly. “Get the fuck outta here! Are you out of your God Damned Mind?”
“It won’t harm you. It will kill the parasite they implanted in you. You’ll be able to see everyone for what they really are.” Riley tells him, once again trying to make him see the reason in this.
“I don’t know that I want that to happen.” He tells sternly.
“It’s the first step to getting your memories back. We need to do this.” Riley answers, getting angrier.
“No. YOU need to do this. I don’t know that I want to anymore. I have to think about it.” Whitlock says, starting to sound weary all over again.
“We don’t have time to think about it. We won’t be able to come back here again. They know about us now. They’ll be ready. We won’t be able to get anymore of the blood. You need to do this.” Riley keeps hammering.
“Look…I’ll think about it. Package it up for me and the rest of my crew. We’ll do it together. I just…I just have to evaluate everything. I have a lot of information to chew on and I need to approach it with the mind of the man I am now. Not the mind of a man who may suddenly see something he doesn’t want to see. You understand me?” He asks her, trying not to sound as if he’s pleading with her.
“Sure. I understand.” Riley says, her eyes dropping from his. “I’ll see what I can do and we’ll revisit this later. The time is coming, though. I’m going to need you by my side as someone who can fight them on their own level or you’re going to have to run and forever be in the dark. The choice is going to be yours. I hope you choose wisely. Now, come on. Let’s go meet the head honchos.”
The tent is loud, hot, and bigger on the inside. Whitlock and Riley enter, leaving behind them the chaos of the hunted masses for the chaos of family. Small children run by, yelling and screaming, as the pair made their way down a long concrete entrance hall. The opening of the tent had merely covered an access point leading into a long forgotten and unfinished set of rooms once used by the workers who laid down the tracks for the nation’s very first subway system.
Forward they walk, passing the old and sickly as many of the once empty rooms had been converted into makeshift hospitals and class rooms. No one had been left behind when the aliens had been forced underground and in doing so much was needed to care for those who could not care for themselves. From what little resources they did have, the aliens had helped each other while armed guards stood by, ready to open fire should the Order of Adam make the move they had all been dreading, a move toward annihilation.
Whitlock tries not to feel like a tourist, staring at the animals behind invisible bars but there’s a part of him that can’t look away. It is almost as if he needs to see this, that somewhere within all of this suffering are answers to questions he hasn’t asked himself yet. The truth of the matter was that he wasn’t sure what he had expected when he allowed for Riley to lead him here but it wasn’t this, it wasn’t something that felt like home.
Nearing the end of the hall, Whitlock feels Riley gently place her hand on his forearm. The brief interaction causes him to look up and see the small elderly woman standing before them several feet away. She greets them with a tired smile and open arms. Whitlock keeps to Riley’s side as she plays the guide in this wholly unfamiliar place.
The old woman steps forward with the aid of her cane, taking Riley by the hand, she greets her as if they had known each other for all of the years Riley had been working for the Division. Cupping Riley’s hand within hers, she pats the top of it.
“YI’el.” The old woman smiles. “BIpIv’a’?”
“JIpIv. BIpIv’a’?” Riley replies, shrugging.
“Qaleghqa’mo’ jIQuch.” The old woman’s smile becomes a grin as she tips her head toward Whitlock. “Nuq ‘oH ponglIj’e’?”
Slightly concerned by this exchange and the elderly woman’s glance, Whitlock leans in and tries to whisper to Riley but his voice carries in the long hall, making him sound more rude then inquisitive. “Did she just say her hovercraft was full of eels? Because if not, then I think I need to know what the hell is being said here.”
Riley and the old woman stop. Slowly, they turn to look at Whitlock and share a glance that transcends species, one that can only be perfected by a woman. Whitlock recognizes the expression and realizes he’s interrupted something he had no business being a part of. Looking to Riley, he shrugs a silent apology.
Turning back to the old woman, Riley smiles and speaks for Whitlock. “His name is Jamison and he is humbled to meet you.”
Whitlock reaches out his hand as a gesture of good will but the old woman does not shake it. Instead, she points, shaking her finger at him. “Is this the other boyfriend Jerry sent word that you were traveling with?” The old woman asks, looking Whitlock up and down as if inspecting him. Shaking her head, she continues. “I liked the blonde one better. This one is rude.”
Whitlock appears confused. Not understanding why Riley doesn’t object and why for the second time she has allowed for someone to speak to him like that. Whitlock opens his mouth to speak, to insist he’s married but he is met with Riley’s forced smile.
Merely plays along, Riley quips. “Oh, he’s not so bad. I mean I still do most of the heavy lifting but hey…” She elbows Whitlock in the side. “I’m just hoping one day he’ll put on his man pants all by himself.” Riley jokes, grinning all the while as Whitlock rubs his side and mouths a silent fuck you.
The elderly woman eyes Whitlock with suspicion before turning away. “Follow me, Agent Scott. The others are waiting.” She hobbles forward with her cane several steps. “And bring your concubine, if you must.”
Throwing up his hands, Whitlock stops. “WHOA, I am not a whore.” He insists. Whitlock thinks on it a moment and laughs to himself as if remembering something. “Well, I am…but just not the kind you’re thinking of.”
The old woman raises her hand and bats at the air as if shooing Whitlock and his self-admiration away. “Hab SoSli’ Quch.” She mutters, leading them further down the hall and toward the very last room.
Knowing the seriousness of the situation, Whitlock had often found himself defaulting to smart ass remarks. It had been a kneejerk reaction to a world he had been completely excluded from but was slowly becoming a burden to share. For once he had been the outsider and in the world of aliens, it was all out of his control.
“Seriously, what was that? Like Klingon or something?” He grins. “Maybe your friend Jerry can hook Lauren and myself up with some Bloodwine and a Bat’leth for Mouse.”
Riley stops and points to the old woman. “You see her? You see that sweet old lady?” Riley asks, watching Whitlock shake his head in agreement. “Her name is SoSnI’ and you just insulted three generations of TlhIngan women.”
Whitlock simply shrugs.
Riley groans, seeing the utter lack of recognition in Whitlock’s eyes. “I thought the Houses would have taught you this. It’s basic history.”
“I think you forget, Riley that sometimes I’m as much a pawn in this as you are and I obviously haven’t been told everything, like the noble history of the black ooze aliens living in the sewers like the fucking Ninja Turtles. I have power and I have my place in the Houses but those aliens…they didn’t just happen to you and somehow, when I get home, I’m going to have to explain to Lauren why I’m covered in alien god blood and about to have a powwow with the monsters who probably look a hell of a lot like the aliens that tortured her…and you.” Whitlock pauses, seeing the look in Riley’s eyes that he had gone a little too far and knowing they were merely going in circles. “So, enlighten me. Tell me about the four winds or the time wars or whatever Gandalf would say to Frodo because I’m running out of science fiction references and if Mouse knew, I think she’d mutiny.” He says, trying to smile and trying to make her laugh.
“First off, Gandalf and Frodo are a fantasy reference, smart ass and second, I get it.” Riley tries to force something resembling the smile Whitlock had hoped for. “I expect too much from you. I should still be hating your fucking guts right now but I don’t and even I can’t explain, outta the couple of months we’ve been decent to each other, why I even trust you. It’s fucked up and we’re just going with the flow of it and not questioning why. Maybe there’s a reason. Maybe we can set aside the three years we’ve been at each other’s throats and act like fucking pals now because…” Riley sighs. “Lauren was right.” Riley pauses as the dreaded words slip from her lips. Slowly, she looks to Whitlock and is almost unsure if he’s trying not to smile or holding back something far more unsettling. “I can’t trust her fully or everything that’s going on, not with the alien pretending to be Jacob being involved but if she’s this important to you, I’ll try to not be a prick about it, even if you two need to run away from all this…you’ll still be an asshole though.” Riley smiles weakly. “There’s just one thing I think you should know.” Riley hesitates. “I never saw Lauren in the House lab. I never saw any experiments other than my clones and I still don’t know where the fuck they went to after we blew it up. I can’t say with any certainty that she was there before the day you rescued us but if she had been and I knew who she was, I would have told you. Just…just promise me you’ll be careful. I know what those experiments do to people…mentally. I know they turn your insides out and it doesn’t feel like you can fix it. If she starts showing signs of…if she starts having trouble just get her help, okay.” She says with all seriousness and sounding more accepting of Lauren, that maybe if Whitlock had truly believed she was his wife then she should treat her as such. Whitlock doesn’t reply as Riley clears her throat and then continues, pretending she had never spoken of Lauren at all. “So…there’s the casteless and then there are the four prominent alien tribes in Boston. The Bajorai, Vuhlkansu, and SoSnI’s tribe, the TlhIngan. They’re a matriarchy.”
