The Rain Hotel

Group Six. Prologue

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Tim Sargent was exhausted. So much so, that he could barely remember his own name. In fact, it might not have been “Tim” at all. Tom, perhaps. Tom Sargent. Tommmm… Thomas. Thomas Patrick Sargent. That seemed to do. Well enough, anyway.

He rolled the syllables around in his mind for a moment and then mentally shrugged, too tired to care. His recall was terrible, lately, he had to accept that, and he had other things to remember.

Important things.

And, Tom knew, his name was not important.

The route. That was important. And the bus, of course, but he was looking directly at it then and as long as he didn’t let his vision stray, he probably wouldn’t lose that. Besides, on every wall of the garage was a large sign that said, “Remember the bus.”

The air wavered and the ground shifted ever-so-slightly. In the distance, the growling sound of a C-102 rippled down to him. Underneath “Remember the Bus,” the ubiquitous banners read, “When you hear the jet, get on the bus and sit in the driver’s seat.”

So, he did. He climbed the steps, sat down and followed the taped pages of instructions that papered the dashboard, putting checkmarks in the boxes that required them.

“When you have started the engine, check this box.”

“If the box above is checked, remember how to expertly drive a bus.”

“When you remember how to expertly drive a bus, check this box.”

It was a lot of boxes. A lot of steps. But they worked.

Still, the whole “forgetting” thing was worrisome. That he was apparently a driver of beyond proficient knowledge, but had to be reminded so, wasn’t right. That he always knew where he was, wherever he was, and was capable of getting anywhere from anywhere, as soon as a note reminded him he could… It was unsettling.

But he was accustomed to it. And tired. And there were a lot of boxes to tick before he got to the one that he really hoped to get all the way down to one of these evenings:

“If the box above is checked, pick up the telephone and go home.”

Perhaps tomorrow that would happen. But he had heard the jet and and was on the bus, its engine idling shakily and loudly enough that the rain on the roof of the garage faded into the background.

He heard the jet and that meant packages to find and deliver. It meant that he was doing his job and could tick boxes and could just maybe, finally, go home.

But, mostly, it meant that he was going to have to head back out into the rain. Into the rain and the things in the rain and the things behind the rain. And that was something he very much did not want to do.

The garage door rattled up, coaxing cold grey drizzle that rippled onto the dozen oil-puddles. As it rose, like a curtain at the Grand Guignol, he caught sight of one more sign.

And spray-painted rust-red on the steel panels that rolled slowly up into their tracks above him was the one reminder that Thomas or Timothy Patrick Sargent wrote himself. It read:

“NEVER without a gun.”

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Chap. 1, pgs. 1-3

Chapter 1… Pages 1, 2 and 3
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Page 1

I hate to fly. Loathe it. Why I am a pilot, I have no idea. And I get a headache every time the ‘wherefore’s creep up, so… I try not to think about it. But the flying makes me queasy and the thought that I am wasting my time makes it worse. There are only three passengers this run. Three passengers in 36 seats. Ridiculous.

Why am I flying a mostly empty jet? Ow. Temple throb.

Why am I flying at all? Ow. OW.

Who are these people? Ow. Christ.

Ouch.

Don’t think about it. But, still…

Spooky guy up front, intensely scribbling in notebooks full of numbers. I’d wonder if he hadn’t washed in months except that he looks like he’s been showering with his clothes on.

Just over the wing, Susie Hippy-Dippy. Malaysian or Filipino or something. Smells like a burning rose-bush as she stares wide-eyed out the window. I’m fighting my instinct to like her… to trust her. Something in her is poisonous.

At the back, the professional. I guess. He’s just another kid. Mid-20′s. (They’re all so young.) Even sitting he flows and purposefully runs his eyes around the space. To me. To the Scribbler. To Sunshine Flowerpot. And then behind him as if he knows exactly where the spare parachutes are.

Smallest group so far. And creepiest. But there’s the lurking migraine again, so forget it.

I put my headphones back on. Where was I? For all my complaining, it’s not been a bad flight. Despite the disturbing passengers. Despite the storm that for whatever reason I can’t seem to get above… I’m already mostly through Peter Gabriel’s “POV”. Just a few more songs and we’ll be on the ground.

The digital readout says we make it all the way to 2 minutes, 32 seconds into track 09 before the shit hits the fan. Or rather, a person does. Somehow I hit someone. In midair. The body is headless. Its casually loosened tie flaps as it hangs on the glass for a second before sliding starboard into the turbine.

And, then, it’s gone… followed quickly by the engine.

Page 2

Somewhere far below, the landscape had become hypnotic. For a long while it was empty. Empty. But now it felt as if they were driving through the same intersection over and over and three of the four riders fell into dozing quickly.

The beast in Manolo’s was full of way too much caffeine to nod off, despite boredom’s best efforts. She watched the others sleep fitfully as if she could buy and sell everyone of them, but wouldn’t unless she didn’t have an easier way of dispatch.

