“I’ve had enough!” Harrison screamed at me from across the board room. “This is ridiculous!”
Steely eyed, I stared straight at him.
Dressed in a black, tailored three-piece suit, I stood up and walked across the room, my two new super strong bodyguards following behind me.
I’d only made one change to the boardroom in the last few weeks. The picture of Olivia and her crime family had been taken down, and in its place was a picture of me with Carter and Malcolm.
I needed the reminder of why I was doing this.
As I walked, I took note of the facial expressions of the people who I hoped I could keep as friends. Harrison, as usual, was furious, Hope looked pissed, but not necessarily angry, Casey was covering his face with his hands, and my amazing boyfriend’s face was just blank.
Right over him, I slapped Harrison across the face.
“You bitch!” Harrison screamed, shooting up.
Right on cue, my new bodyguards, I hadn’t taken the time to learn their names, shoved him back into his seat.
Harrison slammed a fist down on the table, his face turning red.
“The Queen’s Guard, like all crime in this city, is now run by my father,” I said coldly. “It is not your place to question his orders.”
“We’re not a normal gang, Raina,” Casey said, uncovering his face to reveal tears. “We never have been, and you know that. We’re out to help people, and with the state of the city, we’re needed more than ever.”
I slowly strutted over to Casey, putting my hands on his shoulders.
“You’re right,” I said. “The people of Bluejay haven’t suffered this much since Perses’ final rampage.” I got in close and whispered into Casey’s ear. “But I don’t give a rat’s hairy ass.” Standing up straight, I continued. “Evidently, I have to make myself a bit more clear. My father’s plans can not be stopped. I am going to assist him in any way I can, and if you want to live, you’ll stay in line.” I smirked. “Besides, we are helping people. We’re keeping random miscreants who haven’t fallen into place from committing crimes.”
“By killing them,” Harrison stated.
“Since when aren’t you OK with murder?” I asked.
“Since when are you?” Casey countered.
“You’re killing innocents!” Harrison roared. “Stealing from people who don’t even have anything left! Isn’t this what you vowed not to be?!”
I smiled coyly.
“Harrison, I still think of you as my friend. And as a very competent man. In the short time I was away, you were doing an excellent job running things. However, if you don’t like how things are done now, you’re more than welcome to leave.” I grinned evilly. “Just don’t expect to come out of the coming days alive.”
I didn’t want to be saying these things. I didn’t want to be acting this way. But it wasn’t like I had a choice.
“Know what?” Harrison asked rhetorically. “Fine,” he said, standing up. “I quit. And I may not be able to bring clothes and food out to those people in bulk like we should be, but damn if I’m not gonna help them.” He pulled his trench coat off his chair and started putting it on his large, round body. “Who’s coming with me?”
Please don’t leave, please don’t leave, please don’t leave, I thought to myself over and over again.
Hope, who’d just been scowling at me this whole time, stood up, put on her black gloves, and joined Harrison by the door.
My eyes turned to Casey, awaiting his response.
He stood up and looked me straight in the eye.
“You know this isn’t right,” he said in a bad Russian accent. “What would Carter say?”
A bad imitation of Olivia? That traitor?! Insinuating that I’m not thinking about Carter?!
“Aaaah!” I screamed, flipping Casey and sending him to the floor.
“Casey!” Harrison shouted as he and Hope made their way toward me.
In response, my guards drew their guns and aimed them at the two.
“Guns down,” I ordered calmly. I looked down at Casey, and then back up at Harrison and Hope. I sneered. “Get out of my sight.”
Casey stood up and walked over to his friends, but none of them departed.
“I’m waiting,” I growled.
“So are we,” Hope said.
Turning around, I realized why they hadn’t left.
“Sammy,” I said, dropping the tough act. “You’re staying with me. Right?”
“Come on man, your girlfriend’s gone crazy!” Harrison shouted. “Let’s go.”
My bae finally acknowledged any of our existence, the bags under his eyes easily visible from across the room.
“I’ll catch up later,” he said. “Raina and I need to talk.”
“You sure that’s a good idea?” Hope asked.
“Hope you die,” Harrison said as the three exited the room.
“Damn it all,” I whispered almost silently. As I sat down next to Sammy, I said to my guards, “Leave us.”
A few moments later, Sammy and I were the only ones left in the cold boardroom.
“So,” he said, holding my hands softly. “You wanna tell me what’s really going on?”
