October 4th, evening
San Leandro, California
It had been another whirlwind tryst. Karla thought back on the chain of events that occurred over the last few hours.
Dinner was a nice touch. He paid for everything, then regaled her with a few anecdotes about war stories of his tour in the Middle East.
And then things got weird. He broke the cardinal rule and told her his name. Terrance Anderson. She always told her lovers not to use names. But it happened, and for some reason she didn’t stop him.
He put a finger beneath her chin. “God, you’re so pretty,” Anderson said with sincerity in his voice. She flinched at the man’s words and replied with a practiced blush. Karla Howard felt fidgety.
The evening had turned out nicely. They went back to his apartment with music playing softly in the background. Before long, his hands were settled on her waist, pulling her into his lap and she let him. It was unfulfilling and mercifully short yet strangely beautiful for all its purity and brutality.
And when it was over, he held her as she cried. It was her life – she had four centuries to adapt by now. But there was no way she could have this fling last any longer than a single night. If she tried, it would always end the same way – her face dark with guilt after being caught with someone else. In the end, it was better not to complicate sex with feelings.
Karla reminded Anderson that it was ‘just sex,’ not a permanent situation. And by the end of the night she was alone again. Only this time, without someone to hold her. She was allowed to have weak moments… and tonight was one of them.
And that… had been her night in a nutshell.
Three thirty rolled by. The night’s events played out in her mind as Karla arrived home to her condo in San Leandro. She dropped back against the door. It clicked softly into place; she sank down to the floor and dropped her head back against the wood surface. She tossed her handbag into the corner then threw the keys.
Jingling through the air, her keys teleported before they hit anything. They reappeared on the table. ‘This is sick,’ she thought to herself, feeling stupid and childish and disgusting. Karla eased up from where she sat in front of the door and pulled a blanket from the sofa over her shoulders then walked to her bedroom and flung herself across the mattress. Tomorrow would be a new day – a loveless day, but a new day nevertheless.
Her phone rang. She could hear it going off in her handbag out in the living room. She waved her hand and teleported the whole bag onto her bed, rummaged through it then sighed. Lance Paterson.
With a sigh, she answered the line. “Methos,” she said, putting on a front, “How’s it going?”
“I have a new plaything here,” he replied over the line. “We’re exchanging information. Her old team leader just left for South Africa. We may need what he’s looking for.”
“Oh… your plaything huh? Nice, Lance. Real nice. What is this coveted object of your desire?”
“Eh… sorry. I thought the term would amuse you.”
“You’re right,” she sighed. “It sounds like something I would say on any other given day. Anyway, what’s going on?”
On the other side of the line, Lance cleared his throat then paused as if trying to decide how best to proceed with caution. He knew Karla long enough to know she occasionally had a sensitive day. His tinny voice came back over the speakerphone again. “A woman named Patience Ubysh. She wrote a dissertation on people with abilities. She tried to publish it for her PhD, but nobody took it seriously. But the paper is phenomenal. It’s obvious this girl has a brilliant mind and I’d like you to go to South Africa and bring her back to California if you’re able. Also, you need to find a federal agent named Greg Watson. We need to ascertain whether or not we can trust him. I want to know what he knows. Teleport wiretaps into place, bug his office… the usual.”
“South Africa, huh?” Karla asked with indifference in her voice. “Sure. When?”
“Soon. But right now, I know you’re trying to keep your eye on the Parker twins. New information came to light. I assume you remember JC Parker?”
“I remember working with him and Aris Falcon a few decades ago, to help them steal artifacts that genuinely worried you. All in the past now. What about Parker?”
“He just called me. His son and possibly his sister have been abducted. It’s time to get Fox out of there; I will let you know when I confirm his whereabouts. I want you to take him home to his father. Parker will be delighted and give you anything you need. Use your girlish charm. Consider something expensive.”
Karla perked. “Expensive huh?” Shopping therapy suddenly sounded like a good idea.
“Like a yacht. Something safe and far away from Aris’ hunters. Once you make the arrangements with Parker, I want you to hide the boy somewhere safe before your trip to Africa. Don’t let him tell anyone where he is.”
“Are you all right, Karla?”
“Yeah I’m just…” She looked up at the ceiling. “Your new plaything… what’s her name?”
