It was soon thereafter I found out irrevocably that there a shipping organization—I can’t say names, for security purposes—but it was a shell company for an international human trafficking ring. Under that umbrella was a company that had created a video game called Dark Lords, Inc., specializing in torture and snuff films. Again, that was a front. The games were real. I needed to get my hands on just one of those films and link it to the shipping organization. With some added snooping, I found out the films were made in a series of three bungalows on the L.A. docks, behind the gates of a packaging company, owned by the shipping company. The security was so tight I couldn’t figure out a way in.

It was maddening. I had to keep waiting. And waiting. It was driving me insane.

I turned my attention to Lance Rey. I came to see that Manson was Rey’s fixer. I’d thought Manson was a big wig, but Rey was one of those oligarchs at the top. Untouchable. Unlike many others who remained obscure, he had a big name because of Moon Wars. But he stayed out of the public eye. He was never in the press, never involved in any scandals. He seemed to be happily married. From what I heard, he practiced Sufism. I followed him for a couple of months, out driving with his wife, going on long weekends up in Carmel. He had lunch meetings and spent time over at a café called Le Relais Basque. I’d never seen him even tipsy and word was he eschewed drugs. He rarely attended parties, and then only private ones with heavy security.

But who was Rey, really? As I gathered information, I linked him to a low-level Soviet spy named Andrei Kuzmich. Kuzmich had infiltrated a top secret government lab outside of Seattle, Washington, working as a lowly janitor. Apparently, he’d stolen top secret specimens from something called the Firefly Effect, although no one would actually verify this. Nor was there any evidence he had sold whatever it was he’d stolen, not to the Chinese or anyone else. From one day to the next, he and this Firefly Effect had simply disappeared.

And then, low and behold, about a year later, someone named Lance Rey burst onto the publishing scene with his blockbuster book Moon Wars, all about fireflies linking travel between Earth and a planet called Oran. Coincidence that it was about fireflies? Maybe. But Rey resembled Kuzmich, except that he was fitter and had a bald head. I managed to get some of his DNA, but it didn’t match that of the Soviet spy.

So I was back to square one. No proof. Nada.

It wasn’t until I had an interesting conversation with Adonai, the owner of Le Relais Basque, that things really started falling in place. She had an apartment above the café and, for whatever reason, she invited me in one evening and we climbed the stairs to the terrace above. There, we drank red wine as the sun set and the night air filled with the scent of jasmine. She told me a crazy tale of a secret lane behind the café leading to another world and I was tipsy enough to listen.

Jokingly, I leaned over the edge of the terrace. “Where’s the lane? You’re crazy!”

In a split second, I found myself dangling over the edge in midair and Adonai was holding onto my wrist, keeping me from falling. If she’d let go, I probably wouldn’t have died, but I’d have been a mass of broken bones and no doubt wouldn’t have walked again.

“Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.” I heard the words and I think they came from Adonai, but it all happened so fast. Next thing I knew, I was back in my chair as if nothing had ever happened.

Adonai was handing me back my wine glass. “You almost dropped this,” she said.

I looked from the edge of the roof back to Adonai. “Who…what was that about?” I gasped.

Then she told me the story of how she came from Oran to this world.

“I don’t get it. This is like, insane. Why are you telling me?” I asked.

“Because I know the heart and mind of a person. And you have a part to play in this scheme.”

Okay, yes, it was too incredible to believe. But I did believe it. And when she told me I wasn’t the only one who wanted to take down Manson and Rey, I realized how alone I’d been and how relieved I was to know there were others. Because sometimes in my darkest moments, I really did wonder if I was insane. And of course, being told such a crazy story should have convinced me that I really was. Instead, it made me sure that I wasn’t.

Adonai took me down to her apartment and showed me a secret room, built beneath the floor, just like in a spy movie. It was a lab where she conducted experiments. She opened a safe and there, all in a row, were the shiny silver metallic fireflies. They were tiny, half the size of the nail on your pinky finger, and yet perfectly formed. She picked one up and it immediately began to pulse with a soft blue light and buzz softly. She put it back and it was still again. Entranced, I reached out to touch one. Fast as lightening, Adonai pulled my arm back.

“They are volatile,” she said. “The time will come to use them. But that time isn’t now.”

