“That’s right, Ray,” Yalda said, mumbling to himself as he ran, “Let me lead you on a merry chase. That’s what we do right? I lead, you follow.”
He noticed a woman preparing to place her children into her car. He ran behind her and grabbed her by the neck, jamming a pistol into her stomach. The children began to cry.
“Get in,” he said.
“Don’t hurt my kids,” she said.
“I’m not interested in your kids. The last thing I need is your spawn screaming in my ear. I want your vehicle.”
“Just take it. Please, let me go. My children…”
“Unfortunately, I don’t know how to operate this thing so that’s where you come in.”
“Please, my kids need…”
“God damn it, human mothers never shut up about their kids. Get the fuck in.”
She cried and shook her head.
“Believe me, I don’t want to be stuck in a small metal box full of human stink either.”
He pushed her in and she sat in the driver’s seat. She looked up at him weeping.
“In, in, all the way in. I’m sitting there.”
“You said you don’t know how…”
“You’re going to tell me how. Now, move over.”
She climbed over the center console and flopped into the passenger’s seat. Yalda sat behind the wheel.
“Now what?” he said.
“Put this in that slot,” she said holding the key.
He grabbed it and did as instructed.
“Now push that button.”
He pushed it and the car grumbled to a start.
“Internal combustion?” Yalda said, smirking. “You people are monkeys. Now what?”
“Pull this until it lines up with ‘D’.”
Yalda followed the instructions and the woman’s oldest child stood in front of the car, frowning at Yalda.
“Wow, your kid’s got stones, mama,” Yalda said. “If you value its life as much as you’re trying to make me think you do, you’ll tell it to stand down.”
“Alice, honey, get out of the way.”
The girl just kept staring.
“Alice?” Yalda wondered aloud. “Three hundred years? It’s not implausible.”
“Tell Miss Alice she can come along for the ride.”
“No. Don’t. She’s just a kid.”
The woman’s pleading was interrupted by a man running from the store to the car. He dropped the bags he was carrying and picked up speed as he ran for the car.
“What are you doing with my family,” the man yelled.
“Nevermind,” Yalda barked. “How do I make this go?”
“Press the pedal on the right.”
Yalda pressed the pedal and the engine roared but remained stationary. The man jerked Alice away from her assumed post.
“You have to do the shifter first.”
“For fuck's sake,” Yalda pulled the shifter and pulled away as the man yelled threats at Yalda, holding back his daughter.
As he peeled away, Yalda stuck his arm out the window and extended his middle finger high in the air.
Cheryl was laid out on Bart’s couch with Holly sitting by her side. She was strung up to all manner of makeshift medical equipment, IV drips, and monitors. Blaylock was still bound and wedged next to Billy. He stared at Cheryl and Holly stared back at him.
“What are you looking at?” Holly said.
“Just watching her die.”
“What? You’re not naive enough to think she’s going to survive that?”
She continued to glare at him and he grinned.
“It would be the best thing I’ve seen all week.”
Holly stormed from the room. She returned with a roll of duct tape and proceeded to wrap his head in it. After she had mummy wrapped his head, she struck the protrusion that indicated his nose. Billy let out a full-throated laugh. She yelped and pulled her hand away shaking it.
“How do mom and dad do that,” she winced.
“You feel better, kid?” Billy smiled.
“A little better.”
“I feel a lot better,” he wiggled in place, pleased with the situation.
“You’re a diviner, right?”
“Sure am, hon.”
“Can you tell me if Cheryl will be okay?”
Billy took a prodigious puff of his cigarette and blew the smoke above his head. The smoke froze and began to form shapes. Billy chuckled with delight as he waved them in and out of existence.
“Dry those tears, little one,” he giggled. “She’ll be A-okay. In fact, you’ll be shocked at how okay she is. She just needs time to recover.”
Holly’s breathing slowed and she looked at Cheryl’s bruised face.
“She knows you're here,” Billy said, for once without giggling, chuckling or tittering, “Stay with her. You’ll help her find her way back.”
Holly looked at Billy and his face was serious, his eyes pierced her. He gave her a big, toothy smile and returned to his regularly scheduled television program.
The Starcrossed floated dead through the debris of Ray’s fleet. Inside, it was dark. Wolf, Luna and Past Ray floated free about the cabin, unconscious. Luna’s hand brushed past Wolf’s. After a violent intake of air, she grabbed his hand and squeezed. Wolf grumbled awake and squeezed back.
“What the hell?” Wolf groaned, then regained focus. “What’s happening?”
“We got our asses handed to us,” Ray said. “Present-day Draconians were called in as reinforcements.”
“Have they started the assault?” Luna asked.
“No,” Ray replied. “I don’t know what they’re waiting for.”
“What’s the damages?” Wolf asked, floating over to a wall panel and pulling it off. Sparks flew out to meet him. “What a mess. This could take awhile, without Holly.”
“Do what you can,” Ray said. “It doesn’t have to win races, just get us moving.”
“Are you the devil?” the woman asked Yalda.
“Are you Lucifer?”
“Ha, no. But I love the fact that’s his reputation here. No, that do-gooder's only sin is teaching you monkeys to use tools and weapons, just to fight little old me.”
“I’ve seen you on the news.”
“Did they get my good side?”
“You’re a maniac.”
“You’re going to have to try harder to if you want to insult me. I kinda like that one.”
“What do you want with us?”
“I want you marching to war under my flag. You can never have too much cannon fodder. And if I can’t get that, I’ll settle for your annihilation.”
Yalda swerved through traffic, the tires chirping.
“Where are you taking me?” the woman asked.
