The group chased down the source of Spiral Dust to the mountain township of Nederland, Colorado. There they used all their skills to discover the world-wide network being managed from an unassuming gemstone store. Confronting the owner, they convinced her to close up her side of the trade and start the task of cleaning house.
* * * * * * *
Two days in Nederland and Bruce was in his element. Lydia Lance rang the two store assistants, Delsey and Everett, and gave them a two week holiday. Her explanation was that extensive building works needed to occur to fix the electrical fault. She also gave the group her set of keys to the shop. As soon as they saw Lydia off on a flight to Seattle, Bruce drove everyone down to Home Depot and spent the afternoon perusing the options.
“How about frag grenades on a trolley, “ Algernon was also shopping, but not having a lot of success, “Tie a group to the trolley set one off, push it down the stairs into the room and close the door. Or maybe a stack of pesticide cans strapped to a trolley with a frag grenade in the middle. ”
“Frag grenades are not available to civilians, and we don’t want to do structural damage if we can help it.” Bruce pulled a fisheye door viewer off the blister pack display and dropped it into his trolley.
“They live in the dark, maybe the don’t like light.” Rain found an LED torch with a high lumens rating. Bruce plucked it from his hand, adding it and the required batteries into the trolley.
“We steal a pest extermination truck and…”
“No… but the pesticide is a good idea.” Bruce quickened his pace.
“…just for the night and then drown them in pesticide. Or even better find a pesticide we can set alight!” Algernon’s fertile brain was buzzing with the many possibilities for the spider’s demise.
“…we are not breaking the law if I can help it.” Bruce replied, squashing the ideas machine flat. He found the power tools and dropped a sturdy looking cordless drill and a set of large drill bits into his trolley.
“Could we not just blast them away with some heavy guage rifles or shotgun?” Celia chipped in a suggestion, “Wouldn’t a quick kill be better?”
“We’ve been asked to conduct a little experiment in regards to the effectiveness of readily available pesticides on these things, but firearms are an option if things go poorly.”
Rain winced at even the mention of the guns and sulked at the back of the group.
“We could buy pesticide and distill it down….” Algernon suggested again, this time with a little less enthuiasm.
“The distilling is probably more dangerous than the end product.” Bruce found the gardening section with an array of pump action, pressurised vessels for watering, fertilizing or poisoning. His eyes alighted on a 30 litre backpack style container with a long thin spraying wand. Conveniently, insecticide were displayed the next shelves over.
“I have an idea.” Bruce turned to the group who were following with varying degrees of interest.
“Can we still steal a truck?” The ever hopeful Algernon asked encouraged by Rain.
“No, we don’t need to.” Peggy added
“But…” Algernon tried for a cute look, making himself seem smaller and more fragile. It was probably something he’d seen some female character do on one of his television shows. On a gangly 15 year old boy frame it had the effect of making him look constipated.
“That only works when you have boobs.” Peggy added matter of factly before turning back to Bruce.
Bruce’s plan was a good one. Mostly because it was simple, and only required him to be in any potential danger. That night the group let themselves into the shop via the back door and down the stairs leading to the basement. Bruce drilled a large hole, large enough to fit the door viewer, fisheye lens and all. A hairy clawed foot reached up and poked the fisheye back through the door. Bruce quickly gave the offending spider a squirt of pressurised insecticide through the hole and the spiderfoot disappeared with a skitter.
He drilled a second hole, this time big enough to poke through the torch. The narrow beam of the torch filled the basement and through the spyhole the two spiders were visible high up in opposite corners. As the third hole was being drilled for the insecticide wand, the spyhole was poked out a second time. Bruce set a jet of insecticide into the creature’s face this time and it skittered haphazardly back to it’s corner showing signs that the poison was taking effect.
“If the crow lady is connected to these things, will she come through if we kill them?” Algernon asked from up the stairs, at the back of the group.
“We can only hope.” Bruce replied gleefully as he lined up the spray wand, ”Let’s try and see.”
The liquid filled the whole space with a hissing jet hitting both spiders. They jiggered and thrashed violently unable to escape the poison.
One spider launched its huge body from the wall to the door, the whole stairwell echoing with the force of its blow against wood frame and steel hinged. The whole door shuddered and groaned, its hinged stretched. Peggy, Celia and Algernon all brought their handguns up, Algernon added the cold ammunition to his weapon. Bruce leaned against the door as support.
“Keep pumping!” He yelled at Rain and he doubled his efforts to keep the pressure up on the canister.