A gorgeous, equally stylish, Indian woman two seats forward had fallen asleep first. Her top of the line digital SLR must’ve taken a hundred photos before she realized the scene out of the windows was empty as hell and held no hope of getting any better. The epitome of ‘multicultural’, whatever journeys she’d been on finally caught up with her and the bus rocked her to sleep.

Across from her, another no-nonsense woman had drifted off as well. Her scent was liquid confidence mixed with a high-end cocktail lounge and the other passengers were glad when she fell to dreaming, because there was something about her that said, “I can’t predict myself. How can you hope to?”

She was also traveling exceptionally light, which was not necessarily a good sign.

The only male on the bus, besides the driver, sat directly behind the front doors. The slight Orthodox Jew was the last to board and seemed to take the seat simply so he wouldn’t have to look at anyone else on the trip. He fell asleep, face first, into a yellowed and beaten book of circles and spirals and sigils.

Regardless of how deeply the four passengers did or did not sleep, they all were wide awake once the perpetual rain hitting the windows suddenly went red.

Page 3

Aubrey and Svetlana stared up at the hole in the ceiling. It made a tunnel through the floors above, already drizzle was wetting their dumbstruck faces.

Just seconds before, they and Cavendish locked the last of the bodies away. That left the three of them to breathe twitchy sighs of relief that would only last a moment.

A breeze had nudged the doors open an inch and the air suddenly screamed, a shadow rushing through the tiny gap. In an instant the man vanished, wrapped in darkness that tore through the mahogany and then steel and then brick and then plaster… And, finally, out into the night, stories above.

Somewhere along the way, Cavendish’s head came off. It bounced like a Keno-ball down the sudden chute, before hanging up on a bent piece of rebar between the first and second floors.

His dying eyes stared down at the two women with a very surprised expression, until his brain caught up with the body’s predicament and their light faded away.

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Chap. 1, pgs. 4-6

Chapter 1, Pgs. 4-6
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Page 4: The Jet
“Well, they finally found you, Kyle.”

These are the only audible words that come from the Scribbler once the starboard engine starts tearing itself apart from the inside. He mutters nonsensically, gathering up his notebooks, twitching and chewing his bottom lip, glancing up only once into the cockpit and quickly back down to make sure his journals are safe.

For the pilot’s part, despite his frustration and discomfort flying, he certainly knows what he is doing and while it is clearly just staving off the inevitable, he is able to compensate for the engine loss enough to keep the aircraft from tipping over completely. He pulls off his headpjones, plucking the cord from the jack and music fills the cabin:

“I am ready… Lay your hands on me.”

The woman in layers of flowing skirt is snapped out of her window-watching, half alarmed and half annoyed. She cranes forward and calls out to the pilot, clearly straining to be zen, “Are we going to be able to land?”

A packed parachute lands on the seat next to her as the tall, wiry man in loose workout clothing passes her, heading for the cockpit.

His accent is thick. Eastern European. “Ve’ll be on ze ground zoon enough, I tink,” he says already fully strapped into his ‘chute.

She either misses or ignores the joke, such as it is, and dreamily turns back to the window. “I’m not sure there IS any ground down there.”

The man keeps moving forward, seemingly unaffected by the rocking and bobbing of the crippled jetliner. Without a word, he tosses a second parachute in the direction of the murmuring note-taker, not caring whether he uses it or not. As he slips by, the Grim Samaritan makes the mistake of glancing down at the scrawled gibberish. It’s math. A lot of math. Crazy math… Crazy-man math.

He steps into the cockpit, the front window having become virtually pointless as cracks spiderweb through it, smeared blood pushing up and in as the cabin pressure changes and tries to compete with the airspeed.

The pilot struggles expertly with the controls, but it is obvious that the craft is losing altitude fast.

Sunshine Flowerpot calls from her seat over the port wing:

“Hm. No. It looks like I was wrong. There is an awful lot of ground down there. That’s a relief… And, ooh, look: A bus!”

Page Five: The Bus

The sharp woman in the Cavalli suit is up and moving before the red splash goes entirely pink. She nudges the photographer, who is already raising her camera, and whispers, “Start shooting.” Although intimidated, the lovely Indian gives her a look that says, “Ya think?!” She smoothly clips a rain-guard over the lens and drops the window, getting up on one knee and bracing with her other leg against the seat in front of her. The wind sweeping in is cold and soaking, but the woman fires a digital whir of “Bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz,” into the night like she was picking off charging soldiers.

Although slowing briefly, the driver pushes on through the rain, less unfazed than he is focused. They apparently hadn’t gotten to where they needed to, and while upsetting, the gore on the windshield wasn’t enough to justify a delay.

He takes one hand off the wheel and leans down to pull a black, metal tool-box with a mounted flashlight in front of the handle. Laying it on his lap, he takes a magic-marker from his pocket and puts a check into one of the boxes that cover the dashboard and then goes back to the “10 & 2″ position.

Behind him, the somber theologian in black has put his fedora back on and is ceremonially washing his hands with a baby-wipe and softly rocking in prayer. As she passes him, the Beast in Manolos catches his unhappy glimpse at the driver.

