Luke and MadisonEditCosta Mesa, California, USA - 1st March 2009 This was all Nickelback's fault.
All right...if you wanted to get really technical about it, it was also partially Ashly Stewart's fault as well. But the majority of the blame could be placed squarely on the back of Chad Kroeger and company.
It had all began with a phone call, two days ago....
Las Vegas, Nevada - Yesterday
The phone rang. Madison Lantagne groaned and peered from under her blankets at the alarm clock. 10:39 AM. People who didn't work nights sucked ass, she thought as she fumbled for her cell phone. Picking it up, she answered in a half-asleep voice.
"Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as always, Tink."
Luke. How anyone could function as early as he did was anybody's guess. "You know...some people WORK nights, Lucas."
Pause. "Crap...sorry about that."
"Don't sweat it. What's up?"
"You got any plans for tomorrow?"
Madison paused. She worked a four/three schedule, and today was her Friday. That meant three days of moping ahead of her. "Nothing pressing. Why?"
"I won four tickets to go see Nickelback and One Republic. I was wondering if you'd like to go."
Sitting up, she replied, "Luke...you've never won anything in your entire life."
"I know! Freaky, ain't it? So, what's up? You in or do I keep looking for somebody to pawn that last ticket off on?"
If Madison had been even half awake, she probably could have dreamed up some bullshit reason why she couldn't go. But until she had her first coffee of the morning, spelling her own name would have been a challenge. "Sure, why not. I'm in."
"Radical! Concert starts at 7...we'll probably go eat before the show. So, be here before five or so. Cool?"
"Yep, see you then." Closing her phone, Madison collapsed back into bed. Whee.
The thundering impact was what woke Luke Foulke up to begin with. For a split second, he had thought it was an earthquake. No...not an earthquake, something completely different. As a born-and-bred SoCal native, he'd lived through dozens of earthquakes. Like most residents, unless they were big ones, you hardly paid them notice anymore. He'd actually slept through a couple of high three-pointers. No...whatever this was...it was no earthquake.
The next thing he knew, the house was tipping over. At least that's what it felt like. Ironically, the bed flipped into the air, spilling him onto the floor. But the frame landing over him was what kept part of the roof from crashing down on top of him.
Growing up, Luke had been a walking injury. From the time he learned to walk until th e day he dropped out of high school, he perpetually had something injured. Cuts, broken bones, bruises, sprains, strains, stitches...he usually looked like he went twelve rounds with a cement mixer. The ultimate irony in life...he became a professional stuntman. And from that day forward...not a scratch. He had jumped out of windows, fallen off buildings, been hit by cars. Not so much as a bruise. Today was no exception. His fall had even been broken by landing in the enormous pile of dirty clothing on the floor.
When the impact finally subsided, and everything seemed to return to a semblance of normality, Luke began checking himself. He had been injured enough in life to know what an injury felt like. Everything seemed to be in one piece. Crawling out from under the frame, he started pulling on the first set of clothing he could grab. As he did, he started yelling for the others.
"Dave! Sandy! Maddie! You guys OK?" After what felt like minutes, he got a reply.
"Luke...what the fuck was that?!?!?" Madison. She sounded OK.
"Don't know, Maddie. Dave! Sandy! Come on, guys!" He was about to continue when a blood-curdling scream emanated from down the hallway.
"OH MY GOD!!!!!!! I'M BLEEDING!!!!!!!!!!"
"YOU FUCKING CALM DOWN!!!!!! I'M BLEEDING!!!!!!!"
"Madison!" The tone was short and sharp, like you would use on a misbehaving pet.
The screaming subsided. It was replaced by the whimpering that generally started before a massive sobbing fit.
"Where are you bleeding from?"
"OK, listen. Head wounds bleed like a mother. Trust me, I know."
"I'm scared..." He could barely make out what she said...as she was starting to cry.
"I know, Maddie. Listen to me, OK? Are you hurt other than your head?"
"I don't know...I don't think so."
"I'm coming to you, OK? Just sit tight." He started down the tilted remnants of the upstairs hallway. He passed by Dave's room first. His roommate hadn't been as lucky as he. He laid on the floor, staring up with blank eyes. The odd angle of his head told Luke his roommate had a broken neck. With any luck, it had been quick and painless. He found Sandy in the bathroom. Something had come through the bathroom window and had struck her in the head. There was a pile of bloody brains and tissue on the floor at her feet. Turning away quietly, Luke focused his attention on the only other survivor. Reaching her room, he looked inside.
Madison was sitting on the floor on top of a dresser that had fallen. As she had said, the right side of her face was bloody, and her blonde hair was streaked in blood. She was also naked as the day she was born. Looking towards the floor, he said, "Madison...why are you naked?"
"I sleep naked."
"Honey...you need to put some clothes on."
"OK." She started looking around the room for her bag. Finally locating it, she dug through, pulling out a t-shirt. She put that on, then slipped into a pair of panties and her jeans. "I'm dressed."
