Damsels in Distress
October 7th, late afternoon
J-burg, South Africa
“Don’t flirt with me, bitch! I bet yer just a hoe. You’re like the first slice in a loaf of bread. Everybody touches it but nobody wants it.” The man folded his arms, standing in the doorway of a somewhat tall apartment building. As Karla approached, the man backed his way into the lobby.
The right side of Karla’s upper lip curled in a snarl. She extended her palms, low and outwards, as though she were holding two invisible bowling balls at hip height. Her palms began to glow, making the carnation glyphs beneath her skin come to the surface.
“What… the hell?” The man lifted his eyes to Karla’s face, then lowered his gaze back to her glowing palms. “What’re them markings, hoe? You some sort of freak? I saw a bitch from India who could do weird shit like that. My buddy is part of a group that kills those freaks. You one of those bitches?”
“I’m not from India,” Karla murmured, “but I’d gladly show you proof that we’re still living in Kali Yuga.”
“I don’t speak no Indian language, bitch.”
“It means, ‘Year of the Demon.’” She thrust her hands forward, palms still up and outward. The man flew back through the far wall of the apartment building, through a utility section with washing machines and dryers, and back out the next wall. She could see through the semi-round holes, all the way outside. The offensive man became embedded in a tree that grew in a grassy courtyard behind the apartment complex.
Karla gave a tug of finality at the hem of her skirt. “Sim-sim sala’bim… ‘bitch.’” She took a deep breath then sighed and shook her head. She called back through the layered holes in the multiple walls. “You don’t even know me!” Her tone lowered, adding, “I was only flirting to be nice, because you were standing in my way!” She huffed with indignation and clenched her hands into fists. In a softer voice, she added, “That’s my way of handling stress. I flirt. God, he was mean.”
Karla looked down at her hands then back at the holes that went through each layer of walls. “That, uh… was oddly stronger than usual.”
She pursed her lips together, took another calming breath then walked over to a wall of mailboxes and found the one labeled ‘Ubysh.’ She peeled back the label. Beneath was a faded sticker reading, ‘4-C’.
The succubus glanced back through the hole in the rear wall again then sighed. “It’s only a matter of time, now, before that attracts someone’s attention. Dammit.” She headed for a nearby door marked ‘stairs.’ She teleported to the top of each flight then opened the door leading to the fourth floor.
Karla pulled out her cellphone and used a finger to push Kuda, the little fox, down into her handbag. “Stay put, mister.” She brought the phone to her ear and called Lance.
“Karla? Everything alright?” He asked over the line.
“Yeah. I’m here. I’m about to knock on this chick’s door. Also, I remembered Jon asked me to tell you something when I dropped Fox off at his place.”
She cleared her throat. “Well, yeah, so… he said to let you know he has some of the artifacts put aside. He said you’d know what that means.”
“I do, thank you. Did he say anything else?”
“Well, sorta. I mean, we had a conversation about some of the artifacts that guy put away. The Holy Prepuce, which he stole from Calcata in 1983. He has some hand-written sheet of gospel stuff that was used by Matthew and Luke to write parts of the Bible or some such. All sorts of weird things. He also said he has fifteen Tyrian shekel silver coince, and fifteen Antiochan stater coins. I actually think he’s talking about the money given to Judas Iscariot. None of those things sound like something you’d need. What do the artifacts do, anyhow?”
“Certain ones were melted down into other artifacts. All of them predate Christ. I buried the first one on purpose when Gobekli Tepe was covered in earth. The second one was inadvertently misplaced in Eridu. The third one was lost in Thira, during evacuation. It was excavated during an Akrotiri dig and stolen from a crate while sitting in Santorini. Most of the artifacts from the First Age were melted down and turned into something else, thus giving them meaning in other ways. The spear of Longinus, for example, was created from an artifact. It is therefore relevant. And missing.
“In fact, presumably all of the ones that we need to keep safe are now missing; I can only assume they have been found by Doctor Falcon. All except one, that is.”
“What is it?”
“A gold map-like plate, which wound up in LA over the summer. It is now in the possession of Fox and Topaz’s father. Jon Parker received a death threat recently. It said he has to hand over the artifact or suffer the death of his sister, Nichole.”
“Jesus! Seriously?!” the demoness exclaimed.
“Unfortunately, yes. I thought for sure he would have handed it over to get her back. But he didn’t. And because you didn’t find Nichole alive, I’m worried that the threat against Nichole has been carried out.
Furthermore, now with Falcon going after his children, I’m worried Jonathan might break.” He paused, over the phone, then in a softer tone, added, “I’m glad you retrieved Fox for him. But now his daughter is missing. If she doesn’t turn up by the time you get back, I want you to look for her. Also, now Nichole’s boyfriend, Reno, has reported to the police that his brother is missing. Falcon’s people are… getting very good at their job.”
“Alright. I’m at the Ubysh residence. I’ll check in soon. If I drop off the radar, I want you to send someone in to find me right away. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that prick dissect me or steal my powers… or whatever the rumors say he does to Esoteric Survivors.”
“Alright Karla. You have my word. I’ll put a backup plan in motion just in case you need help, alright?”
“Thank you, Lance. I appreciate that. I’ll see you soon.” She pulled the phone from the side of her face and thumbed the screen to disconnect the line.
She stopped in front of a door with a small square on the front. It had a ‘C’ stenciled into the placard. “Please don’t be an egomaniac,” Karla whispered aloud. She fixed her hair then knocked on the door.
Vincent bolted before the elevator hit the floor; he forced the doors open and jumped the last two feet, stumbling into a run. 'So stupid, she's so freaking full of herself.' He came to a fork in the corridors, and suddenly skidded to a halt at the sound of a girl's agonized cry.
He held his breath and listened. Another scream, followed by a heavy thumping sound, clued him in to take the fork away from the exit.
It took only a second's worth of hesitation for everything to sink in – he sprinting down the passageway towards the sound of Topaz, pumping his arms for speed. His heart pounded wildly in his chest and his palms grew sweaty.
