Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

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

Chapter 5

The area appeared to be clear by the time Maxwell and Victoria arrived at their first destination; one of many small local banks located in the downtown area of the city. Maxwell parked the battered looking vehicle across the street behind an old brick wall and shut off the engine. He peeked over his shoulder at Victoria while she was busy checking her makeup with her light-up compact mirror and rolled his eyes.

“Are you absolutely certain you can pull this off?” He asked. “Cause if not I’ve got an old black suit and mask in the trunk I could change into, wouldn’t take but a few minutes at the most.”

Her brows knitted as she looked up from her mirror. “Yes I can handle it. I’ve been practicing.”

Maxwell couldn’t help but scoff. “Practicing?”

“Yes.” She gave a blank stare as she snapped the compact mirror shut. “Laugh all you want, Maxwell, but believe me when I get finished with these poor souls, you won’t be laughing anymore.”

“I’m sure.” Maxwell retorted then began surveying the area around them. “Seems clear for now, but we’ve still got to make this quick, Miss Thompson. And you’d better pray that not a single one of those blokes recognizes your face, or we’re beyond screwed. You hear?”

“Didn’t you see my hat?” Victoria huffed as she held it up. “It has a veil that’s going to help hide my face. And I plan on disguising my voice as well.”

Maxwell rolled his eyes again. “Too bad disguises have never been your forte.”

She glared at him. “You’re one to talk showing up in this rustic chariot. I thought the idea was to blend in, not stick out like a bar without a proper floor.”

Maxwell clenched his jaw in response to her mockery of him. “I already told you it was the only bloody thing available!” He snapped, pounding his fists on the steering wheel.

“Temper, temper.” She wagged her finger at him then opened the door and stepped out.

“How many rounds have you got?” Maxwell asked next, immediately reminding her of her little accident from earlier.

Victoria pulled her pistol from out of her purse and checked the chamber. “It’s uh, practically loaded.” She answered cheekily, feeling a tad bit nervous now while beginning to worry that one of her neighbors had called the police after hearing that gunshot from her unit. “There’s enough to threaten the banker with that’s for sure.”

“Well good.” Maxwell replied as he tossed an empty sack at her that ended up smacking right into her face.

“Do you mind!?” She sneered.

“Yes I do.” He responded callously. “And right now you’re wasting precious time, so go on now, get on with it!” He shooed her off with his hand.

“I’m going, I’m going.” She rolled her eyes and adjusted her hat, letting the veil fall over her face as she slung her purse over her right shoulder then picked up the empty sack and tucked it under her other arm.

She walked towards the end of the wall and peered around it to get a clearer view of the bank. The place seemed quiet as could be and there didn’t appear to be anyone else around for the moment, but she knew the longer she lollygagged around the better the chance of her running into someone, and not just any person but a witness to the crime she was about to commit.

I can do this, I can do this, she told herself as she dashed across the street and hurried up the steps to the bank’s entrance, a double glass door with an ornate looking logo in the center, and pushed one of them open.

She was nearly out of breath now, but there wasn’t any time to stop and rest. She knew she had to act quickly. But when she had finally gotten inside she noticed there were only two bank tellers on duty; a middle aged looking man who was even thinner than herself, and a young dark haired woman; possibly around her age or even younger. Victoria’s eyes darted from the dowdy looking man and then back to the woman as she tried to decide who would be the easier target. Soon her mind was made up and she began walking up to the counter where the friendly, smiling female youth greeted her right away.

“Welcome to First Universal Simoleon Bank, how may I assist you today?”

Victoria smirked at the clueless woman as she slowly reached into her purse and pulled out her pistol.

Now remember, just like we rehearsed earlier, Victoria thought to herself as she aimed the gun at the teller.

“Miss, please don’t shoot me.” The woman begged as she raised her hands. “I’ll do anything you say.”

“Good.” Victoria replied with harshness as she threw the empty sack on top of the counter. “Then fill it up!”

The poor woman complied right away as she headed for the vault and began to empty it. The man on the other hand had been attempting to reach the police on his phone when he heard a single gunshot and by the time he looked in the direction of the noise, he saw Victoria standing right in front of him.

“That was just a warning shot.” Victoria growled. “So if I were you I would put the phone down or the next shot will end up right between your eyes!”

He nodded quickly and slammed the phone back down.

“And you!” Victoria scowled at the woman. “Hurry it up!”

“Yes, Miss. Right away!” The female teller answered meekly as she resumed dumping all the cash into the sack until it was filled and she couldn’t add anymore. “I’m sorry but nothing else will fit.”

“Oh don’t worry about it, honey.” Victoria replied in a condescending manner as she headed over and picked up the heavy sack and smiled at her. “Have a lovely day now!” Victoria winked and then quickly made a beeline for the door, rushing out as fast as she could.

In the meantime Maxwell had been waiting on Victoria while growing impatient with each minute that passed and no sign of his partner in crime to be found. He anxiously drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, expecting her to come darting around the end of that wall any moment now, but another minute passed by and Maxwell began to wonder if she’d already been nabbed by the cops.

“If that bloody woman doesn’t show in the next five seconds then I am out of here.” He grumbled and then began counting down. “Five……………four…………….three…………….two…………….On—“

Then lo and behold he spotted her making her way back at the last second with the heavy sack in tow. Maxwell could hardly believe his eyes. “I don’t believe it.” He blinked. “She actually pulled it off?”

But the moment she threw the backdoor open tossed in the sack, and climbed inside, Maxwell turned the ignition and quickly sped off as fast as the vehicle could go.

“How much did you get?” He asked while struggling to keep his eyes on the road.

“Like I had time to count it?” Victoria quipped. “Just find us a nice secluded area far away from the scene of the crime and I’ll figure that part out.”

“Did anybody recognize you?” He asked as he turned around a corner street and pulled into a semi lit alley behind an abandoned complex.

“I very much doubt that.” Victoria replied when Maxwell suddenly parked the vehicle and shut off the engine, leaving only the headlights on.

“Well are you going to count it or not?” Maxwell asked next as he looked back at her.

Victoria huffed in annoyance. “I would, Maxwell but there seems to be a teensy, little problem. I can barely see back here!”

“Then take off your bloody hat you nitwit!” Maxwell spat back. “Or why don’t we just head back to the bank and count it there, hmm? Or even park under a street light where the cops can see us? Does that sound better to you?”

Victoria groaned shaking her head in disbelief. “Why don’t we just take it back to your office and count it there? We could easily sneak it in past Enrique in one of your large briefcases. You know the ones large enough to fit a human corpse?”

“In pieces.” He corrected her with a blank stare.

“Whatever.” She quipped rolling her eyes. “What I’m saying is the money would fit inside and I could easily distract Enrique while you carry it in, so what do you think?”

Maxwell thought it over for the moment, wanting to say no just to spite the woman but he knew she had the right idea for once.

“Fine.” He agreed reluctantly like a child about to pout. “But you’d better make sure that damned bartender doesn’t find out a single thing, Miss Thompson. Or so help me that little wanker is going to eat a bullet for supper.”

Victoria recoiled in disgust over the very idea of something happening to that sweet kid. “He won’t know nothin I swear!”

“Good.” Maxwell smirked in return.

Back at the AMF base, Lynne was sitting alone in the tower at her station, staring mindlessly up at the blank monitor above as though she were seeing something no one else could. Only that something was an endless void and it made her question all her decisions as of late. She had still been seeing that man Mortimer but after her last chat with William about happiness she started to wonder if it was all a farce.

I don’t know what I feel anymore, she thought to herself with a heavy sigh. I’m conflicted that’s for sure. She closed her eyes then and leaned back into her chair when all of sudden she heard the whooshing sound of the tower door as it opened which made her wonder if it were possibly the girls coming in early for the heck of it. She knew they did so at times, especially so they could have a lot of extra time to socialize and chat about nonsense such as which current celebrity was dating whom; the very thing Lynne had no interest in whatsoever.

But then as she rose up out of her chair and turned around she was surprised to find that her early visitor was none other than William.

“You weren’t in your office or at home.” He mentioned while hoping this wasn’t a bad time for them to talk. “So I decided to check here as a last resort. Although I didn’t expect to find you here either.”

Her face seemed emotionless as she looked back at him and noticed he was wearing his blue uniform again, only it wasn’t the same one from before as that one had ended up ruined after he’d been slashed across the arm where it tore up the fabric and became stained with his blood. Needless to say that old uniform had been disposed of one way or another and she knew it.

“And if you didn’t find me here then where were you going to look next?” She asked with impulsiveness as though she wasn’t in control of her own words.

William already didn’t like the tone of her voice and began to backpedal a bit. “Nowhere else.” He answered calmly, letting her know he wasn’t in the mood to argue.

“I wasn’t with that man if that’s what you were assuming.” She remarked next. “I just came to be alone until the next training session. We’ve made so much progress lately my father would be proud.”

William nodded his understanding. “I know he would. But why be alone here? I thought you wer—

“Happy?” She cut him off. “I don’t know what I am.”

William couldn’t help but sigh. “I’m sorry. I can leave now if it’ll make you feel better. I just wanted to have a talk that’s all.” He then turned to leave when she suddenly told him he could stay.

“You don’t have to go.” She said. “In fact I’d prefer if you did stay……”

William wasn’t sure what to think now and he began to worry that this conversation could get ugly if he were to say the wrong thing and so he decided to say nothing and let her do all the talking for now.

“The more time passes the more I realize I don’t want to be alone.” She admitted then. “When I am all I have are these awful thoughts and memories. And I know you have them too.” She gave him an empathic look of sadness and regret.

“I’m sorry for everything that happened between us, William.” She started to cry. "I know now that I was wrong to choose my father’s shadow over you, and I know I hurt you very much and I tried to pretend that I didn’t care, but I did and still do.” She looked at him again, her eyes wide with tears and full of sorrow.

“I never stopped loving you either.” She started wiping her eyes trying to rid herself of those tears and feelings as fast as she could. “And every rotten thing I’ve ever said was just me trying to mask that pain.”

William was listening but words escaped him, he didn’t quite know what to make of this confession or whether or not she was asking for them to try again, but if that were the case then he’d be sorry to tell her she was alone in those feelings and the only reason he had come here was to see if she’d be willing to give Justin another shot in the AMF.

“Please say something?” She practically begged him, wanting to put an end to this awkward silence on his part. “Just tell me anything you want I don’t care.” She then reached for a tissue on the tabletop and began blowing her nose.

“Yes it did hurt a lot.” William finally spoke up. “But why are you bringing this up now? Did it take you being with another man to realize what you had before or didn’t? I’m actually a little confused here. What exactly are you asking of me?”

“I’m not asking you for anything.” She replied sullenly as she plopped back into her chair and leaned into it. “I’ve been wrought with all this guilt lately so I had to get it out of my system before it ate away at me any longer.”

“I understand and I’m sorry.” William offered his sympathy. “But the real reason I’m here is because Church needs help.”

She slowly turned her head to look at him. “Why?” She asked quietly. “What’s wrong?”

“He’s living with an abusive father.” William answered her with urgency in his voice. “He thought he could handle it but the man just won’t let him be. And worst of all he calls him a screw-up and blames him for getting kicked out of the AMF.”

Hearing about Justin’s situation made her frown now but she wasn’t sure what she should do.

“No matter your feelings about him we have to get him out of there.” William pressed. “And I do mean we.”

She shot him a puzzled look then, wondering why he’d use such an emphasis on that word.

“You need to reinstate him.” He continued. “Because it isn’t fair if I’m off the hook after a month but he isn’t. Not only that but I told him I would get him out of there. I didn’t make any promises either but I said I would try.”

She then let out an exasperated sigh. “You really like putting me on the spot like this don’t you?”

“I really don’t mean to.” William apologized. “But I owe it to him and I’m sure Atlantech could use his help again too. But above all else we can’t allow him to live with that man anymore. It’s not good for him and will only set him down the wrong path in the end. So please, could you at least consider it?”

She groaned then and turned her head away, feeling torn between yes and no as though she were being pulled apart from both sides when she finally gave an answer.

“Fine, I’ll consider it.” She muttered. “But just know that I am only doing this for you.”

William didn’t like that answer the least bit and knit his brows in response. “It can’t be for me it has to be for him. I don’t need you doing anything for me. You already did that when it came to Stan. But this time I am not asking you, I am telling you. That’s the difference. And if you won’t help me then I’ll go to the admiral instead. After all, he is the one in charge of things around here.”

Hearing those words suddenly felt like a ton of bricks had fallen on her head, leaving her completely disoriented and in agony.

“So you either help me or I’ll do it myself.” William continued, and in that same cold icy tone that had left her floored.

But even though her first thought was to argue back, she knew better than to make things worse, especially after all they had been through.

“You really do care for that kid don’t you?” She asked him as they made eye contact once more. “But then again when you care about someone you’ve always been willing to go above and beyond for them. This I remember quite well.” Her face softened as she smiled. “I’ve always admired that in you, in fact I’ve even kind of envied it.”

William felt the iciness begin to melt off of his face as he listened, shocked to find that she wasn’t resorting to her usual antics.

“I have to care though.” He replied then, softening his tone of voice. “Because if I don’t then no one else will. Don’t you understand? Church doesn’t have anyone else, no one to give him the support he needs. And that’s why he needs us. That’s what the AMF had given him before and it’s what he needs again.”

She sighed sadly holding back more tears as she lowered her head. “You’re right.”

“I know I am.” William replied.

Lynne wiped her eyes again. “He can come back.” She sighed deep.

“Is there a catch?” William had to ask next.

She shook her head. “No there isn’t. But the admiral and myself do expect order around here, so you’d better let him know beforehand.”

“Thank you.” William replied graciously as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. “I knew you’d understand.”

“You had to make me.” She looked at him again with that same doleful expression he’d seen when he first walked in the room as though nothing had changed at all.

“You made the right decision.” William said reassuringly as he turned and headed for the door. “This is a life you’re saving, that’s all you need to know.” He gave her one final look of gratitude before heading out and leaving her by herself again.

Now if I could only save myself. She sighed miserably to herself then resumed sulking in her chair.

“Enrique, sweetie, how are you doing this fine evening?” Victoria asked sweetly as she wrapped her arms around the bashful looking bartender, hugging him tightly while Maxwell hid behind the wall of the entrance with a large briefcase full of the stolen cash.

They had both made a couple of stops along the way. One of which happened to be Victoria’s apartment so she could change into her regular evening attire, such as a v-necked sparkly purple dress with silver beading and a matching beaded headpiece. She had apparently gone a bit overboard with the perfume as poor Enrique was trying his hardest not to gag on the overpowering scent of jasmine and lilac as he breathed it in.

“Uh, fine, Miss Thompson?” Enrique replied in puzzlement while cupping a hand over his nose as he hugged her back. “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon.”

