Fork Road

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

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7. 7

SEVEN

 

Lisa took Han's message and looked for Amanda in the most casual way a person could when a friend suddenly disappeared on them. In her head, she was frantically searching all the pubs and clubs and alleyways. However, it would better be described as a distanced inspection of all these places, loitering there for a while and then moving onto a different place. Lisa was partially glad, she always thought Amanda needed to do something crazy. Perhaps not all the time, but Lisa reckoned she could let her hair down once in a while to do something spontaneous.

And then Lisa saw what she never really wanted to.

"Amanda..." Lisa said, jaw-dropped and eyes wide. She rushed passed the raging mob in the strip club and tried to get to the front, "Amanda!" she called, "Holy shite on a stick! Get down from that pole!"

Amanda smiled and climbed up that pole and looked at Lisa upside-down, "Andyyyyyy! Come to see the show?" she spoke with a slur and giggled too much.

"I've seen... enough," Lisa said, looking at her, "God... get down."

Amanda gripped the pole and spit her legs wide, bending and stretching them in mid-air, "No," she said, suddenly looking more serious.

"Holy fuck, you have mad upper-body strength..." Lisa said, she shook her head - trying to snap out of it, "Where the hell are your pants? And when did your underwear get so trashy?" she asked and then muttered, "At least you've still got your shirt on. You didn't give anyone a lap-dance, did you?"

Amanda got down, throwing her hair out and standing close to the metal pole, "Does it matter?" she asked.

Lisa backed away as Amanda approached her, "Amanda, this is creepy. Stop it."

Amanda got her by the shoulders and forced her into a chair. Lisa held the seat, not knowing what to expect, but bracing herself regardless.

 

"Creepy?" Amanda asked her, bending over to have her face level with Lisa's, "You say that like I should care, Andy."

Lisa stared back at her, "Stop it."

Amanda stood straight, "You want to come with us?" she asked, "To England?"

"I haven't-"

Amanda hooked a foot under Lisa's seat and tipped it back. Lisa hit her head on the hard floor and felt a weight sit on her chest. Lisa looked up at Amanda. The rest of the club had gathered around them. Lisa didn't know if it was to stop the scene or to encourage it.

"What makes you think you're at all ready?" Amanda asked her.

Lisa tried to implore her, "Amanda-"

Amanda smashed her forehead into Lisa's mouth. Lisa gasped, as if unable to scream. She felt tears prick her eyes and touched her mouth. Her fingers were soaked with red and her face stunned to silence.

"Shut up," Amanda told her. There was a bloody mark on her pale forehead. She got up, "and go home. I don't want to see you until I come back to my senses."

 

* * * * *

 

The world was a blur. A weird blur that didn't seem to want to straighten or fix. It was also oddly grey and unshifting. Amanda was grateful it wasn't shifting. She felt the nausea in her stomach and throat ready to shift with a single movement. She groaned a little and - very slowly - touched her aching forehead.

A car horn blasted and it hit her senses like a gunshot.

She swore, anger fueling her pain and held her mouth as she sat up. Her cheeks puffed out as she gagged and she put an arm to her stomach.

"You did that on purpose," she muttered, kicking the driver's seat.

"Oh, you can be damn sure I did," Han replied, smiling. He started the car and it began to lurk forward.

"Dick," Amanda snapped, laying against the back-seats and trying not to spill her innards as the car moved, "Why'd you stuff me in the back of your car?" she slurred, "Why not just drop me off at the compound?"

Han scoffed.

"What?" Amanda said, beginning to notice small details about her apparel and body. She looked at the underside of her left arm, "Who's number is this on my arm?"

"Let me jog your memory, shall I?" Han took a deliberate sharp turn.

Amanda gagged, her vision blurring, "Stop that," she croaked.

"After Lisa found you last night, she called me, told me you'd lost your head a little," Han explained, "I told her to simply leave my number on your arm and then leave you be. Not sure how she managed it, but she did. Clearly. I'm not entirely sure how the night proceeded for you, but I received a call from a stranger not too long ago, retrieved you from said stranger's house and here we are. I'd advise you to take some birth control, you weren't in very good shape before I put you in the car."

"What?" Amanda said, "Somebody took me home?"

"He did more than just take you home," Han scoffed.

"Oh, grow up," Amanda spat, adjusting her trousers, "These clothes aren't mine," she noticed.

"Lisa asked me to pick some up for you, in case I found you in this condition. I bought some from a local store," Han told her.

"You dressed me?" Amanda asked.

"I was uncomfortable carrying you out into the middle of the street, naked as a baby," Han replied, taking another sharp turn.

Amanda threw up a little in her mouth and swallowed the sickly, salty, scalding fluid back down, "You realize that if I throw up, I'll be throwing up all over your head?" she snapped.

Han turned on the radio and blasted the music out.

Amanda pressed her hands over her ears and shut her eyes. She felt like her head was about to explode, "Such a dick!" she shouted.

