“I don’t like waiting,” Lulu said. “Every second I wait I get more and more cross.”
“Dammon needs to make us wait to show us he’s powerful.” They were sitting on the leather couched outside Dammon’s office, and Bryce was the only one who looked relaxed. Charlene was in full alert, watching their surrounding and Doug was looking around suspiciously too while cleaning out his ear with his pinky.
Lulu groaned. “Can’t he just show us he’s powerful by making his eyes glow red or something? That would save everyone time. One more minute, I’m going over and kicking down his door.”
“We’re not really in door kicking condition, Lu.” Charlene motioned to the sling her arm was in. Doug was also quite stiff due to the bandages under his t-shirt.
“Fine. Let’s play a game.” Lulu looked around the room. “I spy with my little eye something that is…” Lulu saw a familiar face. “…red. Didn’t I blow you up?”
Collette didn’t react. “Dammon will see you now.”
“Glad you got better!” Lulu headed for the office.
Bryce smiled at her. “You are a lovely vision in one piece.”
“Is she going to try and kill us?” Doug whispered to Charlene as he lugged a metal case along.
“Who knows? This is not a good idea.”
In the office, Dammon was standing behind his desk. “Can I get you all something to drink?”
“Are the drinks free?” Doug asked.
“No. In addition to running a criminal enterprise, I bartend. Tip jar is on the desk.”
“So how much are the drinks?”
Dammon looked to Bryce. “So this was the one worth all the trouble?”
Bryce took a seat. “We like to keep him around for his intense knowledge in astrophysics.”
Doug furrowed his brow. “What’s that?”
“Let’s get to business.” Dammon poured two scotches and walked over to hand Bryce one. “So where is the cube?”
Lulu snatched the scotch from him. “Elza’s girls got it. If it’s dangerous, I’d get it back from them soon because those bitches is crazy.” Lulu took a sip of the drink, and then spit it out on Dammon. “Holy crap, that’s strong!”
Dammon took a handkerchief out and blotted his jacket as he walked back behind his desk. “If my suit is already ruined, I guess there is no harm in getting blood on it… unless you’re offering to get the cube back.”
Bryce laughed. “Heck no; we’re out of the cube business. We have something else, though.” He snapped at Doug.
Doug with painful effort picked up the case and put it on Dammon’s desk and opened it.
“These are prototypes we stole from Ronove that allows a human to move through the wastelands unharmed,” Bryce explained. “It’s how we got out of there. I’m sure that’s worth quite a lot to some governments.”
“You were supposed to bring me the cube.”
“This is better than a cube,” Bryce said.
“It’s a cylinder!” Lulu added. “Cylinder beats cube — ask anyone.”
Dammon was silent a moment. “So you don’t know what ultimately went down at Ronove’s facility?”
Bryce grabbed the drink from Lulu and took a sip. “We just kept our heads down and got the hell out of there when the chaos broke out. You want to know what happened, ask Elza. Her psychos almost got us all killed.”
“Loch’s craft crashed into a mountain. No idea how that happened?”
“Maybe he was drunk,” Lulu suggested.
Dammon looked at the merchandise. “So how much do you expect me to pay for this?”
“Nothing,” Bryce said. “We just want you to give us our money back.”
Dammon was silent for a moment as he looked the group over. His eyes seemed to linger on Doug. Finally, he leaned towards them. “I don’t want to see any of you ever again.”
“But I’m so cute,” Lulu objected.
“It’s a deal,” Bryce said.
Dammon leaned back and hit a couple keys on a computer. “It’s done. Goodbye.”
Bryce nodded and slowly got up and led the way out of the office. In the hallway, Collette paid them no attention as they walked by while Charlene kept an eye on her until she was out of view. No one said a word until they left the building when Doug finally said, “So are we like rich now?”
Bryce checked their account on his handheld computer, and he never did answer Doug as he was too busy laughing.
* * * *
“It is great to see you!” Chimezie exclaimed. “I assume everything went well!”
“It did!” Doug answered. “We’re like–”
Bryce cut him off. “It went well. How is everyone doing here?”
“We are very happy to be here,” Chimezie said. They had rented pretty much all the rooms of a small rundown hotel in the worst part of town to house Hellbender’s new fan club, and most of them seemed to be in hallways talking — even those who didn’t share a language. “We are wondering what to do next.”
“We’ll get on figuring that out,” Bryce said.
“By the way, the man who helped us get off that craft is here to see you. He is in your room.” Chimezie then whispered, “Is he really a man?”
“I don’t think so,” Doug answered.
Bryce, Doug, Charlene, and Lulu headed down the hallway, and everyone greeted them warmly as they passed. “Being a hero sure is fun and all,” Bryce said to his friends, “but how much money can we give these people so we can abandon them on a clean conscience.”
“They could help us,” Doug objected.
“Help us what? Spend money?” Bryce opened the door to their room. Inside was a man looking out the window. “Hey — Ed is it? — we want out. We’re rich now, so we don’t really have any more interest in this whole conflict of the gods or what not.”
