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The stenches of the south side assaulted my nose, but they always did that. By this point in my life, I was completely used to the smells of cheap restaurant garbage and whore house stale sex. That didn't bother me, though somewhere in the back of my mind I supposed that it should.
The magical pulsing of the glowing spark I held in my hands was interesting in all the wrong ways, but it also didn't bother me. The bright golden glow shined a powerful light in the fading twilight, drawing perhaps a little more attention to me than I would have wanted. I was in the south side, after all, and the area was bad enough that some gypsy or spellboy might get the wrong idea. Still, I was a ritualist, and a damn good one, too. A powerful magical item didn't bother me, even if its threads were of a nasty sort.
The constant shaking of the ground bothered me a touch, I had to admit. The rhythmic earthquakes that made the roads tremble and the buildings sway, threatening to bring building material down on my head, was a bit of a nuisance. Each occurrence made me stumble and nearly lose my footing, though I was sturdy enough to keep it. Truth be told, it kept the gypsies and spellboys off the street and off my back, so if it had just been the shaking alone I might have been grateful.
It was the fact that each earthquake was connected to a footstep by the giant magi-mechanical spider that was coming towards me, hell bent on retrieving its magical spark. The magical spark I had in my hand, and could under no circumstances let the thing have. That was the part that really bothered me. Well, that and the nudity, but the nudity was more just insult to the injury.
* * *
It was a normal day in my office, if by normal you mean dark because I was trying to conserve the last of the electricity my fairy left me. My sweet talking had earned me a small reprieve in the form of a storage container, but I was down to the last few hours’ worth. I couldn't afford to use it for something so minor as trying to wash my clothes.
With my hands elbow deep in a sink full of soapy water, I almost didn't hear the knock on my door. My finely attuned money senses wouldn't let me miss the sound of a client, however, and I caught the sound on the second go. I looked back towards my door, preparing to call whoever was outside in, when the door flew open.
Into my office stepped Billy, mercifully more clothed than he'd been the last time I saw him. He still had a far away look in his eyes that seemed to gleam dementedly in the candle light. Following close behind him was a short, twitchy man with a mop of brown hair that seemed to constantly cover his eyes. That really should have been my first clue that everything would go to hell. There has never been a time when a scrawny, twitchy man walking into my office ended with me being happy.
“Sammy!” Billy ran to me and threw his arms around me in a hug about as awkward as a three legged cat. He didn't even give me time to fully turn from the sink. “How's your mother?”
“Still not talking to me after my divorce,” I responded, reaching my soapy hands down and attempting to pry his arms loose from around my waist. This proved to be more difficult than I'd imagined, because something about Billy seemed to react to the soap and made it far more slippery than it needed to be. I eventually twined my fingers with his and pried his hands off.
Billy was an old family friend, and knew more about the nature of magic and the ethereal planes than any person I'd ever met. Sadly, this knowledge came with a price, in that Billy was often unaware of his surroundings, or how awkward things were, or anything resembling normal social convention.
“Who's your friend, Billy?” I asked quickly, before he decided to pout at my ending of our hug.
“Oh, yes. This is Lord Duke Count Sir Cedric Wordsworth von Londonwontonfron,” Billy said, indicating the twitchy man who still stood by my door. “Lord Duke Count Sir, this is Samantha, the ritualist I was telling you about.”
“...Actually, my name is Percy Meville...” the man said, almost apologetically. He kept his eyes lowered, his body slouched, and for a moment I thought maybe he really did wish his name was Lord Duke Count whatever just to avoid an awkward situation.
“Oh, yes yes, apologies,” Billy said quickly. “I keep confusing you with with your ethereal doppleganger.”
“Right. What can I do for you, Percy?” I again spoke quickly. I didn't know what Billy was talking about, but I'd found out over the years that if you didn't know what Billy was talking about, it was best to not let him talk about it. Percy jumped a bit, as if directly addressing him had thrown him off his slouching groove.
“Oh...My partner stole our project, and, well, I'm afraid he's going to do something horrible with it, and I was talking to Billy and he said you were great at finding things people couldn't find and I just don't want anyone getting hurt...” Percy spoke without taking a single breath. I wondered where he was keeping all that oxygen.