Victoria chuckled as she spun him around to where his back was now facing Maxwell. “Oh is that so?” She teased, pinching his right cheek.

“Uh huh.” Enrique acknowledged with an odd stare, wondering why she was acting so funny for the moment, while on the other hand he couldn’t help but enjoy the sudden attention she was giving him.

“Is uh, everything all right?” He had to ask then. “I know you were pretty upset the last time we chatted.”

Damn, is he already on to me? Victoria began to worry. “Oh you know how it is.” She remarked humbly, watching as Maxwell started sneaking by; her eyes especially fixated on the briefcase of cash in tow. “Sometimes all it takes to feel better is a little dough.”

“Dough?” Enrique repeated quizzically.

“Did I say dough?” She began to laugh nervously now. “I meant doughnuts. Yep that’s what I did. I got myself a box of doughnuts and I’ve never felt better.”

Enrique shot her an odd look. “Are you feeling all right? You’re acting very strange…….”

Maxwell couldn’t help but slap a palm on his forehead over the ridiculousness of this entire conversation as he eavesdropped. No wonder you can’t get any more acting gigs. He thought callously before disappearing into the game room and out of sight.

Victoria let out a deep breath of relief once Maxwell was gone and then turned her attention back to Enrique. “Well, sweetie I really hate to disappear on you again, but Maxwell and I have a very important meeting starting right about now, so I must get going so I won’t be late.”

Enrique arched his brows in shock. “Mr. Graham is here already?” He panicked. “But I didn’t even see him come in.”

“Nor did I,” she lied. “Perhaps he just snuck on by while we were both distracted?”

“Perhaps?” Enrique gave her an awkward look.

“Nevertheless I’d best get going.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek then trotted off down the hall to the game room, leaving Enrique to wonder what the hell was going on with her.

What are you hiding now Miss Thompson? He worried as he resumed his work. Or better yet who did you kill now?

Meanwhile, Stan Winston was making his way to City Hall for his next debriefing session with Morane when all of a sudden a little brown haired boy, no older than seven wearing a tattered sweater and pants ran right past him, panting heavily and sounding rather frightened.

Stan immediately stopped and observed as the kid disappeared down the nearest alley where he hid himself behind one of the large metal dumpsters.

What are you running from? Stan pondered to himself until he next picked up on the sound of heavy breathing coming from behind and turned around.

A man? Stan’s eyes narrowed as he scanned the burly looking human wearing a dark brown trench coat for any weapons. It was then that he detected a single pocket knife located in the right pocket of the man’s dark trousers.

“Say, you didn’t happen to see a kid run by here did ya?” The man stupidly asked Stan only to be met with the android’s hostile glare.

“You wish to harm that child, correct?” Stan found himself asking curiously.

The husky looking man balled his fists in defense. “That ain’t none of your business, soldier, now step aside!” The man demanded, noting Stan’s dark gray AMF uniform.

“Well I’m afraid it is my business now.” Stan replied in a threatening manner as he suddenly grabbed the man by the throat then dragged him down the same alley where that kid was still hiding.

But as of this moment Stan only felt what he would describe as an intense anger, something he hadn’t experienced very often which made him wonder why this particular incident was interfering with his senses and main objective. He wasn’t human so why did he care if a man intended on harming a child? It was all very confusing and probably something he should bring up with Morane in hopes of getting some kind of answer.

“You’re safe now this man is no longer a threat.” Stan announced to the kid then, prompting the impoverished looking boy to peer from behind the dumpster at them. The kid immediately noticed Stan’s glowing eyes which only frightened him more.

“Now go home!” Stan said in a demanding tone of voice which only frightened the kid further and made him get up and run out of that alley as fast as his feet could go.

Stan waited until the kid was gone and then resumed his focus back on his new victim. His eyes glowered as he stared him down. “I’ve been instructed to keep a low profile.” Stan explained to the man as he tightened his grip around his throat. “But I believe in such cases as this there should be exceptions.”

In return the man attempted to speak but the only thing Stan picked up on were the gurgling sounds coming from his restrained throat. Stan then loosened his grasp just enough so that the man could speak more clearly.

“You should repeat those words.” Stan said. “I assure you I’ll be able to hear them much better now.”

“Screw you!” The man snarled as he struggled to free himself and reach for his pocket knife. “Why would you care what happens to that boy?”

Stan wondered this himself. “Perhaps I was programmed with a conscious I don’t know you tell me, human. Why does your kind take such pleasure in attacking those who are helpless and innocent?”

The man had no answer for him yet his cold empty eyes reminded Stan of himself but they also reminded him of Morane as well.

“I don’t even believe you know the answer to that.” Stan replied then tightened his grip around the man’s throat once more then slammed him head first into the brick wall in front of them. The impact had been strong enough to knock out a few of his teeth but still not enough to kill him. Stan felt a little disappointed.

“I had hoped this would be quick and done with but it appears your thick head has saved you.” Stan uttered a sigh. “I suppose I will just have to do it myself.” Then just like that Stan released the man then grabbed him by the head and snapped his neck as fast as he could, killing him instantly. Stan let the limp body fall to the ground and then attempted to drag it further down the darkness of the alley when he suddenly heard a loud gasp coming from behind and quickly turned his head in the direction of the sound.

There standing behind him was the little boy, his eyes widened with horror as he stared back at him. Stan now realized he had failed in doing away with this man in secret and now he had a witness. Stan couldn’t help but feel conflicted inside.

The boy should’ve taken off running after seeing something horrific as a murder yet he didn’t and it made Stan wonder why.

“I told you to go home.” Stan spoke to the kid as he finished placing the man’s body where he wanted it then straightened his back.

The kid’s large green eyes immediately reminded Stan of Justin as he began approaching him and he wondered how often kids in this city had been a witness to crime such as this or even worse.

“Again, why didn’t you go home?” Stan demanded, clenching his fist.

The kid began to stammer now. “I-I-I-I- w-wanted to t-hank y-y-you.”

Stan appeared utterly surprised by such a response.

“You wanted to thank me for murdering that man?” Stan pointed out as the kid nodded in response.

“H-he was a b-bad man.” The kid replied.

“Yes he was.” Stan confirmed. “Now I must leave. I am needed elsewhere.”

The child didn’t seem to like that answer. “Why?” He asked him. “Will I see you again?”

“No.” Stan answered him. “And neither can you tell anyone what I have done or you will be in danger once more. And if that does happen I won’t be able to save you that time.” Stan started to walk away, knowing that it saddened the kid to see his only hero walk away from him.

I’m truly sorry. Stan thought to himself as he continued on his way to City Hall.

While back at the AMF’s base, Lynne was coming down the bottom stairway of the tower when she thought she spotted a figure dart behind the hangar building, putting her on high alert.

It must be a spy! Lynne thought angrily as she hurried down the rest of the steps and took off running after them. Probably one of the Tjatey preparing for another attack on our people too! She pulled out a large switch blade and flicked it open as she made her way towards the back of the hangar building where she had spotted the figure dart behind.

Only once she got there she didn’t see any sign of the person and began to wonder if it was nothing but her paranoid feelings rearing their ugly head again, especially since she was feeling rather emotional and vulnerable from her talk with William earlier. That alone had definitely clouded her thoughts.

“I must be losing it again.” Lynne sighed in disbelief as she turned to leave, when all of a sudden she heard a voice call out to her.

“Wait!” The voice said, putting Lynne on high alert once more.

“Who’re you?” Lynne demanded angrily as she spun around with the blade in her hand, ready to attack at will.

“It is I.” Dendera revealed herself as she walked out of the shadows, only to gasp as she spotted the blade in Lynne’s hand.

“You?” Lynne gasped with a look of surprise.

Dendera raised her hands to show Lynne they were empty. “I mean no harm I just came to talk.”

Lynne furrowed her brow. “I could’ve stabbed you just now so consider yourself lucky.”

Dendera frowned in response, dropping her arms at her sides.

“These are standard issue now.” Lynne explained as she held the blade up so Dendera could get a good look at it. “I realized one of our biggest mistakes around here, was a lack of self defense. But that’s changed for good you see.”

Dendera sighed. “I understand and I am sorry, but could we please just have a moment to talk?”

“Fine.” Lynne agreed as she put the blade away. “What do you want?”

“I’ve only come here to ask that you allow Corporal Church back at Atlantech. We cannot move forward without him and believe me we have tried.”

Lynne couldn’t help but feel cornered once more. “If I would have known I’d have both you and Corporal Sterling prodding me about Church, then I would have gone to a bar instead.” She quipped in aggravation. “But just for the record I have already agreed to let him back on the base, so your whole trip over here was pointless to begin with, and stupid I might add.”

Dendera didn’t appreciate Lynne’s hostility the least but just the same she felt as though she deserved it.

“I am deeply sorry for what my people have done to yours.” She said then while hoping another apology would do some good. “Both I and Sebak are sorry. We only wish to move forward and continue our peaceful ways. But if you choose not to forgive then we understand.”

“Trust doesn’t happen overnight and neither does forgiveness.” Lynne explained to her. “And you may not know this but some wounds never truly heal and there’s nothing you can do to change it. That’s just how it is.”

Dendera couldn’t help but frown now, letting Lynne know she was wrong.

“But I do understand.” Dendera replied sullenly. “For the loss of Onuris I feel each day.” She placed a hand over her heart. “I miss him often but I know that life does not stop it still goes on. That is something your people have taught us. Before then we never mourned our dead, we just accepted and continued fighting. We believed missing them only made us weak as warriors, and we were wrong.”

Lynne didn’t want to admit it at first but she couldn’t deny the Tjatey seemed to have a much better understanding of humanity, and probably more so than the people of Atlantis City.

“Sebak helped save your leader.” Dendera reminded her. “And it was Sebak who convinced me to talk to you myself. He wants to do good and deeply regrets serving under Naeem.”

Lynne wrinkled her nose from disgust. She hated the very sound of Naeem’s name and even more than Morane’s for that matter. Ever since that awful day that name had become nothing but a curse, something to never speak of again.

“Well I am grateful for Sebak’s help.” Lynne admitted then. “I know I couldn’t have saved Admiral Grant without him, so thank you. But with that said I think I’m going to leave now, if that’s fine with you?”

“It is.” Dendera agreed. “I know I am needed back at Atlantech anyway, but I am glad we had a chance to talk. I know you do not trust me but I hope one day that will change.”

“We’ll see.” Lynne noted as she and Dendera then went their separate ways.

By this time, Stan had finally made it to Morane’s office where they had been discussing the latest findings on Stan’s processor which only led to more questioning when Morane had noticed that Stan had been murdering individuals who were not on his kill list. This both intrigued and worried him at the same time.

“Looks like you’re a bit out of control there, Stan.” Morane complimented the android as it stood in its true metallic form with its glowing green eyes like a motionless statue before him.

“You’ve got a bit of a mind of your own huh?”

Stan didn’t respond but he listened.

“You saved a child too?” Morane sounded a bit surprised as he looked over the data on his monitor screen. “Sounds like the kid didn’t want you to leave him either. Imagine that? So can you tell me why you killed this man, or don’t you know?”

Stan attempted to process those thoughts but he wasn’t sure how to answer.

“Maybe you’ve just got a soft spot for kids huh?” Morane joked. “You’ve got yourself a little witness to murder though. You sure that kid isn’t going to tell anybody else what he saw?”

“I warned him what would happen if he chose to.” Stan answered. “He is aware of the dire consequences, so I believe he will remain silent.”

“You mean you hope so.” Morane corrected him, wondering what could possibly be going through the android’s mind at the moment.

“I must apologize but I feel it to be unethical to harm those who are innocent.” Stan explained. “The child was no threat, and you of all people should know as you did have a son at one time.”

Morane immediately felt outraged by Stan’s comment. “I had a son for sure.” He clenched his jaw. “But he got sick and died on me.”

“You speak of him as if it were his own doing for becoming ill.” Stan noted. “You always seem to blame others but never yourself. Why is that?”

Morane couldn’t believe the words coming out of Stan’s mouth now. “Shut up already!” Morane barked. “That is none of your fucking business!”

Suddenly Stan was reminded of that man he killed earlier, especially when that soulless human being had uttered those exact same words.

“You’re not a good man, are you?” Stan asked next which only angered Morane further.

“Who the fuck are you to judge me?” Morane snarled, slamming a fist on his desk. “You’re not God that’s for damn sure. What would you even know about right or wrong, Stan? You’re just a fucking machine for crying out loud!”

Stan didn’t know why but for some reason those words didn’t feel right and even kind of angered him inside but he knew better than to attack Morane, despite the fact that he wanted to and could feel that urge growing every time he was forced to report to him.

“For the record, Stan. You’re no fucking saint either.” Morane quipped as he pulled out a box of cigars and picked one up to light it.

Morane had Stan’s full attention now and he knew it.

“Yeah that’s right.” Morane puffed on his cigar as he looked the android in its glowing eyes. “You murdered that cripple in the AMF, and in cold blood too I might add.” Morane shook his head at him. “Pretty fucking heartless if you ask me.”

Stan could feel the anger rising once again.

“What was his name?” Morane continued, smirking up at him as he puffed his cigar. “Was it Eric Mathis?”

Stan instantly remembered that name and face; the soldier that attempted to harm Justin.

“Yeah, that’s the one.” Morane noted the reaction on Stan’s face. “Did he deserve to die, Stan? I mean he was pretty defenseless in the end, wasn’t he?”

Stan remembered how he had savagely beaten Private Mathis to a pulp only to be restrained and locked up in the brig afterwards.

“You may call me a bad man, and I’ll admit I am.” Morane replied. “But you should also look at yourself. You’re not so good either, Stan. Even if some of these people do deserve to die. You’re just as bad as me and you know it.”

“But I’m not a man.” Stan responded with confusion. “How are we the same?”

“We both kill with no remorse.” Morane answered. “And we both kill those who are worse than ourselves. Like that man who was after that little boy. I know his type and I despise them.” Morane clenched his teeth. “And I would have killed him too, had I been there.”

“His type?” Stan replied with curiosity.

“Yes, Stan. The type that harm or abuse kids.” Morane explained. “You see, Stan. There is a ladder for all criminals, and those which are at the top they are the worst of the worst. And while I might be considered a bad man, I’m nowhere near at the top with those other sick fucks. I mean Sure I’ve murdered others, but it’s always been for a reason and I never once laid a hand on a single child or would I ever for that matter. So what I’m getting at here is that some criminals are better than others. You understand me?”

Stan gave a nod in return.

“Well good then.” Morane noted as he puffed on his cigar then ejected the processor chip and handed it back to Stan.

As Stan inserted the chip in the back of his head a sudden thought crossed his mind. “What illness was it that killed your son?”