“Samantha. Listen, Karla… Falcon has a fairly large group protecting people in this warehouse. Rumors suggest he’s working on some pretty dark experiments. Stay alert. Donovan tells me that there are robotic sentries… an actual attack robot with tank treads and weapons. Maybe you’ve actually killed enough mercenaries that he’s trying something new. Donovan also said he saw a mutated creature of some sort. We think Falcon is leaving the country in the morning. So now is the perfect time for you to get in there and find Fox and Nichole Parker. Remember: stealth in, chaos out. Get in, destroy everything, find Fox and bring them home if you’re able.”
“When do I leave?”
“Sometime tomorrow. Falcon hasn’t flown out yet. His flight leaves on the first flight out. Don’t jump the gun. Do you understand me? Do not go there while Falcon is on the premises. Just learn what you’re able about him while you’re there. Trust me when I tell you that he’s stronger than you remember. Just wait until you hear from me; I have to confirm Fox's location and he's a great deal more important than Nichole, I'm sad to say.”
“Now to rock your world. Nichole called me when she went missing. I didn't answer the phone in time. i have no idea how she got my number at this point, and I couldn't be sure anything was wrong because her voice mail was weird. she said she wanted to know if I knew or ever worked with her brother, when Falcon was part of the group. Then she says, 'What the hell is going on here,' in an accusatory tone. God only knows who she was talking to. I tried to call back but it went right to voice mail each time.”
“That is unfortunate. If she turns her phone back on, we can trace it to an address. Let me know if she calls you again. Then we can use that to find her. Either way, stay on 'stand by,' Karla. I'm sending a friend in to explore the warehouse beneath the new Pages Lost nightclub. Then he will leave and report to me if Fox or Nicky is found.”
I’ll get started tomorrow or whatever. Just text me when you know the address.”
“I have one more errand for you to run, Karla.”
“Neat. What's the gig?”
“I need you to warn a family of gypsies to go into hiding. Falcon is going to want something they have. We can't let that happen.”
She flopped back on her bed again, spreading out in the middle. “Just text me the details and get back to your plaything.”
She ended the call with a sigh and reached for her tablet on the nightstand by her bed. Karla thrust her fist into a nearby bag of Hershey’s Kisses and propped her head up on her pillows. She put the candies on her chest and opened the tablet to where she left off in an e-book.
She scrolled halfway down the page, sighed wistfully, and read aloud, “He captured a ringlet of her hair and guided it back behind her ear. Their eyes met. He leaned in and captured her lips. His fingers sifted back through the chestnut curls then gave in to his deepest desire, fisting her hair at the nape of her neck as they kissed.” Karla pinched her left thumb and forefinger together then opened them. One of the Hershey’s Kisses teleported from within its wrapper and appeared in her grip. The wrapper held its shape.
She popped the chocolate into her mouth then continued reading aloud, speaking over the candy. “He broke the liplock and spoke in hushed tones, muffled against her lips. ‘I want you to fall in love so fucking hard and deep that it changes your entire outlook on life. But... first and foremost, I want you to moan long and loud for me, with your legs wrapped around my hips, and your ankles crossed, digging your heel into the small of my back as you pull me against you. I want to feel those luscious tight lips clinching around my cock. I want to feel your thighs trembling against my waist. I want your eyes to clench shut and you cry out in a hard release.
“‘I want it to last for hours, deeply fulfilling and intense and long winded, until you're exhausted and craving sleep in my arms.’ He held her gaze as he spoke the words she needed to hear. She was undone, consumed with passion, and with the desire to explore this forbidden romance.”
Karla fanned her face with the tablet. “Goddamn, you lucky girl; you’d better give him the best night of his life. Don’t you dare pull that ‘shy’ crap like you did last time. Or so help me God, I will write a fan-fiction about how I kick your ass.” She pinched her left finger and thumb to crush the empty Hershey wrapper then began reading again.
Beneath Pages Lost
San Francisco, California
Consciousness rushed back like waving a match closely over the wick, the hot ember reached out to the fiery wood tip for life. But that’s not all that rushed back. Next came the pain and the gripping vertigo, and the shortness of breath. It all returned with sudden urgency.
There were drugs in her system. Nichole Parker was in pain but felt drunk. With the phenomenal feeling of drowning in the void, she flailed for something to grip. Her left hand wrapped around something cool, metallic and solid. She clenched the metal bar tightly to keep her head from spinning.
A pang of pain thrummed in her head. The loud clink of steel and tin rattled against each bar, drawing closer with rhythmic cadence. Nicky groaned in an attempt to drown out the sound pounding in her ears. A voice came from off to her right. “You’re finally awake. You don’t look lucid, though. Jesus fuckin’ Christ, look at you. Last time we were face to face, you were still a kid. Now look at you. What a fine piece of ass you grew to become.”
Nichole recognized the voice. “Get away from me,” she hissed. “You betrayed my brother, then you murdered my father, you son of a bitch.”
The man knelt down in the darkness and sneered with disgust, speaking to her from the other side of the bars. “Yeah. I did. And daddy screamed really really good before he died. I bet you’re a screamer too, ain’tcha? You know, I’ve been watching you for quite some time.”
The voice made her queasy. She didn’t think she would feel any other physical ailment with such magnificent pain racking her petite frame. But there it was; the feeling of wanting to throw up nagged at the base of her throat.
Nichole leaned over just a little bit until her nose touched the cold metal bars. She cleared her mind, relaxed her body and waited… All at once, her body jerked, as though convulsing, and she vomited right through the bars.
He responded with a tirade that, oddly, made her headache lessen. The man ranted and shouted. His dramatic complaining brought a weary grin to the corner of her mouth.
The ceiling lights came up, but by that time, her mind was so far gone that she didn’t even flinch. Her pupils constricted. She gazed up at Rick Peterson without so much as blinking, as if near death.
“Hmm, interesting,” came a second voice, thick, deep, and aloof. “I would have thought for sure that her mind would have caved from the lights. I was rather hoping to see her go into shock. Perhaps she will be tougher to break than I thought. No matter. Prep her for exploratory, then I want you to tend to the new guest.”
“Doc, can’t we just feed them both to LARA?”
“Say your goodbyes, Richard. Then go and tend to Fox.”
Peterson leaned down just on the outside of the cell and whispered into Nichole’s ear. “I hope you live, bitch. Just so I can watch you suffer. I wonder if that faggoty little fiancé of yours took your virginity yet.” He reached through the bars, sliding his fingers up her thigh. “Let’s just see for ourselves, shall we?”
Nichole remained silent and motionless.
“Won’t be as fun with you being catatonic. But beggars can’t be choosers.” All of a sudden, Rick groaned in pain and pulled his hand from the cell to favor the backside of his head. “What the hell, doc?! You didn’t have to hit me in the goddamn head with your tablet! The filthy little bitch puked on me! I was just dicking with her! Hell, I should have beat the piss out of her; I hate barf!”
“Stop grousing. Also, did you find those three gypsy men and geo-tag them?”
“Yeah. I used the radioisotope tracer.”
“You weren’t seen were you, Richard?”
Peterson sniffed disdainfully. “I was Jon Parker’s best student. I might not have his crazy unnatural dexterity, but I’m pretty damn good.” Rick left the holding area and slammed the door behind himself.
“What’re you going to do to me?” asked Nichole, weakly.
“I’m going to find out what makes you tick,” said the other man. “Miss Parker, you worked so hard to find out who I was. Did you know that I used to work with your brother before you were born? I was his logistical coordinator during high tech heists. I tagged along so I could learn about certain artifacts. But nevermind that. Let’s talk about you… I want to know why you never manifested the ability that your brother and his children have. And then we’ll see if we can activate that gene, and if we can give you more abilities. New ones. I just want to know more about you.”
“To hell with you,” she said then gasped at the sensation of powerful chemicals being dumped into her bloodstream. She reached for an IV line that went to the back of her left hand, but couldn’t pull it out. All at once, she went limp.
“I’m sorry to say that you may not live through this. It happens. Some people show such promise. Others simply die. Experimentation is important to learning. Can you hear me, dear?”
In a muffled voice, she mumbled the words, “Aris Falcon.”
The scientist smiled and reached for a lab coat. “Wonderful! Let me get my scalpel, and then we’ll begin!”
October 5th, late afternoon
San Francisco, California
Karla Howard settled into the small wooden chair across the table from a gypsy girl. "Aren't you a cute one? Okay, so, I'm here to get my fortune read to me. And you should do yourselves a favor and relocate somewhere with better cell reception. I've got no bars here."
Abigail Krenyenko looked over the youthful blond then furrowed her brows. "You're too young. You have to be eighteen. Your cell reception isn't my concern."
Karla grinned. "Don't lie to me, dear. Besides, you're not even eighteen, yourself. And, for the record, I'm older than you, cutie. What's your name?"
"Abby Chase," said the girl. "And yours? And incidentally, gaje, why have you come to my mother's shop?"
“Oh Abigail, your mother has been dead since you were eleven. This store belongs to someone else in your kumpaniea.” She noted the wide eyed confusion from the gypsy girl then said, “I'm here to check in on your family. Donovan and Methos have told me that the oracle, YiaYia, predicted something tragic for the family. You should leave San Francisco immediately.” She smiled in a flirtatious way then said, “I'm Karla. And your hexes and charms won't protect you from the incoming storm.”
"I have no authority to move the caravan, gaje. I don't know anyone named Donovan, nor do I know the other name you mentioned. And my family does not need protection. We're making a legal living and have no reason to run."
"That's not what I'm talking about, sweetpea." Karla folded her arms and leaned back in the wooden chair, causing it to creek softly. "My orders were explicit. Methos wants your people in Europe as soon as possible. Don't make him go all 'Highlander' on our asses; just help me do what I've been asked, okay?"
"What else did this so-called oracle predict? The mind's eye cannot see the future with any sort of clarity or detail, only the past. If one could see the future, their knowledge would create a paradox that would immediately change the future. It is therefore impossible."
"Unless, of course, the oracle chooses to remain impartial to what is seen. Then they can see things that their actions will not be able to change. It is therefore probable that this prediction will come true whether I warn you or not. Or, they're seeing one possible future – one that needs to change. We have to at least try because of the severity of the prediction. So, are you going to read my fortune or what?"
Abby reached across the table and took Karla's hand then turned it over, palm up. She took a moment to study Karla's lifeline and the markings. The gypsy girl released Karla's hand and walked away from the table. She drew a book off the shelf and opened it. After a moment she brought the book back to the table and took Karla's palm again. The girl moved her eyes from Karla's hand to the book then back again.
She thumbed through pages then stopped to glance at Karla's palm once more. Abigail's eyes lifted, meeting the soft sea-green gaze of the blonde woman across from her. "You… are a demon. A succubus. I'm not sure if I believe in that sort of thing but the book has never been wrong before now. You're evil."
Karla flashed a dazzling smile. "And it's still right on the money! But I'm not 'evil' anymore. I gave up that jazz, like – what? A hundred and fifteen years ago? Yeah, it’s been a while. I've turned over a new leaf." She lifted her free hand, extending only her index and middle fingers together. "Scout's honor."
"Over seven billion pairs of palms in the world… it's a coincidence. There's no such thing as evil demons with mystical powers, miss. Perhaps we'd have better luck if I got my tarot cards instead."
The teenage-looking demoness tensed her forearm. Her palm incandesced with a slight pink hue. A deck of tarot cards, bound by a rubber band, hovered from the bookshelf and floated to their table then levitated between the two girls. "You mean these cards? I don't suggest it. The last person to use cards on me had some sort of heart-shaped pendant made out of a gemstone and she would hold it over the backs of her card deck. Low and behold it shattered. I've not attempted a tarot reading since then. On that note, do you want me to put these back where I found them?"
Abby reached for the hovering card deck, plucked them from the air then turned them over in her hands. "There's no string attached," she murmured. Her eyes lifted back to Karla. "This is gypsy magic. Not the kind we show to mundane people… this is real gypsy magic."
"No, sweatpea. This is Karla magic. 'Real' Karla magic." She closed her hand then opened her fist. The card deck appeared within her grasp. "Listen, Abby Chase, talk your family into taking a vacation in Romania. Stay there for a little while. If you don't, things are going to get twisted. However, there's a good chance my warning won't change the future or whatever. So if things do go south, figuratively speaking, then you'll need to look up a cop. Once you find him, you'll ask him to help you."
"What? A cop? What kind of joke are you playing here?"
Karla smirked. "I thought you said you were living by legal means."
"Yes," Abby said. "We're making ends meet by legal means. We've had some run-ins with police before. We don't exactly see eye to eye."
"He's getting married to Nichole Marie Parker. You know, the younger sister of the modern day's greatest master thief? If it comes down to you needing this cop’s help, he's going to need some of your gypsy magic in order to understand what's going on. I don't know him personally so test him first. Make sure he's trustworthy. If he really is one of the good guys, you'll know it… then help him to help you. His name is Reno Nevada."
The gypsy snorted in amusement. "His parents must have hated him. I'm guessing he was teased all through school."
"Hell if I know," said Karla with a shrug. "Just go talk to your family. That's the first thing you need to do. Warn them and get out of town quickly." Karla closed her palm again. The tarot cards disappeared from the succubus’ grip and reappeared on the bookshelf where she'd found them. "I won't be in town to help you. I have to head to Africa to find a Russian; if you're still here by the time I get back from my business trip… well, I tried. I won't be long but I have other things to tend to, dear. The only one who can help you is the Inspector. Play ignorant with him at first. Test his personality and see what kind of person he is before you enlist his help. Once the two of you are on the run, come find me. I'm working on getting a house boat, so maybe I'll be on the bay. Whichever." Her cell chirped. She picked it up and glanced at it. "One bar. Huh, seems I've missed a call thanks to your shop; remember, location, location, location. Doesn't matter though, my battery is about to die – that isn't your problem."
Abby glanced from Karla to the phone then back to its pretty blond owner. "Guess you'd better hunt down a charger on the go."
The succubus offered a wan grin. "Yeah, I'll do that. Anyhow. Focus on what I've told you so you're prepared for it. The oracle has never been wrong before. Good luck, kiddo. Start practicing your basic gypsy magic. Try taking it more seriously this time, huh?" Karla grinned again, stood up then drew the hem of her skirt into her hands. "Mm, it's a bit too short to curtsy, don't you think? Gotta go. I have to rescue this handsome boy who lives up to his namesake." Her grin broadened then she vanished.
Abby leaned over the table and looked over the empty wooden chair then glanced around herself. She took a deep breath to calm her frayed nerves then the seventeen year old girl sighed and repeated the calm breathing several more times to relax herself. “There is no way that just happened. It had to have been a trick.” Finally, with a measure of reluctance, she left the small room and headed out back to a motorhome sitting in the lot behind the small shop.
"Finally!" The voice belonged to Rick Peterson. Nichole opened her eyes. The world shifted into focus. She glanced about at various pieces of laboratory equipment then down at the stitches on her torso. Her eyes lifted back to Rick. He smiled and said, “The doc wanted to try something on you before trying it on himself. It's probably not going to work – he wanted to see if you can heal from being stabbed. He didn't say if it had to be fatal, but I'm going to take the initiative on this one because I wanna see if you can survive it. So, I’m going to drive this knife into your back in the name of science, bitch.” He rolled her onto her side. "But first…" He picked up her cellphone from a nearby workbench. Rick turned it on, waited for it to boot then found the most recent number in the call log. "Just gotta cover all our bases, Parker."
Nicky felt numb and weak. Rolled onto her side, she faced away from Peterson and purposefully ignored his question. Six foot computers came into view against the far wall. One of them had a small screen on the front. She could see a diagnostic display from where she lay, twenty-five feet away. For the first time, she noticed the clarity of everything around her. The tiny letters on the small screen were easily legible. The smallest details of the equipment appeared unnaturally easy to see.
“Well now,” he murmured, looking at the time-stamp on the call log. “This call went out right around the time our guys jumped you. Sneaky girl. Looks like whoever you called… they never picked up. Too bad for you. So who was it?”
Nichole rolled her eyes and remained silent.
“Was it that Methos guy?”
Parker ignored him.
"Fine, you won't tell me? Let's call it." He touched his thumb against the number displayed at the top of the threaded list until a menu appeared. He touched the 'redial' button and waited. The phone rang several times then went to voice mail. He listened to the voice. "Who the hell is Karla Howard? God damn, I hate people with two first names." Peterson hung up and dropped the phone on the operating table. He lifted his fist and plunged the knife's blade through her back, and out the front, piercing her heart.
Nichole’s body lurched forward, but her breathless attempt at a scream was stifled by his sweaty, pudgy palm. She instinctively reached for the hand on her face. Her cellphone, sitting on the table besides her, began to buzz – Karla's return call went unanswered. Its rhythmic pulsing vibrated the metal slab on which she lay. By the third ring, she could feel herself begin to die. Sobbing tears rolled down her cheeks as she made an attempt to grasp the reality of what it felt like to have her life slip away from her body. Her mind honed in on the sensation of dying only to be distracted by the sensation of thick, dark vitae gushing out of her chest, coating her hands.
She felt weak, unable to pull his hand from her mouth. Her tears drenched her cheeks enough to have been able to wash her face. Nichole lowered her trembling hands to her torso, placing her palms over the knife wound. She pressed inward, where the blade still jutted from her chest, in a feeble attempt to stop the crimson fluid from pouring out. It gushed through her knuckles and ran down her stomach, soaking her skin and clothes.
"I bet you're terrified," he whispered into her ear from behind. She didn't reply. “Now I’m going down the hall and I’m going to gloat to your nephew that I killed your ass. Then we’re going to freeze your body for later fun.” She didn’t reply. “Scream for me, Nichole, goddamn you. Scream!” She shook her head from left to right, weakly. Peterson growled in displeasure. “Oh, you'd better scream, dammit! I want to hear you scream like your father did!"
All she could do was mourn the fact that she'd never see Fara's baby. She'd never again see Reno, her fiancé. She'd never see her brother again. She would never again see her niece, Topaz… the girl showed such promise in possibly joining the Drug Enforcement Agency. Nicky's thoughts shifted to her mother, wondering if she would see the woman soon. Nichole was afraid but the feeling of death drawing near was, oddly, rather calming. She felt more afraid of facing the unknown than death itself.
The smell of smoke filled the room, and the thundering sound of a cellphone's fifth vibrating buzz could be heard, but no longer felt against her thigh. She cut her fingers, trying to push the knife back through, but Rick was too strong. He gave the knife a twist, rending her heart. Her jaw parted and the metallic taste of salty blood bubbled at the back of her throat, causing her to involuntarily gurgle on it.
Before her eyes, her mind showed her a soft white light that was comforting. Even as her body died, her mind still had racing minutes to comfort her soul before everything grew hazy and dark. Strangely, that sodium rich taste on the back of her tongue was much better than Rick Peterson's palms. It reminded her of the time she was a little girl and had her nose broken, trying to play sports with the boys. She remembered that same taste from way back then. The light before her eyes was blinding, yet her pupils dilated instead.
She reached out; her fingers diced from touching the knife that jutted through her upper breast. Nicky tried to touch a figure in the light. The light was comforting, but the figure inside was so handsome, and she half-cursed herself for not recognizing the person at first. It was a dashing, athletic man. He had a smile she knew. He seemed familiar. Maybe she'd seen this gentleman in a photograph once? A long time ago?
The cuts in her fingertips caused blood to run down her wrist, dripping off of her elbow. She reached out into thin air, grasping to satisfy her curiosity. Her mind was growing cloudy and the pain eased somewhat. But her curious, confused mind raced, not understanding what she saw. She began to shiver as if wrapped in a blanket of ice.
Her fingertips brushed against the figure who reached out for her. The hand over her mouth was gone now, as was the vibrating noises in the background. Her lips formed a question that was more of an answer, as she realized just who reached out for her. She saw his hand slipping into hers.
"Daddy...?" The struggle ended. Her final, whispered word floated on the air and her mind grew hazy. And in all of this? She felt a touch depressed. There was a longing to have achieved more. There was a longing to have given more of herself in life and a wish to have touched more lives or even to have given life. The despair came from all that she was going to miss. All of God's gifts she would never live to enjoy. Her arm dropped.
In the last seconds as her mind faded, she felt something else. It wasn't hatred or anger. It wasn't bitterness or any measure of ill will. In fact, she felt sadness. Not the melancholy feelings when your dog dies from age. But something deeper that transcended every other feeling; something akin to pity. She felt that she forgave everyone who wronged her. There was no point, now, in harboring hatred. But, mostly, she felt sorry for Rick Peterson, the pawn. She wanted to loathe him, but the last vestiges of her mind were beyond hating anyone. No, she merely pitied him. For he was a broken man with a broken soul. Her eyes floated upwards. The stillness and silence was overwhelmingly loud.
The pity faded, along with everything else. She greeted the nothing.