previous: Rise of Hellion ch9: Break Free
The next pit stop was an empty plot of land on the border of North Dakota. It was the perfect camping spot; a place to stretch my back and take in the sun all while staying (reasonably) off the map. “I’m going to go out for a walk.”
“Why? There’s nothing around here for miles.”
“We’ve been traveling underground for days, I miss the sky,” I said with a pout. “You can come with me.” My offer was genuine. If I was able to find Tony, I could hopefully convince Baron to turn himself in, in exchange for immunity.
“No, actually I can’t. I have a meeting with a client around midnight.
“On Feng’s behalf.” I assumed.
“Feng was expecting a package. I’ll show you when you get back.”
“Ok, thanks. Can I bring you anything; food, snacks colorful leaves or whatever else I manage to find?”
Baron smiled. “You’re so sweet. How about you leave something behind, something to motivate you to get back before midnight?”
I nervously looked down at my prosthetic legs, I had very little to offer in the way of personal belongings. “Like what?”
“Not necessarily the battery, but something to show that we’re still friends.”
“How about my knife? Since there’s not much I can do without it, that would give me motivation to stay close to camp.” I removed it from the holster on my thigh.
“Deal.” Baron shook my hand. “You have a watch, right?”
“Yeah, this pink barbie thing I shoplifted when I was a kid.” I motioned at my TAC issued watch. It was Barbie-pink and appeared to be just your average digital watch with a black and gray screen.
“Be back before midnight, or be locked out until our guest leaves.”
“Got it,” I said with a nod. Since it was only around one in the afternoon, I had plenty of time. “See you then.” I headed north towards what appeared to be a forest with massive trees. Hopefully I could find one that would be suitable for climbing.
With all the strength training I’d done with Tony, I felt confident (despite the fact I’d never climbed a tree with my prosthetic legs.) I thought I had mastered the art of gauging the position of my feet, but I was mistaken. When attempting to navigate while ascending I had the coordination of a baby elephant.
After some trial and error, I found a nice stable tree with thick branches. From where I sat, I could see for miles in every direction. There was a road, several gas stations and small towns; even a McDonalds. It was tempting but stepping foot in a public restaurant (without any money) seemed like a bad idea. Then my stomach gurgled: the baby wanted a hamburger. I walked for a while in the direction of the massive sign, until I was too exhausted to move. From the parking lot, I could see there were a few people inside.
I could have stayed outside and begged for change the way I always did. When I first ran away from home, I would tell strangers I was a pregnant teen who’d been kicked out by my abusive family. That story would always get me free food, but that was before I discovered performing on the boardwalk. Dancing and flipping like a circus clown was always more lucrative. Not because I got a lot of money for my talent. No, people just seemed to be more distracted and I could find a decent amount of cash on the ground.
That’s what I needed to do in this North Dakota parking lot. Looking around cars, and near the back exits I managed to gather all of $1.45, before a cop car pulled up beside me. “Oh, hello, officer” I said in my most innocent little girl voice. “I was just looking for something to eat.”
“Do your parents know you’re out here?” asked the typical cop with a thick gray mustache.
“I’m actually meeting someone.” I put my hands on my stomach, drawing attention to what little baby bump I had. “I’m legal, though. Don’t worry.” Crap, that’s what a teen runaway would say.
“Do you have any ID to prove that?”
“No, I-” I started to mime the act of checking my pockets. I was fully prepared to run, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Hey, Babe, you left your wallet in my car.” It was Tony.
“Tony!” I was so excited I couldn’t breathe. I jumped into his arms, not even caring how silly I looked.
“I miss you too, Nicki. How is our…” his hand drifted to my waist.
“Boy,” I replied. “We’re having a boy.”
There were tears in Tony’s eyes. Maybe he was just playing a role to get the police to leave, but I’d like to think he was genuinely happy. “I’m going to get my girl something to eat, officer. If that’s ok with you?”
Tony’s presence seemed to be enough to convince the cop I was not a teen runaway.
I watched the police car drive off before continuing. “Tony, how did you find me?”