“Exactly what it seems,” I half lied. “You know I change my mind on who I want to be pretty often. Shortly after I gave Harrison control of the Queen’s Guard, I found out my father was the one running all of the city’s organized crime. And after that, I decided that I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
I was smiling, but he didn’t look amused.
“You told me all of that weeks ago. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. I hated you when we first met, but I saw you change. I refuse to believe you’ve become the monster you used to be.”
“You’re right,” I said cheerfully, raising my hands into the air. “I’m not some selfish bitch who only cares about money and her own problems. I’m just trying to be successful.”
Sammy shook his head.
“There’s more that you’re not telling me!” he shouted. He slowly approached me, and tenderly put his hands on my shoulders. “Come on, Babe.”
His rough but warm hands on my shoulders, and his chocolate brown eyes staring into mine, I felt compelled to tell the truth. I couldn’t lie to him anymore.
“What the Hell is this?” I asked, getting out of the elevator. “Why are these people being tortured?”
Olivia remained silent.
“Tell me!” I shouted, grabbing Olivia’s collar.
“Darling, she isn’t the one to tell you about all this,” an all too familiar voice said.
Turning around, I became even more confused.
He was dressed almost identically to Olivia, wearing a black turtleneck, a dark blue leather vest, black leather gauntlets, a black and blue trench coat, dress pants, and pointed shoes. The only difference was that the blue was swapped out for red on Olivia’s outfit.
“Hello princess,” he said, bringing me in for a hug. “We have much to discuss.”
Befuddled as I was already, I became even more so when two women appeared, standing behind my father.
One of them I’d never seen before. She was a brunette with long hair and a slender figure, and while she was pretty now, I could tell just from looking at her that she hadn’t always been that way. It wouldn’t be obvious to most people, but with the circles I ran in, it was easy for me to tell that she’d had a lot of facial surgery done. As for her attire, she wore the same black ensemble as the others, but with yellow as the color in it.
The other woman was Eve. Even though Olivia was a mess, Eve was smiling alongside the my father and the other woman. The color in her mostly black ensemble was sky blue.
“Daddy, what is all this?” I asked. “What are you all wearing? And who is this woman?” I asked, referring to the burnette.
“Hi,” the mystery woman said cheerfully, walking up to me and extending a hand. “I’m Dr. Ashley Gerbe.”
“Never heard of you,” I said coldly as I shook her hand, not liking anything about my current situation.
“Well, you’ve certainly seen my work,” Dr. Gerbe responded. “Remember the android that you and your friends named, Brown Ax? It’s fight against you was a test run.”
Hearing those words, I pulled away from her, retreating closer to Olivia.
“That was you? You built that thing?! It almost killed us.” Then, remembering something, I spun around and faced Olivia. “You said you knew who was behind the killer robot. You said you were going to handle it.”
A look of shame on her face, Olivia just clenched her eyes shut and tilted her head downward.
Turning back around, my father approached me.
While I was looking at him, my attention was still firmly on the people being tortured.
“Perhaps it’s best I explain from the beginning,” Daddy said. “As I’m sure you know from your encounter with hordes of demons, which, once again, I’m so proud of you for stopping them,” he paused to give me a warm smile, “God is most definitely real. The four of us are a group known as The Votary. For many years, we alone have received direct orders from his holiness, and we have done our part in enacting his master plan.”
If this was all true, it certainly explained how Eve and Olivia knew so much during the demon crisis. But what did my father have to do with this? And why were all these people being forced to suffer?
“And…what is his master plan?”
“End of the world,” Eve said casually, jumping into the conversation. As she made her way over to Olivia, she went on. “It’s a shame, yeah, but the big man, or, woman, it’s not really clear, wants humanity gone.”
I was stunned. I knew Eve was pretty amoral, but she was talking about the deaths of billions like it was nothing.
“And,” I could barely breath. “You’re all helping with this plan?”
My father, Eve, and Dr. Gerbe continued to smile, but a quick glance at Olivia showed that she was still sullen.
“It’s all for the best though,” Daddy said. “Once the plan is finished, us, along with those we choose to bring along with us, will be whisked off to paradise.”
“The Garden of Eden,” Eve said with a look of ecstasy on her face.
“Humanity will eventually return over time, and when it does, it’ll no longer have to suffer on this wretched planet,” Daddy went on. “Doesn’t that sound wonderful?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I mean, I could, but…Daddy?
