A warehouse—foreboding, reaching up towards the sky. Dried grass surrounds it, swaying slightly in the breeze, and stale water leaks from a rusty pipe. Dead bugs and clumps of brown leaves swirl in the resulting puddle. She swears she can smell rot and dust and maybe even death, but that can’t be possible, not in a dream. Unnerving.
Naomi-Hunter-Ptolemy, Naomi-Hunter-Ptolemy, Elysia hears chanting. Strange—it sounds like her sister’s voice. Elly, I’m in a warehouse. Bad side of town. Please come pleasecomepleasecomepleasecome. Panic fills Elysia. She has to go but she can’t move.
A gun. Luna doesn’t see it yet, but Elysia can. It’s pointed towards her, a tiny explosion, ready to go off. Boom. Run, she wills the message to her sister, Luna, run!
A different voice is calling her now. Elly, wake up! Wake up! Mom, Dad! Her world shakes.
Solaris shakes his sister again. She looks dead. “Elly, c’mon. Mom, Dad! Over here!” Solaris gestures to his parents, “I found Elly!” Polaris and Luke run over, Crux trailing behind them.
“Oh, Solaris, you shouldn’t have moved her,” Polly tries not to sound worried.
“Why? Is she dead? Oh my maker, mom, is she dead?!”
Polaris feels Elysia’s wrist. Her pulse is steady, “No, she’s okay. We just don’t know what kind of injuries she might have.”
“What happened to her? And where’s Luna?”
“I believe someone must have knocked Elysia unconscious,” Crux states the obvious. He and Polaris had been blissfully planning the wedding all afternoon, but as the day wore on and the girls didn’t return home, Polaris got more and more nervous. Finally, he suggested that they launch a search party.
“You’re a regular Sherlock Holmes, aren’t you?” Luke’s reply is snarky. Crux didn’t include Luke in his plan to search for the girls, but Polaris insisted on calling him (“They’re his daughters—he has to know!”).
“I do not have a drug addiction, but otherwise, there are similarities. I am rather gifted intellectually. Thank you for the compliment.”
“Ugh, idiot,” Luke scoffs.
“Stop. Now,” Polaris snaps, “Not the fucking time for pissing contents.”
Solaris ignores the bickering adults. “Look! I think she’s waking up.”
Elysia’s eyes flutter open. “Solaris?” She jolts forward, “Where’s Luna? We have to save Luna!”
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Polaris asks.
“There’s a warehouse. Bad side of town. Luna is there, I think with three other people: Hunter, Naomi, and Ptolemy. I can see it—there’s tall weeds outside and a broken water pipe and a faded sign. It’s my fault she’s there. If I hadn’t….”
“Shh, shh. Don’t worry about that right now. Can you tell us what happened?”
“Luna got into a fight with a girl at school. Afterwards I think she came here. I found her talking to a middle-aged guy and then he grabbed her. I tried to stop him, but he hit me and I—I--” Elysia begins to sob, "I think she's in real danger."
“It’s okay, honey. Calm down,” Luke‘s voice is soothing, “this isn’t your fault.”
Polaris, on the other hand, remains quiet. She doesn’t know who Hunter is, but she remembers Naomi quite well, and Ptolemy sounds familiar, too. That’s right—that’s the username of one of the freaks on the forum.
“I have just contacted Lyra,” Crux suddenly declares, “she has text-messaged me the location of a warehouse matching Elly’s description. She will meet us there.”
“Should we call the police?” Luke asks, “I mean, this is pretty grave shit.”
“No—no. We can’t,” Polaris’ response is hasty, “I mean, we can’t file a report until 24 hours after she disappears. We’d waste the police’s time.”
“Our daughter was kidnapped. I kinda think this is a police-worthy deal.”
“Solaris, take Elly home, please?” Polaris ignores Luke, “and make sure to lock the door.”
“Sure, mom,” Solaris helps Elysia stand. She’s a little wobbly, so he holds her, “c’mon, sis. We can veg out in front of the TV.”
“We’ll even watch one of those chick flicks you like! How about that one with that guy who is mean to the girl and then the other guy hits on her but then it turns out the first guy is good and likes her for her mind and the second guy is bad and just wants to bang her?”
