Friday, June 26, 2009

Raising Rachel [part 17] (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Sherri Ward @ her blog, A Candid Thought. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Ramblings: Thanks so much for help with the spacings *coughHoomicough* ^_^ If I did this right, then this should work. If not...my apologies again! Anyway, at the rate the story is progressing, I would wager there is only one or two more installments to bring Rachel's wonderful story to a close. I've had sooo much fun today, helping her "screw her head on straight" from all her issues. ^_^ Anyway, I'm glad to have finished this post early for today and I'm looking forward to the weekend ahead. Please enjoy the read-and let me know what you liked or didn't. I love your feedback! Have an awesome weekend! ~Sara


It took awhile for the tears to stop bubbling out of her eyes. By that time, her face and shirt were soggy enough to warrant a few minutes of pity. Lights flashed through the window, playing across the room and Rachel straightened up, realizing Thom had returned home.
She played with the new cell phone for a moment, opening it, closing it and turning it about in her hands. The simple action helped in terms of bringing her back to a consciousness she’d desperately needed. A part of her wished to run downstairs and greet the man standing on the front porch, while the other was torn between the explanations to keep her day’s activities a secret.

So many lies.

The thought threw a hiccup into her steady stream of musings. Rachel slowly rose from her spot by the window and headed for the bed. She aimed for the edge, but missed and instead sat rather hard on the floor. Something crackled and she winced. “Don’t turn the lights off, don’t turn the lights off…” She struggled to focus on something happy. Anything that would keep her powers from sparking off on her again.

Her head tilted back and as a matter of course, the tears began to fall again.

Ben…I’m sorry.

* * * * * *

Thom whistled as he turned the key in the lock, balancing a paper bag and briefcase in the other hand. A happy smile overtook his face as the eager welcomes of four furry companions jostled him around. “Hey there, guys? Miss me?” He paused to pat a few heads, then opened the front door. “In you go.” The dogs bounded into the hallway, stopping and waiting for him to enter as well.

“Someone had a busy day.” Thom commented, noting the haphazardly jumbled line of shoes by the doorway. “And apparently everyone is home.” He paused to remove his boots, setting the bag on the entryway table. “Hello? I’m home!”

The dogs hurried to the kitchen, with Thom trailing behind them. He was surprised to see Calvin and Jeanette seated at the kitchen table playing checkers, the gamebox for Connect Four tossed beside them. Relief was the expression on Jeanette’s face, while Calvin looked as if he’d just eaten something that didn’t quite agree with him.

“Mr. B!” Jeanette was out from the table to throw her arms around his waist. “I’m starving! Did you bring food? Did you hear from Mom? What took you so long?”

“Give him a chance to answer, Jean.” Calvin offered a smile. “Hey Unk.”

“Hey yourself.” Thom set the paper bag on the table and hugged Jeanette back. “Who’s winning?”

“Calvin.” Jeanette made a face. “He let me win two of them.”

“I did not!” Calvin protested. “You were just…lucky.”

Thom chuckled. “Lucky or not, do you want to finish that before we eat or-”

“Let’s eat!” They exclaimed as one.

Jeanette giggled. “What’d you get?”

“Take out.” Thom hid a smile. “Want to guess?” He took two large containers from the paper bag. “Or should I just tell you?”

“Lasagna!” Jeanette exclaimed, pouncing on the first container. She yanked open the plastic top and took a deep breath. “Mmmm! We haven’t had lasagna in so long!”

“And I suppose the fact that I took you to an Italian restaurant that makes a dozen kinds of lasagna means nothing?” Thom turned from the table to find plates in the cupboard. Calvin slid out from behind the table, rummaging in the drawers for silverware and serving spoons.

“I mean here at home.” Jeanette happily inspected the other dish. “oooh, yum!” She folded the paper bag, depositing it in the plastic bin besides the door leading to the garage. “So did you hear from Mom?”

“Standard report.” Thom handed her a stack of plates. “She says she’s fine and everything’s okay and hugs and kisses.”

Jeanette smiled, but the reaction was automatic as she took the plates turning towards the table. She'd been hoping for something more....something personal. “That’s nice.”

“She’ll be done with all of that before you know it.” Thom reassured her. “Don’t worry. I'm sure she missed you.”

“I know.” Jeanette began setting the plates out. She made a face when she placed the fourth one at the farthest corner of the table.

Thom tried not to smile. “Where’s Rachel?”

“Upstairs with her boyfriend.” Jeanette wrinkled her nose. “They probably already had dinner…can I have her share of lasagna?”

“She what?” Thom froze. “Boyfriend? Calvin? Would you care to explain that?”

“I can explain-” Jeanette chirped. “She just-”

“I’d like to hear Calvin’s version.” Thom interrupted. “Why don’t you go wash up? I’ll have everything in plates by the time you get back.”

“Huh?”

“Go, kiddo.” He gave her a push towards the hallway. “Hurry up.”

Calvin set the handful of silverware on the table. “It’s just some guy…I’m not sure who he is, but he said he had something to discuss with Rachel and I haven’t seen her since then.”

“Which was…?”

“An hour or so?” Calvin frowned. “Awhile, I guess. I don’t remember exactly, I was trying to beat Jeanette at connect four.”

* * * * * *

When she’d cried out just about everything that she could possibly handle, she began praying. Granted they weren’t fancy prayers, or very coherent ones, but it was a necessary outlet and she’d officially hit rock bottom.

“It’s really never supposed to be about me, is it?” She asked the empty room, hiccupping. Something thumped gently on the door, followed by a whine. Rachel sniffled at it, waiting, the shadow visible on the crack at the bottom was rather odd. “Hello?” She said, miserably. “I’m not really-”

Soft scratching began, followed by a tuft of fur visible from beneath the door. Rachel sucked in a breath. It was several steps to the door. She didn’t feel like getting up just to see what was on the other side. Her head lifted partway and then dropped, she stared at her fingers.

Puzzlement settled over her. “Metal.” She mumbled. “Electricity…” Her gaze fastened on the metal doorknob. She stretched on hand towards it, focusing on turning the knob.

Please work…please work…I can do this, can’t I?

And to her surprise, it did.

There was a click, then the door popped open of its own accord. A snout appeared, then a pink tongue hanging out. A moment later a friendly, furry face burrowed through, pushing the door open wider to wriggle into the room.

Wide, chocolate brown eyes stared up at her, the face somewhat comforting as the dog settled down beside her. They looked at each other for a moment. The dog whined and Rachel sighed. “Trust me, pal. You don’t wanna know.” She squinted at the doorknob, a tiny spark of blue left
her fingertips, bouncing on the doorknob to push the door shut. She almost smiled, letting the hand now rest on top of the dog’s head. “I don’t even really like dogs, you know.” She told it, beginning to stroke the soft head.

A long sigh dribbled out from her lips. “Actually, there’s a whole lot of things I don’t like.” She smirked. “I don’t like sugar. I hate poptarts. I hate that I can zap things when I least want to do that. I hate Mark. I hate people being mad at me. I hate Unk’s girlfriend who doesn’t like me.” She heaved another sigh. “And that’s just a whole lot of hating…nothing about dislikes or things that just plain…bug me.” She fingered a soft ear, tracing the shape slowly. “I mean, it doesn’t even have to make sense, does it?”

The dog gently nudged her feet and her fingers slid further down, hooking around a collar. “Hey…you have a collar.” She rolled her eyes. “Well duh, you belong to someone, of course you have a collar.” She tried to make out the name etched on the silver plate. “A-d-e-m-u-s.” She spelled aloud. “Ademus?” The head cocked quizzically, as if waiting for a command to be attached to the end. “Uh…good boy.” She patted the head awkwardly. “I’m so not good at this you know…this whole…thing. Would you believe a whole month ago, I was just a normal person? Well, normal for me anyway, I’d go to school, worry about tests and pop quizzes and occasionally I’ll get a mission like, pick up this from point A and take it to point B. It was actually fun and pretty simple, you know? I mean, I even had my bike then…can you believe Mark took it away? He can be such a jerk! I don’t care if he’s the head of whatever, or how much power he has or how smart he thinks he is.” She scowled. “He’s always picking on me and I’m just sick of it-you know?” Ademus nodded solemnly. Rachel stared at him. “Oh never mind…I don’t even try to get mixed-up in this kind of stuff, it just happens to me. It’s like I’m a magnet…then again, I didn’t have this many issues until I met Ben. I guess the issues are part of his deal…I don’t care. He’s gone too, you know. Mark said he didn’t shoot him again.” She half-laughed. “The great Mark of Densen…actually telling the truth? I’m shocked. I didn’t know he knew how to do that.” She winced. “And there I go again…do you know…no, do you have any idea how hard it is to be nice to people?”

Ademus stood, shaking himself all over. Rachel leaned away. “Whoa! Take it easy, big guy…” She waited for him to settle down, then continued patting his head. It made it much easier to think. “Then again, you’re a dog…you can’t help being nice to people, right? It's like genetically encoded in your brain.” She sighed. “This whole stupid mission…it’s my very first mission, you know? Something different, something other than just being a little errand girl and guess what I do? I screw it up without even trying…” She made a face. “And I lose my bike. I didn’t even have it for a full day!” She thumped her head on the side of the bed. “Now I don’t have any wheels…and I still have to go and do this whole report and then I have to go buy a dress to go to dinner.” She shuddered. “I bet it’s a formal affair. I hate that, you know. Maybe he forgot.”

They exchanged a glance. “Yeah…you’re right. Fat chance of that happening.” She gave a bitter laugh. “You know, the strangest, weirdest things always happen to me. Like today? I tried to buy a box of mints, okay? Just a plain little box of mints and you know what? It was the animal shelter…no wait…a dog kennel, but it was really, like, totally rundown, and they were selling these herbal mints in collectible tins to raise money to build the place up and guess what? She wouldn’t take my card! I mean, like okay, maybe it is weird to just pay things with a piece of plastic all the time, but do you have any idea how dangerous it is to have cash? Like, real money in your pocket? In my line of work, it gets you killed!” Her brow furrowed. “Or almost killed, anyway. Never mind, here’s the thing, I was going to buy the mints, ‘cause I was hungry-and she says they don’t accept cards of any kind, only cash.” Rachel frowned. “You know, Ademus…I don’t think she was telling the truth, but how would I ever prove that? You’d think she’d jump at the chance for any donation and you know what? I couldn’t even get the mints, or upgrade Jeanette’s kennel.”

