We arrived at the Grumman Chinese Theater just as the doors were closing with everyone inside. The drivers parked the vans in the alley. A bunch of commandos—that sounds cheesy, but I don’t know what else to call them—got out and did a quick surveillance before motioning us all to join them. The drivers remained in the vans with the engines idling. We were now a little army of some very suspicious-looking characters.

We approached a side door to the theater along with half of the commandos. The other ones broke off and disappeared around the front of the building.

Natasha came up next to me. “Remember that kiss?”

I nodded, feeling my cheeks flush.

“If we get out of this, I promise to do more than that. Now, stay close.”

The door opened and immediately there was some scuffling I couldn’t quite see. After a few seconds, we advanced. I had to step over the body of a guard who apparently had been dealt with by one of our commandos. I didn’t have time to stop and inspect him—nor did I want to—but someone was dragging his body into a dark corner. He might even have been dead.

Fuck me sideways.

I wanted to turn around and run. I had no choice but to keep on advancing. I did pause to take off my high heels, holding one in each hand. I didn’t have a gun or a knife, but I had two deadly heels.

Anyone who stood in our way, guards, stagehands, it didn’t matter, were dealt with swiftly. How was that fair, I wondered.

Life isn’t fair.

Oh, that had been my dad, now in my head. Over and over he’d yelled those at me as a kid, while my mom downed Manhattans in the background.

I now know, when you’re in life and death situations, some pretty random memories resurface to haunt you.

We reached stage left. Someone bolted out suddenly, trying to run onto the stage, but Erolin held up a hand and the person slammed against a wall and fell down, motionless.

I had to clap a hand to my mouth to stop from screaming.

I looked at Natasha for reassurance, but she was staring out on the stage, eyes alight with excitement, hand grasping a long knife. For a brief moment, I wondered what had happened to her on Oran, because that’s where I now understood she’d been. I’d only half-believed the rumors, but now I knew they were true. The planet really did exist. How long had she been there? Had she killed even more people?

A bead of sweat slithered down my brow. And another. I began to sweat profusely, the horrible tight dress sticking to me like a second skin. I would die in this dress, surely.

Phillip, Mavis, and Rey were all on the stage about to do some bullshit talk about the movie before it started. The front rows of the theater were filled with press and celebrities. In the back rows were some lucky fans who were on their feet clapping uproariously. It looked as if my darling Phillip had just finished some sort of fancy kicking stunt.

At that moment, as Phillip basked in the glow of the bright lights, Stryker Gunn walked onto the stage. The enthusiastic noise descended into confused silence. Perhaps they thought he was a stunt double. What a laugh. And then Erolin walked out and Mavis gave a little screech. She couldn’t have actually known what was happening, or that Erolin was the real love of the real Stryker Gunn. But somehow she instinctively knew.

The look on Phillip’s face was priceless. I think he was peeing his pants.

And then, when Natasha walked out, it was over for Phillip. He tried to back away, but Gunn drew his sword and held it so the tip touched Phillip’s throat.

Rey, on the other hand, didn’t waste a moment in indecision. Swift as a deer and incredibly light on his feet for such a musclebound man, he ran first toward stage right, where two theater security guards stood uncertainly, not sure what was happening. Once they saw him barreling down, they advanced to protect him, drawing their guns. Shots rang out, reverberating throughout the theater. The two guards dropped, shot dead by our commandos who now appeared from the shadows behind the guards. Rey deftly changed direction, jumped off the stage, and began running down the middle isle. Erolin walked calmly to the front of the stage, raised a hand and Rey lifted off the ground, flew backwards through the air, and slammed flat on his back into the middle of the stage. Slowly, he sat up. Erolin came to stand over him.

“Hello, old friend,” she said.

He stood up and dusted himself off. “How nice to see you again,” he said sardonically. He turned his eyes to Gunn. “And you.”

“Save your lies for the poor sheep who follow you,” said Gunn.

“There are millions,” said Rey.

Gunn turned away and motioned Natasha forward. She circled Phillip, inviting him to fight her.

“Remember how I saved you?” Natasha cried.

The crowds continued to sit in stunned silence. Perhaps they thought it was all part of the show.

Phillip blustered and guffawed. He tried to get ahold of himself by taking a strong martial arts stance. Natasha lunged and he jumped back. She laughed.

“See the big star?” she told the crowd.

A sea of open mouths and wide eyes stared back.

Natasha moved again, and the two circled each other. She baited him, motioning for him to attack. And finally, he did. Natasha easily blocked his punch, lunged swiftly to his right side, and broke his arm. Then she swept his foot and he landed, screaming in pain, on the ground.

