At the moment Justin was wishing success for Leland and his team, they were feeling anything but successful. After three earth days spent waiting for Cerberus to return from where ever he had gone, Leland was beginning to wonder if Beatrice had been correct about Cerberus going to Prospect. If she was right, he thought, then they were wasting valuable time in one place when they should be in Prospect.
“Beatrice?” impathed Leland. Beatrice was currently at Cerberus’ residence.
“Yes, Leland,” she replied, almost immediately. “No sign of Cerberus yet.”
“I’ve been thinking over your statement about Cerberus going to Prospect.”
“And…?” asked Beatrice. Amusingly, Leland detected a bit of a condescending attitude in her one word question.
“And I think I should have taken your womanly intuition more seriously. I’ve decided that instead of keeping you at Cerberus’ residence, I’m sending you to Prospect. I’d like you to scout around there for a few earth days, and of course keep a close watch over Justin and Samantha. You know the routine.”
“Do they have my aura?” Beatrice asked.
“No,” Justin told her, “so they won’t be aware of your presence. We’ll keep this on the QT. Of course, if it becomes necessary, you can reveal yourself to them. I just don’t want to worry them anymore than need be. They’ve been through enough with this Cerberus idiot as it is.”
“Not to mention the fact that we don’t want them to know that the best Battle Team in heaven has somehow managed to lose the mortal they were going after,” Beatrice reminded him.
“There is that, of course,” admitted Leland. “Can’t have them thinking that we are anything less than perfect, now can we?”
“Mum’s the word on that,” replied Beatrice. “Now, as soon as you give me an imprint of their auras, I’ll be on my way to Prospect.
“Oops…sorry. Here.” Leland pulled up an imprint of Samantha and Justin’s auras and impathed them to Beatrice.
“Received, Skipper. Over and out-of-here.”
After verifying the whereabouts of Sisters Isabelle and Charity, Samantha’s Guardians, Battle Angel Beatrice arrived in Prospect via the conveyance tube that terminated in Smiths Variety. Her mission was only for the Battle Team to know about. Mid-afternoon was just beginning to roll through Prospect, so Beatrice thought it a good chance that she would find Justin and Samantha at the store. Leland had told her that they were there most earth days after school. Pulling up an imprint of their auras, she scanned the room and found them at a table with several other people their age. No sooner did she leave the conveyance tube, however, than she saw Justin and Samantha become suddenly tense, glancing at each other. “Excuse us,” she heard Samantha tell the rest of those at the table, “but Justin and I have to go outside for a few minutes.” Odd behavior, thought Beatrice as she followed them out the door and to a park a short distance away. When they had settled down at a picnic table, she received a very unexpected impath.
“This is Samantha,” came the message. Justin and I don’t know you, but since we don’t detect any ill intentions towards us, we’re assuming that you must be one of Leland’s Battle Team. Now, if you will kindly answer back so that he and I can get off of this nervous edge we’ve suddenly found ourselves on, we’d appreciate it. Your move.”
Though she was stunned at this sudden turn of events, Angel Beatrice was quick to answer. “I have just one question,” she impathed back, a little irritated at being discovered so quickly and easily. “How did you do that?”
“Justin and I have been improving on the gifts that were given to us. As soon as you stepped out of the conveyance tube, we sensed the presence of another aura in the room. After determining that we were probably in no danger, we decided to lead you to this park so that we could talk in private. The Battle Team hasn’t taken care of Cerberus yet, I take it.”
“No, Cerberus has not been taken care of,” said Beatrice, putting her bruised dignity aside. “In fact, he’s disappeared and we don’t know where he is. We think he might be headed for Prospect. That’s why I’m here, as kind of a forward lookout.”
“This is Justin. You don’t know where he is? Can’t you just pull up his aura and send your Vision to wherever he’s at?”
“We don’t have his aura. With all the evil spirits that are in him, his aura was too obscured to imprint.
Justin thought that one over. “Well, your presence is very welcome,” he told her. “Samantha and I will take any help offered-and perhaps, we could even help you in return.”
