Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
In parts of the world they'd become a legend of sorts, talked about in quickly hushed conversation. Conspiracy. Like ghosts? Aliens? Costumed freaks? It was not long after that the witnesses of the events on Treadwater Island would not talk about the mysterious apparitions they'd seen. The masked girl in the dark trench coat who moved and fought with unimaginable agility. A vicious lady with giant glowing wings and dragon scales whose martial arts must have rivaled those of the ancient masters. Another girl who could turn into the brightness of light or the darkness of shadow at will. Then there was Valkyra. A low quality smartphone video of ghostly figure of a lady who'd easily lifted a boulder weighing an estimated seven tons and thrown it like a tennis ball through the air and into the ocean. The video had gone viral for a short period of time before someone suggested that it was staged with movie props. The legends had died down but they had not disappeared.
When they'd arrived back on the mainland, they'd assumed their identities once again. Not as ghostly mysterious legends but as four ladies. Four who had to provide answers about the events on Treadwater Island in the legal processions that would follow. Answers for which Valkyra's strength would be of little use. Instead Valerie had to persevere with her wit and stamina as her only allies.
The hearings. The court appearances. The trial where Valerie been acquitted of charges which would have found her to be an accomplice of Grier Torman. Her ex and unbeknownst to her, the city's criminal mastermind. He'd used his position as a Tynan And Associates board member to acquire businesses and other investments usually at much lower than their market value. Then months later he'd sell them again for a whopping profit. How he'd done it had been a mystery up until that point.
In the courts the Attorney General had revealed how the investigation had uncovered the fact that Torman was in charge of a large street gang, whose ties reached from one end of the city to the other. Before he'd purchase a business in this scheme, his gang connections would begin a campaign against the targeted business to reduce its value. Often this would include tormenting potential customers, suppliers or any other vital lifeline required to keep the business afloat. It would usually take a few months before the value of the business would plummet. That was when Torman would show up, with an offer that they could not refuse. Most often they didn't. The ones that did would not be in business for much longer beyond that point. Worse, the employees that stuck with the business would often find an early demise.
Once Torman had obtained the business or investment, his gang would then pressure for its growth. They'd encourage customers to buy from the business. Encourage suppliers to give generous discounts. Encourage media outlets to spread the word with discounted advertising and marketing. Within a few months the business would be booming. That's when Torman would sell. As simple as that. In the end Grier Torman was found guilty of murder, racketeering, extortion and many other charges, though posthumously. The lawyers and accountants would spend another decade fighting over his remaining finances and estate, something with which Valerie had wanted no part. She severed her ties with Torman, and the courts had merely ensured that fact. She was once again Valerie Aspen, Corporate And Business Analyst and would have to survive as such.
Her eyes were tired her back was sore, more so than her times as a pseudo costumed superhero with Alicia, Heylyn and Monique had been.
She'd been putting together a proposal to secure a development deal between several companies.
She'd worked with these companies years before under Torman's "guidance".
Working with Torman was more like being a bridge for him. Just lying down for him so he could walk on her, to get to someone else.
Just before the events of Treadwater, he'd gained access to a miracle formula developed by the Medical Research branch of Tynan And Associates. In all truth he'd stolen it from Alicia Westin, who'd developed it. He'd used the formula upon her and himself before they'd broken up. She had just found out about his involvement in the city crime ring and had felt betrayed by the man she'd once loved. She was angry, though not with him. She was angry with herself. After she'd been given the formula that was when she'd become her alter ego, Valkyra. She had the will to leave him and she'd just acquired the strength yet fate would not let it end that way.
The formula had affected Torman in a much different way. He did not become stronger, but instead had become more apt with his mental abilities. He was able to copy his mind onto the minds of others. They would then act in his and only his interests still trapped within their own bodies buried deep in their mind under Torman's ego.
She still recalled how it felt to be trapped like that. To be able to see out of her own eyes, but not able to stop herself from carrying out his plans. Like being tied up and gagged. Only able to watch as someone else did the driving with your body.
There had been times in her life with him that sort of thing would have turned her on. Adults do play and sometimes that play was a game of power. Of consensual submission. Whenever she'd submitted to him in the past, she'd known that it was her in control of them both. He wanted what she had and it was her choice ultimately as to whether to let him have it. She'd make him earn it, if only so he understood its value. Her value. Yet what he'd done to her since using the formula was wrong. She'd not given him permission to use her body in that way. She'd been violated. He'd broken here down and taken her much like he'd taken those businesses. She'd known at that time that when he was done with her, he'd discard her much the same.
He had become what he'd become after using the formula, calling himself Hostile Takeover. She did not understand how literal his name would be. His demise would come on Treadwater for she was close when it did. As close as two could be while one occupied another's body. She could still hear the screams in her head when he'd died.
In her head. He had died.
Now Valerie aka Valkyra had control of her own life. Much like the mythical ancient Norse warrior women of the same namesake had liberated themselves from the tyranny of the giants.
Ancient legends and fairy tales had become like life. Since Treadwater she'd seen them all. Butterflies. Dragons. Some children's tales had become her reality. Their reality. She had to put all of that behind her and focus on the matter at hand. The proposal.
