Captured Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

Someone knocked at the front door. All of us stiffened. Bill checked the peephole and relaxed. He opened the door to reveal Vance standing in the hallway shuffling his feet awkwardly with his head ducked and shoulders hunched. “Uh, Is Twigh home?” He spotted me and asked, “Can I talk to her?”

 I rolled my eyes. Vance was nothing if not persistent. Bill stepped aside with a nod. He put an arm around Tina and they went into the kitchen. As he passed me, Bill gave me a slight shake of his head, indicating that I wasn’t to tell Vance anything. I was about to argue. After all, his family had been helping refugees from the Paraxous Cluster settle on Earth for nearly a decade. Bill mouthed “later”. I assumed he wanted to talk things over with Vance’s father first.

 As soon as the kitchen door closed behind them, Vance asked, “Everything okay? I thought I heard shouting.”

 His family lived in the apartment directly over ours and I wondered just how much they’d heard. “I’m fine. Just have too much homework to do a movie tonight.”

My friend cocked his head, eyeing me in a way that said he knew I wasn't fine. “Homework, really? That’s what all the shouting was about?” He knew the Splendors enough to know they never yelled.

“Shouting? Nah, must have been the TV.”

Outwardly, Vance was a typical teenage boy: lanky and awkward. His black hair, though washed and combed, always looked a bit oily and unkempt. He had tannish skin that could have marked him as any number of ethnic groups. When asked, he’d tell people he was a genuine American Heinz 57 mix.

In truth he was an alien using a cross between a cloned body and an android’s cyber-brain as an avatar. Like all the non-humans that lived in our building, his real body was kept in a medically induced coma and hidden in a vault somewhere. Vance and his family happened to be Sians, one of the avian races from the Paraxous. I sometimes tried to picture my friend with feathers and wings.

One time, Vance had tried to take me to his family's vault, so I could see what he really looked like. We got caught. Dang, did we get in trouble. We even had to go before the building's council and promise never to do anything that might jeopardize the secrecy of our sanctuary again.      

Avatar or not, I was especially fond of his large brown, puppy-dog eyes which were soft with concern as he asked, “Twigh, what’s going on?”

“Nothing. Everything’s just fine,” I said, crossing my arms and looking away.

 “Yeah, right. Whatever. Can I help?”

 I was glad no creepy empathic stuff happened. I wouldn’t have been able to contain myself if I’d felt his concern. Bill hadn't wanted me to tell him anything yet, so I said, “Nah. Not right now. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later. Okay?”

 He shrugged and donned his ridiculously huge grin complete with dimples. "Okay. If you say so."

It struck me that I would miss his grin. I’d miss all my friends, but Vance was practically family. We hung out together nearly all the time. He even lived with us a couple of months each year while his parents "were away on business."

It wasn't just that, though. He had the easygoing, friendly nature that I lacked. If it wasn't for him I might not have had any friends. He was the one who introduced me to Cameron and Nina. And he was the one who'd put together our band.  

He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Well, make sure your ‘homework’ doesn’t keep you from band practice tomorrow. And don’t forget we’re all going to the movie afterwards.” 

 “I don’t think--"

Bill came through the door. “Oh hey,” he interrupted. “I have some business near Bay Street Plaza tomorrow. How about I give you kids a ride? You can get lunch at that place you like by the theater afterwards. My treat.”

 Vance’s expression brightened. Mine darkened. I gave Bill a subtle shake of my head. “I think I’d better stay home and work on my school stuff.”

 “Ah, I’m sure you’ll get it done,” Bill said with a smile. To Vance he said, “You’d better let her get to it. See you in the morning.”

 Vance took the hint and left. The moment the door closed, I protested, “I really don’t think I can handle being around people all day tomorrow. What if I go all...empathic?”

Bill came over and took me by the shoulders. “You’ll be fine. The medication should last for a day or two. Besides, when this is all over, you’ll be glad you got to spend some time with your friends before we had to leave.”

