This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by Rick H. @ his blog Pod Tales and Ponderings. Click here to read and share more great fiction!
Author’s Ramblings: Well, I’m working up to a conclusion as I post this piece. Rachel’s story is now drawing to a close. I’ve fluffed this particular installment up so you can learn more about Calvin and learn about a different side of Rachel. No particularly devious twists this week, just some nice happy reading. ^_^ There’s also been new updates on the fansite. Feel free to check them out. Enjoy your holiday weekend-and the read. Cheers!
It was a silent ride home and Rachel found herself wishing for nonsensical chatter to fill the uncomfortable void. Her mind was whirling with too many things to get together and sort out into the respective little boxes for later thought. A groan bubbled up inside of her, but stuck in a lump at the base of her throat until they pulled into the driveway.
The night was cool, but the soft breeze was hardly refreshing as Rachel stiffly exited the vehicle and dutifully followed Jeanette’s bobbing head up the stairs and into the foyer. Her uncle was saying something, but her mind had already checked out and Rachel found herself the center of attention as Jeanette waved her arms wildly in front of her.
“Hey! You! Rachel!”
“Hey what?” Rachel jerked back. “Jeanette-quit it!”
“Well?” Thom was apparently waiting for an answer. “Ice cream or apple pie?”
Her mind backtracked, but couldn’t come up with an answer. She swallowed. Dessert was the farthest thing on her mind at present, though something sugary with “Actually…uh, now’s not a really good time. I uh, think I’ll just get a soda and go up for-”
“You’re going to pass up dessert?” Jeanette’s eyes grew round. “I thought you liked to eat your sugar, not drink it.”
“It’s the other way around.” Rachel rolled her eyes. “I just…need a soda that’s all. I don’t feel like ice cream.” She brushed past and headed for the kitchen, her stomach protesting at the thought of more ice cream. One strawberry sundae had been enough for today. Pausing to retrieve a soda, Rachel frowned into the refrigerator. There were no cold cans of comfort in sight.
Thom hovered over her shoulder, holding the door open. “Find any?” He asked, mildly amused. “I didn’t know I put them in there…”
She did an abrupt about face and headed for the pantry. There’d been a box of soda somewhere. “You’re supposed to put soda in the fridge, that’s what it’s for.” She grumped, wrestling a can of cola from the cardboard box and angling toward the stairs. She didn’t feel like coming back down again. “Goodnight Unk.” She called over her shoulder, pausing to add. “See you tomorrow.”
The refrigerator door closed below. “See you tomorrow Rachel.” Thom returned. “Goodnight.”
It bugged her a little, to think that she was simply ditching him to take care of business, but her mind convinced her otherwise and soon Rachel found herself standing in front of the second guest bedroom door. Casting a glance up and down the hall, careful to have paid attention for the sound of Calvin’s feet. Strangely enough, he hadn’t excused himself to track her upstairs. The relief didn’t come as she stored away his image for later, perhaps she could request a file on him. Rachel turned the doorknob to enter the room.
From the tiny sliver, she could see the same layout as hers. Rachel frozen in mid-twist, then slowly released the knob, backing away. Calvin would have bugged his room…because she knew she’d done the same to hers. It was a safe enough assumption, even if she only judged him as a Cobra, from a Viper’s point of view. There was a twitch of momentary relief as she continued on down the hall and to her own room, accidentally stumbling into the doorjamb and stubbing her toe.
Her fingers were fumbling for her cellphone and dialing Ben’s number as her hands turned the knob. “Ben? It’s Rachel…I mean, Rock… I really need to talk to you, please?”
There was silence for a moment, then finally a reply. “You okay, kid?” The question was guarded.
“Y-yeah. I’m fine, I just…need to talk to you.”
“Now?” There was a sigh.
“Yes! Now!” Rachel winced, trying to quell the new rebellion of emotion. Why would I call him if I didn’t want to talk to him now? The angry thought circled about in her head, but it was interrupted by Ben’s matter-of-fact reply.
“Then just talk to me.”
The phone slid from her fingers and froze, hovering in mid-air, back to waist level as Rachel stared straight into face standing just a few feet away. “Ben?” She started forward and stopped.
