Kadamba stood on the balcony and looked out over the Thames River. The sun had been down for a few hours, and the air was brisk and cold. He could hear the muffled sounds of Dr. Tarea and the woman who owned, or maybe just used, the rundown apartment. It wasn’t pleasure that came from them. It was more animalistic. They were using each other – she wanted money, and Dr. Tarea just wanted to get off.

The last few weeks had been so different than anything Kadamba could have ever imagined. The mission seemed twisted and warped. Kadamba understood that they didn’t have resources here on this planet. They had to steal them. Cash had worked great in the United States. You could get anything you wanted. Then came the challenge of leaving the US. Something called passports were needed.

Dr. Tarea and Kadamba had made it to Washington, DC. They had stolen a few cars and robbed a few gas stations. It was even easier than either had expected. The further east that they traveled, the more money Dr. Tarea decided that he wanted. Cheap motels were no longer good enough for the doctor; he wanted to stay in fancier and more elegant places. The food here was different. You could get things cheap at fast food joints and diners, but Dr. Tarea discovered that he enjoyed fancy restaurants.

The two of them had been casing a gas station in a less refined part of Washington, DC when Kadamba saw the exchange. He recognized it. He’d done the exact same thing years before. It was a small-time drug purchase.

Kadamba followed the older one, who was obviously the seller. He wore all black leather and dark glasses that hid his eyes. He ducked around a corner and was trying to unlock a door in the alley when Kadamba approached him.

“Sir, I saw you sell that kid some drugs,” Kadamba informed him.

“Yo,” replied the dealer as he pulled his glasses off, “you didn’t see shit, motherfucker!”

“I don’t want to cause trouble. I just need some help. Please?” Kadamba said.

“And that honky motherfucker standing behind you is what?” the dealer asked, pointing to Dr. Tarea. “Your seeing eye dog?”

Kadamba saw the man reaching into his pocket to pull out a small revolver. Before the man could raise the weapon, Kadamba took him to the ground, disarming him and poking the gun into his temple.

“I don’t want any trouble,” began Kadamba, “if I did, you’d be dead. I need help, and I am thinking you probably know someone who might know someone who could help.”

The man was obviously angry. “Fuck you, asshole, I ain’t doing shit for you.”

“Listen,” Kadamba commanded, as he cocked the revolver’s hammer back, “I need to buy passports for the doctor and me. Can you help me?”

“What, motherfucker! You want papers! Do I look like a passport office to you?” defiantly barked the dealer.

Kadamba pushed the barrel of the gun harder into the man’s temple, as Dr. Tarea walked over to them. “Just blow his brains out. He can’t help.”

“Okay! Okay! I know a man!”

Kadamba helped the man to his feet, pocketing the gun. They walked for many blocks, and the farther they went, the more rundown the neighborhood became. They climbed up onto a loading dock of what looked like an abandoned warehouse, and the drug dealer knocked on the door.

A small metal window on the door slid open at the same time that Kadamba realized that there were three men across the street, standing on the loading dock of another warehouse. The three men had automatic weapons trained on Kadamba and Dr. Tarea.

“Fuck you want, Lippy?” came a voice through the small window, which now had the barrel of a handgun pointing through it.

“Got some buyers for Daddy Rings,” answered the obviously nervous dealer. “The brother here and his honky be lookin’ for papers.”

“You a dumb motherfucker,” came the voice as the window slammed shut. The door opened, and two men holding small automatic weapons stepped out.

They looked Kadamba and the doctor over. One of the men gestured for them to go inside. Once they walked through the door, they found themselves against a wall, being frisked, and everything they had with them was taken. They were escorted down a long corridor and brought into a large room.

Music with a deep, thumping bass played somewhere in the distance. The room, furnished with old sofas and beanbags, was lit by some twenty or so lava lamps that were spread about on small tables and shelves. About a dozen people sat around the room, half of them smoking joints. At one end of the room was a huge sofa with an equally large man sitting on it. Two men stood at each side of the sofa, dressed in black, holding what Kadamba knew to be Uzis, nasty projectile weapons that were difficult to control. None of them moved as the three men were brought in front of the sofa.

