Chapter 24: Surreptitious Masquerading
I go up the lift and I’m more than ready to confront the mysterious girl. However, I do not expect for the lift doors to open to find Casey already intercepting her. He is standing, blushing with his hands clasped behind his back.
“ –you shouldn’t be here,” he stops speaking to the girl when he notices me. He looks relieved that I’m not with anyone else. I walk out of the lift to come face to face with the same ninja-girl from the other night wearing the same black outfit, “Alyssa, I think she’s lost, um… what on earth are you wearing?” Casey asks me, sounding and appearing half-repulsed by my new outfit, “Did my dad make that for you?”
“What are you doing out here?” I ask Casey, while ignoring his question, “It’s dangerous to confront strangers, you should be in your room –”
“I can take care of myself, lady,” Casey holds up his hand, shaking his head of blonde messy hair. He is utterly astonished by my attempt to scold him, “I’m welcoming this girl, she’s deaf. She can’t hear us, but she can lip-read. I worked that out.”
“How do you know these things?” I ask, suspiciously, watching the ninja girl tilt her head at me and raise her palm. She points to herself, her eyes, then me, “You’re looking… for me?” I ask.
She nods and Casey whips out a hand from his back clasping a hidden letter.
“She asked me to deliver this to you,” he explains, waving it in front of my face, “It says ‘The girl’s eyes only’. It must be for you. You’re the only girl here.”
I nod, but I’m still confused. I look to the ninja-girl for answers.
“What’s your name?” I ask her, and she smiles and pulls forth her oily, unwashed hair in a nervous gesture. Her hair honestly looked so un-cared for. Perhaps she just hated to shower?
“A flower,” Casey guesses, “That’s what I’ve worked out so far before you came up. Oh, and she’s 12 years old.”
“12? That’s very young for a ninja,” I look her over in appreciation and she smiles. I then wonder, that if her name really was a flower as Casey suggested, that it couldn’t be too hard to guess, could it? “Lily,” I ask, and she shakes her head.
“Rose?” Casey tries. He is also wrong.
“Daisy?” I add, but nope, she shakes her head again. She signs for a V in the air, then I know.
“Viola,” I guess and she nods, giving me a thumbs up.
“Viola, would you like to see my games?” Casey asks, excited, “I have heaps of video games, do you like to play?” she quickly shakes her head and nods at me, pointing towards the letter.
I take it from Casey and open it up while he stands back and looks disappointed about the rejection.
Inside the envelope, I find a few words lining a thick, small piece of paper inside; it’s an invitation. There is also a separate folded piece of paper; a larger note. No digital elements.
The invitation reads:
You are invited to attend the Masquerade of Neo-Aristocrats. Excel Theatre. Eight in the Evening. Tonight.
The second note is handwritten with a personalised message.
Please, follow V so you can meet with me. I would love to speak with you, Alyssa. If you do not trust V just yet, I completely understand. At the very least, I want my girl to be educated so you do not follow the Gang of Shadows blindly. Come and learn more at the masquerade tonight. Please, come alone. It is important the men manipulating you do not interfere. Destroy this note immediately once you’ve read it. My identity must be kept secret and no one must know you are my daughter. One last thing, be very careful. Frankincense City is a dangerous place, much more dangerous than you know. Do not trust blindly. The best thing to do, is follow your instincts, acquire knowledge silently and DENY that knowledge when asked any form of question about who you are and what you know of Dystopia. Your new identity tonight is provided. Juliette Harris, age 22, recent graduate of Science in War. That is all you need to know. Love, Louis (your father whom would love to make your acquaintance). If you choose to come, Alyssa, I promise to find you at the Masquerade. Look for the mirrored mask.
I let out a sigh and Viola holds out a hand towards me, waiting for me to grab it and be led away. I stare at her invitation for a while as my mind runs riot with options. I eventually come to my conclusion.
“No,” I reject her offer, “I will not go with you now,” I try not to snap and she simply shrugs, waves and turns, leaving both Casey and I abruptly.
“Bye! Damn… she was so pretty, don’t you think?” Casey murmurs, “And cool. Like a ninja.”
“Friend or foe?” I ask him, curious for his take on things as I fold the notes and shove them into the top of my newly designed indestructible leotard.
“Neither,” Casey shrugs his shoulders, “I’ve seen her through the old CCTV cameras I linked up to my computers. She’s always doing missions for some… group? I assume it’s a group like what my dad runs here. Misfit based. At least I think so… but… it’s hard to know for sure.”
