A Whateley Academy Tale
The More, the Merrier
( Merry #5d )By Renae & Doctor Bender
With editorial thanks to Warren.
Thursday, November 2, 2006
“Discard this message and throw this bottle back into the ocean.
Rip this page from the history book and smash all the street signs, erase all the maps.
Forget my name, forget my face, forget my name:
Because it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain and it never ends” - Paris in Fla – Thursday (Yes that is the name of the band!)
The night had passed slowly with several times where I awoke to find Sara silently watching me or where she was quietly reading. She always found a reason to snuggle up and other things, which I didn’t mind. Though as the night wound out, our lovemaking seemed to take on a frenzied tone, as if she was trying to make the night into a blur for the both of us.
When Doctor Otto intruded upon us in the morning he seemed even more tired than the day before, “Sara, Merry, it is time.”
“Time for what?” I asked.
“To get your pump out.” He said with a smile, “Doctor Tanaka and the crew are prepping the OR as we speak.”
“About time.” Sara gave him a grumpy look, then she turned to hug me fiercely, “Don’t worry Merry, Doctor Tanaka’s adept at mutant physiology.”
I looked her in the eyes and tried to sort out the odd vibes I was getting from her. “It’s no biggie right? Just a simple cut and pluck. I’ve had much worse things done to me.” I pointed to my groin.
She gave me another tight hug and kissed me softly on the lips, “I just hate to have anyone hurt you, even if it is necessary.”
For a moment as we kissed, I felt the mark on the side of my neck grow warm, “You are mine.” She said fiercely, and turned us so we could see each other in the mirror, “Mine.”
I let my head rest on her shoulder and studied the image of us, I heard Chad comment with a sigh ~:’Now that is a picture.’:~
~^’I could not agree more Chad.’^~ replied Sara with what felt like a pinch on my butt.
There was a coughing sound from behind us and I glared at the reflection of Otto in the mirror.
“Merry gets a shower and I need to barrow you, Sara for a time.”
“Shower? Why?” I asked because it seemed like a good delaying tactic.
Otto just rolled his eyes and I felt Sara’s amusement through the mark, then she whispered, “Well one of us got sweaty last night…”
I felt my face flush, “Oh.” Then I nonchalantly turned to look at Otto, “So like, I guess breakfast in bed is out?”
“Today anyways,” he gestured to the door where the two female Stormtroopers from the last shower were waiting to escort me.
“Ok, fine, I still want a bathrobe though,” I tugged at the one I was wearing. “You’ll get plenty of time to look at my ass later.”
I heard a faint twitter of laughter from one of the guards and Otto sighed deeply as if resigned to perpetual abuse from my comments. He fairly glowered at the ‘troopers and they stood ramrod straight. Though I felt Chaddy laughing. “Well I will see that one is waiting for you when you wake up.” He sighed, “Though we’ll have to have you put on the A-wave generator again so we can move you to surgery.”
I gave him a look, “Doc I want this thing out more than you do. Do you really think I would fuck with stuff before then?”
“Shhh Merry, let it go,” Sara hushed me but I felt her agreement through the mark.
“But I want to see something more than these damned walls. Even if its just… “ I sighed angrily, “Fine, what-evah.”
Sara gave me another quick tight hug then gave me a nudge, “I’ll be watching, so don’t worry they won’t –pull- anything.”
I heard Doctor Otto take a slightly pained breath, “Sara, I wouldn’t allow it.”
“It’s not you I worry about Doctor, its…” she glanced to the floor, then looked up. “Been a rough week and I.” She stopped and looked at him. I felt a light warming of her mark as if she was angry at something.
He held a hand up solemnly and nodded. “Come on Sara, we need to talk and get things going.”
She started to take a step past me, then she stopped to abruptly to hug me again, “Don’t do anything silly, kay?”
“Scout’s honor,” I held up my fingers in the traditional salute.
She tousled my hair, “You are many things, but a Boy Scout is not one of them.” With that she winked and gave me a quick kiss.
Reluctantly I walked over to the two guards, “After you?” I pointed to the way out.
“Yeah right, you know the drill,” one said with a distorted laugh.
“I hadda try.”
“We know,” said the other.
I decided during the shower and washing of –those- parts, that I was ever so glad to be on birth control. I was so very much sure that I did –not- want to make –myself- accidentally pregnant. With a sense of bewilderment I made sure that and my backside was clean. I gave the shower arrangement a study, ‘There has got to be a better way.’
~/’Too bad Palm’s notes didn’t cover plumbing.’/~ Chaddy noted as the shower progressed, ~/’Hate deese bumps.’~
I sighed and quickly rinsed the area in question, ‘It’s just something we have to live with Chaddy.’
~/’Could live with Sara forever,’/~ he added, `’/Even if she’s a girl!’/~
I froze for a moment and slapped myself, ‘Oh Christ, what if she’s not on the pill or shot too?’ My stomach crawled up into my tonsils and then plummeted to a few inches below my feet. I stood frozen for a few moments as the very uncertain future reached up to waylay me. I could just imagine my Dad’s reaction, “You’ll have to marry her.”
I about fell down laughing at that point, same sex or in my case ‘not quite the same sex’ marriages were still an uphill battle. Not to mention I was surely going to be headed to hell in his eyes. I watched the lights strobe furiously then as I took a few breaths they returned to normal. Some where in the next few days I ‘had’ to find out if she was on the pill. I sighed then laughed hysterically for a moment. Here I am on my way to surgery and I’m more freaked out about what my dead father would think of me.
“You ok miss?” asked one of the guards.
“Oh yeah, just a funny thought.”
“Just don’t fall and break anything, ‘folks’ want you healthy.”
Unseen, I did my best to push that 'issue’ under the emotional blanket for a few days. “They are a bunch of perverts if you ask me.” I commented while rinsing my hair. I paused after that statement. “All they want to do is see my butt.” Then I rolled my eyes, I suppose there are physical habits you just cannot shake even if you have lost the ability to convey anything with them.
Then I heard the distorted laughter echo between them, “Yeah I hear they hired a specialist to do the photo shoot of it too.”
“The better not have,” I growled at them, “I’d have to get prime-evil on them if they did.”
“Nah, nothing so wild, they are just documenting the process so they can hit the CIA up for the bill.”
“Ah, ok. I guess,” then Chad added ~‘Sure tell me another one, perverts!’~
“Don’t sweat it kid, they got the best doctor on staff doing the cutting, you probably won’t even have a bad scar.”
I stuck my head out the curtain to look at them and truthfully said, “I’ll be happy if an when the damn thing is out and gone.”
“That’s the plan miss, you about done?” asked the other guard, sounding slightly impatient.
“Yeah, I suppose.” I pushed the plastic thing shut on the hose and the water stopped flowing.
I held my hand out for a towel and one was dropped onto it. I took my time drying off as best as I could, my hair was still damp. “I suppose damp hair will have to do today?”
“Yes, as they say time’s a wasting.”
I held out my hand for another thin gown and I wiggled it on, fighting the dampness. Draping the towel over my head I stepped out of the kiddy pool and onto a dry mat, “Now what?”
“Back to your room, then its lights out and a trip though the maze,” said one of the guards, though her voice was distorted and I was having trouble keeping the guards separated in my head, I guess I was really tired or something.
“Ah come on, I’ll be good, I wanna see some stuff.”
“Not in the cards, Doc’s and other folks orders.”
“This bites,” I officially pronounced.
“We like our paychecks Miss, you know how it goes.”
“Yeah, yeah. This place is a regular Auschwitz,” I said disgustedly.
“No its not.” I heard a different tone in one of the guard’s voice.
I turned to look at them, “And how many people are disappeared here, never to be seen again?”
For a moment silenced reined amongst us, “It’s not like that kid.”
“Auschwitz was a nightmare if you ask my grandfather; they turned the folks they killed there into zombies.” Lectured the other one while pointing around the place, “Here, only the people who are nightmares disappear.”
“That’s what I am afraid of,” I said as I trudged back towards my cell.
“You aren’t a nightmare, kid; though from what I hear you just have been living in one.”
“An’ it’s not over either.” I said sadly and continued the path that would take me back to the cell.
“Stalked in the forest, too close to hide, I'll be upon you by the moonlight side.
High blood drumming on your skin, it's so tight. You feel my heart, I'm just a moment behind.
In touch with the ground I'm on the hunt I'm after you, Scent and a sound,
I'm lost and I'm found, and I'm hungry like the wolf.” - Hungry like the Wolf – Duran Duran
‘Of all the times to be out chasing down my breakfast!’ Sara sighed in her worry, and then she let her senses roam outward. The predawn morning was cold and more than a bit cloudy, though the moon was still up. While it wasn’t quite a full moon yet, it provided enough light to hunt by. If it had not been for Erin’s fun filled chases and hunts of more than one type of late, the idea of tracking down her own meal would have been ‘odd’.
Otto had said there were going to get some more MRI’s of Merry and other tests on her, before they went to the OR to get it out. Evidently they didn’t want Merry to run amok and they also feared for the integrity of the equipment.
While she wasn’t exactly dressed for traipsing about the lightly forested hills, still in the skirt and short-sleeved shirt of the prior night, she had abandoned the high heels in Otto’s office. She was ‘alone’, but she had a radio and a GPS pinger. Otto said it was so that if they were ready ahead of time or she was done, getting back would be by a warp via Terrance.
She stood on the top of a small hill and let the breeze take her hair and let the scents of the animals that might be around fill her nose. While sex filled one need, the pure primal rush of hunting down your meal was in some ways very appealing at the moment. ‘Erin would love this.’ She thought to herself and let the wind carry the scents and she let her own powers float out to find something with enough life in it to satisfy her for a time.
Some distance away and down wind of Sara, was another predator. He lifted his own nose to the wind and stood up taking in all the nuances of the flavor it presented to him. It was female and evidently in heat, from the scent of sex that flooded the air. Somewhere in the youths mind, the primal urge to seek a mate had slammed into him with full force: stripping away all common sense and overriding the other warnings that his lust crazed mind pulled from the scent.
Sara had picked up something that drew her attention from one hunger to another, not to mention hinted at a threat. She focused for a moment on the aspect of the threat, it was not exactly mindless, yet it wasn’t so much predatory but hungry in a manner like she was. A smile that had nothing to do with kindness formed, “So who is hunting whom?” she asked the wind.
She took off with an easy jog down the hill, if he wanted her it was going to have to catch her. Some games had rules, and her rules said ‘earn it’. She let herself run and dance among the various trees and shrubs. ‘Erin loves this game of hide and seek,’ she thought with a smile, yet feel of her pursuer was distinctly male.
The youth found the scent on the hillside, ‘female and in heat’ it screamed to his mind, and his breathing picked up as that desire burned in his mind. His features shifted more to the lupine and his eyes started to darken into those of the great wolf. He pushed his nose into her footprints and then rolled in her scent, she would be his. He pulled his head back and let out a howl, announcing he was male, and in the chase.
A mile or so away a small group of people, semi-naked in that they were not completely furry were picking through the remains of a deer. A man with more than a few scars stood up and listened to the howl, “Ah that damned fool kid.” He shook his head, “I expect we better go find him before he does something stupid.”
“You know it’s not entirely his fault, he just needs to learn control,” said a woman while licking a hint of blood from her lips.
“I know, but he’s never going to become an Alpha if he can’t keep his mind in charge of his prick.”
“Thomas!” the other woman exclaimed at him.
“Martha you know as well as I do if the kid loses it in school...”
She nodded and stepped away from the carcass. “Let’s go.” She said to the others, “We’ll hunt later on.” The smaller group from her pack smiled and started to shift fully into their animals.
As another howl drifted back, Thomas started to run in the direction of it. All the while muttering dire implications if the boy was chasing anything but a deer.
Sara instinctively froze for a moment, trying to get a fix on this hunter soon to be the hunted. In some ways the hint of panic instilled from the howl was natural she admitted, as it echoed in her human side. On the other side it promised much more than something to fill one form of hunger. That thought hinted at possibilities. But right now she wanted to fill that one hunger that drove her even more than mere food.
A feral smile graced her lips as she picked up the pace of her running, “Here doggie doggie,” she muttered ruefully, “I was only joking about this with Merry.” Though this was no ordinary canine, her senses told her that this Lupus Arcanus the Werewolf was lost in her scent and she wanted it.
He barely slowed in his running as her scent refreshed in his nose, she –was- in heat and wanted it. The other warning scents in his nose were pushed aside by his own desires. “Mine,” it growled, though the word was indiscernible.
Back on the hillside Thomas skidded to a stop and froze the mix of scents. Yes Carl was there, and unfortunately his dick was leading his head. ‘That’ scent was as plain as day. It was the other’s scent that had him frozen in worry, when Martha came up behind him he knelt down to sniff at the other’s scent. “Oh Key-rist, he’s found a female to chase, and it gets worse.”
