Karla ground her teeth together in frustration. “Hold your ears,” she told Chance. “And keep your eyes forward, babe.” She leaned back, head against the headrest, with a silenced gun barrel against the nape of her neck. All at once, a bullet burst from the handle of the pistol, backwards, and ripped through the hand of the gunman. It continued from the backside of the gunner’s hand, into his forehead. He slumped to the right in the backseat.
The succubus huffed with indignation. “I knew I should have got the additional coverage for this rental car,” she muttered softly. “We’re going to have to ditch this car quick. People will notice blood spray in the back window. Dammit.”
“You killed that man,” said Chance in a soft voice. “Christ. He’s actually… dead.” Swallowing became uncomfortable, as though he had a lump in his throat.
“Yeah, I know; it sucks. I’m sorry you had to witness that, babe. One sec.” She withdrew a Motorola StarTAC from her purse and flipped it open then brought it to her ear. A moment later she said, “Nathanial… I could really use your help, old timer. I’m in New York City and I need to get home.”
“Why can’t we just fly?” asked Chance.
Karla angled the microphone of the phone away from her face. “For the past two years, I’ve had a thing about flying. Not sure why – I used to love it.” She eased the phone back to its original position against her cheek and said, “Darius Vei has people in play that are trying to kill the boy.” She paused, listening to a scolding remark then said, “Yes, I know, I know. I’ve already told Darius I’m not sleeping with him anymore. He’s a douchebag. So sue me.” Another brief pause, then she said, “I should have asked for your help. Anyway, are the Parkers still in town? I could use Jon and Sinopa right about now.”
Chance bit his lower lip. “Is Sinopa Parker the woman who rescued me?”
“I’ll call you back, Nathan.” Karla lowered the phone from her face and said, “Yes. You’re getting a pretty good handle on that telepathy thing.” She snapped the flip-phone shut and stole another glance at the body in her rearview mirror.
“I… guess. Maybe I remembered something. It’s all fuzzy right now.” He bit his lip and looked in the back seat then cringed. “The thought of telepathy is kinda’ weird, though. But I have to admit – when you killed him, however you did it, I got a headache. Like… I can’t explain it.”
“Probably sympathy pain. You’re empathic. Haven’t you ever watched Star Trek TNG?”
“I… if I have, I don’t remember it.” He thought of an image. In his mind, he saw a female character in a teal one-piece bodysuit then asked, “Councilor Troi? I might have seen the show – the character seems familiar.”
Karla scrunched her brows. “You can see an image in my head? Wow. That’s impressive.”
“I don’t know how to control it or if I’m just remembering things – I might be remembering the show you mentioned. Maybe you’re looking more into this than you should. The thought of having telepathy still doesn’t seem realistic to me. I’m just… Jesus!”
“Yes?” she asked with an innocent smile.
“I just thought of something inappropriate. I just saw someone die and now I’m thinking of… I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me.”
“Uh… I, uh,” he blushed and glanced out the window, lower lip clamped between his teeth.
Karla stuck her tongue out with an ear-to-ear grin. “Just testing for consistency. And to prove a point, obviously. I was just remembering how good I looked in the mirror when I got out of the shower this morning. I wanted to tone up my legs, so I started jogging and it’s been paying off, wouldn’t you agree?” She glanced in her rearview mirror at the body then said, “I have a good idea. The EC can’t come near us if we’re surrounded by mundane witnesses.”
“You’re going to the cops?? You just killed a man!”
“I didn’t actually say ‘the cops’ out loud. Again, you’re proving your ability. Anyway, the cops will have no idea that I killed someone. If you’re going to survive in this lifestyle, you need to learn the art of subterfuge and the finer points of manipulation, babe. Watch and learn.” She cut the wheel about and approached a police car across the street then opened the driver door and held her hands up.
In a panicky voice, Karla shouted to the cop in his car, “This man in the backseat tried to kill us with a gun! I… I think it backfired or… or he shot himself! Please, help us! He tried to carjack me and my boyfriend!”
Chance brought his hand to his forehead and groaned into his palm. He stared through his fingers at the dashboard. Fear and worry nested in his heart. “God, I’m anxious enough about almost dying twice today. I didn’t need this,” he whispered.
