Have you read Meg Mitchell & The Secret of the Journal yet? If so, we have a special treat for you today! A BONUS CHAPTER!
Enjoy this fun little romp from the perspective of Meg Mitchell’s adoptive mother, Velanna Ittai!
Velanna Ittai sat on her park bench at the center of Boeddeker Park in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, the last desperate rays of the setting sun long since lost to the turn of the Earth. The busy sounds of the city faded to a roar less dull, but the city didn’t sleep.
How could any living thing sleep in a city so large and so loud?
She folded her hands in her lap and shut her eyes.
A personal bias was likely, as it many centuries had passed since she’d last spent time in a city at all. For 300 years, she and Tolan had lived among the Josharons in Rainbow Valley. Before that, the Great War had consumed the Andarian continent. Before that?
Before that no longer mattered.
Even so, though her memories of Celtica were far distant and deeply buried, she did not recall a noise level to match San Francisco. And she was certain she had never seen so many neon lights in such a small area in all her many centuries.
From the angle of the moon overhead, it was late. No sign of Daniel or Jennifer. No word from Margaret or from the strange Terran, Barbara Taylor, who had taken Margaret away.
Great Creator, keep Margaret alert. She bowed her head, the soft fabric of her hijab brushing against her ears. I fear she will trust too quickly.
Barbara Taylor would help, yes, but her motivations for doing so were suspect. Would she continue to help if Margaret were to reveal the truth?
Velanna’s tongue adhered to the roof of her mouth, dry and thick.
Dehydrated. She frowned.
But then, they had not intended to stay long. A quick journey to Terran. That was all this trip had been meant to be.
“The best laid plans of mice and men,” she mumbled under her voice as she stood and brushed off her tunic.
There was no point in remaining still while suffering dehydration, but seeking water to drink could potentially prove catastrophic if she were forced to reveal herself. And with all the quirks and eccentricities of cultural interactions between Terrans, exposure, or at least suspicion, was all but inevitable.
Suspicion alone never killed anyone, though. Dehydration rated much higher a direct danger.
Carefully, but without reluctance, Velanna walked out of Boeddeker Park, following the riotous streams of neon light that lined the downtown structures.
Men on the other side of the street whistled at her and waved. A woman in a short skirt and tight blouse stood in an alley Velanna passed, and the woman glared at her with a crooked snarl.
The air smelled of smoke and salt, murky as the foul water in alleyway puddles. The white streetlights didn’t illuminate much of the street, leaving such duties to the riot of neon that marked bars and clubs along the street.
Velanna didn’t stop to speak to anyone who shouted at her. Nor did she stop to speak to the shadowed women lurking in the alleyways.
She followed the sidewalk to the next intersection and paused to narrow her eyes at an old brick building on the corner. Leo’s Bar, the largest neon sign proclaimed in violent bursts of purple and yellow. Loud music blared from inside, a mix of trumpets, drums, guitars, and warbling vocals.
A cluster of men and women huddled outside the doors, all laughing and drinking from brown glass bottles.
Undoubtedly a bastion of culture and sophistication. She resisted the urge to sneer.
She glanced over her shoulder. She could keep walking, but the farther away from the park she ventured, the less easily she could find her way back to it. Leo’s Bar could provide a glass of water for her, and she could walk back to the park without more than fifteen minutes expiring.
Logically, this is the wisest course of action. She scowled. Assuming this facility can provide water that does not contain parasites.
Velanna started toward Leo’s Bar and braced herself for what she would find inside.
The walls inside were the color of overripe cherries, and a counter of industrial steel separated the bar from the rest of the long, narrow room. Bar patrons lined the counter and leaned over the high-top tables at the far end, and half of them turned to stare at her as she stepped into view.
A viewing screen the size of the wall featured news headlines from the day.
Haze filled the room from floor to ceiling, and the loud warbling music shook the walls. Bright-colored bottles of alcohol lined the shelves on the wall behind the barkeeper, where he bustled from one end of the counter to the other, filling drink orders and making conversation.
The air inside tasted stale, and the customers all smelled of grease, smoke, and unwashed bodies. Bile rose at the back of her throat.
Yes, indeed. Parasites are highly likely.
“Hey, lady.” A man from the bar spun on his stool and smirked at her.
“You’re a looker.” He shook his tumbler at her, ice inside clinking. “Want to get out of here?”
She arched an eyebrow at him. “I have just arrived. Why would I desire to leave?” She brushed past him and his confused expression.
Hissing murmurs echoed around her as she stepped up to the counter. The barkeeper paused in front of her, muscular arms an intricate latticework of implanted ink in the shapes of chains, skulls, and female figures.
“What do you want?” the man gaped at her, his mouth missing teeth and his deep-set eyes beady.