Martha sniffed at the earth and the fur on her back ruffed up and her fangs bared in a low whine of worry. She shifted partially back to where she could speak, “Not quite human or shifter, its one of those –things-. Her tail folded back between her legs, “It also –has a mate-.”
“Or mates, though that scent is odd too.”
Another of the pack skidded to a stop as it took in the scent and it yelped in panic. If fell out of it’s animal and looked at the prints, “Ah Jeez, Carl’s gonna get us all in it, just like the West Coast packs.”
“We don’t know that, but we need to stop him before he gets himself killed or worse.”
The pack nodded in their various forms and they picked up the chorus as Thomas howled his rage and warning into the wind.
Carl paused to growl at the faint sounds of other males on her scent, ‘She’s mine!’ He howled his rage and his own warning into the startled silence of the not quite day.
Sara blinked as a few drops of water from the damp brush wetted her face and eyes, questing out with her senses the flow of energies told her that several more were on her trail. Though she could sense more worry than lust in their emotions. They were not close enough to interfere with her ‘ambush’, much less to stop her from fulfilling her own needs. The small clearing among the trees was perfect as she ducked down among the taller grasses, ‘Here boy, come get me.’ She snickered softly in the cool air ‘Oh was Merry ever going to tease her on this if she found out.’
Her eyes caught the briefest of hints of movent on the next rise over, and she readied herself. Crouching down she felt her muscles tense and tighten ready for the promise of battle and sex ahead. A defiant whisper from her subconscious rang out, into her mind, ‘We, are ‘Alpha’ here.’ Her teeth and claws lengthened at that urging.
The male charged into the clearing, her scent was strongest here, and his need was making itself known both physically and emotionally.
She licked her lips with a savage smile as she sprung up into the air and dropped onto him, pounding him savagely to the ground, “My what a big boy you are, but are you worthy of me?” she asked, easily rolling to her feet.
Carl lost in his animal and his lust, snapped at her and spun to leap at her back.
She raked him away with an easy swipe, “A little less furry I think.” She sent a wave of power into him forcing him to partially return to a more manlike form. She watched the shift with a hint of amusement then easily evaded his swipe, though her shirt and skirt tore apart under the near miss.
She slipped back a step, shaking the shredded clothing off. Then she leaped onto his chest as he was trying to stand up, driving him back to the ground. “I am Alpha here,” she said and raked his chest with both sets of her own claws, scoring his flesh neatly with rows of precise lines that criss-crossed forming bloody diamonds. “I am Alpha, unless you can prove you are man enough to say other wise.” She taunted him and pushed herself off of him with an easy roll.
Sara felt a small war within her mind, noting with savage glee that her every move screamed that she was female and in charge. Part of her worried for a small instant that that the youth was not strong enough to rise up and try. If he was going to be hers he had to be worthy. She gave her bra and panties to the wind with an easy rip, “See something you want?” she challenged him.
With a growl he sprung at her and she waited for the impact; then just before that split second she threw herself into the attack, rolling him backwards into the mud. Kneeling astride him she savaged his lips with her teeth, then with a less than playful nip, she bit him on the neck before springing off again.
Not quite sauntering away she took a few steps to give him a good look at her body, “Are you man or brute? Can you be strong enough to take me, if I allow it?” she growled at him.
With a growl he threw himself up and at her, his mind crazed with sex and her scent. She caught him easily and slammed him back to the ground, “Can you take me?” She paused and then asked, “Or do I take you?”
She reached down to pick him up. With an easy toss, she rolled him across the small glen. Standing there, her pale skin glowing in the fading moonlight, she began to stalk him. She watched the defiance in his eyes grow.
"So there is a male in there someplace," she taunted.
As he stood and roared his frustration, she quickly took the few steps that separated them and launched herself at him, carrying them both back to the ground. She forced his arms and head to the ground with her own strength and she locked him in place with a few tentacles. “I am the Alpha here, and -you- will be mine, to do whatever I want with.”
As he simply lay there trying to sort out the events that left him at her mercy, he watched her hand draw back.
“Struggle Bitch,” she said to him with a feral smile and then she slapped him playfully, “show me your strength.”
The not-quite-man stood quietly at the edge of the small glen shaking his head. ‘Damn-fool-kid couldn’t keep it in his pants. Shit.’ As he watched a bit longer, the girl easily rolled him over, evidently much stronger than he was. Her nude back to him, and he could see the claw marks weep black tears then start to fade. ‘Not human but not shifter or Were either. Crap, we could be so fucked. Ah am so gonna thrash him later if we get out of here with our skins intact.’
He watched, with resignation as she looked down on the youth, “I think I will keep you, do you have a name?” she asked the youth she had pinned below her.
Never one to let a dramatic opening slide by; he stepped slightly into the clearing and tensed slightly in anger as he looked at the boy, “His name is Mud.”
He watched the girl look down at the boy, who was indeed partially covered in mud; he could hear the mocking tone in her voice as she greeted the boy, “Hello Mud.”
Sara arose easily from off of the young man, a smirk firmly planted on her face as she slapped him lightly on the ass. “Not bad, but you do need some practice.”
Seeing the small group of people who milled about behind the older man and the woman who had come up to him and gripped at his hand. She stepped away from ‘Mud’ and glanced about the clearing. Slightly wary from her debacle in the sewer she glanced at the handful of Were-folk. ‘Oh I could be in for it,’ she thought and readied herself.
The other man walked over to the young man and bodily picked him up and hurled him across the small glen, at the small group. “Get him back to the house, ‘afore I loose my temper with him but good.”
Momentarily Sara felt a small pang of anger that they would throw ‘her’ toy around and some of it must have shown on her face. Though she carefully noted the ease in which the ‘man’ had tossed the boy.
The man looked around then sighed and then sat on the torn earth. “Ah am not mad at you miss, if anything you have just cause to be mad with him though, an maybe us.” For a moment he slammed his fists into the earth, sinking them into the soft soil a few inches. “Dam fool boy, just had to go and…”
Sara glanced around for the communicator and the GPS pinger, they were where she had left them. Briefly self-conscious she noted the others lack of clothing and the old quote of ‘when in Rome do as the Roman’s do,’ echoed up in her mind. She sat down a few feet away from him and out of his apparent reach.
“You all right?” the man asked cautiously.
“A part from?” she trailed off as she wasn’t quite sure to make of this encounter.
“Aight, yeah, that is the problem.” The man looked up to the older woman as she rested a hand on his shoulder and she sat down next to him. The few Were-folk that didn’t drag the youth off had settled in behind the couple in a tight group.
Sara noted the positioning of the couple and the others, “So, now what?”
“Gods, I suppose this means a full council and judgement.” He looked over to her studying her body for a moment, “Crap you just a ked too.”
“Not quite.” She shrugged, glancing down at herself.
“How old are you miss?”
‘Old enough to know better, but young enough to not care,’ she thought to herself then stated her own apparent age.
“Fuck, Carl would have to go an rape a minor as well.”
“Thomas!” the lady exclaimed and cuffed him upside the head.
“Sorry Martha, it’s just…” he slammed his fists into the earth again.
“I wasn’t exactly unwilling,” she offered to the pair.
“It’s not that miss, it’s the law and the Law.” He sighed, “Carl’s been in a right snit since he got scent of some young shifter female at -that- school.”
‘Oh ho, so Erin, has as secret admirer.’ She felt a smile form, “Oh?”
“That and he is just now coming into his animal,” the other man looked at the lady.
“What Thomas is tap-dancing around is that Carl hasn’t learned to control his animal, much less himself; and now this.”
“I’m fine, no harm, no foul as they say,” Sara offered.
“It’s not that simple Miss,” said man as he looked at the woman.
“Sara,” she interjected.
He nodded, “Sara, Carl broke so many of our Laws and the state laws it isn’t funny.”
“Which ones?” she asked curiously.
“Well there is statutory rape, and if I ‘member correctly; assault of a minor with intent.” He shrugged for a moment as if those laws were minor, “Then he interfered with a mated pair.” He stood up and walked over to where her torn bra and panties lay, he picked up the scraps of cloth, then sat back down with the woman “I am sure your Mate would be more than pissed off to find you had been near raped by Carl, even if you and your mate ain’t exactly staying on the safe side of the ‘state’s law.’”
“Put that way, yes I can imagine my Mates being upset.”
The lady nodded, “You have um, a harem then?”
Sara considered that and nodded slowly, “That is one word for it.”
“She’s like Eloise then, oh man is Carl so fucked.” Martha turned and backhanded the young man who spoke up. With bemusement Sara watched as the young man took it without flinching and he that nodded by way of mute apology.
“Ye-ah, I can see that.” Thomas neatly folded the torn panties with a sigh, “So your ‘Mate’ is wounded by Carl’s actions as well.”
“I am not exactly following you, but if you say so.”
“Coming between a mated pair, especially if one of the pair is chosen from among a ‘harem’. And one of the pair is distinctly the ‘Alpha’ or head of that harem or ‘pack’; it is about like declaring war.” Martha stated, and looked at the panties.
“I see, I think,” said Sara as she thought through some possible outcomes.
“Not to mention since his animal is the Wolf, did you know wolves when they mate, they mate for life?” with that question he eyed Sara nervously.
‘Oh crap, while he’s nice and trainable I can see where this is heading.’ She smirked, “So if I read the situation correctly, by having sex with me, he more or less declared that I was his mate forever?”
“Well considering your Mate’s scent is heavy on you and these,” he tapped the panties with a finger. “His actions declared himself to be a better Alpha than your mate. Taking a pair’s mate by force…”
“It wasn’t exactly unwilling,” she heard herself restating.
“Aight, but he wasn’t in control either.”
“In the community,” Martha motioned to the few behind her, and outside, “If you can’t control your beast and have sex with someone, it’s akin to rape. Can you imagine a Non-Were surviving sex with an aggressive out of control Were?”
“Some of mine would survive, but a regular human, no,” Sara acknowledged.
“An so if he had sex with one of the kin who was not in tune with her beast yet…”
“It’d be just as deadly too,” added Thomas.
“So now what?” she asked.
“Well he has to stand before the people, and you have the choice,” said Martha
“He also has to stand before your mates…” added Thomas with worry evident on his face.
“I can speak for them,” she tossed her head and hair back defiantly.
“Definitely like Eloise’s pack then,” Thomas noted to Martha.
“Do you have a place near here where you can get clothes?” Martha asked. “We should take you to Eloise soon.”
“I was out here to get food, before I got interrupted.” She glance about sighing at the torn clothes, ‘Oh Otto is gonna love –this-.’
“We can help with that, but you should see Eloise today,” the older man urged.
“Today, is not possible, one of my own is having surgery and I have to be there. Just in case she does not survive,” Sara admitted the last with a sharp pang of worry.
Sara noticed that Martha fairly dripped with sympathy and concern as she reached out to pat her on the leg, “its never easy to sit idly by is it?”
“No, it is not,” Sara acknowledged.
“Well it’s so close to the full moon that we can’t have a proper council this soon. The um, debates can get lively and well even the best of the people can lose control when angry.” Martha chuckled, “The menfolk especially.”
Carl gave his mate a wan smile and a rueful nod. “Come let’s find you a meal and we can discuss where and the hows of it along the way?”
“All right, let me fetch what is left of my things.”
Thomas pointed to two of the men, “Samuel, Marcus, you get movin’ and work that herd of deer we passed, back this a ways.” Thomas smiled at Sara, “There are some advantages to hunting with the pack.”
“I see.” She gathered her shirt up to form a simple sling and she put the communicator and pinger in it, “So we are letting them run the deer to us?”
“Yes, an if need be we’ll bring them down for you.”
“I think I can manage, besides the food has to be alive when I eat it,” she shrugged in the dim light of the setting moon.
“It’s the best way.” Thomas admitted, “Fresh meat is always best.”
‘Yes but how will you take to seeing the blue dust afterwards?’ she asked herself silently. ‘Though Erin did say my scent was scary at times. So maybe it’s not going to be that bad.’
November 2nd, 2006 (Afternoon)
"I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out." - Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“Don’t you know we’re living in stolen moments, you steal enough it feels like we’re stopping time. These days are gold we’re living in stolen moments. Just grab a hold.”- Stolen Moments - John Hiatt
For a time I was lost in the darkness then slowly I was becoming aware of two things, one a low burning fire that seemed to cover my right ass cheek, then there was the slow caressing of my hand by someone that then moved to my face gently touching it softy, "Merry? Are you awake?" I recognized the voice as Sara’s and then my world faded into a red haze of pain.
I whimpered and opened my eyes to look at her, blinking my eyes to focus on her as they watered from the pain, "it burns."
