“That was Stoker. He is my liaison, my handler. Remember when I told you that when we were finally picked up by social services and they found out who we were, so they attempted to break us before they broken themselves? It was because we were considered assets against Tempenka” derisive laughter “Assets. Not just information, informants on a secret the government felt it should have. We spent so much time in therapy, but we had always been within Tempenka and the communal secretless environment. What had clearly damaged us was what they were doing, not Tempenka. We had no basis for comparison for what they wanted, only a hunger for being able to make our own decisions. We were placed in high-priority care. Watched. Interviewed. I think at some point even when we had gotten legally ‘out’ of their abuse, they felt that we could still be spies for them, reinfiltrate Tempenka under their purpose. They never gave up. We did participate with some aspects, taught them Tranqi, liaised with linguistic professors for a handbook, dictionary. They never changed, never changed their blunt stupidity. At 18, they wanted to keep us under control, attempted to assert their authority by legally obtaining court ordered control. We were lucky to escape the authority that they wanted over our lives, it was for us risking our souls escaping Tempenka to be thrown back into the fire, a circle of punishment for survival. They failed in their court bid. Gretchen and Kai’s foster parents, Uparit and Grey, were not actually foster carers. They were government liaisons tapped to keep us under control” Luna laughed, bitterly “It didn’t work out the way they planned, though. When Kai and me challenged the supervision order in court, Gretchen and Uparit and Grey were adamant that we are capable of being functional members of society. They had diversified our private tutors with an education to include all social, financial and legal responsibilities, and we both maintained employment. We were responsible and participated in charity drives and donated our time. Our therapists concurred. The outcome was a year of supervised independence, as we were to be leaving our foster parents to create a home of our own. We kept therapy and individual handlers mandated with our order, and our apartment. The therapy ended after a year, Kai and me officially released on our own recognisance. We kept the handles, though, as they kept up there observation. They were waiting for anything that could, that would, prove us incapable just once.”
Luna stopped, twisting her fingers around each other, looking hassled and angry, then continued “I made it clear that when therapy cleared me, I was not going to communicate with them or participate in whatever schemes they had planned. I did not want to associate with them, not because I was afraid or out of any fear of them, but because I fought so hard to not be controlled. I wanted not to lie, not to be a puppet agent. I guess they held out hope, but we had had such excellent foster placements. What they did was fail themselves, cheated by their own hand. I haven’t seen Stoker in a year” Luna rubbed her eyes, red “I am sorry that I didn’t say” her ragged breath still hitching, her throat welled and sore “I had only hope that they were leaving me alone. Kai alone. I knew that they must be watching, following, hoping that we would return to Tempenka so that they would have an excuse to raid if we were not willing to spy for them. They came to Pacer often. I see them. They don’t hide. I am sorry that by omission I have lied to you”
“Stoker is a code name. The character, the person behind it is just a genderless face, a body” then her tears, her burden pressing, enclosing her life. Chloe held her and waited until she stopped. Chloe then stood and pulled Luna up, looked her in the eyes, and compassionately yet with her firm voice said “Let us see what he wants, then.”
Luna nodded numbly, understanding that Chloe was assisting with the burden. They showered and dried, dressing solemnly, then waited for the knock on the door. Chloe walked the few steps over and let Stoker in. He sat on the chair next to the small, rounded table. Luna and Chloe sat on the foot of the bed, not smiling.
“I am sorry to startle you. This is important. Semira has disappeared.”
“When” Luna asked sharply.
“The night you left. He went out clubbing. He got into the taxi with another male, approximately 6”3’ and of a similar age at 0430. The taxi never dropped them off at their apartment. He has not returned since to that location, nor attended his shifts at Malaree’s. We have been monitoring the community, however he has not arrived at that destination either. He has not contacted work. Has he been in contact with you? When did you last see and or speak to Semira?”
Luna became furious, outraged “how could you lose him? You stalk us relentlessly and you LOST him?” her voice was escalating to shouting. Chloe rested her hand on Luna’s tense, agitated shoulder as she continued “How dare you insinuate that he returned to Tempenka. You know how we feel about that. You need to stop assuming he did what you desired. We would NEVER go back” She spat the last words out at Stoker. Luna breathing then began to tremble and she began twisting her hands again, said “We had dinner the night before we left. Our wedding dinner. We flew out the next day. I think I texted him when after we checked in. He was going to the Esther Ball” Luna looked at Chloe, then continued “his boyfriend Myrk. He was the other boy? Or is he ok?”
