The Garden Prison

The Garden Prison

Status: Finished

Genre: Fantasy

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Fantasy

Summary

The days were humid and overcast, stretching back in an unchanging line since before the memories of even the land's oldest inhabitants. From castles and mansions of unparalleled beauty and decadence, a ruling class of demigods watches over their garden kingdom. Below, the masses toil, fight and die, either fanatically devoted or oppressed into cowed subservience to their masters above. Along the borders of these lands, inhuman nightmares prey on the weak and unlucky, constantly testing the strengths and limits of civilization, another wall of the eternal garden prison. Alexandria Delacroix, a woman without direction taken in by a family not of blood, but of care and devotion. A family with a colourful and enigmatic history, semi-mythological ancestors who spoke to gods and angels, traveling to a distant garden paradise. Alex's flat-mates are now outcasts from the more traditional roots of the family, trying to find a balance between their archaic and eccentric heritage, and surviving in a modern-day urban jungle. The lines between religious mythology and reality are suddenly and violently blurred as Alex is taken from her home in Chicago by agents in the employ of a powerful corporation with a strange interest in her family. Now a royal prisoner in a world that appears to be a twisted reflection of the biblical garden of Eden, Alex's only hope is to return home to her family, to warn them of the things that hunt them and the horrifying truths behind their ancestral stories. A story of love and desperation. A novel of eroticism and horror. A twisted epic of fantastic realms, brutal reality and the characters that live, breath, fight, love, and die within.

Summary

The days were humid and overcast, stretching back in an unchanging line since before the memories of even the land's oldest inhabitants. From castles and mansions of unparalleled beauty and decadence, a ruling class of demigods watches over their garden kingdom. Below, the masses toil, fight and die, either fanatically devoted or oppressed into cowed subservience to their masters above. Along the borders of these lands, inhuman nightmares prey on the weak and unlucky, constantly testing the strengths and limits of civilization, another wall of the eternal garden prison.

Alexandria Delacroix, a woman without direction taken in by a family not of blood, but of care and devotion. A family with a colourful and enigmatic history, semi-mythological ancestors who spoke to gods and angels, traveling to a distant garden paradise. Alex's flat-mates are now outcasts from the more traditional roots of the family, trying to find a balance between their archaic and eccentric heritage, and surviving in a modern-day urban jungle.

The lines between religious mythology and reality are suddenly and violently blurred as Alex is taken from her home in Chicago by agents in the employ of a powerful corporation with a strange interest in her family. Now a royal prisoner in a world that appears to be a twisted reflection of the biblical garden of Eden, Alex's only hope is to return home to her family, to warn them of the things that hunt them and the horrifying truths behind their ancestral stories.

A story of love and desperation. A novel of eroticism and horror. A twisted epic of fantastic realms, brutal reality and the characters that live, breath, fight, love, and die within.

Chapter1 (v.1) - The Garden Prison

Author Chapter Note

In the midst of a funeral, Alexandria is invited out on a strange trip that could result in far-reaching consequences.

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: October 11, 2012

Reads: 777

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: October 11, 2012

A A A

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Chapter 1

The girl at the funeral.

A mild breeze disturbed several of the fallen leaves, inspiring them to twist in uncertain, serpentine patterns through the legs of people and furniture. The late evening sun lengthened the shadows, turning the ground into a jail of dark and light, locking in those beneath. One of the leaves settled by a pair of black boots, and from within the folds of dried vegetable matter came a solitary mosquito. Uncertainly, it took to the air, wobbling erratically in the breeze. A fragile collection of wispy segmented legs and body, directed not so much by intelligence as a collection of hardwired instincts.

Disturbed by a sudden change in the breeze, the mosquito tumbled weightlessly onto the back of the girl's hand. Lifting momentarily into flight again, the mosquito's primitive brain registered the girl's body heat, and with it the likelihood of sustenance. Altering its course, the mosquito settled back onto the girl's hand, this time more deliberately. Six legs repositioned to stabilize the creature before it slowly, delicately pierced the girl's skin with its long, thin proboscis.

The girl looked down at the mosquito feeding from her. The pain was sudden, minor, but rapidly growing in annoyance and intensity. She raised her other hand, pale with long, slim fingers, ready to crush the fragile creature into an unrecognizable mass of disrupted body parts. The girl hesitated, then elected to wave the mosquito away instead. The gust of wind from her hand ripped the tiny creature away, sending it tumbling ungracefully through the air.

