Part XI

Another strange hotel wall. For a moment her father was about to walk in the door infront of room service. He'd sit down and ask her how her day was and if she could join meet with him and a customer for dinner. She'd say, 'Of course,' and he'd peck her on both cheeks just before catching sight of the time. He'd beg forgiveness, grab a piece of toast, and be gone. The bellhop would have already obtained a chaperone for the day.

Then she remembered.

She felt and smelled like shit as she crawled out from underneath covers with clothes this time. The shower was running so she found the sink and turned the light on. After adjusting to the glare and realizing that the pounding in her head was real, she saw the remains of what were probably nachos and a few too many drinks matted into her clothes and hair. She sighed. The shower turned off.

She stood beside the door without the looked for towel as Painter emerged wearing only a towel and smelling of hotel soap and shampoo. She looked inside the bathroom to see only one towel and that was wadded up in a wet mess. So, she took his. 'Too bad it was still wrapped about him. Well, for him anyway.'

The water fizzed a little as she added several aeromatic beads to the water. The pastel-pearls fizzled as they sank to the bottom of the large, round, granite tub and slowly desolved. The air started to smell of rose petals.

She eased herself into the water that was just a bit too warm, which is what she wanted. The warmth flowed into sore joints and a stiff neck. She must have dozed for a moment for the water was noticably cooler and her muscles had relaxed. The water had begun to smell like she did, so she drained the tub and filled it again. This time she scrubbed every last bit of herself, praying never to feel so disgusting again.

She stepped out of the tub and dripped on the floor mat while drying her hair. She noticed that it smelled of Painter still and somehow that was as comforting as it was unnerving. 'Tammy, girl,' she thought to herself, 'what have you gotten into.' With that, she walked to the mirror and, using a hand towel, she wiped the condensation from the glass with a fair amount of success. The face staring back was familiar. It had a small pinkish scar next to her right eye that would probably pass as a dimple once the redening faded. The face sighed with her before she turned away to get dressed.

They were conversing in that secretive way which served to keep people from eavesdropping -- including her. She had long
ago stopped being annoyed by it and had settled down to a dull agrivation that manifested in a long string of daggered looks.
On occasion one would catch her look and fidget just enough to satisfy her -- except Whitehot. He seemed to be too lost
into his cyberdeck.

She was famished after finally eating real food, what, last night... maybe the night before... By the dryness of the hangover she
was guessing almost a full day. The window showed a bright, sunny, picture-perfect day but she knew that was what it was...
a picture. A flick of the switch and the sceen disappears to reveal the world outside or a wall, but that was only if you were
lucky. The front desk sounded young, but was probably large enough to double as bouncer. He sounded a little distracted.
"Front desk."

"I'd like to order room service."

"The kitchen is closed and will reopen at 6am." She glanced about to size up the room. This guy obviously was making a

She turned the phone so she could see the face. "This is room twelve-o-one." Something fell on the other end of the phone --
a book perhaps. She'd been right about the cost of the room.

"Of course, maam. What would you like?"

"Some fresh fruit, cantelope and strawberries perhaps, grilled catfish, scrambled eggs, and green tea."

"That should be ready in a half-hour."

'He needs to pay more attention.' "Make it twenty."

"Twenty it is, maam." Oh yes, she'd been right.

The knock came at nineteen. She'd managed a list of clothes that wasn't too unreasonable. The bellhop took the list and
promised that he would see what could be done but what would be done would be to her liking. He had done this before.

They had brought strawberries and chocolate. The chocolate was warm for dipping. She dipped a strawberry in the dark
brown liquid and moved it about to make sure it was covered. She blew on it a little to cool the chocolate. The coating was
hard and the strawberry fresh and juicy. A little bit of juice dribbled down her chin, which she wiped up with a finger.

"Augh! Teradactiles!" She jerked her head over in time to see Whitehot duck for cover beneath the desk. A hand lutched up
and yanked Painter down with him, but not before she caught sight of Painter staring her way. 'Chocolate can be so

It was that sleepyness that comes from being comfortably full which almost kept her from warming the last of the tea, but she
knew she'd doze better after drinking it. She'd ordered more food for and set it under their noses which they managed to
ignore for almost a minute before discovering it's presense. 'Boys,' she sighed.

