Backspin Special Edition: "Mission on the Edge of Yesterday"
As the battle with The Radwanska carried on, both old and new generations came under Its evil sway. But the human race, though outnumbered and often overpowered, was not prone to ever give up the dream of freedom. Thanks to a loyal bands of rebels -- and their spiritual, inspirational and tactical leader, "Citizen" Anna -- fighting for The Cause, the daily promise to the masses that the malevolent alter ego would never be able to fully rest was steadfastly fulfilled. Everyone settled in for a long struggle, hoping that one day the key to ending the Radwanskian threat forever would be discovered.
But what if the fight was over before it had ever truly begun?
That was the apocalyptic scenario that Anna and her followers had hoped to avoid. Optimism was prevalent... but then Anna disappeared.
When We Last Saw Anna...
With the clever quickness of a world class athlete by now familiar with having to fight, to the death if necessary, in order to survive, Anna effortlessly jumps vertically as high as she can, twisting her body around in mid-air and swinging her sword at waist level. She makes a direct hit, and The Radwanska wails out in pain. Anna looks down at her weapon and sees green blood dripping down the sharp blade.
As Anna takes a step back to steady her balance, she sees The Radwanska. Its flowing darkness nearly envelops her, but it keeps a safe distance from her sword. Anna continues to swing wildly, but furiously, at the air, hoping to make another strike at the manifested-into-semi-physical-form alter ego as It alternates from wispy blankness to substantially tangible form, and back again. She tries to attack It from a different angle, but Its glowing red eyes follow her and she is unable to catch It unaware and vulnerable once more.
Anna scurries along the rocky terrain of the cave, searching for a more advantageous position. She quickly climbs to higher ground, but The Rad seems to be able to rise to her level with no effort. As she stares into Its eyes, she hears a voice. It might only be in her head -- she can't be certain -- but she "hears" it nonetheless.
"You will never win," the voice says.
"I'll find a way," she responds defiantly.
"You will die in your attempt."
"If that's the price of freedom, so be it. We WILL defeat you," Anna declares. She scrambles to the highest position she can, then leaps from one rock to another. For a moment, she can see The Radwanska, but It can't see her. She realizes this might be her only opportunity. She holds her sword tightly, points it directly at the wispy black form beneath her and leaps into the darkness, with her eyes wide open.
The days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. Many months. "Citizen" Anna's absence persisted for several years and The Cause unsurprisingly struggled without its inspirational leader, as the stream of intel between the freedom fighters and the double agent Minions suddenly ceased to exist and what little advantage that was had against The Rad was lost. As The Radwanska's strength grew, and the battles became bloodier, The Cause's forces dwindled. But the collective resolve remained steadfast. As the numbers of the traitorous Minions grew, one Radwanskian massacre was followed by another even more hideous display of malevolent evil, then still another that inevitably served to diminish the impact of all previous tragedies by comparison.
It was a never-ending cycle of despair.
The Rad's Plan had worked. Within six months of Anna's disappearance, the alter ego had perfected the technology of stable and repeatable reverse-time travel, enabling It to provide Itself with a long-lasting source of power that eliminated The Rad's occasional exhaustion -- the one monkey wrench hurled into many of Its multi-front attacks. In the aftermath, future cities fell, and society halted. After The Second and Third Scourges, life on the planet was left a shell of what it was before, and civilizations threatened to buckle with unimaginable swiftness. As fear and alarm were rampant, hope was nearly dashed. The end was near, though tenuously kept at bay by small pockets of persistent resistance seeking to preoccupy The Radwanskian forces with inconveniencing conflicts across multiple fronts of battle, doing everything humanly possible to preserve -- and maybe one day restore -- our freedom... for today, yesterday and forever.
But supplies, ideas and, alas, optimism were running low. With The Rad's final deathblow to the forces of freedom now within sight, there was just one option that remained. And it was a long shot, especially without Anna's special skills in the mix. After years of secret work against a ticking clock, The Cause's own secret venture to perfect stable time travel -- dubbed "The Krakow Project" -- was finally bearing fruit. It would be the world's remaining inhabitants' last bastion of hope. Previously, only brief, unstable wormholes had been opened to allow travel between time periods. Brave, as always, Anna had volunteered to participate in the early tests, nearly dying in one catastrophic attempt, severing a hand (later re-attached) in the process. Theoretically, the more reliable technology would enable the rebels to "level the playing field" with The Rad, opening up deep and wide passageways into time and permitting indiscriminate passage back and forth between time periods in order to assist The Cause on the multidimensional fronts of the war. The new technology would allow the human race to challenge The Radwanska at Its own game, with chess-like moves and clever intuition, as the battlefield moved from the present to the past, and back again.
