Karla Chintzy sat up in bed with a start. She looked around the hotel room then pressed her lips together. Her lip-gloss had worn off, leaving her to wonder how long she’d been unconscious. She slid off the bed and saw her purse on the floor in front of the nightstand.
The bathroom was empty. She went back besides the bed and opened the large drapes. Out on a sundeck, Chance and Sinopa were sitting side by side, having a conversation. Michael wasn’t among them. She opened the sliding glass door and stood in the doorframe. “Where’s Michael?”
Chance looked up, his smile dissolving into an abrupt frown. It said everything without a word. Karla’s heart dropped. She listened to his brief explanation but the words didn’t really register. Instead of letting the boy drag it out word-by-word, she lifted a hand and interrupted him. “Does Nathanial know?”
“No,” he said. “Karla, I’m sorry. I liked him. He was a good guy.”
“Yeah. I didn’t really know him either. But I feel like I let Nathan down by letting one of his close friends die. What happened? How did we get out?”
Sinopa reached over and put a hand on Chance’s shoulder. “Your knight in shining armor saved us all, Karla-san. It was most impressive.”
He shrugged, causing Sinopa’s hand to fall away. “I guess I did. You were down, and had the wind knocked out of you. Mike was stabbed with those eight finger-knives. You were next. I lost my mind. I remember every second of it. I saw blood dripping from that thing’s fingernails. It lifted its hands above you after having just stabbed him and… You’re all I have, Karla. I… I lost control, somehow, and suddenly everyone was unconscious.”
“Nearly myself as well,” Sinopa added. “Had he been stronger, I most certainly would have not been able to withstand what he’d done. Do you have a headache, Karla-san?”
“No… uh, not really.” The succubus ran her fingers back through her hair then stepped out onto the deck. She moved adjacent to Chance, used her foot and kicked his feet apart a little bit, then settled down onto his lap and dropped her head onto his shoulder. “Thanks.”
Chance froze. He looked over at Sinopa, unsure of himself. She nodded towards Karla and mouthed the words, ‘Hold her.’
He swallowed back his nervousness and put his arms around Karla’s waist then rested his chin atop of her head. “I’m sorry things got so weird. I’m sorry the mirror got away. But, uh… I have two questions and maybe you can help me with them.”
Karla’s voice was muffled against his shoulder. “Yeah? Go ahead, ask’em.”
“Uhm, right… so first question is, what does inexpugnable mean?”
Karla remained still, speaking against his collarbone. “Unable to become pregnant, why? It’s kind of an old word – nobody says it like that anymore.”
“You, uh… said it in your sleep. You were referring to yourself.”
“Oh. Awkward.” She took a deep breath then sighed. “I’m turning four hundred this fall. No kids. It’s a long time to feel alone. I, uh… you know. I’m a girl underneath it all. Surprised?”
“Karla…” He kissed the top of her head. “You don’t have to keep this stuff in. You’re not alone anymore.”
A secret smile found her lips. “I appreciate that.” Her body relaxed somewhat, and she lifted her head from his shoulder. “What’s your other question?”
“Where is Tunguska? That’s in Russia, right?”
“Yeah. It’s where Nathanial and I met Kalen. It’s where Nathan earned his respect from the rest of the Esoteric Council, even though he doesn’t subscribe to their political meandering. Why?”
“It was the last thought on that one guy’s mind. Foster. The guy that works for the Grand Justicar, based out of Chicago. He’s going to meet up with people there or… something like that.”
Karla put her hands on either side of his face then pushed her lips against his firmly. It shocked the boy but he quickly melted into her kiss. She then kissed his nose, his cheek, his forehead, his other cheek. It caused him to laugh nervously. She kissed him all over his face for a moment then hugged him. “That’s my boy. That’s where they’re going. And even if it’s not, that’s our lead.”
Chance hugged her back then looked over at Sinopa, who grinned in reply. He heard her unspoken words. ‘You got the kiss you wanted for saving her.’ He blinked several times, then heard a different voice say, ‘I am so proud of him.’ He swallowed then cleared his throat, wondering if it was somehow all just a figment of his imagination. “So, how do we go from France to Russia?”
“I’ll call Nathan. We don’t have Michael’s sat-phone, but I know a number to call so I can get directly in contact with Nathan while he’s out and about. Also, I’m going to need to call Natalia Kincade and let her know our progress. For that much money, she’s going to want a status report.” Karla slid off his lap and offered him a soft smile. “I am so proud of you.” She turned about and walked into the hotel to start making phone calls.
Chance sat there, staring out over the Mediterranean Sea. She said what he thought he heard in his head a moment prior. He licked his lips then, with a slight chuckle to disguise his nerves, said, “Well, I, uh, I got the kiss I wanted for saving her.”
“Hai, Chance-san. I was just thinking the same thing when I saw her kiss you. Very good. I see how much you like her when you look at one another.”
He swallowed again. Were the voices he heard… real? He continued to stare out to sea. “Yeah. I liked it.”
“What is on your mind, Chance?”
He looked back from the water, towards Sinopa, then shrugged and gazed back out over the briny blue. “I uh… Oh, I was just thinking that Michael said he wanted to go to Barcelona after all this blows over. He pointed out across the water and said it was just over there, somewhere. It’s a shame, you know?”
“Hai, but he died honorably, in combat. Nathanial has told me more than once that his team has always expressed the desire to die a noble death, as a warrior, fighting for what they believe in. They said that growing old was unfathomable. Dying in their sleep would be even worse. Take solace in the fact that Nathanial’s friend died the way he wished to die: In the throes of battle.”
“It didn’t seem that way,” Chance murmured. “It wasn’t like he was actually in combat when that thing killed him. He was knocked down, unable to get up, and on the defense, trying to help Karla escape. Doesn’t seem the same.”
