Modern Crusaders, Book 2
Disclaimers in Chapter 1
Evelynne sat on the hard, uncomfortable chair in the hospital hallway with her face in her hands and tried to control her roiling emotions. Around her other patients, doctors, and families dealt with their own situations, and a television played in one corner, but they all sounded like they were on the other side of a thick glass wall. Evelynne's thoughts whirled around and around; memories of how she had come to be here mixing with older ones, shock, worry and a sense of betrayal. She can't have meant to do it, a small voice tried to make itself heard. She was drunk, or sick, or—or… She really wanted all this to be a nightmare, wake up next to her lover's comforting presence, and crawl into a warm embrace until it was all better again.
Maybe she did mean to do it, another part said. Maybe she's changed, just like she was always worried she would. It was a concern of Ally's, Evelynne knew, that her expanding mental abilities would one day change her thought processes so much that she would no longer think in the same way others did. Is this some way that she's changed, that she's no longer the Ally I know? Is she—
"Sophia?" Evelynne didn't register the soft voice next to her. "Sophia?" Still nothing. "Evelynne?" That name made her come back to herself with a start, and her head jerked up to see Claire's variegated face. Claire smiled hesitantly at her still-stunned face and held out an object. "I got you something to drink. It's orange juice," she continued apologetically. "You really don't want to try the coffee they have around here."
Evelynne took the proffered bottle automatically and looked down again. "Thanks," she said dully. "I—" She swallowed convulsively. "I—"
Claire wrapped a gentle arm around her, drawing her head down, and holding Evelynne, who began to sob into her shoulder. She murmured meaningless comfort words into the redhead's ear until the cries slowed and stopped. Evelynne finally pulled away slightly, but remained leaning against her friend. "It'll be okay, Evelynne," Claire murmured in a tone that was deliberately convincing. "She'll be okay. She's just…" she trailed off uncertainly.
"I know," Evelynne said, smiling sadly, although it was uncertain what she was agreeing to. "I want…" She faltered, the wish unspoken but not unheard.
A white-coated doctor emerged from behind a closed door, and Claire shook Evelynne slightly to draw her attention. Evelynne bolted to her feet and stood anxiously as the doctor made a note on a chart and walked closer. "Sophia Doherty?" she asked. Evelynne nodded. Drawing the other two women into a quieter corner, the doctor smiled a professionally reassuring smile. "I'm Doctor Turner. Allison Parks, she's your friend?"
"She's my partner," Evelynne said. "My fiancée." Her stare dared the doctor to make something of it, but it lacked the fire it usually had.
Dr Turner just took it in stride. "We've managed to calm her with a mild sedative," she continued. "I have some other questions I need to ask." She referred to the chart. "Ms Doherty, does Allison take any drugs? I know you filled out that she doesn't but this is very important. Nobody's going to get in trouble."
Evelynne shook her head vehemently. "No, never. She drinks once in a while, but even then she doesn't like getting drunk."
"All right. Is she on any medication?" Another headshake. "Does she suffer from any psychological or neural disorders?"
Evelynne hesitated. "She's got some… unexplained brain activity," she said slowly. "Sometimes it shows up like a stroke or a seizure." Or throwing books across the room without touching them, or lifting refrigerators single-handed, or flying, or knowing what people are thinking. "Nobody's been able to figure out what it is, and it's always been temporary, so…"
"I see. Do you know who we can contact for her previous medical records?"
Evelynne paused again. "I could get them from Atlantl," she said. "But it might take a while."
Dr Turner nodded. "If you can that would be very helpful. Listen, I've ordered some tests, and we're going to be moving Allison up to another ward in a few minutes. I'll get an orderly to show you the way."
"Can we see her?" Claire asked, speaking up for the first time.
"Not yet," the doctor replied. "She seems to be somewhat delusional right now, and I'm afraid new people might exacerbate the situation. However, we'll let you know as soon as we find anything." With a final smile, the doctor headed off.
Evelynne stood silently for a moment while Claire hovered nervously near her, and then turned. "I've got to call—" She started towards a bank of phones. If Ally needed help, she was going back to Atlantl to get it, even if it meant breaking cover. Besides, it had been months without any hint of danger, so maybe that meant that—
She froze suddenly, her attention focussing on the television in the corner, where the news anchor's face was replaced by another. It was her own. Evelynne's vision tunnelled to that screen, and the anchor's voice cut through all the other noise.
"… breaking news, British sources report that Princess Evelynne deMolay, Heir to the Atlantean regime, has been assassinated in
The anchor continued, but Evelynne was no longer listening, and time and her surroundings came back in a rush. "I can't," she murmured, unaware that she was speaking aloud. "They're still there. And they—" She stopped and realised that Claire was at her shoulder, looking at the television screen.
