Beginnings are easy. They happen all the time with very little effort or forethought. Each decision made, each step in a new direction, is a beginning blossoming into existence.
“So, What now?” Zefani smirked, lying back on the grass.
“Now…” Kahti shrugged and wrinkled her nose. A coppery tang tickled her nostrils, wafting from the unconscious body at her feet. “Why do you always think I’ll know what to do with them?”
Zefani chuckled softly and waved a hand lazily through the air. “Because you always do.”
“Why do they even keep trying?”
“Because… we’re ba-ah-ah-ad.” Zefani’s laugh echoed across the water, musical and enchanting, tugging Kahti’s lips into a reluctant grin.
A low groan rippled through the Beater, eliciting a swift kick to the ribs from Kahti’s diminutive right foot. “Whatever we’re gonna do, we’re gonna need to do it fast,” she sighed.
“We could just leave him here.”
“So he can try again?”
“If he doesn’t, one of his buddies will.”
“Maybe we need to be a little less… subtle?”
“That sounds fun. What do you have in mind?”
A feral smile spread across Kahti’s face, a wicked glint gleaming in her rich, coffee eyes. “I vote, we do something fucking delightful!”
~ * ~
As the sun sank over the sprawling city of London, Lydia Templeton-Davis glared down from the balcony of the MDPB building. Her icy blue eyes narrowed behind designer glasses and one Armani clad foot tapping a staccato beat on the marble floor. The sunset softened her normally harsh features, smoothing the lines of stress from cheeks and forehead. Her tawny hair gleamed like a halo, lending her an air of innocence that she certainly didn’t possess. Nathan Lane: assistant; dogsbody; and all around whipping boy, waited nervously for the inevitable. He hated giving her bad news. “I… “
“Don’t.” Lydia whipped round to face him, freezing the words on his tongue. “Do. Not. Make. Excuses.” It never mattered to her that it was not Nathan’s fault that things in the field had gone poorly. Never mattered that he had no hand in operations, tactics or decisions. His boss was nothing if not a firm believer in shooting the messenger. “Tell me, Nathan,” Lydia prowled back and forth in the confined space of the balcony, “how it is that the best minds in this country, harnessing the most powerful Freaks that we can find, still can’t capture two ridiculous girls?” Venom dripped from every word.
“They’re hardly ridiculous.” The argument tumbled out before he could stop himself. Idiot.
“Really?” A perfectly stencilled eyebrow twitched maliciously above her shades. “What powers do they have that can compete with ours? What resources, compared with the government of the United Kingdom?”
“I… I only meant… “ Nathan stuttered, desperately backpedalling.
“How do they continue to elude the Beaters, Nathan?”
“I don’t think they elude them. It’s more that they…”
“Spit it out.”
“Well, they… they beat them,” he shrugged, helplessly.
“I’m aware of that, Nathan. My question remains. How?”
“Mrs. T!” A shrill voice sawed through the tension. “Mrs. T. Are you out there?” A pale, delicate face peered out from the doorway leading to Lydia’s luxurious office. Attached to it, a trembling body in a pastel green power suit, dithered on the threshold.
“What is it, Helen?” Lydia sighed, exasperated.
“You need to see this.” Helen flinched, expecting a blow that never came. Nathan tried to catch her eye.
“Well? What are you waiting for? Show me.” Lydia shooed them before her as she stalked inside. They were across the room and into the hallway by the time the doors slammed shut. As they wound their way through generic government corridors and into the heart of the building, Nathan brushed his fingers across the back of Helen’s pale hand. She flinched, widening the gap between them. Storing the hurt away with all the rest, he turned his thoughts to the reason for this little trip. Please don’t let it be them again, he begged, silently.
The flickering lights of the Control Room beckoned from the end of the corridor. Muted voices burbled, a hidden brook of sound, rising to a roar as they neared. Fluorescents turned the occupants into washed out zombies, gazing vacantly at screens displaying footage from all over the country. Grainy images of impossible actions dominated the screens that covered the far wall. In a corner, a huddle of well-dressed, middle-aged men glared intently at a partially hidden monitor. Their body language screamed fear and anger. Tense shoulders and sharp gestures drew their little group closer. Lydia pushed her way through them all, heels digging into the dirty beige carpet. The men drew away, warned by her frosty demeanour not to bother offering explanations. Her gaze locked on the Beater who filled the screen. HD quality camera-work threw his bloody face into sharp relief. Nathan peered around his boss’s shoulder, his heart catching in his throat. “Simon,” he whimpered. Brother, what have they done? Nathan’s fingers clawed at his boss’s silky sleeve, desperate to cling to something real.
