This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by Joanne “JJ” Sher @ her blog, An Open Book. Click here to read and share more great fiction.

Author’s Ramblings: Sorry this is late-again! It’s got twice as much action as last week though and this is one installment you don’t want to miss. A lot of information bursts answering a few of the past questions and we get to see Mark in action a bit. Rachel’s happy day goes a bit haywire and I must confess I had quite a bit of fun working on this installment. I’ve tried to fix the line spaces as mentioned last week, but I’m not sure what’s wrong with it. For some reason it still show’s up strange, even though it looks fine in the previews. Go figure. I hope you’ll have a good weekend and enjoy the read. Cheers!

Rachel found herself standing in the parking lot of a shabby wooden building with a faded sign hanging from the cobwebbed porch. The name read “Angel-Eyes Animal Boarders” with a painted picture of a white goose and a yellow kitten. It struck her as an odd picture, but she retrieved the paper package, wincing as she bent over.
Another string of foreign images streamed through her head. She bit her lip, hard, struggling to keep herself awake to push the pictures away. “Something is wrong with me.” She murmured again. “And I’ll be able to sort it out the sooner I get this done and the sooner I can get home. I need to get home…I gotta talk to Ben.” Her head throbbed and she rubbed it for a moment, tucking the flyers under one arm. Her hair felt rough and springy. She grimaced. The last thing she needed to think about was her grubby appearance. Her outfit was already damp in some places and muddied in the others.
Things were more than fuzzy, she couldn’t remember leaving the woods, or driving to the kennel, but the blank in her mind didn’t seem to have affected much else than her head. “Could be worse.” She whispered to herself, hanging the helmet on the handlebar. She’d have to thank Ben specially for the bike. The happy thought temporarily banished the headache. A moment later she hurried up the wooden steps, pushing open the door to hear the bell jingling from the string above.
The foyer room was tiny and cramped, with most everything being wooden. A tiny wooden counter took up nearly half the room, with plastic white chairs taking up the opposite wall. A ceiling fan whined overhead as Rachel approached the counter, stack of flyers in hand. A plastic partition offered a sliver of privacy and security for the supposed teller behind, while allowing plenty of room beneath it. Rachel studied it curiously, until her gaze landed on an elegant golden bell with a fancy handle.
Her stomach growled as she rang the bell, craning her neck to see into the tiny cubicle. I must have been out for longer than I thought…it was breakfast time right when I came back from the printers…
“Yes?” A sour voice emerged from the beaded curtain in the left counter. It belonged to a short, stout woman with a silvery bun on the back of her head, vaguely resembling a mushroom. She squinted up at Rachel with heavily made-up eyes. “What?”
“I’m here on behalf of Thomas Banner-”
“The detective? For what?” The woman eyed her suspiciously.
“To drop off on some flyers.” Rachel dumped the armload on the counter with a thud. A tiny puff of dust rose up. “He asked me to drop them off and inquire about Jeanette’s dog.” Her eyes flickered to a smudged nameplate reading “Kimberly Wallace.”
“Jeanette?” The woman frowned. “Who’s she? And he didn’t tell me he was sending anyone.” Her gaze narrowed. “What happened to you anyway?”
Rachel blinked, one hand moving automatically towards her hair. “N-nothing happened to me.” She tilted her chin upwards a bit. “I’m just running an errand for my uncle and he asked me to drop this off here. Jeanette as in Jeanette McVain? Allison McVain’s daughter? She has a dog, or so I’ve been told. Am I in the wrong kennel?” Her gaze darted to the corner of the top flyer in the stack. “This is the Angel-Eyes Animal boarding facility isn’t it?” The image of the battered, paint-peeling sign outdoors flickered through her head.
“It is.” The woman sighed. “The dog is fine. Thank you for the flyers.” She took the stack of paper and immediately deposited it in a blue plastic basket on the floor. “You’ll also have to sign a few things.”
“Oh, okay. Sure, no problem….you’re welcome…Mrs. Wallace?”
The foggy brown eyes jerked upwards to her. “That’s miss.” She said stiffly. “Not Mrs.”
