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Symbiotica - Dystopia (Ultimate Edition)

The Second Book in the Arbiter's Journey Saga

and the prelude to The Dystopian Detective Series

Second Extended Edition

Copyright 2017/ 2018 Alexander Nassau

Published by Alexander Nassau at Smashwords

ISBN: 9781370951116

"For Jenn.

I know you have the attention span of a flea and bore so easily with people, but nearly a decade ago this wonderful crazy German came in to my life. You made me laugh, you always surprised me and no matter how fickle your attention span is, you always came back to say hi. I found a friend that day and one who still means the world to me."

All characters and names in this book are fictional and have no relevance to any real world individuals either living or deceased.

Please Note: This book was previously book 7.
Due to changes in the first five books becoming a trilogy, the numbers have been reordered. Also note that this book has been significantly reworked to create the Ultimate Series.
If you already own this book you can download a fresh copy for free from your retailer.

See More from the Author on my Blog

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents



Chapter One - Sunshine and Showers

Chapter Two - Lost Friends

Chapter Three - Bad Movie

Chapter Four - American Nightmare

Chapter Five - Dark Games

Chapter Six - Contentions and Concerns

Chapter Seven - Cards on the Table

Chapter Eight - Serve and Protect

Chapter Nine - Showdown

Chapter Ten - The Long Road

Chapter Eleven - Another Fine Mess

Chapter Twelve - Dystopia


Preview of The Dystopian Detective

More Books from the Author

Proteus Unhinged - Sight Seeing (Mini Story)

Authors Retrospective - New Beginnings

About the Author


This is a story that needs a little background before you can start to understand it.

Realistically it should only begin roughly two years ago, but its roots lie back in the mists of time, over three hundred years before on a world far from here.

That world was Alphius Prime, a world not that dissimilar from Earth really, but there were some differences. The biggest one was that the dominant intelligent life there was not of a singular mind, but that of a partnership between two species, a host and a symbiote. Now I could explain how this partnership worked and about the history that led to this union between these two races, but suffice to say it was a fair and peaceful relationship that saw their world over thousands of years turned in to a Utopia.

Right up to the terrible moment they discovered their sun was on the verge of collapsing which would lead to all life being extinguished. As you can imagine that bit came as a nasty surprise.

Still, with time against them they all pulled together, created a fleet of living ships to carry their population to safety and to find a new world they could call home. To everyone's deep surprise they actually succeeded and with only days left, the fleet was nearly ready to depart.

Right up to the moment the planet closest to the sun was torn apart by tidal forces from their star which led to the sun collapsing ahead of time. Maybe you are starting to see a pattern here.

Of the five ships create only the smallest escaped, a ship called Koli which had only ten bonded individuals onboard. Those individuals never gave up hope, but everything was against them. They searched the stars, found a new world they called Beletrix and started the process of building a new home for their people in the hope that someone survived, but as the years passed their people never came. In the end they went back to the stars as their need grew desperate.

The symbiotes lives were long, thousands of years but their hosts were a different story. Even with their healing abilities, they could only live for five hundred years at the most and for some, time had already run out as they found themselves alone and resigned to synthetic life giving bodies.

With things at their darkest and their lives almost over, their quirky ship, Koli did something naughty. Using the last of her energy, she jumped them to a small world on one of the galaxy's spiral arms where they found what they had searched for. A race of creatures not only capable of accepting them, but also within their population a small number who had the telepathic gift they required to survive.

The survivors with the last of the energy almost gone travelled down to this new world in hope that the humans they had chosen would accept them and that is where this story, on Earth at least, starts.

Kind of depressing in a way, but don't worry, things get better.

It didn't take long for them to track each other down, reunite and much to their surprise their ship survived and was brought down to their new home, a facility called the Foundry. Thanks to a little bit of forward planning, these Vu'kno as they called themselves had ensured their human hosts quality of life, selling technological advances to a dozen companies globally, giving them more money than they knew what to do with, but as the last two survivors came home, they came with a message from Alphius Prime, sent three hundred years before. The message was a distress call from Terrik, the flagship of their fleet. They had beyond reason survived and were stranded in their home star system, most of their crew having been put in to stasis.

Finally knowing there were survivors they mounted a desperate rescue mission back to their home world where they found Terrik heavily damaged with over three hundred survivors on board. Using some pretty mind blowing technology, they got the survivors back to Earth and to a new facility they had created on an abandoned Island in the Caribbean, a place called Myra Island. There were tragic costs to their actions though but overall they were proud of what they had achieved. With the help of the United Nations, they rehomed their people, but things never go that easily.

With the cat out of the bag, and an alien species with mind bending technology, some governments around the world started playing shadow games, trying to steal their technology for their own sinister ends. They put up with it for a time, but eventually they could not ignore these incursions and a plan was made to return to the world Koli's crew had settled on for a time, the world called Beletrix.

However as the dust settled after Alphius Prime mission Koli revealed a secret that changed everything. Although they had assumed all their ships had been destroyed by the plasma storm, it seemed one of their Titan class ships may have escaped, a ship holding a third of their population, over twelve thousand souls aboard however they had no idea where this lost ship could be, even if they survived.