“So? What does that mean?”
“It means I do the talking and you listen.” She grins. “And I get to objectify you like the piece of meat we all know you are.” Riley jokes as the air between them shifts. “So, you just stand off to the side and look pretty, sweet heart.”
Whitlock groans. “I guess…if its in the name of diplomacy, you can objectify me all you need. I will sacrifice my body for your lustful gazes. Just remember I don’t do assless chaps but I will take tasteful nudes.”
Riley laughs and Whitlock feels slightly better about the situation, that he had known his place and this crucial meeting between humans and aliens would fall on the shoulders of someone who could see the bigger picture for what it was, another humanitarian crisis. He did not feel the need to be the representative of the human race, that had been Riley’s job and now as he looked at her, she seemed at ease with it.
The pair walks further and near the entrance to the hallway’s last remaining room, when Whitlock realizes Riley had not told him everything about just who they were meeting. He stops upon remembering what she had said about the tribes.
“You only mentioned three alien tribes. You said there was four.”
“The Rihan…” Riley says coolly. “It looks like they’ve sided with The Order of Adam. They’ve willingly gone into the camps and are helping them. The Rihan are not victims in this. Either they believe if they help, they’ll be spared or it’s something worse…something that has to do with the Old Ones. Something of this magnitude by the likes of this fanatic militant group…there’s no way the Division would allow this to slide. It’s a potential war. It’s genocide. The Division has to know and if they know then House Twelve does as well. The only thing I can’t figure out is why would a House run by aliens allow for their own kind to be wiped out.”
“Only they’re not their own kind. They’re aliens but…look at what we do to each other every day and like you’ve said House Twelve does everything for a reason. Maybe they’re just thinning the herd. Maybe it’s because of the gate.” Whitlock says, his words sting but they bear weight. “And this Order of Adam…they’re just another tool for them to get what they want.”
While Whitlock speaks, he is unaware that the old woman, SoSnI’ has suddenly reappeared from within the doorway. Knocking her cane against his knee, she shouts. “QI’yaH!” Raising her cane, she points it at Whitlock, who has quickly bent over to grab at his leg. “Traitors, the lot of them…peddling their poison in little glass vials.” SoSnI’ scowls. “A metal man came into the underground, promising he didn’t believe in the Order, promising he only wanted to sell a cure. That it had healing properties. That it made the body better. He looked sick. One of the Bajorai asked him why he didn’t take it. The metal man didn’t tell him but he thinks the son of Adam was sick because he no longer believed in their cause. Doubt makes us sick.” SoSnI’ raises her tired eyes toward Whitlock and speaks as if her words were meant for him. “No matter how far we run, there is no peace when others are dying and if we have the means to end the suffering. Doubt leads to selfishness. Selfishness leads to fear. Fear leads to not living the life you ran away to have. Remember that, concubine.” SoSnI’ says, hitting Whitlock again with her cane before returning to the room.
“Yeah, thanks for the advice Master Yoda.” Whitlock waves the old woman off. Sighing, he looks to Riley, knowing the connections were beginning to line up perfectly. “Scott, it’s pretty fucking clear at this point that if the Order is using the same serum given to you on Deer Island…the same fucking serum possibly made from a metahuman you might be related to, then House Twelve is behind all of this. Only I have no idea why they’d back an anti-alien senator and the religious fanatics that follow him.” Nodding his head, Whitlock points to her. “That’s why you need to find this metal man the walking fossil was talking about and get him to tell you what the House wants with the Order. He’s your in.”
“My in?” Riley says, cocking her head back. “Where’s the we’re in this together bullshit you’re always feeding me?” Whitlock doesn’t answer as Riley had already known what he had meant, that the doubt of staying and wanting to go on the run with Lauren shaped every word he spoke. Seeing the same look in his eyes, seeing the doubt she shrugs, pretending not to notice it. “Besides I already know who it is.” Riley lowers her gaze, feeling a twinge of guilt. “His name is Peter Bannon and he’s another casualty of having the luck to know my brother, Jake and I. Some shit went down between the two of us and I haven’t seen him since the House took his legs. All I know is…is that I’m pretty sure the Order replaced his legs with the same tech the Division used to create my eye.” Riley pauses. “This is what worries me, Jamison. The biotechnology in my eye is light years beyond what’s on the market. If these fanatics have the same tech but their entire bodies are made of it, how the fuck are we supposed to stop that? There are hundreds of them. We’ll need an army.”
Whitlock looks to Riley, knowing she is asking for help. As he feels himself getting sucked in deeper into a war he knows he’ll never be able to free himself of if he doesn’t walk away now, he’s relieved when the old woman calls out to them to come forward. Whitlock responds with a forced smile, implying that they will talk about The Order of Adam and the horrors they implement against the aliens of Boston another time. Taking his place behind her, Whitlock follows Riley into the final room within the long bustling hall filled with the refugees of a growing war.
The bright light of the hall softens in the wisping curls of smoke rising up from the burning incense and candles. The smells of rosewood and tobacco fill the air as every noise traveled with an echo within the unfinished room that opened into a cave. Woven rugs covered the ground as the concrete thinned into a dirt floor. Tapestries hang along the rocky walls as a large artfully decorated cloth covered the opening of another tunnel.
In the center of the room, sat three alien elders perched upon scattered piles of colorful fabrics. Before them, a sparse meal lay out on silver plates beside cups of Baltrim wine. In the middle of the feast was the head of an animal Whitlock had never seen before. The beast had been charred, its blackened eyes almost felt as if they tracked his every move, watching him and Riley while they approached the elders.
Standing before the leaders of the remaining alien tribes of Boston, Whitlock kept his place behind Riley, knowing he was to remain subservient, knowing she’d never let him hear the end of this. In that moment, knowing the role he was forced to play had indeed seemed ridicules and he would have laughed had if it not been for the armed guards lead by Jerry entering the room through the way of a tunnel hidden behind a wall of fabric.
Whitlock watches Jerry and the guards take their place as Riley and the elders exchange greetings. They talk in a language he did not know nor realize Riley could even speak. In fact, he had begun to understand that there was a lot about the woman who could possible bring about an alien apocalypse few had really known. Like many, he had bought the image she portrayed on DecayTV but now, deep beneath Boston, she was becoming someone else.
The roughness of her edges slipped away as she played to the traditions and culture of an unusual species out of respect. She took to the role of diplomat well as Riley began to introduce the elders. Looking to Whitlock, Riley speaks the names of the elders as each replies with a bow of the head. “Jamison, this is Ko’mekh-il of the Vuhlkansu.” The tall thin woman bowed to which Whitlock forced a smile, thinking this had all felt like some strange forgotten episode of Star Trek. “And this is Harnur Yaiekrume of the Bajorai.”
The large plump man batted at the air, dismissing the formalities. “Harry. Call me Harry.”
SosnI’, the old woman, scowled. “That is not your real name, Harnur Yaiekrume. You bring dishonor to your families traditions.”