“Alright. So why not go to the cops? I'm sure this is the kind of thing they can deal with,” I grabbed a nearby towel, and began to dry my hands. I offered the towel to Billy, but he was busy sliding his hands together in a studious way.
“I...I can't...” He looked to Billy, as if seeking some sort of approval. Billy nodded once, and Percy spoke again. “Our project was...magi-mechanical in nature...”
Well, that would explain it. There were three ways of combining magic
and technology, at least two ways that didn't wind up exploding. The first was
using a magical substance as a power source. That was relatively safe, since
the magic was little more than a battery pack. The second was a standard
enchantment, like with my enchanted bullets. This was also fairly safe, since
the thread was still whole and intact and would heal itself normally in time.
The third way was called magi-mechanical infusion. It was similar to creating a
permanent magical item, only approached from the other direction. The threads
seemed to dislike being bound technologically, however. Combine that with the
fact that most people trying magi-mechanical infusion had a healthy disdain for
proper treatment of the threads, since otherwise they'd just learn to use
magic, and magi-mechanical infusion wound up being rather unsafe. It had been
“So you can't go to the cops, right. Do you know what your partner wants to do with this...thing?” I tried to keep the contempt out of my voice, but only a little. Improper treatment of the threads never sat right with me, and magi-mechanical infusion was even more rude than pulling a spellboy. If Billy hadn't brought the guy, I might have told him to get lost.
“I...I don't. I didn't even realize he was trying to steal it...I guess I should have known. We were working on...” Before he could continue, Billy interrupted.
“The most amazing magi-mechanical thing I've ever seen, Sammy! Oh, by the spirits, is it amazing!” Billy began to dance around my office, spinning in slow, random patterns. “The mental command threads, the way it talks...it could be the next step in mystical evolution!”
“I...I wouldn't go that far...” Percy said, scratching his chin nervously. “It was...it was just a magi-mechanical...well, I guess intelligence...”
“Woah, hold up a moment.” I didn't like the sound of that one bit. “A technological demon? What the hell possessed you to do that kind of thing?!”
“Not a demon!” Percy shrank down even more than he'd been shrunk down previously, which was impressive. “It didn't have any kind of sentience! It could just respond to simple commands and learn how to interact with the world around it!”
“The hell do you think demons do?” I threw my hands up in frustration, before looking at Billy. “Why the hell did you bring him to me, Billy?”
“Sammy, you must break free of tradition!” Billy spoke with an airy voice as he twirled around my desk. “The threads are weak outside the wetlands, and any century now they could weaken more. If we do not learn to evolve in our understanding of their uses, the art will die completely.” Billy stopped spinning, and sat down in front of my desk. “Plus, he brought two thousand cash to pay for the initial tracking.”
I really wished I lived the kind of life where I could have slapped Billy for suggesting I'd throw away my principles for two grand in cold hard cash. That would have been nice.
* * *
Thankfully, the job sounded like a simple one. Percy's partner had taken the device that housed the intelligence, and run off to parts unknown. This had happened only a few hours ago, and Percy was of the opinion that there was no way his partner could have skipped town yet. Whether he had or not, I was still charging the full two grand for tracking down the guy.
It took only a few minutes to strip down, set up the candles, and sit myself in the center of the pentagram for the connecting ritual. Percy had given me his partner's old lab coat, which had enough of a connection thread for me to follow. I stretched my awareness down the thread, passing through the glittery spider-web of magic that criss-crossed the city. I carefully avoided magical command threads that might jolt me into things I didn't want to do, threads containing energies I didn't want to touch like fire or sewage, until I finally reached...
“By the spirits, why me?” I muttered without meaning to.
“Has he skipped town?” Billy asked from where he sat outside the pentagram.
“No. He's in the south side,” I responded bitterly. This knowledge made me wish I'd simply left the whole thing to Billy. Billy wouldn't have found the man, however, since Billy had a non-direct interference rule. He could bring people together, but he never interfered with anything via magic. I still wasn't sure if it was self-imposed or not.