Or, rather, BEHIND the driver.

A rifle.

There is a rifle secured behind him. Even as she identifies it as a 5.56 SCAR-light, she is inserting one of her own keys into the lock that holds it fast in the shallow nook.

If the driver notices, he doesn’t show that he cares.

The Orthodox Jew completes his prayers and, looking up, does his best to not meet the woman’s gaze. “Pardon me, driver,” he says, “Is this normal?”

“Nope,” comes the reply.

Having made sure the weapon is ready to go active, the woman heads back to her seat and calls over her shoulder, “Stop the bus.”

“Nope,” the driver says again and sensing that a simple denial to the now-armed, damned serious person asserting control over him and his bus, he adds, “Trust me. You do NOT want me to do that, even if I could.”

“Are we almost there, driver?” the man in black asks.

“Nope.”

Locked and loaded, the woman tries to keep her temper. She makes sure her smartphone headset is in, on and working, and checks a little flickering map on the screen, which only sets her on a keener edge.

Looking for something else to go wrong, the woman locks eyes with the last passenger, the unnerving wild-child. Wondering why she hasn’t been screeching through all of this like she expected, her answer seems to be that the woman just might have gone into shock.

Eyes half-open, she appears to be dangerously calm. The kind of calm that the air gets just before your house is sucked into the sky. This sits very, very badly with the Beast in Manolos.

“You, Cocktail Queen! If you start screaming, I WILL hurt you.”

And the Cocktail Queen’s response apparently surprises herself as much as it does anyone else.

“Now, why is it that you think I might start screaming, Corporal L’Enfant?”

Page Six: The Hotel

After dislodging Cavendish’s head from the hole in the ceiling and catching it in a mop-bucket, Aubrey slips through a door behind the front desk. She returns momentarily, without bucket OR head and hums “Beyond the Sea” as she cleans the remnants of the attack.

There aren’t many. The tunnel running up through the Hotel and out into the night is already closing on its own, so there isn’t even much rain coming down. In a few minutes, it will be all as good as new, which realistically lleaves only a bit of blood… Which Aubrey has become quite clever at removing from many, many surfaces.

Once tidied, she steps again behind the counter and plugs in a small electric burner with a kettle on top.

“Tea?” she asks to the space where Svetlana had been, but the other woman is gone, either to her room or perhaps the Diner across the street. Aubrey has seen her through the windows working the lunch-counter on occasion, but whenever Svetlana is not there, the place is locked down like it is waiting for demolition.

Aubrey has a feeling the Diner is haunted.

As the water heats, she types out a brief damage-report for the maintenance crew, even if it IS just a formality and then looks into the mail slots. There are large, identical manila envelopes stuffed into four different room boxes.

She pulls out the one marked “Benjamin Strishna” and holds it up to the light. Wrinkling her nose, she runs it through the steam pouring from the kettle until the paper gets more translucent.

Appearing slowly from behind the ochre is a simple drawing. It is a square with a slanted top and an “X” drawn through it. Below the drawing it says, in heavy letters that look like a typewriter font blown up drastically on a copy-machine:

“Find myself.”


Across the street from the Hotel, a shadow takes cover from the never-ending rain, beneath the entry-arch of the Cathedral. It is not nearly as deadly as the thing that snatched Cavendish away, but it could certainly hold its own.

The huddling shadow watches Aubrey clean the lobby and set her kettle and pry into a new resident’s mail.

Amazingly, as it was an awfully long time ago, the shadow remembers getting an envelope just like that one on its first day too.

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Chap. 1, pgs. 7-9

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Page 7

The rose-water hippie chick slips into her parachute with the kind of ease that doesn’t come from devoted practice as much as repeated, casual experience. She loops her arms around the straps of her personal backpack and holds it to her chest moving awkwardly forward through the rumbling, rocking cabin.

“Who’s Kyle?” she asks the Scribbler. “Is he the pilot?”

The twitchy man ignores her and continues stuffing his notebooks away and frantically grabbing at loose scraps of paper that are blowing out of them in the increasing wind.

“I tink, rather, HE ees Kyle,” the Professional says from the seat he has taken next to the struggling, silent pilot. “Vell, Kyle. You may be found, but I fear ve may all be lost.”

The Scribbler looks up, red, over-exhausted eyes wide and snatches up the parachute. “Excuse me there, Boris. How does this thing work?!”

Passing him, Susie Flowerpot scrunches up her face. “You should be nicer to people, Kyle. It’s kind of off-putting.” She steps up into the cockpit and addresses the two men. “What seems to be the trouble, boys? I mean, aside from the fellow who knocked on the window?”

The lithe young man who handed out the parachutes is already standing, confident that he could not land the jet any better than the pilot and knows that there are few moments left to do anything even potentially useful. In addition, between the twilight, the rain and the disintegrating windshield, visibility outside the jet is zero.

“Hi, I’m Belinda,” the hippie smiles as the Grim Samaritan again heads to the rear.

“Belinda,” he says, grabbing his gym bag and bracing himself at the emergency door above the wing, “Come viss me eef you vant to liff.”