The door slowly cracked and splintered under the spider’s increasingly frantic attacks. Pieces of frame were now flying off over the group as Bruce dropped the spray gun and braced the door with his crowbar as well.
“Rain, get the gun!” He yelled gesturing to the spray gun on the ground.
Rain did as he was told, leaving the canister and crouching beside Bruce. He swiveled the spray gun around at the spider through the door and poured the drench wherever he could reach.
More of the frame tore away from the brick work and now there was only the wood of the door between Bruce and the spider.
“Get ready, they’re coming through!” Bruce retrieved his crowbar and dove free of the door. Peggy threw down a glass bottle of glue, a cipher of extreme adhesion. The glue splashed the spider who seemed to use their last burst of effort to knock through the door. It crashed bodily into the stairwell, the last of its strength spent as glue afixed it to the door. Now the other spider started crawling over its defeated comrad to attack the party.
“Shoot straight Celia!” Called Rain huddled down against the broken door frame still clutching the spray gun. She did, as did Peggy. Algernon’s icy shot went wide and hit the brickwork above Rain’s head. Rain squeeeled and ducked down further wedging himself between the dead spider and the wall.
Celia shot again, this time shooting the spider through one of its primary eyes. It reared back and turned to face it’s tormentor, mouth parts distending. It launched itself at Celia as she turned to defend herself. The spider bit deep into her raised arm, pushing her back onto the stairs.
“Hulk Smash!” Bruce roared swinging his sledgehammer off his back. He stepped between the party and confronted the beast, but found Rain cowered and in his way. Adjusting his stance, he swung his hammer side on and brought it down squarely on the spider’s head. The spider twitched once and the legs gave way, and its huge body collapsed on its partner in the doorway. A black swarm of spiderlings crawled out of the second spider. The spiderlings did not do anywhere near as well in the split insecticide as their parents, but some did reach the party. Peggy and Algernon couldn’t get out of the way in time and received bites on the legs before the spiderlings collapsed and died.
“Team Work!” Roared Bruce brandishing his Sledgehammer at the dead spiders, “Spiders! Time you split.”
A cracking sound from above and a fine showering of dust caught everyone’s attention. Rain, having successfully wall-run out of the way of the spiderling swarm was now clinging to a hanging light fixture. It couldn’t support his weight for long. Bruce dodged, deflecting much of the debris off his shoulder as Rain, light fixture and much of the ceiling fell to the floor right in front of the head of the second spider.
“Rain drops and falls on Bruce’s head.” Sung Algernon as his companion’s groans of pain turned to yelps at the sight of the dead spiders beside him.
“Get them off! Get them off! Get them off!” Rain cried scrambling ineffectually to get free as the hooked feet of the spiders clung to his coat.
“Stop squirming…look your getting all tangled…here let me do it.” Bruce bent down the pushed the remains of the door into the spider room, the bodies of the two spiders with it.
Celia pulled out her own torch and filled the space with light once more. The buckets remained where they’d been last visit, but fortunately the insecticide had taken out the mosquitoes as well as the spiders that had fed on them. Spiderweb hung from the walls coating them in a now damp whispy softness. That was, except for the far wall where another door stood clear of web. The torch light also fell onto a number of white wrapped cocoons, six in total.
“Didn’t Lydia say she’d brought only a couple of hobos down here?” Celia said.
Peggy was already taking extensive samples of tissue from the spiders, impressed at their toughness and ability to grow so large outside of their magically imbue world. At Celia’s words she took her scappel and cut into the nearest of the cocoons. Inside, a desiccated body lolled out, dressed in the trendiest of hipster fashion. It was hard to tell, but the body did not look to belong to someone who had ‘lived hard’. Peggy checked the body and discovered a wallet that she handed to Celia. Inside she found a student ID for the name George Parks.
“This guy was no hobo. But how did he end up down here?”
The group went to work examining the other five bodies. Four were definitely individuals who had seen hardship, worn clothing in multiple miss matched layers, unkempt and with no identification. The group went silent as the last was revealed to be a young woman, also with a wallet and student ID for the same university as George Parks. Her name was Mayer Haskins. Bruce made a note to mention this to Katherine next time he checked in.
The door was all that remained to investigate. From what they knew from Lydia, beyond was the preparation room and where the blue rock was translated to process for shipment out to dealers like Caine. Celia checked for traps as Peggy checked for presence of The Strange. Neither found anything of note.
“I think I should go in first.” Bruce stated to the group getting no argue from Algernon. Celia just watched as Peggy picked up her things and walked through the door.