After carefully analyzing the previous three failed attempts on the Billings kid and his girlfriend, Cerberus had discovered the common thread in all of them that had led to the failures: contact with the boy and girl before the attempts on their life. In the rest stop incident, what should have happened was taking the boy and girl to a secluded area and getting rid of them immediately. Instead, Clark and his friend had gotten careless, deciding to wait until the next day so they could have their fun beforehand. The second failure Cerberus attributed partially to himself. He should never have used Clark a second time. The third failed attempt was still a mystery to him. He had hired one of the best assassins in the business-a man who had never failed. Hiring him had cost a huge sum of money, but would have been worth it to Cerberus had the man succeeded. For reasons that Cerberus had been unable to ascertain, however, he hadn’t succeeded. Because of that, the boy and girl were still alive, and Cerberus had no easy way of getting his money back-though he had spent another sum of money in the attempt. He knew were Daekkin was, but if the information his money had bought was true, then the money was ill-spent. He would soon find out.
Before going to Prospect, Cerberus stopped at the institution Daekkin had been placed in, representing himself as a relative and providing convincing proof of identity. The staff updated him on Daekkin’s current condition.
“Mr. Fisher has settled down quite a bit since he was first brought in,” a male nurse informed him on their way to the dining area where Daekkin was eating lunch. “As long as you don’t talk about certain subjects, he’s harmless. He should be about finished eating now. If you would like, we can take him to his room, and you can talk to him there.”
“That would be good.”
As they entered the dining area, the male nurse led him to a table occupied by an old man. About to inform the nurse that this was not the man he had come to see, Cerberus looked closer, shocked. It was Daekkin, plus twenty years or so. Contrary to the slight but healthy looking man he had last seen, this man had aged considerably, becoming almost emaciated-looking in the process.
“Mr. Fisher,” the male nurse said, “one of your relatives has come to see you.”
Daekkin continued to spoon food slowly into his mouth, as if he was unaware of the presence of the male nurse.
“He gets pretty focused sometimes,” said the nurse to Cerberus. Laying a hand on Daekkin’s shoulder, the male nurse repeated his previous statement.
What happened next, surprised both Cerberus and the nurse.
As Daekkin slowly laid his spoon down and looked up at his ‘relative’, his face suddenly drained of color.
“You!” he screamed, standing up from the table so quickly that his chair toppled over backwards, hitting the linoleum floor with a metallic crash. Before the male nurse could stop him, Daekkin had launched himself at Cerberus, wrapping his hands around Cerberus’ neck and forcing him to the floor.
“I need help in the dining area, stat!” said the male nurse into his walkie-talkie while trying to pull Mr. Fisher off of his visitor.
The male nurse separated the two just before additional help arrived, but not before Mr. Fisher had managed a short but good throttling of Cerberus’ throat.
“Take Mr. Fisher back to his room and lock him in,” the male nurse told them, “and keep an eye on him until he settles down.”
“How long before I can talk to him?” Cerberus asked hoarsely, trying to get his voice back.
“For you, sir, not for a long time, I’m afraid,” said the male nurse, turning to him.
“I have a right to speak to my own relative,” said Cerberus, a little stronger. “I need to speak to him.”
Unmoved, the nurse told him, “That will not be possible, sir. Perhaps if you left us a number we could contact you at…?”
Cerberus recognized the request for what it was: a subtle way of letting him know that he would never hear from them. For a moment, he was tempted to teach the male nurse a lesson for his uncooperativeness. He laid the impulse aside however, in favor of something that would prove even better.
Back in his car, Cerberus placed the keys in the ignition but made no effort to start the vehicle. Instead, he closed his eyes and sat, trancelike, for the next ten minutes. As he opened his eyes, the corners of his mouth hinted at the illusion of a smile. Quickly becoming aware of his surroundings, he started the car and resumed his journey to Prospect. His eyes had a soft dreaminess about them. Better than teaching the male nurse a lesson for being uncooperative, he had collected his debt from Daekkin, and given them all a mystery they would never solve.
“O great Knight?”
“What’s up, Lady Fair?”
“Where are you right now?”