“We have been unable to confirm the identity of the companion as yet, however it is most likely Gerome, who has not returned to work or the apartment”
Luna stood and started to pace, a feverish expression on her face. Stoker waited. Chloe watched. Luna turned, “Why?” then again, anger “How can you not know?”
Stoker stood, then sat again “We keep very little stabs on either of you. You made you decisions remarkably clear” Stoker paused before stating “We have been intercepting letters from Semira to Sashenka.”
“Tempenka” Luna automatically corrected “Since when?”
“About a month after you moved out and Gerome moved in”
“Intercepted? This is a little intervention is it? Were they sent on at all? Or is that too much intervention?”
Stoker shrugged, “After interception, they were copied to Semira’s file, then they were sent on. Would Tempenka accept you back? Semira?”
“NO. We have been over this” fury was entering Luna’s voice and adjusting her demeanour “they couldn’t. It would rupture the tranquillity of the place. We are tainted. We are shunned. Even worse than the converts who chose the Tempenka perfection and then abandon it. We, who were destined, fled perfection for sin. You would know all of this if only you had read your own reports. They state exactly what Sashenka said when she was told of us, of our capture by the state” Luna frowned “You are still monitoring them?”
“Did they get the letters?”
“I know they never open or check the mail at the gate”
“Yes. We know” Stoker replied with a tone bordering on recrimination. Chloe looked at him scathingly.
It was Luna’s turn to nod; “Yes, I remember main only ever being taken directly to Sashenka. Which means you know that. You just want to know my reaction” she grimaced “what was he writing for?”
“For his parents to be in contact”
Luna smiled maliciously “It would have been Myrk, Stoker. You know this. If you were any good, you would have has analysis done on the handwriting. Fingerprinted it. Known exactly who had sent it, who had posted it. You are intentionally baiting m, torturing me. What exactly is going on?”
“No. I am not baiting you. Our analysis have concluded the same. Semira did not know what Gerome was doing”
“Of course not. Kai was generational Tempenka. We were raised without parents. What is going on? Outside of your Tempenka parameters?”
“That Semira and Gerome have disappeared”
“Oh. So Myrk was the other, then? I have told you all I know” Luna held outright dismissal in her voice.
Stoker nodded curtly, then “Can you stay here until we find Semira? Just in case it is something we should be concerned about?”
“Concerned about what?”
“In case it was targeted”
“Targeted? From whom exactly? I think that you should concentrate in finding Kai. Tempenka has nothing to do with this. They barely leave that farm” Luna started to clench her fist, “You come here, bringing your stupid, arrogant prejudice. NO ONE has ever left that community beyond sunlight hours. NO ONE. That place” she spat “is at least a 32 hour drive, or 7 hours of connecting flights from here” Luna was utterly worked up, infuriated “Which you would know from your own reports. You job is to find Kai. Not to make unfounded accusations. We battled and fought not to go back to that place from idiots like you, who only ever fought to place us back and then sought to discredit us when you failed. You have absolutely nothing to say on whether we stay here or return. Get out” Luna pointed furiously at the door. Stoker stood and walked out the door.
Luna burst into tears. Chloe stook quickly and wrapped her arms around Luna. Luna clamed, frustrated as she drew all of her unravelling back into herself. She shifted from Chloe’s hug, and then shuddered as she sat on the bed.
“You know what frustrates me the most is that Tempenka, while defiantly exclusionary to the outside, is decisively no –violent. Holds no weapons. They are a simple farming community that rejects the callings of sin, they delineate the evils of society from themselves. They are not secretive, they are selective. They don’t want what the world offers, including weaponry. You either reject it all or embrace it all. They stay at the farm as it is the only place that they can control, the only place that they are safe. 150 years of non-violence, yet they are viewed as a threat. They don’t believe in a mythological doomsday, or in culling yourself or others. They glorify life. What they insist on, the department that Stoker represents, that Tempenka is anything else is beyond me. It is not like people have left before and condemned them. We were…young and ran as an act of rebellion against growing up. If it wasn’t for where we came from or the fact that we didn’t want to return, ever, we would have meant nothing. I don’t understand why they fear without provocation.”