Ben moved the few steps between them and pulled her into a hug. “Bad day?”
“Worst day. You have no idea!” She moaned, gratefuls for the hug and the simple acknowledgement from someone who actually did understand what she was going through. What she’d been through today, at least.
“Try me.” He chuckled, guiding her to the bed. “Sit and tilt your head back.” He drew a glowing green amulet from one pocket. “It’s a healing stone. It should help with the stress.” He pressed it to the left side of her head. “How’s your head? Any headaches lately?”
Rachel struggled to stay put when she wanted to twist around and ask how he’d guessed. “Yeah. Several times today. How’d you guess?”
“I didn’t.” He smoothed the rock down the left side of her face. “Please don’t move if you can help it, I don’t want to direct the energy to the wrong place. Your body is realigning itself…because of another foolish mistake I’m not going to scold you for.”
“Not entirely.” He sighed. “What were you thinking? Cobras, Rock? Cobras?” The cool glowing stone was moved to the right side of her temple and methodically stroked across her forehead. “You practically drained yourself to the point of-” He stopped. “You’re just very lucky.”
“I drained myself to the point of what?” Rachel wanted to know.
“To a less than intelligent degree.” The phrase was forced. “I’m actually surprised you’re doing so well. I felt the pull of energy when you used it. It was too much, too soon. You’re nowhere near ready enough to handle that kind of power. I don’t want you to do that again-ever. At least not without fully grasping the fact that it can kill you. Understood?” There was silence. “Rock?”
“Good. Now why didn’t you use your bracelet?”
“I did. Nothing happened.”
“Nothing happened? Exactly how does nothing happen? I hope you have a better explanation than that.”
“I-I don’t know, Ben. It was all confusing and everything just happened really fast. I don’t know what happened, I just know I turned up here at Unk’s unconscious on his front porch.”
“Someone moved you?” Ben turned several interesting shades of red and purple. “You can’t recall anything?”
“No.” Rachel yawned. “I don’t think so.”
“Focus, Rock, please…What did you really need me for-before we get off subject?”
“Besides the fact that the Cobra that almost iced me is my cousin sitting downstairs eating ice cream?”
Ben paused in mid-stroke. “Okay.” He said slowly. “Besides that.” Something sparked from his finger and suddenly streaked across every wall in the room.
“What was that?”
“Your cousin has abilities, Rachel…like you.” Ben frowned. “Tell me that you were aware of that?”
A blush touched her cheeks and Rachel couldn’t hide the emotion from him. “Well…not exactly, I mean-”
“Rachel!” There was an expression of dismay. “I understand he may be family, but he is also an enemy agent, haven’t I taught you anything about the opposite side?”
“Well, yeah, but Ben!”
“Don’t ‘but Ben’ me!” There was a short huff of air. “Of all the people in the world-” He began and then stopped. “Never mind. But now is not the time to let your focus slip, you should be thinking, calculating and planning a course of action that doesn’t require double checking every single detail with me.” He attempted to smile. “You’d want to be a solo agent some day, I’m assuming and it’s best to take the independence when it’s given. It’s always better that way around. Now, what did you really want me here for? What was so important it couldn’t work over the phone?”
“I met the Dragon Lady again.” The stone fell from his fingers and into her lap. Ben had suddenly become rather still. “Ben? You okay?” She picked up the amulet turned to look at him.
“Tell me exactly what happened-” He started to say, then stopped. “On second thought, don’t.” One hand brushed away the hair from her neck and he caught hold of the tiny blue jewel dangling from the gifted necklace. “Did she see this?”
“Yeah. I mean, I think so. I’m not really here right now…sorry. It’s been a crazy day.”
“That is quite obvious. You need more than a good night’s sleep. Have you had a healing today? That could account for side effects.” He sighed. “Okay, I’ll do this the easy way. Do you trust me?”
“Answer it, Rock.”
“With my life, Ben…which is probably more than I should.”
He tipped his head to the side, not bothering to argue with that. “This is going to hurt and I’m sorry.” He muttered. “Just don’t fight it.”
