As my long term readers know, January 27th is traditionally Rabbit Hole Day. It’s a day that I have a soft spot in my heart for, because if not for it, Alice Assassin would not exist. What started out as a small series of flash fiction pieces over several years, turned into a photo series, which then turned into…a novel.
So I’m late, so very late, as the Rabbit would say, this year, but, Alice is back, and this time part of a much larger story…
I give to you, a piece from the next Curse & Quanta novel I’m getting ready to release.
The Apocalypse Bell
Curse & Quanta: The Armaggedon Bringers
Washington, District of Columbia
Alice Vexin stood in a little girl’s room in a big white house and her hand kept going to her hip for a holster and a weapon that were not there. Behind her, Thomas Eames crawled around the floor and the walls, latex gloves covering his hands, and radiated just as much fury as Alice did.
“It’s a waste of time, Tommy,” Alice said, her voice hard and angry. With him, she would allow herself to sound like herself. With him, she’d be herself. Something her husband was very proud of, since he knew how hard it had been for her to get to that level of acting human.
“I… I just have to.”
“It’s been a month, Tommy. Any trace is long gone or degraded beyond use,” and Alice didn’t bother to hide the break in her voice. “Whoever has her has killed her by now.”
She was just repeating the received wisdom, but even so, Eames was up in her face in an instant, barely nose to nose with her, because Alice was nearly six foot tall, edging him out by a couple inches.
“We’d know.” His head tilted towards the large closet mirrors. “They’d know. Do they say that she is dead?”
And he waited and Alice blinked stinging eyes, not wanting to hope, but feeling the traitorous emotion rise up and nearly choke her.
“No,” Alice whispered.
“Then you will get your head in the game, Vixen. We will find her,” and he bit out the last four words, as if the use of her codename weren’t enough of a prod, and Alice felt them and her traitor hope steel up her spine some. She gave him a jerk of a nod.
“Now can you read the mirror?”
“I’ve never tried from this side,” Alice said.
“For me?” he asked and suddenly his voice was soft, the one he used for the little girl they were hunting for, and this time, Alice nodded more naturally and went over to the closet mirror.
Because here or in Wonderland, mirrors did Alice’s bidding.
Laying her hand against the mirror’s frame, the glass rippled like mercury and Alice breathed on the glass. The glass clouded the second her breath touched it and she allowed more of the hope to crawl up her spine.
“Show me,” she whispered and for a long, aching minute, the glass stayed dark and gray.
And then it cleared. Eames stood by her shoulder, every line of him tight with tension, but Alice ignored him, keeping her concentration on the glass, her will bending it to her desire.
It showed Girl Alice stepping out of the mirror. It showed the two men arriving wearing suits just like Alice’s and Eames’, the same earbuds tucked in their ears. Alice heard Eames suck in a breath, but she kept her focus. She watched Alice walk away with the men willingly, heard their words asking her to go with them. And then the mirror just showed an empty room and Alice let her hand drop from the frame.
“This is in house,” Alice said, vicious and cold.
“Yes, it is,” a woman said from the bedroom door.
Neither Alice nor Eames jumped. Just turned, both of them controlled and ready to move, until they both realized in the same instant who it was.
“Mrs. Bartlett,” Eames began and the woman shook her head, cutting him off. A beautiful blond in a structured, designer black suit, the force of her presence and natural charisma filled the room. And right then, so did her grief.
“This is why there’s been nothing in the news cycle. Why no one’s made any moves to recover her,” Alice said, reining in her anger, because this woman was not the source of this evil. She could read that in an instant. And it explained so much. How she and her husband had looked like walking wounded for the last month. How no one had said anything. Why it had been so hard for her and Eames to even get in the goddamn room.
“Yes,” Mrs. Bartlett said and crossed the room to stand in front of Alice. “But I don’t think that will stop you, will it, Captain Vexin?”
And Alice felt her spine reflexively snap to attention. Because, she made no mistake, this was her commanding officer, even if Alice was no longer an active-duty Marine.
“No, ma’am. It will not stop me,” Alice said, her voice growing even colder. The voice her husband had said frightened most other people. Because it was her true voice. The one that proclaimed her a trained killer.
And Eleanor Bartlett smiled a bitter, vicious smile that warmed Alice’s heart.
“That’s my girl,” Mrs. Bartlett said. “You will find my daughter, Captain Vexin. You will find her and you will mete out justice to whoever has taken her. Whoever they are. That is an order.”
Alice felt Eames freeze at her shoulder. But Alice didn’t. Alice let her shark smile out for the first time in two years. Because the First Lady had not said “bring to justice.” She had just said to mete it out.
And Alice had only one way of doing that and it was made by Remington and deployed from a thousand yards away.
“Get on the clock, Captain,” Mrs. Bartlett said and Alice saluted on auto-pilot.