Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 12

It was even later when Abraham Grant finally returned to the base. On his way back from the meeting he stopped at a bar to have a few drinks in order to deal with the thoughts that were still swimming around in his head. He realized that seeing Morane with his knife again unfortunately brought back the same feelings and emotions he endured back then as a young soldier.

He remembered how helpless he felt then and how he couldn't even move while being forced to look into the eyes of that madman as he held that bloody knife out in front of his face. But that nightmare seemed to be the least of his worries when he walked through the main gate and saw Lynne standing outside as if she'd been waiting for him all this time. As their eyes met, he saw nothing but anger and frustration and he knew things were about to escalate.

"Where were you?" Lynne asked sternly. "Do you have any idea how late it is? Or even how worried I've been?"

Abraham sighed. "You sound like an angry wife. What's the meaning of this anyway? Have you been standing out here all this time waiting for me?"

Lynne furrowed her brow. "You weren't in your office, nor were you at home," she explained. Then she picked up on something else. "Is that---alcohol I smell on you, Captain?"

"Yes it is," he snapped. "And I'm not in the mood to listen to one of your god damn lectures, Miss Williams. I've had a long night and I'd like to get some rest if you don't mind."

His words left her speechless but she could tell something else was wrong with him, and it was most likely something he wouldn't care to share with her either.

"There's something you're not telling me," she suddenly spoke up. "I can see it on your face. You're hiding something."

"I'm not hiding anything," he fired back irritably. "Now please, just go home and get some rest. Don't worry about me. I'm old enough to be your father."

"Won't you at least tell me how the meeting with Morane went?" She asked.

He frowned. "It was a waste of my time and I never should've gone in the first place. Now please stop pestering me. Just let it go."

She sighed and shook her head at him. "It sounds like it was bad enough you had to drink afterwards. That's not normal, Captain. Did he threaten you?"

Abraham saw the knife again for a split second before her face was in focus again. "No he didn't. Now I'm going home and you should too."

He started to leave but she just stood there grief-stricken staring back at him, and he knew then he couldn't keep it a secret any longer.

"Something did happen," he stopped and looked her in the eye. "But now's not the time to talk about it. Like I said it's late and you should get some rest. We'll discuss it tomorrow."

"Fine," she responded solemnly. "But I was just going to inform you that Corporal Church is on board with the project. He contacted me about it last night shortly after you left, and since then I've been waiting all this time to tell you the good news. We're finally moving forward."

"That is great news," he replied. "I'm sorry I wasn't here at the time, and I'm sorry for the way our last conversation ended. You are right about Morane, the man is no good. But as I've said, we'll discuss it all later. But for now I want you to get some rest. That's an order."

She nodded. "Yes, Captain. But please promise me this. When you tell me later on, don't hold back anything. I want to know it all. Could you promise me that?"

"I promise," he gave a half smile before turning around and heading home.

Justin soon awoke again to the sound of his stomach growling once more and decided to get up for good this time. It was about six in the morning now and he knew the mess hall would be serving breakfast soon. At first he scrambled to get out the door but then he noticed his old model plane again and quickly rushed over and snatched it up to take with him. Luckily it was small enough that it fit right in the pants pocket of his uniform, so he decided to stow it away for the time being.

Now as he headed to the air force academy building he wondered if Stan and William were already in the mess hall waiting for him. He still remembered the eavesdropping he did on Victoria and Maxwell's conversation and he couldn't wait to see the look on William's face once he told him what she said. After all it was the least he could do since he made William feel like a fool in front of her. It was unintentional of course, but Justin still felt bad about it and wanted to try and make amends somehow.

But he felt quite enamored himself as he walked inside the building to find Grace Hanes chatting with Lucy and Mipsy. They noticed him right away and Grace quickly turned her back, signaling with her hand for the other girls to do the same.

"Not the cold shoulder again," Justin remarked as he stopped right in front of them. "You aren't happy to see me, love?"

"Excuse me," Mipsy replied haughtily as she looked him in the eye. "But can't you see us girls are trying to have a private conversation here?"

Justin shrugged. "Didn't sound like much of a conversation to me. Why is Grace avoiding me this time?"

Lucy looked at Grace. "You want to answer him yourself?"

"Oh, alright," Grace groaned as turned herself around to face him. "Corporal Church, I have no interest in you, alright? Please stop harassing me and sending me gifts. You're too young for me and above all else, you're just not my type."

Justin scoffed. "I'll be eighteen in six months. I'm closer to being a man than you think, doll face."

Lucy rolled her eyes. "You're desperate," she pointed at him accusingly.

"And don't call me doll face," Grace scolded him. "You are to treat me with respect, you hear?"

Lucy and Mipsy giggled.

Justin frowned.

"I'm sorry, Corporal," Grace said apologetically. "But it could never work out between us."

Justin huffed. "Yeah, that's what you think?"

"It's what she knows," Lucy chimed in.

"And who asked you?" He quipped. "She can speak for herself."

"Well you obviously can't take no for an answer," Lucy remarked. "So why don't you go find someone who is more your type and your age? Stop being such a drug store cowboy. It's really off putting."

"I will, only if you stop meddling in other people's business, Lucy," he smirked. "That's off putting too you know?"

"Hmmph," Lucy turned her nose up at him.

He chuckled. "The truth hurts, doesn't it?"

"Okay, you can go away now," Mipsy suddenly shooed him away with her hands.

"Well I was on my way anyhow," he remarked as he started walking off heading straight for the mess hall.

He looked back to see the girls had resumed their conversation and were apparently gossiping about him now. He didn't care though. They gossiped about everyone and everything like they were their own little clique, but little did they know that he too had dirt on them, which would no doubt ruin their reputations if he chose to spill it, but he was better than that.

Still he couldn't help his little crush on Grace, she was perfection to him even if she was more on the chubby side. She was also a redhead which was another bonus for him and quite curvy as well. He always joked with William about how you would always see her bubs before you'd see her. And even though William was more of a gentleman than he was, whenever Justin made that joke William couldn't help but grin.

But now as Justin grabbed a tray of food and went to sit down by himself he didn't see any sign of William or Stan at the moment, but he did see Sergeant Dickerson sitting on the other side of the room reading a newspaper and drinking his usual morning cup of coffee. Justin looked down at his tray and sighed. He didn't care for today's selection but he knew it was better than eating another can of applesauce. He also didn't feel like sitting alone so he picked up his tray and headed over to sit across from Chris.

"Morning, Sergeant Dickerson," Justin saluted with a smile. "Mind if I sit with you?"

"Go right ahead," Chris replied. "Where are your usual comrades at?"

"Don't know," Justin answered as he began cutting into his pancakes with his plastic fork. "They should be arriving soon though. I can't stay long. I've got a busy day ahead of me."

"You don't say?" Chris replied with curiosity. "Is Commander Williams punishing you today?"

Justin chuckled. "Nah, for once she's not."

"That's surprising," Chris remarked. "Last time I saw you, you were in the elevator nearly out of breath."

Justin chuckled again. "Oh yeah. I could barely get a word out, could I? I ran like hell too. Left William behind to make a fool out of himself in front of Victoria Thompson."

Chris shook his head. "Is he still pining after her?"

Justin nodded. "Sure is. I've tried to help him get over her but nothing has worked. He's in too deep I guess. But I've also been kind of selfish too. I've seen other girls hitting on him but I wouldn't say anything because I'd rather have them for myself. And before you say anything, I know that makes me sound like an asshole."

"Well it sounds like he's oblivious either way," Chris commented as he took a sip from his mug. "And yes, Corporal Church, you can be quite the asshole sometimes."

Justin laughed again as he stuffed a fork full of pancake into his mouth and began chewing.

"Still, it could be worse I guess," Justin mentioned with his mouth full of food. "Grace rejected me once again. She can't see how much she means to me and how I worship the ground she walks on. Hell, she could walk on me if she wants to. I don't care."

Chris raised his brow. "You are pretty pathetic sometimes. But I'm sure you already knew that."

Justin swallowed his food down and laughed. "Hey, at least you're honest. And that's what counts right?"

"Right," Chris replied as continued reading his paper.

"But you know something else?" Justin mentioned. I've been asked to help Atlantech with some project they're developing for the AMF. I can't go into details about it though, since it is technically classified at the moment, but I can't believe they would ask me out of everyone else. Doesn't that seem odd to you?"

Chris thought about it for a moment then shook his head. "They wouldn't just select anyone for something that important, so it's obvious you possess some kind of skill they could benefit from."

Justin gave him a blank stare. "I take things apart for fun and try to either improve their functionality or completely alter their configuration. It's nothing special really. I mean, I've got a toaster at home I've been working on modifying."

Chris couldn't help but laugh. "A toaster? What in cosmos are you trying to do with that?"

"I've been trying to make it voice activated," Justin explained. "And sometimes they allow me to use the lab here for some of my experiments, but the last time I mixed up some compounds which became too unstable and started a fire--- a big fire actually. After that mess the commander told me I lost my lab privileges for a while."

"You set the alarms off that day," Chris recalled. "We were all outside standing around and waiting until they put the fire out. None of us knew who it was at the time, but I kind of suspected it was you."

Justin looked surprised. "Really?"

"Mmmhmm," Chris replied. "Good thing I didn't mention it to any of the other guys, or else they would've gone after you."

Justin blinked. "Well in that case, thanks a lot for not mentioning my name to any of them. I already know for fact that most of them can't stand me as it is. They say I'm too cocky for my age."

"You can be," Chris admitted. "But truth be told, you were a lot worse when you first enlisted, but it seems you've calmed down a lot since then."

"Good to know," Justin replied as he started getting up. "Well it was nice chatting with you, Sergeant Dickerson, but I need to head down to the hangar so I can begin my work. Thanks again for having my back. Can't tell you how much that means to me."

"Well, just try to stay out of trouble, Corporal Church," he smiled. "And have fun with your project."

"Thanks, I will," Justin answered before walking off with his half eaten tray of food.

Now as Justin was on his way to the underground hangar, he quickly stopped by the recreational room to see if Stan or William were around, and sure enough he saw William seated in one of the lounge chairs reading the same newspaper that Chris was just a while ago. And whatever it was that he was reading seemed to have his complete attention as he didn't even notice Justin when he walked in and waved.

"What's with the news lately?" Justin quetched. "Everyone's reading the damn paper this morning."

William looked up at him. "Good morning to you too."

Justin plopped himself down into one of the chairs next to him. "Seriously though, what's the big story of the day?" He asked.

"A man's body was found last night," William answered. "In some trunk too. He was all hacked up."

Justin looked disgusted. "That's disturbing. Did we even know the guy?"

"Not personally," William replied. "But he was some big wig film producer, that's all I know."

"No shit?" Justin remarked. "Wonder who offed the guy, or better yet, why? How'd they find him anyway?"

"Some man from the fishery found the trunk," William said. "Someone dropped it off the bridge and it ended up caught in a fishnet."

Justin wrinkled his nose. "That's nasty. What's wrong with people these days? It's like we're surrounded by a bunch of psychopaths anymore. Kind of makes me glad that we're banned from the city."

William disagreed with him. "Not all of the people are like that. Victoria isn't."

Justin shrugged. "Well, she's an exception. And before I forget, I have something to tell you."

"Oh?" William leaned forward in the chair. "What is it?"

"Well after you ditched me last night, Victoria and Maxwell were standing around in the lobby talking, and I sort of listened in on their conversation."

"What did you hear?" William begged to know.

"Well, Maxwell is up to no good," Justin explained. "But Victoria talked about her premiere party and the fans she met."

William suddenly clapped a hand over his face. "Stop right there," he groaned. "I don't want to hear it."

"No, no, it's not bad," Justin insisted. "She only mentioned that she thought some of those guys she met were handsome. Now think about it. She could've been talking about you."

William stared blankly at him.

"Seriously, why wouldn't she?" Justin enthused. "I mean, I don't swing in that direction mind you, but Will you are a good looking guy. In the eyes of the opposite sex, that is. Meaning, she would have to be a fool not to see it, and that's why I think she was referring to you."

"You can't just assume that," William replied. "But I managed to pull something off myself last night."

"And what did you do?" Justin asked even though he could only imagine what it could've been.

"I wrote her a letter and dropped it off last night outside the Card Shack along with a single rose," William explained. "Then I waited around for a while to see if she'd find it."

"And did she?" Justin asked anxiously.

"Maxwell found it first," William sighed. "But then she came out shortly after and took it from him. I felt so elated I can't even begin to tell you how that feels."

Justin grinned at him. "You didn't sign the letter with your name did you?"

"No way in hell," William quipped. "I signed the letter as her secret admirer. At least now she knows how I feel about her, well sorta."

Justin was highly amused by this. "Wow, that took a lot of guts, Will. I'm happy for you."

"Thanks," William smiled. "I plan on writing another letter, I just need to compose myself. Maybe I'll even send a dozen roses the next time. I'm sure she will appreciate it."

Justin snorted. "Or have you arrested. Either way, at least you made some kind of move. Grace rejected me again this morning. I'm still waiting for her to come around though. She said I'm not even a man yet. That hurt."

"Ouch," William sympathized with him. "Sorry to hear that."

"I told her I'm going to be eighteen in six months," Justin explicated. "They all just laughed at me and called me desperate. Kind of hurt to be honest, but I'll live through it. I've got to if I want to stay focused for the work ahead of me."

"Work?" William repeated curiously.

"Oh, I didn't tell you?" Justin replied. "I decided to help the AMF after all, and Commander Williams said we'd start first thing this morning, and so I stayed home all last night just so I could prepare."

William looked at him with disbelief. "You? Yeah right," he scoffed.

"No seriously," Justin hurled back at him. "I stayed home and even slept, not to mention I was even on my way to the hangar when I stopped by here to see if you or Stan were around yet. So yeah, I'm going to take this project seriously. I have to because people's lives depend on it."

"Well, I'm happy for you," William nodded approvingly. "I think you've made the right decision. I'm sure it wasn't easy."

"Got that right," Justin remarked as he stood back up. "Speaking of which, I need to get down there right away. I'm going to dismantle that wreckage so I can figure out what caused it to crash. It won't be easy to do, but I know I can handle it."

"Sounds fun," William commented. "Do keep me updated on the progress if you can."

Justin looked back at him apologetically. "Afraid I can't do that. The project is classified, which means I shouldn't even be having this conversation with you, so just forget anything I told you after the stuff about Victoria. Got it?"

"Got it," William nodded. "I do wish you luck though. If that's acceptable?"

"Sure it is," Justin replied. "And greatly appreciated too, but I must be going now. And when you run into Stan, don't say anything alright? He can't know anything about this at all."

"I won't tell anyone," William promised. "You have my word on that."

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 13

"We're in trouble," Victoria warned as she dropped the newspaper right onto Maxwell's desk. "Nice hack job by the way. You've made the front page."

Maxwell scowled at her. "You couldn't knock?"

"Oh don't even start that," she snapped. "The police are all over the crime scene as we speak. They're going to find something Maxwell, I just know it!"

"Oh please, will you relax? He rolled his eyes. "I went back later that night after we dumped the body and took care of it."

"What did you do?" She demanded to know.

"I simply removed any trace of us ever being there," he explained. "The only fingerprints they're going to find now are his."

"But what about the phone records? Victoria mentioned. "Won't they check those and see that two calls were made, one to you and one to Morane?"

Maxwell smirked. "The only prints on that phone are his, so it will look like he was the bloody fool who called me and Morane."

She glared at him. "They're going to want to question you, Maxwell, aren't you aware of this?"

"Oh I'm counting on it," Maxwell chuckled as he pulled out a box of cigars and lit one.

Victoria buried her face into her hands. "I just wasn't expecting him to turn up this soon. We should've gotten rid of him some other way."

Maxwell puffed on his cigar. "What other way, burn the body perhaps? That would've alerted the authorities sooner."

Victoria couldn't believe how calm and impassive Maxwell seemed about the whole thing. She found it highly disturbing.

"This doesn't bother you at all?" She asked him. "Taking the life of another man? Then dumping him into the lake like a sack of garbage?"

"No, it doesn't," he replied stolidly. "This sort of thing happens all the time, Miss Thompson. I've been involved in far worse, believe me."

She wrinkled her nose in disgust. "I don't even want to know."

Maxwell glared at her. "But should the police happen to stop by today, Miss Thompson. You either need to calm yourself or leave before they get here. I can't have you screwing things up, you hear?"

"I can barely stand to look at you right now," she quipped with her hands on her hips as she stood before him in a maroon colored satin dress. "And all this time I thought I knew you."

He scoffed at her. "You've never been too innocent yourself."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" She glared.

"You think I didn't know about your little propositions?" He taunted. "How else did you climb stardom so quickly?"

She stepped closer and clenched her fist tightly. "Is that what you think of me?"

He gave her a lop sided grin as he took another puff of his cigar. "You're the one who decided to bring up dirty laundry, so I'm simply contributing to the cause."

She now found herself struggling to hold back the tears as they formed in her eyes giving them a glassy appearance.

"Oh please, don't even start with the tears," he scoffed. "You're such a weakling I swear."

She wiped her eyes. "I wasn't always given a choice," she explained. "Sometimes I was even threatened."

"A likely story," he rolled his eyes. "For as long as I've known you, I knew you would do anything to get what you want, so I'm sorry but I don't buy it."