Those in the know wrestled with their own dwindling faith in the belief that it wasn't too late to change the past, and that The Rad's power hadn't grown so great that It could no longer be challenged. As turncoat Minions crushed rebel opposition at the behest of The Rad's wicked wrath, which carried on unchecked without the presence of an adversary confident and strong enough to cause It the slightest unease, one thing was apparent: the world needed Citizen Anna back.
And everyone was keeping a vigilant eye on the lookout for her.
Posters were hung in far-flung places around the globe, from the shells of burned-out skyscrapers to the roofs of mud huts in Malawi. "Where is Anna?" was one popular query, translated into as many languages as there are languages. Another pleaded for assistance, practically begging for the heroine to save the day: "Anna, We Need Your Help Before It's Too Late."
Some within The Cause were soberly realistic about Anna's fate, but some of the highest-ranking rebellion leaders who'd worked closest with her refused to give up hope that she'd be found, discovered to have been secretively working deep undercover, and could still lead the world into victorious battle against The Rad. But time was short. Then, thought-lost blueprints of Radwanska Abbey were discovered in the ruins of Backspinville, Anna's part-time home from which many of The Cause's leaders and foot soldiers emerged. Knowing that Anna had been behind the obtaining of the floor plans during her time period, and with the new time-traveling technology ready to be tested, Commander Sloane Stephens made the decision to lead a mission deep into Radwanskian territory. The Abbey was the target, in a time period approximately eleven months after Anna's disappearance, and prior to the soon-to-be-rebuilt structure's later fortifications that had made in an impenetrable fortress of evil. Technicians assured Stephens and the rest that the technology was reliable, but many still deemed it a "suicide mission" with little chance of success.
If the time machine didn't kill the members of the mission, they argued, The Radwanska surely would... dooming those that they'd left behind to even more sorrow. But Sloane and the most purely-motivated rebels knew that such a risk is precisely the sort of chance that Anna would take if she felt the stakes were high enough. And they now were.
Whether Anna would be found at the Abbey or not, Sloane believed that Anna's intuitive strategic mind and an intimate sense of The Rad's thought processes, after so many behind-the-scenes and head-to-head encounters with the alter ego and Its Minions, had led her to store away this important bit of information, or have it stored away for her, for future use in such a time of despair. She must have seen this day coming, the Commander theorized, saying, "It's just what my good friend Anna would do," and stressing that it might be the key to victory over The Radwanska. Sloane, keeping her team small and compact, huddled with her most trusted colleagues within The Cause to put together a plan for the mission. As they prepared to risk their lives once again for the freedom of all, the importance of every word that was uttered was felt deeply within each member's bones, as well as their souls.
As the small band, dressed in black helmets and body armor, with metal swords strapped to their sides, stepped into the time machine's metal "circus ring" and girded themselves for the trippy, cosmic trek back to the bombed-out outskirts of London, they said little to one another, knowing that the time for words had passed, and would also come later. Either in the light of a discovery that would pump new life into the battle against The Radwanskian oppression, or in the shadow of a failure that might leave them grasping at the last few remaining straws of hope that they could muster.
Of course, in the pits of their stomachs, they all knew that there was a third scenario that was quite possibly the most likely of them all -- that this mission would be their last.
As a technician flipped a switch, the ring began to glow, generating intense power within the circle. With a flash of light, the fate of the members of the mission -- and quite possibly the world -- was solely in their oh-so-human hands.
In a flash, they were gone, taking the hopes of an entire freedom-hungry people with them.
The End is the Beginning
Is it the beginning of the end? Or the end of the beginning? Maria can no longer tell. It's been so long since she's set a feet down on something other than the hardwood floors of this building that she sometimes wonders if she ever really existed outside of it.
As the early morning sun rises above the distant rubble of the formerly glorious city, with its architectural skeletons desperately reaching upward toward the bleak sky, she haltingly walks across her room with as much calm and quiet as possible. She doesn't want to wake Yuri and Yelena. The thought causes her to briefly pause in her tracks.
She had another of her dreams -- nightmares, really -- last night. The one where she sees the “other” faces of her dear children. The one where everything she's ever known is revealed to be a lie. It always sets her nerves on edge, and she can't move forward without escaping to the adjoining room to clear her head. She's told the doctor about these images produced by her mind. "They are only dreams," she's been told repeatedly. "You need not wish them away. They are not real. It is your damaged soul that must be repaired. Only then will the nightmares cease."