“It’s a conflict of devils, not gods.” Ed turned to face them. “You think you can avoid that?”
“We’ll try. And tell that Stan guy thanks for the help but please don’t bother contacting us again either.”
“I wouldn’t worry about running into him again; he’s done with you guys. You served your purpose.”
“You told me this stuff about God and devils was made up,” Doug said, “and there was no point to it.”
“And you didn’t believe me.” Ed smiled. “It’s easy to do things when the devil whispering in your ear telling you what you want to hear, but I wanted to see if you had faith. I wanted to see if you were worth my time.”
“Great; you can have Doug,” Bryce said. “I’m rich now, so I’m go to go buy a new suit and find a nice place to stay.”
“We can’t run from this,” Charlene said.
“On the contrary, didn’t Ed tell us the Trans can’t even tell us apart?” Bryce asked. “They won’t know who to come after.”
“What I said is that if an ant stings you, do you fear just that one ant?”
Doug felt a sense of dread. “You get angry and you smash the whole ant hill.”
“So while it seemed like Doug accomplished something smacking around Loch,” Lulu said, “he’s doomed us all. Super.”
“Unless you fight back.”
Bryce groaned in frustration. “So maybe we can strike against the Trans, but they have plenty of people under their command and we’re just a couple of losers with a few even more losery followers.” He turned to his friends. “Remember Death — the guy who exploded people — he knows who we are and he may be after us for this. We need to take our money and find some place to lay low.”
“Lie low,” Lulu corrected.
Bryce stared at Lulu a moment. “I don’t know; I think I might be correct there.” He turned back to Ed. “Anyway, we’re going to be low through some manner and leave battling gods for the more competent people.”
“You’re it, guys,” Ed said. “Most people alive today made their choice and sided with the demons. There is no turning back for them. You and your new friends are the closest thing there is to a force willing to fight for your world. You either do something, or it falls, for good. Satan got you to stir up the hornets’ nest for some reason, and you can be certain he’ll follow through. Will you?”
Doug stood next to Ed. “I’m fighting this, with or without you guys. I’m not going to go back to being nothing.”
Charlene stood next to him, put her arm around him, and smiled. “I’m with you.”
“And I like doing whatever is the new popular thing,” Lulu announced. “And Bryce is too big of a coward to be on his own, so he’ll join us too.”
Bryce didn’t say a word and walked back out into the hallway. They then heard him yell out, “I’ve decided we must fight back. It took some convincing, but I got my friends to go along with this. So who wants to follow me and be a part of Hellbender and take back this world?”
There was a loud cheer, and Lulu was seething with rage. “Asshole! I’m leader!”
* * * *
For the first time since Charlene could remember, she felt like there was some way this world could seem right. Still, there was something she had to handle first, and it gave her the first real sense of dread she had in some time.
Everyone was sleeping, and she slipped outside. It really was a horrible part of town, and there seemed to be someone around every corner who looked about ready to rob and kill her. She barely gave them attention though, and eventually came to an alleyway far away from the nearest working streetlight.
“Something seems to be on your mind, girl scout.”
Charlene turned around to see a pair of eyes barely visible in the moonlight. “It was never supposed to involve them, Lara. I was just supposed to help you into the military base and disappear with you guys.”
Lara chuckled. “And it matters to you that it involves them?”
She did feel silly, but though there was no rational reason for it, she felt sure of herself. Or she wanted to. “I want out.”
“Okay. You’re out. You know where to find us if you change your mind.”
“Yes, what do you expect? Elza never needed to fight to keep people loyal, she just supplies the truth. You can go back to your friends and play house and act like your actions matter, but how long will that last? You can’t unknow what you know, and you’ll only be able to believe the illusion for so long.”
Charlene was quiet for a moment. She didn’t have a response; she just wanted Lara to be wrong. “You ever wonder if there is something more to this than Elza tells us?”
“Constantly. But just because you want something to be true, doesn’t make it true.”
“So what are you all going to do now?”
“What does it matter? You’re out. There’s a war coming for this entire universe and more, and you can either be a part of the fight or just collateral damage. So, go have fun with your friends; I’ll see you when you tire of the fairy tale.”
Lara walked off leaving Charlene alone in the darkness. She wanted to be like Doug and believe they could fight and there would be some purpose and some end to it, but she feared Lara was right. She was too far gone to wallow in such ignorance again.
When she left the alleyway, a man called out something lewd to her. She pulled out her gun and shot him in the face. Then she continued on like nothing happened, because nothing did.
* * * *
“I don’t remember the gates of hell being decorated with bunnies.”
Elza gave the small metal cube to Stan who looked at it with interest. “It seems so feeble now.”
“Of course, you’ve given the others something else to fear.”
“The fools thought they could run away from what they are; I just had to show them the futility of that.” He looked into the cube, beyond its physical form to the eternal void it concealed. And he smiled. “There’s only one end to this.”