"Of course you don't," she scowled. "You have no idea how difficult it is being a woman in this city, surrounded by all these powerful men who only wish to take advantage of you. And you know something, Maxwell? You're not any better either. It's no wonder no one ever wants to associate with you. They hate you and simply tolerate your presence, that's all."

He glared back at her. "Get the hell out of my establishment right now!"

"Gladly!" She fired back as she stared him down then turned around and stormed out of his office making her way back to the lobby. She couldn't stand to be anywhere near this place at all right now but as she passed by the bar she noticed Enrique's pleasant smiling face and knew she had to tell him what was going on.

"Where are you off to?" He asked curiously. "And have you been crying, Miss Thompson."

She looked down and then back at him. "I've been trying not to," she replied. "Enrique, sweetie, I need you to hear me out on something, okay?"

"Sure thing," he replied as he leaned over the bar counter.

"I've done something terrible, Enrique," she began to cry.

He looked at her sympathetically. "What have you done?"

"Not here," Victoria said quietly then checked over her shoulder to make sure Maxwell wasn't around. "Follow me outside."

Enrique set down the glasses he was drying and walked around the bar then followed her out of the building where she led him towards the back. She looked around again nervously making sure there was no one else around.

"Enrique, Maxwell and I are in big trouble," she explained quietly.

"Huh?" Enrique replied quizzically. "What do you mean? What have you two done?"

"You can't tell anyone, you promise?" She said with seriousness as she looked into his eyes.

"I swear," Enrique replied.

"Enrique, Maxwell has killed a man," she explained.

Enrique gasped. "You have to report him for this, Miss Thompson. You can't allow him to get away with that."

"No, no, we can't," she said urgently as she put one hand over his mouth. "Because I was there when he did it, so I'm an accomplice. And if he gets caught, then so do I, you understand?"

Enrique nodded with her hand over his mouth.

"Now the police just might stop by today because we both used the victim's phone to make a couple of calls, and one of them happened to be here," she continued. They're going to question Maxwell and possibly you too, just because you work here. Now again, Enrique, you can't act suspicious at all. Because if Maxwell found out I told you, you'd be in serious trouble, because it's not just him, Morane is involved in this too."

She took her hand off his mouth as his jaw hung open in shock.

"I, I don't know what to say," he stammered. "I never took Maxwell for a killer."

"I didn't either," she sighed. "You think you know someone and then you don't."

"Why did he kill him?" Enrique wanted to know.

"To protect his investment," she replied bitterly as she balled her fist. "The man would've filed assault charges against me, thus ruining my career for good. Maxwell couldn't have that so he killed the man. To be honest, he was already unconscious at the time, because he had come onto me and tried to get me to do things I didn't want to, so I took his wine bottle and I smashed it over his head, knocking him out."

"That's horrible, Miss Thompson," Enrique exclaimed in outrage. "That man had a lot of nerve treating you like that, why I think he got what he deserved now that you tell me this."

"Perhaps he did," she sighed. "But like I said, you musn't tell anyone about this. This is our little secret okay?" She lovingly caressed his cheek with the back of her hand as she gazed into his eyes.

"Don't" Enrique suddenly pushed her hand away.
She looked at him with confusion wondering what she'd done wrong.
"I respect you greatly, Miss Thompson," he said. "But I cannot allow you to lead me on like this anymore. It isn't right."

"I wasn't leading you on," she replied angrily as she crossed her arms. "I'm just an affectionate person, that's all. If I led you to believe our relationship was anything but professional, I apologize Enrique."

"It kind of felt that way, Miss Thompson," he said sheepishly. "But at least you have the decency to apologize."
She smiled at him. "You know something? I didn't just offer you this job because I felt sorry for you," she explained. "I liked your mannerisms and saw how kind and respectable you were. And that's how I knew you'd be a good fit."

Enrique suddenly realized just how wrong that guy in the leather jacket had been about her. And now it didn't even matter if she was an accomplice to Maxwell's murder, she was still the same kind and caring woman he'd run into on the street that cold night, but even though she admitted she wasn't leading him on, he still couldn't deny he felt something for her.

"That means a lot to me, Miss Thompson," he smiled. "Thank you."

"Well, sweetie, I think you should get back to work now," she suggested. "The last thing we need is for Maxwell to come downstairs to an empty bar. And remember, don't tell anyone what I've told you. Especially not him. I'm only telling you this for your own protection. You know I'd do anything to keep you safe, right?"

"Yes, Miss Thompson," he nodded. "And I know you'd protect me from him."

"Yes I would," she smiled as she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. "Now get back to work."

Meanwhile at the air base in the underground hangar, Justin Church was standing in the garage with the wreckage dressed in a protective jumpsuit, gloves, a pair of goggles over his eyes and, a laser saw in one hand. He started cutting through the thick mass while sparks began to fly in every direction until he suddenly heard Lynne's voice coming from behind.

"I still find it hard to believe you actually made it," she commented.

"Just a second," Justin called back as he turned off the saw and lifted up his goggles.

"Sorry to interrupt you," she apologized. "Just thought I would check up on things, and to also let you know that I just spoke with Artis over the phone and he's agreed to let you stop by over there to see the rest of the wreckage."

"That's great news," Justin replied. "When would be a good time?"

"Well since you're working with this half today, I would suggest heading over there tomorrow," she said. "I don't want to run you ragged on your first day of work."

Then she noticed something sitting on the large toolbox beside him and walked over to investigate. It was none other than his toy model plane he brought with him from home.

"What's this doing here?" She asked as she pointed down at it.

"Oh that?" Justin replied looking over his shoulder. "That's just my source of inspiration is all."

"It looks like a toy to me," she squinted her eyes.

"Well it's a special toy," he explained. "It's kind of the reason why I'm here to be honest."

"Really now?" She raised a brow.

"Well yeah, he replied. "I've had that thing since I was a kid, well a younger kid that is. But anyway it's the one thing that helped me see why it was a good idea to help you guys out after all. That and also the death of that test pilot. So now you know I was guilted into it after all."

She sighed. "What you're doing is not only going to be appreciated by everyone here, but remembered for all time, Corporal."

He scoffed. "So what? Now you're saying I'm becoming some type of hero or something?"

"Yes," she answered. "Is there something wrong with that?"

"Other than the fact I don't want that kind of remembrance? No," he remarked. "But it's just not for me."

She frowned at him.

"What were you expecting?" He scoffed as he wiped the sweat off his brow with his sleeve. "You know I've never liked an audience."

"I do, but I never understood why," she replied dolefully. "Does it have something to do with your father?"

Justin rolled his eyes. "Even if it does I don't want to talk about him," he grumbled. "As a matter of fact, I don't even want him knowing about what I'm doing now. So don't you dare tell him or I walk."

She could tell he was serious now by the tone of his voice and she agreed not to say anything.

"Not a word of it will be spoken," she said reassuringly. "That's my promise to you, Corporal."

He chuckled in amusement. "Boy, you guys really need me don't you?" He remarked. "I can already see that you'll do anything just to keep me here."

"But you are not here by force," she reminded him. "You're here because you chose to be."

"Got that right," he replied as he pulled the goggles back down over his eyes and started up the saw again.

Lynne backed away out of the garage and shielded her eyes from the blinding light while Justin continued cutting his way through the wreckage. He seemed determined though and she appreciated it. But while she could've easily stood around and watched him, she knew Captain Grant wanted to talk about the meeting with Morane from last night as well as something else. At first she wondered if it was too early for him, but then she remembered he was usually awake before her and that he probably wouldn't mind if she stopped by now.

As she started leaving she could see the dark silhouettes of fighter jets as they sat undisturbed in the darkness of the hangar. They were older models that hadn't been flown since that accident. She remembered her father wouldn't allow it and instead had put them down here where they sat all these years like they were in some kind of graveyard. Some newer models were resting here as well sitting on their rising platforms awaiting their next major test run.

Now as she stood in the elevator she found herself consumed with worry. She truly hoped this project would keep Justin busy and out of trouble, leaving her with less on her plate, but she knew there were others and felt fully prepared to deal with them too. Her father didn't tolerate insubordination and neither would she. Captain Grant on the other hand, seemed to be unaware of all that happens around him which Lynne never understood. It had even gotten to the point where she couldn't tell if he was just purposely ignoring it or he truly didn't know , but either way she would be the one to put her foot down if he wasn't willing to.

He had served with her father back when they were in their early twenties, and then later on under her father's command when he was made Admiral of the AMF, but even then Grant never seemed like a pushover, so she wondered if maybe it was the combination of alcoholism and his illness that changed him so drastically. But she knew there was more to it, there had to be.

In the meantime just as Maxwell Graham was just about to leave his office his phone began ringing. Could it be the police? He wondered as his eyes widened with fear. His hand trembled as he reached for it and carefully picked it up.

"Graham speaking," he said with a nervous grin as sweat began to trickle down his brow.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Morane's voice boomed through the receiver. "What? Did you think I was the police?"

Maxwell uttered a sigh of relief. "Why, nothings wrong, Morane, Sir," he replied as he tugged on the high collar of his undershirt. "Why ever would you believe that?"

"Because you sound like a nervous little bitch," Morane snapped. "And I know damn well you're expecting the authorities sometime soon."

"W-w-why, yes I am," he laughed nervously. "But fear not because I am prepared to handle it."

"Like you were just now?" Morane quipped. "You're full of shit, Graham, and I can smell it from here."

Maxwell gritted his teeth and tightened his grip around the phone.

"But that's not why I called," Morane continued. "I called to tell you what a shit job you did in getting rid of Mr. Phillips. What the hell happened? You never used to be this sloppy."

"We were in a hurry that night," Maxwell explained even though he knew Morane wouldn't care either way. "But I went back to the scene afterwards and took care of the evidence, so the police won't find anything out of the ordinary."

"You better pray they don't, Graham," Morane fumed.

Maxwell narrowed his eyes. "I promise you they'll find nothing."

Morane chuckled amusingly. "Well it doesn't matter anyway, because I've already got the android taking care of the rest of the assholes for me."

"Your robot?" Maxwell replied scratching his head.

"Yes," Morane answered. "He's going to start doing the dirtier work load for me, and he can handle it better than any human, especially you. And you want to know the best part? He can't leave any evidence behind."

"Sounds like the perfect killer," Maxwell replied sardonically. "Does this mean you won't be using him to spy on the military anymore?"

"Of course he's going to continue." Morane answered. "What kind of a stupid fucking question was that?"

"My apologies" Maxwell rolled his eyes. "Now if you don't mind, I've got to get back to work, and of course watch out for the authorities. They're bound to show up soon."

There was a pause before Morane spoke again. "You better not fuck this up, you hear me? Or I promise you'll be very fucking sorry."

"I won't," Maxwell glared as he suddenly hung up and collapsed into his chair. "What the bloody hell do I do now?" He asked himself as he glanced up at the clock realizing it was only about nine now. "Shite, shite, shite!" He pounded his fist on his desk. "Shite!"

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 14

Lynne felt apprehensive now as she knocked on Captain Grant's door and heard no response. Perhaps he can't hear me? She thought as she knocked a little louder but still heard nothing.
Then she reached for the door handle to let herself in only to realize it was locked. "Where could he be?" She asked herself. "And why would his door be locked at this hour?" She looked puzzled.

"Because you're too nosey for your own good," he replied bluntly from behind.

"Oh Jesus, you scared me," she exclaimed as she turned around and clutched at her chest.

"My apologies," he replied. "Is there something you need?"

"I was just hoping we could have our talk now," she answered. "The one you promised from early this morning?"

He pulled the keys out of his uniform coat pocket and unlocked the door inviting her inside. "Well I guess now is as good a time as any, right?"

"How did you sleep?" She suddenly asked as she stepped inside the room.

"Not too great," he answered as he walked in and closed the door behind him. "I experienced one of the worst hangovers I've ever had in a while."

He chuckled and smiled in attempt to lighten the mood but she didn't seem to respond so well to his humor.

"No sense of humor today?" He remarked.

"Afraid not," she replied. "Now about that meeting with Morane, what did you two discuss?"

Abraham took a seat in his chair and pulled open his top desk drawer and took out a box of cigars. "Nothing of substance," he replied. "To be honest it felt like he'd only invited me to the meeting just to try and get me drunk, cause the first thing he did when I arrived was offer me a drink."

"I don't understand why," Lynne said in confusion. "What use are you to him if you're drunk?"

Abraham chuckled as he struck a match and lit the cigar. "I'm a lot more docile," he explained. "And less prone to anger than when I'm sober."

"I see," Lynne nodded. "But I asked if he threatened you last night and you said he didn't, now was that a lie?"

He suddenly became silent and closed his eyes as he puffed on the cigar.

"You got quiet," Lynne pointed out. "Does this mean you were lying?"

He opened his eyes again and saw her bitter face as she stared down at him. "I told you he and I go way back, didn't I?"

"Yes, you've mentioned it once or twice," Lynne answered.

"Well, I don't believe I ever told you under what circumstances we first met," he sighed heavily as he began to recount the memory he'd kept hidden so deep in his subconscious mind all this time.

"It was thirty years ago from today that I had my first encounter with Julius Morane. It was right around the time after he won the civilians over with his campaign and took control over the city council. Well at his inauguration a riot had broken out and things got violent. The people started assaulting the Tjatey on behalf of Morane, and since the AMF had sworn to protect them at any cost, we were ordered to intervene. I was a young soldier at that time and your father was one of my comrades. We attempted to break up some of the fights only to be attacked as well. It was an ugly horrible sight but I stood my ground and did what I could to subdue the attackers. Then your father said he had the situation under control and asked me to sweep the rest of the area, and so I did. I was armed, I had my rifle and much to my surprise, didn't get a chance to fire it yet. Well all seemed clear but then I heard something, something that sounded like someone struggling for their life and so I followed those sounds and they led me right down a dark alley."

He paused and shut his eyes tight as his skin suddenly became cold and clammy. "There I saw Morane stabbing and gutting one of my comrades with a hunting knife."

Tears shimmered in her eyes as she listened.

"I was frozen in terror and I couldn't move," he continued. "Then he turned around and saw me, and came right at me with his knife and held it to my throat and said, Give me one reason why I shouldn't kill you now? I didn't speak, I couldn't, and then he gave me the most heinous look I've ever seen from anyone and ordered me to kneel before him, and so I did. He took my rifle and threw it across the pavement and then he said he'd spare my life as long as I promised not to say a word about what he'd just done. I didn't want to die by his hand and so I made that promise and then he left me there on my knees, left to stare at the bloodied body of my comrade. And ever since then he's been the one to remind me of that day, and that's exactly what he did last night after the meeting. He pulled out that old hunting knife and waved it in my face."

"I'm so sorry, Captain," Lynne said solemnly with her head down. "I always suspected that man was a monster, and now your story just confirmed it."

"I think what I regret the most is not killing him when I had the chance," Abraham sighed. "I had my rifle and his back was facing me at first. I could've done it right then and there but I didn't."

"You can't blame yourself for that, Captain," she replied gravely. "You were traumatized, I'd think anyone in your situation would feel the same."

"But look what I've become?" He said bitterly "I hate to say it, but what Morane said about me last night is true."

"What did he say?" She asked.

"That I'm still the same scared young man I was back then," he answered. "I'm still scared of course but also deeply filled with regret."

"So you never told anyone?" Lynne asked. "Not even your wife?"

"No," he shook his head. "Not my wife, not your father, I've told nobody else."

She took a step closer. "Then why did you tell me?"

He sighed and closed his eyes again. "Because I promised I would. You asked me not to hold anything back when we talked, so I didn't. Now I've told you everything and I still trust that this information won't leave this office."

She tried to smile but couldn't. "Thank you."

He puffed on his cigar in deep thought as she looked on.

"You okay?" She had to ask.

"I was just thinking," he responded as he took the cigar out of his mouth and held it between his fingers. "It does feel good to finally get it out. I don't feel as weighed down as I used to."

Her face softened and she gave a half smile. "I imagine you would feel better after that. I'm amazed you kept it to yourself all these years."

He gave a mirthless laugh. "All because I was afraid of dying and now here I am sick and actually dying. Don't know why but I find it most amusing."

Her smile quickly faded as sadness overtook her face.

"I'm sorry," he was quick to apologize. "I know you hate it when I talk about that."

"It's not just that," she said bitterly as she hung her head. "I never see you doing anything to better your condition. Why else do you think I get so angry over the alcohol?"

He let out a frustrated sigh. "Look, I'm trying to get better," he explained. "I've had a couple of slip-ups, but at least I'm trying. Besides, the doctor said I've probably got two or more years left, which means there's still time and my health could improve by then, so there's no need to give up hope just yet."

"You're right, Captain," she sighed. " I guess I'll try to have a little more faith in you."

He smiled at her. "That's all I ask."

In the meantime, after it had taken Justin a lot of time and patience to cut through the wreckage, he was examining now appeared to be part of the cockpit. All that was left were some controls that had been badly burnt and a part of the pilot's seat that was also burnt beyond recognition.

Justin removed his goggles and leaned in closer and he could see broken pieces of glass from the canopy on the floor of the cockpit, but there was something else too. What could this be? Justin squinted his eyes and reached down for the object and picked it up then looked it over. It was some kind of small family portrait of what appeared to be the pilot and a younger sibling, only it too had succumbed to the flames as the corners were melted and curled inward and he could barely make out the faces.