The room was much like the rest of the storage areas, full of shelving and crates, the only exception being that this room also contained a large taped in space with a sign saying “Stand Clear”. To one side a bench stood with equipment meant for processing the grey blue rocks into Spiral Dust. Everywhere the group looked, a fine layer of dust covered everything. This was definitely the place. Without a word, Peggy got to work taking samples and recording the space for future study.
Once it was established that there was no obvious clues to be had, Algernon kept himself amused filling the taped off area with pieces of spider. Visuals of Dona Ilsa or one of her cronies translating into the decomposing innards of the Night Spiders seemed to fill everyone in the room with a type of dark glee and even Bruce joined in. As they worked, Algernon, Bruce and Peggy contemplated ideas on how to trap the room for the next delivery.
“Could we lay the trap in the translation space, maybe a poison?” Algernon started dragging a spider leg trailing eviscera into the pile.
“This room is underground. It wouldn’t take much to make it airtights.” Bruce mused out loud.
“We could fill it with nitrogen and suffocate anyone who translates in.” Algernon added.
“Or we could fill the place with the insecticide…or some sort of contact poison on the spider guts. Yeah, that way they take it back with them…” Algernon added warming to the subject.
“Mercury would be nasty, or maybe Phosphorus. Yes…they’d try to wash it off and it would burn.” Peggy joined in with her suggestions taking equal delight in the idea.
“I think I could probably make a contact poison from what we can gather here and at Home Depot. Not too strong that I would hurt myself making it, but strong enough to make anyone who translated in ill.”
“At least they’ll find themselves deep in spider if nothing else.” Bruce grinned looking to share the joke with Rain, not finding the little man in the room. Putting aside the spider part stacking for the moment he walked back through the basement and found Rain sitting on the stairs.
Bruce nearly walked into Rain he was so still on the near darkness of the stairwell. The shaking mess that was usually Rain after a physical encounter was absent. Missing too was the black puzzle box. Instead Rain just sat staring down the stairs, his fists balled in front of his expressionless face.
“What’s up?” Bruce asked almost eye to eye with Rain.
Rain sat silently for a moment. Eventually the violet eyes turned to Bruce and he was surprised to see anger there.
“I’m sitting here listening to my friends. They’re so excited about poisoning some woman they’ve never met. They’re making jokes and fooling around about mercury and phosphorus. They’re excited about making new poisons that work through contact.” The eyes slipped from Bruce’s as the anger went internal, “She’s horrible. I know and…I don’t have an alternative… so I said nothing. But… I don’t want to be that person, Bruce.”
“She’s not actually a human.” Bruce defended, unsure with this new dynamic between the two of them, “I’m just trying to find a way to defend us against …”
“But it’s like the Spanish deliberately poisoning the Indians with smallpox. Greed, fear and genocide over and over again.”
“What if it was the other way around?” Bruce retorted surer of his moral footing, “What if the Indians were defending themselves by poisoning the invading Spanish?”
Rain shook his head in sadly.
“It doesn’t matter who does it. Don’t you get it? It’s the thinking that they are less, that they deserve extermination like…insects.”
“Hmm. Yeah.” The realisation of Rain’s words hit home. Bruce had been thinking of ways of hitting back at the Beak Mafia who were attacking his world with Spiral Dust The desire to defend at all cost had blinded him to a whole nation of intelligent beings, not just a blind force for evil.
“Dona Ilsa and her people are intelligent. We can talk, reason, bully, threaten even…”
“You’re right.” Bruce admitted, “I see what you mean. … Actually, … now I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed. So what should we do? What do you suggest?”
Rain shook his head, now frustrated that he couldn’t see a path forward.
“I really don’t know. I don’t have any alternatives. I’m sitting here racking my mind…all I know is I don’t want to lose what little…humanity I have.”
“Ok. Look, we won’t do the poison. We’ll hold off, and phone it in and get instructions.”
Rain winced. Asking for advice to him was like admitting defeat. It said something about how strongly he felt about his that he finally nodded his head in agreement.
“But don’t tell Algernon. He’s so excited about his poison idea, and I don’t want to let him down.”
“I’ll settle it with him, I’ll be gentle. It’ll be alright.” Bruce assured the smaller man, now sitting on the stairs with his arms wrapped around his legs.” … Are you coming down?”
He shook his head again and looked away like a wounded child.
“I don’t think there’s anything down there for me.”