Tammy grabbed a pillow and comforter from the bed and curled up on the couch. The warmth of the tea seeped into the cup
and into her fingers. It was hot as she sipped it and became a warmth to add to her fullness. She closed her eyes and sighed
contently, lost in the feeling of familiarity as she slid lower beneath the comforter. Tiny must have forgot himself as he spoke.
"T'az no' righ'." She could hear him shake his head. "Doze wa' gel roundz Tam ha'. I checked iz myzelf." His rocky sub-bass

Painter's voice echoed as well. "Someone must have shot him after Tam dropped him?"

"No," Whitehot tapped a few keys. "Look here. Corroner's report doesn't indicate any damage to indicate gel impact. There
is gel in the wound but it looks like it sliced through the kevlar and exploded." Whitehot's voice trilled a little bit. 'He must be
using the speaker on his cyberdeck.'

"Gels hit and splatter. AP would go through the armor but would keep going. Explosive bursts like that... Looks like APDS,
but where would the gel come from?"

She sighed a bit and arched enough that they would hear her. "What's AP and APDS?"

There was a moment of raw silence before Painter responded. "AP is armor-piercing. APDS is roughly AP and explosive...
Where'd you hear those terms?"

"Just now when you were talking outloud."

"We wazn' talkin' ou'loud."

She repositioned herself so that she could rest her head on her hands on the back of the couch. "'Course you were. I could
hear you all the way over here."

They looked at each over very carefully. Whitehot was the first to look at her, "No, we weren't."

They'd questioned her for what wound up being an hour. During that time she tried to pick up their secured radio
communications without any success. She wasn't sure what was worse: that she could repeat their conversation word for
word or that she couldn't do it again. Eventually they made a phone call and left a message after a harsh sounding beep. She
was wound up and riding high on adrenaline and caffeine, but mental exhaustion and physical weariness eventually had their
way. Reluctantly, she softly slid to where the demons lay waiting.

It was pleasant enough to start. The day was warm and crisp. The air was cool but not cold and thought the grass was dry
ther was still the smell of the morning dew. She felt herself moving through the grass but it wasn't like walking -- more like
floating, though that wasn't it either. Simple sounds reached her in the way only dreams do; there were birds and bees and the
wind in the trees and all exactly as she would imagine them to be.

Then there was the wall.

The wall had not appeared infront of her. It could not appear as it had always been there. It was simply that she could not
notice it and then had notice it. A wave of forboding deja-vu swept over her yet at the same time she knew that she had
always know the wall was there and only had to open her eyes to see it.

The wall was scally to her touch and appeared to be formed from one gigantic piece of stone. Her fingers dislodged dirt
which fell away to reveal what could have been cracks but she knew to be seams where one stone meet another. She placed
both hands against it and looked up then to the sides. Taking several steps back she could see that it was tall and wide and
too massive to see above or around from where she was. Yet she felt the problem wasn't that she wasn't back enough, but
not close enough.

It had started to drizzle in a misty way that was warm despite the coolness of the air. She lifted her face and closed her eyes to enjoy the feeling as the drizzle became a light rain and drops started to flow across her face and down her neck. It was a warm boyant safe feelinf that welled up inside of her. A long distant thunder stirred her from her reverie. The rain fell harder now; it would be best to seek shelter. She opened her eyes.

The rain ran red.

The world was wet with what were now large drops pummeling themselves into the earthy grass about her. Each one tore a gash as it impacted, including one which splashed her feet from beneath her. The world became obscured by large red drops as she struggled to find shelter by crawling amist sloppy, red muck. The ground gave up attempting to absorb the drops and became covered by them. The water level rose. Her arms gave way on the mucky sludge and deposited her face first into the shallow red sea where she swallowed a salty mouthful. Twisting, she found the surface. She managed to spew blood that was not her own.

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