“A death to the enemy is still far more desirable than a death by one’s body giving out from old age – it was quick and painless. You rendered him unconscious so that…”
“It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t painless,” Chance told her with sorrow in his eyes. “At least not to him. I felt it. I felt him die. I felt the pain in my chest. I felt the agony. I felt the regret he had. He didn’t die proud and quick. He died feeling disappointed because he couldn’t see this through with us. He had so much he was looking forward to. The money from Karla that he was going to use to get his life back on track… He had a lot to live for. He was upset when he felt it all stripped away from him in the blink of an eye. Yeah, it might have been better than dying old and frail. But when Nathanial told you that, they were in a different mindset because they were younger… I know what I felt when I watched him lying there, helpless and writhing. And he wasn’t proud or filled with a sense of accomplishment.”
“I see.” Sinopa frowned.
“I… I’m sorry, Mrs. Parker. I’m just upset. I should be happy because I saved Karla, I got a kiss and I did my best. But I don’t know how to control my ability, I don’t know how to focus it or put it away when I don’t want to use it… I’m a wild card. The way I see things, Mrs. Parker, if I knew how to use it I could have saved everyone. Including Michael.”
“Hey.” The voice belonged to Karla, standing in the doorway behind him. “Stop blaming yourself. I mean it. You’ve done more in one month with your limited understanding, than some people have their whole lives with training and intimate knowledge of their capabilities. You’re the best rookie I’ve ever seen. You get better each day.”
“But how do I use it? What’s the trigger? Sometimes it happens when I’m emotional, like after the car accident, after getting almost killed repeatedly, and when I saw Mike die, and especially with you next. But other times, it just happens at random. I hear something, or I feel something… and most of the time, I’m just questioning myself. What about the day we met? I wasn’t fast enough to tell you there was a guy behind us with a gun. And what about just now? You just snuck up on me. I had no idea you were listening.”
Karla stepped back out onto the deck and put her hands on her hips, glaring at him. “Okay, look. You’ve done a good job so far. But right now, you’re whining. Yeah, I know it sucks. I know you’re not a ‘level ten badass’ right now. And I know you doubt yourself. But suck it up. Right now you’ve kept the two of us alive. You’ve still got a to do list needing to be done. You’ve still got questions needing to be answered.
“You can’t go through life whining about things that didn’t pan out. So, take it from a girl who has seen a lot of things turn to shit in her life… you have to focus on your accomplishments in life.
“You need to stand up, be a man, and you need to strut around like you have a three foot cock, you got me? I’m not saying to be egotistical, I’m saying to be confident. Because without confidence, it’s going to be hard to be motivated. And without motivation, you’re not going to amount to anything. And if it takes ‘getting the girl’ to motivate you, then get your ass in here and get your pants off.
“And, no, don’t you go around thinking I’m offering this because of my nature. The fact is, you’ve earned it. You didn’t just save my ass back there in creepo-land. More than once you stood up for me, whether or not I needed it. You were offended when that guy back talked me. You were quick to stand in front of me, protectively.
“Now sure, I don’t need protection. But it’s nice to see a man give a damn about me. I liked it. I feel like I deserve to have a man give a damn about me like that for once in my life. You got that? I. Am proud. Of you. Are we clear on that? Don’t ruin how I feel about you by moping. You’ve been strong. You’ve shown some masculine fortitude. You’ve been damn impressive.
“I’m not talking about your shyness thing. Whatever. I’m talking about you being at gunpoint and being a man instead of dropping to your knees and begging for your life. You’ve been impressive from day one. Don’t start crying now, because that won’t get you anywhere and it most certainly will not get you laid. Now. Do I make myself clear?”
Chance sat there stunned. He’d never had Karla go off on him before. And he’d never been insulted by her before. But at the same time, she’d also complimented him and told him she was proud of him.
For the first time since coming to terms with the possibility that he might be telepathic, something clicked. Initially, he didn’t know how to react based on her lecture, alone.
Instead, he had an idea of how to react based on what he perceived may have been the meaning behind her words. He stood up from the deck chair and turned directly towards Karla.
She put her hands on her hips with an expectant look. She arched her brows as if to say, ‘Well?’
It all became clear to him: she wasn’t admonishing him. It was her way of trying to motivate him, and she was saying it the best way she knew how. She was challenging him to do better, to be better. She was trying to inspire him to be… not necessarily some all-powerful telepath… but simply to be the best person he could be, and, more importantly… to be someone she could count on and trust.
He heard Sinopa’s voice at the back of his head. ‘Kiss her, you fool.’
Chance reached up, put his palms on either side of Karla’s jawline then moved in close. His lips hovered just above hers, but he kept her from leaning up to meet his kiss by keeping his hands on either side of her face.
He spoke so that she could feel his warm breath against her lips. She could even feel his lips nearly brushing against hers from his proximity. But there was a sensual sort of teasing in the way he didn’t yet kiss her.
Instead, he spoke. “No, I haven’t earned 'it' from you just yet. But I’m closer than I was before. This is where I’m supposed to kiss you like they do in action movies. The hero kisses the girl then there’s a romance scene, and he goes off to win the day in the climatic battle. And that’s not how real life works all the time. I like kissing you. And I want to be someone you can rely on. So… that’s who I’m going to be. I’m going to do what I can to be my best. I know that’s what you want to hear.”
“No,” she murmured with a sultry smile. “This is the part where you kiss me.”
“No.” Chance drew his head back so he could see her green eyes in the late afternoon sunlight. He swallowed, took a deep breath, then said, “This is where I tell you that I’m falling in love with you. Because I promised you I’d be fair by being open with you, since I’m the mind reader and you’re not. After today, I think I’m finally ready to believe in my ability, after feeling the wind knocked out of you, and Michael’s last moments. And after stopping those things. I’m finally ready to…”
Karla brought her hands up, knocking his away from her cheeks, and lurched forward. She silenced him by pressing her lips to his, then she threw her arms around his neck while up on the tips of her toes.