“The battery,” Tony replied quickly as he ushered us inside. “We’ll get some food to go and talk more in my vehicle.”
Tony chuckled. “You’ll see.” He got to the counter and placed an order; two large fries, two ten-piece nuggets and a quarter pounder with cheese. “Grab your drink,” he said motioning to one of two giant plastic cups.
I filled mine with a combination of cheap lemonade and Sprite. together we walked in the direction of the forest. “Where are we headed?”
“I told you, we’re going to eat our lunch in my TAC issued vehicle.” Tony pushed a transparent button that seemed to be floating mid-air. “Activate operations.”
“Systems online,” replied a robotic voice. A metallic green door materialized. The vehicle had been cloaked in camouflage.
Tony opened the door, to what appeared to be a helicopter crossed with a hot-air balloon. “You like it? This has been my home for the past few days.”
“Wow,” I said in awe of the unique space. “How fast does this go?”
“150 kph at max, but slower is better, to maintain contact with ground navigation.”
“Silent but deadly,” I said with a chuckle.
“You could say that,” Tony replied as he took a seat on the floor. “L-O-L.” He pulled me on to his lap, tickling me to the point where I almost dropped my drink. “So, what’s new, Nicki?”
“I had a dream,” I said with a smile.
“About our baby?”
“The blonde man stalking me wasn’t Faust, it’s someone named Abaddon. He’s a time traveler, and I think he’s my son, from the future.” I was expecting Tony to call me crazy, but he just nodded.
“What kind of name is Abaddon?”
“I really don’t know. But the more I think about it the more it’s growing on me. Oh, yeah and Feng’s dead. He was one of the names on the list of potential targets, right?
“Yes,” Tony replied with a look of caution and fear.
“What was your role in Feng’s demise? And if you’re not traveling with Feng, who’s your companion?
“Why would I be traveling with Feng?” The very idea made me want to puke. “Oh, the lab on wheels, right. Well, actually I split his skull open, and Baron stole his keys.
“So.” Tony stood up, walking towards a mini fridge. “You’re traveling with Baron?”
“Yeah, we’re headed East to drop off some stuff to Kitsune.”
“In person?” Tony was holding a bottle of vodka.
I watched as he opened his soda cup and poured a shot. “I assume so?
“Are you saying there is the possibility he’s going to force you to smuggle illegal goods across international borders?”
“Not a big deal.”
Tony took a sip of his spiked soda. “It’s a huge deal. You’re trusting him with your life and the life of your unborn child.”
“I can trust Baron.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just do, it’s human instinct; the same reason why I know I love you.” My eyes went wide as my cheeks flushed with embarrassment. But I sure as hell wasn’t going to backpedal.
“Did you mean to say that?” Tony asked with a nervous seriousness.
“Yeah, I guess so. To tell you the truth, it was my goal to find you. (or be found by you.) I didn’t know how well you could track me. I mean, well I do now, but…” I blinked tears from my eyes. “I was scared to death I’d never see you again.” I couldn’t stop the tears from falling, so I was more than a little shocked to see Tony’s deadpan expression.
“Let me guess, you found his remains?” Tony scoffed. He reached behind him, and proceeded to throw an actual file folder at my face. Noah’s pictures fluttered out. “Funny how you mentioned Feng’s death but not Cronos.”
“That’s because I didn’t kill,” I wanted to say Noah; that was his human name, his real name. but I needed to play to my boyfriend’s trust. “Cronos. His death was on Feng’s hands.” I felt a pain in my chest followed by a waterfall of tears and then vomit. I had not vomited in a while so it was more than I would have liked. It just kept coming, as I sobbed. I was vomiting up all the memories; the blood and gore, the horrific sense of loss. When there was nothing left, I finally managed to wipe my eyes with the back of my (clean) hand. I had made the mother of all messes. I wanted to apologize, beg Tony for forgiveness, but no words came out.
Tony stood up and fetched a thermal blanket. He wrapped it around my body, creating a barrier which allowed him to hold me close without getting covered in my puke. “I’m sorry for bringing it up.” He rested my head on his shoulder before continuing. “I should have told you; TAC had intel on his deactivation.”
