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9. Fears and Failures

It was late Monday morning on a Seattle Autumn day as two young men walked the campus of The Estate.  Both of their minds were full of visions of their latest excursion or lists of to do now they were back.  The older one, no taller or larger than his companion looked out at the world around him furtively. His younger companion flicked idly through a well thumbed notebook trying to make sense of the world.  Without preamble, their quiet shared contemplation was broken by the elder who finally voiced a question he’d been holding like a hot rock in his mouth.

“So, when you say you’re 15, what do you mean by that?”  Rain asked casually if a question of general conversation.

“That’s an age concept…right?” Algernon responded nervously, these questions were always fraught.

“But what do you mean by it.  You do know you won’t be legally able to drink in a few days, right?”

Algernon shook his head, unsure in disbelief or surprise that it needed saying.

“I actually don’t know how old I am.”

“Oh!”  Rain stopped in surprise, making his companion stop as  well, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” Rain considered Algernon for a moment as if making a decision.  He opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came out. In the end he glanced away and added, “You know you can always tell me stuff like this.”

Algernon nodded but felt then on that something had been left unsaid. There had to be a better way of gaining information than these obfuscating words.

At the same time, across campus in the labs of The Estate, a female scientist was berating one of her co-workers.  It’s not until the words were heard that listeners just outside the door would realise that she was a junior operative just returned from a mission and he was her supervisor.

“I told you I wasn’t ready for fieldwork, why do you insist I continue to go on these missions?”  Peggy complained to Hertzfeld without regard to his rank or who may be listening.

“As I understand you did rather well.”

“And I got stabbed!”
“That is unfortunate, but that is why you go out with a team.”  Hertzfeld was not to be belittled by Peggy’s negativity, “You just can’t learn everything you need to know in the lab.”

“Anyone who says that is just not trying hard enough.”  She grumbled well aware that exactly what he said of his own career.  “Anyway we did find some translation keys.”

“See.  Well done.”  She handed them over to him all anger seemingly forgotten. “Do you know where they could be from?”

“No, but leave them with me.” Hertzfeld put the bucket, med kit box and signet ring down on his desk, “Tell me about your latest translation.”

Peggy gave a verbal report on the Spiral Dust transportation through Railsea including the interest that a particular giant mole took in the raw mineral. She mentioned Caw Eh Carve and the information about Crows Hollow he had provided as well as a detailed account of the arrival of Elvin Lightfeather.

“And then he stabbed me.”

“Just once?” Hertzfeld replied dryly.  His attempt at humour was ignored.

“We also got the name of a prominent character involved in the Spiral Dust smuggling.  A Don Whitecliff?”
“Oh, we know of Whitecliff, a very prominent character all round. I look forward to reading all about it in your report, but…”  he gestured to an adjacent room, “In the meantime, I’ve been waiting to hear your thoughts on my little project, it has to do with the thonic your party brought in a few weeks ago.”

He lead her through to his private lab where he had a glass aquarium with a single pebble inside.  Beside it, a metal glove attached to a power cord. Hertzfeld had shown the gloves to Peggy before and it had some potential at phasing through solid materials.  Hertzfeld now plugged in his glove and put it on.

“Now watch this.” and he slowly moved his hand through the glass of the aquarium and picked up the pebble within.
“You succeeded at material differential phasing?” she sounded impressed as he dropped the pebble back on the glass surface of the aquarium and pulled his hand through its wall. 

“It takes a lot of juice and it’s hardly portable at the moment but yes, the experiments have been very positive so far.” Hertzfeld unplugged the device and handed it to Peggy.

“But what if we incorporate what I’ve been able to gather from my research and actually the tap The Strange for the energy to power it…”

“That’s exactly why I’m here,”  Rain said as he as Algernon walked into the lab “but my query is a little more personal.”

“Good.  Are you ready for the spiral dust experiment?” Peggy. Rain instantly looked like he was ready to turn and walk straight out of the lab again all thought of Hertzfeld’s notes forgotten.

“Oh there’s so much to do right now.”  Rain started backing out only to bump into Algernon walking behind him,   “I want to train with Algernon and we’ve been asked to check the video feeds…”

“Don’t you want to do these experiments anymore?”  

“No…I mean yes, I do…I…”

“And don’t you want to do it safely with all medical facilities standing by if something goes wrong?”

“Yes… that sounds good.”  He winced.

“And Algernon are you willing to help?”

“You said you’d watch didn’t you?” Rain’s head snapped around to Algernon.

“Yes I will be there for Rain.”  Algernon replied stoically, voicing no opinion of his own.

Peggy took a calming breath, 

“So, what’s the problem?”

Rain looked around him, at the practical Peggy, the curious Hertzfeld and the imperious Algernon.  He felt trapped, but it was a trap of his own making, one he wanted to walk into ever since finding out about the Spiral Dust.  A chance to touch The Strange, maybe harness its energies like Peggy did with her machines, like the others do with their powers.  At the same time the memories brought out by another experiment seventeen years previous made him scramble for his puzzle box.

