Rain looked around the group of three searching for the knowing glance, the smirk or conspiratorial movement that would have let him know if they were making fun of him. Nothing. They meant it, they trusted his judgement. Had anyone had his back like that before? Ever? Without another word he straightened his jacket collar, checked his pockets for his essentials (puzzle box, wallet, phone, deck of cards…) and headed for the door with Bruce close behind.
A smart rap on the door and a plain, greasy individual (matching the description given by Katherine) appeared at the door.
“I’m looking to do a little business…” Rain let the sentence hang hoping the greasy person would fill in the silence. They didn’t, just stared blankly back, “…a little business in Blue Rain.” he pulled out his wallet only made fat by the small denominations it held.
“Yes, hold on.” the greasy person went to shut the door. Rain, ready for this, pulled out a playing card and slotted it between plate of the lock and the latch. After a few seconds, where Rain held the door closed from the outside, both he and Bruce slipped into the warehouse.
The warehouse was cavernous and empty except for a few shelving racks at the far end and a partially dismantled car on jacks in the centre. A bright light glowed from a set of stairs heading down into a basement-like room. Silhouetted against the light, the greasy person called down the stairs,
“Someone hear to buy the blue stuff.”
“There’s not a lot left, check the shelf.”, said another voice, definitely male from the room down stairs. Rain and Bruce edged closer.
“So, what do you want to do? Buy and get out of here or bust these guys here and now?” Rain asked Bruce, figuring that the big man would want to round up everyone here and take them back to The Estate.
“I’d love to bust some heads, but this is your call. We can see where it ends.”
“Wow, so buy or bust, we’re going to buy!”
“See where it goes…”
The two of them walked nonchalantly to the basement trying to get a look at the second person. Could it possibly be the cowboy who’d killed to keep his Spiral dust empire secret? But they didn’t get far when the greasy one (who on further study was a woman) spotted them walking across the open space.
“Hey!” The greasy woman shouted walking back with a sizable bag of blue dust. “What are you doing in here?”
“You left the door unlatched, I assumed you invited us in.” Rain gestured to the wide open door.
“No I didn’t. Get out!”
“Sure no problem if you want to do business out in the open.” Rain and Bruce shuffled back outside and the woman followed with her bag of drugs.
“How much do you want to buy?” she drawled as if these were lines she’d been trained to say not her own words at all.
“Hard to get these days. Nothing on the Black market. I’ll be willing to take what you have.”
She pulled over a small scale and weighed the contents of the bag.
Rain considered haggling, but thought better of it. She’s probably be trained to take only the going rate so it would be pointless to haggle and would only breed more antagonism. He handed over the two hundred and silently lamented the loss as the bag of blue dust was handed over.
“A pleasure doing business.” he waved. She closed the door in their faces.
“We should go back and bust them.” Bruce said as soon as they were away from the door.
“There’s two of them,you want to go in heavy with two people?”
“We can do it. You knock on the door,bust through, knock her on the head, rush the other guy. Simple.”
“Do you have to talk about knocking heads?” Rain winced at the thought, “Look we have a team, I guess we should talk to them about what we’re going to do?”
It didn’t take long to update Algernon and Peggy on what went on inside the warehouse. Peggy took a sample of the dust for analysis in her lab as they discussed what to do next.
“Well, hand over the dust and I’ll see you get reimbursed.” Bruce held out his hand for the bag of spiral dust only now disappearing into Rain’s coat.
“It’s safe here, “ Rain patted his coat.
“Until you sell it on, “ the big man gave Rain a hard look, but neither was giving an inch.
“I wouldn’t sell it.”
“Well what else are you going to do with it? You can’t use it all.”
“You were going to use it?”
“Well, I’m not about to snuff it up my sinuses right this moment. We have to deal with the people in the warehouse.”
“I’ll watch you snuff it up your sinuses if you want.” Algernon offered.
“Well, I was planning to ask if you could actually, “ he acknowledged Algernon’s if a little creepy offer with genuine thanks.
“You can’t experiment on minors!” Peggy protested missing the point.
“Peggy, believe me, I would never give anyone drugs, especially not kids.” Rain replied finding himself in the exact position he was trying to avoid. “I will do this myself, in the great tradition of scientists the world over.”
“Then you will need laboratory conditions and the scientific method, otherwise it is just self abuse.”
“Not if I’m right.”
