|Primary Characters:||Cade, Eddie, Joshua|
|Warning:||some sex implied, mind control|
|Description:||Cade is investigating a cult that seems to have Gua involvement. Soon he’s is in over his head. Someone needs to save him.|
The house didn’t look all that ominous, but if the info Eddie had found was correct, dozens of young people, and not so young, and been drawn here, never to be heard of again. Neither Eddie nor Cade doubted that Gua activity was behind the disappearances. So here he was, The Twice Blessed Man on another mission to save the Earth. It still felt just as unreal as it always had.
As a child, Cade had occasionally managed to get his hands on some comic books. And naturally, he had watched Star Trek on tv, on the few occasions his step-father was somewhere else. Sometimes he had imagined himself the hero with the laser gun in his hand, slaying monsters and saving scantily dressed girls from space pirates. The reality of being a monster-chasing hero wasn’t quite as romantic or exciting.
What Cade hadn’t realized was that in the real world, your life was on the line, and worse still, those of your loved ones. Also, he had never imagined he would be a hunted fugitive, harassed by the people he was trying to save. And on top of everything, his lonely fate had been predicted by Nostradamus hundreds of years ago.
Apparently, he had no free will at all. His only option was to fulfil the prophesies and forget about his own feelings. At times he was just fed up with the situation. Just like anyone else he wanted some peace and quiet and to be allowed to think about himself for once.
He had a girlfriend, a good friend, a trade. Why couldn’t he settle down in some nice small town and raise a family? He knew the answer to that one, but he couldn’t always keep himself from asking it. After all, Twice Blessed or not, he was only a man, like every other man in the world.
His approach to the house interrupted his brooding and made him focus on the job at hand. Eddie had helped him make up the cover story. There were ads in national papers, commercials on tv and a number of books with covers depicting happy, young people at study or working together in the gardens.
He had seen some of that propaganda and been converted. His past was very similar to his own, or at least the way his life would have been if he’d never met Hannah. A drifter, without a home or a profession. Those were always welcome, though the highly educated seemed to be even more sought after. So he didn’t think he’d have any problem being accepted.
The house looked strangely quiet and almost empty, for a community or whatever they chose to call themselves. According to Eddie’s information, there would be at least 30 people living here at present. More had come and gone, apparently, without a trace. Cade intended to find out what had happened to those people, discover the Gua involvement behind the cult, or sect, and hopefully put a stop to their work.
It should be easy enough for the street kid turned superhero. He laughed to himself. Not really funny. Besides he had a job to do, and the sooner he got started the sooner he might be on his way again.
“…promises to keep… miles to go before I sleep.” What was that? Fragments of a poem. Yes, one of Hannah’s favorites. She would ask him to read it to her sometimes. Not a good idea to remember Hannah, but the poem seemed to speak to him. He did have promises to keep and miles to go before he could rest.
The last time he had investigated a cult there had been an renegade Gua behind it. Cade wondered fleetingly what he would find this time. Most likely a controlled Gua experiment in mind control, or something along those lines. But it wouldn’t do to arrive full of preconceived ideas.
He was now walking up the long driveway, still not detecting any sign of life from within. The grounds also appeared deserted, and this seemed a bit odd, considering the fact that it was only early afternoon. Either the place really had been abandoned and if so, very recently, or else these people believed in taking long midday siestas.
Well, he would find out soon enough. He was on the stairs, taking a closer look at the front door. It was a sturdy oak door, and the locks seemed old fashioned but quite safe, nevertheless. Not that Cade wouldn’t be able to pick them in under two minutes, but still, the entire place had a solid look to it.
There was nothing to be gained by standing around speculating, so he raised his hand to knock on the door. As he did so, he noticed a button that seemed to be meant for ringing the doorbell. So he changed his mind and pressed the button. A very sturdy door, apparently, or else the mechanism had been disconnected. He couldn’t hear a sound from within.
Waiting for what seemed like hours, he finally decided to give up and return on another day. It was possible that the members of the sect had gone out for the day for some reason. There was a feeling of letdown, disappointment even. That surprised him. After all, though he knew his duty, he couldn’t be said to exactly enjoy his work.
He had already turned around to leave when he heard the door slowly swinging open. Caught off guard, he whirled around to face any would-be attacker. This was like something straight out of a horror movie, or an episode of the X files. Eddie had made him sit through a few of those and though Gillian Anderson was a babe, the stories seemed too far-fetched to really capture Cade’s imagination. The whole situation appeared staged.
At first he couldn’t even see the person who had opened the door. It was almost completely dark inside, and whoever had opened the door seemed to hang back, as if hesitating to let him in. That didn’t make sense. After all, the ads welcomed any “seeker of the truth”. That was Cade. He sought the truth alright. Maybe not the truth this sect was referring to, but still.’
“You are not a reporter?”
“No. I saw your ads and I felt as if they were speaking to me.”
Cade felt like a fool, saying these things. Another cover would have been easier, but he didn’t pick these assignments, they picked him.
“Ah. I apologize for my suspicions. We get a number of media people, trying to make our work here seem suspect. Please, enter. You are most welcome – mr -?”
“Trent. Cade Trent.”
“This way, please, mr Trent.”
Cade took a deep breath and followed the shadowy figure inside. The voice was high-pitched and at first he had taken his host for a woman. Now he realized it was a man, perhaps in his late fifties or early sixties. It was hard to make out what he looked like, but he was relatively short and unassuming.
He led Cade along a long corridor, and at the end of it, up a staircase, leading to the upper floor. Cade assumed he was being taken to meet the leader. This reminded him of the last time he had infiltrated a sect. The circumstances were similar but the feeling he got from this place was different. At this point, he didn’t have any particular expectations.
As it turned out he was wrong about where the older man was taking him. His guide stopped outside a small room and pointed invitingly at it.
“Please, you may leave your possessions here. They will be quite safe, I assure you.”
Cade was reluctant to let go of his stuff, mainly because Eddie had sent along a gadget or two that might come in handy. But not following the suggestion might appear suspicious, so finally, he put down his bag and his outer jacket. Fortunately, he had his cell phone in an inner pocket of his denim jacket. At least he would still be able to contact Eddie, or Angelica, if he should need to.
His guide was waiting for him outside. They turned into another corridor and eventually found their way to a larger room, that appeared to be a sort of processing area. A young woman was standing behind the counter, greeting Cade with the sort of smile he associated with either drug addiction or some kind of religious mania.
So this was what the converted looked like. He hadn’t been able to study their beliefs. Apparently, they relied more on catchy slogans than any real teachings. Or maybe they preferred to preach to their acolytes on site. Less risk of critical outsiders interfering that way.
“Welcome to the Children of the Goddess.”
Cade decided that since he wasn’t one of them yet, a little hesitation was probably acceptable.
“You must not be shy. The Goddess loves you and she welcomes you to seek truth and love in her arms. Now, I will need your name and if you like a small history of your life until now. Perhaps you would also like to state your reasons for seeking us out.”
“My name is Cade Trent. And I – saw some of your ads and I felt – drawn to this place.”
“The Goddess called you here, Cade. Tell me, do you feel you know all the answers to life’s mysteries?”
“No. I can’t say I do.”
“Are you searching for a meaning, a purpose in life?”
“I don’t know.”
“Perhaps you feel as if there is something missing in your life?”
“Yes. You could say that.”
“Would you like to tell me about your life, Cade?”
“It is so we can get to know you better.”
Cade gave her the cover story he had prepared, with Eddie’s help. It skipped over the happy years with Hannah, and naturally made no mention of the Gua invasion, or Nostradamus’ prophesies. He also made no reference to Angelica.
If they formed the opinion that he was yet another loner who wouldn’t be missed, they might be more inclined to give him the full treatment. He did as he and Eddie had agreed, made a thoughtless remark that he hurriedly abandoned, leaving the impression that he might have a criminal record. It wouldn’t do to make them believe he was a felon fleeing justice, but if he was a small time criminal, that too might present the right image. Someone who didn’t have anything to return to and nothing to lose.