Luke looked back up. He found her tennis shoes by the door. Slowly making his way into the room, he dug through her bag, finding a pair of socks. "You're gonna want to put these on, too." As she put her shoes and socks on, he looked around. He saw where she had cut herself. When the house flipped, the bed had gone over. She had struck her head on the corner of the nightstand. He hoped like hell she didn't have a concussion. This was going to be enough of a problem without her being hurt.
"Yeah?" She was standing up now. He walked over, standing in front of her. He held up his right hand, extending two fingers. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"What's your address?"
"1892 Lafayette Court, apartment 118, Las Vegas, Nevada."
"Count backwards from ten."
"Why are you asking me all this weird shit?" That was starting to sound more like the Madison he knew.
"Just making sure you're OK. Come on...we need to get out of here quick."
Thankfully, the stairs did not go by the bathroom or the other bedrooms. They didn't actually walk down the stairs. The pair slid on their butts along the stairwell wall to the living room. Another lucky thing...they didn't have a ton of furniture. There wasn't a lot of debris to avoid...mostly just from the destroyed outer part of the building. Luke thanked his stars they got the end unit...it had windows facing the side. They were smashed to bits now...but they provided a way out. He kicked away a few loose shards of glass before climbing through. Reaching back, he helped Madison out the window.
The view outside wasn't much better than the view inside. The neighborhood was completely destroyed. It looked like some little kid had built a town out of Legos...and then went Godzilla on it. Houses, condos, apartment buildings, trees...smashed to pieces or flattened completely. Cars were flipped over, thrown through buildings, torn in half. Thankfully, most people were still inside...so there wasn't a great deal of carnage on the street. There were a few, though. Luke saw a bloody arm hanging limply from what was left of a black truck. Across the street, a woman's body hung halfway out of a window. If Luke hadn't known any better, he would have sworn this was the set of some apocalypse movie. Then, he looked up at the sky.
And saw all he needed to know.
MartheEditLaguna Beach, California - March 1st, 2009
Marthe Reymond stared at her reflection in the rental's rear view mirror. Hair was a bit messy - yes, driving from the downtown hotel out here with the windows down had been a mistake. But it was such a beautiful spring day. And driving with the top down was what you did in America on a beautiful spring day.
Or so she'd been told - by Alain Dupont, someone who may or may not have actually done so. Alain, an old warhorse at La Garde, also claimed any number of improbable things from arm-wrestling the Dalai Lama ("surprisingly strong man") to getting drunk with Richard Nixon ("the most foul mouth you could have imagined"). Marthe had only believed him because lying about open-air driving seemed so tame by Al ain standards.
Marthe shook a mental fist at the old man, ran a cheap plastic comb through her hair in a modestly successful attempt to bring order to that chaos, and then hopped out of the car.
She liked what little she'd seen of Laguna Beach so far. Near Los Angeles, but not too near. And it had a slightly Bohemian accent, although from what she’d read (on, admittedly, Wikipedia), most of that crowd had departed for greener pastures lately.
Fussing with her hair a second time, undoing most of the good the comb had done, Marthe advanced up the sidewalk and into the building. It wasn’t the ideal place to do an interview, neither the interviewee’s home nor place of work, but Marthe’s travel budget only allowed for so much time in America, and that time was very rapidly drawing to a close.
“Excuse me,” she said to the woman behind the front desk. “Hello, I’m sorry. I’m here to see Dr. Donovan.”
“Who - oh, right. Yes. One moment please.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if the woman was answering Marthe or whoever was speaking into her little earpiece. Marthe waited and then turned as she heard/sensed/felt someone coming up behind her.
Another corporate minion. No, scratch that. Two days worth of stubble, shirt not tucked in, business slacks just a bit too short. A nerd trying to look corporate for whatever reason.
“Um, hey. Miss Reymond. I’m Dex. Come with me? Dr. J is in Mr. Bates’ office right now.”
“Lead the way,” Marthe said patiently.
Juliet Parrish Donovan awaited the arrival of the reporter from La Garde with some trepidation.
Over the last three years, she had managed to stay away from interviews, preferring to allow her husband Mike, to deal with the press and the celebrity that came with being the leader of the Los Angeles Resistance and the accredited creator of Lacertilia Escherichia coli Mutagena better known as the Red Dust bacteria.
Her benefactor and employer, Nathan Bates of Science Frontiers, had allowed her the use of his office for the interview while he was travelling aboard. Over the last twenty-three years, Science Frontier had been at the forefront of research into Visitor technology, an enterprise driven by Nathan himself and aided in no small part by government funding. Although Julie was realistic that Nathan’s reason were not entirely altruistic, Science Frontiers freed Julie from the tedious task of chasing funding dollars on an annual basis. Besides, there were ot her reasons for the work and that was to gain enough footing to deal with the bastard on a equal basis if they ever came back.
It was at Nathan’s behest that she did this interview. He'd convinced her that there was nothing wrong with getting some good PR for the work she did and truth be told, people were so complacent about the Visitors now, it was a good idea to remind them that not more a quarter of a century ago, this planet was fighting for its very survival.
