A Choice is Made
The Messenger withdrew a few feet from Cheska. He was quiet for a moment. Both were aware that her abilities reacted to her emotions. The Messenger had almost lost his life when he’d approached her yesterday. He didn’t want to have a repeat of the incident.
“I can take it,” Cheska assured him. “Is this about Fred?”
The Messenger nodded.
She braced herself. “Go on.”
“The doctor,” he said slowly, “had his gift sealed away.”
“What do you mean sealed away?” Cheska’s brows drew together. Fred couldn’t control his gift when he was angry. It was possible he wasn’t even aware that the weather mirrored his anger. Who would do it for him? She eyed the Messenger suspiciously. Was it him? The Oracle? The King? Cheska shook her head and headed to her room. It didn’t matter who did it anyway. She’d already decided her next move.
Cheska changed her blouse and skirt with shirt and jeans and put on a dusty pair of boots. She kneeled beside her bed and pulled out a black safe, the size of a shoebox. She entered the passcode on the panel and placed her thumb on the sensor. A green light lit up beside the screen and the lid opened. A laser handgun and a knife lay inside the safe. She took the gun and checked the power. Cheska had only used it once so it was expected that the batteries were fully charged.
The laser handgun was Gerry’s congratulatory present to Cheska on her graduation. It was an odd choice for a gift back then, but she understood he was worried about her living by herself. The gun was imported from Germany. It didn’t have the Mysts’ secret technology which made hi-tech weapons useless in the hands of anyone who bears ill intentions. A safety switch deactivates instead when she aims the weapon; the gun’s program registers the pressure on the trigger and reads her fingerprints on the grip.
Between the barrel and grip, Cheska pressed the button with an icon of a bracelet. The handgun’s parts reassembled itself to wrap around her wrist. The barrel of the gun was mounted 3 centimeters above her wrist. Underneath the metal mount, she felt something prick her skin. The stinging sensation lasted in less than a second. Then Cheska understood that the gun had injected a bio manual into her bloodstream and connected itself on her nervous system to directly receive commands from her brain. She knew how to activate the weapon in its current shape.
She went to the back of her house and looked left and right. Certain that she was alone, Cheska sighted a medium-sized rock on the sand and commanded, Fire.
The weapon released a blue beam of light. The rock scattered into tiny pieces.
Satisfied, Cheska returned to her room and slipped the knife in her right boot. She rose from her crouching position and saw her reflection in the mirror. The gun was too conspicuous on her arm and her face was recognizable. It would be bad if the enemy realized she was Alfred Roucan’s deceased daughter. Cheska took out a cap and jacket from her closet. As she slid her arms on the jacket, Cheska noticed that she had more company; outside her room, the Messenger and Tony watched her.
Tony! She’d completely forgotten her best friend. Her bit her lip as Cheska thought of how to explain the situation to him. She was still thinking of what to say to him when a big black cat pushed past the men blocking her doorway. It bounded toward Cheska and circled her, brushing its body against her legs. The creature stood on its haunches and rested its forepaws on her chest. Then it licked her face a few times. The cat gazed at her with the same intelligence all animal sentries possessed. Welcome back, my lady.
“It’s good to see you again, Keena,” Cheska said. She stroked the animal’s head.
The cat leaned to her touch for a moment, its green eyes turned to slits. Keena gave her cheek another lick before landing on all fours. Strago and I have called some locals to assist us. Are we going on an adventure?
“Something like that.” Cheska smiled enigmatically.
The feline’s tail swished from side to side. Are we going to save the world? Keena asked with barely contained excitement in her voice.
Cheska continued to smile.
It’s a secret then. Keena put her head under her Lady’s palm and was rewarded with a scratch behind her ears. I’ve missed you, my lady.
“Me, too,” Cheska said fondly. Her gaze left Keena and rested on Tony and the Messenger.
Tony’s wide eyes flitted back and forth between Cheska and Keena. For an instant, he thought the enormous black cat would maul his best friend. He was shocked when the panther licked Cheska’s face, who looked adoringly at the wild cat. Once it settled on having its ears scratched did he understand that Cheska was in no danger. Then he noticed the safe that Cheska stashed under her bed was empty. Tony had an inkling of what it contained. He entered the room and stopped abruptly at the panther’s growl. Its eyes were fixed at him.
“Keena, he’s a friend,” Cheska said. She saw Tony meekly step back. “It’s okay, Tony. She’s just protective of me.”