“Because…because people get things wrong, stuff goes wrong…”
“Do you think I’ll hurt you?” Peggy asked almost insulted.

“No…look.  I’ve done something like this before and it didn’t go well.”
“A drug trial?  For what? At college?”

“A London University.  It was experimental, a drug trial for depression. They gave me LSD.”

“What happened?”

“I didn’t have depression and…there was a bad trip…a very bad trip.”  He turned to Peggy, his eyes large and swimming from frustration and shame, but his expression was full conviction.  “Look, I know this stuff isn’t the same thing at all, we know what it does, I don’t think the same thing will happen.  I want to do this.”

“Okay then.”Peggy replied more conciliatory, “I’ve booked a room near the medical unit, not in my lab.  Algernon will be there and we’ll start with the very lowest dose I believe will still have an effect. Does that sound good to you?”

“Yes.” Rain replied more confidently than he felt.

“Right, we’ll reconvene this afternoon.   Don’t eat or drink anything more today.”

“I don’t think I could.”

In the hours before the Spiral Dust experiment, Algernon got busy with the task they had been set, going through the footage at the warehouse.  Visits to the warehouse and diminished significantly since they closed that little operation, but there was at least one person that visited twice in the four days they’d been in Railsea.  Carefully Algernon captured numerous images of the woman in her mid 30s, blond, tall, 180cm to compare her to the door, right handed (the hand she used to knock) wearing tie-dye shirt, jacket, jeans and sunglasses.

With his new information he went and found Rain in a room near the medical unit.

“Hey Rain, I’ve been thinking.  Going through the video recordings is not efficient.”

“A boring and yet essential job it seems.”  he fussed as the nurse placed sticky electrodes against bare skin,   “You have something in mind?”

Algernon nodded, 

“Let’s hack the NSA.”

Rain was stunned to silence so Algernon felt encouraged to continue.  The nurse, hearing something he knew he shouldn’t, quietly excused himself from the room.

“We can get access to all the national camera networks as well as use of the Supercomputer, it would really save us a lot of time.”

“The NSA is a bit like Crows Hollow.” Rain finally replied after taking in the enormity of the task.  When Algernon looked confused, he added, “It’s a bit above us at the moment.”

“Well, how about the carrier waves for the mobile networks?” Algernon was not to be put off so easily. To this Rain nodded encouragingly his mind really not on the task at the moment.

“That’s doable, maybe later though.” He answered distractedly.

“Oh, and…” Algernon handed over the image of the woman from the warehouse, “…she’s been twice while we were away.”  This got Rain’s attention and he quickly took a copy of the image with his phone.

“This is good news, now we just have to find out who she is.”

Peggy and the nurse were soon back with discussions about dosages and procedures about how the experiment would progress.  With no interest or heart for the details of what was to come, Algernon left and returned to the computer labs near the library.

Here he talked to a number of I.T. members about finding someone from just their image alone.  They sent him along to the small office of the Digital investigation specialist, Walter Taylor.

“Give me what details you have on the woman in question and I’ll see what I can find with a reverse image search.”  Walter said as Algernon laid out what he knew.

“I’d love to stay and watch how you search, but I need to be somewhere else.  Would it be all right if you teach me how to do this some other time?” Algernon asked as Walter started entering the information.

“Sure, next time I need to run one of these I’ll send a message so you can sit in.”  Walter agreed and Algernon left making sure he’d be in time for Rain’s experiment.

When Algernon arrived he found Rain alternatively chatting to the nurse, who was well used to such nonsense, and talking to Peggy about what was to come.

“Thank you for putting this all together,” Rain said to Peggy and there was a frizzon that Algernon picked up the edges of. “I really am grateful for all the thought and attention.”

“Okay.” Peggy replied awkwardly.

“Oh and make sure you use the pure stuff, either what’s left of your original ounce or from this.” and Rain opened his puzzle box to reveal the other two ounces inside.

Peggy, instead of providing a container for the spiral dust, took the whole box to empty and clean out.

“No!  Give it back!”  Rain almost jumped out of the bed after Peggy, but he was held down by electrodes, drip lines and other monitoring equipment as well as  the nurses quick reflexes. So violent was his reaction that some of the measuring equipment started chiming in alarm. Peggy gave back the now clean puzzle box but not before noting its connection to The Strange.  The buzz in her teeth was unmistakable, the box was touched by The Strange in some way. She made a note to investigate its properties at a later time.

“Rain, remember Will Robinson.”  Algernon said from Rain’s bedside.

“He’s never far from my mind.” Rain responded weakly as he clutched the puzzle box in two shaking hands.

“Are you nervous?”