They bickered round the subject until it was clear that nothing else was going to happen with the warehouse that day. They all climbed into the car for the drive back through the city.
The cameras were in place and would gather anything that happened on the outside. As for the inside it was anyone’s guess. As the two people involved had never been seen outside the warehouse it was assumed they had one of three different ways of coming and going. Either a tunnels system hooked up to the basement room, a permanent gate or the individuals were translating somehow. Gates were rare things, and most individuals who could translate were meant to be known by The Estate, but somehow the greasy woman and her associate had gone undetected. So tunnels seemed to be a good place to start.
Peggy stopped the car at the Public Record Request Centre and Rain tried chatting with the bureaucrats inside. She then tried their hand and searching the Internet and found nothing. Algernon thought he’d found something and then realised that it wasn’t as useful as he thought,
“S-E-W-E-R-S,” Bruce informed him later, “Not S-U-E-Z.”
“Ah, so this map of North Africa is no good then.”
Bruce on the other hand, with his background in building and construction had far more success and discovered that the stormwater and sewage pipes in the area of the warehouse were too small for people to travel. It was just as well as Rain came out having fallen short with the procedural brick wall that is City Hall.
“So they’re translating. Can we translate in as well?”
“I don’t think it works like that. You have to know the destination to get there, like McCain did when he brought us back from the Wasteland.” Peggy replied as they drove back to the campus.
First stop back for Algernon was at Lawrence Keaton’s office brandishing the knife Rain had given him.
“Excuse me sir. My family was sent to a recursion where they fought thonics. I assess these creatures at an ATR* of D or E and I had nothing to fight them with but this knife. Bruce could have been killed and even a pistol would have been more effective. If I am to continue to go on missions I would like a TAC 50, please.”
It was the most Keaton had ever heard from the youth and with more passion than anyone had ever seen. It took him a moment to compose his thoughts before he responded, thankful that the huge combat knife was now away in its sheath.
“You’re working hard on your shooting practice, keep it up. You are currently approved for pistols. If you go out on another mission you could have one of those.” Keaton walked back to his desk and sat down, making a note, “When I am informed that your skills warrant it I’ll consider a larger weapon then.”
“Oh and a motorbike, I need a motorbike.” Algernon added almost as a second thought. Keaton knew he’d been taking lessons, he’s even seen the kid puttering around the Campus. But, a fifteen year old kid riding the streets of Seattle on a motorbike could raise difficult questions that would only come back to him.
“How do you get around now?”
“In the car…thing, the Doctor drives.” the kid brushed off. It was like he was being driven around town by his mother. Maybe he felt he was, didn’t he say his family?
“I’m sure that there is a seat for you in there.” He dismissed the suggestion of a motorbike, “Anything else?”
“Yes, the Doctor said I needed a booster seat.”
“Really? Unusual” Keaton looked the kid over. He was small for an operative. Keaton was used to working with adult men and women, many with years of service already under their belts with the police or armed services. Maybe there was an issue with the kid’s size. He pulled out a requisition form and filled it in.
Algernon took it without complaint and thankfully left without another word.
Rain also went to see Keaton, but later, when Keaton wasn’t in his office. Rain watched from an unused cubicle until Keaton left his , locking the door behind him. A difficulty, but not an insurmountable one. Houdini hadn’t been Rain’s idols growing up for nothing. A handful of bent paper-clips were scavenged from the desk and the door was soon open.
When Keaton returned sometime later, Rain was pouring two tumblers of Scotch from behind Keaton’s desk. Keaton looked at his door, positive he’d locked it, and then closed it behind him. This was a power-play, Keaton could feel it. He’d play along, but it wouldn’t pay to have the skinny son-of-a-biscuit think he could get away with it.
“Rain. What can I do for you?” he sat down in one of two guests seat feeling uncomfortably misplaced and trying not to show it.
“Just a couple of questions,” the conman offered a glass to Keaton and took one himself, rolling it between his hands, “Firstly, you’re my supervisor. Why do I need you?”
It was an impertinent question, the second that day to give Keaton pause.
“Well for a start, breaking and entering a superior’s office sounds like a good reason for a little supervision.” His voice rose just a little higher than he would have liked.
Rain smiled his quiet little smile as he breathed in the fumes from the scotch. The smile could have meant anything from agreeing with Keaton to questioning his use of the word ‘superior’. Either way it rankled, but Keaton tried his best to not let it show.
