Iron Rose Bleeding

Chapter 2

Anne Azel

To: Inga, Lisa, and Susan, thanks for your help.

The Anne Azel's World web site is now found at

Note To The Reader: All the information used in this story about trends and concerns on our planet is current and accurate data. In the next fifty years, our world will change completely.

These are the events as we know them.

We recorded them factually and objectively.

And now we report them to you.

Courtney sat still in the chair afraid of what might happen next . Punga had not sat down, her remaining standing was a reflection of her method of control. That is, Punga did not control directly but passively. She stood silently observing Courtney Hunter. At last, she spoke. "Why?" It was a long speech reduced to its bare essence.

Courtney swallowed and squirmed in her seat. She did not wish to tell the truth but was afraid to be caught in a lie. "I don't know." This too was a short speech with a long meaning mostly to do with guilt and avoidance. It was not a very satisfactory answer because it stemmed from a fear of expressing knowledge. And Punga was not satisfied.

Courtney would have liked to have stood up again so as not to remain at a disadvantage but Punga was too close, not so much looming but hovering near. Courtney was trapped in her seat by Punga's position. If she stood it would mean she would be face to face with the annoyed woman. That would be a worse position than the one she was already in for she found in Taylor Alexandria Punga a dangerous fascination.

Taylor Alexandria Punga was not satisfied with Hunter's explanation. She stood close, hovering and waiting and finally, in order not to be observed growing old, Courtney gave a longer speech that was more satisfying but shorter in its meaning.

"I have worked here for two years archiving material that you send me. The range and extent of your research is amazing and yet you don't do anything with it. You live surrounded by security and wealth and yet you have no occupation or income. You know everyone and no one knows you. I wanted to know."

Punga nodded, a smile not quite making it to her lips. "Am I not entitled to my privacy?"

It was a weighted question and it dropped heavily from a great height because Punga had the advantage of standing and Courtney Hunter did not. It was a great disadvantage. Courtney stammered. "Of course you are. I realize I was wrong to come in here..."

"Nonsense," Punga stated, correcting her employee. "You would not have done it if you had not thought it the thing you wanted to do and so your action was right for you. What was wrong for you was getting caught."

Courtney laughed and then jumped up with a gasp as something seemed to touch her mouth. The wall she hit was not a wall but Punga. This caused her, Courtney that is, to stumble and step aside. She acted skittish and went to put her back against the wall. Punga observed this. She also observed that the woman's golden hair was as silky and rich as the wall covering.

"What the hell is that?" Courtney demanded, using the back of her hand to wipe away the touch from her lips.

"What?" asked Punga, which is not a question at all but a type of period that ends any enquiry.

"The thing in the room that keeps touching me?"

This time Taylor Alexandria Punga did smile, but only briefly. It was cut short by a briefer explanation. "It is a type of security system."

"Doesn't it bother you?" Courtney asked in annoyance.

"No. I was meant to be here. You are not. You were about to tell me why you really came in here."

Courtney's deep green eyes lifted and so made contacted with the brilliant aqua ones that observed her. In the silence, Courtney could hear voices.

She is more aware than I would have suspected.

Perhaps we should recheck our findings.

She was Tap's responsibility and so Tap must say.

Courtney drew herself up to her full height, which was not so tall but she wore her body well because her body was fit and so she looked taller and more confident than she was. "I came to learn about you because you fascinate me and now too, I want to know about the voices."

Punga nodded. "Then you will. But it will not be easy and having started, you may not stop."

'And having started you may not stop' was what Taylor Alexandria Punga had said and yet Courtney Hunter had stopped only a short time later. She had been left in a room that Punga had taken her to and she had been there for a good time. The door was locked and there were no windows to frame an escape through.

It was, as conventional rooms go, very unconventional. The walls were rag rolled in a misty swirl of blues, greys and lavender. The floor was grey stone. Along the length of one wall a channel of water ran through, bouncing over smooth grey river stones. There was no furniture but in one corner there was a neat stack of pillows and sheets in grey silk.

