The Nature of the Beast
Chapter Three: Revelation
Riana woke slowly, smiling sleepily at the remnants of her dreams as her eyes fluttered open. She was confused for a moment, not remembering where she was, but then she turned her head to find Luke watching her and it all came crashing back. She sat up immediately and, all her anger and frustration from the night before flooding back, she snapped,
“Why are you watching me sleep?” He smiled and leaned forward in his chair.
“You look so sweet when you haven’t got that guarded look on your face.” Her mind flashed back to when she had watched him the night before; strange how his thoughts mirrored her own. She heard him sigh and watched the smile disappear before he said sadly, “Alas, it’s back.” He stood and moved to the kitchen. “I made breakfast, if you want some.” She watched him warily, trying to decide if she should eat any food he made for her. What if it was poisoned or drugged? He turned and gave her an amused look. “You needn’t worry about the food. If I wanted to kill you I could do it with my bare hands. Now eat.” It really irritated her the way he always knew what she was thinking.
She got up off the bed and moved slowly into the kitchen behind him. It seemed strange to be having breakfast with him, moving around his home as though she were a guest rather than a captive. He turned and offered her a mug of something dark and hot. She sniffed it suspiciously; it smelled wonderful and she looked up at him curiously.
“What is it?” He moved the mug back and gave her a funny look.
“You’ve never had coffee?”
“No, what is it?”
“Caffeinated beverage, usually made hot, helps you wake up in the morning? You’ve seriously never heard of coffee?”
“They usually just gave me a special protein drink when I was on the base.”
“Wow, they didn’t let you do anything, did they?”
“They were only doing what was best for me.” She didn’t meet his eyes as she spoke and he knew that she didn’t really believe what she was saying. He held the mug out again and smiled.
“Try it.” She looked up at him and he saw that familiar look in her eyes, a strange mix of caution and yearning. He liked that look a lot and he’d wager she had no idea how often she looked at him that way. Oddly, instead of taking the mug from him she put her hand on his and guided it to her lips. She glanced up at him as she took a tiny sip, and he smiled at her unconsciously seductive move. Then he nearly laughed out loud at the disgusted expression on her face as she tasted the coffee.
“Ughh, that’s disgusting! You drink that?” He shrugged.
“Some people put milk and sugar in it, but I usually like it this way.” She pushed it away and shuddered delicately.
“You can keep it.”
“Not to your liking?”
“Not even close.” He turned to set the mug on the counter.
“There’s milk and juice in the fridge.”
“Why are you doing this?” He didn’t look at her.
“Feeding you?” She blew out a frustrated sigh.
“Keeping me here, acting like we’re not enemies. It’s very…confusing.”
“We’re not enemies; that’s just what they’ve always told you.”
“Why would they lie?”
“Because I threaten them and they want me dead. You’re their best bet.” She started to say something else when she noticed the frying pan sitting on the stove. Riana looked at Luke, standing so close with his back to her; he wouldn’t even see it coming. Before she had even thought it through properly, the heavy pan was in her hand and she was swinging it down towards his head. His speed was such that her eyes were unable to register his movement, but suddenly his hand was there, holding her wrist and stopping her impulsive attack. He swung to face her, his arm going around her waist and pulling her close. She stared in breathless amazement at his face so close to hers; how was it possible for him to move like that? “That was a very dangerous thing you just did.”
“Please d-don’t kill me. I won’t try anything like that again; I wasn’t thinking.” He started to shake his head and she whispered desperately, “Please! I- I’m sorry!”
“When are you gonna get it? I have no desire to hurt you.” He brushed her hair back from her face, his eyes intent on hers as he said softly, “My desires where you are concerned lie in a much different direction.” Riana felt warm all over, like she was melting and it was becoming increasingly difficult to focus on anything besides the sound of Luke’s voice. Her breathing was ragged, her heartbeat erratic as the pan slipped from her fingers to drop to the floor. Luke’s hand at her waist had moved to stroke her back and, without any conscious effort on her part, her now empty hand had begun to caress his cheek. She didn’t understand what was happening. Luke’s mouth was very close to hers now, so close she could feel his moist breath on her lips and she found herself leaning into his chest, stretching up to meet him. Just a little closer and they’d be touching; her heart beat even faster.
