Cheryl ran on tip-toe down the hall. Her hand hurt like a sonuvabitch, but it had been worth it. Just because you had a last minute change of heart about me, she thought, doesn’t make up for what you did. This thought, however, made her stumble a tiny bit.
Somewhere in this trap they’d set up, Fran was looking for her. Trying to save her.
If Fran only knew, Cheryl thought. A wave of guilt shook her, shook her violently. She flashed back to that night, two years ago, at the Midnight Moon. Terrible things happened. Cheryl inhaled sharply.
You gotta make it out of here, she thought. Make it out of here or you won’t be able to … make things right with Fran.
Cheryl rounded a corner, and gasped.
Fran stopped dead in her tracks, and gasped.
Wordlessly they ran at each other, so hard that Cheryl almost knocked Fran over. The embrace lasted forever, but not nearly long enough.
“We gotta get outta here,” Cheryl blurted. “This is a trap.”
“Shh. I know. Perfect bait, too,” Fran replied with a grin. “But we can’t go just yet. Me and Killswitch got some unfinished business – “
“And we’d be only too happy if you stayed around,” came Franklin’s voice; seemingly from all around them. He appeared from around a corner, briefly; just long enough to point something that flashed twice. Cheryl and Fran dropped to the ground.
Now, how do I move them? “Fenris! A little help?” Franklin called.
Sub-vocals and hand signs. Signals. The SWAT team moved into position. Breaking through the roof, the windows, the doors. Palmetto-Bug Man/ Ping Bai Mah heard them. Sloppy. In China, such sloppiness would not have been tolerated. A group, three or four, approached him, guns drawn.
It wasn’t enough.
Bullets bounced harmlessly off Ping Bai Mah, just like in the good old days. Palmetto-Bug Man felt oddly rejuvenated as he bent their rifles into balloon-animal shapes. It was as if knowing the truth had set his aging process back. Something to muse on as he beat one officer with another officer. When they were all incapacitated, Ping Bai Mah moved on. By memory, he made his way to what he knew must be the command center. He had some things to discuss with his handlers.
Vanglorious heard the SWAT team breaking in. Sloppy, he thought. If I were in charge of them, I wouldn’t tolerate it. He heard gunshots, then a laugh; muffled and choked screams followed. He hoped that it wasn’t Fran.
“Don’t move.” A voice from behind him. Female. “Flinch and I will put large holes in several of your organs. Do you understand?” Vanglorious nodded. “Hands straight out to your sides and fingers spread, please,” the female voice continued. He complied, dropping the metal staff he carried. It clanged on the ground, then shrank to a rod about a foot long.
“Hm. Bo Staff. Memory steel. Unlicensed, I’m sure.” Bamela Divers, Bureau Agent, nodded in admiration. “An elegant weapon, wouldn’t you say? Nothing loud and sloppy like the SWAT team. Now, carefully – and I can’t stress this enough – carefully kick that back to me. Then turn around.” Vanglorious did what she asked.-97
“You’re that ‘Mister Vanglorious’ guy, right? What are you doing here?” Bamela asked, stooping to retrieve the staff while never taking her eyes off Vanglorious.
Vanglorious shrugged. “I got lost,” he answered. “A friend of mine told me about a little Hurricane Melpo party.”
“Right. I think I got the same invite.” Bamela nodded.
“Okay. You got me.” Vanglorious casually remarked. “Now can I put my arms down? They’re getting tired.”
“Slowly,” Bamela answered. The gun never wavered. Vanglorious yawned. This triggered needle darts that shot out from hidden shooters in his sides that sped towards Bamela. They hit home, slowing her reflexes. She fired, but too late. Vanglorious wasn’t where she was aiming anymore. He snatched the gun out of her hand. As Bamela lost consciousness, she saw Vanglorious shrug.
“Sneaky and old’ll beat young and quick every time,” or something like that she heard him say, as she slumped to the ground.
“What do you think we should do with ‘em?” Fenris asked.
“Whaddya mean?” Franklin replied. “We follow the plan. We’ll film Commando Girl here, we chop off her head or whatever, then we do the same with her friend.”
“What are you going to do with the traitor?” came Forbes’ voice. He had Pamela by the arm, a gun in her back. “I had my suspicions about her ever since the school incident.”
“Let her go.” Fenris’ hands reflexively formed into fists at his side.
“Shut up.” Forbes shouted.