“In the house.”
“You’re going to want to turn on the television then. Channel five.”
Justin did. “Now what?” he asked. “I’ve got a commercial telling me how I can grow more hair.”
“Patience, O Knight. It’s coming up after the paid propaganda.”
Justin waited. When the commercials finally got out of the way, a female reporter appeared. “Statistics show that one in every four high school students will drop out before they graduate,” she informed the viewers. “One student at Prospect High decided to do something about it by organizing a Student Dropout Committee. How successful were they? With me now to tell us is the young man responsible, Prospect High Student Body President, Chris Munson.”
“Wow,” said Justin. “A TV star now. I wonder if he will stoop to associating with us lowly commoners after today?”
“Maybe,” suggested Samantha, “we could get Smith’s Variety to redo a sidewalk square in front of their store-take an old square out and pour a new one with a star and Chris’s name on it?”
“The Prospect Walk of Fame?”
“It would probably make the front page of the Prospect Times and Seasons.” Detecting a you’re pulling my leg attitude from Justin, Samantha explained. “I’m not kidding,” she told him. “you’ve seen the one drinking fountain that graces main street? Several years ago my mother happened to be walking past when they were installing it. She went right over to the newspaper office and told them about it. The next day, there was the article, complete with picture, on the front page.”
“Only in a small town,” said Justin.
Several hours elapsed before anyone at the psychiatric facility discovered that something was wrong. After being taken to his room, Mr. Fisher-AKA Daekkin-had went straight to his bed and lain down. Several visual checks over the next hour via the window in the door to his room assured the staff that he was sleeping.
“Probably wore himself out throttling that relative of his,” joked the male nurse who had called for help earlier.
Not until late afternoon did they discover the truth.
One of the young evening staffers who had the responsibility of shepherding some of the patients to their meal, appeared at the nursing station, ashen-faced and out of breath.
“What’s wrong, Jackson?” demanded the male nurse who had broken up the fight earlier. He was finishing up the last of the day’s paper work in preparation for going home, and Jackson’s demeanor smelled of trouble and delay in getting there.
“It’s Mr. Fisher,” said Jackson, his voice trembling. “I think he’s dead. I went in to shake him to wake him up for dinner and he’s stone cold.”
As the male nurse discovered a minute later, stone cold was a gross under-definition of Mr. Fisher’s condition. He was frozen, literally, complete with a thin layer of crystalline frost covering his body.
“What in the…?!” exclaimed the male nurse as he approached the body. Taking his pen from his shirt pocket, he placed the point of it against the skin of Mr. Fisher’s arm and pushed. There was no give. It was like pushing against an ice sculpture.
Jackson, wide eyed and still trembling, had chosen to wait at the door of the room.
Backing away from the body as if it might suddenly come alive and break into pieces trying to move, the male nurse was almost to the door before he turned around.
“Stay here until I get back,” he ordered, shaken, as he stepped into the hallway. “Close the door and don’t let anyone in. I’m going to call 911 and then the administrator.”
“Hello Beatrice. Anything to report yet?”
“About Cerberus, no. About me, yes.”
“What’s going on?”
“I thought you said they didn’t have my aura.”
“They don’t. Why? Did they discover your presence?”
“That’s an understatement. About 15 seconds after I exited the conveyance tube at Smiths Variety, they left the store and walked over to local park. Naturally, I had to follow them. As soon as they were seated at one of the picnic tables, Justin impathed me. I found out that he and Samantha had me made as soon as I left the conveyance tube. I guess my dignity as a Battle Angel was a little ruffled. They even figured out that I was on your team.”
“I guess that’s what I get for trying to hide you from them.”
“They’ve offered their help, and since they know about me now, I think it would be to my advantage to work with them.”
“I think you are correct,” said Leland slowly. “As mortals, I’ve been trying to shield them from danger, when maybe I should have been treating them like the Guardian team members they are. Yes, I think you would be smart to work with them. They’re quite good, actually, as you’ve already found out. Keep me informed of course.”
“Justin…or Samantha. Either one, it doesn’t matter.” Angel Beatrice had pulled their auras up and found them at Smiths Variety.