“Oh, of course. Sorry.” Rachel hesitated, her gaze landed on the elaborate wooden racks hanging from the wall on the far corner of the cubicle, identical to the counter display on the other side of the plastic partition. Shiny metal containers gleamed temptingly from their places. “Where do I sign?”
“I haven’t gotten the papers yet.” Miss Wallace scowled. “Just a moment!”
“Sure, sure!” Rachel held up her hands, resisting the urge to take a step backwards. It was completely beyond her why Jeanette would have her dog boarded here, she hadn’t struck her as the kind that would pick a place like this.
“Sign here.” Miss Wallace shoved a clipboard under the plastic partition. “At the bottom.”
Rachel scanned the dirty paper on top, brown smudges and ink splotches adorning the edges. The dates and the names were few and far in between. She carefully penciled in her name on the line indicated. “Okay, that’s it?”
Miss Wallace jerked the clipboard back, scanning the new signature. “That’ll do.” She said grudgingly. She punched a few keys at the register. “Anything else?”
“Uh…can I see the dog?” Rachel tried again. “I’m supposed to make sure it’s all right.”
Miss Wallace glared at her for a long moment, then finally moved away from the window. There was silence for a moment, then her stooped over figure appeared around the corner. She shuffled to the door and opened it with a key.
Several minutes later, Rachel returned to the foyer, wondering what kind of pet owner Jeanette was. Even the other dogs beside Jeanette’s little Shih Tzu appeared to be in better health and happier spirits. Rachel frowned. “Can there be an upgrade made to Teetu’s kennel?” She fished in her back pocket for the card Mark had given her.
Miss Wallace shrugged. “It will cost.”
“That’s fine. I can pay.” Rachel tugged the wallet out of her pocket and flipped it open. Her gaze skittered to the mints on the counter in the shiny, metal tins. “I’ll take some mints too. I need something to snack on.”
“Mints?” Miss Wallace frowned.
“Yeah, that red one there.” Rachel pointed towards the red container with the white and gold tiger embossed on the cover. “With the tiger.”
“It’s not a mint.” The smile was forced. “It’s a specially blended herbal remedy to combat stress and may indirectly influence your mood.”
Rachel felt her eyebrow’s traveling upwards. “Really? Packs quite a wallop, then. I’ll take that one anyway.”
The woman made no move to retrieve it. “It’s a limited edition container.” Rachel sighed. “and it’s only sold for a sizeable donation.”
“I’m sure I can pay for it.” Rachel tugged out the card.
“I’ll need to see some ID.”
“For mints?” Rachel opened her mouth, then shut it, handing over the driver’s license.
“No, for the kennel upgrade.” The forced smile had become rather artificial. “I’m sorry, we can’t accept credit cards.”
Rachel looked from the card to the woman. “That’s too bad.” She took the card and license back. “I was hoping to make a rather sizeable donation.”
“Pity.” The sarcasm in her voice was mirrored in her eyes. “We could have used it, I’m sure.”
“That’s not all you could use.” Rachel muttered, she turned away from the counter and stalked the few short steps to the door, where she skipped the steps and jumped straight to the ground. It took her mere seconds to snap on the helmet and mount the bike, she turned to go, catching sight of a shadow hovering beside the grimy window. Her jaw tightened and she roared out of the parking lot and on the road.
I hate my life. I hate my world. I hate everything in my life.
The thoughts streamed through her head, sprouting roots and settling deep into her consciousness. A sudden feeling of dizziness spiraled through her and Rachel gritted her teeth, forcing herself to focus on the road. She couldn’t afford to give into physical distractions now.
Home arrived quicker than she wanted and Rachel realized, belatedly that she’d spent the entire day rushing around doing nothing. A small part of her wanted to the cry, the other half wanted to run. Neither option was particularly inviting.
Rachel parked the bike in the driveway, casting a glance around for her uncle’s dogs. “I bet their in better shape than Jeanette’s Teetu.” She muttered, heading for the front door. Calvin’s car was in the driveway, but Thom’s SUV was missing. Rachel did the calculations in her head and wondered if she could slip in unnoticed.
