Kat still lay in darkness in the back of a truck as her captors rode in search of her husband. She wasn’t sure how long it had been since they had imprisoned her. Days? Weeks? All she had seen was the inside of this truck. Rarely did someone check in to give her something to eat and drink. She was weak with hunger, and she was pretty sure dehydration was setting in as well. It was hot inside the truck. The year was moving on, and it was a lot cooler than before, but the sun still heated up the walls of the truck, and made the air hard to breathe.
She didn’t know why they kept her alive. Anti-Sergio hadn’t said much to her after her capture. Kat guessed that they probably still needed her, possibly to help draw her husband out of hiding.
That was the only thing that kept her sane. Her husband and her daughter were still out there. Invergence hadn’t won yet. And as long as Alice remained safe, they had a chance.
It was a fleeting hope though. She had no idea how long Sergio could keep it up. He couldn’t run from Invergence forever. They had caught up to Kat, and it seemed likely that they would eventually catch up with him as well. Invergence had nothing to lose except time.
Kat was brought out of her brooding by the sound of latches opening. A moment later and the back of the truck rose. Kat blinked in the bright light, but basked in the cool air that rushed to fill the compartment.
A man stepped into truck. The man with Sergio’s face. The man who was responsible for everything Kat hated about her life. This man had killed their friends, and other innocent people. He was the one in charge of Alice’s pursuit. If it weren’t for her chains, she would have attacked the man with everything she had.
Unfortunately, she had no choice but to remain where she was. He approached closer, pulled up a chair, and removed her gag. For a brief moment she thought she might cry for help, but logic soon destroyed that idea.
“Your husband has proven to be quiet elusive,” Anti-Sergio said. “I suppose it’s not that surprising, if he’s anything like me, which he is.”
He smiled at her. It made her sick. She had seen that smile from her husband all the time.
“You may have noticed that we’ve kept you alive. Do you know why that is?”
Kat remained silent. She no longer wanted to acknowledge this man with a response.
He paused, waiting for her answer. When it didn’t come, he shrugged and continued.
“I, of course, think it’s best if we keep you around if only for use as leverage. But there’s more to it than that. Have you noticed how the men look at you?”
Kat frowned. She had noticed. Most of them regarded her with some unusual expression. For some it was a sort of desire, which at first she thought was typical of men like these. But for others it was more like fear. No…respect.
Anti-Sergio saw the confusion on her face, and chuckled. He seemed in a reasonably good mood, at least relative to what she was used to. “I’ll explain it then. You see, where I come from, you were rather an important person. Well not you, exactly. The mirror-image of you. Just like I am the mirror-image of your husband. She died, and the power that she held went to another.”
Kat wondered where he was going with this, but still refused to say anything.
“She and I were lovers,” he said, and a hand reached forward to touch Kat’s hair. She winced and tried to pull away, but she could only tilt her head back. His fingers brushed the side of her face and moved down her neck. If she had had any food in her stomach, she would have lost it right then. She felt nothing but repulsion for this man, and the fact that he looked something like her husband only seemed to make it worse.
Anti-Sergio drew closer. “If you were to come with us willingly, there’s a chance you could be great again,” he whispered in her ear. “You would have power like no one on this puny Earth has ever imagined. You could even have your daughter to raise once we find her. You and I, we could change Invergence to fit our purposes. We could take back the power that your mirror-self once possessed.”
Kat spat in his face.
He didn’t recoil. He simply reached up with his arm and wiped the spittle off his cheek. She stared into his eyes, infusing her gaze with all the defiance she could possibly muster.
The hand that had touched her suddenly tightened around her hair. She gasped as he pulled hard and pain ran through her scalp.
“I’m asking nicely,” he growled. “You have no idea the pain that I can cause you. No idea!”
His grip released her hair and she brought her head up just as he backhanded her. Her cheek exploded in white-hot pain and she cried out.
“Oh you thought that hurt?”
Anti-Sergio grabbed the edges of the chair she was strapped to and lifted. Her chair tumbled backward with Kat still attached.
A boot connected with her stomach. All her air escaped her. Again, Anti-Sergio’s boot lashed out at her. She could do nothing to defend herself. She tried to remain silent and defiant, but couldn’t stop her cries as the man beat her.
A minute or an hour later, the kicks subsided. She did not look up, she would not give him that. Silently, she wished she had passed out. It hurt, oh but it hurt!