The proposal was for a joint business venture between several companies who were in a complimentary position to each other's business, though none would have recognized it.
None but her. She had that thing. Whatever it was. She had it.
She delivered the proposal the next day. In front of a room of a hundred, not including the catering and the wait and bell staff, though they were very much part of her team and rooting for her as well.
The hundred in the ballroom represented the buying interests of these companies. They made the decisions for these companies and they were a hard sell.
She received the usual customary "I'll clap because its polite and respectful and as thanks for the food and catering" applause and then she was done and stepped down from the stage and podium.
It set in. Anxiety she kept at bay. Self doubt which she buried deep in herself.
She'd failed. She knew she should have stayed home. In bed. Nobody would know. Nobody.
"That was an excellent delivery. If you ever consider coming back into the sales force, give me a call" one of her audience said to her in passing.
"Torman taught you well, didn't he. I could almost see a bit of him up there." another somebody said.
"Thank you. Thank you for attending." she said politely as they shovelled it in.
"You ought to be a model you know. There's big money in that for a woman like you." another said to her looking her over top to bottom and pausing at her breasts.
"I have friends in that industry. Some of the most interesting people that I know are in that line of work. We do business all the time. They tend to keep their attention where it counts. On business." she replied cheerfully with a hint of sarcasm.
She'd held her ground and knew this was part of it, but what a struggle it was.
Then three men approached her.
"Hi, I'm Carsen. This is Tanner and Rhang." Carsen said introducing them.
"Valerie. Pleased to meet you. Did you see the talk?" she offered her hand.
"That's why we're here. You see we agree with you. You've found a niche that has great potential for our business sector." Carsen told her affirmatively.
"I'm glad to hear. Continue. Please." she said modestly nodding her head.
"We'd like to move ahead with your proposal. We're willing to meet with you to finalize the details and get some of this in writing. How's next week? Say..." Carsen said looking over to Tanner.
"Ten. Friday." Tanner said pulling up an agenda on his tablet.
"That sounds fine. Wait." Valerie pulled out her phone.
"Two. Would that be fine?" she asked containing herself.
Tanner looked back to the tablet and then to Carsen who nodded.
"Two it is." Tanner agreed.
"Miss Valerie. I look forward to seeing you. If you'll excuse me, I've a plane to catch." Carsen accepted her hand to seal the deal.
She shook it gently and as quickly as opportunity came it went.
Valerie went back into service hall of the hotel and found the Maitre'D.
"Is everything alright Madame?" the elderly gentleman asked her.
"Yes. Absolutely. They agreed. We're signing on it next week!" she caught him by surprise hugging him.
"That is wonderful news Madame." he said politely with a smile on his face.
"I will let the staff know." the Maitre'D assured her.
"Thank you so much. You did a wonderful job out there." she told him.
"Ahhhh. But it was you who made the speech. We just did our job." the Maitre'D replied.
"Tonight we worked together. I've got a little bonus planned for everyone." she told him.
"You don't have to but gratuities are always appreciated." he told her professionally.
Later that night she popped the cork on a bottle of champagne in the complimentary hotel room and proceeded down the corridor of pleasant intoxication by herself. After she'd consumed her room service meal, she decided to settle in for the night and that's when the parade of self doubt hit her.
"You're just like Torman." one voice said.
"You're a chip off the bench aren't you. Torman would be mighty proud." another voice.
"What are you doing later tonight? You look like the type for some fun? You interested? Room 3904." yet another voice said.
Soon she was delivering the speech again in front of the banquet hall audience. She'd been partway through her delivery when someone shouted from the audience:
"Why don't you let Torman take the podium for a while?" they said.
"Yeah. We came here to see him. Not you. Unless you're going to take it off." someone else yelled.
"Gentlemen. If you could please keep your voices down I could finish the talk." she replied politely.
"You are finished! Without him you're nothing!" the voice told her.
"Look Sir. Could you please keep it down! I'm trying to let you in on a..." she was interrupted.
"No you weren't. You're Torman. He's controlling you. You can't take the credit for this. Any of it." the voice said to her.
"Torman is not up here at the podium. I am. Now if you'll let me finish..." Valerie tried to continue keeping her cool.
"You were never anything without him." the voice said though she knew this not to be the case.
She'd brought access to a whole sector of business that he would not have had access to without her.
She made the opportunities and developed them.
Torman used her as long as he could and then threw her to the wolves and here they were now.
She felt herself getting angry and thought that maybe Valkyra would be better suited to deal with this.
"Madame. I don't think you want to let her handle this. Valkyra. The other one. Maybe you should give yourself a bit more credit. Don't let them affect you. They are lost and they want you to fail. If you give in, then years down the road you'll be down there beside them. Doing the same thing to someone else. They think they are a part of something but they are a part of nothing. That's what they are. Nothing. They aren't your customers or the people you came here to give the proposal to. They're the ones who came here to see you fail. The people not saying anything, they're the ones that are interested in what you're saying. Appeal to them." the Maitre'D had stepped up beside her on the podium.
She nodded to the Maitre'D thanking him gratefully with just that look in her eyes.