Suddenly an image of her sister flashed in her mind, a picture of how she’d looked when they’d found her. Her eyes swept up to meet Luke’s and she felt sick. Pushing herself out of his arms, she scrambled to get as far away from him as possible. He looked puzzled and started toward her. With a strangled cry, she held up a hand to ward him off. She thought she might throw up and struggled to get herself under control; when she managed to speak her voice was a hoarse whisper filled with hate,
“You’re disgusting!” She watched as his face twisted in anger.
“You were right there with me, princess. If you think I’m so vile, maybe you should be saving a little of that disgust for yourself.”
“Believe me; I am.” He looked at her and for a second she thought she saw hurt in his eyes, but it was gone so quick she figured she imagined it. Without a word he went into the other room, slamming the door behind him. Riana closed her eyes, filled with an odd combination of longing, sorrow, and disgust. She felt bad for ripping into him. He was right; she had wanted to kiss him. It wasn’t his fault that she was a hypocrite.
After eating breakfast all by herself she didn’t have much else to do but sit and wait for him to come back out. She knew she had pissed him off, but he’d been in there for three hours; she didn’t know what he could possibly be doing for so long. Unless he’s plotting how best to kill me. She felt a shiver of apprehension at the thought. She felt certain he was only keeping her alive because he wanted something from her; what if she had pissed him off so badly that he decided it wasn’t worth the effort. She stared at the door; maybe she should tell him she was sorry. Her mouth twisted bitterly at the idea of apologizing to such a monster; after all he was the one who should be begging for forgiveness after all he’d done.
She moved to press her ear against the door, but his room was silent. She knocked lightly as she turned the knob, but when she opened the door the bedroom was empty. Riana stood staring in shock for a moment before walking slowly inside. She hadn’t seen any other doors in here the night before; how could he have gotten out? She wasted about two seconds on the mystery before deciding her time alone should be taken advantage of and began searching his room.
Glancing around she tried to determine what might yield the best results. There was a nightstand beside the bed – one drawer; she doubted there’d be anything useful in that. He had a huge bureau against one wall, and a desk against the other. She’d start with the desk then work her way through the bureau; if she had time she’d check the night stand, just in case. She headed for the desk, but stopped short as her gaze swung back to the bureau. Luke was smart and kind of tricky; wouldn’t he assume she’d search the desk first if she was looking for information. The chest of drawers was huge, and she doubted he needed so much room for his clothes.
She moved quickly, searching through each drawer, but all she came up with was clothes. Frustrated, she yanked on the last drawer, but it seemed stuck. Puzzled, she leaned down to see what the problem was, but everything seemed to be fine. As she managed to get it open something fell from underneath it. A large manila envelope lay on the floor at her feet; it must have been taped to the underside of the drawer and managed to work itself loose. She picked it up nervously, unsure if she should open it. Pushing aside her doubt, she carried it with her and sat down on the bed to examine the contents.
Riana was surprised to find a large folder inside; it had the base insignia on it and was stamped confidential. How had he managed to steal military files? When she opened the folder a stack of pictures fell out, landing face down. She set the folder aside and reached for the photos. She flipped them over to take a look at them and was shocked to see that the one on top was of her sister, Sara. It was a candid shot, taken at some sort of mall; she didn’t think her sister had been aware she was being photographed. She flipped through the next few, finding them to be very similar to the first. Sara wandering through the mall, Sara smiling as a little girl bumped into her, Sara biting her lip as she looked into a mirror and held a dress up in front her.
Riana hadn’t realized Sara had had so much freedom; she wondered why they kept her in so much when they had let her sister roam free. Well, not free, she amended. They obviously followed her when she went out and recorded all of her activities. She flipped to the next picture and her breath stalled in her chest. She kept staring at it thinking the image would change, that it was just her brain playing tricks on her, but the picture remained the same. Sara and Luke, face to face, talking, almost as though they were friends.