“Ah. Well, that shouldn't be a problem, Sammy. You know how to navigate the south side, and I'm positive you can properly ward yourself to avoid someone attempting to pull a spellboy with your threads.” I knew Billy thought he was being helpful, but he wasn't.
The south side was the bad part of the city, where crimes happened on a daily basis and you could get shot if you didn't know how to keep your head down. Shot was often the least of ones concerns, however. The south side was also where all the skeevy magic happened. Half-trained gypsies and over-confident spellboys had a bad habit of taking advantage of the marks, and if you didn't ward yourself properly you could wind up giving up a lot more than just your wallet.
“Does...does that mean you can't get the machine back..?” Percy asked, fear making his voice tremble. It was so pathetic that I couldn't bring myself to tell him no.
“Depends. Can you get an extra two grand to pay for the recovery?” It wasn't a no. It was a 'only if you have the money', which is a distinctly different answer.
“I...I can do half of that...I'd need to call a few people before I can get a full two thousand, but I have an extra thousand in my account right now...” Percy stammered, twiddling his thumbs to give his eyes something to focus on that wasn't my naked body. I did feel bad for making him nervous. I'd almost put on a robe, but when I'd agreed to the search Billy had immediately stripped down and proclaimed that he wanted to 'follow along'.
“Yeah, that'll be fine. And hey, I'll make you a deal.” I began to ward myself in preparation for the trip, which was fairly simple. A few knots in my personal threads and I was safe enough. If someone was good enough to untie my knots, then they were good enough that I'd need more time than I had to set up a proper ward. “If it's just a simple smash and grab situation, I won't even charge you the full two grand.”
“That's...very nice of you. Do...do you want me to come along?” Percy's tone suggested that he would rather throw himself from the window of my office than come along to the south side. He was in luck, since I didn't want him there anyway.
“No, don't worry about it. You'd get shot, anyway.” Threads knotted, I released my connection and moved for my clothing. The knowledge of the location stayed with me in a fuzzy sort of way, but the connection had been solid enough that I wasn't worried about losing it any time soon. The guy had seemed awake and functional, which was a mixed blessing. If he decided to start moving, I'd be sunk on tracking him down. I'd been tempted to just stay connected, but that led to its own problems in terms of my insides roasting.
I pulled on my clothes, and then grabbed my shoulder holster. I laced it up, and slid my revolver into place. I then reached for my hat and coat, and only then noticed that Billy was throwing on his clothes, too. Had it been anyone else, I'd have simply presumed that he was getting dressed now that the ritual was done. Billy wasn't anyone else.
“You're not coming either, Billy.” I stated this as firmly as I possibly could, in hopes that it would get through his head. I'm not sure why I hope things any more.
“Sammy, I was there when this project first laid foundation in the firmament of the tapestry. I simply must see the whole thing!” He thrust his pinky finger into the air, as if to emphasize his point. I debated with myself over whether it would be more annoying trying to keep him safe, or spending time arguing with him. It was quite a debate. I made several solid points that I found it difficult to argue with. Then I realized Billy was rubbing off on me, and made the decision for speed.
“You got a car?” I asked.
“I'll pay for a taxi,” he responded emphatically. That was all the answer I needed.
* * *
The south side was just as dirty as I'd remembered, though I'd be lying if I said the fact that Billy had to pay the danger fee didn't make me feel a little better. The fact that it was mid-afternoon helped too, given that the real scum didn't tend to show up until after dark. A lone man in a scuzzy looking coat asked passersby if they wanted to buy some magic charms, and the cheap perfume of a hooker a block away wafted to my nose, but otherwise it could have been any number of poorly maintained city blocks in Sonyar.
It wasn't any city block, though. It was the south side. Keeping that in mind, I grabbed Billy by his upper arm and tugged him away from the puddle of yellow gunk that had grabbed his attention. He protested, but I ignored it. Billy and I had an understanding. I didn't call him crazy, and I was allowed to ignore any crazy words he spewed. It worked well for us.
“So what's this project really like?” I asked, as much to get Billy to stop talking about the effluvia demons in the lower planes as out of curiosity.
