Lady Kiko Sigyn suddenly appeared before the court, eyes wide. The ten-tailed queen of the spirit foxes put her hands out to steady herself, unprepared for having been summoned without notice. She wore purple robes and had a tome in one hand, bound in leather-like human flesh. Kiko glanced about at the panel of judges then turned her gaze to the Grand Chancellor. “Eiyuu… Geroi, was it?”
“Yes. Excellent memory, considering we’ve only ever met once. You are here so that we can pass judgment on your decision to interfere with the council’s plans to utilize Sinopa Crevan and Tamamo-no-Mae. They’re instrumental in helping to usher the humans from destruction due to an upcoming cataclysmic event. Your orders to recall Sinopa Crevan have conflicted with our plans to help the humans.”
Lady Kiko Sigyn paced before the bureaucratic council. She turned back to the assembly and tightened her jaw. “I recalled the three-tail because she was too immature to be in the mortal realm. The nine-tail responsible for her has been scheduled to be punished accordingly; she resides in a dungeon, where she belongs for her impudence.”
The Chancellor, standing at the podium, pressed his palms together. “Kiko-san, there’s no need to punish anyone. This assembly called Tamamo-no-Mae forth after careful consideration, as well as permission from Lord Inari – the deity she serves; she is lawfully honor-bound to Inari, not to you. This council recognizes you as the queen of the Japanese nogitsune, the Chinese Huli jing, the coyote of the Native American people, and the Korean Kumiho; we understand you mother them, as though they are your children, but you do not have a claim of ownership to the one named Tamamo-no-Mae, nor do you have a claim of ownership to the one named Sinopa Crevan.
“We The Assembly,” the Chancellor continued, “tasked Tamamo-san to deputize this promising young kitsune to familiarize herself with the Earth realm. We based our decisions on historical evidence of Sinopa Crevan’s life, and her accomplishments, while she lived on Earth, in North America, for twenty-five years before being recalled to battle in the Celestial Dynasty Wars. In battle, she proved herself equally as honorable, capable and trustworthy. And that is why we sent her back to Earth, to serve in Japan, for a year. Then we arranged for her to meet a new romantic interest by working with the western gods. They found a human from North America who showed honor and courage, who lived abroad in Japan. Then we agreed to match Crevan and Guillot for our purposes.”
“When!” Kiko bit her lip. “Pardon my outburst. I’m not accustomed to answering to others – when did you put this young kitsune ‘into the field,’ so to speak?”
“Many earthly rotations ago.” He lifted his hand and a scroll appeared. He unfurled it then took a moment to glance over the notations. “ Now, Kiko Sigyn, I have honored your title as the ten-tailed queen of the spirit foxes by explaining ourselves to you. But I will not waste the time of this court by explaining all of our intentions for Sinopa Crevan. We require the continued services of Sinopa-san and Tamamo-san. You were not considered for this decision. That honor was reserved for Inari, to whom they have sworn their allegiance and servitude. Release them back to the Earth Realm.”
“I’m afraid there is a complication, Chancellor.”
He eyed the woman for a moment then, in a calm voice, said, “Kiko Sigyn, I have honored your title by explaining ourselves to you, just now. But our intentions for Sinopa Crevan and her sensei are need-to-know. We only want you to stand aside in their regard. I will not repeat myself a third time.”
Kiko’s eyes shifted to the left and she licked her lips apprehensively.
The Chancellor folded his arms and leaned back from the podium. “I summoned Tamamo-san, earlier, to explain Sinopa-san’s past record. The judiciary panel has agreed that she was the right person for the job because of Sinopa’s accolades. These actions are at the core of our determination in this court’s final judgment.”
“This court has already established a ruling?” Kiko said with wide eyes. “Before I was summoned? I acted because I deemed Sinopa too immature to interact with the mortals again. She’s used her abilities in public! She’s told people of our kind!” Kiko looked around at the panel of judges then back to the Chancellor. “I move to hear the accolades attributed to Sinopa Crevan, upon which you’ve based your decision.”
The Chancellor snapped his left hand, creating a sharp staccato sound. A scroll unfurled near Kiko. She took a moment to read over stenographer’s written recording from earlier in the day. The spirit fox queen frowned.
“As I explained to Tamamo-san,” the Chancellor said, addressing Kiko. “This new dynasty rewards selfless acts of character. In the final judgment of this assembly, we have decided that… not only will Sinopa return to Earth, she will continue in her duties exactly as she left. She will work with the human to which we have paired her. And when we feel the time is right, we will set acts in motion that will allow her to be reunited with her mortal family, while there is still time.”
Kiko sighed and ran her hands up over her face, then back through her hair. “Complications exist. Apparently you have not looked at all the evidence. Your judgment is therefore flawed. This is because you acted prematurely, by not calling me to take stand during your so-called trial.”
“Sinopa-san is qualified. And, even after having her memories stripped, she has been re-stationed on that plane for three revolutions, now. The three-tail should have sufficient knowledge of the realm to accomplish what we require.”
Kiko began pacing in front of the court. “I ordered Tamamo-kun to give the girl amnesia, again, because I felt she was endangering herself with her romantic ties to the realm. This… creature, Jules Guillot, is a dingy mortal rogue. A swashbuckler who may appear to have an air of mystery and romance to a child, such as Sinopa, but in the end he is beneath her. Certainly, not as important as the man who was once her husband – and even he was a lackluster creature in my eyes, despite the fact he gave her two precocious children.”
The Chancellor glared at her momentarily then sighed. “This was arranged by the Celestial Bureaucracy, the Pantheon, the western gods, and we spoke to Inari directly concerning the use of his messenger. We coordinated with the Uzume, who persuaded the others to see things our way. This decision comes with blessings from Amaterasu, Izanagi and Ame-no-Koyane. This decision, fox queen, has important implications that are so great, that we have a Divine Blessing from the Great Creator of the Universe. Over the past three earthly revolutions, Sinopa was given carefully crafted premonitions and placed upon a carefully selected path. You interfered; you undid careful planning, then you meddled in our affairs YET AGAIN. So… you are now tasked to make this right.”
Kiko looked away, feeling her heart pound in her chest. “We have the power to simply fix…”
The Chancellor came down from the podium and raised his voice in anger. “Kiko Sigyn! Do you hear yourself?! You know that we cannot take part in divine intervention. The Great Creator of the Universe made that the most important directive to our kind over two thousand revolutions ago! You’re old enough to know the incident I speak of! After personally intervening on Earth, Himself, when He created a deity to be born in the body of a human being. When the humans put that deity to death, the Supreme Creator demanded that divine intervention would never be allowed to happen, ever again! Only HE may do such a thing! It is His law, and that is why we punish those who break it. THAT is why we had to work so hard to craft a path for Sinopa Crevan to follow, in order to help protect Earth from this upcoming threat. How could you single-handedly undo all our preparations TWICE?! Such a foolish action on your part could easily trigger the human apocalypse if this isn’t resolved immediately!”