With pirates raiding their home world, Koli in critical condition following her rescue efforts and Terrik now resigned to an avatar body, the survivors realise that they needed to form a plan, one which would see Koli restored to heath and able to reach for the stars once more, but also to give Terrik a new body and a new life. They got a little more than they expected though in the wonderful and unexpected miracle they named Lunar, Terrik's twin sister. They returned to Beletrix and started to relocate their people and also defend their former home world from these pirate and everything was progressing as expected.

Then out of the blue a brand new Proteus ship arrives on Earth they realised to their surprise that survivors from the lost Titan class ship had found their way home. Further to their surprise this new ship, Saya was the first naturally born member of the Proteus family and they were begging for their help to cure a plague that had afflicted their people and rescue them from the world they had settled on.

Cutting that very long story short, they succeeded, curing the plague and relocating the survivors to the great city of Verlon on Beletrix. With thousands of survivors now restoring their civilisation, things were not so bleak as they start the long process of rebuilding their world.

Which only left what was still happening on Earth.

Earth for those who had taken human hosts was their home and while there had been tension, they could not deny that humanity had a lot to offer them, so roughly forty survivors bonded to their human partners remained here along with Koli, the eldest of the Proteus ships, who had adopted Earth as her home.

With Beletrix and Earth having a vibrant trade, these alien are living amongst us, unseen by most.

And I suppose that is the story so far, but things on Earth aren't perfect and they change all the time. One political change has our friends worried though and sometimes you need a change of scenery, even if Northern California is quite lovely.


She hated flying, even if it was first class. Looking out of the window to the featureless dark clouds below her, it had been the longest ten hours of her life, but somewhere under that grey murk that always seemed to shroud her country was her home. She should have been happy to be finally coming back to the place so familiar to her, but she could not find the joy and all she could do was wonder where she had gone wrong.

Around her she could feel the minds of the other passengers pushing in on her like a relentless wall. It was probably one of the few times since she had bonded with Shomis that she had been thankful to lose her telepathic abilities and not have the incessant hum of other peoples random thoughts in her mind.

It had been nearly two years since Shomis had come in to her life, her strange alien symbiotic partner who had changed her world forever. Before Shomis she had been a loner, working in a strip club earning a living and doing what she needed to do to survive. It could have been said her life was going nowhere. After all the studying she had done, learning professional dance and performing arts at University the best she could find was entertaining business men and over eager kids as she sold her fantasy to them. For them it was exotic and sensual but for her, it was nothing more than a job. That said it was a little more, the other staff at the club family to her and for some of them that went deeper.

Then one fateful night, walking home from the club she had met someone strange who had changed her life, turning it inside out. She had listened until the sun came up as this stranger told her of her life and offered her the chance for a new world, a new direction that would quite literately be out of this world. She had agreed to accept Shomis even considering all the potential draw backs.

Shomis was unique amongst her kind, although not in a good way. When she was younger she had contracted a virus, almost always fatal for her kind. Faced with a death sentence, Shomis and her friends worked toward finding a mythical cure for her condition and the truth of this cure had its own cost. Rather than fight the virus, she had accepted it, made it part of herself and had survived but the cost of her survival was grave. Making the virus part of her own biology had left her living life as a fluid creature, her hosts also suffered the same fate.

She had with practice learnt to control the disease consciously and as a result she had gained abilities that surpassed any of her friends, capable of changing her form in the most unnatural ways. There was however a stigma attached to Shomis and now herself. Many of her own kind saw Shomis's abilities as unclean and diseased, even if she wasn't. She had lived her life on Alphius Prime shunned by her own kind, dealing with the prejudice from those around her.

Even after Alphius Prime's end, she still had to suffer the indignity as they searched the stars, and while those onboard accepted her, they still kept her at arm's length. That was until they got to Earth and she accepted Shomis in to her life.

It was difficult at first. The idea of becoming a shape shifter was most appealing, but the truth was most of the time it was a hindrance. How could you possibly curl up in bed and sleep when your body reverted to a liquid state as you slumbered? Most people simply woke up with a bad hair day, but she woke up quite literately all over the place.

She had learnt to control it with her partners help and for a time they had been happy. Part of the gift of bonding with her had been the unexpected money she had come in to. Her alien benefactors had procured quite the sack of cash to ensure their hosts were well cared for and had what they needed to survive. She had bought her parents a new house, given them everything they could have possibly needed. While she didn't have to work, she continued her job working in the strip club, safe in the place she had known since University.

Then one fateful day, she came in to the club, that crazy German who changed her life again.

Sabine had bonded with Tirania, someone Shomis did not like, but she had come begging for her help, the grave news that the whole group needed to know. She had found there had been survivors of the disaster on their home world, a desperate plea for help from the darkness.

She hadn't thought twice and they set out on an adventure that took them all over the world searching for their friends. However during their time together, to both of their surprise they grew close, so close in fact that by the time their adventure came to an end, they were lovers. Those were happy days for her. She had never been this close to anyone before in her life and she loved her. Even Tirania had let go of her mistrust and prejudice and fallen for Shomis.

