A few hours had passed and Delia had been struggling to come fully aware again. She forced herself to push past the fume-fed drowsy fog that was forced into her respiratory system. She was at last able to move, or at least she thought she was, when she discovered she had been bound. Her hands and arms were tied tightly behind her back, lying on them uncomfortably on a bed. Her ankles were tied, as well were her thighs bound. The ties around her right ankle aggravated the cut from Spade’s odd, metal weapon-card. She wished she could see the damage for herself.
Delia tried to sit up, but she did so too quickly. She felt her head rush with blood, agonized by her sudden movements. She carefully laid back again, only turning her head carefully to see her captors around her. She assumed she was in a hotel room, and although nervously pondering her future-however shortened it may have been-she made sure not to let her fears be known to them.
Primal was seated across the room in a corner furthest from the Delia and the door. She was leaned forward, slouched, her elbows pressed into her thighs. She eyed Delia while she puffed on a cigar; her expression seemed permanently fixed in a state nearing absolute disgust and disappointment in everyone around her. Delia wondered if the woman actually felt that way too.
Flyboy was closer to Primal, leaned up against the curtain-drawn window pane. He seemed more attentive to Primal, as though he were awaiting her verdict although Delia had yet to say a word. Not one of them had spoken at all.
Dali seemed all too casual for the situation, although an apparent twist of anticipation for her squad’s next move subtly crossed her worried eyes. She looked over at Spade, on the other side of Delia. He was obviously antsy, like a diamondback without its rattle, wanting to communicate something but he didn’t know what yet or how to say it. He just wanted the next step as much as Dali.
“All right, that’s it, we have got to call her.” Dali suggested, and from what Delia could tell it wasn’t the first time.
“Fine. But we might want to downplay the kidnapping.” Primal said flatly, her eyes still fixed tiredly on Delia.
“I agree.” Spade said, anxiously performing trick shuffles with his regular deck of cards. “I’m starting to think it was a bad idea after all.”
Dali threw up her hands, “Oh my God! I tried to stop you guys.”
“Well there’s nothing we can do about it now, so just call her.” Spade snapped. Delia noticed he was wearing a different shirt, and she remembered the shots she fired before fading out. She knew she must have at least nicked him with one of her bullets… She hoped she had anyway.
Dali took herself out of the room. Delia had noticed her dialing a phone that had some kind of strange attachment. Delia looked to the remaining three in the room around her. This time she noticed two white wolfdogs huddled under and around Primal’s chair. A plethora of sick instances played out in her head, wondering which one would be her fate by these peoples’ hands.
“What’s next?” Delia choked out, “Is that girl calling a pimp or prostitution slavery service or something? Are you here to rape me, to break me in?”
Flyboy looked particularly offended, Primal’s expression remained constant, and Spade only sighed.
“No, God no.” Flyboy answered. “What kind of people do you think we are?”
Primal reached out to him, yet to turn her gaze from Delia. “Think about what you just did. We just attacked and kidnapped her from a college campus and are now in some unknown hotel room. Her concerns are not farfetched, love.”
“Then what is this? You going to torture me? You say it’s not prostitution, but are you here for your own personal fun? Maybe going to put this on some fucked up porn site?” Delia continued to conceal her anxiety, and instead promoted a bubbling rage. She wanted them to know she would fight tooth and nail to the death, if that’s what the situation called for.
“No, we’re not doing anything like that.” Primal replied, finally breaking her stare while she tamped out her cigar. “We’re not raping you, molesting you, torturing you, killing you, or holding you for ransom if that was your next thought.” Delia fell silent and looked away momentarily; Primal knew then that it wasn’t her next thought at all.
“Then tell me! What the fuck do you want with me?” Delia insisted, pressing them as best as she could.
“We were sent here to bring you into our group.” Primal responded. Delia’s eyes narrowed.