It was nothing more than a mere wish.
“Whoa! What dragged you in?” Calvin whistled the moment her shadow fell across the kitchen floor.
Jeanette sniggered into her glass of juice and then her eyes narrowed. “Did you go see Teetu? Mr. B told me that he told you to go.”
Her stomach growled and Rachel angled for the cupboards. She rooted around, emerging with a box of poptarts. She didn’t really care to eat them, but she was craving sugar in a concentrated little package. A poptart would do the trick.
“Hey! Those are mine.” Jeanette scrambled off her chair to stand at the counter beside her. “Are you okay? I thought you said you drank your sugar, you didn’t eat it.”
“She drinks sugar?” Calvin’s amusement was obvious as he left his seat to join them. “And now she’s eating it?”
“I just need to eat something!” Rachel leaned away from them, shoving the two frosted pastry rectangles into the toaster. She jammed the handle down, waiting. It didn’t light up.
“It’s still broken.” Jeanette announced, cheerfully. “I think all those power failures really ruined it.” She noisily slurped the last of her juice from the glass. “Calvin, we forgot to add that to our list, let’s get it next time.”
“List? What?” Rachel looked between the two of them.
Calvin nodded. “Of course. Gotcha.” He took his Iphone from a shirt pocket and tapped a few things. “New toaster, next town trip.” His mouth twitched. “I’m really sorry you have to eat an untoasted poptart, Rachel.”
His words were the last few grains of frustration Rachel needed to mix her recipe for a miniature natural disaster. “You’ll be really sorry if you don’t leave me alone!”
“We’re not doing anything to you!” Jeanette interrupted. “We’re just watching you pretend to toast a poptart. Good grief!”
Calvin choked on a laugh. “She does have a point there.” He took a step backwards. “If I stand right here, is that still a problem?”
“If you stand anywhere within a fifty feet radius of me, it’s a problem.” Rachel curled her hands into fists. “Look, if you want your stupid poptarts back, you can have them, I’ll find something else to eat!” Her stomach growled loudly. The sound was amplified in a nearly noiseless kitchen.
Jeanette clapped a hand over her mouth, bugging her eyes out at Calvin, who valiantly tried to hide his own laughter. “Let me guess, to your sparkling list of unending qualities,” He began, theatrically. “You’re cranky when you’re hungry-”
Rachel grabbed the toaster, aiming for the cancel button when a brilliant spark of blue leapt from her fingertips, sizzling over the toaster. In the moment it took her to register the shock, she was flying backwards, slamming into something warm and hard. Calvin.
“Oof!” Calvin grunted and braced himself. “Good grief, cuz.” He backed away, hands in the air. “What was that?”
Rachel ducked in answer as two blackened poptarts shot out of the toaster.
“Eep!” Jeanette squealed as one hit the top of the stove hood and a half of it dropped into her glass of juice.
The remaining tart was grabbed out of the air by Rachel herself, who stared at it for a moment, then at the toaster. There was a moment of silence, then she gingerly put a corner in her mouth and nibbled.
It didn’t taste all that bad. She almost smiled.
“Whoa!” Jeanette gave herself a shake all over. “What was that?”
“I’d love to hear the answer to that as well.” Calvin dusted himself off, the humor having left him. “What exactly was that?”
“A poptart.” Rachel broke the burnt specimen in half and inspected the filled center. It tasted all right. Better than the sickeningly sweet taste she remembered them for. She glanced at the half wedged inside Jeanette’s juice glass. “You can keep that, I don’t want it.”
“Boy, thanks.” Jeanette stared after her as she headed for the stairs. “Wait! Did you see Teetu?”
“Yeah. I saw her.” Rachel scowled. “That’s a lousy place to put a innocent dog like that, you know.”
“What?” Jeanette’s voice had become suddenly harsh. “What are you talking about? My mom picked that kennel! And it belongs to one of the oldest families in Waynesburg.”
“It’s run by one of the oldest people in there too.” Rachel said snidely. “Your dog needs a kennel upgrade-”
“You could have bought it for her.” Calvin frowned. “What’s this all about?”
