The Space-Time Continuum
I'd have time to ponder over how unsatisfying this visit had gone, later. Explosions went off like firecrackers on the 4th of July. We moved away from the windows toward the wall filled with bookcases. Pushing against specific panels, a bookcase swung open to reveal a hidden enclosure with a metal door in the floor. It was big enough for about three people to fit comfortably. I closed the bookcase behind us as another blast sent the ceiling crashing to the ground where we had stood moments before. Pushing her against the far wall, I heaved open the door and motioned for her to go through. She eyed me warily, but did as I asked. I followed her, closing the door leaving us encompassed in pitch black. My eyes adjusted quickly while I waited for her to climb down the ladder that led to a warren of tunnels below the building. Placing my hand and feet on the outermost edge, I slid down the ladder to land on the ground beside her. A soft gasp told me I had spooked her. I ignored her obvious unease while I searched the wall behind the ladder for the switch to turn on lights attached to the backup generator. Flipping the switch, dull yellow lights lit up the cement walls.
We had several miles to cover and needed to hurry. Regardless of what Giles had said, I placed the bombs at strategic places. They took out specific areas of the White House, while leaving others untouched. The Oval Office wasn't on my list. It represented things that had festered for too long. I didn't destroy the historical repositories throughout DC. We learn from our history. My destroying that history wouldn't help once I had accomplished my vengeance. Besides, Emma would roll over in her grave if I had. I grabbed pseudo-Joyce's wrist and pulled her down the tunnel that emptied out into a side street on the outskirts of town. She hurried along beside me, trying to keep up with the pace I had set. She was breathing heavy by the time we hit the first mile marker. Moving onto the second, I was practically dragging her along beside me, slipping an arm around her waist. She kept glancing over at me then away like she was afraid I'd catch her staring. Her lips stretched out in a concerned frown as she worked up the courage to say something.
"A-are you going to kill m-me?" she asked, looking at me with those large blue eyes.
"Do you deserve to die?" I asked, staring into a face that still held an air of innocence.
"You got a name? I can't really call you, Joyce, can I?"
"T-Tara, Tara M-McClay. I'm s-sorry about your m-mom. My m-mother's d-dead t-too."
I gave her a sidewise look, seeing the sincerity written on her face. Where had the Council gotten this babe in the woods? How had she survived the dangerous game she had played these last few years? I looked her over closely as I searched for any demon essence, and found none. Why would she believe she was part demon? And, why hadn't anyone felt her magics? Tara McClay was a puzzle. I loved puzzles, and wondered what answers I'd find once I knew her story.
"Thanks. We weren't close, as you probably already know. It's a long story, which we don't have time for at the moment. I don't suppose you can do more than the obvious glamours?"
She gave me a beautiful smile that lit up the tunnel. I slowed our hasty exit to a stop. She slipped from my embrace to face me, and intertwined her fingers with mine. Closing her eyes in concentration, she murmured a few words, which caused a slight pulling sensation in the pit of my stomach. A pale glow surrounded us just before we disappeared, and then reappeared in the forest outside Virginia.
"I knew you were more than just a pretty face." She blushed prettily at the compliment. "If I thought of a place, could you do that again?"
She answered with another smile as she wrapped her arms around my waist. Her soft body felt nice next to mine. She smelled of fresh apples and cinnamon, while her magic held the faint scent of honeysuckle. It was a strange combination that somehow fit her perfectly.
"K-keep the p-picture clearly in your mind, or there's no telling where we'll end up."
"Believe me, this place is firmly planted in my head. When we get there, don't worry about what you see, okay? Once I get what I need, you're free."
Her magic wrapped around us as we faded from sight. Bombs exploded throughout DC, bringing the New York Regency to a stand still. They annihilated the movers and shakers that helped to perpetuate the Powers growing influence in this part of the country. I had laid the resident Super Soldiers to rest. They would no longer use their superior strength against those that they were supposed to protect. The ones that survived would follow after their leaders in a cat and mouse game where I had no intentions of being the mouse.
The pulling sensation in my stomach increased as Tara carried us through space and time with her magic. It felt like I was riding a roller coaster, while sipping champagne, overloading my adrenaline and flooding my senses with feelings of euphoria. If I tried hard enough, I could probably imagine tiny bubbles tickling my nose. Magic was heady stuff and deserved the proper respect. This little trip reinforced that fact for me. Yes, I had used magic in the past and would again in the future, but only as a last resort.