Rachel opened her mouth only to squeak in surprise. It did hurt, but the pain was gone in the same instant it had come. She took a careful breath, then slapped the stone to her forehead, trying to scrub out the strange feeling. “What was that?”
“I borrowed a copy of your memory.” He said quietly, taking a seat on the bed beside her. “Quiet for a moment, I need to sort it out.”
“You took a copy of my what?” Rachel sputtered.
Rachel scowled, but stared up at the ceiling, absently rubbing the stone over her face, relieved when
the pain ebbed away. After a long moment, she sighed. “Are you done yet?”
“No.” He said simply, but held out a hand for the sstone.
She dropped it into his hand, waiting. “Well?”
“She admired you.” He said at last, a puzzled expression on his face.
“She admired you, your…assertiveness. When you came over and demanded the payment for your strawberry sundae, she decided to make a new impression of you and it was favorable.”
Ben frowned. “I can’t sort it through yet…your mind takes awhile to sort through the layers of every experience and you follow the same process for your memories. I’ll have to shift it over to a memory holder and let them work it through.”
Rachel frowned. “a memory holder? As in, another person? Ben, I don’t mind…you, in my mind, I mean, yeah, it’s you, but I don’t want my-”
“She gave you what Mark wanted.” Ben interrupted. “Only I don’t know exactly what it is yet. I know she had it with her when she was there and when she left you, it was for a reason. Tell me, is there anything that sticks out for you about it?”
“About when she left?” Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know. The fact that I told the clerk that there was an invisible bodyguard behind me. That I couldn’t buy a pack of mints, that I couldn’t even carry a civil conversation when I got home? Strange enough for you?”
“Goodnight.” Ben said abruptly, shifting to his feet.
“Yes. Apparently you’re not in the mood to get this figured out and I have extra work to do now because of it. Get some rest. I’ll wake you early and swap files. If there’s something here, like I think it is, then you’re going to be busy tomorrow.”
“You’re just going to leave?”
“Get some sleep, Rachel.” He twined one finger around the rope bracelet on his left wrist.
“What about Calvin?” Rachel tried in one last attempt to keep him there a moment longer. “and the
“Stay out of their way. Don’t talk to him unless you have to.” Ben shrugged. “You’ll be fine…use your common sense. You’ve got plenty of it whenever you actually think to use it.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“Goodnight, Rachel. I’ll expect you to be early tomorrow.” The bracelet snapped and he disappeared in a burst of sparkles.
The sudden flare of light, now caused the cozy room to appear dreary and rather drab as Rachel sat on the edge of the bed. She sat there for awhile, because she couldn’t think of a reason to make herself move. Her mind was still whirling and her thoughts focused on the fact that she’d actually shared a memory…with Ben. The question he’d asked her was enough to send her thoughts into a whirlwind. She did trust him…and truly more than she should. The mixture of confusion and frustration slowly overwhelmed her and she finally began the usual night preparations with a tortured mind.
* * * * * *
Calvin waited in the kitchen, listening for the silent alarm that only his ears would hear. But the ringing never came, instead he heard her footsteps pause several times and a bang when she walked into something.
He nearly choked on his ice cream. For a Viper agent, Rachel was far too clumsy and thick-headed in his opinion to even be considered useful to the organization. He sighed, focusing on the metal curves of the spoon stuck in the ice cream bowl to allow his super-hearing to continue in their eavesdropping.
She eventually seemed to reach her room and he heard a few muffled voices and then nothing. He frowned, straining to listen harder without being obvious that his attention was much further away than the discussion of which hockey team would win the state tournament.
The hand holding the ice cream bowl tightened around the smooth, cool surface. Something had happened. The two options logically returning to him were not ideas he welcomed. Either she was aware of his power and had taken the necessary measures to prevent his eavesdropping or she’d just left the house.
“Calvin?” Thom nudged the plastic bucket of ice cream closer. “Did you want more?”
“Oh!” He jumped, startled. “Sorry…um, yeah. One scoop.” He held out the bowl, licking the spoon as another generous scoop of creamy goodness was dished out.
“Can I have another one?” Jeanette’s bowl scooted closer.