“Somewhere with a big, captive audience. Where do people gather in droves here? Surely you have an arena or something, where you watch other monkeys fling their shit at each other.”
“I think there’s a football game at the Mick.”
“What’s the Mick?”
“Mckinley Savings field.”
“Lead the way.”
Cheryl was aware. Her body may have shut down, but her mind was racing fast, too fast to catch a thought. There was only one constant and that was Yalda’s face, smiling with glee as he shoved her own taser into her neck. The pain was still vivid and she could feel it in every cell, but it was fading into a dull buzz. She felt like she was bound in a cocoon, but still floating free down a river of thoughts which all seemed to lead to one place, The Demiurge. She somehow knew that if she rode these rapids she would find a way out. A way out of the dark, electrical parade that her thoughts were forming. As they flowed, they crystallized into something she could behold for more than a moment. She saw Sophie calling for her; she was young and had climbed too high in the big tree in the yard and was scared to come down. She saw her parents, bring a little, black-haired girl into the home. She saw the red, tearing eyes of her dad’s old partner, Ed, as he put the girl down on the couch beside her. The first thought in her young head was to put this potential rival in her place, but little girl looked at her and smiled. The smile was sad, but her eyes sparkled with a joy and kindness that tragedy couldn’t dull. She saw her dad’s partner try and lift the girl off the couch for one more hug before he left. She saw her four-year-old-self throw her arms around the black haired girl.
“You can’t take my sister,” she said in a squeaky, four-year-old bark.
Ed laughed and began morphing. His trimmed hair sprouted into wild locks and his smile became sinister. His eyes increased in size and became black as a starless sky. The man who was once a bull became lanky and his dinner plate hands narrowed and elongated into talons. He had become Yaldabaoth. He produced a blade and stabbed the four-year-old Sophie in the belly as she nestled in his arms.
“Ain’t time travel a bitch, Ellers?” he said.
Cheryl shouted, sprung upright and shouted, “Sophie.”
Holly ran to her side and Billy erupted in delight.
“See. I told you,” Billy laughed and rocked back and forth.
Holly grabbed Cheryl’s hand and electricity arced between them. Holly was tossed back and landed on her rear.
“I also told you,” Billy said, clapping his hands on his knees.
“What the hell was that?” Cheryl said.
“You’re still holding a charge,” Holly said, regaining her feet. “How do you feel?”
“Like I was hit by a truck. Where’s Soph?”
“She’s with the team. They’re going after Yalda. And she’s on the warpath. I think she plans to ignore Ray’s order to take him alive.”
Cheryl smiled, “That’s two of us.”
“Cheryl, Ray has his reasons.”
“And I have mine,” she said pulling the IVs and electrodes off of her.
“At least let me do a few tests first.”
“You just knocked me on my butt with electricity.”
“I’d like to find the bastard before it wears off.”
“Just let me take some blood first, then you can wage your war.”
Past Ray and Luna sat in the flight cabin of the Starcrossed, still reeling from their loss and brimming with worry over the future of the blue ball floating in front of them. Wolf could be heard, in the aft, barking obscenities as he toiled on the engines.
“Why is Yalda so hell-bent on making your life miserable?” Luna asked, “And by extension everyone else's.”
“He blames me for the death of his sister. They were very close. They grew up alone. All they had was each other.”
“What happened to her?”
“She was shattered, literally, into billions of shards of energy.”
“Did you know her?”
“I loved her.”
Wolf burst into the flight cabin, grinning, “I think I got the wheels back on. Try her out.”
Ray tapped the console and Starcrossed coughed to life.
“Ha,” Wolf said. “Holly says I’m all thumbs when it comes to mechanics.”
The Starcrossed wheezed and sputtered and once again floated lifelessly.
Yalda pulled into the parking lot of the sports complex. It was packed with cars and roars could be heard coming from the stadium. The car jerked to a stop and Yalda stepped out.
“This will do nicely,” he nodded. “A packed house. All those monkeys have no idea they’re about to watch the event of the millennia. And watch the hope for their ridiculous species die.”
“I got you here,” the woman said. “Can I go now, please?”
“I don’t care what you do, lady.”
She scrambled to the front driver’s seat and threw the car in reverse, tearing out of the lot.
“Hey, V,” Yalda said, “Send a landing party down. I’m going to need containment.”
Yalda entered the stadium and was stopped by a ticket taker holding out his hand. Yalda looked at him askance.
“Ticket?” the employee said as if explaining calculus to a pidgeon, “You know, ticket. It’s how you get in.”
Yalda smirked. He whipped a blade through the air and severed the ticket taker’s hand. The man wailed and grabbed his arm. It was spraying like an unattended fire hose. Yalda picked up his hand and pressed it against his chest.
“You dropped this,” he said.
Two security guards had mobilized and he threw a singularity grenade at their feet. It flashed and they screamed as they crumpled into a point of space. He shot three more and entered the stadium proper. He emerged from the vomitorium and observed the crowd and they shouted and cheered. They stuffed their mouths with flat disks covered in orange goo and long tubes of meat nestled in white hammocks of bread, coated with red and yellow stripes and green melange.
“These people are doing my job for me,” he muttered to himself and he descended to the lower levels.
When he was level with the field he looked for a way to get on but found none. He shot his way through the barricades that kept the unruly mob from the players on the field. Security guards, police, and players tried to subdue him. He lobbed grenades and laser bolts, leaving the field littered with bodies. The crowd climbed over each other in an effort to escape the stadium. They were met at the vomitoriums by Draconian troops that pushed them back in.
“Don’t go anywhere, yet, folks,” Yalda said into a small metal disk in his hand and his voice blasted out over the sound system, “The real show is about to begin. Your best guys, against my best guys.”