• Jeff Arce/Jarce ArtThor

ParaVice: Chapter 6

#mystery #detective #crime #horror #fiction #blog #bassysbasilica #paravice #parody #toybox #monster

The following is a work of fiction.

Warning:

This story features disturbing content and mature language not suitable for all ages. Read at your own risk!

What’s in the box:

The gears are turning. First they groan, but soon they are screaming.

Taron Odale and his field agent Jake Turner are investigating a murder that might soon lead a troubled nation on a treacherous path toward dissension. FBI agent Sophia Ortega is their death docent as she shows them around the murder scene, laying out an ugly scenario that ends in a potential civil war if they fail to unmask the perpetrators of this bloody massacre. But if that wasn't enough, there is more. There is a witness, but she is a locked box. Her very presence there only serves to muddy the waters still.

The gears are turning. The riders are screaming.

Taron must try to unlock the box and find out what dark secrets are hiding inside... before its too late.



Story:

Deviant

The penthouse suite was bathed in red. It smelled of rot. The spattered sanguine matter was stuck where it had been rolling down the burgundy wallpaper before it dried. It looked like the walls were melting like wax.


The FBI Director Sophie Ortega met with The Department of Civil Wellness Director (Tikawacha branch) Taron Odale in an opulent tomb. She fixed his partner with a black look as they came in. She had long bangs that hung loosely off the side of her brow. Her naturally curly jet-black hair was straightened and oiled to give her wild strands a heavy, shiny wet look in the light. Her Canian blood gave her silky skin a healthy olive completion. She had a strong square jaw, and the most intense, smoldering scowl a human being had ever possessed in the history of the world. Her very steely ambience always sent an unnerving feeling prickling down Taron’s back when they were in each other’s company. Like standing under the shadow of an omniscient master, expecting a lecture at any given moment. Of course, through trial and pain, fire and brimstone, she earned that glower. She has been subjected to ridicule, and the spurn of discrimination almost all of her professional life. But she was the fiercest avenging angel of Madam Law Taron had even known. Her intelligence and experience for the art of investigation was something of a wonder to behold. He admired her. He knew her long before she identified as a her and had respected her craft even then. But something changed when she was at last free to shed herself from the blinding burden of a secret life. Her senses bloomed. Her intuition exploded. After surviving a potentially disastrous psychological reevaluation process that dragged on for months and tried its best to tarnish her reputation she rose again from those ashes as a national hero for some, and a villain to others. Her triumph won her the prestigious title of Person of the Year in last December’s issue of Movement Now Magazine and made her something of an icon in the eyes of the young. She overcame an impossible fate and unleashed her true potential. Being free at last helped her to liberate her mind from a hindering anxiety cultivated by a stubborn world that vied so passionately against the natural order of change. But once she was through that hurtle, she became the greatest asset the FBI could ever hope to have on their team. Taron was honored to work with her again, even in such catastrophic circumstances.


She wore proudly on the lapel of her blazer a pin commemorating the pink, white, and light blue striped transgender banner, prominently placed just over her Neuterra flag pin. She set it there on purpose. She won that war, and she wanted everyone around her to know it. Director Sophia Ortega (formally known as Agent Sora Ortega) was a decorated soldier in the ongoing war of identity segregation. The man solely responsible for that hard chapter in her life was now splattered all over the penthouse room, strongly resembling the shit-stain mess he was in life.


Taron’s field Agent Jake Turner was checking a message left on the screen of his phone as he strolled blithely in on the crime scene, like a troublesome teenager strutting in late to gym class. Taron couldn’t help but to sympathize with the Federal officer as she glared him down. When Jake was standing by his side, he nudged him hard with a pointed elbow, drawing from the man only an arrogant grimace. He looked up at Miss Ortega and slipped the device away into his back pocket. Crossing his arms he sneered at the head of the FBI like a spoiled pissant. For a brief moment he flashed a disgusted look especially at her pin. But then of course, that was exactly why she had put it there in the first place. Now his demon face was hanging out, and Ortega meant to vanquish it.


Taron blinked away his aggravation and then offered the woman his hand, and a smile. She took it with a bone-crushing grip. That hard-wired strength of hers was a difficult thing to conceal, particularly when she was angry. It drew a wince from him, but still he offered his gratitude unburdened by the pain. “Director Ortega.”


Chief,” she said curtly, still glaring at Jake.


Taron cleared his throat. “This is my field agent, Jake Turner.”