Gray-splotched ears perked up. “No, not your kennel, if you have one.” She frowned. “Where were you anyway? I haven’t see you…or your little buddies since the first day I got here.” A yawn sprouted. “I’m off subject again, I was just trying to explain that I can’t even buy a box of mints in this place-I’ve been to three whole-” Rachel stopped. Her mind twisted and clicked the last piece of the puzzle into place. She slapped her free hand down on the floor. “Oh. Sugar. Snap. I did not just totally miss this!” Scrambling to her feet, she skipped over Ademus to reach the dresser drawer. It took a few minutes of shuffling through the printed reports of her daily activities to find the one she was looking for. She scanned it quickly and felt her stomach sinking with each line. “No!” Slamming the folder back in the drawer, she elbowed it shut, turning back to face the room. She closed her eyes, taking deep breaths to calm herself down before she blew any other electrical appliances.

“I did it.” She told the dog. “You won’t believe it. I actually did it. I had the answer staring me right smack in the face and I was just being a-” Rachel launched herself towards the bed, tackling a pillow to absorb her frustrations. In a few minutes, she was spent from punching, yanking and pummeling the cotton square. “I am not pitching a fit.” She told Ademus, calmly. “I’m just trying not to scream.” A laugh slipped out. “That crazy dragon lady wasn’t really that crazy…she did keep her end of the bargain and I’ve just been blindly stumbling through this whole town, mission and everything…I know how they did it Ademus…can you believe it? I know how they’re passing Pysch off!” She leapt to her feet, pillow tucked under one arm as she began pacing. “There’s got to be a reason though…I mean, all those kids…they died because…” She stopped in front of the window. “They died because they were underage.” Her breath caught in her throat, a grimace twisting across her face. “Needless deaths…they didn’t have to die…they just weren’t old enough.” Her expression brightened. “Which means this isn’t entirely an earth drug…if it affects underage humans, then there must be a foreign additive.” Rachel pumped a fist in the air. “Yes! I’ve got it!” She danced around the room, finishing with a happy wiggle in front of Ademus. “I’m a genius, can you believe it?” She laughed, deliriously. “I’m crazy…let me guess, I’ve successfully crossed over into the crazy hour!”

The laughter died away as Rachel plopped on the bed, hugging the pillow. “I’m going to need proof.” She told Ademus. “I don’t even know how I’d get over there…I don’t have a failsafe anymore.” She rubbed one wrist, absently. “Good grief, I don’t even have wheels.” She sighed, loudly. “and he’ll never listen to me, at least not unless I have some sort of proof. The kind you can touch, feel and smell. Wait…if I went in the night, I could probably just slip in an out.” She wiggled her fingers. “There’s bound to be some sort of evidence somewhere…and I bet at the kennel they wouldn’t even care if someone broke into their office, I mean, how would they even prove that?” She paused. “I know they definitely wouldn’t be able to catch me…what do you think, boy? I’m good at night stuff.” She flashed a grin. “Really, you don’t see me at night…it’s my element. Okay, I’ll have to slip out after dinner, I guess.” She frowned, sniffing the air, carefully. “I bet Unk brought take-out.” A silly smile slapped itself on her face. “ Yeah, some nighttime fun after I eat!” She nudged the dog. “Come on, let’s go.”

“You’re not going anywhere.” Mark growled.

Rachel jerked around. “You!” She took a few steps backward. “I mean…Mark…um, hi? Again?”

“It escaped me moments ago to mention that Allison McVain may be, to put it delicately, in a spot of trouble, at present. Should this news reach you before it does, us, kindly keep your head straight and don’t go larking off in search of revenge or otherwise.”

“What? Wait a minute…my uncle’s girlfriend? What does she have to do with anything?”

“She’s in the wrong place at the worst possible time.” Mark said, smoothly. “Ben was supposed to mention this to you, but I suppose he didn’t have the chance. However, now you are aware of this, for whatever purposes necessary. I also came to inform you that your new handler will arrive sometime tomorrow. She’ll be briefed on your entire circumstance. I didn’t expect to overhear that you were planning extracurricular activities.”

“W-who? Me?” Rachel held the pillow in front of her. “Actually, it’s a new lead on my casefile, I should check it out while it’s still fresh.”

“You should stay in and pursue it tomorrow.” Mark said, darkly. “In broad daylight. So I don’t have to take your liability issues into consideration.”

“I have liability issues?” Rachel stared at him. “Whoa! Hold up here, you’re taking what I said again and totally turning it out of proportion, I’m just trying to-eep!” the squeak escaped as Mark blurred forward just inches away from her. His blue eyes faded to purple as she watched and tiny spark leapt from his ear to her forehead.

“Oh that hurts.” She started to say, but her eye began to close. It felt too good. She felt herself falling backwards.

Mark watched as she tumbled backwards onto the bed, out cold. He sighed. “Not taking it out of proportion.” He muttered. “Tonight’s just a very bad night to be out on the street.” He headed for the window pausing, his gaze landed on the dog who had silently witnessed the exchange between them. His eyes narrowed. “You…” A hiss escaped his teeth. “This is my business…stay out of it!” In a flash of purple, he was gone.

* * * * * *

Thom took the stairs two at a time, Rachel’s plate in hand with a fork and napkin tucked under it. He hesitated, briefly in front of the closed room door before knocking. He waited a moment, listening, then tried again.

Silence greeted him from within.

He sighed. “Rachel?” Turning the knob slowly, he pushed the door open. The room was eerily dark, with no nightlights or clock lights, a faint sliver of moonlight filtering through the filmy window curtains. A low growl came from the foot of the bed and Thom froze. “Ademus?” He asked. “What’s wrong?”

The dog trotted over to meet him, with a glance cast backwards towards the bed. Thom set the plate on the dresser and hurried to the bedside. Rachel lay sprawled across the middle, still dressed in her day clothes, clutching a pillow to her chest. Her eyes seemed to be half-open.

Thom gently tugged the pillow away from her, feeling for a pulse. It was there, normal enough from what he could tell. He took a few minutes pulling the blankets free, removing her socks and then checking the window lock. Ademus hovered at the door and Thom followed him out after retrieving the plate.

Together they walked down the hall until they reached Thom’s room. Entering, Thom locked the door behind them, politely studying the plate of lasagna until the golden glow disappeared from the room.

“Ademus?” He tried again, venturing to look towards the bed.

The silver-haired man sitting on the edge, had his head buried in his hands. “I’m sorry, Thom…I didn’t think I had to…it was too fast.” He rubbed one bare arm, tugging at the sleeveless shirt collar.

“Too fast?” Thom crossed the room and paused. “Lasagna?”

Ademus half-smiled. “Might as well, it’s probably good to remember what your earth food tastes like.”

Thom shared the laugh. “I try to leave things out for you, but I think Jeanette’s been scavenging when I’m not around.”

“No matter. I survive well enough without much.” Ademus delicately cut into the noodles and sauce. “I’m sorry about Rachel.” He tried again.

“What happened?” Thom asked, bluntly.

“She figured a few things out.” He shrugged. “Mostly jabbering to herself about all sorts of things. Said her bike was taken, she missed a normal life and she knows how they’re getting Pysch on the street.”

A very pale shade of white stole over Thom’s face. “She knows?” Ademus nodded. “And she didn’t say anything?”

“She just figured it out, Thom. Give her a break…she didn’t realize it was that simple, that the answer was staring her in the face, as she put it.”

“How’s it being transferred?” Thom demanded, one hand clenched into a fist.

“That part didn’t make sense.” Ademus chewed thoughtfully. “She said something about mints and a kennel. She's very easily distracted, but I suppose you're used to that by now. She loves changing the subject on herself.”

“And?”

“She didn’t exactly finish all her sentences, Thom.” He frowned. “She thought she was talking to a dog. She’s got a date sometime soon too, something about a dress and dinner. She said the kennel was really rundown and they wouldn’t accept her donation by credit card, which she thought was very odd.”

“Very odd?” Thom repeated. “Angel Eyes.”

“What?”

“That’s the name of the kennel were Jeanette’s dog is staying. Teetu. Ally insisted he board there, because she’s friends with the lady from church…the one who owns it.” Thom sighed. “I didn’t like the place either…but how does selling drugged mints fit in with a dog kennel?”

Ademus happily finished off the remains of his lasagna. “That, my dear friend, I do not know. Rachel can be very…enthusiastic. It took her several minutes to settle down once she connected the dots in her head. She also read something from a file in the dresser drawer in her room. I think it was a report, or at least written evidence.”

“A file in her drawer?” Thom repeated. “She had a file folder…when she first arrived, they found it the day she blacked out upstairs with Jeanette. Remember I told you about that? She had photos that I’d just seen in my own office and papers with information on them.”

“Plain basic?” Ademus asked.

“Hmmm?”

“Basic.” He repeated. “English. I’d imagine you would have already found and read this file if you could, meaning that there must be a specific reason you did not.”

“True.” Thom agreed. “Who or what knocked out Rachel? Did she do that to herself?”

Ademus chuckled. “No, she does have gifts as I told you the day she arrived, but she doesn’t quite grasp the enormity of them. Even if she did, she could not use them to render herself in the position you discovered her. She is actually doing quite fine.”

Thom sighed. “I know…original question, please?”

“It was Mark.” Ademus carefully guaged his reaction.

“Mark?”

“Rachel was planning to sneak out tonight to verify her suspicions. Mark overheard her when he came to tell her about her new handler arriving tomorrow.”

“She has a new handler?” Thom frowned. “What was wrong with the old one? That Ben fellow. He was okay enough.”

“I don’t know. I missed that part of the conversation.” Ademus stood, resting the plate on the edge of the bed. “But she’s getting a new one tomorrow and Mark told her she couldn’t go out tonight. Then he shocked her out.”

“Shocked her out?” Thom repeated.

“You really should stop repeating everything I say…makes me feel like an echo.” Ademus moved to open the bedroom window. “Yes, shocked her out. Remember her gifts of electricity? Did you not see her room? How everything is dead there? Her body has finished the converting process of accepting her abilities, she’s leeching off the energies around her to sustain herself.”

Thom stifled a groan. “I thought I had this under control.”

“You do.” Ademus said, gently. “But you can’t be everything to everyone, Thom. Let some of the control go, I know it’s important to you and it helps to keep things running smoothly, but at least for Rachel…let her go. Don’t push her away, but don’t try to take her apart either. She’s screwing her head on where it belongs. I’d wager she’ll be a little more back to your version of normal by tomorrow.”

“Even with that shock out thing?”

“It’s not like what you were thinking.” Ademus stuck a hand out the window, testing the temperature. “He fed her the energy her body was craving. She made it through the whole day without eating much of anything.” He paused. “She doesn’t like poptarts by the way, I would suggest pudding or something else.”

“Pudding?”

“Yes, the chocolate vanilla kind.” His face twitched. “It makes a good snack.”

“Right.” Thom perked a brow. “Anything else I should know?”

“Offhand…no, but stay inside tonight of all nights. I’ll keep watch from the air.” A faint row of gray feathers began to appear along his bare arms.