In any case, I gave no response to his question.
“As for these people, you should pay them no mind,” my father continued. “Merely some homeless and destitute I had my men round up. As you now know, Dr. Gerbe is a genius in the field of robotics, not to mention virtually every other area of science. However, she believes that a combination of humans with cybernetic and robotic parts could prove far more useful than mere machines. As such, we’re using these people as test subjects in the hopes of creating cyborgs.”
I was angry and confused. Two feelings I was all too tired of feeling. I’d just gotten away from heroics, villainy, and the like, and now I was being drawn back into this…this…bullshit!
Feeling a need to get out my anger, I teleported over to the bitch hurting and killing innocent people, and punched her in the gut.
And it was like punching a brick wall.
“What the?…” I asked clutching my fist.
Dr. Gerbe smiled.
“Intellect like my doesn’t come naturally. I’m a Demigod with the power of super intelligence, along with some minor telepathy.”
“Damn it,” I said, not really sure what deserved the most damning at this point. I looked to Olivia and Eve, and then back at my father. “So what does any of this have to do with me? Am I one of your chosen?”
My father laughed.
“Oh, no. Nothing so poultry for my daughter. I want you to become a full-fledged member of The Votary.”
I shook my head.
“Sorry Daddy,” I said. “But that’s not gonna happen.” I gave as firm a look to my father as I could muster. “In fact, you better hope someone in this room is willing to kill me, because the second I get out of here, I’m telling Lightning Bee, Panda, and Decker everything you’re up to, and they’ll shut you down.”
“Really?” Daddy asked, seemingly not dismayed at all. “Is that so?”
Nodding my head, I said, “I will never be a part of your plans.”
“Well now you’re just lying,” Eve commented.
“Eve, please,” Olivia said softly.
“What?” Eve responded. “She has a right to know.”
“Know, what?” I asked, pissed.
“Dear,” Daddy said, putting his hands on my shoulders. “You’ve already been a part of our plans these past few months.”
I leapt back.
“What did you say?”
“From the day Queen first appeared, I knew it was you.” Fuck. “You didn’t really think you could keep such a big secret from your own father did you?”
“In any case, after I became aware of this, now knowing that you had a cutthroat nature to you that went beyond mere middle school antics, I knew it was time to bring you into our inner circle. The first that was necessary was to make you accustomed to the unfortunately necessary deed of killing.”
No, I thought to myself, hoping that this wasn’t going where I thought it was.
“So, I hired the man the media would come to know as Phaser to rob a bank. I was well aware of Lightning Bee’s presence at this point, and equally aware that you wanted to put him in his place. And a powerful villain was just the thing to draw you to out.
“No,” I said out loud this time.
“Truth be told, I was hoping you’d be able to take him out yourself, but even that final attack of yours wasn’t enough.” He smirked. “How fortunate that I’d had a bomb implanted in him, making it quite easy for us to make you think that you’d killed him.”
“NOOOOOOO!” I screeched, hitting my father’s chest over and over again. “NO! NO! NO!”
“Shhh,” he said, softly clutching my wrists. “It’s okay.”
“No it’s not!” I cried. “You made me think I was a murderer! Do you know how many people I killed because of that?”
“Of course!” he exclaimed. “I was just expecting you to take to it. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect you to plan full on genocide.”
“Damn it,” I muttered, dropping to my knees. “Damn you.”
“I know it’s hard,” Daddy said, crouching down. “But what I’ve done has all been to make you the strong woman you are today. Proud as I was of your massive goals, I couldn’t have you decimating the human population just yet. So, the night of my party, I purposely had lax security so you and your men could get in. And since you’d made the effort to ensure Lightning Bee’s presence, I placed my bets on him snapping you out of your temporary insanity and going on to instill values, which, while his versions of them are somewhat short minded, are in line with ours.”
All this time. He’d been manipulating me. My own father.
At least…at least he didn’t seem to know that Carter was Lightning Bee. With how much he was saying, if he knew, he likely would have brought it up.
“Don’t tell me,” I said. “You’re behind Smog too? Thought that we needed a challenge?!”
“Oh, no,” Daddy said, putting a hand on his heart. “That “man” is a monster, and we have plans to put him down once and for all.” I breathed a small sigh of relief, although I was still rife with rage. “However, I will admit to being behind the formation of the,” he sighed, “Troupe Experience.”