“Peggy, you have to realise there is always a base level of fear.”  Rain admitted which gave Peggy pause.

“Any sort of fear or nervous tension will affect our readings.” she checked that all the machines were running as expected again, “Are you uncomfortable?”

“Yes,” Rain replied truthfully.

“Then we’re not doing this. Nurse, you can release the patient.” Peggy turned away to start clearing away her notes.

“What!”  Rain cried, now in fear that what he had dreaded all morning was no going to happen at all.

“I will not run such as experiment with an unwilling patient and that is flat.”  She turned back to the bed to see Algernon pick up the syringe she’d prepared with the solution of Spiral Dust.

“PUT THAT DOWN!” she commanded, “You will not experiment on an unwilling subject under my watch!”
“Do it!”  Rain stuck out his arm and turned his face away so as not to see the needle.  Without hesitation, Algernon plunged the needle into Rain’s arm and depressed the plunger.

As the drug took effect, Rain slumped to the bed, as pandemonium broke out in the room.  

“Get out!  Get out! And never enter my lab again!”  Peggy screamed at Algernon who scurried like a whipped dog for the door to knock directly into Bruce who was coming in the door the other way.

Bruce’s morning had been spent with Katherine Manners, his direct supervisor, debriefing and discussing what their next steps should be.  After which he’d headed over to the dormitory and had a long hot shower, his first in ten days of dusty travel through the Railsea. He ate a leisurely brunch then headed over the computer lab where their video feed was collected and viewed.  There he met Walter Taylor from whom he was surprised to learn Algernon had beat him to the task.

“He said he had to be somewhere and couldn’t stay to help. I feel I’m going to be here all day on this one.”

“Once before you found my brother through his phone number,” Bruce suggested, “could you possibly do the reverse and find this woman’s phone number from the location and time?”

“Good idea, I’ll get onto it. Good luck on your search.”

He started asking around campus for his team and found that there was a scheduled experiment on for that afternoon. One which he had not been invited.  

And so Bruce happened to find himself entering a scene of chaos with a red faced Peggy screaming at a terrified looking Algernon as Rain lay unsettlingly still on a bed.

“What’s happening here?”  Bruce asked, grabbing a hold of Algernon as he tried to make his escape.

Peggy took a deep breath and regained some semblance of composure.

“Rain wanted to experiment with the Spiral Dust drug to see what effect it would have.  I offered to provide a safe place where data both physical and psychological could be recorded accurately.  Algernon was here at Rain’s request as a support and witness but he took control of the experiment when the patient showed signs of resistance.  I will not have that sort of practise in my lab, he can’t stay.”

“Rain’s not a patient!”  Algernon retorted, slightly more sure of himself now backed by Bruce.

“Of course he is, he’s my patient.” Peggy snapped back.

Bruce scowled at the situation and at his companions with deep disgust. 

“He stays.”  Bruce stepped into the room, dragging Algernon in behind him.  Algernon scuttled to a corner and sat crouched on the ground, his eyes darting from Bruce to Peggy.

“I forbid it!  He interfered, I don’t know what damage he’s done…”

“Well then you know your job, make sure it’s right.”  And with that Bruce pulled out his crowbar menacingly and stood at the foot of the bed watching the lifeless looking Rain.  “Make sure he’s safe.”

After recognising there was no arguing with him, Peggy gave in and turned to her patient whose vital were already showing signs of deep sleep.

“Look doctor, at his eyes.” the nurse held open one of Rain’s eyelids.  The eye was rolled back as expected in sleep, but the iris itself was spinning creating the spirals the dust was known for. 

Rain found himself floating in comfortable darkness.  Floating was good. It wasn’t what he wanted but floating had its advantages.  While floating there were no distractions, no ties, no cares or any real fears.  Floating was freeing. Floating was a revelation.

Still floating, the darkness around him began to lighten and coalesce into a landscape, a coastal scene.  Sandy shores and rocky cliffs soon made way to an ancient walled city, dust coloured on the horizon. The city was completely encircled by high stone walls, ancient and crumbling, with six gates providing access around its perimeter.  

Without control of where he went, Rain drifted down towards the nearest of the six gates, protected by the collapsing statue of a sphinx.  Inside the walls the city was a sprawling mass of tightly packed buildings both large and small in all states of disrepair and decay. Now he saw humanoids for the first time, ungainly creatures with human upper bodies, furry legs and long wickedly sharp clawed hands.  As he drifted closer to the creatures he could see that their unusual walking style was due to having the hips and legs of goats that ended in cloven hooves.

None of the creatures seemed to notice his presence and as he touched down he realised he made no impression at all on the dusty ground.  To them and their world, he did not exist. Now he was walking amongst the people of the town, with no control over his movements. He couldn’t stop to check out a detail or listen to a conversation, maybe pick up the language.  It was like a virtual tour without the VR visor and with all the smells and feel of the real world.

