The night before…
The food at the cafeteria was certainly not worth the walk in the cold, not even for procrastinating on a major project. Amy considered catching a bus to downtown from her dorm room instead, but she didn’t want to go alone.
“Cissie?” she asked the person on the other end of her cell phone. “You hungry?”
“Oh, yeah. Let me just grab my coat, Bats, and I’ll meet you. Where are we eating?” asked the melodious voice.
“I don’t know. Wanna try that new place on Main Street…the barbecue place?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. I’m wearing a new Vera Wang…” Cecilia said. Of course. Her beautiful, blonde, and incredibly rich friend would be. And Amy would be wearing her four year-old department store jeans. Go figure.
“Ok, then…sushi?” Amy practically groaned with boredom. She already knew the answer before the piercing sound of Cecilia’s happy squeal came through the receiver. They only ate sushi. Ever. Cecilia had a thing for fish. She wore shark teeth around her neck, she decorated everything she owned in a coral reef and aquarium motif and she apparently ate fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Amy guessed everyone had their thing, but some people aren’t as good at hiding it. Cecilia didn’t even care to hide it. She flaunted it.
“See you in thirty, Bats,” said Cecilia and hung up.
The first time Amy had met Cecilia, she had no idea that the strikingly beautiful, shimmery girl with the blonde hair and grey-green eyes, who dressed like a Vogue model, would choose to sit next to her on the first day of Zoology, let alone strike up a conversation and invite her for coffee after class. Suddenly, without knowing how, Amy had become Cecilia’s best friend. The girl showered her with affection, gifts, concerts, advice, concern, and generally all the thing expected of a friendship that had been years in the making. But, this was only a few months. At first Amy didn’t know what to do. She usually had trouble making close friends, but she eventually just went along with it. She supposed she’d never know why Cecilia was attracted to her, or even why the girl insisted on calling her “Bats”. Once, Amy had asked, and her only answer was that Amy’s dark hair and habit of staying up late reminded her of a bat. Amy hated it, but whatever made Cecilia happy, Cecilia got. So Amy gave up trying to get rid of the nickname. So, she called her Cissie in return, which Cecilia hated. Hey, fair’s fair.
Amy hurried to the bus stop on purpose, wanting to beat Cecilia to the restaurant. She didn’t want to be stared at when her friend pulled up in the black limousine just to eat dinner. Amy didn’t like attention and she certainly didn’t want to bask in Cecilia’s white hot spotlight. At the Boxed Sashimi (one of those way-too-trendy places, where everything was decorated in squares or 3D cubes because the owners were overcome by their own cleverness) she chose a table in the back corner.
Amy didn’t even have to look up from her menu, which she most certainly had memorized by now, when Cecilia arrived. The sudden hush of the restaurant mixed with the change in the air of the room told her. Everyone had stopped talking to stare at Cecilia, as if the latest Hollywood A-lister had chosen their humble, little, box-themed restaurant. The only part of this Amy enjoyed was the inevitable little gasps of surprise as Her Majesty decided to sit at her table – the girl rockin’ the messy hair bun, oversized sweater, and jeans. She certainly wasn’t the debonair gentlemen or heiress they expected her to associate with.
“Darling, you know I can have Drummond come pick you up! You don’t have to ride on public transportation,” she said with disgust, as if she expected Amy to be carrying lice from her bus ride to the restaurant.
“Don’t mind,” Amy mumbled, brushing off the comment, “Is his name actually Drummond?”
“Don’t be daft, Bats. Our chauffeurs all go by their last names. I can’t exactly call him ‘Bobby’. Wouldn’t be proper…Oh, I’ll have my usual,” she told the starstruck waiter, “and aren’t you cute?”
Amy rolled her eyes, doubting seriously that the poor kid was even going to remembering her “usual”, since he probably couldn’t even remember his own name at this point.
“I’ll have saki and a couple of California rolls, please, “Amy said. The waiter nodded, still looking at Cecilia and nearly backed into another table as he was leaving.
“Okay, Bats,” Cecilia said, “I really want you to come with me after dinner to meet Mother. She’s been just dying to get her teeth on you because you’re really, like, my only friend outside of The Shiver.”
“The Shiver, ” Cecilia hesitated slightly, as if Cecilia had just caught her with her hand in a cookie jar. She recovered quickly. “Ummm…It’s what my family’s estate is called.”
“That’s a weird name for a house. You rich people are a bit off, aren’t you? Anyway, she’s likely to throw me out when she finds out I have never stepped foot inside anything fancier than the local mall. Or maybe that marble bank downtown. I live in a dorm room, probably filled with asbestos. My own mom lives alone in a two bedroom apartment. The only thing she does is the church choir and my only other family is her mother. She hates her cubicle job and she blames my absent dad for everything in her life, including me. Your mom will probably encourage you to find a more erudite playmate.”