 Though that medication kept me from being drowned in waves of mental contact, it didn’t prevent me from sensing that he wanted to keep up appearances. If Cassie had people watching us, he didn’t want to give them any reason to suspect we were about to run. However, he no longer felt safe enough to let us take rapid transit to the Plaza like we usually did. Actually, he didn’t want to let me out of his sight, but he’d arranged an important meeting right down the street. I withdrew, disgusted with myself for accidently trespassing on his thoughts.

# # #

 

 The next morning, I wanted to cancel band practice and just hide in my room. It took all my parents' gentle powers of persuasion to get me out the door.

Halfway to the elevator I realized I’d forgotten my purse. I usually didn’t take it with me to band practice, but since we were going out afterward I decided to go back for it. Bill and Tina were out on the patio drinking their morning tea. I got to my room and grabbed my purse without them noticing me.

On my way out I heard Bill say, “I’ll let you know as soon as our flight’s arranged. As far as anyone will be able to tell, we booked a vacation months ago. That should throw off anyone looking for us, for a bit at least. I just hope that Dashia Hunter gets back to us soon.”

Mom replied softly, “Do you really think this Hunter will have us bring her back to the Cluster? Wouldn’t it be safer to relocate to another of what they call Halo-worlds?”

“We’ll have to leave that to the Hunter.”

“Bill, are you sure it’s a good idea not to let Twyla say goodbye to her friends before we go?" Tina sounded tense and unsure. "Leaving them behind isn’t going to be easy on her.”

“Anything she tells them could put them and their families in danger. They can’t know anything.”

“What about Vance?  You know he already suspects something’s up. He and Twyla are awfully close. Besides, his dad already knows.”

“His dad was nice enough to set us up with a great cover story, so no one will know we’re missing for weeks. But he wants to protect his family from this as much as possible. And I can’t blame him.”

One of them poured more tea. “You do realize we never asked her if she wants to go with us. What if she wants to go with her father?”

I froze with my hand reaching for the doorknob. My mind picked up Bill’s reaction: I'm her father. However, his voice was flat and strong. “I can’t imagine ever giving up our girl. But,” he sighed, “maybe she’s old enough to choose for herself.”

Tina began to cry. “Oh god, we can’t let him take her away. Besides, it couldn’t possibly be safe for her to go with him. Cassiopeia’s bound to be having him watched. I can’t believe he was stupid enough to come here.” 

Bill sounded a little surprised by Tina’s bitterness. “We can’t blame him for wanting his daughter back. That hope was probably the only reason he survived the severing.” There was a long pause. I felt torn between respecting their privacy and my need to know what was going on. “As far as we know, Ebon Milett’s completely Human, no Kobbi blood at all.”

“I guess we know where Twyla gets her stubborn streak from. Man, she's one tough little girl.” She started crying again. She gasped between hiccups, “I love her so much. You can’t let him take her from us. Please, Bill, you can’t.”

In his usual calm and confident manner, he replied soothingly, “First things first. We’ve got to get her safely away. The DeConnetts are supposed to be one of the most dangerous criminal families in the entire Paraxous Cluster.” I opened the door to leave, but couldn’t force myself to stop listening. “We can come to some kind of agreement with Colonel Milett later. After all, I doubt he’s ready to deal with Twyla’s reawakened Kobbi powers all on his own. We’ve studied for this for years. She’s going to need us.”

“And I think she’s been happy with us,” Tina added with desperation in her voice. “I mean, we’ve given her a good life, haven’t we?”

My stomach flopped. For all these years they'd treated me like their own daughter and they didn't even know how happy I was to have them as my parents. Did they have any idea how much I loved them? Probably not since I seldom said the words. I wanted to go tell them, but was too choked up. I decided to wait until I wasn't so emotional and left without a word.

For the next couple hours, I just couldn't get into band practice. It felt like my life was about to end. This was probably the last time I’d ever sing with Vance, Cameron and Nina. Heck, once we left Earth, I’d probably never see any of my friends again.