She kissed me softly on the lips and a warmth rolled down my body from the nape of my neck where her mark was. It gently pushed the pain away with a pleasant haze, a warm blanket that insulated me from the worst of the pain. I felt my muscles start to loosen and I was able to relax somewhat. “That's better some, it's out?"
"Yes, it's out, “she paused and with a slight hesitation added. “One hundred percent success."
With a long sigh I let out the worry that they ‘had done nothing’ slide out of me. For a moment I felt a bit of anger rise up then fade out in disgust "It only took what; a week nearly?” I thought about my last operation where I had been out of it for a time, “It's Thursday still?" I asked with a hint of uncertainty.
"That's right, it's afternoon though. Can you see me all right? Can you move?"
I lifted my head off the pillow to look at her then I wiggled carefully, "Everything -seems- attached." The pain wasn’t quite gone from what ever Sara did so I shifted off that side of my butt, to get the pressure off the bandages, "An' they sure took their time, if it's the afternoon."
"There were some added complications..." Sara sighed, sliding under the sheets, carefully straddling Merry across her thighs, "give me your hands."
It was a bit painful to have her sitting like that, though her touch made it easier. I grimaced slightly and held out my hands. "I am not sure I am up to last nights erotic aerobics," I offered with a smile.
She placed her my hands on her chest, one on each side, I could feel that she had lost her bra someplace but I was not complaining. She smirked down at me, "Not to worry, nothing like that. By the way you were wonderful... but I have something to tell you."
"Hmmm," I gave into the sensations that flowed to me from her touch and her mark, "You were pretty off the charts yourself."
"Merry.” Sara paused and then seemed to gather herself, “The pump wasn't just a pump. It was also a bomb."
For a moment the words fail to sink in, then I felt my throat tighten as the words came out as in a partial screech. "What!?!"
She locked my hands to her chest and bent down to kiss me. She forced my head back to the pillow as she tasted my lips with her tongue before teasing my tongue with hers, after that deep kiss she continued "Part of the pump had been replaced with C4,” she paused with a hint of uncertainty in her voice “or something like it. That's what took most of the time, ARC’s bomb disposal unit had to take charge of the package once it was out."
I tried to focus on the words while surrendering to the kiss, my body was wanting more and my mind was fighting to focus on what she said. My mind and mouth warred for a moment as I tried to speak. "But, but."
"I wanted to tell you so badly, but I was afraid that if I did, you'd panic and do something rash before we could get it out of you. I, I'm so sorry, Merry. I loved you too much to tell you."
I took a breath trying to clear my head, "I, I," I tried to push back at her through the mark trying to let her feel her my love and frustration at the same time, "I need you like air to fire. I am a bit, confused, I don't know… What else have they wanted you to keep back from me?"
"Lots... but then I always told them to go fuck themselves. I have never been dishonest with you, Merry, never. That's why I simply didn't say anything, I didn't want to lie to you."
I felt my muscles unkink and I smiled, "S'ok." I glanced at the room, noting that the lights were still on. "I’m surprised I didn't just blow the fuses. Part of me is hungry and yet not hungry."
"Ah, almost forgot," Sara smiled, turning to wheel a small table full of breakfast towards the bed with a tentacle, "cuisine de hospital. We have a nice selection of Jell-O, veal cordon blah, greens, pinks and yellows with a side order of Soylant Green. Think you can sit up so I can feed you?"
I nodded and used the bed’s controls to make me sit up, I tried not to wince as the bandage seemed to catch on my gown as I elevated the bed to a sitting position. "Think so, " I glanced at the food." So," I considered teasing one of her nipples that was dimpling the t-shirt she was wearing, "Do I get to make 'Doctah Ott' pay for him not telling me too?
She glared down at me, putting her hands on her hips, and pulled out of my grasp "Don't you dare. Otto nearly blew a gasket when they found the bomb. You want to torment someone, wait until we get our hands on Langley. Now," she said as if the prior moment had never occurred, and then she scooped some Jell-O out onto a spoon, "do you take your medicine like a good little girl or are you going to force me to make the aeroplane noise?"
I sighed dramatically, "But I can reach Otto..." I protested but and let the issue drop with some resignation and giggled at Chaddy who provide an image of Sara pretending to be Elasta-Girl while feeding Jack-Jack. "No aeroplane sounds needed, and if you want to start on Langley, I left a backdoor there."
I watcher her eyes and face as she considered it then she held out the Jell-O near my lips, "Not just yet. Revenge is a dish best served cold, as they say."
Under Chaddy’s control I felt my teeth make a clicking sound at the spoon, "Ah am a pir-ran-nah." Then my mouth opened for the spoonful. Back in control after that moment I swallowed then sighed, "Vengeance is mine thus sayeth the Boss." I winked at her, "You know I had the oddest dream about running in the mud."
"Want to tell me about it?" She paused with a glance to the side of my face, before scooping out the next chunk of red jelly.
I wiggled a hand as I enjoyed that bite, "It's fuzzy, I sorta expected to see you walk in with a rack of antlers under your arm."
Giggling, Sara continued the feeding me the Jell-O, "Ah, that would have been my feast with the Lycans."
I felt my eyes widen a bit, as Chaddy pushed to the fore, "Lycans? Like the green stuff that grows on rocks?"
I fell back to the front again while giggling aloud, "You have ta pardon Chaddy, he's feeling repressed."
"Well, you're only a kid once," Sara laughed ironically, "Lycanthropes. There's a pack out in the hills around Arkham. In particular, Werewolves."
I motioned at the spoon, and studied Sara’s outfit, "Is that a new look or did you have to get ruff with them?" I heard Chad groan at the pun, though it seemed to escape Sara.
She scowled at the clothes, a Grey t-shirt with the ARC logo, which meant that it might have been medium blue and a pair of nylon 'shorts' that could have swimming or for laying out for a tan, "These were the best I could do on short notice. Actually, my first encounter was with a rather horny teen-wolf. My clothes did not survive the ordeal." I got the feeling she had liked that outfit from her tone and was not too happy to have had it ruined.
I smiled and traced a finger up her leg, "It's not a bad look, just not quite you. Hope you didn't have to bat him on the nose, if he's anything like some of the jocks at my -old- school..."
"I love it when you do that,” Sara purred. “I could have used a rolled-up newspaper. All I had to do was show him who was boss and take what I wanted. He has all the makings of a fine husband, really, once we teach him how to go about things."
I smiled, "Husband, not quite sure I need one of those yet." With a rueful frown I looked down at my lap, "Not to mention I am not sure about that side of things. I mean Blue is nice, but well."
"Hey," Sara lifted my chin so that I was looking in her eyes, "everything I have is yours.” Then she amended with a smile, “All of ours. Carl has to marry me considering that his actions constitute rape by State and Clan law, even if I didn't mind. It's either that or I receive his head or balls as a trophy or any combination I wanted, actually. You already have another wife, you know."
I blinked rapidly, "Rape... And you didn't?" I was not sure of which calm announcement had my thought spinning out of control. Not to mention three other voices trying to grab for control, leaving me to sputter, "A wife?" For a moment the lights in the room started to go ballistic, "An you -didn't- want his balls?"
I watched her expression and her eyes seemed to go all dreamy and misty for a moment, "Hmmmm, he had this most delightful knot at the base. Remind me to simulate it for you when you get better." She grinned wickedly, sliding one hand up under the gown to gently tease at things.
Unconsciously, yet joyfully I wiggled under the teasing fingers, "If'n he hurts you I'll, I'll play scrabble with his neurons." As the moment progressed I some how managed to say, "I'll make him eat his balls."
"You may get your chance,” she stated with a frown and slowly withdrew her questing hand out from under my short gown. She studied me for a moment in silence then she smiled thoughtfully. “I think he might be in for a rude surprise.”
My stomach reminded me that I had a hunger for food yet, so I motioned at the food, "Why? It's not like I am exactly one hundred percent male. Heck he'd probably laugh his ass off if he sees me like this."
She abandoned her assault on the Jell-O and switched to the veal, cutting off a healthy slice of cheese-and-ham smothered meat, spearing it savagely with the fork and presenting the morsel to me. "Sure. Right up until you put a few thousand volts through his ass. Honestly I think it'll be good for him to have the wind knocked out of his sails. Thinks he's invulnerable... you know, like normal teenager boys."
~/’Normal for Jocks maybe, we were abnormal before we even went on ‘turtle power’,’/~ said Chaddy with some exaggerated asperity.
I giggled at him then at the image that Chad supplied of one of ‘our’ Jocks getting plugged into a light bulb like in the cartoons and going –zap- crispy, -Zap- extra crispy.
"As long as I got the first punch and they didn't have any funny ideas about rules and such." I took another bite of the veal while thinking about the ‘Werewolf the Gathering’ books I perused way back when, and chewed thoughtfully, "I mean. Don't they have jumped up reflexes and such?"
There was only one word for the expression on her face it was –smug- and she smirked defiantly, "Maybe. I'm quite a bit faster than they are, so I didn't really notice. Besides, if you can't do it, either Hippy or Donna can. They're Exemplars."
I thought for a bit reflecting on the few high school fights I ‘survived’. "Most of my fights, the ones I got drug into, didn't go so well. Then there's the whole ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’ that I don't have yet." I pointed down to my butt, not quite wishing for a mirror so I could see how bad it was. "Then there's this, it sorta feels as bad as the time they broke my bones to reroute some things." The unpleasant memory of peeing all over myself because things had been changed in that department, rose up and fairly slapped me. "That was a rude surprise."
"But you didn't have me on your side then," She kissed me again before feeding me a few more bites of veal.
I let my mind work over the concept of having Sara on my side forever, all four us were more than in favour of a lifetime with her, I nodded to her. "So any other odd surprises I should know about? I don't exactly have a lot of surprises left in my bag of tricks at the moment, aside from making sure someone doesn't end up like me." My mind fairly rebelled against the idea of Blue ending up like this.
Sara was lost in silence for a time, "How much have I told you about myself, really?"
I held up my hand that was free of the IV line and I indicated a space about an inch apart using my thumb and forefinger. "Not much stuff, I mean Dizzy Doc tried to put the fear of the weird into me about you." I had to snicker, "Ooze, GOOs and such.” Then I was under a rush of memories that were not my own and that constituted a whole load of odd information concerning the Great Old Ones. My nose itched and I could feel and slight dribble of blood start to trickle out of nose. "Gods be damned missing rings!"
Smiling like a kid who's found a hundred dollar bill on the side of the road, Sara licked away the blood with a forked tongue. "I'm a Demon Princess of Lust, Merry. The school I go to, Whateley, is a school for people who used to be human, like me. Like you.” She tilted her head to one side as if measuring something internally, ”My father, who's going to love you by the way, is the King of another dimension. One of my other wives, Hippolyta, is heading into her senior years there. Donna is a doctor here at ARC, and my foster mother. Before my change, I was over 20. And male..."
I smiled and caressed a her leg with my free hand, and then I reached up to pinch at my nose to staunch the blood, "Lust worthy princess I'll buy, and nibble upon lustfully. I don't see you as a guy though, as you are much too cute.
She smiled, "I wasn't a cute guy then. Ever read anything by Michael Waite?"
I shook my head then stopped to check see if my nose had stopped it’s deluge. "Heard of him, read him no way. The 'rents didn't like his image or sumptin’."
"Michael died of a heart attack oh, a month or two ago now. What wasn't reported was that he woke up in the morgue literally puking his guts out. A security guard shot her twice in the chest and I ate him in self defence... or so I like to think."
I wiggled my nose and looked for more blood and felt it twinge at me in argument, "Ow, I think I saw a film like that once, but the girl in it was nowhere as good looking as you." I made a jerking motion with my hand, "Stop motion animation, though the Guy in it was trying to get immune to sunlight by burning himself every now and again." As I connected the dots in my head to her being like a vampire, my brain went click and Chaddy asked, "Um, you don't go crispy in sunlight do you?"
She nodded slowly, "Not as much as I did then. Not anymore, now. My second victim was the abusive father of an orphan. My third was the orphan himself, but that was an unfortunate accident.” She sighed and shook her head before continuing, “The people chasing me shot him while we were trying to get away.” She closed her eyes and took a forced breath as if chasing away that image, “One thing led to another and ARC picked me up and enrolled me in Whateley on the sly. I took my mother's name, Sara, and then buried myself in schoolwork."
I listened to her and I felt myself briefly smile at the thought of the abusive father ending up as lunch. "There are times I could have wished that on my dad, but..." I winced, "I guess I am responsible for my mom and dad’s death. Zigged when I should have zagged.” I looked down at the blanket, "Everything fell apart."
