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Chapter 11: As usual, Sabrina woke up well before Deanda did the next morning. Looking at the clock, she was surprised to see that it was barely seven. That wasn’t a decent hour of the morning in her book, especially when still feeling just a little jet lagged.
Even so, it didn’t take long for her to get antsy lying there doing nothing. Getting up to use the toilet, she couldn’t help but eye the bathtub in calculation. The antique with its four feet and high back looked perfect for lounging, a temptation she decided to give in to. Pulling the peach curtain to one side, she set the water temperature to her liking, then went rummaging inside the flawless wood cabinets beneath the sink for proper accessories.
There, Sabrina found a fancy spa kit with a large bottle of chocolate-scented bubble bath, which she used a decent amount of. The water foamed in response, and the smell of fresh cocoa had her closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. Sabrina put her hair up with a clip, stripped off her nightshirt and stepped into the warm water.
She hadn’t quite submerged her body when a more-than-unpleasant memory hit hard, forcing a shudder through her system. But the Hyatt hot tub had no right to intrude on her chocolate soak, and she forced herself the rest of the way in.
The bubbles clung to her skin in a delightful manner, and the steam drifted lovely aromas upward. Even so, it still took several minutes before she could let go of the sides of the bath and let herself relax.
That state of mind didn’t last long. Intruding on the peaceful experience she was set on having, a particularly obnoxious and definitely masculine voice played in her ear. Sabrina froze despite the two lines of pinpoint itches that erupted down the length of her back. In any other moment, that sharp sensation would have driven her to something close to madness. Right then, however, it was hardly the most pressing matter.
“Is this ever going to work right? It’s been days, and this is supposed to be cutting-edge technology.” It was Mr. Smiley’s voice loud and clear.
Sabrina glanced around the room with a whole lot of horrified disbelief. Was he invisible? And if so, was he in the bathroom with her?
She sank deeper into the bubbles, unwilling to move anywhere but further out of sight.
“Get it working,” he snapped.
“Mr. Seymour,” a second voice violated her space. It wasn’t nearly so deep but much more calm and rational, like a harried employee trying to keep his cool with a demanding boss. “I ran countless tests on it before I gave it to you, and it worked well the last half-dozen times. I don’t know –”
“I’m not interested in what you don’t know. I want to know where the little princess is, what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. Now!”
That was the final straw: the one that broke the faerie’s back. Sabrina found herself yelling for help, her voice unusually shrill.
Deanda appeared in the doorway a moment later, her legs stretching out of a pair of pink pajama shorts, and her hair sticking up at odd angles. “What’s the matter?”
“I can hear him!” Sabrina exclaimed wildly.
“Who?” Deanda swiveled her neck one way and then the other. “What are you talking about?”
“We really need to think up a better name for him,” Deanda muttered to nobody in particular without taking her worried gaze off her friend. “Did you fall asleep?”
“No!” Sabrina exclaimed indignantly. “I swear I heard him.”
Deanda didn’t look convinced. “Sabrina, I didn’t hear a thing.”
“You believe in faeries, but you’re not going to believe me when I tell you I’m hearing voices?”
Deanda sighed. Then she crossed the room to sit on the closed toilet seat. “What did he say?”
Sabrina started to open her mouth but found herself interrupted. The conversation in her head was back.
“I should be over there searching for her myself,” Mr. Smiley snapped.
“That isn’t our jurisdiction though,” the second entity noted, now sounding quite nervous. “I don’t think the president’s given us permission to interfere.”
“I’ll pull some strings,” came the reply. “She’s been ours far too long to just give her over to a bunch of stupid skirts.”
Sabrina shivered violently. She started to get up out of the tub, then thought better of it and sank back down. “Please tell me you heard that,” she pleaded, stretching her arm behind her to tear at the skin on her shoulders, unable to ignore the itching anymore.
Deanda bit her lower lip. “I didn’t.”
Just a few days ago, Sabrina would have thought she’d gone crazy. But after seeing altogether heterosexual men with wings, she could accept that life wasn’t always so simple. What she couldn’t quite fathom was that Deanda didn’t believe her.
“Okay,” she tried again. “Let’s say that, for argument’s sake, I am actually hearing Mr. Smiley’s voice. Can you think of any reason why?”
“It’s not like we’re telepathic, if that’s what you mean.” Deanda tapped her left foot on the tiled floor. “So you shouldn’t be able to hear anything that other people can’t.”
