CHAPTER 1

 

Night. The Los Angeles skyline buzzed with electrified anticipation. Everyone felt something was about to happen–because in this town, something always did.

As night fell, hordes of locals and tourists filled the sidewalks, restaurants, and shops of Sunset Boulevard, ready for what the dark would bring.

Into this energy drove a black Cadillac SRX. Tinted windows obscured the occupants of the SUV as they cruised the choked streets of Hollywood. Inside, two teens contemplated and focused on their upcoming task. They had an assignment neither relished.

Trent Anderson was eighteen, but already battle-hardened from a life growing up too fast. His spiked hair and thin, slightly hawkish nose gave him a marked raptor look. He masked and coped with his suffering through sharp sarcasm and one-liners, and though his humor softened his hard edge, his blue eyes were deep set under a brow that had known too much worry and stress.

Next to him, a sixteen year old girl had her face buried in her iPhone screen, her fingers flying over the mini keyboard. Rebecca Flint, Bex, to her friends, had seen her share of horrors as well, but her experiences had toughened her–at least that’s what she told herself, alone on sleepless nights. Her straight, auburn hair cascaded just past her shoulders, and her soft features gave the illusion of delicacy; her green eyes put both her strength and her sorrow on display. She had the brains and the looks, and she knew it. She couldn’t care less about appearances, except for the fascinating and pathetic ways in which hers opened doors. Society was an odd zoo; and she preferred to remain outside the cages.

“What’s he say?” asked Trent, breaking the heavy silence.

“Not what I was hoping,” Bex replied.

He sent her an impatient glare.

“Fine. Fine,” she grunted. “They want us to pick up the twins.”

He sighed, and Bex gave him a silent, pointed stare.

“What?” he asked. “I’ll be nice this time.”

“It’s not that. Although, yeah. You were a prick last time.”

“It’s tough love. They’ll thank me someday.”

“Look, I’ll handle it this time. We want to recruit them, not piss them off. I’m worried you’re going to screw this up again.”

Smiling, Trent uttered, “Cool your jets. It’s your show. The twins are gonna be so happy to see us!”

“Shut up and drive,” she barked, smacking his shoulder.

Parking the SUV two blocks from their destination, Bex and Trent walked Sunset Boulevard, passing clubs, indecently lit strip malls, curtained Pho restaurants, and the famous Rainbow Room grill, stopping at the iconic Roxy. The unassuming black building punched the landscape with a massive marquee, box office, and three polite toughs at the door. Just a local club catering to a local crowd, yet the impatient throng wrapping the side of the building waiting to get in would lead one to believe an A-Lister was inside handing out lattes and selfies.

It was an all-ages event, so without a problem, Trent bought two tickets at the window, handed one to Bex. He looked at the daunting line, then to the doormen.

“Time to work your magic.”

Bex, looking spectacular in a maxi skirt, low slung tank top, and vintage, ten-eye cherry red Doc Martens, took a deep breath and strolled over to the bouncers. She knew what she was about to do was archaic; and thought how strange that flirting and batting her eyes was still so effective on men like this. She smiled as she approached them, showing a wide line of perfect, white teeth.

Moments later, they were inside the thumping club. On stage, local punk stars, The Potential Lunatics, performed for the thrashing crowd. The brother-sister duo sounded massive with Isaac on bombastic drums, and Emma blasting crunchy guitar riffs and belting out songs of love and injustice. Sadly, they’d no time to enjoy the anarchist arts; they immediately surveyed the crowd for their quarry.

“Well that wasn’t a sexist way to get in the door at all. Nope,” Bex grumbled sarcastically.

“You love it,” Trent said.

“Sorry?” Bex squinted at him.

“I hope they’re here. I don’t want to look like a dumb ass,” yelled Trent over the music, ignoring her sarcasm.

“Nothing can save you from that!”

“Look who has jokes tonight!”

“They said the source is legit.”