“What’s CCTV?” I ask, unknowing of the term.
“Would you like to see?” Casey turns to me, eyes widening in delight, “It’s from the Old World. I could show you my collection of games too. I get lonely, okay? My friends aren’t allowed to come here.”
“Why aren’t you at school?” I ask him.
“Public holiday,” he sighs like I’m stupid for not realising, “It’s Annual Dooms Days again, how could you forget? No one will be on the streets until after dark,” he motions for me to follow him into the lift and I do so eagerly, “What did the note say, Alyssa?”
“It’s personal, nothing important,” I wink and Casey just looks a little suspicious but changes the topic regardless.
“Well… what’s my dad doing right now?” he asks, “I’m surprised you’re still here to be honest. He doesn’t have girlfriends for long. Usually a day at most.”
“I’m surprised I’m still here too,” I reply dryly as I see we are heading down to a closer level. [HB] for home-base, “What do you do all day while your dad works? Do you see him much?”
“No,” Casey murmurs, clearly he doesn’t want to talk about it, “He’s… not really… easy going, he’s always busy. If he talks to me, it’s always questions about my education.”
I nod, clearly recognising that Casey had respect for Dale but was sad he couldn’t spend more time with him.
The lift eventually halts and the doors open to a modern corridor, concrete, curved, with some normal pieces of furniture like a shoe rack and a tall wooden rack for coats. The long corridor has many doors. He takes me to the first metal door in the hall, which is covered in stickers and posters of Casey’s favourite movie stars; this was clearly his room. As he steps forward to heave the heavy door open, I don’t expect to see what I do on the other side.
About twenty computer screens, all hooked up to various hard drives. All the screens are alight with something different.
“Want to play some games with me? Or just watch?” Casey asks.
“I’d love to but Dale might interrupt soon… I just have a feeling,” I add and Casey leads me towards the computers and looks over me with an amused gaze and a kiddy chuckle.
“You think I haven’t worked out how to barricade myself in here so they can’t stop me playing computer games all night? Gosh, you got to be kidding me. Look, you’ll be impressed,” he turns to his door, swings it around and what I see on the other side astounds me further.
Just when I thought Casey couldn’t impress me further...
...there are about twenty different locks and a huge metal bar.
I stand back in awe as Casey shoves the door closed and clicks, turns, spins, and co-ordinates the locks to completely seal the door shut.
It’s basically impenetrable.
“Serge tried to hit it with lightening once,” Casey laughs again as he turns to face me, hands on hips, “It didn’t even creak. They can’t get in. Now, let’s play some video games. I can show you my hacking skills too. Did you know I wiped the Five Reds headquarters last week? That was fun. I have so much to show you!” I continue to stand back, completely speechless as Casey comes forward and takes a seat at a huge comfortable leather gaming chair. He pats a stool beside him, “You going to join me or what, lady?”
I don’t know how I’ve managed to do it so smoothly, without trouble, but I have. Exactly ten hours later, I’m still wearing my lab-made suit, a purple lace masquerade themed mask from the costume room of the Black Lair Clubhouse and dark purple high heels to match.
I even self-braided my hair into two piggy-tails behind me so it’s out of the way of the mask, which sits on my nose with a bit of glue-tac.
Casey helped me find the location of the Excel Theatre after I admitted to him I was invited to a ball to meet a father I never met. Casey was empathetic as he was almost parentless most of his life, living on the street until Dale adopted him five years ago. I failed to explain to Casey that Dale assumed I was born in a lab, that I apparently had no real biological parents and the ones that threw me out of home were just ‘foster’ parents of sorts. But with the limited detail, after I agreed to watch Casey play over twenty different old video games, Casey liked me enough to help me escape the Black Lair without any alarms going off about my departure. He even shut down security cameras for me while I walked out the front door. I assured him I’d be back by the middle of the night anyway and if I wasn’t, then he could tell Dale and the others of my absence.
So, I’m heading down the side-walk an on my lonesome because the location of the Excel Theatre is around the corner from the Black Lair Clubhouse. Casey exhausted me with video games but it provided me with a good place for Dale to leave me alone. Knowing he’d be content with me hiding away with his son, rather than attempting to leave the Lair.
Which is what I was trying to do now, obviously, and they wouldn’t have a clue of my real intentions. The Gang of Shadows was hopefully unaware I had left the premises. At least I assumed so. I avoided contact all day with the Gang of Shadows. Any contact at all was restricted to their many attempts of knocking at Casey’s door and asking what the hell I was doing.
