Isla de la Paz, Mexico
Army vehicles of all kind – from helicopters, to trucks, ambulances, tanks, jeeps – were moving in and out the once infamously known as the Vegas of Mexico…and also as the Pit.
Not even New York in its darkest hours had seen such a massive amount of vehicles. If someone decided to launch a land attack to the Mexican nation right now, they wouldn’t find a lot of resistance. Even aviation was involved. The city’s small airport had been taken over for the large transportation planes, there were hospital tents everywhere, like a second city and the medical staff would wear level 4 biohazard suits while the military had opted for NBC suits.
Kevin Marsh was impressed: he admitted the bias with himself, he couldn’t imagine the Mexicans being so efficient at setting up a containment cordon so tight on such a short notice. The guys at CIA must be having a field day while looking at the satellite imagery.
After all, how many times in 21st century had a whole city been declared effectively quarantined? Outside of cheap movies, that is.
But, for now, the man’s most immediate concern regarded the men sitting at the other side of the table. It felt like testifying at a Grand Jury… Only, Kevin was fairly sure that the wrong answer would earn him a bullet in the head.
There ‘committee’ was composed by a 3-stars General of the GAFE (Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales, the top Special Forces), a brass from the CISEN (Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional, the local version of CIA), and one from AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigación, the counter-crime superpolice).
Kevin was glad he had given himself as the whole operation’s commander. He had the sensation that Budweiser would’ve been skinned alive if he had tried to take responsibility.
“Mr. Marsh...” said the GAFE military, visibly trying to keep his composure, while fighting to find the right words without shouting his lungs off his chest. “Mr. Marsh…”
Kevin wanted so bad to make a joke and ease the tension, but again he thought about that bullet just waiting for him. No one but the Mexican Government and his friends in high places knew he and the others were here. They could disappear and no one could make a fuss or cause a problem to the legitimate Government of this country.
“Mr Marsh,” said the AFI guy, in a more conciliatory tone, “When our Government gave you the green light to come and rescue your…friends,” the way he pronounced the word made it clear what he thought about animals in general “…Well, sending 827,449 human being into a panic-stricken coma and killing 1,321 wasn’t exactly in the conditions.”
“As we’re speaking,” the CISEN guy said, “the Ambassador, the Secretary of National Defense and our President are sweating their way through a plausible explanation for countless families, in order to avoid the most spectacular diplomatic crisis since 9/11.”
At last, the GAFE General found his words. “And you know what’s worse? We have no one to blame.
“We cannot blame terrorists, because we didn’t find the least evidence of nuclear, biological or chemical warfare. And something that could strike on such a massive scale, with such a precision and coordination would leave something, anything to be measured.”
“What we have, instead,” the CISEN guy went on, “is a city filled with madmen, comatose men, injuried and a whole bunch of people died of pure fright –that is, if the coroners will confirm each single body.”
The General shook his head. “Even if you were the responsible, even if you carried an airborne Ebola Fear or a Terror Flu, the Delasangre security proves that you had not the number and the means to contaminate one city on such a short notice. Not to mention that you had not the time, as your Alpha Team was arrested upon entering Isla de la Paz and immediately put under security in an airtight room. But you must admit, it is so much convenient that something similar happened at Camino Real, home to the Delasangre Family, where a group of their paramilitary troops killed each other in a panic frenzy and took down the elder Delasangre as well. Much convenient, for now there will be no one to carry on their vengeance on you, right?”
The ex USSOCOM, now Lucky Charm Grove head security, nodded. “You are right, it is much convenient. But as for your concerns, you are also right: we are not involved in any possible way. The only weapon of destruction we used was the one installed on our car, and that too got destroyed by the enemy forces before they started shooting at each other. We only own a civilian helicopter and a handful of conventional light weapons. All material you own now, since you confiscated everything. And it’s my guess you didn’t find anything pertinent to what happened.”
“I’d watch my mouth if I were in your position, young man,” the General said. Kevin couldn’t stop thinking this guy really looked like that ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross character.
