Barbara felt like all of her words had been sucked out of her body.
He’s her father.
He could be lying, but I see the resemblance. Something in the shape of his eyes. The length of his mouth. Something undefinable about his face.
“So, surrender her to me and we’ll be on our way.”
This is why we’re here. To find her parents. To reunite her with her parents.
Is this right?
“I can’t do that. You’ve done bad things to her. How could I possibly give her back to you? It isn’t right.”
“She is my child. My flesh and bones. That makes it right.”
“Where’s her mother?”
He went down on his knees. “XQ, your mother is dead. One of The Institute’s experiments killed her. XQ, she loved you.”
Sarah turned back into her human form.
“She loved you dearly. She would want you to stay with me. I want you to stay with me.”
This is the moment when I’m supposed to give in and surrender her. But I can’t.
“What do you plan to do with her?”
He stayed focused on Sarah. “You and I are going to leave this town. There’s nothing for me here. Not without The Institute. Why should I stay? I know the gentleman who owned The Institute. His name is Mark Caten.”
Barbara jolted at the mention of Caten’s name.
“I’m sure he will find some use for the both of us.”
“You can’t take her to him.”
“Why?” Carthage sat back on his feet. “It’s not like he’s a pedophile or anything.”
“He’ll lock her up and put her on display.”
He stood and gave Barbara a scrutinizing look. “It really isn’t any of your business, little lady. She is my daughter. Not yours.”
“That’s true, but I will protect her.”
Carthage scoffed. “Protect her from what? Mark Caten? Me? How? I don’t see your pet dragon lurking about.”
“So, how are you going to protect her all by your girly-armed self?”
“Wait. What dragon are you talking about?” She thought about all of the people in her life. None of them fit into the pet dragon slot. “Wait. Do you mean Sammy?”
“How do you know—-”
“XQ.” He held out his hand to her.
“What is her name?” Barbara asked. “If she is your daughter, what is her name?”
“XQ, obviously. What else would we name her?”
The weirdness of that question flummoxed her. “There are like over 12,000 girl names per country that you could have chosen.”
“Yes, but what would be the point in giving her a personal name? XQ is what she is. Why bother naming her Jane or Sally when she is nothing but an XQ? She is a commodity, little miss receptionist. Something to be bought and sold and used. She is a fire creature. There are people who would pay millions of dollars to use her.”
Barbara lost control. She slapped him across the face.
Sarah’s hair turned into flames.
“She is a little girl. She is not a ‘something’ nor is she some sort of commodity. And she is NOT going anywhere with you.”
“So, what are you going to do? Kidnap her? We’re right outside the police department. I can run inside and report you.”
Barbara was taken back by that statement.
Sarah scowled at him. She pointed at herself and then at Barbara. She drew a flaming X in front of him.
“What? What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that she doesn’t want to go with you. She wants to stay with me.” Barbara regarded the man with defiance. “She will stay with me. If you want to make a whole kidnapping charge of it, go ahead. All they have to do is ask her who she’d rather be with and she’ll tell them just what she told you. She wants to be with me. Not you.”
He looked down at Sarah. “XQ, if you come back with me, I’ll find a way to stabilize your XQ self. I’ll turn you into a perfect XQ.”
Sarah furiously shook her head. She pointed at him and pounded her fist against her opposite forearm. Fiery tentacles sprouted out of her human back.
He quickly backed away from her. “I’m sorry, but that is the only way to—”
Two of her tentacles slapped the ground on either side of him.
He startled hard, nearly falling backwards.
The tentacles rose up and made soft furling sounds as they waved menacingly.
They hit the ground again.
He staggered back. “I only want what is best for you.”
She glared at him and shook her head.
“XQ. I could give you the command to come and you would have to obey. I’m trying to give you a choice in the matter.”
Sarah pointed at herself and at Barbara. She drew another flaming X in his direction.
“But you’re my child, my creation! You’re supposed to choose me. I am your father!”
Sarah indicated her choice again and again.
His shoulders slumped. “Will you ever want to be with me?”
She shook her head and pointed at Barbara again.
“Then. Then, I guess I have nothing more to say.” He turned and walked away.