Kiko felt helpless under his scrutiny. She bit her lower lip and glanced around herself, surrounded by the members of the Celestial Government. “I… I humbly ask your forgiveness. I didn’t know; I acted in the preservation of Inari’s messenger. Tamamo was ordered to death by her human lover a millennium ago. She cannot exist in the mortal realm because her physical body was destroyed. I didn’t wish for that to happen to Sinopa. Also, I had no clue the Great Creator would be involved. Why would the One True Creator interject Himself in the affairs of the earthly realm or the subordinate gods?”
The Chancellor narrowed his gaze. “We may not wave our hands and manipulate destiny directly. We’re a governing body. We govern. We arranged for the messenger to meet a human twice now. We arranged for her to fall in love twice now. We arranged for her obsession with earth history and culture so that she would be able to adapt and blend in with modern people of Earth. We arranged for her premonitions to guide her on the proper path… You’ve undone nearly three Earth years of preparation. And the Creator is aware – he gave his blessing on the entirety of this situation. He wishes for us to have resolution in the development on Earth. YOU have sought to RUIN EVERYTHING.”
Kiko swallowed back her shame. “Surely you know this amnesia is reversible.”
The Chancellor stepped back up behind the podium and turned to face Kiko. “Trickster Queen, surely you know reversal takes a while. She was already familiar with Earth once before, having spent nearly three decades in the realm. Her memories were blanketed after that event, which is already a travesty. Having her lose everything all over again is unacceptable. Now, we’ll have to arrange for her to re-meet her human lover and create a list of events to help expedite her memories’ return. We’ll do everything we can to accelerate their relationship and you should do everything you can to stay uninvolved.”
The woman flinched at being called ‘Trickster Queen.’ She clamped down firmly, bit her tongue, then raised her head as if trying to retain her sense of pride. “Yes, my lord. I will set events in motion and prepare Tamamo-kun’s little pet for her return to the earthly realm. But I must protest allowing the girl to again find love in a mortal.”
“We have our reasons,” he told her with a narrowed gaze. The Chancellor turned to the panel of judges and said, “I wish your decision – is Kiko Sigyn guilty of attempting to dispel our plans, or, worse, to stage a coupe?”
Kiko’s eyes widened. She turned to the panel of judges, licked her lips apprehensively, and then swallowed the sudden sensation of trepidation in her heart. Being found guilty of such accusations would derail her plans…
The judges deliberated momentarily then one of them stood up. “By a panel vote of five to two, Kiko Sigyn is not responsible. We reached this verdict because we feel she was ignorant to the objectives of the Celestial Diet. Unless you can bring us proof that Kiko has received inside information, we can only assume she acted, obliviously, out of concern for the lesser spirit foxes. Ignorance is not against any law. Dik? and Maat, however, wish it to be known that they are the two deities that found Kiko guilty of conspiring to destroy your plans, possibly to stage a coup d'état. They have suggested that Kiko be placed on probation before a truly final judgment. The rest of the panel agrees that a ruling of Probation Before Judgment is an acceptable resolution to this trial.”
Eiyuu Geroi turned back to Kiko and nodded. “You have your freedom for now. Go forth, and return Sinopa Crevan to the Earthly realm. She has a great deal of work. Tamamo-no-Mae is to resume her duties as Sinopa-san’s spirit guide. Hachiman-tenno is in concert with Aries, and the other Earthly gods responsible for an upcoming war. Fertility gods, like Inari, are working to heighten passions to increase the population to make up for what will be lost in the near future. All these plans were made to revolve around this upcoming event.” As the Chancellor spoke, his tone elevated in volume again. “You are NOT a member of the Celestial Bureaucracy – you’re merely the aging queen of spirit foxes, most of whom act without honor in the Earthly nations of China and Korea. You allow them to roam, unattended, tricking the mortals for amusement. Starting now, you will keep your head down and tuck your many tails, crone. This is much larger than you. Now, go find Sinopa-san and send her to the earth realm immediately. Have Tamamo-no-Mae remove the amnesia. We can only hope Sinopa-san’s recovery is swift. Once Sinopa has returned to the Earth realm, you will not distract the spirit foxes serving Inari. The sooner you learn your place in this new dynasty, the better off you will be.”
Before Kiko Sigyn could rebut, she was teleported out of the court chamber. Once she was gone, the Chancellor turned back to the panel of judges. “If she disrupts our work just one more time, I will have her bound up in The Springs, adjacent to her husband, Loki. If we’re not careful, her ignorant actions will usher in the ‘Fimbulwinter’ prophesized by the ancient Nordic Oracle, a precursor to the end of Earth’s current age. Please keep in mind that Loki once tried to ignite Ragnarök – the ‘twilight of the gods,’ if you will. He believed that by killing the other deities, he could achieve supreme rule over the mortals. It’s best we scrutinize the actions of his wife.”
October… Unknown day, unknown time
She could hear the dripping of water. There was something cold and wet, trickling on her forehead. Beneath her, something flat, painfully solid. Concrete? The last thing she could remember was the goon squad knocking her out while snooping through the bushes outside of Aris Falcon's mansion. Now everything was dark.
Her fingertips twitched. She moved her head away from the drizzle, and felt the breath spill out of her, painfully, as though someone had put a heavy box on her chest. She felt soggy and filthy everywhere; her stuffy nose ached. Lucidity crept back.
She was wet, cold, her panties were soggy and her hair and skin felt smarmy and in need of a shower. Her chest hurt like hell and she could feel her back muscles starting to spasm. She flinched and tried to calm herself with meditation, the way her father taught her, but she couldn’t focus.
Topaz Parker licked her lips, unable to dispel the cottonmouth taste on her tongue. "Fishpaste, ugh," she muttered softly. She urged herself to open her eyes, blinking rapidly. Black swirls of confusion, and pain swam around her head; the ebony covered her field of vision. Rubbing her eyes, she pondered, 'Am I blind?' She scolded herself for being stupid at such a thought. Her eyes continued to adjust as her head cleared - she noticed a measure of brightness nearby.
Topaz turned her head to the side, cheek resting on the freezing ground. She narrowed her eyes at the place that had caught her attention. There was a tiny shaft of light cutting through the shadows, which retired on the floor. Topaz's eyes quickly danced around the room, searching for the source, squinting in attempt to focus. A small pinhole, maybe a half-an-inch or so in diameter, filtered into the room from the middle of the far wall. A boarded window, perhaps? She couldn't tell.