When she tried to continue, a single person in the audience stood.
She squinted a little to see him through the lights though she already knew.
It was Torman.
The room broke out in cheers for him though a good portion of the room remained silent.
He bowed for his audience playing it up like a professional show man.
"Well it looks like they're here to see the main event." he said to her confidently.
She clasped both sides of the podium and readied herself to lift it and throw it and the whole stage if necessary.
"Don't give in. Beat him with this and your business sense." he pointed to her head.
"He wants you to go that road. Leave Valkyra for another day. She's cheering for you too." the Maitre'D finished.
"Hey! This is between me and her even though she's going to need all the help she can get." Torman played the audience once again and they cheered him on.
"Alright. What do you propose?" Valerie asked him.
"I say that you try to make a deal. You try and sell them on this deal. I'll try and sell them out of it. Whomever wins will settle this dispute once and for all. If I win, then I get the credit for everything we did together. If you win, verse vica so to speak." he looked around the room for any disapproval.
"Returning to your days as a street hood are you Torman? That's how gangs and thugs play. I've heard about how you do things. Clean a person out of their life and family." Valerie said to him.
In Torman's neck of the woods, any time a new person moved into his neighbourhood, his other friends would set up situations that would make it hard to differentiate that newly arrived person from Torman.
So if Torman was guilty of an offence or something that would hurt his repute, his friends would set up a situation that would make it seem like the newly arrived person was guilty of the same thing.
Then they would slowly transfer Torman's deeds over to that person over time even making it a competitive game and others would buy it.
Torman would walk clean with a fresh reputation and the so called new arrival would be laden with the burden of Torman's deeds. It used to be a game to them in his neighbourhood.
Worse, if the new arrival had something that made them notable about their past, say an accomplishment or achievement, Torman's crew would try to steal it using the same means for one of their group or for Torman himself.
This is where Torman likely got his repute for business because his means were not conventional or professional for that matter. They usually involved crony-ism with the help of an organized gang. In other words he got ahead by the way he could negatively affect the lives of those who resisted him. Not on the basis of his abilities or services because he really had few to offer.
When Torman had occupied her mind to control her, she'd found out all of these things about him and it made her cringe. She could not believe that she had spent such a long time with such a man as this. To think that there were people out there who did that as a social game.
"Hey. It's a vicious world out there. We all gotta make a living. Am I right?" he looked around the audience and some of them cheered or whistled in approval.
"Why not make an honest living with your own past, not someone else's." Valerie accused him.
"Whoa. Baby. Are you saying that I stole my past from someone else? I'm hurt. I'm really hurt." Torman said feigning disappointment.
"You know what you did." Valerie reminded him.
"Alright baby. Yes I'll admit I took some of other people's past. Yes. My hoods might have even done so for me. Looking out for me you know. Maybe even dumped some of mine onto others. So? What do ya say to the deal?" Torman asked her quickly changing the subject.
"Alright. You're on. I'll make the deal, you try and break it." Valerie agreed.
"Here are the terms though. If you win, then you have everything from the time we were together and the credit for contributing to my current success, no more. If I win, you return the true past of everyone whose past you've ever stolen and I get the credit for what I did during our time together and my independence from you. That means you'll never show up in my life in any form ever again." she laid out the rules for his approval.
"I don't know if I can agree on that baby. It's all for you and nothing for me. I want a bit more." Torman said to her egging for more.
She paused for a moment looking at him and getting a little impatient with him.
Inside her Valkyra told her Go with it. I have you covered.
"Alright. Then you get the credit for everything. I'll take your burden and the blame for everything you've done. Even this deal if you win. I'll keep what I said from the prior deal. Ok?" Valeria asked.
"That's more like it. Let's get this show under way." Torman looked around for approval and got some.
"Deal?" Valerie confirmed.
"Deal. Let's get this game going!" he said even stepping up onto the stage and shaking with her.
Valkyra simply put her lips to the microphone and spoke.
"I win." she stepped back taking a bow.
"Wha... No... No... That's not fair baby. I thought..." Torman looked out to the audience.
"You said if I sell the deal that I win and if you unsell it that you win. I sold the deal to you. I win." Valkyra looked to the audience who was now cheering for her chanting her name: Valkyra, Valkyra, Valkyra!
"No... Baby. Please." Torman begged.
"I win." Valkyra said once again and the audience stood cheering her.
They began throwing their napkins at him and he left the stage and ran out the ballroom doors.
She never saw or heard from him again. While asleep or awake.
A week later she arrived back at her hotel room, though a different one from her stay the night of the proposal and knocked on the door.
The lock clicked and the door opened.
"Signed and sealed?" Monique asked her from behind the door.
"Signed and sealed, its a done deal." Valerie told her friends.
"We knew you could do it. We were rooting for you, you know." Heylyn told her giving her a hug.
"Yeah. Now lets get this show on the road. Where to?" Alicia asked them.
"I don't know, this is Valkyra's deal." Heylyn replied.
Continued in: The Butterfly Dragon: A Piano, A Full Glass And The Disappearance Of Time
Copyright © 2014 Brian Joseph Johns