“You will eventually do what I ask.” Anti-Sergio said, breath heaving from exertion and anger. “We have ways of making you one of us. It’s only a matter of time.”
Kat didn’t doubt the man. If she stayed here too long, they were bound to break her eventually. Brainwashing was a definite possibility.
Panic filled her mind as Anti-Sergio stalked away, and the sliding door shut behind him, leaving her in complete blackness again. She had to find some escape. Some way to get out of here. Still strapped to a chair on its side, she wondered idly if that might help her sleep better. But with her aching body and troubled mind, it took quite a while before her exhaustion finally forced her into dreamless sleep.
The next morning, or at least she thought it was morning, Kat awoke to the sound of a commotion outside the truck. She couldn’t tell exactly what was going on, but she could hear shouts and the sound of cars rolling over gravel. A moment later and there was silence. She couldn’t hear anyone, and that was unusual. Had they all left?
She started feeling at the chains binding her to the chair. She was pretty sure if she could just get one hand free that she could possibly untangle herself. But try as she might, she couldn’t get any hand free. A thought occurred to her. She had seen multiple examples on television of someone dislocating a thumb to escape restraints like these. Was that just something that worked on screen but wasn’t practical in real life?
She kept trying to get free, but had no luck. Now on the brink of desperation, she tried pushing her thumb far enough that she could get free. She felt some pain, but not enough for her whole thumb to be dislocated. But her wrist did seem to give in the chains a bit more than usual. She tried again, pushing against her thumb with all she could muster.
A faint pop sounded and Kat cried out in pain. She had done it! Trying her best not to bump her dislocated thumb, she gently slid her hand out of its restraints. A few moments later and her other hand was free as well. Now she could pop her thumb back into place. Concentrating hard, and breathing quickly, she forced the thumb back into place. Kat could taste blood as she bit her tongue to stifle the scream.
At that moment, she heard the latches unlock at the back of the truck. Well so much for being alone.
It was an Invergence guard, and he had a small cup of water and tray of food in one hand. As Kat blinked through the strong light, she could see another guard outside. Were they the only two? She couldn’t see anyone else.
She did her best to hide her injured and chain-less hands as the guard approached her with the food. He didn’t seem to notice. Perhaps if she could grab his sidearm…
After righting her chair, the guard brought the cup of water to her lips and she drank, thankfully. She hadn’t had a drink in at least twenty-four hours. The tray that the guard held blocked her hand from his view. She glanced at his side arm. It was properly holstered with a strap holding it in place. Could she release that strap, activate, and fire the weapon before he could react? She wasn’t sure she could.
But this was her only chance. Once he was gone, the latches on the back of the truck would close and she’d be trapped in here. So without thinking, her good hand darted out.
Within a moment, the strap was released and she had the weapon pointed at the guard. She tried to fire and nothing happened. These things must have a safety! She looked frantically to find one, but by that time, the guard had gotten over his surprise and tried to wrest the gun from her grip. Just as he grabbed the gun, she saw it. A small latch on the side. She triggered it and fired!
The man’s grip on the weapon loosened, and a moment later he fell backward, blood pouring from the bullet-wound in his chest.
The second guard was already rushing into truck, his own weapon raised.
Kat reacted instantly. She fired once, twice, and a third time before the man went down. She had no idea how many bullets were left in the gun, but she kept it trained on the entrance to the truck. No one came. It seemed these two really were the only ones left to guard her.
Eventually, she set the weapon down and busied herself with getting out of the chains. It took several minutes, but with her hands free, she untangled herself with minimal effort.
She stood, but nearly fell down again. Her muscles ached from being in the same position for days. They screamed at her, but she forced herself to walk, supported by the truck walls, to the entrance.
When she finally stepped outside, a dry, cool wind greeted her. She closed her eyes. Never had anything felt so good!
When her eyes adjusted to the light, she took a look around. The truck, and a few temporary buildings were set up off the side of a deserted road. She could see for miles in every direction and saw mountains in the distance. So at least they were still in the Rockies. Hopefully, Sergio and Alice were around somewhere. Though Kat had no idea how she was going to find them, especially when Invergence couldn’t do so. But at least she was out and had a chance.
She couldn’t see any cars in the area, and she guessed that Invergence had specifically located a spot that was well away from civilization to set up their temporary headquarters. She saw no other vehicles other than the truck she had been kept in. Perhaps she could try and drive it? She certainly wouldn’t get anywhere by walking.