“If you need training, or equipment. Maybe the case you’re on could benefit from another division’s help. I am here to make sure you can do your job.”
“I’m glad you mentioned that,” that infuriating smile again. That scotch was looking real good about now. “We’ve done a few jobs for The Estate, jumped into a recursion, hunted down drug dealers and I was wondering…when do we get paid?”
“Yes. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Algernon is running around in the clothes he was dragged through a portal in, and I’ve spent sizable amounts on Estate business myself. When do we get paid?”
“You obviously haven’t checked your bank account recently.” Keaton thought he had him there. He knew that both Rain and Algernon had been put on the payroll, he’d filled out the paperwork himself. Rain just sat behind Keaton’s own desk, sniffing the Scotch.
“What bank accounts?” Rain said simply and the bottom feel out of Keaton’s confidence. Of course, the kid was an alien in all senses of the word and Rain…well, who could say.
“You have an aversion to banks?” Keaton tried to hold the high moral ground. It was a waste of time, the guys could not be chastened.
“Lots. Mostly I hate paper trails. Well, at least paper trails I don’t make myself.” A smile, a roll of the tumbler, a luxurious breath in.
“I’ll look into it.”
“Thank you.” Rain placed his tumber beside the bottle of Scotch on purpose drawing Keaton’s attention to it. In one fluid motion he stood and strolled around the table, leaving the room with nothing to mark his presence except the two untouched tumblers and the bottle. If the label was to be believed it was good stuff and Keaton could feel the old tingle at the back of his throat. He was about to reach for a glass when Rain was back silently sliding through the door.
“Oh, and we picked this up today, thought you’d want it.” a sizable bag of what could only be Spiral dust plonked down on the desk making the glasses chink together.
“Thank you, I’ll have it analyzed.” he ground out through gritted teeth, but the room was already empty.
Rain left Keaton’s with mixed feelings. Playing the bully was not his usual style, but the pen pushing middle man of the bureaucracy he now found himself under brought out the worst in him. Besides, it never hurt to make an impression. On the other hand, getting rid of the bag in such a spectacular way was a load off his mind. Now if Bruce or anyone were to question where the four ounces of Spiral dust had gone he could say that an ounce went to Peggy’s research and the rest was handed to his…whatever Keaton thought he was. In reality, of course, it had been one ounce of spiral dust in the bag and two ounces of expertly cut laundry detergent and baking powder. Two ounces was overkill for his needs, but it had been his $200 that bought the stuff, why should he hand it over just because someone said to?
In contrast, Bruce had a perfectly amicable conversation with Katherine, bringing her up to date with the party’s activities (including the purchase of 4 ounces of Spiral Dust) and then spoke to her about training options for Algernon and himself. Now with a newly ramped schedule of hand to hand training and Weapon classes practically every day, Bruce did as he always did when at a loose end, went to the gym.
Peggy, got straight to work in her lab. Firstly she set the spiral dust to an array of tests to determine what it was and possible effects on the body. Secondly she looked at her machine, her baby, her life’s work… and despaired. To think that it might have something to do with the random portal openings! It was as if her own child had been arrested for some audacious crime. It was a horrible and yet exciting thought that she was determined to get to the bottom of.
As she contemplated the task, Hertzfeld came in with a new gadget of his own. When he turned it on, two solid rods passed through each other.
“I was hoping you would work on this with me.” Hertzfeld gestured to the gadget like offering a tasty treat.
“I’d love too. But I must insist on shared credit.”
If Hertzfeld felt slighted he didn’t show it. As all research made under the auspices of The Estate stayed in-house he didn’t feel it a problem to agree to her terms. Once arrangements were made to both their satisfaction Peggy finally got stuck into breaking down her equipment.
Gingerly, pieces by carefully scavenged and reconstructed piece, she laid it out, noting the connections and how they interacted with each other. Now, with her newly acquired knowledge on the Strange, Peggy started to see that in its current configuration, her equipment was connecting to the Strange in a way considered impossible. At times it could work as a conducting rod for the energies of the Strange and as a result spontaneously create gates. She wondered if such a transitory and chaotic energy could be harness, even stored. All thought of Hertzfeld’s matter phasing contraption left her as the possibilities of her discovery became her obsession.