He begged to the powers that be for her not to be dead, seeing all the bodies and blood in the hallway.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see several remaining survivors that were trying to flee the corridor but the boy couldn't understand why. He heard a scraping noise coming from further down the hall. His eyes locked onto a large metallic shutter at the end with an office on the left side of the wall.
The small office to the side looked as though it might circumvent the shutter but both doors appeared to be locked. He banged on the shutter, then kicked at the door besides it. Frustration began to take over, adrenaline flooded his system.
Topaz fell backwards, the wind knocked out of her. She opened her mouth to cry out but couldn't manage it with her back compressed against the shutter door. She grit her teeth, pain exploding within her torso.
Parker slid down the dented surface, head meeting the floor. She dropped onto her side and lay prone. Blood dribbled out of the corner of her mouth and shock clouded her mind. She stared at the floor tile and focused on drawing in a breath of fresh air; her thoughts a garbled mass rolling around inside her skull, like loose milk duds.
She heard a heavy thud, followed by another, then another. It came from the other side of the metallic shutter. Topaz brought her hand up and touched the golden hoop still in her ear. She blinked then glanced up at the creature, tromping around the room, working itself up into a frenzy.
The cacophony cleared and her mind focused. The only remaining noise resembled someone repeatedly slapping a wet torso against the cement. It took Topaz a few seconds to realize that the sounds were footsteps.
The back of a moist forearm met Topaz Parker's forehead. Everything became a muffled, dull, indistinct roar of sound. Black fuzz hazed over her vision, followed by the sensation of trying to see through a translucent piece of plastic, like Tupperware. A wave of nausea washed over her.
Topaz tried to think of something, anything that could help the cloudiness. 'Need… to get moving,' she told herself. Everything felt confusing; she knew she had to get as far away from that thing as she could, but she couldn't even manage her bearings.
The creature turned back towards Topaz then grew still as if studying prey.
The shutter was locked tight. He turned to the office door on the side and kicked it again. He teetered back then blinked in surprise: The office door swung partially ajar. Vincent hit the side-office door running. The office acted as a sort of observation room adjacent to the lab. He stood in front of a window, able to see Topaz. His mind raced –'I don't even have a weapon! What do I do - what if she's hurt - how many of these ape-sized goons can there be, what if- ...Oh My God.' He stopped. His heart stopped. His breath stopped. He stared, mind unable to comprehend what he was looking at. "What... the hell... is... that?"
'A monster?' It was tall, motionless and appeared dead. It stood still and, to Vincent, looked like a very large person who'd just taken the brunt blast of a fragmentation grenade.
The creature appeared to have been alive at one point, but the tattered flesh and lifeless gaze made him question how it could even stand up. The thing was too tall, too disfigured… an abhorrent creature from hell that should've never even existed. Its arms stretched down to its knees, its hands with freakish fingers ended in giant sharp claws. The head was too big, too long… Its bottom jaw jutted out from its neckless head and it had stringy white hair falling over its wet, gooey shoulders.
There were spikes and bumps and patches of hair haphazardly appearing in odd locations on its naked form. The entire thing dripped with some sort of ooze. He wasn’t even thinking, now. He simply opened the office door next to the observation window. He stepped into the lab and began trudging towards Topaz.
It took Vincent a few seconds to absorb it all. Slowly, the creature began to turn its head. It had what looked like another face sticking out of its left cheek. A pair of eyes opened on the side of its face, now staring at both Vincent and Topaz simultaneously.
The boy choked. He felt sick. He gasped, unaware that he'd started backing up until his back hit the omnidirectional window. Vincent pressed himself against it, eyes wide. His heart thundered in his ears, his throat burned with bile.
"Vincent!" Topaz called, her voice weak, raspy. The boy stumbled backwards, away from the monster, away from the glass panel, his eyes searching for Topaz Parker...
...And found her crumpled beside a giant tube-chamber-thing. Its glass door, halfway open, dripped with pinkish bubbly liquid, which pooled on the floor around its base. A dead man in a chair was propped in front of the stasis pod. The boy felt cold fear run through him again; adrenaline left him shaking. 'What the hell is this place?'
Topaz struggled to sit up, setting one of her guns on the floor, muscles groaning at her as she mustered her remaining strength. She gave the weapon a sharp kick. The snap of her boot heel was just enough to send it skittering across the concrete... but it stopped several feet from Vincent's grasp, spinning in place. 'Damn'.
Topaz's vision fuzzed again. The girl slumped against some odd piece of complex machinery that seemed to be tied to the stasis tube, where the freaky thing had come from.
'You'd better be as fucking competent as you say, kid.' She looked up again. Her eyes widened; the ghoulish creature took interest in her once more and dove in her direction.
Vincent saw the creature dive towards Topaz. "NO!" he shouted. All at once, the creature stopped in midair and dropped to the floor hard. He blinked, remembering something similar - Krys Monroe's fancy car from the other night...
His gaze dropped back to the gun. She had kicked the Beretta in his direction... but it was still too far away. Vincent's hope died out as quickly as it had flourished, seeing the weapon several feet away.
He took one look at the bone-claws coming from the creature’s fingers. Vincent was certain its claws could eviscerate him if given the chance.
He eyed the weapon. ‘I can do this,’ he thought. The voice in his head sounded more heroic than anything that he could ever try to say.
As he went for the gun, he heard something clatter across the concrete.
Topaz, several feet away, found something to throw at the creature as a distraction.
Vincent dove for the gun and rolled into a crouch. He aimed and squeezed the trigger. He felt his heart drop into his stomach. The Beretta clicked... was it empty?
Meanwhile, Topaz used her hands to try and drag herself away, due to a Charlie-horse in her thigh.
A moment of clarity struck. VIncent pulled back on the slide, loading the first round of a fresh magazine into the chamber. He placed his thumb on the hammer; it was already locked back, ready to fire.
Vincent released his breath in a quick exhale, thumbing the safety to be sure, then he aimed again. Blood spurt from the creature's shoulder before he'd even realized he'd fired. The thing turned towards him, forgetting Topaz, who was still trying to scuttle away.
He fired again, striking the creature in its chest on the left side right where the heart should have been. The round struck its shoulder blade from the inside out.
