“In our memories the stories of our lives defy chronology, resist transcription: past ambushes present, and future hurries into history.” ― Anthony Doerr, About Grace
The Drive to Oblivion
Footsteps echo in the room. They came closer and grew louder; the hollow sound like the steady beat of a drum in a cave. Gloria and Raul watched the door with anticipation. A knock came followed by Tesli announcing she had arrived with their driver to Tbilisi. The door opened, and Tesli walked in with a smile and greeted her guests.
“Good morning. Oh, I see you are ready to go.”
Val walked in behind Tesli. The two Dragons locked eyes on the auburn haired woman. Their nostrils flared taking in her scent.
Gloria approached Tesli as she introduced Val.
“This is Valeriya, your driver today. She is here to help with the Cybrid insurrection.”
Gloria hugged Tesli. Her lips brushed the Dragon Sister’s ear as she breathed the words, “She is not entirely a Dragon. Do you trust her?”
The cautious Sentinel pulled away and glanced into Tesli’s eyes. The girl signaled her confidence, barely dropping her eyelashes.
Gloria went to Val and embraced her with a warm hug that was firm with full contact of their bodies from hip to breast. Gloria placed her cheek against Val’s. She inhaled a slow, steady breath through her nose touching Val’s neck just below the ear taking in her scent and flooding her with electric current. Val held Gloria to her and reciprocated the flow of power between them in the time-honored way of the Dragon Sisters.
Gloria released Val and went back to Raul’s side. He said nothing. His eyes stayed on the strange woman with the auburn hair and freckled arms. He noticed her alertness and the hair raised on her arms.
“We’re burning daylight girls. Let’s get moving before the world wakes up and takes note.” Raul spoke with a sharp sound in his voice alerting the women that he was asserting his Alpha status.
Val pointed to the door. “Right this way. I’m parked outside.”
Once in the back seat of the small sedan, Gloria nuzzled Raul’s neck and held his arm to her breasts. He rubbed the inside of her thigh to calm her. He sensed her tension was higher than usual. Something felt wrong.
They wound their way from Chala to the city of Oni where they picked up the road that took them on a long arc through the mountains along a string of ridges. Gloria and Raul held on to each other and watched the mountains and streams whip by them.
Their lives had moved at a crawl until now. Gloria felt an ache in her chest as the expansive scenery melted away. She wanted to go back to the horses and continue her sojourn with Raul without the need to fight a war.
Val drove at a safe speed, but the flashing of the forest and open vistas of stone and snow across the tops of the mountains mesmerized the two weary travelers. They crossed the Jejori River into Nakreba, and the mountains gave way to open rolling hills and streams carpeted with grass and trees.
Val opened a satchel with her right hand as she drove and handed a folder to Tesli. Tesli turned and called to Gloria as she dreamed in Raul’s embrace. Gloria took the documents and handed them to Raul. On top of the dossier was Vika’s picture.
Val began to talk in a cadence and tone that was all business. Gloria and Raul listened while they studied the pages.
“I am your contact for Tbilisi. We’ve been expecting you for some time now. In fact, I’ve been scouring the countryside looking for you. It was just blind luck that you stumbled on Tesli who knew to contact me.”
“Tell me more about our target.” Gloria focused on the picture of Vika.
“Her name is Vika. She is the love interest of the Cybrid Kirill, who leads the insurrection from Astana in Kazakhstan. She is an assassin and is responsible for taking out the Dragon hierarchy in Eurasia. She commands a group of 120 commandos that operate in teams of five to assassinate Dragon leaders or intellectuals. They spare no one, not even the children. Her mission is total extermination or the complete evacuation of all Dragons from the region. Since we aren’t evacuating, she is executing her first order.”
“Where will we find her?” Raul queried.
“She’s coming to you. I’ve been working as a double agent for the Cybrids to gain their trust. The Dragon Masters and I fed them with actionable information in the past. I’ve convinced her to come after you in the safe house you are going to tonight. She will likely send observers for one or two days to watch the building and to make a plan. She will have at least fifteen men with her. They fear you in close quarters but feel they must attack you under conditions that constrain you.”
“We have no weapons to defend an attack,” Gloria seemed unsettled by Val’s taking over and setting a plan into motion without their input.
“There are some toys in the apartment. You will stay in the last room on the top floor. There is only one narrow stairway. They can only come up or go down single file. The hall is also small, barely room for two men in gear to stand side by side. It is a funnel of death for them.”
“I suggest you look around but be wary. The Rebels will be watching. After you look around outside, it is no longer safe to go out. You have everything you need in the apartment.”
“What happens after the battle? We will need to exfiltrate before reinforcements arrive.”