“You know the twins aren’t going to want to come peacefully, right?”

“No shit. Let me do the talking.”

“No problem there.”

They moved through the gyrating crowd. The band broke into their classic, “Honey,” and the audience went nuts. Bex leaned against the velvet rope marking the VIP section. She scanned the tables of all three tiers. All these kids; not a care–money, homes, clear consciences. If they only knew the world hiding from them right in plain sight. Bex envied their blissful ignorance, but she had made her bed. She would lie in it all her life.

A sight in the top row froze Bex where she stood. Trent sensed her distress, followed her fixated gaze up. A woman in her thirties, gorgeous and captivating, sat like royalty, sipping a drink. The black couture gown would normally have faded into the dimly lit background, but her crimson whiplash grin and smoldering, predatory eyes made her stand out. Her long black hair draped her body to her waist. Her most striking feature, however, was a silver chain that ran from her ear lobe and pierced her lower cheek, near her lip. It was horrifying and alluring all at once.

“Sasha,” Trent breathed, but Bex heard him, and snapped out of her trance.

“It’s a set-up. Trent! Let’s go!”

“No, I have to take her!”

“No way! Not here! She’ll kill us, and everyone in this place!”

“I may not get another shot!”

Bex watched in slow motion as Trent raised his palms to waist-height, fingers bent in preparation.

Sasha looked down upon them and smiled, a devilish grin. She held her drink up to them, a toast. Her arrogance was unsettling.

Bex slugged Trent in the gut, distracting and delaying him.

“Ugh! Don’t try to stop me, Bex!”

“Grow up! We’re here for the twins, nothing else. Our orders are–“

“To hell with orders!”

She slapped him across the face.

“Remember who we are. What we stand for.” Bex threw her open hand out, indicating the hundreds of writhing punks. “Innocent people will die if you do this.”

He sighed and shook the rage back, bitterly turning away from the amused Sasha, who remained watchful from her seat.

“Fine. Let’s get these pricks and leave,” he grunted.

“Back on the clock. Thank you, Trent.”

“Don’t act all nice. I’m not in the mood.”

They maneuvered toward the bar area.

“There,” Bex pointed to two matching teens, both doing their best to grow legit mustaches and failing. They chatted with friends, but went silent when Bex and Trent approached. The friends melted into the crowd.

“Hello boys,” said Bex as pleasantly as she could. “You know why we’ve come.”

Twin one yelped, “I already told the old man; we don’t want to join your stupid club! Leave us alone.”

Bex kept smiling, “Come on guys. You know what it’s like out here without a faction.”

Trent chimed in, “We can protect you.”

Twin number two laughed, “But who’s gonna protect us from you?!”

“Don’t believe everything you hear. Trust us. We’re here to help,” Bex tried to steer the conversation.

Twin one had had enough, “For the last time: Go to hell!”

Trent couldn’t hide his grin. “Tried to play it cool, but you want it the hard way. This is for your own good.”

Before Bex could react, Trent held his palms face up, fingers bent like spider legs. From his skin bled liquid metal, a thousand tiny silver beads. The flowing liquid congealed, constructing something at Trent’s will.

The twins took a step back, freaked out.

“Not here!” Bex hissed, but too late.

The chrome-like fluid formed a hardened sphere in each hand–levitating slightly above the flesh. Fully under his mental command, the spheres were set to strike down–to “incapacitate” their targets. “Time to play,” growled Trent.

The twins bolted for the exit.

Bex gave chase, cursing Trent as she went.

Trent grunted in frustration and followed on her heels; the spheres dissolved back to liquid, and vanished once more into his skin.

Outside, the twins fled past rockers and wanna-be actors gathered at the entrance, and around the corner of the Rainbow Room.

“Seriously?” Bex was beyond angry, still pursuing them.

“Guess they don’t appreciate tough love.”

“No, Trent! You don’t get to be funny right now!”