The large man on the sofa removed his dark glasses. All of his fingers and each of his thumbs were adorned with heavy gold rings set with huge jewels. Around his neck hung thick braided chains of gold, and a few of the necklaces had huge rings dangling from them. He threw the glasses onto the sofa and stared intently at the dealer, who Kadamba now knew was nicknamed, “Lippy.”

“Da fuck you thinkin’?” demanded the man, in a voice as deep as his size, as he rose from the sofa. He was tall and thick. Kadamba watched as the huge man looked Lippy up and down, with a look of disdain on his face. The man wasn’t quite as big and muscular as Jackos the Giant, but he was every bit as intimidating. Lippy was shaking as the man strode two paces and landed his fist with a terrible blow into Lippy’s gut.

Lippy drop to the floor on his knees, crying and apologizing. “They dropped me, man. I ain’t have no choice. They wanna buy papers. I ain’t know what else to do.”

“Da fuck you think bringin’ ‘em here?” Daddy Rings repeated, as he kicked Lippy, sending him flying across the floor.

Kadamba’s hand shot out to grab Dr. Tarea’s arm when he heard the doctor begin to speak. Kadamba knew that this had to play out before they could say anything. The best thing in the world was to shut up and wait.

Daddy Rings bent over Lippy, warning, “You best hope they ain’t nuthin’ but buyers, or you won’t be seein’ yo momma ever again.”

Daddy Rings stepped back to Kadamba and Dr. Tarea, “Da fuck you two want in my house?”

“We need passports,” blurted out Dr. Tarea before Kadamba could say anything.

“You best shut yo’ mutherfuckin’ honky-ass mouth fo’ I string a noose up and light yo’ ass on fire,” Daddy Rings declared.

“It’s all cool,” Kadamba assured Daddy Rings, as calmly as he could. “We’re in your house, man.  We’ll follow your rules.  We’re just trying to find someone we can buy some passports from.  Ain’t no disrespect.  We just here needing help.  Didn’t give Lippy much choice.”

“I don’t do business with the man,” announced Daddy Rings, looking at Dr. Tarea.  Then he looked back at Kadamba, “and you probably a brother who sold out to the man.”

“Nah, crazy circumstance stuck us together,” replied Kadamba. “We ain’t the man.  We on the run, and we need to buy passports.”

“Don’t be such a jive-ass mutherfucker,” came a female voice from behind them, “Figure out if they legit or not, and do business—or don’t.”

Kadamba turned to see the most beautiful sight he’d seen in a long time. She was tall and thin, wearing a dark-orange, leather jacket, that was open and revealing an amply-filled, black leather bra. Her pants were black leather, flaring widely at the opening of the legs. She had high cheekbones and piercing black eyes. Her large Afro shimmered and seemed to have as much personality as her sassy attitude.

“Girl, get the hell out of here. This ain’t yo’ business,” commanded Daddy Rings, as the young woman started walking towards Kadamba.

“Business be family business, brother, and you caught yourself a cute one right here.” She swept her hand across Kadamba’s face, as she stepped by them and playfully slapped Daddy Rings on the arm. “Why you be actin’ the shit and everything?”

“Damn, if you wasn’t my sista,” replied Daddy Rings, “I’d backhand yo’ black ass across the room.”

“Brother, let’s just see if we gotz a couple of players or what,” she suggested. “You two mutherfuckas better not be narcs.”

Stepping back over to Kadamba, she put both her hands gently on his face. She even smelled intoxicating, like the Rocky Mountains, except there was something sensual about it too. She looked deep into his eyes and smiled. If he could have controlled his reactions, he would have, but he couldn’t. He blushed and smiled, looking back into her eyes, feeling like a little boy being held safely by his mother.

“Okay, Rings,” she announced, without breaking eye contact with Kadamba, “you find out if that honky is on the level, and I’ll check everything out about this brother.” She ran her hands down his arms, interlocking her fingers and hooking one of his hands with hers. She walked toward the door, with Kadamba obediently following along.

“Have a seat,” ordered Daddy Rings, gesturing to Dr. Tarea to sit in on the sofa. Dr. Tarea sat, not knowing what else to do. Daddy Rings sat next to him, still towering over the wiry, little man. He put his arm around the doctor, inquiring, “You ain’t no narc, is you?”