Claire looked from the image to her friend, and then back again. "She's you, isn't she?" she said quietly. "I mean, you're her."
Evelynne sighed. "Yes," she said, not bothering to deny it.
"And then Ally's…"
"Allison Parks. Ally Parks. Alleandre Tretiak. She's from some place called Parktown or something, isn't she?"
"Parksville, in British Columbia."
Claire nodded at the screen. "So then who died?"
Evelynne looked at the floor. "A decoy," she said. "One of the false leads." Another Guard who died protecting me.
"Oh. But why come here?" Claire's gesture took in all of Horton City.
Evelynne's smile was without humour. "Would you expect to find me here? Working in a bar? Living in an apartment?" She looked at the screen again, and this time there was fury in her gaze. "They certainly didn't."
King Jad stormed into his office, placed his fists on his desk, and glared at the assembled people. "Talk to me," he ordered flatly. The officials present had all worked with him for a long time, so they were more used to his temper than most, but even the hardiest of them felt an animal twinge of fear at his rage. All, that is, but Queen Cleo, who looked back at him calmly, controlling her own anger and daring him to unleash his own. The King got the message and visibly forced himself to calm.
"We're still sorting out the details, Your Majesties," reported General Graham ab-Warat, the new Director of the Common Guard, "but we know what happened in general terms. Guard Jacqueline Usher was masquerading as Her Highness, and Guard Try'en L'Amorat was pretending to be Lady Alleandre. Together they comprised a decoy unit codenamed Bane-Sidhe. They had a Personal Guard escort of four other agents, which is consistent with a covert protection mission. Usher is dead, along with three of the auxiliary agents, L'Amorat is in serious but stable condition, and the final agent wasn't even present at the time of the attack and is unhurt. As you know, decoy units take all precautions as if they were the real objective, thereby spreading out potential targets, and increasing the chances that an attack will hit the wrong one. As it did this time."
"But how did any target get hit?" Queen Cleo asked before the King could. "Are we looking at another leak?"
General ab-Warat nodded unhappily. "We believe so, Madam. Oh, it's possible that Bane-Sidhe was seen purely by chance and the information passed on—"
"Not with the luck we've been having," King Jad muttered darkly.
"Exactly, Sire. It's far more likely that someone still in the Guard either stumbled on or purposefully found a list of decoy locations. Under 'normal' Geranin Protocol the real Heir would be hidden amongst the decoys. Whoever found the list either truly believed Bane-Sidhe was real, or decided to eliminate a decoy regardless. If the latter, the motive could be an attempt to flush out the other decoys."
"Will that work?" the Queen asked.
"It could, Madam." The General shrugged uncertainly. "Once in the field, each decoy unit is effectively autonomous. What each unit does will depend on the operatives involved and the choices they make. Some may believe that staying put is safer, others may choose to relocate. Unless we simply issue a general recall order."
"Not yet," the King said decisively. "What about the actual attackers? Do you know who they are?"
Omar ibn Larak, the King's Foreign Affairs Advisor, replied. "Sire, I've been in contact with the British government, Interpol, and British security, who managed to capture two of the attackers. Six others were killed by the, er, decoy unit, and several others got away. From what they know so far, the attackers were hit men, assassins-for-hire. Good ones, apparently. Ex-military, although they don't know which military yet. One has an American accent, the other English, so it's unlikely they're part of an official covert military unit. MI-5 will be conducting the interrogations, and will brief us completely on what they find out."
"Good." The King seemed to collapse suddenly and leaned back in his chair, the months of work he'd been doing catching up. "Now, how do we handle this publicly? What do we tell the media?" He looked at his co-ruler, who was the unofficial "Foreign Relations" side of the Diarchy.
"I say we tell the truth," the Queen said decisively. "At least, as much of the truth as is prudent." She saw General ab-Warat frown, along with both her and the King's Security Advisors. "You disagree?"
The General looked at the other two. "From a purely security standpoint it wouldn't be my first choice, Madam. The whole world thinks Her Highness is dead, so it's possible, even probable, that whoever is behind this attack thinks so, too. As long as he or she thinks she is, she's safe from further attempts. Ideally, this is the time to let our opponent continue to think so. However, I realise that this is not purely an intelligence matter."
"He's right, Madam," ibn Larak agreed. "From an espionage standpoint. However, we need to look at a larger picture than that. The Atlantlan people, as well as our allies—and enemies, for that matter—need to know that Princess Evelynne is still the Heir to the Throne. Few things can threaten a hereditary system like ours as much as a crisis of Succession. Granted, there are provisions in the Law for the Advisory Councils to act as Regent, but the Nobility is there to act as a stabiliser, as a source of constancy. Now, Her Highness actually is alive, but what's keeping up public morale is the knowledge that she is. I'm not saying people will panic, but the long-term risks are greater."