“Well, I am,” Sabrina retorted. “You can believe me or not, but I am.”
“I’m not saying that I don’t believe you,” she replied slowly, making the message anything but a declaration of confidence. She brushed a stray lock of hair out of her troubled violet eyes. “It’s just that you have been under a lot of stress this week.”
“’Stress’ doesn’t come close to describing it,” Sabrina said pointedly.
Deanda winced. “How about we call Geoffrey? He did give you his number, right?”
Sabrina nodded. “I put his business card in my purse.”
Apparently faeries could get reception downstairs in their world. How that was so, she had no clue and didn’t care quite enough to figure out. Technology wasn’t close to being her strongest suit, so she was sure that even if she did ask, she wouldn’t be able to understand the answer anyway.
Regardless, right then, faerie inventions didn’t concern her one bit. Mr. Smiley had mentioned a distinct “it,” which meant that there was probably some human device responsible for the voices. Which meant that, if Deanda couldn’t hear them, there had to be something inside Sabrina’s head.
“Did those HPAC jerks do anything to me after they brought me upstairs?” She asked, not sure she wanted to know the answer.
Underneath the water, she had her arms wrapped around herself, and she brought her knees in close too. As physical protection went, it was pretty meaningless, and it didn’t do much from a psychological perspective either.
“Not that I know of.” Deanda didn’t look entirely convinced with her brow scrunched up like that. “But I guess I didn’t see absolutely everything when we were down by the pool.”
Speculating further, Sabrina’s voice quavered. “You don’t think they operated on me, do you?”
She voiced the question even though she knew the possibility wasn’t high. In order to insert something into her brain, they would have had to be carrying more than the contents of that one briefcase. Or so she desperately hoped.
Sabrina reached out with her foot to flip the drain switch. The water started receding, and she grabbed at the bottom of the curtain to drag it across the bathtub, willing to take whatever measures she had to in order to protect her privacy from the HPAC. A quick rinse was all she needed before grabbing a towel, which didn’t seem nearly big enough to hide her the way she wanted it to.
She stepped out gingerly, afraid that Mr. Smiley might appear somehow. “I need a Q-tip.”
“A Q-tip?” Deanda repeated, looking that much more skeptical in the process.
Nodding distractedly, Sabrina turned her head at an angle to the mirror and attempted to see into her ear that way. She was pretty sure the sounds had been coming from the one side of her head, leading her to believe that, somehow, someway, her suited nemesis had in fact slipped her something.
It was a horrible thought.
She tugged on her earlobe and the cartilage above it. But try as she did, she couldn’t see anything suspicious inside the canal.
Deanda finally left, returning a moment later with a travel-sized packet of cotton swabs in her hand. She offered them with an outstretched arm and doubtful eyes.
Sabrina ignored the expression when she took the box. Extracting one, she began probing in her ear.
It was like someone flipped a switch.
“What was that?” The second voice asked in excited surprise.
Sabrina startled. Big time.
He continued, “It might be coming on.”
While Deanda watched in concern, Sabrina threw the cosmetic accoutrement into the trash beside her, sticking her pinky as far into her ear as she could instead. A trickle of blood ran down her lobe as she raked her nail into the sensitive flesh.
Neither that nor the accompanying pain fazed her. And when she did withdraw a red-stained finger, she didn’t so much as wonder whether she should stop digging. “Maybe the tweezers would work better.”
“Have you lost your mind!” Deanda exclaimed.
“I need something tiny and sharp.”
“To do what?” She demanded, her palms up and out in an appeal for reason.
Sabrina brushed past her into the bedroom, the inside of her ear burning from where she’d scratched it open. But the discomfort was barely a distraction. She grabbed for her purse and upturned it, sending its contents tumbling onto the bed.
Striding in after her, Deanda grabbed at the nightstand for her smartphone. In the meantime, Sabrina grabbed for the dulled silver tweezers, which had fallen next to a travel packet of tissues and her wallet.
Seeing that, Deanda abandoned her original idea. Still holding the phone in one hand, she reached for Sabrina’s wrist with the other.
Sabrina tried to jerk away but found her friend’s grip too tight to easily dislodge. So she resorted to an angry glare.
“Are you going to tell me what in the world you’re doing?” Deanda demanded.