The girl's name was Alexandria Delacroix, and though she had the look of someone in her mid to late teens, she was actually a few months short of twenty three. She was tall and thin, a condition that didn't seem to change no matter what her eating habits. With summer changing quickly into fall, the majority of her body was covered in a form-concealing gray woolen coat. Beneath this, incongruous, was a black tank top and long, flowing black skirt. Her hair was a mass of locks tumbling down to the middle of her back, always threatening to become a tangled mess but never quite following through. The testing ground of any number of half-hearted dye-jobs, her hair was a haphazard collection of colours, ranging from orange to purple to vivid red, fading away to softer browns and the occasional deep ebony sheen, prophetic of what the trees would soon display in the change of the seasons.

Alex was paying a distracted attention to the people around her, she was one of the few sitting in the small park. The rest stood and mingled, most dressed in black as well. What few conversations that were audible were still subdued beyond the point of coherence. Occasionally someone would split from the loosely connected cliques, attempting to engage the other most obviously solitary figure in conversation or comfort it. Alex didn't receive the same attention, she didn't mind. She didn't know how to properly act at a funeral and so settled for a neutral silence.

Not that she wasn't feeling anything for the deceased. Her emotions over the whole matter were tangled and near indecipherable, she didn't know how to properly sort them herself, let alone how to express them in a socially acceptable context. She hoped that most would assume she had gone into a silent, numb shock regarding the whole matter and leave her be. It was three quarters of the way to the truth anyways. Alex was just another piece of scenery, another object that orbited the central fixture of the occasion, the other lone figure that knelt in quiet sorrow by the fresh gravestone.

Alex hadn't known David that long, but the small time she had known him, he had impressed her as a remarkably beautiful person in thought and action, in addition to being wholly adequate in physical looks. He was a source of quiet comfort in the apartment, going out to do his job, coming back with support and the occasional material goods. He had his own life, his own interests, but kept them in remarkable balance with the necessities of the communal living arrangement in the apartment. Occasionally, rarely he had let hints drop of his personal life, of a family that was splitting apart at the seams, but he never let the matter interfere with the smooth running of the apartment. He was, as far as Alex was concerned, an admirable figure.

And now he was dead.

Numb shock, that was probably closest to the truth. Alex knew on an intellectual level that he no longer lived, that he was gone and never coming back. On an emotional level it just hadn't struck yet. He was gone, he was not here, but that wasn't too concerning as he had been gone many times before. To work, to the store, to personal interests. Only time would impress on her emotions the fact that his absence was permanent. So Alex sat in silence, thoughtful yet not clearly feeling the atmosphere yet. Of the several dozen people here, she only knew two. One, the woman who knelt by the gravestone, the other not visible at the moment.

The rest were allegedly friends, or brethren. Family, though not David's. The funeral proper had actually been held several days ago, Alex hadn't attended that. This was a wholly separate ceremony, with a slightly more restricted guest list. David's family didn't understand or approve of the beliefs and traditions of others in the apartment he lived in. Like everything else in his life, though, David managed to strike a precarious balance between his biological family and his circle of friends.

Now after death, this balance was kept so carefully in check by making sure contact between the two was indirect at best. The biological family had been here before, now the distant friends had come to see him off in their own way, in their own custom. First among them was Sasha, the mourning woman by the gravestone. Sasha was the primary reason David had come to live in the same apartment as Alex. Sasha and David were, to put it crudely, an item. Sasha came from a background of unorthodox customs, rituals and beliefs. The people here today were mostly associated with her.

Alex herself occupied a strange position as a tolerated interloper. She wasn't an accepted member in most of Sasha's social circles, though Sasha accepted her as family in most other ways. She was still allowed to be a part of things, even if only as an observer, by virtue of the fact that Sasha insisted on it, and that Alex never made a habit of causing trouble.

As an observer, Alex remained ignorant of a majority of the symbolism behind this gathering. There was the socializing, the quiet consolation, the occasional repressed sob, all things she expected to see at a funeral. The other things, though, were a little more inexplicable. The wordless circle of people that would form around the headstone and pass an intricately woven set of tree-branches between each other before dispersing. The sharing of the goblet of dark red wine with what looked like a gnarled section of root dunked inside between certain attendees (Alex had been afraid she would be expected to take a drink, she didn't like wine at all). The occasional recitations in an unknown foreign language from certain small books pulled out at seemingly random times. All this Alex watched with a slightly disconnected half-interest.