 

Han drove on like this for a long while. Until he shut the radio off and parked the car on a nondescript street.

He sat quietly and waited for Amanda to stop cowering.

"Amanda, what is this really about?" he asked her, "I've never seen you so worked up in all my time working alongside you. And we have been through several traumatic times together."

"I've already been screwed enough times in the last 24 hours, I am not getting in your pants," Amanda retorted.

Han sighed, and turned over a little, putting his arm over the headrest of his seat, "Whether you like it or not, Amanda, we are going on a mission together. We are partners again and I'm asking in that specific context and no other," he paused, "More than that actually. Whether you like it or not, I'm your friend. I'm worried. What's the matter? Aside from this Valfreyja thing."

Amanda looked away, "I don't want to talk about it," she mumbled.

Han sunk in his seat and shook his head, "Then I suppose we'll just sit here until you do."

"I don't remember the last time coercion worked well with me," Amanda said, "If you have questions, ask. Just don't expect me to have all the answers or want to share them with you if I do have them."

Han grunted, "You used to work with NihilCorp. And before your transfer to Beta Team - and it possibly was the reason for your transfer - you shot and killed a NihilCorp member that was your friend," Han looked at Amanda, "It was... more than what I expected of you. Than any of us expected of you. And it wasn't just a show of loyalty - you did what you had to and I've respected you more since then. But your emotional state declined and you were transferred," Han took a breath, "I'm sorry, is really all I can say. But... do you still have sympathies for NihilCorp, or - at the very least - the members you were affiliated with?"

"I hadn't really thought about it until now," Amanda admitted, her voice a humbled mumble, "After you left for Montreal, Beta Team wasn't at all concerned with fighting with NihilCorp. There was always something bigger to worry about it. So I didn't have to think about it."

"Amanda, what does Beta Team do?" Han asked.

"You don't know? If you don't know, then you haven't been told. And if you haven't been told, then it's probably classified information for you," Amanda replied.

"I need to know."

"Then you have to promise not to tell anyone that I told you, or divulge this to anyone else outside ourselves."

"I'm pretty sure I can manage to keep a secret."

 

"Alpha Team is focused on defeating NihilCorp, who want to the see the end of the world through chaos caused by strange artifacts," Amanda began, straightening herself in her seat, "Beta Team goes a step further. We..." she looked for the correct words, "we find ways to speak or interact with the users of these artifacts. Perhaps even their creators."

"Lot of ghost talk then?" Han asked, less sarcastic about it.

"Yes," Amanda replied, "Lot of ghost talk. Talbot had made a breakthrough with me. For some reason, the ghosts connect with me better than others. It's like talking on a wireless signal, some people only receive the message in small fragments. I have a better connection, that can be strengthened with the use of the Machine. Which is why I know or can find where all the artifacts are. But lately... lately more powerful ghosts have made contact. They... corrupt the signal. Like a virus that wants to take over."

Han paused, "So it’s an honest-to-God, real thing? Not just a bunch of loonies like Briar makes it out?"

"It's classified information for her as well," Amanda said, "And if it isn't, she just doesn't see it to be very important. Frankly, it's the only way of understanding what specific artifacts do and how we can deactivate them from use."

"And the artifact in England?" Han asked.

"Don't know," Amanda replied, "I haven't used the Machine since that last accident."

Han muttered something under his breath and then asked again, "And NihilCorp? Do you still have sympathies?"

"What would you think if I said yes?" Amanda asked back.

"I..." Han began, "I wouldn't be happy about it, but I'd understand."

"I don't have sympathies," Amanda replied, "Not for the organization. Just for some of the members."

Han nodded to himself, "Alright, then," he started the engine again.

 

The car drove on for a long while and Amanda yawned, feeling drowsy and unwell.

"Coffee sound good to you?" Han asked her.

"I just want to sleep," she replied, shaking her head.

"Then I'll take you to my house, you can sleep in peace there. I'll let Gemma know and go to the compound. Tell them I couldn't find you or something," Han offered.

"Sounds good. But they'll know, Han. They'll know you found me," Amanda replied.

"They'll just have to deal with it," he smiled, "Besides, it's the least I can do for you. You've been taking better care of my daughter than I have. I'm grateful for that, you know?"

"It's not a hassle, dealing with Elina," Amanda laughed, kicking the back of the driver's seat again, "There's nothing even remotely dickish about her. Unlike you. If you two didn't look alike, I'd have my doubts that you were related."

Han just scoffed at the remark.

"Did you talk to her?" Amanda asked.

"Yes," Han replied, "You'll be happy to know she will be going to the prom."

"Oh?" Amanda raised her brows, "What changed her mind?"

"Just a bit of confidence from her father," Han replied.

"Oh," Amanda nodded, "So the other guy your ex-wife slept with came around then?"

Han looked back at Amanda and shook his head, "Cheap shot, Amanda. Cheap shot."

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