Brushing her skirt down again as she sat on the comfortable sofa in his office, she wondered if she ought to have scheduled this when Nathan was in town or better yet, to have Mike present with her. However, he was on a story and she didn't want him to worry by confessing her insecurities in dealing with a reporter, when once she had faced of the likes of Diana.
Calm down Julie, this isn't the inquisition, it’s just an interview, she told herself as she waited for Miss Reymond to show up.
A minute later, Dex knocked on the door. “Hey, Dr. J,” he said quietly. “The French chi - reporter’s here.”
Oh nice, Julie shook her head. Research Assistants...
“Please show her in,” Julie piped up, rising to her feet to greet the woman when she was shown into the room.
Dex popped out for a second, mumbled something and then stepped back into the doorway, momentarily blocking Marthe. She managed to get around him with a mostly-patient smile, then turned to Julie. “Doctor Donovan, hello. It’s nice to finally meet you in person.” Approaching the Resistance hero, Marthe offered her hand.
Julie took the handshake and noted the accent, she always did like the lyrical sound of it. Miss Reymond was very much her Gaelic origins, with dark hair and full brown eyes. She had a decidedly continental look about her for sure unlike Julie’s own California sun drenched persona, now greying just a touch.
“Likewise Miss Reymond,” Julie smiled at her pleasantly. “Please take a seat, would you like something to drink? Tea, coffee?”
“ Coffee, please, that would be wonderful.”
Dex lurked in the doorway still. French chicks are hot, he thought.
Marthe took a seat and studied the office for a second, and then the famous Dr. Donovan. It was hard to believe she’d been one of the leading lights of the Resistance once upon a time. And then she corrected herself, no, it wasn’t hard to believe. Her eyes - the eyes reminded Marthe of the captain of the Bruat, the French frigate Marthe had served on during her brief naval career. Hard and firm and, melodramatic as it sounded, the eyes of a leader. Yes, she could believe this woman had led men (and women) into battle. “I’ll try not to take too much of your time, Doctor.”
“Take the time that you need,” Julie said politely, “I’m not in hurry, just a little nervous. I lea ve the interviewing to my husband.” She smiled.
Marthe smiled back. If only there was time to talk to him, too... But one Donovan was better than none. “Well, then...” She produced her little tape recorder and held it up for a second, then set it down on the desk with a “If that’s okay?” look on her face. “I suppose we should start at the beginning. What were you doing when the Visitors came? In general, and specifically that day, if you remember?”
Of course she would. Everyone who was old enough to walk at the time did.
While it might seem like a million years to most, Julie remembered that day clearly. ‘Where were you when the Visitors came’ had upset the previous reign of ‘Where were you when John Lennon died’ for her generation. “I was working a research assistant for Dr. Metz,” she said fondly, remembering the old man and his senior researcher Ruth. Both had died within weeks of the Visitors’ arrival. “I wasn’t quite 25.” She laughed.
“You and Dr. Metz were biochemists, working in Los Angeles, then?” Marthe asked.
“That’s right,” she nodded. “I was in my fourth year of med school. He wanted me to switch fields at the time but it was nothing I was able to explore til after the war,” she explained. “Not long after their arrival, the Visitors started targeting scientists and it didn’t seem smart to stay in the open or consider changing specialities.”
Marthe nodded. “Let’s back up a bit first. When they first arrived... what did you make of it? I know its hard now, after everything they did, but at the time, a lot of people were hopeful. Where did you fall?” Marthe herself could only dimly conceive of welcoming extraterrestrials with anything but, at best and grudgingly, extreme caution. But she knew she was a child of the post-Arrival generation, which tended to think of that sort of thing a little differently than someone in 1983 would have.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind would never have been made today.
“Myself,” Julie considered what she thought when she’d seen those large ships, hovering over the sky. It had been overwhelming and terrifying. “I was afraid. The sizes of the ships were huge and then there was the waiting, holding our breath’s until they spoke the first time, that terrible unknowing. When they said they were peaceful, I let out a collective sigh like everyone else, but I had this niggling feeling about what would have happened if we said no to them, right off the bat. Before we learnt what they really wanted.”
Marthe nodded again. “And when - one second.” She checked her notes. Dammit, it wasn’t in them. “Did you and Dr. Metz first become suspicious before or after they replaced the UN Secretary-General? Not that we knew it at the time, but as a point of reference.”
“We suspected something was going on,” she explained, remembering the sequence of events so clearly that Julie herself was rather surprised by the acuity of her memory. “They had promised us scientific symposiums to give us technology but they kept deferring. It didn’t take a leap of logic to realize they were stalling. We just never understood why until it was too late to do anything about it. They were using the time to move their pieces into place”
“And the fact that they looked like humans, too.” Marthe remembered the older hands on the Bruat mentioning that a lot, and she figured that, at best, one of them had actually seized on that fact at the time. The rest were jus t pretending they had to look appropriately suspicious. “And then the arrests, and... what was it like?”