“No, no, I’m no narcotics officer,” replied the doctor, his voice cracking with fear.

Daddy Rings looked him in the eye, as a tall coffee table was pushed in front of the seated pair. “We’ll see about that.” On the table sat a mirror, lying flat, a small vial, a razor blade, and a short straw.

Dr. Tarea looked at Daddy Rings with apprehension. The man’s enormous hand picked up and opened the vial, tapping the open end on the center of the mirror. A white powder formed a small pile. The doctor stared at the substance, knowing what it probably was, but afraid it might be something else.

“I don’t do drugs,” whispered Dr. Tarea, his voice getting hoarser and weaker.

Daddy Rings chuckled as he used the razor blade to spread the powder into a line on the mirror. He picked up the straw, holding it out for Dr. Tarea. “This part is simple,” Daddy Rings explained, “either you ain’t no narc, and you do this here line, or you is a narc, and you don’t.”

His hand trembling, Dr. Tarea took the straw from Daddy Rings and placed it in his nose. He bent over, snorting in as he moved the straw down the line of cocaine. He sat up and looked at Daddy Rings, who was smiling.

Daddy Rings picked up the vial again, tapped out another pile, and used the razor blade to form another line. “This shit be real good. You best try it on the other side too.”

Dr. Tarea put the straw to his other nostril and snorted in the second line of cocaine. He closed his eyes for a few moments. When he opened them, Daddy Rings was smiling. The whole room seemed to be brighter. Someone had turned on a large boombox in the corner, the beat filling the room. Dr. Tarea started bobbing his head side-to-side, biting his lower lip. “Fuck me … Wow!” were the only words that Dr. Tarea could manage.

Daddy Rings laughed, “Nah, just yo’ friend be getting’ fucked. You get to party. Silly-ass honky.”

Someone handed Dr. Tarea a joint, and he took a deep drag on it, holding it in his lungs. Maybe these drugs weren’t quite as bad as the ones on Koranth decided Dr. Tarea as his body started gyrating to the beat of the music.

*****

Kadamba was mesmerized as the beautiful woman led him down the corridors and up staircases in the warehouse. He wasn’t sure where he was, and he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of her. After she closed the door behind him, he looked around. It wasn’t what he expected. It was clean and bright. The walls appeared to have been painted, and a desk, a dresser, and bed were in the room. He realized it was a bedroom. “Are we still in the warehouse?” he asked, as he peered around.

“We sure are,” she replied. “It ain’t much, but it’s home.”

Holding his hand, she put her other hand on his face. He trembled as she ran her fingers along his cheek. Looking at him quizzically, she asked his name.

“Kadamba,” he replied, not even thinking to use anything else and not really being able to think at all.

“Where’d you get that name?” she asked.

“My parents.”

“Duh,” she teased him, “Where’s a name like that come from?”

“It’s a very long, long ways from here. What’s your name?”

“Violet.”

She pushed him onto the bed, where he sat looking up at her. She slowly pulled his shirt off and pushed him onto his back. She crawled on top of him, straddling him as she pulled off her jacket and bra. She ran her hands over his chest. “Damn, you one strong boy.”

She traced the outlines of the muscles of his chest and shoulders. He shivered at her touch, not knowing what to do. She looked him in the eyes, and he saw a compassion and kindness that seemed so rare in his universe.

“You’ve never done this before, have you?” she asked.

He looked away, shaking his head side-to-side slightly.

She smiled as she looked down on him and kissed his nose. She looked into his eyes again. “I can tell you want this, don’t you?”

This time he looked her in the eyes, slowly shaking his head up and down in affirmation.

“Then let’s make this something you’ll remember forever,” she suggested, as she pressed her lips to his.

She was gentle, kind, and patient. The minutes merged into hours, and Kadamba lost track of time, spinning in a world of pleasure and ecstasy. Hours later, he awoke, realizing that she was in his arms. It was dark. He didn’t know what had happened to Dr. Tarea, and in that moment, he didn’t really care. He pulled Violet closer and drifted back to sleep.

The room was bright when he awoke again. She was gone, and he was alone, naked in the bed.

“Come on, lover boy,” a man’s voice stated. He rolled over and saw one of the thugs that had been standing by the sofa staring at him from across the room. “You wanna do business or not?”