Except his life and his sanity. But Cade repressed those thoughts. Nostradamus had predicted that he would stop the First Wave, so his work must be far from done. No need to fear his death was awaiting him in this dark, silent building.
“If you have any weapons, drugs or large sums of money, we ask that you surrender them now.”
“No. Nothing like that. I only have a few dollars. But you’re welcome to them -“
“No. Please. We are not here to take your money. This can be your home, Cade. The Goddess had opened her arms to you. Do not hesitate to accept her offer. You have a whole new life ahead of you.”
Yeah, a whole new life. But hardly here, in this weird place. The interview was over. A new guide appeared, to take him downstairs again. This time it was a young man, in his early twenties. He too, smiled brilliantly and appeared to be, well, in Cade’s view, far too happy.
His pupils weren’t dilated, so Cade assumed this wasn’t the effect of some drug, though he was far from an expert, especially in the newer drugs. While he was on the street the pharmacopeia was still of the old-fashioned type.
The room he was taken to now, seemed to be a library, and now he saw far more people than he had expected. Maybe 20 or so were seated along the desks, seemingly absorbed in their study. Finally, he was getting somewhere. Could the books contain the teachings of “the Goddess”?
Something about the way the girl had referred to the Goddess made Cade suspect there might be sexual undertones to this cult. If so, that would be a complication he didn’t want to deal with. But again, he decided there was no need for speculation. He would face that possibility if he had to.
The young man indicated for him to have a seat, and placed a book in front him. His way of presenting the book gave Cade an impression of deep awe and reverance. So he prepared to be impressed.
It seemed silence was observed in this room, but he took the opportunity of checking out the devoted members of the sect. Just like Eddie’s information had indicated most of them were young. Late teens to early or mid-thirties. Only two or three seemed to be older than that. His first guide wasn’t here, but he too would be counted among the older members.
Satisfied with his initial observations, Cade turned to the book on the desktop. It didn’t take him too long to scan the pages. Most of the material consisted of glossy pictures of happy, devoted people at study or at work in the gardens. What little text there was seemed to be mainly the same type of catchy slogans he had already seen in the ads. How could anyone be so impressed with this? You’d have to be very simple or at least brain-washed in some way to buy any of those feeble “truths”, or so it seemed to Cade.
They were expected to keep to their studies for a long time, it seemed. Not until close to 9 in the evening, were they encouraged to put away their books. Cade wondered if they would now be fed, or if they were supposed to go to bed. He still hadn’t seen any bedrooms or dorms, so he had no idea what kind of sleeping arrangements to expect.
As it turned out, neither food nor sleep was on the agenda. The faithful, and the newcomer were herded into another large room, which had a stage and several big speakers on the walls. Around the walls there were some not very comfortable chairs, but they weren’t encouraged to sit down. Cade was wondering if they would now be treated to a sermon or something like that. But again, he was wrong.
This, apparently, was the time for singing and dancing. They couldn’t be serious. But apparently so. First a sort of choir stood on the stage, singing a number of decidedly weird hymns. The lyrics seemed to consist mainly of praise to the Goddess and a repetition of the words love, joy and truth.
Everyone seemed ecstatic. Cade did his best to appear to share their elation, but was having a hard time doing so. This was turning out to be one of his most taxing assignments so far. When finally the choir was finished, a group of dancers took their place. And so they were entertained by some intricate, but rather sexually explicit dancing. The group consisted of six people, who were paired up. Two males, two females and a straight couple.
So this was what the cult was about. Cade was beginning to feel the first stirrings of concern. There was no way he would pretend sexual interest in anyone, male or female. That would take the cover way too far.
When the entertainment was over, he expected that they would finally be allowed to rest, but again, he was mistaken. Some really tiresome, loud music was now coming from the speakers and everyone began to dance. Most of the people appeared to be content to dance by themselves, but some couples formed. Those were mainly heterosexual, but Cade also saw two women dancing very closely together.
It didn’t take the others long to develop an interest in the newbie. Three women, one after another, tried to encourage Cade to dance with them, but he declined. That was a mistake. The last one went over to the other side of the room and returned shortly with a young man in tow. Now Cade was forced to turn him down as well. He decided that the next time a woman asked him to dance he would just accept, rather than letting himself in for more embarrassment.
But the evening finally drew to a close. No dinner, but they were now herded to a dorm, where they were expected to sleep all together. The conditions were reminiscent of military barracks, or so it seemed to Cade, who had been nowhere near any of those. Men and women slept in the same dorm, and no one appeared to find that at all remarkable.
So Cade decided to take his cue from the others. He was really tired, and though he was hungry too, he didn’t really care at that point. But it did strike him as a bit odd that there would be no food for all these people. It didn’t take him long to drift off to sleep, and leave all his worries behind for the time being.
It seemed he hadn’t slept for more than an hour at most when he was awakened by some music coming through the apparently ubiquitous speaker system. Everyone hurriedly got ready for the new day.
To Cade’s astonishment and dismay, the showers too were communal. But he seemed to be the only one to find that objectionable. He kept his eyes averted from the others, especially the women and found that in the short time they appeared to have, there wasn’t time for anything but the most basic hygiene to be seen to.
At least now, he expected they would be getting some breakfast, but again, he was wrong. By now he was beginning to wonder when these people ever got any nutrition. No one could go on working night and day, with little sleep and no food. That was impossible.
But so far there had been no sign of any dining hall or kitchen, and he hadn’t picked up any smell of cooking. In the mornings, apparently, they were to work in the gardens. Perhaps that was where they grew the food they would presumably be eating at some time. Food wasn’t a big issue for Cade, but he hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before, so at this point he was suffering from some hunger pains.
The work in the gardens was not particularly taxing on his strength. He had time to make several interesting observations. They had to walk quite a distance to reach their place of work. That might explain why he hadn’t seen any signs of life the day before. Secondly, the gardens were walled in.
But what puzzled him the most was the fact that the members of the sect didn’t seem to be producing very much food. It was beginning to appear as if people were being kept busy doing nothing really important. That didn’t make sense.
After a while, he asked one of the girls if there wouldn’t be any breakfast. She smiled vacantly at him and mentioned something about the “bounty of the Goddess”, but didn’t elaborate. Apparently, he would have to wait and see for himself.
And so he did, after several hours of pointless toiling outdoors. A series of musical signals broke the workers’ concentration and everyone began milling back to the house. This time, they really were headed for a dining room. Long tables, with some very basic tableware, and depressing-looking cloths. It reminded Cade of some of the soup kitchens he had been forced to frequent in his days on the street. But everyone had looks of bliss on their faces.
Apparently, this was one of the highlights of the day. Cade was tired and really hungry, so he was glad to get a chance to rest for a while. But first they were all to join in prayer to the Goddess. While he listened to the reverent mumbles from all around, Cade wondered what Goddess they were all praying to. That hadn’t been made clear in the holy texts from earlier.
Judging by everyone’s reaction, Cade had expected a lavishly prepared meal. To his astonishment, the main course, no, he corrected himself, the only course, appeared to be a big bowl of – no, could this be right? – mush. Mush? This was what all the devout disciples of the Goddess were looking forward to all day. The stuff was unappetizing to say the least.
Large glasses were filled with water, from pitchers placed at intervals all over the table. Mush and water? Well, this was beginning to look more and more like prison, not the religious community Cade had expected. After taking a few sips of the water, he realized that there was some kind of weird aftertaste to it.
What could have been added to it? A drug? He decided not to have any more. No one was paying attention to what he was doing anyway. The mush was tasteless, and the consistency was sloppy and watery. He hoped that there were no unexpected additives in it, because it seemed to be the only available source of nutrition.
Alerted to the possibility of drugs, Cade now kept an eye on anything out of the ordinary. The air conditioning soon drew his suspicions. At times he thought he saw some kind of haze drift from the fans, but he wasn’t absolutely sure. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself, so he avoided asking too many questions. Besides, by now he had realized that the answers if they were even forthcoming, were of no great value to him.