“What about that Mark fellow? I don’t like him-and I can’t even say I’ve met him.”

Ademus sighed. “I’ll deal with it for you. Don’t stay up too late.” The morph completed as he launched himself from the window, streaking upwards into the night sky.

I’ll take care of him, Thom. He’s my son…

© Sara Harricharan

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dreaming of a musical moment

Ever had a musical moment? You know, when time freezes for just long enough for the tune to stick in your head, for you to memorize that voice, to disect every lyric and then for your heart to decide that you've connected with something special? I had one of those today, a time when I needed it. Lots of crazy things going on right now, yet in between of everything, there's the time and the moments just like this that sort of sneak up on you and capture the essence of what makes life worth living. Well, instead of just dragging this post on, I'll get to it.

Thriving Ivory's "Angels On The Moon" played on the radio today-the line that stuck in my head was not to mention if he was dying, because if he can't see the sun, then maybe he should just go. I got to thinking about it (as usual-duh.) and I started wondering, that's like waltzing through life and not caring about any eternal results, you're just kind of there, floating, existing, but nothing beyond that, and if-or when you finally get a glimpse of something more, you see that there's SO much more to your life than you've ever known or realized, how does it make you feel? What do you do after something that earth-shattering? How do you go on? Should you go on? Or should you just kind of stay there?

The second line that made sure I wouldn't forget this musical moment was when I looked up the lyrics to see who'd sang what and the line of just having a sunburn to know that you're alive-wow. Think a little deeper about that one. I can't quite put into words what it's got swirling through my head right now. Well, I'll give it a try anyway-as if you're just rushing through everything, the traffic, familiy, the noise...everywhere, and God just reaches down and touches you , so you remember and realize that He's there. And then He touches your heart. You're alive.

That's my musical moment. Cheerio.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Raising Rachel [part 16] (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Joanne "JJ" Sher @ her blog, An Open Book. Click here to read and share more great fiction.

Author's Ramblings: Sorry this is late-again! It's got twice as much action as last week though and this is one installment you don't want to miss. A lot of information bursts answering a few of the past questions and we get to see Mark in action a bit. Rachel's happy day goes a bit haywire and I must confess I had quite a bit of fun working on this installment. I've tried to fix the line spaces as mentioned last week, but I'm not sure what's wrong with it. For some reason it still show's up strange, even though it looks fine in the previews. Go figure. I hope you'll have a good weekend and enjoy the read. Cheers!