Once during the proceedings, she tried crying herself. She stopped a few moments later, a little embarrassed at how unconvincing the sounds were. The crying had been more out of guilt over not showing more visible emotion over the whole affair than anything else. Now, sitting in silence, watching everything, Alex was beginning to feel awkward again. She offered one last glance at the kneeling, veiled figure of Sasha. There was little Alex could do to comfort the woman, if comfort was what she wanted at the moment. Sasha was among friends here, she'd be fine if Alex wasn't there for a short while. Alex decided to get up and take a walk by herself.

No one objected, or even seemed to take particular notice as Alex stood up, gathered the woolen coat a little more closely around herself and strode off. What little murmured conversation she had heard faded away as Alex allowed herself to be swallowed by the dusk scenery of Rosehill Cemetery. Alex didn't make a habit of thinking about her own finite mortality, but on this day she found herself admitting that this was a singularly beautiful location to be interred.

Another mildly chilled breeze unsettled the leaf-littered walkways of the cemetery, the air was biting a little more as the sun retreated further behind the horizon. Would the mosquito freeze to death tonight, or successfully hitch a ride into someone's warm house? Though still clothed for summer, the trees were already showing signs of coming loose at the seams, shedding the first leaves of an early fall. Soon this verdant twilight green would be replaced with a canopy of bronze and gold. A fractured maze of sleeping vegetation, above, below, on all sides. Thick patches of trees intermingled with vine-wrapped mausoleums, blocks of cold blue granite cloaked in black spiderwebs. Alex found her way to a collection of four tombs, surrounding a crumbling, non-functional fountain topped with a cracked Roman goddess in marble and her now dusty jug poised over a lichen-encrusted dry pond bed.

Sitting down on one of the wrought iron benches, Alex looked up to see leaves shifting in the wind, occasionally parting to reveal glimpses of a darker blue sky above. It was here, far from the oppressive indifference of people she didn't know that Alex shed the first genuine tears of the day. She had loved David, he was a good person and the world was a little colder for his absence. He had worked hard, more for others than himself. Alex had been one of the beneficiaries of this altruism, often feeling the insufficiently motivating guilt that came with passively accepting the material support he offered.

Before coming to this apartment nearly four months ago, Alex had survived on the streets. To say it like that gave a misleading impression of rugged self-reliance. Alex hadn't been one of those vagrants or homeless who could truly survive on their own, subsisting on the scraps that fell through the cracks of society. Before her time in this apartment, with the constant companionship of Sasha, David and Mika, and the more sporadic time spent with other interlopers here, Alex hadn't truly spent any time huddled cold in Chicago alleyways, desperately begging for a handout. She had spent one night on a bench in a lakefront park, but it had been so warm that weather hadn't been a concern. Outside of that she had drifted from house to apartment back to house, living off the concern of her short list of friends and contacts before moving on, deathly afraid of her continued presence there becoming awkward and unwelcome.

The change in this nomadic lifestyle had come at a public computer with internet access at the library. Mika, someone Alex had met in person all of twice before this, asked how she was doing. Alex replied bluntly that she had been ejected from her parents' home, that certain aspects of her beliefs and philosophy had been discovered, and were found to be incompatible with her own parents' views. This hadn't come as much of a surprise at the time, Alex knew she couldn't hide herself forever from her parents. Much like the funeral, the emotional impact of being suddenly homeless wouldn't strike Alex until long after the fact. Mika had offered to arrange for Alex to stay with her, Sasha and David until she could find her feet again and Alex, ever passively willing to accept aid, took Mika up on the offer.

It was much the same as anything else in her life: Alex was averse to making waves, so she merely tried to position herself near favourable currents.

Alex found she had a room with Mika, a mattress on the floor next to Mika's. After a few days, at Sasha's encouragement, Alex made things official by changing her legal address to this location. A week later a paycheck came for her, the last check from her previous job, a job she had wordlessly walked out of on the same day she was ejected from her parents' house. The money from the check was given as a whole to Sasha, and by proxy to the running of the apartment. Alex didn't feel she could make better use of it herself. Since then a new job had been searched for, but so far nothing had presented itself. That was alright, David worked full time at the Maccadyne Incorporated building as a data-entry technician, providing just enough money to sustain the apartment with a little extra on top.

Now David was dead.

No, it hadn't quite hit yet. The tears were genuine but few, containing only a hint of the emotion held back by numbly enforced ignorance.

