Saturday, March 18, 2006
SOMEONE DIES IN THIS CHAPTER.
... just wanted to get your attention. ^_^
Nah, I kid, this is really more of a bridge chapter. Rest assured, we'll get things moving again next chapter~!
Disclaimer: This is my own original novel, which I've been posting regularly on this site. Past chapters can be found by scrolling down. Oh, and this story and these characters are my own intellectual property, so please, don't steal. Or I'll bite you.
It took two hours to get everyone to the Back Wards, a process that involved several trips back and forth in the packed van. The first few went without incident, but by the later trips, the refugees became less and less appreciative.
"They could stand to clean this piece of junk," whispered one elderly man to the woman sitting across from him.
"Excuse me, Grandpa?" Loki swiveled around. "For your information, Blue Heaven's a hell of a lot cleaner than you are!" He turned back to the front again when Lily tapped his shoulder. "What, girly?"
"Keep your eyes on the road," Lily said simply.
"Nothin' here to hit, if that's what you're saying" Loki grumbled.
"No, but you just missed the turn to the South Gate."
Loki cursed, yanking the steering wheel so the van did a full turn, rocking onto its left two wheels. Half the passengers in the back shrieked.
"Do you know what a turning radius is, young man?" screeched an older woman.
"Do you even have a license?" the old man barked.
Loki bit his lip as they turned into the junkyard, willing himself not to speak until the last of the grumbling passengers climbed out of the van. "So much for gratitude," he finally spat out.
"Such is the life of a good Samaritan," Tobias sang as he sauntered up to the driver's window.
"Of course," Loki sighed, climbing out of the driver's seat. On a second thought, he opened the passenger door and extended a hand to help Lily out. Then, to Tobias, "So, how goes the sitting around?"
"Don't be like that, Loki," Tobias charmed as they walked to where the others were crowded around a small fire. "We've been discussing a plan of action!"
"What's to discuss?" Loki asked as he flopped between Anton and Silas. "We’re finished here, right?"
"Not quite," Silas replied.
"It wouldn't hurt to wait around a bit, would it?" Theo looked around at everyone. "Just until someone shows up."
"I'm sure someone'll be here soon," Tobias said confidently. "We did tell that Mr. Wittenberg that the people here needed assistance—"
"Which means they're on their own," Anton cut in.
"Don't be so sure," Aidan muttered. "Elections're coming up, he can't afford to lose anyone's vote."
"Come on," Tobias pouted. "Do you all really want to stay in the smoldering city of depression any longer than necessary? Besides, we really should be getting back. Don't want to miss any valuable customers, after all."
As everyone shuffled back to the van, Aidan hurried alongside Tobias. "Back to where, exactly?"
"Our central offices, of course," Tobias said with a nod.
"Mercenaries have central offices?"
"Again with the M-word!" Tobias closed his eyes as if Aidan uttered some horrible curse.
"I don't see how you still have the energy for hysterics, Tobias," Silas sighed as he climbed into the driver's seat.
"Youthful energy," Tobias retorted. "Everyone in?" Murmurs of assent drifted from the back seats. Theo uneasily gazed out the window at the cluster of people outside. "All right, then, wave goodbye!"
As Blue Heaven jerked to life, Aidan stared in the direction of his former home; the high flames had dimmed and the skeletal remains of the buildings looked like tall, glowing coals. As if just remembering something, Theo turned around in her seat.
"Do you need to get in touch with anyone before we leave?" she asked Aidan. "Your parents, maybe? Let them know you're okay and all… maybe we could meet up with them on the way out, in case they wanted to take Lily—"
"It's fine, thank you." Aidan glanced over at his sister, and then back to Theo with a small smile. "I can talk to them later."
The three-hour drive passed mostly in silence. Aidan rested his chin against his palm, wondering why people built these long stretches of country road without building anything to look at along with it. The only things to see for miles were endless farms, pastures, and cows.
The loud bump as the car rumbled onto a bridge, followed by the rattling of the medical supplies in the back, jostled Aidan out of his daze. He squinted into the blue early morning light to see a flat marsh below them, surrounded by tall, swampy grass.
"Finally," Loki mumbled sleepily. "Is it just me, or does the drive get more boring every time?"