“Some kind of cancer.” Morane answered in annoyance. “It was long after I took care of his mother and her lover. He was only fifteen at the time but it had spread throughout his body and by the time he was eighteen and ready to learn the ropes of governing this city with me, well that’s when it took him. Call it karma if you will, but I do believe the man upstairs has always had it out for me.” He gestured, pointing upwards with his index finger. “And you know something? I don’t blame him either.”

Stan seemed a bit intrigued by all this as he reactivated his human guise. “What is karma?”

Morane scoffed. “Karma is what happens to you when you fuck up and do something bad to someone else. Honestly, Stan. I ain’t quite sure how to explain it. Right now I’ve got my hands tied trying to deal with some asshole teenager who’s been hacking my slot machines.”

“I see.” Stan noted to himself while also wondering if this so-called teenager could be Justin.

“Oh and speaking of which, that’s who I’d like you to keep an eye out for.” Morane continued. “I want you to find this little shithead and bring him to me, understood?”

Stan felt worried inside now. “Are you going to kill him?”

“Nah.” Morane answered calmly. “I just want to scare him shitless so he never does it again. You said kids aren’t a threat, remember?”

Stan nodded in return. “I will try to find him but I’m afraid I cannot guarantee his capture.”

Morane grit his teeth. “There is no try, Stan You will find that fucking kid for me, understood?”

Stan could feel the anger once more and began to wonder how fast he could snap Morane’s neck and be done with it, when all of a sudden Morane’s secretary, a middle aged woman in a long brown dress and her long black hair pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck, entered the office carrying a stack of papers.

The woman immediately froze once she spotted Stan. “Did I come at a bad time, Sir?”

“Nah, you’re fine, Maria.” Morane responded nonchalantly. “Our little session is over.” He looked up at Stan. “You know what you have to do, so do it.”

Stan narrowed his eyes as he turned around and quietly made his exit, all the while worrying about the fate of Justin Church and how he could protect him. And soon an idea crossed his mind and it wasn’t one he liked either. He began to wonder if Morane was right about him after all.

Thank you @AB for my adorable new avatar! <3
2 years 6 months ago #26880

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

Chapter 6 is nearly finished I'm just working on the ass end of it. The only real challenge is finding a stopping point for each chapter, although I try to be consistent with the length of each, but sometimes some end up longer than others. There is also the challenge of typing with long nails too but I refuse to trim them. That alone causes typos and what not, aside from vision problems. But it's nearing completion and that's what matters right?

Anywho I also finished this portrait of Maxwell. And yes it's finished because my aching back and straining eyes says so!

Thank you @AB for my adorable new avatar! <3
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2 years 5 months ago #26985

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

Chapter 6

Time seemed to drag on as Victoria stood in Maxwell’s office while she waited on him to finish counting their stolen money, which was only making her more impatient by the minute.

“So how much is there?” She asked with anxiousness a moment later when Maxwell finally finished counting and dividing the last of the currency stacks between the both of them. He looked rather pleased from what she could tell of his face which was rather unusual for him.

“Well?” She pestered him once more. “I’ve got bills to pay and new clothes to buy you know?”

He furrowed his brow as he looked up at her once and then returned his attention to the final stack as he slid it next to what she presumed to be her half.

“You’ve got to be the slowest counter in all the mighty universe.” Victoria rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

Maxwell clicked his tongue as he respectfully disagreed. “The problem with you, Miss Thompson, is you have no patience.”

“Patience?” Victoria scowled in response. “I’ve been standing here watching you for half an hour now!” Her eyes darted over at the antique looking clock hanging on the wall behind him.

Maxwell shot her an irritated look. “So sit on the floor then?” He suggested coldly and then resumed his concentration.

“And with that said I believe I am done counting.” He smirked as he raised his chin. “Congratulations, Miss Thompson. You have all but managed to steal a mere ten grand.”

She could feel her jaw drop as her mouth fell open out of utter humiliation. “What?” She exclaimed in bewilderment. “That’s all? That can’t be all! I felt the bag it was heavy wasn’t it?”

“Of course it felt heavy.” Maxwell agreed. “However, looks can be deceiving, Miss Thompson. And with that, I do believe this is your half.” He slid the shares over to her. “A whole whopping five grand. Good luck paying your bills and buying your new wardrobe.”

Victoria couldn’t help but clench her teeth together in anger. She had made a huge mistake in underestimating her target and wondered if she should have gone with the male teller instead.

He simpered with amusement as Victoria’s eyes suddenly burned with rage.

“That woman fooled me!” She fumed, clenching a fist. “She told me nothing more would fit when she filled it up. I should have known it was a lie!”

Maxwell chuckled under his breath. “She must have picked up on the fact you’re an amateur and decided to play along. Face it, Miss Thompson. You’ve been bamboozled. And by a dumb bank teller of all people too.”

Victoria growled under her breath as she grabbed her half and shoved it into her purse. “That damned woman!” She cursed angrily. “Why I’ve never been more angry and embarrassed in my life!”

Maxwell disagreed with her on that but decided to keep his mouth shut for the time being.

Victoria noticed the smirk on his face just then and scowled. “Why are you smiling over this? Shouldn’t you be mad too? I’m not the only one affected here, Maxwell. She owes you as well!”

“Of course I’m mad,” his tone of voice sounded much harsher now. “But then again I wouldn’t have let the little wench pull one over me either, had I been in your shoes.”

Victoria felt deeply insulted by his words but she was a lot more angry at herself. “What would you have done differently then?”

Maxwell’s mouth then twisted into an all too familiar looking smile as he looked up at her, coming across as nothing but a poor imitation of Morane in her mind as he answered.

“Oh very simple.” He replied in a taunting manner. “Well the first thing I would have done is made the woman count it all in front of me so I’d know it was all there. But that’s just too obvious an answer, don’t you think?”

Victoria groaned and rolled her eyes. “Could you at least explain things without sounding like a complete jerk? Now tell me what you would have done if she had lied to you just as she did to me?”

“Well then the next obvious answer would be to shoot the bloody wench!” He snarled slamming a fist on his desk. “Which is exactly what you should have done, Miss Thompson. After all you’re the one wanting to go down this path are you not?”

But then as Victoria heard him she wasn’t so sure of herself anymore. The first man she had killed was by mere accident, and despite the fact the man rightfully deserved it, she had felt nothing but regret and wanted nothing more than to erase the memory from her mind completely. But here it was that she was being told that the only way for her to survive in this city, would be to do the unthinkable once again.

“You really believe I should have just shot her?” She asked in bewilderment, even though she already knew the answer.

“Yes, Miss Thompson.” He answered plainly. “How else do you expect these bloody morons to take you seriously as a criminal? You’re the one who said you were ready, did you not?”

She turned away from him, trying to hide the fear as it crept in her face. “I wanted to rob banks not kill people. Maxwell.”

“Well sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m afraid killing is also part of it.” He replied with a harsh stare when he suddenly stood up from his desk and walked over to her. “And that woman owes us a lot more than ten grand and you’re going to have to make her pay for that, Miss Thompson.”

Victoria huffed angrily as she turned around and looked him in the eye. “I will not. And you’re not going to force my hand either!”

Maxwell gave a careless shrug of his shoulders and returned to his desk. “Suit yourself then.” He sat back down and began putting away his half of the money. “At least I’ll be able to finish my floor with my half here, while you on the other hand, can kiss your high rise good bye. As I’m sure you’ll be selling off the rest of your property in order to afford a place in the slums.”

She frowned as she turned away once more; feeling torn between what was right and what was wrong in her mind. But the more she resisted she could still hear Maxwell’s voice nagging away at her.

“Why can’t we just hit another bank and forget about her?” She asked then. “I’ve learned from my mistake and it won’t happen again.”

She could hear Maxwell sigh with disgust in the background when he suddenly responded.

“Because it is the golden rule to punish those who double-cross you.”

“The golden rule?” She remarked in disbelief. “And whose rule is that? Morane’s?”

Maxwell nodded. “He taught me well indeed.”

Victoria huffed in disgust as she turned to face him once more. “Like you said, that is Morane’s rule not ours, so why in hell do we have to take after him?”

But Maxwell gave no answer and instead appeared too focused on the money in his hands which only disgusted her further.

“Fine you do things your way and I’ll do them my way.” She spat at him and then threw open the door, but not before taking another moment to rub in the god awful truth he so hated to hear, especially from her lips.

“Oh and by the way, you are not Morane, Maxwell. And you can try as much as you like to be like him, but you know as well as I that you could never be. And we both know why that is. It’s because you’re a coward and a snake! And you’re nothing but his mule at that!”

Maxwell looked up from his desk and scowled as the door slammed behind her, listening to the sounds of the creaky wooden stairs as she stormed back down them.

“Oh, how you underestimate me, Miss Thompson.” Maxwell sneered as he then pulled out the bottom drawer of his desk which was now stuffed full of the missing cash he had managed to separate from the rest of the pile before she had walked into his office.

Altogether Victoria had made off with over a hundred thousand in bills which Maxwell found most impressive from the likes of her, however he knew that if they stood any chance at all of getting away with their crimes she would have to toughen up. Victoria was far too naïve and emotional for her own good, and so he decided to seize the opportunity to both rob and manipulate her, in the hopes that she would do what was necessary for them to continue down this road. But the only question now was could she do it? He had his doubts for sure.

In the meantime, William Sterling was seated on the steps outside the AMF academy building, reminded of the last time he had sat there back when Stan had been detained by the guards and taken to the brig, after nearly beating a young soldier to death. William remembered feeling as though he didn’t even know who Stan was anymore, but he also remembered how Justin confronted him about it, reminding him that Stan was still their friend and it would be wrong of them to give up on him.

But it had been just the push that William needed in order to stand up for Stan and prevent Lynne from reporting what he’d done to the captain. And now William had found himself doing the same to Lynne; giving her the push she needed in order to give Justin a second chance.

It wasn’t easy but he saw no other way. Justin needed their help and so he had to make her understand, and while he knew there was a risk of angering her, he was rather shocked to discover just the opposite when she ended up pouring her heart out to him instead. She wasn’t happy at all and once she had admitted that to him he couldn’t help but feel like a jackass for assuming she was. However, he hadn’t come to her for that. Instead, he needed her to reinstate Justin and that was it. The AMF needed Justin as much as Justin needed the AMF and Atlantech as far as William was concerned, and now his mission for the day was complete.

But all the while he sat there deep in thought he never expected to see that little teal haired girl in the yellow dress again when she suddenly spotted him, walked over and sat down on the steps with him.
At first he felt a little startled but the calm set in once he looked over and saw her innocent little smile again.

“Hi.” She waved her hand. “Why are you here alone? Where are your friends?”

William couldn’t help but feel a bit ridiculous for being put on the spot by a child and even had to laugh at himself in that moment which only seemed to make her giggle too.

“I’m here alone because I needed to think.” He answered while wondering where her mother was. “And as for my friends, they are elsewhere for the moment. Where’s your mother?”

“Inside getting food for us.” The girl answered. “I used to go inside with her but I’m not allowed to anymore.”

William felt surprised by that answer. “Why not?” He asked. “You’re just a child surely they don’t see you as a threat?”

“Not me just my mother.” The little girl answered with a frown which in turn only saddened William to hear.

“I’m sorry.” He apologized.

“You look like us.” She pointed at his hair. “What is your name? Mine is Safiya.”

“William.” He answered with a soft smile. “You have a pretty name. I like Safiya.”

Safiya giggled. “Your name sounds funny but I like it too. Does it have a meaning? My mother says mine means pure of heart in our language.”

“If it does I wouldn’t know.” He replied as he pondered the thought himself.

“My mother’s name is Rehema.” Safiya mentioned next. “It means compassionate or nice.”

William couldn’t help but smile at the child but he also couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and her mother.
“That’s a nice name too.” William commented. “Where’s your father?”

All of a sudden little Safiya pointed up to the stars with her index finger. “Up there with the others.”

William could feel his heart break inside. “You mean he’s dead?” He asked for clarification when she nodded in response.

Tears formed in his eyes. “I’m really sorry, Safiya.”

The little girl suddenly looked very confused. “They say he did bad things, what does that mean?”

But before he could respond, Safiya’s mother showed up carrying a large box under one arm as she reached forward and snatched her daughter up by the wrist with her other hand to pull her away from him.

“Do not talk to them.” Her mother scolded her. “They do not like us and will only bring harm, let’s go!”

Safiya began to cry as her mother was pulling her. “No not him he’s like us!” She pointed at William when her mother disagreed.

“No he is not like us. Do not be so easily fooled!”

William furrowed his brow at the sound of those words and quickly rose up and began making his way in their direction.

“You can’t tell lies to your child like that!” He argued back “That’s how Naeem was able to turn the lot of you against us, including your husband. Which is also why he’s dead now, Rehema.”

Safiya tried to pull herself free of her mother’s grip when Rehema looked over her shoulder at William.

“How do you know my name?” She demanded angrily when Safiya suddenly answered.

“I’m the one who told him, mother. And I did because he is nice to me.”

Rehema didn’t seem to respond well to that answer or anything William had to say, but either way he could tell she was affected by it as she just stood there trying to hide her face with her mane of long black-green hair.

“I’m sorry for the way things are now.” William apologized then. “And I’m sorry I didn’t want to be the one to take Ammon’s place, but sooner or later you’re going to have to put it all behind you and move forward. And believe me when I say that I want to see an end to the hatred coming from both sides, but I can’t do that if you’re going to lie to your daughter about us. We’re not the enemies anymore and we don’t have to be. So please.” He pressed urgently as he stepped closer while noting her defensive posture. “You need to trust us.”

William saw a flash of sadness on Rehema’s face before she turned her head away from him, but he also noticed something else too. There was a lot more emotion in that gaze and it seemed as though she were trying hard to suppress it for whatever reason.

“I understand.” She finally acknowledged before turning to leave once more while pulling her daughter along.
She didn’t want to talk let alone face him and now William wondered what that was all about.

While elsewhere in Gambler’s Strip, and in one of the smaller casinos, Stan was in the middle of a stakeout wearing a high collared gray trench coat zipped up over his uniform. He stood near the back of the wall observing all the surrounding patrons as they eagerly fed their life savings into the slot machines just to end up broke or win back half of what they originally started with.

Stan was both fascinated and appalled by this kind of human behavior and he wondered why such a thing could be so addicting to the human psyche. Though he knew it wasn’t the only thing addicting to humans, as he’d witnessed them using drugs in a variety of ways, smoking cigarettes and cigars, and guzzling down alcohol as though it were water.

Stan also noticed how sex seemed to be treated like a drug as well, with women standing on the corners of streets, offering themselves in exchange for money to every man they saw and sometimes even other women. Every now and then there were buyers and Stan had known very well that Morane was one of them as he picked up random women quite often.