“Been saving that up for a while, have you?”

“Years,” is the reply and then calling out into the plane, “Eef you are comink, Kyle, and belief me ven I say I don’t care, now is ze time.”

He ratchets the door and pulls it in. The force of the wet air is magnificent and sucks any further chances of speaking out into the night, but even if it alone wasn’t strong enough to do so, the sights outside the jet would have been.

They are far too low to use the parachutes, only 200 feet or so, and that number is dropping quickly, but the pilot is miraculously keeping the plane as level as can be hoped.

Kyle appears between them and the three watch the rapidly nearing cityscape rush by below them. An errant sheet of equations is caught in the maelstrom and vanishes out the door, the Scribbler’s mouth moving in a litany of unheard, agonized cursing. The hippie turns to him and then looks to the cockpit and back to the two men.

The moment they share is mute but unmistakable. Whatever the pilot might do in the next seconds, they are all positive he is not leaving the controls.

All in all, your average jet crash isn’t usually quite so calm.

Page 8

The photographer has begun navigating the bus, camera held high in front of her, firing nonstop in every direction. “All in all,” she remarks from behind the viewer, “your average cross-country bus trip isn’t usually quite so chaotic. Is it?”

The newly dubbed Corporal L’Enfant clenches her jaw painfully to keep it from falling open from both frustration and confusion and in her moment of stunned silence, the Man in Black asks the driver, “How far, or how much longer, until we arrive? If you had to guess?”

Keeping her eyes locked on the Cocktail Queen, L’Enfant calls over her shoulder.

“He has been going in circles for the last 74 minutes. So, yes, Rabbi, wherever it is we’re going, we’re already there.” She speaks to the woman again. “Do you have any intel of use here? SMEAC? Orders to pass on? If not, shut up before I put a .45 slug up your ass.”

She pauses and waits for a response. Any response.

The one she gets is not preferred as the Cocktail Queen’s sleepy eyes shut and then fly open, accompanied by a one of those giggles that really only come from drinking too much champagne in movies.

“Wow. That was weird, huh?”

“Yeah. Didn’t think so.” L’Enfant takes a breath and then turns back to the front, “Okay. Driver, you’ll be at the intersection, AGAIN, in less than a minute. Pull up to the the hotel there… And, ‘Nope’ is not an option.”

But, she is ignored. In fact, it is obvious to everyone on the bus that she has never been more ignored in all of her life.

The Man in Black has gathered his things and is speaking softly to the driver who shows no signs that he is interested in anything but the road ahead. “I assume you know that the lady in back has taken the weapon from behind you?” he coughs nervously. “Just in case you thought you’d need it for our arrival… or some… contingency.”

The driver simply pats the little box labeled “FMG9″ in his lap and hits the gas suddenly.

“Speeding up is not stopping!” the Beast barks behind them.

And, while there is no way of knowing if it is an error in judgment or just a good move gone bad, the driver swerves heavily to the right as a low-running shape breaks the headlight beams of the bus. Under other circumstances, the driver could probably recover just fine, despite the shallow flood of the rain in the road.

As it is, however, that veer broadsides the bus into an unexpected wave of heat as it passes through the wash of a C-102 Avro Canada. The jet kisses its landing gear on the emergency exit bubble-window in the roof and the bus is kicked into a low, airborne tumble that would have been a lot more dramatic had there been two working turbines instead of one.

“Seargent Majors eat sugar cookies,” exhales the Cocktail Queen from the back of the bus just before the first impact.

Page 9

The windows of the hotel lobby rattle as the bus barrel-rolls past them, pulling Aubrey from her bag lunch and worn 35c “Frankenstein” paperback. When the grinding of the jet along the wet pavement tears the air, she sets her sandwich down on the check-in desk.

But it isn’t until the tin-can crumpled bus comes to rest, bumping into the nose of the still corpse of the downed airliner and the sounds of slowing wheels within wheels, that she stands up.

On the one hand, the bus is on time, even early. “Nice job, Patrick,” she says under breath, impressed. “Of course, on the other hand…”

Aubrey pops a grape into her mouth and smooths her skirt and apron as she walks to the front doors. It is hard for her to judge the scene as good or bad, as she has never seen it happen like this before. She has seen a lot, but not this.

The young woman checks keys and the pantry and the linen closet to unnecessarily reassure her that she has everything the new arrivals need. “I don’t care who you are or why you’re here,” she half-sings to herself, “But hot showers and clean sheets make everything better.”


A sopping man in very expensive adventuring gear slides into a crouch behind the low three-step concrete rise leading into the dilapidated diner catching his breath. The wreckage is massive, flaming and steel. He pauses, surveying the scene and talking himself through it.
“The airliner came from the south…ish, clipped the bus running down Hartattack, flipped it and then… finally crashed headlong into it. Bad, bad, bad, bad physics.” Keeping his eyes open to anything else that might drop from the air, he scans for survivors. Nothing is moving yet. “See, Kyle, this is why you stay away from the city,” he mutters to the rain.