"Not so. I think I saw a bull this time." Theo yawned, stretching across her seat.
"Ohh, Aidan!" Tobias turned around. "I haven't warned you about our secretaries yet, have I?"
"Warned me?" Aidan frowned. "About what?"
"Well, there're some things to keep in mind when meeting the Langleys," Tobias laughed. "They hate it when you mix them up, for one: Liv's the youngest, Kate's the oldest, and Sofia's the other one."
"Never comment on how short Liv is," Loki added with a shudder. "She's a hair-puller."
"Don't… well… it's best you avoid Sofia altogether," Theo said delicately. "Actually, she might like you… high society and all that."
"And I wouldn't point out that Kate looks nothing like the other two," Tobias intoned. "She's sort of adopted."
"She's sensitive about that?" Aidan asked.
"No, she just hates when people point out the obvious." Tobias grinned.
"…if you don't mind me asking," Aidan began, looking slightly uncomfortable. "If these women are as… volatile… as you say, why are they handling customers?"
"Runs in the family, I guess," Tobias chirped. "Their oldest sister helped start the business, after all!"
"Will I be meeting her, too?"
"Evie? Nah." Tobias shrugged. "She's no longer with us." He turned around again, wiping his hand across the foggy windshield.
Aidan settled back into his seat, frowning. That flippant way Tobias said it, Aidan told himself the woman had retired… but there was something about the finality of the words, and the uncomfortable silence in the van at the mention of her name. Aidan decided he didn't want to know.
As the car squelched down the muddy road, Aidan could see a cylindrical building in the distance, emitting black smoke, which Aidan recognized as a power plant. 'Guess we must be close to civilization after all,' he thought.
The van sharply turned into a driveway, and Aidan found himself staring up at a four-story building that seemed to be built taller than it was wide. The white paint was muddy and peeled, making the house look almost grayish, and the white railing on the porch looked like it would fall apart under a person's weight. But the stained glass French doors and oval windows gave him the impression that this had been a nice house, just one that no one bothered to maintain properly. Above the door hung a faded sign: "Locke, Bristow, and Langley."
A small, blonde girl stood on the front porch, elbows resting on the rickety railing. When she saw Blue Heaven, her face lit up.
"Anton!" she sang, bounding down the porch steps and throwing her arms around his waist. "I missed you!"
Anton closed his eyes, resigned, and patted her on the head. "Good morning, Olivia."
Theo climbed out of the car, smiling at the girl. "Hey, Liv!"
Liv stiffened, and politely inclined her head towards Theo. "Hello, Theodora." Theo just laughed, ignoring the venom in the girl's voice.
"Nobody got burned?" A taller, but just as thin, version of Liv glided out onto the porch, haughtily gazing down on them. "That's a shame."
"Your concern touches my heart as always, Sofia," Tobias sighed, a hand on his chest.
Sofia looked as if she was about to reply scathingly, but a dark-skinned, curvaceous older woman pushed her aside and marched onto the porch. By deduction, Aidan figured this was Kate.
"Is it true?" Kate demanded. "Is it really on fire?"
"Well, it was," Silas drawled. "It's pretty well crispy now."
"Damn," Kate breathed. "Please tell me you still got paid?"
"Sort of!" Tobias walked up the steps, handing Kate the card with Wittenberg's number. "We're supposed to make an appointment with him next week, be sure to hound him 'til then."
"Dammit, Tobias," Kate sighed. "Next week… isn't now," she lamely finished.
"Excellent observation!" Tobias laughed.
"You know what I mean," Kate grumbled. "We've got ten people to feed here—wait. Ten?" She counted everyone, frowning. "…Tobias. Why do we got two extra?"
"Oh, that's right!" Tobias gestured towards Aidan and Lily. "Kate, Sofia, Liv, this is our new medic, Aidan, and his lovely sister, Miss Lily!" Aidan could see the sisters exchange looks, as if trying to formulate a reaction. Finally, Kate offered a lopsided smile.
"Welcome, I guess?" she laughed. "Hope you don't mind the mess. If I knew we had guests comin', I would've cleaned up a bit."
"That wouldn't be necessary, Katherine." Sofia smirked. "So where'd you pick this one up, Tobias? Side of the road?"