Julie shuddered, remembering those days and nights when she’d been afraid of the inevitable knock on the door. “Terrifying,” she said after a moment. “If you had any kind of scientific qualification, you were just waiting for them to kick down your door and take you away. Most of the time, there was never an actual explanation, just people not showing up to work the next day. One minute you were talking to someone you cared about and the next day....they were just gone.”
Just like the Nazis, Marthe thought. The Visitors had no monopoly on disappearing people. She wondered if they airbrushed - or whatever the future version was - people out of pictures, too, or if that was just a Communist thing. “And then you went underground. Did you plan on anything like the Resistance at first, or was it just staying safe and figuring out what was really going on?
“Absolutely,” Julie retorted. “It was all about staying safe and keeping out of their reach. It was later on as we grew in numbers, that we started to pool our intelligence to realize that there was something else going on. They’d lied to us about everything, it became important for us to understand what they were really after.”
“And is that when you met Mr. Donovan?” Marthe asked with just the barest hint of a smile.
“Yes,” Julie couldn’t help but share in that smile. “He had a reporter’s instincts, he needed answers. He scared the hell out of me with the stunts he pulled but he got us what we needed - the truth. No matter how terrible it was.”
“And then the Resistance,” Marthe prompted. “People call you the Mother and Father of the Resistance, at least in Los Angeles...”
Julie laughed at that, “Actually it wasn’t me that started the Resistance as such. It was Ben, he was Elias Taylor’s brother. He was the one that really pushed things to happen. He died very early on in the war.” Julie went quiet, remembering Ben, remembering that awful day when she brought Elias his brother and watched him die, and in some way, watched Elias die a little too.
Marthe was silent for a moment, too, letting Julie have her grief. She’d heard of the Taylors, had even tried to track down Elias, but without any luck. “That was when your group started to fight back, then?”
“Yes,” Julie nodded, pulling herself back together again. “Most of us were doctors, gardeners, school teachers, we’d never picked up a gun in our lives but we learned, though we made a lot of mistakes too.”
“Fewer mistakes than things right,” Marthe pointed out. “In the end, that’s what matters, I think.” Careful, careful, don’t get too attached to all this...
Questions and answers shot back and forth across the desk for a while longer, and then there was a knock on the door.
“Heya, Doc,” Dex said. “Doctor Tam’s ready for you down in Lab Two...”
“Thank you Dex,” Julie said and looked at Marthe, “shall we....?”
“After you, Doctor Donovan,” Marthe said as she stood up.
Thirty minutes later, Julie and her companion found themselves in the main lab, a set of rooms located beneath the Science Frontiers building. Due to the nature of the material being tested, the walls were inches thick, had an independent generator and could only be accessed by one lift and a seldom used emergency exit that took it out of the main building into the nearby Laguna State Forest.
It was still early and with the exception of Dex and Dr. Tam, the rest of the staff had yet to arrive to start the day’s work. Dex and Dr. Tam worked at nights and had left to snatch a few hours sleep in order to return later in the afternoon.
Marthe looked around. Science was very much not her element, and she only had a dim idea of what they were doing here. Expensive and complicated things, certainly.
“They’ve been working round the clock the poor dears,” Julie explained as she took her into the biochemistry and genetic research laboratory for which she was in charge. “They’re actually trying to develop our own version of the Visitor laser pistols. Its not my field of course but its interesting work understanding how to use a cobalt based power source.”
That was more familiar territory to Marthe. She had heard that CEA DAM, France’s nuclear weapons agency, was experimenting on similar lines. Presumably, so were every other advanced military power on Earth, and probably a few not-so-advanced powers to boot. “How close are you to a working prototype?” she asked curiously.
“Judging the hours that Tam and Dex are putting in,” Julie considered, having taken a passing interest because as a former member of the Resistance, weapons knowledge had become part of her curriculum, “I’m guessing that they’ve nailed down the concept of how to generate a cobalt based energy. The next step I imagine is a practical application of it in a weapon.”
“Really? That’s fantastic,” Marthe said. “I’m sure it has all sorts of industrial uses, too,” she added as a token to civilian life. “What about you? What are you working on at the moment?”
“I’m working on understanding the nature of the mutative properties of the red dust bacteria,” Julie said happy to explain like any scientist the nature of her work. “The Visitor Brian was able to impregnate Robin Maxwell because Diana used some form of radioactive therapy, making her ovum more susceptible to accept Brian’s genetic material. We’ve manage that ourselves with cloning research where we destroy the genetic material of a fertilized egg and incorporate with the material of another.”
“I see,” Marthe said, although it hadn’t really sunk in. “So you’re making hybrids... or do you mean human to human?” she asked.
“No,” Julie was quick to answer. “We’re understanding cell mutation on that level that could help us to apply the technique to curing genetic diseases. Using the same principle to determine whether it is possible to introduce healthy material to genetically impaired cells.” She shuddered at the thought of any nation attempting to create hybrids and these days, she was one of the handful of people who knew where Robin and Elizabeth Maxwell currently lived.