“There is a cell phone with encryption in the dresser of your room. After you kill Vika and as many of her soldiers as possible, send the coded message. An operator will arrange to take you out of the country and return you to your ship. From there you can go as you please. The Cybrids will take a week to decipher your message by then we will all be long gone.”
Gloria looked up and caught Val’s eyes looking at them in the rearview mirror. For a brief moment, they assessed each other before Val returned her gaze to the twisting road ahead. Val was familiar to her, and the familiarity gave her an uneasy feeling.
They continued to discuss the details of the mission as they traveled southeast to ever lower altitudes. More villages came up on the road ever closer together. They would enter Tbilisi in a few hours.
When things settled down, Gloria returned her attention to Raul. He put his arm around her shoulder and held her to him. He kissed the top of her head and rubbed her arm.
“We’ll sleep in shifts. One of us must remain awake at all times.” Raul whispered. Gloria looked up into his tired face. She kissed him and whispered back.
“You sleep now. I’ll wake you when we get into Tbilisi.”
Raul closed his eyes as Val went through the S10 to E60 exchange and once on the main highway, she accelerated toward Tbilisi.
Gloria rested on Raul’s shoulder. She couldn’t wait to get him in a clean bed for the night. They had much to do to get ready, but nothing would keep her from enjoying her man. The thought of finishing this mission and the two of them disappearing on Raul’s ship to sail the oceans and live like they wanted free of the world’s encumbrances made the pit of her stomach tingle and her body burn to feel Raul’s love again.
They entered Tbilisi in the early evening. Gloria woke Raul, and they both began to watch as they drove south on Skhvitori bridge across the Mtkvari River past the huge Tbilisi shopping mall. Raul noticed the American Embassy compound where they turned west beside the Ristorante Fortuna to the end of 66th Street next to a large complex of warehouses. Gloria noted the signs that pointed south to the Security Police headquarters and east, the National Bureau of Enforcement.
“You picked a hell of a place to have a battle with the Cybrids.” Gloria broke the silence in the dark cabin of the car.
“It will force Vika to plan on a quick mission knowing the security police can respond in minutes to a full battle. The proximity of police gives you the advantage because they will try to come in light and fast to get away.” Val always seemed confident in the outcome.
“Where are you during this phase of the mission?” Raul asked Val.
“I am headed back to Astana to meet Kirill. You kill Vika, and I take out Kirill leaving the Cybrids leaderless. The Dragons will see that as the sign to begin their counter-attack. We’ll end the global resistance once the Cybrids learn of the defeat in Eurasia. This battle will break their will.”
“And if we fail?” Gloria grilled Val.
“If we fail, the war will continue, and the Cybrids will eventually develop the skill and weaponry to meet the Dragons on the battlefield with parity if not superiority.”
“Then we won’t fail,” Gloria spoke with an even tone as they exited the car and began walking toward the dark three-story apartment.
They walked in silence to the third floor to the last apartment at the end of the hall. Val opened the door with a key and gave it to Raul. Tesli stayed at the head of the stairs at the opposite end to watch for anyone coming in.
“There is no one else in the building. Anyone you see or hear after Tesli, and I won’t be friends.”
Raul walked inside, turned the living room lights on and began to check out the small apartment. Gloria remained by the door talking to Val. When Raul returned, Gloria looked at him; he nodded to signal everything looked in order.
Gloria smiled and reached for Val giving her the customary Dragon Sister farewell. She held Val tight against her Body. She placed her cheek against Val’s and spoke to her.
“Tell your mother I am sorry for what I did and if I had my life over again, I would obey my masters and leave her in peace. I promise after this is over, Raul and I will seek our lives together as far from war and the past as possible.”
Gloria looked into the stunned face of Mariah and Peter’s daughter. There was no malice in her eyes. Gloria was letting go of her hate and preparing to face her last battle with a pure heart.
Val’s mouth moved and an utterance caught in her throat. It was too late to turn back the clock. Fate would decide the outcome, and they would live or die according to their fate.
Gloria felt Val hug her in return. The flow of energy between them was a balm that temporarily soothed decades of pain and self-hate that haunted Gloria in every quiet moment of her life.
Val squeezed Gloria’s hand.
“To victory,” Val whispered.
“To victory,” Gloria repeated in a quiet, detached voice.
Val turned and walked down the hall. The echo of her steps matched the emptiness Gloria felt in her heart. To see Mariah and Peter’s daughter reminded her of the life, she dreamed of in Peter’s arms years ago. Now, childless and infertile, she clung to Raul for comfort.
Tesli and Val turned to look at the Dragons standing in the corridor, arm in arm. They paused to burn the memory of the Dragons in their minds. No one expected to see each other again in this world.
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