The officer hurried out of his car, speaking into his radio for backup. “Ma’am, step back. Move around in front of your car and put your hands on the hood. Tell your boyfriend to come out and do the same. Hands on the hood, please, now.”
Chance moved out of the car. He stumbled, but kept his hands on the side of the Cavalier to support himself. Karla moved around the other side. They stood opposite of one another, hands on the hood.
The police officer glanced into the back window, seeing the blood spray. He saw that the gun appeared to have erupted from the back of the handle, and the dead man’s left hand was torn apart. The second gun dangled from the gunner’s right index finger by the trigger guard.
The officer moved behind Karla, frisked her briefly, then said, “I need to check your hand bag for weapons.”
“Of course, sir.” Karla held her arm out but clenched her hand into a fist to hide the pink glow on her palm.
Chance looked at the officer, eyes wide and nervous. “Karla…”
“It’s fine,” she said in a reassuring voice. “He’s an officer of the law, babe. He won’t judge a woman on the contents of her purse. He’s a professional, after all.” She snuck a wink at the boy and thought the word, ‘Teleportation.’
The cop eased the handbag from her shoulder, rummaged through it then handed it back and moved around to Chance. He frisked the boy then asked, “Where’d this happen?”
“I was just picking my boyfriend up from the hospital,” Karla said. “He came out of a surgery. They had him in some sort of medically induced coma, so he’s foggy right now. Afterwards, we got into my rental car. The carjacker was in my backseat. The guy started yelling at us. I went the wrong way on the road; he got all upset and pulled the trigger on one of his guns. We heard a loud noise, and oh my God, I thought that was it… My ears are still ringing… and I looked in the rearview mirror and saw that there was blood everywhere. I panicked. My boyfriend saw you across the street and we came right over.”
Karla pulled out a California driver’s license, showing that she was eighteen years old. “I can get you the rental agreement… actually, on second thought, it’s in the glove box. I don’t wanna go back in there with that dead man.”
“I understand. Wait here.” The officer climbed into the front seat of the car.
“What’re you doing?” Chance whispered.
“Surrounding you with protection, and showing Darius if he’s going to play dirty, so will I. Now they’re going to run prints on Dee’s thug. I don’t mess around.”
“You’re a pretty good actress.”
“Oh, not really. I just know how to play two roles. Damsel in distress and dame of destruction. Seriously, though, I’m only good at saying what men want or need to hear. Now, shh.”
The officer came back with the rental agreement and said, “I’m going to have to write a police report for you to take to Avis. I need you both to come down to the station and give a statement. Young man, do you have your ID?”
“Sir, I just came out of a surgery. I don’t have any of my belongings. But you can check with the hospital. I’m a little scrambled right now.”
Karla glanced back at Chance then scooted in closer to the officer and in a more personal tone, said, “They removed a tumor from his head, officer. I have his file in my purse. He didn’t even recognize me when he saw me.” Karla withdrew the file and handed it to the cop. Sirens became a crescendo at the end of the block as another cruiser turned onto the street.
The officer read over the notes then slid it back into the envelope and passed it back to Karla. “Keep this. I’ll sequester a copy for the report from the hospital. He’s been through a lot.”
“I wouldn’t know,” said Chance. “I haven’t even read my own file yet.”
“Well,” the officer nodded to the curb. “Both of you have a seat. After all you’ve been through, kid, you really didn’t need this drama today. My wife is a breast cancer survivor. We’ll tow the car and return it to Avis for you. It’s part of a crime scene. From the precinct, we’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
“Just…” Karla fidgeted. “The airport. I hate flying anymore. Not sure why. Just do.” She glanced over at Chance and said, “I’ll suck it up. I wore my big girl britches today, so we’re good.” She fluffed her skirt with a caddy grin. “See?” She coughed then turned to the officer and said, “Sorry. I uh… The way I cope with stress is to make a joke about everything.”
“You’re probably in shock, kid. The reality of being at gunpoint hasn’t set in yet. At least you’re handling it well.”