Spade came around to their side of the room, much more calmed. He winced a little as he sat on the bed neighboring Delia’s. His side throbbed somewhat, but he did his best to ignore it. “I doubt you believe that, or you at least believe something massively unrealistic is happening.”
Delia glanced between the three’s blank expressions. She had no idea what to think, and told them just that. “Just take me wherever you so badly want me to go.” She became more disgruntled, aggravated even, than fearful. She just wanted an explanation that wasn’t outrageously vague, but that was all they seemed to be feeding her. She looked away from them, staring into the black, reflective TV screen in front of the beds.
Dali reentered the room. “So, apparently, Freudenberger wants us to take her back to the safe house so she can explain everything herself.”
“I thought the deal was that we do all of this and decide if she joins us or not?” Spade said.
“She said we can still do that, but all she wants to do is talk to Delia personally because she think it will help…” Dali lightly bit her bottom lip, “Also, she knows about us kidnapping her. She hacked the surveillance outside the dorms closest to the parking lot we were in, and she also saw the police report about the gunshots and apparent struggle that we created.”
“She was watching us the whole time.” The corner of Flyboy’s mouth curled up, dissatisfied.
“How are you surprised?” Spade asked sarcastically.
“But, she also told me some things about Delia.” Dali glanced over at the bound girl on the bed. “About you. Apparently she has eidetic memory, you know, photographic memory.”
“When you said you knew every face on campus, you weren’t kidding.” Primal said. “Well how ‘bout that.”
Delia’s mind swirled, wondering who Dali had spoken to, how this person knew these things about her, and why she wanted to meet her so badly.
“Also,” Dali continued, “You’ve been working three jobs on campus, but you’re not a student. You still somehow convinced an assortment of professors to teach you classes outside of their usual working hours, but you’re not gaining any credit for them. Why?”
Delia shrugged. “I like to learn. I like education. What does it matter?”
Dali turned to her companions, “She doesn’t actually live on campus. Or nearby in an apartment or house. She has no family anywhere around here at all.” She looked at Delia. “According to what our boss has found, by what your few, known records show, you’re homeless.”
“And?” Delia answered.
“I don’t know. I don’t have a response to that really. It’s just something we didn’t know.” Dali said.
Spade stood up abruptly, pocketing his deck. “Look, if we have to go back to the safehouse, we need to get going now. We have Africa in a couple of days, virtually no game plan for that, so we need to get this shit on the road.”
“Um, hello? She’s awake now.” Dali pointed out. “We can’t exactly untie her and expect her to walk with us all casual and calm right out the hotel. And we can’t exactly take her down there all tied up like this.”
Spade shrugged, “Well then knock her back out.”
“We can’t do that! We could really fuck her up!” Dali protested. “Turpentine is some toxic shit.”
Spade latched his fingers together behind his head, pressing as he closed his eyes. He was fed up with the day’s mishandled stressors already, coupled with lack of sleep he was ready to snap. “We can’t stay here…”
Flyboy reached out and grabbed Dali, pulling her toward the window as he slid back one of the curtains. “I think you and I could come up with something to take her down this way, couldn’t we?”
Dali looked out the window and down. “We’re only on the third floor. We’re facing an alley that doesn’t seem to have much traffic, if any at all. And it’s, what? 2 AM? By the time we’re finished there won’t be anyone out, and the ones that will be out will be crazy wasted.” She looked up at Flyboy. “Yeah I think we can make a sturdy escape with our leftover rope and comforters.”
Flyboy looked out. “That’s what I thought.”
“I’m not going down there. Good luck with that.” Delia said. “I will scream, even if it gets me shot, or stabbed, or killed, at least it will bring attention to you fuckers and get you arrested.”
“You really don’t know what we’re capable of, do you?” Primal stated. “I say we knock her ass back out.”