Ahead he could see that the buildings were opening up into a city square.  The buildings here were as old and weathered looking as the rest of the city.  The only things that looked undamaged by time were two huge stone lion statues made of grey stone.  They flanked a large set of basalt stairs that headed deep underground in front of what remained of official looking public buildings.

It was clear now that the destination was the stairs and what lay under the city as his walking feet carried him between the lions.  Down deep under the city the stair travelled in a spiral lit only by the white faint glow of moss on the walls. The ceiling was soon lost in darkness above as Rain continued to travel ever deeper into the heart of the earth.

After a long time of stairs finished at a vast open chamber.  Sounds echoes in the darkness, the moss now only providing the most basic of lighting as the wall stretched out either side.  Rain found himself walking on uneven ground and as he went past a patch of illumination he could see the flagstone floor of the chamber was covered in bones all showing the unmistakable marks of teeth.

Rain shot up from the bed with a start. The room looked the same as it had when went under except Algernon was only now getting up from a crouching position on the floor in one corner and Bruce was standing at the foot of the bed looking stern.

“Oh, hi Bruce.” he said lamely as his head swam dizzily, “we…I had to know.”

“I know,” Bruce replied nodding, “So do I.”

“Better that it be me, right?  Who else?”

“Yep.”  he settled is crowbar back in its loop by his side and sat down in a nearby chair, “Thank you.”

Rain was so overcome by the big man’s acceptance that he found himself with nothing to say.  Instead he just nodded and let Peggy and the nurse do their job.

“Do you remember what day it is?”  Asked the nurse as he checked Rain’s eyes and other vitals.

“Same day as we came back from Railsea.” he responded confusing the nurse.  Peggy nodded, 

“He’s fine.” she said dryly looking more tired and washed out than she usually did while experimenting.

“How long was I out?”  he asked her now a little concerned for her health.

She checked the clock,

“Twenty minutes approximately.”  she responded shooting a glance at Algernon who flinched under her gaze.  She put a small audio recorder on the blanket in front of Rain. “Tell us what you remember, in as much detail as you can.”

Rain nodded and settled himself cross-legged on the bed.  He closed his eyes and visualised the experience again, this time relaying it to the others.  He took his time, described the details of the buildings the statues and most of all the people he’d seen ending with the stair, the chamber and the bones.

“There were bones everywhere and they all had teeth marks in them.  It startled me and I found myself back here.” he looked up and found all three of his companions standing around the bed listening intently.

“Were you detached?”  Peggy asked monitoring his responses, “That is to say, Did you feel fear or frustration or any other emotions while under?”

“I remember being frustrated about not being able to control where I went.”  he replied carefully, leaving out the sensation of floating and the peace it had offered.   “I wanted to stop and take it in, but the vision just continued like a movie walking me toward the underground chamber.  I was also shocked when I realised what was on the ground, I think that’s what finally snapped me out of it.”  

Again he looked around the group and settle on Bruce’s intense expression.  Suddenly ashamed he admitted, 

“I thought…I thought because I was awakened that I could control it, make the vision do what I wanted.  I thought I was better than John.”

“John?” Bruce was surprised to be reminded of his brother back in New Orleans at this moment and pulled out his phone.

“Yeah.  I feel a bit of an idiot.  The whole thing was better than expected, rather nice really except for the end but also disappointing at the same time.”  Rain was aware that his words did not give meaning to the disappointment and frustration he felt. After all Peggy’s work and all his fussing he had no control, no link with the strange, nothing to show for it all but a random visit to an unknown location.

“So would you take it again?”  Bruce asked carefully aware of his loudly held stance on drugs and drug taking.

“Yeah, I would.“ Rain replied thoughtfully, “Like it was fine, better than I feared.  It just wasn’t very useful.”

“So legs of animals and cloven hooves, “ Algernon prompted when the conversation had finally petered out, “What like a satyr but with claws?”

“Yeah, just like.  I wonder if they’re in the archives?”

Bruce had moved to the farthest corner of the room and dialed a phone number.  Both Rain and Algernon stopped talking as someone picked up on the other side.  

“Hey John?”

“Bruce?  Is that you, man?”

 “Yeah, it’s me.  Just checking in.”

“Well how are things in Seattle?”

“Good. I’m more interested in you.  Are you still doing to the drugs?”

“No man.”

“Yeah, would you tell me if you were?”

“I wouldn’t not after last time. It was…I’ve been out of work for a while and…”

“I know it’s been tough.”

“I just wanted to feel good for a little while, but look where it got me.”

“Yeah, I just don’t want to see you doing that stuff okay?  I worry about you.”  

“Thanks Bruce.”

“Sure, family have got to look out for one another.”

“Yeah.”

“So still looking for work? What sort?”

“Haulage mostly, why?”

“I’ve got connections.  I could ask around, make some recommendations.”