Days went by. Footage from the cameras down at the docks came in but nothing of any worth was captured. They thought once or twice that a deal may have been caught, but under scrutiny, it was only deliveries of take away. Rain despaired at the lack of action and more and more thought on the two and a bit ounces he had stashed in his puzzle box.
Bruce delved into some basic studies of physiology and spent extra hours in the weapons practise room learning to wield his weapons with more deadly accuracy, or how he liked to put it,
“I’ve learnt to bash things better.” He was grimly eager to put it into practice in the field.
Peggy’s tests on the spiral dust proved conclusively the dust was not from Earth. It seemed to react with the Strange somehow. Putting that together with the vivid hallucinations of the users they had interviewed that, at least with their minds, the users were partially translating. She giggled to herself at the thought that she had actually discovered real Astral Projection. It was then that she called Hertzfeld back to let him know what she had discovered.
Algernon did something radically unusual for him and voluntarily went and visited Peggy in her lab.
“Excuse me, Doctor I like to talk to you about something,” he said in fast clipped, urgent tones. He then meandered through ideas of life and intellect. Of humans with mental powers like those he’d seen in Akira, of the thonics that had nearly done for Bruce.
“I worked out how they fly, it’s got nothing to do with their wings. It has to do with the Strange, they link to the Strange and use that energy to do things. You did it too, “he pointed to Peggy, who was only just keeping up with the boys thoughts, “You did something at the thonic, but it didn’t work, but you did it.”
“What do you mean you have worked out how the thonics fly?” she asked expecting to have to translate another string of twisting logic and was surprised when Algernon just replied,
“I’ll show you.” he raised one hand and she could almost feel his gaze focus and lock on her. Then suddenly her feet left the ground and she was in the air floating untethered above her workstations and equipment.
“But how…” her voice trailed as she slowly rotated in the air, pushed by a draft.
“It’s the Strange, “Algernon grunted with effort, “I don’t know about Rain or Bruce but we can tap in and use the power of the Strange.” The last sentence, on top whatever effort he was providing, was finally too much and Peggy felt herself slip through the air, crashing to the vinyl flooring.
She looked up at the youth speechless and for the first time really noticed him. He was leaning a little on a workbench breathing hard. Whatever marvel he had just performed was taxing. Forgetting her own bruises and pains she stood up and guided Algernon to a nearby stool, taking the time to give the boy a perfunctory physical, noting his pale and wax complexion, the unfocused look to his eyes and his heavy breathing.
“Does channelling the power take a physical toll?” she asked almost to herself, “This is fascinating, we must record this, I’ll hook you up to a few machines, run a couple of experiments…”
At the mention of the word experiments, Algernon’s complexion went from pale to grey. His eyes that had been lidded and dull by exhaustion were now large and staring. With one terrified bound akin to being electrified he leaped off the stool and heading out the door with Peggy calling after him oblivious to what she could have done or said.
Rain also found himself drawn to Peggy’s lab. Not to share any hard-won discovery, but in desperation, and what felt like, inevitability. The camera footage was a bust, his readings into the dust were getting nowhere and the only option he had left was to try the drug himself in an attempt to understand. The ounce left for testing was his last hope at some sort of insight that might push Rain’s own efforts further.
When he arrived at the lab, Hertzfeld was in a lather over something to do with Peggy’s machine.
“And its is NOT my fault!” Peggy exalted giggling maniacally like the mad scientist she claimed not to be, “I was just a little more inspired than I first thought. I believe with more research we’ll be able to predict when these anomalies will occur, even be able to trigger them ourselves!”
“I can see we may have to clear out space in the… basement…” mused Hertzfeld as his gazed looked into a future where gates could be opened and closed at will, a world that harnesses the power of the Strange itself.
“Exciting time, I see.” Rain interrupted curious as to all the excitement, though the technobabble that he’d been able to over hear hadn’t made a lot of sense. “I won’t interrupt long, I was just wondering if you’d had any luck with the dust?”
“Oh yes,” Peggy replied coolly, “That was the boring news, Hertzfeld.” and she informed both Rain and Hertzfeld about her discoveries into the Spiral Dust.
“That’s the boring news?” Hertzfeld replied astounded and a little numbed by all the theories and laws shattered in one day, “But this is astounding, no one had considered that the human mind could touch the Strange without dire consequences.”