She limped to the door of the truck, her bones and muscles still screaming at her. Inside, she looked everywhere, but could not find the keys. Invergence was good at keeping their vehicles secure it seemed. There was a sort of inflatable tent nearby, so Kat went there next, hoping to find a locker or drawer somewhere that would have the keys. She looked for several minutes but still could find nothing.
Panic was starting to set in again. She had no idea how long it would be before the rest of Invergence returned, and there was no way that she could escape on foot. She would die of exhaustion if Invergence didn’t catch her first.
She did find a makeshift pantry and scarfed down a few rolls and as much water as she could fit in her stomach, then returned outside. Her only hope at this point was to find a place to hide, or hope that someone might be driving down the road.
As if in answer to her thoughts, she saw a small glint of metal winding its way down the road in the distance. It drove in her direction.
Quickly, she found some cover and watched it approach. Was it like the other smart cars? she wondered. She couldn’t tell from this distance. As the car came closer, she could tell that it wasn’t. It looked larger, like a van. So unless Invergence had changed their MO, this was probably someone else.
Kat emerged from her hiding place and began waving in the direction of the car. As it approached, it slowed slightly, and the driver’s window rolled down.
“Can we help you?” said the woman inside.
Kat opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She hadn’t spoken in days, and it felt odd trying to talk now.
“Look at her Valerie,” said another voice inside. “She’s been beaten! We have to help.”
The driver, Valerie, gestured for Kat to come closer. “Do you need help?”
Kat nodded, then felt her body start shaking.
“Oh my gosh, honey, you’re trembling. Here, we’ll get you somewhere comfortable. Charlie?”
A man emerged from the passenger seat and strode towards Kat. She instinctively took a step back as he approached, her hands clutching her arms in a protective stance.
“It’s okay,” the man said, and he seemed sincere. “We won’t hurt you. Come with us and we’ll find help.” He paused as he saw the symbol of Invergence on the side of the truck, a curious expression on his face. But it was gone as soon as Kat noticed, and his attention was focused on her again.
Kat wasn’t sure if anyone could really help, but she needed to get away from here. So eventually she moved forward and followed the man. He opened a back door in the van and she stepped in. In the back of the van was another woman, who looked quite similar to the driver. She had a concerned frown on her lips.
The driver looked back at her while the man circled the car to enter the passenger seat again. “What can we do for you, dear?”
“Get…” Kat coughed. Her throat felt like gravel. “Get me away from here.”
The woman nodded and they started driving.
“Did you see the symbol on the side of that truck?” the man whispered quietly to Valerie.
She nodded. “Perhaps we were meant to take that detour after all. It can’t be a coincidence.”
Kat’s ears were tingling. Did these people have some knowledge of Invergence? That would be a crazy coincidence. Too coincidental.
“Who are you people?” she asked.
The woman sitting beside her spoke first. “My name is Leslie. This is my sister Valerie and her husband Charlie.”
“And…and how did you know that symbol?”
“Ah, it’s a long story,” said Valerie, “We have ancestors who had some dealings with people who bore that symbol. We keep an eye out for them, but we never really thought that we’d run into them.”
“So you’re with Argo Force!” Kat exclaimed, not daring to believe her luck.
“Ah so you know about them too, huh? Well, yes, sort of. We aren’t what you would call official members of Argo Force. You need to sort of prove your worth to become one, and we haven’t had much to offer. But we know of them. My grandfather was a member.”
Kat could feel the relief flood through her. If anyone could help her, it was these people. But one thing troubled her, something that had troubled her multiple times throughout the last year. It seemed like the help she received was too coincidental. What were the odds that someone out here in the middle of nowhere could find her just when she needed help. Was this some new game of Anti-Sergio to try and extract information from her? Had that been why Invergence left in such a hurry, to give her a false chance to escape? She didn’t want to dwell on that thought.
“How did you know to find me?” she finally asked.
“We didn’t,” said Charlie. “We took that road only because we got lost and felt we had to go this way to get back to where we were. But the Lord works in mysterious ways, you know?
Kat didn’t know, and she still held suspicions. It was all too good to be true. If they were Invergence spies, she had to make it clear that she didn’t know where her husband was anymore than they did.
“I got separated from my husband and daughter,” she said. “Can you help me find them?”