Sinopa grinned, watching them, then gave them a little privacy by looking back out over the water. She began to think about her husband, over in Italy. The kitsune brought a hand to her swollen belly, trailing her thumb back and forth over the firm expanse. Twins…
Her thoughts turned to Aris Sokolov, who used to work with her husband for a short time. After telling him that she wanted desperately to have children with Jonathan, he managed to make the dream a reality. But who knew the timing would coincide with all the wild adventures that now popped up out of the blue?
A hand touched her shoulder. She looked back at Chance. Karla moved around to the other side of her. She cut her head to the left, at Karla, then back at Chance over her right shoulder. “I… Why did you stop? I was giving you two privacy and…”
“I heard your thoughts,” Chance said. “Sokolov was your fertility doctor?”
“Hai. He’s acted as a physician for quite a few supernatural people. He seemed best suited to help with my desire to have a child with Jonathan. Why do you ask?”
Karla looked up at Chance then back at Sinopa and cut into the conversation. “I found a number in a Rolodex for a person named ‘A. Sokolov.’ Do you have his number? I want to compare them.”
“I have it memorized.”
Karla held her hand out and her handbag teleported from the floor inside the hotel where she’d seen it, to a table on the deck. She opened it and rummaged through then pulled out a small piece of card-stock with two holes at the bottom. She handed it to Sinopa.
Parker frowned. “It’s the same number. Do we know his involvement?”
“No. But he doesn’t know that we’ve found this. I’d like for you to call him and tell him to meet us in Russia. Set up an appointment to have him do a sonogram or something. Then we can keep an eye on him. If Chance really does spark off from emotion, or from adrenaline, or something to do with a hormone or a gland… then we’ll put ourselves just outside the room during your exam… you tell him you just came from Marseille and that you saw creatures, and four men stole a mirror… then, when he’s got that on his mind, I’ll find a way to inspire Chance in a way that covers all the bases… emotions, adrenaline, glands, all of it. And with any luck, he’ll know if that guy is involved or not, simply by reading him the way he just read you when we kissed.”
“And if it turns out we can trust him?” asked Sinopa.
“Then we’ll find out which one of his contacts, who had his number, could have the know-how to work on one of those freaks. And we’ll solicit his help.”
Chance said, “Let’s get ourselves on a plane, then. The sooner we get this mirror for Karla, the sooner we can relax. Karla, since you speak French, you’re going to have to be the one to return the cargo van to the rental agency, get us a taxi to the airport, and order the tickets we’ll need. Miss Parker, you should call Mister Sokolov first, and see when he can meet us in Russia. We’ll plan around his schedule, of course.”
Sinopa looked up at Karla. They grinned at one another. Karla winked. “See how a really good kiss can turn a boy into a man? I’m pretty good, huh?”
“Hai, Karla-san. He went from moping to taking charge. You’re very good with him.” She stood up and moved around the deck chairs to the sliding glass door. “I shall call Aris from the phone by the bed. I’ll only be a moment.” She excused herself, stepped into the hotel room and pulled the sliding glass door shut.
Karla turned to Chance. “She’s calling him privately? Can we trust that she won’t warn him or something?”
Chance tilted his head then shook it. “She’s apparently a little bit on the private side concerning the details about the pregnancy. I don’t know Japanese customs or anything, but… maybe it’s something they don’t talk about in public. I mean, you know… doctors ask personal questions, like weight and sex stuff, and eating habits and stuff. Maybe she’s just not comfortable talking about that in front of people.”
“I did a job with Sokolov and Jonathan, once. Funny thing is, JC didn’t believe I was immortal. He just thought I was a kid who could telepathically move stuff. Aris took me serious, though. I thought those guys were legit. But if Aris turns out to be trouble, then I misjudged him. I just don’t know who I can trust right now, except for you, Nathanial, and Methos. The funny thing is, I never used to have trust issues. Then again, I never used to be afraid of flying in a plane, either. Now I’m starting to see things differently.”
“Thanks for trusting me.”
She smiled softly and reached for his hand. Karla sat down on one of the deck chairs. Chance settled on the adjacent one, interlacing his fingers with hers. She ran her thumb over his knuckles. “I’ve seen you at your strongest and your most vulnerable. And when you told me you love me just a few minutes ago… you let me in. So, yeah. I can trust you. Not to mention you carried me out of that place. You… did carry me right? You didn’t drag me, did you?”
Chance laughed with a bright smile. “No, I carried you. I promise. I feel like I just ran a triathlon, though. I don’t recommend sleeping for six months then trying to carry someone for, like, a mile up a ramp. My arms were rock hard by the time we got to the van. I felt like I could have bench-pressed one of those big-ass creatures after that. I’m going to be sore tomorrow, though, but that’s okay.”
She shook her head and gave his hand a squeeze. “I’m impressed. You raised the bar for yourself. I’m going to take you driving when we get to Siberia. I just hope Sokolov tells her she’s okay to fly.”
“What’s wrong with flying? Wait,” he trailed off, “This has nothing to do with your flying stigma, does it?”
“Nope. I’m sucking it up again because timing is a priority, and because I have you with me.” She offered him a wan smile, then added, “She’s pregnant. Very pregnant. And a pressurized cabin can make things very uncomfortable. What trimester is she in again?”
“I think she’s at twenty-eight or twenty-nine weeks.” He paused then asked, “What if her pregnancy period is shorter or longer than normal? I mean, she’s not human, right? She has fox ears and tails. And I don’t think animals carry nine months, so what if it’s shorter?”
“I’ll ask her if she knows what the gestation period is for her kind. For all we know, she could be due this week. Then again, she might even carry longer than normal. Good thinking, though.”
