Chapter 16:

Unfettered

By the Shores of Time


“Can somebody explain what the hell is going on?” the lieutenant growled at the sparsely populated room.Bookmark here

Along the expansive meeting room sat the key players, Gabriel, Ricardo, Nathanial, and Alex who had to be rolled in a spare wheelchair. She looked around, quickly realizing her question would go unanswered. Gabriel and Ricardo didn’t have the opportunity to catch up when the situation got under control. Nathanial’s silence was perhaps the most bothersome to Gabriel. Having seen the grotesque body of the creature, it seemed to inspire reverence in the holy man. Her sigh drew everyone back in as she eased her scowl.Bookmark here

“I guess the bigger question is,” she continued. “How did that thing get inside?”Bookmark here

“Have we accounted for everyone?” Ricardo asked.Bookmark here

“We’re still doing a thorough sweep of the western hall. And well, it’s a bit of a mess in the main hall.”Bookmark here

“I don’t understand,” Gabriel spoke, drawing the priest’s glazed stare. “I know the issue earlier was bad, but—”Bookmark here

“The people can no longer tolerate the wrongdoing of the current leadership,” Nathanial commented, ignoring Victoria’s twitchy glare.Bookmark here

“May I remind you,” she cleared her throat. “This falls on both of us. We can’t just shift responsibility when it's convenient.”Bookmark here

“Or, maybe we’ve reached a point of no return for many.”Bookmark here

“That’s—” Gabriel spoke before Alex lifted his finger.Bookmark here

“C’mon, Gabe,” he interrupted. “Victoria and her troops can’t handle it. This wouldn’t have happened—”Bookmark here

“Hey, shithead,” Victoria replied. “Remember why we took you out in the first place?”Bookmark here

“I was making the tough choices.”Bookmark here

“You damn near turned it into a doomsday cult.”Bookmark here

“That’s a bit of a reach,” Ricardo’s voice projected a sense of authority. “There were a lot of missed opportunities from what I’ve seen. If you asked anybody level-headed what they thought about leadership, they probably say there’s no difference.”Bookmark here

“That’s the thing,” Gabriel nodded. “There’s hardly anybody thinking straight these days. Hell, not even ourselves.”Bookmark here

“Speak for yourself,” Alex chuckled along with an annoying smirk creeping along his heavily bearded face.Bookmark here

“Alex,” his wary detractor responded. “We’re in the same boat, my friend. If I had to say so, this house of cards is on some real flimsy grounds… And we’ve all acknowledged this. Instead of bickering about who’s the worst leader, we can talk about what we can do to fix our situation.”Bookmark here

“If not, it’s all downhill from here,” Ricardo cosigned, observing Nathanial and Alex’s reaction.Bookmark here

The collective silence rang in Gabriel’s head. The committee would have to decide the fate of the precinct with the options laid before them were clear. Regardless of his sentiment on the duo who sat across from him, he wanted nothing more than to cooperate. Alex postured himself, placing his hands on the table. He looked at everyone, uttering little until he got a gist of what they felt. Victoria’s resentment, Ricardo’s frigid demeanor, and Gabriel’s softened glare spoke volumes in place of their words.Bookmark here

“Perhaps,” the priest uttered when Alex’s lips parted. “We’ve already reached the bottom.”Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s a real rosy picture you painted,” the lieutenant remarked sarcastically.Bookmark here

“Do you see it any other way?” Alex asked.Bookmark here

“No, I don’t.”Bookmark here

“Alex,” Gabriel spoke. “For god’s sake, you know you can bring order. I know it’s been shaky between us, but this has to stop.”Bookmark here

“And exactly what have I started?” the former leader probed. “How is my fault that people won’t listen to you shams?”Bookmark here

Victoria drew her pistol at Alex, rustling Gabriel and Nathanial. Alex stared down the barrel of her pistol, chuckling upon seeing her glare. Cocking the hammer back, she pressed it against his head. Cold metal shook against his skin, marking her reluctance to pull the trigger.Bookmark here