Chloe said nothing, let Luna drift with her emotional Landscape, far too much had already been interfered with and inferred. Chloe resolved to distract Luna the only way she knew how, and gently kissed her. Luna, for lack of anything else that would make her feel like she want so alone, pulled at Chloe’s shirt, urgently kissing her down her body.
Two days later, they were lounging by the pool. Stoker walked to the deck bar, took a stool and ordered a drink. Chloe noticed, then glanced at the incongruous beauty besides her pretending to nap, “Drink?”
Luna mumbled her assent yet did not open her eyes. Chloe snaked her way through the pool side chairs to the bar, “What are you doing here?”
“I cannot leave. I am the only one”
“She doesn’t want to speak to you unless you have answers” the bartender approached and Chloe ordered the drinks.
“I know. We have been looking for 5 days. No unexplained dead bodies, no unaccounted for stolen cars, no ransom demands made, all stolen credit cards and obvious false names checked out at hotels. Once we had realised that he was missing, we had highlighted to border control, passport and land checkpoints as well as the team observing Tempenka. 5 days of nothing” Stoker sighed, then sipped his drink before continuing “I am her handler irrelevant of whether she wants one or not. I would be here without this. I am, I stay visual, as we have to be sure that his disappearance is not habitual. I am here for the safety of Sky.”
Chloe picked up her order that the barman had sat down in front of her, the turned away before adding “She has a point about your department. If I see you again, or anywhere near Luna or myself when we get home, I will be pursuing stalking charges.”
“No…” Stoker half-stood, raising a placating hand.
Chloe cut him off without hesitation “I am not a scared child, nor a traumatised young adult. I do not care for you, or your department. It is actually important whether she wants a handler or not. I cannot easily be discredited. I have no idea where on the food chain you are, but just so you understand I have begun pursuing legal recourses in information regarding Luna. Push, Stoker, and see exactly what I will do to protect her.” Chloe walked off.
Luna had been tortured since Stoker visited. She was only relaxing because Chloe was mildly sedating her. Their honeymoon had become a disaster and the days filtered by with anguish and drifting within the haze. Three days before they were due to go home, Chloe and Luna were lying naked on the bed, a slightly sweaty glint shearing over their bodies. Luna was propped up on her elbow, gently running her fingers in an ever increasing circular pattern over Chloe’s stomach.
“I am sorry for being difficult”
Chloe took Luna’s hand and kissed her fingers, shifting her body closer to Luna, encouraging where she desired “You are not difficult. I love you. That is where the circle starts and finished. I love you.”
Luna smiled, kissing Chloe’s wrist, her hand bee lining across Chloe’s skin. A slight tap at the door made them startle. They grabbed hotel robes. They had both gone from relaxed to tense in an instant. Chloe opened the door. Stoker entered, walked passed Chloe and stopped in front of Luna. “I am sorry Sky, His body was found. Fished out of the river this morning. He was just identified.”
“What happened?” Luna asked as tears involuntarily started streaming down her face.
Stoker sat at the table in the same chair as before, pulling out his notebook and opened it too a page two-thirds of the way through, then said “The taxi was hailed on the streets by Gerome and both entered at 0430 from the Esther Ball Homeless Youth Charity after party. He drove them to a riverside industrial estate, where various indications suggest torture. They were then weighed down and thrown into the river. He was 43. Male. Brent Leah. At this point we have no discernible motivation. No criminal past. Resisted arrest. Shot at arrest site. Deceased.”
Luna tensed, then “Wait. You knew the taxi driver was missing? Or you didn’t bother checking on him?”
Stoker paused “We were looking for him, yes. He had delivered the taxi to the next driver and then failed to show for his next shift. He was ran through our systems. As I said no criminal past. It was…not a high priority.”
Luna slapped him across the face. She struggled to compose herself, and then said “Please Leave. Thank You.”
“I am so sorry” Stoker stood and then left.
Luna’s voice was hitching as she failed to speak, and then fell back on to the bed. Chloe curled up around Luna. They laid like that for hours in the silence. Eventually, Luna shuffled and cuddled further into Chloe, before whispering “He was my last connection, my last evidence that I existed before. I will never speak Tranqi again. I have lost myself.”
Chloe had no answers, only comfort, only love. They stayed that way until they left, hibernating together within Luna’s sorrow.