Rachel found herself standing in the parking lot of a shabby wooden building with a faded sign hanging from the cobwebbed porch. The name read “Angel-Eyes Animal Boarders” with a painted picture of a white goose and a yellow kitten. It struck her as an odd picture, but she retrieved the paper package, wincing as she bent over.
Another string of foreign images streamed through her head. She bit her lip, hard, struggling to keep herself awake to push the pictures away. “Something is wrong with me.” She murmured again. “And I’ll be able to sort it out the sooner I get this done and the sooner I can get home. I need to get home…I gotta talk to Ben.” Her head throbbed and she rubbed it for a moment, tucking the flyers under one arm. Her hair felt rough and springy. She grimaced. The last thing she needed to think about was her grubby appearance. Her outfit was already damp in some places and muddied in the others.
Things were more than fuzzy, she couldn’t remember leaving the woods, or driving to the kennel, but the blank in her mind didn’t seem to have affected much else than her head. “Could be worse.” She whispered to herself, hanging the helmet on the handlebar. She’d have to thank Ben specially for the bike. The happy thought temporarily banished the headache. A moment later she hurried up the wooden steps, pushing open the door to hear the bell jingling from the string above.
The foyer room was tiny and cramped, with most everything being wooden. A tiny wooden counter took up nearly half the room, with plastic white chairs taking up the opposite wall. A ceiling fan whined overhead as Rachel approached the counter, stack of flyers in hand. A plastic partition offered a sliver of privacy and security for the supposed teller behind, while allowing plenty of room beneath it. Rachel studied it curiously, until her gaze landed on an elegant golden bell with a fancy handle.
Her stomach growled as she rang the bell, craning her neck to see into the tiny cubicle. I must have been out for longer than I thought…it was breakfast time right when I came back from the printers…
“Yes?” A sour voice emerged from the beaded curtain in the left counter. It belonged to a short, stout woman with a silvery bun on the back of her head, vaguely resembling a mushroom. She squinted up at Rachel with heavily made-up eyes. “What?”
“I’m here on behalf of Thomas Banner-”
“The detective? For what?” The woman eyed her suspiciously.
“To drop off on some flyers.” Rachel dumped the armload on the counter with a thud. A tiny puff of dust rose up. “He asked me to drop them off and inquire about Jeanette’s dog.” Her eyes flickered to a smudged nameplate reading “Kimberly Wallace.”
“Jeanette?” The woman frowned. “Who’s she? And he didn’t tell me he was sending anyone.” Her gaze narrowed. “What happened to you anyway?”
Rachel blinked, one hand moving automatically towards her hair. “N-nothing happened to me.” She tilted her chin upwards a bit. “I’m just running an errand for my uncle and he asked me to drop this off here. Jeanette as in Jeanette McVain? Allison McVain’s daughter? She has a dog, or so I’ve been told. Am I in the wrong kennel?” Her gaze darted to the corner of the top flyer in the stack. “This is the Angel-Eyes Animal boarding facility isn’t it?” The image of the battered, paint-peeling sign outdoors flickered through her head.
“It is.” The woman sighed. “The dog is fine. Thank you for the flyers.” She took the stack of paper and immediately deposited it in a blue plastic basket on the floor. “You’ll also have to sign a few things.”
“Oh, okay. Sure, no problem….you’re welcome…Mrs. Wallace?”
The foggy brown eyes jerked upwards to her. “That’s miss.” She said stiffly. “Not Mrs.”
“Oh, of course. Sorry.” Rachel hesitated, her gaze landed on the elaborate wooden racks hanging from the wall on the far corner of the cubicle, identical to the counter display on the other side of the plastic partition. Shiny metal containers gleamed temptingly from their places. “Where do I sign?”
“I haven’t gotten the papers yet.” Miss Wallace scowled. “Just a moment!”
“Sure, sure!” Rachel held up her hands, resisting the urge to take a step backwards. It was completely beyond her why Jeanette would have her dog boarded here, she hadn’t struck her as the kind that would pick a place like this.
“Sign here.” Miss Wallace shoved a clipboard under the plastic partition. “At the bottom.”
Rachel scanned the dirty paper on top, brown smudges and ink splotches adorning the edges. The dates and the names were few and far in between. She carefully penciled in her name on the line indicated. “Okay, that’s it?”
Miss Wallace jerked the clipboard back, scanning the new signature. “That’ll do.” She said grudgingly. She punched a few keys at the register. “Anything else?”
“Uh…can I see the dog?” Rachel tried again. “I’m supposed to make sure it’s all right.”
Miss Wallace glared at her for a long moment, then finally moved away from the window. There was silence for a moment, then her stooped over figure appeared around the corner. She shuffled to the door and opened it with a key.
Several minutes later, Rachel returned to the foyer, wondering what kind of pet owner Jeanette was. Even the other dogs beside Jeanette’s little Shih Tzu appeared to be in better health and happier spirits. Rachel frowned. “Can there be an upgrade made to Teetu’s kennel?” She fished in her back pocket for the card Mark had given her.
Miss Wallace shrugged. “It will cost.”
“That’s fine. I can pay.” Rachel tugged the wallet out of her pocket and flipped it open. Her gaze skittered to the mints on the counter in the shiny, metal tins. “I’ll take some mints too. I need something to snack on.”
“Mints?” Miss Wallace frowned.
“Yeah, that red one there.” Rachel pointed towards the red container with the white and gold tiger embossed on the cover. “With the tiger.”
“It’s not a mint.” The smile was forced. “It’s a specially blended herbal remedy to combat stress and may indirectly influence your mood.”
Rachel felt her eyebrow’s traveling upwards. “Really? Packs quite a wallop, then. I’ll take that one anyway.”
The woman made no move to retrieve it. “It’s a limited edition container.” Rachel sighed. “and it’s only sold for a sizeable donation.”
“I’m sure I can pay for it.” Rachel tugged out the card.
“I’ll need to see some ID.”
“For mints?” Rachel opened her mouth, then shut it, handing over the driver’s license.
“No, for the kennel upgrade.” The forced smile had become rather artificial. “I’m sorry, we can’t accept credit cards.”
Rachel looked from the card to the woman. “That’s too bad.” She took the card and license back. “I was hoping to make a rather sizeable donation.”
“Pity.” The sarcasm in her voice was mirrored in her eyes. “We could have used it, I’m sure.”
“That’s not all you could use.” Rachel muttered, she turned away from the counter and stalked the few short steps to the door, where she skipped the steps and jumped straight to the ground. It took her mere seconds to snap on the helmet and mount the bike, she turned to go, catching sight of a shadow hovering beside the grimy window. Her jaw tightened and she roared out of the parking lot and on the road.
I hate my life. I hate my world. I hate everything in my life.
The thoughts streamed through her head, sprouting roots and settling deep into her consciousness. A sudden feeling of dizziness spiraled through her and Rachel gritted her teeth, forcing herself to focus on the road. She couldn’t afford to give into physical distractions now.
Home arrived quicker than she wanted and Rachel realized, belatedly that she’d spent the entire day rushing around doing nothing. A small part of her wanted to the cry, the other half wanted to run. Neither option was particularly inviting.
Rachel parked the bike in the driveway, casting a glance around for her uncle’s dogs. “I bet their in better shape than Jeanette’s Teetu.” She muttered, heading for the front door. Calvin’s car was in the driveway, but Thom’s SUV was missing. Rachel did the calculations in her head and wondered if she could slip in unnoticed.
It was nothing more than a mere wish.
“Whoa! What dragged you in?” Calvin whistled the moment her shadow fell across the kitchen floor.
Jeanette sniggered into her glass of juice and then her eyes narrowed. “Did you go see Teetu? Mr. B told me that he told you to go.”
Her stomach growled and Rachel angled for the cupboards. She rooted around, emerging with a box of poptarts. She didn’t really care to eat them, but she was craving sugar in a concentrated little package. A poptart would do the trick.
“Hey! Those are mine.” Jeanette scrambled off her chair to stand at the counter beside her. “Are you okay? I thought you said you drank your sugar, you didn’t eat it.”
“She drinks sugar?” Calvin’s amusement was obvious as he left his seat to join them. “And now she’s eating it?”
“I just need to eat something!” Rachel leaned away from them, shoving the two frosted pastry rectangles into the toaster. She jammed the handle down, waiting. It didn’t light up.
“It’s still broken.” Jeanette announced, cheerfully. “I think all those power failures really ruined it.” She noisily slurped the last of her juice from the glass. “Calvin, we forgot to add that to our list, let’s get it next time.”
“List? What?” Rachel looked between the two of them.
Calvin nodded. “Of course. Gotcha.” He took his Iphone from a shirt pocket and tapped a few things. “New toaster, next town trip.” His mouth twitched. “I’m really sorry you have to eat an untoasted poptart, Rachel.”
His words were the last few grains of frustration Rachel needed to mix her recipe for a miniature natural disaster. “You’ll be really sorry if you don’t leave me alone!”
“We’re not doing anything to you!” Jeanette interrupted. “We’re just watching you pretend to toast a poptart. Good grief!”
Calvin choked on a laugh. “She does have a point there.” He took a step backwards. “If I stand right here, is that still a problem?”
“If you stand anywhere within a fifty feet radius of me, it’s a problem.” Rachel curled her hands into fists. “Look, if you want your stupid poptarts back, you can have them, I’ll find something else to eat!” Her stomach growled loudly. The sound was amplified in a nearly noiseless kitchen.
Jeanette clapped a hand over her mouth, bugging her eyes out at Calvin, who valiantly tried to hide his own laughter. “Let me guess, to your sparkling list of unending qualities,” He began, theatrically. “You’re cranky when you’re hungry-”
Rachel grabbed the toaster, aiming for the cancel button when a brilliant spark of blue leapt from her fingertips, sizzling over the toaster. In the moment it took her to register the shock, she was flying backwards, slamming into something warm and hard. Calvin.
“Oof!” Calvin grunted and braced himself. “Good grief, cuz.” He backed away, hands in the air. “What was that?”
Rachel ducked in answer as two blackened poptarts shot out of the toaster.
“Eep!” Jeanette squealed as one hit the top of the stove hood and a half of it dropped into her glass of juice.
The remaining tart was grabbed out of the air by Rachel herself, who stared at it for a moment, then at the toaster. There was a moment of silence, then she gingerly put a corner in her mouth and nibbled.
It didn’t taste all that bad. She almost smiled.
“Whoa!” Jeanette gave herself a shake all over. “What was that?”
“I’d love to hear the answer to that as well.” Calvin dusted himself off, the humor having left him. “What exactly was that?”
“A poptart.” Rachel broke the burnt specimen in half and inspected the filled center. It tasted all right. Better than the sickeningly sweet taste she remembered them for. She glanced at the half wedged inside Jeanette’s juice glass. “You can keep that, I don’t want it.”
“Boy, thanks.” Jeanette stared after her as she headed for the stairs. “Wait! Did you see Teetu?”
“Yeah. I saw her.” Rachel scowled. “That’s a lousy place to put a innocent dog like that, you know.”
“What?” Jeanette’s voice had become suddenly harsh. “What are you talking about? My mom picked that kennel! And it belongs to one of the oldest families in Waynesburg.”
“It’s run by one of the oldest people in there too.” Rachel said snidely. “Your dog needs a kennel upgrade-”
“You could have bought it for her.” Calvin frowned. “What’s this all about?”
“They don’t take credit cards.” Rachel flashed a smile. “Right now, it’s about me going upstairs and hopefully getting some sleep. Cheers.” She turned on her heel, stomping up the stairs.
* * * * * *
“Mark.”
The irritating voice refused to be silenced.
“Mark!”
It was breaking through his consciousness.
“Mark!”
Mark jolted awake with a sudden fright. It took him a moment to catch his breath and he immediately scowled when he saw Mavis hovering in front of him. A sharp pain stabbed through his head. “Ow! I thought I told you I didn’t want a headache!”
“I’m sorry, sir.” She hovered away, then back. “I was under the impression you neither wanted to absorb or observe.”
“I did.” He slowly rose to his feet, alien eyes adjusting to the darkened interior. “Thanks for keeping the room dark…what happened?”
Mavis frowned. “That, sir, would be most difficult to explain at once.”
“Then give it to me, slowly, Mavis.” He countered, heading for the chair behind the desk and making it just barely. “What happened?”
There was silence for a moment.
“Mavis.”
“Sir?”
“Mavis!”
“Yes, sir.” Her head bowed and soft purple beams of energy sprouted from her head, shooting forward into his.
He closed his eyes against the physical intrusion, but his mind remained open as Mavis returned to him. He sorted briskly through the usual barrage of requests, emergencies and then hovered on the two points Mavis had been unable to retrieve for him earlier.
Pain erupted through his body as he connected directly with Ben and what was happening to him. The symbol carved on his chest was activated by his frantic hands tugging the shirt open and tracing the glowing patterns appearing.
There was a softer flash of purple and then a moan.
Renewed energy flowed through him as he sprang from the chair and to the twitching body lying on the office floor. “Ben?” He turned away at the sight. “No!”
A strangled noise came from the floor and Mark carefully knelt beside him. “Ben? It’s Mark…it’s all right. You’ve been retrieved…I had no idea-” Clumsy fingers tugged at his shirt sleeve. “Ben? What is it?”
There was no answer.
* * * * * *
The darkness was lifting.
It was brightening in a way that meant he was returning to consciousness. Ben struggled against it, hopelessness filling him as he realized what would happen to him, once the enemy had successfully revived him.
He tried to lock the thoughts out of his head, but it was rather useless.
A cough sputtered up and he heard a voice, very far away.
“…it’s all right. You’ve been retrieved…”
The mere suggestion of those words was too much to comprehend. The blackness began to ebb forward and Ben tried to find a mark to hold on to again. Using Rachel as a mental anchor was too dangerous, so he’d settled on his grandmother from his father’s side.
Her face slowly came into focus within his mind’s eye, the blue gem necklace glowing fiercely at the base of her neck. The necklace now in Rachel’s possession. The one physical item in common between them to allow the mental connection.
Regulations would require it be destroyed to prevent any future attacks being linked to it or through it. A family heirloom bearing more to it than just a piece of jewelry. The family story had said the gem within was a teardrop, from the grandmother herself in her younger years in the aftermath of a painful relationship. The tear had solidified as a result of her gifts, granting her an emotional anchor and a mental focal point with which to concentrate on. The discipline from treating it as a tool had grown her gifts tremendously.
Ben had hoped the same for Rachel. A wave of immense sorrow passed over him, momentarily easing the pain. It was easier to deal with this way, just the sadness and none of the horrid pains from before.
The girls Logan had sent for were experts in their field. They’d caught hold of everything that they could within his mind, shredding it to bits, rendering all physical responses useless. Then the torture had begun.
Ben heaved another cough. The voice was still talking. It was nearby. Perhaps…he was not quite as dead yet, as he could have been. “Mark.” Somehow, the name left his lips.
Burning hands settled on his chest and left shoulder, pouring in the fire faster than he could fathom. It was Mark. And the healing energy pouring into him was strong enough to kill. His lips refused to move, to scream as the two pains within-fought with each other.
Struggling to stay semi-conscious was taking more effort than before and the energy began to subside.
“Ben?” The voice tried again.
He tried to speak, he had to. He had to warn Mark. Had to tell someone. “They know…” He choked out, the muscles in his neck loosened and his head rolled to the side.
“You failed to complete the mission objective?”
“N-no.” Ben winced. “Got it.” His eyes opened, focusing on the blurry images just out of reach.
“Then why can’t I find it?” Two cool fingers touched his chin, continuing to direct the healing energies to repair vital organs. The sensation caused was a painful tickle in areas unreachable on the outside.
A low groan came from his lips. The second wave of healing hurt worse than the first. “Got it.”
Someone sighed. It was Mark. It had to be. Only he could make a sigh sound that disapproving and condescending at the same time. “That much I understand. You got it, so what did you do with it?”