“That would be a big help, yeah thanks Bruce.  But what about you in Seattle, what have you been up to?”

“You wouldn’t believe.”  Bruce laughed looking back at Algernon and Rain watching him expectantly.

“Probably not.  You’re sure hanging with a crazy bunch up there.”

“No kidding.  Say tell mom hi and I’ll call later.”

“Yeah no prob. See ya Bro.”

“See ya.”  

“I’m glad you did that, “ Rain said once the phone we hung up, “Family is…”
“Important.” Bruce added when Rain searched for the right word.

Rain nodded and his usual lopsided smile reappeared on his face.  

“Yes, very important.” he glanced up at Algernon to press the point, “They look out for each other.”

Algernon shrunk away a little and Rain instantly regretted it.  He realised he had no idea what the boy had gone through after he’d past out and still here he was.

Before Rain to say anything though, Peggy was finally ready to bring down judgement on what had happened.

“A word with you, in private.”  Peggy grabbed Algernon’s ear and dragged him out into the hallway outside the door.

“You need to learn something about ethics and putting the welfare of patients first above everything.  You never, ever experiment on an unwilling patient.” She said quietly but with all the passion of her convictions.  

“Rain’s not a patient.”  Algernon repeated from earlier, “Doctor Peggy can you please let go my ear.”

“Don’t talk nonsense.  Keep this up and you won’t be invited to the next experiment.”

“I don’t like experiments.”

“On you or anyone?”

“Anyone.”  Algernon admitted flatly

“There will be other times, this is bound to happen again.”

“And I’ll be there…because Rain asked.”

For all of Peggy’s internal firewalls against the emotional states of others, not even she could ignore that statement of dedication. 

At the same time, Bruce stepped in and spoke a quiet but forceful tone,

“Peggy, Rain is an adult who volunteered for something that frightened him. Algernon was only helping.”

Peggy thought about Algernon had said earlier.

“What do you mean when you say that Rain is not a patient?”

“He was a participant, he wanted to do this he was just scared.  An experiment on a patient usually involves tying them down…” As soon as he saw the horror on Peggy’s face he knew he’d said too much.  A horrible silence filled the hall and the room where Rain and Bruce were listening. “I …got to go…” he tried to run.

“Oh no, “ Peggy gripped even tighter to the squirming ear and Algernon stayed where he was.  “I can see that your ethics education as been seriously lacking. Tonight, we’re going off to the library for some medical ethics research and see why we do not do such things here.”

“Ethics?  What would ethics say about opening portal into unknown dimensions?”  Algernon countered, once he had his ear back. He was referring to Peggy’s experiments in her garage that brought all of them together.

“There no ethical dilemma there,” Peggy replied not understanding all the implications of his statement, “We voluntarily go through the portals…unfortunately.”

The next day, the others kept themselves busy as Rain sat in observation reading Hetzfeld’s report on the ‘Gifts of the Strange’.  After breakfast Algernon took Bruce to the gym, a rare reversal.

“I want to see how far you can toss me.”  He said after they’d found and laid out a set of crash mats. Having an inkling of  what Algernon had in mind he picked up the boy and threw him around his body and into the mats making him land a little under 4 metres away.

“Good, now do it again.”  Algernon’s eyes glinted with hidden mischief as Bruce picked him up one more and tossed him.  This time Algernon levitated as he was released and to the surprise of the others in the gym that morning the young man flew ungainly across the room almost 8 metres before he ran out of forward momentum.  He let go of the levitate and dropped into the crash mats.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea.  Levitate first before I throw you.”  Bruce said to the beaming Algernon. Algernon did and though his mass was no less, he was now much lighter and Bruce was able to sling him one handed over the mats.  This style lead to a more streamlined Algernon in the air, resulting in him sailing past the mats laid out and hitting the wall more than 10 metres away.

“Now it’s your turn.” The triumphant Algernon crowed and gestured to the crash mats.  Bruce grinned and stepped back giving himself a running jump. With a strong run and impressive leap Bruce made it out 4 metres before face-planting in the mats.

“And again.”  Algernon instructed now grinning with unconcealed glee.  Bruce stepped back and again ran for the maps, launching himself into the air at the last minute.  When his feet left the ground, Algernon levitated Bruce so he too soared through the air powered by his own momentum.  Bruce kept up the run, pushing the air back with flailing arms and legs until he too ran out of momentum around the 8 metre mark.  Algernon dropped him into the mats and the audience of gym users applauded.

They practised this new routine refining the holds and launch positions each time for maximum  distance until Algernon received a message from Walter Taylor saying he had some information for him.  Walter wouldn’t provide details over the phone, but when they made it to his office he gave them a full run down on the mystery woman.

“She’s a journalist by the name of Sharon Cooper-Smith.”  said Walter as he handed Algernon a page of notes. “She’s had a few by-lines for the syndicated newspapers in town and she’s recently published articles in the New Aquarian.  She’s based here in Seattle and I got you her home address and phone number.”