Static.

“We’ve lost them.”

“Excuse me?”

“We lost them.”

“Who?”

“Everyone, sir.”

“The transports?”

“Both gone. Catastrophic.”

“Be specific with me. Are you saying that both the bus and the jet are destroyed?”

“To the best of our knowledge, sir.”

Pause.

“Good. Lock it down.”

Static

End of Chapter One.

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Chap. 2, Part 1

Click here for audio narration.

The Grim Samaritan loops his arm through a reinforced canvas strap attached to the jet’s open door.

“News flash,” he calls out. “I’m still leaving. Five seconds to decide if you want to–”

And Belinda cuts him off by jumping past him from the C-102, throwing the sail of her unpacked parachute into the night. As the wind catches it, the ‘chute spreads wide and suddenly looks like a mammoth jellyfish that steals her away. Her voice dopples off, “The world awaits us… even if it isn’t expecting us!” The dark is a stage-curtain closing around her and she is gone.

With a simple “Hm,” he turns back into the cabin.

The Scribbler is looking down at his hands. They are doing a frenzied, but not entirely spastic, dance, as if he is taking counting on his fingers to a level beyond Beyond. Without looking up, he says contritely, “I’m sorry if I was rude before. Sometimes… Sometimes I’m… not… myself. I get the–.” He finishes the digital equation and lifts his eyes to see the Samaritan.

“Gah! Not you, Boris… Jesus!” He turns in the epitome of a huff and stomps forward to the cockpit, taking the empty seat. “If you’re going to kill me,” he says to the grimacing pilot, “you’re going to have to kill us both.”

“Hm,” grunts the athletic Eastern European again. “Vell then.” He turns back to the rushing landscape and tries not to be bothered by it. His brain and body convert the very unsettling pattern of ‘That’s a church, that’s a bank, that’s a church, that’s a bank, that’s a… church’ into sharp-flat-sharp-flat-sharp-flaaaaaat-SHARP!

He pulls back and with a two-step half-run is up and out, knees to his chest, just barely sailing over one of the outer, shorter steeples, across the street and into a roll onto the safer landing zone of the bank roof.

Picking up the duffle he drops just before impact, he moves cleanly to the little stairwell building, checking his pocketwatch for damage as he does so.

The door is locked and, judging by the sound of it, probably chained from the inside. A worn metal sign surrounded by hobo graffiti reads: “Dugan-Tudor Lending Library. Maintenance use only. No admittance.”

“I zuppose it is not a bank, after all,” he mumbles. “Goot. Zis vill not take as long as I thought.”


Seen in the light of a Blackhound Bus to passenger jet collision, and where seconds feel like minutes, a simple costume change can go unnoticed for a while. But as the passengers gather themselves and their wits and take places on the sidewalk, whether standing, sitting or fetal, everyone eventually realizes that the Beast in Manolos is no longer in those pumps… or that suit.

Whatever custom bag she had earlier, she has exchanged it for full-on urban assault kit and from it she pulls a top-grade first-aid package. Kneeling in front of the Photographer, she briefs her on the contents and their uses.

“This… is Quick-Clot… Here’s how it works… These… are anthrax countermeasures… Leave them alone.”

She stands and disables the SCAR rifle and tosses it aside, moving to the wreckage of the jet, leaving the Indian woman to shake off her shock and do as instructed.

The Cocktail Queen escapes out through the emergency exit at the back of the bus and focuses her attention on the driver who is standing in the dead center of the intersection. He is a man devastated and he turns in slow circles as if he is pondering which way to start walking but will never decide.

Fiercely the Queen is on the driver, pushing him from the street and up against the wall of the Cathedral. “Speak. NOW!” she commands in a voice that is hers but still not one she entirely recognizes. He is lost in sadness. “Tell me,” she barks,”Tell me what you know, Sergeant Patrick!”

No response.

She drops her hold, spins away and in a lighter tone that she feels more comfortable with, primps her hair and says, “Well, then. A drink, shall I? Yes. Yes, I shall.”


After he is satisfied that, at the very least, there is no smell of leaking jet fuel, the Rabbi takes stock of his surroundings. His mouth ‘tuts’ concernedly as he looks around. The females seem all to be doing just fine without him and he is noticeably relieved at both this and seeing the Beast heading to the jet, so he doesn’t have to.

He catches the prim shape of a blazered woman coming out of the Hotel and turns away quickly to approach the silently sobbing bus-driver. He gently takes his arm and moves them both up under the eave of the Cathedral out of the rain.

Only after a first is joined by a second and a third does he realize that voices akin to whale-song are lining up just on the other side of the huge, heavy doors.


Aubry steps out from the Hotel and, channeling Mary Poppins, pops open a small umbrella. She surveys the intersection, far more unperturbed than can be normal, scanning until her vision lands on the man still crouching behind the low steps of the Cafe.

“Well, hello, stranger,” she says brightly to him, “Been a long time.” She pauses to think for a moment. “It HAS been a long time… Hasn’t it?”