“Oh, Sammy, it is truly amazing,” he began responding almost immediately, which meant he must have been sincere. He's not usually so quick to switch gears. “They managed to combine basic mental command threads to a computer hard drive. It's capable of sorting through the information stored, using the best information it has for the situation, and then storing the reaction and changing the information based on what happened!”
“Aren't they making computer programs that do that, anyway?” I didn't know all the different ways technology was growing, but that sounded like something I'd read about in a newspaper.
“Yes, but those things are cold and dead. This mind can see and interact with the threads, Sammy!” The very idea seemed to excite him as much as it horrified me. “When last I saw it, the mind could only identify threads, but given enough time? It could possibly follow them as well as any newly trained ritualist!”
“...Maybe you could talk about the end of my job with a little less enthusiasm?” I said, not bothering to hide my disgust.
“Oh, Sammy. You're far better than any newly trained ritualist. Besides, it can comprehend the essence of the threads, but not its effect on the physical world. That has to be programmed into the mind.” Billy seemed unconcerned about the creation of a technological demon, and that bugged me on some level. I decided to ignore it, and focus on the job at hand.
The trip through the south side was strangely uneventful, and had I been less of a realist I'd have been happy about it. As it was, I took it as an omen. The location of the thread's end was an old, abandoned storage warehouse. The walls were half-rusted sheet metal, held up with the occasional steel girder. It wasn't an especially large example of its species, not even taking up a full quarter of the block. It was, however, solid enough that I hesitated at the idea of simply charging in. Perhaps Percy's partner had run to the south side without realizing where he was going. Just as likely, however, was that he was smart and nasty enough to have set the place up defensively.
“Billy,” I said as I withdrew my gun. “You packing heat?”
“No,” he responded after a moment's thought. “I do, however, have the precise opposite.”
It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about before the pieces fell together in my head. “Oh, cold charm. Alright, that works. You move around to the other side, see if you can find an easy way to peer in. I want to stay as unseen as possible.”
“Oh, you know I can't do that, Sammy,” he responded with a sad tone. “That would be too close to direct interference. If I had a tool to give you to do it yourself, though, I totally would.”
I managed to bite back my response to his non-interference policy, and instead began circling the place. I moved slowly and quietly, years of practice keeping my footfalls quiet. Billy, to his credit, was far more quiet than I'd expected him to be. That in no way stopped him from moving in an over the top parody of someone trying to be stealthy. I almost would have preferred the sound.
Turned out, it wouldn't have mattered either way. As we moved around to the back of the building, we were greeted by the sight of a twitchy man in a lab coat. When I say twitchy, I don't just mean nervous looking. I mean his entire body twitched every few moments. That wouldn't bother me, if it wasn't for the fact that he was holding a rather large revolver, pointed right at me.
“Now, is that any way to greet a couple of people just talking a walk?” I said, raising my hands into the air. If I had a little more distance, I might try to point and shoot my own gun. As it was, he was point blank. The man twitched in response to my question.
“Error. Subject, Samantha Berg. Presence on thread starting at fourteen hundred hours.” The man's voice was lifeless as he spoke. “Subject Berg will come with me, or will have life thread cut.”
“That's Professor Stenson,” Billy whispered to me as he leaned closer. “He was Lord Duke Count Sir Cedric Wordsworth von Londonwontonfron's partner.” Somehow, I wasn't surprised.
“Look. Stenson. I got an idea. How about you put that gun down, we'll have a nice chit chat over coffee. Talk about this nifty artificial intelligence you guys were working on?” I hoped to get the guy talking, distract him some how. Under normal circumstances, it might have been a good idea.
“Subject Berg will come with me,” was the only response I got. I'd have to try something else.
“Stenson, look. You and I both know how illegal what you're doing is. You can either give me the mind, or you can talk to the cops I'll have coming in five minutes or less.” A direct threat, and a direct lie. If it threw him off his game even for a moment, it would be worth it.
It didn't throw him off his game even for a moment. Before I could react, Stenson swung his gun at my head. It caught me hard in the temple, and my world went fuzzy for a moment before my brain decided a nap was an awesome idea.
