B2 — 13. The Ugly Truth

Update:  I fixed this to be the proper Chapter 13 and because of my blunder of releasing Chapter 13 instead of 11 last week, I released both Chapters 11 and 12, putting them in their proper place.  I hope you enjoy the double release!

Rachel stretched as she stirred, the soft sounds of obscure voices within a few miles cycling through her rousing mind.  Her ears twitched as she yawned, body extending as she stretched. Opening her eyes, she sat up; the room slowly filtered into focus as she blinked.

The first thing she noticed was that she didn’t hurt; the light morning burn of twisting and spreading her joints caused her to release a soft moan.  Pulling her hair out of her face, she tossed it behind her back as she looked around.

She seemed to be the last one awake; Scarlet was sitting in a padded armchair with Maria across from her, and Fiona was cross-legged atop the desk they sat at.  They were playing Uno; Scarlet was bending the sprawled cards in front of Fiona so she could see them before laying them face down.

Scarlet grinned as she glanced over at her before placing a Yellow Four on a green card, matching the same number.  “Good morning, sleepy-head. You were a bit restless; you bumped Fiona off her bed.”  She giggled.

“Why are you laughing,” Fiona huffed, tapping the right of her three cards.  “It felt like an earthquake; I was sent spinning through the air. It’s a good thing I happened to activate my wings fast enough, or I would have fallen like … twenty-five feet!  Well, at least to me it’s twenty-five feet.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Rachel mumbled, brow creased as she rose to her feet.  “You’re okay?”

“Yeah,” Fiona said with a smirk in Maria’s direction.  “I’ve won the last three games.”

Scarlet turned the card Fiona had pointed at over; it was a Blue Four, causing Maria to curse.  On closer inspection, she saw several coins beside Fiona; Scarlet had a nickel and two pennies, while Maria had three pennies.  Fiona was rocking two quarters, a dime, and a nickel beside her tiny frame.

“I swear, she’s cheating,” Maria growled as she picked up another card from the deck to add to the six in her hand.

“I’m not; am I lying?”  Fiona snickered.

Scarlet wore a soft smile as Rachel moved to join them; she wore the wedding gown she’d chosen in evidence lockup, and Fiona was wearing her Chinese-style dress.  Maria was glowing brighter than when she’d first seen her at the hospital, and there was a light golden hue to it.

Maria just clicked her tongue in an annoyed manner as Scarlet chuckled, putting down a Blue Six, leaving three cards left in her hand.  “Maria decided it would be fun to use change as gambling stakes; so, we dug around the office drawers and found some lying around.  We each started with twenty-five cents; Maria keeps betting big and losing.” She giggled.

“I would have won!”  Maria mumbled, scratching behind her left pointed ear as she eyed Fiona’s hand hovering between her two cards.  “If this little Pixie hadn’t—Uno—crap…”

Fiona directed a mischievous grin up at her; her hand was millimeters from touching the card.  “That’s another two cars, Ms. Purity!”

“Friggin’ Pixie … how the heck am I supposed to know when your tiny hands touch the dang thing?”  She pulled out two more cards as Fiona quickly shifted her hand to the opposite card and tapped it.

“Uno,” Scarlet said cheerily.

“Monkey-butt…”  Fiona snapped her fingers while glaring up at her.  “I can never trick you! Alright, give me two more cards.”  She sighed, groaning as she dropped to her back, hair fanning around her.

Rachel smiled as she pulled over a chair, sitting behind Fiona.  Taking two cards out from the top of the deck, she held the Red Skip and Blue Reverse up, adding a Blue Two, and Wild Card to her hand.

“Oh, thanks Rachel,” Fiona said, smiling up at her.  “Do that one,” she said with a devilish grin, pointing at the Blue Reverse.

Playing it, Maria cursed again.  “You … it’s always me!” She groaned, slamming her cards face down on the table to pull her hair back.

“Not always,” Scarlet hummed, putting down a Red Reverse.

“You gotta be kidding me,” Maria mumbled.  “Can I please play?”

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“I wonder about that,” Fiona said, pointing at the Red Skip.

Maria just leaned back, lips a line as Rache played the card and Scarlet promptly laid a Red Seven down, saying, “Uno.”

Fiona only got the u out before huffing.  “Man, I was too focused on Maria’s pissed face—worth it,” she giggled.

“Yeah?”  Maria lifted an eyebrow.  “You know, if I lose this round, I’m out.  I got no coins! You gonna do me like that?  Not a single win? Hey, remember when I healed your friend?”