"It's important in terms of international politics," the Queen added. "If we tell everyone she's dead, and then she comes back alive and well, our credibility in the international arena will be badly shaken. Never mind that we had logical reasons for doing so; most countries listen to their voters, rather than intelligence and common sense, and those voters will just see how deceitful we've been."
"I agree with Cleo," the King said. He smiled apologetically at General ab-Warat. "Sorry, Graham. So, we need to issue a statement." He looked at the Queen, who nodded. "Very well, what we need then is input. I want to be able to give as much truthful information as possible without jeopardising my daughter, the remaining decoy units, or national security in general. You have an hour."
Six steps, turn, six steps back. Repeat. Evelynne paced the length of the small waiting room, her anxiety growing with every turn.
Despite knowing what had happened in England, she had tried calling for help anyway, using a number registered to Meghan Doherty. Her surrogate "aunt" hadn't answered the phone, but the message on the answering service had been chilling. "I'm sorry, I'm away from home because of a family emergency," it had said. "I will likely be away for three or four weeks, and may be unable to reply to messages. If this is truly urgent, please call 010-8907-7534." In and of themselves, the words were innocuous. However, the "family emergency" was obvious to one who knew the code, "three or four weeks" meant that the situation was very unsafe, and an inability to reply actually told her to avoid all further contact. However, in an extreme emergency Evelynne was sure the number she was given would have her extracted to a secure location as quickly as possible.
All of this meant that until the situation in Atlantl was calmed, she and Ally were on their own.
Not completely on their own. Narmin was currently fetching a change of clothing from their apartment, and Claire was off trying to find something for her friends to eat. The number of friends they actually had was heartening.
As though the thought had summoned her, Claire appeared through a doorway, another woman in tow, and Evelynne froze, her eyes narrowing, as she recognised the woman who had been in the stall with Ally. As they approached, the woman obviously reluctantly, Evelynne forced down her instinct to attack.
"Sophia, this is Joline," Claire said hesitantly. "She was, uh… She—"
"I know," Evelynne said flatly. "I remember."
Joline, an attractive blonde in her thirties, looked away guiltily. "I—I wanted to say I'm sorry," she began in a low voice. "Is—is she going to be okay?"
"I don't know," Evelynne replied, her tone thawing minutely at the obvious distress on the other woman's face.
"Oh. I—I just wanted to say that I didn't know," Joline continued awkwardly. "I don't—If I'd known she was with someone else, I never would have…"
"Taken her to the bathroom?"
"No! I've never done anything like that before. And I didn't. She took me."
As Evelynne gaped at Joline, a polite cough behind her caught her attention, and she turned to see Dr Turner. "Ms Doherty, I'm sorry it's taken so long, but I think we know what happened, although there are still some aspects of your partner's condition that are baffling us. Would you like some privacy?" The doctor nodded to a quieter corner.
Evelynne shook her head impatiently. "Just tell me."
Dr Turner consulted the chart in her hands. "We've got some of the blood work back, and we've found traces of a chemical with a similar composition to the drug rohypnol."
Evelynne looked blank, but both Claire and Joline gasped. "It's called the date rape drug," Claire explained, her voice filled with dread.
"One of them," the doctor confirmed. "Now, we're not positive yet, but it's either a more powerful version, or Allison is having a much more severe reaction to it. Normally, the drug loosens inhibitions, making the recipient more susceptible to suggestion. Afterwards, it also tends to have a dampening effect on memory, which is, unfortunately, why it is so popular amongst those who slip it into the drinks of unsuspecting victims. It can also be more potent when combined with alcohol. Now, all of this in itself would be enough to create some very serious effects, but it seems to have hit Allison particularly hard. From what we've seen, rather than simply suppressing her inhibitions lightly, it seems to have stripped them away completely. It explains some of her actions when she first arrived. If this is what happened, she would likely have acted on any urge that happened to strike her, regardless of consequences, appropriateness, or whether she normally would." Dr Turner looked grim. "We have managed to sedate her, although since we're uncertain how she would react to new drugs it's not as heavily as I'd like. We're also required to notify the police, and they should be here shortly to begin their investigation. It would help if you could tell them where she was, what she was doing, and who she was with."
Evelynne nodded, her mind struggling to process this information. It wasn't her fault, she thought with a confused feeling of relief. She just saw Joline, and was attracted, and with nothing inside to stop her she acted on it. Evelynne could see how her partner would be attracted. The blonde woman had features in common with Annie, Ally's first lover, and from what Ally had said, there had been no lack of "urges" in that relationship. Evelynne wasn't even particularly jealous about that, since she and Ally had both been very honest with each other about other women they found appealing. And equally honest that neither would do anything to act on those attractions. And she wouldn't have if it hadn't been for— Her eyes widened suddenly, and she whirled on the woman whom Ally had succumbed to.