My non-IV hand toyed with a knot on one of the ties of the gown. "I think it would have been better if I just took the money and ran, but no, I had to go and start thinking." I made a motion of walking with my fingers, "I went to a book store to kill time and then," I made a rude noise, "My world took a one eighty along the edge of the toilet."
~:’And right into the crapper, looks like we were destined to end up in the sewer one way or the other.’:~ Chad added mournfully.
~/’Not all drains go to the ocean.’/~ Observed Chaddy with a sigh.
She reached out to me to me and firmly took my face into her hands and held it so she could look directly into my eyes. Fiercely she said, "NOT. Your. Fault. Good people are always making that mistake: that the actions of villains are their doing. They aren't, this, -all-of-it-, is the Palm's fault. Never ‘ever’ forget that."
I tried to shake my head, to deny her words but she held me immobile, her eyes boring into mine, "I went looking for him."
~#’And you kicked his ass, which only made him react; like he would have done to anyone else,’#~ affirmed Mai.
I took a breath, "I." she gritted her teeth trying to see a way past the argument provided by Sara and Mia, "I can't win that argument can I?"
"I don't have hard and fast answers, Merry," She sighed, "there are so many things I regret doing, and not doing. All we can do is our best."
Sara cut another piece of veal for me and gave it a wistful look, "I can't eat like you, for example. My... prey has to be live. I eat their energy, their souls if you will. Since I came to Whateley I subsist on animals, but I'll always regret..."
I watched the bit of food she was studying with a hopeful look to remind her it was my dinner, "I thought souls were indestructible, stretchy but not breaky?" I grimaced at the odd words that dibbled out, ‘Some times this multiple thought process bit, is very annoying.’ Then I said, “I thought there were only two destinations, up," I pointed in the direction, then down "Then there is the extra bit of limbo, according to doctrine." I pointed at myself trying to see past the rush of memories and figure out where I was destined to be. My gaze more inwards than out, I continued, "Where ever I am going I am sure it's not on the list of places my -old- pastor thinks fondly of."
Sara smiled, "Souls are indestructible, almost. In my case, they're inside me, all of them. They become a part of me. This, this mark of mine.” She tapped her forehead and my neck and I felt it heat up. ”Means that one day, you'll become part of me too if I let you." She brushed the hair away from the side of her face and pressed her cheek to mine, "I said forever, remember, Body and Soul. You're mine."
I smiled and reach around to hug her ignoring the tug of the IV line on my other hand, "Sounds like a safe place to be." I grinned and nibbled gently on the side of her neck, "So all I have to worry about is blowing this Popsicle stand and horny Care-Bears?"
~':Not to mention the odd set of passengers in your head along the way?:'~ asked Chad.
"Not even that," Sara grinned, "blowing this Popsicle Stand is my problem. And, if Carl does anything to you, I WILL personally eat his gonads. With barbecue sauce.” She amended as if by her face, she indicated that she was not sure if raw gonads were edible plain. “On that subject, I have a friend who I think will help us. I might bring her in this weekend... so don't be so surprised ok? And don't worry, she's cuter than I am."
I gave her a thorough and thoughtful visual examination, "Yeah right, I thought you said you wasn't gonna lie to me?"
She kissed me again, "You're sweet, but Nikki's in another league. I can vouch for that, I've given her a through examination once myself."
I nibbled lightly at her lips and smiled, "No one talks down about you, not even yourself. You can make me supernova like last night," I felt a stab of pain from my butt as I tried to get a more comfortable position, "Just not for a few days."
"Want to bet?" Her grin turned wicked, as she slipped one hand down under the gown, "You gave me succour when I was feeling vulnerable. You were exactly what I needed." Leaning forward she whispered again, "There's plenty I can do to you without hurting you. Just lay back and enjoy the ride."
She was right…
Thursday, November 2, 2006 (evening)
Otto shook his head and eyed his bed, as it called to him seductively. He looked at the mirrored side of a brass desk clock. He was starting to show a serious Five-o’clock shadow and his eyes, well they were red. Tiredly he reached over to turn the monitor off, ‘Well the bomb is out’, and he leaned back in his chair and reflected on the day.
‘I think Kam deserves a raise, and a new round of testing.’ How he managed to contain the bombs detonation to the area the size of a baseball astounded him still. Not to mention saving a large chunk of the pump in the process.
“Kam, Kam, Kam, it is amazing what a bit of concern will do for ones focus isn’t it. Though I do not envy you the headache.” For a moment the line of ‘Sleep well and dream of large women,’ tickled at his funny bone. He sat up and made a note to not expect Kam until the afternoon of the next day. No shuffling of Merry around, other than off to the shower, if she wants one.
Of which he doubted, the image of her being partially filleted was going to bother him for some time. The bomb team had needed so much space to work in, and Tanaka had given it to them. Eric was not a happy camper, but then no one involved in the case was. Having the medical gallery chock-a-block with personnel from NEXT, not to mention the various personnel from ARC that found themselves there and a few members of The Mystic Six.
For a moment he closed his eyes and wondered if there was a way to help them get passed the past. Keeping their old codenames and ‘team name’ surely wasn’t helping.
‘Registration of Codenames’, was not an issue back when they formed up. Though the Pulp Fiction Era had taken its toll on names over time, all of the hero’s of that era still alive; were grandfathered into the new naming system and once it was stamped in place by the bureaucracy, it set like cement.
‘Ah the joys of bureaucracy, fill this form, file in triplicate, annotate, amplify and clarify.’ “Thank god I am not in the legal department.” He glanced at his closed and locked door, then he sighed as talking aloud to himself was just another indicator of how tired he was.
First the attack on the Sara, then the attack on Whateley, then adding in the ensuing battles and complications that arose from finding the bomb and the drug. Add in all the preparations and so forth, then the nervous tension from the actual surgery and you had a recipe for exhaustion. Though the clothing issue with Sara had briefly brightened his day, ‘I will have to get the –real- story from her someday.’ Though it was not in the cards for this day, as Merry was the singular priority for a goodly portion of the complex.
The bill on –that- operation alone was staggering. “Accounting will have a field day.” He muttered and rubbed his eyes, it seemed that doing more paperwork was out until he had some real rest. He arose and walked to the door, ‘Just a quick check on Merry and maybe, just maybe six to eight hours of sleep.’
The scent of popcorn greeted him as he opened the door to the Command Center. The room was dim and the only light was from the various monitors that relayed the health and status of all the current inmates. The odd chortling from Chris was unusual, as was his posture. Both feet up on a spare chair and a huge bowl of popcorn resting in his lap.
Otto coughed, once then twice to announce his presence, receiving no acknowledgment he walked over to peer at the younger man. Chris’ eyes were closed though occasionally his hand would move to the bowl and up to his mouth with a few kernels.
Otto let his own shield down a bit to see what was up, ~’Chris?’~
~’Hey Doc, you might not want to wander into Merry’s head at the moment.’~
~’Why, pray tell?’~
~’‘They’ are working through the Warner Brothers cartoons currently.’~
Otto shook his head trying to puzzle through the cryptic answer, ~’I am tired Chris, how about just telling me what she is up to?’~
~’Sorry Doc, how familiar are you with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck?’~
Otto paused, ~’Only bits and pieces, I never really got into cartoons as a kid,’~ he admitted.
~’Well they are working on ‘Duck Season’ still, with Merry, Chad and Chaddy playing the various roles.’~ He giggled, ~’Mai, seems to be tied up at the moment.’~
Otto shook his head, ~’This I have to see if only to see Mai at a loss.’~
~’Ok Doc, you can’t say I didn’t warn you though.’~
Otto let his mind shift to where Merry’s thought patterns were roiling about, if anything they were more intense than usual. As he eased into her mind, he became aware of a shift of perception. He stood up and looked about, the landscape was brightly coloured and distinctly cartoonish. It was a forest, not quite fall. On countless several trees, various signs proclaimed that it was Rabbit Season. He shook his head and followed a trail of rabbit tracks that looked to have been stamped in place using a rubber inkpad.
Off to one side with several lit sticks of dynamite under her feet was Mai, firmly tied to a tree with a gag in her mouth. In one hand she held up a sign, one side were several letters in Kanji. Mai waved the sign at him, then flipped it around to show an English translation.
The translation read. “Help I am being held hostage in a forest of nuts, and the inmates are running the asylum!”
Otto waved his hand at the dynamite and the fuses went out as Mai furiously shook her head, then held up another sign, of which read. “Ut-Oh!”
With a tremendous wash of colours the immediate area was filled with smoke and a very singed Mai. She spat out the gag as the ropes turned to ash, “Don’t you watch cartoons?”
“Not lately,” he admitted.
Mai frowned and shook her head, “A hasty retreat you should beat. If not, I hope you brought carrots.” Then Mai wandered out of view singing about white rabbits.
“Most interesting.” He glanced about and saw there was more than one trail that led deeper into the forest.
One a large branch of the tree hung a smile, then the smile reformed to show Mai in a Cat suit, complete with whiskers, “Grrrr.” She mock growled at him, clawing at a leaf.
“So which way leads me to Merry?” he indicated the many paths.
“If you don’t know, then it doesn’t matter does it?”
“You are being obtuse.”
“At least I am not yelling ‘Off with his head!’” Mai gave a sardonic snort, and one ear perked up in the costume, “Ut oh, gotta run.” Then the girl in the cat suit faded out leaving a smile behind.
Otto turned to see a row of playing cards complete with spears and angry faces on a trail coming his way. “Cute.” Choosing a path at random he jogged for a bit until he could hear voices.
“It’s Duck Season,” said a voice that was close to ‘Merry’s.
“It’s Wabbit Season,” said a voice that was not quite Chad’s.
“I so veddy confused, can you help me mister?” asked Chaddy who was dressed as Elmer Fudd.
Otto glanced around at the two who were arguing, Merry was dressed in a bunny suit and was nonchalantly chewing on a carrot. Chad was dressed in a black duck suit complete with a fake duckbill.
“I am not sure, what’s going on?” Otto asked with some trepidation.
“I say it’s Wabbit Season and he has to shoot you now.”
“It’s Duck Season, and he has to shoot you now.”
“No, no, no, it’s Wabbit Season, and he has to shoot you now.”
“He does too have to shoot you now.”
“Wait a minute, I can see where you are getting confused.” The Duck pulls out the script, and leafs through it, ah here we are.” He holds out the script, “See? It goes Wabbit Season, Duck Season, Wabbit Season, he does not have to shoot me now, he does too have to shoot you now, he does too have to shoot me now, so shoot me now??? No that cannot be right.”
“It’s in the script so it has to be right.”
“Ok, fine.” The boy in the duck outfit sighed and fairly screamed at ‘Fudd’, “So shoot me now!”
“Ok.” Chaddy aimed the gun and pulled the trigger, suddenly there was a talking beak on the ground above a pile of ashes, “You’re Des-pick-able.”
A few moments Chad walks back in and picks up the duckbill and reattached it to his face. The he proceeded to study the script again.
Merry took a bite of the carrot and looked over to spy Otto next to Chaddy, an evil grin appeared on her face. She nudged Chad. “Eh. What’s up Doc?” she directed at Otto.
“I’m not sure Merry, suppose you tell me.”
“’Fudd’ here is confused at to what season it is, so I am helping him.”
“No I’m helping him and it’s Wabbit Season.”
“Tuck Season, that can’t be in the script.” Chad pulled out a thicker script than the last one, then spent several moments looking at it. “Hmm,” he looked over to Merry, “So what have –you- been reading?” He paused and snickered, “It’s Wabbit Season.”
“Otto season,” she countered.
“It’s in the script ‘duck’.”
Chad paused to look and then said with evident amusement, “Well so it is.”
Suddenly both the Wabbit and Duck are dressed like ‘Fudd’ and they are lining up behind Chaddy who is suddenly across the way from Otto. In unison they whisper loudly, “Be veddy veddy quiet, we are hunting Otto’s.”
As Otto quickly raised his hands in a warding gesture, he looked around frantically to see that all the signs that have mysteriously changed to read Otto Season. “It’s Duck Season…” He offered with a sinking sensation of impending doom.
“No it’s Otto season and we have to shoot him now?” aked the duck.
“Yes shoot him now,” replied the rabbit.
“Ok,” said Fudd.
As one the odd trio raised their guns and pulled the triggers.
Opening his eyes at the odd popping sounds, Otto found himself looking at a trio of flags that read ‘bang.’
About that time Mai walked up with a blue ribbon that had the words ‘Sucker’ and ‘First Place’ on it. She affixed it to his chest with a grin, “You should have gone the other way.”
“I can see that now.” He felt himself sigh, “I am going to bed now.”
“Aww Doc, we still got lots of scripts left, and you are in them too.” Merry indicated a pile of scripts that reached up into the sky and then vanished out of view.
“Not tonight, good night children.”
“G’night Doc,” said Chad as he snickered loudly.