It growled in anger, a monster scream of fury, mucus spraying from its lips. Vincent hesitated, lowering the weapon as the thing bounded towards him with impressive speed. He stood there, in awe, without a thought in his head.
"SHOOT IT!" Her words caused him to snap out of his trance. He lifted the gun, squeezed the trigger, once, twice, but the creature didn't slow.
He swore he hit it; his eyes widened in shock. Again, he heard her shout at him. "Run!"
He had to get away. He had to be anywhere but in this thing's path. His eyes dilated, fear saturating his system with fresh adrenaline. Vincent did the only thing he could think of. He kept it away from Topaz – he ran.
Parker watched Vincent shoot over his shoulder in an attempt to run and gun, simultaneously. One of the shots went wide and concrete chips flew out the wall near her. The other shot hit its mark, ripping through the creature's neck.
Dark ripples of blood streamed down its back and legs. It didn't stop there; it continued to go for Vincent, who panicked, stumbling away, in an attempt to dodge it. Topaz used one of the ventilation tubes from the creature's previous pink-bubbled prison and hoisted herself up.
She pulled the other gun from her shorts, lifted it steady and put her other hand on the wall to stop the room from spinning. All she needed was one good shot between the eyes. She begged the powers that be...
…She cocked the weapon, trying to aim, squinting in an attempt to focus her field of vision...
...and heard herself cry out, watching as the thing clawed Vincent. It tore four massive ragged flaps in his back, shredding flesh and gutting bone.
It was a terrible piercing cry that barely touched upon the exquisite suffering he must've experienced. Topaz watched him fall to the ground.
The creature came to a halt and stomped its feet, shrieking, as it stood over Vincent with a howl of triumph. Topaz narrowed her eyes. She focused all of her anger and sorrow and shock. Her teeth clenched. Her finger moved over the trigger as fast as she could pull it, emptying the rest of the clip into the creature’s head. Her hand still squeezed the trigger long after the gun went dry. The abomination fell, its breathing ceased.
But for Vincent… Pain, blood and tears. Horrible agony. It tore the breath from his lungs. A chill bit into his organs. He could've been screaming, he wasn't sure, all he knew was the pain; searing anguish spread from his back and burned through his body. It left a strange numbness in his limbs, spine still stinging.
A million thoughts raced through his mind; smells and emotions and memories and that fuzzy pillow he used to cuddle with at night when he was twelve. His mother was smiling at him… he'd just received his acceptance letter into a small time college for next year… and he wanted very much to hug his mother, say he loved her, but she was so very far away… and there was a creepy monster trying to kill Topaz and… and… he was pretty sure he loved her, too, and he had to save her. But…
Vincent was all alone, bleeding to death, and would never see his mother again. The sobs that ripped out of him in blood splatters could not even begin to express his fear and loneliness. The pain was nearly over. Now there was just… encroaching darkness, and it terrified him.
Topaz blinked, and the world started moving again. She trudged forward by new instinct. She dropped her gun and ran to Vincent's side. Tears welled up in her eyes. Emotions started to swirl in her chest.
She thought back on the sensation of pride, moments ago, having watched him try to battle the creature … She felt humbled when he risked everything trying to save her from a grisly end, only to suffer one himself.
Fear caused her chest to tighten. 'He's not going to die, not like this… not sobbing in a pool of his own blood. Please, please don't die,' she begged in silence.
Parker knelt at his side and winced. Her hands moved over his body, careful to avoid his injury. Her eyes flitted up and down, examining his back.
The boy was a mess – cloth, meat and skin ripped to hell, bone splintered and shattered; his upper spine barely intact, but everything else nearly destroyed.
"Vincent?" she asked softly, extending a hand with reluctance, afraid to cause him further pain. He did not answer.
Fear swelled in Topaz, thinking that he'd died already. She tried his name again, clenched jaw hurting from the force with which she was using to hold back tears.
One of his eyes sluggishly opened, and for the first time, she noticed they were a beautiful brown hue. "Hey... Topaz," he rasped, barely above a whisper. “My back hurts.”
She felt her throat lock up and could barely form words. "You... did good. Thank you."
The words began coming easier for her as the armor around her heart became brittle. "It wasn't a good idea for you to leave the elevator but... you were right, I needed your help.”
He didn’t say anything. Topaz licked her lips then added, “I feel so bad I was so mean to you. I want you to know I’m impressed you manned up and fought that thing for me." His other eye opened, and their gaze met. "Please don't die. We're so close to getting out of here."
Vincent started mumbling in his delirium, words pouring out of him with blood rivulets, eyes glazing. "You're... so beautiful... Topaz. Strong... smart... would've... really liked to..." he broke off, coughing, blood spraying from his lips and splattering Topaz's shorts.
She braced herself, emotionally, and gently placed her palm on the top of his head. She expected that this was it. He grew quiet, save for his brief shallow breaths. His lips were red, his eyes were glazed. He gazed up through her as if trying to find her in the encroaching darkness.
Vincent took a slow, labored breath then said, "I... I think... I found a way out... go back. Fork... in the hallway. Back towards the elevator. I saw words on the wall." His words trailed off, slightly.
Topaz nodded, eyes blurring. She'd seen it too, of course, but said nothing, wanting to give him the satisfaction that he'd helped her. "Okay. Okay, I'll go check it out. You're a brave boy and you saved my life. I appreciate it more than I know how to say. Look, I'll find a stretcher or something and come back for you. We can, uh, go out for lunch when this is all over, okay?" She wanted to give him some sort of feeling of accomplishment in his final moments.
The corner of his lips curled up, very slightly. And even though it was so very slight, he had such a beautiful smile. "I'd like that," he murmured, blood burbling at the corner of his lips. "You... go on ahead, and... I'll catch up. I’m just… going to rest here a while. And, hey…"
He closed his eyes, wheezing. His breath became more liquid than air with each inhalation. Regret and denial and grief were screaming in Topaz, wishing she'd been nicer to him, that she'd been able to protect him and... and...
She was quite suddenly aware Vincent's chest was not moving anymore. The tremors in his thin body abated. Silence. Topaz held her breath, looking down at his still form. Her eyes drank it all in – back shattered and saturated in blood, muscles and the slick shine of bone visible.