“I had, “ Rain replied now with a clear purpose, “And I’m going to test it out, right now.” Out of one of his many secret pockets, the puzzle box appeared. He turned to leave but not before both Peggy and Hetzfeld physically stopped him in his tracks.
“Don’t you want to be monitored?” Peggy asked
“You’d seriously take the Spiral Dust to prove a theory?” Hertzfeld added at the same time.
“Do you know how hard it is to find willing experimental subjects?” Peggy was now pleading, “It can all be done safely, I can even sedate you…”
“Sedate? What’s the point of that? How can I tell anyone what I’m seeing if I’m under?” Rain looked around the stark and clinical setting and shuddered, “besides, this place is not my ideal…it’s not very…I’d rather not be poked and prodded.” He finished lamely flustered and starting to look a little like Algernon had.
“Why?” Peggy looked around her lab, it was the best space she’d ever worked in, with the exception of the window in the far corner that let the world peek in. “But under lab conditions we can keep you safe…”
“Couldn’t we go…sit under a tree or something?”
When the drug was thought to be just an hallucinogen rain had toyed with the idea like one does an old wound, hoping and dreading what it would reveal in equal measure. Now the dust was now considered a direct link to the Strange itself, justifying his intuitions. But the lab and equipment brought back old memories of other drug trials and his physically shuddered. Peggy as usual, was blind to Rain discomfort.
“I….think, “Hetzfeld suggested, “…that we shouldn’t rush into this. We need to set up the experiments and required equipment. Peggy, you need to move your lab into a larger space and …well all of that is going to take a little time.”
“Yes, Peggy considered turning to all her tools,” you’re right we can’t rush into these things.”
“Good.” Rain clapped his now empty hands together, “Well then, I guess that leaves busting a few heads with Brucie. He will be pleased.”
Collecting the group as usual was not a simple task. Algernon made one last trip to Keaton’s office where the clinking glass and the sudden shuffling of draws greeted his knock.
“Mr Keaton, I need a pistol.” Algernon stated in his clipped and precise manner to his supervisors eventual summons, “I’m going to bust some caps in someone’s arse.”
“Whose precisely?” Keaton asked rubbing distractedly across his forehead and eyes. Algernon picked up the discrepancy between Keaton’s response and what he considered his appropriate statement.
“Did I use the wrong term?”
“It’s not the usual, no.”
“We’re going to confront some drug dealers down at the docks and I need a pistol.”
Keaton gave him, the promised pistol.
When he met with the others, Rain and Bruce were as usual bickering. Also as usual it was over Rain’s lack of moral judgement.
“So you broke into your supervisor’s office, just to have a chat?” Bruce stated flatly shaking his head in incomprehension.
“I was waiting for him, why not wait inside.”
“You’re the only person I know that takes the easy path to make things difficult.”
“There’s just paths Brucie. Some are more interesting than others, that’s all. You know, flowers and scenery.” Rain philosophised, warming to the subject.
“So you believe in ‘stop and steal the flowers’.” Quipped back Bruce who now noticed Algernon.
“Yes, they smell better.”
Bruce had spotted the now equipped 9mm Glock clipped to Algernon’s trouser band and internally sighed.
“Ready to go?” he asked and both Algernon and Rain replied, one by drawing and cocking the pistol the other by raising his misappropriated putter.
The warehouse hadn’t changed over the intervening days. Autumn clouds made the water dull and grey but otherwise the warehouse door and environs looked exactly the same as it had. It was clear from the start that this was a Bruce’s operation. Get them to open the door and get in, neutralised the woman and then swarm down stairs and takeout the man before they had a chance to strike back. There were phrases like ‘bash their heads’ and ‘cap their arses’ bandied around which Rain found disconcerting and Peggy thought unnecessary. But, in the end it all began with Rain knocking on the door.
“We’re out of stock.” the greasy woman said when she recognised Rain.
“I’m afraid that just won’t do today.” he replied as he and Bruce pushed against the door, knocking her out of the way. In an instant Bruce and Algernon were upon her, weapons drawn and ready to strike, the sharp end of Bruce’s crow bar hovering at her throat and pinning her in place.
“Keep your f^#%ing hands where I can see them, toe-rag!!” Algernon yelled pointing the working end of the pistol expertly at the woman’s face. Rain, who was kneeling down to speak to the woman, blanched as the deadly muzzle of the gun entered his vision and he stumbled over what he had intended to be soothing words.