“They don’t take credit cards.” Rachel flashed a smile. “Right now, it’s about me going upstairs and hopefully getting some sleep. Cheers.” She turned on her heel, stomping up the stairs.
* * * * * *
The irritating voice refused to be silenced.
It was breaking through his consciousness.
Mark jolted awake with a sudden fright. It took him a moment to catch his breath and he immediately scowled when he saw Mavis hovering in front of him. A sharp pain stabbed through his head. “Ow! I thought I told you I didn’t want a headache!”
“I’m sorry, sir.” She hovered away, then back. “I was under the impression you neither wanted to absorb or observe.”
“I did.” He slowly rose to his feet, alien eyes adjusting to the darkened interior. “Thanks for keeping the room dark…what happened?”
Mavis frowned. “That, sir, would be most difficult to explain at once.”
“Then give it to me, slowly, Mavis.” He countered, heading for the chair behind the desk and making it just barely. “What happened?”
There was silence for a moment.
“Yes, sir.” Her head bowed and soft purple beams of energy sprouted from her head, shooting forward into his.
He closed his eyes against the physical intrusion, but his mind remained open as Mavis returned to him. He sorted briskly through the usual barrage of requests, emergencies and then hovered on the two points Mavis had been unable to retrieve for him earlier.
Pain erupted through his body as he connected directly with Ben and what was happening to him. The symbol carved on his chest was activated by his frantic hands tugging the shirt open and tracing the glowing patterns appearing.
There was a softer flash of purple and then a moan.
Renewed energy flowed through him as he sprang from the chair and to the twitching body lying on the office floor. “Ben?” He turned away at the sight. “No!”
A strangled noise came from the floor and Mark carefully knelt beside him. “Ben? It’s Mark…it’s all right. You’ve been retrieved…I had no idea-” Clumsy fingers tugged at his shirt sleeve. “Ben? What is it?”
There was no answer.
* * * * * *
The darkness was lifting.
It was brightening in a way that meant he was returning to consciousness. Ben struggled against it, hopelessness filling him as he realized what would happen to him, once the enemy had successfully revived him.
He tried to lock the thoughts out of his head, but it was rather useless.
A cough sputtered up and he heard a voice, very far away.
“…it’s all right. You’ve been retrieved…”
The mere suggestion of those words was too much to comprehend. The blackness began to ebb forward and Ben tried to find a mark to hold on to again. Using Rachel as a mental anchor was too dangerous, so he’d settled on his grandmother from his father’s side.
Her face slowly came into focus within his mind’s eye, the blue gem necklace glowing fiercely at the base of her neck. The necklace now in Rachel’s possession. The one physical item in common between them to allow the mental connection.
Regulations would require it be destroyed to prevent any future attacks being linked to it or through it. A family heirloom bearing more to it than just a piece of jewelry. The family story had said the gem within was a teardrop, from the grandmother herself in her younger years in the aftermath of a painful relationship. The tear had solidified as a result of her gifts, granting her an emotional anchor and a mental focal point with which to concentrate on. The discipline from treating it as a tool had grown her gifts tremendously.
Ben had hoped the same for Rachel. A wave of immense sorrow passed over him, momentarily easing the pain. It was easier to deal with this way, just the sadness and none of the horrid pains from before.
The girls Logan had sent for were experts in their field. They’d caught hold of everything that they could within his mind, shredding it to bits, rendering all physical responses useless. Then the torture had begun.
Ben heaved another cough. The voice was still talking. It was nearby. Perhaps…he was not quite as dead yet, as he could have been. “Mark.” Somehow, the name left his lips.
Burning hands settled on his chest and left shoulder, pouring in the fire faster than he could fathom. It was Mark. And the healing energy pouring into him was strong enough to kill. His lips refused to move, to scream as the two pains within-fought with each other.
Struggling to stay semi-conscious was taking more effort than before and the energy began to subside.
“Ben?” The voice tried again.