“In that case, good luck,” Marthe said. “And I didn’t mean any offense about hybrids,” she added with an embarrassed sort of grimace. She looked around the lab again for a second. “I suppose some good has come out of the invasion, at least.”
“Yes,” Julie replied, though in her opinion, not enough. Twenty three years later and it was as if they’d never been here. The world had more or less forgotten them. “We have to grow from the experience, don’t we?” She said diplomatically.
"We have, I think,” Marthe said. “Look at everything we’ve taken from them. Your work, and your colleagues, look at that.”
“I do” Julie answered, “I’m proud of what we did...”
Suddenly, a tremendous rumble was heard beneath their feet. So violent that both women lost their footing as the laboratory, shuddered and shook, causing objects on work benches to smash against the floor, tables to shake uncontrollably and chairs to fall flat on their backs. Everything that wasn’t bolted down, was shaking across their surfaces to the floor. Above them, a sound of tearing metal and exploding concrete became lost in the high pitched screaming of people in hysterical panic.
Marthe let out a startled gasp, then got down on her hands and knees and started to crawl towards the nearest door. She grabbed hold of Julie’s wrist. “Come on!” Earthquake, Marthe thought, really big earthquake.
Slightly disorientated but accustomed to thinking quickly, Julie didn’t waste any time and let herself be dragged towards the doorway leading to the vestibule where the elevator was. The shuddering didn’t stop, not one bit and Julie looked up to see streams of dust trickling from above. Light globes were shattering in protest to the violence, raining glass in all directions.
The shaking continued, just like the sound of collapse above them but one thing which chilled Julie to the bone was the abrupt cessation of all human voices. The screaming had stopped and why that was so scared her more than anything else.
It alarmed Marthe, too. “Wait,” she said, as quietly as she could while still being heard o ver the ongoing rumble and clamor. “Something’s...” She stopped, straining her ears to listen. To no avail - the only noise was the collapse of the lab.
“What is it?” Julie tried to speak over the din but gave up because the noise was too much. Although like her companion, she was starting to feel that something wasn’t right. Living in California ensured that earthquakes were a part of life and she’d become accustomed to them but something about this felt different, though she couldn’t place how.
“Is this normal?” Marthe yelled, gesturing up at the still-shaking ceiling. And then “WHERE ARE THE STAIRS?” There was no way she was going to take the elevator in the middle of all this. Even if it was working, it would almost certainly strand them between floors.
“No,” Julie said vehemently. “No stairs!” She started to get up, moving away from the doorway, her back crouching as if that would keep her from being hit by debris. She clung to Marthe’s hand and hollered back, “Nathan had an emergency tunnel built, connecting to the labs. He thought that if the Visitors came back, this would be a primary target because of our research!” She shouted, leading Marthe towards it.
Marthe followed, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. If the Visitors came back... but it couldn’t be. She stooped suddenly and grabbed up a fire extinguisher that had fallen off the wall, then doubled her pace to keep up with Julie before her arm got wrenched out of its socket. The woman had a pretty firm grip.
Julie didn’t waste time. She’d been in too many bunker raids, had been on the wrong end of skyfighter attack more times than she could count for that switch inside her brain to remain completely inert. Weaving through the chaos around her, she reached the far end of the lab and emerged into the hallway leading towards the escape tunnel.
“The escape tunnel runs for about a half a mile,” she explained to Marthe who looked frightened and probably needed the commentary to keep from going into panic mode. “Its the best way out.”
“Right!” Marthe said, then took a few deep breaths to calm down. The half-mile or so went by in a blur of noise and confusion. Marthe eyed the heavy door, which didn’t look as if it had buckled or bent, and then pushed. Appearances were slightly deceiving, and it took some considerable effort to force the door open. Marthe stared out and then groaned at the skies above.
Julie didn’t see it at first because her attention was fixated on the landscape which was burning. The tunnel had led out into the edge of the Laguna wilderness, again another tactical choice because if they were running, they would need the cover. She looked behind her where the Science Frontier building had stood and in the area surrounding it, there was nothing but devastation. Piles upon piles of flaming wreckage. Nothing man made was standing.
When she heard Marthe groan, Julie looked up and the saucer shaped ship that had plagued her dreams for the last twenty -three years, hung in the sky as if were staring back at her.
Malibu, California - March 1st, 2009He didn’t know what the girl’s name was - couldn’t care less really.
Aiden had picked her up on the way down from Malibu when he stopped briefly at Marina Del Ray in the yacht that Mavis had bought him for their wedding. He’d been biding his time all week, wanting to ensure that she on one of those whole day excursions before he set out this morning, wanting to put as much time between them before she realised he was gone. Everyday since he’d made his mind to leave, had seemed to stretch longer than the one before it as he waited for the opportunity, each day cursing when Mavis found someway to fuck up his plan.