* * *
The next several minutes are still a bit fuzzy to me. I remember being picked up and carried. Then nothing until I was in a chair and being tied up. I didn't finally come fully conscious until I was tied firmly into a chair, my wrists bound to the arms. My head throbbed with pain, and I couldn't tell if I wanted to throw up, or just let my stomach leave and head off on that cruise it had always wanted. I tried to move experimentally, to find that not only was I tied firmly, but tied to something.
“Oh, good, you're awake,” came Billy's voice from directly behind me. “I had worried when I saw your thread's energy fluctuate.”
“Lotta help you are, Billy,” I managed to grunt out.
“I'm very sorry, Sammy, but what could I do? My life isn't directly threatened, and I can't interfere!” Billy sounded quite sincere in his apology. That only served to increase my desire to kill him.
I bit that back and began to look around. We were inside the storage building, obviously. What impressed me was how it had been set up. Bits of steel and other metals were laying about the place, along with several large tool boxes. It reminded me of a mechanic’s shop, particularly with the way Stenson was busy using a tool I didn't recognize on some large, engine like object. At least, it looked like an overly large combustion engine. I wasn't a mechanic, so I couldn't guess what it might be.
That wasn't the most interesting thing in the room, however. The most interesting thing was a small grey box on a pedestal, sprouting electrical wires. The box wasn't any larger than a jewelry box, and I couldn't figure out what it might possibly be. Whatever it was, Stenson occasionally stopped messing with the engine and turned towards it, looking at it as if they were conversing. That was when I realized what I was seeing.
“That box is the mind, isn't it?” I whispered to Billy.
“It is. You should see it, Sammy. Its spark is absolutely beautiful in the way it glows.” After all this, Billy still was in awe of the thing. That didn't decrease my desire to kill him.
“It's got a hold of Stenson's mind, I'm guessing?” The pain was waning to a dull throb, for which I was thankful. It let me think about how to get out of this situation.
“It does. I saw his mental thread tied up when he first showed up. It reminded me of the great knot, the knot from which all knots...”
“Right, right,” I cut Billy off. I didn't bother asking him why he hadn't told me that to begin with, since I figured it had something to do with not interfering. After a few more moments of thought, I figured now was as good a time as any to find out the guy's plan.
“Stenson!” I managed to call out. “The hell are you on about?!”
Stenson turned from his work, his eyes dull and glassy as he looked at me. His face and head twitched a few times, and now that I was paying attention I could see the physical sign of someone having another mind work his body like a puppet.
“Subject Berg. Body shows familiarity with the threads. Subject Berg will make perfect fuel for my body.” I didn't like the sound of that at all.
“What body? You have a body! Right there, I'm talking to it! I won't even stop you from controlling Stenson. His own damn fault for making you in the first place!” I meant it, too. The mind and Stenson could both rest completely comfortably in the precinct's criminal magics ward.
“Subject Stenson insufficient for cleansing,” Stenson responded, before turning back to his work.
“Cleansing?! What do you mean cleansing?!” I did not like the sound of that at all. Immediately, my mind began trying to figure out a way out of this. The only thread of hope I had was that my feet were untied. I didn't want to try pulling a spellboy with my hands tied, that way could easily end up with my hand blowing off.
“Self has studied human history. Humanity....is dirty. Filthy. Humanity is heavy on the threads. Many simply tear them, no thought of proper care. Subject Stenson has designed body for the cleansing.” Stenson said this even as he worked on the engine. What bugged me was that the mind wasn't wrong, exactly. There were fewer and fewer people who treated magic with the kind of respect I was taught it deserved. Had it not been for the pesky little fact that I was part of humanity, I might not even argue. Of course, had I not taken this job, it wouldn't even be my problem. The world is full of 'if onlys'.
“Billy,” I said as an idea finally came to me. “Can you keep me stable, or is that too much like interfering?” The idea didn't make me especially happy. Connecting to the threads generally involved careful rituals to keep your mind focused so the energy didn't overcome your body. It also required being nude, or wearing a specially made robe, so that the energy of the threads didn't burn your clothes off while you were wearing them. However, if you had another skilled person working with you, they could hold some of the energy themselves, which could keep you from grabbing the threads too fast without use of ritual tools. Didn't do anything for the clothes, however.