'Should I call for help?' She carefully weighed her options, knowing there were very few to pick from. She was trying to steady her breathing, to keep from falling victim to the fear that threatened to explode in her chest. 'Stay calm,' she thought.
One of her sources told her that Rick Peterson had been bragging about killing Nichole Parker and that he also had Fox. Looking back on it, she began to realize that she’d fallen into a trap. Topaz sighed softly; she didn't want to die the way her Aunt Nichole was rumored to have been killed.
Parker scolded herself. Control. 'Composure; I'm a self-trained emotion-hardened soldier.' Not really, but she had her moments and right now was one of them. No time for games or fear. Topaz knew that being calm and serious would keep her alive. She had to be a soldier. She damned herself to act like one, assess her options, and keep her mind and body sharp. She didn't want to overlook anything.
Topaz swallowed, lifted her hand above her face in the darkness, and swung it around. She found nothing but air, groping through the void fruitlessly. 'As long as I'm not in danger of rearranging my face on something, it should be safe for me to sit up,' which was easier thought than done.
She fought the urge to groan, still unable to decide if she was completely alone. She didn't feel like attracting any attention to herself; she knew the lack of sensory information made her extremely vulnerable. Parker clamped down on her bottom lip, braced her palms on the gritty floor then slowly pushed herself upwards. White-hot pain seared through her chest.
Topaz eased up into a sitting position. Allowing a moment to rock back and forth, she steadied her breathing and ground her teeth in a struggle to gain her composure. She clenched her eyes shut with tears forming at the corners. The pain quickly subsided to a bearable dull ache. Parker ran a hand through her tangled mass of clumpy bangs, grimacing at the clamminess of them. 'I will not cry, I will not cry...'
She blinked a few times. Her eyes roamed around the room again. The sheer opacity of the darkness gave her no clues as to the particulars of her surroundings. She sat for several minutes, uncomfortable and sore, weighing her options; she tried not to breathe too deeply. The young woman shook her head and focused her inner resolve, then she frowned. 'Ah screw it.'
She took a deep breath then simply asked, "Hello? Anyone there?"
Topaz strained her ears, tense and waiting for anything other than the silence pressing on her. Her shoulders slumped, and she huffed aloud. It was worth a try. What next? She could always try t-
She blinked at the sound of a masculine reply. "Hello? Who's there?" She licked her lips as if licking the apprehension away. Whoever the boy was, his voice sounded... well... teenaged. Parker willed herself to buck up and take control of the situation. "Who are you?"
...The curious boy wasn't alone after all. Vincent blinked, not even sure he had heard it. A girl's voice, from somewhere close by, possibly even in the same room. The boy held his breath, not sure whether or not he wanted to reply. He'd been used to his own company for some time now, although for how long he didn't know and the desire to know more about his situation began to fester inside of him. He thought he'd heard breathing earlier but had shrugged off the notion up until this point, and now his previous suspicions were confirmed.
In reply to her inquiry, a single word was all he could afford. "...Hey," Vincent started. He winced at how his voice cracked; how young and tiny it sounded. Beautiful first impression to be sure. He swallowed, trying again. "Who's there?"
"I asked you first." It was definitely a female's voice - cool, authoritative. Sexy... Vincent tried not to blush, although it wouldn't have mattered here in the darkness. He heard a momentary hesitation, a rustle of body and clothing and a wet sound, as though someone had tossed a soaking blanket on the floor.
"I... my name is Vincent. And you are...?" He kept control of his voice this time, so as not to embarrass himself with the crackling tones of his youthfulness again.
Another momentary hesitation from her. He wondered if she was sizing him up, or possibly assessing him for any kind of threat. After a moment, she said, "Topaz Parker."
To her reply, Vincent could only blink and offer a moment for his brain to catch up. He'd heard that name before. Vincent wanted to ask to be sure, and finally, he did. "Related to Jon Con Parker?"
Her reply, having been asked this question a thousand times for verification, came out quiet and hinted at her annoyance. "…Yeah. My father."
Vincent swallowed. He felt hope swell inside of him for the first time since he'd woken up, cold and lonely in the dark. "I'm Reno's brother. He was your Aunt Nichole's fiancé, I believe. I'm also a junior mechanic for the Honda dealership just off of 82," he said. “Before I came here, I was in a car accident. I flipped my Civic in the rain on El Camino Real, near the Bank of American building. I kept thinking… I’m surrounded by cemeteries. I hydroplaned through that intersection and flipped.”
His stomach dropped with the realization that his useless information came out before he could think of anything better to say. 'Bet she's real impressed with that, Vincent. Maybe if she could see you, she'd be stripping naked and throwing herself on you by now... just... shut up,' he thought to himself. His reverie of self-deprecation ended when the woman spoke again.
“I know the dealership. Across from the cemetery on Serramonte. The intersection where you wrecked has the Wendy’s on the corner.” For some reason, the fact that she confirmed what he said somehow made him feel better. Parker cleared her throat then asked, him, “So, where are we? What the hell is this place?"
"I ... I don't know, I mean... I just woke up here. I was making my rounds in the bay, cleaning up kinda late and, after I left, I got into the car accident but everything is fuzzy. I remember being angry about the driver that ran me off the road. I don't know. All I do know is... er, nothing, really." 'Brilliant,' he thought with a sigh of defeat.
There was another shuffling sound, and Vincent guessed she must've shifted her position. He changed his own posture, pulling his legs out from underneath him. They were getting stiff, but during his short conversation with Topaz so far, he hadn't paid much attention until now. He pressed his fingertips against the pavement, cracking his knuckles, then he fidgeted again, hoping he didn't sound too stupid. Or at the very least, too scared.
There were more shuffling sounds; the soft squish of wet shoes. Vincent listened for a moment, holding his breath. "What're you doing?" he asked in a soft tone.
"Looking for a light switch," she snapped.
Vincent stood up and turned around. He stretched his hands out in front of himself, groping about the hard surface of the closet wall. With care, he stepped and felt his way out of the doorless closet. The teenaged boy rubbed his palms up and down the wall, trying to help her search for a switch. Finally his fingertips brushed across something and he pushed upwards on the hardened nub in the wall. Illumination.
"Yahtzee!" he hissed in victory. As soon as his fingers touched the switch and flicked it up, he immediately regretted it, squeezing his eyes shut. Water drops formed at the corner of his eyes and the boy blinked rapidly to dispel them. Vincent grew accustomed to the dramatic change in lighting; he squinted for a moment until he became able to force his eyes open fully. He turned around, feeling the air leave his lungs... 'Whoa.'