Algernon spent some time asking Walter how he had come by the information so quickly and was shown how the process was conducted.  Though still time consuming and requiring specific software, Algernon paid attention and was confident that he too could try a similar techniques in the future. 

“Are you going out then?”  Algernon said as they left the computer labs and headed back to the office blocks, “I’ll get a crossbow.”

“You can’t walk down Seattle streets with a crossbow in your hand.” Bruce replied imagining the looks the young man would get with something like his giant Railsea crossbow.  What worked in a backwater recursions did not work in downtown U.S.A.

“Oh no, of course not.” Algernon agreed, “I’ll put it on my back. “

“Your supervisor will not let you out with a crossbow.  Look, you’re pretty good with small arms, he may let you out with one of those.”

“Yeah, but they’re…small.”

The two walked companionably back to the dormitory where packages were waiting for both of them.  Bruce’s was a long rectangular box from a company of tool and accessory suppliers. Algernon’s was large, flat didn’t seem to weigh a lot.

“Are they bombs?”  Algernon looked at his suspiciously as it lay on his bed.

“Who would know to send us a bomb?”  Bruce opened his to find a leather back holster for his sledgehammer incorporating a small easy to reach second pocket for his crowbar.  It was sturdy and practical gift that left his hands free while still allowed good weight distribution for the bulky sledge. Bruce searched the box for an invoice, note or packing slip, but nothing gave a hint as to who had sent it.

Now that Algernon saw that Bruce’s box was safe he also carefully started opening his box.  He was less circumspect when he saw the red motorcycle jacket inside. With a whooped he snatched it out of the box and turned it around to see an embossed blue and white capsule encircled with the words, Good for health.  Bad for Education.  Without another word he ran out of the dormitory putting it on as he went.

“Rain!  Rain! Look what came!”  he ran straight into Rain’s room as his last physical was being recorded by the nurse.  Rain himself had been staring at his face in a small hand mirror when Algernon burst in looking and acting for once the 15 years he was suppose to be.  Rain looked up and beamed.
“Hey, it fits well.”  he commented, “Now all you need is to get you a laser rifle and you’d be set.”

“Do I get to keep it?”  Algernon gawped unable to comprehend how or why he would be given such an item to keep.  Rain’s smile slipped a little at the realisation that this may well be the first present Algernon had ever received.

“It’s  yours, you deserve it.”

Not long after Bruce walked in wearing his harness and tools and watched as Algernon started levitating the nurse.

“Remember, only Kaneda gets the jacket, not Tetsuo.”  Rain joked and Algernon put the nurse back down on the ground.  

“You did this?” Bruce asked indicating the jacket and his harness.

“Well George Weasley actually, but what’s a first…honestly earned …pay for if not to share.”  Rain responded lightly, “Besides, I find that I have a lot to be grateful for.”

“Well…Thank you.”  Bruce noticing for the first time something different about Rain’s eyes.  He walked up for a closer look and realised they were a new shade of violet instead of their clear blue.  Without a word he took out his phone and took a picture.

“Yeah, I have a new look.” Rain replied to Bruce’s unspoken comment as Peggy walked in and signed off on notes handed to her by the nurse. “But it seems I’m not the only one.”

Peggy looked as Peggy always did, her dark hair piled and forgotten slipping out of a loose bun, wearing a bland loose fit jumper and chinos.  On her feet though, platform Doc Martens with lacing that disappeared into the trouser leg gave her an extra little bounce to her step.

“Kick arse boot there, Doc.”  

“Yes.”  was her only reply, “You’re clear and free to continue your duties.  Inform me if you have any side effects or questions.”

“I have one,” Rain replied in all seriousness,  “Where’s the rest of the ensemble?”

Peggy scowled and looked as though she wouldn’t reply. 

“It is inappropriate.”

“It is thoroughly appropriate, the coat is superfine merino, durable and stain resistant, the colour suits you and you’d look amazing in it.”

“If you think it’s so amazing why don’t you wear it?” she retorted annoyed at getting dressing instructions from a man.

“Not my colour.”  he replied simply.  He would not be put off by her gruff behaviour.

“The neckline is far too plunging.” She finally admitted even now covering her chest with her hand though the beige of her jumper made her look like a an asexual lump.

“Peggy, you should look after yourself.”

“I do!”

“You deserve to look after yourself.”  

She didn’t have anything to say to that, instead she turned to the other two and barked,

“And your business here?”

“We’re going out!”  Algernon exclaimed still on a new jacket high.

“We have a lead, the name and address of the mysterious woman.”  Bruce informed Peggy sensibly, giving her all the details.

“And I’m getting a gun.”  Algernon added

“You’re not going to need a gun for this one.” Bruce replied starting off the old argument between the two of them

“I need a gun.”  