“This is Samantha. What’s going on?”
“I’ve decided to take you up on your offer of help. We need to meet somewhere and discuss plans.”
“Did Leland tell you about our forest clearing?”
“He mentioned it.”
“We’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”
“Okay,” agreed Beatrice, doubtful that they could get out of town and to the clearing any sooner than fifteen. Since she didn’t know the exact location of the clearing, she would have to wait until they were in it. Then she could get a fix on them, and project herself there.
One minute later, she received an impath from Justin. “Are you coming?” he asked.
“I’m waiting for you to get their first,” she replied. “Then I can get a fix…”
“We are here,” Samantha informed her, a touch of amusement in her message.
Beatrice pulled up their auras, and sent out her Vision. Instead of the game room at Smiths Variety, they now really were in a forest clearing. Without hesitation, she projected herself to them.
“How did you get here so fast?” she asked, speaking out loud as soon as she had arrived.
“Vitamins,” said Justin. Then, more seriously, “Actually, we don’t know what to call it, but we send our Vision to where we want to go, then just follow it.”
“It’s called Projecting,” she informed them. “I didn’t know mortals would be able to do it. Leland said you two were very good. I guess I’ve joined the fan club, now. You certainly surprised me on this one.”
“You said you wanted to discuss plans?”
“Yes. In our last Battle Team meeting, I suggested that Cerberus might be on his way to Prospect. Woman’s intuition, you know.”
“Of course,” agreed Samantha.
“Anyway, no one wanted to take my side. Leland put a steady watch on Cerberus’ home and place of business. After several days and no Cerberus, Leland decided that I might be right. So, that’s what I’m doing here.”
“Well,” said Samantha, “at least they picked the best Battle Team member.”
“I like you better all the time,” laughed Beatrice. “I…excuse me for a moment. Leland is impathing me.”
Though Samantha and Justin could not have heard the impath, Beatrice walked a little distance away from them. Curious as to what the impath was about, Justin decided against tapping into it. If the impath had anything to do with him and Samantha, they would find out soon enough.
“I’m being recalled,” Beatrice said she walked back to them. “I’m sorry. I would like to have seen this through, but something has come up that the council considers to be of higher importance. You’re on your own now. Be careful.” With that said, Beatrice projected herself to the conveyance tube on the other side of clearing. Without looking back at Justin and Samantha, she stepped into the tube and was gone.
“I don’t have a good feeling about this, Justin,” said Samantha. “This Cerberus guy doesn’t sound like someone we want to be messing with. I mean, they were sending an entire Battle Team after him. Now they’re gone and it’s just the two of us.”
Justin pulled up Samantha’s aura. Without impathing her, he read her emotions. She was worried, far more than she was letting on. Her use of his first name in place of the usual Knight of mine, proved that. Unbidden, his mind went over the previous troubles they had found themselves in because of Cerberus. What should have been a feud confined to Cerberus and himself had somehow become twisted from the start, making Samantha the primary victim in each incident. True, the second encounter with Clark had not brought about any violence, but it was Samantha’s house Clark had been waiting outside of. And while Justin was certain that the bullet which had almost killed Samantha had been meant from him, it was Samantha, again, who had paid. Well, the man who had fired the bullet was now the most timid of creatures who didn’t even know who he was-or so Justin had been told. Good! As Forest Gump had so eloquently put it, one less thing. As the mental replay came to an end, Justin felt the beginnings of a steel-hard determination come over him. He had told the Barbers that he was going to find a way to end all this. Rather than being worried that Cerberus might be headed to Prospect, he now welcomed it. If there was to be a resolution, and there had to be a resolution, then better that it take place in Prospect in surroundings he was familiar with. And if he was to get no help from Leland’s Battle Team, so be it. He would take care of Cerberus himself.
“What’cha thinking?” asked Samantha, who had noticed a change in Justin’s demeanor.
“I’m sorry you have to go through this again,” he told her, his warm, chocolate brown eyes hardening with determination. “If Cerberus really is coming after us, then this is where it ends. I’m not going through the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, and I’m certainly not going to expect you to do it, either.”
