Where is he? Last he remembered, he was--wait, where had he been? The memory is slipping away. He tries to seize it, but it wiggles away, evading his grasp. All he knows is what’s in front of him.
He shivers—he’s cold, frozen straight through to his bones. His marrow has turned to ice. The room is too bright, the florescent lights intensified by the white walls and the metal chambers that are surrounding him. He rubs his face as he steps forward, frosty air billowing around him. He’s not quite sure where he’s going, but he feels like he must walk. The shadowy figure of a man stands in front of him, hazy, impossible to distinguish. The man speaks.
“Mercury,” he says, but everything after that is incomprehensible.
Mercury tries to respond, but his voice fails him, as do his knees. He falls forward, and his body begins to flicker. It can’t decide between ethereal and physical. Oh no, he thinks, please don’t do this. He focuses, concentrating hard, thinking solid thoughts. Gold and platinum, denser than mercury. The flickering stops.
“Mercury, do you understand me?” the voice has been talking the whole time. Mercury concentrates, but he can only hear fragments, “…Bee…female, approximately...alive…debt….Can you….Do you understand?”
Mercury shakes his head. The figure crouches in front of him, his eyes studying Mercury. When he feels that his body finally under control, Mercury looks up to the stranger and meets his gaze.
“Where am I,” he croaks, “What did you do to me?”
“Listen closely, Mercury,” the voice is insistent, “you must find her—“
Elysia wakes up, suddenly but not with surprise. Another strange dream, another night. Must be Tuesday.
With Lily’s help, Elysia has gotten better at filtering out the thoughts of others. But when she’s sleeping, it’s harder. Sometimes people’s dreams or thoughts or even their current locations seep into her unconscious mind. It’s been an interesting experiment in the human condition, and as a writer, she’s not complaining. She knows the motivations, thoughts, and feelings of just about everyone in town.
She glances at the clock on her bedside table. It’s three in the morning, but she’s wide awake. She’s been working on a big story for a while, about some top-secret contract between the Simnation military and a pharmaceutical company, a deal which was brokered by the Landgraabs. Both Elysia and her editor are suspicious of the contract. But Elysia has found it hard to get a good lead for the story, and the anxiety is making it hard for her to sleep. She doesn’t want to be stuck running the gossip column for the rest of her career.
Elysia is so consumed by her own thoughts that she fails to sense the angry snarl descending on her. She screams and shields her face as a strange man bursts into her room.
“Esperanza,” Quentin coos to his daughter, “See! She looked at me! She already knows her name. Hi, Esperanza! I’m your daddy. Can you say daddy?”
“She can’t recognize words yet,” Luna laughs, “you’re just seeing what you want to see.” Luna let Quentin name their daughter, and she’s happy with the name he chose. Esperanza—it fits.
“Here,” Quentin gently hands his daughter to Luna, “Why don’t you go show Elysia?”
Luna nods, excited to show off her daughter. She should be exhausted, but she feels energized. She bounds up the stairs to Elysia’s tiny room. Unconcerned by the idea that Elysia might be sleeping, she throws open her bedroom door.
And her energy dissipates. Elysia’s room has been torn apart: her nightstand is overturned, her desk has been rifled through, and her laptop is missing.
“Elysia?” She asks the empty room.
In the living room, Nova is crying. “I didn’t want them to move out,” she hiccups, “and look what happened!”
“Nova, it’s okay. The police will find her,” Zenith tries to console his sister, “please don’t be sad.”
“I’m not sad,” she snaps, “I'm pissed--I should have stopped her from leaving! I knew something bad would happen!”
“I think you’re projecting that feeling now that this happened,” Zenith can be surprisingly astute sometimes, “you can’t blame yourself.”
“Maybe,” Nova sniffles, “but once I find out who did these, I’m going to kill him.”
Quentin watches this scene, unsure of what to do. He barely knows Luna’s family, and now he’s been thrown together with them in the midst of a possible tragedy.
“I’ll dispose of the body,” Quentin finally offers.
“Good. I could also use a patsy,” Nova tries not to smile.
“Then patsy I shall be,” he promises.
Kiki sniffs at her human and gently nudges her with her nose. Nova absently pets Kiki, who wags her tail in return, proud of herself for having obviously cheered up her dear, beloved pet human.
After Luna found Elysia’s room trashed, Quentin had insisted that they leave the house immediately. Luna called the police and told them to meet her at Polly’s house. Now, with great difficulty, she is trying to file a police report.
“So you didn’t actually witness any sort of abduction or foul play,” the officer asks doubtfully.
“No, but her room was a mess.”
“Your sister is single?”
“She’s seeing someone, but it’s not too serious.”
“I see. And she’s young?”
“Well, yeah, she’s the same age as me.”
“How often does your sister drink?”
“Drink? I don’t see how that’s relevant,” Luna’s voice cracks a little and she tries to hold back tears. Why is this woman being so mean?