“You’re so adorably straight-forward. So love that about you!” Cecilia said, as if telling it like it is only happens on other planets. “Mother already knows all that. Do you think we don’t talk? Seriously, come on. We’ll eat dinner, then we’ll go to Mother’s penthouse for tea. Only a few blocks from here.”
It took the whole meal and a whole lot of conversation before Amy was all out of excuses. She had no choice. Cecilia paid the bill (she never let Amy do it), and Amy found herself being escorted like a princess into the endless black cave of the limousine by Bobby Drummond as people on the street pointed and stared. So much for now wanting to be part of the spotlight.
What Cecilia wanted, Cecilia got.
Amy had never been in a limo before, and at the moment she didn’t see what the big fuss was. Just a bigger sedan with a fridge.
“Something to drink?” asked Cecilia.
“No, thanks,” Amy replied. “So, I can’t stay too late. I have lots of studying to do. And you know we have a project due Monday in Zoology, right?”
“Mine’s done already. Mother helped. I picked the bat, just for you! Did you know that a couple of types of bats feed on fish?”
“Nope. Did not know that,” said Amy. Why did everything go back to fish? “I picked the wolf. I know it’s cliché. Everyone picks things like wolves and horses. I’m not sure why. Just seemed cool at the time. Plus they’re gorgeous creatures. I haven’t even started the project yet. It’s what my whole day Sunday is going to be about. I’m surprised you didn’t pick the shark, since that’s your favorite animal.”
“Well, I already know all about sharks. It’s my everyday, isn’t it? I wanted to find out some things about you!”
“I’m not a bat, Cissie, and you’re not a shark,” Amy said. Cecilia made a face on hearing her unwelcome nickname.
“Well, of course you’re not! But, it was certainly easier to pick that in honor of my best friend! I’m so a Shark! Definitely my mother’s daughter! And you may as well be a Bat! You stay up all hours of the night! You might even have super hearing and bad eyesight!
“Nope. I am not fond of fruit…or cow blood, either, sorry!”
“Oh, come on, it’s fun to pretend!”
“What is your thing with animals…fetish or something?”
Just then, Drummond’s window rolled down. “We’ve arrived, Miss,” he said.
When she stepped out of the limo, Amy felt quite out of place. She found herself facing a large, stately looking apartment block downtown. The building came complete with a doorman and a front desk receptionist. Cecilia chattered about bat bone structures all the way up to the top floor penthouse. Amy felt like the elevator door opened just in time for her friend to avoid being punched in the head. Her ears were ringing with her friend’s voice. Everything seemed to end in an exclamation point when Cissie was talking. The elevator opened into a grand round marble foyer. And more damn fish.
The walls were covered with inset fish tanks, teeming with different types of aquatic plants and creatures, and all available space was decorated in mermaids and seashell reliefs. The fountain in the middle featured great white sharks spitting out oversized arcs of blue colored water. The lighting was so dim, that it felt like an aquarium exhibit. Amy was starting to see why Cecilia was obsessed. Apparently it was her mother and her decorator’s fault. Cecilia grew up surrounded by fake sea creatures. No wonder the poor thing had no sense of reality!
“Hello!” called a deep, feminine voice from the hall, “I’m Dr. Leena Brogan…so nice to finally meet Cecilia’s friend! I’ve heard so much about you, Amelia!”
“Hi, nice to meet you! It’s just Amy.” She smiled and shook Dr. Brogan’s perfectly manicured hand. It was ice cold. Leena Brogan was an older, more elegant version of her daughter. They had the same long white-blonde hair, the same pale skin, dancer’s frame, and murky, grey-green eyes, which were hidden behind expensive, etched, diamond glasses. Dr. Brogan’s tall heels, red fingers and lips, and flashing jewelry indicated a woman of power. She held the posture of a woman who never heard the word no.
“Certainly not! Amelia is such an elegant name…you really should think about using it. A beautiful name for potential such as you!”
Amy wasn’t sure what Dr. Brogan meant by “potential”, but apparently Cecilia’s quirky way of thinking was genetic. They had only just met. What would this woman know about Amy’s potential? So, she just smiled politely.
“You girls go on into the sitting room and I’ll be in shortly. I’ve got a quick call to make…won’t be a moment.” Mrs. Brogan rang a bell, and a maid entered as if she’d been waiting for a stage cue.
“Tea, special blend for our guest! And a dessert tray for the young ladies, please, Diane.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said the maid, smiling at Amy on her way out. Mrs. Brogan’s loud heels echoed down the opposite hall.
“This way…” said Cecilia, ushering through a large archway into the sitting room. The lighting was only slightly less dim than the foyer.