“Yeah. Exactly.” She walked over to Chance and helped him down to the curb. “Now we wait,” she told the boy. “I’m a pretty face; I can probably ask one of the officers back at the NYPD to help call and book a flight for us. Then they’ll give us a ride. Sorry to put you through all of this mess but… it just seemed like a good idea to pull over. You sure you don’t mind flying west with me?”
Chance offered a weak smile, honestly perturbed by the attack. “I uh… well, uh… you’re my ‘girlfriend’ now, and the Big Apple has been unnerving so far. So… let’s just go back to your place until I figure everything out and start remembering stuff.”
“That’s the spirit, hon.” She put an arm around his shoulders and said, “Hold my hand. Look affectionate. We’re supposed to be dating.”
“Oh, uh, right. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume I don’t have a lot of experience with dating.”
“That’s okay, I told him you didn’t even remember my face. The hospital hasn’t had a chance to document your amnesia but… hell, it’s not like you’d be lying about your memories, right?”
Chance sighed. “My stomach is in knots.”
“That’s nausea from the adrenaline and lack of solid food in your body. You lightheaded?”
Karla cleared her throat aloud and called to the officer. “I hate to be a burden, but… his blood sugar is really low right now. He hasn’t eaten solid food since before the surgery. You saw the file. Six months. Then this mess happens today. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, but I think he needs to eat something. I don’t want him to crash.” She saw the officer’s confused expression and added, “I know someone who is a diabetic. I mean ‘crash’ figuratively.”
“Right… right, I get your meaning.” He nodded to a delicatessen on the corner. “Get your boyfriend a sandwich or something. Do, uh… do you need any money?”
Karla smiled inwardly. “No, but I appreciate the offer.” She turned back towards Chance and said, “Stay put. I’ll just be a minute.”
June 3rd, 1999, 4pm PDT San Francisco, California…
Chance rubbed his eyes then slumped back on the sofa. He looked back up at the man, Methos, who looked to be in his thirties and wore a polo shirt and ironed slacks. “I, uh… wavy lines on the left card. A star on the card in your right hand. No offense but I’m getting tired. Dodging bullets, being questioned by the police, the crying baby on the airplane, and now this – I’m feeling overwhelmed.”
Karla, standing behind Methos’ recliner, said, “Uh, he got them backwards. Why would he get them backwards?”
Methos glanced back at Karla with a slight smirk. “Because I actively thought, in my mind, that I held the lines in my left and star in my right. I lied in my mind. You see, with telepathy, it’s easier to construe active thoughts. Only a master can tell what the person is seeing or what they perceive on a subconscious level. And I’ve only met a master of telepathy twice in my life. Both lived before the birth of Christ.”
Chance’s eyes widened. “Wait, how old are you?”
Methos smiled. “Nice try.”
“Okay, well, how long have you gone by ‘Methos,’ sir?”
“You don’t have to call me ‘sir,’ young man. And it was suggested to me by Karla’s friend, Nathanial back in the early 1900s. So if you don’t like it, complain to him.”
“Uhm…” Chance rubbed his eyes. “Okay. Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you or anything.”
Methos smiled back at Karla and shook his head. “Your new friend is really nervous, isn’t he? Bordering on shy.” Methos stood up from his recliner and picked up a Toshiba laptop from the coffee table. He carried it over to the dining room table and disconnected the wire from the back of a nearby telephone. He connected the line into the side of his laptop and dialed into the internet.
The computer made some strange noises then logged into the net. Chance stood up and walked over towards the computer and looked it over. “What’s the thing in the side?”
“The PCMCIA card in the side has a 56k modem connector port. I’m going to email someone to see what we can find out about Darius Vei. No worries… I won’t let him kill you, young man. I’d like you to harness your abilities. Then I’d like for you to use them. I won’t lie to you and there would be no point in trying…”
“What do you need from me?”
“I’m going to train you to become accomplished with your ability. Then we’re going to spy on the Esoteric Council. I’ve long-suspected them of power playing and dabbling in things that should be left alone. So, you’re going to help me prove my suspicions. Then we’re going to use you to find out who is amassing the artifacts.”