Justin felt dejected as he stared at the portrait feeling sorry for whomever this sibling may be. Then just as he was about to set it aside the portrait suddenly crumbled into dust right in his hand and scattered all over the floor. Justin's eyes widened with shock and his mouth fell open. How can that be? He thought in disbelief as he looked down at the ashes and swept it aside with the side of his shoe and then headed back into the remnants of the cockpit to see what else he could find.

Meanwhile as Enrique was standing behind the bar counter about to serve a customer Maxwell Graham suddenly came barging up to him with anger burning in his eyes. Enrique felt timid now and wondered if Maxwell had already found out what Victoria had told him.

"Enrique, I've got a favor to ask of you," Maxwell said scornfully.

"Yes?" Enrique replied nervously.

"Stop that immediately!" Maxwell barked. "I need you to act natural and not like a bloody coward, you hear me?"

Enrique nodded.

"Now listen here," Maxwell continued. The police might show up either later today or tonight and they're going to be asking a lot of questions, so I need you to lie for me, you understand?"

Enrique nodded again. "What kind of questions?"

"They're going to want to know of my whereabouts the other night," Maxwell explained. "And if they ask you, you'd better tell them I was here the whole time or so help me, Enrique, you will be sorry." He shook his fist.

"What did you do?" Enrique asked even though he already knew the truth.

"None of your damned business," Maxwell sneered before walking off.

Enrique dropped his shoulders and exhaled deeply. That was a close one, he thought as he brushed a hand across his brow and then went back to work. I probably should just turn Maxwell in, he thought callously. But then again, I don't want to see Miss Thompson in trouble. I like her and respect her too much to do that. I just wish there was some way to get her out of this mess.

But at that moment Victoria Thompson had just been dropped off in front of her building and decided to make a quick stop at a news stand to pick up the latest copy of Film Gazette magazine before heading inside. She smiled to herself and held her head high as she headed right for the elevator, but stopped abruptly as an older man in baggy overalls suddenly stepped out with a wrench in hand.

"Sorry there, Miss," He apologized. "But this elevator is out of order for the time being."

"Oh, that's alright," she smiled and toyed with her hair. "I'll just take the other one then."

"That one is out too," he replied apologetically.

"What?" Her eyes grew wide and her jaw nearly dropped to the floor.

"I'm sorry about that, M'am. I'm doing the best I can right now to fix them, but I'm afraid you're gonna have to take the stairs for now."

She felt like fainting as she started walking away from him and heading for the staircase eyeing it with dread now. "This would be a lot easier if I didn't live on the thirty-fourth floor!" She groaned as she grabbed hold of the banister and began making her way up the steps while panting and trying to contain her anger. "As if I don't pay enough to live here," she griped. "I swear both those damn elevators better be fixed by tonight, or else I just might have another victim on my hands." She made a fist and huffed. "Thirty-four stinkin flights of stairs! What the hell was I thinking when I moved in here? Ugh!"

Meanwhile back at the base William Sterling was just about to start a game of table tennis with Stan Winston when all of a sudden he noticed Sergeant Dickerson walk in. He stopped just as Stan was about to serve the ball and waved at Chris.

"Hey there, Sergeant," he called out. "Fancy meeting you here."

Stan paused and looked at William. "It's my serve, are we still playing this game?"

"Just a moment, Stan," William gesticulated as he headed over to chat with Chris.

"How are you doing lately?" William asked. "I haven't seen you around in a while, you been busy?"

"Good to see you too, Corporal Sterling," Chris replied with a smile and nod. "I've been fine and busy too with the wife and the little ones. They're growing up so fast."

"That's great to hear," William commented. "I'm still trying to woo my future wife," he chuckled nervously while Stan remained still in the background with the ball and paddle in his hands as he waited.

"Yeah, Corporal Church has told me all about it," Chris grinned at William. "How is that coming along by the way, any success?"

William gave a half shrug. "It's a work in progress. I wrote her a letter recently and she found it, hopefully she's read it by now."

"A letter you say?" Chris raised a brow. "And pray tell what sort of details about yourself have you included?"

"None actually," William cleared his throat. "I uh signed off as a secret admirer. I can't exactly tell her who I am right now."

"But why not?" Chris asked. "What's the harm in showing her the real you? Are you afraid of rejection?"

William nodded. "Yeah, that's definitely it."

Chris shook his head at him. "Come on, Corporal. There's no need to fear rejection, why, you just look for another catch if it happens. What've you got to lose here?"

"My dignity?" William sighed.

"Well, Corporal," I don't know what else to tell you then," Chris shrugged. "But I think you'd find life a whole lot simpler if you'd just be yourself and stop trying to hide from her."

"Perhaps," William responded. "But for now, I just don't think I'm ready to reveal who I am to her."

"Well then, suit yourself," Chris gave him a hard pat on the shoulder. "I'll see you around later, duty calls you know?"

"Yeah," William smiled and nodded then looked over at Stan who was still standing behind the ping pong table waiting patiently for them to resume their game.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," William called over to him as he raced back over and picked up his paddle. Ready?"

Stan gave a nod in response. "Zero serving zero," he announced as he bounced the small hollow ball onto the table and spiked it with his paddle across the net where William stood eagerly waiting to take his shot only to miss and end up running after the ball to catch it.

"Geeze, Stan," William remarked. "Try not to hit it so hard the next time."

William tossed the ball back across the table and Stan caught it with one hand.

"What's with you today?" William asked him. "You don't seem much like yourself, any reason why?"

Stan stared back at him without saying a word as he prepared to serve the ball again. "One serving zero!" Stan announced as he spiked it again only this time William managed to hit it back over to him.

"Seems you're not a in talkative mood today, are you?" William commented.

Stan kept his focus on the game and whacked the ball back across with his paddle.

"Got it again!" William boasted as they suddenly started going back and forth.

"I don't know what to talk about," Stan finally spoke while keeping his attention on the ball as it was bouncing towards him again.

"I know the feeling," William replied as he suddenly smacked the ball so hard with his paddle that it flew right past Stan earning him a point.

"By the way, the score is even now," William laughed amusingly as he watched Stan chase after the ball. "You might be taller and stronger than me, but I gotta admit that I am faster than you."

Stan's mouth curved into a slight smile as he returned with the ball in hand. "You sound like Justin," he teased.

William laughed. "You're right, that does sound like something he would say, doesn't it?"

"It does," Stan nodded as he prepared to serve the ball again. "One serving one!" He whacked it across the table as William dove in with his paddle but missed it.

"Damn!" William growled in frustration. "I wasn't ready that time."

Stan smirked at him. "Sure you weren't."

William bent over and picked up the ball and then paused when he suddenly heard the sound of commotion as several other soldiers and other AMF personnel began entering the recreational room.

"Looks like we've got company now," he mentioned as he headed back over and tossed Stan the ball again. "Must be close to lunch time."

Stan stopped and observed as some of the soldiers started gathering around the table to watch their game.

"Who's winning?" One of them asked William.

"Right now that would be Stan," William answered as he waited for Stan to serve the ball.

"Where's your other amigo?" Asked another as he scratched his head. "Did he finally get discharged?"

"He's busy with something right now," William mentioned. "Can't go into details about it though."

The soldier laughed. "Busy getting his diaper changed eh?"

William rolled his eyes and looked at Stan. "Go ahead and serve the ball now."

Stan nodded as he prepared to spike it. "Two serving one!"

"You know you can't defend him forever, Sterling," the soldier said harshly. "The kid doesn't even look seventeen, he looks like he's thirteen or something. Still hasn't lost that baby fat from his face yet."

William's lips drew back in a snarl as he tried to ignore the guy and smacked the ball back over to Stan.

"What's wrong with you now?" The soldier taunted. "You gonna punch my face in or what?"

William stopped and dropped the paddle onto the table and clenched his fist as he turned and looked him in the eye.

"I don't know what your damn problem is, Private Mathis!" William fumed. "But I refuse to listen to any more of your bullshit, do you hear me?"

The soldier laughed again. "I know you ain't gonna hit me. You're too passive for that ain't ya? You ain't no warrior like your ancestors."

William narrowed his eyes and tightened his fist as Stan looked on while suddenly hearing Morane's words in his head. I need you to kill for me, Stan. I need you to kill. He glared at the solider while picking up on William's distress before setting the ball and paddle down on the table then coming up behind the young man and forcefully turning him around.

"What the hell do you want?" The soldier snarled as he raised a fist at him.

Stan didn't utter a single word now as he shoved the man back forcefully watching as he fell into the small crowd of people behind him. I need you to kill, he heard again as he suddenly eyed the man's throat. Kill him. He's a threat. Do it now.

Silence filled the room now as everyone waited for a fight to break out between the two men, until Private Mathis lowered his fist and started to back away. He knew better than to try to fight Stan. He'd seen others do it before and remembered the kind of injuries and pain they endured and it wasn't a pretty sight.

"Aren't you going to hit me?" Stan taunted him now as he glared back noticing the fear in his eyes.

"N-n-no," the soldier whimpered. "I didn't mean to cause any trouble, honest. I was just making a joke, you see?"

Without warning Stan shoved him again. "No, I don't see."

William felt worried now and decided to speak up before things got worse. "Stan, I think that's enough. I'm sure he's got the message now so just let him go. Please?"

Stan glowered at the soldier as he heard William's pleas. Kill him. Do it.

"He's not worth it," William argued. "Definitely not worth getting in trouble over."

Stan let out a harsh breath and turned his back to the soldier. "Fine."

William felt relieved now.

Stan looked him in the eye. "He was ready to attack you so I had to do something."

"But he didn't," William frowned at him as he crossed his arms.

"He wanted to," Stan replied. "I could see it in his eyes."

"What?" William looked at him bewildered.

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 15

"I can't seem to find anything in this mess," Justin sighed in disappointment while he sorted through all the parts he had excavated from the wreckage. "There's nothing here, it's all too badly damaged to be properly analyzed, and the only thing I can gather is that something must've become overheated." He scratched his head and raked his fingers through his hair. "Am I just wasting my time here? There's nothing here, no clues at all."

He removed the items from on top of the tool box and then collapsed down on top of it leaning forward with his head down. He hated to admit it, but he was already frustrated with the whole thing and disappointed in the lack of evidence the wreckage had left behind. There had to be something though and thought that maybe he would find it in the other half Atlantech had in their facility.

However, he wasn't too crazy about going over there. Artis Frederic meant well but he just wasn't the most exciting person to be around, and Justin knew he wasn't the only one who felt this way. Still, he had made the decision to commit to this project which unfortunately included tolerating Artis's jargon. He didn't like it but he wasn't about to back down just yet.

Justin continued pondering things in his head when Lynne suddenly arrived again to check in with things. Only there was something different about her now and it was something he quickly picked up on. Her expression seemed stoic and empty; no longer full of excitement and enthusiasm as she had displayed earlier.

"I know it's probably too soon to be asking, but have you found anything?" She asked.

Justin shook his head as he sat hunched over and noticed his model plane lying on the ground beside him with some visible scratches on the paint now.

"I cut through as much I could today," he sighed. "Doesn't appear to be anything of use."

"That's disappointing," she replied as she leaned up against the wall of the garage. "I can't say I'm not surprised though, given the state of things."

"There was something though," Justin mentioned somberly as he looked her in the eye. "The pilot had a picture with him when he died. It was either with a son or a younger sibling, but I saw it and I held it even before it crumbled into dust. I guess what I'm getting at it is, he lost somebody and somebody lost him."

Lynne immediately thought about Captain Grant in that moment and remembered the painful look she saw in his eyes as he told her his personal story.

"The whole thing is depressing me," Justin sighed. "I'm afraid to look any further now."

Her expression suddenly hardened. "That young man knew the risk he was taking when he volunteered himself," she explained. "If he wasn't aware of such a risk, then he was simply a fool."

Justin stared at her now, wondering why she was reacting so coldly to the whole thing.

"Taking risks is a part of life, it's what we as human beings do every day," she continued. "If we don't take risks then what are we living for? Certainly not for tomorrow or the future to come. Because without risks, there is no future. Do you understand, Corporal?"

"I know," he answered as he stood back up. "I'm taking one right now, aren't I? Because hell, I could die while working on this project, couldn't I? I don't even need to fly one of these things, I just need to be at the right place at the wrong time. That's really all it takes."

"No sense in arguing about this, Corporal," she replied. "Because it's clear to me your involvement in this project is based purely on emotion. You feel sorry for what happened just the same as I, so you want to try and figure out what happened, to find out what led to this man's demise. And while it's very noble of you, I fear that such an involvement will only break you in the end, and we need you to be focused not broken."

Justin knelt down and picked up his model plane to inspect the damage it had taken when he knocked it off. It seemed fine for the most part except for a few scratches where the paint had flecked off.

"I'm terrified of ever seeing battle," he suddenly admitted. "The thought of others depending on you to protect them is overwhelming as hell. Because what happens if you can't do it? I mean, what happens if you fail them? You just end up dead yourself instead."

"Then why are you here?" She asked curiously. "The AMF isn't some kind of reform school, we're serious about the future and we want to prepare for it. But Corporal, if you're too afraid to deal with that, then perhaps you shouldn't be here. Besides, what else are you training for?"

"I don't know," he sighed as he rubbed his forehead. "I like flying if we're being honest here. I like the way it feels being up there, I just feel so alive. Feels like that's what I was born to do."

"Then run with it," she advised. "You are a great pilot for someone so young, Corporal Church. But your biggest problem is your self doubt. You don't have enough confidence in yourself it seems, or at least not enough to believe you could protect others or even survive yourself. You need to snap yourself out of it and remember what I said about taking risks, because it's important."

"Yeah, I get it," he remarked. "Now if you don't mind, I'm heading out for lunch. I need a damn break from this mess."

"By all means, she gave a dismissive wave of her hand. "I think taking a break could do you some good."

"Uh huh," Justin nodded sardonically. "And I think having a heart would do you some good too, because sometimes you act like a cold hearted bitch."

She was utterly speechless now.

"What's wrong?" He scoffed. "Nothing left to say because it's true? If anyone's broken around here, Commander, then it's you."

In the meantime, Maxwell Graham was standing in the game room carefully arranging the deck of playing cards into a specific order when he suddenly heard the phone upstairs ringing off the hook.
He groaned as he quickly set the deck back down then rushed upstairs and snatched up the phone.

"Graham speaking," he muttered irritably. "Make this quick please."

"It's me, Maxwell," Victoria replied angrily.

"Why am I not surprised?" He remarked sardonically. "When hell freezes over, it's always because of you. So why are you pestering me this time?"

"To let you know that I might not make it tonight," she explained as she was rubbing her sore feet.

"And why pray tell is the reason?" Maxwell rolled his eyes.

"Because both elevators are out in my building, she snapped raising her voice. "And I just had to walk up thirty-four flights of stairs in my heels!"

Maxwell held the phone away from his ear.

"Do you have any idea how painful that was?" She huffed. "And if they aren't fixed by tonight, then you're on your own."

"Well, that's fine by me. It's not like I needed you tonight anyway." He replied. "I'm going to be far busy with someone else."

She laughed at him. "Oh isn't that right? That one fella you hired, Marone or whatever his name is. Well in that case, good for you. I hope you two live happily ever after and are blessed with the most hideous children in the universe."

His brows snapped together and he gritted his teeth. "I don't appreciate your insults, Miss Thompson. I can tell you're still sore at me from earlier."

She laughed again. "You think? No, Mr. Graham, the way you treated me earlier was uncalled for and I demand an apology."

"Is that all you want from me?" He asked.

"As of right now, yes," she answered. "Apologize so I can get back to reading this wonderful letter someone left for me."

He sighed in frustration while hitting himself over the head with the phone.

"Is that also for me?" Victoria replied with amusement. "If so, I'd rather you hit yourself with something a little more blunt."

"Fine, you get your wish. I'm sorry for the things I said earlier." Maxwell suddenly blurted out. "Is that good enough now? Will you finally give it a rest?"

There was a pause before she answered him. "No."

He growled. "Why not?"

"Because I know you too well, you scum bag," she replied haughtily. "You're not the least bit sorry, and you're a coward!"

The call soon came to an abrupt end as she hung up on him as he just stood there confounded and aggravated before hanging up the phone himself.

Later on Justin returned to the mess hall only to find it full and crowded as could be. Even as he picked up his lunch tray and looked around there was hardly any place to sit, but luckily he noticed William waving a hand at him in the far back with Stan as they had apparently saved a spot for him. Justin felt relieved as he made his way back there, but he was also feeling like an ass for the way he talked to Lynne a while ago. He wondered if perhaps he was too harsh with his words.

"Saved you a seat," William said with a smile.

"Thanks," Justin replied as he sat down and stared at the food on the tray. "More carbs," he groaned.

"Spaghetti," William corrected him. "And bean curd meat balls."

"Still carbs," Justin muttered as he made a sour face and then noticed Stan didn't even have his tray. "Not hungry I guess?"

"Certainly not for this," Stan answered him.

"His taste is much more refined," William joked as he stuffed a fork full of noodles into his mouth.

"We need better food here," Justin groaned. "I'm talking five star restaurant quality too. Enough of this cheap cafeteria crap." He sighed.

"So how are things coming along?" William had to ask.

Justin put his finger to his lip as a reminder to him to keep quiet.