Someone walked up to Alex, their footsteps scraping oddly on the concrete pathway. Alex looked up to see who had joined her in the growing dusk, hoping vaguely that it was Mika. There was no one there, only the Roman goddess kept her company. Perplexed, Alex let her head drift backward again, seeing if she could catch the first stars between the leaves overhead. The footsteps continued, this time walking past her and on down a side path, between two of the mausoleums.

Alex snapped her head back, looking for the creator of the sounds. There was no one there, though she could still hear the footsteps walking away, behind the mausoleum.

"Hello?" Alex offered, her voice thin, barely carrying over the soft breeze.

She got up, following the phantom walker down the shadowy path between mausoleums. Perhaps this was a ghost, Alex hoped. Alex didn't believe in ghosts, at least not in the same sense that most people did, but the promise of something unnatural and unnerving attracted her deeply. The rear of the mausoleum was in even deeper shadow than the alleyway between, a short cobblestone wall turning the area into a near tunnel. Alex walked into the shade, coming up to the small, cross shaped aperture that formed the rear-window of the mausoleum. On a whim, she looked through it.

A pale face stared back at her through the aperture. Alex gasped and reactively stepped backward, cracking her head soundly on the cobblestone wall behind her. Grabbing her skull in pain, Alex looked through the opening again. She breathed heavily in pain and surprise, her eyes attempting to search the impenetrable darkness beyond. There was no one inside the mausoleum, no light to see anyone by. Alex remained on the spot for a few moments longer, trying to make sense of what she thought she saw.

The face hadn't been staring, she had merely assumed it was. No, the eyes were shut, and there was something strange about the fashion they were shut. There was something strange about the face as a whole, but that was a different strangeness than what the closed eyes held. A familiarity about it, as if Alex had seen that face before. The source of the recollection eluded her, and Alex felt a slight fear of what she might discover if she remembered where she had seen that face.

Giving up for the moment, Alex returned to the open area in the middle of the mausoleums, rubbing the back of her head. A cold fear gripped her chest for the moment as she saw someone out there waiting for her, standing by the iron bench. A second later and the fright passed, it was only Mika, looking at her curiously. Alex gave a weak smile, rubbing her head one last time and walking up to Mika.

"You wandered off," Mika said plainly.

"Yeah, I needed to be alone with my thoughts," Alex said, mostly true.

Mika nodded and reached into one of her voluminous pockets, drawing out a pack of cigarettes, offering one to Alex. A pointless ritual, Alex didn't smoke and Mika knew it. Yet she always offered, and Alex always declined. Every once in a while, rarely, Alex would ask to take a drag off one of Mika's already lit cigarettes. She never properly inhaled, merely sucked a small amount of smoke into her mouth, getting a taste of the fumes. She liked the taste of cloves the most, felt most others tasted the way musty attics smelled.

Of the two of them, Mika was the shorter one. Still a little taller than average for a female, though she often maintained a sort of slouch whenever she stood. Her hair was longer than Alex's, straighter, a uniform black that gave off hints of reddish-brown only in direct sunlight. Her facial features held traces of gypsy heritage, slightly swarthy with a strong nose and defined brow. She was definitely Sasha's daughter, both of them having the same deep set brown eyes.

To Alexandria Delacroix, Mika was beautiful.

She had stated as much more than once, and Mika had quietly accepted the compliment in that aggravating, obliging fashion. There was little chance that Mika hadn't figured out Alex had feelings for her to at least some extent, but she never showed any signs of acknowledgement. Aside from occasional non-committal social flirting, Mika never indicated if Alex's feelings were returned.

"And have these thoughts reached any sort of conclusion?" Mika asked, taking a drag from the cigarette and directing the smoke away from Alex.

"It's hard to say," Alex admitted, "I'm not in the most reliable of mental states right now."

"What did you know of David?" Mika asked.

Alex licked her lips, "Enough to know that he was a good man, but not enough, I feel, to properly appreciate just how good he was."

"Think he's in Heaven now?" Mika asked suddenly.

"I don't place much belief in Heaven," Alex replied quickly.

"Hell, then?"

"Same deal," Alex said, "I've been finding it hard to believe in any sort of afterlife at all."

Mika nodded. She rubbed her nose thoughtfully, "He was a good man. I can't say that for many people so readily. He was involved with my mother, but I always saw him more as an older brother than a father."

Alex remained quiet. Mika's father was a subject that was never really brought up at any length. All Alex knew for sure was that things hadn't exactly gone well between Mika, Sasha, and Mika's father.