He offered his hand, but she refused it. “You should have picked a different one.” She stepped closer to him, tilting her head back and narrowing her scrutiny. “How long have you been an agent for the DCW, young man?”


A complacent grin curled at the corner of his mouth. “Four years.”


“That’s time long enough. You haven’t learned by now the rules?” The muscles twitched in her sharp jaw. Her dimples deepened in her cheeks. “This is a crime scene, sir. You do not waltz into my crime scene playing with your fucking cellphone and grinning like some shit-head kid too stupid to know when he just pissed on sacred ground. Do I make myself clear?”


His grin faded, but it was still there inside. Abandoning the handshake, Agent Turner dropped his arms to his side and said, “Forgive me Sir… Or is it ma’am… I’m so sorry, I don’t know how you people want to be addressed.”


Now Taron was crossing his arms at him.


That you are, indeed: sorry,” Ortega said, her chin up high, and her heart armored to the gibe. “For you, I will accept sir, young man. Just remember who you are, and who I am. My gender should not threaten you… my position in authority here, however, that’s a different matter entirely…”


He only nodded emptily as answer to that. To Jake’s credit, his truculent personality was both part of his charm and most of his problem, but Taron trusted his barbed and unbridled counsel. His quick thinking and brazen demeanor were essential tools that helped to lift the fog off his own cloudy judgment before in the past. This, however, was not the place for it. Taron will have to have a long talk with him about it later. For now, there were dead people, and the dead don’t clean up after themselves.


Together they went to observe the first marker, laying center of the main room. There was a naked torso, its abdomen splayed open, its arms gone at almost identical quadrants where the shoulders protruded out from the collarbone. A coarse patch of hair sprouted between two sagging man-breasts, sticky with spots of blood. The ruin looked like a morbid cornucopia spilling viscera. The pool of crimson beneath the body part had already dried up into the fabric of the white carpeting. Its intestines were drawn out, and disentangled, as though someone had exhumed him bit by bit. As they looked on, they found two more markers on either side of it. They were the corpse’s severed limbs, arranged meticulously as if they were accessories to an action figure waiting to be sealed away in packaging.


The pieces were scattered throughout the room, but they were arranged in such a particular way they seemed to have been organized by the busy work of an orderly intellect. In the master’s chamber the bed held a collection of ten or twelve markers: severed hands with no fingers, fingers with no nails, toes, thighs, calve muscles, feet, and the bloody parts fell over everything. The lavish den was transformed into a mad scientist’s mortuary. Cascades of blood ran down the creases of the bed sheets that were left untouched before the grueling incident unfolded. The heads of senator Moor and the movie mogul, Mr. Winston, were found stuffed inside the toilet bowl without eyes in their sockets. Their mouths hung open like two ghastly singers forever caught in a guttural chorus. Their tongues however were gone. Those parts would be discovered elsewhere. It was a human slaughterhouse. Director Ortega had even showed them to a corner of the room where someone’s inner organs had been laid out in a manner to itemize them.


“Three bodies,” Director Ortega finally said in a stoic voice.


Taron was confused. “Three?” It looks like a goddamned massacre.


“Yes.” The analytical Director Ortega was always like a monotone computer when she spoke business. “A personal bodyguard. He was the only one permitted on the floor with a sidearm. He is here amongst the mess as well.” She stepped aside, inviting the roaming forensics investigators by to carry on with their business. They were clad in blue hazmat suits, rubber gloves, and N95 respirators. Director Ortega’s frown drew age lines around her full, glossy lips. “His head is still attached to the body over there. The killer only found interest in his… male organ it would seem. They had torn it off from him, dissecting that piece over in the bathroom sink.”


Agent Turner chortled as he scoffed, “I bet that brought back some maudlin memories for you, didn’t it Director?”


She ignored him. Taron was too taken by sickness to register the jest at all. He couldn’t find good cause to look at those markers just yet, so he continued walking with the agent, listening intently. His face was starting to lose color a bit.


“Whomever this sick bastard was, they moved quick and precise with the initial kills. But then, for some reason, they diced them up… like a sick biologist cutting up corpses to try and understand why our clocks tick. It’s all fucked, my friend. No fingerprints, no weapon. Best we can gather is that the killer, or killers used their bare hands.”


Taron did a double take. “You think someone did all this with their hands.”


“That’s what they are telling me,” she said nodding to the roaming plague doctors. “There’s evidence of finger tracks in the flesh, is if someone just dove their hands in. However, there are some… anomalies.”


“As?”


“Well…” She wasn’t quite sure how to put it without making it sound as crazy as it was. “The tracks change.”