Did I feel sorry for him? No.

I walked over and looked down at him.

“Jessica,” he cried. “Help me.”

Calmly, I put my right shoe back on and slowly and precisely ground the heel into the bicep of his broken arm.

He screamed louder and it was music to my ears. The crowd was beginning to murmur, thinking hey, maybe this wasn’t a show after all. 

Natasha looked at me like she wanted to fuck me right then and there. I removed my high heeled foot from Phillip’s arm, dripping blood, turned, and kissed her just as savagely as she had kissed me. “More of that later,” I promised.

The deafening sound of gunfire brought us back to the present. One of our commandos fell to the ground. Someone, perhaps one of Rey’s Delta Force, was up in the balcony seats of the theater. Then, his body fell over the side and landed on top of some people sitting below, amidst screams. One of our commandos appeared on the balcony to show all was well; he’d killed the guy.

Gunn grabbed Rey’s hand and raised him off the ground. He seemed unharmed from this flight through the air and no longer appeared dazed.

Mavis sidled up to me. “Jessica, what the hell is going on? I’m sorry about everything, he told me you two were over, I swear.”

“Do you think I care?” I said scornfully.

Natasha gave Mavis a little nudge. “Hey, you’re my neighbor, you looked for my cat that time he was lost. Get out of here,” she ordered. Mavis gave a whimper of thanks and scurried off, jumping over the dead bodies of the guards on her way.

In the front row, I could see Lana, hand over her mouth, eyes wide in shock. I motioned her to come up here and as if hypnotized, she rose out of her chair and climbed up the side stairs to the stage.

Then, she seemed to wake up and ran to her husband. “Lance, what’s happening!” she cried.

“Don’t worry,” he said.

For a second, I felt uneasy. Was he bluffing? Why didn’t he look afraid or even worried?

Natasha pushed Lana away roughly, telling her to keep back. I grabbed hold of her. “Stay with me,” I said.

The murmuring of the audience had swelled into hysterical screams. Some still sat, frozen with fear and uncertainty, but most were now standing and trying to get out of the rows of seats.

Gunn cried out in a loud voice, “Stop!”

Immediately, the room fell silent.

“Sit down!” he yelled.

They did.

A few things happened quickly after that. Ariyan ran down the aisle and leaped onto the stage, surprisingly agile for such a short guy who earlier appeared insignificant. Now he acted as if he was in charge of an army. He was deftly holding some sort of machine gun and he yelled an order for everyone to stay where they were if they wanted to live. Although I didn’t know it at the time, he and his men had been busy incapacitating the guards and securing the exits throughout the theater.

Gunn continued, pointing at Phillip, “This man is an imposter. I am the real Stryker Gunn.”

Phillip whimpered. “That’s unfair. I’m just an actor.”

“And part of a little company called Dark Films,” said Ariyan.

Phillip stole a panicked look at Rey.

But Rey wasn’t looking at him. Rey seemed to have disappeared inside himself, as if he was no longer even there.

And I must confess, that made me even more uneasy. What if he knew something we all didn’t?

Gunn turned his attention to Rey.

“This man, Lance Rey, a former low-level Russian spy, came to my world of Oran and betrayed me to my enemies. He is responsible for the death of my sister. He stole my life and became rich while I languished in prison.”

Erolin held out her arms, one at waist level and one about ten inches lower. Then, slowly, she brought her hands together. As she did, Rey writhed in pain. His right hand was being crushed by an unseen force.

Lana screamed and reached out to him, but he pushed her away. He gained control and stared with cruel intensity at Erolin.

At that moment, the curtain rose and everyone’s attention shifted to a huge screen. I thought, wow, they can’t be playing the movie now? And a movie did begin, but as it rolled, a horrified hush fell on the crowd as a Dark Films Production was shown. I found out later it was one of the many films Lilly and Farida had stolen from Manson’s office on the docks.

While the rest of us had been on the stage, Lilly, Farida and Hannah had gone up to the projection room, where one of Ariyan’s men had incapacitated the projectionist, and had inserted this film.

There, on that giant screen for everyone to see, was the evidence of powerful men and also women who had used and abused girls and boys in horrifying ways.

It didn’t take long before the spell of inertia was lifted from the crowd and a tidal wave of objections hurdled toward the screen. People were rising out of their seats, not caring anymore of the consequences. Probably many of the celebrities present knew all about Dark Films; in fact, some were represented on the screen. A stampede ensued.