Kadamba quickly pulled on his clothes and followed the man back to the room where he had first met Violet and Daddy Rings. Dr. Tarea was curled up on a sofa, with his head tucked under a cushion.

“Your honky friend can party,” Daddy Rings declared, sitting on the large sofa with Violet by his side. “She says you ain’t no narc or trouble of any kind. We can do business with you and the honky. It ain’t gonna be cheap, but since I got yo’ money, I know it ain’t no problem. Good thing Violet like you. Otherwise, well, you don’t even wanna know.”

Another man handed Kadamba the items that had been taken from his pockets the day before. The wallet still seemed to have all the money that he brought with him.

“It all there,” Violet assured him. “That a lot of cash to be carrying.”

Kadamba put everything back in his pockets, as Dr. Tarea began to groan. “Oh, fuck me,” he muttered, as he sat up, putting his hands to his head. “What a night …”

A number of the people in the room began to laugh, including Daddy Rings. “Your honky friend found a few things he never try before. I think he be likin’ ‘em a lot.”

“Daddy Rings,” Dr. Tarea announced, as he stood up unsteadily, “I think you’re my new best friend.”

As the laughter began to recede, the door opened, and another man stepped into the room. While everyone in the room was dressed casually and comfortably, the man who walked into the room was wearing a suit.

“Good morning, Ernest. Good morning, Violet,” the man stated in greeting, looking at Daddy Rings and Violet. “I understand we have some new customers.”

Dr. Tarea snorted a little laugh, “Daddy Rings sounds a lot more like you than Ernest does!”

“Still better than ‘Nahash,’” replied Daddy Rings with a chuckle. “You can go by Dr. Tarea, and I’ll be Daddy Rings.”

Kadamba realized that Violet had hardly taken her eyes off of him since he walked in. He looked around at the room. It wasn’t someplace that he ever imagined himself standing or a situation he could have ever dreamed of being in, but it was okay. While he’d been intimidated and scared last night, today, he felt more relaxed. With the guns and the dark clothes, it was easy to see these people as thugs or villains, but they were just people.

“I’m Owen Johnson,” the man in the suit said, extending his hand to Kadamba and Dr. Tarea. “I’ll be helping you with your current dilemma. Please come with me.”

The two men followed Owen back into the corridor that wound through another set of hallways and stairs. Eventually, they came to a room that looked like an office. A camera was set on a tripod, pointing towards a light-blue screen against a wall. Each of them took a turn getting their pictures taken, and then Owen walked them back to the room where Daddy Rings was still seated on the sofa.

“Come back in five days. We’ll have papers for you then,” Owen promised, as he walked back out of the room. Kadamba turned and handed Daddy Rings a stack of bills. The large man thumbed through the bills with his ring-laden fingers. He smiled at the two of them. “This ain’t the way I usually do business, but it all good.”

He put his hand out to the side, and another man placed a vial in his hand. He smiled and looked at Dr. Tarea. “Here a lil gift from me to you.” Dr. Tarea took the vial and smiled at the Daddy Rings. “That be a gift from me to you, Nahash,” the man continued in a serious tone. “When you want more, just come on by, but don’t forget your wallet. You’ll have to buy it next time.”

Kadamba took a deep breath. This scene felt a little too familiar. It seemed drug dealers had some common traits, no matter what planet they were on.

Two days later, Kadamba and Dr. Tarea were back. This time they brought more cash. Dr. Tarea had gone through the cocaine that Daddy Rings had given him and wanted more.

Back at the hotel, Dr. Tarea tried to get Kadamba to try some.

“I’m just not interested,” Kadamba responded.

“Look, boy, we’ve got a flight booked. We’re doing our job. Come on out and have some fun tonight,” declared Dr. Tarea.

“You go have fun. I’ll just hang out here at the hotel,” Kadamba told him.

Dr. Tarea slammed the door as he left. Kadamba wasn’t interested in seeing the man again, but knew he would be back at some point, but probably not soon.

After Dr. Tarea left, Kadamba headed back to the warehouse. He knocked on the door. The little window slid open, and then the door opened. “Back so soon?” asked the man.

“I was hoping I could see Violet,” replied Kadamba, hoping the man didn’t hear any desperation in his voice.