His surroundings came into focus and Ben saw Mark hovering just at his side, hands and eyes glowing with his purple trademark energy. He blinked once, twice. The room was extremely dark. “Rachel.” A shuddering sigh snaked from his lips, the healing was taking as much from him as it was giving.
The expression on Mark’s face smoothed itself away. “I see.” He said finally, he rose to his feet and hesitated.
Ben tried to move, but his limbs were still paralyzed, refusing to obey the commands he directed to them. Even with the extensive healing, he was still just barely alive, it seemed. The piercing pair of purple eyes drilled through him, pinning him to the ground. There were no words to express what he needed, wanted…desperately wished for. He pleaded with him, with his eyes, a favor he was unworthy to request.
He saw Mark hesitate, watching as his hands slowly curled into fists and finally looked away. The struggle within the man standing next to him was more intense than the energies fighting within. A frustrated sigh escaped and Mark drew back one foot. His lips pursed tightly and as quickly as he’d moved, he lightly kicked Ben in the side.
It worse than all the healings combined.
The jolt of energy that left him, jerked Ben upwards to his feet. The cuts and scrapes adorning his face melted away as the skin repaired itself. The purple glow completely bathed him from head to toe and then evaporated. Relief flooded through him in places he hadn’t thought possible, as a split-lip healed, the healing ache fading. Several old scars on his hands from years before faded into nothing as he stared at his hands. Gratitude spilled over in a form Ben hadn’t experienced in many years.
He looked upwards to thank Mark, who had settled into the armchair, arms folded, glowering. “Rachel?” Mark forced the name through his mouth.
“She was the only one I could reach.” Ben shuffled forward, carefully guiding his body to stand at attention. “Thank you…sir. I am most grateful for your interference.”
Mark grunted. “Is it in her, near her, where?”
“A little of some. She is telepathic to some degree.” Ben said quietly. “So it’s in her. Mostly.”
“What was the transfer medium?”
Ben winced. His grandmother’s image flickered through his mind and he bowed his head.
“Well?”
“The blue necklace.” He faltered. “I gave it to her. One of the…requested ones wore a gem similar to it. I sent it through her.”
Surprise showed plainly on Mark’s face. “The teardrop heirloom? That one from your grandmother? The one that takes a-” He stopped and muttered something.
“Sir?” Ben dared to glance upwards.
The muttered phrase was repeated when Mark rose to his feet. “That will be all. You have done your work, well…as usual. However, because of the circumstances in which you were retrieved, you are required to spend the next few years in exile to ensure your existence. You understand, of course?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Good.” There was a pause. “Any questions?”
“How long, sir?”
“Five or six years. Depends.”
“On what?”
“On how bad they want you dead. They were playing for keeps, Ben, or did you not realize that? I almost lost you there and that’s saying a lot. I’ve never lost anyone beneath my gift-ever!”
“Can I tell-?”
“No.”
“Not even-”
“Absolutely not.” Mark sighed. “I’m sorry, Ben. I truly am, but you knew the risks and the consequences that came with this case file when you accepted it.”
Mark was right of course. He was almost always right. Logan and the others would not rest until they had found him and eliminated him, unless of course, the allotted time given to hunting his head expired first. It was a common tradition among those of Mark’s caliber within the same folds of their career.
“Will I be useful?” Ben wanted to know. The thought of spending five or six years in a forgotten part of the galaxy was quite unappealing if he was only to exist to be on the run. If he was useful, then his skills could be put to use and he might even have the time to learn a few new tricks.
Mark glanced sideways at him and then slowly, he nodded. “I’ll see to it.”
“And Rachel…?”
“She’ll be transferred to another handler, her mission will continue, unless otherwise compromised. Possibly.”
“Possibly?”
“I will deal with it. She seems to have quite a knack for landing in places with less than satisfactory possible outcomes.” Mark nodded towards the door as it slid open. “She will be fine, but you won’t if you aren’t off this station within the hour. I don’t want anything vaguely even tracing back to you, much less us or where you’re going to end up. Report directly to Yasha, she will see that you’re properly outfitted and will introduce you to your emergency contacts. A term I do not use lightly, by emergency, I mean right before you die, to inform us of your demise sort of emergency. Understood?”
“Yes sir.”
“And Ben?”
“Sir?”
“Do me a favor…I don’t want to hear from you, for at least five years, okay? If it’s sooner than that, it’ll be arranged…and I’ll be expecting you.”
“Yes, sir!”
“Good luck.”
“Sir…” Ben hovered in the doorway. “I shouldn’t even ask, but…please, don’t assign just another suit to Rachel. She needs more than that.”
Mark scowled. “Which has always been a constant problem with every single one your trained agents. They all have the same issue. Independence apart from a handler terrifies them and they haven’t an ounce of self-confidence.”
“It’s not confidence in themselves, Mark.” Ben frowned. “And you know that. It’s a belief in something more and someone higher. You’re hardly one to talk-”
“I’ll see to it. Anything else?”
“Yeah. Tell her I said goodbye…and I’ll miss her. Don’t you dare garble that.”
There was a moment of silence and Mark finally nodded. “Fair enough. Goodbye, Ben.”
“Goodbye, Mark…and thanks.” Ben slipped out the doorway and into the hall.
* * * * * *
Rachel kicked open the door to her bedroom, her hands full with the burnt pastry, her stomach still craving a filling food substance. She licked her fingers, while angrily flopping across the bed. The day had started with promise, with good things happening and now it was all practically gone.
Her eyes ached again as her nose stuffed up. She squeezed her eyes shut. “I will not cry.” She told the empty room. “I won’t.” But the tears welled up anyway and she stared up at the textured bedroom ceiling.
There were plenty of things that could have gone wrong and of course, countless other things that seemed to be left to follow the same negative trend. Something snapped and crackled at her right, followed by yells from downstairs.
She winced. “Sorry.”
A glance at the alarm clock showed that she’d knocked the power out. Stretching one hand towards it, she stroked the big buttons and plastic casing. At once, the growling in her stomach eased.
Rachel sat up at once. Her eyes traveled from her stomach to the clock. “O-kay.” Her voice wobbled. “That was…scary.” She picked the alarm clock up, turning it over in her hands. Nothing more happened and she breathed the faintest sigh of relief as electricity returned to the house. She had just returned the clock to nightstand when something flashed on the bed.
The object turned out to be a new cell phone and it rang the moment her fingers touched it. The caller ID merely showed a symbol instead of a name and Rachel fumbled with it for a moment before she flipped it open. “Hello?”
Mark was on the other end and he was far from happy. Rachel rolled her eyes, listening half-heartedly as he spoke. It was easier to ignore him than she’d thought and it helped to numb her mind a little more. He wanted an update on her mission, an update she didn’t have and therefore couldn’t give.
“That’s all I know and that’s all I can tell you!” Rachel glared at the phone. “If I was lying, I could most certainly come up with something more creative than that!” She snapped the phone shut. Light blue sparked from her hand over the phone and then towards the alarm clock again. The lights flickered out. Rachel moaned. “Not again.” She reached for the clock.
Loud banging on the bedroom door made her freeze. “Rachel!” Calvin was furious.
Shuffling to the door, she braced it with one foot, so it would only open partway. “What?” She demanded.
“Quit doing that! What’s going on with you? What did you just do?”
The lights in the hallway flickered on and off. Rachel shrugged. “Apparently, nothing.” She tried to smile, promptly closing the door in his face. She gripped the doorknob with one hand, and spark of blue traveled over it. She hesitated, waiting for his yell, but it didn’t come. Relief flooded through her as a matter of course, she’d have to be careful with her temper if it simply chose to show itself with frequent power failures. She chewed her lower lip. Uncle Thom wouldn’t like that at all and she’d already ruined one appliance.
“That wasn’t very nice of you.”
Rachel jerked backwards and stared. “M-mark. What are you doing here?” Her hands fumbled with the doorknob and then stilled when his gaze traveled towards the door. “I-I didn’t meant to, um…hang up on you.”
“Did you now?” His head tilted to the side, expression neutral. “Tell me then, what exactly did you mean?”
“I-I…”
“That was not only rather childish, unprofessional and a cowardly way of avoiding a necessary conversation, it was in fact, I would venture to say-extremely rude.”
“If you’re fishing for an apology, get out!”
“We’re not exactly starting out on the right…footing, here.”
“I don’t care. Get over it. What do you want from me?”
“I think it would be best if you sat down first.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Sit?”
“No, thanks. Just yak it out and then get out of here.”
“Do you simply have no sense of respect or are you always this wildly outspoken?” The sarcasm-laced question was emphasized by the slight raise of his eyebrows. “I asked nicely and I’m going to actually repeat myself by asking that you please sit down. We have a great deal to discuss.”
“And I said that-Ow!” Rachel stumbled backwards to the bed, sitting hard on the edge, one hand clutching her left bicep. Mark’s eyes flickered purple. “Stop that!”
“I’m actually here for your necklace.” He said smoothly. “Ben has something inside that he needs to retrieve, so I told him I’d save him the trouble, may I have it?”
“No!”
“Thank you.” Mark crossed the room to stand in front of her. Their eyes locked as one cool hand slid just under her shirt collar, a finger curling around the chain and giving it a pull.
Rachel barely felt the tug, but she abruptly looked away as the glowing blue gem was dangled in the air in front of her. The hand lingered on her shoulder, she jerked away from it. “Do you just get your kicks by pushing people around and watching them squirm?”
A faint smile touched his lips and the hand returned to his side. “Some of the time.” The desk chair on the opposite end of the room turned and streaked directly towards him. “Thank you.” He tipped his head towards her. “Next time though, if you’re attempt to attack me, don’t pick something behind me. I’m more likely to expect it there than anywhere else.” The smile threatened to appear again as he seated himself directly in front of her. “And never pick anything with wheels. I like round things. They fascinate me…meaning it could be very…unpleasant, on your end if you’re trying to attack me with a giant snowball.” He shook his head. “I take it back though.”
“What?” Rachel glowered at him.
“You are capable of changing the subject.” He sighed. “But it could also be because I am willing to humor you.”
“Rachel!” Calvin pounded on the door again. “I know you’re in there! Stop playing with the lights, you’re scaring Jeanette!”
Rachel began to rise, but Mark caught hold of her wrist. “I’ll get it.” He closed his eyes briefly for a moment, then rose, moving towards the door. When he opened it, Calvin looked him up and down.
“Who are you?”
“A friend of Rachel’s.”
“How’d you get in here?”
“We’re in the middle of a very important discussion and I don’t quite appreciate your interruptions. Kindly do us both a favor and occupy yourself elsewhere. If you believe she is causing these…power failures, I will mention it to her.”
“Exactly what kind of discussion.”
“Quite frankly, it’s none of your business.” Mark said smoothly. “Thank you for your concern, I’m sure she’s touched. If you’ll excuse us, good night.” The door was firmly shut in his face. Mark waited by the door until the footsteps finally faded off.
Once that was taken care of, he returned to the chair opposite of Rachel. “I am going to cover this as quickly as possible, so please try to keep up. If you cannot produce useful results for your case file by tomorrow, I will be suspending it and shifting you to inactive duty until you return to your hometown. Presently, for the stunt you have yet to be reprimanded for, you are grounded, effective immediately-”
“What?” Rachel interrupted. “Whoa…back up here, Mr. Tough and Mighty boss guy. What are you talking about?”
“Grounded. No wheels. No outside contact. No poking about without an escort. You will also be receiving a new handler.”
“A new handler?” Rachel shot to her feet. “What did you do to Ben? Did you shoot him again?”
Mark leaned back. “Technically speaking, you did the shooting.”
Rachel lunged forward. “You-!”
In the moment she grabbed for his throat, he twisted, sliding of the chair and tackling her to the ground. His movements were swift, expert and painful. “If I were you-” His voice was dangerously close to her ear. “I wouldn’t do that again. It could be hazardous to your health.” He released her with an extra twist. “Sit there and don’t move if you know what’s good for you.”
Rachel opened her mouth and his hand covered it at once, the other arm pinning her back against the dresser. A muffled squeak came from her lips.
“I know this seems like a cheap thrill to you, because that’s exactly the way you treat it.” He was cold and harsh. “This is a very dangerous game, Rachel. With a lot of skilled players rolling the dice, gambling more than your human brain will ever be able to comprehend. It’s not half as foreign as you wish it was and it’s more real than you’ll ever know, so when I speak to you, I expect you to listen on the condition of your existence. In simpler terms, listening to me can determine whether you’ll live to see tomorrow or not.” He dropped his hands, scooting backwards. “Ben has gone away for awhile. He said to tell you goodbye and that he’ll miss you.” Mark shifted to his feet. “He was on a very important solo assignment. His identity was fragile and his cover was wax-paper thin. He had to retrieve a specific item…it’s is area of specialty. That is what he’s good at. He loves doing that and requested the assignment when I gave him first pick.”
Rachel drew her legs upward, hugging them to her chest. She eyed him wearily as he moved to sit in the desk chair, relieved when he kept a distance between them. Her nerves were frayed and most of everything else inside of her had significantly wilted. Her nose itched and eyes burned and she closed one eye, concentrating on keeping the tears away.
“He’s also very fond of every stray he takes under his wing. He gives them his cell phone number.” Mark paused. Rachel hiccupped. He sighed. “And they can call him at anytime, anywhere. However, all calls sent to any phone can be traced back if the phone receiving it is captured. Once the call is traced, it’s often a skip and hop to unraveling everything. That’s why so many handlers set up mindlinks with connection puzzles and that sort of thing. It’s protection for both sides. Ben gave you his number and when he was at a critical point, you called him. He couldn’t take the call, but he had to protect you. He made your phone blow up almost at the cost of his own life. He also transferred the information he’d retrieved and sent it to you through a link-the necklace. You were seen by someone...because he couldn’t close the link fast enough. He sent a warning that was filtered through us and we could only observe your trace.” Mark deliberately turned away. “Which is why you’re grounded…and your bike-”
“I just got it!” Rachel protested. “You can’t take it away! It’s mine! How could you-!”
“I also teleported near it, there’s probably warp residue left on it.”
“Will I get it back?”
“No.”
“You can’t do this?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Her head turned away. “So what did you do to Ben? He’d better be alive.”
“He’s alive…he just can’t stay here.”
“Why not?”
“That is a question you shouldn’t ask and I won’t answer.” Mark said, darkly. “Your new handler will be found and the number will be programmed into your phone. Please don’t use that phone to make any personal calls until this case file is closed. When it is, you’ll be issued a new phone and you’ll be welcome to do whatever you please with it. Skip your report tonight and turn it in tomorrow afternoon. I expect every detail to be noted and something to tell me why you should stay on this, unless of course you complete the objective before then.” Something beeped on his wrist and Mark frowned. “I am needed elsewhere, but I have nothing more to say, so that is fortunate. Get some rest, you’ll need it tomorrow.” He rose from the chair and crossed to the window.
Rachel stiffened as he stood next to her and opened the window. He braced one foot, then launched himself out and downward. She scrambled to her feet to see and could only make out the shadowy figure mounting a motorcycle. She turned away from the window, pulling it shut as the bike rolled down the driveway and out into the street.
It had been a horrible, terrible and awful sort of day. She curled up on the ground below the window and cried.
© Sara Harricharan