But they never really do. The dreams scare her. They shake her deeply to the core of her being, and she's only recently realized that she is in a perpetual state of fear, and often finds herself having trouble catching her breath, even when she is only sitting alone in a chair in a dark room in the middle of the day.
As Maria crosses the beam of sunlight stretching across the floor, her long white nightgown glows. She stops, experiencing the feeling of warmth against her body. It feels extraordinary. But the pull -- the craving of a bit of freedom -- to leave her room is stronger, so she maneuvers her way to the door, silently turning the knob and walking into the empty hallway. She takes a few steps, leaving the comfort and safety of the familiar four walls behind. She looks back and sees the bare footprints she's left on the dusty floor. She is horrified by her lack of caution. She quickly kneels down and rubs out the evidence of her covert movement, her heart beating out of her chest. After she's satisfied with the covering of her tracks, she returns to her task, only this time she walks along the wall, being sure to step in the dust-free path that she's carved out during her previous excursions. As she gets half-way down the hallway, as usual, she can hear the muffled sound of a voice behind the heavy red door of Room #97.
She knows not to try to open the door. It's locked. It always is. Now, at least. And the one time it wasn't... well, she'd rather not live through another trauma such as that again.
Maria creeps through the open door of the third room down the hallway from her own, partially closing it behind her, leaving just enough space between it and the door frame so that she can hear footsteps echoing from farther down the corridor. This is the room where the straightjacket eerily hangs on the clothes rack in the corner. It always makes her shiver, so she tries not to look at it. But she can't help herself.
She scurries to the left side of the room, dodging several overturned chairs, and looks behind the chest of drawers resting diagonally in the corner, searching for her secret stash of supplies. She always worries that someone will have discovered and removed them from the premises. But there they are -- an old rag and a can of red paint. She figures the paint was left over from when the red door was first painted a short while ago. When she found it, she knew that her first move would be to hide it away for future use. She hadn't seen anything "new" in ages. It wasn't long after that that the nightmares started. After listening for sounds outside the room -- she hears none -- Maria heads for the old mattress propped up against the wall. She struggles with all her strength to pull it away from the barred window, then leans it against the barren bookcase on the adjoining wall. The position reveals the "canvas" to her eyes once again.
It bolsters her hope for a better existence. Some day.
She often considers painting something new, and more grand, but then decides against it. Why do something else when this work speaks for all that she is feeling but dares not speak aloud? In her eyes, it is perfect. Plus, she only has short bursts of time to do her work. The simpler the better. She pries open the paint with a broken-off piece of wood from a collapsed chair, stirs its contents, then dips the rag into the liquid and paints directly over her previous work, following along the same lines, strengthening the message, both on the mattress in her own consciousness.
After a short while, Maria loses track of time, getting lost in the repetitive brushstrokes. A quick glance out the window shows that the sun has moved to a point where it is no longer visible around the side of the building from this vantage point. She's stayed too long. Yuri and Yelena will be here soon! Quickly she folds up the rag with the paint-soaked area on the outside -- so it will dry -- and places it in the corner, but before she can put the lid back onto the can of paint, she hears noises at the end of the hallway, around the far corner. She fumbles with the lid, accidentally getting paint on her fingers. She hides the can partially behind the chest of drawers. Not its normal spot, but still out of sight, and then tries to push the mattress back into place. In her haste, she smears some of the paint from her fingers onto the canvas, which she leaves leaning only partially straightened against the window. Hearing footsteps, she quickly runs from the room, following the dustless path back to her own door.
Before she steps inside the room, Maria looks back down the hallway. Nothing is there. She was sure she... Just then, a pair of voices, in unison, greet her from behind. "Mummy, where have you been?," bleat Yuri and Yelena. The voices cause Maria to close her eyes and freeze in her tracks. Because of this, she misses the sight of a cat scampering across the hallway. With slightly-glowing eyes, it looks in Maria's direction. The glow suddenly disappears.
Maria is somewhat surprised as how quickly her pulse is suddenly racing. After looking down and seeing the red paint staining her white nightgown -- she reflexively wiped her hands on it without thinking -- she speaks while keeping her back toward the children. "I thought I heard a sound in the hallway," she says, slowing making her way across the room toward a closet as casually as possible. "But it was nothing."
Yuri and Yelena giggle together. "Silly mummy," Yuri says in his English accent, "You know there's no one here but us."