Jake Turner grimaced. “What do you mean?”


“Some of the entry points seemed to have begun as human fingers, but then they turn into something more like a knife.”


Taron and Jake shared in a bewildered glance.


“The bodyguard’s pistol was discarded over by the television. No traces of gunfire. The hallway camera on this floor is corrupted, hacked. Made to loop the image of a vacant corridor with a waiting officer outside the door ever since the senator checked in with his colleague; some strange encryption we’ve never encountered before.”


“Do we know why they were here?” Taron asked.


Ortega shrugged. “Ahh, the million-dollar question. One of many we hope to find an answer for but… I’ll tell you this much, the why don’t look so good.”


“Any witnesses?” Agent Turner provided.


This question drew from the Director her first sign of authentic human emotion—besides anger—since they had walked through that door: melancholy. “There is one.”

The DCW agents looked anxiously at her and waited. Director Ortega checked her surroundings. She invited them to a quiet area in the room to speak privately. “This cannot leave here, not yet. It will cause quite a scandal that we aren’t ready to entertain… not with all this.”


“Go on,” Taron urged.


“You are here to help us avert a national crisis. And make no mistake about it, we are facing just that with these homicides. You are free to think what you will about Senator Moor, one thing he was good at was turning the misfits of the world into his little minions. And they are out there ready to riot in his name. There are many monstrous things fast at work in the wake of this murder. We need to combat every element that may be put forth to erode faith within our respected communities and institutions. Your insight can help.” They remained quiet, sensing there was more. She let out a grievous sigh. Then she let them have it at last, “A girl was found, hiding under the bed. Whatever happened here she saw it all.”


Taron darkened. “What Girl?”


She produced a photograph from her breast pocket. It took him some effort to look down at it. Somehow, he guessed what it might contain. When he observed the print out, he knew at once that his intuition was accurate. All the old hate, fear, frustration, and pain crept back into the front of his mind. Framed in the digital print was a picture of a terrified little girl, with bright big eyes, no older than eleven, perhaps twelve. She was looking furtively at the photographer. Dark smudges of blood were smeared into her cheeks. She was holding out a tenuous arm. Inscribed on the wrist was a tattoo that Taron recognized immediately as the mark of the trafficking cartel he had tried to expose before his daughter was taken. It was the disgusting brand of an underground criminal organization affiliated with The Company, which had since been rejected as a myth by the public, and thus a waste of tax dollars investigating. Now it has resurfaced again.

The tattoo was all in black ink: an eye with six tally marks within its circular iris, representing the Six Sight Traders.


“We need you to reopen this case,” Director Ortega said and moved in closer, whispering quieter as if afraid to be heard by the investigators flitting around them. “But we have to keep it discrete. The Government will provide ancillary subsidies for your office in this effort; however, it must remain a classified case until we are ready for the world to know more…”


“If this is true, the world should know.” Taron suddenly had an urge to wretch again. “That sanctimonious asshole in there on the floor,” he pointed at the corpse of the hour. Ortega didn’t look. She knew who he meant. “He has made a lofty career out of shaming, and disparaging sinners. But behind the curtain low and behold, he is plunging his fat disgusting hands deep inside Satan’s fucking cookie jar?”


Director Ortega closed her eyes in a moment of silent reflection. She commiserated with him, but the issue was far too complex; far too delicate. “As I said, it is quite the scandal. But news of this magnitude will summon a torrent of discord. His pious follower will call it a hoax—a desperate attempt for his enemies to smear his good name. The Left will use it as ammunition to go after his affiliates in power, and they will both try to kill each other. We’re talking about the making of a civil war here. Think about the assassination of Emperor Ferdinand of Rodina. His demise triggered a virulent infection of conspiracy that would spread and spread until the entire world was at war. That was over a hundred years ago and we still have not fully recovered from it. We cannot afford a crisis like that in this country. Our people have enjoyed an open well of information for so long that it has rendered them all paranoid. They are far too volatile right now, especially, with it being election year. And your sole purpose is to prevent such an outbreak of hysteria. Keep the peace, keep it quiet, find these beasts, and bring them to justice.”


“Where’s the girl now,” Agent Jake Turner asked apathetically.