“She’s a writer…and you’re a teenage kid…yeah sure, go get your gun.”  

Once Rain was ready they all travelled together to Keaton’s office where they let him know what they’d found out as requested a gun for Algernon.

“So you don’t think this Sharon Cooper-Smith is a threat, but people she’s mixed up with could be?”  Keaton summarised, “Okay, I request a gun for you and Rain.” he started filling in the paperwork.

“Ah, not for me thank you.” Rain said before he caught Algernon’s eye.

“I would have gladly taken two guns.”  Algernon whispered low, but not low enough.

“Oh, you’re right sir.  Can never be too careful.” Rain quickly changed his mind, but Keaton held out the form with one gun listed.

“No chance.”  he said and they left his office with Rain apologising.

“I’m sorry, I panicked.”

After their last excursion, Peggy also wanted a gun, and her argument to  Hertzfeld was more simple and straightforward.

“Three reasons:  1, 2, 3 stab wounds.”  

Out of guilt Hertzfeld gave her a gun.  

“I’ll drive.”  Rain took the keys to the car as the group set out for the journalist home.  Peggy and Bruce nearly had fits as Rain started driving on the left hand side leaving the car park.

“Oh you drive on the wrong, right side of the road.” he laughed as Peggy got out of the car and opened the driver’s door.

“How long have you been driving in the U.S.?”

“How long have we been in the car?”

“Get out.”

“I have a license,” Algernon suggested, “I could drive.”

“For a motorcycle.”  Bruce retorted and Rain wriggled into the passenger seat and let Peggy drive.

On reaching Sharon’s home, Rain knocked.  She answered the door in sunglasses

“Good morning Ms Cooper-Smith.  My name is Simun Otiluke.” he flashed his Estate identification and the general U.S. accent he affected for the name, “My associates and I would like to speak to you about drug deals at the docks.”

“Drugs? I don’t know anything about drugs.” she replied with a nervous laugh.

“Blue Rain?  Do you really want us to discuss this on your front doorstep, please could we come in?”

“That?  That’s not a drug, that’s power for your dreams.  It expands your mind to new and lost worlds.” she replied more confidently.  It sounded like she was quoting something, maybe her own work?

“Are the lights inside your house too bright, Mam?”  Bruce asked and Sharon’s hand went to her glasses.

“You need to be aware that the drug has been related to one death already,” Rain bluffed.  No deaths as far as they know were directly related to the Spiral Dust, but that wouldn’t help find Eldritch Chopra’s killer. Bruce backed it up, 

“Please let our doctor look you over. “ he gestured to Peggy who stepped forward.

“Deaths?” she didn’t sound so sure of herself anymore, “I guess you better come in.”

Once inside she took off her glasses to reveal the identifiable swirling pattern to her irises and allowed Peggy to run a basic check up.

“How do you take the drug?” Peggy asked as she looked for signs of puncture marks or burning to the nasal cavity.

“In the eye, “  Sharon mimed pulling down her lower lid and sprinkling something directly onto her eye, “I based a whole expose on what I discovered through using the dust, you may have read it, ‘The secret pyramids under the sea’.”

“Yes, I remember reading it.” Peggy commented without opinion which was probably a good thing at the time.

“How did you find out about Blue Rain?”

“In my trade one hears rumours and I first went to the docks just to confirm what I’d heard, but then I discovered the dust and my whole world changed.” 

“And so you used it.”  Rain prompted, but it was hardly required, she’d found an audience.

“That’s how I know it’s safe.  It just…shows you things, places.  Even my hairdresser…well it’s hard to hide your eyes especially from your hairdresser.  She was using it too and told me of another supplier.”

“Your hairdresser?  Could we have her name please?”  Rain looked to Algernon but he already had out the laptop and was preparing to do a search.

“Her name is Melissa Romero, but I don’t want to get her into any trouble, we’ve become good friends over the past few months and I know her experiences are the same as mine.”

“Melissa is safe from us.  But tell us about this other supplier.”

She gave and address and described the man as best she could.  Rain pulled up the picture of the Cowboy he had taken of the Seven-11 security and passed it to her.

“Yes, that’s him.” she replied happily enough.

“Do you have a name to go with this gentleman?”

“No, just the location and time, always Tuesday nights.”

In the meantime Algernon had already found the girl through social sites.  She was in her 20s and usually had an active social life to go by her timelines, except for the past week when she had been unusually quiet.  Getting her work address and number were equally as easy and he soon had her home address as well. Quietly he let the group know what he’d found out and the mood quickly turned serious.

“I will be straight with you Sharon, there are people who have killed to control this drug distribution.  We’re happy to see you alive and well, but now Melissa has gone missing. Tell us all you know so we can help find Melissa.”

“Murder?  That doesn’t sound good.” Maybe such things were beyond her understanding but the thought of murder didn’t seem to affect her greatly, ‘But I’m sure Melissa’s disappearance has nothing to do with all this.”