However, last night the old cow had informed him that Whitley, her best friend from Boston was in town and they were going t o spend the day at the La Munga Health Spa. She’d left early, giving him a kiss and telling him that they’d do something special tomorrow. He pretended like he couldn’t wait and Mavis had gone off, confident that tomorrow would be like today, with him at her back and call. He’d sat at their long dining table, sipping coffee for approximately 20 minutes after she’d gone and then casually told the butler Jeeves, whose name he was convinced was part of his job description that he was going to the country club and should be back by dinner.
Instead he’d driven out to Malibu Pier, removed the suitcase that had been prepared and waiting in the trunk of the car for this very day and raised anchor on his yacht, an LSX 78 Lazzara and cast off, sparing nary a thought to what he was leaving behind. If everything went according to plan, by the time Mavis knew to look for him, he would be in Mexico. He’d picked up the girl at Marina Del Ray when he stopped to fuel up, not wanting to do it anyway near Malibu and learned that she was on her way to Newport. She was 19, had great tits and was ready to go down on him before he even left the store.
They’d fucked as soon as they got out to sea again and he was grateful for the release after putting up with Mavis the night before. Young flesh was what he needed, young flesh was he got. She was firm and tight where she needed to b e and brainless enough to think that he’d bought her story that she had friends in Newport, waiting for her. What she wanted was to fuck him into giving him a reason to keep her around, which he wasn’t. Aiden Parry was the wrong person to con.
He was going to complete the final aria in what had been a near two year opus. This was the ultimate ‘Long Con’ and would ensure that this job would be his last. He’d take the yacht which he’d called Ariadne, not after the goddess of myth but rather after someone dearer to his heart, all the way down the Mexican coast until he reached the Caribbean and simply disappear.
With a new identity and a new life. He’d earned it.
He’d known from the instant he read about her husband’s death in the papers that Mavis Winston-Prescott would be his swan song. Mavis was sole heir to her husband Austin’s 1 billion dollar fortune, she had no children and a slew of prick relations who’d have difficulty contesting anything in court if it came down to it. However, Aiden had never planned to be around long enough. He’d spent three months before approaching her, setting up his cover, creating a life that was devoid of suspicion by t he battery of detectives who would be put on the case the instant she entered his life.
He’d been a grifter for most of his life. He’d learnt early on from his mentor, Sebastian Carr who had vanished a decade ago as he was about to do now, that you never used your real name. He’d wandered into Sebastian’s orbit after successfully lifting the man’s wallet. Sebastian, who was a fan of the greats like Lustig and Ponzi, took him under his wing and taught Aiden everything he knew. He didn’t even use his real name when he was in high school or college which Sebastian insisted he attend.
Letting your enemy know your true name was to give them power, Sebastian had said.
This was why he became Aiden when he needed to enter Mavis’ life.
After three months of creating the somewhat dull but squeaky clean persona of Aiden Parry, he started working at the country club where the woman attended, taking a job as one of a battery of masseurs on staff at the luxury resort. He never sought her out but he was handsome, six foot four and well built with dark hair and blue eyes, manna to the socialite set. It didn’t take long for the sixty year old Mavis to come to him. He kept it professional for at least two months, flirting just enough to give the impression of more, he learned what she liked, spoke to her about politics (which bordered on right wing), discussed art, movies and anything else that made him interesting to talk too.
He finally got his way in after showing her that snacking on sixty year old snatch was his favorite thing in the world. She’d shown up every day after that and he’d let her leave, rubbery kneed and satisfied. After six months, when she realised she couldn’t do without him, he told he was going, leaving LA because his dream of building his own health spa had not materialized and he was going back to Iowa.
She’d proposed within the week.
She’d offered to take care of him, to give him whatever he wanted if he’s stay. Aiden was smart, he refused the proposal, telling her that it wouldn’t look good for her, he was 25 years her junior and the people in her life would have problems with the marr iage. The more he played harder to get, the more determined she became until finally he acquiesced and made her think that getting married was her idea. Hell, he even signed the pre-nup her lawyers insisted upon, just to show he wasn’t after her money.
They married a year ago, honeymooned in Paris and she gave him a blank check to build his club, which he did. She trusted him completely; unaware that he was slowly siphoning money to an offshore Cayman Island account. At college he’d taken computer science because Sebastian had told him that was where cons were going, moving millions with a keyboard. Aiden agreed. However, he wasn’t greedy. He had no intention of taking it all and honestly, when you aimed for the whole pot, that’s when you got caught. Twenty million dollars later and he was set. He’d never have to work again and he was smart enough to know how to make that money work for him.
In the meantime, he gave Mavis the best year of his life, even managed to ensure that he didn’t cheat while he was playing husband. Though it was hard bagging a sixty year old even if Mavis kept herself in good shape. Personally, he wasn’t into the whole cougar thing, Mavis was just part of his ‘Long Con'. She had never been anything else.
Fucking the girl this morning was almost cathartic.
Now he was on his way to make a quick stop at Newport and then to freedom.
