Violetta Cantagalli

by Luca

Chapter 2

They had moved into the old villa, a dilapidated old mansion hidden in the midst of a large completely overgrown garden. What once had been a splendid ornate frame for an architectural masterpiece, was now a wilderness of tangled bushes and brambles. If you didn't pay attention the jungle of sharp thorns would tear clothing and cut skin. Still it meant they were in a safe place away from prying eyes with little danger of being disturbed.

Lowerstoff was occupied with the radio set up. He sat, concentrating, before a bank of dark green electrical equipment with dials, knobs, and tiny lights which blinked from time to time. The dark black bakelite headphones were askew on his head, covering one ear and looping down towards his neck.

Zachary leaned over and planted a gentle kiss on that same neck.

"Don't do that!" Lowerstoff rebuked without meaning it.

The other young man in his blue grey uniform stood back up. The little silver wings on the breast pocket of his jacket glinted, reflecting the light from a ray of sunshine which shot through the window. The radio crackled with static as Lowerstoff twisted dials, a hand pressing the earpiece of the headphones to his head.

"Still nothing?" Zachary asked.

Lowerstoff looked up. "Nothing since the last transmission. Either they're maintaining radio silence, or..."

His words faded to silence and the sound of static filled the space inside of the crumbling villa. Touma sat on a wooden crate on the other side of the large room with its bay window and broken glass. He was occupied with prying the contents from a ration tin, the folded metal top peeled halfway back.

Emile paced about the room. "We can't stay here forever. Just waiting," he told them.

Suddenly the static gave way to an indistinct voice whose sentence was broken up, fading in and out. "Champ... artic... Russian... launched..." and then only static.

"I don't know why we are holed up here," Emile said, ignoring the broken communication. "We should get to the airport and get out of here."

"You do know that the whole of Paris is a war zone?" Zachary interrupted. "Getting to the airport, even if the plane is still there. Well, it won't be easy."

"They've launched the missiles!" Lowerstoff exclaimed. He had interpreted the sense of the clipped message.

"Or the Russians have," Touma piped up, leaving aside the rations and getting up.

Captain Turin pulled a silver cigarette case from his inside pocket, flipped it open and extracted a cigarette. He tapped the cigarette on the case before bringing it to his lips and lighting it. He took a long drag and allowed the smoke to escape his mouth in a trail which he directed over the bank of radio equipment.

"Alright," he announced. "Shut that stuff down." He looked over at Lowerstoff. "We're going to the airport."

As all four of them, a strange group of fellows, left through the broken front door, smoke obscured the sunlight. A plume of black acrid fumes curling across the sky. Something had been hit and was burning. When they reached the street, the Jeep was still there, but the road was a mess of pitted tarmac with a sizable crater on the far side where a bomb had landed. In the distance sirens wailed like a lament for a lost civilisation. Paris, the most romantic city in the world, was in ruins. The air carried a pungent smell which Zachary suspected was anything but safe to breathe.

They piled into the camouflaged Jeep, it's markings suited for disguising its presence in the countryside, in the half destroyed urban environment it stood out incongruously, but then everything was incongruous since the explosions after their escape from the Foyer. Quite how the world had changed to this and Zachary had found himself in the uniform of an air force captain he couldn't explain.

Touma turned the ignition switch and the engine cranked alive with a cloud of smoke which added to the already polluted air. He drove with considerable skill, navigating the obstacle course of debris which littered the streets.

Emile was siting in the back next to Zachary. "You need to fly us to Africa!" He announced.

Zachary frowned. "It's a big place, Africa," he replied somewhat sarcastically.

Lowerstoff turned back to look at them. "Tangiers?"

"Yes," Emile confirmed, as a missile streak lit the sky above them, it's vapor trail disappearing behind it. Flashes of light and the sounds of explosions erupted from not too far in front of them.

"My mother is there," Emile added.

"Violetta Cantigalli," Zachary pronounced her name.

At the same time multiple flashes ripped through the sky shooting up from the ground off in the distance as what was left of the ground defences tracked the incoming missile. A fireball told them they'd hit it. But the city was overwhelmed and most of the allied forces had long since withdrawn. All that remained were the few desperate heroes fighting a losing battle in an attempt to gain time.

A huge explosion blasted a building as they drove past. The Jeep was catapulted into the air and day turned to night. Everything went black. When they came to it was another world. A world without the destruction they had just driven through.

"That was one hell of a crack in the riff!" Touma stood in front of the three of them.

"I'm not even sure if it was past or future," Zachary said. "But I could live without it. How did that happen?"

"The multiverse is ruptured. Events like that will become more frequent. But forget it. Let's just go find Violetta," Emile was trying his best to keep things on track.

Zachary couldn't help but look at himself. He brushed his hands over his clothes. The clothes he had been wearing when they made their exit through the catacombs. The uniform was gone, but somehow he knew that uniform was part of who he was.

"Low," Zachary spoke softly as they sat together in the departure lounge waiting for the flight to be called. "I'm not sure I could do any of this without you."

Lowerstoff's hand found Zachary's. "You're a survivor. An eternal champion. Of course you could."

Touma was watching both of them sitting there together. He didn't know if he was jealous and the feelings he had were selfish, or where his place was. After all he'd known Zack since they were fourteen. Not strictly true, they met young, but were torn apart, something that disturbed Touma. He knew they should be together, that's what he felt, and he wondered how things would pan out.