The next one was of the two of them sitting at a table together in the food court; then another as they leaned closer and spoke to each other; Sara laughing, her head thrown back in amusement at something Luke had said; and several more of them at various places. There were about twenty of them standing by some pier at night talking, then five of them where Sara was handing Luke something, but she couldn’t make out what it was. The last two were both shots of Sara watching Luke leave.
She didn’t understand any of this. Why had the two of them been meeting? They seemed like friends and yet he had brutally murdered her. Why hadn’t anyone stopped him from killing her; someone must have seen it happening. She dropped the pictures and reached for the folder; maybe there was an explanation. She dragged the file back into her lap, but the only other thing in it appeared to be a report. It was several pages long, but as near as she could tell it detailed what she had seen in the pictures along with the date and place for each meeting. There were only a few lines on the last page, and she read them with growing horror.
Project 2413 is becoming too involved with the subject. Her lack of objectivity is a risk to the mission. I believe she has compromised security to give the subject classified information. Termination of life is recommended as Project 2413 can no longer be trusted.
Across the bottom the word ‘APPROVED’ was stamped in big, bold letters. The pages fell from her suddenly nerveless fingers and fluttered to the floor. The room spun sickeningly and she grabbed at the mattress in an attempt to steady herself. It failed miserably as she slid off the edge of the bed, dragging the bedspread with her and dumping the pictures all over the floor as she lost consciousness.
As soon as Luke saw her, he knew. He hadn’t meant for her to see the file until he was sure she was ready. He’d told her the truth about Sara’s death, but he’d known she wasn’t ready to be confronted with confirmation in black and white. It was so detached and clinical, the way they spoke of the murder in that file, and he’d wanted to ease her into it; be there for her when she read it. Too late now, he thought. He’d left her here alone because he’d been angry; he hadn’t counted on her barging into his bedroom and taking a look around, especially when she’d thought he was in here.
He crouched down and lifted her, cradling her in his arms as he moved to set her down in the middle of the bed. He figured he should try to wake her, but as he pulled back he realized she was already awake when she clutched desperately at his shirt. Her eyes were filled with such sorrow and pain that he ached inside; the tears welled up slowly and his heart nearly broke as they spilled over onto her cheeks. Her nails bit into him as her grasp tightened.
“Lies, all lies,” she whispered brokenly. “Everything they ever told me… who am I? Who am I?” She broke down completely then, and he pulled her into his arms. He held her as she cried and something inside him shifted. He would make them pay for doing this to her. She didn’t deserve this kind of pain, and he’d never let anyone hurt her like this again.
“The trackers saw him, but when they tried to follow…” The soldier’s voice faded away, and Weiss looked up impatiently.
“Well? They tried to follow him. And? Did they lose him?”
“Sir, we think he let them find him, intentionally. The man who survived-”
“Survived?” Weiss broke in. “What the hell do you mean survived?”
“Uh, the rest are dead, sir. That’s what I was explaining. It appears he deliberately let the trackers see him, led them further into the woods, and then he… he killed them, sir.”
“I sent out forty men; are you telling me he killed all but one of them?” Weiss was incredulous.
“Yes, sir and he only left Jones alive to pass on a message.” Weiss rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily.
“What’s the message?”
“He wants us to stop trying to find the girl, says he’ll kill anyone we send.”
“He thinks threats will stop the search?”
“Sir, have you read his file? He is completely capable of backing up those threats. The commander says that Riana was the only thing we had that might have been able to stop him.”
“The commander doesn’t know his ass from a teacup!” Weiss growled. “Bring me Luke’s file and gather your men. I can see I’ll have to deal with this myself.”
“And tell the commander he’s not invited to this meeting.”
“Yes, sir.” Weiss lit his cigar as the soldier scurried from the room. Of course the commander thought they should call off the search; he didn’t want his precious girl killed, but Weiss had his own plans. Plans that didn’t include the commander or the girl, and there was no way he was letting this Luke character stand in his way.