He tried to speak, he had to. He had to warn Mark. Had to tell someone. “They know…” He choked out, the muscles in his neck loosened and his head rolled to the side.
“You failed to complete the mission objective?”
“N-no.” Ben winced. “Got it.” His eyes opened, focusing on the blurry images just out of reach.
“Then why can’t I find it?” Two cool fingers touched his chin, continuing to direct the healing energies to repair vital organs. The sensation caused was a painful tickle in areas unreachable on the outside.
A low groan came from his lips. The second wave of healing hurt worse than the first. “Got it.”
Someone sighed. It was Mark. It had to be. Only he could make a sigh sound that disapproving and condescending at the same time. “That much I understand. You got it, so what did you do with it?”
His surroundings came into focus and Ben saw Mark hovering just at his side, hands and eyes glowing with his purple trademark energy. He blinked once, twice. The room was extremely dark. “Rachel.” A shuddering sigh snaked from his lips, the healing was taking as much from him as it was giving.
The expression on Mark’s face smoothed itself away. “I see.” He said finally, he rose to his feet and hesitated.
Ben tried to move, but his limbs were still paralyzed, refusing to obey the commands he directed to them. Even with the extensive healing, he was still just barely alive, it seemed. The piercing pair of purple eyes drilled through him, pinning him to the ground. There were no words to express what he needed, wanted…desperately wished for. He pleaded with him, with his eyes, a favor he was unworthy to request.
He saw Mark hesitate, watching as his hands slowly curled into fists and finally looked away. The struggle within the man standing next to him was more intense than the energies fighting within. A frustrated sigh escaped and Mark drew back one foot. His lips pursed tightly and as quickly as he’d moved, he lightly kicked Ben in the side.
It worse than all the healings combined.
The jolt of energy that left him, jerked Ben upwards to his feet. The cuts and scrapes adorning his face melted away as the skin repaired itself. The purple glow completely bathed him from head to toe and then evaporated. Relief flooded through him in places he hadn’t thought possible, as a split-lip healed, the healing ache fading. Several old scars on his hands from years before faded into nothing as he stared at his hands. Gratitude spilled over in a form Ben hadn’t experienced in many years.
He looked upwards to thank Mark, who had settled into the armchair, arms folded, glowering. “Rachel?” Mark forced the name through his mouth.
“She was the only one I could reach.” Ben shuffled forward, carefully guiding his body to stand at attention. “Thank you…sir. I am most grateful for your interference.”
Mark grunted. “Is it in her, near her, where?”
“A little of some. She is telepathic to some degree.” Ben said quietly. “So it’s in her. Mostly.”
“What was the transfer medium?”
Ben winced. His grandmother’s image flickered through his mind and he bowed his head.
“The blue necklace.” He faltered. “I gave it to her. One of the…requested ones wore a gem similar to it. I sent it through her.”
Surprise showed plainly on Mark’s face. “The teardrop heirloom? That one from your grandmother? The one that takes a-” He stopped and muttered something.
“Sir?” Ben dared to glance upwards.
The muttered phrase was repeated when Mark rose to his feet. “That will be all. You have done your work, well…as usual. However, because of the circumstances in which you were retrieved, you are required to spend the next few years in exile to ensure your existence. You understand, of course?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Good.” There was a pause. “Any questions?”
“How long, sir?”
“Five or six years. Depends.”
“On what?”
“On how bad they want you dead. They were playing for keeps, Ben, or did you not realize that? I almost lost you there and that’s saying a lot. I’ve never lost anyone beneath my gift-ever!”
“Can I tell-?”
“Not even-”
“Absolutely not.” Mark sighed. “I’m sorry, Ben. I truly am, but you knew the risks and the consequences that came with this case file when you accepted it.”
Mark was right of course. He was almost always right. Logan and the others would not rest until they had found him and eliminated him, unless of course, the allotted time given to hunting his head expired first. It was a common tradition among those of Mark’s caliber within the same folds of their career.
“Will I be useful?” Ben wanted to know. The thought of spending five or six years in a forgotten part of the galaxy was quite unappealing if he was only to exist to be on the run. If he was useful, then his skills could be put to use and he might even have the time to learn a few new tricks.