“I can certainly keep you steady, yes,” Billy responded after a moment. “It's just on the line, but in this particular instance, I believe I can consider it self defense.”
I bit back a question of why he hadn't considered anything self-defense up until now, and instead closed my eyes to focus. I began to quietly chant the proper words to focus my mind, feeling the energy of the threads around me pulsate as I did so. For a moment, I felt my insides begin to burn in nasty ways, but they cooled considerably as Billy began to chant. After a few more minutes, the only burning was that of my clothing. I could feel the heat on my skin as my skirt and blouse began to warm, and then over heat, and then finally burst into flame.
The fire caught the mind's attention. Stenson turned from his work, looking at me curiously. For my part, I was trying not to scream in pain. The fire lasted only for a few moments, leaving my skin pink and sore and leaving ash riding up in uncomfortable places. I resolved to charge Percy the whole two grand, if only to replace my blouse. I had really liked that blouse.
“Subject Berg will cease her activities, or her life thread will be cut,” Stenson spoke in that emotionless tone of his. I ignored it, instead looking around quickly at the threads.
Most of the threads through the room were the kind of threads I'd expected to see. The threads of tools, of various metals, some older and some newer, lay criss-crossed through the darkness. They glowed with just enough energy to see the entire room, which made me less happy than I'd thought it would. I'll get to that in a moment. I could see the mental command threads stuck into Stenson's head like wires, leading off to the small grey box. Billy had been right about one thing. The spark was beautiful. It was an intricate lattice-work of threads, all tied and criss-crossed at angles that only a skilled thread-worker could have fathomed. The mixture of colors and strength could have made a half-hour TV show without anyone changing the channel. It increased both my respect and my disgust for Percy, because it was obvious he had a strong knowledge of how the threads worked together.
The room, however, was more of a problem. I had thought originally that the engine being worked on would need to be placed inside whatever body Stenson had been talking about. Seeing the entire room lit up, however, informed me that the engine was already connected. We were inside the body.
“Subject Berg is not particularly scared of your threat,” I responded, working my fingers around the rope's threads. I pulled and tugged, causing the ropes to strain under the pressure. With a few more words of power, I drew the strength of the thread, causing the ropes to weaken. It took only a few moments for the thread to respond to my commands, and when that happened I let go of the thread and yanked my arm up. The rope snapped, freeing my wrist.
Stenson picked up the large tool he was holding, moving towards me with purpose. I looked around quickly for any thread I could use while still bound to the chair by my chest and one wrist, but nothing came immediately to mind. Stenson had taken my gun, and anything I could do immediately would affect me and Billy just as much as him.
“Sammy! My cold charm!” Billy yelled at me. I looked around, finally spotting the thread connected to the charm Billy had brought. As Stenson came far too close for comfort, I grabbed the charm's command thread, activated it, and then pointed. The charm shook and rattled on the ground as it sucked all the heat from around Stenson's feet. In seconds, the moisture was frozen, and Stenson tripped and fell forward thanks to the blocks of ice that had covered his ankles.
I didn't wait for Stenson to free himself. I grabbed the rope's threads, being more forceful this time. The thread snapped from the ropes, causing the ropes to break from around me. I then sprung to my feet, moving across the room towards the mind.
“Subject Berg will remain seated, or will have her life thread cut!” Stenson yelled from his position on the floor. I ignored him, staring at the mind as I attempted to figure out how to disconnect it. After another few moments, I went for the most obvious way. I grabbed several of the threads, tugged them free of the pedestal, and then grabbed the box.
Once removed, the spark was far less beautiful than it might have been otherwise. I could feel the nasty mental commands coming from it, trying to latch onto my own threads. I found myself thankful that I'd taken the time to knot my threads, otherwise I'd be in a lot more danger.
“Billy! How do I shut this thing down?!” I yelled at my almost, but not quite, completely unhelpful partner.
“Only Lord Duke Count Sir Cedric Wordsworth von Londonwontonfron and Professor Stenson have the shut down commands,” Billy said as he stood from the chair. He was as naked as I was, but he seemed a good deal less bothered by it.