Then came Myra Island, the new home for the survivors of Alphius Prime and they had both worked like maniacs to prepare and when it was all over, they had both kept busy and happy, but after that mission's success came news that shocked both of them. Koli had learnt that one of the Titan's escaped the end of Alphius Prime with over twelve thousand of their kind on board, a third of their race and they were out there, somewhere.

For them this news was a shock and they secretly worked together to try and find their lost family. Stuck in this little bubble, they were happy though, right up to the day reality sank back in.

A new and unusual ship arrived on Earth bringing old friends and lost family. Saya's arrival on Myra had brought the wonderful and troubling news of the survivors of Alphius Prime lost on a hellish world and was it at that moment her bubble burst.

They returned to Beletrix, the home world Shomis and the crew of Koli had found hundreds of years before, back to the empty city they had built for the survivors. Everyone pulled together, got things done and before she knew it Myra Island was no more, its inhabitants now living with the survivors of Neo Alphius on Beletrix, their civilisation returning to its former glory.

When the dust settled, she realised how little she had seen of Sabine, and when over dinner, Sabine told her Tirania had been offered the head of Stellar Dynamics at the Lyrr Institute on Beletrix, heading up the whole department she had been happy for her.

But where did that leave her?

There wasn't a scientific bone in her body and Shomis was a guardian and warrior.

Somewhere down the line there were the odd crossed words, minor fallings out and while she was happy for Sabine, she could not see where she could possibly fit in. The choices were to continue Shomis's vocation, guarding a world that did not need protecting, or to simply do nothing and be driven out of their minds.

Sabine and Tirania left for Beletrix and so their relationship ended with nothing more than a whimper as she remained on Earth, the home she knew and loved.

Tie had kept her busy for a time, trying to stop that lunatic from causing chaos, but she had to quietly admit to herself that perhaps Tie was doing it more as a friend. Shomis and Verish may have been lifelong adversaries but she knew they were secretly close, even if neither one of them wanted to admit it openly.

Life though had a habit of throwing curve balls. With everything going on in the world today, those who remained had decided to make contingency plans. Earth was becoming a place that almost felt alien to her, a surprise really considering everything she had been through.

So here she was, stuck in a flying tin can travelling back to where it all began.

The damp and unforgiving streets of Manchester, her home back in England.


Sunshine and Showers

This was definitely Manchester she knew and loved. Driving through the city, she had been roasting but as she pulled up and opened the door, she was in the middle of a torrential downpour. The British weather was something her friends would never really understand. Trying to explain to an American who was used to weather that could be best described as clockwork why the British had such a fascination with the weather was next to impossible. In all her time at the Foundry it was linear, perhaps even boring. When it was sunny, it was sunny and when it rained, it really rained however you could almost time the weather to the second. In the UK weather was somewhat haphazard. One minute you could be sunbathing, the next second it was snowing and if you tried to describe that to anyone who wasn't from England would only invoke a 'you're kidding' reaction. The only person who really understood this strangeness was Brie. She grew up down south and while she was definitely a southerner, she understood all too well the fickleness of British weather.

Looking up at the Pennies in the distance, viewing in their breath taking mountainous beauty she was happy to be home though. The United States was lovely, but everything was all on such a grand scale. In three hours she could drive from coast to coast here, traversing almost every terrain you could think of from snow capped peaks to sandy beaches. Three hours in the US was effectively a trip to the shops.

She sighed as she turned her attention back to her surroundings, taking in the derelict industrial complex she had just driven to. This was the legacy of Manchester's past, a glorious future reduced to decay and rubble. It looked like a diseased carcass crumbling in to the ground however for their needs it was a prime location really.

The group had been growing concerned by recent events in the US, in particular around the growing isolationist view of the new political establishment, more specific the growing hatred and fear of anyone different. Looking at her friends, it was clear that Symbitek was a true international company. While Mel, Jo, Jenn, Flip, Pippa and Poly were American, the others weren't. Kat, although technically American had dual nationality having grown up in England and moved to the US when she was younger. Both herself and Brie were British, Tie was Chinese, Eve and Chloe while American had deep Japanese roots, Jess was Australian and Carrie was Jamaican. Add to that their alien partners, there was a growing sense of unease hence a new idea was put on the table.

Symbitek was looking at ways of branching out, developing technologies that could benefit humanity while at the same time earning some money. With the ongoing trade their people had, the requirements of Beletrix had been putting a minor strain of their finances. As usual Pippa had been busy establishing the core of the businesses base however to try and balance things they had agreed to compartmentalise everything. The US operation would look after biomedical research under Pippa's ever watchful eye. Their new Japanese facility would look at technology and electronics headed up by Tie, Eve and Chloe. The British operation though would focus on industrial research such as power generation.