"I don't think any of us knew enough about David," Mika continued, she took another drag. Mika's eyes were downcast, observing the darkening cracks in the pavement. Whatever emotions she kept inside were not betrayed by those eyes, Alex remained ignorant of Mika's feelings on the subject of his death. Mika continued, "I think we should have known more, I want to find out more. Do you?"

"Do I?" Alex was taken off guard by the question, "Yes, I guess I do."

"Even if what you find out may not be wholly positive?" Mika persisted.

Alex looked at Mika, the younger woman was trying to tell her something, but Alex could not divine what. This seemed to be a test, many of Mika's conversations were tests. It's what Mika did, often without intending to. She tested people, probing their limits, seeing how far they would go, at least in a verbal sense. In some ways Alex hoped she passed more often than not. "Like I said," Alex hazarded, "I think he was a good man. If that perception is false, then we owe it to ourselves to find that out and deal with the truth."

Mika looked Alex in the eyes, contact was made for just a brief moment before she looked away again. She ground the cigarette out on the edge of the crumbling fountain, the goddess didn't object. "Walk with me," Mika said.

Alex had passed the test for now. "Where are we going?" she asked, keeping pace with Mika.

"To find out the truth," Mika said, "Do you have any change on you?"

"Change? No," Alex said, "Should I?"

"No matter, I have some, we'll need it for bus fare," Mika said.

"Where are we going?" Alex asked again, not satisfied with Mika's first answer.

"The Maccadyne Incorporated building," Mika said, "We're going to do something illegal."

Trailing in Mika's wake, Alex allowed herself to be led back towards the funereal gathering. She waited near the very edge of the social circle as Mika threaded her way inside, pausing long enough to grab her bag and hoist it to her shoulder in one fluid motion. Two people split off to address Mika, and were sent away with unheard, gentle rebuffs. One of them was Sasha, she watched Mika walk back towards Alex, her shadowed eyes inscrutable as the two girls left the vicinity of the funeral.

"Let them deal with their God," Mika said as they walked away.

"Are they religious?" Alex asked, "It was kind of hard to tell, I don't know what Sasha's friends believe."

Mika nodded, "Quite religious, you'll find a lot of the family traditions center around God. Not that Sasha and I necessarily share those beliefs."

Rosehill Cemetery was large, nearly a square mile, and it was a twenty minute walk to the intersection of Peterson and Ravenswood Avenue. From here Mika and Alex walked another five minutes to North Clark Street and managed to catch a bus heading south just in time. In the middle of the evening there was no sitting space available. Alex hung precariously off the ceiling rail, Mika's near-emaciated form in front of her (the woman was one of the few people Alex knew who was thinner than she was, again nothing to do with any eating disorder, just another freak occurrence with metabolism), a portly old Mexican man behind her.

Heat and body odour crowded Alex in from all sides, a musty, pressing humidity tinged with the scents of exhausted deodorant and stopgap colognes. The white-collar exodus was in full swing, the masses leaving their glass and steel citadels to deliver their earnings to the homestead. Alex felt a momentary pang of sorrow, David would be among this mass of people, a brief relatable glimpse amidst a sea of the faceless. She moved a little closer to Mika, seeking comfort and stability in the the shorter woman's seeming indifference to it all.

The standing crowd swayed back and forth as the bus stopped, accelerated, then stopped again. Alex kept her handbag close to her while Mika did the same with her own bag. Neither had lost anything on public transport yet, but both were well aware of the risks. Alex had once been molested on the Elevated two months ago. It was brief, a calloused hand roving quickly and efficiently under her skirt, pressing between her legs and rubbing abrasive fingers across her panties before retreating. Alex never saw who did it, the event was over before she comprehended what was going on, she was only glad she hadn't made any noise or scene in reaction to the sudden violation, hadn't attracted awkward attention to herself. Since then she had made a habit of keeping her legs pressed tightly together on any trip involving public transportation. It was an unsurprising event, inevitable in Alex's view. She was a female who regularly went out in skirts, the opportunistic were certain to eventually take advantage of that in this mostly consequence-free, anonymous environment.

What could Alex do? Wear pants? She liked wearing skirts more, didn't want to admit defeat at the literal hands of a single unwelcome intrusion, didn't want to change her ways until it became aggravatingly necessary to do so. That was her problem in the end, Alex didn't want to make waves, didn't want to disturb the disconnected equilibrium between herself and the rest of the world. Humanity would always be there, for as long as she lived. They had their own lives and she hers, as long as they provided her with the material support she needed to survive, she wouldn't rock the boat and keep to her own more insular interests. Not a healthy worldview, but any change to it would involve aggressive association with others, Alex wasn't ready for that.