“Oh, right, thanks.” He gazed back out over the sea. “I’d like to think that Mike is over there, in Spain, right now, on the beach. You know, in some capacity.”
Karla nodded in silence. That wasn’t something she wanted to think about right now. Chance glanced at her, took the hint, and grew quiet for the time being.
June 23rd, 1999. Noon, local time Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia…
Chance eased into the accelerator a bit. “Do we even know the speed limit on this road?”
“Do we care? Just go whatever feels safe to you. I haven’t seen another car in at least ten minutes or longer. You’re doing fine.”
“This place is so quiet. Where is everyone?”
“Sweetheart, people are slowly trickling out of this place. And it wasn't many to begin with.”
“So… are there really people out there who can heal instantly?”
Karla blinked at his sudden change of topic. “Well, yeah. But they’re rare. Even more rare than people who can survive serious injury, like falling from a plane. Why do you ask? Because of those creatures?”
“Yeah, exactly. Wait… people have survived falling out of planes?”
“Well, yes, they have. There was an American Air Force gunner who fell twenty-two thousand feet with a bum chute. Air is pretty thin four miles up, so he was unconscious. He fell through the glass roof of a French railroad station during the Second World War. Somehow he survived. He was captured by the Germans and they gave him medical treatment. And no, he wasn’t supernatural. The Esoteric Community was quick to look into it after hearing of the fall. They were afraid of the Third Reich getting their hands on someone with abilities, because the Nazi war machine had a paranormal division that was tasked with studying those with abilities.”
“People can really survive that kind of fall?”
“Yup. Another guy, Ivan Chisov fell during that same war, but he landed on a snowy ravine, and slid all the way down. Lucky guy. But then there were people with mild supernatural abilities who never knew about themselves… Same war, Nick Alkemade fell about eighteen thousand feet, thinking he’d rather die on impact than burn alive in his damaged plane. He fell three miles then came down over some pine trees covered in snow. But three miles at terminal velocity is still three miles at terminal velocity, hon.”
“What happened to him?”
“He had a sprained leg. The Gestapo got him. But they were really impressed and treated him more like a celebrity under guard than a prisoner. The EC looked into that, too, found out he had mild fortitude abilities and kept an eye on him. The Jerries’ orders were to keep him from escaping and get a sample of his blood. Also, there was a plane in the 70’s that crashed in the Czech Republic. It had one known survivor, a flight attendant who apparently clung to a man who actually had legitimate healing abilities. He held onto her until the crash. She was still alive, but he later said he didn’t know it at the time. He healed his injuries, and wiggled out of the wreckage. He distanced himself from the crash site and contacted a member of the EC to come get him.”
“Were they upset?”
verything by the book. He left the site, he didn’t talk to anyone about it, and he changed his name so that he would be assumed as dead under the name he used to board the plane. The lady, Vesna Vulović, is still alive. She’s a national hero or something. Uses her clout as a miracle survivor to speak her mind about politics without getting in serious trouble. I say good for her. Meanwhile, the supernatural guy disappeared. Not really sure of his name. You’d have to ask Methos or Nathanial, or someone from the EC.” She grinned at him. “Not that the EC would want to have much of a conversation with you, right?”
“Yeah, I guess not.” His eyes widened and he slammed his foot down on the brake pedal and reached his right hand over, across Karla’s torso, to keep her pinned against her seat.
The rented Toyota SUV slid to a halt. Several feet ahead, a large animal charged out onto the road, only to stop when it saw the nearby 4Runner. After a moment, the large animal turned about and bounded off back into the woods.
“God. That caribou would have charged right into us if I didn’t stop. It had to be over three hundred pounds.”
She reached for his hand, along her upper chest, and took him by the forearm. She kissed his hand then gave it a gentle squeeze. “In America, grandma will run over a reindeer. In Soviet Russia, reindeer will run over you.” She looked over at him, he looked back at her with confusion in his eyes. The succubus laughed. “Haven’t you heard that song? Grandma got run over by… aw, nevermind.”
“I thought this isn’t Soviet Russia anymore? I don't get it.”
She sighed and shook her head. “You’ve never heard of Yakov Smirnoff?”
“Smirnoff …like the vodka?”
“Yeah, everybody loves Smirnoff… what a country!”
“I…” he trailed off and tilted his head. “You’re quoting something that’s a little before my time, aren’t you?”
“Afraid so, hon. I’m probably saying it wrong, anyhow.” She released his hand then smiled. “You know, you should keep both hands on the wheel when you hit the brakes. Just for future reference, Chance.”
She looked out the window, adding, “Check your mirrors then you can go again.” It felt nice to have a guy reach for her as his first instinct. It was proof that he cared about her. Proof she could see by the way he wanted to protect her from a possible impact.
For Karla, it was nice to have someone care about her after centuries of trysts and one-night stands. It was something she’d longed for and now she felt like she finally had it. The succubus cleared her throat then said, “Anytime now.”
“Oh, right.” Chance chuckled nervously and eased into the gas pedal. The Toyota moved forward again. “Right, so, I forgot what we were talking about.”
Karla chuckled. “Lucky survivors verses people with abilities. Let’s focus on you driving until we get to where we’re going. I don’t want you distracted. Although, you know… if I was the one driving, we wouldn’t have stopped in time and that thing would have came right out of the woods and plowed into us.”
“I don’t know how I did that. That was pretty wild.”
She grinned then pointed forward. “Yeah, that was pretty good, hon. Quick reflexes on the brakes, too.” She looked over at the digital time on the radio display then said, “It’s not much longer.”
“So why don’t you wear a watch?”
Karla shrugged. She reached over the shifter and put her hand on his knee. “I’m not good with watches. I kill the battery or something, I don’t know. If I wear one, the time is wrong after just a few hours. If it’s a windup watch, it just… dies after a while.”