The officer sighs, “is it possible she left of her own accord?”
“I don’t think so—“
“But you’re not sure?”
“I don’t understand what the problem is, officer. My sister’s room was torn apart and she’s missing. No one has heard from her in at least a day!”
“Ma’am, you sister is an adult. She has the right to disappear if she wants to. I can’t waste the department’s time with a report like this.”
“Stop,” Polaris interrupts and hands Esperanza to Luna, “may I speak with you outside, officer?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
Polaris makes sure the door is shut completely before she turns to speak to the officer.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but—“
“Not another word,” Polaris tries her hardest to restrain herself from saying anything too inappropriate, “I know that you think this is just some case of a ditzy blond wandering off for a weekend of fun without notifying anyone, but you’re dead wrong.”
“Elysia is a strong-willed, brilliant young lady with a bright future. She would not ‘leave of her own accord.’ I don’t know what your problem is, but I am not going to allow you imply that this is anything but foul play.”
“But there’s no evidence—“
“There’s no evidence because you need to find it. That’s your job. Now, listen here: you are going to go back in there and you are going to take Luna’s report. You are going to open a case about Elysia’s disappearance and you are going to investigate it to the best of your ability. Do you understand?”
The officer nods; whether it’s because of her inexperience, or because of Polaris’ firm tone, she’s completely cowed. “Yes, ma’am. I understand.”
***In the wake of Elysia’s disappearance, the remaining members of the Bee brood try to keep busy. Polaris and the twins spends their evenings plastering the neighborhood with fresh missing posters that offer a reward for Elysia’s safe return. Luke, now obscenely wealthy due to royalties from his albums and Lily’s smart investing, foots the bill. With the help of Elysia’s editor, Solaris has been making sure that Elysia’s disappearance stays in the news. And although they now have a baby to take care of, Luna and Quentin have slowly been interviewing all of their neighbors since the police department seems to be ignoring Elysia’s case.
Polaris worries for the safety of her youngest children. She doesn’t forbid them from going out, but she gives them worried looks whenever they ask to go somewhere with friends. Thus, the twins spend their free time locked at home, the alarm system armed and the ever vigilant Kiki on guard duty. They spend a lot of that free time playing video games, substituting their real lives for virtual ones. First-person shooters are their poison of choice. They recently bought a new game, and Zenith is currently trouncing his sister.
“No fair,” Nova complains after a particularly brutal execution, “I was scratching my nose.”
“That’s the last act of a desperate woman, sister, and I won’t hear it,” Zenith says.
“According to the Twin Treaty, there are automatic time-outs for bodily functions.”
“Bullshit,” he replies, “scratching your nose isn’t a bodily function.” Zenith is tired of Nova using the Twin Treaty to win arguments. It’s about time he stood up for himself.
Nova’s cell phone rings, interrupting their scholarly debate. “Time out,” Nova declares. Zenith ignores her and spitefully kills her character again. She sneers at him and checks the caller ID: it’s her friend Mia.
“I’m taking you out, bitch,” Mia says.
“Is that a threat?” Nova asks.
“No, dummy. I’m taking you out for a night of fun-filled partying,” Mia laughs, “bitch.”
“Traditionally, one begins a telephone call with a casual but friendly greeting.”
“I’m serious. You’ve been isolating yourself ever since your sister went missing. Like, I understand why you’re upset, but you need to take your mind off of everything. Have some fun!”
“I don’t know. Zenith and I got a new game—“
“Zenith can come with us,” Mia sounds a little too eager.
Nova turns to her brother, and with her hand over the receiver, she whispers, “It’s Mia.”
Zenith’s eyes bulge out, and he shakes his head and whispers in return, “No way! You’re on your own.” He doesn’t like the way Mia stares at him—she looks like she’s really hungry and he’s a turkey dinner.
“Umm, I forgot, Zenith is supposed to, um, he’s—“
“Okay, he doesn’t want to come. Got it,” Mia sounds disappointed, “well, then it’s a girls’ night out! I’ll be by to pick you up in half an hour. Change out of those nasty-ass pajamas and gussy up.”
“I’m not wearing pajamas,” Nova lies.
Mia hangs up the phone and looks over her shoulder. “I’m going out, mom.”
“I heard, dear,” January doesn’t look up from her book. It’s not that she’s a bad mother; she just wouldn’t mind a night without her daughter home, “Make sure to be back by eleven.”
“Of course, mom,” Mia grins. Her mom never waits up that late, so Mia usually comes home whenever she wants, “’night!” she calls over her shoulder as she traipses out of the house. January winces when the door slams shut. How can one girl be so loud?
January waits a moment, listening to her daughter stomp across the front lawn and down the street. When she’s sure Mia is gone, she pulls out her cell phone and dials Solaris’ number.
“Hi, babe. Mia just left. Would you like to come over?”