“Ah,” Fiona nodded.  “We playin’ that game now, eh?  Okay, okay,” she cracked her fingers.  “What do you got?”

“Finally,” Maria smirked in Scarlet’s direction.  “Can you change it to yellow?”

“You got it,” she said with a raised eyebrow, pointing at the Wild Card.  Rachel complied, enjoying the friendly banter.

Maria laid down a Yellow Draw-Two card with a satisfied grin.  “Remember that…”

Scarlet simply flipped her card over with an innocent smile, a Draw-Four Wild Card.  “Wasn’t it you that said you can place Draw-Fours on Draw-Twos?”

“Son of a…”  Maria blew a long breath through her cheeks as her head dropped to the counter.  “I didn’t win once.”

Fiona clapped her hands.  “Masterful, Ms. Red!”

“Ms. Red, Ms. Purity, and Pixie?”  Rachel asked.

“Not exactly,” Scarlet said, glancing at Maria.

“Yeah,” Fiona huffed haughtily.  “I’m supposed to be Ms. Little, but Maria keeps calling me Pixie!  What can I say,” she shook her head sadly, “Karma, right?”

Maria grunted, hair hiding her face atop the table.  “Aye, wait a minute,” Maria said, pulling her hair back as she rose.  “I was meaning to ask, what were you doing with that Tom dude? I’ve heard a few people here talking crazy; there’s some talk about you leadin’ some kind of revolution?”

Rachel sighed as her ears shifted, listening to several conversations.  “Is that seriously what it’s devolved to? I’m a revolutionary, now? I don’t know if that’s better than Tom’s daughter.”

“Huh?”  Fiona squeaked, turning to look up at her.  “What’s this about Tom’s daughter?”

“Nothing,” Rachel sighed, running her hand through her hair to scratch her left ear.  “There were a lot of rumors about why I was with Tom, a four-star general before I went to bed.  I do need to talk to you about the meeting I had with him.”

Scarlet hummed thoughtfully.  “It looked like whatever you were talking about; it made him really thankful; he was super tense when I saw him with you, but you said something that made his heart and muscles relax.  It sounds a bit odd, but it’s something I kind of notice with my eyes.” She mumbled, eyes dropping to the table.

“It’s—complicated,” Rachel mumbled.  “Give me a second.”

Getting up, she walked back to her bed of blankets and extracted the folder.  Walking back, she set the file atop the table.

“Alright, to be brief—Maria, you know how you don’t trust the government that much?”

“Eh—yeah?”  Maria mumbled, eyeing the folder with pursed lips.

“Well, it turns out that we’re in a bit of trouble.”

Fiona’s features twisted with concern.  “What do you mean, we’re in trouble?”

“We did a lot of—illegal things last night, and we can get charged for a lot of really bad things.  We were told not to get involved, and we chose to do it anyway; because we engaged the situation, we can be charged with some pretty hefty things, but—but,” she said, trying to break Fiona building panic.  “We have a way out.”

Scarlet frowned as her blue eyes moved down to study the cream folder.  “So—we broke a lot of laws—even though we were trying to help people?”

“That’s the law for you,” Maria huffed, lips bunching to the side in disdain.  “Bet they’re chargin’ us for all Terrell’s men’s deaths, right?”

“M-manslaughter?”  Fiona squeaked. “That’s … I—no…”

“Calm down,” Rachel took a deep breath.  “No, we have a way out of all of it, and no, what we did wasn’t the wrong thing to do.  It may have been a little short-sighted on my part—I should have seen this coming, but Tom has been authorized to pardon us.  The President has already signed the pardons, and Tom said he’d run interference with the State and Military.”

Maria’s sullen demeanor had hardened.  “Oh, and what bullcrap things do they want us to do in return?  Ain’t nothin’ in this life free.”

Rachel nodded.  “Yes, there are things that Tom wants, and it’s something I don’t really like, but it’s also not something I’m necessarily against.  I’ve already signed the agreement and had everything explained to me. It’s also a package deal; unless we all take it, then we don’t get Tom’s support.

“The FBI will be the one that’ll likely spearhead the case against us, and to be honest, I’d rather have Tom sweep this all under the rug, leaving my family in the dark about it, and do this favor he’s asking than go through the legal system.”

“What do they want us to do?”  Scarlet asked, shifting in her seat.  Her tone was clearly concerned that it was something she wouldn’t like.

Maria folded her arms, vision narrowing suspiciously as she studied her.  “Yeah, what web we crawling into?”

