Fork Road

Welcome to a world of conspiracy and psychological warfare as you've never seen it before.


4. 4

Amanda was stuck scrolling through her messages and smiling at the odd internet meme until Talbot showed up, and she was aware that this might take a while. So she made herself comfortable and was determined not to share any information of actual value until the cavalry arrived. 
(Though she didn't like to admit it, Talbot kind of scared her and she preferred not to incur his wrath by disobeying his wishes.)
Lisa was pinging her constantly as to when she would leave the office so they could go out for drinks. Amanda always had to smile at the young woman's zeal in making Amanda have fun. Amanda appreciated it, really she did, but somehow she felt 'fun' no longer suited her. It sounded stupid when she thought of it like that, but Amanda couldn't escape feeling strange and out-of-place when Lisa dragged her in and out of a bar, night-club or even a strip-club. Still... at least it helped to lift Amanda's mood from time to time, to get her away from people like Briar. And, despite his ill-temper, Talbot encouraged Amanda to have fun every once in a while as well.
Her train of thought was broken abruptly by Han's voice, “Are you literally going to sit there for however long and waste everyone's time just so your doctor can come?”
“If you don't think it's worth it, you're free to call this meeting and my involvement in your mission: off,” Amanda replied with a light shrug, “But if it is worth it, you'll wait for Dracula, Van Helsing and the Anti-Christ should I see fit.”
“I do not like this side of you,” Han grumbled.
Amanda nodded, “Believe it, I didn't know I had this side until this morning.” 
“She knows she can't get anywhere without Dr Talbot's seal of approval,” Briar spat.
Amanda made a face and scoffed, “Uh, yeah. I already said that,” she sat up a little straighter and returned her attention to her phone, “And instead of sitting there, trying to blow me up with your telekenetic fantasies - why not use the laptop in front of you and get some work done?”
Amanda didn't see the phenomenon, but Xavi smiled at her remark.
“She has a point,” she heard him say, “Of the four of us, you can still manage your time rather than waste it.”
Amanda grinned a little, and texted Lisa - saying that she might be in Briar's office for a few hours, depending on when the doctor arrived. 

As if Talbot feared for Lisa's disappointment, he stormed into the office and snapped at Amanda, “I thought I told you not to say anything until I got here!”
While everyone else had a minor heart attack, blinked and then stared at Talbot - Amanda sucked in her cheeks, stowed her phone into her pocket and said, “I didn't say anything. Unless you count a lot of fucking around, in which case...” Amanda shrugged, “sorry?”
“Mind your language, please!” said the grey, wispy-haired man. 
“It's about time you arrived, Doctor,” Xavi grunted.
Talbot hmphed, stomping forward and looking from Xavi to Briar, “I would have arrived earlier,” he said, his giant hazel eyes glaring at them like that of an agitated owl's, “Unfortunately, I was upheld by a ludicrous mob of running noses and itching eyes! I demand to know which of you is responsible for this!”
Briar furrowed her brows, “Excuse me?”
Amanda stood up and intervened, “We'll TP her jeep later, but we've been waiting a good forty-five minutes-”
“Excuse me, Miss Cross, I-”
“I need to explain why I have to stay out of this mission, doctor,” Amanda looked at Talbot with an intense look, a look that said that he was the final stand, her last hope in this struggle. There was a pause, as if Amanda was allowing him to take in and absorb the look she was fixing on him, "We've been waiting a very long time for you to arrive," she murmured.
"Right," Talbot said, nodding his head directly at her.

All the while, Briar was stroking her brows with forefinger and thumb, as if this was a terribly awful pantomime she didn't want to witness rather than a formal meeting.
"Well, Dr Talbot," she said, leaning forward on her elbows and clasping her hands together, "Present Agent Cross's excuses for her. This should be interesting."
"No," Talbot said, placing his hands behind his back and raising his chin.
Briar waited. That was all he had to say.
"You... won't be defending her?" Briar asked.
"No," Talbot said, "Any defense need not be presented. Amanda is unfit for any kind of field work. She simply is unable at this point in time. I, as her medical doctor, have the right and the responsibility to keep any such details confidential. You cannot send her on this mission to England. And if you do, you do not have my permission or clearance to."
Han muttered, "This is bullshit."
"Have you anything to say, Han?" Briar asked, eager to hear any kind of response that would jeopardise Amanda and her will to stay away from this mission.
Han stood up, trying to take no notice of the glare Amanda was boring into him, "Last night, Amanda told me about a ghost in Bradley Wood," he said without a moments' hesitation.
Briar scoffed, "Oh, this should be good."
"As you can see, Ms Briar," Talbot interjected before Han could continue, "my patient is deeply disturbed. Even that she's making these claims should be proof enough-"
"Nonsense!" Briar said, "Sounds more like cowardice than craze."
Amanda stepped forward, "It's true!" she shouted, and shut her eyes. She let herself breathe  before she opened her eyes and went on, "It's true. There is a ghost," she sighed and looked at Xavi, "I know none of you think highly of me - least of all, you, Xavi. But you have to believe me, there is a ghost, a force, a power. Bigger and more dangerous than any of you know or understand."