But the man isn’t listening. He is far more concerned with the singing coming from the Cathedral and the low, distant growl behind him.


The Scribbler regains consciousness at the sound of a ‘thump’ on the roof of the jet. For the second time in five minutes a body slides down the C-102′s windshield. This time it is Belinda, followed by her parachute, and she waves a little wave to him as she goes by before dropping from the nose to the ground.

He turns to the remains of the pilot which have become one with the handles and knobs and instruments he hated so much.

“The math doesn’t lie, so I must have missed something,” he says to Cpl. L’Enfant as she enters the cabin. “But, still, fortunate nonetheless.”

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Chap. 2, part 2… 5 Pieces of the Past and One of the “Now.”

Chap. 2, part 2… 5 Pieces of the Past and One of the “Now.”

[Note: Unfortunately there is no way to record this week due to loud, consistent unavoidable noise. All apologies.]

Kyle Wade

A Humvee was waiting for Kyle Wade when he emerged from the bush. So was all the gear that had supposedly gone missing as well as the surprisingly unharmed guide that he was assured was torn apart and dragged off into the night.

Behind him he hefted a large net laden with the severed heads of four Painted Hunting Dogs.

Only an hour before he left the relative safety of the firepit and charged into the high grass with little more than that net and a machete. Of the nine animals that were claimed to have attacked the camp while he slept, he tracked, caught and killed almost half, starting with the Alpha and moving down in the pecking order to make sure the pack would be shattered long enough for them to get the hell out of there.

The guide stared at his feet, refusing to meet Wade’s confused, furious look. Was he just duped into a slaughter? And, one of an endangered, though brutally dangerous species?

Three dark grey suits climbed out of the vehicle.

“Mr. Wade, I presume,” smiled the smallest of them as he offered his hand. “I am Col. Hendricks.”

Kyle refused the handshake.

“That was quite a kill, ” the Colonel continued, unperturbed. “Epic, really. You are a man of great talent. Please, get in. We’d like a word.”

The hunter simply looked down at the deep bites in his hips and waist and passed out.


Belinda Rothschild

She hadn’t slept in 67 hours. There had just been too much to do. Or, at least think. So, the small, light woman left her lab and with a rolled yoga mat under one arm, headed off to Level 2 of Building C, Greenhouse T2.

Nodding to the posted guards, she swiped her ID card and spoke into the keypad: “Belinda Rothschild”.

She looked at one of the MP’s. “I have to try to nap for at least a few. Dim the lights once I’m settled, will you, Ed?”

He smiled, “Sure, Doc… But I need you to put your respirator on.”

“I will, I promise.”

“We go through this every time, Doc. I need to see you put it on… And, if you could not take it off again until you are sure I am not looking, that would make my life a lot easier.” He was still being kind, but there was a frustration there.

So, she slipped the mask over her mouth and nose and offered a muffly: “Sorry, Ed.”

“It’s okay, Doc. But try to remember my job is different than yours.”

The thick, bulletproof door beeped and slid open and she entered the sweet-smelling garden, unrolling the mat.

Watching through the glass once it closed again, the guard turned the lights down to their lowest level as Belinda dropped gently to the mat. Within minutes she was dreaming, doing her best to leave the challenges of Project Pickle up in the world of the awake, her lullaby not one of music but the heady, opiate scents of thousands of budding flowers.


Benjamin Strishna

Earlier in the evening, this had been a dinner party. But the events of the last three hours had turned it into an abattoir.

One of the victims was apparently lojacked and within minutes of his demise, the Spooks had arrived and soon after, Strishna.

Covering his shoes with biohazard booties, Benjamin entered the Chelsea Hotel apartment and heard the suits in the hall install and lock a portable barring system outside the door.

The mingled blood of a dozen people painted every surface, the scene made surrealistically worse by the Bose stereo’s cheery declaration that “if I knew you were comin’, I’d have baked a cake.”

Something moved behind the Italian marble kitchen island. Benjamin pulled on white linen gloves and then rubber ones over top. Kneeling down, he began drawing and writing in the human debris. He knew that he could do nothing until he could identify whoever was in the room with him, but he certainly might provoke It into speaking or showing Its face.

With a final hashmark traced, his intended result was made and the room filled with the angry bellows of a wounded humpback. And, with that, the man recognized the voice and even as the thing behind the counter realized its error, whispered, “Gotcha.”

He hadn’t really, but it was a start.


Chandra Singh

Chandra Singh sat on a little bench above the banks of the St. Lawrence River and gazed up at the strange complex. Leonard Cohen deeply droned of a secret life in her ears and she lost herself in the music and her rapidly unfolding sketches of the buildings.

Her eyes and pencil locked in angles and volumes and dimensions with amazing accuracy. While others’ minds had gone missing in the mazes of the design, the woman was completely at home.

“Thrilling, isn’t it?” a soft voice next to her slip through the gap between songs.

She looked over to find that a silver-haired woman in a fine business suit had some time joined her on the bench without her noticing.

“Yes,” Chandra replied, “Yes, it is.”