That question brought them to the Box Office in the lobby where the windows looking in were blotted out. Three FBI agents (all women) were attempting to communicate with their subject inside the sequestered office. When they walked in, the agents turned to engage the newcomers, consternation weighing heavily on the one heading the interrogation. She was small and petite, but Taron knew her for many years as a gun-toting firecracker with one hell of a mean left hook. She had her very long, energetically frizzy auburn hair tied back in a bun. She approached them with a doleful, heart-shaped face looking guiltily at her feet. Her atmosphere was one of poignant dissolution having to face this newest piece to an ever-growing nefarious puzzle. She seemed to be on the threshold of tears, but she did not break. She never did.


Director Ortega took her hand, another firm shake. “Agent Godfriaux.” She gestured to her company and introduced them. “This is DCW Chief Director Taron Odale, and his field Agent Turner.”


“Gentlemen, Taron.”


They shook.


“Ahh, you are acquainted,” Agent Ortega observed. “Good. That moves things a bit faster then. How is our young guest responding thus far?”


Agent Godfriaux shook her head and said, “Simply put, she isn’t. We tried coaxing her with food, toys, games. But she won’t eat, she won’t play. She will not talk to us. All she does is sit there on her hands looking sullen and sad. Staring at nothing.”


“Have you tried signing,” Agent Turner suggested. Miss Godfriaux gave him a bemused look. He shrugged his shoulders and explained, “Some of the Six Sight kids we liberated were deaf mutes.”


“We tried everything. We asked her if she would rather prefer to write down her answers. Still nothing.”


Sophie Ortega caught the gloomy girl looking shyly their way before retreating her eyes behind a fallen, wavy blonde bang. “Well, she isn’t dumb. That’s for certain. Those eyes are brimming with intelligence. But she might be a lock-box.”

“Maybe she’s in shock,” Agent Godfriaux decided.


Looking to Taron, Director Ortega said, “Perhaps you can have a try. You have experience with these kids. And you once had a daughter…” He gave an uncomfortable frown to that remark. Ortega’s full lips went suddenly thin, as though she wanted to suck back in her own words. “Forgive me.”


Taron moved around her and went to the girl. The others left him alone, returning to their superior’s side as he tried to engage. He knelt, observing her quietly for a time under somber, cool blue eyes. The girl blinked at him again. It was like she was only seeing him truly for the first time. Her stillness somehow changed. It was a strange reaction: almost a look of sudden awareness mingled with a hint of bewitchment. He couldn’t quite place it. He told his subconscious that they were eyes of a young tortured soul who wanted a savior, but his instincts knew better. Saviors were impossible to come by, and Ortega was right: there saw a species of visceral intelligence swirling in those curious, silver eyes of hers. They told him that this girl was far too smart to believe in such fantastical heroes. There is no Prince Charming in this one’s dreams, only dragons.


Her eyes, though, those innocent child’s eyes… they called up a memory he wished he could forget.

“The Toy Box?” a younger, healthier Taron Odale said it with a hint of mirth in his tone. The flashback unfolded in his mind against his will.


Jake Turner, then a youthful, eager recruit answered with the report clutched in his animated hands, “I’m telling you it keeps popping up. Those guys we tracked down… that eighteen-wheeler down south. They were transporting a Thrills and Shrills Power Express trailer, heading toward Texas, out in the boonies where nothing and no one is around.”


“So what’s your meaning?”


Well, Thrills and Shrills is clearly some part of an elaborate Front operation. It’s a small-time electrical lighting and power distribution company.”


“You are very perceptive,” Taron agreed, having already delved intimately into the case. “I ordered a team to investigate their warehouses out west. So far all we know is that they are supposed to be supplying needed hardware to their on-the-go contractors.”


“But these guys were hauling a cargo full of caged kids.”


Taron frowned, disquieted. “Yes, they were. Doped, malnourished as so to take the fight out of them, and cleverly hidden behind shelves of cables, circuit boxes, and LEDs. I remember.”


“So where were they going with them? Where did they come from?” Jake asked.


“And you think you figured it out? Christ, what am I still doing in my work pants, then?”


Jake smirked and said, “Admittedly, I have not. Not yet anyways. But I think whoever we are looking for here in this Reaver’s case, they are hiding behind a code name called The Toy Box. Our extraction team found it noted in the driver’s text messages. We also found it in nearly every transcript relating to the Six Sight Traders. Once in a tapped phone call, it is eluded to in a number of emails, it is written all over every piece of intel we have gathered thus far. And if there is one important thing I learned from my college days, it’s this: if she keeps coming back around, it probably means more than coincidence.”


Agent Odale snatched the report from his grasp and studied it. Smiling he said, “You know, you really shouldn’t use your whoring years as analogy for everything.”