Even Stan himself had been propositioned by one of these hedonistic females a few times and he always declined. Morane would often express his sympathy to the android for not being able to experience the joys of human pleasure.

But it only made Stan wonder just what kind of human he would be if he were real, especially after all the people he’d murdered on behalf of Morane and himself. Would he be as good and righteous as William? Or would he be as twisted and corrupt as his master? He saved a child recently and that incident hadn’t left his conscious, but only made him more curious about what he was.

Yet as far as he knew he was the only one of his kind since he had never even came across another android before at all, though he knew there had been others in the past. But as of now Stan needed to focus on his main objective; to find the young troublesome gambler and bring him back to Morane.

But so far most of the patrons he’d come across were men and women, and not many teenagers at all, especially not any who fit the description of the so-called asshole, as Morane had bluntly put it. However the description that the casino owner had given Morane sounded a lot like Justin Church; including everything from the tousled blonde hair, large menacing green eyes, and the cocky attitude; although Stan had to disagree with the menacing part, but this young gambler he was ordered to hunt down had to be none other than one of his best friends.

Only Stan knew he couldn’t betray Justin and would have to figure out another plan instead. For he knew that Justin couldn’t possibly be the only blonde haired, green eyed, teen-aged boy in the city, so perhaps he could find a look-alike and take him back to Morane instead. It was a rotten idea because he knew that Morane would probably end up torturing the kid, and an innocent one at that, but what other choice did the android have?

But on the other hand, Stan wasn’t good either and Morane had told him just as much by reminding him of the crippled soldier he went back and murdered since it was a job unfinished in his mind. And not only that but he had gotten away with it too; putting the blame on one of Naeem’s warriors after Stan had murdered him with his own dagger and then stabbed Private Mathis in the heart with it. Afterwards Stan had pretended to be injured from the fight and lied to the others about what really happened to poor Eric and they believed him.

I lied then so why can’t I lie now?
Stan asked himself while he made his way past the rows of multicolored slot machines with their flashing lights, looking side to side for any sign of a Justin substitute he could use, when out of the corner of his eye he spied the real Justin Church from across the room, seated at one of the slot machines in an oversized green plaid coat, appearing to be feeding the machine some sort of long looking plastic strip.

Oh no. Stan thought once he came to realization that he would have to find a way to get his friend out of harm’s way now, and without Morane ever finding out as well.

But then as he made the decision to confront Justin, Stan took a moment to disable his internal recording chip so that Morane wouldn’t have any proof of his betrayal. Although it was something he only started doing recently when it came to hiding certain details about his friend’s lives. Yet he wondered if Morane had any clue about it at all since it was known that Morane could tell when a man was lying to his face, but what about an android?

Either way it was a big risk and Stan was well aware that he would have to come up with some kind of excuse if he ever got caught.

But now there wasn’t any time to worry about what might happen to him, especially since Justin was right about to pull the lever on the machine and get away with more of his chicanery against Morane. Stan would have to stop him and fast.

“Church!” Stan suddenly called out. His deep voice boomed throughout the room and seemingly right into Justin’s ears as the startled teenager froze in place and then cautiously peeked over his shoulder and saw him.

“Stan?” Justin gaped then as the android quickly moved closer to him. “What’re you doing here? I didn’t know you were into gambling too?”

Only Justin noticed something was definitely off when Stan didn’t greet him with a thin smile as he usually did, but instead walked over and yanked Justin’s hand back away from the lever.

“Hey what’s the big idea?” Justin quipped with anger.

“You’re in danger, Church.” Stan warned him, hoping that was all the explanation that was needed.

“What?” Justin remarked in disbelief. “What do you mean, Stan? And how would you know anything about that if it were true?” He narrowed his eyes.

“I overheard a conversation between two of Morane’s men in the restroom.” Stan explained. “They’ve been given orders to find and bring you to him.”

Justin’s eyes widened in horror. “Oh shit!” He gasped when Stan unexpectedly grabbed him by the arm to drag him out of the place. “Hey! What’re you doing?” Justin snapped trying to jerk his arm free.

“I’m getting you out of here before they walk out and see you.” Stan explained rather curtly. “You need to go home and stay there for now. No more gambling, Church. It’s become too dangerous for you now. You need to stay away.”

Justin frowned as Stan dragged him out of the building and then released him. He could tell Justin was angry with him but he knew he’d get over it and hopefully forgive him.

“Who do you think you are, Stan?” Justin snapped, balling his fists. “I was so close to making off with more winnings so I could buy the old man more booze and keep him off my back. But thanks to you now I’ll have to put up with him instead!”

Stan narrowed his eyes at him. “I’m sorry but I had to stop you. Do you really believe putting up with the old man would be worse than what Morane would do to you?”

Justin was silent then but Stan could see tears in his eyes.

“Don’t go home then.” Stan said. “Go to the base instead.”

“I’m not allowed there, remember?” Justin muttered rubbing his eyes. “So what good would that do me?”

“You’d be safe.” Stan informed him. “But the choice is yours, so do as you wish then.” Stan started to leave when Justin walked out in front of him.

“What are you really doing out here, Stan?” He demanded, noting the trench coat his mysterious friend had donned.

“Taking time for myself.” Stan answered as he lightly shoved Justin aside. “Now if you don’t mind I’ll be on my way.”

Justin felt hesitant now. Part of him just wanted to walk back inside the casino to finish what he started, while the other part of him had listened to Stan’s words and realized the sincerity of them. Justin had played a dangerous game and now it was all coming back at him and he didn’t know what he was going to do.

But in the meantime, Brian Smith appeared to be dealing with problems of his own once he came down the stairs of his old decrepit apartment building to check his mailbox in the lobby. It had been a few days since he last collected it and he knew the poor box was probably stuffed with nothing but junk mail as it usually was.

Although when he pulled out his key and unlocked it, he was surprised when nothing came pouring out. Instead there was a single letter that had come from his local bank.
“What do they want now?” He muttered as he tore open the envelop using his key, and then pulled out a two-page notice apologizing over the fact that some of his money had been stolen in a recent heist.
His brows snapped together as soon as he finished reading it. “Son of a bitch!”

“Here, take this.” Victoria said to Enrique as she reached into her purse and pulled out two stacks full of cash and slid them over to him.

Enrique gaped in awe at the very sight of that money, yet he felt a bit torn over accepting it.
“I-I don’t know if I can accept this, Miss Thompson.” He stammered nervously. “I mean where did it even come from?”

Victoria then reached across the counter and patted him on the hand. “Sure you can, sweetie. That money is from my own life savings and I know you need it far more than I do.”

“B-but didn’t you sell off a lot of your own belongings to get this?” He asked.

She nodded. “Of course I did, but since I’ve got myself a new job and I’m doing better, I figured giving you a little raise was the least I could do.”

Enrique felt elated as he picked up the money and held it in his hands. “You really mean this?” He asked again as she nodded in return.

“It’s all yours, darling.”

Tears of happiness filled the bartender’s eyes and he quickly walked around the counter and hugged her tightly. “Thank you so much, Miss Thompson!” He cried with joy. “My mother and my siblings will live a much better life now thanks to you!”

Victoria couldn’t help but frown as she hugged him back, but she’d be damned if she was about to let him see it. “I’m glad I could help you.” She replied with a fake smile as they broke apart. “Just don’t tell Maxwell, all right? In fact I want you to hide it immediately. It doesn’t matter where the money came from, he won’t be happy if he finds out I’m helping you.”

Enrique quickly obliged and stuffed the two stacks inside his pants pocket. “I understand and again I thank you. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“Oh and whatever you do don’t deposit that into the bank either.” She warned him next which only sparked a look of concern on his face.

“Why?” He asked with worry. “What is wrong with the bank?”

Victoria already felt as though she’d been pushed into a corner again but she wasn’t about to allow this young man to fall victim to her future crimes.

“Because there are bank robbers at large out there.” She answered truthfully. “And the last thing I need is for any of them to steal from you. You understand?”

He nodded even though he still had his suspicions about her and suddenly felt the need to ask what she had done, when he decided to stop himself. “It’s okay, Miss Thompson. I understand completely.”

“Good.” She gave a soft smile and then proceeded to leave.

“Where are you going now?” He called after her, sounding more worried than normal.

“I’ve got a few errands to run.” She answered back before heading out the doors.

Errands huh? Enrique wondered next when a couple patrons walked in and headed over to the bar.

“Say when’s the next game around here?” A tall man in a green coat and hat asked as he sat down.

Enrique gave a shrug in return. “Couldn’t tell you. The boss doesn’t really keep me up to date on that.”

The other well dressed man took one look at the barren floor and gave Enrique a look of disgust. “Well do ya happen to know if this damn floor is ever gonna get fixed? I swear it’s been over a month and nothing. What the hell does your boss expect us to do? Ignore it?”

“Probably.” Enrique sighed and then proceeded to ask the man what he would like to drink.

Meanwhile, Victoria had gotten a cab ride back to the first Simoleon bank, but requested that the driver pull over a bit early near a coffee shop so she could get a drink before going in.

“As you wish.” The cab driver said as he pulled up next to the curb of the Petite Café and she stepped out.

She watched as the cab drove off leaving her by herself and then proceeded to make her way to the bank to scope out the area for any sign of police. Yet when she finally arrived she expected to see cops all over the place, yet it was as empty as it had been before when she first robbed it. But now that things were clear it was time for her to tie up some loose ends for good.

Her plan of action this time around would be to hang around and wait for that female teller to go on her lunch break. It was almost noon now and Victoria figured she would stand near the entrance so she could easily abduct the woman and then drag her back around the side of the building where there was little to no light.

There she would hold the lying wench at gunpoint and let her say her final words before Victoria would fire a round of lead into the woman’s head and then flee the scene.
It was as Maxwell had put it; the golden rule, and it was to be followed at all times with no excuses whatsoever. Still, Victoria wasn’t so sure of herself and even as she stood there waiting she found herself fighting with her own morality.

What am I doing? I can’t do this. This isn’t me. She began to fret anxiously. God there must be another way. There just has to!

But before she could dwell any further on the issue, somebody was walking into the bank now; an older man with a cane who only seemed to serve as a reminder of the kind of people Victoria had robbed in the first place. Nevertheless, seeing him only made her feel worse inside as well as making her regret the path she has chosen in life, that is until she suddenly heard Maxwell’s voice inside her head once more, belittling and putting her down for being such a pushover.

“You’re a piss poor excuse for a criminal if you can’t do what is necessary.” She heard him say. “You’re weak, Miss Thompson. And now you’re going to lose everything because of it. Good luck trying to live off the streets.” She could hear him laughing at her now as she pictured herself in tattered clothing, roaming around downtown Atlantis like some kind of panhandler begging for food or money. The thought of that absolutely terrified and angered her.

That will never be me! Her eyes narrowed as she reached inside her purse and pulled out her pistol when that elderly man suddenly walked back out.
Only this time as she saw him, there weren’t any feelings of guilt, just the fear and anger of ever having to live her life as a bum.

And then before she knew it, that female teller soon walked out of the building and didn’t see Victoria until it was too late, when she suddenly came up behind the poor woman and put a hand over her mouth while sticking the barrel of her pistol up against the side of her head.

“Don’t make a sound.” Victoria warned then as she pulled the woman back around the side of the building while making sure nobody could see them.

The woman was extremely terrified as Victoria forced her into the darkness and began pleading for her life.
“Please.” She cried quietly through a muffled voice until Victoria suddenly lowered her hand from the woman’s mouth so she could speak, but still kept the gun against her head.

“Don’t you dare think about screaming.” Victoria warned her. “Now you may speak, but keep it quiet or else.”

“What do you want from me?” The female teller asked quietly as she recognized Victoria’s voice. “I did as you asked before, didn’t I? You wanted the money and I gave it to you.”

Hearing this only angered Victoria more, making her want to just pull the trigger and get it over with.
“No you didn’t.” Victoria seethed. “You only put about ten grand in that bag and told me nothing else would fit. Did you think I wouldn’t notice? That I wouldn’t find out and come back for you?”

The woman began to tremble and gasped in disbelief. “But I didn’t.” She insisted. “I put a lot more than that in there, honest.”

But Victoria wasn’t buying it. “Oh save your lies for somebody else.” She scorned as she pulled back the hammer, causing the woman to cry even harder.

“I swear on my life.” The woman sobbed and then revealed the cross she wore around her neck. “And to god.”

Seeing the cross in this woman’s hand seemed to affect Victoria more than she expected even though she had never been one of the religious types, and yet seeing the woman’s holy symbol made her feel like a vampire staring at a crucifix. She had to look away.

“There was only ten grand when I counted it.” Victoria said then trying to ignore that cross as best as she could. “So how can you stand there and tell me I’m wrong? I saw it with my own two eyes. You fooled me and for that you’re going to have to pay.”

But then the woman did something completely unexpected when she bowed her head as though to accept her fate. It was something Victoria had never seen before but also seemed to affect her almost as bad as that cross did.

“I have made my peace with the lord, now I am ready to die.” The woman said next, causing Victoria to frown. “I swear on my life that I did not trick you or lie as you think. And just to prove it to you I will go peacefully and I won’t fight back.”

Victoria’s eyes filled with tears as she listened and once more she was fighting that internal battle over what was right and wrong.

“I don’t want to kill you.” Victoria admitted then. “But I’ve also been given no other choice. You see, I’ve been struggling for quite some time, forced to do a lot things I didn’t want to, and all for the good of survival. And that’s just what this is, dear. It’s survival, so forgive me.”

The woman nodded her understanding but said nothing more and now Victoria felt absolutely torn inside.

“I don’t want to do this.” Victoria started to cry softly as she curled her finger around the trigger. “I really don’t.”

While right at that moment, a very pissed off Brian Smith was on his way to the bank now, carrying that notice he’d received from them in one hand while his other was clenched into a fist. This hadn’t been the first time his family inheritance had been robbed like this and he knew it wouldn’t be the last, so the next step would be to empty what was left of his account and start keeping it hidden away somewhere safe in his apartment.

He already lived in a run-down building that wasn’t the least bit attractive to criminals so there was a good chance his plan would work and he’d never have to worry about losing it again. Although right as he was coming up to the bank now, there was an eerie kind of silence in the air that he seemed to pick up on immediately which caused him to stop.

Am I being followed? He then turned and looked over his shoulder to see if there was anyone behind him, but he was alone. What’ going on? What made me stop? I don’t see anything.

And then before he knew it a loud gunshot suddenly rang out, causing him to jump back in panic.
Brian’s heart was racing as he listened to see if there were any more shots to follow, but there was only more silence, and Brian couldn’t help but notice that, that gunshot had sounded a little too close by for comfort.
Oh my god it came from the bank. His eyes widened.