Velanna did not touch the counter. “Does this establishment serve water?”
The barkeeper snorted. “Yeah.” He set down the glass he’d been cleaning with a grimy rag. “But not to towel heads like you.”
Snickers and bursts of laughter rippled up and down the counter from the men who leaned in to listen.
Towel head? She scowled. Undoubtedly some form of the vernacular intended to be offensive.
Terrans were all the same.
Velanna offered a smile and bowed her head. “I fail to understand what I have done to merit your disfavor, sir.”
The man made a simple gesture to the clothing she wore.
“You are opposed to clothing, sir?”
Velanna blinked. Another unfamiliar term. “I am not.” She fought the urge to roll her eyes. I assume I am not. But it is highly unlikely that either term a descriptor for an interdimensional traveler.
The men up and down the counter jeered.
The barkeeper pointed at her. “You look it.”
She blinked again. “Then—I offer my apologies.”
It was the man’s turn to look surprised. His lip wrinkled, and he scratched his balding head. “What do you want?”
“I would like a glass of water.” Velanna bowed her head again. Perhaps I should ask for one without parasites.
“Might be too expensive for you, little lady.” He reached for a clean glass.
“I have no currency and no means of procuring it.”
“I have no money.”
“Join the club.”
“There is a club for those without financial means?”
The man sagged. “Never mind.” He filled the glass with water from the faucet and set it on the counter. “Drink up. And get out.”
“My thanks, sir.” Velanna drank the water and was surprised to find it cool and clean. She set the glass down on the counter and smiled at the man. “I wish you a pleasant evening.”
She bowed her head again and walked back through the doors into the neon-lit night.
Boeddeker Park would only be a few steps away. If she were fortunate, the water would last her through the rest of the evening and into the morning. By the new sun, she could return to Leo’s Bar or one of the other establishments to request another drink.
Boeddeker Park had just come into view when a sharp-pitched whistle shattered the night air. She paused and turned around. Five men slinked toward her out of the shadows, backlit by the storm of neon in the distance.
This would not end well.
The lead man approached her with a scowl twisting his face. He was bald, his arms, face, and neck coated in ink designs, much like the barkeeper but more extensive. His clothing hung loosely off his lithe, muscled frame, and his dark eyes sparkled dangerously.
The man spoke to her in a language she did not know. Fast and florid, fraught with violent gestures, it flowed off the man’s tongue like silk.
His four companions passed him to surround her in the darkness. They all had knives. Several carried Terran firearms tucked into their waistbands.
She faced the leader. “Forgive me.” She bowed her head. “I do not speak your language.”
The man surged forward and grabbed her arm, jerking her toward him with strength she hadn’t expected him to have. The force rocked her balance, and she stumbled. Clutching her wrist, he kept shouting in her face.
Velanna schooled her expression into a neutral mask. A great feat, especially considering the foulness of the man’s breath.
His wiry fingers bruised her skin. He flapped his free arm at his companions and pulled a knife from his pocket, waving it in her face.
“Young man,” Velanna said quietly, “if it is your intention to harm me, I suggest you think twice.”
The man spit in her face.
“We will not harm you,” he sneered. “We will kill you.”
“Ah. You do understand then.” Velanna arched one eyebrow at him with a smile. “Very well.”
The man reared back to stab her, and Velanna broke out of his grasp in a single motion. A single upthrust of her palm was enough to shatter his nose, a second strike to the side of his face sent him tumbling end over end.
His four companions erupted in rage and lunged for her.
Boorish. Brutish. Useless. Their only advantage was their number, but even that became a weakness as they did not move as one.
A strike to the neck. A strike to the chest. A strike to an arm. To a leg. To the ribs. She didn’t even need to kick. Barely needed to evade.
The open-palm technique of a first-level vidyarthi were sufficient to leave the four men on the ground groaning in agony.
Even Margaret at her worst was never so inept. Velanna straightened her hijab and turned in a circle.
Only the leader was even still conscious. He lay on his back, clutching his bleeding face and wailing in agony. His companions were sprawled around him in various configurations.
Velanna bowed to them. “My deepest apologies.” She nodded. “I fear you left me no choice.” She allowed herself to smirk. “But I am certain your fine nose will straighten with time.”
“Freeze!” A man’s voice shook the air, followed by the cocking of a Terran firearm.
Slowly, Velanna gazed over her shoulder. A man in a black uniform aimed a Terran firearm at her. “You!” He gestured at her with the gun. “Step away.”
Velanna bowed her head and stepped out of the circle of men.
A police officer. She sighed. This will complicate matters. “Good evening, sir.”
“Quiet.” The officer gestured her toward him with his gun. “You keep quiet until we get this sorted out, and then you’re coming to the station with me.” He shook his head. “You’ve got a lot to explain, lady.”