“Formal removal from Kitsune’s payroll. Based on that knowledge, it was assumed that Cronos was deceased by means of assassination or private execution. But there was no intel on the whereabouts of his remains.” Tony was choking back emotion.
I looked up at his face, for the first time I witnessed sincere sadness in Tony’s expression.
“I’m so sorry, Nicki.”
“Me too.” I pulled away from his embrace, getting a good look at my messed-up clothes. “I should go.”
I wanted to stay longer but Baron was waiting for my return. “I need to get cleaned up and maybe grab some food to bring back.”
“I can lend you some of my clothes. If Baron asks, you can say that you had an accident and some kind hearted tourist took pity on you and bought you some clothes.”
“Or I could say I blew a guy behind a rural truck stop McDonalds.”
Tony chuckled as he went to a small hidden closet. “God, I missed you.” He took out what appeared to be a black sweatshirt and matching sweatpants. “Here, get yourself cleaned up and I’ll buy you some food to take back to your campsite.”
“Sounds good.” There was a portable shower that allowed me to wash off my face and chest. I changed clothes and took a seat with the remains of my soda, awaiting Tony’s return.
The sun went down, casting the world into darkness. Bored out of my mind, I started the coffee maker, just in time for Tony to return.
“You look good, Nicki.” Tony put down the food, and pulled me close for a kiss.
“You always look good.”
“Let me take you back to your campsite.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, trying to construct a plan that did not end up with my boyfriend fighting my travel companion in the middle of the North Dakota highway.
“It’s already dark, I can’t imagine you walking down the highway with two bags of take out.”
“I can hold my own against a wolf, or a lion or whatever lives around here.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “L-O-L?”
“Yes, l-o-l; that was sarcasm,” I said as I stepped away to get a warm cup of coffee. “Still, what if Baron recognizes you?”
“I have a disguise. A costume of sorts.” Tony opened a sliding door to reveal a foldable bike.
“What in the ‘Toys-R-Us’ hell is that? Am I going to ride on the handle bars?”
“You can, but I don’t recommend it.” Tony pulled out a series of 3d printed parts. When he was done, the bike bore some resemblance to a motorcycle (complete with a clip-on motor.) It was a Schwinn co-playing as a Kawasaki.
“I have to admit, that’s kinda cool.”
“I just need to make sure to never ever get in an accident.”
“Because this will crumble like a saltine cracker,” I said with a giggle. “still awesome.”
With my arms around Tony’s waist, we drove back in the direction of the campsite. Tony was wearing black riding gear and an opaque helmet, so I didn’t worry about being spotted. Unfortunately, in the dark, finding the campsite was easier said than done. I poked my boyfriend in the shoulder. “Park here, Tony, I think we’re close.”
Tony did as I asked, pulling over by the side of the road. “What did the space look like?”
“It looked like a hole in the ground leading to a larger series of tunnels.”
“Not helpful? Yeah I realize.” I walked to the edge of the road. I knew If I had a flash light, I could easily find the odd, unnatural color of the truck, and maybe part of the tunnel. But light would draw in attention. “Tony, do you have a flash light?”
“On my key ring.”
“Toss it to me, I have a plan.”
“Ok…” he replied nervously.
“But if it goes badly you have to be willing to run.”
“With you, right? I’m not leaving you behind.”
“Without me. You will need to have faith in me. Because you love me too, right?”
“Right,” Tony tossed me his keys. “I love you too.”
“Then I need you to believe in me, and lean on the bike like a typical john who just paid for a blow job.” With Tony leaning against the bike, I got on my knees to mimic a certain sex act.
I turned on the light waving the beam around as if I was calling for help. It didn’t take me long to locate a piece of red reflective tape in a forested area just a few dozen feet to the left.
“Grip my hair,” I whispered, in case someone was already close enough to hear. I was flopping around like a fish on a hook, pretending as if I was struggling to keep hold of the key ring. Waving around the light, I wanted to catch someone’s attention. And I got a little more than I bargained for.