“Oh, shut up, you old vedek. This is the twenty-first century. Your traditions mean nothing. Harnur’s people come from Ha’dara. I am Harry now. I am American now. I come from Earth.” Eagerly looking to Whitlock and Riley, Harry shook his head. “Yes. Yes? Miley Cyrus. Double stuffed Oreo. Football. Go Patriots!” He smiled. “I know American words.” SosnI’ thumped Harry with her cane. Quickly, the two began to argue. “The d ‘jarras can balik. You boryhas!”
Whitlock began to smile as he watched the relationship between the leaders of a frightened people dissolve into a petty argument. The meal before him looked as any dinner that he had worked with politicians. A feeling of satisfaction came over him as Whitlock realized how human these aliens had truly been. This was a game he could work just like any leader in D.C. he had convinced to bend to his will. The cold embrace of power had settled his nerves. He would be no one’s concubine or second class side piece. He would wheel and deal his way into this conversation.
At least, Whitlock thought he could until SoSnI’ shouted out. “The boyfriend sits with the other whores!”
Looking to the old woman, Whitlock‘s line of sight followed the direction in which she pointed with her cane. Beyond SoSnI’ and the remaining leaders sat a much smaller feast with several men gathered around an equally more horrifying charred animal head. Whitlock soon realized he was being sent to what could only be described as the kid’s table. His ego deflated with every step toward the servants and concubines.
“Come now, Agent Scott. We break bread. We talk.” Harry said to Riley, who watched as Whitlock sat with the elder’s servants. “He will be fine. They are good men. Maybe they toughen him up even.” Harry laughed.
Sitting cross legged, Riley joined the elders in their merger feast. On a silver platter, bregit lung sat in a brown grapok sauce. Bowles of stewed gagh came with chilled zilm’kach fruit. It was a scene of internal organs and serpent worms. Much of the meal was dead while other dishes squirmed and wiggled. All of it was eaten as all it had been prepared for their honored guests.
With food came trust and the settling of nerves. The petty squabbling had ceased, giving the last hours of night to plans for war. In was in this moment that the last remaining elders of the tribes of Boston looked as leaders instead of mirrored reflections of their human counter parts.
Harry had been the first to speak. SoSnI’ largely agreed to all of what was said as Ko’mekh-il remained silent. They spoke of the Order of Adam, of how the men with metal limbs came in the night. It had been a slow purge at first, taking only a couple at a time. Aided by the National Guard, that never left after the behemoth fell into Boston Harbor, arrests were made for crimes that had not happened. Now criminals, the aliens were sent north into camps. Any men that the tribes had sent to negotiate for their people’s release did not return.
“The metal men…” Harry continued, his English improving under direst. “The sons of Adam…they say, there is virus. That our people are sick. That they cannot come home but they keep taking more of our people to the camps.” He scoffs. “They are too powerful. The healing drug they use makes any of our effects useless. We cannot stop them.”
“They have seduced the Rihan tribe into betraying their own people. They have Senator Taggart’s backing and who knows what role the Division plays.” SoSnI’ insists.
Harry, feeling the weight of the loss of his tribe, offers what little else his people have. “We will give you what we can. Any information you seek, is yours, if you bring our people back.” Harry looks to Riley, before nodding his head toward Whitlock. “We know who your friend is. We know what the two of you together can do. Name your terms so we can be done with this. Yes. Yes?”
Professional in her approach, Riley does not hesitate. This was not a time for coddling, it was a time of war. Though by personal defect she would have helped them regardless of promises now was the time for answers. “I have two requests. First, I need several vials of the blood from the Old One’s offspring.”
Before Riley could continue, Ko’mekh-il snapped her fingers. Knowing that this would be one of the agent’s demands, Jerry came at Ko’mekh-il’s call. Carrying a small box containing the vials of blood, Jerry slipped the box into a small black bag before presenting it to Ko’mekh-il. Taking the bag, the tall thin alien offered it to the agent but as Riley took it within her hands, Ko’mekh-il spoke.
“There are no answers for you within this blood. Jamison and his friends will see what it is they need but for you, our dear Agent Scott…I too have seen your visions within the cell of the Old One’s child. Your answers lie below.” In a soft voice, far from the poorly spoken English of Harry, Ko’mekh-il’s words were spoken from a place of light. “When you are done here, Jerry will take you to find the answers you seek but you must promise me you will not doubt what you will see.”
Ko’mekh-il releases the bag into Riley’s possession as she nods in agreement. Riley does not question what Ko’mekh-il has spoken but they are words she will never forget. Looking back to Harry, Riley continued. “Lastly, I need everything you know about the Gateway to the Gods.” There is a silent hush as the elders look to each other before daring to listen to Riley speak. “I know the history. I know that the gate is generational, that twelve women carry the potential to become it but only one can be it at a time. The experiments to force the gate to happen have been going on for years and something called the Baraggal has been behind all of this. The gate is going to happen. It’s going to happen to me and it’s going to happen soon. The Baraggal is alien or something far older. He is a part of your history. I need to know what he is because I need to know what he has put inside of me.” Riley demands as she raises up her hand. Balling it into a fist, she allows the elders to see the blue glint shine from beneath her skin.
The elders do not react. Once where there was emotion, now was only emptiness. The life seemed to drain from their faces. Though they had known many things and heard many rumors, for reasons beyond them, the final stages of the evolution of the gate had not reached below the surface of Boston.
“It is true then.” Ko’mekh-il asks. “And that is why we are being taken. We are your sacrifice, dear Agent Scott. Upon the bodies of the dead, the gates foundation shall be built.”
“Oh, hu’tegh!” SoSnI’ spat. “The Baraggal is just a story we tell the p’tok when they are rotten.”
“No, SoSnI’. That is what you tell yourself.” Ko’mekh-il said softly. “Every one of us knows the Baraggal is real. It is the reason why the tribes have come together, why we have a global council.”
“Pay no heed to SoSnI’, Riley for the Baraggal cares not for your suffering. The Baraggal is not a he or an it. The Baraggal was the void before the existence of space and time. It is the empty darkness that came to serve the Old Ones and it is the keeper of the gate and the key. The Baraggal has all of eternity to play his games, to destroy and create from the lives of the living. If you are the gate, Riley then the Baraggal knows who the key is. Don’t let him tell you. Becoming the gate is not the final stage. There is something far worse.”
“Worse?” Riley shrugged, holding up her glowing hand. “Worse than this?”
“That? That is a blessing.” Ko’mekh-il smiled. “You have been blessed by an ancient god.” Taking Riley’s hand within hers, Ko’mekh-il traces the blue light with the tip of her finger. “Every belief system has a beginning and ours began when in the void good shined among the Old Ones. From that darkness, there were those who could see the history of our yet to exist universe unfolding before there many eyes and they saw life. They knew what could be and they sacrificed themselves. Those very first ancient gods became the many suns that sustain life upon the inhabitable planets within our cosmos. From their light, they hide away the darkness, keeping the Old Ones eons away.” Holding up Riley’s hand, Ko’mekh-il pressed it to her cheek. “You, my Agent Scott have the power of an Old One surging beneath your skin. This will power the gate. Once you find the key and the one final unknown piece, then three shall act as one. This could very well one day…” Ko’mekh-il frowns. “Make you god-like.”
Repulsed, Riley quickly drew back her hand. Trying to remain professional, Riley forces down all the vile things she wanted to say and to scream. Swallowing hard, she allowed the hatred to sink within her belly, weighing her down.
“She’s going to kill us all!” SoSnI’ sneered, pointing a finger at Riley and quickly turning on her old acquaintance. “She’s going to bring back the Old Ones! We should kill her now!”
“No!” Ko’mekh-il shouted, raising her voice for the first time. “We need her. We have no one else. Besides, this is not our Agent Scott’s fault. The Division has done this to her…to us.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about me becoming some cosmic Antichrist and I sure as shit am not leading any alien army to take over the world.” Riley huffed. Standing, she looked down upon the elders and continued. “I’m killing the Baraggal and we’re ending this.”