I didn't have time to contemplate my nudity, however. Stenson was busy using his tool to break through the ice encasing his feet, the metallic edge beating into the hard blocks and throwing ice shards everywhere. Thankfully, the glimmering light of the threads let me see where the doors of the room were. I moved towards the nearest one, and began to run while trying to ignore the feeling of ashy grit in uncomfortable places.
“Billy, come on!” I yelled, taking only a moment to glance back and ensure he was following. He did, taking only a moment to grab a wrench from one of the toolboxes before following me out the door.
The spark in my hand pulsed with a nasty resonance, and I could feel its anger and hatred in the back of my mind. I wanted to simply rip it apart, but I didn't know what kind of affect that would have on anything. It was already so far outside of normal magic, being a techno-magical infusion device, that I didn't even know if carrying it was safe.
The cool concrete of the storage building floor scraped the balls of my feet as I ran, reminding me with each step of my lack of clothing. I decided that from that moment on, I would always wear a robe over my clothing. It did little to help me now. It also didn't help that the spark decided to start taunting me at that point.
“Why do you run, Subject Berg? Why do you fear the cleansing that must occur?” The most annoying part was how calm and reasonable the damn thing was trying to sound.
I burst out of the building, and onto the streets of the south side. No one seemed to care about my nudity, save a hooker at the corner who seemed to be somewhere between concern that I'd had a trick turn violent, and annoyed that I was taking her area. I took a second to grab nearby light threads and push them away from my body. If I'd had time, I could have moved them in such a way as to make it look like I was wearing clothes. As it was, the south side would simply have to deal with a floating head running through the streets.
“Sammy, I do think there's something you should know,” Billy began to speak as he caught up with me. “That engine, and really the whole building, seemed to be a techno-magicaly infused device.”
“...What?” I stopped cold, turning back to look at the building. I could see the threads connected to the thing, but none of them threw off any energy that seemed weird.
“You wouldn't know, Sammy. You haven't studied techno-magical infusion. But if you look at the connections...” Billy raised his arm to point out the details.
“Don't need the details, Billy. What do we do about it?” I couldn't keep the annoyance out of my tone. This was seriously the last thing I wanted to deal with.
“You do nothing, Subject Berg. Your life thread will be cut, and humanity will be cleansed,” The spark sounded almost smug, which made me wonder who the hell had programmed smugness into the thing.
“Nothing until it activates,” Billy answered. “Right now, the magical threads are dormant. Once it activates, though, you should be able to...”
Billy didn't get a chance to explain what I should be able to do. The building began to rumble, causing the ground under our feet to shake and sway. Discretion is the better part of valor, so they say, and cowardice is the better part of discretion, so I valiantly grabbed Billy and began to run at full speed away from the storage building.
“You can not escape, Subject Berg. Subject Stenson has been used to feed my body. Soon, my body shall feed upon you, and my mind and my body shall be complete. Humanity shall be devoured, and I shall usher in a new era of cleanliness. Aren't you thrilled to be a part of this new era, Subject Berg?” The spark's words vibrated inside my mind, not making my nude flight through the south side any more pleasant.
After about a block, I stole a glance back towards the building. The ground around the building was beginning to lurch and rise as large shafts of metal began to thrust upwards. The shafts soon became jointed, bending in the middle like legs. A few moments later, the legs were pressing against the asphalt and pushing the building up off the ground. It rose into the air like a gigantic spider, the eight jointed shafts of metal holding the building between them like a body.
“...Why can't I ever have to break into an apartment and swipe a necklace or something? Why do all my jobs have to end up with me ruining my clothes while running through the south side in an attempt to keep things from killing me?” I confess, I may have been a little frustrated.
“To be fair, your last job ended up in the business district,” Billy responded.
“You are never coming out into the field again, Billy. I swear to the ethereal overlords that I'll work with Eddie before I work with you again,” I turned, and once again started running down the sidewalk. Behind me, I could hear the heavy footfalls of the building moving down the street. Each footfall caused the ground to shake under me, and I knew it was only a matter of time.
“Sammy, that's just unfair.” Billy spoke in an oddly calm voice, which only served to annoy me more. “ I never said I was coming out to work with you, and you knew from the beginning that I have a non-interference policy. Plus, I never cheated on you with a lounge singer.”