Long legs. Shapely hips with an hourglass waist - a toned and well curved figure stood across from him. Tawny, black spotted dye in her hair; it made her resemble a lynx or some sort of predatory cat. She had a single gold ring in one of her ears. Sharp, aristocratic features. 'Me-yow.' Vincent swallowed. His eyes and heart, as well as anything south of both, were pleased.
She responded by rubbing her eyes with a soft grunt of displeasure. She looked back at him, taking in his thin physique, brownish bangs. She shrugged at him, her milk shock wearing off into amusement. “You’re like… what? Five years younger than me? And probably completely helpless.”
Vincent didn’t say anything. His eyes continued to drink in her figure. Topaz politely ignored the fact he was staring. She examined herself for visible injuries then turned back to him and asked, “You good?”
“Oh, uh… sure. No worse for the wear… whatever that even means.” He realized he was staring and looked away. Vincent occupied his mind by looking around the rather unremarkable room. Dirty off-white tiles, most of which were spider-webbed with cracks. They showed grotesquely gray concrete patches in several spots. The tiling simply stopped halfway across the room, as though someone had forgotten to finish the job. The ceiling appeared in worse shape, with rafters and insulation fluff poking through rotting panels. There was a large broken pipe running along the ceiling, the source of her unfortunate soaking.
Vincent approached a door at the far end, opposite of an empty closet. He tried the knob then butted his thin shoulder against the wood with a grunt. He tried again, throwing his weight into it.
The way he sagged afterwards told Topaz that it wasn’t going to budge. The look on his face when he turned around and shrugged confirmed her suspicions.
She gave a tug on the loop in her left ear. Topaz looked around then sized up Vincent again and motioned for him to move.
Vincent frowned, looking slightly affronted. He nodded with a frown and stepped back.
Topaz braced herself, swallowed back the nausea welling up within her, then planted a sharp high kick against the door, only to find herself teetering back. The door held its ground.
Vincent, trying to be a gentleman, reached out to steady her but she shrugged him off. He bit the far left corner of his bottom lip.
“Don’t do that,” she scolded. “You look like you have fucking Polio when you bite your lip like that.” She squeezed her eyes shut and pinched the bridge of her nose to try and ignore the pounding of her skull. She wanted to apologize but sighed instead. “The door is made of wood but there must be a steel reinforcement beneath. I need to get out of here and find my brother before something happens to him.”
Parker’s eyes shot open, head snapping up. She strained to hear, placing the side of her head to the door. She mouthed the words, “voices,” to Vincent. The sound came closer. “Turn off the lights,” she snapped then began scavenging the room for any heavy object that could be used as a weapon.
“Huh?” Vincent watched her rummage. She pulled out a broken two-by-four, which must’ve been part of the rafter at one time. Vincent promptly started looking for something, not wanting to feel useless.
She hissed about the lights again. He blinked, now hearing the voices on the other side of the door. He flipped the light switch while she got into position near the door. Vincent held his breath.
The first man stopped just outside the door. His words were muffled but discernible. "I hope the girl is still alive. It might be fun later, y'know, to put her in the pit with that creature thing."
"Yeah, but keep alert. You know the boss is on his way back from the airport and he’s pissed off that one guy escaped the other day. Plus he somehow took out fifteen of our guys. Now we don't have enough people to maintain a full security detail for the compound," the other said.
"Yeah, that's why we're gonna feed these two to the creature. Monroe says she can get what she needs from blood samples she's already taken. These two are now disposable. I wanna see a show. Sick, yeah, I know. But I'm easily amused," said the first, jiggling the lock until the tumbler clicked out of the doorframe.
He swung the door open just as he was finishing up his sentence, the other guy on his heels. He was about to remark on something else when pain exploded across his face.
Vincent was in motion as soon as he heard the board splinter against someone's head with a sickening wet crack. He felt the other guard almost upon him as he went for the switch. The young boy swung out a leg and tripped him just as the gritty lights buzzed back on. The second man's eyes widened, caught off guard. He called out, unable to stop his fall. The man's head thumped on the concrete.
The man was dressed like a bouncer, and wasn't fully unconscious. He moaned softly as he struggled to move, writhing piteously in an attempt to get his wits about himself. He was, at the very least, incapacitated. Vincent decided to leave it at that. The idea of killing someone, big mean jerk or otherwise, made the boy's stomach turn.
The guy near Topaz wasn't as fortunate. Vincent swallowed in disgust as he witnessed a pool of scarlet slowly spread from the man's face. He watched as Topaz hefted the heavy body over. She looked up at him briefly then began rifling through the body's pockets and holster. She pulled out a handgun… a nine-millimeter. She snorted, "What kind of pussy gun is THIS." She pocketed two clips then ejected the cartridge in the gun and counted the bullets.
Vincent stooped down over his own semiconscious captor, inspecting him much the same as Topaz had done to the other body. He pulled out a Beretta, the same model his cell mate was now handling. He was surprised at the weight of it in his palm at first; he'd never owned a gun. "I used a rifle once when hunting with my dad, but I was really young," he told her. He thought back on the failed hunting expedition, which is part of the reason he was afraid of guns in the first place. Vincent watched out the corner of his eye. He mimicked Topaz's movements, tucking the gun in his pants, the extra ammo clips in his pockets, and then stood up.
Topaz stomped on the head of the second man. He became still. She withdrew her weapon and peered out into the hallway, gun half-raised. The thief lowered her weapon and relaxed her posture. Without looking back at him, she stepped into the hall and said, "Engage the safety on your gun, else you're liable to blow your dick off, kid."
Vincent shrugged with a shake of his head, reached down and thumbed the safety, like he'd seen on movies a dozen times. He nodded and fell in step behind her. 'By all means… ladies first.'
October 8th, midday, local time… (same day)
Karla Howard adjusted the brim of her fancy white hat. She felt the eyes of the villagers on her but ignored them. She cut her gaze to a coffee shop with boards up over the windows. The sign appeared sun bleached with age. "Doesn't anyone in this town have something caffeinated?" she grumbled to herself then fumbled in her purse until finding her cell.
The succubus jerked her head a bit, tossing blond locks over her shoulder. She put the transparent phone to her ear and waited. After a moment, she said, "Lance! How ya' doin' babe? What’re you up to?" She paused then said, "I thought P vs NP was unsolvable? Why waste your time?" She shifted the phone to her other ear then said, "Forget P vs NP, math is geeky when you talk about it. It's cute when I talk about it, though.”
“Is that so?” he asked over the line.
"Allow me to explain," Karla continued, adding, "The problem I want solved is CB vs CWC. That is, Coffee Black is Equal, Not Equal, or Approximately Equal to Coffee With Cream. ...So if we forgo the 'Equal' and just add real sugar, does it solve itself?" She smiled at her joke then put her free index finger in her ear to hear the phone better and said, "Yes, I know I'm cute, math boy. Listen, hon, I'm almost to Jo'Burg; who am I looking for?"