Otto extricated himself from Merry’s mind to the sound of laughter. He looked to the source, and half glared at Chris who was barely able to contain himself.
“You should have seen the look on your face Doc.”
Otto gathered up what was left of his dignity and chuckled, “I think we can safely say that that medication should not be used again.”
“Hey at least you missed Barney versus the Transformers.” Chris joyfully sung, “I love you, you love me…” then there was a pause and “POW!”
“I am sure, if she doesn’t wind down soon, call Doctor Tanaka and he can figure out something.” ‘I hope,’ Otto added under his breath.
Sara reluctantly found herself in her room at Whateley, Otto had promised to call if anything came up. Frankly the only thing she was sure of was that his bed down in Red Section would certainly be used tonight. As much as Otto would like to think he was above the needs of mortal men, sleep still conquered him. Though she was beginning to wonder if the man had a sex life, all that pent up maleness was just going to make him go mad if he didn’t find a partner.
“Being married to your work, is one thing, but living in it is just plain wrong.” She shook her head and considered all the people at ARC, surely there had to be someone who had his or her eye on him. She wasn’t a daemon of lust for nothing after all; surely she could drop someone into his love life. Sadly she couldn’t just parade a dozen or so of her followers though ARC until he found someone he liked.
But then, he was so touchy about people having a mark, any mark. She shook her head, if he ever truly figured out just what Merry was missing from her finger he’d have a conniption fit. Though she expected the Inquisition to have a bigger fit about her mark being on Merry. While on one hand she was hoping they would simply take the ring and it’s gifts back. On the other hand as many enemies as Merry had already attracted, it would provide for a firm set of allies for her. Rather, more allies.
She closed her eyes and started the mediation breathing exercises. While she didn’t need to breath, the hardwiring for it’s calming state had been established for humans an aeon ago. Inwardly she relished the few human traits that survived her metamorphosis. True she could still enjoy the flavours of food, it just that they –lacked- something compared to when she truly ate.
Though nibbling on Donna, Hippolyta, Gypsy, Erin and Merry was certainly much more rewarding than eating food. ‘There is a ‘hunger’ and then there is a hunger.’ She let that thought roll about for a moment tasting it. And while the others of Team Kimba were not likely to want her mark, their friendship filled yet another hunger.
While technically she was the focus of a cult, it seemed like all of that power was going someplace else. ‘Here and there, now and then.’ She wasn’t ‘Kellith’ now, ‘Or ever again!’ Though time was not exactly linear for her, even so she was not sure how to use that to her favour. In time all things would be possible.
She let her senses drift out for a time ranging first through Poe, then out further across the campus. She could feel Hippolyta drifting through a dream. Nikki was feeling a bit frustrated at something, so Sara assumed it was homework. Gypsy was working at her cards for someone, at least that was the tenor of her mind as she touched it lightly. Not one to forget an asset, she made a note to get a scrap of fabric or something from Merry so that Gypsy could forecast a fortuitous day for her escape.
Briefly she teased at the various dreamers in the other cottages, as much as she would love to send a nightmare into Peeper’s head; someone would freak. Especially if he rampaged thought the campus screaming about a tentacled beast that was out to eat him. She filed that thought away under things for later, surely there would be a time for it eventually.
Lastly she slipped a tendril of thought through the Mark and into Merry. Merry seemed very active for some reason, but the lateness of the hour bothered her. Merry needed to rest, she needed to heal, and what ever she was doing it was not restful. In fact it reminded her of the few students of Whateley she had stumbled across who were either bouncing off the walls from an excess of sugar or other chemicals.
~’Merry?’~ she sent while trying to get a feel for the state of her friend and lovers mindset.
There was an odd wrenching sensation and Sara found herself swimming through the depths of the ocean. A digital ocean, as surely the Ocean in reality had a distinct lack of small mermaids swimming about it. Something about the scene was familiar. There was a battered submarine, and a few hundred old fashion mines anchored to the floor of the ocean. She heard a bell ringing and allowed herself to flow in that direction.
Abruptly the scene changed and she was oddly aware that she was blue and that she was not quite a fish. ‘Ok Merry, Blue is your colour not mine, she exerted a part of herself and she was back to her usual self, though she was in a blue two piece bikini. She took a look around trying to sort out who was who. She was fairly sure that Chaddy was the orange and white fish, and that Chad was the Hammerhead shark. Mai seemed to be the Leopard shark, which left Merry as the Great White.
“Now for the testimonials, I’ll start. Hello my name is Bruce.” Merry stated.
In unison the others chorused, “Hello Bruce.”
“It has been three weeks since I ate my last fish, I so say on my honour. Or may I be chopped to bits and used in a stew.”
The group applauded, “Ok so who’s next? Hey how bout you the little sheila in blue?”
“Um,” Sara looked around trying to figure out what exactly was going on, “I don’t think I…”
“Denial!” everyone chorused and then they fairly corralled her to where the barnacle covered sink-cum-podium was.
“Go on, it won’t hurt,” encouraged Mai-the-Leopard Shark.
“Um, my name is Sara,” she started feeling more than a bit out of sorts.
“Hello Sara!” was the resounding chorus.
“Um,” she glared at Chaddy who was holding up a cue card that read “When was the last time you had a fish for dinner?”
“I have not had a fish in over two months,” then she added under her breath with some resignation, ‘much less any other solid food.’
There was a round of applause, and the crise of “Good for you mate!” And, “right on!”
She swam over to where Mai was, but then Mai swam up to the podium, “Hi My name is Marlin, I’m uh, a clown fish.”
“A clown fish, go on say something funny.”
“I don’t know any jokes, but I well, ok I know one.”
The not quite sharks looked expectantly at her.
“Women who think they are the equal of men, lack ambition.”
Merry and Chaddy looked at each other, “You know for a clown fish, she really isn’t funny.” Where as the others were chortling insanely.
“Isn’t this the part where Dory’s nose starts to bleed?” asks Merry as she swam closer to Sara and ‘sniffed’ the water, then with a wicked smile her eyes go from blue to black, “It’s doesn’t matter, I’m having fish tonight.” Then Merry not quite leered at Sara and crashed her teeth menacingly, though there was a distinct silliness to the glint in her eye.
“Intervention!” shouted the other two sharks as they pushed Merry in her shark form to the wall.
“Oh bother,” said Mai as she swam up to Sara and having turned into a mermaid along the way. She pointed to a hatch that read ‘Es-ska-pay,’ “quick this way.”
Feeling more than a bit confused by the shenanigans, Sara followed Mai through a maze of pipes and then into an underwater cavern where a huge shell was laying. As the huge shell opened it revealed a huge bed and Mai drifted down to lie upon it, “Don’t worry I don’t bite, much.”
Sara felt herself being pulled towards Mai by a current of water, “Mai, what is going on?”
Mai smiled slowly, “Welcome to a place not quite like the net.”
“I don’t understand,” Sara said with complete honesty.
“Well they forgot something important.”
“Drugs and us don’t mix well.”
“And? You said this wasn’t quite the net.”
“It’s not, this is Cyberspace or rather a construct in Cyberspace. You see, they didn’t check all their equipment and one of them has a microprocessor in it.”
“Ah, so how can this be Cyberspace without the net?”
“Well, hmm, I guess I can show you.” With that the seashell faded out and the two girls were floating in a sea of not quite dark blue. Mai seemed to sigh and shift slightly in appearance, “Better, this perception is mine.” She looked at Sara, “Who ever came up with the anecdote that two heads were better than one, evidently had only one mind in his head.”
“No doubt, so what am I seeing?” Sara asked.
“The lines in the ‘distance’ are either power or data lines, we can’t quite reach them. Now if we had more of a charge or a source of real electrical power, we could bridge the distance. Shielding or no shielding.” She motioned to her head, “We misrepresented the truth some. We don’t need a direct connection to the web.”
“Oh, so what do you need to get ‘here’”
“Just a decent microprocessor, the faster the better. Eventually we might be able to get away without the processor.” She shrugged, “though the faster the processor is, the more we can do, and the faster we can do it. Like a turbocharger on a car, is how Merry first referenced it. Though with an unlimited source of power, the only thing to limit us would be the effect too much electricity has on our body. That and we are uncertain what could occur if our speed approached that of ‘C’.”
“Do you have to touch it?”
“No, we just need to be in proximity to it, about a meter or in this case, connected by wires to it.” She waved downwards and a flat white rectangle formed and gravity slowly returned until the girls touched down softly on it.
“It’s the only thing we have not told you, aside from Blue.”
“Blue, Merry mentioned him. It is a him?”
“Yes, he’s like us, yet not like us.”
“Not really, instead of interfacing with an AI inside his head.” She tapped her head, “He interfaces with an AI, in the net.”
“So he’s like you?”
“Me as in Merry, not exactly. In truth we are not sure how he gets there, though his perception is narrow compared to ours.”
“Remember how Merry stressed perception as opposed to data?”
Sara nodded, “Yes, perception is everything and data is only ones and zeros.”
“We don’t know much about magic, yet. But the primer said that ‘the Will of a Mage does affect the outcome.’”
“Yes it does. The stronger the mage or magick users will, the more effective the spell. Though having the gift helps tremendously.”
“But you don’t have to have a gift to do magick, according to the book.” Mai pointed to the area around the two girls, “Here, my will is filtering out a bunch of crap so you don’t have to, but your will is stronger than a normal persons.”
“So if I wanted to, I could reshape this place?”
“Possibly, I am not sure ‘exactly’ how you are here, aside from the mark you gave us. In some ways I expect ‘this’ is unique to us. Though there is another way into the Net. As evinced by Blue, who has his own rules he follow rigidly. ” She shrugged, “But then, for us, there are no rules, except those we chose to allow.”
“So, not exactly like the Astral Plane, but very close.” Sara closed her eyes and concentrated on what her room at Whateley looked like, with a ‘shove’ she pushed that image at her connection to Merry and opened her eyes.
Mai considered the data then reshifted the image of the net into the exact copy of the room Sara had provided. Glancing around Sara turned to see Mai sitting on her bed and looking around with interest, “I am not familiar with the Astral Plane, so I will take your word for it.” She glanced around, “Nice digs, a bit dull, but hey.” She smiled and patted the bed, “Much better than the bunk we have in the cell.”
Sara glanced about the room, in truth it was a bit dull. She had money why, was she living, for lack of a better word, frumpy? Frumpy was Michael, admittedly they had felt like crap most of the time and it did reflect in how he lived. She shook herself mentally away from that train of thought and looked back to Mai “I figured a place familiar to me might be a nice change of pace for you.”
Mai nodded, “We first started out with a flat plain and exploded exponentially out from there.” She reclined back on the bed with a smile, “So now that you have got me here, what are you going to do with me?”
“Well someone said something about having ‘fish’ for dinner,” Sara stepped up to the bed with a sultry smile, “still hungry?”
“For you, always.” Replied Mai as she slowly stripped off her thin hospital gown; “Someone needs to talk with folks about their idea of gowns. These are drafty and all my data indicates you look better naked.”
Sara slid slowly on to the bed with a predatory smile, “I can say the same thing about you.”
“So in my studies on the reproductive patterns of humans, mmmpgh.” Mai was abruptly stalled in her discourse by Sara’s firm kiss.
“Some lessons do not need words.” Sara chided and kissed her deeply again.
Friday, November 3rd, 2006 (ARC)
“The lights go out and I can't be saved,
tides that I tried to swim against,
have brought me down upon my knees.
Oh I beg, I beg and plead.” –Clocks- Coldplay
Morning found Otto largely refreshed from his nights rest. A brief tendril of thought in the direction of Merry found her –truly- asleep. ‘Thank Deity.’ Admittedly, wandering into her head while she was semi-delirious, if that was the correct term, was not the smartest of moves on his part.
The trip to the cafeteria in the section had been amusing in some regards, as everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Though he often felt like wincing every time he heard the phrase: “Eh, what’s up Doc?”
Tray in hand Otto walked to where a small knot of people were sitting in rapt attention as some one gesticulated wildly as if acting out a scene from a movie. He also noted that they were among the more talented of the medical residents.
“… ‘nd so she said “Otto Season?”
With a decidedly non-amused tone Otto ambushed Chris before he could continue his tale. “So Chris, enjoying your breakfast today?”
“Ah, um, yes Doctor Otto I am.”
“Good,” he selected an open spot among the table and took up residence there. “I am sorry, am I interrupting something?” he asked watching the younger mans discomfort grow.
“No, no, not at all.” Chris quickly glossed over the interruption as if it was a minor thing. Otto watched as the various people’s smiles grew larger as the younger man coloured.
From behind he heard the calm voice of Doctor Tanaka, “Our young charge is waking up.” As Otto turned to greet him, Tanka motioned to the small group with his free hand in greeting as he clasp a cup of tea with the other.