“…will you make popcorn?”
“Of course. Tonight's your night, Elly!” Solaris attempts to sound his cheeriest, but Elysia is not convinced.
“Shall we depart? We can utilize my vehicle,” Crux says, "it is a hybrid. Quite environmentally friendly."
“Let’s go,” Luke beelines to the parking lot, but Polaris steps in front of him.
“You shouldn’t come with us, Luke. Maybe go keep Solaris and Elly safe? They need you.”
“I know where you're coming from, Polly, but screw that. Luna is in immediate danger and if you’re not calling the police, I’m going to make sure I’m there for her.”
“Luke, you have to trust me. Please. Um…it might not be safe for you.”
“There’s something you’re not telling me, Polly.”
“Fine, come with us. Just—be cool, okay?”
“Hey, girl, why aren’t you playing with that teddy bear? I didn’t buy it for fucking nothing,” Hunter tries to sound soft—he feels kind of bad about the general violence—but he’s not the soft kind of guy.
“This is a kid toy. I’m not a kid,” Luna stares down the teddy bear. It looks like a vampire. She’d like to tear its head off.
“Well excuse me for trying to make you comfortable, brat,” Hunter snarls. Luna, in response, silently fantasizes about raking his face with her claws.
“There hasn’t been any sort of alert for a missing kid,” Naomi quickly scrolls through the news on her phone. Perhaps they won’t be caught—at least not yet.
“Told you. No one saw us. It was—what’s the word—serendipitous? What with the park being empty and all.”
Naomi stares at him. “Serendipitous?”
“What—I have one of those word-a-day calendars. Helps me sound smarter.” Luna tries not to laugh—a degree in astrophysics couldn’t make this dolt sound smarter.
“I don’t understand this plan,” Naomi changes the subject, “so we have the girl, what now? Why did we have to kidnap her?”
“It’s not that difficult to understand. Ptolemy is going to meet us here soon—“
“—he didn’t give you his real name?”
“Nah, but I chatted to him a lot while you were AWOL. He’s like some scientist in Bridgeport or something. He came up with the plan.”
“Okay, Hunter, but what is the plan?”
“When we gets here, we’ll write a ransom note, complete with picture proof that we have Miss Ginger here, and then we send it to the kid’s mom, instructing her to come with the other ‘aliens.’ Still think they’re government experiments, by the way. SSS is into all sorts of weird things.”
“I don’t care about the Simnation Secret Service, Hunter. Just what do we do when they get here? I don’t understand.”
“What do you usually do with pests?” Hunter smirks.
Before Naomi can answer, Hunter shoots out of his chair crumples to the ground. Luna covers her face as blood spurts out of his chest. She hardly even heard anything—just the sound of something whizzing through the air, and then a sickening crack.
Hunter lies in front of her, blood quickly pooling around his body. His dead eyes stare off into nothing.
“You exterminate them,” a woman’s voice laughs. “I’m sorry for stealing the punchline, but I was waiting for a dramatic entrance, and that set-up was absolutely perfect.” A black clad woman saunters from behind a stack of crates. “I just really do love making an entrance.” She holds her gun up, as if she’s posing for someone.
“Hunter, no!” Naomi screams, “no, you have to save me!”
“Egah, you’re fucking annoying, love. I can’t stand that shrill noise…” She aims her gun at Naomi, her scarred face determined.
“No,” a sharp voice commands, “let that human go. I am more interested in our new friend.” Commander Eridanus emerges from the shadows, “let us hold off on shooting anyone else for the moment, dear Andromeda.”
“Sure thing, boss, whatever you say.”
“You leave with your life, human. I shall call on you later and collect my debt,” he bellows. Naomi scrambles, tripping several times as she runs out of the building.
“She’s real cute,” Andromeda says, approaching Luna, “like a miniature version of Polaris. Hello little Polaris! Don’t worry, I’m not going to shoot you like I did the bad man.” Luna winces at her cooing.
“She does resemble her mother a great deal. Now, what is your name, offspring of Polaris?” Luna trembles, but does not answer.
“’Bout time you showed up,” Lyra frowns, leaning against a faded picket fence. She’s trying to look casual, but she’s obviously on edge.