"Oh, that's right," William chuckled nervously as Stan eyed him with suspicion.

"Something I don't know about?" Stan asked with curiosity.

William shook his head as he continued eating.

"Nope, nothing at all," Justin added as he picked up his fork and began cutting the spaghetti noodles into smaller pieces.

Stan narrowed his eyes. He knew there was something they were keeping from him, but what?

"Private Mathis really has it out for you," William suddenly mentioned to Justin. "He even went as far as to interrupt mine and Stan's game of table tennis just to trash you earlier."

Justin blinked. "Really now?"

"Mmhmm," Stan nodded. "He and William almost got into a fight over it too, but luckily I stepped in."

Justin snorted. "Did you crush him, Stan? Did you give him the works?"

"No," Stan said in disappointment as he eyed William. "I'm afraid I didn't get to this time."

"Party pooper," Justin quipped as he gave William the stink eye.

William rolled his eyes. "What is it with you two and violence? I swear you guys act like it solves everything."

Justin laughed. "Not everything, but it solves some things."

"I agree," Stan nodded. "There's nothing like teaching someone the error of their ways through brutal means."

"Yeah!" Justin exclaimed excitedly. "Like that poor bastard who was chopped up and stuffed into that trunk they found this morning."

William frowned at him. "I'm trying to eat here?"

Justin snorted. "Oh yeah, sorry about that."

Stan couldn't help but smirk as well.

"You guys are unbelievable," William shook his head.

"Nah, I think you're just too passive for your own good," Justin commented. "So why didn't you just let Stan slug the guy some? He had it coming."

"Because it isn't our fight?" William replied. "And the only reason that guy bothered us, is because you weren't around. I mean, my god, how is it you have so many enemies around here? What did you do?"

Justin shrugged. "Beats me?"

"You must have done something," William stared at him. "And I'm going to assume it has something to do with you running your mouth."

Stan couldn't help but agree with him. "Yep. I think so too."

Justin's mouth dropped open. "Now you're siding with him, Stan?"

"I'm not siding with anyone," Stan corrected him. "I'm simply agreeing with him. There is a difference you know?"

Justin huffed. "Whatever. I guess this means I can't be counting on you two to stick up for me anymore? Hmm, is that it?"

William crossed his arms. "No, of course we're going to stick up for you, Church. All I'm saying is we can't fight your battles for you all the time. Now why is that so hard for you to understand? No one is taking sides or even turning against you. So please stop with the assumptions."

Justin sighed as he stared down at the table's surface. "Okay, I get it. You don't want to take a beating for me. For that I can't blame you. That's not even what I want. I'd feel terrible if either of you got injured because of something I did or even said."

"I did shove him some," Stan suddenly chimed in. "And hard enough to let him know I wasn't fooling around. But I doubt he's going to leave you alone after that. I should've gone further."

Justin smiled. "If only I could've seen the look on his face. I bet it was priceless."

"You would've gotten in serious trouble, Stan." William mentioned. "That's why I stopped you. I could care less about that jerk's well being. I just didn't want to see you in trouble over something as stupid as that."

Stan smirked. "You really think I would've gotten in trouble over that?"

"It's happened before," William reminded him. "Or did you forget about it already?"

"Commander cold as ice," Stan chuckled. "How could one forget?"

Justin suddenly slouched his shoulders and lowered his head as he remembered how cold he'd acted towards her himself.

"Something wrong?" William asked him.

"No," Justin lied. "I'm just tired, that's all."

Now that Victoria had finished reading the letter from her so-called secret admirer her head was filled with many questions. For one, she wanted to know just who he was and why he felt so strongly about her. She couldn't deny that his words were sweet and even made her feel special but she had to wonder if it was really her he claimed to be in love with or one of many characters she's played on screen.

"Who is he? And why hide from me?" She wondered as she set the letter down and then got up and headed over to her own personal liquor cabinet to have herself a drink. It had been at least three hours now since she walked up all those stairs and her feet were still pretty sore. She even soaked them in a foot bath for a short while after she getting off the phone with Maxwell which had given her a little relief but definitely not enough if she even planned on making it back to the Card Shack tonight. But now as she glanced over at the clock she wondered if the police had already stopped by and talked to Maxwell yet. It was only a quarter past noon and she figured if it happened she would've gotten a call from him by now. After all they were in this together and she didn't like it one bit.

Even as she pulled out a wine bottle from her collection she couldn't help but remember that night in Mr. Phillip's office. And the more she thought about it she wondered if she'd really made the right decision at all. "It was in self defense," she reminded herself as she pulled the cork out of the bottle and began pouring herself a glass when she suddenly began to tremble "He was coming at me and wouldn't take no for an answer. I had to do it. I had to, right?"

She quickly took a sip from her glass hoping to erase the memory when she suddenly stopped and scrunched up her face from the overpowering sourness. "Mother's wine doesn't hold up like it used to," she sighed and shook her head as she picked up the bottle and looked at the year. "3974," she read aloud. "The same year I was born."

Without caring how bad it was she took another sip of the wine and then stepped in front of a mirror staring at her reflection while running her hand through her frizzled hair. "Bernice is going to have to fix this mess," she uttered in disgust. "There's no way in hell I'm going out looking like this."

Then she suddenly spotted the magazine she picked up earlier still sitting on the table where she left it.

"Do I?" She asked herself staring back at her reflection. "What are the reviews going to say?"

She felt nervous as ever now as she suddenly snatched up the magazine and began flipping right to the reviews, but she needed to know.
Her eyes widened as she finally came to the page and glanced down at the latest rating one of the critics have given her film.

"No!" She gasped when she realized it was a poor review. "No, no, no, no, no!"

Her heart was sinking as she stared down at the two star rating while reading the comments below it.

Some are just better off seen and not heard and unfortunately this applies to Miss Thompson's less than poor performance in "Giggle Water". One
might even question if she herself were drunk during the making of this picture. Stick to the silents, Victoria and leave the talkies to the professionals.

Her bottom lip trembled as tears started running down her face smearing the ebony colored mascara around her eyes. She dropped the magazine to the floor and lowered her face burying it into her hands as she wept. "I'm ruined!"

At that very same moment Maxwell Graham was in the midst of scolding Enrique for giving a customer a discount behind his back when all of a sudden he spotted a big burly man in a suit and fedora walk inside.
Maxwell immediately checked the time and then rushed over to give the unsuspecting man an earful.

"You bloody moron!" Maxwell shouted at him. "I said to come at six in the evening not twelve-thirty in the afternoon!"

"Excuse me?" The man replied quizzically.

"Don't give me that," Maxwell sneered back. "I know exactly who you are!"

"Really now?" The man sounded impressed. "Well that's great news to me, Mr. Graham, because I too know who you are as well."

"What?" Maxwell looked astonished. "You're not Morone?"

"No I'm not," the man replied sternly. "I'm Detective Vince Hayward of the ACPD, and I'm here to ask you some questions."

Maxwell felt like a complete fool now. "And uh, what questions would those be?"

The man suddenly pulled out a little notepad. "Mr. Graham, the phone record of Mr. Phillip's shows that a call was made directly to you exactly after the time of his murder. Now do you recall ever receiving such a call on that night?"

Maxwell scratched his chin nervously. "You know? I'm not quite sure I remember anything at all. It was rather busy in here that night, that's what I do remember, and I was constantly going from one place to another."

The detective stared at him with suspicion now.

"By that I mean around here," Maxwell corrected himself tugging on his shirt collar.

The detective suddenly eyed Enrique behind the bar counter. "Excuse me, Sir." He called over to him. "But would you mind stepping over here for a moment, son? I've got some questions to ask you."

"Uh, sure?," Enrique replied timidly as he headed over while noticing Maxwell's scowl directed at him and remembering what he'd said earlier about acting normal.

"Son, what's your name?" The detective asked.

"Enrique Alveraz," Enrique answered. "Am I in some kind of trouble?"

"Well that's what I'm trying to find out, son," the detective replied. "Now can you tell me where you were on the night of February eleventh at midnight?"

Enrique swallowed hard. "I was here, Sir. Late too if I may add. My manager here kept me after hours in order to clean up a carpet stain."

The detective looked at Maxwell. "Is this true?"

"Yes it is," Maxwell nodded. "And I hate to say it but the kid did a piss poor job of scrubbing it out."

"May I see the stain?" The detective asked. "This is just so I can verify the details you've given me."

"Certainly," Maxwell replied. "If you'll just follow me this way I can take you right to it."

The detective squinted his eyes as he looked down at the faint red spot on the carpet Maxwell was pointing to.

"Looks like the kid did a decent enough job," he commented. "You mind telling me what kind of stain this is?"

Maxwell laughed. "Well it certainly isn't blood, that I can assure you."

The detective narrowed his eyes at him. "Care to tell me what made this stain then?"

"A man spilled his drink, Sir," Enrique suddenly spoke up. "He was so drunk he could hardly stand that night. The drink was red vodka, I can even show you the bottle if you like?"

"No, that won't be necessary," the detective replied as he looked at Maxwell. "I am going to check your phone records here though, Mr. Graham. And I'm also going to do a search of this place. Why, I'm even obtaining the warrant as we speak."

"Why?" Maxwell asked even though he already knew the answer.

"Because you have quite the shady past, Mr. Graham," the detective replied. "And we know you work for Morane."

"Fine," Maxwell sneered at him. "You can search the entire building for all I care, but I can promise that you won't find anything here."

The detective turned to Enrique and handed him a card with his contact information on it. "You seem like a good honest kid," he said. "So I want you to call me if you come up with anything at all, you got it?"

"Yes, Sir," Enrique nodded.

"Well then, I'll be on my way for now," he tipped his hat as he turned to leave. "But I'm coming back as soon as I get that warrant," he looked over his shoulder. "So if there's anything you need to hide, Mr. Graham. You better hide it now and you better hide it good."

Maxwell glowered as he watched him exit the building and then glanced over at Enrique. "Give me that card," he demanded.

"Here, take it," Enrique handed it to him. "I don't want it. And this whatever it is, I don't want any part of it."

Maxwell took the card and ripped it into tiny pieces that fell to the floor. "Pick this up," he snarled at Enrique. "And you're in this whether you want to be or not!"

Enrique frowned as he got down on his knees to pick up the torn pieces of the card as Maxwell stormed off and began heading back upstairs to his office.

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 16

In a fit of rage Maxwell threw the door open and rushed over to the phone to dial Victoria's number. The phone rang at least three or four times before she finally picked up.

"What do you want?" She asked tiredly, her voice sounding more raspy than usual.

"An officer just stopped by," Maxwell explained. "Some detective, I don't even remember his bloody name. But he was asking a lot of questions."

Victoria's eyes widened. "And what did you tell him?"

"I told him nothing at all," Maxwell replied scratching his nose. "However he did mention that the call you made came after the man's time of death."

Victoria cupped a hand over her mouth and gasped. "That can't be. He wasn't even dead until after you arrived. You had to finish him, remember?"

"Of course," Maxwell replied. "We heard him make a sound, that is unless it's something the dead are capable of and we don't know shite. But then again, if that were true than that could only mean one thing."

"Don't say it," Victoria said bitterly. "I already know what you're thinking."

Maxwell smirked. "Could it be you killed the man after all, Miss Thompson?"

"I-I don't know," she sighed and lowered her head. "What else did you find out?"

"The bloody bastard is getting a warrant so he can search this place," Maxwell snapped. "He wants to check my phone records now."

"He's not going to find anything is he Maxwell?" She asked worriedly.

"No of course not," he answered. "There's nothing for him to find."

"I need you to find out what else he knows," she pleaded. "Find out if they know exactly how he died. Please, Maxwell."

He rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to make any promises, Miss Thompson. But I'll try my best."

"Thank you, that's all I ask." she replied.

"But what are you going to do if it turns out you were his killer after all?" Maxwell asked.

She was silent.

"You might have to confess the truth to Morane if you want him to pull you out of this mess," he said. "After all he's your only hope now, Miss Thompson."

"Find out the truth first," she demanded. "Once I know then I can figure out what to do next. Looks like I won't have a career for much longer either."

"What?" Maxwell responded. "What ever are you talking about?"

"The reviews for my latest film aren't good at all," she explained. "They rated my performance very badly. The studio isn't going to like this."

He rolled his eyes. "It's just one bloody film, Miss Thompson. "There will be others."

"That's not the point," she snapped back. "What other studios are going to want me in their films if I'm being deemed as a bad actress? Not many at all. These reviews are going to screw up everything I've worked so hard for. Don't you understand that?"

He rolled his eyes again. "We'll think of something, Miss Thompson. We can even get rid of those critics if that's what it takes."

"No more murder, Maxwell," she growled. "We're barely getting out of the first one as it is. I don't want anything else associated with my name, you hear?"

"Fine," he sighed in annoyance. "But are you still coming tonight or not?"

"I don't know yet," she answered. "I'm not in the best of spirits right now, but I guess you'll know if I walk in."

He groaned. "Yes or no, Miss Thompson?"

"Fine then, the answer is no," she replied.

When Justin finally returned to the hangar to continue his examination of the wreckage he half expected to find Lynne still be standing there with that same despondent look on her face, but she was gone. He sat back down on top of the toolbox while staring blankly into space, wondering if he'd ever get to the bottom of this mess.

He glanced over and noticed some burnt scraps lying on the floor and got up to look them over. It appeared to be part of the dashboard as there were still holes left behind where buttons and knobs once were.

"How did this fire start?" He asked himself as he sat back down with the pieces in his hand. "Could it have been a fuel leak?"
He suddenly stood back up and began pacing back and forth. "Let's see, a fire needs three key components in order to ignite and those are fuel, air, and heat. I haven't come across the engine or any parts of it yet, so I assume its something Atlantech has in their facility and I won't get my hands on it until tomorrow. But wait" He suddenly paused.

"Could it have been poor maintenance? That's always a possibility, but I will need to see the cowl for further observation."

He sighed as he sat back down again and stared at the wreckage. "I know I can figure this out. I know I can."

Meanwhile, William and Stan were on their way back to the recreational room when Lynne suddenly grabbed William by the arm and pulled him aside.

"We need to talk, Corporal," she said urgently.

"Why? What's the problem?" William asked curiously.

"No problem," she sighed. "I just need to talk to someone right now."

"Oh I see," William replied then looked at Stan. "You don't mind do you?"

"Not at all," Stan answered. "I'm needed elsewhere at the moment. I shall see you later." He walked off.

Lynne looked at William. "Come with me to my office," she said. "We'll have to talk in private, if you don't mind?"

"Not at all," William replied as he followed her to the elevator and stepped inside.

She stared down at the ground for a moment and then looked at him dolefully.

"What is it?" He asked. "I've never seen you this upset before. Is it the Captain? Did you two have another heated argument?"

She shook her head as the elevator door closed. "It wasn't an argument this time."

He raised a brow. "Is it the cancer, has it gotten worse?"

"Something like that," she answered as she wiped her eyes. "Believe me you'll know soon enough."

William said nothing more until the elevator car reached the third floor and they both walked out.

"Is this something you should be telling me at all?" He asked as he followed her down the hall.

She stopped once they reached her door and she pulled out her keys to unlock it.

"To tell you the truth it isn't," she answered as she pushed the door open. "After you?"

William walked inside and headed for the window behind her desk and peered out. The runways were empty now and there wasn't any activity going on at all below at the moment.

"You can sit down if you like," she mentioned as she closed the door behind her. "I'm afraid this won't be brief at all."

He turned his head and looked at her worriedly now. "Did something bad happen with Justin?"

"Not exactly," she replied. "But I will say that Corporal Church isn't in the best of moods for the moment."

"I noticed during lunch," William mentioned. "But that's not why I'm here is it?"

"No it's not," she answered as she sat down in her desk chair facing him. "Captain Grant shared a little from his past with me earlier, and what he told me wasn't good at all."

William leaned up against the wall and crossed his arms. "What did he tell you?"

Her eyes narrowed and her expression hardened. "Morane," she said angrily. "He's been threatening him all this time."

William's eyes widened. "But how?"

"They have a little dark history between them," she explained. "When he was younger he found Morane killing one of his comrades, and violently at that. It traumatized him to the point he couldn't move and when Morane caught him, he said he would spare his life only if he didn't tell anyone what he'd seen."

William could hardly believe his ears. "That's utterly disgusting!" He exclaimed. "What the hell is wrong with that man?"

"But that's not all," Lynne said bitterly. "Morane still has the knife he used to murder that soldier, and now he taunts the captain with it just so he can remind him of that day. And you're right, it's absolutely disgusting of him."

William shook his head in disbelief. "This can't go on. There must be something we can do."

Lynne suddenly arose from her chair. "There is nothing we can do. And just as you asked before, this is something I wasn't supposed to tell anyone."

"Then why did you tell me?" William asked.

"Because I couldn't keep it inside any longer," she sighed. "And you're someone I trust very much, and so I told you."

"So now you expect me to keep quiet?" William quipped.

"I said I trust you," she replied sternly. "Because you've never given me any reason not to, Corporal."

"I broke curfew last night," William suddenly admitted. "Did you know about that yet?"

She nodded. "Of course I did."

"Then why haven't you said anything about it?" William argued. "Shouldn't you at least punish me for it? Or are you letting favoritism stand in the way?"

"You're right I should punish you for it," she replied. "But I decided to let it slide this once because I know you."