“I see,” Tony said in a weak voice and gulped. He broke eye contact with the panther and gazed at Cheska’s outfit. She’d only ever worn them during a hike and in long trips. The slight bulge on her right sleeve made him cast a glance at the safe on the floor. “You’re all geared up,” he commented.
Cheska caught his meaning when she saw where his eyes landed.
“Where are you going?” he asked. The light tone sounded forced in his ears. Tony gave up on pretending ignorance. “Are you going to rescue Dr. Williams?”
“How did—” Cheska looked at the Messenger.
“He didn’t tell me anything,” Tony dismissed her suspicions. “Louis called me when you went missing at the mansion. And then the brat called me again to keep an eye on you before he went abroad ten minutes ago. He said that you might do something idiotic like what the doctor did.” He crossed his arms and planted himself between Cheska and the door. “I honestly don’t know half of what he was talking about but, judging on what I’m seeing right this minute, you’re up to no good.”
“I know what I’m doing, Tony.” Cheska sidestepped at the same time he blocked her again. She glared at him. “You can’t stop me.”
“Do you even have a plan?” Tony narrowed his eyes.
Keena let out another growl. Fear flickered in his face, but he stood his ground. “You can’t scare me with your pet cat.”
A pet cat! Keena exclaimed in outrage. She shifted into a crouch. Let’s see what he thinks of me after I play with him.
“Keena,” Cheska chided after seeing Tony freeze.
Alright, alright. I was just teasing. Keena sat beside Cheska.
“So?” Tony asked.
“I have a plan,” Cheska said. Technically, it wasn’t a lie. She had a rough idea of what she’ll do. He didn’t have to know what it was. “If you’ll excuse me.” She squeezed through the doorframe, walked into her studio and pocketed her drawing.
Tony seized her by the arm and swung her around. “Why do you care so much?” he demanded. “You barely know the guy. Besides, he’s got his mumbo-jumbo to get him out of there.”
“I know him,” she said in a quiet tone. “He was always there for me and I…” Cheska couldn’t go on. Even though she wasn’t responsible for the things that happened, Cheska wanted to believe she could have done more – stall for time – make Fred stay.
Last night, she should’ve sensed something was off with him. His behavior toward her, that kiss, and afterward… But how could Cheska have guessed what was on his mind when she was so confused and hurt at the time?
“He can’t use his gift anymore. He needs help.”
Tony was taken aback on what he saw in Cheska’s face. She never acted like this with her ex. He had rationalized her paintings held more weight in heart than anything else, but it seemed Cheska had been waiting for Fred all along. Tony’s chest throbbed at the realization, his grip tightened on her arm. “Have you even thought this through? You’re willing to risk everything for him.”
“My father and brother are also out there trying to save him in the only way they can.”
Alfred Roucan’s power and influence as a businessman can achieve almost the impossible. He was connected to figures of authority and respected organizations. His only weaknesses were his family, Uruimeth and the guardians. Fred’s involvement with the Libyan guardian would likely make things difficult.
The knowledge of the tunnels as a means of travelling to distant countries was bad enough, what else the Libyan government knew about its other secrets would be extremely dangerous. Moreover, the way they chased after Fred made her doubt they’d easily accept whatever terms her father would offer.
“I’m just going to try a different approach,” she said.
“Like what?” He took her right arm and lifted it in front of her. “Kill the bad guys and free him yourself?”
Cheska’s mouth pursed. She looked at the wall clock. Half an hour had already passed. “Let go of my arm, Tony.”
“For gods’ sake, answer the question. Are you?”
“I’m not going there alone.” She wrenched her arms free.
“Please tell me you’re going with the guardians.”
“They can’t get involved.”
“Then who’s coming with you?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“You’re not like them,” Tony spoke in a low pleading voice. “You’ll get yourself killed.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I am like them – the worst of them,” she said harshly and took a couple of steps back from him. The confusion in Tony’s face made Cheska turn her gaze toward the Messenger. “Is there a way to break the seal?”
“The seal dies with him,” the man replied.
She lowered her head and closed her eyes. He must’ve been through a lot of pain after his gift was sealed. “Why did he do it?”
“The doctor saw the future through the Oracle. It was you who had been captured and died from the plague. According to the Oracle, the disastrous events in Libya and your death brought the doctor over the edge.
“Dr. Williams,” the Messenger paused. His eyes were haunted as he continued, “He destroyed Libya. It was the first of many countries he annihilated. His attacks were random and swift. Wherever he appeared, thousands of lives were lost.”
Oh, Fred. Cheska clenched her fists. She could only imagine what he felt after getting a glimpse of his future; a doctor who killed instead of saved lives. And I rejected him twice. What if…?
“Do you know where he is?” Cheska asked. She had to get to him, fast.
“Your brother’s assistant must know, but I do not now where his man has gone.”
He must be talking about Allan. She conjured a portal. “I don’t know why you’re doing this, but thank you.” Cheska turned toward the portal and halted when Tony grabbed her arm again. She half-turned in his direction.
The determination on her face said it all; nothing could make her give up on Fred. “Be careful out there,” he said.
“I will,” she promised.
He released Cheska’s arm and watched her disappear into the portal.
Keena passed him with the parting words, You have nothing to fear, friend of my lady. I shall bring her back alive and whole.
After Tony discovered the guardians’ existence, he wasn’t shocked to hear the panther talk to him. He could only pray that they would all come back alive.
Cheska headed straight to the office of her father’s chief of security. To her surprise, the man behind the desk was no longer Louis’ self-defense teacher. A Mr. Smith had taken over and recognized her at once. The panther was the only thing that the man didn’t take into account. Keena pounced on him before he could alert his men.
“Your father will hear of this,” Mr. Smith threatened. Pinned on the floor, his face was pale and sweat beaded on his forehead.
“I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear how well you handled this predicament,” Cheska said sarcastically.
The chief of security’s complexion turned a few shades lighter. “What do you want?”
“Tell me where Louis’ personal bodyguard is and we’ll keep this conversation a secret.”
“I don’t know. Your brother sent him on an assignment.”
“Can’t you track him down?”
Mr. Smith was silent for several seconds. Keena growled. “Okay, okay. Left drawer of my desk. There’s a round object about 8 cm wide. It’s a tracer. You can locate the employee through his ID.”
Cheska found the device and switched it on. The logo of SecTech Division flashed on the screen. Small dots moved about on the display. She tapped on the search icon. “What’s his ID number?”
She entered the code. A red dot blinked on the screen inside SecTech Division’s headquarters. “Thanks. Keena lets go.”
The panther loped into the portal after Cheska. They arrived in a state-of-the-art computer laboratory. At the center, a silhouette of a man stood with his back to them. He was surrounded on all sides by holographic screen. Diagrams and codes flashed in several. Cheska’s gaze landed on screen 2. It showed photos and records of plague victims; some of them were enough to make her queasy. She looked at screen 5 and saw Fred’s face and medical record. The man muttered to himself as he reviewed satellite-captured images and a floorplan of a building. She understood then that a hacker provided Louis information about Libya.
At the other side of the room, Allan noticed Cheska and made his way to her. Meanwhile, the man’s quiet voice asked, “Who’s there?”
Allan stopped in his tracks. He looked from the man and then Cheska. “It’s Ms. Cheska, sir,” he said.
The man whirled around. He waved his arms wide and the screens moved to the side. A space between them cleared between him and them. “Lights on,” he commanded.
The lights in the laboratory switched on.
As Cheska’s vision adjusted, she saw a shock of red hair and black-rimmed glasses. The man’s face was unshaven and his clothes were creased. The front of his shirt sported a brown stain.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
Her eyes flew toward the hacker’s face again. To her astonishment, she recognized him. James’ own gaze swept over her and Keena while he waited for her response. He hadn’t expected her arrival after her brother called. Louis told him that Cheska wouldn’t allow the guardians to assist them. So, what was she doing here?
Her eyes wandered to Fred’s picture. It occurred to her that if James hacked into Libya’s servers, he probably knew where Fred was imprisoned at this exact moment. “Do you know where Fred is?”
“I don’t know for sure,” the novelist answered, “but I have a general idea.”
“Does Louis know you’re here?” he asked all of a sudden.
James peered at her face for a few seconds. Her pulse beat frantically as his eyes bore down on her. If he knew she was lying, Cheska wouldn’t obtain the information she needed.
Should we persuade him like the other one, my lady? Keena suggested.
The novelist half-turned, hands on hips, and made a decision.
“Come take a look,” he said and waved her over.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: The adventure of Cheska and her furry friends (lol!) will continue in the next chapter. Will they be able to pull off a successful rescue? Stay tuned! 🙂
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