"You're hearing things in your head again, mummy," adds Yelena.
"Yes, maybe I am," Maria haltingly agrees, frantically searching with darting eyes for a day dress within easy reach in the closet. Finally, she finds one, then quickly lifts the nightgown over her head, draping it over a chair -- paint side down -- and then slips on the dress. She turns around to face the children, putting on a smile.
"There," she says in a cheerful voice. "Ready for the day."
The children say nothing, and only watch her closely as she walks to the window without a word. As she stares at the still-smoking distant landscape, she can see her own frightened expression in the reflection in the glass. She hopes Yuri and Yelena cannot see the same.
"It's a beautiful day." She sits down in a chair and faces them. "What have you two been doing all morning?"
They say nothing, and only look at her quizzically. Maria almost feels as if they are reading her soul.
Moving in perfectly odd harmony, the children sit down on the floor next to each other. "Tell us a story about The Radwanska, mummy," asks Yuri. Though it sounds more like a demand than a request.
"Oh, I'm sure you've heard them all by n-."
"Tell us one we already know," interrupts Yelena, staring directly into Maria's eyes without a hint of a smile on her face. "We love them all," adds Yuri.
"But they're supposed to scare you. You don't want to be scared so early in the morning."
"We love to be scared, mummy," says Yelena. "It makes us feel...
Maria waits, but Yelena says nothing more.
"It makes you feel what, Yelena?"
As the helmeted members of Operation Blueprint traverse the dark passageways, Commander Sloane shines a light down their intended path, using the blueprints superimposed onto her inner visor to guide the way. She talks into a small audio communicator linked to all the other mission members.
"One more right, then a left...," she imparts, as the others follow her lead, their swords at the ready with every step they take, just as Anna always instructed. The group prepares to take a final left into a longer passageway. "And we should have light..." They turn a corner... into a lighted hallway. In her mind, Sloane sends out a thank-you to her much-missed good friend.
The Commander flips up her visor and checks the hallway. Both directions. She lifts her left hand to shoulder level, urging complete silence. She gets it. The corridor seems to be deserted. She flips her visor back down. "Normal clearance procedures. Go," she orders, forcefully lowering her arm. Wordlessly, she sends three squad members in one direction, while she and two more head the other way.
The teams painstakingly check every door, search every room, covering all the stairwells and side doors they encounter, desperately searching for Anna, or anything useful to The Cause. Once the level has been adequately swept, collectively, they move up one floor. Then they repeat the same procedures there.
In her room, Maria stares blankly at the empty wall. She's clutching her long blonde hair in one hand, and a whiskey bottle in the other as she mumbles the same phrase repeatedly.
"Watch out, The Radwanska might get you. Watch out, The Radwanska might get you."
Together, Yuri and Yelena rise without emotion. They stand together in the center of the room... then simultaneously sense that something is wrong. They turn toward the door.
Separated from her team, QC walks down a dusty corridor. She sees an open doorway and moves toward it, slowly entering the room with her sword drawn. A quick check of the inside shows that no one is there... but it seems as if someone may have been not that long ago. The room is a mess, but no less so than any other part of the Abbey. The entire structure seems to be deserted.
But then there's this.
There is fresh red paint spilled on the floor, and a mattress that is partially leaning against a window and sliding down a wall. QC can see paint dripping from the side of the mattress turned away from her. She flips up her visor and seeks to get a closer look. Setting her sword against an overturned chair, she turns the mattress over, revealing what is on the other side.
Written in red paint is the phrase, "Help Me."
Excited, QC reaches to communicate news of her find to the rest of the group, but then she hears something outside in the hallway. Slowly, she grabs her sword and walks across the room. She sees no one, but again she hears a noise. It's coming from a room farther down the corridor. Carefully, she goes to it. As she approaches the door, she notices that it has a square look-in window in the middle. She can see there is light emanating from the other side.
Tentatively, QC knocks on the door three times. After a few seconds, she is answered by three knocks back. QC inches her face upward toward the opening, hoping to catch sight of what is inside. Just as her eyes reach the level of the window, a face pops up and stares back at her.
It's QC, only an older version of herself. It stuns her at first, and she's not sure what to make of it. "Hi me," she says to the familiar face. She raises her hand to the window, and the older her does the same, matching her every move as if they're both looking into a mirror. QC watches as the individual on the other side of the door begins to mouth words. Reading her lips, QC knows exactly what she is trying to tell her.