That was why she was in this situation, after all. She never outright asked to live with Mika and Sasha, just like she never asked to be homeless before then. The situation was merely offered to her and she accepted it. Let others provide the drive and direction in her life, and she would offer gratitude in the form of whatever material support she could provide, enough to ease her own conscience, convince herself she wasn't abusing the generosity of others.

It was why she was here now with Mika, following her without complaint or conflict to what Mika outright stated would be a risky and illegal situation. Between the two of them, Mika was the driven one, the assertive one. Let her lead the way and Alex would follow. Part of it was the steadily growing crush Alex had on Mika, part of it was simply that Alex was grateful to have someone to attach herself to, someone who seemed to know what they were doing.

The bus pulled to a stop downtown, Mika's body language indicated it was time to disembark. The pair of them squeezed past the mass of other passengers, heading for the front door. Was that an inquisitive hand running softly across the minimal curve of Alex's backside? No, just a shoulder she had inadvertently jarred with her rear. The crowd was left behind with minimal fuss, the warm fug replaced with the chill night air of late Chicago summer. When they had gotten on the bus, the surroundings had been block after block of brick tenements, classical arches and gaudy glass storefronts. Now, several miles south, they were locked in the geometric prison of modern skyscrapers. The streets were wider, more efficiently organized, the crowds on the sidewalks more expensively dressed, a little more uniformly Caucasian. The scraggly vegetable growth that poked between cracked slabs of concrete replaced with well controlled trees and shrubs placed attractively, evenly along the sidewalk.

Mika led the way, taking a smaller side-street away from Clark. Alex didn't know her way around downtown, she was more familiar with the near north side. Of the two of them, only Mika knew for certain the exact address that David had worked. She had visited him on the job more than once, bringing back sparse stories of his place of employment. Alex was horrible with directions. Given a map she might be able to find her way, but navigating the geography of streets was not her strong suit. She only knew that David had worked at the Maccadyne Incorporated building, and that building was downtown. Everything else she was depending on Mika for.

They stopped in front of a building much like the ones surrounding it, perhaps a little shorter. Steps led up to a pair of glass double doors, which in turn led into a well lit lobby. Alex made it up two steps before the soft weight of Mika's restraining hand settled on her shoulder, "Wait."

Alex turned back, "Why?"

Mika pointed into the building, "Security. He makes a patrol of the ground floor every half hour, we've got a few minutes before our opening."

Alex nodded, understanding. Mika knew things about the company, she had talked often with David about it. The finer details always managed to escape Alex's limited attention, but the general atmosphere of interest shown by the other two was palpable. To Alex, Maccadyne was just what it appeared to be: A massive, international corporation. A weighty, parasitic business on the face of the Earth, guilty of the same sins as any similarly large corporation. To Mika and David, Maccadyne seemed to be more, a shiny glass shell over something darker, crimes and secrets greater than simple corporate apathy and dehumanization. Alex leaned against the short, cold wall next to Mika. Biting her lip nervously, Alex decided to confront Mika about something, "Mika, why are we here?"

"I've already told you."

"You haven't told me enough," Alex protested, "What are you trying to find out? How are you going to do it? Most importantly, why do you question how David died?"

"Call it a hunch," Mika said, she hadn't looked up yet, "I'm not convinced by Maccadyne's story on the matter."

"That David was hit by a truck whose brakes had gone out while he was leaving work?" Alex asked.

Mika nodded. She took out a cigarette and lit it, "Does it sound plausible to you?"

"It's all I've got to go on," Alex said, "I see no reason to assume anything else. Maccadyne's a huge, heartless corporation, but they're not cartoonishly evil."

"No, but they do have a lot to hide," Mika said, taking a drag off the cigarette, "I'm wondering if David's death and the circumstances surrounding it are among those things."

"Are you sure that's the only reason you're here?" Alex pressed, "You aren't using David's death as an excuse?"

Mika glared at Alex. Dark eyes suddenly flared with piercing emotion, making her regret the insinuation. Before Alex had a chance to be hurt by the glance, Mika was looking back down at the ground, "Why are you here?"

"Because you are," Alex said, "Because you asked me along with you."

"I told you it would be illegal. If that's your reason, then you're a fool," Mika said.

"Someone needs to keep you out of trouble," Alex suggested.

"And you're going to do that?" Mika asked.