Mark glanced sideways at him and then slowly, he nodded. “I’ll see to it.”
“And Rachel…?”
“She’ll be transferred to another handler, her mission will continue, unless otherwise compromised. Possibly.”
“I will deal with it. She seems to have quite a knack for landing in places with less than satisfactory possible outcomes.” Mark nodded towards the door as it slid open. “She will be fine, but you won’t if you aren’t off this station within the hour. I don’t want anything vaguely even tracing back to you, much less us or where you’re going to end up. Report directly to Yasha, she will see that you’re properly outfitted and will introduce you to your emergency contacts. A term I do not use lightly, by emergency, I mean right before you die, to inform us of your demise sort of emergency. Understood?”
“Yes sir.”
“And Ben?”
“Do me a favor…I don’t want to hear from you, for at least five years, okay? If it’s sooner than that, it’ll be arranged…and I’ll be expecting you.”
“Yes, sir!”
“Good luck.”
“Sir…” Ben hovered in the doorway. “I shouldn’t even ask, but…please, don’t assign just another suit to Rachel. She needs more than that.”
Mark scowled. “Which has always been a constant problem with every single one your trained agents. They all have the same issue. Independence apart from a handler terrifies them and they haven’t an ounce of self-confidence.”
“It’s not confidence in themselves, Mark.” Ben frowned. “And you know that. It’s a belief in something more and someone higher. You’re hardly one to talk-”
“I’ll see to it. Anything else?”
“Yeah. Tell her I said goodbye…and I’ll miss her. Don’t you dare garble that.”
There was a moment of silence and Mark finally nodded. “Fair enough. Goodbye, Ben.”
“Goodbye, Mark…and thanks.” Ben slipped out the doorway and into the hall.
* * * * * *
Rachel kicked open the door to her bedroom, her hands full with the burnt pastry, her stomach still craving a filling food substance. She licked her fingers, while angrily flopping across the bed. The day had started with promise, with good things happening and now it was all practically gone.
Her eyes ached again as her nose stuffed up. She squeezed her eyes shut. “I will not cry.” She told the empty room. “I won’t.” But the tears welled up anyway and she stared up at the textured bedroom ceiling.
There were plenty of things that could have gone wrong and of course, countless other things that seemed to be left to follow the same negative trend. Something snapped and crackled at her right, followed by yells from downstairs.
She winced. “Sorry.”
A glance at the alarm clock showed that she’d knocked the power out. Stretching one hand towards it, she stroked the big buttons and plastic casing. At once, the growling in her stomach eased.
Rachel sat up at once. Her eyes traveled from her stomach to the clock. “O-kay.” Her voice wobbled. “That was…scary.” She picked the alarm clock up, turning it over in her hands. Nothing more happened and she breathed the faintest sigh of relief as electricity returned to the house. She had just returned the clock to nightstand when something flashed on the bed.
The object turned out to be a new cell phone and it rang the moment her fingers touched it. The caller ID merely showed a symbol instead of a name and Rachel fumbled with it for a moment before she flipped it open. “Hello?”
Mark was on the other end and he was far from happy. Rachel rolled her eyes, listening half-heartedly as he spoke. It was easier to ignore him than she’d thought and it helped to numb her mind a little more. He wanted an update on her mission, an update she didn’t have and therefore couldn’t give.
“That’s all I know and that’s all I can tell you!” Rachel glared at the phone. “If I was lying, I could most certainly come up with something more creative than that!” She snapped the phone shut. Light blue sparked from her hand over the phone and then towards the alarm clock again. The lights flickered out. Rachel moaned. “Not again.” She reached for the clock.
Loud banging on the bedroom door made her freeze. “Rachel!” Calvin was furious.
Shuffling to the door, she braced it with one foot, so it would only open partway. “What?” She demanded.
“Quit doing that! What’s going on with you? What did you just do?”