Bruce, who was having difficulty dealing with the thought of leaving this woman to continue her  Spiral Dust addiction. As the others talked he checked the house and made sure it was secure. When it was decided that Sharon had nothing more to tell at that time, Rain gave her his mobile number and requested that if she found anything to let him know.

Now with a new potential victim identified, the group drove to find Melissa Romero.  On the way Rain rang the salon where she worked.

“Oh hi, I’d like to make a booking with Melissa this afternoon.” he said in a passable woman’s voice.

“I…don’t think she’s in.” said the woman who answered the phone.

“Oh no!  And she’s the only one that gets my hair.  Can you tell me when she’ll be back?” 

“Certainly.  I’ll check with the manager and get back to you.” The woman took Rain’s number and told the group what he’d learned.

Melissa lived in an apartment block surrounded by several other residences.  Algernon checked out video cameras in the area. He found two, one a near neighbour and one down the street.  He hacked into the WIFI networks and gain access to the video for the last week.  

When the rest of the group made it inside the apartment block a woman as already knocking at Melissa’s door.  

“I think we can assume she’s family.”  Bruce whispered to Rain who nodded and stepped up.

“Ms Romero?”

“Yes. I’m Jennifer Romero.”

“Hi, I’m Simun. We’re friends of Melissa.” he shook Jennifer’s hand and gained her full attention, “Is she all right, we haven’t seen her all week and she hasn’t been to work.”

“I don’t know. Usually we call each other for a weekly chat but I haven’t heard from her and she’s not answering her door.”

“I’m really starting to worry about her.  Do you know if there’s a spare key?”

Jennifer glanced past Rain to Bruce and Peggy.

“Well, I do have a key for emergencies….I guess this is an emergency.” 

“I think you’re right.”  Rain nodded as if it wasn’t his idea.

Jennifer pulled out a ring of keys and found the correct one to open the door.  Jennifer lead the way into the one bedroom apartment. A pile of mail banked up against the front door and a cup of coffee lay cold and forgotten on the counter. Otherwise the apartment look tidy and well ordered.

“The door was locked so we’ve either got an abduction by someone quick enough to take her by surprise or she’s somehow translated to a recursion.”  Bruce started theorizing and Rain’s eyes grew large and gestured towards Jennifer.

“Maybe you could check Melissa’s bedroom see if anything odd.” he said to Jennifer and then quietly to Bruce and Peggy, “And now you can theorise about recursions all you like.”

As Jennifer and Rain check the bedroom, Peggy closed her eyes and tried to sense The Strange in the space.  Frustratingly there was no trace of The Strange. Bruce left the apartment and started knocking on the doors of neighbours.  Neighbours that answered the door knew Melissa as a friendly young woman, but none had seen her for at least a week.  

In the bedroom the bed was unmade, clothes lay on a chair in the corner and a flat cell phone and house keys were lying together on the bedside table.

“Oh dear.” Rain took Jennifer’s hand and their eye alighted on the modern life essentials.

“I guess I should ring the police.”  Jennifer said as tears came to her eyes.

“I think so.  Here’s my number, if you need anything, let me know?”  Quietly the group left and joined Algernon back in the car.  

After viewing the weeks worth of video he was able to tell them that a week ago Melissa came home as usual and never left again.  No one visited and no one until the group entered had been inside since that time.

“She translated then.  But how and where?”

“Hertzfeld theorised that if you took enough Spiral Dust you could physically translate.” Algernon suggested and the group went silent.  She could be literally anywhere.  

There is one more stop to make, the address where the Cowboy was known to be on Tuesday nights.  When the group got to the address, Algernon once again looked for CCTV cameras in the area. There were two, both vandalised.  

“What if we put a live camera inside the case of one of those busted ones?”  he suggested, rummaging around in the back of the car for leftover CCTV equipment from the warehouse job.

“Brilliant idea.  You’ve done this before, you can make this work.”  Rain encouraged Algernon and once again Algernon felt the frizzon once more.

“You know, when you encourage like that I feel more confident.”  Algernon started climbing up to the broken camera.

“Ah, now you see the power of words”  Rain smiled, “The power to build and the power to break.”

Algernon thought on Rain’s words as he put his hand into the case of the camera, and brushed his hand against a live wire.  

Zaaap!

Algernon was thrown across the street and hit the wall of the nearest building.

“Maybe we’ll come back in the morning.” Bruce helped the dazed and singed Algernon back onto his feet and bundled him into the car.

On the way back Rain dropped in at a bottle shop and picked up a small bottle of Scotch.  That night he made the still fuzzy Algernon an Irish Coffee. Regardless of the caffeine before bed, it was the first night Algernon slept all the way through.

Published by Miztres

I'd just like to say a few words... nee phtang! fribble

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