“Hey, Vicky,” Gabriel protested calmly.Bookmark here

“You’re not going to do it,” he noted as he nudged the barrel away. “You might’ve been some child soldier in some god-forsaken South American country, but you’re not dumb. You know what happens when you take out a political opponent, you cause a vacuum where anything goes. Say you or I die right now, right here! What do you think happens next?”Bookmark here

The lieutenant holstered her weapon slowly while her wince remained fixated on Alex. Uncertainty plagued their thoughts with each passing day, even as everyone looked over their shoulder. Trust and community had slowly dwindled in time with all but the bitterest amongst them analyzing the other. She reached for the cigar she didn’t have, finding an empty shirt pocket instead.Bookmark here

“Out of light?” Alex grinned, hearing her grumble afterward.Bookmark here

“So,” Ricardo kept the conversation on track. “What are our options here since we’re just bullshitting?”Bookmark here

“My men,” Victoria responded before glancing around. “We’ll continue providing protection. A lot of people died… On both sides.”Bookmark here

“How’s that when you had guns?” Alex questioned.Bookmark here

“Because after what happened earlier, many wanted to show restraint. Now that this happened, you can understand why they’d become a bit antsy, yes? Maybe you should show your face, maybe that’ll keep people in line.”Bookmark here

“After everything that’s happened? I’m enjoying that look on your face.”Bookmark here

Asshole until the very end, Gabriel sighed with a gentle facepalm.Bookmark here

“Well, if there isn’t anything else—” Gabriel muttered tiredly as he stood up.Bookmark here

“Hey, Gabe,” Alex gestured. “I got my eyes on you… And Celeste.”Bookmark here

“The problem is between us.”Bookmark here

“No, that’s not how this works at all.”Bookmark here

Glimpsing Ricardo’s indifference, he walked out silently. There were too many things left unsaid in the tense atmosphere of egos. The advisor, the holy man, the politician, the soldier, and the everyman; a melting pot of conflicting worldviews that have yet to reach its deathly convergence. However, in all of his wisdom, he knew the conditions were ripe.Bookmark here

* * * * *Bookmark here

Shuffling came from the open hole in the dark hall. As the wintry ash settled, a woman carefully dropped down. Elizabeth glanced over at the blocked entrance leading into the main hall. The hole’s light cast but a few feet away, enough to discern the outline of each door frame. Traces of blood were leftover from the sloppy cleaning process from earlier, leaving the smell of rotting flesh along its walls. She gave a thumbs-up, signaling Celeste to enter.Bookmark here

The silence was only exaggerated by their collective breathing as the cold air swept the dark confines. Celeste turned on her flashlight, casting it into the room from which the creature emerged. Shivers coursed, recalling its menacing appearance under the foggy light. The nurse held her hands with her, hoping it would help her focus.Bookmark here

“Hey,” Elizabeth whispered concerned. “You good?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, she nodded. “Just—I don’t know what to expect.”Bookmark here

“Victoria’s soldiers were real hush about it. I wasn’t even allowed next to the thing when they showed up, which—”Bookmark here

“Which what?”Bookmark here

“No one was allowed back in, and they never spoke about what they found.”Bookmark here

“Maybe… It didn’t come from the outside.”Bookmark here

They exchanged glances, leaving Celeste full of wonder about what really happened. The certainty she expressed left Elizabeth wondering what she’d seen, or rather what she knew. Celeste shuffled forward, visibly rattled before poking her head through the door from which the clicker emerged. A musky scent wafted when they entered, as the light revealed the disheveled ruins of the room. The bed frames were broken in half, mattresses gutted and bloodied. The floors showed the same sloppily mopped streaks, another common feature of the sealed tomb.Bookmark here

“Maybe they overlooked something?” Celeste suggested.Bookmark here

“Like what?” Elizabeth asked curiously while tracing the light.Bookmark here

“An idea of how that thing got here. The problem is the lights were still on in the roof, but the lights on this side died.”Bookmark here