Joline looked at her, and then her own eyes widened. "No!" she blurted before Evelynne could speak. "I would never! I'd never do anything like that. I wouldn't…" She trailed off, her eyes pleading.
Evelynne stared at her, looking for any hint that the other woman was lying, and finding nothing but honest distress. Guilt, yes, but not because of anything more than being intimate with another woman's partner. "I believe you." Forcing herself to relax slightly, Evelynne faced the doctor once more, and a thought struck her. That time she was up on stage, singing, I remember thinking that she really wasn't like Ally. "I think it happened before," she said slowly. "She did some other things that weren't normal for her, but they weren't as bad as this. Oh, and a friend of mine was telling me about going home with someone, but not remembering much about it, and she hadn't been drinking much, either." Isis, if Jean got this, too…
Dr Turner looked grave. "Be sure to tell the police, and try to get your friend to answer some questions if they ask."
Evelynne nodded. "Can I see Ally?" she asked.
"Soon," Dr Turner promised. "I want Allison to avoid stimuli for a while longer so that we can be sure the sedative has taken effect. About another half hour, and that'll give you time to talk to the police, as well." She turned on her professionally reassuring smile once more. "She'll be fine. Just be patient."
Claire tried to grin at Evelynne as she passed over a cup of coffee, brought from the shop down the street, rather than the highly questionable hospital cafeteria, then sat down herself, cradling her own cup in her hands. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the still, silent figure on the bed. A few tubes and wires were attached around Ally's body, and a monitor beeped quietly to itself. Normally, drug cases, especially ones as "mild" as rohypnol was supposed to be, didn't require a heart monitor, but given Ally's extreme reaction, the doctors didn't want to risk any other complications from the other medication they were putting into her system.
"How's she doing?" Claire asked, breaking the near silence.
"She moved a bit a while ago. That's good, right?" Evelynne asked hopefully.
"That's good," Claire agreed.
Evelynne sighed. "I remember the first time I saw her in the hospital in Marseilles. I'd seen her before, of course, when she had saved me. But that was the first time I really got to look at her. And she was so small, and so still. But there was still this—this energy to her. Like she was just somewhere else, and ready to jump back in at any moment. Sometimes I think I fell in love with her right then. Right now, though…" She trailed off, her gaze settling on her lover briefly before skittering away, and she absently rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. "Now something's wrong."
"I know," Claire said. She saw Evelynne looking at her and hurried to explain. "I mean, you two have this connection. You always know how the other one is feeling. And I can see that you're…" She paused, at a loss for words.
Evelynne seemed to understand anyway. "You're right," she said finally. "It's a gift we have, I suppose." She was silent for a few minutes, thinking. Finally she asked, "When we were at the bar, how did you know where Ally was? You knew she was in the bathroom, but you were outside the whole night."
"I—I don't know," Claire stuttered. Evelynne's expression just invited her to continue. "Well, I—You know how I get those, like, vision and sound attacks. Well, it was sort of like that. I was just trying to think of where Ally was, and then it was like I was actually in the stall, and I saw Ally and she was… um… So anyway, I guess my imagination figured it out and hit me with it like that."
"Hmm. Have you ever done that before? Seen actual things that you recognise?"
"Sometimes," Claire admitted. "Usually I get a whole bunch of pictures, and I can't sort them out. Sometimes, though, it's just the one image. I saw Corey at work once, although I was in class on the other side of town. And this picture down at the art museum." She stopped, embarrassed, but saw Evelynne waiting for her to continue. "Once I saw you and Ally in your bedroom." She frowned. "I remember that I saw the scars on Ally's back, but I didn't actually see them until the other day. Hm, weird. I suppose my imagination just took what Ally had told me and made it up. Although she called you 'Evelynne' in that one, too, which is really strange, since I didn't know until… you know. Maybe I just heard her through the wall."
"Maybe," Evelynne agreed softly. "Or maybe you really are actually seeing things. Real events. Maybe you actually saw Corey at work, and that picture in the gallery."
"What, like ESP or something?" Claire scoffed.
"Remote viewing," Evelynne said calmly. "Or 'extra-optical perception', as Ally calls it when she's trying to be pompous."
"Whatever. I mean, it's not like I completely disbelieve that sort of thing, but come on."
"It's real," Evelynne said. "It's very real. I know people with talents like that."
"You're kidding. Who?"
Evelynne shook her head. "I promised that I wouldn't tell anyone without their permission. I don't even know if what you're experiencing is real." She leaned over to hold Claire's hand. "Just think about it, all right?"
Continued in Chapter 14
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