Not With a Bang,
Welcome home, love, he said warmly.
Mimi shrank down in her chair, uncertain what to think. There was music playing in the background, but the sound was unlike anything she had ever heard before, as if a dreamer was lost in the jungle in the midst of a sexy nightmare. The volume was soft enough for casual conversation to be heard over it, but the soundtrack it provided was so alien it unnerved her.
Havent seen you in a while, pal, said a tall man clad in a black turtleneck and silk suit. His brown hair was longish, but swept back from his face, long bangs all but covering his hazel eyes. Why did you decide to come back?
The blonde smiled and glanced at his new girlfriend. For Mimi. Shell be staying a while. As my special guest.
Sebastian nodded, eyeing Mimi. Trevor told us you were coming. We have quarters already set up for you. The tenth floor's a little bare, still, but it'll be home. With a half smile, he shifted his eyes back to the blonde. So, have you finally decided youre one of us, or are you just visiting?
A little girl came into the room. She had a misshapen face and milky eyes, felt her way toward them with her hands, obviously blind. Two more children came in just after her, noisy and full of mischief, their eyes gleaming when they spied the newcomers. Mimi curled up in her chair as the children put out their hands to touch her, stroke her hair, fondle her jewelry. She cringed, and tried to squirm away so they couldnt reach her.
Its all right, he whispered. Youll get used to them.
Dont touch me! she shouted, unable to tolerate contact any longer. All of you, just leave me alone!
Sebastians gaze rolled to his old friend, waiting for explanation.
He only shrugged. Shes got some problems. I intend to work on them while Im here. Turning back to Mimi, upset by her tears, his voice softened as he addressed her. Its all right, love. Come with me, this way, and Ill find you a place to rest.
Sebastian led the way into the elevator and up to the tenth floor. He stood aside and gestured them into the cavernous, all but empty room. Gathered not far from the lift was a small grouping of furniture, including a double bed at the back of the arrangement, half hidden by a folding screen. Sorry. It was the best we could do on short notice. Cafeteria's on the fourth floor, labs are on the sixth. Bathroom's in the corner over there. He pointed toward a small door that appeared to be a nice jog from the furnished area.
Mimi edged past him and darted inside, the blonde man following and waving their host off. Sebastian gave him a lingering look, and then stepped back into the elevator, and was gone. She turned toward her boyfriend then, clutching her arms as if she was cold. He took off his leather jacket and offered it to her.
I dont like those kids, she snarled. Little monsters, I can tell. And how did they know we were coming? I know you didnt call anybody. Its just creepy.
Dont be rude, pet, he chided her gently. Pointing to the bed that had been arranged for them, he suggested she take a nap and rest from their journey. He was tired himself, but there was far too much to do yet for him to rest. She would adjust in time, he was certain.
Mimi obeyed without protest, flopping down on the covers with her back to him. He picked up the bedspread as it dangled off the side of the mattress and laid it over her. With a sigh, she closed her eyes, and in minutes she was fast asleep.
He strolled back into the elevator, heading for the conference room where he knew the others would still be waiting. As he entered the room, he glanced down the long table for faces he had recognized. To Sebastian's right was North, quietly listening for him to return, sunglasses in place on his nose, white cane folded on the table before him. Trevor smoothed a fold in his dapper suit, and raven-haired Ramona rested her chin in her hand.
He took his seat at the far end of the table, setting the backpack he had brought with him on the floor beside his chair.
What did you find at CGB? Sebastian asked. Anything worthwhile?
The visitor nodded. Aside from my new girlfriend, I nicked these. He tossed a thick manila file folder onto the table, set a small glass vial on top of it, and slid it toward the other man. Somewhere along the way, Ramona gave it an unseen push and the items came to a stop right in front of Sebastian.
He picked up the vial, carefully avoiding contact with the paper label, and read it aloud. Aurora. Is this the big hush-hush dope they were trying to keep a secret from us? He flipped open the folder without using his hands and passed the vial on to Trevor. Scanning over the text, he frowned. You didnt get any samples of the others in the Nebula series?
Four more bottles slid toward him in rapid succession.
Sebastian eyed each of the bottles, watching as they moved in a slow circle, seemingly by themselves, and then came to a stop in a line down the center of the table. We can do a lot with these. Youll have to thank the boys at the think tank next time youre by there.
The blonde nodded. Im going to take a look at the protocols, do some testing for my girlfriend to see if any of them will help her. Till then, I want to make sure shes made welcome and kept safe. Mostly from herself.