Pippa had found this decaying wasteland on the outskirts of her home city. It had come of something of a surprise to her as for most foreigners they instantly hit on London however Pippa's business acumen had spread her net wider. There were excellent transport links, all the space they would need and more seriously, a safe place they could go to if things went badly in the US. Not that the UK was much better on its isolationist views, but there was a big difference. The UK government had its own views, the people were always more forgiving and forward thinking and far more sceptical of fake news.

She surveyed the ruins and shook her head. Pippa had asked her to take a look at the site, see what she thought and if it was suitable to proceed, but she really had asked the wrong person. Outside of the fact this was her home, she really didn't have a clue about these things. When it came to grand plans she was not the best person to imagine what could be. To her, it looked like what it was.

A large patch of decaying industrial land.

"I don't know either," Shomis's voice came from her side as she turned to see her alien partner's ghostly vision, "Perhaps we should just nod and smile politely when they ask us if it is fit for purpose."

Shomis had been quiet and for good reasons. Since the whole Beletrix situation had cropped up and Tira had left, she had been just as moody and upset much as she had been. They had both lost their lovers leaving them alone yet again. It had been amicable separation and they both understood the honour that they had been offered heading up the Stellar Dynamics department at Lyrr. Sabine had asked her if she wanted to move to Beletrix with them, but she was not a member of the brain trust. She was a professional dancer and Shomis was a security expert and warrior.

Still, after the events with Sheriff Lofthouse, running around the galaxy and travelling to Beletrix, seeing them both settled and happy in their new home had left them both feeling rattled, Shomis perhaps more than her. She had spent a life time being shunned by her kind because of her strange abilities and having Tira accept her had made her happy. Now once again she felt alone.

"You can stop that too," Shomis muttered frowning at her. "Yes, I miss Tira, but it's just how things go sometimes though. She is where she is happy and I would have only held her back. We both know we would have been bored witless on Beletrix. What's the point of a warrior's life if there is nothing for us to protect?"

She rolled her eyes realising her partner was reading her thoughts again. It was so hard to get used to having an alien sharing not only your body but your mind too.

"Why do you think they asked us to look at this?" she asked changing the subject.

"Local knowledge I guess. You are from this city and you know where everything is," Shomis mused, surveying the scene.

"It's close enough to Manchester to give us what we need logistically, far enough away in case we need to bring Koli in. The only thing she could scare is sheep up in the mountains," she replied feeling somewhat out of her depth.

"Good assessment," Shomis laughed back giving her a wry smile, "Let's give it the up thumb and leave them to get down to business of building the place. Knowing Pippa she has probably already has everything ready to move and the moment we give them the nod, she will get down to business."

She laughed shaking her head softly smiling at her partner. Shomis really was trying to use human vernacular but she struggled sometimes.

"What did this place used to be?" Shomis added trying to piece together what it was.

"Vaguely remember this was a munitions factory during world war two, but just looking around I think it was some kind of metal refining plant," she commented looking at the slag heaps, "Industrial areas like this tend to get left to rot. They are too expensive to clean up and also probably why it's cheap enough for Pippa to be interested. Land over here is always at a premium and quite expensive."

"Guessing they will want to dub this place the Forge then," Shomis laughed rolling her eyes.

She pulled her phone out, quickly typing a message in to Pippa approving the site before turning her attention once more back to the view and for a moment trying to imagine what this place really could be like before shrugging as she failed.

It would be nice though to have a home back here again in the peaceful and diverse landscape of England.

"Ten squids on Pippa having the construction crews out here in an hour," Shomis quipped playfully as they heading back down towards her car.

"I will accept that bet, although we may need to go to a fishmongers to ensure we can pay each other. It's quid, not squid," she replied giving her partner a loving smile.

* * *

Driving back through the city had reminded her of just how complex and ancient the UK really was. For the last year she had been hopping around the world visiting strange new places and it had to be said for the most part they were quite generic. Even New Oxford, her home in the US was a fairly faceless city. Her American friends were always sound proud of what they had achieved but New Oxford itself had, only a hundred years before, been nothing more than a town which had grown up out of the farming belt. The city had been planned with the usual American meticulousness, set in blocks and organised with almost geometric precision, the only organic curves within it those of natural features that interrupted the order. Driving from its very core to its outskirts, there was always a sense of newness about it, even within the areas that were starting to decay.

Manchester was not new though. Technically an urban conurbation of nearly a dozen towns, the city had been around for centuries. As her teachers at school had proudly taught them, Manchester had its origins in Roman times but only in medieval times it had started to thrive as a market town. Over time it had grown until the industrial revolution occurred and Manchester truly became a power house of industry centred over the cotton mills. Over a hundred years, the city had grown in to vibrant place it was today, but there were other truths. Whereas New Oxford was perhaps only in its second incarnation, Manchester had been rebuilt dozens of time. Driving through the city it was not hard to feel the waves of history pressing down on you.

Her apartment was in canals area of the city, once a broken down and desolate area now home to luxury apartment blocks, another example of the cities continuing evolution. The canals were once the life blood of industrial Manchester as they brought in supplies and sent goods to port. Today they were used for little more than pleasure cruises.