Baron, in full armor, shot out of the sky. In a blink of an eye he was falling like a homing missile. He drop kicked Tony so hard his body went flying.
I slid the keys along the ground, hoping Tony would be able to retrieve them. Baron was moving so quickly I had no idea where he was, I just needed to wait for him to make his move.
“Up you go, little sister.” Baron swooped in, carrying me and the McDonalds bags to safety.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Tony making his escape on the bike. ‘Thank God.’
“What in the heck were you doing?” Baron asked with a laugh as we landed just outside the main door of the truck-laboratory.
“Nothing much, just blowing a guy for McDonalds food.”
“And clothes?” Baron said with a chuckle as he removed his helmet, keeping on the rest of his armor.
“I may have slept with him too. Why, are you jealous?”
Baron laughed as he took a handful of fries. “Well, you’re just in time to meet our visitor.”
“Oh? This should be fun.”
Baron walked me to the truck. the area that used to be Feng’s lab. The small room had been retrofitted with seating, a mini fridge, and a table full of cocaine. Three men were standing around the room with visible weapons, while a fourth man sat at the table. He looked to be Asian, with noticeable tattoos on his hands, wrists and even up his neck.
“Hello,” I said, extending my hand. “Are you a friend of Kitsune?”
The man looked up, blinking his tattooed eyeballs. “Are you?”
“I love your sense of style.” I took a seat by his side, to get a better view of the table. “So, is this what we’re taking on our cross country, trans-Atlantic journey?”
The man looked at me like I was a puppy; adorably cute with the intelligence of a plastic water bottle.
“I watch true crime tv, I know all about hot young girls duct taping drugs under their clothes.”
“I’m sure you’re really good at that.”
Baron cleared his throat. “Actually, we were just going to discuss Feng’s deal.
“Exactly, you were going to tell me how and why I should do business with you,” the clearly Yakuza man replied.
“You still on that?” Baron asked as he poured himself a shot of dark whiskey.
“Feng got paid upfront, due to the nature of his reputation. A reputation that you do not share.”
“If it makes you feel better you can pay us too,” Baron replied with his usual cocky grin.
“Us? The man laughed. “Are you saying this little girl, she’s your partner?”
“Hellion’s the reason why Feng is unable to grace us with his presence.”
“I’m sure we could scrape some blood off the floor,” I added, since with all our travel we had not had time to deep clean the front cab.
“Be that as it may, how can I be sure my goods will make it to their intended destination? For all I know, you and your girl killed Feng, stole his mobile lab. In the process of going through his stuff, you just so happened to come across his appointment book and figured you could make some extra cash.”
“Ok, fair enough,” Baron said, pouring a second glass for our guest. “What would you consider a fair trade?”
The man put his arm around my shoulder. “I would certainly be willing to take this one, if she was a little more sociable.
“I can be plenty sociable.” I kicked my prosthetic legs across the man’s lap. And leaned in, kissing his ear.
The man was smiling, he was into it. So, I scooted my cute little butt over his silky suit pants, like a stripper giving a private dance.
Baron cleared his throat. “Excuse me? My partner is not on the menu.”
“I’m a big girl,” I said with a smirk. “I can take care of myself.”
“You’re already knocked up,” the Yakuza man said gripping my stomach with one hand while touching my upper thigh with the other. “nice and firm. I’ll bet you’re nice and firm all over.”
There was a crash, as a bottle broke inches away from my head. “I think it’s time for you to go.”
“Really? What do you think Kitsune will say when she finds out how you treated her brother’s best friends?”
“She can tell me herself.” Baron fired the gun again.
I felt wetness on my face. The man was now headless. This caused the remaining bodyguards to take the drugs and leave. They were all silent as they gathered their property, but I was certain Kitsune would hear about the events.
As soon as they were gone, Baron shut the door and proceeded to sit back in the driver’s seat. “We’re heading south.”
“To another body dump?”
“I got some connections in Beliot, Wisconsin,” he said as he started the engine and rolled down the tracks. We came to a multilevel fork in the road. He took the southernmost track that seemed to be held up by shaky metal pipes.