I already gave them the heads-up, Trevor stated. He picked up one of the bottles and studied it, his dark eyes filled with anticipation. But Im not sure we can help her. Chemistrys whacked.
I know. Thats why Im here, to help her any way I can. If that means locking her up in a benevolent prison, so be it. He sighed. Any luck with those other sightings?
North lifted his chin, but did not turn his blind eyes toward the voice to reply. His deep voice rumbled softly, Theres one in the city now, not far away. Weve been discussing whether we should roll out the red carpet or get outta Dodge. Shes got someone on her tail. An albino.
The visitor started. Could it be? But that was none of his concern at the moment. He shrugged. Right now, I just want a hot bath, a stiff drink, and some sack time with the lovely Mimi. Im sure you can make that decision without me. He rose and offered a salute of farewell and disappeared into the elevator, bound for his new digs.
* * * * * * * * *
Sebastian closed the folder.
Looks like the Centre has provided us with some new toys, he announced. Im not sure we can use all of them, but Aurora and Starlight have definite possibilities. We just need to decide which of our enemies is most deserving.
How do we go about mass production, if we decide to go ahead with using them? Trevor reached for the folder and scanned through it. He sat back in his chair, startled. Jesus, did you see this? Did you see the test data on Nova? We could create an army of serial killers with that.
Sebastian nodded. Well have to study each of them for merits and potential uses. In the meantime, Ill be meeting with the board by videophone. Weve got a lot to do, people, and I trust you all to make decisions that will benefit us as a whole. Theres no room for selfishness in Sanctuary. If were to be safe from the world, we have to be ready to fight to protect ourselves. Freedom and safety at any cost. Right?
A chorus of verbal assents rose up around the table.
What about our visitor? Ramona asked softly, nodding toward the private quarters. Can we trust him?
Hes always been out for Number One, until now, Sebastian assured her. I think he understands what it feels to be needed, now that hes fallen for that girl. We can trust him. He glanced at Trevor for assurance, and found it.
Then were adjourned. Everybody clear out, and Ramona will set up the video conference. Ive got a business to run, so we can all enjoy these expensive pleasures. He raised a hand to indicate the tower where they made their home.
Everyone smiled and nodded, and in a few moments the room was empty.
Sebastians good humor evaporated, and he eyed his assistant. We do what we have to, Ramona, he assured her. Survival of the fittest.
He took his seat at the head of the table while she set up the video camera and the computer that would broadcast him to the board of directors of Pele Enterprises, parent organization of Prometheus Pictures.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parkers office, SIS
She was smiling when Broots walked into the room, the crystal stopper on the bottle waving in a graceful arc before her to scent the air with perfume.
Good morning, Broots, she purred. You wouldnt happen to know who left this, would you? My staff is oblivious, as usual. She sighed. No wonder we have so many security leaks in this place.
V-Valentine left that for you, the tech confessed. I saw him snooping around in here last night.
Her eyes flashed with anger, accusing him of slacking by not confronting the man. But it melted into a smile as she inhaled the earthy, musky, sexy scent. I forgive you for not tossing him out on his ass, Broots. But I wonder why he left me this? Whats his agenda?
Broots felt his knees wobbling, and hurried to a chair so he could sit down without falling into a heap. Maybe hes trying to impress you, he suggested. Though Im not sure you want to be impressed by someone like him.
She grinned. He is handsome. Maybe I ought to take him for a spin. That would certainly shake up Lyle.
You dont want to do that, Broots assured her. He could feel the blood draining from his face as he pictured Valentine and Parker together, knowing what could happen to her. Parker was tough, certainly. She could usually hold her own against men. But with this guy
Why not, Broots? Playing nice with Valentine could get me the inside track on what Lyles up to.
He swallowed hard, remembering what he had discovered in the wee hours of morning. Boot up your computer, Miss Parker. I forwarded you some files I think you ought to see.
She sat down at her desk, switched on the slim laptop and waited.
There are no messages, Broots, she assured him.
His stomach dropped into his shoes. Oh, crap! Hes onto me! Hes gonna kill me, Miss Parker. He knows I know.
He knows you know what? Her impatience was beginning to show. She fixed him with a cool glare, and waited.
Broots explained. He told her in sickening detail about the newspaper articles he had uncovered, scans buried in the Centre mainframe. Though he couldnt read the languages the documents had been written in, translator programs gave him enough information to know that Valentine was not what he seemed. And as he spoke, he could see the color leaching out of his bosss face, and the horror in her eyes.