The lights in the hallway flickered on and off. Rachel shrugged. “Apparently, nothing.” She tried to smile, promptly closing the door in his face. She gripped the doorknob with one hand, and spark of blue traveled over it. She hesitated, waiting for his yell, but it didn’t come. Relief flooded through her as a matter of course, she’d have to be careful with her temper if it simply chose to show itself with frequent power failures. She chewed her lower lip. Uncle Thom wouldn’t like that at all and she’d already ruined one appliance.
“That wasn’t very nice of you.”
Rachel jerked backwards and stared. “M-mark. What are you doing here?” Her hands fumbled with the doorknob and then stilled when his gaze traveled towards the door. “I-I didn’t meant to, um…hang up on you.”
“Did you now?” His head tilted to the side, expression neutral. “Tell me then, what exactly did you mean?”
“That was not only rather childish, unprofessional and a cowardly way of avoiding a necessary conversation, it was in fact, I would venture to say-extremely rude.”
“If you’re fishing for an apology, get out!”
“We’re not exactly starting out on the right…footing, here.”
“I don’t care. Get over it. What do you want from me?”
“I think it would be best if you sat down first.”
“Why? What happened?”
“No, thanks. Just yak it out and then get out of here.”
“Do you simply have no sense of respect or are you always this wildly outspoken?” The sarcasm-laced question was emphasized by the slight raise of his eyebrows. “I asked nicely and I’m going to actually repeat myself by asking that you please sit down. We have a great deal to discuss.”
“And I said that-Ow!” Rachel stumbled backwards to the bed, sitting hard on the edge, one hand clutching her left bicep. Mark’s eyes flickered purple. “Stop that!”
“I’m actually here for your necklace.” He said smoothly. “Ben has something inside that he needs to retrieve, so I told him I’d save him the trouble, may I have it?”
“Thank you.” Mark crossed the room to stand in front of her. Their eyes locked as one cool hand slid just under her shirt collar, a finger curling around the chain and giving it a pull.
Rachel barely felt the tug, but she abruptly looked away as the glowing blue gem was dangled in the air in front of her. The hand lingered on her shoulder, she jerked away from it. “Do you just get your kicks by pushing people around and watching them squirm?”
A faint smile touched his lips and the hand returned to his side. “Some of the time.” The desk chair on the opposite end of the room turned and streaked directly towards him. “Thank you.” He tipped his head towards her. “Next time though, if you’re attempt to attack me, don’t pick something behind me. I’m more likely to expect it there than anywhere else.” The smile threatened to appear again as he seated himself directly in front of her. “And never pick anything with wheels. I like round things. They fascinate me…meaning it could be very…unpleasant, on your end if you’re trying to attack me with a giant snowball.” He shook his head. “I take it back though.”
“What?” Rachel glowered at him.
“You are capable of changing the subject.” He sighed. “But it could also be because I am willing to humor you.”
“Rachel!” Calvin pounded on the door again. “I know you’re in there! Stop playing with the lights, you’re scaring Jeanette!”
Rachel began to rise, but Mark caught hold of her wrist. “I’ll get it.” He closed his eyes briefly for a moment, then rose, moving towards the door. When he opened it, Calvin looked him up and down.
“Who are you?”
“A friend of Rachel’s.”
“How’d you get in here?”
“We’re in the middle of a very important discussion and I don’t quite appreciate your interruptions. Kindly do us both a favor and occupy yourself elsewhere. If you believe she is causing these…power failures, I will mention it to her.”
“Exactly what kind of discussion.”
“Quite frankly, it’s none of your business.” Mark said smoothly. “Thank you for your concern, I’m sure she’s touched. If you’ll excuse us, good night.” The door was firmly shut in his face. Mark waited by the door until the footsteps finally faded off.
Once that was taken care of, he returned to the chair opposite of Rachel. “I am going to cover this as quickly as possible, so please try to keep up. If you cannot produce useful results for your case file by tomorrow, I will be suspending it and shifting you to inactive duty until you return to your hometown. Presently, for the stunt you have yet to be reprimanded for, you are grounded, effective immediately-”
“What?” Rachel interrupted. “Whoa…back up here, Mr. Tough and Mighty boss guy. What are you talking about?”