There were two alcoves. One was small and had a rod to hold clothes. It was empty. The other was big and held a toilet and a shower but no basin or mirror. The toilet was not a toilet but a stainless steel basin recessed into the floor which one squatted over. It was designed in an eastern style and there was a stainless steel button on the wall to flush the basin clean. The shower too was strange. There was no curtain or door. Just a stainless steel basin to stand in and the water came through holes in a ceiling fixture. It too was stainless steel as were the hot and cold water controls on the wall. In this room, the tiled walls were steel-grey as were the towels that were stacked neatly on a recessed shelf. No doors, except the one that was locked, no windows, no furniture. It was a no room and Courtney felt the no.

For a while, she was grudgingly content with the no. After all, she had trespassed. But after awhile the no became intolerable and then simply rude. Eventually, it became frightful. She was not prepared to be held as a prisoner.

As Courtney Hunter saw it, and she saw the situation very clearly having had considerable time to see it, there were only two ways in and out. The first was the door which was locked and the second was where the water exited. Courtney decided to go with the flow.

The channel was three feet wide and about one foot deep once the layer of stones had been removed. The stones were removed by Courtney Hunter and beyond she could see that the water flowed through a metal screen and then dropped.

Courtney considered. It was unlikely that the house had different water channels. More than likely the one that she crossed in the lobby was the same system. She thought about how this might work while she used the screw driver on her Swiss Army Knife to remove the metal screen. She lay down in the channel and had a look. Dimly, she could make out a large holding tank. On the other side was another rectangle of light framed by green plants where the over flow was escaping. She smiled. Her room must back onto the inner courtyard of the house.

She went feet first, which as her mother would have said was her way, to step where angels feared to tread. It was a squeeze but Courtney Hunter was, as mentioned, both small and fit and so with a push she did fit and splashed into the cold water tank below. The water was icy and dark and smelt of plastic and mold.

Courtney felt that she would have molded too had she remained in the unconventional room a minute longer. So she had left and now found herself in a very cold and not very pleasant place. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, her mother would have said.

She wasted no time in swimming to the other side and grabbing hold of the grate. It was going to be harder this time, and it had not been easy last time, to remove the screws as they were on the outside. She used her knife to bend some of the wire enough that she could wiggle her fingers through. It was a tight fit and only accomplished because she was so cold and wet. Slowly, shaking with cold, she worked the screws loose, bending the grate back as she went.

Almost too cold to move, like a lizard seeking sun, she slid from her prison into the light. For a few minutes, she lay on a rock in the warmth of the rays that beamed thought the glass above into the inner courtyard. Then she slid off her rock and back into the cold water.

She knew her situation was desperate and so threw her sleep and exhaustion back like a blanket. The aluminum grate needed to be replaced so that they would think she had not got this far. She wanted them to be delayed searching the holding tank for her. She knew that she could not continue her escape until the sun had set.

This accomplished, she moved with relief back onto the warm land to rest again.

Taylor Alexandria Punga looked at the rocks that had been removed from the stream of water. She then looked at the grate that had been removed and set aside. Her eyes went back to the rocks. They had been very carefully arranged to spell, FUCK YOU.

She has bested us.

It is amazing.

Very resourceful.

Punga took off her shoes, dropped to her belly and wiggled through the hole. Head first was her way although at this particular moment she was not necessarily using her head. She hit the cold water with a gasp and felt immediately her body heat bleeding, haemorrhaging out. Several strong strokes took her to the over flow gate at the far side. Her fingers, now blue, wrapped around the metal and shook the frame. It was screwed in place. Courtney Hunter had not got through and she had not returned to the room so she must have drowned.

Punga dived, and dived, and dived. Then she once again held onto the gate, her strength and heat completely gone. She wasn't sure she could make it back across the tank and force her body back up and through the water to the room. She shook the grate with all her strength hoping to dislodge the metal.

The rattle woke Courtney Hunter from her exhausted stupor. She looked through the branches and saw Punga's hand wrapped around the bent grill. The hand was an ugly shade of grey blue. A memory stirred in Courtney's mind.