Friday, June 12, 2009

Raising Rachel [part 15] (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Peej herself @ her blog, Patterings. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Ramblings: Well, I had a stroke of creative genius-LOL-yeah right, and decided not to antagonize Rachel this week and settled inside for some good ol' confusing bouts of action. I say confusing, but I have no idea if it'll actually make as much sense as I'm hoping it will. A whole lot of energies, super-powers, secret spy stuff, etc floating around this week. Let me know if you're following it, I'm continuing the plot bubble from last week and thoroughly enjoying the direction this story has taken. Please enjoy the read and have a terrific weekend!

P.S. for some clarification (^_^) and hopefully better explained in this piece, when Rachel called Ben, she caused trouble on his end and in order to protect her, he sent a signal to self-destruct her cellphone and it blew up so the connection couldn't be revived, therefore putting her in danger when enemy agents attempted to establish a connection under false pretenses.

Rachel slowly pulled over to the next side road that appeared. She stumbled from the bike, haphazardly pausing to yank a few handfuls of greenery over it as she aimed for the woods. Her mind had seemed to lose all control of itself, filling her head with voices and images that didn’t make sense at all.

There were fuzzy pictures, then clear clips of some sort of memory, yet the more she tried to remember them, the more they faded away. “Something’s wrong with me.” She told the nearest tree, sinking to the damp ground, digging her fingers into the dirt. “Something’s really wrong with me.”

The faint blue fire, evidence of her electrical powers, glowed briefly at her finger tips, then faded. The earlier burning sensations ripped through her head, begging for a scream to leave her lips. The blue gem glowed fiercely at her throat, a soft sizzle reaching her ears.

In the moment she tried to rip it away, she felt the heat sear through her skin. The necklace dug into her skin as she tried to break the once-fragile chain. A thin golden glow entwined around it, strengthening the weak material as her fingers clawed desperately to remove the one thing determined to remain with her.

The fire grew stronger, burning deeper and when she finally did black out, the darkness was more welcome than she wanted it to be.

* * * * *

An immense wave of sadness washed over him, the moment his eyes opened.

Mark groggily sat up, his head vaguely throbbing. A groan left his lips, followed by words muttered beneath his breath to revive himself.

I shouldn’t have fallen asleep…something happened.

He awkwardly shifted to his feet, trying to sort out the reasons, the roots and where the surge had come from. He stopped, abruptly, when he realized the source had disappeared. “No!”

His eyes adjusted enough to see that he had fallen asleep on the corner pallet within his office. Mark grimaced. “Lovely.” He headed for the closet, grabbing a fresh change of clothes and throwing it into the silver tube at the corner of the room. He stepped inside and emerged a moment later, fully dressed, his hair wet.

Absently his fingers ran through it as he moved to stand in the center of the room.

“Darken.” He ordered, quietly.

The light within the office cubicle fizzled out. A steady stream of purple energy spilled from his right hand, slowly forming into a visible head. Mark smiled. Mavis was the fictional character created within his mind to help deal with the stress of his work, while monitoring the stability of his powers and immediate sanity.

“Thank you, Mavis.” He congratulated the virtual assistant as his arms began to glow with the usual glowing tattoos coming to life as he accessed his arms of power. Bright purple lines streaked from his feet and up the sides of the walls, until they met overhead.

“Sleep well, Sir?”

“Depends…I wasn’t supposed to be sleeping. What happened?”

“Energy overspill, sir.” Mavis rolled her head to the side. “Too much of nothing.”

“I see….find some things for me to read, Mavis.” He frowned. “And get rid of my headache.”

“Sir?”

“What’s causing it, anyway?”

“That, sir, would be most difficult to explain.”

“I’m listening.”

“It appears to be a manifestation of your frustration, anger and helplessness in the past experiences of these type of situations.”

“What?”

“It’s complicated…sir.”

“Right…uh, deal with it, would you?”

“Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?”

“Just a moment.” Mark waited until the purple lines of energy were security connected, when they did, Mavis glowed brighter and he felt several degrees of pressure lift from his shoulders. “Thank you, Mavis.”

With the information net completed, Mark stepped away from the center circle. “Status report.” The lines glowed and a series of reports began to appear on the left wall, opposite of him. “Specific order reports.” He moved to read the reports scrolling up the wall. “Individual status report.” He murmured. “Specifics, Benjamin Harold Hammond, Rachel Elizabeth Banner.”

“Status reports suspended for Rock and Hammer.” Mavis hummed.

“What now?” Mark deadpanned.

“Energy signals are too low...and conflicting...Sir.”
“Are the signatures the same?” Mark whirled around, pulling hard on his energies to display the necessary information for Mavis to process. Messages that had come while he’d been asleep, distress calls still unanswered and decisions made by his subconscious self.

Mavis flared even brighter. “Transferring…would you prefer to observe or absorb?”

A violent shudder passed through him and Mark sagged backwards onto the wall. “Neither, Mavis.” He winced. “Niether…think you could manage that?”

“Sir?”

“I don’t want to feel it. I don’t want to feel any of it.” He groaned, an immense pain was ripping through him from limb to limb.

“I can try…sir.”

“Try harder.” He slowly slid to the ground, clutching at his head. “I don’t want to feel anything and I especially don’t want anyone else’s emotional kickbacks filtering down to me.” His eyes flared bright purple. “This organization is under my control, at my mercy…not the other way around…deal with it!”

“Yes sir.” Mavis droned.

Mark bit his lip, drawing blood.

A spike of energy surged through Mavis. “You’re resisting…sir.”

“Sorry Mavis.” He growled, squeezing his eyes shut.

The air in the cubicle seemed to freeze and when the moment of suspension was over, all that remained was a darkened room, with a limp body in the corner.

* * * * *

Ben paused outside the wall, feeling it lightly with his fingertips. The material, possible density and times for the rotation of the guards spiraled through his mind as he did so. He held his breath, mentally preparing for the physical change as he simply walked through the walls and to the security central contained within.

A glowing core of red and blue, he extracted his cell phone from one pocket, checking the ID. It was safe enough to use that here, just barely. Any other equipment would have been too suspicious and given him away within the first week. The cell phone was riskier in terms of potential fatalities.

The bead of sweat forming on his chin was angrily swiped away by one hand as he flipped open the phone, typing in the correct passwords. There was no time to think about what could go wrong at such a crucial moment. The months and weeks of careful planning, hinting and positioning were about to pay off.

He didn’t dare relax, even as the mission objective was close at hand.

Plugging the phone into the base of the core system, he downloaded a virus, while uploading the latest additions from their database. It was supposed to be the simple kind of pick and drop job given to a rookie, but this time, stakes were higher and someone important had gotten wind of what was going on in the lower ranks.

Ben grimaced. Surviving the weeks undercover had been nothing short of a miracle. The progress bar flashed, showing the virus fully uploaded. There was a faint tingle in the back of his head and as he tried to identify it, there was a slight twinge in the tattoo hidden beneath his shirt on the left bicep.

Immediately his fingers flew to the phone, making sure the upload was progressing while he accessed the files through the visual display, skimming them as quickly as he could. It was enough to simply look at the image, then scroll to the next one. If it didn’t all upload, then Mark would be able to access the information through the memory of them. The tattoo continued to tingle as he fidgeted, having scrolled through every available file when the phone buzzed.

Panic streaked through him and out in the next second as he wrenched the phone from the connection, hurriedly trying to shut it off. His fingers fumbled, then steadied, succeeding in silencing the call, bumping the caller to the voicemail.

Alarms rang out loudly within in and he backtracked, phasing through the wall and running soundlessly towards the cove he’d seen before. The phone continued to buzz as he glanced at the caller ID.

The strange feeling from before now multiplied itself.

Rachel.

Her name brought a series of mixed emotions and he clenched it tight in one hand, darting into the alcove and pressing the button to shut off the voicemail.

Of all the times she could have called…

Ben slowly lifted the phone to eyelevel and then opened his mouth. He painstakingly fitted it within, taking slow careful bites. The taste was disgusting, the reality of what he’d done was worse. The machine converted to energy within his mouth, trickling into his stomach as it now became a part of his body.

The sound of shouts and running feet pounding through the hallway was too close for comfort.
There was small consolation for the fact that at the very least, they would never find the instrument he’d used to complete the mission objective.

A shadow fell dangerously close to the shadowy hiding place.

His stomach churned, then settled at a simple thought directed towards it. Something hot and wet trickled down the side of his face. He reached one hand for it as the shadow stepped forward.
“Step out with your hands where I can see them!” Shane barked. He was the skinny, suspicious teenager they’d assigned to keep an eye on Ben. He smirked as Ben moved to stand in the light. “Over here!” He waved over a section of guards, the smirk melted away as he stared closely at him. “Wait…dude…are you…crying?”

“For a very good friend of mine.” Ben slowly wiped the tears away with one hand, the other in the air.

For Rachel...because I know I won't see her again for a very, very long time.

“Ah, girlfriend.” Shane waved him further out. “Get over there by the guards.”

“Not my girlfriend.” Ben forced himself to keep a light tone in conversation and his stomach settled. It wouldn’t do to let that particular energy signature come through. The thoughts circling through his head were dangerous enough, he tried to think of something different, of anything…camping, soap operas and vegetable gardens. The desperation could have brought a laugh if the situation wasn’t deadlier than it appeared.