At this point, he felt he wanted to contact Eddie to make his first report. Retiring into the relative privacy of a bathroom, which was rather primitive and lacked a lock on the door, he brought out his cell phone and called Eddie’s number. His friend picked up on the first signal, so as always Eddie would be worried about him. Cade felt a little better as he remembered his friends. He wasn’t completely alone in this.
“So, what have you uncovered so far?”
“Not much. I’m in. They don’t seem to suspect anything.”
“Ok. What’s the place like?”
“Weird. The people are probably drugged. They seem to be very naive, not to say simple. But then there’s very little food and not much sleep either. We’re expected to work in the gardens in the morning, after that we have the only meal of the day, which by the way isn’t much to get excited about, and in the afternoon study.”
“Study of what?”
“The word of the Goddess, if you can believe it.”
“I don’t know. And I don’t think anyone else does either. Apparently, we’re not required to know all that much about her. In the evenings there’s musical entertainment and dancing.”
“I told you this place is weird. Yes, we listen to some choir sing about love, joy and truth, then some dancers perform some cheap half-pornographic dance – wait, Eddie, let me finish – and after that, we’re all expected to dance. I think that’s so we can socialize a bit.”
“Any good-looking girls?”
“Yes. Plenty. And guys too. But -“
“Are you done? So far I’ve been able to put them off. But I think there’s going to be some trouble later on.”
“Maybe I should have covered this one.”
“Maybe you should. If you think it sounds appealing.”
“No. Probably not. Ok, man, hang in there. Get out at the first sign of trouble, ok? And now I’m talking threat of bodily harm.”
“I know what you’re talking about. Well, that’s it for now. I’ll try to call you again. But now I’d better go before they get suspicious.”
“Ok. Take care. Watch your back.”
“Yeah. Don’t worry about me.”
The days dragged on endlessly, or so it seemed to Cade. He had never been addicted to television and he had hardly been an avid reader until he met Hannah, but by the end of the week, he was suffering major withdrawal symptoms. Anything, even a glossy ladies’ magazine would have been entertaining enough.
But also, he became aware of a certain apathy setting in. He hoped it was only the sleep-deprivation and the hunger, but he suspected that he was slowly being drugged. That wasn’t what he had intended, so he was faced with the dilemma of whether to give up and leave, if – and this was a big if – they would let him go, just like that, or find a way of clearing his head enough to continue.
The time of working out in the open helped a bit. And he now took care never to drink any of the water on the dining tables. Instead, he made frequent visits to the bathrooms and drank from the tap, whenever he had a chance.
In all the time he had spent working, studying and – reluctantly – listening to music and dancing – he had never heard any reference to whoever was the leader of this cult. His tentative questions had been met with enthusiasm, but unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to make much sense of the replies. What was very obvious was that everyone was happy and contented.
Was he the only one who could sense the underlying wrongness about this place? He still hadn’t been able to figure out what the Gua, if they were responsible, were getting out of the setup. Knowledge about how best to brain-wash people? Cade couldn’t help thinking that there were plenty of more scientific and technological methods available.
Finally, he had his first glimpse of something more significant. It was announced that a wondrous event was approaching. They would get to see the Priestess, and witness miracles unfolding. This was more like what Cade had expected when he first came to the Children of the Goddess. When he made his report to Eddie, he felt much more hopeful. At last he seemed to be getting somewhere.
On the night of the big performance, the usual musical entertainment was canceled. But they were still led to the same room. Now the chairs were lined up so that everyone could take a seat. In the background, as always, there was some music playing. Cade wasn’t an expert, but he felt that the music was strange. It seemed to get into your head and make it difficult to concentrate, or relax.
The waiting stretched out almost endlessly, and he was beginning to think that for whatever reason, this Priestess wasn’t going to show up. He wondered what that would do to her devout followers. Perhaps that would help sow a few seeds of doubts. But he was wrong. Everyone still wore the ecstatic, happy faces from earlier. Apparently, their Priestess, like their Goddess, could do no wrong.
By the time Cade had all but given up, something finally seemed about to happen. The music was turned down a bit, so he could finally hear himself think. Strong lights were focused on the stage, and everyone’s attention turned in that direction. The lights were dimmed and suddenly there was a flash and a puff of smoke. Incredulously, Cade stared at this cheap display of carnival magic. Was this it? A couple of crude tricks, a show of lights and a rather devious use of music?
But he had hardly finished the thought, when out of nowhere the Priestess arrived at last. She was stunningly beautiful, even Cade had to grant her that. In addition, she was dressed in such a way that what little fabric had gone into making her outfit was used to set off her sexy body to perfection. Her hair was extremely long, flowed all the way down her back and seemed to touch the upper part of her thighs. Cade suspected that it couldn’t be real, but he had no way of telling for sure.
There was a deafening din of applause and shouts from the captive audience. But a loud drum roll from the speakers silenced the noise. Now the expectation in the room was almost tangible. Even Cade felt a certain impatience stirring inside him. It seemed the Priestess was deliberately letting some time go by to increase the anticipation, but in the end, the next phase of the show began. A practically nude young man began crawling towards the Priestess.
When he got close enough to reach out a hand to touch her foot, she stopped him by placing her high-heeled shoe on the outstretched hand. The procedure was repeated a few times. But the man wouldn’t give up. Eventually, he was allowed to get on his knees, and held his hands up to touch the woman’s thighs. Several more times he was pushed down, until finally he was allowed to continue.
So this was it? Some kind of glorified live show? Cade felt disappointed. He didn’t know what he had expected, but certainly not this. This might be a good time to sneak out and explore the rest of the building. No one would notice, judging from the way their attention was fixed on the stage. But the crowd was so dense, Cade had a hard time wriggling his way out. No one was willing to give an inch.
So he stayed, his impatience growing by the minute. When the showed had played out to the end, he expected everything to be over, but he was mistaken. The Priestess leaned back, apparently satisfied. Her lover fell back down onto the floor, and lay as if totally exhausted. Now three figures dressed in black detached themselves from the deeper shadows surrounding the stage.
They held out a sort of cup to the man on the floor. He roused himself enough to take it, draining it to the last drop. A shudder went over him. Then he fell back, motionless. Now the crowd began to wail. The three dark shapes withdrew back into the deeper darkness. Cade had a nasty suspicion that the man didn’t simply look dead, but actually was. No one approached the prone body, but from what he could see, there didn’t seem to be any movement at all.
So the Priestess’ lovers died? Now where had he read something like that before? Again, it was Hannah’s books that came to mind. Asia Minor. Ancient times. The Great Mother and her young lover, who died and – Yes, that seemed to be what was about to happen.
A sharp light came from above. There was a flash, but this time no puff of smoke and suddenly, the young man on the floor got up and walked away. Now the cheering of the audience reached such deafening levels, it hurt Cade’s ears.
Everyone rushed forward to meet the young man who had died and been brought back to life. They all seemed to want to touch him. This finally gave Cade his opportunity to slip away. He knew he wouldn’t be missed. No one had eyes for anything but the Priestess’ young lover.
Outside, he looked around to make sure he hadn’t been observed. But everything appeared to be quiet. He wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in the entire building were gathered inside the room he had just left. Good. That should give him time to explore the parts of the house that were off-limits to the un-initiated.
In his time with the cult, Cade had learned that there seemed to be a number of different levels, of which he belonged to the lowest. The majority of members belonged to the one above his. A few officials, like the old man who had greeted him at the door, were of a higher order. Finally, the Priestess appeared to hold the highest position.
This seemed to be a good time to pay the Priestess’ office a visit. By snooping around, Cade had managed to find out which room that seemed to hold all the relevant information he was after. If he was lucky there would be proof of Gua involvement.
He hadn’t been close enough to really look into the Priestess’ eyes, so he couldn’t be sure if she was a Gua. She certainly had the physical perfection of one, but so did a number of humans. That in itself was no evidence either way. Perhaps he would find out tonight.