Samantha looked at Justin for some time, analyzing. This was a new side of him that she had not seen before, a side of him that probably had not existed before. For the prom, he had managed a slightly dangerous and exciting gangster look, but that had all been for show. This was no show. When he told her that this is where it ends, she had to believe him. His flint-hard eyes said so.
And he was right. It had to end. It had to end so that she and Justin could get on with life. “How can I help you?” she asked.
Justin looked at her sharply. “No,” he said, abruptly. “I won’t allow it. I can handle this myself. The best help you can give me is to stay out of my way. You’ve been in enough danger because of me as it is.”
Sighing, Samantha got up from her seat on the log and faced him. “Do you really think,” she asked, not unkindly, “that I can stand on the sidelines twiddling my thumbs while you do whatever it is you plan on doing? In case you haven’t noticed, Sir Buster, I have the same powers as you, and I’m just as good with them as you are. Besides, I thought I was getting a husband I could stand beside-not one I would be forced to hide behind.”
As Justin considered her comments, the flint-hardness of his eyes softened, returning to the warm, chocolate brown she was accustomed to. Suddenly, he stood and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly for a time. Then, releasing her, he took both of her hands in his. “Lady Fair,” he said, with all the sincerity he could muster, “I would be honored to have you at my side no matter what the danger is.”
“Thank you,” Samantha told him, relieved at his sincerity. “I feel better knowing that we are in this together. Now, what are we going to do?”
After an hour of discussion, they left the clearing, feeling uplifted somewhat about their chances. Cerberus, they decided, may treat them with more respect than he normally would have because of their previous two successes against him, but he had no idea of their abilities-which had to give them the advantage for a time.
That was their hope, anyway.
“Holy smokes and artichokes!” exclaimed Lloyd, looking up from the newspaper he was reading.
“What?” asked Connie and Justin in unison.
“This will give you the willies. It says here that the guy in the mental institution who shot Samantha is dead.”
“Good,” said Justin with feeling. “Did one of the other nut cases there do him in?”
“No,” Lloyd replied. “According to the article, they found him in his bed, frozen solid.”
“Frozen?” asked Connie, not understanding.
“Yeah. As in, cold as an ice cube, all the way through. Even had a small layer of frost on him when they found him. There’s a lot of head scratching going on in the medical community right now. Some are saying that it’s a hoax, but the doctors at the institution swear it’s true. Be interesting to find out what really happened.”
So the man who tried to kill Samantha was dead himself, mused Justin. Now there was no doubt whatsoever that he would never bother them again.
If his angel friends and Samantha considered him to be brilliant in the figuring things out department, then they would probably love what he had discovered the past week, Justin decided as he lay in bed that night. On his own, and without telling Samantha, he had been imprinting the entire city of Prospect several times a day-not by each individual, but as a whole, as if it were an entity unto itself. Treating an entire city as a single entity produced a vastly different aural pattern than the pattern that was produced by the aura of a single individual. To Justin’s satisfaction however, he was able to distinguish minor changes from one pattern to the next as some residents left town, some returned from wherever they had been, and travelers paused briefly on their way through before moving on. Just as each part of an individual’s personal life made up the whole of that person’s aura, he discovered that all the individual auras in the city, when combined, contributed to a picture of the overall state of being of that city-in this case, Prospect. Normally, he knew, the information would be of little or no practical value. With someone as evil as Cerberus coming in, however, he theorized that the pattern change should be noticeable enough that he and Samantha would not have to personally see Cerberus or be in immediate danger from him to know that he was in town. Naturally, he planned on showing Samantha how to do what he had just learned to do. Though he might be quicker than her at figuring out new ways to use their talents, he knew that she was every bit as good as him when it came to putting those talents to use.
“Lady Fair?” His impath was gentle enough that she would not awaken if she was already asleep.
“I was just thinking of you,” she replied, just as softly.
“Remember when you told me the other day how brilliant I was?”
“It’s gone to your head already. I was afraid of this.”
