A sign at the entry to her apartment creaked with a gathering breeze. Annie LaMandu looked back over her shoulder. Someone stood in the darkened doorway watching. Across the quiet thoroughfare to the display of a second hand jewelry store, she crossed to get a better look. Whoever was there blended with the protecting shadows. She sensed the presence more than saw it.
Annie walked faster. She’d stayed late finishing up the last day of work. Not sure why she cared, they had terminated her without consideration. Oh well, I wanted to go home anyway. Home. Strange word. I don’t belong there anymore than I belong here.
A tapping close behind made her jump. Almost at the entrance to the only multi-level building in the neighborhood, a hand grabbed her elbow. She jerked away. The scream stuck in her throat.
“Ssshhh.” A sharp hiss warned. “Quiet,” a husky male voice pleaded.
She looked closer, but dark skin blended into the shadows.
“I have something for you.”
No threat in the sound, Annie still pulled away. “I don’t want it.” Panic built. The urge to run, to get away, grew.
He held tight. “I wish you had a choice.” He turned her around to face him. A dim street lamp reflected the terror on the face she could now see. “It is your destiny.” His laugh, a haunted sound, blended with soft music that floated down from an apartment higher in the building.
Annie jerked her arm. A long strand of her hair caught in the clasp of his cloak. When she pushed against him, ready to run, her hand pressed against something wet and sticky.
“You’re hurt,” she gasped.
“I’m dying.” His reply held a strange nonchalant acceptance. “Before long you may wish to change places with me.” He slipped to his knees and pulled her down to face him. He released her. “This is yours.”
She felt a cold piece of metal press into her hand.
“You. Must.” His voice came in spurts. The effort to breathe took precedence. “Gather a few belongs. Get away.” He fell forward. With great effort he rolled onto his back to look up at her. “They’re coming. Leave. Now.”
Annie started to stand, but he pulled her back.
“Look for the image on the coin.” The sound of his breathing faded.
She stood and moved into the shadows.
“Where is he?” A dark form moved through the air, not seeming to touch the ground.
Annie felt something evil brush against her as it settled over the corpse. She held still, fearing whatever it was would notice her. It did not. Instead it moved into the form on the ground. The material that covered the body rippled . Vomit grew in her throat.
“I found him.” A long flat head twisted up, weaving back and forth.
“Where are you?” A hissing voice sounded from behind Annie. “I said, where are you?” It grew louder. A snaky outline slithered toward the two forms. “Ah, there you are. You found him, but did you find it?” The first figure extended up from the body.
Annie backed away. She bumped against a solid surface. The showcase transparency of the jewelry store popped at the pressure. An alarm sounded.
The coiled creature turned toward her, then back. “Does he still have it?”
A slimy consciousness pressed against her temple. “Who are you?” it asked.
“No… nobody.” Annie moved back. A bright light entered the street, speeding to their location. She crossed the road before the security glider pulled to a stop. The strong beam illuminated the surrounding area.
She gasped. The body with the two others had disappeared.
“What happened?” A sharp voice broke through Annie’s shock. “Who set off the alarm?”
A crowd gathered from various doorways. They gave Annie a cocoon of protection from searching eyes.
No one answered.
“Nothing new here.” A second security officer, more petite than the first, removed her protective head gear.
“Hey, Stellat, check out the crowd over there,” a dark haired humanoid stepped from the glider. Multiple stripes on the sleeves of his uniform confirmed his authority.
“Yes, sir.” Stellat moved to obey. The single round eye that occupied most of her oval face rolled, emitting a sharp crystal green beam that fanned over everyone. It stopped on a tall purple shape that stood less than an arm’s length from Annie. “What have we here?”
The being melted into the crowd. Those around, including Annie, backed away. A gurgling sound led those close to turn their attention to the now moving puddle.
“Oh no you don’t.” Both officers joined in the pursuit. The female pulled a weapon from a holster that hung from strong, bony hips. She stopped, took aim and, pop, a sparkling net flew to a point just beyond the fast moving liquid. It formed a barrier against its escape.
“I didn’t do anything.” A whimper came from the captive as it returned to its solid state.
“Yeah, that’s what you always say,” Stellat scoffed and pulled the sparkling web tighter. “You’ll have time to think about it back at the station.” She guided him to the glider.
The other officer held the entry open for the two to enter. “Clear out and go back to what you were doing.” He turned back to the crowd. “Nothing more to see here,” he added with condescending authority.
The crowd dispersed. When the glider moved away, the shadows returned, softer. Dim area lighting, mixed with silence, brought back an eerie gloom.
Annie wasn’t sure what happened before, but she knew she wanted nothing to do with it. She remembered the metal she felt pressed into her hand. “I’ll just leave it on the ledge or something. Let someone else find and deal with it,” she whispered. A pang of fear spread through her. I didn’t ask for it.
In the excitement, she had put her hands into the pockets of her tight fitting slacks. She dug into the flexible material, searching. Nothing. Someone had taken it in all the excitement, or at least she wanted to believe they had. Maybe it wasn’t my destiny after all. The thought brought relief. She moved to the entry of her apartment building. Before she went in, she stopped and looked back at the street.
Did that shadow move? She shivered. I’ve got to get out of here. At least I’ll do one thing I was told to do. I’ll leave now. Nothing for me here, anyway. She crossed the threshold. A solid door slammed behind her. The sound brought the sense of security she needed.
Annie waited at the spaceport transfer station. The flight would carry her first to the outer stars of the Milky Way. From there she would go directly home, to Earth. She sat back to watch the flow of beings moving to their designated gates of departure.
Unique and interesting, the variety in this sector had always intrigued her. Most wore coverings that masked their differences. Where had they come from? How had their home cultures and climates influenced their evolution?
Relaxed, warmth spread through Annie. With a start, she realized it was not from any sense of comfort. On her right thigh heat spread out.
“What?” She stood and reached into her pocket. Her fingers wrapped around something metallic. She pulled it out. A coin with an intricate design rested in her palm. The side she stared at held an outer ring with various shapes and forms. From there diminishing characters drew her eyes, with a spiral, to the center.
“You cannot escape your destiny.” A voice echoed from the coin.
Annie tried to throw it, but it remained stuck to her hand. A force pulled her to her feet. She moved out through the terminal. Even though she tried, she could not call for help. Silence surrounded her.
A warm spirit guided her along a narrow hallway. Fear not, the thought sought to calm her.
She drew no comfort from it. Down two long flights of stairs it continued to pull her. At the bottom a transport waited. Annie entered against her will. The sound of engines already humming to life grew stronger. A sudden motion pushed her into the single seat. Restraining straps snapped around her, keeping her in place.
Annie’s destiny had come to claim her.