“If you can’t be a man, Nathan, be elsewhere.” Lydia snapped, her focus never leaving the image. Simon’s mouth hung open, his eyes filled with pain and terror. Blood dripped from his chin, vivid and shiny. It matted in the wiry hair on his naked torso, staining his skin. A plain, white square of card had been hung around his neck, the message on it chilling in its simplicity. Back Off. A snarl began in Lydia’s gut, rumbling through her chest and past her teeth. “Hhhhhooow?”
~ * ~
The water turned pink, swirling around the drain, spiralling like the situation. Only one light-bulb still worked in the crappy bathroom and shadows pressed in from the corners. Tinny music, playing on a cheap mobile phone, buzzed in from the bedroom next door; Zefani’s idea of decompressing. Kahti sighed, flicking water from her long fingers. She pressed her forehead to the cool surface of the mirror, trying to shut the Beater’s scream out of her mind. Why won’t they leave us alone? It wasn’t the first time she’d asked herself. It wasn’t likely to be the last. Whatever. She shook herself, closing her eyes and pushing away from the wall with a determined grimace. Soft curls cascaded over her shoulders, tickling her neck. She swiped at them impatiently, leaving a wet smear. Rolling her eyes, she stomped into the bedroom, startling her friend. Zefani sat, curled into a window seat, feet tucked beneath her. A bottle of water nestled beside her, half empty. Shrouded in a cloud of smoke, her eyes widened in panic. Long lashes framed dark, almond shaped eyes set above high cheekbones and lips always ready to smile. Even on a day like today.
Kahti slouched over to the solitary bed, shaking the dust from the faded duvet in a pointless effort to make it more appealing. Huffing in disgust, she flopped onto her back, knees raised. “Do we really have to stay in such a dump?”
“You could always pretty it up a little,” Zefani suggested.
“What would be the point? We’d both still know what was underneath.”
“True. But I love your glamours. They’re always so… cute.”
“Tell that to our government friends.”
“You don’t think our message was enough?”
“I think we provoked a creepy, well-funded, government shadow-organisation that already wanted our heads. But yes, it was probably enough.”
Rolling to her feet, Kahti paced to her friend’s side, dropping a hand on her shoulder. Where they touched, a bead of light began to grow. It spread down Zefani’s arm and across her shoulders, soaking into the bench and blooming over the walls. Whatever it touched began to change, gleaming and shifting in bright colours. The scuffed and peeling paintwork became elegant wallpaper, peppered with wildflowers so lifelike you could almost pick them. The floorboards, broken and rotting, transformed into plush green carpet: soft as cashmere but filled with the scent of spring grass after rain. Light fixtures became gems, glowing from within like stars in the night sky. The bed, widened and filled with downy pillows. Posts sprung up from the corners, draped by gossamer curtains threaded with silver. The girls’ stained clothes became translucent dresses, shimmering in rainbow hues. Crystal glasses sat on a smooth oak table, full of glittering champagne. Condensation dripped upwards from the rim of each, to hang, suspended in the air. Zefani smiled, her face lighting up with wonder.
“I never get tired of this,” she sighed.
“It’s your heart that makes it so beautiful.” Kahti shrugged, grinning in awe. The glamour might come from her, but the connection she made with Zefani chose the direction it would go in. Zefani’s joyful nature shone in every detail. Nothing at all like the one created by the Beater. That was savage and cruel. He made his own hell and dragged them into it with him. She shuddered. “We might as well enjoy this while we can, Zef. Tomorrow, we have to run.”
“Again,” Zefani agreed. Resignation pressed on her shoulders and flitted across her eyes like a shadow across the sun. Suddenly, she leapt up, grabbing Kahti’s hands and twirling her around. She danced them across the room, swirling and singing until they were both breathless and giggling. “To-morrow, to-morrow, we’ll face it to-morrow,” she trilled merrily, “tonight, we’re just having fuuuuun.”