“No-no-no,” said Justin. “I figured out how we might be able to detect Cerberus sooner, if and when he comes into town. I’ll show you tomorrow on the way to school.”
“Like, I was lying here in bed thinking warm thoughts of you, and then you impath me about being able to find some idiot sooner. Not very romantic, Knight of mine.”
“What if I start over?” Justin asked.
Breaking the impath connection, Justin waited about 30 seconds, then impathed her again.
“I was just thinking of you.”
“I have a confession.”
“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night. When I do, my first thoughts are always of you.”
“As they should be,” replied Samantha. “I guess that qualifies as romantic. You got lucky on that one, Billings.”
“There’s more, Lady Fair.”
“More? O-o-o. Even better. Do please continue.”
“And because my first thoughts are always of you, I wonder how you are, so I send my Vision there, to make sure you’re safe. Kind of silly, I know, but I sleep much better after doing that.”
The silence from Samantha lasted long enough that Justin wondered if he had made a mistake in telling her, and worse, in doing what he had been doing.
“Lady Fair…?” he asked, tentatively. “I’m sorry if-“
“You’ve been doing that for me?” she asked, cutting off his apology.
“Yes,” said Justin, sensing that he was not in trouble after all.
With no warning, an almost overwhelming feeling of love for him came streaming from Samantha. “That is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me,” she told him. “My protector-worrying about me and watching over me, even in the night, making sure I’m okay.”
Having no comment to that, Justin streamed love back to her, then said simply, “Good night, Lady Fair.”
“Okay Mister Brilliant,” said Samantha as she seated herself in the Hicksville Beater, “show me the city thingy.”
Checking his watch, Justin suggested waiting until they were parked in the school lot. “That way,” he told her, “I’ll be able to give you my undivided attention.”
“That sounds even better,” Samantha informed him.
After only a few minutes of being parked, Samantha had it. “Now what do I do?” she asked.
“Wait until lunchtime,” Justin suggested, “then do another imprint and compare it with the previous one.”
“And I’m looking for what?”
“Pattern changes. I’m not sure how much Cerberus’ presence will affect the pattern, but we should be able to spot something out of the ordinary.”
“Since I don’t have anything to compare with right now,” mused Samantha, “maybe it would help if you impathed me all the imprints you’ve gotten of Prospect so far.”
“Good idea,” said Justin. “Coming right up.”
“Got’em,” Samantha after a few seconds. Then, “Hummm…interesting. Mine’s different.”
“How so? ” Justin asked.
“Here,” said Samantha impathing him her imprint of Prospect.
As soon as he received it, Justin didn’t need to compare it with any of his to know that it was indeed different. There was an obvious dullness in one small area of her pattern that was not present in any of his.
“It’s more than interesting,” he informed her. “It’s Cerberus. He’s here.”
After pondering for a few seconds, Samantha took a deep breath. “Now what?” she asked.
“I think we’re safe during school,” Justin told her. “Whatever Cerberus has planned, I doubt that putting on a show for the public is part it. We have to assume however, that he knows as much about us as the man who shot you did-which means that he knows our daily routine, and our weekend routine.”
“If the oddball pattern means that it’s really him,” added Samantha.
“True,” said Justin. “There must be some way we could find out for sure. Until then, I think we would be wise to assume that it’s him.”
Looking at her watch, Samantha said, “I guess we’d better head in for classes, although I think I’m going to have a hard time keeping my mind on school.”
“You’re not the only one,” said Justin as he and Samantha got out of the truck.
As they linked hands at the rear of the truck, Justin pulled Samantha to him, hugging her firmly for a moment.
“Don’t you worry, Lady Fair,” he told her. “I’m going to find a way of ending this once and for all.”
“You mean ‘we’ are going to find a way of ending this once and for all,” she reminded him.
“Yes,” he replied, as they resumed their walk towards the school building. “I did mean we even though I said I, because by saying I, what I meant was that I was going to think of a way of ending this once and for all so that we, meaning both of us, of course, could work together on the plan that I, I mean the plan that we maybe should-”
“I woke up this morning without a headache.”
“Hint received, Lady Fair.”