Chapter 65:

Chapter 65 - Catch and Release


“What has gotten into you, Avanit?”

Eshe roamed around the laboratory with their baby in her arms, negotiating boxes and broken instruments alike. She had worked hard to clean everything up while he was away from the clinic, but some things were unsalvageable. Turu couldn’t remember how or why the room had gotten into such a state.

More disturbingly, he didn’t care.

“The clinic is your life! Our life,” she continued. “You have been working toward having your own practice for years! What has changed?”

Turu ignored her, lowering a collection of vial trays into the box on the central counter. The details of his time away were fuzzy, but the trip had obviously been transformative for him. He had returned to find that the things he’d once cherished–Eshe, the clinic, his growing family–meant nothing to him anymore.

He had come to realize that he was destined for greater things.

“Avanit, talk to me!

“Quiet!” he snarled, slamming a stack of beakers down inside the box with more force than he’d intended. Then he spun to confront her, disregarding the crying of their infant son.

Eshe trembled and backed away. He saw tears spring to her eyes.

Turu remained unmoved.

“I will not allow you to distract me!” he shouted, gesturing sharply toward the door. “I have much to do, for the good of all Truvelo! I have no time for these petty things you speak of.”

His wife’s eyes flared with sudden anger. “Your family? Our livelihood? These are petty things to you, now?” She opened her mouth to continue, but then appeared to think better of it. When she spoke again, her tone was soft, almost pleading. “Nevermind. We will find a place in your plans, dearest. I can see you are troubled. We will find a way forward… Together, as we always have.”

A watery smile came to her lips, and she crossed the room to embrace him. She was so determined–so understanding. It nearly breached the walls around his heart. Part of him longed to cast aside whatever held him apart from her… But he found that he couldn’t. He wasn’t strong enough.

He pushed her away.

“There is no place for you,” he said coldly. “Take the child and leave. I will be gone by the morning, and I will not return. Find someone else to care for you. My fate draws me elsewhere.”

She blinked at him through the tears, remaining silent for a long moment. Then she gave a curt nod. “You have changed,” she concluded. “Something has happened to you–something I cannot understand. I love you, Avanit, but if you say I have no place in your life, then I have no choice but to leave it.”

Eshe walked slowly toward the door, swaying gently in an effort to calm their child, and turned to regard him one last time. “I will get my things from the reception area. If whatever madness has taken you subsides one day, please come home. I will be waiting… And so will your son.”

Then she left him there, alone, just as he requested. That was where it all began. The pain. The self-loathing. The fissure in his soul. That was the day he became an unwilling passenger in a life that wasn’t his.

Eshe… I am so sorry…

I will not be coming ba–


A sharp, unexpected blow to the head roused him from his reverie. In his confusion, he only just managed to identify the cause: a long, scraggly tree branch jutting from the side of the cliff.

…A cliff he was plummeting alongside with startling velocity.

The drug still pumped in his veins, pushing his already considerable panic to new, heart-pounding heights. Visions and reminiscences vied for control of his addled mind: his flight from Sebastopol; his years spent training, recruiting, and propagandizing; and before it all, a blinding flash of light that erased everything it touched.

Turu fought to maintain control of his senses. If it was his time to die, he wanted to do so with his eyes wide open. He spun about in the air, getting a good look at what was transpiring above. To his dismay he found that the man he’d been struggling to place–Morgan, the girl had called him–had been pulled along with him. They fell groundward in tandem, their fates intertwined.

Even with my final act, I have served my master, he thought bitterly. The white-haired man will die…

Suddenly, he became aware of something raining down all around them–a hundred little objects whistling through the air on every side.

They moved too fast for the eye to see. Some came dangerously close to striking him and Morgan, but none of them actually did. He realized, with some amusement, that they were bullets.

Why shoot at me now? he wondered. Can’t you see I’m already dead…? And yet, the hail of bullets continued. He had just gotten used to the futility of it all when something happened:

A long, sinuous bandage descended from somewhere up on the cliff, streaking down toward them with alarming speed. It threaded between the bullets and went straight for Morgan’s gun, which was still firmly clasped in his broken hand, before rapidly encircling his body. The man was bundled up from head to toe in the space of an eyeblink, and then, as abruptly as it had descended, the bandage went taut.