Otto turned to watch him take a seat. “Lovely, I suppose today will be worse than yesterday?”
“I sent a prescription to the pharmacy once I got in.” His eyes were crinkled with amusement “You had an interesting time of it last night, from what I am given to understand?”
Otto forced himself to take a sip of tea before responding, “You could say that.” He blandly offered by way of reply.
“Ah,” Tanaka’s eyes glittered with amusement, “humour can be humbling and it can also enlighten one or lift the spirits of those around you.”
Otto considered those words and allowed a soft smile to form, “I could be overreacting,” he admitted.
“What of your assistant Janice, Doctor?”
“She’s dealing with academia today and from what I gathered she has full plate this evening. Not to mention something in the next morning, some sort of encounter group.”
“Ah. Well she does seem to have a calming influence on the girl.” Chris said while studying his plate intently.
Otto felt his lips form a smile, ‘That’s a mild word for it Chris,’ he thought to himself the pondered the rumours that would flood the Section of from that kind of encounter. ‘The last thing we need is for everyone to know about the seemingly love-struck teens.’ He also made a note to have a discussion with Sara and the team about discretion. ‘He toyed with that thought, and then set it aside.
“The Alpha Wave generator, while helpful is not really an option in suppressing her pain or abilities it would seem,” stated Tanaka as he eased into the group’s table.
“Considering that if she truly wanted to, she could have fried it?” asked Chris.
“Yes, I doubt her patience would allow more of it,” said Otto as he shook his head tiredly.
“So aside from tranking her out all the time and then locking a helmet on her, anything and everything is a viable option?” asked Chris.
“No computers,” Otto declared. “Not with the way she reacted to last nights medications. I for one do not need a hardrive full of cartoons.” Otto stated with a bland smile.
“Ah, so you had your quota of Loony Tunes last night?” asked Tanaka with a smile.
“Indeed,” was Otto’s measured reply.
At a knock on his door Otto sighed and keyed the button that would unlock it, “Come in.”
Vlad hesitantly opened the door and glanced about the room, “Oh good I am not interrupting anyting.”
Otto smiled, “Come on in Vlad, have a seat.” He pointed to a spare chair, “something come up?”
Vlad smiled briefly baring his fangs in a rueful smile as he sat, “more questions really.”
“Yes Doctor, I need to request a pair of exhumations, that and an in depth trace on the medical records of the girl’s parents and the girl herself. Not to mention I am still awaiting a sample from the other subject.”
Otto sat up slowly, “Exhumations, I have heard of digging deep into your work, but isn’t that a bit unusual even for you?”
Vlad chuckled filling the room with a deep bass rumble, “Yes and no. I’ve run across something odd in cross matching her blood.”
“I am all ears, would you care for tea?” he asked as he walked over to the tea service and poured himself a cup.
“No thank you, I have had enough soda today, any more fluids and I may pop.”
As Vlad yawned behind his hand, Otto chuckled. “Busy night?”
“Yes, I have seen many odd things, but this is a new one, even for this place.”
“Indeed.” Otto returned to his seat and took a sip of his tea before continuing, “so what have you found?”
The other man motioned to the complex in general, “As you know we, as part of normal proceedings, take a sample of blood from anyone who works for us. Even if they are only employed on a ‘casual’ basis.”
“Yes, indemnity insurance and all of that.”
“Well once we have the sample it is added to the DNA matching database and matched and typed with others. Just in the odd case we have a major disaster.”
“The blood banking partnership with Whateley and so forth? Correct?”
“Yes.” Vlad smiled baring his fangs momentarily, “Fortunately we have not had a crisis on a scale that has warranted its use. But, it has afforded us some good research materials and opportunities.”
“Speaking of materials, the sample that went ‘missing’ from Whateley, have they sorted out where and when it was misappropriated?”
“Not yet Doctor, security there is, um, reticent in their answers for that.”
“Perhaps we need to consider sending in one of our investigation teams to speed the matter along.” At Vlad’s nod he redirected his thinking. “So back to the topic at hand.”
Vlad sat up and pulled a slip of paper from out of his lab coat, “I was running the usual DNA sequencing and blood cross matching. While there is no one who could be a viable blood donor for the girl, something very odd popped up.” He unfolded the paper and slipped it across the desk
Otto took the sheet of paper and started scanning through the information presented on it.
“As you can see Doctor evidently at one time, one of her parents worked for us, though not exactly ‘in’ ARC.”
“I see, I think. However, our records show that the girls ‘parents’ never worked for us. The intolerance issue alone would have disqualified them.”
“DNA does not lie sir.”
“Which would mean that we have a larger mystery then?”
“Yes sir, I think we may need to figure out the hows and whys as well. I think I mentioned that her DNA appeared to have been tinkered with?”
“Yes, though that day was a bit hectic.”
“From what Charles down in Black Section says, only half of the DNA has been –adjusted-, the male half. The Mitochondrial DNA from the mothers side was not tampered with.”
“Have you been spelunking for information Vlad?” Otto asked with a smile.
“Well sir, you did say you wanted answers.”
“True, so what does he think is going on?”
“I’m not exactly privy to all the tings that happen downstairs. However, he’s worried that the scale of the tampering and quality of it, does indicate a well funded organization or individual.”
‘Well funded, lovely.’ “Ok Vlad, nice work and I’ll see that your request gets a priority push. I’ll also send a memo down to Black and we will see what else Charles can determine.” Otto sat back then turned to his monitor, “For the current duration Vlad, consider your access to that portion of Black Section upgraded.” He tapped a few keys and then pushed approve, “That should handle that. Are there any other bombshells you have for me?”
“Not yet Doctor, I will be interested to see what the her biological father’s records and what the natal father’s medical records look like and what else turns up.” He stood up and sighed, “If you will excuse me, my bladder has determined that a six pack of cola is von cola too many.”
Otto chuckled, “All right Vlad, let me know what you find out, when you find it. Raw data will do, until you have the luxury of a full report.”
“As in the faster we find the information the happier you will be?”
Otto watched with mild amusement as the auburn haired woman in the chair sat neatly. Her green eyes, if he read from his intelligence report correctly, were contacts, as they should have been brown. The light tinting of square lens in her glasses he was sure was just another prop in her disguise; as was the hair colouring. A glance to her name badge declared her to be Tammy Aarrestad, with the NEXT Company’s Logo under that.
With a bemused smile he noted that she definitely did not fit the ethno type for Norway. “So Miss Aarrestad, welcome to my humble abode.”
“Thank you Doctor Otto, but please call me Tammy, we don’t stand much on formality. Unless it is a board meeting.” She smiled and motioned towards the ceiling.
“Would you care for some tea?” he asked.
“No thank you. My associate and I had a light brunch while we were sitting in the meeting with Willard and your CEO.”
“Ah, that would be Bill?” returned to his seat watching with a slight smile as the younger lady eased the pillow into position.
“Yes, he and your security chief are having a ‘discussion’ on the amount of hardware he should be allowed to carry, while on site.” Her left eyebrow rose slightly over the glasses, “Personally I think it was an excuse to talk shop, Bill does not like meetings.”
“Given his um, work history, I think I can understand that.” Otto smiled and chuckled, “Besides I think that Walter would likely try get his ‘measure’ as well.”
“True, old soldier stories never die, they just grow longer.” She smiled then removed her glasses, resting them on her lap. “I was told that you have some questions for me?”
“Well my list of questions has grown in the past few days.” He motioned to the door, “Would Bill be upset if we started without him?”
“No, Bill is more suited to action, than discussion.”
“Ah, one of those types.” He chuckled and walked over to close the door, “We should be able to talk frankly and safely here.”
“That is always helpful. So where to begin?” she asked.
“Hmm, I think we should start with my latest surprise.”
“The bomb?” she asked with a hint of anger in her voice, “We didn’t…” She trailed off at Otto’s upraised hand.
“No, this is a newer twist. Were you aware that Merry’s biological father was not the ‘father’ that raised him?”
She appeared to digest that then she frowned, “No, may I ask how you discovered this?”
“One of our ‘functions’ at ARC is to provide a blood bank, for those who have a unique physiology. Part of the routine cross matching of DNA for compatible donors turned up the oddest of cross matches.” He slid the sheet of paper from Vlad across the desk to her.
She took it with a small frown, then he watched as her eyes widened slightly. “What are the odds on this?” she asked softly to herself then she looked across the desk to him, “Without meaning to sound incredulous, how reliable is this information?”
“Well I have never found fault in the gentleman’s work who did the analysis.”
“Ah, I just find it hard to reconcile this information from what I know of Alex. The man is nearly a paragon of virtue, not to mention is still emotionally tied to one lady only.”
“I take it he is not one to sow his oats where he might?”
“Hardly,” she sounded a bit annoyed. “Nor is he given to recreations in the seedier sides of society.”
“You sound like you know this for certain.”
“He is a handsome gentleman, Doctor,” she offered casually.
“Ah, pardon my question then. It also seems that ‘Male’ side of Merry’s DNA was altered on a genetic level.”
She sat up slowly, “Interesting.”
“That is one word for it, evidently it was not a patch and pray job of it, either. Someone or some group had a lot of time and money invested in the alterations.” Otto sat back in his chair, “at least that is what the person who did the hard work on her DNA says.”
She tapped the paper with a finger, “has he been told yet?”
“No, for the moment we are keeping it an internal matter only.” He looked upwards then back down to her, “I am concerned that this may be something much larger than one girl.”
“I see. If you have need of additional assistance, I am sure Willard would not disprove of the use of our assets.”
“In time, currently we are having the girls parents exhumed to obtain better DNA samples for comparison.”
He watched as she wrinkled her nose in distaste, “A messy business.” She took a second glance at the paper and set it upon his desk, “Alex is going to be livid I think, though considering he has met Merry, maybe he won’t be too angry.”
“A time back, that whole mess in the sewer.”
“Ah, speaking of a time back,” he paused, “you took a trip to the Vatican with Willard?”
She nodded with a bland expression, “Keeping tabs are we?”
“Not so much, it only came to our attention as a side note once Merry was in our care.”
“Ah, well since it does relate to Merry I can confirm that.”
He looked at her with a small smile, “Do tell.”
“Merry had an encounter with one of the Church’s Knights. It raised questions of economics and services, as she was under our employment at the time.”
“In other words a Knight of the Church either tried to induct her or did induct her?”
“From all evidence of the matter they did induct her.”
Otto watched as the lady fairly radiated annoyance, “It is always a rude surprise to find that the Church has taken an interest in an employee isn’t it?”
“Bloody poachers,” she muttered then raised a hand to cover her mouth. “Pardon me, I should not speak so ill of a group that pays me so well.”
Otto smiled with a light chuckle, “I take it the Federal side of the coin is unaware of this?”
Her eyes hardened, “Definitely, though I can imagine there will be some heated words from the Vatican about her treatment under ‘their’ care.”
“So what will become of Merry once she is better?”
“If I had my way I would pack her off to Rome and let the Feds.” She stopped short, “Let’s just say my personal opinion on the matter is rude.”
“So you are not in favour of letting the CIA have her back either?”
“Willard is of the opinion that it would best serve her interests if the Federals could no longer even find her.” She smiled with a predatory gleam in her eyes, “even if it would mean removing her by force from their custody.”
“That is a bit drastic wouldn’t you say?”
“It is an imperfect solution, yes. However, considering that they planted an explosive inside of her. It does not bode well for her wellbeing, if she is returned to their care. Does it not?”
“No.” He admitted, then shook his head, “however it would be best to work in a method that does not destroy either of our organisations. Would it not?”
“I take it you have a few thoughts on the matter?”
“A few, a few.”
She laughed lightly, “It is so nice to find that occasionally our reports are in error.”
“How so?” he asked.
“They had you pegged as being rather rule bound…”
“Oh I do occasionally rise to the occasion when needed.” He chuckled as he thought of Sara in her role as Janice.
“I will be sure to remember that.” She grinned, “So what sort of mischief does the Director…” She trailed off at a knock from the door.
Otto frowned as he considered the knock, ‘It has to be important,’ “Ah, pardon me.” He arose from his chair and walked to the door, opening it a crack he noted it was Eric, “Ah Doctor Tanka, come in, you should meet my guest.”
“I’m sorry I did not mean to interrupt anything important.”
Otto stepped back and opened the door fully, “Doctor Tanaka, this is Tammy Aarrestad, one of our colleagues from NEXT.”
Tammy rose from her chair and made a graceful bow, “A pleasure to meet you.”
I was lying on my uninjured side and trying to make sense of the magical primer that was in Doctor Palm’s stuff. Unfortunately, due to the medication, the words kept swimming off of the page. It had been several hours since the shot Doctor Tanaka had given me had taken effect, yet I was still reeling from the effects. With some resignation I closed my eyes and allowed the book to close.