With a shrug to adjust the strap of her purse, Karla listened for a moment then said, "Their name is Patience? Okay, can you text me the address? ...Okay, great. Thanks, babe. I'm gunna let you go. I'll call you when I'm leaving Africa." Another pause, then she said, “Jon Parker? Oh, yeah, I took Fox home. He said he has some sort of safe house. He sent Fox, Fara and the baby there. He also said Topaz has now gone missing. He’s going to start looking for her. Oh, and he gave me a huge chunk of change. So when I get home, I’m going yacht shopping. Okay, hon, I gotta jet!” Karla drew the phone from her cheek to look at the time, which caused the phone to automatically switch to speakerphone mode.
Lance's voice came from a small speaker at the bottom. "Call me when you arrive so I can give you further instructions. Remember, I still have a list of things for you to accomplish. Did you have a headache on the plane again?”
“Yeah. And another daydream. I don’t remember much about it, except that the plane crashed. Let’s hope I’m not a pre-cog. Ah well.”
“Karla, I’m sorry. After this, I’ll try and keep you away from planes for a while. When you get back to San Francisco, swing by on your way home; I'll even get you some box wine."
Karla smirked. "I'm thinking 'Cardboardaux' is the classy term you meant to use."
"Don't back talk me, woman," he replied with a chuckle. "Remember your place: I'm the man and you are the 'skirt.' Got it?"
The blond brought her free hand to her lips and took a deep breath to control the urge to laugh. Then, with a grin, she said, "And you may wear the pants, Lance, but I control the zipper."
"Touché. Fine, you win… as always."
"As always," repeated the young woman. "Gotta go, babe." Without further warning, she thumbed the red icon on her phone's screen, disconnecting the call, then preened for the men watching her around the village. Karla slipped her hand into her purse, released her phone and withdrew her wallet. She walked with a prance, sashaying her hips in a rhythmic cadence. Her lengthy blond hair bounced in a counter-measure. Karla approached a dirty window built into the first floor of a dingy building. "I need a taxi to the Central Business District of Johannesburg."
The man held up an index finger then walked out of the small box office. A moment later, another man took the place of the first and, in heavily accented English, asked, "Where are you going, Miss American lady?"
"Miss American lady, huh? I'm going to the Central Business District of Johannesburg." She held up a credit card then added, "I tip well." She passed it through the rusting metal bars then waited, adding, "Don't let my Americanized accent fool you, I'm classier than that – I was born in Wales."
"You're English?" he replied with an incredulous look.
"No, Wales. Less beef, more teeth. Well, sort of. I was born in Cardiff."
"But… you are too pretty to be British."
"Oh, well then," Karla faked looking charmed by his comment. "Actually, I know some real hotties in England. But you’re right, I’m not of English descent, per say. My father was born in the boonies of Sweden, which is now present day Finland. That's where I got my blond hair from. My mother is from Spain. Anyhow, I do my tipping in cash."
The man processed the payment then handed it back to her, "You are lucky, madam. The credit card machine was fixed only yesterday. Before then, it had been out for several months. You have good timing." He passed a receipt and the card back through the bars to her. "I know someone who, for a fee, could protect you, Miss," his eyes glanced down to the CRT screen's blurry display, then he added, "...Howard. It is not safe for you to walk around town alone, let alone travel."
Karla offered a polite smile. "I can protect myself." She put the credit card and wrinkled thermal paper receipt into her purse then shouldered it. The handbag matched her white petticoat, elegant business pants, shoes and designer shirt.
"You must understand, it's not safe for a female to be alone, Miss Howard. Please, allow me to call him for you. I insist."
She held up her left palm. "No, sweetness. It's not necessary. I know the statistic for this country. One-in-three women raped a year. I would be more worried about anyone that approaches me. I can handle myself." She adjusted her white-tinted sunshades. "Where do I meet the taxi?"
"I, uhm, have a driver coming back to dispatch now. He's fifteen minutes away and will meet you at the circle on the backside of this building, facing the church. I suggest you wait at the church. The missionaries there will keep you safe until the taxi arrives. Please. We cannot be held responsible for your health but we can tell you where it's safer to wait."
Karla smiled. She hooked a thumb over her shoulder. "Not a fan of churches. How many men are staring at me right now?"
The man leaned upwards, glancing behind her. "Too many to count. You draw attention with your clothes and hair, Miss Howard. Many villagers are not used to seeing a white woman like yourself unless it's in a magazine."
The demoness offered a Cheshire grin. "Oh, honey, those girls are airbrushed. I'm the real thing." She blew him a kiss and walked away, then turned into an alley between two buildings. She could hear the church bell up ahead. "How quaint." She approached the end of the ally and stopped at the corner of the building. Karla glanced up at the pale white church across the paved circle that was between the two buildings. At the center of the circle was a parking lot with two semi-nice sedans, a rusty Land Rover and a recently-painted church bus.
She licked her lips and murmured softly, "God help anyone who approaches me, here. On second thought, God, if you can hear me, send some of those guys my way." She pressed her fingers together but none of her knuckles replied. "I'm itching for a good brawl."
"Excuse me, ma'am, to whom are you speaking?"
"Jesus!" she replied, startled. Karla glanced over her shoulder at an African man with a plain black t-shirt and camo-shorts. His sandals appeared to be handmade but of good quality.
"Oh, you should not speak His name in such a tone, especially so close to a church. It is neither tasteful nor appropriate. Are you lost? Forgive me but you don't appear to belong in this town."
"Just passing through," she replied. "And, sorry, I'm not in the J.C. fan club at this time, dear. Besides, according to Lance, His name was actually Y’shua-bar-Yosef. Anyway, I'm told the taxi will meet me in the traffic circle. You know, you speak English fairly well – better than the guy who works for the dispatch office."
"I lived in New York for ten years. Go Yankees. Just the same, even if you do not believe in Jesus, you should respect His teachings; He was a very wise man. And the English translation of his name comes from Greek-written scriptures, I?????," he said, pronouncing the word, ‘ee-ay-soos.’ “Both versions are closer to Joshua than not. But He transcends names. Yahweh, The Christ. The Messiah who died for our sins.”
She chuckled softly. "Nice. I live in San Leandro. Go Athletics. I know what you'll say; they haven't been a winning team since Tony's line up back in the 90's. Still – as the song goes, root, root, root for the home team. Right?" A grin tugged at the corner of her pink-painted lips. "And, don't get me wrong, I know there's a God, but I'm not yet fully convinced about His son."