Jake leaned against his cluttered office desk, grinning devilishly. “This is ParaVice! If it ain’t dirty it won’t resonate. Here, have a look at this…” He leaned in to point out a highlighted excerpt in the report. He read it out loud. “’…how are you so sure he’ll take the bait?’ Person of interest replies, ‘At the Toy Box no one can resist The Wheel.’”


“That is interesting.”


“According to what these scumbags are conspiring here, some sort of exchange is about to go down soon. I just can’t quite decipher what and when.”

The nascent recruit was definitely on to something. As Taron was studying the contents, he discovered that there were more mentions of The Toy Box highlighted everywhere. How could I miss that, he asked himself? But he knew why. He was tired. He’s been working day in and out on this case with no time to breathe for months. Taron was burnt out trying to track down the creatures that bump in the night.


He gave him one more reverent smile, and said, “You have a sharp eye for this business. Keep honing that, you might sit in my seat one day.”


Jake gave him that handsome smile he knew from all of his boasting drove the ladies mad with love for him. “That’s the plan, Boss.”


Taron tapped him on the shoulder with the folder and said, “I hope you hate sleep. But for now, I gotta go.” He handed back the papers and collected his jacket from the arm of his office chair.


As he moved along his way Jake asked, “Where you headed off to in a hurry?”


Taron put on his blazer and said, “Got dinner with the wife, and a date with the most beautiful girl in the world.”


“Ahh, taking the little one out?”


“That’s right, we ordered season passes to Pumpkenfest.”


Jake tittered. “You know, I met a girl there once.”


Taron was dropping his car keys into his jacket pocket as he replied, “Oh yeah, how’d that go for you?”


“Turns out circus clowns don’t like any funny business beneath the sheets, soooo… not well.”


Taron guffawed. “Only you would know. You should swing by if you can. Get yourself a little R and R. There’s more to this life than hunting monsters in the dark, or so my therapist seems to think.”


“That I’m sure,” Jake said walking out with him. “But not when you’re a rookie working your way up the ladder. Plus, I’m not big on fried-dipped-crap and rusty rides that seem to groan when they spin. As a general rule of safety, I don’t think rides should scream more than their passengers.”


“Your loss, friend. Fried-dipped-crap and rusty rides that scream was going to be the name of my next punk band. Wanted you as the lead singer.”


“I’m good and retired from the music biz, my friend.”


Taron chuckled. “Okay, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.”


“Have fun!”


They were making their way through a maze of cubicles, filled with busy desk jockeys at the DCW when Taron said, “Hey, Jake. Good work today. I see great things ahead for you.”

Jake beamed with pride. “Thanks, boss.”


That evening after a stop at their favorite dinner to eat with Addy before her shift, they headed north to the rural side of the city to enjoy The Great Tikawacha Pumpkinfest. It was a time-honored tradition, and the most famous annual event in ParaVice, which drew in patrons from all seven districts of the city and beyond, garnering a record attendance of nearly three hundred thousand. Taron Odale soon found himself sitting with a beautiful young brunette under a carnival tent and awkwardly facing a balding caricature artist as he was busy scribbling up their likeness on the canvas. The man appeared a tad bit past his prime for such a business. Crow’s feet were starting to crawl out from the corners of his eyes, which were a captivating blue, but not enough to disarm his hard looks and choleric disposition. He had big, vagrant-on-a-budget crooked teeth that were impossible to hide, and a patchy, scraggily red beard shadowing his neck and fleshy jowls. He may have been growing it for days, perhaps even weeks. A carny artist was still a carny, however, so his disheveled appearance wasn’t much of a surprise for Taron. But that strange, socially awkward grin he put on every time he stole another peak at them from around the drawing board gave him the willies. Taron’s vivacious, and affable little girl, though, was nothing but pleasant smiles and alacrity. She always liked the oddballs, channeling that hard-wired motherly instinct to rescue a stray cat in a storm. It made her father dread the fast-approaching day when she starts dating.


Taron shot an apprehensive glance at Maya. Then he whispered to her, “I think we’re getting a caricature by a caricature.”


His daughter gave him that opened-mouth Oh-how-could-you, bashful smile that was much too adult for his liking, before she slapped him in the arm, and said, “Daddy, be nice.”


“I’m just saying, I’d hate to know what a guy with a mug like that is going to do to our faces.”


She arched an eyebrow up at him, and folded her arms across her chest, like a mom readying to lecture a petulant child. She whispered, “Well, it’s too late for a brittle ego now.” Then she brightened her smile as she snuggled up close to him.