But the doors remained locked and we watched as the people rushed one another in their frenzy to escape. In the confusion, another two security guards appeared on the stage, trying to save Rey, and they were done away with, the stage floor now slippery with blood.

At the back of the theater, the angry fans had turned on the celebrities and were beating them back, refusing to let them escape.

An explosion blasted out from the projection room, followed by flames. Sparks rained down on the seats below. Fire! Someone yelled and that was it. Full blown panic descended. The fans abandoned their fight against the celebrities and began to run out of the building.

Natasha grabbed me and we all ran through the backstage area and out the side door to the waiting vans.

Natasha and Gunn threw Rey and Chu into the van.

“Where’s Farida and Lilly?” cried Adonai as Hannah came running out of the building.

“Someone threw something in the projection room and the place exploded,” said Hannah. “I don’t know…”

“We have to go,” yelled the driver of our van.

We could hear sirens approaching. The theater was now engulfed in flames.

And then, the door flew open and Farida exited, holding onto Lilly who was limping, but didn’t appear unduly hurt.

They got in the van and we whisked away just as the fire engines and a host of police cars arrived. Commandos from the other two vans had helped people get out of the theater and they now followed behind us.

“They destroyed the film!” cried Hannah.

“Just one copy,” gasped Lilly.

Farida told the driver. “Turn on the radio.”

He turned it on and every channel was reporting about Dark Films.

“You’re going to see that tape on TV. Everywhere. All those motherfuckers are going down,” said Farida.

“What are you talking about?” Lana whimpered. Her eyes were wide in disbelief. “Lance, what’s going on?”

“They’re terrorists who want money,” he said. He was clearly in excruciating pain from his crushed hand, but he gritted his teeth with immense self-control.

Lana’s eyes darted around from one to the other of us. “They don’t look like that?”

“No one will harm you, I promise. Negotiations—”

He didn’t get any further. Gunn’s hand struck Rey’s throat, just enough to cause him to gag and heave in a sharp breath while Lana screamed.

“Oh, would you shut up,” Natasha told Lana. “I always thought you were an intelligent person. But you’re so obviously blind, it makes you dangerous—to yourself and everyone around you.”

“Including your child,” said Adonai quietly.

“Gem!” gasped Lana.

“Don’t touch my child,” yelled Rey viciously, showing what seemed to be his first real emotion.

The van veered suddenly into an alley and we switched into a different one, as did the two vans shadowing us.

We made it back to Le Relais Basque without incident and dragged our prisoners inside. The vans and the commandos took off.

Adonai immediately turned on the TV, which projected onto a large screen. Sure enough, every news station had the film and was talking about it, intermittently cutting to the fire at the theater.

“So many powerful people shitting their pants right now,” said Ariyan with satisfaction.

“But American justice isn’t severe enough for the two of you,” Farida said to Phillip and Rey.

“I would love to kill you myself, but I won’t,” said Gunn to Rey.

Rey just smiled. “So much displaced anger. Such hypocrisy. But wait and see. There’s always a twist to the tale.”

“The only twist will be your torture on the Red Moon,” said Erolin.

Rey was about it respond when his face contorted with agony. The thumb of his other hand was now crushed.

“Don’t make me crush each one,” said Erolin, her voice emotionless. “I want to leave something for the Red Moon tormentors.”

“But you’re the fugitives,” Rey gasped in pain, looking from her to Gunn. Suddenly, he fixed his gaze on Natasha. “Surely you’re appreciative. I gave you what you wanted, didn’t I?”

“You used me,” she said.

He was panting in pain, but still he answered perceptively. “You needed this adventure. Admit it; you’re glad I gave it to you.”

Her jaw tightened and a low sound came from her throat. “I want you dead and gone, not for myself, but for all the others you’ve made to suffer.”

Gunn put a restraining hand on her shoulder. “I made a deal with the Council, remember?” He pointed at Rey. “You will go to trial for betraying the Council and running away like the coward you are.”

Rey laughed, and I must say, I had to admire him for that, considering the pain he was in.

He turned to Adonai. “And you’re a part of this? I thought we were friends.”

“I thought we were, too,” she said, softly. “Once, long ago.” She turned away from him. “I will prepare the way.”

“You’re all crazy!” objected Lana. “What is everyone talking about?”

Yes, she was the only innocent in this game. She really didn’t know anything. And that was incredible. How she could so blind herself to what is in front of her face.

Hannah asked with concern, “What do we do about her? She didn’t do anything wrong.”

At that moment, the door opened and in came one of the commandos with little Gem.