“Have you surveyed the area?” Crux asks.
“I poked around—the surrounding buildings are abandoned, no one in sight. I didn’t think it’d be wise to bust into the joint without backup, though.”
“That would be quite foolish,” Crux agrees, “Good work Lyra. You are demonstrating increasing forethought, which is promising indeed.”
Luke examines the woman in front of him. Weird how all of Polly’s friends are odd colors and have stupid names. “Wow, ya’ll look like a bunch of aliens,” Luke thinks out loud, “like, this is a scene out of a sci-fi movie. The good guys about to burst in on some villainous scallywags or Romulans or something…”
Crux and Polaris give each other pained looks. A sudden realization hits Luke. “Oh—holy shit, you’re aliens?!”
“Luke, we can talk about this later.”
“Actually, that explains a lot…” Luke remembers finding a weird tight jumpsuit made out of weird fabric when he still lived with Polly, and he always wondered why she seemed so...foreign.
“Shall we begin exploring the warehouse?” Crux interrupts. He approaches the front door and peers in through a cracked, dirty window. Nothing inside. “The first room appears to be empty.”
Lyra, always the brave soul, enters first. She glances around the decrepit and dirty building, unimpressed. “Yipee, a warehouse,” she claps her hands sarcastically, “just like the last one. Whoop-de-doo!”
“The similarities between the two are what concern me,” Crux mumbles, examining his surroundings, “and what do you make of this?” He gestures to a pool of dried blood.
“Looks like blood, Sherlock,” she retorts.
“Again, that is not an insult,” he kneels down and points to it, tracing the outline of the pool in the air, “It is dry, so the victim is long gone. It appear he fell on his stomach.”
Luke kneels down next to him, “look at the spatter, too. It looks like he was shot from behind—no sign of any sort of like defensive stance, and judging from those smears, he was dragged out of the room.” Everyone stares at him, “I watch a lot of crime shows. So sue me.”
“Yes, I suppose extensive knowledge of a television genre makes one capable of providing forensic analysis.”
“I don’t see your forensics degree, jackass.”
“Boys,” Polaris says, “Stop. Fighting.”
“Mom?” Luna’s voice drifts through the warehouse—she sounds tired, like she just woke up.
“Luna!” Polaris darts towards the sound of her daughter’s voice, “Luna, I’m coming!”
“Mom, no, it’s a trap!” Luna struggles fruitlessly against her restraints, "don't come in!"
Polaris makes it several steps into the room before she feels someone move behind her. “On the floor. Hands up,” Andromeda sounds gleeful, “And don’t move. Eridanus has been waiting ever so long to speak with you.” Polaris drops to the ground, grudgingly.
“Let her go, please. I’ll stay, just let my daughter go.”
“As if! We have almost a complete set. Why give up a piece now? It took months of working with those idiots on the forum, masquerading as ‘Ptolemy’ in order to get them to enact our plan, of which little Luna is the key.”
Lyra motions to Crux and Luke and puts a finger to her lips, then gestures towards Andromeda. They begin to tiptoe towards her, her back still turned to them. But before Lyra can even make it through the doorway, Andromeda whips around, leveling her gun at the trio.
“Tsk, tsk, little kittens. Don’t you go and do anything stupid.”
“Well, shit,” Lyra mumbles, "this bitch."
“Hands up. Don’t move. I’d just hate to put half a dozen holes in you.”
The Commander, meanwhile, advances towards Polaris, obviously relishing the moment. “Oh, it has been far too long, Polaris. I have reflected on this outcome for what seems like ages.”
“Yeah, ages. We should get coffee sometime, catch up. Meanwhile, though, I’d like to just grab my daughter and—“
“Quiet! Not even a moment has passed and I tire of your insolence.” The Commander grabs her by her arm and pulls her towards him. He strokes her cheek with his claws.
“You are to blame for everything! My fall from power and my eventual exile, even the political turmoil—it can all be traced back to you!”
“So I really am special,” she replies weakly. Her mind whirrs as she tries to conjure up a plan of escape.
“You are a thorn in my side, a constant reminder of failure. If I had killed you when I had the chance…” he hisses.