When the door opened I felt fairly blasted by the rush of electronic wind, although a part of me sucked eagerly at it, trying to absorb it all. I spared a glance to the door expecting yet another shot or a visit from Kam bearing food not fit for human consumption. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was Bill and Tammy, though Bill seemed a bit disgruntled.
I sat up a bit too quickly and the room tried to make an orbit around me, “Please tell me you are not hallucinations or a figment of my imagination?”
Bill chuckled and motioned for Tammy to take one of the chairs. “No kiddo, we are quite real.”
“How are you feeling? Still sore from the surgery?” she asked as she sat.
I studied them for a moment and noticed the changes in hairstyles and colours. “I’m doing ok I guess, the current drug of choice makes it hard for me to focus or read though.”
“Ah, I never liked being medicated.” Commented Bill as he motioned to my attire, “much less the damned gowns.”
I giggled at the mental image of big gruff Bill in a thin gown. “Yeah not very handy are they?”
“Not really, so are they treating you ok?”
I waggled a hand at them. “More or less, once they figured out I wasn’t making stuff up.”
Tammy nodded, “We heard about the problems with one of your Doctors, a Doctor Lenston?”
I nodded, “That’s the bastard.”
“Well both he and Doctor Frank Zappata from Langley have gone missing.”
I slowly shook my head then looked at Bill, “Any chance of them turning up dead?” I asked hopefully.
“Not yet, we are looking though.” Bill’s face reflected my own anger, “I’m sorry kid, I should have pulled you out of there when those notes turned up.”
“Not your fault Bill, we all figured that it was not that bad there.”
“Yes, but I feel like I let you down.”
I shrugged at him, “Not like you could have shot everyone there who needed it.”
Tammy reached over and lightly punched him in the shoulder, “Even you have limits Bill.”
He rubbed his face with one hand and smiled, “I did take care of the people who were contracted to kill you though.” He smiled grimly, “John can rest easy, those people will never harm anyone again.”
For a long moment I felt that loss again then I smiled fiercely, “Good.”
Tammy shifted slightly in her chair, “So I hear you have been keeping this place hopping?”
“Yes and no, the first day here was lively, though I did make a new friend or two.”
“I heard security had a fit,” commented Bill with a smile. “I never did trust powered armour.”
Tammy smiled wickedly, “It is a nice trick to know though Merry, as some groups tend to have more faith in their technology than their people.”
I nodded to her, “Have you met Kam?”
She shook her head, “They mentioned him as being in testing or something. I wanted to thank him for taking care of you.”
“Not to mention giving him our card?” asked Bill.
“Willard said that we should mind our ‘manners’, and to not actively recruit from amongst ARC personnel.” She rolled her eyes, “In any case with the partnership being brokered, it’s a mute point.”
“Partnership?” I asked.
“NEXT and ARC feel that a collective venture would best serve our mutual interests.” Bill sounded like he was quoting from something then he pointed at me, “You are going to be a well off young lady, at least financially.”
Tammy smiled, “ARC and NEXT are going into the computer security business, guess who will be one of the lead programmers. When you are not saving the world for the Vatican, that is.”
“Speaking of the Vatican, what do they think of this mess?”
“The are very displeased.” Bill’s eyebrows wiggled in counterpoint. “One Cardinal by the name of David Fitz-Hugh, was most concerned as is Father Peter Darcy. They about blew a collective fuse when they found out you were separated from your ring.”
“Tell me about it.” I said with a hint of sarcasm.
“Evidently the CAI used a magical blade to remove the ring from your finger.”
“So it’s gone for good then?” I asked with a hint of worry.
“No, I managed to snare that and a few items of yours from Langley before they gave me the boot.” Bill seemed a bit smug about that. “Unfortunately they won’t let you have John’s gun or the Rosary in here, much less your knives.”
“Darn, I could have used the gun a while back.”
“Yes, well considering your mental status,” Tammy paused with a hint of concern in her voice, “they think you are a bit dangerous as it is.”
I shrugged, “I’m not that bad, it’s just that things were getting out of hand.”
~:’And then there was Sara to sort it out for us.’:~ added Chad.
She nodded, “I heard,” she shook her head. “Still, even ARC was concerned that it happened. Lot’s of things are up in the air regarding those two doctors, though Willard says they will be dealt with.”
I considered that and nodded “Good.”
Bill dug though one of his pockets, “I am not sure how ARC will take to you having this back. But it’s been like having an itch you can’t scratch at, to get it back to you.” He then turned his fist upright to show a jewellery box.
“If this is a proposal…” I joked as I all but snatched the box from his hand as he held it out to me.
Tammy giggled, “Bill is a bit old for you, besides I think he has a lady friend in Milan.”
Bill gave Tammy a thoughtful look, “Keeping tabs are we?”
“Just making sure she was who she said she was. I am not loosing another partner any time soon Bill.”
Bill looked at the two of us the he nodded, “Fair enough.”
I shook the ring box and frowned as it rattled, then I opened it up to see that was in three pieces, “Oh lovely.”
Tammy was not quite expressionless, more like she was waiting to see what would happen, “The Cardinal said it would reform, but only in your hands, if that makes any sense?” She paused then continued, “Something about a ’Knightly Bequest’, though I expect it’s more like some sort of mumbo-jumbo.”
Bill shook his head, “Hokey religions are no substitution for a good gun at your side kid.”
Tammy smiled, “You misquoted I think.”
I frowned and then set the box on the bunk, “Hmm we shall see.” I picked up each piece and set them in the palm of my left hand gently easing each part into the place they should go. I felt the words fairly fall from my lips as I closed my fist on the ring, “Quis vir incidere permissum Deus restituo.”
For a moment nothing seems to happen then an unseen bell deeply resounded through out the room, tolling three times with a teeth-rattling hum. A light flared out from the cracks in cracks in my fist and it briefly outshone the lights of the room. A cold mist seemed to form in the room and then it was sucked into my fist. Then it seemed like all sound died for a time.
I looked at Bill then Tammy not quite sure if they saw what I did, but from the stunned expression on their faces I guess the surprise was mutual. Slowly I opened my fist to reveal an intact ring. I studied it for a moment, as it was slightly different, instead of only having the crest of Jehanne le Pacelle; there were roses and thorns decorating the outer edges of the band. “Well that’s new.” I said as I picked up the ring with my right hand to examine the ring better.
I think we all three jumped when the door opened to reveal Doctor Otto who was looking slightly grumpy, “What just happened? There was a very odd surge of magick that emanated from here.”
I held up the ring with a smirk, “Mea Culpa.”
He walked between Tammy and Bill with a concerned look on his face, “What may I ask are you up to?”
“The Vatican wanted Merry to have her ring back before it caused her any more difficulties,” said Tammy with a slight frown.
“More difficulties,” he knelt down to look at the ring, then he squinted at it. “Why would she need a focus?”
Bill chuckled oddly, “Part of the job description, track down evil, fight the good fight, wear jewellery that defies the laws of physics?”
“They were most insistent that she have it back, though they were distinctly closed mouth about it,” added Tammy with shake of her head.
“I see,” He looked at me, “you said something in Latin, what was it?”
“What man cut, let God rejoin.” I shrugged at him, “don’t you know Latin?”
“Yes, though I will say I am surprised that you do as well.”
“Chi sei noi verso giudice tha atti di Dio?” I asked him with a raised eyebrow as he blinked.
“I see, I think.” He shook his head, “might I examine that?” he asked as he pointed at the ring.
I looked down to the ring then I shook my head slowly, “It’s mine.”
“I would give it back, once I was sure it was safe for you to have it.”
I just looked at him, “Doc, its not your call, besides, it’s mine now and would likely hurt you if you tried to take it from me.”
He looked thoughtful and stood up, “That’s not some child’s toy Merry.”
I sighed, “You just don’t want your tidy little world disrupted any further.”
“Merry, that was rude,” said Tammy.
I stood up and limped to the table and placed the ring in the center of it. “Fine, if you can pick it up, you can examine it. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I walked gingerly around the table to where I was directly across from him, and placed both hands on my hips. “Go on, take it.”
“Merry, settle down I don’t think he means any harm,” counselled Tammy.
“No it’s quite all right, Merry and I are not exactly the best of terms are we?”
“Well considering that you neglected to tell me there was a bomb in my ass, and keep me locked up in this hole. Can you fault me on that?”
“Merry, I could debate the issues concerning your case for hours and you would be unhappy with any of my answers. If it were not for your gifts, you could be treated anywhere.”
“Gifts, he calls them.” I shook my head and rested hands on the table using it to support my weight. “More like my curse.”
“Merry, you could cut the doctor some slack, he’s not the villain who put you here.” Bill got up to walk to my side of the table, “Look, we know,” he indicated Tammy. “That he isn’t the bastard who caused you to be here. Eventually we’ll find those people and deal with them. You trust us don’t you?”
I nodded slowly.
“So cut the doctor some slack. If I thought he was a threat to you, do you honestly think I’d let him be near you now?” Bill asked with a grim expression.
I slowly shook my head, “No”.
“Then lighten up on the poor man, ok?”
“Ok.” I looked at Doctor Otto, “If I were you I’d try to pick it up with a pencil or something, otherwise you may need more than a lot of ice. Even then you might not want to do it.”
He took out a scrap of paper and used a fountain pen to jot something down on it. With a soft word he dropped it down to the ring. For an instant the paper floated above the ring then it flashed out of existence with a bright wash of heat. “I see, how is it he was able to carry it?” he indicated Bill.
I reached down to touch the ring, slightly amazed to feel it cool to my touch. “It was only linked to me then, now it is mine alone.”
“Yours?” he asked and drew out another scrap of paper and traced something onto it. He cast it up into the air and the air between the Doctor and myself shimmered. For a time he studied the ring and I, as we were enfolded in the shimmering light. He frowned as his gaze rose up from the table and he appeared to look just over my shoulder.
He muttered a soft word and the paper winked out of existence, “You have not tried to put it on yet?”
“No, though from the way my finger is itching, I’ll be very happy to have back it where it belongs.”
He shook his head, “If I were you I would sit down first, strange magick has odd effects. That and I am not sure what impact your acquaintance with Sara will have on it.”
I gave Otto a look in the vain hope my relationship with Sara would remain my business. “It hasn’t thrown a fit yet.” I shrugged and scooped up the ring from the table. Carefully I returned to my bunk and sighed once I managed to sit with out too much pain.
“Sara?” asked Bill.
“One of my therapists.” I shrugged playing it off, “I think she has the day off.”
Otto nodded slowly, “Sara has a unique gift where accidental physical contact with Merry is not hazardous.”
“That’s handy.” Tammy was giving me a look that promised more questions later.
I looked down at the ring with a mild quiver of trepidation, then I inwardly shrugged and then I placed it on my middle finger where it belonged. Then the fun began.
A low deep hum started to fill my ears until the conversation of the ‘adults’ was washed away. A dark shadow fell across my face and I looked around trying to sort out where I was.
I was standing upon a vast mesa looking down into a great sandy valley. Two large armies marched into the fore, their standards indistinct in the distance. As trumpets blew, the sky turned to a scarlet haze as the churned dust rose up into the sky. A deep rumble echoed across the valley, as the armies crashed together like a vast train wreck.
“Do you know why they fight?” asked a voice behind me.
I turned to look as a man standing in what appeared to be a set of Roman armour. His helmet was off showing his braided black hair. As he was resting a spear on its butt, I studied his face taking in the sharp angular nose and a thin craggy scar tightened his face when he smiled. Grey eyes peered at me with hint of expectation.
I turned to look at the armies, “No I don’t know.”
“Neither did they really.” He chuckled, “though in this case it didn’t matter much in the end.”
“Why is that?”
“While the armies were away, their kingdoms fell from an internal cancer. Rather ironic if you ask me.”
“So they died for nothing?” I asked.
He shrugged, “Yes and no, eventually the remainder of the armies forged their own peace.” With a smile he waved to indicate the milling masses as they tore at themselves. “Though it took them a few days before they discovered they were fighting for no reason.”
I shook my head, “Is there a point to this?”
He shook his head, “Just an old soldiers memories.”
“You don’t look that old.”
“It’s not the centuries, it’s the leagues you travel while you are in them.” He slid his helmet on, “trust me on that.”
“Um, not to be rude, but who are you?”
“Arturo Mucro Cursor,” he replied waving his arm theatrically and turning the motion into a bow.
“What sort of name is Sword Carrier?” I asked as the translation unfolded his name in my head.