Flinging the keys on to the side it was nice to be home again. It had been well over a year since she last stepped foot in her place although her maid had kept it clean and tidy. It seemed a life time ago when she had come back here to start their adventure. Sabine had just arrived and they ordered pizza as they tried to track down the rest of the group before setting on out on their globetrotting mission to find the others. The place seemed empty now considering everything she had been through. Exploring the world, meeting new friends, Myra Island, then Beletrix and how could she forget her last mission.

Perhaps moving to Beletrix had not been such a bad idea after all. At least there she had no secrets, even if the population refused to accept Shomis.

Looking out over the city she could see the clouds starting to grow darker, the sun disappearing over the horizon as night slowly fell over the city. Below her pin pricks of light started to illuminate the streets and people started their Friday night routines. It usually involved drinking, dancing and laughing, and occasionally fighting.

Checking her phone she laughed to herself as with her usual efficiency, Pippa had already confirmed the ball was rolling on the Forge project. Shomis had been right in that she knew how to move when she wanted to and it was probable there were already work teams heading out there. Of course she would stay here and oversee everything until Brie and Jess arrived to take over the project, but outside of nodding occasionally her contributions would probably be limited.

She had already been over to see her parents earlier in the day. They were most happy to see her and fussed over her asking her about everything. Explaining why Sabine was not with her had been painful and her mother had instantly done the Northern thing, cooking her a full on meal with all the trimmings. Overkill perhaps, but it reminded her that while five star restaurants were nice, they could never beat your mother's cooking.

Now all that left her with was a boring Friday night in. A long time ago, that hadn't bothered her too much. Friday night television tended to be very mass market, but as a way of passing time, it was not all bad. After everything she had been through she really felt a need to go out and be with people.

It didn't take a moment to decide as she slipped in to the bedroom.

* * *

Shomis had moaned profusely at her for wearing this dress. It was unbefitting of a warrior were her exact words, but she had dutifully ignored her as getting dolled up for a night out was traditional for a good night out. For a first night out since she had got back to blighty, she had decided to go the extra mile with a stunning red figure hugging dress, minimal jewellery and power heels. It was the perfect combo to make her feel sexy, not that really there was much she could do about that. Still, the attention would be its own reward.

As usual though, the nightlife had other ideas. Manchester in only a year felt like a very different city to the one she knew and loved. She wasn't really sure if it was her, or if it was actually the city, but it seems more intense and charged. Sitting in the Mutt and Ball pub though, she felt at home, the smell of dank beer, the hum of the people chatting and sports on the televisions. It was a microcosm of everything that made this country great.

Shomis to her surprise seemed to like Rugby as a game. Barely controlled aggression was something that fascinated her and even if she was not watching the match, she could feel her partner soaking up every moment of it. She was so engrossed with the television, she hadn't even moaned at her about booze when she ordered a pint of scrumpy.

She had found a nice corner of the pub to sit down and did her usual, watching the people around the bar, taking in the moments of their lives usually they forgot about due to inebriation. There was a couple sitting at the bar arguing with each other over something trivial, some lads overly enthusiastic about the Rugby, their girlfriends pretending they were interested even if they weren't. This was the human race at its rawest and this bothered her.

There was something about this that was familiar and not in a good way. After she had first bonded with Shomis she had come out full of confidence and joy. A fringe benefit of bonding, even if she had not known when she had agreed to bond with her, was she had become a multi millionaire overnight. She had done what most of them probably had done, went a little mad on the shopping side and full of innocent enthusiasm and confidence she had come out with all the fineries of life expecting her world to have changed.

It hadn't though. Of course people cared about money, but they didn't seem to care if you had it. If they knew she had money they would have probably lined up round the block to be her 'friend', but going out by yourself, wearing nice stuff seemed to elicit zero response from people. You were just another face in the crowd and with the important task of drinking yourself silly in front of them, money was the last thing on their minds.

It had all come as something of a shock really, but sitting here she felt just like she had that first night. She was just another stunningly beautiful cash flushed face utterly anonymous in the crowd. Everyone in here lived in their own little worlds, their personal bubbles only extending out as far as they were interested and unless you burst their bubbles, you would never be given an ounce of attention.

She laughed a little to herself as Shomis's excitement seemed to wash over her as she glanced over to the television, the bar seeming to erupt in a cheer as whoever was playing scored a try. She took a sip of the scrumpy, the warm apple cider flavour quite delightful as she rested back.

"Nice to see you know who your friends are," a familiar if grumpy voice came from behind her as she turned to see Shae and Terri standing there looking utterly stunning as usual, "Thought you had fallen off the face of the Earth!"

"I did on a few occasions," she laughed ironically, standing up to give her a hug.

Stepping back she took in Shae looking at the tight black figure hugging dress on she had on, her long brown hair flowing over her shoulders and that ever perfect makeup that she was always envious of when they were younger. Out of everyone in her life, Shae was more than her best friend. They had grown up together and in a way she was like a sister to her. They had gone through school, then university and followed each other to Kitcats where they worked together. Standing next to Shae Terri had been the shy quiet little mouse of a girl at school, but she was one of her gang. They say some people blossom as they get older, and that shy timid little girl had grown in to such a woman, curves everywhere as her white dress struggled to contain her figure.