Thom chuckled. “I don’t think so kiddo, your mom will strangle me for maxing out your sugar level.”
“But it’s not really maxed.” Jeanette said innocently. “I only had three poptarts for breakfast and-”
“and sweet rolls from the Chinese restaurant, fortune cookies, two-fruit roll-ups and-”
“Okay, okay!” The bowl was quickly pulled away and Jeanette occupied herself with scraping the melted remains from the sides.
Thom smiled. “Too much sugar today means vegetables tomorrow.”
“Balanced diet.” His mouth twitched. “And a set bedtime-no stalling.” He stood, carrying the ice cream bucket back to the freezer. His gaze swept hesitantly over Calvin who had once again become abnormally still. “Calvin?”
The head turned at once, a sign he hadn’t zoned out as far as he may have appeared. “Yes?”
“Any plans for tomorrow?”
He shrugged. “Not necessarily, I mean, nothing concrete at least. Probably just going to hang around the house…wash my car or something. Why?”
“If you could take Jeanette to the school to pick up her report card, I’d appreciate it. Ally said there’s nothing to sign or so, all you have to do is take the student with you. If it’s not too much trouble, I promised Ally I’d see to it. I’d ask Rachel, but she doesn’t exactly have her own set of wheels.”
Calvin straightened at once. “Really?”
“Then how’d she get here?”
“She probably doesn’t even know.” Jeanette yawned. “She hardly knows anything at all and she never says anything nice.”
“What? I’m just telling the truth.” She picked up her bowl and headed for the sink, dutifully washing it along with the spoon before placing both in the plastic drain rack.
“She’s just under a lot of stress right now…as we all are.” Thom sighed. “It’s no excuse for her to take it out on either of you, but judging her at face value now isn’t a good idea.”
“Right.” Jeanette yawned again. “Wow. Ice cream makes me sleepy. That’s a first. G’night Mr.C.”
“Goodnight Jeanette…see you tomorrow.” He retrieved his own bowl and set about washing it in the sink. “Calvin?”
“Uh, I’ll be heading up in a minute.” He hurriedly scooped chunks of vanilla into his mouth. “Uncle Thom…what kind of security system do you have here?”
“I don’t remember it and I want to know that it’s foolproof.” Calvin stuck another spoonful in his mouth, speaking around it. “Is it? Have you had any trouble with it? With anything lately? I don’t mean to pry, but I’d really like to know. I’d feel a lot safer.”
Thom paused in front of the coffee maker and began the usual routine of scooping ground coffee into the new filter. “Safe enough.” He said quietly, turning to silence Calvin’s next question with a look. “No one will exit this house after I set the alarm. You won’t survive.”
The note of finality in his voice was enough for Calvin and he took a deep breath. He hadn’t expected that answer, but then again, he hadn’t expected his uncle to actually have an energy force-field based security system. The key phrase added, had sparked his curiosity, but he wasn’t going there just yet as relief flooded through him. It was nice to know he was out of harm’s way as long as he was here. A nuetral base was always welcome. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Thom shut the compartment and dropped the spoon in the sink. “Calvin…I’m curious. What are you doing here?”
“Pick and drop.” He toyed with the spoon, the ice cream now finished. “I pick something up and drop it off. No outside involvement, if reinforcements are needed in a quadrant where I am available, I respond.” He shrugged. “It’s cut and clean, Uncle Thom. I’m not mixed up in anything illegal or stuff like that.”
“That’s a kind of plain answer, isn’t it?” Thom hedged.
“You want the truth, don’t you?” Calvin shot back. “I don’t exactly care to dress up serious things with nonsensical babble.”
“I see. Tell me about these Cobras, then.”
“We help.” He said simply. “We’re like a cross between the secret service and other undercover agencies. We work quickly, simply and fast. We get things done, we get results. That’s the way it is. We’ve worked with the police for years, your government, other countries. We’re commissioned for good and we work under the international organizations. No weird space stuff.”
“Technically yes and no. We’re thought to think of the Cobras as drifters, so in a sense, yes. Yours. Not ours.” He shrugged. “We do as we’re told and we’re careful with what we do.”
“So this incident with you and Rachel…?”