William shook his head. "That's not what happened before, remember? You chewed me out for coming home late the other night and this was even before the curfew was in place, so why not now? What's so different this time?"

"Because it's true what Corporal Church said to me a while ago," she sighed heavily. "I'm broken and struggling to find all the pieces in order to put myself back together. I'm just too angry and bitter for my own good anymore, and it's all because I never let go of things. I hold onto them and they eat me up inside. I've held onto this anger over my father leaving for far too long that it's done nothing but cloud my judgement, even worse that I've been taking it out on all of you instead of just dealing with it myself. So the answer to your question? No I will not punish you for breaking curfew because I know you didn't mean to."

He looked at her apologetically now. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you if I did, I just thought things should be a lot more fair around here, that's all."

"No I understand completely," she replied. "And if you want me to punish you then I will. But I wanted you to at least understand my side of things."

"I do," he answered. "But now I know why Justin acted the way he did at lunch. He obviously feels bad for what he said to you."

"Why?" She gave a shrug. "It's the truth."

In the meantime Enrique was busy wiping down the counter top when he realized it had been a while since he last saw that young guy with the jacket. Even his usual spot at the end was empty now and had been for quite some time making him wonder just where the kid had gone to or if he'd ever come back at all.

Enrique realized their last conversation wasn't a very friendly one and he knew he offended him with his words, but in all honesty he was only speaking the truth. The kid had issues and deep rooted ones apparently and Enrique may have felt sorry for him, just not enough to sit and listen to the same drivel over and over.

Enrique sighed with exhaustion as he wrung out the cloth and tossed it in a bucket with the rest of the dirty rags. It was nice and quiet now especially since Maxwell was upstairs in his office and there weren't any customers at the moment, but still Enrique was feeling a little lonesome and wished Victoria was there to cheer him up.

Yet he still couldn't believe that she and Maxwell were involved in the murder of someone and had the nerve to drag him right in the middle of it, but lucky enough for him he had a solid alibi and the detective had been there to confirm it. He also had the card the man had given him, even if it was in pieces now, and he had it hidden deep within the pocket of his black slacks.

But just as Enrique was thinking about calling that number and spilling everything, a tall soldier dressed in a burgundy colored uniform suddenly walked in and took a seat at the counter.

"Could I get a shot of some of that red vodka?" The soldier asked him nicely.

"Sure. Coming right up!" Enrique replied as he turned around and grabbed the bottle and a glass.

"How come I never see any other bartenders working here? The soldier asked. "I always found that odd."

"My manager is cheap," Enrique answered bitterly as he poured the vodka into the glass and set it down before him.

"Thanks, kid!" The soldier replied as he took a swig from the glass. "Say now, I wonder how they get it to look so red? It almost looks like blood."

Enrique shrugged feeling uneasy now. "Must be some kinda of dye. It's even stained the carpet here before."

The soldier chuckled. "I can sure see why. That stain must look like a crime scene I bet."

"Right," Enrique uttered looking away from him.

"Something wrong, kid?" The soldier asked.

"I'm just worried about a friend," Enrique sighed. "They're in a lot of trouble and I don't know how to get them out."

The soldier scratched his chin. "Well, sorry to hear that. But perhaps your friend just needs to deal with the consequences of their actions? What I'm saying is, you can't always bail them out. They need to learn for themselves."

"It's much worse than that," Enrique explained. "They could end up locked up for the rest of their lives and I don't want that."

"I'm sure you don't," the soldier replied. "But remember you've got to do the right thing and your friend more than likely brought it on them self."

Enrique lowered his head and closed his eyes. "I can't betray her."

The soldier's green eyes widened. "Her?" He emphasized. "Well I guess that changes things, a little. How close are you with her? Are there perhaps any strong feelings involved?"

Enrique nodded. "My side anyway. She doesn't feel the same."

The soldier chuckled. "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing because you remind of someone else I know. The name is Chris by the way. I'm a sergeant in the AMF. You ever think about joining us?"

"No," Enrique answered him. "I'm not the fighter type."

"I see," Chris noted. "Well that's alright because we're not really doing much fighting these days anyway, except with each other."

"How come?" Enrique asked.

"Because we have nothing else better to do I guess," Chris answered. "Nothing to really fight for you see? It tends to create a lot of tension, especially within the lower ranks."

"Oh," Enrique sighed wearily now wishing he could just leave.

"But I'd hate to bore you any further by expounding on it, as I can tell you look tired enough as it is," Chris mentioned taking another swig from his glass. "But for what it's worth, I do hope you can resolve things with this friend of yours. And who knows? Maybe she doesn't feel the same right now, but that doesn't mean she won't later on, you know?"

Enrique shrugged in response. "Doubt it, but thanks for your input."

"Yep," Chris nodded with a smile. "You definitely remind me of someone."

Several hours had passed now as Victoria lay on her sofa wearing a silk violet robe hugging one of her pillows tight while worrying about her future. On the black coffee table across from her sat two empty bottles and a couple of glasses. It was a failed attempt at trying to get herself drunk so she could escape the horrors of her mind but unfortunately the alcohol only seemed to make it worse.

She groaned as she turned on her side now and buried her face into the pillow wishing she could just pass out now, and for a moment she felt like she could once she began to ponder over her secret admirer wondering if perhaps she'd seen his face before until her peace was soon interrupted by the ringing of her phone.
"Why now?" She groaned as she slowly sat up and struggled as she made her way to answer the phone.

"Maxwell, what do you want now? I said I'm not coming!" She snarled.

"Is this Miss Victoria Thompson?" The older man on the other line asked.

"Yes this is she," Victoria answered. "To whom am I speaking with?"

"This is Detective Vince Hayward of the ACPD, Miss Thompson," he replied.

Her face froze in horror. "And may I ask why you are calling?"

"Miss Thompson, my partner and I just finished looking through the schedule book of Mr. Phillips, the man who was murdered, and we happened to come across your name listed as his final appointment on the eleventh of February."

I knew we missed something, she thought to herself furrowing her brow.

"Miss Thompson?" The detective asked. "Are you still with me?"

"Yes," she answered. "Sorry, I was just looking for something I dropped on the floor."

"No worries, Miss," he replied. "But anyway we need you to come down to the station for questioning, if you don't mind?"

"Not at all," Victoria smiled stupidly. "I'd be more than happy to help you solve your case. Uh, when would be a good time?"

"Well, right now if you don't mind?" He answered. "I know you're very busy these days with your career, but it would mean a lot if you could help us out here you see?"

"Oh absolutely," she replied crossing her fingers and hoping the elevators were fixed by now. "Let me just gussy up a bit and throw something on and I'll be right there."

"Thank you for your cooperation, Miss Thompson. See you soon."

She slammed the phone down and made a fist. "Maxwell you damn fool, you idiot, you, you, you imbecile!!!!!!!!!"

She then hurried over to her closet and began sorting through her dresses to find which one to wear to the police station. "I need to look innocent," she said to herself. "So anything that shimmers or shines is out of the question. I need to look matronly and mournful."

She pulled out a dark green floral print dress and held it up against her body as she observed herself in the mirror. "This will have to do," she nodded. "I think I've even got a matching hat lying around here somewhere too. But if there's one thing I know they're not going to get me, even if I was the one who killed that man. They're not going to get me. But I am going to deal with Maxwell. Boy does he have it coming and he doesn't even know it."

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 17

Later on after Justin Church had finished up for the day on his project he headed to the recreational room to either relax or play a game, but instead he found William seated at one of the tables all alone writing what appeared to be another letter to Victoria.

"Another one already?" Justin commented as William looked up and saw him.

"This one is going to be different," William replied. "I'm also including a poem."

Justin snickered at him. "Poetry huh? That's sissy stuff, Sterling. "Just tell her you keep a half naked picture of her inside your locker."

William squinted his eyes. "Have you been snooping in my locker again, Church?"

"Of course not," Justin answered. "I've only seen it I don't know how many times now. Every time you open your door and I'm standing nearby I can see it. As a matter of fact I bet if I just close my eyes right now I could see it."

William rolled his eyes. "She's not half naked either," he corrected him. "It's a bathing suit."

"Well you can see enough," Justin remarked as he sat down at the table. "So are you gonna let me read this thing or not?"

William shook his head.

"Aw come on, why not?" Justin griped.

"Because it's top secret," William smirked at him.

Justin rolled his eyes. "Okay, I get it. So now you're throwing that back in my face? Well two can play that game, my friend."

"I'm not throwing anything back in your face, Church," William replied. "I'd just like some privacy that's all."

Justin turned his head while he drummed his fingers on the table's surface. "Never could read your chicken scratch anyway," he mumbled.

"What was that?" William furrowed his brow.

"Nothing," Justin grumbled as he stood back up. "I'm going to the Card Shack tonight. It's been a long boring day so I could use some entertainment before tomorrow."

"And you're telling me this, why?" William stared at him blankly.

"Because I was hoping you and Stan would want to join me?" Justin remarked. "Why else would I bring it up? You already know Victoria's bound to be there, so why not?"

"Because I don't want her to see me?" William quipped as he stared down at his unfinished letter.

"Why?" Justin asked. "Because you'd rather hide from her and send letters instead? Pathetic." He shook his head. "If you don't make your move soon she's bound to meet someone who will, and then what are you going to do? Hmmm?"

William groaned and covered his eyes with his hands.

"You're coming with me tonight," Justin ordered. "So on your feet, solider! Put the pen and paper away, you won't be needing that crap anymore, I'm going to set you two up on a date."

William looked absolutely horrified now. "Please don't do this," he begged. "I'm not ready for her to see the real me, not yet. I need more time."

Justin shook his head at him. "How much time do you need? It's now or never, Sterling. Haven't you heard a single word I've said?"

"Yes I have," William replied bitterly. "But I feel you're being way too pushy about it too. I'm the one who needs to decide when the time is right, not you."

Justin suddenly threw his arms up. "Fine, fine. I give up then. Do what you want, but don't come crying to me or anyone else when you find out she's got a new boyfriend or she's getting married, you hear?"

"Fine," William agreed. "You won't hear jack from me if it happens."

"Good," Justin nodded back. "Well then, I'll leave you to your letter business. But first, have you seen Commander Williams around?"

"In her office," William answered. "Why didn't you just check there instead of asking me?" He raised a brow.

"Because I'm trying to avoid her?" Justin replied sardonically. "That's why I asked, so I'd know how to escape this place without running into the witch."

William rolled his eyes. "She's really not as bad as you make her out to be."

Justin scoffed. "Yeah, easy for you to say. You're not on her shit list all the time like I am."

"And that's her fault?" William remarked sternly.

"Never said it was," Justin hurled back. "And don't make that face at me, it reminds me of her. Or is she just rubbing off on you now?"

"Go," William waved him away with his hand. "I'd like to finish this in peace without you here."

"Whatever," Justin raised his hand then turned to leave. "Might want to pull that stick out of your ass while you're at it though," he called after him as he threw the doors open and walked out.

"We're glad you made it, Miss Thompson," Detective Hayward said with a smile as he held the door open and Victoria walked inside the room.

"So am I," she turned around and smiled back at him in a playful manner dressed in her dark green dress and matching hat. "The elevators are fixed in my building now. I almost thought I was going to have to walk down all thirty-four flights of stairs just to get here."

"Well, good thing they were," he nodded. "Now, would you mind having a seat so we can begin?"

"Certainly," Victoria replied as she took a seat at the table right across from him and pulled a cigarette out of her purse. "Do you mind?" She asked.

"Not at all, Miss," he replied while his partner suddenly walked in the room with a cup of coffee. "By the way, Miss Thomson, I'd like you to meet Detective Marks. He is my long time partner and will also be joining us this evening and recording everything you say, but first is there anything else you need before we begin?"

"No thank you," Victoria puffed on her cigarette. "This will do just fine. Now what is it you need to know first?"

Vince looked at his partner and then back at her. "Well, as I said over the phone, Miss Thompson. Mr. Phillips had your name written down in his schedule book for Ten O' Clock sharp that night on the eleventh of February. And while I'm not trying to accuse you of anything here, it very much looks like you were the last person to see him alive. I'm sure you can understand how it looks on our end you see?"

"Yes of course, but the truth is I didn't make that appointment," Victoria explained. "And I was going to call him to let him know, but I'd forgotten about it because I was drinking on that night."

"I see," Vince nodded. "And what about Maxwell Graham? What is your relationship to him?"

Victoria wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Former agent. I fired him a long time ago. He still harasses me though because he desperately wants his job back."

Her eyes shifted over to the other detective who was busy writing down everything she had said.

"When I first heard the news of Mr. Phillip's demise, I was deeply shocked and horrified," she explained. "He was a wonderful producer and I was hoping we could work together someday, but alas it seems that day will never come now." She lowered her head and forced herself to cry.

"Yes, his death was shocking to us all," Vince replied. "Even more shocking for those who found his body inside that trunk."

"Some people are monsters," Victoria said somberly. "My only wish is to help you solve his murder in any way that I can."

Vince shot her a smile. "We really appreciate your cooperation, Miss Thompson. Now if you don't mind me asking, have you any idea of the relationship Mr. Phillips may or may not have had with Mr. Graham?"

She smirked a little. "They were lovers. And I had sworn to him that I would not speak a word about it to anyone."

Vince lifted a brow. "Are you saying Mr. Graham is a homosexual?"

"Yes," she smiled. "And I was also aware of Mr. Phillip's relationship with Morane as well. I have reason to believe that Maxwell was jealous and probably even suspected Mr. Phillips was cheating on him."

"I see," Vince said exchanging looks with his partner. "Well this certainly is interesting."

"Isn't it though?" Victoria looked him in the eye while puffing on her cigarette. "I was even surprised when I found out myself. But ever since the murder he's been acting highly suspicious, and I even have reason to believe he may have hired someone to murder Mr. Phillips. Speaking of which, did you ever find out what the direct cause of death was? I'd only heard the part about him being hacked into pieces."

Vince looked down at his report. "The coroner's report states that he died of a brain hemorrhage caused by blunt force trauma of some object."

"How awful," Victoria sighed. "That poor man. Was there anything found at the scene, anything that could point to what in the world was used to kill him? Or do you think the murder weapon was disposed of?"

He looked down at his notes again while Victoria calmly puffed on her cigarette.

"Microscopic fragments of glass were found at the scene," he explained. "And there were traces of wine found in the carpeting which means the object was more than likely a wine bottle. However, there was also evidence of postmortem blunt force trauma, meaning that whoever killed Mr. Phillips continued bashing his head in to make sure he was dead."

Victoria gasped. "That's horrible. Who would do such an awful thing like that?"

"That's what we're trying to find out, Miss Thompson," He replied.

"Well I would definitely keep an eye on Mr. Graham," she insisted. "He recently hired some strange man to win at poker over at The Card Shack tonight. This was the latest thing he informed me about. Now I don't know the man myself, but I wouldn't doubt the possibility that he could've also been the man Maxwell hired to kill Mr. Phillips. So, if you want my advice, I'd suggest sending someone down there tonight to keep an eye on things, or at least see if you can find out anything at all."

"That's good advice," Vince nodded. "And we've already obtained the warrant to search the premises, but we will also keep a close eye on Mr. Graham and this man you speak of."

Victoria smirked as she held the cigarette to her lips. "You never know. After all this man could be his new lover."

While at that same moment, Maxwell Graham was walking out into the lobby dressed in a shiny new red vest and a pair of black slacks when he noticed a tall broad shouldered man in a dark suit and hat standing near the door smoking a cigar. At first Maxwell thought it was another officer until he suddenly glanced over at the wall clock and realized it was now six in the evening.

"Morone is it?" Maxwell asked as he walked right up to the man.

The man huffed irritably as he took the cigar out of his mouth. "It's Ramone! C'mon whatsa matter you eh? You couldn't even remember my name?"

"My apologies," Maxwell replied with a nervous grin feeling like an idiot now. "Now if you don't mind following me, I'll take you to the game room and explain everything."

"You pay me now or you pay me later?" Ramone asked while Maxwell led the way.

"You'll get paid after the game," Maxwell rolled his eyes. "But you have to win first obviously, and that's where I come in."

Enrique stood behind the bar counter watching as they walked by headed for the game room. He knew exactly what was going on and it was something he didn't approve of either, but just like everything else that was going on around him he knew this was just one more thing he had to keep quiet about. "Por qué?" he shook his head and sighed.

"You will be sitting here," Maxwell pointed to the seat at the poker table. "And I've also taken the liberty of arranging the deck to ensure you will get the winning hand. But of course you can't win right away now can you?" He chuckled musingly to himself. "Therefore you will have to pretend to have a losing hand until most of the players have folded."

Ramone scratched his chin. "Now howa am I gonna do that?"

"Simple," Maxwell answered. "I'll just slip a couple extra cards into your hand when I deal and all you have to do is keep them hidden. Those extra cards will be the ones you discard of during the game, understood?"

"Oh I got ya," Ramone nodded. "If I win the pot do I get to keep it?"

"Absolutely not," Maxwell answered rolling his eyes. "I'm paying you to win the pot, remember? But of course you're not going to actually win the pot."

Ramone crossed his arms. "So howa much you gonna pay me then?"

"Ten," Maxwell replied squinting his eyes at him.

Ramone scoffed. "Only ten grand? Whatta cheapskate. I want twenty or I ain't doing it."