“But Agent Scott…” Ko’mekh-il looked up with wide eyes. “The Baraggal cannot die. It can only be sent away.”
“BIjatlh ‘e’ yImev!” SoSnI’ shouted again.
In this heated exchange, Whitlock watched Riley and feeling as if at any moment it would all come crashing down. After seeing Jerry take his place beside Riley, Whitlock’s body jerks forward. He tries to stand but a thick arm suddenly crosses against his chest, pushing back.
“This isn’t your place. Let them deal with this themselves.” A servant, far larger than Whitlock grunted. With an open hand, the man pointed toward the food laid out before them as another servant offered a wooden bowl of ratamba strew and mapa bread.
“Eat. Your night does not end here. From the shouting, it seems Jerry will be taking you further underground.”
Whitlock cranes his neck, trying to see and hear just what is going on. “Can you understand what they’re saying? Half of it’s in fucking Alienese and the other half is in asshole.” Whitlock asks, nodding his head toward the elders and their accusations.
The large servant takes an even larger bite from a krada leg. Pulling the meat with his teeth from the bone, he chuckles. “They are fighting over an old tale. Something the older generations would have told our parents to frighten them.” The servant tosses the bone onto the plate before him. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he grinned. “The Baraggal.”
The servants and concubines laugh.
“Hey! Riley is not my mistress. I am not her whore or boyfriend or whatever. I am a married man. I have never touched her.” Whitlock pauses. “Well, technically we have touched. We’ve kicked each other’s asses and there was this one time she was in this really short hospital gown type thing but we were rescuing her.” He laughs awkwardly. “So, obviously it was work related.”
There is only more laughter as one of the servants made an opening shape with his hand, thrusting his finger in and out of it. Several more graphic hand gestures are made before Whitlock folds his arms and sighs. Looking defeated, he still tried to muster some form of protest.
“We are just friends and frankly, this is all pretty fucking disturbing.”
“The breeder is lying.” A servant from the back interrupted. “Look at him. He’s too pretty for anything else.” The gruff servant smiled a toothless grin. “Maybe that’s why the Baraggal wants your mistress. The breeder is going to plant his seed.” The laughter becomes intense as the rough looking man leans across the meal and inches his way toward Whitlock. “You know what the Baraggal does to babies, breeder?” The servant moves closer. “He takes their little cherub faces within what can only be called hands but they’re not. He holds their little faces and forces them to look into the void. They look into him and see him staring back. They go mad. They lust for death.” The servant laughs. “The Baraggal is going to take your seed and turn her into a monster.”
Sitting up straight, Whitlock huffs. Slowly he begins to laugh to himself before leaning forward and looking the servant square in the eye. “I know I’m supposed to play nice, that we’re here for shit you probably can’t even begin to comprehend. Now Riley and I are going to get what we want and then go our separate ways.” Whitlock grabs the servant by the collar of shirt and pulls him across the mat. Drinks spill as dishes topple over. No one reacts but everyone listens. “If you or any of your girlfriends here try…” Whitlock stops. Seeing the ever growing smile on the gruff servant’s face, he releases him. The smile seemed contagious as everyone began to break out in laughter. “What?”
The servant hooks his thumb, pointing at Whitlock. “Will you listen to the breeder?” He laughs and slaps Whitlock across the shoulder. “You are full of shit but you’re not so bad.” The servant reaches over and lifts up a wooden cup of alien hooch. “Now drink before someone pisses in your cup.” Handing the cup to Whitlock, he tips the bottom up with his hand, encouraging Jamison to drink. “If the Baraggal is here, we die drunk!”
Whitlock takes a swig, swallowing the hard liquor as it burned down his throat. The servants cheered before drinking their own cups dry. In their march toward drunkenness, Whitlock allowed the gruff servant to sit beside him. The two clinked their cups before Whitlock began to speak. “Is any of what you just said true, what the Baraggal would do if Riley had a daughter? I mean she doesn’t. She only had a son. I know she did. I saw his picture.”
The servant furrowed his brow. “Are you sure?” Taking a gulp of his drink, he continued as a cruel grin pinched the corners of his mouth. “The Baraggal loves the female but it’s not really love. It’s something far worse. It is his servitude to the Old Ones. In their unspeakable names, he prays on a bloodline, mother to daughter. He obsesses…especially over the little ones.” He pauses. “It’s all about the generations…birth is a bridge between nothingness and existence.” The servant looked to his drink, staring into the alcohol he seemed almost somewhere else as he spoke. “They’re like…like a gateway.”
While the gruff servant’s words trail, another whispers. “Like the white room…”
“What…” Whitlock perks up. “What’s the white room?”
The servant’s glare at each other before the rougher of the two pushes the other away with his palm squarely planted in the center of his face. “The white room is the same old story as the Baraggal. Don’t listen to him. Just take comfort that these are only tales.”
“Fuck you!” The smaller servant shouted. “It’s the truth. If it wasn’t, why are the elders fighting over it now?”
Unsure of what to believe, Whitlock dismissed all that was said as fairy tales and lies. He would need more than the mere words of servants and whores to convince him of horrors with repercussions far reaching. He would though question as the smaller servant had as to why the voices of the elders seemed to take on angry and frightened tones. Looking back to the tribal leaders, Whitlock watched as Riley seemed to be trying to calm their fears but every word and gesture only appeared to anger them more. Before it could escalate further, Riley dismissed herself after promising she would help their captured kind.
Stepping away from the elders, Riley nodded to Whitlock and motioned with her hand for him to rise. With the black bag carrying the vials of blood neatly tucked beneath her arm, Riley made her way toward Whitlock as behind her, Jerry followed, bearing a rifle.
“Come on. We need to go.”
“What’s going on?” Whitlock asked as he stood. “I thought you had this under control.”
“I did, right up until they realized they’re all going to probably die and frankly, I don’t blame them.” Riley says as she briefly looks over her shoulder to the growing shouts of the elders. “At least they’ve promised us what fighters they can spare and they gave us the serum.” Taking the black bag from underneath her arm, Riley handed Whitlock the vials of ancient alien blood. “Just promise me you’ll be careful with it.”
“Aren’t I always?” He says, sounding more deflated then sure of himself.
Riley smirked. “You’re a terrible liar, Jamison.”
“Isn’t he?” The voice of the gruff servant spoke as he slithered his way into the conversation. Gripping Whitlock by the shoulder, he bore his teeth with a slick smile. “I knew you were a liar, breeder.” The gruff servant only laughs as Whitlock pushes him away. Catching his footing, he points to Riley with a crooked finger. “Are you going to tell her? That the Boogeyman is coming to get her. He’s coming to get her and her baby…or does he already have her?” The servants jaw dropped in faux surprise. “My apologies…have him?” The servants laugh.
Whitlock says nothing. He had tried his best to refrain himself, to abide by another culture’s rules out of respect but now as the room descended into chaos and Riley was given what they had came for, he felt any remaining restraint simply slip away. Balling his fist, Whitlock glances at Jerry, the only alien with a gun on Riley’s side who had more of a right to silence the servant then he did. He watched, hoping Jerry would make the first move but the alien only grinned, revealing he was only truly out for himself.
It was a quick jab, a hard hammering to the face that brought the gruff servant to his knees. His nose bled profusely, bloodying his face and Whitlock’s fist. The servant tried to stand but only fell back as Whitlock stood above him, having proven his point.
The servant yells. He threatens and name calls as Whitlock, Riley, and Jerry turn their backs to him. The humans and alien walk away, leaving the servant to the laughter of his peers as they push aside the large sheet of fabric covering the tunnel leading further down into the core of Boston and vanish into its darkness.
“Go breeder!” The gruff servant screams. “Run from the fairy tales. Go with your mistress and be our doom!”