Lana rushed over and took her baby.

“Please,” she cried, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Let my husband go. I don’t know what any of you are talking about. All I know is he’s a good man and a good father. What you’re doing is cruel and wrong!”

“He’s evil,” said Hannah. “He needs to go back to Oran to face justice. Ariyan explained it to me and I trust him.”

“What about me?” Phillip cried peevishly, holding onto his broken arm with his other one. “I’m just an actor. I don’t know about any of this.”

And that’s when I lost it. I was tired and probably in shock. I also hadn’t eaten anything since early that morning. Without realizing what I was doing, I grabbed a gun from I don’t even remember who and raised it, ready to shoot Phillip.

Of course, I didn’t succeed. First of all, I know nothing about guns. Besides, Natasha grabbed it before I had a chance to do anything.

“You don’t have the killer gene, Jessica, remember? You don’t want to do this.”

My body crumpled against her and she put her arms around me.

“You’re all freaks,” cried Phillip, staring at me, not with the hatred I expected but with horror, as if I was a monster.

And maybe I was. Maybe we all were. How many people had died this night? Had all of the audience escaped the fire?

“It’s time to go,” said Adonai.

“And her?” Ariyan asked, pointing at Lana where she stood holding tightly to her baby.

Erolin walked up to Lana, who took a fearful step back.

“What do you want to do?” she asked Lana. “You can stay here or join your husband.”

Her eyes grew wide in consternation. “Lance, I—we need you.”

“No,” said Rey forcefully. “You can’t come with me. Gem, she’s too small to take a firefly inside of her.”

“A what?” said Lana.

“You’ll stay here,” Rey repeated forcefully.

“No, please, I can’t be without you,” cried Lana.

Adonai and Erolin looked at one another and Erolin nodded her head.

“The baby has the firefly gene. She can travel and won’t be harmed,” said Adonai.

Rey looked surprised, which gave me a feeling of satisfaction. He didn’t know everything, even though he acted like he did. Still, he reiterated, “They mustn’t come.”

At that moment, the door burst open again and in flew one of the waitresses. I don’t know her name, but I recognized her as the angry little punk rocker who’d spilled my drink one time and acted as if it had been my fault. She was probably only e18 or so and would have been pretty if not for the spiky hair and unflattering black eyeliner and lipstick, But that’s a matter of taste, I guess. I’d heard she was a crack addict who’d wandered into the café one day. Adonai had taken her in and she’d been clean now for a couple of months. Adonai was like that, always taking in strays.

She froze in the middle of the room, staring at all of us and we all stared back. Quickly, her eyes settled on Rey and she stomped toward him in her ugly boots.

Pointing a finger, she shouted, “You promised you’d get me into the premiere, you fucking bastard!”

“Who’s she,” Lana asked, looking in confusion from the waitress to her husband.

Whatever her relationship was with Rey, I’d never find out, but I could guess.

This must have been the breaking point for Rey because, suddenly, he ran. He had positioned himself so that he was closest to the hallway. Before anyone could reach him, he had disappeared through the vortex. Of course, I didn’t know what it was at that time, I found out later.

Right after him sprinted the waitress. And after her, we all followed, except the entrance to the hallway was too narrow and only Adonai and Erolin made it into the hallway, while we were bottlenecked behind them. I was closest to Adonai and I saw her try to grab the waitress but Erolin shot out a hand and stopped her.

After that, there was an explosion of light and a bad smell of burning flesh. I managed to push Adonai aside to see a horrifying mess of organs, flesh, and blood puddled on the floor at the end of the hallway. The poor waitress hadn’t known about the vortex and she didn’t have a firefly.

Like so many people, she’d tried to follow Rey and she’d gotten burned for it. Literally.

And then so many strange things happened that, honestly, we forgot about Rey and the waitress. The electricity went out and the café was plunged into darkness. The television emitted loud static and pulsed with purple light. As suddenly as it had gone out, the electricity was on again and the TV was back to normal.

As if drawn by a magnet, we all walked over to the big TV screen and looked up at it. There was a new news story. It showed the theater and someone standing in front of the smoldering building.

“It seems nothing can stop this film,” the announcer was saying excitedly. “Not even a fire—which has been put out with no injuries. Wow, what a night! What a premiere! Moon Wars is destined to break all previous records. The biggest grossing film of all time.”

Adonai switched the channel, again and again. All the stories were the same.

It was as if the exposure of Dark Films had never happened.


This is an excerpt from K.H. Mezek’s new novel, Luminaria: Tales of Earth and Oran, Love and Revenge. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.