“Freeze!” Officer Smith yelled. The SWAT team, minus the several that Ping Bai Mah took out, burst into the room.
“我会毁了你!” bellowed Ping Bai Mah.
“So, we’re all here,” Forbes called. “Good! I’ve been waiting for this – “
Fran was groggy. Slowly she came around. There she was, tied up. There was Cheryl, next to her, tied up as well. She could just barely make out voices, all yelling, all at once. People-like shapes swam in and out of her consciousness, her field of vision. Someone pointed a gun at Cheryl.
Then, it got weird.
Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She jumped in front of the gun. It was her unprotected head, and not the bullet proof vest with the target painted on it, that intercepted the bullet. Dead, instantly.
Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She grabbed at Cheryl, pulling her out of the way of the bullet at the last second. Somehow, there were brains and skull bits on her bullet proof vest, right near the target she had painted on it. They ran from the room.
Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She leaped at the face wielding the gun. There was a shot. She heard a scream.
Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She tackled the swat team. All of them. At once.
Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She took Ping Bai Mah down a second time.
Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She met up with Vanglorious in the hallway. “Come on!” she yelled. “The shit’s goin’ down!” Vanglorious followed.
She kicked Franklin in the throat.
She broke Fenris.
She snapped Forbes’ arms like twigs.
She stood and stared at Pamela. She couldn’t bring herself to do anything to her.
She paused to glance at the twin sister, Bamela. Bamela slowly came to, a look of comprehension dawning on her face.
All these things happened at once.
Bamela shook her head. “You figured it out,” she sighed. “The dis-entangler.” There was a small army of “Fran”s, one for each possible choice Fran could have made at that instant. Several had died. Others were kicking ass. They won.
And then they vanished.
“Way I see it, we need each other,” Bamela said. Vanglorious, Fran, and Cheryl, had separated themselves from the crowd of police and EMTs. A quick badge flash from Bamela was all it took to quell any questions or double takes.
“Wait,” Cheryl asked. “What’s gonna happen to them?”
“Who? Franklin and Fenris are going away for a long time. Forbes too, most likely. Palmetto-Bug Man is the Bureau’s responsibility. He’s a clone with a limited life span. We’ll try to calm him back down, let him live out the rest of his life in peace. My sister has some explaining to do. Did I leave anyone out?”
Cheryl thought for a moment, then shook her head.
“Who needs who?” Vanglorious asked.
“Ms. Braithwaite needs our training. She’s a natural, but there are some things you don’t learn at the community college annex. And the Bureau could use her – she’s the first person who’s ever figured out how to work with the dis-entangler.” Bamela looked across to Vanglorious. “We could use a man with your resourcefulness as well, Mr. Douglass. – Oh, don’t look so surprised. The Bureau’s been keeping tabs on you since you got all ‘Black Power’ -y back when Flava Flav mattered.”
“Do I have a choice?” Fran asked. “I think Vangl – Mr. Douglass could use some help from me, too.”
“There’s always a choice, Ms Braithwaite,” Bamela answered. “You of all people should know that.”
“Good. We’ll let you know.” Fran nodded. The three of them left.
“Fran, there’s something I have to tell you.” Vanglorious had dropped the two of them off at their apartment. The wind was dying down. It was too – damn -early – in – the – morning thirty.
“You’re leaving? I knew that part.”
“No, that’s not it – shit, this is hard for me.”
Fran put a hand over hers. “Take your time.”
“You know, two years ago, when – “
“Yes. What about it?”
“I … I saw what was … happening. I saw you, struggling, hurt, the fear in your eyes. I could’ve stopped it. But I … I didn’t. I was too scared.”
Fran grinned a little ruefully. “I know.”
“WHAT-” Cheryl blurted.
“Listen. Shh. Let me tell you what happened.” Fran stroked Cheryl as she pulled her close, leaning against her. “I saw you. I saw you looking so terrified. I saw the guilt come over you in the weeks and months later. Did you think I was just out to get revenge?”
“Well, yeah, kinda.” Cheryl shrugged.
Fran nodded. “‘Well, yeah, kinda’,”, she mocked. “There was that. All the people I fought for, that I tried to save? I knew that they’d have someone at home, someone who’d beat themselves up all the time because they thought they’d failed their friend, or their spouse, or kid, or whatever. I saw what that did to you. I couldn’t stand the thought of that happening to anyone else, ever. They didn’t fail. You didn’t fail.
“You were a human.”
The End (of book One)
words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.