Just like he’d expected, the door was locked. But he had taken the precaution of always carrying around the basic tools of his trade. Unlike the one on the front door, this one yielded easily to his skills. The door swung open and he squeezed inside, pulling it shut behind him. Inside, he found a desk, with a computer on it, and a door leading to the left, into the part of the building where he’d never set foot so far.
He intended to go through it as soon as possible. First, though, he decided to rifle the desk drawers and at least try to get into the computer. Sure, he could risk taking time to call Eddie, but chances were, he didn’t have that time to lose. Of course, there was always the possibility that the Priestess had neglected to password-protect her data.
The drawers revealed nothing out of the ordinary, and Cade hadn’t really expected that. Someone as accomplished as this Priestess wouldn’t leave anything incriminating lying around. Most of her devout disciples would probably rather cut off one of their own limbs than invade her privacy, but there was always the risk of someone like Cade showing up. Or a nosy reporter.
Next he tackled the computer. It was easy enough to start up, but it didn’t take him long to realize that he had no way of guessing the password. So he shut down the computer again and moved towards the door on the left wall. While he was working on the lock, this time a more complicated one, he was startled by a noise coming from behind.
He whirled around to face whoever had entered the room. The Priestess. She was even more attractive this close up. At least he now had the chance of studying her more closely. Behind her he could see the three dark-clad figures, now unveiled. They were all women, and unlike the ordinary members of the cult, these had eyes that focused properly. Her closest associates? Cade glanced around the office, looking for a way out.
The women weren’t armed, and if he rushed them, he just might get past them and out into the corridor. But they could easily sound the alarm, and Cade didn’t relish the thought of facing an enraged crowd, willing to protect their Priestess. So maybe he could talk his way out of this one. There hadn’t been any evidence of violence or killings yet. Although the number of young people who had disappeared seemed to point in a more disturbing direction.
The silence began to oppress him. Weren’t they going to say anything? Were they waiting for his resolve to break? Whatever the reason, Cade couldn’t think of anything to say. Everything depended on how the Priestess would react.
“May I ask who you are?”
“Cade Trent. I was just -“
“You were just breaking into my private office. Let’s not have any lies between us, Cade. What is it you’d like to know? Wouldn’t it have been more polite to merely ask?”
“You haven’t been all that accessible in all the time since I arrived here. The Priestess ignored his input, instead turning to her associates.”
“Leave us. I wish to talk to mr Foster alone.”
Foster? So she knew his name. A shiver went down Cade’s spine. Would he find himself back in the Gua’s hands once again? He desperately scanned the office for anything that he might use to defend himself.
There was nothing. But as he looked more closely at the woman facing him, he realized that she most likely wasn’t one of the Gua. Had he and Eddie been wrong all along? Was this merely an ordinary cult, with no alien involvement?
The other women left the office without any argument. Now the Priestess turned her full attention back onto Cade. He felt a bit like a rabbit facing a snake, though how that metaphor came into his mind, he wasn’t sure.
“Won’t you sit down.”
It wasn’t a question. He considered refusing, but decided that he wouldn’t lose anything by seeming cooperative. His hostess joined him over by the desk. She sat down behind it, while he was forced to accept the other chair, facing her.
“It seems you have the advantage, ms -“
“My name. You may call me Suvi.”
“Now I have to ask you again, what is it you are looking for here, mr Foster? Cade.”
He tried to stall, while thinking of a reply that wouldn’t land him in any more trouble. Suvi, if that was her name, seemed to see right through his deception and impatiently waved away the answer that wasn’t forthcoming anyway. She began to talk instead.
“I hope that you came here looking for the truth, even though a man with your past might think of a more direct way of going about it, than my other disciples. And you will find it. No one seeks out the Goddess without receiving some enlightenment. I can help you, Cade.”
“In what way? If what you’re offering is anything like what I saw earlier -“
“You insult me. Each seeker has his own truth. What is it you most of all wish for?”
Cade didn’t reply. He had a feeling she was trying to confuse him, divert his attention away from the underlying truth. But at the moment, he knew he was caught. Until he could find a way of escaping, he would just have to play along. Again, she went on as if she had not been waiting for a reply.
“You want your name cleared. Yes, I know all about that. How your wife was murdered, how you were implicated. And why. So you see, I really can help you. Even if you don’t find me attractive.”
“No offense, but why would you want to help me?”
He had heard these offers before. It was no use letting himself hope, when he know far too well that anything like what she was outlining was too good to be true. But she wasn’t going to be rushed into following his line of questioning. He could see how effective her methods of deception were.
“You don’t trust me. I don’t blame you. It’s understandable. Let’s sit down together and have a meal, a drink. Get to know each other.”
“More of the Goddess’ bounty? Her smile wasn’t amused, but she obviously knew what he was referring to.”
“I think we can do a little better than that. After all, this has been a special night. The Goddess was good to us, once again. My paramour was returned to me safe and sound, and that is the promise the Goddess is offering each and everyone who believes in her.”
“But he wouldn’t have needed – resurrection – unless your associates hadn’t given him that – poison – now would he?”
The Priestess once again ignored his words and lifted the phone.
“Dinner for two in my rooms. Yes. Good.”
That taken care of, she turned her attention back to Cade.
“Come. I think you’ll appreciate a little finer cuisine after the time you’ve spent among the faithful.”
There didn’t seem to be much choice but to accept. Maybe he would find out something more about this setup, or at the very least, he might find a way of escaping. Alone with this woman, Cade felt a little more secure. He wouldn’t physically attack her, but he might find a way to evade her.
The dinner was lavish in comparison to what he had become used to in the past weeks. To his surprise there was a really nice wine served with it. Cade couldn’t remember the last time he’d been sitting down to dinner, having wine and decent food. It must have been with Angelica, but he couldn’t for the moment recall the circumstances.
Suvi refused to discuss anything even vaguely related to the reason for his presence at her table, despite Cade’s best efforts to turn the conversation in that direction. He had to admit, that if he hadn’t known what her function in this community was, he would never have suspected.
Before she had confronted him in her office, she had taken the time to change out of her “Priestess” outfit, and was now wearing very normal clothes. She seemed intelligent and, perfectly sane, though naturally, she was far more beautiful than the average woman, Angelica not included. Cade was having a hard time remembering why he was investigating this woman in the first place.
Not until dinner was over would Suvi agree to let the conversation drift in the direction of business. At her suggestion, they retired to another room, much different from the office. Suvi walked over to a small table by the window and picked up a framed photograph. She watched it thoughtfully for a moment, then faced Cade.
“This is picture of me and my father, senator Matti Kyllonen. So you see, I am in a position to help you. All I need to do is pick up the phone and ask my father to pull your record, and that’s it. Your name is cleared.”
“Like I said before, why would you want to help me?”
“To prove to you what the Goddess is capable of, once you turn yourself over to her, body and soul.”
“No offense, but if you were to help me, all that would prove is that you, personally, was willing to do this for me. I’ve never seen a Goddess in my life. Not a god either. So -“
“You are still refusing to see. That’s fine. We have time.”
Cade didn’t like the sound of that, one bit. And he didn’t believe that this woman would help him, even if she did have the connections she claimed. It was no use allowing yourself to hope. That was one thing his life had taught him early on.
Suddenly, he began to feel faint. Could the wine or even the food he’d eaten have been drugged? He hadn’t thought so at the time, since Suvi had eaten and drunk the same things he had. Or maybe it was just a reaction to finally being able to eat his fill after so many days of very little sustenance.
And he was tired too. None of the disciples of the Goddess were ever allowed more than a few hours of sleep each night. Cade knew that was a good way of keeping people compliant. The mind didn’t work so well after a period of sleep deprivation. Suvi’s next words almost made him think she had read his mind. Almost.
“You are tired. Perhaps you would like to sleep now?”