Down in the preparation room, Algernon was busy adding a motion sensitive camera that he could monitor via WIFI. He added a silent alarm to the setup so if anyone translated in unexpectedly, he’d know about it. Bruce walked back to the group looking serious and headed over to Algernon.
“Listen guys. Rain’s made a valid point about us dealing with Crows Hollow people. I’m going to ring in and get some advice on what to do, but Algernon, we’re going to hold off on your poison idea for the time being, okay?”
“Sure.” Said Algernon, now concerned where his friend was. It was one thing for Rain to be upset by the bodies and mess they’d made of the spider, that was just Rain. But, Algernon was now worried he’d alienated Rain with his throw away suggestion. “Well, if Rain thinks it’s a bad idea then I’ll forget it.”
“Good lad. Well, first things let’s see if we can fix this place up a little.” Bruce pressed Algernon into helping him fix the door to the spider room. Though the door was relatively intact (held together as it was by glued spider parts), the frame was shattered, the hinged torn apart and all of it was smeared with insecticide and spider goo. Try as they might they could not make the door stand in the opening and eventually resorted to just taping it in place with the red and white striped keep clear tape from the preparation room. As the last of the tape was applied, a noise from up in the shop disturbed Rain.
“…Hello?” Came a woman’s voice, a query not a demand for attention. Rain climbed the stairs and from the hallway saw Delsey Robinson standing in the shop.
“Hi!” He replied cherrily stepping out of the hallway so she could see him.
“What’s going on here,” She asked a worried expression creasing her face, she pointed at the front door. “I walked past and saw the door was open.”
Rain looked to the door standing ajar knowing that they’d entered via the back door. It had been more direct and less obvious than the front.
“Sorry, about that. We’ve been contracted to deal with the basement issues, by…Miss Lydia.” He replied in the slow drawling local accent, “Rising damp has done the two-step on the electricals for this place.”
“Oh,” Delsey physically relaxed when her bosses name was mentioned, “She did mention something about that. I work here.”
Oh hearing the conversation, Algernon crept up the stairs behind Rain and out the back door to catch a glimpse of Delsey through the shop front windows. Once he could see her he tapped into her surface thoughts and saw that though she had been a little worried about the door being open, she was assured by Rain’s words. She was not the one who had opened the door. He made a gesture to Rain behind Delsey’s back that she was “all good” with two raised thumbs and snuck back. Rain nodded.
“Is that right. Miss Lydia must be proud to have such diligent staff as you watching out for her store like this.”
“I was just walking home from the pub, “ She accepted the compliment honestly.
“The pub! Hah, well I hope you had one for me and the crew as we’re going to be pulling an all nighter on this one.” Rain started walking Desley to the door.
“Better you than me.” Desley joked as she walked out and locked the door behind her.
At the same time, Peggy was having a surprise of her own. Still on the stairs waiting for the all clear she was thinking about Dona Ilsa and how she related to everything. Her open mind touched The Strange and it replied.
“Cornaro.” She said out loud, “Cornaro? What’s a Cornaro?” Bruce glanced up at Peggy perplexed but filed away the little snippet of information.
“Where did you get that from?” Celia asked quietly as they heard the front door close and lock. She touched her hand to Peggy’s arm to get her attention, but something else quite unexpected happened instead.
I don’t know, it just seemed to pop into my head. Peggy thought and Celia heard it inside her own mind. Cornaro, Cornaro family.
Did she say that or just think …?
No need to shout at me!
You heard that!
She’s in my mind. At the sudden realisation that they were now linked telepathically, Peggy panicked and tried to run up the stairs.
“Slow down, what’s going on?” Bruce asked catching up with the distraught Peggy.
“She’s in my mind! GET OUT! GET OUT!” Peggy wheeled on Celia the later groggily walked up the last of the stairs shaking her head to try to clear the link.
“Ah, we’ve seen this before,” Bruce reminded them of the first time Algernon realised he could read minds.” Just try breaking the link.”
Peggy squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath but nothing.
“She’s still in my head!” She panted as she started to hyperventilate.
“Right…Rain.” Bruce called as Peggy came out in a cold sweat. “You take Peggy and I’ll take Celia and we’ll see if a little distance can break this connection.”
Bruce took Celia out the back door, all the time coaching her on what to think to provide a little interference. Rain lead Peggy through the shop and out the front door all the time Peggy’s making comments on what she was experiencing.