"So why no text message to say you were back in town?" Shae asked frowning at her as they joined her, sitting across the table.

"I only got back yesterday on a business trip. I was going to call but there was a lot to catch up on," she replied looking a little sheepish having forgotten about calling them.

"Oh listen to little miss power suits," Shae quipped teasingly, "Back on a business trip..."

"Don't worry," Terri added with a laugh, "You haven't missed much while you have been away."

"How are things at Kitcats?"

Looking at them as their faces soured, she instantly felt a sense of something far darker as the pair gave each other a pensive glance.

"Things kind of went downhill after you left. Place was taken over by a nasty piece of work who took liberties with the girls whenever he felt like it," Shae grumbled looking none too pleased, "It's why we are out tonight. We just quit and decided to celebrate our wise decision."

"Hold on, Cathy isn't in charge anymore?"

"Nobody really knows the truth, but back street talk and rumours say she didn't have much choice. Mr Mattus always gets what he wants," Terri sighed looking quite nervous.

"Still, fortune favours the bold and the gangs back together," Shae exclaimed to Terri with a grin.

She laughed to herself a little smiling at her friends. It was going to be a long night.

* * *

Standing by the bar, she had forgotten just how loud nightclubs were. It was probably a British thing as throughout her travels she had been in more than a few bars and clubs and in general you could hear yourself think for the most part, but here?

If it was possible for her ears to bleed, they probably would have been gushing at this moment.

The night had progressed as normal really. The obligatory pub crawl, several drinks in each resulting to Shae getting to a point she was starting to lose all inhibitions, Terri not too far behind. Then the main event as they hit the larger clubs. By this point it was past two in the morning and people were only just starting to get warmed up, the joys of twenty four hour drinking.

During the night though things had not progressed as well on the things she had missed during her time away running around the galaxy. It seemed that life had deteriorated for her friends and her former home and family had been suffering.

At first this Kyle Mattus sounded like the typical roller with money. He was from somewhere in Europe, ample amounts of cash to throw around and never took no for an answer, but as always booze had the habit of loosening the tongue and with each bottle her friends drank, came new and more worrying information.

It seemed to start with Kyle was simply a regular customer, coming in with a security entourage, enjoying the girl's attention and tipping them all extremely well. Then after a few months he was in almost every night and the next thing they knew Cathy was mysteriously not coming in to the club, Kyle now behind the bar and in the office effectively running the place as his own personal fun house. While the truth of the matter was shrouded in darkness, it sounded like Cathy had not sold the bar to him, but was more forced to relinquish it to Kyle, pushed out as he took things over. Threats of violence and intimidation were rumoured but when the girls had finally tracked down Cathy to find out what really happened, they found she was silent and deeply afraid, unwilling to utter a word about why she had left.

Then after a few weeks of him being in charge, it had started. Kyle would order one of the girls to do a private dance for him. Those that did found themselves in a situation they didn't like and those that refused his orders were not in work the next day. At first she had thought Shae meant they had been fired, but turned out they had been beaten within an inch of their lives. From that point on, nobody dared to refuse Kyle's requests.

She knew the story was bothering Shomis as well as herself, but it all sounded so much like the plot of a bad film. In the real world people didn't behave like that. The police would get involved, people would be brought to justice and life would return to how it was.

Still, if only a fraction of this was true, Shae and Terri had done the right thing walking away.

"Stop being so grumpy you old fart!" Shae shouted at her side leaning in to her, "We're here to party and you need to let that short hair of yours down!"

She didn't get the chance to say anything as she was dragged on to the dance floor by her friend. Surrounded by the mass of writhing bodies she actually felt uncomfortable, partly because of the lack of personal space but also because she was stone cold sober despite the amount she had drunk. Such were the wonderful joys of having a partner who never let you get drunk.

Still, looking at Shae having a fantastic time it was nice to be back amongst friends.

* * *

Shae laughed to herself as a rather drunk lad leered at her in that familiar way she was used to. Typical male, brain in his crotch as he let his eyes roam over her body as she took a breather by the side of the dance floor. He didn't care who she was, what job she did or even what her name was. All he cared about was adding a notch to his bedpost and considering what she did for a living, it was boring and dross in her books. That said, considering why she was out, she didn't have a job to go to anymore.

She ignored his unwanted attention, blocking the primal and frankly dull thoughts he was throwing her way as she looked over to Ella and Terri enjoying themselves, as always Ella looking utterly stunning even if she had that tomboy look about her. How she managed to maintain her figure was always beyond her, but it was a welcome surprise to see her back home again. She had missed her best friend.

Still though, skinny little Ella Carr back in Manchester was the pick me up she needed considering the events of the last month. She never changed though, always wanting to get to the bottom of things, sticking her nose in and prying at the details, except that was the problem. She had changed.

Nearly two years ago, almost overnight her best friend felt like an alien to her. She had won the lottery, even if she didn't play and while they say money changes a person, it didn't change someone that much. Of course she could fool everyone around her, everyone except her because they shared a secret, the reason why they had latched on to each other from a young age. Ella was a telepath, just like she was.