Repeating the words aloud on her side of the door, QC says, "The end is the beginning, and the beginning is the end." Once she completes the sentence, she feels the door suddenly get hot. One second later, an explosive force blows her backward, flinging her into the wall and sending her sword flying up the empty corridor.
One floor below, Sloane hears the noise. She quickly gets onto the communication system. "What was that? Sign in... #1, go!" One by one, the team checks in.
"Lalie, I'm good."
"Jada. Good, too."
Silence. Sloane waits impatiently. "QC?"
"QC? Are you there?"
Still nothing. She checks the team's tracking signals on the device on her wrist, zeroing in on QC's location. She's immediately angry. "Dammit, QC! You never listen," she says out loud, then, into her mic, "She's three floors above us. Lalie and Jada, follow me there. The rest of you be on alert. Proceed with caution!"
The Commander flips down her visor and races for the stairwell.
Moments later, Sloane reaches the floor from where QC's tracking signal was detected. At the far end of the corridor, she sees her two helmeted colleagues approaching two figures in the middle of the hallway. Sloane can see that it's QC, with her helmet off, sitting and leaning against the wall. But there is another woman leaning over her, offering her assistance. She's blonde, and is wearing a thin white dress that almost makes her appear to be an apparition floating over the dirt and grime of the corridor.
With her sword drawn, Sloane slowly approaches. She's not sure if she can believe her eyes. Could it be?
"Anna?," she calls out hopefully.
The woman slowly turns her head toward Sloane. "Who?," she asks. Once she sees her face, the Commander is even more shocked, as a chill shoots down her spine. She quickly looks to QC, whose smiling face seems to confirm that the "ghost" she believes she is looking at is actually no ghost at all.
"Maria?," Sloane asks, hardly believing it to be reality.
"Yes?," Maria answers wearily. "And who are you? Who are all of you?"
Sloane removes her helmet, then raises her hand to tell Lalie and Jada to lower their weapons. "It's Maria," she calls out to them." They seem stunned, and are disbelieving. "Yes, THAT Maria. I told you she existed. She was my good friend."
As she says it, Maria studies her face. Suddenly, there's a hint of recognition. "Sloane?"
The sound of her name brings a wide smile to the Commander's face. "Yes, yes... it's Sloane, I mean me. It IS you." She leans down next to Maria and gives her a hug. While she does, Maria gets a better look at the injured woman who she was helping on the floor.
"Hey, QC," she says with a friendly tone and a smile. QC bashfully smiles back.
Suddenly, the Abbey starts to shake. Maria's expression goes dark and she turns to Sloane. "It's coming. We have to get out of here. Now."
As the team moves out, QC glances into the open doorway of the room in which she’d seen “herself.” It is dark, with no light at all.
As the group makes its way through the underground passageway, a light is visible at the end of the tunnel. Sloane and Maria talk as they head toward the ringed platform. After everyone has reached the ring, Sloane sends back the orders and waits for a response.
Maria looks out over the depressing landscape. "What happened?"
"The Radwanska happened. But we're going to make it right. I'm certain of that now."
"What about Yuri and Yelena?," a worried, but noticeably hazy Maria asks. "I have to protect them from The Radwanska. They're so young. They can't protect themselves."
"Trust me, they can. They aren't what they seem, Maria -- they appear to you simply as what you wish them to be. Clever disguise is their specialty -- there's nothing they do that The Rad doesn't know about. The Siblings are harbingers of doom and misery."
"Yeah, well. I guess I've known that for a while... but they're all I've had for so long." Sloane notices the sorrowful expression on her face, but decides to not attempt to dispute any of Maria's feelings about her ordeal.
The Commander receives the signal from home, and in an instantaneous flash the team disappears.
Moments later, back home in their time period, the members of the squad are greeted by loved ones and colleagues. As everyone steps off the travel platform, QC carries Tarzan in her arms, stroking his coat as the cat looks up admiringly at Maria. No one has noticed, but his eyes have ceased to glow since the squad's infiltration of the Abbey. Meanwhile, Maria notices several of the younger members of the group are staring at her with what appears to be wide-eyed amazement. They're trying to be respectful, but it's unsettling to her.
Sloane notices her unease, and gently grabs her forearm to offer support. "Most of their generation thinks you're a myth, part of a crazy tale we tell them about how The Rad came into existence." She smiles. "People's memories are short, but you'll remind them of how things used to be, and can be again. You'll be a true inspiration... like Anna still is, even after so many years out of sight."
"What do you mean, out of sight?"