“Oh… I don’t like this …penguins? Why are you thinking of penguins? Get out of my head…that is a highly inappropriate thought about Rain…”
“What…?” Rain had been paying attention to where they were going, turned when he heard his name. They had walked down most of the main street and were out of sight of Celia and Bruce. This was not the same as Algernon. Time to try something else. He grabbed both Peggy’s arms and made her face him.
“Peggy. Listen to me.” Though his grip was strong, he his voice was low and gentle, “What is your safe place?”
“My…my garage at…at home.”
“Picture your garage. What’s the first thing you see….”
As Celia focused on nonsense songs and popular movies, Peggy reconstructed her garage and equipment piece by piece. Her breathing slowed and stabilized as she could hear nothing but Rain’s slow, steady instruction. As time past Celia realised she could no longer hear the thoughts from Peggy and the group reunited.
Still shellshocked from their experience, Peggy and Celia were in no fit state to drive the group back to their hotel. Bruce took charge and herded everyone back to the van. Rain looked silently from Celia to Peggy trying to make sense of this new ability. Not just the ability to read another’s mind but full mental telepathy, where no secrets could be hidden from the other. He shivered.
That night Rain did not sleep.
The next morning the incident of the mind link was no more than a vivid nightmare. Over breakfast Bruce called in reporting the death of the spiders.
“Didn’t give you any trouble them?” Katherine asked over the phone.
“ It took ninety seconds of spraying to take down one of the brutes, the babies were not a problem. All up we used 30 litres of insecticide and broke a door. Celia was bitten by one of the adults, nasty but doesn’t seem to be poisoned. Peggy and Algernon took bites from the spiderlings you warned about, but also seem fine this morning.” He looked to the group who winced at their wounds but all gave a thumbs up.
“There’s something else, Lydia had admitted to sending a couple of homeless people to be spider food. We found six bodies, including two college kids.” He gave her their names and student ID numbers, “Either Lydia was lying or someone else also knows about the spiders.”
“And the door was open, “ Rain added, “That what had drawn Delsey to the store last night. Algernon checked her thoughts, she was telling the truth.”
“I’ll send the clean up crew to take away the bodies and fix the door. So, what are your plans now?” Katherine asked
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. There was a plan to add a contact poison to the space set aside for translation by Dona Ilsa.”
“The Estate would always prize information over extermination. If you can, capture her and find out what she knows.”
“These crow people have been…difficult customers in the past. Do you think we can handle them?”
“It’s up to you. McCain and his team are available, I can always send them up to take over if you don’t feel up to it.”
Bruce looked around the group in front of him.
“What do you guys say? Do we let McCain and his team take over?”
“Sooner we leave here, sooner I’m back in my lab.” Peggy pounced on the chance to get back.
“I think capturing her is a good idea. I’d like to see this through to the end. I’d like us to try.” Rain disagreed as did Algernon and Celia.
“We can do it, Peggy.” Rain said to Peggy hoping that he could encourage her to join the others.
“It’s not a matter of being capable. Many are capable. I want to get back to my lab and my work. All this is merely a distraction.” She waved her hand at the room and by extension the town outside and the current mission.
“Could Peggy fly back to Seattle, set up a few experiments and then join us in time for the next delivery?” Bruce suggested to Katherine over the phone.
“Tell Doctor Martin there will be plenty of lab time on her return, “Katherine replied pragmatically, “I will not approve the expense of a return flight for her.”
Much to Peggy’s protests, the group were to stay in Colorado for the next scheduled delivery of Spiral dust. It meant they had time to kill and Bruce thought he knew how to spend it.
“That other job, the Morrison fellowship award winner, has that been given away?”
“No, I haven’t put another team on it as yet. Are you thinking of picking it up again?”
“We have a week, Boulder’s not that far away.”
“Good thinking.” Katherine approved, “Well get driving. I’ll have the Chief of Public Relations get in touch.”
“Cheer up Peggy,” Rain said as Bruce hung up with Katherine and let the group know her decision, “Think on the bright side. This teen prodigy may be the real thing. Imagine what we can learn from her. Might be useful for your battery project.”
“Yes, I wonder how she’s doing it.” Peggy wondered out loud and kept herself amused trying to work out how the young girl was powering electrical devices with only her body’s bioelectricity, “The numbers just don’t make sense.”
The trip between Nederland and Boulder should have taken the group little more than half an hour on the highway. With Bruce driving and the van’s own idea of what speed was appropriate, the trip was closer to half a day. Rain dosed in the back seat lulled by the movement of the van as the others sporadically talked about low wattage bulbs and the human body’s ability to generate electricity.
Waiting for them in Boulder was Eliza Banks, Chief of Public Relations of The Estate.
