You all are in for a couple of big surprises coming up, and the end of this scene contains one of them. So without further ado, here is Chapter 17 of The SubVersion Complex. This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.
╗ SEVENTEEN ╚
THE WAY HOME
Her whole body heaved and shuddered, attempting to eradicate the images from her imagination and the contents of her stomach from her body. Tears streamed from her eyes in racking sobs, her soul raw and straining for some sort of release from the horror in her mind. She pounded the floor in her torment and tried to make sense of it all, but strangely only Mr. Vickers' words would come to her.
Giving up the devil's work or simply transferring to another post to do it more efficiently?
She shook her head feverishly, again engulfed in a flood of guilt as she realized the gravity of her mistake. So this is what HomoGen really did. Adam was right, this had nothing to do with love. She cried out and leaned back against the wall, clutching at her hair and weeping harder. She suddenly saw the image of that lesbian couple the previous week who had come to HomoGen to order their Version. They would indeed get their Version, and Neville would receive the two to eight SubVersions created at the same time, to defile with his sickening hands and his even more sick mind. Those SubVersions would be experimented on, frozen, hacked up, and eventually cast into the same furnace that had just destroyed Daniel's lover.
The limp form of that falling woman once more possessed her, and the awful guilt followed. She could have stopped them, couldn't she? She could have saved her, could have rescued her from that horrible fiery destiny. Or perhaps she could not have done a thing.
She heard the door open again and someone entered behind her. The noise of the furnace beyond had not died down a whit, but instead seemed to be gaining strength. She turned and saw Neville standing there.
“I did warn you, I really tried,” he opined. “It's not a sight for everyone, only the hardiest should really be allowed to see that. But shall we continue?” He bent down to help her up.
Anna's entire being swelled with enraged terror, and without thinking she rose up and struck him across the face. “DON'T TOUCH ME!” she screamed. She pulled her gun from its holster on her back and aimed it squarely at Neville's head. “Let me out of this place now,” she gasped, almost incoherent.
Neville startled and took a step backwards. His hands rose into the air of their own accord and his voice assumed a conciliatory tone. His face was white. “Now, Miss McLean, let's not be hasty, there is plenty more to see that we haven't even gotten to yet.”
“You will let me out of here now or I swear I will kill you.” She couldn't believe the words coming out of her mouth; she felt out of control of her actions. The only thing that mattered any more was getting out of this dungeon, and with every passing moment it felt more and more as if the walls would close in on her. Holding a steady bead on Neville's forehead, she repeated her request.
Neville slowly backed up to the console on the wall and tapped the button. “Captain James, Miss McLean says that she is finished down here and would like to go back upstairs. Come to the south exit and escort her out please.” He released the button and turned frightened eyes back to Anna. “Satisfied?”
“Almost,” Anna stammered. She could feel her tears returning and sincerely hoped Captain James would show up before she was blinded by them. With astounding quickness the door at the far end of the hall opened and Captain James appeared.
Anna holstered the gun and ran. James watched her fly out the door, then turned to Neville in a rage. He grasped the white clad man by the front of the shirt and lifted him almost off his feet. “What the hell did you do to her?” he demanded.
Neville twisted and choked, but his smile made a reappearance and he tried to sound unconcerned through his gasps. “I did nothing she didn't want me to do. Weak stomach I suppose.”
Disgusted, James threw the man onto the floor and followed Anna out the door. She had already made it out to the elevator and was pounding at the button desperately trying to make the elevator come faster.
He grabbed her by the shoulders in concern and tried to turn her around but she fought his grasp. “Get away from me!” she screamed again, wrenching herself free. James let go of her, just as the elevator pinged and the doors slid open. Anna raced inside and he followed. She slapped the button for the parking garage level and the elevator began to move.
When the doors slid open an ashen-faced Anna emerged into the cavernous garage followed by a troubled Captain James. As both of them raced across the concrete Anna vaguely noticed Officer Terry Garnham walking to her own car. Terry gaped in surprise and dismay as she saw traces of vomit on Anna's clothes and the tear stains on her face. But it was Anna's expression that alarmed her the most.