The colorfully designed wall of fabric drapes behind them as led by Jerry, Whitlock and Riley descend further into the core of Boston. The tunnel, rocky and dug in haste, became more uneven with each step. Further downward they went, guided only by an alien merchant and the weak light shining from his flashlight, neither knowing just where the alien elders had sent them.
In their travel but for labored breaths, time passes in silence. Riley and Jerry, far more familiar with the environment, took to the rugged terrain with ease, leaving Whitlock to linger behind them. The lower the group traveled the thicker the air seemed to hang as Whitlock found himself out of breath. Hot and sweating, he pauses. Briefly, Whitlock watched Riley maneuver over boulders and crumbling soil without hesitation. She seemed to be enjoying the hunt far more than he was.
Whitlock coughs as the air clings to his lungs. Sitting upon the edge of a large rock, Whitlock called out. “Alright, enough.” He coughs again. “We need a break.”
Whitlock’s words echo and travel down the tunnel. The strain in his tone and the harshness of his cough forces Riley to turn back. Taking long and balanced steps, Riley stepped from one boulder to the next until making her way back to Whitlock. Towering above him as he sat, Riley stood with her balled fists against her hips.
“Come on, pussy. I think we’re almost there.” She smirked.
“Where? Where is there?” Whitlock says as he tries to loosen the collar of his shirt from around his neck. “And why are you in such a rush to get there?”
Having walked half the distance back to Whitlock, Jerry spoke loudly. “You’ll see. Riley will know when we get there.” Turning his back, Jerry waved the pair onward. “Time is money. Now stop talking and get off your ass.”
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Whitlock coughed. “I can’t breathe.”
Jerry stopped. Sniffing at the air, it was not long before he caught the scent. “It’s only the air being pumped out into the tunnel and recycled by the stasis pods. Just don’t light a match and you’ll be safe.” Motioning with his hand, he pointed further down. “Now move.”
“It’s only air. Don’t light a match.” Whitlock said, repeating Jerry’s words in a sarcastic tone. “How about you go fuck yourself, Jerry because I don’t trust you for one second that this is safe.” Whitlock tries to stand. “Come on, Scott. We’ll find another way to get to wherever the hell this asshole is taking us.”
“No, Riley. This time you listen to me. This greedy fucker wouldn’t even help us with the elders.” Whitlock glares at Jerry. “Glad to see the only guy in the room with a gun had his thumb up his ass.”
Jerry slithered a smile. “I’m only your guide. Unless you’ve got cash, you’ll have to leave the saving to the walking genocide over there.” He says, pointing to Riley.
“Jerry, he doesn’t mean it. This is all new to Jamison. It’s culture shock.” Riley insists. “Let’s just drop it and you can show us the rest of the way.”
“I am done, Riley. You and that human, you’re more than just bad for business. If the others see me with you again, they’ll think I’m in with the Division. You’re going to get me killed.”
“Only humans I tolerate call me Jerry. Putting up with you is over. Call me by my real name or by nothing else.”
“Jeriba Shigan?” Riley shrugged. “Wait. I thought you wanted to blend in. Someone hears us calling you that…they’ll know it’s you. Jerry, they’ll erase you.”
While the alien and Riley argue, Whitlock pauses at the sound of Jerry’s real name. “Wait. Why do I know that name? Mouse has said it before.” Whitlock furrows his brow as the name takes on meaning. “Scott…” He pauses. “Why did you bring Salinger down here to meet with fuckface over there?” Whitlock hitches his thumb toward Jerry, who just laughs. The sound of Jerry’s laughter forces Whitlock to stand. Raises up his hands, he brings them down in defeat. “He’s a fiction, isn’t he? Goddamn it, Riley! I have human and now alien problems. I don’t need literary ones as well. This is why…”
“Why what? You don’t trust Salinger? I get it.” Riley says with a hint of anger. “You keep telling me that. You keep saying we don’t know enough about him. Well, I know enough.” Riley slips down from the rock and faces Whitlock. “I know his real name. I know how much he cares about his daughter. I know…I know how he feels about the loss of his wife. We relate, Jamison. We’ve been through the same things. Isn’t that enough?” Riley asks, almost sounding tired. “I also know, that like you and me, he doesn’t remember his past.” Whitlock shoots her a look but Riley ignores it. “For some reason, a lot of people we’ve become friends with, good people who’ve joined DecayTV don’t remember their past. Salinger isn’t the only one. There’s Joseph Grey, too. Just because Grendel is gone this season, it doesn’t mean I’m not any less suspicious of all the connections. Frankly, I think we can use them.” Riley raises her hand, asking Whitlock to hear her out. “We can use this. We have Jeriba Shigan from Enemy Mine. Maybe he has connections to other alien fictions. I could even talk with Salinger. Maybe he and the Library could work out a deal with the fictions for helping us free the aliens up north in the camps.”
“I don’t know, Scott…”
“No, Jamison. We’d make it work. There’d be us. Maybe Domino and Cesar. The alien’s the elders promised us. The fictions and I could even ask Grey.” Riley sighs. “And Mike Mckane, of course. He’d never take no for an answer.”
“I can’t believe I’m actually discussing this.” Whitlock shakes his head before wiping the sweat from it. “What about Danvers?” He groans, more so at feeling dizzy then at the name he had felt forced to say. “Or Salinger?”
“Mark made his choice when he knocked up his girlfriend. He fucks this up and it’ll destroy him. He’s out…for now.” Riley pauses and smiles softly. “Salinger is…he’s away on business.”
Covering his mouth, Whitlock coughs. “But that’s good. The less of us the better.” He coughs harder. “The Division and House Twelve are probably killing these aliens to draw you to the camps, Scott. For some reason they need you there and they know you’d never turn your back on these…these people. And you’re going to drag us down with you because you know we’d never say no either.” Whitlock holds his head, feeling the dizziness become overwhelming. “That thing pretending to be Jacob, he said they had plans for me. What if me helping you is a part of those plans?”
Riley looks to Whitlock with concern as he appeared sick. He had reacted to the environment the same way when they had first set out on finding their memories but his health now, seemed much worse. Despite Whitlock’s condition, Riley continues. “The Baraggal, the elders…they keep talking about this key. That the gate is gonna happen with the help of this person. What if the key is there? What if, he or she is at the camps? I can’t let all these people die. I can’t let this happen to Boston just to avoid this key.” Any smile that remained on Riley’s lips vanished as she relayed new information. “Jamison…when I was talking with the elders, they mentioned something else. Something I didn’t know about. They say there’s a third person. That with the gate, the key, and whatever else this person represents…we’ll turn into something bigger, something god-like.”
“Oh, that’s just great! Real fucking great.” Whitlock says through a harsh cough. “Maybe they’re the lock.” He says sarcastically. “But fucked if I know. I’m a little behind on my cosmic bullshit symbolism.” Whitlock coughs again.
“Are you okay?” Riley finally asks, concerned. “Is it the air? We should get moving.”
Whitlock’s head begins to spin. Coughing again and again, almost uncontrollably, he tries to cover his mouth. Feeling as if he is going to choke, he quickly spits out something from his mouth. Slowly, he looked to his hand, having caught what had seemed to claw its way up from his lungs.
“Do you see it? In my hand…do you see the vial?” Whitlock asks, holding up the vial containing a clear liquid for Riley to see.
“What? There’s nothing in your hand.”
“No…there’s something.” Whitlock pauses. “Something like before…in the tunnels. I coughed it up. It led me to you.”
Staring at the vial, Whitlock quickly realized that only he can see it just as quickly as he realized that his hallucination had never ended. The black blood of the Old One’s child had filled the very tunnels in which he and Riley trudged through in search of their memories and at no point after being rescued by Jerry had they washed themselves of the blood. The blood, now sticky, clung to their hair and on their clothes, touching their skin.
Whitlock had felt sick like this when the first of the hallucinations began and now as he felt as if he could vomit, he knew the little glass vial in his hand was trying to led him somewhere once again. “Something’s coming…something’s happening. We need to leave. The truth in the blood…the things that looked like Lauren and Kali, they’re coming.”
