The Damned | Chapter 6 of 7 - Part: 1 of 17

Author: L.A. Banks | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2176 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

Sleep was fitful, and the hours leading up to, and during, the long flight to China were uneventful.

From her perspective, she and Carlos seemed to be cloaked in a surreal, platonic dishonesty that shrouded their relationship. Carlos either knew what she had been alluding to every time she vaguely attempted to find out what was going on with him, or he didn't. She didn't bother to clarify. There seemed to be no point in that. His responses to her were civil, absurdly warm and brotherly in affection, but there wasn't the spark that had once ignited them as a couple. She didn't bother to attempt to stoke those dead embers. He didn't ask any questions; she didn't ask any questions. He'd stayed on his side of the bed; she'd stayed on her side of the bed. She and Jose kept careful distance, just like Krissy and Dan seemed to. Marlene had prepared her for a lot of things, but not this.

Damali kept her gaze dispassionately fixed on the clouds. They'd literally be flying into the future, or the next day, as the case may be, since Tibet was, oddly, thirteen hours ahead of U.S. time. That number stuck in her mind, whittling at it, as she made her peace with another one of Marlene's wild travel routes.

They'd had choices and all of them seemed unacceptable, now, as she sat on the interminable flight. They could have flown into Indore, India, a thirty-four-hour travesty of time, with stops in Frankfurt, Germany, changing planes in Bombay. Then they would have had to endure a ninety-four-mile bumpy drive to Nepal, where it would take days to cross by minivan into what was now called the Tibetan Autonomous Region by the Chinese government—a place that was hardly autonomous, under martial law, and where the culture of the native inhabitants had been suppressed with sheer butchery and terror.

Or, they could do it the so-called easier way, by taking the sixteen-and-a-half-hour-flight to Beijing, and from there take another five and a half hours to get to Tibet's capital city, Lhasa. She just wondered why she and her team always had to do things the hard way. Obviously, there was no such phenomenon called easy. But easy was relative, as was hard. Flying into Beijing was nothing compared to what they had to do once they got to the Himalayas.

To her mind, it all seemed crazy, no matter what Monk Lin had said about the spiritual prowess of the region. If demon madness had come to the surface, there, they were screwed. At least she knew her way around an urban firefight. But in some mountain—nah. Not her environment, and a sister wasn't down with snow.

The only saving grace was that in the one-day wait to get a flight and health checks, the team's elders had found, of all things, an old Beverly Hills mansion to convert. Marlene had slapped a ridiculous deposit down on faith, and walked. It had to be divine intervention, because that helped to keep everyone talking about safe subjects, like retrofitting the new location into what they'd need to survive in the future… which oddly kept everyone half believing there might be one.

All she hoped was that when they returned from this odyssey, things would be as close to normal as their lives would ever be. Damali stifled a sigh. She could deal with rickety, diesel-leaking buses that smoked, flatbed lorries to carry her team as far as there were passable roads into the mountains, and even going by yak mounts or horseback up into the Himalayas to find Nirvana, if need be, to stop this insanity from spreading.

She counted every blessing presented that could make the mission easier. First, she knew she should be thankful that it wasn't winter over there, when temperatures plummeted to minus ten degrees, or the rainy monsoon season of summer when the permafrost ground couldn't absorb the torrents, and whole villages were known to be swept away in floods and mudslides.

But they would still have to deal with exploration at severe altitudes of eleven thousand feet or more above sea level, which would offer nasty results on the human body, everything from shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and chest pains, to nausea. She didn't even want to think about feeling ill while trying to divine the mysteries of the universe to find the antidote and kicking ass. But she couldn't worry about it, because failure was not an acceptable outcome. Puhlease!

 

Carlos just kept his gaze fixed on the sky. He hadn't bothered to question the intimate details of Marlene's route decisions for this journey. Everything that he could remember from his experiences with Damali's family told him that the reason would be revealed in due time. So, he'd made his peace with this crazy adventure. Actually, he'd embraced it, because something way down in his gut rang out as truth as he sleepily stared out the window. The bottom line was, they had to close the portals.

He'd never been to China in his life; had never imagined that he'd go there under these conditions. One thing was for sure, a change of venue, even if it was to go to war, couldn't hurt. The hotel room felt like a prison cell, especially with Damali barely speaking to him, and when she did it was always a curt snap. Carlos glimpsed her from the corner of his eye as she slept beside him. It was as though everything he said, everything he did, got on her nerves, but he wasn't sure why.

Were it not for the guys on the team, he would have lost it and said something to her that couldn't be taken back, and where would that leave them? Maybe once the team returned Stateside and settled into a new compound, things would be right again. Probably once he had his own spot and she had hers, they'd chill, the vibe would even out, and everything would be cool again. But he felt strangely unsettled, beyond prebattle jitters… like there were things that had gone down that he just couldn't remember.

Bored with the long flight and ready to just get the mission started and over with, Carlos stood and went to sit near Rider, who was always good for a card game. He had to keep moving, do something to pass the time, other than sleep—which, oddly, offered no peace. Fleeting nightmares made peace in slumber next to impossible. Weird images always accosted his mind and dragged it down to places he didn't want to remember. But they'd all told him that would pass with time. Whatever.

Carlos plopped down next to Rider and smiled, brandishing a well-worn deck of cards. He was glad the flight wasn't packed so people could stretch out. It was funny how he'd come to appreciate the smallest of good fortune.

"Hey," Carlos said, beginning to fan the deck as he sat. "You up for a little mental diversion?"

Rider stretched and yawned. "Yeah, dude. After the last series of flights, I'm not particularly sleeping too good in the air."

They both smiled.

"I feel you," Carlos said, keeping his voice low enough so he wouldn't wake the others. "Guess old habits die hard."

"Yeah," Rider said, accepting cards from Carlos as he dealt them onto the seat tray, "this whole extravaganza gives a new meaning to cold turkey." Rider arranged his cards. "It's gonna be cold as shit when we go up into the mountains, and if you ask me, we're turkeys for seeking some lair when we don't even know exactly what we're looking for."

"Word," Carlos muttered, turning over the first card to start their game. "I got a few issues with this plan, brother. Like, before, we knew what we're dealing with, or at least what we were looking for. I ain't got a clue of what our target's lair looks like topside. I know it's gotta be rigged with every possible booby trap known—and our team will be way out of our element on the mountainside. Feel me?"

Rider nodded and threw out a card on the tray. "Something about all this just isn't sitting right with me, either." He looked up at Carlos. "Like… I'm worried about Tara."

Carlos didn't throw out another card, but held off his move, studying Rider's expression. It wasn't like Rider even to mention Tara's name, much less admit that he was concerned about her. In fact, to his recollection, it was the first time he'd really said anything at all about her since Philly.

"She's probably all right," Carlos said after a moment, and then selected a different card and put it down on the tray easy.

Rider folded his fan of cards and sent his gaze out the window. "It's not like her to not send a sign that she's around," Rider said quietly. "Yeah, we broke up. All right. I've come to terms with that. But even still, while in Arizona, she'd send me little messages to let me know she was okay. A hint of lavender on an evening breeze, or she might pop into my head in a dream and be gone. I'd just feel better if I knew that she knew we'll be over here."

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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