That’s what Hope, Sammy, Harrison, and Casey called themselves before I joined…
“You were their benefactor,” I said. “You’re the one who asked them to make me their leader.”
“And in doing so, you learned about the nature of business and responsibility.”
I was going to barf. I was so sick to my stomach. I just…I just….
“Olivia,” I said softly, tears coming down my face. “I know that you’re part of this group, but please, please tell me that you didn’t know what my father was doing to me.”
“Of course she did,” Dr. Gerbe answered.
“Shut up Ashley!” Olivia roared.
“What?” Dr. Gerbe responded. “Your work was superb. Detonating the bomb in Phaser, steering Raina in the direction we wanted her to go, hell, even taking over the Negative District was all you…”
Olivia cut her off.
“I SAID SHUT UP!”
Slowly, I stood up, and walked over to Olivia.
“Is this all true?” I asked. “I don’t care if you’re part of some death cult. I don’t care how many people you’ve hurt and killed. Just tell me that you haven’t been using me…and I’ll believe you.”
I hugged her tightly.
“I…” she began. “I’m sorry Raina.” My heart dropped. “But I can’t do that.”
Again, I dropped to my knees.
“I am so, so, sorry,” Olivia attempted to apologise.
I was speechless.
“Raina…” Olivia said softly.
“I trusted you,” I whispered.
“Raina please,” Olivia cried. “We can move past this. It’ll be hard but…”
This time, I cut her off.
“Shut up you cunt!”
Olivia’s face was filled with heartbreak. Maybe she knew how I was feeling now.
“Hey!” Dr. Gerbe said, picking me up by the collar. “You can’t talk to my bestie that way!”
“Bestie?” I softly growled, my hatred for everyone around me growing by the second.
“Doctor,” Daddy said firmly. “Put her down. Now.”
Dr. Gerbe still didn’t look happy, but saying, “Yes sir,” she put me down.
My father paced a bit, looking at everyone.
“You are disturbing my daughter,” he said. “All of you. Leave us.”
His tone was so commanding. So…so…
Following his orders without question, Eve, Dr. Gerbe, and a sobbing Olivia retreated into other parts of the laboratory.
“Why the Hell would I ever join you?” I asked. “You ruined my life!”
“I also gave you life,” Daddy said. “And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting what’s best for you.”
“Nothing you’ve done has been what’s best for me! It’s all been what’s best for you!”
Daddy looked actually upset.
“I’m disappointed that you think I’d ever put myself before you. Sweetie, when we arrive in the Garden, those that we bring with us, they will mate. Give birth, whither, and die. But us? The five of us will have eternal youth. We will rule over the new humanity! We’ll be gods in our own right.” He tenderly put his fingers under my chin. “The spoiled brat you were before all of this wasn’t worthy of godhood, but the powerful, independent woman that stands before me now most certainly is.”
I was still disgusted with all of this.
But I’d be lying if I said some of what he was saying didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Maybe it had to do with his tone. Maybe it had to do with the warmth of his fingers.
“Besides,” Daddy continued. “What would you prefer? Your friends trying to stop me and dying in the process, or guaranteeing them spots in Paradise by joining us. I mean, I suppose there is a chance of your friends succeeding, but what would you say their chances would be against Olivia and and a small army of Brown Ax androids.”
Malcolm, Carter, and I had barely beaten one. Throw in that bitch Olivia…and even if the team teamed up with the Queen’s Guard, they wouldn’t be able to win.
“Say…I started, my eyes on the current torturings going on, rather than my father. “Say I did join you. What would I have to do?”
Daddy’s smile returned.
“Very little. Primarily, the Queen’s Guard, still under your leadership, will be joining my criminal empire. I’m sure you’re well aware that there’s been someone bigger than you in the city. And that’s me. We can get into the details later, because what I know is most important to you, is what it’ll take to keep your friends alive.”
“Part of what I’ve been saying is true,” I said. “Something big is coming. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
“Ray,” he said, showing off his great teeth. “We just stopped the apocalypse a few weeks ago. There’s nothing we can’t do.”
“Yes there is!” I cried. “I don’t know what it is, but soon, a force more dangerous than Perses itself is going to arise, and no one will be able to stand against it. The only way we make it out of this alive is to join the winning team.”
Exhaling through his nose, Sammy curled his lip and began pacing.
“You’re making it a sound a lot like your dad, who, far as I know, is just some business dude, is going to end the world.”