“Bad circuitry?”Bookmark here

“The whole wing would’ve went down if that were the case.”Bookmark here

“I—Guess, but I’m not an electrician, I’m a nurse.”Bookmark here

“Over there,” Celeste guided her flashlight, spotting the tattered remains of clothing in the corner.Bookmark here

Elizabeth went over to pick it up, assessing the flannel fabric. The shirt was torn down from the back, while its cuffs were shredded from intense pressure. She looked over at her peer, with a noted expression of confusion. The assured look in Celeste’s eyes confirmed her observation. She knew what was happening was as bad as what lingered beyond the relative safety of the precinct.Bookmark here

“This is one of ours,” the nurse noted. “Do you think it was from that—thing?”Bookmark here

“Yes, look at the rest of the clothes here. They’re torn to shreds.”Bookmark here

“Why the hell would they leave all this behind?” Bookmark here

“We aren’t even supposed to be here.”Bookmark here

A strange gnawing noise could be heard next to them. Celeste guided the flashlight, seeing nothing unusual about its plain appearance. Hearing Elizabeth’s breathing growing shallow, she guided her out. She reached out to the wall, but Elizabeth grabbed her hand in a quiet plea to convince her to leave. Guiding themselves out, the light far from the feet of the blockade as to not draw the attention of the guards posted on the other side. Elizabeth peered into the room where she found the bodies. The imagery never left her mind when she drunk herself into a stupor. She saw Celeste’s steeled resolve as her light hovered over Greg’s office. She took measured strides while the anxious nurse stood close by.Bookmark here

“He had something interesting that he mentioned,” she recalled, her voice certain of its importance.Bookmark here

“What’s that?” the nurse asked.Bookmark here

“A theory of sorts. He only skimmed through it with me, but it was interesting—”Bookmark here

“Celeste, we need to get back before the guards return up top.”Bookmark here

She looked toward the door, second-guessing whether to concede to her colleague’s wishes. The truth or an understanding of it laid beyond the unbroken door. Elizabeth tried to control herself as the gnawing grew louder. Another tug drew Celeste’s annoyance, glancing toward her frightened peer. She held the tattered shirt toward her like a momento of what they found.Bookmark here

“The shirt is enough.” Her voice expressed the unwillingness to enter.Bookmark here

“But, for all this trouble we can get his notes,” she responded, hoping she’d go along.Bookmark here

“We can come back for it once we make our case.”Bookmark here

Before Celeste could respond, they turned in the direction of footsteps behind the barricade. They didn’t waste any time arguing as they scurried toward the hole. Celeste climbed over first as the doors cracked. She pulled Elizabeth up upon hearing the door swing open, seeing a light flash against the wall. The flustered nurse fell onto Celeste, quietly resting on her while remaining out of sight.Bookmark here

Her curly blonde hair fell against her chest, locking eyes with the other. While the doors below closed, the rooftop entrance swung open. The nurse’s adrenaline coursed, maintaining her eye contact with her. Before Celeste could speak, they locked lips as Elizabeth felt along her slender body, feeling feverish as they began panting. When patrol emerged, they paused at the sight of their passionate embrace. Elizabeth looked up, having tucked her lock of hair back.Bookmark here

“What?” she asked with a surprisingly seductive voiceBookmark here

“N—nothing!” the soldier cleared his throat nervously. “Eh, carry on.”Bookmark here

“Was that your idea of improv?” Celeste whispered, reddened by her brash act.Bookmark here

“Well, you looked like you enjoyed it,” Elizabeth scoffed.Bookmark here

The young woman laid beneath the vivacious blonde was left with strange feelings while looking her in the eyes. The purple iris further captivating her as she got off to lay next to her as they watched the gray skies. Neither of them uttered a word, finding comfort in each other’s silence. It wasn’t long before their jovial laughter lingered throughout the hall below.

Things are certainly heating!
You're probably left with a lot of questions too,
Symbolism and dynamics, things are certainly what you make it, no?
If you like what you've read, leave a comment and a like!
You got some critiques, well... Leave a comment! I'd love to hear it! ^^

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