"I'm going to try," Alex said, "Besides, I'm a little curious to see what goes on inside one of the most powerful corporations in the world. Do they keep aliens in the basement?"

"Perhaps you're just a voyeur," Mika said, the smile she gave was genuine this time.

"And you're not?" Alex asked.

The smile disappeared, "You know why I'm here."

Remaining silent in the wake of the unstated admonishment, Alex followed Mika towards the glass doors of the building. The security desk, a stately granite affair, was unmanned as they walked briskly past. Mika led the way down a side hall, into the womens' bathroom. Here they waited, hidden like schoolgirls in one of the stalls, cloaked by faux-marble partitions bolted onto glistening tiles. According to Mika it would take the guard about five minutes to complete his rounds. Once he was back at his desk, they could make their way further in.

"Okay, this confuses me," Alex said, "Maccadyne is an international powerhouse of a corporation, exactly how is it that we can slip past their security so easily?"

"This is just the administrative portion of their operation," Mika said simply, "They concentrate their power in the areas they truly care about. It gives us an opening to try and fish some informative scraps out while they're not looking."

Alex accepted this and remained quiet at Mika's urging. After a few minutes Mika cracked the door and looked out. She indicated that Alex should follow, and both made their way to a door with a card reader. The black sign overhead said 'Data Entry and Records Retention'. Mika slid the white card through the slot. There was a soft click and a green light briefly glowed. Carefully she opened the door, turning back to Alex, "Keep low, there may be some people working late."

With a nod Alex followed her. It was easy enough for them to duck down beneath the visual line of the rows of cubicles, to lose themselves in a maze of carpeted, sound-absorbing walls. The lights in this area were low, only punctuated twice by the pale blue glow of computer screens, two people here still working, clicking softly away for the greater benefit of the corporation, the slightly lesser benefit to their own paychecks. Mika and Alex skirted the edge of the cubicle farm, making their way to another door, a sign informing them that this led to the central stairwell. There was no swipe needed to pass through here, and within moments they were out in the harsh white light. "Third floor," Mika said simply before starting upward.

Alex followed again, she was good at that. She briefly wondered if Sasha knew about this outing, she had seen Mika talking to her momentarily. Alex guessed she didn't. Sasha was rather protective over her only daughter, would be unlikely to let Mika do something like this. The relationship between Mika and Sasha was a strange one. They loved each other while remaining steadily aggravated with the others' habits. Mika remained convinced that Sasha was overbearing, paranoid in her protectiveness. Sasha felt that Mika was too ephemeral, that the world around her would only tolerate her action for so long before reality drove home some very cruel points. Both had confided these things to Alex at one point or another, Alex dutifully kept their secrets.

On the third floor, Mika found a cubicle that looked exactly like any other. She gave the mouse a slight jostle, and once the screen had lit up, entered a few swift keystrokes. "Well I'll be, they haven't deactivated his account yet," Mika breathed. She addressed Alex, "Look in my bag, I should have the external and a spare USB in there."

Alex complied, opening up Mika's backpack and shifting some items aside. She found what she was looking for and handed it over. Mika never left home without this battered sack, a worn item of stitched leather, maroon and gray. Inside was a strange survival kit. A pocketknife, a multitool that included pliers and a screwdriver, an external hard-drive, ready to hook up to anyone's computer, a crowbar, two role-playing rulebooks, spare cigarettes, spare tampons, spare lighters, and finally a clasped and locked notebook.

"Notebook," Mika said, Alex complied. Mika pulled a small key out of one small pocket in her strapped unipant, as she unlocked the notebook she said, "Be a dear and keep an eye out, this might take a few minutes."

"Got it," Alex said.

Alex never saw more than the occasional, partial glance of individual pages inside that notebook. Mika's possessions were open to Alex's use, all but that one. Of course Alex never took advantage of this generosity, while impatiently waiting for the day she would get a full look inside that mysterious notebook, a day that would likely never come.

Alex wandered over to the stairwell door, offering a brief glance inside. No one was visible. Satisfied, Alex closed the door only to catch movement in her peripheral vision. She straightened up suddenly, trying to verify if what she had seen was real, eyes flicking over the edges of the cubicle hedge-maze. Alex looked back to see Mika still hunched over the computer. She should probably check this out, just in case. Compulsively ducking low beneath the cubicle walls, Alex padded as quietly as she could to where she thought she had seen someone move. There was no one there.