At the airport in Tangiers Emile insisted he call his mother, telling them she was sending a car to pick them up.

"What did you tell her?" Zachary asked.

"That we have this!" He held up the usb key which Zachary didn't remember giving him.

"And what did she say?" This was Lowerstoff, curious to discover how Violetta Cantagalli would fit into all this. If they were choosing sides, he wondered whose side she would be on. It was too confusing to determine who were the good guys and who the baddies, nothing about their supposed mission to stop Hamilton was clear.

"You know this is all crazy," Lowerstoff added, before Emile could reply. "We're going to see your mother with the key Hamilton gave us and which might be a means to stop the chaos which he is supposedly promoting. Think about it! It makes no sense at all."

"He's right!" Touma piped up.

Zachary looked at Emile, "So what did she say?"

"She said she had someone who might help."

They were a long time waiting at the airport and eventually Emile went outside with Lowerstoff to see what was happening, if a car had showed up. This left Touma a moment, his first, alone with Zachary.

"I have a theory about all this," he said, and Zachary turned to look at him.

"And what's that?"

"I don't know if I can explain it or if I try, will it make any sense?"

"I'm listening," Zachary smiled. For a moment his thoughts took him back five years, to when they were in school together.

Touma caught Zachary's look, but averted his eyes. It was too intense.

"Well," he began, "I see it like this. A piece of string. We are somewhere on a piece of string and we don't know how long that string is, until we reach the end and die. But really the string is not stretched from one end to the other, but all twisted up. At least it is now. Maybe it always has been. I don't know. And that piece of string is our reality."

Zachary laughed. "Oh yeah! String theory."

Touma could have been offended, but he wasn't, he knew Zachary very well, even though they had been years apart.

"Yeah, it works for everything, even being gay."

"What?" Zachary scrutinised the boy. "You were giving your theory on the multiverse or something, and now you're talking about sex."

"I'm not exactly talking about sex. About being gay. And yeah, alright, it was an excuse to get your attention."

Zachary continued staring, not saying anything. Touma looked up and their eyes engaged.

"Oh shit, Zack," he said, having decided to give up any pretence. "I've always had this thing for you. I thought it was mutual, that feeling."

"Yes," was Zachary's answer.

"Yes?" Touma repeated.

"The feeling was mutual. Is... mutual," Zachary gave another weak smile.

"We never got to do anything, but I always wanted to," Touma confided, moving closer to Zachary.

"Me too. But if we had, it would have been sex, right? I mean that's what fourteen year old boys do, mostly alone in their bedrooms. Only it would have been shared between us. Still, not like we'd have gone on a date. I wouldn't have taken you out to dinner, we wouldn't have snogged in the darkness of the cinema, ignoring the film and fondling each other."

"We might have," Touma chuckled, "kissed in the cinema. Who knows?"

"Umm... I guess we might have. But why are you telling me all this now?"

"Because..." Touma paused. There was a long silence.

It was interrupted by Lowerstoff's appearance and his announcement that the car had arrived.

"We'll finish this later," Zachary told Touma, as he stood up. He noticed how sad the other boy looked and it made him feel bad, but now there was no time to do anything other than add, "I promise."

I promise, Touma had heard those words five years ago and knew how easily promises could be broken.

Violetta Cantagalli swept into the room closely followed by a familiar figure, Baragsen. She hardly looked at them, but did acknowledge Emile.

"Well, you managed to gather the clan," she declared, and moved across the room into the house, turning to face everyone. Everyone being, Emile, Zachary, Lowerstoff and Touma. They were almost entranced by her presence, which was nothing new for Emile, but a surprise for the rest of them.

"I haven't time to explain everything," she addressed them like you would your staff, in a manner that showed impatience and annoyance. As if they should know her intentions without her having to tell them.

"There is a computer controlling quantum reality running a program which will bring total chaos to the world. It's been set in motion by Hamilton."

She turned and extracted a cigarette from an elegant enamelled case in her designer hand bag. They watched as she completed the operation of placing the said cigarette in its holder and bringing it to her lips. It was Emile who stepped forward and with the flick of his wrist produced a flame from a lighter which he held up for her.

"Thank you, darling,"

She inhaled deeply and in an exaggerated motion removed the cigarette from her lips and swept her arm through the air in a wide arc, exhaling a trail of smoke.

"All this," she looked around the room, "everything..." she paused as if taking stock of exactly what everything was. "He wants to destroy it all. Out of spite."

Those final words were almost a hiss from this immaculately dressed woman whom one might regard as feline or perhaps serpentine. A dangerous woman who could both scratch with claws as easily as she might bite and wound with a fatal venom.

Zachary wondered why his father, Hamilton, would be filled with spite. He was about to get a quasi revelation. Violetta stared directly at him.

"Your mother was my best friend," she told him. "Your father destroyed her."

"Mother!" Emile exclaimed, as if something sacred had been spoken of in an unwarranted manner.

"Yes, well..." She seemed to restrain herself. A glance towards Emile and it was as if she suddenly realised she was in the company of Baragsen. "Our good friend," she turned and smiled. "The Sheikh Baragsen, will accompany you to the bunker. You have the key?"

Emile produced that tiny component which Hamilton had given to Zachary.

"Good," she said. "Then I will leave you gentleman to save the world."

She swirled around and strolled out of the room taking long strides and leaving a thin trail of smoke hanging in the air behind her.

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