Was she serious? Did she really intend to let him return to the dorm? He had supposed that now his cover was blown things would change. And that seemed to be the case, after all. Her next words confirmed his suspicion.
“This way. I think you’ll appreciate some comfort.”
What did she have in mind? Cade studied her suspiciously. She wasn’t suggesting he share her bed? He certainly hoped not. As if she’d once again read his mind, Suvi laughed. The sound was chilling in its unexpectedness.
“The guest room. This way, please.”
Now Cade felt guilty and slightly foolish for his suspicions. The Priestess persona and this normal person seemed to be two very different people. No need to expect her to treat him the same way she treated her disciples. Still, he was confused. Nothing about this assignment seemed to make sense.
Things didn’t appear to have anything to do with what he and Eddie had expected from the start. But he was too tired to worry much about it. So far he seemed to be safe. The offer of a comfortable bed seemed too good to pass up. He would deal with the case tomorrow. Now he would get some rest.
“I’m sorry, Eddie, but I’m going to have to go back to California and straighten out this mess. Al’s really done it this time. As you know, he was the one to save my ass back when you and I first met, so I suppose I owe him. And anyway, there’s the boys to consider.”
Eddie’s face fell at the thought of Trish back with her husband and kids. He knew that for various reasons, it was impossible for Trish and Al to get back together again, but he still felt something like jealousy. They had a past together, Al and Trish, including kids.
Whenever Trish’s past was mentioned, Eddie felt threatened. This was more or less his first relationship, and he didn’t want to risk losing that for anything in the world. But he also knew that if he couldn’t put his personal feelings aside and be there for Trish through all this, he didn’t deserve her.
“Ok. I understand.”
“Don’t give me that look. You know how it is between me and Al. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“And I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Promise. Cross my heart and hope to -“
“No. Don’t say that.”
“Ok. Are you going to be alright on your own?”
“Of course I will. I got by on my own for years before I was fortunate enough to meet you.”
Trish laughed softly and pulled Eddie closer.
“Flattery will get you everywhere. But unfortunately, this will have to wait until I’m back. There’s that plane I have to catch, remember? And I’m running late as it is. Hang in there. Go get the bad guys.”
“Yeah. The bad aliens.”
“Right. See you soon, Eddie.”
Yeah, but not quite soon enough in Eddie’s view. But she had a point. He really did have work to do. This case Cade was working on bothered Eddie. Something about it didn’t seem quite right. It was as if they were missing something. Some vital piece of the puzzle.
And in the meantime, Cade was risking his life out there. So with a regretful sigh, Eddie turned his thoughts away from his lover and went back to searching for answers on the internet. What he found only increased his concern, but still there was nothing conclusive enough to put off the Twice Blessed Man.
The week that went by without Trish’s companionship seemed endless, but Eddie passed the time working at the computer. For a while now, he had felt he was on to something, concerning the cult Cade was investigating. He was now pretty sure there was no Gua involvement, and that meant Cade could get out of there. They weren’t cops, and Eddie wasn’t even sure if crimes were being committed under the guise of a religious community in this case.
He intended to advise Cade to get out at the first possible opportunity. Only problem was, Cade wasn’t getting in touch anymore. It had been almost a week now, with no calls from him. If he didn’t get back in touch soon, Eddie would have to come after him. Or Angelica. Though Eddie didn’t like to dwell on it, he knew that Cade’s girlfriend was far better suited for field work than he was. So he decided not to wait. He sent Angelica a message and found that his concerns were somewhat alleviated. Now all he had to do was wait.
It turned out Trish returned before Angelica reported back to the trailer. Eddie went to sleep around 4 a m. Close to 7 he was woken up by the sound of a car pulling to a stop outside. No one knew he was out here, so it was a good bet that this would be someone he expected, but it always paid to be careful. At least that was what Eddie had learned in the time he’d been participating in the fight against the Gua invasion.
Over by the window, he tried to keep out of sight to anyone who might be looking inside. No one was. With a great deal of relief, Eddie recognized Trish’s car. The thought of snuggling up close to his lover, brought a smile to Eddie’s face. A smile which froze as he caught sight of the two other figures getting out of the car.
Something told him this wasn’t Angelica and Cade, suddenly showing up out of the blue. And he had a vague notion of who the two newcomers would be. Great. But he forced himself to put on a brave face. For Trish’s sake. Now she was knocking on the door, as if she didn’t have the key.
“Just a sec. Hello, back so soon?”
“Yeah. Look, I’ve got something I need to tell you.”
“Ok. Come on in.”
Deliberately keeping his voice level, Eddie stepped aside to let his visitors in. Now that they stepped into the light, his guests revealed themselves as boys, in their mid teens. Eddie was no expert on kids, but they looked alright as far as he could tell. No weapons or pervasive smell of drug smoke. So this was Trish’s family. At least her husband hadn’t come along. That would have been a bit much to take.
It turned out he was being submitted to the same intense scrutiny in return.
“This is your new boyfriend? He’s no better looking than dad.”
“Now behave yourselves. Josh, this is Eddie. Eddie this is Josh. The quiet one is Mark.”
“What do we call you? Dad?”
Eddie was filled with serious misgivings about the whole thing. But the boys didn’t seem all that pleased either.
“You can call me Crazy Eddie.”
The boys stared at each other and their faces lit up.
And they brushed passed their host to dump their sports bags on the floor, intent on exploring this fascinating new place.
“Ok. I guess I owe you an explanation.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll get by. But what happened?”
“Maybe we should take a little walk outside. While the boys are getting settled in.”
Eddie was wondering what was so serious, Trish didn’t want to discuss it in front of her sons.
“Al really screwed up this time. Big time.”
“Yes, you told me. In what way?”
“Well, he’s the D A, remember?”
“Not anymore. He was caught in a sleazy motel with three male models. One of them really hot, as a matter of fact. But you don’t want to know about that.”
No, he certainly did not. At least that guy was safely back in California, and nowhere near Trish.
“I tried to do my best for Al, but he didn’t want my help.”
Actually, Al’s response to her offer of assistance had been met with something like screw you. Which was something he hadn’t done for a good many years, and Trish didn’t think it was going to happen this side of Armageddon. She wasn’t particularly disappointed. The marriage was over. And since she’d met Eddie she’d finally gotten round to finalizing the divorce. But there was still the boys to consider. Her first priority had to be her sons. Not her loser ex.
“So I went to see the boys. And they weren’t too happy about being the sons of a man who would be the local paper’s main attraction the next month or so. Not over something like this. They wanted to get away. And I said I’d take them. Do you mind terribly Eddie?”
“I – No, of course not. You were right to bring them here. I’m glad you did. This is where you belong. Why don’t you and the kids move in with me permanently? I know you don’t like that gypsy existence much.”
He was right about that, but he was forgetting that travelling around the lower 48 states in a trailer could hardly be described as a stable or settled life either. Still, he had a point. Her moving from apartment to apartment all over California, and in a few cases Oregon and Washington was wearing a bit thin. The trailer did offer some sort of home-like conditions for her and the boys.
“So you really don’t mind?”
“No, of course not. I just wonder what the kids themselves will say. And there is our work to consider. By the way, are you going to get custody of them full time?”
“Three guesses. I had that taken care of before I left. The court was really anxious to place them with me. I guess the judge didn’t take time to examine my record too closely. She was just too happy to find a solution.”
“You got custody just like that?”
“Well, I have to send in the paper work within a couple of weeks. And I guess I ought to make an appearance in court some time. But that’s just a formality. Even the gay community back home doesn’t really approve of D A’s getting caught red-handed like that.”
“Oh. Well, as long as the kids don’t mind. Trish?”
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Eddie. You’re the greatest. Heard anything from Cade?”
“No. That’s worrying me.”
“But if I got this right and he’s the Twice Blessed Man out of those prophecies, then what could happen to him?”
“Well, I guess nothing’s supposed to go wrong, but I can’t help worrying. He should have been in touch days ago. And by now I’m pretty sure I was wrong about this being a Gua project. Seems to be just your average cult. Which doesn’t make it any safer for Cade to be out there.”