“I’m so pleased your group has made time to help the The Morrison Fellowship vet their latest candidate, Gwendolyn Wurtz.” She welcomed the group as they stepped out of the van not far from Gwendolyn’s house. For the presentation they had been asked to wear neat business attire. Bruce and Algernon had suits and collared shirts, Celia and Peggy were pencil skirts and pumps. Rain had raided the Nederland Good Will, called “The Shop”, and was dressed head to toe in vintage 1950s clothing. A short brimmed fedora that he wore pushed back, a crisp white linen shirt, yellow checkered vest, a plaid sports coat and wide legged slacks. Algernon was in the process of swapping out his suit new suit jacket for his red motorcycle jacket when Bruce caught him.
“You can’t wear that, you’re representing the public face of The Estate.” Bruce argued holding out the discarded black suit jacket.
“I wear this when I represent the Estate all the time.” Algernon complained pulling on his jacket with pride.
“This is not the jacket of a respectable person. In this jacket, you are making a threat.” Bruce tried reasoning, “Don’t you want to be safe?”
“But Rain gave me this jacket.”
“We need to blend in.” Bruce insisted not unkindly, and eventually Algernon took off his beloved motorcycle jacket a put on the black.
“Right, now that that’s sorted, “Eliza continued in a crisp presenters voice,”As you’re probably aware, the Morrison Fellowship Prize is a prestigious award given to individuals who are working in… the more fringe fields of study. In reality the Prize is a chance for us to covertly check up on unusual activity that may be linked to The Strange. When Gwendolyn’s science fair project came to our attention it became a candidate for the prize and your…unique skills.”
“So will you be joining us?” Asked Bruce
“Oh no.” Her red lips smiled, but her eyes didn’t mirror the expression. “I’ll leave all that tedious and potentially dangerous legwork to you. You’ll report to me when you have your findings.”
It wasn’t clear how speaking to a 15 year old girl about her science fair project was going to be dangerous. Compared to horse-sized spiders, a walk down a suburban street in daylight sounded a good change of pace.
“Right -o and off you go!” She cheered and set the group down the street.
The house was not that different from any of the others in the neighbourhood. The only glaring difference was that every light seemed to be on in the house in the middle of the day. When Rain knocked on the door it was answered promptly by a woman who epitomizes the American housewife. Immaculately dressed and styled she wore a frilled apron over the top of a dress which looked like it had never seen a days work. Rain never got a chance to start his spiel as she flung open the door and smile broadly,
“And you must be from the Morrison Fellowship.”
“Yes we are, we’ve come to interview Gwendolyn, is she available?”
“Yes. Please come in.” She gestured and the party stepped into the pristine home. It was like a house from a magazine, nothing was out of place, everything was spotless.
“Gwendolyn they’ve arrived.” Called the woman they could only assume was the girl’s mother. A few moments later, an average looking teenage girl carrying a homemade looking flashlight joined them in the lounge.
Silently all the skills and talents of the group went into effect. Algernon focused on the girl, listening in on her surface thoughts, Peggy concentrated on The Strange, Bruce kept an eye of everything and Rain turned to face the girl with a smile.
“Gwendolyn, we’ve been so looking forward to meeting you and seeing your amazing discovery at work.”
“Yeah…um, here it is.” She said holding the metal body of the device to her bare hand and the bulb suddenly lit up. It was a bright as a regular flashlight, much brighter than other contemporary experiments and much too bright for the standard amount of energy created by the human body.
“Outstanding. How did you come up with such an amazing idea?” Rain prompted and Algernon heard,
I really hope they like it. In reply, though, she said,
“I’d heard about bioenergy at school and I just started tinkering around.”
“Could I try it?” Asked Bruce and she handed the device over. When Bruce held the body as she had the bulb lit up, working at least as well as it had for her.
Algernon could hear Gwendolyn searching for words and concepts seemingly at random, like she was making up her explanation as she went along.
Peggy, having no luck detecting anything of The Strange and started asking technical questions of the device.
“The hardest part was finding the right metal.” Gwendolyn said, but her thoughts were racing as she tried to keep up with Peggy’s more insightful questioning.
When Gwendolyn started to struggle to answer the questions, Peggy stepped back and concentrated on the girl herself, who she was and where she had been in life. She got a feeling that the girl was quickened like they were, and was no stranger to other worlds.
She’s controlling the mother, not the other way around. She said to herself not sure where the impression had come from.