Kevin returned the other’s cold glare. “Sir, with all due respect, my team and I are innocent
and you know it. So, unless you are planning to detain us for the rest of our lives, and no one in the world could prevent you, I would like you to return at least our helicopter, or grant us a ride aboard any mean of your choice back to US.” He stood up. “Look, I am not some insensitive gringo
gloating over your loss for the American fun of it. We’re talking about a city and a crisis of unprecedented proportions, but you and I know that any made-up, farfetched, blatantly absurd spin you’ll feed the media will do. Because it’s simply too big
“You cannot hide such a number of corpses, and even less such a vast number of potential witnesses. For now, you can only hope that no one among them will ever recover from their trauma, or that, at least, it will take many years to recover. Time enough to work out a good damage control. Time enough to say that Isla de la Paz is radioactive or something, isolate it so that no one will suspect…
“In other words, if you fear we will say anything to the media, well it’s not the case and you know why? Because those poor animals we rescued want only their old life back, or at worst find a new family after being smuggled into that place for the Pet Fight Clubs. And my animal friends
want only to put everything behind them. And as for me and my colleagues, we know that if we start blabbering we will conveniently disappear. Not to mention that, and forgive me guys,” he looked at the three men straight in the eyes, showing an expression of pure contempt, “I am extremely happy
that all those people somehow, finally paid
for their crimes. They would visit Isla de la Paz to see animals suffer and die, and in my book that makes them Nazis. Sue me.”
Bullet or not, he was glad he had said it.
“I cannot believe you did it!” Sabrina said…well, her projection did. It was rare to see the black cat angry, and she really looked mad now, just like when Tarot had crossed the worlds. “The consequences will ripple through the years, the otherworld is restless as if a tsunami swept it! What did you think
you were doing, Tarot?!”
For her part, the Pomeranian looked calm, even laid back, as she answered, “I instructed Kevin (the dog) to draw the folding space symbol, to allow a temporary contact with the Otherworld.”
Sabrina snorted like a bull. “Tarot…”
This time the golden-furred female threw a genuinely upset glance at her old friend. “In the name of ethics, I didn’t make that symbol permanent
or that city would be spiritually radioactive forever. We have no right to be judge and jury, I know that. the only lesson I could inflict to those evil people was a peek at what they had done. Not my fault if they were too weak to stand the consequences of their actions.”
Sabrina decided this was useless. Her friend had changed, was still changing. And whatever was wrong with her couldn’t be dealt with through this contact. She shook her head. “Tarot, just tell me one thing: it was for Peanut?”
This time, it was the dog who avoided looking into Sabrina’s eyes. “No…and yes. He was going to be safe, one way or the other, but the thought of what they wanted to do to him, of seeing him thrown into that…place…for the sadistic fun of humans who had abandoned everything that makes that species noble, well…”
Sabrina sighed. “I understand your passion, Tarot, but the passion cannot control our actions.”
Sabrina nodded. “We’ll speak of this when you come home.” And on that, she vanished in a wisp of wind.
“Man, did she look nervous,” the cat said. He was sitting at what he hoped was a safe distance. His black and white fur was interrupted by a brown spot on his right eye.
Tarot turned to the cat. “She is right, Riley, what I did was close to unforgivable: Our planes should never touch. The last time it happened, in the place I was supposed to guard together with my friend, the consequences came close to catastrophic. And the cause of it was unintentional—“
“Nonsense,” Riley interrupted her.
The cat otherwise known as Riddle stood up. “You heard me the first time, lady. Look at me: I was born
at Isla de la Paz, and when my talents started showing, what I did? Used them to buy myself a comfy life, despite knowing everything
about the horrors that spawned the ghosts you summoned.
“And you know why? Because when you are an animal at Isla de la Paz, you will not find a loving family, you will not find food that isn’t a drug-laced trap, you won’t end up in a shelter that at least can give you TV. No, you grow up knowing that one day you will die a horrible death. It rubs off on you, becomes part of you. It steals what’s good in you.
“You spoke about this Babylon Gardens place. You know what is that, to the likes of me? A fairy tale, the promised land, a fata morgana. If I hadn’t seen that Peanut and Grape with my own eyes, I would’ve never believed love existed at all…
“So yes, you did the right thing. You showed me my errors, you showed everyone
. Too bad for them if they were cowards to the bone.” He grinned. “And you didn’t even use a magical lasso.”
Tarot started walking toward the camp. She didn’t want to argue, especially not in defense of her doing. Sabrina was right, she would have to deal with her turmoil, and the sooner the better… “What will you and Darius do now?” she asked to change topic.