Her elegant elder looked back at the stack of architectural wonders. “Tell me,” she said, “If I wanted to hide something in that glorious chaos… What room would I choose?”

The Indian woman closed her eyes for a moment as she imagined the layout.

“Number 232,” she said slowly and the reply she got was merely a small key-card that read: 232.

The older woman nodded, tugged her left ear and a black Escalade rolled up and stopped in front of them.


Sandor Latakos

Things soured quickly and downright curdled right after that. It may have just been a lucky guess, but that didn’t make Sandor feel any better. Neither did the fact that his back-up, for whatever reason, failed to arrive.

Someone marked him, sounded the alarm and hit the lights.

Dammit.

He went low and found the fuse box as quickly as he could, yanking its innards so he could equip his nightvision goggles without the fear of having getting blinded. His world went green, although he probably could’ve gotten by without them, the targets were so loud.

“MVD!” he shouted, “Stay where you are!” No one did and he hadn’t expected them to. These were more than gangsters, they had far more to lose by getting arrested than being killed.

Step, step, side, step, snap. One down. This dive backroom might be their barrel, but they were still fish in it.

Another snap. Two.

Then the air filled with gun shots but the flashes were not in the immediate vicinity, which meant they were firing at worst, nothing, at best, each other. Not ‘best’ best, because he needed someone alive. Anyone would do, but The Lionfish would be ideal.

Codename: Lionfish was a high-powered dealer in black-market tech, this breach was going to cost him about 3.5m euros. It was a big deal. A very big deal, but getting him in custody would bigger.

Step. Slip. Slit. Roll… Wait.

Lionfish literally tripped over Sandor, but had gotten tagged by friendly fire and was losing blood by the gush before the Vityaz agent had him bound. Tossing his goggles to the ground, Sandor backtracked, recounted his original steps. Through the kitchen, past screaming bar denizens, out the front door to the grey drizzle of Budapest.

The support vehicle was there, but empty, doors wide open. Dammit, again.

He threw the dying Lionfish in the back, chirped a digital key with the vehicle’s code and sped away up Andrassy Road.


Now.

Here. Wherever here is.

The Intersection.

The lights are out. All of them. Except the Hotel. It has been difficult to notice with the street lit up by burning wreckage, but beyond the Hotel, not a bulb is burning. The air crackles and pops and smells like a tire fire.

After a few seconds, the interior lights of the Cafe flicker into being, but the neon sign only wheezes faintly.

One thing it doesn’t smell like is rain. But rain it does.

The growling shadow gets a friend, yipping in the distance beyond the Library and the shadow returns the call before a third, south down Hartattak.

Then the air-pressure changes, popping the ears. Just the eensiest little bit.

But enough to feel like someone slapped a lid on this terrarium.

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Chap. 2, part 3

Alexa Jade

Specialist Jade returned to the interview room with a mug of hot coffee warming her hands. She sipped it, looking through the rising steam at the man bound to an old metal office chair. He was wrapped in a blanket of cold-packs that brought his temperature down to just above dangerous levels and was beyond shivering.

Jade read from the open folder on a small table.

“Miles Pterois”

She set the coffee down next to the man’s face. He was head down like a kindergartner taking a nap on their desk. He blinked slowly as the full mug gave him a small amount of comfort and warmed his cheeks.

“Do you know why you are here, Miles? Hmm? Do you?”

The man only stared at her.

“I think perhaps you only can guess. This certainly isn’t the kind of detention you expected, was it? Nope. No it is… not.”

She picked up the coffee and took another small drink and then set it back down in front of him.

“In any case, none of that matters. Nothing you have ever thought about anything at all matters at this moment. I want you to forget everything you think I need to know and simply listen to me ask this one question:

“Are there actual, physical blueprints for the ‘Tudor Rose’? I don’t even want to know where they are. But whether they exist or not is so very, very important to me and the people I work for, that I am going to give you a little time alone, to really be sure before you speak.”

Jade signaled the MP’s outside the room and they buzzed the door open for her.

“Take the blanket away and bring his temp back up, please. I’ll be back in fifteen.”

She turned back to the man. “Miles, get your head on straight. Warm up. Have some coffee and be prepared to tell me the truth when I come back in here, because if I have to bring in the Dogs, none of us is going to end up very happy.”


Aubry Davies

Aubry was as surprised as anyone to be sitting next to Henry again. Unlike most of the people under her care in hospice, Henry had somehow bonded with her beyond her comfort zone. She just didn’t get too close to those she knew would be gone soon, but Henry was different and they became as close of friends as the situation allowed.

When he was moved to the Psych wing, she followed.

When he dropped into a coma, and was put in terminal housing, she stayed and was prepared to be there until the end, which never came.

Even after the facility burned to the ground, leaving only the perpetually unconscious Henry and faithful Aubry alive, it was not the conclusion of their time together.

She was under paid-leave during the investigation of the fire, when someone offered her old job back… Specifically attending Henry. Henry who just wouldn’t die.