“Artifacts?” asked Karla.
“I’ll explain everything later when I have all my facts straight.” Methos leaned over the keyboard, using the pointer nub between the “G” and “H” key to open an email. He typed out a message, sent it, then disconnected the phone cord from the laptop. He plugged his phone back in and mounted it on the kitchen wall then turned back to Chance.
The two shook hands. Methos leaned forward and whispered into the boy’s ear. “Watch yourself with her. She’s a real pistol. Don’t get too involved, emotionally. She’s incapable of monogamy, though not for lack of trying.” He walked back to Karla in the living room and asked, “What are your plans now?”
“I never went into this with a plan,” she said. “Wing and a prayer, babe. You told me to find the boy and keep him alive. Why am I even still involved?”
“Because we’re all in this together. What about Nathanial? Why not take him to meet Nathan?”
Karla sighed then said, “Great. What do you need from this boy?”
“It’s complicated. I’ll explain it later. Just help him practice. Teach him to play poker and take him to practice his ability. Like a muscle, the brain grows stronger with practice.”
“Alright. Fine. I’m going to abuse his ability and we’re going to make some money.”
“For once, I’ll agree with your idea, joke or otherwise. I need him to learn how to go from ‘novice’ to ‘intermediate’ in a short time. Money is a good motivator. And you can use the money for future traveling expenses. I’ll explain that soon, too. Take him home and get started. Keep Nathanial around. You’ll need the protection from Darius, as well as protection against other people sent by the council.”
“God this is going to get weird.”
“You’re doing well, Karla. Thank you. This is important, I promise.”
“How important?” she asked in a discrete tone.
Methos looked over at Chance with a frown. “No use keeping a secret from a telepath.” His eyes returned to Karla. He frowned and looked down at her chest, briefly, then back at her face. “Karla… YiaYia thinks a handful of high-ranking members of the Esoteric Council are dabbling in something dangerous. When I say important, I mean… very important.”
Karla gathered her purse and stretched. She turned to the teenaged boy and said, “Okay, Chance. Let’s go back to my place.”
“Okay.” The boy shook hands with Methos then followed Karla out the front door. Once they were outside, he cut a sidelong glance to the succubus and said, “He thinks there is going to be a major catastrophic event before the end of this year. He had a song stuck in his head, but I couldn’t understand the words. The language had harsh tones and difficult pronunciations. Russian or German, or something.”
“Can you hum the tune?”
Chance bit his lower lip then hummed a few bars, having heard the song in the other man’s head, repeatedly, for the past twenty minutes.
Karla grimaced. “Ninety-Nine Red Balloons. It’s a German song.”
“What’s it about?”
“Oh, y’know… Cold War stuff…” She gave him a weak smile.
Chance swallowed, hearing her voice in his head. “Oh… the end of the world.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets and pursed his lips together. “I don’t remember whether or not I like scalding hot showers… but I feel like I need one right about now.”
The succubus reached over and ran her fingers through his short tousled hair. “That’s probably because I always want a hot shower when I feel overwhelmed. It’s one of the ways I deal with stress. Hey, we could always take one together.”
A tint of blush glowed on the boy’s cheeks. “Uhm… I think I might be too nervous, especially with someone I don’t even know. Don’t get me wrong, though, you’re really pretty. Do you think a hot shower will help my legs? They’re killing me right now.”
She smiled in reply. “That’s because you’ve not been out of a bed for six months. You’re probably running on adrenaline. And yeah, it’ll help.”
June 15th, 1999, 3pm (About two weeks later) San Leandro, California
“Turn that crap off,” said Karla in a scolding tone. “Seriously, the news is depressing anymore, Chance.”
“Yeah… they were talking about that crash from two weeks ago. They said someone else passed away in the hospital or something. That’s eleven total. And you’re right, it is depressing. But it’s not all about death and destruction.”
“Yeah right. Name two things that you saw in today’s news that isn’t about death or destruction, seriously.” Karla folded her arms with a chuckle.