“What’s going on?” Jerry asked nervously as he made his way toward Riley and Whitlock.
Slipping Whitlock’s arm over her shoulder, Riley helped Jamison steady himself. “I don’t know but the things we saw in the cell of the Old One’s offspring…we need to listen to him. We need to…”
Just then the earth beneath their feet began to shake. Cracks began to cut pathways up the sides of the tunnel as dirt began to rain down in clumps. The rocks beneath their feet began to slide and slip. In the distance something without form, deep and dark, stared back.
“Jerry, go!” Riley called out. “Tell the elders and close off the tunnel. We’ll hold it back as long as we can.”
“You don’t have to fuckin’ tell me twice.” And with that, Jerry ran, disappearing toward the entrance of the tunnel.
The earth shakes again and from the splintering walls the black blood of the Old One’s child seeps. Like crawling fingers, the blood reached out toward Riley and Whitlock, calling out to them in words unknown. Dripping onto the tunnel floor, the blood pools and rolls forward like an incoming wave.
Undefined faces push up from within the blood. Opening mouths stretch, calling out unheard names. Crooked bent fingers claw out from the black liquid, reaching out to Riley and Whitlock as the pair slowly backed up. Stepping away, with Riley’s aid, Whitlock looks to the vial within his hand and waits for it to show him the way. It is not long before the vial begins to spin, wobbling back and forth like the needle of a compass. Falling onto its side, the vial points Whitlock toward a small unfinished opening leading nowhere.
Backed within a corner, the soft blue glow within Riley’s hand began to shine. Brighter and brighter, the light shimmered as the living metal reacted. Snaking down her shoulder and wrapping around her arm, the living metal, bio-chemical in design, created an exoskeleton that formed jagged blades from the tips of Riley’s fingers.
“Riley…” Whitlock coughed. “The chemicals…in the air.” He tried to shout as the faceless creatures within the blood began to rise. “Burn these fuckers alive!”
Raising her hand, Riley brandished the blades jotting from her fingertips. She would strike the metal against the surface of a rock and ignite a spark. She would burn them all alive, leaving nothing behind but for Whitlock’s charred but still breathing body. Leaving him behind and the broken pieces of another life he would have to pick up on his own.
He would be left to explain to Mouse how her friend had died, that he had allowed for the situation to go that far. He would argue with Danvers that Mark always knew this is how it would end and he knew that he was right. There were brothers expecting their sister to return home. There was Benjamin Henley waiting on his partner who would never come into work. Then there was Salinger.
The pit of Whitlock’s stomach felt vomitus as he realized he actually did care what would happen to Riley. In that odd moment of vulnerability, he thought he had remembered something important, something honest and true. The brief second of recognition vanished as the hair on Whitlock’s arm began to rise. Electricity hung in the air as a crack of light snapped behind him and Riley. A small unstable gate began to open.
Looking to the vial within his hand, Whitlock watched the hallucination point toward the gate. The vial soon vanished as Whitlock now understood what was being asked of him. Knowing what must be done, a sudden wave of calm overtook him. Wrapping his arms around Riley, he yelled out to her as the noise of the gate blared. “Do you trust me?” Looking Riley in the eye, Whitlock yelled again. “Do you trust me?”
Before Riley could understand the consequences of her reply, she spoke truthfully. “Yes.”
“Then light this place up and hold on.”
Relying on trust, Riley struck her jagged daggered fingertips against the hard surface of a rock. The metal grinded downward, sparking a small flash of light. The fire took to the chemical tainted air within seconds, engulfing the tunnel with a raging fireball. The black blood screamed. Taking on familiar faces, the blood begged as Lauren and then Kali for Whitlock to stop. The screams become laughter as the tunnel begins to fall in upon itself.
Before the fire touches them, Whitlock holds onto Riley tight and falls back into the gate, taking Riley with him. The pair slip through the blue light of the gate and drop. Riley cries out. “Fuck you, Jamison. Fuck you…” Riley’s words trail as they disappear.
The gate closes as the tunnel collapses, trapping the blood of an Old One’s offspring within it and keeping it from reaching the aliens above. There is an absolute and all-consuming silence until a blue light sparks. Within the air, a gate suddenly opens and from it drops Whitlock and Riley. Downward they fall, holding onto each other as they crash onto a narrow grated catwalk.
Landing, the two lose their grip upon the other and are tossed apart. Rolling onto her side, Riley watches as from underneath Whitlock’s arm, the black bag containing the box of vials filled with alien blood, slips out from under him. The bag skids across the walkway and nearly falls over the edge before Riley catches it. Looking over the side of the catwalk, she sees an endless downward descent.
Breathing heavily as the two nurse tired and aching bodies, Riley and Whitlock laid on their backs looking up from where they had just fallen. Each soon realizes that the gate had taken them through the other side of the tunnel and dropped them where Jerry had been ordered by the elders to take them.
It was in this realization, of how convenient it had been for a gate to open behind them, that Riley realized she had been the one causing the random unstable gates to open all throughout Boston. Every gate had opened in or around places she had been at some point since Deer Island. They had opened as misfires, as random projections missing there mark. It had all made her feel that much more responsible for the things she could not control.
Groaning, Whitlock interrupted her thoughts and there plots of revenge. “Riley…you okay?’
“Uh…I think so.”
“You got the vials of blood?”
“Good…because I think I know where your clones went.”
Riley immediately sits up and is greeted with a sea of faces, all looking as she appeared. An army of clones had gathered upon hearing the noise, knowing the giver of their DNA had returned. From the crowd, voices all sounding the same spoke.
“It’s her. It’s Mother.” A clone whispered. “I knew she’d return.”
“It’s time to fight, isn’t it?” Another asked. “We’re ready.”
After the raging violence on Deer Island, the clones had fled just as the House Twelve underground lab had sunk beneath Boston Harbor. With nowhere to turn, the clones had kept to the tunnels, following them all the way to the place they now called home. A home large enough to hold their countless numbers as the House Twelve experiments had designed an army for Riley to lead into war upon the summoning of the Old Ones to reign over the Earth.
Whitlock looked into each and every face of Riley. Seeing them all look to the giver of their DNA, waiting for her command, Whitlock was struck by an odd notion. In all of this, he was more unsettled by the fact that he realized how unfazed he was by the situation.
Taking a deep breath as the fresh air pushed the chemicals free from his lungs upon exhaling, Whitlock looked from the many faces to just where he and Riley had found themselves. He had never seen anything like it as the grated catwalk in which they sat hung over a great drop and beyond the empty divide, a wall running hundreds of feet high and wide held thousands of individual stasis pods. Jetting from metal ports, clear doors wrapped around the pod, bearing little but numbers and dates.
“Where the fuck are we?” Whitlock asked, still slightly shocked by where they had landed.
With that questioned, the sea of bodies began to part. The crowd stepped aside as a more dominate clone approached. Bearing more of Riley’s aggressive traits then the others, the clone spoke. “The tunnel in which you were traveling would have led you to just outside of this room. Your destination was here. It has always been here.” Reaching out her hand, the clone smiled. “Welcome home, mother.”
Taking her clones hand, Riley allows the other version of herself to help her to her feet. She says nothing as she looks all around her, knowing she had never been here before but something about it looked all too familiar. Riley speaks, though her words are heavy with denial. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. This isn’t home…I have no idea where this is.”
“But you do.” The clone insists as she clutches Riley’s hand and begins to lead her toward a section of the catwalk that jetted outward over the chasm like an extended arm. Reluctantly, Riley followed as Whitlock was quick behind her.
Their footsteps echoed upon the metal catwalk with each step forward, taking them closer to the stasis pods. Reaching the end of the walkway a console stood, reading life support levels upon a large screen and a blinking red button indicating that a small rupture was leaking air into the tunnels. In the center of the console was a small raised port that the clone had forced herself to ignore.