Before Solaris can respond, January feels a pair of strong hands wrap around her, one placed over her mouth and the other around her waist. Her phone drops to the ground, the screen shattering in the process.
“Don’t scream, bitch,” a gruff voice commands her, “we’re going on a little adventure, you and I.” He pushes her forward, steering her to the back door.
“January? Hello? What happened?” Solaris’ voice drifts from the phone.
“You’ve done this before,” Nova complains, “Why don’t you order them?” She’s afraid that the bartender might kick her out since she’s obviously underage. Besides, Mia seems more suited for such a task since she looks older.
“Ah, I am trying to teach you, my child,” Mia says as she sways casually to the music, “you must learn to fend for yourself.”
“You just don’t want to stop dancing.”
“That too. Now go!”
Nova takes a deep breath and plasters a smile on her face as she makes a beeline to the bar. As she walks, each step deliberate, Nova conjures up a story. Her name’s not Nova, it’s…Norah! Norah Lee. She’s 23, almost 24, and she left her ID at home. She’s a gymnast, so that’s why she looks so young. It’s an airtight story, but the bartender hardly looks up at her when she signals for a drink.
“Whatdya want, ginger?”
“Um…what do you suggest?”
“For a girl like you?” the bartender briefly glances at her, “Cherry Casanova.”
“Make it two,” Nova says confidently. The bartender grunts in response. She doesn’t make enough money to be polite.
“She didn’t even card me,” Nova giggles when she returns to Mia.
“Welcome to the dark side, Miss Bee,” Mia grabs her dink and begins to chug it down.
“You are too kind, Miss Covington,” Nova opts to sip hers slowly. It makes her feel more ladylike and proper.
“Oh, c’mon! Chug it, Bee!” Mia says playfully.
“Harumph! I would never,” Nova adopts a regal tone, “If one is going to break bad, one should do so with class and elegance.”
“Well then, in celebration of your newfound depravity, I’ll get the next round."
Mia quickly outpaces Nova, swigging down twice as many drinks. With alcohol twisting their tongues, the girls decide that it’s the perfect moment to sing a duet. They select a random song—one they don’t know the words to—and begin belting.
The words are random, of course, and neither girl can seem to pick up the melody. But that’s incidental, because they look hella cute while singing.
Not everyone finds them as endearing as they believe themselves to be. A random man begins to boo them. “Get off the stage,” he jeers.
“Jump back up your mother,” Nova retorts.
“That was uncalled for,” the man looks genuinely hurt.
“So’s your FACE,” Mia delivers the wicked burn with ease. The man clenches his jaw shut and decides to order another drink instead of engaging with the obviously intoxicated duo.
Once their song is over, the girls tear up the dance floor. They’re the only ones out there, but the girls don’t mind. Nova, as part of the oddest family in town, is immune to the judgments of others, and Mia rather likes the attention. She tries to make eye contact with each man in the bar. Her eyes finally come to rest on a potential target.
“I think that guy’s checking us out,” Mia says, gesturing to the man. Nova glances at him over her shoulder.
“Ugh, looks like a real dick,” she replies, trying not to stare, “I mean, a good looking dick, but a dick is a dick is a dick.”
“Stop saying dick!”
“I think I’m going to go talk to him,” Mia begins to move towards the man, but Nova grabs her arm.
“Hey, it’s girls’ night out,” Nova reminds her, “you’re not gonna abandon me here, Covington.”
“Fine,” Mia pouts, “but you owe me one.”
Mercury is surprised when the girls appear to notice him. He’s been watching them for at least an hour from his perch, trying to get a feel for them. When he meets Nova’s gray eyes, he quickly looks past her towards the door, pretending as if he’s waiting for someone. But when the brunette starts to approach him, he slides off the barstool and slips out the back door. They have to leave the bar at some point. He’ll find out where she lives then.
The girls alternate between dancing and torturing innocent bystanders with off-key singing until finally the bartender signals last round. By that point, Mia is so far gone that she requires Nova’s assistance to walk.
Nova has always thought that it was weird how Mia’s eyes seem to glow in low light, but she’s too polite to ask about it. Mia returns the favor by never asking about Nova’s general appearance. The girls share a lot with each other, but there’s obviously an unspoken mutual agreement to ignore physical oddities.
“Now was that so bad?” Mia slurs as they leave the bar, “No biggie, right? No biggie.”
“It was a’ight,” Nova says, “thanks for inviting me. We gotta get you home, though.” Nova is by no means sober, but she can at least walk semi-straight.
“Can I just crash at your house?” Mia always gets sleepy after drinking. She can’t fathom walking home when her bones feel like lead.
“Fo’ sho, ho’,” Nova giggles at this, believing this to be quite the witty riposte.
Mercury watches carefully as the girls leave. They seem foolhardy and oblivious—just how he would expect teenage girls to act. But this only makes him more unsure of his task. She can’t be his target, can she?
But he has a debt to repay. He sighs and—keeping a safe distance—follows her home.