“How about this?” Dali ransacked her luggage for a sock, then grabbed some duct tape they had used to help bind Delia. She stuffed the sock into Delia’s mouth rather roughly as the girl struggled the entire time. With Spade’s help, she was able to stretch duct tape around Delia’s face and head to hold the sock in. “At least now if you scream you’ll be muffled. I want you to know I’m not usually this forward. I’m sleep deprived and exhausted, so I’m a little fed up with your energy at the moment.” She returned to Flyboy and they both immediately started to create sturdy hotel-scaling equipment.
Delia was fuming, her aggravation having swollen into bitter rage. She wanted to run. She wanted to kill them. She wanted to be anywhere but the damn hotel room, and she certainly didn’t want to go with her captors to their “safe house.”
A little over an hour had passed, and Flyboy and Dali had finished their makeshift scaling equipment. Primal and Spade had packed everything up, ready to go as well.
“We’ll check out downstairs and bring the car to you. By the time we get everything squared away and packed into the car, you guys should be on the ground.” Spade clarified.
“Oh yeah, this won’t be too difficult.” Flyboy said. “I’ve done much more dangerous stuff than this.” He lifted Delia and tossed her over his shoulder, blatantly against her persistent, demanding wishes. Dali helped fasten Delia to Flyboy’s back and shoulders using belts and straps they had found. Although Flyboy was using his right arm to hold Delia close to him, the belts would be extra support in case something went wrong with their “equipment.”
“Please don’t die.” Primal said to him.
“We’ll be fine, just go.” Flyboy smiled promisingly before he climbed backward out the window, steadying Delia with one arm while grasping the rope system with his other hand. As Primal and Spade headed out with their luggage and her dogs, she watched Dali guide Flyboy down. Once they made it into the hotel hallway, all she could do was hope and pray nothing would go wrong. Of course, by this point with her squad, she had a little more confidence that they would succeed as they had many times before.
Dali handled the ropes, helping Flyboy to repel successfully down the side of the hotel. He was careful to avoid landing too hard or pressing his weight too heavily on the windows below him. Delia struggled and squirmed at first, trying to throw off his balance, but she quickly realized that doing so would only end in her injury or death just as much as his. She remained still for the rest of his climb down from the third story.
Flyboy looked below, seeing the black street only a few feet beneath him when suddenly he felt the ropes go a little too slack. He skidded, then fell down the final few feet rapidly. He landed a little unsteadily on the pavement, but thankfully kept his balance even with Delia’s added weight. When he looked up, Dali was not at the window sill anymore. He wondered if she was in trouble, but soon she reappeared at the sill.
He decided to let it go, and briefly scanned around him, not spotting any pedestrians. He was then thankful for the crummy view from their room after all, because it had given them a quiet, uninhabited haven to sneak out into. Delia began to struggle and attempted to scream again, but Spade and Primal pulled up in the Ford Expedition. They helped him unbuckle the straps and carried Delia into the Expedition. Primal commanded her wolfdogs to set themselves on either side of Delia in the car as she got in as well. Delia decided it would be best not to aggravate the massive white canines when she had no real way to defend herself against them, and was forced into unmoving silence once more.
Spade and Flyboy helped guide Dali down as best as they could from their position. She was a little afraid, but made sure to repel down the side of the hotel as quickly as possible. When she landed safely in the alley, she let out the deep breath she had been holding her entire way down.
As they all piled into the Expedition, providing closer quarters than they had experienced in their Honda Odyssey, Dali got everyone’s attention. “I called Freudenberger just before I started climbing down. I told her about how we were getting out, so she’s wiping the footage from the hotel security system.”
Flyboy, who was already driving, furrowed his brow in utter confusion. “Is that why you let me drop the rest of the way? And there was a security camera?”
“Yeah.” Dali said nonchalantly. “It was at the far corner near the back of the hotel, but it was pointed toward this alley. But don’t worry, it’s been taken care of.”
“Still would have been nice to know, and thanks for leaving me without warning.” Flyboy muttered.