“Woah…ah, as you can see my friends… here…e more than willing to commit acts of violence today.” he swallowed and continued, pointed not looking at Algernon’s pistol,he swallowed and continued, “Please, help me, help you. Where is your gentleman friend from the other day? The one downstairs?”
“Gone.” she replied totally cowered.
“How long will he be gone?”
“Three or four days.”
“What’s his name?”
“Caw Eh Carve
Rain pulled out his phone and showed her the image of the Cowboy they’d pulled off the Seven-11 CCTV footage.
“Is this Caw?”
“No…” she looked confused.
“Seen him before?”
“Okay. So where does Caw get the Spiral Dust?”
“He doesn’t, he gets rocks. He gets them from Bollons Island.”
“Bollons?” It didn’t sound familiar and Rain led with a hunch.
“You’re not from here are you?”
The woman shook her head,
“He brought me here to look after business and I get to …” she gestured with her head at the disassembled car.
“You like cars?” He asked now realising she was just a stooge dragged into this business Caw Eh Carve.
She nodded, “They’re still shiny here.”
“What is your name?” He said more gently now helping her to her feet.
“Where do you come from, Kamn?”
“We call this place Earth, what is yours called?”
“Earth? What is it like?”
“Dry and dusty”
“Oh no,” Visions of the wastelands appeared in Rain’s memory, “are there crazy women who want to eat you there?”
“No.” she again looked confused, an expression that seemed natural for her. Rain breathed a sigh of relief.
While Rain spoke with the Kamn, Algernon realised he wasn’t required and left the group to check out the basement.
“Hey Doc, can you head inside with the kid and look around?” Bruce suggested nodding his head in Algernon’s direction.
“Me? Why have I got babysitting duty?” Peggy complained, “He’s competent.”
“Yeah, that’s my worry.”
She sighed,’”Okay.” and followed Algernon to investigate the basement.
Carefully they made their way, Algernon in the lead with his gun ready, Peggy behind. The well lit basement held a workspace with a larger mortar and pestle with the remains of blue powder in its base. Behind this, empty wooden crates lay scattered, all with chips and pebbles of a blue mineral, remains of the last shipment. The only other thing in the basement of any value was a skull. Larger than a human’s, the skull held two massive pairs of incisors like those of a giant rodent.
“Well that’s not a regular human skull.” Peggy stepped in to take a closer look. She noted that unlike a rodent skull from Earth, this skull was attached to a large jaw bristling with impressive canines teeth as long as her fingers.
“It’s not a carrot either.” Algernon replied sarcastically at the monstrous thing, “with muscle attachment points that could probably bite through a human leg. “
Not long after, Bruce, Rain and Kamn also joined them in the basement and took in the impressive skull.
“So, how does Caw get to Bollons Island?”
“The thingy,” Kamn pointed at the skulls Peggy and Algernon were investigating, “It’s a key.”
“How does Caw get back if the key is here.”
“There’s a key that side to come back.”
“What sort of skull is it?”
“Just a mole rat?”
“Are they quite common?” Bruce asked wondering how anything with that much hardware could be a ‘just’ anything.
“Are they the most vicious thing on your world?”
“Oh no.” she shook her head and for the first time there was a small smile of…pride?…triumph?
Everything was packed into a crate, the skull wrapped separately and stowed. With nothing left to gain from sticking around, the group left, Kamn in middle of the back seat with Bruce and Rain, Algernon in the passenger and Peggy driving.
“Algernon, “ Rain brooched on the way back, “I love your enthusiasm and everything, but the gun….”
“What about it?” Algernon replied with his most innocent expression.
“Let’s just say that though you may know how to use a gun you may need to brush up on you proper procedures for engagement.” Bruce offered.
“But that’s how they do it on the documentaries,”
“We may need to expand your documentary list to titles other than from the Die Hard franchise.”
When they reached The Estate they left Kamn with security and went straight to Katherine to give a report of what they’d found. Katherine had not heard of a recursion that fit the description of the other Earth. Dry and dusty terrain that contained a chain of island named Bollans. Bruce checked online maps for an equivalent chain here on this Earth, assuming the recursion was a close copy. Besides a few tiny islands in rivers there didn’t seem to be any places big enough.
“They have mole rats the size of people and with more teeth.” Rain noted, “That doesn’t ring any bells?”