“Let go of her,” Luna shouts, “let go of my mom, you creeper.”
“I will hurt you as much as you hurt me, I swear this, Polaris. I will start with your daughter…” he begins to dig his claws into his wrist for emphasis.
“Like hell you will, you son of a bitch,” Polaris snarls as she jerks her knee up, bashing him in the groin. He recoils in pain. She kicks him a couple of more times for good measure.
He falls to the ground, gripping his injured manhood and moaning.
While the Commander is engaged with Polaris, Lyra tries to keep Andromeda occupied. "So, what the fuck happened to your face? It looks like raw meat. I mean, it’s not a bad look, but I’m expecting a maggot to worm its way out of your cheek any moment now.”
“Cruxie happened to my face. When he kicked me back into that explosion, Eridanus wasn’t able to teleport me back in time,” she spits, “oh, but revenge will be so sweet.”
“Oy, revenge? This is so cliché. You gonna start monologuing right now? Wake me up when you’re done.”
Luke, seeing his opportunity, begins to creep away, sliding against the wall. He wants to get us much berth between him and this madwoman as possible. Since she’s so focused on Lyra, he figures he can untie Luna and make it out the fire exit without her noticing.
“Oh, you want a monologue? Hmm, let’s see….I hate you and I want you to die. Sorry if it’s not poetic enough,” Andromeda swivels, facing Luke, “And where are you going, kitten? I didn’t excuse you from this conversation.” Luke freezes, his eyes wide open in terror.
“You must be daddy dearest. Little Luna was telling me all about you—how strong you are, and how you and mommy were going to save her. That’s a quaint little story,” Andromeda pauses thoughtfully, “but I think I have a better story. Imagine a little girl, all tied up and helpless, and she sees mean old Andromeda blow her father’s fucking head off. How’d you think that little girl would turn out?” She cocks her gun and smiles, “let’s find out.”
Crux scans the room, looking for some way to waylay Andromeda. His gaze fall on Luna--her tearful eyes are fixed on her father, and her mouth is beginning to form a scream.
She should not have to witness this. Impulse overtakes Crux, and he runs forward, launching himself in front of Luke. The action surprises even him, and his shock is compounded as a white hot pain burrows through his torso. Polaris looks up from pummeling the Commander just in time to see Crux sprawled on the floor, blood seeping through his shirt.
With a roar, Lyra jets forward, punching Andromeda square in the jaw. Her gun flies out of her hand and skips across the floor. Polaris dives to the floor and scrambles for the gun.
“Get the Commander,” she orders Lyra as she rolls onto her back. This bitch is mine. Grasping Andromeda’s gun tightly, Polaris aims it at her chest.
Andromeda freezes and holds her hands up timidly, “Please, don’t—“
Her plea is cut short. The bullet rips through her heart, killing her almost immediately. She falls back onto the ground, and blood pools around her, forming a gruesome halo.
Upon seeing his bodyguard die, the Commander turns and begins to run. He’s quick, but Lyra is quicker. She tackles him to the ground and flips him over, determined to see the life leave his eyes. As her hands grip his throat, he feebly resists her, but she’s much stronger.
As the fights rage on, Luke panics. “Shit, man,” he scoops Crux into his arms, “hold on. Don’t die.”
“You are not supposed to move a body,” Crux coughs, “it disrupts the crime scene.”
“You’re not a body, yet. I can’t—you shouldn’t have—“
“Stop. I know I should not have, but I did. We cannot change that.”
“Shit, I didn’t mean to be such a dick to you all these years. I’m sorry.”
“As am I. But I suppose when two men care for the same woman…” Crux trails off, his eyes closing.
“You’re going to be fine, man,” Luke tries to force a smile, “You’ll see. You and Polly—you’ll get married, man. It'll be perfect. Shit, I’ll even plan the bachelor party.”
“You must take care of her and the children,” his voice is getting softer with each word.
“C’mon, man, I won’t need to take care of them. You’ll be there. You’ll teach ‘em how to ride bikes and—“
“Stop,” Crux repeats himself, “I do not need lies. What I need is a promise.”
“I promise,” Luke pauses, “but promise me you’ll hold on. You can’t die on her.”