With the pier that was the local landmark of Huntington Beach behind, Aiden was making good time in accomplishing his plan to reach Mexican waters by the end of the night. It was more than an hour since he’d left Malibu and Newport was fast approaching. Even though his companion, Bella had dropped numerous hint of travelling on with him, Aiden was undeterred. He had just cast off the shackles of one woman; he had no intention of anchoring himself to another.
Taking deep breaths of salt air as the Ariadne sped through the waves, leaving a trail of snow white foam behind it, Aiden felt exhilarated. There was nothing like thrill of success when a con was done and the fruits of victory collected. Especially one that was a result of a long con. Looking forward to the l ife ahead, Aiden mulled over his future, trying to decide what he would do once he was at rest. Perhaps, he would try and find Sebastian, retired to the same place. Live a life of luxury with his twenty million pieces of well earned silver.
He was mulling over all these things when suddenly, over the roar of the engines that propelled the yacht through the waves, the sound of a loud explosion cracked through the air, like a thunderclap. Then the yacht’s engines started to sputter, spitting out a number of impudent spurts before diminishing completely, leaving him dead in the water.
“What the hell?” He cursed, turning on the ignition again, trying to get the starter firing when the wind suddenly turned from a light breeze to heavy gale force that had the boat rocking turbulently in the water. Aiden grabbed onto a railing, trying to keep his balance and the sea around him grew choppy and uneven. Bewildered by this sudden change in weather, he heard tBella screaming.
“OH MY GOD LOOK!” She squealed and pointed in the direction of the mainland. Aiden turned his gaze to where her finger was pointed and saw a wall of fire moving across the landscape. It consumed buildings, incinerated trees and people who happened to be in its destructive path. It was like nothing he’d ever seen, like a scourge from God or the fallout from a nuclear explosion. The inferno thundered forward, moving quickly down the coast, consuming the beach and the ocean beyond like a backyard rake sweeping across the grass.
And it was coming right at them.
“Jump!” He ordered Bella as the blaze approached them, having little more than a second to look back over his shoulder to see if she was heading towards the railing like him when he jumped. Taking a deep breath of air, he plunged feet first into the water, his last glimpse of Ariadne being the underside of her elongated hull. The clarity of the crystal blue water allowed him some visibility in the water as well as a view of what was happening on the surface. Looking around, he sought out Bella and saw no sign of her in the drink with him.
In horror, he realised she might not have jumped and considered swimming back to the surface when Ariadne made that decision for him. The ship, claimed by the blaze, exploded above him, the tremendous roar muffled through the water. The shockwave pushed him deeper again and Aiden could feel the pressure building up against his ears as wreckage from the blast began raining down around him. There was still no sign of Bella. Trying to avoid the falling debris took more effort than he could spare and within minutes, his lungs were bursting desperately for air.
Taking a gamble that the fireball had swept over them and continued along it ruinous path, Aiden started swimming to the surface. He didn’t have much of a choice really; he was out of air and would drown if he remained submerged much longer.. Breaking the surface, the first sight that greeted him was what was blazing wreckage of his yacht, or rather what was left of it. It was consumed in fire from stern to bow, giving off a billowing cloud of black smoke that rose into the air. Even in the water, he could feel the heat on his face as the intense fire began to break the craft apart. Heart broken, he watched her burn treading water, until Ariadne gasped her last and vanished into the deep.
When she was gone, Aiden remembered the other girl that had shared his ocean voyage this morning. Swimming around the debris field, he wondered if he would find her if she had drowned, did a body float or sink? It became a moot point when he found Bella shortly after. She floating on her back unmoving. Her tanned bronzed skin looked white now and her gold hair drifted by her face like a halo. One side of her face and body that he could see was a charred mess and her eyes, wide open, stared into nothingness. She hadn’t been able to jump clear of the fireball it seemed.
Turning away from the grisly sight, he felt a pang of regret at her demise. He hadn’t known her long, hadn’t planned on ever doing so but he still remembered her taste and how soft her skin felt against his. She hadn’t to deserved to die like this.
There was nothing to do now but survive and Aiden began searching the flotsam and wreckage to find something useful. His suitcase, one of those neoprene sealed waterproof type had survived seemingly unscathed and was bobbing up and down in the water not far from him. Swimming up to it, he claimed what was his and also saw the white plastic housing that contained the emergency life raft. It wasn’t hard to inflate, requiring merely a pull of the chord before the CO2 activated with a loud pop. Built to hold four, it even came with a canopy to protect its user from the rain. Aiden swung the suitcase into it first and then climbed over the edge to fall wetly against the rubber floor, exhausted.
After a while when he had caught his breath and rested, Aiden sat up in the raft to take stock of his situation. His eyes followed he shore and saw the destruction on land was severe enough to make the cloud of smoke billowing from Ariadne seem slight. The coast was an inferno of black smoke. Did the Russians or the Chinese drop a nuke on them? He thought absurdly and brushed it off, he hadn’t seen a mushroom cloud. Looking back towards LA however, he saw a shape in the sky that made him freeze.
It hung in, too large to maintain that altitude, an image from his childhood, burned into his memory given life now. It was why he had turned out the way he had and now wa sthe reason his carefully crated plans were now smouldering in ruins.