“Head on back,” the man directed, “She with Daddy Rings.”

The room was lit by the lava lamps, and Daddy Rings was sitting on his sofa. Music blasted from the boombox again. Several people, including Violet, were dancing, gyrating to the pounding beat. Violet smiled when she saw him, pulling him into the group. His awkward movements made her laugh, and she whispered in his ear, “Guess you haven’t done this much either.”

She pulled him towards the door, back to her room. He was more confident this time, and they both found passionate pleasure in one another’s arms. They talked all night long. Kadamba learned that Ernest and Owen were her older brothers. They’d moved from Mississippi with their mother when they were kids. She’d worked three jobs to send Owen, the oldest, to college, but when he graduated, he couldn’t find a job. Ernest had figured out how to make money on the streets, and when their mother died young of cancer, all three siblings went into business together. The streets weren’t kind, but they made a living and stayed together.

The next day, Kadamba returned to the hotel to find Dr. Tarea passed out in the bed with a prostitute. The following two nights were the same. Dr. Tarea would go out and party, while Kadamba spent time with Violet. In her bed, he began to think about what it might be like if Dr. Tarea were dead. Kadamba’s skills could probably be of use to someone like Daddy Rings. Violet cuddled in close to him, and he began to drift off.

The grass was as green as always, as were the shrubs and trees. Ka looked around the Landing. It was as quiet and still, as always, but rain was bouncing off the force-field cover that sheltered the Landing. The sky was dark grey, and lightning bounced between the clouds.

He walked back to the Freezies vendor, expecting to find Alorus hiding from the storm, but he wasn’t there. Ka walked to his favorite bench and sat down. He wasn’t even sure why he’d checked on Alorus. Maybe he was worried. Maybe he just didn’t want the boy to be scared.

“Does she have a little brother?” asked Alorus from behind Ka. He walked up, looking accusingly at Ka. “Think she’ll mind if you sell him some rath?”

The next day, Kadamba left the warehouse and then returned with Dr. Tarea to get their fake passports. Violet was gone. Kadamba knew it was probably for the best. Saying goodbye would be too hard, and he could never stay. His short stint as a drug dealer hadn’t turned out so well for him.

*****

Dr. Tarea stepped out onto the apartment balcony in London. “That hooker reminds me of that girl you were banging back in DC, probably not quite as sweet, but –”

Before Dr. Tarea could say anything else, Kadamba brushed by him, stepping back into the rundown apartment. “Get your ass in gear, doctor. The show’s over in twenty minutes.”

They’d already been to the small, dingy theater where Garrett Greyson, Master of Illusions, put on his cheap show. As far as Kadamba was concerned, it was a pathetic show, by an even more pathetic man. There was a woman in a box who was sawed in half, and other tricks and illusions that one could see at any traveling carnival sideshow. The show was nothing special, and Kadamba pressed Dr. Tarea on why he thought this man could be a Transprophetic.

Dr. Tarea explained that it was the lameness of this show that made it stand out. There was nothing new in the show. Even on this planet, magicians strived to perform more complicated tricks. “He’s not doing anything new. He can use his skills, make money, and no one knows. If he were making waves and coming up with new ‘illusions,’ people would take notice. He’s just too ordinary to actually be ordinary.” It seemed a weak explanation to Kadamba, but he wasn’t the expert.

Kadamba stood in the alley behind the theater. They had watched the show the night before and knew that Garrett Greyson would leave the building long after the crowd had gone. The pistol Kadamba jabbed into the man’s side made him shriek.

“The take’s already gone,” Garrett Greyson pleaded, “The manager – he takes it with him. There’s nothing left.”

“Unlock the door. We’re going back inside,” ordered Kadamba.

The man fumbled with his keys, finally opening the alley door and stepping inside the building. The hallway was littered with props, and Kadamba pushed the man through, telling him to go to the stage.

Dr. Tarea was waiting on the stage when Kadamba and Garrett pushed through the curtain. A single chair sat in the middle of the stage, and a spotlight shone brightly on the chair.

“Tape him to the chair,” commanded Dr. Tarea, gesturing to a roll of duct tape on a small table in front of the chair, lying next to a feather and a large knife. The man looked around frightfully, as Kadamba pushed him into the chair. Within a few moments, Garret Greyson’s legs were both taped to the chair’s legs while his hands and arms were secured to the chair’s back.