“Anna,” she breathed with concern, “what happened?”
“I have to go,” Anna blurted out, the gurgle in her throat suggesting she was not finished disgorging her previous meal.
Terry persisted. “What's wrong, Anna?” She looked closer and saw the chaos raging in Anna's eyes, and her concern grew sharply. “What in the world happened?”
“I am going, I need to go,” Anna replied sharply, shoving everyone aside and rushing for her car. As she disappeared around the corner Terry turned to Captain James and silently asked “What?”
James shook his head. “I wasn't there, I have no idea what she saw,” he said, “but whatever it was, it's bad.”
“What was bad?” Terry asked, confused.
“The Secretary sent her to visit with Neville.”
Terry turned white. “Oh no . . . “
Anna never knew how she got home that day. She somehow stumbled to her car and programmed it to get her back to her address, but much other than that remained a blur. She was dimly aware that her car had emerged into the dim light of a tremendous late evening thunderstorm and that rain and wind began to lash the vehicle in powerful rolling buffets. With the rain came her tears again, and she found she could not stop them no matter how hard she tried. Wretched grief boiled inside her to overflowing and all she could do was ride the cresting wave of her own emotion.
After an eternity had passed, her home appeared and the car dutifully parked itself in the driveway and cut the power. Anna automatically moved to exit, but as the door opened her foot caught and she fell almost prostrate with a splash onto the soaked concrete.
She noticed the rain, realized it felt good pouring onto her head and limbs and back. She stayed motionless for several long moments, feeling the water droplets strike her and split into fragments, listening to the deep thunder roll in the background. It felt . . . cleansing. Her hair rapidly grew saturated and limp around her face, her wet dress clung to her body and her shoes filled with water. She didn't care; she didn't care about much at that moment.
She shut the door of her car and slowly began to crawl towards her front door. It seemed so far away. She tried to stand and walk but as she did so she heard a sound from the street and stopped to look.
It was Jesse's car, and as it halted at the curb under a blazing streetlight Jesse himself jumped out clad in a business suit, an umbrella in tow. Anna gaped at him uncomprehendingly. Why is he here? She tried moving faster towards the door but her own condition and a cry from Jesse halted her.
“Anna!” he shouted, running up and shielding her from the rain with the umbrella. She blinked the water out of her eyes and looked at him like she didn't know him.
“I like the rain,” she said stupidly.
“What are you doing out here in all this?” Jesse shouted over the downpour and thunder. “Let's get you inside.” He grabbed her arm and began to haul her to her feet.
“Don't touch me!!” she screamed, recoiling from him and stumbling backwards. Jesse stared in surprise but tried to lift her again. Again she repulsed him and backed away.
“What is wrong with you, Anna? I'm here to help you!” he barked, gesturing in frustration. She still backed away, finally reaching the door and fumbling to unlock it with slippery fingers.
“I don't want to see you right now,” she whispered. “I don't want to see you ever again, not ever. Please leave.” She backed into the house away from him. He suddenly strode up to the door and pushed it open.
“No, Anna, for some reason you're not thinking straight, now tell me what's wrong.” His presence was overpowering as usual, his scent and overbearing attitude made her shrink deeper inside herself. For the second time that day she reached behind her back and pulled out her weapon, pointing it squarely at his stomach.
“I said leave,” she cried desperately through her tears.
Jesse's eyes nearly popped out. “So they did give you a gun,” he breathed, putting his hands uncertainly into the air. Anna pushed forward, and he reeled backwards out of the doorway. She grabbed the door and slammed it shut, locking it and resetting the alarm. Then she sank to the floor inside against the wall and wept again.