He leaned forward over her desk for the last part. I think he may have been the guy who killed Mutumbo, too. He was the big guys bodyguard, and the way Mutumbo died? There was this reference in Valentines training record that made me think Lyles new buddy could have done it. Only he got off scott free. So whos he working for that could protect him like that?
For a moment she was silent. Her gaze slid to the perfume bottle on her desk, her lip curling up in distaste now as the full impact of the gift settled into her consciousness. This was a first move, and more would come afterward. The game had begun.
Looks like Valentine is the left hand of the devil, she mused aloud. And Lyle could be the right. Weve got to find out whos pulling his strings and whats up his sleeve. My father could be the next target, if Lyles angling for the Chairmanship again, and I certainly wouldnt put it past him.
She rose. Skirting the desk, she began to pace the conversation area between the sofas, head down, thinking. Then she stopped. Her eyes met his, and they were cool, calculating, and sure. Come on, Broots. Weve got some getting ready to do.
He jumped up out of his chair, encouraged by her positive attitude. She was going to do something, and he was going to help her. Whatever it was, he had every confidence it would be the right thing, the necessary countermove in the dangerous game Valentine and Lyle were playing.
Yes, maam, he shot back, and followed her out of her office like an eager puppy.
They went straight to the gym. She pointed him toward the mens locker room. You should be able to find some sweats or a uniform in there. Change and meet me on the mats in five.
Uniform? What kind of uniform? He glanced down at the penny loafers on his feet. I didnt wear my running shoes. What-
The white ones. Come barefoot, she growled impatiently. Snapping her fingers in his face, she started off toward the womens locker room. Get moving, Broots.
Confused and a little uncertain, he did as she ordered. Rummaging through the stacks of Centre workout clothing, he pulled out a bundle of neatly folded white cloth from a bin marked large and carried it to a bench. Stripping off his flannel overshirt and Centre recycling T-shirt, he took the top garment and unfolded it.
It was a karate gi.
What the ?
He put it on, stowed his clothes and shoes in an empty locker and left his valuables with the locker room manager. Self-consciously, he looked in the mirror just by the door into the gym, and saw himself in the gi. He looked good. He straightened up, smiling at himself. He looked like a karate guy.
But what the heck did Miss Parker have in mind?
His step out into the gym was sure, almost cocky, bolstered by the mental image of himself as Karate Man. He was early, and went to the mats with a glance around the huge room, taking note of a small group of fencers at one end of the room, some sweepers at the weight lifting area, and half a dozen runners jogging around the indoor track around the perimeter of the room. No one was looking his way.
He struck a pose, one he had seen often enough in Bruce Lee movies, one hand forward, one up in the air, fingers curled menacingly. He hissed a warning to his invisible opponent, and glared with imagined rage. It felt good, and he grinned to himself as he released the pose and tried another, one he had seen recently in a Jackie Chan movie. That led to another, and another, and each move made him feel better, stronger, faster.
This is cool! he said aloud.
Good. Now heres your first lesson, Miss Parker snapped as she came up behind him, and promptly dumped him flat of his back on the mats.
Stunned, he just lay there, trying to catch his breath. She kicked him lightly with her painted toes, and ordered him to get up. He obeyed, struggling to his feet, all humor now gone.
What are we doing, Miss Parker? he moaned.
Im going to teach you how to fight and how to handle a gun, Broots, she told him. I need someone to watch my back. Youre all I have to work with.
What about Sam?
She struck a pose, indicating he was to mimic her. Sams loyalties are to the Centre, not necessarily to me. I dont know how far I can trust him. You, on the other hand
She tossed him on his back again, grinning happily as he climbed unsteadily to his feet.
I trust you, Broots.
That admission was small comfort in light of the bruises to come. Why couldnt you pick Sydney instead of me? he groaned.
I wouldnt want to break Sydney.
But its okay to smash me into little tiny pieces, right? He sighed. Broots got into the stance she showed him, and this time she went slowly through the techniques she had used on him before, showing him the mechanics of the movement. They practiced it several times, and then she let him try it on her. She went down like a sack of cement.
This is so cool! he declared, extending a hand to her to help her up off the mat.
She grinned, reached for his hand, and then swept his legs out from under him, landing him flat of his back with another new technique.
Or maybe not, he wheezed.
It was going to be a very long day, indeed.
* * * * * * * * *
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