Dali shrugged, leaning back in her seat to try to sleep. “Sorry, I didn’t think it was that important at the time. And you were fine. You were hardly four feet from the pavement.”
Flyboy just shook his head, focusing on the road ahead of them.
The last thing Dali heard before drifting off was a collective sigh from her squad.
The journey back was relentless in tiring attempts to keep Delia from escaping, fighting, and screaming at cars passing by. Flyboy had to engage the child locks for the whole of the trip, which only served to further irritate the other exhausted passengers. As soon as they returned to their safe house, they found Freudenberger already inside, sitting and waiting patiently. Flyboy had carried Delia in, but no one said anything until their supervisor broke the silence.
“Untie her, and get that sock out of her mouth.” She ordered, disgusted, and Primal swiftly began cutting the bindings and duct tape while Flyboy held Delia still.
“There’s no reason to restrain her like she’s a prisoner. You’re making this more complicated than it needs to be.” Freudenberger stood up, not hardly filling the height gap between her and her squad, and beckoned Delia to walk with her outside. The others exchanged tired looks, frazzled with their supervisor’s conclusions. If only she knew how difficult it was to keep Delia in the car, tied up or not.
Delia stared as the short, slender young woman waltzed past her. She was a little stunned, expecting to see someone who appeared more domineering, especially for the gravity of the previous events. Still, she admitted that the woman’s confidence and behavior certainly matched the mood even if her stature did not. Having no idea what to do next, and frankly too brain-dead, Delia accepted Fruedenberger’s invitation to follow her.
“I’m going to come right out with everything happening here, there’s no need or reason to set this all up carefully anymore… Since they kidnapped you after all.” Freudenberger emphasized the squad’s decision disdainfully.
“I would appreciate that, because everything has been so dramatically vague and…” Delia couldn’t think of the word.
“Bullshitty.” Freudenberger said bluntly.
Delia looked a little surprised. She was tired, melting with fatigue physically and mentally. Her body was shaky. She didn’t know how to react properly to her situation anymore. She didn’t even know what would be considered a proper reaction at all.
Freudenberger could sense the girl’s delirium. She wandered about the field with Delia in silence for a few moments, attempting to clear their minds. “My name is Dr. Danielle Freudenberger, by the way. They just call me by my last name because they think it’s funny.” She cleared her throat, always a little bothered by their insistent picking at her German family name. “I started this group to help make a difference in the world. These people here, they may be a little uncharacteristic… Well I’ll say it, they’re downright fucked.”
“Yep.” Delia remembered her ankle, and felt it throb with soreness while she crossed the uneven ground.
“I apologize on their behalf if they hurt you… Which I’m sure they did.” Freudenberger stopped under a small grouping of trees, taking pleasure in its shade. She faced Delia. “I need you to be a part of this group. Out of everyone I studied, you came out as the best possible candidate for what I need. I need you to be an extension of myself, go with them on missions, help guide them in the way that I do. But unlike me, you can actually be there with them. I’m not physically up to the challenges they can endure. I can only control what I can from my computer network. Which happens to be a lot, but it’s not always enough.”
Delia raised an eyebrow, remembering what Dali had said about their being watched through the hacked campus cameras. “So what, you’re the cliché intellect running the show behind the scenes, and you want me to be the intellect on the scene?”
“Yes. But you’re also physically and emotionally equipped to handle the missions I assign.” Freudenberger grew more solemn. “I know quite a lot about your past. I know your capabilities.”
Delia looked out across the field. The grass was tall, but it had browned from the relentless exposure to the sun, mimicking its golden state. A crisp wind trailed through the bowed grass. “What makes you think you’re bettering the world? How could you possibly be doing that with a handful of problem-children like them? I’m not understanding any of this.”