"The pot will belong to Morane," Maxwell snapped. "So you either accept the ten or you take a bullet, it's your choice."

Ramone puffed out his chest and got right in Maxwell's face. "You threatening me now? Cause I'll drop you right here, see?"

"Get out of my face," Maxwell snarled as he shoved him back. "And for the bloody record I was talking about Morane, he'll be the one to kill you if you refuse to comply. So are you going to accept our deal or not?"

Ramone huffed. "Guess I have no other choice then. I'mma do it."

Maxwell stared at him blankly and lifted a brow. "You're not really Italian are you?"

Meanwhile across the other side of town, Victoria Thompson had just left the police station and was now making her way over to the curbside to catch a cab to the salon. She felt much better now after lying to the police about Maxwell, and hoped they believed her story well enough to write her off the list of possible suspects, only now she knew she was indeed the one responsible but it no longer fazed her.

She knew if she was going to survive and continue throwing bread crumbs she would have to become cold and unfeeling about it. After all it was done and there was no going back now so she would either have to accept it and continue living her life or just give up and turn herself in, but she wasn't about to do that.

Instead she knew the police would most definitely be crashing Maxwell's party tonight and she sure as hell wasn't going to miss out on that. Even now the very thought of seeing Maxwell's horrified face when the authorities show up unexpectedly and begin searching the place made her smile deviously. He was in a lot of trouble now as far as she was concerned and she didn't want to miss a single moment of it.

"I told you I'd get you, Maxwell," she smiled to herself as she signaled for an oncoming cab and waited till it pulled up beside her. "And now you're going to pay the ultimate price. I can't wait to see how you try to get yourself out of his mess, cause I don't think you will."

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 18

Later on Justin returned home to rest for a bit before planning to head back out. He sat on his couch while holding the model plane up to his face to get a better look at the damage it succumbed from the fall earlier. He sighed in disappointment as he set it down on the table then picked up a small box filled with acrylic paints and sorted through them to find the exact color he needed in order to repair it.

"This looks close enough," he shrugged as he picked up a small paintbrush and pulled the cap off the silver colored paint and carefully set it down. He let out a harsh breath as he picked up the model and brought it close to his face again as he dipped the tip of the brush into the paint and began applying a thin coat over the spot where the paint had chipped off.

"Easy does it," he nodded as he tilted the model plane to the side to get a better look in the light when all of sudden he was interrupted by a knock at his door.

"Oh perfect timing," he grumbled as he set the plane down carefully and then got up to answer the door.

"Yes?" He sounded irritable as he opened the door just to see Lynne's apologetic face staring back at him.

"Corporal Church?" She said urgently.

"I'm busy right now," Justin furrowed his brow. "Can you come back later?"

"I'm afraid this can't wait any longer," she replied listlessly. "We really need to talk."

"I don't," he scowled at her. "And like I said, busy, so scam."

She wrinkled her nose and gritted her teeth. "How dare you talk to me in such a manner. I am your superior officer and I demand respect, Corporal. And now we are going to talk whether you want to or not," she suddenly barged right inside.

"Well come right in," he quipped as he turned around and closed the door behind him

"We can't go on like this," she sighed as she looked back at him. "Fighting all the time, we can't do it if we hope to move forward."

He crossed his arms as he stared right back. "You think I enjoy it? Cause I don't either. But sometimes you're just way too critical, and I wish you would lay off of me for once."

She hung her head. "You're right and I'm deeply sorry for being so hard on you. I just want us to be able to let go and move on, it's important that we do." Then she suddenly noticed the toy plane sitting on the table. "That thing really means a lot to you doesn't it?"

He gave a shrug in response. "Well it is a part of my history. I've had it since I was a kid, so yeah I guess it means a lot to me."

"I'm not being critical of you," Lynne said reassuringly. "I just happened to notice it is all."

"It fell today," he explained as he walked over to check and see if the paint was dry now. "Some of the paint chipped off so I was trying to see if I could fix it."

"It's a nice color," Lynne commented. "I think the green striping also adds a nice touch."

"Thanks," he looked over his shoulder and smiled at her. "Green has always been my favorite color."

"Well that explains your choice of uniform color," she chuckled a little. "Are you anxious about heading to Atlantech tomorrow?"

He shook his head as he sat back down on his couch. "I can deal with it, I mean Artis that is. I just hope I'm not wasting my time."

"You won't be," she assured him. " I know Artis looks forward to working with you. He's a great admirer of your talent."

"He admires you too," Justin smirked. "How many times have you turned him down for dinner or even coffee now?"

She sighed. "Too many to count, but let's not get into that, please."

"No worries," Justin grinned.

"Well I might as well get this off my chest," Lynne suddenly mentioned as she looked back at him dourly. "I haven't forgotten what you said to me earlier."

Justin's smile faded and his face became clouded with guilt now. "Oh," he uttered as he turned his head to avoid eye contact.

"I won't lie to you it hurt," Lynne admitted. "But I also can't deny there was a lot of truth to it as well."

"What do you mean?" Justin looked at her with confusion. "Of course it isn't true, I was just being an asshole."

She shook her head. "No, Corporal. It's true I am broken. And I feel that way even more now since finding out about some things I shouldn't."

Justin narrowed his eyes. "What things?"

"I am not at liberty to discuss them with you," she answered. "As I've made a promise to someone."

"Is it the captain?" Justin asked. "That who you made the promise to?"

She closed her eyes and nodded in response.

"Not surprised," Justin replied as he stood up and grabbed the paintbrush while making his way into the kitchen to clean it off.

While Lynne stood in the background watching she couldn't help but notice how messy and disorganized his living space was, but she knew better than to say anything especially now after it appeared things were civil between them once again.

"He doesn't want to be the captain anymore does he?" Justin had to ask as he held the paintbrush under the running water squeezing the paint out of the bristles between his thumb and forefinger. "I'm sorry for saying anything about it, but that's just the impression I get."

"He's dying, Corporal," Lynne answered gravely. "He likes to pretend that he isn't but I know the truth."

Justin shook his head. "You don't know that for sure? We're making progress in medicine these days and finding new cures for all sorts of diseases. I mean, you never know? They could find a cure for his too someday."

Lynne sighed. "I appreciate your optimism, really I do, but we also have to think realistically here."

"He's a tough guy," Justin mentioned as he headed back over to the couch and sat down. "He got through the death of his wife seemingly okay, right? He can also stand to listen to Morane's crap too. That takes a lot of guts. It's not something all of us are capable of."

"My father the admiral, is the one who made him captain," Lynne explained. "And he personally chose Abraham based on their friendship alone, and also because of his relationship to me."

"I see," Justin scratched his chin. "Well at least your father made the right decision. I honestly can't see anybody else in his position."

"You will one day," Lynne looked him in the eye. "Because after Abraham is gone I'll be taking his place. Then I'll be the one dealing with Morane's crap."

Justin didn't know what to say now.

"It's something I'm not ready for," Lynne continued. "I don't think I can handle that sexist creep at all, not without wanting to put my hands around his throat."

Justin couldn't help but laugh. "I would love to see you do that, honestly I would."

"This isn't a joke," Lynne quipped. "I really truly hate the man with every fiber of my being. And it scares me to think about what I would do to him now."

Justin became silent again and Lynne could tell she was probably making him uneasy with her words.

"Well I've said enough I suppose," she crossed her arms. "You already know of the plan for tomorrow morning so I assume I don't need to remind you again."

"Yeah," Justin nodded. "I'm aware and I'll be there."

"I do apologize for barging inside," Lynne mentioned as she reached for the knob. "It was very rude of me but I saw no other way."

"I know," Justin replied. "I'm guilty of doing it to people myself."

"But thank you for taking the time to listen to me," she gave a half smile as she opened the door. "I wish you luck tomorrow morning and ask that you please keep me updated on things."

"You got it!" Justin signaled with a thumbs up.

"Have a good night, Corporal," she nodded as she walked out and shut the door behind her.

"Night," he said under his breath as he glanced over at the time. "Looks like the game is starting soon. I'll have to get there and fast if I want to see what's going down tonight."

Then all of a sudden Justin got up and started heading for the door when he quickly stopped and hesitated a little before turning right back around then rushing over to the phone to call up William in one more final attempt to ask if he wants to come with. But as Justin dialed the number and waited no one seemed to be answering.

"Oh come on, pick up already," Justin quetched as he sighed impatiently, when all of a sudden he finally heard a voice on the other end.

"Who is this?" Alley Sterling asked in a cranky voice.

"This is Justin, where's your brother?" He answered.

"He's in his room sleeping," Alley said.

"What?" Justin exclaimed. "But it's early? Can you go get him, please?"

"Yeah, hold on a second," she responded as she set the phone down then walked over to William's room and banged on the door. "Come out and talk to your parasite!" Alley shouted loud enough for Justin to hear.

William looked groggy as he opened his door only to be greeted by Alley's glare. "My para what?"

"Your parasite," Alley repeated herself. "You know the one you can't get rid of? That parasite."

"Oh?" William rubbed the back of his head and yawned. "I'll be there in a minute."

Alley rushed back over and picked up the phone again. "He said in a minute," she spoke before setting the phone back down and walking off.

"Might as well be an hour," Justin groaned as he obsessively checked the time again. "Come on already!"

"What do you want?" William asked in a tired voice.

"Oh, you really were sleeping then?" Justin replied. "Well in that case sorry to wake you, but I'm heading to the Card Shack now and thought I'd ask you one more time if you wanna come with?"

"No," William said harshly. "I already told you before, I don't want to be seen there. Why don't you just ask Stan instead?"

"Because he doesn't have a phone?" Justin huffed. "And honestly he scares me, so there's that."

"He's harmless," William yawned. "But whatever. Why don't you just find someone else to go with?"

"Cause I don't have time?" Justin snapped. "And I didn't want to go there and have you miss out on the chance to see Victoria."

William rolled his eyes. "Drop it already cause I'm not going."

"Fine then," Justin huffed. "Guess I'll just...................wait a minute. This is payback for the other night isn't it? When you asked me to come with you and I said no."

"I got over that," William replied. "And by the way you were right about there being a stick up my ass, but guess what? I've discovered that it happens to go by the name of Justin, so I'll be pulling it out now, got that? So goodnight, Church." He suddenly hung up.

Justin stood staring at the phone like an idiot now. "Why is that guy so difficult?" He asked himself. "I try to do him a favor and he turns me down. What a lot of nerve he's got. Well whatever. I'm going alone now apparently and that's fine. Who needs him? I don't. Maybe if I run into Stan on my way out he'll be nice enough to come with. He's scary and all but he's still good company. Actually screw it!" He snatched up his plaid coat and matching cap. "If I'm going alone I'm going incognito."

All the while as Lynne was making her way back to headquarters, she saw Captain Grant standing outside smoking a cigar watching while one of the fighter planes was being prepared for a test run. At first she didn't want to say anything to him and even hoped he wouldn't see her coming, but much to her disappointment he turned around and spotted her.

"You're out of your office I see," she commented with a forced smile as she stopped just a few feet away from him.

"Yes I am," he replied puffing on his cigar. "Thought I'd come out for some fresh air and observe the activity in person instead of from a window."

Lynne's eyes shifted over towards the jet on the runway. "You know we're going to have to upgrade these models as well, once the project takes off that is."

"And how are things coming along?" Abraham asked.

"Progress is slow, Captain," Lynne answered truthfully. "But should no doubt pick up after tomorrow. Corporal Church is going to be working with Artis now."

"You know what I find strange?" Abraham suddenly mentioned.

"What would that be?" Lynne asked as she stepped closer.

Abraham looked up as he held the cigar between his fingers. "I find it amazing that we still take time to look at the stars, even though its something we see all the time."

Lynne pondered the thought herself as she glanced up. "Perhaps it's because there is still so much mystery out there," she replied. "And because we know we're not alone."

He looked at her in a questioning manner. "You still believe there are other enemies out there?"

"There has to be," she answered. "The Tjatey can't be the only ones, neither are the Zyrians that Ammon warned us all about."

"But you assume they'd only be our enemies?" Abraham mentioned. "Why couldn't another race be our ally instead?"

"Look at Atlantis City," Lynne replied as she turned her head and observed the lights from the skyscrapers in the distance. "Those people never accepted the Tjatey after the war, and not just because of Earth's destruction, but because of their differences. Humans have always been afraid of the unknown."

"I see,"Abraham said. "But don't you believe that could ever change?"

Lynne shook her head. "Of course not. Just look at the history of Earth. Different races have been against one another since the dawn of time. The only thing that's changed now is the face of the enemy. So do I believe in the possibility of change? No I do not, Captain. Nor do I believe any other race out there would come here in peace. They'd come here simply to destroy us for good, and all because we exist."

"Out of fear too?" Abraham looked her in the eye.

"Yes," she sighed.

"Then I guess we're not so different from them after all," he noted.

Now as Justin arrived at the Card Shack he was surprised to find that it wasn't nearly as busy as he expected it to be. There were a few small crowds in the lobby while the others were either seated at the bar or already waiting around in the game room. Justin tugged down on the brim of his cap to better hide his face in order to make it easier to spy on Maxwell and find out what the con artist was up to this time. But in order to avoid suspicion he decided he'd have a few drinks and mingle with the crowd a bit in attempt to blend in.

As Justin walked up to the bar counter and ordered a drink he could see that the young bartender was very exhausted and also low in spirits. Usually he greeted everyone with a friendly smile even if he was just pretending, but as of now his mouth was set in a straight line as he served Justin his drink.

"Rough night I take it?" Justin asked.

"Slow is more like it," Enrique answered glumly. "I really need a break but my boss won't allow it."

"Nonsense, Justin remarked. "I don't see him in here, do you? So go ahead and take a load off. Have yourself a drink even."

Enrique stared at Justin quizzically. "Are you insane? He'll murder me! I'm better off just standing here and biting my tongue while I still have it."

Justin scoffed. "That asshole is going to be busy with that game of his to even notice you. So come on and live a little, what have you got to lose?"

"My job?" Enrique fired back irritably. "And I'm sure you're aware of how hard it is to find work these days, so I need to keep this one in order to help support my family."

"You're married?" Justin's eyes widened. "No offense but you look a little too young to be wearing a manacle."

"My mother and siblings," Enrique stared at him blankly. "That's who I'm supporting. And you look rather young yourself by the way, almost too young to even be drinking in the first place. So what's your excuse?"

Justin chuckled nervously and shrugged. "I'm old enough that's for sure. Also wise enough to know your boss is a moron, but you're already aware of that yourself so I don't need to tell you."

Enrique sighed. "I try not to talk too much to strangers during my shift but I find that it's a good distraction. But the last guy I used to talk to regularly seems to have disappeared for good. I don't like upsetting people but it seems I've upset him."

"Sounds like you miss the guy's company," Justin commented.

"I don't miss him," Enrique shook his head. "I just feel bad for driving him away that's all."

"Say, can I get some more of this stuff?" Justin asked holding up his glass. "I like the warm fuzzy feeling it's giving me."

"Of course you can," Enrique replied as he took the glass back and mixed up another drink. "They don't call it giggle water for nothing you know?"

"I know," Justin nodded as he suddenly turned his head and looked behind him to see Maxwell parading around in his red vest. "Is it just me or does this guy have a vest for every day of the week?"

"He likes to pretend he's classy," Enrique rolled his eyes as he set the drink down in front of Justin. "He's a real schmoozer."

"Yeah, well don't forget to put the word ass in front of schmoozer and then you'd be right," Justin remarked as he sipped his drink. "Now if you don't mind, I'm gonna head into the game room myself now. Gonna see what all the commotion is about, ya know?"

"I think it's just commotion," Enrique replied. "And something tells me you'll be back for another drink soon."

"Maybe," Justin laughed as he walked off. "We shall see."

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 19

Now as Justin set foot inside the game room he eyed the four players seated at the poker table. They were all men, varying in age from young to old. But Justin knew something suspicious was going on especially with the vibes he was picking up from one particular man who sat on the end with Maxwell standing by his side watching over him like a guard dog. Justin sipped his drink nonchalantly as he walked right past them just to be met with Maxwell's glaring grey-blue eyes. Justin quickly looked the other way and took another sip of his drink while he made his way to the back wall and leaned himself up against it while pretending to admire the dark blue wallpaper adorned with little gold fans.

Then from out of the corner of his eye Justin could see that Maxwell had turned his attention back to the game and knew this was a good opportunity to try and sneak in for a closer look. From where he was standing he could see a small smattering of people gathered around the table opposite of Maxwell and he immediately began making his way over there hoping to blend in only he couldn't help but stare at that brawny looking player who kept scratching his chin nervously staring down at his cards like a deer in headlights.

That has got to be the worst poker face I've ever seen, Justin thought to himself as he watched that man closely. Does this guy even know how to play or what?

Then all of a sudden the man finally made a call and much to Justin's surprise he appeared to be losing this round. But Justin couldn't help but notice the sly grin on Maxwell's face and began to wonder why he'd be smiling at all if his star player was losing. That guy must be cheating somehow, Justin thought to himself as he sipped his drink. And this must be Maxwell's big plan too. Make this guy look like a fool in front of the others just to win in the end. Well.............seen it. Try something new already.

Meanwhile Victoria had finally arrived herself all gussied up in a bronze colored chiffon dress with a feathered headband and cigarette holder in hand as she headed straight for the bar just to see Enrique's adoring smile.