The thought hurt so much, I couldn’t face it. Instead, I threw myself into the next song with everything I had. At some point the rest of the group stopped playing. I looked around. “What? Did I hit a sour note?”

Cameron gave me the strangest look. “Your voice. It...it changed.” 

Dang, he looked fine. He always did. He was just wearing jeans and a white tee shirt, but he sure made them look good. With his bright blue eyes, blond hair and beautiful complexion, he could have been a teen star. Okay, stop that, I told myself. I’m going away, and he belongs to Nina.

Nina pulled her guitar strap off over her shoulder and set the instrument down, never taking her eyes off me. She studied me with a predatory glare only someone descended from feline ancestors could manage. While she may have appeared Human, we all knew she was actually a Katian. Or rather half Katian. Her father was Human. We weren’t supposed to talk about our past lives or the Paraxous, but we were kids and kids talk.

Nina sauntered up to Cameron with all the grace of her feline heritage and draped herself on him. Having a crush on my best-friend’s boyfriend was rough. Not that I would have ever made a play for him. He belonged to Nina. Besides, I could hardly compete with someone whose avatar looked like a damn Barbie-doll come to life.   

She ran her long nails through his thick, blond locks. “It almost sounded like you were about to cantor. Are you sure you’re not part Katian? I’ve heard young cubs often slip like that until they learn how to control their dual vocal cords.”

Now how do I get out of this? My friends knew me well enough to tell whenever I lied. Heck, I couldn't even bluff them at poker. But I had to hide what I was from them for their own good.

“Hellloooo...Twyla.” Apparently, I’d taken too long to answer Nina. As with most Katians, patience wasn't her strong suite. “What about it? Is there a chance you are part Katian?”

 Vance jumped in. “Must be a recessive gene thing. I mean, almost all Humans from the Paraxous are at least part Katian. You know... from way back during the Katian Empire. Maybe a great, great, great, great-grandparent or something?” He shrugged and changed the subject. “But Sam would have kicked your butt for being so pitchy.”

 I was disappointed that Sam hadn't made it to practice. He’d had family stuff going on, but I knew he wouldn’t miss my birthday party tonight. Having all my friends there had become very important to me. The party would have to serve as my goodbye, even if they wouldn't know it at the time.     

 The garage door opened. Bill waved to us from our Tesla. My environmentally conscious parents only had the one car since they used rapid transit most of the time. They'd given up the garage that came with the apartment so we could use it for band practice. They'd even spent a weekend helping us soundproof the thing to prevent complaints.

Bill drove us to Bay Street. Instead of just dropping us off, he parked and walked us to the theater. He insisted on paying for everyone's ticket. Maybe he felt guilty at not letting me say good-bye to my friends or maybe it was just an excuse to make sure we got safely inside.

As we always did, we rated the movie previews with thumbs up or down. We were all movie buffs and went to the theater nearly every weekend. Another thing I would miss. Heck, I wouldn't even be on Earth by the time these movies came out.

When the movie started, I just couldn't get into it. Normally I loved Star Trek in all its incarnations, even the reboot. But while my friends cheered and tossed popcorn at each other, all I could think about was how to safely stay in touch with them. Even people in witness protection had methods of sending and receiving letters, didn't they? Life would get so lonely with only Little Miss to keep me company.

What if I wouldn't be allowed to take my cat with me? The thought made my heart writhe. No, I told myself, I have to trust the Splendors to find a way. They'd know with all my friends gone, Little Miss would be my only companion. They'd make sure she'd be there to comfort me.

The movie ended. Vance leaned over and asked, "What's wrong?"

For the lack of a better lie, I said, "I just remembered it's my birthday." They took turns wishing me a happy birthday without letting on about the surprise party. As an afterthought, I asked, "Hey, did you guys get me anything?"

Nina smiled slyly. "Oh, you'll find out tonight."

Vance elbowed her. "Anyone else hungry? Let's go eat."