What to do? She couldn't go to Adam, he would wonder too many things. Terry was no good either, and Anna had just threatened her only semblance of a friend with a gun and forced him back out into the rain. With sudden clarity she realized that she had no friends, no real friends anyways, no one she could call or go to and spill herself out. In that moment of despair she glanced over at an end table nearby and saw a bottle of her best brandy sitting on top, next to the familiar framed picture of her parents smiling back at her.
Sonya's plea for her mother came rushing to Anna as she saw the face of her own mother staring back at her, and for the first time in years she really felt the festering wound of their death on her heart. She wanted her mother, her father. She wanted them back so badly. She reached over, grabbed the bottle in her frustration and hurled it against the paneling of the far wall. It disintegrated with a loud crash and she watched the brown liquid spill down the wall and onto the floor. Then, through her tears, a thought came to mind.
Mr. Vickers. He had been a friend of her parents. She could call him.
No, he hates me. I've hated him for so long that he would never want me. Or maybe he doesn't . . . In the midst of her musings she pulled out her commex, ironically glad that they were built to be waterproof, and was about to dial his number when she remembered she didn't even have it. Had she never even bothered to get his number? In her frustration she tossed her gun to the floor and pulled her knees up to her chin. So there was nothing that could be done, and she despised herself.
Then the reason why all this trouble had been heaped on her came back in a flash, and she practically ran up the stairs to her room and dropped to her knees in front of her safe. She unlocked it and pulled out the commex that Daniel had given her and powered it on. It came to life without a fuss and displayed a single icon in the center of the screen, a button cheekily marked “Push Me.” Gritting her teeth, she tapped it and put the device up to her ear and waited.
The line rang once, then twice, then a click. “Who is this?” It was Daniel's voice.
“It's me, Anna.” She licked her lips. “I . . . I have what you want.”
A long silence. Then: “You will meet me in person, and you will leave your personal commex in your bedroom, turned on of course.”
Anna frowned. “Why do I need to leave it behind?”
“Your house is being monitored, at this very moment,” Daniel's voice crackled. “I watched two trucks follow you in, no doubt from Central Admin. Your commex is being geo-tracked by them, and you need to leave it at home.”
In confusion and sudden panic Anna raced to the window and looked up and down the street. At the very end to her left she could make out two parked black trucks. A chill shot through her entire body. “Am I in danger?”
“I don't know, but I do know they definitely saw that stunt with your boyfriend and your gun.”
Anna stiffened. “You saw? Where are you?”
“Come out your back door, close and lock it and set the alarm from your remote key. Then cross backyards to your next door neighbors' house. The divider fences and the rain and twilight will keep you out of sight of the trucks.”
Anna was confused. “Which next door neighbors? The ones to my right?”
“No, your left. You know him as Mr. Vickers. Come to his back door and knock three times. Daniel out.” The line went dead.
Mr. Vickers? Anna couldn't fathom what Daniel would be at his house for. Then a horrible thought occurred to her: Perhaps Mr. Vickers is being held hostage? But why? She placed her commex on her bed like Daniel asked, then flew down the stairs and to the back door. She locked it and set the alarm, then proceeded across the back lawn towards Mr. Vicker's back door.
The rain still fell in sheets and she was forced to take off her heels and step barefoot in the soaked grass, keeping her head down so as not to be seen from the street. The rain did not feel half so pleasant or cleansing now, but dribbled in cold rivulets down her back and legs. By the time she reached Mr. Vickers' back door she was shivering and her teeth chattered. She stepped up onto the back stoop and rapped three times on the door.
The door swung open and Mr. Vickers himself emerged. He stared for a long moment at Anna's bedraggled form, then reached out to her and gently took her arm, pulling her in. “Come in, Annalise, come in out of the rain, you're soaked.” She watched his face darken with anger and he turned to the doorway of the next room. “Daniel! Get in here now.”
Daniel's tall and wiry form appeared from around a corner and stopped short. The befuddlement evident in his face matched in intensity the bewilderment that she felt. He turned to Mr. Vickers but had barely opened his mouth when the older man turned on him.
“What in the world did you make her do?” Mr. Vickers' tone was ice.