"Actually," Tobias corrected, "he's an intern back in the city."
"…oh." The sneer vanished, and in its place was a coquettish smile. "You never said he was a professional."
"It's… very nice to meet you all." Aidan bowed.
"Likewise," Sofia simpered.
"Well, let's not just stand out here," Kate interrupted. "I'll see if I can make some breakfast out of what we have left, then we can talk business?"
"So, Miss Kate." Silas took a bite of his pancakes. "There's business to talk?"
"Well, Dante Bateman called right before you showed up," Kate began. "He wanted to reschedule, since your last appointment was… you know… cancelled due to fire."
"No," Theo groaned. "I thought I'd escaped him, for once."
"C'mon, Theo, it's a job," Kate wheedled.
"Easy for you to say," Theo grumbled. "You don't have to deal with him. What is it this time? He thinks someone's trying to steal his paintings again? He thinks the fire was an elaborate attempt to destroy his work, right?"
"Actually, he says he received a death threat this morning… says someone's tryin' to assassinate him."
"Lovely!" Theo clapped her hands. "Give them my blessing."
"What happened to focusing on the positive, darling?" Tobias pouted.
"That disappeared when he tried to grope me."
Anton turned to look at her. "He tried to grope you?"
"Well… no," Theo admitted. "But he's always flirting, and hugging me, and talking about how nice guys finish last and all that bullshit while he pets my kneecap—"
"It's probably all in your head," Anton interrupted.
"Don't take it personally, Theo," Kate reassured. "He falls madly in love with anything with boobs and a pulse."
"Why is it just me, then?" Theo ranted. "Always talking about how selective he is, like he deserves a prize or something, sayin' he'll only go for a petite woman—"
"That's funny," Kate mused. "With me, he's always talking about full-bodied women."
"…either way!" Theo crossed her arms. "I won't work for him again even if I'm starving."
"I got news for you, honey." Kate poked Theo in the ribs. "You are starving."
"Wait," Aidan cut in. "Dante Bateman? As in Harry and Maria's son?"
"That's right, you prob'ly know him, don't you?" Kate nodded. "After the fire, he evacuated to his parents' villa in Bellerophon."
"Oh, are we close to Bellerophon?" Aidan sighed in relief; they hadn't left civilization after all.
"Barely a half hour's drive," Kate said cheerfully.
"But… but but… we don't actually have to go, right?" Theo pleaded.
"Oh, please!" Sofia let out a loud sigh. "At least Dante is more civilized than you."
"Sofia," Kate growled. "What d'you think your sister would do if she were here?"
The tension in the air was palpable. Aidan and Lily exchanged a look of confusion, and the others looked at each other, unsure if they should break the silence. Finally, Sofia, who was steadily turning red, stood up, nearly taking the table with her.
"Evelyn'd put you on the street where you belong, you uncultured pig!" she shrieked.
"What's that?" Kate hollered, standing up as well. "Evie would take a belt to that prissy hide of yours!"
"You guys," Liv whined. "She'd tell you to stop fighting!"
"What makes you the expert?" Sofia snapped.
"She liked me best," Liv whimpered.
As the sisters crashed into an argument about exactly whom Evelyn liked best, Aidan watched, wide-eyed. '…is everyone in this business a raving lunatic?' he thought. It seemed Tobias' frivolous attitude was contagious.
"Anton and I are just gonna… take a shower before we leave," Theo laughed nervously. "Right, Anton?" Anton simply nodded, standing up and nearly dragging his wife away from the table.
"I better go put some gas in Blue Heaven, so we can get to Bellerophon," Loki mumbled. "Uh… you wanna help, girly?"
"Why would you need help?" Lily asked.
"Well, y'know, I might need someone to… hold the can?"
"Very well." Lily allowed herself to be shepherded out the door.
"Excuse me?" Aidan tried to cut in weakly. "I'm sure your sister wouldn't want you to argue—" As soon as the words left his mouth, Tobias and Silas grabbed him by the arms and began to drag him outside.
"Mind the china, ladies!" Tobias yelled back into the kitchen as they hurried onto the porch, leaving the crashing and screaming behind them.
Hope you enjoyed! Feedback is good for my soul!