“I know how this will sound, but it’s super top-secret; the only people that likely know about this information is The President, Tom, Department of Defense top-brass, and me.  I’m sure many people know pieces of it, but not the full scope. We can never speak about our involvement with it, and Tom has assured me that our participation will never be made known.”

“You’re sayin’ we gotta sign some bull contract before you can tell us anything, right?”  Maria groaned.

“Basically,” Rachel shrugged, scratching her temple.  “I don’t like it either, but we don’t have many options.  We can’t go public; in fact, if any of this were to get out, then I’d be charged with Conspiracy to Commit Treason … basically, death—it’s that top-secret.”

“We don’t have a choice?”  Fiona asked.

“No, we do,” Maria huffed, glaring at the file.  “We take our chances with the legal system—fat chance we’ll get outta that, or take this deal.”  The four of them were silent for a moment before Maria asked, “We ain’t snitchin’ on anyone, right?”

Rachel pursed her lips for a moment.  “Quite honestly, I don’t think it would be anything you’d immediately refuse, Maria.  It’s more about keeping our mouths shut, but I’ll say it’s dangerous—potentially very dangerous.  I think I can say at most that; we’ll be doing something extremely dangerous, but with the government’s full support.”

“More dangerous than what we did last night?”  Scarlet asked, rubbing her left arm nervously.

“I don’t know, maybe,” Rachel shook her head.  “I don’t know how dangerous it could get, but just based on what I know—it might just be more dangerous.”

After several seconds of silence, Scarlet smiled at her.  “I don’t believe you’d ever do something intentionally that would hurt us.  I trust you. So, I’ll agree.”

Before Fiona and Maria could think of Scarlet’s words, Rachel groaned, scratching behind her left ear.  “Before you say that, I want you all to know that I’ve been under the effects of an ability called Lunar Pride; it’s only right that you know.  I have a Racial Trait that might pull me toward dangerous situations.

“I thought a lot about this before going to bed, and as all of you are involved, it’s the right thing to do, and the ability itself wishes for me to tell you.  I might find myself in compromising positions in the future that pulls me to do reckless things, such as chasing after Daran and Marcus because they escaped me when I had decided to kill them.

“It’s a bit hard to tell you that part, but it’s also the right thing to tell you; can you see how this ability affects me?”

“Lunar Pride,” Scarlet whispered.  “Okay, but I can become Corrupted, and you still helped me.”

“I have an ability called Warpath,” Fiona whispered, playing with her dress front.  “It makes me super mad—I did things that I don’t really … well, it’s not like I don’t like what I did, but I kind of don’t.  It’s a bit confusing. I have to kill the person I’m at war with or I die.”

“Dang,” Maria lifted an eyebrow.  “Y’all messed up.”

“Hey,” Fiona mumbled.  “I’m doing my best.”

Scarlet sighed, “That’s not what she means, Fiona.  She’s saying we’re all pretty messed up in our own ways, and we should help each other.”


Maria smiled at Scarlet.  “You get me!”

Rachel’s frown turned as she studied her three companions.  “So—what do you say? Tom says we can basically have a normal and free life if we do this.  I don’t know how long it might take or what might come after, but he’s promised us normal lives if we do this.  I think I can also say that we won’t have to leave until tomorrow night.”

“At least we can catch our breaths,” Maria moaned.  “Sure, whatever—tell us straight, Rachel, how bad is it?”

“Remarkably bad if we don’t take it; I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t consider seeking the public’s help, other governments, and the law itself—we’re in pretty deep without this deal.”

“Alright, then I’m in, dang it—we’re not pets on a leash, right?”

Rachel shook her head.  “Tom said we wouldn’t be.”

“Me too,” Fiona nodded.  “If I can still see my family, then I think I’ll be fine with it.  I don’t know how bad it is, but I’ll take your word for it … I just want to see my little sister.”

“I’d like to meet her someday,” Scarlet said with a warm smile.  “And yes, Rachel, I’ll stick by your decision.”

Rachel pulled out the NDA and clearance papers; after reviewing them with the three, and finding a pen to sign them, Rachel took a deep breath, turning to Scarlet.

“Can you sweep the room and make sure there aren’t any bugs hidden around?”

Fiona rose into the air on glowing white wings, a wicked chuckle rumbling around her throat.  “We did that when we got up! We found three in here, but I’m pretty sure they were put in here a long time ago.  Scarlet pointed them out, and I destroyed them.”

“Dang, you didn’t tell me about this,” Maria mumbled, staring around the near pitch-black room.

“I was too busy kicking your butt at Uno!”  Fiona giggled. “That, and Scarlet and I were excited to play it; we found it in a drawer when we were looking around.”