I forced Tara to keep her eyes averted when I felt solid ground beneath my feet. She obeyed me without question, not wanting to see what lay around her. She was a curious woman. We had landed on the Washington Regent's compound, what was left of it. Burned out buildings, overturned vehicles, bodies and debris lay amidst smoke and intermittent fires. A few people milled about, mostly civilians trying to escape the area. No soldiers in sight, but I'm sure some unlucky souls were left behind to guard the rubble. I'd take care of those that crossed my path; any others, let's just say today was their lucky day. I had bigger fish to fry.
"Okay, keep close to me and do exactly what I say. Stop when I stop, and no talking, clear?"
She opened her eyes at hearing my harsh orders, only to quickly close them again. Slowly opening her eyes again, she asked, "What h-happened here?"
I noticed that she took a quick scan around the area before settling her focus on me and keeping it there.
Her eyes widened with shock, and she stepped back as she finally realized I wasn't her rescuer from the Council, but the Council's enemy and a very dangerous person. It was time for Tara to wake up and smell the napalm. I grabbed her hand, pulling her along as I headed toward my target. Keeping to the shadows, we swiftly moved from one ruin to another. She huddled next to me, which was a feat in itself since she was several inches taller than me. I needed to find a place to stash her then come back for her later. Where I was going would only get worse, and I wasn't sure her nerves could take it. There was another reason, too. I didn't trust her, or anyone, except maybe Joseph, and Joseph was not here.
I know what you're thinking as you read this, but I'm not about to take anyone at face value, especially someone who could impersonate my own mother for years without detection. Call me paranoid, just don't call me dead. I didn't want her or anyone else around for what I was about to do. When it was time for the unveiling, the entire world would know. I spotted the perfect place, the hospital. It lay several hundred yards ahead. The building had sustained extensive damage, but one area should be relatively safe - the morgue. No one would go searching around down there for anything useful. Tara could remain there until I returned for her. If she tried to follow me, then I'd do what was necessary.
We entered through the side entrance, making our way around the bodies that lay where they fell when the bombs had hit. Tara tried to carefully skirt around the dead, while I walked a straight path toward the morgue. The dead were just that - dead. They couldn't feel my boots if I stepped on their dead fingers or shattered bodies. No, I didn't purposefully go out of my way to step on them, but I didn't take precious minutes I didn't have to tiptoe around them either. My grip had become bruising around her wrist, since I had to practically drag her through the death-strewn halls, before she decided to forego her finer senses rather than step on the dead. She squirmed and shrieked, pulling away from me, and then finally gave up to gather her legs underneath her enough to rise up onto her feet. A shaking hand pushed her hair from her face as she set her mouth into a stubborn line. I didn't really care if she laughed or cried, as long as she hurried.
Pushing open the morgue's swinging doors, I pulled her into the room proper as I searched for some place to leave her. I couldn't see any office, and that's when I noticed the door against the back wall. We headed in that direction, not knowing what waited for us. I swung the door open and when nothing jumped out, I cautiously entered. An empty gurney lay next to a curtained window; closed-circuit cameras stared down at the metal bed from the ceiling in an otherwise empty room. We had stumbled onto the small sterile room where relatives came to identify the dead. It was perfect.
Tara didn't think so. She was already turning around and heading back out the way we had entered when I caught her. She struggled frantically, scratching at my hands as she tried to break my grip on her arm. Her feet slid across the tiled floor and she made little mewling sounds in the back of her throat.
"P-please don't. D-don't l-lock m-me in h-here, n-not where they k-keep the d-dead."
Her stutter became more pronounced the further we went back into the room. What was it about the little room that had her freaked? Her blue eyes had gone wide with fear, while her free hand came forward to fend off unseen ghosts from her past. I couldn't leave her wandering about, and following me wasn't an option. It was either this, or I take her out here and now. She was going to have to buck up and face her past. Worse things could happen to her, namely me.
I released her arm, once I had her across the room from the door and placed myself between the two. She retreated until her back hit the wall then slid down it into a crouched position on the floor. Tilting her face up to stare at me, she looked like a lost child who had no idea which direction home lay. An exasperated sigh escaped my lips.
"Look, I don't know what happened to you in a room like this, and frankly I don't care." My words shocked her from her dark thoughts of the past to the present situation as she glared at me. Good. "Is it worse than getting shot on sight, (no need to tell her who might be doing the shooting), or sent back to the Council?" I asked her harshly, not expecting an answer.
At least she knew a real threat that could kill her was more dangerous than a past fright that couldn't; that's progress. "Then, suck it up. Stay here and don't make any noise. Lock the door after I leave. I'll be back as soon as I can then we'll part ways and never see each other again."