I shook my head at that.
“He isn’t in charge. But, yes, he’s a major player.”
“Then we fight him!” Sammy shouted as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“He’s my father! And I may not like…a lot of things that he’s doing,” memories of what we’d done together the past two nights played in my head, “but he’s still my father.”
“He’s also the guy making you do something that stands against everything you believe in! I get that you love him, but if it’ll save the world…save you, me, Hope, and my buds…well, I guess I’ll kill him.”
I slapped him even harder than I’d slapped Harrison.
“Even if I were to allow that to happen, you wouldn’t have a chance. You know how Olivia hasn’t been around recently? That’s because she’s Daddy’s bodyguard now.”
“I can take her,” he spat.
“We both know that’s not true,” I said coldly, displeased just thinking about Olivia.
Bobbing his head up and down, Sammy spoke.
“Fine. We can’t kill him.” From the look on his face, he clearly knew how upset him bringing up that prospect made me. “But I refuse to just sit back and just let him turn you into a monster.”
As he started walking off, I asked, “Where are you going?”
Without even looking at me, he responded, “To go talk to the one person who might be able to talk sense into you. Because clearly that’s not me.”
Who was he… I thought to myself. No!
I teleported myself right in front of Sammy, standing between him and the door.
“You can’t tell Carter,” I said as a matter of fact.
“Really?” he asked rhetorically. “Cause I’ve got his number.”
“You damn well know what I mean,” I said. “Carter isn’t just an idiot. He’s a heroic idiot. If he finds out the truth why I’m doing this, or even that I’m doing this at all, he will, like always, try to save me. He’ll go after my father, and if Olivia doesn’t kill him, the android soldiers he has now will.”
“Holy shit,” Sammy said.
“I take it you understand then?” I asked.
“Yeah. I think I do.” He paused, making me nervous. “He dosen’t even know that you’ve been running Bluejay’s crime for Daddy?” He laughed. “You just don’t want him knowing that you’re not the good person he thought you were.”
“That not true!” I screamed.
“You don’t want him to know because his opinion matters more to you than anyone’s. More than mine!”
“Shut up, Sammy!” I shouted, tears starting to form.
“You don’t want him to know because no matter who enters or leaves your life, you know that he’ll always be there for you.” His tears started coming down his face much faster than mine were. “Babe I’ve tried not being jealous, and you’ve always told me that you loved us both, but in different ways.” He wiped his tears on his sleeve. “I just can’t believe that anymore.”
Sammy walked around me, and opened the door.
“So where does that leave us?” I asked, sniffling.
He grit his teeth and slammed the door, more tears rushing down his cheeks.
“For you, I won’t tell him. I’ll tell my sister and my buds, and yeah, we’ll probably do something stupid trying to stop your dad, but I won’t talk to Carter.”
“Thank you,” I said, barely able to make the statement audible.
“But,” he said coldly. “Don’t…don’t you dare think is about me being jealous.” He was breathing incredibly quickly and heavily. “I love you Raina. But if you’re really the kind of person who’d sell her soul to survive, even if it meant dooming everything else!…then Carter isn’t the only person I’m never talking to again.”
With one last hard look, the man I loved walked out the door, slamming it behind him.
And just like that, I’d lost half my friends and my too good for me boyfriend.
“Aaaaaaaagh!” I screeched, punching the board room’s table. “It’s not fair! It’s not fair!”
Olivia and Eve had betrayed me. My team had abandoned me. My father was…using me.
The only people I had left I couldn’t even talk to. Malcolm would go to kill Daddy without a second thought, telling Ally would take away her guaranteed survival, and Carter…Carter just couldn’t find out.
So I was alone. Alone at the top of the world. And when everything burned, and no one forgave me, I would still be alone.
Thanks to the amazing people in my life, I was able to move past my guilt over my past sins.
But once again, I’d become a monster.
And so no matter what happened, I knew when the new world formed…I had to be the first person to die.
“So,” my father said, having finished explaining all of my duties, as well as the circumstances for the survival of my loved ones. “Will you join us?”
Swallowing every ounce of pride or self worth, I said, “Yes.”
“Excellent!” my father shouted,hugging me, as if my heart hadn’t just been torn into a million pieces.
He tightened his hug…and a chill went down my spine. It was a feeling I hadn’t gotten the same way since I was little.
“Welcome to the Votary my princess,” he said, grabbing my ass and crotch. “My queen.”