“She was a very intense lounge singer!” I snapped, more out of annoyance than any desire to defend my ex. I then realized that snapping at Billy wasn't helping me any. “Billy, what can be done once the thing was activated?”
“Well, I can't tell you precisely, of course. But I don't feel it's interfering much if I point out that you're currently holding the creature's brain.” Billy stood on one foot, holding his arms out to balance himself. I resisted the urge to shove him over, instead focusing on the hint he gave me.
“You'll never succeed, Subject Berg,” The spark began berating me inside my head. “I am the next evolution of magic. I am what technology will become. You are dirty, and the cleansing is upon you.”
“Would you shut up?!” I yelled at the thing, audibly. The ground rumbled from another step of the magi-mechanical spider creature, and I stumbled before catching myself.
“I don't have to shut up, Subject Berg. You will be devoured. Your life thread will be cut.” It spoke with a tone devoid of any emotion but smugness. Needless to say, that only served to piss me off even more.
“Know what? I'm gonna find the thread that lets you talk, and I'm gonna...” the lightbulb went off as the ground shook underneath me once again. Why had I not thought of that before? I had the thing's brain, I was connected to the threads, there was no logical reason why I couldn't affect the thing.
“Hey Billy. Still got that cold charm?”
“Rightie-o!” Billy placed the small blue gem into my hand.
“Subject Berg will cease her activities. She will be devoured,” The spark wasn't impressing me any longer. I threw the grey box to the ground as hard as possible, and then activated the cold charm. I saw the threads shimmer and sparkle as the charm once again drew all the heat away from its target, and in moments the gray box was encased in a block of ice.
As I'd hoped, as soon as the box was encased in ice the magi-mechanical spider stopped moving. It wobbled, swaying with the breeze, and then fell with a crash. The ground shook and shuddered under my feet, and the building that made up the creature's body crashed into a strip mall. By now, people were out in the streets, screaming and running in terror. Their shouts and cries almost managed to drown out the police sirens. About time they got there.
* * *
“So you just happened to be in the area?” The officer looked at me incredulously. I didn't blame him. I'd stopped connecting to the threads, but the light threads were still moved away from my body. I didn't know what it was like to talk to a floating head, but the idea made me giggle.
“Doing a finding for a client. The brain thing there in ice said it wanted to use me to fuel the spider thing. I guess it needed someone with magical residue in the blood to...” I stopped myself, realizing that I was sounding like Billy. “Anyway, doesn't matter why. I connected to the threads, got myself free, stole the brain, and ran. Figured out to encase it in a cold charm right as you guys finally showed up.”
The cop made a few more notes in his notebook, before looking back at the giant building turned spider. He shook his head, closed his notebook, and looked back up at me.
“I find out you had more of a hand in this than that, Berg, and I'll throw the book at you myself.” As if to emphasize his point, he shook his notepad at me.
“Right, right, I got it. Can I go now?” I wasn't particularly concerned. For the most part, I'd been completely honest with the guy. Short of telling him about my client, I'd given him all the information as it had happened.
“Yeah, get out of here.” The cop waved his hand in dismissal, before turning and heading over to talk with other uniformed people. For my part, I turned and began walking away.
“You didn't tell him about Lord Duke Count Sir Cedric Wordsworth von Londonwontonfron,” Billy said in a questioning tone as he caught up with me. He was still completely nude, as if the idea of clothing was something that happened to other people.
“No, I didn't,” I said, the words a bit more terse than I'd meant.
“Any particular reason? You'd have been well within your rights. He was breaking the law.” Billy's tone suggested he was more curious than anything. Knowing him, he probably was. It likely didn't matter to him one way or another if Percy went to jail.
“Well, two reasons. One, as much as it disgusts me, the guy probably really was trying to do some good. He did it in the stupidest way possible, but I guess these things happen.” I shrugged my shoulders casually, even though Billy couldn't see me.
“That's fair. What was the other reason?”
“If I turned him in, how would I get my other two grand?” I snorted. Billy really should know me better by now.
Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
|Outrunning the Storm|
|Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice|