The Exquisite Corpse of Ava Cotto: Part 8

She had never been to LA before.  It seemed such a wonderful city with all those movie stars, the sun, and most importantly, her father.  Maria had never met her dad.  Amelia told her little about him, quick to dismiss inquiries into his profession and nature, but she had formed a distinct image of him in her mind none the less.  To her, he was as a tall, thin man in spectacles always hunched over his desk deep in study, yet so warm and loving to her.

Every night, she would go to bed thinking about what new adventures he must be getting up to, the discoveries he’d been making, all the fascinating books he must be reading, and the deep intellectual conversations with professors he must surely be having.  She swore that as soon as she was old enough to drive, she was going to go find him since he was exactly the kind of man who would want to know he had a daughter and would be upset that mom had kept the two of them apart for so long.

She was shocked when mom finally told her they were going to see her father.  Delighted, but shocked and suddenly nervous that he wouldn’t be impressed with her.  She’d always tried to study hard but living off the grid made it hard to fit in and feel normal and Maria wondered in that instant what LA girls were like at her age.  She had no real clue what her mom did, it was always so hush-hush.  She knew it involved a lot of serious men in business suits since whenever her mom would go somewhere, she’d always meet with a group of them who’d whisk her away into some building.  This time however, those serious men in business suits whisked both of them into a small office.

Maria, as any sane girl is wont to do, immediately found the spinny chair and started twirling around as she sat on it.  Her mom started talking to some guy she called the Director and another she called Bob and a about some machine, but every time Maria started listening, she got a frosty stare from her mother that indicated she should return to quietly, if now sulkily spinning.

After approximately ten million years, someone gave the all clear for Maria to finally go meet her dad and she rushed to the door, practically stampeding over all poor fools who dared get in her way.  Her mom was able to corral her and calm her down some as they walked down the hall, but she was too excited to think.  Her mother and the Director blathered on about some Alpha-3 protocol and some boring technical stuff on a Daisuke machine of last resort, but she didn’t care.  Her heart was beating out of her chest in anticipation as she approached the door where she knew her dad would be waiting for her.

St. John Metaxas was nothing like how she imagined, but it hardly mattered.  She just wanted to run up and give him a hug rushing forward a few steps before reconsidering, her nerves getting the better of her.  Her brain was being flooded with thoughts and insecurities.  Her dad wasn’t saying anything, hadn’t moved at all since she walked in.  Was he just as paralyzed as her?  Was he disappointed?  Was he not the man she thought he was?  Maybe he was just cold after all and not the warm-hearted man she had envisioned for so many years.  All the confidence and excitement fled her body, replaced only by feelings of unease as she opened her mouth trying to speak the first lines that she had rehearsed so many times in front of the bathroom mirror.  Why hadn’t she done so again instead of spinning on that chair?

“Dammit St. John, say hi to your daughter already”

Her mother’s words cut through the air and broke the tension enough for her father to struggle out a greeting and a bit of a smile.  That was all Maria needed to know how her daddy felt and she rushed up to him, practically tackling him with a hug.  Amelia and the others filed out of the room to gives them some time alone which Maria eagerly used to fill in every detail of her life, how mom’s job took her all over the world, about the serious men in business suits, about the creepy town of Innsmouth, about the young boy with the overprotective nanny she had just met while her mom was in Rome, and about how she had thought of this day all her life.

Their fun is interrupted as her mom, the Director, and a guard come to retrieve them.  The Director insists that her dad has some important information and that time is short, explaining everything he knows about some engine.  Maria follows along intently for a spell, nodding her head as if she understands the technical talk but thoughts starting to slip into her mind about how she made a fool of herself with their introduction, and resolves to write down what she will say the next time she gets a chance to talk to her dad.

As she’s looking through the drawers for a pen, pushing past all the important looking documents, a man bursts in, shooting the director and attacking her father.  For the second time today, Maria’s heart races as her brain can’t decide whether to run or hide.  As she flees under the desk in a panicky hurry, she knocks over a handful of pens, pens which offer her a third option.  Like a banshee, she rushes out and attacks the awful man attacking her dad, landing right on his chest.  No one is going to take him away again.

She’s almost surprised by how effective her blow is, the pen stabbing his chest and after a moment causes him to collapse dead to the floor.  She backs away hurriedly from the body which speaks one final, vulgar line to her before it passes, standing in shock at what she has done.  She doesn’t even notice her mom hurrying the two of them out of the room and into the nearby woods.  Her vision is blurred, and head is spinning.  She collapses onto a rock after miles of walking, unable to go one inch further.

It takes Maria a bit before she sees the bodies strewn dead throughout the forest.  Dozens of dead bodies which all seem to have been running towards where they had just come from.  All of them seemed to have something strange attached to their backs that was not quite flesh and yet not entirely mechanical.  It was a pouch that was a part of each of them.  Some of the pouches had been badly torn up and were covered with blood while others had their contents removed, but it seemed like all the men were dead.  Maria wanted to cry but just couldn’t find the tears, her emotions had shut down completely.

But out of the darkness shown some light as one of the bodies started to move. Maria found new strength from some undiscovered portion of her being as she ran over to help.  She kept calling out for her dad, desperately checking for breath, a pulse, anything.  Finally, it manages to get out the word “Warbler” before her dad takes over, caring for the wounded man and calling him Possum.  Her dad reaches into the pouch and removes a small package, handing it to her mother as he cradles the poor man in his arms, wiping away the blood.  Possum wears dark goggles over his eyes that her dad doesn’t dare remove and trembles weakly.  Behind them, the sound of rustling as Amelia opens the package and rushes off to make a phone call.

Maria can hear only a fraction of the message, but it’s enough for her to get concerned.  Things have to be really serious for her mom to become too distracted to make sure she isn’t snooping.

“…is compromised… the Director is gone… the courier has delivered the countermeasure… Machines believed to be online in…”