They rounded the corner and stopped cold. Before them, some twenty feet away, the twins now stood stock still–facing them, flanked by four more men in dark trench coats–all with matching buzz cuts.

Each one formed metallic objects from liquid coming forth from their hands–just like Trent. “Oh look, a set-up,” he quipped.

The twins and their four companions faced Bex and Trent and formed sharp blades of different sizes and shapes, each weapon floating just above their palms. Under mental command of the trench-adorned buzz cuts, the weapons flew at Bex and Trent.

Trent summoned up a large metallic shield that protected them both, except for one blade that grazed his arm. His hold on the shield wavered as he lowered it.

Bex, already conjuring, created and fired dozens of metal pellets the size of marbles. Too fast to dodge, the enemies took the brunt of her attack, mostly stinging nicks and cuts, and an occasional eye hit. They stumbled about recovering from their attempts to dodge Bex’s attack, and mentally recalled their own liquid metal.

Bex and Trent looked at each other and seized the opportunity to get gone. They took off; the twins could wait. Around the corner, they came face to face with Sasha. Now that she was closer, they saw her true horror: the chain that pierced her face was created from her own liquid silver; pulses of metal moved up and down the chain, inflaming her ear lobe and cheek with each pass. It looked painful as hell. Around her neck, a two-inch wide liquid metal band practically choked her. Tiny spines jutted out from the collar and pierced her neck at random points, leaving her skin red and raw. Yet, despite her masochistic accessories, her fierce beauty still came through; maybe even more so…to some.

Sasha, her voice calm and silky purred, “I’d like a word please.” From her palms she fired two thin metallic vines that instantly wrapped the teens, confining their arms. The vines kept looping downward, in spite of their struggling.

Like a roped calf, Bex fell to the ground. Trent kept his stance, but could barely fight against the tightening. His rage against her fueled his resistance.

Sasha’s arms, outstretched, revealed more self-torturing accents: small metallic spikes protruded from the tops and undersides of her wrists. There was no blood, but the obviously old wounds had left the skin red and infected.

Her captives secured, she said, “Nice to see you again, Trent. Still working out those anger issues?”

Her companions finally came rushing around the corner, but slowed when they saw the boss had the situation well in hand.

Bex yelled from the ground, “You got the twins. Let us go!”

Sasha laughed. “I know your Daddy, Bex. Would he approve of these nocturnal activities?” To Trent she said, “But it’s you I really want to speak with. Not too late to join the cause, darling.”

“Torture and brainwashing? No thanks, I’ve already been through high school.” On the back of his neck, a pool of liquid silver grew, silently permeating through his pores. In a last ditch effort, he mentally commanded the liquid into a long, spear-like weapon, and fired it at his shocked captor.

The three-foot spike pierced Sasha’s torso, the tip punching through her back. Her concentration broken, the metal vines returned to liquid and splashed around them. Sasha screamed and stumbled back, her own liquid already returning toward her skin.

Bex and Trent bolted as Sasha’s crew rushed to her aid. Cutting down an alley, then over a fence, the teens were gone.

Sasha recovered as Trent’s metal dissolved and followed him like a magnet, though much too fast to track. She took heavy breaths and pushed away any of her men who dared try to comfort her. Finally she stood and smiled, looking to where the enemies had fled. The wound in her gut had already begun its miraculous healing.

She looked at the shaken twins and smiled. “Welcome, gentlemen.”

***

Trent and Bex didn’t ease up until they reached their vehicle.

“Just like we rehearsed, right?” Trent said, panting.

“Shut it,” Bex grunted as she yanked open the SUV door.

They got in and sped away–leaving the threat behind.

Bex made the call and delivered the bad news. She did a lot of listening and “uh huh-ing.”

Trent wondered what their fate would be.

She ended the call and sighed.

“Well?”

“Babysitting gig. Keep an eye on a fifteen year old in Orange County.”

Now it was Trent who sighed. “Well shit.”

“Exactly,” she concurred.