“You are understanding it. I know you are. And I need ‘problem-children’ like them because they’re able to carry out what needs to be done with little to no remorse or second guessing.” Freudenberger adjusted her thick-rimmed glasses, transparent like the lenses. “When someone needs to be hunted, they can hunt. When someone needs to die, they can kill. When someone needs to be saved, they can put their lives on the line to keep that someone alive. They have few problems with mortality, but they are keen on surviving at all costs, whichever is required more at the time. They are perfect for following through on any mission, but as you’ve seen firsthand they are messy. They’re a little too focused on their talents and what they contribute to the group rather than focusing on the whole of the group itself.”
“It seems like you give them too much freedom.” Delia concluded. “They get people killed more than anything. They’re dangerous.”
“They are dangerous, and you’re right, they have too much freedom.” Freudenberger’s tone was calm and even throughout, never once defensive, never once wavering. “I don’t ever intend to give them so much freedom, but sometimes the circumstances keep me from being in control and they have to act independently. They always succeed, but just barely, or they fail in aspects that could have been better had I been able to communicate with them… Had I been able to lead them directly.”
“And you want me to be their guide when you can’t lead them.” Delia nodded, disbelieving she could do anything with these people. Doubly, she had an obviously difficult time grasping just what was occurring. “They just kidnapped me, attacked me. It’s apparent they wouldn’t give a shit what I’d have to say. I can’t lead those who don’t wish to be lead.” She stared intensely at Freudenberger, the darkness in her irises contrasting marvelously with the whites.
“They listen to me when I lead. And once they understand just how much you and are alike, they will listen. They already have gained so much more respect for you based on how you reacted to their kidnapping.” She smirked. “I already knew how you would handle yourself, which is why I didn’t stop them even though I saw them acting it out through the campus surveillance cameras. They needed to see you fight back. They needed to see you react intelligently.”
“Well, it’s not like I haven’t gone through it before.” Delia shrugged.
“Exactly. Your days in the slums with your father have prepared you excellently for this. You can and will help them in these missions in ways that I simply can’t.” Freudenberger smiled confidently.
Delia was taken aback, tilting her head slightly. “You really do know some things. And apparently you knew what I was doing at Xavier University too. The girl, with the brunette curls, told me what you told them at the hotel.”
Freudenberger nodded. “I can hack into anything anywhere. Don’t underestimate me. I know a lot and I can do anything through a computer and a stable internet connection.”
Delia smiled, somehow feeling increasingly comfortable with this woman. “I’m not that smart though, not officially.”
“I’d wager you’re just as smart as me.”
“I don’t have the degrees to prove it.” Delia snapped.
“You don’t have a piece of paper, no, but based on what I’ve learned about you and how long I’ve been keeping up with you, I know that the lack of degrees mean nothing.” Freudenberger breathed in while a light breeze brushed by her. “I know the work you have done. To me, it’s more important that you completed the work, better than most I might add, rather than receiving a sheet of paper from a college.”
Delia shut her eyes, allowing the sun to tingle her skin, wanting to feel something real to ground her in some way. “So surprise me, tell me what you know about me.” She challenged.
Freudenberger hardly paused for a breath before launching into Delia’s known history. “Your father came to America from India when he was young. He married a proud, half-Cherokee woman, had you, then two years later took off with you in the middle of night. He took you back to India with him. You were living in the slums because he left everything behind to take you to what he considered home. You both disappeared for several years during that time, but soon you were a beacon blinding India’s unjust treatment of the slums.” She stopped to make sure she was relaying everything correctly, as best as she could based on what she discovered about Delia. “You, Delia, fought against the corrupt police force during your adolescence. You even lead rebellions, revolts, and truly fought like a soldier. You learned when young how to defend yourself, never fearing to kill the vicious to keep yourself and the innocent alive. You also put yourself through as many schooling programs as you could. You even tutored and taught others in your slum to help remain enrolled in these programs since your father couldn’t afford them, few as they were. You were a starved survivor and ravenous student. Somehow, after finding very little about you for approximately a year’s time, you resurfaced in America. You managed your way here, then across this nation, homeless, arriving in New Orleans. You worked at the university, and made such a good impression on the professors that a few eventually decided to teach you after hours. That’s how badly you wanted to learn.” Freudenberger maintained her steady, unwavering expression and tone.