Bruce looked at the immaculate mother and was about to say something to her when his eyes caught something out of place. He kept watching her, trying to work out what was wrong when the woman turned and he noticed that she didn’t just have a healthy glow about her, her eyes were faintly glowing.
Bruce reached out and touched Peggy’s arm and she flinched as the telepathic link was once again made.
You’re in my head! Breathe…breathe…
Focusing his thought to one clear statement, Bruce replied,
Quiet. What’s going on with her mother’s eyes?
I should tell you, I know the mother is not in charge here, the girl is. She replied as she turned to watch the mother.
Now it had been drawn to her attention it was obvious, why hadn’t they seen it before. The mother was obviously an android. Peggy stepped up to get a closer look fascinated by the detail. So close in fact, Bruce had to pull her back.
You’ll get a close look later, but we need to report back what we’ve found.
But do you see, the blink rate, the movement as if breathing, even the dilation of the iris is so natural… and general movement and responses… Peggy bubbled excitedly in a very unPeggy way.
“So these clever metals of yours. Do you pick them up from Walmart? Home depot?” Rain was still asking questions of the girl as Algernon listened silently to her thoughts. She showed images of other places…other worlds where materials and knowledge were far advanced. It was nowhere that Algernon recognised and he was unsure how to get the information to the others.
Celia had been quietly listening to everything that happened. She too slipped into a type of trance, listening to the girl as she spouted technobabble at Rain. Suddenly, as the girl tried to describe where she got her supplies from, a thought entered Celia’s mind. Graveyard of the Machine God. Started out of her trance she was just in time to hear Bruce whisper to Rain,
“The mothers an android. Wrap this up.”
Rain nodded and smiled as if to a private joke and then turned to the mother,
“And your mother here, she is a remarkable invention.”
Many things happened at once. Algernon heard from Gwendolyn, But how do they know!
Sensing the growing tension behind him, Rain stepped aside to let Peggy move forward once more, now fidgeting with excitement.
“Oh thank god, I thought I was going to burst! This android is astounding in its sophistication. I can’t tell you how impressed I am…”
“Don’t make Mommy mad!” Finally Gwendolyn said terrified as the faint glow that Bruce had first spotted turned red and intensified.
Mommy is built very protective.
“We’ve triggered a safety feature.” Bruce said just as Mummy’s hand came down on Rain’s shoulder, pinning him in place.
“Gwendolyn, we can find you a perfectly safe place to work and study.”
“See Mommy, they don’t want to hurt me but keep me safe.” Gwendolyn almost begged the android. Thankfully Mommy listened who let go of the squirming Rain. Rain couldn’t move back fast enough from the machine’s grasp.
“Wonderful invention. I’d truly love to look at this in more detail…” Peggy cooed as Mommy’s eyes faded back to something like a semblance of normal.
“I’m sorry, mother guardian is programmed to protect.” Gwendolyn looked distressed.
Peggy, leave that for somewhere safer. Bruce again pulled Peggy back. He said out loud to Gwendolyn, “We need to deliberate, but I can assure you that there is a place for you with our scientists. Do you think you could walk us to the gate?”
“Yeah, sure.” She said leading the group out the front door with Mommy walking along behind.
“Fill Eliza in?” Bruce whispered to the group as soon as he considered them out of earshot.
“Not yet.” Rain scowled, rubbing away the bruise the android had inflicted, “I want to know what happened to her real mother.”
“Yeah, we’ll find that out.” Bruce agreed nodded seriously.
Algernon, who had not stopped listening to Gwendolyn’s thoughts, walked just behind the girl as they all left the house. As she contemplated a life outside the family home her thoughts drifted to her mother.
I haven’t fed her today. She’ll be all right in the basement for a little while longer. Again, the threat of violence from the android kept him mute and it wasn’t until the group were well away from the house that he was able to express his distress.
“Rain, from previous experience we’ve concerned ourselves when people were held against their will.” He said as Bruce reported their findings to Eliza.
“Yes.” Replied Rain simply suspecting where this conversation was going.
“Her mother is being held in the basement.”
“Well that little detail is resolved.” He nodded and Bruce let Eliza know they needed to get back into the house.
“She’s also been to other recursions. That’s where she gets the materials and the tech from.”
“What, the torch or Mommy?” asked Peggy.
“I think I got a name for that place,” Celia added, “When you were talking about materials it just came to me, Graveyard of the Machine god. Mean anything?”
Everyone shook their heads except Rain.
“And that just came to you?” He asked probing further into the experience and not the information, “Amazing, you’re all amazing!”