“Are you going to let go of my wrist anytime soon?” Sabrina responded angrily.
“If you promise to explain why you’re about to impale yourself with a beauty device.”
Sabrina continued to glower. “Let go of me first.”
Deanda did so with obvious caution. “Alright. Let’s try this again. You’re hearing voices in your head?”
“Yes,” Sabrina affirmed.
“More than one?”
“Yeah,” she snapped. “It’s like a regular meeting of Sociopaths Anonymous in there.”
Deanda ignored that. “And you think one of them is Mr. Smiley?”
“No,” Sabrina corrected heatedly. “One of them is Mr. Smiley.” She put special emphasis on the verb.
Again, her friend glossed over the retort. “And they’re saying that something isn’t working?”
“And that they want to find me themselves. Or some ‘little princess,’ anyway; I’m assuming it’s me.”
Deanda still didn’t look anywhere near as convinced as Sabrina thought she should be. “Well, we should probably call someone before we do anything drastic like stick sharp objects in our ears.”
Sabrina shrugged her agreement, still feeling the sting of Deanda’s disbelief and her own panic at having some foreign material or entity inside her body. She swiped at the mess on her bed to make room to sit down, then snatched up a tissue to hold to her ear. It didn’t take much probing before she felt the warm dampness of blood seep into the thin sheet.
Deanda, in the meantime, grabbed Sabrina’s wallet without asking and went digging through it until she found what she was looking for.
Holding the business card in one hand, she dialed with the other, pacing up and down the width of the room the whole while. “Geoffrey!”
Sabrina couldn’t handle doing nothing, so she began rummaging through their shared closet for something to wear. By the time she was in her blue jeans and pale purple t-shirt, Deanda was lowering the phone.
“He’ll be here in thirty minutes, and he’s bringing a doctor with him.”
Sabrina was gratified to hear her sound graver than before. But just to vent more of her frustration, she still snapped at her anyway. “Would that be a shrink or a doctor of the medical variety?”
Looking chagrined, Deanda was rescued from trying to find a suitable reply when Richard knocked at the door. If he felt awkward being in a room with two silent women, one of whom was still clad in her pajamas, he didn’t show it. Instead, he asked for their permission to stay and then took a position by the door.
It seemed that Geoffrey had notified her guards that something might be going on.
Deanda grabbed up some clothing and went into the bathroom to change, which gave Sabrina time to cool off. Somewhat. When her friend reemerged still looking a bit doubtful, Sabrina didn’t want to hear the apology she knew Deanda was about to make. As much as she might mean it, it was still clear she didn’t completely believe her.
Sabrina grabbed up a book. Trailed by Richard, she headed downstairs to sit on the couch and pretend to read. And even after Deanda followed her some ten minutes later, she kept up that farce until Geoffrey showed up with the doctor. The woman looked like she was cast from a very similar emotional mold as the Intelligence director, judging by the serious expression she wore especially in her eyes.
A black satchel in hand, the newcomer introduced herself as Aileen. With her auburn hair pulled back into a no-nonsense ponytail and her longer bangs tucked behind her ears, she gave off a very professional aura. Her eyes were a startling blue, and her lips were a shade of red even Snow White would have envied. But it was her pert nose that captured Sabrina’s attention more than anything else, since it somehow seemed familiar. Apparently, that was because they were related; cousins on their mothers’ side, as Aileen explained.
Very efficient, Aileen apologized for not attending Sabrina and Kenneth’s reunion, while she went about removing the tools of her trade and arranging them carefully on a small, sterile tray. Most of the instruments looked familiar to Sabrina’s human memory, but she couldn’t help but worry about the ones she didn’t recognize.
Aileen first performed a routine examination, checking Sabrina’s blood pressure, heartbeat, throat, nose and ears with the smooth movements of someone who had done so a thousand times before. Meanwhile, Geoffrey escorted Deanda outside the room so they could speak in private.
Sabrina was sure whatever questions he asked were for her own good. She trusted him that much even after such a short acquaintance. But that didn’t mean she liked being kept out of the loop.
“Now these voices,” Aileen began, prodding further into Sabrina’s ear. “When you hear them, what direction does it sound like they’re coming from?”
“Like they’re right in my ear.” Sabrina tried to look anywhere but her cousin’s covered but still ample chest, which was directly in her line of vision. “And it isn’t like someone’s whispering right beside me. It literally feels like it’s coming from inside my head.”