It had started in their teens, at first she was picking up feelings and hearing things people were saying even when their mouths were not moving. It freaked the hell out of her at first and she thought she was going mad, but the one person in the school she could not sense was Ella. Being with her was like seeing an empty space. There were no thoughts and as she slowly got used to her growing abilities, the one person she actually couldn't read was Ella. They had been friends since they were six and in time she realised that Ella shared the same gift as her. One night, out in the park illegally drinking far too much cider, she had blurted out that she knew she was a telepath. Ella had been shocked and dismissive at first but as they got more drunk, they had opened up to each other revealing the truth and for the first time since this happened to her, she finally felt like she wasn't going insane, sharing this secret with her best friend. After that, feeling far more confident, they used their abilities to their own ends, enjoying something nobody else could ever imagine. They tested what they were capable of, learnt their limits and their friendship grew even stronger.

Looking at Ella on the dance floor, she was not the same woman she had grown up with. There was almost an aura about her, a wall protecting her but it was not a wall she was familiar with. It was stronger, more resistant and unnerving. It was like she was two people, the softest and strangest of presences resisting her mind, forcing her back.

She didn't like secrets and she knew deep down Ella was hiding something. It was probably the reason why they were best friends. They loved solving mysteries and putting their talents to good use. Ever since that night that she changed though, Ella was a stranger to her. On the outside she was still the person she had grown up with, but deeper down she was distracted and distant, constantly pushing her away. Their friendship had been strained and then after some hot woman had come in to the club and chatted her up, Ella had done something that had left her rather bitter. Without warning she got a text from her saying she had something to do and was going on a world trip. The woman she had been with had shaken her when she had seen them together because that feeling she got from Ella was the exact same feeling she got from this stranger, like there was something wrong with her.

That was the last time she had seen Ella beyond a vague flying visit about a year ago although by that time it seemed Ella was a stranger to her.

Now here she was and again she was different, perhaps almost broken. She always pushed people away and as usual that was exactly what she was doing, but she could feel something within her friend, something sad and forlorn. She had come home after losing herself to whatever it was that had happened to her and regardless of what had happened between them, she would always be her best friend.

Looking to her side she could see and feel the drunken confidence in the lad leering at her as she sighed to herself. It was time for a change of scenery as she gathered herself up and headed over to Ella and Terri.

She had come out to enjoy a night on the town and forget her worries, but it was clear that was not what she was going to end up doing tonight. Her best friend had come home and it was obvious she needed her help.

* * *

As they left the club she was actually starting to enjoy herself, despite Shomis being grumpy and having gotten in to a huff, retreated in to herself. Shae and Terri were quite drunk and giggling far too much for their own good. It was in its own way quite infectious as she finally felt able to relax amongst friends.

"Biggalo's!" Terri exclaimed playfully, nearly tripping over as she jumped in to the air.

"The drinks are way too pricey in there," Shae countered as she pouted.

There was a moment of discord before they both grinned, grabbing her hands and pulling her down the street. She often felt vulnerable like this. Manchester had a reputation of violence, more often than not drunks far too gone to realise what they were doing but there were police on the streets and it reassured her that they were safe, but something was bothering her. It felt like eyes watching them and not in a Friday night out kind of way.

Walking in to a slightly quieter part of the city she couldn't help hearing the footsteps behind them as she started to grow more nervous, her friends seemingly oblivious to the danger.

Then the footsteps stopped right behind them as a voice called out.

"Ello girls."

She stopped as Shae and Terri froze to the spot, the tension evident as they glanced at each other nervously. They slowly turned around, met by three rather large men in leather jackets looming over them.

"Who's ya pretty friend Shae?" the man in the middle sneered as she took in the long scar running down his cheek.

"She's nobody," Shae replied with a definite tremble in her voice, "What do you want?"

"Mr Mattus got your letters of resignation this evening. He would like to discuss the terms of your departure."

She glanced around, noting police officers at the end of the street, walking their way as to their side a black limo pulled up, the door opening.

"He would like to see you now."

Feeling Shomis suddenly become alert within her she considered letting loose and teaching these thugs what it was like to take a terrifying beating however as she stared at him, he slowly pulled his jacket to the side, showing her the gun strapped to his side. She may have been bullet proof, but looking at the people milling around and not to mention Shae and Terri, someone would get hurt very quickly. The two other thugs move round ushering them towards the car, pushing them inside.

* * *

There had been an uncomfortable silence as the limo had driven out of the city centre, heading back in to the parts of Manchester most people ignored. She could tell both Shae and Terri were terrified out of their minds and her job right now was to keep her friends safe however considering the company they were in, that would be a far harder task. These thugs were not your average lowlifes, professional and hardened enforcers by the posture, only reinforcing her worries about what had happened at Kitcats while she had been away. This Mattus character was not your average scumbag they had to deal with in the club but something far more dangerous.