Delia nodded, smirked, somewhat impressed. “You know the face value facts. Well done. Do you know the why’s to any of what you just said?”
Freudenberger shrugged. “I concocted theories, made some conclusions of my own, but you tell me that part personally.”
“After everything that has happened the past couple of days, after everything I told you that I know already, do you really think there’s a need to be so guarded?” Freudenberger asked.
The girl looked down, letting her long, gleaming black hair fall around her face. After a moment she took a deep breath, looked back to Freudenberger, letting her straight hair fall back to reveal her russet-toned face in the sunlight. “There’s always a need to be so guarded.” She smiled.
Freudenberger looked back to the safe house, pleased with Delia’s answer. She saw the four standing out in the yard, watching her and Delia. “You are perfect for this, just as I expected.”
“I haven’t officially accepted anything yet. I don’t think I can bring myself to agree with anything you’re doing here.” Delia became serious, her expression changing darkly. “This is indecently insane, and sounds extremely illegal.”
“Well, you can try to leave, but now that you know about us, I have a strict security policy that no one outside this group ever know about us.” Freudenberger came close to her, unintentionally showing her and Delia’s immensely contrasting height, but Freudenberger’s overall austere manner put her inches higher than anyone else. “You are already a part of this group whether you like it or not, the only action left is to convince you to be a true part of this team by your own desire, by your own need. You need to realize you want this more than anything else, and that there’s nothing left for you but this.”
Delia’s breath caught in her lungs, trapped, somewhat frightened.
“Think about your past. Think about the justice you fought for, screamed for, cried for in India. Think about everything your father did, or more rightly didn’t do for you and for others. Think about what you struggled through to get here, to get to New Orleans. Think about what you have survived through in New Orleans. There is corruption in this world, much like what you have endured already. But it is much, much worse. The world is the slums. Most of the people who inhabit it are the police force. You know it. I know you know it. You want to fight it. You love to fight it. That’s why you crave so much education. That’s why the degree means nothing to you as long as you learn as much as you possibly can. You want to learn in order to better every corner of the world that you can reach out and touch. You want to change it all just as much as I do.” Freudenberger stayed close to her for a moment, letting her words sink in before stepping back. “Many have let you down, but you have never let yourself down. You fight harder for the right reasons, fathoms beyond the rest of your team here. And yes, I do mean your team. You actually have a true, trained and talented team now, not just a slum full of broken, starving souls.”
The words escaped Delia when her breath finally managed to waver out past her lips. Her mind buzzed with excitement, but her body was slow to respond. Freudenberger knew just what to say to incite the engorging fire already resonating in Delia’s heart and mind. Delia had always wanted something like this, but found it difficult to believe it was truly happening. She swore to herself that no such thing could exist; it was only the makeup of action films and spy novels. She assumed it was reality dictating that people like Freudenberger and her group couldn’t ever exist. Delia looked at the four near the safe house. Her team? Her squad? People with whom she could change the world for the better?
Freudenberger grasped the girl’s hand. “You can do this now. Your words will not fall on deaf ears this time around. We are already on the same page as you.” Freudenberg gave a short huff of a laugh. “We might as well have written the book in which this page exists.”
Delia turned slowly to Freudenberger, her posture straightened, her fist clenched at her side. She was bursting with energy, nearly failing to contain it. The whole ordeal seemed like a dream, but she never felt so exuberantly awake before. She had only ever experienced a fickle glimmer of this throughout her past. That day she was experiencing everything she wanted, needed, in an all-consuming beam of white light. “This is really it? This is for real?”
Freudenberger nodded lightly, beaming at her. “It has been for quite some time now.”
Delia grasped Freudenberger’s hand back. “I want this. What can I do first?”