Shit. My words had the reverse effect, increasing her fear even more, if that was possible. Sweat beaded her brow, her pulse increased as her teeth nibbled on her lower lip to stop it from trembling. This woman was one puzzle that would have to keep.
"We'll talk when I get back. Think about where you want to go. I know people who can help you start over."
She nodded her head and closed her eyes, as if that would blot out, I'm not sure - me, the room, the entire situation. Who knew? It was about time Tara McClay learned to play in the real world. She was a grown woman who would have to deal.
My exit was quite a bit quicker than my entrance. I took a running jump to clear as many bodies as possible, then just kept on running. The target lay roughly two miles away from the major damage's epicenter. Bombs destroyed strategic landmarks, while leaving my journey's intended target relatively unharmed.
The Regent's Building fell along with every government related building for two city blocks. Carefully timed explosives went off to ensure maximum damage, taking out the buildings above ground and their counterparts below, the ones used by this region's upper echelon.
No one had ever questioned why the Washington Regent wasn't located in a large city, like nearby Spokane. It resided on what was formerly Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane County and consisted of a measly 6.5 square miles. Why, time when the entire world was gearing up their military with Super Soldiers, had Washington's Regent decided this strategic military base was the only real estate appropriate for its political leader? Curious, yet? I was, too.
It turned out the new Pentagon had moved here. The Powers decided not to make the same mistake their predecessors had in the past. Rather than giving their enemies a single target like DC, which had housed our entire governmental infrastructure, they spread the wealth across the regions, coming together only when absolutely necessary. I had to admit they weren't stupid. Pity. It would make my job easier if they were. The former Washington Region butted up to a mountain range, protecting it from attack. It also provided a wonderful foundation for the new Pentagon and a warren of underground structures. I shuddered thinking about the maniacal strategy sessions that had taken place, hidden far away from prying eyes.
I slowed to a jog as I approached my goal. The outside looked much like everything else, but the explosives used here differed greatly. Regular bombs packed with lighter amounts of C4 had destroyed the top floors and random outer walls, giving it a shotgun effect.
Percussion bombs disabled the inhabitants. Once down, they suffocated from Wc nerve gas pumped in through the ventilation. Although not completely painless, this newer version was quicker and didn't leave the victim spewing fluids from every orifice. I certainly didn't look forward to entering a building filled with bodies where everyone's juices had come out to visit.
Checking my watch, I counted backward to determine if the air was breathable again. I had a go to proceed, and boldly walked through the front entrance. The entrance was empty, but I hadn't expected to find anyone or anything there. Quickly walking toward the nearest stairwell, I prepared myself for the long journey down twenty-five flights of stairs. Joy.
I found myself standing before a huge door after my seemingly never-ending descent. Digging through my pockets, I pulled out what looked like a blank access card and swiped it through a reader after entering a code I had taken great pains to memorize. Thank you, Emma. The light went from red to green and just like that, I was through the doors. Too easy? Hardly. If the card and code hadn't worked, I would've had exactly five minutes to escape the building before it went into total system shutdown and totally screwed me.
The large doors opened to an area large enough for armed guards to stand at attention beside the doors and directly across from it. The proof lay dead at my feet. Their curved spines, drawn legs, bloody noses, ears and mouths proved the Wc wasn't quite as quick acting as the manufacturer boasted. This was war; there wasn't a pretty way to murder a building full of people. Had I tried the humane route with quick acting neurotoxins? Not really. Frankly, I didn't care one way or the other. They chose the wrong side. People working at this level were fully aware of what went on there. So far as I was concerned, they were the enemy.
This building wasn't in so much rubble because I needed access to certain information. Bodies dressed in various degrees of military regalia lay throughout the area. The only difference about them as I drew closer to my destination was that several among them wore white coats like tiny cotton balls in a sea of camouflage.
Large doors stood between me and why I came here. Pulling out another access card from my pocket, I slid it though the reader. A keypad unfolded from the wall with a blank screen that waited for my hand print. Here went nothing. The time had come to find out if my journey ended here. Placing my right palm on the cool screen, I watched as the screen outlined it in red. An LED ran along the side, spiking up in an array of yellows as the system searched for my prints in its database. The blinking lights stopped, flipping between red and yellow. I braced for the security measures about to rain down on my head. For that brief moment, I felt a twinge of regret about leaving Tara the way that I had. I watched in fascination as the lights went green and 'Have a Nice Day' blinked across the screen. Yes. All systems were a go and the doors slid open.