Thank you @AB for my adorable new avatar! <3
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Replied by LadyGrimes on topic Atlantech: The Early Days (an ongoing prequel)

This is a double post, chapter 6 has been posted above.
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Wow, that was a long read. Finally all caught up!
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Chapter 7

Memories keep me frozen
Looking past in the moments
None of them seem to notice splinters in my heart
Suffer among the silence
Vulnerable to the violence
Deafening voice of silence
Splinters in my heart

- Christoph - Voice of silence

“I don’t want to do this.” Victoria started to cry softly as she curled her finger around the trigger. “I really don’t.”

Then before the gun fired, the woman shut her eyes tight readying herself for whatever should come after, when a moment later after she had heard the shot, she realized she was still alive.

“I can’t do it.” Victoria confessed bitterly after firing a round above the woman’s head instead. She then released the woman, half expecting her to take off running immediately, but she didn’t. Instead she just stood there staring ahead at the large stucco wall in front of her.

“You’re not going to kill me?” She asked next feeling both relieved and confused.

“No I’m not.” Victoria answered while refusing to put her pistol away just yet. “And I suppose you can thank that god of yours too, and whatever prayer of yours it was that saved your life.”

“But I wasn’t saying a prayer for myself.” The woman confessed. “I was saying it for you.”

“For me?” Victoria’s eyes widened as she struggled to fight back her tears once again. “But why in the universe would you do such a thing? I’m the enemy, remember?”

The woman sounded calm as she sighed. “Because you confessed to me that you didn’t want to end my life. That isn’t something a true murderer would say. And it’s why I strongly believe that you are not a bad person, but someone in need of faith.”

Victoria shook her head in response, backing away as she took a defensive stance. “I’m sorry but you’re wrong about me. I am a bad person, and the only reason you’re not dead is because I didn’t have the guts to finish the job that’s all. So save your prayers for someone who needs them, cause I don’t.”

“Who hired you then?” The woman asked next, wanting to turn around and look at her mysterious assassin.

“Morane.” Victoria lied coldly, despite her urge to drop Maxwell’s name. “He’s the one who wanted you dead for pulling one over on me during the heist.”

Hearing this caused the woman to gasp, cupping a hand over her own mouth in fright. “Morane?”

“Yes.” Victoria answered in that same harsh tone. “Perhaps he is the one you should be saving your prayers for, although I wouldn’t recommend it. The man believes in nothing but himself.”

“But why?” The woman questioned. “And why would he rob his own people? I thought he was against that?”

“Cause he ain’t no hero, dear.” Victoria scoffed with a cold chuckle. “But more importantly, I think it’s time we talked about what’s going to happen next when he finds out you’re still alive.”

“What’s going to happen?” The frightened woman attempted to turn around and look at her, when Victoria snapped and pointed her gun right in the woman’s face again.

“Keep your head straight!” Victoria demanded. “Don’t you dare look at me, you hear?”

The woman quickly nodded and resumed staring ahead at the wall instead.

“So what happens next?”

“You quit your job and go into hiding.” Victoria answered back.

The woman couldn’t believe what she was hearing and began to wonder if perhaps she’d be better off dead instead.

“Go into hiding?” She panicked. “But why?”

“So you’ll be safe of course.” Victoria replied. “Because the moment he finds out you’re still alive, he’s going to kill me and then send someone out to finish you. Understand?”

The woman nodded. “But how will I survive? I mean do I just up and change my entire identity?”

“If that’s what you want then sure.” Victoria agreed. “Whatever the reason, your god here has given you a second chance. So why not take it and start over?”

Then right as those words had come out of her mouth, Victoria wondered why she didn’t just take her own advice right then and there.

“But what if I refuse?” The woman asked. “And instead I ask you to just go on ahead and shoot me dead right now? Cause it would sure be a better life than spending the rest of my days in hiding.”

“Because that’s not an option!” Victoria snarled beginning to lose her temper. “So if you really want to end your own life then do so on your own! But I am finished here, and I’m certainly done talking, so just go home already.”

The woman nodded solemnly and started walking away. “I’ll say a prayer for you so that god keeps you safe too.”

Victoria frowned in response. She was already tired of hearing about a god that so many had turned their backs on long ago. And neither did she feel she was worthy of someone’s prayers. For all she knew it had probably been god’s fault that her secret admirer had died so violently and now they would never meet face to face. If there really was a god the only thing she could do was hate him.

But after that woman was finally gone Victoria exhaled with relief, and then stuffed her pistol back inside her purse before taking off herself.
Then as she walked up the street on a lonely sidewalk she couldn’t help but wonder if her secret admirer might be watching over her, and might have even had something to do with her change of heart in killing that woman. Still it didn’t matter in the end, she knew she wasn’t the good person that woman believed her to be, and instead had lied to the woman in order to save her own ass.

But what good would it have been if she had told the woman the truth? That she was just some washed up celebrity who couldn’t get anymore high paying gigs so she resorted to robbing banks instead? That woman would have probably laughed at her for that, or would she? Yet then as Victoria was coming up to a nice little clothing boutique to her right, she turned her attention to one particular stunning looking garment a mannequin was wearing in the display window.

It was a long black drop-waist frock made of chiffon with a pattern of black sequined flowers on the upper part and pink ones on the lower ending at the hem. Victoria couldn’t believe her eyes as they glittered with adoration, for she had never seen such a beautiful dress as this before and it seemed to be just the distraction she needed from all her troubles and sorrow. But now the materialist in her knew she had to have it.

So while feeling pressed for time, she quickly hurried inside the store where she was greeted by a red haired, fair skinned seamstress wearing a beige tunic dress who immediately stopped her work on another peach colored dress which lay flat across the counter.

“May I help you?” The woman smiled as she eagerly approached Victoria.

“That black dress in the window, how much is it?” Victoria asked.

The seamstress seemed to smile even wider at the sound of that question, and Victoria figured she must have seen the dollar signs the minute she walked through the door.

“That is a Von Truss original.” The seamstress explained while noting Victoria’s own classy attire. “It costs one thousand dollars at the moment I’m afraid and we’re not offering any discounts at this time.”

Victoria seemed a little stunned at the price of the garment for she had never spent that much on a dress before in her life, yet she wasn’t about to change her mind, especially now that she had the money to afford it and then some.
“Perfect, I’ll take it!”

Then a few moments later Victoria stepped out of the dressing room twirling about in her new frock while admiring herself in the large standing mirror with its bronze ornate frame. The dress fit her perfectly and didn’t appear to need any alterations, which was a good thing being that she refused to spend anymore of her stolen cash for now. Instead she would hold onto whatever was left until her next major heist, which seemed to be the farthest thing from her mind at the moment as she smoothed the wrinkles out of the dress, feeling the soft texture of the fabric beneath her fingers. She felt alive again and the longer she stood there staring back at her elated expression that feeling stayed.

“A dress as lovely as that deserves a pair of matching shoes.” The seamstress mentioned next as she headed over with a box of black sequined heels.

Victoria gasped with delight at the sight of the shoes, but quickly reminded herself not to spend another cent, even though it was tempting.

“They certainly are lovely.” Victoria sighed with disappointment. “But I’m afraid the dress is all I can afford at this time.”

The seamstress smiled softly and handed the box right over to her. “Well since you’ve been so generous with your first purchase here, I’m giving you the shoes for free. Say what size are you dear?”

Victoria felt absolutely speechless yet elated, as though this were all just a wonderful dream she was having after one extremely long nightmare.

“My size is rather small.” She answered. “I wear size five.”

“Well these I believe are five and a half so they might fit your feet.” The seamstress replied. “Go on and try them on.” She urged.

“All right.” Victoria then agreed as she took the shoes out of the box, set them on the floor, and then slipped her petite feet inside, immediately noticing how comfortable they felt. “Well so far it seems to be a good match.”

She looked down and admired the shimmering shoes as they sparkled beneath the lighting just like her dress as though they were synchronized.
“I really don’t know what to say.” Victoria began to fret a bit as the bad memories of what she had done earlier began creeping their way back in.

“Then don’t say anything at all and just accept them.” The seamstress replied. “By the way does the dress fit properly? If not I don’t mind making a few alterations if you need it.”

“Oh not at all.” Victoria shook her head. “Why it fits like a dream, same as the shoes.”

“Well it’s been a pleasure doing business with you.” The seamstress replied gratefully. “I do hope you’ll be back in the future, as I’m sure we’ll be getting in more originals just like that one.”

“Really?” Victoria’s eyes flashed with excitement. “Well in that case I may be back sooner than you know.”

“Glad to hear it.” The woman noted and then noticed Victoria’s old dress lying on the floor inside the dressing room stall like a discarded piece of cloth.

“Oh dear here’s the dress you wore when you came in.” She reached down to pick it up. “Shall I stick this in a bag for you? I’m sure you wouldn’t want to leave a lovely dress like this behind.”

“It’s trash.” Victoria responded with a carelessness the seamstress had never expected. “You can toss it with the rest of the garbage if you like.” She continued as she made her way towards the door and threw it open.

“Goodbye for now!” She added with a friendly tone before walking back out.

Meanwhile in his office at the ACPD, Vince Hayward appeared to have his hands full with several new homicide cases, one of which seemed rather intriguing as he sat in his desk chair going over the coroner’s report on a John Doe that had been found in an alley with a broken neck. One that sounded eerily similar to another case involving Vince’s supposed mystery killer that had seemed to be disappear off the radar for some time, especially right after a likeness of his face was posted all around the city.

It seemed to be a blessing and a curse but he was nowhere close to nabbing the guy, whoever or whatever he was, and as time passed on he only found himself becoming more and more frustrated by the lack of evidence and answers. He was up to his neck in cold cases and it was becoming nothing but tiresome.

“God damn it.” Vince cursed under his breath as he tossed the report back on top of the pile sitting on his desk right as his partner walked in.

“There are reports of gunshots coming from the first Simoleon bank on old Richmond Avenue.” Detective Marks informed, looking a bit perturbed.

“It was a single gunshot.” Vince corrected Marks much to his surprise. “I know because it was a young man who called it in half an hour ago. Smith was the last name. I forget what he said his first name was, but I don’t think it matters.”

Marks shot his partner a look of confusion. “But wasn’t that bank robbed early this morning? I mean we should at least send someone over to investigate? For all we know we could have another murder on our hands.”

Vince gave a harsh sarcastic laugh in response. “Well this is the homicide department, so of course there’s bound to be another murder. Hell every time I turn around there’s another murder, and you know why, Marks?”

Marks shook his head.

“Too many damn crazies running the place.” Vince replied. “Morane claims to want a strong police force in this city yet he pays our men to look the other way so his people can get away with murder. I tell you we’re supposed to hate and blame the military for all this shit, but the truth is its all Morane, always has been and always will be until the guy croaks. If he ever croaks that is. Truth is, none of these people are safe, and we’re just filling the role of an illusion that justice will be served, but it won’t and frankly I am sick and tired of it, Marks. I’ve been in this for far too long and I’m beginning to want out.”

“I know what you mean.” Marks agreed even though he was only twenty years younger and had only been a homicide detective for five years.

“So what do we do about this? Just let it go?”

Vince felt tired yet couldn’t ignore the disappointment in his partner’s tone which made him realize he wasn’t doing Marks or himself any favors by acting like a letdown.

“Fine, if it will make you happy, Marks. We’ll send someone over to have a look, and if they find a body we’ll head right on over, all right? But in the meantime I need to work on finding this elusive son of a bitch!” Vince held up the police sketch of his mystery killer’s face. “I need to be the one to find and take him down, no matter what. After all I owe it to our people.”

Marks gave Vince an uneasy look and had to wonder about the mental status of his partner, especially his growing obsession with this mystery killer.

“Sounds like you could use a drink, old man. What say we hit up a bar for a bit and have a few drinks? I think we could both use a nice break and a change of scenery.”

“Sure.” Vince accepted much to his partner’s surprise. “As long as you’re buying.”

Marks gave a wry look in response. “I am but under one condition.”

“Oh yeah?” Vince wondered as he got up from his chair and stretched his long tired legs.

“We don’t say a single word about homicide or your mystery killer.” Marks replied. “Deal?”

“Fine it’s a deal.” Vince agreed offering his hand to shake on it.

Back at the AMF’s base, Lynne hadn’t realized just how much her last talk with William had actually affected her, and now she was certain that in order to fix things before they got worse she would need some time away. But first she would have to get permission from the admiral and she wasn’t so sure that he’d grant her request without an interrogation first.

“Admiral, I’ve got a favor to ask.” Lynne announced herself after she had spotted Abraham conversing with a new recruit in the academy lobby and hurried over.

“Sounds urgent?” Abraham noted as he turned to face her now. “Should I be concerned?”

“No.” She shook her head while trying to hide the emotion on her face. “I just need some time for myself. I’ve got some personal matters to attend to and I do not wish to discuss them with you or anyone else.”

“Duly noted.” Abraham said lifting a brow at her, while wondering just what it was that she felt she couldn’t share with him, but also hoping it wasn’t going to be another stupid stunt like the time she set off to confront Morane alone. That day had never left his thoughts, especially after the cold heartless warning Morane had given in response, should it ever happen again.

“Admiral, please don’t look at me like that.” Lynne frowned. “I know what you must be thinking, and I can assure you this has nothing to do with Morane. Believe me I learned my lesson after that and wouldn’t even think of going behind your back like that again. Trust me when I say this is something else and if I don’t deal with it now I’m only going to end up more miserable than I am.”

He then noticed the tears forming in her eyes as she looked up at him and then placed a gentle hand on her left shoulder and nodded. “Take as much time as you need. This place will still be standing when you’re ready to come back.”

“Thank you, Admiral.” She smiled with gratefulness. “I promise I won’t be gone too long.”

But then as Lynne started heading out, she happened to pass right by Lucy and Mipsy who had apparently been standing there the entire time eavesdropping on the entire conversation between her and Abraham. Lynne had no idea either and the two women kindly waited until she had left the building to begin commenting on what they had just learned about their commanding officer.

“I don’t believe my ears, do you?” Lucy mentioned in a quiet voice, watching as admiral Grant suddenly headed for the elevator with that new recruit.

Mipsy waited until the elevator doors closed before daring to respond back.
“Nope I don’t believe it either. Why in the unholy universe would our commanding officer visit Morane? And how come we are only finding this out now?”

Lucy gave a shrug. “Must have been something personal she didn’t want to share. But looking back now, it all makes sense in a way.”

Mipsy blinked her wide blue eyes. “How so?”

“Well, remember back when she was acting really sad and depressed?” Lucy pointed out. “That must have been around the time she went to see him. She didn’t want to talk to any of us either. She left without saying a word.”

Mipsy gasped. “Oh dear. What do you think happened?”

Lucy shrugged again. “Probably threatened her or something? But whatever the reason that was sure a dumb thing to do.”