“Uh, let’s see. The Governor of Texas is going to run for President and, uh, South Africa got a new president – I wasn’t paying attention when they announced their names. Karla, I’m not saying you’re wrong either. They’re also talking about Kosovo and the gas line explosion in Washington. Guess you’re right, the news is depressing.”
“Politics is depressing, too,” said Karla with a grin. “Listen, I’m you’re guardian right now. I’m not supposed to let you out of my sight right now.”
“Yeah, I get that. And I appreciate you letting me crash at your apartment.”
She sat down on the sofa with him and rubbed his knee with her palm. “I have something I have to do in three weeks. I need to… God this is going to sound lame…”
“I won’t judge.”
“I need to rescue an artifact from a private collector in Las Vegas because it’s apparently supposed to be hidden away from people. The gig happens in three weeks, on the 8th of July. YiaYia, our resident oracle, claims we should pack an umbrella on that day. On a side note, she makes amazing Greek food.
“Anyway, you’ll meet some of the people I know who are unaffiliated with the umbrella of the Esoteric Council and the community that they oversee.
“Guess I’m a bit of a rebel. My attachment is to Methos, not the governing body of supernaturals. The EC has given me reasons not to trust them in the past. But that was a long time ago and I hold a grudge.”
Chance frowned thoughtfully and folded his hands. “Uhm… Okay. So, uh, July 8th… what’re you asking of me?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’m still figuring things out. But you may have to come with me. Things are complicated right now.”
“Jesus. You want me to help you steal from someone? I’m not sure why I trust you so much, but… I feel like this sort of thing should bother me way more than it does.”
“Maybe you sense my intentions?”
“Even if that were the case, everyone in the world is acting on what they think is the right thing to do in his or her own mind. Just answer me this: Why do you have to keep me safe? Darius Vei hasn’t made a move on me since that day in the hospital two weeks ago.”
“Chance, some people know they’re in the wrong whether or not they act on their impulses, wants or needs.”
“Don’t change the subject,” he murmured.
Karla turned to him and kissed the side of his face. “You’re so naïve and optimistic. I like that about you. And I didn’t change the subject, dearheart. I was replying to what you said before you asked your question. Maybe you’re right, hon. I’ll leave this decision up to you: I’ll let you think about joining us. Anyhow… we can talk about that later. Let’s talk about today. What’re you in the mood to do?”
“I’m still having a hard time believing all of this, just for the record.”
Karla furrowed her brows. “After two weeks with me, you still think I’m putting on an act? I teleported us out of the line of fire, and into a car. I stopped a bullet from Darius’ gun.”
“Yeah, I saw all of that. But nobody can stop a bullet. It moves too fast. How could you possibly stop a bullet? It moves faster than your mind can perceive.”
“I’m not sure. There’s a lot of questions I have about myself.” She straightened her skirt, smoothing the fabric with her hands, then said, “Have you seen my hands when I use my abilities?”
“This is a little too science fiction for me to follow… so,” he looked her over then tilted his head, “You’re talking about that weird pink glow, right?”
“Yes. My palms glow. Methos says it looks like some sort of muted glyph, but he doesn’t recognize the pattern as any specific symbol. If I strain really hard, my wrists and arms glow a little, too. The design snakes around my arms, down my shoulders and coils at the top of my breast. But I really have to strain for the glow to go beyond my hands. I’ve not heard of any other supernatural telegraphing their ability with flashlights under their skin. It’s not fair.”
He eyed her for a moment then asked, “Do you have other questions about yourself?”
“Yeah. There are a few dozen sex demons around the globe. They typically live between a hundred twenty-five to a hundred fifty years. And none of them have active abilities. Why am I different?”
“Wait, I thought… so, succubi and incubi aren’t immortal?”
“Nope. They don’t age so long as they have sex often. The females stop physically aging during their teenage years. Maybe that’s how we’ve evolved, I dunno. Up until recently, culture deemed it normal for females to be married off around fifteen to sixteen years old. For hundreds of years, girls were considered to be prime breeding age, and expected to have a family… all that jazz.”
“And, uh, the men of your… kind?”