“So, do you like it? The penthouse is new. Mother’s stocks did really well, so she got us another place.”
“Exactly how many places do you have, Cissie?” asked Amy.
“Well, there’s the Brogan mansion we call The Shiver, which is out close to Glendower Lodge, and then there’s the cottage in Cornwall, the two beach houses in Florida and California, and now the penthouse.”
Amy couldn’t find any words to dignify such excess. So she just stood there with her mouth open. Cecilia giggled.
“Yes. Mother’s family is old money, and she’s got top clearance as a psychiatrist with the CIA. Mother says the penthouse will be signed over to me when I’m done with my MBA.”
“Must be nice…” Amy mumbled.
Diane entered with a large silver rolling serving cart. The tea and desserts were laid out on the coffee table in front of them. Diane poured Amy’s tea and handed her the cup.
“Thanks,” she said and took a sip. It tasted odd. Amy was willing to bet that the two dollar economy box of Lipton her mother favored would never be allowed across the threshold at at any of the Brogan “places”. This “special blend” must be an expensive, foreign tea. Amy scrunched her nose and just held the cup politely, not intending to drink any more. Cecilia took a long sip of hers, though, as if she’d never tasted anything so comforting.
“So, tell me about your parents, Amelia! I would love to meet them, too, one day,” said Leena Brogan, as she walked back into the room. Dr. Brogan sat down right next to Amy, so close that the scent of perfume, mixed with the aftertaste of the tea, put Amy on sensory overload. Dr. Brogan crossed her delicate ankles in ladylike fashion and took a demure sip.
“Drink up, Angel…it won’t stay warm!” she said.
Amy humored her and took another sip of the awful stuff. Dr. Brogan’s red lips smiled sweetly as she watched her guest.
“Not much to tell, Dr. Brogan,” she said, thinking that, last she knew, Cissie had already told her mother all about Amy’s life…hadn’t she?
“Oh, call me Leena, please!” She took off her classes and sat forward, patting Amy on the leg.
“Um…okay. Leena.” Amy said uncomfortably. “My mom and dad were never married. He left before I was born and my mom’s a paper pusher at a phone company. Nothing earth shattering.”
“What a shame about your father,” said Leena. “I bet you look like him, too? Sometimes girls favor their fathers in so many ways.”
Amy shifted in her seat, uncomfortable. She noticed the woman’s eyes. They were very dark and her pupils seemed very large. Were they always this intense, or was it the dim lighting or that they just looked different with the glasses off?
“I wouldn’t know,” she said. “I have no pictures of him.” Amy really wished Leena would talk about something else.
Tact was not something Cecilia ever worried about. Cecilia seemed to be the spitting image of her mother, both in looks and personality, so she guessed tact didn’t run in the family. But, something about Leena seemed more sinister. Amy brushed off the feeling. It was probably just because meeting a beautiful CIA psychiatrist was intimidating. Maybe turning off the psychoanalysis was hard if that’s what you do all day.
“Well, isn’t that a shame,” said Leena. “But your mother! I’m sure you think a phone company isn’t glamorous…and you would be right… but I definitely see in you that your mother must be beautiful. Cecilia tells me that you’re majoring in the Biological Sciences?”
“Yes. Ecology, actually. That’s how we ended up in Zoology together. She just needed a science elective, but I’m required to take it.”
“That’s a very noble field. Saving the Earth and all…” Leena said this in a slightly mocking way, as if a field like that couldn’t be taken seriously. “Maybe you could study the oceans. I hear that might pay well. You’re welcome to the beach houses anytime, Angel, if you ever need an ecosystem for study. Just call! Have you ever been to the beach? Drink up…here let me freshen your cup.”
Leena waited with the teapot raised, so Amy had no choice but to down the awful stuff and accept another hot steaming cup of it.
“Yes, ma’am. Several times. My interest, though, isn’t the beaches, it’s the woods.”
“Oh, well then you would be so much more comfortable over at the Lodge instead. Cecilia probably told you about our mansion over there? There’s a large river there, too, but also surrounded by woods.” Leena began a long explanation of the delights of Glendower Lodge and the riverside mansion downstream she and Cecilia called “The Shiver”. Amy was starting to feel a little sleepy. She had the urge to get up and run around the block.
“Leena, thanks for the tea. But, I really ought to get back to the dorm. I’m starting to get tired. It’s been a long day.”
“Oh, of course. But, you really must come by again, my Angel! Maybe we could do a weekend make-over. Your hair would be so lovely with highlights! Just because you’re into Ecology, doesn’t mean you can’t be elegant, right? The three of us could go get a manicure!” Cecilia groaned. Amy was starting to turn red. It was hard enough to be around the Brogans without feeling frumpy. But, now she was starting to feel quite inadequate and not a little bit pissed off. Cecilia practically threw her cup down and grabbed Amy’s hand to pull her off her chair.