He had been moved to a posh, private hotel, someone told her and even in his comatose state, he asked for her from time to time, so, if she wanted, it certainly might be to everyone’s benefit if she would consider coming back to Henry in his last days.

She couldn’t believe her luck, so quickly agreed, packed her bags, got in the unmarked SUV where things went black for quite a long time.


Kyle Lofgren

“Come on, Kyle. Is it possible or not?”

Kyle tried to keep things light, although the he was instinctively getting a little uncomfortable with the tone of the conversation.

“I don’t know,” he said, “You tell me: Is it possible? How confident are you that Tudor did it?”

“Pretty sure,” came the response.

“So, what you are really asking me is ‘Can I reproduce his results?’”

“Yes, Kyle, that’s what we’re asking.”

He sat calmly and stared at a large, blank dry-erase board as if he could see numbers there that no one else could. His sigh was heavy and the silence following even more so.

Finally Kyle met the Colonel’s unwavering, hopeful stare again. “I don’t know, Dricksy… I mean I can, I suppose. I just don’t know if I want to. We’re talking about rabbit-hole math, mythematics and only Henry has a clue what is at the bottom… I don’t want to end up like Henry.”

The Colonel made his friend Kyle a promise that he wouldn’t… which, of course, he had no business making.


Kelly L’Enfant

“Have a seat, will you, Corporal.”

Kelly did. This was her first official meeting since getting out of the hospital. A land mine in Chechnya had misfired miraculously and while the concussive wave broke bones in every part of her body, the mine failed to produce significant shrapnel, saving her from being torn to shreds.

The mingling of Suits and Uniforms in this room made her terribly uneasy.

“Before we continue, Corporal” said Colonel Hendricks, “Let us be perfectly clear… As far as everyone outside of this room knows, that land mine ripped you apart 13 months ago. You died that day. So, it will be no trouble at all to make sure you stay dead.”

L’Enfant sat in stunned silence until one of the Suits spoke up.

“Relax, Corporal, no one is stabbing you in the back here. The Colonel is just trying to make a rather ugly and heavy-handed point. Your sacrifices have been duly noted and while we have no official course to reward you for what happened in Argun, we can offer you an opportunity to escort a team of VIP’s through some rather rough territory.”

Hendricks got back into the conversation. “This is 100% off the books and way beyond your paygrade. Protect 2 civilian experts and one Army Interrogator for 3 days and there will be a full resurrection for you with accompanying promotions. Say ‘no’ and we’ll make you do it anyway, but it will hurt much, much more.”


Now.

It is very difficult to tell if the Dogs are damaged by the rifle-fire or not. They definitely are reacting to it though, and seem if not frightened or hurt then at least disrupted somehow. The growing and consolidating pack (or perhaps pack of packs?) is caught somewhere between attack and defense. They actually have more of the feel of a school of predatory fish than of canines. One darts in as another retreats. Every dog for itself, and yet somehow still paying attention to a ‘bigger picture’.

L’Enfant is a solid shot and is expending very little ammo as she ushers Chandra back into the Cafe. Despite everyone’s personal agendas and trust issues, the Cafe falls silent as all eyes look through the windows into the intersection toward Benjamin and the Cathedral.

Dogs snap at the glass after Aubry closes the Cafe door behind her. (Did they back off of her just a teensy little smidge?) They circle uneasily and the superpack breaks into three fluid units: Those Dogs committed to watching the front, a few that seem to be heading around the rear of the Cafe and a couple that slink behind Benjamin as if wondering what he might have up his sleeve.

The Samaritan makes a quiet line around the back of the Cafe, up and over the Dogs sniffing around the alley and sleekly in through an open window of the Hotel.

No one is exactly sure what to expect when Ben opens the Cathedral doors, but everyone probably could agree that something other than nothing would happen.

And while it is not exactly nothing… it certainly lacks a kind of fireworks.

The choir ceases immediately, however… gone… gone gone… and the warm light of candles fills the great open doors and as if that light sucked all of the oxygen out of the air, the wreckage of the Bus and Jet stop burning instantly.

The Dogs stop moving, too. They do not run toward or away from anything. They merely stop and all turn to face the Cathedral, heads low, ears back, teeth in various states of baring.

Some of the candlelight appears to get stuck as it passes by Benjamin, hanging on his clothes like flickering bits of glitter, and some hangs up on the Dogs. But where the flicker doesn’t seem to hurt the Rabbi, wherever candle-light particles touch a Dog, it pierces its dark and steals it away.

L’Enfant watches the light go through the shadow dogs like bullets and begins firing again. Pop, pop, pop… not as if the shells themselves are deadly to the dogs, but more the light they create.

One of the beasts catches L’Enfant from behind and drags her down, but it has no packmates that are willing or able to support the attack, and it is Alexa that wrestles the shadow off of her before both she and the Corporal fire into it, L’Enfant with the SCAR and Jade with the flipped up and open FMG9.

Within seconds, the Intersection is quiet.

Still shadows of the Dogs blend into the twilight one by one and are broken up, disbanded by ripples in the puddles that haunt every nook and niche in the slow drizzle.

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