“This doesn’t seem safe.”
“The drug cartels of North America take this route every day.”
“Cartels from Mexico and central America?”
“Let’s not forget the American gangs. Each state has their own warrior factions.”
I nodded as I took a seat by his side, despite the fact that the chair was still covered in FENG’s blood. “So, what’s the end game?”
Baron laughed, a deep, belly laugh. “After all the shit we’ve been through, do you honestly think I am in any position to answer that?”
“You have a point. We’ll take it one day at a time.” I popped a fry in my mouth, the oily potato was already cold. “Yuck.”
Baron continued to chuckle. “Baby sister, you’re so freakin’ adorable.”
“Thanks.” I should have quit while I was ahead, but my brain wanted to say something more, “thanks for what you did earlier. You didn’t have to.”
“Friends don’t let friends get sold into human trafficking.”
That answer made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. “Even if I did blow a guy for McDonald’s food?”
“You didn’t blow a guy for McDonald’s food.” His tone was stoic, silent, as he made a turn down an unlit section of tunnel. “Don’t worry, we have headlights.”
I figured he was trying to assure me that he was not planning on killing me and dumping my body someplace where it would never be found. “Wow.”
“The walls look really pretty.” The light allowed me to see that the tunnel was made up of metal, paint and stone in various states of decay. “But back to the topic at hand, you know I’m a slut or else I wouldn’t have gotten knocked up from a one-night stand.”
“How many other times have you been pregnant?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Noah was someone special, too good for this world.”
“You’re not wrong,” I said, unable to hide my sadness.
“When you were together, I saw the way you looked at him.” Baron placed one hand upon my shoulder. “You only looked at one other person with such admiration and love.”
“You?” I asked sarcastically, through impending tears.
“I know you were in contact with Agent Deadlock. I’m not mad, I just have one question. Can I trust you to give me an honest answer?”
“I need to know where I stand; am I the target or collateral damage?
“I was told that any enemy operative who turned themselves in would be eligible for immunity or recruitment.”
“Recruitment,” he said with a chuckle.
“TAC is always looking for new talent.”
“So, are they tracking you?”
“Good to know.”
“Which would you be interested in? Immunity, right?
“You know me too well. Once we take down kitsune we’re going to have massive targets on our backs. I’d like to be able to live out the rest of my days only looking over one shoulder instead of two.”
“If you join up it could be zero.”
“Not my style. I’d rather lead than follow.”
“But it’s a good place for you. You’re young, you have a future. Even if that future is you hiding behind Agent Deathstroke.”
I laughed, but the idea that we would eventually go our separate ways, it hurt in a way I never thought possible. “Baron?”
“What happened to Nash?”
“Physically or spiritually?”
“Are you saying robots have souls?”
“Everything has a soul,” he said, as he turned to me with a smile. “And you have to admit Nash was more human than most of us.”
“True,” I said, wiping my eyes. “We’re all just souls passing through to the other side.”
“Amen to that.”
“We’re ‘Born to die,’ as some emo rocker girls like to say.”
That got a genuine laugh. “Cliché but true. I like to think that every person you ever loved, or hated; people with deep spiritual connections to your life, they never leave you.”
“Ever think about running headfirst across the finish line?
“That’s a funky way to ask someone if they ever tried to end their life.”
“I have, a few times, mainly with a razor blade or whatever sharp item was close. Obviously, I was never brave enough to finish the job, not even close.”
“I’m glad. As for me, I’ve never felt the need to try for the ‘finish line.’”
“Because of religion or fear?”
“Most certainly fear. I figured it was a one-way ticket to hell, either that or I’d come back as an earthworm or a fire ant…”
“Or a dung beetle?”
“If you could come back as any animal what would it be?”
The answer came quickly. “I’d be a cat.”
“A cat? Let me guess, you want to live in luxury sitting on some old woman’s lap?”
“No, more like a stray cat; just one of millions roaming the streets, looking for adventure. I’m nothing special but I sure know how to get into trouble.”
next: Rise of Hellion ch11