"Are you alright?" Courtney had asked last winter as Taylor Alexandria had staggered into the library.

"Cold," the woman had revealed on this their second meeting. "I got too cold." Courtney had helped her boss to a chair and had brought her a hot cup of tea. Taylor Alexandria Punga had recovered quickly, thanked her and had left. It was then that Courtney had found the red tag that had fallen from Punga's pocket. It was this tag that had planted the seed of an idea that had brought Courtney and now Punga to the water grate. Now once again, Punga was in trouble.

"Hold on," Courtney ordered, as she knelt in the water and started to remove the screen once more. It was easier this time. The screws were not in as tight and she was working from the outside. She could not see Punga from where she worked. She could see only her hand. It was now white and claw-like. The last screw fell into the water, and Courtney reached around the screen to grab Taylor Alexandria Punga's wrist. It was ice cold. Dead weight.

Courtney sat on her bum, placed her feet on either side of the grate and pulled. An arm and shoulder appeared. Gasping with the effort, Courtney let go with one hand and made a grab for Punga's collar. Gradually, inch by inch she pulled the body from the water. It was a body but not a person. It was still and cold and unreactive. The body did not feel like the warm body of Punga but the cold body of death. Struggling, she pulled the long form clear of the tank and up on the warm rock ledge.

She remembered the first time she had met Taylor Alexandria Punga it had been hot. They had met on a terrace, in San Francisco. They'd had coffee, Punga sniffing at hers but drinking very little. They had gone through Courtney Hunter's resume. Her life, reduced to two dimensional symbols on flat white. It was a good resume but a boring life. There was another side to Courtney but it wasn't on her resume, it was in her heart.

Punga was offering a fantastic salary for archival work. A few years in the job and Courtney would be out of debt or at least only in the debt that it is appropriate to be in.

"I do not want you. You are too qualified for the job." It was an arrow through Courtney's dreams. Its point was ludicrous and so she protested.

"But I want the job. I can handle it easily and the money is good." This was true. Looking back, however, after the incident in Geneva, which has not yet come into this story, she wondered if even then the attraction to the enigma that was Punga had not been there.

"You will leave for a better position and I need someone to stay."

"I WILL stay." And so they had come to an arrangement then and there. It was a good arrangement and it had lasted two years, one month and eighteen days. Then it had changed.

Later, Courtney remembered pulling Punga from the holding tank as a scene in sharp contrasts like a Escher drawing in black and white, perspectives distorted. The body was cold, the rock warm, the shadows dark, the sunlight brilliant. Her emotions were fired by worry, and the dread of the guns that were trained on her, and there was an ice ball in her gut. She had been taken away. She had protested, wanting to stay with Punga. Her protests went unheard.

Once again she was returned to the room. The grate and stones had been replaced and the stone floor was dry. Had she escaped? The no of this room was even louder now. This time Punga's annoying security system was on. Like a thousand invisible bodies pushing against her. If she tried to go near the water channel, the force pushed her back. Eventually, she accepted the no grudgingly. She showered and found to her surprise a red jump suit lying on the stack of pillows. She switched from towel to jumpsuit and slept amongst the pillows in the corner, emotionally and physically drained.

When the alarm had sounded after Courtney's escape, security personnel had charged about knowing only that there was a security breach. Then that Punga was somehow trapped in the water recycling system. Lastly, that the intruder had her in the courtyard. They had charged in, assault rifles ready, fanning out across the space like shot. To their surprise, the intruder was Courtney Hunter, whom many of them knew, and she held Punga gently in her arms.

They were separated. The bond between the two still and silent women cut with surgical precision. Punga was carried gently away. Courtney was taken roughly away. One silent and still, one turned loud and fighting her keepers. They were confused. How had this happened? Nothing like this had happened before. Courtney Hunter had out smarted them and this should not have happened. Stranger still, Courtney Hunter had not made good her escape but had pulled Taylor Alexandria Punga from the holding tank. This could not possibly have happened and yet it had.

What are we to do with her?

It seems most regrettable.

Termination is for the best.

Chapter 3

original fiction index | xena homepage | what's new |