“I know. Have you called Angelica?”
“She’s on her way.”
“Good. Now I’d like to get some sleep.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
That seemed to be it for tonight. Eddie couldn’t help dwelling wistfully on the fact that their days of endless privacy together were over. Period. They had responsibilities now. But he’d worry about that later. Trish was right, they all needed their sleep. When they got back inside, the boys were already in their bunks, apparently quite happy about the whole setup.
Next morning, after they all had time to catch up on their beauty sleep, Angelica’s van pulled up outside. She was just in time for some late breakfast or not so very early lunch. If she found the recent additions to Eddie’s family surprising she didn’t have much to say about that. All her attention was focused on Cade’s situation.
“Eddie, I’ve got some news about that cult myself.”
“Yeah. I pulled in a few favors from an old friend and I got this.”
She held out a large brown envelope.
“So what did you find out?”
Trish just walked in. The boys could be heard bouncing a ball against the side of the trailer but no one was inclined to tell them to stop.
“Angelica’s just had news about that cult.”
“Oh. Let’s hear it then.”
Angelica’s look told them it was all bad news.
“It seems it’s just a cover for what you might call slavery. The porn industry is getting new recruits from there and the ones who don’t look right for that, get moved on to work camps.”
“What sort of work camps?”
“Agricultural work. But some are hired out to clean up industrial waste, nuclear power plants that sort of thing. Not really healthy work to say the least. A few are kept on to handle the newly converted. No hint of Gua involvement, but maybe we haven’t dug deep enough.”
“Porn industry? Slave work? Sounds like Cade’s in over his head.”
“I know. That’s why I’m going out there today.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“No, you don’t, Eddie. Not this time. I’ll handle this. You stay here and help Trish out.”
“I’ll be ok if Eddie thinks he needs to -“
And Angelica’s voice didn’t encourage any more argument. Perhaps it was best to let her go on her own. After all, she had the training for this sort of thing. But Eddie felt like a coward, sitting here in relative safety while his friend was in danger. What would people like that be prepared to do to keep their lucrative business going? But he silenced his concerns, telling himself that Angelica would take care of it.
“Eddie, I’m going to need some FBI ID. Can you fix it for me?”
He was happy to be of some assistance to Cade, even if only indirectly. Soon the plastic card was ready for Angelica’s use. She picked it up, and was about to put into her pocket without looking too closely. But something caught her attention and she held it up for inspection.
“What is this?”
“A genuine FBI ID card. I just changed the text on it a little.”
Eddie was actually quite proud of his accomplishment. Angelica’s tone of voice didn’t filter through to him at all at first. Trish, on the other hand held out her hand to see the card.
“I’m talking about the name. Amber Schuler? Who’s Amber? Miss April?”
Eddie blushed a little and mumbled something.
“Miss February, actually.”
“You’ll pay for this Eddie. I just don’t have time for that right now. Amber. Dare I ask who miss Schuler is?”
“My 5 grade teacher. All the guys had a crush on her. She was so -“
A look from his lover silenced him.
“Don’t worry about it, Angelica. I’ll deal with Eddie. Go find Cade.”
“Ok. But the next time I get to pick the name, ok?”
“Fine. But I really don’t see – Sorry.”
Now the boys returned inside to raid the kitchen. But as they passed they caught sight of Angelica. Like this, close up, her dazzling good looks must have been even more compelling. Eddie could see how the boys’ mouths fell open. The object of their attention didn’t notice. She merely swept by them and outside. All her thoughts were focused on Cade.
“Mom. If dad’s gay, why can’t you be a lesbian? That chick’s -“
“Sorry to disappoint you. I am a killer hacker though. How many moms can you say that about? And we don’t use the word chick in this family.”
“Yeah, ok. That’s very cool, mom. So, Crazy Eddie, when can we start helping out with this fight against the aliens?”
Eddie stared in consternation and shock at Trish. He would never have imagined she’d be that careless.
“Did you -“
“Boys, how did you learn about that? Eddie, I’d never -“
“We hacked into your computer, of course. Duh.”
“Why, you -“
Trish stared helplessly over the head of her oldest son, into Eddie’s eyes. There was an apology in there, but Eddie was too busy smothering a laugh. And Trish had told him her sons took after their father. It seemed she was wrong about that.
For the boys’ own safety, he would have preferred them well away from the Gua fighting business, but as it was, they might actually be able to help. Those computer skills would certainly come in handy. And Eddie was getting used to the idea of having those kids around. They might actually end up becoming friends. He liked their cool attitude.
Next surprise came when they were about to sit down to dinner. Eddie was just congratulating himself on having actually done some shopping before Trish’s return, when he heard one of the boys, Mark, raising his voice.
“Mom, we don’t eat anything with a face. We told you that. Don’t you remember?”
“Well, it seems my sons have gone veggie all of a sudden. And for years I tried to convince them to eat healthy food.”
“But that was ages ago. We were babies then. At least Mark was. It’s different now.”
“Ok. You guys eat what you want. I’ll just have some more of those burgers myself.”
The reproachful stares made Eddie drop the burger as if he’d burned his hand.
“Ok. Give me some of that stuff instead.”
So this was what it was like to be the parent of teenagers. Eddie realized he was in for a crash course. He wondered how Trish dealt with it.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, but I am. This is what the Goddess sent you here for. Don’t fight it, Cade. And if you agree to help me, I will help you. That’s only fair, isn’t it?”
“What’s wrong with your current – paramour?”
“The Goddess decrees that we do not limit ourselves to one single lover. It is her will that we -“
“Spread your graces around a bit?”
Her eyes flashed a warning to him. Don’t cross the line, the look seemed to say.
No matter what he had tried, Cade had found himself unable to get out of the trap that had sprung around him. At times he was treated to better food than the other disciples, but he didn’t get much more sleep. So even if the cage was more gilded, he was every bit as much a prisoner.
And he had a suspicion his judgment was being clouded. There was no way he could avoid ingesting some of the drugs that were freely circulated among the Goddess’ children. And the sleep deprivation didn’t help either.
He wasn’t entirely taken in by Suvis promises, but since they were all he had to hold on to, he clung to the hope that she would eventually deliver. But there had been no sign of that until now. Cade still had a hard time believing that she could be serious. And what she was suggesting was unthinkable. Even if he was willing to consider it, he didn’t think he’d be able to perform under such pressure.
“Yes. So, what do you say?”
“Don’t be too hasty. And if you’re concerned about certain practical concerns, I can assure you that I’m perfectly healthy. Oh, and if you’re worried you will – shall we say – disappoint me, don’t be. There are ways of -“
Cade thought he knew what she was referring to, and winced at her directness. But once again he found that his expectations had been wrong.
“This comes in handy sometimes.”
She showed him a bottle of pills. He didn’t have time to read the label, but he got her meaning. So that was what she was offering. His mind was reeling from the shock, and he tried to clear it by shaking his head. Suvi misread his reaction and he saw a glint of steel in her eyes. Suddenly he realized that there had never been any choice. This persuasion was just so much window dressing.
He couldn’t guess what fate she had in store for him, but somehow he knew he wouldn’t make it outside of the community’s doors, unless he gave her what she was asking for. The question was if he would make it under any circumstances. Part of him wanted to refuse, regardless of the consequences, but another stubborn part of him wanted to live. No matter what the price.
“Let’s say I agreed to this -“
“I knew you’d be sensible, Cade. Good. It will be a pleasure to perform the rite with someone as beautiful as you.”
Again, her words made him wince and he felt his face take on color. Would he never outrun his past? He had come all this way, but in another sense he had never moved an inch from his original position. This surely didn’t figure in Nostradamus’ prophecies? But he forced himself to ignore his own misgivings and push on. If he could get this over with, maybe he could find a way out of here.
“Tomorrow night. We have time to prepare you.”