Leslie responded. “Well I don’t know if we’ll be any help there, but perhaps we could get you in touch with someone. But first, we need to get you somewhere where you can eat and rest.”
Kat shook her head. “I can’t let you put yourselves in danger for me. People who try to help me end up getting hurt.”
Leslie grinned, “It’s okay honey, having a grandfather as an Argo Force member taught us a few things. We should be able to keep you safe.”
“They have large beasts, capable of tracking me.” Kat said. She hadn’t seen any of those beasts since she was captured, but she knew they were still around. She had heard them from her truck.
Leslie put a hand on her arm. “We’ll find a way. Don’t worry.”
That hardly did anything to stay Kat’s worries, but she let it go for now. The truth was, she really did need some rest and a decent meal. She would stay for one night, then leave. She was pretty sure the beast couldn’t track her that quickly. If she wasn’t around, perhaps the monsters would move on and not bother this family.
Kat found herself dozing off, which is why she was surprised when they pulled up into a driveway. It hadn’t seemed like too long, but the sun was already lowering. It was easily late-afternoon.
Valerie parked the car and got out with her sister and husband. Kat tried to get out too, but her screaming muscles and multiple bruises made it difficult for her to move. Leslie rounded the car to help her.
Kat still wasn’t sure if these were Invergence spies playing as Argo Force associates, but she was grateful for the help regardless. Yet, a large part of her remained upset that, once again, she was at the mercy of charity. One of these days, she and her husband would be completely capable of handling their own threats, if she could ever find him that is. She never wanted to be helpless again.
The young couple and their sister quickly heated up some TV dinners and a few other random food items around the kitchen. It was hardly a gourmet meal, but it was ready in a hurry, and Kat didn’t care about the quality. She scarfed down every last morsel and was grateful when Charlie brought some extra bread to go with it. She ate that too, plus as much water as her stomach could hold. Eventually, she had eaten all she could.
The family, who had remained mostly quiet while she ate, started questioning her now. They asked her about Invergence, about how she had sustained her bruises and dislocated finger. They also inquired about her husband and daughter, but seemed more concerned for her immediate story first. If they were Invergence spies, they were doing a very good job of covering it up. Most of the questions they asked were things that Invergence would have already known.
“So you’re telling us that your daughter is a Founder of Argo Force?” said Leslie. She had been listening for most of the conversation. “Our grandfather sometimes spoke of the Founders, but I thought they were already alive.”
Valerie nodded in agreement and looked to Kat for an answer. Kat hesitated, but decided this was relatively harmless information. Invergence already knew the answer. More and more, she was beginning to trust this family, against her better judgement. Sure, it was one coincidence too many, but perhaps she was just lucky.
“I know, with time-travel involved, that a Founder can come from any part in history. I haven’t met any of the others, so I don’t know how many there are supposed to be. But yes, my little girl, wherever she is, is supposed to be the latest and last of them.”
“Wow,” Valerie breathed, “I…I mean I never thought…”
Charlie finished his wife’s thought, “We’ve known about Argo Force, but that’s about all. We’ve never met a full member, other than my wife’s grandfather, and I’m not even sure he was a full member either. He didn’t have any supernatural powers that I’m aware of.” He looked at his wife, who shook her head.
“No, he was a skilled fighter and survivor, but nothing more than that. Unless you count his unique personality. No one knew what to make of him.”
Kat was interested now. She had only met two Argo Force members and she was hungry for any more information she could get. “What kind of unique personality?”
“Well, I mean, he used to think of himself as a real-life Sherlock Holmes, but all of his ‘deductions’ were dead wrong. He worked as a police detective in California after World War II, but he was the worst detective.” Valerie laughed in remission. “None of his guesses ever turned out right. They only kept him on because of his skill as a fighter, and physical trainer. He was also the best shot anyone had ever seen.”
“Is he still…around?” Kat asked tentatively.
“No, he passed on a few years ago.”
“Oh.” Kat nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, he lived a good life, and he’s in a better place right now.”
Leslie stood up. “Well, I’m sure you need to rest. You can have the guest room I was staying in. You need it more than I do.”
Part of Kat wanted to protest, to say that she didn’t mind the couch. But as she stood, she realized that her body could use all the extra comfort it could get. So she nodded, gratefully. “Thank you.”