Turu found himself falling away. The swaddled man swung toward the cliff and bumped against it, having been stopped mid-fall. The Czar knew there would be no such relief extended to him, but that was alright.

He had been beyond rescue for some time.

He closed his eyes and smiled. Whoever these people were, they looked out for each other, and they clearly annoyed the man who’d stolen his soul. To be defeated by them was a privilege. And, thanks to the clarity of mind brought about by the dart’s kiss, it was a privilege he was free to enjoy.

Thank you, he thought, his heart brimming with gratitude. I had forgotten what it felt like…

I had forgotten what it was to have hope.

Then, with his heart unburdened, Czar Turu turned to face the salt-encrusted rocks below.



Roulette was dimly aware of people behind her, tugging on the end of the bandage just as frantically as she was. It resisted them, of course–it felt as though it longed to wriggle from their hands and complete Morgan’s cocoon even as he dangled tens of feet below–but their grip was strong, and the bandage itself was surprisingly resilient.

Even so, they were losing ground. Roulette’s boots were skidding toward the edge, and it would only be a matter of time before she went over herself. She gritted her teeth, steeling herself against that possibility.

If I’m going to go over, fine, she resolved. I’d take that over giving up on him any day!

Fortunately, she ended up not having to live up to that commitment. Someone new–someone strong–came up behind her and started pitching in! From that point on they started making rapid headway. Bit by bit, Morgan’s unconventional rescue harness drifted closer and closer to the lip of the cliff he’d fallen from.

Their struggle continued for several minutes until, finally, Morgan’s thoroughly bandaged body rolled up onto the cliffside before them. The moment it did, Roulette sank to her knees beside the man and started vigorously unspooling him, taking care not to roll him right back off the cliff in the process.

Only after she’d uncovered his mouth did she stop to heave a heavy sigh. Her gambit had worked, and the string of choice words he was muttering proved it:

“Rollin’ me up like I’m a heap of tobacco… The indignity of it all! May as well have let me drop,” he groused, eyes still veiled by a few layers of cloth strips. “Then you spin me like a goddamn merry-go-round and call it a favor… Think I’m gonna be sick. Don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s rainin’...” Roulette figured most folks in her position would have been stunned by Morgan’s ingratitude, but not her.

She just wanted to kiss him.

The girl suppressed the urge, though, as she always did. “Welcome back, Morgan,” she said warmly.

“That you Roulette? I should’ve known. You know I’m an injured man and not a top, right?”

She smirked at that. “You look more like a yo-yo to me. Maybe I’ll roll you over the edge again and we’ll see if you spring right back up?”

“Is this what passes for flirting down on the range?” someone said from behind. “If so, it’s a wonder any of you manage to procreate at all.”

Roulette whipped her head around to find her whole crew gathered behind her: Marka, Beretta, and–of course–Mimi. They were all smiling, their hands still clasping the bandage in the aftermath of Morgan’s retrieval from the brink, and the girl noticed something lying discarded at Mimi’s feet:

Turu’s blowgun.

“Mimi!? It was you?” she gasped, “I thought I saw you take a dart to the leg!”

“Just a scratch,” Mimi assured her, showing off the minor wound on the back of her leg. “The drug went to my head for a bit, but I got over it quickly. While under the influence, my feet took me back to the grove, so I snuck into the bushes near the cliff and waited to see if I could find a way to help bring down Turu.”

She let go of the bandage, then, lifting a hand to muffle her snicker. “Turns out the idiot dropped his weapon right nearby! Can you believe that?”

Marka and Beretta laughed along with her and followed suit, allowing their own lengths of bandage to fall to the ground. They didn’t realize their folly until the animated strip of cloth wriggled to life and finally fulfilled its purpose: binding Morgan up to the nines.

“MMMMmmMMMPH!” he grunted, less than thrilled to have been returned to his cloth prison. Roulette couldn’t help herself; she joined in the laughter and got back to the work of unraveling him.

…And for his sake, she made a point of going about it a little more gently this time.

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