“Wait, seriously? Why would you…how?”
“Maybe I just observe the Biblical precept of Exodus 22:18: You shall not suffer a watch to live.” She offered him a lame grin. “Maybe I’m saying that one wrong, too.” Karla gave his knee a playful pat. “Anyways, we’re almost there, silly.”
Chance looked over at her, smiled, then faced the road. Something about the way she said that word made him melt a little inside every single time.
“And Street Light Interference, I’ve heard them called SLIders, are people who mess with electronics. I don’t do that. My laptop always works, and I never mess up the time, so long as it’s connected to the internet. People that mess with electronics are people with ultra mild cases of either supernatural electricity control, similar to Nathan but not as powerful as him, or they have some sort of magnetic field thing. But not as strong as the bad guy from that Marvel cartoon. The Esoteric Council keeps tabs on people that are stronger than causing a street light to go out when passing by it, or blowing a bulb when they come into the room. Now, if it happens every single time they walk into a room, and with more than just one bulb… yes, they take notice. But my problem is only with time pieces, and they have to be very close to me to be affected.”
“I see.” The wooded area opened up ahead and they passed through a clearing with downed trees. “Whoa, what happened there?”
“Honey, those trees have been down for almost a hundred years.”
“Up ahead, you’re going to want to take a right.” She glanced down at a street map then said, “I really hope Aris Sokolov isn’t involved in this mess.”
“Why not? Are you guys friends?”
“No. I’ve only worked with him once. I don’t even know if I’d recognize his face. I see a lot of faces in my line of work, you know? But he is really smart. And a smart bad guy is a capable bad guy, y’know? God. Listen to me, referring to people as ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ like a kid.”
“It works for me.” They continued past the clearing and, up ahead, there was an intersection. He bared to the right and asked, “What time is Sinopa’s appointment? And do you think it might be best if we simply hid in the next room? I mean, if the guy is smart and stuff, and if he turns out to be our bad guy… then you don’t want him to know you’re involved because he could come up with a contingency plan for someone with your abilities, right?”
“You know… you’re right. I’ll tell Sinopa to suggest that she’s working alone. If that guy, Foster, managed to live and reports back to Aris, then we can tell Sinopa to counter by saying she left us in France. Either way… you’re right, it’s best he doesn’t know we’re there. Better safe than sorry.”
They road continued along for another few miles then Chance pulled over. He switched with Karla, letting her drive into the town of Ust-Ilimsk, due to the fact that she had a driver’s license. They began passing a few cars on the road and before long they arrived back at their hotel.
“Why are we so far from the place that might have our mirror??”
Karla unfastened her seatbelt and stretched. “Because. This town rents four wheel drive stuff. Siberia is huge and lacks roads in many places. Other than trading outposts, it was just hundreds upon hundreds of miles of empty open land, swamps, and nature. I mean, you know, back in 1908, when the blast happened. It was twenty years before the first science teams got out here and looked around. Besides, being far away from that complex has pros and cons.”
“Yeah, seems like a good thing we have this SUV and big tires. So why make that big building we saw way out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Yup. Four wheel drives comes in handy. Your question has a complicated answer, babyboy. Did you know that Lake Baikal is the largest body of fresh water in the world? It’s a mile deep in some places, and has almost two thousand species living in it, about a thousand of which are found nowhere else on this planet? Now, are you ready for the real kicker?”
“Please, don’t say aliens.”
Karla grinned. “Aliens. Now, on a serious note, Aris Sokolov is said to be from this region. Born and raised. Rumors also suggest he grew up under the tutelage of Ilya Ivanov, and in 1930, the two of them were exiled to Kazakhstan by Stalin. But why on earth would Joe Stalin do that? I mean, exile is usually to northern territories, where it’s blistering cold, not a, ‘here, go somewhere sunny with beaches!’ you know? Good memories in Atyrau, by the way. Moving on! Conjecture aside, Aris built a compound a few years ago, and it’s located not too far from the heart of the Tunguska blast area. Some say he’s going to try and destroy it, because it’s not sanctioned by the council. And he does genetic research at Lake Baikal. But… the EC doesn’t have any real power over him. He’s a scientist; I don’t know if he has any abilities or not. Just smarts. Anyways, eighty million trees are down and, to this day, ninety-one years later, many are still just laying there. Proof that a vast majority of this area isn't inhabited. The question is... The building Sokolov owns... Is it the same one we just saw this morning? And if so, why would he need a building that damn big. And if it's not his... Who owns it, and is my mirror there? We on the same page, hon?”
“Okay, so …we just went to teach me how to drive, spy on that big building out in the woods… we now know it’s really there. So now what?”
“Well, we assume that’s where the mirror is being sent. Like I just said, the question is… does Sokolov own the place? What’s in there? That’s a really big building for it to be on soft swampy land; how deep does it go? What the hell is in there? Why isn’t anyone else seemingly aware of that place? Why is it painted green and brown to blend in? Why are the side walls mirrors to make it blend in so well? All that stuff.”
“So why are we so far away? I mean that place was hours and hours away from where our hotel is.”
“This is where Aris is going to meet Sinopa, goober.” Karla grinned. “It makes her look like she’s close… investigating the mirror, but over a hundred miles away, over the river and through the woods. I don’t know, honestly. She told Aris on the phone that she’s going to look for her mirror in Siberia. He suggested they meet in this little town. Here we are. And they have SUVs for rent, remember?”
“When will he be here?”
Karla stretched again then slid out of the driver seat, shut the door and dropped the keys into her purse. “In about an hour. That’s why I kept looking at the time on our way back. Anyhow, let’s go over the plan we came up with so Sinopa knows what’s going on. Since her room is next to ours, you should be close enough to do your thing, right?”