His eyes were half lidded, blank, dull, and lifeless. Her lower lip trembled, unable to form words.
'Me. He did it for me,' her mind repeated. Her chest twisted in knots when she realized just how lonely she felt. Except her brother, she'd never trusted guys before. Topaz pulled Vincent into her lap, stroking the back of his neck; the seconds turned to minutes and she spaced out...
There she knelt, absently petting his head and swaying back and forth. She just ...held him; she cradled his head and continued staring off into space. After a while, her eyes fluttered shut. She doubled over him, protectively, weeping gently. His hair felt soft against her cheek. Everything was silent. The room, his body... The minutes raced by but she just held him closely in silence and reverence...
In South Africa…
The door opened and a creamy-skinned black woman peered through the gap. She looked over Karla then asked, "Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for a Mister or Miss Ubysh."
The woman behind the door eyed Karla with furrowed brows then asked, "Who are you?"
"My name is Karla Howard," said the demoness, glancing down at a text message on her cell screen with the woman's full first and last name on it. "I'm here looking for the Russian Archeologist who wrote her dissertation on Ancient Cities, was denied a PhD, yet holds four masters degrees, and whose paper was so compelling, it was published in six languages and praised by critics for thinking outside of the box. That you?"
The woman shut the door in Karla's face. With a huff of indignation, she knocked again but received a muffled reply from the other side. "Go away!"
The succubus ran her fingers back through her hair, then put her hand into her purse to keep Kuda from moving. With her other hand, she removed her hat then it disappeared. A second later, she disappeared.
Karla reappeared inside a posh room. In front of her stood a beautiful wooden desk with a computer. On the left and right sides of the room, shelves lined the walls with beautiful artifacts from various locations. She turned around just as Patience turned from the door. They faced one another; Patience screamed in shock.
"Miss Ubysh, calm yourself," said Karla. "I need to talk to you and we don't have time for you to shut the door on this opportunity. You ready to listen?"
"How the hell did you get in here like that?"
The demoness grinned, picked up her hat and put it on her head. "Do you remember what caused your otherwise phenomenal dissertation to be overlooked?"
"Y… The part about ancient cities often praying to supernaturals, no matter how far apart those cities were from one another or how cut-off they were from the rest of the world. These supernatural beings... They were worshipped as gods, extraterrestrials, heroes and villains. Now, how the hell did you get in here?"
"Well," Karla mused with a relaxed smirk. She withdrew a nail file from her sleeve and began touching up one of her lacquered red nails. "I'm not saying it's aliens… but… it's aliens."
“What?? What the hell are you talking about?” Patience pointed aggressively at the door and shouted, “Von iz moevo doma!”
"Geeze, I was kidding."
The woman continued to point at the door, clenching her other hand, visibly upset. “Ubirajsya na huj iz moego doma!”
“Okay, okay, calm down,” said Karla. “I know a few cusswords. I think I just heard one of them. I’m not here to hurt you, force-recruit you, kill you, or sell you anything. I just need a few minutes of your time.”
"Look, I don't know who you are," said the woman, gritting her teeth in anger and frustration, "But I don't appreciate you making fun of my dissertation. It is bad enough I was denied my PhD because of what I wrote. But I believe in it, and furthermore, if you don't leave right now, I'm calling the police. I'm getting tired of you people knocking on my door and trying to recruit me – that paper was written three years ago!"
Karla blinked. "What other people are we talking about here?"
"You're not the first one!" She walked across the room to her desk, opened the top drawer and withdrew a small revolver then pointed it at Karla. "I said leave, now."
The blonde laughed in delight. "Oh, look! How cute, a thirty-eight snubnose!" She held her left hand out, and six rounds appeared in her palm. "I'll take those, thank you very much. Wouldn't want the neighbors to hear."
Patience furrowed her brows again then approached Karla with the gun held at arm's length. "You need to leave, now."
"Are you going to shoot me with an unloaded gun, Miss Ubysh? Why, what would your friends and colleagues at Peoples' Friendship University think? Oh, what would Patrice Lumumba think?"
Patience ground her teeth together in frustration. "You further mock me?! I believe in my work! Now get out! I've warned you! I will defend myself from your breaking and entering if I have to!"
"I've entered, but I haven't broken," Karla retorted with glee. "Look at your door. You were facing it, you shut it. You turned around and now here I am. Oh! I know, maybe it was astral projection! You had an excerpt about that in your paper. Now, before you get all upset, I want you to know that I believe in all that stuff… but you shouldn't have written about it in something that was being submitted like you did… I mean, seriously, if you took that stuff out, the paper was still amazing."
Patience crossed the room and put the short barrel against Karla's chest, beneath her neck. "I said leave. Tell your stupid recruiter, Doctor Falcon, I'm not interested and if anyone else comes to my door, they will be sorry. I’ve held my temper thus far but I will not be bullied any longer."
Karla's eyes widened. "Aris Falcon was sending people to your door? Are you serious?" She threw her hands up in the air. The bullets rained down around them, harmlessly bouncing on the floor. "That changes everything!"
"Stop mocking me!" she shouted. "I will shoot you!"
"Oh come now, even if you don't live up to your first name, you won't kill me. Don't be daft."
In a flit of emotion, Patience pulled the trigger. The weapon clicked and the revolving cylinder turned clockwise one-sixth of a rotation.
Karla smiled, Patience blinked then pulled the trigger five more times. She drew the gun back and opened the cylinder. "I just… I just loaded this after the last guy came by!"
Karla folded her arms beneath her bust. "Your bullets are all over the floor." She brought her left hand out from beneath her right elbow, still keeping her forearms folded, and the bullets appeared at her fingertips. She then tossed them at the woman. Again, they bounced on the floor. "See? All six."
Patience backed away, looking at the shells. She counted them. "Six… you threw more on the floor earlier, where are they?"
"It's not a trick," said Karla with a smirk. "I'm not a magician. This isn't a game. And your paper was good. The stuff that got it thrown away was all true. Well, there were a few details that were a little spotty, but it was otherwise very good." She teleported the six bullets back into her palm and threw them at Patience one at a time, "You. Are. Coming. With. Me. Now," she added, throwing the last bullet.