"I thought you weren't coming tonight," He said with surprise.

"Eh, I changed my mind," Victoria shrugged. "And besides I wanted to be here for the big game you know? I hear it's the talk of the town, that it's even garnered the interest of the police as well."
Enrique swallowed hard. " What do you mean?" He leaned forward. "Are they coming after us?"

Victoria giggled and pinched his face. "Why no, sweetie, they're not after us, but they are curious about Maxwell. And after the things they've heard I don't blame them one bit."

Enrique frowned. "I'm scared, Miss Thompson. I don't want to go to jail. I had nothing to do with this yet Maxwell is saying I did."

She scoffed. "Oh forget about him, sweetie. You just let me handle things, alright? And over my dead body will you be doing any jail time at all."

"Thanks, Miss Thompson," Enrique sighed in relief. "Now can I get you anything to drink?"

"Hold that thought," Victoria answered as she tugged at the hem of her dress. "I think I'm going to pay Maxwell a little visit first, and of course meet this new friend of his. How rude of him not to introduce us."

Justin yawned with boredom as he leaned against the wall watching as Maxwell's star player fumbling with the cards some more when another player suddenly made a call then dropped more coins into the pot raising the bet from fifty to a hundred. Justin scratched the bridge of his nose then quickly turned his head when he spotted Victoria standing in the entryway.

"You started the game without me?" Victoria announced in revolt as she stormed on over to the poker table. "Why, I'm insulted, Maxwell," she looked him right in the eye.

Maxwell smiled nervously and clenched his teeth as all eyes were suddenly on him. "I thought you weren't coming, is that not what you told me?"

She scoffed. "And miss out on all this fun? Certainly not. And besides I'm here to meet your new friend. Morone is it? Sounds kind of close to Morane don't ya think?"

Ramone looked insulted again. "It's Ramone," he corrected her while giving Maxwell the stink eye.

"We're in the midst of a game here," Maxwell sneered at her. "So either shut your bloody yap or leave at once."

Victoria smirked as she puffed on her cigarette and looked at Ramone. "So tell me big fella, are you winning this round? Or hows about I come over there and have a looksy at your cards just to see for myself, if you don't mind?" She winked.

Maxwell began to panic and tug at his shirt collar while Justin looked on in the background.

"Hopefully you're playing fair," Victoria mentioned sternly as she moved behind Ramone and placed her hands on his shoulders while leaning into him. "After all, a big strapping lad like yourself should know better than to cheat."

Maxwell balled his hands into fists and gritted his teeth. "Out!" He shouted at her while pointing towards the doorway. "Out now!"

"Oh come on now, Maxwell. I'm just having a little fun with your new lover," she teased.

"What in hell?" Ramone narrowed his eyes at Maxwell. "Lover am I?"

Maxwell glared at Victoria. "You've got a lot of nerve coming here just to make trouble for me, Miss Thompson."

"Are we still playing the game or what?" One of the other players suddenly complained.

Victoria looked at the man with pity. "Only if you wish to lose, sweetie."

"What are you trying to do here?" Maxwell snapped at her. "Make a fool out of me?"

"I don't have to do that," she replied slyly as she started heading back out. "You do a good enough job of that yourself."

Maxwell snarled as he watched her leave and then turned his attention back to the small audience and players. "I do apologize for that, ladies and gents. And now back to the game."

"You know, I'm still not over what you told me earlier, Captain," Lynne mentioned as she walked along side of him. "In fact I have to say I'm still very upset over it."

Abraham sighed as he massaged his brow. "Then maybe I shouldn't have told you if I knew it was going to bother you this badly."

"You had to," Lynne replied sternly as she looked him in the eye. "It was something you couldn't face alone anymore, and you don't have to either."

Abraham looked at her with confusion as he slid his hand down over his face. "Just what are you getting at?"

"We're going to fight back, Captain," Lynne answered. "We're going to put an end to this hold Morane has over you. It can't go on anymore, I won't allow it."

Abraham frowned at her. "You will do nothing, understood? I want to keep the peace, dammit, but I can't do that if you're planning some kind of war against the man. Believe me when I say that is a fire you do not want to start. Better to let it go."

"And do nothing?" She exclaimed with frustration. "Look, I'm sorry for the what you had to endure, but that is the past, Captain. You are stronger than that and above all else, you are stronger than him."

"I certainly don't feel strong," Abraham replied. "But I'd rather appear weak than to allow him to harm anyone here. That's a promise I made to myself. I would continue to bow and cower in fear just to keep us all safe, and you know what? It's worked out for the better and that is how things will remain."

"It's defeat," Lynne sighed. "You're a defeated man, Captain. And since we're being honest here, I almost feel ashamed of having someone like you in charge. You're not doing anything to help us."

"Well, neither are you," he said coldly as he suddenly walked away. "Goodnight."

Lynne crossed her arms and clenched her jaw. "Fine then, if you won't do something about this then I will, she said to herself. "I know my father would. Enough is enough."

In the meantime Victoria was seated at the bar with one dainty hand clasped around a wide rimmed champagne glass filled with red liquor along with a musing little smile plastered across her face. Enrique stood behind the counter observing her behavior questioningly until he soon spotted Maxwell storming out of the game room his eyes burning with rage. For the moment Victoria didn't even have to hear or even see Maxwell to know he was coming up right behind her. Enrique's mortified expression said it all and then some.

"Miss Thompson!" Maxwell exclaimed full of anger. "Head to my office, now!"

She didn't even flinch or dare to look over her shoulder at him. Instead she just sat in place while sipping her wine in a nonchalant manner.

"Did you hear something, Enrique?" She suddenly asked the timid bartender with a careless tone. "For a moment there I could've sworn I heard an angry lunatic, but I'm certain it's all in my head. Must be the wine," she chuckled.

"You dare to ignore me?" Maxwell snarled with outrage as reached forth and snatched the glass right out of her hands and slammed it on the counter nearly shattering it in the process as it spilled all over the surface barely missing Victoria's dress.

Victoria turned her head away still avoiding eye contact while hoping that one of those officers were at least here to witness Maxwell's violent temper.

"Don't make things worse for yourself, Miss Thompson," Maxwell warned. "In my office this instant, and you, Enrique, clean up this mess immediately!"

"Aren't you going to finish your game first?" Victoria finally responded with indifference with her hands on her hips.

"The game is ruined!" Maxwell seethed. "No thanks to you!"

"Oh please," she rolled her eyes while playfully running her fingers through her wavy hair. "That brute you hired is the saddest piece of work I've ever laid my eyes on. If anything I was helping you see the truth." She turned and looked him in the eye. "You need someone with confidence, Maxwell. He has none."

Maxwell crossed his arms tilting his head to the side. What are you saying? Actually, this is something better off discussed in private, Miss Thompson." He glared at Enrique. "Too many witnesses about."

Victoria searched around the room with her eyes again in hopes of spotting one of those detectives. "And how right you are, Mr. Graham," she replied while sliding herself off the bar stool and smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress. "But you'd better make it snappy."

Then right at the moment when Justin was heading out of the game room, both Maxwell and Victoria were walking right past him when she suddenly stopped to comment on how adorable he looked wearing his plaid cap and coat. "Oh just look at you," she cooed softly. "Why I could just eat you up." She smiled and patted him on the head before continuing on her way.

Justin just stood there wide eyed and red faced knowing that if William had been there to see that he would've been so jealous. Good thing you decided not to come after all, Justin thought while smiling to himself as he made his way back to the bar.

"You overlooked one tiny little detail," Victoria was explaining to Maxwell now as he sat stone faced in his office chair. "You completely forgot about his appointment book didn't you?"

Maxwell covered his eyes with his hand and let out a disgruntled sigh.

"How could you?" She asked accusingly. "And because of your failure I was forced to come down to the station and tell them face to face why I didn't show up for my appointment with the man."

Maxwell dropped his hand from his face and glared up at her. "And what else did you tell them? His tone became irate.

She scoffed and looked away from him. "Nothing of course. But I can assure you I didn't give them any reason to suspect me." She paused then corrected herself. "I mean us."

Maxwell uttered a sigh of disgust as he eyed her with suspicion. "Just so you know, Miss Thompson, I'm still very much angry with you over that little stunt you pulled earlier. Now, would you care to explain why you behaved so boorishly?"

Victoria laughed and tossed her hair. "You must forgive me, Maxwell. But I believe I behaved in such a way because I had one too many drinks after that little interrogation with the police. Needless to say I might've gone over my limit? But I couldn't help myself." She stared at him now to see if he was buying it.

"Nobody won tonight," Maxwell informed her. "And all because of that drunken stupidity of yours."

"Fair enough," she raised her chin. "But what I believe you mean is, that bloke you hired didn't win the pot."

He rolled his eyes at her. "Of course that's what I meant, but that's besides the point, Miss Thompson. The fact of the matter is you've royally screwed us over for tonight and so when Morane calls to ask why he's been shorthanded, you're going to be the one to explain your piss poor story, not me."

Her face hardened and her eyes narrowed. "Fine then, I will."

"Oh and another thing, Miss Thompson," Maxwell smirked as he leaned forward in his chair.

"What?" She asked unknowingly.

"The next time you even think about spreading misinformation about me around here, you're going to be very, very sorry."

Her jaw suddenly went slack and her eyes were as wide as could be. Does he know?

"I had a feeling you'd be back here," Enrique greeted Justin with a winsome smile while he was pouring some other guy a drink. "I take it you're going to want the same thing?"
Justin shook his head as he removed the cloth cap from his head.
"Oh it's you," Enrique suddenly remembered his face. "But why the hat and the coat? Couldn't you just show up here in your uniform like you usually do?"

Justin smiled and chuckled a little. "The uniform is under the coat." He pointed out. "I was just under cover tonight. Wanted to see what your boss had up his sleeve."

"You don't say?" Enrique remarked stroking his chin. "So did you find anything?"

"Nadda," Justin answered gesturing with his thumb pointing down. "Feels like I wasted my time just coming here tonight, especially when I've got such a busy schedule planned for tomorrow."

"Busy eh?" Enrique sounded intrigued. "What is it you guys even do over there? I mean, you're not fighting any aliens, right?"

Justin couldn't help but laugh. "Nope, no aliens as of now, it's just us preparing for them."

"And how does one prepare for aliens?" Enrique had to ask.

"With the right kind of weapons," Justin answered. "The AMF is hard at work trying to strengthen our defenses, so that should anything show up here at our doorstep, we'll be ready."

"I see," Enrique replied. "And do you think we're ever going to have aliens at our doorstep?"

"Nope," Justin said modestly. "They'd take one look at our arsenal and crawl right back into whatever cosmic arse they came out of. They'd know they wouldn't even stand a chance against us, and that's a good thing." He winked.

"Well have you decided what you want to drink for now?" Enrique asked. "It's on the house, I won't tell if you won't."

"Aces!" Justin exclaimed cheerfully as he rubbed the palms of his hands together. "Well in that case, I'll have that drink you all call "Galaxy on the Rocks."

"Wise choice my military friend," Enrique nodded with a smile.

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 20

What am I doing?
Lynne was asking herself now as she opened her weary eyes realizing she was sitting in a cab making its way to City Hall. The driver was silent and hadn't even said a single word since she got in. She figured he was probably anti-military and all he cared about getting was his money's worth, but still it would have been nice if he would've said something to distract herself from her thoughts. They were all consuming now like a dam that had burst open and the water flooding everything in its path. She closed her eyes again now listening to the thundering beating of her heart as it raced in her chest and her hands became clammy. This is insane, she thought to herself as she placed a hand over her chest and exhaled slowly when the cab suddenly came to a complete stop and the driver looked back at her coldly. "We've reached your destination."

"Thank you," she responded handing him a few coins and then stepped out of the vehicle and just stood there for a moment trying to collect herself while gazing up at the intimidating building in front of her. "I really am crazy," she muttered under her breath and then made her way up the steps to the front entrance.

Meanwhile Victoria Thompson was feeling rather flabbergasted and lightheaded as Maxwell was staring back at her. Does he really know? She worried to herself as she suddenly turned away from him wondering just how in the world he could've found out about her confession to the police. I thought the whole thing was supposed to be confidential, she furrowed her brow.

"Did you really believe I wouldn't find out? Maxwell said callously crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes. "Time and time again you take me for a fool, Miss Thompson, but that ends now."

"What are you talking about?" She turned back around wearing a scowl on her face. "You're insane, you know that?"

He smirked. "If there's one thing I have a knack for, it's reading body language. And believe me, Miss Thompson. The signs were all too telling."

"Hmph," she threw her head back in a haughty manner. "And just what are these signs you're talking about?"

"You're lying about something," he suddenly arose from his seat. "And I know for a fact it's something regarding the authorities, is it not?"

She crossed her arms. Her eyes were transfixed on his as if trying to decipher his thoughts.

"You told them something about me, didn't you?" He raised his voice and slammed a fist on his desk. "I know you bloody did, now what was it?"

The fear was written across her face now despite her efforts to hide it, but she wasn't fooling him anymore and she knew sooner or later he'd find out exactly what it was she had told the police. It was all a matter of time now but time was running out.

"Well?" He barked as the anger intensified his expression.

"I told them you knew the man," Victoria admitted with defeat. "I told them you were close before."

"How close?" Maxwell demanded to know.

She bit down on her lip and lowered her gaze to the floor. "Close."

"I don't believe this," Maxwell chuckled in disbelief. "I trust you not to mess this up and what do you do? You throw me right into the god forsaken fire, that's what! Now would you kindly explain to me why in Morane's name would you betray me like this? After all I've done for you? This is how you repay me?" He raised his voice again waving a fist in the air like a madman. I could really just shoot you dead for this, Miss Thompson. He pulled out the top desk drawer and whipped out a revolver and aimed it at her. I mean, it's not going to matter anymore if I do or don't, right?"

"Wait", she pleaded. "I can fix this, Maxwell. Just give me a chance."

"Give you a chance?" He laughed coldly. "I already did! And you screwed it all up! What other damage are you looking to cause?"

"I'll go to Morane for help," she said with seriousness now. "He can get us out of this mess. He's our last hope, Maxwell."

"You mean, your last hope," Maxwell remarked with emphasis.

She shook her head at him. "No, I do mean ours. We're in this together, remember?"

Maxwell lowered the gun to his side. "There is no you and I, Miss Thompson. There is only our common interests at best, but if you say you can fix this mistake of yours, then by all means." He smirked. "But you're going to have to tell the police you lied."

"What?" She gasped.

"That's right," he nodded with a grin. "You're going to tell them you lied to them, Miss Thompson."

"I'll tell them I was wrong," she replied. "That my claims were based purely on assumption only. I can't confess to lying, that isn't going to help us at all."

He furrowed his brow. "Fine then. But you'd better sell it or else they won't believe you. I know for a fact you're not the best actress around, so make it count."

"I will," she promised. "I'll put on the best god damn show they've ever seen."

By now Lynne was feeling a lot more fearless and determined as she walked into the building with her head held high and noticed only a single security guard standing around with his back facing her while smoking a cigarette. He failed to catch her as she quickly made a beeline for the staircase, but once she began hurrying up the stairs he suddenly heard the clacking sounds of her boot heels and began to follow after. Lynne could hear him coming up the stairs now but it didn't faze her. Let him try and catch me, she thought carelessly. I want Morane to know that no guard of his is going to stop me from getting to him now. Nothing will!

She soon made it to the entry way of the second floor and threw the door open barging inside while making her way down a long and dark carpeted hallway. Thank god for carpeting, Lynne thought feeling relieved she'd be able to walk in Morane's office unannounced and take him by surprise. But now she was closer than she believed since Morane's office was located at the very end of the hall but at that moment he was sitting inside waiting for her in his black faux leather arm chair with a wine glass in hand gazing out the window with a malicious smile plastered cross his fat face. Lynne hadn't a clue that he'd seen her as she pulled up in the cab and now he was expecting her, waiting eagerly like some kind of predator in the dark ready to pounce on its prey. After all this was a game to him and one he enjoyed immensely but now even more so that Abraham's pupil had come to play. For Morane it felt like Christmas had come early this year.

"You monster," Lynne seethed as she stormed right into his office and marched up to his desk. "You will no longer threaten Captain Grant, do you hear me? You will threaten him no more. This ends now, Morane!"

Morane set his wine glass down on the desk nonchalantly and bowed his head.

"And whatever kind of sick game you're playing with him, that ends too!" Lynne snarled. "He is very sick, he can't suffer at your feet anymore, I won't allow it! Do you hear me?" She shook her fist at him.

There was nothing but an eerie silence when all of a sudden he started chuckling at her while picking up his wine glass to take another sip before reaching for his phone with his other hand and dialing Captain Grant's personal number.

"Now just a second, dear," Morane said condescendingly as he waited for Grant to answer.

"This is Captain Grant speaking, what do you want, Morane?"

Lynne couldn't believe it once she recognized the voice blaring through the receiver. Did he actually just call him? What a coward! I should've known he would've backed down instead of facing me like the man he thinks he is?

"Sorry to bother you, Grant," Morane said apologetically trying his best to sound genuine. "But I'm afraid there's a problem you see. Your bitch is here talking down to me and I don't appreciate it in the least."

Lynne gnashed her teeth at him now. Wanting nothing more than to reach over the desk and choke the life out of him.