“I’m going to need a bigger gun.” Algernon considered glancing at the skull they’d helped retrieve.
“You need to learn to use the one you have without it going to you head.” Katherine replied after hearing of his histrionics in the warehouse.
“Oh no, I don’t put it to my head.”
With little information to go on, reluctantly it was agreed the next step was to see where the skull went. This was the direction the Spiral Dust was coming from so naturally where they needed to go. As they left Katherine to prepare for the trip out, Rain pulled her aside,
“You know Kamn is very interested in cars, she would probably be an asset in the car pool.”
“I think we’ll find something appropriate for her.” Katherine acknowledged and went back to her notes.
As the other side of the key was her home, some of the party went looking for her. They hoped to pick her brains on what to expect even just in general terms. As hard as they looked, they could find no one who knew anything about her. Kamn had already disappeared.
Rain popped past Keaton’s office on the way to Peggy’s lab where the translation was to take place. Keaton looked up to see Rain leaning on his door frame silently waiting to be acknowledged. Though he hadn’t heard the conman arrive, his appearance was not disturbing or even that surprising. Rain looked, strained and nervous, seemily on the brink of something and Keaton wondered if it had to do with a set of recently scheduled experiments Hertzfeld had posted.
“Yes, Mr Bigby?”
“Just checking in,” Rain fussed with his puzzle box not looking Keaton in the eye, “that’s what you’re supposed to do with a supervisor isn’t it?”
“My other operative usually send an email or phone, but I appreciate the human touch.”
Rain looked up looking Keaton in the eye, assessing his words.
“Good,” he finally said, pushing off the door frame the puzzle box gone, “We’re going to a recursion following Spiral Dust. I’ve come by to see if there is any Advice? Kind words?”
“Be smart, not smart-assed.” A whole string of expletive riddled comments sprung to mind, but Keaton thought better of it. He was sure Rain had heard them all before and he’d only be wasting both their time and energy to repeat them. “Come back. Is there anything you need?”
The little man thought for a moment, then reached beside the doorway, revealing Keaton’s missing putter.
“No, I have everything I need.” he smiled that knowing contemptuous smile and walked off.
Keaton was half way out of his chair to chase down the sneaky little thief when he thought again. If that’s what Rain wanted to defend himself in the recursions, fine, he’d just get the Estate to reimburse him a new putter.
In fact, the thought as he pulled open on a desk drawn and withdrew a recent copy of Golfer’s Digest, why not take the opportunity for something just a little bit nicer.
Peggy’s lab was empty of equipment now she was in the process of being moved to a bigger more secure space below ground. The only things left was the calendar still fixed at a month sometime in the past, the poster of The Strange, fixtures like benches and fume hoods and the mole rat skull. The two pairs of incisor, sharp from grinding against each other during the creature’s life, dominated the head revealing a creature who could have done surgery with its face. Larger than a flattened human skull, the bone silently spoke of a creature whose life’s obsession was eating and biting. No one could look at it for long and not feel uneasy. Even Bruce tried to cut the tension.
“So I guess we have to do the wussy hand holding thing again, do we?” he sat down on the ground, forming a circle with the others. “Kum-ba-ya….? Om…?”
It said something to how they were all feeling that no one commented, just took each others hands, closing the circle.
Peggy lead the translation, focusing on the mole rat skull. She could see The Strange connected to the skull and to its place of origin. With a thought she brought the two together in her mind and instantly visualised a thin blue line of energy connected their location to the distant somewhere. As the connection was locked in, she felt a push and realised that Rain had started his hastening, speeding them through the Strange like a locomotive pushing a train along a track. As the destination approached, she felt another opposing force like the opening of a parachute slowed their velocity while wrapping them with solid protective strength, cushioned their entry into the recursion and she realised that was Bruce.