That had an ominous ring to it, but Cade found himself unable to care much about it. Things were bad enough as they were. So he had until tomorrow. If only he could manage to make his escape before then. If –
The preparations Suvi had mentioned seemed to entail much ritual bathing and grooming. To his relief, he was left to his own devices throughout most of it. At the last possible moment, one of the other priestesses arrived, bringing the drug and the mask he would be wearing, as well as the garments that he so far had refused to cast one look at.
This had to be one of the most mortifying moments of his life. Or maybe not. There had been plenty of those. As long as he didn’t allow himself to dwell on what he would have to do, he might be able to get through this night. He studiously avoided thinking about Angelica. What would he tell her, assuming he made it out alive at all? No use speculating on that. Now all that mattered was remaining alive.
The performance itself might worry him, but the nagging memory of the poison the Priestess’ last lover had been forced to drink haunted him far more. Twice Blessed Man or not, he was still afraid to die, just like anyone else. How could he be sure it would work? Maybe he would just die, but not wake up again. As if Suvi had read his mind, she appeared at the door.
“Are you ready? Good. Let us begin. My priestesses will give you a sign when you are to appear on stage. The devout are awaiting my presence. Can you hear them?”
There was a faint rhythm coming through the floor and walls from downstairs. If Cade strained his ears, he could only just make out a sort of humming, that would be the crowd cheering in anticipation of their Priestess. How in the world could people be so credulous?
“And if you’re concerned about – the resurrection, don’t be. Have you ever heard of something called the Zombie drug?”
Cade did think he’d heard it mentioned at one time, but he had never known whether to put much stock in such myths.
“Is that what you’re using?”
“Yes. I’ll be honest with you, Cade. You won’t actually die. But it will look like that in the eyes of the faithful. As soon as you get the antidote your breathing will pick up again. Nothing to it, really. Shall we?”
Her last question was obviously rhetoric, and even if Cade had been in any state to reply, Suvi was already disappearing out the door. Cade knew he had no choice but to follow. In the corridor outside, he was stopped by the three priestesses dressed in black. What now? Cade had a bad feeling about the whole thing. And his suspicion was confirmed.
One of those pills Suvi had shown him earlier was held out to him. So they didn’t trust in his acting talents. He didn’t want to use any drug. In this situation, he wanted to have all his wits about him. But again, he realized he didn’t have much choice. So he swallowed the pill, hoping it wouldn’t affect him in a too frightening way. Behind the women, he could see two tall men. So apparently Suvi hadn’t been entirely convinced of his compliance. But no one laid a hand on him. He was allowed to pick his own pace.
The music was just as tiresome as on the other occasion, and the crowd just as frenzied. Last time, though, Cade had still felt he had some choice. He had been able to call Eddie, make his reports. There had still been the illusion of freedom.
This time, he saw the whole show from behind the stage. Exactly as he had expected, the flash of light, the puff of smoke was just so much cheap carnival magic. And now it was his turn. The shapes dressed in black urged him forward onto the stage. How could he force himself to take part in this ridiculous performance? But it was a bit late to worry about that now. He was on next.
By now the drug had begun to take effect. Cade felt his head begin to spin. He shook his head to clear it, but became aware of a more tangible effect. Suddenly he was filled with desire. The reaction shamed him, but soon his conscious thoughts were banished from his mind. He saw Suvi and knew that what he wanted most in the world was to be close to her. She was the most desirable woman he had ever seen. Memories of Angelica and Hannah were pushed to the back of his mind.
The script seemed to run along the same lines as last time. Just as the show was reaching its climax, there was a loud crash from the back of the room. It was a while until the ecstatic crowds could tear their avid gazes away from the stage, but as the doors splintered and fell to the floor, and furniture was scattered, they finally turned and faced the man who had broken into their ceremony.
Since the music had stopped by now and the startled priestesses and faithful were running around the room in a panic, Cade too, stopped what he was doing and turned towards the entrance. It was with a great deal of relief that he abandoned his performance, though it was very close to its peak. At least no zombie-drug had as yet been administered.
And now he recognized the intruder. He was leaving a trail of destruction behind him on his way towards the stage. Joshua. Everyone else ran from him. Cade wasn’t in any condition to run, and Suvi kept herself under total control. He should have realized that this wasn’t a woman who let herself be distracted from her purpose. She would always turn any situation to her advantage.
“The Goddess has spoken once again. She has sent us her consort. Do not be afraid.”
But her words fell on deaf ears. Only Cade and Joshua could hear her. It wasn’t until now that Joshua finally realized who was lying at the Priestess’ feet. A look of recognition and acknowledgement passed between the man and the Gua enforcer. But Joshua wouldn’t be distracted either.
“Do not presume to use me in your petty affairs, woman.”
“I’m sure I can make it worth your while, Gua.”
Gua? How did she know? Cade tried to get his breath back so he could move some distance away. But he was too far gone to really pay attention to much outside his own body.
Now Suvi tried to use her feminine charms on the Gua. The attempt failed.
Suddenly, Cade knew why the Gua enforcer had been sent to this place. He couldn’t see why the Gua would find it necessary to shut down Suvi’s operation, but it was plain that the so called Priestess was in grave danger. And Joshua’s next move seemed to confirm Cade’s suspicion. But he didn’t want to watch this woman die.
“No. Please don’t.”
Obviously, the woman didn’t yet see the seriousness of her situation. Both she and the Gua turned in astonishment and faced Cade.
“Don’t do it.”
And to Cade’s stunned disbelief, Joshua inclined his head in acquiescence.
“Go. If you value your life, don’t remain here.”
And Joshua took another menacing step in her direction, and finally it seemed Suvi got the message. Slowly, as if to prove that she wouldn’t let herself be hurried.
Now that the faithful had been scattered and the room lay in ruins around them, Cade expected the Gua to continue his relentless trail of destruction. Instead, he looked down at Cade with concern in his eyes. And the Gua hesitantly held out his hand to help Cade get up.
A rush of desire made Cade accept the hand and when he was on his feet he didn’t feel at all in a hurry to let go. Instead, he leaned closer and allowed himself to enjoy the closeness. But his mind wasn’t entirely shut down. There was something he needed to know. With an effort he managed to get the words out.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was sent to shut this place down.”
But the Gua apparently hadn’t come to answer questions.
“I will make sure this community is no longer functioning. If you are well, you had better leave.”
But neither one of them seemed to want to make a move. Joshua didn’t know what to make of this new affectionate Cade. Now the human moved even closer, and their lips almost met. Giving in to the temptation for just a second, Joshua closed the rest of the distance between them.
Their mouths met in the kiss Joshua had waited for ever since he’d first seen the Twice Blessed Man. This was all he had ever hoped for, but he knew it was too good to be true. Obviously, something was had changed the human. Perhaps he was drugged. Reluctantly, Joshua made another attempt to gently disentangle himself.
“You really should leave this place, mr Foster. I believe your police will be here shortly, and as you know your status is a little precarious in their view. Do you have means of transportation?”
If only he could think. Transportation? What was Joshua asking? Why wasn’t he more enthusiastic?
No reply, but the Gua still wasn’t moving. He was still looking at Cade with concern in his eyes. A noise from the front door made them turn in that direction.
“Cade? Are you ok?”
Finding Cade like this in that ridiculous outfit and so suggestively entangled in that man – no that Gua’s arms. This must be Joshua. But that didn’t explain Cade’s overly affectionate reaction to the other guy.
“Yes. I’m ok.”
“Good. Then maybe we should go.”
But Angelica didn’t move. She was curious about this Gua who apparently sympathized with the people of this world his people were invading. But there was more to her interest than that.
Another look of intense interest passed between Joshua and Angelica. Then Joshua bowed ever so slightly and turned and left. It was time they were all away from this place.
Angelica herded Cade before her, and over to her car. Talk could wait. But not for long. Cade’s demeanor worried her. Something had happened to him in that place, and she was hoping it had nothing to do with the mysterious Gua. It had been easy enough to guess at the missing piece of the puzzle now that she’d finally seen Joshua face to face.