The sound of new, heavy footsteps drew the attention of all. Shane straightened up almost at once and Ben resisted the urge to close his eyes for the moment it would give him. He needed to stay as alert as he could.

Please don’t let that be Logan. Please…

“Shane!” It was Logan pushing to the forefront, his burly build forced the guards aside as he leapt into the circle surrounding Ben. He was two-hundred pounds plus, of pure muscle and bad attitude. He’d taken Ben as a sidekick and now the look on his face spoke much louder than anything he could have spouted out aloud. “What’s going on here?” He boomed, the energy whip, his signature weapon, crackled to life at his utility belt.

“Found our spy.” Shane jerked a head towards Ben. “I was right after all.”

Logan turned, his gaze traveling quickly over the man standing silently a few feet away. His eyes narrowing, flickering to a vibrant green. “When was lunch…Shane?” He asked, a metallic quality to his voice as he took a step forward. He'd just figured the equation and come up with a plausible answer.

No! Don’t do it, Logan…don’t!

The dangerous thought was banished as Ben tried to return his train of thought to vegetable gardens. He couldn’t let Logan know that he knew. He felt the x-ray power probing and slipping through his defenses. The frozen state of his body struggled to remain still, but it was too late for any reaction.

The look that passed between them was missed by Shane and company. Logan turned away, muttering something under his breath. He’d seen the new concentration of energy within him, while he tended to jump to conclusions, this time he’d be right. This was his area of specialty.

Ben lifted his chin, his mind working as far as he could dare to let it go. His wrists were bare, there was no way to warp out here…not in the usual way anyhow. His mind had split in two directions, one for a distraction and one for what was absolutely necessary. He couldn’t let them take the information from him, too much had already been wasted, lost and given away.

In the line of duty…

Mark’s words echoed hollowly within him.

“Two hours ago.” Shane scowled. “Why?”

“Send for a pacifier and a blocker.” Logan said quietly, his face twisted into an expression of disgust. “I should have known…but you were good, weren’t you?” He lunged forward, collaring the new prisoner. There was no answer. Logan gave him a shake, then gave the shirt a yank.

The sleeves ripped and his eyes flickered to something darker beneath. The rest of the sleeve was ripped out, revealing the telltale tattoo beneath. A hush fell over the crowd. Logan shoved him backwards. “A viper? That’s what you are?” He took a step backwards, shaking his head incredulously. “Of all the wretched places to come-”

“They’re here!” Shane announced, the gaggle of guards parting to admit the necessary specialists.

Two young women with smiling faces and cold eyes. They were dressed to allure, but their hands were sparking with the trademark powers they were known for. A golden chain and pink stone adorned the wrists of the curly-headed blonde to the left, while the brunette sported a golden chain with a blue gem in addition to her flowing ponytail.

“One at a time, sir?” The blonde asked politely.

“Both!” Logan growled. “No mercy…” He whirled on Shane. “Did you check the core? What was wrong? What happened?”

Shane shrugged, taking a step backward. “Can’t tell, nothing as far as I know.”

“Yeah, but you’re not a tech head are you?” Logan growled. “Call someone!”

“Sure.” Shane said, sarcastically. “No problem, I don’t suppose you’d care to let me in on this secret of yours, would you?”

“He’s got some good powers on him.” Logan gave a jerk of his head in Ben’s direction. “Add a converter to that list and a Viper tag to him. He just ate something, turned it into pure energy, we need to get it out of him and we need to know what it was!”

“He was transmitting?” Shane was thoroughly puzzled. “But that doesn’t make sense, there wasn’t anything in the files about-”

“Shut up!” Logan raged. “and get your brain in gear!”

Shane jerked back, in time to bark out the orders to the rest of those standing around. He stood back as a yell came from the corner where the two girls stood. They each had one hand on a shoulder and their energies were probing into him, ripping apart the mental barriers in their way.

Ben struggled to focus as the hands resting on his shoulder, used the physical contact to dig deeper into his energy self, searching for what he’d eaten. His eyes rested again on the blue gem hovering just inches away from his face.

And his concentration broke.

I’m sorry, Rachel.

The apology wouldn’t be enough, but it was an alternative he had to take. The mission was now the sole concern, his safety taking a far seat in the back. He felt the energy within him surge and overflow, pushing back both girls with a powerful wave, knocking several guards flat while causing others to stumble.

His gaze zeroed in on the blue gem and he directed every precious spark through the gem using it as a platform to launch it through his mindlink…directly to Rachel. He felt the physical impact when it hit her and, struggled to keep his consciousness long enough for the transfer to complete itself.

The distress call ringing through his head remained unanswered as rough hands grabbed hole of him this time. He felt the mind probe shoved through the side of his head and felt the fire ripping through his limbs.

Blackness came near and he surrendered to it with throbbing in his arms still aching as he faded away.

© Sara Harricharan

Friday, June 5, 2009

Raising Rachel [part 14] (Friday Fiction )

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by the talented Karlene Jacobsen @ her blog, Heart and Soul. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Ramblings: Well, I'm later with this post than I'd like and I didn't quite get to wrap up all the mystery around the printing shop and what happened, but I figured a few little twists+one explosion couldn't hurt. ^_^ Enjoy this next installment! Rachel is finally putting together a few pieces of the puzzle...do you have it figured out? Let me know! I'd love to hear from you-what you think, how the story is going any other random bits of feedback. Have a great weekend! Cheers!


The ride into town was fun. Breakfast with Robbie was even more fun. But running errands for her Uncle was a whole new story. Rachel groaned when the cell phone rang. It was a short discussion, something about not being able to reach Calvin or Jeanette and if she could pick up the flyers herself, while keeping an eye out for them.

“Well that’s easily answered.” Rachel muttered, hooking the helmet on one side of the handle bar. Robbie had left after breakfast after giving directions to the printer place. Her gaze swept the tiny wooden building from base to rooftop. It was shabby and fading, at least in comparison to the local kinko’s back home, but the parking lot was packed. “Weird.” She mumbled, stepping over a clump of weeds happily in bloom from their crack in the pavement.

A dented brass bell tinkled over head as she gingerly pushed the white door inward. The paint was peeling around the frame, but the door itself was fine. Rachel stepped inside and did a double-take. In spite of the lousy parking outside, there were several different customers and the tiny printer shop was buzzing away.

Rachel slowly took her place in the long line up to the counter. Each person seemed to be holding a ticket, handing it over the counter to receive a neatly wrapped parcel in return. When her turn came forward, she offered a smile. “Hi-” The elderly proprietor held out a hand for her ticket. His name tag was a crooked piece of white laminated something, bearing the name ‘Brent’. “Um, I don’t have a ticket.” The fixed smile on his face wavered as the chattering seemed to pause. “I’m Thomas Banner’s niece, Rachel, he sent me to pick up a stack of-”

The man punched a few keys on the plastic register. “Seventy-nine dollars.” He said gruffly.

“Seventy-nine what?” Rachel couldn’t understand how he’d reached that figure. “Uh, could I see the flyers first?”

“They’re the same as they always are.” He didn’t budge from his position by the registers, the baleful, pale-blue eyes glaring back at her.

“Um. Sure…right. Uncle Thom didn’t tell me I had to pay anything.”

The man remained a stern statue.

Rachel sighed. “okay, fine.” She dug in her pocket for her wallet, her gaze skittering quickly over the counter. Her throat tickled as her eyes zeroed in on a tin of peppermint candies behind the counter. “Can you add a tin of mints, too?” The urge to cough was increasing as she tried to clear her throat, but couldn’t.

The white-haired head jerked upwards. “Need to see some ID.” He held out the hand again.

“For mints?” Rachel stared at him incredulously.

“You’re whose niece?” The man countered.

“Oh.” Rachel blushed, hurriedly yanking out her driver’s license. Her fingers fumbled with three plastic squares, a motorcycle license, gun permit and driver’s license. She handed the car license over, hoping he hadn’t noticed any of the others. If going by the legal age on her license, she shouldn’t have a gun permit. Her head throbbed faintly. The permit had been a gift from Ben, before his accidental ‘death’ in order to ensure she could protect herself.

He glanced at it, eyes narrowing. “Out of state?”

“I’m visiting.” She snatched the rectangle back, the moment, he ventured to return it. Cramming the rest of the cards back in the black wallet, she thumbed quickly through the bills. Her breath caught in her throat as she recounted the bills. “I don’t suppose you could cut the stack in half.” She gave a forced smile. “And I guess I’ll have to skip the mints. I don’t have enough cash on me to pay for that.”

“We take credit cards.” He retorted, unsmiling.

“I don’t believe in credit cards.” Rachel snapped the wallet shut, bills in hand. It was an easy excuse for the fact that she traveled light. At least in the cash department. Really light.

“How much are you short?” The new voice came from over her shoulder, as a familiar hand extended, a fifty-dollar bill in hand. “Here. This should cover it.”

“Mark?” Rachel squeaked, the moment his face came fully into view and registered within her brain. “W-what are-”

“She’ll take it.” Mark said smoothly, plucking the bills from her hand and adding it to the fifty as he tossed it on the counter. “And a pack of gum, spearmint.”

The scowl grew deeper, but the elderly Brent took the money, ringing up the purchase. It totaled at ninety-seven dollars and thirty-six cents.

“That’s not right!” Rachel sputtered. “How can the tax on seventy-nine dollars make it ninety-seven! What kind of math is that?”

Brent rang the bell on the counter, waiting until the back door creaked open to show a sleepy, blond-haired boy. “Marty! Fetch the printings for the Banner fellow.”

The words seemed to spark the boy to life as he glanced at Rachel, then at Mark, before disappearing into the back room. When he returned, the sleepiness had faded from his expression and he handed over the brown stack of paper with a careful look. “You’re not Ally’s daughter.” He said matter-of-factly. “Allison McVain…who are you?”

“I’m Thom’s niece.” Rachel snapped, taking the paper-wrapped bundle from him. Her frustrated gaze zeroed in on his bicep. A barely visible flash of blue and brown. She nearly choked. He was Cobra. “I need a receipt.” She managed to say.

The young man immediately pushed in front of Brent and tapped a few keys. A faded slip of a receipt printed out and he smiled, the response superficial as he handed over the colorful slip of paper. “There you go. Thank you and come again.” His tone of voice hinted at the exact opposite, as he turned away.

“The gum?” Rachel repeated, darkly, taking the receipt and stuffing it in her coat pocket. “He ordered a pack of gum.” She jerked a finger in Mark’s direction. A look of amusement had settled over his face and his mouth twitched, but remained shut.