As the car pulled off the road for the second time that day she found herself in an abandon industrial complex, a chemical works by the looks of it. As the car stopped the door opened as she were pushed out in to the cool night air, Shae giving her a very worried look as they walked through the decaying complex. Outside one of the rusting carcases she noted two well built men guarding a door as the captors pushed them inside. Much to her surprise as they entered the building she found herself in what seemed to be an active and quite vibrant casino, utterly at odds with what was outside.

It was at that moment the idea of this being a bad movie was only reinforced as they were pushed through the crowds of cash flushed and well dressed people towards the back, down a corridor. The goons had dropped the polite attitude now, guns in hand rather than hidden as one of them knocked on a thick wood door before entering as found herself in what seemed to be a quite luxurious office.

"I have our quitters Mr Mattus," Scarface announced as a tall well dressed man in a black suit turn to look at them, his posture and presence leaving her feeling deeply worried as she glanced at Shae and Terri protectively.

Taking Kyle Mattus in it was clear he was not some random criminal, the clothing he had on extremely expensive. Looking him over, he was roughly six feet tall, very well built with a hint of a Russian look, his face cold and stoic.

"Who's the tomboy?" Mattus questioned in a distinctly Russian tone motioning to her as he considered her.

"Some friend they were with. I thought she might fit in well sir."

"That she might," he commented looking her up and down, his eyes roaming unwelcomingly.

"Now, I believe you would like to leave my employment," he continued walking over to them, looking both Terri and Shae over with more than a hint of anger on his face.

"Moving on Mr Mattus," Shae replied with a hint of defiance in her voice.

"That's not your decision Miss Hillier," he snapped back, "I have a contract signed by Cathy DeBois that says all the dancers at the club are mine. Are you saying she was a liar?"

"I am not anyone property!" Terri snapped back.

Kyle paused as he took his jacket off placing it neatly on the back of a chair as she saw the gun holster on his side as he removed his cuff links and rolled his sleeves up. His arms were festooned with tattoo and scars and she knew instantly he was not the kind of person to cross.

"How much would you need for me to buy out their contracts?" she asked in a clear tone trying to defuse the situation.

"Who said you could speak Tomboy?" he sneered back ignoring her, turning his attention to Terri.

"So... you want to leave my employment?"

Terri nodded staring him in the eye.

He moved so fast she could hardly follow as moments later Terri fell to the floor like a rag doll.

She looked down at her in horror as she lay unconscious in a heap, a deep cut sliced across her forehead oozing blood. Looking up she could see an exceptionally vicious knuckle duster on his hand, blood dripping from it as he turned his attention back to Shae.

"I have a signed contract Miss Hillier. You are my employee and you will do what I tell you to do," he stated in a calm, collected voice as Shae sobbed fearfully, nodding her head in agreement.

"And as it seems Miss Jacobs is probably not going to be too popular now, you are going to take her place at the club. I hope you know how to dance tomboy," he said staring her right in the eye.

She wanted to let loose, break his neck on the spot, a thought that horrified Shomis. She couldn't though. The whole staff had guns and if she let loose, this would end badly for Shae and Terri, not only that but her secret would be out there.

"Good, nice to settle that distasteful business. I expect you both at the club tomorrow and don't make me come looking for you because I will not be so polite next time," he said walking away as he removed the weapon from his hand, wiping the blood off with a white handkerchief.

"I think you both understand what will happen to those you care about if you go to the police," he added slipping back in to his jacket, "Mr Simmons. Please take that garbage to the hospital and drop my employees off with her."

As she felt the barrel of the gun in her back she gave Kyle a long bitter stare before they were dragged out of the office, Terri still unconscious as they were escorted out of the back door in to the cold night air, the limo waiting.

Sitting inside she watched the building disappear in to the darkness as they pulled back on to the road and there was only one thought on her mind.

That swine would pay dearly for what he just did.


Lost Friends

The Town of Wyvern, Northern California

"I thought it would be more like it was on the entertainment transmissions," Koli said at her side as they sat by the side of the road in her jeep.

She was starting to get used to Koli's regular visits but she did seem to have something of a twisted view of exactly what she did for a living. Over the last month, things had returned to normal in Wyvern, the sleepy little town getting back to doing what it did best although for her, she had a strange and unexpected new friend who showed up whenever she felt like it. She glanced to the beautiful young woman at her side still struggling with the idea she was not human at all, this body an extension of the massive living creature hiding just outside of the town as she always did.

"This is a far more peaceful place than you would ever see on television and besides, they do make a lot of that stuff up. After all, if you think about this reality, it wouldn't make good television," she replied with a slight laugh as Koli pouted.

"I wanted to catch some criminals on the run and go on a high speed pursuit and bring them to justice," she replied sadly almost looking at her pleadingly.

"Seriously, don't believe what you see on TV," she sighed bitterly, "The last high speed chase I ended up on saw two of your friends end up fighting for their lives. There are no heroics in what we do, just the fight to protect the innocent and put criminals away, but it gets to you in the end. That's why I transferred to Wyvern. If you live in the darkness long enough, it starts to infect you and here, I feel like I am back in the light."

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