As simple as that. Love. If Cade had confided in her about it she would have known, she had nothing to worry about. It was just tough on the Gua. But this. There was something far wrong about the whole thing, and it had something to do with that sect. In fact, it was obvious that the Gua hadn’t been the one clinging to Cade. It had been the other way around.
His hands began to move across her body in a highly suggestive way. What? This wasn’t happening. He obviously wanted to have sex right here in the car. Angelica couldn’t figure it out. But the way Cade was going, it might be better to stop the car. So she did. At the very least she could try to reason with him.
But he wasn’t capable of any coherent speech. And his hands kept up their exploration of her skin. By now he was already under her top, trying to open her bra – This really wasn’t a good idea. But she had nerved herself up to the confrontation with the cult, and worried and agonized over Cade’s fate. Suddenly, what he had in mind seemed far too attractive. Maybe if she let him have his way, Cade would be more rational.
Not too much later, Angelica decided it was time they were on their way. The side of the road was probably not the best location to wait around in for hours. So she started the engine and drove off again. Cade seemed to have fallen asleep. That was probably for the best. But as they approached the place Eddie kept the trailer, he was still asleep, and that began to worry Angelica.
And now she was remembering how irrational had appeared when she found him in Joshua’s arms. It dawned on her that Cade must have been drugged. That might explain a lot. And now he was lying there so immobile. A moment of panic made Angelica step on the brakes, and shake Cade violently by the shoulder.
“Cade? Wake up.”
As if from a long distance away, he heard Angelica’s voice. Angelica. At last. How had he managed to get out of that place? Then the memories flooded in. Joshua. Suvi. Cade looked down on himself. No. What had he done? He couldn’t remember all of it, but the confused fragments of memories made him fear the worst. Had he had sex with Suvi? Joshua?
“Are you ok?”
“I think so. Angelica, what did I do?”
What a relief. At least he was conscious. Aware. Whatever had been the matter, was clearing up. And she smiled smugly. His last question she could answer easily enough.
“You don’t remember?”
“I think -“
“But before that? Do you know?”
“Not a lot. But judging by your outfit – I thought you’d know.”
“I hope -“
“Cade what happened back there? Don’t you remember anything? He hadn’t wanted to discuss this so soon. But maybe it was better to get it over with.”
“That place. The cult. Suvi. By the way, was she really related to that senator, do you know?”
“She promised to help me, to have my record cleared. Was she really in a position to do so?”
“I doubt it. She hadn’t been in touch with her father for more than seven years. They had a – difference of opinion.”
“About her involvement in certain adult movies. And prostitution. And drug dealing. The list goes on. So, I hope you didn’t believe in her.”
Of course he hadn’t. Not seriously, but Cade couldn’t deny that for a brief moment, he had allowed himself to hope. Knowing all along that the promises were never true.
“No. I didn’t. But -“
“But what? What did she do to you?”
Well, he had to tell her some time. If only he knew what had happened after he got that drug.
“I was given a choice. The other option was never specified, but I knew it was my life – or -“
“Or perform in one of her rites.”
That was all he could tell her. The exact nature of the rite didn’t matter. At least he tried to tell himself that. And he didn’t have any idea how far the scene had gone. Worse, he didn’t know if he and Joshua had – Maybe Angelica could tell him. But it felt mortifying to even mention his suspicions. On the other hand, if he explained about the drug, maybe she’d understand.
“When you arrived, what was I doing?”
So that had been on his mind too. But from what she had seen nothing had happened. Thanks to that Gua. It was odd. He was their enemy and yet he had saved Cade’s life, he sympathized with the humans, and now, apparently, he had turned down what seemed to be a flagrant come-on.
“Well, Joshua seems to have helped you to your feet. And I think maybe you were a bit unsteady -“
“We were embracing, weren’t we?”
“It did look a bit that way. Do you think you might explain that to me?”
She didn’t place too much emphasis on the words, but a lot depended on his answer. Cade hesitated. This was the time to confess and throw himself on her mercy. But that meant telling her about what he’d felt.
How close he had come to actually have sex with Suvi, not just because his life depended on it, but for some crazy reason he didn’t fully understand. But the drug must explain all of it. At least he told himself that. If only Angelica would see it the same way.
“They gave me a drug. Apparently, they didn’t quite trust in my acting talent.”
“Oh. Well, that explains it. But the effects seem to have worn off, right?”
Cade blushed a deep shade of red. Yes, making love to Angelica did seem to have cured him. But he had never acted like this in his entire life. Not of his own free will.
“Good. Cade, it’s ok. I understand.”
“At least the Gua shut her down for good.”
“And I got you out of there just in time. Mission accomplished.”
“I guess so. But I should never have been involved in this case from the start. No Gua involvement. Not my concern.”
“No. But I’m glad this business is finished anyway. You might not have gotten close to the truth, but I know what she did to most of her disciples.”
But he already had a suspicion of where this was leading.
“Slavery. She must have made a great deal of profit from selling young, good looking people to the porn industry, and various types of slave work.”
“Slavery? Apparently, the Gua aren’t alone in their ambitions for us ordinary people.”
“No I’m afraid not. Let’s go home now, Cade. Just one thing.”
He didn’t think he could handle anything else right now. -I think the trailer is going to be a bit full from now on. So you and I will need to make some other arrangement when we’re visiting Eddie and Trish.
“Trish’s moved her sons in there.”
“Really? Well, we could probably get something else. Or we’ll just visit over the day.”
“I was thinking you could get a van. Like this one. That would make it easier for you to travel. And it’s going to be a bit more of a home than the side of the road.”
“Well, I didn’t want to tie myself down with too many possessions, but you have a point. Or we could get a trailer, just like Eddie’s. Only, it’s going to be a bit difficult to handle, when we’re both away on a mission.”
“Yes, but it would be nice to have that place to return to.”
“If we can afford one.”
“Eddie can probably get us a really good deal.”
“Yes, I guess he could. Well, if you want, we’ll give it a try. It would be like a vacation, whenever we have time to relax a bit.”
“Good. We’ll ask Eddie when we get back.”
“Eddie as a dad. That takes some getting used to.”
“I know. But he’ll probably make the adjustment just fine.”
Yes, building a sort of home with Angelica would be wonderful. Almost like old times. Cade was already looking forward to it. He really was Blessed, now that he’d met Angelica. And knowing her made all his work worth while. At least when it didn’t put him into situations like the one he’d just left behind.
Back at the community, several of the startled and shocked Children of the Goddess were still milling about. Their High Priestess had left them, and many of them didn’t know where to go and what to do.
Joshua had been about to set fire to the house and grounds. But seeing all these humans, dazed and shocked, gave him an idea.
“Do not be afraid. I am not here to destroy you. Your false leader has left at the first sign of trouble.”
One of the women dared to approach with a question.
“My name is Joshua.”
“Are you truly a god?”
“I am – not of this world.”
“Will you stay and be our leader?”
“I can not. My work is elsewhere. If you wish to honor someone, honor The Twice Blessed Man. He was among you for a while.”
“Who is he?”
“He is your savior. Follow him. Wait for his return. I must leave. Remember, do not worship false gods. The Twice Blessed Man is a man just like you, even though he is your savior.”
“We will do as you tell us, Joshua.”
As the Gua enforcer left, there were awed whispers and looks following his receding form. Many of them began to suspect that the Twice Blessed Man was the Priestess’ latest paramour. And if he truly was their savior, they would follow him instead of the Goddess. Who had seen the Goddess anyway? A man was easier to believe in.
They only wished that the divine messenger would have specified what they were being saved from. But it didn’t matter. They had been told what to do. All that remained was to obey. Now they would await their savior’s return and in the meantime, they would do what they had always done. Work. Study. Pray.
And so the followers of the Twice Blessed Man multiplied worldwide. A resistance against the Gua invasion was formed and one day, The Twice Blessed Man would not need to stay in the shadows anymore.