Casey told them to stuff off for a while so he could show me his collection. Eventually, Ace, the main interrogator, left us alone, as he was the one trying so hard with his charming tone, to get me to open the door.
I had simply waited to leave until late, 7.55pm to be precise.
And despite all that drama, now I was free, waltzing towards Excel Theatre for the Masquerade of Neo-Aristocrats – whatever that meant, I had no idea. I was just curious to find out what the whole deal was about this ball.
I have my invitation in hand and I confidently make my way to the front where the line is minimal. Most people seem to be in already. I’m just on time myself.
As I head towards the front, I thankfully blend in with the weird and wacky clothing.
I slowly approach and no one heeds me any attention as I simply hand in my invitation. The security welcomes me as ‘Juliette’ and I make my way into a large, beautifully decorated ball room which was an ex-theatre. Glass pillars are shown as centre pieces with no real use throughout the floor besides being pretty ornaments. Tables are set up around the edges and a podium is set on the stage.
The place is ‘full’ with about twenty or so participants. This is it. It’s a very tiny gathering.
I am one of the last to arrive before the doors are shut by security. I wander along the old-style, square, floor wood tiles and notice instantly the way everyone is interacting; nervous, new. No one was really familiar with whoever else was in the room.
So much for some fancy-named ball that I thought would be full of confident, knowing participants. Eventually, I waltz into the shadows and sneak my way up to the second level which I access through a deserted stair case, in the dark. I decide to watch from the exposed railing of the surrounding second floor to see what goes on from above.
I would be safe up here and I felt like a spy again. I guess I still was one, just for a different side.
My eyes scan for the man with the mirrored mask, but I cannot find one. Twenty or so minutes into the ball, as people relax and eventually join in groups to chat, I get an idea of what this meeting was about.
Misfits; higher class, wealthy misfits. This was not for dumb scum. No, this was for the intelligent and rich men and women of Frankincense City to gather and discuss how to control the government. And that pathetically added up to 23 people present.
There weren’t many rich people in FC. That was clear.
But these people still spoke with posh accents and laughed like they owned the place.
Eventually, as I watch with boredom as caterers serve alcohol and little bites of food, one woman finally makes her way up onto the stage where the podium is.
Now I know things will get interesting.
“Welcome,” the older thin and fit lady coughs into her hand and clasps her hands before her back, sticking her chin up high. Her beady little grey eyes gaze over everyone with an annoying amount of patience. She waits for people step forward and to shut up, so she can continue her speech, “…this is such a pleasure, to meet so many young, new faces of our future. In a city ravaged with a horrid reputation of harbouring freaks, the purpose of the Neo-Aristocrats is to clean up this city. We are not Misfits. Misfits break rules, murder, maim and delight in destroying this city’s future. As Neo-Aristocrats we may be against the vaccines attempting to change our deformations, but we are against crime. We may be against the government. But we are against them controlling us, corrupted by the funds of people who live on the other side of the planet. My name is Cindy Hue and I’m here to welcome you to a night of gathering, please get to know each other. If you feel welcomed and privileged you will all be welcome to join the higher ranks of our organisation. If you do not feel this setting is for you, go home, relax, live life set by the government’s rule. But know that here you don’t have to sit back and waste your life doing nothing to contribute to our future. Here, our aim may not be to save the world… but to save this city. Our home. Ours. Not the Misfits. Not that Gang that runs around here terrorising innocents and encouraging young people to whore around, drink until they are in the gutter, descending into a life of crime. No. This time there is a group of us. Us. And we’re going to change things for the better. The wonderful Five Reds do what they can but even their members go missing and get brutally murdered. James, a strong man, was found murdered last night. Kyle, a man of instant time and space, was also found murdered last night. Katie, went mysteriously missing 6 months ago. The Five Reds is now down to three members. The City is falling apart. We need to patch it back together,” at this point, Cindy receives a round of applause from the small elite crowd. I curiously gaze around and happen to catch a dark movement by the two closed front doors to the Excel Theatre. I watch as a girl – in a black ninja outfit – slips in.
She has evaded the guards and her eyes scan the crowd quickly. Within moments her eyes find me standing up on the second floor, spying from behind a pillar. She points at me, presses a finger to her lips, and shoves a thumb over her shoulder. She does it again. Then she points at me one more time and points away from Cindy and the crowd. The movement in her arm is harsh. She is expressing danger.