"You better not lay a hand on her," Grant warned him. "I mean it! Don't you dare cause her any harm."

"Then you better learn to keep her on a leash," Morane replied callously noting the scornful look in her eyes.

"Don't you do a single thing," Grant responded urgently. "I'm coming there right now. I'll take her back with me."

"Very well then," Morane said sipping his wine glass. "But I'm warning you this time, Grant. If she ever pulls this kind of shit again I am going to deal with her personally, you understand?"

"I do," Grant replied. "I'm on my way right now."

The phone line went dead and Morane hung up.

"Sounds like he'd do anything to keep you safe, dear," he smirked. "How lucky you must feel."

Lynne said nothing more to him. In fact she turned her back on him just so she wouldn't have to see that arrogant look on his face anymore.

"You thought you were being brave didn't you?" Morane continued pestering her. "Guess you didn't realize you were just being stupid."

Say whatever you like, Lynne thought. I know you better than you know yourself. All you want to do is fire me up right now and I'm not going to let you. You get off on the suffering of others that much is true.

"Just like that father of yours? Morane taunted and grinned as Lynne suddenly looked over her shoulder at him. "That sure got your attention didn't it?" Morane laughed then slammed a fist down onto his desk. "Is it true he abandoned you and all the rest of you sad fucks just to search for something that might not even exist? Well pardon my French, but how fucking stupid can you get?"

Her brows snapped together as she listened to his words.

"And now where is he?" Morane asked her leaning forward in his chair. "Dead right?" He laughed again. "I bet he didn't even find what he was looking for."

"He left to search for more resources we could use," Lynne replied bitterly with her eyes locked on his. "Not just for the AMF, but even for the people of this city, the same ones you turned against us."

Morane scoffed. "And what? I'm supposed to give a fuck? Please, dear. Save it for someone who cares, cause it ain't me. The bottom line is this, your father's gone and Grant is dying. Why if I didn't know any better I'd say you're pretty fucked." His mouth curved into a vexing smile.

Meanwhile back at the AMF's base, the three young flight control officers were making their way to the tower when Lucy suddenly spotted Stan wandering around all by himself again.

"That man is so strange," she mentioned to Mipsy and Grace. "You'd think he had a home to go to or something?"

"Or even a woman," Mipsy added playfully tossing her wavy light brown hair. "You do know it's officially Valentine's Day, right girls?"

"Oh yes," Grace remarked. "And I'm sure Corporal Church will be sure to remind me too."

Lucy and Mipsy giggled at her.

"I bet he's even making you a gift this very moment," Lucy teased as Grace rolled her eyes.

"Oh stop it you two," she griped. "I just want to get through today's training session in one piece. But you're right, he probably is planning something. After all he doesn't seem to know when to stop."

"And Stan doesn't seem to know how to try," Mipsy sighed with frustration as she noticed him heading in their direction.

"Because he's a homo," Lucy whispered into her ear right as Stan was passing by.

"Good morning, Private Winston," Grace stopped and greeted him with a friendly wave as Mipsy gave a flirty smile.

Stan suddenly stopped and turned around. "Good morning," he replied with a quick nod before turning back around and continuing on his way again.

"That's it?" Mipsy placed her hands on her hips and pulled a face. "Didn't he even see me smiling at him?"

"Like I said," Lucy nudged her with an elbow while looking shifty eyed. "He's a homo."

"He sure is something alright," Grace remarked with one hand on her hip.

It was only about an hour earlier when Justin returned home and attempted to fall asleep but couldn't. He had a lot on his mind and felt particularly anxious about working with Artis for the first time, especially since he didn't know him that well. However the things he did know were enough to warn him that he should choose his words carefully when talking to the man, or maybe it would be better just to not talk at all.

"It's been a long night," Justin groaned as he lay on his back sprawled out on his bed still wearing his uniform. He knew it was about three in the morning and he still had a few hours left to sleep before reporting to Atlantech's facility but he just felt so restless.

"Maybe I should've passed on the drinks," Justin muttered turning on his side while curling himself up in fetal position. "I was out late again even after I told myself I wouldn't this time." He sighed. "I broke curfew too. Now I'm never going to hear the end of it." He slapped a hand across his face. "I really am an idiot sometimes."

But at that moment Lynne had others things to worry about since she was still standing inside Morane's office waiting for Abraham to arrive knowing that after they left together he would give her an earful over how foolish she'd been. Worst of all he asked her not to get involved but she did anyway, she couldn't help it and now that trust Abraham once had in her was gone and would probably never be fully restored. She hated to admit to herself but right now she was feeling very defeated and embarrassed.

Morane on the other hand seemed to be enjoying it as he continuously smirked at her while taking more jabs at her father.

"Shouldn't be much longer now," Morane commented as he peered out of his window. "I like the view from up here. You can see everything. Hell, even hear everything too. The sounds of bullets firing and screams. I tell you there's nothing quite like it. It's almost serene at times. Music to my ears." He looked at her only to be met with a scowl. "Why so glum, dear?" He pulled out another liquor bottle from his desk drawer. "Care for a drink?" He held the bottle up waving it at her. "I know Grant likes to drink," he chuckled. "Going to drink himself to death pretty soon too."

"Stop it," she suddenly barked. "I don't want to hear another word out of your mouth about Captain Grant, do you hear me?"

His smile faded and he glared at her. "You're in my office," he spoke with callousness. "And need I remind you also in my part of the city, bitch! So you have no fucking authority here. None, do you hear me?"

She was silent now even fighting back tears but her eyes remained locked on his.

"And I'll say whatever the hell I want about Grant whether you like it or not." He added. "So why don't you shut the hell up for the time being until he comes and saves your ass. Which I might add is a onetime deal. Cause there won't be a next time, missy. That I can assure you."

You're right. She closed her eyes as she turned away from him. There won't be a next time, because by then you'll be dead too. You don't see it now, but your reign over this city is going to come to an end, Morane. The people won't believe your lies forever.

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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

Chapter 21

Meanwhile things didn't appear to be going so well for Victoria either as she stood beside her phone hesitant to pick it up and call that detective. Her original plan had crashed and burned and now she would have to do whatever it took to get herself out of this mess.

"I have to do it," she told herself as she reached for the phone. "There's no other way out of this it seems." She paused and took a step back. "I should've never gone there last night. That's what screwed everything up! Ugh!" She threw her hands up in disgust and stormed off to her liquor cabinet. "I should've let that fool make an even bigger fool out of himself," she muttered to herself as she pulled a bottle from the shelf. "Who knows? The police would've already had Maxwell in custody by now if it weren't for my stupidity." She quickly set the bottle down and squeezed her hands into fists. "I almost had him! I....." Then she suddenly noticed the new letter from her secret admirer on the table and picked it up.

"This is your second letter," she noted tearing at its seal. "Just who are you and why do you like me so much? What do you even see in me?" She held the letter tight her hand as she made her way over to her sofa and sat down to read.

Dearest Victoria,

I know this is probably really sudden, me writing you again so soon I mean, but I just had to. I hoped that you liked what I had to say in the first letter. I truly meant it just so you know. I really do admire you and everything you do. You're a great actress and a wonderful person. Your films make me feel better inside, like everything that bothers me doesn't matter anymore. I just kind of forget about it all if you know what I mean. I even liked your new film despite those nasty reviews. I hated reading them honestly, because they're obviously blind to the talent you possess.

I really can't tell you much about me, not because I don't want to, but because you'd probably hate me if you knew some things. A lot of people do hate me as it is, because I am a soldier in the AMF. That's all you need to know really. You have a lot of fans among us here just so you know, so I'm not the only one you inspire. Also I recently saw you at the Card Shack but I didn't say anything. Because honestly I wouldn't know what to say and now that I've told you I'm a soldier you would probably want to avoid me anyway. But I just wanted you to know you mean a lot to me and I'll always be your number one fan despite what those critics have to say. You're beautiful, talented, and overall just an amazing woman. Please never change. And here's a little something I wrote for you. Yes it's a poem but it comes from my heart.

There are no words, none that I can find

Nor is there a day or a perfect time

That I can tell you just who I am

So you can know and understand

But my feelings are real and run deep

Like the kind of secret you can't keep

And I know someday I'll finally tell you

Show you what you mean to me and tell you

That I love you.

- Your Secret admirer

"Oh my goodness," she suddenly gasped as she folded the letter closed. "He's really in love with me isn't he? She uttered a sigh. "He doesn't know the real me and certainly not what I've done, that I've killed a man. Why, I bet if he knew the truth he'd never write to me again. Probably never even want to look at me again." She lowered her head and closed her eyes. I can't even stand looking at myself either right now. She clenched her fist.

"Why did it have to be me? Why couldn't it have been some other broad that killed him? You see? This is just my luck," she sighed as she stood up and headed back over to retrieve her liquor. "Now I'm in way over my head and now I have to crawl to Morane and practically beg him for his help. I think at this point I'd rather just drink until I can't remember a damn thing, if that's even possible. Heaven help me." Then she stopped and thought for a moment. "So, my secret admirer is a soldier huh? Well if that's so, then I believe I know just how to meet him. And as a matter of fact I think I'll begin my search today. It couldn't be that hard could it?"

"Well it's almost time now," Justin glanced at his clock before heading for the door to leave. "I want to get there bright and early, even if I'm only running on a few hours of sleep," he chuckled to himself as he stepped outside while remembering something else. "Oh and yeah it's Valentine's Day, that's right! He smacked his forehead. "I'll have to stop by a shop on my way back from Atlantech and get Grace a little something. If she'll even talk to me that is, the last time she gave me the cold shoulder." He frowned. "But if I know women, it's true they can't refuse a nice gift. In fact nothing makes them happier. And Grace is no different right?"

"You're always talking to yourself," Justin suddenly heard William say as he turned around to greet him.

"Didn't think I'd see you till later," Justin remarked. "What gives?"

"Well it's not like I could just sleep in today," William replied sarcastically with a half smile. "I've got simulation training today. And come to think of it, you do too."

"Actually I don't," Justin said moving closer to him. "More work on that project," he lowered his voice. "I'm on my way to Atlantech right now."

"Really?" William lifted a brow. "Sounds fun. At least you'll get to meet Artis Frederic. I hear he's a pretty nice guy."

Justin rolled his eyes.

"What's wrong?" William had to ask now.

"He's annoyingly nice," Justin replied tousling his hair. "But um, yeah I should get going now. Don't want to be late." He yawned.

"Oh and by the way I'm sorry about last night," William mentioned. "I didn't mean to act like such a jerk, just so you know."

"Ah, forget about it," Justin waved his hand. "You didn't want to go and that's the bottom line. I went, had a drink or two, and Victoria patted my head."

"Wait, what?" William's eyes widened as his mouth dropped open.

Justin snickered at him. "Yeah that's right, she patted my head and said I was cute. You should've seen it." He winked. "Are you jealous now? I bet you are!"

William huffed and crossed his arms. "Of course I am, but I'm also having a hard time believing you."

"Why? Justin tilt his head to the side.

"Because it's you?" William remarked. "And I know you just love making things up to get a rise out of people."

"True," Justin nodded humbly. "But this incident? Ain't making it up, I swear it. She really did pat my head and call me cute. Just ask that bartender who works there, he saw it too I'm sure."

William frowned and sighed.

"What's the matter now?" Justin stared at him.

"I should've gone with you last night," William answered bitterly. "Don't know what I was thinking."

Justin patted him on the shoulder. "Then come with me tonight after Atlantech. We'll both go and I'll even help you get her attention somehow. But you have to come this time, no backing out you hear?"

William nodded at him. "I'll come for sure. But what about Stan, could he come with us too? Or is three a crowd?"

"I guess he could come too," Justin shrugged. "Just pray he doesn't screw up your chances with her by acting like himself."

"What?" William blinked. "What exactly do you mean?"

"He says a lot of weird things," Justin explained. "And he looks at people funny too. So you might want to ask him to stay behind. Just to play it safe."

William thought about it for a moment. "Well you might be right," he rubbed the back of his head. "And if that's the case then I just won't mention anything about it at all when I see him."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Justin slapped him on the back. "But anyways, I got to go now." He turned to leave then stopped and looked over his shoulder at him. "One more thing," he grinned.

"Huh?" William blinked. "What is it?"

"Victoria also sat on my lap," he winked and then made a dash for it running as fast as he could laughing to himself while William shouted and cursed after him shaking his fist in the air.

Hey what a way to start the day, Justin thought. And what a good day it will be.

"Commander Williams seems to be missing," Mipsy alerted the other girls as she sat down at her station and began to activate the systems. "And we can't do a test run without her can we?"

"No we can't," Grace replied with concern as she gazed out of the view port window in front of her own station. "Where do you think she could be?" She looked over at Lucy who sat to her left.

"I haven't any clue at all," Lucy answered as she picked up her headset. "But I know she's always here so something must be up."

Mipsy suddenly turned her head to ask Alley when she spotted her carelessly lighting up a cigarette and gasped. "You're not supposed to smoke in here! It's against the rules!"

Alley puffed on her cigarette and gave a shrug as she turned on her monitor display and selected an interactive poker game.

Mipsy balled her hands into fists. "Oh the commander is going to be so mad at you when she returns! I'll even tell her myself if she doesn't catch you first!"

"But we need to find the commander first," Grace reminded her. "She's never been known to just disappear like this."

Lucy shrugged and laughed. "Maybe she finally found herself a man?"

"Lucy, dearie, please," Grace frowned. "This is serious. I'm really worried now."

"So am I," added Mipsy. "We should alert the captain. Maybe he could help?"

"Good idea," Grace nodded as she rose up out of her seat and headed for the phone at Lynne's empty station in the center of the room. She picked it up and dialed for Captain Grant but there wasn't any answer. "He's not picking up either," she sighed as she listened for a few more rings until she finally hung up. "Where could they have gone?"

"You mean they're both missing?" Mipsy's eyes went round as she cupped a hand over her mouth.

"It would appear so," Grace replied from Lynne's station. "Maybe they're both at the hospital? We all know Captain Grant hasn't been feeling so well lately. And I know if that were the case then she'd be right there with him. She loves him like a father you know?"

"True," Lucy nodded in agreement as she leaned up against her chair. "But don't you think we would've heard from her by now? She knew we had testing today and wouldn't just abandon us even if something were wrong with the captain. It just doesn't make a lick of sense to me."

"You know you're probably right," Grace replied worriedly looking back at her. "I guess only time will tell at this point. I just pray that they're both safe wherever they are."

Meanwhile Lynne never felt happier in her life when she saw Abraham walk inside Morane's office just now. And without even saying a word she threw her arms around him and hugged him tight as tears streamed down her face. He didn't smile or say a word as he hugged her back but neither did he need to.

"What a happy little reunion," Morane suddenly interrupted them from his desk when Abraham let go of Lynne and turned to glare at him.

"She wasn't harmed, Grant," Morane said reassuringly. "Just like I'd promised."

Abraham narrowed his eyes and turned to leave while pulling Lynne by the arm.

"Don't I get some kind of thank you or something?" Morane barked when Abraham stopped and turned around to have one last look at him.

"You get nothing, Morane," he replied coldly then turned his back on him walking away with Lynne at his side.

"Well fuck you too!" Morane shouted and slammed his fist down on his desk like an angry child throwing a tantrum. "I'd better not ever see that bitch in here again! You hear me!? Never again!"

Morane's angry cries seemed to echo throughout the entire building as Lynne and Abraham made their way out of there as fast as they could.

"Just ignore him," Lynne sighed with disgust as she followed Abraham down the stairs. "Let him throw his fits. That's all he's good for."

Abraham suddenly stopped and tightened his grip on the railing only to glance over his shoulder at her. "I'm not the least bit happy with you right now," he said angrily. "In fact I don't even think I can find the right words to describe just how angry I am that you went ahead and did this."

Lynne lowered her head. "I know, Captain."

"No you don't," he fired back raising his voice as he resumed walking down the stairs again "You could've been killed!"

Her eyes widened and she froze with fear while holding onto the railing.

"I told you not to get involved either," he continued as he suddenly reached the bottom floor. "But you went ahead and did it anyway. Why?"

"Because I'm tired of watching you suffer," she responded bitterly as her eyes welled with tears. "Even worse knowing he's the reason for it. I was sick of him hurting you, Captain. You weren't doing anything about it so I did. And yes I admit it was foolish of me, stupid even if you want to be blunt. But I did it to protect you."

"I don't need you to protect me," he snarled as he stormed off towards the main door and threw it open. "The only person you should be worrying about is yourself!"

Sadness now clouded her face leaving her completely speechless by the harsh tone of his voice. I've never seen him so angry before, she thought while making her way out of the building. Either he really cares this much for me or he simply hates my guts. I can't decide.

Luckily the cab Abraham had ridden in to get there was still parked beside the curb waiting to take both of them back to the airbase. Abraham even held the door open for her as a friendly gesture as though trying to indicate he still cared but his face remained devoid of any emotion now. Even the drive back was a silent one as neither of them spoke a word or even looked at one another. Lynne looked out the window watching as the city skyline began to fade into the background all the while thinking to herself, he's never going to forgive me for this. I know it.

Bonus content

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Thank you @AB for my adorable new avatar! <3
The following user(s) said Thank You: Alpha Bravo
7 years 6 months ago #23531

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