As we headed up the aisle, a whirlwind of excitement washed over me. The emotions belonged to Vance. He couldn't wait to see my expression when he gave me the complete DVD collection of Babylon 5. The contact faded, but left me shaken. Not only had I sensed his feelings, I'd relived his memory of us as little kids watching the show with our parents.

My head ached like a brain freeze from sucking down a Slurpee too fast on a hot day. I staggered a few steps, rubbing my temples furiously. Vance was instantly at my side asking if I was all right. But I knew if I tried to answer him, I'd throw up. I made a dash for the bathrooms.

Nina followed me and waited outside the stall. When I'd finished puking up all the popcorn and soda, she said, "Vance has your dad on the phone. He wants to know how you're doing."

"I'm fine," I lied. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. The emotions of everyone around crowded my senses. Nina worried that my party would have to be canceled. Vance was trying to figure out what was going on with me. And Cameron--well, he was being Cameron. At that moment, he was distracted by twins walking by in matching shorts and tank tops. The girls were pretty and flirtatious.

I bit the side of my cheek to bring myself out of Cameron's fantasy. Vance was still on the phone with Bill when I walked out of the bathroom. My dad was saying something about an ear infection and that Tina had scheduled a doctor's appointment for me tomorrow. I heard him as clearly as if he were talking to me instead of Vance. Apparently reading minds wasn't the only Kobbi ability that had been released. I now had super hearing.

Vance handed me his phone. I knew what Bill was doing was critical to our escape. At the same time, though, I figured he needed to know what was going on. So when he asked how I was doing, I told him, "I think the medicine's worn off."

"Oh really? So soon. I'm sorry. I brought some with me just in case. Can you hold on for just another half hour or so? I really need to finish my meetings. I can see if you mom can--"

"I'll be fine," I assured him. "I'm feeling a lot better. I'll just use lots of wasabi with my sushi. That'll clear my sinuses." 

We signed off with our usual, "Luv ya, bye" and I gave Vance his phone back. We left the theater and climbed the stairs to the food court. As soon as Cameron and Nina were in their own little cute couple's world and oblivious to everything else, Vance asked, "So are you going to tell me what's going on?"

Part of me wanted to tell him everything. For I second I considered seeing if he wanted to run away with us. But how selfish was that? He had his own family to consider.

I decided that somehow I was going to convince my parents to at least let me tell Vance we were leaving for good and not just going on vacation. I couldn't see what harm it could do as long as I didn't tell him anything more than that. "Later," I said in the conspiratorial tone he liked so much. "Let's wait until no one else is around. Okay?"

We got our food and sat down. Sushi for me, vegetarian food for Vance, a double burger for Cameron, and a steak fajita--skip the lettuce, tomato and cheese--for Nina. They all started talking about the movie. Cameron and Vance fell into one of their improv comedic routines making fun of Kirk and Spock.

Out of the blue, my dad's emotional distress forged a link between us. Bill was terrified. Ebon had shoved him into an alley. When Ebon didn't attack and seemed unsure what to do or say, Bill blurted, "It's way too dangerous for you to take Twyla with you. But we can make arrangements with the Dashia Hunter to go into hiding somewhere together."

Ebon gave an animalistic snarl in response. His sense of pain and loss were so strong they grabbed me empathically and tore me from Bill. My father had waited for years for the day when he'd get his daughter back. Now that dream was gone. "Just tell me you have a plan for getting her out of here," he snapped.

"Yeah, we do. Assuming you haven't ruined it by--"

 "Shut up!" He shook his head and finished in a subdued, broken voice. "She's my daughter. Dammit, she should be coming with me--But I can't. She looks too much like her mother." Now he muttered more to himself than to Bill. "I guess I was hoping to see a little of myself in her...Damn Kobbi genes."

His thoughts were in Standard, one of the two main languages of the Paraxous Cluster. The language I had learned as a child. He was using a hearing aide sized gadget like the universal translator from Star Trek to communicate in English. But no matter what language, it was painfully clear he couldn't stand the sight of me. As far as he was concerned, I was my mother's daughter.