I ached to take one of the gleaming wonders. Physically, I was much stronger than this tiny woman. But after what had happened on the roof, I knew she had a power that went beyond physical strength. And so I desisted.

Once again, I had no choice but to wait.

That’s when, as fate would have it, I met Lilly under such unusual circumstances and she called me for help. I didn’t much like her, I must confess. She was arrogant and seemed quite useless. But I could tell right away she didn’t belong with the rest of us in that holding tank. When I found out who her husband was, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I fully intended to infiltrate her life and get to him. I never would have guessed she’d take away the pleasure of killing Manson myself.

I must confess, when I showed up and saw her holding that hammer and Manson’s brains everywhere, she grew higher in my esteem. I had underestimated her. And once I calmed down, I had to begrudgingly allow that she had just as much right to kill the bastard as I did.

With the connections I had, I cleaned up Lilly’s mess. And she owed me.

It wasn’t long after that when Adonai called me. “The time has come,” she said.

Tonight is the world premiere of Moon Wars at the Chinese Grumman Theater. Shortly, a team will travel through the vortex from the planet Oran. The real Stryker Gunn will face the imposter Phillip Chu. More than that, Gunn will face Lance Rey, the man who betrayed him and sent him to die on the Red Moon, stole his life, and made him into a commodity. Along with Gunn, others will arrive, but I don’t know who they will be.

Earlier in the day, I showed up at Lilly’s house. It was payback time.

She wasn’t exactly happy to see me, and I can’t say I blamed her. When I explained what I needed, she shook her head adamantly.

“I can’t do that. It’ll never work. We’ll both be killed.”

I grabbed her by the neck and gave a little twist.

“All I have to do is jerk that Lilly-white neck of yours and you’ll be lying on the ground just like your husband was.”

I let go and she coughed painfully, holding her neck, face dead white, eyes black pools of terror. I took her index finger and forced it to trace the cut on my face.

“Your husband did that to me. You don’t even want to know under what circumstance. And he had my sister killed. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Her lips were trembling now. She was shaking her head. “I—I don’t understand,” she croaked.

“You took away the one thing I’d been dreaming of doing for years. The thing that kept me going. I wanted to kill him.”

Her hand rose to her mouth. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. How would I know? It’s not my fault if—”

“Shut up,” I said.

And so we got in her car and traveled down to the docks. She showed her face to the guards and they let her in, after I can only assume she’d batted her eyelashes a few times and explained distractedly how she needed to collect her dear departed husband’s personal belongings that had been left in his office. Up until the point when she parked by the bungalows, I’d been in the trunk. The office was in the first bungalow. All three were squashed in between some huge hanger-type storage buildings that looked like they hadn’t been used in years. Throughout this vast property, there were security cameras. Everywhere except here. No one wanted proof of coming and going from this place. Lilly had a full set of Manson’s keys. She used one to open the door. Inside was an office and a series of computers.

Not many ordinary people knew much about computers at that time and Lilly was no exception, but she knew the password: “Lampyridae2000.”

“Huh?” I said, momentarily stumped.

“I overheard him say it once and I remembered. I store these things in my mind. I’m not stupid, you know.”

I sniggered at that, although once again, she had surprised me.

While I fiddled with the computer, she rattled on, “There’s at least 2,000 different species of fireflies.”

“Yeah, I get it. You’re a walking computer yourself,” I said.

The password was correct and I got in. There were about 200 files and I copied all of them onto discs.

I prepared to get out of there, but tiny little Lilly blocked my path. She looked up at me with accusing eyes. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I’ve made up for it, right? I feel kind of, I don’t know, cleansed in a way. I led such a sheltered life, and now, well, it’s like I can feel the adrenaline and I did all of this, things I never thought I could do, and—”

I cut her off. “You really fucking talk too much, you know that?”

I grabbed her arm and we got out of there. I folded myself back into the trunk and we made it to Le Relais Basque without incident.

There, I found my old pal Ariyan and his wife Hannah, who had flown in from some island somewhere. Ariyan and I went way back. He’d helped me and the FBI a few times with undercover work. In return, when he found out a price was on his head and it was only a matter of time before he was killed, a special team associated with the bureau helped him fake his death.