"Will you stop that!? One of them might go off!" shouted the light-skinned black woman with wide eyes. "You're crazy; I'm not going with you."
A knock at the door startled both women into silence. After the second knock, Patience whispered, "Not expecting one of your friends? They've been coming on and off for days, but today has been the most – you're the third one this afternoon."
Karla smirked. "Let's see who number four is. Stay out of sight, I'll answer it." She walked to the door and peered through the small glass circle at the center. "Big guy, no neck. See him yet?"
"What…? No. They've all been lithe looking boyish types, my height."
"Stay out of sight," Karla murmured then opened the door a little and peered through the crack. "Can I help you?" she asked in a normal voice.
"Patience Ubysh?" he asked. He wore a black pinstripe suit and held a gym bag with harsh angled objects pressing against its sides.
Karla scrunched her nose at the man. "It's going to take more than a big man and a bag of guns to scare me into letting you in here. Take a hike, jack." She put her handbag by the door.
He reached into the gym bag and withdrew a micro Uzi. "Lady, let me in or I'll make your life hell and make it so you never walk again. My employer wants you alive so it's up to you if you wanna let me in – it's up to you if you want to walk into his office on your own, or if you want to use a cane or a wheelchair. I'm not gunna' ask again, and I'm not gunna' take 'no' for an answer. Pack your bags, honey. We're leaving."
Karla opened the door all the way, reached forward and took him by the shirt. She closed her fingers firmly around the fabric, empowered her arm with her telekinetic ability and jerked him off his feet. She pulled him through the door and flipped him onto his back then kicked the door shut. Effortlessly, the demon backhanded the Uzi out of his grip. It skittered across the floor, under the desk.
Karla kicked the gym bag, amplifying the kick with a telekinetic field so as not to scuff her dress shoes. The bag flew across the living area until it punched a hole straight through the drywall.
She drove her open hand into his right thigh, then she added another quick strike against his left shoulder. Overcome with muscular pain, the enormous man curled into a fetal position.
With a sneer, the succubus placed her heel against his right eye. "We're leaving huh? Cool, where are we going?"
"Oh yeah?" Karla smirked. "You don't say. Let me guess – San Francisco, right? Seedy little warehouse with a bunch of black flak jackets, right? Aris Falcon sent you, didn't he?"
The man didn’t answer the question. Instead, he said, "God damn, what did you do to me?" He stretched himself out, despite the muscular pain, in an attempt to work out the knotted muscles.
"I hit you. Hard. You're stunned, that's why you can't feel anything right now. Seems I knocked the wind out of you – added bonus. I'm impressed you're not whining, though. Guess what? Patience Ubysh says, 'No thank you.' Also, you really need to lay off the steroids, pal. They shrink your dick."
"I'll have you know I have a big one," he grunted, trying to buy himself a moment of time to recover.
"Yeah right," Karla laughed. "It's probably two inches."
He smirked, trying to keep the conversation going while he recovered from the initial attack that dazed him. "Yeah, two inches from the ground."
"While doing a pushup," she spat back.
"On the roof!"
"After an earthquake, maybe," she giggled.
He glared up at her then sneered. "I'm going to hurt you," the man growled softly.
"You and what bag of guns?" She gripped him by the shirt in one hand and by the belt buckle in her other. Karla, secretly using her telekinesis, lifted him over her head until he was looking down at the floor. "See that? I could bench press you if I wanted. You're nothing, chump." She extended her elbows and tossed him back towards the door. He hit the knob with his lower back then dropped to the floor, gasping for air. Karla approached and rubbed her chin. "Aw, did I knock the air out of you again?"
He continued to wheeze for a moment then looked up at her with a clenched jaw. He got to his feet slowly. "I'm impressed. Never been manhandled before by a dame."
"Aw, you're so cute! You wear the pinstripe suit, brought a bag of guns, and you called me a dame. You must think you're a gangster!" She took her hat off and tossed it like a Frisbee by the brim. It caught on a coat rack in the corner to the right of the door.
Karla then kicked his right knee, causing him to drop to all fours. She lowered to a single knee and put her hand beneath his nearly nonexistent chin. "Listen, Tiny, I'm not Patience. I'm not here to play around; I'm her bodyguard." Karla paused, smiled, then added, "If you show your face again, I'm going to be playin' the violin at your mobster-themed funeral – capiché?"
Again, the man rose to his feet.
He reached for Karla's neck and she lifted her chin to give him access to her throat.
He lifted her up and began to squeeze until, for some reason, he couldn't close his fist any tighter. He tensed his arm, stressing the fabric of his shirtsleeve but he couldn't crush her throat. The man clenched his teeth and curled his toes, trying to break her neck but he couldn't do it. He brought his other hand up, trying to use both, but Karla yawned in his face.
"Is this foreplay?" She kicked him in the belt buckle. "Hmm, not here." She kicked him again in his left thigh then against the upper track of his zipper. "Nope, still can't find'em…"
Finally, Karla supercharged her last kick with telekinesis and buried her foot in his crotch. "Found them!" she shouted at impact.
The man threw her to the floor and doubled over, both hands buried between his inner thighs. Karla used her abilities to control her landing. She guided herself back to one hand, like a graceful gymnast. She lifted her hands out like an Olympian after a grand dismount. "I was beginning to think you didn't have any balls!"
The man lay on the floor, winded once more. He rolled back and forth, tearing the lower back of his suit jacket while rubbing at his injured shoulder with one hand and his inner thighs with the other.
Karla turned towards the desk and bowed to Patience. "Did you see me? That was pretty awesome right?"
Quite suddenly, the man lurched up, threw his arms around her and tackled her to the ground. Karla, caught off guard, went to the floor beneath his four hundred pound frame. She hit her chin and grunted hard, landing on her breasts with a yelp of pain.
The man drew his right hand back and punched her in the back of her head. Karla, stunned, dropped her head to the floor, trying to catch her breath. She groaned softly, unable to get up, beneath him, and unable to breathe.