With the smell of dust and the whistling of a gale force wind outside they arrived in the other Earth. Opening eyes they saw a crude wooden shack that barely kept the swirling wind outside its walls. All four sat on the ground, once again all radically altered to fit the recursion they found themselves in. Peggy was in a shirt and breeches with a set of heavy leather goggles on her head. Beside her, her scientific equipment had been turned into a tool bag with a blocky ancient multimetre. Algernon wore similar leather breeches and shirt, but had over the top a jacket all dusty and worn. At his side a crank-style crossbow and quiver of bolts. It seemed the recursion gave Algernon what the Estate’s senior staff would not, a weapon almost larger than himself. Bruce’s camo armour was gone and he wore heavy overalls and a full leather apron equally as worn-in as the others. Rain was already up admiring his outfit. Similar hard wearing breeches, a jacket also similar to Algernon’s, a ruffled shirt wrapped tight in a worn and frayed black silk vest, a red bandana sticking out the jacket pocket. From inside the coat he retrieved a set of ancient looking playing cards, the card stock thick, the face cards those of different locomotives. He flipped, cut and shuffled the cards expertly, but with a frowning concentration at the clumsy unfamiliar feel of the cards.
Bruce wasted little time and started searching the shack for the key back home. On a rickety set of shelving, behind empty boxes he found a globe of the Earth. Meant to sit on a desk, the globe was hardly portable, but Bruce was reluctant to leave it behind. It would be useful to them as they could use it translate back home from any safe spot, at best it stopped Caw Eh Carve from sneaking back behind their back. Bruce found the globe another hiding spot, protected and safe, out of the easy grasp of Caw.
That done, while the team took stock of themselves, Bruce headed for the door of the shack.
“Shay here while I check if it’s safe outside”, he said flat. Cracking the door open and pausing only briefly to check through the gap he stepped outside, squinting against the bright daylight after the darkened shack.
The shack was set on a small plateau that rolled gently down to a barren plain of sand and rock. There was nothing to soften the view, no large bushes or trees, just the occasional crop of scrubby dry grass, rocks and rails. The rails, supported by wooden sleepers, ran everywhere over the desert landscape, shining brightly under dull low hung skies. They stitched the land together, criss-crossing everywhere in haphazard and seemingly random ways, but always, as far as possible, in straight lines all the way to every horizon.
“What is this Rat-Shit place?” Bruce murmured to himself before calling to the others, “Come out everyone, the coast is clear. And yes, it is safe, Algernon.”
The others slowly followed him out of the hut taking in their surroundings. Algernon wondered a little further away to where the rock and earth of the plateau gave way to sand built up in a drift beside a set of tracks. The dust was fine, ground and reground by centuries of weathering. Casually he bent down and scooped up the earth in one hand, the fine dust yielding as he sunk up to the wrist like it was water. With audible snap from below and a gasp of shock and surprise, Algernon hand was clamped and he was tugged off his feet into the dust.
The party responded instantly, Bruce, ever ready for an attack, slid down the plateau first, crowbar in hand, Rain close behind. While Bruce readied himself to slam the end of his crowbar into the sand, Rain wrapped his golfclub around Algernon’s chest and pulled backwards. With the weight of both Algernon and Rain on one end the creature lost it’s purchase on its home sands and was dragged like a fish out of the dust to the waiting crowbar of Bruce.
Peggy screamed and a wave of force escaped into the air. Bruce hit again and again on the top of the very much alive skull of a giant naked mole rat. Algernon cried in pain as the mole rats deadly incisors cut the skin, forced through his flesh with every crowbar blow. Now the rat was out of the sand it was clearly as big as a large dog and stockier built. It scrambled in the dust, its back feet digging into the sand desperate to return to the earth and safely, but unwilling to let go of it’s meal. Tiny black eyes rolled in their sockets as Bruce smashed the crowbar down one last time. The skull cracked and the beast’s will died with it, the jaws letting go of Algernon. Rain and Algernon fell into a heap wild-eyed but safe as Bruce dragged the rest of the creature out of its burrow.
“Okay, lesson one; stay off the sand.” he panted looking over at the injured boy cradling his hand. Without another word, he pulled out his first aid kit, also translated to fit into this world, and checked the boy’s injuries. A nasty cut made worse by beating on the creature’s head, bruises and a little strain, nothing permanent and Bruce soon had it patched up with the primitive kit at his disposal. He turned to his group usually full of ideas and bickering to see only forlorn glances over the barren, uninviting land. All three look lost and unsure of what to do next in this alien setting.
Bruce squared his shoulders and he too looked out over the vista, but where others saw nothing but sand and rock and unseen underground horrors, he saw a smudge of wood smoke in the far distance with sturdy rails and sleepers leading in that direction. He tested one with his foot, then dug into his pack and pulled out a rope.
“Tie yourselves together, we’re going to walk the rails.”
Thanks to J.G. for the editing help.