I nod, she doesn’t have to explain further.
For some reason, she was asking me to get out. To get out now.
I quickly look around, checking my surroundings on the second floor for danger as the applause continues below me. I don’t see anyone up here with me, only a door nearby slightly ajar.
However, just as I look down to the first floor again, Viola is gone.
I frown, confused, and moments later the front doors are dramatically smashed in. The abruptly harsh noise of shattered glass interrupts the cheering and applause.
Men and women in government uniforms flood the ex-theatre. It looks like a SWAT team.
I am correct as the men and women line the outskirts of the ball, the young to middle aged participates panic and crowd in towards the middle. Cindy is speechless. But anything she’d bother to say next wouldn’t have a lasting impact, anyway.
Because suddenly a massacre happens below me.
The SWAT team shoot every single masquerading participant to the crowd and bullets ricochet off the glass pillars. My eyes frantically search for the mirrored mask again. But no. ‘Louis’ or whoever really sent me that note through Viola was no longer here if they were even here in the first place.
Perhaps he knew this would happen. Perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he was never here. But I wasn’t sure what to believe anymore. Did he want me to die? But, Viola specifically found me and told me to leave just before this happened.
And now, below me, there was a quietly moaning, otherwise silent, blood bath.
And the SWAT team professionally spread out further.
I am still frozen, hiding behind my pillar, unmoving, until I hear footsteps running up the stair case behind me.
I quickly dart aside to the first door I can find; the one that is slightly ajar. When I open it up, and kick it shut behind me, I run forward. I’m in an empty abandoned, cleared-out office of some sort. I lunge for the window and for some reason it’s already wide open. I look out and down to see I’m too far off the ground to jump to the alley way below.
I scan everywhere, scared some extra SWAT personnel will be roaming the perimeter, perhaps looking to execute some stray smokers from the Masquerade.
However, what I do see at the end of the empty alley way, simply poking out from the main road and parked… is the very end of STRIKE.
They knew I was here.
But, where were they?
Clearly not in their parked car.
Behind me, I hear running footfalls outside the door, heading straight past my refuge.
I also hear a gun’s safety switch flick off behind me.
In the room.
I spin, almost stumbling over in my high heels as I come face to face with four familiar smirks. Most of them were trying so hard not to laugh their heads off.
Two partners in crime line each side of the door I had come barging through seconds before.
Dale and Serge to the right, backed up against the wall, guns out. Jose and Ace to the left, same positions, knife in Jose’s hand and sniper resting on Ace’s shoulder.
They all watch me, silently very amused by my dramatic entrance. All their eyes sparkler. I stare back at them, trying not to roll my eyes, but I also make sure to keep quiet.
We all patiently wait for the door to potentially get kicked in.
However, the footfalls only come to pass one more time outside the door. I hear a faint ’all clear’ and then the footfalls sound into the distance. The SWAT team head down towards the first floor, abandoning the second.
“What the hell are you doing here, princess?” Jose asks, shoving his knife into the back of his pants.
“I hope you didn’t pee yourself in that new suit, sweet heart,” Ace pretends to pull at the collar of his suit, nervously “All those bodies that were just skewered through with bullets. What did it look like? Art, I assume.”
“Not art,” I do not smile at his attempt at dark humour, “Were you all spying on me from this room the whole time?”
“What, doll,” Serge nods, “Surprised?”
“Actually, yes, I am,” I lean back on the window, clasping the edges with my palms as I sit my ass down and heave out an exasperated breath, “Although, I’m glad you’re all here now. How did you find me?”
“You know that camera that Jose used to see the girl standing at the lift, kitten?” Dale asks me, raising an arrogant brow, “We used it to read those notes you held up clearly to the ultra-life definition security lens. If I remember precisely, your ‘father’, Louis, expressed worry about you being ‘manipulated’ by us. That had us in fits of laughter, for hours, kitten.”
“But it’s true. You tend to do that,” I snap back, “A lot. No need to deny the manipulation, boss. Also, I think I forgot to thank you for your hospitality this morning, in the sexlounge. Thanks for attempting to murder me. I appreciate it.”
“We told you why we had to do it,” Ace complains, rolling his eyes, “Your alive, so relax.”
“You know, I might not be rich but I agreed with a lot of what that Cindy lady said out there,” I snarl, standing back up, I point my finger at all of them, “What do you lot do? Shespoke of improving the city. You speak of skewering people through with bullets as if it’s art,” I raise my brow at Ace then focus on Jose, “You’re smirking right now, dickface, really? And you,” I turn to Serge but he raises a finger, which regrettably has my lips sealing shut instantly.