“What is it you want?” begged Garrett, “Billy’s been paid. I don’t owe anyone else, I swear.”

Dr. Tarea chuckled, “This has nothing to do with any of that. We’re here to see a magic show.”

“I don’t understand,” responded Garrett.

“Oh, I think you do. You do one every night and play it off as illusions, but I know what you really can do,” Dr. Tarea told him.

“My God, what in the bloody hell are you talking about?” asked Garrett, sounding more and more panicked.

So this is a Transprophetic, thought Kadamba. He seemed more of a scared stage performer than any harbinger of change. He took a step back, wondering how the doctor would prove that this pathetic man was anything more than what he claimed he was.

“You see the feather, there,” Dr. Tarea pressed him, as he picked up the knife. “All you need to do is move it, or I’ll cut you open.”

The man looked at Dr. Tarea, shaking his head. “I can’t do that. I make illusions. It’s not real.”

“You see, Kadamba,” the doctor noted, as he held the knife to the man’s cheek, “he wants to hide what he really is, but here’s the truth. The more intense the emotion, the more likely he’ll reveal his talents. And what better emotion to use than fear.”

The scream was deafening as Dr. Tarea drew the knife across the man’s cheek and then pulled it across his other cheek. “I’m going to skin you alive unless you move that feather.”

The man begged, and tears began to roll down his face. “I’m just an illusionist. No one can do what you’re asking. It’s not possible.”

The blade dug into the man’s shoulder, and he cried out in pain, again.

“One last chance or it gets personal,” chuckled Dr. Tarea, as he ran the blade up the inside of the man’s thigh.

The man’s face was red, and veins popped out on his temples and forehead as he strained to move the feather, using only his mind. The feather remained absolutely motionless on the table. The doctor pushed the knife hard into the man’s groin, and the man began to shake. “I can’t do it. It can’t be done.”

“Oh yes, it can, you just have to try harder.” The doctor raised the knife, stabbing it into the man’s leg, narrowly missing that which made him a man. Garret, screaming out in pain, started blowing in the direction of the feather. It wobbled a little on the table.

“Nice try, you damn fraud,” Dr. Tarea said, as he pulled the knife out and handed it to Kadamba. “I guess this one is nothing but a fake. A fake who knows your odd name, Kadamba. I’ll leave the honors to you. You haven’t had a chance to kill since we left Koranth. Enjoy yourself.”

Kadamba stood on the stage looking at the bloody knife while Dr. Tarea began to whistle, walking off the stage, through the seats, and out the door. He didn’t know what to do. This was terrible. He looked at Garret Greyson. There were tears in the man’s eyes.

“I’m sorry.” The words came out of Kadamba’s mouth before he knew it. He stepped over to the man and began to cut through the tape.

“So, it’s all come to this?” Garret questioned Ka.

“What?” asked Kadamba.

“I’m killed as a freak, all because I wanted to entertain and do magic. I wish I could have moved the feather for your friend. I’ve always wished I could do real magic.”

“I’ll get you out of here.”

“It’s too late,” Garret uttered softly, his head dropping to his chest.

Kadamba looked down and realized the stage was a pool of blood around the chair. Dr. Tarea had severed the man’s femoral artery in his leg. He’d bled out before Kadamba could do anything. Kadamba stood and looked at the man, as a tear ran down his cheek. So this was it? This was how they would find if this world held any Transprophetics. His stomach knotted and emptied its contents onto the stage and the table. He stood there for a few moments, looking at the body of Garret Grayson, wishing that all of this had been an illusion.

“Nice job, killer,” yelled Dr. Tarea, as he walked back into the theater and strolled quickly down the aisle, through the seats to the stage, “but it’s time to leave.”

A rolling wave of smoke hit the stage as Dr. Tarea tossed his Zippo lighter to Kadamba. “The lobby is already blazing. Light that curtain on fire, and let’s get out of here.”

A few blocks away, they turned and looked up. The low clouds reflected the orange and yellow of the roaring fire that destroyed the theater, covering their tracks.

• • •

Chapter 32 Chapter 34

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