He chuckled. “Well at one time it was more of a job description than a name. I didn’t have a last name, I was just another piss-ant kid born from a camp whore.” He shrugged, “I ended up serving the needs of a Commander of a Roman Legion. Fetch this, carry that and other things.” He spat on the ground, “Old bugger used to call me his sword carrier, so when I was able to enlist.” He smiled faintly, “I had that put down. Of course I didn’t know it meant something else at the time.”
I spent a few moments trying to sort that bit out. “It doesn’t sound that bad.”
“Well in some ways it would be like naming myself Arthur the Gay, in today’s vernacular.”
“Oh, gods, it must have been hell,” I offered in consolation.
“Not as such, though I never did lack for company.” He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder. “Still in that time, the issue of two men spending time together was not an issue.”
He pulled on my shoulder and pointed with the spear, “we’ve a bit of a walk ahead of us.”
“Where are we going?”
“Forwards, ever forwards,” he said as he pointed ahead of us.
“I don’t understand.”
“You can’t easily change the past, as much as historians think that they can, with the brush of a pen, but the future is another story.”
“Ah, so this is the past?”
“Not as such, it could be, but then it might be something else.”
I glanced around as we walked into what seemed to be an old city, where the skies were darkening. Mud hovels giving into a city of stonewalls and green vineyards.
“It all started here, though it didn’t seem like much of a start to me.”
“What started?” I asked in confusion.
“Oh it was supposedly just another routine execution, two thieves and some rabble-rouser.” He spat and pointed the way leading to a hill off a ways in the distance.
“Oh, Christ, indeed.” He smiled and with a wisp of irony continued, “I was the poor bastard who nailed him to the cross, and later stuck him like a pig… to see if he was dead.” He shrugged oddly at the last bit, though his eyes were filled with lost thoughts.
“But that was over two thousand years ago or so.” I looked at him with some worry, “How?”
“Damned if I know kid, maybe it was the blood maybe it was a curse or a blessing. After all these years it’s hard to say what it was.”
We walked for a time in silence as the years washed the city and the hills with the elements. The city rose up and fell expanding around us until we stood in a city more modern yet still old.
“So why am I here?” I asked as our steps aged the city and changed eras.
“I am the ‘Eldest’ of the order, in some ways you could say it’s my lot to test the newest or ‘youngest’ in the order.” He shook his head, “Though I am no where as crotchety or as crabby as some of the old farts who are in the other roles of the Order.”
“So you are going to test me? On what, Math? History?”
“I doubt you could match me on history kid, though I may grant you the edge in math.” I smiled at his bland expression.” He motioned to a corridor that opened in a vast building. “It’s not too much further.”
“What is?” I asked as the cold marble floor chilled my feet.
“Love and hate, pain and peace.” From under the helmet he waggled his eyebrows at me, “In the immortal words of George Carlin; ‘It’s a Mystery.’”
“Wonderful. Could you be any more obscure?” I asked as the sound of his boots echoed down the hallway.
“Yes.” He chortled, “but that would make me more of an asshole than I care to be.”
“I see, so what is this test then?”
“It’s fairly easy, you only have to pick a rose.”
“Why do I think there is probably more to it than that?”
“Because I am a right bastard.” He smiled and pointed with the spear, “but that is only an accident of birth. With a slight push on my back he said. “Off you go, the garden is just through the doors.”
I shook my head and walked into the light filled doorway. The scent of roses grew stronger as the warm air wafted into the corridor, I looked back to see him lounging on a stone bench. He waved and motioned for me to go on.
I paused, “I don’t suppose you could give me a clue?”
“Now what sort of test giver would I be if handed out clues willy-nilly?” he said with a chuckle.
He laughed and the sound carried further down the hall, “No.”
I sighed and stepped out into the light. The courtyard was teaming with brambles; weeds drooped from the various planters that sat in the windows that looked into the courtyard. I stopped abruptly with a rude word as I stepped on to something sharp, I lifted my foot; for a moment I blinked and winced at the sight of a huge thorn; as I had impaled myself but good on it. With a shudder I pulled the long thorn from the sole of my right foot, feeling it grate against a bone or something as it slid out.
For a moment I froze in bewilderment, as the blood on the three-inch long thorn was red. I puzzled over that for a moment then tossed the thorn into an empty planter. Through out the garden there were various statues; some looked vaguely familiar, Saints perhaps. I shrugged and walked further into garden, slowly the path turned into a hedge maze.
I drifted for a time taking one turn after another the scent of roses always seemed to be close and yet never in view. As time went on the shadows grew longer until it seemed as if I was walking in almost complete darkness. Eventually I came to a courtyard that was lit by torches, in the center of the torches was a large black caldron that flames were leaping out of. A breeze pushed a cloud a smoke into my face that was heavy with the smell of roses.
I stopped and thought over what was said to me by Arturo. None of he said really seemed to mean anything, other than the bit about love and hate, pain and peace. I took a step closer to the caldron, flinching slightly as the heat seemed to treble in its intensity. I forced myself to take a few steps closer until I could almost see into it.
A waft of fire made me flinch but I forced myself to look into the flames, among the coals of the caldron was a singular white rose and something else. For a timeless moment I was frozen by the sudden appearance of four people alongside of the rose. Joni, John and Sara all were screaming in pain as the fire licked at them. I lunged forwards to grab at them, to lift them free from the fire, but the heat pushed me back.
A rasping voice like the sound of scales and rattles crashing against each other spoke from the shadows. “You can only take one thing out of the flames, what will it be? Hmm, what will you choose?”
“I can’t just leave them there!” I cried out against the voice, “I love them.”
“Do you? What if I told you that you could save all but one, who would you sacrifice? Your dead brothers? Your sister or perhaps your lover?”
“I can’t do that, who are you to ask that of me?”
A raspy breath laughed at me, “Perhaps you would prefer a trade?”
“Your soul for theirs, it’s quite traditional,” said the raspy voice.
I thought back to Sara, and my fists clenched as I looked for the voice among the shadows, “My soul isn’t mine to give away, it and my heart belong to someone else.”
“Oh do tell, who do you hold in your heart so much that you would let the others suffer?” the voice asked mocking me.
“I love all of them,” I protested at the unfair voice.
“So while you try to make up your mind on who to save and who to damn, they burn. Can’t you hear their cries of pain.” It laughed as the sounds of their screams tore at my insides.
I lunged across the clearing trying to find the voice, “Fighting me won’t save you or the people you love, little not quite girl. How will you get the people you love to safety? What would you give, who will you surrender?”
I looked to where the caldron was growing red-hot.
“Such a pathetic person you are, not even willing to sell yourself to save the people you love.”
“Damn you it’s not about selling myself; it’s about saving them!” I shouted at the voice.
“Oh I would say you are already whoring for one reason or another, why not whore yourself yet again to save them?”
“I am not a whore,” I took a few steps to the caldron wincing as the flames licked at my face.
“Yes you are, a whore to a demon.”
“I am not a whore, I love her!”
“That’s what they all say.” It mocked me then sneered, “Then prove it save her and watch the others burn.”
In my rage I kicked at the caldron watching it rock as the pain from the burn made my toes curl.
“Oh such a pretty tantrum, is that all you have in you?” he taunted from the shadows.
“Fuck you!” I kicked at it once more, biting at my tongue as a scream of rage and pain escaped me.
“Pathetic child, choose one or let them all burn in either case I still win.” Its scaly laughter clawed at some part of my soul leaving it raw and abraded.
I looked across the caldron two where two eyes glowed red in the darkness, and I reached down to grasp the sides of the caldron. At once I felt my flesh started to blister and melt, my skin blackening as I pulled back on the caldron rocking it back and forth. “I chose them all, you sorry fucker!” With one final heave I pushed at it, spilling the contents out onto the cold marble. Lost in my pain I swept them from the coals, “I win you sorry fuck, now go away.”
“I’ll go for now, youngest of Knights, but you are already lost to the shadows.”
In my anger I spat out at him “So be it you bastard, if that is what it takes to save them, then so be it.”
I heard his rasping laughter fade as something moved deeper into the shadows. I pulled the four of them in tightly to my chest, ignoring the pain of my cooked flesh, and the odd white bits where the tips of my fingers once belonged. My tears dropped onto them washing the soot from their small bodies. For a time I cried in the darkness, washing their pain away, letting them rest safely.
Slowly I became more aware of the scent of roses as if I was drowning in them. I looked down to my hands where I thought I held the people I loved, and in their place was a dazzling white rose amongst a coiled stem. I raised the rose up to my nose an inhaled its scent deeply. For a moment there was a sharp pain and my fingers slowly returned to their unburned state.
As I watched the rose, it shifted and moved until it was resting on the inner part of my left wrist, then it slowly sunk into my flesh. Slowly one by one the thorns bit into my flesh and sunk until they were resting just below the surface of my skin. I winced as the tips of the thorns pricked up out of my flesh.
Then as the tips of the thorns dropped below the surface of my skin, a dark red fire illuminated the rose from underneath. Frozen I watched as the flames burst out from my wrist and I screamed as it engulfed my hand. Golden red wisps of flame danced about the ring reshaping the band until it’s thorns clawed into my flesh. I gasped aloud from the pain as the rose pushed up from under my wrist and burned its way to the surface.
Unable to move, I watched as the rose burst into flames, then it crumbled into a fine white ash. Briefly the fire from my wrist danced higher and washed across my face and then dipped down to caress the place where Sara’s mark rested. For a moment it scoured my neck with fire, then almost resignedly, it dropped back down to my wrist. As the seconds crawled like hours, the stem of the rose burned a fiery path around the ash rose. At the last thorn the fire flared brighter before winking out leaving the last thorn to glow as a sullen ember.
A seemingly timeless moment passed and a misty cloud started to form in the courtyard, slowly it spun about me, As it whirled around me I could hear Arturo chuckling lightly, “I think this one is a keeper.” As the white mist enfolded me I heard a ladies voice comment, “A bit rough about the edges perhaps, though in this age having sharp edges might be a blessing.” I felt myself rise up in the center of the churning vapour, “Hail and well met, daughter of Jehanne.” Shouted a multitude of voices that seemed to echo across time.
Abruptly the scent of charred flesh stuck my nose and I jerked upright. I hastily made my way to the toilet, ignoring the stunned looks of the others. With little to no grace I emptied the contents of my stomach into the bowl. Once the urge to vomit had past and the shakes had given me one last toss, I became aware of Tammy holding out a few sheets of tissue. “Thanks.” I more or less muttered as I wiped my mouth.
“That was quite, unique.” Commented Otto as I slowly made my way back to the bunk. “You’re bleeding,” he said in an odd tone.
I glanced down to look at myself, then at the floor, where a path of alternating red footprints lead from the bunk to the toilet. I knelt down at the side of the bed and blinked as I found the same thorn I had stepped on earlier. “Cute.” I sat on the bunk and looked at my foot, there was a puncture wound, but no blood dripped from it.
“Ok,” said Bill, “I am now officially weirded out.”
Otto walked over to me where I was studying the thorn, it was nearly an inch long and crusted with red blood. “Might I?” he motioned to the thorn.
Cautiously I dropped into his cupped hands. “Do be careful with it Doctor, it’s not every day someone gets to see something so rare or so precious.”
“What is it?” asked Tammy.
“Part of a crown, a crown of thorns.” I said feeling a bit dazed by everything, though I could not say how I knew what it was.
Gravely Otto nodded and then he looked at my arm where a hint of ash remained then he handed me a handkerchief, “Dust that off, please.”
I gently brushed at the ash with the handkerchief to reveal a slightly inflamed area of skin that was tattooed with a small white rose and thorns. “It stings some,” I said after blowing on it gently.
“I should say so,” Bill said a bit nervously. “It put on one hell of a light show.”
“How is your neck?” asked Tammy.
I touched my neck feeling cloth of the gown that rested against it crumble to ash when I did so. “It doesn’t hurt.”
“What of the ring?” Otto was staring at my hand.
I looked at it noting the change in the band, “I don’t think it’ll come off now.” Gently I turned the band, it was loose enough to turn, but not much else.
Otto shook his head, “You are ever the puzzle.” He took a breath and sneezed. “I’ll have some one bring you a fresh gown and clean up the…”
I glanced up to see him frowning at the floor, one by one the rest of us looked down to the spotless floor. Slowly I shook my head, “Ok, I think I’ll have a bit of lie down now.”
Otto motioned to Bill and Tammy, “I think we need to talk.” He regarded me for a moment, “Rest if you can, you look beat.”
“No argument there. I do want the thorn back later, but if you could find something to safely carry it in for me? Maybe some sort of necklace?”
“After a few careful tests, I’ll see what I can find,” Otto said with a voice that held an odd tenor in it.
I lay back on the bunk, “No rush for the sponge bath or gown, I think I’ll sleep for bit.” Dimly, as sleep rushed up to snare me, I was only slightly aware of the door opening and closing.
On to Merry 5e…