Upon reaching the console, the clone paused after releasing Riley’s hand. Pointing toward the stasis pods, the clone demands the giver of her DNA to look. “Who do you see, mother? Look at their faces. See as each pod is occupied with those held against their will, suspended in time as their bodies have rejected the living metal.”
The clone’s words quickly force Riley to realize the truth. “No, that can’t be right.” She said, stepping back to take in the thousand sleeping faces. “I spent years there…and I never saw this. I’ve never been here.”
“Riley…where are we?” Whitlock asks, almost afraid to.
“We’re…” She pauses, almost surprised that House Twelve could do anything that would surprise her anymore. “Jamison, we’re in the old underground Division Six headquarters.”
“What!” He yelled. “It’s too dangerous for us to be here. We need to leave now.”
“We’re safe. I promise.” Riley said, placing her hand on Whitlock’s arm, trying to reassure him. “After the Division went public we abandoned this place. We were given no explanation. Just grab your shit and get out. They relocated us and I went back to detective work.” Dropping her hand, Riley looked out to the stasis pods. “I had no idea they were warehousing the living bombs but there were a lot of things they apparently never told me.”
“And now that you know…” The clone said. “It is time for mother to make a choice. Those within these pods were rejected by the gate experiments. They now serve two purposes. One, to be used against you as explosive devices or two…we take them to war.” The clone grabs Riley by the wrist. “We’re ready, mother. We’re ready to fight and die at your command. This is what we were breed for. Let us kill the enemy.”
Riley pulls away her hand and steps back. “No.” She shakes her head. “This isn’t my decision. This is biological slavery. Through the experiments, you’re forced to follow me. This is your choice.” Riley points to the pods. “And it’s theirs as well. I’m not making anyone do what they don’t feel is right.”
“There is no choice, mother. Choice is an illusion. These decisions were already made for us, for you long before you were born. The living bombs have no lives to go back to. They have only one purpose now and that is war.”
“But there are thousands of them…thousands of people. I can’t kill them all.”
“Regardless of choice or their feelings, they would kill you.” The clone said coolly. “And your death wouldn’t be the first or the last.”
Turning from the clone, Riley looked to Whitlock, hoping he would understand, that he would be on her side. Riley was met with silence as Whitlock hung his head. “Jamison…” She said, reaching out with her hand.
“Maybe…maybe she’s right, Riley.” His words seemed to stutter, not wanting to be spoken. “We’re reaching the end. The big bad, whatever it is, is going to happen soon and it’s time to start making the hard decisions. Those things…they’ll kill you and who knows how many others if…” He hesitates as he’s not proud of what he’s about to say. “If you don’t kill them first.” Whitlock shrinks within himself upon placing all of the burden upon Riley’s shoulders. Now more than ever, he felt the need to run, to take Lauren and go. “That…or you use them to liberate the alien camps up north.”
“There’s just so many of them.” Riley replied, staring off into the distance, and seeing nothing but thousands of vulnerable faces. “Can’t we do something for them? You helped relocate all the metahumans the Losers have rescued. What about them? They’re just as much victims in all of this as the metahumans are.”
“I don’t know, Riley. I don’t even know how we’re supposed to defuse a human bomb. We can’t even figure out how to prevent you from becoming the gate.” Whitlock says, his words leading to an extended silence before being met with an honest reply.
“Since Deer Island…” She paused. “There’s a part of me that’s changed. Nearly a year ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice. I would have known what to do and been so sure it was the right decision. I feel like I’m someone else. With the things I’m starting to remember, to question…this is mass murder. The Division left these people here for a reason. They’ve had me hunting them since I got back. What if killing all of these living bombs…these people is just one more push toward forcing the gate to happen?”
“And what if it isn’t? What if you’re sacrificing the few to save the many? How is it any different then what we’re doing? How many of us, of the people we know are going to be dead when all of this is over?”
“Us? What happened to running away? What happened to protecting yourself from the man you used to be?” Riley asked harshly. “I know I’m starting to remember who I once was and so are you. You can’t run from that…no matter how many people we kill.” Whitlock opened his mouth to speak but Riley ignores him. “I need time to decide.” She looks to the clone, wanting nothing to do with it. “Please.”
The clone nods her head, knowing Riley was asking her to leave. Stepping away, the clone rejoins the many others and ushers them from the walkway. In their absence a silence falls between Riley and Whitlock. The heaviness of the situation leaves an uncomfortable air between them, one that demands honesty.
Drawing up her eyes, Riley looked to Whitlock, who only tried to look away. Trying to avoid the seriousness of the situation and the fact that Riley was looking to him for answers, which he had none, Whitlock stood in front of the large console in an effort to look busy. Accessing the screen, he tapped several buttons, and entered a command. The screen flashes, attracting Riley’s attention.
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Do you?” He dismisses her. “Look, I’ve seen Mouse do this a million times. She just enters in a few numbers and…”
Hitting enter, the screen flashed again. Soon information runs from the top of the screen down as a program accesses files and classified images. A gritted map of the United States dominates the screen as red markers begin to ping multiply locations across the country. It is within seconds that a computerized voice speaks through the consoles speakers.
“Project Inanna.” The speakers crackled as it stated in a monotone voice the first known woman to become the gate. “Gate Stage: final. Projected initiation of gate: seven hundred twenty hours forty-five minutes.” The screen flashes once again as the red markers glow brighter. “Protocol: Order of Adam. Phase Zero: introduction of religious fundamentalism as tool against human resistance.”
While the computer continues to display information, Whitlock points to the red markers pinging across the map. “What are those? Those mean something. They’re spreading across the map faster than I can count them.”
Riley looks to the screen and watches as the below the map a data counter projects an amount and projected year. With each new red marker, the amount grows higher and the year changes. “They’re troop movements.” She says coolly. “The Order of Adam is bigger than we thought. This map shows that House Twelve has plans for them across the country.” Glancing upward, Riley looks to Whitlock. “Boston was just the beginning.”
“Why though? Why would the House want to infect the country with religious fundamentalism? I know it’s basically mind control but we’re talking about aliens here.”
“Everyone’s begging for doomsday and praying for Jesus Christ to return. There’s all this talk about gods. Inanna. Red. Mary Beth. But not a word of any devils.” Riley paused as she looked to Whitlock. “What if we’re their Satan? The bible never mentions him but what if…what these people, my mother included, were blinded by the lengths they’d go for Christ? What if they’re the false witness and we’re their Antichrist? At least some fucked up version of it.”
Whitlock laughed. “Like fucking space Jesus or some shit? That’s insane and I think you mean you, not we. I…I don’t even know what to say to that.”
He laughs again, trying to push aside any haunting realization that at least some of what Riley has said makes sense. Whitlock goes to speak once more but the monotone voice of the computer cuts through his words.
“Awaiting visual data. Please insert viewing device into console port.”
Whitlock backs away. He was merely lucky or so he thought, to get the computer to read what little information it had. Now fully unfamiliar with the console, he looks to Riley, hoping she would aid the computers request.
Taking command of the console, Riley slipped her thumb beneath her cybernetic eye and popped it from its socket. With two fingers, she gently removed the eye and placed it within the port. A thin wire snaked upward from within the port and connected the device. Within the eye, the pupil flickered as the iris spun forward and back before projecting a 3D image several inches from above the eye. The darkened image bore familiar terror stricken faces. The picture was horror as deep within the pit, the truth showed Riley clutching Jacob close as if trying to defend her son. The image soon began to play as large thick arms reached out, grabbing for Jacob. The child screamed as he’s ripped from his mother’s arms. The unknown shadow of a man begins to drag Jacob away. Riley tries to fight back, to reach out to her son but she screams out in pain. Doubling over, she reaches down between her legs only to draw back her hand to see it covered in blood. Riley cries out again, for the evil within the shadows of the pit to give her back her son but no one listens. The pain over takes her, stealing her voice she whispers of loss. Stumbling back, Riley looks down at her bleeding body. With her son now gone and no longer blocking her frame, Riley appears heavily pregnant as blood begins to run down her legs.