The connection to both my father and my dad snapped. Someone was watching us. No, not us. Whoever it was, was watching me specifically. I stretched, trying to look around discreetly. This big guy in a hoodie, sitting alone at a table near the door, glanced away. Something about him seemed familiar, but I couldn’t get a good look at him through the crowd without being too obvious. I wasn't sure, but I thought I remembered seeing him at the theater.

I didn't know what to do. If this was one of Cassie's spies or henchmen, we were in serious trouble. I reached for my phone, but realized it might be monitored. Part of what Bill was doing today was getting burner phones for us.

 Maybe I was overreacting. Without meaning to, my mind instinctively reached out to see if this guy was a threat. He knew who I was and not just my alias. He knew my true identity. He knew my mother was a Dashia and that I was half Kobbi.  

I pulled away from his mind and refocused my thoughts to reach out for Bill. Dad, Dad. Hurry. Danger!

Somehow Vance picked up on the message as well. He jumped up from the table, spilling his drink onto Cameron's lap. Vance jerked his head side-to-side, glancing around the food court. Cam smacked him, then grabbed a wad of paper napkins from the dispenser. "What the hell?" Cam asked, noticing Vance's confused and panicked expression.

Vance took a second to answer. "I think I forgot my cell phone at the theater." He patted down his pockets and pulled out his phone with exaggerated relief.

"Dufus!" Cam said, giving him another whack before heading off to the restroom.

Poor Vance probably had no idea what had scared him so. He threw me a quizzical glance. I met his gaze then looked away, feeling my cheeks redden. He sat down with a plop and a large whistling sigh. Our eyes met again. I gave a subtle shake of my head, pleading with him not to say anything in front of Nina. He gave a quick nod of understanding. Then it dawned on him that my message had been a warning. He started wiping off the remnants of his soda from Cam's vacated seat while carefully looking around. I pretended to scratch my nose and cast a glance at the guy watching us.

"Okay. What the heck's going on with you two?" Nina asked impatiently. Her gaze had followed Cam, but she'd caught Vance and me exchanging looks. Her eyes went wide and she got way too excited. "Oh my god! Oh my god! It finally happened. You guys are dating!"

Vance and I were completely caught off guard. Where the heck had she gotten that idea? "I'm not even allowed to date," I protested.

Bill arrived just then. He must have run all the way from the parking lot and up the stairs. He puffed like an asthmatic and was sweating. "How are you doing?"

I said fine, but nodded toward the guy watching us. Bill was so relieved, he nearly had a meltdown right then and there. He gave me a big old bear hug then plopped down in the chair next to me still breathing hard. In my ear he whispered, "Don't you recognize Gerry? I asked him to keep an eye on you."

Now that he mentioned it, of course I did. Gerry was one of the building's security guys. I'd just never paid much attention to him, and I'd never seen him out of his rent-a-cop uniform. "Sorry," I whispered back. "I was just too freaked out to think straight."

"It's all right. But try not to send any more empathic messages until we're safely relocated."

With our secret conversation done I struggled to come up with something normal to say. "Did you bring the medicine?"

"Yeah, but can you wait until we're home? It's a little soon for the next dose."

My throat tightened. Trying to make it sound like a joke, I threatened, "Well, if you don't want me to puke all over the place, I'd better have it now."

He discreetly gave me the shot before anyone in the crowd around us took notice. Nina seemed a bit taken aback. "Is the infection that serious?"

"No. The doctor just wants to wipe it out quickly, so it doesn't get a chance to affect her hearing," Bill said as we headed out. Vance's gaze narrowed, obviously putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

When we got back to our apartment complex, Bill chased off my friends saying that I needed to rest. He gave them a not so subtle conspiratorial wink that I pretended not to notice.

I tried but couldn’t sleep. Finally, I gave up and went out to the terrace patio where Little Miss lay sunning herself. Cam came out to his neighboring patio just a few feet away. He stepped to the rail so we could talk.

“You okay?” he asked, striking a pose.