Xavi looked up at Amanda and observed her face for what seemed a while. 
"You're not honestly buying this, Manuel?" Briar asked him, a light-hearted smile on her face, "Are you?"
"Tell me about this ghost," Xavi said, folding his arms.
Amanda began, "Her name is Valfreyja."
"Your ghost is a Norse god?" Xavi asked, but he more as a question than a sarcastic remark. Briar chuckled anyway.
Amanda was grateful for Xavi, though she tried not to show it too much, "That's just it: I don't know. That's just how she's... revealed herself to me. I hear her. I... feel her. And I know she's there waiting for me - in Bradley Wood."
“And the evidence for this is...? What?" Briar asked, not even wanting to hear an answer, "More feelings?”
Amanda bit her tongue and said, “No. Murders,” she passed Han a folder marked with the words 'serial killings', “There's been a string of murders in and around that area, in Bradley,  and all the bodies are always found in Bradley Wood. The strange thing is, there's no blood, no discernible cause of death. These people just... died. As if naturally. Varying ages, no preference of gender, different levels of health and fitness. It's been happening on a constant for the past few months - people go missing and then their found dead in the wood.”
“And how does Valfreyja fit into this?” Han asked.
“She's looking for a suitable conduit," Amanda explained, "only... those that aren't, aren't. And she can't be in them any longer, so they die. The locals have begun dubbing her 'The Black Lady of Bradley Wood'. The police have been looking into it, but I've had Dr Talbot pull some strings and kept them quiet.”
“You've lost me, Amanda. If you believe this, then why wouldn't you want to go?" Han asked, "Don't you want to stop her?”
Amanda looked at Han searchingly, “You don't... get it.”
Han furrowed his brow.
“Han, I'm the suitable conduit,” Amanda said, “She got in and got out twice, and I'm still standing. If I go there and she gets to me... Game over. She'll have a solid form and things will burn to hell from there.”
“Wait... twice?”
“You weren't here.”
“What happened?”
“They were giving me treatment in the Machine. Valfreyja got into the system and tried to possess me. Talbot force-ejected me, I was in a coma for about a fortnight. They've stopped treatment since. Suzy was against it, but Talbot was adamant. He said that it was too high risk.”
Han opened his eyes in surprise, "You were in a coma of two weeks?" he said, "That's why you wouldn't reply to messages or pick up calls? You told me your phone was broken."

Xavi stepped in, "Agent Cross," he said, bring both agents back on point, "this is mission is far too important for us not to send you."
"Mr X-" Amanda began.
"Regardless of the threat it might pose to your life," Xavi added.
"Oh," Amanda laughed, "Oh, you think I'm worried about myself?" she scoffed and strode up to Xavi. Amanda took a moment to adjust his shirt and fix his tie, "You don't understand. This has very little to do with my concern for myself. Not saying it's not there, but I think you're overlooking what might happen after Valfreyja has me."
Briar stood up, "Okay," she said, placing her hands on the table, "Thank you for sharing, Amanda, but I do believe we've reached a simple conclusion. You don't want to  commit to field work and I completely understand," she waved a hand at Amanda and looked away, "Why go out to get hot and bothered when you could sit around and waste oxygen all day, hmm?"
Amanda snarled. She hated it when that woman called her by her first name, "Fuck. You," Amanda spat, "If you can believe a few old stones can be forged into weapons of mass destruction, then why can't you believe that this is real? We've experienced the super-natural, witnessed paranormal feats - why is this any different? Answer me!"
"You are the agent, Amanda: the object, the minion," Briar said, "Even if you might think you're some kind of 'Chosen One' - which I so intensely ridiculous - I don't need to answer to you."
Amanda balled her hands into fists and everyone flinched as her knuckles cracked. Han put a hand on her shoulder.

"Agent Cross," Xavi spoke at last.
Amanda didn't look at him and muttered, "I swear to God,  Xavi, you send me on this mission-"
"You are going to England with Agent Schmitz to locate-"
"Then the world can burn!" Amanda barked at him, "And it can burn you with it!" she pointed at Han, "And you!" she turned to Talbot, "And you!" she spun around to face Briar and yanked her forward by the collar, "And y-y-you! Especially, you!"
Briar tore herself away, "How dare you!" she shrieked, readjusting her clothes.
"If I have any control whatsoever over this body after Valfreyja gets me," Amanda pointed to them all, "I'll make sure to make all of you burn!" she snatched her file from Han's grasp and and ripped the door open.
"Agent Cross, I demand that you stay in this office," Xavi said.
"And I demand that you all sod off and let me throw my tantrum in peace," Amanda retorted, throwing an arm up in his direction.
"This level of disrespect-"
"Then kill me now and have done with me!" Amanda demanded, "I've seen you shoot people a million times before, what's one more, eh? If I'm so expendable and intolerable - get rid of me now, I demand it!"
Xavi gave her a burning look, a scowl that told her that he was very displeased with her and then said, "You're dismissed."
"Thank you kindly," Amanda replied, inclining her head and leaving the room. She made sure to slam the door as she left.

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