“Athletics of the 90’s were tainted with the cloud of steroids. You should best hope He gave His life for our sins, for if it wasn’t true, we would still have to give up sacrifices to God for our Original Sin, as practiced by Cain and Abel. And sacrifice hasn’t been practiced in a long time. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that…”
Karla groaned. “Yankees suck.” She took a deep breath, as if to suggest that she was about to speak a large run-on sentence. "I don't believe in a Jewish cosmic zombie that can make you live forever if you symbolically eat His flesh and telepathically tell Him that you accept Him as your master, so He can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity 'cause a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree." She paused for effect, then said, "I think the story of ‘Joe’s kid Josh’ was just one big metaphor." She drew in another breath, calmer than the last one, then, all at once, she grinned.
He said nothing. Karla folded her arms, in a playful mood, and decided to take it to the next level. “What if the Muslims are right? What if Jesus didn’t die on the cross and, instead, he ascended into Heaven, only to come back before the end of days? Or what if the Jews are right, and today is the 22nd of Tishrei of 5784, Anno Mundi? Huh? Then what? Would that mean Heaven is an empty place right now in your eyes? I can argue all day and night about this.”
The man stared at her for a moment, offered a polite smile, and then walked past her. "Go Yankees." He crossed the street, approached the church then knelt down to the left of the steps and began pulling weeds from a flowerbed that ran alongside the white building.
Karla brought her palm up to her forehead with a groan. “Of course.”
A taxi rolled up in the paved circle. She stepped away from the mouth of the alley and approached. The driver hurried around to the rear passenger door and opened it for her. "Hello, hello! Going to Johannesburg yes?"
She stepped into the taxi with a nod. "Yes, thank you."
The driver hurried back around to the other side of the car, slipped in and put the car into gear. "How is your day?"
"Well, other than accidentally insulting the church gardener, of all people, it's been an interesting day so far."
"Please, uh, slowly. My English, it's not… very well."
"Cool," she muttered softly, then, in a sarcastic tone, added, "Go Yankees."
"Oh! Yes! Yankees! New York City! Very good winning team!"
Karla removed her hat with a semi-amused sigh. "…Right." She placed it besides her on the bench seat and un-shouldered her purse. "Central Business District. Where the big buildings are at."
"Yes, yes, I know the Business District. Many tall buildings – very nice, very clean. People there have very nice shoes." He leaned forward and thumbed the screen of a shiny new Tom-Tom sitting above the dashboard. "Three hour drive. Scenic route – main road goes straight through wildfires. Sorry."
She leaned back in the aged vinyl and nodded with a sigh. "Okay, fine, three hour detour it is." Karla closed her eyes. The small fox slinked up from her handbag, resting his head on her knee. She sighed softly and sifted her fingernails through the fur between his ears. She whispered, “At least I can’t offend you, Kuda.”
October 7th, unknown hour
Somewhere beneath San Francisco
Vincent followed her without incident for ten minutes. He decided he was rather pleased they'd not seen anyone else. The building, in disarray, had old speaker cabinets sitting in the hallway. "Was this a night club once?"
"Back," Topaz commanded. She held out a hand, forcing Vincent to stop. The boy sighed, breath pushing his wispy bangs up. He shifted his weight to one leg, pressed his knuckles into his hip and frowned. She said nothing. He waited for the woman to investigate whatever it was that she had become interested in. He studied her for a moment, her face tense like an animal trying to locate dinner.
He'd been unable to form a complete opinion of her; she was interchangeably condescending and affable, and very standoffish more often than not. She had an incredible knack for making him feel uncomfortable and stupid, yet for some reason that he couldn't define or didn't want too, he felt inexorably drawn to her. He scolded himself for being stupid about his hormones. Then again, she came to his rescue in a manner of speaking. 'Well, I've always had a thing for the hero babes.'
Wanting to feel helpful, he broke the silence and told her, "I might only be a mechanic, but even geeky guys like me had to learn basic fist fighting abilities in high school." His words received no reply. He licked his lips and continued. "It wasn't anything more than your average white suburban high school but c'mon, it wasn't so far away from LA that we didn't have our own number of Mexican and Black kids with cliques and groups." He brought his palm to his forehead. 'Dammit, now she's gunna think I'm some sort of racist.' He cleared his throat then added, "What I mean is... I had to learn how to throw a punch or two; boys will be boys, right?"
"Good." Topaz continued forward again.
Vincent quickly followed, trying to fall into step next to her. "So," he asked, lamely grasping for anything that might connect the two of them. "What's it like being related to Jon Parker?"
"Just... relax, kid. You're doing good so far. You're a big help, okay?"
She didn't reply. Once more, they fell back into searching the area for clear routes and supplies.
Another ten minutes passed. He wanted something, anything he could use for conversation. To him, the silence seemed more of a threat than the guards or the apparent thugs that were doing the construction and renovation to this dump. "You never answered my question about your dad. Didn't he even play professional football at one point? Made MVP his rookie year, right? What's it like living with a celebrity?"
"The same as being related to anyone with money, I imagine. I really don't connect with him… or rather he doesn't connect with me. He doesn't understand me." Her reply was cold and uncaring. "Maybe I just don't like the woman he chose to fill my mother's shoes. He's just another philanthropist who doesn't know what to do with his midlife or money. He thinks I'm still a kid. His idea of a reward is an ice cream cone when I'm dealing with an emotional issue, like having just had a gun to my head then killing three people." She saw his eyes widen. Topaz frowned and added, "I, uh, meant that to be an overly dramatic metaphor, kid." She sighed, thinking back to the night she last saw her brother, outside the museum.
"But, I mean. ...isn't it great to be the daughter of... to... be around Jon Parker Junior? I mean, isn't your family rich? I think he's rich, right?"
The boy swallowed a panicky feeling as their conversation steered towards an iceberg. He decided to give their dialogue one last shot for an attempt at redemption. "What about the fame that comes with having money? Don't you get treated well by others and invited to cool parties and stuff?"
He knew the ship was sinking when Topaz grunted yet another monosyllabic response, "Sure." Anything he thought to salvage with his inquiry became a total loss at this point.
The boy tilted his head. "I have faith; maybe your dad will come around. If anyone can do it, it's Jon Parker, right? I mean, he even played for the Oakland Raiders for two years and set three records in that short time. Then he made a huge donation to..."
"Whatever," was Topaz's terse reply, not looking back as she rounded a corner. Vincent blinked, taken aback.
Again, he scolded himself in silence, 'Score none for you. You suck at life. ...thanks'. Scratching the back of his head, he sighed again, following her. He shook his head, thinking to himself, 'When a girl says "whatever" she really means she hopes you get shot, fall off a bridge, raped by a shark and then eaten by it.' He rubbed the nape of his neck with a sweaty palm then, once more, sighed in defeat.
They began walking in total silence.
'Knees from behind.'
The thought flashed through Parker’s mind in a second; she reacted before it had passed completely. Topaz balanced herself, shifting her weight, and kicked low. Her foot struck above the man's calf.
The overgrown worker breathed a hiss of surprise and dropped to his knees. Not faltering, Topaz clubbed the guard on the side of his face with the gun, hard. She grit her teeth in the follow through. The man pivoted, arms flailing, and blood spurted from a popped eyeball. The body dropped to the concrete with a heavy whump, and Topaz exhaled.
"Don't ever hesitate," she told Vincent, matter-of-factly, as if that was all the justification she needed for killing someone. She stepped over three more motionless bodies, continuing down the hall, back straight, shoulders set. Vincent blinked, looking down at the corpse of the man that nearly kicked his ass. His youthful, naive eyes went wide in response to a leg twitch - a post-mortem muscle spasm. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, the boy quickly moved away to catch up with Topaz.
"Jesus, how did you make his eye come out like that? I've never seen anyone do karate the way you do, let alone anyone smack people's eyes out with a gun. I won't lie – you scare the shit out of me." He waited to see if she would reply but she didn't. He glanced back at the body once more then ground his teeth together in frustration.
They reached the end of the corridor. Neither one spoke. Topaz stepped ahead of Vincent again; she rounded the corner first, gun loosely raised. The hall was empty with a metallic door at the end. They jogged towards it.
Within was an elevator and a wrought iron gate, black with age, set into a concrete wall. Topaz reached for a small button on the left. She paused then glanced about herself, furtively. She loosely aimed her nine-millimeter towards the humming door. Surprisingly, it came up obediently without any pissed off occupants. Vincent and Topaz exchanged glances.
"Going down?" Vincent joked lightly. He drew his lower lip between his teeth and blushed furiously when he realized the double meaning of his words.
She gave him a stern look and he released his lip from his teeth.
It was a slow moving trip, giving them a moment to catch their breaths. "What's your ammo like?" she asked.
Vincent retrieved the gun from his pants, fumbled through ejecting the clip and counted the bullets. "Um, seventeen."
"Let me see," Topaz held out her hand, palm up.
The look on Vincent’s face said it all: Her condescending attitude towards him was quite unnecessary and offended the hell out of him.
He handed over his weapon, if only to placate her.
She took the weapon from him with a nod and tucked it in her vest. "Good. Thanks. You're staying here."
Vincent, who had previously been inspecting his shoes and mentally berating himself, shot his head up at her. He blinked.
Her lips were set in a grim line, arms now folded against her chest. She was absolutely serious.
"What? I don't-" He was cut off. Interrupted.
"You're not experienced in this sort of thing; it's going to get more dangerous from here, and you'll most likely only get in the way." Her words cut. They hurt. Vincent curled his lips, agitated. He was pretty sure he'd proved his worth by now, and although it was true he wasn't experienced, he wasn't an invalid. He felt he was quite capable of taking care of himself. He was beginning to get tired of her demented head games; she was alternately hot and cold, often leaving Vincent wondering what the hell he'd done wrong.
"Listen, Miss Parker, you're going to need back up, you know that. I'm all you've got, so we might as well get along, I-"
Topaz cut him off again, raising a hand. "Please, just stay here, I can come back for you when it's safe. We've cleared the entire upper floor, so please stay in the elevator. You need to listen to me; it's for your own good. And don’t call me ‘miss.’ I’m not that old yet. Now stay quiet."
Vincent swallowed, suppressing a growl and trying his best to stay calm. The hair on the nape of his neck was beginning to bristle up. It always upset him when he got so easily riled; he prided himself on being calm and collected, even if he didn't always exactly know what he was doing all of the time.
"Look at you, exhausted and running around scowling with a gun. Unless you somehow find this fun, I'm feeling lied to by Cyndi Lauper. If you'd just let me help, we could get out of here a lot faster. That sounds a whole lot more 'fun' to me, right?"
Topaz was getting irritated, hoping to drop Vincent's dead weight and mush on ahead to find them a way out as soon as possible. The kid was persistent, she'd give him that much.
He opened his mouth to protest again and Topaz shook her head with a sigh. Her patience was wearing thin, far too quickly. "Do you like fucking girls on the rag?" she asked out of the blue.
The question was so vulgar, bizarre and out of place that it stopped Vincent in his tracks. Before he could fully comprehend, Topaz was moving away from him. She stepped out of the elevator. He wanted to say something he thought might break the tension - maybe something clever in his own mind or perhaps something punny, like, 'You're so unusual time after time,' based off his Lauper joke but the words didn't come out.
Vincent found himself cut off by the elevator's iron gating. “Wait!” He glowered in frustration as the elevator began moving up into the darkness above. He tried to call her name, and found his voice had left him again. Shocked out of breath, the elevator continued to climb. He was alone. Again.
Topaz focused herself and paced her breathing pattern. She moved swiftly, careful to muffle her footfalls; face tense, jaw stiff. Her eyes lifted to a faded map attached to the wall directly ahead of her - 'underground dance-plex 1&2 right. Exit and loading dock on left' -- but the sound of people talking and boots scuffling came from the right.
Renovation crew or not, she had to find Fox. Also, Topaz wanted to be sure her escape route was clear before going back for Vincent. With a wistful sigh, she turned right, away from the loading dock – away from the exit.
The light form a recessed room flooded the path a little ways up the corridor, which was most likely cluttered with troops or guards. She could hear them conversing, laughing, and whatever else. Topaz sighed in frustration. She clenched her molars and silently mouthed the word, "Please," tiredly grasping onto the hope that maybe, just maybe, it was a rescue crew of police. As if. 'Yeah, right,' she thought to herself, 'And maybe they're all big breasted cop chicks with fuzzy handcuffs.' As if.
She smiled slightly at the mental image then pushed back damp bangs and drew in a series of relaxing breaths. Topaz licked her lips, able to smell food. ‘That lunch is going to be your last meal, boys.’
She knew that the guards, thugs, construction workers – whoever the hell they were – wouldn't give her much time to make a run for it. She also knew she'd have to be quick and flawless lest she wind up smeared across the far wall. Topaz clicked the safety off both the weapons, tensing her muscles.
Parker glanced around herself, taking in her surroundings in case there was another option. The corridor continued forward, up to an open rolling door at the far end. Adjacent to the metal rolling door was what appeared to be an office – some sort of laboratory was beyond the overhead door.
She heard the dispensation sound of a soda machine coming from the recessed room halfway up the hall, on the left. Topaz strained her ears. The room was full of goons, socializing about guns, broads and sports. Their loud voices allowed her to guesstimate the number of men having lunch in the doorless side room. “Apparently the Oakland Raiders had a decent pre-season,” said one of them.
She sucked in a breath... It was 'go time.' Topaz sprinted up the hallway, running with silent footfalls. In that moment, things around her seemed to decrease in their natural pace. Everything felt calm, slow… as though she had enough time to gaze down the barrels, line up the small targeting reticules, and fire.
It was strange and surreal if only for a moment. She could even tell that none of the guards registered her presence yet. Her left and right knees bent slightly, readying herself for a momentary dive, telegraphing her moves to an audience who didn't yet know she was there.
The twin pistols bucked in her palms as quickly as her fingers could squeeze the triggers. She sailed through the air at an angle, handguns bucking in her palms.
Time exploded forward at a normal rate
Her shoulder slammed on the concrete. Topaz grunted, and, in one smooth motion, she rolled out of the return gunfire.
Topaz was up in an instant, pressed against the wall, trying to ignore the fading throb of pain from her unceremonious landing. She gritted her teeth and ejected both clips. With a curled upper lip, Parker moved her hands like a trained expert; she slapped two fresh magazines home. They clicked into place and the pistol slides popped forward with a satisfying 'Ka-chunk!'
She wiped the back of her left hand across her forehead, breathing heavily, her vest sticking to her sweaty shirt. Her eyes blinked shut - Topaz waited for a chance; a split second interval in the rapid explosions of gunfire that came from the side room. She only needed enough time for one clear shot.
Enemy rounds sprayed the hallway floor, ceiling and facing wall. The noise created a ringing sound in her ears. 'When I get out of this, I'm taking a nice, long ... hot... bath. And having some wine. And while we're at it, a bunch of those dancing bachelorette party girls. Calgon, take me away.'
Topaz smiled inwardly at the new mental image. It was better than the one of the cop babes with handcuffs. She listened to the screaming rounds of ammunition that turned the open doorway into a smokescreen of plaster dust and chipped concrete. Her eyes snapped open. Parker's body moved instinctively when she heard her chance.
The young woman dropped to one knee, her left arm wound around the wall, and she pressed the rest of her body against the painted cinder blocks for cover. Her face barely peered out in the open, peeking around the corner at her targets. She squeezed the trigger rapidly, hitting at least three thugs.
Her mind barely registered all the chaos; she fired until the slide on her gun popped back again. Topaz leaned away from the doorway and went for another clip. 'Does every guy who works at this dump have a gun?'
Too damn many of them and not enough ammo. It was time to get the hell out. Topaz heard commotion in the other hall; they were calling reinforcements most likely, which meant that she had to be elsewhere, now. She glanced up from her reloaded weapon then down to the end of the corridor. How big was this nightclub? And what the hell was a music venue doing below Aris Falcon's mansion - or was she even at the mansion anymore?
It was then that she realized they must have moved her after she was rendered unconscious. She remembered hearing that he had warehouses, but this didn't appear to be designed like one. And what about the strange old fashioned elevator? 'Where the hell am I?' she thought.
She approached a metallic shutter door, still open, up ahead. As she neared, it began to lower. Topaz took a breath and went for it, full run. Adrenaline poured into her system when she saw the shutter door near the floor. Paz quickly tried to judge the distance and increased the pace of her sprint.
Not wanting to chance it, she dove towards the door. With a groan of pain, she landed on her chest, sliding forward face first. Momentum carried her underneath the door just before it hit the concrete. Parker lay still for a moment, trying to catch her breath when the burble of rising bubbles in water caught her attention. Slowly, she looked up.
The dim room had only one source of illumination. A large stasis tube, reaching from the floor to the ceiling, was against the wall in front of her. Topaz's eyes glistened in the lighting of the LED's behind the container's pink nutrient bath. Her gaze fell upon a figure within the stasis tube.
Wires, like external veins, ran up the creature’s muscular, disfigured legs. Folds and ribbons of tattered flesh fluttered in the rising carbonation. Topaz swallowed back a pang of fear.
Her eyes lifted to a label above the creature's head; the lettering read, "Alpha, Alpha, zero, zero, one," in a large bold font. The monstrosity opened its eyes and glared back at Parker with a vivid ruby-eyed leer.
Topaz, caught up in the grotesque figure of the creature, held her breath to prevent hyperventilating. Her pupils constricted and her heart pounded at the base of her throat.
She stood up from the shadow cast by a high-backed chair between herself and the tube. Her instincts told her to get the hell out of there as fast as possible; curiosity implored that she stay. What if this was somehow her brother?
Topaz’s worries were set aside when she came to realize that the creature was female. She pondered running out of there through the little office door on the wall next to the metal rolling door. She glanced back at her means of escape.
Curiosity demanded answers.
Parker wiped her sweaty palms on her shorts, only to be reminded that she wore fingerless gloves. She continued to rub her palms against her thighs for another moment then she licked her lips. The sound of choked whimpers caught her attention. It took Topaz a moment to realize they came from the creature inside the tube. She slowly reached out, resting a palm on the back of the chair for a second, hesitating, her resolve failing. "H-hello?" she asked. Her voice faltered as she swung the high backed chair around, and then she-
-the image in front of her was so monstrous her mind could only feed it to her in pieces: Topaz glared at the chair for a moment then she pushed herself away. Bile started crawling up her throat. Parker collapsed to the floor. Rick Peterson. Rick Peterson.
But it was wrong… it was all wrong. He was propped up as though he should have been watching the creature, but his eyes were sewn shut with thread. His skin hung from his form in ragged, grayish clumps that resembled cracked leather. He somehow appeared long dead, and somebody had gone to great pains to position his cadaver in the chair, shoulders high and back, head positioned perfectly, and hands folded neatly in his lap.
She eased up onto her elbows, trembling from the adrenaline. 'Good god… He was bragging about the death of my aunt only recently… how long have I been a prisoner here? ' Her mind raced, still unable to comprehend the grisly end of her family’s arch-nemesis.
Topaz scuttled backwards on the floor, crab-like, trying to get as far away from Richard Peterson as possible. Her back hit something soft, and her head reflexively snapped upwards. Her body jerked, startled with wide eyes.
She attempted to scream. However, her voice failed her. ‘A joke, it's got to be a fricking joke.’ She found herself gazing up at the creature, dripping wet and fresh from the stasis tube.
The creature reached its right hand towards Topaz. The fingernails resembled bone-like daggers. Parker’s jaw dropped, and without thinking about it, she let out a scream of absolute terror. The ghoulish creature drew its arm back and took a swing…