Riddle shrugged. “Darius needs me more than ever now. He too met the spirits of those he had killed, and the thing shook him bad. And a cage at the shelter won’t do him any good.”
“So you’re planning to escape?”
The cat chuckled. “Such a big word. We’re going to explore the world on our own, this time as friends, no longer as King of Champions and Shadow King. We will keep ourselves out of trouble and we will earn our living in a honest way. Of course, as long as we don’t become plot devices or somesuch,
” he added quickly.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Riddle put up his paws in mock self-defense. “With all due respect, ma’am, you did really more than enough as it is.”
The voice came as if someone had put a wall of cotton between him and the rest of the world. “Kevin?”
He so wanted to ignore that voice, and get back to sleep, but the voice grew stronger and eventually he understood the only way to make it stop was to open his eyes…
“Kevin, how are you?”Friggin’ fine!
He wanted to say, but only a groan escaped is throat. I’ve been punched almost to death, my ribs hurt like heck, mu teeth hurts like heck, I am sure one ear will be floppy forever and I don’t think I can…see…
But he managed to open his eyes, though not wide enough as he wanted. “…fine,”
he muttered through a weak smile.
He could see, and he could see Fido, and Ralph, his old teacher Bud…and Peanut and Grape.
The Doberman, laying in a bed, in a tent, had an arm in traction, a cast was protecting his ribs (it itched Holy Dog!
), his eyes were still swollen, a small cast kept his damaged ear erect and he had a sort of muzzle around his snout. Enough to make him pant to cool off and mutter some words.
Fido was hesitant to even pat him, fearing to cause further damage. “We did it. And you were brave like no one else, you big lug.”“…yay.”
“I’ll recommend you for a promotion,” Sergeant Ralph said. “And a medal, too. Just don’t let it get over your head, okay?”“…no way, Shahge.”
Then it was Bud’s turn. He squeezed Kevin’s thigh. “You contributed to save many, many innocent lives, including my son’s and my daughter’s. I’ll never be grateful enough.”“Mah duty, shah…”
Grape bent over and kissed Kevin’s nose tip. “Come visit us when you’re back in shape, okay?”“…kay.”
“Guys,” Kevin Marsh said, entering the tent. “The authorities decided to let us go, on the ground we shall never set foot on Mexican ground ever again, no matter what. We’re officially personae non gratae, but at least they can’t ground us. We will be leaving in a hour. Kevin will be moved in an ambulance to the helicopter.”
Everyone but Kevin threw their arms in the air and went “YAY!”
Peanut broke his hug with Grape and ran out of the tent.
“Tegan!” He called out. “Tegan, we leave in one hour! We’re going home!”
The cat turned. A soft breeze ruffled her fur, while the Sun kept moving toward the horizon. Her eyes were sad.
Peanut frowned, puzzled. “Tegan, what’s up? Aren’t you happy?”
She smiled weakly and nodded. “I am.” And yet she kept her eyes glued to the rocky ground.
Peanut put a paw over her shoulder. “You look sad.”
The Maine Coon shook her head. “I’m not, I just…*sigh* you and Grape are back together now. And I…” She bent over and kissed his lips. Just a brush, a peck, but it was enough to make Peanut blush like a pepper and go BSOD.
This time Tegan chuckled. “Sorry, fangirl thing. Always wanted to know how it felt. With you, I mean.” She turned toward the sun, the golden light bathing her body in an almost ethereal hue. “I will go back home, to my family, and…and I don’t know if Elliot will stay true to what we said, in that dream…if it was a dream…”
Peanut walked until he was next to her. “Did he say he loved you?”“…yes.”
“Like…he meant it?”
Tegan nodded. At least, that was what she wanted
to believe. She just couldn’t stand if Elliot kicked her back into ‘friend zone’, even if she hadn’t the right to impose him—
“Then you have nothing to fear.” Gone was the happy puppy she’d always known. He was really talking like a mature dog would do, like a Fido… “He was sincere, Tegan, believe me. Grape too was so scared when she confessed her feelings for me. And I hadn’t even been kidnapped then, I had just told her I was ready to get out of her life if she wanted to stay with Max. Heh, it was as if I had told her I’d run from home.