“I’ll say!” Mipsy agreed. “But why do you think she needs time off now?”

“Who knows?” Lucy replied. “It’s none of our business anyway. Now how about we enjoy the rest of our break before we have to go back to all that boring simulation training?”

Soon after leaving the clothing boutique, Victoria had gone for a nice stroll around old downtown Atlantis showing off her new dress as well as trying to clear her mind of all the bad thoughts plaguing her conscience. But then the next thing she knew she ended up right back on the same street near the Petite Café where the cab driver had originally dropped her off before.

She stopped and stared at the building for the moment, wishing she had just gone right on inside instead of trying to murder that woman. Then she could have gotten a nice hot drink and relaxed while enjoying the atmosphere of a place she rarely ever visited, since she wasn’t much of a coffee drinker.

Yet all the while it made her feel regret, she still wondered if maybe it was the kind of relaxing environment she needed right now since everything about the place seemed inviting. Especially the warm orange glow of light in the windows which reminded her of a nice fire, mainly because it was the month of April and the air was still a bit too chilly to her liking.

But once Victoria made her way over, pulled the door open, and walked inside the quaint little building, she could see the signs of spring already as she was greeted by a series of colorful flowers sitting in several vases of various shapes and sizes on top of a table. They were real as could be as Victoria leaned in to smell a few of them, taking in that sweet aroma that not even the finest of perfumes could replicate. And she had tried them all.

Only that feeling of peace began to vanish as she was suddenly reminded of the loss of her secret admirer once she spotted a single red rose sitting in a crystal white vase on an end table near the restrooms. It seemed like an uncanny spot for an end table let alone a rose, but that didn’t stop her from remembering his final words in the last letter; as well as that one time he had left behind a rose with one of them. She had cherished it up until the day it wilted and fell apart, much like her heart after learning of the man’s horrible demise. She missed him dearly.

She sighed sadly and turned away before making her way over to one of the empty booths to sit down. It was nearly 3 PM now and there weren’t many people around, except for an old couple who sat several seats behind her near the back. They were quiet too for the most part, except for the few slurps here and there as they sipped their coffee, but Victoria didn’t seem to mind.

“I’m sorry I didn’t hear you come in.” A waitress kindly apologized as she hurried over with an empty coffee cup in hand along with a little menu and set them down on the table. “You missed our lunch special, but we’re still offering soup and sandwiches if you’d like.”

Victoria shook her head. “No thank you, dear. I think I’ll just stick with coffee for now.”

The waitress gave a sweet smile. “Not a problem. I’ve brought you a clean cup so you can help yourself to the coffee bar.” She gestured over to a series of dispensers lined up against a wall. “We’re always getting in new flavors, courtesy of Julius Morane of course.” She giggled, which only made Victoria feel more uneasy.

“Thank you I appreciate it.” Victoria forced a smile, which quickly dissipated into a frown once the waitress turned her back. She absolutely pitied the poor woman for not knowing the truth about that man.

“Well let me know if you need any help.” The waitress called over her shoulder before heading to the back to check on her other patrons.

While in the meantime, William had left the military base in order to clear his head some more and decided a cup of coffee would do him some good, especially since the coffee at the Petite Café was better tasting than that sludge from the mess hall. At least that’s what Justin would call it, and William even remembered the first time it happened one late morning while he and Chris were in the mess hall having a nice chat about the ins and outs of things.

It had been a nice way to start off the day since they both had simulation training later on, but of course their conversation immediately came to an abrupt end once Justin arrived on the scene.

“Hey Will, and Sergeant.” Justin announced himself while ignoring the annoyed looks the two men were giving him. “So how’s the sludge taste? Probably about the same as it always is, eh?”

William wasn’t quite sure if this was Justin trying to be funny or just trying to get on his nerves, but either way he wasn’t in the mood for it and neither was Chris.

“What are you even on about?” William asked narrowing his eyes while looking rather confused.

“Uh, that crap in your cups you call coffee?” Justin retorted pointing at their cups. “Stuff tastes like dirt. Why do you think I never drink it?”

William rolled his eyes, but Chris on the other hand couldn’t help but smirk at Justin.

“Well I would say that’s because you’re never up early enough when it’s still fresh, Corporal.” Chris remarked which made William chuckle and nod his head in agreement.

“Not all of us can get away with gambling in the city all night and sleeping in the next day, you know?”

William couldn’t help but smile at the memory. He really missed those days but then a cloud of sadness fell upon him as Chris suddenly faded from the memory. His loss had really felt like a huge blow; almost as if the Tjatey had won in the end. But the reality of the situation was that neither side had won at all. There were losses from both ends and they all appeared to be affected just the same, despite what Lynne wanted to believe, and even Justin.

Although as William continued walking he suddenly saw little Safiya’s teary eyed face again, and at the precise moment when her mother had pulled her away from him.

“No not him he’s like us!” He could hear the little Tjatey child crying out, trying to convince her mother that William was just like them. Only Rehema disagreed almost immediately, and with a troublesome anger which only led William to believe that she must have been on Naeem’s side during their short lived war.

Still he believed there must have been more to the story, but he didn’t know any of the details or even if any of the other retired warriors would know the truth.

I’ve got to talk to them, he thought then as he made his way towards the café’s door and proceeded to pull it open. I have to reach out to the others before it’s too late. I have to act as their leader.

But while he didn’t like the idea of taking up any type of leadership role, he wasn’t given much time to think more about it once he stepped inside just to realize he needed to pee. So he quickly rushed towards the men’s room, nearly knocking that vase with the rose off the table when he accidentally bumped into it. However, he caught it just in the nick of time and kindly set it back in place before heading inside the lavatory.

While unbeknownst to him, Victoria was seated at one of the booths alone, sipping the last of her latte when she decided that now would be a good time to powder her nose as well as use the restroom since she was already beginning to feel as though that coffee had gone right through her.

There was only a single drop of the hazelnut flavored drink left and she quickly slurped it up before setting down the empty cup, grabbing her purse, and then heading over to the restrooms.

Only once she got there, a young soldier had just walked out of the men’s room and the two of them nearly crashed into each other before they both stopped with only a few inches of space between them as their eyes met for what felt like the second time. It was like a strange case of déjà vu; a kind of feeling Victoria couldn’t begin to fathom, and yet as they just stood there with their eyes locked on one another without speaking a word. As though it were some kind of love-at-first-sight cliché scene right out of a romance movie, where everything else around them had become a blur.

“Do I know you?” Victoria suddenly asked in a curious manner not taking her eyes off his.

“I’m not sure.” William replied, yet the look in his striking blue eyes seemed to say otherwise. “I frequent around this area if that’s what you mean. So maybe you have seen me before?”

William knew he was lying once more to the young woman he had promised to come clean with, but there was a part of him wondering if this was a way he could just start all over. She would never have to know that he was ever her secret admirer and in turn he wouldn’t have to make an ass out of himself by continuing to hide.

“I’m sorry.” William apologized next. “I’m not in your way am I?”

She shook her head while feeling rather disappointed. “Don’t worry you’re not. But I can’t seem to shake this feeling that we’ve met before, even if it were brief?”

“Well I know who you are, does that count?” William responded with a soft smile which elicited a lighthearted chuckle out of her.

“It’s good to feel remembered for once.” She gave a half smile yet failed to disguise the sadness in her voice. “I’m also sorry for what happened to you and your people.” She noted his uniform which also seemed to serve as a reminder of what she had lost.

“Thank you.” William replied gratefully when it dawned on him that he should offer her to join him there in the café, especially since they both appeared to have a lot to talk about.

“If you’d like, you’re free to join me for a drink or two here, and I can tell you more about it.” William was trying his damndest not to sound like a nervous wreck, but also preparing himself for rejection.

“That sounds nice.” Her voice sounded a lot more cheerful now. “I’d love to join you. But first I believe you should tell me your name.”

He could hardly believe it. She had accepted his invite although he did feel a bit like a moron for not telling her his name at first. “You mean I haven’t already told you?” He laughed in an effort to hide his embarrassment. “Well I’m William. Corporal William Sterling, that is.” He added hoping to impress her with his rank.

“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Sterling.” She smiled adoringly. “But I believe I’ve still got some personal matters to tend to.” She gestured towards the ladies room.

“Oh, by all means.” William kindly stepped aside for her trying his best to act like a perfect gentleman. “I’ll get us a table.”

Elsewhere in the city, Vince felt completely dejected while he sat quietly at the bar next to his partner, who on the other hand, appeared to be getting more hammered by the minute and was already on his fifth shot of bourbon.

Vince had barely finished his third shot, when his eyes suddenly began searching the room around them, fixated on every single man wearing a trench coat or something akin to one.

He’s out there somewhere, Vince thought while ignoring all of Mark’s drunken rambling.

And then as though it were a sign of fate, Vince’s eyes soon spotted a curious lone figure passing by the large rectangular window behind them. At first Vince couldn’t tell if it was just the alcohol messing with his mind or if he really was seeing this strange man in the long dark grey trench coat walking right by them.

I need a better look, Vince thought when he suddenly stood up and started making his way outside.

Marks immediately turned around and noticed his partner heading outside to investigate something.
But before he could catch up, Vince had already followed the lone figure down the sidewalk and into a nearby alley, calling after him, demanding that the man turn around and raise his hands nice and high.
Only once the strange man did stop and turn around, he appeared more than willing to comply.

“Is there a problem, Detective?” Stan asked raising his hands. “I was just on my way back home. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble if that’s what you suspect.”

Vince noted that thin smile across his lips. His voice sounded sincere but his eyes seemed to be telling a completely different story. The tired old homicide detective had to wonder now if he finally had his man.

“Don’t you dare move an inch.” Vince warned as he headed over to pat the man down.

“You’re not going to find any weapons on me.” Stan’s response was almost mocking in delivery but he was telling the truth and Vince soon found out for himself when he completed the pat down. The man was clean.

“What’re you doing around here?” Vince asked next; his voice beginning to slur a bit now from the alcohol.

“As I said before, Detective.” Stan replied with a smirk sensing the alcohol on him. “I’m on my way home.”

But before Vince had the opportunity to escalate matters, Marks had found him and immediately apologized to Stan for his partner’s drunken behavior.

“He’s been drinking and thinks everyone is a suspect, that’s all.” Marks explained the best he could in his own drunken state of mind.

“Understandable.” Stan replied and then turned to leave when Vince suddenly charged at him, nearly knocking him over.

“I know it’s you!” Stan could detect the rage in the old man’s voice. “I know it! That’s what my gut says to me and it never lies!”

“Detective Hayward, stop this immediately!” Marks warned as he hurried over to pull his partner away from the man once more. “You’re drunk, all right? Leave this poor man alone and let’s get you home.”

Stan shot a smirk at Vince before he turned his back on him and continued down the dark alley minding his own business as he had before.

Vince’s eyes burned with anger as he watched him while Marks held him back. He had come so close to catching the notorious killer or at least that’s what he believed.

“I almost had him!” Vince shouted as Marks tried to calm him down when Vince suddenly collapsed right onto the ground.

“Oh no, come on old man, don’t do this to me!” Marks panicked as he knelt down by his partner’s side and began shaking him frantically.
“Come on buddy, wake up! Wake up!”

“I really can’t believe all that happened.” Victoria frowned as she sat across from William now at one of the café’s booths watching as he stirred his coffee with a spoon. She on the other hand had decided against having another drink but appeared to be enjoying her time with the friendly soldier just the same.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like for all of you. It sounds like the worst of nightmares come true.”

William seemed appreciative of her comments but mostly surprised by them. “It definitely felt that way that’s for sure and we lost a lot of wonderful people unfortunately.”

That I know, she thought sighing deeply, trying not to let those bad memories ruin the moment, even though it seemed as though this was just as difficult for him to talk about.
“And you still trust those aliens?” She asked then.

“I kind of have to.” He replied sipping his coffee. “I’m still a part of them as you can see.” His voice sounded a bit shameful but he found himself getting very anxious now, wondering just what she would say next.

“I do see.” She sounded very understanding and even accepting which William found a bit hard to believe.

“So me having a strange hair color doesn’t bother you?” He pointed at his hair as though it were some type of birth defect.

“It doesn’t.” She answered softly while wondering why someone like him could even feel ashamed of who he was. “I certainly don’t see it as a flaw and neither should you. So why is that?”

He sighed and peered out the window beside them, watching as a young couple holding hands walked on by, longing for what they had in that moment. “Well that part of me is very much hatred by the people of this city. It’s one thing to be hated as a soldier, but they hate me no matter if I’m wearing this uniform or not.”

Suddenly all of Victoria’s own problems seemed so small compared to his. “I’m sorry you have to go through that.” She gave him a look of sympathy while still trying to recall where she had seen his face before. “You certainly don’t strike me as somebody with malice in their heart. I hardly know you and yet I can already tell there isn’t a mean bone in your body.”

He tried not to smile or blush but he just couldn’t help it, but neither could he believe that he was actually sitting across from the one woman he had always admired and longed to be with. It was an awkward feeling yet he was able to keep calm the whole time and began to wonder if this moment meant it could lead to more conversations like this or possibly even real love.

“So tell me about yourself?” William asked taking another sip from his mug. “I haven’t heard much about you in the news. Are there any new films in the works I should know about?”

Now she was the one feeling shameful, especially now that she’d been reminded of everything she’d been struggling with these days feeling like a complete failure.
“No there aren’t.” She frowned as she shook her head. “It’s been rough for me to say the least.”

“Sounds like it’s been rough for both of us.” He smiled at her in attempt to put her at ease and remind her she didn’t have to feel alone.

But while she wanted to smile back she simply couldn’t, and suddenly wondered if she should just leave before she felt any worse, when she looked down at her hand as it lay flat atop the table’s surface, watching as he nervously reached across and touched it.

“You’re very sweet.” She said then as she pulled her hand away, despite the comforting feeling his touch had given her. “But I’m afraid I must be going now. Though I have enjoyed this time with you. So I thank you.” She then stood up and collected her purse.

“I enjoyed it too.” He replied as he stood up to see her off while hoping this wouldn’t be the last time he’d see her. “In fact maybe we could sit down like this again sometime?”

She seemed to like the idea of sitting down with this man again in the future. He was kind and very respectful and made her feel emotions she thought only existed in fairytales. But compared to him she didn’t see herself as a good person and knew she would have to do more terrible things just to keep up her lifestyle while knowing it was something she could never tell him.

“I don’t know.” She sounded a bit unsure at first until she gazed into those eyes of his once more and realized she needed to see him again to better understand this feeling she’d been completely swept up in. “Card Shack. I’ll be there tomorrow evening. If you come there we could chat some more and even have a few drinks. That is if you like. I know it’s a slum of a place, but that’s where I’m at these days.”