“Yeah. I’m pretty sure we’ll be fine.”
“Okay, good deal.” She reached for his hand and interlaced her fingers with his. He looked back at her and she afforded him with a playful grin. “You like that?”
“Holding your hand? You bet I do.”
Karla’s grin evolved into a broad smile. “Good.”
June 23rd, 1999, 2:10pm Siberia, Russia
Sinopa Parker looked down at the wand as it slid through the glistening gel on her belly. She glanced back over at the sonogram screen with a smile of fascination. “I see them both. Can… you print that?”
“Of course,” said Sokolov. “So I understand you’re here searching for the Celestial mirror?”
“Hai, Aris-san. Jonathan was worried when I went from Rome to Marseille, but now that I’m in Siberia, he’s downright against the idea. He says I’m far too pregnant to be gallivanting about on an adventure, especially alone. But my obligation is to the Celestial Bureaucracy.”
“Now, when you spoke to your superior, you said that you’re kind gestates between forty-eight and fifty full weeks, correct? Just making sure my notes are accurate from when we spoke last autumn.”
“Forty-eight weeks is average, but she said fifty weeks isn’t out of the ordinary. That is why I had to lie about my pregnancy for the first ten weeks. It’s the reason I couldn’t use a normal doctor in the first place. I couldn’t have someone notice the extended length of my pregnancy, after all.”
“Quite right. Do you have the urine sample I asked for?”
“Hai, doctor. It’s in a jar in a small cooler by the door. I’m sorry I haven’t been readily available to see you throughout the pregnancy. I have an entire cassette tape full of messages you’ve left on our answering machine back in California. Unfortunately, life has been more exciting than I initially intended when we decided to come to you for the initial artificial insemination consultation.”
“Have you been taking your prenatal vitamins? And how has the pregnancy gone thusfar?”
“Every day, as instructed. And… it’s gone much better than I feared it would.”
Aris looked up from the monitor. “I don’t see any tails or fox ears on the children. It seems they’ll both be normal human children.”
“Hai. Human genetics overpowers the genes of supernaturals and deities. We both knew they would be human from the beginning. I’m quite pleased. Spirit foxes can only breed nogitsune children with our own kind. And, like normal wild foxes, we turn those children over to the wild after a while. And then it is up to them to make their own way. It’s an overwhelming instinct to chase them from the den when they reach a certain age.”
“That won’t happen with human children?”
“I’m told by multiple, reliable sources, that it doesn’t happen with human children. We bond with them the way human parents normally will. I wish it wasn’t so difficult to procreate naturally with a human.”
“Well, you came to the right person, and your pregnancy seems to be going quite well, thankfully.”
“Hai, Aris-san. I wanted so desperately to have a family with Jonathan, and I very much appreciate your help in the matter.”
“It was my pleasure. Science can help with nature’s obstacles in many different ways. So… back to your adventure. What happened in France that brought you here? Was the mirror simply not there to begin with?”
“Iie, Doctor, it was there. I tracked the mirror to an impressive underground research center in Marseille. The Esoteric Council sought to steal it from the research facility. I was locked in combat with four members of the EC. Nathanial Carrington sent friends looking to take the mirror for themselves. I believe they were working for Methos.”
“Sinopa, you shouldn’t be in combat. You’re pregnant… So what happened against the four men?”
“One of them created a wall of fire while the other three escaped with the mirror. Even over the roar of the flames, my sharp fox ears are as reliable as ever. I overheard him tell the other men to take it to Tunguska. They have an impressive research center here in Siberia.”
“I have to wonder if the EC is shadowing me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sinopa, I own the research facility beneath Marseille. I worked on a Russian-backed super soldier program throughout the early 90’s at my facility here, in Siberia. I have the rejects in stasis in the facility in Marceille. They cannot be killed. We’ve even tried liquid nitrogen, and shattered them. When the pieces melted, they came back together and spawned numerous new bodies. We created it to be indestructible. We’ve only successfully killed one, using extremely concentrated radiation to vaporize all tissue. But we didn’t have enough material to vaporize the rest of the batch. So they’re in stasis until we find a way to destroy the rest. They’re dangerous. But now I’m curious – would the EC send people to my old research facility to find and steal a mirror belonging to the Celestial Realm? That complex is used as a stasis center only.”
Sinopa eyed him for a moment, wondering if he really was being genuine about not being involved. “The council determined that someone brought it there to hide it, possibly because it’s nearly abandoned, so it provides reasonable privacy. The EC tracked it there, as did I, and apparently, so did Nathanial’s friends. Were you the only one left out of the loop?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Did you ever succeed in your super soldier research?”
Aris paused then reached over and turned off the portable sonogram monitor. The fan in the back of the unit grew silent. He took several printouts from a printer on a tray at the bottom of the metal cart and handed them to her.
“Sinopa… between us, I have. Seven weeks ago we turned a soldier into a stable superior being. We’re still studying him. But he appears completely normal. Our biggest hurdles were the skin cells and red cells. He’s impervious to normal injury. Paper cuts and the like. So long as he’s conscious, that is. The brain regulates the healing while conscious. But skin cells are meant to die. As are blood cells. His didn’t. His body created new cells but the old ones didn’t die. We only recently figured out how to give those cells a timer. After they live for a certain amount of time, they go into apoptosis. The body can then flush them normally. The overage of red cells nearly gave him a stroke. The brain heals itself because the body is preprogrammed with an image of what to default on after serious injury… but brain damage from a stroke is still brain damage that would remain in tact the way a split nail remains split and cut hair doesn’t grow back immediately.”
“Dear me. The creature I saw at your laboratory managed to hear itself instantly, including head wounds.”
“Yes, I understand one escaped and became numerous. But soldier-X can only heal when he consciously attempts to do so. And it’s not instantaneous.”