Patience, trembling, pulled open the top drawer and grabbed two bullets in her fingertips. She thumbed the cylinder open on the gun but her shaking hands made it difficult to load the weapon. "C'mon, hurry," she whispered to herself. "Please," she added. Tears filled her eyes from the rush of emotion and fear.
Karla felt a hand go to her hip and a large thumb against her ass. She felt his breath on her ear and his angry tone spit against the side of her face. "Now you're in trouble, bitch." He pushed his hand beneath her, going for the fastenings of her white pants.
The demoness' eyes went wide, her pupils constricted to pinholes. She increased her telekinetic output and shouted in rage. She expelled an energy wave that threw him from her back.
The man flew back, taking the door off its hinges. Both crashed to the floor in the carpeted hallway.
Patience cried out in pain, pinned to the far wall behind her desk. Her voice caught Karla's attention. The blonde quickly got to her feet and hurried over. She pulled the desk away from Ubysh. "I'm …I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you. Honest." She guided the dizzy woman to the chair that was up against the wall. "Here, sit down. Are you hurt anywhere?"
Ubysh glanced down at a broken finger where the gun had been in her hand. "I… I broke it in the trigger guard. I saw him jump you… I went to get more bullets."
Karla brought a hand to her lips then lowered her hand to her heart, shocked. "You were going to shoot him for me?"
"I… he was attacking you."
Karla brought both of her hands to cover her nose and face, palms together like in prayer. She smiled inwardly, stifling the emotion and gratitude that quickened the pace of her heart. "That's… Thank you."
"No, thank you! He would have hurt us both… or worse."
Karla rubbed her face then ran her hands up over her head, pushing her hair back. "I've never had anyone willing to help me before. I appreciate that. And don't worry about him. When I'm done with him, he's going to…" she turned back towards the empty doorway. "What the?"
Patience leaned to the left a little, wincing from pain, to look around Karla. "Where'd he go?"
Karla ran back to the doorway and shouted down the hall, "That's right! RUN you pussy!" She received no reply and turned back to the Afro-Russian woman with a frown. “Nuts. I let'em get away. I liked fighting that guy… well, up until he decided to try and take my pants off. I, uh… that's my 'hot button' and he pissed me off. He crossed the line when he decided he’d rather try and fuck than fight.”
"Uhm.. Fuck… that's an English cussword, right? Sorry, I'm not sure what that one means, just that it's a swear word."
"Well, the way I was using the term… oh, nevermind." Karla sat down on the desk with a frown. "We should get you a splint for your finger. We'll have to tape it to your middle finger until it heals."
Patience offered a nod then leaned back in the wooden chair a little, causing it to creak. "Whoever this Doctor Falcon is… it's unnerving to think he sent a professional killer to find me."
Karla snorted in amusement. "Professional killer? No, honey. No. If he sent a professional hit-man, they would have used a sniper rifle or something. We'd never have seen them. Hell, we might both have been killed. That guy didn't even wear gloves. Also, he said he had to bring you back alive. He was just… one of those brute intimidators, trying to move up by doing fetch jobs."
"That man was scary," whispered the woman, nursing her broken finger. "How did you pick him up like that? You don't look much older than a teenager. And… how did you make your hands and wrists glow like that?"
"Like this?" Karla opened her left palm and levitated the snubnose from the floor. It flew up and began hovering over her fingertips, which glowed softly with a hint of pink from beneath her skin. "That's a side effect of my telekinesis. You don't really think I was strong enough to lift that guy like a rag doll, do you? I just levitated him and made it look impressive." She winked with a grin.
"Oh my God," said Patience, eyes wide. She reached beneath the gun then waved her hand between the weapon and Karla's palm. "How… how do you do it? Are you creating a push field?" She ran her fingers between the weapon and Karla's palm again. "How do you control it?"
"I can create a push field, but no… I take control of the object and manipulate it. No push fields, no strings attached. I have different ways of doing it, depending on the situation and object. There's zero force anywhere around the weapon. It's free-floating levitation."
"Oh my God I have to document this!"
Karla laughed. "Yeah, sure, you're going to inspire the ire of your colleagues, draw attention from the supernatural community and royally piss off people who don't want that getting out. Plus, you'll be a laughing stock. Look, I need your help. I need an archeological anthropologist as brave as you."
"Brave?! I couldn't even get the bullets in the gun, I was shaking so bad!"
"But you had brave intentions. Nerves can be trained. A courageous heart is something you're born with. Had he rendered me unconscious, you were working on a plan to save me. You'd have eventually got a bullet into that cylinder. I appreciate that."
Patience shook her head, lower lip trembling. She cradled her right hand in her left. "Look, I… I still don't think I should go with you. I can't stay here, though."
Karla teleported the gun to the desktop then put her palms on Patience's cheeks. "Listen, I read your paper. Not only was it good, it was right. If you want proof, I can show it to you. There were these artifacts above and beyond my wildest imagination. They were stolen by this guy, Falcon, who wants to somehow use them for something serious. I'm talking about stuff that science fiction writers dream up. Falcon has been building something out in the Atlantic and, over the last month, there have been four earthquakes that originated out that way. The supernatural community seems to think it's him. Whatever he's doing has them scared. People who can do crazy wild stuff just like me are actually afraid of him. I need someone with a huge heart and an open mind to help me figure out what he's doing, beat him to the punch, and stand in his way. This is your chance to see for yourself that you were right about what you wrote in that paper."
Silence. Karla frowned. "Please, Miss Ubysh. I need you as part of my team."
"Team…? How many are there? Who are they?"
"Well," Karla said, leaning back on the desk a bit. She propped herself up on her elbow, adjacent to the computer monitor that was lying on its back. "There's Fox and Topaz Parker. They're these twins that are your average Robin Hood types. But they have this oddly unnatural grace when they work. They don’t know they’re on the team yet… but trust me, they’re on it. Then there is you and me. I have a buddy named Donnie who can physically manipulate a shadow by taking control over it. He can give it mass and use it to smack people around… or to pick up a pencil and write a book report for him.
“Uhm… I’m still recruiting at this point. Oh! I just remembered…! I met a girl who can throw fireballs. Plus she has a cute boyfriend. If I were picking super-kids for super-kickball, she'd definitely be on my team. I just have to find her again."