“Crux!” Polaris falls to the ground next him, “Luke, give him to me.” She slips her arms around him, and Luke shifts Crux’s weight to her arms.
“Polaris,” his voice is weak, his breath shallow, “I love you.”
“I know, shut up! I love you too,” she cries, “we’ll get you to a hospital.”
“I do not believe that is possible. I think this may be farewell.”
“I said shut up,” she tightens her embrace, “you can’t go. Nova and Zenith—“
“We do good work,” he smiles, “they are quite beautiful.”
Polaris begins to howl, “No, you can’t do this, Crux. You can’t do this! You don’t fucking give up!”
Police sirens scream in the distance, harmonizing with Polaris. Lyra kneels next to the couple. “I think we need to go,” she says quietly, “Crux?”
“Lyra, I cannot be moved. The bullet did not exit, and at the moment I believe it is slowing the flow of blood. If you move me, the results might be catastrophic and thus devastating to Polaris and Luna. Furthermore, with the authorities arriving, I will only burden you.”
Lyra clenches her fists, “what are you saying?”
“Leave me. You must escape.”
“I’m not leaving you,” Polaris insists.
“Polaris, please. The authorities would detain you, and you must be there for the children.”
“I can’t leave,” she sobs.
“Hush—we will meet again. I promise,” his voice is just a whisper.
“That’s doesn't make any—“ Lyra knocks Polaris over the head before she can finish speaking, knocking her unconscious.
"I'll get her out safely," Lyra assures him.
“Thank you,” Crux sighs, “goodbye, Lyra.”
“I’m not saying goodbye,” Lyra warns as she begins to hoist Polaris over her shoulders, “We damn well better meet again, Crux.” He doesn’t respond. She doesn’t dare to look down at him, lest her fears be confirmed.
Luke also tries not to look at the unfolding tragedy, focusing instead on his daughter’s restraints.
“Is Crux dead?” Luna whimpers, "We didn't even get to talk about The Bell Jar."
“Don’t think about it, honey. Just focus on me,” he hurriedly unties her, “Come on, out the fire exit” He helps her to her feet.
Lyra fumes as she carries Polaris. She knows Crux was right—they couldn’t have escaped with him. He was a liability. But anger trumps logic. She wants to rip the world apart.
“Someone called reporting suspicious activity in the warehouse. I also received several reports of an apparent kidnapping, and a car matching the description is parked outside. I was first on the scene here—found three bodies in the other room, another one in the dumpster outside.”
“Did you administer first aid? Or check for signs of life?”
“No, sir. As soon as I called it in and described the victims, my sergeant said to leave them alone, call you guys instead.”
“Excellent work, Officer…”
“Velasquez. Thank you, sir. Do you need my assistance?”
“No, you may leave.”
“What’ll I tell my sergeant?”
“Tell him we took over. He’ll understand.”
“And Velasquez? You may want to forget everything you saw here today.”
“Walters, canvass the other room,” the man in black turns to his companion, “make sure there’s no other intruders.”
Walters dutifully sweeps the room, stepping over bodies as he investigates. A normal person might be sickened by the scene, but he didn’t get this job by being normal. He calls back over his shoulder to the other man: “Logan, two obviously died immediately, but one appears to have been moved.”
Logan kneels next to Crux. “Interesting,” he mutters as he studies Crux, “Call it in to our superiors. We’ve got quite a find here.”
"We'll Meet Again"--Vera LynnAuthor's Note:
1) The title of this chapter comes from one of my favorite songs. The Johnny Cash version is also pretty enjoyable.
2) The username "Ptolemy" was a very circuitous hint. Eridanus, the Commander's name, is also the name of a constellation that was cataloged by Claudius Ptolemy. The Andromeda constellation was also cataloged by Ptolemy. I like dropping the occasional hint.
3) Crux was meant to die from day one. I don't think that's a surprise to anyone. However, I got really, ridiculously attached to him, to the point that I almost considered offing Polly and making Crux my protagonist. Alternatively, I had also considered making him a double-agent the whole time, but that felt cheap and manipulative.
4) Should any of us meet in real life, I would understand if you want to punch me in my face. :|