The café was closed. Adonai had a bunch of small black boxes laid out on the counter. She opened one and produced a firefly.

“I am going to let it find its way into your brain,” she told me.

“Like hell you are,” I retorted, backing off.

Unruffled, she explained, “We may need to get out of here fast. Trust me.”

“Do it” said Ariyan. “Even just for the experience. Forget about safety; how could you let this opportunity pass you by?”

I raised my eyebrows at him.

He nodded and touched his ear. “Yes, Hannah and I both have one.”

“It’s cool,” said Hannah. “I can’t believe I get to meet the real Stryker Gunn.”

Ariyan laughed and shrugged, as if to say, “You see what I deal with?” But you could tell he was completely smitten with Hannah, as she was with him. Lucky couple. How rare that was.

So I said okay.

“The hallway at the back of the restaurant is right next to the vortex,” she said. “If you need to use the bathroom back there, it’s okay. Just don’t go to the very back of the hallway, and touch the wall on the left side.

Adonai picked up the shiny object and the wings fluttered. The body began to pulse with light. She brought it close to my ear and quick as a flash, it entered my head. I felt an intense and painful pressure as the firefly burrowed inside of me. It was panic-inducing. This thing was going into my brain and there was nothing I could do about it. But then the pressure ended and my heavily beating heart calmed.

A heightened awareness fell on me, and I was aware of a slight pulsing in my temple. I saw everything more clearly, how all of us in that room were united with this alien thing inside our heads. I felt there were others we were attached to, as well, beyond that room, in another world. I even felt an attachment to Rey.

“Fuck,” I said. “Does Rey have one of these? Does he know we have them, too?”

“Of course, he will feel something,” said Adonai. “Maybe he will even sense something is happening and he should investigate. But tonight, what can he do? This is the biggest moment of his life. The world premiere of Moon Wars. These worries will lose significance compared to the moment when the entire world is acknowledging his greatest achievement. In his arrogance, he will think nothing can touch him tonight.”

Adonai turned to Lilly. “You deserve one of these, too,” she said. And for once, Lilly remained speechless and took the firefly bravely.

The café was dimly lit. The hallway at the back was dark. We waited in silence.

Within moments, faintly blinking lights began to appear from the hallway and then….

There they were.

The first to appear was easily recognizable. Stryker Gunn. A magnificent specimen of what…humanity? He looked human. But then again, he didn’t. He was so much more than human, yet if you asked me what that meant, I couldn’t say. With his burnished copper skin, long black hair, and lean, cat-like build, he looked uncannily similar to Peter Chu. Unlike Chu, an indomitable force flowed from Gunn so that you would never mistake him for that imposter.

Besides Gunn, there were three others. One was Natasha. I had never met her before, but I’d heard her story. She was dressed all in black, like Gunn. A powerful warrior. Her eyes met mine and I knew she was thinking the same of me.

Last came the Sorcerer Erolin. She was dressed in a similar fashion, except she had no weapons that I could see and she wore a short purple cloak. Her head and face were covered by cloth of the same rough material. Only her eyes of the same purple color shown out. She shook her head, as if to free herself from the memory of the harrowing journey, and the covering fell away, revealing a pale face of great beauty and a mass of flaming red hair held back in a long braid. She was a different sort of warrior, more powerful than any of us by far.

As if one person, Gunn and Natasha strode forward like two hungry beasts.

“Where is he?” they demanded.

“We go now to where he is,” said Adonai.

***

For all installments from Firefly Lane, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Chapter 1: Come to Me — Lana
  2. Chapter 2: The Proposition — Hannah, Part 1
  3. Chapter 2: The Proposition — Hannah, Part 2
  4. Chapter 3: Killer Gene — Natasha, Part 1
  5. Chapter 3: Killer Gene — Natasha, Part 2
  6. Chapter 4: Wrong Turn — Lilly, Part 1
  7. Chapter 4: Wrong Turn — Lilly, Part 2
  8. Chapter 5: How it Happened — Adonai
  9. Chapter 6: Vishku Way — Erolin, Part 1
  10. Chapter 6: Vishku Way — Erolin, Part 2
  11. Chapter 7: Undercover — Farida, Part 1