Marty reached backwards and pulled a pack of gum from the clear plastic shelf behind him and tossed it on the counter. “Anything else, Miss?” He asked, sarcastically.

“Yeah.” Rachel took the gum. “I have a few things I-”

Mark’s arm slid around her shoulders, pulling her close. “Rachel, dear.” His voice was steady and calculated, the endearment causing her to freeze long enough to listen to him. “Could you wait outside for me? I’ll be right along in just a moment.” He released her, giving a slight push towards the door. The mixed crowd parted at once and Rachel awkwardly shuffled forward. She hesitated at the doorway. “Go, now Rachel.”

She ducked her head, hurrying out through the door.

A breath of relief came through the moment her boots touched the cracked pavement. She was on her bike, package secured when she realized she was still carrying his pack of gum. She groaned. “No wonder he wanted me to stay. I took his gum.” The idea was silly, but there wasn’t much else to make sense to her frazzled brain, she carefully braced against the bike, checking her watch. Five minutes tops.

When he came out, she’d hand over the gum and leave before he could ask questions. Any questions.
Minutes ticked by. Painfully long as she fiddled with the keys, took the helmet on and off, smoothed her hair, played with the pack of gum, traced invisible shapes with her shoes and finally checked her watch. A mere ten minutes.

The door to the shop burst open and Mark seemed to literally fly through. “Move now!” He barked, in the same voice Ben did right before he told her what code emergency it was.
The helmet jammed on and the key turned.

“Scoot back.” Mark pushed in front of her, grabbing the handlebars.

Rachel winced as he jumpstarted the bike and squealed out of the parking lot. “My bike! My Bike!” She winced, holding on tight as the scenery blurred. The hair-raising ride continued for another long moment, in addition to several sharp, expert turns.

“You’d learn something if you’d keep your eyes open.” He murmured as they flew down the road.

“What if I don’t want to learn this?” Rachel protested. “You’d better not wreck my bike! It’s new! Robbie just brought it from Ben.”

“Who do you think authorized Ben to give it to you?”

Rachel mentally kicked herself for that one.

“Well?”

“Where are we going?”

“It’s called evasive maneuvers and I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, because my powers are doing most of it for me, so I can focus on more important things.” Mark neatly sidestepped the questions.

“I’m going to lose my breakfast.”

“Breakfast? Or your non-existent lunch?”

“Mark!”

“We’re here.” The impossible bike slowed to a halt and came to an abrupt stop. Mark hurriedly dismounted, a white slip of paper now visible in his hand. He unwrapped it at once and quickly examined a scrap of paper, vaguely resembling a business card. A satisfied smirk registered on his face.

“What?” Rachel squinted at it.

He tucked it into a shirt pocket. “Can I have my gum back?”

“Gladly.” Rachel tossed the little white box over and slid forward.

“And the receipt.”

“The receipt?” She whined, but already had pulled it out. “Don’t tell me, you need it to balance your checkbook.”

“Something like that.” He took it, tucking it into his sleeve.

“You owe me gas.” She grumbled.

“You owe me fifty dollars.” He countered.

“Then we’re even.” She leaned forward, brushing dust from wherever her fingers could safely touch, glad to have the helmet off. “You can keep the stupid receipt. Where are we anyway? I couldn’t even see which turn-off you took!”

“Safe, for the moment.” He chuckled. “But hardly even.” He tore open the package and drew out two sticks. “Gum?” She stared at him incredulously. He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” One stick was unwrapped and he chewed quietly for a moment. “You still owe me.” The gum wrapper was crumpled beneath two fingers. “Didn’t you realize what was going on in there? What were you doing there, correction, what were you doing waltzing into a Cobra establishment alone?”

“Picking up flyers for my uncle.” The words were forced through her teeth. “Like I told him.”

“Right then?” His head tilted to the side. “I would normally be inclined to believe you, but you’ll have to understand the coincidence is simply too much.” He paused. “It took a considerable amount of time, money and planning for what you just happened to interrupt in there. I don’t think I can overlook that.” His sky blue eyes flared a darker shade. “You could make it up to though…I’ve got a an engagement Thursday night. Dinner at eight, wear something nice.” A soft purple glow began to shine upwards from his feet.

“What?”

He half-smiled, handing over a plastic card. “Here…consider this a bonus.”

“A bonus?”

"Yes, take it."

Rachel slid off the bike, walking over to take the card. She looked from it to him, completely missing the moment. “Exactly what are we talking about he-”

“Don’t ever be caught in a situation where you can’t afford to pay for something.” His eyes softened. “That’s your expense card from now on. It’ll be refilled as needed.”

“Refilled as in how much?” Rachel turned the card over.

“Enough.” He said quietly. “Dinner, at eight. Thursday. Don’t be late.” The purple glow shot straight up as his physical body converted to the pure energy his powers bound him to, before streaking upwards into the sky, disappearing with a soft flash.

Rachel stared upwards after him. “Meet you where?” She grumped, turning back to her bike and slowly sliding the helmet on. It took her several more minutes to realize she didn’t know where she was or how to get back to where she’d been. “No wonder he wanted me to keep my eyes open.” She muttered.

The most she could remember was a left turn to enter, therefore a right turn to exit. Her mind whirled as the return trip was considerably slower than before.

The day began which such promise…

The taunt echoed in her mind as she slowed to a stop, pulling over to the shoulder of the road. “The second time in two days.” She mumbled, there was something nagging too hard in the very back of her mind. “The second time…I don’t get it.” She reached for her cellphone and began dialing the necessary number. Ben’s. It rang several times, then kicked over to his voicemail.

She sighed. “Great. Now I’m really stuck. Uh, hi, Ben? It’s Rachel, obviously, um, I gave Mark a ride and now I don’t know where I’m at…” There was a loud beep and the phone cut off.

Rachel stared at it. It began to beep and glow all at once. Her eyes grew wide and without a second thought, she chucked it over one shoulder as far as she could, and kick started the bike, streaking down the road.

The explosion behind her was cause for another groan.

Several gusts of wind scattered dust, debris and other random matter when it had all settled down, Rachel slowed a bit to take in the new surroundings. “So much for my phone.” She scowled. “So much for a whole lot of other things.”


* * * * *

“You shouldn’t have called him, Rachel.” Mark frowned as the security screen flickered with the sudden surge of his emotions.

Now there would be complications.

He sighed. “Cherry?”

The sour-faced assistant appeared almost at once. “Yes, sir?”

“Where’s that scrap of paper I asked you to dissect?”

“Here, sir.” She lifted a flat, oblong, white gem from a black cord around her neck. As she held it up, a golden spark traveled through it. Mark held out his hand and an imaged materialized within the gem, trickling out into his open palm.

“Thank you, Cherry. Nothing more, for the moment, please check the alerts and let me know when I can sign that final draft for the mercenary department.” He scowled. “and make sure it makes sense before I do?”

“Yes sir, anything else, sir?”

“No. That’ll be all.” He turned away, as she exited the room. Drawing the specimen from the printshop, he painstakingly compared it to the scrap of paper retrieved by Rachel. He frowned. Surely the most obvious clue had to be within those two pieces, but yet the answer eluded him.

Leaving the surveillance area, he headed for his private office. Within the safe walls, he placed both pieces of paper in sterile containers, storing them in the safe for later perusal. Slumping in the desk chair, he tried to focus.

The printshop was quite obviously a popular pick and drop stop, under the Cobras protection. He frowned. Rachel hadn’t realized that. It’d been risky enough to slip into the shop unnoticed, and to freeze all motion, thought and time while he searched for the necessary information. Upon retrieval, new Cobras had begun to port in, suspicious when all activity had frozen in their busy little shop.

He almost smiled. A dangerous as a position she’d been in, it had been good to have Rachel there. Her bike had provided a convenient getaway and he’d also gained a dinner companion in the process.
The smile slowly smoothed itself out.

All in all, a most productive day.

© Sara Harricharan

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Blue Fingernails

Ever had one of those really, really bad days? You know, the kind that's worse than the worst day of your life, ever. It makes you feel really crummy. And lousy. And insignificant. And oh boy, could I go on. Yesterday was like that, it was just plain awful, no two ways around or about it.

Want to know the surprising thing?

I survived.

Believe me, I wasn't quite sure I would, at least not at the very moment the whole day was spiraling downwards, but just because I don't want time to move, doesn't mean it stops. The amazing thing about bad days? The day doesn't stop, it keeps on going, which means there's a new day and new hope to come when it does. It doesn't make you feel stupid, it actually makes you feel a happy.

In my case, that can be a rather strange kind of happy. As I've mentioned before, my two extremes are the opposite sides of the spectrum for happy or awful. In this case, I attempted to look for something-anything, this morning to make today better than yesterday.

Guess what happened? I was rushing around as usual (generally, I am rarely ever sitting down, still, I mean, unless I'm writing and even so, my fingers are almost always flying) and as I was about to go flying out the door, I paused to grab my knapsack. It's a small little blue thing and I throw everything inside of it, gum, notebook, water bottle, etc. As I picked it up, I noticed a rather odd stain on one corner.

My first reaction was simply, "Oh, that's odd." and began to sling it over my shoulder when I heard it rattle. Now, technically, knapsacks aren't supposed to rattle, but this one did. It was enough to halt in mid-sling and open it to investigate.

Turns out a favorite necklace of mine, was now missing a strand and there were about a hundred little red beads swimming around in the bottom of the bag. Lovely. In the midst of this sea of precious red beads, guess what? There's a nice little tube of red lipgloss. And now, here's how you get blue fingernails.

Retrieve the red lipgloss only to notice blue smears on fingertips.

Act puzzled.

Rub the smears on your fingers to see if it really is blue.

Become horrified when it spreads and refuses to rub out.

Throw lipgloss away. Root around in bag to find the cause of this crisis.

Find blue pen leaking blue ink.

Touch ink to see if it is dry.

Bemoan your fate when a big glob of blue ink is transferred to BOTH fingertips.

Panic.

Rush to the bathroom sink and pump soap vigorously into hands. Lather thickly. Rinse. Repeat. Frown at hands. Rinse. Repeat.

Panic some more.

Look at the clock.

Realize you can't be late for work.

Rush to the kitchen sink.

Use dishwashing liquid to wash hands. Scrub dark blue stains until they become light blue.

Root in the laundry room for Germ-X. Pump generous handfuls over blue fingers. Rub and wash out until both hands have a strange, light-blue quality to them.

Be relieved that most of it is off.

Rush to work.

Arrive at work. Look at fingernails. Realize you now have a Blue French Manicure.

Sit down. Think. Laugh about it. Write a blog about it. Smile. Laugh some more. Wait for comments to roll in.


^_^
And that is how you get blue fingernails...for free! (No hammer involved) Have a great Thursday. Cheers!