“I’ll be there.” William agreed despite the fact he really wasn’t fond of that place to begin with, especially with all the memories it carried.

“Good, I’ll see you then.” She flashed one final smile before turning to leave.

William could hardly believe it. He now had an official date with the woman of his dreams, or was it a date at all? She had been friendly and seemed to enjoy his company yet he could tell there was something else going on with her. And it was something he picked up on the instant he had asked her about her personal life, noting she sounded a bit reluctant to say much.

I sincerely hope I didn’t cross the line too much with what I asked. He worried a little as he sat back down to finish his drink, already missing her presence and the feeling of comfort it had provided. Then it dawned on him why she had sounded so upset before.
It’s because of him isn’t it? I must have reminded her of her secret admirer when I told her about what happened.
William suddenly hated that part of him even more now, almost to the point of jealousy. What happens if she never gets over the guy? Then what? He groaned to himself as he set his cup down. I think I’ve really screwed up this time.

A depiction of the precise moment William and Victoria come face to face for the second time. (Might add color to it sometime)

Thank you @AB for my adorable new avatar! <3
2 years 3 months ago #27097

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

An update is coming soon I've just been dealing with a lot these past several months. I'm not one to talk about personal deals in my life these days, but I feel it's necessary in this case. So I've more or less taken on the role as a caregiver to my boyfriend who has stage 4 cancer. He declined a lot in the beginning and I felt like I was losing him, but he still survived and hes still fighting to make it. His oncologist has given up on him but I haven't and neither has he given up on himself. Instead we've turned to alternative forms of treatment such as off label drugs and natural things.

So far it appears to be working and little by little hes getting stronger. He's got a strong will to live and he prays to be cured every day just as I do. Right now hes staying at a nursing home to get rehabilitated so he can walk again and return home to me and the birds. We're our own little happy family and with him there I've been working on art and writing extensively in order to keep my mind occupied so I don't fall apart. I hate not having him home but that's how it is so I have to deal. Even though he isn't here hes still doing our alternative treatments and we're adding new things to the protocol all the time. Throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the damn cancer. Cause it can be beaten I believe that and so does he. Others have cured themselves with alternative treatments too when all else has failed.

So again I will update this soon but I just wanted to explain the lack of anything new. Because there is nothing like the fear of losing your loved one to this horrible disease. It takes your mind to dark places you thought you'd never venture into again, but I've been there. I even turned to alcohol for a while but that wasn't helping me or him. It's a struggle but you gotta fight and keep going. There is hope no matter what others say. I believe that so strongly and will continue to do so. I'm fighting for him just as much as he is fighting for me. And while the current arrangement sucks, I'm just thankful that he still has a chance.

Thank you @AB for my adorable new avatar! <3
1 year 9 months ago #27241

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

Oh, that sucks! Glad he's making some progress now, though.

You take care of yourself and him, first and foremost. We can wait (impatiently, of course) for the next bit of the story.
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1 year 9 months ago #27246

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

jeanie wrote: Oh, that sucks! Glad he's making some progress now, though.

You take care of yourself and him, first and foremost. We can wait (impatiently, of course) for the next bit of the story.

Thank you it's been a rough ride but he seems to be somewhat stable now. No signs of getting worse and his color looks good. Physical therapy begins tomorrow, so here's hoping they can get him back on his feet again.

Thank you @AB for my adorable new avatar! <3
1 year 9 months ago #27248

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

I can't believe it took me 3 months to finish this chapter. But here it is.
Chapter 8

When Vince finally came to and opened his eyes, all around him was unfamiliar scenery. His vision was still a bit blurred as he attempted to sit up, just to discover an IV in his left arm connected to a bag of fluid.
He realized then that he was at the city hospital, only he didn’t remember how he got here. But as he looked to his side he saw Marks seated in a chair next to the bed fast asleep with his head down and his arms crossed over his chest looking most uncomfortable. Vince felt a tad hesitant to wake him at first but he was hell bent on getting out of there as soon as possible.

“Hey you.” Vince groggily spoke, watching as Mark’s eyes fluttered open and he lifted his head up to see Vince’s wry smile.

“Oh good you’re finally awake.” Marks yawned as he readjusted his uncomfortable posture, noting the cramps in his arms and neck as it hurt to move.

Vince nodded. “Well I’d say that makes two of us. But why am I here? What the hell happened?”

“You passed out after drinking.” Marks explained. “The doctor was in here several hours ago and said you collapsed due to extreme exhaustion and dehydration.”

“That explains why I’m hooked up to this thing.” Vince remarked dryly gesturing at the IV. “And dressed in a gown. How long have I been out?”

“Almost twelve hours now.” Marks replied standing up. “I was sure you’d be sleeping for a few days, but I’m surprised to find I was wrong. Either way, old man, you’re lucky as hell it wasn’t a heart attack. I mean, do you even remember what happened before?”

Vince tried to think in that moment but his mind was still a bit too hazy to remember anything.
“No I don’t.” He answered back, already feeling the urge to get dressed and return to the station and get back to work. “What happened before I passed out?”

“You attacked a man.” Marks replied. “A tall and bulky looking one too I might add. You accused him of being your notorious killer and went after him. I had to stop you before things got worse. And that’s when you collapsed on the ground and passed out. I was scared out of my wits, old man, so promise me you won’t ever do anything like that again!”

Hearing the sound of genuine worry and fear in Mark’s voice was proof enough that Vince had acted stupidly, but all he could do now was apologize and make a promise he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep. Still it was better than nothing he supposed.

“Fine I promise.” Vince sighed still unable to remember any of that at all. “And I’m sorry for what I did. Must have been out of my mind or something?”

“I would say so.” Marks agreed ignoring Vince’s attempts at humoring him. “But at least you didn’t get yourself killed, cause that’s what I was more concerned about.”

Vince dropped his head and sighed as his eyes focused their attention on the white tiled floor beneath him. “He’s not going to press charges against me is he?” Vince asked next sounding very worried.

“He disappeared immediately after.” Marks explained. “Almost as though he didn’t care about what happened at all. Seemed to be in a hurry though, so hopefully he won’t press charges?”

Vince sighed again. He regretted ever leaving that office in the first place and wondered if maybe he should consider retirement after all.

In the meantime after Justin had found his way back to the AMF base, he just stood there outside the gate staring mindlessly at the concrete ground through the chain link fencing. It had never occurred to him until now that he had sincerely missed this place, only there was something very different about it which he had felt the moment he set foot on that ground. It was a cold and empty feeling, the same he had experienced when he first walked inside the mausoleum to visit Chris’s grave.
It was that same eerie ghostly silence and for a moment there it felt like the base was just another cemetery.

He began to wonder why he had come back at all; that is until he was once again reminded of the looming threat of Morane over his head.
Oh that’s why. Justin sighed deep wishing this was nothing but a bad dream he would soon wake up from.

However, he then noticed a couple guards that were standing off to the side having a smoke break. They were even standing in the same spot where one of their own had fallen during the bloody attack on their base. Seeing this bothered Justin even more, but once the two of them turned their heads and saw him and started heading over, he was taken back to reality once again.

“Corporal Church?” The tallest of the two guards looked right at him narrowing his eyes.

“Yeah it’s me.” Justin answered glumly. “Minus the corporal part of course.”

“That’s him alright.” The second guard chuckled in amusement as though he had missed Justin’s self depreciating humor. “So what the hell are you doing standing there? We thought you were canned?”

“I’m here because Private Winston told me I’d be safe.” Justin explained then while noting the skeptical looks on both men’s faces. “Some bad people are after me, Morane’s people that is. So if I don’t get away I’m as good as dead you see?”

“You’re serious?” The tall guard replied quizzically while the other chuckled in bewilderment over such an outlandish claim.

“Dead serious.” Justin looked them both in the eye. “So if you wouldn’t mind, could you maybe open the gate so I can come inside and find a place to hide? Neither the Admiral nor Lynne has to know about it.”

Then before either of the men could respond, a loud, excitable voice suddenly cried out from the background as a silhouette of a tall female came running towards the gate.

“Young corporal is that you!?”

Justin could hardly believe his eyes once she came into view. “Dendera?”

“Hey how did you get inside the perimeter?” One of the guards demanded to know.

“I climbed over when you both were distracted with your lunch earlier.” Dendera gave a smirk and then nodded at Justin. “I am glad your commanding officer has finally granted permission for your return. That’s the reason I came here and have been waiting all this time for your arrival.”

“She has?” Justin blinked. “And uh, you have?”

“Yes.” Dendera nodded and then looked at the two guards. “Well are you going to let him in or not?”

“Well if the admiral says it’s okay then I guess so.” The tall guard shrugged at his comrade and then proceeded to open the gate by placing his index finger on the scanner.

Then as the gate slid open, allowing Justin to enter, that feeling of dread and regret was looming overhead once more. He was glad to hear he had been reinstated and knew he owed it to William once again, but he still didn’t feel as though he deserved it.

“What’s wrong?” Dendera asked with concern as he just stood there staring at the ground.

“I uh, I’m just not sure I deserve this.” He answered in a timid tone of voice while refusing to make eye contact with any of them.

“Yes you do!” Dendera insisted while trying to get him to look at her. “It was not your fault some of your people died. You can’t blame yourself for them, for you have also saved a lot of lives. It was yours and William’s bravery that saved the rest of your people, never forget that! It is impossible to win a war without loss, believe me I know!”

Justin nodded at her. He knew she was right. No matter how the war had gone down they were going to lose some of their people and he should feel grateful for saving those he could, including himself.
“I know.” Justin agreed as he raised his head up and finally walked inside. “I suppose I’ll eventually get over it. I know I have to.”

“That’s the spirit!” One of the guards teased him causing Justin to scowl.

“Nice to know you understand at least.” Justin remarked when Dendera suddenly grabbed him by his right arm and pulled him away from the guards.

“They aren’t worth a fight.” Dendera said as she began leading him in the direction of William’s bungalow.

Only when they got there they noticed there weren’t any lights on inside.

“He must sleeping or something.” Justin sighed. “He’s not exactly the type that likes to go out as much like I do.”

Dendera began peering inside the windows looking for any sign of life.
“I’m not seeing him at all, young corporal, are you sure about that?”

“Well first of all I think you would have better success by knocking on his door first rather than trying to scare him out of his wits.” Justin remarked as he walked up and began pounding his fist against the front door, loud enough so William would hear it no matter which room he was in.

“So I see.” Dendera noted as she watched him with intrigue.
“Sometimes a little shouting also does the trick too.” He explained next while rapping on the door once more. “Hey, Will are you home or not!?” Justin hollered as loud as he could, causing Dendera to flinch and cover her ears with her hands.

“Sorry about that.” Justin apologized looking over his shoulder at her. “Now we just stand here and wait.”
Dendera listened for footsteps or any sign of movement coming from inside the home but there was nothing.

“I don’t think he is here at all, young corporal.” She commented.

“Me either.” Justin agreed and sighed as he turned back around. “Wonder where he could be though? Actually, scratch that, I might have an idea just follow me.”

It hadn’t been long since Lynne had requested some time off in order to deal with some personal matters. However nobody had a clue that the so-called personal issue had nothing to do with her taking a break but everything to do with her confronting the truth about herself, which included her false feelings for the man she met nearly a month ago at The Card Shack.

Mortimer was charming, sweet, and even handsome for the most part, but the moment Lynne set foot back inside his apartment she realized she had been living a lie. And on top of it all she had been using this man as nothing but her own personal escape, which only made her feel even more rotten inside but she knew it couldn’t go on and she would have to come clean with him, especially if she ever hoped to tear herself free from the pain of it all.

Then as if to make matters worse, she saw him smiling at her as she walked in, eager to put his arms around her and pull her in for a kiss as they usually did, yet she moved away.

“Bad day?” He asked next as she walked right past him and headed towards the wide window overlooking the downtown area of Atlantis City and looked out.

“I haven’t been completely honest with you.” Lynne sighed, already beginning to dread the words that were about to come out of her mouth. “But I can’t pretend anymore.” She turned and looked back at him.

“Nonsense.” He chuckled softly and reached for a bottle of wine. “Nothing a little spirit can’t take the edge off of. Or even a massage.”

You’re already making this harder than it needs to be. Lynne thought sadly.

“Look, I appreciate all you’ve done for me. I see now that I needed it, that I needed this.” She explained. “But unfortunately it’s only made me realize that I don’t feel the same for you.”

“I see.” He stopped and set the bottle down on the table. “Well has it always been this way or what?” He looked to her for answers. “If so then I must confess that I feel pretty lead on by all this. I thought we had something, red?”

Hearing his nickname for her only caused her to feel worse but she knew she couldn’t play pretend with him anymore; the truth had to come out.

“I was just using you.” She admitted next turning her back to him as she gazed out the window. “I’m sorry, I truly am, but this can’t go on any longer.”

“Well then I guess this is the end.” He sighed with disappointment while slipping out of his dark blue business jacket and tossing it over the back of the fancy looking living chair.

“Yes I’m afraid it is.” She looked back at him showing little to no emotion in her face this time. “But I felt like I owed it to you to tell you face to face, instead of just never coming back at all and leaving you in the dark.”

“How thoughtful.” He responded with bitterness as he began pouring himself a glass to a drink. “Guess I’ll be sleeping alone tonight then.”

“Please don’t even go there.” Lynne shook her head at him. “How could we even possibly feel anything real for each other? We met at a bar for god’s sake! And I was only there to try and forget the horror of everything I had experienced. I met you and it was nice for a while but that’s not who I am and that is what I am trying to tell you. Don’t you understand?” Her eyes glistened with tears as she tried her hardest to hold them back.

This man isn’t worth crying over. She tried to convince herself. I feel absolutely nothing for him. He was just a distraction and nothing more.

“Well that’s too bad.” He sipped his glass while looking back at her. “I wish I could have gotten to know the real you. We coulda had something real special.” He then poured her a glass and offered it to her. “You should try to relax though. You seem kinda tense at the moment.”

She already felt disgusted with herself for hurting the feelings of this man that had come to love and appreciate her, but neither did it help that she was feeling tempted by that glass of wine knowing full and well that it could only lead to another intimate encounter, which the man was most likely counting on.

I have to stand my ground. She sternly reminded herself while struggling to once again resist this man’s charm.

“Fine I’ll stay for one drink.” She agreed as she walked over and accepted the glass from his hand. “But after this I’m leaving and I won’t be coming back.”

“Understood.” He happily accepted as he clinked his glass against hers.

Stan Winston had later reported back to Morane after he had spotted and captured a young blonde teenage boy that was close enough in age and appearance to Justin. Miraculously enough he had found the teen trying to sneak his way into one of Morane’s casinos, and had succeeded with fooling the kid into believing he was some kind of security guard that had caught him in the act.