“Turn it off!” Riley shouts. “Turn it off!”
Riley reaches out, to try to remove her eye from the port but Whitlock grabs her by the wrist. “Riley…stop!” Releasing his grip, he pushed her back and away from the eye. Looking to her, he watches as how the hard expression she often wore softens. “You wanted to know the truth?” She gently shook her head. “In the cell, when you were hallucinating, you kept mentioning a baby.” Whitlock looks to the projected image as it continues to play. “Is this what you saw?” Riley tries to pull away but Whitlock cups her face within his hands, forcing her to look at him. “As fucking awful as it is, this is your truth, Riley and with what I saw, with Lauren…this is one of the reasons why I’m not sure I want to know mine either.”
The two look to each other and for the fraction of a second a faded memory washes over them. As quickly as it came, the memory went but the emotion lingered. Neither Whitlock nor Riley would say how fragile the sadness felt, that it was a sorrow each of them had shared. Nearly lost in an echo of the past, they are pulled back by the sound of a man’s voice.
“She’s only a month old…just look at how much we’ve aged her.” He says proudly. “I give it three years and she’ll be an adult.”
The projected image had shifted to a laboratory. In the center of the room is a small crib and behind its bars is an even smaller child. Standing, the baby grips the cribs railing and stares forward. Making no sound, the child looks to a woman huddling within the corner of the room. The woman screams at the baby. She cries out as she smashes her fist against the glass of a window, breaking it. Taking a large shard of glass from the floor, the woman holds it to her wrists and begins to tear at her flesh. The baby coos.
“Jesus Christ, she’s beautiful.” The male voice speaks in awe of the child.
Neither Whitlock nor Riley spoke but there were no words that needed to be said as each understood the implications of just what they were watching. Though it felt as if a lie, the pair realized that this would explain why the healing drug Riley had been subjected to on Deer Island and was now used by the Order of Adam contained the DNA markers of someone related to her. That had the child truly been her daughter, the serum would have been made from her as the baby already displayed abilities.
Riley shakes her head. “This is the House! This is the Baraggal! All they fucking do is lie!” Riley looks away and stares at the image of the small child. “I…I don’t remember her.”
“At what point do we started finding the truth in these lies? We have to start believing at least something.” Whitlock sighs. “Besides what’s so bad about another baby?”
“Because Henry and I wanted her so badly.” Riley speaks, her voice nearly a whisper. “She’d just be one more thing the House took from us.”
“Then look at her, Riley. Look at that baby, whoever the fuck she is. If it’s your daughter or not, she still has parents. This is what you’re fighting. You’re fighting monsters who tear families apart.” Whitlock points toward the stasis pods. “Now is when you make your choice. What do we do the living bombs?”
“We wake them up.” Riley was quick to respond. “Maybe one of them will have answers.”
“And if not? What if none of them know who this baby girl is? What if they detonate?”
“Then we kill them. We kill them all.”
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, my name is Valentine, the Vice President of DecayTV. For three solid years, DecayTV has been corrupting the airwaves and bringing its loyal fans the most brutal entertainment that is denied daily on our televisions and in our movies. This isn’t some dumbed down reality show competition. This isn’t some family friendly barely PG-13 action flick. This is violence in its purest form. It is man verses man. Blood and broken bones. It is primitive aggression of an unprecedented level. The very fucking thing that brought us to the top of the food chain and it is what we at DecayTV promise to continue to bring you, the viewer, at every goddamn show. *lights cigarette* You see, we have created a unique experience and at every #infection we give the audience exactly what they want. While the world tries to P.C. your lives into an even more boring and dull existence, our fighters bring mayhem while letting you come along for the ride. You’re invited into their personal lives, seeing the very chaos they bring out and into the world. Then you see them bring that insanity into the ring. You live through them and love the life away from the censors. *puffs* You’re a cop pushing his limits on the mean streets of Slaughters. You’re a regular Joe treading on dangerous territory to find out who put a hit on your wife. You’re a good ol’ boy with good ol’ friends and a slew of fucking problems, mainly some asshole who wants to play games with your lives. You see, it’s through us that you live many lives and not once do we fucking flinch.
And we do this for six straight fucking shows, until the very end. The big payoff. We build up and we build up until the violence and chaos brings us to the Pay-Per-View Event. FRIDAY NIGHT FRIGHT, which is just weeks away, will deliver just as every show does only, like every Pay-Per-View, over the top doesn’t even begin to describe what we have in store for you. I will promise you this will be an epic classic. I will promise you this will be beyond memorable. I will promise you that this won’t be something you’ve ever seen before and we, at DecayTV, keep our promises. *puff* The good people behind the scenes of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios in Hollywood, California are giving us free reign over their horror themed park for our special event. There, we will see John Lee take on Simone LeFleur in a Pits and Needles match. The first fighter to force their opponent into a pit of needles is the winner. Now I know some of you have realized that I have only announced one match. I plan on resolving that at our next #infection. A lot will be happening in the next couple of weeks. So, you better fucking pay attention because a lot of fighters are suddenly going to be finding themselves in some very brutal matches.
Now I know everyone wants to know about our title fights. After all, these are the matches that pit the best of the best against each other just for the glory of calling themselves the baddest motherfuckers in DecayTV. Well, our Crimson Champion Joseph Grey shouldn’t worry his pretty little head, I’ve got plans for my Crimson title. Grey and every one of you will just have to show up at our next and last #infection to find out what I have planned for the Crimson Championship title. That leaves Tyson Sands and the hell that is in store for him at FRIDAY NIGHT FRIGHT. Love Sands or hate him, it doesn’t matter because we all want to see *pauses* No, we all need to see him defend his Empire Championship title. It is that need that brings us to a very nontraditional way of making it happen. At the next #infection TYSON SANDS will be teaming with RILEY SCOTT to face his long time BRAND teammate JAMISON WHITLOCK and current target SALINGER. The reasoning behind this match-up is simple. If Sands and Riley win, then our Empire Champion must defend his title against the one person he probably hates the most in DecayTV. The main event will be just him and just her battling it out. If Whitlock and Salinger win, then Sands will face two of the best potential replacements for his crown and whoever else I decide to throw into the mix. *puffs* But hey, at least it’s not Riley, right. *grins* In the end, what happens at the next #infection is Sands choice. If he wants the greater possibility of keeping the title in BRAND then he’s got to face an army. That or face the threat of losing it to Riley and at this point the chance of Riley Scott being champ is a whole hell of a lot worse for Sands. It’s also the fucking battle I’ve been promising right along to our fans. On a side note, if Io Calabash continues to play ball like he did last #infection, he might just suddenly find himself thrown into this mix and playing with the big boys.
After all, this is what the fans want. They want brutality! They’ve got it. They want violence! We’ll give it to them. They want to watch trained and lethal fighters destroy each other. *puffs* Then they will have it. Our last stop before FRIDAY NIGHT FRIGHT will be taking us to Detroit. You see, we’ve got a little date with the very thing that tries to deny our style of entertainment. We’re going to *grins* liven things up on a movie set for an old friend and longtime viewer of the show. George A. Romero is recruiting DecayTV to set the stage for his current zombie flick. We’re going old school on this. None of this safety regulations and movie rating system bullshit. Fuck your PG-13 and Rated R’s. We’re giving the fans the real thing. While the matches are going to be a bit *pauses* we’ll just say theatrical, it only means that they’ll be even bloodier.
So, shake off the boredom of everyday life and be a supernatural hunter or an alien cop or a fixer for a secret government agency. Tell the P.C. patrol to suck it and watch some of the best goddamn violence in entertainment history. Join us, DecayTV at this season’s last #infection and we’ll see you at FRIDAY NIGHT FRIGHT!