“Grounded. No wheels. No outside contact. No poking about without an escort. You will also be receiving a new handler.”
“A new handler?” Rachel shot to her feet. “What did you do to Ben? Did you shoot him again?”
Mark leaned back. “Technically speaking, you did the shooting.”
Rachel lunged forward. “You-!”
In the moment she grabbed for his throat, he twisted, sliding of the chair and tackling her to the ground. His movements were swift, expert and painful. “If I were you-” His voice was dangerously close to her ear. “I wouldn’t do that again. It could be hazardous to your health.” He released her with an extra twist. “Sit there and don’t move if you know what’s good for you.”
Rachel opened her mouth and his hand covered it at once, the other arm pinning her back against the dresser. A muffled squeak came from her lips.
“I know this seems like a cheap thrill to you, because that’s exactly the way you treat it.” He was cold and harsh. “This is a very dangerous game, Rachel. With a lot of skilled players rolling the dice, gambling more than your human brain will ever be able to comprehend. It’s not half as foreign as you wish it was and it’s more real than you’ll ever know, so when I speak to you, I expect you to listen on the condition of your existence. In simpler terms, listening to me can determine whether you’ll live to see tomorrow or not.” He dropped his hands, scooting backwards. “Ben has gone away for awhile. He said to tell you goodbye and that he’ll miss you.” Mark shifted to his feet. “He was on a very important solo assignment. His identity was fragile and his cover was wax-paper thin. He had to retrieve a specific item…it’s is area of specialty. That is what he’s good at. He loves doing that and requested the assignment when I gave him first pick.”
Rachel drew her legs upward, hugging them to her chest. She eyed him wearily as he moved to sit in the desk chair, relieved when he kept a distance between them. Her nerves were frayed and most of everything else inside of her had significantly wilted. Her nose itched and eyes burned and she closed one eye, concentrating on keeping the tears away.
“He’s also very fond of every stray he takes under his wing. He gives them his cell phone number.” Mark paused. Rachel hiccupped. He sighed. “And they can call him at anytime, anywhere. However, all calls sent to any phone can be traced back if the phone receiving it is captured. Once the call is traced, it’s often a skip and hop to unraveling everything. That’s why so many handlers set up mindlinks with connection puzzles and that sort of thing. It’s protection for both sides. Ben gave you his number and when he was at a critical point, you called him. He couldn’t take the call, but he had to protect you. He made your phone blow up almost at the cost of his own life. He also transferred the information he’d retrieved and sent it to you through a link-the necklace. You were seen by someone…because he couldn’t close the link fast enough. He sent a warning that was filtered through us and we could only observe your trace.” Mark deliberately turned away. “Which is why you’re grounded…and your bike-”
“I just got it!” Rachel protested. “You can’t take it away! It’s mine! How could you-!”
“I also teleported near it, there’s probably warp residue left on it.”
“Will I get it back?”
“You can’t do this?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Her head turned away. “So what did you do to Ben? He’d better be alive.”
“He’s alive…he just can’t stay here.”
“Why not?”
“That is a question you shouldn’t ask and I won’t answer.” Mark said, darkly. “Your new handler will be found and the number will be programmed into your phone. Please don’t use that phone to make any personal calls until this case file is closed. When it is, you’ll be issued a new phone and you’ll be welcome to do whatever you please with it. Skip your report tonight and turn it in tomorrow afternoon. I expect every detail to be noted and something to tell me why you should stay on this, unless of course you complete the objective before then.” Something beeped on his wrist and Mark frowned. “I am needed elsewhere, but I have nothing more to say, so that is fortunate. Get some rest, you’ll need it tomorrow.” He rose from the chair and crossed to the window.
Rachel stiffened as he stood next to her and opened the window. He braced one foot, then launched himself out and downward. She scrambled to her feet to see and could only make out the shadowy figure mounting a motorcycle. She turned away from the window, pulling it shut as the bike rolled down the driveway and out into the street.
It had been a horrible, terrible and awful sort of day. She curled up on the ground below the window and cried.
© Sara Harricharan

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