“Geoffrey says one of the voices sounds like the HPAC member you had a run-in with back in the States.”
“Yeah. I don’t recognize the other one though.”
“So there were distinctly two voices?”
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” Sabrina asked in the most mature and sane voice she could muster. It took a great effort not to sigh in frustration and self-pity.
Aileen shook her head slightly, never looking away from her task. “Have you ever heard voices before?”
“No!” That time, Sabrina didn’t bother trying to hide her indignation.
Her cousin didn’t seem offended. “I didn’t think so, but I had to ask.”
Mollified a little, Sabrina relaxed as much as she could while the examination continued. But when her new doctor pulled out a smallish rectangular box and opened it to display a set of scalpels, her nerves shot up again.
“Am I allowed to ask what you’re planning on doing with those?”
Aileen’s professional composure cracked at that, and she laughed lightly. It was a pleasant sound, but Sabrina thought it would resonate even more so sans the knives. She kept a close watch on her cousin, who drew out a very slender blade and set it at an angle on top of the others.
“I’m just going to scrape a little skin out of both ears to see what I can determine. If that doesn’t work, I have other tests – both physical and psychiatric – that I’d like to run.”
Still leery, Sabrina sat rigidly while Aileen first used a small cotton swab to clean up the dried blood inside her canal. Then, with a warning that it was “probably going to be cold” and “don’t flinch,” the doctor deftly inserted the tiny razor. Whipping out a box of microscope slides, she contained both that sample and the next, then pulled a small microscope out of her bag.
That last action made Sabrina wonder if her cousin was the faerie version of Mary Poppins. The woman certainly was able to cram a whole heck of a lot inside her satchel.
Geoffrey and Deanda emerged a minute later, both looking grave. While the intelligence officer of course outdid her with that emotion, it seemed like Sabrina’s friend was finally convinced.
“This isn’t biological tissue.”
Aileen’s words commandeered all of their attention, though it was Geoffrey who began asking questions. In no time at all, the two lapsed into talk of silicone and transmitters and far less familiar terms. Considering that whatever they were saying pertained to her, Sabrina could only handle so much of the jargon.
“Hey, guys?” She interrupted Geoffrey mid-sentence. “Could you please tell me in plain English what you’re talking about? And if you could, use small words since I’m American.”
It was Aileen who answered, her red lips pursed and her eyes once again solemn, as if Sabrina hadn’t just tried to lighten the mood with a fantastically clever joke. “It looks like there’s foreign material in your right ear that just happens to have the correct ingredients for a very tiny tracking or listening device of some kind.”
Sabrina worried her lower lip.
I’ll have to run it down to the lab to get a better idea, but we also need to determine how it was fitted in the first place and with what. We need to remove it, of course, but I don’t want to cause any permanent damage while I do that.”
Sabrina felt her back tighten further.
“I wish I could get you down to the lab,” the faerie doctor muttered, seemingly more to herself than anyone else. “But that won’t be possible for days, if not weeks.”
She refocused on Sabrina after several seconds of contemplation, which she discarded with a shake of her head. “While I’m here though, how are you feeling in general?”
“Other than excessively paranoid, just fine, thanks.” Sabrina couldn’t help herself. The weak humor was a coping mechanism, pure and simple. But it seemed like a better choice than some of her other alternatives.
Aileen gave a gracious smile. “How about your back? Kenneth told me you’ve experienced acute itching.”
Mentioning the discomfort made her notice it again, though the unpleasant sensations had faded to some degree. “Yeah, it’s gotten pretty bad.”
“That’s to be expected, and it probably will get worse before it gets better. I do have some salve that should alleviate some of the problem though.” Reaching into her bottomless bag, she pulled out two small tubs of cream and handed one to each of the girls. “Rub this on every night. It should numb the itching a wee bit.”
Sabrina took the container gratefully, wanting nothing more than to slather the entire batch on right then and there. However, she didn’t tear off her shirt and bra like she wanted to. Instead, she answered a few more questions about allergies and medical history. When they left a little later, Aileen and Geoffrey promised to get in touch with Sabrina as soon as they knew more.
For her part, Sabrina found that both reassuring and not at all. There was no doubt in her mind that both of them were very intelligent and that she’d get a phone call within the next few days at least. But their smarts wouldn’t do her much good if there actually was a tracking device in her ear.
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