“Yeah. Fine.”

He rolled his beautiful blue eyes. “Oh, come on. You haven’t been ‘fine’ all day. What’s up?”

As much as I liked Cam, he wasn’t someone I confided in. Though I couldn’t help being attracted to him, it didn’t blind me to the fact that he was not big on discretion. Twice in the five years since he and his father had moved into our building he'd slipped up and almost given away the fact that our building was a haven for refugees from other planets.

Not that I could blame him for having a flare for the dramatic. He and his father had fled Blaymen, a Human home-world that had been devastated in the race-wars. They were the only surviving members of their entire family.

But drama was exactly what I didn’t need right now. “Just not feeling all that good,” I told him, careful to sound casual.

“Yeah, that whole ear infection thing.”

“Yeah.”

He leaned against the rail, speaking in a low tone so no one else could hear. “Come on, it's me you're talking to. You know you can’t fool me. You're obviously upset about something.”

His intense gaze made me uncomfortable. I shifted away, unsure how to make him stop pressing. I made up a story even as the words came out. “I’m just upset that our vacation is the same week as the talent contest we were going to enter.”

His head jerked back in disbelief. “Seriously?  You’re mad about getting to go to Australia?  I’ve wanted to go there my whole life... well, since we came here, at least. And I thought your parents had already told you no anyways.”

I thought about the fit I'd thrown when my parents had refused to let me enter the contest. It had seemed ridiculous to me at the time that they thought a local talent contest would bring too much exposure. Then again, I'd hated the fact that they wouldn't let me use Instagram or Facebook either. Now such precautions seemed more than reasonable.

"Are you still pissed at your parents?" Cam asked.    

 “They’re not my parents,” I muttered without thinking. I wish they were.

 I caught Cam’s expression, one of shock and horror, and realized how what I’d said must have sounded. “I didn’t mean it that way.” I just hoped Bill and Tina hadn’t heard. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt their feelings.

Cam motioned for me to come closer. “Now I know something’s wrong. Come on. Tell me."

I wanted to fall into his arms like in all the movies. But there was a rail and a four foot gap between us. Besides, he wasn’t mine. “It’s nothing. I’m just mad that the Splendors won’t let our band compete.” I glanced over to see if Nina was at his place. “Where's Nina?"

"Getting ready," he said. Without any hesitation he looked me in the eyes and said, "We've got a date tonight."

"Oh, where ya goin'?" I asked, sounding casual even as I tried to trick him into saying something about my party.

"Pier 39. She loves all the street performers and watching the sea lions."

He said it in such a way, for a second I believed him. I actually thought they were going to ditch my birthday party. Then I caught the way he was watching me for a reaction. And from his cocky expression, I had obviously given him one.

He knew that I knew about the surprise party. Refusing to admit defeat, I asked, "Don't you think you should be getting ready for your big date?"

"Nah, I got plenty of time. You still haven't told me what's bothering you." Then his phone rang. I could instantly tell it was Nina. I had no right to feel jealous. He was her boyfriend after all. He ended their conversation and said, "She wants me to come over so she can do my hair."

It was amazing how he could make the simplest sentence sound sexual. "Well, you wouldn't want to keep her waiting," I said in a clipped tone that I hated myself for.

He had the nerve to turn his damn playboy smile on me. "I told her I'd be a minute. Why don't I come over there so you and I can talk more privately?" He wagged his brows at me suggestively.

My heart thudded in my chest. Yes, of course I wanted him to come to me instead of Nina. I shook my head and waved him away. "I'm fine. Just go."

He shrugged indifferently. "If that's what you want."

I watched him strut away and laughed at my own foolishness. The most dangerous criminal family in the Paraxous Cluster was probably coming after us and I was worried about a teenage crush.

But the DeConnetts weren’t coming after us, they were coming after me. Most likely, they couldn’t care less about the Splendors. Unless they got in the way, that is. If I ran away, my mom and dad would be safe.     In order to save the parents who'd loved and cared for me, I'd have to desert them.  

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