“Just about finished,” the unknowing artist announced.


He then tore the sheet off the drawing pad and presented to them his artistic rendering of their faces. Maya’s long, full and flowing auburn hair, and big glowing eyes were transformed into one of those aesthetically pleasing, unnaturally perfect cartoon princes you saw in the big budget animated movies. But Taron’s flat-boxer’s nose, protruding brow, and sharp jaw were all exaggerated to such a grotesque degree that it made him look almost deformed.


There was a long pause between them as they studied the piece. Taron glowered, immediately appalled, while his daughter squinted her eyes like she wasn’t quite sure what she was seeing. The waiting artist was teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Then Maya suddenly burst out laughing, startling her pops.


She exclaimed, “That is pure perfection!”


As Taron was grudgingly paying the wayward artist for the drawing and getting roped in to purchasing a frame and protector to preserve the alleged masterpiece, Maya was standing between them gabbing away.


“You know, I always loved art. It’s just amazing how you can take our features and make them look so crazy, yet it still somehow looks just like us.”


“Lets not be too kind,” Taron didn’t like that drawing at all.


She giggled. “How are you able to do it so fast.”


“Just practice, my dear, and lots of it,” The artist answered, bagging up the piece and handing it off to her father.


Taron paid the man and asked, “So now that we done that, what’s next on your radar, Maya?”


She made a show of considering her options though she already knew her answer. “Hmmm, I think now we need Ice cream.”


“If you’re getting Ice Cream,” the strange artist put in a little too eagerly. “you may as well take a ride on the Ferris Wheel while you’re at it. It’s one of our most popular attractions. And, they are right next to each other just over there.”


“Oh, YEAH, Lets ride the Ferris Wheel,” Maya cheered.


Taron didn’t trust his smile. There was something insidious hidden behind it. Something perhaps even irresolute. He suddenly looked like a man with a gun pointing at his back.


“Thanks,” Taron said before hurrying his daughter as far away from the caricature booth as they could get.


When they were gone, the artist turned around and opened the text messenger on his phone. He typed:


“Honey trap is open.”


He pressed send and put the phone away. Tremendous unease and guilt fell upon him in that moment, but soon he would put that away too.


Taron snapped back to the present when Sophia Ortega appeared behind him. She set a gentle hand on his back, leaned in close and whispered, “Are you unwell, Director?”

She startled him. He looked up with glazed over eyes, like waking up from a dream. Suddenly the world came back in to focus. He was no longer at the ill-fated Pumpkenfest from all those years ago with his long-lost daughter. He was in the Star Pool Tower box office booth, with the traumatized girl who was made to witness one of the most heinous murders of their modern era.


He returned his attention to the girl, sending off Sophia with a curt wave of his hand. Taking back his composure, he swallowed deep and offered her his best fatherly smile, trying to remember how he had worn it before. He was certain it came on as awkwardly as it had felt.


“Hello, my name is Taron Odale, can you tell me yours?” She blinked furiously up at him. Her pupils swelled with his reflection trapped inside those two black holes. And they seemed as empty as a bottomless well. He could see his own gaunt face looking back. She did not answer. Her lengthy, curly, blonde hair was left in a wild heap in what had been a fixed-up bun on top of her head. Frizzy, yellow ropes lulled this way and that, and flyaways stuck out everywhere on top her scalp like solar flares on a deranged sun. Her silver eyes hardly moved, though it seemed as though tears were filling up in still pools under her irises. He could not quite identify her emotion, however. She was just empty.


“Do you know where you are? Can you remember anything at all from last night?”


Nothing.


He shot an incredulous look back at Director Ortega. Suddenly words poured out from the girl’s lips, but he didn’t hear them. He drew back a moment, and then leaned in closer to have a listen. He beckoned her to repeat them. Those icy eyes never moved, not even a quiver. Finally, she said in a small, doleful, and taciturn voice, “They were dangerous men…” Taron gasped, but he knew somehow that she had more to say so he held his breath. After a brief moment she said it, “They are not dangerous anymore.”


A moment of chilling silence past between them before her eyes whirled about as if taken by a torrent of curious emotion, she could not quite decipher herself. She erupted in tears, throwing a lamenting, writhing shriek of sorrow into Taron’s chest, catching him by surprise. He cradled her head with trembling arms, fighting back the PTSD over his daughter. He promised the mewling, fragile creature that it was going to be all right. But he knew in his heart he was wrong, because everything was wrong… The world was wrong. And there was no saving it.




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