Calvin scowled. “Some street scum got hold of a snitch. We were too late to intervene, so we shadowed and surrounded the place.”
“But you didn’t interfere?”
“No.” He seemed disgusted. “Rachel did that for us. We could have gotten more information if she hadn’t interrupted the conversation, but little-miss-goody-two-shoes thought she was needed.”
“And she should’ve stayed out of it! She also took something from the body…I don’t know what it was, but she wouldn’t give it up and then she screamed and disappeared.”
“Screamed and disappeared?”
“Vipers have painful warps.” Calvin shrugged. “We prefer to travel naturally, with no supernatural effects involved.”
“Naturally?” Thom perked a brow.
He chuckled. “Wheels. I’ve got ‘em. She doesn’t. Really, Uncle Thom.”
“I see-if you’re done, please wash the bowl. House rules.”
“Right.” Calvin slowly unwound himself from the creaky wooden chair and headed for the sink. “I suppose I’ll have a chore list again?”
“I’ll post it on the refrigerator first thing before I leave tomorrow.” Thom hid a smile. “I’m surprised you remembered. But seeing as we’re on subject, I’m still curious. Calvin-what exactly is the difference between Vipers and Cobras? Honestly, please-in language I can understand.”
Calvin hesitated. “It’s kind of complicated to explain simply, but I’ll try. Cobras are good, Vipers are bad. Vipers tend to use things, manipulate people and their methods are highly unethical. They are freelance and they deal with the…weird space stuff. Many of them have unusual abilities or superpowers as you’d call them. They network at lot-meaning there’s always plenty of them around. The Vipers are headed up by that creep, Mark of Denson and he’s like a demanding little warlord. Runs his agents like troops and they say he’s got mad power.”
“Mark?” Thom repeated.
“Yeah…Rachel talk about him?”
“She mentioned a Mark and it seemed like it was bad, but she hastened to assure me it was all good. Then she asked if we could skip the subject.”
“She’s here on assignment, isn’t she?” Calvin paused in scrubbing the bowl.
“I don’t know.” Thom said quietly. “She’s never given me a straight answer.”
“Vipers never give a straight answer.” Calvin blushed. “Not to knock on Rachel though…she seems nice…enough. But they are holding something over her, otherwise most people wouldn’t willingly work for them. Anything weird happen since she came?”
“Power failures and a stolen body count?”
“What?” Calvin nearly dropped the slippery bowl. “Body? What kind of body are we talking about? A dead one?”
Thom blinked. “Honestly, I never thought I would ever be asked that. Yes, Calvin, a dead one. Some lady ninja or something, turned up in house while Rachel and Jeanette were home and they had a power failure something happened, knocked them all out and she was dead, Rachel was out cold and Jeanette was a wreck. Still can’t get a sensible story out of any of them.”
“She killed her.”
“What?” Thom froze. “Calvin…”
“Never mind…sorry, it just slipped out. Reflex. I’m sure she didn’t do anything. Usually if someone’s dead, a Viper did it. Most of the time-you’re sure she was dead?”
“Yes.” There was an edge of his voice. “Why?”
“She’s a Viper…she shouldn’t have even come into close contact with someone who could have knocked her out. Not the way I saw her at least. But a stolen body….that sounds familiar though I don’t know why, I’ll ask Arkham tonight. He might have some good explanations. If Vipers are in town, which it appears they are, you need to be very careful Uncle Thom…and so does Rachel. She never shouldn’t have been where she was.”
“Where exactly was she?” Thom wanted to know.
“In the lower district. You know, that old place on the town, where you used to take us kids for ice cream? The parlor area? She was angling further in when she came on radar.”
“What was she doing there?”
“Beats me. Your guess is as good as mine. She looked like she’d been in a fight and she sure wasn’t in the mood to talk.” He rinsed the bowl. “Anything else?”
“No.” Thom waited while he set the bowl on the drying rack and then headed for the stairs. “Goodnight, Calvin. Thanks for your time.”
He shrugged. “No prob. Thanks for letting me stay.”
“Thanks for coming to visit….don’t wait another eight years until the next time you’re in my ‘quadrant’.”
© Sara Harricharan