“So what if he became brain damaged? How would he heal at that point?”
“A hard-reset healing would be in order. Destroy the head and let it grow back. But then he would lose his memories, training, and we would have to start over with whatever information is preprogrammed into him at the time of creation. Injury and healing research for our first stable subject seems premature as we don’t want to risk losing the progress we’ve made thusfar. We’re taking it slow. We’re keeping him at my research facility here in Russia.”
“That… is a lot of information to absorb. Forgive me if I find it difficult to follow. But, you say that you have a research facility here in Russia. I’ve tracked the mirror here to a facility northwest of this location. Is it yours?”
“I would hope not. My Siberian compound is not abandoned,” Aris told her. “I will say that I read a report saying there was an increase in cleared truck roads in the area. Some of my people have reported seeing tractor-trailers hauling things through unpaved roads. Those trucks weren’t carrying timber. However, satellite imagery doesn’t show any other buildings in the area. Mine is much smaller than the one I had in France.”
“Smaller? The one that I found is many times larger than the complex in France.”
“Oh? That’s quite surprising to me. Should I contact people I know on the council and demand an explanation?”
“No, Aris-san. Please, if the council were behind this, I would not wish them to be alerted that I’m closing in. I have an idea, though.”
Aris began putting the wand away, coiling the wire on the metal cart with the sonogram machine. He gave Sinopa a towel for the gel on her belly. “I hope you’re not about to suggest that I accompany you into a dangerous situation. I’m an ordinary man, Mrs. Parker. I have to put my science first, which means I cannot go about trying to get myself killed.”
“Iie, Doctor… I was thinking you could give your super soldier his first task. To help me infiltrate this compound and find this mirror. For your help, I could easily persuade Jonathan to make a sizable contribution. Your coffers would be brimming full.”
“As delighted as I am by your offer, Mrs. Parker… I’m only maintaining the program because the mundane government demands it of me; also, the Esoteric Council has ordered me to follow through with it because they want to determine if it’s possible and if children can be bred with powers selected at birth. Between the two of us, I do not want funding to the program because I despise it. I’d rather that America and Russia put aside their obsession with the Psychic Cold War that has been ongoing for the last thirty years. Some government-appointed human soldier should not be imbued with that sort of power. It makes him dangerous.”
“Psychic Cold War?
Sokolov shrugged and settled on a chair adjacent to her hotel bed. “When you have time, look up American Police Commissioner Patrick Price. He was a limited-vision seer who manifested late in life. The CIA hired him under project StarGate. He even pinpointed a nuclear test site in Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, Russia worked with a woman named Nina Kulagina. While it’s been suggested that she was an illusionist, she was reported to have limited psychokinetic abilities, and could even stop a frog’s heart. Then she was able to restart the frog’s heart moments later. It’s difficult to fool a team of scientists repeatedly, especially ones as skeptical and serious as Russian men of science. She passed away nine years ago, so I cannot ask her or test her for myself.”
“I did not know of these people.”
“The programs were top secret, Mrs. Parker. These governments managed to find people who manifested late in life and didn’t have control over their abilities. They weren’t part of the Esoteric Community.”
“If you didn’t support it, why didn’t you object to it?”
“I was on the other side of the country studying with Robert White, who was trying to swap brains in chimps. I wasn’t aware of that nonsense until Russia wished for me to begin the super soldier program at the beginning of the 90’s.”
“Well… with or without your super project to help me, I am afraid I must return to that large complex and break in.”
“Mrs. Parker. These twins are very important. I cannot let you go getting in over your head, surrounded by scores of people in a large complex. They’ll undoubtedly be armed. You’re tolerated as JC’s wife, but most council members feel you shouldn’t be allowed in this realm. They would attack you with extreme prejudice if you broke into a complex operated by the EC. Why don’t you wait here until Jonathan can come and help you?”
“Perhaps I’ll simply do research and reconnaissance at this point.”
He folded his arms. “Mrs. Parker, you cannot shift into your fox form until after you deliver the children. There is no way of telling what would happen to twin human fetuses if you shift your body to a smaller size. Your organs and skeletal system is designed for transformation. Two human fetuses are not, meaning that you risk of crushing them to death during transformation into your smaller form.”
“Oh.” She frowned. “Perhaps, then, I will request aid from fellow kitsune, or I will seek aid from Nathanial Carrington, although that man seems completely incapable of doing anything low key. I wish to slip in, steal the mirror and leave… not level it with lightning strikes.”
“True. What is your time table?”
“The mirror could be moved again, or used to access the Celestial Realm. And since the mirror cannot be broken or taken out of the earth realm… it’s best to be hidden away.”
“I wish you luck. But please do not put yourself in danger. Oh, and by the way.”
“I understand you found a boy in a car accident seven months ago. In New York City.”
“Hai. He was injured. I saw it happen. I was still in my first trimester and saw the boy in the back seat. I thought to myself… he was someone’s son. Funny how having children of my own has changed my outlook on life. I rescued him. His head injuries were quite extensive. He spoke to me briefly then slipped into a state of unconsciousness. Why do you ask?”
“He’s a telepath.”
Sinopa eyed him. “What’s his story?”
“Ask him yourself. You were with him in France, correct? Is he here now?”
“No, doctor, he is with the girl who rescued him from New York a month ago. They left France and followed a different lead. I didn’t mean to lie to you – you’re right, I did meet him in France. But I don’t know who is out to kill him and who is out to help him.”
“I merely wish to study the boy, but I’m not allowed. Karla Chintzy and the boy are considered fugitives from the EC at this time. I have to leave, unfortunately. I’m being flown out to Chicago to treat the rather extensive injuries of one Mister Foster, who works for Reinhardt St. Leonard, the Grand Justicar.”
“I see. He’s the one who attacked me in France. But he was left unconscious and uninjured.”