Leslie nodded and together, the three of them helped Kat to the room. It was a small, cozy room with a bed, a small nightstand, and little else. The moment she settled onto the bed, Kat nearly shuddered with pleasure. Laying on the soft bed with cozy pillows was the best feeling she had ever experienced. Or at least, it felt that way. The moment her head hit the pillow, she felt herself falling asleep. The others left her alone and within minutes, the healing comfort of sleep took her.
Even though she had fallen asleep in the early evening, she slept for nearly fourteen hours. Her muscles were still sore and her bruises still hurt, but it was a dull ache now, not the sharp pains of the day before.
She found Valerie and Charlie preparing breakfast. Leslie sat reading a book on the couch. This time, the meal had a bit more forethought to it, and Kat saw the best breakfast she had seen since Simon took them in all those months ago. Kat wondered idly if Argo Force specifically taught its members how to cook good breakfasts.
“Good morning!” said Valerie as Kat entered.
“Hello,” Kat said groggily, “It smells amazing.”
“Thank you! Did you sleep well?”
Kat nodded, “Better than I have in weeks.”
“Well good, now eat up, you’ll need all the strength you can get to help you recover.”
“And I’ll be leaving as soon as I can,” said Kat. “I don’t want to put you in danger.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about that,” said Charlie. “We’ve dealt with worse.”
Kat couldn’t see how this domestic couple could have possibly dealt with worse. “Others have died protecting me.”
Valerie brought the last plate to the table, and they all sat down. Leslie joined them.
“Of course, we won’t keep you here if you want to leave. You want to find your family, we understand that. But we do think you could use a day or more to recover.”
“And I appreciate that, but I’m sorry, I won’t have you sacrifice your lives for me. I do plan on leaving today.”
“Do you have any idea where you’ll start looking?”
Kat shook her head. It was the weak point in her plan. Not only did she have no idea where Sergio might have gone, but she also had no form of transportation and no magic credit card to buy what she needed. But she would leave, walking if she had to.
Valerie glanced at Leslie and a silent communication passed between them. Leslie nodded and rose from the table.
“We have something that might help you,” said Valerie as her sister left to another room.
A few moments later, and Leslie reemerged with a small wooden box. It looked old, but well taken care of.
“This contains a few of our grandfather’s things,” Leslie explained. “We’d like you to have one of them.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to…” Kat stopped as Leslie opened the box and took out a small object. She froze as she realized what it was.
An Argo Force ring.
Leslie offered it to Kat, who took it reverently. She and her husband were given a ring just like this one when their mysterious savior, Kira, had given it to them on the night of Alice’s birth. But Anti-Sergio had destroyed it a month later. She still didn’t know what it was, but she knew it would somehow allow her to contact Argo Force.
Without thinking, she placed it on her finger.
Kat felt her hopes dropping. She concentrated, trying her best to will the ring to find a member of Argo Force, someone who could help.
Charlie spoke up, “We’ve never really figured out how it works. But it’s supposed to bring good luck to the wearer. We discussed it, and think you should have it.”
Great, like luck was going to contact Argo Force, or help Kat find transportation north to find her daughter.
Wait, Kat thought, How did she know to go north?
She glanced back down at the ring on her finger and concentrated once more. Yes, there was something there, the barest instinct that she needed to go north. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
“What cities are north of here?” she asked.
Valerie, slightly taken aback by the sudden question, took a moment to respond. “Ah, well, you’ve got the Utah valley and the Salt Lake valley. Places like Provo, Orem, and Salt Lake of course. Plus all the smaller towns in-between.
“I’m going there.” Kat could feel the certainty of it. Something was guiding her there.
“Did the ring tell you that?” Leslie asked, a curious expression on her face.
Kat nodded, “I don’t really understand it, but I think I’m supposed to go north.”
“Well we’d be happy to give you a ride. It’s a few hours, but we can probably…”
“No,” Kat said, “I can’t have you helping anymore. It will put you in more danger.”
“You can’t possibly walk all that way,” said Charlie.
“I…” Kat trailed off. She didn’t know how she would get there either.
“Tell you what,” said Charlie. “We’ll rent you a car for the next two weeks. If you don’t find your husband in that time, you can circle back and we’ll discuss what to do then.
It was more than Kat expected, but she was grateful for it. This way she’d have freedom to explore and pinpoint exactly where the ring was trying to take her.
Kat left the ring on her finger. She didn’t know how she knew, but she was certain that the ring was pulling her toward Alice. As long as she could get Invergence off her tail, she was going to find her daughter.
Don’t stop there, read the next episode!