As he stared at the mothership, Aiden realised that the only thing that could derail the long con was the occassional joker in the pack.
MattEditSomewhere outside Los Angeles (seriously, the filming location is being kept under tight security!)
March 1st, 2009
The old World War II era bunker had probably seen better days, but any more, the place didn’t need to serve as protection against Russians and atomic bombs. Over the years, the dark walls and small rooms had seen many things from parties in the 60’s to it’s current vocation: an underground mining complex on Mars.
That’s what it was supposed to be and as he stood in the dimly lit tunnel, his assistant Skylar Jones rattling off his schedule, Matt Johns had to give the FX guys this one. Even the ‘rocks 217; that lined the tunnel walls, all foam, duct tape, paint and baling wire, looked so real. Reminded him of home, which wasn’t something he always wanted to remember. At least here, he could walk off the set, climb in his truck and drive back to his condo on the beach and his surfboards.
Hard to imagine that he, from Yeardley, West Virginia, could be here. With a personal assistant who was currently going over his schedule, voice mail and messages. Who’d a thunk it, as his dad would say. Got a boy in college and a boy in Hol-lee-wood.
“Your mother called, using her new cell phone. She asked me to tell you that she was calling on it and that Mrs. Cramer saw it in her purse this past Sunday at church, decided your mother was now a drug dealer and announced that in the middle of Pastor Samuel’s sermon.”
Glancing back at Skylar, who was the epitome of the California Valley Girl, Matt chuckled dryly as he leaned against the fake rocks . He pushed at them, put his shoulder into one, making sure they’d hold up in the fight scene they were filming later today.
“Your sister Grace called... what are you doing?” Skylar Jones, personal assistant extraordinaire, happened to look up from her iPad. “The safety team’s already been through.” Blond eyebrows arched over green eyes.
“Just checking.” Matt tossed her a grin, mischief twinkling at the corners of his eyes.
Shaking her head, Skylar went back to the messages neatly notated on the Franklin Covey program downloaded on her iPad. Welcome to the world of Matt Johns, who only knew five phrases that had twenty different meanings each. The rest of the world knew him as MATT JOHNS!, the latest gorgeous to grace Hollywood’s silver screen. Skylar didn’t care, she’d been around the trappings of the movie star life long enough to be able to turn a blind eye to the fact she was working for one o f the hottest guys on the planet or so said the several dozen Facebook sites, the Twitter feeds (OMG, I LUV U! U R AUHSUM!!! MARRY MEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and the websites. Oh, and whoever had started that dreadful slash site featuring Matt in compromising positions with all the other male characters in his movies.
“Anyway,” she continued. “Grace called, asked you to call her back. Henry apparently got in some kind of fight at school over you. He’s okay, but she wants to discuss it. Ridley Scott’s agent called, so did Mr. Bruckheimer’s and Mr. Eastwood’s. The Charleston Medical Society wants you to headline the opening of their new...huh.”
Matt glanced back, seeing Skylar frowned at her iPad. “What?” She was cute when she did that, nose wrinkled, lower lip pouted out.
“My iPad just lost its signal. I’ll be right back.”
“Yeah.. okay.” Matt replied absently, pulling out his script sheet for the day. As the click-click of her heels died away, he found a spot on a prop crate and took a seat.
He was only two lines in when Skylar’s scream ricocheted into the tunnel. On his feet instantly, Matt broke into a run when a not-so-dull explosion seemed to rock through the place. Explosions in mines he knew, earthquakes he knew... that... whatever that was, Matt didn’t know it.
That sounded like... the whole place seemed to shake again, a sound not unlike a mine explosion reverberating through his boots as the lights went out, dropping him into almost complete darkness. “Sky!!”
Suddenly, the floor seemed to heave and something hot and suffocating crashed into Matt, throwing him backwards.... which was the last thing he remembered.
When he came to, it was still dark... at least, that was as much as Matt registered before the headache kicked in and he realized there was shit on top of him. Heavy shit. With a grunt, he pushed at something on reflex, hand coming into contact with something hard.
Pushing at it made his head hurt more which told him that he’d probably been out for a couple of hours at least. He’d played football and baseball enough to realize when he’d taken a hard hit. He blinked a couple of times, making sure that yeah, it was still dark in here. He just had to give it a couple of minutes and his eyes would adjust.
Dark didn’t bother him.. never had. With a groan, Matt pushed at something else, freeing up his feet. Growing up with miners, you learned never to just stand up in the dark like this. You went to your knees first, letting your back take the burden and not your neck or your head. If only he had a rebreather too.
Twenty minutes later, having picked his way towards the light (god that was the start of a bad joke wasn’t it), Matt found himself in hell.
There were... bodies everywhere, burning wreckage of things, of vehicles... of bodies... and the air was thick with dust and suffocating heat that made him cough, gag on the smell of burnt flesh but all that was nothing compared to the big ship in the sky, blocking out the sun.
Damn, his father was right. The bastards were like cockroaches.