“Mother, you’re wearing her out and you’re being rude. I like Amy’s clothes. I wouldn’t wear them, but she wouldn’t be my Bats otherwise. I’m going to call for Drummond to bring the car around and bring her home.”
“I can take the bus…” Amy started. She stood up and grabbed her bag.
“Nonsense,” said Leena, looking as if her feelings were hurt at the very suggestion. “That is not how we treat guests here. Drummond is at your disposal, wherever you need to go.” Amy noticed a chilly look pass from Leena to her daughter. Huh. So, they weren’t as chummy as Leena led on. Cecilia had relationship problems with her mother, too. She started toward the elevator.
She suddenly felt as if she couldn’t get out of the penthouse fast enough and she never wanted to see Dr. Leena Brogan or be called “angel” ever again. The woman radiated a fake warmth that acted like a tractor beam – you could struggle to get away, but you were held by her murky, strange eyes, her voice, and her power. She asked too many probing personal questions and she was pushy. Leena gave off the impression of cold iciness that could cut like a knife if she decided not to like you. She felt boxed in.
Amy was sure her spinning head would clear as soon as she stepped outside. But, it didn’t clear. Drummond had the door waiting open, but she could barely see it. Amy’s world was starting to blacken. Something was terribly wrong. She started to ask Drummond to take her to an emergency room, but her muscles wouldn’t work and her mouth wouldn’t either. The last thing she saw was the closing door and her friend, Cecilia, waving on the curb.
“Mr. Delano?” asked Bobby Drummond into his cell phone.
“Is the girl on her way?” answered the mysterious man on the other end.
“Dr. Brogan did her part. Where should I bring her?”
“To the Colony. There’ll be a man waiting by the Bat House entrance.”
“Very good, sir,” said Drummond.
Seth Delano turned and smiled triumphantly at Dr. Edmund Chancellor.
“We have her,” he said.
“Humpf. It remains to be seen if the Swan was right,” said the Englishman. He pulled his spectacles to the tip of his nose and fixed his straight eye over the rims and onto the Bat. He let his wandering eye rotate, knowing how much this intimidated Seth. The eye unnerved everyone. To the uninitiated it looked like a lazy eye, but as a Chameleon Temic, it meant that he could see and focus on more than the average person. He could see his enemy from one side while his other eye was busy on the other side. The glasses were just a disguise.
Dr. Chancellor was understandably skeptical. He was a scientist and, as a Chameleon, his natural need to stay hidden led him to distrust both the Swan, Zillah Hall, and his Bat employer, Seth. He was uncomfortable even being in the Colony at the Bat House at Greyfell, out in the grasses of the plains. He missed the more familiar woods of Glendower.
He knew he risked his family’s Proscription, which was the Temic version of excommunication, if they were caught even associating with Zillah or this project, but the Swan assured him that glory for Temics would come from his actions. They could hardly kick him out for that, he believed. He would be famous – honored. So, he’d put up with being shut up in a Bat Colony for the time being.
The Swan, Zillah was once the daughter of a Glendower mystic, but she was under Proscription by vote of the Synod Court for crimes committed by Zillah’s father. As a result, Zillah was unwelcomed in any Phatry, Proscribed for life. Restoration to a Phatry would only be allowed for valorous acts, and kidnapping was hardly valorous.
But, the promise of fame and glory, overrode Dr. Chancellor’s natural dislike for the mystical or Bats. He was a scientist and nothing irked him more than the mystical. He also hated being unable to hide from Zillah. A Chameleon could blend well into any environment, but she could see him, when others couldn’t, only adding to his dislike of her.
“Well, Zillah has no reason to lie to us and every reason to lie to them. After all she’s got no Phatry affiliation anymore. She says if she helps us, we can change the Temic and Solus worlds forever,” said Seth. “And she was right about Amelia even existing. She shouldn’t exist. But, she does. So, just do what I pay you for, huh? When she gets here, start testing. Drummond’s on his way with the girl now.”
“Think I’ll start with a psychological battery and then take some blood samples. I’d like to call in that CIA psychiatrist you work with,” suggested Dr. Chancellor.
“Okay. I’ll get Dr. Brogan to come in. But, I don’t expect the girl to cooperate. She’s already been drugged by the Brogans. Zillah says that she can’t know where she is or who I am for the events to unfold as she sees it. So, no matter what, you don’t tell her anything about me, Temics, or tell her where she is. You may need some persuasion to get her blood.”
“Persuasion?” the Chameleon snorted. “That’s what I’m good at. I can become very convincing, as you know.”
“Yes, I know,” said Seth.