I didn’t want to get shocked. And he was warning me with a tilt to his head and a slow spreading, fierce scowl.
“Shut it, doll, I think I’ve heard enough of your baby whining complaints. You know nothing and we haven’t received any appreciation for our effort to come up here to save your sweet ass. Or should I say our sweet ass? You were made for us, doll,” his famous scowl slowly turns into his famous smirk. I do not respond straight away and Serge grins while Dale doesn’t break his unblinking predator gaze from me. He loved to see me squirm in front of the others. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of watching me flinch, even as Serge adds, “Mmm, yes. This newfound silence is much better, Alyssa.”
His continued arrogance causes something to flick on inside of me.
“No,” I shake my head, lowering my tone, “I’m not made for you. You’re all made for me. So, let me show you my appreciation... lightening,” I use my best sultry tone and grab my mask, ripping it off and throwing it to the ground as I approach him, stalking my way forward as smoothly as possible in my deadly high heels.
Literally every man in the room shuts his mouth as I stop, once I am flush against Serge. I grab his shirt, my nails piercing through as I bring myself up and press my lips to his. Not a peck, but a nice, deep, slow kiss that they can all watch. I’m hoping Sergy-boy opens his mouth to mine.
I smile my lips against his, while feeling the deafening silence around me. As soon as Serge has happily joined in, I make sure to grab his lower lip between my teeth and nip down, hard, with my sharpest canine.
As soon as I taste blood I let go and take a large step back, watching a trickle of blood run down his chin.
“Do you feel appreciated?” I ask, wiping a hand over my mouth, “I just gave you my first kiss, Serge,” from Serge’s darkened eyes, I glance at Dale because I can feel him watching me. He had been assessing me the whole time. Now, he simply chooses to remain expressionless.
But I can still see the truth in his eyes. A bit of jealousy, but also pride in my confidence. He was probably turned on and also amused while angry… not knowing exactly why he is so conflicted… but this is all just in his eyes, while his other expressions were just neutral.
Yeah, Dale was complicated, to say the least.
But I knew how to read him, regardless.
“Sweet goddess of hell,” Ace sighs, impressed, “You’re un-assumedly a dangerous woman, aren’t you, kitten?”
“Thank you, Ace. Are we going now or not, ladies?” I ask, turning from them, I grab the knob of the door to open it and Jose reaches over for my wrist, clasping it tight instantly.
“What are you doing, doll?” he asks me, in a whisper, “They’ll still be cleaning up bodies out there,” I narrow my eyes at Jose and jerk my wrist out of his hold.
I ignore him and slowly turn my head to Serge, raising my brows.
“Serge, the government soldiers, shock them, all of them. We’re walking out through the front. Does anyone have an issue with that?” I ask, taking a few steps back to glance over all of them including a curious and very bemused Dale. I suppose he might have been angry by my attempt at authority over his group. Instead, he lets me have the floor, this one time. I meet his gaze and I smile. Once they are all seriously considering my suggestion I walk forward, grab the knob again and turn it, “We walk out the front, okay? They wanted to show these money-driven, asset-rich Misfits who makes the rules around here. So, let’s show them who really rules this city.”
I open the door, and look back at my beasts. They all eventually jerk forward, about to follow, but they halt and glance at their megalomaniac boss; Dale. They await his approval.
“You heard our sweet pea,” Dale growls low, appreciatively. He raises a brow at me in turn, “Let’s move,” Dale encourages them to go and I smirk. My one freely given kiss and passionate speech has them willingly accepting my plan. I stand to the side as they all happily walk out of the room. Dale is last and I assume he’ll continue to follow their progress, but I forget too easily exactly who I’m dealing with.
Dale casually snakes out a hand behind me as he passes. He grabs one of my piggy-tails and tugs me along harshly with him so I not-so-gracefully stumble forth to keep close to his side as he moves along, “Kitten, you’re with me. I’m growing to like you... quite a bit, cutie,” he narrows his eyes at me as I glare up at him for tugging on my hair.
But, irritatingly, my heart has jumped and spiked at his new endearment.
So, I try to distract myself and focus on what will happen next; walking through a soon-to-be electrocuted SWAT team… murdered Neo-Aristocrats… and then strolling out through the now non-existent front doors of the ruined Excel Theatre of a clearly, very divided, Frankincense City.