“The average incubus ages to his early-to-mid thirties. Again, if it’s how my kind have evolved, then I can only assume it’s because a sexually active woman doesn’t want a boy in her bed; she wants a man. But at some point, after we’ve been around for a little over a hundred years or so, sexual feeding no longer sustains the body of a sex demon. We age rapidly. Genuine immortality is rare. As in, less than two hundred people world wide – so the question is… why me? Why am I living beyond my expectancy?”
Chance rubbed his chin then looked her over again. “How… old, uh, sorry, I know it’s taboo to ask a woman her age, but how old, uh…”
“I believe Methos – I think you’re a manifesting telepathic. So why lie about my age, right?” She smiled then said, “I turn four hundred this fall. You should know that I’m a blunt girl. I speak my mind openly. I don’t care if you ask my age or my weight. I hate tiptoeing through the tulips. I’d much rather bulldoze through the bullshit.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with being openminded and honest.”
“Yeah. But I couldn’t lie to you anyway. And honesty is refreshing. And I like that you don’t judge me.”
“So… if you’re the only immortal sex demon, what does that mean in the end? And how come you don’t act like you’re immortal?”
“In the end,” she paused again then threw her arms outwards. “It just means I’m awesome.” Karla reached up and brushed her fingers beneath his chin, gently. “I need to fit in. I look like a kid. I’ve embraced it. Actually, there was a study on immortality amongst our kind, once. Not all immortals stop aging at the same age. Some grow to thirty, forty or even fifty and suddenly stay that way forever. It’s been suggested that they continue to act their physical age. Not sure about that, though. Not every teenaged-looking succubus acts like a ditzy sixteen year old girl.”
“I still don’t think you can stop bullets. Nobody can stop a bullet. It’s faster than the mind can react.”
She reached out and pinched her fingers above his head. Karla brought her hand down and opened her hand. “Ew,” she muttered. A crushed housefly was on her fingertip. One of the insect’s back legs flinched. “See? I’ve been told my reflexes are off the charts. Not sure why, though. But I’d like to find out.”
“Gross but that’s an effective demonstration. In all seriousness, Karla, this is hard to wrap my head around.”
“You’re the one that can read thoughts!” She wiped her hand his shirt to see how he’d react.
“I… don’t know that for sure. I don’t hear voices in my head. I might just be able to read people really well. I might just be really perceptive. I feel like I know something, how they feel, or what they’re going to announce. But I certainly don’t hear someone’s thoughts.” Chance brushed the backside of his hand over his chest then folded his arms.
Karla smiled at his lack of reaction to the dead fly on his shirt. “What about Methos’ trick, where he swapped the cards and thought about them in the wrong hands, huh? Or what about that time I pictured myself naked and you damn-near swallowed your tongue? Remember? The day we met.”
“I don’t have any answers. This is all just really weird for me.”
“I see. Well…” Karla folded her arms. “You want to play Guess Who again? I’m told that working your logical skills and your memory skills will help you remember stuff.”
“Not right now. But I have some good news. Sorry I didn’t mention it earlier. I had to make sure it wasn’t a dream. I don’t think it is, because I still remember the details…”
“Go on, hon.”
Chance bit his lower lip with a wan smile. “I remember the face of the woman who pulled me from the car. Redhead lady. I remember looking up at her after the accident. You said she lives in San Francisco. You think I could meet her and thank her?”
“Ah, yeah. JC’s wife. Her name is Sinopa Parker. She’s part of the cool-kids club. Unaffiliated Esoteric people, y’know? Sure, I suppose we could meet her. Although I thought I’d been told that she pulled you from the vehicle completely unconscious. Anyhow, she’s a bit on the secretive side. I can’t help but wonder what you’re going to learn about her.”
“Now I’m curious.”
“Well, stow it for now. We’ll meet her soon enough but not right now. She’s in Rome with her husband this week. Something to do with the Spear of Longinus. So, anyway, let’s go see a movie or something. I’ll treat… obviously.” With an impish grin, Karla reached for her handbag.
“I uh… sure. Still don’t think I’m a mind reader, because I sure didn’t see that one coming. What’s out?”
“Dunno yet. We’ll find out when we get there. Go run a brush through your hair before we go. There’s one in on my dresser.”