Theo didn’t know his eyes were closed until he opened them at the sound of popping and fire cracking. He fainted again? How long was he out?
The dust swirled upwards and grew into larger and thicker pieces as seconds passed. Soon a nude woman stood over him. Theodore sighed. It was only O.E.
“Be mo’ bashful!” she hissed, planting a bare foot into his face. With a huff, she turned away and gathered the clothes from the floor. “Looks like we won, but that ain’t no surprise. Ta think Rift would be so disorganized. Ya even shot me before I got to explainin’ myself!”
“When the enemy starts monologuing…that’s the best time to shoot…to kill…” Theodore found it difficult to breathe, yet he wasn’t in as much pain. Had he healed a bit? He couldn’t feel his extremities. Maybe the poison settled in his system?
He did his best to look over at O.E who smiled proudly toward Palindrome’s buildings.
The man asked, “Why didn’t you kill me this time?”
“I don’t know what ya are, but ya mighty important to get that big ole airship to hunt ya down. Our leaders dun wanna play their hand too quick. They enjoy da long psychological game.
“We won. Caught ya twice, and from the looks of it,” O.E grinned down at him, “acquired some of yer people and yer airship. So, tell me, how does yer leader deal wit a heavy loss?”
Theodore stared at her. Boss wouldn’t steep to sacrificing so many of his men. He wasn’t petty enough to believe in collateral damage. They were simply unprepared to face these roaches.
O.E. secured the belt on her hips and clicked her tongue, “Well?”
He closed his eyes. “By sending me in…to clean up the mess.”
“Oops. He placed too many eggs in a basket.” Her voice dripped with fake pity. “If Rift don’t kill ya, look forward to me exacting revenge for my bros. We, as Palindrome, simply reflect what Rift do!” O.E. stepped away from him. “I, on the other hand, have my own code that I can’t enact ‘til another day.”
“Your brothers…They are alive?” Theodore asked, thinking about the two thieves he shot earlier that day. She must’ve been some sort of phoenix creature. If they were related…
“Dey are very much dead. Gonna give ‘em a proper burial tomorrow. Palindrome’s a family. We dun throw our people into a one-sided battle.”
Sneering down at him, she rolled her eyes and strutted towards the communication building. With a weak wave, she finished, “That’s da difference between Palindrome n’ Rift. Yer fodder. We have pardners that have our backs.”
“Th-then where’s yours?” he breathed before erupting in a coughing fit.
“Probably spittin’ up the fodder somewhere! Doubt he could stand da taste of airship and abandoned Rift gangsters for long.”
He already knew that E.O was alive with enemy blood on his tongue yet hoped his suspicions wouldn’t be true.
A Jeep looped around to his location. In the backseat, several Rift members sat tied bloody, semi-conscious, or dazed. They all had a streak of yellow paint across their eyes. A Palindrome goon stepped out from the passenger side and approached the immobile Theodore.
She knelt beside him and lifted a hand dripping in paint. From this distance, he noticed her translucent skin that revealed small scales beneath the surface. Something about the intensity of her eyes made him nervous.
“You best close your eyes,” she whispered.
“Why?” he immediately asked. He saw her small teeth within the abnormally wide mouth and narrowed his eyes. She was one of the creatures who drowned his colleagues and poisoned him. Theodore guessed she hid her extra pair of arms beneath the cloak she wore.
“You wouldn’t want this in your eyes,” she answered. Her hand appeared webbed the closer she approached his face. Reluctantly he squeezed his eyes closed and allowed her fingers to paint across his eyelids. They tingled then burned. If only he could move…
He was lifted from the ground and carried to the Jeep. Someone secured his wrists and ankles with rope before tying him to the guy beside him. Once his captor released him, Theodore unwillingly flopped forward.
“Damn it,” he muttered. First, he lost control of his body, and now his eyes won’t open. Where was Palindrome taking them? O.E. hinted that he wouldn’t be killed…for now, but what about the others with him? How many Rift members got away? Theodore hoped to be saved…again. Was this the third time in a single day?
Boss would be seething. Theodore imagined he’d fallen further from his good side.
This was a disaster. His eyes tingled, but he felt calm amongst his frustrations. He was so tired. So very…very tired.