"Kickball? Is that… like football?"
"Yeah," Karla replied with a nod. "You’re thinking of soccer. Kickball is like soccer mixed with baseball. God I’ve been in America too long. Nevermind that. Let's get you packed up. You'll probably need your computer stuff, so, yeah. I'll pull your hard drive and wrap it in something electrostatic …if I can find something like that." She waved her hand and the side of the case came free of the computer.
Karla squinted at the machine, tapped a lacquered nail against her chin then waved her hand once more, causing the hard drive and SATA cable to appear atop the desk. "You should pack clothes. In fact, pack everything. Gather all your belongings together. Don't worry about anything. I can move it. I had a moving van meet me here. I'll teleport everything down there, have them "white-glove" all the stuff into the van, then we'll take my taxi to the airport."
"I'm still… a little uncertain."
Karla smiled. "Stop worrying. This is your destiny, sister. Is there anyone here that you want to call or visit before we leave? Boyfriends? Girlfriends? Family?"
"Uh, no. I haven't dated in a while." Patience ran her fingers back through her dark hair with a sigh and a shrug. A look of loneliness reflected in her eyes. "Family is in Russia. I have some family here, somewhere in Africa, but I've not met them. My grandfather went to Russia to attend the University. He stayed and had a daughter. My mother stayed there, married a Russian man and also attended the University. I grew up in Russia but moved here to pursue my archeology work. I don't know any of my African ancestors."
"Well, gather everything you want to take and make a nice, neat pile on the floor. I'll head downstairs and get the van movers to come up here and pack it the right way. Better that I don't do anything that might get noticed by the public. I don't want to wind up on the internet where other supernaturals will see me doing stuff."
"Well, okay. What did you say your name was?"
The demoness shrugged. "I don't remember if I gave it to you or not. Too much excitement." She offered her left hand, adding, "And I'll find something for your finger. Maybe some really strong Tylenol."
"Tylenol? For a broken finger?"
Karla grinned. "I was told by a nurse that Aspirin and Advil aren't good for mending broken bones. So yes, Tylenol." She took Patience's left hand firmly. "I’m Karla Howard. I'll be right back. Don't worry about loading your gun. You have a gym bag full of guns that are probably loaded on the other side of your wall. Sorry about your security deposit. Uh, yeah. Just get one of big guns in case he comes back. Don't hesitate to light him up."
"I don't want to have to shoot anyone. Can you hurry?"
Karla offered a reassuring smile. "I'll hurry. I'd love to just teleport down there but… that's dangerous. I'll explain why later." She walked out of the empty doorway, stepped over the crumpled door and sashayed her hips down the hallway. Karla pressed a button next to the elevator.
The doors swished open. "Oh, good! It was still on this floor! What a nice surprise and…" She blinked, coming face to face with the no-neck man. He reached forward, took her by the throat and threw her against the wall at the back of the elevator.
The doors slid shut with a thump. Caught off guard, Karla slumped to the floor with a groan. The dazed blonde weakly lifted her head. Her vision became fuzzy and unfocused, staring at his boots. Stenciled on the front of the sole was, "J. Cunningham." He drew his right foot back and kicked her in the forehead.
About eight-to-ten minutes later...
...Topaz came to, eyes snapping open with momentary disorientation. There was something wet and squishy in her lap and as soon as she looked down she turned her head away. Vincent...
She pushed him back to the floor, closing his half lidded eyes. Milky cataracts were already glazing over those once-brown orbs. Topaz shuddered, closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. She'd lost her composure during the fight with that creature, and, of course, during poor Vincent's demise.
Regret nested inside of her; she rocked back and forth with her knees to her chest. She kept replaying what she'd said to him and what she'd done. 'He was trying to help me. He was trying to help and I told him to piss off and now-'
There was a deep chuckle behind her. Her tawny-dyed hair at the base of her neck instantly stood up.
Most people described true fear as something that grabs at the heart instantly, but the cold unsettling feeling that rose within Topaz took a leisurely stroll through her body. The new sensation made sure she felt every pinprick on the way up her spine.
The woman was immediately on her feet, arms in front of her, knees bent, hands balled into fists. Her heart hammered inside her chest, and she could already feel cold sweat trickling down her back.
Falcon waved to two goons. They came in with a stretcher and rolled Vincent’s body onto it.
“Stay the fuck away from him,” she sneered.
“Don’t disrespect his memory by leaving his corpse on the floor, Miss Parker.” Falcon nodded for the men to continue. They picked up the boy and moved him away from Aris and Topaz.
"I see you two had trouble with The Pet," Falcon started, not caring to introduce himself or vice versa. His leering gaze suggested he already knew everything about her. "You killed her, though. She was my guard dog of sorts, girl."
Aris stroked at his chin, eying Topaz in a way that greatly perturbed her; although there was nothing sexual about it, she still felt naked under his gaze. He walked towards her.
Her mind began racing. 'Holy Christ, he's huge!' He easily dwarfed even her five-and-a-half-foot height. Falcon's hulking form towered over her, a foot taller at least… his palm reached down to pat her face.
"Lara was a good girl but she messed up. My small team used her as an experiment - we enhanced her ability to fight but it killed a lot of tissue, making her appear rather …freakish, I admit. Then we wanted to make her more obedient. So we did experiments on her physical brain, then her mind. We had a bit of trouble creating that one for testing. Such a pity she's gone," he said in the softest, most tender voice.
To Topaz, this guy wasn't just out there; he was in a different god-damn galaxy.
Aris looked at the dead ghoulish-thing, almost piteously for a moment before turning his gaze to Vincent, on the stretcher, then back to Topaz.
"I see the precocious little brat sacrificed himself for you," Aris sneered, steely eyes digging into Topaz. "How noble." He side-nodded to his men and they took leave with the body of the boy.
Parker swallowed, trying her best to retain her composure, and keep an eye on Aris and get the hell out of there and succeeding at none of these tasks. She was on her own and knew this might be the end. Her mind cleared and everything slid into focus. She had to kill him. She knew what she had to do; she pondered how to accomplish it while remaining as stoic as possible.
