Chapter 3: In the Arms of Home
For a fleeting moment, he swears that he sees a vision of an unexpected, faraway place. Erika's house. In her bedroom, and somehow at the same time, the green room attached off the back of the home.
And somewhere else, somewhere unfamiliar. An orchard, almost a fairy tale landscape of fruit trees, flowers, and fountains. It was brief, and distant in his tunneled mind, but it was there. He saw it.
Cory opens his eyes, vision cloudy and blurry, squinting up into the daylight. Blue skies over leaning, swaying pines, and Aubna's face as a rush of relief flushes through it. He leans to the side and spits out a loose mouthful of blood.
"What happened?' he chokes, brushing blood away from his eyes.
"I don't know," Aubna says, hushed.
He holds his scorched arm up to his face. "He grabbed me…I felt like…like I exploded."
"Cory, it looked horrible! I thought you-"
"-And then…and then I think…" he stutters, and looks up into her eyes, staring, " I think you did the right thing."
"You would have done the right thing. It would have been okay." Alert, he pulls himself up into a sitting position, noticing Jack still lying comatose on the ground. "What happened to him?"
"I hit him. Hard," Aubna says, voice wavering.
"Did you shoot him?"
"No, I-I don't have the gun. I didn't have to time to get it. And then I thought I was too late…I should have shouted at him. I thought I was too late. Another second of that and you could have been dead."
He holds a hand up to quiet her, still looking over at Jack's body. He realized that it may be nothing more, for better or worse. Jack's head had crashed down on a rock, and there was an oozing wound on the side of his head.
"Aub, I think you might've uh…done him in."
Cory jumps, crawling backwards from the body as a white aura begins to seep out from the man's skin, creating a faint cloud around the still figure. "What the hell is going on?"
The silent white cloud grows brighter, enveloping the silent Jack in an otherworldly cloud before they can have a say in the matter. Cory slowly rises to his feet and stands next to Aubna, looking down at the ghostly scene.
"What is that thing?" Aubna hisses.
"Don't look at me."
Like acid, the white aura sizzles down and away, dissolving the body down into the ground in a matter of seconds, leaving nothing behind but a heap of empty clothes. He's been erased.
Aubna and Cory stand still for ten seconds after the show ends, waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for the next surprise to rear its head.
"I want to say I didn't see that coming," Cory whispers.
"But I'm not surprised," Aubna finishes.
The white glow fully disappears. "If it's the last we have to see of him, I couldn't care less."
Cory takes a few steps forward and kneels in front of the empty pile of clothes. He unbuttons the various jackets and pockets and begins a rummaging search.
"You think he had it on him?" Aubna asks.
"Don't touch anything!" she warns.
Out from the inner breast pocket of the jacket, Cory pops out a small leather sack, just a miniscule little slip. It drops to the ground. Delicately, Cory holds it between his thumb and finger, feeling out a guess for what it may contain.
He snaps open the case and shakes its lone content out onto the dirt. A small, masterfully cut blue crystal.
In relief, he lets himself fall backwards to the ground, lying with his arms spread. "Oh thank god."
Aubna hurries over and nudges the crystal back into his carrying case, being careful not to let it touch her bare skin; they have no idea who sort of power they might be dealing with. "It's the bullet?"
"As advertised." He lets out a wobbling laugh of satisfaction, closing his eyes. "We did it."
Relaxation leads to curiosity, and the surprising lack of pain he was feeling. He holds his arm up in front of his face, and sees that the deep burn scorched into his arm is disappearing at an unnatural rate.
"Well that's a relief," he whispers, letting his arm flop back down at his side. A deep breath in and out through his nose. "Where should we go, Aub?"
"You mean where, away from this field?"
"Well…home, I suppose."
"Home? I thought you were dying to stay away from there, I thought you liked it out here."
She sits down next to him. "I've got the itch back. Sometimes you need a little taste of home, something familiar. I can always come back here, it's not going anywhere." She pauses. "Are you sure you're fine now?"
"I'm…yeah, I'm fine." He rubs his face, scratching at the blood drying beneath his nose. "I don't really want to go back to the Copper Cricket yet. Let's go for a little adventure."
"After all of that?"
He sits up and points towards the rising ridge above them, peeking up above the trees. He feels a giddy sense of security and resolve; anything is possible now.
"Let's go up there. See what's on the other side, just for fun."
They hike up the rocky ride, wide, jagged stones dividing up patch of grass. High and desolate traversing.
I need to keep my mind occupied. If I have to spend fifteen months here waiting, then wouldn't that mean that once I got home, I'd be doing it fifteen months in the past. That's more than a year of waiting, of free, useless time. Is that how it works?
Worn out, Aubna leans down against a high boulder. Cory stops.
"Here's what we'll do," he narrates. "We stay here for a few more days, just to make sure no other surprises pop up. Then we go back to your house – if you still want to go back – and we make, like an anonymous tip-off to the police about the whole MM thing. Tell them about that place in the desert. Get all those people off our backs for good and stop whatever they've been doing."
"And then what about you?"
"Well, I don't know. I can't go home."
"I'm sure there's some way you could stay with me, we can think up a good story."
"What, that you're adopting me?" he laughs. "I'm practically an adult."
"Exactly, so what? Say you're one of my friends, and you're going to the university or something, and just…stay there at the house until your time's up. That would…that'd be really nice," she adds softly, "having someone else around the place."
"Do you have the room?"
"Do we have the room?" she repeats, stifling a smirk. "The folks who built the house must've had fifteen kids, Cory, there's room. We could have brought the whole gang if they were…if they were ah, present."
Cory pats his pocket. "Got a good hiding spot there, safes or something?"
Aubna nods. "Oh yeah. No one's making off what that, I'll guarantee it."
A funicular railway runs back down a steep, stony hill, carrying passengers from one end of a hiking trail back to the bottom of the mountain. At the upper platform landing, Aubna and Cory climb aboard the gondola, a small box of windows, benches and rails. A control room box is separated from the cabin, but it doesn't appear that the car is controlled from the gondola. Out in the middle of nowhere, it's an automated service.
They take a seat on the bench, peering down the straight tracks sloping down the mountain.
"Woo," Aubna cheers lightly, "never been in one of these before."
"Never seen one before."
After a minute, a bell on the platform sounds, and the gondola cranks to life, slowly churning down the rails at a flat angle. In comes the sun.
"Any clue where we are?" Cory asks her.
"Not one," she shrugs. "What should we do when we get home, what do you want to see?"
"Oh. Doesn't matter to me, I don't care. Just…whatever you like. Whatever you want to show off."
Aubna smiles and relaxes in the bench, taking in the view as they roll gently downhill, wheels carefully clicking on the track beneath them.
A noise of metal on metal sounds from the small control box. They each look over their shoulders. The box door opens, and General Vero rolls out in a wheelchair, pointing a pistol in front of him. He was too low to the floor to be seen through the glass above the metal paneling.
"Well well," he murmurs.
"And what a lovely, lucky day it is indeed."