“Believe me. It’s when you’re afraid for someone you love that you’re really sincere. When you fear you will never see that someone again, you realize what really matters.”
The cat smiled, hugging her tail. “You always know how to say the right thing, you know?”
He put a paw behind his head. “Wish Grape told me that.”
This time, Tegan laughed, heartily welcoming the relief. “Oh, Kitty! If that’s the worst one in your relationship, I’d trade place any moment!” She patted his back. “Now let’s go. I want to spend the next hours back home sleeping like a rock… By the way, do you mind if I sleep next to you?”
“I guess we can make an exception,” Grape said, making then turn. Peanut was about to tackle her again, but stopped when his mate handed him her phone. “Guess you wanted to see them.”“MOM! DAD!”
Peanut barked, pressing his snout against the screen. “I missed you so much, too! And I missed little Martin, and Dayshaun, and Tarot, and Parnok, and Louise, and Nutella! We are coming home, did you know?”
Jill Sandwich nodded. “Just hurry up, love: we’re under siege, everyone wants to welcome you back.”
“Be back soon, promise promise!” The hound licked the screen in a doggy kiss then handed the phone back to Grape. “Thank you.”
Making a face, she took it and used a tissue to wipe it clean. “It was a touchscreen. Ew.”
It was…strange, to think it was over for good.
Estrella Delasangre sat on the cot in the tent they had erected for her. Two armed guards stood outside, but at this point why care?
She was the last of her Family. Her criminal empire was gone, everything she had a right to inherit was lost. She was sure the Government would declare Isla de la Paz inhabitable until the desert claimed it, and by then the luxury island would be turned into a shade of her former glory…
And the Delasangre had no one to blame but themselves. She was the last and she would endure whatever fate would throw at her. She knew this day would come, though not under such…peculiar circumstances.
At least, the Pet Fight Club business in this part of Mexico was over, and she had made it to save two innocent lives. She could walk this new path with a lighter conscience, hoping her mother would be forgiven for doing the same, before being killed by the forces of her own daughter. Irony at its best.
She only wished she had a second chance to do more to purge herself from her affiliation with Marcela, for benefitting of her gift bought with the blood of so many innocents…
“Are you being sincere on that?” asked a voice…behind her! “No! Do not turn, Estrella.”
The woman stopped in mid-gesture. She wondered who it was. It wasn’t a human, that much could tell. Whoever it was, it must be on behalf of her captors, for the guard would have barged in already on an unauthorized entry. “Yes, I am being sincere. It’s not much what I owe, but I want to use it to amend to my sins. I will even drop my family name. I want a fresh start, if I ever deserved one.”
After a minute of silence, the mysterious voice said, “Good. Of course, you must work hard to deserve forgiveness, but I can tell you’re off to a good start. Just be patient, your occasion will come soon.”
This time, Estrella turned…and all she got to see was nothing but a glowing set of green eyes, suspended in mid-air, before those too disappeared…
Milton Mansion, Babylon Gardens
“I must say,” Keene Milton was saying, looking through the window while Mr. Steward was transporting the boxes into a SUV parked just outside the garage, “I wasn’t exactly sure it’d be a good idea at first. Dad didn’t trust humans to do this job, but that’s because he was obsessed like no one else with this human/animal reconciliation thing. And not in some mumbo-jumbo spiritual sense.
“But after seeing to what length you’d go to defend our kind, I decided you are just the perfect choice for this job. I need someone who would do literally anything
, and I fear I do not have the…basic requirements”
“Not to mention that, should anything happen to you, or to your brethren, your empire would collapse and with it the dream of your father,” said Martin Foster, standing behind the ferret.
Keene nodded. “That’s another reason I wanted this merging between our three firms –ours, yours and Gottschalk’s. I don’t know if he can carry on the reconciliation plan, but I’m sure he’ll manage our fortunes in the animals’ best interests should something happen to both
of us. For the little I understand so far, we’re dealing with the equivalent of a nuke. Do you think you can make it?”
Martin nodded, his face a neutral mask. “I can’t promise anything, except that I will do my best with these ancient secrets.” He thought about the griffin and the dragon figures carved in that temple. He thought of Pete… “But I promise I will do my best to make sure to help more and more innocents until I got the means to do it.”