But even though Stan had carried out his objective he still found himself battling with a sort of moral compass as the humans would describe. It was strange since he appeared to have no qualms about dispatching young soldiers, even those about the same age as his teen captive. He wasn’t human so why did he feel sympathy towards this kid? Or better yet, how was it that he was even capable of such a feeling at all? It was all so very complicated for sure and once Stan had arrived at his destination with his quarry in tow, it was once again pushed back into the far reaches of his synthetic mind.

“I found the kid.” Stan announced himself as he walked through the entrance of one of many old abandoned warehouses situated behind Gambler’s Strip in a remote region of the city that hardly anyone ever dared to enter.

Stan dropped the panicked teenager right at Morane’s feet and took a few steps back.

“Well done, Stan.” Morane commended him as he looked down and smirked at the teen. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”

But I have, Stan thought then shifting his attention to the wide eyed teenager as they began to cry and beg Morane to spare their life.

“Please let me go, Sir! I won’t ever cross you again I swear it!”

Stan couldn’t help but picture Justin in the same situation, wondering how things would have turned out when all of sudden his thoughts were interrupted by the stifling laughter of his master.

“You’re in a lot of deep shit, kid.” Morane taunted as he pulled out his blade from the right pocket of his three piece suit and held it out in front of the boy’s face so he could take a good look at it.

The teenager began to cry and looked up at Stan for help. “Please don’t let him hurt me! I didn’t mean to cause trouble, please!?”

“Sit your ass down in that chair, boy!” Morane demanded gesturing at an old worn looking wooden dining chair that was splattered with visible spots of dried blood.

The teenager panicked but did as Morane said and sat down on the chair.

“Atta boy!” Morane cheered and stepped closer holding the edge of the blade out. “Now be a good little shit and stick out your hand for me.”

The teenager’s eyes widened with fear and he swallowed hard before he slowly extended his arm out with his palm facing up as Stan watched with utmost curiosity.

“Please don’t do this.” The teenager started to whimper as his hand began to tremble.
Morane edged the blade of his knife closer to one of the teen’s extended fingers and grinned. The teen immediately closed his eyes and grimaced while waiting for the worst to be over with.

“Nah I’m just fucking with you, kid.” Morane teased as he put his knife away.

Stan was completely dumbfounded by these actions.

The teenager couldn’t believe his luck. “You mean, you’re not going to hurt me?”

“Nah.” Morane replied dryly. “Hurting kids just ain’t my thing. But I will scare them shitless when they get out of line, see?”

“Oh.” The teenager sighed with relief. “But I thought I was in trouble for gambling?”

Morane shook his head. “You were but I believe you’ve learned a valuable lesson today, kid.”

“I have?” The teenager asked. “D-does this mean I can go?”

Morane nodded and the teenager jumped up and took off running out of the warehouse as fast as his feet could carry him leaving Stan more confused than ever.

“I don’t understand what just happened here.” Stan said looking over at Morane. “I thought your plan was to hurt the boy, but instead you only scare and release him?”

“And who said that was the plan?” Morane replied giving Stan a knowing glance. “This is your opportunity to prove your loyalty to me, Stan.” He gestured with his hand pointing towards the warehouse entrance where the teenager had exited just moments before.
“So prove yourself to me and kill him.”

Stan’s eyes appeared to glow even brighter in response to such a command, but he didn’t move at all which only angered Morane.

“Are you going to make me repeat myself, Stan?” Morane furrowed his brow as he walked up to the android. “I said fucking kill him! That means get your ass out there and finish the job before he squeals to the authorities!”

“As you command.” Stan replied reluctantly as he turned himself around then and began heading out.

Meanwhile, Justin had led Dendera back to the academy building and right to the recreation room where Justin, William, and Stan had created many memories back in the day. Seeing the room now only made Justin miss those days even more and he began to wish there was some way to go back in time to reverse all the damage that had been done. But unfortunately once the other soldiers and AMF personnel took notice of him he was met with some icy looks.

“I think it was a mistake coming here.” Justin mentioned to Dendera when all of sudden Jayce Fancy, Eric Mathis’s old comrade, walked right up to him looking rather pissed off.

“What do you think you’re doing here?” Jayce sneered at Justin making a fist.

Dendera quickly intervened. “We are looking for his friend William.” She replied in attempt to take Jayce’s focus off Justin and put it on her instead. Only it didn’t appear to work very well.

“You shouldn’t be here!” Jayce glared at Justin ignoring her. “You were discharged for a reason, remember?”

Justin didn’t want to admit it but it pained him to see that look in Jayce’s eyes, especially since he knew all too well how it felt losing a beloved comrade, even if Eric Mathis wasn’t exactly lovable. After all it had been the same when it came to losing Chris and all the others they had witnessed dying around them.

“Both Eric and Mick are dead because of you and your friends!” Jayce growled causing Justin to turn his head away in shame. “You’re the ones who should be dead but you’re not!”

“Stop this!” Dendera suddenly shoved him away. “Your friends are dead because of Naeem and his followers. You just refuse to accept the truth because you would rather take your anger out on him.” She turned to Justin. “He lost people close to him too so you’re not the only one.”

Jayce then narrowed his eyes at her. “And you were with them too!”

“No she wasn’t!” Justin finally snapped. “If anything she’s the reason the rest of us aren’t dead you jack ass! So how about you stop pointing fingers looking for others to blame? The real culprit is dead all right? I know because I was the one who killed him! I watched him die and do you think it was satisfying? No it was god damned horrible! Same as watching Chris die too. So you can take your blame and shove it right up your ass! If you want to keep blaming me then go on, be my guest, but as far as things go what happened is over! We have to let go and we have to move on, otherwise what’s the point of even being a soldier if you can’t let go of anything?”

Jayce’s face seemed to soften a bit and he sighed. “I’m sorry. You’re right I am just looking for someone to blame for all this.”

“It’s all right.” Justin gave a nod. “All I want is for us to put this crap behind and move on towards a better future. Just because our friends are gone doesn’t mean we have to stop living. I mean if anything us living for them would be the greatest honor, don’t you think?”

Jayce nodded in agreement. “You’re absolutely right.”

Dendera couldn’t help but smile at both of them. She felt very proud of Justin and his ability to make amends with former enemies.

“Well now that that’s settled, you can tag along with us if you like?” Justin offered.

Jayce appeared a little dumbfounded at first. “Uh sure, where are you both headed?”

“Well we came here hoping to catch Corporal Sterling in the act of writing another love letter.” Justin explained. “Although it looks like he isn’t here either, unless we just missed him or something. But fear not, cause I’ve got another place in mind that would make a great hangout, so follow me.”

Dendera appeared a little puzzled at first. “You mean we’re giving up our search already?”

“Just for now.” Justin replied. “Besides, I’ve been meaning to check out that new arcade that opened up not long ago, and I’m sure Jayce here could use some quality entertainment, right bud?”

“Arcade?” Jayce repeated quizzically scratching his chin. “What in the universe is that?”

“Well there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?” Justin answered walking ahead of them. “So come with me and let’s have some fun for a change. After all I believe we’ve earned it!”

Stan found himself dueling it out with his moral compass once again while he stalked the unsuspecting teenager as they made their way down a dark alley. They looked as though they were lost while trying to find an exit out of this dark and desolate area of the city. Bright neon lights of varying colors shone up ahead and the teen attempted to follow them just to discover yet another dead end. He was beginning to get very frustrated and Stan could sense it.

“God damn it” The teen cursed to himself quietly as he began kicking at the old wooden fence of the alleyway, hoping to break through and hopefully make his way out of there for good. Then all of a sudden he thought he heard footsteps approaching and immediately stopped. He panicked as he glimpsed over his shoulder to see if there was anyone there but saw nothing.

Yet Stan was right there hiding in the shadows observing him, the glow of the android’s eyes dim enough he couldn’t be seen from that distance. He stood still as a statue, watching as the teenager turned their attention back to the fence and resumed kicking and cursing at it, until the wood began to crack and give way.

Stan knew if he didn’t act fast the kid would get away, which meant Stan would fail to deliver once again and probably end up trying to think of some type of lie to get himself out of trouble. But there was still something about this request of Morane’s that didn’t feel right, and to the point it almost bothered Stan.

What purpose does the death of this one even serve? Stan found himself wondering as he began moving in behind the distracted teenager. Have I not been loyal enough before? I have done everything Morane has asked of me, so why this?

A feeling of unexplainable sadness overcame Stan when he reached down and quickly snapped the kid’s neck. He didn’t even let the body fall to the ground either, instead he held on to it with care and gently lowered it into place.

If I had the ability to shed tears now would be the perfect time, he thought to himself as he rose back up with his eyes still fixated on the lifeless body of the teenager below. What have I done?

Meanwhile at the arcade, Justin and Jayce appeared to be having the time of their lives as they sat across from one another in a one-on-one game of Jet Fire. The machine’s seats resembled that of a fighter-jet cockpit but with less controls and options, yet the ammunition supply seemed infinite. Both of the young soldiers appeared to be a little too trigger happy as they fired upon one another, the match ending with Justin destroying Jayce of course, but Jayce was a good sport about it nonetheless.

On the other hand, Dendera seemed to have little to no interest in partaking in the fun. Instead she watched with utmost curiosity, wondering why two young males were having so much fun killing each other. The former warrior even found it a bit unsettling when they laughed and joked about it as well, something that only appeared to bring back dark memories of her past and the kind of laughter she only knew then.

“Dendera you should join us!” Justin called over to her then, awakening her from that dream-state.

“Yeah play a round with one of us at least.” Jayce chimed in.

Dendera hesitated. “Why?” She asked. “What is the purpose for it?”

“It’s fun!” Justin answered back. “It will take your mind off of whatever is troubling you, I promise.” He smiled.

“Here, you can have my seat.” Jayce stood up and gestured at the chair with its cockpit-like control panel.

“All right I’ll try.” Dendera finally accepted and headed over to sit down. “What do I do now?”

“See this coin?” Jayce demonstrated as he held one between his fingers and then leaned forward and inserted it into a lone slot below the controls. “You just stick one of those babies in here and you’re ready to go.”

The screen flashed strange words across it as Dendera watched intently.

“Once the game loads you’ll be face to face with Corporal Church over there.” Jayce explained. “After that you just fire your missiles at each other and hope for the best.” He winked.

“So this is pretend war?” Dendera noted as she studied the screen in front of her while taking hold of the joystick.

“Yeah, and it looks like you’ve already got the hang of it.” Jayce commended with a friendly pat on her shoulder.

Her dark eyes narrowed as her index finger pressed the trigger button, watching as a slew of fake projectiles were launched and immediately headed for Justin’s aircraft onscreen.

“See? Isn’t this fun?” Jayce commented from the background, already making Dendera uneasy.

“No it’s not.” She disagreed, seeing that Justin had already dodged her attacks and fired back in such an aggressive manner that it disabled her craft and rendered her powerless.
Her eyes widened in shock as it all came back to her then.

“Go for the kill!” Jayce cheered Justin on as Dendera watched in horror while reminded of that same dark memory from her past that she had long since forgotten.

Then right as Justin was about to commence in total annihilation, he noticed her trembling hands and stopped. “Hey are you all right?” He asked worriedly as he got up from the game chair and hurried over to her.

“My brother.” Dendera shivered, raising both her hands to her face as though to try and hide the shame she felt.

“I didn’t know you had one.” Justin replied as he offered her his hand to help her out of the seat.
“He betrayed me.” Dendera answered as tears streamed down the sides of her face. “That’s what this reminds me of.” Her eyes focused on the screen again. “It was my brother who turned on me back then. He even tried to kill me, only it didn’t work and he ended up shooting me down instead. After I fell prisoner to the humans along with Ammon, I don’t recall what happened to him. All this time I believed that he too perished with the rest of the traitors.

Justin and Jayce both frowned as they listened.

“We didn’t mean to bring back those bad memories.” Jayce apologized. “We only wanted you to have some fun too is all.”

Dendera bowed her head and sighed deeply. “I once had the chance to end him too, but I didn’t. I couldn’t do it. Not even after he betrayed me and left me for dead.”

Jayce looked at Justin apologetically. “I think we might want to get her out of here. She’s not sounding too good. Maybe this was a little too much for her?”

Justin nodded in agreement. “Yeah good idea. Come on, Dendera, let’s get you out of here, all right?” He offered her his hand again, and this time she finally accepted.

“Where to?” Justin asked her next. “You want to go back to Atlantech or what?”
She nodded.

“All right back to Atlantech we go then.” Justin turned and looked at Jayce. “You coming with?”

“Yeah I just might.” He replied looking at Dendera. “I can’t help but feel I’m responsible for this.”
“We both are.” Justin added.

“It’s not just that.” Jayce mentioned then, looking a bit guilt ridden in the face, causing Justin to wonder what else he might be hiding.

“What else is there?” Justin asked.

“I’m a coward.” Jayce confessed bitterly lowering his head.

“Huh?” Justin blinked.

“I know Eric was incapacitated in the infirmary, but Mick and I hid that day.” Jayce continued.

Justin couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“We hid while the Tjatey murdered our people.” Jayce frowned. “We saw that you, William, and the others put up a fight, but we just weren’t willing to. We didn’t want to die.”

Justin was completely stunned by this, Dendera as well.

“I blamed you because I didn’t want to blame myself.” Jayce explained sadly. “It was wrong of me I know, but that’s what I did. And seeing her this upset over her brother, it made me realize I needed to tell you the truth. So you’d understand why I acted the way I did. I’m a damn coward, Church. And I’m sorry I never did anything to stop Eric from picking on you back then. I should have but I didn’t.”

“Like I said earlier, it’s all in the past.” Justin responded cordially. “It doesn’t matter what you or I did back then. We’re burying the hatchet and moving forward. But what matters the most right now, is getting Dendera back to Atlantech. So let’s do that for now and think about the other stuff later, sound good to you?”

Jayce nodded in agreement. “I’m right behind you.”

“Alright, Dendera, you good too?” Justin looked at her.

“Uh huh.” She nodded. “Thank you both.”

“Don’t mention it.” Jayce smiled and offered her his arm to hang on to for support.

Justin couldn’t believe how things had changed since that day. For a while it seemed it was nothing but a negative change, yet seeing Jayce’s support and care for Dendera only showed Justin there was a positive change beneath it all, and possibly more to come. He was still just seventeen years old but already learning and experiencing so much that would shape him up to be the person he was meant to be later on in life; whoever that person was. But for now the only thing he wanted was to do what was right and help others who were struggling as he did. It felt good and above all else it began to feel like his one true purpose.

“Come on, let’s go.” Justin gestured with his hand as he turned towards the exit to lead the way.

Thank you @AB for my adorable new avatar! <3
1 year 9 months ago #27250

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