“Glad you’re two steps ahead of me,” Rachel crossed her legs.  “Okay, so—this is how it is…” She pulled out all the files and showed them everything.

Fiona gasped, holding her hands up to her mouth as she viewed the ghastly pictures she was laying out.

“These are pictures taken at High Rolls, New Mexico; they have a low population—near six hundred, and all of them were skinned alive.  They were used in this ritual, and the Military has no clue on how it all relates. The timestamps are on this paper,” she said, passing the sheet to Maria.

“Wait—time travel crap?  It says two days inside and twenty-three minutes outside?”

“That’s just another one of its mysteries; they don’t know how it works, but for the creatures to change every clock in the town manually just seems improbable.”

“Improbable?”  Fiona asked, studying the crystals.  “This looks like aliens or something.”

Scarlet slowly shook her head.  “I don’t know—maybe, but this is just—monstrous.  We’re going to go fight these monsters that it talks about here?”

“Where?”  Maria mumbled, shifting to get a better look at the paper Scarlet was reading.  “Two tails and six legs? Dang, that’s weird. They don’t like loud sound?”

“The crystal vanished, though?”  Fiona said, looking at another paper.

“I don’t think we can rescue the people taken through the High Rolls crystal, or however they escaped.”  Rachel said gravely. “Fiona’s right, the crystal vanished; there’s no trace of it left behind besides the pictures we have.  Tom’s hoping to prevent this from happening again in Billings, Montana. If that same thing happens to a hundred thousand people…”

Fiona held her hands to her mouth as her vision shifted between the ghastly pictures.  “This is—that’s horrifying. There’s so many—all of them—a hundred thousand?”

“Dang…”  Maria mumbled, reading down a few more pages as Rachel pointed out the Billings crystal.

Scarlet became pretty silent; her eyes turned sad as she studied the terrified faces of the people in the pictures at High Rolls.

Rachel glanced between her three companions.  “So—what do you think? Is it something we can do?”

“I think it’s something we have to do,” Scarlet whispered after a few seconds, looking at a little girl crying as she knelt under the stretched skin of what seemed her mother, pulled tight across black wood.  “So many innocent lives—children, mothers, husbands … this looks even worse than South Beach. This is something—I don’t even know if Relica would go this far … maybe, but this is just—too monstrous.”

“It’s a nightmare,” Fiona growled with disgust.  “You’re saying that this could happen to a hundred thousand people … we have to stop it.”

“It’s possible,” Rachel said, leaning back against her chair with folded arms.  “Tom doesn’t know what to expect, but we know that this has happened in High Rolls and that there is a similar crystal that just appeared out of nowhere in Billings, Montana.  He wants us to be there at least, possibly investigate. We’ll learn more later, but that’s the gist of it.”

“That’s insane—this is insane,” Maria mumbled.  “Stupid insane … what if we get stuck, and I can’t make it back to Felix.  There’s just so much—dang it, there’s a lot that can go wrong.”

Fiona swallowed nervously.  “Yeah—what if we do get stuck?  I mean, we need to stop this—this—whatever this is, but I want to see my family again.”

Rachel shook her head.  “I don’t know—I really don’t, guys.  Like I said, it’s a bad situation. We have terrible chances with the law—near zero chances of making it out on top, but at least with this, we don’t know the odds.  We might not even have to enter the crystal, but we should be prepared to. The Lunar Pride in me welcomes the challenge, but the rational side of me says it’s too dangerous—just like you guys are thinking.

“To put it simply—I hate Relica, and her methods are disgusting, but I believe we need to take a similar approach.  We have to understand our new bodies—this new system that gives us these powers. If we’re going to have the best chance to survive this, then we need to sit down and learn everything we can.”

“Not in the same way,” Scarlet mumbled, eyes lifting to stare at her in concern.

Fiona’s hair whipped around as she shook her head, bobbing in front of Rachel’s vision.  “Yeah—no way!”

Rachel wrapped a lock of hair around her index finger with a light hum.  “No, not experimenting on people, but we need to dig into our abilities. We need to understand everything about them, so we aren’t caught off-guard.  We need to map out this desire based system, our negative racial skills and weaknesses—ask as many questions as we can to get answers.”

After a moment, Maria nodded.  “Question asking, eh? I’m with you there; dang, this blows, though.  Alright, where should we start?”

Looking around the room, Rachel hummed thoughtfully.  “Did you see any paper that we can use to sort our thoughts and get everything down so we can study it?”

“Yeah,” Fiona said, flying over to a desk against the wall.  “There’s some paper in here.”

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