Topaz managed a weak snarl, mind blank, drawing upon her training. Her body flowed and moved instinctively, pivoting on her left foot; she brought her right leg up in a powerful roundhouse kick.
Confidence screeched to a halt when she felt his hand clamp around her ankle and squeeze. She stole a wide eyed glance at him... and then she lurched away, flying again. Topaz found herself staring at the ceiling as the fluorescent lights poured over her at a crawl.
Time exploded forward again. Parker flailed as she hurdled through the air. Momentum carried her; her mind raced. 'Oh hell.' The girl's body tumbled awkwardly then came to a stop, sprawled out upon her back.
Pain screamed through her slender frame. White haze clouded her vision. The world slid back into focus. A face appeared over her: Aris Falcon.
He smiled grotesquely with rows of porcelain teeth, and then he clicked his tongue and waved a finger at her. "Tisk, tisk." His expression brightened to that of a grin. "I'm disappointed in you, Ms. Parker. After all, we could've been such friends, you and I. If I had ever wanted a member of the Parker family working for me, it would have to be you. You do what you must to survive, just as I," he told her. "You allowed that silly mongrel to kill himself in your stead. Bravo, Ms. Parker, bravo. Not many creatures in this world are strong enough to do such things. Only the most ridiculous, pointless little animals believe that everyone has a right to life. It's sad. They conveniently forget the very principle upon which all life is based. That the strongest kill the weak to survive, and those who do are created better for a reason. Surely you understand."
"Fuck you," Topaz spat, struggling to sit up, even as the pain forced her back down. Aris simply smiled again. Something unknown crossed over his face. It was an emotion Topaz couldn't quite define. It scared her. The towering man, a chemist unbeknownst to her, knelt down and the girl floundered about the concrete harder, silently screaming at her muscles to move.
"Shh," Falcon whispered, as if he were trying to soothe her, but the deadly edge to his voice only served to further unnerve her. He produced an item from his lab coat. "Look at all the bodies you left in your wake... was it you that broke into my warehouse and rescued Fox Parker? Your body count is impressive, dear. So, you like killing people, hmm? Let us make use of your proclivity, shall we?"
The doctor held the object up to the light and tapped his fingers on it. He offered a brilliant smile and, in reply, she blinked her eyes rapidly. 'Oh mother of God that's a SYRINGE!' And with a speed Topaz underestimated, the tall man grabbed her flopping wrist and plunged the needle into her skin.
"I need you and your brother alive. Now, say 'hello' to Jon Parker Junior for me, dear," he instructed. Topaz's panicky mind barely registered his words, let alone the sting. "All better now," Aris said in a cheery tone as he withdrew the needle. He smiled like the doctor from hell.
Suddenly, for the first time, she noticed another tube in the background. Two actually. The one on the right was broken and empty, but the one on the left, she could have sworn, was holding Nichole Parker's floating form within its confines. Topaz blinked in confusion, her focus distracted as Aris Falcon drew back.
"Sleep now," he added, and the last thing Topaz Parker saw was his heavy fist before the world disappeared.
She was at once dimly aware of being crowded. She mumbled and glanced up at people near her. Someone unstrapped her from something… a stretcher perhaps? They picked her up. She counted pinpoints of lights passing over her. Fuzzy shadows placed an oxygen mask over her face. Topaz had to tell them things, she had so much to say- about the monsters; those things she suspected were Aris' genetically bred creatures.
She wanted to speak of the escape plan – she wanted to explain how everything had gone awry. She wanted to warn someone about Falcon's injection, the creature, and of course, poor, dear Vincent... Topaz tried to move, to speak, but someone shushed her, petting her face and hair… another blurry face full of sympathy... She heard someone exclaim that her blood pressure was dangerously low …and then everything faded.
Topaz’s mouth tasted like… “Fishpaste… ugh.”
“Topaz?” Jon was there. Her father who only cared about making her the best future master-thief possible… she sometimes felt almost unloved by him. But this wasn't one of those times. Topaz heard his voice and it pulled her from the deep recesses of her mind; her fuzzy brain began to awaken. "Will you... um... Pumpkin, can you tell me what happened?"
Topaz turned her heard slightly, skull pounding, nausea rising in her gut. ‘What did he inject in me? Surely the hospital would have run tests…’ If no one knew, she was unsure if she should even bring it up. 'Maybe whatever the hell it is doesn't even show up on their tests,' she thought with a frown.
"Topaz?" She recognized the voice that spoke her name. The girl groaned in reply and glanced up at Jon's fatherly coaxing.
Topaz grabbed at her head, feigning sleepiness. "Yeah... but later, okay? I... I don't feel well..." She tried to play it off; she didn't want to talk to him right now. "I really just want to forget about it for a few days. It was unnerving." She wiggled her index finger where a red-lit probe was taped over the fingernail.
Jon shifted to a more comfortable position in his chair, and closed his eyes. He listened to the hum of Topaz's IV dispensation machine, the steady beep of the heart monitor and sighed. He reopened those soft chocolate eyes and turned to look at the evening sky through a crack in the curtains.
"Yeah I know the feeling of not feeling well. I understand, hon." There was one thing for certain, though… his stomach and chest felt funny. Butterflies dancing about within his belly. It had only just come over him in the last half an hour. "Strange, I've been here three hours and now I’m starting to feel kinda' queasy. I'll be back in the morning to check up on you okay, hon? I love you."
"Okay, daddy. You too. G'night," she murmured then turned away, eyes shut and relaxed.
Jon Parker rubbed his face and walked to the bathroom. He glanced in the mirror then rubbed his face again. His forehead and cheeks were slick with sweat. Jon left his daughter's hospital room and trudged down the hallway. Halfway to the nurse's station, Jonathan collapsed to the floor. His lips trembled from cold. "I feel sick," he whispered to the first tending nurse to appear.
The nurse placed her fingers on his wrist, counted then shouted something at a co-worker. Jon heard the concern in her voice but could no longer understand the meaning of her words. His eyes rolled back into his head and everything went black.
Jonathan Conner Parker Junior died right there on the hospital hallway floor.