“I know I’m amazing, no need to trumpet it.” She replied feeling self conscious at the hunch she couldn’t explain.
Rain shook his head astounded,
“What do you mean? That’s the only worthwhile thing to do!”
When Bruce got off the phone he informed the group that Eliza herself would come by in an hour and pick up Gwendolyn and her ‘mother’ and take them to Seattle. Not knowing what “Mommy” was made of could make her tricky to get through airport security so the drive was recommended.
“Once they’ve left we can go in and look for the real mother.” Bruce explained and the group settled in for the wait.
“How’s the mind link thing, Peggy?” Rain asked in a quiet moment.
“Okay.” She thought as if trying to find the right words, “Slightly alien…very strange.”
“Everyone’s showing such amazing powers, even Celia. I wonder what it means?”
“Should it mean anything?” Peggy asked as Bruce’s phone rang. It was time to go back in.
It wasn’t hard to find Gwendolyn’s real mother. The group took it carefully,not knowing what they would find protecting Gwendolyn’s secrets. In the end they found her mother strapped into a chair delirious. Without moving her at first, Bruce provided first aid and asked for a good cup of tea to be made. She looked unkempt, had sores where her bindings had cut into the back of her hands and had lost weight to judge how her clothes fit. On the whole, she was not in great shape.
“Mrs Wurtz you’re safe. Gwendolyn is safe.” Bruce told her as he assessed her injuries. Algernon who was linked with the woman felt her relief at Bruce’s words, though she was unable to respond coherently.
“Do you know how long you’ve been down here?”
Confusion from Mrs Wurtz and then a clear thought,
I remember the Science Fair and then… She had been down there a few weeks, it was lucky the group had come when they had, she may not have lasted much longer.
Slowly, with a little water and alot of gentle coaxing, she came round and was able to talk to the group.
“Gwendolyn has always been very sciency, very smart. Unfortunately, my husband died two months ago and I admit I was struggling.”
“Have you seen the new protector?” Bruce asked.
“Oh yes. I met the new me. One day Gwendolyn said I’d been…I’d been a bad mother and she made a better one.” She said without anger, only a deep sadness which seemed worse to everyone listening.
“Yes, she is better.” Algernon agreed with her and Mrs Wurtz started to cry.
“But it’s not her mother, you are.” Rain added adamantly, focusing all his thoughts on Mrs Wurtz. “ As kids we don’t know how much we need our mother until their gone.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow at this statement, but said nothing.
“This time of separation could be good for you and her. Gwendolyn is safe with The Estate now and you can relax, heal and find yourself again.”
Mrs Wurtz nodded her head and wiped her tears with the back of her bandaged hand. Slowly, she braced her arms against the chair she was still sitting in and stood up on shaking legs. Bruce was there to help, but as soon as she left the seat, all the lights went out in the basement. In fact, all the lights went out in the house.
“Oh, she had her mother wired into the light circuit.” Peggy commented without surprise or shock.
Without saying a word, Algernon took Mrs Wurtz’s place in the chair. The lights went back on, so everyone could see Algernon pale and drawn.
“Algernon?!” Rain went to step forward but was held back by Bruce.
“Get out of the chair, Algernon.” He said without offering a hand to help. With effort, Algernon pulled himself away from the chair and under the light of Celia’s flashlight Peggy investigated the chair.
“There’s an artefact of Strange origins built into the chair.” She recognised the tingle in her back teeth. She found a set of pliers and pulled a rod from the chair back. “It looks like it drains people of energy. Could be useful against Dona Ilsa?” Wrapping it carefully in insulation she placed the rod in her bag and started searching the basement for other items of The Strange. On a counter she found a powered wing for personal flight, a device that made an individual harder to see and a battery like device that worked as an uninterruptible power supply.
As an ambulance was called for Mrs Wurtz, Bruce called in and reported to Katherine and Algernon pulled Rain aside.
“Rain. The woman Lydia killed people and we wanted to punish her, but the girl will get off?” He asked watching Mrs Wurtz being wrapped in a blanket by Celia.
“It doesn’t seem fair, but we’re more lenient with the young as they haven’t fully learnt how to behave. We have to remember she also didn’t kill her mother, there’s a chance she can make up for her mistakes.”
“It’s also proven that people her age have difficulty making good decisions.” Peggy added overhearing the conversation, “Teenagers have the emotional intelligence of five year olds.”
“People my age…?” Algernon replied and Rain could only smirk at his naive scarily intelligent friend.
“No ones like your age.”