Aris began to pack his belongings. “I’ll send for someone to pick up the sonogram.” He looked around furtively then took out a small device and waved it around the room. Satisfied there were no electronic bugs, he told her, “Now that I know we’re not being monitored… I know you worked with the boy and the succubus in France and I believe they’re here with you, somewhere.”
“Oh, do you now?”
“Listen to me. None of you are expendable. Do you understand? Hire help you need to, but… the three of you are important. I want you to tell Karla Chintzy I need to speak to her.”
“She and the boy stayed in France. Nathanial’s friend, Michael Richter was killed in the attacks. They’re following one lead on the mirror, I’m following another. You have my word, they’re not here. But I will pass on your message when I see them.”
“I see. Find someone to help you. Those twins are extremely important. You’re about to become a mother, Sinopa Parker. I suggest you enjoy it instead of fighting members of the EC for a mirror that may or may not even be here. And make sure the succubus and the boy stay alive. I’m currently working with an incubus who is seeking to cure his hunger by means of science and I was hoping to catch up with Miss Chintzy with my research. Anyway, I must go. I have a plane to catch and I have a helicopter that will be picking me up shortly.”
“Thank you again, Doctor.” She tied the sash of her kimono and bowed to him. He smiled politely in return, picked up the cooler by the door and left the hotel room.
Minutes later, Karla and Chance came over from the adjacent room. Chance locked the door behind himself and sat down on the bed. Karla sat down on the chair that was still warm from Aris.
The boy frowned. “He was a void. It was like there was nothing in the room with you.”
“Oh, Chance, you couldn’t read him?” Sinopa looked to Karla. “I thought you said you were going to make sure he was properly stimulated? Dare I ask what your idea of emotional and glandular stimulation consisted of?”
Karla smirked. “What? You think I went down on him or something? That would have been too distracting. I gave him a shot of Everclear in the local equivalent to Dr. Pepper. He reads people when he’s asleep, so I decided relaxing him works best. Then I sat on his lap while kissing his neck. He read you, me, the guy at the front desk… but…” She gestured to Chance.
He seemed extremely relaxed from the shot of powerful alcohol. “It was like Aris Sokolov wasn’t even there. We’re going to have to explore that compound. It’s our best play at this point. Karla’s drink made me really chill out. I was able to read every thought from both of you without even trying. He must’a found a way to block me out or something. I don’t know. So when do we go breaking into that place?”
“Nightfall. Will we be able to find our way back to it?”
Karla hooked her thumb back at Chance. “He’s the one who found it the first time. Kid is a regular Toucan Sam. Just followed his brain. Apparently in a place as empty of people as Siberia, he’s able to lock onto towns, trading outposts, and… well-staffed research facilities in the middle of nowhere. All without even trying.”
“Then… we leave in a little while. We should all rest, first. Myself included. The two of you got up in the middle of the night last night to explore. You both need rest.”
“I could sleep,” Chance said. “Alright. Then we’ll go tonight. But first, do we get to see the baby pictures?”
“Fucker,” Karla said, grinning over at Chance. “You took that thought right out of my head. I was just about to ask her that.”
“Oh, heh, sorry. It popped in my head and I thought to ask. I can’t help it if you’re the one who put the thought there. My brain is networked to yours.”
Sinopa glanced back to Karla and placed the photographs on the bed near them. “What if suggestions could be planted?”
Karla smiled innocently and reached for the baby pictures.
Chanced rubbed the side of his head. “I’m thirsty. Can we grab something to take back to our room before we lay down?” He blinked then turned to Karla. “Hey! That was you wasn’t it?”
“You need to learn how to use your brain like a proper computing center, sweetheart. And that means you need to train yourself to have a firewall in place.”
“What’s… a firewall?”
“To the best of my knowledge, it’s basically computer A’s software defense to keep computer B from getting too friendly with computer A’s files. You don’t want to empathically become sympathetic to someone convinced that you’re both suicidal.”
Chance winced. “I see your point. Still, I wonder why I couldn’t even sense that guy was there. Makes me not want to trust him.”
“Hai, it is odd. He claimed some sobering number to suggest that purely telepathic people, like you, not like Michael Richter, are extremely rare. If that were true, how would he have come up with a formidable defense against it? Something doesn’t add up, my friends.”
“Alright. Let’s take that nap. I’m kind of excited to get into the thick of things and find out what’s in that big building.” Chance paused then looked at Karla. “Correction. She is excited about stirring up trouble. I’m just mildly curious. My mistake. I just had a shot of Everclear. It’s hard to turn off my brain right now.”
“If I got you drunk, I could make you do stupid shit just by thinking about it. This could be fun later on.” Karla grinned. “Maybe this is how MK Ultra started? They might have given people LSD to try programming them while they were in a susceptible frame of mind.”
“Okay, okay. Nap time. I don’t want to think about that sort of crap.” Chance unlocked the hotel door and went back to his own room.
Karla grinned at Sinopa. She grinned back. The kitsune asked, “You really like the boy, don’t you?”
“Sure do. I haven’t had something like this in… well, ever. He’s all mine. I can be myself without feeling judged. And he genuinely cares about me. Anyway… see you tonight.” She handed the pictures back to Sinopa. “Call Jonathan. He’ll want to hear the kids are doing well. And I’m jealous. You’re going to be an awesome mom. Always wanted to know what that’s like. And what the hell did Sokolov wanna talk to me about?”
“Something about an incubus who he’s been studying. Will you find him and speak to him?”
“Hell no. He was creepy in the late 70’s when I worked with him that one time. I’m not interested. He just rubs me the wrong way.”
“Ah. Very well. I’ll call Jonathan then lay down as well. See you tonight.”
"You too. After tonight, I'm gonna be rich!" Karla left Sinopa’s room and returned to the one she was sharing with Chance.