Sloane sighs. "Anna hasn't been seen since your time period. We were actually thinking we'd find her, and had no idea we'd find you instead. A whole new group of recruits have come of age since Anna disappeared, but they know all about the contributions that she made to The Cause. We're very proud of that. Anna will be, too, when she decides that it's time to reveal herself again."
Maria looks over at her. "What if she can't? What if she's de-"
"She's not. She has a plan. She always does. Anna wouldn't abandon us. I think finding you was part of it -- she always believed you were out there somewhere. Now we just need her to come back and tell us what comes next. The last time we spoke, Anna talked about stopping everything that's happened before it even begins. The fact that you're standing next to me right now is proof that she was right. It IS possible."
Maria isn't sure what to make of Sloane's notions, but figures that maybe she's just too exhausted to see the complete picture. But there IS one other thing on her mind. "Umm, you mentioned something about MY time period. What exactly does that mean?"
Sloane chuckles. "We have a lot to talk about."
The Beginning of the End
Back at the Abbey, a pair of bare feet walk along the empty corridor. They stop in front of the sword that was flung from QC's hand. A female hand reaches down and picks it up, then carries it toward Room #97, the one with the red door.
She goes inside and delicately places the sword down on the floor, against the wall, and then sits down in a wheelchair positioned in front of a large window. From behind her, she hears the sound of two pairs of feet entering the room from the hallway. The two visitors see her sitting in front of the window, her golden hair falling down her back.
"What was all the commotion?"
"Don't worry, mummy," says Yuri. "It was nothing important," adds Yelena.
The woman shakes her head. "That's good." As she looks out the window, something catches her attention just outside the Abbey grounds. It's a solitary figure, walking along the outer moat with a confident gait, a hoody pulled up over their head. The individual stops at the swinging gate, then lowers the hoody, revealing a black fedora. From her seat, the woman smiles. "But there IS something that I have a problem with," she says in a newly stronger voice.
"What is it, mummy?," the siblings answer in unison.
"Well," she says, "For one... I never had any kids." Then, in one seamlessly athletic move, the woman snatches the sword from its position against the wall and executes a twisting leap through the air, swinging the weapon in an even swipe, cutting through the middle of the room with great speed and lethal accuracy.
The sound of a single "woosh", then two thuds, fill the air as Yuri and Yelena's heads are separated from their torsos with masterly precision. The woman settles perfectly on her feet, like a cat landing on all fours.
"I've wanted to do that for SO long," Anna says, savoring every syllable. "That was for my hand. Now we're even." She takes a few steps toward the door, then stops and turns around. "No, check that... I win."
Outside, the solitary figure, a woman, walks up to the gate outside Radwanska Abbey, then simply waits.
On the surface of the water in the moat, rotten melons are floating. The stench is appalling, but the individual does not make a move for her nose. Finally, the far-off sound of the front door of the Abbey being unlocked and opened catches the woman's attention. As Anna, sword in hand, makes the long walk toward the front gate, the woman watches from beneath the fedora, not moving an inch.
Without a word or gesture, Anna lays down her sword and unlocks the gate, swinging open the heavy metal door. She and the woman, a bit of blond hair sticking out from underneath the fedora, stand face-to-face.
"So this is where you've been, huh?," the woman asks. "Took long enough."
"It worked, didn't it?"
"I don't know. Did it?"
"Two down, One to go," Anna says with glee.
The woman smiles from beneath the fedora. "Good luck with that."
"Oh, luck has nothing to do with it. Umm, I believe you have something of mine?"
"Oh, yes." The woman removes the fedora from her head and tosses it to Anna, who catches it and immediately places it atop her head. "I don't know how you wear that thing,” the woman tells her “Very uncomfortable, if you ask me."
"Nobody asked you, Vika," Anna says as she grabs the sword and then walks past her without looking her in the eye.
It causes Vika to smile. After waiting a few seconds, she jogs to catch up to Anna, then walks along the moat with her, side-by-side. She pulls the hoody up over her head. "So, no, 'Thank you for bringing my hat to me, Vika?'"
Anna shoots her a look. "So, no, 'I can't believe you outsmarted The Rad, Anna?'"
Vika simply shakes her head. "You're just going to be insufferable until this whole thing is over, aren't you?"
With her old resolve in her eye, Anna stares straight ahead. "Yesterday, today and forever," she says.
Vika shakes her head, walking along beside her friend, knowing that their most important, as well as most dangerous, mission is yet to come.
For further updates on the continuing battle, keep a watchful eye on this space.
All for now.