I stepped into a room that would have had any geek pissing his pants. Computers circled glass-enclosed towers happily blinked along, unmindful no one remained alive to worship the cornucopia of 1s and 0s of one of the most powerful systems in existence.
I plopped down in the closest chair, cracked my knuckles and started typing. Numbers, names and files whizzed by as I searched for information. Digging deeper than I thought possible, I finally found it. A harsh laugh escaped my lips when video files popped up on the screen. The idiots had video files along with names, dates and locations. With a few keystrokes, it went to an untraceable secure server. I just needed to do one more thing, and I'd have everything to end this, end them.
Staring at the files, I knew they kept the information separate. It would also be heavily encrypted. If I were going to hide a juicy tidbit, where I hide it? Plain sight of course. A name caught my eye - c_one. How appropriate. Really. It was almost too cliché; yet, made ironic sense.
The clattering keys kept it from feeling too much like a tomb. I carefully entered the code I had memorized. By simply pressing enter, I was about to launch the final salvo to bring my vengeance to its glorious culmination. No matter what happened in the days to come, the Powers had lost and they didn't even know it. Yet. I fully intended being there to see their faces when they realized it. But, should fate lay her fickle finger on me before the allotted time, I'll die with a song on my lips knowing I had my vengeance.
Shoving away from the computer, I stood up and walked away from the room. Leaving the building, I couldn't stop myself from smiling as it exploded behind me.
Tara waited cowering in the corner just where I had left her. She ran across the room, throwing herself into my arms. Her shoulders trembled with unsuppressed emotions as she leaned into me. We needed to get out of here. I gently pried her away from my body, which was no mean feat, for a woman with no battle skills she sure could cling.
"Okay, it's time to leave," I told her, watching her try to pull herself together. "I found some vehicles not too far from here that look like they're still in one piece. It's pretty deserted out there. Stay close to me and once we get there I'll give you directions to some place safe. I'll have someone meet you there in two days and they'll help you start a new life. Ready."
I didn't wait for her response as I turned to walk out the door. Her soft answer had me turning back to stare at her in shock.
"No," she said with more conviction in her voice this time. I gave her a hard stare that had the stutter returning to her speech. "I d-don't want to leave."
I leaned against the doorway ready to hear this story. It was sure to be a good one. She seemed to gather some inner strength around her as she stood up straight. Her pale blue eyes looked directly into mine when she opened her mouth to speak.
"I want to go with you." Her softly rounded chin jutted out with unfamiliar stubbornness.
"Why? I'm not your friend, or here to take on useless weight."
She flinched as if I had physically slapped her. I didn't have time to play nice with this meek little mouse who had decided I was her personal bodyguard against the Council. If this was some ruse to stay with me and report back to the Council, she had picked the wrong person to try to fool.
"I w-want," she started, and I watched her swallow down her fear and start again on a more steady note," need to do something to help. They forced me to play a part in this." She spread her arms wide, encompassing the room but her meaning was clear. "I've felt fear my entire life, and watched it kill my mother before her time. They don't know about my magic. My mother taught my how to hide it. I can help you, if you'll let me." That chin jutted out even further. "I'll follow you."
"Not if you're dead."
The color leeched from her face. Tears pricked her eyes, but I had to give it to her, she didn't say a word as she waited to see what I was going to do. There's an old saying, 'Keep your friends close but your enemies closer'. Fine, if she wanted to play with the big dogs then I'd see how committed she was.
"Fine. Come here."
I watched her hesitate, unsure whether I meant to end her life in the next few moments. She stepped forward closing the gap between us and literally putting her life in my hands. Her eyes closed when I twisted her around while wrapping my arms around her chest. An evil imp had me giving her a tight squeeze, which elicited a high-pitched squeak. I laughed in her ear, causing her to shiver. That gave me pause. Her soft feminine curves felt good in my arms. I pushed the thought away. This wasn't the time or place for those type thoughts. I'm not sure my life would ever find the proper one for it, or if I wanted it to. Letting people into your life only allowed them power to hurt you. I'd learned that the hard way. Tara had magic I could use, and use her I would.
"Now, little witch, I've got a destination clear in my mind; wrinkle your little nose and take us there."
She hitched her breath as I huskily whispered my demands in her ear. Her nipples tightened under my arm, and I forced my body not to respond to hers. She wanted to come with me, help me, fine. I'd be damned before I'd let her have any power over me, sexual or otherwise. I'd keep her around as long as she was useful. When she became a liability, then, well I had no use for excess luggage.
Her magic filled the tiny room, enveloping us in a warm hug before scattering our particles across the mystical highway to continue our journey.