Alex was about to walk back to the stairwell when she saw the person standing at the far end of the row. Fear granted Alex a stiffening paralysis as she realized the figure was looking directly at her, less than thirty feet away. It was difficult to tell in the surrounding darkness, but it looked feminine, wearing a dark gray or black coat that extended down to her ankles. The woman didn't move, just staring at Alex. No, not staring, her eyes were closed... just like...

Alex blinked and the woman was gone. She hadn't moved her head at all, the blink had taken a fraction of a second, yet the woman was gone. Alex shook her head in disbelief, was she seeing things now? Had she been haunted? Was this all just a dream?

Presently Alex became aware of other noises, a voice, "Hold still, damn you!"

Shifting Mika's bag, which she had unconsciously placed on her shoulder before walking out here, Alex looked over to where her room-mate had been working. Her breath caught in her throat, Mika wasn't alone. A portly man in a suit stood in the cubicle. It was difficult to tell with the cubicle wall in the way, but it looked like he had someone bent over the desk inside. "I said hold still! I knew I saw someone sneaking in, where's your friend, huh?"

Alex heard Mika say something muffled, nothing she could make out. There was a ripping, plastic sound, like a zip-tie being pulled tight. "Alright hon, you're coming with me," the man said, "Keep you secure until the police come to pick you up."

The man stepped back, pulling Mika to a standing position. Alex crouched down as the security guard's eyes briefly passed over where she stood. He made no indication that he had seen her in the darkened office. Alex nearly collapsed against one of the cubicles in tingling fear and panic, she was hyperventilating. Forcing herself to calm down, she snuck a glance over the cubicle walls. The security guard was marching Mika in front of him. Mika's disheveled hair covered most of the wildly beautiful imperfection of her face, and she stumbled more than once in the rough treatment. There was an expression of mildly pained indifference briefly visible as she marched, as if this were no more than a temporary and annoying inconvenience.

Alex tried to think of anything she could do, clutching desperately at Mika's bag. Her hand curled almost unconsciously around a length of steel hidden inside the bag. Alex's eyes widened, she stood up. A strange disconnected feeling washed over her as she strode suddenly purposefully towards the stairwell, on an intercept course with the security guard and his gypsy-featured prisoner.

"What the hell?" Closer inspection revealed the guard to be middle-aged with short curly hair and thick glasses. The tag on his suit said 'Pinnows'. He regarded Alex with surprise and suspicion, "Alright lady, come on over here if you don't want any trouble."

Alex's teeth were chattering. Some part of her mind, a vicious portion concerned only with survival and protection of loved ones, was giving very firm orders. Orders that Alex would normally balk at. Right now, though, she was desperate, she allowed this animal mind some measure of authority over her body. Alex stepped forward quickly, she brought the crowbar she had fished from Mika's bag around in a cruel arc.

The sense of disconnection snapped viciously away as resistance met her swing and a wet, meaty cracking sound pierced her ears. Alex gasped at her own actions, the sound lost in the scream of pain Security Guard Pinnows was now giving. He released Mika immediately, dropping heavily to the floor and grabbing his knee. He was crying, the middle aged man was crying like a child who had skinned their knee. Except his knee wasn't just skinned, there was a darker spot spreading on his trousers, right at the point Alex had struck him. How hard had she swung? Her hand smarted, but she could barely remember the intensity of the blow.

"The external," Mika was saying calmly, "Grab the external."

"I just..." Alex fumbled, waving a hand vaguely at the downed Mr. Pinnows, "I... I..."

Mika stepped forward. She used her body to make contact with Alex, her arms held in a contorted position behind her back, her wrists were bound with a zip-tie, the earlier sound was explained, at least. Forcing Alex to look at her through physical contact, leaning in close enough to kiss, Mika hissed, "Grab the external and let's get out of here."

Nodding dumbly, Alex complied, nearly tripping over herself to get to the desk. She grabbed the thick device, slipping it into the bag as she staggered along. The two of them edged past the crying guard, into the stairwell. Alex's perception became numbed as adrenaline began to wear off. She vaguely remembered heading down endless flights of stairs, her feet hurting by the time they jumped down the third landing. She hadn't been moving very gracefully, needlessly exerting herself. Once outside, she noticed Mika's hands were now free. Had she done that? She couldn't remember. But they were outside, had they gotten away?

It didn't matter now. Mika, like always, took control of the situation, leading Alex away to temporary salvation. Alex allowed herself to be led, to be swallowed by the night as she was taken away from the Maccadyne building. It was the easiest thing to do, after all.


© Copyright 2018 Djinnkitty. All rights reserved.

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